Title: Two by Moonlight
Genre: Angel/Anita Blake
Disclaimer: Sadly, I do not own these characters. Anne and her world belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Richard and supernatural St. Louis belong to Laurell K. Hamilton.
Timeline: For Angel, anytime after season 2's "The Thin Dead Line." For the Anitaverse, after "Cerulean Sins."
Distribution: TNL, The Voice Inside, others please ask
Author's Notes: For those of you who don't know who Anne Steele is, look up the Angel episodes "Blood Money" and "The Thin Dead Line." Also, the Buffy episodes "Lie to Me" and "Anne."
From his position next to the bar, Richard looked around the ballroom, taking in the controlled chaos that was the opening reception for the conference on child welfare. It appeared that large amounts of alcoholic beverages were being consumed by now-tipsy teachers, doctors, social workers and others. He shook his head, taking a sip of his iced tea. They all looked less than concerned for child welfare at the moment.
Movement on his right side drew his attention. A tall, thin woman with long blonde hair stood next to him. She smelled fresh, like flowers in the spring sunshine.
The man to her right, already more than half-drunk, knocked her off-balance as he asked the bartended for another beer.
"I'm sorry," she apologized as the drunk man walked away.
"Not your fault," Richard smiled. "I think we're the only two people here still sober."
"You're probably right," she laughed.
He didn't want her to walk away. She was beautiful, and different from all of the people around them. He sensed that she was here for serious purposes, as he was. He stuck out his hand. "I'm Richard Zeeman."
"Anne Steele." She noticed the way his warm hand dwarfed her smaller one and the contrast between his tan and her pale skin. Somehow, it didn't unnerve her. His presence made her feel safe.
"You're here for the conference?" Immediately, he wanted to take his words back. Lame. Why else would she be here.
"Yep," she nodded. Conference. Safe topic of conversation. Didn't want to delve in too deep on the first meeting. "You?"
"Yeah." Okay, what to say next? "I teach junior high school science. How about you? What's your connection to child welfare?"
"I run a halfway house, runaway shelter kind of place. In Los Angeles." Smile, Anne, she reminded herself. It had been so long since she'd let herself go, let herself flirt with a stranger. And what a stranger. He was gorgeous, with his tan skin and close-cropped dark brown hair. She had to think of something to say next. Geography? "Did you have to travel very far for the conference?"
"Nope. I live right here in Saint Louis." Okay, he was doing this. Talking. Maybe he'd even progress to flirting. It had been so long since he'd had this light, casual interaction with anyone. His life was just so much drama, but now, he was starting to feel free. More people approaching the bar jostled him, pushing him into her. "Do you want to sit down somewhere, talk?"
Anne smiled. He looked like he was almost as nervous as she was. She hadn't talked with a guy like this in so long. All her time had been spent at work. Watching out for the kids, counseling the kids, keeping the kids safe from the evils that lurked on the streets of Los Angeles. It had been so long since she'd just been Anne. Now, she was. Thousands of miles away from home there was no shelter, no kids. Just her, and him, and the night. For once in her life, she felt free. "Sure, I'd like that," she told him, allowing him to lead her to a secluded table in one corner of the hotel restaurant.
Hours later they were still talking.
Richard sipped on his iced tea as they talked. She'd done so much, devoting her life to the welfare of runaway teens in Los Angeles. And yet, despite the age in her eyes, she was far from ancient. "You're so young. I still can't believe you run a shelter for runaway teens. That's impressive."
"Not really." She felt herself becoming flushed with his praise. "I don't do anything special, just what I have to do." She paused. So much of who she was today was wrapped up in the past. She felt like she'd known him forever, like she could tell him anything. But should she? Looking into his deep brown eyes, Anne made her decision. "I know what its like, to be out there, alone, no place to go."
"You were a runaway?" he asked, startled. She was so together, so confident. She must have had a fantastic strength of will to make it to where she was...to become who she was. Amazing, really.
"Yep. But you really don't want to hear my life story," she protested. Especially if he had any idea how freaky it was. She didn't want to tell him, anyway. He'd bail. People always bailed when you started talking about vampires, hell dimensions, and zombie cops.
"I do. Really. I want to know all about you." He'd only known her a few hours, but it was if he'd known her his whole life. He wanted to hear all about her, and surprisingly, had to fight the urge to tell her his life story - furry parts and all.
"Well, to start off with, my name wasn't always Anne. How it came to be Anne is a very long, complicated story. But I chose it, my name, for what it represents - who it represents."
Richard nodded, even though he didn't really understand. He'd always been Richard Alaric Zeeman. Never had any desire to change his name, never thought about the power a name had to make you who you were. But she had.
Anne waited until she had his full attention before continuing. " I never even knew who my dad was. I'm not sure my mom did either. She drank - my mom, that is. She drank a lot. And when she did, she got mean." She gave him a rueful smile. "Not exactly a shiny, happy childhood. I wanted to be someone else, somewhere else, so fell in with this group. They worshipped vampires."
Richard couldn't hide the surprise in his eyes.
"Yeah, I know. Lame, right? Not to mention stupid, but I felt like I belonged with them. Felt like I had a purpose, thought we were working towards something special, towards eternity. We were going to be immortal."
"Sounds like the Church of Eternal Life," Richard commented.
"What?" Anne asked.
"They're a vampire church. Promise you eternal life, here on earth. You just have to die first." He realized he was getting off topic. Needed to bring himself back to Anne's story. "So what happened?"
"I met one," she said matter-of-factly. One of the evil, demonic, Hellmouth kind, not the respectable, running-businesses-in-St.-Louis kind."
"You could have been killed!" he exclaimed. He couldn't stop himself from reaching out and taking her hand across the table, just to reassure himself that she was real and alive. He'd heard of the Hellmouth vampires - evil, soulless beasts who lived for the kill. No wonder he saw her age in her eyes. She must have lived a lifetime in those few moments alone.
"Yeah," she nodded. His hand on hers felt so good, his thumb softly massaging her palm. Almost distracted her form her story. "Nearly was killed. But this girl, she saved me... and I decided that maybe vampire-worship wasn't the thing for me. So, I moved to Los Angeles, changed my name from Chanterelle--"
"Chanterelle?" he interrupted, cursing inwardly at his interruption. The last thing he wanted to do was insult her, even if she did pick a weird assumed name for herself. "Isn't that a mushroom?"
She laughed. "Yeah. That' s me. Mushroom girl. I didn't know it at the time, though. I just thought it sounded cool. Anyway, I moved to Los Angeles, and called myself Lily." She caught his look of surprise at the idea that she'd had another alias. "I was young. I changed my name a lot. But I'm getting to the 'Anne' part soon, I promise."
He smiled. Just listening to her talk was a joy. Knowing that she trusted him enough to tell him her secrets was far beyond anything he'd hoped for. Would he have the courage to tell her his secrets? Should he? The entire fate of his pack rested in his hands...rested with his fate. Could he tell her about his lycanthropy or would he simply be exposing himself and the pack to danger?
"I met this great guy named Ricky, and we were really happy together for a while. Then he was kidnapped by this demon and taken to a hell world."
Richard blinked, immediately brought back to the present by her words. "Hell world?" The poor woman had actually lived in a hell world?
"Yep. A world where otherworldy demons worked runaway kids until they were too old to work anymore. I was looking for Ricky when I got kidnapped, too."
"What happened?" he asked, fascinated. Her life was like nothing he'd heard of before.
"Buffy. The girl...the one who saved me before?" She continued as he nodded. "I ran into her in L.A. Asked her to investigate Ricky's kidnapping. She figured out what was going on and came looking for me when I was missing."
"She looked for you in a parallel hell world?" Richard asked incredulously. How was that even possible?
"Yep." Anne nodded. "Rescued me, and all of the runaways that were held prisoner there. We were beaten down, willing to say we were 'no one' just to be left alone to suffer in peace, but she wasn't. She stood up for herself, for us. She was so strong...really amazing."
"Sounds like it." He was just glad Anne had had someone to save her when she was in trouble.
"Buffy had run away from home, too. She was calling herself 'Anne,' working as a waitress in L.A. But she decided to go back to her real life in Sunnydale. When she went back to being herself, I asked her if I could be 'Anne.'" She smiled at him. "See, I told you I'd get to the 'Anne' part sooner or later."
He was captivated by the beauty in her smile, couldn't help giving her one in return, despite the seriousness of her conversation. But one thing he didn't understand. "You just...became Anne? That's it?"
"Yep. Simple, really. Anne Steele is different than Chanterelle, different than Lily, different than anyone else I used to be. Anne is smart, strong, confident. She can do anything. She's who I made myself to be."
"I was right. You're one impressive lady." As he spoke, he realized he was still holding her hand, gently stroking her silky skin. He didn't want her story to be over, then he'd have to decide how much to tell her. He didn't think he dared tell her anything, but at the same time, he didn't want to let her go. A dilemma of the worst kind.
Anne smiled. She couldn't believe she'd told him her whole life story, on the first date...not that this was even an official date. But she'd told him everything and he wasn't running. Amazing. He was a remarkable man, and she wanted to know everything about him. She wanted to live in this moment, never letting him go. But first, she needed to know who he was. "So, Richard Zeeman from St. Louis, Missouri. What's your story?"
Richard sighed and stood up, still holding her hand. He pulled her up with him. "Walk with me, in the moonlight? Not a full moon, but it'll still be pretty in the hotel gardens."
She looked at him quizzically. Why the walk? What didn't he want to tell her?
He had to tell her something... or else she'd never get far enough away from the crowd for him to be able to share any of his secrets. "There are things I'm going to tell you, things I don't want anyone else to know. So, please... walk with me?"
Anne nodded as he led her over to the French doors leading to the patio, and out into the garden in the moonlight.