Nick could smell the fire before they could see the remnants of the building; there was a cloying, sickly smell underneath the usual smoke and hot metal that he was fairly certain had something to do with why he and Hank had been called to the scene. These were the hardest calls for him, for some reason—fire seemed like such a terrible way to die.
He and Hank pulled up the wreckage and slid out of the car, glancing around at the still smoking ruin. It had been a warehouse, and according to the hurried conversation Nick had had with the fire station’s arson guy, had been purposefully burned down sometime around three this morning. Of course Nick couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like whatever they’d used as accelerant had sure as hell done its job and then some.
Hank glanced wordlessly at him before heading toward where Nick could see the fire captain shouting into a walkie-talkie. Nick shot Hank a thankful smile; the guy was a dickfellig and every time he and Nick had to work together, it nearly came to blows.
Relieved of Captain Warner wrangling duties, Nick turned to the half-dozen firefighters who were still milling around the structure, putting out embers and triple-checking to make sure nothing had spread to the nearby buildings.
“Not much left, is there?” a voice said suddenly in Nick’s ear, and he jumped.
The man standing behind him smirked, amused. He was taller than Nick and dressed in the usual firefighter’s garb, but with a red stripe on his jacket shoulders that signified Lieutenant. He had his helmet tucked under his arm and an easy smile on his face, which was sooty almost to the point of blackface. Nick thought his hair and beard might be an appealing shade of dark brown if it was clean, and he was the kind of stupidly rugged handsome that invariably made Nick’s stomach flutter. He sighed. Freakin’ firefighters.
“Hi,” the guy said, extending a filthy hand. Nick eyed him for a moment, then shook his hand, regardless. The guy grinned wider, and Nick was irrationally pleased that he’d apparently passed some sort of test.
“I’m Lieutenant Monroe? I’m assuming you’re Detective…”
“Burkhardt,” Nick finished for him, and Monroe nodded.
“One of my men and I found the bodies,” he explained. “I can show you, if you want.”
“Please,” Nick said, and then had to scramble slightly as Monroe set off through the soggy site.
“Hey, Hap!” Monroe called out, and one of the other firefighters stopped what he was doing and jogged over. “Detective, this is Hap Lasser. Hap, Detective Burkhardt,” he said once he’d reached them. He gestured to Nick. “Tell him what happened.”
The guy—Hap, apparently, nodded earnestly and fell into step beside Nick. “Man, it was gross, I mean when we got here the fire was, like, obviously a set, so we knew somethin’ was up. Once we got it mostly out, though, we could smell dämen—”
“Hap,” Monroe said warningly, and Hap blinked. Nick raised an eyebrow at the foreign word, but didn’t say anything, letting Hap go on.
“Sorry,” he said, directed at Monroe. He turned back to Nick. “After we got the fire out, a couple guys thought they might have smelled something cooking. Turns out…” he trailed off as the three of them stepped into what had probably been a storage space. At the back of the ‘room’, near where a wall would have been, Nick could make out the twisted remains of three bodies.
“Once we got inside, Monroe and I found ‘em,” Hap said quietly.
“They were alive for awhile,” Monroe said, pointing toward where deep gouges had been sliced into the wall by the bodies’ heads. “Whoever did this is a real sicko.” Hap nodded in agreement.
Nick stepped forward and crouched down, pulling rubber gloves from his pocket and snapping them on. He touched the grooves lightly and frowned—claw marks. These people had been wesen. He shook his head, looking back toward Monroe and Hap, then startled slightly. Hap’s face was shifted, his wolf features unhappy. Nick glanced at Monroe—this might be easier if he was wesen, too.
And yea, apparently Monroe had noticed Hap’s face as well. He touched his shoulder and squeezed slightly. “Hey,” he said quietly. “Calm down, man. It’s okay—”
“They were—” Hap gulped, and Monroe’s eyes flashed red for a split second, upset. And that was good enough for Nick. He stood and held up his hands.
“I’ll preface this by saying I’m not like the others.” Both Hap and Monroe turned to him with confused looks on their faces, and Nick smiled reassuringly. “You’re blutbaden? I’m a grimm, and I’m not interested in cutting your heads off.”
Monroe and Hap took identical large steps backward, and Nick sighed.
“I’m a cop,” he stressed, hands still up, careful to not move in the slightest lest he appear threatening. “Unless you eat people, I don’t have any issue with you. But you could help me. Do you smell anything that could be useful to my investigation?”
“They were blutbaden, too,” Monroe finally said after a drawn out moment of shocked silence, then nudged Hap in the side. Hap snapped his mouth shut and nodded. “The marks?” Monroe added. “That’s what our claw marks look like.”
“Yea, that’s what I thought,” Nick muttered, turned back to the bodies. “I’m sorry.”
“The accelerant was dämonfeuer spit,” he head Hap say softly. “We can smell the…” he trailed off, and when Nick turned to look at them, he realized that Hap looked sick. He didn’t know what a dämonfeuer was, but if it was enough to upset a blutbad, he was sure he wouldn’t like it.
“This is the second time we’ve seen blutbaden murdered like this,” Monroe told him, explaining softly. “It hits a little close to home.”
“The second time?” And now Nick was concerned. “When was the first?”
“A long time ago,” Monroe said, again putting his hand on Hap’s shoulder, clearly meaning to lead him away. “Not the same person, Detective, you can be sure of that—it was easily twenty-five years ago. Are we going to need to come down to the station and give a statement or anything?”
“Uh, yea,” Nick said, thrown by the abrupt change of topic. “Whenever is good. If you’re uncomfortable talking to me, I understand. My partner is Detective Griffin, he’s…” he pointed toward Hank, who was busy being yelled at by Captain Warner. “…over there. He’s. He knows about wesen, so you can tell him—”
“We’ll talk to you,” Monroe said shortly. “Better to keep grimms in sight.” He nodded sharply to Nick and led Hap quickly away, picking through the scene with an ease that belied their inhumanity. Nick watched them go for a minute, then turned back to the bodies and squatted down again.
Lt. Monroe and Hap appeared a few hours later at the precinct, freshly scrubbed and wearing civilian clothing. Nick caught them in the hall, and though Hap still looked nervous, Monroe had a steely glint in his eye that Nick picked up on at once.
“Let’s talk in private,” Nick said softly, and gestured them toward one of the interrogation rooms. “You look like you have something to say.”
If possible, Hap looked even more nervous, but Monroe just glanced at his friend, a reassuring look on his face, then said, soft enough that Nick was sure he wasn’t supposed to hear it, “He’s not going to behead us in a police precinct, dude. He’s a cop.”
“He’s a grimm,” Hap muttered, but followed anyway when Monroe rolled his eyes and stepped into the room.
Once in, Nick shut the door and faced them stiffly, crossing his arms. This was always the difficult part—his police work brought him into contact with wesen on a surprisingly regular basis, and he invariably had a difficult time explaining (and getting them to believe) that he wasn’t here to hurt them. Fortunately, this time, Monroe seemed—at least slightly—inclined to believe him.
Nick started with his usual disclaimer: “I’m not going to hurt you.” He didn’t adjust his posture, though, because practice had taught him that cornered wesen could be dangerous wesen.
“All right,” Monroe countered, just as stiff as Nick, which, okay. There wasn’t any aggression there, but there was nothing wrong with defense. “You’re a cop.” He glanced up at the ceiling, eyes flicking to the camera (which wasn’t on, but the blutbaden had no way of knowing that). He turned himself slightly, facing his mouth away from its eye. “Most of your people hide in the shadows, so the fact that you’re not…” he trailed off and fixed Nick with a penetrating gaze.
“I’m a cop first,” Nick agreed, “and a grimm second. I only go after the bad ones, and right now, I want to catch the bastard who killed those blutbaden.”
“We’ve… run into grimms before.” Monroe glared down at Nick, daring him to say something, but Nick just nodded.
“I’m sure it was unpleasant.”
“To put it mildly,” Hap muttered.
Nick shook his head and dropped his hands to his sides, making himself a shade more vulnerable. “Look. I don’t expect you to trust me, not at first. You’d have no reason to do so—I mean, I’m sure we’ve hundreds of years of animosity at our backs, but for whatever it’s worth, I—” He sighed and backtracked. “I also am well aware of the professional rivalry of cops and firefighters, but I respect what you do, and the fact that you’ve chosen to run into burning buildings for a living instills a healthy amount of trust in my head. So I’m just asking you to work with me, not to like me or have a beer with me—just work. Give me a chance.”
Monroe listened silently through Nick’s speech, his stony face gradually relaxing as Nick continued. He even twitched the corner of his mouth up, amused, at the ‘have a beer’ comment. When Nick was done, Monroe glanced at Hap with a ‘told you’ look on his face, then turned to him and graced him with a small, tight smile. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.”
Nick nodded, pleased, and led them out of the interrogation room and to his desk. “Hank knows about…” he made a vague gesture in the air which was meant to mean ‘all this wesen stuff,’ “…so you can talk freely around him, okay?”
“Sure,” Monroe said easily, and he and Hap dropped down into a set of chairs that Hank had arranged between their desks.
Nick sat too, then pulled out a recorder and a couple blank sheets of paper. “Right, let’s take it from the top—including the less-than-usual elements of the case. Hank and I’ll rework your statements later for filing.” He glanced up and was momentarily arrested by the amused look in Monroe’s eyes.
And hey, that was awesome. He didn’t mind defensive, (he could work with defensive) but he’d much rather if they weren’t at each other’s throats. Relaxing ever-so-slightly, he let himself take in the long lines of Monroe’s body very, very quickly (because fuck, he was a grimm, not a monk, and ‘professional rivalry’ aside, firefighters. Enough said.). Yea, amused is better than defensive any day, especially as Monroe apparently cleaned up nicely.
“This isn’t the first time you’ve done this,” Monroe stated, and Nick shrugged, snapping back to the moment.
“You’d be surprised.”
Hank laughed. “Sometimes I wonder how we managed to solve any cases without the added benefit of Nick’s grimm-ness. Seems like every other crime we work is wesen-related.”
Hap, who was seeming to relax a bit more, smiled. “We’re an unruly bunch.”
Monroe raised an eyebrow and deadpanned, “Except for Hap and myself, of course. We are the straightest of straight-edge blutbaden you’ll ever meet.” He suppressed another smirk. “We got all the crazy out of our systems years ago.”
“I’m sure,” Nick said with a smile. “I’m assuming you guys are wieder?”
With a small, pleased look, Monroe nodded, leaning forward slightly, another layer of armor gone. “I’m—I’m actually surprised you know the terminology. Most grimms wouldn’t—”
Nick’s smile grew. “I’m just good like that. And I find that it’s useful to know about the people I’m going to be working closely with.”
“We’re going to be working closely?” Monroe asked, and there was that eyebrow again, but he still looked pleased.
“Well—” Nick started to say, but Hank interrupted, clearing his throat. Nick blinked and looked over, simultaneously realizing that he’d been leaning closer to Monroe and actually flirting a bit, and damn attractive firefighters, damn them all to hell. He leaned back, ignored Hank’s amused gaze and Hap’s confused look—especially ignored how Monroe was blushing slightly and leaning back in his chair, too.
Nick cleared his throat. “Statements.”
“Right,” Monroe muttered, flustered, but he seemed to get back on track pretty quickly. “Um. We got the call at three, oh…”
“Twenty-ish,” Hap supplied. “I’d just made a sandwich, man, disappointing.” He sighed. “Pulled pork, with those crunchy onion thingies on top?”
Monroe shot him an affectionate, exasperated look. “Three twenty-ish. Anonymous call, apparently. It took us ten minutes to get the scene—our station is relatively close to where the warehouse was—but by the time we got there—”
“Kablooey, man,” Hap interjected, with an expansive arm gesture that Nick assumed meant explosions.
“It blew up?” Hank asked, pausing from where he was taking shorthand notes. Monroe shook his head.
“Sorta. Have you seen how dämonfeuer spit works?” Hank looked confused, and Nick shook his head. He’d looked up the name immediately after talking to the blutbaden at the scene, though, so he at least knew what they were talking about.
“It’s not really spit,” he explained, turning to his partner. “They can convert the fat in their bodies into a chemical that’s highly flammable, then they can light it… they’re kinda dragonish.” Hank stared at him for a moment, his eyes wide, then shook his head and picked up his pen again.
“…Never a dull freakin’ moment…” he muttered. Hap shrugged and Monroe smiled. Nick, for his part, considered how dangerous that smile might be when applied inappropriately.
“Anyway,” Monroe said, breaking the moment, “once we could get close enough—because you don’t want to be anywhere near dämonfeuer, y’know, release when that stuff goes up, cause whew—” he shot Nick a pointed look, and Nick nodded gamely. “Um. Well, we moved in, worked on putting the thing out, but it burned fast. I mean, we were maybe only there an hour before it was completely gone.”
“Dämonfeuers are a hell of an accelerant,” Hap added.
“Do you think it could have been one of them?” Nick asked, and then when Monroe looked surprised, added, “I’m not actually—I don’t know much about them. Just what I’ve got from my family’s records, but—”
“He’s new,” Hank offered. “Started seeing things maybe six months ago, thought he was going crazy.” He leaned back in his chair. “Then his aunt showed up and there was a whole scene, she explained everything, wasn’t too happy that he’d come to me about seeing crazy stuff—she was one scary lady. No offense, Nick.”
Nick shrugged. “So yea. Like I said, I don’t know much. This has been kinda thrust on me, so…”
The blutbaden both seemed to be rather surprised by this news. Hap especially looked pleased, and significantly less worried that Nick was about to snap and chop his head off, but Monroe just looked thoughtful.
“You said ‘was’?” he asked softly. “Just that, I’d like to know if there are more grimms running around Portland…”
“She died,” Nick said. “Cancer.”
Monroe screwed up his face and stammered, “Sorry, I—”
“Don’t be,” Nick interrupted. “She meant a lot to me, but from what I can tell, was pretty unpleasant to the wesen population. So…”
There was a moment of awkward silence, then Monroe cleared his throat and said, “I don’t think it could have been a dämonfeuer who actually set it. I could smell them all over the building, and they usually concentrate on one specific area. Unless there was a battalion of them, it wouldn’t have been possible.” Nick nodded and made a note.
“After we put the fire mostly out, we went in to clear any hot spots,” Hap jumped in. “That’s when we found ‘em.”
Hank nodded and Nick clicked his pen. “Alright. Thanks, guys.” He stood, so Hap and Monroe did too. After a moment of digging in his pocket, Nick emerged with a card, which he handed to Monroe. “If you think of anything else…”
“Sure, sure,” Monroe said, then flashed Nick a smile that made Nick’s heart flutter.
Blutbad, Nick reminded himself. “Thank you,” he said again. Hap headed off, calling something about dinner over his shoulder at Monroe. Nick walked a few steps forward in time with Monroe, letting Hap go on ahead. When they reached the hallway, Monroe paused, scratching lightly at the back of his head.
“Uh. Alright. See you around, Detective.”
Nick looked down and smiled, then clasped Monroe briefly on the shoulder before dropping his hand. “See you, Lieutenant.”
Nick rolled his neck, cracking it, and glared at the crime scene photos he had spread out on his kitchen table. It had been two weeks since that first fire, and there’d been four more—each with its own grisly gift of blackened and burnt bodies, each smelling of that cloying scent that he’d noticed at the first scene.
Nick was fairly certain the victims had been wesen too—there had been signs at each of the scenes that pointed to more-than-human people falling prey to this murderer, though of course Nick couldn’t be sure. Not for the first time, he wished wesen would retain their true faces when they died.
He sighed, running a hand through unkempt hair, and glanced at the kitchen clock—jesus, was it that late already? Shaking his head, Nick stood and considered going to bed, but he hadn’t eaten since breakfast this morning, and he really should—it wouldn’t be good for him to fall sick when Portland was experiencing its first serial killer in fifty years.
But just as he opened his fridge (the pickings were a tad pathetic, but he hadn’t had time to go shopping recently) his phone rang. He eyed it—he was off duty (Renard had insisted) and so technically didn’t have to answer, but when he looked at the caller ID, it wasn’t Hank or the station; rather it was a number he didn’t recognize.
After a moment longer of indecision, he answered. “Who’s this?”
There was a beat of silence, then, “Um. Detective Burkhardt? It’s, uh. Lieutenant Monroe. From the—”
Nick relaxed. “Hi, Lieutenant. I remember you. What’s up?”
There was a sigh from the other end of the line. “Sorry to call you so late, but I was thinking you might want to hear this.” A pause, and Nick sat, listening intently. After a moment, Monroe went on, speaking in a rush. “I asked around, you know, the community, when more fires started popping up. I mean, my station didn’t respond to any of them, but I still heard about ‘em, I mean we talk to other stations—”
“Lieutenant,” Nick prodded, gently, and Monroe let out a low laugh.
“Sorry. I’m still a little dazed that I’m apparently calling a grimm at home.”
“No problem,” Nick said with a grin. “Though I am vaguely curious about how you got my cell number.”
Another of those low, nervous laughs. “Your partner gave it to me when I called the station. Said I should call anytime.”
Nick closed his eyes. Fucking Hank. Of course he’d given a blutbad firefighter Nick’s cell number. No boundaries, that one. “Yea, that sounds like Hank,” he told Monroe. “So, what’s up?”
“Sorry, sorry,” Monroe said, and there was a sound of shuffling papers. “So I’ve been asking around, seeing if anyone in the community has seen anything sketchy recently or heard anything, and according to this lowen lady I know—she works for the department of corrections—apparently the eisbibers down on the south side of town have gone underground. They’re a pretty big clan, and you know eisbibers, they’re a jumpy bunch, but they don’t usually go into hiding unless something, you know, big is going down, so that’s weird.
“And I don’t know how far you’ve gotten with IDing the bodies or anything, but there’s a couple wendigos that have apparently gone missing—not that anyone’s actually missing them, creepy fuckers—but they’ve disappeared. I’ve got—”
“Whoa, whoa,” Nick interrupted, head already swimming from the flow of information. “Listen, are you free tomorrow? I’m not on call and am technically not supposed to be working on this case in my down time, but you know, grimm duties wait for no man or something like that…”
A pause, then, “Um. Sure?”
“Great.” Nick glanced at the clock again. “Could you meet me for lunch or something? Go over this stuff face to face? ‘Cause I’m mostly exhausted right now and…” he sighed. “Yea, I have no idea what a wendigo is or that there’s apparently a group of eisbibers in town…”
The laugh from the other end of the line was more amused and less nervous this time. “Tell you what,” Monroe said, “come to my house tomorrow, I’ll make you lunch. I’m a surprisingly good cook, provided you don’t mind vegetarian food.”
Nick grinned into the phone. “That sounds awesome. What time?”
“Um. Noon? And then I can tell you whatever you need to know.”
“Perfect,” Nick said. “Thanks, Lieutenant.”
“Oh, jeez, just call me Monroe,” the voice on the other end of the line said, and Nick could hear his smile. “That’s what my friends call me.”
Nick stared with wide eyes at the spread of papers on Monroe’s coffee table—there were what appeared to be documents in German, blueprints, inventory lists—
“How did you—?” Nick asked, and Monroe shrugged.
“I called in a few favors.” He reached out and unearthed a page from somewhere in the middle of the pile and handed it to Nick. “Here’s a list of wesen that have gone missing in the past month—it’s probably more than your victims list ‘cause some of us tend to keep on the move, but it might be helpful.”
“It will be, thank you,” Nick muttered, scanning the list. “Uh, you said something about wendigos?”
Monroe pointed to a pair of names on the list. “Here, but like I said, no one’s really missing them.” He leaned back on the couch, his knee barely brushing against Nick’s, but it was enough to get Nick’s attention.
“Okay, I mean I really do appreciate this, but—” Nick looked at him, eyes wide, and gestured between the two of them. “Why are you helping me? Everything my aunt left me has kinda led me to believe that we really shouldn’t be getting along.”
Monroe snorted. “Yea, the eternal struggle between blutbad and grimm… overplayed, if you want my honest opinion.”
“Still…” Nick prodded, and Monroe leaned forward.
“You’re new,” he stated, and Nick nodded. “And seem to be a decent sort of person.” He smiled and shrugged. “And I kinda like the idea of a non-violent…ish… grimm.” He paused and cleared his throat. “So… do you want a history lesson? Something from a different perspective from those undoubtedly violent records of yours?”
“That’d be awesome,” Nick smiled, somewhat weakly. “I haven’t really admitted it to Hank—I mean, he’s human and just kind of going along with what I’ve been saying, but—I’m floundering. It’d be nice to have some help.”
“And I’m more than willing,” Monroe said—and was it Nick’s imagination, or was there something like innuendo in Monroe’s voice? But the next second it was gone and Monroe was standing, gesturing for Nick to follow him. “We’ll eat and talk. I made tamales and salsa.”
Nick gamely followed Monroe into the kitchen, simultaneously thinking about the sheer oddness of this situation and cataloguing… his new friend? CI? Mentor? Monroe’s house. It was homey and clean, and boasted a mishmash of antique clocks and books and neat piles of firefighting gear. There was a cello tucked into a corner on a stand and an extensive wine rack in the kitchen. Nick felt oddly relaxed, more so than he’d felt in a long time.
“So how much history do you know?” Monroe asked as he pulled a plate of tamales from where they’d been keeping warm in the oven.
Nick shrugged. “Just what my books say.” And then he explained about his aunt and her trailer (Monroe looked a mixture of fascinated and worried at the thought of said trailer) and about how he’d been thinking he was going crazy until Hank had seen a wildermann woge during a stressful case. Monroe listened silently, his arms crossed, food forgotten.
When Nick finally finished, Monroe nodded slowly. “Well. I think you’ve got the basics—and you’re clearly not insane. I guess I can just fill you in when you have any questions, that okay?”
“Yea,” Nick muttered. “I looked up blutbaden, you know,” he added, “after I met you and Hap? I’ve got an entire book on you guys.” He smiled. “Well—not you specifically…”
“I should hope not, I’m not terribly interesting,” Monroe said with a grin, then gestured to the food. Nick took a bite and raised his eyebrows in surprise—apparently vegetarian tamales were wonderful. Monroe took a bite of his own and then said, “It’s not a surprise that you’ve got a lot on blutbaden. We’re some of the most common wesen, and have a tendency to be violent. There’ve been a whole lot of contentious relations between our ancestors.” He pointed at Nick with his fork. “But I’d like to stress, once again, that Hap and I are a wieder. Of the mostly vegetarian, always non-violent sort.” He sighed. “We actually don’t have many friends in the traditional community.”
“I believe you,” Nick said around a mouthful of chip. “And um. Thanks for lunch.”
Monroe blinked. “Yea. There was a reason for you coming over, wasn’t there…? I could—”
“Yea, sure,” Nick agreed. They ate quickly, Nick going over the bare outlines of the case, Monroe filling in a few gaps. When they were done, they retired back to the living room, where they talked for hours, late into the night. Their conversation slowly shifted from the case to wesen history to general get-to-know-you talk, with Monroe telling stories and Nick listening, transfixed.
And when Nick left Monroe’s house, shortly before midnight, he did so full and happy, and didn’t spare a thought worrying about just how amazing he thought Monroe was.
It took exactly two days and another fire before Nick was calling Monroe up again, asking for help. He wasn’t exactly sure what he thought Monroe might be able to do—sniff the crime scene, maybe? But Monroe agreed to meet him at a quiet coffee shop near the scene of the latest fire no questions asked, and Nick avoided thinking about the fact that he might be making up excuses to just see the man.
Coffee turned into lunch, which turned into a walk (they stopped at the crime scene, but didn’t linger) which turned into Nick grinning at Monroe and opening his car door for him when it was finally time for Monroe to go—he had to get to his station at some point in time.
It had actually been an utterly pointless meeting, but Nick didn’t think it had been wasted. He knew he was pushing it—blutbad firefighters don’t fall for grimm cops, but hey. A man can dream, can’t he?
But two fires and nine bodies later, Nick was… on edge, grasping at straws, looking into anything that could shed some light.
It was ten at night, and he was pacing his living room—twelve steps from the couch to the kitchen entrance, three to the wall, then twelve back—when a comment Monroe’d made weeks ago, at that first scene, swam back into the forefront of his mind.
Something about how they’d seen it before.
Nick was out his front door, keys in hand, before he’d even fully realized his plan.
Monroe’s house wasn’t far from his own; only ten minutes or so. Nick was relieved when he spotted Monroe’s yellow Bug parked in the driveway—he had questions, but didn’t really want to go to the fire station to get them answered. He’d much prefer talking to Monroe in private.
So out his car and up the steps, and three quick knocks on Monroe’s front door. Nick had just enough time to feel bad about not calling first before the door was swinging open and, oh—
Hap stared at him, shock apparent on his honest, open eyes, before he backed up a step and shut the door in Nick’s face. Nick tilted his head; he hadn’t been expecting that. From the other side of the door, he suddenly heard what appeared to be a muffled argument, then the door opened again, this time with Monroe smiling apologetically.
“Sorry. Come in?”
“Is it…?” Nick stammered, thrown off, but Monroe just shrugged.
“Don’t mind Hap.”
Monroe rolled his eyes and retreated down the hall, leaving the door open and Nick standing on the porch. Nick had no other option but to close the door behind him and follow. He found Monroe in the kitchen; there was no sign of Hap.
“Sorry I came over without calling,” Nick apologized.
“Don’t worry about it—I’m not usually asleep this time anyway, so no harm, no foul. Coffee?” Monroe smiled at him, and the nerves in Nick’s chest loosened. He nodded, and Monroe set about fixing him a cup. “Anyway,” Monroe continued, “I assume you needed something?” He handed the sweet-smelling concoction to Nick, smirking, and glanced up over glasses that Nick had just noticed were perched on the end of his nose. “…Unless this is a booty call…?”
Nick promptly choked on the coffee. “I—” he stammered once he could breathe again, but Monroe was grinning.
“Just kidding,” he said (Nick told himself that he was not disappointed, not at all) and plopped down in one of his kitchen chairs. “So what’s up?”
Nick sat too, angling himself toward Monroe, and gently clinked his cup to the scarred surface of Monroe’s table.
“I’ve got a question,” he said after a moment of thinking. “I wasn’t thinking clearly when you guys came in to give your statement, or I would have asked you then, or even one of the times I’ve seen you since then. But I’m at a loss, and you might be able to help.” Nick looked up, hopeful, and Monroe gave him a ‘go ahead’ finger twirl. Nick nodded. “At that first fire, you said something about having seen something like this before?”
The atmosphere in the kitchen changed instantly. Before, Monroe had been leaning back slightly, relaxed, but at Nick’s words, he froze, stilling for a moment, then forced a slight smile. He cleared his throat. “Yea. But it wouldn’t—couldn’t—be an issue anymore.”
“Why not?” Nick frowned. “Monroe, if you’ve got something…”
There was a drawn out minute of silence; Monroe drummed his fingers on the table a little aimlessly. Finally though: “All right. I haven’t talked about this in a long time, Nick. And I don’t think it will help. But it might, I don’t know, you’re the detective.” He swallowed, and Nick resisted the urge to reach out and touch him, comforting.
“If it’s—” Nick started to say, but Monroe shook his head, cutting him off.
“No, it’s. It’s okay. It’s just not a happy story.”
Nick gave in and reached out, brushing his fingers lightly along Monroe’s knee. “Hey man,” he said, soft. “I’m here.”
Monroe nodded, then smiled a ghost of a pained smile. “Yea. Fuck if I know why, but yea, you are.” He sighed again, then sat up, preparing himself. “Um. When Hap and I were kids, there was—it was—” he gave Nick a slightly desperate look, but Nick just gazed back, supportive. If this could help…
Monroe shook his head, resigned. “When I was little, I was in a pack.”
Monroe rolled over, shuffling in the blankets tangled around his waist and legs. Next to him, Hap and Angelina and Rolf stretched, piled together in the comfortable way that children have. Monroe opened a bleary eye, sniffing, instantly locating his younger brother and sister—they were curled on the other side of Rolf, hidden from view and still fast asleep in a pile with the Jones’ twin pups. He yawned, safe and warm, and was half-asleep again when he first heard the voices.
“Wake them up.”
“We don’t need to scare them, Andy.”
“No, but we need to get them the fuck out of here.”
“It’s just rumors—”
“It’s not just rumors, Gwen! It burned down the lowen pride’s hall! There were children in there, and it didn’t care, I can’t let our pups—” the voice cut off with a sharp growl, and Monroe sat up, awake now. Andy was Angelina and Rolf and Hap’s older brother, one of the leaders of their pack, and if he sounded scared—
Monroe rolled out of the bed and padded softly to the ladder leading out of the loft. He rubbed his hand across his eyes, waking himself up more. He glanced over his shoulder; at eleven, he was the oldest of the pups and was already feeling the protective urges for his pack that came with puberty. The rest of the pups were still sleeping soundly, which was good—they didn’t need to concern themselves over whatever was wrong.
Fully awake now, Monroe paused at the lip of the loft. He could see shadows moving—Andy pacing and Gwen waffling nervously nearby. With a smooth movement, Monroe slid down the ladder, landing lightly. “Andy?” he asked, and then jumped slightly when Andy turned to him, pale and with several bloody slices down his face.
“Hey, Junior,” Andy breathed, and Monroe made a face. No one called him that anymore—not since his father died. He was just ‘Monroe’ now, same as his father and his father before him. Andy smiled, a small, painful smile, realizing his mistake.
“What’s wrong?” Monroe asked, glancing at Gwen. She was the pack’s variant of a governess—she watched the pups when the rest of the pack was out hunting, and was easily in her seventies. Monroe liked her. She was his second mother, and it scared him a little more to see her eyes wide with fear. He looked back to Andy, who just tried to smile. He was unsuccessful.
“Monroe, have you seen your mother?” Andy asked, falsely placating, and Monroe narrowed his eyes. “Or my dad?” His voice turned a shade desperate. “Or anybody? Steven or Zee?”
“No.” Monroe looked out the window, then said, more forcefully, “What’s going on, Andy?”
Andy ignored him, nodding to himself and starting to pace once again. “Okay. It’s okay. Gwen, grab a bag or two—just enough to get us by. We’ll get to the cabin, we can hunt if we need food.” She nodded and disappeared into the direction of the kitchen, and Andy suddenly spun, kneeling in front of Monroe.
“You gotta grow up tonight, Monroe,” his said, his voice low. “Something bad’s happening. There’s a grimm, and I think it’s coming after us. You understand?”Monroe nodded, suddenly feeling very young, nightmare visions reaching up suddenly from his subconscious, horror stories his gramp and gran had told him about severed heads and murder and—
“Hey.” Andy shook his shoulders slightly. “Stay with me, Monroe. You need to go wake everybody up. Tell Angie to get everyone ready, then you and Rolf come down. You two both know how to shoot?”
“’Course,” Monroe said, and Andy looked at him, his eyes sad.
“We’ll be fine,” he said softly. “It probably will leave us alone. Our pack doesn’t hurt humans, and grimms know that kinda stuff, okay? I just want to be—”
“Safe,” Monroe finished for him. He might be a kid, but he wasn’t stupid. Andy nodded and stood.
“Damn, what’s taking Gwen so lo—” He was cut off by a crash from the kitchen, and he and Monroe both instantly woged. There was a beat of silence, then the air filled with a thick, sweet scent, almost painfully potent.
“No,” Andy whispered. Then: “Monroe, get the pups, get the fuck out of here, I’ll hold it—” the next second, a flaming arrow flew into the room, dripping the essence of dämonfeuer, and a dark shadow appeared in the doorway. It had a long, black coat and an axe was swinging gently in one hand. Monroe’s vision narrowed—watching the drip drip drip of blood falling from the shining edge of the blade.
“We haven’t done anything,” Andy yelled, and Monroe jumped. From the doorway, there was a flash of white (teeth, Monroe realized, the grimm was grinning) and a flurry of cloth. A twang, and the next moment, Andy was on the ground, a bolt imbedded in his chest and there was blood and Monroe cried out and backed up, terrified.
Andy turned to him, grasping fruitlessly at his chest. “Run,” he sobbed, and Monroe did.
Dead silence in Monroe’s kitchen.
Monroe was staring down at the floor; Nick was staring at Monroe, his mouth open in shock. Finally:
“Holy fuck, Monroe.”
Monroe didn’t say anything for another long minute, then shook his head and cleared his throat. “Hap and I were the only ones that got out. Hap’s got—he was burned pretty bad. So was I, I’ve got scars and…” He paused again, then rallied and looked up. “The grimm killed three other groups besides the lowens and my—my pack. A, a, ward of geiers, a pack of schakal, and a, uh, warren of mauzhertz. All burned.”
Nick didn’t want to say anything, still reeling from Monroe’s story, but he was a cop and he had to—“…How do you know it’s not the same guy?”
There was another extended silence, then: “I saw.” Monroe cleared his throat and glanced at Nick again, sighed. “The grimm was killed. I saw him die.” A dark look crossed his face for a second, and Nick had a momentary glimpse of the creature his ancestors were so afraid of, but the look passed quickly. “Trust me, Nick. It’s not the same guy.”
Nick looked down, emotionally overwhelmed and suddenly exhausted. “You’re trusting me,” he said softly. “Why? After all that—”
Monroe shook his head. “It was twenty five years ago, Nick. Blutbaden deal differently with trauma than humans do, and—” he let a very small smile appear on his face. “You… this is going to sound stupid, but regardless… you smell safe. You smell like I should trust you.” He sighed. “I don’t think you’re going around killing wesen and burning them—I’d get a different feeling from you if you were. Also, you probably would have killed me and Hap by now if that were the case.”
Nick tilted his head—yea, that made sense. He frowned slightly, wanting to ask, thinking twice. Monroe smiled slightly. “You want to know why the hell Hap and I became firefighters after all that?” Nick nodded, and Monroe leaned back in his chair. “Easy. No one deserves to die like that. We picked what we do to try and stop things like that from ever happening again.”
“Oh, Monroe,” Nick breathed, and then suddenly, without his express permission, he was up and invading the small amount of space between them, pulling Monroe into a tight hug and resting his lips on the top of Monroe’s head. There was a moment where Monroe tensed, but he melted quickly and wrapped his arms around Nick’s waist in return.
“I’m so sorry,” Nick whispered. Monroe just shook his head and tightened his grip.