Monroe raised one eyebrow skeptically. It had taken him a long time to learn how to do that, and though he didn't have need of it often, this was definitely one of those times that called for the raised eyebrow.
“You said I could ask for all the help I need,” Nick reminded him.
“Obviously that was the concussion talking.”
He tried closing his eyes and opening them again; Nick was still standing in his kitchen looking halfway apologetic, which Monroe had come to learn was a pretty good indicator of exactly how stupid Nick's plan was.
“I can explain.”
“Okay, let's hear it.”
Monroe waited. He watched Nick pull strips off the label on his bottle of beer. Monroe fought down the urge to slap his hand or offer him a wastebasket for the scraps. He counted the ticks from the loudest clock. He sipped his beer.
“Explanations work better if you use actual words,” Monroe pointed out after the clock had passed sixty-one measured beats.
“That's not really a word.”
Monroe shook his head. “See, that's an apology, and in my experience, it's not a good sign when the apology precedes the explanation. It usually means I'm not going to like the explanation.”
Nick blew out a sigh and glanced at the ceiling as if asking for divine intervention. Also not a good sign in Monroe's experience, although he'd never noticed that it did any good.
“Look, Nick, let's try it this way. Why don't you just tell me why Hank thinks I run a book club on the first Monday evening of the month, and why he's offered to bring artichoke dip, which sounds awesome by the way, to the next meeting?”
Nick closed his eyes, and when he spoke his voice was a rush of words. “Because it was better than him thinking we were having sex?”
Monroe blinked. Maybe he'd heard incorrectly. Maybe that blow to the head a few days ago had done more damage than he'd thought. Because it had sounded a lot like ...
“Why would Hank think we were having sex?”
“Because Juliette didn't know where I was and Hank had to cover for me.”
“And he assumed we were having sex?”
Monroe was confused. That just wasn't an assumption he was used to people making about him. They might think he was working on his clocks or reading a book or even out at the bar having a cold one, but people didn't usually assume he was out having sex. Or even that he was home having sex. Not because he didn't—oh, he did ... sometimes, and when he did it was fantastic, he'd been told, and more than once, thank you very much—but because people saw “clockmaker” and “plaid” and “odd” (and that was just those who didn't also see “Blutbad”) and in most people's minds none of those things equalled “getting laid regularly.”
Maybe it was a Grimm thing. Or possibly just a Nick thing.
“Do people usually assume you're having sex when they can't reach you?”
Nick put his face in his hands. “Would you please stop saying that?”
“What? Having sex?”
Monroe had the childish urge to repeat it three times loudly. He refrained. He was a grown-up. He could deal with this situation with an appropriate amount of gravitas.
“Yes, they assume you're having sex, or yes, you want me to stop—?”
Nick's face was pink to the very tips of his ears. Monroe would've said he looked kind of adorable if he didn't think it would get him in more trouble. Monroe decided to be a friend and throw Nick a metaphorical bone. He cleared his throat.
“So, a book club?”
Nick blamed Monroe. He had no clear reason to blame Monroe, yet it seemed like something that should be entirely his fault. Things like this didn't happen to Nick before he'd met Monroe. He hadn't had to come up with excuses for where he was and what he was doing before he'd suddenly developed the ability to see things. He'd always either been at work or at home or somewhere in transit between the two. There hadn't been anything (or anyone) for people to make assumptions about.
And then, a few weeks after Monroe had helped them out with the antique watch identification on the Mary Robinson homicide, Hank had pulled the car over to the side of the road and killed the engine, looking carefully ahead at the empty street and not at Nick.
“So, what's with you and that Monroe guy?” Hank asked.
Nick was completely at a loss. He couldn't explain Monroe or their rather odd friendship. How did you explain Monroe to a normal person, anyway? He wasn't even a normal Blutbad with his beet wurst and Pilates. But then again, Nick hadn't turned out to be an average Grimm either.
“What do you mean?” Nick said, stalling for time.
“Look, whatever's going on with you two, that's fine. I don't need to know. I'm only asking because Juliette called the other night looking for you. You weren't answering your phone.”
“What? When was this?”
“Two nights ago. Monday, I guess. I told her we were pulling an all-nighter, but really you'd already left. For home, I thought.”
Nick remembered he'd gone out to the trailer to do some research on Feuerkröten and ended up at Monroe's because after reading up on fire-spewing toads the size of Great Danes, he'd felt like he needed a beer and to talk with someone sane. In retrospect, he wasn't sure what it meant that he went to Monroe's instead of going home, but Monroe had opened his door and his fridge, and he'd sympathized, making some joke in German that took longer to translate and explain to Nick than it did to tell. It had been a good night.
Nick met Hank's enquiring eyes. “How did you know I wasn't in an accident or something? Maybe I got delayed picking up dinner and flowers for Juliette?”
Hank's look quite plainly said he thought Nick was an idiot. “I had dispatch check the GPS in your phone, and that placed you at Monroe's house. And it wasn't the first time you'd been there, either.”
Nick blinked. How could Hank possibly know—
“Just for future reference, I wouldn't do anything to piss off dispatch, if I were you. They keep track of a lot of things. I'm just saying.”
Nick flushed. He couldn't help it. He felt like a school kid who'd been caught sneaking out, and he hadn't even done anything wrong.
“You probably won't believe me, but Monroe's a good guy. He knows a lot of stuff.”
“About clocks.” Hank sounded skeptical.
“About a lot of things.”
Hank winced. “A lot of things I don't need to know about.”
Nick turned in his seat and gave his partner a long, steady look. “I don't know what you think's going on here. You know I love Juliette—you were with me when I bought the ring!”
“Yeah, speaking of the ring, haven't heard anything since you bought it. That's been months now.”
Nick knew it was a mistake to bring up the ring. It had been sitting in his drawer like a dead albatross reminding him of his aunt's warning. “There hasn't been a good time to propose what with my aunt dying and work—”
“And Monroe.” Hank sounded sure about that. Resigned, almost.
Nick shook his head. “He's a friend. That's it. You used to believe me when I told you things.”
“Well, it used to be if you weren't working a case with me, you were home with Juliette. And if you had somewhere else to be, I don't remember you ever lying about it.”
“I didn't lie about it,” Nick said, trying to keep his voice even. Just because he hadn't told Hank or Juliette where he was didn't mean he was lying. “I just didn't think it was important to mention it.”
“Look, man, it's cool. Whatever. But if you need me to cover for you, you have to tell me.”
“I don't need anyone to cover for me! I'm not doing anything wrong.”
“Of course not.” Hank sounded like he didn't believe the words coming out of his own mouth, and frankly, Nick didn't either. Hank didn't trust him, and that was a big problem. The man was his partner. If they couldn't trust one another, it was a death knell for their partnership.
Nick took a deep breath. “I'm not sure what I can do to convince you there's nothing going on.”
“Were you at Monroe's on Monday night?
“You already know I was.”
“Monday night football?” Hank asked hopefully, even though he knew Nick didn't really follow sports.
The thing was they could've been watching football. Nick didn't know if Monroe watched sports or not. He didn't know him well-enough yet, but he was a plaid-wearing, beer-drinking red-blooded (and occasionally red-eyed) American Blutbad—why wouldn't Monroe watch football? There was as much likelihood of that as there was of anyone else being a fan.
Truthfully, they hadn't had a lot of time for normal conversations in between sorting out what type of Wesen were committing murder and mayhem in Portland. They talked about creatures and half-remembered stories and the things Nick read in the volumes and volumes of books left behind in his aunt's trailer. They talked about work, which was why Nick sometimes felt as if he never left the station. Even when he wasn't on duty, bad things followed him home. Sometimes literally.
“I'm not judging, Nick,” Hank said, but he clearly was, and that pissed Nick off more than anything. They were cops—they couldn't afford to make assumptions without hard evidence, and Hank had no reason to believe anything strange was going on with Monroe.
“There's nothing to judge. Nothing's going on. Monroe's a friend, and we talk. That's it.”
Hank seemed to relax a little at Nick's vehemence. It was logical Hank was a bit of a suspicious bastard. It came with the territory and Nick knew he also tended to over-react to things sometimes. Most people didn't go charging out into their yards with loaded firearms when raccoons knocked over the trash or bratty kids egged the windows.
“Okay, he's a friend,” Hank conceded. “But why not tell Juliette?”
“I spend little enough time at home as it is. You think she's going to be thrilled if I'm spending time with someone who isn't her and isn't you?”
Hank gave a grudging nod. “So, that begs the questions, buddy: why are you spending some of that precious time off hanging out with the clock guy?”
Nick figured he owed Hank the truth, or at least as much of it as he could manage without getting himself locked away in a mental institution. “After the mix-up with the accusation and everything, I went back to apologize to him. He offered me a beer, we got to talking, and it was kind of nice to talk to someone who isn't a cop and isn't my girlfriend, you know?”
“Ah, you wanted to see how the other half lives,” Hank said knowingly.
“Uh, yeah? Maybe?”
“Monroe's normal. He goes about his ordinary life and yeah, I can see the appeal in that. Someone to talk to about shit that isn't dead bodies and prison escapees.”
Nick tamped down on the hysterical laughter that wanted to bubble up and spill over. If that were only true. He and Monroe talked about dead bodies and weird shit at least as much as he and Hank did, if not more. He and Monroe had talked about using ground human testicles as an aphrodisiac, for heaven's sake. It would make Hank's brain explode a little if he knew exactly how not normal Monroe really was. The irony was killing Nick.
“Out of curiosity, what do you talk about?” Hank asked, starting the car again, a sure sign he'd said all he had to say on the matter and that they were good.
“Mostly books,” Nick said, entirely too honestly, his momentary relief making him careless.
“Books? You talk about books?” Hank sounded incredulous. “When do you even have time to read anything other than case files?”
“I don't,” Nick snapped defensively. He couldn't exactly tell Hank he spent half his nights sitting in his aunt's Airstream trailer, which appeared considerably larger on the inside than the outside, studying century-old texts on how to identify and kill various kinds of creatures previously only seen in fairy tales.
It was a good thing traffic was light because Hank kept darting suspicious glances in Nick's direction. Shit. One ungainly step forward, two huge pratfalls back.
“So, if you don't have time to read, but you talk about books, what are you ... are you reading them together?” Hank said it with the same horrified tone he used when they discovered the really awful crime scenes, the ones where people had done unthinkable things with and to one another.
“No!” Nick protested.
“Is that some kind of euphemism 'cause, Jesus, Nick, just admit you're boning the guy, okay?”
“I'm not—we're not—no one's—Christ!” Nick felt like he was on the verge of hyperventilating. How did his life get to be this way? He steadied himself on the car's dash, and took a breath. “We're not reading together, and that's not in any way a euphemism for anything!”
“What the hell are you doing with him then?”
It wasn't a question Nick had an easy answer for. He thought about the things he and Monroe did together: checking out crime scenes, sniffing out Wesen, comparing notes on creatures and yeah, sometimes they did read the books together, but mostly when Monroe was translating stuff written in German. It wasn't like whatever Hank was imagining, and really, Nick didn't want Hank to be imagining him and Monroe doing anything. It was too weird, plus Nick couldn't exactly admit he was using Monroe for backup in certain situations. Hank wouldn't ever understand that no matter what the circumstances.
“It's hard to explain.”
Nick sighed. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to explain the unexplainable, and it was even worse to attempt to explain the completely made-up. “I don't have time to read, but I do like books, and I miss reading things that aren't pathology reports.” That much was true, at least. “And Monroe reads a lot and knows a lot of stuff, so it's more like ...” Nick trailed off half-hoping Hank would fill in the rest, or at least give him a minute to figure out what he was going to say.
“Like a ... book club?”
“Yes! Like a book club!”
Apparently, he and Hank were both happy to grasp at straws the way drowning men would clutch at life-preservers.
“You said you didn't have any time to read. Don't you have to read books to belong to a book club?”
It was a reasonable point, but Nick wasn't about to let something that could pass for an explanation go without a fight. “Not this book club. That's why Monroe and I've been getting together. He reads the book and tells me about it.”
“He goes to the book club for you? Book club by proxy?”
“No, no, he tells me what the book's about, so it's like I've read it without having to actually read it myself.”
“That seems strangely complex,” Hank pointed out, and Nick didn't disagree with him, but like a runaway train, the explanation was becoming hard to bring to a full stop. “Couldn't you just read a summary?”
“A summary's not enough,” Nick said with an air of authority, even though he was making everything up on the spot. “Monroe gives me the details. A lot of detail. He's really good at making the story come to life.” Nick stopped just shy of blurting out “he does voices,” although he'd bet money that not only would Monroe do voices, he'd be fantastic at it.
Hank seemed to be getting on board with the idea. “It must be a little like that described video they use for blind people.”
“Yes, exactly like—” Nick paused. “Actually, no, not really. Think of Monroe as a good storyteller. See? There's nothing to worry about. Honest.”
“And it's just the two of you?” Obviously Hank was having a hard time letting go of his suspicions, but Nick could tell he wanted to believe. He just needed a reason.
“No, of course not,” Nick lied. “There's a larger group that meets once a month, but because I don't have time to read the book, Monroe and I meet a few times to go over the book in advance.”
Nick hoped that would satisfactorily answer the question of why his phone's GPS was frequently spending time at Monroe's place. If Hank were anything except a detective, Nick probably could've extracted himself from the interrogation earlier, but Hank was used to connecting the dots and finding the places where things didn't add up.
“Why would you join a book club when you have no time to read?”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“So did my four marriages.” Hank grinned and some of the tension went out of the air. “I thought book clubs were kind of for women, though. You're not reading Danielle Steele or something, are you?”
Nick had no idea what book clubs were like. Not a clue. He didn't think he'd ever known someone who actually belonged to one.
“No, it's a very manly book club,” Nick said with certainty. “Some of the books have monsters and weapons and all kinds of things.” That part was true, at least of the Grimm tomes, and Nick felt good about not needing to lie about every single detail.
“Sounds interesting,” Hank admitted. “So, what are you reading? Or, I guess, what's Monroe reading for you?”
Nick's mind went totally and completely blank. It was as if someone had taken a once full chalkboard and wiped it clean.
“What book are you doing this month?”
Nick tried to think about the kind of books he used to enjoy when he had time to read. Had it really been that long? He had to stretch his mind back to college, and even then, the books that came to mind were ones he'd been studying for classes. Most of them hadn't been his choice, and half of them he'd forgotten as soon as he'd aced the class.
Hank's attention was diverted momentarily by their arrival back at the station, but Nick knew once Hank had flashed his ID and exchanged a few words with the officer on duty, he'd be right back to the question like a Blutbad on a scent. Nick frantically searched his brain for something that wasn't related in any way to Grimm's Fairy Tales and that might also be something Monroe would've read.
The wall of the parking garage loomed large in front of them as Hank pulled into a spot. “Nick, I didn't hear what you said. What book's up for discussion?”
“Oh, um, Frankenstein,” Nick blurted out. He'd seen one of the movie versions when he'd been in high school, and really, it shouldn't be that different from the book, right? He knew there was a mad scientist, a monster made from body parts, a crowd carrying pitchforks and torches. He was pretty sure someone got killed at some point in the story. He was willing to bet it would have the right amount of violence to qualify as a manly book club selection.
“That's cool.” Hank's tone indicated approval as he climbed out of the car. “I've only seen the movie. Hey, maybe I can come to your book club, too.”
“No!” It was out before Nick could stop it. He back-tracked quickly as his partner drew up alongside him for the walk into the station. “I mean, it's not my book club. I'd have to ask Monroe if it's okay. If he has the room. You don't want too many people in a book club.”
“I suppose.” Hank sounded almost disappointed. “I make a damn fine artichoke dip, though.”
Nick had to stop his explanation a half-dozen times because Monroe was laughing so hard. Honestly, Nick didn't find it that funny.
“Have you even read Frankenstein?” Monroe asked, face flushed with laughter.
“No,” Nick said, feeling alarmed. “It was the only book I could remember seeing on your shelf. Why? Haven't you read it?” Nick surged to his feet. “You haven't read it, have you? God, I'm so screwed.”
“Sit down, and drink your beer.” Monroe reached out to snag Nick's arm to stop him from pacing. “I've read it. Back when I was a young and impressionable Blutbad, but yeah, I've read it. And it's not that long a book—I can reread it if you think Hank's going to quiz us on it.”
Nick was astounded by how casual Monroe sounded about the whole thing. If someone had sprung this ill-conceived plan on him, he'd have been changing his name and identity, hopping a bus leaving town.
Nick dropped onto the couch beside Monroe. “I'm sorry. I have no idea how this got out of hand so fast.”
“Don't worry about it.” Monroe sounded more amused than upset, and Nick wondered how he'd gotten lucky enough to find a reformed Blutbad—a “Wieder Blutbad” as Monroe would say—who was willing to help both a cop and a Grimm. It was some kind of inexplicable miracle.
“The book's not much like the movies, though, if that's what you were thinking.”
Nick tried to look as if he hadn't even considered such a thing, but he suspected that made him look more suspicious.
“Uh-huh,” Monroe said. “From what I remember the Creature teaches himself French and reads Paradise Lost. A model for all of us.”
“Frankenstein's not a Wesen of some kind, is he?” Nick couldn't keep the alarm from his voice. Maybe all the books about monsters were true.
“First off, let's get a few facts straight. Frankenstein is the scientist who brings the Creature to life. The Creature is never named in the book.”
Nick frowned. “But I thought Frankenstein was ...” He stood up, putting his arms out in front of him and took a few exaggerated steps in place. He could feel Monroe rolling his eyes beside him.
“Sit down before you hurt yourself. You look ridiculous.” Nick did as he was told. Monroe was still shaking his head, but he was grinning broadly. “Secondly, and most important, Mary Shelley's novel isn't even remotely related to Grimm lore. It's straight-up fiction as far as I know.”
“Well, that's good, right? I was trying to avoid a situation where Grimm stuff might come up.”
“Geiers harvest body parts, but I don't know of anything that tries to put them back together. That would be just ... freaky.”
Nick stared at him as he drank. “That freaks you out?
Monroe nodded solemnly. “Making a body out of other people's bits and pieces, then bringing it to life? That's freakin' disturbing, man.” Monroe shuddered. “That and clowns. They used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid.”
“The red noses, right?” Nick tried to hold back a smirk.
Monroe crossed his arms and leaned away. “I don't have to help with this, you know. I don't actually care if Hank thinks we're having sex. In fact, it's a lot less work for me than your book club idea, and quite frankly, I come off better in the first scenario.”
“How do you figure that?”
Monroe gave Nick an appraising look. “Well, you're not a bad specimen as guys go. I could do worse.”
“And I could do better,” Nick returned.
Monroe just laughed. “Yeah, you might think so, but you'd be wrong.”
Nick didn't have anything to say to that, so he took refuge in draining his beer, hoping the flush of alcohol would hide the rising colour in his cheeks. Sometimes he didn't have a fucking clue what to do with Monroe. There were times when he didn't know if the teasing was actually flirting, or if Monroe was socially oblivious enough to not realize he was giving off mixed signals, or at least confusing ones. Nick supposed it could be that Monroe simply didn't care about following the rules. He said he wasn't really a status quo kind of guy, and Nick knew that was true. It was part of what he liked about the man, part of what they had in common.
Monroe seemed to sense Nick's mild discomfort, and disappeared into the kitchen to retrieve two fresh bottles of beer.
“Well, it sounds like we've got a couple of weeks before the next first Monday of the month to figure out how to handle this thing with Hank, so don't worry. We've both tackled bigger problems than this, man, and lived to tell.” Monroe patted Nick on the shoulder. “You'll see. Everything'll be fine.”
The thing was Nick couldn't help but believe him.
In the end, a serial killer and a city-wide man-hunt ate up most of Nick's time, and he forgot all about the made-up excuse of a book club. True to his word, Monroe was there whenever Nick needed him, usually with timely advice and a variety of beverages. Once with a well-aimed VW Beetle. Life rolled on and Nick with it.
It was one of those nights where Nick's frustration with the case and his general restlessness had taken him out to Marie's trailer researching a lead that went nowhere, but now it was too late to go home and too early to go into work. When he pulled up in front of Monroe's house, he was surprised to see a lamp lit in the living room window. He hadn't honestly expected Monroe to be up, and he'd considered just parking in front of the little blue house and catching a few hours sleep. But the warm glow of the lamp was an invitation he couldn't refuse.
When Monroe opened the door, he didn't seem at all surprised to see Nick.
“I'm making coffee,” Monroe said, and Nick hung his coat by the door, then followed him into the kitchen. Monroe was wearing a faded blue t-shirt and a pair of green plaid boxers. His hair was a bit wild and his eyes were red—well, bloodshot anyway. He didn't look like he'd been sleeping any better than Nick had.
In silence, Monroe puttered around the kitchen, boiling the water, grinding the beans, getting out the French press and the cups. He poured Nick a mug full of coffee, then poured one for himself. They sipped the hot drinks in the kitchen until there was no danger of spilling. By unspoken agreement, they made their way to the living room, Monroe settling on the couch, Nick taking the chair. Tonight he kicked his feet up on the ottoman. It felt good to take a load off. He enjoyed the quiet of Monroe's place; even the clocks eventually faded into the background, a soothing soundtrack he'd come to find comfort in.
“Some days it must feel as if you're Victor Frankenstein chasing his murderous Creature across the arctic,” Monroe said finally.
Nick opened his eyes and stared. He knew his brain was tired but not all of what Monroe had said made sense. “They're in the arctic?”
“Yup, but only at the beginning and end of the book. The chase frames the rest of the story, so we know Frankenstein is pursuing the Creature, but we don't know all the details until we read about the Creature's origin and what happened to him.”
“So, what happened to him?” Nick asked, in spite of himself.
“Well, first you need to know a few things about Frankenstein. He wasn't a doctor, for one thing ...”
The coffee was warm and so was Nick. He was tired, but not enough to find sleep, and truthfully, he didn't want to think about his case anymore. Monroe's story was a diversion, and not an unwelcome one. Mostly Nick listened, but sometimes he asked questions, and Monroe didn't seem to mind. By the time dawn was brightening the horizon, Nick felt as if he'd been transported to another time and place.
And it was just as he'd thought. Monroe did fantastic voices.
They wrapped the serial killer case on Friday, and the whole station—probably the entire city of Portland—heaved a sigh of relief.
“It's all over but the paperwork,” Hank said. “And the trial, the sentencing, the appeals, the parole hearings—”
“You can't just enjoy the moment, can you?” Nick accused. He grabbed his bag and got ready to leave. The Captain had given them the weekend off for a job well-done, and Nick wanted nothing more than to go home, crawl into bed, and sleep for a week.
Sergeant Wu stopped by Hank's desk with an undisguised look of envy. “Enjoy your two days off. Remember some of us have to be here working while you're lazing about.”
Hank grinned, unrepentant. “I'm spending the weekend in my backyard, curled up with one of those books I never have time to read in that hammock I never have time to use.”
“I already finished the book,” Wu said. “You'll zip through it in no time.” He shot a glance at Nick. “Personally, I'm more interested in checking out this Monroe guy.”
That shook Nick out of his pre-weekend-off daze. Monroe must be in trouble with the police again if Wu was checking him out. They didn't run background checks on just anyone.
“Monroe? Why are you checking on Monroe?” It came out sounding more demanding than Nick had intended, but dammit, Monroe was his friend. He had a right to be worried about him.
Wu glanced at Hank, and the two exchanged a look. As near as Nick could translate it meant, “I told you so.” That couldn't possibly bode well.
“I see what you mean,” Wu said to Hank. “Touchy.”
“Why are you checking into Monroe?” Nick asked again in his I'm-only-going-to-ask-politely-once voice. “What do you want with him?”
“Just friends, huh?” Wu turned to Hank, ignoring Nick completely. “Methinks the officer doth protest too much.”
“It's 'detective',” Nick bit out, readying himself to leave, “and I have no idea what you're talking about.” He was exhausted and not in the mood for whatever game Wu was playing at, and it seemed to be a game the way Hank was snickering into his coffee. “I'm heading home to sleep for a million years.”
“Just don't forget about Monday night,” Hank said, and Nick nodded, “yeah, yeah, Monday night,” as he practically ran out of the squad room before someone could find another case for them to work on. It wasn't until he was halfway home that he realized, he didn't have a clue what Hank meant.
What was happening on Monday night?
By Monday morning, Nick had forgotten all about Wu and Hank's teasing. He'd slept most of the weekend, and it was like catching up after a thousand years of wakefulness. He felt better than he had in ages.
Juliette was just getting ready to leave as Nick came downstairs.
“Have fun tonight.” She breezed past him, depositing a quick kiss somewhere around the corner of his mouth. It barely registered. “Hank said you guys were playing for pretzels, and I couldn't tell if he was joking or not, so I picked up a bag of pretzels for you anyway. They're by your coat. Gotta run!”
With that, she was gone, and Nick was left trying to figure out when everyone started knowing more about what was going on in his life than he did. He refused to let it ruin his good mood, though, and stuffed the pretzels into his bag just in case he needed them for something. Some sort of poker night? They'd had one once upon a time, Nick remembered, playing with money, and since that had ended in drunken name-calling and at least one thrown punch, they'd agreed down at the station to never play for stakes again. Stakes you could eat didn't count, Nick supposed.
At work, Hank and Nick spent the day dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s on their reports from the serial killer case. They double-checked all the evidence in lock-up, and went over each others' depositions. There was no way there were letting a murderer go free on some sort of technicality.
It was after six by the time Nick had a moment to think about Juliette's odd comment again.
“Uh, Hank? Do we have something on tonight? Juliette sent me to work with a bag of pretzels.”
Hank laughed and clapped Nick on the shoulder. “I told her we were playing poker for pretzels. You remember what happened last time?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Never again,” Hank confirmed. “But I couldn't exactly tell her what we're really doing tonight, could I? She'd want to come, and I figured the point of this was to have a night out, am I right?”
“Right,” Nick said shakily. He searched the conversation for some kind of clue, his brain for something he might have forgotten about, but nothing sprang to mind. He had that same niggling sensation in the back of his mind that usually meant he'd forgotten an anniversary or something of equal importance. But he was still drawing a blank on what it might be.
“Are you heading straight over there?” Hank asked, as they left the station, heading for the parking garage.
“Haven't decided,” Nick said, hoping Hank would drop some kind of hint. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I'm going to run home and change my shirt, grab the artichoke dip and my book—”
Nick didn't hear the rest of whatever Hank said. The combination of book and artichoke dip had triggered his memory. Book club. The completely made-up, non-existent book club that he'd claimed met on the first Monday of the month. Which was today. The book club that was reading Frankenstein, which Nick hadn't read, but which Hank apparently had.
“Monroe—” Nick managed to blurt out.
Hank stopped and gave him an odd look. “I figured if I had to wait for you to ask him, I'd never get an invite to this book club of yours, so I asked him myself. Practically the first day I found out. I wanted to give myself enough time to get the book read.”
“And Monroe said it was okay?”
“Sure. Like you said, he's a nice guy.” Hank started to frown. “Unless there's some reason you don't want me there. I wasn't trying to butt in or anything.”
“It's fine, Hank,” Nick said quickly. “It's just with the case and everything, I've been distracted. That's all.”
“As long as you're sure.” Nick nodded, and Hank seemed relieved. “I'll see you at Monroe's in a while then.”
Nick waved and went to his own car. It took everything for him not to break the speed limit on his way to Monroe's house.
“Hey, man, you're early,” Monroe said when he opened the door. “Great! You can help me with some stuff before the rest get here.”
“The rest? What the hell's going on, Monroe? There isn't actually a book club! I made it up, remember?”
“Well, that's not entirely true,” Monroe answered, closing the door behind Nick. “Come into the kitchen, I've got mini quiches in the oven and I don't want them to burn.”
Nick followed after him automatically. The kitchen smelled wonderful, like bacon and fresh herbs, and he took in the sight of coffee cups and wine glasses standing at the ready beside a tray of cut vegetables. Nick walked into the living room, noting the addition of a couple of extra chairs and the strategic placement of coasters on various table surfaces. He went back into the kitchen.
“I think I might actually be having some sort of a nervous breakdown,” Nick said seriously. “There isn't any book club.”
“Well, it's true that 'the first rule of book club is you don't talk about book club'—” Monroe started, then faltered when he caught sight of Nick's pale face. He gently set a tray of quiches on a cooling rack, pulled off his green plaid oven mitts, and took Nick by the shoulders. “Hey, hey, listen to me, Nick. You're not having a breakdown, I promise.”
“I kind of always wanted to have a book club,” Monroe admitted. “This was as good an incentive as any, and when Hank called about it, I was only planning to back up your alibi, but then I figured, why not? I love to read, I don't get much chance to entertain, and Hank seemed genuinely interested.”
Nick twitched. “He's excellent at undercover work. He's coming to see if we're sleeping together, that's all. Oh God, this is a disaster.”
Monroe was stroking his hands lightly up and down Nick's arms in a soothing manner. Nick vaguely recollected it was a technique he'd used with people in shock, but that was crazy. This whole thing was insane.
“Nick,” Monroe was saying, “you and Hank were so focused on this last case. I was starting to get worried about you, man. But you got the guy, and it's okay to take a break now. That's all this is—a bunch of friends getting together to have some food and drinks and talk about books. That's it. No undercover ops, no lies necessary.”
Monroe stepped back, but kept one hand on Nick's arm. He pulled the cork out of the nearest wine bottle with his teeth and poured a healthy dose of white into a glass, which he pressed into Nick's hand.
Nick took a large sip of the wine and closed his eyes. The wine was really good. Monroe always had the best wine. He should've known Monroe would take a fake idea, run with it, and not bother to tell him. “So, you have an actual book club?”
“We have a book club.” Monroe gave his arms a little squeeze. “You gonna be okay now, or do I need to call people and cancel?”
“No, I'm fine,” Nick said at last, opening his eyes and watching Monroe neatly convey miniature quiches from baking sheet to warming tray. He was wearing an apron that matched the oven mitts. Nick hadn't noticed before because it kind of matched Monroe's shirt too. “Do I smell bacon?”
Monroe looked at Nick guiltily. “Just a tiny bit. Just enough for a hint of flavour. And I used turkey bacon, which is lower in fat. Blutbaden are prone to heart problems considering the original pork-heavy diet.”
Nick stared at him and started to laugh. He laughed until he was in danger of spilling his wine, which he set down on the counter. He laughed until there were tears coming out of his eyes, and all the time, Monroe bustled around him, doing kitcheny jobs, and smiling like it was perfectly normal for Nick to have a mental breakdown in his kitchen.
When Nick could catch his breath again, he pushed the hair out of his eyes and said, “You started a book club for me.”
“Not everything's about you,” Monroe said loftily, as the doorbell rang. He gave Nick a head-to-toe-and-back-again once over that was a little too slow to be completely guileless. “You look like something's been mauling you. Go make yourself presentable before your partner and your sergeant really do start to believe we're more than book buddies.”
Nick darted towards the bathroom. “You invited Wu?”
“Hank asked if he could bring him along.” Monroe's voice floated back to him. Then there were the sounds of guests arriving, coats being hung up, bottles and containers rattling around in bags.
By the time Nick had combed his hair, straightened his shirt, and lost some of the wild blotchy flush in his cheeks, Hank and Wu were crowded into Monroe's kitchen, acting like they hung out with him all the time. A tray of brownies and a bowl that smelled of artichokes and butter had joined the other food. Wu and Hank both had glasses of red, and Nick gratefully accepted a refilled glass of white when he joined the others in the kitchen.
“Where's your contribution to this party?” Wu asked.
Nick suddenly felt embarrassed. “I—I didn't bring anything.”
“That's not true,” Hank piped up. “I know you had something in your bag earlier.” Hank sprinted out to the entrance and returned with the bag of pretzels held aloft.
“You really went all out, Nick.” Wu grinned as Hank plopped the pretzels on the counter.
“Actually, a gift of bread and salt is a traditional house-warming gift in many cultures,” Monroe said. “Bread so the home won't know hunger, and salt to add flavor to life.”
“It's similar in many Asian cultures,” Wu added, “but the salt is generally thought to cleanse the house of any bad spirits that might be there.”
“That doesn't actually work,” Monroe said, distracted as he shifted things on the counter to make room.
Luckily the doorbell rang again, and Monroe said, “That's probably the rest of the group. Hank, why don't you and Wu get that. I'll have Nick pouring wine as soon as everyone's settled in the living room.”
“Sure,” Hank said, slipping out of the room with the sergeant to answer the door.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Nick asked nervously as a chorus of new voices arose at the door. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “I mean, who did you invite? What kind of Wesen are they?”
Monroe made a face at him. “They're not Wesen, you idiot. Given the effect you have on most Wesen, I didn't think that was a particularly good idea.”
“Who did you invite then?”
Monroe picked up one of the oven mitts and whapped Nick upside the head. “I do have normal friends, you know.”
Nick had to laugh at himself. It really hadn't occurred to him. Now he was the one jumping to erroneous conclusions. “I'm sorry,” he said, laughing.
“You should be.” Monroe arranged some crackers on a tray with Hank's artichoke dip, adding a sprig of parsley to the top of the bowl. Everything looked amazing. “Marissa's a very fine watchmaker in her own right. Stewart and I went to grad school together; he's in communications. Danica's a teacher, and Caryn made the stained glass in the front door.”
“You invited women?” Nick asked, then realized how sexist that sounded. “I didn't mean—”
“I know what you meant, but I didn't think Hank and Wu would object, plus I really think they'll like Marissa and Stew. Danica and Caryn are a couple.”
“Did you really set-up Wu with someone named Stew?”
Monroe failed completely at looking innocent. “Hank told Juliette it was a guy's night out, but if you want to bring her sometime—”
“No,” Nick said in a rush. It wouldn't feel right to have her here, he knew. It would be more of an intrusion than anything. It wasn't Juliette's fault, but she couldn't ever belong to this part of his life. “Besides, this,” Nick gestured vaguely, “the book club was always meant to be for you and me. For us.”
“Yeah, that's kind of how I see it too,” Monroe agreed, making no effort to hide how pleased he was. Nick had the feeling they were on the edge of a precipice, and strangely enough, he wasn't afraid of falling. For a guy who'd always cautiously skirted the edges, it was a huge shift in perspective.
“I never read the book,” Nick admitted, afraid of where the conversation was heading, and deciding it wasn't the time or the place to pursue it. Especially not with Hank and Wu in the other room with Monroe's friends. He uncorked the bottles of wine as Monroe handed them to him.
“No one expects you to have read the book, Nick.” Monroe smiled at him so fondly, Nick felt a tightness in his chest. He wasn't sure quite what he'd done to deserve a friend who would go to all this trouble to make Nick's life as a Grimm a little easier.
“You got the oral treatment,” Monroe said, the barest hint of impropriety in his tone, and Nick felt his face heat at the thought. He looked around, but Hank and Wu seemed preoccupied with the new arrivals.
Nick thought back to that long night when Monroe had kept him company with coffee and compared Nick's hunt for the serial killer with Frankenstein's own search for his creature. He hadn't quite realized the extent to which Monroe had woven the whole story into their conversation. Nor had he considered how often he went to Monroe for comfort and understanding as much as for anything else these days. Monroe tended to be his first stop now when once it would've been Juliette and home.
“None of what you told Hank was a lie,” Monroe said quietly. “I do have a book club, and I did tell you the story when you didn't have time to read it yourself. And now when you come over, you can stop making up excuses to explain why you're here because you really kind of suck at it.”
Nick laughed. Yeah, he did suck at excuses. No one else would've ended up needing to start a book club to cover his ass. Nick considered they might not even be standing here now if Hank hadn't assumed he and Monroe were having sex. He wasn't sure if that counted as irony, but it was something.
“Thank you,” Nick said, catching Monroe's arm and giving it a squeeze. People were starting to move towards the living room, and Nick was going to have to help play host any minute, but it was important Monroe realize how much all of this meant. Nick caught his eyes, and for a moment, the world narrowed to the two of them. He suddenly wished they could be alone, but the thought made his heart pound with panic. Monroe couldn't help but notice.
In an instant, Nick found himself crowded against the counter, caged in by Monroe's arms and the five inches of height he had on Nick. Monroe was close enough Nick could smell the light musk of his aftershave. He felt every muscle tense, but this was Monroe. He wasn't frightened of him, no matter what his pulse was doing, and he didn't try to extricate himself from the confines of Monroe's arms. His skin tingled with anticipation, although he wasn't entirely sure what he was hoping for.
“In a few months, people will get bored, find they're too busy, and the book club will fade away.” Monroe's voice was low and rough, his breath close enough to move the hairs nearest Nick's ear. He shivered involuntarily.
“But after this, no one will question you being here, and maybe by the time Hank and Wu have forgotten all about the possibility of you and I having sex—”
Nick shivered again, and he could've sworn a drop of sweat was forming on his forehead. He'd never felt so hot and so shivery at the same time. Of course, he'd never had six feet four inches of Blutbad talking about having sex with him, either. Not seriously, anyway.
“—you'll have considered it enough to succumb to my wolfish charms.”
Nick felt the slightest graze of teeth against his earlobe, then Monroe was moving away, his eyes a brief flare of heat, and Nick found himself reaching after him, trying to hang on to some of that warmth. He pulled back when he realized what he was doing.
Monroe was standing a few feet away, grinning like a fool, and Nick wondered if Monroe was screw—fuck—messing with him for the hell of it. Somehow he didn't think so. Monroe looked about as flushed and wild-eyed as Nick felt, and they probably would've stood there staring at each other in a haze of sexual tension if Wu hadn't stuck his head into the kitchen.
“Wine?” he asked, and Nick nodded briskly, raising the bottle nearest his hand. “I'll be right there.”
Monroe grabbed the dip and cracker tray, his hip barely brushing Nick's as he moved past. Nick felt the ripple effect as if it had been a bolt of lightning.
“A few months, Nick. Mark my words,” Monroe said as he turned and left, greeting his guests with familiar warmth.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Pulling up a smile that was less “fuck me” and more “Hi, I'm Nick!” was difficult, but Nick made the effort. No point undoing all their work so soon. He grabbed a tray of glasses and the wine, and sauntered out to the living room, holding them carefully in front of him.
“Who wants red?” he asked, and it was impossible to miss the way Monroe grinned back at him.