In Chicago she was Rachael and dark-haired, a year older than she really was.
"You don't. um," Nick told her awkwardly, that first morning back after he'd gotten her out. "You don't have to do this anymore if you don't want to. Everyone'd understand after, you know--I'd understand."
She didn't want to, and she hadn't wanted to in years, everyone's understanding or no.
She did it anyway, though, because she'd seen it and she knew Nick would need her. Said, "Shut the fuck up, Nick, like I'm letting you have all the excitement?" as though her stomach weren't churning with awful, terrified nausea; got right back into the swing of things like that, like riding a bike, nine months in Division nothing but a scraped knee.
She made Nick help cut her hair because she didn't want it crooked in the back, but she did the rest herself, sweeping up and burning the discarded clippings so there wouldn't be anything left for the Sniffs to find, going out to get fake IDs and a gun for them both while Nick was trying to track a Phaser friend of his down in the city. When she was done with the illegalities, she went to Goodwill to look for a leather jacket because it was something she thought a girl named Rachael might do; when she was done with that, she went to the drugstore to buy Pop Tarts and cereal and bread, a quart of milk and rolls of gauze and bandages, hair-dye.
It was late afternoon when she got back to the apartment, the slats of daylight on the living room wall fading, and Nick was still out. It didn't take long to put the food away and afterwards she went into the bathroom, pulled her shoulders back and shifted her weight on her feet so that she could move quickly if she wanted to. If she had to.
Rachael, she thought, staring at the way her new dark hair fell against her jawline rather than pale and messy and uncombed down her back, I'm a Rachael now.
Rachael, who liked dark colors and wore all black, Rachael, who listened to bad music and would have to be surgically separated from her iPod, Rachael, who lived with her older brother David in a hole in the wall tenth floor apartment. It was strange how easily being someone else came back--Naomi in San Antonio, Lise in Boston, Tessa in Berkeley--all the people she could have been, if only. Girls who giggled and didn't have to worry about anything except boys or makeup, girls who hadn't ever gone hungry or been shot at, girls who didn't see the future, didn't know what Division was or how they would someday die.
Girls who Nick Gant wouldn't need in order to win a war.
She closed her eyes on the thought of it, and opened them to see her new self, too thin and too pale from a bad flu rather than being locked inside white walls.
She wore her hair bottled black, the four months she and Nick were in Chicago, and told everyone they met that she was nineteen.
The cut across her ribs was four inches long but clean, the product of being shoved sideways through a storefront window by a rogue Mover, and Nick disinfected it and applied butterfly stitches with minimal fanfare in a hotel bathroom while saying helpful things like, "Hold your shirt out of the way. Like that. Good. Don't move" and somewhat less helpful things like, "Maybe next time you should remember to shoot first and ask questions later".
She had shot first, as a matter of fact; it hadn't helped because she'd already been airborne at that point. She didn't say anything because she couldn't think of a response that didn't mostly involve "fuck off", so she focused instead on not moving. The peroxide foamed and stung, making it hard to think, and the Smirnoff Nick had somehow managed to find and give her for the pain was making it harder still.
"It'll probably scar," Nick said abruptly, "but hey, it'll make you look pretty bad-ass, huh?"
"Sure," she said, managing a weak smile. "Thanks, Nick."
It was easy to lose track of time like this, sitting on a bathtub's edge with Nick applying butterfly stitches and gauze to keep her flesh knit together just long enough until they found a real Stitch. The alcohol shuddered through her, and if she'd been anyone else she would have gone to sleep, but instead it just turned her maudlin, her head full of visions to sketch: a quick flare of a carwreck the next day, a waitress in a Chinese restaurant, a subway car pulling away from its stop.
When she jolted back to reality it was because Nick was staring at her and saying her name over and over.
"What?" she asked, alarmed, "what is it?"
He looked at her a long moment before he said, "nothing. you're good to go," only she had the feeling it wasn't at all what he'd meant to say. His left hand was hovering a centimeter away from the bandages, her stomach, all the skin beneath, and for a moment she thought--
"What?" she said into the stretching silence, "spit it out, Nick Gant."
"I shouldn't've let you drink so much," he said abruptly, drawing his hand back, "are you okay?"
"No," she said and pushed down a surge of something she couldn't identify. "But I will be."
She'd known before Division had caught her how bad it would be because she'd seen it in a dream. She'd given Nick the slip first because she'd known there wasn't any way out and she didn't want him getting dragged down with her; she flew to Hong Kong on her own to find Wo Chiang. Better to let Division find her alone and confused than by Nick's side, even if there are no betters when it comes to Division.
In her head, Division was bits and pieces, a word-salad of memory. The men in Division had come to her with questions: was she lost, did she have a home, did she know where Nick Gant was, what about her mother, did she know what her mother was planning, what about Nick Gant. They hadn't believed her when she said she couldn't remember. There were only more men waiting after, their eyes blown pupil black, her thoughts drifting tumbleweeds for them to gather, because in Division everyone was taken apart piecemeal and clockwork grinding.
It took longer for some than for others, but in the end all it took for everyone was the right push.
It had been the only thing she'd let herself know, that fact her father was twelve years dead and her mother as good as, that Nick was the only thing she had left and the best thing she could do for him was to forget and to let go.
This is a day: abilities are genetic and blood grudges die hard. Budarin, Victor has a sister named Budarin, Anya and she's not exactly overjoyed about what happened to her brother, so she sends a cleaver flying through the air at Nick's head at exactly 1:27 in the afternoon and the only reason Nick survives unscathed is because somebody actually takes the time to carefully interpret her visions and figure out the precise timing of when to duck, which is to say, the exact moment that a blue Volvo passes the rightmost edge of a store's Christmas video game display. The cleaver misses, but so does Nick's retaliatory cobblestone barrage, which was to be expected because Anya is going to attack them twice more this week. It's fine. They aren't dead yet.
This is a night: after the first year of filthy hotels and tiny mattresses on apartment floors, they both stop going through the motions of separate beds. It's not something they talk about because it's not like it's a thing, okay, it's just-- whatever. Awake and in the daylight, an inviolable line divides the bed in two straight down the exact center; it doesn't matter if she wakes sometimes with an arm flung carelessly across her shoulders or prickling skin or a not unpleasant heat low in her belly, because things are different in the darkness. It's okay because she can take a deep breath in and then out and inch closer. It's all right.
This is a day: over breakfast, they loudly debate what to do that day, even as her pen moves steadily through the unformed memories of it corporeal on paper, even as he complains that her cars look like boxes, her people like blobs--what the hell is that even supposed to be?--even as she tells him to fuck off, her art is pretty fucking amazing, all right, it is a rough sketch. They go out into the street and talk to people and maybe get shot at, then they go somewhere else for lunch, bickering over her possibly shitty-or-not-shitty taste in clothing, and then they get shot at some more. When it's over, they still aren't dead yet.
Time passes like this in clock-hand sweeps, minutes and hours, a day just like the one before, the one just after.
She always wakes too early. It doesn't matter what time she goes to sleep or how many times she startles awake in the night, her heart pounding with things she can't remember; she always wakes long before the sky turns grey. Nick sleeps beside her, his breathing steady and even.
Cassie knows how this is going to end. She always has. It is the same way she knew to give Nick a flower once upon a time, the way she knows her mother will be free someday, but just not yet. There's a scenario in a week's time where he lets his hand linger a little too long in the curve of her waist in the morning; there is a month from now where they're both standing in a kitchen in a city she doesn't know and she twists against him suddenly to reach up and palm the back of his neck, to bring his mouth hot down to hers.
Every moment of every day, she's flicking through possibility and she knows they could be happy together, they could, and they can bring Division down. They will.
Cassie's certain of it. She's seen it.
She just needs to figure out how to make it happen, because the future is always changing.