A young man in a black tailored suit stood with impeccable posture in the center of the small living room. Despite his youth, he seemed completely at home in his expensive and formal attire. The confident, still air the man exuded might cause a casual observer to mistake him for a man considerably older than his actual 21 years.
Piercing green eyes swept over the room, absorbing everything, down to the minutest detail. The dark blue sofa and matching armchair were faded and a little pilled. They'd probably come with the apartment. Ditto the coffee table with faded water marks. A bookcase against one wall was crammed with everything from a thick tomb on medieval weaponry to the latest John Grisham novel. Photographs covered the walls. The intruder moved closer to scrutinize the images.
The first shot was of two teenage girls, approximately 13 and 15, grinning, arms around each other. The man examined the next frame. It appeared that approximately seven years had passed, and both girls had flowered into beautiful young woman. They stood, no longer arm in arm, but back to back. Their smiles had transformed from open and carefree to confident and knowing. The following photograph also featured the two women, plus a new addition.
The curly-haired woman beamed as she held the newborn infant in her arms. The remainder of the gallery seemed to chronicle the baby's growth as he moved from infancy to early adolescence. In every photograph the boy seemed to be accompanied by one of the women or by the man who'd first appeared when the boy looked no more than two. The intruder's gaze rested on a picture of the boy and his mother making goofy faces at the camera.
"Can you give me a compelling reason I shouldn't shoot you dead where you stand?" The sharp female voice coming from behind him was steady. The man had no doubt she would follow through on her threat, if she deemed it necessary. Continuing to face the wall, he spoke with equal detachment.
"I can give you two. The first is that a thirteen-year-old boy is going to come through that door in roughly ten minutes and then you'd have to explain my body. My second reason it that I am here to help that same boy, and killing me would drastically reduce his chances of continuing his life beyond the reach of certain interested parties." There was a moment of silence as the woman seemed to consider his words.
"Turn around, slowly, with your hands where I can see them." Obediently the man turned to face Marie Kessler, a woman reputed to be one of the world's deadliest Grimms. Her reputation was only rivaled by her younger sister's legend; or rather it had been until a car crash had taken Kelly Burkhardt's life.
"You have five minutes. Talk." The gun was no longer directly pointed at him, but it still readied in the Grimm's right hand, should she not care for what he had to say.
"I'm here to offer your nephew protection." That at least ought to get her attention. Fierce Kessler may have been, but she clearly had a soft spot when it came to the boy.
"Protection? From what exactly?" She was sousing him out, trying to determine his angle. Grimm vision may have been clearer than most, but even it couldn't identify Royalty when it stood before them.
"As I'm sure you're aware. The incident last year attracted a certain amount of attention in our world. Your family has popped back on the radar after a twelve year lull." Though the Wesen world continued to whisper the deeds of the Grimm sisters, no one had been able to pin down their exact location until Rhinebeck last year.
"I would hardly call them a lull."
"I'd didn't mean to imply either you or your sister had been inactive, but you were underground, so to speak." They must have been using fake names, paying in cash, and taking other precautions to ensure they stayed off grid.
"Not underground enough apparently." The Grimm's mouth tightened into a thin line, no doubt reliving the night of the crash. Sean himself was involuntarily drawn back to the memory of that night. The twisted metal, the heat from the flames, and the smell of burning flesh. He pulled himself back into the present.
"My point is that events have forced you to re-emerge and now that the Families have your scent, there is a great deal of interest in your nephew." Potential Grimms were rare finds these days. With the coming upheaval all Royals, himself included, were on the lookout for useful assets.
"Nick is too young to be of any value to the Families." She couldn't be more wrong.
"On the contrary he is just the right age for recruitment. Any psychology book will tell you that this is the point a person is at their most malleable." This was the age strong Wesen had traditionally been removed from their families to enter into royal service. The idea was to mold them young, so they would be obedient when they grew up.
"There's no guarantee as to when, or even if the legacy will be passed to him."
"There are those who'd be more than happy to gamble for the chance of a personal Grimm."
"Then what would you propose to protect him?" This was it, the pitch, he'd been preparing for almost a year.
"Simple. Pledge him to me-" Kessler interrupted him mid-sentence.
"You're out of your mind! You want me to sell you my nephew-" The prince cut the Grimm's rampage short.
"I wasn't finished. I was going to propose you pledge him to me until he inherits his legacy. I would leave him in your care to be raised as you see fit, with no direct interference until the contract expires." Kessler narrowed her eye, taking a few slow breaths to calm her temper.
"And if he never becomes a Grimm?" She was no longer seething, which was a positive sign, however, Kessler was far from sounding convinced.
"Then he'll remain unknowingly under my protection for his entire life." It was a fair deal, more than fair actually. If the child was no Grimm then the boy would be getting the better end of the arrangement.
"And if he does inherit, what then?" Then the prince had every intention of securing Burkhardt's loyalty, by any means necessary. But that, of course,would happen after the deal he was trying to broker today had expired.
"The moment he comes into his powers, he will no longer be pledged to me. He will be as independent a Grimm as you are, with all the freedom and dangers that entails. What I'm offering isn't a lifetime guarantee of safety. No Grimm can be offered that. What I'm offering is time." Time to be a child, time to be normal, time to grow-up. He knew from his preliminary observation of the boy, he had no idea what his aunt was up to when she was 'worked late' at the library. The idea of an innocent upbringing, free of the Wesen world, should appeal to her.
"Very generous. And what would you require in return?"
"Updates. Reports on the boy's growth and development." Simply put, he wanted an edge, an advantage over the others who would come for the new Grimm.
"Insider information? Anything else?"
"Yes. All this moving from place to place, can't be good for the boy. I think is time for him to have some roots."
"Any place in particular?"
"Portland. I've been establishing myself there for the past year. I'm sure I could some pull some strings and set you up in the one of the public libraries." Kessler scowled, undoubtedly irritated he'd uncovered her legitimate source of income.
"It's quite an offer you've made me." The Grimm absently tapped her leg with the gun as she considered his words.
"I assure you, you'll be offer no better by anyone else in my family." The others likely wouldn't approach her at all. They'd watch and wait until the child was alone, snatch him, and vanish.
"I don't doubt that. What I do doubt is the wisdom of making an arrangement with any of you. My sister learned the hard way that trusting royal was akin to letting a scorpion crawl up your arm." The prince couldn't deny there was an ugly history there. After all, he'd witnessed it firsthand.
"Then perhaps I should share your last incentive to accept my proposal." It wasvtime to play his trump card, and he needed to do so delicately, or he would end up with a bullet in the brain.
"I'm uniquely equipped to protect your nephew, because I know the truth about him." Kessler breathing changed, ever so slightly. If he hadn't been watching for it, he never would have spotted it.
"What truth?" She thought he was bluffing, blowing smoke, but he wasn't. His fear had been that Kelly hadn't confided in her sister, but obviously she had.
"The truth that no one else in my family knows, not even my father. The truth that would paint a target on his back so large it could be seen from space. That truth." The prince held his breath. If Marie acted on what he knew was her protective instinctive he would be dead in a matter of moments.
"You couldn't…unless…are you…?" Comprehension dawned in the Grimm's eyes, and the prince was, for the moment at least, safe. He offered his right hand to Kessler.
"Sean Renard. I take it your sister mentioned me." The Grimm stared at his offered limb, but made no move to take it.
"Yes. It's funny, but I've always pictured you as child."
"That was how your sister knew me. And trusted me." Renard withdrew his hand with a shrug. Clearly whatever Kelly had shared about their past wasn't enough to secure Marie's confidence in him.
"Yes, but as we've established, my sister has a history of trusting the wrong people. Or had a history, I suppose." Strange that, though it had been more than a year, Kessler still struggled with using the past tense in terms of her sister. Part of him understood why. Sean never would have believed she was dead either if he hadn't the bodies pulled from the wreckage.
"I'm not my father." Even as he spoke the words, he wondered if it wasn't true.
"No. I have a feeling you're much more dangerous."
"So…do we have an agreement?" Renard gestured to his suit pocket and removed a folded piece of paper and a small knife. Kessler stared at the sheet for a full ten seconds, then back up at Renard.
"I don't trust you. Regardless of whatever connection you had to my sister, I don't think you care about safety or happiness of my nephew. However, you have kept Nick's secret and in doing so probably saved his life. If my sister were here with us right now, I know she would tell me to put my faith in that little boy who she knew all those years ago. Kelly is, was Nick's mother. I have to respect what she would have wanted for her son." Kessler took the dagger from Sean's outstretched hand, and cut her thumb in one fluid moment. Pressing it to the paper, she read the first paragraph on the page,
"I, Marie Kessler, Guardian of Nicholas Burkhardt, do Pledge the same to the service of His Royal Highness, Prince Sean of the House of Bourban until such time that the child inherits his Grimm legacy," The Grimm removed her thumb and handed the knife back to Renard, who used it to make an identical cut. Pressing his finger to the page he spoke his oath,
"I, Prince Sean of the House of Bourban, do swear on blood oath, to protect my vassal, Nicholas Burkhurdt, for the duration of his service to me. As he keeps faith with me, so I shall keep faith with him." Sean removed his finger and spoke his part of the closing ritual,
"As it was before," Renard held his breath as Kessler whispered the binding words,
"So it shall be again." The pact was struck.