Title: So Few and Such Morning Songs
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.
Summary: It might not be the way Grimms traditionally did things – but Marie would do what she had to do to ensure her nephew had a chance to survive. 2000 words.
Spoilers: Grimm (TV), preseries with spoilers through 1.04.
Notes: For xylaria, as a treat for Yuletide 2011. Marie, on her way to see Nick, with a little bit of backstory and a dash of speculation. AU. Title from Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas. Also, the term 'regnant' in this fandom seems to have originated with MacX; I'm just borrowing it.
She dialed the number from the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Woodburn, about twenty exits down the freeway from Portland proper. She'd been putting it off for far too long; it had been years since she'd last seen Nick in person, and the doctors had told her the end could come any day. Marie didn't want her nephew to inherit the way she had, raw grief turning every fresh manifestation of power into an outlet for vengeance. If she waited any longer, it would be out of her hands entirely.
She knew how Grimms were thought of among the preternatural community; and that she in particular was the stuff of lurid horror stories told to the children of most of creature-kind. She'd cut a bloody swath through their population just after her sister's death, and it had been months before she'd calmed enough to consider sparing those who didn't actively draw her attention. By that time, though, they'd known her by name; relaxing her guard would have been a blatant invitation to a slashed throat.
She'd been all right with that, actually. She'd earned it, and had more than left her mark in return. But Nick had the chance to start fresh; to advance with the times and be more than a lone hunter in the dark. There were so few Grimms left, and so many predators taking advantage of modern technology and social mores to blend in amongst their prey. He'd need a different approach if he was going to live long enough to grow grey hairs; not many Grimms did, and that number grew smaller with every year that passed.
His parents hadn't wanted him to face their fate at all. There'd been cousins when he was born, on both sides; the expectation of other children; and Marie herself had been in a long-term relationship at the time. Grimms knew better than to expect picket fences, but there'd been sunshine and laughter enough back then. Unfortunately, that golden period hadn't lasted past her sister's death.
Not that Nick had ever been aware of the specifics. Marie had never told him what had really happened to his parents, or her partner, or why they'd moved the summer she took him in. Or anything concrete about the 'job' that so often took her out on the road, rather than something more stable that would let her be there waiting for him every day after school. That was the way his mother had wanted it.
The way Marie's parents had raised them – it was a hard thing to grow up constantly terrified of a monster under the bed that you couldn't even see coming, and to know that if you ever did see it, something terrible had happened to someone you loved. Catherine had been adamant that she didn't want Nick to know that fear until he had to; that there had to be other, better, more survivable ways to prepare her child for the curse that stalked them.
Marie had been skeptical about it, at first. Grimms cut their teeth on the tales of their ancestors; that was the way it had been for generations. Every time his parents left him with her to go on a hunt, she'd thought about telling him – about leaving one of the family grimoires down where he could 'discover' it, or wrapping his small hand around the grip of a crossbow. It was never too early to learn weapon safety. She'd held back, though, honoring her sister's choice … and observing.
Nick had been a sweet child, yes, open and affectionate and young in a way Marie had never been allowed to be – but also wise, in the way children often were in fairy tales and seldom seemed to be in reality. He was observant, bright, and endlessly interested in the way the people and animals around him behaved; with a pencil in his hand, he could sketch anything to the life; and when she did manage to sneak a nerf gun or a slingshot into his hands, he had naturally accurate aim. He had a keen sense of fairness, and endless energy. The foundations for the skills he would later need were all there, innately – unshadowed by blood or the weight of legacy.
Potential, raw and waiting to be shaped: for good or ill, the future of the Grimm line.
Despite her misgivings, she'd continued as her sister had begun, even encouraged Nick to apply for a detective's position in the territory of a known regnant when the time came for him to leave home. That had meant she'd been unable to visit him – but it had also been safer for him than a less organized city, and had laid the groundwork for the regnant to think of her nephew as one of 'his' by the time he inherited the gifts she held in trust for him. Without the indoctrination, without the years of training, he would need some form of safety net, at least at first. The regnant could provide one; Marie couldn't. It was that simple.
It might not be the way Grimms traditionally did things – but she'd do what she had to do, to ensure her nephew had a chance to survive.
With that in mind, she took a deep breath and lifted the phone to her ear. She'd chosen a parking spot in the corner of the lot nearest the freeway; she could see the rush of lunchtime traffic whirring by, and beyond the river of cars, the sprawling complex of the Woodburn Company Stores. The vast lot was two thirds full, choked by early holiday shoppers; hundreds of people milled around, busy and stressed and snarling at one another over sale items and the balances in their checkbooks. A perfect hunting ground, if she'd been there for any other reason; there were always predators on the fringes of shopping outlets, and scavengers haunting the food courts.
The phone rang three times, and a smooth female voice picked up on the other end. "Marie Kessler?" the woman asked, in a crisp, professional tone.
"Yes. Put me through to him," she said, curtly. No creature was ever going to expose the regnant's identity to a Grimm of her reputation, but she'd sent a disposable cell to the local Mellischwuler with a request, a time and a date. She'd been fairly certain the Queen Bee would find a way to get it where it needed to go, and that he'd take the bait when she did.
She'd guessed right; dying or not, her instincts were as sharp as ever. If that wasn't one of his hexenbiests on the other end, she'd eat her turban.
"It's her," the woman said; then a rustling sound came over the line, followed by a man's voice.
"Grimm," he said, firm with an accustomed weight of command. "Until today, I thought you were one of the wiser of your kind; you've never seen fit to trespass on my territory before. To what do I owe this singular honor?"
There was threat, there; the promise of regret, should she cause him inconvenience. Marie closed her eyes, picturing Nick's face the last time she'd seen him, and drove forward. "I'm dying."
"I see," he replied after a brief pause. The words were bland, but she could well imagine the things that were going through his mind. "And in what way is this my problem?"
"My nephew lives in your territory," she said, firmly. If he had access to public records, he'd already know that, but someone had to make the first concession.
Another pause ensued, longer than before; she heard murmuring, as though he'd pressed the speaker against his hand to obscure whatever he was telling his servant. Then he addressed her again. "Then Nick Burkhardt is your heir. That's … unexpected."
"You thought he was human." Another benefit of forgoing the usual training with Nick. He didn't have the mannerisms, or the paranoia, most creatures would expect of the person destined to inherit her power. It had made him less of a target to those aware of the blood tie.
The regnant made a dismissive noise. "Clearly, he isn't. And you want to meet with him, to pass the torch. Better late than never, perhaps?"
Unspoken went the suggestion that from his perspective, never was the better choice.
"I will see my nephew, one way or another. And he will be the next Grimm of my blood. The question is, whether that will happen on terms favorable to us both."
"You would dictate terms to me?" he asked, sounding incredulous –but not angry, not quite yet.
Good; he was curious enough to listen. Marie nodded to herself, relieved. "He could start his calling as a Grimm in blood and fear, like most of our line have for generations: trying to save his dying aunt from monsters. He wouldn't forget that, or forgive."
"One might call that a family trait," he replied, dryly.
She ignored that. "Or you could grant me sanctuary. It won't be for long; a few days, a few weeks at the outside. Send a hexenbiest to pretend to be my nurse for Nick's benefit; bug my hospital room; I won't fight whatever measures you decide to take. Just keep the Reapers away from me long enough to tell Nick what I must and ensure the peaceful passing of the power."
"Sanctuary. For Marie Kessler," he scoffed. "I'd have challengers before the day was out."
"Not if I make oath to you," she said. She'd thought this through. Her father would have been furious with her; but her ancestor Jacob would have understood. He and his brother had worked for more than one regnant in their lifetime, to mutual advantage. "Sworn three times, in public."
"You would do that," he replied, skeptically. "Sacrifice your own reputation, for my benefit."
"No. For his," she insisted. "It's time. Even if the cancer didn't take me, a hunt eventually would. He's a cop, and he believes in justice. He can help protect your subjects … or he can hunt them all as monsters in my name."
There was threat there, too, and the promise of regret; just as he'd offered her. But possibility, too. She trusted Nick to try to do the right thing even if the worst should happen. But the regnant wouldn't take that for granted; he'd court Nick. Try to steer him, tie him tighter to the territory – earn his loyalty. Give him support he might not have, otherwise.
"And if the Reapers found him, too?" he suggested, mildly.
"And if they failed?" she replied, archly. "He could do a lot of damage, trained or not. So could I, even now."
"You could try," he fired back. Then he snorted. "You have steel in your soul; I respect that. So let me tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a twenty-four hour pass, and at the end of the day, we'll reevaluate the arrangement. Tell me where you are. I'll send Adalind for you; the time will start when she arrives."
Marie let out a shaky breath. It would be tricky to get the key to Nick without the hexenbiest seeing it; trickier yet to get him word of where and why she'd stashed the trailer without either the regnant's people or the Reapers tracking him to it. Either would love to claim its contents for themselves, the former to better control what Nick learned and the latter to destroy it. But it would have been no less tricky, had she showed up on Nick's doorstep alone with Hulda at her heels.
And perhaps … the arrangement she was making would shield his Juliette, as well. Nick would never have that picket fence, any more than Marie had – but he could have sunshine and laughter of his own, a little while longer.
She wanted that for him; for his sake, and for Catherine's.
"Exit 271," she said, firmly. "She should be able to find me from there."