Disclaimer: The characters from Moonlight are copyrighted by CBS, and no infringement is intended.
Within the Empty Reaches of the Night
Lucky lay back in the bath, lightheaded from blood loss, and contemplated the growing bruises around the fang marks in her inner thigh. She'd never be able to explain this, and she wasn't even sure she wanted to. Sure, she'd always known there was an element of danger in the freshie lifestyle, but up until last night, it hadn't seemed more than an exhilarating possibility, the whiff of risk that made it exciting. And as long as she'd stayed at Mick's place, really, she'd been safe.
She'd always suspected Mick St. John only let his freshies hang around to keep him grounded, remind him how to be human. She'd told him one night, during one of their rare one-on-one encounters, that he was a decent human being. The vampire had mocked her for it, gently, as was his custom with the girls who flocked around him, but behind his smile she could see the hunger for acceptance, the ever-present sadness that pervaded him. She'd never heard a single one of the freshies complain about him, unless they were teasing him down in the living room where they generally hung out, waiting for that summons to service, to provide blood, or backrubs, or simply company for him.
That was all beside the point, however. Mick St. John was not the problem. Or at least not yet. That was partly why she was in such a quandary now.
There were black spots dancing before her eyes. She thought idly that she really ought to climb out of the bath before she passed out. The black spots grew larger, and coalesced into a whole.
When she woke, the bath water was stone cold, and she was shivering. It was hard, harder than she'd expected, but she managed to drag herself out onto the tile floor, and pulled a bath towel over herself. Then the world grayed out, and she thought, "well, that's better than black," before passing out again.
Waking up the next time was easier, and this time after she'd put a bandage on her wounds, she made it to the kitchen to down some orange juice and iron supplements before the dizziness overtook her. Her friend Sparrow would have prescribed some of her home-brewed herbal gunk, as she termed it, but Sparrow was almost certainly over at Mick's place, and Lucky had no intention of calling Sparrow there, no intention of exposing what had happened to her, just yet. The restorative drink would have to wait; for now, orange juice and rest should suffice. Carrying a glass and a carafe of juice, she walked slowly through her apartment, deciding on the spur of the moment that the couch looked like a very good place to stop. Sinking into it, and sipping at her juice, she wondered whether it would be better to remember what had happened, or simply let it slip out of her memory forever.
The evening had started innocently enough, much like so many evenings. After work, she'd come home, showered, and put on a nice dress to wear over to Mick's. They were supposed to be planning a party—discussing menu and drinks. As though, she thought wryly, the truth of the matter was not that she and her fellow freshies were the menu and drinks for the guests of honor. Their glorious vampires. She'd said it before and she'd undoubtedly say it again. Mick St .John was a good guy, especially for a vampire. He wasn't one to take advantage of a smitten girl. His friend Josef, who habitually came around and was wont to help himself to whatever was on offer, Josef was possibly a different proposition altogether. Sure, she'd fed Josef a number of times, and he'd never hurt her or frightened her. Not really. She hadn't come in as an exclusive, like some of the others Mick kept as private reserves, but he'd personally made it quite clear to her that at his place, she was under no obligation to offer blood to anyone she didn't want to feed."You joined this group as a willing freshie, " he'd said, "and the key word is willing, not freshie." Still, since she'd never really become one of Mick's favorites, and Josef was often around, and could, in fact, come across as very charming, she'd taken fang from him. In fact, he was the one who'd nicknamed her Lucky, seducing her with his attention. For all his youthful good looks, he was an old vamp, as they went in southern California, 400 years and counting. He knew what he was doing, and he always fed with grace and exquisite control, never taking too much, never letting the peculiar pleasure of a vampire bite cross the line into pain, always treating his freshies more like lovers than food.
She'd heard stories that some of the younger vamps weren't so careful. There were websites for freshies, virtual gathering places where women—and men for that matter—across the country shared information about their passion for vampires. Just like any other subculture, the web had opened up the world. Information was out there, and it suggested that if a girl wanted to be a freshie, she could do a lot worse than joining the group around Mick St. John. Even Josef was thought highly of, in freshie circles.
What Lucky realized now, perhaps belatedly, was that there was very little information out there about leaving. Sure, most freshies were in their 20s or maybe early 30s, and sure, hardly a month went by that one name or another didn't simply drop out of sight. She'd always thought that those people had simply stopped coming around, stopped agreeing to feed the vampires. Most of the women she knew had real lives outside Mick's place, jobs, families, boyfriends even. Except for those few favorites who were installed at the penthouse, they came by when they could, stayed as long as they wished, and left freely whenever they needed or wanted to go. Sure, there were suggestions on the web that not all vamps were so lenient with their followers, but Lucky had never thought that much about it. Not until the day before. She'd never thought about the possibility of dying. She'd never thought about the vampires, with all their charm and appeal, as deadly predators. At least she never thought they'd consider preying on the freshies.
She'd gotten to the Fortress of Style, as they laughingly called Mick's penthouse when they thought he wasn't in earshot, around 6:30. It was early, and she knew the vampire would still be in his freezer, resting safely away from the setting late afternoon sun. There were always people around, though, and she knew there'd be coffee or wine, and the tv. Conversation, refreshments, and entertainment—just what she needed after a harrowing day on the job. Andromeda, one of the resident freshies, always had a few things going on, and probably could use a hand coping. If nothing else, she could work on straightening up the bookcases; for being so obsessed with order, Mick had bad habits of shoving books in wherever he could find space, and then complaining if he couldn't find them later. Lucky had some talents in the area of organizing things, and she'd created her own job for the sake of something to do while waiting for one of the vamps to notice her. She'd just never been very good at putting herself forward, and the bolder freshies often claimed Mick and Josef's attentions before she had a chance to offer.
And as expected, things were quiet. She puttered around for some time, until a few others arrived. Mick had been up for most of the morning, as she learned, so he wasn't expected to put in an appearance until later in the evening. She'd been taking advantage of the chance for a chat with Moonshadow and Faction, girls she always enjoyed talking to, when her cell rang. Checking it, she grimaced a little to her friends. "It's Josef," she said. "Wonder what he wants?" Talking to him hadn't really cleared it up much.
Josef always cut right to the chase. "Lucky," he said, "how soon can you get over to my office?"
"You'll see. Just come on over." And the connection was broken.
"You know," Faction advised, "if I were you, I'd call back and tell him to stuff it. Where does he get off, snapping out orders like that?"
"Maybe he's just thirsty. He gets cranky if he hasn't fed for a while."
Faction snorted. "And he doesn't have freshies on tap at his office? If that's all it is, he doesn't need –"
"Look, I don't know what he wants," Lucky replied, breaking in. "What I do know is that he has a few favorites among us, and maybe he just prefers our flavor, or our blood type, or something. For all I know he needs my help to decide what tie to wear this evening."
"Oh, yeah," Moonshadow said, "That's likely."
Privately, Lucky agreed. But she just smiled, picked up her purse and headed out the door. Even this far past rush hour, downtown traffic would be murder. It was almost 10 before she found herself being ushered in the door of Josef's palatial office. He wasn't there.
In fact, the only person visible was Josef's IT guy, Ryder England, and Ryder was looking distinctly nervous. Lucky corrected herself. More nervous than usual. Ryder always looked nervous around any of Mick's freshies. Allara, one of the others and Josef's favorite, had mentioned once that Josef had told Ryder that the girls under Mick's protection were strictly out of bounds. She'd had no idea what he threatened Ryder with, but evidently it was sufficient to keep him very careful whenever one of them was around him. And that was fine with Lucky. She might be a willing blood donor for Mick and Josef, but she had no plans to be promiscuous. A girl has to have some limits, after all. Ryder had only been Turned a few years before, and was probably still mostly on bottled blood. The newbie vamps had so little control that many took it as a necessary precaution not to try feeding from living humans for the first few years. It was a new idea, one that Mick had suggested, and Josef, who was something of a leader in the vampire community, was attempting with mixed success to impose on the other vampire sires in the area. He argued it as a safety matter—newbies tended to make mistakes, and the fewer drained corpses that needed to be disposed of, the better.
"Hey, Ryder," she said by way of greeting, "where's the boss?"
"He was—called away." Ryder gulped, and cut his eyes toward the back of Josef's deep office chair. If he was signaling something, Lucky didn't quite get it. "Maybe you should go back--"
A sudden movement, and the chair swiveled. One small part of Lucky's brain decried the cliché, even while allowing that it was effective. Vamps do love their drama, she thought. The vampire seated before her appeared to be in his late teens or early twenties, and was breathtakingly beautiful, with softly curling hair like spun gold. He looked like a Renaissance angel, until you saw the expression in his eyes. Even calm, even without his vampire side showing, they were a pale ice blue, and looked as cold as shards of an exploded moon. "What have we here?" he said, in softly accented English.
Lucky wasn't even quite sure how she knew he was a vampire. But she did know, and from his voice, she guessed he was old. Older than Josef, maybe. Which meant he could well be physically more powerful, and mentally far more overwhelming.
"She's—" Ryder cut his eyes over at Lucky, and she swore she read an apology there. "She's a freshie. She hangs with Mick St. John's crew."
"In that case, why is she here?" The sneer was unmistakable, and Lucky felt a hot wave of humiliation wash over her.
She knew speaking up was dangerous. Really she did, but she couldn't seem to help herself. "Josef called. He wanted to see me."
The strange vampire looked offended. Locking his gaze on Ryder England, he growled. "I do not speak to 'freshies,' or whatever you call them. I am not in the habit of addressing my food."
"No, sir," Ryder replied. "Lucky, for once can you be quiet?" She noticed now that he was looking past nervous. He looked half sick.
She backed up very slowly, one step, two steps, without taking her eyes from the stranger. He didn't move, but when she turned toward the door, he was in front of her again, blocking her way. Before she could react, he had seized her by the neck, and was forcing her backwards, toward Josef's desk. She struggled, but the hand was like iron, immovable, painful.
"Ryder, help me!"
"Mr. Lunos," Ryder said, "please, I don't think this--"
The stranger growled, showing fang for the first time as his eyes went to white on white. With his free hand, he gestured towards Ryder, who was looking stunned. "Not a word," he snarled. "Not a movement."
Before she knew what was happening, Lucky found herself sprawled back over the desk, helplessly looking up at Lunos, clawing uselessly with both hands at his arm. His mouth twisted grotesquely around his fangs. "Now, let's see what we've got here. " First he turned her head back and forth, noting the healing fang marks on her throat. As she writhed under his grip, seeking to escape, he said, with deceptive calm, "Be still. You're not going anywhere." That froze her for a long moment. Josef had said almost exactly the same thing to her only a few nights before. But his eyes had smoldered as he said it, the heat of his gaze promising passion and pleasure for them both. Here, now, there was only this fallen angel with eyes of ice.
Then, still calm, still careful, he pried first one wrist, and the other, from the arm holding her down, and smiled again at the marks he saw on her wrists. "How pedestrian," he drawled. His hand moved again, lower, pulling up her skirt. She struggled harder, and he didn't even seem to notice.
After several long minutes she knew she would never be able either to forget, or to bear to remember, minutes of degradation and violation such as she had never thought to experience, he laughed, a low growling sound. He lifted a blood-covered hand to his mouth, sniffed the blood appreciatively, licked his fingers, tasting and savoring. "Konstantin has good taste, I'll give him that."
"This is it," Lucky thought, tensing, "he's going to kill me now."
And perhaps he would've. He bit, hard, setting his fangs into her thigh, deep enough to at least graze the femoral artery. Lucky screamed from the pain. She'd never experienced a vampire bite like this. Always before, there had been a sensual arousal, a euphoric reaction. The initial sting of the penetrating fangs was always quickly replaced with the ineffable, sweet sensation of the blood being sucked. She'd always been able to hear the vampire's slow heartbeat speed to match her own, had felt the intimate connection that bound them within the life-giving fluid that was circulating in both their bodies. Sometimes she'd swear she could hear their very thoughts, read their hidden emotions. She'd never had a straight sexual experience that was anywhere near as close, as caring and loving. It was what kept bringing her back to the vampires, even without love as humans understood it. But this—this was how the gazelles must feel when the lions dragged them down and began to feed on their living bodies. Pain, with a chaser of despair.
Through the gathering darkness before her eyes, she vaguely heard Ryder slap the intercom, and scream for security. "Mr. Konstantin's office, now! He's killing her—Lunos is killing her!" Then noise, commotion, and the agonizing pain of the vampire being forced away from her, the tearing of his fangs from her flesh, the searing fire in her throat as his hand was ripped away, and she drew a deep shuddering breath. Someone, Ryder, perhaps? was yelling about first aid. Others were struggling with Lunos, and then he broke free and was gone. The pain of the compress against the fang wounds in her thigh finally pushed her over the edge of unconsciousness.
She couldn't have been out for long, though. When she awoke, she was on the office couch, looking up into Ryder's concerned face. He took her hand, gently, as though she were spun glass. "Lucky," he said, "I'm so sorry. I—I had to wait until he—I couldn't risk him stopping me from getting help."
That was enough to start her tears, finally. She curled over on her side, shock, pain, and distress driving her into a fetal position.
Ryder gulped. "I'm going to call Josef now. He needs to know about this. So does St. John."
"No!" Lucky herself was surprised she had strength to be so emphatic. "Please, Ryder, please—please don't tell them. I couldn't bear it right now. Please."
"They're going to have to know sooner or later, Lucky."
"Not now. I can't face it." She looked into his troubled eyes. "Can't you just take me home? Can't we just forget this happened?"
Ryder sighed and looked thoughtful, chewing on his bottom lip. "We don't have any idea where Lunos went. He might come after you. You'd be safer here, or over at St. John's place. And the other girls there could take care of you."
"I'll be all right. I just want to go home. Please, Ryder." She could tell he was weakening, and the scent of her blood in the air had to be confusing the issue still further. She put everything she could into her eyes. "Please?"
He wiped his mouth, a little harder than necessary. "All right, all right. I'll call for a car and driver." He paused. "You know Josef is going to be asking me some hard questions. If he called you to come here, he'll be wondering where you are."
"He's probably forgotten about that already."
Ryder snorted a short, mirthless laugh. "Are we talking about the same Josef Konstantin? Don't let the exterior fool you, sweetheart. He never forgets anything. There's a reason he's so successful, y'know." But he rose and went to the phone, making the request for the car.
Back at her apartment, she reflected that Ryder's awkward, gawky exterior camouflaged his vampiric abilities very neatly. He'd carried her effortlessly down to the car waiting for them in the parking garage, and again up to her apartment, being so very careful to make it impersonal, non-threatening.
He'd made sure she was safely home, then taken his leave, apologetically. "I'd stay here with you," he'd said, swallowing nervously, "but it—it might not be such a good idea."
Lucky understood. She still reeked of blood, and she appreciated his restraint when she was so vulnerable. She suspected there might be a genuinely nice guy lurking under the vampire. It was just too bad.
After he left, she sought her bath, eager to try and scrub away all the traces she could of what had happened. She knew soap and water would have no effect on what was really marking her, but it was worth a try. It was surely worth a try.
A little after dark, she was awakened by insistent knocking on her apartment door. She struggled up, wrapping the bathrobe more tightly around herself, and limped over to see who was there. The peephole showed her exactly what she didn't want to see, and then some. Josef was outside the door, and standing next to him was Mick St. John.
"Open the door, Lucky," Mick said just loudly enough that she could hear. "We just want to make sure you're all right."
She opened the door, but left the chain on. "I'm all right. Everything's fine. You didn't need to waste time coming over."
Josef pushed the door, just a little more than a touch, but with his strength it was enough to pop the chain free from the door frame. "Invite us in," he said.
She stepped back to let them pass. "Please," she said with an edge of annoyance coloring her tone, "do come in and make yourselves at home."
"Were you planning on telling us what happened?" Mick asked.
"Looks like you've already heard." She hated this, hated having to look like a victim in their eyes. She knew that shadow wouldn't leave their sight soon, and she didn't want to see it every time she was near one of them. It would ruin everything. Maybe forever. She sat down on the couch, trying to collect her emotions, not wanting to cry in front of them, and put her hands up to her face. She felt a movement, and Mick was beside her, arms around her, holding her near the comforting scent of his leather jacket.
"It's okay, sweetheart," he said. "I promise we're going to take care of you. We're going to take care of this." He paused. "Ryder and the security guys didn't tell us much. I don't like to ask this, but—I need to see the wound. I need to smell it."
She stiffened, tried to push away from him but those arms were inexorable as well as gentle. "No—I don't want you to see—no."
Josef was still standing, although he'd moved in front of her. "It'll help us find him, Lucky. It'll help Mick track him." He moved to sit on her other side. "You can do this. Just close your eyes, and it'll all be over in a few seconds. All right?"
Lucky nodded, then turned her face into Mick's shoulder. She felt her robe moved aside, the bandage lifted, heard Josef's sharp intake of breath, and Mick's practiced inhale. She'd seen it many times, that careful evaluative breath in through his unnaturally sensitive nose. She could have no idea how much information he gathered that way, but she knew it was far more than any poor human senses would have done.
Looking at the ragged fang wounds, both vampires went very still. Their eyes bled to white, and they could feel the push of fangs against their gums. Rage tended to do that, but they both forced it back at once, frowning at each other. They hadn't come here to terrify her, after all.
Josef looked at Mick. "He was going to kill her, then," he said. Mick nodded slightly, and twitched the robe back over the girl's thighs as she opened her eyes and looked questioningly from one of them to the other.
"Damn, Lucky," Josef said, his voice almost cracking with suppressed emotion, "I hate that this happened. It's my fault."
"No," she replied shakily, from the safety of Mick's arms, "you can't blame yourself for that –that—"
"I don't think you understand," Josef said, and his voice was hard with an anger she'd never heard there before. "As delicious as you are, this wasn't about you and some irresistible impulse. Lunos was pissed at me over business, and he decided to take it out the nastiest way he could think of."
Mick looked up. "You think he'd kill an innocent, just to make you look bad?"
"Not just an innocent. Someone he knew I'd care about losing." Josef reached out and touched her hair, lightly, gently. It was like a caress from a ghost. "Lunos is a dead man, Mick. He's dead. We are going to hunt him down and take him out. I want him ended."
Mick laughed, a low rumble Lucky could feel deep in his chest. "This is not news, Josef." She could feel his arm tighten, just a little. Then he put a hand under Lucky's chin, lifted her face so he could read her expressions. " You sure you don't want to come over to my place for a few days? Andromeda and Susie would be happy to find a place for you to recuperate."
She shook her head. "I just want to stay here. I don't think I want to see anyone for a while."
Mick raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. It was her choice, after all. Josef stood up and took a few pacing steps, then stopped and looked at her. "You won't see anyone if you don't want to," he said, "but never doubt that you are protected. Twenty-four, seven."
Lucky nodded, and leaned back against the back of the couch as Mick stood to go. He smiled reassuringly at her, and she could feel the warmth, even if she wasn't entirely convinced of the sincerity. "I'll talk to you again soon, sweetheart," he said. He looked at Josef, but the other vampire responded with an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Mick gave her hand a final squeeze, and walked away.
Josef waited until they were alone. "Why didn't you want to tell me, Lucky?"
She looked away, her mouth twisting with an effort to maintain some semblance of control. "Maybe I didn't want you to look at me the way you are right now. Maybe I didn't want to see you get angry because someone damaged one of your belongings."
"Do you really believe I think of you that way?" He at least had the grace to look surprised, she thought.
"Don't you?" It was her turn to look him in the eyes, unflinching. Maybe this was it, what it took to break the tie with him, to walk away free. Or maybe not.
He went down on one knee, brought himself to eye level with her. "No," he said. "No, I don't. Lucky, you're not the only one in my life—you know it can't work like that—but I care. Just know here—" and he reached out a hand to touch her robe, just over her beating heart "—what the truth is. Know it and remember it always." And with that, before she could argue, before she could react, he was gone. Lucky laid her hand above her heart, where his had been.
She knew now that the night might be long, and if she so chose, it might be lonely, but the night would never be empty for her again.