Title: Dues

Rating: PG-13

Notes: Written for fire_and_a_rose for Yuletide: 2011. Wow, I am slow at posting stuff!

Summary: After college, Nancy has a lot to learn.

-o-

Nancy enters the Chicago Police Department the summer after college.

It's a surprise only in that she went police over going directly into business for herself, joining the armed forces, or taking that open invitation to Quantico. Still, she's worked enough cases and paid enough attention during her criminal justice courses and all of her internships to know the score. One day she'll open her own firm, but the universal fact of law enforcement is this: reputation and history mean everything. Personal networking and discipline go a lot further on the job than daddy's connections, or a score of solved cases that are accredited to the arresting officers.

Nancy knows she's good. She's got a boatload of empirical proof and a pretty big pile of owed favors, but she can be better. And to get there, she knows she needs to shut up, pay attention, and do her time.

-o-

Working a beat is everything and nothing like she ever imagined.

She's got a partner – Freddy – who's enough of a stereotype that she initially writes him off. It's a stupid mistake, and a rookie move that's probably best to make early so that she'll stop assuming. And while it's understandable that she takes in his portly frame and borderline sexual harassment language and classifies him as "useless asshole", it's also no surprise when it bites her in the ass during their first drug bust.

They have the guy dead-to-rights; Nancy'd watched the deal go down. Saw the drugs and green change hands, and was out the door yelling her credentials before Freddy'd even stopped the car. It had been an interesting chase, through back yards and over fences in a way she was sure only happened in the movies, but it ends with her panting and sitting on the suspects back, elbow in his neck, as she gropes for her cuffs. She's high on the run and adrenaline, and when she eventually writes her report, admits that is what screwed her up.

The knife comes out of nowhere, and is flailed about, almost nicking her face. She loses her cuffs and is desperately trying to keep the guy from bucking her off when a pair of sized 13 regulation shoes land on the suspect's forearm.

Panting, she stares up at Freddy and blinks. The car's nowhere in sight, and Freddy's not even panting. Mostly muscle then. Noted.

"You okay, Drew?"

"Fine!" Because it's true. Embarrassment isn't fatal, at least not yet.

Freddy just shakes his head, scoops up the knife and hands her his cuffs. "Lesson one, kid. Training don't mean shit out here if you don't use it."

And when he introduces her to his civil union partner six months and fifty busts later, she just laughs and lets them buy her a drink.

-o-

The two years required of beat cops before they test for their detective quals pass by in a blur of low-level arrests that range from possession and domestic violence calls to first responders status on dead bodies. Chicago has one of the highest murder rates, per capita, in the country, and it doesn't take Freddy or her Sergeant long to figure out that Officer Drew is no newbie when it comes to the hard stuff. Freddy later tells her that the first time he actually believes any of her stake-out stories comes when she sticks a latex-clad hand into the hollowed-out chest of a DB to save an adolescent rat.

No, the hard stuff hasn't scared Nancy in a very, very long time.

The minutia of the beat and the paperwork are a different story. She gets three write-ups in the first six months for insubordination and basically being a nosy know-it-all. Freddy rolls his eyes at her and tells her it's unsurprising, but buys her a coffee when she makes it the three months after that with a clean record. A visiting George praises alleluia when Ned laughs out the story over drinks.

"I'm not that bad!" Nancy's only a little drunk and leaning into Ned.

George laughs and throws a balled up napkin at her. "You really are, Nancy."

"I am not!"

Her boyfriend and friend just roll their eyes and blow raspberries before raising their nearly-empty glasses. It's been a theme for the night.

"To Nancy!" George's bellow is ignored by most of the patrons in the bar, only earning an eyeroll from the bartender across the room. "Who will ace her detective exams the same way she's aced everything else!"

"To Nancy!" Ned's toast is much lower and whispered mostly in her ear. "Whose detective exams mean I get to see her a lot more often."

Giggling madly, she taps her drink against theirs and downs the dregs.

-o-

She does ace her detective exams. Nails a nearly perfect score that has her waving goodbye to Freddy and hello to the Vice unit. A mixed blessing to be sure, but an Important Step. At least, that's what she tells herself when she stares down the hooker boots and skirt that live in her new locker.

"This too shall pass." Bess is bad at covering her laughter, even on the phone. Nancy doesn't mind too much, if just because she did ask for it.

"I know. It's just a lot different from what I'm used to."

"Honey, I'm going to say this once, and only because you know it already. The fact that you were used to anything was a minor miracle. I swear, your childhood was a study in ADD."

Nancy laughs and drops her head against the train window. Outside two and three flats blur together as the El speeds along. "I'm seeing that more and more. Have I apologized recently?"

"Last time we talked. And I'll reiterate, I know my adolescence wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if you didn't drag me along."

Nancy can tell her friend isn't lying, even over the tinny cellphone speaker. Two thousand miles away and strung out on graduate course work, Bess can still make her smile. "You are going in to the right profession, Bess Marvin. You are going to help a lot of people."

"Same again, Drew. Even if it involves a few years of luring men and women into tickets with your fabulous ass. And I'm emailing you a list of trashy clothing sites right now."

Nancy giggles and lets the sound of Bess' voice and the rock of the train relax her.

-o-

Amusingly – or not – it's actually the promotion that breaks her and Ned up for good.

Curled up on her couch, several days after their final awkward fight, she almost finds it funny. Nine years, they were back and forth; dating and taking breaks and ridiculously in love, depending on the day. It's such a strange thing, knowing that this time, they won't be getting back together. That the great cycle that is Ned and Nancy finally has the emergency brakes on. All because she'd been on time for a date.

It hadn't been an anniversary or anything special. Just a dinner scheduled because they'd both been off. They'd spent the previous weekend together, hanging out at Ned's apartment and going hiking in a local park. She'd mentioned a new restaurant she'd been meaning to visit, and bang. She'd even gone to the trouble of curling her hair.

She'd been most of the way through her bowl of lard nar, absently listening to Ned talking about his week and the list of expense and production reports he needed to get through the next day, when she'd looked up and just known.

They'd been spending so much time together. Weekday morning dates, and weekends away or at home. Trips to visit family in River Heights. She's even attended several formal balls thrown by his company. They are, as they've always been, the perfect couple. And she knows, knows, that nothing about their lives will change. Not really.

And there, over two plates of quite excellent Thai food, that is definitely, and definitively not okay.

They get loud, because they always get loud, but Nancy's never in her life been accused of being unobservant. And by the slump of his shoulders and the way he leaves several screamed insults hang, she knows he's on the same page she is. NedandNancy are done.

Sipping her cup of tea and watching the wind pull and twist the leaves on the tree outside, Nancy smiles. It hurts, but it'll be okay.

-o-

A year into her stretch in Vice, she gets a call from an old family friend. He'd been a client of her father's and he needs her help to handle a situation delicately. Surprisingly, it's the first such case since she graduated the academy and moved to full-time police work. The problem is local – the client being a fairly wealthy and respected business man on the city's Gold Coast – and therein lies the bulk of the problem.

After the rather lengthy call, she flips her cellphone shut and just stares at the wall. The octagonal emblem of the department is painted there.

She knows she's at a crossroads right now. The client had wanted no police involvement, and while even two years ago she would have jumped at the chance to delve into the mystery and solve the case...

Nancy takes a deep breath before standing up and walking in to her Lieutenant's office. Absently, she wonders if this is what growing up must feel like.

-o-

Eventually – inevitably, to hear Freddy and Bess talk – she leaves Vice on a high. A six month sting to nail a local prostitution ring leads to homicide taking rather careful notice of her arrest record and a re-evaluation of her application and credentials.

It's a strange day. She knows she won't miss Vice, given the fact that even three years in, she's still regularly freezing her can off in nothing but hooker boots and a mini-skirt. And the transfer to homicide drags her one step closer to the storied Detective First Class grade. The whole thing is honestly a bit of a coup, and she knows, she knows she got it on hard work, and not a little luck.

But there's still a part of her that is unsure about it. That doubts.

It's a strange feeling, and it haunts her for longer than she'd like to admit.

-o-

Frank Hardy bursts back into her life on one of her darkest days. It's almost cliché how relieved she feels when the door to the interview room pops open and he's standing there; tall and dark and more handsome than the last time she remembers seeing him.

McClintock was well respected within the department and an outstanding investigator, but needed a lot of wheel greasing to get him to the right places.

That said, he'd been a holy terror since minute go – local Chicago politics clashing with federal trickling down into what turned out to be a ridiculous turfwar between McClintock and the feds' lead pitbull, Edwards. They'd both spent more time posturing at each other and making digs than actually doing their assigned work, and of course, a good portion of the workload had trickled down.

To Nancy. And her counterpart on the federal side, Ernesto. Unfortunately, there was a reason she and Ernesto hadn't been assigned lead on this, and it, surprisingly, had nothing to do with gender or racial stereotyping. They'd just been too inexperienced for this kind of operation. And, of course, everything had blown up in spectacular fashion - with fifteen truckloads of illegal immigrants and enough pot to keep Northern California happy for at least six months spread all over the Dan Ryan during rush hour - and nothing to show for it but a ton of bad press and screaming brass.

Which led her to an interview room, an impending sense that her private detective business was going to have an early start and a hell of a lot of rocky ground to navigate, and Frank Hardy nearly busting something laughing.

"Drew, you are something, aren't you?"

She shoots him and his FBI haircut a dirty look and groans into her coffee. "You know, this is a conflict of interest."

"What, because you're my friend?" He's still chuckling as he dumps a file folder on the table and drops into a chair. "Please. You know this is a formality."

"No I don't. Last I heard was the Superintendent screaming for my head and going in to a closed-door meeting with one of your directors." Her voice cracks at the end, and it's only professionalism that stops her from chucking her paper cup at him. It's been five years since they've seen each other for more than ten minutes, but that damn grin is the same, and there is too much going on for her stomach to swoop like that.

"Nancy." He stares at her, eyebrow raised.

"Frank." She stares back.

The moment stretches and holds. Eventually, Frank just shakes his head and flips open the empty file folder.

"Everything is going to be fine, Nancy."

And it is. She and Ernesto are cleared of all wrong-doing, and McClintock and the nameless director are given a quiet but intense talking-to behind closed doors. It doesn't do a whole lot for her working environment – the taskforce has an indefinite timeline – but she's fine with that. She's had to deal with worse things in her life than a crabby supervisor, and most of those were better than being fired for incompetence and property damage.

Frank makes sure to shove a business card into her pocket before wandering back to the FBI HQ over on Roosevelt, and threatens to withhold the full telling of Joe's Magical Mystery Adventures In Backpacking if she doesn't take him out for a drink.

His delivery is silly enough to make her laugh, and damn if it isn't just what she needs. Watching the strong line of Frank's back as he moves out of the front doors towards the parking lot, she lets herself appreciate the relief.

She calls him.

Later, with her hands in his hair and his mouth on her breasts, she thinks that yes. Everything is just fine.

-o-

Inevitably, it comes full circle. Nancy turns in her resignation six months after she makes Detective First Grade. It's harder than she ever expected. She's been on the force for ten years. Ten back-breaking, horrifying, corruption-filled, difficult years. But while she's smiling and giving excuses to her Lieutenant, she knows that she's going to miss the job. The fact that it was never meant to be permanent does nothing to soften the break.

It hurts, walking out of her station for the last time, but unexpectedly, and happily, Frank is waiting outside. Coffee in hand and heart-melting grin in place, he steps forward. Nancy smiles and meets him half-way.

In this, her dues are paid. It's time to keep moving.

-fin-