A rat and a bear walk into a bar…
Roddy wasn’t sure how the joke went but he was fairly certain it ended with the rat getting eaten.
And yet, somehow, here he was, moving into a giant house even bigger than Sarah’s, with not one Jagerbar but two. He stared up at the house from the driveway; it was imposing and intimidating and Roddy considered fleeing back the way he came, running all the way back to the sewers where he belonged.
Frank Rabe clapped him on the shoulder.
“Well, come on. We’ve got your room all set up for you.”
Clutching his one box of belongings, Roddy followed the man up the porch steps, unable to shake the feeling of a man going to his doom. Rabe opened the door, waved him through cheerfully. As Roddy stood awkwardly in the foyer, Rabe called out for his son.
“Barry! Come meet our new guest.”
The kid came out of the kitchen, big and hulking and already as big as daddy. He scowled at his father, who ignored the look, instead gesturing to Roddy.
“Roddy, this is my son Barry. Barry, this is Roddy. I’m sure the two of you will get along great.”
Roddy the rat. Barry the bear. Sometimes Roddy wondered if all creature parents got together at some super secret meeting and made a pact: Let’s name our children after what they are! And then shook hands and went their separate ways.
It would make about as much sense as anything else.
Barry glared at him and then ran up the stairs without another word.
Yeah. This was such a bad idea.
When Frank Rabe had started sniffing around him, Roddy’s first instinct had been to run. His second instinct, to his ever-lasting shame, was to call the Grimm cop and his Blutbad buddy. Imagine his horror when he learned that the Grimm had been the one to send Rabe his way in the first place.
Nick had been so excited, beaming at him while Roddy stared at him in disbelief.
“Frank’s a good guy and he loves music. When I told him all about you, he was interested. I gave him an invitation to your last school concert and you blew him away. Now he wants to sponsor you.”
Monroe had looked apologetic.
“You sent a Jagerbar after me?!” Roddy shrieked, voice going more shrill than he would ever admit to. That seemed to give Nick pause, made the Grimm look over at Monroe as if wondering what he had done wrong.
“Predator/prey, remember Nick? Most of us don’t associate outside of our own kind.”
Nick frowned at Monroe, hair flopping into his face.
“That seems prejudicial.”
“He’s going to eat me.” Roddy told him accusingly, because this was a freaking Jagerbar they were talking about. “I can be as prejudiced as I want.”
“He’s not that kind of Jagerbar! He’s not traditional. Well, his wife is but she’s in prison for helping kidnap those two teenagers. You don’t have to worry about her.”
It must have been fairly obvious that Roddy’s brain was about to implode because Monroe intervened, stepping between the two of them, hands held in that universal, calm down, calm down, position.
“Okay, okay. Nick, next time give Roddy a head’s up before you send a Jagerbar to his school. And Roddy, this is a great opportunity for you. You should take it.”
“No, I shouldn’t!”
And there, right there, Roddy had an inkling that his life was about to be turned upside down because both Grimm and Blutbad both had given him a look. A look that said ‘we know what’s best for you and you’re going to do it and like it’.
They had pestered him for days after, popping up at inopportune times, waxing poetic about Frank Rabe and his money and the many opportunities this would open up. In the end, Roddy had thrown his hands up and agreed, if only to stop Nick’s puppy eyes from following him everywhere he went. Privately, Roddy thought puppy eyes would be more Monroe’s domain, being related to canines and all but what did he know?
The Grimm had unplumbed depths when it came to wheedling someone into something.
So that was how he ended up here, in a bedroom bigger than his father’s entire trailer. His clothes barely filled one drawer on the massive dresser and his various accumulated knick-knacks looked sparse and pathetic spread across the room.
The only thing that looked like it belonged there was his violin. He had placed it reverently on top of the dresser, as careful with it as he was careless with everything else.
He looked around and sighed, avoiding his image in the mirror hung up on the far wall. He might as well get used to it; he’d be here for a while. Definitely for as long as his dad was in jail, working off a drunken bar fight that had been upped to assault when the other guy ended in the hospital. Roddy was just lucky he had already turned eighteen. Any younger and he would have ended up in foster care.
Roddy loved his dad, he really did but sometimes he hated the chip the man had on his shoulders, the same chip he had put on his son’s. Sighing, he stretched out gingerly on the bed, suddenly utterly exhausted. He’d take a nap; maybe things would make more sense when he woke up.
Waking up actually made less sense because as soon as he walked out the door of his bedroom, he found a Jagerbar sulking outside it.
“My dad said I was rude.”
Roddy blinked, one hand still on the doorknob. Maybe he should go back in? Maybe lock the door? Maybe climb out the window and flee into the night?
The bear shuffled his feet.
“I’m supposed to apologize.”
“Okay?” It came out more like a question than Roddy had meant it to. To be honest, very few humans apologized to him, and that was not even knowing his origins; as a Reinigen, it was practically unheard of. Bottom of the food chain and all that.
“Okay.” He said it firmly this time, hoping this was over. The bear shot him a suspicious look.
“That’s it. You said sorry, I accepted. It’s done.”
“You’ll tell my dad I apologized?” The bear drifted closer warily, as if Roddy was the one with all the muscles, fangs and claws. What was with this kid?
“Sure, I’ll let him know.”
Barry stared at him for some of the longest seconds of his life and Roddy made himself meet that gaze head on. Barry had startling blue eyes and for some reason Roddy had thought they’d be brown. Finally, Barry nodded, as if satisfied.
And then he was gone, down the hall and Roddy was left to slump back against his door and wonder if it was too late to leave the country.
In a way, Roddy was actually annoyed that life settled into routine as quickly as it did. It meant he couldn’t complain to Nick and Monroe about how they had ruined his life. If the Jagerbars had tried to kill him that first week, at least he’d of had the distinct pleasure of an ‘I told you so’ before dying dramatically in their arms.
As it was, living here was eerily similar to living at home, just with better food and much nicer furniture. For the most part, Roddy was on his own, left to his own devices. Frank Rabe was a hands-off parental figure, it seemed. As long as Roddy went to school like he was supposed to, the man was satisfied and Barry seemed to stay hidden away in his room.
“Ankle monitor.” Frank had explained that first night. “I got him out of prison time but he’s still being monitored. He can go to school and back and that’s it.”
Frank, it seemed, was a hell of a lawyer. Of course, officially he hadn’t represented his son but everybody knew the lawyers he got were just his mouthpieces. He had gotten all three boys off with what amounted to slaps on the wrists, mostly by pining the whole thing on his wife. In court, he had painted her as a manipulative delusional madwoman, preying on her own son and pulling him into her elaborate fantasies of being a descendant of bear-people.
Roddy had to appreciate the sheer amount of balls the man had to have, to protect his son with what was basically the truth, held out as a lie. It had been on the tip of his tongue to ask how his wife felt about it, but Roddy had a better sense of survival than that. Frank had seemed to know anyway and a shadow passed across his face.
“Diane agreed that we had to do whatever was necessary to protect our son.”
Even doing twenty-five to life. Roddy wondered if his own mother would have loved him so much, if she had lived past childbirth.
Frank often worked long hours and with Barry constantly tucked away in his room like a wounded bear in its den, it often felt like he was completely alone in the giant house. Most nights, Roddy took advantage of the quiet to practice and that was what he was doing now, down in the study that Frank had declared Roddy’s practice room.
He was playing Danse Macabre again, one of his favorite pieces. The rats had loved this one too and he made a note to go visit them by the river. He had let them out of their cages before he left but they would still be around. He’d go visit, play them a song.
He was nearing the end when he happened to sway around and what he saw startled him into making a sour note.
Barry stood in the door way, a flush high across his cheekbones, mouth agape. Roddy stopped playing completely, dropped his violin from his chin and glared at Barry.
“What?” He asked, voice a little sharper than intended. He hated being interrupted. Barry seemed to close his mouth with some trouble, shifted nervously on the balls of his feet.
“Uh, that was.. uh..” Barry licked his lips and when Roddy arched a brow at him, abruptly scowled.
“Music is dumb!” And then Barry ran from the room. Roddy watched him go in bafflement.
And Reinigan were supposed to be the bottom of the food chain. Roddy shook his head, placing his violin back under his chin and resumed playing.
After that, Barry came out of his room more often, took to hovering around where ever Roddy was in the house. Roddy decided it was in his best interest to ignore it. Why prod a possibly disturbed bear? He simply went about his business as calmly as possible and if he kept his cellphone dialed at 9-1-1 with his finger on the call button, well that was nobody’s business but his own.
It was when they were eating dinner together, room utterly silent except for the sound of their chewing that Barry blurted out,
“Music isn’t dumb.”
Roddy carefully twisted the pasta onto his fork. Take-out, courtesy of Frank’s credit card. The man had called earlier saying he’d be working late, yet again, and that the delivery boy was on his way.
“I know that.”
Barry made a sound of frustration.
“No, no. I mean, about what I said that day. Music isn’t dumb. I just- you play really good. Like on the radio good.”
Roddy finally looked up from his plate to find Barry starring at him beseechingly. Dear god, he did puppy eyes better than Nick.
“Thanks, I guess.” His voice sounded hesitant to his own ears but Barry just beamed at him.
“Next time, can I listen to you play? I won’t make any noise, I promise.”
Surprised, Roddy nodded without thinking but when Barry just grinned at him like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, he couldn’t find it in himself to regret it.
And so that was how Roddy found himself playing for a Jagerbar, who was just as rapt as his rats used to be, gazing at Roddy almost adoringly as he played. After the first few times, Roddy kept his eyes closed as much as possible because something about that look unsettled him, made him feel strange and overly warm.
It went on like that for days, Roddy playing and Barry listening and slowly the two of them began to talk. First about music and school and it spiraled slowly out from there. Barry actually seemed to look up to him and that was a first for Roddy, someone actually truly interested in what he had to say.
For all they were the same age, Barry seemed just that little bit younger. Maybe bears matured at a slower rate, Roddy mused. Then again, maybe Barry’s mother was at fault. From what little Barry talked about her, it was clear she had run Barry’s life as if he had still been a small child.
Barry’s promise to stay quiet lasted for a few weeks and then, as they got to know each other better, he began to pester Roddy. He would stay quiet and listen to Roddy practice, could do so for hours but then he’d begin to fidget, would want to talk, to interact. It took a while for Roddy to understand; Barry wasn’t solitary by nature, not like himself. Barry liked to talk, liked to play.
His two friends, Roddy remembered. Frank said they’d been attached to the hip before it had all went down. Frank had seemed pleased that Barry couldn’t see them anymore, said something about how bears in a group could be as bad as wolves in a pack. But Barry missed them, that much was obvious.
Barry was lonely.
So was Roddy, when he bothered to admit it. Even with Frank Rabe as his patron, the other kids at school didn’t treat him any better. Sure, the teachers fell over themselves for him and no student was dumb enough to mess with him after what happened to Carter, Trey and Martin, but still. They weren’t his friends and never would be. In all honesty, he didn’t want to be their friend, the way they looked down on him just because he hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. They were all assholes as far as he was concerned.
And Sarah was long gone, shipped off to another school across the country.
Barry, though. Roddy liked Barry. Not once, even in the beginning when they were circling each other warily, did Barry make a crack about Roddy’s father or his lack of money. In fact, Barry didn’t seem to think about it all, like it was a non-issue.
Barry talked to him like an equal, actually deferred to him quite a bit, doing it so naturally and easily that it had taken Roddy a few weeks to realize that not only had he been telling a Jagerbar what to do, the Jagerbar had been doing it. They weren’t big things, just little things, Barry following his lead cheerfully. Barry needed a leader in his life and for some unknown reason, he had picked Roddy.
Roddy was honored, flattered and if he felt anything else for the way Barry’s pretty blue eyes brightened when they saw him, well, he didn’t, plain and simple.
Things might have gone like that indefinitely if Barry hadn’t been being a brat to his father. Frank had actually come home on time, a rare occassion in and of its self. He had also gone grocery shopping and was telling Barry to fetch the bags from the car. Barry was refusing because he and his father never had the easiest of relationships.
“Barry, I’m tired, it’s been a long day.” Frank was saying as Roddy came down the stairs. “Just grab the groceries from the car.”
“I don’t see-”
“Barry.” Roddy spoke without thinking, “Go get the groceries from the car, will you?”
Barry was out the door in a heartbeat, actually whistling on his way out. Frank stood in the middle of the foyer, face unreadable. Roddy’s heart started pounding in his chest. Frank headed straight for him, going up the stairs to the seventh step where Roddy had stopped. He stopped there too, one hand coming towards him and Roddy closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see his own death.
Frank placed one giant hand on Roddy’s shoulder.
“You’re good for him. Take care of him.”
The man squeezed his shoulder as Roddy’s eyes popped open and then went up past him, saying he was going to shower before dinner. Barry came back in, grocery bags stacked precariously in his arms.
“I got them all.” He boasted, like he was looking for a pat on the head. Roddy managed a weak smile and went down to help put the food away.
In retrospect, it was a sad testament to his life that he went to a Blutbad for advice. Monroe was sitting on the couch, beer cradled in his hand. He had refused to give Roddy one and Roddy had been complaining that he’d done far harder stuff than beer at raves when one look at the thunderous expression on Monroe’s face shut him up.
Anyway, the whole story had come tumbling out of his mouth, about Barry and their unexpected friendship and ending with Frank’s totally inexplicable declaration. Roddy just had a feeling that he was missing something.
And now Monroe was boggling at him.
“What?” He demanded peevishly, trying to decide if describing Barry’s eyes like ‘diamonds in the ocean’ may not have been completely normal. In his defense, that was exactly what they looked like.
Monroe shook his head.
“No, nothing. Just wow. Wow.” He took a long drink from his beer then contemplated the label for a few long moments.
“Have you tried telling him?”
“Who?” Roddy asked, blankly. “Frank?”
“What would I tell Barry?” He demanded, bewildered. Now, he had known from Monroe’s first speech way back when they first met that the man was shit with motivational speaking but he at least expected him to make some sort of sense.
Monroe made a vaguely obscene hand gesture that Roddy didn’t know how to translate.
“You know. Tell him.”
“Tell him what?” Roddy enunciated, frustrated. Monroe gave off a belabored sigh, as if Roddy was the one being obtuse.
“You know what? Never mind. Just do what your feelings tell you to do, okay? And safe! Be safe! As a matter of fact..”
Here, Monroe stood, going over to a side table to rummage through one of the drawers. Then he paused, head tilted up, nose flaring as he breathed deep. He spun to where Roddy sat, completely befuddled.
“You know what? You should go. Follow your heart, listen to the music within…”
He caught Roddy by the arm, pulled him the couch and propelled him towards the door while Roddy squawked indignantly. Monroe opened the door and shoved him out on the steps, taking one brief second to cram something into his hands.
“Remember, safe, sane and consensual!”
Roddy looked down at his hands. Condoms. A bunch of condoms. Roddy hated his life and everyone in it. And why the hell did Monroe keep condoms in his living side table? The question answered itself as Nick came jogging up the path and no wonder Monroe was so eager to get him to leave.
A thought occurred to Roddy. Oh, gross. He sat on that couch! He was going to burn these jeans as soon as he got home. He gave Nick a dark look at the other man’s cheerful hello, brushing past him without saying a word.
“What’s his problem?” He heard Nick ask behind him and when Monroe answered ‘hormones’, Roddy swore that next chance he got, he was sending all the rats in Portland to nest in Monroe’s house. All of them.
One late sunday afternoon, three days after that disastrous “pep talk” by Monroe, Roddy was fiddling with his violin, looking over his music. Another concert was coming up and he wanted to make sure he had the music down pat.
“Are you practicing?”
Roddy stopped, gave Barry a look from where the other teen hovered in the doorway.
“No, I’m just holding my violin like this for the fun of it.”
At Barry’s blank stare, Roddy fought the urge to smile. Barry could be a bit of a dim bulb and Roddy was man enough to admit he found it a little adorable.
“Yes, Barry. I’m practicing.”
“Again? Why? You’re good already. I don’t get why you practice so much.”
Sighing, Roddy started to put away his violin; it was obvious Barry wasn’t going to leave him alone to practice. He didn’t mind it as much as he should.
“Come on.” He told him, “I’m hungry. Lets go to the kitchen.”
Barry followed him obediently and that was still a little strange. Barry might have gotten his father’s height and bulk, but he certainly didn’t get his commanding presence. Barry was like a puppy when he should have been a bear.
Barry took a seat at the counter, watching as Roddy went to the fridge and began pulling out the makings of a sandwich.
“Don’t you have friends you could bother?”
“I’m not allowed to see them.” Barry said it sullenly, tracing vague shapes with his fingers on the counter’s smooth surface, smudging the shine.
“That makes sense.” Roddy said dryly, “The three of you did kidnap and try to eat three people.”
“We weren’t going to eat them!” He whined. “We were just going to disembowel them.”
Like that was any better. Barry seemed to realize that it wasn’t the argument winning statement he thought it was because he went on.
“You were going to get your rats to eat those guys!”
“Was not.” Roddy said easily, spreading mayo on his bread. “Was just going to scare them. You want a sandwich, too?”
Barry nodded and fiddled some more but waited silently until Roddy had finished making both their sandwiches.
They ate in companionable silence and when they were done, drifted towards the family room by mutual agreement. They were sitting on the couch, squabbling easily about what to watch when suddenly Barry kissed him, just crushed his mouth clumsily to his. It wasn’t a great kiss, wasn’t even a good kiss and Roddy felt like he should have been surprised but he wasn’t. It was like they had been building towards this the entire time. Just working slowly and steadily with no other destination but this.
He put his hand on the back of Barry’s head, adjusted him so they could kiss properly. In this, like in everything else, Barry handed over the reins easily, almost eagerly, mouth opening under Roddy’s coaxing. He was sweet, of course he was sweet and amazingly docile for all his size and bulk. Needing someone to lead him, Roddy thought, a little dazed and pulled back.
Barry was looking at him like he was the most amazing thing in the world, that adoring gaze from when he practiced times one hundred. It made Roddy’s throat close up because nobody had ever looked at him like that, not even Sarah back in the beginning.
And maybe Roddy wasn’t the best for this, maybe Roddy had little to no experience with someone like Barry, maybe Roddy had never taken care of anyone but himself all his life. But with Barry warm and pliant in his arms, gazing at him with absolute trust, damned if he wasn’t going to try.
Two weeks later, Roddy was fidgeting in the back of the concert hall, waiting to go on stage. His blood was pumping, he felt jittery, always did before a show. The backstage was a riot of movement, stage people running about, musicians tuning their instruments. Roddy already had his violin and bow in hand and was now just counting the minutes until it was time to go on.
He slipped away from the chaos, heading for the heavy stage curtain, twitching it the side to peer out.
Barry spotted him almost immediately and brightened, waving enthusiastically at him. Roddy gave a quick wave in return and ducked back behind the curtain. Frank had been sitting next to Barry and next to him were Nick and Monroe, squabbling over the program. Roddy smiled to himself.
A Grimm, a wolf, a rat and two bears walk into a bar…
Hell, Roddy had no idea how that joke went but he was looking forward to finding out.