“I thought you classy types knew it was bad form to show up to a party early.” Nick glanced down at his watch, double checking the time. “Especially six freaking hours early.”
“This wasn’t something I wanted to talk about with everyone else around.” Alice breezed through the doorway, not bothering to wait for Nick to invite her into his apartment. Taking the cue, Nick quickly shut and locked the door before facing her. She stood in the middle of his living room, chin set and eyes nearly aflame. That look meant determination, and he could guess about what in one shot. Few things worked up Alice to such a degree. Better to let her be the one to say it, though. Luckily, Nick had ample experience at playing dumb.
“Few things. Decided to go with Subtlety as my discipline, so that will make for an interesting year. Let Professor Hill know I was aware of our genetic relation. Oh, and in the scramble of words that came from kicking that hornet’s nest, I found out he knows something about what happened to my mother. Given that he didn’t seem surprised by the revelation, I think Professor Pendleton does too. Which means his protégé might just have been keyed in on it as well.”
“I can call Will, but he’s probably still-”
“Nick, don’t.” Alice glared at him, hands half-way balled into fists. “Just once, let’s skip the dancing. No one, short of the other teachers, is closer to Professor Pendleton than you, even if you both try to hide it. Now I’m not saying you know where my mom is or what went down, but I get the feeling not everyone was fed that whole ‘died at childbirth’ lie. Even if all they know is a different cover story, that still might help me. I’ll take anything I can get at this point.”
Wordlessly, Nick moved away from his doorway and took a seat on the couch. He stared at Alice, waiting patiently until she finally left her spot in the living room and went to sit at the opposite end of the sofa. Only when she was settled did he respond, and it was with a gentler voice than she could ever recall hearing from Nick before.
“Do you know why Sean and Blake hate each other?”
Alice shook her head. “No, I could just tell they did.”
“It’s because Sean blames Blake for what happened to your mother, at least partially. I can’t get him to talk about it, and as you know everything about her death or vanishing or whatever it was has been expertly erased, but that much I do know.”
“I can’t believe he wouldn’t tell you more,” Alice replied.
“Don’t be. Remember, you’re not the only one who can figure things out. He knows you and I are close, that there are some things I’d tell you even if it wasn’t the move he’d want me to make.” Nick reached across the cushions, letting his hand lay on the middle seat of the sofa. “Whatever happened, what little Sean might know, he’s fine with keeping me in the dark if it means protecting you from it.”
Slowly, astonishingly so, Alice moved her own hand to the middle cushion and rested it on top of Nick’s. “I’m going to choose to believe you, but Nick, if you’re playing me on this one, I will never forgive you.”
“Not only am I not playing you, I’ll do you one better. I want to help you find out the truth. Not just what Sean and Blake might think they know, but what actually happened.”
“How do you plan on pulling that off?” To her surprise more than anyone’s, Alice didn’t sound skeptical as she asked the question. Nick was many things, and a liar highly among them, but when he said he could do something, more often than not it turned out to be true.
“I’m working on something that will get us what we need, but in the meantime I think you might be able to pull more information out of Sean,” Nick said. “After all, I may be his protégé, but you’re his niece. One who looks just like his dear sister. With a little pressure, I bet you can crack through the tough outer shell, into the gooey emotional core of our professor.”
“Emotional manipulation? I’m pretty sure he’s going to see that coming, seeing as he teaches classes on it,” Alice pointed out.
“And like he says in the class, the beauty of using it well is that even if the target knows what’s happening, you can still make it work. Assuming you’re good enough, that is.”
“Guess that means I have some practicing to do.” Alice looked down at the hand under hers and squeezed it carefully. She and Nick had been going forward slowly with their strange, ill-defined relationship. All the same, it was reassuring to know he was there when she needed him. Then again, she’d saved him from Nathaniel last year, and helped bust him out of his own head, so clearly he needed her just as much.
“Can you tell me what the backup thing you’re working on is? Or did you think I wouldn’t notice how quickly you tried to deflect me away from it?”
Nick tilted his head back and let out a long, theatrical sigh. “Damn that professor for sharpening your mind. The truth of the matter is that I’ve been working at this angle since last year, and while I think I’m making progress, it’s still slow going. If you really want, I’ll bring you up to speed, but understand that this will likely take a while, if it even works at all.”
“You know what, I’ll just trust you,” Alice said. “Once I know, that’s one more thing to think about, and analyze, and have occupy mental space. I’m better off focusing on the things I can actually impact, and letting you handle your own work.”
“It strikes me that perhaps Subtlety might just be the best fit for you, after all,” Nick said. “Though I’m sure you’ll miss getting to put those awesome gravity powers to use.”
“Says who? Just because I can use Subtlety doesn’t mean I won’t also be working overtime to master my ass-kicking skills.” Alice tilted her head and flashed a devilish grin, one that Nick suspected would eventually haunt the nightmares of many an unfortunate criminal.
“I’m going to show this world what a Subtlety Hero can really do.”