A knock came from the door.
"Coming!" Nova called, feet padding across the floor as she reached the front door to open it. Tiny arms embraced her legs. She grinned and laid her hand against Mal's back, looking down at her. "Hi, little monster."
Mal giggled in answer.
"Thank you so much for doing this, Nova," Jess said as she handed over Mal's bag to her. "The hospital's a little tight right now, and I couldn't find anyone to cover my shift."
"Stop acting like I don't love having Mal here. We're going to have so much fun, aren't we?" Nova squatted down and smiled, poking at her belly button.
Mal squealed out, "Yes, yes, yes!"
Jess looked like she wants to object, which she did, stating in a broken whisper, "But it's your day off. I shouldn't be intruding or getting you to babysit her. You're always working."
True, but there was a difference between working and spending time with her friends. She rolled her eyes and shushed her, "Go before you get late." If I didn't chase her away, Jess was never going to leave, and she would end up wasting both her time and Nova's. Sometimes, Jess forgot she didn't need to ask her for anything.
"Okay. Call me if there's any trouble. She needs to brush her teeth before she goes to bed, and she likes to sleep with the night lamp on. Mal loves being tucked."
"Jess," Nova dragged her name out. "You do know that I'm aware of all these things, right? This isn't the first time Mal slept over for F-U-C-K sake. You suffer a temporary memory loss whenever you're stressed."
Jess laughed and glared at her, then bent to kiss her daughter on the cheek. "Bye, sweetie. Be good to Aunt Nova, alright?" She hugged her, then untangled herself, looked at Nova, and smiled gratefully.
"Bye, mummy," Mal called, and Nova shut the front door after she was gone.
She turned and faced Mal. "So, what do you want to do?"
Mal told her she was tired, so Nova took her to her room to take a nap. When she woke up, she ordered them pizza. After dinner, she poured FroYo and took it to the living room, where they watched Toy Story and kept themselves entertained. Four o'clock came and went. Mal got comfortable near the window, counting every person that walked down the street. When she got tired, she came back to the couch, and they watched Toy Story 2.
After they finished, she got comfortable sitting with Nova on the carpeted floor, crossing their legs together. Mal would occasionally open her mouth and close it, then look down to play with her fingers. When Nove realised that there was something on her mind, she turned Mal's head in her direction.
"What's wrong?" She frowned. Mal opened her mouth again and then closed it, gaze darting to the necklace around Nova's neck before she looked down again. "This?" Nova fingered the moon on her necklace.
Mal nodded. She removed it from her neck to place it in her hand. "This was my mum's," Nova told her with a smile. "She gave it to me a while ago, and I have been holding on to it."
Mal tilted her head and frowned. "Your boyfriend didn't give it to you?"
Nova chuckled and shook her head. "No, he didn't. Why do you ask?"
She shrugged, in a totally different way, looking away with a little sigh. Maybe Nova was reading too much into it, but the sagging shoulders and the sad face had a story to tell. She poked at Mal's side, catching a giggle from her.
"What's wrong, monster?"
Mal looked up. "Mummy's boyfriend gave her a necklace. She didn't know I was watching when he gave it to her."
Nova's brows bunched up. Mario gave Jess a necklace? As in Mr Coldhearted knew to give someone something nice? It was hard to picture it. But she kept her gaze on Mal, who still looked unhappy by all of this.
"You don't like him?"
She shrugged again. After some seconds, she said, "He looks funny. He smiles funny too."
Nova tried not to laugh. That’s because he doesn’t know how to smile, she wanted to say. Mario probably ended up grimacing.
They watched a couple of videos on YouTube before Nova went to answer a call, and when she got back, she found Mal staring out through the window.
"It's still there," she heard Mal muttered.
"What's still there?" She came up behind and drew the curtains to stare outside. She didn't see anything besides an empty street.
Mal's finger pointed at a black car across the street, two houses down from Nova's, in Mr Glass' house. She frowned deeply. Had Mr Glass come back from New York? So soon? But that didn't look like his car or anyone else that she knew of. Strange.
"It's been sitting there the whole day," Mal added, turning back to look at her. "When me and mummy were coming here, I waved at them, but they looked away."
They? Nova's gaze turned sharply at her. "There were people in the car?" The words were punched out of her. Mal nodded and skipped to the couch, changing the channel. Uneasiness found its way through Nova, charging all of her senses, and she was backing away from the window.
She tried to inhale, tried to let Mal's words passed through her head, but nothing made sense. It didn't make sense. Maybe Mal didn't know what she saw. There were a lot of cars like that one, and she probably saw it somewhere else and got confused. Right. There was nothing to get paranoid over. There was no red alert here.
A wry chuckle left her. She had been hanging around Vicious way too much. Somehow, his paranoia found a way to attach itself to her. Yeah, that was it. But it was enough. No more paranoia. No more thoughts about Vicious or anyone today. No more thoughts about her double life either. Not on her day off.
Before she knew it, it was ten o'clock. Nova tucked Mal in, sitting at the edge of her black wood bed. Every nerve in her body refused to settle. Something prickled at the back of her head, and she knew the source. She tucked the edges of Mal's blanket under her body, so she was positively cocooned, then kissed her forehead. Nova let the lights on knowing she needed it, then walked out into her living room.
She found herself walking to the window despite everything telling her not to, but she had to know. She had to know if her uneasiness had a reason. She needed to know. Grabbing the curtains, she opened a small gap and stared outside into the night. The lights from her neighbour's house allowed her to see the car. Black. Although no tinted windows and a hand shot out and dropped something on the ground.
Nova closed the curtains and moved back. Shit. Sprinting to get her phone, she charged to the bathroom and shut the door quietly, making sure not to wake Mal up. She had no idea how long she took pacing around the space, but when her phone vibrated, she jerked back. It was a reminder she forgot she had set.
She sat down on her toilet and closed her eyes, drumming her feet against the tiled floor.
"We have an eye witness that puts you in a crime scene on Thursday night. Do you want to tell us what you were doing hanging around a gang warehouse?"
"And we're also aware that one of our Agents had brought up a rather interesting picture of you with a person of interest?"
She drew in a deep breath, opening her eyes to look at the ceiling. No, she couldn't have made any mistake. She had the perfect lie. The perfect coverup. The FBI had no reason to suspect her. It was a full proof lie. A no-doubt kind of lie. Anyone would believe it.
"I have no reason to lie. I did go down to the warehouse, but only because I was looking for someone." Eyes down. Shoulders sagged. A perfect display of someone ashamed of speaking out. "I met this guy at a club, and we kind of clicked instantly. I invited him to my house, and we did what two adults usually do when they're alone."
Inhale. Exhale. Sigh. "I thought we had something going on. I mean, I knew it was a one night stand, but I thought it meant something to him like it did to me. We had a connection. Our souls were like old friends. At least, that was what I thought."
A snort. Two emotions battling with one another. A single eye contact. "I woke up the next morning, and he was gone. Imagine my disappointment. The sex had been great. Mind blowing. But I knew nothing about him. For all I knew, he gave me a fake name. Jake. He certainly didn't look like a Jake."
Humourless laughter. A look of contempt. A hint of betrayal. "I tried to forget about him, but I couldn't. I got mad. I tried to find him to unleash all of my frustration on him. I don't remember who I met back at the club, but he told me where to find my one nightstand. Imagine my shock when I found a burning building and the police around the scene. I panicked and got out of there."
Now that she thought about it, it might have sounded like a ball of bullshit. But it was either that or going to prison for complicit in various crimes. Her brows pinched together. She needed to find out if she had a reason to worry, and there was only one person she could call for help. She winced when she thought of him.
She dialled. He picked up.
"I think I'm being watched," she came out and said it, wincing again when she realised that it was the worst thing that could ever happen to them.
There was a dead beat, then his voice came through the phone, sounding like he had just woken up from sleep. "How do you know?"
What kind of question was that? "Because the car has been sitting there across the street all day. It's been in the same spot for hours, and there are people inside it."
"Are you sure you're not letting your imagination run wild?"
"Vicious," she hissed, gripping the phone in her hand. "My house is being watched. I can't figure out who they are—the FBI or your friendly neighbourhood Vipers. Help me!" she ended with a panicked snap.
"It's not Vipers, trust me. They ain't gonna waste their time watching you. Guess your story ain't that much of a convincing," he drawled into her ear, chuckling softly.
So, they both figured it had to be the FBI. Double shit.
"What the hell am I going to do now?" Nova pondered, mentally running through every scenario, but ended up getting stuck because there was no way out of it."
"I will tell you what I'm going to do—go back to sleep." Then there was an audible click.
Jesus fucking Christ. He had to be the worst person ever. Son of a bitch. He really did know how to push someone over the edge. She wasn't cocky enough to think she had him wrapped around her fingers that he would come running every time she worried about something. The only one who had Vicious wrapped around his fingers was Vicious. Nova smoothed her hands over her sweatpants, bit her lip and took two strides to the door, placed her head on it and exhaled harshly.
You're on your own now.
When she got back to her room, she couldn't sleep. She walked out into the living room and tried to watch tv, but knowing that the FBI was watching her sort of killed all the happiness that had been there. Nova had risen in every occasion life threw at her, and recently, she had spun one hell of a tale to the FBI and got Vicious to be proud. Now, that came to bite her in the ass. Vicious had been wrong. She was no match for him. She knew he would have come up with a more believable lie.
She poured herself a glass of bourbon and tried to sip, to pace herself – she had eaten a lot and didn't want to throw up what she already ate. She was standing, which helped a lot because sitting made things so much worse for her. Another sip of a drink. The glass finished. Another round of a new one.
"I don't like women who drink and wallow in sadness, and my girl ain't that," a deep voice rumbled from the corner of the kitchen. Nova screamed and stumbled into the corner, gasping.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she breathed out and clutched her hands to her chest, looking him over. His black sweatshirt was doing the half on-half off thing on his head. His leather jeans were tucked into his black boots while he leaned against the wall, totally relaxed.
She wasn't even surprised to see him, Nova didn't startle anymore when he broke into her house—it was part of their dynamic, but he chose the wrong day to break in unannounced while she was freaking out about her problem. What if she had had a heart attack because she thought it was the FBI barging in? What if she had died?
Vicious pushed off the wall and started stalking towards her, taking her glass from her to take a drink from it.
"I thought you were going to sleep." She gave him a suspicious glance, making sure her annoyance could be detected when she repeated what he told her. Shouldn't he be at his home now? Sleeping? Why was he here?
He grinned and dragged a stool back, plopping down on it as he stretched his legs out, one crossed over the other. "I was, but then I couldn't sleep cause I knew you would be cursing the shit out of me. There's this superstition running around that if someone keeps talking or thinking about you, you get restless, so here I am, Nova."
Here he was? They weighed each other with one of those long, intense looks she somehow loathed and craved. It felt like an eternity passed before Nova finally spoke, giving him a puzzled look.
"To do what exactly?" Because the situation did not require him to come to her house.
His shoulders rose and dropped. "Beats me." He took two slow sips. "Hoping you were gonna help me out with that."
"You being here isn't going to help the situation. If they barge in here and see you, what the fuck do you think will happen?"
"So, you're saying I shouldn't have come here? Women are so fucking confusing. They call for help, then deny help." She could hear the frustration in his voice as he spat out the words and her head was trying to play catch up.
Oh my god.
"You can't say that because you have no idea how to help! It's not like you're going out there, wave your gun and expect them to leave and never come back," she cried out, forgetting that she had a little girl sleeping down the hall. When Vicious continued to smirk, she gritted out his name in frustration, "Vicious!"
"You got ice cream?" He huffed out a small laugh, using his leg to roll out a stool for her. "Sit down, muneca." She watched his right hand, patted the empty stool and noticed his knuckles were bruised and dark with new scabs.
Unconsciously, Nova obeyed and sat down, picking up his hand with both hands. Her eyes burned over the broken skin.
She looked up at him. "What happened?"
Vicious' eyes were staring down at their clasped hands, and a flash of emotion passed through his face. "Nothing much. Just beat up someone," he replied softly, lips spreading wide into a grin. "The other guy had it so bad. He ain't gonna sleep well tonight."
Nova looked down at it again. He had bruised and hurt himself, and something inside her cracked a little. She held his hand in hers and ran both her thumbs gently down and back up, mesmerised by the size of it and the power they wielded.
"Can you just stop—" She ended up being the one to stop herself, breathing harshly and feeling like she wanted to lick away the wounds and returned them to their perfect skin.
She knew he was watching her movements and seemed to be transfixed by her tender touches. "You don't gotta worry about me," Vicious said, his voice quiet and gravelly. "It happens frequently, and I'm used to it."
"Well, I'm not!" she fired heatedly, and his eyes glowed at her. "I don't..." She shut her eyes for a few seconds and opened them again. "I don't want you to get hurt. Vic..."
He reached for her, putting his hand at the base of her skull to draw her close to him, running his thumb over her lip. Nova watched his eyes as they scanned her face, taking in every part before he was drawing her even closer, resting his forehead against hers. His quiet, happy sigh was low and danced between them.
Vicious' hand moved around her hair as his head tilted to the side, the grip in her hair tightening. He made an inaudible sound, his lips teasingly brushing over hers, their breaths mixing. The pull between them was so strong, so powerful, but for a second, they relished in breathing each other's air while the intense need for one another swirled around them.
In one swift movement, he was opening his mouth to her, pressing her face to his as he sucked on her lower lip, then the upper, letting their tongues battle for dominance. Vicious lifted her off the stool and onto his lap, wrapping an arm around her, their chests flushed against each other, and the only sound in the house was their kisses and their harsh breaths, the stench of need wafting through the air. Nova's small hands moved frantically over his back, into his hair, gripping, urging.
"Vicious..." she whispered, trying to draw back away from him. Mal could come out and stumble on them like this. She didn't want to traumatise the little girl. "Mal...Mal..." she trailed off.
He growled, but took his mouth off her, making a throaty sound before he sighed. Vicious pressed his face into her neck, arms wrapped possessively around her waist. He breathed her in, hard and steady. Nova hugged him close and matched his breaths with her own. The hold they had on each other felt like something else. It was intimate, and it had meaning.
Nova could feel it. There was a shift between them. Something that didn't need words. It was just there, roaring inside them. Firing up their emotions. It wasn't about the need or passion. Their souls were entwined with one another. It was scary. Having this kind of feeling for someone.
The hidden truth between them pressed against each other. It begged them to listen. Words didn't need to be spoken. They spoke through their actions and their touches. As they breathed each other in and held one another impossibly close, they both had an insight into each other's hearts.
It was there. Out in the open.
The king finally had his queen.
And different as they were, their worlds were fated to collide. He was a dangerous king. Sitting on the throne of a disastrous future and borrowed time. But she didn't mind wearing the crown. She wanted to be at the beginning and the end.
They were laying on the couch now, no idea of what the time was, nor did they care enough to know. Nova was laying on top of Vicious, her cheek pressed against his beating heart. He had one arm wrapped around her while his other hand was supporting his head.
She looked up at him. His eyes were closed, but she was sure he wasn't sleeping. Every angle and structure of his face was perfect. He was perfect. Made of fire and ice. He didn't yield for anyone, and Nova didn't want him too. She felt his hand drawing back up, then clutching at her top.
"Stop thinking," he breathed out without opening his face. "The FBI doesn't have shit on you. Eventually, they will get tired and scatter."
She bobbed her head, tracing circles around his hip. "What time do you want me to come in tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that ain't happening, darlin'. Enjoy your lame work at the diner. Don will handle the next auction, and until the FBI realises they're in for a boring stakeout, we can't have you anywhere near us."
"What?" she exclaimed, jerking back. She wasn't prepared for the full force of jealousy until he mentioned Don taking over from her. Don impressing him. Vicious snapped his eyes open, that dark intensity gaze of his drilled onto her face. A slight brow arched up. Nova scrambled to get off him, but he tightened his hold and pressed her back into him.
"Calm your tits. I didn't say she's getting your gig. It's only for a short while, doll."
"Doesn't mean that I like it."
Vicious rolled his eyes, then closed it. "You made your bed, and now you're gonna lie in it. But this Ben thing needs to blow up before I fucking lose my mind."
"It took me a while to realise he's kind of a dickhead."
"It wasn't a while ago you were planning to go out with the same dickhead."
She remembered and then shivered. "Ugh, don't remind me. He would've been my worst mistake after you."
He snorted, then sat up. "Yeah?" His hand left her back to fish something out of his pocket, and before she knew it, he was dangling keys in front of her. "Forgot to give this to you. It's the key to your car, which you're gonna get tomorrow. It ain't new, but I have only driven it twice. Didn't like it. Consider this your cut."
Nova blinked in surprise. "You're giving me a car?"
Vicious shrugged, keeping the keys on her thigh. "Everyone got money, but I didn't really feel like giving you three hundred grand."
The amount she was supposed to get startled her. It would have been too much just for posing as his saleswoman, but the car was something she couldn't wrap her head around. She didn't even know what type of car it was, but she just knew it would exceed her expectations.
Something did click in her head. "Because you know if you give me cash, my brother won't owe you money anymore," she said it like they could ever forget that between them.
Vicious closed the distance between them – so close to her she could feel the heat radiating off his body, felt his breath against her cheek. "Exactly," he confessed, wasn't even ashamed to admit it.
"Or I could just sell the car and give the money to you?"
His laughter told her he had thought about that too, that he had gone through everything and still knew he would come out on top. "Please, do. I'd report it stolen and you'd learn your lesson." He rubbed his hands together, made a pleased noise in the back of his throat, and Nova blinked hard.
"I hate you," she said once she had caught her breath again, and he looked over at her innocently, his eyebrows raised in that do you really though expression.
He gripped her at the base of her neck a little, somehow both firm and soft at the same time. "No, darlin', you wish you did." Then he cupped her face in both hands and kissed her, his mouth moving softly but urgently over hers.