Chapter 1: Train Stations and Tea Leaves
As he hesitated at the door, Monroe took a quick survey of the room. He wondered for probably the thousandth time if he had misunderstood the advertisement. Perhaps it was some kind of prank or something meant for those who liked to play at being werewolves. He’d heard of similar groups for vampires, after all. Besides, it had seemed almost too serendipitous to find a support group for those who occasionally had trouble controlling their wolfish urges run by a Professor R. J. Lupin.
Even the professor’s name seemed too obvious, at least for someone with a basic knowledge of etymology. Though, Monroe supposed, with an internal sigh, not everyone had that.
It seemed that there were two younger men, both in their late twenties, as well as a man in his late forties chatting amiably with one another. If it weren’t for the familiar and soothing rumbling of the trains rattling along the rails above, he would have thought he had accidentally stumbled into a classroom after hours, rather than a meeting room beneath a train station.
“Come on in! We don’t bite,” the older man with a British accent said as he cast his eyes to where Monroe was standing. “When we can help it.”
“Um, I think, I might have the wrong room,” Monroe said awkwardly glancing between the hallway and the fold out chairs the other men were occupying. Actually, from what the man, who Monroe now assumed to be Professor Lupin, had said, he was positive he had the right one. Unfortunately, Monroe wasn’t sure whether he was more nervous about going through the motions of normal social protocol or figuring out whether this was truly a meeting of wesen.
“Hmm. Well, come in anyway and we’ll sort you out,” The man said affably. Monroe studied him as he walked in the door. His shabby appearance suggested that he wasn’t entirely sure how to take care of himself, but the smile he gave Monroe, despite the not quite so subtle once over, was completely genuine.
“Now, where were you looking to go?” Professor Lupin asked as he walked to meet Monroe part way across the room.
“Here,” Monroe said as he pulled out his crumpled blue flier out the pocket of his jeans and pointed to the address listed at the bottom.
“I think you’ll find that this is the place. Take a seat,” Professor Lupin said, continuing to grin at Monroe. “It’s nice to have a new face, every now and again.”
“You shouldn’t say that! What if all the humans thought that too?!” One of the young men shouted, sounded unusually affronted. Like Professor Lupin, he also had a British accent, but although his clothing was not high quality by any means, it was in much better condition than anything that Professor Lupin was wearing. He was both taller and considerably paler than the other young man he was sitting across from. “There’d be werewolves running amuck left and right. And would any of them be thankful for it? Would they?”
“George, I hardly meant I wanted everyone to be turned. No need to get worked up,” Professor Lupin said.
“Well, that’s good,” George said, looking a little embarrassed as he turned back to the other young man.
“Now, I’m Professor Remus Lupin, though I’m not really a professor here. It’s just a meaningless title. And you are?” Professor Lupin asked.
“Monroe. Just Monroe,” Monroe replied, feeling like there should be more to it, but he never used his first name, for reasons best left to the imagination, and he definitely didn’t want to talk about it with complete strangers.
“And how long have you been a werewolf?” Professor Lupin asked as casually as if he were simply asking about the weather.
“I’m not a werewolf... not exactly,” Monroe said, adding the second part as an afterthought. He was starting to think that perhaps he was in the wrong place again.
“Hmm. Can you turn into a wolf?” Professor Lupin prompted.
“Partially, mostly, it kind of depends” Monroe answered truthfully. There was not an exact science to woge. He wasn’t sure why he was telling this to Lupin as he hadn’t ascertained for sure that this wasn’t a crazy group of fantasy enthusiasts. But something about this group felt right, and although it was different than the way other blutbaden smelled, the trace scent of wolf, underneath layers of human, was on each of them.
“Huh. There was a boy who came here a few months ago who could turn entirely into a wolf at will, usually powered by extreme emotions; troubled kid, horrible relationship problems,” Professor Lupin said as he glanced in the distance, then he looked back at Monroe. “Well, I suppose I’ll spend my life learning of new part wolf, part human species. I’ll never think I’m unique again. Then again, I do already have Sirius to thank for that.”
“Sirius?” Monroe asked, looking over at the two boys, assuming that he meant one of them, though he thought he’d heard him call one of them George.
“Oh, no, Sirius is my partner. Sorry, let me introduce you. Monroe, this is George,” Professor Lupin said gesturing to the tall, pale boy. Then, gesturing to the shorter boy, who was wearing a T-Shirt advertising a band called Dingoes Ate My Baby, he added, “And this is, Oz.”
George immediately extended his hand to shake Monroe’s as Oz gave him a faint wave. Monroe had noticed that although Oz and George had looked to be deep in conversation, George was doing almost all of the talking, with Oz nodding here and there.
“The three of us are your more traditional werewolves, though none of us are the same type of werewolf. It seems that we all have our own specialized mythology for what we are,” Professor Lupin explained to Monroe as he took a seat. “And thus, we all have our own methods for keeping the wolf at bay when the moon turns.”
“I’ve, um, never had that problem, exactly,” Monroe said as he twisted his watch around his wrist anxiously. “I didn’t really know that there were actual werewolves, to be honest.”
“Once upon a time, neither did we,” Lupin commented with a wry smile. “Unfortunately, there are always more things than what meets the eye in the magical world, more even than muggles, sorry, humans, can imagine, which reminds me...”
Lupin trailed off and walked out of the room, and from the sound of his fading footsteps, had gone across the hall.
“Once there weren’t vampires, either,” Oz commented, seemingly in an attempt to make sure the meeting stayed on track without its leader.
“Or wizards,” George said with a sideways glance at Lupin. Then he added, “Or ghosts with a strange obsession with making tea. By the way, there’s tea in the corner, compliments of my tea-mad flatmate. She insisted I bring it since she’ll never drink all of it. Can you believe she said that? Of course she’ll never drink all of it. She’ll never drink any of it. She’s a ghost!”
Monroe just nodded in agreement. He’d never run across a ghost to his recollection, and certainly not one that he could describe as “tea-mad.” However, to be polite, he made his way over to the table that was pushed against the far wall and picked up, what he was surprised to find, was a still steaming mug of tea as well as a scone. He wasn’t much for tea, but he was all for scones.
He started chewing on the scone as George and Oz continued listing and commenting on what seemed to be an endless list of creatures that they had once thought didn’t exist. Monroe had heard of, though never seen, many of the creatures they were listing. But some of others made him think that he now had an inkling of just how overwhelmed Nick had felt at finding tome after tome of completely unknown Wesen lore. But, he noticed, feeling strangely disappointed, they didn’t mention any Wesen or Grimms. Well, really, he was relieved that Grimms hadn’t been brought up because he wasn’t sure what Nick would be to these non-Wesen. And if they considered Nick a threat, well, that was just about the last thing he and Nick needed.
Lupin walked back in the door, carrying a small stack of books under his arm, and added a few more obscure creatures to Oz and George’s ever-growing list including grindylows and boggarts before closing it and swishing what appeared to be a well polished stick of wood around it. He muttered something incomprehensible under his breath, then turned back to the others, “This meeting is supposed to be anonymous after all.”
“Wait, that isn’t, um, a wand?” Monroe asked before he could stop himself.
“Yes,” Lupin said simply as Monroe gaped at him. He supposed that being in the company of three actual werewolves should have shocked his as much as this, but he had never seen a wand before, and he hadn’t seen any of these men in their wolf forms. It just didn’t seem the same.
“I’m a wizard as well as a werewolf. Useful for making sure none of the muggles hear what goes on at these meetings. But that’s a discussion for another time,” Professor Lupin said. “Today, let’s hear about you. What brought you here?”
“My friend Nick thought it might be a good idea,” Monroe said with a shrug. It hadn’t been so much that Nick thought Monroe needed help with control as that he had been struggling to come up with something to help Monroe cope with the lose of his entire weider blutbaden support system. Monroe had told Nick time and again that he was help enough, but Nick just didn’t understand how he, someone who had never had to deal with animal urges, could possibly be helping Monroe...to cope or to keep control. And somehow Monroe just couldn’t get the words out to explain that as far as he could tell, all he would ever need again, aside from some semblance of routine, was Nick and his company.
Since Nick refused to accept that coming over with a fresh bottle of Bordeaux and giving Monroe a sincere hug truly had been sufficient, he had resorted to scouring the police database and his Grimm books to try to find out if there were other groups out there. Until a few days ago, he had come up empty handed. He had been more animated than usual when he handed Monroe the flier, swearing that an owl had dropped it as he was walking up Monroe’s driveway. And far be it from Monroe to tell Nick he was seeing things, all things considered, and besides, reflecting upon the reputation of his previous mailman, he thought intelligent owls were, perhaps, a marked improvement.
“Well, sounds like you have a good friend,” Professor Lupin said when Monroe didn’t offer any further comment. “Was there something specific that you, or your friend, thought you should talk about with us?”
“Well, um, I had a couple of other blutbaden friends, uh, blutbaden that’s what we call ourselves, who died recently,” Monroe started and found that the words came tumbling out, albeit haphazardly, afterwards. “And they used to, um, help me keep my control in check. I hadn’t really met with them recently, but Nick thought maybe, that, um, I should talk to someone about it. I think he’s wrong, but he’s a good guy, and if he thinks he’s helping me out, then, well, maybe there is something to it. But I can already talk to him.”
“Is Nick blutbaden?” Lupin asked, and Monroe was relieved to find that he looked genuinely curious rather than suspicious.
“No, no he’s not a blutbad. Which is why he doesn’t think he can help,” Monroe explained, putting an emphasis on the singular pronunciation in the hopes that they would all pick up on it. “Which is ridiculous.”
“I think we all have people in our lives who don’t realize how much they help us,” Lupin commented with a faint chuckle. “Sirius doesn’t understand how much his transforming into a dog when I’m a wolf keeps me grounded. It’s not wolfsbane, to be sure, but it helps.”
“Mitchell and Annie have both started keeping me company when I turn,” George added. “Unfortunately, they know exactly how much it helps which means I can’t get rid of either of them. And I don’t want them there. I could hurt them. Well, I could hurt Mitchell! And then where would we be?”
“Annie and Mitchell both know the risks, and we don’t have any evidence that a vampire can be turned into a werewolf. You probably have nothing to worry about,” Lupin commented in an attempt to mollify George.
Monroe was getting the impression that George having small outbursts was fairly commonplace as Oz seemed to be too preoccupied with fixing himself a cup of Annie’s infamous tea to contribute, but after a moment he turned, and held up two of the mugs, and asked, “George, Professor, either of you interested?”
“I’ve had enough tea for a lifetime,” George muttered. “Though there’s sure to be more in the flat when I get home. Mugs everywhere from the kitchen to the living room.”
“Thanks, but no thanks, Oz. Running into Sibyll Trelawney the other day has put me off tea,” Lupin said as he shuffled through the stack of books he had gotten from across the hall. “I’ve just had her tell me one too many times that I’ve got the Grim.”
Monroe’s stomach turned and the color drained from his face as he twisted uncomfortably in his chair. He tried his best to sound puzzled as he asked, “A Grimm?”
“Oh, it’s an omen for death in the study of Divination,” Lupin explained casually.
Monroe let out an audible gasp, despite himself; if these men thought that Nick was an omen for death, well, they probably couldn’t be friends.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, though,” Lupin said, misunderstanding Monroe’s concern. “Sibyll finds omens for death in everyone’s tea leaves.”
“Tea leaves?” Monroe asked, his voice strained as he was now torn between anxiety and utter confusion.
“Yes, tea leaves,” Lupin said, but whatever explanation he was about to offer was cut off by Oz.
“Are you okay? Your eyes are red. And not in the allergy season kind of way,” Oz asked as he looked at Monroe with sincere concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Wait, you can see that?” Monroe asked, genuinely surprised, even though, in retrospect, he shouldn’t have been.
“Yep. It’s not exactly subtle if that’s what you were going for,” Oz said as he continued to look at Monroe.
“Yeah, it’s not. I can see it too,” George said, studying Monroe’s eyes closely, as he leaned further into Monroe’s personal space than Monroe was really comfortable with. “Is that normal for blutbaden?”
“Uh, yeah,” Monroe said as he tried to wriggle away from George. “Just, um, your average blutbad reaction to the color red, a miscellany of things while hunting, or um...” Then he trailed off realizing he was going to end up giving away too much information.
“Subtlety, really not your style. Or involves us, huh?” Oz prompted.
“Well, not you, exactly, more like what just happened,” Monroe replied, casting his gaze downwards, as he returned to twisting his watch.
“Which was?” Oz asked, eyes still fixed on Monroe.
“My emotions, um, got the better of me,” Monroe said, his focus still very determinedly fixed on the patterned tile. “Because I didn’t, well, you know, don’t want any of you to go after...Ni...my... Grimm.” The last part sounded like Monroe couldn’t figure out the best wording, as he was trying not to sound weirdly possessive, and failing spectacularly.
“Your Grim? I’m not sure I follow. It’s rather difficult to go in the pursuit of tea leaves,” Lupin said. “Perhaps you should tell us about your Grim.”
“I think I’d feel better about it if you told me about your Grimm first,” Monroe said.
After Lupin spent a few minutes elaborating on the dog shaped imprint left in one’s tea leaves, Monroe was relieved enough to begin his own explanation, which, somehow turned out to involve everything. Monroe figured, after spending a good half hour in the company of freely admitted werewolves and finding them to be nothing but friendly to him, that they were most likely a harmless bunch. Monroe thought later that it had really been Oz that had tipped the scale, but he didn’t overthink it in the moment.
“Sounds a little Romeo, a little Juliet,” Oz said as Monroe finished telling them about the reapers coming after him and Nick. And then added under his breath, “A little Buffy, a little Angel.”
“What?” Monroe exclaimed, sifting through what he had just said to remember how Shakespeare or Juliette had come into it.
“I should be mortal enemies with my boyfriend too,” George offered, sounding like he was trying to be helpful.
“Wait, you think that Nick and I are dating?” Monroe asked, thinking that he was now correctly piecing together a rather confusing puzzle.
The other three immediately offered up three different versions of “You’re not?” and when Monroe answered that with a negative and a shrug, there was a universal demand of “Why not?”
Monroe stayed quiet for a long time because the answer was too painfully simple. At first it had actually been complicated because of Juliette. Then after Nick and Juliette had broken up, he had figured Nick needed space from relationships for a while. But now he was just afraid that Nick didn’t want to date him. A Grimm and a blutbad just didn’t make sense after all.
“Do you want to?” Lupin asked as he gave Monroe an encouraging look.
“You know, I feel like you already know the answer to that,” Monroe replied as he rested his chin in his hand, looking forlornly at the door. When he had decided to come to what was ostensibly a blutbaden support group, the last thing he had anticipated was spending the majority of it talking about his relationship with Nick. And while everyone seemed friendly enough, all he wanted at this point was for Nick, who had his car because his truck was being repaired, to come get him.
“You should tell him, you know,” George said as he clapped his hand on Monroe’s shoulder. Monroe tensed against the touch as George proceeded to gesture to Oz and Lupin. “I know I’d regret it if I’d never done anything. Though I probably wouldn’t have it weren’t for these two.”
“We did make a wicked one couple matchmaking team,” Oz said as he grinned at Lupin. Then he looked over at George, “A werewolf and a vampire in love. I suppose equally strange things could happen.”
“Indeed,” Lupin said grinning back. “And it looks like we may have some work yet. We can add a Grimm and a... Blutbad to our collective resume.”
As Lupin said blutbad he looked at Monroe for confirmation that he was using the terminology correctly, and when Monroe nodded he continued, “When will you see Nick next?”
“As soon as we’re done here,” Monroe said as he looked up to the window out to the parking lot where he saw Nick climbing out of his car. “That’s him right there.”
Nick happened to look down through the window, and his face lit up as he spotted Monroe and gave a small wave.
“That looks a bit like love,” Oz said sounding oddly wistful.
“It really does,” Lupin agreed.
As the time allotted for the meeting wound to an end, the other three continued to encourage Monroe to do something about his feelings for Nick. And by the time Monroe was approaching the parking lot, Monroe had decided that he would do something right then and there.
He could see the kiss perfectly formed in his head. He would lower Nick down over the hood of his Volkswagen beneath the dim radiance of the street lamp. But when Nick came over and clapped his arm around Monroe’s shoulder as he dangled the keys in front of him teasingly, Monroe lost whatever nerve the other three had built up for him. What if they were wrong? What if Nick didn’t want them to be anything more than what they already were?
As he felt the gaze of the others questioning his lack of romantic ambition, he brushed Nick away from him as he took his keys and gruffly told him to get in. He turned the keys in the ignition and wondered about what would have happened if he had done it. Would he still be taking Nick back to his own house? But the moment was gone.
Chapter 2: Pairings and Picnics
Around a month later, as Monroe was walking out the door at the end of another meeting, Lupin handed him a flier-like invitation inviting him to the second annual retreat that would be held in two weeks, “There won’t be a meeting that week, and I encourage you to bring a friend, one who already knows about us.”
Although Monroe likely would have asked him anyway, he took the twinkle in Lupin’s eye to indicate that he meant Nick. While there had been more thought provoking discussion on other seemingly more relevant topics such as weider lifestyle, Lupin’s ill-advised days of wandering his school grounds fully transformed, Oz’s attempts at learning control through meditation, and George’s traumatizing experience meeting the man who had turned him into a werewolf, many a discussion circled back to whether or not he’d even vaguely attempted to make a move on Nick. Nothing that he said in his defense seemed to help because he had to admit even to himself that he was head over heels for the detective and had been almost since the day they met.
When Monroe told Nick about the retreat, not only did he not seem particularly surprised that a werewolf support group would go on a retreat, he seemed eager to come as, he said, it would provide an extra opportunity for them to practice using the various weapons from his Grimm armory. Monroe wasn’t entirely sure how that would fit into the itinerary, but he supposed bringing the weapons along couldn’t hurt, as long as no one unto got ahold of them.
So it was that he and Nick found themselves pitching tents alongside an arguing couple of wizards.
“Remus, I just don’t see why we can’t use magic to put the tents up. It’s not like they’re muggles, not really,” Sirius lamented to Lupin as he tried unsuccessfully to pull the tent off the ground. “We’re not hiding anything.”
“For the last time, Sirius, it takes away from the experience. And then only the two of us could put the tents up. It wouldn’t be fair to the others,” Lupin explained.
“Somehow, I don’t think they would complain,” Sirius commented dryly.
“Doing it all by hand doesn’t seem to be bothering Nick and Monroe in the least,” Lupin commented as he waved at the tent which Monroe had just finished assembling and had climbed inside to check on the internal stability of. “Look, they already have one of their tents up.”
“To be fair, Monroe did most of that,” Nick offered as he sat back against the green tarp to rest for a moment. “I get the feeling he misses his scout days.”
“Good thing we’re on a camping trip then,” Lupin said cheerfully as Nick nodded and then ducked into the tent on the pretense of helping Monroe, but Monroe suspected it was also to escape the continued bickering.
“How’s it going down here?” He whispered as he rolled across the dirt floor of the tent.
“Seems stable. But I think we can get away with acting like it’s not for a few more minutes,” Monroe whispered back as he pulled Nick up to a sitting position and brushed some of the dirt off of his t-shirt. “And you’re right, I do miss scouting. But we hang out in the woods enough to make up for it.”
“Glad to help. Now sssh,” Nick said as he put his finger to his lips. “Just because I didn’t want to be in the crossfire didn’t mean I didn’t want to listen.”
Nick and Monroe leaned against the back wall of the tent, their shoulders touching, as they listened to what seemed to have become a discussion of the two’s shared godson if Monroe’s memory of Lupin’s stories served.
“Yes, because Harry had such a positive view of camping after his months in the woods?” Sirius continued sarcastically.
“Harry was also fleeing Voldemort. And he also said it was quite scenic when they weren’t in immediate peril,” Lupin replied.
“He also said that Snape’s patronus was a beautiful doe that came to protect them,” Sirius added derisively.
“Now, Sirius, I’m sorry that Harry no longer shares your hatred of Snape with you. But that really has nothing to do with camping,” Lupin said soothingly, moving to Sirius’ side. “Besides, we’re almost done! Here, hold that rod still, and I’ll put it in the socket on the other side, and then I think we’ll be done.”
Aside from a few further directions from Lupin, not much was said for the next few minutes, and Nick and Monroe decided they should probably work on putting up their second tent. However, as they began to pull the flap of the tent back, Sirius began cursing vehemently.
“We’ve got the tent up, haven’t we, Sirius?” Lupin asked. “What’s the matter?”
“Remus, we have the tent up, yes. But we put it up backwards. The tent is facing the wrong way!” Sirius lamented.
“Oh, so it is,” Lupin commented lightly. “Nothing that can’t be fixed with a little extra work.”
“Well, it can be fixed easily enough,” Sirius muttered before whispering something that Monroe didn’t quite catch but sounded a little bit like Latin.
Then, to his and Nick’s utter surprise, the shadow of the tent beside them lifted into the air and began to spin around to face the other direction. Nick leaned further into Monroe’s side to whisper, “Well, that settles that. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll put up the other tents too.”
The dull thud of wood falling on the ground suggested that they weren’t the only ones who had been startled. They peered out of the tent just in time to see that George, Mitchell, and Oz had returned from gathering wood for their fire.
“Uh, thanks for helping,” George shouted at a retreating plaid clad figure, with shoulder length brown hair and broad shoulders.
“Who was that guy?” Oz asked in awe as he watched the man disappear into the woods.
“You didn’t know who that was?” Monroe asked as glanced to the side to see that Sirius and Lupin were now working on the other tents, oblivious to the --muggle, was it?-- in their midst. He pulled himself up out of the tent and turned to Mitchell.
“He was in the woods, collecting firewood too,” Mitchell said. “I assumed for his own campsite.”
“Wait, some strange guy just collected firewood for us?” Nick asked as he climbed through the tent flap as Monroe reached back to help pull him out. “Shouldn’t we find out who he is? Or what he was doing out here?”
Monroe could tell that Nick wasn’t going to let this go easily as he seemed to have switched entirely to concerned detective mode. He placed his hand on Nick’s shoulder as he turned to him, “Nick, I don’t know what he was doing out here, I really don’t. But I can tell you that he isn’t wesen or a werewolf. He smelled completely human. So whatever he was doing, it probably had nothing to do with us.”
Nick nodded, but clearly Nick was not the only one that needed to be reassured about the intentions of their mysterious visitor.
“What if he knows what we’re doing out here!” George exclaimed as he glanced at Mitchell with a look of pure panic. “What if he knows what all of us are?”
“Well, he was human, so I find that unlikely,” Monroe said in an attempt to placate George. “And we’re camping in a campground; it’s not exactly shady.”
Mitchell meanwhile had moved to pick up something off the ground, “George, look at this, he must have dropped it.”
Although Sirius and Lupin were still fussing over the tents, everyone else moved towards Mitchell to look at what turned out to be a rather commonplace object.
“It’s a name badge from the park’s lodge; he must work up there,” Nick said as he took the badge from Mitchell and looked at it carefully. “We’ll just have to keep an eye out for any further appearances of Mr. Craig Owens.”
“If he works for the park and just collected firewood for us, he may just be trying to be helpful,” Lupin said as he made his way to the circle of rocks around the campfire with Sirius following not far behind. “Well, the tents are up. So now we can just enjoy the fire and company.”
“Mitchell, did you bring the marshmallows?” George asked anxiously as he glanced around the campfire as though they might be hiding beneath the rocks.
“They’re right here,” Mitchell said, rolling his eyes, as he pulled forth the ingredients for the s’mores, which Monroe had listed patiently over the phone to George the day before.
“Now, Nick, can you tell us again how to put together a saamore?” Lupin asked. Monroe turned to give Nick a puzzled look and whispered “Again?” As far as Monroe knew, this was the first time Nick had talked to any members of the group for any length of time.
Nick shrugged at Monroe and turned back to Lupin, “They’re called S’Mores. And yeah, I can show you. Can you hand me that box of graham crackers?”
Nick, Monroe, and Oz spent the next several minutes showing the British men how to properly construct a S’More; unfortunately, they all had different ideas about what that entailed.
“Now, you have to toast it to a perfect golden brown,” Monroe said as he watched George dip his marshmallow into the shallow flames. “So, keep it right like that.”
“Monroe, seriously? They’re much better if you just burn them black,” Nick said as he stuck his stick into the heart of the fire and pulled it back out to blow off the flames to reveal a completely blackened marshmallow. Mitchell and Sirius followed suit.
“And the perfect S’More also involves a piece of chocolate above and below the marshmallow,” Oz said with the sound of complete conviction.
“No, it’s got to be two pieces beneath the marshmallow,” Nick countered as Monroe offered that he usually put three pieces above the marshmallow.
“So, as long as you use the graham crackers, the chocolate, and the marshmallows, you can’t go wrong?” Lupin asked with an air of academic interest.
“When it comes right down to it, uh, I guess that is true,” Monroe said, sounding defeated. Oz nodded in agreement.
“Well, they are absolutely delicious! I can’t believe I’ve never had them before!” George proclaimed as he began to eat his fourth one.
“S’mores are certainly something,” Nick said with a slight grin, clearly amused by George’s emotional outbursts. “But I think it’s time we broke out the alcohol.”
“That sounds excellent,” Sirius said.
As Nick went out to the truck where he had evidently left the beer, and the crescent moon and the stars began to emerge, a knot began to twist in Monroe’s stomach as he wondered about the sleeping arrangement. He wanted to sleep with Nick, even though he seriously doubted it would accomplish anything on the relationship front.
Then the marshmallows and the beer diminished slowly as they chatted amiably, watching the fire die down. When the last embers were burning out, they had somehow begun discussing a time that Oz had found himself nude in the woods after the full moon.
“And the only thing on the clothesline was a pink dress?” Nick asked as he laughed along with the others.
“Really went with my complexion, I agree,” Oz said. “My parents didn’t really get the choice though.”
“Is that why you wore that blue kimono when we were in New York?” Mitchell asked as he clapped his hand on George’s shoulder.
“You didn’t ask why he was wearing a kimono, when he was wearing a kimono?” Monroe asked raising his eyebrows at Mitchell as George nodded.
“Didn’t really think about it,” Mitchell said with a shrug.
“Remus, what about you? Have you ever gone home in a dress?” Nick asked as he drained the last of his beer.
“Not unless wizarding dress robes count,” Sirius said. “Though Remus and I have worn those a few times. And not just because we found discarded ones on our way back to the school grounds from the forbidden forest.”
“We’re still lucky Lily didn’t say anything,” Lupin said. “We hadn’t really earned her trust yet.”
“You mean she wasn’t dating James yet,” Sirius added. “Same thing really.”
By this time, Monroe had become too invested in his friends’ various crossdressing anecdotes to remember why he had been nervous earlier. But as Oz got up to stretch and Nick yawned, Lupin reminded them all that they were on a retreat, “It’s getting late, and we should probably all turn in. George, you’re with me. Sirius, you’re bunking with Nick. Oz with Monroe. And Mitchell, you’re on your own if that’s alright.”
“I’ll manage,” Mitchell said, and he really didn’t look like it bothered him. However, he was the only one in the group that didn’t look put out or, at the very least, uncertain about the sleeping arrangement. Sirius and Nick spent a moment simply staring at each other, though Monroe couldn’t quite read what that was about.
“But, Remus,” Sirius started as Lupin put a hand up to stop any further protests, and despite a little bit of grumbling on the parts of Sirius and George, they all made their way to their respective tents.
“See you in the morning, huh?” Nick said as he rested his hand on Monroe’s shoulder for a moment.
“Uh, yeah,” Monroe said lamely, unsure whether he was relieved or disappointed.
He and Oz carefully rolled out their sleeping bags and wordlessly crawled into them. Monroe listened to the comforting sounds of the wildlife in the woods as he drifted off to sleep. A little over an hour after he had fallen asleep, a series of growls that became progressively louder coming from the tent on their right roused him.
“Wake you up too?” Oz asked, sounding like he was still half-asleep.
“I’m not sure anyone could sleep through that,” Monroe said as he tried not to think too much about what those sounds were.
“You could sleep through Sirius telling George to get out,” Oz observed; Monroe assumed that this had had happened just prior to him waking up.
“He didn’t even suggest he go sleep with Mitchell?” Monroe asked.
“I think it was implied,” Oz said. “Where he went anyway.”
Monroe just listened to his surroundings for a moment, though he tried to tune out the noises of the neighboring tent, which thankfully, had died down, “At least they’re just sleeping.”
“Well, if you wanted to be just sleeping, or something, with Nick, I’d understand,” Oz murmured good naturedly.
“I’m not sure Nick would understand,” Monroe said with a sigh. “I’m not, uh, going to, you know, sneak into my friend’s tent in the middle of the night.”
“I’m not sure he’d mind,” Oz said. “And if he would, that’s his problem. He’d be a lucky guy.”
Monroe couldn’t quite process what, if anything, Oz was implying, but the appearance of a shadow against the tent prevented him from needing to. All of his senses indicated it was Nick, and for some reason, he was leaning against the side of the tent, unmoving. Monroe couldn’t imagine what he was doing.
“Nick, I know you’re out there,” Monroe shouted as the dim shadow moved shiftily around to the front of the tent.
“I, er, just wanted to make sure you two were okay,” Nick said peering into the tent uncertainly.
“Worried two werewolves can’t handle themselves in the woods?” Monroe asked skeptically.
“Well, Sirius left to get something from Lupin’s tent and never came back,” Nick said as he pulled back the tent flap.
“What did he go to get?” Monroe asked as he gave Nick a subtle once over. His hands were trembling slightly, his pupils were dilated, and his heart rate was slightly above average. Nick was trying to play it off, but clearly something was bothering him.
“A sleeping potion,” Nick said sheepishly. “I was keeping him up. Tossing and turning. And, I, uh, didn’t want to sleep alone out here.”
It was too dark to see his face clearly, but Monroe imagined Nick was blushing deeply. He wondered what in particular had spooked Nick because he had a hard time believing that it was just the dark loneliness of an empty tent. But whatever it was, he decided that Nick deserved some ribbing. Because, really?
“A Grimm afraid of being alone in the woods? That’s one for the books,” Monroe said before giving Oz a helpless look as Oz signaled for him to tell Nick to come in. Although Monroe wanted to sleep with Nick, he still wasn’t sure that it was the best idea.
Nick was mumbling something to the effect of it wasn’t that he was afraid of anything, he just really didn’t want to sleep by himself, but Monroe was too invested in trying to convey his concerns about inviting Nick in through hand gestures and raised eyebrows to catch the specifics.
“That won’t keep us up, will it, Monroe?” Oz said finally as he gave him a wink. “Besides I don’t think Sirius will be coming back.”
“No, I, uh, suppose not, on both counts. If you were worried about Sirius, don’t be. He definitely found Lupin,” Monroe said before mouthing ‘thank you’ at Oz. “Get in here. But careful of the edge of my sleeping bag.”
This warning evidently came too late as the next thing Monroe knew Nick was lying on top of him, “Uh, hi.”
“Wait, what do you mean he definitely found Lupin?” Nick asked suddenly, without moving off of Monroe.
“Well, we, uh, this is awkward, we kind of heard things,” Monroe said. “Wolf hearing and all.”
“Oh,” Nick said then a second later added a more vehemently surprised, “Oh!” suggesting that he had not initially connected the dots.
“Do you two usually talk like this?” Oz asked, tilting his head to the side as he watched them looking amused.
“Yeah, uh, Nick, I don’t think this is going to work as a sleeping arrangement. Could you please get off me?” Monroe said, although most of his qualms about that particular sleeping arrangement had more to do with Oz’s presence in the tent than anything else. When Nick did roll off of him, which took, Monroe thought, rather longer than was necessary, he was more than a little disappointed.
“There’s an extra blanket behind me,” Oz said.
“I brought extra because it was supposed to be much colder than it is this weekend,” Monroe said as he kept his eyes trained on Nick as he crawled to the back of the tent.
“Well, I’m grateful for that,” Nick said as he moved back towards Monroe. Although there was enough space between Oz and Monroe for Nick to fit comfortably in the middle, once he was settled beneath the blanket, he rolled almost unconsciously towards Monroe, stopping just short of actually being next to him.
“Why couldn’t you sleep before Sirius left?” Oz asked suddenly. Monroe realized that there had been a bit of a lapse in what Nick had said, though he hadn’t previously picked up on it.
“Was dreaming,” Nick said drowsily. Monroe sighed. Of course Nick would have nightmares on a camping trip; he did everywhere else. Although Nick had never told Monroe the details of his dreams, he had once asked if all Grimms had vivid nightmares. Ever since then, Monroe had wondered just how bad his nightmares were and had begun noticing that whenever something was troubling Nick that he was less well rested. He pondered what could be troubling Nick now as he’d made a special effort of making sure that they weren’t in the middle of a case for the weekend.
“What about?” Monroe asked, but apparently Nick had already fallen asleep as his only response was a snore. Monroe looked over at Oz, “Well, I suppose we ought to hit the hay as well, huh?”
“Yep,” Oz nodded. “Goodnight.”
“Night,” Monroe said, and albeit with slightly more effort, he fell asleep once again though not for very long. The sun had just barely begun to rise when Nick’s elbow jabbed into his ribcage.
Monroe turned to see that Nick was thrashing around in his sleep; he reached his hand out and gently touched Nick’s elbow, assuming it would have the same effect as it had when Nick had been in the hospital. But it didn’t wake Nick up this time.
“Dude, we are really going to have to talk about this or go through your Grimm books or something,” Monroe muttered as he began running his hand down Nick's arm in soothing strokes, which eventually accomplished two things: Nick stilled against the continued motion and eventually rolled into Monroe’s side, his arm falling onto Monroe’s chest. Monroe felt as though more than just the weight of Nick’s hand was resting there as he tried to fall back asleep for the third time, uncertain how Nick was going to react to waking up essentially entwined with Monroe, even if it had been almost entirely his own doing.
When Monroe woke up the next morning, he had no opportunity to gauge Nick’s reaction as Nick was not in the tent. However, the borrowed blanket had been neatly folded and placed against the tent’s back wall suggesting that nothing that he needed to worry about had happened. Consequently, he started going about his normal morning routine, though it was a little later in the morning than usual. He found a quiet clearing not too far from their campsite to do pilates, and on his way back, he passed the campground’s parking lot. He noticed, with no small degree of despair, that Nick’s truck was gone. Had Nick woken up next to him and gone home?
He headed back to the tents to ask if Oz or anyone else had seen Nick leave, but when he got there, everyone, except Oz, who had also seemingly vanished, was busy trying to determine the best way to cook eggs over a campfire -- Sirius yet again fervently supporting the use of magic -- and no one seemed to know where Nick had gone, and, oddly, they kept averting their eyes when Monroe inquired about him.
Finally, Monroe went back to his tent and pulled on jeans and a sweater, sullenly preparing for a day of doing trust exercises with the members of his werewolf support group when he wasn’t feeling particularly trusting. As he pulled back the tent flap, Nick suddenly grabbed onto his arm and pulled him forward.
“I have something to show you,” Nick insisted. Monroe studied him a moment and thought that he looked somewhat manic.
“I thought you left,” Monroe said trying not to sound accusing. However, since Nick had snuck up on him, he had begun to wonder why Nick had gone to the trouble of putting on that much wolfsbane. “Your truck was gone.”
“I went to get coffee for the two of us,” Nick said as he walked over to the campfire, where only Mitchell and George remained, and picked up two mugs of coffee, handing one to Monroe.
“We can make that over the campfire, you know,” Monroe said as he rolled his eyes and took a sip of what was, to Nick’s credit, his favorite coffee. He was going to have a hard time being exasperated for long.
“Would it be any good though?” Nick asked. Monroe began to say some variation of ‘perhaps not’ as Nick grinned at him, “That’s what I thought. Now come on.”
“Where are we going? You don’t have the bag with your weapons in it?” Monroe asked, utterly confused. He had no idea whatsoever what Nick would want to show him in the woods, especially this eagerly.
“It’s a surprise. One I think you’ll like though. Shouldn’t take too long to get there,” Nick said as he steered Monroe towards one of the hiking paths. “We can get my weapons out and play with them later. I know you want to do more with that crossbow.”
Monroe agreed to that, and despite some misgivings about the fact that Nick wouldn’t let him look at the trail map, he let Nick lead the way. However, after more than an hour of walking down the trail, and passing the same clearing for the second time, Monroe was positive that Nick’s navigational skills needed some considerable amount of honing.
Monroe sighed deeply. Although it was clear that Nick wanted wherever they were going to be a secret, Monroe had the feeling that if Nick kept being the leader on this particular outing, they would never get there. And since it was unseasonably warm out, he wanted to go back to camp and change into something cooler.
“Nick, we’ve been out here over an hour. And you said it wouldn’t take very long to get there. Can I please have a look at the map?” He asked with as much patience as he could muster.
“I think if we just turn right instead of left down this path here, we’ll be there,” Nick said. He didn’t give Monroe a chance to object before placing the map back into his pocket and sprinting down the right side of the trail fork. Five minutes and a short run later, Monroe found himself wishing he hadn’t been running, and looking at small, but beautiful waterfall. Although Nick glanced briefly at the water, he pointed animatedly behind Monroe, “This is what I wanted to show you.”
Monroe tugged at his sweater, trying to pull it away from his neck as he turned around and took in the checkered blue and white tablecloth that had been spread out beneath the shade of an oak tree. There was a picnic basket with two wine glasses and a bottle of Bordeaux alongside it and two sunflowers criss-crossed in front of it. His mind was just fuzzy enough from the heat that he didn’t hesitate much before asking,“Is...is this a date?”
“Do you want it to be?” Nick asked. Monroe felt dizzy as he saw the hope flickering through Nick’s eyes as his lips curled up into an expectant half smile. Monroe, fully aware that Nick had little to no ability to control his facial expressions, strongly suspected that Nick wanted it to be a date as much as he did.
“Yes,” Monroe said as Nick leaned forward. He felt light-headed and weak-kneed as Nick pressed his lips against his and his hands tangled their way through his curls. He wanted to kiss Nick back and drink in the smell of leather and aftershave, but his vision blurred and his muscles went lax. He heard Nick’s voice shouting his name repeatedly as he collapsed onto the ground.
Chapter 3: Scheming and Stethoscopes
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Around a half an hour later, Monroe was roused by the low hum of a distant conversation and the soft static of a radio tuned to what sounded like a soft rock station. He felt weak and stiff as well as disoriented, partially because he wasn’t sure where he was and partially because he wasn’t sure what had happened.
As to the first, he knew, at the very least, that he was lying on a cot inside a cool, air-conditioned building. It also seemed that someone, who he rather hoped had been Nick, had taken his sweater off. He was grateful not to be so hot as he had been at the end of his somewhat ill-fated walk, but he now felt goose pimples prickling up and down his uncovered arms. As he moved to rub his still warm hands over them, his left elbow came into contact with a thin sheet, that he imagined he had kicked off, lying, somewhat crumpled, beside him. He pulled it onto his chest as he opened his eyes just long enough to see that he was, as he suspected, inside the camp’s wood walled lodge before closing them again.
While he had a hazy memory of waking up to a swirl of autumn colored leaves somewhere in between the picnic setting and the lodge, he wasn’t entirely sure how he had come to be there. However, he lacked the desire to move to investigate so he tried to tune out the radio and focus solely on the conversation in the adjoining room, hoping it might provide some insight. He was, initially, disappointed.
The first, somewhat gruff voice was unfamiliar to him, though the tone was very distinct, if forced to give an opinion on the matter, he might have gone so far as to say it was sultry, “So, you play guitar?”
But the second voice, he was relieved to find, belonged to Oz, “Yep. What gave it away?”
“Your fingers. Very distinct marks from the strings. Like these,” the other man said, presumably presenting an upturned hand for Oz’s inspection.
As the two went on to discussing their respective guitars, feeling that they weren’t likely to bring up cellos, Monroe lost interest and his mind drifted back to the woods. He sighed deeply as he remembered Nick’s soft lips brushing against his, which led him to wondering why Nick was not there with him or even in the lodge, for that matter. Consequently he started wondering if he had imagined everything that had happened that morning, aside from the fainting. The somewhat woozy feeling he had every time he tilted his head made it apparent that that had definitely happened.
After going over what he hoped hadn’t been a particularly good dream in his head a few times, Monroe found that apparently the guitar shop talk had, finally, come to an end.
“Your campsite wasn’t that far away; shouldn’t your friend have come back by now?” the stranger asked, with a slight hint of concern.
“Oh, Nick?” Oz asked, sounding unsure whether he considered Nick a friend. As Oz and Nick had never, to Monroe’s knowledge, spent time alone together, Monroe considered that a fair point. “He likely just got held back by our fellow camping enthusiasts. I’m sure he’ll be back soonish.”
But apparently, to Monroe’s relief --because, honestly, he wasn’t sure he could add worry-about-Nick, in a capacity other than oh-God-did-he-really-kiss-me, to his current list of problems-- this didn’t satisfy the stranger’s evidently strong sense of caution, “You should go find him. And call the lodge phone if anything’s wrong. If anyone else collapses from heat exhaustion out there, I want to know about it.”
Heat exhaustion? Monroe almost laughed. After doing pilates, drinking alcohol and coffee, barely drinking any water, and then going on an unexpected hour long hike, he felt like he had almost asked to collapse. And, well, the shock of being kissed probably hadn’t hurt. But Monroe tried not to think about that.
He had been lying with his eyes closed long enough that after Oz’s footsteps had faded away, he had started to fall back asleep. However, strangely, despite Oz’s absence, the other man continued to talk.
“Hardison. They are not werewolves. Werewolves aren’t real,” he said, seemingly to no one. Monroe sniffed at the air, thinking that perhaps the third man had just been mysteriously quiet, but he could only smell one, thankfully, very human person. And it was the scent of the park ranger that had lost his nametag the night before. Craig Owens, he thought.
But that wasn’t the name by which he was addressed by the crackling, distant sounding voice that then emanated from the other room, “Eliot, come on, they were talking about having to find clothes to cover up their naked selves after the full moon. That’s not a crazy people thing. Not a group crazy people thing. That’s a werewolves thing. Werewolves. And you said yourself that it smelled like wolves. How do you even know what wolves smell like, anyway?”
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, okay? They have a very distinctive smell. And, Hardison. Chill. We are not dealing with the supernatural. This is real life, man. Now, I need to check on this guy that fainted in the woods. Did you do your thing to find the blueprints for what Mr. Seymour wants to build here yet?” Eliot continued.
“My thing? I can’t just, I can’t just make the plans apparate. I have this whole long database searching process. And those files were encrypted, too,” Hardison explained, sounding put out.
“So, you have them?” Eliot asked, though it didn’t really sound like a question, as he started to walk across the room to the slightly ajar door.
“Yeah, man. I have them. Now why are you playing doctor at the camp, anyway?” Hardison asked. If Monroe’s suspicion about the man hadn’t already been aroused, they certainly were now. A confidant that suspected they were werewolves? Blueprints? Playing doctor? There seemed to be much more to Eliot or Craig Owens than met the eye. And Monroe wasn’t sure that was a good thing.
“I should have just not helped the guy and his friends because I’m just pretending to be a park ranger?” Eliot asked sounding slightly aggravated and bitter. But from this short conversation, Monroe had the strongest impression that these two fought like brothers whenever they spoke to one another. “Is that how I should play it?”
“That’s not what I meant..” Hardison started, but switched tacts swiftly. “Oh, I see. You have a crush on that guitar playing guy. You wanted to help him out,” he continued teasingly, which only furthered Monroe’s suspicions and piqued his interest in Oz and Eliot. He sort of wished he had been watching them talk or listening more closely now. Though he thought he might have to warn Oz away from this very mysterious man. “You were talking to him for a long time.”
“I was not. We just like the same kind of music,” Eliot said gruffly, suggesting to Monroe and Hardison alike that there was more to it than that. “I’m just doing my job and looking out for suspicious activity at the camp. Though none of the campers have done anything particularly suspicious.”
“Yeah, except run around nude after the full moon,” Hardison muttered.
“Back to werewolves?” Eliot asked with an exasperated sigh. Not waiting for an answer from Hardison, he pushed open the door to the other room and strode across to Monroe.
“Mr. Monroe?” Eliot asked as he placed his hand on the edge of the bed, a comfortable distance from Monroe’s skin. “Are you awake?”
“Uh, yeah. You can drop the mister. Monroe’s fine,” Monroe mumbled as he lifted his head up to study Eliot. He had tied his shoulder length brown hair into a ponytail that Monroe was surprised to see he pulled off in a way most men couldn’t. But what really struck Monroe was that along with the plaid shirt he had been wearing the night before, Eliot had donned a doctor’s lab coat and a stethoscope. He looked every bit of a professional doctor. And if Monroe hadn’t known better, he would have automatically assumed he was.
“I’m Dr. Owens. You can call me Craig, though, if you like,” Eliot said, sounding considerably less gruff than he had when he had been speaking to Hardison. “You should take better care of yourself when you’re in the woods. Drink more water, dress more appropriately. Don’t let your friends talk you into hikes you aren’t up for.”
“I, uh, didn’t realize we were going so far. Neither did Nick,” Monroe said, feeling an odd desire to defend Nick from being responsible for this, even though, in retrospect, he kind of was. Eliot proceeded to examine him the way any other doctor would, giving the same unnatural pause when Monroe tried to assure him that he naturally had a high body temperature, not a fever, when the thermometer read 99 degrees. Eliot looked unconvinced, but moved on to taking his blood pressure anyway.
When Eliot was done, he handed Monroe a large glass of water, “And you’re not leaving here until you drink all of it. And make sure you keep hydrated the rest of the time you’re out here. I don’t want to see you back before the weekend’s over. And give your retreat buddies the same advice.”
“I can do that,” Monroe assured him as he sipped at the water tentatively. Although he was really thirsty, he found that he couldn’t manage more than a small gulp at a time, especially with Eliot watching. Fortunately, Nick and Oz chose this time to finally reappear.
Monroe studied Nick through the open doorway as he and Oz chatted about nothing. He had several scratches on his arms and one across his face that he hadn’t had earlier, and as he came closer, what had started as a faint whiff of pine sap, was a suddenly overwhelming odor. He wasn’t sure what to make of any of that.
Nick took one look at Monroe and gave him a thousand watt smile filled with relief, longing, and a little bit of guilt. He pushed his hands in his pocket and stood stand-offishly in the doorframe.
“He has a mild fever,” Eliot said as he glanced at the two of them. “But otherwise he’s completely fine. Like I said he would be.”
“We weren’t really doubting you. Hey, Nick, do you want us to leave you guys mano a mano?” Oz asked, clearly understanding some unspoken request for privacy.
“Yeah, might not be a bad idea. We have some things to discuss about hiking and telling people when they feel like they might pass out,” Nick said as the other two shuffled out the door. As the door clicked shut behind them, Nick added, with a sly grin, “Amongst other things.”
“I’m sorry that you can’t read a map properly,” Monroe said defensively as Nick crossed the room, bringing the strong scent of pine even closer.
“Me too. Does my bringing you a change of clothes help?” Nick asked, giving Monroe his patented puppy eyes.
“It might, if you had said change of clothes with you,” Monroe said gruffly as he crossed his arms and gave the seemingly empty-handed Nick a questioning glare.
“Yeah, maybe,” Nick said, looking down as if he had just noticed he didn’t have the clothes with him. “You won’t believe what I went through to get them. And then I set them down in the other room because I wasn’t sure you were awake. They better still be there. Hold on.”
“Did you get into a brush with a tree or something?” Monroe asked, but Nick, looking earnestly worried that the clothes might be gone, had already left the room. He reappeared moments later triumphantly holding up a fading Brown University T-Shirt and jeans, both of which also smelled strongly of pine, which he then handed to Monroe. Monroe had a feeling there was a story there, but they had other things to discuss.
Nick placed his hand hesitantly on the cot as Monroe pulled the T-shirt over his head. Nick turned his back as changed his pants but didn’t move away. Then once he was dressed, Nick just kept standing there, his hand tantalizing close to Monroe’s skin, not saying a word. After awhile, Monroe tilted his head, trying to ignore the slight dizziness that caused, and raised both his eyebrows at Nick expectantly. Their brand of silence wasn’t entirely comfortable, but he didn’t want to be the one to break it.
Nick nodded in understanding. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. Finally, he moved his hand to Monroe’s shoulder, “So... I have to ask, do you faint when just any guy kisses you?”
“Nah, you’re just special,” Monroe said, relaxing into Nick’s touch. “So that actually happened? I thought maybe I dreamed or, you know, hallucinated that.”
“Is that what this weird silence was about? The heat really was getting to you. But, no, sorry, you’re stuck with me now,” Nick said as he leaned down and kissed Monroe’s cheek as if to make sure Monroe knew he wasn’t joking. “If we weren’t before, we’re really messing with the status quo now.”
“You know, I’m kind of okay with that,” Monroe said as he tried to pull himself up off the cot he was lying on as Nick’s hand pressed him firmly back down.
“You should probably rest in the air conditioning a while longer. It is hot outside.” Nick said. “Then we can go back to camp or if you prefer, I can take you home.”
He and Nick mutually decided it would be best to end their foray into the forest early, because he didn’t really feel up to staying, much to the disappointment of their fellow campers -- who for some unknown reason kept giving the pair of them mysterious glances that suggested they knew a secret that he didn’t. His day had been odd enough already so he shrugged it off. Then, inexplicably, George and Mitchell offered adamantly to help Nick and Monroe gather all of their stuff and carry it down to Nick’s truck, refusing to let Monroe help lest he pass out again.
As Monroe followed them, George kept offering profuse and lengthy apologies to him about how he’d had no idea that would happen, how he would never do it again, and how he just knew pulling pranks was a bad idea from the start. Monroe wrinkled his brow as he tried to work out how exactly George could think anything that had happened today was his fault. And he just kept coming up blank.
Then he caught Nick and Mitchell exchanging mischievous smirks, trying not to laugh, “Okay. I get it. The Grimms and the vampires share secrets now. And the Blutbad gets left in the dark.”
“Monroe, remember how I said I had some difficulty getting your clothes back,” Nick said, looking appropriately apologetic, as he and Mitchell started laughing in earnest. He imagined at least partially because he looked miffed and partially because George’s face had taken on a serious expression that he seemed to be fighting to keep.
“Yeah,” Monroe said, weighing each syllable of the word slowly as he leaned against the side of Nick’s truck. He now had the impression that George and Mitchell had had something to do with it, and he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know what.
“Loosen up, George. He’ll think it’s funny too,” Mitchell said as he clapped George’s shoulder and shook it affectionately.
It turned out that George and Mitchell, seeking amusement while Nick and Monroe went on their hike, while Sirius and Remus went swimming -- an activity which Monroe seemed to hear air quotes around -- and Oz mysteriously vanished, had invested in doing something that George had never done. After Mitchell had explained to George the great and hilarious success of his army unit doing something similar before they were really in the war, the pair tried to pull an elaborate prank on everyone by taking everyone’s clothes but their own and hiding them in the woods --though Mitchell had evidently had the foresight to suggest they take theirs to safeguard them.
Once all of the garments had been gathered from the unattended tents, Mitchell had climbed part of the way up a tall pine, and handed the articles up to George in fistfulls. Then George had hung each article up, using the rough, sagging branches as a makeshift clothesline, taking care to hang all of the boxers on the end of branches like plaid and checkered victory flags. This ensured that if anyone wanted clean, or rather sap-covered but, at least, different clothing, for the remainder of the weekend, they would have to climb up there too.
Unfortunately, when Nick had discovered their plot, it was still afoot. After finding that everyone and everyone’s clothes were missing from their campsite, he’d put his detective skills to use. And followed the deep, obvious footprints left by George’s boots a quarter of a mile into the woods.
“And you climbed a tree for my clothes,” Monroe filled in, faintly bemused, shaking his head.
“George hadn’t even climbed down yet, but he wasn’t sure what was yours,” Nick explained as George, looking even more apologetic than he had before, offered that he suspected but didn’t want to make any incorrect guesses.
“It’s okay, George, really. It’s not as though we’re going home pantsless or anything,” Monroe said in an attempt to reassure the younger man as he climbed into the passenger seat of the truck.
Before Monroe pulled the door closed, Mitchell clapped him on the back as he told him he hoped he felt better by the end of the weekend. George did much the same, substituting an awkward handshake.
“Thanks for everything, guys,” Nick said as he threw the last of their stuff, their sleeping bags, into the backseat, and then turned around to shake hands with George and Mitchell as well. “Just... thanks.”
Monroe cocked his head through the window he’d just rolled down to give Nick a look. There was a weight to his words that Monroe couldn’t quite explain. Nick just shrugged at him before walking around the truck and getting in himself, turning to Monroe, and apparently just to make it clear that nothing odd had just happened, asked, “Enjoying the breeze through your fur there?”
“Just drive, would you?” Monroe said as he glowered at Nick and ducked his head back into the truck and leaned against the seat.
A few hours later, Monroe woke up on his couch with his head lying partially in Nick’s lap and partially on a pillow that was resting against Nick’s knee. He looked up to see that Nick had fallen asleep, sitting up, with one hand curled around the remote and the other sliding off Monroe’s shoulder as he sat up.
“Nick,” Monroe said softly as he tapped his shoulder. “I’m going to make us something for dinner.”
In reply, Nick made some noncommittal noise that suggested he wasn’t awake just yet, but a minute later, when Monroe was already pulling a skillet down, Nick ran into the kitchen and started motioning for Monroe to stop, “I already took care of it. I ordered pizza. The delivery guy should be here soon.” Then, when Monroe raised his eyebrows slightly, “What? I would have heard the doorbell.”
“Oh, you mean, I would have?” Monroe said sarcastically, but he didn’t really mean it. He set the skillet on the counter, and whirled Nick around and pulled him into a long, deep kiss until the doorbell rang two minutes later, startling both of them.
Halfway through his second slice of pizza, Nick held up his wineglass and motioned for Monroe to do the same.
“Dude, you can’t just do a toast. There has to be someone around to hear it,” Monroe muttered as he held up his glass anyway.
“You’ll hear it,” Nick said with a smirk as Monroe rolled his eyes. “To a, mostly, good weekend.”
“An excellent weekend,” Monroe agreed, clinking his glass against Nick’s. Then as he swallowed his wine, he realized that there were several things about the weekend that he thought ought to be discussed.
“I could have lived without the really weird looks we got when we were leaving though,” Monroe mumbled as he picked up another slice. “That was strange, wasn’t it?”
“Um, about that,” Nick said, holding his pizza halfway between the plate and his mouth, suddenly looking awkward and uncomfortable.
Monroe waited for Nick to collect himself. A few drops of tomato sauce fell onto his plate before he set the slice back down, picked up his napkin, and folded his hands together as he set them on the table.
"They, the group...that is, really wanted us to be together," Nick said as though it were a great revelation.
"Oh, I knew that. They've been on me about my crush on you since...uh...the first meeting," Monroe said, belatedly realizing what he was admitting.
"That long, huh?" Nick asked as he grinned widely and then even more widely as Monroe mouthed “longer.” Then he started shaking his head and laughing, "Well, we probably could have saved your werewolf buddies a lot trouble, if either of us knew how to see what was right in front of us."
Monroe processed that for minute, as he swirled the wine around in his glass, "Wait, what do Oz, Remus, or George have to do with us? With this?"
He waved his hand between them as he tried to think if they had ever even discussed their relationship the night before, but he could only think of S’mores.
"Well, uh, for starters, I met everyone, well, everyone except Sirius, two weeks ago, not yesterday,” Nick said, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck and blushing in earnest.
“Er...after a meeting?” Monroe prompted, now just full-on staring at Nick, not sure how that could have happened without him noticing.
“Uh, no, not exactly,” Nick said as he launched into the whole story, holding up his hand to stop Monroe every time he tried to interrupt.
After the third or fourth meeting, Monroe couldn’t remember now, he’d given everyone Nick’s business card from the station that had both his and Nick’s cell phone numbers, as well as Roalsee’s number at the apothecary for good measure, neatly scrawled on the back in case they ever had an unfortunate encounter with the wesen community. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. The other three, had, after all, offered up their own numbers for much the same reason. Granted, Remus wasn’t overly fond of the ‘muggle’ device, but he still, seemingly reluctantly, had one.
Evidently, one night, George had called Nick, not explained who he was, and asked to meet him outside of a coffee shop in a not particularly well-lit part of town. Nick, through a series of serious misinterpretations, agreed.
First, George had sounded unfortunately similar to a suspect in the case Nick had been working on. Then, completely oblivious to what it sounded like, George had evidently strongly hinted that if Nick did not meet with them, Monroe would not be okay for long. And Nick had not even remotely thought to consider George had meant emotionally.
“Don’t look at me like that. You weren’t home, I stopped by your house on my way there, and you didn’t answer your phone... ” Nick trailed off, looking at Monroe intensely like he never wanted to look away.
“And you’re an idiot,” Monroe offered, privately adding, “an adorably, worried idiot.” At this point, Monroe wasn’t sure who he’d like to strangle more, George for coming up with this completely hare-brained scheme, or Nick for going along with it.
But, it doesn’t matter as the scheme had already completely unfolded, and he can’t actually complain, in good faith, about the end result. Although Monroe had mostly put together the rest of the story on his own, Nick explained all of the minor details. First, after an unfortunate gun and wand pulling incident, they had explained who they were and all sat down for coffee. After assuring themselves that Nick felt the same way about Monroe as Monroe did about Nick, his group members and Mitchell had wheedled Nick into coming on their retreat, offering that he could probably find a suitably romantic gesture for his feelings.
“So the picnic was your idea?” Monroe asked, as that dizzy feeling he’d had earlier that morning threatened to come back. He picked up the glass of water that Nick had insisted on being on the table, when he got out the wine, and drank half of it.
“Mitchell and George came over and took all of the picnic supplies from me the other day so you wouldn’t see any of it, Sirius and Remus found the spot in the woods earlier this week, and Oz set it all up for us this morning,” Nick said. “But it was my idea.”
“You know, after you guys put in all that effort, I feel a little bad that the date itself didn’t exactly work out,” Monroe said.
“Well, we can make it up to them by showing that it worked out anyway,” Nick said. “How does a group date after a meeting sound?”
With most other combinations of people, Monroe thought it would have sounded like a social anxiety nightmare, but these people clearly cared enough to really go out of their way for him. And he owed the dinner he was currently having to them. He couldn’t possibly say no, “It sounds perfect.”
To explain Eliot's alias: the Leverage writers are crazy Doctor Who nerds. Hardison is canonically really into the show. And Sarah Jane, Tom Baker, Moffat, and Rose have all been used as aliases somewhere along the line. And someone was totally dressed up as the Doctor in last week's episode (The First Contact Job).