Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.
Something cut sharply into Nick's wrists when he jerked awake, and a spike of pain seared through the low throbbing in his head. Everything else ached. He blinked grit from his eyes, and his blurred sight resolved: dirty concrete walls, greyish light from above. His own wrists, cuffed, one arm looped over a metal rail at about the height of his head. No wonder his arms were aching, being held up like that for God knew how long.
He struggled to focus past the grinding headache, and began to take in more of his surroundings. He was sitting in a corner, and the rail he was cuffed to ran along the wall to his right, its supports embedded in the concrete. His eyes followed along to the opposite corner to another figure - a fellow captive, cuffed in the same fashion.
His usually impeccable suit was rumpled, and there was a bruise on his right cheekbone, but Renard's eyes were alert and focused on Nick, expression studiously blank.
"You look like I feel," Nick said; it came out slightly hoarse. They were alone in a room about ten by fifteen feet, with a high ceiling and narrow windows just below it. Nick had been in enough of them to recognise a factory building when he saw one.
The captain offered a wry, one-shouldered shrug. "Really? That's what I was going to say." Renard sounded as he always did, calm and quiet. He'd threaded his left arm further over the rail and hooked his elbow over it. Nick imitated him and sighed in relief as the strain it took off his cuffed wrists and his shoulders. "Are you all right? You got a bit of a bang on the head, I'm afraid."
Right. He'd been with the captain, on their way back from the courthouse. They'd been jumped coming out of the elevator in the parking garage. Nick remembered calling out a warning, punching someone, the body-locking agony of a taser, a thudding impact on his head - and then blackness.
By the light from above, it must still be Friday afternoon.
"Peachy," he said, and then took stock of himself. Everything did ache; that wasn't just the residual muscle pain from the taser. Dull-throbbing knots in his legs and arms and over his ribs, flaring whenever he breathed too deep - someone had kicked him around for a bit, afterwards. Renard looked like it, too. Not a good sign. How long had it been? How long had the captain been awake? No - the most important question first: who. "Royals?"
"No," came back immediately. A half-formed grimace flickered over Renard's his face; then: "Resistance, actually."
Nick blinked. Weren't they supposed to be on the same side? "You didn't get knocked out?"
"I did. But I saw them first."
Nick worked the stiffened muscles of his arms and shoulders as well as he could. The knots of bruises weren't helping. "That's got to have been deliberate." They'd had tasers; if they'd done it right, they could have taken both of them out without either of them ever seeing anyone coming.
"I believe so." The captain leaned forward, toward him, eyes intent. "Listen, Nick, this is important. There's more going on here than you -"
A metallic noise from the door drew both their eyes, and Renard interrupted himself, quickly changing track. "They are not enemies," he said, urgently, and then the door came open all the way.
Nick raised his eyebrows in silent question, but Renard had schooled his expression into blandness.
The people coming in certainly looked like enemies to Nick, considering all three of them were carrying tasers and pointing them at their captives. Two men, and one woman who appeared to be in charge. Nick focused past his headache and strained his hearing. No other sounds came from outside. The building had to be empty.
The woman's eyes swept over both of them; then she walked over to Renard, stopping well outside his restrained reach. The other two remained at an even more respectful distance, alert and watchful.
"Sean Renard." She spat out the name as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.
"Nadya Gregorio," the captain answered, mildly, leaning back in his corner as if it were his office chair at the precinct. Just another day at work, having a conversation with your captor while sitting handcuffed on the floor. He even stretched out his long legs, crossing them at the ankle. "You've come a long way."
Renard was a large man, and she not a very large woman at all, but like this, she loomed over him. She was shorter than both her companions, but wiry, wearing jeans and a leather jacket, her hair cut short. The two men had stayed by the door, keeping a close eye on their captives. They looked every bit as ordinary as she and wouldn't have stood out anywhere, one blond and broad-shouldered, the other darker-skinned and, despite being far from middle age, a retreating hairline.
All three of them moved like fighters - trained ones, not merely the natural predatorial instinct of certain Wesen. Nick had learned to recognise the difference.
"You saw me," Gregorio said, her English slightly accented. Her voice was as emotionless as Renard's face, now. The distaste had been for show, or at least deliberately shown.
"As you planned." Renard nodded thoughtfully. The captain was nothing if not in command of himself, but even with Renard's self-control, Nick was a bit impressed just how unconcerned he managed to look. "Shall we skip the formalities?"
She shifted a little on the balls of her feet in preparation, and smiled a thin, anticipatory smile. "Very well. You are a danger to us, Renard. We should never have met with you."
Renard seemed unimpressed by that, too. "You did, though."
"And now I'm making sure it won't bite us. Since Tavitian won't." A sharp, quick, nasty show of teeth, and she narrowed her eyes at him. "Tavitian thinks we need you. He may even be right. But I'm not so sure you're worth the risk. I suppose we'll see."
Gregorio turned on her heel and looked over at Nick, who was kicking himself for not having learned more details about the Resistance and its factions.
"Grimm," she said, curling her mouth around the word. If Renard's name had been a bad taste, this was more as if she were forcing herself to say something crude. He wondered what she was. She hadn't woged, but that meant nothing.
Across the room, Renard was shifting a hand in a gesture all his officers knew as a 'stand down'. Nick hesitated, but took his cue from the captain for now. Clearly Renard knew something about what was going on here; Nick could wait to get it out of him.
He focused his best Grimm look on her, leaning forward a little and using the movement to shift his arms. "Are you sure you want to be doing this?"
"Want?" Gregorio shook her head, and her small ear pendants bounced. The hand holding her taser was resting against her hip, and her posture was relaxation superimposed on underlying tension. "Want doesn't come into it. You and your Royal, you are dangerous to us. This is necessity."
Cryptic. So they were a threat again, were they? Gregorio looked like someone who enjoyed removing threats. The dull throbbing of Nick's headache receded in a wash of adrenaline.
She turned back to Renard, and tossed something at him. He fumbled, but just about managed to catch it. A phone.
"Here," she said, coolly. "A show of good faith. Prove it to me."
Nick's eyebrows went higher and higher as Renard complied, dialling a number and informing the person on the other side that he and Nick had had something come up, and would be out of touch for a bit.
It was difficult to gather much from Renard's half of the conversation, but all in all Nick didn't think he was talking to an officer; his voice lacked that distinct captain tone. It had slid into a slightly more formal accent, too. Not Hank, then, not police at all, and not a close friend. Family seemed exceptionally unlikely, except perhaps Renard's mother, though she was unlikely to be closeby - probably not the person he'd call about something like this. Which left who?
Gregorio looked on with what seemed a mixture of satisfaction and scepticism.
What did these people have on Renard, to make him cooperate like this? He'd called them not enemies - or had that been a trick? Had this?
At any rate, no one had talked to his friends. Juliette must have missed him already, and Nick was certain they were looking. Perhaps Renard counted on that, too. Damn the man.
When Renard disconnected the call, Gregorio plucked the phone out of his hands and, without another word, gestured for the men to join her. A moment later the metal door clanged shut again.
Nick turned to glare at Renard. "What the hell is going on here?"
A corner of Renard's mouth turned down in incongruous, wry amusement. "We've been kidnapped by the Resistance," he said, drily.
"Yes, I noticed that much!" Nick scowled, and jiggled his handcuffs. Standard issue, easily opened with nothing more than a shim or a simple bit of wire. "And do they seriously expect these to hold us?"
"Probably not." Renard shrugged, a tense shift of the shoulder betraying more irritation than he probably intended. "Gregorio is one of the leaders of the Resistance, and so is Tavitian. I met them when I was in Europe. And there's a camera right over there." He gestured at the light fixture just above the door. "It's ... not entirely unexpected," he added after a moment. "Someone was bound to try something. I didn't think they'd bring you into this, though. I would have warned you."
Disagreements among the Resistance over Renard - why was he not surprised? But Gregorio had brought Nick into this, too. As another unknown factor? Something else? It could have given him a headache, if he hadn't already had one. Renard's explanation didn't tell him very much at all, and answered none of his most urgent questions. "What is she? What does she want? And why are you playing along?"
"She's human." And at Nick's surprised blink, "A lot of the Resistance are. The Families have influence everywhere, and Kehrseite have less to lose in resisting it than Wesen."
Nick nodded. He'd understood that much already. Wesen society, from what he understood, was intertwined with the world of the Royals in many countries, and resisting one always risked exposing the other. Kehrseite - ordinary humans - were in a different position entirely.
"You're taking this very calmly," Nick said, gesturing into the room with an elbow. "We should ..." A meaningful glance at his handcuffs.
"Don't." The captain's voice was suddenly hard, decisive. "Like I said, they're not enemies."
Weren't they? Nick glanced around himself, demonstratively. These were hardly the actions of an ally. Besides, Renard himself didn't exactly fully trust the Resistance; Nick knew that much.
What did Renard think made an ally, anyway?
"So? Gregorio doesn't seem to like either of us much," was all he said out loud. He didn't add, And she kidnapped us - his glare expressed that point clearly enough.
"Yes, well, what do you expect?" Renard said, as if conceding a point. "I am Royal; I think you can understand her concerns. You realise there's a lot of doubt in the Resistance, over who they can trust. It's not an easy alliance. Gregorio is only trying to make sure of me. Of us."
"So, what, you're just going to let her?"
"Yes." Renard offered a one-shouldered shrug, then abandoned the studiously casual attitude and shifted forward, leaning over his bent knees. Here comes the important part, his posture said. "Let me just say - I know this isn't your area. You're not usually involved in these games, and I wouldn't have involved you if I'd had the choice. But this alliance has a great deal of value to me, and to a great many other people. I'm going to do everything I can to strengthen it."
Nick narrowed his eyes, trying to read the captain's expression. He seemed nothing less than deathly serious. Renard was saying he'd let this woman hold him captive, let her do whatever the hell it was she intended to do.
And he wanted Nick to play along.
"You've got to be kidding me." They'd been kidnapped and beaten, and Renard acted as if that was nothing, as if it simply didn't matter. What kind of an alliance allowed for that? Besides ... "It's too dangerous." Gregorio had already gone too far; there was no telling what else she would do.
Renard met Nick's eyes, and held them. "I won't stop you," he said. A wry smile, and a lift of his cuffed wrists. "Can't, actually. But I'm not saying this lightly. This is important, Nick." Unspoken: And if you refuse, you're going to ruin it. There was no give in his eyes at all.
Nick had never truly had to decide just how far he'd trust Renard; it had never come to that. He was proud of that, actually - he'd always found other ways to solve a problem, and if there was one thing you could rely on with Renard it was that he was practical. But right now? Now, Renard was asking Nick to put his body, his life on the line on nothing more than his say-so.
And Nick, for all that he still didn't know how far he could trust the man, had never had any trouble believing him. If he said this was important, it was.
"All right," Nick said, swallowing down further protests. For now. He leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath. "All right."
"I'm sorry." Renard sounded genuinely apologetic. "I doubt this is going to be pleasant."
Nick met Renard's eyes again for a long moment. The determination was the same. He sighed. "This better be worth it."
Nick had no watch, but it felt like hours were passing, and he was starting to get thoroughly irritated. All his aches and bruises and the stiffness that came with them were building up, sending spikes of pain through his entire body with every incautious move. His head was still throbbing, a pressure behind his eyes that abated only when he closed them and sat very still, which in turn made the stiffness worse. Shifting his arms every few minutes to relieve the strain and pressure from being handcuffed in such an uncomfortable position was its own irritation.
On top of that, he and Renard were being silent, and that was starting to become uncomfortable, too. Nick wanted to ask any number of questions, but knew better than to try where they would be overheard. Who exactly were these people, within the Resistance? What were they after here? How deep-seated was their grudge against Renard? And as for Renard himself - what exactly was he hoping to accomplish here? Nick could ask none of that, not when he didn't even know what not to give away.
Damn it, Nick didn't want to be playing for these kinds of stakes - he'd never signed up for that. (Hadn't signed up for anything, actually. Damn legacies, anyway.) He almost wished he could just drag Renard out of here kicking and screaming, but even if he could, the man would never forgive him for that.
Sighing, Nick leaned his head against the wall, his thoughts running in circles, going nowhere.
The captain couldn't be any better off than he was, but he gave away no discomfort, sitting back in his corner with an elbow resting on his knees and his eyes closed, the very picture of relaxation.
It didn't fit with his expensive suit, rumpled though it was. Captain Renard simply didn't look like someone who would be comfortable under rough circumstances. Always impeccably turned out and in control, the captain had a certain reputation. A man living in an expensive condo, wearing tailored suits, cultured and to all appearances used to a certain degree of luxury. But here he was, on the concrete floor with his hands cuffed, and he wasn't even making the attempt to free his hands. Taking the conditions of their captivity not just with stoicism, but with a jaded weariness leavened with resolution, as if he'd seen and done all of this before, and wasn't particularly impressed this time, either.
What kind of life had Renard led, to bring him to this? Who the hell was he, underneath it all?
Nick understood he was making some kind of point, but if Gregorio wouldn't trust an ally after the alliance was formed, what could this farçe possibly prove? He bit his lips before he could voice another protest. Renard knew this woman; he knew what he was doing.
At least Nick hoped so.
When the door opened again, it was almost a relief.
It was growing dark outside and darker within, and the glare of the handheld searchlight the blond man was carrying seared Nick's eyes, blinding him momentarily. His headache flared into white-hot spikes of pain. Then his eyes adjusted, and a vague shadow resolved into the other man carrying in a plastic folding chair. With a wary look toward Nick, he set it down before Renard, seat turned toward the door.
At least the light seemed to bring some warmth to the room, which was getting chilly. It was a poor trade-off for the glare.
Gregorio followed behind and sat down facing Renard, straddling the chair with her arms folded on the backrest. She seemed entirely focused on the captain, but despite the light's glare from that direction, Nick didn't miss that one of her companions - the balding one - was keeping a close and wary eye on Nick.
Afraid of the big bad Grimm, are you? he thought viciously. Sometimes it did come in handy.
Renard tilted his head back a little and watched Gregorio through slitted eyes.
Gregorio said something in French. Renard's eyebrows went up. "You already know that," he replied - in English, even though he didn't spare so much as a glance for Nick. "Eric was getting too dangerous. He had to be stopped."
"Dangerous to you," Gregorio corrected.
Renard shook his head. "A Grimm - any Grimm - in his hands? The best we could have hoped for was a quick death for the Grimm."
Renard didn't look at Nick, didn't acknowledge his presence at all. Nick suppressed a shiver. Speaking as the Grimm in question, that had been decidedly cold.
Renard could be, sometimes. After all, he'd had his brother killed. Had tried to kill Aunt Marie, and been behind Adalind's original machinations to get Nick's key.
And Nick, he reminded himself, had accepted that. Sometimes he wondered what that made him.
Not something good, probably.
"Your feud with your brother is of no interest to me," Gregorio was saying, her voice calm, the tension underneath betrayed only in the abruptness of her movements. "It's Tavitian who thinks hating your family is a virtue. I know better."
She'd mentioned this Tavitian before; he was clearly a sore spot with her. Nick suppressed a sigh. Different Resistance factions, carrying out their squabbles in the most inane way possible. Didn't they have better things to do?
Renard displayed a wry smile. "So do I." He shook his head. "I'm not claiming to be a disinterested party. None of us are. Or can you say you have nothing to gain from this struggle?"
Her smile showed teeth. "And there you see my problem. Unlike the rest of us, you have more to gain from your family, should you return to the fold."
If Nick was any judge, the man wouldn't have trusted his family to spit on him if he was on fire. With good reason, as Nick could have told her if she'd bothered to ask. He let his opinion show clearly on his face. But Renard was nodding. "And the only thing standing in my way is that they won't have me, is that it?"
"Isn't it?" Gregorio pursed her lips. "When you were a boy, your family tried to kill you. Your mother and you ran away."
Renard tilted his head back, looking to the ceiling. "Your point?"
"If you'd kept running, maybe I'd trust you."
"If I'd kept running I'd be of no use to you."
"You reveal yourself. This - this is how you think! And that's all it ever is, for you. Use. You're not one of us - you're using us. Your mother used us, too, in her escape. And what did she do, then?" Gregorio slapped the flat of her hand against her thigh. "Nothing. She did not join us; she did nothing at all against the family that threatened her. And you are worse than that. When you came of age, you made an arrangement with your father, didn't you?"
"Again: your point?" Renard's voice was tight, now. Someone who didn't know him well probably wouldn't be able to tell. But Nick had known him for years, knew how his speech patterns changed when he was angry. He never raised his voice, but his speech was speeding up.
Something in Gregorio's speech had touched a nerve.
Nick's skin was starting to itch, sensing escalation. If this went out of control -
Gregorio rose from her chair. She stabbed a finger in Renard's direction. "What she did, you will do. What you did before, you will do again. That is what I am saying, what I have said. You say it is more this time; you say it is different." She stepped closer, into his space, bending down. "Why should I believe it? You are still only using us." And she grabbed his shoulder, hard, slamming him back against the wall. Renard's handcuffs clanged against the rail as his arms were stretched. Renard let out a hiss of pain.
Nick was rapidly losing what little patience he'd had to begin with. He'd known he couldn't trust these people. Why had he agreed to this? What did Renard think he was accomplishing?
Renard gritted his teeth. "Of course I am. I have use for you, you have use for me, we all use each other. We're not here to be friends - we're all useful to each other, which is what makes this an alliance."
In Renard terms, he was practically snarling. If Renard was in any kind of control over this situation, Nick couldn't see it.
Nick didn't have to glance at the two men to know they were still watching, tasers in hand. But would they expect him to simply rip the metal rail from the wall? Anyone who thought kidnapping a Grimm was a good idea had to be underestimating the kind of force he could bring to bear.
If he chose. Which he wasn't, just yet. But this couldn't go on much longer.
"Using each other," Gregorio spat, still entirely focused on Renard. "Is that how it is with you and the Grimm?"
And there was the opening Nick needed.
"The Grimm is right here," Nick interjected before either of them could say anything more, "and can actually speak for himself. Just in case you didn't realise."
Gregorio's attention shifted toward him, and her eyes flickered over him, trying to take his measure. She smiled, darkly. "Yes. Why don't we do that."
Renard, of course, didn't appreciate the interference, and was glaring at him. But he'd had it with sitting idly by, watching the woman go after Renard. If he wasn't doing anything else - yet - at least he could find out what she wanted from a Grimm instead.
Besides, his wrists went numb if he let them hang loose in the cuffs, but a shift in position only brought relief for a moment. If not his wrists, then his forearms, his elbow, his biceps. His shoulders were hard as a board by now. And his head was still throbbing. He was really starting to build up some frustration, and he could use a chance to let off some steam.
"This make you feel more powerful?" he sneered at her, lifting his hands from the rail, relieving the strain and drawing her eyes to them. She barely paid attention. Not much confidence in physically being able to hold a Grimm, then - good.
Gregorio seemed to be expecting Renard to play along - Nick was just fine with it if she was less sure of him.
Incongruously, she smiled. "Not used to your prince not being in control?" she said, satisfied. "He's a very irritating man."
Nick clenched his teeth. Did these people understand nothing? "One right, one wrong," he commented flippantly. "Irritating, yes. My prince, no." Not my anything, other than my captain, he nearly added, but that had nothing to do with this.
She shrugged. "Semantics. He is a prince. You are working for him." It really seemed to be that simple for her - or was that an act? A good one, if so. "But never mind that, Nick. I'm far more interested in other things." She smiled. "I can call you Nick, can't I?"
Nick tried to keep his eyes from narrowing. "Of course, Nadya."
He could feel the captain's gaze on him, heavy and intense. But Renard didn't interfere for now, probably taking the time to regain his focus.
"You're not what I imagined a Grimm to be," she said. "Of course, all the rumours say you aren't. But they're not accounting for him." She gestured at Renard with a jerk of the head. "You didn't know what you were, growing up, did you?"
"No." He glared. "You should be glad." He'd be a very different person if he had; meeting his mother again after all those years had made that very clear to him. Nick missed her, resented her loss, still hated thinking back to the desperate time after her supposed death. But he didn't regret who he'd come to be without her.
"They have heard of you in Mannheim, in Vienna, in Den Haag. That much is to be expected. But the stories carry, in other places - of the Grimm who will not kill on sight. The Grimm who will work with Wesen."
"So?" Nick wished he could make her understand how much he hated being the Wesen world's bogeyman, how much it irked him that not being a murderous maniac was cause for remark. But not even his Wesen friends fully understood his frustration. They'd all grown up with the stories; for them, he really was something new.
Nick still hated it with every fibre of his being.
"What came first, Nick? The Wesen or the prince?" She was watching him every bit as closely as he was watching her.
The first Wesen he'd seen had been Adalind. Nick refused to let himself be drawn into memories. What was Gregorio getting at? "Do enlighten me. You sound like you did your research."
"Are you trying to be funny?"
He smiled innocently; a look he'd perfected over the years. He'd driven Hank to distraction with it, a time or two. "Not particularly. Did you want me to?"
A sharp flash of teeth - this one definitely not feigned. Point to me. But whether that was of any use, or only antagonised her, Nick couldn't tell.
Gregorio went back on topic, such as it was. "What I know is this: when you came into your power, he was already there, ready to take control. You were never not his."
Wrong, he thought, instinctively recoiling, and then, or is it? Something inside him clenched at the thought, and not for the first time. The hell of it was, he had worried about that, after finding out about Renard - just how much the man had been manipulating him from the start. Gregorio was perhaps paranoid, but not without reason. And her worries weren't unfounded.
This probably counted as proof that Renard knew what he was doing. What he was making Nick do.
But Gregorio - Nadya - was still wrong. He glowered at her, his offence at the suggestion no doubt clear on his face. Renard didn't own him, his own doubts be damned. "I solve crimes; that's my job. What exactly is it you think I do for him?"
Now she jerked her head in what seemed like genuine surprise, then tilted her head, considering. Her left earring jangled; she pulled on it in thought. "They say you protect Wesen, and you very well may do. But that isn't all, is it? That isn't why." She leaned forward. "You are not a new kind of Grimm - you are a very old one. A Royal's enforcer, keeping the peace at his master's behest. Suffering Wesen at his master's word, removing only those inconvenient to the prince."
Nick shifted his seat, to change the position of his wrists. Pins and needles in his right hand. "That's what you're taking away from this?" he snapped. Did she really believe that?
We're trying to get through to her, not antagonise her, Nick reminded himself, but this was going nowhere fast. He clenched his fist, then unclenched it, once, twice. He wasn't even certain what it was she needed to see, to hear. He was flying blind, and had to rely on Renard to keep their aim in sight, to point him in the right direction if he went wrong. He didn't like it one bit, but there didn't seem anything else he could do.
Well, short of breaking out, knocking them all down and putting them into a cell where they damn well belonged, kidnappers and all.
"Your friends must know the truth. Perhaps we should have brought some of them. Perhaps we still should."
And that was too far. He brought his feet under him, hands clenching around the rail, and -
"You don't have much of an imagination, do you?" Renard's voice came, deceptively mild. "Is that really the only relationship you can imagine between a Royal and a Grimm?"
Nick forced himself to wait out her answer, gritting his teeth. Renard saw some kind of point in this, so there must be one. He wasn't going to ruin his game. He wasn't.
But he wasn't going to let her get away with this, either.
"You will tell me now he is your best friend?" Nadya said scathingly. "That what he does for you is all flowers, that he is not the whip and the sword in your hand?"
Renard threw an indecipherable look at Nick. "He's not my best friend," he said calmly. "He's not my friend at all."
That, unaccountably, stung. No, they weren't friends - Renard was his captain, and an uncertain ally, and someone whose knowledge and insights he relied on. Friendship? It might be possible; they certainly weren't there. But still, to hear it denied so directly ...
"You want to know what he's doing?" Renard's speech had sped up again. "Keeping the law. Nothing more and nothing less. Impartially, toward Wesen and humans alike. And it has very little to do with me."
That was startlingly passionate, for Renard. It meant something to him - a surprising amount, judging by the edge to his voice.
"Please," Nadya spat. "Don't be ridiculous." A quick glance toward Nick. "Ein Prinz von Geblüt - egal, wie sehr Sie Ihre Familie hassen, Sie machen sich doch nie gemein mit uns. Und in Ihrem Kanton? Der Grimm tut nichts, was er tut, ohne Ihre Zustimmung. Sie sehen sich nicht als einen von uns - für sich selbst bleiben Sie immer der Anführer. Sie wollen herrschen."
She'd switched languages again, and Nick couldn't understand any of it, though he thought he'd made out the word "Grimm" in there. Leaving him out of the loop again. Though she probably was just poking Renard with a stick again, trying to provoke some kind of reaction. What she'd said probably didn't even matter.
Or so he tried to tell himself. It didn't quell the frustration.
"German?" Renard said, amusement in his voice. "Really? Are we going to cycle through all the languages Nick doesn't understand? That could take a while."
"Mentally signing up for a language course as we speak," Nick interjected.
Nadya snarled at him again. Two for two; flippancy did get under her skin. Good to know.
Renard's eyes flickered to him for a moment, amused. Then he was focused on Nadya again. "And it's just impolite." A quick shake of the head. "As to your question - or should I say accusation? I suggest you look at yourself. You're certainly not of any kind of noble blood. You're not even Wesen - just your ordinary Kehrseite. Yet you see yourself as a leader." A pause. "Because you are."
Nadya hissed in frustration. Her body was strung tight. The tension was still growing, no matter how casual Renard tried to sound. Whatever it was she was looking for - Renard wasn't giving it to her.
The worst of it was, Nick wasn't even certain whether that was deliberate. There was a purpose to this, after all - there was a reason why Renard had insisted on letting this happen. Why they hadn't so much as attempted to escape yet. Was Renard trying to give her what she was looking for, and failing? Or was there some other kind of strategy to this?
He didn't know. He could only trust the captain's judgment, or refuse and blow this whole situation right up.
Blowing it up sounded pretty good to him just now.
Of course, Renard had made it perfectly clear that he wasn't going to stop trying, even if Nick did, but Nick wasn't stupid enough to think he wouldn't be putting Renard at risk if he did. Or the risk that he might be sabotaging something important, but that was more distant. Renard was right here, and hell if he was going to leave him in danger on his own.
Damn. A fight would have been much easier. And would have made a great deal more sense.
When Nadya finally turned to leave, it was without any kind of result, as far as Nick could tell. The door was already open when Nick stopped her.
"Nadya," he said sharply, and waited until she turned. Then he leaned forward, focusing his hardest Grimm look on her. "I don't care what you think I am. I don't care what you think you're doing here. I'm here because he is, and I'm not leaving him behind. But if you threaten my friends again ..." A dark, vicious smile. "You're never going to have to worry about who to trust, ever again."
Her face had shut down utterly, and her body had gone entirely still. Something uncertain flickered in her eyes, as if he'd done something she hadn't expected. Then she bared her teeth at him, and was gone.
The spotlight remained behind - for the benefit of the camera, probably. Nick scowled up at it.
When he turned to the captain, Renard quickly schooled his expression, but not until Nick had caught a look of evaluation tinged with embarrassment.
"I'm sorry," Renard said, and shifted on the floor, sliding a little closer to the rail and trying yet another angle to briefly relieve his arms. "I know this isn't what you signed up for."
"Yeah, you've got that right." Nick offered him a glare.
"Don't let her get to you. If there was an easier way to do this ..." Renard shrugged, apologetically.
Nick's glare softened a little with surprise. It wasn't as if she hadn't started to get to Renard, too, once or twice. But the captain seemed a great deal more bothered by Nick's discomfort with the situation than with his own.
Why exactly did that surprise him? Hadn't he seen enough of Renard's approach to all of this - hadn't he already concluded that this wasn't new to him?
Nick sighed and changed track. "Can't we just punch them instead? That would be easier."
Renard smirked. "Still no."
"Why are we doing this?"
"Because we could be doing something else."
Yeah, we could be killing each other. He'd almost have preferred that, right now.
But it wasn't just Renard who'd decided not to go for the kill. Gregorio could have - and she seemed to think she had reason. If she'd chosen this instead, what did that say?
Kidnapping, though. As a gesture of goodwill, it was seriously lacking.
Renard added, "We should get some rest while we can." With that, he folded his legs under him, leaned back and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he seemed fast asleep.
Nick rolled his aching shoulders and braced himself. He felt almost unbearably stiff, and the strain of the handcuffs had started to shoot pain down his spine. Standing up was going to be agonising.
He did it anyway, bracing himself against the rail. Carefully - he couldn't risk injuring himself further - he began, one by one, to stretch his muscles. He needed to be ready for a fight, not unable to so much as unbend his spine.
Agonising turned out to be an understatement. Nick gritted his teeth against it and continued. He couldn't stand up all the way, but he could kneel up and straighten his spine, could then come to his feet and flex his legs, even if he had to stoop over to do it.
Renard had to have been in excruciating pain, getting up after a whole night. He'd hid it well, even from Nick.
At least Nick's headache had retreated over the night. There was still the occasional flare, but it had stopped throbbing.
He sighed at himself. Why had he still not ditched the handcuffs? They'd left him everything, for God's sake - they'd taken his wallet and his phone, but he was still fully dressed, and he even had his belt. The buckle was far too sturdy for its tongue to serve as a shim, but some of the decoration would suit nicely.
But Renard had said ...
No. He couldn't think about Renard now.
Nadya's two companions had come and taken Renard out of the room some time ago, after it had grown light outside, and the waiting was seriously starting to get to him. At least they'd taken the light with them; he was glad to be rid of the glare.
The captain, of course, had simply gone along with it all without any outward sign of apprehension. His parting look at Nick had been a clear, Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone.
Every part of this seemed futile to him. Not that Renard didn't have a point about the potential value, but all he'd seen so far was threats, escalation, and the threat of more escalation.
Renard was willing to risk that, though - and was willing to put his own body into the bargain. As well as Nick's, which perhaps should have bothered him more.
He wasn't entirely sure why it didn't.
Nick shook himself. This was taking too long. What were they doing to Renard, that they wouldn't do in front of him? Could he really afford to just sit here and ...
Damn it, he wanted this over, and not just because his back already felt like he needed a chiropractor. He wanted to tell Nadya Gregorio where she could stuff her trust issues, wanted to be doing anything but this.
He focused on his legs, his arms, his shoulders and back instead. Which was ridiculous in itself - things had to be completely fucked up if agonising pain counted for a welcome distraction. His mouth was dry, too. Good thing, though, that they'd spent hours in the courtroom before being taken - if he'd had anything like his usual intake of coffee his bladder would be protesting far more by now than it already did. How far was Nadya going to take this? How far was he going to let her? How far did Renard think they should?
Fruitless thoughts, in the absence of any answer.
More importantly, if Renard wasn't getting anywhere, was there anything he could do to help? His apparent gift for irritating Nadya with flippancy might come in handy, but wasn't exactly going to bring them closer to their goal. He had managed to surprise her, though, toward the end ...
The gnawing in his stomach, at least, was only worry. So far.
The door clanged. Nick breathed a sigh of relief when the captain entered, followed immediately by Nadya and the balding man, both holding tasers as usual. (Had he really just thought usual?)
Renard was moving somewhat less fluidly than he usually did, and there was a fresh bruise blooming on his chin, but otherwise he seemed none the worse for wear. He went along quietly when Nadya gave him an ungentle shove in the direction of his corner, and let her cuff him to the rail again. He sat down where he'd been, and threw an ironic look up at Nadya, as if to say, now what?
Nadya's expression was unreadable. "I should kill you and be done with it. One less Royal in the world, no loss."
Renard closed his eyes. "Here's a tip from someone who knows: don't make threats you don't intend to go through with."
"You're right. I won't. Tavitian would become ... unpleasant, did I remove his new friend." "Perhaps I'll just kill the Grimm. Take him away from you, your very valuable possession. And then you can see where that leaves you."
For a fraction of a second they both glanced over at Nick. Renard narrowed his eyes at him behind Nadya's back, and his hand shifted in his usual 'stand down' gesture. Then Nadya leaned into Renard's face and gave him a vicious shove, banging his shoulder against the wall. "Nothing to say?
Nick shifted his legs and wrapped a hand about the rail, ready to spring into action. He barely had time enough to think, You just try and come this close to me, and ..., then there was a thud of impact and a tumbling crash. Renard's foot had shot out against Nadya's leg, toppling her balance, propelling her straight into Renard. Despite the handcuffs, he'd managed to wrap his arm around her neck, elbow at her throat. Her body served him as a shield for the balding man's taser; Nadya had lost her grip on her own when she fell.
Damn. Nick would have liked to have done that himself.
Just how serious had that threat been? Very serious, if Renard was reacting like this. Perhaps she was more homicidal than the captain had led him to believe. More likely to target Nick?
"That was a mistake," Renard said conversationally, right into Nadya's ear. He was speaking quickly. "Don't threaten him again." A sideways glance at Nick. "There are limits, Gregorio. And threatening to shoot a man because you're not sure about his boss? That's just going too far. I hope we understand each other."
And then he shifted, and simply let her go, releasing her from his hold. What the hell?
Nadya was on her feet in an instant, taser pointed at Renard. Her companion switched his focus onto Nick again.
Nick snarled. Renard had used a move he wouldn't be able to bring into play a second time, just to warn Nadya away from Nick. That was just stupid. Either she really was homicidal; then they should be stopping her - or she was just mouthing off, and then Renard shouldn't have reacted at all.
Too late for that. But they could still make a go of it, though, tasers or no. Threaten him, would she? Nick shifted his arms, deliberately clinking his handcuffs against the rail to draw Renard's attention. Clear invitation, and with any luck, it came off merely as a distraction.
Renard lowered his eyelids at him; a quick, reassuring calm-down gesture. Apparently not.
Nick fumed quietly, but found he was breathed easier.
Nadya had looked over to him briefly, but turned back now to glare down at Renard, who was once again sitting calmly in his corner as if nothing had happened. Her taser hadn't wavered for a moment. "You're the one who made a mistake just now."
Renard met her eyes. "If you want to call it that."
Renard knew he'd just given Nadya something she wanted - but had he gained anything in return? Or the opposite? Had he angered her too much, regardless of whatever else this might mean in their game? Nick couldn't tell.
He couldn't tell, and he hated it.
Finally, Nadya dropped her aim. She hesitated for a moment, then came over to Nick and reached for his cuffs, pulling them up a little, his wrists with them. He let her, still spoiling for a fight but holding back. Trying to do what Renard would want, for as long as he could. As far as he could tell what that even was.
If she threatened either of them again, though ...
Anyway, for the moment, her taser was pointed straight at his belly, finger on the trigger. There was no way he could do anything before she pulled it. Not this time, he thought viciously.
Click. The handcuffs opened. Nadya quickly retreated a few steps. "Stand up and close the cuffs behind your back. Turn around."
With a glare, he complied. Stretching out his back was agonising. He didn't think he'd have been able to stand up straight on the first try, if not for his earlier exercise. Nick kept the pain off his face. Really, he should have seen this coming. He'd been too focused on Renard.
Renard, who'd stepped in to defend him from a mere verbal threat only moments ago. He threw another quick look at his captain. No; that wasn't merely feigned nonchalance. Renard didn't look concerned at all.
Fine. Fine. He'd see where this went, he thought with annoyance as Nadya led him from the room.
It turned out to be a bathroom break. Nick suppressed the slightly hysterical giggle that threatened to bubble up from his belly, and focused on relieving himself as quickly and efficiently as he could, considering the man keeping an eye on him every single moment.
He'd been right about their surroundings, too. Outside the door to their room, there had been a raised walkway, and an empty factory floor beyond. He'd been led along just a few doors down, and had seen or heard nothing and no one in between, not even the third of their captors, who'd been missing today, not even the sounds of traffic in the distance.
Water was running in the bathroom, though. Running clear, too, not with the creak and sputter and rusty-red water of old, disused pipes. Either their captors had been holed up here for a while, or this building had been very recently abandoned.
Nick used the opportunity to take a quick drink, but restrained himself despite his thirst. He could do with being a little thirsty better than with a full bladder. So long as he didn't get too thirsty, but all in all he thought Renard was right - Nadya did have limits. The thought was a relief.
Still, this was all so very tiresome and pointless. How much longer did they need to do this? Juliette would be worrying, and Hank and Monroe and Rosalee would know he was missing by now, and ...
Who would miss Renard? There must be people; he was a man of influence and couldn't simply vanish without someone noticing. He had enemies; there must be someone keeping an eye on him. He'd called someone, earlier - who had that been, and what were they doing?
He still tended to think of Renard mostly as his captain, despite everything. Not someone whose private life should matter to him. And that despite the fact that he hadn't actually called him 'Captain' to his face since he'd found out who Renard really was. Had studiously avoided addressing him by any name or title, in fact.
Renard must have noticed. But he'd never called him on that.
"You're doing well," Nadya said to him when he was brought out of the bathroom, "following your prince's instructions."
That again. "Do you really have such a one-track mind," he snapped back at her, "or are you just boring me on purpose?"
She suppressed a snarl, then, deliberately, smiled. "But you are, aren't you? Doing what he says. No matter what either of you claim."
That was true, uncomfortable though it was. Nick grimaced. "He knows you, and I don't. What am I supposed to do, refuse just to be contrary? Let me just say, that's not a kind of resistance that's in any way productive. At all."
She rubbed a hand through her hair. Another deliberate gesture, making her appear more open, more genuine. Everything was calculated. Nadya and Renard both - they were playing a game here he still didn't fully understand.
"Despite what you may think," she said, voice calm and detached, "I would like to believe you. I would like to be able to trust him. He could be very useful."
Calculated; genuine; who knew with these people? Nick was rapidly losing his ability to care.
"Did it ever occur to you to just talk to him normally? Or to me, for that matter. I hate to break it to you, but kidnapping's kind of frowned upon around here."
"No," she said blandly. "It didn't occur to me because there would have been no point."
Nick sighed. "What is it you hope to gain by this? The captain may be willing to play your game for now, but in case you couldn't tell, I'm getting pretty irritated here. I've got better things to do with my time, you know."
There, that was about as mild as he could make it.
"Unlike your Royal," Nadya snapped back at him, "I'm not in this for myself!"
Nick nearly stopped dead in his tracks. Another voice echoed in his mind - his mother's voice, less than a week ago; the same words - and suddenly Nadya's distrust of Renard slotted into place. This he knew how to deal with.
Suddenly, she wasn't just some stranger come here to Portland to play headgames for some ill-defined purpose.
She was still wrong, the way she was going about this, no question about it. But his mother had been wrong, too, trying to confront Renard rather than just talking to him. She'd been wrong, but she'd been on Nick's side no less for it, and that had never been in question. Was that what Renard was doing here? Was that how he was looking at this?
Mom was wrong, he thought, but she listened to me. And she thought she'd be fighting Renard, but instead they worked together. Maybe they could make Nadya listen, too.
For the first time, that actually seemed reasonable - possible - to him.
Nick thought he managed to hide the shock of things suddenly falling into place, his rapid evaluation from Nadya and the cameras. But when he was back in his corner, cuffed again (seriously? why did they persist with this?) and alone with the captain, Renard lifted a questioning eyebrow.
"Nothing new," Nick said, trying to think back to the questioning rather than his epiphany, which had overshadowed the entire conversation. "I don't know why they didn't just record the first round and replay it."
"Not what I meant," Renard said patiently.
Damn the man, he knew Nick far too well. But Nick wasn't going to say it. This was just too close.
"You shouldn't have done that." he said instead, as his arms and shoulders settled back into now-familiar strain. "Earlier, I mean. Gone after her like that. Not on my account."
Renard smiled thinly at him, and didn't respond to Nick's tone. "Don't worry. She isn't actually going to shoot you." His eyes said, I know you're trying to distract me. It's not working.
Nick glared. That wasn't it at all. Either it - the worry even less than the distraction. "You provoked her," he reminded the captain. "She's going to take that out on you."
Renard smiled thinly. "I know. That was the point."
Nick bristled. "I can take care of myself."
"Of course. And I'll let you - when it's about you. Not on my account."
Echoing Nick's own words, probably just to be irritating. Damn the man. Nick knocked his forehead against a knee, rather than against the wall. Once again, he had to acknowledge that there were ways in which he didn't know Renard at all. Who was learning more here, really - Nadya or he?
He stopped himself from protesting further. What was the point?
And all the while, Renard's eyes were still on him, still curious. He knew something else had happened, and he wasn't going to let up until Nick said something.
Nick sighed. And relented. "You're never, but never, going to tell this to anyone."
A narrow smile. "You're not talking about Nadya and her friends."
Bugs and all. No. "Nope. Don't care about them." Another sigh, and he snorted at himself, shaking his head a little. Then he lifted his eyes. A sideways glance at Renard, the corners of his mouth twisting upward. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but she reminds me of my mother."
Renard stared. Then he snorted, and his mouth began to twitch, his shoulders began to shake. "I see," was all he said, but the syllables were nearly gasped. A moment later he was laughing helplessly.
Nick couldn't hold himself, then. It bubbled up from his chest, the absurdity of it all, and he shook with it as his laughter joined Renard's.
The second night didn't pass as quietly as the first. Nick did his best to doze while he could, but the interruptions were frequent, tedious, and getting more and more fraught.
At least Nadya wasn't getting much sleep, either.
Renard, of course, seemed to be able to fall asleep almost at will, and he woke quickly and quietly each time. His eyelids went up a fraction; a sharp look, and then he was sitting there perfectly alert, as if he'd never been asleep at all. Who woke like that?
Not someone used to a normal night's sleep. Nick was starting to become distinctly uncomfortable with what he couldn't help but infer about the Captain's past.
"You gave your child to Prince Viktor," Nadya accused, during one particularly repetitive late-night questioning.
Finally something new, and it was the one thing Nick had really been hoping wouldn't come up. No such luck.
"I didn't have any choice," Renard said, inserting genuine-sounding bitterness into his voice. He probably was bitter that there hadn't been any way for him to keep his child. "And he didn't manage to hold on to her for long, did he?"
Nick kept his breathing even, didn't give away any of his relief when Nadya didn't pursue this line of questioning. Too many secrets there, and none that were safe to even allude to under the circumstances. All he dared was to throw Renard a sympathetic look behind Nadya's back. Renard didn't acknowledge it in any way.
"Nearly Sunday," the captain said when they were alone once again.
"Yeah." Nick had come to that conclusion himself. Nadya was working under a deadline here - if her captives weren't released and back where they belonged on Monday morning, all hell would break loose. Kidnapping a police captain was no small thing.
Things were ratcheting up. If there was no resolution by Sunday night, then - well, there was no telling what she'd do. She might even change her mind about killing either or both of them if she felt the pressure enough.
Or maybe not. Renard didn't look as if he was worrying for his life. But Nick didn't trust the woman's instincts, or her sense, any further than he could throw a Siegbarste. He wasn't going to stake either of their lives on her doing anything that might be called reasonable. No matter what Renard said.
The most infuriating thing, Nick thought, was that he was being asked to act as a character witness for Renard here. Because that was what all the questions were coming down to, weren't they? Who Renard was. How he treated his allies. What his goals were.
And if Nick had had those answers, he'd have been happy to give them, but he didn't. Everything he said - he didn't know, wasn't sure how far he'd trust the man, how far he'd go for him.
This far, apparently.
Renard, of course, knew all of that too, and seemed to be somewhat amused by it. What the hell was funny about that, Nick being asked questions he couldn't even answer?
Sick sense of humour.
Renard at least had taken pains to acknowledge Nick had a choice, that he could refuse. It was Nadya who kept treating him as an accessory, and he'd have liked to slam his fist into her face for the condescension.
He'd made his choice, and then made his choice again, and was still making that choice - every moment that he was sitting here not dumping the stupid handcuffs, every moment of questioning he tolerated without kicking someone in the face, every insinuation and provocation he met calmly rather than with the scorn and retaliation they deserved. Every physical indignity he suffered without more than superficial complaint.
His choice, no matter how frustrating the situation was getting.
Because there was a point to this. And Nadya was stubborn and harsh and wound tightly like a coil, but he didn't think she really wanted a fight. No more than his mother had, going after Renard. I'm not going to kill him, not if I don't have to, she'd said - and expected, with every fibre of her being, that it would come to that anyway. That seemed to be Nadya in a nutshell. That seemed to be too many people in this game.
He still hadn't figured out how to get through to her, though, and it was getting less and less likely that Renard would, no matter how hard he was trying. And he was trying. It couldn't be easy for a man as controlled as the captain to let himself be tested like this.
Nick hated it, but he understood. He had a stake in all of this, too, whether he wanted it or not. Aunt Marie's key had ensured that before he'd even known what a Royal was. He'd been a target, for Reapers and Verrat and just about every other player in the game. If Nick had to trust someone's judgment in all of this, he could do worse than Renard. Insane though this whole situation was, Renard still made more sense than anyone else.
Nick would have liked to shout all of that into Nadya's face, but she knew half of it already. And for her, apparently, that made him Renard's pet or something. He seethed.
Deep breaths, Nick. His inner voice had started sounding suspiciously like the captain. He glared at the man, and earned a twitch of the lip, as if Renard knew exactly what he was thinking.
When they brought Renard back the next time, still well before sunrise, he looked like a wet cat. His suit and hair were soaked with water - probably water - and his shoes squelched. His face was impassive, though, and he let himself be cuffed to the rail again just as before. The spotlight's glare illuminated every drop of water on his skin, every rivulet dripping down from his clothes, in stark and unmistakable light.
"What the hell!" Nick said. "You okay? Aside from the obvious."
Renard merely shrugged at him. "She's trying to force a decision."
"By making you sick?" Even completely dry, Nick wasn't exactly comfortable on the cold floor in this draughty room, with outside temperatures in the fifties. Renard was courting hypothermia. "You can't just sit there like that."
"Can't I?" Renard was being really infuriating now. He threw Nick an ironic look and wrapped an elbow around his knees. "Forget about it. I'll be fine."
Nick glared. "You won't, though. Hypothermia is no fun."
"It's not meant to be. Just ignore it, it's not your problem. Not everything is, you know."
Nick bared his teeth. That was rich. The hell it wasn't. "If it wasn't my problem I wouldn't be here," he snapped. What, was Nadya getting to the man? Did he really think he could deflect Nick that easily? "I don't know what you think you're doing, but this is going too far. How is this necessary?" Nick reached for his belt, then reconsidered. Forget opening the cuffs, he'd just rip out the rail. "We're done here. That's it, we're getting out of here." He didn't even care that their captors were listening in. In fact, he wanted Nadya to. Let her know she'd gone too far this time.
Screw that woman. And screw Renard, too, if he was going to be this unreasonable.
"Stop it," Renard said, exasperated. "The hell we are. Would I be doing this if it weren't necessary?" He shivered a little. "It's not like I wouldn't have preferred a more civilised kidnapping."
Nick boggled at the very concept.
"It's not exactly my idea of fun, either," Renard continued. "But trust doesn't come easily to many of us. And we've come too far here to give up now."
"I don't see that we've gotten anywhere at all!" They glared at each other. Nick wanted to throw up his hands, or bang his head against the wall. He banged his fist against the rail instead, for the bonus of the metallic clang. "In what world does any of this even make sense?"
Renard leaned forward to scratch the bridge of his nose. "Be glad you didn't grow up in that world."
"Believe me, I am." Nick wasn't backing off on this. "That way, at least one of us has some common sense!"
"Fine!" Renard snarled at him. "Fine." He fiddled with his wet tie, and within moments had produced a small, glinting piece of metal. A quick twist of his wrists to insert it into the handcuffs, a push, and they clicked open.
Renard was on his feet the next moment. He glared in the direction of the door. "Still not leaving," he said, apparently for the benefit of the bugs; then he strode over to Nick and had his cuffs off the next moment.
Nick stood up as well, slowly, stretching out the kinks in his back. Again. It was still excruciating, and he hadn't even had the satisfaction of ripping out the rail. "What? That's what you're going to do? Just ditch the handcuffs, and ... nothing else?"
Renard smiled, thinly. "That's exactly what I'm going to do."
"Why?" Nick nearly shouted in frustration. "What's she even going to do if we all just go home? If she's not just going to shoot us after all."
"She isn't." Renard divested himself of his wet jacket.
"I suppose," Nick said, huffing. Renard was probably right - he'd concluded that himself - but that didn't mean his inflexible certainty sat well. "Fine, she's as much as said she won't kill you, and I don't think she'll really go after me. Not enough to gain." He sneered the last word. "So, what?"
"Worse," was the terse answer; then a smirk. "Though not for you and me, I suppose. In the short run, anyway." Renard sighed. "There are factions in the Resistance," he explained, taking off tie and shoes as he spoke, never giving away any sign of pain at the movements, "some larger, some smaller. Tavitian has recently taken over a large one, and is now in control of the entire south." He snorted, and brushed a hand over his wet hair. "Funnily enough that hasn't endeared him to many of the others, even ones he used to work with, like Gregorio. Many think he's getting too big for his breeches. And his alliance with me isn't helping." A pause, as he considered his words.
He'd left on his trousers and shirt, wet though they were. They were plastered against his skin, and Nick was getting a rather clearer view of Renard's body than he'd ever expected to have. There were a great deal more muscles under that impeccably ironed shirt and the tailored suits than he'd suspected.
Nick had fought the man, once; he knew his physical strength. But somehow he'd never actually thought there would be this to go with it.
"If we don't convince Gregorio," Renard continued, "she's going to openly side against Tavitian, and that could split the entire Resistance in half. Two halves, who'll be working more against each other than the Royals they're supposed to be resisting. You see what I mean."
Renard started in on a series of calisthenics designed to warm up his muscles. He'd need the warmth, and there wasn't much else he could do if he was going to be stubborn and stay here.
Nick did see the problem. It wasn't helping, not with Renard right here in front of him, fighting a losing battle against his wet clothing draining the warmth from his body. Damn the Resistance, any and all of them! There had to be a way to convince Renard to let this pointless fight go. Renard, or Gregorio - either of them. They were each as stubborn as the other, damn them both.
If only he could find some other option.
When Nadya returned, she was alone. Nick was having a seriously hard time not aiming a punch at her face. Renard, as was to be expected, was getting pretty shivery now, his skin pale, the bristles of his beard stubble standing up like gooseflesh, bruises standing out in sickly purple.
He didn't suppress the shivers in front of Nadya, either. Nick wasn't sure he could have, even if he'd tried, and felt unaccountably guilty for being dry and comparatively warm.
Nadya didn't comment on the lack of handcuffs. In fact, she said nothing at all, merely stood there in front of Renard, staring at him and wound so tightly she looked like she was going to snap in two. But it didn't seem like she was about to lash out, not right now. The taser in her hand seemed almost forgotten. It would have taken no effort at all to overwhelm her now. But something burned in her, deep below the anger and the tension - something Nick almost wanted to call despair.
Renard met her gaze, steady despite his shivering, and said nothing in return.
Cold recognition swept through Nick. That was helplessness in Renard's eyes. The captain didn't know what she needed to hear, any more than she knew how to get from him what she wanted. Neither of them knew how to break this stalemate.
"Not so tough any more, are you?" Nadya said eventually. It came out tired more than barbed.
Renard looked like he would have liked to summon some irritation, but couldn't. "You know what condition I'm in," he replied, just as wearily, through lips that were turning blue. "Pretending otherwise changes nothing."
"You really are getting hypothermic, you know." A thin, exhausted smile, a vague gesture toward Nick. "Would it have made a difference if it had been him? I considered it."
"But if he'd called it off," Nick snarled before Renard had the chance to answer, "you'd have said that proved he wasn't serious enough, and if he hadn't, you'd have said it proved he didn't care. I've had it with this!"
Renard turned to glare at him. Even clammy and shivering, it was a formidable look. Nick didn't back down, meeting it with a glare of his own.
Renard's sighed, his tall frame slumping. Giving in? Him?
"He's not wrong," Renard said, turning back to Nadya. "Which is why it wasn't him, of course."
"Yes." Brief hesitation. "I don't deny that you're willing to put yourself on the line."
But it wasn't enough, was it? They looked at each other, exhausted and helpless, and Nick could see it clearly now, both of them locked into this futile struggle. Renard had done everything he could, had to have gone against basic survival instincts to prove himself to her, to show her just how serious he was. Had exposed himself and made himself vulnerable, and still it hadn't been enough.
Nadya, in turn, had pushed every button she could find, trying to get the answer she was looking for, had risked permanently antagonising a potential ally, and - yes - her own life, too. All to get something, anything other than what she feared the most, the Royal insinuating himself into the Resistance and using it for his own purposes.
Both of them had escalated, each in their own way, more and more with every step and still not getting anywhere. Threatening Renard with hypothermia had been a last-ditch effort for both of them. And it still wasn't working.
They'd both just keep escalating, wouldn't they? Simply for lack of any better idea. And in the end, they'd be nowhere, and it'd end in blood anyway.
Nothing was ever going to be enough.
Damn it. No, that couldn't be true. There had to be something Nick could do. He understood where Nadya was coming from - had understood since the moment he'd seen the resemblance to his own mother, complete with her attitude of shoot first, ask questions never. But what use was that recognition if he couldn't make something of it?
His mother had trusted him, at least - and even then, he'd had to lead the way, had shown her that talking was enough, that reason was enough. With Nadya, on the other hand ...
Renard shook his head, and turned away. "I suppose I can't blame you for not trusting me," he said, rubbing a tired hand over his face, and then just not bothering to lift his head again, as if finally drained of all purpose. "Few do. Nick doesn't either."
Nick nearly flinched. It was ... true, of course, except for all the ways it wasn't. He'd trusted him enough to go through with this, damn it all.
But there was a sharp intake of breath from Nadya, and she seemed more alert again all of a sudden.
This, Nick suddenly realised. This was it.
"He's right," he said, stepping forward between Nadya and Renard, inserting himself bodily into the stalemated conflict. "I don't."
Renard's head snapped around, and he was suddenly alert again, too.
She looked between them, taken by surprise. "You are here," she said, confusion clear on her face. "You are doing this because of him."
Nick focused on her, eyes sharp and dangerous. "And you think because I'm willing to follow his lead, he owns me? You've got it wrong. You're all wrong with this." Venting some of his frustration felt good, and all the better for actually having a purpose. "He tried to kill my aunt. He's done things you have no idea about. He has no hold on me." A step back, so he could turn to Renard. "I'm not your tame Grimm."
Renard's smile had teeth, despite his shivering, despite the fact that he'd wrapped his arms tightly around his chest. "I know. You wouldn't be nearly as useful to me if you were."
They were all three standing in a circle now, Nadya watching both of them with strained, painfully hopeful disbelief. Nick had been right. She wanted this. If he could find the right words ...
"He's not just a Royal," he said. "He's a police captain. We're both police officers, and maybe you think that doesn't matter in your world, but it does." Nick had never quite realised how much until he'd met people who thought it didn't. "He's defended me when I needed it. And in the end, we're both practical people - when the chips are down, we'll find an agreement. Because we're not fools enough to want to fight each other." Mildly, "Sometimes, that's all you need."
That was all it had been at the start, at least, back when he'd just found out about Renard.
Renard had once told Nick he trusted him more than he trusted his family, which was pretty much damning with faint praise. But it had still been still enough for Renard to hand over an invaluable key, and stake a future on an uneasy, uncertain alliance.
And Nick? Nick had just found out, then, that Renard had tried to kill Aunt Marie, that he'd been the one who'd orchestrated Adalind's earlier attempts at the key. He'd been out for blood. But Renard had given back the key, and that had been enough to choose a different path.
Wherever they were now, it all sprang from that.
Nadya's eyes were glued to him, examining closely. He hoped his honesty was showing in his face. Then she jerked herself around, biting her lip as she lifted her head to Renard.
"Do you trust him?" she asked.
Renard deliberately, slowly, unwrapped his arms from around his shivering body, spreading them in a wide open gesture. Something glinted in his eyes. "Probably about as much as he trusts me."
She stared, and swallowed. "Royal," she muttered, but it wasn't a refusal. Yet.
Nick had absolutely had it with this nonsense. If she didn't come to the right conclusion this time, he was going to enjoy showing her what a Grimm was made of. Who was she to be standing in judgment over them?
But he understood well enough, and so all he said was, "A little less judging others by what they are, here?"
Renard, pale and unwell but still clear-headed, took another step forward. "We did this together. We're here, together. If he and I can do that, so can you. Don't you think?" And he held out a hand to her.
Moment of decision.
For a long moment nothing happened. Then Nadya's lips parted. She took a deep breath and lowered her weapon, body going loose with relief as she grasped Renard's hand in hers.
"Yes," she said. "Without trust ..." A small, wondering smile. "Yes."
And then they let go, looking at each other as if they could hardly believe what they'd just done.
"Your phone," Renard asked, holding out a hand again.
Nadya handed it over without complaint. The fight and the tension had all gone out of her, and she seemed overwhelmed with the decision she'd made.
Renard, meanwhile, was swiping and tapping at Nadya's phone, eventually holding it up to Nick so he could see the app - a map. GPS, excellent. Now they knew where exactly they were.
"Hank?" Nick suggested.
Renard nodded, and tapped at the phone again, then held it to his ear.
"This is Renard," he said, and then was apparently interrupted by a barrage of questions, because a smile ghosted over his bleary face as he interrupted in turn. "Hank. Slow down. Yes, Nick's here, we're both fine. We need someone to come get us. - No, that's all taken care of. Did you ..." Silence, for a moment. Then he quoted an address, and Hank must have unleashed another round of questions. "Yes. - That's good; we wouldn't have wanted to have to explain this. - No, not seriously. - Just a moment."
And he tossed the phone at Nick, who plucked it out of the air and held it to his ear. "Hey, Hank."
"Am I ever glad to hear your voice." Relief was radiating from Hank's voice. "What the hell is going on with you guys? You've been gone for days, man. We've been searching all weekend!"
"Long story. Look, can you just come get us? I'll explain later." As much as he could.
"Sure thing. I'm on my way. And I'll call Juliette - she's with Monroe and Rosalee. I was just on my way over again."
"Thanks, Hank." Nick held up the phone to Renard in question, and received a quick shake of the head. Nothing else Renard wanted to say. He disconnected the call and pocketed the phone, earning a raised eyebrow from Nadya. He gave her his best innocent smile, and she merely shrugged, as if she couldn't be bothered to press the issue.
Looked like she didn't know what to do with her decision now that she'd made it. Nick hoped she'd figure it out, sooner rather than later. Like this, she was no good to anyone.
Nick went to the door and pushed it open. Both Nadya's companions stood outside and quickly retreated from his immediate reach, eyeing him warily. Sometimes it was good to be a Grimm. But the blond guy was holding an open laptop - they'd been watching the feed from the camera. No need for explanations. Good.
They filed out onto the walkway, and Renard trembled even more in the open, draughty space. He needed to get out of here, quick.
Renard, of course, wasn't doing anything so sensible as taking care of his own health. "You have half an hour to get as far from here as you can," he told Nadya through shivering lips. "Best be gone before you end up having to answer awkward questions."
Nadya gestured around. "All of this?"
"We'll take care of it."
With the evidence here, they could have made a good case against their kidnappers. What the hell had Nick's life become, that he wasn't even considering that?
"Very well." She straightened, though her expression was still dazed. A quick gesture to her men, and they were leaving.
A little distance away, Nadya stopped again and turned. Hesitation, then something like focus came into her eyes. "Be safe," she finally said. It sounded tentative and surprisingly genuine. And then she was gone after all.
Nick looked at Renard's clammy, shivering form. Renard looked at Nick, eyes bright. It was really over.
"Let's see where they were holed up," Nick suggested. With adrenaline dissipating, every ache in his body was coming back to the forefront, and he wanted to sit down. Preferably somewhere that wasn't a cold concrete floor.
And Renard needed someplace warm far more than he did.
It was only two doors down, right next to the bathroom. An old office room, a desk still standing in a corner. Another laptop was open on top of it, showing the feed from the camera in their prison. Left behind; there wouldn't be anything useful on it, then. A chair stood at the desk, a large, open box on its seat. Nick took a peek. Supplies.
Along the left-hand wall, there was an old, ratty sofa, a blanket thrown over top of it.
Renard was shivering quietly, leaning against the wall while Nick investigated the supplies. Nick moved over to him, placing a concerned hand on his clammy shirt, feeling minute tremors under his palm.
"I - I just need a moment," Renard said, lips quivering.
"You need to get out of these clothes, is what," Nick said, masking concern with impatience.
With stiff fingers, Renard unbuttoned his shirt, slipped it off his shoulders and pulled the blanket from the sofa around himself. "Hank will be here soon," he said, sitting down.
He looked, Nick thought, like an unhappy cat.
Nick carried the box of supplies over and sat beside Renard, trying not let his glances loot too obviously concerned. Instead he dug through the box some more.
"Anything interesting?" Renard asked after a moment.
"Energy bars," Nick said, ripping one open and holding it out to Renard. "And our phones and wallets and keys."
Renard pulled a hand free from his blanket and took the proffered bar, biting into it with little pleasure. Nick did the same.
"Also, beer," Nick said after a moment. "Not too good for hypothermia, sorry."
"Never mind about that." Renard held out a hand.
"You're already shivering, your lips are blue, and you want a cold drink? You've got to be kidding me."
Renard was shaking heavily now, but pulled back when Nick reached out a concerned hand. "No," he said. "Hang on, I just need to ..."
He shook his head, and his features shifted. Flesh and skin at the corner of his mouth withered, drawing back to expose teeth. Terrible sores formed over and around his right eye. His Zauberbiest face. He'd woged, for the first and only time during their ordeal. He seemed to concentrate hard for several moments, and for a fraction of a second, his eyes - one normal and human, the other dead and half-covered with desiccated-looking tissue - glowed an eerie, unnatural green. Ripples ran over his features, and he settled back into his human face. His skin was no longer as pale as it had been; the bruises stood out less, and his lips were pink rather than chilly blue. He relaxed in his seat, looking the picture of good health.
"Beer?" he asked, holding out his hand again.
Nick stared. "... Neat trick," he said after a moment, and surrendered one of the cans.
Renard opened his, and held it out to Nick. "My mother taught me that when I was a boy."
Nick clinked his can against Renard's, and it wasn't until they'd both taken a swig that Nick realised how smooth and unquestioned that move had been. Even in something so inconsequential, they fit well together.
"Damn," Nick said, not willing to let it go. Not this time. "You could have done that this entire time."
"That would have defeated the purpose." Renard shrugged. "Besides, it's not as if it dried my clothes. It would only have bought a little time." A sharp, discerning look at Nick, then a smirk. "Everyone forgets I'm a Zauberbiest."
Zauberbiest or no, Renard had remained in there, getting colder by the minute, with the ability to do something about it, and hadn't used it. The man was insane. Seriously impressive and tough as hell and with self-control far beyond what even Nick had come to expect from him, and completely insane.
"Why'd you wait so long?" Nick asked after a moment.
An uncomfortable smile. "I was ... having a bit of trouble concentrating, there at the end."
Nick's skin itched with uncomfortable awareness - he'd missed the obvious. Renard had been worse off than he'd let on. Damn the man for his acting skills.
Renard chuckled a little. Nick tilted his head in question.
"I told you once - if we work together we can make history." Renard smiled; a sharp and dangerous expression. "We did this together, Nick."
Nick grimaced. "I'm not sure it's something to be proud of. What we let these people do ... maybe it was necessary. Maybe it serves a purpose. All right, it did. But still ..." A helpless shrug.
"I don't like it much better than you do, you know."
That wasn't it. "You think it's normal, though. To be expected. It shouldn't be." He threw up his hands. "This is the kind of thing we arrest people for!"
"Hm." Renard made a sound somehow expressing agreement and doubt at the same time. "If you're too choosy about your allies you'll end up with no allies at all."
"And if you let your allies get away with everything, where does it end?"
Renard regarded him thoughtfully. "Either of us could have stopped this at any time, Nick. You didn't."
"I didn't," Nick agreed. "I don't actually disagree with you, you know. Not in this particular instance. But there's got to be more. If no one stands for anything better, it's never going to be better."
"What do you think I'm trying to do?" A thin smile, and Renard's eyes turned remote. "A law for everyone? One day, Nick. I hope - one day."
Again, coming from different places, they were arriving at the same point. Trust really didn't come into it - this went far beyond trust.
How is this my life? Nick thought, absurdly. How is it his?
They clinked together their beer cans again: to a shared goal, a shared hope. Yes, they understood each other just fine.