"At some point, you'll have to stop me." Really reassuring, Mick. Oh, my God. Shit. I can do this, I can—

Fangs, those fascinating and terrifying fangs, sank into her body. Beth's whole body clenched and she pulled back hard, instinctively trying to regain her arm even though this was what she wanted. She had ordered him to take her blood; there was no backing out now. It was impossible to back out—without her blood Mick would die, and Beth wouldn't live through his death again. Couldn't.

He'll stop in time. Mick won't let himself hurt me. He'll stop. That single thought ran on a loop in her mind as she struggled to get a grasp on her emotions. She didn't want to be afraid of this, but it was hard when his hold on her was implacable, so completely imprisoning that her knee-jerk reaction had not even swayed him. Hard when those involuntary animal grunts were the only sounds that he made.

Overwhelmed, Beth leaned in to his shoulder. Her body needed the contact of his. She needed to feel his strength and reassure herself that he was still Mick, the man—the vampire—that she had learned to trust so quickly. The way that her chest pushed against him let her feel the mile-a-minute flutter of her heart.

This feeling… It was more surreal than anything she'd ever felt before in her life. Drawing deep breaths through her nose, trying to regain some feeling of stability, Beth coached herself to analyze the situation, to gather the facts as she would when she was getting ready to report on a story. The punctures where Mick's fangs had broken the skin hurt, but the pressure of his mouth over the wounds dulled it, made it manageable. Pain could be dealt with—pain is human. The thought was reassuring. She didn't feel his fangs anymore, except for the occasional light scratch against her unbroken skin. There was a kind of restraint in the way that Mick seemed to hold them back.

His lips pulled greedily, drawing blood out of her and swallowing it down in huge gulps. A quick warmth rolled down her forearm, blood that flowed out of her arm faster than Mick could swallow it down. The transfer was fast, much faster than anything that she had experienced the few times she had given blood. She was already beginning to feel the effect of the blood loss.

She gave her head a shake to clear it and tried to figure out how she was going to make him stop. He was too strong for her to physically dislodge, even in this weakened state. Would he be able to hear her if she asked him to quit?

Even as she considered the next move, leaning a little more heavily on Mick and tightening her balancing hold around his shoulders to fend off dizziness, Beth felt the urgency in him begin to dissipate.

The awful hungry sounds that had escaped him softened, and then stopped. There was less pull to the movement of his lips. His fingers eased their mastering grip on her arm, and his left hand tentatively slid up to cradle her elbow and squeeze, gently. She knew that she could pull away now, that he would be able to let her. But he was not quite ready. Her heart began to slow in tandem with the relaxing tension in his shoulders. The clenching in her chest eased and was replaced by a knee-weakening rush of relief.

Mick was going to be okay.

Finally, with one last swallow, Beth felt his lips draw closed and press tightly against the fang marks. It was like a kiss, but too filled with regret to really be described as such. He pulled back, and with a few quick motions licked the blood clean of the punctures. More blood immediately welled up to replace it, but he ignored it. His hands fell limply down into his lap, making ripples across the icy cold water. He didn't raise his head, but pulled his knees up and buried his face, locked his arms tightly around them.

Beth waited for him to say something, holding her arm vertically in the air to slow the bleeding but not doing anything else to stop it. A rivulet trailed down to her elbow and dripped slowly into the bathtub.

"Mick?" she finally whispered, and had to clear her throat. He didn't answer. "What should I do?"

"Towel… Put pressure on it," was his only reply, muffled by his soaked jeans and breathed on one long, unreadable sigh.

Slowly Beth straightened. She swayed for just a moment and reached out to catch herself against the tile. Mick's hand shot out to help her stabilize, and then immediately withdrew. Like he didn't want to touch her anymore. Tears stung the backs of her eyes.

There was a striped hand towel folded neatly in an otherwise empty cupboard next to the sink, and Beth took this for her arm. She winced against the rough texture as she applied pressure, soaking up the blood. Turning, leaning on the counter for support, she stared at Mick, who was still shivering in the ice water.

"Do you need anything?" she finally asked.

An almost imperceptible shake—no. The ice cubes knocked gently against the sides of the tub. The urge to cry grew stronger, and Beth viciously repressed it.

"I'll go out and check on Lenny, then." Damnit, there was a quaver in her voice. She hoped that Mick hadn't heard it. He still hadn't uncoiled, hadn't looked at her. Beth stepped towards the door, reached for the knob.


She looked back over her shoulder, and found Mick's eyes, no longer icy pale, but dark and achingly familiar, focused intently on her face. There was suddenly no energy left in her body.

"I'm sorry." Something in his face was resigned, as though he'd given up all hope.

Her head tilted slightly to the side, and a small, weary smile turned one corner of her lips.

"You're welcome, Mick."