Doubling Is Neither Pleasurable Nor Fun

Fandom: Fired Up!

Pairing: Nick/Sylvia

Rating: R

Warnings: references to naughty things, including anal play

Archive: Ask

Author: Lily Zen

Notes: This is kind of a sequel to A Convoluted Romance with Crazy. It's in the same 'verse at any rate, even if it's not in the strictest sense a sequel.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

"Shawn wants to what?" Sylvia's voice rose incredulously as she gaped at Nick.

He was sprawled across her bed and was once more grateful that her parents had a one-story ranch house. The fact that her room was furthest away from her mom and stepdad's made sneaking in and out so much easier. Syl had even dug out her old Sesame Street step-stool from when she was a toddler and half-buried it in the garden under her window after the time Nick tried to jump up while he was a little drunk, misjudged the distance, and landed with the sill cutting into his stomach. He'd been really bruised and in incredible amounts of pain for a few days, which ended up working out to his benefit as Sylvia babied him. She'd fetched things for him for a few days (and okay, he might have dropped his pen a little more than he needed to, but he loved watching her cute, little ass when she bent over to pick it up), rubbed tiger balm into his bruised torso (which eventually led to rubbing of a different sort), and eventually found the step-stool to make his late-night visits a little easier on both of them.

Sylvia was sitting in the chair at her desk, spun around so that she could face Nick and judge for herself whether he'd finally lost what little sanity he'd possessed. She looked good in a pair of pink boyshorts and an oversized t-shirt from some band that Nick had never heard of. He tried to keep up with what Syl was listening to but most of that screaming heavy-metal shit she liked just got on his nerves. The rap he could live with and most of it he was pretty fond of, but the screaming and the discordant guitars irritated him. If he listened to rock music, it was old school rock, though some of the newer alternative stuff was good, harkening back to a time when musicians could actually play their instruments. Okay, okay, he went to the Evanescence concert, but that was because Amy Lee was fucking hot! He'd fork over the cash just to look at her for a couple hours.

"He wants to double with us," Nick repeated with a 'duh' look on his face.

Then he caught the look on Sylvia's face, the look of repulsion and confusion and 'oh god, am I really hearing what I think I'm hearing?'

"God, Syl!" he barked, already starting to laugh, "Not like that! He wants us to go on a double date with him and Carly."

In an instant, Sylvia's entire demeanor changed to denial. She made a face and said, "No. Not only no, but hell no."

"That's what I said," Nick agreed, rolling onto his side and propping his head up in his hand, mentally congratulating himself on knowing Sylvia so well. He'd known that she would be totally repulsed by the idea. She barely acknowledged the fact that the frequent hang-outs they went on were dates in the first place. Syl had hang-ups about that sort of thing. She may have claimed that Nick wasn't her boyfriend, but if any other girl tried to slide in between them, Sylvia had no problem putting her back in her place with a firm, possessive 'mine.'

In deference to her commitment issues, Nick never called Sylvia his girlfriend while she was within earshot. It was enough for him to wrap his arm around her like a boa constrictor when he saw those lustful, speculative looks in the eyes of other men and stare them down until they backed away with their tails between their legs. It was his silent claim to go along with Sylvia's growled 'mine,' and it worked for them.

Honestly, it kind of scared him how happy being with Sylvia had made him. So he was willing to ignore her issues and idiosyncrasies because all that really mattered was that euphoric tide of joy that they inspired in one another. But yeah, she did have issues, and no, she totally wasn't going to want to do something as pedestrian and imbecilic as going on a double-date with Carly and Shawn. She'd rather cut off a limb than do something that corny.

Nick just shrugged one shoulder as he said, "I told him you would say no, but I also told him that I would ask. Also, don't blame Shawn. You know this is totally Carly's idea. He said she's been dropping hints about it for months and he finally caved in."

Sylvia scoffed. "He's pussy-whipped," she stated clearly.

He rolled his eyes but silently agreed. Shawn really was pussy-whipped. Granted, Nick wasn't much better and if Sylvia ever discovered how much power she actually had over him, he was toast, but still that thought didn't bother him as much as he thought it should. It might not be too horrible if Sylvia strapped a collar on him and made him her little sex-pet. Hm…now there's an idea. Note to self: explore this possibility some more.

Sylvia grinned as his eyes darkened and recognized it for the cue it was. Nick was thinking something wonderfully devious and those thoughts usually left her feeling exhausted but oh so satisfied. She got up from the chair, readily abandoning the English paper she was supposed to be working on for the sexually charged smile that Nick was suddenly aiming at her. It scared her a little how quickly she went to him, how one little look was enough to get her to shift her priorities so that he slid effortlessly into the number one slot. If she was honest, most of the time she was utterly terrified of what it was she felt for Nick, which was why she tried not to think about it. She didn't give it a name, acknowledged it as little as she possibly could, all in some version of the childish mantra 'if I can't see you, you can't see me.'

His hands curved around her hips just over her underwear, but they didn't stay there long. They slid up underneath her Sepultura tee shirt until Nick cradled her slender ribcage in his hands. She was so tiny that his thumbs touched each other in the middle. A soft, warm feeling stole over her and it had nothing at all to do with the sex they were about to have, but rather everything to do with being safe and cherished. Sylvia went to her knees on the mattress next to Nick and bent over him, her dark, wavy hair rushing forwards and falling around them both like a curtain. She kissed him, hard and needy with an edge of aggression, because what she really wanted in that moment was to be so soft and sweet with him, to let Nick melt away her defenses until she was nothing but a puddle of goo on the floor.

She nipped at his lips and Nick made that addictive sound deep in his throat, almost a growl that ended in a helpless whimper. Sylvia was pretty sure that Nick didn't know he made sounds like that, but he did for her; little moans and whines that she swallowed down. They stoked the flames of lust in her as some long-caged succubus inside of her took over and found every way she could to make Nick systemically lose his mind.

Her t-shirt was lost as Nick pulled it over her head. It dropped to the carpeting with a noise barely heard and not acknowledged by either of them. While Sylvia was still sitting up a little, not kissing him, Nick rose up on the bed and started planting a row of hot, sucking kisses up her chest to her neck, starting from the inside of her bared breasts, veering off to the right and following the line of her collarbone, and ending up just underneath her ear. She shifted restlessly as Nick tongued her sensitive neck and her own small, needy noises spilled out, and his warm, dry hands palmed her breasts, played with her nipples until they felt tight and oversensitive.

Suddenly Nick's mouth was down there, soothing those hot points with his wet tongue until she was gasping, hips rolling against his thigh, clutching his shaggy, blond hair with tight fingers. He pulled away long enough to strip her of her panties and encourage her to lay back against the pillows. They kissed again with him hovering over her in a sort of push-up motion as Sylvia undid the fly of his cargo shorts and slid them down as far as they'd go. While he was busy kicking them off the rest of the way, his underwear going with them, her hands wandered over his ass, brushing over the little pucker nestled between his cheeks (he'd never been with a girl who wanted to venture there before, and prior to Sylvia it wasn't something that Nick had given much thought but she was persuasive and much to his surprise, he really fucking liked it—but that did not mean he was gay, fuck Downey and his fucking closet wood), then teasing his perineum until he was biting his lip, and finally Sylvia cupped his balls, rolled them in her hand and Nick let out a shaky groan.

With his shorts discarded, he was naked again, having lost his shirt to Hurricane Sylvia during round one. Nick was pretty sure that it was over by her hamper…or maybe her bookcase. Whatever. He'd find it later. He batted her hands away and leaned over her, pulling open the bottom drawer of the little girl trinket box that rested above Sylvia's headboard. It was some kind of family heirloom, something that her grandpa had gotten in Germany during WWII. She kept her condoms in the outside drawer and her good jewelry in the main compartment. Sylvia wrapped her hands around his dick, one grasping him firmly, the other tickling him with just fingertips until the combined sensations made him feel feverish.

"Syl," he panted, looking down at her with desperation, "Please." He didn't know if he was begging her to stop or keep going. He didn't know if Syl knew. However, she made a decision, releasing him from her grasp to slump down slightly with a sound of relief, and plucking the condom from his grasp. "Sometimes I forget how sensitive you are the second time around," she admitted with a small grin, tearing open the package with her teeth and rolling the Trojan down the length of his cock. Teasingly, she kissed his covered tip while he shivered, and admitted in a low, rough voice, "Only if we haven't waited long enough."

Raising her eyebrow, Sylvia questioned, "Do you want to stop? Wait awhile longer?"

"God, no," Nick blurted out so fast that he was almost embarrassed, "I don't want to stop. I want to come, and I want you to come, and then I want us to lay together all limp and satisfied." Sylvia opened her mouth to respond and the look on her face was impish. He just knew that she was going to tease him about what he'd said and so he ducked his head, slithering down the bed until his head was between her thighs. He knew how to completely derail her train of thought.

Sylvia cried out as he licked her slit from her moist hole just begging to be filled all the way up to her clit. He swirled his tongue around that sensitive bundle of nerves and then set his mouth over her, sucking until her hands tangled in his hair and he had to hold down her hips by throwing an arm over her. It was a good thing that he actually liked doing this because it was a surefire way to get Sylvia to shut up, and he liked having her at his mercy like this. It got him all turned on, or in this case it kept him turned on while he pleasured his girlfriend and flexed his hips against the mattress. She never lasted long like this and as he slid two of his fingers inside of her wetness, alternating between flicking his tongue hard and fast over her and sucking on that sensitive area, he felt her spasm on his fingers and shudder on the bed. The sounds she would have made were ruthlessly denied him by the fact that her parents were home and in bed on the other side of the house, so she came silently and Nick eased her down from that high with gentle licks and warm, ghosting breaths along her slippery cunt.

He was going to wipe his fingers on the bed sheets, but Sylvia wordlessly took his hand for her own and started licking his fingers like they were candy, sucking off her own flavor as she eyed him up over her treat. Finally, when he couldn't take it anymore, Nick darted in close, opening his mouth and stroking his tongue along hers where she licked his fingers. She sucked his tongue in her mouth and they kissed with his fingers still in there, sloppy and wet and so fucking good. His pulse was pounding, his dick so hard he thought maybe he'd come just like this, and Sylvia…Sylvia licked his fingers one last time and released them with a gentle pop. Wordlessly, she grasped his length and aligned it with her center, and he slid home easily, releasing a gasp into the space where their mouths connected.

She broke their connection with a sigh and smile, and said, "Do it. Fuck me. I'm so, so wet. You don't have to wait." So he didn't. Nick didn't bother to ease into a rhythm, he didn't have to make room for himself or wait until her body adjusted. Sylvia's climax had left her slick and her body welcomed his invasion like it was still hungry for more. Well, he aimed to please. His hips pistoned back and forth, and Sylvia held on with her legs wrapped around his waist. These high little squeaks kept falling out of her open mouth where she was panting for breath between thrusts.

It wouldn't take long at that pace, Nick knew, so he slid a hand between them and circled her clit where it strained between them awash in her own juices. It only felt like a moment but in actuality it was quite a few minutes—nowhere near his record either, but at least he hadn't come in the first minute like some first-timer—when Sylvia started orgasming again and Nick froze at the grip of her inner muscles. It triggered his own climax and his eyes slammed shut as his hips worked in tight, little circles against her. He loved how her body milked his cock until his balls were depleted, and afterwards he liked it even more when Sylvia wrapped her arms around him and let him hold her until she fell asleep.

Seeing her like that, vulnerable and loving, was almost better than the sex they'd just had.

The next day at school, Carly cornered Nick after practice. Most of the other girls had gone for the day and Nick was waiting for Sylvia to finish showering off so that he could drop her off at home.

He should have known something was up when Carly came up to him all smiles and sidling steps. "Hey, Nick," Carly greeted, "Good practice. Your lifts are really improving." She was wearing a cute little sundress that brought out the blue in her eyes and had her damp hair pulled into a high ponytail. Nick found himself smiling and saying, "Well, you know, I've really been working on strengthening my upper body, so I don't favor one side. Diora—"

"Ah, yeah," Carly giggled, "Diora. You know she was eyeballing you last summer at cheer camp, but you didn't pay any attention to her. I was kind of surprised."

"I, ah, I had a lot of my mind," Nick sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck.

Bobbing her head, Carly grinned and it was surprisingly lascivious. He hadn't thought that Carly could look like that. She'd always seemed so innocent even when she was with Dr. Douchebag. "I bet you did," she agreed. Then her expression sobered, softened a little as she asked, "So Nick, I was wondering if you and Sylvia wanted to come catch a movie with me and Shawn this weekend? I have coupons for free admission."

Nick opened his mouth to refuse the offer, but Carly cut him off with a raised hand. "Look, I know that you and Sylvia aren't into traditional dating, but I thought maybe it'd be fun. I realize that I've been monopolizing Shawn for awhile, and yeah, at first I didn't notice it. But now I have and I'm trying to correct that. There's no rule that says that Shawn has to split his time between just me or just you though, not that I mind if he wants to have a guys-only night, but we could also hang out together sometimes. Make things a little easier for him. Just think about it, okay?" She looked so sincere that Nick nodded his head.

What he said was, "I'll talk to Sylvia. See what she's up to this weekend." Of course, he knew that Syl's plans had included working on a physics project, going to work Saturday and Sunday mornings, and coming over to Nick's on Saturday night, which was his parents' date night, for dinner. Nick was still trying to figure out if he was going to cook something or just order in. But he'd talk to her.

And he did miss hanging out with Shawn. Carly was right, since she and Shawn had started dating, Nick hardly saw Shawn anymore. Maybe Sylvia would tolerate a double date for his sake if he could work the right angle.

Sylvia chose that moment to come out of the locker room. Her long hair was still damp and was making the back of her white t-shirt (wait, was that his t-shirt?) translucent. He could see her bra underneath it, one of the few white ones she owned. Underwear-wise, Syl tended to stick with bright and colorful, unless she was at practice in which case it was all sports-bra practicality. She had a look on her face that Nick recognized as tense, anxious. The kind of look that often preceded some of her more shockingly awkward comments. It was time to go.

She gave Carly a terse smile, the kind that most people wouldn't recognize as being brittle and full of stress. For the most part, Sylvia was really good at turning her panic problems into something resembling boring ol' social ineptitude. One time, a few months ago, Syl had admitted to him that she'd been on medication for it when she was younger, except that she'd had a lot of side-effects from the medication and decided to stop taking it. The pills made her 'feel weird.' Her family couldn't afford therapy, and she wasn't into all that "touchy-feely 'let's-talk-it-out' crap."

The only therapist that Sylvia had ever seen suggested that maybe her anxiety problems were a learned behavior and that she didn't really have a chemical imbalance. Reportedly, Sylvia had stated, 'then why the fuck am I wasting my money here?' and walked out on the appointment. Frankly, Nick thought that guy had the right idea. Sylvia's mom, Genevieve, was fucking nuts. Nice, but nuts.

"Bye, Carly. Have a good evening," Sylvia stated politely. However, she hardly paused in her stride towards the gym doors, hesitating only long enough to throw a look at Nick over her shoulder. He caught up with her shortly and fell in stride, waving at Carly over his shoulder. "Later, Carly!" he called, and the blond cheerleading captain gave them both a smiling wave as she settled in to wait for Shawn. Who, seriously, took longer showers than any girl Nick had ever met, and that included the chick whose job was to dress up like a mermaid and swim in a tank at one of the swank L.A. clubs he'd been to when he visited his divorcee dad.

Nick put the top down on his gunmetal gray Corvette convertible as soon as they made it to the parking lot. Sometimes it was good to have a dad who bought expensive gifts in lieu of actual time and affection. His parents had gotten divorced when he was seven and Nick had stayed with his mom. His dad had moved to the city and set about really enjoying being one of the top defense attorneys in the state. He'd just divorced his second wife a year and a half ago, and was working on Mrs. Brady the Third. Nick thought maybe she was a model or an actress. Something like that, which in L.A. was really code for 'waitress.'

After the divorce, his mom had eventually met Bill. He was an accountant, same as her, and an all-around good guy. They'd tied the knot when Nick was twelve. Bill was a divorcee himself with two older kids, Sarah and Paul, from his first marriage. Sarah was a women's studies major at Berkeley and Paul was a Marine. Nick didn't really know them well—they all got along okay, but it wasn't like they got together on Tuesday nights for family game time, y'know? However, this new family, Bill in particular, made Nick's mom really happy. He remembered his mom being sad for a really long time before and after his parents' divorce. Nick didn't like seeing his mom cry, so he figured anything that made her happy made him happy too.

But back to materialistic things as a substitute for paternal love…

It was a nice day out and with the top down on the car, Sylvia could light up as soon as they got off school property and he didn't have to worry about the smell lingering in his interior. Not that cloves smelled bad. Actually, they smelled pretty good, especially if you compared them to regular cigarettes. Still, the 'Vette was a nice car and Nick wanted to keep it that way. With any luck he could keep into his mid-twenties and by then he'd be able to afford a new one. Okay, so it probably wouldn't be as swank a ride, not unless he woke up tomorrow a genius and bagged a high-paying job with a Fortune 500 company, but it would be his and he wasn't exactly a slouch under the hood of a car. He could get a fixer-upper and put a little cash in it to make it purr like a kitten.

As he anticipated, Sylvia plucked a clove cigarette out of the odd-shaped box that she kept buried in her old leather backpack and lit it up, still not saying a word. Whatever she was thinking about had her really wound up so Nick thought made he'd sit on asking her about the movies until she was in a better mood.

Sylvia was half done with her cigarette and they were almost to her house when she looked at Nick and asked, "Do you want to go to the beach?" Nick looked up, easing his foot off the gas so the car would slow a bit. He frowned.

"Why? Don't you have to work?" Nick asked, his confusion evident in his tone.

Snorting rudely, Sylvia replied, "Apparently not. They called to say that I didn't need to come in today, or any other Friday for that matter, which is just…fucking great. My cell phone and credit card bills are due next week, and my check's going to be short because they've decided to cut my hours. I'm going to have to start looking for a new part-time job."

"Why don't you just ask your mom if you can borrow what you need?" Nick suggested calmly.

She shook her head and told him, "I can ask, but I don't know that she'll be able to spare it. A lot of our financial situation is dependent on what she makes in tips. Most of my stepdad's paycheck goes toward paying child support on his kids. Hence why I try to pay my own bills if I want something in particular."

Nick drummed his fingers on the steering wheel thoughtfully as he flicked on the turn signal, making a right. Heading away from Sylvia's house and towards the beach front. He didn't really have anything to do. "How short are you?" he asked carefully.

Blue eyes narrowed as Sylvia studied him, but finally she shrugged. "I'll end up being about fifty dollars short this month. Granted, I could just leave the remaining balance on my credit card until the next pay period, but Jesus, do they rape you on interest! More incentive to find a new job fast, I guess."

"I could—"

"Nope," Sylvia cut him off decisively, "I'm not borrowing money from you."

"It's not a big deal, Syl," he tried to reassure her.

"It is to me."

They were silent until Nick pulled into the parking lot of an ancient and much-beloved Swirly's. Sylvia looked over at him gratefully, and Nick impulsively kissed her on the cheek. "Then at least let me buy you a double-scoop waffle cone. You know ice cream always makes you feel better." Chuckling, Sylvia nodded her agreement and got out of the car. She put the butt of her clove in the receptacle and Nick admired her butt in a pair of tight, denim capris. The ever-present drawn on sneakers graced her feet, as usual. Sylvia caught his hand in hers as they stood in line, waiting to get up to the order window, and for reasons that neither of them analyzed, they stayed that way until they got their ice cream and went to sit down on one of the picnic tables plunked on the grass over on the side of the building.

Sylvia ended up with a sundae, having decided to consume an amount of junk food proportionate to her worry. Vanilla soft-serve was topped with hot fudge, bananas, raspberries, and walnuts, and she was shoving the confection into her mouth at a speed guaranteed to bring on a cold headache. "Mm, thanks," she mumbled in between bites, "I needed this." Nick just nodded and continued licking his mint-chocolate chip waffle cone. Mint chocolate chip was the king of ice cream flavors as far as Nick was concerned.

That time the quiet between them was comfortable, natural. Sylvia's mood was dissipating. Commenting almost absently to himself, Nick said, "Bronsky wants me to transfer to AP English Lit."

Slanting a careful look at Nick, Sylvia replied, "You should. You have a gift." She could tell from the look on his face that Nick was about to make up a thousand and one bullshit excuses why he couldn't do it. For some reason, he liked to think of himself as this guy with a reputation to uphold for being unconcerned with academics, kind of stupid and flighty, and definitely a pig. Just because he didn't sleep around anymore suddenly didn't mean that he was less of a man-whore. Now he just kept his adoring public going with tales of past conquests, not that Sylvia minded. As long as he never told anyone about what they did together, it was all good. Otherwise Sylvia had made it clear that they would find out if a man's testicles could support his entire body weight while being suspended in the air.

"I don't know…" Nick began, "I mean, I'm not that smart and there's a lot of really smart people in those AP classes. Plus, they have a lot of homework. Hard homework. And you know that Miller runs the AP English Lit class and he's a pretty tough grader."

"Nick, shut up."

Nick shut up.

Sylvia's icy blue gaze was frank and penetrative, and it seemed to Nick that she stared straight down into his soul. "You are smart, and you're very good at writing. Naturally, this should translate well into understanding other people's writing. I think you should transfer. All of your other classes this year are pretty easy. Maybe it would be nice to have one thing that challenged you."

Nick held up a hand and it wobbled back and forth in an unsure gesture. "I don't know. I'll think about it."

She just smiled and spooned another heaping scoop of sundae in her mouth. Nick might take her advice, he might not, but when he said he'd think about it that usually meant he was going to give in. Bumping her shoulder against his, Sylvia added companionably, "Besides, English guys are hot. I love it when you read parts of your journal to me. Gets me all revved up. Can you imagine taking off my clothes while you quote Shakespearean sonnets in my ear?" She shivered, a little dramatically to her way of thinking, but she saw Nick's gaze darkening, taking on that very interested look he sometimes got. Like a hawk sighting prey from on high. "Hot," she finished, plucking at the neck of her t-shirt.

A second later she had a mouthful of Nick's squirming tongue as he tugged her close and kissed her fiercely. She felt it all the way down to her toes where they curled in delight in her beat-up chucks. When he pulled away, it was with a breathless laugh. "I'm going to ignore that blatant manipulation on your part. You play dirty, Syl."

"Always," she sing-songed, grinning impishly, and caught his lips with hers again. Sylvia would never, ever on pain of death admit it, but she loved kissing Nick. The way all the different parts worked together to subversively strip her of her defenses, lay her bare with the merest brush of lips. Muscles and tendons driven by thought and intent, tasting her, exploring her…breaking her down and leveling her. Sometimes it was hard to stop. This time when she did so it was because Nick's ice cream cone dripped on her arm and startled her. Pulling away, Sylvia swiped up the green drop with her index finger and licked it off. Then she went back to her sundae feeling smug at the way Nick's pupils had flared at the sight.

Feeling…something—soft, warm, fluttery and feminine; something weird that Sylvia only ever felt with Nick, a sensation that she'd never bothered to give a name to and just accepted it as the way Nick made her feel—Sylvia scooted closer to the shaggy-haired boy who had come to occupy such a significant space in her world. Her hip touched his and then her thigh, until they were aligned on one side all the way down to the knee. She could even feel the brush of his jeans against her bare calf. Nick didn't make a big deal out of it, just absently placed his free hand, the one not holding the ice cream cone, on her thigh and stroked her down to her knee. It seemed like he was gearing up for a return trip, but the caress halted a couple inches above her knee. Nick's hand simply rested there proprietarily, his fingers curved against denim, molding to the inner part of her leg. It was intimate, even though it had nothing to do with sex if the fact that Nick seemed once more totally preoccupied with his ice cream was anything to go by, and it made that weird feeling in her chest tingle and expand like she was blowing up a balloon.

She finished first and set her empty plastic dish aside, leaning back on her hands, tipping her face up towards the sky while her eyes drifted closed. Contentment suffused her as the two of them merely floated in comfortable silence.

It wasn't until Nick was crunching on his cone that either of them said anything more.

"So…" Nick began and his fingers squeezed her leg gently.

"Hm?" Sylvia murmured with her eyes shut still.

"I haven't hung out with Shawn in a long time, y'know?"

"…Yeah. You're not about to give me an 'I need my space' speech, are you, Nick? Because if so, I'm about to find out if I can kill with a plastic spoon." Sylvia opened her eyes and tipped her head back down so that she was looking at him as he sat there, fisting the napkin that had been wrapped around his waffle cone. She had a little smirk playing on her lips, but there was a look in her eyes that said she was at least half-serious.

"No way," he hastened to explain, "I'm not saying it's your fault. It's not, it's definitely not. If I were held under gunpoint, I might even confess that sometimes I worry that I'm cramping your style."

Snorting indelicately, Sylvia muttered, "You are, but if it bugged me, I'd tell you."

"Oh. Well, uh…good?"

"I'm just saying."

"Yeah, whatever," Nick waved her off, "My point is that I haven't hung out with Shawn in such a long time because we're both…busy. He spends most of his time with Carly, and I spend a lot of time with you. Granted, I hang out with other people too, but you are the person I see the most these days."

"Should I be apologizing for that?"

"Nah, I love hanging out with you, Syl." He rubbed her leg in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture and then turned a little more, dropping the napkin and taking her hand. "But I want to hang out with my buddy too."

"Okay," Sylvia shrugged her little shoulders, "No problem. Call him up and ask him out on a man-date."

Nick found himself chuckling. "Well, how about a compromise? Carly's having a hard time letting Shawn off her leash, so how about we go to the movies with them tomorrow? I get my guy-time, you keep Carly occupied, and did I mention that the movie's free?"

She was frowning again. An eyeball roll and quiet clucking of her tongue, and Sylvia muttered, "And we're back to double dating." Then louder she said, "No, no, and no. I see enough of Carly at school. I don't think I can handle her anal retentiveness on the weekend, Nick. I might strangle her."

"Come on…" he pleaded, "Do it for me, Syl." Okay, so Nick wasn't above begging if the situation called for it. "Please?"

All Sylvia did was sigh, but her face took on the most stubborn, mulish expression. She would kill him if she ever found out how cute he thought it looked on her.

"I'll take you out for dinner. Any place you want. I'll even eat sushi. Or fondue. I will totally double-dip with you. Even that weird place you like where you have to sit on the floor." Nick started pouting, making his lower lip stick out in a way that was comical. "Please, Syl? Pretty please?"

He could see her softening, lured by promises of a nice dinner at one of her favorite restaurants, places she knew that Nick couldn't stand. Seriously, raw fish, yuck, and double-dipping. Nick couldn't stand the idea of double dipping. All those germs and stuff just floating around in his food—the thought made him ill. In fact, for a guy he was a very fastidious eater. Except she wasn't quite there yet. There was still an edge in Sylvia's eyes that said more clearly than words that she was still holding out.

"I'll let you do that thing," Nick finally offered in a moment of desperation, and he firmly denied the existence of any sort of excitement as he said it. He wasn't curious about…that. No way. It's just…he knew Sylvia was, knew that the chance to explore, to discover something new would be too tempting for her. He loved that about her. Sylvia wanted to experience everything she possibly could, approaching life with a surprising passion and inquisitiveness that Nick found endearing, and when it suited him, he liked to help her satisfy that thirst for knowledge.

Like he'd anticipated, it melted the resistance in Sylvia's gaze away until she was left staring at him questioningly, a little frown line between her eyebrows. "Really?"

"Yes," he nodded and swallowed convulsively, hoping he wasn't making a mistake.

Sylvia grinned and it was wicked, sexy, inviting. "Okay," she trilled, "You got yourself a deal." Sticking out her hand, they shook on it.

So instead of worrying about whether to cook on Saturday night or order take-out (who was he kidding, it would've been take-out, hands down), Nick was getting ready to go see a movie with Shawn and Carly, and Sylvia was cursing the fact that she was doing so also. Though her eyes kept drifting to the black plastic bag in the corner of her room with a slightly nervous smile. A few hours of discomfort was totally worth it if Nick actually followed through on his promise.

She dressed conservatively. For some reason, Sylvia always had around her teammates. From the start she had separated her life as a cheerleader from the rest of her existence and left it at that. Maybe there was some kind of psychology there, but she didn't really know what it was nor did she care. It made her feel better when her world was in order. People like Carly didn't hang out with people like Matt, Trina, and Casey. They just didn't. In fact, they tended to ignore the existence of such miscreants entirely. But Sylvia liked them. They were different from the other kids at school. Casey could strip and rebuild a computer in less than an hour. Trina had more anime and manga than any human being ought to, and she loved smoking up and playing Dungeons and Dragons with the guys. Matt was a frickin' math genius with OCD who carried around a bottle of hand-sanitizer everywhere yet had no problems sucking face with girls or putting his mouth on a pipe that had just been passed around to a bunch of different people.

Carly was nice, but Sylvia couldn't picture her ever wanting to hang out with people like that.

So her mind segregated those parts of her life. There was the Sylvia who was on the cheerleading squad and then the Sylvia who did everything else. In deference to cheerleader-Sylvia, she pulled on a demure cami in pastel pink that she had to rip the tag off of first. It had been a Christmas gift from her aunt and uncle (who clearly had no idea who Sylvia was as a person if they decided this was the perfect gift), and she'd kept it because…well, to be honest, they hadn't included a gift receipt. Over that went a gray cardigan with little pearlescent buttons made of shell. Nice-ish (nicer than most of her jeans, anyway) finished the outfit and black strappy sandals.

It made her feel really girly. This whole getting ready for a date process. Her throat felt like somebody had their hands wrapped around it and was squeezing. They'd tried it once, but Sylvia hadn't really liked it; it just made her lightheaded and feel vaguely claustrophobic. The orgasm wasn't more intense or anything. To be frank, the only part of it she'd liked was feeling the strength in Nick's hands, knowing that he could easily tighten his grip and in her position she could do nothing to fight him. She was vulnerable, exposed, and she was trusting him absolutely to not take advantage of her weakness. That was nice. It was like a more intimate version of a trust-fall…with climactic benefits.

Sylvia smoothed on her lip balm and went to go answer the door.

Her stepdad, Dick (okay, it was actually Richard), was in the living room watching t.v. He looked up as she passed through on her way to the front door, but all he said was, "Your mom know where you're going?"

"Yep," Sylvia replied as she flipped the lock. Not 'where are you going,' but 'does your mom know…?' She and Dick had, at best, a tenuous relationship based on mutual tolerance. Sylvia thought Dick drank too much and wasn't good enough for her mom, and all of that may have been true but it didn't change the fact that Genevieve loved him. The little waitress put up with his faults, enabled his addictions, because of whatever problems she undoubtedly had. From what Sylvia remembered of her father, he wasn't all that different from Dick: an addict, a wastrel who'd eventually killed himself with his bad habits. She'd been six or seven when that happened, when they got the phone call in the middle of the night that Sylvia's daddy had been found in an alley. Drug buy gone bad, they said.

Then there was Nick, smiling and stooping to kiss her cheek. "Hey," he said, "You look pretty." Raising an eyebrow, Sylvia shot him a sardonic look and Nick chuckled sheepishly. "Okay, yeah, different," he conceded, "But still pretty."

Ducking out of the house, Sylvia shut the door behind her firmly but she couldn't bring herself to take Nick's hand until they were out of eyesight from the house. When they pulled away from the curb and rounded the corner, she finally gave in to the crushing urge and put her hand over Nick's on the gear shift. She saw him smile a little but he kept his eyes on the road as he tangled his fingers with hers.

"Hi," she finally said.

"Hey. Thanks for doing this."

Shrugging, Sylvia told him, "Don't thank me. It's not like I'm doing it altruistically."

"True enough, but thanks anyway," he replied and squeezed her fingers, and she fought against the warm glow inside of her.

They pulled up at the movie theater a few minutes later, and Nick told her, "Shawn said they'd meet us outside. Carly's got the coupons with her."

"For free admission?"


"Awesome. I love being cheap," she grinned wickedly and they stepped out of their separate sides. They did not hold hands as they walked up to the front entrance. Sylvia kept hers in her pockets; Nick's swung loosely at his sides. The only thing that even hinted at the fact that they maybe were a couple was the fact that as they walked the two of them kept the same easy pace so that they were side by side even with a few inches distance between them.

As they approached they saw Shawn and Carly standing next to the entrance. They were holding hands, and Carly was smiling up at Shawn as she related something to him. She was wearing a fluttery skirt and some kind of slinky cami underneath an open vest, and Sylvia was glad that she'd dressed it up a little because otherwise she'd have felt like a schmuck. Carly was so the type of girl to get dressed up to go to a movie. Nick clearly hadn't realized that or hadn't cared—he was wearing khaki cargo shorts and a very…plaid short-sleeved button down over a t-shirt that said 'Cougar Hunter,' not to mention his ever-present flip-flops. Shawn was a little more dressed up in nicer looking khakis and a t-shirt sans rude slogans. Call her biased, but she preferred what Nick was wearing. Maybe she could talk him into trading clothes.

Shawn spotted them first and waved.

Nick hurried to reach them, and they greeted each other in bro-like fashion with a one-armed back-slapping hug thing. Sylvia said hi to Carly first, then to Shawn as he and Nick separated. The next words out of her mouth were, "Tell me we're seeing something with explosions."

"Oh, we are," Shawn agreed emphatically, "Carly promised me no chick flicks. We're talking explosions, guns, and hand to hand action sequences."

"Whoa, Shawn," Sylvia made a show of backing up with her hands raised in front of her, "I think it's a little early on to be watching porn together, don't you think?" It got a laugh out of everybody and Shawn ruffled her hair affectionately, making Sylvia duck her head to twist away.

"You know what I meant," he chuckled.

The four of them turned to go inside and pay for their tickets, Carly and Shawn leading the way. Nick nudged her with his elbow as they passed and shot a proud smile at her.

She just rolled her eyes.

At the concession stand, Nick and Shawn split the cost of a giant bucket of popcorn. Seriously, Sylvia was pretty sure she could fit her entire head and then some in that thing. It was gargantuan. Who the hell needed to eat that much stale popcorn in one sitting? Then they got extra butter flavoring poured onto it and Nick up-ended the salt-shaker, and Carly made a joke about heart attacks in a to-go box. Sylvia wasn't sure if fake butter and excess sodium could cause heart attacks, but she knew if she tried to eat that crap her tongue was going to wither up and fall off so she laughed.

The only times she'd hung out with Carly before had been with other members of the squad, like Bianca and Angela, and all they'd done was a little light shopping and some lunch. Most of the time Carly tended to stick to cheerleading as a conversation topic and that was fine for a little while, but it got boring fast. Sylvia wasn't into cheerleading the way Carly was. Carly was the kind of girl who would probably always be a cheerleader. Sylvia had other plans, though she was thinking about using cheerleading as a stepping stone to get into a good college if her plan A failed. So it was nice that Carly was making the effort to stay away from cheering tonight. Not that she didn't like cheering. It was a lot of fun and great exercise, and admittedly she'd been fascinated with it since she was a kid. Cheerleaders were beautiful and popular, at least they were in movies and on t.v., and maybe part of her thought that by joining a squad that she too would magically transform into someone else.

After the popcorn came two large sodas, and a bottle of water for Sylvia, plus her movie must-have, a box of Sour Patch Kids. Carly got a box of Raisinets and said she'd share Shawn's Pepsi.

They made their way to their screen after a brief pit-stop in the game room where Sylvia and Nick played a round of House of the Dead.

The movie was alright—pretty much like every action movie she'd ever seen. Loud explosions, gun fights, blood, and violence; a few scantily clad hot bitches to liven things up. But she couldn't concentrate. She kept thinking about how exactly it was that she came to be here, sitting next to Nick Brady in a darkened theater. Two years ago, Sylvia couldn't have pictured it at all. Nick was this untouchable Adonis and she was anathema to him. Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic. After all, to be loathed one's existence had to be noticed. While Nick was known for courting girls from all sorts of different cliques he tended to shy away from the freaks and geeks, which was Sylvia's normal crowd. So no, two years ago Nick Brady hadn't known that she was alive; not even a blip on his radar.

That all changed that fateful summer when Nick and Shawn came up with their brilliant plan to blow off football camp, get poon, and bail out just in time to go party with their football buddies. Oh, sure, Sylvia hadn't gotten her hopes up even then. She knew that Nick was there to pursue every other female but her, and really she didn't think she had a chance with him. If she was honest with herself, she still kind of wondered what he saw in her. If it was just sex, he would have moved on, wouldn't he? When they had that fight…It was the perfect excuse to never see her again. Cut his losses and move on.

Sylvia grinned to herself as she recalled the instance when Carly had broken up with Dr. Dick, who'd thrown a punch that Nick accidentally caught instead of Shawn. Downey may have gotten the first hit in and Diora may have been the first to comfort him, but Sylvia's kick was meant to hurt, meant to cause some kind of damage. She'd hoped his ribs cracked, that he felt the bruises for days, because even though Nick wasn't hers, would never be hers, Dr. Dick had definitely earned himself some payback's-a-bitch-with-an-awesome-high-kick.

Who would have ever thought that the fascination was mutual, that the two of them, who had the least in common of anyone she knew, would end up having this sizzling chemistry, this wonderful compatibility? That she would be sitting next to Nick Brady in a dark theater with his hand resting absentmindedly on her's? That she would have to guard her Sour Patch Kids from his thieving fingers?

"No," she hissed and smacked his hand away again, "Get your own."

Nick's lower lip stuck out in an exaggerated pout as he turned his version of puppy eyes on her. After a moment of staring at that ridiculousness, Sylvia sighed and held up the box toward him. The look of little-boy-happiness on his face was worth the loss of a few gummi candies.

Of course after the movie someone suggested getting something to eat other than popcorn and candy, and Sylvia found herself sitting in the passenger seat of Nick's ride, who was following Shawn to a 24-hour restaurant. The food was mediocre, the conversation was okay—lighthearted, funny; they definitely weren't going to solve world hunger or the energy crisis or global warming. But Carly put french fries up her nose, which was probably the funniest thing Sylvia had seen in forever, and then she shot them at Shawn, which was even more hilarious and so uncharacteristic that Sylvia was cursing herself for not getting the incident on film.

Before she knew it, Nick was driving her home and Sylvia was still laughing to herself about the french fry incident. He parked in the driveway and turned to her with a self-satisfied smile. "Guess it wasn't quite the hellish torture you'd imagined it to be, hm?"

"Shut up," Sylvia murmured with a half-grin.

He leaned in close and kissed her, his lips barely a pressure on hers. For a while there was nothing else, just her and him, and the moist connection between them. Her hands were tangled in sun-bleached hair. It was soft, silky, and finer than her own. His hands were pushing off her cardigan, running over the smooth, pale skin of her arms like he missed having it under him. They drew away from each other so slowly, neither one truly wanting to pull away first. So they stayed there in the uncomfortable bucket seats with the shifter digging into their sides, breathing the same air in the scant space between them, Sylvia's face tipped up ever so slightly. And in that moment the words trembled on the tip of her tongue, rested on her slightly parted lips and begged to be spoken, to be released into the world as more than just her own private thought.

She sank her teeth into her lower lip, then opened her mouth. "Wasn't quite the agony I expected, but don't think this means I want to make a habit of it."

Nick, having no idea what almost came to pass, just grinned. "Wouldn't dream of it."