Sitting at the table, chatting with an old college friend, Beth allowed her hand to rest on the table, and was pleasantly surprised to find it covered by Mick's cool fingers

IV

Despite his study, being at the reception seemed to Mick like being dropped on the surface of an alien planet, like being inside a kaleidoscope. Scenes flickered and changed without sense.

A few quiet minutes as they waited outside the church hall for the bridal party to appear. "Pictures," Beth explained in response to his questioning look. "It always takes forever." Mick smiled down at her, standing close before him. "This is all right," he said.

The receiving line, for Beth to greet the bride and groom, and give Mick a half-heard introduction. "Beth, so glad you could be here. Nice to meet you, Nick." "Jen, you look lovely." And the groom's parents, the bride's parent's. "Beth, so nice to see you again. Is this your young man?" Beth giving him an impish smile at that. "Yes. My young man."

Finding a table, and offering to fetch her a glass of champagne, a plate of food. At the food table, he stood for a minute, struck by the variety, and completely mystified as to what she might like. It had been decades since he'd noticed food, and tastes seemed to have changed somewhat. Beth laughed a little at his selections. "This looks pretty random, Mick," she told him.

"I did the best I could," he replied ruefully. "I don't even know what half that stuff is." He poked a finger toward a rumaki. "If we had these in—you know—back then—I don't remember them."

"It's fine. And thank you for the effort."

They sipped the champagne together, although it was not really to Mick's taste, and he surreptitiously tipped the contents of his glass into hers. Beth found it a sweetly intimate gesture, even as it reminded her again of their differences.

Meeting a long series of Beth's old college friends. A seemingly endless string of introductions, to essentially interchangeable young women. "This is Rebecca (Bethany, Gillian, Rachel, Jennifer, Jennifer, Susan, Erin, Shannon, Jennifer….), she was a sorority sister. Rebecca, this is my friend, Mick St. John." "Nice to meet you." And the speculative looks, the appraising looks. One or two frankly inviting. Shaking hands. "Pleased to meet you."

Mick could see Beth grow more thoughtful, and steal a look at him as the bride and groom fed each other that first bite of wedding cake.

Dancing was better. Mick wasn't much of a dancer—when you were a musician, as he explained, you didn't get much of a chance to get on the dance floor—but holding her in a careful, formalized way, moving together, they each found to be an experience oddly both satisfying and frustrating, even if neither was ready to admit it.

Sitting at the table, chatting with an old college friend, Beth allowed her hand to rest on the table, and was pleasantly surprised to find it covered by Mick's long, cool fingers. She smiled at him, unexpectedly moved by such a simple touch. He so rarely made the first move.

About then, it was announced that the time had arrived for the throwing of the bouquet.

"Come on, Beth," her friend urged. "All the single girls!"

Beth rolled her eyes. "I don't think--" She glanced at Mick. How stupid this must seem to him, she thought.

He smiled at her. "It is the custom."

"According to Miss Manners?"

"According to Miss Manners." Hmm, he thought. His cover was blown. She knew he'd read up. She knew he'd needed to read up.

He could tell her smile was the slightest bit forced as she made her way up to the knot of young women pretending to jostle for position.

To Mick, in this crowd Beth stood out like a shining jewel in the darkness. She was the only known face, the only trusted face there. He viewed any gathering of humans a potential hazard, a danger to him should they learn of his true nature. Maybe he hadn't been chased by a torch-bearing mob, like his friend Josef, but he could picture it, and he was aware of how quickly a crowd could turn dangerous. And no matter how fast and how strong he was, enough humans could corner him and destroy him. He really didn't care much for crowds.

He knew those particular possibilities hadn't occurred to Beth. She was accepting of him, perhaps more so than she should be, and assumed everyone else would be equally tolerant.

At that moment, she was simply thinking that, after all, as much as she had enjoyed getting Mick out into such an aggressively normal sort of setting, as much as she'd enjoyed--why not admit it--showing off her handsome almost-boyfriend, she did have a nagging worry that he--that they--were out of place. She knew he was humoring her by being there, and she found his thoughtfulness and consideration intensely appealing. Maybe it was innate, maybe it was the manners he'd been raised with. She wondered if she was taking his good nature too much for granted. She was worrying a bit about him, about his reactions.

While she was lost in thought, there was a flash of movement right in front of her. She put up her hands instinctively, and somehow came up with the bouquet. "Oh, crap!" she thought, just before she was surrounded by giggling women. She could feel a cool, sardonic gaze resting on her like a weight from across the room, and she didn't dare look in that direction.

"Next to be married, huh?" Mick commented as he stood to hold her chair when she returned to the table.

She smiled ruefully. "Jen must've planned that. I'm embarrassed." She sat, and looking down at the bouquet began idly to pluck at the foliage.

Mick leaned forward with an odd, unreadable expression in his hazel eyes. "Why? You saying you don't want to get married?"

Beth looked up at him in flustered surprise, her blue eyes opening wide. "Are you asking me, Mick St. John?" she said.

It was his turn to be taken aback, realizing too late how his words had been misinterpreted. "Uhh, umm, not exactly—" He grimaced. "I mean, it wouldn't be a good idea, Beth."

She thought seriously about keeping him squirming on the hook a bit longer, but couldn't do it. "I know," she replied, "inadvisable." She paused. "You're kind of cute when you're flustered, you know that?"

"Cute. Wow, thanks." He gave her a mock frown, glancing around to see that no one was near enough to overhear. "Beth," he said in a low voice, "I think you should know—vampires are a lot of things, but they are—never—cute."

And so it went. The rituals were fulfilled. Mick had to admit, even to himself, that it had been—interesting. And illustrative of so many things.

Mick couldn't help but notice that Beth was very quiet on the ride home. Thoughtful. She kept thinking, if we were together, long term, how long before people noticed he wasn't aging? How long before I'd be going to social events by myself, making excuses why he couldn't attend? And when she thought of the children she'd seen, her heart yearned, a little. She didn't know if there were any chances for that, with Mick, but she suspected it was not possible, or not likely.

He'd planned to ask her if she wanted to go out for a drink, after the event, but seeing her mood, drove her straight home. "Would you like to change, come over and watch a movie or something?" It was odd, really. He'd thought this might be such a good way for her to realize more gently why this relationship was a bad idea for her, and now he couldn't bear to leave the evening this way, to walk away from her when she was feeling so desolate.

Beth had worried so much about his reactions, whether he would find the event tolerable, that her own response had thrown her. She honestly found quite suddenly that for the first time, she didn't want to be near him, and yet she didn't think she could watch him walk away. "Sure," she said, "give me about ten minutes, and I'll be with you, okay?"

He nodded. "Okay."