Ok… and here's the final chapter. Sniff sniff. Cookies and hugs to reviewers who are gentle with me, lol – you'll notice it took a little while longer to get this one up than usual. I hope you enjoy the finale. xxxxx
Nick woke a split second before his six-am alarm went off. He sat up, took his anti-pheromones with a swig of water, and reset the alarm to seven, diving snugly back under the covers. He'd just reached that wonderful, drifty state of half-controlling a nice dream (involving a back rub from the never-left Juliette) when round twenty eight of the great Portland cat versus fox war kicked off outside, startling him out of his snooze.
"Oh no..." He squeezed his eyes shut and stuffed his head under the pillow, desperately trying to get back to the part where Juliette was having difficulty in distinguishing between 'back' and 'privates', but wakefulness was brutal. He opened his window and flung an ancient sneaker out into the communal yard, scattering the perps. He was seriously considering asking Jan to come have a word with some of those cats. And now he was properly awake. "Fuck-a-doodle-doo," he muttered.
Rather than sulk in bed, he chose to go sulk in the shower instead. He stepped into the hot spray and had a long, leisurely soak, trying to get the kinks out of his arms and shoulders. He'd made his last Presley case arrests yesterday: one of the Lowen kids who'd tried taking blood from him before throwing him into the storeroom had made the moronic decision to go back to campus to collect personals from his locker – on the morning he was still carrying out student and teacher interviews. Nick grinned, soaped up, and thought about the first moment he'd reaped benefits from his Grimm Mood announcement – as soon as the Lowen kid saw him, he'd bolted, and when Nick gave chase two of the sports coaches, both Balam, helped to corner and capture the guy to get him off their campus for good. A pretty neat result.
He rinsed off, towelled, slipped on boxers and went out to the kitchen to make coffee. Livvy was already up, hobbling round the kitchen in her dressing gown and white supportive boot and looking very bewildered.
"Hey, you alright? Sleep ok?"
"Yeah! Really nice comfortable bed." She fixed him with a little smile but looked wobbly. "
He leant her up against the kitchen counter. If she wasn't going to sit, at least she could stabilise herself. "Want coffee and breakfast?"
"You're making it?" This time he got a full-on grin and he saw a little white light appear round her.
"That was a white glow," he observed, snapping the kettle on. "What does that mean?"
"Don't know. The pink is new enough. Maybe white light means I'm out-of-proportion happy to have breakfast made for me." She tucked her hair into a ponytail using a band taken from her dressing gown pocket. "Thanks so much for moving all my stuff, by the way. It's really nice being completely out of Graham's place. I can relax a little more."
"Wasn't just me. Hank helped, and Denny." Nick grinned. "Carianne was on tie-sliming duty. I think she managed to spread a little sick over at least five silk ones. We didn't get all your clothes, though, so―"
"Rosalee and Monroe are helping with that this morning," Livvy said. "Really sweet of them. Really sweet of all of you."
Nick pinkened slightly. "It's alright. You want scrambled eggs?"
He got out a mixing bowl and spatula, pan, eggs and butter – then remembered he hadn't brought the milk in yet. He nipped out to grab it and was almost cut in half by an arctic blast barrelling its way down the front veranda of his first floor apartment. It smacked him into the brick wall of his kitchen, making him yell. How did it get so cold since yesterday? He reached for the milk and noticed bare arm. And bare legs. He'd forgotten to get dressed? When did that ever happen? He leapt back indoors with the solid carton, stuck it in the sink with hot water and ran off to his room to pull on his thermal, a shirt and jeans. He marched back to the kitchen in a bit of a huff.
"Why didn't you tell me I wasn't wearing anything?"
She looked puzzled. "I thought you knew."
"Weren't you planning on asking me when I was going to get dressed?"
"No, why would I? Your apartment, your rules! If you turn out to be a nearly-nudist, that's your prerogative."
"I'm not a nearly-nudist!"
"Whatever you say." She beamed cheekily at him. "It was quite scenic while it lasted."
"Hmph." He mixed the eggs and stuck the bread in the toaster and then Livvy's cellphone rang. He looked around in case he needed to grab it for her, but she pulled it out of her dressing gown after a few rings, looking unenthused as she put it on speakerphone so she could lay her head on her forearms.
"Hey, I've finished term now, we're coming down to see you. You alright, honey? Your dad mentioned you got shot."
Nick stared at the phone. Wow. Casual. Jan had mentioned she'd been shot. As had he. At least twice. This couldn't be her Mom's first call-in after the shooting, could it?
"I'm better," Livvy muttered. "You guys have got a hotel, right? For Boxing Day? Don't forget I'm not at Graham's anymore."
"About time," Dr Andersen said. "I wondered how long you were going to go staying in that apartment. I was beginning to think you had post-breakup denial problems."
"Actually, I had no-deposit-for-new-flat problems," Livvy muttered, bringing her face up from her forearms.
"We could've lent you that if you'd occasionally ask for help. I'd have been happy to help you escape from Graham." The strident tones softened slightly. "I'm sorry he turned out to be such a bad guy, Livvy. None of us really saw that coming."
Livvy straightened up. "Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one."
"You escaped a total moron, darling," Dr Andersen went on. "What kind of idiot tries to scam a cop?"
"Thanks mom, but I really don't need my self-esteem lowered any further…"
"I mean, trying to charm you into a pre-nup? You should have gone screaming for the hills as soon as it was mentioned!"
"I didn't sign anything," Livvy muttered, "And I told him that I wasn't signing anything that looked like a symbol of a future break-up. So I'm not that much of an idiot."
"You at a hotel now, honey? Can you afford it?"
"No, I'm being looked after." Livvy glared sternly at the phone. "I'm fine."
Good for you, thought Nick, splashing the egg in the pan. He kept a half-eye out for glowing while he mixed, but there was nothing there. Livvy just looked tired while she talked to her mom, like this kind of conversation was so typical it was nothing to get upset about. He finished making the coffee while waiting for the eggs to set.
"Well, who's looking after you?" Livvy's mom sounded so incredulous that anyone would want to that Nick lost his grip on the spatula, nearly caught it twice on its way to the floor – and failed – then on standing knocked his elbow against the mixing bowl and sent that crashing to the floor instead. It was pyrex, at least, and rolled away spilling egg rather than smashing.
"You alright, honey? Break something?"
"No, that was Nick," Livvy said.
There was a long quiet at the other end of the line. "Nick-the-Grimm?"
"You're with Nick at seven in the morning? Oh my God! You're with Nick at seven in the morning! Are you sleeping with him?"
Dr Andersen sounded so shrill that Nick couldn't help himself. He dipped his voice into a low, post-coital growl, put the mug down in front of Livvy with a slight bang and muttered "Your coffee, honey," followed by a noisy fake smooch. Livvy bit back a laugh and ruffled his hair.
"I'm just moved in with him."
"YOU'VE MOVED IN WITH A GRIMM?"
"He's looking after me! Remember that thing where one person feels a little fragile, and another person – usually someone related – goes 'hey, I'll look after you', and you feel a little bit better? Well, that's what he's doing."
"He's dangerous." The voice went stern at the other end of the line. "I've treated a Grimm. He had all the sexual and social charm of a bin lid but I still wanted to sleep with him. Babies might have been had. Then he started controlling what I was thinking. He seemed a nice guy to begin with, but they change when they realise what they can do. Get away from Nick."
"No!" Livvy folded her arms rebelliously. "Mom, he knows about the pheromone thing and he's taking something for it. And it turns out that everything we thought we knew about Grimms is bull, so I'm taking the mind-control rubbish with a pinch of salt. Be nice or you can cancel your plane tickets to Portland. I mean it."
There was another long, long pause. "Livvy, I love you. I'm telling you this stuff because I care about you. What's happened to you? You used to take advice rather more placidly than this."
Livvy met his eyes steadily for a moment, then turned back to the phone. "I love you too, mom, but I've got a different idea now of what caring behaviour actually looks like. Maybe I've just raised my standards a little." Her voice softened a little. "Call me back if you still want to come down for Boxing Day."
Nick put her breakfast in front of her. "I'm glad your standards of being 'cared for' are up a bit. Jesus. Is she always that… warm and maternal?"
"No, sometimes she's rude too," Livvy said and tucked into the eggs at a speed that suggested that she hadn't found the conversation as traumatic to take part in as he had to listen to. "You're a good cook!"
"Thanks." He knew well enough by now what a conversational avoidance looked like and shrugged it off. In some ways, it was a shame Denny was gay – he and Livvy were like peas in a pod, got on like a house on fire, and in a parallel universe, he'd probably be hearing wedding bells. But hey. Speaking of Denny… "Den's swinging by later to pick you up for the nativity. I've got more interviews to run on campus before going to the precinct… you going to be alright till Rosalee gets here?"
She nodded enthusiastically through a mouthful of breakfast and he went to get ready. A few minutes later he was out of the apartment, in his car and back to the wreck that was Portland Science and Sport, Dr Andersen's remark about 'mind control' still jangling uncomfortably round his head. Eventually he shoved it to one side and dismissed it as him being spooked. He was lucky to talk Monroe into putting jalapeños on one half of a pizza. There didn't seem any immediate danger of him forcing people into doing things against their will. Particularly not the big guys. And actually… Nick considered the wilfulness of Theo and Carianne. Not much evidence of him getting them to do what he wanted them to do, either. He chuckled and stuck his radio on as he pulled out on the freeway.
X x X
Jan parked his Spyder a couple of blocks down from the precinct, pulled on baseball cap and sunglasses and zipped up his second coat against the evil wind, muttering dire curses against the fool that had allowed both underground carparks to be under renovation at the same time. He did not 'do' the cold. Most Koningleeuwen didn't: unlike most of his kin, he had no murderous urges or taste for blood, but there was one biological imperative he couldn't ignore, which was to maintain his 40° resting body temperature. He liked snow and winter in theory, so long as he was inside and could just look out at it, but in practice, cold was like his kryptonite. He threaded his way quickly through the human traffic as he headed for work, chin down and hands stuffed in his pockets. There seemed to be a lot more people hanging around the precinct than usual. Mostly female. Mostly loitering. Some of whom thought they'd recognised him from his new entry on the Cops-we'd-like-to-**** website after he'd abandoned half his clothes to strap Livvy's leg up, but most of whom appeared to be lurking in the hope of spotting the Grimm.
He picked up speed without crashing into anyone. He was late enough as it was, having let Denny sleep off his hangover and driven Theo to nursery himself. Jan smiled a little, mentally replaying Denny's speechless moment of relieved joy, face in hands, as Remus confirmed his theory about why the abuse charge had never appeared on Interpol's record of outstanding charges. Seamus West had given a statement, in the end - one that cleared him of any suspicion of abuse. James Grey was still wanted for questioning in relation to the death of Seamus' father and his fellow Schakal, Hendry, but given the amount of his own gore found close to the crime scene, was flagged 'likely deceased'. With Theo asleep, Carianne at Rosalee and Monroe's place (so they could do tiny-person practice) and his mother packing up at the hotel, Denny had seized the moment of zero responsibilities to inhale two quarts of beer in under five minutes.
Denny was out of alcohol practice, though. He'd come over all oafish and giggly, fallen over, then had to be put to bed for the second time in a few days - only this time in an uncoordinated, affectionate heap. Jan chuckled as he reached the steps of PPD and strode up and through to the fire escape, where he took the stairs three at a time. His ears continued to suffer, slightly: no matter how dominant Den's human side was, he still burped like a Siegbarste.
He strode into the squad room and past Hank, who was back at his desk in front of a lap-top, chuckling darkly alongside Wu while they fiddled with some kind of software programme. No Nick, yet. Jan groped in his pockets for Renard's office keys and separated them with difficulty from his own, watching as Tom took advantage of Nick's absence to clean his desk up. Gerry Hanna strode in for a quick word with Wu, looked at the laptop screen and laughed, then reached over to Nick's desk for a spare scrap of paper and a pen.
"HIS!" Tom barked, pointing at Burkhardt's name plate on the desk.
Hanna snapped immediately upright, backing hurriedly away behind Hank and Wu. "Hey, I'm just borrowing, fella!"
"Didn't ask," Tom muttered. "Ask Nick's partner. It's also almost his desk."
To Hank's credit, he kept a completely straight face as Hanna, red-faced, asked him if he could borrow paper and pen. Jan grinned as Hank agreed with exaggerated grace and handed over the stationery, making Tom grunt with satisfaction. As he let himself into Renard's office, he wasn't surprised to be followed a moment later by Gerry, who darted in behind him, still a little startled.
"Where did you get him?" he muttered, closing the door behind him.
Jan hung up his coat and booted up the PC. "I set up an interview with the facilities manager, which he clearly aced. He was working at Portland State but some of the students there..."
"Not too nice to him?" Gerry hazarded.
"Nastier than I care to say," Jan muttered - then remembered he was supposed to be translating Tom's contract into Plain English this morning so that he could get his head around his terms and conditions. He might have to make a less protective attitude towards Nick's possessions part of those conditions. "Still, he seems happy enough here. Anyway, to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit from the Mayor's office?"
"Couple of things. First, Miller's form for the EMT riot team. I spoke to him briefly about it, so he'll be expecting it." Hanna handed over an application booklet. "We had a hostage situation at West Side yesterday that would've gone a whole lot better if we could have gotten some paramedics into the bank."
Jan took the outstretched form from Gerry's hand. "Thanks, I'll pass that on. Shall I give him your number again? He's posted his work phone back to the mayor's office already."
"Yeah, full of baby milk. Nice touch." Hanna snickered, but then sobered quickly. "And… the other thing. How's Andersen? I heard she took a hell of a hit."
"Doing much better. Still pretty fragile, but out of hospital as of last night. Shall I pass on your regards?" Jan was pleasantly surprised by Gerry's change of attitude and stopped glancing at his inbox to pay the conversation better attention, however much he wanted to open that little envelope from the exam centre.
"I was wondering... should I just call her? I wouldn't blame her if she refused to take the call, but―"
"She'd appreciate that," Jan said. "She's not one of this life's grudge-holders. I think she had a pretty good idea that you weren't 'yourself'."
"That was part of the problem," Gerry muttered, shuffling his feet. "She had such a scary grasp of what was going on with the whole wife-timeshare guy situation that I convinced myself that the whole squad knew about it. Well, ok, the whole squad did know about it, but it took a while to work out that it wasn't coming from her. Marriage problems can mess with a guy's head. I gave her shit I didn't even know I had to give."
"Just tell her exactly what you've told me, and you'll be fine. That said, Gerry," Jan leant over the desk, "If you ever treat another officer the way you treated her, I'll get you blacklisted from your golfing club, among other dire, more formal sanctions."
"Harsh!" Gerry laughed, but nodded seriously. "There won't be a repeat. By the way, congratulations, Captain."
Jan winced. That was supposed to be a secret. "Thank you. It's Director, though. Renard's Captain. How did you know, by the way?"
"DeMarcos. He's got a big mouth."
"Do me a favour, Gerry? Keep that under your hat for now. I don't start til the New Year, and not everyone's going to be happy about this."
As Gerry shrugged and let himself out, Jan hurriedly double-clicked the email from the exam centre, desperate for good news, not that he was expecting anything else. If Griffin got his Lieutenancy, it wouldn't matter too much if his own reinstatement was announced this week. If not… Jan grimaced. He'd rather not be at the centre of a salt-in-the-wound situation.
Magic words flashed up on the screen, making him grin broadly and punch the air. Whistling, he tucked the confirmation letter and results into an envelope, stuck it on the desk, and trotted out to the squad room.
: : : : :
Hank felt his cell buzz and checked his message. From Nick: "Nearly finished with flirty mouse hurts students. In soon. N"
Wu snickered over his shoulder. "That's a great autocorrect moment. I'd love to see that as a headline - flirty mouse hurts students."
"Hey man, privacy!" Hank tried sheltering his cell as Nick's amendment came through ('Maushertz, dammit!') but Wu knew how to lean. And snigger.
"Ok, that made even less sense. Can't wait for the next one!"
"You just get on with burning that DVD." Hank slid his seat sideways to keep his reply discreet, while giving Wu room to use the laptop. "Enjoy flirty mice. Btw, we need to talk about telling Wu. He saw your Maushertz message, already knows about Jan, is going to work out that it's not just Lion Kings you can see. So...?"
There was a short pause then a returning buzz. "Ok. New Year, New Wu."
"Deal," Hank texted back, and grinned at the laptop screen as Wu started the mini-movie from the DVD rather than the hard drive to check it had copied across ok. They watched the whole first minute of it out of pride rather than quality control, then Hank leapt guiltily in his seat as Jan's hand landed on his shoulder.
"Can I have a word?"
"Uh, yeah… look, this thing's nearly all been done outside working hours, we're just finishing up―"
Jan chuckled. "It looks like hours well-spent. John, you'll have to finish up alone, I'm afraid. This won't take long, Hank."
Hank followed Jan into Renard's office and shut the door, sticking his hands into his pockets. "Just a little fun, man."
"I think Nick might actually kill you, but that's your risk to take. No, this is about something else."
Hank swallowed hard as he took the envelope Jan handed him. "Are these my...?"
"Yes. New departmental policy. We do not keep people waiting over the holidays for important news."
He hadn't realised how important this was to him until his fingers were shaking too hard to open the envelope flap. What if his results stank? Or, what if, after all that effort he actually got the promotion but couldn't handle it? As much as he wanted to stretch his wings (and get paid more), the idea of maybe having to manage Nick made him shudder. He'd seen the effects of being caught in the middle: Jan was back to himself, now, but the stress effect while he'd been seconding for Renard had been very visible.
Hank bit his lip as he turned the envelope over in his hands, feeling his knee juddering. "You know, it sounds nuts, but I'm kinda scared of what's in here, either way. Could you…ah…throw me a bone, here? Are you allowed?"
"Ok. Let's just say that it's my personal policy not to give good friends shitty news on Christmas Eve."
The confirmation hit Hank like a hammer to the chest and for a moment he couldn't breathe past the hitch in his throat as Jan's words and smile dawned on him. "You mean I've actually..."
"You passed everything. Congratulations, Lieutenant Griffin."
"Whooot!" he managed, breathlessly. For a moment, all management panics fell to one side and he nearly shot out into the squad room screaming 'I'm the man!' but he really wanted Nick there for that moment. But he couldn't stay still. He wanted to leap up and down and run around and jump on Renard's desk and wave his arms. Jan put his hand out for a shake but Hank dived into a slam-hug instead, then in a fit of excitement and over-enthusiasm tried lifting him off the floor, failing to achieve an inch of movement and setting his back on fire in the process.
"Hot DAMN!" he yelped, though still laughing helplessly with happiness. Fuck, that hurt. But hey he was promoted and didn't care. He straightened manfully and felt his eyes cross. No, that really did hurt...
"You alright?" Jan asked, easing him into one of the chairs. Hank could only clutch and groan for a moment until he got his breath back.
"You are insanely heavy! What did you eat for breakfast, man? Grilled lead on toast? "
Jan shrugged. "Tastes great with peanut sauce. Seriously - you ok? We're not going to have to cart you off to get a shot, are we?"
"Naw… let's just…. give it a minute…"
The screaming pain down Hank's left side abated a little and he finally got enough feeling in his hands back to open the damn envelope, read and re-read those golden words LIEUTENANT GRIFFIN several times, moisture building in his eyes. Ok, so the words in the terms and conditions document weren't quite as golden as in the covering letter, but one thing at a time... "When can I tell people?"
"You can put a tannoy round the building right now, if you like."
"No, I want to wait for Nick." Hank grinned wickedly. And he wanted to adjust his name in the closing credits on Nick's little Xmas present before they showed it to him. "Damn, can't believe I actually made it."
"I can believe it," Jan said, wandering over to the window. "You studied hard enough for the personnel stuff - the rest of your marks were a reflection of how overdue the promotion was in the first place. Really outstanding results. Renard will be pleased."
"It's gonna get complicated though," Hank reflected. "I mean, how am I going to explain some of Nick's weirder leads to him? These days, the evidence kind of follows the instinct, rather than the other way round."
Jan turned slightly from the window and Hank was relieved to see him looking reasonably relaxed. He was 'choosing his words' again, but not with that slightly tense air he'd worn lately. "You, Nick and I have to have a long talk about Renard. Soon. But if it helps, you won't be managing Nick - Renard's shaking up the squad room a little."
Relief billowed through Hank like a warm wind and he felt decent enough to creak out of the chair and join Jan at the window. "A lot's going to change, isn't it? After Nick's little Grimm announcement."
"Which you countered in a monumentally unhelpful way," Jan remarked, jerking his head down to the pavement outside the precinct. "Observe."
Hank followed his gaze and chuckled. Nick had arrived and was feeding coins into the parking meter with one hand while struggling for pocket change with the other. He was surrounded from behind by a meek-looking group of girls, all fumbling to see if they had change to offer him. "Oh man... are his Grimmstincts on strike? How could he not know they're there?"
"Seelengut," Jan observed. "If he's picked up on them, he's probably not reading danger signals. They might leave him alone. Herd mentality. They're all waiting for each other to approach."
"Oh... here we go..."
Hank and Jan watched as one girl broke off from the group and offered Nick a quarter, which he took with a polite, wary smile and fed it into the meter. Nick had barely let the coin go in the slot when the girl lunged and Hank snickered helplessly as Nick tried reverse-wrestling out of a full-on kiss. "No herd mentality in that girl. You know... I don't think he's enjoying that very much."
"Hmmmm." Jan chuckled. "The wild, flailing arms do give the slight impression of reluctance. Hopefully he'll get out of there before... ah, he's sprinting inside. Sensible Grimm. Perhaps some of the loiterers will clear off, now."
Hank laughed, but Jan looked a little pained.
"You really didn't help things with your riposte to the press, you know."
"Hey look – I had paparazzi in my face on the way to my exams 'cause of him. I felt the need to get a little vengeance. It'll blow over."
"I'm not talking about the 'lonely and misunderstood' announcement. That's been quite entertaining, as it happens. I'm more concerned that by sending out a loaded hint that you understand Nick's 'Grimm message', you've effectively outed yourself as one of the mensen wie wezen zagen."
Hank tried to remember what Monroe had called him. "I thought that was Ker-site-slick-kenner, or whatever?"
"It probably is, in German. But I'm not German, am I? Anyway, just do me one favour, Hank? If you even get a hint of someone with a darker interest in you or Nick, let me know. The Verrat presence in Portland is a little thicker on the ground than we first thought."
"Will do." Hank went back out to the squad room, a chill briefly going down his spine, but the moment of nerves was washed away by a warlike flood of adrenaline. If the Verrat thought they could mess with his squad room, they had another thing coming.
X x X
Nick slammed the back door of the precinct fire exit behind him and took the stairs three at a time, his heart pounding. At the top of the stairwell, he pulled his cell out to call Monroe but got his answering machine and very specific message.
"Nick, Rosalee's having contractions. Please leave your odd and demanding request after the tone. I may or may not reply in the next few hours depending on how odd and demanding the contractions are."
Nick sucked in breath. "Uh... Eddie... I'm having slight…. physical issues. May need to up... anti-pheromone dose. Temporarily. Can we talk? Hope Rosie's ok. Thanks, Nick."
Rather than stumbling into the squad room looking bedraggled, he dived into the locker room first to straighten up, throw water over his face and tidy his hair up a little. His shoulders slowly un-tensed and eventually he looked a lot more casual. He'd be damned if he'd let Hank see that his little Portland Cupid stunt was getting to him. The teeny-weeny Maushertz student tripping and 'landing' in his lap was bad enough, but getting a sudden faceful of single-minded sheep was on a totally different scale of traumatising. He hadn't been that alarmed since Ariel 'bunny-boiler' Eberhart ripped his shirt open in her back yard.
Taking a deep breath, he wiggled the tension out of his arms and flicked a relaxed smile on as he trotted to his desk and booted up. There didn't seem to be much point in getting into any heavy work – they'd be leaving for the nativity in a couple of hours anyway, but he still had a few witness statements from the college to type into the incident report. Hank beamed suspiciously at him as he waited for his mail programme to open up. Nick glanced over, waiting for Hank to explain the beam, but he just grinned some more. It was unnerving.
"You alright?" Nick asked eventually.
"I'm good man, really good."
Nick waited for him to expand on this, but when he didn't, he settled for "Uh… good," and got on with hammering the rest of the statements into the reporting system. It took him nearly a couple of hours and he'd nearly reached the end when he was distracted by the loud squeaking of wheels as Wu pushed the 42-inch TV out from the IGROPE room into the main squad area.
"Donut?" Hank suddenly offered, shoving a box under his nose and still beaming.
"Thanks," Nick said absently, grabbing a chocolate glaze one with a hole in the middle. He didn't like the look of that TV. Wide-screen presentations usually meant huge maps, which usually meant person missing, which meant a small child disappearing just before Christmas. God, he hoped not. He cast a glance back through Renard's office window, reasonably reassured to see Jan looking fairly relaxed behind the PC and not like a guy about to drop a Special Victims bomb in the room.
Then he noticed Wu sniggering. Ok. So, nothing nasty was happening, but… his Grimmstincts picked up on heavy localised smirking and he looked over to see Hank beaming more broadly than ever.
"Hank. What's going on?"
"Brother, you're just twitchy."
"I am not!"
"Are so," Hank argued quietly, and zoomed his seat over sideways to drop his voice further. "But I so can't blame you. Who'd not be sheepish after a Seelengut attack?"
Nick felt his face go hot. "Funny."
"Oh it was man, it was…" Hank chuckled ruthlessly as he slid back behind his desk, letting him focus on finishing the Presley notes.
It only took another ten minutes of so to finish them off and Nick stretched back in his seat, glad to see the rear end of the case. He printed out his notes to give to Renard when he got in, and good-naturedly moved out of Tom's way as the young Siegbarste vacuumed around and under his and Hank's desks. Nick took a big bite of donut and popped it back down on his desk so he didn't get icing all over his report. Tom stared at the new mess in a slightly distressed way.
Nick glanced at him. "You alright, Tom?"
"Gotta tidy that."
"Uh, it's just crumbs, I can do that, but… o-k…" Nick felt himself moved firmly to one side.
Tom pulled a mini-vac from a deep pocket – the kind used to clean keyboards, and sucked the crumbs up from round the donut. And then focussed with intense concentration down the middle of the donut. Nick blinked. The guy took cleaning seriously.
"There might be some more crumbs underneath," Hank warned, and lifted the donut like it was a particularly dangerous bomb, allowing Tom to clean to his heart's content before laying it down carefully so as not to wreak any further crumbly havoc on the impeccable tabletop. Nick watched the delicate operation in complete disbelief.
"All clean," Tom reported, and dragged his vacuum off towards Renard's office.
"Thanks Tom," Nick said as Tom retreated, but met Hank's eyes somewhat desperately, dropping his voice to a whisper. "What am I going to do about him?"
"I'd buy a plate, if I were you."
Great, really sympathetic. Nick laughed though, as Hank told him about Tom's earlier fierce protection of his stationery. He was just unwinding as Wu plugged in the 42-inch TV and someone else snapped all the lights off. Jan came out of Renard's office and grabbed a seat next to them, sitting back to front on the wheely chair. Nick was confused. Ok, so if Jan had stuck himself in the audience rather than stand in front of the TV, this wasn't some kind of leadership message video either…
Hank patted his arm. "Sit and relax, man, sit and relax..."
This was enough to make him instantly paranoid, and with good cause. The screen and inserted DVD communed and the 'Rocky' theme tune thumped through the office. In the middle of the black screen, huge gold 3D-effect letters floated and rearranged themselves to read:
"The many grim moods of Detective N Burkhardt."
Nick gulped. Oh, crap.
He tried reversing discreetly in his seat, but Jan recaptured him with a quick sideways grab, pulling him irrevocably back to the desk. He and Hank grabbed a wrist each so he couldn't even hide in his palms.
For a whole three minutes, his face burned and flamed with embarrassment as a montage of still shots of him flipping out popped up on screen and dispersed in a cloud of digital magic to the background of increasingly raucous laughter. Between them, Hank and Wu had brought together footage of him losing his cool from all over the place. Not just i-video downloads from the fight-stop student webpages, but also cake-slamming screenshots from Starbucks, Graham-relocation footage from hospital CCTV (with said villain flying eight feet into the shrubs in slow motion) and worst of all, from inside interrogation 2, where 'Nasty Nick' had gone head-to-head with 'Livid Livvy' in a furious stand-up row. This last part made him feel crawling under the desk. He looked mad! There was no sound, but the video had been sped up six times to make it look like they were both cartoon characters on speed, jumping up and down and waving their arms around.
Nick met Hank's eye in the darkness and gave him the kind of look he usually saved for his partner's wisecracks about his tinsy-winsy legs. Hank winked remorselessly at him and ruffled his hair with his free hand. Jan and Hank didn't let him go until the last still shot had faded from the screen, to be replaced by the closing credits. The lights finally came up and he was allowed to hide his purple face in his hands as all the guys in the squad room laughed, clapped and…
…and clapped even more thunderously.
Nick stared at the screen, leapt to his feet and joined in. Everyone noticed the important detail in the movie credits in the same moment. The movie director was none other than LIEUTENANT Hank Griffin.
He grinned, turned to Hank then flung himself at his partner with a bear hug. "You're the man!"
"I'M THE MAN!"
"You did it!" Nick saw Hank's eyes shining and all the dire revenges he'd started to plot for that little movie went out of the window. "Oh that's SO great. Really, that's…" his eyes got a little moist. "Ok, you can see I'm happy about it, how're you feeling?"
"Kinda stunned," Hank admitted, as the other guys finished clapping him on the back and fading off back to their desks. "But it's all good. A little hard to pin my brain down right now, to tell you the truth."
Nick suddenly felt a little misty on Hank's behalf. "You're staying at PPD at least, right?"
"He is," Renard said suddenly from behind them, propped up on crutches. "I've lost Jan to Personnel, so I need Lieutenant right here where I can terrorise by proxy." With difficulty, he freed a hand from a crutch and extended it. "Congratulations, Hank. And I need to borrow you both. We need to talk."
"Now?" Nick asked doubtfully. He wanted the good moment to go on a little longer. And what did he mean by 'lost Jan to Personnel?'
"Roof," Renard said urgently. "Now." He looked around. "Where's Remus?"
Nick volunteered to go track him down in the men's room and bring him up to the roof while Hank filed into the elevator after Renard and Jan, looking bemused. As it happened, Nick didn't need to go as far as the men's washroom because Remus sprang out into the corridor in a panic, hastily zipping up.
"Siegbarste in the bathroom. Wasn't expecting that."
Nick grinned. "Were all the urinals HIS?"
"Well, he let me 'go', thank God, but I'm warning you ― aim straight or he'll woge at you. Which is a little counter-productive, actually, because a mid-stream fright is not a tidy thing. Where are we going, by the way?"
"Rooftop discussion, apparently."
"In this weather? I don't think so." Remus stalked over to Renard and pulled him mildly round the corner, to Nick's astonishment. No one handled the Captain. Hell, he hadn't even handled the Captain – he'd taken his rage out on a football stand. Remus looked serious. "Sean, I hear talk of rooftop meetings."
"We have discreet matters to discuss," Renard muttered. "You, me, Jan, Nick and Hank."
"Count Jan out then," Remus said. "This is not the tallest building in Portland and Armani-clad lions on the roof may excite a little interest from people drinking coffee while looking out the window. Cold weather and Koningleeuwen do not mix. It's an instant-woge recipe."
Hank caught Nick's eye and stared. Nick was beginning to wonder whether this was Remus' own little way of enforcing openness in Renard – 'fake blurting'. He was the head of the Lauffer, apparently, which should usually involve a degree of discretion. For all Remus' joviality, though, there was a hardness in his face that suggested that he was operating on tactics, not clumsiness.
What Nick found comforting, however, was Renard's response – he looked more annoyed about being pre-empted than angry: so maybe this whole discussion was about him telling Hank that he was wesen too. Taking the responsibility off him. Nick appreciated that. He held Hank's gaze and mouthed: 'Renard knows about Jan. He's wesen too.'
Hank stared, then his brow cleared. It was like he was relieved, almost. "How about the basement? It's out of commission. It'll be quiet down there."
Renard nodded and they all crammed themselves into the lift.
"How about a meeting room?" Remus muttered to himself, pressing the down button. "Roofs, basements…Why bother having any furniture in this building? For fuck's sake…"
"How's the seasonal affective disorder?" Jan asked his old boss suddenly. "Lightbox help?"
"It makes a good difference, thank you. But the temper… my God! I'm not the laid-back bear I used to be. Can't wait for spring."
Hank blinked. "Jagerbar, right?"
"You're a well-informed Man-wie-wezen-zagen."
"I'm a human who's seen a few of the wesen, by now," Hank said, making Nick stare at his understanding of the term. "A certain friendly Grimm's been helping out with that."
"I'm glad you know," Renard said suddenly.
"And what are you, man?"
Nick, Jan and Remus held their breath as a trio as Renard met Hank's eyes. "Half Hexenbiest."
"Right." Hank scratched the back of his head and they walked out into the basement when the lift thumped to a halt. He paced for a moment. "Given certain blondes I dated, I can understand why you wouldn't drop that into conversation. But w-w-wait… you're a guy!"
Renard nodded. "I'm glad you've noticed."
"How can you be a witch? You're a guy."
"My mother was a witch. Look, you're taking this suspiciously well―"
"I have so many questions they don't even know how to form a queue, right now." Hank flipped his hands up helplessly. "You know what? I'm even fricking pleased. I was worried about how I'd work with you with the wesen cases we get, so… yeah. Relief first, curiosity second – but I need to know a couple of things before I turn my brain off for a few days."
Nick watched Renard adjust himself on his crutches.
"Did you know Adalind?"
"Yes. And Elizabeth Schade, too. Not my finest acquaintances. That's a talk we need to have when you've gotten to know me. Again."
"How long have you known about Nick being a Grimm?"
"Since his aunt died." Nick noticed Renard's slight flush under Hank's penetrating glare. "Nick's had to do more than a few things as a Grimm that don't sit well with his role as a cop. Acknowledging any of them would've been awkward. As your Captain."
To Nick's monumental relief, Hank nodded understanding. "Like arranging Stark's shooting."
"And throwing the Nuckelavee Hargrund into the Colombian River. And allowing a suspect in a murder investigation to flee."
"Ian Harmon," Hank muttered, remembering. "So you know all this. You been watching Nick's back?"
"As far as possible. It's going to get messy – so you need to be onboard."
"I can deal with mess so long as I can see what I'm dealing with," Hank murmured, then fixed Nick with a searching look. "How long have you known about him?"
Nick tensed slightly. "Four days."
"Right answer – I wouldn't have wanted to know about this in the last four days. Actually, I don't want to know any more about this right now. My curiosity is sated, I just got promoted, I'm ready to enjoy Christmas Eve. So if you gentlemen don't mind, I'm just going to go back upstairs, and…"
Whatever he was going to say was cut off by the screeching of wheels as a car burst through the closed-off ramp at the front of carpark B and a black SUV thundered down towards them, causing Renard and Remus to bring weapons out. Jan slapped them down as the driver did a handbrake turn to the right and slammed to a halt further up the slope.
"Relax, it's Denny."
Nick and Hank frowned. "What's he doing parking down here? The carpark's closed!"
"It's Denny!" Jan repeated, by way of explanation, and walked over to the car door to let Helene out as Monroe semi-collapsed from the shotgun seat, looking terrorised. "There were cones at the top of that ramp, Den."
"I was very, very careful to run over all of them," Den muttered. "If you think I'm walking half a mile with these sodding costumes with Carianne on my front, you've got another thing coming." He handed the outfits out – six heavy items on coathangers, disguised with covers – and handed Carianne to Jan. Theo hopped out of the car from behind and grabbed Nick and Hank's hands cheerfully. They performed the expected worship of the threads of the day – dark green shirt, black waistjacket and tie. Talk about Jan's mini-me. Nick frowned at the now-empty SUV.
Monroe was just about ready to speak, having recovered from the drive. "She'll meet us at the lodge with Rosalee. She went to the clinic with Rosie after her nutsy contractions, but it was all a false alarm, could still be another day, ten minutes, two weeks… blah blah."
Nick pulled a face. "She alright? What caused the contractions?"
"Nuts, Nick! They're not called nutsy contractions for nothing, you know. She's not supposed to eat them… stubborn woman…"
They made their way back up to the squad room en masse, Renard and Remus included. Theo was interrogating Renard about his crutches and what he did to his leg. Remus, otherwise occupied, had gone a little dopey, Nick noted. He was staring directly at Helene, generally leaning and looming in her general direction while Denny stared after him suspiciously, his arms full of outfits, his eyes full of Siegbarste possessiveness. Nick chuckled as he brought up the rear with the other half the outfits, wondering what hero had been assigned to him, and hoping that Denny had a sense of humour about Remus' notion of flirting…
X x X
"Are you all packed?"
Warwick turned at Hilde's voice and smiled as he stuffed the last of his Nick-esque clothes into the case. "Yeah. Nice gear! Where did you get it all?"
She beamed. "I had a shopping spree at Sean's expense."
"Nick's Police Captain. Only we go way back." She smiled slightly. "I don't know what has happened to him, but he has changed, it is very nice. He has given me the most wonderful gift."
"His credit card?"
"You. You are his gift to me. I never expected to have a family." She looked watery-eyed and nipped out to the front room before they could spill over. Warwick followed in a hurry.
"Hilde? Are you ok?"
She ruffled his hair and wiped her face off. "More than ok. Now. Enough hippo-sniffling from me. You have everything? Your passport? Your sick sack?"
He cringed slightly and pinkened. "Yes and yes."
"Excellent. Let us get a plane and annoy some stewardesses with fictitious peanut addictions. Oh – before we leave… your Siegbarste-Denny dropped this off earlier."
Warwick took the large paper-wrapped bundle and opened it slowly. There was a long-sleeved black thermal top, like Nick's, with 'Dude's got feathers' written on the back – his name on the front. He grinned. There was a card under the top, written in Den's very recognisable nib-through-the-paper writing style. Welcome to the United Federation of Rare Species. The link below will take you to your email address on our exchange server. Password is temporary. Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks. By the way – I'm becoming a paramedic. Swap medic lessons for driving ones? Have a good flight, D xxx ps – will email you video of Theo's nativity. Thanks for helping him learn the lines!
Warwick opened the case he'd just zipped up and put the top and card in there. Then he closed up and wheeled the case out, after Hilde, looking forward to their trip hugely. And looking forward to the nativity pictures. He and Denny had spent an hour or so running him through his lines while Nick was sleeping. A fiendish part of him hoped that Theo remembered the lines from their first practice run-through to help him with his nerves. That video, he'd pay to see.
X x X
"Wow, this is tight," Denny muttered, and pulled the chainmail-effect sleeves up his arms. "When are costume makers going to learn that tall blokes aren't necessarily lanky?"
Nick grinned and pulled on the red-and-yellow front and backplates of his outfit. "When pigs can fly. Sorry, Denny. Cool outfit, by the way!"
"Thor approve of re-booted movie costume," Denny boomed, pulling on the breast-plate armour. "Cloak swish nicely. Sleeves cover arms. Sleeves prevent awkward scar discussions about old Thor Wars."
"Sure you haven't been drinking, yet?"
"I'll drink when it's all over, mate." Denny shuddered. "I've got a horrible feeling that this is all going to go wildly off-script." He took a look at his watch, which would probably have to come off if he wasn't going to look completely anachronistic, stuffed his feet in his boots and leapt to his feet. "Right, you ready?"
Nick 'Iron man' Burkhardt pulled his helmet over his head and trotted out of the locker room after him. "Coming!"
The last of the other guys in the squad room were leaving on their half day, grinning at the costumed idiots swanning around the homicide department. Wu made to follow them, but Nick grabbed his arm.
"See you at dinner, later?"
Wu went pink. "Actually… I've already passed on my apologies to Jan. It's all a little last minute, but uh… I've got a date."
Denny looked back, intrigued. He'd seen quite a few of the Wu/Bruce Lee video shots on the student's online pages while secretly downloading a couple of pictures of sooty-looking Jan. "The Phys Ed teacher you rescued?"
"Mariam." Wu shuffled his feet. "I know it's not the done thing, but I was off-shift, she saw me in the bar…"
Nick clapped him on the shoulder. "Good for you! Did you ask her out, or….?"
"Well, she came over and we said hi, then she said she really liked my moves, my integrity and my bravery. I told her that I really loved her legs, and―"
Denny gaped. "You got integrity and bravery and she got 'nice legs'?"
"I was nervous and all I could remember were those teeny-tiny gym pants! So sue the Wu! I moved onto more profound stuff later in the conversation. Anyway, we're continuing the conversation, so I'm happy."
Den and Nick both shook Wu's hand before he tootled off, beaming, stopping to do a mid-air heel-clip on his way out. He grinned, then checked his watch. Shit. Running late. "C'mon mate, help me hurry the others."
"No need to hurry me," Hank muttered, coming up from behind in the eye-patch and leather-jacketed garb of Nick Fury. "Totally approve of the outfit."
Monroe, thankfully, only had to get his boots on, and he made a magnificent Loki. Carianne was wearing a bib saying 'some fool put my cloak on the wrong way round'. Theo was in his inn-keeper garb, but Jan and Renard were nowhere to be seen. Den's pulse hammered slightly. They had about fifteen minutes to get to the lodge, park and get seats before the Eisbiber crew took everything over.
Denny looked down at Theo. "Know where your dad is, by any chance?"
"In the closet, with Sean."
Great – that's all he needed. The Lion and the Witch, pissing about in the Wardrobe. Denny hammered on the door. "Oi, Aslan! Get a shift on!"
"It's a bit snug, Den!"
"It's supposed to be snug! Minimal air resistance!"
"I'm not flying to the Lodge!"
"You've got another thirty seconds, then I'm going Thor on the door!"
Theo marched up and banged his little fist on the door. "Come ON Daddy!"
Renard emerged from the store cupboard. "He's just getting the boots on."
Theo's face screwed up in annoyance and Den grinned inwardly as the little man folded his arms at the Captain. "Aren't you going to wear your Batman outfit?"
Renard bent down with difficulty, took the little hands and stared long into Theo's eyes. "No."
Den waited for the ensuing argument, Theo's reverse logic, the entanglement, the tears, the emotional blackmail, and Renard's eventual defeat.
Theo just wrinkled his nose disappointedly. "Oh!"
"But I am coming to the nativity."
"Want to tell me about your day, while we wait for your Dad?"
Theo nodded vigorously. "We did natural disasters again. This time it was salamis."
Renard met Denny's eyes desperately. "Ah… salamis?"
He gave Renard no help, more than a little jealous of his instantly-effective no. "Yeah, they're deadly, didn't you know?"
"Salamis!" Theo repeated indignantly. "Big waves of them! They suck up all the water off the beach then they run in and drown everyone."
"Oh…Tsunamis!" Renard rubbed his head with his hand. "Sorry, I'm a little slow at the moment."
"Got a plastercast round your brain as well, have you?" Denny muttered, still not having forgiven him for bailing out on his Batman costume. And time was ticking on. He hammered on the stockroom door again. "OUT, NOW!"
"Alright, alright!" Jan called from inside, and at the first hint of movement on the door handle, Nick gave Hank 'the signal' to begin the theme music on his laptop.
The door opened as the Superman theme blared through the office and Jan emerged, roughly the same colour as his cape as he raked his fingers back through his flight-proofed hair, absolutely full of wax with the front curl neatly in place. There was a burst of laughter from the guys still in the squad room, then a stunned silence, then a round of applause as he took a twirl in 'the suit'.
Den whistled lowly. Nick and Monroe clapped, and Hank raised his eyepatch to murmur "Way to make the big guy look... bigger!"
Jan met his eye speculatively, and Den winked. "Suits you. Right, let's get moving."
They flocked out of the squad room and down to the car park, Theo holding his hand and murmuring his lines under his breath. Monroe adjusted his ridiculous hat, then conceded that it would have to come off to get into Jan's SUV.
"Loki love hat," Monroe intoned. "Loki reinstating it as soon as we park chariot."
"Loki wear hat in audience, Thor donk Loki with Mjollnir," Denny retorted, beginning to get stage fright on Theo's behalf. They loaded up into the cars, both in the car-park and down the block, making their way to the Lodge. Denny breathed out properly at last as they arrived in time, and Jan swept down to the front with Theo, delivering him safely to Sally to take his position back stage. Den briefly waved to Bud, dressed rather improbably as the Green Arrow, who was sitting close to the front with Janie and the older three kids, in a similar state of nerves. Matty was in the nativity, too.
They took their places as the lights were coming down in the huge underground hall. Jan sat on the aisle to stretch out his blue legs and be close by in case Theo needed emotional rescue. Next to him sat Nick, then Hank, Monroe and Rosalee. Livvy and Renard were on the far end of the aisle, with Remus and Helene taking up positions a little further down so Helene could hear the play and the direction of little feet.
Rosalee smiled across at Denny encouragingly. She'd been let off the whole costume thing, but had made a bit of an effort with the wonder woman tiara, lasso of truth and 80s makeup and hair. Nick nudged Monroe before the drooling created a health and safety hazard. The lights dimmed further apart from a spotlight in front of the stage, into which Sally strode, clapping her hands together.
"Good evening parents! Welcome to the first Beeber Babies nativity play! Now, your little ones have been working really hard to make this a lovely play for you all to remember. I would love it if you all give the proper parental support at all times. Enjoy yourselves. Thank you!"
"That means no giggling," Denny muttered quietly down the aisle.
Monroe leant across. "Way to create a bunch of straight-faced adults! Tell them they're not allowed to giggle. Great…"
Den felt Jan's shoulder nudge him from the side and looked over to see a slight smile.
"It'll be fine, Den. Don't worry. Just enjoy."
Den cleared his throat and tried to take it easy as the music started up.
: : : : :
Nick folded his arms as the play began, really looking forward to it. A line of toddlers shambled to the front of the stage, their piping voices ringing out clearly in the hall as, from left to right, they were each allocated a word to call out from "It was a dark night in Bethlehem." They got the words in mostly the right order and shambled off, left and right. From behind them, EisLowen Matty Wurstner stomped to the front of the stage dressed as a lamb – the most furious-looking lamb in nativity history – shouted "animals were sleeping!" and stomped off the stage. Monroe was the first to break the no-giggling rule.
Nick bit his red-and-yellow knuckles. A sideways look caught Bud and Janie beaming proudly in the front row, all moist-eyed. There was a brief, random song and the play began in earnest as a little boy and girl filed onto the stage, far right.
"OH LOOK," Mary shouted, "AN INN!"
"HOW LUCKY!" Joseph agreed, and manhandled the little girl across the stage, almost dislodging the pillow under her cassock. Joseph was being played by Tristan, son of the Unruhigbison arsehole Denny had scrapped with in the car park. Nick glanced sideways at Den, who was watching from between a gap in his fingers. Mary and Joseph pushed their way through a mid-stage curtain to the Inn on the other side, where Theo stood behind a little desk. Nick felt like laughing just feeling the nerves washing off Denny from his left.
"ARE YOU THE INNKEEPER?" Joseph boomed.
"WE ARE WEARY AND NEED A PLACE TO STAY!"
"Well it won't be here," Theo said, "We're full. We've even got Shepherds on the floor in the bathroom."
Denny gave a low groan and tried to stick his head between his knees. Nick managed to bite his lip, but there was a snorting explosion from Hank to his right.
"SHE'S HAVING A BABY!" Joseph rallied, pointing at the cushion. "SHE NEEDS... FOOD AND..."
"Succour," supplied Mary, who was quiet, but clearly on top of her script.
"YEAH! WE NEED FOOD AND SUCKER!"
Theo eyed Mary's bump speculatively. "You need hospital. Now."
"THERE IS NO HOSPITAL IN THIS VILLAGE!"
"Go past the camels and right at the haystack," Theo said kindly, then fumbled around behind the desk, looking for all the world like a hotel manager who'd lost a set of room keys. "Look, I can see you're tired. I'll find you a donkey."
Nick lost his fight with the giggles and stifled the noise in his palms as Joseph gaped helplessly at this unexpected turn in the script.
"That was from our first run-through," Denny protested in a whisper to Jan, breaking out of his friend's mock-throttle, "when I was trying to get him to relax!"
Jan got to his feet and slid round the side of the stage, all grace and swishing cape, and bent down to whisper in Theo's ear.
"But they're not meant to get in at first!" Theo protested in a loud whisper. More murmuring from Jan. "Oh, alright!"
"DO YOU HAVE A BED FOR US?" Joseph said desperately.
"We have a barn," Theo grudgingly admitted. "It's a bit smelly, but I'll clear out the manger. Come on then, if you're coming."
The lights dimmed for the manger scene and the scraping noise of rearranged props and furniture barely concealed the helpless laughter up and down the UFRS seats, Hank almost hyperventilating into his coat next to Nick as the lights came on for the next scene. Thankfully, Theo only had one more line: "Good luck", and trotted off to a round of applause before handing the scene back to Joseph.
Nick was in pain from silent laughter and repeated jabs in the ribs from Denny's elbow (only partly cushioned by the suit) by the time Mary's pillow had been born as a tiny tears doll and the three wise men had forgotten every single one of their lines between them, and then all the children moved on to discordant carol singing.
He was still wiping his eyes by the time Denny pulled in outside Jan's place, and he didn't know who needed more help getting into the front room – him, or Livvy.
They all spilled into the front room, which currently looked like an explosion in a tinsel factory, and Helene briefly hung back to speak to Remus. Nick noted that Denny looked on with his arms folded. Again.
"Do I get to see your gorgeousness again on Boxing Day?"
Helene rolled her eyes. "That is a really, really cheesy line, Remus."
"Do you like cheese?"
"In small doses!"
"Good. The Dutch are good at cheese. It's a national thing. Let's arrange a nibbling session in a couple of days, hé?"
Nick chuckled as he firmly installed his number in her phone, and then swept off with Renard. They weren't staying. Nick was glad in a way… it meant he could completely relax. He was glad that Renard had seen the nativity. Watching the world's most composed man trying to hide in his trenchcoat was a sight that he'd treasure for a little while, and it was good to see him let his hair down a little. It was good that they had a basis to move forward, but things just weren't that cosy, yet.
Moving slightly awkwardly in his Iron Man suit, Nick clanked over to the beanbag by the coffee table and collapsed into it opposite Monroe, who was still spluttering and wiping his face.
"The songs!" he wept, taking his hat off again. "I thought I was going to break something!"
"Not my fault!" Denny repeated for the fifth time, sitting on the edge of the couch. "It was an innocent mishearing that was... catching."
Jan raised his brows as he bent across Denny to place a huge tray of drinks on the coffee table. "I've never heard the porn version of 'We wish you a merry christmas' before, and I never want to hear it again."
Well, that was just asking for it. Simultaneously, Nick, Hank and Monroe burst into 'Good tidings we bring, to you and your ding…" making Jan roll his eyes, particularly as Den boomed 'I have excellent news!' at Jan's red-and-yellow groin, which was at face-level with him.
Jan pushed his face away affectionately but disappeared for a few minutes and came back more normally dressed in a pair of jeans and white shirt. Holding an armful of shiny things. "Right folks, presents…."
Nick fell on the little pile growing on his feet like a small kid, guarding them jealously against Theo, who seemed determined to 'help' him to open them. He managed to get a couple open by himself, without little fingers attacking his wrapping up paper. Two new shirts from Jan – very much appreciated – even the little note that came with it. Dear Grown-up Grimm, stop dressing like a teenager. Love J xx
Den got him a crate of very decent beers. Monroe's gift was a little art set and a transparency grid so he could transfer the teeny-tiny wesen pictures from his pocket book to his Grimm memoire books (or the Grimm Grimmoires, as he called them) without stuffing up the proportions. Hank got him his own stationery set for his desk at work (to keep him from stealing the stuff all the time) and from Livvy… a big hug and a copy of 'the sound of silence' by Simon and Garfunkel. He burst out laughing.
"I think we can forget the filter rule," he muttered. But Jan put it on the speakers anyway.
There was a moment of noisy happiness from Denny as he charged out to the garage and then ran back in again, holding an electronic drum-kit – his present from Jan. He hugged Jan upside down as he pitched enthusiastically head-first over the couch and then spilled onto the floor in a grinning heap. Theo sat cheerfully on top of him while he set up his Firefighter Pete training tower and practiced squirting everyone with it.
After half an hour, they all sat pretty much hip-high in silver paper, everyone having exchanged the presents they'd left at Jan's over the last few days for a total swap-meet experience. Nick had bought Livvy's for her. She sat on his lap on the bean bag for a little while, then ventured outside for some cool air while Monroe distracted them all reading out filthy passages from his present from Denny – '50 Sheds of Grey'.
Denny met Nick's eye and jerked his head at Livvy. "She alright?"
"It's the first first," Nick said, referring to her significant calendar moment as a single, all over again. At some point in the year, she'd have to deal with his birthday and her birthday, too. And probably with not a huge amount of support from her mom. Livvy didn't look upset, and wasn't glowing, but she did look wistful. It didn't matter that her ex was a lucky escape – it still hurt. He got that.
Jan passed Denny the mistletoe. "Take her mind off Graham, eh?"
Denny grinned. "I'll do my best…"
Nick sat back cheerfully as Denny snuck up behind Livvy and spoke quietly to her for a few minutes, rubbing her shoulder. She chatted back quietly and Nick noticed her glowing white as she laughed slightly. White – not pink. She'd gone white this morning when he'd made her breakfast. Happy. He was happy for her.
Then through the window, he heard Denny say 'Ooo, look! Portable Mistletoe!"
Livvy looked up, Denny's face came down and he snogged her absolutely silly, during which the white glow off the front porch became absolutely blinding and Nick had to follow Jan into the kitchen to get his vision back. Theo cut the kiss short by banging his fist on the window and yelling 'EUGH!' at them. Nick very much doubted that she was thinking much about Graham anymore, or that she'd be thinking about him for the rest of the evening. Or possibly, from the continued glow and crossed eyes as they came back indoors, for the next couple of weeks. She'd probably even survive her Mom's Boxing Day visit, still glowing white.
Nick popped open another drink, watching everyone completely unwind to the point that Hank and Monroe were playing chess across Rosalee's bump, accusing each other of moving the pieces whenever little one kicked inside. He knew difficult stuff was coming, but it all seemed… completely manageable with this lot around.
Jan nudged him. "You alright, Nick?"
"Definitely." Then Nick remembered something Renard had said earlier. "The Captain said he'd lost you to Personnel. What did he mean?"
"I'm off the Squad – back to Captaincy. I'm Director of Personnel, now."
"What?" Nick blinked. He needed someone like Jan on the streets and cases with him. "Uh, I mean… congratulations but… isn't that usually a punishment post? Like if you write off the AC's car, or something?"
"DeMarcos did give me the post," Jan chuckled, "but he evidently he gave Renard some blerther about 'putting the people person in charge of the people'. I'm quite happy with that, as it happens. Means I get to spend more time with these two." He cuddled Carianne and nodded his head over at Theo, who'd taken over the iPad to select dance music.
"Won't your lowen streak miss the 'live' stuff?" Nick yelled, trying to be heard over the top of the speaker music.
"Not really, Nick. I'm essentially Non-Violent."
"You belted me with a fish a few days ago. Didn't feel very non-violent to me."
"That was a mackerel. If I were violent, it would've been a tuna."
Nick chuckled. It was good to see Jan back to his former self, even if he did think it was madness cooping up a lion in an office. He was going to argue his point, but 'Gangnam Style' blasted its way through the loudspeakers, getting everyone to their feet – including Rosalee. Nick took Carianne from Jan and danced with her, while he, Denny, Hank and Monroe went into a frenzy of ridiculous but very coordinated lassoing. Weird, how life had gone from being very, very hard to very, very promising in just over a week. He let himself go a little bit, took a swig of beer, handed Carianne to Livvy, and joined in the dancing.
X x X
Sean returned to his office to find the huge box still on his desk. Yeah, like he'd dress as Batman in his own squad room. He may be an increasingly wieder Hexenbiest, but he still had his standards, thanks very much. He opened the box, but the Batman costumed wasn't folded in there, as he'd believed. Instead, he and saw a note from Miller, on top of a new long-sleeved teeshirt, this one reading 'Dark Dude' instead of 'Evasive Dude'. The note read simply 'get your solitary arse over to ours for dinner, 6.30 start. Non-negotiable.'
He smiled, slightly, very much appreciating the gesture.
As it happened, his 'arse' wasn't solitary this evening. He and Remus had plans to see how much he could drink and still remain upright on his crutches. He was looking forward to that. And for the first time in so long, he was actually looking forward to going back to work after he'd survived his hangover. There was a team at work now and he was inside it, rather than outside. At some point, it might even be a family.
He did plan to stop off at Jan's – just for a moment – to drop off the little present he'd got for Theo. He'd been somewhat distracted, earlier. He got the shiny little box out of his desk and locked up, smiling at Remus as they headed for the car park. It was nice… to have someone to spend Christmas Eve with.
He put the Firefighter Pete toy accessory on the back seat as Remus pulled out onto the street.
Denny wouldn't be particularly happy with him, Sean reflected with a grin, but he couldn't resist the aptness of the gift and had gone back to buy it.
It really was what every family needed at Christmas.
A burning building.
I'd like to thank with HUGE hugs and kisses all of you who have followed, favourited, and those of you who have been so generous and detailed in your reviews over the course of this story and the series. I cannot believe I've effectively written a Grimm novel here, lol, in the time taken for a series of Grimm to pass…
Particular thanks to Nahaliel, Shadewatcher, General Z, Miguard and Morena for kicking my butt in the nicest possible way and keeping me going during low-motivation and confidence points when my make-it-up-as-i-go policy was getting on top of me. D Squirrel – huge hugs for making me laugh so much with your chapter-by-chapter observations since… pretty much the first story I wrote, actually! Many thanks to those of you who have also helped me with language, donated an anecdote (thank you for the black pepper cake story, Morena!) and generally helped a flappy artiste to be less of a diva and more of an author.
I'm really grateful for all your support. I had writer's block for 8 years before returning to this board and feel very different about writing now. I might even have another go at writing that damn novel that's been gathering dust for the last four of those 8 years!
I've still got the Grimm Grimmoire going and will update it, and will post a shorter story in a while (when I've got my breath back) to round things up – 'The Blutbau Cometh'. I've been asked by a couple of people if I'd consider writing some early-years pieces, featuring Jan and Nick when he was a rookie. I think this would be fun, but as it would be a blatant AU thing, I'd be grateful for a show of hands if you'd be interested in reading.
I know this chapter's been super-long but hey, it's a finale.
Thanks a million for following!