Part II: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
The party at the Wurstners' turned out really great. Monroe met a lot of interesting wesen who would have never approached him before, and he got a standing invitation to join the historical society. Nick seemed pretty happy too, moving from group to group, talking and laughing, and occasionally returning to Monroe to ask if he was having a good time and touching him on the shoulder.
They hadn't really figured out the whole going from buddies to lebensparten yet, but they would get there. Nick had started touching Monroe more – just casual hands on his arms, and the occasional run of fingers through his hair. For his part, Monroe had started straightening Nick's collar before he went to work, and tying his tie for him on the days he had to be in court. It was hardly a steamy make out session on the couch, but it was more intimate than they had been before.
Monroe was content to wait. They were both twitchy as rabbits and as liable to run as not when it came to their physical relationship, so it was best to take things slow. On Monroe's part, he was afraid of rushing things and scaring Nick off, and a little unsure of whether he'd be any good at … stuff. He hoped it was the same sort of concerns holding Nick back. He was fairly certain, given that a few times when Nick was standing close he'd caught the faint scent of desire. But still, it would be nice to know.
Just then Shirley Wurstner bustled over and started corralling Monroe toward the gift table. She was a plump eisbiber with a sweet face, and she seemed to have decided that Nick and Monroe needed mothering. Bud was kind of horrified that his wife was bossing around a Grimm and ablutbad like they were her own children, but she just told him to hush because "these sweet boys wouldn't hurt a fly." That comment was followed with an impish wink that proved to Monroe that Shirley was sharper than most gave her credit for, and having fun winding up her husband.
The gift opening took place with much frivolity. There was one tense moment when Nick opened a new compound crossbow with a mounted infrared scope and unthinkingly raised the weapon to peer through the sights, causing several nervous wesen to dive for cover, but Monroe smoothed it over by exclaiming over his much coveted wineglasses.
Afterwards, Nick gave Monroe one of his sheepish looks, and mouthed 'thank you,' and Monroe was swept up in a powerful urge to kiss the upturned face of his lebenspartner. He swayed forward a step before realizing what he was doing and bringing himself up short.
It probably wasn't a good idea to push their self-imposed boundaries while in the middle of a crowd.
The rest of the party passed by in a blur for Monroe. He hoped he'd said the right things and thanked the right people, because he honestly didn't know. From the moment he decided he wanted to kiss Nick, he couldn't think about anything else.
Finally it was time to pack up their gifts and a few plates of leftovers (courtesy of Shirley) and drive home.
Nick watched Monroe out of the corner of his eye. He'd been distant for the last hour or so of the party, and Nick couldn't help but worry. He'd been on Hyper Grimm Alert for days, imagining assassins lurking in every corner, waiting to take out the wesen who dared to mate a Grimm. Nick wasn't taking any chances with Monroe's safety. He wasn't losing another friend, another lover, another family member to psychopaths with black magic.
Waiting until they were at a stoplight, Nick turned the radio down, and got Monroe's attention.
"No one threatened you, did they? Because if anyone did…" Nick didn't have to finish that sentence. The way he looked at his new crossbow – sitting in pride of place in the back seat – did all the talking for him. He'd already failed to protect those close to him too many times. He wouldnot fail Monroe. Not again.
"What?" Monroe sputtered, giving Nick an odd look. "That bunch? No, they were all great. Why would you think that?"
"You've been distracted since we opened the gifts. I thought maybe someone said something."
To Nick's puzzlement, Monroe bit his lips and got distinctly shifty-eyed.
"No, no one said anything. I've just been thinking about some things."
"Things?" Nick prompted.
Monroe's shifty-eyes gave way to a blush so intense that Nick wondered if there was enough blood left in the rest of Monroe's body to keep his heart going. He found himself very, very interested in whatever it was Monroe had been thinking about.
"Yeah, things," Monroe grumped, before taking refuge in driving.
Nick casually slid his hand across the seat and let his fingers rest against the outside of Monroe's thigh.
Monroe jumped, the car swerving briefly into the left lane.
"Dammit, Nick! I could have killed us. Just what do you think you're doing, man?!"
"Flirting with you," Nick answered without thinking, a smug smirk stretching his lips.
Huh. He guessed he was. And it felt perfectly natural to flirt with Monroe.
Monroe raised a brow. "Flirting?" he echoed, a slight catch in his voice.
But now Monroe seemed to be gaining confidence. "So if I was to say that the thing I was thinking about involved kissing you…"
Nick's heart sped up. He wondered if Monroe could hear it. He would have to ask, one of these days.
Seizing his courage with both hands, he answered, "Then I'd say you should stop thinking about it and just do it."
The atmosphere in the car shifted from easy camaraderie to tension-filled anticipation. All the little hairs on the back of Nick's neck stood up, and he had to work to suppress a shiver. Monroe stole a look at him, and there was something absolutely predatory in his gaze.
Rather than putting Nick on his guard, it made him look forward to being hunted.
The ride to the house felt like it took a hundred years. By the time they got there, it was only the nerves of steel Nick had developed as a homicide detective that kept him from fidgeting in his seat. Was Monroe going to do it? Were they finally going to push their friendship firmly into something more?
Hell, if he didn't do it, Nick would. He had to. Monroe kept giving him those looks.
They pulled into the driveway, and almost before the car had come to a full stop Monroe was opening his door and getting out. Nick clenched his teeth, disappointment like a rock in his belly. If Monroe was going to kiss him, this would have been his best opportunity of the evening. The least likely to be awkward, anyway…
Then the passenger door was open and Nick looked up to see Monroe leaning in. He licked lips that had gone dry and felt a fission of electricity where Monroe's fingers were brushing his side.
Then there was a soft click, and Nick realized Monroe had undone his seatbelt.
"Get up," the bigger man whispered in his ear.
This time, Nick couldn't stop the shiver.
Monroe stepped back, and Nick got out of the car, carefully shutting the door behind him. Then he folded his arms and leaned against it, trying not to let on that his hands were shaking and he was weak in the knees.
It had been such a long time since he'd felt this way. He had it bad for Monroe, that much was clear.
The thought was both exhilarating and terrifying.
Slowly, giving Nick plenty of time to change his mind, Monroe placed his hands on the car, one on each side of Nick. A step of long legs, and only an inch separated them. Nick could feel Monroe's body heat, and he wanted him closer, wanted to feel that warmth against his skin, wanted to wrap himself around it, bury himself in it, wanted all that and more so badly that he could taste it.
Then Monroe bent his head and brushed his lips against Nick's, and all other thoughts fell away.
Nick had thought kissing a man would be different, but it wasn't. Sure, Monroe had a beard, and Nick wasn't used to being shorter than the person he was kissing, but those things were superficial.
Monroe's lips were soft (and hot, oh so hot) and they sent familiar tingles radiating out through Nick's whole body. That first kiss was sweet, almost chaste, and filled with gentle promises.
The next kiss was deeper, hungry, and felt like a punch in the gut. Nick gasped, and Monroe slid his tongue into Nick's mouth and he growled, and wow that was probably a weird turn on for a Grimm to have. Then Nick was gripping the collar of Monroe's shirt and pulling him closer, body to body, and he was starting to like the feeling of the beard against his skin, and Monroe was so hot, and he was pinning Nick against the car and –
A woman's startled exclamation made both of them look up. Standing on the porch was…
"Juliette?" Nick croaked, hands still twisted in the fabric of Monroe's shirt. For a second, the blutbad was the only thing holding him up. For a second, he almost apologized. Then equilibrium reasserted itself, and Nick swallowed the words back, unclenching his fingers and fixing Monroe's collar for him. Monroe's face was flushed, and Nick knew he had to look much the same.
"I'll just go in and… make coffee," Monroe said, grasping for an excuse to let Nick and Juliette talk in private.
Nick hated this. Hated that this had happened just when things were moving forward between him and Monroe. Hated that every time he started to get a good thing going, started to feel like maybe he was figuring things out, something happened to send it all to hell in a hand basket.
He could feel Monroe withdrawing from him, could see the wariness in his eyes.
He hated Juliette and wished she would just get the hell out of his life already.
But guilt followed rage like a relentless shadow, and Nick sighed. This wasn't Juliette's fault. It's not like she'd had any idea.
So he plastered what he hoped was a reassuring smile on his face and told Monroe that he would be inside soon, trying to convey with his voice and his eyes that Monroe had nothing to worry about. That Nick wouldn't be going home with Juliette even if that was what she was here to ask him. Even if she had her memories back.
Even if she had her memories back.
That was the moment that Nick realized he wasn't in love with Juliette anymore. He still thought she was beautiful, still cared about her, but their relationship was a dried out husk of a thing that had died a slow death over too many missed dinners and too many secrets, a rejected proposal, months spent banished to an uncomfortable couch, and an infidelity Nick wasn't even allowed to be angry about. Nothing he could do would revive what they had.
And he didn't want to.
Juliette watched Monroe walk into the house, and Nick watched her watching. On the surface, she and Monroe were very different. Man, woman, human, wesen…But inside, Nick knew, they were both brave, headstrong, smart, and compassionate.
Their similarities made him sad.
"Sorry, I should have called first," Juliette said after Nick cleared his throat. She wouldn't look him in the eye.
"No, it's ok," Nick told her. "We were just getting home."
"Why don't we sit on the porch?" Nick suggested after they'd gone too long without speaking.
"Ok," Juliette agreed almost before he'd finished his question.
They went to the porch and sat, careful to maintain a certain distance from each other.
"So…" Juliette echoed. "You and Monroe?"
Nick frowned, his jaw tightening. "Is that a problem?"
The old Juliette would have never thought so, but Nick didn't really know her anymore.
"No! Oh, god no, I didn't mean…" she assured him, her hands flapping. "It's just… one of my friends told me that you proposed once, and I turned you down. And she said it's because I thought you were hiding something. And I know there's something you brought me here, to Monroe's, to tell me the night that I went into the coma, so I wondered…"
She trailed off, and Nick's thoughts went into a free fall.
There was another long silence while Nick came to a decision, so long that Juliette said, "You know what, it's not any of my business – "
"No," Nick stopped her. "You're right. Monroe and I have been attracted to each other for a long time. I brought you here that night so we could all talk about it. I was hiding it from you because I didn't want you to worry, but I thought if you sat down with me and Monroe and we all talked about it, you'd see that I loved you and Monroe and I would never act on our attraction while you and I were together."
The lie rolled smoothly off his tongue. Now that Nick was certain that he and Juliette were never going to be anything more than friends to each other, having her know about Grimms and wesen would just paint a target on her back. But she wouldn't stop asking until he gave her an explanation for her questions.
"So… you're gay?" Juliette was studying him.
"Bisexual," he corrected. Irritated by her scrutiny, he continued, "Was there a reason you came here? And how'd you get here, anyway? I don't see your car."
Juliette flushed and looked down at her hands. "I was dropped off by a friend."
Captain Renard then, Nick decided.
"I came to talk to you about the house," Juliette went on. She pulled an envelope out of her jacket pocket. "The bill for the mortgage payment came in the mail today. My name isn't on it." She bit her lip. "I didn't realize I'd chased you out of the house that you own."
Nick shrugged. "It was my choice to leave."
Juliette stared at him, her face set into a sullen frown.
Nick took pity on her.
"But you're right. We need to come up with some kind of permanent solution. I think we both know we're not getting back together."
To his great consternation, Juliette started to cry. Nick pulled her into a hug at once, trying to soothe her, but she jerked away from him.
But why wouldn't she? He was a stranger to her, or near to one.
"I'm sorry," she stuttered, wiping at her nose. Nick wasn't sure if she was apologizing for pulling away from him, or for the mess their lives had turned into.
"Don't apologize. It's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault. It just… is."
And it was. They'd both done their best to make the best decisions with what they had. In the end, it just hadn't worked for them, and maybe it never would have, even if their lives had stayed uncomplicated by hexenbiester and family secrets.
Juliette tried to get her tears under control and Nick gave her what privacy he could by pretending to read over the letter from the bank.
"How about this," he said at length. "Why don't I come by later this week and get the rest of my stuff, and then we can have the house and furniture appraised. Then you can refinance in your name and buy me out of my half."
Nick was tempted just to let Juliette have the house, free and clear, but he knew he couldn't really afford to, and further that she wouldn't accept it. But it took only to a second's thought to know that he never wanted to live in that house again. He was pretty sure living with Monroe was going to become a permanent arrangement, but even if it didn't, he'd figure something else out.
"That sounds fair." She gave him a trembling smile.
Nick stood. "Well now that we've got that settled… want to come in for some coffee? I'm sure Monroe wants to say hello."
Juliette shook her head, and Nick was quietly relieved.
She pulled out her cell phone. "I'll just call my ride."
Nick nodded and headed for the door. Hand on the knob, he paused, good manners and concern for her safety making him ask, "You sure you don't want to wait inside for him to get here?"
Juliette shook her head. "It's a nice night. I'll just sit on the porch."
Monroe made coffee, and when that wasn't enough to occupy him, he put on his apron and started on a batch of chocolate chip cookies. From scratch.
Having a lebenspartner was testing his control over himself, over his nature, in ways he had never anticipated. Juliette was Monroe's friend. He liked her. He knew that. But at the moment all he could think about was how rich her blood would taste on his tongue and how sweet it would be to bury his claws in her guts and pull.
All because she was outside talking to Nick, and Nick had loved her once, maybe still loved her, and Nick was supposed to be his now, dammit, but Monroe was in here making cookies.
He stirred his cookie dough with more force than was strictly necessary, and cursed quietly to himself when the bottom of the mixing bowl cracked.
"Get a grip, Monroe," he scolded himself, pausing to do some meditative breathing.
Remember, you told Nick to do what makes him happy. And if Juliette is what makes him happy, then you just need to deal with it.
It took a good ten minutes before he felt calm enough to start transferring the cookie dough into a new bowl, careful to check for any shards of glass. By the time he'd done that, he could hear the murmur of Nick and Juliette talking outside, and it was another exercise in self-restraint to keep from going over to the living room window so he could eavesdrop. But what were they talking about? Was she trying to explain about the affair? Was she begging him to come back? Was he begging her to take him back?
Was Monroe going to be left alone?
Would that one kiss, that kiss that had made his ears ring, that kiss that had completely stolen his reason, be the only one he ever had from Nick?
Would he never get to know what it was like to make love to his lebenspartner?
Nick's right. He's the guy.
With that, Monroe made a concentrated effort to shut out all thoughts that didn't have to do with making cookies, and ignored the way his stomach flopped every time he thought he heard the front door opening (which was about once every three minutes).
He'd spooned the cookies onto a baking tray and put them in the oven by the time Nick came inside, looking surly.
Monroe tried very hard not to be relieved that whatever had gone on with Juliette obviously hadn't gone well. But hey, he was only human. Or well, no he wasn't, but the principle was the same.
Nick poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. Monroe told him there's be cookies in a few minutes, and Nick nodded without seeming to take in what Monroe had said.
"Wanna talk about it?" Monroe asked at last.
A sigh and a one shouldered shrug was his answer. So it was going to be like that then.
"Alright, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, but I'm here for you man. But if we're not going to talk, how about we see what's on The History Channel? That always perks me up. Or hey, here's a thought, we can listen to what the humans say happened, and then I'll fill you in on the real events during the commercials. I bet you even have a few ancestors who turn up in documentaries every now and again."
Monroe looked up from the oven to glance at Nick. The corners of his mouth were twitching. Monroe rambled on, "Or if you don't want to do that, we could see what cop movies are on the movie channels, and you can tell me all about how inaccurate they are, or how what the hero of the movie has to do is nothing compared to the case you and Hank busted last week."
"Busts," Nick corrected. "We go on busts. We solve cases."
Monroe shrugged. "Whatever."
There, now that was a definite smile.
The over timer went off.
"Cookies!" Monroe exclaimed, going for his oven mitts. He pulled the pan out and started to transfer the sweets to a cooling rack.
The skin on the back of his neck prickled. He looked over his shoulder to see Nick watching him.
"You look cute in your apron and matching oven mitts," Nick said.
Monroe wasn't sure if he was being made fun of or flirted with. Most likely, it was a little of both.
"It takes a real man to pull this look off," he informed Nick, concentrating on evenly dispersing the cookies on the cooling rack. He might have privately conceded that Nick was the guy in his thoughts, but out loud he would never admit defeat.
And besides, now that Nick had come in – without Juliette – and was teasing Monroe, Monroe felt secure again, his violent urges receding.
"Yeah, it does," Nick agreed. His voice was much closer than it had been a minute ago.
Monroe felt two strong arms encircle his waist, and then Nick was pressed to his back and Monroe's pulse was thrumming in his ears. He could feel the lean planes of Nick's body, and he knew what Nick looked like shirtless, and oh, now he wouldn't have to try to ignore how hot Nick without a shirt made him. Nick pulled on his shoulders, encouraging him to turn around, so he did. And then Nick slid one hand up to grip the back of Monroe's neck, and they were kissing again, only this time Nick was in charge.
He pulled Monroe's face down, the hand on the back of Monroe's neck firm without being rough. And then Nick nipped at Monroe's bottom lip, and Monroe was about a second away from wolfing out and unable to stop the whimpering noises he was making. Then Nick pulled back and latched onto Monroe's neck, his tongue and teeth working over the sensitive flesh in a way that made Monroe groan and long to go limp, to submit to his pack leader, to give Nick everything.
"Nick, what are you doing?" Monroe asked between moaning pants, his voice thick with arousal.
"Obeying the apron," Nick answered, as if that made sense.
Monroe gave it a few minutes, because after all his brain was pretty overloaded, and maybe he'd just forgotten how to speak English.
"What?" he said, grasping Nick's shoulders to hold him still.
Nick's grin could only be termed 'shit eating.' "Kiss the Cook," he explained.
Monroe looked down. His apron was a paisley flower print.
And there was a very obvious tent in the front, which Nick apparently noticed because his grin got… shit eating-er.
"My apron doesn't say that."
Nick winked. "I'll have to get you one that does, then."
Then he snatched one of the cookies from the cooling rack and started heading toward the living room. "Come on. I was promised TV."
Monroe mock snarled at Nick's retreating back. "Tease. That was just mean."
"Yeah, yeah," Nick's voice drifted from the living room.
Monroe was about to take a plate of cookies through the door, with plans of maybe using them as bribes for more kisses, when Nick ducked his head back through the archway, face serious. "Hey, Monroe? Thanks. I'll tell you about it tomorrow. Promise."
Monroe felt inexplicably warm.