A couple of people had suggested I write some early-years pieces with Nick before he becomes a Grimm, and his first partner Jan, who he finds (many, many years later) is actually wesen. And being a Koninglowen is a hard secret to keep when you're pathologically honest (as Jan is). It's been fun building younger versions of Lt. Renard, Wu and Hank in there, as well….

And here we go. It's going to be some one-shot stories under the same 'Life less Grimm' title, but this first 'short story' was threatening to turn into about 30 pages, so I've cut it in half. I hope you enjoy – second half coming up really soon!

X x X

Nick stared out the window as he and Fuller headed back to Portland PD, having to hold himself up in his seat as the yammering next to him threatened to pound him down and down. If the guy didn't care about him so much, he'd have hit him by now. Well, no, he wouldn't. Course not. But he would certainly have told him to shut the hell up quite some time ago.

"...and those cases are just sick, man. I'm telling you - you're a nice kid―"

"I'm not a kid!"

"―and that role will change you. You'll have no personal time. You do the 'hours that the job requires'. That love life you've been looking for? Won't happen. If it does, you'll last a year and then the woman in your life will get jealous of your marriage to your job―"

"You want to encourage me some more?" Nick flung his hands up, but Fuller was on a roll.

"...I mean, why not pick a really nice peaceful team like Homicide or grand theft?"

"Because you have to do your years in other squads first. No Captain's going to let me go straight to Homicide!"

"I know the route to detective, Nick. You've barely done your street time. Three years out of the academy?"

"Four."

"And applying to start out in Special Victims Unit? You may as well go straight to Homicide! SVU will give you nightmares. Child abuse. Battered wives. Prostitutes given the ripper treatment―"

"Ok, enough," Nick barked, and felt a little bad as Fuller silenced abruptly, lips pinched and grey-haired fingers heavy on the steering wheel. He softened his tone a little. Fuller had been with him since he left the academy. His feelings mattered. "I've applied for detective. That's as far as I've got. I may fail everything, ok?"

"Yeah, right."

"Well if you seem so confident that I won't fail the tests, what makes you think I can't handle the jobs?"

"It's not about you being unable to handle the jobs. It's about whether the jobs are going to handle you right. Good guys become detectives then become hardened shits. Don't want to see that happen to you."

Nick sighed a little. Aunt Marie got like this sometimes, too. Fuller had this way of assuming that what happened in his own family was absolutely going to happen everywhere else. His son had become a detective, and then gotten ambitious. Nick got the impression that there was some sneering involved, with the son feeling that he'd very much 'overtaken' his old man. "Whelan," he said carefully, "Is this really about me becoming a detective, or is it about me having to transfer out of Portland if I get the post I want?"

Fuller gave him a long, stony look, his watery blue eyes drilling him out. Then eventually cracked a reluctant smile. "Both, son. Both."

The despatch radio crackled, saving Nick from having to find a reply. He picked up. "Unit 332 responding."

"Domestic disturbance reported at apartment 512 on 230 Freeland. A neighbour heard a scream and a shot fired. Detective Vergeer's already en route, so please provide whatever backup required."

"If we get there first, we're going in first," Fuller yelled from his driving seat as he performed a heart-stopping U-turn on Buckman Drive.

"I'll relay that to Vergeer," the despatch operator muttered and clicked off.

Nick put the radio down. "Fer-who?"

"Who cares? You know, Gresham's a mess with Helen Wilson running the place. They're all process and no uniform, over there. It's why we're having to cover their patch all the time."

Nick gritted his teeth and snapped on siren and lights before Fuller could scare the crap out of another school-run mom with his wild lane weaving. Captain Wilson had always been perfectly pleasant to him. He'd taken to dropping evidence between the precincts at shift-end. Fuller called this sucking-up: he felt it was sensible to get to know the people he might end up working for. He wouldn't mind working under Lieutenant Renard, from West Side. He was kind of quiet and looked grave enough to model for the fifth face of Mount Rushmore, but he was civil. Captain DeMarcos... Nick shuddered just thinking about Portland's shouty, short-assed megalomaniac. Everyone was quietly begging for him to retire.

"...You're not listening to me, are you, Nick?"

"You're kind of going into repeat, now," Nick muttered. "Ok - we're there. Let's go."

Fuller bolted up the stairs first as he always did, service piece out like he planned to encounter a terrorist at every landing. Nick overtook on the third floor while Fuller stopped to wheeze, then a huge, huge guy in a dark brown leather jacket bounded past him, taking the stairs three at a time.

Nick stepped up his pace a little and found the guy waiting for him at the top of the fifth landing with hand outstretched and a friendly smile with a prominent left eye tooth. He produced ID as soon as Nick cleared the top step and he felt a tiny thrill of enthusiasm to be working, however temporarily, with someone who was already in SVU. But primarily, Nick struggled to get past the man's vastness. He felt his entire hand, save his thumb, disappear into Vergeer's light grip. "You're Detective… uh… Ver-geer?"

"Fver-gkay-er, but call me Jan. We can work on the Dutch-surname-from-hell later. Are you guys here for the domestic disturbance in 512?"

"Yeah." Nick followed Jan down the winding corridors. He seemed to know exactly where he was going, but even if Jan had been following the door numbering as a guide, as Nick would've had to do, the sounds of crashing and banging would've drawn them to the right spot. Jan covered ground quickly, but Nick didn't spot any real urgency in his pace.

"The guy inside is Benji Orson. He's something of a 'repeat customer', unfortunately. We go back a little way. Do you mind if I…?"

Nick took Jan's vague gesture at the door of 512 to mean 'go first', and made an equally vague gesture to suggest that Jan should knock himself out.

Jan leant against the door jamb, his forearm resting over the top of the frame. "Benji! This has to stop right now. Let me in. Don't make things difficult for yourself."

Nick stared. "Are you always this chilled about domestic assault?"

"It's not an assault, it's a disturbance. If there's any beating or murdering going on, it'll be happening on his TV, not in the apartment." Jan hammered on the door. "Benji, we talked about this. You're going to get yourself evicted and then where will you go?"

"What's up with him?" Nick flinched as he heard something smashing from within, but tuned in to the screams he could hear: they were identical, each one of them. Like something was on rewind.

"He's been labouring under the misapprehension that he's a superhero."

Nick made full contact with Jan's dark green pupils, but the guy was completely sincere. "So, uh… is he trying to rescue people on the TV?"

"This is one of his more harmless quirks, believe me. I've threatened him with noise abatement orders before, but sadly he just won't be told. He knows he's getting arrested this time." Jan sighed and banged on the door again. "You have one minute to open up, then I'm coming in!"

"I don't want to seem rude, but if this is just about a noisy neighbour, why are SVU involved?"

Vergeer rubbed the back of his head ruefully. "Sorry. I should explain. I'm not here as an SVU detective. I just have a lot of experience in dealing with Benji. He's an awkward character."

The guy had a calming voice. A calming presence in general. Nick could imagine him being able to get people to open doors when others had failed. "Awkward how?"

"Well, when he feels cornered, he― Whoa, don't'!" Vergeer lunged suddenly behind Nick and grabbed Fuller's wrist just as he was about to pound on the door.

"What the… Get off, man!"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to grab ―"

"Looked pretty …delib'rut to me." Fuller tried to gather breath to yell 'Portland PD' through the door, but he was purple, wheezy and sweaty from his effort of conquering the stairs and staggered a little. Nick put a hand on his shoulder, concerned, and a little embarrassed that he'd only just noticed how far behind they'd left him.

Vergeer propped Fuller up against the wall. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine!" Fuller pointed indignantly at the sounds of female screaming on the other side of the door. "They're not! I'm…following protocol!"

"And that's absolutely correct, but in Benji's case, we can't panic him. He has this medical condition which makes him―"

"I don't give a… damn whether he… panics or not!" Fuller stuck his hands on his hips, still dripping and breathless. "Look, I… know you SVU guys think you're 'all that', but this… empathise-with-the-perp shit doesn't wash with me. We've been called out and… can't leave till we've seen clean, bloodless carpet for ourselves."

Nick looked pleadingly at his partner. Fuller's anti-detective antagonism had moved from being annoying to being obstructive. "Whelan, please listen..."

Fuller finally seemed to pick up on the fact that it was exactly the same scream coming through the door over and over. He glared at Nick, making him feel like he'd swapped sides in some great cold war. "Fine. You guys do all the pussy-footing you need to do. I'm going back to Portland."

"Whelan―"

"Just make sure the place's clean alright, Nick?"

"Whelan!" Nick felt himself shrivelling inside as Fuller stomped off down the corridor and to the stairs, panting and straining all the way. "Dammit!"

Jan shot him a sympathetic look. "He's old school, isn't he?"

Nick's face felt hot. "He's a good guy. He's just having a hard time with some… changes."

"Nothing wrong with old school. We need the senior beat cops as mentors." Vergeer cleared his throat awkwardly. "This is none of my business, but your partner needs to go for another fitness test. He sounds terrible."

"I know," Nick muttered. And he'd nagged Whelan about this any number of times, but the simple fact was that the guy would not go until forced to through a disciplinary, because as soon as he did a medical, the doc would probably confirm that he did have emphysema, and he'd have to medically retire. As hard as it was getting to cover Whelan's lack of fitness, Nick couldn't blame the poor guy from holding off on 'doc day' for as long as he could possibly get away with it.

Jan ran his fingers through thick black hair and tried to break the tension a little. "So, Nick, are you going after Whelan, or are you going to help me bring Benji in?"

Nick felt that he and Fuller could do with a short break. "What happens when he panics?"

"It really depends on how he's coping with his meds, but he'll typically put his costume on and then go psychotic."

"His…costume?"

"He has a few," Jan said casually. "None of them fit well. His heart is in the right place, but he's a loose cannon. He shouldn't be living alone, as I've told probation any number of times. He used to turn up at shootings dressed as a paramedic. Unfortunately it took jail time to stop him from doing that, and he's become more unstable since then, despite the range of meds he's on."

It seemed pretty sad, really. Nick grimaced as a 'live' howl of rage came through the door and there was a loud thump, followed by silence from the TV. He and Jan shared a hopeful look – fingers crossed he'd smashed it by accident – but as if to compensate for the merciful quiet, Benji started to throw things round his flat in frustration.

Jan yelled through the door. "Benji! That's enough! You've got ten seconds to open up, or―"

"HEY, YOU FREAK!" The yell from behind Nick knocked him off balance with surprise and he was thrust to the floor by a crazed, heavy-set guy wearing sweats from head to foot who'd burst between them to hammer on the door. "I WORK NIGHTS! YOU KNOW I WORK FUCKIN' NIGHTS! I'M GONNA RIP YOUR TV OUT AND THROW IT DOWN THE STAIRS, THEN THROW YOUR ASS AFTER IT!"

A moment of quiet from within… and then the sound of smashing plates or glasses. Oh, crap. Nick recovered himself and pulled the wild-eyed neighbour away, getting between him and the door so Jan could get in and deal with Benji. "Calm yourself down and get back in your apartment please, Sir."

"CALM DOWN? I haven't slept in weeks! I've had it! I've fucking had it! How long's it going to take? You've been out there ten goddamn minutes shouting through the door!"

"Now, Sir!" Nick insisted and pushed him back towards 508. But the guy had clearly been pushed too far, because even as Jan strode over to help him, Nick took an almighty punch in the gut which dropped him onto hands and knees, and then a booted, clumsy foot smacked into the side of his face as the guy tried lunging back for the door again, seemingly determined to kick it down. Nick felt blood on his lip and his eyes crossed. He tried pulling his feet back under him but couldn't get his legs to work or his chest to re-fill. He was vaguely aware of Jan easily overcoming his underslept assailant and bundling him back into his apartment with dire comments about being let off officer assault charges, then heard him yell 'officer down!' at the top of his lungs.

Nick lifted his head to choke out words along the lines of 'hey, I'm just winded', but got stuck at the first H, and suddenly found himself being moved purposefully onto his side on the floor facing the door in gutshot position, his knees up and hands across his middle. What the…?

"NICK, SPEAK TO ME!" Jan yelled into his face, and again, Nick tried explaining he was fine, albeit bruised, when Jan bent down and spoke quietly. "Sorry about the indignity, but if you could moan and groan a bit? Thanks…"

Well, that was no problem. His cheekbone and ribs were still on fire. "Ugh," he managed, sucking air back in frantically. And for good measure, "Unnnnnh!"

"Excellent. Keep it up. A bit louder, if you can. BENJI, HELP!"

"Aghhh!" Nick added helpfully, reopening the cut in his lip, then Jan's grand plan bore fruit. Benji burst from his apartment, gun in one hand, first aid box in the other, dressed in a long black cape, a filthy white tank stretched over a pot belly, and obscenely small leather red shorts. At an almost-gentle toe-prod from Jan, he remembered to stop staring and carry on yelling. "Aggggh!"

"INCOMING! hey! Hey, leggo, Jan! What're you…. hey!"

"Sorry, Benji." Jan disarmed him smoothly, tossed the gun further down the corridor and got his hands behind his back in cuffs in seconds. "I'd rather that wasn't necessary, but you weren't really listening to reason back there, were you?"

"Y-you tricked me!"

Benji's eyes opened wide and disbelieving. Nick saw the misunderstood hero's head roll slightly on his neck, then his face ― under the hood ―took on the most miserable, woe begotten expression he'd ever seen as he was tugged slowly and gently down the corridor to the lift.

"No choice, Benji," Jan said lightly. "Where will you go if you get evicted? We talked about this. The TV whumping has to stop." His Miranda warning rumbled on as they disappeared round the corner. "I'm arresting you for creating a public nuisance…"

Nick got to his feet slowly and stumbled into Benji's flat. The TV was broken, as suspected, so he unplugged it, put a fire blanket from the kitchen over the smashed screen as a precaution, and grabbed a shirt and jeans from Benji's cupboard, sticking it in a plastic bag. The guy wouldn't last five minutes in lock-up dressed like that. He retrieved Benji's keys from the inside of the door and took them with him before locking up. As he trailed Jan and Benji downstairs, he had to run the gauntlet of a number of angry, muttering neighbours who made noisy comments about what the crackpot ws keeping in his apartment, apart from (probably) a load of weapons. Then Nick understood Jan's extreme reluctance to kick that door down. Benji's place would've been raided or trashed as soon as they left the building.

He probed his cheekbone gingerly as he trotted down the steps. He probably hadn't made the best impression. Couldn't even stop himself from getting beaten up by an angry neighbour.

And as for the mess of his face…. Whelan would probably get about four weeks of lecturing mileage out of the bruise on his cheek after only fifteen minutes spent with an SVU detective. Great.

: : : : :

Jan opted to get Benji in the lift rather than parade him down the stairs – plus, there was the danger he'd try to break free and seriously hurt himself if he fell with his hands tied behind his back. Benji woged in miserable protest as Jan led him out into the street and Jan found himself looking around in paranoia: it still seemed incredible to him that what he could see so clearly, no one else could. Well, no one non-wesen, that was. Except maybe a Grimm and they were, thank God, a very, very rare species.

That said, there was just a moment up on the fifth floor corridor that Jan thought Nick had seen Benji shift. He'd frowned, looked bemused, but then gone to close up his apartment. Jan smiled inwardly as he pushed Benji into the back seat of the squad car and buckled him up. Nick had played along with his plan with a pleasing degree of flexibility. He seemed a nice guy: willing to play along to the unconventional approach. He seemed ridiculously young, too. Probably only a couple of years out of the academy.

Benji, all raisin-headed and needle-toothed under his cape, thrashed away in the back seat, drooling unattractively.

"Would you stop that? I borrowed this squad car. If I have to explain your slime to anyone…"

"You're supposed to be a friend!"

Jan rolled his eyes. "Benji, we're not friends. You are the federal pain the ass. I am the cop sent to fetch you all the time. It's not a restful relationship, is it? I just don't want to see you screwed more than necessary, that's all. Now shift back before the wind blows and you get stuck like that."

"They're gonna kill me in lock-up," Benji whined, shifted back to the shape of a middle-aged man with a four-day beard and hairy shoulders, and sat disconsolately in the back seat.

He cursed inwardly. Damn. He'd have to make sure they had a jumpsuit for Benji to change into before he spent any time cooling off in the cells, or he'd get himself severely harrassed. "We'll figure something out, alright?"

: : : : :

Nick emerged from the building and looked around, then strode over and got in the front seat of the car, a plastic bag in his hand. "Got his keys and some slightly more… uh… normal clothes."

Jan felt like punching the air. "Nick, you're brilliant."

Nick gave a timid grin. "Brownie points?"

"Brownie, donut and possibly cake points, too." Jan pulled out into traffic and they got to Gresham in five minutes. The duty sergeant sighed none too discreetly as he booked Benji in and led him off to an interrogation room to change before taking him down to lock up.

Nick fought with his phone a little: mobile signals seemed to come to Gresham to die. A few positions up in the air seemed to make no difference, then Jan cleared his throat and pointed at the phone on the desk.

"Would you like to borrow?

"Great, thanks. Need to call Whelan and get a lift back to Portland."

"I can drop you, if you like. You know, if asking him a favour would feel a little awkward, right now."

Nick was hugely relieved. "It would. It really would."

As much as he was desperate to get back in touch with Whelan and clear the air, Jan was relaxing to be around. And so… polite. Even with Benji. There was something slightly hypnotic about the accent, too. Quite apart from having a really, really deep voice, Jan spoke English as if he were taught by a really, really old English person and not through an American school or tutor. His English was from another era, when people still wrote each other letters and guys called their father 'Sir'.

They trotted down to the underground carpark. Nick kept moving towards a slightly battered red SUV towards the back of the park – it looked like the only vehicle that would fit Jan ― when he heard a 'bip' of a car door opening and he turned back to see Jan opening the driverside door of a beautifully sleek dark blue Alfa Spyder. He gaped, openly. Not on a detective's salary, surely? The guy must have some serious inheritance money, or something. Actually, that didn't seem unlikely at all. That, or wealthy parents. His clothes were expensive, his manners said 'prep school'…

"This is… yours?"

Jan stroked the bonnet lovingly. "She is very, very new. So you'll forgive me if I drive like a nonagenarian."

Nick chuckled and buckled up. "Anything that delays getting back to Portland and explaining 'this'," he indicated his face, "to Whelan, I'm all in favour of."

"Fine, we'll take the longer route, then." Jan pulled out smoothly onto the freeway by-road, which would add a smooth extra ten minutes to their journey. And would probably save on gas, too, Nick reckoned. It would seem like sacrilege to subject this beauty of a vehicle to a stop-start trip.

Jan spoke suddenly, once they were back on open road. "Whelan seems protective of you."

"He's the only guy I've worked with coming out of the academy. And uh… as you've probably worked out for yourself, he's a little pissed at me right now."

"What did you do?"

"I applied for detective." Said out loud, it didn't seem like such a crime. Nick was starting to get annoyed with himself for 'pussy footing' around Fuller quite so much. He'd made it clear that he wanted to be a detective when he started working with the guy. Maybe the day had just come around sooner than either of them thought.

"Ah, right."

"You been a detective long?"

Jan seemed to be counting backwards mentally. "Ah… detective rank, seven years. I've actually been a detective for about three years or so, now. For what it's worth, my partner didn't like it very much either when I moved out of uniform."

Seemed to be a common theme. "Any idea why?"

"Same kind of reasons as Whelan, I should think," Jan sighed. "It's tough on the older guys, seeing younger friends taking the plainclothes path. Some of them take it as a form of implicit criticism, as if young guys moving on says to them that they should have made the same choice many years ago, and that staying on the streets was some kind of lesser choice."

To Nick, this seemed like a big leap for Whelan to make. "I've never said anything like that!"

"I'm sure you haven't." Jan inclined his head sympathetically. "But you can't control how people are going to take things. He'll really miss you. He's reacting to that first, I think."

"I know." Nick felt a little miserable. "I got my test and interview dates last week and finally got up the nuts to tell him yesterday afternoon. I haven't slept very well lately."

"Is there a particular post you've applied for?"

"Special Victims."

"Ah. I can imagine that he's particularly unhappy about that."

"Just a tiny bit outraged, yeah. He thinks I'm joining the worst possible place. No offence."

Jan shrugged easily. "None taken."

"I've been trying to work out whether he's being realistic or overprotective, and I can't decide." Nick kind of sat and waited for Jan to roll out the red carpet, but it didn't happen. He looked like he was really carefully figuring out what to say and the fact that he had to think so hard about it didn't bode well for Jan joining his very tiny cheerleading squad, which currently consisted of two childhood friends who he texted a lot and saw once a year for pre-Christmas beers. He was hoping for more of a hand-up. Particularly as he was getting mentally attached to the idea of possibly working directly with Jan.

Jan took a deep breath as they took the home stretch to Portland. "Look, this is going to make me very unpopular, but I'm in total agreement with Whelan on this. Quite a few senior detectives ― myself included ― have appealed to the Area Commander to make SVU the same rookie-free zone that Homicide is. If you plunge straight into severe grim before you see medium grim, it can burn you out. We've lost a lot of good, young detectives from the force altogether."

"This is presuming I have no real life experience outside college and the academy," Nick said stiffly. "And if it's all so awful, why are you in SVU?"

"When you make someone safe, it's the best job in the world. Don't get me wrong. But it wasn't my first post, alright? And besides, my size gives me a slight unfair advantage. I'm not saying it's all awful, but you need a thick skin. If you're coming into the job a little jaded and battle-scarred already, you might be ok."

Nick chuckled.

"What?"

"It wasn't an option on the application, you know. 'Do you already consider yourself to be jaded and battle-scarred?' Maybe they should add it."

"They will, at the interview. It'll all get very personal, trust me. When I applied, I had about twenty minutes of questions about what a trust-fund brat thought he could bring to the Police Force."

"What did you say?"

"Biceps."

Nick laughed properly this time, the tension broke a little, and then they were back at Portland. He swung the door open and climbed out carefully. His lower ribs still hurt a little. "Thanks for the lift, anyway. And the uh… unique experience."

Jan's dark green eyes met his through a thatch of messy black hair as he bent over the shotgun seat, "Good luck with Whelan. Oh, by the way… for SVU, ask yourself this honest question. If you think you can go home five nights out of seven and say 'hey, I didn't finish the job, but I did my best', then you will be ok. But if you're a clear-up obsessive, it's not for you. Decide what's important before you make any decisions, alright? That's all I'm saying."

Nick gave him a half-smile. "Alright." Then trotted up the stairs under those pretentious stone arches. Whelan, icebags and lectures awaited.

X x X

Three weeks later…

Jan peeled himself out of bed and snatched his mobile up from the dressing table, fumbling to solve the hideous equation that he had to work out to turn the alarm off. His bruise-addled, sleepless brain got to X = 24 eventually, just as the shrieking sound was on the verge of making him woge. Blissful silence reigned. It was a weird form of morning torture, but he knew that unless he set obstacles for himself, he would snooze and snooze and then have to start thinking of excuses for being late. He wiped sleep from his eyes and noted two new messages: one from John Wu, the other from his Captain. He decided that both could wait until he was clean, suited and booted.

He climbed into the shower, taking care not to sponge any bruises too hard. At least his face escaped last night's battering mostly intact. He knew Drangzoornen could rip, tear and bite their way out of a corner, but he'd forgotten about their evil punching. The two representatives from the shipping company he'd gone to see ― purely to make them aware of a human trafficking ring that had become apparent ― had taken one look at him, then each other, almost punched his lights out, then fled.

Jan groaned under the hot spray. He was stiff everywhere from chasing them down. On one hand, his Koninglowen nature was useful for steering a foot chase into a dead end and trapping his prey until backup arrived. On the other hand, there appeared to be a great deal of truth in the phrase 'the bigger they are, they harder they fall'. He couldn't help but feel that the Drangzorn suspects had applied excessive force in evading arrest. After several minutes of scuffle in his human form, he'd lost patience and woged completely to his Pride King – full lion - and finally subdued them.

He hated full woge. He preferred a mane, tooth and claw spurt for demonstration purposes only, without the lingering joint aches and decimated clothing. Another seam-ripped shirt and pair of slacks went in the bin as soon as he got home – as did his shoes, unable to take the strain of paws bursting through the leather. Human clothes weren't designed to take that kind of abuse. He remembered once asking his father how he was supposed to cope with full-woge occurrences on a practical basis. By way of wholly useless information, his father explained that 'Tante' Delphine, a Jijgerbaarin with whom he'd had an indiscreet affair, saved herself a lot of money during her post-natal depression by sticking to elasticated pants and skirts, soft jumpers, flipflops and sandals. Well, that might work for Delphine, but it wouldn't really add to his image in the office. Particularly not in winter.

Jan rinsed off carefully, towelled himself off and got dressed. One quart of milk and a pastrami sub later, he picked up his messages. John Wu had a flat and wanted a lift into PPD before Jan headed to Gresham. Fine. Jan texted back: 'be outside your apartment at 8.30. With spare coffee flask.' The calls from Captain Wilson he picked up a little more gingerly. She sounded congested and furious in equal measure.

Jan, you still have not selected your rookie from the pile of 'passes' I left on your desk. Stop evading this. I want your decision emailed by midday today. I know your views on SVU as a first post, but you just don't get any say in it. Luckily for you, I'm too sick to come in today to kick your butt. Unluckily for you, Lieutenant Renard is authorised to send pictures of you to every Asian store in a ten mile radius, warning them to arm themselves if you try to buy satay sauce.

There was a short pause for violent coughing mid-message, and Jan stared in disbelief at his phone. That was cold. He was addicted to satay sauce.

Oh, and Sergeant Franco told me you got pulled around a lot last night with the container arrests. I hope you're ok. Send that email! Bye.

Jan huffed out an irritable breath, grabbed his jacket, and made for his car.

Wu was waiting by the curb when he pulled up, holding not just the spare coffee but also a very welcome Danish pastry. He buckled up and they were swinging into traffic in no time, but drove in unusual silence for a few moments. Jan glanced over.

"You alright?"

"Yeah."

"John..."

"Ok then, no. I feel lousy. I needed to force one of my guys into a physical. He's seriously out of shape. He'd told me that he'd been to the doctor and that he was fine, but I just happened to know that he's bullshitting."

"About the appointment, or that he's fine?" Jan changed lanes, still listening, wondering if he was talking about Whelan.

"Both. And he's a confrontational type. Mass awkwardness."

"I'm sorry."

"Hey, it's the life of a sergeant. Apparently." Wu swigged on his coffee and took a pastry from the greasy bag on the dash, which rested on the little rubber mat that Jan kept to protect his leather from his colleagues' greasy snacks. He ate it over the plastic sheet that Jan also kept to protect his seats from his colleagues' greasy snacks. Wu mockingly tucked the corner of the sheet into his collar like a napkin. "Still feeling a little protective of your 'baby', Jan?"

"I'm going to be precious about my car until she's at least a year old. Be glad I'm not making you wear a bib."

Wu rolled his eyes and chuckled. "Those two last pastries are yours."

"Thank you."

"It's his partner I feel for," Wu suddenly went on. "He's been carrying them for months. I tried to get him to talk about it over a beer but he just gave me the big grey innocent eyes and clammed up."

"Younger guy loyalty?"

"Yeah, probably. Ah well. Immaterial now. The appointment was a few days ago and he asked for some 'thinking time'. He gets back this afternoon. Tell you what, I am so not looking forward to our meeting – particularly if he asks for more time out, which I can't give him. Fingers crossed I don't get my head knocked off."

Jan laughed as he pulled up outside Portland. John Wu was the resident Mr Mayaki. "I'd like to see him try."

"Presuming I survive the conversation, fancy joining me and some of the others for Chinese later? We've got an all-you-can-eat table booked at the Hung Fa Lo."

"You only go there because of the name! Thanks, but no." Jan grimaced at the thought of his cafe appointment with the 'Phoebes'. They provided vital information but they were more than a little grabby. He'd rather have Chinese with the guys. "I have a date with three ladies, alas."

Wu shook his head disbelievingly as he got out of the car. "Only you could get 'alas' into that sentence. It just doesn't belong! Anyway, thanks for the ride. Beers soon, right?"

"Very soon." Jan waved and headed back to Gresham, wondering how Nick was after his doubtlessly awkward reunion with Whelan. Nick's file was one of the four left with him from which he should 'choose his rookie'. On paper, Nick was pretty much neck and neck with the other guys who'd aced their detective tests, only he was a little less academically burdened than the others. Not to say that he got lower grades, but all the other resumes indicated men who had chosen the 'detective path' since they were young, selecting Criminal Justice as their college major, busting their guts for top marks, and so on. Nick had respectable grades, had chosen psychology as his major and had clearly seen a bit of normal life, with a slew of jobs on the side while he was in college.

He got to his desk and set up. As comfortable as he was with Nick himself, he was uncomfortable about selecting him just because they'd met and he liked him. He'd been on the wrong side of that kind of decision making before: his friend Thijs had gone up against him for a Sergeant's post in Utrecht and managed to find out which bar his interviewer drank at. Then ingratiated himself. For all Jan's careful preparations, the job went to Thijs, who was interviewed in the style of a long-lost friend. The whole experience made him so angry that he still had fits of irritation whenever he thought about it. He was never, ever going to do that to someone else. He should go by what was on the paper. Or meet the other guys… which he couldn't do before midday.

"Vergeer," a deep voice said into his ear, "a word, please."

He'd barely gotten his key into his under-desk cabinet before having to give up his daily fight with the lock and follow Renard into Wilson's office. "Sir?"

"Three things. Firstly - your rookie files―"

"By midday, Sir, I know." Jan tried an internal sigh but the exasperation must have been all over his face, because Renard raised his brows.

"Problem, Vergeer?"

"No, I'll re-read them one last time and choose." He knew a lost battle when he saw one.

Renard opened a file, half summarising on the hoof, half reading out loud. "Second - new case, transferred from Portland. Adrianna Delancey was reported missing by her sister this morning and can't be contacted. Early information from PPD suggests an abuse situation with her husband, so this one's yours. Her husband works at Central library, but didn't show up for work this morning, either."

Jan could barely hear what he was saying. Renard was soft-spoken at the best of times, but when talking from a sheet of paper was completely incomprehensible. He slipped behind the Lieutenant and tried catching up on the brief by reading over his shoulder. He got the gist of it quickly enough. "I'll talk to his colleagues."

Renard jumped, but regained his composure super-fast, looking up at him archly. "Vergeer, stop looming."

"Sorry." Jan took the file and returned to his 'proper' place in front of the Captain's desk. "There was something else?"

"Yes. A gentleman in jeans, red leather shorts and a cape left this for you." He held out a note. "He wanted to wait for you to get in, but Franco told him – repeatedly – that he was free to go away and not come back."

Jan took the folded slip and shoved it in his back pocket. The neat handwriting was a good sign. Maybe whatever chemical storm had taken Benji over had eased off again, though he'd given up all hope of the man ever dressing normally. He took the rookie files with him to flit through one last time, hoping that none of the other candidates had a really outstanding reason to be picked above Nick. Mentally he'd already made his choice. He just had to feel that it was the right one.

To be continued very, very soon! (like, Mon or Tues)