Sirens Still Bleed Red

Fandom: Push

Pairing: Nick/Cassie, Jay/Taylor

Rating: M

Warnings: violence, sexual situations

Archive: Ask

Author: Lily Zen

Notes: Next in the series after Home Is A Distant Dream. Trust me, you want to read that first even if you hate original characters because it provides crucial background information on what is going on in this story. There is some slight sensuality between Jay and Taylor, and while they are young, they are not underaged, but other than that nothing really adult in here.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

It was only the day after they'd finally gotten together that everything went all to hell.

Not even a day, really. A few meager hours.

Cassie was wrapped around Nick, and they were both nude and sated, lying on the old mattress in her apartment. They were awake, but silent, lingering in the pre-dawn haze. Nick had his hands in her hair. He was taking the individual locks and curling them around his fingers, then he'd let them unwind, smooth them between his thumb and forefinger, and start the process over again.

She let him, languishing in the exquisite knowledge that she was being touched by the man she'd wanted to touch her for so long. It was intimate, this closeness without the heavy weight of sex between them. Oh, there was desire. There was always desire for Cassie when it came to Nick. But at that moment, it was just about reveling in having the freedom to touch as she would like and be touched in return.

Her hands traced the skin of his chest, and she curiously mapped which caresses made him flinch away and those that forced his body to stretch languorously under her touch, body wordlessly giving up its secrets, the erogenous zones that someday Cassie would know better than her own.

Then the next thing she knew, Cassie had that itch in the back of her mind, the strange twisting, grabbing, pulling sensation that accompanied a major shift in the future, and her fingers curled, convulsing against Nick's chest, seeking pencil and paper and finding only smooth skin and a light dusting of coarse hair over hard, well-developed muscle tissue and breakable bones.

With an explosive gasp and unseeing eyes, the Watcher rolled off the mattress and onto the floor, feeling blindly for the sketchpad and drawing tools she'd dropped earlier in the night. Her hands were itchy, fingers burning, aching to channel her gift into the real world. Visions, scenarios, possibilities filled her mind in quick, hard snapshots that left her reeling.

As though from the other end of a tunnel, Cassie heard Nick calling, "Cassie? Cass, what's wrong? Talk to me, Cass!"

Her own voice was that of a stranger's saying, "Red. Devil-red. Siren red. So much red."

She felt her world falling apart as a slender cylinder was pushed into her hand and then for awhile there was nothing except the frantic sweep of pencil on paper, the gentle skritching of her motions, and the overwhelming urge to pour out the nightmares in her head onto the paper before her. She needed to get them out, to expel the demons before they ate her mind up, had to see and study and analyze what it was she saw from the safe vantage of someone watching a storm, rather than being tossed about in the midst of it all.

It felt like years that Cassie had been drawing, but it was probably only a couple hours at the most.

When she came out of it, it was with a soft cry as her eyes suddenly and quite clearly saw the horror wrought by her own hands. Red. Pages and pages filled with red, contrasting garishly with the stark black and white contours.

"Cassie?" Nick asked, and it was then that she realized she was flipping back and forth through at least ten pages of drawings. Some of them were no more than half-formed sketches, others looked painfully detailed.

"Nick?" Cassie returned, her voice very small and her eyes filling up with tears when she looked at him. She was crouched naked on her own floor, hands stained with black charcoal and red ink. They were trembling ever so slightly.

Nick was perched on one of the two shabby chairs she had in her apartment. It was turned so that instead of facing the breakfast counter and the galley kitchen, it faced her. He had a cup of coffee in his hands, a worried expression on his face, and appeared to be fully dressed. After she looked up at him and seemed to actually be aware of her surroundings, he sighed in relief and she saw his shoulders slump a little. "I couldn't get you to respond to me," he said, "I've never seen you get so wrapped up in your visions like that."

Shrugging, Cassie replied, "It's been awhile. I've gotten stronger."

"I guess I hadn't realized just how much stronger," Nick returned wryly.

The Watcher didn't bother to respond, instead using the mattress to push herself to her feet and pad over to the dresser. She was beginning to feel awkward and a little chilly being in the nude in front of a man who was barely her lover. One time didn't make it a relationship, at least that was her way of thinking, and she wasn't really sure what Nick was feeling at the moment. In any case, what she had to say wasn't really naked-delivery appropriate. She pulled on a short peach nightgown, having reached at first for the red one and then shuddered, changing her mind at the last second. It was one of the silky things she had treated herself to occasionally when she was feeling really down, wanted to feel sensual and desirous, delicate and feminine.

Then she turned and picked up the notepad, walking over by Nick hesitantly, stopping a few feet away from him. Cassie hovered there uncertainly until Nick switched his mug to one hand and held out an arm to her. Feeling terribly fragile, Cassie ducked under his arm and stood close to his side, letting his warmth seep into her.

"I know we haven't talked about this," she began slowly, haltingly; "I think we've both been kind of avoiding it for the sake of our own sanities."

"About…?" Nick prompted when she fell into silence.

"About why we stopped helping people, others like us. About why we stopped giving a shit," her voice cracked on the last word, and her fingertip traced a gently curved line on the page. "I was angry," Cassie went on when it looked like Nick had nothing to say, "I was so, so angry that I had failed, Nick. We had it in our hands, the key to bringing down Division and freeing my mom, and we got fucking double-crossed and lost it all. All because we trusted the wrong person. After that, I just couldn't do it anymore. I didn't have the will to fight, the passion in me to rail against the future. I just needed to rest."

Clearing his throat, Nick admitted quietly, speaking into her ear, "I felt the same way. I was angry at myself for not seeing the betrayal coming. I should have. Part of me felt like I would have if I hadn't got so complacent, so used to trusting other ex-pats. After we lost the syringe, I just wanted to retreat for awhile."

"You did," Cassie informed him quietly.

"…I know," he replied, "I could hardly look at anyone for weeks, but you were the worst, Cassie. I couldn't think about you without being reminded of how I had let you down. Me, the only person you trusted enough in the whole world to ask for help from, and I let you down. I lost your mother for you."

"You didn't," Cassie insisted, though the pain in his voice, in his words, had torn open some old scab. The pain of it was still as fresh as it had been when she was barely fifteen and staring into Pinky's face Seeing the impending betrayal written there like a cold, hard revelation. "Pinky did." Saying his name aloud still causing a pulse of rage to flare somewhere within her.

"I still feel like I should have known," Nick whispered fiercely.

"How could you have? I was the Watcher. I should have Seen it sooner, been Watching more closely. Perhaps we both got complacent with the idea that these were our friends, our allies. Anyway, it doesn't matter anymore," Cassie said, her voice hard like chipped obsidian, "What happened is in the past. My point is that it scared us away from doing what we both know is right. It made us give up hope that things could ever be changed. But Nick…Nick, I have to change this."

She touched the picture again and it was then that Nick stopped looking at the far wall with his chin on her shoulder, and looked down at the sketchpad she'd placed in his lap. What he saw made him feel sick.

It was a girl in a room with a boy crouched over her, his hands on her abdomen. There was a gun lying at his feet, and the girl appeared to be bleeding. There was fear in her eyes. The wall was streaked with bold lines of red ink and the carpeting appeared to be soaked in it. There was some seeping out from under the boy's hands as well.

Cassie turned the page and it was the same scene, except now there were men in the room, men in suits with guns, and Nick recognized the boy now as he looked up at them. It was the young Division agent, Jay.

The next page showed both of the youngsters dead on the floor.

"This is what happens if we don't help them," Cassie stated.

She flipped to the next page. It showed the two of them on the street; Nick had the bleeding girl in his arms. Cassie was trotting along next to them and the blond boy was somewhat behind them, his face looking scared. In the distance was a small, shadowy figure. He couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. There were no distinguishing features.

The page after showed a car crossing the border into Nevada.

"This is what happens if we do. We'll have to leave, Nick. We will be back on the run and have no choice but to fight." Shrugging, the petite blonde haired woman told him, "I don't know what you want to do, but I know what I have to do. I can't let any of these futures come true."

She flipped through some of the following pages, showing haphazard sketches of the girl locked in a room. Sometimes it was the boy. Other times the scenes were bloodier. Then at the end, there were a few small sketches of things that made no sense to Nick. A red lightbulb, a pair of red high heels, a red vacancy sign that only lit up to read 'vaanc,' and a tube of red lipstick.

All red. He wondered what the significance was of that.

"I'm going to shower," Cassie stated, "Then I'm going to find them. If you're not going, well…then I guess you can have the apartment." She stepped away from him and threw the sketchbook on the bed, and walked into the bathroom, firmly shutting the door.

Nick listened to the little click as she pushed the lock in and he knew that it was symbolic of so much more. She was locking him out of her heart, being deliberately icy to him so that he could make his decision free from their tentative romantic ties. He had already been drawn in once because of his romantic feelings for another woman. Cassie understood and was sensitive enough to not want to put him in that position again. So she would go by herself and leave him here to this peaceful life if that was what he wished. No resentment or recriminations.

He knew Cassie well enough to discern her reasoning. He also knew that it mattered a whole lot more to her than she was saying. It would hurt her to leave him, to lose him so soon after they'd just reunited.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which path Nick was going to choose. In the end, he would do the same as he'd done seven years ago when a skinny blond girl had given him a lotus flower. When it came down to it, he was always going to ally himself with Cassie. She was his lodestone.

It took her ten minutes to shower and then she reemerged in a tiny blue and white striped towel.

She raised an eyebrow at the large duffel on the end of the bed and looked to Nick, who was quickly folding up his things and tossing them in.

"So you're coming then," Cassie said unnecessarily.

Nick looked at her, his blue eyes uncharacteristically serious. "I won't leave you again," he finally responded.

Gazing at him for a split second, Cassie tried to gauge his level of commitment. She knew exactly what she was getting into here, leaving behind the home she'd made to fight Division once again. That time she was going to win. No matter what. But did Nick understand what he was going to do? Did he know all that he'd have to give up? And there was no guarantee that they'd survive. They could only have a few weeks or months together. On the other hand, it could be years. There was no way to tell for sure.

In his eyes, she saw a somber knowledge buried there, a promise that he intended to keep.

It took three long strides until she was right in front of him at the closet doors. Her left hand curled around his forearm and her right slid up his other arm to clasp his neck, the powdery softness of his skin and the prickle of the short hairs there a contrast to the long caress up his cotton shirtsleeve. The slightest of pressures and he bent like a willow at the same time she rose up on the balls of her feet. Their lips met in the middle, a chaste contact sealing their pact with one another. Then Nick slanted his mouth across hers, and the sudden desperation in his hands stripping away her towel made her lips fall apart. His tongue became a slick invader, an insidious presence in the cavern of her mouth as he tried to pour out everything he felt in that solitary moment. Large hands curved over her bare, shower-damp skin, sticking slightly where the water hadn't quite dried yet.

They broke away from each other at the same moment, gasping for breath. Cassie took a deliberate step away, trying to cool the ardent fire that single kiss had invoked. She needed to focus. They had work to do now.

"Okay then," she breathed, tracing her lips with her fingers and attempting to conceal the silly grin there.

The amount of effort it took her not to be led astray by her amorous intentions was herculean. Then Cassie remembered the bloody visions and it spurred her into motion. She pulled on clean underwear, dumping the rest in a huge duffle bag that she pulled out from the closet and adding her lingerie collection. The old sweatpants she didn't care about. A pair of sturdy jeans were tugged up her slender legs, the rest of her bottoms- three pairs of jeans, three skirts, and two pairs of shorts—followed. After that came her shirts, and she wore as many as she could to make room in her bag. She ended up wearing a cami over her bra, two other tank tops, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and her jacket. True, she'd be warm quickly, but it gave her enough room to pack the majority of her shirts and the one sundress she owned. Her tennis shoes and flip flops strained the seams, but sitting on it made it zip up alright.

It was sad that after so much time, her life could still be condensed into one bag. Granted, the bag was bigger than it had been when she was thirteen, but it was still just a single bag.

In the other smaller duffle, Cassie packed non-essentials. That included her shampoo and conditioner, neatly bagged up, the unopened bar of soap in the bathroom, and a razor, not to mention her art supplies and the spare sheets. She remembered all too well some of the rat-infested no-tell motels she'd stayed in as a youngster and thought it wise to bring her own sheets that time rather than regularly treating herself for lice. Finally, Cassie laced up her big, black boots and pulled her still-wet hair into a damp, messy bun.

They were ready to go.

Cassie left her apartment key on the counter and walked out the door.

Nick followed behind and Moved the lock into place behind them.

Taylor woke with a start, her body jolting in place.

The movement made Jay stir, who grumbled wordlessly, pulled her close again, and nuzzled his cheek against her breast as he dropped back off.

Her eyes sought the clock, hoping to ascertain how long she'd been asleep. The last thing she remembered was wearily flicking the channels back and forth on the small television, switching between an infomercial for a juicer, some sort of early morning exercise program, and the early morning music video slot on MTV. She was waiting for Jay to wake up and leave. He always set an alarm so that he'd know when to take off. Until then, she had to stay awake. Her ability to Shadow fluctuated in her unconscious state, her vigilance lost to the somnolent waves of REM, like catching an intermittent radio signal.

It was one of the reasons she didn't sleep well anymore, plagued with frequent bouts of insomnia brought on by fear and anxiety, and the inescapable knowledge that when she slept she was vulnerable.

The clock informed her in blaring red numbers that she had been asleep for two and a half hours.

Fear slid down her spine in a glacial ice floe, settling in her stomach like Antarctica at the base of the planet.

"Jay," she prodded her sleeping boyfriend. He groaned and tugged the blanket up until all she could see was his silky blond hair, mussed up from her fingers and his sleep. "Jay, get up," Taylor shook his shoulder, but still he didn't move.

Rolling her eyes, the redheaded girl ducked under the blanket and did the one thing that would wake him up faster than anything else she could think of. Her fingers teased over his ankles, circling the round little bones and gliding onto the tops of his feet. Jay started twitching his feet away from her. Then she slid her hand underneath and tickled his arch until he woke up with a yelp, twisting away sharply. Taylor kept tickling until he was laughing breathlessly and pleading. As a last stand, she arched over his hip and set her teeth in the meat of his cute little butt, nipping hard mostly because she could. It made him jump satisfyingly and squirm.

Jay whipped the covers back and stared down at her, panting and flushed. He was half-erect and just the proximity of her face being anywhere near his groin was making his need increase. Taylor watched the slow growth with a small smile and a look of fascination on her face. She licked her lips, looked up at her boyfriend, and with a wicked smile, kissed his shaft just underneath the plump tip.

He jerked and whimpered, biting his chapped lip. There was a plea in his eyes that Taylor almost couldn't ignore and didn't want to if she was being truthful with herself. A lingering encounter such as this was incredibly rare.

That thought was enough to slam her back into reality as the reason behind this sweet, languorous moment came rolling back into her mind. She sat up with a quiet sigh, her expression resolute. Jay recognized the look. It said plain as day 'no more playtime.' He flopped back on the bed with a groan.

"Taylor, you're a cock-tease."

She chuckled and picked up his hand, dropping a kiss on his palm that tasted of salt, and then she wrapped it around his length. "You've got two hands. Use them," Taylor suggested lightly and hopped off the bed. "I fell asleep though for a little while, and your alarm never went off. So you should hurry up if you want to jerk off before you scamper back to your injured partner." Then temptation proved too much, looking at her blonde haired lover, flushed and disheveled with his lusty eyes boring holes into her nude form. Her knee planted on the edge of the mattress, Taylor leaned over and slanted her mouth on Jay's. She cradled his lower lip between hers for a scant moment, then the Reader opened up for her and thrust his tongue forwards. Meeting it with her own, the appendages twined around each other like snakes.

When Taylor felt her control of the situation slipping, Jason's hands gliding up over her bare skin, she broke the kiss with a slow suck on her boyfriend's tongue, making an obscene wet, slurping sound. She deliberately stepped back from the bed, putting herself out of Jay's reach. His subversive caresses were going to be her undoing if she wasn't careful.

Clearing her throat, Taylor stated, "You can have the first shower." She turned away, picking up his shirt from the floor and pulling it on in an attempt to gain some distance. With more clothes on, she'd be less likely to jump back into the warm nest of blankets.

Jason got up with a grumble and a pout, and headed for the bathroom, knowing that Taylor was usually right about those sorts of things. He needed to get cleaned up and get out of there before Rob noticed his absence. On his way to the cheap hollow-core door, he caught Taylor around the waist and bussed her cheek with his lips in an affectionate gesture. "You're evil," he teased her with a grin.

You love it, Taylor thought as she slipped out of his grasp and flitted away, picking up their scattered clothes with a smile on her milky-pale visage.

"I do," he agreed in a quiet voice as he partially closed the bathroom door behind him and cranked the knobs in the shower. Jay showered quickly, dousing himself with cold water even though he really wanted to take Taylor's advice and bring himself to a climax to get rid of the ache that she'd inspired with her delicious teasing. It felt weird though, doing that when his girlfriend was in the next room. Eventually the cold deflated him, and he stepped out, pulling one of the scratchy towels off the rack and walking into the main room.

Taylor was laying on her side at the foot of the bed, watching the news and rubbing her eyes with her black-framed glasses in her hand. Guilt swamped him for an instant, because he knew that while he'd been sleeping peacefully his green-eyed girl had spent most of the night awake, keeping watch to make sure that no one knew where he was. She was still wearing his shirt and nothing else.

"Shower's yours," Jason murmured and turned to start getting dressed. Taylor had neatly picked up his things and put them on the cheap wingback chair, and as she strode into the bathroom he watched her swiftly unbutton his shirt and toss it at him with a wink.

The water came on again a second later.

On the bedside table, Taylor's cell phone started ringing. Jason didn't pick up. He didn't even glance at the caller I.D. That was rude. Instead he flipped through the channels on the T.V.

Taylor liked to linger in the shower, so he wasn't expecting her to come out in ten minutes like he had.

Her phone started ringing again though fifteen minutes later, so Jay poked his head in the bathroom and called, "Taylor? Your phone's ringing."

"It's okay," she spoke loudly over the running water, "I'll call them back later."

Shrugging his shoulders, Jason backed out of the room. Five minutes later, Taylor padded out in a tiny towel, looking wet and inviting, sending his synapses spinning. It was really too bad that they needed to leave. She dressed with economic movements, pulling on clean underwear from her large backpack and rolling on her deodorant. Then she stepped into her last pair of clean jeans and a black t-shirt. By the time she was tying on her shoes, her cell phone was ringing again.

Picking it up absently, Taylor accepted the call and said, "Yes?" in lieu of any proper sort of greeting. Then she stilled, unnaturally so. Jay felt the fear, the tension in her and he turned his gaze to her. Those green eyes that he so loved were wide, the whites showing. A second later, Taylor exploded into motion, shoving the disconnected phone into her back pocket and yelling, "We've got to go! Now!" She was running across the room to grab him when the door exploded in with a harsh kick.

And there, there was Rob, the Sniff, his Division partner. He had his gun out and his nose was taped up, and he looked fit to murder. It was one of those moments where time seemed to slow itself in proportion to the horror that Jason was experiencing. Rob's gun came up and there was a shot. The muzzle of the gun flashed and Taylor let out a little scream. Her back hit the wall and she slid down, leaving a large red streak on the gaudy wallpaper.

"No!" he heard himself shout, and then his handgun was in his hand, pulled out from the drawer next to the bed with the Bible in it. Jason aimed and fired. Three shots, all center mass, and Rob hit the ground.

Then two more people were running through the door, but all Jay could think about was Taylor. She was so quiet. He flung himself down next to her and felt for the growing wet spot on her black tee shirt, keeping pressure on it. "Baby," Jason's voice cracked and Taylor winced at the pain, trying to fight her body's natural response to go into shock, "You're okay. Don't leave me. Please, Taylor, I can't…I can't lose you."

She was so pale, and there was so much blood.

Someone was touching him, grasping his shoulder, and Jason whirled to face them with his teeth bared, face stricken with fury and grief.

Cassie drew while they walked, rough sketches in pencil on a small white sketchbook. The skill took Nick back to Hong Kong, watching Cassie do that very same thing as they trailed Kira in the market. Eventually they had enough clues to find the correct motel and even the correct room. However, the door was already standing wide open. There was a man's body lying sprawled just inside of it, his sightless eyes buried in the carpet fibers. They were too late.

The girl was on the floor, struggling to remain conscious so that her Shadowing wouldn't dissipate and the boy was already crouched over her, his hands on her wound, a gun discarded at his side. Unthinkingly, Cassie rushed to his side, leaping over the fallen man at the entrance and sliding to her knees next to the couple. She reached out and touched the boy's shoulder.

He whirled, baring his teeth at her in warning, and then she recognized him. It was Jay, the Division agent from the day before.

Except this girl was no Division agent, and as Cassie looked back over her shoulder at Nick, who was inspecting the other body and moving him just enough that he could close the door, she realized the dead man was the other Division agent. Shit. What exactly was going on here?

She started talking, not sure if the boy was in shock or not, or how aware he was of his surroundings at the moment. He seemed almost too distraught to function. "Hey, Jay, it's okay; it's me, Cassie. Remember, we met yesterday? In the Laundromat?" Her hands moved to cover the wound, helping his press down harder.

"L-laundromat?" Jay was frowning, having gone back to staring down at the injured redhead. "I remember…"

Cassie glanced worriedly at the blond boy, wondering if maybe he wasn't going into some sort of sympathetic shock. The girl was still conscious, which was pretty much a goddamn miracle, though her breathing was labored. There was a look on her face that spoke of impending doom—she was too pasty, a faint sheen of cold sweat dotting her forehead. "What's your name?" Cassie asked just as Nick crouched down with them.

The redheaded girl opened her mouth, but the sound that came out of it was weaker than it ought to have been, breathy and yet…wet sounding. "Tay—lor."

"Taylor, I'm Nick," the Mover replied, "And this is Cassie. We're here to help."

"Phone," Taylor rasped, and her right hand flopped on the carpeting, twitching towards her pants pocket. Just then her cell phone started ringing again. Cassie shot a glance at Nick after a quick vision lanced through her. "Answer it," the blonde girl said.

So Nick reached out carefully and pulled out the phone, trying hard not to jostle the injured girl. He hit the accept button and put the receiver to his ear. "Hello?" he said.

"You must be Nick," a woman's voice intoned over the phone, "Don't answer that. Just listen." A quick beat of silence where Nick did as he was told, then the voice continued, "The girl is Taylor. She's a Shadow. Keep her conscious and you'll stay hidden from Division. The boy is Jason. He's also one of mine. I've called a Stitch I know in the area. She'll meet you three blocks down over on Locust and help you find transportation out of the city. Go now! Division's starting to track their dead agent." The phone call was cut off and Nick was left holding the small phone with no one else on the line.

"We gotta go," he finally blurted out and shooed Cassie and Jason back from the redheaded girl, Taylor. He looked into those glazed green eyes. "Your friend is sending a Stitch, but we've got to move. I'm sorry if it hurts, but you have to stay conscious."

The girl bit her lip and nodded a little jerkily. Nick slid his arms underneath the girl and lifted her like so much dead weight. She was small, built slender and delicate like Cassie was, and Nick spared a moment to be thankful for that.

Jason was still crouched on the floor, looking up at the older man cradling his girlfriend, blood coating his hands. "Come on," Cassie said kindly, tugging him up, "We have to go." The blond boy stumbled to his feet, swaying a little. He picked up his gun absently and shoved it into a side holster that hid nicely under the edge of his shirt.

"Taylor's stuff," he mumbled absently and grabbed the girl's heavy bag, slinging it over his shoulders. With sudden clarity, he grinned at Cassie. "She'll be pissed if she has to buy all new clothes." A wet, wheezy chuckle emerged from the girl in Nick's arms.

They walked out of the room and hit the street at a fast clip, and Nick babbled to Taylor, making sure to keep her awake and aware.

Cassie, who had picked up both of their bags including the smaller one she'd packed, was running herd on Jason, making sure he stayed with them. It seemed the more she spoke, the more aware he got, or perhaps it was due to the increasing distance between the bloody motel room and them. "So, Jay," she panted, "Is Taylor your girlfriend?"

Brown eyes considered her carefully before he nodded. "Yes. Is she alright?"

"She's still awake," the blond haired girl replied, her voice a little strained from the weight of the bags.

Finally, Jay seemed to notice how much she was carrying, how tiny she was, and how much she was struggling to keep up. "Jesus," he swore, reaching for the nearest one, "Give me one of those." Granted, he wasn't all that much bigger than Cassie, but good breeding sometimes overrode common sense. Besides, thanks to the Division training he'd had, Jay was now possessed of a sort of wiry strength. Oh, he'd never win a fist fight against somebody like Nick, but he could get in a few good hits.

Relieved, Cassie handed off the bag full of her clothes—she'd packed too much, she knew she had but she just couldn't bear to leave it all behind. She was getting soft in her old age, too used to staying in one place. She'd let herself get attached to the idea of having stuff and now it was coming back to bite her in the ass.

The four of them almost missed the rendezvous point and then had to backtrack. By that time, a tall black woman was stalking towards them. She was lushly curved and had skin the color of a café au lait. Her hair was done in thin little braids and there were a few different colors weaved in them—dark brown, a lighter brown, and a color that looked like caramel. Beyonce braids, Cassie had always laughingly called them.

Neferti was in fine form that day in a tight gold lame dress that had a little rushing running up it horizontally and matching stiletto heels. She'd covered herself with a cream trench coat that was billowing open behind her at the moment to avoid wearing a neon sign that screamed 'hooker.'

"Hey, girl!" she called, waving a little as her long legs ate up the ground between them.

"You…" Cassie stuttered.

Neferti shrugged, looking a little sheepish. "Yeah, me. I never told you because it didn't seem, uh, pertinent. So what've we got here?" the tall woman asked, turning her attention to the petite redhead in Nick's arms.

"Gunshot wound," Cassie replied, shifting her cumbersome burdens ever so slightly.

"Alright," Neferti nodded, clapping her hands together as her face took on an uncharacteristically serious look. Her dark eyes locked on pale green as she stated, "This is going to hurt like a bitch. You can't scream though. There's not enough time to take you somewhere else."

Taylor nodded and hissed out a weak sounding, "'kay."

"Put her down," Neferti instructed Nick, "But keep her standing."

"Whatever you say," he said as he carefully shifted Taylor until she was on her feet facing Neferti, though he was supporting her weight almost entirely. The Stitch raised up the edges of the black tee, studying the cylindrical impact wound amidst a wash of red blood shaped like Australia.

"No exit wound," Neferti murmured, her hands feeling efficiently over Taylor's back, "Bullet's still in there. When I heal you, your body's going to push it back out." Obviously she wasn't expecting a response, because the woman just kept going on without pause. "Clench your teeth so you don't bite your tongue off."

The muscles in Taylor's jaw worked as she did so.

Neferti's light brown hands looked incredibly dark against Taylor's Irish skin as she placed them on the girl's bloodstained stomach. A second later Taylor was making a high-pitched whining noise, her body stiff as a steel beam, as the Stitch forced the healing inside of her. Skin rippled as the bullet was slowly forced out of the entry wound and torn tissues healed themselves, including the nick to her lung. The impacted bullet fell onto the ground with a soft tink and Cassie swiftly scooped it up, knowing that they couldn't leave any evidence laying around for Division. The hole closed up, leaving nothing but rapidly drying blood and the tear in Taylor's shirt as proof that there was ever an injury to start with.

Stepping back, Neferti pulled a slender packet out of her coat pocket, ripped it open and wiped her hands off with a wet nap. Then she neatly stuffed it back in the packaging for later disposal. From the opposite pocket she removed a set of keys. "This was my ride. I'll give you twenty-four hours to scat, then you gotta ditch it. I have to report it stolen 'cause it's registered. It'll look shady if the cops find it and there's no report filed."

Cassie stepped up and took the keys while Taylor seemed to find her footing again. She and Jason embraced, arms clinging tightly to one another. He whispered something in her ear and whatever he said just made her cling harder.

"Thanks, Neferti," Cassie smiled and stepped up spontaneously to hug the other woman. Neferti only let her cling for a second, then gently pushed Cassie back saying, "Girl, you gonna get me all wrinkled." They shared a grin and Neferti affectionately touched Cassie's cheek. "Take care."

"You too," Cassie returned.

Before Neferti turned and walked away she said to Nick, "Oh yeah. It's the blue Dynasty around the corner." Then with a casual finger-flicking wave over her shoulder, the mocha skinned Stitch glided off.

Cassie was still looking back at her when Nick gently touched her shoulder to get her attention. "Come on, Cass, we have to go." She nodded slowly and turned to follow the couple in front of her. Their hands were entwined despite the fact that it would be easier for them to walk fast if they weren't and Cassie thought to herself that was love—sacrificing ease and efficiency to stay together.

Then Nick reached out and caught her hand as well. He was looking ahead, his face serious and focused, but his fingers touched her with warmth and concern.

The Dynasty was an older model luxury sedan with big, comfortable seats and enough back seat room for Jay to spread out, propped up against the door, and Taylor to sit with her back to him in between his legs. A slight twist of her legs and she was nearly laying down.

They'd be fine.

They were on the run, but that was nothing new for Nick and Cassie.

They'd all be just fine.