Nick didn't have to do much to get people to stop talking. Most of the times a glare was all he needed and if that failed, weapons ended the conversation swiftly. Mae had been trying to teach him not to use his death glare, comparing it to a basilisk's stare. Alan had been in the room and that had lead to a discussion about the Harry Potter books which Nick hadn't read and wasn't going to read.
Unfortunately, Nick's death glare did not work against Alan. Alan was immune to it as he chattered on about what to do on a date. “I can't believe my baby brother is all grown up and going out on his first date.” He wiped away an imaginary tear. Nick didn't say anything. He never understood why Alan had to make such a fuss about everything, such as his school photos or assignments he'd managed to do well on. He was just going out to get coffee with Mae.
“Now, Nick, remember to hold the doors open for Mae,” Alan advised.
Nick stared at Alan. “Why would I do that?” he asked flatly. “Mae has two hands.” He figured he would have heard if she had an injury that prevented her from opening her own doors.
Alan sighed patiently. “Because it's the polite thing to do on dates. It's chivalrous.”
Nick didn't understand the point of chivalry. Why should he give up his coat to a girl who was too stupid to check the weather report and see that it was going to be cold? Why should he open the door for a girl if she had two functioning hands? But the idea of explaining it to Alan exhausted him. He'd have to find the right words and then he'd have to say them. Then Alan would say something else, trying to convince him why he should open the doors instead of just admitting that Nick was right. As far as he was concerned, chivalry caused people to do stupid things, like put themselves in danger or give up their coats.
“Oh! And you should bring her flowers, Nick,” Alan added. Nick didn't understand how Alan could learn dead languages and make up plans to trap magicians and be capable of saying something this stupid.
“Why would I get her flowers?” he asked.
“You're supposed to give them to Mae as a present,” Alan explained. “Usually when you ask someone on a date you bring them something.”
“I'm already taking them out,” Nick argued. “Why would I bring them a present? And if I did bring them a present, why would I bring them flowers instead of something useful?” How would flowers help Mae if she was attacked? She couldn't defend herself with flowers. But Alan had looked so earnest as he said it that Nick found himself agreeing to get flowers as he headed out the door. Of course Alan had insisted he go to a flower shop even though there were flowers growing in the grass.
That was why Nick found himself pushing the door of a flower shop open. A tinkling bell announced his presence. Nick looked around at the flowers. They were too bright and the smell made his nose itch. Nick grabbed the nearest bouquet and stalked over to the elderly woman at the counter. “I'd like to get these,” he said. Then, remembering Alan's lessons, added, “Please.”
The woman beamed as she rang Nick up. “For your girlfriend, I presume?” she asked.
Nick nodded. He supposed Mae might be his girlfriend. He'd asked her out and they were going on a date. That made her his girlfriend. Of course Mae might want to talk about it. He remembered when he'd been with girls and they wanted to know what they were to him. Nick had said that he was sleeping with them, which was the wrong thing to say. Nick never understood it. Girls said they wanted honesty and then he was honest and they got upset. He was sleeping with them. How was he supposed to know they might want something more? If they wanted something more, they should have said.
“What's your girlfriend like?” the lady asked. Nick thought about Mae. He thought about the first time he'd met her, when he'd held a sword to her throat. He remembered how she wasn't cowed by him. He thought about her going into the house after that because she needed to save her brother. He remembered her making plans and always wanting to be part of the action despite the fact that she couldn't fight or do magic. “Determined,” he said at last.
“Well, I'm sure she'll like these,” the old lady said. She told him how much he owed. Nick paid it and left, examining the flowers. They were a pale pink and frilly looking. Nick didn't see the point of getting Mae flowers, but Alan had said that was what he was supposed to do. It wasn't like he knew what to do on a date. Sleeping with a girl- yes. He knew what to do then. Nick supposed other people would be nervous on their first date, but there was no point to that. Either something bad would happen on the date or it wouldn't.
A while later, Nick pulled up outside of Mae's aunt's house. He got out of the car and made his way to the door. When Mae swung open the door, Nick thrust the flowers in her face. “Alan said I should give these to you,” he gritted out.
Mae raised her eyebrows and accepted the flowers. “So, you're giving me flowers because your brother told you to? I get the feeling you don't give flowers to many girls.” She stepped aside to let Nick in. “I'm just going to get a vase to put these in. Would you like a drink?”
Nick stared at Mae. “We're going out for coffee,” he pointed out. “Why would I need a drink?” Mae shrugged and headed into the kitchen. Nick followed her, eyeing her outfit. She was wearing a pink corset and a pleated white skirt. Numerous bracelets jangled from her arms.
“Force of habit,” she explained. “When people come over, you ask them if they want anything to drink.” Bending down, she retrieved a vase from a cupboard underneath the sink and filled it with water. “But you didn't answer my question. Do you give flowers to a lot of girls?”
Nick shook his head. Mae nodded as though she'd known that would have been his answer all along.
“I get the feeling you would give girls weapons as presents instead of flowers,” Mae said. Nick nodded fervently. That was right. Weapons were useful. “I would. You can't kill people with flowers.”
Mae smiled, revealing her dimple and making Nick want to smile back. “So those are your standards for presents? If you can kill people with them? Those seem like pretty high standards.”
Nick grinned. “I can make a weapon out of anything,” he said. “But flowers might give me a bit of trouble. These flowers don't even have thorns to stab someone with.”
“You could shove them in someone's face and hope they're allergic,” Mae offered.
Nick shook his head. “Too risky,” he said. “It's easier to just stab someone.” Mae put the finishing touches on the flowers and turned to Nick. “You ready to go? My aunt and Jamie are out. Of course Jamie was going to give you the standard hurt my sister and you die speech, so I don't know if you want to wait around so he can do that.”
Nick and Mae headed to the door. “I'd feel more threatened by a cupcake,” Nick told Mae.
Mae huffed. “Look, I know Jamie really isn't threatening, but would it kill you to at least pretend to take him seriously?” She opened the car door and slid inside.
Nick cast her a sardonic glance. “The strain of pretending to be threatened by Jamie could cause my heart to burst from stress,” he drawled. “And then where would you be?”
Mae smiled. “I suppose I could find a way to resurrect you,” she mused.
Nick glanced at Mae. “So necrophilia is one of your kinks,” he said. “I've heard of worse.”
“Necrophilia might be low down on my list. But then again, that seems like a lot of work. It might be easier to find myself a new boyfriend.” Silence descended. Nick drove, his fingers clutching the steering wheel as though he wanted to strangle it. Was he Mae's boyfriend? He'd told the lady in the store that he was, but he and Mae hadn't really talked about it. He'd asked her out and he assumed that meant he was her boyfriend. But Mae had never actually called him her boyfriend until now.
“Nick?” Mae asked softly. “Is something wrong?” Moving deliberately so he could see her, she touched his thigh for a brief moment. Nick didn't feel the urge to stab her to get her to remove her hand.
“Is it about me bringing up the whole boyfriend thing? I probably shouldn't have sprung that on you. I'm sorry. But I figured it's best to just define the relationship straight away. I've gone out with a few guys-not on dates, just as friends, and then it came out that they thought of it as a date and it was just really awkward when I said it wasn't. But I would like you to be my boyfriend.”
Nick's shoulders tensed. “I don't know what to do,” he forced out. It would be easier if Mae just wanted to be friends with benefits. He'd know what to do then.
Mae's voice was gentle. “That's fine,” she assured him softly. “I know what to do. I've dated a few people. Right now we're going to go out to get coffee and I'm going to tell you all about my day. You're going to just grunt or answer in monosyllabic answers. After that we're going to go back to my place so we can make out.”
Nick felt the same way he did when he had a weapon in his hand-the feeling that everything was right in the world. He could do this. He could go out for coffee and listen to Mae talk about her day. “Are you sure we can't just skip to the making out part?” he asked.
“Nope!” Mae answered cheerfully. “Part of being a couple is going on dates. Just be glad we're going out for coffee and not dinner.” Nick pulled up in front of a coffee shop and parked the car. He entered the coffee shop ahead of Mae, scanning for danger. There were a few people in the coffee shop. Some sat at tables with laptops and textbooks open, while others lounged in armchairs near a bookshelf. A few people stood in line to order.
“Why don't you get us a table and I'll get the coffee?” Mae suggested. Nick nodded. That would work. He could pick out the most defensible table.
“What coffee do you want?” Mae asked.
“Black.” Nick answered.
Mae rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Nick? You didn't even look at the menu.”
“Black coffee.” Mae sighed and went to wait in line while Nick found a table that gave him a good view of people coming in and was close to an exit. A few people eyed him appreciatively. Nick eyed them back. He didn't glare, but his expression made them avert their gazes hurriedly. Mae returned a few minutes later, carrying Nick's plain black coffee and a monstrosity with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and chocolate chips. Mae saw Nick eyeing her drink. “Do you want a sip?” she asked. Nick shook his head and accepted his black coffee. He took a sip and noticed Mae watching him. “I never understood how people could drink black coffee,”she said.
Nick couldn't understand people who went into coffee shops spouting words like espresso, cappuccino, extra whip, a shot of cinnamon syrup, steamer, etc. Coffee was coffee. It was meant to keep him awake on long drives when they moved to a new house or keep Alan awake while he was studying something instead of resting like he should have been.
“Jamie has a theory,” Mae said. “He thinks that what type of coffee people orders says a lot about their personality.”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “So Jamie's a Buzzfeed quiz now? And those are bold words for someone who doesn't even like coffee.”
Mae continued, undeterred. “I think he might be on to something. For example, he said that black coffee drinkers were quiet but moody. They like to keep things simple, they're straightforward, and like minimalism. Tell me that doesn't sound like you.” Nick had no idea what minimalism was, but he had to admit the rest of it was accurate. “I am the strong and silent type,” he said. “And I do like to keep things simple while killing someone.”
“I like frapaccinos. According to Jamie, that means I'm adventurous and courageous, I'll try anything once, and I'm a trendsetter. I like to think I'm adventurous and courageous and I do like to keep an open mind. But I think I fit the espresso drinker personality better- those people are leaders, hardworking and know how to get what they want.”
“That,” Nick said with feeling, “sounds a lot like you.”
Mae laughed and took a sip of her drink. “You sure know how to charm a girl, Nick,” she said. “By the way, Sin's teaching me to fight.” Nick's hands curled into fists. It was good that Mae was learning to fight. The rest of them knew how to fight. But why was Mae going to Sin to learn how to fight? Nick could fight as well as Sin, if not better. Why didn't she come to him? He'd taught Jamie how to fight.
“I can teach you,” he offered. “How to fight. So you don't have to ask Sin.”
“You both can teach me how to fight,” Mae answered. “Sin promised she'd teach me how to use a long knife. She said I needed something with reach. My pocket knife wasn't cutting it. Me getting close enough to stab someone leaves too much to chance.” Again, it was good that Mae had someone to advise her about weapons, but why couldn't that someone have been him?
Mae was still talking. “If you did teach me to fight, I suppose it would end with you pinning me down and us making out.” Nick eyed her top. It was low-cut and he could see the swell of her breasts. “We could be doing that right now,” Nick said lowly. “You're the one who insisted on us going out for coffee first.”
“Technically, you asked me out for coffee,” Mae pointed out.
“Because I thought it was what you wanted,” Nick snapped. He thought that was what he was supposed to do. People asked people to get coffee. Mae wanted a relationship and people in relationships got coffee. Mae covered his hand with hers. Her hand was warm and her voice was soft. “It was,” she told him. Like she'd promised, she began to tell him about her day, which included the books she was reading and how she and Alan had plans for her to teach her the Greek alphabet. It also included her plans for the Market. “I know people might not be happy with the changes, but I really think change is needed. We need to be united. Of course there is a bit of tension with the magicians and some of the groups like the necromancers, which I can't really blame them for. But we need to do something to foster team spirit.”
Nick shuddered at the thought of team spirit. He'd been subjected to a pep rally before and it was one of the most horrendous experiences of his life. All those people jumping down and cheering, getting pumped for school. School was meant to be endured, not celebrated. “If you're having a pep rally you can count me out,” he told Mae. “I look horrible in a cheerleader's outfit.”
Mae studied Nick. “I don't believe that. You'd look good in anything. But you're right- a pep rally would never work. One look at your scowling face would definitely dampen any team spirit. I was thinking you'd just stand around and glare at people.”
Nick relaxed. He would have participated in a Market pep rally if that's what Mae had wanted, but he was glad he wouldn't have to. On the other hand, glaring at people sounded like his idea of a good time. “So does that make me your bodyguard?” he asked.
“I don't need a man to defend me,” Mae said. “But if you want to be my bodyguard, fine. And if you want to work out while shirtless, I wouldn't object to that.”
“Mavis, I feel like you only want me for my body and not my sparkling personality,” Nick drawled.
Mae giggled and played with the straw of her drink. “Don't worry, Nick. I want the whole package.” Mae fell silent. Her fingers drummed against the table and her gaze darted around the room. Nick found himself tensing. Mae had obviously spotted an enemy, but how could Nick not have spotted them? His hand went to his knife as he looked around the coffee shop. “Where are they?” Nick's lips barely moved as he spoke.
Mae's brows furrowed and she looked at him like he'd started speaking ancient Greek. “Who are you talking about?” she asked.
“Whatever enemy you spotted.” Nick's finger's itched to throw a knife, but he couldn't risk it until he knew where the enemy was.
Mae's shoulders relaxed. “There's no enemy here,” she told Nick. Nick's grip on his weapons didn't loosen. There was only one reason to look around like that and it was because you spotted an enemy. “Seriously, Nick. There's no enemy. Don't you think you would have spotted them before me? I was just trying to figure out how to tell you.”
That was it? Mae just needed to figure out how to tell him something? He would never understand humans. If you wanted to tell someone something, you told them and that was that. Mae stood up. “I'm about finished with my coffee. We can talk in the car.”
Nick got up and followed Mae outside. “You know, I probably should have just told you this in the coffee shop. You're supposed to dump people in public so they don't make a scene. Which seems to be a really scummy thing to do.”
“You're breaking up with me already,” Nick said in mock despair.
Mae didn't even smile. She took a deep breath. “So there are some people who aren't very happy with me being the next leader of the Market. There are a few traditionalists who aren't happy with the changes I've made, like allowing magicians to join the Market. Then there are people who aren't happy about the fact that my brother is a magician and I was hanging out with the magicians, even if that was so I could exact my revenge. And then a few of the magicians only joined up because they were on the losing side.”
Nick didn't like where this was going. “What are you trying to say?”
“I'm saying there have been a few threats against me.”
Nick jerked the wheel sharply. He could feel the urge to hurt something rising up inside of him. He wanted to hunt down the magicians and Market people who had threatened Mae. He would, once Mae gave him a name. Mae was still talking, but she wasn't giving him the names of people who had been threatening her, so Nick wasn't overly interested.
“It's nothing physical as yet. Just a few threats. But Jamie said I should tell you and Sin said the same thing.”
Nick's hands gripped the steering wheel. Maybe if he imagined it hard enough, it would turn into someone who was threatening Mae and he could strangle them. Unfortunately, his powers didn't extend that far. “Why didn't you tell me?” he gritted out. Alan hadn't told him he was being tortured. Mae hadn't told him she was being threatened, just like she hadn't told him that she was going to the magicians. People didn't tell him things. How was he supposed to protect them if they didn't tell him things?
“What are their names?” Nick gritted out. He would kill them and the whole matter would be solved.
“You can't kill them, Nick,” Mae argued.
Nick glanced at Mae out of the corner of his eye. “I can kill them. All I have to do is stab them.”
Mae sighed as if Nick were a particularly difficult child. “You can't kill everyone who threatens me, Nick” she pointed out.
Nick was more than willing to try. “So what's your solution, then? Ask them nicely to stop?” he snarled. Honestly, killing people was the most simple solution, but no one ever saw it that way. Mae paused for a moment. “Well, obviously death threats aren't good for any leader. I should have addressed them sooner. But I'm not sure killing them is the right answer. They haven't actually tried to kill me as yet.”
“And your plan was to wait for people to try and kill you?”
“No, at first I thought it was just disgruntled people making threats. But now it might not be.”
Nick wondered if Mae had told Jamie who was threatening her. He could get Jamie to tell him. Nick drove in silence for a while. He tried to figure out the right words to say. “You didn't tell me,” he said at last.
“I'm sorry,” Mae said. “I thought it was something I could have handled on my own. I didn't want to go running to you just because I was threatened. I never wanted to be the type of girl who went to her boyfriend to fight her battles.”
“You should have told me,” Nick bit out.
“Next time I receive death threats you'll be the first to know,” Mae promised She was trying to placate him but Nick wasn't having it. Mae hadn't told him she was being threatened. And with the pearl, Nick wouldn't have known she was in danger. Mae could have been attacked without him knowing about it. He glanced at Mae's face. Looking at her face made him feel better. A few wisps of pink hair fell into her eyes. Her expression was defiant and that calmed him down. It was so Mae, to look defiant while telling a demon about death threats and insisting she could handle it. Mae's attitude that she could handle anything was a constant.
“Couples tell each other things,” Nick said slowly. He wasn't sure what the protocol for couples were, but he was pretty sure they told each other things. “You could have gotten hurt,” he continued.
“But I didn't. I'm fine.”
“This time,” Nick pointed out. “But what if someone really did try to kill you? You can't defend yourself.” Mae glared at him. For a moment Nick wondered if she was trying to set him on fire with her eyes. “I'm not useless,” Mae snapped. “Stop acting like I am.” Nick had never said Mae was useless. He liked the way she marched into situations fearlessly and took charge. But Mae was the only one of them without magic. And she might be learning how to fight, but if she went up against a more experienced opponent, chances were that she would lose. Nick was only being honest. But he never said the right thing.
Mae glared at him some more. Nick remembered what Jamie had told him when he'd upset Mae the first time. “I'm sorry,” he said. He didn't see why he should apologize for pointing out a fact, but it was the quickest way to smooth things over.
Mae heaved a sigh. “No, I'm sorry. I overreacted. You're right, I should have told you. But I thought I could handle it and I didn't want to go running to you for every little problem.” Nick pulled up in front of the house. He looked at Mae, trying to decide what to do. Humans touched each other to offer comfort. Nick reached for Mae's hand and she gripped his hand tightly.
Nick continued. “You know how people have their thing? Like you and Alan have your books and geek things? And how people go to you for help with those problems?”
Mae nodded. “Yes,” she said.
“I have stabbing as my thing. If people need to be stabbed, you should have told me.”
“I shouldn't have deprived you of your fun. Next time I'll tell you about any threats to my life, unless it's all part of my evil mastermind plan.”
“Okay.” Nick still kind of wanted to kill people, but he settled for looking at Mae's face until the desire lessened. They sat in the car in silence until Mae spoke. “I had a good time today,” she said. “It went better than expected.
“What did you expect to happen?” Nick asked.
Mae shrugged. “Murder, disembowelment, that sort of thing. But we got away with just a discussion of murder, which is great progress. Of course murder isn't something that should be mentioned on the first date, but we've been through so much together.”
“I'm glad,” Nick said. “That it was what you wanted.” He couldn't find the words for it, but he hadn't known what he was doing and he hadn't wanted to mess it up. But Mae had enjoyed herself.
“Next time we'll do dinner,” Mae said. “Or is that too much? Maybe we should work our way up.”
“Or you could tell me who's been threatening you and we could kill them,” Nick suggested.
Mae rolled her eyes. “As romantic as that sounds, I'll take a rain check for now. But I am going to talk to Sin about what I should do. You can come along.” That was a step up from not knowing about Mae being threatened. He would have preferred a name, but he could work with what he had.
“We'll deal with this together,” Mae said. “I shouldn't have shut you out.”
Nick simply nodded. Mae's demeanor changed. “So,” she said, clapping her hands, “you survived your first date. Alan is probably waiting for you to tell him all about it. But in the meantime, I did promise you that we were going to make out. And it would be such a shame for your first date to end without a kiss. And...” Mae got out of the car and flashed a wicked smile at Nick. “I have the house to myself and it seems a shame to waste the opportunity, don't you think?” Nick flashed Mae a wicked grin and got out of the car. He could be with Mae now without worrying about wanting his brother's girl or magicians or demons attacking them. Yes, it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity.