"I'm not really much of a suit person, Josef."
"I know. That's why I didn't take you with me when I bought it. That would have been more than my patience could endure."
"But I don't like suits. They're really not my style."
"I know. That's why I found one a different cut from mine. I thought you might like this style better."
Mick stared at himself in the full length mirror in his room at Josef's mansion. His new outfit was a dark charcoal gray jacket and slacks, with a vest of the same color covering a very pale blue dress-shirt. True, it was a different cut from Josef's usual business style, though of the same high-end quality, but still...it was a suit. It did feel good, though. The material was soft, almost silky, and the tailoring fit him perfectly. And the color combination looked good with his skin tone and brought out the color of his eyes. But again....it was a suit.
"I still don't see why I couldn't just wear something of my own."
"This is yours."
"You know what I mean. Something I already owned before you decided I needed a makeover."
"It's not a makeover, it's one new outfit, and I don't even have to look in your closet to know you don't have anything suitable."
"What's wrong with my clothes?" Mick asked indignantly.
"Nothing's wrong with them. They're just not formal enough for something like this."
"And the shoes?"
"Figured I'd go whole hog. They go just right with the rest of the outfit."
"You're worse than a woman," Mick sighed, then tilted his head at the image he presented in the mirror. "I guess it not so bad," he conceded.
"So glad you approve, " Josef replied sarcastically. "Here. Don't forget this."
Mick groaned as he took the offered strip of silk. "Do I have to wear a tie?"
Josef just gave him a look. "Of course."
"Because this suit would look ridiculous without it," Josef explained patiently. He shook his head at his friend's wardrobe ignorance.
"That's okay," Mick added helpfully. "I don't mind changing. I have plenty of clothes at home."
"Ha ha. You're such a riot. Put it on."
"C'mon, Josef. I hate ties. My mom used to make me wear a tie to church, and I hated them then, too. When I was a kid I used to say that when I was all grown up I'd never wear a tie again."
"Well, when your all grown up you can stop."
"Now who's the riot?"
"You have to wear the tie, Mick. Put it on."
Mick just looked at Josef with the lost puppy look he'd been trying to perfect, but this time it didn't work. When Josef realised Mick was making no move to do as he'd demanded, he let out a rough sigh of sufferance. "Oh, for Pete's sake. C'mere," he growled in exasperation at Mick's reluctance.
He grabbed Mick by the shoulders and spun him around from the mirror to face him. He reached across to the younger man and roughly flipped up the collar of the shirt underneath the jacket, making it ready for the tie. Then he snatched the tie from Mick's hand and slid it through the upturned collar. "Hush," he admonished Mick's growls of protest.
"But it's too tight, Josef," Mick griped.
"It is not," Josef countered unsympathetically. Then, "Stop that!" Josef smacked Mick's hands down from where they'd reached up and impeded Josef's efforts at the knot.
"But I feel like I can't breathe," Mick griped again in protest, but certainly not in the panic one would imagine of a truly oxygen-deprived being. He was, however, careful to keep his hands down this time.
"You don't need to," Josef reasoned, astounded at Mick's efforts to avoid a simple piece of clothing.
"I know, but I still can't," Mick retorted half-heartedly and sulking, finally realising Josef was sticking to his guns.
Josef half-smiled. "Stop pouting." Josef finished adjusting the knotted tie to his satisfaction. He could just imagine the battle Mrs. St. John must have had on her hands every Sunday wrangling Mick into a suit and tie.
"I'm not pouting," Mick grumbled poutily.
"And quit whining," Josef added, mostly just to tease him this time.
"I do not whine!" Mick protested vehemently, then seeing the amused smirk of his friend and the twinkle in his eyes, he added, "Much."
"There," Josef said in satisfaction as he stood back to get a better view as he inspected the younger vampire. "Not bad at all," he approved. "Who knows, kid. Maybe you'll decide you like dressing like this."
Mick snorted. "Don't get your hopes up, old man."
"Don't be cheeky," Josef admonished jokingly.
Mick turned serious, giving in to his worry over their upcoming engagement. "What do you think's gonna happen tonight?"
"I don't know, Mick. We'll just have to see."
"But don't you wonder why he wants to see us?"
Josef looked at Mick in concern, noting the fear and uneasiness in his fledgeling's tense tone. "Hey," Josef said softly. He reached out and rested a hand on each of Mick's shoulders, squeezing reassuringly. "Calm down. It'll be okay. Just play it cool, and we'll get through the night."
"But what if those dreams mean something?"
"They might not."
"But what if they do?" Mick knew he sounded childish, clinging to Josef's words for reassurance, but he couldn't help it.
"Then we'll just have to wait and see. Don't worry yourself sick over it until you know there's something to worry about. Okay?"
"Easier said than done."
"Just do the best you can."
"If you say so."
"I do. Ready? The limo's waiting, and we don't want to show disrespect by arriving late."
"You always say it's fashionable to arrive to a party late. That a confident person doesn't want to look too eager," Mick said, following Josef down the stairs.
"So you do listen to me on occassion! But it's out of context, Mick. This is not a party, and you don't arrive late when you're summoned by a powerful Elder. Especially a Council Elder. It's in bad taste, and it insinuates disrespect."
Mick nodded his head knowingly as they settled themselves into the comfortable limo seats as the driver shut the door. He'd seen how others in the LA Community promptly answer a summons from Josef, not wishing to risk his anger. Very few people in the Community would do anything that could be construed as disrespect toward the Community Elder. Even Josef's own employees, his house employees as well as his office employees, seem to feel honored to be handpicked by Josef. And yet, at the same time, very careful to show the proper respect. Josef is known as a generous employer, but not very tolerant. Especially by those of the fanged variety.
"I just hope you're not planning any sudden wardrobe changes," Josef joked, hoping to lessen Mick's tension.
If Mick had been human he'd have blushed at the reminder of his little prank a couple weeks ago. "No. You definately don't have to worry about that," he said with feeling at the memory of Josef anger at the time. "On the other hand," he continued in fake thoughtfulness, "I might accidentally lose my tie somewhere. Just by accident, mind you."
Josef wasn't as unconcerned about this summons as he'd been trying to lead Mick to believe. It just didn't sit right with him. For one thing, there was just something about Malcolm that made him uneasy. Josef could think of several reasons a Council Elder might want to see him. It's not uncommon for a Community Elder to be checked up on, or even invited to a gathering catering only to Community leaders. Sometimes they're called together for their input on a community problem or to be told of new laws. Sometimes for something so mundane as to pass news to each other from Community to Community.
But Josef could think of no good reason for a powerful Council Elder to summon Mick. At Mick's young age, he would escape the notice of most elders unless he were doing something to bring attention to himself. Most older vampires look at those so much younger than themselves as unworthy of their attention. Similar to the way a group of adults would pay no attention to the toddlers around their feet. Until one of them misbehaved.
And because of that very fact, that insinuated that the summons was actually for Mick, and not himself as Josef had first assumed. Josef had most likely been included only as a courtesy owing to the fact that he's Mick's sire, and in regard to Mick's young age. If Mick had been a couple hundred years old, rather than the scant fifty-five he'd been a vampire, Josef would likely not have been included. Mick considers himself a matured vampire due to the fact that he has not lived under a sire for a long time, but in reality, by their society's eternal standards, he's closer to that of an adolescent. Though not quite an infant, neither is he yet mature.
And just like when the three Elders showed up at the gathering a couple weeks ago, Josef did not like the idea of so much interest being shown toward Mick by someone who should have been above noticing a youth. And then of course there was that very freaky dream Mick had told him about. Who knows what that could mean, if anything.
But of course, he did not share these concerns with Mick. Maybe he should have. Mick may not be completely matured as a vampire, but he is a grown man. And they'd never made a point of keeping things from each other before; their friendship had always been an equal partnerhsip. Well, as equal as it could be with the differences in their ages and stations. But Mick was already tense and worried, and Josef didn't want to add to it if he could keep from it. In truth, he'd become quite worried about the younger vampire. It seems he'd finally gotten to the bottom of this nightmare and sleeplessness business, but.... there was something more.
The fact that Mick had become very insecure had not escaped Josef's notice. How could it? Mick sought him out every night without fail, seeming content to simply follow Josef around and be near him, regardless of what else was going on. As far as Josef could tell, he didn't even think Mick had spent much time with his little blonde that he's so fond of. Mick had mentioned a time or two seeing Beth for an hour or two a couple times this week, but Mick had always been sure to keep those visits short so he could spend most of the night in Josef's presence. And Josef knew for sure that Mick hadn't taken a job since the San Diego one. It's not that he minded having Mick around so much more. He usually enjoyed it, in fact. It's just.... it seems like a big enough change in his behavior that he should be worried about it.
And Mick had become very uncertain, as well. Josef recognised that as a common side effect in new turns in reaction to dominance, but he'd figured, what with their familiarity with each other and all, that Mick would snap out of that phase rather quickly. From Josef's perspective, it seemed that maybe Mick was uncertain about what Josef expected from him. He'd often wait for permission or approval from Josef before making some decisions. He behaves as if he's not entirely sure about whether what he's doing would be accepted or rejected. Josef thought maybe a simple conversation between the two of them might clear up this particular matter.
Then there was Mick's compliancy. Josef recognized it for what it was and he wondered if he should even bother worrying about it. Mick was obviously trying to change some of the ways he interacted with Josef, trying to be more agreeable. He made a point of being more respectful than he used to be, as well as more obedient. Sometimes. But he doesn't go overboard with that in the general sense- in fact, except during Mick's more insecure moments, much of their former friendship interaction is still present- and Josef thought it might do more damage than good to try changing that particular turn of events. It was expected for a sire to hold some command over his fledgelings, and even if neither of them had wanted it that way, their instincts wouldn't allow it to change, would at the very least have made it very hard to fight. Josef himself had changed slightly in the way he interacted with the other vampire. He's become more confident in dealing with Mick as his fledgleing at times rather that just his younger friend, and he carries that air of expecting to be obeyed and respected as his due. And Mick responds to that in the expected way. And unlike the idiosyncrasies of Mick's other, more worrying behaviors, this one doesn't carry the flavor of a possible identity crisis.
No. It was the clinginess that had Josef the most worried. His mind drifted back to the little incident in the woods three nights ago. Mick had absolutely panicked at the thought that Josef would block his end of the link, even for just a couple of minutes. Mick had tried to play it off, but Josef wasn't easy to fool. And that is far from usual behavior for Mick, and frankly, it kind of gave him the creeps. Josef had the benefit of fifty years of friendship with Mick, and he knew the other vampire well. There was something there. Something that Josef needed to notice, needed to pay attention to.
But first we need to get through tonight, he thought to himself as their limousine pulled up to the front of the elegant hotel.
They were met by a young vampire that had been dispatched to act as their escort. He seemed to be of Asian descent and he introduced himself as Jackson.
"Relax," Josef leaned over and whispered at Mick as they followed their guide. Mick's anxiety was practically rolling off him. Mick just shot a glance at Josef at the directive, staying silent.
They entered one of the hotel's private lounges, the young vampire leading them to a seating area with several plush armchairs and a couple comfortable looking couches. There were five other figures already seated in wait.
Josef was suprised to see other vampires in attendance. He'd been under the impression they would be in attendance with Malcolm alone. Josef was glad to note that Rake was one of the attendees; for some reason that made him feel a little better about this whole mysterious meeting. Unfortunately, Nigel was there as well. Great. A whole evening listening to his superior attitude and tiring opinions in that nasal, stiff accent. That could make for a very long night. Apparently the extra guests had suprised Mick as well, because he faltered for a moment, then shot a sharp glance at Josef.
At their approach, Malcolm stood from his seat and greeted them.
"Forgive us if we've kept you waiting," Josef said in a mild tone.
"Think nothing of it, you're perfectly on time." Malcolm's voice was smooth, and as cool as his eyes. He spoke with almost no inflection, no emotion. "You've just met my fledgeling Jackson. He is in training under me to become a member of the Council some day. Come. I'll introduce you to the other guests." That was the most Josef had ever heard the vampire say.
Of course, they already knew Rake and Nigel. In addition, the met Sylvia and Gerod, both Elders as well, and both over six centuries in age.
"Josef, Mick. It's good to see you again," Rake greeted the two sincerely.
"And you as well," Josef returned formally, but with genuine warmth. There was something about Rake he couldn't help liking.
"I'm honored to make your aquaintance again, Elder," Mick added, the most formal. He knew he'd need to redeem himself in front of those he'd offended before. Josef smiled a little in satisfaction at Mick wisely remembering to follow the precise protocol.
"Well, I see you've followed my advice, Mr. Kostan. An improvement over our last meeting, is it not, Mr. St. John?" Nigel asked. He sneered at Mick condescendingly, his lips curling up in satisfaction at the thought that he'd had a hand in setting this young one right.
Mick clenched his jaw, but he answered only with the proper response rather than what he most likely wanted to say. Josef wondered idly if Mick would have done the same if Josef hadn't been sitting next to him.
After a few more greetings and a moment of small talk, Malcolm finally adressed the very subject that had Josef and Mick so curious.
"I suppose you're wondering why I've summoned you."
"The thought did cross our minds," Mick retorted. He winced a little and shot a quick glance at Josef to make sure he had no objection to Mick speaking out. Josef said nothing, thereby letting Mick know he'd done nothing wrong. Josef decided he was really going to have to initiate a heart to heart with Mick later. He didn't want Mick to become so uncertain of Josef and their new bond that he was afraid to be himself, but that was certainly the way it looked to be heading.
"We have a proposal for you," Sylvia spoke in a soft voice. Her appearance was as deceptive as Josef's usually was. She appeared to be a young woman of perhaps nineteen or twenty. She had that girl-next-door appearance about her with wide innocent looking brown eyes and light, curly hair. That cute harmless appearance, and the voice to go with it, hid a very powerful six-hundred and ten year old Elder. Mick noted that she spoke in a more formal manner that he knew to be a commonality of some of the oldest vampires that had limited exposure in the public eye of humanity.
"What kind of proposal?" Josef asked.
Rake and Malcolm glanced at each other in a way that did not settle Josef's nerves in the least. Josef narrowed his eyes in his patented look of suspicion.
Rake was the one who spoke. "We would like Mick to come back to Germany with us."
Josef sat stunned for a moment, unusually speechless, and next to him, Mick stiffened.
"You would come as well, Josef," Gerod quickly added. He'd been turned late in life, and his face and gray hair showed more age than the typical vampire, though of course nothing close to his actual near- seven centuries. As with Syvia- or any vampire, for that matter- his appearance would give no indication to mortals of the true power and strength he posessed. "For Mick's sake, and yours. He is still dependant on you, too dependant for him to go without you."
"Why?" Josef asked simply, recovering his usual decorum. Mick had been about to speak but Josef beat him to it. At Josef's question, Mick cut off his own query and looked at the Elders for their answer.
"That does not matter," Nigel informed them. "Perhaps you should simply take into account those that this proposal is coming from."
Josef glared at Nigel for the inference that they should simply do as the Elders wanted for no other reason than because of who they were.
Apparently, though, Nigel had spoken out of turn judging by the glares he received from the other Elders. Including Jackson, though the young one had not as yet spoken. Josef wondered if Jackson had remained quiet because he had no say in the meeting due to his position as 'trainee', or if he was just intimidated by a roomful of elder vampires. Josef sensed that he was near Mick's age, making him one of the two youngest in the room. But Jackson's glare at an Elder suggested he wasn't too easily intimidated, and Josef doubted Malcolm was one to tolerate too passive a personality in one of his own fledgelings. This young vampire seemed to have more depth to him than Josef had first thought.
"We are interested in Mick's circumstances. No other vampire has ever been turned twice. And your input, Josef, would be valuable as well," Syliva said into the silence in an obvious attempt to smooth over the Nigel-ruffled feathers. Josef got the impression that Nigel's fellow Elder's were accustomed to covering up or fixing his faux pas.
"I understand your interest, but why is there a need for us to leave the country? Surely you can satisfy your curiosity here."
"You are being very obstinate," Nigel accussed.
"I am being very logical," Josef countered in a cold voice, then, as a matter of propriety, he added, "Elder." He tried to infuse at least a little respect into the last word, but he knew he'd been unsuccessful when Nigel stiffened in offense and glared an him menacingly. Josef didn't care.
"I'm not going to Germany," Mick informed them firmly.
Nigel simply glanced at Mick, then turned his attention back to Josef. "What is your opinion of our proposal?"
"You heard him."
"The decision rests with you," Malcolm intoned. "You are his sire. Even if he were to resist your decision, he is dependent enough at this stage that he must do as you wish."
"Of course," Nigel added, looking at Mick assessingly, "that would only be necessary if you have not taken my advice on discipline."
Mick straightened in indignation and Nigel looked at him with a dare in his eyes. Josef knew what Nigel was attempting to do and he knew this could turn sour quickly. Just as Mick was gearing up for a protest, Josef reached over and laid a hand lightly on his arm. When Mick glanced at him, Josef shook his head minutely, and thankfully, Mick took the hint. He just sat back tensley and stayed silent. Nigel looked almost disappointed.
"Mick can speak for himself. He knows what he wants, and it's not to go to Germany with you. And I can't say I'm disappointed. I'm comfortable here for now. I have a business and my home, and I'm responsible for leading this Community."
"You well know it is nothing to begin a new life somewhere else, Josef, you've moved on many times in your years," Gerod said reasonably. "And a replacement as Elder of the LA Community would be easily found."
"However," Rake interrupted quickly, shooting Gerod a look, "none of that would be necessary, Josef. It would be for a short while only. Nothing long-term."
Josef looked at them suspiciously. "All this simply for the purpose of discussing our situation? I'm sorry gentlemen- and lady- but I'm not buying it. There's something else going on here. Perhaps we should try a little honesty."
Again, several exchanged meaningful glances between the five Elders. Then Malcolm spoke in his cool voice. "We have reason to believe Mick might be in danger."
Josef stilled, then asked, "What kind of danger?"
"That is not something we can divulge." Nigel. Of course.
"But we feel that the best way to protect him is to take him to... a very safe place we know of," Sylvia explained, and it was obvious she'd quickly stopped herself from naming the specific location.
"And of course, Josef, by extension-"
"- and invitation," Sylvia was quick to add to Gerod's statement.
"Yes," Gerod amemded. "And by invitation, you would go as well."
"Let me get this straight," Josef's tone was back to his usual humorous sarcasm. "You want the two of us to leave the country out-numbered by five powerful and influential Elders, allow you to take us somewhere- though we're not allowed to know where, to avoid a mysterious danger that you won't tell us about. Does that about cover it?"
"That about covers it," Rake confirmed. Unlike the other's, he actually seemed amused by Josef's candor.
Josef turned to Mick. In a sarcastic, fake, overly cheerful tone for the Elders' benefit, he asked his friend, "How about it, Mick? What do you think of the generous offer?" Of course, he already knew what the answer would be.
"Hell no," Mick stated firmly and emphatically.
Josef turned back to Malcolm with a sly smirk on his face. "Well, there you have it," he informed the powerful vampire.
"But you must!" Sylvia spoke with what could only be described as desperation tinging her quick words. Josef looked at her sharply. He wasn't getting the whole story here.
"That decision could very well be a grave mistake, gentlemen," Nigel informed them. Though he was calmer than the female vampire, his tone was tense.
"Why are you so interested in our welfare, anyway?" Mick asked suspiciously. "I can't speak for Josef, but I don't know who any of you people are. Why are you so suddenly determined to help someone you've never met?"
"Would it not suffice if we were to say it was simply because you are one of us?" Rake asked.
"So this perceived danger is from an outside source?" Josef ventured in an effort at more information. "A human, perhaps?"
"I did not say that."
"That's true. You've said nothing. So why should we believe you?"
"Because much is at stake if you do not."
Mick interrupted Josef and Rake's back and forth conversation. "Why do you think you can protect us? And why do you want to?"
"It is just you that need the protection, Mr. St. John," Nigel corrected. "Your sire must come along for your sake. And as for why.... well, Sylvia was truthful when she said that we are a bit interested in your situation, and you would be safer with us. We can't let anything to happen to the one vampire that can satisfy our curiosity, now can we?"
"Of course not," Josef answered dryly at Nigel's condescending answer. "How very selfless of you. However, I think we've chosen to take our chances on our own." Josef stood up, Mick following his example, and looked at each vampire before finally settling his gaze on Malcolm. "So unless you've decided to take us by force, against our will, then I believe we'll be going, gentlemen. And madam." Josef stared into Malcolm cold eyes, half expecting him to give the order to prevent them from leaving. Instead, Josef recieved the tiniest nod of the head from the old vampire- so tiny he half wondered if he'd imagined it. Then, after the barest of moments, when no move had been made to prevent their departure, Josef and Mick turned from the gathered Elders, crossed the lounge, and disappeared from sight through the door. Crossing that twenty feet of floor with Malcolm at his back was one of the longest walks Josef had ever endured, and he had the humbling urge to tuck tail and run once they hit the hallway of the hotel. Fortunately, he was able to resist the urge and keep his dignity intact.
The two friends stayed silent until they stood in front of the hotel waiting for valet to arrive with their limo. They'd both felt the instinctive urgency to save conversation until they'd put a little space between themselves and the jilted Elders. They both knew they were no better off out here than they were inside if they were indeed in danger, but they both felt better being out of the hotel, in the open fresh air of the night.
Mick was the first to speak. "That was pretty wierd."
"Yeah," was Josef's simple reply.
"What do you make of what they said? I got the feeling we weren't getting the whole truth."
"I agree. There's more to it, I can feel it. Besides the obvious omission of information, of course. I'd like to know more about this possible danger we might have to deal with."
"Not us, Josef. Me. If what they say is true, I'm the one in danger. Maybe you should keep a low profile. No sense in putting yourself in danger with me if it can be helped."
Josef turned to Mick, suprised at the supposition, and just a little angry at Mick's suggestion. "Are you crazy? What's the matter with you? You know that's not gonna happen."
Mick's voice was soft. "I just don't want to pull you down with me, Josef. We don't know what we're dealing with here. I don't want you to be put in danger by association."
"We've been friends for a long time, buddy, I'd think you'd know how this works by now. We're in this together. You'd say the same if our positions were reversed, hell, you have. So you listen to me, Mick St. John. No matter what happens, or what we have to face, we'll do it together, the way we do everything. Got it?"
Mick smiled softly. "Yeah, Josef. Got it."
"Good. Cause that's how we roll."
"Have you been watching M tv again?" Mick asked, snickering at Josef's attempt at the local teen lingo.
Before Josef could reply with one of his usually sarcastic remarks, both vampires simultaneously sensed the nearby presence of another vampire. Together, they quickly spun around to face the possible threat. Sylvia was standing behind them, the door to the hotel lobby behind her still slowly swinging closed from her exit.
"Forgive me if I've startled you."
Josef and Mick were standing deceptively casual, non-threatening but ready to defend themselves if necessary. Their fellow predator recognized the hidden readiness.
"I am here to warn you," she announced urgently.
Mick frowned. "To warn us against our refusing the offer of Germany?"
"No," she clarified. "To warn you to be careful. It's true there is danger for you, Mick St. John. But there are some that fear it comes from within our own ranks."
"Other vampires?" Josef queried. That wouldn't be completely unthinkable. Vampires are as susceptible to hate, anger, jealousy and greed as humans are. It is not unheard of for vampires to garner enemies of their own kind.
"Much closer to home," Sylvia answered. "It is believed that some of the very Elders you spoke to tonight mean you harm."
"But why?" Mick asked. "I've never had personal dealings with any of them until now. I've never done anything to any of them. What reason could any of them have to come after me?"
"Does it matter?" she answered cryptically. "Just know that you should be careful. The most powerful among us is the most dangerous."
"Malcolm." Mick stated the name flatly, and Josef knew his friend was remembering his terrifying dream and the fear it generated. They both ignored their limo pulling up beside them, not willing to be distracted at the moment.
Sylvia raised her head and glanced around warily. "I've said enough. But for your own sake, heed me. I wish you well."
She turned toward the hotel door but stopped suddenly and froze. She stared for a moment, then hastily turned and headed off, apparently choosing not to re-enter the hotel.
Through the glass doors of the hotel, Josef could easily see the reason for Sylvia's sudden change in destination. There in the middle of the lobby, under the bright lights and with other hotel patrons and employees skirting around his still form, Malcom stared at them. The powerful elder vampire made no attempt to hide himself or to appear to be doing anything other than what he was doing. Watching. He stared at Mick and Josef, meeting Josef's eyes for a moment. Then Malcolm turned slowly and entered the elevator. Just before the elevator doors closed, he met Josef's eyes once more and let his lips curl up into a little smile. Josef shuddered as the doors finally slid closed, shutting him off from that cold gaze that had seemed to freeze into him. No wonder the dream had scared Mick so badly. Josef couldn't imagine meeting the menace that emanated from that vampire every day during sleep.
"Want to come to my place?" Josef asked Mick as they turned to enter the limousine. "I don't know about you, but I could use a drink."