Pairing: Nick/Kira mentioned, but it's Cassie-centric gen-fic
Warnings: cussing, mentions of rape, other depressing stuff
Author: Lily Zen
Notes: For fic_promptly. Push, Nick & Cassie, as her pseudo-big brother he wants to protect her from anything the world might throw their way.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
She came in the apartment without fanfare, very quietly closing the door behind her with an almost inaudible click, and went to her room without saying a word.
That was his first hint that something was wrong.
Cassie was consistent in the fact that she was a whirling dervish, a funnel made from contradictions lashing out at the world carelessly. Her hot-and-cold teenage hormones were a touchstone in his reality, something that he'd grown used to. A subdued Cassie just wasn't right.
He shot Kira a look and she waved him off. Nick put down the drying cloth and clean plate, and stepped back from the kitchen sink in their dingy apartment.
The dark haired Pusher merely shifted over a little, standing in front of the entire double-basin sink to continue washing the dishes by herself. He smiled at her gratefully, and slipped out of the kitchen, following Cassie to the scarred wooden door that couldn't contain the wailing music from her computer. Nick knocked politely, but when Cassie didn't answer he called out worriedly, "Cass?" The volume lowered marginally.
"What?" she snapped back irritably.
"Can I come in?"
"No, fuck off," the young Watcher retorted.
Normally Nick respected Cassie's wish for privacy. It was hard, the three of them living together in their cramped New York digs, and so they often made little efforts to gain space from each other. Kira wore earplugs and an eye mask to bed; Nick sat in a chair in their bedroom, sketching out places he'd been or people he'd seen, or even places that he just imagined; Cassie locked herself in her room and turned up the volume so that her music drowned them all out, though it never could silence the future. However, he was already mildly concerned, and that concern mutated into alarm when he could have sworn he heard sniffling on the other side of the door.
Nick concentrated hard, sliding the lock back on Cassie's door knob, and grasped the brass handle, girding his loins as he stepped into the cavern where all light and hope must quail at the thought of entering. It smelled faintly of marijuana and cigarettes underneath the heavy scent of convenience store incense. He'd have said something about it, but Nick never really felt it was his place to tell Cassie how to live her life. He wasn't her family, not really. If she wanted to, she could leave tomorrow and there was legally nothing he could do to stop her.
The walls of her room were plastered with macabre drawings, foretellings of possible futures that plagued Cassie's existence. Some were gruesome, dead bodies and blood pools; others not so much.
He was really looking forward to the day this god-awful phase was over. Nick was ready to get funny, sarcastic, know-it-all Cassie back. He couldn't remember if he was that fuckin' morose at that age, but god, he hoped not, having developed a newfound sense of pity for the people in his life back then.
Cassie was sitting on her narrow twin bed, the olive green blanket and patchwork quilt surrounding her haphazardly. With her knees tucked up to her chest and her semi-circle of blankets she looked kind of like a fabric volcano except instead of a mushroom cloud there was her tear-streaked face glaring daggers at him.
"What the fuck, Nick? Knock much?"
"I did," he replied evenly while his heart clenched at the utterly crushed look on her face right then. The toe of her boot was sticking out underneath the mound of bedcovers, and he'd lay money on the fact that she was still wearing her jacket too. Nick carefully pushed the door closed behind him and walked further into the room. He left the volume on her laptop up so that Kira wouldn't overhear. Nick perched on the edge of her mattress, saying bluntly, "But you're crying, and I don't like that. So tell me who this boy is you went out with and where he lives."
Cassie shook her head stiffly and hunched her shoulders, drawing the blankets closer toward her face.
"What happened, Cassie?" he coaxed, though inside Nick kind of felt like grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her, yelling in her face that she'd better spill the beans pronto. That was his own emotions urging him to do so though, the anger and fear and worry, but that wasn't what Cassie needed from him right at that moment. There was something fragile in her gaze, and she continued to cry although she kept her sniffles to a minimum now that he was in the room. The salty droplets welled in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks unheeded, nothing stopping them, but no noise or movement precipitating their arrival. He wondered where she'd learned to cry so quietly.
"I don't want to talk about it," she choked out, her voice thick with sorrow and something else.
"Cassie," he stated slowly, giving her his best this-is-serious-business tone.
"Shut up, Nick," his young friend retorted. "You're not my dad. What are you gonna do, put me in a corner? Go chase him down with a shotgun? Just fucking leave it. He's gonna get his, don't you fucking worry. He'll pay." Her lips compressed into a very thin line, and blue eyes narrowed. The saying 'if looks could kill' sprang to mind, but Nick ignored it to focus on analyzing what she'd said. He didn't like the foreboding feeling that was crawling in his gut, or the look of ice cold hatred on her delicate, elfin face.
"Just fucking leave it alone!" she shouted, exploding out of the blankets and launching herself across the room. Cassie had her hand on the doorknob before Nick had even moved, so shocked was he by her outburst, but when he realized that Cassie was about to storm out of the apartment in her high-strung, emotional state without giving him the answers that a part of him was now desperate to have, he flung out a hand and Moved the door, keeping it pushed in place no matter how hard she tugged on it.
"Open it!" she shouted, "Open the goddamn door, Nick!" Cassie kicked the door with a heavy black-booted foot, rattling the old wood in its frame.
"Cassie," Nick started again, louder that time.
"Do it right now! Open it, open it, open it…" She was screaming now, chanting at the top of her lungs and pounding at the wood.
Nick was so freaked out he didn't know what to do, and so he yelled over her, "Cassie, cut it out!" He grabbed her arms from behind, just trying to keep her from hurting herself, but she fought him and so he pressed harder, grimacing when he realized that she was going to have bruises on her hands and her arms now.
Pinned like a butterfly, Cassie let out the most agonized scream he'd ever heard, and slumped to the floor, all the fight leaving her body as she gave into her inner turmoil, a tower crumbling into the sea.
He slid to the floor with her, arms wrapping around her from behind as she crossed her own arms, still in his hands, over her chest like she was trying to hold herself together. When she started rocking, he rocked with her, instinctively making noises meant to soothe her. The leather of her jacket creaked as they moved, and she murmured in between broken, jagged sobs, "How could he? How could he?"
"What?" Nick whispered back, his voice heavy with his own sadness that he bit back through sheer force of will. "What, Cassie? Please tell me."
Her voice was so small when she breathed out as though it was the last wind in the storm, "he fucking raped me," that he almost didn't hear her.
A second later the room went crazy. The lightbulb burst overhead, showering them with glass, and her mattress jumped four feet across the room. The contents of her desk went flying, and the closet threw up clothes everywhere as her words registered and Nick knew for the first time in his life what genuine, blinding hatred felt like.
"Nick!" Cassie screeched, and he threw himself over her, shielding her from the glass with his broad shoulders.
And then…nothing. Absolute calm. The eye of the storm.
Nick growled. "Where is he, Cass?"
"No," she retorted stubbornly, her voice muffled underneath him, "You're not going to do anything. He's…he's gonna get busted really soon, and spend the next twenty years taking it up the ass. Just…don't. I can't-" Cassie's breath hitched and she started over. "I can't lose you, and you don't know what'll happen if you do this. I do. We can't afford to draw attention to ourselves, Nick. This is just how it has to be."
Clenching his jaw, Nick slowly sat back up, releasing her arms, and he bit out, "Don't make me stand by and do nothing."
She looked at him over her shoulder, blue eyes sadder and somehow older than they should have been. "You can't protect me from everything, Nick."
"Why not?" he shot back stubbornly. They were all either one of them had in the world. She was, in a sense, more his family than his real family had ever been. It was his job to look after her and make sure she was okay, and weirdly enough, that was also her job—to make sure he was alright.
Her weakened wry smile held a hint of wisdom in it when she whispered, "Because that's not the way the world works." Then she shuffled around in the small circle of still-clear floor space, reaching out towards him tentatively.
Nick pulled her to his chest, and she collapsed onto his shirt where she buried her wet face. Together they would weather the storm.