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.
Nick wasn't still and unresponsive for long. After a few moments, he made an abortive attempt to roll over onto his back, and then fell back, groaning.
"You've got hydrogen peroxide, right?" Nick asked.
"Are you kidding? She got you pretty good, man. You're gonna need stitches--or at the very least, some kind of professional attention."
Monroe knelt down beside Nick and made a cursory examination of the damage. He was close enough to see the pain-sweat beading on the Grimm's forehead. "Help me up," Nick said, and held out his hand. "Please."
The blood was still welling up fast. Monroe, acting mostly on instinct now, pushed Nick's hand down gently. "Hang on."
He went back into the kitchen and grabbed some clean hand towels. He pressed them into Nick's fingers and instructed him to put pressure on the wounds. Nick complied, and then Monroe was working his arm around Nick's shoulders, helping him sit up, listening to his long, low hiss of pain.
Nick reached into his pocket and brought out his cel phone, which he offered to Monroe with trembling fingers. "An urgent care clinic," he said. "Find one on... the other side of town."
"Is that really necessary?"
Nick clutched at the towel and stared resolutely at the floor. "Before my aunt died, she was repeatedly attacked by unknown mystery assailants. Two nights ago, a stalker no one knew I had broke into my house, held Juliette hostage, and tried to kill me. Now that same stalker has somehow slipped out of jail and come after me a second time."
"She's a meerhasch. All she had to do was make eye contact with someone. She probably didn't even see the inside of a cell."
Nick squeezed his eyes shut.
"Come on, no more talking," Monroe said, rising. "Let's get you in the car."
The drive to the Urgent Care was mostly quiet, except for the soothing female voice of the GPS, guiding them deeper and deeper into some benighted part of Portland that Monroe had never seen or wished to see. When they were approaching their destination, Nick shifted towards him and said: "Monroe, I'm sorry. If I'd known this would happen, I would never--I wouldn't have stayed."
Monroe stared at him. It wasn't that he didn't have anything to say. He merely had no idea how to put his feelings into words. Your presence in my life has been an unwelcome distraction and a complete burden, but I find that I grudgingly enjoy your company against my better judgment, and I feel compelled to help you out because your attempts to achieve your newfound Grimm destiny are generally a pathetic sight to behold, and also I've caused so much destruction in my early days that it's actually nice to protect someone now, even if that someone is a Grimm and therefore my enemy. No, there weren't any words. Monroe broke the stare and jumped out the car, going around to the passenger's side so that Nick could take his arm.
Monroe's kitchen towels were now sopped with blood, and Nick was shown into a small exam room with very little delay. The harsh, clinical lighting in the room highlighted just how terrible Nick looked. His eyes were bloodshot; his skin was dead-white; his lips were a truly worrying mauve color. His clothes were ripped and rumpled, and even his hair seemed to have given up, hanging limply and obscuring his eyes. Monroe swallowed. They really should have come up with some kind of story.
The doctor--who, incidentally, looked like she was just out of high school, forcing Monroe to wonder just what he'd done with his own life--seemed to agree that these wounds required a tale. While she cleaned the punctures, she kept murmuring things like, "How strange," and "What could make a pattern like this?"
Finally, Monroe couldn't take it any longer. "Uh, he's got this psycho ex-girlfriend? They broke up like, three years ago, but she still comes to the house and goes through his mail and uh, crank calls him and stuff. Tonight she showed up completely out of nowhere, forced her way in, and--you won't believe this--she had filed her acrylic nails down into points. It was brutal."
She looked from Nick to Monroe dubiously. Her dubiousness deepened when she saw that Nick was looking at Monroe with an equal amount of doubt.
"Are you going to press charges?" she asked slowly.
"I don't know about him, but I am! She broke into my house. At the very least, she needs to replace my window."
Monroe didn't know if she was so new at this whole doctor thing that she indiscriminately believed these far-out stories, or if she was experienced enough to hear them and not care, but she just raised her eyebrows, shook her head, and said: "These punctures will need a couple of stitches. I'm also going to write you a prescription for painkillers and a round of antibiotics. I just need to get some things together; I'll be right back."
When she'd left the room and the door was shut tight behind her, Nick hissed: "Psycho ex-girlfriend?"
"I don't know!" Monroe said defensively. "You seem the kind of guy who might have a psycho ex."
Nick's eyes widened. "What the hell does that mean?" Then he dropped the subject. "Damn, these really hurt. What was that, anyway? Does the meerhasch diet consist of human hearts?"
Monroe had privately wondered if this evening wasn't going to end up being the strangest of his life, but now he was certain of it--and strange wasn't even an appropriate word anymore. Things were surreal, now. "You mean to tell me," he began, and then stopped. He tried again: "You seriously don't--"
"What?" Nick demanded, irritated. "I didn't grow up in this life, like you did. You said it earlier--there's a lot of stuff that I don't know."
"Nick," Monroe said. Even to own his ears, the word sounded sad. Pitying. "Grimms are creature-hunters because they have to be. Any creature that eats the heart of a Grimm will live forever."
Nick had no visible reaction to this piece of information. His eyes flicked over to the door.
"That's why Grimms have to be such badasses."
"My aunt told me I have to kill the bad ones," Nick said, sounding lost.
"That's part of it, I guess," Monroe said. "Grimms didn't start off as some organization of supernatural vigilantes. At first, it was just about protecting themselves against attacks from creatures who dug the idea of eternal life. Gradually, Grimms started going after creatures who harmed innocent humans. Then," he said, his voice hardening somewhat, "Grimms started attacking creatures for no reason at all."
"Marie told me to kill the bad ones," Nick repeated, firmly. Then his voice went down a few notches, and he whispered: "So if you ate my heart, you'd live forever?"
"Yes," Monroe said. Nick swallowed. "Hey--remember what I said about being a reformed blutbad? Part of being reformed includes not devouring the still-beating heart of an innocent person. Besides," he went on, "the idea of eternity doesn't really appeal, you know? I assume there's only so many times you can watch your family and friends die before you think to yourself, man, eternal life is a real drag."
Nick didn't seem all that appeased, but when the doctor came in and started stitching up his wounds, he did grab ahold of Monroe's forearm and squeeze down viciously. Monroe let him.
A few hours later, when they were in the car and Nick was clutching a white paper sack of prescriptions, Monroe said: "I really hate to break it to you, but that doctor totally thought you got those wounds in some kind of sex dungeon."
To his surprise, Nick snorted out a soft laugh. "You know all about sex dungeons, huh? That your scene?"
"I told you I had a wild past, didn't I?"
Nick's smile was short-lived, and soon he was staring moodily out the window, gearing up for a massive sulk. "I'll sleep at my house tonight," he said.
Monroe thought this was a capital idea, so there was no accounting for why he said: "Are you serious right now? Did it escape your notice that the meerhasch is still free?"
Nick set his jaw, stubborn. "I'm putting everyone I know at risk. You shouldn't be obligated to defend your house and your life just because you know me."
He was right. There was no good reason in the world for a blutbad to open his home to a Grimm--a Grimm who had been an inconvenient, obnoxious cretin for the past few months. A Grimm who, furthermore, didn't know the first thing about being a Grimm and was therefore a lightning-rod for every creature who wished for immortality. Monroe imagined Nick going home, popping some painkillers, getting into bed, and patiently waiting to be eviscerated. It was a bad thought.
When they passed the exit that would have taken them to Nick's house, Nick looked outrageously unsurprised. Was Monroe really that obvious? A shame on his ancestors, that's what he was.
"You'll do your own dishes," he muttered darkly.
As it turned out, Nick was funny when he was on painkillers. He sat on the couch, wrapped in a quilt and clutching a mug of tea, repeating Monroe's name reverently. "Monroe," he said. "Monrooooooe."
If his family could see him now, he'd be disowned. And probably murdered.
"Hey," Nick said suddenly. "Is Monroe your first name or your last name?"
"Really? What's your first name?" Nick squinted at him. "You look like a... Herman."
Monroe laughed--more like a bark, really--and Nick laughed too, and then he clutched his chest and sloshed his tea and turned a rather papery color.
"Okay, enough," Monroe said, taking Nick's mug. He felt that nervous feeling come over him again--there's a Grimm in my house; I invited him here; the whole house smells like him; he's in my territory; I'm protecting him when I should be killing him if I had one ounce of self-respect--but Nick was looking at him with something perilously close to affection, and so Monroe simply retreated back to his room. That night, he slept lightly, alert for the faintest sound, the barest whiff of danger.
Nick didn't twitch a muscle until the sun was high. Monroe'd been up at dawn, quietly doing his pilates and checking around the house for signs of trouble. When Nick stirred, he was just putting the finishing touches on breakfast. He'd cobbled together a stack of cinnamon-raisin pancakes, and then chosen some seasonal berries for a garnish, juiced a few oranges, poured out a pitcher of locally-farmed milk, and then brewed up a pot of his high-grown Guatemalan coffee. Upon reflection, he thought Nick might not be up to such a hearty meal. He put out a few dry slices of toast, and some sliced white Vermont cheddar. Excellent.
Nick seemed unable to process the bounty before him. "I didn't know you cooked," he said after a moment.
"Many blutbad are undiscriminating about the things they eat. Food is just prey, and the joy isn't in the eating but in the hunting. When I reformed, I took up cooking as a way of distancing myself from the more unsavory aspects of my past."
Nick chewed on his toast. The rest of breakfast passed without much conversation.
A few hours of relatively companionable cohabitation later, Nick got a call. "I've got to go," he said. "They've found a body."
Nick was gone for a full day, and when he did return, he parked on the couch, napped for a few hours, and then was gone again. In all, Nick's presence wasn't particularly hard to get used to, nor did it disturb greatly the settled patterns of Monroe's life. Monroe still did his delicate repair-work; he did still did his pilates; he still practiced his cello; and these days he was even making a small-but-significant foray into the study of Old High German.
"You have a lot of hobbies," Nick observed once.
"The only way to be interesting is to be interested," Monroe informed him. Nick looked skeptical, so he said: "Look, part of the whole taming the violent inner beast deal includes keeping occupied. That way my mind doesn't get much opportunity to wander into the contemplation of tender young morsels and fleeing prey."
Nick didn't have much to say to that, although there was an uncertain question in his eyes. Monroe could practically see it spelled out: And living forever?
Monroe had really outdone himself on tonight's dinner. Mushroom-and-ricotta ravioli in a cream sauce, fresh bruschetta, good, rich Bordeaux--this was it. They sat at the table, contented, talking about nothing, until Nick started gathering up the dishes. "Dirty dishes are the devil's dishes," Monroe called after him encouragingly.
Nick washed the pots and the plates, pointedly ignoring the "N. B. BANNED FOR LIFE" sign, written in expert medieval calligraphy, hanging over the stove. After a moment, he cleared his throat. "I've been gone more than usual because we've got a series of connected murders," he said. "At first, we had a rash of missing persons, but homicide usually doesn't get involved unless there's a body. Now the bodies have started turning up. There's nothing to connect them except the unusual cause of death, and... their appearance."
Monroe frowned. "What about it?"
Nick finished up the dishes and they both went to the living room, settling on the couch. Nick brought out three photographs and spread them on the tabletop. These weren't photos taken at a crime scene--they were pictures of smiling young men, all of whom were more-or-less Nick's age. All of them had dark hair and light eyes. All had a slender, muscled build. They all had a square jaw, a nice smile, and a bright, indefinable aura that practically screamed "I'm a fine, upstanding citizen!" Just like Nick did.
Monroe rubbed a hand over his mouth, and then scratched his beard. "How did they die?"
"That's the thing. All of them were found without an immediately obvious cause of death. Their bodies looked rough, though. When they autopsy results came back..." Nick met Monroe's eyes. "They died of exhaustion. More specifically, their hearts had given out."
A stopped heart.
"It could be a coincidence," Nick said hurriedly.
"Or it could be a creature hoping to unsettle you, draw you out, and meet you on its own terms."
Nick looked away. "If that's true, then people have died because of me."
Monroe hadn't enjoyed seeing Nick's uncharacteristic sadness after his break-up with Juliette. It was wrong somehow, like watching an adorable puppy wander through a steaming, war-torn wasteland. Nick bounced back quickly, though--maybe it was the excitement of having homicides to solve. In any case, Monroe didn't want to watch his equilibrium take another vicious knock. Without much thought, he reached out and put his hand on Nick's shoulder.
"If it's true, people have died because some insane creature wants to rip your heart out and eat it. Not the same thing."
Nick looked at him, and smiled gently, and really held his gaze for an inappropriately long period of time, and Monroe was going to look away any second now, any second. He took his hand off Nick's shoulder and leaned away slowly, as if he'd just realized that Nick was a very poisonous snake poised to strike. Nick's smile vanished, and the room filled up with the pressure of awkwardness.
Then Nick rose up off the couch. "Anyway, we're in luck. Two eyewitnesses saw the most recent victim running through the wooded area behind their house a couple of hours before he died. I'm going to interview them today. Maybe that can tell us something."
A few minutes later he was out the door, leaving Monroe still sitting on the couch--the couch that smelled so strongly of Nick. Monroe was never going to get this smell out.
Nick, Monroe decided, possibly was not a Grimm after all, but some sort of sorcerer. Yes, a sorcerer, who no doubt kept his altar to Satan somewhere, and watered it daily with his own blood--all with the nefarious goal of giving Monroe minor heart palpitations whenever he pointed his gun at things, or stretched his back while yawning, or ate bruschetta, or walked through doorways, or, you know, breathed. This was the best, perhaps the only, explanation of why Monroe was following Nick now, tailing him to the IHOP where he and Hank were informally interviewing the witness.
He didn't go in. He sat on a bench outside and took one cursory glance in window: the older witness was a pale, frumpy little woman with dishwater-colored hair and a nervous, confused look about her. She clutched the hand of her daughter, who was a younger and surprisingly beautiful version of her mother. Monroe couldn't smell a thing except burned coffee, runny eggs, and grease. So much grease. Neither of their faces blurred or morphed into a true shape, so he figured Nick was safe enough. He took one last look at the back of Nick's head and the intent slope of his shoulders, and went home.
Monroe was engaged with a very difficult piece from a Bach cello suite when he heard Nick's distinctive tread and knock. Upon opening the door, he leaned back a little, seeing Nick was--well, he looked off. His eyes were heavy-lidded and he had a dreamy smile on his face. And there was something faintly wrong with the way he smelled. Monroe sniffed, and then breathed, tasting the air. Earth, he smelled. Cavernous spaces. Something deep underground. And... bluebells.
"That music sounded nice," Nick said, stepping closer. Monroe grabbed him and pulled him inside.
Nick-on-painkillers had been amusing, but Nick-hit-with-a-faerie-glamour was something else entirely. "You never play when I'm around," Nick said, reaching up and putting a hand on Monroe's chest... and was he pouting?
"You're usually asleep," Monroe said, panicked, knocking over a side table in his haste to get away. "I don't want to wake you."
Nick's expression melted. "That's so thoughtful."
"Yes, well, I--" Kitchen. Monroe needed to get to the kitchen. He had a cast-iron tetsubin in there somewhere; they'd told him it would heat his tea perfectly; where had he even put it? Monroe ran to the kitchen, Nick wandering along behind him, and started rifling through his cupboards, finally locating the item and shoving it into the freezer. How long would it take for the iron to get cold? Shit, shit.
Then Nick was backing him up against the wall, and it was strangely reminiscent of their first meeting, only not, and Monroe wasn't getting turned on by this either, no he wasn't. Nick wasn't even in his right mind. No. Monroe attempted to inch aside, and then Nick's arm flew out and slammed against the wall, stopping him.
"I know you like me," Nick said, and the air in Monroe's lungs turned to ice. "You let me into your house, and you look out for me... Monroe, we've been friends for months now. You're the only person I can talk to, really talk to. But unless I need your help, or there's some life-or-death situation happening, you act like I'm barely tolerable." His face turned comically sad. "Why do you do that? It hurts my feelings."
Monroe nearly ripped the freezer door off its hinges. He grabbed the teapot, prayed it was cold enough, and pressed flat bottom part onto Nick's forehead. Nick actually smiled, shut his eyes, and leaned his face forward like he was accepting a kiss.
Then he was sitting on the floor, blinking blearily and looking baffled. He rubbed his face a few times, and then looked up at Monroe with something akin to fear.
"Let's not discuss the past ten minutes," Monroe said. He was sure he wasn't the only one to feel relief. "What do you remember about those two witnesses?"
Nick hobbled over to the couch and sat down. It took him a long moment to collect his thoughts, and then he said: "The witnesses were... two beautiful women."
This didn't jive with what Monroe had seen through the window. "Are you sure? I'm certain we're dealing with a faerie glamour. Did you notice anything strange about either woman? Did you see their faces change?"
Nick shook his head slowly. "They both looked to be about the same age. One was young and pretty, but the other--" His eyes slid back out of focus, and his eyelids slowly moved downwards, as if he'd gone into a trance. "Hair as black as ebony-wood, skin as pale and bright as a sunrise, lips like ripe winter berries..." He moved closer to Monroe, raptured. "Eyes the color of a Mediterranean sky."
"Wow, that glamour has not worn off," Monroe observed. He took up the teapot, which was still cold enough, and placed it into Nick's hands. When Nick's fingers curled around the iron, his eyes cleared again. He seemed troubled.
"No," he said. "There was a different woman--another woman. Kind of... superimposed on her face. A bad after-image." He clutched the iron tighter. "Just the mother. Not the daughter."
"This is weird," Monroe said. "Glamours are about disguise. Obviously, the beautiful woman you saw was her real self, and the 'bad after-image' was the glamour. That might explain why it affected you so much. You saw through it, but your brain pretty much went haywire."
"How does someone see through a glamour?"
"Uh..." Monroe tapped his fingers against his knee, stalling. "You have to be... kind of... infatuated with someone?"
"It's like this. A glamour makes you see someone for something other than what they really are. But if you're already very, uh, consumed by thoughts about another person, it's much easier to see... the reality behind the glamour? Kind of like those weird pictures that are just meaningless patterns until you focus on something else, and you see the, uh, skyline of New York emerge. Or. You know."
Nick's face took on a very ugly expression, as if he'd just realized he'd swallowed a toad.
Then Monroe said, "I'm sorry, Nick. I didn't know you were still so hung up on Juliette."
Then it was no longer a regular old toad Nick had swallowed, but a highly venomous toad that had been dipped in acid and covered with needle-sharp spikes. Monroe was starting to feel a little worried about the guy, and was about to suggest the he lie down or something, when Nick shot up off the couch and said, "Okay! What do I do? This faerie might be after me. She might be killing people to draw me out. What's the next step?"
In a matter of hours, Nick had photos of the crime scene spread out over Monroe's kitchen table. "Look at this," Monroe said quietly, pointing to the grass near one of the bodies. He assembled the photographs of each victim in clusters, and said, "See a pattern?"
"Are those... mushrooms?"
Nick looked at him. "Fungus grows around decomposing things."
"Not in a perfect ring, it doesn't."
They looked at the photographs for a while longer, and then Monroe observed: "Look at their feet." He pulled one photograph closer. "And look at the ground around the bodies. It seems like they were..." Then he straightened up and sucked in a breath.
"They died of exhaustion," Nick remarked, watching his face. "Before they died, they were forced to run for their lives."
"They weren't running," Monroe said quietly. "Faeries don't make their victims run. They..." He hesitated, gesturing at a photograph of torn-up grass and dirt. "I think they were dancing."
Nick leaned back in his chair, staring sightlessly at the photographs. Both of them, Monroe knew, were imaging the same thing: a terrified young man finds himself alone in the woods. Then his body begins jerking spastically, against his will, for hours and hours. Then his breathing comes too fast and too ragged, and his limbs slow their movements, and he drops down. Dead. How long would that take? Hours?
Nick slammed his hand against the table. He was ablaze with determination now. "I have to go to her. Even if she's not after me in particular, she's still killing people. I've got to stop this."
"Woah, there. We're talking about a being who can take over your mind. And by the way, she pretty much wants to play your ribcage like an accordion. Let's work out a game plan here."
Nick turned to him, and there was a fierce, bright look in his eye that made Monroe want to scoot away. He thought it was probably a similar facial expression to the one Marie Kessler wore when she killed his grandfather.
"You want in on this?" Nick said fervently. "You'll help me?"
Monroe turned his eyes upwards. My life, he thought. What happened to it? What happened to pleasant evenings spent watching the game and eating spinach quiche, with only the sedate contemplation of cogs and gears for company? All that had flown out the window. No, actually, it had been lit on fire and then catapulted out the window. "Yes," he said lowly, testing out the word. "I'm in. I'll help."
Nick nodded, and grabbed his jacket. "Then there's something I want to show you."
"I am so not comfortable here. I could write a dissertation about how uncomfortable I am right now. Actually, it would probably take about a hundred pages just to get through the chapter titles that illustrate the various ways in which I am currently experiencing discomfort. Oh my God, is that--"
"What? What? I'm in Marie Kessler's death trailer!"
Nick sighed and dodged past some boxes, stacks of old books and scrolls, and a wooden shelf filled with things that Monroe didn't have the emotional fortitude to contemplate. Monroe followed him, picking his way like any moment he'd spring a booby trap and be impaled by a barrage of giant spears.
"There must be iron weapons in here," Nick said. "And I want to see what my aunt wrote about faeries."
For a large man, Monroe was surprisingly adept at contorting himself into the smallest size possible. "Okay, dude. Do what you have to do. I'm just--I'll just be sitting over here. Innocently."
Nick pulled out a battered book and began riffling through it. Monroe saw the faces of his fellow creatures flash in the pages. Curious despite himself, he leaned forward and watched. Nick paused when he came to a page depicting the face of a beautiful woman. On the top of the page was written: FEY.
Fey creatures exert a considerable amount of psychic influence, Nick read aloud. Faeries use psychic disguises, known as glamours, to conceal their true nature. A glamour can affect one person, or many. It can affect solely the appearance of the faerie, or it can affect everything the glamoured person sees. The only known way to dispel a glamour is to carry strong feelings for... Nick trailed off. He tapped his fingers in frustration. "Okay, we already know about--about how I did it."
Nick rubbed his forehead, then sighed and kept reading. Much of the folklore surrounding faeries suggests that faeries are immortal. This is false. Faeries, given their specific power set, are merely the most likely creature to overpower a Grimm, thereby making them the most likely creature to have achieved immortality. Beside this text, in the margin, Marie had written: IMMORTAL DOES NOT MEAN INVINCIBLE. Except sometime later, she'd crossed the words out.
"That's not reassuring," Monroe commented. Nick stared at the words, pressed his lips together, and then flipped the page.
Fey creatures are vulnerable to iron that is cold to the touch, Nick read. In the margin, written in Marie's hand, were the words: SALT, RUNNING WATER, WILD GARLIC, CHURCH BELLS. None had been crossed out. "Now we're getting somewhere," Nick said, and pulled the book closer. If a faerie makes an oath or promise, even lightly, he or she is bound to keep it. The rest of the page was taken up with more drawings, and a few names. Mab. Titania. Nuckelavee. Habundia. Orselina. Nicnevin. Cliodhna.
"Okay," Nick said, nodding. "Okay. Obviously, it'll be difficult to transport running water and church bells, but... we can definitely pick up some salt and wild garlic."
Monroe rose eagerly. "Are we leaving now?"
"Just as soon as we gather up whatever iron weapons we can find." They amassed three large knives, one of which had a rather attractive Celtic knot pattern running down the blade, something that looked like a wicked cross between a spear and a scimitar, and--"Dude, is that a mace?"
Nick glared at him, and then exclaimed something and reached further back into the weapons stash. "Look," he said, excited. He held out a leather thong, on which was strung a small, irregular-shaped piece of gray metal. Some faded rune-marks were scratched onto the metal. On the whole, the thing looked quite ancient.
"It's made of iron. You wear it," Nick said. "I already know I can see through the glamour."
"I--no. I couldn't. Look, you saw through the glamour in a very... distorted kind of way. I mean, you basically short-circuted back there, buddy. Also, it's possible that me wearing that thing will trigger the angry ghost of Marie Kessler to bind to it and haunt me--"
But he still reached out and took it. Everyday it became more and more apparent that Nick hardly knew a thing about the supernatural world that Grimms were meant to inhabit. A creature like Monroe--that is, creature whose power mainly rested in brute strength and other physical abilities, like an excellent sense of hearing and smell--was, in a lot of ways, even more likely to fall under a psychic spell than a human. Monroe slipped the thong around his neck and let the stone drop beneath his sweater-vest. Some of the tension went out of Nick's shoulders.
Honestly, Nick was essentially a defenseless calf wandering amongst predators. Somebody needed to get him and put him in the barn before something terrible happened. Monroe could do that. One of these days, Monroe was just going to sit him down and explain to him a whole lifetime's worth of creature-knowledge. After this. After this, they'd have the time.
"All right," Nick said. "Let's hit the grocery store." He strode out of the trailer like a man with a purpose. Or a death-wish.
The clean, well-ordered lines of the Safeway were a welcome contrast to the clutter and gloom of Kessler's trailer. Monroe stuck close to Nick, on his guard for possible malcontents lurking among the bread and the canned soups. Things were going pretty well until Monroe caught a whiff of a familiar perfume--faint notes of vanilla, lavender, and neroli. He'd smelled this perfume on Nick. Juliette.
"Nick?" There she was: exactly the sort of girl Monroe imagined Nick might choose. She was lovely, and put-together; she had a pragmatic style and a direct gaze that suggested competence. The only thing that surprised him was her being a redhead--he'd imagined Nick with a blonde. Oh, how he'd imagined. All these observations were made in the span of approximately two seconds, however. Once Monroe saw her approaching, her brow creased quizzically and her eyes moving from him to Nick and back again, he garbled out some excuse and made an inelegant dive into the dairy section.
Monroe pulled down a quart of milk and examined its expiration date desperately, hoping to appear casual and nonchalant and entirely above all these happenings. Still, being a blutbad meant having the equivalent of super-sonic hearing, and he couldn't help but eavesdrop. Actually, would one even call it eavesdropping if it was a complete physical impossibility not to do it? Eavesdropping implied that he was doing something wrong, and how could simple biology be wrong? Well, he could stop up his ears, or leave the building, but--no. Absolutely not. There were the possible malcontents to consider.
"Nick, you--I'm glad to see you. You look good."
"Thanks. You too." Nick's words were clipped. He was clearly impatient, but he stayed, waiting for her to speak.
"I was hoping you were doing well," she said softly. Well, so far this was a bit boring. Monroe put down the milk, idled down the aisle, and picked up a pint of half-and-half to examine.
"I am. Juliette--" Suddenly his voice took on a ragged edge. "This isn't--I've got to--"
"Who was that, anyway?" she asked. "Is he the mystery roommate Hank's been speculating about?"
The words on the carton suddenly lost their meaning.
"No. Well, yes. He's--uh, a friend--and I want to catch up with you, I do--God, I really do--but I'm--"
"I thought you said you left all that stuff in college," she said, teasing, and then Monroe dropped the half-and-half and contemplated crawling behind a cash register and never coming out.
"Juliette!" Nick cried, sounding like he was in need of smelling salts. Monroe heard a buzzing sound: Nick's phone, which was quickly and decisively switched off. "It isn't like that. It's--I mean, I kind of--but--"
"I'm sorry!" she laughed. Then her tone grew serious again. "Nick, I want you to be happy. That's all I've ever wanted for you. I know things between us didn't work out the way we wanted, but... if you're happy, then I'm glad."
Monroe couldn't believe all this was playing out in front of a display of bagels. What must the other shoppers think? He, for one, was resolutely thinking nothing. Nothing in particular and nothing at all.
"I'm going to call you," Nick said pleadingly. "And we're going to have coffee and catch up--but for now, I'm sorry, I've got to go."
"Go on, then," she said lightly. Monroe heard Nick walking resolutely away, and he was surprised when she spoke again, quietly, too soft for Nick to hear: "Duty calls, right?"
Nick put the bags of salt and the packets of wild garlic into the car, and then he sat in the passenger seat, looking spooked. Oddly, the reality of going toe-to-toe with a creature who almost certainly wanted nothing more than to swallow his ventricles didn't scare him as much as that stilted conversation with Juliette. After a moment, Nick pulled a crumpled paper out of his pocket and handed it to Monroe. On it was an address:
The paper had been resting alongside Nick's cel phone, which he took out and checked. "Shit!" he said. "I missed a call from Hank." He pulled up the voicemail screen and pressed a button, and Hank's voice emerged, tinny and clear:
Nick, I got a call from our witness a minute ago. She tells me her daughter's recalled some additional information about what they saw the night of the most recent murder. I'm heading over there to see what's going on. Give me a call.
"Shit!" Nick repeated. "Oh, God. I never warned Hank about her." He fisted a hand in his hair and sat, thinking. "This is what she wanted," he said. "To lure me in. She wanted to meet at that IHOP so she could check me out, and now she wants me to go to her."
Monroe started the car and plugged the address into his GPS. "She's not after Hank," he said, striving to sound calm. "More than likely, she'll put a glamour on him, but after all--it's you she wants."
Nick looked at him for a long moment. "What will you do?" he asked.
Monroe exhaled a long breath, glared resolutely at the asphalt in front of him, and said: "You won't like this, but hear me out." Nick tensed. "When we get closer to the house, I'm going to get out and circle around the back. I'll find a way to break in. You pull the car up to the front--where she can see you--and wait. Hopefully she'll be distracted while watching for you, and she won't even know I'm there until there's a knife jutting out of her chest."
Nick hardly let him finish before his pent-up reservoir of objections exploded. "No!" he said. "I don't want another person getting hurt because of me. It's my job to prevent other people from getting hurt like this."
"Be reasonable, Nick!" Monroe's voice deepened into a threatening growl. He could feel himself changing; the inner beast was being slowly dredged up out of his consciousness. He knew that the Grimm could see it as well.
"Monroe, your eyes are red," Nick said, toneless.
Monroe grunted and turned away from him, staring at the passing scenery, forcibly pulling his thoughts away from all the dark, wild places in his mind. "She wants your heart," he said, quietly. "Not mine. I'm stronger than you are, and..." He sucked up the courage, and said it: "Most creatures would never suspect someone like me to come for someone like you. It makes sense for me to go in there."
Suddenly, Nick was gripping his arm. His stare was like a burn on the side of Monroe's face, and it was all he could do not to take his eyes off the road. "Monroe," Nick said, and his voice, low and rough and intent, saying Monroe's name, sent shock right through his body, from the top of his head right down to his dick, and--wow, these were really very unsafe driving practices.
"I'll give you fifteen minutes. If you don't come out of that house in fifteen minutes, I'm going in. All right?"
"Monroe--" Again, the sound of his name coming from Nick's mouth did unspeakable things. "I've kept a lot of things from the people I care about, and it hasn't worked out so well." Monroe could hear Nick's breathing coming hard and fast. His heart, too, pounded, strong and regular, and Monroe liked that sound. It was perhaps the sweetest sound he'd ever heard, and he wanted to continue to hear it for a very long time. Then Nick swallowed audibly, and said: "I didn't see through that glamour because I'm still hung up on Juliette."
At this rate, Monroe was going to run them into the median. All the years he'd been alone, sublimating every urge, every yearning for companionship, rose up and blocked his throat.
"It's you," Nick continued, sounding unhinged. "I--I don't know when it happened. Maybe when I saw that you played the cello, or when you were painting some clock from Switzerland and wearing those glasses--" He broke off, and laughed nervously. "Oh, God. I'm sorry. It's just--now you're going to fight some creature for me, and risk your life, and I just--I wanted you to know."
They were close to the faerie's house now. Monroe pulled off the road, brought the car to a halt, and let it sit, idling, while he sorted through his thoughts and tried to find something coherent to say. "I can't even tell you how hard it's been," he said finally, "to deny how much I--inexplicably, and completely against my better judgment, mind you--"
He couldn't believe how difficult this was. How did people do this on a regular basis? What kind of person actually wanted to watch other people do this on television, and in movies? There were even twisted individuals out there who read entire books about nothing but this. It was all wrong. The only good thing Monroe had going right now was the sight of Nick's face. He looked crazy. Monroe kind of wanted to frame this moment and hang it somewhere in his house, a place where he'd walk past it frequently, and have the opportunity to examine it under various different lightings, and...
"Denying what?" Nick demanded.
"I--look, don't get too smug, because I'm mostly admitting this to myself at the same time as I'm admitting it to you. Oh my God," he groaned, "I've fallen for a Grimm. Do you have any idea what my mother is going to say?"
Nick clearly didn't care one iota about Monroe's poor mother or what she had to say about inter-species shenanigans, because he just sighed with what sounded like mortal relief, leaned over, and put his hand against Monroe's cheek. "For luck," he said, and pressed his lips gently against Monroe's, holding the kiss long enough to allow Monroe to hear his shuddering breathing and, beneath it all, the beat of his heart. Monroe held himself back for about three seconds; and then he fisted a hand in Nick's leather jacket, pulling him nearly out of the passenger seat, and deepened the kiss. Nick was smiling now--Monroe could feel the edges of his lips stretching--and his hand moved from Monroe's cheek to the back of his neck, drawing him closer. Monroe could scarcely recall a more pleasant time he'd ever had, but soon it was over, and Nick was leaning away. Then their fingers were laced together, and how was it that the idea of holding hands with a Grimm was stranger than the idea of kissing one?
"We'll finish this," Nick said. And how, thought Monroe.
Then they were dividing up the weapons and filling little bags of salt and taking packets of wild garlic to shove into their pockets and inside their socks and under their shirts. Night had fallen, and the air was cold, and Monroe supposed the iron would be at least adequately chilled by the time he got to the house. Oh, this was a shoddy plan.
"I'm sorry I never told Hank about you," Nick blurted suddenly. Of all the fond things Monroe was expecting to hear from Nick before he went off to fight an epic battle for the Grimm's heart, this rated very low. He looked at Nick curiously.
"I mean, if he's in there and he sees you, he won't know that you've come to help. I haven't been honest with him, and it's put him in danger. And you."
"Come on, man," Monroe said, scarcely crediting the fact that they were having this out now. "What were you supposed to tell him? 'Hey, remember that dude I accused of murdering children? Well, it turns out that once we got past all that stuff, he and I found out that we actually have loads in common!'"
Nick wasn't moved by Monroe's understanding. "I'm going to be honest from now on," he declared solemnly. Then he hedged: "Well, as honest as I can."
Monroe took that as his cue to leave. He reached out, squeezed Nick's fingers gently, and then moved to step away from the car. In an instant, the front of his sweater was bunched in Nick's hands, and he was being dragged back. He thought Nick would kiss him again, but when their faces were almost touching, Nick whispered, "Be careful," and then let him go.
Initially, things were looking pretty good. Monroe even allowed himself to wallow luxuriously in a few minutes' worth of confidence. The woods reached nearly to the back of the house, and it was laughably easy to creep right up to the back door. As he listened and tasted the air, however, he discovered a few unexpected complications. He could pick out the scent of four people inside. One smelled like leather, coffee, grease, gunpowder: Nick's partner, Hank. Another smelled like gum, and books, and some noxious Bath and Body Shop spray: a teenage girl, no doubt the 'daughter' that the faerie had with her at the IHOP. And, everywhere, Monroe could smell that freshly-turned earth, those bluebells. Yet beneath it all was something else--the smell of old fish. Seawater. If he wasn't mistaken, the meerhasch was inside this house as well.
He could hear two voices--the teenager and Hank--but they were not conversing with each other. Rather, they were engaged in one-sided conversations with someone who, as far as Monroe could ascertain, was not there. Glamours, he thought. They were eerie as hell.
It wasn't the first time Monroe had broken into a house with an ugly purpose in mind. The door gave way quickly, and then he was inside, passing through the darkness, grateful that his night-vision had time to develop while he was making his way through the woods. He was in the kitchen. To his left, in the dining room, the girl sat in pitch darkness, talking excitedly about a swim meet, and how she and her friends were going to TCBY afterwards, and how she hated, hated her chemistry teacher. Every once in a while, she'd say the word "Mom", and Monroe got the impression that she thought she was sitting in a pleasant, well-lit room, going over her day with an indulgent parent. He wondered if she'd spent her entire life like this, trapped in a dream.
Ahead, in the living room, Hank sat on a silk-upholstered chair. He was leaning forward, nodding occasionally, as if he was listening to someone tell a fascinating story. But there was no one there. The only thing in front of him was a coffee-table, and on it a cut-crystal vase filled with flowers. Monroe could smell each one.
He could also smell the meerhasch. He saw her, too, when the front of the house was momentarily illuminated by the headlights of his car. Nick was outside, waiting. He now had less than fifteen minutes to do this job. Monroe took a quiet breath and crept towards her, knowing he was wasting time but doing it anyway. She was lying in a hallway, near what Monroe thought could be the master bedroom. She watched his approach.
He knelt down beside her and nearly choked. He could almost taste dead, rotting fish at the back of his throat. Surrounding her body was a growing pool: she was oozing slime. She looked desiccated: she'd probably been lying there for a long time. Monroe saw her lips working, trying to form words, and then she gave up, and rolled her eyes significantly towards the living room.
Monroe was feeling a whole lot less sanguine about his current life prospects now, but he hefted his knife, pressed his fingers against the little iron pendant resting against his chest, and moved as silently as he could towards the front door. Just to the side, there was a charming little parlor, and a lovely woman stood silhouetted against the window. Her back was turned, and even in the darkness Monroe could see she was wearing an eye-wateringly scarlet dress like a challenge.
Okay, Monroe thought to himself. Now.
It wasn't hard at all to leap at her, to pull out his knife and pray it was cold, and then slide it on in, feeling the momentary resistance of the skin and then the easy parting of fat and muscle and organs. When he'd buried it up to the hilt, he twisted it once and then tensed his knees, waiting to catch her as she fell.
But this wasn't right. There was no blood seeping out of the wound, and he was pretty damn sure he'd just severed her aorta. Frowning, and feeling slightly ridiculous, he jiggled the knife a little, and was shocked when she let out a high, musical giggle, like tiny bells stirred in a breeze.
She twisted her neck around to get a look at him, and he saw that the overblown similes Nick had used to describe her were utterly true. "I'd heard there was a blutbad in the picture somewhere, but I didn't believe it," she said. Her voice was soothing, lilting, and child-like--completely at odds with the mad glow in her eye and the inhuman strength she used to shove him away. "It's good to know I can still be surprised."
Then Monroe felt himself marching backwards, mechanically, unable to stop. He walked past Hank, still conversing with the invisible witness, and then sat down on a rose-patterned couch. All his immense physical strength availed him nothing. He couldn't move.
She followed him into the living room, tugging the knife out of her back and then tilting it this way and that, examining the knot pattern on the blade. "I like this," she said appreciatively. Monroe wondered, with a kind of faraway horror, if she would use it on Nick. She turned and placed it on a side-table, and Monroe could see that the wound he'd inflicted on her back was already gone. Only a tear in the dress remained.
A nasty idea was stealing over his mind. A vile theory. If it was true, then they had been amazingly, staggeringly stupid. He'd been staggeringly stupid. He took a halting breath, and tried to speak, but he found that he couldn't.
The only sound in the room was Hank's occasional murmurs, things like "Please continue" and "Could you elaborate a little on your last statement?" They sat like that for an interminable amount of time, and then she made an impatient noise, went to the window, and twitched back the curtain. "I know he'll come," she said.
Sure enough, not five minutes later the front door exploded inwards, and Nick stepped across the threshold, holding an iron knife and a gun. She jumped up and clapped her hands excitedly, and Nick turned to her, training the gun at her head. But he didn't shoot.
"Where are they?" he shouted.
"In here!" she called. "Come in!"
Monroe wished he could move, or scream, or astrally project, or do anything that would stop Nick from stepping slowly towards them. He looked at Hank, and then at Monroe, scowling questioningly. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Monroe tried to shake his head, but his muscles were so locked up that he could only tip slightly from side to side, rather like a metronome. Nick turned to her. "Have you hurt him?"
"No! The brute stabbed me!" She stepped around the couch and stood behind Monroe, placing her hands on his shoulders. "Put those weapons down and come in here. If you agree to let me have your heart--" Her fingers involuntarily tightened as she said it. "--I'll let these two go. They'll come to no harm. Upon my oath."
"If you don't agree, I'll still take your heart, but first you'll watch them dance until their lungs burst."
After a long moment, Nick lowered his gun a fraction. The faerie must have felt Monroe's straining muscles under her palms, because she craned her head around to look at him. "What's this? Tears?" She wiped one away with the pad of her finger. Her gaze roved across his face. "Blutbad," she sighed disgustedly, as if he were some idiot child who'd confused mud and chocolate. "You're meant to want his literal heart. Not the figurative one."
Monroe met Nick's eyes. He tried to express through his gaze alone the sheer enormity of his objection to whatever heroic thing Nick was no doubt planning to do, but he'd gone so long without the peril of loss that he just couldn't school his face into the right expression. Nick only saw his tears--and how Monroe hated himself for crying just then, but between his screaming frustration and the looming certainty of Nick's violent death, he couldn't seem to stop it--and he set his jaw in that way he did when he'd made a decision.
"All right," he said. "What do I have to do?"
"Thank you," she breathed. "I was so hoping this wouldn't be difficult. Do you know how fragile the human heart is? It's bad when they struggle. Come, lie down right here. Don't be nervous; it won't take too long."
Monroe quailed. She was pointing to a spot right below his feet, in the very middle of the living room. He was going to have a view.
Nick took a few breaths, and then squared his shoulders and resolutely took off his leather jacket. "Here, Ms. Nevin?" he said, kneeling down.
"Nicnevin," she said absently, pressing her thumb against the tip of the knife she'd taken from Monroe. "This will do very well," she declared, and flashed Monroe a smile. "I think it will cut better than my own knife."
Monroe hadn't been able to use his eyes to tell Nick not to sacrifice himself, but he hoped he could use them to inform her just how far he was willing to go to take revenge. She understood him, and her smile deepened. "I know that you're swearing to hunt me down, and give me no rest, and make me rue my actions," she said, a little sadly. "Would you be surprised if I told you that I'd welcome that?"
Then she turned back to Nick. "Nicnevin," he said. He'd laid himself down easily enough, and if Monroe had been human he'd never have guessed that Nick felt anything but courage at that moment. But Monroe could hear his uneven breathing, his jittering heart. He could smell Nick's fear. "Nicnevin," he repeated, "Is immortality really worth--this?"
In the span of a blink, she was on him, holding him down with her fiendish strength. "Immortality isn't worth anything," she told him, taking hold of his collar and ripping his shirt down the middle, "if you've no one with which to share it." She took up the knife and positioned it right at the dip in his throat. "If it gives you a better death," she said, "your heart is to be given to my daughter, who is a good, kind, innocent girl. She'll be the only child I'll never see die."
Without a moment's hesitation, she drew the knife down, from the base of Nick's throat to the bottom of his ribcage. His skin flowed apart easily. At first, his face didn't even register pain: he just looked shocked, shocked to his very core, that this was happening. Then Nicnevin got down to business, chopping and sawing, and he uttered a dull scream, which faded quickly into silence. In the end, while his body was being tugged slightly with each of Nicnevin's violent assaults, he looked uncannily impressed, as if the pain had reached such an exquisite crescendo that he'd been able to detach himself from it and admire it from afar.
At first, the horror of the attack coupled with his powerlessness made Monroe think that he was apt to die along with Nick. Then, gradually, all his feelings drained away and he was left with a curious sort of numbness. He turned away and tried not to listen to the hideous scrape of metal on bone. He thought of the teenager in the dark dining room; the girl probably thought her mother--her drab, frumpy mother--was going to serve her tuna casserole tonight. She'd never even realize that she was eating a human heart, pulsing still with its last electric shocks. Did she ever know what her mother was? Or what she would become, soon?
Monroe felt bile at the back of his throat when he heard the sickening crack of Nick's sternum giving way, and then, horribly, he heard Hank say: "Is that all you can remember Ms. Nevin?" Then, in the very next second, seemingly out of nowhere, Hank's face changed from polite interest to confused terror, and leaped up out of his chair and screamed, "What the fuck?"
Hank whipped his gun out and pointed it at Nicnevin, who seemed as surprised as anyone else in the room. "Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on?" Hank said frantically; his eyes were darting madly about, and he blinked quickly as if he'd been blinded. Nicnevin looked down down at Nick, who laid beneath her in a stupor, and then she looked back up at Hank, stunned. Hank followed her eyes and saw Nick. He yelled his partner's name, and then Monroe saw a neat red hole appear beneath Nicnevin's right eye. She tumbled backwards, hitting the floor, and in that second Monroe could move again. He tore off the couch and crashed next to Nick, having only enough time to think My God it's bad, and then some atavistic instinct took over and he grabbed the blade that was still attached to Nick's belt--that terrible scimitar-looking thing they'd considered leaving at the trailer--and he brought it right down on Nicnevin's neck, cleanly severing her head from her body.
The gunshot wound in her face was slowly, steadily reassembling itself. Monroe knew that Nicnevin was immortal, and he knew that she must have been around for a very long time to be capable of amassing enough power to hold several complex glamours at once and for long periods of time. These things were not trifles, but Monroe doubted that any creature would be able to remain powerful if she was beheaded, dismembered, and scattered all over hell-and-gone.
He had a lot to do. But first: "Call 911," he shouted at Hank, who looked back at him, his face contorted like he had a shattering migraine.
"I was just interviewing the witness," Hank said, sounding very unlike a hardened homicide detective. "And--I looked at the flowers in front of me, and I thought of how my ex-wife used to..." He looked at Monroe, eyes pleading. "And then the entire room changed, like--"
"That doesn't matter," Monroe said harshly. "Call 911, now. Or Nick will die."
Hank took out his phone and called the dispatch with shaking fingers. He was unable to even explain the situation; all he said was, "You need to come," over and over. Then he made a terrible noise and began to walk backwards, holding his hands out in front of him like he was warding off a blow. Monroe saw that Nicnevin's body had gotten on all fours, and was crabbing towards him like some kind of horrifying human-tarantula hybrid out of the depths of Lake Chernobyl. Monroe crammed her head between two couch cushions and stopped her body's progress. He dodged a hail of kicks and blows while he neatly severed each appendage from the torso--each of which continued to twist and thrash.
"Oh, fuck," Hank said. "Oh, Christ."
"Don't look. Go to Nick," Monroe told him. He wanted nothing more than to follow his own command, but he couldn't. If he didn't stop this, Nick wouldn't be safe. If he doesn't die, a treacherous voice said, and Monroe gathered up the body parts with more savagery than necessary, wrapping them in blankets and duvets and whatever he could find.
On his way back through the dining room, he nearly tripped over the meerhasch. At the sight of her, something clicked in his mind. He might not have been able to save the man he loved from being vivisected, but by God he still had the wherewithal to prevent Nick's police partner from incurring a lifetime of therapy bills. He gathered up that fish-stinking body and took it into the living room. He set her against the couch, next to Hank, whose thinking faculties appeared to be long gone, and told her: "Look in his eyes and make him forget the past two hours. If you can do that, I won't tear your head off your shoulders the way I should have done the first time I saw you." He saw her nod, slightly, and he said: "I'll be back in a minute."
Outside, he could hear the first faint wails of the ambulance sirens. He stashed Nicnevin's limbs in his trunk, her torso in his backseat, and he tossed her head into the footwell of the passenger's seat. Once he was back inside, he saw that Hank was rubbing his head and groaning painfully. The meerhasch dredged up whatever strength she had left, and croaked: "He thinks he hit his head. He... won't remember."
With that task officially scratched off his to-do list, now Monroe just needed to get the hell out of there. Judging by the sounds of the approaching sirens, he had about three minutes, tops. But he couldn't leave Nick like that, without so much as a word. He crawled over to the Grimm's inert body, gently pushing a dazed and muddled Hank aside. Monroe couldn't bear to look at the wreck of Nick's chest; instead, he reached out hesitantly and touched a waxy cheek.
Nick's eyes blinked open. "Monroe," he breathed. "Am I dead?"
The tears were back, hot and insistent, gathering one on top of the next. "No, buddy, you're not dead. Help is on the way. Hank's here. You'll be fine, just hang on."
Nick shook his head dreamily. "I'm done."
"What? Nick, you aren't thinking straight. You're going to live. For now, just save up your strength, and I've got to--"
"Take it, Monroe." He struggled to grab Monroe's hand. "Take my heart."
"Nick," cried Monroe, horrified. The man was clearly gravely injured, but this was beyond the pale. Did he not understand that this whole evening had been one long, bloody, vicious cautionary tale?
"It's yours," Nick said, holding Monroe's fingers. "You can go on... forever."
A dark bead of blood welled up in Nick's left nostril and began a sluggish trek down his face. The sirens were louder, deafening. Nick was out of his mind. Monroe had no time. He caught up Nick's cold hand in both of his, and said: "I couldn't imagine a more terrible fate." Nick's fingers curled slightly around his, and he continued: "I am so sorry, Nick, but I have to leave you. I have to finish this. I'll come to you when I'm done." Nick blinked at him, slowly. He put his hand on Nick's forehead and murmured: "Duty calls, right?"
Monroe left Portland at a very conservative speed, figuring that the absolute dead-last thing he needed now was a traffic ticket. No patrolman deserved to stumble into this mess. Dismemberment and the subsequent scattering of body parts in every godforsaken hidey-hole he'd ever chanced to hear about through the Blutbad Savage Murder Coverup Grapevine were pretty unsettling things in and of themselves, but having his victim's sentient head staring balefully at him the entire time was something from a totally different ballpark. Perhaps that was why he'd shoved the meerhasch in his passenger seat and taken her along. His nerves couldn't have stood it otherwise.
He'd given her an unopened bottle of water that he was pretty sure had been knocking around in his car for months. She chugged it down in one go, and it seemed to have done more to revive her than a hot meal and a day's worth of sleep.
"Right after I escaped your house, that's when she took me," the meerhasch told him. She was much younger than he'd originally assumed. "She asked me all about him. Whenever I tried to run away, she made me dance. Jaysus, it was terrible. I'm Denise, by the way."
"Good for you," he snapped.
She sniffed. "I'm just making conversation, asshole."
She'd helped him bury a limb and burn another, and toss a third down a mine shaft, and dump the last one in a landfill. Pouring salt on the limbs made them quit twitching, and the work was much easier and vastly more companionable after that discovery. Now Monroe contemplated the torso in the backseat, wondering what to do with it. Denise noticed, and said brightly: "If you drop me off at the ocean, I'll take it so far out and so deep that no one will ever find it again."
They'd meandered generally west. Her plan was feasible. And Monroe wanted nothing more then to finish this and floor it back to Portland. "How do I know you'll do it?"
She gave him jazz-hands. "Hey, if she puts herself back together, then she's going to come after me, too! I don't want to be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life."
"You'll be doing that anyway," Monroe rumbled. "Because if I ever see you, hear you, or smell you come within a hundred yards of N--of that Grimm, then your journey is at an end. Got it?"
"Fine," she said, and crossed her arms.
"And you'd better not blab to anyone about this, either," Monroe added.
"What? A blutbad and a Grimm? Who'd even believe me?"
He pulled the car to a halt near a rocky little beach. She sprang out, looked around gladly, and held out her arms to accept the awful, blanket-wrapped bundle. "Don't worry," she assured him. "I've got this." She hopped down the rocks and into the surf with the same jaunty step of a person running up the steps to their own front door. She didn't look back once.
Monroe had meant to tell her something about how he understood the allure of violence, power, and domination. He'd wanted to tell her that it was difficult but hardly impossible for creatures like them to live a decent, law-abiding life. Moreover, he felt a need to recite to her all the reasons he was glad he'd reformed, like how he slept better at night and felt infinitely more able to control his destiny. But he didn't say anything to her. He just watched her go.
He got back in the car. "Just you and me now," he said to Nicnevin's head. The hole below her eye had healed over completely. She opened her lips and said in a grating, raspy whisper: "Blutbad--"
"Oh, hell no," Monroe said, and punched on the radio.
Monroe's last stop was the farthest: a crumbling, long-abandoned homestead that had been choked by trees and scrub and weeds for at least a century. Few people knew about it; in order to get there, one had to navigate through miles of empty, depressing farmland, passing stretches of insular towns, rusting machinery, and some of the most miserable scenery in the contiguous States. Once he arrived, he'd left the car and continued on foot. He couldn't smell a single recent passer-by, human or creature.
The homestead was now nothing more than three rock walls and a foundation, but beside it was a mostly-intact well. Long ago, his father had told him about this place: Edward, if you need to get rid of something fast, and you never want anyone to find it, go to the well. When he'd heard this as a kid, it had seemed like the most exciting, intriguing thing he could imagine. Now, as he shoved off the heavy concrete covering, he felt oddly frightened by it all.
He took one fortifying breath, and then picked up Nicnevin's head. Together, they looked down into the total darkness. "I'm going to give you an option," he said to her. "Give me your oath that you will never harm Nick Burkhardt again. Nor will you induce anyone else to harm him. Nor--well, look, no funny business, all right? If you swear that, I'll toss you down here. If you don't, I'll build up a fire and sit out here until your head is incinerated, and then I'll scatter you all down the interstate. The first option sucks, I know, but your body will come back together eventually. It might only take decades rather than centuries. The second option..."
"I swear it," she whispered. "I'll never harm him."
"You'll never harm Nick Burkhardt," he prodded. He was amazed to see that a severed head could roll its eyes.
"I'll never harm Nick Burkhardt."
"Okay," he said. "That settles it." Then he hesitated. "Swear too that you'll never harm another human or creature as long as you li--uh, exist." He didn't care half as much about this part of her oath, but he figured Nick would want him to do it.
"I give you my oath--" He was forced to read her lips; she couldn't draw air to speak. "My solemn oath that I will never harm another creature or human."
"All right," he said, and psyched himself up. He just had to do this, and then it was back to Nick. "Here we go." He held her head over the edge of the well. Any time now, he'd drop her. Any second.
Her lips moved. She made no sound at all, but he still understood her. I was so lonely.
For one contemptible moment, he understood and pitied her. He thought, crazily, that maybe he could fashion an iron spike and shove her head on it and then fasten her to his mantlepiece. They could watch the game together, and he could feed her tofu, and she could give him comedic advice about his zany love life. It'd work out fine!
Then, an unbidden memory came to his mind: the slow trickle of blood rolling out of Nick's nose and down his face. That did it. He dropped her. For good measure, he tossed in the salt and the wild garlic. He didn't even wait to hear her hit the bottom before he was running through brambles, fields, and thickets, all the way back to his car.
He floored it the entire way back to Portland.
Hospitals ranked pretty low on Monroe's list of places he liked to be. All things considered, they fell somewhere below catacombs and above body farms. The scents inside hospitals were bad: blood, infection, rot, excrement. Alcohol and antiseptic. Misery. The sounds, though--those were the worst. Underneath the squeaking of gurneys, and the beeping and whirring of machines, and the authoritative tones of doctors, were the secret sounds: the long sighs, the quiet grunts of pain, the stifled sobbing. These were the sounds that no one was supposed to hear, and Monroe certainly didn't want to hear them. But as he hurried down pastel-colored hallways, he reflected that these gut-churning noises would serve as the best background in all the world compared to the bright, silent sterility of the morgue.
Nick was here. Monroe knew it. What he didn't know was whether Nick was in a bed or on a slab.
Which was why, after doing the equivalent of chasing his own tail for twenty straight minutes, he nearly expired when a bored-looking nurse at a cluttered station told him in the most unenthusiastic manner possible that Nick Burkhardt was on the third floor, in room 4B. Monroe stood for a moment, staring at her, unable to move, thinking that surely he would melt into the floor, and then they'd have to put a commemorative plaque there, something really festive to bring cheer to the patients at the Portland Providence Medical Center, so that posterity could mourn his fate.
Even as he thought these things, Monroe was tearing up the stairs. All his life his mind had been running, running, running, and yes, he did think of the most inappropriate things, ridiculous possibilities and scenarios, but doing so was literally the only thing that kept him sane while he was getting rid of Nicnevin and speeding back to Nick. Had he been forced to contemplate--really contemplate--the fact that Nick, all this time, could have been dead, could have died on Nicnevin's floor or in a screaming ambulance or on an operating table... If he'd dwelled on that, Monroe wasn't sure he'd have been able to do what he'd done. What he'd done for the better part of a day, while Nick was here.
He stopped outside of Nick's room. The rich smell of Nick's blood was strong here, a miasma. Through the window he could see that Juliette and Hank were sitting by his bedside. They looked up when he came in, and Monroe suddenly became aware that he hadn't changed clothes or made himself presentable in any way since--actually, he couldn't even remember. He had brambles in his hair and dirt on his sweater-vest, and he'd wiped some ashes on his pants at some point. Thankfully, immortals didn't bleed, so he wasn't covered in gore. Always a silver lining.
Their expressions could only be described as hostile, but Monroe saw that they were both sitting on the far side of Nick's bed. Right up by Nick's head, they'd placed an empty chair, clearly meant for Monroe. He settled himself into it gingerly, quietly. Nick was asleep, his mouth hanging uncharacteristically open.
He was pale and exhausted, and there were pain lines running across his forehead and mouth, but he was alive. And Monroe could hear it, that most excellent sound: a heartbeat. Nick's heartbeat, pounding away in a fine, regular rhythm.
Juliette cleared her throat and he glanced up at them, vaguely surprised that they hadn't winked out of existence when he caught his first sight of Nick. They were looking at him expectantly, and suddenly Monroe's reverie was over. There was, he knew, awkwardness in his immediate future. But really, that was nothing new. He could handle it.
"He's been asking for you, Monroe." Juliette said. She enunciated the syllables of his name with deliberation. The point of her statement was obvious: Where the hell were you?
"I had some personal matters to take care of." As he said it, their eyes went dull and flat like old nickels, as if he'd just told them that he'd stayed away because he couldn't miss his afternoon soaps. He felt a burst of sympathy for Nick just then, because he knew Nick had a newfound commitment to honesty, and being Nick, he was going to take it very seriously. Monroe frankly didn't see how he was going to manage it: the sort of honesty that would compel him to say I've just spent the past day scattering the body parts of an eldritch beast all over hither and yon, fuck-you-very-much simply wasn't an option, nor would it ever be.
"Hank told me how you and Nick met," Juliette spat.
"Yeah. Big misunderstanding," Monroe replied cagily.
"What do you do, exactly?" Hank asked. Monroe wasn't sure if he was hoping to defuse the tension or ignite it.
"I'm a clock-maker. Well, technically I repair clocks, but I make them too. Occasionally." They couldn't have looked any less impressed if he'd told them that he made his living by breathing professionally. "And," he added hastily, "I'm also... managing an inheritance." He prayed that neither of them would have the gall to ask what kind.
Juliette arched her brows and Hank pursed his lips thoughtfully. Monroe could almost hear his thoughts: Okay, maybe Nick isn't really with this weirdo. Maybe he's just doing some good, old-fashioned gold digging. I can respect that.
Just then, Nick stirred a little and all the attention in the room focused onto him. "Monroe," Nick said breathily, and God, Monroe could listen to Nick say his name forever. Nick turned his hand over, palm-up, and Monroe grabbed hold of it tightly.
"I'm sorry it took so long," Monroe told him, but Nick didn't understand. He slurred, "I like it when you hold my hand."
From the corner of his eye, Monroe saw Juliette's mouth unbend itself a little, a small smile peeking at the corners of her lips. "Why's that?" he asked indulgently.
"Because you could rip my arm off, but I know you won't." Then Nick's eyes slid shut and he was sleeping again.
The room was completely silent. Juliette looked at Hank; Monroe looked at Juliette; Hank looked at Monroe.
"I, uh, do pilates."
Monroe spent all his time with Nick, going home only to eat and shower and change his clothes. Juliette came around often, and Hank dropped by when he could. It seemed they were coming to a kind of queasy acceptance of Monroe's presence in Nick's life, but they still looked faintly disturbed by it all, rather as if Nick were a high school star quarterback who had inexplicably and without warning spurned all the cheerleaders in order to pursue the embraces of the unpopular, silent kid who sat at the back of the wood-shop class and doodled weird caricatures of his teachers. And reeked of pot.
Once, Juliette, in an obvious effort to reach out to him, brought him a cup of coffee from the vending machine on the first floor. He'd grimaced and taken the cup between two fingers, like it was filled with radioactive waste. She'd laughed at him, and said: "Nick told me you were an unforgivable snob. Now I've seen it for myself. Oh," she said, seeing his expression, "you know he meant it in the nicest way possible." After that, things were less frosty between them.
A few days later, Monroe was just arriving with a vase of flowers to brighten up Nick's room--and perhaps compete with the bouquet Juliette had bought for him--when he heard Nick's halting, tired voice. Monroe smelled leather, coffee, gunpowder. Hank. Nick was talking to Hank.
"It turns out," Nick rasped, "that once we got past all that stuff... we found out that we actually have a lot in common."
"Managing an inheritance. That's pretty good," Nick said, grinning. He grinned a lot these days--probably something to do with the death-grip he had on his morphine pump. When he wasn't crushing the pump, he was crushing Monroe's fingers. Had Monroe been human, his hand would probably have been smashed into an appalling hour-glass shape. But he wasn't, and Nick could apply as much pressure as he wanted when the pain got bad.
"Brains and brawn, that's me," Monroe replied, flipping through a crafts magazine. They sat, quiet and companionable, for a pleasant stretch of time, and then Nick shifted and put his hand on Monroe's arm.
"What happened... to her?"
Monroe looked up. Ever since he'd gotten his injury, Nick had been so exhausted and on so many heavy-duty painkillers that they hadn't really had a relevant conversation. Now they were alone, and Nick was looking at him with that wide, confused expression he had, and a better moment probably wouldn't come.
Monroe briefly checked that the door was closed and no one was coming. Then he said, "The bullet to the head stopped her for a while. While she was incapacitated, I cut her up and stashed the parts in the most hidden places I knew. She's down for the count, but she'll come back together eventually. I guess that's why your aunt scratched out "immortal does not mean invincible". Give her enough time, and she'll bounce back from anything." Privately, Monroe imagined that Kessler had taken down an immortal faerie, dusted her hands, and written that little note in the margin of her notebook... only to run across that same faerie years later, intact and pissed. In truth, the thought thrilled him a little.
Monroe hastened on. "But she won't hurt you again. I made her swear an oath before I dropped her head down a well."
Nick smiled dreamily, as if this were rather romantic. Then he said, "And the daughter?"
Monroe sighed. "I checked up on her. She's been institutionalized. She'd been glamoured her whole life, and..." He spread his hands in a what're-you-gonna-do gesture.
Nick didn't take this news well. Kids getting hurt always hit him hard. "Damn," he hissed, and pressed the button for more morphine.
"Nick, I'm sorry," Monroe said, leaning over, trying to meet Nick's eyes, doing his best not to loom. "It was a disaster from start to finish, and you should have never had to go into that house, and I should have realized that she was immortal sooner than I did. I'm the one who's supposed to know things about the creature-world, but I dropped the ball, and you--you paid the price for it. I can't tell you how much I regret that. I always will."
Nick swallowed, and Monroe saw he was struggling to focus, trying to form words through the fog of pain and medication. "I'm sorry," Monroe repeated, hating that he had to say it so often these days. "We shouldn't be talking about this now. Do you--should I get you a nurse?" Monroe rose out of his chair, turning for the door, but Nick's arm shot out, catching his wrist.
"Don't go," Nick pleaded, and Monroe was suddenly right back in that living room, making the difficult decision to leave Nick lying there with his chest broken open so he could take care of Nicnevin's body. He sat down again. From now on, if Nick told him to stay, he'd stay.
"If you hadn't been there, I would have died," Nick said, and he didn't let Monroe interrupt him. "If I'd never known you, there is no chance I would have been able to get away from Nicnevin. She was so powerful that she'd have killed me before I even knew what was happening. Because of you, I survived... and so did Hank, and Nicnevin's daughter."
And the meerhasch, Monroe added silently, but that was neither here nor there.
"I would do it again," Nick said, slurring a little. "It was worth it to me."
The day before Nick was slated to be released, Monroe came to his room and found an unfamiliar man with an unfamiliar scent and a remote, alien gaze. He put Monroe immediately on edge, and he appeared to know it. He moved away from Nick's bed as soon as Monroe walked into the room.
"Monroe," Nick said, "this is Captain Renard. He's the ranking officer in the precinct."
Monroe nodded to him, wary.
"I was telling him about how your expertise has helped me solve a couple of cases," Nick said. Monroe stared at him in open disbelief, but Nick only smiled guilelessly. Honesty, remember?
"Sounds like you're the one who's been keeping Burkhardt alive," Renard said. His tone was approving, contemplative, and about as warm as a glacier. Monroe hated it.
Nick's brows drew together a little, as if he'd just realized that something wasn't right. "Captain Renard is giving me a month's paid leave."
Renard caught Monroe's eye. "Use it wisely," he said.
Visiting hours were almost over, and Nick was just about ready to slide off into sleep. "Will you play the cello for me when we get home?" he asked, and hearing Nick talk about home made Monroe happy in a way he hadn't imagined was possible.
"Will I! I'll play it for you whenever you like. I'll be your personal cello-playing machine. I'll install one of those little wheels to the bottom and I'll follow you around wherever you go, providing a cello soundtrack to your entire life."
Monroe was rambling now, and he didn't even think Nick understood half of what he was saying, but he saw that Nick was smiling wider and wider and he just kept on going. "And I'll make you samosas, and stir fry, and any meatless product you could ask for, and before you know it you'll have fallen irrevocably for my lupine charms."
"I'd like that," Nick said gravely. He was so tired; all his words ran together. Monroe couldn't have stopped himself from kissing him then; these days, it seemed that Monroe wasn't even a functioning person anymore, but rather a scrap that had been tied in knots around Nick's little finger. Nick's lips were slack and the kiss was chaste, but Nick put his fingers on Monroe's cheek before he could straighten.
"Prince Charming," he mumbled.
"Fairest one of all," Monroe rejoined, and honestly, Juliette needed to get back in here and euthanize him for the good of the world.
"I'll sleep for a hundred years," Nick sighed, and he was gone before Monroe could inform him that he'd gotten his fairytale timelines a bit mixed-up there. That was all right. Tomorrow, Monroe would take Nick home and settle him on the couch and do his absolute best to pretend that he wasn't waiting on a Grimm hand-and-foot in a fashion that would cause the average creature to perish from humiliation. Then they'd have a month, and in that month Monroe resolved to make at least a small dent in Nick's overwhelming ignorance.
After that, who could say? They didn't have all the time in the world, but Monroe figured they had enough.
Thank you for reading.