The Ocean Is Home To Sirens

Fandom: Push

Pairing: Nick/Cassie

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: Sex.

Archive: Ask.

Author: Lily Zen

Notes: This is the sequel to All Water Leads To The Ocean. Read that first as it provides crucial back story. Also, Cassie is aged up to nineteen in these stories. There is some more angsty bits in this story and it is quite a bit longer than the previous one. Finally, some of the details of the love scene are a little different from All Water Leads To The Ocean. I did that on purpose because I think that having already Seen what was going to happen, it would feel a little scripted to Cassie if she acted exactly as she'd dreamed. So anyway, here it is. I hope you like it.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Except for Jay, Rob, and Neferti. Also, is it weird that I kind of want to take a little side trip and write a story about Jay? He's interesting to me.

The thing about trying to seduce a Watcher is that you can't actually make a concrete plan to do so. They'll See it. So in the end, in that run-down apartment in L.A., Nick found himself stymied. He couldn't figure out a way to get around Cassie's ability, and in the meantime she was driving him crazy.

Cassie had grown into a beautiful woman. She was still small, though not as itty-bitty as she once was, and still preferred tiny skirts and black leather. Her hair was long and blonde without the added benefits of a rainbow of color in it, and Nick liked to watch it writhe like little golden snakes down her back when she was walking. Of course, because of his vantage point behind Cassie, he was only all too aware that he was not the only man who liked to watch the little Watcher. When you put those long, intimate stares together with some of the neighborhood gossip that he'd picked up, Nick had a pretty good idea of how Cassie had earned a living out there.

It pissed him off that she'd put herself through that, sold herself like a cheap commodity to men who eyed her like nothing more meaningful than a juicy hamburger. Then again, he hadn't been there to protect her, and for that he could only blame himself. After all, he'd let Cassie leave without a fight. If he'd wanted to, he could have chased her down, cajoled her into coming back to the hotel with him and Kira.

But he didn't.

Because he was tired. They thought he was oblivious to the undercurrents between the three of them, but living in close proximity to two women for a number of years, you couldn't help but begin to pick up on the subtle nuances of their conversation. When Kira asked, 'Could you please pass the salt?' while she glanced at Cassie from underneath dark, hooded eyes, what she'd meant was, 'He's mine; you can't have him.' When Cassie glanced up from her sketchbook—near the end of their time together, the three of them, she'd been scribbling away in it constantly; Nick realized now that it had probably been her only escape from the tension and the never-uttered pithy phrases in her head—and casually swirled a french fry in an obscene amount of ketchup with her free hand, raising an eyebrow. 'It's in the middle for a reason, Kira,' she replied, but what she meant was, 'Fuck you, princess.' The following stare-down was intense enough that Nick handed Kira the salt-shaker himself even though the exchange hadn't been directed at him at all.

It wore on a man. So when he and Kira had returned from their evening out and found Cassie's note, he'd let her go. Oh, he'd made noises about going after her, but he'd let Kira convince him otherwise. Instead they'd made love on the bed in their hotel room for the first time in weeks—they could only afford such intimacies if Nick was positive that Cassie was going to be gone for a certain length of time—and Nick had tried to bury his guilt in Kira with every thrust.

So if Cassie had sold her virginity to some stranger, it really was none of his business. He'd promised to take care of her—not to her face, of course; did he look that dumb? Cassie would have been virulently pissed off at the presumption. Anyway, he'd promised to take care of her and instead he'd let a sixteen year old girl on the run trek across the country by herself.

Except she appeared to have done just fine without him. If Nick was honest with himself, he'd always needed Cassie a hell of a lot more than she needed him. Cassie was a Watcher and could (and would) use her skills to survive. So what if she had taken money in exchange for sexual favors? She'd also admitted to finding people's lost wallets and gambling. She was great at blackjack, poker—pretty much anything with cards; not to shabby with dice games. It was roulette that was a little too unpredictable—it just moved too fast for her vision to get a good lock on the result—for her skills.

And oh yeah, Cassie was a top-notch Watcher now. Not like her mom still. Her mom, Cassie had explained once, was pretty much lost to the future. She Saw and Saw and Saw, and at some point she had stopped living, stopped distinguishing reality from what would be. Cassie wasn't like that. She wasn't a Far-Seer like her mother. Her visions tended to come to pass within a few months of her having them. Unlike her mother, who'd planned for their rescue by the Stitch in Hong Kong years before she'd been taken by Division. Instead, Cassie's talent seemed to lie in pin-pointing what was going to happen in the immediate future; a helpful talent when Division was an ever-present threat. Her art skills had improved as well. There was a pencil sketch of a sunset over the ocean taped to one of the walls in her apartment and Nick could not only identify it for what it was, but had complemented her on it.

Cassie's pale gold locks were twitching as she shoved open the door to the Laundromat with a basket balanced on her hip. Nick quickly moved to grasp the handle, juggling his own bag of burdens, and paused to give the lecher sitting outside smoking a cigarette a dirty look. He'd seen that stare; that was a blatant ogle, dammit.

Nick slipped in the building after the younger girl and placed his bag of clothes on the folding table next to her basket. She was digging around in her bag for money when Nick handed her a ten. "Here," he said and tossed what he hoped was a casual smile at her, "I'm not paying rent, so let me contribute this way." Cassie gave him a skeptical look as she tugged the dollar bill out of his hand, then she clucked her tongue. "Whatever. Your loss," she stated and flounced over to the change machine in a pair of shorts so tight and tiny that she might as well have just gone out in her underwear.

He had a sudden vivid fantasy of pinning her up against the wall of dryers and plucking away the fabric from her center, plunging his fingers deep inside her until she came shuddering in time with the sounds of the washing machine. Holy shit. Nick took a deep breath and turned slightly, hiding the part of him that was suddenly at half-mast just thinking about it. In the process, he totally missed Cassie pausing as she fed the machine their money, a shiver racing down her spine despite the fact that it was a scorcher that day. She shook her head as if to clear it, frowned a little as that possibility was replaced with a different one, the one Nick had chosen to pursue instead (the road of inaction, dammit), and then scooped up the quarters in a white-knuckled grip.

When was he going to get it? She was a sure thing! Cassie had waited for Nick since she was thirteen years old. Maybe even before then. Truth be told, she'd had visions of Nick ever since she could remember. When she was younger, untrained, they came easier and were more far-reaching. She saw the two of them in the fish market, the chicken in his fridge, her holding an umbrella over his fallen form. Then as she'd grown and begun to get her ability under control they had tapered off to practically nothing. Every once in awhile she'd seen a boy a little older than her, images of him in New York and various other places. That was probably when she'd begun falling in love with him, and Hong Kong and the subsequent years had cemented it into a concrete memorial of 'well, this was dumb.'

She'd wanted him from the start and now that he was finally ready to want her back, she just wanted it to happen already. Except Cassie hesitated to take the situation into her own hands because she didn't want to be like Kira; she didn't want to push him into anything. She wanted him to come to her when he was truly decided on a course of action. Yes, he lusted after her, but part of him was still conflicted, still struggling with the image of her in his head of the little thirteen-year-old girl he'd first met. That he needed to resolve in his own time.

So instead of shoving Nick up against the folding table hard enough that the edge dug into his lower back and dragging him down by the ears so that she could finally have the taste of him on her tongue, Cassie separated her clothes into lights and darks, poured soap in the machines, and jammed quarters into the slots to begin the tedious process.

Nick was standing at the third machine in the row, trying to jam all of his clothes in the small bowl, and Cassie choked on a laugh. "Jeez, no wonder your whites all look gray," she teased and bumped him aside with her hip, "You have to separate them, dorkus." A small derisive snort left him before he could stop it. "I don't believe in apartheid," he joked, just so that he'd have the pleasure of watching Cassie roll her eyes at him and grin at the same time.

"Lights and whites in one, blacks and colors in the other," she stated and started pulling out whites, tossing them casually in the last washer.

"That's very colorist of you, Cassie," he added and just knew she was rolling her eyes again even though he'd turned to the fourth machine and begun pouring soap into it.

"Can it, Mr. P.C."

Everything was fine until their clothes were almost done and Neferti, the prostitute who worked in their neighborhood and seemed to have a fairly friendly relationship with Cassie, slinked in the back entrance, hugging the wall like she was planning to make babies with it.

Then Nick watched as Cassie froze, her eyes dilating quickly with a vision, and she spun around and hissed, "What did you tell them?"

"I'm sorry," the tall black woman sobbed, "I'm sorry."

"Did you tell them where I live?"

"No, no," Neferti chanted and wobbled in her high stiletto heels, "Just that you sometimes work near my spot. They…they wanted something of yours, something you'd touched. I didn't have anything, thank god. What…what are they, Cass? They're not right."

Nick clued in and figured that they must be talking about Division. Shit. That was not good. He listened a little more intently.

"How many were there?" Cassie asked, though she turned around so that if anyone happened to walk past the huge windows in the front, they'd think she was talking to Nick. Neferti had chosen a great angle so that she wouldn't be seen talking to them. "Were you followed?" she questioned rapid-fire, though the lightning-fast vision that followed her second inquiry proved that Neferti had been careful to lose them first.

"Two guys. They…they said if you showed up, I was supposed to call them. They were asking about another guy and a girl too. Said they were friends of yours. I told 'em that I haven't seen anybody new. What…what should I do, Cass?"

Cassie sighed heartily and put her head in her hands. With her eyes covered, she reached for her gift and ran through a myriad of possibilities before she opened them once more. "Go home, Neferti. Thanks for not ratting me out."

"Are you gonna be okay?" Neferti whispered.

The blonde nodded. "Yeah, we'll be fine. They just want to ask us some questions." Neferti sagged against the wall at the same time something in Nick subconsciously relaxed just the tiniest bit. Cassie was giving him a warning. Just questions. Still, better to be safe, but they just wanted to ask them some questions. "Aight," Neferti said, "I'm gonna go home now. Be safe, kid."

"You too," Cassie told the other woman before she crept out as quietly as she'd come in.

"What do we do?" Nick asked as soon as she was gone.

"We fold our fucking laundry," the Watcher shot back as she pulled out her whites from the dryer.

"And then?" he replied, moving to pull out his load of darks.

"They'll find us. Here. They had Watchers tailing Neferti. When she found us here they were alerted. Don't freak out. They just want to ask us about Kira," Cassie shrugged her shoulders, "It's always about Kira. You know, the only time I almost got snatched was because of her. After that, when they figured out that I wasn't with you guys anymore, they left me alone. So just tell them you don't know anything and they'll be on their merry way."

They were standing next to each other folding their clothes despite the fact that there were other tables in the room. Her elbow was brushing his side as she worked, folding her wife beaters and t-shirts, placing her bras in a neat pile, handling delicate, lacy scraps of fabric that dared to call themselves underwear. He tried not to look because looking would lead to fantasizing, but he couldn't really help himself. As a result, his own folding was messy and half-hearted, sure to leave his clothes wrinkled, distracted as he was with the sight of her lacy lilac lingerie.

It made him mad that she'd almost been taken by Division and he hadn't been there. Another thing for him to bludgeon himself with. Then again, Cassie was right: it was always about Kira. Division wanted their patient zero back. Six years later, the amount of resources they devoted to the endeavor was significantly decreased. Time flowed forwards and Division had to keep moving as well. The hunt for one girl couldn't be allowed to dictate how they would run their program. The Watcher had been right all those years ago in Hong Kong: they were safer without Kira. Nick had known that, but he'd been struggling to keep his grip on some semblance of normality. Kira represented those simpler times in his all-too-fucked-up life and by having her close, Nick had a taste of that again. It was hard to let go of it.

Of course, Kira had also known they'd be safer without her. She wasn't stupid. She'd probably known it before they had even found her in Hong Kong. But Kira wasn't like him and Cassie; she wasn't about to sacrifice herself for the greater good. Kira was selfish. It had taken Nick a long time to see it for what it was. She wanted to be safe and cherished and protected, and the best way to achieve that was in keeping close to Nick. It would never have occurred to Kira to brave life on the run on her own like Cassie had. She simply was not that strong of a person. Even when Kira had finally left, she'd made sure she had a new protector in place first. Cool, calculating Kira.

Nick wanted to ask Cassie to tell him where she'd been when Division caught up with her, what she'd done. He wanted to ask a million questions, partially so he'd have more ammunition to beat himself up with, but also so that he'd just know. In some way, he'd be a part of the life Cassie had built while she'd been away from him. He was desperate to reconnect with her, to understand why she was the way she was now and he wasn't foolish enough not to notice the differences between the Cassie he'd known and the Cassie that was stacking her laundry back in the basket and settling down to wait for her other dryer to go off. She hopped onto the cleared counter space and sat down, her bare legs dangling above the floor, tattered black Converses on her feet.

She was watching him fold, laughing a little at the haphazard piles of clothes, but it was soft and sweet. She wasn't the jaded thirteen year old girl anymore. Back then, she'd been full of vim and vinegar, and he was beginning to realize that it had been a defense for her, a way of keeping herself safe when she was alone in the world. Nick was also starting to conclude that she'd never really dropped those defenses while she was with him and Kira. She had always seemed tough, cool, older than her years. Was it him she hadn't trusted enough to show this side of herself to or was it Kira? Whatever the case, there was a lightness to her now. She smiled easier, laughed a little more genuinely, and touched his hands casually as she pulled the t-shirt out of his grasp, wordlessly folding it the right way. Cassie had never been nonchalant with her affections before. In fact, she had seemed to avoid touching other people like it was the plague. Now, as she handed him the neat little rectangle of fabric the tip of her finger trailed along the palm of his hand as she withdrew, and he felt it zing through him like static shock. His blonde haired companion appeared not to notice, plucking a small sketchbook—white vellum—from her huge purse and a small tin with different kinds of pencils in it.

He'd noticed that she preferred to draw in pencil now or charcoal or something called conte crayons (Nick didn't understand the name as they looked nothing like crayons at all), like a real artist. He wondered when the change had occurred and why, and that he did ask out loud. "Why'd you stop using your pens?"

Cassie's slender shoulders moved up and down in a shrug. "I took an art class and this was the stuff we used in there. When my art started getting better, I kind of attributed it to the medium and so I just kept using them. It lets me give my art a lot more depth too." She pulled out a pencil marked 2B and started sketching on a clean piece of paper. It didn't look like anything at all to Nick at first, just vague lines on the paper, almost careless in their placement, but as she kept going, kept layering those shapes and lines, they formed an image. It was the storefront of the Laundromat, the dark outline of two men coming in, one short and slender, the other a little paunchy around the middle, and the clock over the door reading seven fifty-seven.

Currently, it was seven fifty-two.

They had five minutes to while away until Division Sniffs walked through that door.

"You sure they won't hurt us?" Nick asked Cassie, and watched as her eyes grew hazy and focused on something he couldn't see. When she came back, she shrugged. "It looks fine, but don't insult their mothers or anything just to be safe."

He laughed. "Come on, Cassie, do you think I'd do something that dumb?"

She eyed him speculatively for a moment. "I think you would if they pushed your buttons, so keep a lid on your temper, Nick. I don't have any leverage to save your ass with." Cassie put away her drawing supplies then and the other dryer went off, so she slid onto the ground and pulled out her clothes while Nick digested what she'd said. It was true, he did have a temper, but the years had taught him patience. He was also not the same person he'd been in Hong Kong. Except Cassie had no real way of knowing that.

The sound of the dryer being closed brought him out of his thoughts before he could get too lost in them. Instead, all he did was tell her, "I'll be fine. Worry about yourself."

"Me?" Cassie replied with false innocence dripping off her tongue, "I don't have a temper."

Nick snorted. "Bullshit."

Her blue eyes locked on his, rimmed with a thick fringe of gold-dusted lashes, and narrowed in the most withering look he'd been on the receiving end of in over three years. Nobody glared quite like Cassie did. Then she rolled her eyes, not even bothering to dignify his remark with a response, and pushed the metal cart over to the table, tossing her clothes on it, a haphazard mound of blacks, grays, and colors, with efficiency. The cart bumped him in the shins as she slid it over to him. "You have enough time to get your clothes out of the dryer. You should do it before they get all wrinkled. Kind of makes washing them a moot point."

He rolled his eyes but followed her advice. Cassie had always been able to boss him around. She just had an aura about her of competence that Nick was drawn to. It was nice to have someone to rely on other than himself, someone to trust in, even if it was about something as silly as getting his clothes out of the dryer before they wrinkled up again. Nick managed to get his laundry on his side of the table before the bell above the door chimed. He stiffened despite knowing it was coming; Cassie didn't. She just kept on folding clothes like she hadn't a care in the world.

"Well, well, what have we got here?" A man's reedy voice intoned.

"Don't know, Jay. Looks a lot like a Watcher and a Mover," the other man replied, and his voice was deeper but accented like he was from the South. Maybe Tennessee or Georgia? Nick slowly turned around and was pleased when Cassie did the same, though she didn't put down the sweater she was folding. She looked utterly relaxed.

The two Division Sniffs looked confident. The larger one, the one with the accent, wore Wranglers and cowboy boots with his sport coat and polo shirt. He had dark hair that he kept slicked back with some kind of hair product and a pleased-as-punch leer on his face. The other one was shorter, maybe five foot eight tops, and slender like Cassie's sketch had indicated. He wore a striped button-down shirt and khaki cargo pants. He looked young, his face clean-shaven with long blonde hair coming out of his head that ended near his chin. The kid could have been some trust fund baby at an Ivy League school, but Nick knew not to let his appearance make him dismiss the kid. He was still a Division thug and no matter what he looked like, that required a certain level of ruthlessness.

Cassie smiled at them. "Hi, guys. We've been waiting," she said as she set down her parcel of clothing and picked up another item, a tiny pair of underwear, black and translucent. The kid—Jay?—looked at her. His eyes darted down to her hands and then back up. He grinned and a light flush raced across his pale cheeks.

"Have you?" the larger man replied, his face saying that he was a whole lot less impressed with Cassie's little show, "That's good. Saves us some time, I suppose. Don't get me wrong, we would have found you eventually."

"I know," Cassie replied as her hands traded items yet again.

"So Cassie and Nick," the cowboy began, "I suppose you already know why we're here."

"For Kira," Nick responded and suddenly both Sniffs attention shifted to him entirely.

"Is she here?" Jay asked and his partner gave him a look that said he'd just tipped his hand. "What? I just want this assignment over and done with. It sucks, Rob. Let's get this bitch and move on with our lives." Cassie giggled but otherwise remained silent.

Nick frowned. He didn't like men disrespecting women in general, and despite his mixed feelings for Kira at the moment, he still did not approve of them calling her a bitch (even though she kind of was). He was kind of proud of himself when he didn't say anything though and just shrugged his shoulders. "She's not here. She split awhile ago." If he just kept his head and told the truth, they'd get out of this just fine. Cassie wouldn't have to pack up and leave her whole life here because he was the moron who'd led Division right to her. Without Kira, both he and Cassie were weak enough that Division had no use for them; Cassie's mom was dead, the syringe was gone (that whole deal had been a fucking waste of effort), and neither Cassie nor Nick had any intentions of joining the resistance movement to try to take on Division. They were done with that. The name of the game now was survival, and there was no reason to take either one of them.

"Do you know where she went?" Rob asked, and the blonde haired kid watched Nick very closely as he spoke, his eyes dilated to pinpricks as they flickered back and forth. It was then that Nick realized the blonde haired boy wasn't a Sniff at all. He was a Reader.

Readers were what the kids called telepaths these days. They could read your thoughts but they couldn't manipulate them like Pushers did. It was a different kind of danger, because you never knew what stray thoughts, flotsam and jetsam, existed in your own mind but at least with a Reader you knew your thoughts were your own. Oddly enough, they were rarer than Pushers—you would think it'd be the opposite, but no—and it was then that Nick understood what was going on. Jay's presence had seemed odd to him from the get-go; he still had that baby-faced, wet behind the ears look. No field operative he'd ever seen looked like that. But Readers were rare. They'd probably recruited him right out of high school, maybe blackmailed him into working for them using some leverage only Division would think to use. Poor kid. He should have been at college partying it up and getting laid by slutty co-eds. Instead he was a Division lap dog.

"No, I don't," Nick answered slowly and tried not to fight the alien presence that he knew was sifting through his thoughts.

"Really?" Rob asked again, his Southern voice drawing out the word like pulled taffy, "Jay?"

"He's telling the truth. He thinks she always wanted to see Australia, but other than that he doesn't know a thing," Jay replied as his eyes refocused.

"What'd she do, leave you in the middle of the night?" The Sniff laughed and Nick stiffened even more. She hadn't, but it was close enough to the truth that it hit the mark. "Run away with some other guy?"

Cassie made a sharp noise in the back of her throat and all the sudden she was up in Rob's face, a tiny little statuette of righteous anger. "Don't talk shit unless you have all the facts, Sniff." Nick reached out to pull her back, but she dodged his grasp in a lightening fast move and he realized that subconsciously she must have turned her peripheral thoughts to her ability. "Cassie," he hissed in a warning tone, but she ignored him.

Rob was laughing, a deep, rolling chuckle that made the hair on the back of Nick's neck stand up, and he realized that he'd missed the obvious warning signs. The kid obviously wasn't the muscle of the group, probably wouldn't be worth much in a fight, so naturally they'd send him out with a bad-ass for a partner. Even as the Mover came to the conclusion, Rob was stepping up into Cassie's space, forcing her back a step, obviously spoiling for a fight. This job was probably grating on his nerves, trying to track down some little girl and hitting only dead ends. "You mad, little one?" he taunted, "Pissed 'cause I'm poking at old wounds?"

"Please," Cassie scoffed, and took back the step she'd lost unintentionally, "That bitch is an albatross. We're glad she's gone." Her head was tipped back because he was so much taller than her that she had to glare up at him, but she still managed to look indignant with her hands on her hips, defending Nick like he was some kind of heartbroken damsel.

The Sniff looked at Nick pointedly, then dragged a calloused fingertip down Cassie's cheekbone. Jay looked like he wanted to jump in and interrupt, but wasn't sure if he'd just end up being the one pummeled. "Somehow, I doubt that," Rob said quietly, almost a whisper, and there was such a large, insidious barb underneath the innocuous words that Cassie flinched and saw red. Her left hand came up almost reflexively as she went to hit him, but the man caught it in mid-air in a powerful grip that wrapped around her wrist and tugged.

"Cassie!" Nick shouted and moved to step in—he didn't want to use his ability yet, that might incite more of a fight than they wanted—except Jay moved to block his path with a stubborn look on his face. He may not have wanted to be a part of Division, but he was still going to back his partner up. Things would get worse for him if he didn't. Nick wasn't sure what to do, and in that moment he heard the Sniff say to Cassie, "So you want to play, little girl? Give it your best shot."

Cassie was enraged. She was pissed because the Sniff was right, and Nick was still heartbroken over Kira even though he was lusting after Cassie (really, it was a never-ending battle for his affections). It made her mad that even after all the things Kira had put him, put them through that a part of his heart still remained with the brown-eyed Pusher. And he…and she…

The Sniff provided a perfect outlet for those pent-up emotions, and his last taunt was a little more than she could handle. Off-balance and angry, Cassie fought the only way she knew how: dirty. The Watcher grabbed the edge of one of the upper dryer doors and flung it open as hard as she could, noting with satisfaction with the clear glass connected with the man's face and forced him to let go of her. It hit him square in the nose and a sick crunch echoed in the room, blood smearing on the glass window of the dryer door. "Fuck!" he shouted, "You little bitch!"

He reached for her again with one hand while the other clutched his possibly broken nose, and she scrambled back, crouching a little as she prepared to hit him again. She couldn't afford to turn and run. He'd grab her by the hair and then Nick would Move him across the room and all hell would break loose.

The Reader, Jay, finally seemed to make a decision and slid in between Cassie and the Sniff, facing his partner with his hands held up in the universal sign for 'I'm defenseless.' "Get out of the way, kid," Rob growled and moved to go around him. Jay stepped back in his path resolutely.

While Jay was busy with the cowboy, Nick vaulted over the folding table and tucked Cassie behind him protectively, his eyes serious and watchful as he took in the Division employees, seeing if he was going to have to break this up and if the situation would defuse itself.

"No," Jay said and his voice sounded a little like a pouting child's, "That's enough. You instigated, she responded; now it's done. Are you really going to get in a fistfight with a girl half your size?"

"You want me to hit you instead?" the other man questioned in a muffled voice and he looked angry enough that he might. Jay just stood there and stared him down. "If that's what it takes," he replied, "I don't hit girls and I don't let girls get hit either."

Rob let loose a liquidy sounding noise of disgust as he squared off with his partner, and abruptly he took a step back. Cassie released a breath behind Nick and hooked her fingers through his belt loops. A second later he knew why as Rob's arm swung forward. Nick twitched, anticipating breaking up a fight between the Division agents, and stilled when the arm settled over Jay's shoulders with a hearty sigh and fond squeeze. "Alright, kid. Let's get the fuck out of here. You been to Sydney before?"

"Nope," the blonde boy smiled and shrugged off his partner's arm, "But I hear it's nice. We'll go after you get your nose set."

Rob narrowed his eyes and then conceded with a low grunt. He eyed Cassie from where she peeked out behind Nick's broader form. "Nice hit," he told her grudgingly, and she nodded, almost smiling as she recognized it for the apology it was. "Woman scorned and all that," she responded with a nonchalant shrug. He grinned and tipped an imaginary hat at her, then turned on his heel. "Come on, Jay, we got a plane to catch," he called over his shoulder.

The young Reader hesitated, looked back at Nick and Cassie long enough to say, "Sorry about that. You alright?"

Cassie nodded. "Fine. There's an emergency room about fifteen minutes west of here if you go by car. Follow the hospital signs."

Jay nodded and left wordlessly, hands in his pockets as his slender form trailed that of his larger partner's. Being that they were Division, Nick thought, the kid wasn't half-bad.

He turned on Cassie the second he was sure they were gone. "What the hell was that?" he shouted, "'Keep a lid on your temper, Nick.' Seriously, what happened to taking your own advice? Christ!" Nick was glowering at her like he'd never glowered before, which Cassie was ignoring in favor of leaning up against a washing machine and crossing her arms over her chest casually.

"He made me angry," she replied coolly.

"Clearly!" Nick volleyed back, "Jesus, Cass, what did you think you were going to do? The guy's twice your size. He could've snapped you like a twig! Thank god his partner's got some kind of control over him, otherwise we'd be fucked! How well do you think things would have gone if I'd had to step in to save you from your own stupid bravado?"

Cassie flinched a little and looked away, her eyes landing on the soda machine in the corner. She licked her lips nervously. "It was fine."

"You knew that! I didn't know that!" Nick was shaking, a fine tremor that started in his clenched fists and raced up his arms, tangled between his shoulders in a knot of tension so hard, he'd almost rather have preferred a fight to that special kind of pain. "I mean, what the fuck, Cassie?"

Suddenly, she straightened up and took two quick steps so that she was right in front of him, jabbing him in the chest. "Look, I'm not some dumb kid. I can take care of myself. Have for some time now. I know what I'm doing. He pissed me off and I wanted to get back at him, so I did. Now leave it the fuck alone, Nick. You're too much of a goddamn pussy to deal with the whys, so don't even ask." That silenced him, and they glared at each other from four inches away, the space between them warm with their body heat and tempers. Her breath hit his face, smelling like peppermint and he was angry that she was smoking again—she'd tried it when she was fifteen and he'd had a conniption; it had taken awhile for him to figure it out because her breath always smelled like the peppermint candies she'd taken to buying—warming him slightly. Her mouth, her uncomfortable truth-telling mouth, was temptingly close and Nick forced himself to back away with a scoff. "Like it even matters," he said and went back to the laundry table, folding the rest of things to give him something to do, somewhere to put his anger and adrenaline.

Cassie didn't say a thing, just rolled her eyes and stalked back to the table as well, finishing her clothes with jerky movements.

They worked in silence and left the Laundromat without a word, stubbornness keeping them from making any conversation on the way back to her apartment.

Nick kept replaying what she'd said in his head over and over. 'You're too much of a goddamn pussy to deal with the whys, so don't even ask.' Was he? Was he scared of Cassie? Scared of loving her? Was that the real reason why he couldn't make a move, despite the desire and the tension and the reciprocation? Or was he just scared of being loved?

Did Cassie love him? Was that why she'd leapt to his defense? It seemed entirely possible when he stopped to think about it.

Did he love her?

Yes, of course he did. Cassie was…well, she was Cassie. How could you not love Cassie with her infectious laughter, her layered looks, her complicated mind and generous heart?

But was he still in love with Kira? And that was the real question, the one that made him stop in his tracks. It wasn't the age difference between himself and Cassie, or their shared history, or anything else. It was that he didn't think it was right to start something with Cassie if he hadn't finished whatever it was with Kira. Yes, they'd broken up some time ago, but it still hurt that she'd left him. Whether it was wounded pride or a wounded heart was hard to determine. He wouldn't disrespect Cassie like that if it was the latter. She deserved more than a man whose mind will still set on another. So he hesitated.

When they got back to the apartment, Cassie put her clothes away in the closet and the cheap dresser she'd picked up at a thrift store. She was still riding high on the tide of anger, Nick knew, though he'd long since cooled off on the walk there. He sat on the bed and watched her work, then when she was done he got up to do the same. She'd given him some space in the closet and two drawers in the dresser. See? Generous.

By the time he was finished, Cassie was sprawled out on the bed, drawing in one of the larger sketchbooks she kept, using those damn crayons (that were not crayons at all). He didn't know if she was drawing something she was Seeing or if she was just drawing to draw, but he could tell by the angry swipes of her hand and how hard she pressed on the paper that she was still simmering. Nick sighed and squatted down next to the bed, letting his hand come to rest on her upper back. He ignored the way she tensed and froze, saying, "Cass, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. It was pretty douchey of me."

Cassie snorted and he felt the guttural movement of her lungs underneath his palm. 'Damn right,' she seemed to say without words.

"I'm an asshole," he went on, prepared to grovel if that's what it took for the silent treatment to end. It was harder to withstand in such a small space. The silence hurtled insults at him with more accuracy than her words ever could. "You were looking out for me because…because you care about me, and I…"

His Watcher interrupted him with a sharp humorless laugh. She pillowed her head in her arms, dropping the crayon on the huge sketchpad, and just laughed to herself for a moment with her head down. Then she turned to look at him, and he saw the sadness in her eyes. There weren't any tears, but it was almost worse that way. "I care about you?" she echoed, "Jesus, Nick, when are you going to get a clue? I'm in love with you!"

Nick said quietly, "I know."

"I have been since, like, the beginning!" she said and shot up from her belly onto her knees, dislodging Nick's hand as she moved.

"I know," Nick repeated.

"I'm such an idiot!" Cassie shouted and hit the mattress with a tiny, balled-up fist, "It makes me so angry, Nick. It pisses me off that I have to feel this way and you just get to sit there and look wounded! I want…I want you to want me the way I want you, and someday you will, maybe. I've Seen it. Except I'm tired of waiting and I feel like I've been patient enough, and it's not fucking fair!" She punched the mattress again, and Nick could see that she was digging half-moons into her palms; her hands were clenched so tightly.

Instead of answering her with words, he grasped her balled up fist in his hand. When she tugged it away, he persisted with more strength, and uncurled her graceful, black-stained fingers. "Cassie," he breathed out over the skin of her palm, and brushed his lips across her knuckles. Cassie closed her eyes tightly, fighting the urge to cry as he held her hand and prepared to confess.

"I'm mad at myself for wasting so much time and energy on Kira," Nick stated, and his voice was a little surprised like he'd just realized it himself, "I'm mad because I let her use me. I resent the fact that she stayed with me even when, emotionally, we were both done with our relationship, waiting until she could find some other protector to latch onto. It bothers me that I couldn't see her for who she was before and that it resulted in me losing three years with you."

Cassie opened her mouth to say something, but Nick shushed her. "Let me finish," he told her, "You were still a child then, Cassie, and even if you'd stayed and Kira had left, I wouldn't have made a move on you." White teeth sank into her lower lip as she struggled with a whole new mess of insecurities, too emotionally invested in the present to slip into her power and try to see the future. "Even though I could see that you were growing into a beautiful woman. Peripherally, I was always aware of that. Except I don't…I couldn't sleep with a child, Cassie, and even though you'd been through so much more than most people your age, you were still a child. I would have given you the space and the room to grow up, but I would have liked to be there with you, to see it happen. It kills me to know that you almost got taken in by Division and I wasn't there to stop it. Understand?"

Blonde hair shifted on her tee shirt as she nodded.

"It's not because I didn't see you," Nick said, "It's because I love you too much to have taken away the last little bits of your innocence." He wasn't sure where this eloquence was coming from, but he was vaguely thankful that it was there because it appeared to be helping. Nick normally wasn't known for his way with words. He tended to stick to the old adage of actions speaking louder than the aforementioned, except that time there was something that needed to be said to clear the air between them, to lay to rest the misunderstandings that had piled up between the Nick and Cassie of the past. "I'm not in love with Kira anymore. I haven't been for a long time, but that was something I needed to figure out on my own." Cassie's lips twitched upward half-heartedly as he echoed what she'd thought earlier.

Then Nick caught her lips in a careful kiss, and Cassie just about melted. "So thanks for being more mature than me and giving me time to do it in." He pulled back far enough and laughed, and his smile was contagious. Soon Cassie was grinning as well, dashing half-formed tears from the corners of her eyes. "No problem," she laughed, though they both knew it was a blatant lie.

Nick tugged her up in his arms and they stayed that way, awkwardly positioned, clutching each other until the last of the strong emotions had washed away from them both, leaving them both bone-tired and more than a little wrecked. "Come on," she pulled on him until he climbed up on the mattress, and tossed her paper and conte crayons down on the floor. They slept in a way that was quickly becoming habit to them, with his larger body spooning hers protectively.

By the time either of them moved again, it was dark outside and what little light came through the basement windows had disappeared, leaving them in cold, relaxed black. Well, it was cold outside of the cocoon of their blankets. Cassie was like a furnace, and it was comfortably, pleasantly warm underneath the covers. She was still, her breathing easy, and Nick was struck with the similarity to the night he'd discovered that Cassie desired him that way still—he may have known of her childhood crush, but when he came to find her in L.A., Nick was fairly positive that she'd moved on from such things. It surprised him how happy he'd been upon discovering that she hadn't.

His arm curved over her flat stomach possessively, fingers touching the edge of her tee shirt and the smooth skin over her abdomen. She was soft there, fragile; his hand spanned the entire space between her hips. Nick's fingers moved without his permission and stroked that delicate skin. He buried his nose in her hair, smelled her cheap coconut shampoo and the faint scent of her sweat, and pressed his lips against the place where her neck met her back, just over the spine. Cassie smiled a little in her sleep as she began to wake under the gentle ministrations, though she played possum.

Emboldened by her lack of response, thinking that maybe he'd get away with it, Nick slowly trailed his hand upwards, bunching her shirt up as he ran his hand over her stomach and rested it on her sternum, right between her breasts. He paused and licked his lips, kissed the back of her neck once more as he thought about it. Oh, he thought about it; about turning wrist ever so slightly so that the weight of her breast fell into his hand. He'd cup her so gently; run his fingertips around her nipple until it grew stiff.

Cassie stayed still as a statue, her eyes closed as she fought to keep her breathing slow and steady, even as she reached for the future. Will he or won't he? A subtle movement beneath her rucked-up shirt and his calloused hand cradled one of her breasts. The pads of his fingers pressed into her lightly in the most miniscule of massages, and then he circled her areola. A longing moan escaped her before she could even register that it had been building up. Nick froze, and his hand twitched like he was about to pull away. Cassie reached up quickly and put her hand over his. "Don't stop," she whispered, "Please, Nick."

He huffed out a little chuckle and asked, "How long have you been awake?"

"Who cares? Don't stop. I want you to touch me," Cassie told him quietly. There was a pregnant pause as Nick fought against himself, against the part of himself that still wanted to view her as young and innocent, and the part of him that wanted her just as much as she wanted him. Cassie held her breath until Nick sighed, smiled against her skin, and said, "Then at least turn around so I can do this properly." Cassie let go of his hand and he used the freedom to put a little pressure on her hip until she flowed with the movement, rolling over to face him, one of her slender legs curving over his, tangling them together until his thigh was pressed up against her most intimate parts. Surprisingly, it wasn't awkward, despite it being the first time they'd attempted such a thing. There was no laughter, no giggling, no squirming to get comfortable. Maybe the dark made it easier that first time.

Cassie brushed her lips against his and he parted his mouth automatically. The residual taste of peppermint seeped into him as Cassie responded to his forwardness by opening up to him. His tongue swept inside her mouth, dodging and dancing with hers in a slick, wet caress. When he pulled back, Cassie chased him into the confines of his own mouth, sucking in her breaths through her nose. She made a thorough exploration of him as well, and he was trembling just a little by the time she licked the roof of his mouth and released him from captivity. Being with Cassie made him feel new, fresh; she was hope and home condensed into a petite package just for him. Nick couldn't recall feeling quite so connected to anyone else before.

"Cass," he groaned as her hands dove underneath his shirt and her graceful artist's hands traced his muscles, hunting down the spots that made him arch into her just a little bit more. She was thorough and almost methodical as she documented his noises and movements, smiling against his mouth as she kissed him again. Nick clutched at her a little desperately; he was sure, pulling her against him as tight as he could, stopping her wandering, torturous hands. He slipped her shirt up, working it up until she was forced to raise her arms or have it tangled underneath her armpits, and squirmed down a little more on the mattress so that he could kiss her chin and her neck all the way down to her chest. She wasn't wearing a bra—hadn't been wearing one all day, a fact which he'd been acutely aware of—and he played with her breasts with hands and lips and tongue until she was arching and saying his name over and over in a hoarse, pleading tone.

Deciding he'd tortured her enough in kind, Nick licked straight up between her breasts, stopped to nibble on her collarbone, and continued on up to her mouth. He nipped her chin playfully and she dug her nails into the top of his ass—and when her hand had gotten there, he couldn't say. "Nick," she said his name one more time and her voice held a demand. He smiled and licked at her lips until she was begging wordlessly for his mouth, arching her hips, rocking insistently against his thigh, her breath coming fast against his lips. It was then that he dragged her down into a kiss that went on forever.

He was still fucking her mouth with his tongue as he slid his hands down the back of her tiny little shorts, cupped her butt in his palms and encouraged Cassie to get herself off on him. She was making little noises into his mouth and he ate them up like a fat kid with a king size chocolate bar, fast and greedy and maybe a little messily. Her hands were scrabbling at his back, dragging his shirt up in stuttering bursts. He thrust his covered erection against her hip and groaned, finally breaking away from her lips short of breath.

"Nick," she panted as he popped the button on his jeans and slid the zipper down, grateful for the sudden release of pressure on his cock, "Don't stop, don't stop, please." Cassie ran her hands over his bare chest, and Nick hissed as her nails trailed over his nipples, feeling startlingly good. Her hot little mouth kissed his neck and sucked on his Adam's apple, and she smiled around his skin as she felt him growl low in his throat. She worked the top of his unzipped jeans lower and ran her fingertips over the edge of his boxer-briefs. He groaned and promised her in a low voice, "I won't. Not unless you tell me to."

Cassie grinned, flicked her tongue over his left nipple and enjoyed his gasp, and then she pulled him so that she could roll onto her back with Nick above her. He propped himself up on his elbows and kissed her again while she pushed impatiently at his jeans, apparently giving up on his shirt. His legs were tangled up in the covers and so he kicked them off and then kicked his pants off too. The air was chilled but neither of them noticed anymore, distracted and heated as they were by friction and arousal.

Nick pulled off the shorts that had teased him all day, and ran his fingers along the edge of her thong. Cassie mewled and arched her back, bringing her hips in closer contact with his hands, so he did what he'd been dying to do for days: he pulled that sorry excuse for underwear to the side and slid over her slick nether lips. She let out a strangled cry which Nick caught with his lips, and sank a finger inside of her tight channel the same time he speared her mouth with his tongue. He worked her until she was insensible and then added another finger, stretching her at the same time that he hunted down her g-spot.

Her nails curled into his back ever increasing in their pressure. He knew he'd have marks in the morning, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Then abruptly Cassie pulled her lips away from his with a gasp, and she ripped his tee shirt over his head. He was forced to remove his fingers for a moment as he flung the offending object across the darkened room, and when he plunged back inside of her, Cassie shouted against his skin and licked a long, wet line down his throat and sternum. Part of him wished they'd turned the lights on before all this had begun. He wanted to watch as his fingers curled deep inside her and stroked over her hidden secrets, wanted to drink in the way she writhed. All he could make out in the dark were vague gray shapes.

"Nick, oh god," she panted and squirmed against him, "Nick, I—" Her inner muscles contracted suddenly and whatever she was about to say was cut off as her body flew into orgasm. Instead Cassie shouted, loud and wordlessly, and sank her teeth into his shoulder as she rode out the waves of her climax. Nick found himself groaning out loud as she spasmodically clamped and released on his fingers, and he kept moving his hand slowly so that she came down from her high gradually.

He was so hard that it physically hurt, and he palmed himself through his underwear as Cassie wrapped her hand around his wrist to still his movements within her. Nick withdrew then and shucked off his underwear. His cock sprang up eagerly and rested in his own hand as he stroked himself leisurely. When she opened her eyes, he was close enough that she could see his face and the grip he had on his length. She licked her lips at the picture presented to her, then grinned and laughed. "God, that was great. Now come here," she stated and crooked her finger at him, and he just about fell down in prayer, he was so eager to be inside of her, "I want you to fuck me, Nick. I've wanted you for years. Now give me what I want."

Her hands glided down her own body, lightly dewed with sweat, and slid her underwear off. It soon went the way of his tee shirt, lost to the darkness of the apartment. Nick arched over her on his arms and she nipped his earlobe, which made him shiver and so he kissed her long and deep until they were both groaning. He was past words at that point, his mind lost to the primitive urges that hummed in his bones. Then Nick pulled back slightly, stroked his hand down her damp inner thigh until she hitched her leg over his hip and he lined himself up with her entrance, sliding home with one steady move.

"Cassie," he said in a choked voice, and her body tightened around a different part of him as she quaked her way through another climax, a high-pitched noise that might have been his name leaving her lips simultaneously. Nick began to move his hips in a rhythm as natural as breathing, as old as time itself, fighting his way through her muscle contractions. It didn't last long that first time, sadly, embarrassingly. A few more thrusts and Nick was grunting out his own climax, feeling himself shake and spatter Cassie inside with his come.

Things were peaceful as he pulled out. Cassie made a small noise as he tucked the blankets up around them and shoved him over until his back hit the wall so that she could roll away from the wet spot. "We should clean up," Nick told her quietly, though he made no move to do so. Instead he wrapped his arms around her and held her like she was precious and breakable, eyes already closing once more. Cassie chuckled and kissed her lover's neck, breathing in the scent of his soap and sex. "In a little while," she demurred and grinned as Nick made a sleepy noise of agreement.

"I love you, Cass," he murmured as his breathing evened out.

"I love you too, dorkus," she whispered and let her hands curve over his muscles possessively as she too surrendered to Morpheus.

It wasn't easy trying to surprise a Watcher, but seduction turned out to be a bit easier than he'd thought.