The huntsman [...] took Snow-White into the woods. He took out his hunting knife and was about to stab it into her innocent heart when she began to cry, saying, "Oh, dear huntsman, let me live..."*
"Another," Nick said. "And make it a--make it a double."
Monroe watched as the bartender put down a fragrant glass of bourbon--Knob Creek, charred oak barrels, fermented corn and wheat and barley, eighty proof, aged nine years--in front of Nick, who reached for it with a distinct lack of coordination. "Somebody better hold this guy back," Monroe joked, eager to lift somewhat the overwhelming gloom of the evening. Nick glared at him blearily and drank down his bourbon with determination. When he was finished, he smacked the glass down on the wooden table with more force than necessary; then, his expression slipped into something a little more tragic. He put his head in his hands.
"I'm sorry, man," Monroe said quietly. There wasn't room for levity this evening.
Nick was quiet for a moment, and then he said: "I might've married her, y'know?" He hadn't cried, but his eyelids--his whole face, actually--was nevertheless red and swollen. Monroe had seen him in various states of disarray over the course of their acquaintance: injured, exhausted, harried, confused. Tonight was something new, though: tonight he looked miserable and beaten-down. Monroe hated seeing him this way; he hated watching Nick's earnest, mostly-sanguine nature get tarnished by the realities of being a Grimm. Of course, Grimms were terrible, violent people, and the entire lot of them could step off a pier for all Monroe cared, but somehow this one made Monroe want to wrap him up in a quilt, give him some tea, and--anyway. He would do these things and then push Nick off the pier. The metaphorical pier.
Still, if Monroe was honest with himself, he didn't even know why he was the one sitting here and not Nick's police partner. Hank, after all, had known Juliette, and Juliette-and-Nick. Hank probably would have had more useful things to to say than "That really sucks, dude" and "Maybe she'll change her mind", but Nick hadn't appeared on Hank's doorstep looking like he'd just rolled out from under an overpass. No, he'd saved that dubious honor for Monroe, and now Monroe was playing designated driver to a Grimm who seemed hell-bent on getting his stomach pumped.
Monroe swizzled his mocktail nervously, wondering if he should put a companionable hand on Nick's shoulder, or something. He'd been a lone wolf--heh--for so long that this sort of thing had him floundering hundreds of miles out of his depth. Nick didn't seem to expect anything, though; he just breathed soggily for a minute, and then said: "Thanks for coming out here with me. I know I, uh, impose on you a lot."
"Don't worry about it," Monroe said hastily.
"I know this was for the best," Nick continued, and--crap--now the tears were starting to come. He dashed them off unselfconsciously while Monroe tried to get his sudden terror under control. Crying people. Crying people whose sole source of support was Monroe. It was horrible. "When Aunt Marie was attacked, I don't know why I didn't stop and consider--why I didn't think that maybe this life would follow me home. I mean, I did think about it. Sure. I just--it never felt real. Until it became real."
"She'll be OK," Monroe reminded him. "She wasn't hurt."
Nick shook his head. "She had to watch some crazy, uh, meer-thing--"
"Whatever it was, you know what? She had to watch it try to claw open my chest. In our living room. I mean... that'd--that'd be a deal-breaker for anyone. Wouldn't it?" He looked at Monroe, eyes wide and sad. "Wouldn't it?"
"And she didn't even buy my stalker story for a minute. Shit, I told her so many lies. I endangered her life. Her life!" His voice was steadily increasing in volume, and Monroe saw a few interested heads turn their way.
"You couldn't have known this was going to happen," Monroe said, striving to be reassuring. Nick's face didn't unscrew itself from its expression of abject misery, so Monroe tried again: "You're new to this stuff. There are still a lot of things that you don't know."
"I know," Nick said, quiet now. "It's just--whenever I caught a case, I'd have to be away from home for days. The first hours after a homicide are--"
"The most crucial. I watch The First 48," Monroe said knowingly.
Nick looked like he wanted to say something disparaging, but he was having trouble focusing his eyes. "My job keeps me away so much, and that was tough, but she still had her own thing. You know, as a vet. It wasn't ideal, but it was okay. I--I couldn't share a lot of things with her, though," he admitted. The words were tumbling out now, and Monroe, despite his social maladroitness, knew that his job was to simply sit and listen. "Some things need to stay at the office, and some things--some things I just don't want to bring home.
"Then this Grimm thing came out of nowhere and how could I tell her? I didn't even know how to begin to find words for this. I spent the first few weeks convinced that I was going insane, so how could I just... and. And it's a big part of my life now; I have to learn how to do this. According to Aunt Marie, it's my freaking destiny. How could I keep that from her? But how could I tell her? It's hard, man, to go around like nothing's changed. I couldn't talk to Juliette about this. I can't talk to Hank."
Nick fixed him with a watery gaze. "But I can talk to you. I'm glad you're here." Then he turned, signaled the bartender, and ordered two shots of tequila.
"Dude, you're going to regret that so much," Monroe informed him, delicately ignoring Nick's last statement.
"I regret a lot of things," Nick said, morose. He downed the shots one after another, and Monroe attempted--and failed--to take his eyes away from that undulating throat.
Then Nick was slapping down twenties and fumbling off his stool and pushing through the crowds. Monroe was glad to be getting out of there--it was too dim, too loud, and the acrid tang of smoke hung too heavy in the air, mixing with the sour smells of sweat and breath and alcohol. Outside, the air was crisp and fresh and he paused for a moment, breathing deep. Then he looked around for Nick, and found him doubled over the curb, losing those tequila shots and then some.
"Ah, Portland's finest," Monroe said. He kept his tone kind.
Nick staggered over to Monroe's car, and then seemed to forget what he was doing. At that moment, he could have been summed up with one word: forlorn.
"You want me to..." Monroe hesitated. "Shall I talk you home--or...?"
"Juliette's gone to stay with her sister," Nick replied, which wasn't any kind of answer.
Monroe got a sudden vision of Nick, unkempt and haggard, lying on his bathroom floor, having sometime in the night electrocuted himself or choked on his own vomit or cracked his head on the edge of a bathtub. Maybe all three at once. And maybe all his colleagues down in Portland Homicide would have to come out and investigate to make sure there was no foul play, and they'd all stand around his body, saying variations of "This poor bastard!" The thought of it make Monroe feel depressed.
He sighed. "Do you want to crash at my place?" The overwhelming What-in-God's-name-have-I-done feeling crashed over him before the words were even out of his stupid mouth.
Nick looked at him with open relief. Monroe decided right then that there were not enough negative modifiers in the world to describe his current situation.
The guest bedroom had, in recent years, been transformed into a studio for the small carpentry jobs, varnishing, and painting that often attended the repair of old clocks. Monroe hadn't thought twice about reinventing the room's purpose, but now he felt strangely embarrassed.
"You'll have to sleep on the couch," he said.
"That's great," Nick responded, sounding bright and too-eager. "That's perfect, man. Thanks."
"The bathroom is the second door to the left." Monroe waved in the direction of the hallway. "I usually get up early, but so do you, so..." He belatedly noticed that he was slowly backing away from Nick and towards his bedroom. "It really... shouldn't be... a problem."
When the door closed behind him, he felt like he could finally breathe. Until he realized, truly realized: there's a Grimm in my house. I invited him here. If one of my family members were to drop by, they'd smell him all over everything...
He tuned his hearing to the Grimm, and listened for a moment to Nick's slow, even breathing. Asleep already--he must have dropped off the minute he'd set his head down. Sleep didn't come as easily to Monroe as it had for Nick. He laid there for hours, staring resolutely at the ceiling as if he could divine a secret from it.
He smelled her before he heard her. Dank seawater and rotting kelp. The smell of cold, forgotten things. A meerhasch: a creature best suited to lightless depths. Monroe rolled out of bed, entertaining several uncharitable thoughts about Nick, himself, and the cosmos in general, and crept to the door, listening.
Nick was still asleep, snoring quietly now. The meerhasch was fiddling with one of the kitchen windows, and the sound of her chitinous fingers scrabbling against the glass made Monroe's hair stand on end. This was bad. This was downright atrocious.
Still, he supposed, waiting in the dark kitchen as she slowly raised the window, this could be worse. Meerhasch--hailing as they did from the bottom of the sea--had no preternatural hearing, sight, or smell. This one, bless her, didn't even know she was breaking into a blutbad's home. She managed to get the window open, and then wriggled about half of her body inside. When she finally looked up and saw Monroe standing in front of her, she was so shocked that she didn't even scream. And there was no possibility of screaming when his hand clamped around her neck.
Her neck was small, and it would be so delightfully, satisfyingly easy to break those bones, to hear that wet snap, to watch her body fall down limp. He didn't do any of that, though. He hadn't done any of that in a very long time.
She was struggling to speak, and he eased off the pressure on her windpipe. "I didn't know," she said harshly. "I didn't realize you already had him, blutbad. I would have stayed away." She tipped her head so that she could look into his eyes. Just at that moment, Nick's breathing changed; he was awake, and listening; he knew something was wrong. Monroe heard that, and was momentarily distracted, and he made the mistake of meeting her pale, pale gaze. Pale and strange and mesmerizing.
Her body slipped the rest of the way through the window and landed on the floor with a disgusting wet smack--the sound of a fish hitting a cutting board. Her neck had slipped easily out of his grasp, and now Monroe felt slime dripping off his fingers, and he saw her slip through the kitchen and pause in the doorway. He saw all this, but he felt sluggish and dreamlike. The cutlery set seemed very far away.
"You." Nick's voice, which immediately trailed off. He didn't know that he shouldn't look into her eyes. He didn't know because no one had told him. She gazed into his eyes and he gazed right back, and then she placed one hand at the back of his neck and one arm around his waist. She slowly, gently eased him downwards, laying him on the floor as if it were a bed and she a loving bridegroom. It was a strange sight--incongruous, really, considering she was a slight, little thing, and he was--
Monroe shook his head and lurched over to the knives, and then spent a small eternity figuring out which was the biggest and best suited to his purpose. When he turned back around, the meerhasch had shoved her slimy hand up Nick's shirt and was pressing her palm right over his heart. Nick had lifted his head and was watching these goings-on with a sort of idle curiosity. The fingers of her other hand were elongating into claws; Monroe knew the hand on Nick's chest was doing the same. Those fingers contracted suddenly and Nick let out a low sigh, his head tipping backwards and hitting the floor.
Monroe grabbed a knife and crossed the kitchen in three strides; he grabbed her neck again, feeling her slippery skin and realizing belatedly I couldn't have broken her neck at all, and then he was feeling her ribs while she thrashed and flopped around, searching for the right spot, that perfect intercostal, and just before the knife could slide in she twisted out of his grasp, tore through the kitchen, and leaped through the window. Monroe gazed after her stupidly for a moment, then remembered Nick and looked down. Nick was lying on the floor, straddling the threshold between his kitchen and living room, blood from five ugly puncture wounds seeping out of his ruined gray shirt. Five puncture wounds in a circle around his heart.