On her eighteenth birthday, Nick gives Cassie a small box. It isn't wrapped, the lid of it just taped down, but she doesn't care. When you spend most of your days squatting in abandoned apartment complexes and motels that rent by the hour, you learn to make due with the bare minimum. She's mostly surprised he remembered in the first place. Neither one of them do anniversaries or birthdays; marking time is the easiest way to get stuck in the past, to remember the things you've loved and lost.
"Happy birthday, kid." He makes the words sound like an afterthought, and her mouth sours. She wonders when she'll stop being that to him, stop being the kid with the loopy-coloured hair and questionable taste in clothes and start being his partner, the woman who has saved his goddamn life too many times to count. Because between them, he's the reckless one, the one with the plans that sound more like suicide missions, and she's always the one to pull him back, her mind constantly filling with all the ways they die.
Nick looks at her curiously, like he can't quite figure out why she's unhappy. So she smiles, slips the elephant hair bracelet from the box onto her wrist and leans over to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. He smiles back, but it's cautious, and she can tell when he's holding something back.
"Thanks, old man."
They get separated a couple of times.
Nick ends up in Kenya for a couple of months when the heat in Shanghai gets a little too hot and Cassie sees him being garroted in the back of a massage parlor. She shocks out of the vision, her pad and pen under her along with a doodle of a man who no longer has a throat, and she scrambles for the disposable cell he had bought her to call him.
"Get out," she says. "They're looking for you. Get out of town. I'll finish up the job here." They've been together long enough for him to know when she isn't messing around, when her visions are less suggestion of a possible outcome and more assured destiny without intervention, so Nick begrudgingly agrees, catches a flight to Mombasa and tells her to call every forty-eight hours or he's coming back for her. The job in Shanghai turns out to be more complicated than they had originally anticipated, and by the time she makes it to the sunny, dry air of Mombasa to meet him, her hair is a couple inches longer and she has a fresh scar running across her shoulder blade from a stitch with a taste for blood. When he finds her at the airport, tanned and in shorts with a nervous look on his face, he hugs her gingerly, like he's being considerate of the wounds he shouldn't know she has.
"You did good," he says.
The year Cassie turns twenty-one, she and Nick have a particularly nasty fight, the latest in a string of disagreements on how to take down a new section of Division being developed in the former Soviet block. It's December, and Berlin is cold, colder than Cassie remembers it being from when she was a little girl. This was the first place her mother took her when they went on the run and she remembers every day of it. She's learned that fear, more than anything else, burns things into the mind.
They fight because for the first time she's the one that wants to move ahead faster, ignore the nagging questions and troubling visions that would normally give her pause. They aren't used to this sudden role reversal, and she finds herself beginning to resent Nick's constant hesitation, an annoying chill on the hot, violent anger she feels running through her all the time now. "Your mother's dead, Cassie," he tells her like she doesn't know, like she didn't see it happen over and over inside her head, forced to relive the same vision until she had known it had come to pass. In this fight, she's already thrown his father and Kira right into his face, so she's not quite sure why this, the mention of her mother, sends her into such a rage. The wound is too fresh, she thinks. "Stop trying to join her."
"Fuck you, Nick!" she screams, leaning right into his face so he can feel her breath, and he doesn't even flinch. Just sits and takes her anger. "Fuck you fuck you fuck you!" She hates that he can do this, can get under her skin, make her act like a child again. When she grabs her bag and moves for the door, he shuts it with a flick of his hand from across the room. It won't budge when she turns the handle.
"Cassie," he says calmly, like he's trying to sooth a panicked horse, and it only makes her anger rise.
"If you don't open this door..." She wishes she was a pusher. She wishes she was a mover. She wishes she could inflict her will, inflict her anger, instead of constantly being forced to see a future she is, more often than not, unable to prevent.
The exhale of breath from across the room is loud, and the door slips open, just an inch. She throws open the door and steps through it, disappearing down the hall and outside into the chill.
She doesn't go back. Cassie's pride is a vicious, willful beast, especially when she's angry. By the time the anger has worn off, a few weeks and several train trips later, she couldn't find him if she tried. She had left her cell phone back in the motel room in Berlin, and she hadn't learned the number of the new one he got after the last had been burned. All her visions of him are too generic, too scattered to use to track him down. So she gets used to seeing him in her mind, snapshots of his life as she moves across Europe and into Asia, making sure to keep one step ahead of the Division trackers.
Nick finds her nine months later in Mumbai. She opens her mouth to apologize, but he does it first, I'm sorry just loud enough that she can hear it. His hands are tucked inside the pockets of his jeans, and it suddenly hits her just how much she's missed him, missed the real version of him instead of the fuzzy, half-finished visions of him inside her head.
"How did you find me?" she asks.
"I know a sniffer in Moscow," Nick says with a shrug. "It took her a while to find you. Couldn't make it easy, could you?"
They don't hug, don't fill each other in on the missing time. Instead, Cassie follows Nick back to his hotel, moderately clean and well-kept in a city that feels like it's falling apart in so many ways. In the room, tucked into the corner, she sees all of her stuff, all of the things she left behind in Berlin that he's kept with him.
She climbs onto the bed, suddenly more exhausted than she's ever been in her life. Cassie's forgotten how hard it is when you have no one to watch your back, when you can never let your guard down. It feels natural when you're living it, like the self-preservation impulse is hardwired into your system so you know no different, but here, with him, she's forgotten how it can be.
Her eyes are already closed when she feels his weight move onto the bed beside her.
"I missed you," Nick says when he thinks she's sleeping.
Then there was the time she was caught by Division. She was gone for two years, and they still don't talk about that.
Sometimes the visions don't mean anything. A flash of a taxi picking up a customer. Three children playing on a front porch. A bar filled with drunk Japanese businessmen in expensive suits and bad shoes. It's the ones that come on with no provocation that hurt the most, like a shot through the skull with a high powered rifle.
She wakes from one in Rio, the window of their hotel room open to let in the breeze from outside. There had only been singles left, and it's just too hot in the room to share a bed, but they do it anyway, used to making do with what they have. She feels her body shake coming out of the sharp clarity of the vision and it wakes Nick, who rolls over as she sits up.
"Are you okay?" he asks, his hand coming up to rest on her back, half on the light material of her tanktop and the other on her bare skin.
Nick thinks this is a nightmare. She's been having them since he broke her out of Division. He's been handling her, his interaction more cautious than he's ever been with her, and it would drive her nuts if she wasn't sure that she needed it. She misses the casualness of how they used to be, though, the smartass mouth of the Nick who challenged her at every turn. But things are different now, and she's only begun to notice he looks as broken as she feels.
"Yeah," she says. "Just a vision." It had been nothing, just a sailboat floating in the middle of the ocean, its deck covered in blood.
His fingers slide into her palm, resting against the skin there. He's looking at the track marks inside her elbow from the IVs and shots that still haven't healed.
They bring down a section of Division in London.
Sirens are blaring, but security is the first to start running. The inmates are loose and London doesn't have security fortified with movers and pushers the way that most other sections of Division do. That's why Cassie chose it. There were some benefits to being trapped inside Division; she knows all their secrets now.
She recognizes one of them, one of the scientists fleeing around them, running for the exits. Nick looks at her and doesn't even have to ask; Cassie doesn't want to know what is written across her face.
One sharp sweep of Nick's hand and the man goes through the window of thirty-second floor.
Amsterdam is beautiful in the spring. Cassie sits and sketches in the small coffee shop around the corner from the small apartment they're renting off the books from a less than reputable landlord. But it has running water, a proper bed and windows that look out onto a beautiful view of the water. It's the nicest place they've ever had, and as much as Cassie loves the fight, she thinks she could get used to this. She's learned how to control her powers a bit more, learned how to focus, reach forward and grab things instead of just opening her mind to whatever decides to wash over her. Nick tells her that it's not cheating, that they need the money and the bookies aren't exactly destitute, but it still feels weird to use her powers this way.
"What're you drawing?" Nick asks, leaning over her shoulder.
Cassie sniffs, poking his forehead back. "Nothing. Just stuff." On her pad, there's a mix of images: an egg, a lamp, a flower, and Nick's ear.
It's midday, and the sun hangs overhead. Cassie squints into it, tipping her head back.
"I had a vision," she sighs, twisting her head until she's looking at his sideways.
"What?" Nick asks, his face suddenly gone serious.
Cassie smiles ruthlessly. "You getting me a cup of coffee."
Nick rolls his eyes, leaning back in his chair, but he smiles too. She's missed this. "Get it yourself, you lazy asshole."
Nick kisses her one night in July. There are blueprints of a Division safehouse in Paris on the table in front of them, half-full cups of cold coffee leaving ring marks in the paper. And he kisses her, crowds her back against the table as she plots out an infiltration strategy with him, tilting her head up just enough so he can slot their mouths together sweetly.
It goes deep though, his tongue a soft pressure against her until she opens up into the kiss, lets him slip it into her mouth.
"Did you see this?" Nick asks when he finally pulls away, tipping his forehead against hers so his breath hits her mouth as he talks. His eyes are closed. When she doesn't answer, his fingers on her hips tighten. "Did you see this?"
She wants to tell him the truth, that she never sees herself in the visions unless she's dying, always bleeding to death on some shitty street corner or drowning in the thick, polluted water of a dock. This is not dying, but it feels like something close to it, some ridiculous hybrid of pain and arousal curling inside her chest, pooling low in her belly. She can't believe how much she wants this.
"I didn't," Cassie answers finally, letting him tug her hips into his.
Nick smiles against her mouth. "Good."