He loved Beth with all his heart, watching over her from childhood as she grew into this beautiful, smart woman. Coraline had taken Beth as a child hoping to turn them into a big, happy family and this had tortured Mick. Beth was supposed to have been his daughter, and the strong taboos played on his mind even as his heart ached for her. Eventually he had to let her go, hoping she would find the happiness and the normal life she was desperately seeking if he took himself out of the picture. She deserved both.
Two years later on her wedding day Mick watched from a distance as she smiled happily and kissed her new husband. He felt momentary sadness until he heard her laughter and saw her melt into the arms of the human she loved.
"You did the right thing by letting her go," Josef murmured, his voice pitched low so only Mick would hear him.
"I know, but the right thing isn't always the easiest."
Josef draped his arm around Mick's shoulder and smiled. "If it was easy then it wouldn't be worth it."
Mick snorted and shook his head. Josef had promised to keep people watching over Beth from afar, just to ensure her brush with vampires didn't cause her any lasting harm, and Mick knew that promise was good for as long as they lived. Now it was time to head back to Seattle where he and Josef had moved after leaving Los Angeles and its troubles far behind. He had a case and it wasn't going to solve itself so he settled back in his seat on Josef's private jet and spread the case file over the table in front of him. Josef sat opposite, sipping on what most would believe was a fine, old claret but Mick could smell the warmed blood, making him feel hungry for the first time that day, but before he could say anything, Josef placed a second glass down.
He took a sip, feeling the warm taste explode in his mouth. Almost as perfect as drinking from the source though Mick had a preference for A+ rather than B- blood.
"It's good," he exclaimed, taking another sip.
"You think I'd serve you the inferior stuff?" Josef seemed affronted but Mick knew it was an act and laughed. "So what have we here?" Josef poked at some of the photos, spreading them apart so he could the images more clearly.
"Jason Goodrich left his home two days ago for work. He never came home. His wife wants me to find him."
"And these others?"
"Similar cases. Too similar."
Mick saw a flare of interest in Josef's eyes, aware the older vampire enjoyed an interesting puzzle. He let him sift through the papers and photos, knowing Josef's questions would help clarify the facts in his own mind and perhaps give him a clue he might have overlooked otherwise. They spent the rest of the flight debating points and statements from witnesses and by the time they landed Josef was as eager as he to check out some of the facts that simply didn't add up. None of the missing men had anything in common apart from being male. Different skin colors, backgrounds, lifestyles, and social circles. It was an innocuous parking receipt that gave them the first major clue as it was in a part of the city known for being a bad neighborhood. Mick discovered an overlap when he cross referenced it with the two other missing men. All of them had been in the same part of the city on the same day three weeks earlier, and they had all disappeared around the same time.
"We just have to figure out where they were that day? Where their paths might have crossed."
Mick laughed softly at Josef's eagerness. The sun had already set so there was nothing stopping them from heading straight to the less savory part of the city. The first thing Mick noticed was a small bar on the corner of the block. Half its neon sign seemed to have blown leaving a weird pattern behind. Josef grabbed his arm and pulled him back, his voice lower than the ability of human hearing as he indicated towards the sign.
"That's Ancient Minoan."
"As in the Minotaur?" Mick asked.
"Yes, but that is the sign of the snake goddess, Ariadne. The Mistress of the Labyrinth."
"Are we not ourselves objects of myths and legends?" Josef asked, but then added, "Though I've never seen any evidence of their existence."
"We should take a closer look."
When they entered Mick was surprised to find all three missing men sitting at tables within the bar along with another man who was not on Mick's missing person's list. Mick cast his eyes around the interior, taking in the mahogany bar that dominated the room. It was polished to a high sheen with bottles of strange shapes and sizes lining the shelves behind it, reflected in large disk-shaped mirrors. Mick slid into the chair opposite Goodrich and tried to gain the man's attention.
The man never changed expression, never acknowledged his presence by even a flicker of his blank, staring eyes. If Mick was not a vampire, able to hear and see the blood flowing through his veins, he might have thought Goodrich and the others were dead; stuffed manikins. Josef had stayed by the door watching closely, but he moved suddenly with supernatural speed, grasping Mick and pulling him back outside in the blink of an eye.
"You went into some kind of trance." He glanced at his wristwatch. "I think we both did but I snapped out of it." He showed the wristwatch to Mick; they had lost twenty minutes.
"I don't know what's going on but we can't leave them there," Mick stated, pointing towards the strange bar.
Josef huffed as if the whole idea was an imposition but his eyes gave him away, revealing how much he cared. Moving at speed they grabbed Goodrich and one other man, both of them snapping out of their fugue state as soon as they hit the cold night air.
"What the hell?"
Both were dazed and confused when two other men joined them seconds later.
"Jason Goodrich?" Mick tried again, and this time Goodrich nodded.
"Why's it night time?" he asked in confusion.
"Tell me what happened?" Mick demanded.
"I... I left my wallet in the bar when I was here the other day. I came to collect it this morning."
Mick glanced across at Josef, who nodded, having gained a similar story from the other confused men.
"Let's get them home then we can take a closer look at this bar."
When they returned just hours later the light over the bar had gone out and the bar was closed. It took only moments to break in but instead of the highly polished bar and lines of bottles the interior looked as if no one had been there in years. Old cobwebs hung like drapes from floor to ceiling, the bottles behind the bar were shards strewn across the floor, and everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. No one had been inside this bar for years and yet both of them recalled it so vividly from just hours before. They checked every room including the cellar but found nothing out of the ordinary.
Back in Josef's penthouse apartment overlooking the city, Mick brooded as he sipped on a glass of fresh blood. A+, his favorite, but it wasn't hitting the mark this evening.
Josef sank down onto the couch next to him. "I have no idea, and the longer I live the more I realize how much I don't know."
"I do know one thing," Mick stated softly, waiting for Josef's quizzical expression before continuing. "I know you saved me... again."
Josef shrugged nonchalantly as if it really was no big deal but all the other times Josef had been there for him flooded back. Not just the big life-saving times but all the little things too including his comforting presence by Mick's side as he watched Beth start a new life with another man. Suddenly it seemed important to tell Josef how much he loved his friend, and once he allowed that thought to take shape in his mind he knew it was more than simple Platonic love. It was stronger and deeper than even the love he'd felt for Beth. A premonition took him by surprise and in it he saw himself laughing with Josef in the future, perhaps only a few years ahead, and kissing him deeply.
Vampire premonitions of the past or future were not unknown though the older vampires could control them slightly better, sometimes receiving more than disjointed fragments.
"I saw us. We were..." Mick reached out and drew Josef to him, kissing his lips softly, tasting the metallic tang of the blood he'd been sipping.
He lost all sense of time as Josef kissed him back, losing himself in pleasure as they clung to each other. When night turned to day they moved from the rumpled sheets of a human bed into the cool ice chest that was large enough for two so long as they slept in each others arms. They would not solve the mystery of the Snake Goddess for another hundred and forty years but they would spend those intervening years curled up asleep together through most of the days and loving each other through the nights.