Over the next few days Mick started to..... well, the only way he could describe it is.... seeing things. Not things, really, but....vampires. The Elders to be exact. They never approached him, and it's possible that the few times he'd caught glimpses had been accidental on their part, though he doubted it. Even with his own skills, if he didn't want someone to see him he could usually prevent it, and they were much more powerful and skilled than he was. A predator knows how to become one with the shadows.
At first he'd thought he was imagining it. He'd be out on the street- walking with Beth or driving to Josef's, whatever- and he'd catch a quick glimpse of a familiar figure. He'd take a hasty second look, and the figure would be gone. But he could still feel the eyes on him. Just like in his dream, only this real-life watcher wasn't always Malcolm. When it began to happen too often, with a couple too many views of the mysterious vampires, Mick came to the conclusion that it was really happening and not in his head as he'd first thought- and hoped. Hoped, because he couldn't suppress the feeling that they were not there solely for his well-being. There was something that felt wrong in the way they barely made their presence known, but wouldn't even acknowledge him or allow interaction. A couple times he'd tried to confront Jackson when the watcher was the young one, but Malcolm's fledgleing had been trained well, and by the time Mick reached the position in which he'd barely seen the Council trainee watching from he'd already disappeared into the shadows.
They never actually left when Mick spotted them, even the few times he'd tried to initiate interaction. They just...disappeared somewhere. He could always still feel their presence nearby, occasionally even more than one, he just couldn't find them.
He'd wondered if this was their plan B in the protection they'd claimed he needed, but it didn't feel friendly. It felt sinister. It was enough to put him on edge.
Especially when, after four days of this, he came downstairs in early evening after a day of sleep. He looked around his home cautiously, feeling a foreign vampire presence. It was the first time he'd felt any of their presences near his building- at least while he was inside. Like most vampires, Mick had done what he could to make his home intruder-proof, against vampire and human alike. But he knew that it wan't completely full-proof if the vampire that wanted in was determined enough or powerful enough. His own best friend was proof of that. Mick had yet to figure out how Josef gets in with seemingly no effort.
As he looked around his penthouse, trying to locate the hidden intruder, his mind went instantly back to his 'Malcolm dream'. His fear caused his inner vamp to make itself known, and he was white-eyed and fanged when he turned to face the glass doors leading to his balcony. And there the watcher stood. It startled him no less for the fact that it wasn't Malcolm, but he did feel an undeniable sense of relief under the instant fright.
It was Sylvia. And this time she didn't disappear.
Across town, at the same time Mick's non-beating heart jumped into his throat and he snarled in fright, Josef recieved a visitor of his own.
"Your security is top-notch, Josef. I'm impressed," the visitor complimented. Josef's head home-security man had just left the room and shut the door after escorting the visitor to Josef's study per his orders.
"Yes, they are. And I must thank you for allowing them to do their jobs rather than making yourself known more suprisingly." Josef acknowledged that the visitor could have easily completed the task of entering Josef's highly guarded home in a more intrusive and less official manner if he'd so chosen.
"You're welcome. It's not my wish to alienate you."
"Then what is your wish? Why are you here?" Josef asked, to the point. He didn't like the idea of bringing this whole matter into his haven, his home.
The visitor smiled at Josef's abrupt question. Good. He wanted to get right down to business. He sobered and looked at Josef steadily before he spoke.
"I am here to warn you."
"Is that so." A statement, not a question.
"It is believed that the betrayer is among the Elders."
"Yes. I know. I've been informed." Josef couldn't help but feel a small thrill of satisfaction at the small look of suprise that crossed the other vampire's face.
"I think it would be best if I didn't say. I have no intention of getting myself in the middle of your Council politics."
The visitor smile again, this time in approval. He nodded his head twice. "A good policy, and a wise decision."
"Thank you. And thank you for the warning. Will that be all? I mean no disrespect, but I must get to my office soon. I'll be recieving a very important call from a very valuable client."
"That will be all. Just know this.... all is not as it appears and many things are different than what they seem. Trust no one."
"I don't trust easily," Josef informed truthfully. "Of the five Elders I've met recently, I believe you're the only one I might trust. One day I would be honored to count you among my friends." Again, Josef spoke the truth, and he was slightly suprised at his own admission. It wasn't like him to lay his cards on the table so readily. Too much truth, or trust, gave others an advantage over you.
"A foolish choice, Josef Kostan," the Elder spoke insistently. "Trust no one. I'll see myself out. I wish you and your childe well."
And with that mixed warning and blessing, Rake left the room without a backward glance.
Josef couldn't help but wonder if there was another, more un-obvious hint under the Elder's other warning. He knew what it sounded like. He hoped not. He still couldn't help liking Rake. He would hate to have to kill him. Or, more likely in a confrontation between the two, be killed by him.
Mick walked back into his living room with two glasses of O positive for himself and his guest. He handed Sylvia one of the glasses, then took a seat across from her in one of the living room chairs.
"Welcome," he answered distractedly. "So tell me again- why another warning? You already did that once, if you recall."
"Things will be coming to a head soon."
"What things? No one has told us anything definite."
"I'm afraid that's still not an option."
"I'm not understanding any of this. How the hell are we suppossed to protect ourselves against an unknown threat?" Mick fumed, then remembered who he was talking to. "If you'll excuse my frustration, Elder. None of this makes any sense to me."
"I understand how you must feel. And please, you may call me Sylvia."
Mick nodded, and smiled a little. "Sylvia. Okay. Just don't tell Josef," he tried to joke, but it fell flat.
She looked slightly bemused at his personal inside joke, but she ignored it. "You must be careful," she said instead.
"You said that before," he reminded her.
"And it's still true," she insisted. "But even moreso, now."
"Why? What's different now than it was three nights ago?"
"There are some things that have been in waiting that will soon be revealed."
"What things?! This makes no sense."
"It will all make sense in the end."
"Would you please stop talking in riddles and just give me a straight answer?" He tried not to sound desperate, but this was really enough to drive any sane vampire to insanity.
She did not answer, and Mick just sighed, giving up on that particular line of questioning. He was nothing if not adaptable. That's one of the things that made him a good P.I.
"Could you at least tell me why you- and the others- have been following me around?"
Sylvia registered shock for a moment. "I...-" she faltered, then seemed to regain her power of speech. "I was not aware of anyone else keeping an eye on you. It could very well be the traitor. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I just wanted to make sure you were careful. There's something unique about you, Mick St. John. I believe the vampire society would suffer a great loss if something were to happen to you."
Mick sat back, almost in shock. Sylvia's voice had changed for the last two sentences. He recognized that tone that every woman was capable of. Was she...was she flirting with him?!
He certainly had no wish to offend a woman as powerful as her- every man's worst nightmare- but he felt no attraction toward her. For all her attractive looks, her power was too apparent to his vampire senses. And the feeling he got when he was around her was more akin to the way he'd felt as a child when in the company of his mom's spinster aunt. She was much older, much more powerful, and he couldn't imagine that she saw him as an equal to herself.
Besides. There was Beth. No woman could compare to the way he felt about her.
He decided the best defense right now was to feign ignorance. Instead of acknowledging her flirtatious attempt, he continued on with his line of thought.
"You say you don't want anything to happen to me, but I could protect myself much better if I knew who or what I needed protecting from."
"You could let me protect you, Mick. We don't even have to let the other Elders know, or Josef. I'm very powerful. Not many would dare to cross me. And we don't have to go to Gemany. I know of a safehouse here in the states. I can't let anything happen to you!"
Mick was suprised at her determined persistance. She sounded desperate, and that just piqued his curiosity.
"Why?" he asked her. "Why would you risk angering the other Elders just to help me?"
She turned her head, staring in thought. She seemed to come to some decision and turned to look at him. When she spoke, her tone was urgent with no hint of the previous coyness. "I will tell you, but it is a big risk. You must not tell anyone, not even your sire. It could be my life and yours if they find out. I was sent by others of the Council. I was sent by them to protect you from the betrayers. I don't know why, so don't ask. I simply do as I'm assigned. If I fail the cost is great. Aside from losing you which they so obviously do not want, my life would be forfiet as well, as pushishment for my failure."
Mick shook his head in bemusement. He couldn't imagine he was that important to anyone. "I don't like the idea of keeping secrets from Josef. We're kind of feeling our way along here with this new stuff between us. Deceit would just make it harder." He did his best to not think about the dream he still kept from Josef.
"You must not tell him," Sylvia insisted. "I wasn't supposed to mention this to you yet, but the Council questions Josef's loyalty." Mick sat back in suprise and a little anger, but Sylvia continued before he could voice his defense. "Not against the Council or the Community, Mick. He is in no danger. They question his loyalty to you."
"That's ridiculous!" Mick denied heatedly. Just the thought of Josef betraying him was impossible. Ridiculous. There was no way! "Josef has been my best friend for a long time, my whole vampire life, and our feelings for each other are stronger than ever since he turned me back. He would never betray me!"
"It is not necessarily that we feel he will betray you. We just worry that he is not as loyal to you as he should be." It was not lost on Mick that the previous 'they' had now become 'we' and he wondered just exactly what her standing in the matter really was.
"Your situation is well known by now, Mick, and it is no secret that he turned you because you asked. You must admit, you and Josef Kostan are polar opposites. Josef is as fierce and brutal as any vampire of his age and standing could be expected to be, and he takes no shame in what he is. But you, Mick... you resist your nature and try to suppress your instincts. You do everything in your power to deny what you are, with no regard as to the futility of it. Be honest with yourself, Mick St. John. Friends you may be, but do you really believe that if it had been Josef's own decision to sire, you would have been his first choice?"
Mick was stunned, shocked into silence. Too many thoughts were whirling around in his head for him to be able to grasp any one to follow through on. Their situation is well known? How? Do they know about the cure? How much should he say, if anything? They seemed to know him well. Have they been watching him longer than he'd known? How do they know of his feelings about being a vampire? And worst of all, could what she'd said possibly be true? Just because they believed Josef to be unloyal to him didn't mean it was true, and he didn't believe it for a minute. But Sylvia had voiced Mick's own fears about how Josef might feel about having become his sire, and she'd chillingly brought back the feelings that surfaced every time he had the "Josef dream".
Mick stood up abruptly from the couch and took a few steps, stopping with his back to the older vampire. He needed to put distance between her and him, needed the space to recompose himself. He didn't want to show his emotions so clearly to this stranger. She was an unknown quantity and still not to be trusted despite her seeming goodwill in warning him.
He heard Sylvia rise from her chair and felt her approach from behind, but she respected his space by stopping before quite reaching him. When he felt he had himself under better control, he turned to face her, making sure to keep all emotion from his face. When in doubt, remain stoic.
"I know this comes as a shock, Mick," Sylvia said softly when he faced her. "The connection between a fledgeling and his sire is the strongest and most heartfelt of any relationship a vampire will ever experience. And sometimes that makes it the most complicated, as well-" Mick thought about Coraline as Sylvia stated this "- and I do not wish to alienate you from your new sire. I just felt it would be fair for you to realize what you're up against. Once this business with the traitor to the Council is taken care of, there has been talk of removing you from Josef's influence. For his good as well as yours. That is not the usual way things are done, but it is felt among many of the ruling Elders that Josef was pushed into something he would not choose on his own, and that you have been returned to a state that you despised for so long, and at Josef's hands. It is believed that it would be the best for both of you, for only hate and anger can come from such a situation. Perhaps you should prepare yourself by distancing yourself from Josef little by little. It will be hard, but it would help in the end."
Mick was blown over by the ego of these people. Could they do that?
"Listen, lady. I don't know what it is you people have planned, but I'm not going anywhere. My relationship with Josef is no one else's business and has nothing to do with anyone but me and Josef. We'll work out any problems on our own. It's not up to anyone else to decide what's best for me. Who do you people think you are?"
"It's okay, Mick. I fully agree. I just thought you'd fare better with a warning."
"You agree?" Mick asked uncertainly.
"Yes, I do. In fact, I'd like to help you. When it comes to that, you'll need friends. Maybe you'd accept me as your sponsor to state your case- and your objection- to the Council?"
"You'd do that?"
Sylvia sighed, looking away then back. "Because I like you, Mick. It wasn't my intention to tell you all this, it's supposed to be some supreme secret. They want to catch you unaware. But there's something about you. The more I've sat and talked to you, gotten to know you a little better, I just feel that.... well, you deserve to know what might be in store for you later. I wanted to give you a fighting chance to make it turn out the way you'd prefer."
Mick was taken aback by her admission, and he wasn't sure what to say- or what she expected him to say. "Well....thank you for the head's up. If it comes to that, maybe it would be a good idea to have a friend in high places."
She smiled. "You're welcome. But before we have to worry about that, we'd better worry about the traitor and whatever he has planned for you. Just be careful, Mick. Please. That's what I really came here for. Especially now. I had no idea others were watching you, but that worries me. Are you sure you won't consent to being protected in our custody? I'd feel much better if you were in a controlled situation."
Mick smiled back at her. He decided maybe she wasn't so bad, after all. "Thanks, but no. And thank you for the warning. Again."
"You never can be too cautious, Mick St. John, remember that. I'll be seeing you."
Mick nodded once, and watched as she departed the same way she'd arrived- by way of the balcony. He picked up his cell phone and hit speed dial number one. He had a lot to tell Josef.