kat_lair: (GEN: castle with ghosts)
[personal profile] kat_lair
***

Title: the bones you’re made of (they sing a hard song)
Author: Mistress Kat /  [personal profile] kat_lair 
Fandom: Grimm
Pairing: Nick/Monroe
Rating: NC-17
Word count: 8,133
Warnings/enticements: Power play, angst
Disclaimer: Not mine, only playing.
Summary: Monroe has already opened every door imaginable, already gutted himself to the bone, whether Nick realises it or not. This is nothing.

Author notes: So a few years ago, I wrote sing no songs except of restless blood and not your average lullaby, and always meant to write the last part of the trilogy. And never did. Then some kind stranger called Sal left an AO3 comment saying they were still hoping for the finale. Apparently, that flipped some kind of switch in my brain because, well, here we are. So Sal, this one’s for you. Thank you for taking the time to remind me that Nick and Monroe deserved a better ending than where I left them in part 2. As always, thank you to [personal profile] margaret_r  for her beta services, I genuinely have no idea what I would do without her. Certainly have a lot of missing words!


The hospital bathroom smells like a morgue, sharp disinfectant and hastily strewn together prayers. Nick is vomiting out one of them right now, on his knees in front of a toilet, hands crusted with Monroe’s blood gripping the rim as he heaves though another torn ‘please, no’.

It’s late, or early morning really, mid-week. It means there is no one else in the bathroom witnessing Nick’s breakdown. It means they got here in record time, no traffic on the streets as Nick drove, foot heavy on the pedal and one hand on an unconscious Monroe, laid out on the backseat. It means the ER was quiet, the standby surgical team actually on standby rather than already tending to someone else. It means…

It means there’s a chance.

Nick clings to it with all he has.


***


The forest is very still, unnaturally so. There’s no bird song, no wind, no rustle of undergrowth or smell of small animals scurrying to shelter ahead of him. Monroe isn’t alarmed though.

He knows the forest isn’t real.


***


“What do you mean, coma?”

Dr Islington, as she’d introduced herself, actually takes a nervous step back at that. Nick can feel Hank’s hands gripping him by the jacket, presumably to keep him from following. Okay, so his voice may have dropped to a threatening growl, and he may be radiating violence in a way wholly inappropriate for the setting but the Grimm part of him is pushing perilously close to the surface and demanding something to hurt to make things right.

Only there is nothing. The Lowen is dead already and the doctor is only trying to help.

Nick slumps suddenly, leaning against Hank like someone cut off his strings. Which isn’t that far from the truth. “I’m… I’m sorry, I just… What do you mean…?”

The doctor’s expression goes from wary to sympathetic and she glances at Hank, who takes the hint and steers Nick toward the chairs, pushing him down almost gently.

“Your friend was badly hurt,” Dr Islington starts once they are all seated. “It’s a miracle really that he survived the operation. The recovery won’t be easy, so we’re keeping him in a medically induced coma for a few days to give his body a chance to stabilise.”

Nick keeps nodding, grateful for his partner’s steady presence because he’s only taking in about every third word of the explanation, his own heartbeat too loud and too fast, drowning out the rest.

“…He’s doing remarkably well, given the circumstances,” the doctor finishes and Nick thinks ‘remarkable’ is right, silently thanking the god he doesn’t really believe in for Blutbad resilience.

‘We’re pretty hard to kill,” Monroe had told him once, after another fight Nick had dragged him into. His grin had been bloodied and just a tiny bit feral around the edges, sending a thrill down Nick’s spine, making him want to push close just to see what would happen, just to see if Monroe would push back. ‘Lucky for me,” Nick had replied instead, keeping his distance and they’d laughed, giddy with adrenaline, like the whole thing was a joke.

Nick isn’t laughing now. “Can I see him?” he asks. It’s nothing but a formality, of course, because Nick is going to see Monroe with or without anyone’s permission, and judging by the good doctor’s expression, she knows it too.

“There is no next of kin listed,” she says, voice carefully neutral. “I don’t suppose you know…?”

“No,” Nick says. “There is no one.” Well, there might be but if Monroe hasn’t put anyone’s name down, there sure as hell isn’t anyone he’d like to see and Nick isn’t about to go looking for relatives Monroe has clearly cut ties to.

“I’m his… He’s my friend,” he says, at the same time as Hank says: “Monroe is a consultant to the Portland PD, injured in the line of duty. I’m sure you can…”

Dr Islington looks between the two of them but chooses not to comment. “Give us an hour to get him settled in the ICU,” she says instead. “Someone will come and get you.”


***


Hank drives Nick home and makes him have a shower and change his clothes. On the way back to the hospital he stops at a café, gets sandwiches and two coffees the size of his head, and refuses to start the car again until Nick’s eaten at least half of his.

Because Hank is a good partner and a good friend, he waits until after all of that to pin Nick to his seat with a meaningful look, a raised eyebrow and “So. Monroe’s your friend, huh?”

Nick blinks at him blurrily despite the indecent amount of caffeine they’ve both just ingested and fidgets with barely constrained impatience to get going. Hank is not heartless, so he stars the engine and pulls back into the morning traffic.

Nick relaxes minutely now that they’re moving again – now that the distance between him and Monroe is diminishing, Hank silently thinks – and takes another bite of his sandwich in a move that is clearly meant to buy time rather than to satisfy hunger. Hank waits him out patiently, focusing on the road while Nick chews and swallows and then swallows again.

“He’s been helping me out with cases,” Nick offers finally. “He’s got… connections.”

“Connections,” Hank repeats. “A recluse clock-maker who once was a suspect in child abduction has connections?

Nick opens his mouth but Hank waves a hand in his direction, cutting off whatever bullshit is about to tumble out. “Never mind that for now,” he says, “although don’t think we’re not going to have a talk about you bringing in a civilian to consult on the cases without consulting your partner first.”

“I…” Nick starts, shifting guiltily. “Thanks,” he says finally, quiet and subdued, “for what you said earlier.”

Hank nods, acknowledging it but moving on. They’re only a few minutes away and there’s something more important than proper respect for work protocol that he wants to get across before they arrive at the hospital. “Sounds to me it’s a bit more than a working relationship you’ve got going on,” he comments.

“He’s a friend,” Nick repeats, hunching defensively.

“A bit more than friendship too, I reckon,” Hank continues, barrelling right through Nick’s pathetic attempts of evasion. “Look,” he says, all trace of casualness gone, “I know you’ve been hiding something from me for a while now.”

If Nick seemed vaguely guilty before, now he’s all the way there, face at direct contradiction to his denials: “Hank, I haven’t, I…”

“Oh spare me!” Hank snaps. “You’ve been shifty as hell, disappearing at odd times, in the middle of cases,” Nick flinches visibly at that, “and the only reason I haven’t pulled you to task about it before is that it hasn’t adversely affected your work, opposite in fact. Also,” Hank adds and now he can’t help the note of hurt that creeps in his voice, “I thought ‘hey, Nick knows he can trust me with anything, right? He’ll tell me in his own time.’ Only apparently not.”

They pull to the hospital parking lot in silence. Hank turns off the engine and sighs. “Did you think I wouldn’t understand? That I’d be an asshole about it?” he asks, turning to his partner.

The expression on Nick’s face tells him the answer to that one even before the vehement “No!”

“I’m sorry,” Nick says. “That’s not why. I don’t… I… We really are just friends,” he says, looking down at his hands, clasped tight around the coffee cup. It doesn’t take a detective to tell that it’s not all Nick wishes they were though. “Monroe’s been helping me out with some cases, I didn’t lie about that.” Nick glances at him, almost pleading. “And he’s been helping me out with… some other stuff as well. It’s… complicated.”

“Okay, buddy,” Hank says, clasping Nick on the shoulder while privately disagreeing. Nick has a habit of making things complicated when they don’t need to be, his mind twisting and turning and worrying at things endlessly. It’s his biggest weakness, and his biggest strength as a cop. As a person too. “Glad we had this talk.” Hanks inserts only enough sarcasm into his words to let Nick know that this exchange is barely a start of all the things they have to talk about.

“Go on then,” he says, making shooing motions with his hands. “Call me if… Just. Call me, yeah?”

Already out of the car, Nick leans back in, hand on the open door. “Thanks,” he says, voice gruff. “I mean it. You’re a good friend, Hank.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Hank says, swallowing around a lump of his own now. “I know, I’m amazing, now get going.”


***


The sound of water is somehow not unexpected, although Monroe knows there’s never been a river in the forest before; not the real forest behind his parents’ house, nor the dream one he runs through, chasing what life won’t let him have. He follows it now, the muted roar of a lot of water moving at a rapid pace that doesn’t get any louder closer to the source, even though the smell of it grows stronger, cool and heady trickling down Monroe’s throat.

The river is wide enough that he can’t make out the opposing shore, but he is oddly unbothered by that. The water runs deep and fast, though the surface seems deceptively calm. Monroe pads right to the edge, smooth round pebbles skidding under each step. He’s on all fours again, deep in the woge where everything is clear and sharp, no shades of grey, no second-guessing.

The water is cool and inviting, like a rest after a hard hunt, but Monroe wades in only enough to cover his feet. He wants to go further but something is holding him back; some instinct, old as his line, that tells him that if he does he won’t be coming back.


***


The third night is the worst. Until then Monroe had been kept under with medications and the nurses had assured Nick that despite his stillness, the death pallor of his face, the pale, bloodless line of his lips, Monroe was doing as well as could be expected. Nick had sat there anyway, of course he had, fingers resting against Monroe’s wrist, tracking each beat of his pulse. It’s not that he didn’t trust the steady beep of the hospital heart-monitor, he just needed to feel it for himself, to have a tangible proof of life. And maybe he trusted his own ability to detect any minute aberrations more than he did a piece of technology that had never held Monroe in its arms when he was hurting, never fought side-by-side or back-to-back with him, didn’t have a heart of its own to offer in exchange for the next beat, and the next, and the next.

The third night though… Nick glances at the clock – white, utilitarian, utterly without character, Monroe would hate it… will hate it when he sees it – watching the minute hand tick around toward 2 am. They had taken Monroe off the meds earlier in the day, saying he was stable enough now to wake up on his own.

Only, he hadn’t. The doctor had told Nick that it could take some time, days even, but with every hour that passed without any sign of consciousness he could see her carefully masked worry growing. And now it is night and Monroe is still sleeping, pale and unmoving under the sheets.

Nick swallows, the acidy remnants of crappy hospital coffee threatening to make a reappearance, and squeezes his eyes shut, just for a moment. He’s so far beyond tired, the word has lost all meaning. His whole body feels cracked and dry, like he’s one of those creatures made entirely of sand, forming and reforming constantly, liable to blow apart at the slightest touch.

The walls are white, the curtains navy blue (black now, in the dim light of the bedside lamp) and there are forty tiles in the ceiling but forty-eight on the floor. The discrepancy would bother him except together that makes eight-eight, which is a round, friendly, sort of comforting figure, and Nick is well aware he has gone slightly stir-crazy here with nothing to do but keep his mind busy with cataloguing the minutia of Monroe’s hospital room.

Among other things. There are three moles in the left side corner of Monroe’s jaw, in a little neat line that curves to his neck, mostly hidden by his bead but as visible as the Milky Way when viewed across the white hospital pillow. The callouses in his hands are uneven, the veins running up his arms the muted blue of winter mornings, the skin over them soft and giving easily under Nick’s fingers when he follows them from wrist to elbow and back again. Every once in a while there’s a flutter to Monroe’s eyelids, the smallest twitch to his mouth, and Nick is almost hundred percent certain he doesn’t imagine it.

He looks at the clock again. Nine minutes past two. “Please,” he whispers, for the thousandth time, voice hoarse. “Please come back. I can’t…” He trails off there, every time, unable to finish the sentence. Unable to even think it.

The mattress is warm against his skin as Nick rests his forehead next to Monroe’s hand, his own still awkwardly wrapped around it.

Eleven minutes past two.


***


The river has gotten wider, flooding across the banks and edging into the forest. Monroe backs away, keeping ahead of the water that laps at the tree roots now, turning the forest floor into a slippery mess of mud and wet leaves. And yet, even now, there’s a part of him that wants to walk forward, into the water, rather than away from it; a part of him that wonders if there is anything to go back for.


***


The night nurse wakes him gently just before five. Her name is Hollie and she’s a Genio Innocuo, something she explained voluntarily as soon as she’d realised just who the pair in room 4C were. Nick still feels bad about threatening her but the presence of another, unknown Wesen had triggered every protective instinct and he’d had Hollie pressed against the wall with an arm over her throat within the first three seconds of her first shift looking after Monroe.

She’d been… surprisingly forgiving.

“Mr Burkhardt,” Hollie says now, sparing him a glance as she checks Monroe’s vitals, “you’re going to give yourself a permanent injury, sleeping in the chair.”

Nick straightens up slowly, wincing when his back cracks as he stretches. He ignores the well-meant scolding and instead asks: “How is he?”

“Same,” Hollie says, writing a notation on the patient chart. “You really should go home. We’ll call if—”

“No!” Nick snaps, fingers instinctively tightening around Monroe’s arm. “I can’t… I won’t leave him.”

Hollie doesn’t say anything, just watches him with large eyes, so full of understanding Nick has to look away. His gaze finds Monroe’s face, just as it always does. “I’ve got to wait for him to come back,” Nick adds softly.


***


At the edge of the forest, where the sun penetrates the foliage, Monroe stands amidst the golden shards of light and feels the warmth of it on his back. It travels down his arms, grasping him by the hand like a long lost friend, pulling him back. The grip solidifies into a real one, someone is holding his hand, calling his name, and Monroe turns toward the voice.

He knows who it is before he opens his eyes and sees Nick.


***


There is no dramatic sign, no increased beep of the heart monitor or violent twitch of limbs. One second Nick is checking the time again – almost six, the day shift will bustle in soon – and the next he glances back down to Monroe’s face, only to find his eyes open and looking back at him. It’s so quiet and anticlimactic that it takes Nick a moment to fully register what he’s seeing and then he has to blink a few times to check that he isn’t imagining things.

“Monroe?” Nick’s tongue feels thick and clumsy in his mouth and he almost falls off the chair in his haste to get closer. “You’re… Are you…? Hey, hey, Monroe, can you hear me?” There’s a surge of relief, a great big tsunami of it, rising inside but he can’t quite let it engulf him yet. “Do you know where you are?” Nick asks, fingers hovering anxiously over Monroe’s face, wanting to touch but not quite daring.

Monroe blinks at him a few times, gaze less blurry each time his eyes open anew. “Hey, Nick,” he croaks finally, voice reedy with disuse, “You waited for me.” The words don’t really make sense but the small smile tugging at Monroe’s mouth hits him like a sunrise and Nick exhales for what feels like the first time since he watched Monroe collapse on the street. Unable to stifle the almost sob that wrenches out of him, Nick folds like a house of cards, knees hitting the floor beside Monroe’s bed hard.


***


Almost dying tends to give one a certain… perspective on things. Not that Monroe really should be surprised by that, given that this isn’t his first experience – and probably not his last either – of death, nor of new perspectives. Last time, he’d surfaced from a week long woge, surrounded by bodies of pack mates and strangers alike, prompting a severe dietary change.

At least this time retaining his sense of self is a lot less bloody although it does involve a hundred percent more Grimm.

Which is, contrary to all natural law, how Monroe prefers it. Even if the said Grimm is being a hundred percent annoying right now. Okay, maybe ninety percent. Or at least two thirds annoying, one third...

Well, never mind that.

The point is: Nick is hovering like a mother hen and Monroe is perilously close to growling at him to back the fuck off.

“Nick,” he says, sitting at the edge of the hospital bed, fingers gripping the mattress in an effort to not to just reach and shake the other man out of sheer frustration. “Nick!”

“What, what?” Nick finally turns from where he’d been clutching the doorway and peering into the corridor every few seconds like he was waiting for a pizza delivery. “Are you alright?” he asks, anxious now but in an entirely different way, hands already reaching out like he’s about to… God knows what, pat Monroe down to check for injuries probably.

“Stop!” Monroe says, sharper than he meant to but it does the trick, Nick freezing on spot. Something about that tugs at Monroe’s chest, makes his gut clench in a way that has nothing to do with the pain from the healing wound. “Just… I’m fine,” he amends. “The doctor will get here when she gets here, you patrolling the area won’t make it happen any faster. Besides,” he adds, “it’s making the nurses nervous.”

Nick looks sheepish for about three seconds, before shifting to focused alertness once more. “I would’ve thought you’d be anxious to get out of here,” he says and then frowns. “Unless you’re not feeling well enough yet? Is that it? We can talk to the doctor if—”

“If what?” a voice queries from the doorway as Doctor Islington walks in.

“Nothing,” Monroe injects smoothly. “There is nothing talk about.”

The doctor shakes her head. “On the contrary, there is quite a lot to discuss.” She pulls out a thick folder that turns out to be instructions for home care, follow-up appointments and physiotherapy.

Monroe listens enough to figure out there is nothing there he didn’t already expect. Nick though, Nick is studying the papers and quizzing Dr Islington on the finer points as if he’s cramming for an exam.

Of course, the full implications of that don’t become clear until after Nick has helped Monroe from the car into his house, deposited him carefully on the sofa with water, meds and a whole mountain of pillows within easy distance. Because after all of that Nick shows no signs of leaving.

Instead, he goes to Monroe’s kitchen and starts pulling out pots and pans, making a lot of noise in the process and very little sense.

Monroe leans back on his sofa and stares at the ceiling for a while, listening to Nick pillage his well-organised pantry like he’s a warlord riding through hostile territory. He thinks hard about his near-death-experience bestowed perspective – the one that tells him that he’s stuck with the Grimm even though running in the opposite direction would probably hurt less in the long term – and says nothing.

About an hour later – by which point Monroe has mostly resigned to his fate and almost dozed off – Nick comes back, carrying a steaming bowl of… something that actually smells pretty amazing.

Monroe obviously isn’t very good at hiding his surprise at that as Nick’s smile turns slightly offended. “What?” he says, “did you think I was completely useless in the kitchen?”

“Well, not completely,” Monroe drawls, making a show of sniffing the air, “You are quite handy for opening wine bottles. And beer bottles too.”

Nick snorts. “Keep that up and you’re not getting any of Aunt Marie’s Get Well Soon soup.” He places the tray in Monroe’s lap in a direct contradiction to his threat.

Monroe raises an eyebrow but obediently picks up a spoon and gets stuck in. A year ago, eating Aunt Marie’s anything would’ve conjured up much bloodier imagery but here he is, being fed soup and, oh look at that: tea, of course – by Nick who’d apparently tapped into some nurturing instincts,  hitherto unknown in the glorious Grimm line.

“What’s so funny?” Nick asks, perched on the edge of the armchair where he’d sat to watch Monroe eat. “Don’t you like it?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Monroe says, taking another sip. “The soup’s great, thanks. Must be the pain meds making me a bit loopy.” Well, it could be the pain meds, if he’d taken any. Monroe isn’t being a martyr for the sake of it here, he’ll definitely pop some pills before bed, but for now he doesn’t want to risk his already addled mind getting any more so around Nick, to say nothing about his mouth which sometimes wants to say things it shouldn’t.

Nick just smiles at him happily, and finally goes to get some food for himself.

They spend the evening in front of the telly, although Monroe dozes through most of the documentary on Wold War 2. Not much past nine, Nick helps him upstairs – climbing the stairs isn’t great but it’s where the bathroom and his much missed bed are so needs must – and into bed. If Monroe was more awake, he might have felt embarrassed or flustered or even dangerously close to losing control over having Nick in his space so much. As it is though, he placidly accepts the meds and glass of water Nick hands over and lets himself be gently pushed onto the mattress, just in time for sleep to tug him under.


***


The next morning, Monroe is feeling decidedly less placid. Partly that is because of the steady ache in his side, partly because he slept much later than normal and is not allowed his morning Pilates, being under ‘strictly no exercise until your physio okays it’ rule from the doctor. Monroe doesn’t like his routines disturbed, and while it was inevitable when he was in the hospital, it grates much more now that he’s back home.

Mostly though Monroe’s less sunshiny mood has to do with finding Nick making pancakes in his kitchen like he belongs there, like he has some kind of right.

“What are you still doing here?” Monroe grunts in greeting, barely swallowing a growl that threatens to escape. It’s not Nick’s fault he’s presenting a tableau that could be titled Things Monroe Wants But Will Never Get, standing by the stove with a spatula and mussed hair.

“Good morning to you too,” Nick says cheerfully, flipping another pancake onto the plate. Because of course Grimm balance and dexterity transfers from ‘fighting for one’s life’ to ‘cooking breakfast’, of course it fucking does. “Have a seat, food’s almost ready.”

Monroe sits down, but only because standing up is currently pulling on his stiches like a motherfucker. “I mean, not that I don’t appreciate… all of this,” he waves a hand at Nick and the kitchen and the bottle of meds placed by his mug of coffee – and oh sweet Jesus did he miss that – indicating the current state of domestic affairs, “but don’t you have a job to get to? A house of your own, even?” What he really means is: ‘but I can’t get used to this, having you here.’ There’s just no way of saying that without… Well, without losing what he has.

“I’ve taken a couple of days of leave,” Nick says easily, setting the food on the table and sitting down. “And I’m pretty sure the house is going to survive without me for a while. Forever really,” he mutters the last words under his breath.

Monroe blinks at him, still kind of angry but also confused and… some other things. “But… why?” he asks.

Nick frowns at him. “What do you mean: ‘why?’ To help out here, obviously. Look,” he puts his mug down, suddenly serious, “You got hurt because of me. The least I can do is—”

“Oh, for…!” Monroe snaps. “I’m not your responsibility! It’s the Lowen who ripped my insides to shreds,” Nick pales at that and alright, so maybe that wasn’t the most tactful choice of words, but Monroe is not exactly at his best right now so sue him, “not you,” he continues, trying to soften his voice. “There is no need for you to hang around out of some misplaced guilt. I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.”

“It’s not…” Nick looks at his plate, pushing a piece of pancake around with his fork. “It’s not guilt,” he says finally, almost too soft to hear.

Monroe swallows, mouth suddenly bone dry despite the coffee. There’s something about Nick’s posture, his bowed head, the long line of his neck bared, just like that, like it’s nothing, that brings to mind the night he showed up at Monroe’s door full of booze and temptation. He wants to ask what it is then, if not guilt, but the silence stretches on for too long and the moment passes.

“Right, so,” Nick says, pushing up and starting to tidy the dishes with a lot more energy than the task merits. “Glad we got that sorted out. You’ve got a physio appointment this afternoon, so I’ll drive you there. Think I’ll do a grocery run before that, so let me know if there’s anything special you want from the shop, yeah?”

“…Yeah, sure.” Monroe finishes his breakfast and makes a slow trek to the sofa. He’s still not sure how he’s going to deal with having Nick in his house around the clock. The injury is surely a blessing in disguise here.

After all, he’s much less likely to snap and pin Nick against the wall when he can’t even walk to the post box without needing a lie-down.


***


It’s well past midnight and edging toward the early morning by the time Nick leaves the precinct. The air is still warm but without the oppressive heat of the day, but even so Nick shivers, sticking hands into his pockets as he walks to the car. It takes three attempts to unlock the door, which is a sign he probably shouldn’t be driving in the first place. With a sigh, Nick fumbles out his phone and calls for a cab.

The case had been easy to solve and hard in every other aspect of it; a dead three-year-old and parents with more needle marks than remorse. There was no urgency, no killer at loose to catch, but the whole team had stayed late to finalise the paperwork, needing it finished, needing to know that the case was air-tight – as if there was some peace to be had in this final act of justice.

Too little, too late.

Right now, it’s a sentiment that resonates in his bones, something Nick feels like a catch in his throat at every inhale. He is too little. He is too late. What did he think? That he could somehow singlehandedly change centuries of prejudice and bloodshed, stumbling blind across lines and rules generations in the making. God, what a joke.

The taxi drivers keeps glancing at him nervously through the mirror, like he expects Nick to pull out his gun and blow out either his own brains or the driver’s. He tries to make a concentrated effort of looking like a responsible law enforcement officer rather than a crazy person and apparently succeeds enough that the cab takes him all the way to his destination rather than throwing him out half way through.

Nick hands over some notes, telling the driver to keep the change, and trips his way to the door, clumsy with exhaustion. Keys and locks still prove tricky, but eventually he manages to open the door, stepping inside without turning on the light.

The door clicks shut behind him, Nick takes two steps down the hallway… and freezes on the spot at the deep growl that emanates from the shadows. His hand goes to his gun automatically even though the glowing red eyes are already so close Nick knows he won’t have time to draw it. Too little, too late. How ironic.

He braces for the attack, but gets blinded by the hall light being switched on instead.

Monroe is standing a few feet away, leaning heavily on the wall, one hand curled protectively around his middle, pressing down on where Nick knows the still healing wound is.

“Nick?” He sounds confused, voice a bit shaky with Nick assumes is fading adrenaline if his own reaction is anything to go by. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean what am I doing here?” Nick asks, slumping against the front door. “What are you doing here?”

“Uh…” Monroe tilts his head like looking at Nick sideways will cause him to make more sense. “I live here?” It somehow comes out as a question as if Monroe suddenly isn’t quite sure either.

Nick stares at him, then looks around and… Oh. Yeah. This is Monroe’s house. Where Monroe lives. And Nick… doesn’t.

Well, he did, for a few days just after Monroe got home from the hospital, but that was over three weeks ago and despite checking in regularly, Nick’s been back to his – cold, empty – house for a while.

Which probably explains Monroe’s confusion.

“Uh, what’s with the hostile reaction though,” Nick deflects, waving a hand at Monroe’s face which is back to full human now, brown eyes with little lines in the corner and… “I thought you’d be able to recognise my scent by now.”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Nick feels his entire body flushing hot. He hadn’t mean it like… like it sounded, but it’s too late now. Monroe’s features go slack with surprise for all of a second before his gaze grows sharp, eyes suddenly three shades darker, pinning Nick to the door. Because right, yes, this was a question he’d asked before, sort of, drunk and desperate, and just like that Nick remembers the weight of Monroe’s hands on his shoulders, fingers, claws, digging into soft flesh and pushing him down and…

“I do,” Monroe says, and it comes out like a confession, like something he expects to atone for.

They stare at each other for a long, wordless moment, until Monroe looks away, clearing his throat. “Normally, I do,” he continues, like nothing out of the ordinary just happened, “but you kind of caught me by surprise. I fell asleep on the sofa, woke up to someone coming in through the front door. It’s almost…” he glances at one of the many clocks, “two a.m.! I almost pulled what’s left of my stitches, rolling off the back of the sofa and straight into a full woge. What are you doing here, Nick?”

“I don’t… I don’t know.” It’s a lie. Nick knows why he’s here and not at his own house. He’s tired and heart-worn, had been thinking about nothing but getting home when he left work. And – not really that surprisingly – all of that had translated to giving the cab driver Monroe’s address.

There’s no way to explain all of that without giving away the last of his secrets though, and Monroe already knows so many of them.

“I’m sorry,” Nick says and he is, “I should go.”

Monroe huffs, straightening up a little gingerly and crossing his arms. “You should stay,” he counters, in a perfect echo of the night just before the Lowen attack when Nick had made a fool of himself and Monroe had almost let him.

And just like that the air between them shifts again, tense and charged. Nick licks his lips nervously. He know his lines, remembers the defiant, half angry, half pleading ‘you should make me’ but the words stick in his throat now, refusing to come.

What falls out instead, quiet and hesitant, is: “Can I?”

Nick shifts his weight from one foot to another, clenching and unclenching his fists. It’s not that he doesn’t know the answer, it’s that sometimes those are the kind of questions most difficult to ask.

Something in Monroe seems to break at that and the expression on his face crumbles, mouth shaping around Nick’s name as he takes a step toward him, then another and another until he’s close enough to touch. Monroe reaches out, fitting one wide palm over the back of Nick’s neck and pulls him forward until their foreheads are resting together.

“Of course you can,” Monroe says, voice low and rumbling. “I want you to.” It comes out like a confession, spreading into the scant space between their mouths, Monroe’s breath ghosting over Nick’s lips on every exhale.

Nick thinks he could close the gap and maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, perhaps only ‘fighting three Jägerbaren unarmed’ level of terrifying. He’s definitely done scarier things than that in his life, like…

Like watching Monroe fall to the street in front of him, bloodied and unconscious.

It’s the memory that stops Nick, makes him pull back. Monroe lets go immediately but doesn’t step back for which Nick is grateful.

“I’m… I’m tired,” he says. It’s true enough but not why he’s chickening out.

“Sure,” Monroe turns to the stairs, “let’s go to bed.” He gestures at Nick to go ahead and, feeling dazed and bone-weary, he goes. It doesn’t occur to him to read anything to Monroe’s choice of phrasing until he’s steered into his bedroom instead the guest one.

“Monroe?” Nick asks, but Monroe only shakes his head mutely, pulling the covers back.

“It’s late,” he says. “Let’s just sleep.”

Nick watches for a moment, but the day is sitting like a rock on his shoulders, heavy and hurting, and he wants this too much to question it. Silently, he sits on the edge of the bed, kicks of his shoes and shrugs out of his jacket, placing his badge and gun on the bedside table.

It’s easier than he thought to just let himself fall, head hitting Monroe’s pillows, Monroe’s scent surrounding him like a blanket. The last thing Nick registers is Monroe’s weight settling next to his, comforting warmth pressing against his back, and then sleep claims him, pulling him into its depths.


***


Monroe sleeps heavy and dreamless that night, hand curved around Nick’s side, fingers slotted over his ribs, filling the too prominent dips in between. He wakes up early as usual and then just lies there, breathing in their combined smell. The room is painted in that pale grey that heralds true dawn and through the curtains, he can see the sky slowly brighten to an off-white colour.

It’s very quiet, both inside the house and inside his own head. Monroe wants to keep it that way as long as possible. There are questions and doubts and a whole confused mix of emotions, tender like a new bruise, clamouring for attention at the back of his mind but he pushes it all down.

Instead, he focuses on Nick, curled on his side, creased shirt sliding up and a surprisingly peaceful expression on his face. It would be so easy to reach out, to gently nudge Nick onto his back, to roll over and cover Nick’s body with his own, to wake him up slowly, the way he’s wanted to—

Monroe swings his legs over the edge of the bed, sitting up. His side aches only slightly when he stands up. He leaves Nick sleeping in his bed and goes about his morning routine with a single-minded focus: clothes, bathroom, downstairs where he starts his Pilates work-out with a sigh of relief. It’s a welcome distraction, easy to fall into the familiar stretch of muscle and sinew, easy to reign in his thoughts and focus on nothing but the slow burn of it. He wants to keep going, wants to push beyond his usual set, but the twinge in his side reminds him that despite outward appearances he isn’t quite a hundred percent recovered yet.

The sun is fully up by the time Monroe finishes, though still hidden behind a thin layer of clouds that spreads from horizon to horizon. It gives the day a hazy, diffused quality, and Monroe turns on the kitchen tap, loading up the coffee maker, just to reassure himself that he isn’t dreaming. He thinks about having a shower or perhaps just climbing back into bed, before dismissing both. Nick needs his sleep and Monroe needs to stop thinking beyond the present, to stop assuming, hoping.

He goes outside instead.

The air is cool but not cold, damp with morning dew and a threatening rain both. It sticks to his skin, mixing with sweat and Monroe breathes in deep, letting the day trickle down his throat and fill his chest. He can smell the forest, the real one, and for a moment he lets the woge simmer to the surface, his shoulders shifting with the urge to drop down, closer to the thick, dark scent of the earth.

He shakes it off. Exhales. Inhales. Smells Nick before he hears him, bare feet against the kitchen floor, the creak of the backdoor.

Wordlessly, Monroe walks to the edge of the garden, the steady weight of Nick’s gaze at his back. He could wait to do this until later, until after Nick has left, but he doesn’t want to. So what if Nick witnesses this, what does it matter if that makes him one of two people who ever have? Monroe has already opened every door imaginable, already gutted himself to the bone, whether Nick realises it or not. This is nothing.

Monroe pushes his sweats down just enough to pull his cock out, watching the stream of urine hit the tree, darkening the bark. He takes a few steps to the side and repeats the motion, tracing the line of his property – territory – from corner to corner until his scent marks it afresh. Nick’s eyes follow him the whole way but he makes no commentary, no jokes or questions, no clumsy attempt to assert human norms where they don’t belong. Monroe really shouldn’t be surprised by the last. After all, in his way Nick is no more human than he is.

Monroe tucks himself back in and turns around, inhaling sharply when he sees Nick. He’s wearing Monroe’s t-shirt, the one he’d left on the bed before changing into his work-out clothes, the one he’d slept in.

Nick hasn’t showered either and the combination of their scents overlaid like that is heady, making Monroe’s mouth water, his canines pushing to the fore without a conscious thought.

“Yeah,” Nick exhales the word, stepping forward, walking right up to Monroe across the overgrown lawn, wet grass sticking to his feet.

He’s warm, and sleep soft, pressing in too close to pretend this is a casual chat between friends and brothers-in-arms they are having. “Last night,” Nick starts and then trails off, swallowing.

Monroe watches the bob of Adam’s apple, fists clenched at his side, claws digging into his own palms. He wants to breathe in through his mouth but is afraid to in case the taste pushes him over.

“Last night,” Nick repeats, and his voice is steadier this time, jaw tilted up and his whole body tense with fragile defiance, “when I… When I asked if I could stay. I didn’t mean... I didn’t mean just for the night.”

He’d known it. At some level, Monroe had known it, had understood, but he hadn’t been sure until now, until Nick’s admission settles in his gut like a burning stone, setting his blood on fire, making his bones sing with it.

“And when I told you that you could,” Monroe says, “I didn’t either.” He lifts his hand to Nick’s face then, claws and all, and Nick only leans into, tilting his head back into the flesh and bone cradle of Monroe’s too tight grip.

Nicks own hands slip under Monroe’s shirt, fingertips catching on damp skin, skimming over Monroe’s stomach, dipping into the sweat pearling at the small of his back. The touch is deliberate, a firm press of palm at the most vulnerable part of Monroe’s body that brings their hips together and makes his chest rumble with a low growl.

Nick’s eyes are blown wide, dark and hungry, and he tips his head back further, begging without words and something in Monroe snaps, a desire long held in check uncoiling like a live wire. Distantly, he thinks he should probably kiss Nick first – wants to kiss him, and he will, for days – but the long, pale stretch of his throat is right there and Nick should know better than this, should know not to offer something like this if he doesn’t…

“I know,” Nick says. His fingernails rake over Monroe’s spine, hips stuttering in a restless, desperate rhythm. “Monroe, I know exactly what…”

Monroe bites him.

He sinks his teeth into the soft flesh at the side of Nick’s neck, just under the curve of his jaw, and bites hard enough to almost break the skin, hard enough that Nick’s moan is only half pleasure, all surrender. He sags with it, pushing closer rather than away, and Monroe can feel the blood rushing up to meet his mouth like a long lost lover, hot and sweet, just under the surface.

It’s going to leave a mark.


***


Nick is fiercely glad. He presses into every sharp point of pain-pleasure, wishing Monroe would get just a little bit more careless. After all, it would only be right, only be what he owes: blood for blood.

When Monroe finally lets go, Nick doesn’t waste time in getting a hand in his hair, wrenching his head up to crash their mouths in a searing kiss. Monroe opens under him, hot and perfect, and it’s like a secret Nick forgot he was holding until Monroe coaxed it right out of his bones.

Nick shivers, shivers, shivers right into it, licking over the peaks and valleys of canines, burning against Monroe’s skin, greedy for it. The ground is still damp with dew when it rises up to meet them, Monroe crawling over him on all fours. His eyes are red, features not entirely human and Nick is and is not afraid, all of it good and more, and he digs a heel of his bare foot into the small of Monroe’s back and pushes until they are flush against each other.

They both moan, loud and dirty, and some distant part of Nick remembers to be grateful for the trees and bushes and the general unkempt wildness of Monroe’s back garden that obscures them from all but the most determined voyeur. He sincerely hopes none of the neighbours fit into the category because he thinks if anyone crosses so much as a foot into Monroe’s – their – territory right now, Monroe is going to rip it right off whoever unfortunate soul it’s attached to. And Nick is going to help.

He lets his knees fall open, Monroe settling into the cradle of his hips like a homecoming. Nick plants his feet to the ground and rocks up, mouth smearing wetly against Monroe’s forearm as he pants out his pleasure. “Fuck,” he says, pushing up again, “oh fuck, please.”

“In the forest,” Monroe grits out, hips jerking down sharply. He’s heavy, a solid mass of muscle and bone, driving Nick to the ground.

“What?” Nick blinks sweat out of his eyes, tries to co-ordinate enough to get a hand between them.

It’s no use. Monroe growls, scrabbling for purchase until he has both of Nick’s wrists in a grip and then he wrenches them up none too gently, grinding them to the dirt above Nick’s head. “I’m going to fuck you,” he elaborates and each word is dragged out like a prey from its burrow, laid at Nick’s feet like a promise, “I’m going to fuck you. In the forest.”

Nick imagines it; running through the woods but not to get away, being brought down, the dark smell of earth and rotting leaves as Monroe pushes him to the ground face first…

Yeah,” he breathes, arching up for a kiss. “Not gonna make it this time though,” he adds when they pull apart some eons later to breathe. Nick presses up for emphasis, eliciting a ragged groan from both of them.

“Next time,” Monroe says. He raises himself up enough to snake his other hand between them, all of his weight now resting on Nick, the small bones of his wrists grinding together and that too is going to bruise. Waistbands pushed aside, Monroe wraps a hand around both of their erections, grip tight and perfect and just this side of painful.

Later, Nick isn’t sure if it’s the touch or Monroe’s promise of ‘next time’ that pushes him over.  He spills over Monroe’s fist with a muffled shout, mouth pressed into his own shoulder and the wet grass underneath.

Monroe doesn’t stop. He doesn’t even slow down, just drives into the slick mess between their bellies, the drag of his cock against Nick’s spent one making him twitch and shiver because it’s too much, too much, not enough. He thinks about turning over, offering himself up right here, right now, in the half-light of the morning with Monroe’s neighbours a stone’s throw away but there’s no room to move, Monroe’s weight and grip keeping him pinned down so Nick can do nothing but lie there and take it.

The realisation makes his cock jerk anew, and Nick spreads his legs wider, eyes transfixed on the long line of Monroe’s neck as he throws his head back when he comes, teeth clenched and throat working to hold in a howl pushing to escape.

‘Next time,’ Nick thinks. He wants to hear it, wants every single thing Monroe is keeping back because he thinks he should.

Nick will have it all.


***


It starts raining in earnest long before they’re breathing has evened out. Neither of them move. Monroe drags in heaving gulps of humid air, thick with sex, pushes it right back out against Nick’s skin, the fast thump-thump-thump of his pulse that kisses Monroe’s open mouth at every beat.

There’s a twinge on his side, tightening at every breath. It’s nothing serious but enough that Monroe knows his healing muscles aren’t too impressed with the unscheduled exercise they’d gotten this morning. The thought makes him snort and by the time he’s gathered enough co-ordination to roll off Nick and onto his back, he’s laughing openly.

“From predatory to giggling in less than a minute,” Nick observes. “I don’t know whether to be offended or impressed.” He props himself up on one elbow, gazing down at Monroe with a mocking eyebrow, completely undermined by the smile taking over the rest of his face. “You’re something else.”

Monroe grins up at him, unrepentant and happy. “We,” he corrects, blinking through the rain that keeps falling. “We’re something else.”

“Yeah,” Nick agrees, the corners of his eyes crinkling with contentment as he leans down. “We are.”

Monroe kisses him back, over and over, each brush of lips tasting like the future.
 

***

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