There were fourteen keys on the heavy silver chain, and Nick felt them against his palm like hoarfrost.
"You have business," he repeated. "In Memphis."
"You don't need to sound so surprised," Monroe replied, licking his tongue over his teeth. He shuffled over and took the keys from Nick's hand. "You want me to go over it again? This is the front door key, this is the key that protects my very expensive cello, this is the key for the safe where I keep all my hoards of gold—"
"I'm pretty sure hoards of gold is dragon territory, not blutbaden," Nick said, eyeing the way Monroe turned the keys in his hairy hands over and over.
Monroe snorted. "Hey newbie, how about we wait a few more years before we go challenging the master?"
"I'm not a newbie anymore," Nick said, taking the keys back. And he wasn't. Being a Grimm was like swimming the English Channel. You never really got used to the cold, and your muscles never stopped aching around the halfway point — and there was always the chance you were going to die of hypothermia and end up as two paragraphs in the daily obituaries. Or that your girlfriend, who you thought you were going to marry, would leave you.
There were other parts too, about being a Grimm, parts like guns and salt and wolfsbane, but the girlfriend, that was the important part, and thinking about Juliette still made Nick want to curl his fist around something to put pressure against the ache.
Monroe was watching him. "Are you zoning out? You better not be zoning out. I don't want to come back and find out you turned my house into a crack den with dancing harem girls."
"I am not," said Nick, "going to turn your house into a crack den."
"But you're not sure about the harem girls."
"Just go," said Nick. "Go do your clock commission thing in Memphis. Have fun. Buy a plaid shirt. Don't eat anyone." He slid the keys into his pockets, next to his wallet. "I'll water your plants and take in your mail, don't worry."
"—one harem girl might be acceptable," Monroe said. "I'm willing to expand my horizons."
Nick leaned back against the kitchen counter. His hip brushed the coffee maker.
"Don't touch that!" Monroe barked.
Nick raised his eyebrows.
"Okay, I'm still working on the horizons bit," Monroe admitted. "But you've got to understand. That is a very fine piece of high-tech Japanese machinery, meant to deliver the most heavenly experience in coffee possible and you, you are a walking disaster. You are not going to spread your Grimm mojo to my coffee."
"Don't you have a flight to catch?" Nick asked pointedly, and he watched Monroe scramble in response, grabbing his luggage and making an undignified beeline out the door, his coat flapping behind him, his shadow deep and dark against the concrete sidewalk. Nick watched him go with a faint smile, and then he took out the keys again. They felt colder than even before, chilled like iced wine.
There were fourteen of them.
The first key was for the front door. So was the second key, a backup. The third key was for the cello case. The fourth was for the backyard shed. The fifth was for Monroe's car. The sixth was for the safe where Monroe kept his most important documents. The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth were for a series of small boxes in Monroe's bedroom that contained what looked like junk to Nick, but were probably collected odds-and-ends from Monroe's questionable past. The eleventh and twelfth were for the medicine cabinet where Monroe kept his pills. The thirteenth was for the room underneath the stairs where Monroe kept his guns.
Nick couldn't find the fourteenth.
Guy gives you the keys to his house, it's not an invitation to go pawing through his every possession, he thought, grimacing as he opened Monroe's closet, peering inside. But Nick was a cop, which meant he was nosy enough not to get invited to dinner parties anymore — and Monroe, Monroe was still a mystery to him, a signature he couldn't decipher, a language he couldn't speak without mixing up his vowels and making a fool of himself.
Monroe who disappeared on long nights and reappeared with torn clothes. Monroe who had a history he didn't talk much about, and could speak tongues that Nick wasn't sure even existed. Monroe who had brought him doughnuts the night Juliette left him, and watched basketball with him on TV, tucking a blanket around Nick after Nick fell asleep among a pyramid of empty bottles.
Monroe who said, I smell blood, as calmly as a priest heading to the altar.
Monroe who said, There are things out there, and then showed Nick what they were.
I'm a Grimm, Nick thought. I'm supposed to be keeping tabs on the big bad wolves. When he finished with the closet, he returned to the kitchen and banged through the cupboards there, browsing through the boxes of coffee and the tins of herbal teas, looking for anywhere a key might fit.
It was a primal instinct, he finally thought, nothing to be ashamed of. If you had a key, that meant there was something to open. And if there was something to open, then you opened it.
Maybe it didn't work so well for Pandora, but for the rest of them? It was a great game plan. Because unopened doors marked ignorance, and the last time Nick let himself be ignorant, he'd nearly taken a crossbow bolt through the throat. So how about that.
There was an eventide hush to Monroe's house now that Monroe was no longer here. His things no longer seemed like belongings; they reminded Nick more of artifacts. Monroe was motion, Nick thought. Every time he came over, Monroe was on the move, pacing around or doing pilates or fiddling with yet another concoction in the kitchen. The air was heavy and still without Monroe's physics — the sunlight slanted through the faded curtains and seemed to pool like poison on the carpet.
Nick could hear the constant tick-tick-tick of the clocks, so quiet and precise that they sliced through the silence like little knives.
There were fourteen keys, and still this house was a mystery.
(What is a mystery? Marie once asked. A story that has yet to know its own end).
"My mother," Monroe said. "She wasn't my real mother. My real mother left me and my brother in the woods, where a wolf found us and raised us. There were the two of us, and we drank milk from her tits."
"Are you serious?" Nick said over the phone, dribbling water onto Monroe's miniature cacti.
"What, are you an idiot?" Monroe said. "No. That's Romulus and Remus. Get your stories straight."
"I feel like an idiot," Nick said. "Or more like your housekeeper."
"Best-looking housekeeper I've ever had," Monroe said, and then he added, "Uh, I didn't say that out loud, did I? Shit."
Nick bit the inside of his mouth to keep from smirking. "Judging by the state of your house, I'm the only housekeeper you've ever had," he said, and it was a mercy throw, the kind of lifeline a guy gave to a friend. Monroe seized it eagerly.
"Yeah, dust is the ultimate big bad. Stake it, burn it, sell it to the highest bidder, it always comes creeping back," Monroe said. "You know, this is the first time I've even stayed in a place for so long. Usually I'm packed and gone within two years. Too risky otherwise."
"Really," Nick said, "and what's making you stay here?"
"The dogs shit less."
Nick let out a startled laugh.
"The birds are less annoying," Monroe said, really getting into it. "The squirrels aren't as hyper. The cats don't bite me. It's a big beautiful world, this city is. It's a regular fucking Disney Snow White wet dream."
"Whatever works for you," Nick said. He maneuvered himself around a tricky corner in the living room where a couch pushed him against a wall. In the process he spilled three drops of water from the water can onto the surface of the fabric — they formed a triangle.
"My plants are still alive, right?" Monroe asked suspiciously.
"No, a hexenbiest came and ate them," Nick said. "I tried my best but stop her but..."
"She'd have to try pretty damn hard to get in," Monroe scoffed. "My house has got more locks than a medieval princess' chastity belt. There's the ones you can see, and there's the ones you can't."
And you gave me all the keys, Nick thought. That meant something, maybe even something important. But in the heaviness of the house and the watchful eyes of the clocks, even with Monroe on the phone, he felt it was better not to push it. That was the thing about locks and keys — opening it was inevitable, but you had to get the timing right.
The story with Juliette went something like this:
You're never home anymore, she said, her fingers gentle against the bruises on his skin. You're involved in things you won't tell me about. You're changing.
Because that was another detail the stories never quite got right. You didn't have to be a wolf or a swan maiden or a phoenix to change. You could be Nick Burkhardt, homicide detective. It'd get you all the same.
So Nick tried to tell her, because he loved her, and when he finished, Juliette said nothing for the span of several minutes. And then she said, haltingly, "Nick, baby, have you ever considered getting help?"
"Well, sure," Nick had said. "But I'm the only Grimm that I know of. I can't just call Hank for backup, not for this."
She wouldn't meet his eyes. "I mean psychological help," she said. "Marie — your job — it's making you tired."
And that was when it happened, when they began to become strangers to each other. That was the highest price Nick paid for being a Grimm, except that it wasn't a price he ever wanted to pay at all — it was the price that was yanked from him, his old life unraveling from his wrists, Juliette staying later and later at her office, Nick never showing up at all until one day Juliette said, I love you, but this isn't working, and Nick had pressed his forehead to hers and breathed, I know.
True fairy tales often had unhappy endings, but Nick had never wanted to live in a fairy tale at all.
There were fourteen keys, he thought with a sort of growing fever.
Driven and focused: that was always what his superiors wrote on his evaluations. An inescapable character flaw.
Juliette had never believed but Nick had faith. It was Marie's legacy to him, and so he walked through Monroe's house, thinking This is true and I'm not crazy and All of this is real. The floorboards, the wallpaper, the end tables. He could reach out and touch them, and he could smell Monroe's old clothes from his laundry hamper, clothes that had covered the skin of a blutbad. Real, real, real, and true.
The Bauerschwein were real.
The Mellifers were real.
The Ziegevolk were real.
If Juliette came into Monroe's house, it wouldn't stop being real.
Monroe, he thought, Monroe is real. And that made him laugh until his chest hurt with it, because of course Monroe was real, Monroe was the realest thing there was. Monroe had been real from the first moment Nick had tackled him, listening to the sound of breaking glass — Nick had had bruises and cuts from that day, and all the days after. Juliette had thought he was involved in some sort of fighting ring, and that was real too, just not the ways she expected.
The fourteenth key was the smallest key, but its weight rested like a clockwork gear on his palm. It was made of metal, but so pale that it seemed nearly translucent, and Nick thought, He wants me to find it, or he wouldn't have given it to me.
You could have a mid-life crisis when you were forty-five. You could have a mid-life crisis when you were thirty-nine. You could have one, as it turned out, when you were freshly thirty and you were holding a key in a wolf's house, wondering where it led, where any of this was going to go.
Monroe called him again on Thursday.
"You haven't lost any of them, right?" he said. "You haven't lost any of my keys? Don't take them off the chain, you'll never get them back on again."
Nick looked at the single key between his fingers. "I haven't lost any," he said. "I'm terrified of finding your porn collection though."
Monroe's laughter was muffled over the phone — a bad connection. "I wish porn was the worst of the skeletons in my closet."
"You have big closets," Nick said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Nick said. "So how's Memphis?"
"No, really, stop being so fucking cryptic," Monroe said. His voice was low and scratchy, and Nick found himself shifting on the couch. "I have big closets. Is this code? Are you trying to say I'm queer?"
"You haven't figured it out yet?" Monroe said. "What a real brilliant detective you are."
Nick thought, Before Juliette, before being a Grimm, and the thought was cut off midway by Monroe's sarcastic laughter, and the faint memory of beard burn. He flushed, and was glad that no one was here to see him, no one except the trees in the windows and the key in his hand. He stuffed it back into his pocket.
There was another story. He'd seen pieces of it before, fragments.
A man went away and gave his wife a key. Don't open the last door, he said. But she opened it, because she was like Nick, human, and also the man was a raging asshole who knew she was human, and when it came down to it, when it mattered, her brothers rode in to save her.
No one was going to ride in to save Nick, but that was fine. Nick was learning — Nick could save himself.
He found the box in the second-last place he looked, because the last place he looked was in the space behind the box, which seemed saturnine dark and wintry, if shadows could have texture. He pulled the box from the top of the attic shelf, and he carried it to the kitchen table. It was the size of a woman's hatbox, crafted out of plain wood, no adornment but with a keyhole that swallowed the fourteenth key like it was hungry for it.
Nick opened the box.
It was a clock, a clock with a curved base and a slender swan neck. It seemed to be made out of a light but durable wood. Nick wasn't sure, being neither a clockmaker or a carpenter. There were very few lines, mostly just rounded edges, save for the four hands of the clock which were straight and black like metal bones, pointing to the series of numerals positioned around the clock face, which didn't go from one to twelve, but went: I, VI, sun symbol, moon symbol, IV, infinity symbol.
"What is this?" Nick asked, and that was the best part, wasn't it? He didn't know what he'd been expecting. To find the box, to find the secret of the fourteenth key, to know what the fuck Monroe was trying to say — and what time was it? He had no clue.
Hour of the sun, minute of the moon, something.
A clockmaker hiding a clock.
What was I looking for, the twelve dancing princesses to come out and give me a peep show? Nick thought, and he put the clock back in the box, and the box back on the shelf.
Monroe came back, tired, grouchy, slouching. He threw his jacket onto the floor and said, "Oh man, you've rearranged my teacups. Why did you rearrange my teacups?"
"You didn't even pay me to housesit," Nick said. "Cheap ass."
"You wanted cash, you should have found another blutbad's ass to haunt," Monroe said. "I can give you references even. One Grimm of so-so average intelligence, likes to sit around waiting for my return like a sketchy throw pillow."
Nick shrugged. "You gave me the keys."
He watched Monroe go quiet. "Yeah," Monroe said, and his glance towards Nick was vorpal quick, too fast to really catch. Then he headed immediately for the kitchen to cluck over his coffee machine and to complain about the way Nick had folded his towels, and — god forbid, the way Nick had accidentally rearranged his shelf of beloved Harlequin novels so that the Scottish warrior stories came before the books with the beautiful amnesiac heroines. Monroe had developed his shelf order from reviews on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. It was sacred to him. He was the website's biggest fan despite being, as Nick pointed out, technically not a bitch, or particularly smart.
He could hear Monroe in the kitchen, cracking his knuckles one by one.
"Oh baby," Monroe said. "Oh baby."
"This is getting really disturbing," Nick said. "What are you doing in there?"
"I'm like Dorothy," Monroe said. "I crush witches and I think there's no place like home, there's no place like home. Never thought I'd get so attached to this house, but those days away sucked. Plus the hotel towels were scratchy."
"On your delicate soft skin?" Nick asked, walking over to the kitchen and finding Monroe running his fingers along his cutting board.
"You don't even know," Monroe said, and grinned.
Nick fished the ring of keys out of his jacket. "Here," he said, handing them over. Monroe took the keys and weighed them against his palms. They rattled when Nick handled them, but when Monroe touched them, they made no sound at all.
"No problems?" Monroe asked. "Because the shed door jams, and sometimes you've got to give it a good whack. Or two. Or three. Once I had to use a chainsaw."
"The shed door was fine," Nick said, and his eyes slid towards the fourteenth key, the smallest. He jerked them back up to Monroe's face when he realized what he was doing, and Monroe narrowed his gaze.
"Did something happen?"
"No," Nick said.
"You can tell me," Monroe said. "I promise I won't go all 666-his-name-was-the-beast on you. My new yoga teacher, she is bendy and good."
"Everything's fine," Nick said shortly. "Remember to take out your garbage today."
"Okay, sure, Mr. Public Service Man," Monroe said. "Didn't know you cared so much about my trash."
"I've got to go to work," Nick said.
There were smudged circles underneath Monroe's eyes since he returned from his trip. Nick saw them more clearly in the afternoon, when he swung by Monroe's house to get advice on a new homicide. He realized he had no idea what sort of commission Monroe had worked on. There were smudged circles, and Monroe had whiskers, and there was a hunch to his shoulders as he worked on his clocks that made him seem more animal than man.
He's a wolf, Nick thought, stupidly, but every now and then it would hit him all over again, like the first time, the strangeness of his new life.
"Pass me that screwdriver, will you?" Monroe asked.
There was a sleepless husk in his voice, and Nick shivered in the cold afternoon light.
He wanted to ask, but his tongue was made of nettles. It was like with Juliette all over again, but where the danger with Juliette had been that she didn't know and didn't believe, Monroe did know and did believe — he just might not tell. What did it matter anyway? Nick didn't have an exclusive right to know everything about him. He simply wanted to, he realized with a jolt that went from his head to his hip. He wanted to know, because it was Monroe, and Monroe had somehow become the latitudes and longitudes of his post-Grimm-revelation life.
Monroe said, Go there, and Nick, like it or not, went.
Monroe said, Use the morningstar, not the machete, and Nick listened.
Monroe said, Once upon a time, and Nick said, And they lived happily ever after, or at least some of them did.
So Nick said it out loud, a week later, because he was never good at secrets. He never wanted to become good at secrets. "I saw your clock," he said, and Monroe stopped mixing chicken bouillon cubes into the soup. "The one that was under lock," Nick supplied helpfully.
"Duh, I know which one you're talking about," Monroe said. He was barefoot, and Nick couldn't stop staring at his feet, at the springy hairs over his crooked toes.
"So get mad at me," Nick said. "I snooped through your stuff while you were gone. It doesn't bother you?"
"Nick," Monroe said, slowly and condescendingly, "I'm a wolf. I used to live in a pack. Other wolves would sniff my crotch as hello. My concept of privacy? Kind of shaky."
Nick let out a breath. "So you wanted me to see."
"Are you kidding me? Intent? It's like you're trying to make me into an evil mastermind," Monroe said, but Nick stared at him, and stared at him, until finally Monroe crossed his arms over his chest and shuffled his bare feet on the stained linoleum. "What?" Monroe finally said, and Nick said it again.
"You wanted me to see."
"And you saw," Monroe said irritably. "You wanted to see what was in my closet, so who's doing the cha-cha-cha here?" Something occurred to him, a realization. He lifted his nose and sniffed the air. Nick froze, and this time it was Monroe's turn to stare. Smells didn't lie, Monroe had told him once. People lied all the time, but only the very best or most magically inclined could change their scents, and Nick wasn't good enough to be either just yet.
"You saw my clock," Monroe said, rolling the words in his mouth like blood.
"I saw your clock, not your dick," Nick retorted, but Monroe took a step towards him, followed by another step. Nick refused to back down, even if this was mostly his fault, him and his obsessive nosiness — within a week of meeting Juliette, he had already hunted down her birthday, her favourite colour, and her guilty pleasure movie. Monroe's birthday was June the twenty-second, his favourite colour was orange, and his guilty pleasure movie was Bring It On, because he liked to high-kick with the cheerleaders.
"What is it?" Nick asked, when Monroe was leaning beside him, their hips nearly interlocking. Monroe pretended to reach for a cup of tea beside Nick, but it was cold tea and had been there for five hours already.
"My dick?" Monroe asked.
"The clock," said Nick.
Monroe shrugged. "Doomsday clock," he said casually. "Not the big brain one that tracks impending nuclear apocalypse. The other kind."
Nick gave him a politely blank stare.
"You mean your little book doesn't mention it?" Monroe asked. "What's it good for then? A doomsday clock counts down a life. It'll tell you when you're going to die."
Nick jerked slightly. "So you know when you're going to die?"
"Maybe," Monroe said. "I don't know if the clock is mine. I mean, technically it's mine because my old teacher gave it to me, the one who taught me how to make clocks. But I don't know if she built it for me. Could be that it tracks someone else's life." His lips parted in a smile. "Could be it tracks yours."
"That's not funny," Nick said, and by now Monroe was so close to him that he could feel the warm puff of his breath.
"I'm laughing," Monroe said, and he was, with an amused edge that tightened Nick's throat. Nick swallowed, hard, and thought about ten different ways he could get Monroe to back off — if any of them would even work against a blutbad. He'd seen Monroe like this before, especially towards perps, but he'd never seen it directed towards him. He'd almost forgotten Monroe was capable of it, the slow advance, the baring of pointed teeth. Scruffy Monroe of the gingham tablecloths who was suddenly all around him and touching his jaw with ragged nails.
Nick used to do this, in college. Before he went to the academy. He used to go dancing with his friends, and there would be guys sometimes who would look at him a little too long — and he used to like it. Still liked it, if he wanted to be completely honest, and Monroe's eyes were slitting to the thin shape of almonds as he watched him.
Marie used to say: Do everything once, try every taste to see if you like it.
He didn't think. Or waste time in grabbing Monroe by the shoulders and kissing his mouth, smashing their lips together so that it was almost painful. Was painful until Monroe grasped his shoulders and slid the kiss into something slower but no less electric, his stubble scraping Nick's chin.
"You want this, Grimm?" Monroe asked.
Nick wasn't going to say it, so Monroe bit his ear. Nick shivered and then he backed up, but backing up meant smacking right into the kitchen counter, and Monroe followed him, easily, with a loping stride born from years of hunting. He'd given it up, but that was only practice, not knowledge, and Nick's nerves began to burn with the intensity of Monroe's gaze.
So he did the only thing he could. He kissed Monroe again, sliding their tongues together, grabbing the back of Monroe's neck and pulling him in, dare and challenge and a promise — yeah, I can do this, I can live in this wild new world, I can run with the wolves. In his delinquent days, Nick once picked the locks on his high school chemistry lab and nearly blew it up — it was that same feeling of invincibility, of sheer-edged terror.
Monroe was growling in his throat, and he was pushing Nick roughly against the counter now, their hips jostling together. He could feel Monroe's cock through his jeans, and Nick groaned, because this too was a memory — college, some frat boy, sucking Nick off on vinyl leather booths until Nick threw his head back and came. "You want this, Grimm?" Monroe said again, darker this time, and Nick saw how badly he wanted an answer.
So Nick was contrary and said nothing. Monroe's eyes went wide and sharp, and then he was pushing Nick to the floor, wrestling him there with blutbad strength. Nick went down hard, and he tried to arch up, but Monroe was all over him, hands and fingers and that goddamn beard burn, kissing Nick's throat before he moved down to his shirt.
He ripped Nick's shirt off with his teeth, and that shouldn't be so hot, because hey, that was a nice shirt.
He said so out loud.
"Shut up," Monroe said. He grabbed Nick's right wrist and pinned it above his head on the tile. The floor was cold against Nick's back, but Monroe grabbed his leg and hoisted it over his hip, holding him there. Then Monroe grabbed Nick's left wrist and pinned it up there too, before switching his two-hands grip to one hand, so that he was holding both of Nick's wrists down with five fingers and plenty of force.
Jesus, Nick thought, and he shuddered when Monroe worked his free hand to grapple with Nick's jeans, unzipping the fly and then struggling to get the rest of it off. Nick tried to make it difficult for him because Monroe had to work for it, that was the only way this was going to pan out — but then Monroe kissed Nick again, all wet slide and teasing pinpricks of teeth, and that was blood in Nick's mouth now. Nick moaned, deep and obscene. When he heard himself he was embarrassed. He thought about open windows and curious neighbours. Then he didn't think much of anything at all, because his hips had somehow moved upwards without his permission, and his jeans were pooled around his thighs, and Monroe was palming him steadily.
It wasn't finesse. It wasn't seduction. Nick didn't care what the fuck it wasn't, because what it was was amazingly good, with Monroe's liquid eyes fixed on him, those hunter's eyes, those feral eyes — and Nick could see Monroe's face shift at the edges, his bones growing sharper and his ears more furred. Nick moaned and tried to bury his face into the side of his outstretched arm, but Monroe stopped him.
"Look at me," Monroe growled, and Nick did. He looked, and he looked, and Monroe's hands were clever clockmaker hands, working him with a deftness that Nick hadn't expected — until now, staring up blindly into Monroe's face, and Monroe had an expression of — what the fuck was that even, Nick didn't know.
Nick groaned, low and needy, and after a while he didn't care about shame, he didn't care about pride. He bucked into Monroe's big palm, rubbing himself against him, and he could feel the burn start at the base of his spine before traveling upwards. He tensed, ready, but Monroe took his hand away.
"What are you—"
"You want it," Monroe said, sounding slightly awed.
"The fuck?" Nick said. "What do you think this is, me watching the Shopping Channel? Of course I want it."
"You want me to fuck you," Monroe said, and Nick went quiet at that. Monroe's eyes were completely dark now. They were winter solstice eyes. "I can smell it, Nick. Oh god, I can smell it all over you. You've done this before."
"I—" But what was there to hide anymore? "Yeah," Nick said. "I've done it before."
"You'll let me do it to you," Monroe said.
"Yeah," Nick said, and he closed his eyes and waited. For the pain, for the danger, for the fourteen keys and the last box he couldn't open until the very end. But Monroe's hands, when he spread Nick's legs apart and removed the remainder of his jeans, were careful. Not gentle, not kind — none of that. But they were slow, and they were deliberate, and they squeezed Nick until Nick was back to making those sounds again, losing his mind slowly on the kitchen floor.
Monroe left him for a minute, but then he returned, and there was oil, lube, something slick being probed between Nick's legs. Nick's first instinct was to spread his legs wider; his second instinct was to listen to the first. His forehead burned even more feverishly now, and those sounds in the air — they weren't just him anymore. Monroe was groaning too, husky, and his fingers smeared wetly on Nick's hips when he gripped them. He lifted his head again and sniffed the air, and whatever he found there must have been what he wanted, because he smiled then, mine, and pushed inside.
"God," Nick said. Monroe pushed out and then pushed back in, his fat cock spearing Nick open, and Nick babbled some more. "God, you're like — I didn't even know —"
"Shhhh," Monroe said, and set out to accomplish just that, moving his hips up and down and in and out, fucking Nick with a tightly controlled rhythm that made Nick writhe on the cold tiles, his ass slamming back down every time Monroe lifted him him. Fuck, Monroe was strong. Fuck, his thighs were hairy. Fuck, Nick was bouncing on Monroe's thighs, Monroe practically crowding him across the floor and against the kitchen cupboards, pushing his shoulders against the worn wood while he fucked Nick out of his mind.
I didn't know this would happen, Nick thought, half a cry torn out of his throat as Monroe shoved back in, rattling the dishware.
Then Monroe twisted around and found an even better angle, and Nick saw static at the borders of his vision.
(I wanted this).
Falling deeper into the rhythm, he fucked Monroe back shamelessly. He knew he was sucking in air, one heady breath after another; that he was clutching Monroe's shoulders for balance; that his nails were raking up and down Monroe's back. Nick's vision cleared for a brief moment, and he saw the red marks there, angry scarlet against Monroe's skin, and that only made him swell harder, tightening around Monroe as Monroe corkscrewed in, sweat dripping down his nose and onto Nick's tongue.
"Too distracting for your own good," Monroe was chanting as he fucked him. "Had to come in — had to come and ruin my life — had to fuck up my peace — your mouth."
The blood throbbed through Nick when he came, and there was a sharp sweet scent in the air, like desire — his desire. He collapsed bonelessly, and Monroe caught him, jerking his hips a few more times while Nick moaned against his hair. Monroe held him tightly, bearing the scratches that Nick made on his arms, and then he came with a shout, came so hard that some of it spilled outward and dripped down Nick's thighs.
When he finally had the energy to, Nick turned and stared at Monroe, wordless.
"Mating season?" Monroe panted, and Christ, those were some really red cuts all over his back and his shoulders. Nick had scratched him up good. He looked down at his torn nails like they were foreign planets.
"I don't need excuses," he said quietly.
"I opened the last stronghold," he said. "I can do anything."
"You're such an idiot, an absolute idiot," Monroe said, and his teeth were sharp and his eyes were bright. It was as if he couldn't take them off Nick. "It wasn't locked."
So, this became a story too.
There was a clock on Monroe's mantel. It counted down the hours until a death, and they never did figure out whose.
There were fourteen keys, and Nick carried them all in a silver chain off his belt.
There was a wolf, and there was a man.
There was, eventually, an ending. (And this is the part they don't tell you at the academy, at college, or in any tome of ancestral witchcraft and bestial lore: it was a good one).