Thanks so much for all the reviews since the last chapter – I'm really glad that the 'twist' went down so well with most of you :) I really hope you enjoy this penultimate chapter…
X x X
"Is it really unfriendly of me to be glad he's gone?" Monroe ventured loudly from the shop front as Renard's CMG pulled away outside.
Rosalee dipped into the doorway of the stock room and bent to unclip Bruno from his car seat, where he went on sleeping like a drugged dumpling.
"Not that I'm ungrateful for getting a ride here, or that I'm failing to note his tolerance at Bruno-sick on the back seat, but he's hard work."
She settled Bruno into the crook of her arm and took him over to Monroe. Bruno's little round face transfixed her once again: she still couldn't get past the novelty of her baby. Eyelashes settled thickly on his cheeks and his neat, toothless mouth hung open in a soundless snore. She sighed down at him. "I'm so relieved he slept through all that. I wasn't sure the assourdissant was going to work as a noise block."
"Oh God, I never want to hear that kind of screaming again. Ever. Don't even hugely care that Nick was cracher-free by the end of it." Monroe shuddered and held his hands out for Bruno. His face relaxed into blissful idiocy as his son yawned cavernously, stretching little arms and legs out between his fingers. "Dear god, he weighs less than half the jars we took off the shelves to make that damn potion."
"I know. It's a little scary." She reached over and traced her fingertip around Bruno's face, the tickle making his lips twitch in a tiny drunken grin. She glanced up at Monroe, who should be rights be heading straight home to put his head to rights with a dedicated pilates session. A great wave of fondness crashed through her with almost impossible force. She suddenly found herself on the edge of tears. "I am so proud of you."
"Of me? Wha'? Don't cry! Is this your milk-hormones thing again? God honey, please don't start crying while I have my hands full!"
"I'm fine!" she broke a sob with a wet chuckle and wiped her face dry. "Really… just very tired with everything that's happened. And so incredibly proud of you. Do you realise how far you've come in the last couple of weeks? Your son was born on a shop floor after a riot and then you had to put up with near-war with your parents, and then had to help Nick protect Bruno from an assassin. And let's not even get into how much you could've lost control with Doug around. But you've stuck at my side through the whole thing, been a Godsend father to Bruno, totally ignored your clocks and yoga regime…" amazement struck her even as she voiced her observations, "and you've hardly even woged, let alone moulted."
"Yeah, let's not draw attention to that, ok? I was kind of enjoying this high-praise momentum you had going."
"Really… I'm so proud. We both know what routine means to you and … you haven't had any. And you're stronger than ever."
Monroe breathed out slowly and then gave her a sheepish smile. "Will it knock me off my nice comfy little pedestal if I admit that I've been doing the yoga inside my head?"
"You do your inner yoga all you like. You stayed right with me the whole damn time. Didn't unravel once."
"Apart from the streaking thing."
"We won't discuss that ever again." Rosalee wrapped an arm around his back as she leant her face on his upper arm. The strong arm beneath his shirt was so warm. Though he'd never admit it, she'd catch him in the morning in front of the mirror, flexing his arms and assuring himself that he still 'had it', even though he was no longer the age he wanted to be. For her, his build was perfect. Strong, dependable, solid. Surprisingly well-muscled given the total camouflage of his unselfconscious and totally disguising clothing, and with the cutest little bean-curd & fatty fake-bacon belly that was soft and springy to the touch. He hated it; she adored it. Monroe, when she smelt him in the morning, smelt of love and permanent happiness. And at some point, they had to start discussing the actual business of getting married. She could hardly wait.
She sighed contentedly, and they basked in the silence of the store for a few moments. As Juliette was sitting with Nick downstairs and she didn't have to worry about him for the moment, the stress fog in her head cleared, allowing bubbles of curiosity and confusion to rise to the surface and pop. She still couldn't believe that Theo had ended the whole obsession nightmare. It made perfect sense now, but it annoyed her beyond all bearing that she'd totally forgotten his Royal heritage while reading through the instructions for the Drankje Reinigen so many times.
"What's up?" Monroe asked eventually.
She puffed air out through her lips. "I'm mentally kicking myself. Why didn't Theo's powers even occur to me? There was the summit, the whole goddamned Patriarch and Royal history laid out for us, but it didn't cross my mind that Theo could break the obsession spell! Or Jan, for that matter!"
Monroe shrugged. "Well, me either. Don't beat yourself up over it. Ok, so it's not actually written anywhere that a handsome Prince has to be of making-out age, but you kind of expect it, don't you?"
She loved him for exonerating her, but it was still bizarre. "Why is it that only handsome Princes get to break spells with true love's kiss?"
"True love has nothing to do with it. It's all about chemical interference with the neural pathways."
"You're such a romantic."
"I know." Monroe bent a little to smooch her. "You may have to sue me for it. But fact is… Royals are wired differently. Whether they're schmucks like the Kronenbergs or benign like the Patriarchs, they carry a persuasive pheromone. They can bend people to their will, and their looks make it easier to get physically close enough to people to pass their influence on."
Rosalee shuddered. "That's really kind of creepy."
"Yeah… depending on what the Royal wants. Prince Eric wants a pure-bred, sectarian world and will ply pressure wherever he needs to if it means that dissenters or opponents are neatly removed from his plans for world domination. That's creepy, no question. Sean Renard really wanted to avoid his pet Grimm leaving Portland on a despondent note or a murdering rampage, so his force of will was enough to wake Juliette from her coma. Jan, however, is obsessed with social cohesion and community. One hopeful smile from him and you end up signing up to all kinds of weird voluntary stuff you wouldn't usually agree to in a million years. That's not such a bad thing. The whole persuasive power thing is like the old gun licensing argument; the danger is not the gun, but who's got his finger on the trigger."
Rosalee still felt that the ability to silently influence someone's thoughts was inherently wrong: she remembered Nick telling her that Renard had only been made Captain a few months before he moved into homicide and partnered with Hank. Assuming that Renard was now around the same age as Monroe, 42 or so, he'd have been 37 when he got promoted from Lieutenant. Really young. The half-Prince must've exuded a lot of 'you will trust me' vibes to his human superiors to get where he got so quickly. It struck her that it always seemed to be the Princes on kiss duty. "Why is it never a King that breaks all the spells?"
Monroe smiled distantly. "I don't know."
"Yeah you do." She peered up at him, amused by the gleam in his eyes, even as he stifled the elaborate theories that were no doubt germinating in his lively mind. "You totally do. Give it up!"
"It's just a theory, and I'd have to test it—"
"—So test it later, but tell me!"
"I figure that Royals lose persuasive power as they get older, from over-use. Sean's father was a Prince too once, right? And in the course of expanding the Kronenberg empire, probably had to lean on a lot of people and convince them that supporting the Royals was a really good idea. Ok, so there was torture involved as well, but the Kronenbergs have a lot of European influence and violence can't be behind everything."
"True." It was a pretty good theory, but with a glaring gap. "Jan is technically a King. And he asked us if we'd mind letting Freya help us out in the store. I don't know about your folks, but mom always used to say that the dictionary definition of stupidity was letting a Hexenbiest loose in the apothecary supplies, which, uh… we did. I don't notice Jan lacking in any influential power."
"He's probably got plenty because he doesn't apply it consciously. Whereas Kronenberg Senior's kept himself locked up in his oh-so-subtle-chateau for the last ten years to protect his remaining power from accidental contact with the 'common man', Jan's been tootling around innocently, happily surprised that everyone's so damned cooperative."
Rosalee chuckled, but still worried. "Is our little prince going to be ok? Because the ability to reverse black biology is a huge thing. Some asshole out there might decide he's going to see if the power can be 'bottled'."
"He'll be fine. Jan's mild-mannered, but no pushover. He's got Denny and Sean, Nick. Us. And Hank, Wu, Bud…. And when she gets big — Carianne. He's hardly unguarded. Let's just be happy that all he needed to break the spell was to want 'Uncle Sean' to look happier, and for the sad, thin lady to get well again."
"So the little guy just planted the idea of getting better in my head?"
Rosalee jumped almost as guiltily as Monroe, and they turned sharply to see Juliette standing in the doorway that led down to the beds in the basement. 'Sad thin lady' hung in the air and Monroe opened and closed his mouth for a moment or so before shooting her a desperate look. Rosalee cleared her throat. "How long've you been standing there?"
"Since 'chemical interference'." Juliette twisted her thumb ring, clearly a little embarrassed. "I hope you can understand why I'm curious about being cured by a very little boy."
"Sure." Rosalee managed a friendly smile that would hopefully distract from Monroe's awkward shifting. "We're not sure we understand it all ourselves."
"And of course I'm grateful. I've got my life back." Juliette shuffled her feet. "And as weird as it is to get smooched by a little kid, better him than his father, probably."
At this, Rosalee struggled to contain a straight face. At some point, she'd gently explain that Jan would probably sooner buttslide through a cactus field than break pack rules and kiss Nick's ex-girlfriend. Or anyone other than Denny.
Juliette pulled the door to the basement shut softly behind her. "So…. Nick's asleep. He tried a little talking, but I figured he needs to rest more than he needs to speak to me, right now." She approached Monroe timidly and peeked into the crook of his arm, laying a palm lightly on top of Bruno's apple-sized head. Bruno blinked with tiny, bleary eyes, swatting the air with his fist. Juliette stroked the back of his hand really softly with her finger and then pulled away, her face straining with broodiness. "He's beyond adorable. You guys must be so proud."
"We are," Rosalee agreed, and silence fell. It was weird; she and Juliette had been getting on fine when they were trying to pull the potion together, but her ability to produce small talk had shrivelled up and died. "So… are you staying in a hotel?"
"A motel. My emergency flight sucked the heart and soul out of my wallet."
"Are you on a fixed ticket?" Monroe asked suddenly.
Rosalee glanced across at him curiously, wondering if she'd heard a tiny note of hope in his voice, like Juliette had planned a short turn-around and couldn't extend it.
"It's just that Nick's… ah… likely to be pretty out of it for a few days. You can't drink that stuff without consequences. He's anaemic, mineral-stripped—"
"He can't be rushed. I get it." Her eyes glistened a little as she dug in her bag for a card, handing it over. "Would you do me a favour? I don't want to be in and out of your hair, so… when he wakes and wants to see me… call me?"
"Sure. I'll call you before that, to talk through the whole wesen and zombie… thing. If that would help." Rosalee steered Juliette out of the store. She'd arrived in a rental car that wasn't too far parked away and she gave an awkward wave as Juliette pulled out into traffic. Then she felt the need to watch her disappear safely, because her driving was on the edge of unsteady. After she'd been standing there a few moments without any 'kaboom' sounds coming from the next couple of blocks, she went back into the store to demand what in the name of the wild wogeing walnut Monroe was playing at.
He was on the phone, the sound set to speaker so he could talk to Jan while easing Bruno out of a onesie suddenly covered in sick-up. Jan's voice rumbled blearily from the other end of the line.
"… not a problem, Eddie. A lift down to the basement sounds entirely sensible. I'll send the funds over electronically."
"We'd be so grateful."
"…Well, it wasn't a bundle of fun getting Denny down there, I must say. Was there anything else? It's just that Freya decided to bring Theo home via a play park, but they'll be back soon..."
Rosalee was about to honour Jan's super-polite attempt to get away when Monroe bent excitably over the speaker.
"He's doing very well, thank you. Actually, we were just about to—"
"It's just, of course, he was treated here at the Wesen Wellness Centre, and in the spirit of our policy of totally holistic care — that is, treating the whole person, not just the injury, which means home care as well as medical attention in the WWC — uh… I'm following up. Y'know."
Rosalee clapped her hand over her face, cringing in advance of what Monroe was leading up to. She grabbed the pad by the phone and scribbled LEAVE THEM ALONE!
"That's very kind of you, Eddie. He's in good spirits and even made his own coffee earlier. But we were just in the middle of somethi—"
"Wow, Denny's walking already, huh? Would you say that's down to uh… a combination of Siegbarste musculature and human imperviouness to Gift? Orrrrr…"
"Or what, Eddie?"
"Or…. has there been a degree of um… kissing-it-better? Just from a holistic point of view. Y'know. So we know how much our treatment has helped, and how much your own home care has… um. Yeah…" Monroe trailed off, oppressed, thank god, by the dignified silence from the other end of the line.
Jan cleared his throat. "Well, let's ask Denny. Denny? How are you feeling?"
"Nee hee hee. Tee hee."
Rosalee clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle her giggles as Monroe studied his loafers.
"As you can tell, he's feeling pretty happy and I'm sure that your erm… 'holistic care policies' have a great deal to do with that. But, can I recommend, as a friendly patron, that you introduce a 'silence is golden' policy as well? Just to reduce the danger of asking some extremely personal questions?"
"Sure! Yeah! That's all good. Um, have a nice—"
Rosalee's capacity to control her sniggers was decimated when they heard the click at the other end of the line and she looked up to see Monroe entirely pink. "You're nuts!"
"Yeah, ok. Hands in the air, that was a total subtlety fail. But! Apart from giving us a huge donation for a lift and ambulance, he's also agreed to pick up Nick and look after him for a few days since he's off with Denny anyway, so… still a useful conversation."
"Won't his mom pitch a hissy fit?" She shrank a little at the prospect of them smuggling Nick over to Jan's place only to find Kelly at the door, arms crossed, insisting that her son was moved to a care facility of her own choosing.
"Between them, Jan and Denny can handle a cantankerous, retired Grimm. And they have Freya around to take the sharp edges off." Monroe bent over and brushed his lips across hers. "They're gonna come pick up Nick in a couple hours, then … we can go home."
Rosalee felt a warm hand on her shoulder and knew that he was feeling exactly as she was: as much as they wanted their own time, neither of them would buy into it fully until they knew Nick was in good hands. She bent to brush Nick's bangs out of his face then headed back up the steps with Monroe and Bruno. Every one of Nick's inconvenient calls, favours, demands, odd questions… more than evened out by the safe return of their son. Cometh the hour, cometh the blutbau, cometh the man, it appeared.
And she was more than a little relieved that 'Uncle' Nick had ditched his zombie. That could've been awkward at the christening.
X x X
"That," Wu pronounced, was fun. "I have never run that fast. Never. Not even when Dana's Pop caught me in her room after 10am and chased me through the park wearing an Aswang mask."
"A legendary Filipino creature too disgusting for casual conversation." Wu swigged deep on the bottle of Jagermeister they'd bought as a reward for bringing down a Balam burglar who'd been hiding under the house the whole time they'd been interviewing the home owner, and slumped deeply backwards into Hank's couch. "It's official. I am not very sober."
Hank slumped down next to him, also chuckling gleefully at the easiest arrest they'd both made in about seven years. The Balam was all locked up and booked in, and he was crashing out at home without an ounce of tiredness or sore muscle after sprinting for damn close to two miles. He grinned at the ceiling. "I know it won't, but part of me hopes that this element of Grimm sticks around."
"This is wonderful. I'm 39, out-running the 20-something probies. And there's something a tiny bit fun about suspects throwing themselves on the floor in surrender." Wu chuckled. "I'm so fit right now that Wilkes is sending me for a medical next week." He stopped chuckling like he'd just been slapped. "Crap, that means a blood test!"
"Eh, don't sweat it. It'll probably be all gone by then. My theory is that as soon as Nick's come through his recuperation, our temp-Grimm will be gone."
"It's been four days now." Wu sighed. "There's been a hell of a lot of sleeping. He's going to be ok, right?"
"He will, yeah." Hank felt that in his bones after his last couple of visits. His partner looked to be in bad shape, but his face was peaceful, like he was having good dreams, quietly looking forward to waking up and starting normal life again. And he was being very well looked after by Jan and Denny. And Theo, who was on smoothie-delivery duty. "He's waking up for meals now, at least."
"There's one thing I've gotta do before the Grimm pheromone thinga-me-doodah wears off." Wu stuck up a decisive finger and waggled it vigorously. "Tonight, while I can still do it without breaking my neck, I'm climbing up on Mariam's balcony and leaving her some flowers and chocolates."
"Wow. Sounds serious. Nonetheless, don't do it. You may be Grimmesque, but you're also full of hardcore alcohol."
"You don't think the Grimmesque counters that?"
"Our full-time Grimm doesn't slur." It was about as diplomatic as Hank could hope to be, but was happily enough to stop his buddy from doing dumb stuff. He heard Wu's distant sigh, but recognised resignation when he heard it and relaxed a little.
"What I'd really like," Wu enunciated, "Is a second chance at shaming the asses off her track stars in after-school practice. That might blow a few of her parents' age-gap worries out of the water."
"Track stars?" Hank blinked and took a sip of drink. "Oh yeah – she's a Phys Ed teacher. Sorry. But… what are you going to do when the Grimm goes?"
"I have this sudden need to remain as fit as I feel right now. I'll put the gym time in. Mariam's funny, she's sweet, she's gorgeous, and she's worth it." Wu belched romantically. "Yeah, I might sober up a little before I get to her place."
Hank chuckled. "Do not go to her place. Again. Stay here, sober up."
"Thanks." Wu grabbed the bottle back and swigged. A good three-measure swig. He celebrated the light-headedness with a giggle. "Y'know… I have no idea how you've stayed so calm about all this life-changing…. Stuff."
"Well, it's not going to last, so—"
"Nah, I don't mean the temporary-Grimm thing. I'm talking about worldly understanding. This whole wesen addition turns religion, history, social science… all on its head."
Hank frowned up at his front room ceiling, glad he was home so he could quickly withdraw to bed if things got too deep. He preferred his worldly understanding to be nice and shallow. "How'd you figure that out?"
"Ok, well… when I was a kid, I'd act in line with the whole 10 commandments thing because my folk brought me up that way, but my grandma's a serious old-testament zealot. She came over here with Dana and Sam when they moved to Portland and I have to go have tea with her every month. And she always starts an argument with me for daring to see the logic in evolution. I used to say that I wasn't going to argue about 'rationality' with someone who believed in a talking snake, but… what… what if the talking snake was a wesen?"
Hank screwed his eyes up and groaned. A Lausenschlange in Genesis? "Man, I do not even want to think about that." He rubbed his hands over his face and tried to be helpful without prolonging the conversation. Thanks to various hellfire neighbours he had as a kid, he was pretty allergic to the topic of religion. It made him claustrophobic. A tiny cross on a chain was his own way of reminding himself that he had beliefs, even if he refused to discuss them with anyone. "Quote Tim Minchin at your Grammy and point out that just 'cause you believe in gravity, it doesn't mean you can't also believe in helium balloons."
Wu snorted. "I doubt I'll remember that in the morning let alone by the time I visit, but I'll try."
"I'm gonna hit the sack, man. I'll just help you get the couch bed out, first." He stood, but Wu stayed still. "You gonna move?"
"I'll do it myself in a little while. Just gonna sit here and …. Frillosophise."
"You're a little wasted. Don't get your fingers trapped in the hinges, ok? And do not leave the apartment to go climbing any balconies."
"I'll rely on my Grimmesque reflexes."
Hank decided to ignore that threat. He double-locked the door just to be safe, hid the keys, and called back over his shoulder. "That bed's surprised Nick more than once, just so you know…."
X x X
Monroe finished making the tea, tickling Bruno's feet from time to time as he stirred and steeped. Life was good. They had time to themselves; Bruno exploded a little less often; and the news of Prince Eric Hans Kronenberg was splashed all over the news.
And… he enjoyed playing doctor alongside Rosalee's role as Queen of the apothecary. It gave him a sense of social belonging that he didn't get from, say, clocks. Not that he'd gone off clocks of course – that'd be impossible with the soothing rhythm that the fixes gave to his life – but he was finding that he was ready to be a little more stretched by the unpredictable. He smiled as he opened up shop for Rosalee. Maybe she was right: maybe he had changed. He didn't really notice being a little less OCD (he'd been too busy), but it was good to know that the world wouldn't collapse if it were a little messier, a little less organised.
The trickier part of his support role at the store was in keeping a straight, sober face when people staggered in with entirely self-inflicted conditions, and two such specimens were slouched in the stools by the counter, foreheads resting on the wood, moaning not so quietly to themselves. Chuckling, he gathered both teacup handles in one hand and Bruno's carry seat in the other and went up to the front of the store where Wu and Hank slumped. Wu had a huge white bandage round two of his fingers. Monroe wasn't gonna ask.
"So… you guys think you're in Grimm withdrawal?" He raised his brows. "You don't think it's just a case of, uh… being mentally incapacitated by a hangover?"
Hank pulled himself up vaguely upright. "I didn't have as much as him—"
"And I've not seen a single wesen all morning," Hank croaked. "And we sat in the parking lot by the damn Bieber lodge for an hour."
"Right." Monroe clapped his hands purposefully, making them both startle, then whine. "Sorry. Ok, so have some tea, then I'll run a test. Wu first, since he seems the greater casualty."
They drank obediently but Wu peered suspiciously into the depths of his cup. "What's this going to do?"
"Make you less thirsty." Weird question. Monroe rolled his eyes and went round behind the counter. "Right, let me hear you say 'AGHHHH!'"
"The problem's with my vision, not my voice."
Wu's flatness stalled him just as he was rolling his neck up to his woge. He surged back irritably. "Humour me!" And then he woged, doing his full-drool murderous face.
He threw his head around, brandished his claws.
He howled, waved fur-covered arms and gnashed his teeth, at which point Wu peered at him with concern.
"Uh… should I get you some help?"
Monroe shifted back and folded his arms. "I think we can safely declare you 'free' of your Grimm. Your 'aghh' lacked fear, shall we say. Hank…"
Hank was also Grimm-free. They didn't look as relieved as Monroe felt: he was
still rattled by the double take he'd done a couple of days back, when looking into Hank's deep black eyes and seeing a fifteen-year-old version of himself, whizzing on his neighbours' unattended picnic while they were washing up before lunch. It wasn't the darkest deed he'd ever committed, but then, maybe the proxy effect only passed on a form of mini-Grimm. Wu still looked bewildered.
"Why were Hank and I the only ones to get this?"
"We were the only Kehrseite in the room, man. Everyone else was wesen. They can see each other woge anyway. And they're all really strong, so we'd have no idea whether they were extra strong, or extra woge-spotting, or what." He climbed down from his stool. "I'll just call Nick. See if it's ok to go visit."
Monroe shook his head. "He's asked Juliette to see him this morning. I'd give them a few hours." He still didn't know how he felt about Nick seeing her. He was pretty positive that it would be as friendly a goodbye as they could manage, but their feelings were strong and the obsession was gone, so… who knew. He had this feeling that there would always be this air of 'if only you weren't a Grimm' between them, however hard Juliette worked to suppress it, and that wasn't something that they could work around for very long. He noticed Wu looking at him reproachfully. "What?"
"Just so you know… they were a really good match before he found out what he was. I've known her a long time."
"I didn't say anything!"
"You didn't have to. You've got really disapproving shoulders." Wu gave him a conciliatory smile and followed Hank to the shop door. "Just give her a fair shot, is all I'm saying. And… thanks for the check-over."
Monroe looked at them both and still felt they didn't look as ecstatic as they should be to be back to normal. "You guys ok? No hidden aches or pains that you're trying to be manly about?"
Hank laughed. "Wu? Manly?"
"No, we're good. I'll hit you later, Hank." Wu held the door open. "Just for a short while, it was fun being Nick. Anyway, I'm just gonna go home, watch some TV, and feel decrepit a little while."
Monroe just hoped that Nick was having a better time being Nick. He chuckled as he saw them out, then went back over to the counter to ease Bruno out of his carry cot and into a front-carrier. He was way too tiny for it and almost had to do the splits to dangle his legs out the sides of the carrier. Bruno's face pressed into his lower chest and his breathing turned into muffling noises. Monroe turned Bruno's head as gently as possible so he could breathe; Bruno took one long suck of unflannelled air and then went right back to his muffled noises. Wow. Stubborn. Just like his mom.
"This isn't gonna work yet, is it?"
"Thought not. Ok, out you come…" Monroe unbuckled the front flap on the carrier and let it drop down, pressing Bruno against him with his hand. "Tell you what… let's let Uncle Nick do whatever he's got to do with his ex-girlfriend, then I'll take you round to play silly-hair with him. Right?"
Bruno gurgled, finger-wiggled then face-palmed, making Monroe sigh with contentment, and then wince as a familiar crack filled the air, followed by a distinct infant scent. He carried him back through the shop and to the changing area by the mixing table. This was an area of new parenthood which would probably get pretty old pretty quickly, but for now, as far as he was concerned, his son could make all the mess he wanted.
X x X
Denny shucked his jacket on over his tank top and leant backwards a little from Nick's doorframe, looking out into the open plan of the ground floor. Then he zipped over to the bed. "S'alright, Jan's keeping her occupied. You ready to stand?"
"Thanks…" Nick managed to put weight on both feet and press up from the bed by hanging on to Denny's forearms. His ribs and leg were still taking turns to throb and sting, but at least he could get up without seeing stars now. He'd come a long way in the past few days. But he was so nervous about seeing her. He didn't want his resolve to fail. Or to look like someone she thought she was abandoning. Jesus. He had some pride. "I want… I want to get to the couch by myself."
"Yeah, I know mate. Don't worry. Let's just get you to the door for the minute. Small steps, breathe in slowly." Denny kept pace with him, letting go little by little until he was standing unaided just inside the bedroom door. "You good to go?"
Nick nodded. "How do I look?"
"Like an abused roman slave." Denny snorted at his affronted glare. "But then, I look like a manky builder's brand-new ghost, so I can't talk. Never mind, we're both doing well for ex-dead blokes."
Appreciating the levity, Nick made it across Jan's front room and to the couch in one go. He'd managed to stretch himself out in a reasonably relaxed position by the time Jan led Juliette over with the coffees, pressing one directly into Nick's hands. She smiled down at him but it wasn't, thank god, a pitying smile. Jan and Denny bowed themselves out to go for a long, and completely unnecessary drive. Nick didn't know what to say yet and decided to go for totally neutral conversation for a little while until he'd found his feet in their new, weird atmosphere.
There was a long quiet after the front door shut and eventually Juliette found her voice, still looking fixedly into the kitchen. "They're really nice."
"Were they together when I saw them at the hospital? After the siege? I couldn't work that out. I mean, they were way tighter than normal guy friends, but—"
"No. They'd only just met."
"Seriously? That's pretty fast."
"They have a special bond. Apart from the one that makes them want to sleep together." Nick sipped on his coffee, able to see her point. It seemed to him like Jan had been with Denny forever, but… "A lot's happened in the last few months."
"Which I wasn't there for? Is that the point you're leading up to?"
"It wasn't, actually. It was just a statement. But since you've gone there already, yeah, it seemed like a really long time to not know why you'd suddenly disappeared."
She bit her lip. Fiddled with her ring. "I tried to explain that in my letter."
"It was a detailed letter."
"You're mad at me." She glanced straight at him at last. "I'm sorry, but you of all people should know why I found it impossible to tell you what was going on. I'd woken up from this weird coma, forgetting you — and only you — then suddenly started having endless thoughts about your boss. How was I supposed to bring that up, exactly?"
"Okay." That one he had no answer for.
"I didn't come here to fight."
"Why, then?" He genuinely didn't know why she wanted to see him if she found it so painful to even look at him. "Was it to make sure I knew I was ditched? To tell me you've changed your mind? Why?"
"Because I still love you enough that if we have to say goodbye, we're not waving away the years with a super-short message on my answering machine!" She gritted her teeth through a moment of approaching tears and seemed to force herself to relax. "You sounded so defeated. Betrayed. I had to make sure my letter said what I wanted it to say."
"That you can't live life with a Grimm?"
"It's not the Grimm I'm rejecting, Nick. It's the version of me that comes with your lifestyle."
He'd re-read her letter only a handful of times, and had to admit, he wasn't entirely sure what she was afraid of. Yeah, he got hurt as a Grimm. But he got hurt as a cop, too, so…
"The guy that broke into our house," Juliette said suddenly.
Nick didn't know whether that was a question, or what. He waited for her to go on, and when she didn't, offered, "Stark? What about him?"
"You know what really sticks in my mind about that home invasion?"
"I'm remembering the pan of boiling water." Nick raised a brow at her and was pleased that she managed a little smile as she looked back at him.
"I'm glad you remember the only ten seconds that I got my shit together, because what I remember is going to pieces." She found a spare spot at the bottom of the couch, and he moved his feet a little so she could share with him. Her hand rested warm on his knee while she thought about what to say. "What I can't forget is how useless I felt after he ran away. You were bunched up against the wall, your shoulder smashed back, not breathing right, and when you could speak, all you could do was say 'Call Hank'. Did I call Hank? No. He had to find out about the break-in from Wu. I felt really shitty about that."
Nick blinked. "I didn't know that. Still, Hank came round to see me pretty quick, so—"
"But you were trying to warn him, weren't you? In case Stark went after him? What if Stark had managed to get him because I didn't make that one call like you asked?"
"Hey… ease down." Nick used his free hand to push a little more upright and pull his legs up so she could sit properly. He wasn't the only one to look like hell. She'd had gastroenteritis for three weeks once and still been less skinny than she was right now. "Stark's dead, Hank's fine. No harm, no foul."
"The point is, I didn't call him because I was too caught up in how badly that huge guy hurt you. And my reaction back in that store, when you were trying to take the potion? I felt like a shrill fishwife in a room full of zen people!"
"Juliette… I was a little wrapped up in trying to stop this other… venom thing take me over. It's not like I didn't appreciate the care." Though, Nick had to admit, he'd probably shown little evidence of it at the time. "I won't deny it, it's kinda nice that people close to me don't want me to drink something that hurts like that stuff did. I'm only human."
"Well, here's the thing… you're not only human. You're a Grimm."
"I can't help that."
"I know. That's why I wanted to see you. I wasn't sure I made it clear that I wasn't avoiding what you've become." She swallowed. "I spent a few hours with Rosalee, so I'm a little more informed about what's so different about you that people act weird around you. That's not my problem. My problem is that I can see myself changing into someone I don't like. If I'm with you, my priority is going to be to keep you safe and that… doesn't exactly fit your lifestyle anymore."
"I think you're tougher than you give yourself credit for. Remember the redneck on our weekend break? You spent most of your time trying to free a girl from an abusive relationship. And then you fired a gun at the asshole."
"I froze, you know. The only reason that gun fired was because I jumped at a noise outside." She gave him a moist smile. "I want to be useful. I want to be a go-to person. Eventually, maybe I'll be an old friend that you enjoy hanging out with. But for now…"
"Come here, will you?" Nick beckoned her over fully, shifting himself against the cushion of the couch and she curled up carefully against him. It felt good to just lie down with her, now. Their relationship was a lot to let go of, but it was so good to hear that she felt the way he did — that they didn't want the goodbye to be forever.
They lay there a long time, letting the bad era of her disappearance slip away from them. Her cheek felt nice in the hollow of his shoulder. "What are we going to do?" he asked eventually. "We were together a long time. It's not like we can just make this overnight mental switch to buddies without a whole bunch of awkwardness."
"This doesn't feel awkward," she mumbled against him, stroking his side with her thumb.
"Not for me, either, but your future boyfriend might frown on it. Or my girlfriend. Sometime."
Juliette chuckled. "Shall we worry about how our other halves are going to cope with our friendship when we actually have other halves? Anyway, I'm flying totally solo for another seven months, at least."
"That's very specific." Nick peered down, enjoying the feel of the light doodling she was doing on his side with her fingertips. "Why seven months?"
"It could be longer. Could be a year. I live a little closer to Adalind than I'd like, but Vienna's working out well for me. My German's getting better, I've made some friends, and I've been offered practical work to specialise in equestrian medicine — which would work out pretty well in Oregon. I feel the need to move into an area of vet work that doesn't involve cat scratches."
"Good point." He sighed with relief at this in-built safety valve, giving them the chance to get used to being separated. Properly, peacefully separated, though. "You're going to come back and visit though, right?"
"I've still got the flights booked to come back in February for my mom's birthday on 12th. Shall I stop by for dinner before heading out again?"
"That'd be good." He settled back into the bed, feeling drowsy but extremely comfortable. He gave her a little squeeze as her stomach growled like an outboard motor, making them both giggle. "Sounds like you and your body have a lot of catching up to do, too."
"Rosalee's taking me to Salvadore Molly's so that I can work through about 12,000 calories in one sitting." She sat up and grinned. "I'm totally ready to try some insane kind of Woman Versus Food challenge. We may then go for voodoo donuts. Want us to get you a bag?"
"Several bags." That'd be a nice thing to wake up to. He wondered how much sugar a Grimm could get away with before going a little nutsy. "Jan's informed him that I'm their first class prisoner for another few days, then I'm allowed to go home." He grinned. "They're protecting me from mom's stew."
"Your… mom's stew? Your dead mom's stew? She a zombie?"
He laughed till his ribs choked him off to a grunt. "She never died. I'll tell you about it in February, I think."
"Alright… I think I've had enough information to last me four months anyhow." Juliette grabbed her bag and bent over to drop a light kiss on his lips. They allowed themselves one tiny last nuzzle before mutually pulling away. Her eyes were bright and optimistic. "We're ok, right? We're going to be ok while we sell the house, and start again, and…."
"We'll be fine," he reassured, meaning it. And god it felt good not to have this weight in his chest anymore. "Though I've got to warn you — I may call from time to time with strange questions."
Juliette laughed loudly as she headed for the door. "So what's new? 'Juliette? How much does a baby elephant weigh?'"
Nick rolled his eyes, felt the tips of his ears heat with embarrassment, and gave her a hasty wave to get her out of the room before the blush went to the rest of his face. The moment she'd gone, he eased down under the covers and, with nothing hanging over him, dropped into the best sleep in years.
X x X
Ta da… I hope you enjoyed. One final chapter coming up – a neat 25, lol. The epilogue….