It's been a while since I posted anything new; to anyone reading "Till We Ain't Strangers Anymore," sorry! Summer's been busy but I'm still doing a lot of writing so hopefully, I'll be getting more stuff posted pretty soon. Meanwhile, this story's been gnawing at me for the past week, so here it is.

Spoilers: Set sometime after 1x15, "What's Left Behind." AU. "Sonata" never happened.
Disclaimer: Moonlight is owned by Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures.

AN: Inspired by Rascal Flatts' "Pieces," although the premise is a bit different. The fic is all MickBeth, but pretty dismal (just read the lyrics!) so if you're looking for a happy fic, it's not this one.

Release Me

It was a bar this time, small and dark and impossibly hard to find if you didn't know what you were looking for. He cut through the throng of sweaty bodies and the haze of sickeningly sweet smoke, tuning out the drunken laughter and the slurred snatches of conversation. He was listening for one thing only, looking for one thing only. Beth. And as if his thoughts had conjured her, there she was, a graceful tangle of seductive limbs in another man's arms, another vampire's arms. The first few times he had flinched; now he was used to it. Still, it didn't stop the familiar fingers of pain from closing around his heart and squeezing it until his chest was numb.

The vampire, as small and dirty as the bar, was perched on a tall, rickety stool, Beth on his lap. Eyes fogged with desire, he nodded to everything she was saying, all the while trailing errant fingers up her arm, past her shoulder. He paused at the artery pulsing beneath the skin of her neck, smiling in anticipation, then slid his fingers to the base of her throat and started downward. She barely trembled.

Mick's sense of urgency spiked. He stepped forward. "Beth, stop!" One swift tug and she was in his arms, safe. Until the next time. Always until the next time. Though seeing her like this was pain enough, it was the next times that gripped him in fear and sent fractures running across his battered heart.

The vampire who had held her straightened, still dirty but suddenly bigger. "Hey, man, she came to me. You've no claim over her."

"She's mine," Mick countered sharply.

Wrong words, he realized a second too late as Beth twisted in his arms, struggling to be free. "Let me go!" she demanded, the pitch of her voice wavering on hysteria. "You've made it clear that you don't care."

The half-truth of her words stung him, cutting more deeply than he would ever admit, but they steeled his determination and he held her tighter. She was warm and flushed and only slightly drunk. It was little consolation but a consolation all the same. "You don't want this, Beth. You deserve better—you are better."

"Prove it." Her eyes, brilliant and hard, bored into his and he found himself wondering if she was drunk at all. "If not like this, then how?"

"You don't know what you're asking," he pleaded.

Behind them the other vampire frowned, eyes flaring. "Stay out of this," he warned Mick as all illusions of mortality began to slip away. His fangs gleamed, thirsting for blood. "A thing like her is not easy to find, I know, but there are rules here, rules you'd best abide by if you don't want things to get ugly. Let her go."

Mick loosened his control and an instant later he was meeting the vampire's glare with equally inhuman eyes. Rising growl barely contained, he said, "Back off."

"She's said she doesn't want you. There's no need to be difficult; there are plenty of other girls here for you." He reached for Beth, unfazed, posture even daring Mick to contradict him.

Mick, fully vamped out, slapped the vampire's hand away and sent him slamming into the bar. Glasses spun on the polished top before crashing into the hard, dusty shadows below. "She's no freshie. And if you—or anyone else here—treats her as such, you'll have me to answer to."

The clink of breaking glass died away and he was surrounded by gawking eyes and a stunned silence. Before they could fully grasp what he was and what he had said, he was gone, and Beth with him.

Outside, the cool breeze caressed him, as if in welcome, lending his weary mind a moment of clarity. Beth smiled serenely at him, but there was something in her smile and he was alarmed rather than soothed. It wasn't over yet; sometimes it felt like it would never be over.

- - o - -

She was drunk after all. Not much, but enough so that she didn't berate him for watching out for her as she usually did. Or maybe she was tired. As he was. He thought he had seen a flicker of regret in those blue eyes of hers, but it could have just as easily been triumph or some other emotion he didn't want to think about.

He had tried—of course he had tried—but there was no denying that Beth, sweet Beth, could be more than sweet when she wanted to. She was frighteningly good at being subtly vicious, something he had tried not to notice. But that didn't make it go away nor did it make things any better. At first he had convinced himself that the words she had thrown at him when she lashed out were products of hysterias in which she didn't know better. But she wasn't always drunk and she didn't always lose control over her emotions. It had gotten increasingly harder not to admit that she had a way with words and especially with words that wounded. But instead of begrudging her, he had blamed himself.

He had pushed her to this. Hadn't she said so herself? He just hadn't paid any heed to her words, thinking that he had done what was best and that was that. Now he didn't know what was best. He wasn't even sure if he had done what was best for Beth after all. He had never imagined that things would turn out like this—so… so disastrous and unasked for.

"It's just a stupid stunt he pulled to shake you, Mick!"

"And it did shake me! Do you have any idea what he could have done to you?"

"The point is he didn't do anything. I'm fine!" She threw her arms outwards. "Look! Not a scratch."

"You're fine now, but what about the next time something like this happens? Or the time after that? What if I can't protect you then? They can smell me on you, Beth; if they want to get to me, you're an easy target."

"So I'll be more careful when we're working on cases together. What's the big deal?"

"It's not that simple!" He paced the room, clenching and unclenching his fingers. "What if… what if… Think about what happened with Anders. Do you want a repeat of that?" He stopped abruptly, agitated and unable to think clearly. "Beth," he held her by the shoulders, speaking softly, "being with me is dangerous for you. I don't want to lose you, but if you're not safe…"

"What are you saying?" He saw the denial on her face and he knew she understood. He was relieved; somehow, not having to say the actual words mad it less painful.


"Don't 'Beth' me!" She was furious now. "You're coward, Mick St. John! Other vampires hurting me isn't all you're afraid of and you know it."

It wasn't true; she was being ridiculous. He pushed the panic down. "I won't have you dead, Beth. You mean too much to me."

"A lot of good that does." She broke away from him, her eyes blue fire. "You're wrong about this, Mick. I am ready for your world and I'm going to prove it." She brushed past him.

"I love you," Mick whispered. But the apartment was silent, neither acknowledging nor denying what he said.

Was it too late to right things? It had only been several months but it already felt like years. He looked down at Beth and was startled to find that she was staring at him.

"You shouldn't have come," she said softly. Except that the shouldn't came out slurred and sounding more like "shoun."

"Then what would have happened to you?" he replied, feeling a tenderness he hadn't expected.

"I can take care of myself." Her eyes flashed with steel, reflecting the vehemence in her voice, but just as quickly, it glazed over again. "Call a cab for me."

"Where's your car?"

She shook her head firmly. "No car. Cab."

"You are not going home by yourself, Beth."

"Yes. I am."

"Not like this you're not."

"Yes like this," she argued. A pause, then, "You don't have to care about what happens to me anymore."

"But I do." With a gentle push, he guided her toward the Mercedes. It would be easier if he took her to his place anyway. "God help me, but I do."

- - o - -

The dull thudding in her head was what finally woke her. She struggled into a sitting position and gripped her head, grimacing. Some days it felt like she was losing her tolerance for alcohol. She blinked sticky eyes and was rewarded when, moments later, the fuzzy outlines around her sharpened into familiar shapes.

She sighed. So he had done it again. She didn't know if she loved him or hated him more every time he pulled her away. But regardless, what a mess they were in. All because of one stupid argument. Granted she wasn't blameless, but why couldn't he ever just stand back and let things happen? If he had just believed…

The first time, true to her word, she had wanted to prove him wrong. He didn't let her prove anything of course, but she was too proud to stop. That he cared should have been victory enough, but he cared in the shadows and doing what she did, she felt alone. The other vampires certainly didn't care. If they were gentle, it was because they were entranced by her rare blood type, not because of any genuine warmth in their dispositions. She had wanted Mick out of the shadows; she had wanted—needed—to prove to herself that he cared, cared enough to be her knight even if she insisted she didn't want a knight. Otherwise she went half mad imagining that he did care, knowing he did care. She didn't even know the difference anymore. They always ended up blurring together if she dwelled on the matter long enough.

Now if she asked herself why she continued to do it, why she continued to tempt fate with vampires she knew would never be half as genteel as Mick, she wouldn't have known. Maybe pride, maybe loneliness. Maybe for those moments when they were alone. Sometimes they came away cautiously content but more often they came away hurt and more confused. Still, it was all they had left, and in a strange way, it was as precious as the moments they couldn't have. Once it had been about wanting to go back; now it was about wanting to hold on.

Dancing, grey shadows shied away from the window as the morning began to spill in, bathing everything in pale light. Instinctively, Beth's eyes flew to the flight of stairs. He would be up soon. They would have another conversation. Maybe it would end in an argument, maybe not. Then it dawned on her—she didn't want another conversation. Precious or not, fighting was bad, pretending worse.

She bit her lip, a knot tightening in her chest. The room was suddenly very, very warm. She tore her gaze away from the stairs. She wanted something real. And things between them hadn't been real in a long time.

- - o - -

She was gone. She was actually gone. She wasn't here, wasn't home. She wasn't even in Los Angeles. The crumpled piece of paper in his hand came in and out of focus, fueling his erratic thoughts. It was almost like a bad dream; he wished it was a bad dream. She had left no other indication of her presence, no other goodbye. It was just him and the note, him and the silence.

I've hurt you; I see that now and I'm sorry for it. You keep saying that your world is too dangerous for me, and maybe it is, but now I'm the one who's too dangerous for you. Every time you come to my aid you make an enemy of one of your kind. Do you realize that? Do you mean to do it? I think yes. I think you tell yourself you don't mind cutting ties to your world. Whatever's best for me, right? I know you care. I know that even after it was over, you were still my guardian angel. You didn't have to tell me you care. I knew. And oh how dearly I've made you pay for it.

We weren't perfect and I was okay with that. I always thought we could be really good instead. Look where we are now. Are we in bad yet? I don't know, but let's not find out. You deserve better, don't argue that you don't. But I know you—you'll never let go and I never want to let go, but it's time we moved on. So for once, I'll do what's best for you.

Do me one more favor—don't follow me. I'll be okay. You will too. I'm sorry it has to be this way.


He took the words in greedily, aching for more, not caring that he had already read the words at least half a dozen times. He started again, this time going slowly and noting how the writing got uneven toward the end.

He traced the shaky writing with a light finger. Had she cried? Felt herself shatter inside at the thought of leaving Los Angeles? He tasted the pain in her words, even written. Yes and yes. For one selfish moment he was glad she was suffering as she had made him suffer. And then it hit him that she was gone, really gone, and he would give anything to let her hurt him again.

Would he follow? He didn't know yet. He knew how Josef felt about the matter. He had called immediately, intending to demand that Josef had his people find Beth. His best friend had been silent for a long time before he had said, "You're free, buddy." Quiet but certain. He didn't offer his help and Mick knew not to ask. He wouldn't help—maybe he had even helped her.

Part of him wanted to believe it was better, but a bigger part of him wasn't ready to believe in a miracle and didn't know what to believe. With Beth gone, there were too many pieces missing, too many holes he didn't want to fill. What if the remaining pieces came back together the wrong way? What if being whole hurt more than being fragmented?

But what if it doesn't? What if picking up the pieces of his life was worth it? What if they weren't all sharp, glittering shards trying to scar him? Beth had told him not to follow, Josef had said he was free. Was it really that easy? Yes. No. The emptiness rippled invitingly before him. He was used to emptiness. And he wanted to see. He wanted to try. Everything he had wanted for Beth, he wanted for himself. The emptiness could give him that, no ties, no catches.

He folded the note over.