Summary: When Sarah dies, Josef is grief-stricken. But Mick cannot be there in his closest friend's darkest hour, for he's hellbent on finding two serial killers drawing unwanted and dangerous attention to the vampire community. It's left to Beth to try and pick up the pieces as best as she can.
Warnings: Minor character death. Discussion of suicide. For the hurt/comfort bingo challenge prompts: WILD CARD [grief], stalkers / serial killers , toothache, depression. Spoilers throughout all episodes.
Mick pulled up his collar as he left the morgue. There was no doubt about it; this had been another vampire kill. The media were referring to the serial killing spree as the work of The Diabolical Dater, for every victim, regardless of gender, was found laid on their back with a bunch of flowers in one hand and a lipstick heart drawn on one cheek.
Yet this was no human hunter, but at least two vampires working in tandem if Mick was right with his intuitive leaps from the meagre evidence and street rumour. There was always a danger that a sloppy kill might alert humans to the existence of vampires, but this was like putting up a neon sign. The killers had to found, and stopped - and soon.
Mick's phone rang and he answered it. "St John."
"Mick." It was Josef, but he wasn't his usual vibrant self. "I know you're busy with this Devil Dater or whatever the press call him, but…"
"Josef?" Mick stopped walking, intent on his conversation. They'd been friends too long for him to not know that something was wrong. "What is it?"
For a long time there was no reply. Mick's preternatural hearing picked up only the sound of nearby traffic, the wind, the ambient sounds of Josef's apartment over the phone.
"Sarah," Josef said at last. "I just got a call from New York. She's dead."
Josef opened the door for Mick and walked away towards his favourite armchair. He was wearing a red silk robe and Mick could smell the chlorine on his damp hair.
"Josef," Mick said softly, closing the door behind him. "I'm so sorry."
"I was in the pool when the phone call came in," Josef explained, gesturing to his state of undress. "I sent everyone home, because I couldn't stand to be around them. And then I found I didn't want to be alone."
"Of course," Mick said. He walked over to Josef and pulled him close in a brotherly hug. "Whatever you need."
When Mick released him, Josef sank onto the chair and stared at the floor.
"What happened?" Mick asked.
Josef told him, haltingly, of Sarah's death. Her heart had finally stopped and she was unable to be revived. Nothing would be done until Josef got there, just in case she did rise as a vampire after all, but it seemed unlikely. The body had cooled rapidly and rigor had set in.
"I'll have to go to New York," Josef said. "I have arrangements to make. I – will you come with me?"
Josef was always so strong, so reluctant to acknowledge he needed anyone else. So it was like a stake in the heart for Mick to have to say, "I can't."
"The serial killer you think is a vampire," Josef said, understanding, but bitter.
"Two of them, at least. And if they're caught, and we're exposed, the first vampires humans will learn about will be the most vile of our kind. I can't allow that." Mick tucked a loose strand of his hair behind his ear. There had to be something he could do.
"Of course," Beth said. No arguments, no questions. Mick was grateful beyond anything mere words could convey. There weren't many women, he thought, who'd agree to accompany their vampire boyfriend's grieving best friend across the country to organise a funeral. At least not without some misgivings.
"I'd go myself," Mick began.
"I know. I understand and so does Josef. Catch them, Mick. Keep us all safe." Beth smiled sadly. "I can handle this. I know what it's like to lose someone."
Josh, Mick thought. It hadn't been that long ago. Too late to worry about reopening that wound. He'd asked, she'd agreed, Josef wouldn't face this alone. It was the best he could do.
Sarah didn't rise as a vampire. Josef had taken another phone call that told him that there were visible signs of decomposition, and that the decay was rapid. He refused all offers to see the body, and made all of the funeral arrangements by phone.
Josef was silent on the flight, and Beth gave him space to mourn. She was wearing a long black dress and knee high boots, because Josef said they were going straight to the funeral.
Only Beth and Josef attended the service, along with one of the nurses who'd spent the most time caring for Sarah. It was a cloudy day, for which Beth was thankful, and no one would think anything of Josef's protective dark glasses and black suit; besides the limousine had tinted windows and they were only outside for a short while.
The service was short and fairly secular. Beth took Josef's hand at one point, and wept tears he couldn't or wouldn't shed himself. He remained silent and still, not indifferent, she thought, but numb.
Josef had chosen to have Sarah's body cremated. It would be several hours until the ashes would be ready for collection; Beth took the initiative and said they'd fetch them the next day.
Josef took Beth to the hotel where he had reserved a suite for a week. Beth had her own bedroom with a king-size bed. Josef checked the blinds in his own room to ensure no sunlight would get through – the money he was paying guaranteed his eccentricities were humoured; the hotel had no doubt dealt with stranger – and turned up the aircon before he closed the door behind him.
Beth took a long soak in the Jacuzzi, sipping complimentary champagne, and feeling slightly guilty about enjoying the luxury, given the circumstances. Afterwards, swathed in a cotton bathrobe, she watched some pay per view movies on the giant plasma screen and painted her toenails. Finally she went for a sleep herself, stretching out on the luxurious covers of the huge bed with a sigh of contentment.
It was dark when Beth awoke. She got up and pulled on jeans and a soft sweater, then padded barefoot into the lounge. She paused to admire the view from the huge picture windows, then knocked on Josef's door.
"Josef? Are you up?" There was no answer.
"Josef?" Beth bit her lip. Maybe he just wanted to be alone. She ordered a salad and a cappuccino from room service – Josef had told her to feed herself whatever and whenever she wanted – and watched the news.
She called Mick, but got his voicemail.
"Hey, it's Beth. The funeral went as well as could be expected," she said. "I think Josef's taking it hard. Maybe it will be better after he's dealt with her remains. Closure, you know. I'll call you again tomorrow. Take care, Mick. Bye."
When it was nine thirty she knocked on Josef's door again.
"Josef, are you hungry?" Mick had insisted they take some bags of blood with them, for emergencies, and the refrigerated container had been packed with the rest of their luggage, of no concern to the pilot of the private jet Josef had hired. The blood was now in the fridge of the suite's kitchenette along with more bottles of champagne.
"Josef, open up," Beth demanded when there was still no response. She knocked again. At last the door opened.
Beth had never seen Josef dishevelled, but that was the only word that came to mind now. He hadn't bothered to take off his suit, which was creased and rumpled – a suit that probably cost as much as her rent for two or three months. His hair was messy in a way that made her want to smooth it down with her fingers. Vampires were generally pale, so it was probably her imagination that added pallor to her checklist of worrisome symptoms. Yet his overall lethargy was all too real, as was the haunted look in his eyes.
"Are you hungry?" Beth asked again, hoping that he'd brighten up once he'd fed.
"No." He leant on the doorframe. "Do you need anything?"
"Good." He turned to go back into the room but Beth put one hand on his shoulder.
"I know you're hurting, but this won't help," she said. "Come on. Take off your clothes."
He let her help him remove his jacket, and stood still while she unbuttoned his shirt.
"A shower will help," she promised. "Finish undressing."
She went and turned on the shower, running the water until the temperature was a bit colder than she would like – vampires preferred the cold, after all. Plus, she thought, it might help him wake up.
Josef was down to his boxers when she went back into his room. She tossed one of the hotel robes and a fluffy towel at him. "Go. Shower."
To her relief, he did. Then, squashing any hint of distaste, Beth went to figure out the microwave and heat up some of the blood.
"Hey, Mick, please, call me, or at least leave me a message. I'm starting to worry about you. We're okay, I guess. We picked up the ashes today. Josef hasn't decided what to do with them yet. He's pretty upset. I miss you."
Mick frowned as he listened to his voicemail. The time difference was only a few hours but it was an additional obstacle between him and Beth. He'd been tracking the killers day and night, and was gulping down blood in between getting changed and taking short naps. He couldn't keep up this punishing routine forever, but he was determined to find the vampires before they killed again.
He called her back, but he got her voicemail.
"Hey, we keep missing each other," he said. "I'm okay. I've got some more leads to follow up on. I'm glad you're there for him, Beth. I miss you both. Bye."
He'd almost said "Come back soon" but hadn't because maybe Josef had things he needed to do in New York first - and also because while she was in New York, Beth wasn't going to fall victim to the serial killers. The latter was a highly irrational fear, but still, Mick felt safer that she wasn't here. He did miss her, though, and he did wish he could be helping Josef through this.
Beth walked into Josef's room without invitation. He was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"You need to drink some blood," she said firmly.
"I'm not hungry."
"I don't care." Tough love, Beth thought grimly. She wasn't about to let Josef starve to death on her watch.
By now, Beth had expected the suite to be filled with scantily clad men and women, with loud music playing and the alcohol flowing freely along with some voluntarily donated blood. At the least, she'd expected Josef to take her out to clubs and theatres, showing off his wealth and sophistication.
Instead, she'd taken herself out for some window shopping and museum browsing during the daytime while Josef slept. Then she'd returned to try and coax Josef to get up, to do something, anything. He hadn't showered since she'd ordered him to the night after the funeral – he hadn't even dressed. The most Beth had managed on that front was to insist he wear a fresh robe.
"I'm not human," Josef had said sullenly. "I don't sweat constantly. I don't need to be constantly bathing." It was the most he'd said to her since they'd holed up in the suite.
Beth ignored his dismissal and sat on the edge of the bed.
She bit her lip. "I know you're hurting," she said.
Josef rolled onto his side, fangs out, in full vampire mode. "What part of get out eludes you?"
Beth stood but she didn't run, wouldn't leave. Despite her barely controlled panic which he was certainly aware of, she stood her ground. "If you attack me, Mick will be furious," she said calmly. "And I will never forgive you."
With effort, Josef got himself under control. He turned human eyes on her. "I'm sorry. I would never hurt you."
"I know," Beth said, hoping to convince herself of this as much as comfort Josef. "Though, if you really need to –"
Her hand was shaking as she proffered her wrist. Josef preferred live donors over stored blood, and if that's what it took to help him, well, she could spare a pint, being between her regular donations to the blood bank.
"Beth," Josef said wretchedly.
"It's all right," she said.
"No." He lay down again. "Besides, Mick would kill me."
Beth lay down next to him, pressing herself against his side. "Tell me what you need."
He was silent for a long moment before he answered. "I need her back," he said.
She tried to weep quietly, for his sake, but Beth couldn't help but cry for his pain, an agony she knew all too well. This time he took her hand, but he stayed dry eyed.
Mick limped into his apartment. He slumped onto a stool by the kitchen counter top, nursing his cheek. His left canine was throbbing. He cursed as his phone rang. Still, he fumbled in his pocket and answered the call.
"Mick," Beth said in relief. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," he said, trying not to let his exhaustion show in his voice. There was a deep gash on his right forearm, and bruising on his back that was already healing. It had been quite a fight, but he'd been victorious, and a glass of blood would soon fix his injuries.
"How's it going?" They'd agreed not to speak openly about the serial killing vampires over the unsecured cell phone lines.
"It's over," Mick said with relief. "They won't be any more trouble." He rubbed at his mouth again. The male vampire had been wresting with him when the female vampire, wearing thick leather gloves, had entered the fray, brandishing a silver chain. She'd smacked him in the mouth with the chain, sending white hot agony through his upper jaw.
After he'd killed both of them, disposing of all the evidence in the warehouse where he'd concerned them, Mick had poked desperately at his tooth, expecting to find a shard of silver to account for the pain, but to no avail. He hoped his well deserved drink of blood would fix this too. He took comfort in the fact that at least the killers were dead now and couldn't kill any more humans nor expose the vampire community.
"Are you ready to come home?" Mick asked. He stood and, with his free hand, opened the fridge to retrieve a blood pack. Now that it was safe he wanted Beth and Josef back more than ever.
"I don't know."
"Hasn't Josef finished the arrangements?" Mick asked with a frown.
"I don't know."
"Beth?" Mick asked, suddenly worried by her noncommittal answers.
"He's done nothing but sleep or lie awake staring at the ceiling since the funeral," Beth said. "He's only drinking bagged – um, pre-prepared food – and precious little of that."
Josef, deliberately choosing to drink from blood bags? Mick was as concerned as Beth was by this. Had she been hiding this from him? They'd been in New York for over a week, she should have told him.
Calm down, he told himself, closing the fridge and sitting back down. She didn't want to worry you when you had other problems, that's all.
"How is he?" Stupid question, Mick thought, but he'd asked it by reflex. Obviously Josef wasn't doing well.
"Grief-stricken," Beth said. "He's so detached – he hasn't cried, that I know of, hasn't talked about it at all. He doesn't talk about anything, really. Honestly? I'm getting frightened, Mick. I don't know what to do."
Vampires who were tired of living usually chose to destroy themselves by sunlight. Mick didn't know if Josef was close to making that decision yet, but he wasn't about to let him make it without some serious discussion.
"I'll get a flight as soon as I can," Mick said.
Beth was relieved to hear Mick's promise to join them. She went to Josef's room and sat on the edge of the bed. "Mick's going to come and see us," she said gently.
"Because he's worried about us. He thought we'd be home by now."
"What about the serial killers?"
Beth was surprised and encouraged at Josef taking an interest in anything beyond his grief. "He's taken care of them." They could get the details in person once Mick was here.
"You should go home," Josef said. "Don't drag Mick out here."
"No one is dragging Mick," Beth said. "He won't stay away. And I won't go unless you come with me. Although it would probably be cheaper to rent an apartment than keep staying in the hotel." She'd told the hotel management to extend their stay for seven days and when she'd received acknowledgment of this, had seen how much the suite was costing.
Josef sat up and rubbed at his face. "You want to go home?"
"I do," Beth said. "I've taken a lot of time off work already. I want you to finish what you need to do here, but you're not actually doing anything and I have a life I need to get back to. I'm only human, I don't have the luxury of time that you do, nor do I have your money. But I won't leave you here alone."
"Then we'll go back," Josef said.
Beth smiled and dialled Mick's number. This, she felt, was progress.
Mick watched Beth eat, while he toyed with his wineglass of blood.
"I'm almost done," she said guiltily.
"Don't rush," he said.
"We haven't had much time together lately," she said. "And now I'm wasting it eating."
"No. You need to eat. I was just enjoying watching you. With our jobs, and Josef…"
Beth put down her fork and dabbed at her mouth with a napkin. They were only in her apartment, but she'd tried to make it special, with candles and silverware. It had been too long since they'd sat down together. Part of it was due to their jobs, he a private investigator and she an investigator for the DA's office – she was grateful for his expertise, and he for the information she could sometimes get from inside the legal system that he couldn't – but some of it was due to Josef.
Josef no longer took an interest in his business, and had delegated almost everything to his most trusted associate. The associate, it had to be said, was doing a good job; Josef was still making huge payments to charitable causes and making profits left and right. He was still listed as being a member of a number of boards and associations, but, since Sarah's death, he hadn't attended a single meeting or function in person.
Mick had thought it would just take time. It had been three months now, and Josef was probably more withdrawn than previously.
Mick and Beth tried to check in on him at least once a day, often separately, to maximise their contact with Josef. If possible they tried to spend an hour or so with him. Beth talked about current affairs, whether he wanted to hear about them or not, while Mick mostly reminisced about the past. Josef spent most his time sleeping or sitting by the fireplace with an unread newspaper in his lap. He greeted them warmly enough, but never really engaged with their conversations, and saw them out with what seemed like relief.
"He's depressed," Beth said. "I was reading about it again. It's been more than two months since Sarah died, so it could now be diagnosed as depression rather than grief."
"In a human," Mick said. "We think and feel differently to mortals. Our timescales are not yours."
Beth sipped at her wine. "Still, he's lethargic, has no interest in anything, he barely eats."
A couple of times a week they managed to get Josef to drink a glass or so of blood. Even for an elder vampire like Josef, who required less blood than Mick still did, this was perilously close to starvation.
"You'll be overwhelmed by the hunger and murder one of your staff," Mick warned him sometimes. And at first, his concern would have been valid. As the weeks wore on, however, it seemed unlikely Josef could walk around the block, let alone muster up the energy to kill.
It still worked as a threat though; "I don't want you trying to snack on Beth when she checks in on you tomorrow," was often the deciding factor in getting Josef to swallow a few mouthfuls of the precious red liquid.
"Even if he is depressed," Mick said, considering the possibility, "I don't know what we can do about it."
"I guess there aren't any antidepressants for vampires," Beth said.
"No." Mick sighed and picked up his glass, swirling the contents around the sides.
The tone said she knew he was thinking about something and she wouldn't let it go until he told her what it was. Sometimes, Beth could read him a little too well.
"Vampires don't get depressed. At least, not for long. Assuming you don't fall foul to another vampire, or a lynch mob with pitchforks, or caught out in the sun for too long, you have eternity to look forward to. Eternity, is a very long time."
Beth nodded to show she was listening. Mick sighed, decided he had to tell her what he'd feared since her desperate phone call from New York.
"Sometimes, a vampire just gets tired of living, just like humans sometimes do. And while humans can just wait to get old and let nature take its course, vampires have to make the decision to die or to let themselves be killed. The latter could take a while to engineer, so a vampire who no longer wishes to live will usually choose to end their lives - often by the sun, though it's said to be incredibly painful. They might ask someone to help them – beheading is quicker and less painful, for example – but many vampires have no one in their lives to ask. It's often the reason they want to die."
There was a heavy silence. Beth refilled her wine glass.
"Do you think Josef is that depressed?"
"I don't know," Mick said honestly. "You spend as much time with him as I do these days, and he probably talks to you as much as he does to me."
Beth gulped down most of the wine and stood. "We're going over there."
"Now?" Mick asked. He loved Josef, he really did, but he loved Beth and had been looking forward to spending just a few hours alone with her.
It was his fault, Mick knew, for suggesting that suicide was something vampires considered from time to time. Beth wouldn't be able to rest until she'd satisfied herself that Josef was depressed but not fatally so.
"What are you doing here?" Josef asked wearily. He was finally wearing a suit again, though the tie and jacket had been discarded. This was probably because he still sometimes needed to sign papers in person, and today his lawyer had been bringing around some documents.
"How did you get on with the lawyer?" Beth asked, ignoring the question and pushing her way into the apartment.
"I signed papers for ten minutes and then he went away," Josef said, standing aside to let Mick in.
"Good," Beth said. "Josef, we need to talk."
Josef went to his favourite chair and sank into it. "I don't feel like talking. Or listening."
"You never feel like anything, any more," Beth said. She took a deep breath. "I have to ask you, are you feeling suicidal?"
Josef's eyes widened at that. He glanced over at Mick, who shrugged.
"No," Josef said.
"No desire to stand outside at noon and disappear in a blaze of glory?" Beth asked.
"No. Interesting visual, though," Josef told her.
Beth folded her arms over her chest and glared at Mick, who took the hint. His turn.
"Josef, it's been fourteen weeks since Sarah died. I've never seen you like this, not after any loss."
"I've never had a loss like hers," Josef said softly. "So many years, waiting for her to wake up. Knowing that I'd done this to her when I tried to turn her. But there was always the hope she'd recover, until now."
Josef swallowed hard. "I killed her, Mick. I loved her, and I killed her."
Beth crouched down in front of him, seeing the single tear that rolled down his cheek. "Josef," she said softly.
"I killed her," he said again.
How could they have been so stupid, Mick wondered. This wasn't just grief, it was guilt. Worse it was guilt with some foundation to it. Sarah had wanted to be turned, to live alongside Josef as a vampire, and Josef had performed the ritual as every vampire before him had. Yet it hadn't worked, leaving her comatose, stuck between worlds. There was no known cause for it, just as there was no reason that could be found as to why she'd suddenly died.
"You didn't kill her," Beth said.
"It's my fault."
"No," Beth said. "It happened because you wanted to be with her and she wanted to be with you, but you didn't mean to cause her harm. It was a risk you both took willingly."
Josef shook his head. "I never thought it was a risk. The worst I thought would happen would that she might tire of me after a century or so together. If I'd known –"
"You wouldn't have done it," Mick finished, coming to stand at the side of the chair. "We know that. We know that you never wanted to harm her. And I understand that you feel guilty. I can't imagine what it must be like."
Josef turned to face Mick, a tortured look on his pale, deceptively boyish, face. "Yet you made me turn you," he said, in a harsh whisper.
Mick lowered his eyes. "To save Beth."
"That's the only reason I did it," Josef said. "You made me break the oath I swore to myself that I would never ever turn a human again."
By an unspoken agreement they rarely mentioned that night. On reflection, that might have been an oversight, Mick thought. They should have discussed it, and Josef might have had a little less guilt and anguish to deal with now.
"I'm sorry," Mick said.
"I'm sorry too," Beth told him. She crouched down and put her hands on Josef's knees. "I'm grateful for everything you and Mick did that night to save me."
Josef put one hand over hers. "I know."
"We love you," Beth said. "And we will be here for you, as long as this takes."
Mick put one hand on Josef's shoulder. "You are important to me – to us. You're not alone."
Josef nodded. "It's just that nothing seems to matter anymore."
"It will," Beth said. "Not right now, but one day it will. I promise."
Three weeks later, Beth was complaining about her landlord and Josef said, "You could move in with me, I suppose."
Beth considered the implications for a while and discussed it with Mick.
"I spend a lot of time travelling between his place and mine," she said. "This way I'd travel less and be there more. And you could visit us both at once, so you'd be travelling less too. The spare room is huge and it's set up for a vampire to stay in, so if you wanted to sleep over you could, and it has its own ensuite bathroom."
"Just until he gets back to his old self," Mick said. "I wouldn't like you living there with hordes of vampire groupies partying every night."
Beth nodded. "I don't know if he'll ever be his 'old self'," she said gently. "Something like this changes you."
A month after she'd moved in with him, Beth found Josef reading a guidebook and sipping from a tumbler full of blood he must have poured for himself.
"Miami?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Have you ever been?"
"Maybe we'll go one day," he said.
Beth wasn't sure if she was more stunned by this moment of future planning, or the fact he'd said 'we'. Further guidebooks followed; Toronto, London, Rome, Vienna.
"Are you going on vacation?" Mick asked at dinner one night, he and Josef sipping blood while Beth enjoyed a chocolate dessert. He pointed to the growing pile of books and maps on the coffee table.
"No," Josef said. "But I was thinking of moving."
Mick put down his glass carefully, gathering his thoughts. "That's a big step," he said.
"I said I was thinking about it," Josef said. "I'm not packing up yet. Still, I've been here a while; I'll have to move in a few years anyway."
Vampires couldn't risk staying in one place too long, lest their agelessness draw attention. Mick knew he too would one day have to move on, and he tried not to think about it.
"A new start might be for the best," Beth said encouragingly.
Josef shrugged. "I'm used to being alone," he said. "Surrounded by people but separate from them. That's not the case anymore. If I moved – I know you have your own lives here…I mean, you could keep this apartment."
Beth blinked a few times. Josef seemed to be offering them the chance to go with him, or to take possession of the multimillion dollar penthouse suite.
"Josef," she began.
"I haven't decided yet," Josef said. "There's no rush."
Later, when Mick took Beth out for a walk in the moonlight, he said, "You're right. He's changed. But necessarily for the worse."
The following week Beth came home to find Josef sitting on the side of the pool, feet dangling in the water, and unashamedly weeping. She said nothing, simply sat alongside him and slipped one arm around him. She kicked off her shoes and dangled her own feet into the pool. The setting sun bathed the water red.
They didn't go inside until it was dark. Josef poured himself some blood and sat by the fire.
"I'm glad you're here," he said.
"I thought he was doing better," Mick said, when he arrived an hour later and Beth took him aside to tell him to be extra careful around Josef. "He went to that arts council meeting yesterday."
"He is getting better. It's not a linear process," Beth said. "Not for humans, and maybe not for vampires."
Several weeks later, Mick and Beth watched Josef scatter Sarah's ashes from the side of a boat he'd hired for the day.
Afterwards, they sat on the deck, the vampires under a large parasol, Beth merely protecting her skin with a large brimmed hat. Mick and Josef sipped blood, and Beth red wine.
"I've purchased that art gallery I told you about," Josef said abruptly. "I thought I'd go and see it next week."
"You purchased an art gallery without going to see it first?" Mick asked.
"I took the virtual tour," Josef said, waving one hand in a gesture of dismissal. "Would you like to come with me? I mean to say, I would like you to come and see it."
"I'd love to," Beth said warmly.
Mick nodded. "Road trip."
"Don't be ridiculous," Josef said. "We'll fly."
"Of course we will," Mick said. Some things would never change. Things weren't perfect, but they were better than they had been for a long time. Imperfection, he supposed, was the best anyone could ever hope for.