Don't own Moonlight, wish I did…would be nice…you know the rest. This is just a short foray into what could be the aftermath of The Mortal Cure, after Mick's had his vacation from vampirism. This is Coraline friendly, and alludes to a future Mick/Coraline romance, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Reviews are welcome, makes me more generous with my fanfic offerings.

Understanding

There's really no going back. Sure, you get glimpses, tastes, but once the rules of nature are shattered, that's it…game over. That's all the cure is, really, a glimpse of the good old days. Feeling the sun on my skin, warm and sweet, getting to taste prime rib, chocolate, spices…(did I mention the chocolate?) was an amazing gift but a temporary one. You can enjoy it, but it doesn't really belong to you.

I got a month of humanity, and I made the most of it. I took a trip down to Hawaii, rented a cottage not too far from the turquoise water. Rate of living down there costs an arm and a leg, and nearly wiped my savings out, but it was worth it. I played in the ocean for hours, snorkeling, surfed, or just swam myself into exhaustion. I shopped for hours, buying cheesy souvenirs, experimented with restaurants, soaking up the local color. I slept like a baby. Oh, and I did it in style. Yes, sir. I got the biggest, more luxurious bed I could get my hands on.

During my vacation, I took about a million photos. I filled a photo album with them, a bittersweet memento. Just finishing it up now, as a matter of fact. I took a couple pictures of myself against various backdrops, but mostly, it's just of places, crowds. I stare at their faces now, random strangers that I'll never meet, and really, it's more fun that way, I can fill in the blanks in my own imagination. I have a special, Under the Sea section, just filled with the awe-inspiring beauty of ocean life. I think the reason most people are drawn to the ocean is because she's one frontier that hasn't really been conquered. You co-exist with her, you try to make a living from her, but it's not if she'll kill someone, it's when.

I close the book, putting it on a special place in my impressive collection of books. The days of Hawaiian sunshine are behind me now; I belong to the night again. Like humans and the ocean, vampires shouldn't test their luck with the daylight for more than cautious intervals. There's no point in mourning, or thinking my fate to death. It is what it is.

And maybe, things worked out the way they should. I'm not saying I'm ready to buy my Dead and Loving it T-Shirt, but after 55 years, I think I've finally got a grip on my nature. Eternity's not going anywhere, so I might as well try to make the most of it. And even though it's hard to admit it, I can do more good in vampire mode than I ever could have in the mortal coil.

I hear her leave the elevator, her scent filling my nostrils. I open the door before she can knock, feeling a tender affection for this girl, this mortal. But that barrier is up again, a world between us. I thought it was just the issues of species between us, but I've got to wonder. She's still wearing Josh's ring, still wearing the proverbial mourning shroud. We're so close, but we might as well have Canada between us.

Shaking off my train of thought, I smile, going to wrap her in a hug. She returns it, and I feel a start of surprise run through her. "It wore off, didn't it?" she asks. Her tone is hard to read, and I ease her over the threshold, sliding away from her.

"Yes." We haven't seen each other since I got back from the islands a week ago. We've talked on the phone some, saying a lot but really nothing at the same time. "I expected it to."

"Are you okay?" I could ask her the same thing. She looks too thin, too pale, and that's coming from a vampire. Even her hair has a limp, lackluster look to it.

"I've made my peace with it. Can I get you anything?" What she needed was three square meals a day and eight hours of sleep per night, but I didn't exactly have that up my sleeve.

"No, I'm good." She makes herself comfortable on the couch, tucking her feet underneath her. "How was Hawaii?"

"Heaven." I give her a lopsided grin, and her lips flutter into something that was a second cousin to a smile. "I brought you something. Let me go get it."

"You didn't have to do that." The protest is token and we both know it, I can see her eyes dancing with curiosity. It adds a much needed spark to her overall look. I hand her the wrapped package, and she doesn't hesitate to rip into it. I can imagine her as a kid at Christmas, bouncing from foot to foot, and when given the green light, tearing through her presents like a tornado. She pulls the shawl from the box, a black piece of silk with bright floral patterns. "Oh, it's pretty! Thanks." She wraps it around herself, rubbing her cheek with the material.

When I left for Hawaii, I had the crazy impulse to invite her along. Oh, don't get me wrong, there would have been a guest room, there wouldn't have been any fast hands or late night visits. Okay, if she'd offered, I would have taken her up on it, I admit it. Hey, I may be a nice guy, but I'm not running for sainthood here. Still, even under the strictly platonic package, I would have loved her company.

New York stopped me. I remember my impulsive invitation for a night out on the town; remember how I was finally ready to up the ante. I also remember her answer. I wasn't setting myself up again, and it would have been in rotten taste. Her boyfriend of a year had just kicked the bucket, I doubted she was in the mood to snap photos and try her hand at surfing. From the way she looks, it's just as well I didn't ask her.

Before we can engage in idle chitchat, she notes the single suitcase by the door, and the accompanying briefcase, my hunting kit. "I thought you just got back," she pointed out with a raised eyebrow.

"I have some business in Europe." France to be exact. Too bad my French sucks, which is why I'm dragging Josef along. I'll get farther with the locals if I don't butcher their native tongue, and it's good for my old buddy to do something besides accumulating cash. If anyone needs a little shake-up in his unlife, it's Josef.

"What kind of business?" I expected questions from Beth; she didn't just land in her profession by accident.

"There's someone in trouble there that I need to help," I answer vaguely. The terror in Coraline's eyes has been in my dreams lately, and I couldn't just keep brushing it off. She'd saved my life, sacrificed herself, and I couldn't just write her off. Hey, I'm not saying I'm ready to ride off into the moonset with her, but right is right. Eternity's a long time to be punished, and Lance didn't seem like the forgiving type.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Actually, yeah. Take care of yourself, Beth," I urged, genuinely worried. "Look, I don't want to overstep, but…" I trailed off, searching for the right words. No woman wanted to hear they looked haggard, and unless you wanted to piss them off, it was better to keep such thoughts to yourself. "It seems like everything's hit you pretty hard."

Pushing herself off the couch, Beth aimed me a cutting look. "Well, excuse the hell out of me. Josh is dead, Mick. Do you expect a radiant glow? He's dead, he's-" her voice broke. It wasn't grief coming off of her in waves, it was guilt. Now there was an emotion I was acquainted with. I could've written: Brooding for Dummies and I recognized it in Beth.

"I know," I said gently, also standing. I wanted to touch her shoulder, or take her hand, but I didn't think she would have appreciated it. "You did everything you could. He knew you loved him." Yeah, so did I. You don't forget sucker punches to the gut often.

She didn't look mollified. "I wasn't Girlfriend of the Year those last couple of months." Since we met, was the unspoken addition. I can carry my fair share of the blame. It takes two to carry on an emotional affair, and I could've put a stop to it.

There's not point dwelling on that now. Would've, could've, should've doesn't get you very far. "The best thing you can do for Josh is to honor his memory, and live your life to the fullest. Remember him, but you don't have to shrink in on yourself to prove you miss him."

"That's easy for you to say," Beth said flatly, and I realized I wasn't going to get through to her today. She just wasn't ready, and pushing the issue was only going to make things ugly. "I need time, Mick."

"Then take that time, work everything through. Just think about what I said."

"No, I mean…I need time." There was something oddly final about the statement, and suddenly, everything in my apartment went very still. "I'm going to stay with my mom. She's moved out to Oregon and she says it's beautiful. I need to get away from LA for a while. I came by to say-"

"Goodbye," I supplied, not sure how to feel. Were we talking about a visit, or something more drastic? "How long will you be gone?"

"I'm not moving. At least, I don't plan on it." So, she'd seen where my mind was going with this. "As for how long I'll be in Oregon, I'm not sure. But when I'm there…I just need to focus on healing. I'm not sure I can handle any more reminders." In other words, don't call, don't pull any grand entrances.

"All right."

"You do understand, don't you?" Understand? Yes, that was me, Mr. Understanding, always there to make it easy. I 'understood' about a lot of things with Beth, and suddenly, I just felt tired. Suddenly, I wondered if my love for Beth was just one huge fantasy. Like my temporary humanity, she'd never really belonged to me. In the end, she'd chose Josh, chose the sunlight. I couldn't really blame her.

"I think I really understand for the first time." I wasn't angry; I wasn't bitter, just a little sad. It was never easy letting a dream go, but there was some relief in finally knowing where I stood. This time, I did put one hand on each of her shoulders, giving a light squeeze to each. "I'll always be there for you, Beth. You know that, right?"

Tears sparkled in her eyes. "Promise?"

"I promise." Some people just aren't meant to be together, I'd once thought to myself, and I was right. I'd never be Beth's lover, but I could be her protector and friend for as long as she lived, and I would be. "Goodbye, Beth. Be safe."

"You too," she whispered, hugging me tight. Then she was slipping away, with my gift slung over her purse. The door shutting felt like the end of an era.

I clenched my jaw and ran an agitated hand through my hair. Love sucks, I decided, but knew it was for the best. I couldn't keep pining over Beth like some lovesick puppy; it just leads to a world of pain. And you know what? I'm tired of getting stepped on.

Well, at least I'd be too busy to obsess. Getting Coraline away from her psycho relatives wasn't going to be a cakewalk. If Josef got nervous over Lance, we had our work cut out for us. I couldn't do anything about it as a human, the scene in the alley exhibit A. But now that my powers were back in full, I wasn't going to sit idle anymore.

Suddenly, it hit me that I was looking forward to seeing Coraline again. Even if our history was a mess, I knew that Coraline did love me, loved me more than she'd ever loved anyone else. She'd come back for me, had risked ten degrees of wrath from her family to find the cure, for me. I'd always thought Coraline redefined 'selfish' but she'd forced me to rethink my evaluation. Maybe there was more to her than I'd ever given her credit for.

And right now, I realized, I needed to feel loved. Coraline, for all her faults, had stuck my side for 55 years, even after I barbequed her. That was the loyalty I craved, the loyalty that was damned near extinct.

That didn't mean I was going back to the old days, throw myself into Josef's hedonistic lifestyle. I still was going to help people, still try to make some kind of difference. I wasn't throwing it all away. It didn't have to be all or nothing. I'm not sure if Coraline really wanted to change for the sake of change, but she was willing to behave. Who knows? Maybe all she needed was a nudge in the right direction.

And I'm not saying I'm ready to pick out china and go shopping for curtains. I'm not committing to anything other than bailing her out. From there, we'll see where it goes. Even if we hit a dead end, which is definitely a possibility, it'll be one hell of a ride.