Monroe was in the middle of fixing lunch when there was a knock on the door. He finished neatly dividing the sandwich before he put down the knife, frowning. It was too early in the day for tommyknockers, that usually happened in the afternoon when school let out and rarely since he’d caught one of the little heathens at it last month, and too late for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they came without fail between nine and eleven am. Also, the unusually long cold spell was keeping everyone off the streets.
Too early for the mail as well. Could be UPS or FedEx but it didn’t smell like his regulars, didn’t smell like anyone he knew. He opened the door.
He’d taken too long; the man on the other side was already a couple feet down the walk, hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. He turned at the sound of the door and Monroe got an impression of messy hair and pale skin, a flash of a smile as he half-jogged back up the stairs.
“Sorry, figured no one was home.”
Monroe squinted at him suspiciously. “You’re not a salesman, are you?”
The man grinned. “Not a salesman. My name is Nick Burkhardt. I’m looking into the disappearance of Robin Howell. I was wondering if I could ask you a couple questions.”
Monroe blinked. “Who?” Name wasn’t ringing a bell.
A small picture was produced. “Robin Howell. Little girl who went missing a couple months ago.”
“Oh yeah, I remember now. It was on the news. Never found her, right?”
The guy looked down briefly. “No. No, they never found her. If you have a moment, I just need to ask a few questions.”
And that was how Monroe found himself sitting in his own living room with a Grimm on his couch. Really it wasn’t his fault he hadn’t realized what the guy was as soon as he’d opened the door, not like he’d ever smelled one before. Genetic memory sometimes took a minute to kick in. He’d looked normal.
Only when Monroe completely by accident wolfed out on the guy—Grimm on his couch!—he didn’t get shot or stabbed or punched. He got a very freaked out Grimm resolutely not looking at him and digging in his pockets for…for…a small bottle of medication.
“Sorry,” the Grimm said tightly, eyes locked on the floor. “Can I use your bathroom?”
Which was how he ended up with a freaked out Grimm having a panic attack in his bathroom. Standing nervously outside the door, Monroe raised a hand to knock for the third time in as many minutes, pulling his hand away before he made contact for the third time in as many minutes. The Grimm was talking, whispering, over and over. “There’s nothing there.” The fear/confusion/distress coming off him was suffocating. “There’s nothing there. It’s not real.”
Geez, this was one messed up guy.
Another minute of pacing, gnawing at his thumbnail, which he hadn’t done in years, and he broke down and tapped on the door with one knuckle, gently, because he kinda figured the Grimm was a hair away from losing it entirely and he so wasn’t going to clean that up. “Uh, you okay in there?”
Two deep breaths and the Grimm said, “Yeah, sorry, I’m fine. Just a minute.” Hoarse and shaky but at least he wasn’t mumbling his sanity mantra anymore.
“Uh huh.” Fine wasn’t the word he would have used but whatever. “Look, I’ll be in the kitchen making sandwiches, just don’t…die in my bathroom.”
There’s a strangled laugh from behind the door.
Away from the bathroom the fear scent wasn’t as overwhelming. Monroe opened a window and stood next to it. Sweet, sweet fresh air. He didn’t invite people into his house. Wasn’t used to smelling strangers in his space at all, much less a Grimm, much less a Grimm who was just…. What was that?
He shut the window when he heard the bathroom door open and the soft shuffle of footsteps. The Grimm paused in the doorway, still twitchy but hiding it behind a weak, embarrassed smile.
Monroe gestured towards the hall. “Go sit. I made you a sandwich.”
The Grimm hesitated, watching him warily. “I should—”
“You should take off your coat and sit and have something to eat.” A little more kindly he said, “It will help.”
Giving up he edged down the hall. Monroe put the second sandwich on a plate and followed. “Sit,” he said again, putting the food down. “You want a beer?”
“Uh, thanks, but I’m not supposed to drink with the medication.”
“Okay. How about iced tea? I know, I know. Not something most people drink in the winter but I was craving it.” He headed back down the hall throwing another, “Sit,” over his shoulder.
When he came back the Grimm had finally taken off his coat and perched in the chair. The embarrassed look was back. “Sorry about freaking out on you. I usually don’t do that in other people’s houses.”
“Yeah, well, other people probably don’t go blutbad on you. Or maybe they do, I don’t know. I’ve never met a Grimm before. Heard about you sure. The stories my parents used to tell, and, wow, let me tell you, not something you should pass on to the kids right before bed time. I had to sleep with a nightlight until I was thirteen.”
The Grimm was staring at him like he’d gone wolf again. He surreptitiously checked his teeth with his tongue just in case.
“What was that word you used? Blut….”
“Blutbad. You know the big, bad wolf.”
As it turned out, no, he didn’t know.
Monroe sat back in his chair. “You’ve never heard of blutbad? Really? I’m think I’m kind of hurt by that. Haven’t you been reading the books?”
The Grimm shook his head slowly, frustrated, bewildered, maybe a little stoned from whatever meds he was on, hell, Monroe wasn’t judging. “What books?”
“What books? You seriously don’t know.” Okay time to rethink this. “Seriously?”
“You,” the Grimm started tentatively, “you think this is real?”
“Of course it’s real. I’m real. Do you want to see it again?” He meant it as a threat because really blutbaden weren’t pretty to humans, but the Grimm nodded eagerly. “Well, too bad. I’m not a trained monkey.”
Oh, for the love of…. “Alright. Once. This isn’t easy, you know.” It was far too easy. A deep breath of the lingering unease and fear coming from the pretty, pretty man at his table and the wolf was ready to come out and play. The hard part was going to be putting it away again. He watched the Grimm warily. “You aren’t going to freak out again are you? I don’t think my bathroom can handle another nervous breakdown today.”
Monroe would have believed that if not for the sharp spike of anxiety and his heart rate picking up sharply. He just made it so, so easy.
Eyes went wide, pupils dilated, heartbeat was like one of those wind-up drummer-monkey toys that had been twisted too far, but he didn’t freak out, didn’t flinch. He stared; lower lip caught between white teeth, fingers digging into his jeans hard enough the nails scraped on the rough fabric.
“Whaaat?” Monroe asked warily.
One hand stretched out. “Can I touch?” He didn’t wait for yes or no.
Okay this—this —was officially weird. The Grimm had long, elegant fingers that were shaking just a little as they slowly, carefully moved over Monroe’s face, found the tips of his ears, touched the coarse sideburns.
“You’re real,” the Grimm whispered. The scents coming off him were too much, too complicated. Hope, confusion, such utter relief it bordered on pain.
Monroe pulled back, standing, letting the suddenly gentled wolf fall away. “One hundred percent.”
“I don’t understand. Why can I see you,” the Grimm gestured, “like that? Can other people see it?”
“Most people can’t,” Monroe said. “Did someone in your family die recently?”
God those eyes were going to kill him. “I don’t have any family. My parents died a long time ago.”
Monroe rested both hands on the table, trying not to tower over him. “No grandparents, uncles, aunties?”
“My mom had a sister, but she died before they did. I don’t know much about my dad’s side of the family.”
“Huh.” Monroe took a sip of his tea. “Eat your sandwich.”
“Uh uh. Don’t talk, eat. Just give me a minute to think about this.”
Lips thinned into a flat line, but the Grimm let it go and paid attention to his food. “Oh my God,” he said around the first mouthful. “This is really good.”
“Well, yeah.” Of course it was good. Nice to be appreciated though.
“No, I mean really good. Is that avocado?”
The fear scent was gone entirely now, which he supposed proved that the guy truly didn’t have a clue. Alone in a blutbad’s home territory, he should be afraid. “Homemade bread, avocado, tofurky, heirloom tomatoes, and Moutarde de Meaux Pommery.”
“Hundred and twenty bucks a jar, but soooo worth it,” Monroe assured him, pleased the man recognized quality.
Gray eyes went wide and he swallowed hard. “A hundred and twenty dollars. A jar?”
“Yes, so don’t waste it.” He sat again and pointedly took a bite of his own sandwich.
The Grimm managed two more bites before, “You called me a Grimm. What does that mean?”
Monroe sighed deeply and took a sip of tea. “Trust me. This explanation is going to take a while. Best done on a full stomach.”
Making an aggravated sound the man went back to devouring his sandwich. When every crumb was gone, the Grimm folded his napkin tidily across his plate, wrapped both hands around his iced tea glass, and sat there. Looking at him.
Monroe sighed again. “I’m assuming from your truly staggering lack of knowledge on the subject that your parents never explained what a Grimm was or what they do?”
“What? Like the Brothers Grimm from the fairy tales.” He shrugged, shifting the glass around in a tight circle between his fingers. “They used to read the stories to me when I was a kid.”
Monroe snorted. “Not the unabridged versions, I’ll bet. The point is it’s all real. The Grimms were real and you, my friend, are one of them.”
“Really?” Sarcastic and bitter. He wasn’t buying a word of it. Oh but he really, really wanted to.
Monroe stood, gathering up the plates and headed back to the kitchen, trailed by the Grimm. This was so far beyond how he had imagined spending his afternoon it wasn’t even in the same zip code. Putting the plates in the sink he leaned on the counter and studied the other man. “You’ve been seeing things, haven’t you? Some really strange shit.”
It was like a light went out, leaving his eyes cold and flat. “Maybe.” The fear was back, partnered with the spicy/bitter scent of suspicion and a touch of panic.
Ignoring all that, because he wasn’t going to spend another twenty minutes locked out of his own bathroom, Monroe asked, “How long?”
Silence for a long, long moment. “A little less than two months,” he admitted grudgingly.
“Wow, so you really are new to this.”
Frustration exploded out of him. “What this?”
Damn, he needed beer for this discussion. Pulling out a cold bottle, he popped the cap and looking into those earnest eyes. “Okay, okay. Understand I’ve never actually met one of you before. I’m only passing on what I’ve heard, but the way I understand it right about the time you started seeing things someone in your bloodline kicked the metaphorical bucket. You may never have met them, or even knew they existed apparently, but when they died you got the family double whammy.”
“What does that mean? What’s wrong with me?”
Did they have a manual for this? A pamphlet. That would be quite helpful right now.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a Grimm, man. A monster hunter.” He was tempted to do the air quotes but figured that might be a little distracting. “Your kind has been killing my kind for hundreds of years. And, you know, vice versa.”
“Your kind? Blutbad.”
“Yep. And other wesen.” Taking a long swallow of beer, Monroe pointed at him with the bottle. “Someone should have told you about this years ago.”
“Yeah,” he agreed bitterly, “they really should have.” He rubbed his forehead, pushing a hand through his hair. “I need to…go...think. I need to—go.”
“Sure.” Monroe followed him to the door.
Pausing on the second step he looked back. “Thank you. For lunch and the other…just, um, thanks.”
The kicker was he actually meant it. A Grimm thanking a blutbad. Ha. Grandma would have had kittens.
Closing the door behind him, Monroe looked around his once more quiet, empty living room. “Well, that was different.”