"Hey, Monroe, what's up- What happened to your house?"
"In what seems to be a devastatingly permanent trend in my life, you did." Monroe gestures Nick inside, lips pursed in defeated anger. Nick slides into the house, gingerly stepping over the cluttered pile of shoes left there, and slipping his coat off to drape over the banister. There was stuff, everywhere. Empty pizza boxes, crushed soda cans, half-eaten bags of Cheetos and pringles, and every other kind of atrocious junk food Nick could never imagine Monroe bought for himself.
"Roddy and Holly over again?"
Monroe nods silently, crossing his arms as Nick picked a blanket off the floor and folded it sloppily, tossing it into the armchair. "And Barry."
"Barry?" Nick says surprised. "That's new."
Monroe pulls Nick into the kitchen. "He's sniffing around Roddy. I'm going to be honest with you, man, I don't particularly like it."
Nick pushes Monroe into one of his chairs, before he starts fiddling with the espresso machine. Monroe attempts to protest, but Nick just shushes him. "You think Barry's planning something?"
Monroe snorts, rubbing a tired hand over his face. "Not that way. I think our Jagerbar has intentions towards Roddy. That's not how you make a cappuccino. You foam the milk all wrong."
"Hey, hey, at least I'm trying, okay?" Nick sits the cup down in front of Monroe and waits patiently for him to drink.
"The foam is too bitter and you made it too dry."
"Good to know I'm appreciated here," Nick shoots back, sipping his own black, regular grind, regular roast, boring black coffee from a mug, as God intended coffee to be drunk. Monroe grimaces, but Nick notices that a canister of his favorite brand is always present hidden shamefully in the far corner of Monroe's coffee cabinet.
"At least you drink the shitty stuff. Holly's acquired a taste for Kona. And my couch."
"I'll buy you a lock, and maybe a couch cover."
"Hrmm," Monroe groans in disbelief. "We've got to quit picking up strays. I don't remember signing up to run Monroe's Fairytale Halfway House."
Nick pats his arm bracingly. "Hey, these kids need someone, Monroe. Why not us?" Monroe just whines pitifully, and drinks his espresso. "Tell me more about Roddy and Barry."
Monroe shoots Nick a dark look. "Are you going to try braiding my hair next?"
Nick glances over at him, assessing. "It's long enough."
Nick could hear the distant pound of feet on Monroe's staircase. "Language. The kids are up."
Barry and Roddy round the corner first, sliding into the kitchen and making their way to the refrigerator. "Milk's on the counter already," Monroe sighs, pointedly ignoring Nick's smirk.
"French toast?" Roddy suggests.
"Cinnamon sugar, second cabinet on the right. Where's Holly?"
"Probably chasing a squirrel through the backyard," Barry snorts, before Roddy gave him an elbow to the ribs. "I mean, she's upstairs, taking a bath."
"Hey, Detective," Roddy calls over his shoulder, rattling through Monroe's pans, Barry close behind him drinking from the milk carton. Nick could feel Monroe's wince from across the table.
"Morning, boys. Sleep good last night?"
A blush spread across their cheeks, Roddy's more bashful and chaste than Barry's, and Monroe kicked Nick under the table. Nick feigned innocent, and Monroe wasn't fooled. “Very well, thank you,” Roddy stammers out after a silent moment of Nick’s innocent mocking and Monroe’s torture.
“How about you, detective?” Barry asks cheekily.
Nick salutes him with his coffee mug and replies, “like a baby.”
“Hey, Monroe, um, it’s raining.”
Monroe shifts his cell phone to his other shoulder and sighs. “Hello to you too. I expect whatever you are about to say to me, I’m not going to like.”
“I’m kind of...bringing some kids over.”
Monroe groans. “Let me guess, Hansel and Gretel from your last case.”
“Hanson and Gracie,” Nick corrects, and Monroe can hear the clicking of his turn signal. “And Kevin.”
“Hmmm, well, it would be good for Holly to have another girl around.”
Nick chuckles quietly into the phone. “You’re getting as soft as me, Monroe. What are you and the kids up to tonight?”
Monroe glances around the living room, to where Barry and Roddy are flopped on the couch, legs casually tangled together, and Holly licking cheese dust from her fingers while curled up in his favorite arm chair, a nondescript music video played quietly in the background, and knows he’s way softer than Nick. “Looks like it’s movie night. Bring food. What’s everyone want?” he announces the last part to the room at large.
“Pizza,” came the collective shout.
“Did you get that?”
“Loud and clear, mon capitan. Let me guess: they want everything pizzas.”
“Holly wants a meat lovers,” Monroe translates when Holly glances over at him expectantly.
“Your wish, my command.”
“Haha,” Monroe chuckles sarcastically. “If only.”
By the time the movie was over, Holly was practically sitting in Gracie’s lap as the other girl brushed her hair out. Nick leaned over the back of the couch, whispering in Monroe’s ear, “so, that was a match made in Heaven.”
“Hanson and the guys are hitting it off.” Nick grabs Monroe’s plate from his lap and moves into the kitchen. Monroe follows him, trying not to look too closely at where the boys were talking a rather vicious game of Bloody Knuckles at his kitchen table.
“Just... don’t scratch the finish.” A chorus of grumbles follows him through the kitchen, and then a great shout when Roddy brought out blood on Kevin’s hand. “And, uh, there’s a first aid kit in the upstairs bathroom.”
“Give it up, dude,” Nick says, elbows deep in warm, soapy dish water. “You’ll be lucky if you can get them to wash their hands.”
“Hey,” Monroe says, “leave that for them to do. They need to learn a little responsibility.”
“Let them have their fun, Monroe. They’ve had enough responsibility in their lives, don’t you think?” Monroe sets the dish in the drying rack and frowns. “You remember being young, don’t you?”
“Painfully,” Monroe mutters.
“Then, come on, I’ll wash, you dry?”
Monroe couldn’t bear to turn down Nick’s doe-eyed sensitivity, especially when it was for the kids, and peeled off his sweater to keep it from getting soaked. He pulls a clean towel from the drawer and practically yanked the dishes out of Nick’s hand. “I can remember a time in my life where I washed one dish every night.”
“Don’t miss it at all, do you?” Nick quips.
Monroe surveys the house again: all of his clocks moved into the attic to keep from being broken, a gaudy padlock on his coffee cabinet that Nick had installed two weeks ago, Gracie humming a broken lullaby in the living room under her breath, the boys laughing at bawdy jokes that made Roddy blush more, and Nick just in his t-shirt with soap suds on his nose.
“More and more, everyday,” he mutters, with no real meaning behind the words.
“A tie, Nick. It’s a thing you wear around your neck, under your collar-”
Nick interrupts the diatribe by thrusting the silk...thing at Monroe. “I know what a tie is, Monroe. I even own one. I just want to know why you are insisting I wear one to this recital. Isn’t the whole point of recitals to embarrass your kids by clapping really, really loudly and to get some blackmail tape for when they do something bad?”
“Maybe when they’re six and playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Roddy is classically trained violinists. He’s going to be playing Bach, and Liszt, and Strauss, okay? This is a suit and tie affair, not jeans and a baseball cap.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll wear the tie. I can still bring my camera, though, right?”
Monroe gave him a sour look. “As if we wouldn’t tape this. Are... Nick, I’m going to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and count to ten. When I open my eyes, is that tie still going to have tiny gnomes on it?”
Monroe threw his hands up in the air. “Can I get some support here? Gracie.”
“I think they’re cute,” Gracie answers, helping fasten one of her puka shell bracelets around Holly’s wrist.
“Cute,” Nick parrots. “Gracie and Holly like them. They like my gnomes.”
“I hate you as a person, Nick Burkhardt.” Nick just smiles, the start of a joke tripping on his tongue.
“We’re going to be late,” Roddy squeaks, carrying both his instrument, his own tie hanging loose around his neck. “How are running so late?”
“It’s barely five o’clock, Rod, the recital starts at six,” Hanson mutters, grabbing the violin from him. “You’re going to be great tonight. We’ve heard you practice.”
“Monroe! Monroe! Can I get a hand?” Barry yelled from the door.
“Gnomes,” Nick whispers. “You are going to have to sit next to me in my gnome tie.”
“Says you,” Monroe calls, hurrying through the living room. “I’m sitting with the sane people.”
“That was super, Roddy,” Gracie cries, raising her coke in the air. The rest of their group, all piled into a booth at Roddy’s favorite diner, followed her lead.
“Amazing,” Holly smiles, trying out the new slang her friends had been teaching her.
“Super?” Monroe gasps. “More like superb. Your handling of the instrument, your musicality, the way you would rise and fall with the tone... I mean, wow.”
“Slow down, cowboy,” Nick laughs, squeezing his friend’s shoulder. “I just- I don’t play anything but even I knew that was incredible. Burgers on us!”
They click their glasses together gently, each making sure to salute everyone, leaving Nick and Monroe for last. “You better have brought your wallet,” Monroe sighs. “You have no idea how much you owe me.”
“You know, Monroe, I think I do. I got a real bad feeling I owe you my life.”
Monroe smirks, leaning back into the booth and letting the chatter of their little brood of misfits kids wash over him. “Yeah, you do.”
“Admit it, you like the gnomes.”
“No, no,” Monroe practically sobs, “I will never like the gnomes.”
The season changes quietly; Portland suddenly engulfed in sweltering heat and humid nights. Even Nick’s signature leather jacket and Monroe’s favorite sweaters were abandoned for cool cotton and cold beers. They were sitting on the cool cement steps in front of Monroe’s house, Nick with his beer held against his flushed cheeks and forehead, while the kids played frisbee. Holly was preternaturally good at it, and Monroe had dared Nick to make one comment about it.
“I see Gracie’s here,” Nick says casually, like he hadn’t been waiting to bring it up since he arrived.
“She’s taken a shine to Holly. Hansen, he... He still feels like this is charity. He doesn’t like staying here unless the weather’s bad, but Gracie...”
“It’s good, it’s good.” Nick takes a sip of his beer. “She needs this.”
Monroe snorts. “I’m going to need a bigger house. That’s something I never thought I’d say.” When Monroe had bought this house, he had bought it specifically because it had just the right amount of space for him without being too spacious or expensive. Now, it was starting to feel tight, confining, instead of just right. There were little pieces of all of them scattered around. Gracie kept a craft box filled with her puka shells, strings, clasps, and beads on his bookshelf. Roddy and Barry had piles of sheet music and broken CD cases jammed under sofa cushions. Holly left robins eggs and pretty stones in his coffee cups, smiling brightly when he or Nick would find them. There were more pairs of tennis shoes than Monroe had ever seen in his life littering his floor, and his couch never seemed to be free of someone’s pillow and blanket.
“Does it...bother you? I mean, I know you’ve opened up your home and everything. I know I make jokes, too. But, be honest: do you wish it would all go back to before?”
Monroe had to think quietly about it for some time, picking at the soggy label on his mostly empty bottle, feeling the heat from where Nick’s leg was pressed next to his and from the sun bearing down on them above. “I used to think that...that isolation was going to be the only way I could gain control of, of the wolf, I guess. To put it in layman’s terms.”
“Thanks for that,” Nick jokes.
“You’re welcome,” Monroe says sincerely, causing Nick to laugh more. “But I guess now I’m seeing that, maybe having a little bit of chaos around to distract me isn’t so bad. I just wish Barry and Roddy would have sex somewhere other than my guest room every night.”
“You’d prefer your kitchen counter?” Monroe gags at the thought, just feeding Nick’s wicked side. “Maybe the couch? What about your desk? You know, I bet they wouldn’t mind it one bit-”
“Thank you, thank you, I’m scarred enough, now, thank you.”
Nick stretches his legs out next to him, leaning back on his elbows, and says, “we’re not going to have to have The Talk with them, are we?”
Monroe shudders. “We’re too late for that. Besides, I take out their garbage.”
“Oh, thank God. I don’t think either of us would survive that level of awkward.”
“Why did we have to skip the adorable puppy phase and go right for randy teenagers? Hormones suck.”
Nick coos. “Do you want a baby, Monroe? That’s sweet. You’d be a great Mommy.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“I’m your favorite.”
“Debatable, Nick. Very debatable.”
Nick levers himself up, using Monroe’s knees as a brace, and says, “come on, dude, they’re going to want dinner.”
“Don’t they have parents?” Monroe grumbles.
“Besides us?” Nick says, but Monroe can hear the hint of sadness behind it, the same dull ache he feels when he thinks about the parents he doesn’t talk to, or the ones Nick can’t.
He snorts. “That’s a sad thought.”
“Isn’t it just?” Nick kicks at Monroe’s foot absently. “Dude. Dinner.”
“When did I adopt you?” Monroe asks seriously. It’s not a thought he’d had before, until just that second. He supposed it was when he stopped slamming the door in the Grimm’s face.
“You know what they say, Monroe. Don’t feed strays. Then they’ll just keep coming back.”
“Why can’t criminals stop being criminals when it’s this hot?” Nick moans through the phone as Monroe mixed up a batch of pancakes. “This car is hot and Hank’s probably sitting in that nice, air-conditioned diner laughing his ass off with the cook about his dumb partner dying of heat stroke.”
“Is this an early morning pity party call? Because I’m making pancakes and I think Holly has learned how to pick the lock on the coffee cabinet.”
“That Hawaiian shit gone again?”
“That Hawaiian shit is premiere coffee, Nick. I get it from a specialty shop that flies it in fresh from the islands, okay?”
“I’m so glad you are making pancakes in your nice, cool house. Don’t burn yourself, Monroe. I’d be real sad over that.” Monroe frowns through the phone, hoping Nick can hear it in the weight of his silence. It must work. “What’s up?”
“Hansen has a thing for Holly.”
“Get the fuck out,” Nick exclaims. “What are you doing, pairing them off like Noah’s Ark up there?”
“I must be doing something wrong.”
“I don’t think there’s a right and wrong to raising a house full of mystical fairytale creatures,” Nick sighs, obviously exhausted.
“Did you not sleep at all last night?”
“Nope, too busy doing surveillance in a hot as fuck car with Hank yammering on and listening to sports radio. Speaking of, Hank’s incoming. I’m coming over later. Try not to chew Hansen’s hands off, okay?”
“No promises, bro. No promises.”
“This is the most pretentious grocery store I have ever been in, Monroe.” Nick’s leaning over the handle of the cart, pushing it crookedly down the aisle as Monroe contemplated three different types of dried pasta. “They have, like, a wine taster guy-”
“Sommelier,” Monroe corrects.
“See? You even know how to say it. Like, who needs a guy to tell them what wine to buy with their fish?”
“Um, excuse you, do you know the difference between a sauvignon and a chardonnay?”
“Then I rest my case.”
Nick makes a little buzzing noise with his lips, staring up at the florescent lights, seemingly bored out of his mind. “Do they even sell Cheetos here?”
“Organic, baked, cheese puffs, yes. Cheetos?” the word dripping with contempt, “no.”
“Holly loves Cheetos. We should buy her a bag of Cheetos. But, like, at a normal store. With normal people prices.”
“Man cannot live on junk food alone, Detective. In twenty years, you’re going to be a very sad, very fat washed up cop, doing desk work because his heart can’t take the strain of chasing down criminals. The world’s most pathetic Grimm.”
“Have you always been this snarky or is this a new thing? Did I miss the evolution of Monroe’s wit? I’m sorry I missed that. I bet that was entertaining.”
Monroe grabs the front of the cart and steers them down the produce section, highly intent on teaching all these heathens he lives with the joy of fresh, leafy green vegetables. He had been trying to get them together to start a small garden in his backyard, but everyone seems to disappear into thin air whenever he mentioned it. “Man cannot live by pizza alone, Nick. Especially not growing kids. Healthy habits start at home.”
Nick stops walking, holding the cart so Monroe is forced to turn around and stare at him. “You’re like a walking... I don’t even know what the fuck you are. You’re stupid.”
Monroe should have felt insulted, but Nick was looking at him with something a little bit more like awe than anything else. Monroe ducks his head and just tugs the cart towards the lettuce. “You’re stupid.”
“We spend too much time hanging out with teenagers.”
“Teenagers who need good nutrition. I’m buying beets. You like beets, right? Actually, I really don’t care, we’re eating beets.”
“I’m eating steaks with Hank tonight, did I not tell you yet?”
Monroe twists the plastic bag shut and glares. “You’re a funny man. Now I see why you are Mr. Popular down at the police station. Tell me, how do you get any work done, being so cool?” Monroe pauses for a moment and then says, “you’re right. We hang out with teenagers too much.”
Nick smiles, a shitty habit he has that Monroe grows to hate more everyday, and bumps the cart with his hip. “Can we get out of here now? I feel like everyone here can tell that I haven’t taken a multivitamin since they were in the shape of the Flintstones.”
Once they had piled up Monroe’s purchases on the conveyor belt, Monroe starts to thumb through his wallet, only to have Nick beat him to the punch, swiping his credit card through the register. “Nick, no, don’t-”
“Hey, shut up. I did, okay? And don’t worry about it. It’s practically our version of child support. Hand the lady your hippie reusable grocery bags, Monroe.”
“Thanks,” Monroe says seriously, when they are back home, the kids picking around all the healthy things for the junk Nick had bought at the bottom of the bags.
“You’re welcome, Monroe.”
"Shut up, you're going to wake him up."
"Isn't that what we're intending to do?" Roddy whispers.
"Not if Nick has beat us to it," Barry snickers.
Monroe peeks one eye open, not moving. He could hear all of their bare feet scraping on his stairs, the rattle of a cup and saucer, and the smell of cream cheese and toasted bagels floated gently towards him. They knew.
"Happy birthday!" they scream, bustling in his room. Holly jumped on his bed, followed by Gracie and Roddy. Barry wraps an arm around his boyfriend and sits awkwardly on the edge. Hansen places the tray in his lap when he sat up, starring at them with wide eyes.
"We made you breakfast," Barry winks. "Well, we burned your breakfast and then made you bagels." Roddy elbows his boyfriend.
"And your special coffee!" Gracie smiles.
"I picked lock," Holly beams.
Monroe feels it well up in his throat, that sticky tightness that makes it hard to breathe, and his hands shake when he picks up his cup, knowing that they were probably twice as bad at foaming milk than Nick was, and knowing it was still going to taste better than anything he’d ever had. "Thanks," he coughs, trying not to let his voice shake. "This is... the best birthday."
"Well," Hansen says awkwardly, "you do so much for us. You don't even have to. You just do it... because you want to. And, um, we appreciate it. I appreciate what you do for Gracie, and me. So, thank you."
"Yeah," Gracie agrees, taking her brother's hand.
"And for us," Roddy puts in, Barry nodding along.
"And me!" Holly takes his free hand and rubs it across her cheek. "Thank you."
Monroe clears his throat again, brushing away a few errant tears he wasn't about to admit to. "You're welcome. Now, let's dig in to this bagel. Hey, by the way, how'd you know it was my birthday today?"
"Nick!" half the crowd answers immediately.
"I should have known," he grumbles, smiling slightly. "He abuses his badge, all of you remember that."
"Speaking of," Roddy says curiously, "is he already at work?"
"Huh?" Monroe mumbles around his bagel. It was a little too far past toasted for Monroe's tastes, but he wouldn't dare spit it out in front of them. "He's not here."
"Yeah," Roddy repeats, "did he go to work early?"
Monroe snorts. "How should I know? He doesn't live here."
Silence reigns in the room, confused faces surrounding him. "Is he back with Juliette?" Gracie asks, finally. "You should have told us!"
"Uh," Monroe groans, "oh. You guys thought- No, no, we weren't- Where did you even- Wait, Barry, where are you going?" Monroe hands the breakfast tray back to Hansen, shoving his arms in his robe and following the sound of slamming doors. He finds Barry sitting on the street curb, his head hanging down between his knees. Monroe sits beside him, wrapping his robe around his legs. "So-"
"That's pleasant," Monroe says sarcastically. "Look, it's my birthday, right? So I call the shots. Now, I know I'm an adult, and that means I'm, like, super lamecore or whatever-"
Barry snorts, rolling his eyes. "Never say lamecore again. That's embarrassing for you."
"Whatever, dude. Look, you want to clue me in to what that jail break was about back there?"
"I don't know."
"You'll excuse my language, but bullshit. Don't tell Nick I swore."
"That's just it!" Barry shouts, standing up to pace in the street. "You and Nick! We all thought..."
"That we were together?" Even saying it made Monroe feel funny, awkward and seventeen like the boy in front of him.
"And now you're not."
Monroe rubs his beard and says, "okay, what does that mean to you?" He feels like one of those kookie quack psychiatrists you see on TV, who ask you about your feelings and how your dad treated you as a child.
"Roddy and I, we thought..." he trails off and stops pacing to look Monroe in the eyes. "I thought that, if a Grimm and a Blutbad could make it work, maybe we could too. I thought, if they had the courage to do it right, I could have this with Roddy. Now, I just don't know anymore. If I was wrong about you guys, what else could I be wrong about?"
Monroe has no idea how to respond to that and, just to add insult to injury, Nick chooses just then to arrive in his car. "Come inside, Barry."
"That's alright," he replies coldly. "I'm just going to take a walk." Monroe sighs and drags himself away from the curb to meet Nick on his front porch.
"So, that looked heavy. Did I miss breakfast?"
"Oh, boy, you missed a hell of a lot more than just breakfast. Come on, my kitchen probably looks like Chernobyl and I'll fill you in on the incredible amount of awkward that has entered my life this morning."
"Hey, wait," Nick grabs Monroe's arm. "I want to give you your present."
"Nick," he moans, "no presents. Come on, I know we didn't talk about it, but it should have been unspoken."
"Just take your gift, man, and stop fighting me. You know I always win."
"Fuck, you really always do," Monroe takes the lid off of Nick's badly wrapped present and almost drops it. "Is this a Patek Phillipe?"
"I have no idea," Nick chuckles.
"Nick, this is a $10,000 pocket watch. If it was a Patek Phillipe, you would know."
"Oh, well, then, it's definitely a knock-off. I got it off a guy for $200 bucks in the park."
Monroe laughs so hard, he is almost bent over double. He's standing on front porch at seven o'clock in the morning, in his robe and boxers, holding a possibly illegal, knock-off designer watch in his hand and starring at the man half of their little ragtag band of kids thought he was in love with. The hilarity of this being his life was almost painful, and he just had to keep laughing to stop himself from doing something stupid. "You're an idiot. You are the worst cop I have ever met."
"Hey, happy birthday to you too, bastard," Nick says seriously. "You promised me nuclear warfare and awkwardness?"
Monroe looks at Nick, with his bright blue eyes and his silly teenage boy hair cut, and he thinks maybe it isn't so silly, that Barry thought they were together. It should be ridiculous, a Grimm and a Blutbad, and it kind of was, but right now, Monroe saw it as a whole different type of hilarious. It was trying to find every one's shoes at night when Barry and Roddy left to go out to eat, or slipping a few dollars in Gracie's pocket before she and Hansen left in the morning. It was Holly curled up on the floor with her head on Nick's knee waiting for her mom to come pick her up. It was beers at midnight, when the house was quiet, and coffee in the morning when it wasn't so peaceful.
Nick smiles under Monroe's scrutiny. "Come on," Monroe says, "I'll spare you from the atomic fall-out of my kitchen if you make me another latte."
"Also, it’s been confirmed: Holly can pick the lock on my coffee cabinet," Monroe says, just as he shuts the door behind Nick.
Nick gingerly lowers himself down on the couch. “Fuck this job,” he groans, bracing his side from where his ribs were “definitely bruised, possibly broken, but fuck you, I’m not going to the hospital again, Monroe.”
“Are you kidding? The bed is probably still warm from the last time you were there.”
Nick grimaces, and Monroe hands him the ice pack that was slowly melting in his hand. “That’s real rich, coming from you.”
“What happened to you, anyway?” Roddy says nervously, biting his thumbnail.
“This stupid as fuck-”
“Nick,” Monroe censures, shaking out a couple of his leftover painkillers from the pill bottle and pushing them into the cop’s hands. Nick whines, grabbing Monroe’s beer and washing the pills down quickly. “I’m sure glad you and your liver have such a lasting relationship, Nick.”
“My liver loves me, a lot more than my ribs do anyway. Ugh, if I die here, will you cry for me?”
“I’ll cry for my couch, detective. The one you are going to ruin by dying on it.”
“Die?” Holly repeats, frowning seriously at them.
“No dying, no one is dying here. Nick’s just a big baby,” Monroe says with a gruff kiss to her temple. “Go wait outside for your mom, Holly.”
“I hate criminals. They’re stupid.”
“So, he’s going to be ridiculous all night now, isn’t he?” Barry smirks. “We should tape this. Where’s his camera?”
“Dude,” Roddy pulls Barry back down.
“He’s going to go to sleep. Here,” he says, throwing a blanket at Nick’s face, which, he realizes in retrospect, is kind of a douche thing to do to a man with broken ribs.
“No, no, I’m going, I’ve got a car and a bag of frozen peas at the apartment.” He pushes himself upright, the blanket falling to the floor from where he’d left it laying on his face, and barely making it to his feet. He sways dangerously to the left, searching for a handhold, before Monroe grabs him and eases Nick back down onto the couch. “I’ll be leaving right after this room stops spinning.”
“You are seriously going to die on my couch tonight.”
His voice must have betrayed some of his worry because Nick frowns and runs his fingers clumsily along Monroe’s arm. “Not going to die. We promised Holly. Just, leave me here with that ice pack I lost somewhere in the couch. No, don’t put the blanket over me, what are you doing-”
“Nick, shut up.”
“Yes, master,” Nick murmured sarcastically, his eyes drifting shut. “If I puncture a lung in my sleep, don’t let Barry take my badge or my gun, okay?”
Monroe rests a hand on Nick’s knee, and says, very seriously, “shut up.”
In the morning, Monroe wakes up before his alarm and creeps downstairs. Nick was still peacefully asleep, half slumped over on the couch in a way that Monroe thought definitely couldn’t be comfort for his bruised ribs. Running impulsive fingers through the fringe of hair drooping over Nick’s closed eyes, Monroe whispers, “hey, man, wake up. You need to sit up a little.”
Nick groans, but does as he’s told, for once in his life. “God, did I get hit by a truck?”
“Nope, but I’m sure tackling that drug dealer wasn’t any walk in the park.”
“Dude had to be half troll or something, Monroe. You got any more of them pills?”
Monroe moves away from him, noticing Nick slumps right back over without Monroe there to support him. “What time did I give them to you last night?”
“I don’t know, you’re the clock dude.”
Monroe huffs, “try to be helpful.”
“10:30? I don’t know, why?”
Satisfied that enough time had passed for the safety of Nick’s liver, which Monroe seemed to be more attached to than Nick was, he shook out a few more pills, taking them and a glass of water back to Nick in the living room. “Budge up.” He settled next to Nick on the couch, obediently holding the pills out in his hand until Nick could coordinate his limbs enough to take them. Monroe tries to get up, to take the various garbage left on the coffee table by the kids and Nick last night into the kitchen to be recycled, but Nick just collapsed against him, moaning piteously.
“I should have had you tape up my ribs last night, fuck.”
“You should have just gone to the hospital, but hey, what do I know-”
“Don’t make me laugh, Monroe,” Nick says with a smile in his voice, “it hurts. We suck at being role models.”
Monroe, for the sake of comfort he told himself, rests his arm behind Nick on the couch, and threads his fingers through the hair there, hoping Nick wouldn’t notice. “Yeah, we really kind of do. Beer and pills just flowing like the river Jordan all the time.”
“Passing out on the furniture.”
“Cursing up a storm.”
Nick burrows into Monroe’s shoulder. “Don’t move, I’m going back to sleep. And keep doing that hair thing. It’s making my head hurt less.”
“You noticed that?”
“I sure did,” Nick sighs smugly. He reaches up with his free hand and smooths Monroe’s own errant curls back, dragging his fingertips over his eyelids. “It’s too early to be awake without coffee, Monroe. Go to sleep.”
“I have coffee. I have a lot of coffee, actually. All the coffee you could ever want.”
“I didn’t say I wanted coffee,” Nick whispers, settling his arm across Monroe’s waist, “I said I wanted sleep.”
“Whatever you say, Nick,” Monroe agrees, settling his cheek against the top of Nick’s hair. “Just don’t die on me.”
"Yeah?" Barry says as he answers the door, mouth filled with half-chewed hot dog. "Oh, hey, I remember you."
Hank raises an eyebrow. "Barry, right?"
"Detective Griffin! Hey, Nick's out back. You here for the cook-out?"
"Uh, no," Hank frowns, picking his way through the house he had visited just twice before. "Got a case."
"On the Fourth of July? Bummer, bro. Nick promised us fireworks later." The kid pushes through the backdoor of the house, sparing a second to hold it open for Hank.
"Hank?" Nick says wonderingly, his distraction the perfect opportunity for Holly score a goal in their makeshift soccer net. "How did you know I was here?"
Hank, mostly stunned, asks instead, "care to explain this?" He had had his suspicions but this was just... He gestures towards the collection of kids from their past cases, most of whom were celebrating Holly's goal, and looks pointedly at Nick.
"I lost my phone?"
Hank sighs, knowing his partner was being specifically and purposefully obtuse, and opted for cutting to the chase. "We caught one. Smith and Jankowski are out of town, and everyone else has seniority. I've got the car."
"Okay. Got to go, guys. See you tonight, if I can." The kids groan, Holly grabbing his hand in her own silent way of asking him to stay. "Monroe will set off the fireworks for you," he promises, patting her hand. "Speaking of..." Nick leads Hank back inside, throwing open the basement door just off the kitchen, and yelling down, "caught a case. You haven't seen my phone, have you?"
Monroe lumbers up the stairs, laundry basket leading the way, and says, "oh, I found it. In the rinse cycle." He digs into the basket and pulls out the wayward cell.
"Oh, damn it!" Nick growls.
"That's what you get for leaving it in your jeans pocket, bro." Noticing Hank for the first time, Monroe amends it with, "I mean, officer."
"I'll meet you in the car," Hank says, with enough weight behind it that Monroe winces.
"So," he says, "that was awkward."
"Officer," Nick snorts, giving Monroe a friendly pat on the cheek. "Jesus Christ. I'll be back later, if I make it home at all. Put this in a bag of rice?" He flips the waterlogged phone back into Monroe's basket from the front door.
"Does that really work?"
"Damned if I know," Nick shrugs.
"So," Hank whistles as they drive to the scene.
"Don't start," Nick intercedes.
"How long's that been going on?" Nick broods, keeping his eyes firmly on the scenery stretching outside the passenger window. "Come on, Nick. After Juliette? Before Juliette?"
"Are we thirteen? And no, Hank. You know me better than that."
"I was just wondering." His tone was falsely flippant. "I thought you and Juliette were the real deal. You guys were better than anything I ever had. And then she just up and left you, out of nowhere it seemed like to me. So, it's perfectly rational that I think, maybe she got a little jealous of your other family."
Nick huffs, knowing this wasn't going to die down on its own. "Juliette told me I 'prioritized the job' too much. She said that I used to come home and leave it at the precinct, you know. But now I was dragging it all around with me, like a weight. She told me that she didn't care if I carried a little bit of it home with me, that it was normal when you see death and dying every day. She said that what hurt her was that I refused to let her 'share the burden.'"
"Wow," Hank whistles between his teeth. "That's heavy."
"Tell me about it. She barely even gave me a chance," he sighs, rapping his knuckles on the cool window. "She practically had her bags packed and out the door before I even knew something was wrong."
"So, what is that? A rebound thing? A security thing?"
"Fuck you, we really are thirteen, aren't we?"
"Nick, bro, I'm just trying to tell you. What you've got there, whatever the fuck that is, it's not a passing thing, okay? The way I see it, you've only got two options: be a family, or tear one apart."
Nick drags himself through the front door, using the dwindling light from Hank's headlights to try the door knob, finding it unlocked. He peels his leather jacket off, kicking his shoes against the baseboard, and slumps his way into the kitchen. There ought to be something left over, he reasons, and he can just eat it cold. He glances at the clock on the oven and groans: two in the morning. As soon as he flips on the light, he sees Monroe half-asleep on the couch, his arms crossed and a frown on his face.
"Monroe," Nick says gently, thumb rubbing over the creases in his friend's forehead. "Wake up, it's late."
"You're back," Monroe says before his eyes are even open.
"Yeah, and you didn't have to wait up for me. I told you I'd be late."
Monroe snuffles a little, sits up and stretches out his back, while Nick goes back to rummaging in the refrigerator. "I saved you some, uh, I don't know what it is," Monroe offers awkwardly.
"BEANS AND FRANKS," Nick whispers loudly, smiling.
"Definitely sounds as atrocious as it did the first time."
"Badderwurst, bro. I will never not bring that up when you make fun of my food choices. And be quiet, you'll wake the kids."
"None of them stayed," Monroe flops into a kitchen chair, scrubbing his face with his hands, "and badderwurst is delicious. You just have a severely undeveloped palate."
"Oh, sweet, I can sleep in the guest room. Wait, have you changed the sheets since the last time Roddy and Barry stayed? Never mind, then."
Monroe frowns again, deeper than he had been in his sleep, and he fiddles with the placemat, avoiding Nick's gaze. "What was your plan, then, if they had stayed?"
"I don't know," Nick mumbles around a huge spoonful of lukewarm beans and franks. "Sleep on the couch."
"And if Holly stayed? Or Hansen and Gracie?" Monroe's voice was unusually sharp, and his eyes looked serious.
"Geez, dude, I don't know. I left my car here, so I guess I would have gone-"
Nick watches Monroe push up from the table and stomp through the house. Sliding the bowl onto the counter, Nick barely reaches Monroe before he climbs the stairs. "You going to give me a clue?"
The house was quiet, except for the creaking of old floorboards, and the hum of life on the outside. The only light was coming from the abandoned kitchen, and it made Monroe's face harder to read. "Home," he whispers. "You said 'home'."
Nick's hand falls from where it had been wrapped around Monroe's arm, and he blinks slowly, trying to let all the pieces fall in place. Monroe fidgets under Nick's gaze, his face rapidly shifting from serious to scared. "I did." It wasn't a question, and Monroe frowns again. He wearily climbs a few stairs and Nick bounds after him. "Are you mad about that?"
"No, Nick, I'm not mad about that!" he shouts, throwing his hands out and knocking one of them against the stairwell wall. "You can't just- You can't just say that."
"Why can't I?" Nick yells back, just as loudly, forgetting that he's exhausted or that Monroe had neighbors who might hear. "Is this still about this 'going it alone, resisting temptation' thing, or is this a Blutbad territory thing?"
Monroe gapes. "You don't actually read your books, do you? You just make things up in your head. Blutbad territory thing."
"So you're saying it's a temptation thing," Nick jokes.
"There's blankets in the linen closet," Monroe says harshly. "Don't wake me up when you leave in the morning."
When Nick comes down from the shower the next morning, already dressed for work, Monroe had beat him to the coffee maker. Absently running a towel through his still damp hair, he avoids Monroe's gaze and almost burns his tongue in the process. "Is this my phone?" he asks, holding up a small plastic bag.
"Yep," Monroe answers, pushing his glasses up his nose and flipping to the next page in the newspaper.
"What's this black stuff?"
"Rice." He glances up when he's met with nothing but silence and elaborates, "wild rice."
"Does that work?" Nick grimaces, fishing the device out and brushing the extra grains in the sink.
"You'll find out," Monroe mumbles, licking his finger and flipping another page.
Nick sighs, slamming his mug down. "Look, I know you're mad at me for something-"
"No idea where you came up with that."
"But you have to talk to me about it, Monroe. I'm a Grimm, not a mind reader."
"How would you know?" Monroe says petulantly, "you wouldn't know anything about being a Grimm without my help."
Nick huffs, dumping the remainder of his coffee down the drain. "I'm driving into the precinct today." He flips his phone in the air, the line of his jaw hard. "I'd say I'll be home, but..."
"You're looking down in the dumps," Roddy says, pulling his violin down from his shoulder mid-song. "And that has to be the saddest I have ever heard this song played."
Monroe rests his arms body of his cello. "Maybe I'm just not digging the idea that you guys are all back at school. It gets lonely around here, which," he snorts, "is hilarious coming from me."
Roddy laughs, pulling up a chair and sitting down next to him. "I haven't seen Nick in a while."
"He's busy," Monroe bristles. "Ever since word got out about there being a Grimm in Portland full time-"
"Good excuse, bro," Roddy interrupts.
"It's not an excuse."
"Sure, it isn't. Just like when Barry told me he wanted to learn the violin some more the first time he asked me out. And how the first time we fought, he ended up apologizing through mixtape." Monroe flounders for a second, and then deflates. "So, now are you going to tell me?"
"You know, Roddy, if I could put it into words, I would, but I have no idea what I'm so angry about."
Roddy nods, picking his violin up again. "From the top?"
"From the top."
Monroe is still struggling with the sleeve of his robe when he wrenches open the door. "What?"
Nick pushes past him, not giving Monroe a chance to shut the door on him. "I let Juliette do this to me, I'm not letting it happen again."
Monroe tucks his robe around him, crosses his arms, and slowly says, "okay."
"You don't get to do this to me, you don't get to push me out because I'm getting too close, Monroe. I'm not going to stand here and tell you it's not fair, because there's a lot in life that isn't fair. But, you have to admit: this whole song and dance we're doing isn't exactly the definition of acting like adults."
"You think I'm scared?" Monroe scoffs, pushing his finger into Nick's chest. "You're the one who wouldn't admit-"
"Wouldn't admit what? Because I'm pretty sure I haven't hid anything. You got all cagey that night. You just kept asking me to tell you something I didn't understand."
"Bullshit," Monroe stomps past him into the kitchen. "You said 'home.'"
Nick groans. "You keep saying that! So what? I don't understand what about that offended you, Monroe."
"It didn't! I waited up for you," he growls. "Because you said home. And I waited to see if you meant it, damn it." Silence falls again on the house. Monroe slumps, his hips hitting the edge of the counter, and Nick stands in the doorway with his coat and shoes still on, like a stranger. The combined glow of the streetlight outside and the moon filtered in through the window, casting wane shadows across their tired faces.
"Hank asked me today," Nick starts, chuckling quietly, "what I was smiling about in the car. He said I'd been looking like death warmed over lately, so it was good, to see something put a smile back on my face. And you know what I realized?"
"No, why don't you share with the class?" Monroe grumbles, picking at the lint on his the tie of his robe.
"That it was you."
Monroe looks up suddenly. "Nick-"
"No, Monroe, you wanted this, listen to it." Nick shifts forward a little. "You asked if I meant it, about this being home. I did, I do. Because sitting alone in that shitty apartment isn't home. I could have rented a storage shed in town for all I used it for. What I thought about at work was what were you making for dinner, what the kids were doing tonight. I'd get in the car exhausted and wanting to go home and find myself here, every night."
"You were...lonely. You're the kind of guy whose probably never lived alone in his whole life-"
"The funny thing about having a Grimm for an aunt is they're never home," Nick interrupts smugly, taking another step towards Monroe.
"Yes, bring up Marie Kessler right now."
"Because I am so sure she'd be pleased that her only nephew was trying to make a move on a Blutbad," Nick grins, trapping Monroe against the counter. "Your turn, Monroe."
Monroe narrows his eyes. "I hate you."
Nick nudges at Monroe's nose, barely brushing their lips together. "Mmhmm," he sighs. "Tell me that again."
Monroe's eyes flutter shut and he frames Nick's face in his hands. "I hate you, so much."
"Does this mean no more sleeping on the couch?" Nick whispers against his lips, relishing the tickle from his beard against his own skin. He wraps his hands in the lapels of Monroe's robe and pulls them together.
"I knew you only wanted me for my bed," Monroe says thickly when they break apart.
"Good idea," Nick says, biting gently at Monroe's lips.
The smell of burning coffee wakes Monroe in the morning. He raises his head, from where it was pillowed on Nick's shoulder, and groans.
"Holly picked the lock again," Nick grumbles from somewhere under the pillow.
"How?" Monroe buries his face in Nick's neck, mourning the loss of his precious, specialty coffee grounds in silence for a few moments. "You should probably fingerprint her, in case a Starsbucks ever gets robbed."
Nick laughs, a low rumble Monroe can feel in his own chest, and throws the pillow down on the floor. "Who gave them a key to the house?"
Monroe shifts on the bed and kisses Nick, mostly because his eyes were a soft, morning blue, and his hair was a mess, but a little bit because he's him. "They don't have a key, so you aren't getting one either."
"Damn," Nick groans, arching against him.
"Uh, Monroe?" Roddy shouts from downstairs, sounding only a little panicked.
"We better go down there," Nick whispers, hands clenched around Monroe's arms.
"This is your fault. My clocks, the sofa, hot dogs in my fridge." Monroe tosses Nick's boxers at his face as he gets dressed himself. "None of this would have happened if you could just take no for an answer." Nick grins, shrugging into his t-shirt and crowding against Monroe by the bedroom door. "We better get down there," Monroe repeats, smiling wryly at the playful frown on Nick's face. "Before they burn our house down."