Written for the 'loss of identity' square on my hc_bingo card.
Nick contemplated the contents of his mug, the creamer swirling through the coffee in slow moving circles long after he set the spoon aside. He'd intended to drink it when Monroe had initially handed it to him, knew from experience that Monroe's coffee would battle the exhaustion that made his limbs heavy and his eyes itch, make his mouth beg for mercy even as it rejoiced.
"You okay, Nick?" Monroe watched him over the rim of his own cup. Dressed in his ever present sweater, the sleep pants were new, soft cotton that hung from Monroe's hips, faded from years of washing. His bare toes flexed against the stark tile of the kitchen floor, a slight dusting of hair traveling p each toe to the arch of his foot before disappearing beneath the pants.
"I'm fine," Nick said, the assurance ringing false when the words caught in the back of his throat. A slight tremor working up his hand, he set the coffee cup on the counter behind him.
Monroe blinked before shrugging. "Of course, yeah, you're totally fine. Clearly." Even hidden behind the rim of his cup as Monroe took another sip Nick didn't miss the flick of his eyes towards the clock.
Right, because two in the morning was hardly normal visiting hours. Nick huffed, a laugh shaking out of him. He reached up to rub at his face, fingers rubbing at the tension knitting tight lines across his forehead. "Sarcasm from you? I'm shocked."
"Every side kick has their schtick. I have sarcasm punctuated with sage advice and occasional acts of extreme violence." A flicker behind his eyes made something in Nick's chest twist tight.
"I thought Hank was my side kick," Nick said, resisting the urge to shift from foot to foot. With his stomach churning, he was grateful he didn't drink the coffee. The strong liquid would have kicked his empty stomach like a mule. Hardly a worthy trade for the welcome fizz of caffeine slipping through his veins. Or at least so he told himself.
"He's your other side kick. Not as cool as me, obviously, but the earrings work for him."
Nick laughed and regretted it when the knot in his chest twisted even tighter, making him all too aware of the way his neck and shoulders ached, his eyes beginning to burn at the corners. He gripped the bridge of his nose as he sucked in a sharp breath. He focused on each breath, the edge of the counter digging into his lower back, until the burn faded.
When he looked up there was nothing in Monroe's expression beyond the usual quiet regard. As if this was like any other visit and he was waiting to see what kind of trouble Nick was going to spill into his lap this time.
Nick shoved a hand through his hair, tugging at the thick strands to feel the resistance in his scalp. "What does it feel like to recognize me as a Grimm?"
Monroe blinked. "What?"
The surge of frustration made Nick push away from the counter. He moved two steps then stopped, his sigh a sharp exhalation. "What is it that makes the Wesen look at me and 'know' that I'm a Grimm."
The surprise disappeared, replaced by a small frown, as if with eyes alone Monroe could dig beneath the skin and figure out where Nick was going with this. "It's kind of hard to explain."
Nick bit back his immediate response because he was tired, and no matter what was riding him right now Monroe didn't deserve the rough side of his temper. He had opened his home at two in the goddamn morning, not for the first time, and made him coffee. The least Nick could do was remain somewhat civil.
It was Monroe's turn to set his cup aside, arms sliding up to cross tight across his chest. In the world of a cop body language was almost as important as anything spoken aloud, if not more so in some cases. Monroe had expressive hands. When he spoke they tended to dance back and forth, all exaggerated motion and big gestures. It rarely boded well for what ever he was about to say when he tucked them out of sight.
"You gotta understand that being secretive is second nature to us. For the Wesen its all about staying under the radar, blending in, making sure the humans don't know anything's up."
"Why? It's not like there are Grimms lurking around every corner." The words came out sharp, and he forced his shoulders to loosen beneath Monroe's arched brow. "Sorry."
Monroe shook his head and Nick could hear the unspoken tirade about what his family would think for daring to associate with a Grimm of all things. "Yes well, while Grimms are terrifying, you especially-," he rolled his eyes when Nick made a face, "normal people are even more so when they figure out that they really aren't alone at the top of the food chain." Monroe huffed, settling more of his weight back against the counter. "What did you think set of the Salem witch trials?"
That…that was a conversation for another time hopefully followed up with a quick look in the trailer. "But normal people can't even see you."
Monroe held up a finger. "Most of the time normal people can't see us, but sometimes they do, and while most of the time they end up thrown in whatever passes for a loony bin – sometimes they can get enough people together to form a lynch mob." Another shrug, his arms gradually loosening from around his middle. "You know how it is, you take a group of people, toss in some fire and pitch forks." The corner of his mouth curled into something that tried to resemble a smile. "Not a good picture."
"What does this have to do with sensing me as a Grimm?" Nick asked.
The sound that came out of Monroe wasn't a growl, but it wasn't far from being one either. "We hide okay. That's what we do – well, most of us anyway – the good ones. We spend our whole lives living two lives, are taught how to fake being normal before we can walk, because the alternative isn't an option."
"Now imagine you're minding your own business, buying the groceries, taking out the garbage - ," Nick can't suppress his smirk. Trust Monroe to hold a grudge. "- and you look up and into a stranger's eyes. Time seems to slow as every instinct starts shrieking, telling you to get the hell out of there. Then it happens and…" Monroe stopped, hands in mid-air, and there's a look on his face, something twisted and frustrated. "You feel as if something has slipped beneath your skin and is staring right down into the heart of you. There is no mask, no more hiding, as if for a split second everything you are is stripped away until you don't even recognize yourself. You're exposed, cracked open and this stranger's eyes are staring straight through you like a pin through a bug."
By the time he'd finished Monroe's breathing had deepened, his hands trembling, eyes fierce, allowing Nick a glimpse of his darker nature. "Is that what it was like for you? The first time you saw me?"
The brief hesitation was answer enough. "Yeah," Monroe nodded, a sharp jerk of motion. "Pretty much."
The urge to ask why Monroe didn't kill him was on the tip of his tongue, but in the end he didn't think he could handle the answer. Seeing as how Monroe had just described meeting Nick's gaze as the equivalent of staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, Nick couldn't say he wouldn't have lashed out if their positions had been reversed. Upon first encountering the Wesen he had stayed his hand from lethal violence because killing them would not help him understand the situation, not to mention killing never solved anything.
Nick had hoped Monroe would be able to make him understand, give him something to cling to when complete strangers stared at him in horror, hiding their children even as they struggled to meet his gaze. Now that he did he felt even more lost.
"There really is no getting away from this, is there?" The question wasn't directed at Monroe, mere words that served to shred the lingering hope one day he would get his life back. Spoken aloud he could not ignore the ever growing truth, gave it weight, turned it into something he could grab a hold of and accept. Denial clearly wasn't getting him anywhere.
"Talk to me, Nick. Clearly you've got some scary stuff going on in there." The edge that had settled within Monroe's body in stiff muscles and the tight cross of his arms faded, replaced with concern.
Retreating back to the counter Nick reached back and grabbed the edge with both hands, gripped until his knuckles flared white.
"I became a cop because I wanted to help people, Monroe. I wanted to protect them. And now I'm the monster that lives under the bed, the villain of the stories the Wesen tell their children." Bile filled his mouth and he swallowed it back with effort. "I am feared and hated, hunted down for no other reason than that I exist – and I have done nothing to deserve it."
Nick kept his head down, didn't think he could keep talking if he had to look him in the eye.
"I thought I could handle it, just file it away as a new, weird part of my job but now…," He remembered Juliette's blank stare, the way she'd pulled back in confusion, distrust flicking through her eyes and shredding the hope that had swelled hot and bright when she'd woken up. "If the kind of thing that happened to Juliette is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life, I think I can understand why my aunt ended up the way she did."
Intellectually he knew that targeting his loved ones was just another tactic in this war, an attempt to get him off balance without the risk of engaging him head on. Knowing it was possible was one thing. Standing in his kitchen while his girlfriend watched him with the wary regard reserved for strangers had kicked his feet out from under him, and every moment since he hadn't stopped falling.
Nick didn't say what he was thinking outright, but when he finally lifted his head the careful way Monroe watched him made it pretty clear the message had been received. There was a moment of conflict reflected on Monroe's face before he stepped closer, his bare feet almost inaudible on the kitchen floor. The warm weight of a hand settling on his shoulder was startling, even though he'd seen Monroe lift his hand.
Fingers tightened, squeezing the tight muscles, a firm reminder that he was not alone, no matter how much it felt like it. "We'll get her back, Nick. I promise, we'll find a way to fix this."
"And if we can't? If she never remembers me?" The words spilled out of their own volition, a desperate attempt to get his feet beneath him, or at least find something along the line of solid ground.
"In that case I look forward to watching you in action as you make her fall in love with you all over again. If I'm lucky it will involve lots of embarrassing clichés that I, of course, will document and hold over your head the next time I end up in a gladiator pit." He sighed at whatever he saw on Nick's face, muttering under his breath. Nick heard only bits and pieces – something that sounded like 'a beer conversation'. "You're not a monster, Nick, take it from someone who's been there. And while I don't think you have it in you to go the way your aunt did, I promise to do whatever it takes to keep that from happening." He looked at Nick expectantly. "Okay?"
The silence stretched, both of them not sure what to say, neither of them willing to break it. It was Monroe who clapped his hands together. "Right. I need a beer. Should have gone with that from the start rather than wasting two cups of perfectly good coffee." He cast a despairing look at Nick's untouched mug. "Seriously, do you know how expensive those coffee beans are? Quite a pretty penny, let me tell you."
Nick listened with half an ear as Monroe dug through his fridge. He still felt angry, unsettled, trapped in his own skin with the anger that formed a hard ball of tension beneath his lungs. But for the first time since Juliette woke up he also felt like he was standing on solid ground. It was a start.