When he wakes up in the morning, all Monroe can smell is Nick.
His first thought is, "he never wears wolfsbane, goddamn it." His second thought, however, is "wait, what the hell?" He opens his eyes slowly, and is greeted by the smooth plane of Nick's back. The Grimm is face-down in bed beside him, drooling onto his spare pillow. Monroe takes a quick inventory, and while they are both shirtless, their pants are still on, which gives him one important answer he needed about last night. Nick looks like he has no intention of moving anytime soon, and Monroe takes that time to panic.
Last memory. Right, that sounds like a good place to start. Monroe winces. They'd gone to the equinox festival last night. He remembers getting there, pulling up in the Beetle, and trying to explain to Nick why having a Grimm there is going to be weird. He remembers the Beavers, and the other wieder wesen like Rosalee. It was a peaceful gathering, of all the different species who were willing to lay aside any bad blood for one night. Roddy had been there, alternating between manning the turntables (sans DJ Ratched Kat head) and traditional German folk dances on his violin. Nick looked like a kid on Christmas for the most part, getting dragged around the field by Bud, who was introducing him to everyone as "my good friend, Mr. Nick Burkhardt."
"This is unprecedented," Monroe had muttered as various Fuchsbau and Wildermann nodded cautiously at them.
"You said that it's for anyone who comes in peace, right? Well, that's us."
Monroe had frowned, even as he’d grabbed two beers and pressed one into Nick's hand-
Oh, fuck. Now he remembers the alcohol.
Shit, if Nick had one sip of the Herztod wein, no wonder he was still down for the count. It was especially fortified for Blutbaden, which meant that just about anyone besides a Blutbad would probably die of alcohol poisoning if they drank more than one glass.
"Nick, Nick," Monroe shakes his shoulder urgently. "Please don't be dead."
Nick shoots off the pillow, hair a mess and eyes bleary. "Fuck," he winces when the sunlight filters in.
"Not dead, then," Monroe breathes. "Exactly how hungover are you right now?"
Nick wiggles around on the bed, burrowing deeper under the pillow and sheets in order to shut out the world. "Hide my gun," he moans piteously.
Monroe laughs, despite the sick twist in his stomach. He must have had a lot of the Herztod wein because most of the night is a blur. He's not even sure how they got back to his house. He suspects Rosalee, and probably owes her big time. "What do you remember from last night?"
"Drinking. I think I danced with Bud at one point? More drinking. Hiding the liquor from Roddy...mostly by drinking it. Hey, hold on, why are we here? How did we get back to your place?”
“I haven’t checked my phone,” Monroe says, rubbing his face, “but there will probably be about sixty texts from Rosalee about how much she hate us bo-” He stops mid-sentence and looks at his hand in disbelief. “Nick, let me see your hand.”
“I got two of them,” he quips, grimacing as he sits up. “Which one do you want?”
“The right one.” Nick, seemingly still not bothered he woke up in Monroe’s bed, lets Monroe grab his hand from his lap. On his ring finger, Monroe sees exactly what he wasn’t wanting to: a smooth, carved wooden ring. It matches the one Monroe found on his own hand. It has no real decoration on it, other than a single dark line burned around the center of it. He grabs Nick’s left hand as well and notices a gauze wrapping over his palm. “Oh, God...”
“What?” Nick takes his hands back and notices the dressing himself for the first time. “When did this happen?”
“Probably during the Polterabend,” Monroe groans, hyperventilating slightly.
“The breaking of the plates to ward off bad luck in our...” He can’t bring himself to say it, because Nick doesn’t know. Nick wouldn’t have any reason to know what it all meant. Except, Monroe knows Nick and he’s about ten seconds away from putting the pieces together so he might as well just get it over with and hope he doesn’t finally have that stroke he’s felt building behind his eyes since he met him. Maybe it will kill him before they have to think about the divorce. “Our marriage.”
Nick blinks a few times, like nothing Monroe just said made sense, which is a valid reaction to such news, and laughs. “What?”
“I think we got married at the equinox festival.”
“We can’t get married. It’s illegal in the state of Oregon,” Nick scrubs the heels of his palms into his eyes.
“I mean, we got...wesen married. There’s not, like, a license down at the statehouse with our names on it, but we’re still married. I can’t explain to you right now.”
“Is that even a thing?”
“It is now, apparently,” Monroe sighs, waving his hand in Nick’s face.
Nick catches it and stares intently at the ring on Monroe’s finger. He gets a studious look on his face, turning Monroe’s hand slightly left and right like it’s a mirage or illusion and if he looks at it in just the right light, it will disappear. “So, did we-” He makes a vague gesture between them and Monroe thinks he might actually die.
“No, no. God, you don’t remember any of it?” He rolls out of bed quickly, and picks up his t-shirt from where it was mysteriously on the floor. He rolls it over his shoulders, avoiding all eye contact with Nick.
“No, honestly. The last thing I remember is doing shots of something with Rosalee. Monroe, you are going to have to explain this to me. How the hell did we get drunk-married at a wesen peace ceremony?”
“Well, the equinox festival is sort of a big deal. I think you got a whiff of that last night. And it only happens twice a year. Wesen couples like to get married on the equinox, because there is an equal amount of sunlight and moonlight, just like there is an equal amount of love between the two. My grandparents were married on the vernal equinox back in Germany. It’s like- It’s a meeting of equals.” Nick’s silent, eyes focused on the floor, and Monroe clears his throat. “So, usually, there is a wesen standesbeamte-”
“A registrar, a respected member of the wesen society, who performs the marriages. He, or she, keeps track of ceremonies they perform.”
Nick grabs his own t-shirt from the floor and shrugs it on. “But it’s not legal?”
“Nick, they aren’t weddings so much as, as- as bindings. To every wesen in the city of Portland, hell, probably in the whole state of Oregon, maybe even the country, we are bound together by our laws. They’ll all be able to tell, even if we don’t say anything. That’s why wesen like to be bound on the equinox, even if they were legally married months ago. It... it changes your scent, your aura, whatever it is about us that makes us instantly recognizable to other wesen. Everyone is going to be able to tell that we’re married, piece of paper or not.”
Monroe watches Nick pace the floor, one hand on his waist and the other rubbing his jaw thoughtfully. “Is there a way to reverse it?”
Oh, and wow, that’s a punch to the gut Monroe hadn’t been expecting. He knows this isn’t real. He knows it was probably a bet, or a dare, or a drunken idea that made no sense last night, except for what the Herztod wein was whispering in their ears. Still, it didn’t make things any better to see Nick ask for it, tight-eyed and obviously feeling cornered. “On the next equinox. The standesbeamte can dissolve the bond and we... we won’t be married anymore.”
Nick nods, once. “And that’s in September, yeah?” Monroe ignores the pit in his stomach, the lead ball of cold rejection that rolls around against his will. “That’s six months. We can do six months, right?”
“This- This... be married thing.”
“Nick-” he starts, reaching for his friend but stopping before actually touching him.
“I don’t mean the whole nine yards,” Nick says, making a pointed gesture towards the bed. “But, it’s not like I haven’t practically lived out of your spare bedroom since Juliette left me anyway. Let’s just...not fight it. Look, what I mean is, we can expend a lot of energy these next six months trying to explain stuff to people that’s none of their business anyway, or we can just...be married. Just ‘til September.”
Monroe takes in his words, slowly processing the offer. It wouldn’t change much about them, he has to concede. Nick had already pushed past the barriers he keeps with his other friends, literally barreling past them as he took over Monroe’s home, and a great portion of his time. “It’s going to make us vulnerable,” he sighs. “The Reapers, the wesen who are out for you, got a grudge against you... they’ll all know I’m your weak spot, and everyone with a beef with me will know to go to you.”
“Hey,” Nick smiles, bridging the gap and touching Monroe’s arm. “I’m pretty sure they already do.” Monroe remembers the soreness in his arms, and the fresh tang of blood on his lips from the Reapers trying to send a message. He also remembers making a promise that night, over beer, and he intends to keep it. He twists the ring on his finger, seeing Nick’s eyes track the movement, and smiles.
Rosalee is, predictably, unbearably smug over the phone at breakfast. “Nick is never allowed to have Herztod wein again,” Monroe moans. Nick glares at him over his bowl of cereal and Rosalee laughs over the speaker.
“What makes you think it was Nick’s idea?”
Monroe flails, even though he knows she can’t see him, and says, “because everything in my life made sense until I met him. Therefore, anything that doesn’t make sense is directly his fault.”
“I’m offended,” Nick mocks, holding a hand over his heart. Monroe wishes this was more awkward, that sitting across from Nick at the breakfast table isn’t something he’s already lived and done and come to expect. The hand on Nick’s breast has his wedding ring on it, and Monroe can’t help but stare at it. It’s a symbol of his possession and he knows if he thinks about that too hard, he’ll become fixated on what it means.
“I remember it differently, to be quite honest,” Rosalee murmurs. Monroe sincerely hopes she’s fucking with them.
“Please,” Nick jumps in before Monroe can get his panic back on, “you were probably as plastered as the rest of us.”
“Hey, I had the wherewithal to call you two lovebirds a cab, didn’t I?”
“Oh, God, did we truly embarrass ourselves?” Monroe hasn’t tried to think about it too hard, but he knows, distantly, that they must have at least kissed at the ceremony. Thinking about it, though, brings up the opportunity for all kinds of things he’s trying to stamp down furiously, so he thanks God for blackout amnesia.
Rosalee laughs, light and bright, on the other end of the phone and Monroe suddenly doesn’t want to hear the answer to that. “No more than could be expected on your wedding night. I have to ask, though. Did you guys plan that, or...”
Nick looks up at Monroe, blue eyes bright, and his spoonful of cereal halfway to his mouth. Monroe has to debate what the correct answer to that is, knowing that either one is going to come back to bite them in some way. “No, I didn’t even get a real Junggesellenabschied.”
Nick almost spits his food out across the table. “A what?”
“It’s a bachelor’s party, Nick,” Rosalee pipes up helpfully, amusement and pity in her voice.
“Do I even want to know what a wesen bachelor’s party consists of?” He watches Monroe as the involuntary grimace crosses over his face. “Yeah,” he digs into his cereal again. “Didn’t think so. Hey, Rosalee, where’d we get these rings from?”
“The Beavers, obviously. Bud and John are expert wood carvers. They considered it a privilege.” Monroe mouths the word, “privilege” to Nick, who just throws a dry cheerio at his head. “You just wait until they learn your address, Monroe.”
“You guys caused quite a stir last night. Well, among anyone who wasn’t shitfaced,” Rosalee cuts in. Monroe can tell this is what she’s been trying to get to the whole conversation.
Both of their faces fall. “Yeah?” Nick asks, and Monroe’s glad it was him, because he doesn’t think his voice would hold.
“The Beavers practically went into operation party planners mode. Phoebe even offered a few of her china plates for you to smash for the Polterabend.”
“Any bad press? Trouble?”
“A couple of the gentle siegbarste and some Lowen weren’t exactly impressed, but nothing that wasn’t handled. Everyone else, though...” She trails off, but with a dreamy sigh. “Well, let’s just say, a lot of people thought it was romantic.”
“Don’t say I never woo’d you,” Nick quips, looking a little strained around the eyes, but relieved.
“So, we didn’t start some ancient bloodwar?”
“More like you opened the door for better interspecies relations across the map. I’m pretty sure I saw a Skalenzahnen and a Mouseherz get bonded after you.”
“Wow, that sounds like...a match made in Hell.”
“No more than a Grimm and a Blutbad,” Monroe grumbles lightly, hoping Nick can’t hear him. He does, though, because he smirks, milk spilling out of the corners of his mouth and back into the bowl, and Monroe only finds it marginally charming. It’s mostly disgusting, but he can’t help it. He’s screwed.
“Hey, I got to go, okay? Customers coming in. I don’t want to see you two in here for, at least, a week, though. No Grimm cases, no near-death experiences. Enjoy your honeymoon.”
After Monroe’s sure she’s hung up, he looks up at Nick and asks, “think she bought it?”
“It’s hard to tell. Rosalee’s smart, and she knows us better than anybody. If she buys it, it might not be too hard, if we keep playing our cards right.”
Monroe swallows half his cup of coffee without tasting it.
"Okay," Hank smiles good-naturedly. "I gave you a week to tell me on your own, but I guess I'm going to have to ask."
Nick frowns down at the stack of gruesome crime scenes photos. It's a non-Grimm case, even if Nick had encountered a douchey Klaustreich in his witness pool. "About what?"
"The ring," Hank answers solemnly. "I would have noticed eventually, but you've been tapping that thing on your desk and getting far-eyed on me. So, spill."
Nick, not at all prepared to face up to Hank about this, opens and closes his mouth dumbly. Hank looks like the cat who caught the canary, metaphorically licking his chops and waiting to hear whatever story Nick comes up with.
"I got married," he sighs.
"Bullshit." And yeah, okay, Nick could have said he bought it on a whim at the flea market and Hank would still have called bullshit on him. It's a good tactic. If he was lying, he'd get hyper-defensive, and if he was telling the truth, he'd have a way to prove it. Sometimes Nick hates that all of his friends are cops.
"Well, it was more of a commitment ceremony, I guess."
Hank looks a little stunned, head tilted curiously. "You aren't fucking with me."
Nick snorts sarcastically, thinking back to yesterday when he had cajoled Monroe into doing his laundry, if he cuts the grass in return, and yeah, he's really, really married. "Nope."
"It's the clock guy, isn't it?"
Nick really hates that all of his friends are cops. All of the time. "What- How did you know?" he chuckles. It makes him smile, though, that Hank would assume it correctly. If only because it lends credibility to their story, of course.
"It's seriously the clock guy. You guys have been about as subtle as a nuclear warfare, Nick. You know more about him than I know about you," and here Hank shoots him a look that lets Nick know he really hasn't been very smooth with this whole Grimm thing. He knows he's going to have to tell Hank, and soon, but he also knows how well it went over with Juliette, and isn't prepared to have someone else look at him like he's insane. "And I'm your partner."
"It was kind of...spur of the moment." He leaves out the part where they were blind drunk and don't remember most of it. Nick's got this vagueness in the back of his mind - a sense memory of a crackling bonfire and the smell of new trees in the damp forest. He does have one real memory, even though he can't remember at what point in the night it happened. He can still feel the way their hands had slipped together, fingers laced and gripped tight, and the hot press of their palms. He thinks it might have happened after the ceremony, but he can't be sure. Monroe doesn't seem to remember much of it either, and if he does remember, he hasn't chosen to share it with Nick.
"It better damn well have been," Hank grumbles. "After all the times you and Wu threw me a bachelor's party, I had only expected to get the chance to do the same."
"You just wanted to embarrass me by buying me that stripper. What was her name? Kandy Kane?"
Hank winces. "Her real name was Natalie. How the hell did you guys find a 56 year old woman who looked that good? Goddamn."
Nick laughs, throwing his pen down and leaning back in his desk chair. "Wu doesn't share his secrets with me. Did you know she was a mother of two? She had five grandkids."
"Don't remind me. But, really, though: are you happy?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. We- I'm happy." He thinks he means it, even if maybe it isn’t the exact way Hank means. But, Monroe made him dinner last night, and they had cold beers on his back porch, watching the sun sink down behind the trees and rows of houses and it was good. It was easy and comfortable, punctuated with their usual banter about anything and everything.
Hank still looks a little miffed to have been left out of the loop, but he smiles gently and tosses a balled-up post-it note at Nick’s head. “I guess that’s all that matters. Back to work, loverboy. We got a killer to catch.”
“You started it,” Nick jokes, flicking the paper ball off his desk, and flipping to the next picture in his stack.
Monroe wakes up to the sound of running water coming from the bathroom and someone knocking on his door. He lopes downstairs, tugging his bathrobe on as he goes. “Yeah?” He doesn’t know who he expected there, considering most wesen would know better than to wake up a Blutbad by walking on to his territory, but Bud definitely was at the bottom of that list.
“Good morning, Mr....Monroe. Is, uh- Is Nick home?”
Monroe isn’t exactly sure where else Nick would be at six am on a Thursday, but motions for Bud to come in. “Yeah, hold on, he’s in the shower.”
The water is already off so he knocks lightly and says, “Bud’s here,” and then adds, as an afterthought, “wear pants.” He hears something thud against the door and laughs as he rejoins the eisbiber in the living room. He unpacks a wicker basket of gifts on their coffee table.
“John’s wife made the jam, but Phoebe made you the quilt. If we had known ahead of time, we would have had it done in time for the Frühlingstagundnachtgleiche.” Monroe unfolds a giant wedding ring quilt, the interlocking rings in various fabrics and patterns. “Phoebe’s grandmother made all her quilts by hand, but I told her you would forgive her that she used a machine for this. She embroidered your names on it and everything.”
Monroe folds the quilt up quickly, taking special care not to look for their names, and held it against his chest. “Tell her thanks.”
Because someone upstairs loves Monroe, Nick finally decides to join them, dressed for work, but still dragging a towel over his hair. “Hey, Bud!”
“Don’t tell me you’ve been getting your rings wet,” Bud moans, watching Nick shake his too long hair out of his eyes.
“I took it off for the shower,” Nick says, darting away from Bud as he made a frantic grab for his hand. Monroe holds him in place and slips his ring off, drying it on his shirt.
“You are going to ruin it, though, leaving it in bathroom when you do. Bud’s going to have a heart attack right now.”
“John and I didn’t get a chance to varnish them that night. You’ve already dented it,” he frowned, turning Nick’s ring over. Monroe slips his off and lets Bud look at it. “Oh, and you’ve scratched yours. Hey, how about you guys let me take these back and John and I will make you some good ones. John’s a master at inlaid stones and I’ve been teaching my boy how to make braided designs. It will take a few weeks, but-”
Nick looks up at Monroe, a certainty in his eyes that Monroe is a little shocked to see, and says, “No thanks, Bud. I think we’re pretty attached to them as is.”
Bud chuckles. “Of course, young love. Can’t bear to be parted with them just yet. It all ends, you know. The honeymoon and all that. Phoebe can’t even wear hers anymore because her fingers swell, you know? And kids, they kill all the romance. Well, you guys don’t have to worry about that, but- You know what, just let me have them for a few days, John and I will oil and wax them. It will take a few weeks to cure, but you can keep them during that time. It will protect them better.”
“Sure,” Nick says, answering his cell-phone. “Yeah, Hank? Yeah, okay. I’ll be there.” He slides the phone back in his pocket. “Caught a case. I’ll call you later.”
Monroe rolls his eyes. “Have fun,” he says sarcastically.
Nick leans up and gives him a quick peck, a chaste kiss that doesn’t linger, except that Monroe wasn’t prepared for it at all, and he can feel his heart bottom-out in his chest. “Don’t I always?” His fingers itch with the desire to latch onto Nick, hold him right there, and kiss him again. He knows, with the higher part of his brain, that it was for Bud’s benefit, a little show to keep the gossip at a minimum, and feels everything clench up inside of him. Monroe shoves his hands into his robe pockets, shuffling back a little. “Bud, you got somewhere to be? I can drop you off.”
“Oh, thank you, Nick, but I got the van today. If you two fine gentlemen ever need anything fixed, just call me.”
“Will do, Bud. Thanks for coming over,” Nick says, ushering him out. He smirks over his shoulder at Monroe, Bud talking a mile a minute about the varnishing process he and John are going to use on their rings, and shuts the door behind him.
Nick’s just locking the door of his car when Monroe pulls up in his yellow Beetle, announcing his return with a loud squeal coming from under the hood. “Oh, man, that doesn’t sound too good,” Nick says, opening the door for Monroe.
“It’s the V belt, again.”
“Here, pop the hood, I’ll have a look at it,” Nick offers, bumping his fist against the front of the Beetle.
“Nick, I’m going to ask this slowly, and please don’t take offense, but this is a fine piece of German engineering and I really can’t trust it in your hands if you get this wrong.” He takes a deep breath. “Exactly what kind of car do you think this is?”
“It’s a Bug.”
Monroe closes his eyes and counts to ten, resting his hands on Nick’s shoulders. “This is a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle. The engine is in the back. You are getting nowhere near it.”
“Oh, come on, how different can it be, Monroe? I change the belt in my car all the time.”
“Maybe the fact that you have to change it so often should be clueing you in that you are, I don’t know, doing it wrong?”
Nick rolls his eyes and steps towards the car again. Monroe steps between them, hands held out because there is no way Nick Burckhardt is touching his car. It’s his baby. His grandfather had bought it for his dad in the 70s, and it had been lovingly taken care of and passed down when Monroe was sixteen. He loved this car, probably more than he loved anything else. He's not going to unpack that statement anymore than it already was because that would bring up troublesome thoughts about his mom and dad and a certain doe-eyed Grimm. A Grimm who still had designs on his car. "Nick, hey. I've got a guy."
"Besides me? I'm jealous."
Monroe fixes him with a pointed look. "You're hilarious." He reaches out and grabs Nick's shoulders, running his hands up and down his arms. He bumps against the back of his car, the rear windshield wiper digging into his shoulder blades. "Hey, if you want to help me out, I got a ton of yard work that needs doing before the summer heat gets here."
Nick's palms are flat against the car, thumbs running along his ribs, and Monroe's not sure how they got this close, but here he is. Nick's head is tilted a little, breath warm across Monroe's lips. "Are you trying to distract me?"
Monroe's pretty sure he's the one who can't remember what they were talking about, but he's not going to admit defeat that easily. "It's a great strategy."
"It's not working." He tilts his head the opposite way and their noses bump.
"It's working beautifully, you just don't know it yet."
Nick hums in the back of his throat, runs his fingertips down Monroe's belly, and hooks his fingers in his belt. That's all the warning Monroe has before he's pulled into a lazy kiss, the warmth of Nick's mouth hotter than the air around him, and Monroe lets himself enjoy it. When Nick breaks away, he takes a deep breath, feeling the way his chest had tightened in the sweet burn of his muscles, and asks quietly, "what was that for?"
Nick's eyes are still closed, his cheek rested against the curve of Monroe's jaw, and Monroe thinks he looks like an indolent cat sunning himself on a window ledge. "Your neighbor Glinda is out."
"Who?" He looks up and sees her, putting her trash into the can sitting on the curb, and he thinks, 'oh, the young one.'
He leans back to look at Monroe disapprovingly. "Glinda. 23, works in a bakery, going to get her master's in dance? How do you not know Glinda? Her mom is going to bake me baozai."
"You are insane." He presses a quick kiss to Nick's lips, because he can, but he also convinces himself it's because Glinda was looking in their direction.
"I prefer incorrigible."
Monroe smiles, pushing Nick's hair back. "Rhymes with horrible."
"Hey, you married me." The tone changes, then. They hear Glinda's front door swing shut and Nick extricates himself from the embrace. Hands shoved awkwardly in his pockets, he says, "I won't touch your car, man. You don't have to protect it all night or anything."
With that, he takes off into the house, leaving Monroe leaning against his car, heart thudding in his chest.
Rosalee calls him at three o’clock in the morning. Nick shoots out of bed, covers bunching up around his waist, and he’s barking, “Burkhardt” into the receiver before his eyes are even fully open.
“Nick, hey, can I, uh-” she stops and takes a deep breath. “Oh my God, my apartment is infested with cockroaches, can I come sleep at your house?” Nick takes a moment to process that but before he can formulate a reply, she’s already sallying on. “I’ve put out poison and stuff but I can hear them in the walls and I found one in my bed and they are crawling on my legs as I sleep and I can’t do this anymore.”
“Yeah, no, come on over. We’ve got a spare bed.” Nick realizes belatedly that he’s sleeping in said spare bed, but he’s already offered it up. Maybe he can fake a late night case, if it gets awkward and desperate.
“I love you, you guys are the best. I’ll be there in fifteen, okay?” She hangs up and Nick throws the covers off his legs. He pads into Monroe’s room, flips the light on, and lays his hand gently on Monroe’s shoulder.
“Hey, dude, wake up,” he whispers, knowing Monroe’s hearing will pick it up. Monroe shoots awake, just about as violently as Nick had a few moments ago, and mumbles, “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, hey, stand down, soldier.” Monroe frowns at the joke and rubs at his eyes. “Help me change the sheets in my room, Rosalee is coming over.”
Monroe processes that for a second, turning it over in his sleepy mind. “Why is Rosalee coming over?”
Monroe nods sagely about that, shrugging his robe on. He gets about as far as the linen closet before his brain catches up. “Wait, Rosalee is coming here? To sleep? In your room?”
Nick blinks. “That’s why we’re changing the sheets.”
“I don’t think you are gripping the magnitude of this situation, Nick. This is Defcon One, okay? We’re totally-”
“Look,” Nick cuts him off, taking the now-rumpled sheets out his hands. “If me staying in here is going to be a problem, I’ve already thought up a cover story for me to go get a hotel room, okay? I wouldn’t put you out of your bed.”
It’s Monroe’s turn to blink, his with the distinct inflection of disbelief. “She’s going to smell you all over that room, Nick. No cover story you make up is going to get rid of that. She’s going to think we’re fighting, or something. I don’t know, are we still trying to convince her we’re married? I mean, maybe this is good. We’re, what? Halfway to the next equinox?”
Nick ignores the strange tightness in his chest, glares at Monroe throughout his rant, and calmly walks out of the room. He’s already stripping the sheets on his bed when Monroe leans in the doorway. “That’s better, right? I mean, we’ve already convinced everyone we’re married, now we have to convince them we’re not.” Nick doesn’t say anything, and Monroe fidgets, caught between crawling back in his bed and burying his head under the pillows and helping Nick make the bed. “I mean, if we just get un-bonded and no one thinks there are any problems, it’s going to make them ask questions. Maybe if they see the cracks, it will make more sense. It won’t be a shock.”
Nick finally breaks his stony silence with a sigh. “You’re right.” Monroe is suddenly struck with the intimacy of the conversation; the dim orange glow of the lamp lighting, the distracted way Nick was straightening the quilt on the bed, how they are both barefoot and still warm with sleep. Nick still has a small wrinkle on his cheek from his pillow, and Monroe can feel the chill summer night air bleeding through his thin robe. “If she asks...” Nick cuts himself off. Monroe nods, filling in the blanks for himself. They aren’t going to script it, work out the details of their imminent separation over coffee in the kitchen. Monroe thinks that’s stupid, but Nick’s not looking at him, intent on putting away all of the little reminders that he sleeps in this room every night that he can before she gets there.
Monroe sighs. “Come to bed after you’ve locked up, yeah?” Nick keeps ignoring him, trying to keep his heart beating evenly, even though the thought of the equinox had been sending little jolts of pain through his chest recently. He’s not ready to give this up, not yet, and Monroe’s blasé attitude about it made the pain sharper and more persistent. He had let himself believe it a little too much, the quiet domesticity of them blossoming inside of NIck and filling in all the chinks in his armor, and he couldn’t remember what it had felt like before.
He shows Rosalee in, sees the moment she smells him in the room when she breaks eye contact with him, and he crawls into bed beside Monroe. He knows he’s not asleep, can tell from the stiff way he’s laying on his back, eyes closed tightly, and Nick just sighs. He turns his back towards Monroe, a gesture he hopes Monroe understands, and falls into an uneasy rest, dreading the morning for the first time in a long time.
“I’m not going to ask,” Rosalee says to Monroe after Nick had sullenly shrugged out of the door into Hank’s car.
Monroe pours the rest of Nick’s cold coffee down the drain and rinses the cup out, setting it gently in the rack to dry. Monroe had woken up alone that morning, Nick already in the shower in preparation for the day, and Monroe was sad he’d missed the chance to smell his scent all over Nick. The pillow still smelled of Grimm - electricity and danger - and Monroe resigned himself to doing laundry today instead of his usual Thursday ritual of cleaning out the cupboards and fridge. Rosalee is dressed for work too and she sips quietly from her coffee cup. Monroe takes his time with his chores, trying to avoid looking directly at her. “It’s... nothing,” he says. “We’re not fighting.”
It’s technically true, they aren’t fighting and their marriage is almost literally nothing. It’s a series of lies and scenes from a play they make up on the spot, trying to keep the wesen world from finding out they were drunk, that a Grimm and a Blutbad really doesn’t work. Monroe likes the little things people have told him, the wesen he meets on the streets, the ones who tell him that they’ve gone wieder because they heard about the Grimm and the Blutbad who moved past tradition for love. The newlywed couples who he didn’t even know were together until he sees wedding photos on Facebook. He thinks, when he sees these pictures, that all of them will be bonded on the same equinox where he and Nick will be getting divorced. It makes him feel selfish and guilty that they are going to taint other people’s love stories.
“I said I wasn’t asking,” Rosalee repeats. “I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t ignoring it.”
Monroe presses his lips together in a tight line and nods, throwing down his dish rag and turning towards the living room. “I’ve got commissions to work on.”
Nick drags himself home around five that night, a day mostly spent doing paperwork for their last few cases while the other detectives are higher up in the rotation for new cases. They do get called out for a suicide, quickly signed off and filed away, and Nick gets a stark reminder of everything he hates about his job. The house is dark and silent, the only light coming from the kitchen. He’s drawn to it, finds Monroe and Rosalee cutting vegetables up for dinner. “Hey, guys,” he sighs, leaning against the island.
“That sounds like a shitty day sigh,” Rosalee murmurs, kissing his cheek.
Nick smiles a little at the attention and ignores the cold pit in his stomach that Monroe won’t even turn around to look at him. “Paperwork,” he answers, omitting the part of his day where a distraught father sobbed into his shoulder for an hour.
“We’re making the macaroni salad you like.” Monroe throws out to him, like a lifeline, and Nick can’t quite bring himself to hold onto it.
“Thanks, I’ll be- I’ll be right back, okay?” He rushes out of the kitchen and upstairs. He figures if Rosalee is still here, she’s planning to spend the night, so he holes himself up in Monroe’s room and just takes a second to breathe. He hears Monroe’s heavy tread up the stairs and he almost laughs out loud; Monroe would know Nick’s not an “alone” person when it comes to emotions. He might run himself into the very gates of Hell to protect someone, but being raised by an aunt who could be as emotionally absent as she was physically, had left Nick with a bit of complex about abandonment. He liked to work things out with someone, liked to have someone there to keep him grounded. Juliette had always liked privacy, a chance to be alone, to think by herself and come out fortified against whatever it was. Monroe, it seemed to Nick, had tried both methods and was still trying to find the right mix.
The door opens quietly behind him and Nick just sits on the edge of the bed. Monroe slips in and sits next to him, not touching but just there. Nick tries to smile up at him, but just ends up just frowning more, eyes locked on the carpet. “You know,” he says, voice maybe not exactly as strong as it should have been, “I don’t even know what we’re fighting about.”
Monroe seems a little perturbed by that but he shrugs his shoulders. “I’m pretty sure we’re not fighting.”
“Really?” It was a distraction, a little argument for arguments’ sake, and Nick welcomes the chance to think about, talk about, things other than the job and whatever was going wrong between them.
“Well, it’s not a fight in a Blutbad household until someone loses an eye, so I should say we are having a tift.”
“Do you read the dictionary when I’m not home?” Monroe just looks at him sideways and Nick feels strong enough to say, “It was a suicide, and I- I don’t like those.” Monroe nods, doesn’t offer any empty words, just accepted that maybe Nick isn’t made of steel and nightmares, like Grimms are supposed to be. Nick supposes that says a lot about them; that Monroe doesn’t look at him and see the stories from when he was a kid, but sees Nick just as he is.
“Rosalee’s staying the night again. They’re fumigating her place tomorrow to get rid of the cockroaches.” Nick nods, his turn to be silent. “Is that okay with you?”
“Yeah,” Nick says, standing up and offering Monroe his hand. “It’s fine. Come on, old man. Let’s go eat.”
Monroe plays along, groans as he gets up and whines about his joints a little, babbles all the way down the stairs that yoga is good for arthritis and morning stiffness. Nick snorts, already thinking up at least four different ‘morning stiffness’ jokes he’d like to make, knowing Monroe had set him up on purpose. Rosalee’s smiling when they get back to the kitchen, eating right off of a giant serving spoon from a big bowl of macaroni salad.
“I started dinner without you,” she says, unrepentantly licking a dollop of dressing off her finger from where it had fallen on her shirt.
“You are a terrible friend,” Nick jokes, leaning across the island to grab two more spoons.
It gets easier and harder, all at the same time, after that. Nick never moves back into the spare bedroom, and they don’t exactly analyze why that is, they just both accept it. Rosalee seems to smile a lot around them, that tense and suspicious look in her eyes softens, and eventually disappears. She went back home to her newly cockroach-free apartment with kisses and promises of a night out later on, if there wasn’t a case.
Cases come and go easily. They are still them, which means Nick almost dies at least twice a week, and Monroe is either standing at his side, or pacing at home. He hates the ones where Nick leaves him behind, trying to convince him that he needs Monroe to keep looking, that the answer is going to magically appear in one of Rosalee’s thousands of books just because Monroe’s the one looking for it.
“Your faith in my abilities, while adorable, is starting to piss me off,” Monroe sighs into the phone. Nick’s breathing on the other side is quick and pained, and Monroe can already feel that nagging, drawing need to be where Nick is to protect him clawing around in his chest. He’ll never admit it to Nick, but the feeling got stronger with their bonding - more animal and instinctive - and Monroe tries to tamp it down as best as he can. It’s hard, though, when he hears Nick’s phone clatter to the ground and the sounds of a fight filter distantly through to him. Monroe stays on the call, holding it to his face with his shoulder while he frantically leafs through a book so big, Rosalee had had to clear a whole table to set it down. Rosalee blanches, can tell that something is wrong just by the look on Monroe’s face, and pulls another book off the shelf.
“This is stupid,” Monroe mutters, slamming the book closed and moving on to the next one. He feels useless and tethered, and Blutbaden tend not to do well when put in a cage - metaphorically or not. It starts to press in on him that, if they don’t figure this out right now, he’s going to be a widower. He is definitely not ready for that. He’d much rather have Nick divorce him in front of the entire wesen community of Portland and never talk to him again than be the one to have to put him in the ground. The very thought makes Monroe panic and he listens hard to the telephone receiver to catch any indication Nick’s still there, still breathing. “Rosalee I’m going after him. Call me if you find anything.”
“What?” she demands. “Monroe, you can’t- Monroe.”
“He’s not going to make it much longer on his own and I’m not-” he stops, because he doesn’t want to admit that he can’t do this, that he’s too weak for this, all because he’s in love with a stupid Grimm. That’s a realization and a half and he has to stop putting his coat on to breathe deeply through his nose to keep from passing out. Jesus Christ, he’s in love with Nick. Rosalee is leaning in the doorframe, being decidedly not helpful at the moment, and he really can’t deal with her looking at him perceptively. Monroe frowns at her and she glares right back at him. “Rose, I can’t-”
“I know,” she says placatingly.
“Keep looking. I’m going to go find him.” He’s out the door and into the Beetle before Rose can answer him. It takes twenty solid minutes of hard driving for Monroe to get to the lake Nick had mentioned in passing as his only lead on this case. He pulls up just in time to see someone run into the woods a little, and he’s half-woged before he even gets the car in park. He follows the scent of pond weed and algae into the woods, and the smell of Nick’s blood follows behind it. The Froschkönig has Nick by his underarms, dragging him into the water. He can tell it’s one last desperate attempt to protect himself when he drags Nick close to his chest. Nick’s half-unconscious, head lolling dangerously around his shoulders, and Monroe’s eyes bleed red completely.
“I knew you would come for him,” the man says, eyes round and watery. “I could see you in the air, feel you on his skin. You surround him.” He shakes Nick as clarification, and Monroe growls deeply in his chest. A Froschkönig should know better than to pick a fight with a Blutbad, and if Monroe was more in charge of his higher faculties, he’d see the way the man was trying to figure out a way he could come out of this encounter alive.
Monroe takes a stutter-step forward - a warning - and the Froschkönig’s face drops into a determined and menacing glare. He pulls a switchblade from his pocket, holds it tight on the right of Nick’s neck, and Monroe can already smell the trickle of blood just from the way the edge bit into the skin.
“I’ll kill him, you know,” he warns, all pretense of innocence and weakness dropped.
Monroe dropped into a half-crouch, and stared dead into the man’s eyes. “Try me.”
The Froschkönig’s eye dart around, looking for a feasible escape, and Monroe stands his ground. There’s enough fear radiating in the air to make his mouth water like the olden days, and he’d really relish a chase right about now. There’s a flash of misgiving across the frog’s face, before he throws Nick into the water, and bolts into the forest. Monroe follows, pulled on by baser instincts, and he tears into the sensitive flesh of the slimy little man with ease. It’s a haze of blood and sweat and anguish, and Monroe only comes out of it when the blood stops pumping fresh and warm between his teeth. Nick sputters and coughs behind him, a reassuring if not pleasant rattle, and Monroe’s vision clears.
“Nick?” he barely whispers.
Nick seems to hear him, though, and hacks up more water. “I’m fine. Bastard might have cracked my skull, but I’m okay. You?”
Monroe wrings his hands together, tacky with brown blood, and clears his throat. “Fine. I’m fine. We’ve got a bit of a body situation to deal with, though.”
Nick wobbles over next to him and collapses on his knees. He wraps his hands around Monroe’s wrists. “Go wash off in the pond. I’ll deal with this.”
Monroe does just that. He dips his hands into water and scrubs ineffectually at the dried blood under his fingernails. He slips his wedding ring off, and his hand shakes at he wipes it clean on his flannel. He jumps a little when Nick lays a hand on his shoulder, but gets it together enough to turn and look at him over his shoulder.
“I’m just going to call it in, say it was an animal attack. I shot a few rounds earlier, so I’ll tell them I scared it off with my gun but it was too late. I’ll tell them it turned on me to explain my head. You get out of here.”
Monroe nods. “Why were you out here?” Nick looks a little dazed and doesn’t answer right away, so Monroe asks again. “What are you going to tell them when they ask why you are in the middle of the forest at night?”
Nick leans a little deeper onto Monroe’s shoulder. “Midnight run to clear my head?”
“You were armed.”
It’s an absent conversation, both of them stunned by violence and pain, and Nick sits down on the grass. “Running after a lead?”
Monroe stares down at his hands and wants to feel a surge of guilt. He wants to feel that roil in his stomach he gets when he stares a little too long at Nick when he wears his red t-shirt, but he can’t. He looks at Nick’s wane face, hollow rings around his eyes from exhaustion, and the slight curl of Nick’s fingers in his flannel, and he just feels vindicated, whole. Nick leans his forehead against Monroe’s shoulder and lets out a long breath.
“Leave it here and let someone else call it in? I can-” he pauses and winces slightly. “I can pick up my shell casings. You could leave a claw mark in a tree?”
Monroe’s hand finds its way to Nick’s knee and he asks, “will they really investigate it that much?”
“If they find a bullet, yeah, they will.” Nick tries to pull his ring off his finger, the water from his impromptu dip swelling the wood, and he gives up when it won’t budge. Instead, he picks Monroe’s ring out of his hand and slides it back on his finger. “Let’s get those casings and skedaddle.” Monroe offers a hand to help Nick up, and worries that he won’t be able to drive. Nick convinces him that he has to - that he can’t leave his car at the crime scene - and Monroe pushes his wet fringe back to look in his eyes. The pupils are round and even, blown wide open because of the dark night around them, and Monroe doesn’t know a damn thing about head injuries anyway, but Nick smiles and promises to meet him at home.
Rose is sitting on their front steps when Monroe pulls up, wrapped in her sweater and holding a book to her chest, and she whispers, “I found a way.”
Monroe frowns, ignores the way Rosalee is avoiding looking at his shirt, and says, “Nick’s fine.” He thinks that’s an answer in and of itself, and barely mumbles out a good night before he stalks in the house and up the stairs. He’s fresh from the shower and dressed in his boxers and t-shirt when Nick drags himself in, bullet casings rattling in his pocket.
“It looks pretty good,” he murmurs, taking his gun from his belt and setting it on his bedside table. The casings are thrown in the drawer, hopefully to be forgotten, and his shirt is stripped over his head in short order. Monroe settles wearily on the edge of the bed, and isn’t surprised when he hears the rattle of Nick’s belt and the weight of Nick’s body flopping face-down on the bed. “You know, for a crime scene,” he finishes, muffled in the pillow.
Monroe clicks off the light and lays down beside Nick, heart still hammering in his chest. “Rosalee go home?”
“She was here?” Nick’s already half-asleep, laying pretty much on top of their bedding, and Monroe turns over on his side.
“That answers my question.” His hand comes out to cradle the back of Nick’s head and he easily finds the swollen, tender spot left behind by the frog king. “Still hurt?”
Nick hisses at the contact, but stubbornly says, “no.”
Monroe harrumphs, but he just pets a hand down Nick’s back and hopes Nick won’t say anything about the sudden closeness. They aren’t cuddlers, per se - Monroe generates too much heat for it to be comfortable in the summer - but Nick has never complained about the small touches that happened over the course of the night. Monroe likes to think Nick enjoys them, returns them without thinking about it. Monroe enjoys denial, thinks it’s a very nice river, and plans on living on the bank of it until Nick slaps him in the face with the reality of it all. He’s got blood on his hands again, something that’s become more common since Nick literally tackled his way into Monroe’s life, and he can’t bring himself to give a fuck. The only thing he sees is the gentle rise of Nick’s chest and the shadow of Nick’s wedding ring where his hand is laid out on their sheets. He’s going to hold onto that image long after the fall equinox, after their divorce, because it makes him feel clean in a way that yoga and drugs never could. He starts to feel like intentions matter, more than actions, and that stabs at his heart like a knife. Because he can’t even remember why they got married, other than booze and stupidity, and it makes it all look so meaningless.
The real kicker is, Monroe wishes it was as meaningless as it should be. He buries his nose in the hair on the back of Nick’s neck and breathes in deep, falling to sleep wrapped around his temporary husband.
With August winding down, and the Froschkönig case closed and forgotten with no negative retributions for the two of them, they were both ready for a night off. Nick’s caseload had waned again, a boon granted by mother nature and the torrential downpours that had driven the criminals indoors, and Monroe had worked off most of his commissions during the initial thunderstorms. He’d dared Nick to make one joke about dogs and thunder, but Nick had been subdued about it. He only implied that he would find Monroe hiding under the mattress one night, instead of outright saying it. Monroe had been married to him for long enough now to know that was as nice as Nick was going to get with material as good as an irrational phobia.
The sun is weak outside, and the air fresh and clean. Everything smells damp and grassy, and Nick swears he can see a rainbow from their window. There’s a late afternoon baseball game on television, beers on the coffee table, and Monroe cracks a couple of windows to let the air circulate - cool and comforting - over them as they lounge together on the couch. Monroe is grateful for the rest. They have had had enough close calls in the first few months of marriage to last Monroe a lifetime, and he knows that as long as Nick’s around, there will be many more.
He is still living in a world where everything isn’t going to change after their divorce. He’s greedy for Nick’s time, his attention, now that he’s had it for so long. He’s always known Nick is intense and noble, but having all that focused on him is frightening and addicting, all at the same time. He is going to miss the small things - his socks under the bed, the extra razor on his bathroom sink, and the stupid reality shows on the DVR. There are going to be bigger things, too - the feel of Nick pressed along his back at night when Nick thinks he’s sleeping and the comfort of having someone in the passenger seat when he drives. It was a work in progress, but he is going to convince himself he can give them all up. He has to; the equinox is at the end of September.
Nick, because he thinks he is smooth, is trying his hardest to lean against Monroe without Monroe knowing it. That might have worked, before they’d shared a bed for two months, and Monroe just snorts and slips a casual arm across Nick’s shoulders, both of them sinking down into the couch and concentrating on their beers. “This game is a disaster,” Monroe mutters.
“Six to nothing in the eighth with no outs and a man on base and we still can’t score a run.” Nick balances his forearm on Monroe’s knee, letting the bottle hang precariously from his fingertips. “It’s like they want to lose.”
They let the comfortable silence filter over them, the only interruption being the crack of the bat on the third out and the segue to commercials that announced the end of the inning. Monroe had no interest in moving, not while he could soak up Nick’s warmth and smell, and dinner was just going to have to be reheated leftovers. When he voices this thought to Nick, he has no objections, the back of his head pressed into his shoulder, and his eyes slipping closed. It’s as close to perfect as they have ever been.
Of course someone knocks on their door.
Nick groans, closing his eyes fully as if to make the intrusion go away, and Monroe swats at the lazy lump he married, getting up to answer the door. “Hank,” he says, his discomfort obvious. “How nice of you to drop by. Is that... boxed wine? Thanks.”
Hank slides through the door, shoving the wine in Monroe’s arms, and Nick’s hopping up to greet his partner. “What are you doing here?”
Hank frowns, but it has an edge of humor in it, and says, “that’s a great way to greet your dinner guest.”
Monroe’s jaw drops and Nick can see it over Hank’s shoulder. He makes vaguely abortive motions, slashing at his neck, and Hank turns around to see what Nick’s watching, forcing Monroe to drop his hands. Monroe makes an escape to the kitchen, cheap wine in hand, and Nick pulls his partner over to whisper, “you don’t just invite yourself to dinner.”
Hank’s a good detective - always had been - and he’s already seen the rumpled blankets on the couch and the sweating beer bottles. He knows he’s interrupted a night in and it shows on his face. Nick contemplates punching himself, or Hank, and neither instinct wins out when Monroe drops a pot in the kitchen and yells, “sorry!”
Nick gives Hank the most disapproving look he can. “I’ll be right back.”
Hank, smug bastard, settles in an armchair and says, “the honeymoon had to end sometime, Nicky. I had to meet my new in-law, you know, properly. In an interrogation room just isn’t fair to either of us.”
Nick points a finger in Hank’s face, but decides against replying and hurries into the kitchen. Monroe, as usual, is panicking, trying to throw together a meal from the mess their fridge had become since the last obsessive-compulsive clean-out. Nick runs a soothing hand up Monroe’s arm and presses his cell-phone into Monroe’s hand. “Pizza. Hank likes everything - I mean, everything. Don’t let him fool you with the fancy boxed wine, he has no taste.” Monroe gives Nick a hard look, not exactly appreciating the joke, but he dials the number and orderstheir quickie dinner while Nick slowly puts away the things he had thrown on the counters in his haste to cobble up something edible. They are going to the store tomorrow, Monroe decides, hanging up, and Nick is not getting out of it. “He’s just doing this because he wants to get to know you,” Nick says, slamming the refrigerator door.
Monroe’s not angry. He’s a little irritated at the invasion of his territory by what he is currently classifying as a hostile force, but he’s not mad. He’s worried, that this is going to be the moment when it all falls apart. Nick has a pinched look in his eyes, one that Monroe thinks speak volumes about how not happy Nick is about this either, and he wonders if it’s for the same reason. Monroe wants Hank to approve of him, to like him, and he knows that’s stupid. In a month, Hank’s going to be dragging Nick out to a bar and raise a glass of whiskey in his name, “may he rot in Hell, the bastard.” It doesn’t stop him from looking over his shoulder at the living room and having his chest tighten. Nick pockets his cell-phone and laces their fingers together, pressing Monroe back against the island, and looking him in the eyes.
“Hey,” he whispers, smiling. Nick loves the depth of his brown eyes, and thinks about telling him, before he swallows it back and ducking his head a little. “He’ll love you.”
Monroe feels like it’s a opening, the introduction to a question he’s supposed to ask, but he can’t bring himself to do it. He breathes in Nick’s scent, feels the bump of Nick’s nose against his, and doesn’t open his eyes when their lips brush. It’s quiet, and painfully tender, and it takes Monroe a few minutes after Nick opens his eyes and smiles before re-joining Hank in the living room to realize this is the their first kiss that no one was watching. He stumbles over himself to find his wallet, and the only thing he manages to say for a long time is, “keep the change” to the delivery boy. Hank looks vaguely suspicious when Monroe plops the box down on the coffee table, Hank’s atrocious boxed wine and three glasses rattling as he does, and takes his seat next to Nick on the couch.
“That’s a nice picture of you guys, on the mantle,” Hank mumbles around his pizza crust, and they both have to look up to see what he’s talking about. Monroe had never been much of a picture kind of guy - leaving behind all memories of a previous life tended to do that to a person - and Nick had left most of his with Juliette when they’d split. Tucked between a few of Monroe’s clocks is a small 5x7 cardstock photo of them on the night of the bonfire, clutching beers and smiling into the camera. Nick recognizes it from Rosalee’s phone, a snapshot taken between tipsy and fucking wasted, and she had hid it there as a surprise for them. It was the only memory of that night either of them had, or admitted to, and Nick smiled at Hank. “Thanks. It’s from our wedding.”
“You know, you never told me much about it.”
Monroe chokes on his red wine (and thank God it had been red wine, since they had ordered pizza) and looks at Nick to answer that question. Nick, of course, was looking right back at him with a vague concerned, vaguely trapped expression, so he clears his throat and says, “it was sort of... spur of the moment.”
“You were drunk,” Hank laughs, because goddamn it, Nick hates all of his friends. He only loves Rosalee, because she’s great and she’s not Hank. They both sputter, but Hank just holds up his hands. “How do you think I got my third wife? I know what ‘spur of the moment’ stands for.”
Monroe glances at Nick, trying to read the expression there, but Nick’s face is impassive, and he nods. “We were smashed.”
Nick blinks up at him, then, and Monroe remembers them having a conversation about planting doubts in people’s minds and he wonders if that’s just what he did with Hank. It sends him into a spiral of self-doubt, torn between wondering if Nick had wanted him to do just that, or if had wanted him to tell an even bigger lie. He excuses himself to the bathroom, and chooses to run upstairs rather than use the one just off the kitchen.
Hank, the traitor, is still laughing, and Nick glares at him. “Damn, Nick,” he howls. “You are so in love.” Nick blushes, having expected Hank to say something else that he could deny. “You write everything right across that face of yours. I haven’t seen you this doe-eyed since...” he cuts off at her name.
“Juliette,” he finishes for his partner, and Hank leans forward.
Nick sighs a little, and rubs an insecure hand through his hair. They had run into Juliette at some fancy farmer’s market on the north side that Monroe apparently frequented often, since he knew all of the cart owners by name. She had been buying eggplant, of all things, and she looked up just in time to see Nick wrap his hand around Monroe’s and drag him away from the beets. It had been Monroe who noticed her first, and when Nick turned his head, she quickly looked down at her purchase again. It hurt, in a distant and not altogether very painful way, but he realized in that moment that, although he loved her, it wasn’t love. He kept looking until she looked up again, and he waved at her, a real smile on his face. She’d smiled back, tentatively, and waved. Monroe waved awkwardly too, then dropped his hand quickly when Nick turned back around to see him.
In a way, seeing her again, after they had both decided it was time to part ways, had opened up something inside that allowed him to be honest with himself. He laughs, wet and a little desperate, and looks Hank in the eye. “It’s so much more with him.”
Hank’s face morphs from serious to elated, and he punches Nick amiably on the shoulder. Nick rocks with it and looks shyly at his feet. “I’m happy for you guys, really. You need to work on your husband’s people skills, though. He looked like he swallowed a lemon all night.”
“I think it was the wine. Boxed isn’t exactly a staple in this household.”
Monroe pops his head down the stairs, sensing the change in the atmosphere, having been too busy freaking out in the bathroom to eavesdrop on their conversation, and slinks back to the couch. Hank pokes fun at his clocks a little, asks Nick how long it took him to get used to all the ticking all the time, and leaves with his boxed wine in hand.
“That could have totally gone better,” Monroe grumbles in bed that night, pillow over his face.
Nick slides over to lie close by his side, pulling the pillow gently away and tossing it to the end of the bed. “I don’t know.” He drags his fingertips over Monroe’s chest and smiles. “I think it went pretty great.”
August fades in September and Monroe realizes one morning, awake and alone in their bed, that he can measure the remaining time of their marriage in days now, instead of weeks or months. Nick had woken him up in the middle of the night to say he was going on a case with Hank, and had kissed the edge of his mouth, before slipping out the door and into the car. Monroe had lain awake since, watching the sun rise on Day 15 Until the Equinox and he feels cheated somewhere in all this. He was supposed to get six months, not six hours or six minutes, and time had moved way too fast.
He rolls out of bed and gets dressed without really thinking about it. He can’t concentrate on his yoga, or his work, and he almost burns his breakfast. The whole day is off-center, and Monroe feels it even when Nick drags himself back in the door and dumps the contents of his pockets on the hall table. Even when he kisses him welcome home, Nick’s heart doesn’t seem in it and Monroe is struck with a sudden fear that his touches aren’t welcome anymore. Nick digs into his jeans pocket and sets the splintered pieces on the table next to them.
“I sort of broke it today,” is all he says, and Monroe fixates on the empty space around Nick’s finger instead of the words.
“You broke your wedding ring?” The words are thick and gummy in his mouth, and Nick has the tact to look ashamed of himself for it.
“Bud told us not to wear them so much, and I kind of punched a guy on the jaw? I think he had some siegbarste blood in him, and well.” He snorts, a little amused, and suggests, "at least it wasn't my hand?"
Monroe almost tells him he wished it had been, but bites his tongue and concentrates on the shattered remains of the ring. The wood was dry and brittle, and no amount of glue in the world was going to put the pieces back together. It was jagged, breaking along the grains, and Monroe sweeps it all up in his hand and dumps it into a tissue. "Did you catch the guy?"
"Yeah. Cuffed and booked before sun-up. I'm going back to bed for a bit, okay? Wake me up for lunch. They want us back this afternoon."
Monroe says nothing as Nick squeezes his shoulder and runs up the stairs for his nap. There are a hundred questions circling around Monroe's brain. The ring had meant so much to him - a mark of possession to replace the ones he couldn't leave on Nick - and it was gone. He looks sadly down at his own ring and wonders if he should take it off. It's oddly one-sided to be the only one wearing it, and he chokes a little at the thought that this whole affair has been one-sided. He's the one who is holding on too tightly, grasping at straws and telling himself it's fine, all while watching the days slip right between his fingers. He pulls the ring off experimentally, but puts it right back on. He's floored by the sudden emptiness he feels.
Head in his hands, he berates himself for letting it become this. This was supposed to be easy. It wasn't real, none of it had been, except the divorce was going to be just that. It was going to rip them apart, no matter what Nick had said at the beginning, and nothing was going to be the same again. It hits him how much a divorce is going to mean: Nick's going to have to pack up, find his own apartment. It's going to leave Nick vulnerable, and Rosalee's either going to have to be told the truth or choose sides.
Monroe squashes down his emotions, throwing the fragments of Nick's ring into the small garbage can he keeps under his desk, and focuses on his work. It gets easier when he fills his time with something repetitive and mind-numbing. He gets Nick up for lunch, as promised, and sends him off to work with a new resolve. If Nick can walk away, so can he.
A week passes and the atmosphere of their house had changed rapidly. What had once been a comfortable, companionable silence, was tense and thick with unspoken words. Monroe had started printing off open apartments around the city and leaving them in the printer tray for Nick to peruse at his leisure. He crawled into the attic to find where Nick's suitcase had gone, and left it in the spare bedroom closet, where most of Nick's clothes still resided since there hadn't been enough room to move them into the master. Nick hadn't said anything about it, but he had a pinched look on his face more often than not. Even Hank had mentioned it one morning when he'd come in for coffee, and Monroe had mumbled something non-committal about both of them being tired.
Nick dispatches a few easy cases, all without Monroe's help, and takes down a few normal human ones. With just three days left until the Fall Equinox, they find themselves crowded around Rosalee's counter at the tea shop, Nick trying to explain the newest creature that's crossed his path. "Looked sort of like a monkey? Tawny hair, small nose."
"What do you want him for?"
"String of B&Es that recently escalated into a murder. The funny thing is, he bypasses the gold, the electronics, all of that. He takes clothes, toasters, pots and pans. It's almost like he's just taking whatever he can get his hands on first."
"Sounds like a Kniffligdieb," Monroe says gruffly. Rosalee pulls down a book from the shelf and they flip together to a page about the thieves.
"That's what he looked like," Nick agrees, eyes scanning the page.
"They get more satisfaction from tricking people than they do the actual thievery. Murder's a little outside their forte, but they are known to lash out when backed into a corner. They probably caught him in the act. Just out-fox him and you’ll catch him. I think you and Hank have got this one covered. Pretty straight forward." Nick looks up in surprise, but Monroe's already shrugging his coat. "Have you got your keys with you? Okay, good, see you at home."
Rosalee stays silent until the Beetle's headlights disappeared down the road. "Are you guys fighting again?"
Nick pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. "Tell you the truth, I don't even know anymore." He had found all of Monroe's little hints around the house - the plan for afterwards - and it was suffocating him. He’d tried to bring it up but Monroe had been avoiding talking to him about anything that wasn't work or dinner lately. It was like the days before, when Nick was a pushy cop and Monroe a reluctant civilian informant, and that hung like a weight on Nick's heart.
Rosalee, thinking she was being kind by changing the subject, asks, "are you coming to the Herbst Tagundnachtgleiche?"
It takes a second for Nick to realize she's asking about the equinox, and winces. "Yeah," he says. "We'll be there."
It’s still warm, but the air is crisp and filled with the scent of dead leaves. The bonfire roars in the background and Nick can already see the shadows of the wesen wandering around the flames. He slams the door closed on the Beetle and looks over the top of the car at Monroe. He looks pained and awkward, a little bit of a flashback to the first one of these festivals that he brought Nick to; of course, then, Monroe had been more worried about Nick’s head staying on his shoulders. He has a sick feeling that’s not exactly Monroe’s biggest worry right now. Neither of them had really talked about this, other than the pre-made plan to attend the festival, and the divorce. Nick follows Monroe into the fray of people, and wonders what he’s thinking.
Monroe, on the other hand, isn’t doing a very good job of hiding the myriad of emotions running through him as they walk into the fray. Nick is acting too cool about everything - stopping at some of the stalls and shaking hands with the wesen who counted him among their friends, slapping a companionable hand on Barry’s shoulder, and hugging Holly, grateful that she had received their invitation - and that didn’t help Monroe’s mood at all. He loses sight of Nick before they even make it to the Eisbibers’ domain and must come off as really rude when he barely says hello to Roddy as he scans the crowd for Nick. He tries to follow the smell, but the smoke and thousands of other scents mask it. He doesn’t even sense Rosalee coming up behind him until she curls her fingers around his shoulder. “You alright there, Monroe?”
He startles, something uncharacteristic enough that Rose flinches back, and he smiles wanly. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just, uh- lost Nick.” The words are a little too honest, even for Monroe, and he can practically feel the blood drain from his face. Rosalee wraps both hands around his arm, as if to hold him up and keep him on his feet.
“It’s okay, you know,” she murmurs, low enough that it sinks into the background noise of celebration, but Monroe can still hear it.
“No,” he dry-sobs, the word harsh and stilted. “This is possibly the farthest thing from okay I think we could be. This is a whole other universe of not okay. I can’t think of any place where this would be okay.”
“No, Monroe,” she tries again, moving to stand directly in front of him so he can see her eyes. “It’s okay that you fell in love with him.”
Monroe blinks, feels distinctly like he just got run over by a truck, and clears his throat. It’s still painful to speak - the muscle tight and drawn with bottled-up emotion - and he can’t meet her eyes as he says it. “You knew?”
“I had a feeling,” she confirms, taking a step back from him. “I thought that things had worked out for you, after that night I stayed over, but-”
“Oh my God, did you try to match-make us with the cockroach story?”
She snorts, eyes wide. “No, those little bastards were real. They crawled on my legs all night and I found one under my pillow. I would never invent cockroaches.” Monroe sits down in a wooden folding chair, one of many scattered around the field, and takes a deep breath. When he looks up, he sees Hilde, the aged standesbeamte who had married them six months ago, and he just stares at her. She’s a Lowen with a strong sense of tradition, a perfect registrar for the Portland community, and she’s probably bonded every couple in the city for the last fifty years. She’s tall, and regal, and the pit of Monroe’s stomach drops knowing he’s going to have to ask her to divorce them.
“I can’t do it. I haven’t even taken off my ring.” Rose knows what that means. She’s seen Nick walking around without his for two weeks and Monroe doesn’t think she ever knew why.
“I’ve got to find Nick. I’ve got to- I don’t know.”
He searches the grounds for a long time, the sun setting deeper on the horizon, and the fire blazes higher as they throw more wood on it. He gets stopped by a few more friends, old and new, and he shakes them off, trying to find Nick in the press of bodies. He finds Bud, waves back, but can’t get close enough to ask if he’s seen Nick, and ends up by the edge of the forest straining over everyone’s head for a familiar sight.
He catches Nick’s scent and looks to his right just in time for Nick to wrap his fingers around Monroe’s wrist. He smiles up at him, eyes coy, and asks, “follow me?”
Monroe nods, letting Nick lead him into the forest. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Listen, Nick, we’ve got to talk. And I mean, talk talk, not this avoidance bullshit we’ve been practicing for three weeks, okay? We didn’t even come in separate cars. Have you even looked at the apartment listings I left for you?”
Nick stays remarkably silent, tugging on Monroe’s arm, letting him rant on, and leads him into a small glen in the woods not too far from the field. Monroe can still see the glow of the bonfire, but the noise of the crowd is more like a dull roar for him, and Nick probably can’t even hear them. “Recognize this place?”
Monroe frowns, still stuck on the fact that Nick is avoiding the real subject at hand, and huffs, “no.”
“Really?” Nick looks smug, and beautiful, and Monroe has to turn his head away to keep from breaking down. “Because this is where I proposed to you.”
That gets Monroe’s attention. He crosses his arms and stares thoughtfully at one very tall oak. “You remember it?”
Nick shrugs and leans against the oak. “Not all of it. But I remembered this place, and this tree. You must remember some of it too.” Monroe colors, guilty. “I remember it was all my idea, too.”
“I knew it,” he says, the vindication evident in his voice. It’s always Nick’s fault, and Monroe’s going to hold onto that forever. It’s going to keep him warm at night when Nick’s halfway across the city in a shitty apartment by himself. He’s allowed to be angry now, with Nick admitting to causing all of this pain with his stupid idea.
“I had another idea. Wanted to run it by you, you know, before.” He looks suddenly insecure and young, shuffling his feet and digging his hands in his pockets. He pulls out a small box and tosses it across the glen to Monroe. He catches it, eyebrows already drawn, and he opens it cautiously. Nick can have a terrible sense of humor, and he approaches all surprises with a healthy dose of trepidation. Inside, laying on a small yellow polishing cloth, are two brand new wooden rings. One’s a little bigger than the other, but they match in every way. The wood is a dark, rich cherry, with an broad, inlaid stripe of knotted oak. They are polished and smooth, nothing like the rough ring still on his finger.
“Nick,” he says finally, after staring into the box dumbly for what felt like hours. Nick licks his lips, and Monroe can sense how nervous he is all of a sudden.
Nick is proposing to him again.
He stumbles closer to him. “How long?”
Nick grabs Monroe’s right hand and slips the old ring off his finger and slips it in his pocket. “I ordered these from Bud two months ago.” It wasn’t the question Monroe had asked, but it was the answer anyway. It didn’t matter to Monroe if Nick couldn’t name the exact day - Monroe, if pressed, couldn’t either - but it was enough to know that he hadn’t been the only one, that Nick had been planning this since before his ring had broken. He pulls one of the rings out of the box and holds it up to Monroe’s hand. Monroe doesn’t pull away as he slips it on, and he turns to fish Nick’s ring out. The box is stashed away in his pocket, and he pulls Nick’s hand up to him.
“Stay married to me?” It was important to Monroe, to be the one to say it this time, because it let Nick know he wasn’t alone in this, and the relief that flooded through both of them was palpable in the air.
Nick smiles, wide and eager, and answers, “always” as Monroe slides the ring on his finger and leans forward for a kiss.
When he wakes up in the morning, all Monroe can smell is Nick.