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Technically, they hadn’t lost. But it doesn’t feel like they’ve really won, either.

“That was a blast,” Marco says, once they’ve finished demorphing. He runs a tired hand through his hair – growing out since his last haircut, Cassie notices – sweeping it back from his face.

“Hell of a fight,” Rachel agrees, lacking the sarcasm Marco’s tone had carried. Her eyes are alight, and she’s grinning, a grin that Cassie has long begun to dislike (hate, her mind supplies instead, traitorously). There’s a shake in her hand as she reaches for the duffel bag with her clothes. Adrenaline, Cassie thinks.

Tobias flies down to perch on Rachel’s shoulder. His golden eyes glow in the grimy darkness of the alley. <It looked pretty close,> he says, matter-of-fact, without Marco’s sarcasm or Rachel’s battle high.

“Too close,” Jake says, the first words he’s said in minutes.

Rachel shrugs. “We’re all still in one piece.”

“On our side,” Cassie says, quiet.

Rachel looks at her with a line between her brows. She opens her mouth, then closes it. “Sure, Cassie,” she says finally, the words drawn out. There’s no exasperation or annoyance that Cassie can hear or see, in her voice or in her blank blue gaze, but she must be feeling it. That’s par the course for them, these days.

“Well,” Marco says, breaking the silence that’s fallen over them. His expression is more than a little self-mocking as he says, “Live to fight again another day, right?”

No one says anything, and Marco rolls his eyes.

<Is that a human saying?> Ax asks awkwardly, saving them from another heavy silence.

“Something like that, Ax-man,” Marco grumbles. He sighs. “I’ll head out first. Catch you losers later.”

He pauses to clap Jake on the shoulder before he leaves, shaking him a little. Jake doesn’t smile, but his frown relaxes by the barest fraction.

They all leave one by one after that. Rachel glances at Cassie again before she goes, with the same look, like she wants to say something. Whatever it is, she keeps it to herself and turns away with a downward twist to her mouth.

Then it’s just Jake and Cassie.

The tense line of his shoulders and the shadows cast across his face make him look so much older than sixteen. Cassie wants to reach out and take his hand, and so she does, twining her fingers with his. Jake’s skin is cold. Cassie shivers a little, knowing he can feel it.

His eyes are still dark when he looks down at her. “Your house?” Not dark for the usual reasons, then.

She squeezes his hand. “Yeah.”

Later, her house is silent when she comes in. She glances at her parents’ bedroom and feels a pang of guilt when she sees no light leaking out from the crack between the door and the wooden floor. The first few times she’d broken her curfew, they used to wait up for her, worried. Now, it’s just routine.

Cassie doesn’t flick on the light when she enters her room. She uses the moonlight seeping through her window to see instead, shedding her clothes for a large, faded t-shirt of Jake’s (that she’s kept carefully hidden in her closet) and penguin-patterned shorts.

The shirt smells like him, comforting, and Cassie lies on her bed and presses the collar over her nose until there’s a sharp tap on the window.

Cassie lets him in. She turns away as he demorphs from the osprey, looking at her posters and the items spread haphazardly across her desk instead. She’d been a little self-conscious about Jake seeing her room at first, when it was so obviously… well, her. But he’d smiled. Told her he liked it. Her anxiety had seemed silly after that.

Cassie turns back around when his hand wraps around her wrist. Before she can say anything, his mouth is on hers.

The press of his lips isn’t rough, but it’s insistent as he gently pushes her back toward her bed. His hands creep down towards the hem of her (his) shirt and then slide underneath, his hands cool on her waist.

His grip tightens as he pulls his mouth away to whisper in her ear, “Mine?” He slips one hand to tug away at his shirt to make the meaning clear, but she wonders…

“Of course,” Cassie whispers back.

Jake’s lips return to hers with more heat, and he bites her bottom lip until it hurts. He slides his tongue across her lip, soothing the ache, and Cassie parts her mouth to let him fully in. She falls back to the bed, pulling him with her.

He isn’t wearing a shirt, his broad shoulders bare, the muscles in his arm tensing as they frame her head. He’s always been big, but he looks like a man now. Cassie marvels at it a little as he presses in between the v of her legs. She feels hot, hungry and desperate for something she can’t name. Cassie – she isn’t much of a girl anymore, either.

Jake finally abandons her mouth to suck at her neck instead, and Cassie’s breath sounds haggard to herself, too loud in her small room. Jake nudges at her jaw with her nose, murmurs her name and she tips her head back to give him further access.

It’s not always like this. Sometimes, they lie together in her bed, or maybe his, together but not touching. Just the presence of each other is all the comfort they need, and neither of them says anything until the morning comes. Other nights, it’s like this, as if it’s painful to keep their hands from each other.

Cassie can’t predict which mood Jake will be in.

She reaches up and tugs her shirt over her head.

That brings Jake to a stop. “Cassie,” he says, eyes wide and shining in the dark.

They’ve talked about it before. How could they not? But –

She shakes her head. “Not that far,” she says. “Just…”

Jake exhales. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

His hand is large and hesitant as it cups her breast. The first time he’s touched it without her bra as a layer between skin. Cassie forces herself to relax, nodding at him encouragingly.

He slides a thumb across a nipple and she inhales. When he rubs it between his fingers, she bites her lip.

“Good?” Jake asks quietly.

She nods, and he leans forward, sucking it into his mouth.

She claps a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound. Jake pulls away from her breast. No, Cassie wants to say. She fights back another groan instead.

“If this is too much,” Jake starts to say.

“The opposite,” Cassie mumbles, pressing her hand over her eyes.

There’s a pause. She hears Jake shift, and wonders if he’s frowning. Or maybe his eyes are hot, she thinks, intense as they bore into her. It sounds cliché, a description out of a cheap romance novel, but intense has always perfectly encapsulated Jake.

“Can I try something?” Jake says finally.

Cassie pulls her hand away and looks at him. Funnily enough, he doesn’t look intense. His brown hair is in disarray. His cheeks are flushed, and his eyes are almost too big for his face as he looks at her. Jake looks unsure of himself. He looks like a normal, teenage boy.

Something in her chest seems to uncurl, warm. “Try what?” Cassie asks gently.

“I want to go down on you,” Jake says. His cheeks flush a deeper shade of red, the colour visible in the moonlight.

Cassie blinks at her ceiling. “Sure,” she says, feeling her own cheeks heat. Thank god her blushes aren’t visible the way Jake’s are.

She helps him tug down her shorts. He doesn’t pull down her underwear right away, his hand moving to cup her instead. Cassie gasps, arching into his hand.

Jake’s fingers run over the thin layer of her underwear, and he draws in a surprised breath. “You’re –“

“Aroused,” Cassie says dryly, with a short huff of a laugh. She casts a look at his bicycle shorts. “That makes both of us.”

“Yeah,” Jake says after a moment. He pulls his hand away, and Cassie immediately misses the weight of it. Before she can complain, he’s shifting to kneel between her legs, his fingers tugging down her panties.

He looks at her one more time, silently asking for permission again, and Cassie nods, trying not to look impatient. The warm pressure of his breath down there makes her toes curl.

When his tongue finally darts out to trace her folds, Cassie has to bite her palm to keep from making a noise loud enough to wake her parents.

Christ. Her parents, sleeping not that far away. It adds a new layer of embarrassment to the whole thing, that Cassie desperately squashes down as Jake pushes her thighs apart further.

What he doesn’t have in technique, he more than makes up for with enthusiasm.

“Move up a little,” Cassie breathes. “Jake, your tongue -”

He listens.

 After that, it’s easy to get lost in sensation. The pleasure seems to build in her, reaching a peak, and before she knows it she’s coming, something she’s only done before when it’s just her and her exploring fingers under the covers in her room.

“God,” Cassie says, when she can think clearly again.

Jake lifts his head. His lips are glistening, and he rubs at his jaw. “Was that good?” he asks, and Cassie wants to laugh.

It shouldn’t be surprising that his confidence doesn’t extend this far. She reaches forward to grab the back of his head, twining her fingers in his hair and pulling him to her. She kisses him, tasting herself off his lips, and Jake gasps a little. “What do you think?”

Jake blinks a little as she pulls away, eyes glazed. “Gotcha,” he says.

“Do you want me to -?” Cassie says, and Jake looks embarrassed.

“No. I already…” He ducks his head into her shoulder.

“Oh,” Cassie says. “No, hey, that’s okay. I mean, that’s a little – uh, gratifying.”

“Sure,” Jake mumbles, muffled.

“I mean it,” Cassie says, pressing a kiss into his hair. Jake sighs, his arm coming up to curl over her.

Jake falls asleep before her, and Cassie closes her eyes, listening to him breathe.

Live to fight another day.