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When You've Learned the Art of Dying

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Death knocks once, dying, countless times.

– Martin Dansky

*

Sometimes she draws just to remember details of what’s supposed to happen - the what, where and how of it.

Sometimes she draws to prove something. To show others that her visions are something real and that she’s not just some silly kid.

Sometimes she draws just to get the images out of her head. To put all the death and pain and torture can be put on the page and taken out of her mind.

When she draws Nick’s death, it isn’t the first time. But it’s something she thought they were done with. At least for a while.

They’ve heard rumors about where Kira is and they get these random text messages from unrecognizable numbers that have to be her, but they haven’t seen her since the confrontation in Hong Kong. Division is still looking for them but hasn’t come close, at least not their definition of close. Things are as calm as they get so they leave Hong Kong and go back home to America. To San Francisco.

It’s stupid, really. To think that Nick could survive everything he’d been through already only to die in a car accident. She sees it all so clearly, the taxicab running a red light and a blue pick-up truck running right into the side where Nick is sitting.

She frantically draws every detail she can remember, the street, the buildings, and the signs. Maybe if she can figure out when and where it happens she can stop it. Maybe.

She’s only known him for eight months, but he’s all she has in the world right now and she’s not ready to lose that yet.

So she sits in her bed and draws everything she remembers while Nick sleeps soundly on the couch in the studio apartment they share. He makes money using his abilities and so does she. It’s a weird kind of family, but she has him and he has her and it’s enough.

Days pass, and she feels weird and acts weird and hopes that he doesn’t notice, but of course he does. She can tell it in the way he looks at her before he leaves the apartment and how he asks her fifteen times a day if everything is okay.

She wants to say no, but she says yes, and she wants to tell him what she saw, but she doesn’t want to freak him out. And none of the days so far have been that day she is so anxiously waiting for.

Then Tuesday comes. The most innocuous of all the days of the week, and he’s wearing a green shirt with a black jacket and she knows that it’s the day.

“Nick, don’t go out today,” she says as he’s grabbing his wallet and keys to leave.

“Why? I was hoping to get enough money today so we could do something fun this weekend. Whatever normal people do for fun.”

“I know – but – just – don’t go. Stay here today.”

She bites her bottom lip and can feel her eyes welling up with tears almost instantly. Nick lets his keys fall out of his hand and joins her on the couch, quickly pulling her into a hug.

“What is it – no, no, don’t tell me.”

He knows. Of course he knows. When Cassie tells you not to do something, you listen.

*

She goes two whole years without seeing his death in a vision, though she occasionally sees it in her nightmares.

They go from San Francisco (too expensive) to Utah (too boring) to Arizona (too hot) and finally settle in Miami for a while. Cassie loves the food and Nick likes being near the ocean.

It’s kind of perfect for a while. It’s perfect when they don’t talk about things like how they haven’t even heard from Kira in a year, or how Cassie knows that they moved her mom to a new facility but doesn’t know where.

When they forget they’re on the run, that they aren’t normal and never will be, then it’s perfect.

She turns sixteen in Miami and it’s when she’s out shopping for new boots (a birthday gift to herself, of course) that she sees what she’s been dreading. Division agents trying to blend in with Miami tourists and failing.

She knows immediately that neither of them are Watchers or they would have already found her. And she knows Nick is okay, or she would have seen it before it happened.

So Cassie runs. She runs faster than she even knew she could.

She’s panting and her legs are aching by the time she reaches the front door of their apartment and busts in, quickly shutting it behind her.

Nick is busy putting the finishing touches on the worst birthday present wrapping job of all time, and if she wasn’t in such a rush, she would take the time to mock him for it.

“Pack as quick as you can. We have to go.”

“What? What’s going on?”

“Division. A couple of Sniffs, I think.”

“Where?” he asks, but before she can answer a vision takes her over. Nick is dying, she’s watching and being held back by one of the Division agents she just saw. There’s an alleyway and a dark green dumpster and a sign for a restaurant that seems vaguely familiar.

“There’s – there’s a Bleeder too. Somewhere. Just pack. Hurry.”

She doesn’t have time to draw anything or write anything down, but she fixes the image in her head hoping she’ll figure out a way to stop it.

Nick immediately starts using his powers to gather up their belongings from around the apartment to put them in their bags. She doesn’t want to leave here, but it’s better to be alive somewhere else than dead in Miami.

Having a Mover around comes in handy in times like this because they’re packed and ready to go in less than ten minutes. There are things they always have to leave behind - books and trinkets and anything they can easily replace when they get to their next destination. But they’ve got what’s important to them and they take anything that Sniffs can use to easily trace them.

They do a quick sweep of the place to make sure they haven’t missed anything, then grab their bags and head outside. Nick immediately looks to Cassie and she doesn’t say anything, just points and lets him follow her. Buses and cars are the best way for them to travel without detection but the cheap car they owned for a while lost its transmission a month ago so it’s off to the nearest bus station.

They continue to look around every corner waiting for Division agents to jump out at them at any second. They make it two blocks from their apartment when Cassie freezes completely. That sign. She remembers the sign and suddenly she knows exactly where it is.

“Nick, stop. We have to turn around.”

Most people would question her but Nick understands. He always understands. “Lead the way then.”

Cassie gives him the briefest of smiles before grabbing his hand tightly and running in the other direction. She’s taller now than she was when they met and she can almost keep up with him in a footrace, but still, he lets her lead. He always does.

She takes them on just enough twists and turns to avoid the Division agents. But it’s close. Too close. Close enough that she can see them outside the station as their bus pulls away.

They pick Indianapolis. Because it’s the first bus leaving that has empty seats.

They’re just outside of Orlando when Cassie feels like she can breathe again and lets out a loud sigh.

“Happy birthday, by the way.”

She laughs and rests her head on Nick’s arm. He may be all she has, but she doesn’t want to keep him around just for that. She likes him. He doesn’t treat her like a kid or tell her what to do like he’s her big brother. He doesn’t tell her she should stop putting funny colors in her hair or that her skirts are too short or that she stays up too late and eats all the wrong foods. He just lets her be Cassie.

She has her ability for a reason, and maybe part of that is to keep Nick Gant around for as long as possible.

*

Kira shows up on their doorstep nine months after they move to Indianapolis. She looks thinner than before, her hair is shorter, and Cassie can tell that she’s sick.

The Sniffs Cassie had seen in Miami were actually there for Kira who had come there looking for Nick and Cassie. Apparently, they were hoping to get three of them for the price of one.

She comes bearing news about Cassie’s mom and that’s when the plan starts. Kira needs medicine that they can only get from Division facilities and Cassie’s mom is getting weaker and they don’t have much time left if they want to get her help.

So they plan a rescue mission. All the way to a Division compound in Sydney, Australia. Each new change of details in the plan brings Cassie another vision and none of them end well. She watches Nick and Kira and herself get captured in most of them. In the worse ones, she sees Nick’s death, and sometimes Kira, and a few times, her own.

The plan keeps changing but Cassie is never satisfied. Not completely. They finally settle on the plan with the best chances, but it still doesn’t sit right with her.

She and Nick are crouched behind a van outside waiting for Kira’s signal when he turns to her with a grin, “So, in case this doesn’t end well...”

“Don’t.”

“Come on, Cassie. You know what’s going to happen.”

“What could happen. We can change it. I can change it. I’ve done it before.”

Nick continues to grin and Cassie wonders how he can do that in times like these. If they make it through this, she’ll have to remember to ask him. He nudges her in the arm with his elbow and asks, “There’s no way this ends happily for all of us, right?”

“Right.”

“Then let’s get it over with.”

She doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh so instead she grabs his hand and squeezes it tightly. She hopes he knows how important he is to her, she thinks he does anyway.

Kira signals them and they are off and running. Literally.

Things definitely do not go as planned, but they go almost exactly as Cassie saw them play out yesterday. She has back-up plans and ideas and ways she thinks they can change things. If she hadn’t thought she could change the outcome, they wouldn’t have come. But nothing works. Kira is too sick to fight and she gets grabbed immediately. Cassie knows they won’t kill her, not right away anyway. They need to continue studying her instead.

Cassie almost gets captured too but she’s able to fight her way free thanks to a combination of self-defense moves she’s learned over the years and a little bit of dumb luck. She gets the first glimpse of her mother that she’s had in years but it’s from a tiny window in the door she’s locked behind. Her mom locks eyes with her, but it’s as if she doesn’t even recognize her. It feels like someone has dropped a brick in her gut when she sees nothing of the woman she remembered.

Nick is dragging her away before she can even begin screaming and pounding at the glass and there seem to be Division agents everywhere, as if they were coming out of the walls.

“Run, Cassie, RUN,” he yells at her but she freezes next to him and knows this is the moment. The moment that Nick is going to try to sacrifice himself to save all of them.

“No. Not unless you run with me.”

He’s doing his best to use his powers to avoid the agents coming towards them, as well as their bullets, but takes a quick enough side-glance to see the look in her eyes.

So he grabs her hand and they run, using his powers to fight off anyone who gets in their way. They run down corridors and stairs and suddenly Cassie can feel something hot at her back and she’s sure at least an inch of her hair has been singed,so she just pumps her legs harder until they’re out the door and running towards the hole in the fence they crawled through.

When they get far enough away to look back, she sees the building is still intact but there are flames shooting out of the door they came out of.

They pause for only a moment and then keep running through the woods. The Division facility is secluded so instead of taking cover in a city like they’re used to, they hide in the woods. Neither of them says a word until they find an abandoned shack to rest in for a while.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Cassie doesn’t respond so Nick continues, “Of course you knew. So why us and not them? Why save us?”

She pulls her boots off with a sigh and rubs one aching foot as she answers, “Because I saw every possible outcome. And not a single one ended with Kira or my mom coming out of there. Some of them ended with all four of us dead, some ended with...”

“That’s why you told me to run when you did.”

She nods and leans into the wall behind her with a sigh. “I thought maybe we shouldn’t go at all, that maybe we could just cut our losses and not even try. But –”

“We had to. For both of them.”

“They’re going to live longer inside there than they would if they were on the outside anyway.”

‘If you can call that living,’ is what she thinks, but she doesn’t say it out loud. She tries to look into what the future holds for the two they left behind, but she doesn’t see much. Kira is sick, maybe sicker than even Division knows what to do with. And her mom is so far gone she doesn’t even recognize her own daughter.

She knows she will question their decision to go in there for years to come, but she has no time for regrets. She just keeps reminding herself that it’s better for the two of them to survive so they can keep fighting rather than all four of them be gone.

Nick tries to smile in that way he always does no matter how terrible things are but he’s just as tired as she is and can barely manage it. “Hey, Cassie, promise me something?”

“Okay. What?”

“That you’re always going to be around to save my ass.”

Cassie cracks a bit of a smile and nods, “I will. As long as you promise me you’ll always be around so I can save your ass.”

“I promise.”

*

Three more years pass. They move to Toronto and they hear nothing from Kira and nothing about Cassie’s mom. Not even her visions show her much beyond the fact that Kira is still alive somewhere but her health is deteriorating slowly. Cassie doesn’t see her mom, not even when she tries so hard she thinks something in her is going to burst.

She’s nineteen now and old enough to accept that her mom is probably gone and that glimpse of her through the window was the last she’ll ever get of her. She’s not a little girl anymore, not that she was ever like a normal kid to begin with, she’s a grown woman and she understands that life is never fair and good people suffer. She doesn’t like it, but she accepts it.

Sometimes her visions are things that will happen days, weeks, months, even years in the future. Sometimes it’s just minutes.

She’s sitting in the library reading about Norse mythology when she sees a bar, a fight over a pool game, a guy with a knife and way more blood than she would ever want to see.

Cassie grabs her cellphone out of her pocket and dials quickly, Nick answers on the second ring with a way-too-cheerful hello.

“Nick, where are you?”

“Around the corner, about to play some pool with a couple guys at the bar. What’s up?”

“Come home.”

“What?”

She starts gathering her stuff and putting it in her bag. The other patrons stare her down because of all the noise she’s making but she doesn’t care.

“Come home, right now. Give those guys their money back and default or whatever. I don’t care if you have to give them your money too. Just get out of there and come home.”

“Fine. I’ll see you soon.”

She’s back at their apartment in fifteen minutes and Nick isn’t far behind. As soon as he’s through the door she throws her arms around him and breathes a sigh of relief.

Nick squeezes her tightly and asks, “So how many times is this you’ve saved my life?”

“I’ve lost count.”

She lets go of him and he’s smiling at her, “I doubt that.”

“Okay. Like... ten. But you’ve saved my life before and –“

“Twice. I’ve saved your life twice. And even that’s debatable.”

Cassie sits on the couch with a grin, “To be fair, you get into a lot more trouble than I do. From now on, maybe you should check if the guy you’re about to hustle in the pool hall is carrying a weapon first.”

Nick sits beside her with a sigh and a skeptical glance, “And how do I do that? Pat down? Metal detector?”

“Whatever it takes.”

“I don’t need all that stuff when I have you around, do I?”

Her smile fades away and turns into a frown. “But what if? What if I had no signal on my phone? Or I can’t get there in time or I can’t stop it? What happens then?”

She waits for some sarcastic remark but it never comes. Instead, he pulls her into his arms and threads his fingers through her hair and his lips are suddenly on hers, and in a world where hardly anything ever takes her by surprise, this does. This, she did not see coming, but when she thinks about it later she realizes she should have seen it coming all along.

Cassie doesn’t hesitate to return his kisses because she’s afraid if she does he’ll have second thoughts and pull away. So she kisses him like she’s been waiting for it for years, because she has.

She’s messed around with a few boys in some of the cities they’ve lived in over the years, lost her virginity to a 17 year old neighbor when she was 16 and living in Indianapolis, but this is different. This is Nick, it’s her Nick. It makes her feel things she’s never felt before, - like she’s coming apart at the seams with every movement of his lips on hers.

She slides into his lap easily and when he starts to pull off her jacket, she breaks the kiss and looks into his eyes. “This is – I mean – this should be weird, right? But - it’s not.”

He gets her jacket off of her shoulders and plants a kiss on her neck before mumbling, “Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming, Watcher.”

She laughs softly and before she kisses him again, she says, “I guess I’m not as good as I thought.”

They continue to touch and slowly explore and when Nick carries her to the bed, she almost can’t believe it’s real. She remembers meeting him when she was just a girl and she had a crush from the outset, but it was like hero worship, something unattainable.

But now, he’s her best friend, her everything, all she has in the world besides herself. He’s her Nick, and she is his Cassie and it seems like something that was inevitable from the start and it’s not weird, it’s just right. It’s exactly the way it should be.

*

She tells him he should get a real job. Or at least a less dangerous one than hustling strangers at dice or pool or anything else he can use his powers on. He tells her she should go to college. They both know it’s not a realistic goal for two people who can’t stay in one place for longer than a year.

But he gets fake identities for them through a rather unsavory contact from his time in Hong Kong. He’s Roger and she’s Janet, but at home, they are always Nick and Cassie.

They still have to move again when Cassie has a vision about Division agents in Toronto, so they leave Canada and head to Paris when Cassie is twenty. She’s always wanted to see it and she’s been learning French from online classes in case she ever got there.

Nick gets a job in a warehouse and Cassie waitresses in a coffee shop and it feels like a real life.

As real as they have ever had it.

To her, things are the best they have ever been. It’s an attempt at a cozy existence anyway. Not that they could ever be normal or ever feel completely safe. But this is the closest thing to it.

So when Cassie asks - no, demands - that he call in to sick one afternoon, they’re both reminded that danger doesn’t always come in the form of a man with a knife, a speeding car or a Division agent. Sometimes accidents just happen.

Nick listens, as always, and stays home. And they curl up by the fire in their tiny Paris apartment and watch movies all day and for a few moments, she forgets why she even told him to stay home to begin with. Until he brings it up.

“You know, I have this special power where I can actually move things out of the way without touching them, so maybe if you just told me what was going to happen at work today, I would have been just fine.”

Cassie lifts her head from his chest and frowns. “Yeah, and maybe you wouldn’t have been. I’d rather not take that chance, okay?”

They have this game they play sometimes, they call it “where would you be right now” and maybe it’s a pointless game, but it lets them imagine what life would be like if they didn’t have those powers, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s normal stuff for people their age, and sometimes it’s things outrageous or exotic.

So Nick says, “Where would you be right now, if you weren’t here?”

“Not now, Nick.”

“Come on.”

Cassie sighs and lays her head back down on his chest and begins making lazy circles on his arm with her fingertips. “College.”

“And what would you study?”

“Not art, that’s for sure.”

They both laugh and he replies, “Where?”

“Somewhere sunny. Maybe I’d study history or something. I’d live in the dorms and hang out with all the arty kids. I’d have a boyfriend who studies Film and wants to be a writer and –“

“I don’t like this guy.”

Cassie laughs again and moves her hand so that it’s now resting on top of his. “What about you?”

There’s a lengthy pause and he blurts out, “Pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.”

She tilts her head up to kiss him on the jaw and laughs, “Of course. How many World Championships would you have by now?”

“Three. That team needs me.”

She thinks about those dumb romantic comedies she sees on TV sometimes and how one of those women would probably have to ask Nick if he would rather be a major league pitcher than here with her. Cassie doesn’t. She knows. All the terrible things they’ve gone through don’t matter. She’d choose right here with Nick over anything else in the world and she knows he would too.

“So, how many times is it now?”

“I’ve got eleven and you still have two.”

Saves. Eleven saves. It’s such a ridiculous amount that she sometimes wonders if maybe fate is a real thing and she’s getting in the way of it. Maybe Nick isn’t supposed to be alive and she’s ruining the universe’s grand plan.

He kisses her on the lips and when they part he grins and replies, “I really need to catch up to you.”

Screw fate, she thinks. As long as she has the ability to make it happen, Nick isn’t going to leave this world anytime soon.

*

More than five years pass. They go from Paris to Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro to Amsterdam and then Chicago. Things are never safe, not completely, there are Division agents all over the world and they both become resigned to the fact that the two of them will likely never bring Division down on their own. They’re too powerful and have too much money to be defeated by just two people.

She only has to save his life once in a five year span (preventing an electrical fire that might have killed her too), which is pretty miraculous considering their track record.

Cassie turns twenty-five a month after they move to Chicago and some days she feels so much older than that, but as she likes to remind Nick, at least she’s always going to be younger than him.

Chicago is where she was born, but she doesn’t remember anything about it since they left when she was only three. But with Nick’s help, she’s able to find the house she lived in with her mom and they visit the place where her grandparents are buried and it helps. She knows she’ll never see her mother again and this is as much closure as she can get.

But it’s a mistake. Coming back to Chicago is a mistake and they both should have known better. It’s a mistake for the same reasons that going to Nick’s hometown would have been. Division has had agents watching those places for at least a decade, the places that mean something to her.

And it’s not long before she sees his death for the first time in over two years. He puts up a good fight, he always does, but there are just too many. Movers, Bleeders, a Shocker, a Starter and at least one Ripper. It’s too much even for someone as strong as Nick. And she knows. She knows they only plan to keep him alive long enough to capture her too. Her ability is one they want to exploit, like her mother’s, but Nick they could do without.

She tries, again and again, but he’s not answering his phone so she has to take action.

She takes a bus first. To the banks of the river miles away where it’s all supposed to go down. Then she runs, runs until she finds Nick, already on the ground and clearly in pain. She wants to move, but she can’t, her feet feel like they’re stuck in the ground.

One of the Bleeders take things too far and it’s too much for Nick to handle. She sees him take one last gasp of air and then his body goes limp. She wants to scream but nothing will come out. Maybe its better that she doesn’t because they never see her. They just leave his body lying on the cold ground and get out of there, probably to look for her.

She doesn’t even get to say goodbye. But she lies beside him and puts her head on his chest to feel the last bits of warmth leave his body before she kisses him and tells him she loves him.

She’ll take him back to Hong Kong, she thinks. Maybe spread his ashes in a lotus garden. It’s where they started and it’s where they should end.

- but then she opens her eyes and she’s still on the bus and maybe she can change things this time -

Now she runs, and her feet don’t get stuck to the ground this time and her voice doesn’t fail her and she screams out his name as he writhes on the ground in pain. But it’s no help as some Sniff with an itchy trigger finger fires and she’s on the ground before she even realizes she’s been shot in the chest.

She lands with her hand just inches from his and she knows he’s dying just as she is. It’s hard to speak but she manages to choke out a few words, “I’m sorry. Sorry – sorry I couldn’t –“

Nick can’t speak but she sees him mouth three words right before everything goes black.

I love you.

- and she’s still on the bus and she’s breathing and she can see the river up ahead and she knows Nick is alive and maybe this time -

But how to stop it, she doesn’t know. There are almost a dozen agents with powers far beyond hers and she doesn’t know how to stop it.

Until.

She realizes.

She’s on a bus.

A very not-crowded bus.

So she yells out an apology to the five passengers on board and the driver before grabbing the wheel out of his hands.

“So sorry, but it’s a life or death situation.”

She feels sick to her stomach as she drives the bus down on to the riverbank and towards the crowd of agents. A couple of them get taken out and the rest scatter, but the important part is that Nick is out of the way and he’s still standing at the end of it. She opens the door and bounds down the steps. Nick is still standing and he grabs her hand and follows her back on to the bus where they land in the seats directly behind the driver.

Cassie leans over and directs him, “Now drive. Fast as you can. Get us the hell out of here.”

For some reason, he listens to her. Maybe he’s afraid of what he’s just seen or maybe he’s just seen the fear and desperation in her eyes.

She falls back in her seat and grabs on to Nick’s hand tightly. He’s beaten down some but he’ll survive and as usual he’s able to muster up a grin no matter how bad things are.

“Lucky thirteen, right?”

Thirteen saves.

“Very lucky,” she replies.

Cassie rests her head on his shoulder and shuts her eyes for a moment and sees their future laid out in front of her eyes. A few close calls and then suddenly Division is gone from their lives, and they get to settle down, have a life together and not have to worry about death knocking on their door for many more decades to come.

It’s more than just contentment; they’re happy, truly happy. It’s all she’s really ever wanted and maybe it’s too good to be true, but she’s going to hold on to it and treat it like any other vision. And her visions always come true.

- her eyes open and the bus is already driving off and she’s by the river and maybe, just maybe, she has enough time -

He’s still standing so they haven’t started torturing him yet so she runs towards them and the Sniff with the itchy trigger finger spots her and points his gun at Nick.

“RUN, NICK! GO!”

He doesn’t move and she knows deep down that he won’t go anywhere without her but she also senses what’s coming.

Everything happens so fast she barely registers it but she hears the gun go off and suddenly she’s in front of Nick and it feels like her chest is splitting open.

She falls backwards into him and they fall to the ground together.

The agents don’t move and she knows what their mission was, bring her in alive and it doesn’t matter if Nick is dead or alive. But she’s not going to make it off of the riverbank and therefore they don’t care what happens to Nick. So they watch as she lies in his arms and watches her own blood spread out on the light blue of her t-shirt.

“Nick. Nick.” She gasps for breath but can barely get any air into her lungs. It doesn’t hurt. Not like she thought it would anyway. “I don’t see anything.”

He’s touching her hair and kissing her forehead and she hears him ask, “What? Just – just hold on, Cassie.”

“No more visions. I can’t see what’s going to happen.”

She can’t see anything past this moment. She has so much to say but no time to say it. She wants to tell him she knew this day was coming and that she wouldn’t change it for anything and how she promised to keep saving him for as long as she was able to and now she has and now maybe he’ll be okay and if fate is a real thing then she’s satisfied fate’s desire to see one of them dead and how she loves him and she wishes she could stay and how she hopes he’ll be happy and that he’ll never forget her and –

- she suddenly feels free, free from the pain and free from the visions and ready to go –

- so she uses whatever she strength she has left to smile one last time and shuts her eyes. And it’s okay, she knows it will all be okay.