The first and only time Nick introduces himself as Cassie's uncle to a motel clerk, she shakes him awake after twenty minutes, the urgency in her eyes and hands belying the wryness in her voice.
"The cops are on the way and it doesn't end well for you, Uncle Nick," she says, slinging her bag over her shoulder and tossing his duffel at him.
It takes his brain a few minutes to catch up with the implications, and then his skin crawls, which makes it more difficult for him to hotwire their getaway vehicle.
After that, she's his sister if introductions become necessary (and he makes them; he's too aware of how much she enjoys fucking with him to leave it in her hands), and he almost comes to believe that himself, but she's not young enough when they meet for that to really work between them, even if it works with other people. She's thirteen going on eighty, given everything she's seen, and even if that wasn't true, even if she was the normal girl in the normal life he wishes he could give her, there's still that look in her eyes sometimes when she watches him, when she doesn't think he sees, that familiar, intent look, and, well, it makes him uncomfortable when she's thirteen, because he's not used to kids anymore (wasn't even when he was one, always skittish and on the run), and especially not to teenage girls, but it's even more disturbing when she's sixteen and suddenly she's taller and curvier. Her skirts haven't gotten any longer in the years since they met, and she still sprawls like a little kid across beds and chairs and diner booths, a looseness in her limbs like she's trying to make up for the way watching makes her curl up like a turtle retracting into its shell. He's spent a lot of time coaxing her back out with gentle touches and mocking words, her body eventually pliant under his hands. Comfort, he's always told himself, and it isn't a lie.
He's going to the special hell for even noticing, let alone letting the thoughts linger for more than a second once he does.
He goes out and gets laid the next night, a woman with dark hair and dark eyes and fine lines around her mouth. He lets himself sink into her body, fleeting thoughts of Kira the only distraction. Somehow it hurts less to think of her.
He's pretty sure he's dodged a bullet, one even his somewhat improved skills couldn't stop, and for a long time, he mostly doesn't think about it, because he's fucked up everything else in his life, but he's not about to ruin Cassie.
And then, somewhere between Bangkok and Birmingham, he notices the boys noticing her.
It's good, it's normal, it's the way the world works, and it makes his hands curl into fists.
She doesn't notice, or, more likely, she doesn't care. They're so close to finding her mother, to striking at the heart of Division, that she doesn't have energy for anything else.
Or maybe he's just really good at pretending to see what he wants to see, right up until he can't unsee it, can't erase the image of some guy with too much gel in his hair and too many buttons unbuttoned on his shirt pressing her up against a wall, his hand tipping her chin up so he can kiss her.
A dumpster explodes nearby with the twitch of Nick's wrist, and she knows, she has to know, probably knew long before he did even though for once he thought he was the one running five steps ahead.
He runs, then. He's good at it, and he winds his way through the city until he's breathless and soaked.
It's dark and raining when he goes back to the motel.
She's sitting on the bed, one leg curled beneath her, notebook and gel pen in hand.
There's a pizza box on the desk with two slices missing, pieces of cheap pepperoni in little slicks of oil dotting the surface.
"I got you mozzarella sticks, too," she says. "But then I ate them."
"Okay." He heads to the bathroom, strips off his wet clothes, down to his boxer-briefs. The dye on his sweatshirt has run, so there are big blue splotches on his t-shirt. He tosses the whole mess into the tub and grabs a towel. He rubs it over his hair and when he emerges from underneath, Cassie's standing in the doorway, her mouth pursed tight.
"Let me," she says, reaching out and he flinches away from the touch. "Are you really gonna be like this?"
"Like what?" He glances away, won't meet her gaze, those too-knowing eyes.
She leans back against the doorjamb, gesturing and making an annoyed huffing sound. "Jealous and stupid."
That makes him look up. "What?"
"You know. You've always known on some level, and fine, I was too young then, but now--"
"You're still too young."
"You're the only one who thinks so."
"I'm the only one who matters."
She pushes off the doorjamb and stalks towards him, the sway of her hips mesmerizing, loose material of her skirt swishing around her thighs. "You'd like that, huh. It'd make things easier, wouldn't it?" She reaches up and runs her fingers across his lower lip. He licks them, instinct, the decision made before he's even aware of considering it. She tastes like salt and soap.
"You know that's not what I meant."
"You care too much about what other people think."
He starts laughing. "Because I don't want to get arrested. We can't afford the attention."
"That's it? Because I'm not thirteen anymore."
"And because I don't want to lose you." His voice is low and rough and pained.
She backs him down onto the toilet seat and holds his gaze. She doesn't leave him anywhere to hide.
"What are the odds that we actually succeed?" she asks, swinging a leg over so she's straddling him, her hands small and tight on his shoulders.
"What?" It takes him a second to process through the loud pounding of blood in his ears. He can feel the heat of her through the thin layer of her underwear and his. He holds himself very still. "You'd know that better than me," he says finally.
"That's right." Her mouth is barely an inch away from his, her breath warm against his lips. He swallows hard. "Trust me," she says. "Doing this is better than not doing it." She closes the distance between them, her mouth hot and sweet against his, her tongue sure, like this is just another conversation they'll have where she convinces him to do what she says. And he wants to.
He cups the back of her head, tangles a hand in her hair, deepening the kiss. She shivers against him, makes a low noise that jolts through him like lightning, fierce and merciless.
His settles his other hand on her hip, thumb brushing the soft skin of her belly underneath the soft cotton of her t-shirt, dipping down below the waistband of her skirt. He slides it up the ladder of her spine, learning each individual vertebra by feel, and her hips jerk against his. He swallows down her surprised moan, licks it from her mouth as it vibrates through him.
"Cassie," he whispers, pulling away. She leans forward, chasing his mouth and capturing it again, using her teeth on his lower lip, and this time, he's the one who makes a startled noise. She laughs and twines her arms around his neck, pressing her face to his throat.
She goes rigid then, makes a small, pained noise that makes him wrap his arms around her so he can carry her to the bed.
He moves her notebook and markers to the night table, but she doesn't reach for them. He rubs a hand up and down her back, holds on when she pushes herself into him, the charge of her touch muted by the pain she's in. She relaxes slowly, and this part he's used to, the way she eventually gets boneless and clingy after particularly bad visions.
"Soon," she says, hoarse. "Division. My mother." She presses herself to his side, like she's trying to sink into his skin. "Us."
She falls asleep with her head on his chest. He lies awake and listens to her breathe, wondering if anything's changed at all.