Title: Just a Little Crush
Fandom: Grimm
Rating: R
Pairing: one-sided Roddy/Monroe, bit of Nick/Monroe
Summary: Fill for this prompt. After needing Monroe's help, Roddy develops inconvenient feelings for him.
Word Count: 13,734
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my own words.


Notes: I know nothing about Portland, so I’m guessing at the layout of Roddy’s neighborhood. If it’s totally out of left field, I apologize.


Roddy didn’t sense the cat until a couple of minutes after he got off the bus in the industrial area close to his house. It followed some yards behind him on the sidewalk, nowhere near close enough for anyone to find it suspicious. Stalking distance. Roddy had never been hunted before other than by those assholes at the institute, but his instincts were whining and scrabbling at his insides, shivering under his skin. He risked a glance back as he pretended to look at one of the few passing cars on the increasingly deserted city street. The cat, a man who looked to be in his thirties, was no taller than Roddy, but his lean frame was fit, his shoulders broad with muscles that Roddy’s lanky body didn’t possess. He had his head lowered, hands in his jacket pockets, his stance casual and steps measured even after Roddy hurried his own a little, but as soon as Roddy turned his head forward, he felt those carnivorous eyes boring into his back. There weren’t a lot of people around, but he sought to follow close to what few there were, passing up the street where he would normally turn toward the river. His dad wouldn’t be home at this hour, it being barely 1pm, but it was too risky. Unfortunately, in the direction he was taking, it was more factory buildings and even less people wandering about. He forced himself to breathe and tried to remember the one time he had strayed this far north, but his memory of the street layout was fuzzy. There was a bus stop somewhere west of here. Maybe. If he could just turn left at the next intersection, he might make his way to it, or at least to someplace with more people. But he couldn’t run. As soon as he did, the cat would be on him. They couldn’t resist a chase. He had to save his strength for when it mattered.

But the intersection turned out to be a ‘T’, with the crossing street going east toward the river. And, on the other side where the street Roddy had been following continued, another cat stood smirking at him. Roddy’s footsteps stuttered, his joints locking in terror as a shout clasped in his throat, but he didn’t cry out. Every muscle in his legs clenched, he ducked his head and turned right, his heartbeat thundering so hard that his vision started to blur. He was going to die. Two cats now, both following him, one on each side of the street and there was no one around. He scrambled in his pocket for his phone, but who could he call? The cops didn’t care about this part of town and he could hardly explain that his assailants were cats, unless a creature answered. He thought of the Grimm, the weird one who had helped him instead of killing him, but then he remembered the business card he had stuffed in his wallet three weeks earlier. But why would a Blutbad save a Reinigen from cats? Maybe to preserve Roddy’s talent for the world? He had seemed pretty pissed off about wasted potential.

The cat to his left quickened his pace. That’s it. Roddy was calling. The card almost fell from his shaking hand as he dialed the number, then prayed to whatever higher power was out there that Monroe wasn’t taking a shower or at the movies or doing anything else that kept him from the phone.

Come on, answer the phone, please, I’m begging you.

“Hello?”

Oh thank you God.

“It’s Roddy, the Reinigen,” he said in the lowest voice possible. “The Grimm sent you to give me that pep talk.”

“Oh, hi. Can you speak up? I can barely hear you.”

“There are cats after me.”

“Did you say cats?”

“Two of them. They’re stalking me. They’re gonna eat me.”

“Shit. Where are you?”

“I’m somewhere north of where my house is. I’ve just reached the road that runs along the river.”

Cars roared by on the much wider street. Cars were good. Very, very good.

“Listen to me. You stay on that road. Don’t go anywhere that’s deserted. I’m coming to get you. I’m about fifteen minutes away, give or take. Olay?”

“Okay. Can you stay on the phone, please?”

“Alright. Just breathe. You staying in sight?”

“Yes.”

Though there were less cars now, rush hour not quite here yet.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Roddy didn’t really believe it, couldn’t even believe that a Blutbad was coming to his rescue, but he clung to the comforting nonsense Monroe said to him while he felt the cats creeping closer, their pace quickening. Roddy was close to a jog now, but he mustn’t run, he mustn’t tempt them. Monroe wasn’t close enough yet, but the cats were getting tired of this slow chase and seeing him talking to someone on the phone probably wasn’t helping. The traffic had thinned now, the buildings to his left mostly abandoned.

“I’m two minutes from your house,” Monroe said.

How far had Roddy walked? He didn’t recognize this part of town at all. He glanced behind him. Shit, when had the cats gotten this close? He’d let them sneak in too much. Any second now they were going to pounce, and at this distance, Roddy wouldn’t be able to outrun them.

He searched along the road. There were two cars coming, one from each direction. Soon, one wouldn’t be able to cross in front of them without getting hit. If he just waited a few more seconds... Come on.

Now! He ran across the road, ignoring the blaring of horns as the cars skimmed past him. He hugged his violin case to his chest as he ran across the tall grass and shrubs lining the riverbank. The cars had stalled the cats for a bit, but soon they were hard on his heels, fierce growls stoking his panic.

“They’re on me,” he said, no longer able to keep the phone to his ear. He ran to the shore, but it was a myth that cats wouldn’t swim to reach prey. His father had been adamant about that. But they still didn’t like it. These two might not even know how to swim. They were closing in, snarls reverberating in his ears. Gasping out a panicked sob, he tossed his violin and phone on the grass, but the moment he was about to dive into the river, one of the cats jumped him, knocking him to the ground, smothering him in slick mud. He flailed about, screaming, begging, but teeth tore into his arm, squeezing tears from his eyes as both cats held him down, talons tearing through his clothes.

Something roared above him, ripping the cats from him. He scrambled at the mud, crawling forward on his stomach, feeling blood soak through his skin. Growls and thuds from fighting rose behind him, feline and… canine? Monroe? He scarcely dared look back. When he did, one of the cats was already on the ground, grabbing at his leg, his face twisted in pain, while Monroe fought the other one, talons flying about. Monroe sank his teeth into the cat’s arm, making it scream as a sickening crack crunched through the air. Monroe shoved the cat away, throwing it some yards away, and stood between them and Roddy, roaring in challenge. The cat hissed, furious, but it lowered its head, grabbed his friend, and the two hobbled out of there as fast as they could.

“You okay, kid?” Monroe asked over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off the scurrying cats.

Roddy sat up in the mud. Freezing water lapped at his legs, the cold piercing through his bones.

“Yeah,” he gasped.

He was shaking. His arm hurt more than anything had ever hurt before, blood oozing on his fingers as he gripped his elbow. At some point, Monroe crouched beside him, his body blocking the chilly breeze striking his face.

“Hey,” he said, voice soft, as if Roddy might bolt, and he wanted to, wanted to so very much, but his legs wouldn’t move, wouldn’t uncurl from under him, the muscles tensed tightly.

“It’s okay,” Monroe said. “They’re gone. I doubt they’ll try that again. Let me see that.” He touched Roddy’s injured arm, making Roddy flinch away. Monroe raised his hands in a harmless gesture, looking Roddy in the eyes. He was anything but harmless. He’d broken bones just a few seconds ago, but it had been in Roddy’s defense, to save his life, and he looked so solicitous, so genuinely worried.

“It’s okay,” Monroe said, voice soft. “It’s gonna be okay.”

After a moment, Roddy held out his arm for Monroe to inspect, keeping still as careful hands handled his limb.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice nothing more than a murmur.

“Don’t worry about it. Did they hurt you anywhere else?”

“No.”

Roddy shook his head, much too frantic. The wind bit at his neck above his collar. He dug his fingers into the mud, grasping at blades of grass, tangling them around reddening skin. Monroe’s jacket was torn, crimson staining the edges of the tears, and three long scratches marred his left cheek.

“Are you okay?” he asked, suddenly worried for his unlikely savior.

“Yeah, I’m fine. This is nothing. And you’re going to be fine, too. Maybe you need stitches. We should go to the hospital.”

“No. No hospitals.”

His mother had died in a hospital, surrounded by disinfectant and scrubs and too white walls with tiny TVs nailed to the wall that blared at you until your ears went numb.

“Okay. I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do. Is your father home?”

“No.”

“Alright. I don’t think we should go there right now. Not that these things will stick around right now, but better safe than sorry. Let’s get you up.”

Monroe pulled him to his feet. Roddy wasn’t sure how he stayed upright, his legs were clenched so tightly.

“My violin,” he said, scrambling past Monroe in his haste to find it. “I dropped it.”

“I got it.”

Monroe sped past him and picked up the violin case and the cell phone, handing them to Roddy. He hugged the case to his chest.

Monroe took him to his house. He didn’t sound like he wanted to, but there was nowhere else, Roddy supposed. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go himself. Hell, he was almost 99.99% certain he did not want to be anywhere near a Blutbad’s house or in a Blutbad’s car, but since this Blutbad had just saved his life and was the only thing keeping him from totally freaking out, he’d make an exception. Not like he had any choice, anyway.

There was a wolf themed stained glass window embedded on the front door. Oh, yay. It was like a really artistic ‘Beware of Blutbad’ sign. The inside of the house was all wood and earth tones, forest paintings on the walls and clocks literally everywhere, making the air itself vibrate with their ticking. The couch was comfy, though. He guessed he didn’t mind being pushed down onto it so much before Monroe went in search of his first aid kit. His violin case was still clutched to his chest, the only thing grounding him right now. He cringed when Monroe touched it, shrinking back against the sofa. Monroe drew back, his hands held up in front of him again.

“We need to take your jacket off,” he said. “You can have the violin back as soon as we do, okay?”

Roddy sucked in a deep breath, though it did nothing to steady him. He was being stupid. He put the violin down beside him and stood up to start taking his jacket off, but he stopped immediately when he yanked at the bite wound.

“Easy,” Monroe said, standing up next to him. “Let me help you.”

“I’ve got it.”

“Don’t be a tough guy. Tough guys are idiots. Are you an idiot?”

Roddy rolled his eyes.

“That round-about logic only works on children,” he said.

But his arm did hurt so very much and his hands were shaking again, his fingers clenching on his right cuff, so he turned around so Monroe could tug the jacket off. Then there was his sweater to take care of.

“You know,” Monroe said. “This is pretty much ruined.”

“It’s not so bad. It’ll wash out.”

He couldn’t afford to get new clothes just because these got slightly mauled.

“Alright. Raise your arms.”

Roddy did. After Monroe took off his sweater, leaving him in a t-shirt, he sat Roddy back down on the couch and cleaned out his wound. Roddy wouldn’t look at it. He couldn’t. That bite hadn’t been meant to injure, but to kill, to eat him piece by piece like the rats had eaten Professor Lawson until there was nothing left of him but bones.

Halfway through the cleaning, he ran into the bathroom and threw up. He didn’t know how long he stayed hunched over or when the heaves turned into sobs, but he did notice the instant that Monroe touched his back, the warmth of that broad hand seeping through the cotton of his shirt into his skin. He let himself be cradled by it, leaning against Monroe as he sat next to him, enveloping him with his arm, murmuring, “It’s okay,” over and over until Roddy was sure Monroe was sick of saying it, but he could stand it a little longer.

“Why did you come?” he asked later, once they were back on the couch and Monroe was wrapping gauze around his arm.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Monroe frowned, appearing genuinely perplexed by the question. “I couldn’t leave you to die.”

“But you’re a Blutbad. Why would you care? Why did you go to my house to give me that talk? I don’t understand why you would do any of this.”

“I’m reformed. Have you heard of reformed Blutbaden?”

“Kind of. But I didn’t think they were real.”

“Well, we are. We don’t kill people, much less eat them. Except in self-defense, obviously, or if we’re protecting someone, but you know how that goes.”

“You broke that cat’s arm. And the other one’s leg.”

“They got off easy. Last time, I ripped a guy’s arm off.”

Roddy stiffened, his eyes widening. Oh shit, the tales of Blutbad strength were true.

“But he was trying to kill Nick’s aunt,” Monroe said quickly. “And that was not supposed to happen. I hadn’t done anything like that in years, I swear. I’m mostly mild-mannered. I’m a vegetarian. I don’t do anything to trigger that part of my nature. You’re perfectly safe with me, I give you my word.”

Roddy nodded, hoping that was all true.

“I don’t really think you’re going to eat me,” he said. “You wouldn’t bother doing this if you did.”

“Exactly.” Monroe smiled. “I’m glad we got that sorted.”

“Thank you. Really. I wouldn’t be alive if you hadn’t given me your card.”

“Don’t worry about it, kid.”

Roddy collapsed against the back of the sofa and shut his eyes.

“Hey,” Monroe said. “You want to watch TV or something? Or you can sleep, if you want.”

“Do you play the cello? I saw one earlier.”

“Yeah, that’s me. I’m no prodigy like you, though. Nowhere near it.”

“Can I hear you hear play?”

“Uh, well.”

Roddy looked at Monroe. Something must have shown in his eyes, for Monroe widened his mouth in a forced smile, looking mildly chagrined.

“Sure,” he said, standing up to get the cello. “But again, don’t be expecting to be wowed or anything. I don’t get a chance to practice as much as I’d like.”

Monroe kept on protesting his humble skills as he set up the cello, looking so discomfited by the whole thing that Roddy almost told him to forget it, that he could just curl up on the couch and wallow under the synthetic tunes of a CD instead, but then Monroe set his bow to the strings and started playing. He drew out the notes a bit longer than necessary, his intonation not as lively as the movement warranted, but it was still much more fluid than he’d let on, his protests of humility exaggerated as the notes flowed in the air. Roddy closed his eyes, letting the music stroke over his injured nerves, his fingers brushing against the tufted fabric of the sofa. He glanced at Monroe, whose eyes were closed to best let the music flow, then opened his violin case.

His right arm cried out as he set the violin under his chin, ripped muscles pulling in the most painful ways, but he ignored it as he moved the bow. Somewhere beyond his consciousness, he heard Monroe protest, the cello falling silent, but Roddy kept on playing. Soon, the cello sounded again, joining Roddy’s violin. His fingers moved over the strings of their own accord, the rhythm known, automatic, but he drew out the notes harder than usual, fudging over some of them in his haste to flee from the pit he’d fallen into, his fingers scratching at the muddy walls as he tightened them on the bow, the pain in his arm melding with the notes, the cuts starting to bleed, but he couldn’t still his hands, either of them. The only thing he could do right now was keep playing, keep running, until his throat got scratchy from the dryness of too many rapid breaths, his eyes wet, moisture soaking his eyelashes, and his arm felt like a burning log crackling into ashen pieces.

Roddy lowered the violin, his grip on the instrument so tight that it cut off his circulation. The cello had stilled long ago. Roddy opened his eyes, scrubbing at the tears in them. Monroe looked up at him with an expression that made Roddy want to crawl back into his hidey hole from embarrassment, yet also yearn to peek his head out again in curiosity. Awe shone in the Blutbad’s eyes, but that had been there before when he dropped by Roddy’s house. The wonder was new, as well as the recognition scrunching his brow just so, giving a hint of sadness to his eyes, sobering his lips away from a smile.

“That was amazing,” he said, his voice quiet, so far from the exuberant praise from that other night, yet Roddy got the feeling that he wanted to say a lot more.

||||

Monroe re-bandaged his arm because he had bled through the gauze. Sometime later, Roddy called his dad to see if he was home. He didn’t explain what had happened, though, not yet. Monroe took him home. By all rights, he should have just dropped Roddy off and left, but the thought that the cats might come back, as injured as they were, made him start hyperventilating as soon as he put his hand on the car door handle, so he begged Monroe if there was a way to let other creatures think that the Blutbad was still around. There was. Monroe looked terribly awkward about it, even a little apologetic for even suggesting it, and Roddy was sure his dad would never go for it under any other circumstances, but right now, anything that might deter cats or anything else from disemboweling him would be brilliant.

This is how he ended up explaining to his dad why there was a Blutbad pissing around their house. It might have been less awkward if his dad had come out of the trailer before the scent-marking began, but he doubted it. Thankfully, explaining why this Twilight Zone scenario was happening silenced his father’s protests. After engulfing Roddy in a huge hug, his father was all over Monroe, stopping just short of shaking his hand, which, considering what Monroe had just been doing, would be quite icky, so he invited him inside to wash his hands instead, and then shook it. Would he care for a beer? Food? The good whisky Roddy wasn’t supposed to know his father had? He would have offered Monroe the house itself if he would take it. Monroe tried to beg off, saying,

“I don’t need any, really. Thank you. I was just helping out.”

He looked overwhelmed by the whole thing. But Roddy’s father was so grateful that he wouldn’t let Monroe leave without at least having a beer and, if he was honest with himself, Roddy didn’t want him to leave, either. So he sat beside his dad on the sofa, his dad’s hand squeezing his shoulder, as Monroe explained what had happened, Roddy only bringing himself to provide the most rudimentary details, and his dad asked a million questions Roddy didn’t have the breath to answer right now. He hadn’t even told his dad about Monroe’s earlier visit, not wanting to freak him out with the news that a Blutbad had stopped by under a Grimm’s direction. Now it turned out to have been the best thing in the world.

Monroe finally got away about an hour later with reassurances that he would come back and renew the scent marks for as long as they wanted.

“Call me if you need anything,” he told Roddy. “Or Nick. You can trust him, you know.”

“I know.”

But he didn’t want to call Nick. He watched Monroe’s headlights until they disappeared into the haze of the nighttime road, melding with all the other traffic. He didn’t sleep at all that night. He doubted his father did, either. He hadn’t been hugged that much since he was a boy. His father didn’t seem to want to let him out of his sight and Roddy didn’t have the heart to object. He didn’t really want to, anyway.

Three days passed, and yet he still couldn’t bring his bow up to his violin. His dad told him he shouldn’t push himself, that his arm needed to heal first, but he couldn’t not play. It wasn’t natural. It was this constant itch at the back of his throat, but he couldn’t drive away the feel of that cat’s paw ramming into his back, his teeth tearing into his flesh. Every time he raised his bow, his hand trembled so violently that it nearly fell on the ground. The silence choked him. He tried putting some music on, but those were already finished tracks. He couldn’t accompany that. It was like tracing a picture and calling it drawing.

That evening, Monroe stopped by to renew the scent marks. Roddy asked him if he could go over to his house to play.

“Is your arm healed enough for that?” Monroe asked him.

“Yeah, sure. I’m not going to open the wound again. I just need to play something.”

“Can’t you play here? I hear the rats love your renditions.”

“It’s not working. I was thinking, maybe since your cello playing prompted me last time, it might work again.”

Monroe looked dubious. He probably didn’t want any more responsibility over him than he absolutely had to deal with and Roddy was pushing it. And why should he? He was a Blutbad. He had better things to do than tend after the gutter rat’s woes. Saving his life? Sure. It was the decent thing to do and reformed Blutbaden seemed to go for decent (at least that was what Google had said), but no one had said anything about allowing a Reinigen into your home on a regular basis. And it was such a nice home. So big and warm where the heater actually worked like it was supposed to and the furniture wasn’t all second-hand.

“Alright,” Monroe said, shoving his hands into his jean pockets.

“Really?”

Monroe shrugged, a not really fake smile curving his lips for a moment.

“Why not? I would love to hear you play again, truth be told. But you are not hurting your arm. If I feel you are straining yourself, you are to stop when I tell you, you get me?”

“Yeah, I got you,” Roddy said, too grateful to complain.

It worked. No more than five seconds after Monroe started playing his cello, Roddy felt the music stirring under his fingers and turned it into sound. It didn’t last as long as he wanted with the pain in his arm, but even just that little bit… God, it was bliss. Monroe was just as appreciative as ever, which felt almost as good. He hadn’t been praised for his playing by anyone other than his dad since he’d been in the institute, and then it had always been tainted by the vituperative envy of his classmates. Stupid, entitled assholes. But here was a Blutbad, who trumped them all in power and scariness (though Roddy hadn’t done to badly himself with his rats) and he actually enjoyed Roddy’s playing for what it was. He was even flattered by Roddy complimenting his playing and asked for tips on how to improve, lapping up his advice like a puppy with warm milk (a comparison that wasn’t getting revealed to Monroe ever).

After playing, Monroe discerned that Roddy was hungry, so he made him some fancy version of Fettuccini Alfredo with a much fancier name with homemade bread sticks and a garden salad.

“Some KFC would be fine, you know,” Roddy said as Monroe took out a mountain of ingredients for the pasta. “You don’t need to go to all this trouble.”

“Absolutely not. When you’re under my roof, you’re eating real food, not that over processed stuff that’s been injected with hormones. Trust me, when you taste my [insert unpronounceable name here], you won’t remember KFC exists.”

Roddy did remember KFC existed, but Monroe wasn’t far off. That was the best pasta he had ever tasted in his whole life. He went for seconds, eating until his stomach cried out, “No more!” and he felt like a stuffed turkey. But God, it had been worth it. This must be what eating at one of those fine restaurants felt like. He’d never come close to one, but he’d bet good money that Monroe could beat any of their cooks in a taste contest.

While Monroe had cooked, Roddy browsed through the ground floor. Monroe had one hell of an extensive music collection. There were both CDs and vinyl albums, not all of them of classical music by any means, but there were different renditions of the same classical pieces, something that Roddy had never been able to afford. He’d always had to choose his favorite version and buy only that one. But Monroe had much more in his house than music. A bookcase took almost a whole wall, filled with books on music, literature, history, clock-making, science, especially astronomy, and half a shelf was dedicated to recipes. And there were all sorts of things crammed into the living room. A telescope stood next to a window. He pictured Monroe using it to look at constellations Roddy didn’t know the name of. There was a model of the solar system next to some sheet music and yet another clock (how did Monroe manage to concentrate with all that ticking?). Roddy reached out to the little, blue-yellow Saturn, but just before he touched it, he drew his hand back. What if he broke it? It didn’t look that expensive, but many things that didn’t look it were. Even if it only cost $50, it would be too much for him. And what kind of ungrateful bastard would go around breaking his host’s things? The playing cards sitting at the base of the model were probably safer, but he didn’t have permission to touch those, either, and just because Monroe was busy cooking in the kitchen didn’t give him leave to do whatever he wanted.

After they ate, Monroe let Roddy play with the model. But not the clocks. The clocks were sacred. You’d think they had been blessed by a saint, then dipped in holy water with the way Monroe was so protective of them. The model was lower in the living room hierarchy, though the telescope was another matter entirely, not that Roddy would protest. Hundreds of dollars in damages might not be guaranteed, but why risk it?

They played cards. When Monroe got frustrated with Roddy not knowing any games besides the standard poker ones and blackjack, he taught Roddy Gin Rummy and King’s Corners, which, after he got over his initial confusion, turned out to be much more fun than poker.

Roddy had expected Monroe to kick him out after that first dinner, but Roddy guessed he’d decided that since he couldn’t shake him, he might as well take him in. He had been the one to suggest they continue their sessions, for when he dropped Roddy off at his house, he asked,

“So, you think you can continue playing without me or do you still need a cello to inspire you?”

Roddy hadn’t been certain if Monroe wanted Roddy back in his house or not, given how guarded his eyes were. But he had brought it up. He could have just left Roddy without saying anything, pretending this would be the last they’d see of each other for a while. And there was something, not hopeful exactly, yet rather open in his expression, like he would accept either answer with equanimity. Like he wouldn’t mind at all if Roddy kept intruding in his life and might even welcome it. Though that last might just be Roddy fooling himself, though why he would want to continue spending time with a Blutbad was beyond him. But it had been nice. Monroe was really good company and his house… Oh man. How much he would love to live in a house like that. He could even get used to the ticking if it came with more delicious food, never mind that he couldn’t remember what it was called. And there was no one else he could discuss classical music with. (friend) was all about modern and his dad just played the harmonica. And more to the point of the actual question, could he play by himself now? Ten minutes of playing wouldn’t abate the nightmares. He probably still needed a crutch.

“I think I still need your cello,” he said.

“Alright.”

Did Monroe sound glad or was Roddy imagining it? He honestly couldn’t tell.

They started a twice a week routine. Monroe would always come to pick up Roddy, though Roddy was sure that he could get to his house by bus, but walking around by himself, well, wasn’t the most pleasant prospect right now. They would play, eat, then talk about whatever. At first, Monroe took the lead by asking questions about Roddy or Reinigen in general. His genuine interest shocked Roddy. Why would a Blutbad care other than to better know their prey? But that wasn’t Monroe’s aim here, which made it more confusing. He really did seem to be a decent guy, even if he had been coerced into helping despite himself. In return, he offered to answer any questions Roddy had about Blutbaden, though it was obvious he wasn’t completely honest about some of them, though Roddy tried to stay away from the killing, which, well, Blutbad. Kinda went hand in hand. And Monroe went all avoidey when they strayed too close to that, ducking his head and mincing around his answer, his shoulders growing tense, discomfort and even a bit of fear entering his eyes, as if worried that Roddy might be afraid of him. He was still a little to be honest, but he shed that pretty quickly. As long as he didn’t wear red, he figured (hoped) he would be fine. Nor did they only stick to creature questions. Monroe seemed quite fond of conversation, for he drew Roddy into discussions on all sorts of things, from classical music to his aborted DJing (which he was reluctantly staying away from because he was still not convinced that Burckhardt wouldn’t come after him for not living up to his moral standards) to what assholes rich people could be and why humans had lost so many basic instincts.

“Take Nick,” Monroe said. “He’s a Grimm, so he should be better at this, but nooo. He doesn’t seem to have a survival instinct at all. I’m amazed someone hasn’t killed him yet. It’s insane.”

Monroe spoke about Nick an awful lot. But friends did that about each other, right? A Blutbad who was friends with a Grimm. Just another layer of the weirdness that had become his life. He was curious about Nick at first, but after a while it got dull. He’d rather talk to Monroe about something else. Cooking was good. After that first meal, he got curious about whether he could even begin to make something similar to that. Living off of fast food and TV dinners had never bothered him much, but this made them taste stale. Monroe seemed a little dubious when Roddy first asked him if he could teach him any recipes.

“You really want to learn how to cook?” he asked. “This kind of food?”

“Yeah, why not?” Roddy shrugged. “Just because I’m a Reinigen doesn’t mean that I only like French Fries.”

“I wasn’t implying that. I remember how you gobbled up my pasta last time. It’s just not the kind of thing teenage boys interest themselves in. I could barely cook an egg at your age.”

Roddy wasn’t convinced that Monroe hadn’t substituted ‘Reinigen’ with ‘teenage boys’, but he ignored it.

“Well, I want to know,” he said. “Something simple. I don’t think I can handle anything as complicated as what you made.”

Monroe snorted.

“Trust me, penne alla paesana isn’t complicated. Complicated takes hours. There’s food that takes a whole day to make. But I can think of something more short term.”

Short term turned out to be stir-fried rice, which was as far as Monroe was willing to trust him (and had no relation to the food Roddy had been referring to), and even then he kept prodding Roddy.

“Cut the onions thinner.”

“You have to stir more often or the rice will stick to the bottom.”

“Don’t let the bean sprouts get too fried or they’ll wilt.”

And Roddy kept fearing that he was going to char the rice and it would be inedible, but in the end, it was toasted a shinny brown and didn’t taste horrible. It was rather good, actually. Terrible by Monroe’s standards, he was sure, though he couldn’t tell since he hadn’t eaten any fried rice that didn’t come from a takeout place. But Monroe seemed to like it.

“This is pretty good,” he said as he munched on it.

Roddy tried to find the subterfuge in Monroe’s expression, but he couldn’t see any.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Not bad for a first go. Well done, kiddo.”

Roddy smiled despite the ‘kiddo’, a funny feeling gurgling in his stomach at Monroe’s praise. It was probably hunger.

Not all their activities took place inside. One time, when Roddy happened to stay after nightfall on a clear night, he pressed Monroe to take out the telescope, since he had never gotten a chance to see stars or planets up close, which Monroe thought to be downright criminal, so, to educate hapless him, he showed Roddy Venus and Jupiter and traced out a few of the constellations for him, his hands waving around with so much enthusiasm that it sparkled in his eyes, brightening his face with an excited smile, and Roddy found himself gazing at him almost as much as the stars themselves. Monroe was even more breath-taking than the stars.

The instant that thought flashed in his head, Roddy ducked his head, pressed his right eye to the eyepiece, and didn’t look at Monroe for over ten minutes. It’s not like he hadn’t noticed that Monroe was handsome, in an older, wolfy way. But it was just a random, descriptive detail, like the fact that he wore old man clothes and that he had a beard and brown eyes, and just because sometimes he thought that ‘brown’ was too plain a descriptor didn’t mean anything that he was considering anything untoward. He was merely trying to expand his vocabulary, like his harried English teacher tried to get them to do.

Oh, who was he kidding? Monroe was hot. Not like the whole ‘I like guys’ thing was new. He’d liked that guy from biology class last year, although he did think that might have been a fluke when he started going out with Sarah (cause he had really liked Sarah). And Monroe was nice and funny and he let Roddy handle multi-hundred dollar equipment without making him think that it was charity. He even lent him books and taught him stuff he actually wanted to learn, and fed him the yummiest food he’s ever tasted and he genuinely enjoyed Roddy’s company despite what he was. Roddy had never had that before. His whole life had been about scraping by and meeting the bullies’ blows and being made fun off by the public school crowd for being too uppity with his musical tastes and the rich people for being poor. Those entitled, rich bastards wouldn’t go to his raves at all if they knew it was him up there and not some anonymous cat head. That stupid head. The day after he was attacked, he’d thrown it in a metal drum and burned it. How had he ever thought he could pretend to be one of those predators, he, a mere rat, when he couldn’t even defend himself when they wanted to kill him? Even if he returned to the rave scene, he would never wear anything like that damn thing again. Just seeing a tabby cat wandering in the street gave him heart palpitations, chilled sweat breaking out over his skin.

Monroe helped with that, too. Neither of them brought it up on purpose, but sometimes it just leaked out. A loud inhale when a cat appeared in a commercial. A sour note in his playing when a memory of the attack flashed in his mind. A bad dream when he fell asleep one afternoon on the couch while Monroe cooked and he woke up shaking with Monroe standing over him, a concerned frown on his face as he squeezed Roddy’s shoulder. Monroe never pressed, never asked if he wanted to talk about it, but simply let Roddy speak if he wanted to or let it drop if he didn’t. It was a hell of a lot better than with his dad, who acted as if cats were going to break into the trailer at any moment and steal him away. He understood why he was being so paranoid, but it was stifling after a while. With Monroe it was easier. Safe. Couldn’t be safer than with a Blutbad to watch his back.

So the next time he took his erection in hand and Monroe’s face flashed in his mind, he just closed his eyes and let himself pretend that it was Monroe gripping his cock, Monroe stroking his thumb over the head, Monroe sliding his fingers down to squeeze oh so slightly at his base, testing Roddy’s endurance as he slicked him with his pre-cum, rubbing Roddy’s balls with a teasing glide that drove him mad as Monroe breathed against his heated skin in a tantalizing whisper, stoking Roddy’s desire as he quickened his motions, but not too fast. Monroe wanted him to last, wanted to coax those whimpers out of him, to taste them on his tongue as he drew his mouth closer, keeping just out of range of Roddy’s own, making Roddy strain forward toward those delectable lips, but no, he mustn’t, then Monroe was drawing back, down, down to his knees to kiss Roddy’s erection, and one flick of that long tongue along his length had Roddy crying as he came, collapsing against the wall of the bathroom as every limb vibrated with blissful energy and his legs gave way under him.

Oh God.

He wanted Monroe.

Oh God.

||||

Reasons why he should not want to crawl into Monroe’s bed and beg him to take him:

1. Monroe was 22 years older than him.
2. Roddy was seventeen (though he was only two months away from his eighteenth birthday).
3. Monroe didn’t seem like the type to go for teenagers.
4. Monroe was a Blutbad. Roddy was a Reinigen.
5. Monroe would probably be horrified and abandon Roddy, ruining one of the best friendships of his life.
6. His dad would freak out.
7. Had he mentioned how Monroe was 22 whole years older than him? Because, seriously. Metallica was a new band when he was in middle school.
8. Really should not want him at all. Because no. Just no.

But it wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t just turn it off and make himself not want Monroe to grab him, push him against the table and take him hard. Or sometimes he wanted it to be gentle, a slow loving on the couch with Monroe whispering sweet nothings in his ear. God, he was such a girl. But he came every time with a stifled cry in his throat as if Monroe himself had whispered, “Come for me”. And who was Roddy to disobey? And never mind how much improvement Monroe’s cello playing needed. Just looking at him place the cello between his legs, close his eyes to feel the music, and dip his head to the side, his shapely hands pressing the strings, sliding the bow back and forth, coaxing music from every strand was the most intoxicating thing Roddy had ever seen. He stilled his own playing at times just to watch him until Monroe noticed the absence and opened his eyes, then Roddy would dive right back into the song, hoping Monroe would go along with it. If asked, Roddy claimed that his arm had been paining him or that something about Monroe’s playing had caught his attention and he’d wished to focus on it. He dared not let Monroe suspect that he liked him in that way. It was too risky. Monroe might decide to call it quits, that Roddy was too much trouble, after all, and Roddy still couldn’t play on his own. He still needed Monroe and the comfort he gave him. Being with him even while knowing that Monroe would probably never be interested in him was much better than nothing.

If only that damn Grimm hadn’t stuck his nose in their business. He showed up one Saturday afternoon right in when Monroe was explaining to him how a clock motor worked, asking for information on crows, of all things. Couldn’t he just read about them in those Grimm books of his? But then Burckhardt saw Roddy and he got all interested and “Hey, how are you doing?”

At first, Roddy indulged him, but Burckhardt lingered as he kept asking questions.

“Monroe told me about the attack. How are you doing?”

“How are the practice sessions coming along?”

“How’s school?”

It was like being back at the interrogation room. Roddy answered as patiently as he could, though he very much wanted to tell Burckhardt to stop being annoying and go away, but, of course, he wouldn’t, because it was constantly opposite day in Burckhardt’s head and instead of killing him, he’d decided to be Roddy’s big brother or something. But that wasn’t the most annoying part. It what how Monroe and the Grimm acted around each other. They were so comfortable, their dialogue rife with previous understandings and inside jokes. Burckhardt helped himself to a beer from the fridge without asking permission and sat on the couch as if he were in his own house. Smiles sprang to Monroe’s face so easily as they spoke, eyes following Burckhardt around at times, ignoring Roddy for large chunks of time. Didn’t Burckhardt have a girlfriend or something? Not that it seemed to matter. He still encouraged Monroe with his stupid puppy eyes and those floppy bangs hanging over his pretty face, and the way he shimmied that perfect ass of his. Why couldn’t he be the stereotypical pot-bellied cop? And of course, Monroe was too bewitched by the sickening display to look anywhere else. Meanwhile, Roddy was a skinny, little nobody. He could get as cut as Burckhardt if he wanted to. Maybe. If he joined a gym and exercised every day until he felt like throwing up, but what was the point? He couldn’t afford a gym membership. Nor could he beat himself into growing as pretty a face as Burckhardt.

But there was one thing Monroe loved that Burckhardt was no good at. Sure, it may have been a little random to get up in the middle of a conversation (not that Monroe and Burckhardt were paying much attention to him anyway) to go play violin in the kitchen, but it did get them to stop talking. Upon hearing Monroe’s footsteps on the threshold of the kitchen, he blinked his eyes open, smiling when he saw the pleased admiration on Monroe’s face, that familiar wondrous smile on his lips. Bet Burckhardt couldn’t accomplish that. Unfortunately, Burckhardt came over to watch Roddy play, as well, his compliments as effusive as Monroe’s, if restricted to a vague “That was really good”, versus Monroe’s more detailed critique, proving that Burckhardt didn’t know anything about music. Excellent.

He made full use of this knowledge when Monroe invited Burckhardt to stay for dinner. Which, by the way, what the hell? This was Roddy’s Monroe time. Didn’t the Grimm have that pressing case to get to? Why couldn’t he flirt with Monroe on his own time? But no, apparently the case wasn’t even his at all. It was some robbery thing he’d invited himself to because of the crows involved, and because Burckhardt was a nosy bastard who couldn’t keep out of other people’s business.

When it came time to cook dinner, Roddy immediately ran for the cutting board and the knife, grabbing the vegetables from the fridge before Burckhardt could get at them. Burckhardt fell back, startled by Roddy’s speed. With Monroe setting up the stove, there really wasn’t any space left for him in the small kitchen.

“I see Monroe’s been teaching you how to cook,” Burckhardt said while he stood awkwardly on the outer side of the fridge.

“He’s pretty good,” Monroe said, making Roddy smile. See? Reinigen can cook, too.

“I only have to tell him how to do something once and he’s got it.”

“Are you implying something, Monroe?” Burckhardt asked.

“Maybe.” Monroe sidled up close to Roddy. “This guy,” he told him while gesturing at Burckhardt, “couldn’t handle stir-frying vegetables. He burned them all.”

“They weren’t that bad,” Burckhardt said, pouting. Alright, Roddy couldn’t see if he was pouting or not, but it sure sounded like it.

“Carrots are supposed to be orange, nor black,” Monroe said.

“You know,” Roddy said as he started with the bell peppers, “overcooking vegetables kills a lot of their nutritional value.”

“See?” Monroe said. “He learns.”

Roddy only just kept himself from smirking at Burckhardt.

“I can learn, too,” Burckhardt said, sounding so wonderfully peeved. “I can try again with these.”

“There’s no space at the counter,” Roddy said, narrowing his eyes at Burckhardt. Don’t you dare don’t you dare.

“Roddy’s got a point,” Monroe said. “And no, you aren’t ruining more of my veggies. Just stay way over there and let the experts handle things, okay?”

“I’m done with the vegetables,” Roddy said as he cut up the last piece of onion. He stood back so Monroe could survey his work, suppressing a grin as Monroe looked at it appreciatively.

“That was really fast,” he said, smiling at Roddy. “Good work.”

He clapped Roddy on the shoulder, his hand pressing against his skin only for a moment, but its warmth made Roddy’s breath falter, and he wished so hard for that hand to return and touch him further, Burckhardt be damned.

As they ate, Roddy slyly eased the conversation away from Burckhardt and engaged Monroe into a discussion about the dramatic flair in Brahms’s symphonies versus Beethoven’s, loving it when Burckhardt’s brows furrowed in confusion. Did he even know who Brahms was? He might. Brahms was one of the most popular composers, after all, but there was no way Burckhardt could follow the level of technical detail Roddy led Monroe into. He silently ate his risotto, his features pinching a bit with discomfort while Roddy monopolized Monroe’s attention. Unfortunately, Monroe was too nice a host (or too partial to Burckhardt) to let Roddy carry on like this for very long.

“You know,” Monroe said, glancing at Burckhardt’s bored face, “I really would love to continue this discussion, but maybe we should shelve it for another time. I think Nick is getting bored with all the technicisms.”

“Oh, no,” Burckhardt said. “It’s okay. You don’t need to stop because of me.”

“Nick, you have no idea what we’re talking about.”

“Well, no, but you two look so fascinated.”

Because it is fascinating, Roddy thought. How could Monroe spend any serious time with anyone who didn’t find it equally so?

“We can continue later,” Monroe said. “So, are those beavers still stalking you?”

And the conversation turned right back to Burckhardt. Awesome.

If that had been the one and only time Burckhardt interrupted them, fine, he could have dealt with it, but no. Burckhardt had to poke his head around every other visit, especially on the weekends, as if he had nothing better to do than to check up on him. He didn’t always stay around for dinner, but he still ate into their time, forcing Roddy to interact with him when he could be playing music with Monroe or asking him why Pluto was no longer a planet (because Monroe looked sexy when he got riled up). What was so great about these card games that required at least three players, anyway? Roddy didn’t see the big deal. He never spoke to Burckhardt unless he had to, and might have been a bit short with him once or twice, which may have been a bit rude, but, oh well. Thankfully, Monroe attributed it to Burckhardt being a Grimm.

“You know,” he said one night after Burckhardt finally left (did he really have to stay for four hours? Was there nothing going on in this man’s life?). “You can trust Nick. He’s not going to suddenly change his mind and kill you.”

“I know,” Roddy said, pouring himself a glass of peach-mango juice.

“Cause you don’t seem to like him very much.”

“Instincts, I guess.”

Roddy distracted himself by drinking his juice, hoping Monroe would drop the subject, but of course he wouldn’t. Worse, he looked like he didn’t believe Roddy at all, his frown becoming more annoyed than inquisitive.

“Instincts, huh?” he said. “Well, sometimes your instincts can be wrong. It happens. At the very least, you should know that Nick cares about you. He’s also my friend, so I want you to be nice to him. Alright? I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable in my house. And no more technical conversations he can’t understand. I know you’re doing it on purpose.”

Roddy’s fingers clenched on his glass. He barely kept himself from slamming it down on the counter, for that would make Monroe really mad.

“Okay,” he said, not meeting Monroe’s eyes. “I’ll be nice. Sorry.”

“Good. Make sure you are.”

Roddy flinched at Monroe’s tone. During the drive home, they barely spoke. If Monroe said something, Roddy replied with single words or utterances. He kept looking out the window, his body turned slightly away from Monroe, ignoring the perplexed glances he kept shooting at him. When they arrived at his house, Roddy opened his door the instant Monroe stopped the car, muttering, “See ya” before diving out of there.

“Roddy!” Monroe called before Roddy could take more than a couple of steps. Sighing, he turned around, noticing that Monroe had gotten out of the car and stood staring at him over the roof.

“What is it?” Roddy asked, feeling very tired.

Monroe was quiet for a while, clearly wanting to say something, but thinking the better of it, for he shook his head, looking down.

“I’ll see you later,” he said, then got back in the car and drove off.

An hour later, Roddy jerked off with his fingers in his mouth, imagining himself sucking off Monroe while convinced it would never happen.

When he next woke up shuddering from a nightmare, he didn’t text Monroe like he had been wont to do before. He didn’t know if Monroe was still mad at him. It seemed best not to tempt fate. Yet when Saturday came around and Monroe texted him, Are we still on for today?, he didn’t answer right away, not for two hours, after which Monroe sent him another text, saying,

Nick won’t be there. That made him feel a little guilty, but relief drowned it out.

Pick me up at four? He texted.

Okay.

Monroe arrived at four exactly. It was probably a coincidence. Monroe couldn’t be that worried about observing the niceties, could he? Alright, so Roddy could have been less of an asshole when Monroe told him to be nice to Burckhardt. It was a reasonable thing to ask. Burckhardt was Monroe’s friend. Technically, it wasn’t his fault that Monroe had a crush on him, relegating Roddy to the gutter where he’d always been, not that he’d ever had a chance with Monroe, anyway. If he were at least a few years older, then maybe.

This exasperating line of reasoning hammered in his head during the entire drive to Monroe-s house. When he pulled up to Roddy’s house, Monroe greeted him with the usual smile and, “Hi. How’re you doing?” when Roddy opened the passenger door, but his features were strained, a question he didn’t dare voice sunken into his eyes. Roddy ignored it, afraid to ask, hoping this would all boil over. At least he wouldn’t have to start “being nice” to Burckhardt today. That was more than he could handle. The drive was tense enough, though not as much as last time. He really should have called off. If he didn’t have such a crush on Monroe he would have. Stupid feelings. By the end of the of the drive, they were chatting away like always and Roddy realized he was making more of their argument than he needed to. It hadn’t even been a real argument, just him being bitchy. Monroe had probably just looked weird earlier because he wasn’t sure how Roddy would react.

He forgot about it until their playing session. Again, he drifted off for a bit while watching Monroe, only this time Monroe continued alone for over a minute. Usually, he noticed Roddy had stopped playing earlier than that. Maybe he didn’t mind. Roddy didn’t want to over think it. He just enjoyed the view, gaze lingering on the studied concentration in Monroe’s handsome face until his trousers tightened, then he jerked away, smacking the violin against his upper arm as he tried to raise it to his neck. A sour note shrieked from Monroe’s cello.

“Sorry about that,” Monroe mumbled. “Guess I lost my concentration for a sec.”

Roddy chanced a glance at him. He was hunched over the cello, which he laid across his lap to fiddle with the endpin.

“You know,” Monroe continued, “maybe we should take a break. My wrist is killing me. Damn carpal tunnel is acting up.”

“Okay. Is it really bad?”

“Nah, it’s just annoying, you know? Just need to rest it a bit.”

“You want to watch some TV or something? So you don’t have to do anything with your hand?”

“Yeah. Sure. That’d be great. Just pick something. I’ll be right back.”

Monroe rushed upstairs, leaving his cello lying on the floor. That was weird. He always put it away before going anywhere. Maybe there was something really urgent that needed doing? Roddy grabbed the remote and started channel-surfing, calming down his annoying erection with an infomercial about food containers.

The rest of the day went okay, though Monroe seemed a little off. He sniffed a lot during dinner, his gaze fixed on his plate more than anything.

“I had a cold earlier this week,” he said when Roddy commented on it. “It’s still lingering.”

“Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah. It’s just the last vestiges, you know? Hey, there’s strawberry ice cream in the freezer if you want any. I shouldn’t really have any since my throat is still a little, you know.”

Roddy noticed the rapid subject change, but he didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until Monroe was driving him back that Roddy finally asked.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

“I don’t know. You seem worried about something.”

“Really? Work, I guess. I’ve got a bit of a backlog. And tax season is coming up. You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with that stuff yet. The forms alone make you go cross-eyed.”

“You know, if you’re so behind, you didn’t have to meet me today. I understand.”

“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Sorry for being weird. I didn’t notice.”

Yet despite this reassurance, Monroe texted him the next Friday, saying,

Got more work than I expected. Rain check 4 next week?

That was the first time Monroe had canceled on him. Well, everyone canceled when stuff came up. He wouldn’t have thought anything of it if Monroe hadn’t been acting so odd last time, but he didn’t have any reason to lie about his work, so it was probably just that. But then on Thursday, Monroe texted him to ask if he would be home that afternoon. When he said yes, Monroe replied that he would come over at five. Roddy didn’t ask why he was coming, though he did wonder, and plenty, but he didn’t think it was anything bad, not until Monroe showed up at his door, bearing a nervous smile, his hands stuffed in his jean pockets.

“Hi,” he said, but nothing else.

“Hi. You want to come in?”

Roddy opened the door wide, stepping back to give Monroe passage, but Monroe shook his head.

“I thought we could talk outside,” he said, shuffling on the staircase.

“Why?”

“No reason, really. I’ve been cooped up the last couple of days. Need to remember what it’s like not having a roof over my head.”

Roddy obliged Monroe, who padded out along the side of the house, alternating between watching his feet step on the ground, muddy from this morning’s rain, and the clearing sky above. It wasn’t too chilly, but Roddy still wished he’d put on jacket as he joined Monroe.

“Are you okay?” Roddy asked.

“Yeah.” Monroe’s smile didn’t feel as real this time. “Well, see. The thing is, I uh…”

“You can just say it, man.”

“Yes. Right. Well.”

Now Roddy was getting worried.

“You said ‘well’ twice,” he said. “Just tell me what’s wrong already.”

“Look, I may just be imagining this or misconstruing it. I’m not accusing you at all, but… You know how Blutbad noses pick up pretty much everything? Well, not everything. I don’t want to make it sound like a superpower or something.”

“What are you talking about?” Roddy asked, his voice starting to falter.

“The other night, when we were playing together, you got… I smelled you get… aroused.”

Ice was trickling down Roddy’s back. He stepped back, his knees trembling, palms sweaty.

“Now,” Monroe continued. “I know you’re a teenager. These things happen. You have no control over it. It might not have anything to do with me.”

Monroe’s voice slowed, his eyes narrowing on Roddy’s face when Roddy forgot how to breathe. His lungs simply did not function. Air was not making it down his throat and his head was starting to feel light, yet heavy at the same time.

“Oh God,” Monroe said, shock crossing his face. “It is because of me.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Roddy blurted, dangerously close to hyperventilating. “I’m sorry. It just happened.”

“Roddy? Do you have a crush on me?”

“No!”

“You do. You’re terrified right now. I can hear your heart thundering. Roddy, I—“

“Fine. So I do. Why wouldn’t I? You’re perfect.”

“I’m not perfect.”

“And you’re gorgeous. You help me even though you’re a Blutbad. You’re the only one who makes the nightmares go away.”

“Roddy, I’m so sorry.”

“I should have been better at hiding it. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to find out.”

“Roddy.”

“I knew you wouldn’t let me back into your house if you knew. That I’m too young for you. I’d never get you into trouble.”

“Roddy, you need to breathe. You look like you’re going to faint.”

“But I’m only seventeen for three more weeks. Then I’m no longer a minor. No more jailbait. Not that you would care.”

“Roddy!”

Monroe grabbed him by the shoulders, forcing Roddy’s frantic legs to be still, and he only just realized then that he’d been pacing, his body not knowing what to do with itself, and he looked up into Monroe’s face, unable to bear the concern in those beautiful eyes for a second, so he looked down at his mouth, that gorgeous, luscious mouth, and his own mouth was tingling, yearning to touch, to taste, to do everything. He wanted to kiss Monroe so very much, so he did, closing the distance between them before he could give it another thought, and for the briefest of seconds, he felt happy.

Then Monroe pushed him back, his hands iron vices that wouldn’t let him come any closer than arm’s length, his face filled with such shocked regret that Roddy wanted to curl up into the ground and nurse his torn insides.

“I’m sorry,” Monroe said, sounding like he really meant it. “I’m really, really sorry, but I can’t. If I’d known, I’d never have let this carry on this far. It doesn’t matter that you turn eighteen in three weeks. You’re still a teenager. I’m still two decades older than you. Nothing can ever happen between us. I was just trying to help you. I never meant for you to…”

He let go of Roddy, the loss of his hands leaving Roddy feeling bereft and lonely, but he didn’t go any closer, not when Monroe was stepping away from him, looking as stricken as it was possible for a man to look.

“I know,” Roddy said, fighting through the pain in his throat. “I know you can’t. That’s why I never told you.”

“We can’t see each other anymore.”

“What? No. I’m sorry. I’ll never try to kiss you or do anything again. I swear.”

“You’ll never get over me if you keep seeing me.”

“I will. Just give me a little time. I promise I can make it go away.”

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t.”

Monroe started walking to his car, his key sliding into the lock. Roddy felt the ground lurch, rising and dipping under his feet in waves as he rushed after him on rubbery legs.

“No, please,” Roddy said. “Can’t we just talk about this? How about two weeks? Just give me two weeks. Then it’ll all be better.”

“You can’t make it go away in two weeks.”

“I can try.”

Monroe shook his head as he got into the car, sadness in his eyes.

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “If you need any real help, call me. Otherwise, just… I don’t think it would be a good idea.”

Monroe drove off, leaving him with the plea in his mouth.

||||

That night, the nightmares came back, leaving him a shivering mess at 3:30 in the morning. They woke him up again after six, making him jump out of bed to switch on the light. He called Monroe, knowing he’d be awake, but it went straight to voicemail. He left a message, a litany of “please talk to me” and “I’ll never make you uncomfortable again” as pitiful as the last.

Monroe never got back to him.

||||

Three weeks later, a single text from Monroe appeared in Roddy’s phone.

Happy birthday

That’s all it said. All he dared say, Roddy thought.

Itd be happier if u would talk 2 me, Roddy typed into his phone, then hovered his thumb over the SEND button, but he never pressed it. Late that night, he sent a quick, Thanks, but nothing else.

Two days after his birthday, while Roddy was at school, Monroe dropped off a present for Roddy. After questioning his dad about how Monroe looked and what he said, yet coming up with nothing more substantial than, “He said it was backordered. That’s why he didn’t he give it to you earlier”, Roddy locked himself into his room and tore open the festive wrapping to find a cookbook inside. 101 Ways To Make Lasagna. There was no card or note. Just the book. Roddy put it aside on the bed and lied down, smacking the pillow below his head with a closed fist, but a minute later, he grabbed the book and started thumbing through the recipes from the end going forward. He read five of them all the way through, then he grabbed his phone and opened up the text window, but just threw it back on the bed.

What was the point?

||||

Roddy’s liking didn’t diminish one bit. He could only play the violin by fits and starts, a few seconds here, a few minutes if he was lucky, but he only succeeded in immersing himself in the music for a few precious moments before the ache of Monroe’s distance chewed at his insides, making his eyes open and his hands twitch.

He jerked off to the memory of Monroe’s mouth on his, to the comforting feel of his soft lips, to the taste of his Guatemalan coffee lingering on his skin, to the cadence of his cello, the image of his hands handling the instrument heightening the pressure of Roddy’s hand on himself as he flipped through the pictures on his phone of Monroe playing that cello, making pasta, drinking a glass of wine Roddy couldn’t share, smiling, talking, until Roddy came, muffling Monroe’s name by biting his pillow.

||||

“Monroe, please pick up. I’m not trying anything. I just had this really nasty dream and I—Can you just talk me down from it or something? I know it’s stupid, but… You know what? I shouldn’t be bothering you.”

Roddy hung up and huddled back down under the covers, the fluorescent light bulb banishing all the shadows away as he kept his eyes firmly open, fleeing from the images that assaulted his mind every time he closed them. Stupid nightmares. They were just fabrications of his brain, he knew that, but it didn’t make it any better.

About a minute later, Monroe called back. Roddy gasped when he saw his name flash on the phone screen, anticipation shaking his insides as he pressed the green button.

“Hey,” Monroe said, the sound of his voice filling Roddy with such joy. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Well, no. Those hags that sit on your chest and give you nightmares aren’t real, right?”

“Actually, I’m not sure. I think I heard about one once. But I I’m sure they have nothing to do with your dream. There isn’t a comatose woman leaning outside the door of your house, right?”

Roddy rushed out to the living room to look out the window, but he didn’t see anyone in the dawn light.

“No. There’s no one there.”

“It’s probably just a regular dream. You want to tell me what happened?”

Roddy hesitated. God, this was embarrassing.

“It’s a little fuzzy by now, but you died, I think. This pride of lions went after you, only you showed up later, but you wouldn’t come near me and before that my house disappeared and I couldn’t find my dad, either, and Nick started chasing me with a mace that turned into this giant axe and Sarah held me down for him, I think. It’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid. That sounds horrible. I know how dreams can get to you. It’s probably my fault. I’m sorry for how I left things with you. I shouldn’t have been so blunt.”

“It’s okay. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I knew you weren’t going to kiss me back.”

“But I should have noticed earlier and been straight with you. It was irresponsible of me.”

“Why, ‘cause you’re the grownup? Just because you’re old, doesn’t make you in charge of everything.”

Monroe snorted.

“My, aren’t youngsters smartasses these days.”

“Like you’re not.”

“But see, you just brought up my point. I’m, well, not old, really. I’m only—Never mind. To you, I’m ancient. I’ve got wrinkles and gray hairs and my joints ache. We’re not even on the same mental plane as far as perspective goes. Why would you want to be with me?”

“I don’t care about that. You’re sexy.”

Roddy could hear Monroe sputter over the phone.

“Not that I’m not flattered, but it’s a little weird to hear a teenager call me sexy.”

“It’s true.”

“Roddy, in case you’re thinking… If you’re trying to seduce me, it’s not going to work.”

“I know. I’ve always known. You’re not that kind of guy. It’s all on me. I don’t want you to feel bad about it. It just happened, you know? I can’t help it.”

“You haven’t gotten over me at all, huh?”

“A little.”

“You’re telling me what I want to hear, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I miss you. I really wouldn’t try anything again.”

“I’m not sure if… If we really should.”

“Well, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Why did he have to ruin everything with his stupid crush?

“I’m really sorry. Maybe later on? I don’t know.”

“Once I manage to get over you?”

“Roddy.”

“What do you want me to say? I can’t just turn it off. This is why I never wanted you to find out. I was glad just being friends with you. At least I had that, even when you were mooning over Burckhardt.”

“What? I wasn’t—I don’t like Nick like that.”

“You do. You’re not the only one who notices things.”

There was silence on the line.

“Monroe? Don’t tell me you hadn’t realized it.”

“I—It’s not that—Okay, fine. So maybe I wished he came over for more than beer and information he should already know. God, now I feel worse.”

“Why?”

“Because this is what I put you through.”

“Are you putting all the blame on yourself again? Why do older people always do that? I’m not a kid.”

“You are to me.”

“Whatever.”

“Fine. If you want me to blame you for everything, I will.”

“You know what? You should feel guilty. You and your cello and your cooking lessons. How am I supposed to not be all over you.”

“My cello isn’t that great.”

Roddy swallowed his defense. It really wasn’t that great, though Roddy enjoyed it regardless, but it was how Monroe played it that made it so alluring.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?” Monroe asked. “This is what you agree with?”

“I could say something positive about it, but it’d probably make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh. Right. Let’s not go there.”

“I want to thank you for the cookbook, by the way. I’ve made a couple of the recipes in it. It didn’t come out anywhere near as good as your stuff, but I think I did okay.”

“Good. I’m glad. I’m sure it was delicious. I should have given it to you directly, not just dropped it off like that.”

“I wouldn’t have accosted you.”

“Yeah.”

Roddy scratched the bed sheet, feeling the pause grow increasingly awkward.

“It’s nice talking to you like this,” he said. “Even with the weirdness.”

“You feel better about the dream, then?”

“God, don’t remind me of that. I’m not going to be able to sleep for the rest of the day.”

“Sorry. If you want to just talk, you can call me. That would be fine.”

“You’re not afraid that I’m going to turn you into a dirty old man over the phone?”

“There’s no chance of that, Roddy”

“Way to crush a guy’s dreams. But seriously, I would love that. You don’t know how much I’ve missed talking to you.”

“Alright. We’ll do that, then.”

“Thank you. I will try to get over you, I swear.”

||||

A year later

Roddy knocked on the door of Monroe’s new residence, a plain affair with the typical small rectangle of glass, not the wolf mosaic he’d become so fond of even though it had freaked him out at first. Monroe said he was going to put it up eventually, but with everything that had happened, he hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Roddy had been in this house before many times, before it officially became Monroe’s house. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement after a Grimm shot Monroe in the chest, forcing him to convalesce for a month in Burckhardt’s house. Roddy had come over every chance he could to play violin for Monroe, who, after many months of gradual approaches and a diminishing desire on Roddy’s part (or so he told himself), had finally lost his awkwardness around Roddy. Yet Roddy’s liking for Monroe hadn’t died down anywhere near as much as he’d hoped. That was plenty obvious when he saw Monroe lying on a hospital bed, pale and battered with bandages all over his chest and he’d yearned to kiss the pain away, his insides wrenching as Monroe smiled at him through the haze of painkillers and said, “Hey, kiddo”, which always made Roddy roll his eyes, but this time, he didn’t mind so much. His gut had twisted more one day when Burckhardt returned from work before Roddy could leave and Roddy saw Monroe’s love returned in his eyes. It appeared that Burckhardt’s girlfriend had dumped him around the time Monroe got shot. How convenient. He thought it would have hurt more a year ago, when Monroe had stopped speaking to him, but he wasn’t sure.

It had been two months since Monroe and Burckhardt started living together, yet this was the first time Roddy was going to have dinner with both of them since before Monroe discovered his crush. He’d had time to squash his emotions to a manageable drone. Forlorn hope was given up for lost long ago, though Monroe still popped up in his mind sometimes when he jerked off. He’d started dating again, though that male cellist in his class hadn’t worked out. Too much like Monroe. In fact, his choice of instrument and strong cheekbones had been the only thing that had drawn Roddy to him. He’d moved on to a girl now. Brilliant at the piano. Bit of a hipster. Couldn’t cook to save her life. Not at all like Sarah, either. They’d gone out a couple of times. It was nice. He liked her. She seemed to like him. He didn’t think he was giving the impression that he was carrying a torch for anyone else, though he kinda felt like he was, but he didn’t get the sudden urge to punch Burckhardt when he opened the door, which was a good sign. Previously, he hadn’t been able to be in the same room with the man without his skin itching and jealousy coiling around his throat. It might still be a bit. But he was fine. He managed a smile and a “hey” that didn’t come out too stilted even though he’d really been hoping that Monroe would answer the door and not his… his…

“Hi,” Burckhardt said, stepping back a bit overeagerly to let Roddy pass by. “Come in.”

Roddy did, heading straight for the kitchen to get a glass of that mango juice Monroe always had in stock. As he poured out a glass, it occurred to him that Burckhardt might not be as comfortable as Monroe about him helping himself, but he never had to ask Monroe permission and this was his house now, too, so whatever.

“Monroe went out to get some mushrooms,” Burckhardt said. “We just ran out. He should be back any second.”

“Okay.”

The slightest bruising of a hickey was visible on Burckhardt’s neck just above his collar. Oh, great. Rub it in my face, why don’t you? Would it kill the man to wear a turtleneck? Roddy pushed past him, and if he nudged him a bit with his shoulder, what of it? But he’d promised Monroe he would behave. He should at least try, for his sake. He laid his violin case on the old, green sofa from Monroe’s house, the shape of it comforting as he sat down. The solar system model stood on the coffee table next to the playing cards and the cooking magazines, but a signed baseball sitting on a little stand marked the place as Burckhardt’s as well. He focused on opening his case, unlocking the clasps, tugging up the lid.

“I know this is an uncomfortable situation,” Burckhardt said, “and that this must be hard for you.”

“Are you gearing up for an apology, because I don’t need one from you.”

Burckhardt paused and crossed his arms over his chest, looking down at his shoes.

“I am truly sorry for the situation, but I won’t apologize for being with the man I love.”

That last word made Roddy flinch.

“Good. You wouldn’t deserve him if you did.”

Probably still didn’t, but that was up to Monroe, not him.

“I don’t suppose you’ll ever not hate me.”

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t.”

“I probably would say the same thing if I were in your shoes. I just really wish things hadn’t turned out this way.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m the star struck teenager who aimed too high. It’s my own fault. I know.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“That’s the only conclusion I can draw from this. You and Monroe both got who you wanted, while I didn’t, because I’m too young and barking up the wrong tree, but I’ll find someone else, someone my age. That’s basically it, isn’t it? I know the spiel. Monroe has said it plenty of times. And it’s not like I’m not trying. I am. And it’s gotten less bad or I wouldn’t be able to be here right now. But it’s not easy, okay? It’s not some silly crush like you probably told him it was.”

“I didn’t—“

“Don’t pretend. I figured it out. That last day with the three of us last year, you kept watching me. Then the next weekend, as soon as he picks me up, he’s all weird. It was you.”

Burckhardt had the decency to look abashed at that, his jaw tightening as he looked down at his feet, but not enough, never enough.

“He would have noticed eventually,” he said.

“Then it would have been up to him, not you. It was none of your business.”

“Alright, so maybe it wasn’t. But Monroe was my friend and you were a minor. I made a judgment call. I would say I’m sorry, but…”

“I didn’t expect you to be.”

Monroe’s Bug finally rumbled up the drive. Thank God. Roddy thought he’d never get here.

“Guess it’s time to put our happy faces on,” Roddy said, getting up from the couch.

“You know, for the next time, I can just leave the two of you alone. You don’t have to make an effort for me.”

“It’s not you I’m making the effort for.”

Roddy opened the door for Monroe, who was laden with more bags than mushrooms required. He did have a thing for over shopping when it came to food, which Roddy never ceased to find endearing.

“Oh, hi,” he said, smiling at Roddy as he made his way into the kitchen. “I hoped you wouldn’t be here yet. The lines at the supermarket are crazy at this hour. Nick, can you help me with these?”

“Sure,” Nick said, passing by Roddy into the kitchen.

Roddy had the feeling that if he weren’t there, the two of them would kiss, maybe fondle each other, yet they kept their distance, standing a little ways apart, both with their heads lowered, guilty tension still evident in Burckhardt’s face.

“Have you been here long?” Monroe asked as he placed three boxes of white mushrooms above the vegetable tray.

“Maybe ten minutes,” Roddy said.

Monroe glanced at Burckhardt as he straightened, apprehension in his eyes.

“I could have picked you up,” he said. “It’s no trouble.”

“Don’t worry about it. Sammy was coming this way anyway. He gave me a ride.”

It wasn’t the old days anymore. Best not pretend they were.

“Sorry we haven’t gotten around to making dinner yet. We’ve had a bit of a late day.”

“It’s fine. This way I can help you fix it, right?”

“Of course you can. You can get started with the salad, if you want.”

“I think I’ll leave you boys to it,” Burckhardt said, stuffing the folded grocery bags in a drawer. He and Monroe had one of those wordless eye conversations, which Roddy avoided looking at by shoving his head into the fridge to take out the salad greens. After Burckhardt left the kitchen, Roddy placed the vegetables on the counter in a line.

“Sorry I wasn’t here when you arrived,” Monroe said. “I meant to be, but we didn’t do our shopping run yesterday and then I got bogged down with stuff today.”

“It’s okay.”

“I promise I’ll be here next time. Or I can pick you up.”

“Monroe, it really is okay.”

“Really? You sure?”

Monroe stopped assembling the ingredients for the rice to look at Roddy, worry in his eyes.

“Yes,” Roddy said, forcing a smile he didn’t feel. “It really is fine.”

Monroe stared at him for a moment longer, then he nodded, returning the smile.

“Thanks. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem.”
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