Things never quite went the way they wanted them to, which was strange, because with the kind of Watcher that Cassie had grown into, Nick would think that the whole "planning" thing would be going slightly better than it usually tended to.
But the point was, they were running low on cash, and Cassie's talents had told her that Nick's talents could be used in this particular alley to score some funds. Three years of practice had made his abilities with dice "much less pathetic," in Cassie's words. Even the shitty, pay by the hour, roach infested motels they were depending on still required actual money.
So here they were, in a tiny alley that, while being nice and private and therefore perfect for a nice game, was empty except for the jackass looking at Cassie in ways that were not at all appropriate.
"Let's go, Cassie," Nick told her. He placed a hand protectively on her waist in a motion that he rationalized as being necessary to ward off the random creeper they were sharing an alley with at the moment.
He didn't need to look at her to feel the eyeroll. "This is the right alley. I saw that cat." She held her pad up for emphasis and he glanced at the drawing of something that might have been a cat or a donkey or dragon before she put the book back in her bag.
The cat in question looked like it might have rabies. So did the douchebag pervert who really needed to quit looking at Cassie's legs that way.
"We need to go," he emphasized again. "We aren't making any money here."
"Oh, you want money? I could do that. I haven't before, but I could," the guy blurted.
Nick glanced at the guy - kid, really. He was probably a year or two older than Cassie, and Nick remembered being that young. It hadn't just been his lack of powers that had made his skills with the dice completely terrible.
"No, kid, we really can't," Nick said firmly.
"Shut up, dumbass, and let him talk," Cassie instructed.
"I know this kind of thing a lot better than you do." Nick stifled a sigh as the asshole decided to take Cassie's comments as an invitation to talk.
"Oh, that's what's wrong? She's new?" The overeager brat stepped forward and began fumbling with his wallet.
(If Nick had been feeling remotely generous towards the kid, he might have listed all the ways that fumbling with his wallet in front of two strangers was a very bad idea, but at the present moment, Nick wasn't sure that he cared too much if the kid got himself jumped.
Just because he had powers didn't mean he'd ever claimed to be a superhero, did he? That stuff could stay in the comic books.)
"Less new than you," Cassie told him indignantly at Nick's side, and Nick was happy to hear the slight edge in her voice. Sure, Cassie got annoyed at him a lot, but she didn't use that kind of tone with him, and Nick was taking it as a purely petty victory that put the creep right back in his place – even if the creep in question didn't seem to take the hint at all.
"It's okay. I get it. You can stay and watch ... if - if that's how you work," the kid was saying.
It was somewhere between the time that the guy extended the $50 bill and the moment when Cassie laughed that Nick began to think that everyone was not quite on the same page.
It took one final inappropriate glance at Cassie's legs before all of the words clicked. Nick didn't even hesitate before he Moved the creep out of the alley. Cassie leaned over to pick up the dropped bill.
"You didn't have to be quite such a jerk about it."
"He thought I was your pimp!"
Nick could hear a car door slam in the distance and he felt himself relax now that the creep was gone.
Cassie, as usual, felt that relaxing wasn't a good look on him.
"Is that even what you're mad about?" Cassie asked.
"Someone accusing me of being a pimp is a perfectly legitimate reason to be mad!"
When she turned away from him, he was struck with an inexplicable feeling that she was angry at him. Okay, so she was frustrated at him a lot lately, but usually he could at least puzzle out her reasons. He tried to reach out and grab her arm, because he was still very certain that he had every reason to be angry that someone had thought that he was her pimp, but she jerked the arm away.
The wall of the building she leaned on seemed to judge him just as hard as she was, and that didn't seem to be fair at all.
"Just stop pretending that you're mad because he thought you were my pimp. Because we both know that's bullshit."
"I'm glad you're a Reader now, too." Okay, so maybe the sarcasm wasn't entirely necessary, and maybe it only made the wall judge him harder and her glare deepen.
"I don't need to be a Reader to figure you out. Four years of saving your ass has made me a fucking expert." He thought about telling her not to curse, but that old familiar insincere fatherly affection had been uncomfortable and out of place for far longer than Nick was fully willing to admit.
"Then why don't you use your amazing expert skills to explain to me exactly what it is that you think I'm angry about."
Speaking of discomfort, a cold fist of it was curling inside of his stomach, and he glanced up and down the alley, half-way hoping for someone to come and distract them from this conversation.
But the would-be john was already gone, and the alley was emptier than any that Nick had seen in his life.
So there was nothing and nobody to stop her from saying, "You're just pissed because he actually wanted to have sex with me."
That cold bit of discomfort in his stomach didn't need a Shifter to suddenly turn to guilt. "He didn't want to have sex with you. He wanted to use you. There's a difference." And, in a desperate attempt to gain some ground in this conversation, he added, "Someday, you'll understand. When you're - "
"Don't you dare. Don't you fucking dare say 'when you're older.' Do you think I honestly don't know the difference now? Do you think I haven't Seen the difference? Do you think I don't See the difference in more visions than all of your best jerkoff fantasies combined?"
"Just because you See something - " He fumbled over his words, because he didn't really need to think about Cassie lying on her back on the small bed an arm's length away from his own bed with her eyes closed to summon up the best of her visions. His breath hitching in his throat, he soldiered on. "Doesn't mean you get it."
"Just because you've done it, doesn't mean you're an expert," she snapped back at him. Her arms fell to her side, and he watched as those bright orange fingernails began tearing at the fabric of her skirt. Three years hadn't been enough time for those skirts to get any longer, and he might have given her plenty of time to continue while he contemplated just how long they weren't. "But don't you worry. Someday, you won't be around to scare them off and somebody will help me get it just fine."
"Really, did you See that too?"
He shouldn't sound so angry about it. He didn't have any right.
She knew that, which was probably why she just rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, I've Seen that, alright. He's tall, blond, and has an obnoxious Superman tattoo on his left shoulder. I've Seen me clutching at it in the back of his ten year old Focus while he's deflowering me."
The last words could not possibly have been spat in his general direction any more than they were. He supposed he should be thinking of his father and his promise, because that might have kept his brain on track. But instead, he was thinking of his own first time, and how uncomfortable the back of that Kia had been.
"That's a shitty first time, Cassie. You deserve better than that."
"The future's not set in stone. If you think it's such a shitty future, then do something to change it." Those orange nails curled into the hem of her skirt twice more before his mouth was on hers. Those same orange nails combed through his hair once before his hands slid up the skirt that was the exact same length as his patience today.
Her bare legs wrapped around his worn jeans, urging him forward. He spared a moment to wonder if the concrete of the building she was leaning on felt more or less gentle against her skin than his pants, before his fingers slipped between her legs.
She gasped into his mouth, and it was loud enough of a startled surprise that he pulled back to look at her face.
"Do you want me to stop?"
If he was ranking the inappropriate reactions he was having today, the relief that swept over him at her answer would have probably made it to the top of the list. "Do you want to wait until we get back to the motel?"
"It's cleaner here than back at the motel." In answer to his first question, she bucked up against his hand, causing the thin strip of cotton to brush so insistently against his fingers that he felt the shape of her folds through the fabric.
Her mouth sought out his again, and the grin that he didn't bother hiding was interrupted as she bit down on his bottom lip.
"Tell me," he managed to say between her insistent lips. "Tell me what you want."
Her breath came out in a pant that was warm against his mouth. "I want to feel more of you than your fingers."
"I don't have a Superman tattoo or a ten year old Focus."
She huffed an impatient laugh against his mouth. "I get things wrong sometimes."
"Like everything in this alley?"
She grinned, too impatient and quick to be the seductive smile that it was probably intended to be, but it managed to send a shock of want directly down his spine anyway. "Nah. Everything in this alley went just like it was supposed to." He didn't have time to think about what that meant, before she bucked up against his fingers again.
They'd done laundry side by side. Sometimes, a lack of a Stitch meant they'd done each other's laundry, and he wondered as he rubbed against the thin cotton fabric, whether it was the blue ones with white stripes, the green ones with yellow stars, the pink ones with a red star, or the lacy black thong that he'd tried in vain to forget.
Her nails scratched across his neck one more time before he was on his knees in front of her, finding out the answer to his question.
He pulled the green and yellow panties down with one hand, while he pushed the skirt up with another. He glanced up and down the alley one more time, because he knew that he wasn't going to be focused on anything but the light golden patch in front of him for as long as she would let him.
"I'll keep watch," Cassie told him.
"And I should just Move?" Nick asked.
Orange nails scraped against his scalp as she tugged his head closer. "That's the idea."
A lot had changed in three years, but the fact that Cassie gave the demands and Nick followed them was one of the few things that hadn't.