Chapter 1: La Vie En Rose
“Remind me why I’m doing this again?” Monroe asked, his words punctuated by loud crunching sounds.
“Because after what happened with Billy, there is no way in hell I’m letting another Ziegevolk escape,” Nick said fiercely. “If there’s even a chance that the owner of this “Enchanted Rose Inn” might be a danger to more innocent women, then I owe it to them to make sure.”
“Okay, okay, no need to freak out on me,” Monroe interjected quickly, holding up his hands in capitulation. “Geez, you Grimms always take everything so seriously, like hunting down the baddies is your freaking destiny or something.”
“Okay Mr. ‘Big Bad’,” Nick said sarcastically, “If it’s not destiny, what is it then?”
“A job, man! Same as tending bar or delivering mail,” Monroe insisted, the crunching picking up once again. “And for the last time, it’s blutbad, not big bad - at this point, you’re just embarrassing yourself.”
“Okay, seriously, what are you munching on over there?” Nick asked, glancing briefly toward the passenger seat before returning his eyes to the road. “You’d better not be getting crumbs all over my car.”
“Just some pork rinds,” Monroe mumbled, his words nearly unintelligible over the sound of the crunching.
“Pork rinds, really?” Nick asked amusedly, arching an eyebrow at him. “Isn’t that a little obvious?”
“I’m reformed, not dead,” Monroe shot back a bit sulkily, cradling the bag protectively in his lap. “Even a wolf’s gotta indulge once in a while.”
This earned him a grin from Nick who added, “Listen, man, I want to thank you for coming with me on this little road trip. I couldn’t exactly spin my partner a story about a cult of bed and breakfast owning serial killers stalking the Pacific Northwest.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Monroe said, still looking a little sullen. “You realize that you owe me at least five now, right? And while we’re on the subject, answer me this - why is that I’m always the one you come running to whenever you get the least bit stuck on a case, but it’s your partner who’s raking in the big bucks from the department?”
“Hmm, a homicide detective raking in the ‘big bucks’? That’s a fairy tale creature I’m not familiar with,” Nick said sardonically. Upon seeing that Monroe apparently expected a more complete answer, he added with a sigh, “Okay, okay, you’re right - I have been taking advantage of your...particular skill set without compensating you properly. Why don’t I talk to the Captain on Monday, see if I can get you set up as a CI?”
“What are you gonna say, ‘Oh hey boss, just thought I’d let you know, for the past few weeks, I’ve been solving crimes based on fairy tales with the help of my good buddy, the blutbad. Think you can throw some department resources his way?’ “ Monroe asked sarcastically.
“I’ll just tell him you’re a drug dealer or something,” Nick countered.
“A drug dealer?” Monroe demanded incredulously. “Nick, I wear sweater-vests. I drink Bordeaux. I play the cello, for God’s sake. No one in his right mind is going to believe that I’m a drug dealer.”
“Oh fine, I don’t know, I’ll think of something else, then,” Nick shot back with a frustrated sigh.
“Forget about it,” Monroe said after a minute, “On second thought, I’d rather not have the other blutbaden thinking that I’m a narc. My mother’s still mad at me for ruining last year’s Thanksgiving by taking the dinner back to her parents.”
Nick’s first instinct was to ask to hear that story, but he ultimately decided that, no, on second thought, he’d just rather not know. “Just so we’re clear,” he said instead, shifting the subject, “I am grateful for all the help. Truth be told, without you, I’d have probably been Reaper bait by now.”
“Well, no shit, Grimmlock,” Monroe scoffed, “Why do you think I’ve been babysitting you this whole time? You can’t even be trusted to cross the street without getting into trouble.” Though Monroe continued to stare at the passing scenery just as he had before, the pleased smile lurking just at the corners of his mouth let Nick know that his words had achieved the desired effect.
Three more bags of pork rinds, two hours, and one rousing game of Twenty Questions later, their yellow VW Bug was rolling onto the bougainvillea-lined streets of Monterrey, California. At the end of one such street was a pleasant, green Victorian, distinguished from the surrounding houses by its dusky pink shutters; and swaying cheerfully in the breeze beside it was a sign painted with the words "Enchanted Rose Inn" in sprawling, gold script.
"Nice place!" Monroe said, stepping out of the car with a low, appreciative whistle. "Sure doesn't look too dangerous to me."
"Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving," Nick said darkly as he made his way around the car toward the trunk.
"You know,” Monroe said, changing the subject a bit hesitantly, "I’ve been doing something thinking about our cover story.”
“And?” Nick asked expectantly after Monroe had trailed off.
“And...I just don't think it holds up under close scrutiny,” Monroe said finally.
"What's to scrutinize?" Nick retorted. "We're a couple of buddies on a trek across the country who needed a place to crash for the night and ended up here."
"Oh, yeah, it’s not at all suspicious that a couple of bros would select a bed-and-breakfast with a highly recommended couples’ jam-making workshop when there’s a Radisson two blocks down the road,” Monroe said sarcastically.
“Okay, hotshot,” Nick challenged, “If you don’t like my story, what’s yours?”
“Simple,” Monroe said, swinging Nick’s suitcase out of the trunk, “We’re a couple.”
“What?” Nick asked incredulously, “That’s...I mean, that’s just...”
“A damn good idea,” Monroe insisted. “Come on, we looked through the guest book at the Bramble House - do you remember a single listing not for a couple?”
“I know I remember seeing a couple of guys listed together,” Nick insisted. “Tom Somebody and Bill...Bill...”
“Oh, you mean Tom Parks and Bill LaFleur?” Monroe asked innocently.
“That’s them!” Nick said, relieved, “See, we could be like them. Just a couple of straight dudes staying at a bed and breakfast. Not weird at all.”
“Yeah, sure, just a couple of straight dudes who wrote in the comment section, what was it now, ‘Billy, your banana nut muffins are just a little slice of heaven.’ “
“You don’t know that means they were gay,” Nick pointed out, “Who says a straight guy can’t enjoy a good muffin now and again? You shouldn’t give in so easily to stereotypes, Monroe.”
“Oh, yeah, and that bit added under it, ‘The bed was so comfortable! Tom and I just didn’t want to get out of it come Sunday morning, winky face.’ Very heterosexual.”
“Oh, shut up,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. “Fine, say we do this - what’s our backstory? How long have we been together? When did we meet?”
“I made you a dossier,” Monroe said eagerly, pulling it out of his brown leather travelling case.
“What?” Nick exclaimed, flabbergasted. “When did you have a chance to make that?”
“Last night, while you were sleeping,” Monroe explained with a shrug. “The Good Wife was a repeat.”
“Oh, well, of course,” Nick said, “Makes perfect sense then that you would spend the time compiling an actual dossier on a fake relationship I didn’t even know we were in. God, how long have you been planning this?”
“You don’t have to make it sound so calculated,” Monroe objected, sounding a little hurt. “I just thought it would help the investigation, that’s all. But if you want to go with your half-assed suggestion and make the ziegevolk all suspicious, then, fine, that’s your business.”
Nick heaved a put-upon sigh, wondered not for the first time how Monroe managed to talk him into these things, and said, “All right, what’s the story?”
Monroe's face immediately brightened as he began, “Well, you see I was a brilliant writer, who was struggling to make ends meet by working in a bookstore slash coffee shop...that is until I met you.”
“Let me guess,” Nick said sarcastically, “I’m the literary agent who changed your whole life by discovering you.”
“No,” Monroe replied, “Although, come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea...”
“Monroe,” Nick said a bit impatiently, making a ‘get on with it’ motion with his hand.
“Right, sorry,” Monroe said quickly, jumping back into his narrative. “No, you were a police sketch artist, dissatisfied with the dark nature of your work and unable to find a job that let you truly express yourself creatively...that is until you met me.”
Nick couldn’t help smiling a little at the sheer depth and complexity of the backstory Monroe had invented for them. “All right, I’m intrigued - what’s the rest of the story?”
“One rainy afternoon a few months back, disillusioned with your grim life's work - no pun intended - you wandered into Coffee House of Usher."
"The bookstore slash coffee shop is named Coffee House of Usher?" Nick asked incredulously, stifling a chuckle.
"Hey, don't look at me, I only worked there," Monroe said, so wrapped up in his story that he seemed to be forgetting it was exactly that. "Anyway, you wandered in, sat down at a table by the window, and started sketching. That was when I noticed you."
"Because I was so devastatingly handsome?” Nick guessed, throwing his head back with a grin.
“No,” Monroe corrected firmly, “So stop looking so smug. On the contrary, it was your sketches that caught my eye.”
“That’s what you told me,” Nick decided, “But really, you’d been ogling my ass since I walked in. Don’t try to deny it, my memory is crystal clear.”
“Well, I certainly don’t recall it that way,” Monroe said with a sniff. “I remember distinctly going over with the intention of telling you that you were the answer to my prayers.”
“Now that part rings true,” Nick contributed, enjoying this more than he had any right to.
“Hey, I’ll stop if you’re going to be like this,” Monroe threatened. When Nick’s gesture of surrender and contrite expression had duly appeased him, he continued, “It was then that I told you I’d been writing a graphic novel for months but had given up finding the perfect illustrator...and then bam!, you showed up.”
“And so you asked me out for coffee,” Nick continued, unaware of how immersed he had become in the story, “And I pointed out that was pretty ironic considering we were already in a coffee house, so we agreed on a drink.”
“I took you to my favorite wine bar,” Monroe chimed in, “And finally revealed my idea - a re-imagining of Grimm’s fairy tales. All the dark twists of the original, but in a modern setting.”
“I loved the idea,” Nick said slowly, “It was so fresh, yet familiar - it felt like the chance I had been waiting for.”
“We went back to my place, and you sketched for hours. Before we knew it, midnight had come and gone, and we had enough of a rough copy to show to a publisher."
"Elated, slap-happy even," Nick said, now sounding thoroughly as if actually speaking from memory, "we were jumping up and down."
"Then we were hugging," Monroe added.
"Then we were kissing," Nick echoed, his breathing suddenly a little shallow. "Before long, we were tearing each other's clothes off and tearing up the stairs to the bedroom with equal ferocity."
"We went at it until dawn, spurred on by a heady mixture of lust and creativity," Monroe added eagerly.
"Then slept for hours and hours, ignoring every demand the outside world tried to make of us," Nick reminisced, his tone distinctly wistful.
"Day jobs, bills, routines, suddenly none of it mattered - there was only the work, and us," Monroe agreed.
"We rushed the mock-up to a publisher, and she loved it - said it was the most original thing she'd seen in ages. She even gave us an advance right then and there."
"Which we promptly went out and spent half of on a fancy dinner and an absurdly expensive bottle of champagne with which to toast to our future.”
“And I suppose the rest, as the say,” Nick mused, “was history.”
It was only when the words finally stopped flowing between them that Nick and Monroe realized that in all the excitement, they had somehow wound up only a few inches from one another and were both a breathing a little raggedly.
“So we should probably..umm....” Nick began awkwardly, averting his eyes from Monroe's as he inclined his head toward the front door.
“Yeah,” Monroe agreed quickly, letting out a little nervous laugh, “Otherwise they’ll be wondering about our intentions, lurking in the driveway like this.”
“And we’re going ahead with the...um..the cover?” Nick asked hesitantly.
“I mean, sure...only if you want to, that is,” Monroe replied.
“Well, since you did go to the trouble and it would be less suspicious, I think we should probably just do it,” Nick reasoned, adding a doubtful, “Don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Monroe agreed with a firm nod, “Yeah, why not...er, dear.”
Nick looked at him quizzically for a few seconds before understanding dawned. “Right, yeah, we should, um, we should get used to that, I suppose. All the coupley stuff.” Nick tentatively snaked an arm around Monroe's waist. “Too much?”
“Just right, I should think,” Monroe said slowly, returning the gesture by draping his own arm over Nick’s shoulders. “Ready to go in...honey?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Nick replied, grabbing his overnight bag in his free hand, “...cupcake.” Upon seeing the look Monroe was giving him, Nick implored, “Can we forget I said that, please?”
“Anything you want,” Monroe consented easily, “...love bug.”
Nick groaned, wishing he had a free hand to smack himself in the forehead with, causing Monroe to go on, “Not a fan? How about...peaches? Dollface? Cuddle monkey?”
“If we weren’t in public, I would be very tempted to kill you right now,” Nick said through gritted teeth as they maneuvered as a unit through the welcoming, pink door of the spacious house.
“Now, is that any way to talk to your boyfriend slash business partner?” Monroe asked in mock distress before turning his attention to the small, elderly woman manning the front desk.
“Good afternoon,” he said in as pleasant a voice as a blutbad could reasonably manage, “We would like a room for the weekend, please.”
“Well, bless your heart,” the woman said, clasping her hands together, “Let me just see what we have available.” She pulled out an ancient journal bound in brown leather and began to leaf through its yellowed pages. Finally, her weathered fingers ceased their surprisingly nimble flipping and settled on a single page. "Ah yes," she announced, her tone outwardly cheerful with an undertone of curious interest, "I believe we have the Castle Suite available. Would that suit you?”
“Perfectly,” Nick assured her with a dazzling smile, leaning casually on the polished oak of the welcome desk, “Especially if it’s as lovely as the rest of the-” Nick stopped talking as his gesturing arm came in contact with a porcelain vase perched on the edge of the desk, causing it to topple to the ground with a loud crash.
“Oh, I am so, so sorry,” Nick said apologetically, watching the woman’s face carefully as she bent to pick up the shards of vase and place them on the desk.
To his disappointment, her features did not shift, spin, or hint in any way to a more sinister nature lurking beneath the surface. Indeed, when her eyes met Nick's again, they were still the kindly, if startling shrewd, blue eyes of a perfectly normal old woman.
"Don't think a thing about it, dear," she said graciously. "No harm done. None that a little glue and some carefully applied pressure won't fix anyhow. Now, shall I show you to your room?"
"No need," Monroe said quickly, perhaps wanting to discourage Nick from inflicting any more damage to the premises. “I’m sure we can find it. Rooms are up the stairs, I presume?”
“Yes, dear,” the old woman replied, gesturing in that direction. “And the Castle Suite’s the one at the very end, on the left. If you need something, anything at all, please just ring the desk, and I’ll take care of it. Now, dinner will be served at six o’clock precisely in the main dining room. I trust you two will be joining us.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Monroe assured her, before grabbing his leather travelling case in one hand and Nick’s sleeve in the other and heading up the stairs.
“Mind telling me what that was about?” Monroe hissed the second they were out of earshot.
“I wanted to see if I could draw her out,” Nick whispered, “you know, make her release the inner Ziegevolk.”
“Well, you’re clearly going to have to think of something a little more extreme than wreaking havoc on the furnishings,” Monroe shot back, as they reached the end of the hallway and a shiny, wooden door engraved with the words “Castle Suite.”
“I guess this is us,” Nick said, feeling inexplicably nervous as he watched Monroe turn the large, ornate key their hostess had given them in the brass lock beneath the doornob.
In lieu of a response, Monroe flung open the door to reveal a spacious, yet still inexplicably cozy room, flanked on one end by a roaring fireplace, and the other by a roomy four-poster canopy bed.
“Wow-ee,” Monroe exclaimed, letting out an appreciative whistle as he flung himself on the coverlet of the bed with a soft thud. “What a room! Looks like we hit the jackpot.”
“Yeah,” Nick murmured, the homey elegance of the room somehow serving to only make him more uneasy, “Lucky us.”
Chapter 2: Jam Session
While learning the fine art of jam-making from their enigmatic hostess, Nick and Monroe meet their fellow guests - both nasty and nice - and discover that the surprises the weekend has in store for them are only just beginning.
Two hours later, Nick was curled up on the chaise longue in the adjoining room, his nose buried in Monroe's dossier in an attempt to commit anniversaries and favorite colors to memory, when the sound of raised voices began filtering through the wall. Monroe's head snapped up from the leather-bound volume of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes he had taken from the bookshelf and been poring over since they'd checked in.
"Do you hear that?" Nick whispered, abandoning his seat and inclining his head toward the wall separating their room from the one next door.
"Oh, do you mean can I use my wolf senses, honed over the course of centuries for hunting, to hear the woman next door who has managed to be so inordinately loud that even you noticed her?" Monroe asked, an above average amount of sarcasm embedded in his voice. "Is that what you mean?"
"You know, Monroe, sometimes a simple 'yes' is more than enough," Nick said with as much dignity as he could muster.
Whatever Monroe might have been planning on saying next was drowned out by a shrill female voice calling out distinctly, "You tell that witch at the front desk that this is simply not acceptable, or I swear to God, Henry..."
"Yes, dear," Monroe murmured, glancing at Nick.
"What?" Nick exclaimed, wondering vaguely if Monroe had decided they should continue their cover even with no one else present. Not unreasonable, he rationalized, considering the man had been invested enough to compile a small novel on their fake relationship.
"The husband," Monroe interjected impatiently. "He's talking softly enough even I can barely hear - he just mumbled 'Yes, dear'."
"Oh, right," Nick mumbled with a little laugh.
Monroe cocked his head to the side curiously. "Wait, what did you think I meant?"
"Nothing," Nick said with a bright flash of smile, adding quickly, "Hey, listen, she's yelling again."
Monroe turned his attention back to the wall, seemingly with slight reluctance.
"Where did you even find this place anyway?” the female voice continued, at an even louder volume than before. “I give you one job Henry, just one job - pick a place to stay. And you manage to find one with rat-infested rooms, a broken thermostat, and a landlady who hates me!"
Monroe leaned away from the wall at this point and announced, "That's it - I'm out. Any more of this and I’m going to have a hard time keeping the wolf from going over there to do some huffing and puffing.”
“Come on, aren’t you the least bit curious about what happens next?” Nick asked, trying to keep the note of pleading from his voice.
“I’m in the middle of enough soaps at the moment, thank you very much,” Monroe replied, replacing the book on the shelf. “Even if they did cancel All My Children before I found out what happened with Luke and Noah!”
Nick was prevented from sending Monroe an appropriately mocking retort by the soft rapping on the door. Indeed, it was so faint that he was about to ask Monroe if he’d heard it, too, before remembering what had happened the last time he’d tried that and thinking the better of it.
His decision was validated when the blutbad swung off the bed, depositing his book on the bookshelf as he went, and pressed himself against the wall beside the door. “What?” he asked, seeing Nick’s quizzical look, “I may not buy that the sweet, little old lady downstairs is a pheromone-exuding sex machine, but that doesn’t mean I’m taking any stupid chances.”
“Who’s there?” he barked at the door.
The reply from the hallway was much too quiet for Nick to hear, but it apparently appeased Monroe enough that he swung open the door.
On the other side of it, Nick was surprised to see a small man in a faded, grey suit, tugging nervously at his tie as he mumbled, “I d-don’t mean to bother...but my w-wife was wondering if either of you two fine gentlemen knew how to work a th-thermostat.”
Nick had to stop himself from letting out a small noise of recognition when he realized this could only be the henpecked husband from next door. “I could take a look,” he volunteered affably, swinging off the couch and into the sight line of their visitor. "My dad was a mechanic - I used to love tinkering on things with him."
"Oh, thank you," the little man said, heaving a sigh of relief.
"Hey, I didn't know that, about your dad," Monroe muttered with interest as Nick slipped past him to follow the little man next door.
"Well, well," Nick replied, throwing him back a smirk, "Looks like your dossier isn't quite complete, after all."
Monroe raised a hand in warning, probably intending to commence an immediate rebuttal, but was interrupted by the sudden opening of the wooden door marked "Nest Suite." A skeletally thin woman with a beaked nose and blazing, black eyes glared at them from the door frame.
"Finally," she exclaimed in the same shrill tone they had overheard through the wall only minutes before. "While you were whiling away the hours having a nice, little chat with the neighbors, I've nearly frozen to death in this icebox!"
"Sorry, dear," the little man, whose name, Nick remembered, seemed to be Henry, mumbled, ducking his head and scuttling past his wife into the room.
"And you two," she said, whirling on Nick and Monroe, "if you're going to help, help! Don't just stand there lolly gagging!"
Nick suddenly understood Henry's compulsion to mutter, 'Yes, dear' at this point in the proceedings - anything to disperse the concentrated power of those eyes burning a hole in the back of his head.
As he and Monroe followed the terrifying woman into the room, Nick was unable to contain his startled gasp. He had been assuming that the kind of woman who verbally abused her husband in such a way was naturally the kind of woman who would have complaints about even the nicest room, but faced with the reality of it, Nick saw that it was every bit as bad as she had claimed. The faded wallpaper was peeling off the wall; a huge sewer rat scurried continually between two gaping holes in the wall; and the temperature of the room was, indeed, bordering on freezing.
"Don't dawdle, young man, get over here and look at this thermostat," the woman said, her talon-sharp nails digging hard into the sleeve of Nick's leather jacket as she dragged him forcibly toward the corner of the room.
Nick let out an instinctive grimace of pain, and, hearing a sudden growling sound from over his shoulder, was startled to look back and find Monroe, eyes narrowed, baring his teeth at the woman. Knowing that a fight would blow their cover wide open, Nick gave Monroe a quick 'down boy' gesture with his hands and a look that was equal parts insistent and grateful; indeed, not for the first time, he felt very glad Monroe was there to have his back.
He then turned his attention to the ancient thermostat hanging on the wall and, after examining it for a few seconds, announced, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do."
"Nonsense," the woman proclaimed, eyes flashing, "You barely looked. How can you be sure?"
In response, Nick placed a hand on the thermostat and pulled just enough so it came off in his hand. "Because it's not actually attached to anything. Looks like it was put here to make you think you had control over an uncontrollable situation."
"Henry!" the woman screeched. "Henry!"
"Yes, Dorothy dearest?" he asked timidly.
"You go downstairs to the front desk and tell that, that woman that this is simply not acceptable, and that we will be checking out immediately!"
"Oh, I do hope there isn't any problem with the room," came a soft, concerned voice from the doorway.
One look at the proprietress was strangely effective in halting the woman in the middle of her diatribe, and she said stiffly, "It is a quite cold in here, Mrs. Sims."
"Is it?" the woman asked, the pleasantness of her expression undercut by the sharpness in her eyes and the firmness of her tone, adding, "I've certainly never gotten any complaints before," as if that concluded the matter once and for all. "I just came upstairs to invite all of you to our famous jam-making workshop. The other couples are already downstairs, and it wouldn't do to be late."
Dorothy stared at the landlady for a few seconds before pushing roughly past Nick and heading into the hallway, seemingly forced to cede to a will stronger than even her own. Henry, of course, followed suit, and Nick and Monroe took up the rear, followed at length by their hostess.
"Geez," Monroe muttered, shaking his head as he watched Dorothy and Henry bicker their way down the stairs, "Promise me we won't be like that in fifteen years."
"You and I could never be like that," Nick said softly, before adding a quick, "Er...assuming we were really together, obviously."
"Well, obviously," Monroe said, the hint of a smile playing around the corners of his lips as they headed down the stairs.
Upon reaching the ground floor, they were soon ushered into a spacious room, furnished only by five long, wooden tables upon which were perched wicker baskets containing fruits of all sorts. Already standing in position at two of these tables were two other couples, bringing the total count of the party to four pairs of guests and Mrs. Sims.
“Now, everyone to your tables, please,” Mrs. Sims said primly, tying an apron around her neck and taking her place at the head table.
Nick and Monroe exchanged a look before deciding on the table at the far left of the room; Nick was pleased the other vacancy was on the far right, putting them as far away from Henry and Dorothy as was possible in such an intimate setting.
“All right, we will start by peeling the fruit,” Mrs. Sims announced, casting her eye over the room to make sure everyone was paying attention. “Ready...begin!”
Nick picked up an peach, then realized he didn’t have the first idea how to peel it. He glanced helplessly at Monroe, who rolled his eyes, snatched up the peach and a small, silver object which looked suspiciously like an instrument of torture and began skimming the skin off like he had been doing it for years.
“Honestly, don’t they teach you anything worthwhile at the police academy?” Monroe asked exasperatedly, though he was having a hard time keeping the grin from his face.
“I tell you what, I'll send them an email," Nick said, picking up another peach, "Dear Portland PD, just so you know, while you were wasting my time with trivialities like shooting lessons and criminal profiling, you should have been instructing me in the terribly crucial art of fruit peeling. Hugs and kisses, Nick."
"Why detective, there might just be hope for your sarcasm muscle yet,” Monroe proclaimed, grinning, before he caught a glimpse of the mangled lump of peach in Nick’s hand and groaned. “Okay, that's it - I am cannot just stand by and watch you maim more innocent pieces of fruit," he declared, returning his peeler to the table with a decisive clatter.
As Monroe shifted to stand directly behind Nick and began to slide his hands down Nick’s arms, Nick quickly whispered, "Monroe! What are you doing?"
They were standing close enough that Nick could actually feel Monroe's sigh of annoyance, although he was forced to merely imagine the inevitable, accompanying eye roll, as Monroe deadpanned, "I'm making my move. What can I say, Nick, jam making just gets my motor running."
Nick remained frozen, strangely unsure that Monroe was kidding.
Monroe waited a couple beats before letting out a snort and exclaiming, "I'm showing you how to peel a peach properly! Geez, you Grimms are a paranoid lot."
Nick felt his face flush in embarrassment as he muttered, "I knew that..."
"Sure you did," Monroe replied, sounding amused and unconvinced. "Okay, first things first - pick up the peeler."
Nick did so, noting a bit huffily, "I'm not a complete incompetent, you know."
"That remains to be seen," Monroe retorted. "All right, place the blade of the peeler at the top of the peach, then swipe it down in a with a gentle, but firm touch. Like this,” He placed a hand over Nick’s and guided it downwards.
Nick was surprised at how warm Monroe's hand felt over his. That was probably a blutbad thing, he supposed, or at least he hoped so - frankly, he didn’t want to consider the alternative too closely.
They peeled six more peaches that way, and though Nick became more proficient each time, Monroe showed no signs of moving. That was all right with Nick; the more they could do to keep up their cover, the better, he reasoned.
A few minutes later, Nick was too busy laughing at a truly grotesque baking story Monroe had been telling him to notice the attractive brunette in jeans and a sweater until she was standing in front of their table.
“I’m so sorry to intrude,” she said with a little smile, “but my husband seems to have developed a knack for breaking peelers. Could we borrow one of yours?”
“Of course,” Nick said swiftly, instinctively extricating himself from Monroe before handing her their spare. “This one all right?”
“Perfect, thank you,” she said, sounding relieved. “I’m Annie, by the way, and the Great Peeler Slayer over there is David.” Her slightly bashful-looking husband sent them a cheery wave from the adjacent table.
“I’m Nick, and this is Monroe,” Nick said, before adding a quick, “My partner.”
“So tell me, how long have you two been together?” Annie asked curiously, returning to rejoin her husband at their table.
“Two years,” Monroe said, grabbing Nick’s hand and sending him a surprisingly affectionate smile, “This weekend’s actually our anniversary.”
“Well, congratulations!” Annie said with a smile, “That is just wonderful. Wow, two years. I have to say, I would have pegged you two for a new couple.”
“Oh, why?” Nick asked casually, trying to mask his worry that they’d been compromised.
“Oh, it's nothing bad,” Annie reassured him. “Just that you two have that great new couple chemistry - you remember, when every little thing is novel and exciting, and you get that tingling feeling just from being near each other. Quite frankly, I’m a little jealous.”
Nick was saved from having to think of an appropriate response by Mrs. Sims announcing that it was time to start crushing the fruit.
"Now this is more my speed," David said eagerly, throwing the plums he had been clumsily peeling into a large mixing bowl.
Monroe, meanwhile, began carefully mashing the peaches with a small, wooden hammer. Upon seeing the affronted look on Nick's face, he maintained, "That's right, I'm not even trusting you to do this right."
"Come on, honey, we'll leave them to defeat the fruit on our behalf," Annie said reassuringly, threading her arm through Nick's. She lowered her voice as she added, "Mrs. Sims always keeps a bottle of Merlot under the welcome desk for her extra special guests."
"So you and David have been here before?" Nick asked with interest as Annie led him into the lobby.
"Oh, yes, we come here every year," she said, fetching the bottle and two glasses from under the desk. "Matter of fact, this is where we met, six years ago."
"Now that's a story I'd love to hear," Nick coaxed, gratefully accepting a glass of wine from Annie and taking a seat next to her on the lobby sofa.
"It was the strangest thing," Annie remembered, "I'd been driving home from a conference in Carmel when a sudden rainstorm swept my car off the road. My battery was dead, my phone had no service, and I was soaked to the skin by the time I saw this place rising up out of the rain, a shining beacon to this weary traveler.
"I stumbled into the lobby and, to my surprise, there was already a man standing at the welcome desk, looking as wet and lost as I was. Turns out my fellow refugee had been on his way to spend the weekend with a friend in Salinas when the weather and his outdated GPS had combined forces to get him so hopelessly lost that he'd run out of gas a few blocks over."
"Let me guess," Nick interjected, "He was an enemy to fruit peelers the world over."
"Got it in one," Annie said with a cheeky grin. "Anyway, the two of us got to chatting, and ended up having such a good time that we barely registered that it took the proprietress a good half an hour to attend to us. Well, as fate would have it, she only had one room available - I believe you’re staying in it, as a matter of fact, the Castle Suite.”
Nick felt a strange prickling sensation at the back of his neck, like there was something he should be seeing, but wasn’t. He quickly shook it off and motioned for Annie to keep going.
“Well, we did the ‘you take it’, ‘oh no, you’ dance for awhile, but since the landlady assured us the room was more than spacious, we finally decided to be grown-ups about it and share.”
“That wasn’t awkward?” Nick asked, amazed.
“It probably should have been,” Annie admitted, “But somehow, with all the strange occurrences that had already taken place, this just felt like one more. David, of course, insisted upon taking the couch, and it looked plushy enough that I didn’t feel too guilty letting him.”
“It is a surprisingly comfortable piece of furniture,” Nick agreed, recalling the the pleasantness of the time he had spent curled up on it a few hours previously.
“As I was changing into my pajamas in the bathroom, I remember suddenly thinking, ‘This is crazy. I’m actually spending the night in a hotel room with a man I’ve never met. What the hell is wrong with me?’ I decided I should leave, just grab my clothes, make my apologies, and try to find somewhere else to stay for the night.”
“Why didn’t you?” Nick asked, thinking it was undoubtedly what he would have done.
“Well, I was all set to, but then I opened the bathroom door, and the strangest thing happened,” she recalled. “I turned to David, intending to say I was sorry, but this was all too strange, but then he gave me this smile and...I don’t know, it just wasn’t strange anymore. And I realized it didn’t feel like sharing a room with a stranger, because he wasn’t a stranger. For some reason I couldn’t name, I felt like I’d known him forever.”
Upon seeing the skeptical look on Nick’s face, she laughed and said, “Oh, I know it sounds like a stupid, romantic cliche, honey, but didn’t you feel anything like that with Monroe? Love at first sight?”
Nick’s mind instantly leaped back to his first impression of Monroe...when he had accused him of kidnapping a missing girl. “Not exactly first sight, no,” he replied, shaking his head.
“Well, then, I suppose you’ll just have to take my word for it,” she said with a smile, patting his hand. “Anyway, to make a long story short - too late, I know - we got into bed, him on the couch and me in that gorgeous four-poster....but instead of drifting off to sleep, we got to talking again. And we just kept talking, and talking, and in no time at all it was morning and though neither of us had managed to get a single hour of shut-eye, I felt more refreshed than I had in weeks.”
“Wow,” Nick said enviously, swiftly quashing the urge to place his chin in his hands like a starstruck, preteen girl.
“And the rest, as they say, is history,” Annie finished happily. “David and I stayed here for the rest of what turned out to be a truly magical weekend, and we’ve been together ever since. But we make sure to come back and visit once a year - it’s a very special place, the Enchanted Rose, you know.”
“I’m starting to get that impression,” Nick said, the prickling sensation he had felt earlier returning with a vengeance.
“Oh my goodness,” Annie said, glancing at her watch, “It’s been nearly half an hour - Mrs. Sims will never forgive us if we miss her special boiling process. Come on!” She quickly returned the wine and the glasses to their spot beneath the welcome counter and began to lead Nick back toward the reception.
“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” Nick said thoughtfully as they walked along the corridor.
“What’s that, then?” Annie asked curiously.
“Why didn’t you request the Castle Suite again for your visit? It obviously has special meaning to you and David.”
Annie frowned a little as she said slowly, “You know, I have no idea. The thought honestly never entered my head. Whenever we’ve made reservations, Mrs. Sims has always given us the “Chalet Suite,” and it never occurred to me to request anything. That didn’t strike me as odd before, but -”
Annie was interrupted in her musings by a loud crash, followed by a deafening screech from the nearby reception room. Nick’s police instincts kicked in automatically, and he dashed in front of her to see what the commotion was about.
His gaze immediately went to Monroe, who he was amused to see had donned a “Kiss the Jam-Maker” apron, but seemed otherwise the same as when he had left him, before panning to the source of the commotion.
On the other side of the room, the unpleasant woman from the room next door, covered in a red, goo-like substance was shooting icy daggers at her husband, who was holding an empty pot in his trembling fingers and looking thoroughly terrified.
“I-I’m s-so s-sorry, d-dear,” he stammered out.
“You’re sorry?!” she shouted, anger coming off her in waves and filling the room.
Nick’s world then seemed to slow as a flurry of things happened at once. The woman lunged for her husband, while he watched in horror as her razor-like fingernails transformed into talons, her pointed nose into an actual beak, and the fringe of her white shawl into downy feathers. The little man stumbled backward, desperately holding the empty pot above him like a shield. Nick lunged forward, hand reaching instinctively for his concealed sidearm.
Before he could draw it, however, a commanding voice bellowed, “STOP!” in such a way that every person in the room, including the jam-covered bird of prey, froze in place. Mrs. Sims took a moment to smooth her apron before adding in her normal, pleasant tone, “There shall be no violence under my roof. Now, Mrs. Vogel, if you’ll accompany me upstairs, I’m sure we can do something about your dress.”
Mrs. Vogel immediately shifted back to her formerly human shape and obediently exited the room, passing in front of Mrs. Sims’ outstretched arm, although not before shooting another frightening glance at her husband.
“Now,” Mrs. Sims said, addressing the remaining members of the party, “I don’t want any of you to let this spoil your jam-making experience. Annie, dear, you’re a veteran of the workshop - I trust you can take over?”
“Sure thing, Mrs. Sims!” Annie said cheerfully. Though she still appeared a bit disquieted by the confrontation they had all just witnessed, it was not enough to stop her from immediately announcing, “All right, everyone - five minute break, then we’re going to put the jam on to boil.”
She then turned her attention to a still shaking Henry and added gently, “Henry, honey, I think we have a spare pot of the raspberry somewhere around here - why don’t I find it for you?”, receiving a small, very grateful nod for her trouble.
Nick, meanwhile, was startled to feel a strong hand on his shoulder. He jumped and whirled around to face his assailant, to find out it was only Monroe, looking at him with concern.
“Monroe,” he said with a relieved, little laugh, before adding in confusion, “Wait...how did I get over here?”
“You don’t remember throwing yourself in front of me like a wild man the second Norma Bates over there started whaling on her husband?” Monroe asked incredulously.
“I mean, I remember thinking that I needed to move fast, that someone was going to get hurt but I didn’t intend to...” Nick began, trailing off as he found himself more than a little disturbed that his body had apparently acted of its own accord.
“If I didn’t know better,” Monroe said with a sly grin, picking up their pot containing the sugar and mashed peaches, “I’d say you were protecting me.”
Nick opened his mouth to object, but found himself embarrassingly unable to come up with a convincing rebuttal to Monroe's. “Even if I was,” he said instead, “who’s to say it wasn’t just for the cover? I am supposed to be your devoted boyfriend, you know.”
“So you are,” Monroe agreed, still grinning, as he pivoted to place the pot on the burner behind them. “So you are, indeed.”
“Anyway,” Nick said hurriedly, trying to change the subject, “The only reason I didn’t notice what I was doing is that I was too busy watching Mrs. Vogel turn into a terrifying bird monster.”
“Really?” Monroe asked excitedly, lowering his voice as he asked, “Any idea what she is?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said, shaking his head, “But we aren’t leaving this bed and breakfast until we find out.”
“Well, well, here’s the big hero,” Annie said as she deposited a pot containing a sticky, purple substance on the burner next to theirs. “I saw you dash across the room in three seconds flat just in case that crazy Mrs. Vogel decided to come after your boyfriend.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Nick muttered, hoping she would drop it.
“It was not nothing,” Annie scolded gently, “It was heroic. Monroe, you’re very lucky to have him.”
“And don’t I know it,” Monroe declared, wrapping an arm around Nick’s shoulders.
“In fact,” Annie said mischievously, “I’d say heroism of that scale merits a thank-you kiss.”
Nick had begun to say, “Annie, that’s really not necessary,” at the precise moment that Monroe had shrugged and pressed his lips to Nick’s, so all he actually got out was, “Annie, that’s -” before shock and the logistics of kissing prevented him from speaking further.
Though it seemed to Nick to go on far longer, in reality the kiss lasted only a few seconds before Monroe pulled back, murmured “My hero,” as he sent a wicked grin Nick’s way, and started calmly discussing with Annie when he should add the pectin to get the jam to set properly.
Nick was glad that the other two were occupied enough not to notice him dropping roughly onto the nearest stool, his head reeling.
It was not the first time he had kissed a man - and judging by his technique, it definitely wasn’t the first time Monroe had either - but it being the first time he had kissed Monroe was more than enough to have him questioning even his most basic assumptions about their relationship.
As he got up to help Monroe with the jam, Nick thought ruefully to himself that between Monroe being a secretly great kisser and Dorothy Vogel being a secret bird creature, he was now estimating his chances at leaving the Enchanted Rose Inn the same way he had entered it at a generous slim to none.
Chapter 3: Grimms and Blutbaden Make Strange Bedfellows
In which Nick and Monroe have a late-night picnic, make it through a few chapters of Game of Thrones (in addition doing a little real research), and end up in bed together...perfectly innocently, of course.
Warning: Very mild spoilers for George R.R. Martin's book A Game of Thrones
At the conclusion of the jam-making session, the guests had come to a quiet agreement that in light of Dorothy Vogel's violent outburst, each couple having an intimate dinner in their individual rooms was probably best.
So it was that eight o'clock found Nick and Monroe ensconced in their opulent suite, warmed by a roaring fire which Mrs. Sims had thoughtfully lit while they were out, a lavish picnic-style feast spread out before them on the bed.
"Can you believe Dorothy Vogel?" Monroe asked, gesticulating wildly with his fork. "I mean, she just tore into her husband, right there in front of everybody."
"And by the looks of those talons, she would have been literally tearing into him if Mrs. Sims hadn't stopped her," Nick said ruefully, taking a sip of his beer.
"Well, that definitely would have put a damper on the jam-making," Monroe remarked, only flashing his wolfish smile when Nick tilted his head to look at him incredulously.
"Gosh, I would have thought an old-fashioned limb-ripping would have been the perfect floor show for a blutbad," Nick said teasingly.
"Reformed blutbad," Monroe said with a sniff. "And as my fake boyfriend, I expect you to remember that."
"Oh, I'm sorry, honey," Nick said, schooling his face into an expression of utter contrition. "How can I make it up to you?"
"Well," Monroe said, leaning forward conspiratorially so his face was only a few inches from Nick's, "you could start...by letting me have the last slice of lemon meringue."
"You reformed blutbaden drive a hard bargain," Nick said with an impish grin, pushing the pie tin toward Monroe, "but all right. I accept your terms."
Monroe dug his fork into the piece in front of him and brought it to his mouth with a little moan of pleasure. "If Mrs. Sims is a Ziegevolk," he mused between bites, "I think we can trace the source of her power back to this pie - I feel like I'm falling in love."
"I don't remember the book saying anything about them using pie as an aphrodisiac," Nick said thoughtfully, as if seriously considering the possibility. "Clearly more research is needed." Nick quickly dug his own utensil into the pie and stole a large forkful before Monroe could stop him.
"Hey!" Monroe objected, slapping Nick's hand away and trying his best to look affronted, "Stop that!"
Nick merely grinned wickedly and took a long, slow bite, making a show of enjoying it.
Upon seeing the way Monroe began pouting at him, Nick rolled his eyes and grabbed the bottle of Bordeaux from the picnic basket Mrs. Sims had prepared for them. "Come on," he said cajolingly, "Have some more wine. Annie says it's an excellent vintage."
"Might as well," Monroe said after a moment, holding out his glass, "Someone should, and you're clearly determined to waste your taste buds on that beer."
"Hey, you stick to yours, I'll stick to mine," Nick insisted, clanking his bottle of Budweiser against Monroe's glass of Bordeaux.
It was in that instant, as he took another long sip of beer, that a strange thought flitted across Nick's consciousness. Not only did it occur to him to wonder whether Monroe's lips tasted like that Bordeaux, but he realized to his horror that, in that moment, he wanted nothing more in the world than to find out.
A few seconds of utter and complete panic later, Nick registered Monroe looking at him curiously and became conscious that he must have been staring.
"Well," Nick said with a nervous, little laugh, absently running a hand through his hair, "we should probably, um, get to the research. The sooner we figure out the truth about Dorothy Vogel, the better. "
"Yeah, okay," Monroe assented, a strange look passing briefly over his face before he continued, "What are we looking for exactly?"
"Anything related to birds of prey," Nick said, grateful for an excuse to put some space between himself and Monroe as he jumped off the bed and made his way toward his suitcase. He pulled out the pile of antique, leather-bound books, handing half to Monroe and depositing the other half on the small desk by the door.
"She could be a Spottdrossel," Monroe mused idly, paging through one of the books, "but they usually confine their criminal activity to forgery and impersonation. I can't remember ever hearing of one becoming that violent."
"What about a Seetaucher?" Nick asked a few minutes later, after he had seated himself a safe distance from his companion at the desk, holding up his own book so Monroe could see. "This seems vaguely like what I saw."
"Definitely not," Monroe said, shaking his head. "You don't find Seetaucheren this far north. The couple I met in Bermuda a few years back assured me they never stray from tropical climes."
"And what were you doing in Bermuda, hmm?" Nick asked teasingly, taking in Monroe's long-sleeved shirt and sweater-vest.
"Clock-makers' conference," Monroe said, adding defensively, "and don't laugh! I swear, you get a couple of mai-tais in those guys and suddenly it's every man for himself."
Nick did Monroe the courtesy of hiding his grin behind the book he quickly raised to the level of his eyes to continue his search for the truth behind the mysterious bird-woman.
Two hours of painstaking research later, Monroe gave up entirely and switched to reading Game of Thrones off Nick's Kindle. Nick, meanwhile, kept at it until his patience was finally rewarded on page three hundred and forty of volume four.
"Monroe, Monroe!" he exclaimed excitedly, jumping up to sit beside Monroe on the bed. "I think I really found her this time."
"Falkefrauen," Monroe read aloud, shifting his attention from the reading device to the yellowed pages, "An exclusively female race whose members prey on weaker males and slowly drain their life force over a period of years. They respond to any perceived challenges or slights with violence. Proceed with extreme caution."
"Yep," he said decisively, "Sounds like our girl all right."
"I suppose the only question now is," Nick said, resting his head on the backboard, "what do we do about it?"
"Gotta ask, Nick, is it really our place to do anything?" Monroe asked, turning to look at him. "I mean, aside from some minor assault, you've got nothing on her you can take to your cop buddies...assuming that you're continuing with this whole "cop first, Grimm second" thing, that is."
Nick let out a frustrated sigh. "God, I'm starting to hate this double life thing more and more. I mean, I find out through my Grimm duties that Dorothy Vogel is literally sucking the life out of her poor husband little by little every day, but there's nothing I can do within the bounds of the law to stop her."
Monroe slid his hands over Nick's shoulders in a gesture of sympathy which Nick found both soothing in all the right ways and stimulating in all the wrong ones. Before Nick could continue to analyze his reaction or mentally replay the incident with the Bordeaux from earlier, Monroe removed his hands and spoke again.
"You know, come to think of it," he said slowly, as if something had just occurred to him, "Mrs. Sims seemed to be able to control her almost effortlessly."
"Is that a Ziegevolk thing?" Nick asked with interest.
"Not really," Monroe said, sounding puzzled. "She's exerting influence, all right, but it's not sexual. In fact, now that we're discussing it, I've seen very little evidence in our time here that Mrs. Sims is a Ziegevolk at all."
"Oh come on," Nick scoffed, "she has to be! How else do you explain all the strange things that have been going on around here?"
"Oh, strange like what?" Monroe asked skeptically.
"Well, like...like..." Nick started, surprised at how difficult he was finding it, not to find events that would be construed as strange, but rather to locate ones that were traceable to Mrs. Sims. "Okay, how about the fact that we're staying in the equivalent of the Presidential Suite at the Four Seasons, yet the Vogels are stuck in a room out of a Stephen King novel?"
"That is a bit odd, I grant you," Monroe said, "but it can be accounted for by simple favoritism. I mean, if you worked at a hotel desk, would you really want to give Dorothy Vogel your nicest room?"
"No, I suppose not," Nick admitted, "but it still doesn't explain the control Mrs. Sims has over her. The entry on Falkefrauen made it clear they were extremely dominant, yet our landlady was able to quell her complaining with a well-placed look and call off her attack with a few words."
"Fine, let's say she is supernatural," Monroe said, stroking his beard thoughtfully, "The fact is, what few powers we can attribute to her are not consistent with her being a Ziegevolk."
Nick considered this for a moment before letting out a sigh and saying, "You're saying we have to do a whole other round of research, aren't you?"
"No," Monroe said pointedly, "I'm saying that you have to do a whole other round of research, if you are convinced that Mrs. Sims poses a danger to the guests here. I, on the other hand, have already discharged my research obligations to you for the evening and am going to return to reading my book in peace."
"Well, first of all, it's my book," Nick pointed out automatically. "Second of all, isn't the whole reason we came here to find out the truth about Mrs. Sims? Dorothy Vogel was a necessary digression, I grant you, but that doesn't change the fact that the only reason we've been pretending to be a couple all day is to investigate our supposedly friendly hostess. If you give up this easily, then what was the point?"
A strange look passed over Monroe's face, and he opened his mouth to speak, but apparently thought the better of it afterwards and closed it again as. Finally, he said, "I'll make you a deal - if we see anything in the next twenty-four hours to indicate that sweet, old lady downstairs might actually be dangerous, I'll spend all of tomorrow night figuring out what she is with you. But for now, I am spending the evening in Winterfell." His subsequent flopping on the bed, Kindle balanced in his hands, made it clear the discussion was officially finished.
Nick sighed and returned to the desk, cracking open a dusty book once more, a treacherous voice inside his brain whispering that he'd have much more fun curled up beside Monroe on the bed reading something escapist.
The next couple hours passed like this, with Nick poring over the tomes of Grimm lore to no avail, and Monroe giving him a running commentary of what was happening in the Seven Kingdoms as the fire burned to cinders in the grate.
Consequently, it was nearly midnight when Nick's head snapped up as he heard Monroe making a whimpering sound from the bed. "What's wrong?" he asked, more concerned than he had any reason to be.
"They killed the wolf!" Monroe exclaimed, his expression caught between outrage and heartbreak. "All my blutbad friends said, 'Oh yes, read Game of Thrones, lots of pro-lupine messages there' and less than a hundred pages in, bam!, innocent wolf murder!
Entirely unsure as to the proper response to such a declaration, Nick was giving some serious thought to going over to give a thoroughly broken-up Monroe a hug when there was another soft knock at the door.
Getting up from the desk, Nick settled instead on sending Monroe a look of support and affection before turning away to answer the door. This time, he was thoroughly unsurprised to find Henry Vogel on the other side of it, though the little man's utterly terrified expression made it impossible for Nick to feel anything other than sorry for him.
"I'm s-so s-sorry to bother you th-this late," he said nervously, his gaze catching Nick's only briefly before darting once more to the carpeting.
"Henry, it's fine," Nick said, making an effort to look non-threatening, "really. What's going on?"
"It's just..." Henry trailed off, glancing nervously behind his back as if someone might be lurking there. "Oh, this was a b-bad idea. F-forget I was here."
As he turned to go, Nick looked back helplessly at Monroe, who waved him forward with both hands. "Henry, come on," Nick called out, placing a hand lightly on the other man's shoulder. "You're obviously upset - why don't you come in and tell us about it?"
"I w-wouldn't want to...to interrupt," Henry said, swallowing nervously.
"You aren't interrupting a thing," Nick assured him, using the hand already on Henry's shoulder to lead him inside. "Now, what is it?"
"Well," Henry started, pacing back and forth in front of the bed, "It's j-just...after everything that h-happened tonight, I f-figured Dorothy wouldn't be...I mean I'm af-fraid to..." he trailed off before blurting out, "Can I stay here tonight?"
Nick had just begun to think of a plausible reason why that couldn't happen when Monroe said, "Of course. You're welcome to the couch in the other room."
"Oh, thank you," Henry said, looking unbelievably relieved. "I promise I'll be as quiet as...er, well, I'll be very quiet indeed. You won't even know I'm there." Henry had just begun to shuffle off to the spare room when he turned around, seemingly on impulse, laid his hand on Nick's arm and said, "Really, thank you."
"You're, uh, you're very welcome," Nick said, the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach telling him that he now had no way of extricating himself from this situation.
The second Henry had closed the door to the other room, Nick whirled on Monroe and demanded in a heated whisper, "What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking about saving that poor, scared, little man from the terrifying falkefrau he married," Monroe shot back defensively. "She was on the verge of clawing his eyes out for getting a little jam on her dress. Do you really want to see what humiliating her in front of a group full of people gets him?"
"I suppose not," Nick admitted begrudgingly, "but that doesn't change the fact that you gave him my bed for the night. Where am I supposed to sleep?"
Monroe tilted his head and let his eyes skim briefly over the rest of the spacious, four-poster he was laying on before shooting Nick a look that said, "I really have to explain this to you?"
"But really, Monroe, I can't, it wouldn't..." Nick started, trailing off when he found, to his alarm, that he could not think of a single believable reason why he and Monroe shouldn't share a bed - that is without bringing up the whole "casually considered kissing him" incident from earlier, which he was spectacularly unwilling to do.
"Are you seriously telling me you've never shared a bed with another guy before?" Monroe asked skeptically as he shut off the Kindle and returned it to the nightstand.
"Not for sleeping, no," Nick replied automatically, a blush creeping into his cheeks the second he realized what he'd let slip.
Monroe arched his eyebrows incredulously at this semi-accidental announcement, but he chose to say nothing. Instead, to Nick's utter surprise, Monroe swiftly pulled off his sweater-vest and set to work unbuttoning his shirt.
"What are you doing?" Nick asked, bewildered.
"Gee, I don't know, Detective," Monroe said, stripping the shirt from his shoulders before draping it over a padded hanger in the closet, "what possible reason could I have for getting undressed at one in the morning, the night before we have a mandatory nine o'clock couples' breakfast? That's going to be a tough case to crack."
Nick would have responded with an appropriately sarcastic retort had he not been too busy gawking at a shirtless and shockingly ripped Monroe. He was very grateful the other man had been forced to turn away from him to hang up the shirt, or he would've gotten a good look at Nick's jaw hitting the floor as he took in the blutbad's sculpted chest.
Nick's tongue managed to recover just enough function for him to say, "Ah, well, yes...right," before he purposefully shifted his attention to the far safer object of his leather, travelling case.
By the time Nick had located the pair of worn, standard-issue PPD sweatpants he'd been using for sleepwear since his Academy graduation, he was both relieved and disappointed to see that Monroe had already donned a faded Brown University sleep-shirt and flannel sleep pants.
Knowing that Monroe would never let him live it down if he excused himself to change in the bathroom, Nick stripped off his stiff, button-down and blue jeans only to replace them with the sweatpants in record time, purposefully banishing from his mind the kinds of things daily Pilates had apparently done to Monroe's torso.
"Best lock the door," Monroe suggested. "I'm sure between the two of us, we could take Dorothy Vogel, but I think I'd sleep better knowing there was something sturdy preventing her from bursting in during the night."
"Probably a good idea," Nick said, crossing the room to comply with Monroe's request and switching off the light while he was there. "God, here less than a day and we've already uncovered at least two supernatural creatures, prevented an assault, and promised to protect a witness. At this rate, I'll have everyone in the place in lock-up by Sunday night."
"It's not as bad as all that," Monroe said comfortingly, settling himself in the bed. "Just take it as a sign that you are clearly very good at your job."
"Ah, but which job?" Nick asked, slipping under the covers next to him, momentarily distracted enough to forget his worries about the sleeping arrangements. "The one I get a paycheck for or the one I'm supposedly destined for?"
"Both," Monroe said firmly, turning his head to look at Nick, "And I don't want to hear you say that being a cop isn't your destiny. If it weren't, you wouldn't be tearing yourself up inside to follow the law, even when your Grimm instincts tell you not to."
The compassion equally evident in Monroe's expression and his voice sent twin currents of warmth straight through Nick's body, which was good considering the strangely sudden drop in the room's temperature.
"I'm sorry," Nick said with a sigh, "Ignore me - I'm just feeling sorry for myself. God, I must be just a barrel of laughs to spend the weekend with."
"Oh, I don't know," Monroe said with a smile, "this is a walk in the park compared to blutbaden family reunions, which usually end up as, well, massacres in the park..."
Nick supposed he shouldn't be laughing, but he couldn't help it. Something about Monroe's matter-of-fact treatment of the strange, horrific world he had been plunged into a few months prior always managed to make him feel better.
"So," Monroe asked, clearly exerting the effort to be casual, "will Juliette be getting all the particulars of this weekend, or just the pertinent ones?"
"Neither, I should think," Nick said, not looking at the other man, "considering we broke up a month ago."
"A month?" Monroe exclaimed, propping himself up on his elbows, "Geez, Nick, why didn't you tell me?"
"Just didn't get around to it, I suppose," Nick said with a shrug. "Besides," he added glumly, "Nobody likes admitting they were dumped."
"She...dumped...you?" Monroe asked incredulously.
Nick couldn't help but smile at the utter disbelief in Monroe's voice before he continued, "She said she didn't know who I was anymore. Too many secrets. Too many lies."
"I'm sorry," Monroe said quietly. "That can't have been easy, letting her go."
"Perhaps it was for the best," Nick said reflectively, "We'd been sort of running on auto-pilot for awhile now; it just took all this Grimm business for things to finally boil over."
It was in the seconds of silence that followed his confession that Nick suddenly realized just how cold the room had truly gotten. A violent shiver ran through his body, and though he tugged the covers up to his neck, it did little to warm him.
Monroe looked at him quizzically and, after placing a hand on his shoulder, exclaimed, "Nick, you're cold as ice! I thought cops were supposed to have common sense! Didn't you bring anything warmer to sleep in?"
"I figured it was California, and that meant it would be, you know, warm," Nick said defensively, realizing in hindsight this was, indeed, a ridiculous assumption.
"Not this far north," Monroe said with a roll of his eyes, "although I must admit, even taking our latitude into account, it is unseasonably cold in here."
When Nick merely shivered harder in response, Monroe let out a put-upon sigh and said, "Come on, then, get over here."
"What?" Nick asked, sure the cold was affecting his brain function.
"As your fake boyfriend, I would feel responsible if you froze to death," Monroe deadpanned. When Nick continued to stare blankly at him, Monroe rolled his eyes and explained, "Body heat is the one of the best sources of warmth there is, and blutbaden tend to run a good six degrees hotter than your average human. So if you would prefer to not become an icicle, I would suggest you get over here before I change my mind."
Nick thought briefly of protesting, but in his current, chilled state, the idea of snuggling up to Monroe was far too tempting to pass up.
He shifted a foot to his right, intending to only establish as much contact as was strictly necessary to avoid hypothermia. This well-intentioned notion was forgotten entirely, however, the second he felt for himself the heat radiating off the blutbad, and before he knew it, Nick found himself clinging to his companion as if he were some sort of life-size teddy bear; his head was buried in Monroe's neck, his right arm slung around his waist, his right leg wedged in between Monroe's own.
To his credit, Monroe made no comment on the Grimm's octopus-like cuddling tendencies, choosing instead to wrap his arms tightly around Nick and begin rubbing his warm hands over the cold, exposed skin of his back.
Though he would deny it later, Nick was fairly sure he made a sound disturbingly close to a purr upon feeling Monroe's hands chasing the chill away, inch by inch, minute by minute.
"Idiot," Monroe murmured, though there was no bite in his tone. "I swear, I don't know how you've made it this long without having me there to make sure you don't get yourself killed."
"Well, then," Nick said sleepily, snuggling in closer, "I guess that means you'd better stick around."
Chapter 4: Into the Woods
In which Nick wakes up armed and dangerous, Monroe brings coffee, and they end up finding both breakfast and some new friends.
Nick was pulled from a deep sleep at eight the following morning by what his sleep-addled brain interpreted as the tinkling of a music box. "Mmm," he mumbled, turning over and reaching out for his partner, "Just five more minutes, Monroe."
To Nick's surprise, he did not come in contact with the blutbad's warm body, only the tangle of cool sheets. When his eyes flew open, they corroborated what his other senses had already told him: Monroe was gone.
"Monroe?" he shouted, glancing frantically around the room before hurling himself off the bed, "Monroe?" By the time Nick had searched the entire suite and found not only Monroe, but also Henry missing, a thousand terrible possibilities had flashed through his mind, all scored to the mechanical music of the strange, still jingling contraption.
What if Dorothy Vogel found out they were harboring Henry and taken them both? What if Mrs. Sims was a Ziegevolk and ensnared him with her charms? What if -
Nick was interrupted in his stream of worrying by a knock at the door. In a matter of seconds, he had grabbed his Glock 9mm from the desk drawer he had stashed it in the night before and was occupying textbook defensive position next to the door.
After taking a deep breath in and and then out to steady his nerves, Nick flung open the door, brandishing the Glock, and shouted, "Freeze, hands in the air!" to a very surprised looking Monroe, who was clearly debating whether following Nick's instructions or not dropping a cup of piping hot coffee on himself was more important.
"Geez, Nick!" he exclaimed, evidently deciding to prioritize not getting scalded, "Is that how you always answer the door, or am I just lucky?"
"Monroe!" Nick exclaimed, his tone a mix of relief and irritation, "Where the hell have you been?"
"Would you mind putting the gun down, first?" Monroe asked, eyeing it suspiciously. "Blutbaden and firearms have never mixed terribly well."
"Right, er, sorry," Nick said, sheepishly tucking the pistol into the waistband of his sweatpants and stepping back inside.
"And put that somewhere safer," Monroe said, reaching for the butt of the gun with his free hand, "I am not explaining to some emergency room intern how you managed to get shot there."
Nick would surely have given a proper retort, had he not been distracted how near Monroe's hand was to actually being in his pants. Monroe, too, seemed to sense the unexpected consequences of his gesture - he swiftly removed the gun and placed it on the bedside table with a mumbled, "Idiot," before turning his attention to silencing the still chiming contraption.
"Don't try to change the subject," Nick said, though that certainly was what he himself was doing now, "Where were you this morning?"
"You're the hotshot detective," Monroe challenged, handing Nick the cup of coffee, "You figure it out."
"You made me coffee?" Nick asked, strangely pleased.
"Mmm, great start," Monroe said sarcastically, "Really, fantastic detecting. They should make you the chief of police!"
"Oh, shut up," Nick said, grabbing a pillow off the bed to hurl at Monroe. As he watched Monroe catch the pillow and handily hurl one back, Nick noticed the thin sheen of sweat giving his face and arms a healthy glow, and everything fell into place.
"Pilates!" Nick exclaimed triumphantly, depositing the coffee on the desk, "Ha! You do it every morning!"
"There you go, Sherlock," Monroe said, smiling patronizingly at him, "I knew you'd get there in the end."
"Wait," Nick said, suddenly anxious again, "Where's Henry? Is he okay?"
"Relax," Monroe said, placing his hands on Nick's shoulders in a calming gesture, "He's downstairs helping Mrs. Sims with the breakfast. Apparently the little guy loves to cook, but that harpie of a wife never lets him."
"I'm glad that he's all right," Nick said with a sigh of relief. I'm glad that you're all right, he left unsaid.
The look on his face must have made it pretty clear, though, because the next thing Monroe said was, "You were worried." His tone was matter-of-fact and was accompanied by a curious look in his eye.
"Well, with all these creatures running about the place," Nick said, trying unsuccessfully for nonchalance, "Maybe a little..."
Nick had expected Monroe to tease him, as he had the previous day, or at the very least to yell at him for what he realized now was a serious overreaction, but Monroe did neither. Instead, he fixed Nick with that intense gaze he normally reserved for his clock-making projects, and said softly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
It was at this point that Nick became very aware of his own bare shoulders and the fact that Monroe's hands were still keeping them warm.
"No harm done," Nick said softly, hoping to God the warmth he felt spreading over his torso wasn't manifesting itself in a blush.
"Well...good," Monroe said after a minute, clapping him awkwardly on the shoulder. "You, um, finish that coffee - I'm gonna hop in the shower."
Monroe pivoted toward the bathroom and stripped off his shirt, causing Nick to mumble, "Yeah, sure," and focus rather more attention than strictly necessary on transferring the coffee from the mug into his mouth.
Nick dressed quickly, hoping to avoid any further awkwardness, and by the time Monroe emerged from the bathroom 30 minutes later, he was sitting at the desk, poring over the volumes of Grimm lore.
"Working already?" Monroe asked with a little smile.
"You know what they say about the early bird..." Nick replied, though he shut the book.
"Yeah, you should eat him first," Monroe said, is if were obvious. Upon seeing the baffled look on Nick's face, he explained a bit sheepishly, "Blutbad proverbs tend to differ from human ones in...certain respects."
"I'm not even going to ask how you think the one about skinning a cat goes," Nick said with a shudder.
"Probably best," Monroe concurred with a dark smile.
This discussion was interrupted by a sudden, albeit soft knock at the door, prompting Nick and Monroe to shout "Come in, Henry!" in near perfect unison.
"So sorry to bother you again," the little man said, opening the door slowly, as if he was afraid his welcome might be retracted at any moment. "It's just...breakfast...I made...French toast..."
"Thank you, Henry," Nick said, making sure to smile, "That sounds wonderful. I can't wait to taste it."
"Oh good!" Henry exclaimed, clasping his hands together with such unbridled joy that it couldn't help but warm Nick's heart. "It's the very least I can do. You two have been...so kind."
"Think nothing of it," Monroe insisted, ushering him toward the door. "Now, you go on down and start dishing out that French toast, Henry, we'll be right there."
"You know, I think that's the first time I've ever seen him really smile," Monroe said incredulously, shutting the door behind Henry.
"Well, I'm hoping it will be a much more frequent occurrence if we can get him away from that wife of his," Nick said dryly.
"Oh, well, no problem, then," Monroe said sarcastically, "All we have to do is separate a Falkefrau from her primary source of sustenance. Piece of cake."
"You, my friend," Nick said, crossing the room to hold the door open for Monroe, "could really benefit from an optimistic attitude."
"Oh, I could, huh?" Monroe asked, sliding past him into the hallway. "So you actually think if I suddenly start about how singing how the sun will come out tomorrow, everything will just magically work itself out?"
"Maybe not," Nick said with a sly grin, "But it would certainly make my day."
Nick laughed and jogged into the breakfast room before Monroe could retaliate, calling out with a cheerful, "Good morning, all!"
"Morning, Nick!" Annie said, handing him a glass of orange juice. "Morning, Monroe! I trust you two slept well."
"Not too well, if you know what I mean," Monroe said, slinging an arm around Nick's shoulders and throwing him an exaggerated wink.
"Oh, Monroe, you are so bad!" Annie exclaimed with a giggle, before her husband's obvious confusion over how to slice a pineapple drew her attention away.
"Oh, I am going to kill you," Nick whispered, though there was no bite in his voice.
"Revenge is sweet, my friend," Monroe said with a wicked grin, "Mmm, and so are those pastries, by the looks of it. I'm going to have to do a high-burn routine tomorrow, but I don't care - cherry Danish are my weakness."
"I'm going to remember that," Nick called after Monroe as the blutbad made his way to the buffet table. Nick was about to join him when he caught Mrs. Sims' gaze from across the room, and not for the first time that weekend, got the strange sensation that she could read his mind.
After filing the feeling away for later contemplation, he fixed himself a heaping plate of breakfast - making sure to take three pieces of French toast from a beaming Henry - and sat down between Monroe and a slender, blonde woman whom he recognized from the jam making session the previous night.
"I would love to do a bit of exploring in the woods around the house," the woman was saying to Monroe and Annie. "They look just magical. Who knows what we might find?"
"Perhaps a house made of candy," Annie said teasingly, thankfully not noticing the forced nature of Monroe's responding laughter or the look he exchanged with Nick.
"Yes, well," Nick said, trying to shift the focus away from fairy tales, just in case, "I could definitely go for a walk in the woods." Remembering Monroe's previous comment to Annie and deciding two could play at that game, he slid his hand over Monroe's and asked, "What about you, honey?"
"Oh, absolutely, sweetie," Monroe said, not missing a beat, "You know how I enjoy channeling my inner wild man."
Nick sent him a look that said, Please, please, please do not turn that into a sex joke, which was apparently pathetic enough for Monroe to restrain himself and change the subject.
"Marisa," he said, turning to the blonde woman, "Have you met my partner, Nick?"
"I don't think I've had the pleasure," she said, turning toward him with an outstretched hand, which he shook. "Nice to meet you, Nick. Gosh, Monroe's just been telling us so much about you, I almost feel like we know each other already."
"He does love to brag on me," Nick said, sending Monroe a sickeningly sweet look of pure affection, "but I'm afraid that puts me at a loss. You must tell me something about yourself so I'm caught up."
"Well," she said, considering, "I'm afraid I'm the only single woman in the place...although Mr. Sims does seem to be out of the picture, so perhaps that isn't strictly true."
"Oh, but your partner from the other night..." Nick said, gesturing to where the man he had assumed to be her husband was complimenting Henry on his French toast, "I just assumed you were together."
"Ethan?" she asked with a laugh. "Oh no - he plays for your team, I'm afraid. Ethan's just here to keep me company, and for moral support. My husband and I used to come here all the time before...well, before he passed away three years ago. Car accident. I'd been thinking lately that it's about time for a new start, and for some reason this seemed just the place to get one."
"Well, I think that's a wonderful idea," Monroe said firmly, patting her hand encouragingly.
"Yes," Annie agreed, "just wonderful. And a walk in the woods sounds like a marvelous idea to me. We should all go - make a day of it!"
"David, darling!" she called out to her husband, who seemed to have finally mastered the pineapple and was moving on to a mango.
"Yeah, Annie?" he shouted back, not taking his eyes from the fruit in front of him.
"Would you be a dear and ask Mrs. Sims if it's all right for us to go roaming around the woods today? And perhaps if she would be so kind as to pack a few picnic lunches?"
"Be glad to," David replied, "In just...one...ha! Got it! I'll go and ask her now."
"That man does come in handy now and again," Annie said, gazing fondly at her husband, "even if he is more than a tad accident prone."
"Hey, I just realized," she said, glancing around the room suddenly, "the dragon lady never came down this morning!"
"I wouldn't say dragon," Nick corrected automatically, "I mean more of a bird of - er, that's a, um, good point, Annie. I wonder where she is."
"Probably sulking in that terrifying room of theirs," Monroe said in between tearing into the sausages on his plate.
"I feel so bad for that poor husband of hers," Marisa said, lowering her voice, "he seems such a sweet, little man."
"What I don't get is how they ever got together in the first place," Annie said thoughtfully, plunging a spoon into a grapefruit hemisphere, "I mean, they can't have ever had much chemistry."
"Not like you two, certainly," Marisa said, glancing between Nick and Monroe with a shy smile. "All that lovely give and take."
"Careful, Marisa," Monroe said, sending a thoroughly appraising look Nick's way, "I think my partner might just be blushing."
"Oh, I am not," Nick scoffed, hoping desperately that Monroe's comment was not in reference to what had happened earlier in the room.
"Hush now, you two, here comes Mrs. Sims," Annie said with a mischievous smile, acting as if they were about to get caught smoking behind the gym.
"Annie, dear," Mrs. Sims said sweetly, though there was a definite edge to her tone, "David tells me that you want to spend the day tromping around my dilapidated, old forest."
"Oh, it's not dilapidated at all, Mrs. Sims," Annie insisted, "quite the opposite, in fact. It's all just beautiful and wild."
"Mmm, yes," Mrs. Sims said with a frown, "wild is exactly what I'm afraid of. Do you know what kinds of feral creatures live in those woods, Annie? I wouldn't like to think of the lot of you tromping out there, unprotected."
"Where's your adventurous spirit, Mrs. Sims?" Annie demanded, unfazed. "I mean, what would life be without a bit of danger now and again? Look, if you're worried about the potential liability for the Enchanted Rose, you needn't be. Once we're fifty yards past the house, we are no longer your responsibility."
"I take it that means I will be unable to dissuade you of this silly notion?" Mrs. Sims inquired, crossing her arms disapprovingly.
"I'm afraid so," Annie said, flashing her a winning smile. She got to her feet in a rush and placed a kiss on the cheek of their very surprised looking landlady and said, "But you shouldn't worry; it'll all go splendidly, I promise you. Now, are you allowed to furnish us with lunches, or would that count as enabling?"
"If you are so dead set on proceeding with this silly venture, you shall not be doing it on empty stomachs," Mrs. Sims said firmly. "I'll just go and put something together."
"You're an old softie, you know that, Mrs. Sims?" Annie called after her, grinning. "Well," she said, turning back to the rest of the party, "If we are going to be traipsing through the woods all day, I suppose a pencil skirt is not going to cut it. So if you gentlemen and lady will excuse me, I'll just pop up to my room and change."
"Oh, that's a good idea," Marisa said, glancing over her sweater set with some dismay, "I think I will as well."
As soon as the ladies had departed from the table, Nick leaned forward and whispered to Monroe, "Did you hear that?"
"Yes," Monroe whispered back, "But I think what you're wearing is fine."
"Not that," Nick replied with an impatient wave, "I mean about the woods. Mrs. Sims obviously didn't want us looking around too much."
"What, you think that means she has a stash of bodies out there?" Monroe asked doubtfully.
"Maybe!" Nick insisted, "Or a secret laboratory or...oh, I don't know, something sinister!"
"And because you're convinced that these woods must contain something either damning or dangerous, you are now completely determined to comb every inch of them, is that it?" Monroe asked skeptically.
"Yes," Nick assented with a firm nod, failing to notice Monroe's implicit criticism of his logic. "I will find out what's been going on at this inn if it kills me."
"That," Monroe said, looking at him in deadly earnest, "is exactly what I'm afraid of."
Before Nick had a chance to respond or ponder that too closely, his attention, and that of most of the other occupants of the room, was drawn to the doorway - specifically to Dorothy Vogel, standing next to the buffet table and looking thoroughly incensed.
"Looks like our luck didn't hold out," Monroe murmured.
Nick instinctively shifted his glance toward Henry, who was cowering under his wife's gaze and making an ineffective effort to hide behind a plaster column. Nick started to rise, intending to intervene if it became necessary, but a strong hand on his arm soon stopped him.
"Hey," Monroe whispered, gesturing to the other side of the room, "I think she's got it covered."
When Nick shifted his gaze to where Monroe was pointing, he saw that Mrs. Sims did, indeed, have it covered. Before Dorothy Vogel could get within three feet of Henry, Mrs. Sims had placed a firm hand on her shoulder and gestured her politely, but resolutely toward one of the tables.
"How does she do that?" Monroe exclaimed in amazement.
"I don't know," Nick said quietly, "but if the answer is anywhere in those woods, I am sure as hell going to find out."
"Come on, you two," Annie exclaimed, bursting back into the room, now clad in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt with "Wellesley, Class of 2001" stamped on the front in faded, blue lettering. "Mrs. Sims has packed us the most wonderful picnic lunch. Now, let's go have that adventure!"
"Is Marisa ready?" Monroe asked, rising from the breakfast table to follow Annie toward the lobby.
"Oh, yes," she said impatiently, tugging Nick out of his chair. "Honestly, I don't know why you boys are always moaning about how long it takes us girls to get ready. We can be perfectly swift when the occasion calls."
"I would never dream of saying otherwise," Nick assured her, hands raised in supplication. "Now, this one on the other hand..." he added mischievously, running a hand down Monroe's shoulder.
"Hey!" Monroe protested, swinging his arm around Nick's head in a playful headlock and ruffling his hair, "I am not the one who treats his hair like a mix between a priceless artifact and a delicate work of art."
"Which you are now destroying!" Nick protested, ducking out of Monroe's grip with no little effort.
Annie let out a musical laugh at the way Nick began to smooth down his black locks while glaring half-heartedly at Monroe before she called out, "Fancy a stroll, Henry?"
"Oh, t-thank you," Henry began, sneaking a finger under his collar and loosening it nervously, "So k-kind, but I think I'll s-stay and help Mrs. S-Sims c-clean up."
"What about you, Dorothy?" Annie asked, distinctly less enthusiastically.
"Good heavens, no," Dorothy said, her voice dripping with disdain, "Nothing so wretched as a day spent in...Nature. I shall be in that hole in the wall she calls a room, counting down the moments until we can't depart from this godforsaken place."
"Six, actually," Marisa corrected, when the four of them had made their departure into the lobby, "I'm not about to let Ethan spend the day using up all our hot water having a soak."
"Now, that's not fair, Mari!" the man she had told them was Ethan interjected, rolling his eyes and giving Marisa a teasing, little shove. "That was only the once, and it was a jacuzzi with double jets! How was I supposed to resist?"
"I know I can never resist a hot tub myself," Monroe offered helpfully, "Just something about the bubbles."
"Monroe, I can't remember, have you met Ethan?" Marisa asked pleasantly, looking between them.
"Oh, I'm sure I would have remembered becoming acquainted with a man such as yourself," Ethan said flirtatiously, extending a hand to Monroe. "Ethan Anderson, Newsweek."
"Eddie Monroe," Monroe replied, accepting the offered hand in a slightly hesitant handshake, "Er...freelance. Oh, and this is..." he began, turning to Nick, who promptly interrupted him.
"Nick Burkhardt," he said, offering Ethan one hand as he entwined the other around Monroe's torso in a gesture that clearly said, Mine. Why he felt such a strong need to do this when Monroe was not, strictly speaking, his was something Nick was determined not to think about.
"Just my luck," Ethan said with an exaggerated sigh, accepting Nick's hand, "Both taken. I trust this means we can be friends, then?"
"I very seldom say no to new friends," Nick assured him with a smile, as a strange little voice in his head whispered something to the effect of potential threat neutralized.
"You'll have to excuse my partner," Monroe said, winding an arm around Nick's waist in an echo of the other's earlier gesture, "He gets a tad...territorial at times."
"And you will have to excuse Ethan," Marisa said with a laugh as she looped an arm affectionately through his, "He flirts with absolutely anything in pants. At one particularly memorable state dinner, after a bad breakup and four whiskey sours, he even asked Hilary Clinton back to his place."
"It was Madeleine Albright," Ethan corrected primly. "And what can I say, she has this earthy, masculine energy that I apparently respond very well to when I'm intoxicated."
"Ah, but did she say yes?" Nick asked teasingly.
"That, my friend," Ethan said with an admonishing gesture of his finger, "is a matter far above your security clearance."
This received a hearty chuckle from the group and an accusation of his being "downright naughty" from Annie before the six of them headed out the door.
"So," Monroe whispered to Nick, making sure the two of them lagged a little behind the others, "What's the plan?"
"First, we should contrive to split with the group as soon as possible," Nick whispered back, "Make it seem like we want some...couple time."
"Shouldn't be too difficult..." Monroe muttered, his voice so low it was barely audible.
"What?" Nick asked, not entirely sure he had heard correctly.
"Then what?" Monroe said instead.
"Then," Nick continued, glossing for the moment over why Monroe had chosen to alter his response, "we use your heightened senses and my police skills to find out just what Mrs. Sims is hiding in these woods."
"Well," Monroe observed, looking around them with obvious apprehension, "Then I guess it's into the woods we must go.
Chapter 5: Something Wicked This Way Comes
When Nick and Monroe's thorough search of the woods yields only a charming, country graveyard and some feelings Nick isn't quite sure how to process, he begins to think his Grimm instincts have let him down. If only he'd remembered how often danger finds him when he isn't looking for it...
It was two hours into what had turned out to be a very pleasant walk before Nick and Monroe were able to make their excuses and separate from the rest of the group.
"At least take some lunch with you," Annie implored them, "Wouldn't want you boys getting hungry before you find us again."
"Thanks, Mom," Nick said teasingly, earning him a smack on the shoulder from Annie and a chuckle from David, in addition to a couple sandwiches and a container of potato salad.
"You're sure it's safe for you to be wandering around these woods by yourselves, Nick?" Marisa asked, glancing nervously around the woods surrounding them. "Mrs. Sims seemed to think there are wild animals out here."
"I'm sure Monroe will protect me, won't you, honey?" Nick asked, gazing adoringly at him, before remembering that the others would probably be wondering why he trusted an author of children's books to fight his battles. "He, uh, takes Krav Maga," Nick added quickly.
"Blue belt in a couple months," Monroe supplied, shooting a brief, amused glance at Nick before attacking the air with a couple of showy, but ineffectual kicks that would have provoked intense mockery from Nick had he not been concentrating on looking suitably impressed.
"Oh, well, then," Annie said, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "I have no doubt you'll be fine as long as you stick very, very close."
"Not to worry," Nick said, figuring that he should probably slip an arm through Monroe's to really sell the bit, "I fully intend to."
"Oh, what I wouldn't give to be like them again, young and..." Ethan trailed off wistfully.
"In love?" Marisa supplied with a little sigh.
Ethan paused for a moment before saying impishly, "Not exactly what I was going to say, but perhaps the best choice in mixed company. You young people nowadays are so easily scandalized."
He laughed merrily at the shocked look Nick couldn't quite suppress before leading the rest of the group purposefully toward what he insisted was a very interesting rock formation - though from the wink Ethan shot him as they walked away, Nick had the sneaking suspicion the older man was enjoying playing Cupid.
"Well, we definitely have them fooled," Monroe said with a bemused grin, shaking his head a little, "though you can probably...um..." His gaze drifted to where Nick was still clutching his arm.
"Right!" Nick exclaimed, dropping Monroe's arm as if it had bitten him. "Of course. Sorry."
"No problem," Monroe said, shooting him that same curious, hard-to-read look Nick had noticed him sporting several times over the course of the weekend. "Now, if we have to go hunting for whatever creepy crawlies you seem convinced are lurking in this perfectly pleasant forest, we are not going to do it on an empty stomach."
"Fine," Nick said, rolling his eyes as he plopped down beside Monroe beneath the large oak tree which dominated the small clearing they had wandered into.
"Ham or PB&J?" Nick asked, holding up the sandwiches Annie had given him. Upon seeing the skeptical look Monroe was sending him, Nick handed over the ham and said, "I thought you were off the hard stuff."
"I read that the best way to keep from backsliding is to allow yourself the occasional indulgence," Monroe said primly, tearing into the sandwich.
"You read it?" Nick asked skeptically, "Where, Blutbaden Monthly?"
"Ladies Home Journal, if you must know," Monroe said with as much dignity as he could muster.
"Don't laugh!" Monroe exclaimed when Nick began to do exactly that, doubling over on the grass, peanut butter and jelly sandwich still clutched in his hand, "I only read it for the recipes!"
"Oh, sure, sure," Nick said, sounding thoroughly unconvinced, when the laughter had finally subsided.
"Just for that, no potato salad for you," Monroe said with a sniff, turning his back to Nick and digging a fork into the Tupperware container. "Mmmm, is that a dash of paprika I taste? Just perfect."
"Oh come on, Monroe," Nick said, leaning over Monroe's shoulder and making his expression penitent and puppy-like, "You wouldn't deny your fake boyfriend the joy of a really good batch of potato salad, would you?"
"Watch me," Monroe said determinedly, punctuating his words by taking another exaggerated bite of the dish in question.
"All right, then," Nick said seriously, "You asked for it." His subsequent attempt to make a grab for the Tupperware container, however, was easily foiled by Monroe's quick reflexes, and Nick soon found himself face-down in the grass, sprawled over the other man's legs.
Now it was Monroe who burst out laughing and Nick who implored him to cut it out as he struggled to right himself.
"Boy," Monroe said shaking his head, "You must really be desperate for that potato salad if you're willing to sit in my lap."
Nick took a quick inventory of his surroundings and deduced that his attempts to sit up had, in fact, resulted in him essentially sitting in the other man's lap. "Oh, shut up," Nick said, quickly scrambling off Monroe, causing the other man to laugh again.
"Pity the others aren't here," Monroe mused, still munching on the potato salad, "we could have cemented our reputation as the Enchanted Rose's hottest couple."
"Oh, yes, a tragedy," Nick said sarcastically, crossing his arms and leaning against the tree.
"Are you seriously sulking right now?" Monroe asked, turning to look at him.
"No," Nick said, though his tone and posture said otherwise.
Monroe rolled his eyes and said, "Here," before handing him a fork and the container and muttering, "Such a drama queen sometimes."
Nick grinned triumphantly and applied himself to eating the remainder of what was, indeed, truly excellent potato salad.
"Do you seriously think we're going to find anything out here?" Monroe asked, glancing skeptically around the clearing. "It feels pretty innocuous to me."
"Appearances, as we both know all too well, can be deceiving," Nick retorted, handing Monroe the now empty container to return to his satchel. "If nothing else, a few months of being a Grimm have taught me that."
Monroe nodded a reluctant assent and rose slowly, using the trunk of the oak for support. "All right, oh wise and powerful Grimm," he said, extending a hand to drag Nick to his feet, "Where do you suggest we start?"
"Well," Nick said, carefully taking in their surroundings, "Let's start with you."
"Me?" Monroe asked, confused.
"You," Nick said firmly, explaining, "Imagine for a moment you never reformed. You're a full-on, rampaging blutbad with a fresh kill, and you need somewhere to hide it. Where would you go first?"
"Nick, you know that I would never -" Monroe began, looking troubled and a little hurt.
"Of course I do," Nick said hurriedly, finding himself having to bite back the urge to add honey as he had been doing as part of their cover. He did, however, run a reassuring hand up and down Monroe's arm as he added, "All I meant was that you happen to have a little experience which could prove useful to the investigation, that's all."
Monroe stared at him for a few moments, as if searching Nick's face for any hint that he was being anything less than truthful, before finally saying, "We passed a small, country graveyard about half an hour ago, a couple miles to the east. If I were trying to hide a body, that would seem to be the least conspicuous place."
"Good," Nick declared, pulling a small compass out of his pocket, "Then it's east we shall go!"
The two of them fell easily into step and continued to walk side by side until Nick broke the silence by saying, "I admire you a lot, you know - going against your nature like that because you didn't want to hurt anyone anymore. It can't have been easy."
Monroe shot him a look that was surprised, but pleased as he mused, "I suppose you know as much as I do about how hard it is to balance one's nature with one's morality. I've never heard of any Grimm before you came along even contemplating handing over a creature to the police and letting the justice system do its job."
Nick laughed suddenly. "We make one hell of a pair, don't we?"
"Yeah," Monroe agreed, adding ruefully, "Probably going to get our asses kicked a lot for it, though."
"Well, then," Nick said, companionably bumping against his shoulder, "I guess we'd better stick together. Safety in numbers and all that."
Now it was Monroe who laughed, and Nick noticed his right hand begin to move from his side, only to return there just as quickly, as if Monroe was forcing himself to repress some instinctual reaction before he replied, "Yeah, I guess so."
A few more steps brought them to the south end of the small graveyard, and Nick had to admit to himself that even here, there didn't seem to be anything particularly sinister going on.
"What now?" Monroe asked, carefully vaulting over the rickety, wooden fence surrounding the tombstones to avoid disturbing the area more than strictly necessary.
"Now, we look for anything that seems out of place," Nick said, surveying the small plot. As he copied Monroe's movement and swung himself over the fence, an uneven piece of ground made for a landing which was distinctly less graceful than that of his companion and had him reaching for the blutbad to keep from tumbling headfirst into a tombstone.
"What happened to those famous Grimm reflexes, hmmm?" Monroe asked, sounding amused as he grabbed Nick's shoulders to steady him.
"Must be taking the day off," Nick said with a little laugh, which turned into an awkward cough when he realized his hands were still tangled in Monroe's shirt and quickly removed them.
"Yes, apparently," Monroe said with only a trace of mockery as he began to work his way around the edge of the graveyard. "Oh, look at this!" he exclaimed suddenly.
"What is it?" Nick asked eagerly, jogging over to see what had captured Monroe's attention. "Did you find something incriminating?"
"Look!" Monroe said, pointing to the overgrown stone in front of him.
Nick's eyes scanned the gravestone and its surroundings thoroughly, but he saw no indication of supernatural activity or foul play. "I give up," he said, confused, "what do you see?"
"It's from the 19th century!" Monroe exclaimed excitedly, reading aloud, "Juan and Maria Espinoza, November 11, 1823 and March 16, 1824 to July 7, 1846. True love never dies."
"This is what you wanted to show me?" Nick asked incredulously.
"You're actually disappointed it's not a dead body, aren't you?" Monroe asked, folding his arms disbelievingly. "This is a unique piece of California history, Nick!"
Nick rolled his eyes, but begrudgingly returned his attention to the stone. "Hmmm, that's strange," he said, a thought suddenly striking him, "There's two dates of birth, but only one date of death. Maybe some sort of accident?"
"July 7, 1846," Monroe said thoughtfully, "Why do I know that date?"
"I don't know, Monroe, was it when you called me over here?" Nick asked, unable to suppress the sarcasm, "Because it feels like that long ago."
"Of course!" Monroe exclaimed after a minute, electing to ignore Nick's sarcasm, "the Battle of Monterey! July 7, 1846, a group of Mexican soldiers die tragically trying to prevent the mission from being taken over by invading American forces at the height of the Mexican-American War. Outnumbered ten to one, they all perished on the steps of the church, with even the last man refusing to stand down. So now every July 7th, the town of Monterey holds a festival in recognition of their heroism and piety."
"Wow," Nick said, surprised and impressed, "How on earth do you know that?"
"You said we were coming here, so I did some research," Monroe said with a slightly embarrassed shrug, "Not to mention there's a terribly informative pamphlet all about it back at the Inn."
"But even if Juan died at this Battle of Monterey, defending the church, it still doesn't explain what happened to Maria on July 7th," Nick pointed out.
Monroe thought it over for a moment before saying with a wistful sigh, "She must have sensed that Juan was gone forever and died of a broken heart. It's the only explanation."
"The only explanation?" Nick asked incredulously. "Monroe, it was the 1800s; she could have died of a thousand other things - consumption, dropsy, even childbirth. Her dying of a broken heart is not only not the only explanation, it's not even the most probable one!"
"Oh come on, Nick!" Monroe objected, "You're telling me she just happened to die of disease on the very day her husband fell protecting the church? Where's the romance? Where's the passion?"
"Who says there even was passion?" Nick pointed out. "For all you know, they could have had an unhappy, arranged marriage."
"Ha!" Monroe exclaimed triumphantly, "That's where I know you're wrong. You, my friend, are forgetting one key piece of evidence: the epitaph. True love never dies."
Nick groaned. "Fine, I'll cede that they were in love. It still doesn't prove your far-fetched theory correct!"
"You, Nick Burkhardt, have to be the most unromantic person in entire world," Monroe stated firmly, "if you'd rather put your faith in 19th century epidemiological statistics than true love." With that, he stalked away from Juan and Maria's final resting place and continued examining the perimeter of the area.
"I'll have you know, I am very romantic!" Nick objected, hurrying to catch up with him.
"Oh really?" Monroe challenged, whirling to face him. "Name one romantic thing you have done in the past six months."
"I will have you know that for our six month anniversary, I took Juliette on a hot air balloon ride," Nick said proudly.
"Uh-huh," Monroe said skeptically, crossing his arms. "And this was your idea?"
"Yes," Nick said, adding after a few moments of scrutiny from Monroe, "Okay, Juliette might have dropped a few hints."
"Define 'a few'," Monroe said knowingly.
"She may have casually left a few pamphlets around the house hinting at it," Nick admitted, "and it could have come up in conversation once or twice.".
"Just a few, casual mentions, that was it?" Monroe asked, still sounding not in the least convinced.
"Oh, all right, fine!" Nick exclaimed in frustration, "She told me what she wanted, so I handed her my credit card and told her to take care of it. I'm a distracted, workaholic who wouldn't know romance if it hit him over the head. Happy?"
Now it was Nick who took off in frustration, which only increased as he realized that they had been round every inch of the graveyard at least twice and found no evidence that anyone had even been there recently, let alone been up to anything sinister.
"I don't really think you're inherently unromantic, you know," Monroe said quietly, catching up to Nick in a few long strides. "Maybe you just haven't found someone who makes you feel that way, like you want to make grand gestures."
Nick caught Monroe's eye for a few seconds and, upon finding his expression still infuriatingly hard to read, decided to steer the conversation into safer waters. "There's nothing in these woods, is there?" he said, letting out a sigh of desperation as he hopped the fence out of the graveyard, successfully this time. "This whole thing has just been my overactive, Grimm brain looking for crimes where there aren't any."
"Hey, don't forget about Dorothy Vogel," Monroe reminded him, neatly copying Nick's exit strategy. "I'd say rooting out a Falkefrau is a pretty good weekend's work, even if you did make some incorrect assumptions about our kindly landlady in the process."
"I suppose," Nick ceded, still feeling like a failure, "although I don't know if me knowing is going to do Henry much good in the end."
"Well, if I were that Falkefrau, I certainly wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of you," Monroe said determinedly, slinging an arm over Nick's shoulder.
The jolt of warmth the contact sent through Nick's body brought an instinctive smile to his face, and he mumbled, "Thanks, Monroe," adding after a minute, "And thanks again for coming with me this weekend. I'm seeing more and more that I would have been completely out of my depth alone."
"Well, that is undeniably true," Monroe agreed as they began to walk back toward the house, his arm still draped casually over Nick's shoulders, "Although, I have to say -"
But Nick never found out what it was Monroe had to say - the other man froze abruptly mid-sentence before taking a couple steps away from Nick and toward the center of a small ring of trees, all the while scanning their surroundings with intense concentration.
"Monroe, what-?" Nick began, but Monroe quickly silenced him with a raised hand.
"Something's wrong, Nick," he whispered, his eyes never leaving the tree line, "Something's out there."
"And I thought I was the one with an overactive imagination," Nick snorted, resuming his progress toward the inn.
"Nick," Monroe hissed after him, "Nick, I'm serious, I'm catching the scent of something very wild...and very angry."
"It's probably just left over from a bear or something," Nick said dismissively, turning to look back over his shoulder as he called back to Monroe, "No, you were right all along, Monroe, these woods are as safe as -"
This was all Nick managed to get out before he was distracted by a several hundred pounds of force striking his chest, followed immediately by an intensely painful burning sensation spreading itself over his entire torso. As he felt his body hit the ground with a dull thud, Nick tried to scream out Monroe's name, to warn him, but his tongue felt heavy and useless.
Indeed, none of his limbs seemed to be functioning at all how they should have been, so he could only watch in helpless terror as the fully transformed figure of Dorothy Vogel towered over him, enormous downy wings increasing her size by threefold, eyes blazing red with rage, razor-sharp talons covered in blood which Nick dimly realized must be his own.
Nick had only stared at his assailant for a few seconds, however, before an unearthly, howling noise to his left caught both his and Dorothy's attention. In a flash, the Falkefrau was knocked to the ground, wings and all, and Nick watched, transfixed, as a clearly enraged Monroe snarled and snapped at her, carefully avoiding her outstretched talons as he lashed out with his own claws.
Though he knew, of course, all about Monroe's true nature, it was quite another matter to see him in action. There was a fierceness there that Nick could have never suspected was lurking all along beneath his normally peaceful, controlled exterior.
As the fight went on, Dorothy recovered from the surprise of the initial attack and managed to counter, knocking Monroe on his back a few feet from Nick. Just as Nick was willing his arm to move just far enough to reach the sidearm concealed in the pocket of his jacket, a voice rang out through the clearing, strong and clear: "STOP!"
Nick's gaze shifted to the spot behind Dorothy from whence the voice had emanated, and when she turned to face the mysterious speaker, he was confronted with his greatest shock yet: standing there and looking thoroughly furious was Henry Vogel. Indeed, Nick barely recognized the man drawn up to his full height with a look of such fierce determination on his face.
"Leave. Them. Alone. At. Once," Henry commanded through gritted teeth, his eyes never straying from his wife.
"They dared to interfere in our marriage, Henry!" Dorothy shrieked at him, "Worthless, little -"
"Silence!" Henry roared, and Nick would have sworn that every second he continued to stand up to his wife, her terrifying form grew smaller, little by little.
Monroe, meanwhile, took the opportunity of having their assailant so distracted to crawl silently over to Nick. He slipped between Nick and a nearby tree and carefully positioned Nick so that his head was resting in Monroe's lap, with Nick's injured torso guarded by his arms.
Though worry was clearly etched on his face, Monroe shot Nick a small smile and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze before returning his attention to the stand-off occurring a few feet in front of them.
"These men," Henry said, his voice trembling once more, but this time from anger rather than fear, "have gone out of their way to be kind to me. It's you -" he spat out the word as if speaking it left a bad taste in his mouth, "who are worthless. You have been a cancer on my life for ten years, Dorothy, draining me of my happiness and self-worth, poisoning everything you touch."
"Henry, I will not allow you to speak to me like this!" Dorothy exclaimed, but Nick could tell from the fear in her voice and the fact that she had shifted entirely back to human form that Henry's days of requiring her permission for anything were fast coming to an end.
"No, Dorothy," Henry said, taking a few steps toward her, "It is I who will not allow you to treat my friends like this. You will leave this place, immediately. You will stop at the inn only long enough as is necessary to call yourself a taxi. You may stop at our house to gather whatever belongings you desire, but you had better not be there when I get back."
"Henry, I-" she began, her voice sounding suddenly small and frail, but he cut her off once more.
"In a few weeks, I will send you divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences. You will sign them with no complaints and no demands, and you will never contact me again. Are we clear?"
When she made no answer, he repeated his question with more force, emphasizing each word separately: "Are. We. Clear?"
Dorothy nodded weakly and quickly ran from the clearing in the direction of the inn, glancing nervously behind her as she went.
When she was finally out of sight, Nick let out the breath he didn't realize he had been holding, only to find out that it took a great deal of effort to suck any air back in.
"Nick?" Monroe asked, distressed, "Nick? Henry, what's wrong with him?" He turned his anxious face in the direction of their newly emancipated friend.
"I don't know," Henry said gravely, "but I suspect there was some kind of toxin in her talons that's having a hazardous, paralytic effect. We should get him back to the house immediately."
"Oh my God, what happened?" came a concerned female voice from somewhere over Henry's left shoulder. Nick couldn't find the energy to turn his head enough to find out the visitor's identity, but he was pretty sure from the cadence that it was Annie.
"Bear attack," Monroe said quickly, never taking his eyes off Nick, "Came out of nowhere."
"We should get him back to the house, and quickly," David insisted, stepping into Nick's field of vision, "Mrs. Sims will know what to do."
When Nick shifted his focus back to Monroe, he was distressed that all his senses seemed to be turning themselves on and off at will. He vaguely registered that the blutbad was shouting something back to someone, but the audio refused to be anything other than a hollow, persistent buzzing.
"Monroe," Nick finally managed, the word feeling utterly foreign on his tongue.
As the world began to spin, Nick felt a hand run soothingly through his hair before he registered being lifted, then held tightly as the forest surrounding them went by in a green-black blur.
The last thing he remembered before the darkness closed in entirely was Monroe's voice, strangely clear, saying over and over, "You're going to be all right, Nick. It's all going to be all right."
Chapter 6: Holding Out for a Hero
After Mrs. Sims finally reveals the truth about the inn to Nick, he comes to some revelations of his own about his feelings for Monroe and decides to act on them.
The first thing Nick registered, as the blackness began to recede, was the strange, but pervasive impression of being trapped in a vast field of flowers; it was only when the focus returned to his vision that he realized the flowers were just part of the seemingly endless chintz pattern covering nearly everything in his sight line.
As the events which had caused him to be lying on a chintz-covered couch in the first place came rushing back to Nick, he bolted upright, his fight-or-flight reflex overriding the quiet, little voice in his head that was warning him to avoid any sudden movements.
The quiet voice quickly morphed into a screaming one, however, when a searing pain ripped through Nick's torso, forcing him back down onto the couch with a thud and a groan.
"As little common sense as you displayed this afternoon, young man, I would have thought you'd at least have had enough to know that you should not be overdoing it hours after surviving such a savage attack," Mrs. Sims said sternly, walking over to place a cup of tea on the coffee table in front of him.
Nick had a strange urge to mumble, "Sorry, Mrs. Sims," the way he used to do in elementary school when he was caught doodling during class. Instead, he settled for ducking his head and saying, "Probably a good idea, yeah..."
This logical conclusion was promptly forgotten, however, when another thought occurred to him, and he sat upright again, only managing to get out, "Monroe!" before letting out another exclamation of pain and laying down again. "Is he...?" Nick trailed off, making silent promises to any deities that might be listening that he would, in fact, stop doing that if they made the pain go away.
"Relax," Mrs. Sims assured him, taking a seat in the chair opposite and a sip of her own cup of tea. "Your blutbad friend is perfectly fine - probably wearing a hole in my good carpet as we speak, pacing about and worrying over you."
Nick smiled a little at the thought of Monroe being so concerned about him before the full impact of Mrs. Sims' words took effect. "My, er, what kind of friend did you say he was? Blut...bad?" he asked as casually as he could, hoping desperately he had heard her incorrectly.
"If you mean to tell me that you've been spending all your time with a blutbad for at least the past twenty-four hours and don't even know what one is, then you are a very poor Grimm, indeed, Nicholas Burkhardt," Mrs. Sims said matter-of-factly, peering at him from over her glasses.
"You know," Nick said, amazed, seeing there was no point in hiding any of it any longer, "but...how?"
"I know everything that goes on in this inn, Nicholas," Mrs. Sims said quietly. "I'm surprised you haven't figured that out by now."
"What are you?" Nick asked, searching her face once again for any signs of creaturehood, and again coming up blank. "I went through all of my books twice, and I couldn't find a single entry that fit."
"I am a kupperlin, Nicholas," Mrs. Sims said, her voice tinged with pride. "We tend to keep a low profile. In fact, to my knowledge, you are one of the first Grimm to have ever encountered one of us."
"And you're, what, super hoteliers?" Nick asked, still just about as lost as ever.
"Oh, much more than that, dear boy," Mrs. Sims said with a slightly wicked smile. "It's true, kupperlin magic is rooted in physical space, most often that of an inn or hotel, but it runs far deeper than providing a comfortable stay for our...guests."
Upon seeing the apprehensive look on Nick's face, Mrs. Sims let out a little laugh. "You needn't worry - its nothing sinister. We wouldn't have been able to keep hidden so successfully otherwise."
"So what exactly do you do?" Nick asked, carefully propping himself up to take a sip of the tea.
"In the olden days, those we helped gave us a name - they were not aware of the magic, only the results, and so deemed it a profession, rather than a destiny. I believe the English word for it is 'matchmaker.' "
"Matchmaker?" Nick exclaimed, letting the teacup fall back onto the saucer with a clatter. "You mean that when people check in..."
"I help them along the path to true love," she replied. "Now, obviously, that means different things for different people - for some, romance needs only a little continued cultivation to blossom. For others, however, only a change of partners can correct the course of true love. But I must confess, the sort of guest that brings me the most pleasure to assist is the third type - the lost soul, in need of its mate."
"And you can which kind someone is by, what, just looking at them?" Nick asked in amazement.
"Not me, Nicholas," she corrected with a smile, "The Liebenbuch - it always knows." As if to emphasize her point, Mrs. Sims reached behind her chair to pull out a weathered tome, which Nick recognized from when she had used it to check him in.
"How does it work?" Nick asked, running a hand over the worn surface of the book and immediately feeling the pulse of magic within.
"Well, when a guest arrives at the inn, the book indicates to me which room to put them in, which in turn tells me how I should procede. As simple as that. So when you and your companion arrived, for example..." Mrs. Sims trailed off, looking at Nick expectantly.
"It told you we were just friends?" Nick finished hopefully, taking a long sip of the tea as he processed the sinking feeling that she was not going to agree with him on that.
Mrs. Sims leaned forward, stared at him knowingly from over her glasses, and stated firmly, "Young man, we both know that is not the case."
"But you can't possibly think…I mean that's not even remotely…" Nick trailed off into silence, reasonably sure that he should probably quit while he was only stammering andblushing.
After taking a few moments to collect himself, Nick tried again. "Yes, Monroe and I are friends, but that's as far as it goes. Sure, we spend a lot of time together – but that's just for work! And if that includes the occasional working dinner, or all-nighter, or morning after breakfast, well, that's part of the job."
Mrs. Sims said nothing, but merely gave her tea a leisurely stir and waited, her eyes trained on Nick.
"And yes, all right, if pressed, I would have to admit that Monroe does have a distinctly attractive quality about him," Nick went on, suddenly feeling restless enough on the couch to rise from it and begin pacing about the room and too worked up to think it odd that he was suddenly well enough to do so without any perceivable pain.
"He's got those warm, brown eyes that you can't help trusting, a seemingly endless vocabulary that most often manifests himself when he's snarking at me, and you wouldn't know it, but underneath those sweater-vests is one hell of a body," Nick continued, ignoring the little voice in the back of his head informing him he was both rambling and not at all proving his point. "Quite an excellent kisser, as well, if I'm being honest."
Mrs. Sims uttered only a polite "Mm-mm," as she used the rim of her teacup to hide the beginnings of a laugh lurking around the corners of her mouth.
"And of course it goes without saying that I care about Monroe," Nick went on, now addressing himself as much as Mrs. Sims, "And, sure, I think about him perhaps more often than is strictly necessary, and, yes, I don't know what I'd do if-if anything happened to him, but that doesn't mean…"
Nick lapsed into silence for a few minutes as he realized what it did, in fact, mean, before an accompanying realization struck him. "Hold on," he said, truly focusing his attention on Mrs. Sims, "Even if I do have feelings for Monroe, they're not real. You put them there, you and this, this place."
"You and I both know that's not true," Mrs. Sims said gently, but firmly, as she gave him a pointed look. "There is no magic on earth that is capable of creating true love, Nicholas - kupperlins are no exception. All we can do is create an environment in which it may flourish or whither, whichever is needed. The ultimate choice, however, must remain with the guest - no man can be forced to act upon the desires of his heart."
"And what if the desires of his heart…scare him?" Nick asked tentatively, sitting back on the couch with a dull thud, too worked up to notice that the ache in his torso was now completely absent.
"Then," Mrs. Sims said gently, "I would say he has a lot in common with every other guest I've put on the path to a happy ending."
"Now," she continued, giving his hand a brisk, but reassuring pat, "are you going to finish that tea and do something about your happy ending, or do I have to pull another trick out of my sleeve?"
Nick stared at her for a few moments before draining the cup and allowing himself a small smile. "No, I...I think you've done enough," he said with a sigh, rising from the couch once again. "Hell, I've been shot twice in the line of duty - this can't hurt worse than that, right?"
"You keep thinking that if it makes you feel better," Mrs. Sims said, the comforting tone of her voice clashing with the content of her words as she ushered him out of the room with a whispered, "Good luck."
Nick barely made it to the base of the stairs before he heard a female voice calling out his name. "Nick!" Annie shouted, running up to him, "Are you feeling okay, honey? We were all so worried about you after that bear attack!"
"I'm much better now, thank you, Annie," Nick said, hoping she wasn't close enough to notice the slight tremor running through his entire body. "That Mrs. Sims is a miracle worker."
"Well, thank heaven for that!" she said, giving him a smile bright enough that Nick couldn't help responding to it with one of his own. "Oh, it was so scary!"
"What happened, exactly?" Nick asked, suddenly curious. "I can't remember anything after I blacked out in the forest."
"Oh, I wish you could have seen that man of yours!" Annie gushed, "What a knight in shining armor - and so strong! When you were about to lose consciousness, Monroe just picked you up like you weighed nothing at all and practically sprinted with you back to the house."
"Really?" Nick asked, self-consciously rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, "Well, that...that does sound quite brave. What, um, what happened after that?"
"Well, when we got back to the hotel, Monroe came bursting through the door like an action hero and Mrs. Sims was there like she just knew something was wrong. Then she told him to take you through to her office, that she used to be a nurse, that she could take care of you."
"Uh-huh," Nick said, nodding his head to signal her to go on.
"That was all well and good, but then she said he had to leave because she needed privacy, and Monroe hit the roof. I have never seen anyone look so mad - I swear, his eyes turned red!"
"That was probably just a trick of the light," Nick interjected quickly.
"Oh, I know, honey, I was just taking a little poetic license," Annie said with a light laugh. "Anyway, there was Monroe, towering over little Mrs. Sims and growling about how he wouldn't leave you, not for anything, and there was me, standing there and thinking that she wouldn't be able to pry him away with a crowbar, when the strangest thing happened."
"What?" Nick asked, though he too distracted by replaying his own mental video of Monroe refusing to leave his side to care overmuch about the answer to his question.
"I remember exactly, because it struck me as being so odd. Mrs. Sims laid a hand on his arm, looked directly into his eyes, and said, 'I give you my word he will be fine.' And just like that, he stopped looking like he wanted to tear someone's throat out and stalked away. I still can't figure it out."
"Yes," Nick agreed with a nervous laugh, "that is certainly a bit of a mystery. And on that note, if you'll excuse me, I should go let him know I'm all right."
"Oh, of course!" Annie exclaimed, "Don't let me keep you. Just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Thanks, Annie, for everything," Nick said with a smile, leaning forward on impulse to give her a kiss on the cheek before hurrying up the stairs.
Nick made his way down the small hallway in a few long, purposeful strides; he knew that if he paused for even a second, he'd lose his nerve and put off doing what needed to be done yet again.
He allowed himself the luxury of one deep breath before turning the large bronze doorknob and letting himself into the Castle Suite without knocking.
Nick watched Monroe spring up immediately from where he had been seated on the side of the bed and noted with some chagrin the worry dancing in his eyes.
The blutbad took a couple hurried steps in his direction, but was only able to get out, "Nick, thank God, are you ok-" before Nick's lips on his prevented him from finishing the thought.
Before he knew it, Nick had backed Monroe against one of the bedposts and was threading one hand through his surprisingly thick hair and slipping the other beneath his cardigan. Monroe, meanwhile, had apparently recovered enough from the initial shock to wrap his arms around Nick's torso, fingernails digging just a little bit into his back.
When Nick flinched just a little at the sensation, however, Monroe pulled back in an instant. "Oh God, I hurt you, I'm so sorry!" he exclaimed, looking Nick over frantically.
"Oh, don't be - trust me," Nick said with a wicked grin, yanking Monroe into another fervent kiss.
This distracted Monroe for a couple minutes, but eventually he pulled back again and exclaimed, "But your wound! This must be killing you."
"It's fine," Nick said, waving him off and leaning in again. This time, however, Monroe crossed his arms and gave him a look that made it clear they would not be going further until this was addressed.
Nick let out a little groan of impatience, muttered, "If you wanted me to take my shirt off, you could have just asked," and pulled the slightly bloodstained shirt over his head.
Upon seeing the surprised look on Monroe's face, he looked down, crossing his fingers that their little make-out session hadn't reopened anything nasty enough to put a halt on things. To Nick's utter shock, however, the only evidence remaining of the savage attack of just a few hours prior were three, faded pinkish scars stretching out across his chest just beneath his sternum.
"That's amazing," Monroe murmured, reaching out to trace his index finger over the longest scar.
Nick shivered instinctively at the intimacy of Monroe's touch, and quickly shot out a hand to stop him when the blutbad began to withdraw again. Nick held Monroe's hand firmly over his own scarred skin, enjoying the little waves of heat that seemed to be passing between them.
"Nick..." Monroe began, his voice hesitant, though he kept his hand in place.
"If you don't want this," Nick said, though the words pained him, "then tell me and we'll stop. Go back to being friends and say nothing more about it. Simple as that."
"It's not that," Monroe insisted, his voice sounding lower and more gravelly than it normally did, "Believe me." When he raised his head so that his eyes met Nick's once more, Nick saw that they had taken on that particular red sheen which predated one of Monroe's "wolfing out" episodes.
"If we do this," Monroe said seriously, "I can't promise that I'll be able to control myself. You could get hurt."
Nick stared at him for a few moments before raising a hand to the side of Monroe's face and saying quietly, "You never have to be anyone other than yourself with me. Never, okay? And if that means I have a few scratches and bruises in the morning, then I will consider the price more than fair."
The dazzling smile Monroe gave him in return had Nick making a mental note to say such things more often before he leaning up to brush his lips over Monroe's ear and whisper, "Bring it on."
This time it was Monroe who shivered, and Nick was only granted a few seconds to feel gratified about this before he found himself thrown back onto the expansive bed, with Monroe hovering a few inches above him. "I did warn you," Monroe growled in his ear.
"What else you got?" Nick challenged, deftly stripping Monroe's shirt from his shoulders and pulling him impossibly close in a few practiced moves. Monroe's eyes flashed red once more before he showed him, in exquisitely gratifying detail, what else he did in fact have.
It was only a few hours later, when Nick was sprawled out over Monroe's chest, exhausted and utterly satisfied, that it occurred to him that there was a matter of some importance that he had entirely neglected to mention.
"Monroe!" he whispered loudly, shaking the other man gently by the shoulder. "Monroe!"
"Mmm?" Monroe mumbled, warily opening one of his eyes, then the other.
"I forgot to tell you!" Nick said excitedly. "I know what Mrs. Sims is!"
"Oh, do enlighten me," Monroe murmured, propping himself up against the backboard.
"It seems," Nick began, the fingers of his left hand idly playing with the hair on Monroe's chest, "she's something called a kupperlin - apparently they're some sort of supernatural matchmakers. Isn't that the craziest thing you've ever heard?"
"Oh yeah," Monroe said, nodding fervently, "Yeah, man, that's...that's nuts." He laughed nervously.
"No," Nick said slowly, his eyes searching Monroe's face and finding several other signs of deception. "No. Come on! How long have you known?"
"Since last night," Monroe said with an apologetic grimace.
"Last night?" Nick exclaimed, flicking Monroe on the shoulder. "How?"
Monroe shrugged a bit bashfully and said, "My aunt and uncle ran into a kupperlin out in Maine about ten years ago. Said they went for a weekend away contemplating a divorce and came back ready to renew their vows. Just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary last March."
"Well, why didn't you tell me?" Nick asked, hitting him again.
Nick was amazed when Monroe blushed a little as he said, "When David told me about how staying in the Castle Suite was the start of everything for him and Annie, I guess I was hoping..."
Nick felt all his irritation drain away as he finished for him, "That it could be the start of something for us, too?"
"Something like that," Monroe admitted, gazing at Nick with a nervousness that Nick found utterly adorable.
Nick rewarded him with a broad smile and a lingering kiss before saying, "Now, how can I stay mad at you when you say things like that?"
"I was hoping that you couldn't," Monroe replied, grinning. His smile turned suddenly suggestive as he added, "Although if you were mad at me..."
"Yes?" Nick prompted eagerly, hoping he had the correct idea as to where this was going.
"We would be required to have hot make-up sex," Monroe finished, trailing a finger slowly up Nick's spine.
"Well, in that case," Nick said, shifting so he was laying entirely on top of Monroe once more, "consider me absolutely furious."
Chapter 7: All Moonlight and Roses
After firmly putting the terrors of the weekend to bed, Monroe, Nick, and the other guests of the Enchanted Rose must say goodbye to new friends and hello to new beginnings.
At first there was just the sound of enormous wings flapping in the darkness - soon after, two piercing yellow eyes appeared, staring unblinkingly at him. Only then did the talons - black as onyx, sharp as knives - slash through the air.
Nick could feel each talon slicing through him as if he were made of paper, all in excruciatingly slow motion. He tried to scream, to run, to make it stop, but found to his horror that he could not move a single inch. He was trapped there, forced to watch as the talons cut deeper and deeper and -
Then he was screaming, and though the pain seemed to have abated, Nick found that he couldn't stop. Suddenly, the darkness surrounding him was broken up by a burst of warm light, and there were strong hands gripping his shoulders, coaxing him back into the present.
Nick's vision focused slowly in on his surroundings, and he was relieved beyond all measure upon realizing that it was Monroe's face staring back at him. Monroe's mouth seemed to be forming the same word over and over again, and after a minute he was able to make out what it was. "Nick? Nick?"
"Monroe?" Nick asked tentatively, extending a hand in front of him to verify that he had, in fact, stopped dreaming.
Monroe nodded and raised a hand to run it soothingly through Nick's hair. "Just me," he said quietly, making sure to keep his eyes trained on Nick. "You're safe now - it was only a dream."
Nick nodded shakily and let his eyes close for a few moments, overcome by a sudden wave of exhaustion. He felt the hand Monroe still had tangled in his hair tug gently on the back of his neck, pulling him down so that his head was resting on the blutbad's chest.
After a few moments, Nick shifted so his head was nestled in Monroe's neck. "It was...the Falkefrau," he said quietly, swallowing hard. "She...those talons...I couldn't move...I couldn't..."
Monroe made a few low, shushing noises as he began to run his hands up and down Nick's back. "It's all right," he said softly after a minute, pressing his lips lightly to Nick's forehead. "She's gone now, and I promise, she won't be coming back."
"You can't know that for sure," Nick objected, though Monroe's words warmed him nonetheless.
"Actually, now that you mention it...I can," Monroe said, sounding pleased with himself.
"What do you mean?" Nick asked, reluctantly pulling back just far enough to get a good look at Monroe's face.
"Well, while you were taking your little catnap earlier," Monroe began, having evidently decided that Nick was recovered enough to be mocked.
"Oh, you mean recovering from my near-fatal injuries?" Nick asked sarcastically, "Yes, do go on."
"I spent the time going through your books looking for any more information on Falkefrauen," Monroe continued, pointedly ignoring Nick's outburst.
"Mrs. Sims said you were spending the time pacing and worrying about me," Nick said teasingly, placing a light kiss to Monroe's jawbone.
"Well...I may have been multi-tasking just a bit," Monroe admitted, turning his head quickly so Nick's next kiss caught him full on the lips.
"Mmm, what were you saying about my books?" Nick asked, breaking the kiss after a minute.
"I don't remember," Monroe said quickly, leaning in again, "can't have been very important."
Nick's laugh was cut off abruptly by Monroe's lips on his, but after a few minutes he pulled away again, albeit with extreme reluctance, to say, "No, come on, I want to know. And you know you want to show off, Sherlock."
Monroe's lips quirked up into a smile as he said with an impatient sigh, "Fine, if you really want to know..."
"Oh, I do, I do," Nick said earnestly.
"I found a note on the defeat of Falkefrauen in the back of one of the other volumes. Although it has never been officially confirmed, apparently the prevailing theory among your kind is that they cannot be killed by Grimms at all," Monroe explained.
"And this is supposed to comfort me, how?" Nick asked skeptically.
"Elementary, my dear Watson," Monroe said with a superior smirk.
"Hey," Nick said, shoving him a little, "Why am I Watson?"
"You're the one who decided I was Holmes, and if you follow the logic from there..." Monroe replied, adding quickly when it looked like Nick was going to hit him again, "Anyway, as I was saying, though they cannot be killed by Grimms, there is one force on earth that Falkefrauen are completely powerless against."
"Which is?" Nick asked, now curious enough to overlook Monroe's casting of him as the assistant in their investigative pair.
"Their victims," Monroe explained. "If the poor unfortunate whose soul the Falkefrau has been draining ever finds enough courage to stand up to her, it is thought that her powers will be reflected, causing her to wither slowly into nothingness."
"And you think that's what happened to Dorothy Vogel," Nick said slowly, trying to wrap his head around the idea of it, "when Henry chased her off in the woods...and that's why she won't be back."
"For her sake, I hope so," Monroe said darkly, his expression suddenly serious, "Or she'll have me to contend with, in which case a taste of her own medicine will be the least of her problems."
"What happened to being reformed?" Nick asked, surprised. "That sort of thing doesn't violate your code?"
"She hurt you," Monroe said, voice hard, eyes gleaming with just a tinge of red. "That overrides any moral scruples I might otherwise have about the matter."
Nick knew in the back of his mind that Monroe's statement should probably have been making him feel a bit apprehensive, yet that wasn't the case. On the contrary, the matter-of-fact way Monroe had sworn to cause pain to anyone who tried to hurt him was sending strange, little waves of warmth through Nick's entire body.
On impulse, he leaned up to kiss Monroe again - light and lingering this time. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, pulling back after a minute to lay his forehead against Monroe's.
"For what?" Monroe asked, his brow furrowing slightly in confusion.
"For scaring you earlier," Nick explained, skimming his fingers over Monroe's cheek. "But I promise, Monroe, I promise that I'm not going anywhere. Look, I can't even feel - whoa."
Nick's attempt to show Monroe how much the lacerations had healed had the unintended consequence of completely derailing his train of thought. He stared in amazement at the place on his abdomen where the faded pink scars should have been, where instead there was only smooth skin.
"I don't understand," Monroe said, the look of disbelief on his face a perfect mirror of the one on Nick's.
"I think I might," Nick said slowly, turning it over in his mind. "When she was patching me up, Mrs. Sims kept subtly insisting that I have more tea. I think she put something in it."
"You're just lucky she likes you, then," Monroe said with a wry smile, his fingers beating a faint tattoo against the newly healed spot on Nick's abdomen. "But wait, no, that doesn't add up - if kupperlins have mastery over that kind of healing magic, why would they confine themselves to matters of the heart?"
"She said something else as well," Nick mused thoughtfully. "That kupperlin magic is rooted in the place where it's practiced. Maybe she does have extraordinary power, but only within the walls of the inn. It would explain how she was able to wield such control over Dorothy Vogel."
"And why she didn't want us to go wandering in the woods!" Monroe chimed in. "She knew once we passed the boundaries of these walls, she couldn't protect us anymore."
"Do you know what this means?" Nick asked after a minute, sitting up excitedly.
"You get to be Sherlock now?" Monroe asked, crossing his arms.
"No," Nick said impatiently, waving him off, "I mean, that goes without saying, but no - I get to add my very first entry to the Grimm books! It's all been following in footsteps up until now, but now...now its like I'm a real Grimm!"
"I should not find you geeking out about Grimmery this adorable," Monroe said with a laugh and a shake of the head.
"I need to find a pen...ooh, or a quill! Monroe, you don't happen to have a quill on you, do you?" Nick asked, still looking around animatedly.
"Darn, I think I left it in my other pants," Monroe said in a tone of mock dejection. "Why don't we put off the quill hunt until we get back to Portland, hmm? Even with the seemingly miraculous healing powers of the good Mrs. Sims, you are still badly in need of a good night's rest."
Nick shifted his glance between Monroe and the books for a few moments, looking torn, before giving in with a little sigh and settling himself once more on Monroe's chest.
"You take good care of me, Monroe," Nick murmured contemplatively after a little while, absently winding his fingers through the blutbad's. "Without you, I don't think I would have lasted a week as a Grimm without getting myself disemboweled by a Jagerbar or crushed by a Lausenschlange...that is if the Reapers didn't find me first." An involuntary shiver ran through Nick's body at the thought of them.
"Well, it's a good thing my presence is apparently necessary to your continued well-being," Monroe said lightly, though he made a point of holding Nick a little tighter, "because I'm afraid you're stuck with me now."
"Oh, I am, huh?" Nick asked, not even trying to suppress his smile.
"Yep," Monroe said decidedly before adding, "Now, will you be going to sleep on your own or do I have to break out the Blutbad Nerve Pinch?"
"You're bluffing," Nick mumbled sleepily, "That's not real - you stole it from Star Trek."
"Yeah, well," Monroe said, his voice signaling to Nick that he was smiling, too, "maybe they stole it from us, you ever think of that?"
Nick let out a little laugh, which turned somehow into a contented sigh as he murmured, "Good night, Monroe."
Monroe ran a hand affectionately through Nick's hair as he replied softly, "Good night, Nick."
The next few hours passed without incident, including, Nick was grateful to note, any more terrifying nightmares about the Falkefrau.
So when the morning sun began streaming through the curtains, Nick was pleasantly surprised to wake up with Monroe's arms still firmly around him.
"Mmm, no Pilates this morning?" he asked, snuggling closer lest Monroe take his reminder as a suggestion to leave.
"Oh, I think I got quite enough exercise last night to last me for a couple days," Monroe said mischievously, "don't you?"
"You know," Nick said, glancing down at his watch, "we do have an hour until breakfast. We could probably bank enough exercise to last you a couple more days."
"It would be a very efficient use of our time," Monroe agreed with a twinkle in his eye.
Nick barely had time to lay his lips on Monroe's, however, before there was once again a knock at the door.
After deciding the likelihood that their visitor would go away if they did nothing was quite low, Nick rolled off Monroe with an irritated sigh, threw on one of the provided bathrobes from the closet, and swung open the door, intending to inform their caller that this was not a good time.
What he was not prepared for, however, was Henry Vogel shouting out, "Nick!" in an excited tone and throwing his arms around his midsection in an aggressive hugging maneuver.
"Er...hi, Henry," Nick said, pivoting them both so he could mouth What the hell? at Monroe, to which Monroe responded with barely concealed silent laughter.
"Oh Nick," Henry exclaimed, when he finally broke off the hug, "I'm so glad you're all right! If anything had happened to you because of Dorothy, because of me...I don't think I could have forgiven myself."
"It's really okay, Henry," Nick said quickly, if for no other reason than to prevent Henry from hugging him again. "Seriously, consider us even."
"How can it be?" Henry exclaimed, clearly still agitated. "You could have been killed!"
"Trust me," Nick said quietly, leaning in toward him with a smile, "We're definitely even."
"Well, if you're sure..." Henry said doubtfully. It was only then that he noticed Monroe, and, going by the flush on his face, Monroe's state of undress.
"Monroe," Henry said, an awkward smile plastering itself over his features, "How...how are you this morning?"
"I'm, um, just fine, Henry," Monroe said, drawing the blanket up a little higher with a self-conscious little laugh. "But how are you doing? Things got pretty intense yesterday. Nobody would blame you for feeling a little blue."
"I suppose not," Henry said thoughtfully, "but now that you mention it, I actually feel fantastic. Better than I have in years!"
"That's great, Henry," Nick said with a smile, clapping him on the back.
"And, what's more, when I was talking to Mrs. Sims yesterday about some minor improvements she could make around the inn, she told me that she'd been looking for an appropriate assistant manager and asked if I would like to take the job on a trial basis!"
"Many felicitations, my friend!" Monroe exclaimed, having slid awkwardly out of bed and into a robe while Henry was making his announcement.
Nick shot him a skeptical look while mouthing, Felicitations? before he turned to Henry and said, "Yes, seconded from me. Nobody deserves it more."
Henry looked between them for a few moments before declaring, "You guys are the best!" and hooking an arm around both of their waists in an extremely strange group hug.
Nick and Monroe took turns patting Henry awkwardly on the back until the shorter man withdrew and announced, "Well, enough of that. I should go help Mrs. Sims with the breakfast. Don't want her to think that I'm slacking my first day on the job!" before departing the room in a flurry of motion.
"Wow," Monroe said, after a moment, "You know, if it wasn't for the lingering awkwardness, I don't think I would have recognized that man!"
"Yeah," Nick concurred, "Freedom obviously agrees with him."
"And I suppose, since we are expected at breakfast, we should probably pack," Monroe said with a sigh, turning toward the closet.
"Mmm, but we had such lovely pre-breakfast plans," Nick protested, wrapping his arms around Monroe's waist.
"Which are sadly going to have to be postponed, unless the eighty year-old woman in you has reversed her decision to avoid driving on the highway at night," Monroe reminded him.
"The glare is really distracting!" Nick protested as he reluctantly trudged over to his own suitcase, "but fine, I take your point."
Twenty minutes, two packed suitcases, and one ultimately nonproductive, but amusing sock-throwing fight later, Nick and Monroe found themselves descending the master staircase one final time.
"We should just check out quickly and sneak out the side door," Nick whispered, glancing around covertly.
"Why would we want to do that?" Monroe asked, looking confused. "Don't you want to say goodbye to everybody?"
"Well, yes," Nick admitted, "but..." He looked around again before finishing, "they're going to know!"
Monroe parodied his gesture before whispering, "They're going to know what?"
"You know," Nick said, making vague gestures with his hands, "That we...last night..."
"That we had sex?" Monroe asked incredulously.
"Would you keep your voice down?" Nick demanded in a loud whisper.
"Nick," Monroe said, crossing his arms, "our cover is as a couple on a romantic weekend away. We are, in fact, supposed to have had sex."
"I get that," Nick said with a little sigh, "But, oh, I don't know, it's different now that it's really happening."
"I cannot believe you are actually blushing right now!" Monroe exclaimed with a little laugh.
"I am not!" Nick objected, painfully aware that he was.
"Oh, don't stop," Monroe said cajolingly, putting down his suitcase and taking a few steps toward Nick, "It's adorable on you."
"Oh it is, huh?" Nick asked, grinning as Monroe leaned down to kiss him.
"Well, I'd say get a room," Annie called out to them after a minute, "but technically, you do still have one."
Nick moved instinctively to pull away, but Monroe simply hooked an arm around his waist and said, "Good morning, Annie. Sleep well?"
"Oh, like a baby," she said cheerfully. "Clearly I don't need to ask if you two did."
Monroe winked lasciviously, causing Annie to laugh and stroll back into the dining room and Nick to shove him in the ribs and mutter, "You are not helping."
"And you take yourself fartoo seriously sometimes," Monroe said, placing a light kiss to Nick's temple before ushering him into the dining room.
"Crepes, gentlemen?" Henry asked, extending a silver platter covered with an elegantly arranged grouping of the French specialty.
"You are turning into quite the gourmet chef, Henry!" Monroe exclaimed, sounding distinctly impressed as he deposited a few crepes on his plate, then a few on Nick's.
"I'm lucky to have secured his services," Mrs. Sims said, stepping out from behind a pillar. "I trust you are feeling recovered this morning, Nicholas?"
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Sims," Nick said, ducking his head a little, "All better now, I think."
"Excellent," she said with a small nod of approval. "Then I trust you won't mind bringing this plate over to David? He seems to have neglected his breakfast in his well-meaning, but I think ultimately doomed endeavor to get my chocolate fondue fountain to function properly again."
"Of course," Nick said quickly, accepting the plate and crossing the room to where David was tinkering with the aforementioned apparatus. "Mrs. Sims didn't want you to miss out on Henry's cooking," he called out, when he decided that David wouldn't be tearing his eyes from the fountain anytime soon.
"Thanks," David said with a quick smile, "You can put it anywhere. I just need to get this...a-ha!" His exclamation of triumph was soon followed by a pout of disappointment when the briefly operational fondue dispenser not only stopped its motion, but also ejected a small cloud of grey smoke.
"It's probably not supposed to do that, is it?" he asked Nick, in a tone of utter dejection.
"Maybe not, no," Nick admitted, giving David a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Why don't we go join the others, give it some time to recover?"
"Probably a good idea," David said with a sigh, "although it goes distinctly against the grain."
"Have you finished destroying Mrs. Sims' appliances, dear?" Annie asked sweetly when David came to sit down next to her.
"It did work for a little while," Nick contributed, hoping to cheer David up a bit.
"Well, then I would say that's quite enough progress for one morning, then," Annie said with a slightly cheeky grin. Upon seeing that her husband still looked somewhat despondent, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, "Cheer up. Maybe when we get home, I'll finally let you try your hand at fixing the lawnmower."
"Really?" David asked, perking up instantly.
"Really," Annie replied with a pert nod, muttering afterward, "May the grass forgive me."
"So, Nick," Marisa said quickly, probably trying to change the subject away from lawnmowers before David had a chance to ask Annie what she had actually said, "Are you and Monroe headed straight back to Portland?"
"Sadly, yes," Nick replied, "Tomorrow is Monday, after all, and we have to, um, meet with our publisher."
"Yes," Monroe interjected quickly, "You know what they say, no rest for, er, those in the book business."
"Indeed," Ethan said, and Nick couldn't help but notice the strange edge to the smile he was hiding behind his glass of orange juice.
"I suppose all good things have to end sometime," Annie said wistfully.
"Ah, not always," Ethan said with an enigmatic smile. "Aren't you going to tell them your good news, Mari?"
"Oh, well, I didn't want to make a fuss over it," Marisa said, blushing a little, "but if you're insisting, Ethan, I suppose I might as well. Mrs. Sims has asked me to stay on for a little while as co-assistant manager with Henry!"
Marisa's announcement was met with cheers of approval from her fellow guests. "Congratulations, honey," Annie said, grasping her hand warmly, "I cannot think of a better person for the job."
"Here, here," Monroe agreed, saluting her with a forkful of crepe.
"Well," Marisa said, her blush deepening, "I don't know about all that, but thank you...thank you all for being so wonderfully supportive."
"To Marisa!" Nick proclaimed, raising his glass of orange juice, "And to the Enchanted Rose - may love always...bloom here!"
After a round of obligatory groans and a pointed look directed at Nick by Monroe, the toast was echoed and breakfast finished over a flurry of discussions about future plans, exchanged phone numbers, and promises to stay in touch.
"Well," David said, after the final, lingering bites of crepe had been consumed, "I suppose we should all get going - it is a rather long drive back to Oregon."
"But don't be thinking of this as goodbye!" Annie insisted as they all stood. "We're only an hour away from everybody in Portland, and Marisa, we'll be seeing you, same time next year!"
"If one from each party will just come with me, I can get you all checked out and on your way!" Marisa announced, sounding positively thrilled at the prospect of doing her first real job at the inn.
"I'll go," Monroe said to Nick. "After the damage to the furnishings you inflicted when we checked in, I'm not sure how welcome you are at the welcome desk."
"Haha, very funny," Nick called sarcastically after him as the others made their way toward the lobby. "Fine, somebody has to clear these dishes, anyway."
"Oh, I'll help you," Ethan said, pivoting to take a few dishes in hand, "I'm sure Mari can take care of our room without my help."
"Thanks," Nick said, a little puzzled, "That's...kind of you."
As soon as the others were out of earshot, Ethan leaned in and murmured in a low voice, "I trust your business has been concluded satisfactorily, Detective Burkhardt?"
"Oh yes," Nick replied automatically, then froze as he realized that he should not be responding to Detective Burkhardt. "I mean, what?" he added quickly. Seeing by the look on Ethan's face that acting baffled would do him no good, Nick asked instead, "How did you know?"
"One does not go into political journalism without a serious built-in lie detector," Ethan explained easily, grabbing a couple plates and carrying them to the end of the buffet table. "The sidearm was my first clue - not terribly common among children's book illustrators, I'm assuming, but standard issue for policemen. I saw it under your jacket at the jam-making session, and then again in the woods when you were...otherwise occupied."
"Right," Nick said, mentally kicking himself for that one, "I'll, um, remember that."
"I'm assuming you were here investigating Dorothy Vogel?" Ethan inquired. "Nasty piece of work, that woman, and I presume the one really responsible for your 'bear attack' in the woods."
"You don't miss much," Nick admitted, deciding in the moment that admitting to part of the truth was probably his best chance of avoiding telling all of it. "We've had her on our radar for awhile now - minor assault, threats, things like that."
"I figured as much," Ethan said with a small nod. "There's just one thing that I still can't figure out, though."
"Which is?" Nick asked, silently praying it had nothing whatsoever to do with fairy tale creatures or those destined to hunt them.
"Why you chose this sort of a mission for your first date with Monroe," Ethan said. "I mean, cozy country inn, props for romance, but a bit dangerous for a civilian, surely?"
"Monroe can handle himself," Nick assured him with a laugh. "He actually does some pretty regular work with the department. And as for the date part..." Nick ran a hand over the back of his neck and let out a self-conscious little laugh before admitting, "I didn't entirely realize how I felt until we actually got here."
Ethan looked distinctly surprised before letting out a laugh of his own and proclaiming, "Well, if that isn't serendipity, I don't know what is! Another satisfied customer of the Enchanted Rose for Mrs. Sims' near perfect record of happy couples."
"Near perfect?" Nick asked curiously.
"Well, I can't imagine Dorothy Vogel had a terribly pleasant weekend," Ethan pointed out, "although hoteliers shouldn't be responsible for catering to the dangerously unhinged, so we'll leave her out of the statistics. Still, unlike yourself, I am sadly departing the Enchanted Rose as single as when I came."
"Wait...departing?" Nick said, a thought striking him as they strolled into the lobby. "Wasn't Marisa your ride here? How are you getting home? I'd offer, but Monroe and I only have that tiny Volkswagon of his, which barely seats two."
"That's sweet of you, Nick, but luckily I'm all taken care of," Ethan assured him. "Actually, it's a rather strange coincidence. Apparently Mrs. Sims knows of a former guest from Portland in town for the weekend who was looking for some driving company."
"Does she now?" Nick asked, a knowing smile creeping onto his lips. "That is a quite remarkable coincidence."
"Isn't it just?" Ethan said with a little laugh. "I mean with my luck it will be a retired elementary school teacher who wants to discuss her cats for twelve hours, but..."
He was interrupted in his description of the hypothetical spinster by the sudden arrival of a tall, ruggedly handsome, forty-something gentleman in a three-piece suit.
"Excuse me," he said, looking around the room, and removing his hat, "I'm here to meet my driving companion to Portland. Which one of you am I picking up?"
Ethan turned hurriedly to Nick, mouthed a silent, Wow! and muttered, "Do I look all right?"
"Fantastic," Nick murmured, "Now, quick, tell him he's here for you before MGM realizes they've lost Cary Grant to some sort of time warp."
"Wish me luck!" Ethan whispered back, the giddiness in his voice evaporating completely as he strolled coolly over to their visitor and said, "I believe you're here for me, if that's all right."
"Oh, more than all right," the man said eagerly, flashing Ethan a hundred-watt smile and extending his hand. "I'm Richard Wagner."
"Ethan Anderson," Ethan said, smiling back as he gave the man's hand a leisurely shake. After a moment's pause, he added, "Richard and Wagner. You must have heard every opera joke in the book!"
"More than," the man said with a laugh. "And the worst part is, I love the opera, so it's a nearly constant stream of them."
"You don't say," Ethan said shaking his head sympathetically as he casually leaned down to pick up his overnight bag. "But still, a small price to pay for enjoying the speech of the angels, I suppose."
"Oh, let me do that," Richard said, still smiling blindingly as he reached for Ethan's case. "Helping people move things is some of the only conditioning I get these days, what with the clinical trial at the hospital taking up so much of my time."
"You're...a doctor?" Ethan asked in what Nick assumed was his best tone of casual inquiry.
"Neurosurgery," Richard said off-handedly, picking up the case and heading for the door, "You know, come to think of it, the Portland Opera Guild is hosting a benefit performance for the hospital tonight. This is a total shot in the dark, but I don't suppose you'd be able to take an extra ticket off my hands? For some reason, I can never find anyone who wants to go."
"You know, I think I just might," Ethan said, following Richard out the door, but not before pausing briefly to throw an Is this really happening? look at Marisa, which she responded to with two enthusiastic thumbs-up and a small shooing gesture.
After Ethan had blown her a kiss and gently pulled the door closed behind him, Monroe sidled up to Nick and let out a low whistle. "Wow," he said appreciatively, "I didn't realize James Bond had a medical degree and lived in the Pacific Northwest."
"He does get shot at a lot," Nick pointed out, "so that medical degree must come in pretty handy."
Their exchange was interrupted by Mrs. Sims coming up behind them and saying, "I trust Marisa has taken good care of you boys."
"The best," Monroe assured her. "She's a treasure, she and Henry both."
"Yes," Nick agreed, "An excellent hiring decision, I'm sure. And how lucky for them that you happened to have two job openings."
"A fortuitous confluence of events for all," Mrs. Sims said enigmatically. "If those two work out, and I have complete faith that they will, I may just be able to take that Mediterranean cruise I've been dreaming about."
"Work out...running the inn?" Nick asked innocently.
"Why, what else could I possibly mean, Nicholas?" Mrs. Sims asked, just as innocuously.
"I'm sure I have no idea," Nick said with a grin. "Thanks for everything, Mrs. Sims. Despite everything, this weekend turned out to be...quite magical."
"I am glad you both found everything to your satisfaction," she said, glancing between him and Monroe, "and I hope you will come visit us again some time."
"I'd like that," Monroe said with a smile.
"We both would," Nick said, leaning forward on impulse to give her a kiss on the cheek. "You take care of the place til we get back, then."
"I'll be sure to do that," Mrs. Sims said, and though her voice was still cool and professional, Nick could see the hints of a smile lurking around the corners of her mouth.
"Bye, Annie," Nick called, as he and Monroe made their way to the door, "Bye David! Are we still on for lunch next week?"
"Wouldn't miss if for the world, honey!" Annie called after them. "You two drive safe, now!"
As he and Monroe made their way down out the front door and down to the car, Nick remarked, "Well, I don't think that's a weekend I'm likely to forget anytime soon."
"I should hope not," Monroe said, closing the trunk of the tiny yellow car over their suitcases before spinning around suddenly to kiss Nick.
"Not that I'm complaining," Nick said a few minutes later, "but what was that for?"
"Just wanted to be sure you wouldn't forget anything about this weekend," Monroe said firmly.
"Grimms do have notoriously bad memories," Nick said, winding his arms around Monroe's neck with a mischievous smile.
As Nick was leaning in to kiss him, however, Monroe stopped him with a hesitantly stated, "Nick..."
"What is it?" Nick asked, concerned. "What's wrong?"
"It's just..." Monroe trailed off, seemingly unsure how exactly to proceed, "It's easy enough being romantic in a place like this, but once we get back to the real world..." He took a deep breath before looking Nick in the eyes and asking, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Monroe," Nick said, purposefully keeping his gaze, "Ever since I found out about being a Grimm, and this whole other world I was suddenly a part of, so much in my life has been in a constant state of flux."
"But this - me and you," he continued, moving his hands so they cradled Monroe's face, "is the only thing in my life that actually makes any sense. That I can depend on, no matter what. So yeah, Monroe, if you're in, I'm in. All the way."
Monroe shot him a grin that generated a strange, jumping sensation in the pit of Nick's stomach before saying, "Does that mean you'll come over for dinner tonight?"
"Only if by 'dinner,' you mean ordering a pizza and eating it in bed," Nick said, smiling angelically.
Monroe let out a put-upon sigh and said, "Fine, but..." Nick let out a surprised laugh as Monroe lifted him onto the hood of the car and finished, "That means you're responsible for helping me find a way to burn off all those extra calories."
"Mmm," Nick said, his smile turning distinctly less angelic as he pulled Monroe in with his legs and murmured, "I'm sure between the two of us, we can think of something."