"So what're we gonna do about this?" Mick asked.
Josef sat back in his chair and looked at his younger friend, considering the question. Mick had told him about his very interesting visit with Sylvia, and Josef wondered if Sylvia and Rake had been working in tandem or if their simultaneous visits had simply been coincidence. He wasn't sure which he'd prefer. He'd begun to trust Rake, despite his own usually cautious nature, and if Sylvia was working with Rake, that could mean she was an ally. But on the other side of the coin, Josef didn't know Sylvia well enough to trust her or not trust her, which means she shouldn't be trusted, just to be cautious. And if she couldn't be trusted but is indeed working with Rake, that could mean Josef's confidence in Rake is misplaced, making both elder vampires possible enemies.
However, if they were not working together and the dual visits were indeed coincidental, that could very possibly mean that one of them is friend and one of them is foe. Or both friends or both foes. Great.
Josef sighed. This attempt at trying to reason this out just put him right where he was at the beginning, uncertain about who to trust and who not. Only now he had a headache to go with it.
And he'd been disturbed to learn that Mick had been under watch from the elder vampires. Josef didn't like that one bit. Nothing good could come from that. Mick had shared his theory that maybe it was their way of protecting him after he'd refused their protective custody, but Josef wasn't so sure, and Mick didn't really believe that either. And Sylvia had apparently denied that she'd known anything about her fellow Elders participating in the same watchfulness that she'd been. It seemed unlikely that she could watch Mick so closely yet be unaware of the presences of other vamps watching him, but if it was true then that meant several of them were working against each other rather than together. Josef didn't even want to guess what that could mean.
And then there was the whole business about Josef's supposed disloyalty. He'd been angry and defensive at first, but had finally been gratified when Mick had repeatedly assured him that he didn't believe it and knew that Josef would never turn from him. Mick had relayed most of the consversation, but Josef had a feeling that there was something bothering Mick that he hadn't spoken of, and Josef knew that whatever it was, it had something to do with the very same conversation. Josef decided he might just have to get with Sylvia and get to the bottom of all this, especially all that business about 'removing Mick from Josef's influence'. Mick had been extremely worried that there would be an attempt to do just that, but he had claimed to know nothing of the reason they might want to do that, and Josef knew in his gut that it had something to do with whatever Mick wasn't saying. But rather than try to force Mick to talk about something he obviously didn't want to right now- which Mick's stubborness would surely just turn into an argument anyway, unless Josef asserted dominance-Josef had felt a more urgent need to reassure Mick that nothing, nothing, would be able to make Josef leave Mick against the will of either of them.
And now, as Mick waited expectantly for Josef's opinion on what they could do, Josef had no clear answer. So much depended on unknown variables, and that was never good. And Josef felt he'd fare much better if it was only himself in danger, he was used to having enemies. But he couldn't tolerate the idea of someone out to harm Mick. Josef had always felt protective toward his much younger friend, but being Mick's sire now gave some emotions a whole new dimension, and his urge to protect Mick was off the charts now; sometimes to Mick's dismay, Josef knew, but that was niether here nor there.
But even now, Josef couldn't resist the desire to keep Mick close to him so he could satisfy himself of his friend's safety. He considered asking Mick- demanding it if necessary- about staying in Josef's home until this situation became controllable, but Josef wanted to respect Mick's self-reliance as much as he possibly could, given the younger vampire's difficulty in adjusting to that particular matter.
Mick apparently became impatient with Josef's silent musings, because Josef was pulled from his thoughts by an interruption from Mick. "Well? Any ideas?"
"No. Not really," Josef admitted. "We don't know who to trust, which means we should trust nobody. I don't like it that they're watching you, but on the other hand, nothing has really happened yet. Maybe it's just a bluff, or an attempt at intimidation."
"Yeah," Mick agreed dubiously. "I thought of that. But you don't believe it any more than I do."
Josef smiled at Mick's accurate observation and gave a slight nod. "You're right, I don't. I think we need to be extremely careful. How would you feel about staying at my place until this is all taken care of?"
"I'd feel like you were babysitting me and didn't trust me to take care of myself," Mick admitted bluntly.
Josef nodded, appreciating the honest truth. He'd thought as much. Once again, he allowed himself to fleetingly consider simply forcing Mick for his own safety, but he knew Mick would resist if he didn't want to do it. Josef knew his new position gave him the ability- and the right, by vampire society standards-to make demands of Mick with the expectation of obedience, but he knew that could easily drive a wedge between them if Mick felt that was becoming the basis of their relationship. And Josef wanted to keep thier former friendship relationship as normal and intact as possible in light of the changes between the two of them. He abandoned the idea of coercion- he lived by the idea of picking your battles, and he knew the future with a stubborn Mick would present many more necessary and more worthy causes to focus his energies on.
"Okay," Josef said, accepting Mick's statement, and Mick relaxed. He'd tensed up a tiny bit in preparation of an argument, and Josef enjoyed the slight suprise Mick couldn't quite hide at not needing to make that argument. "But you need to be very careful, Mick. Take precautions. Assume they're all against you, that's the only way to be safe. And don't forget that I'm here. The first second something seems off, call me. Okay?"
"Of course. Who else would I call?"
"Good. Now as for what we should do.... maybe the best action at this point is passive defense. Staying sharp, careful and watchful but making no agressive moves until they show their hand and we know more. Don't look so shocked, I do occassionally have the ability to do things with finesse, you know."
Mick smiled at Josef's remark in response to his unbelieveing expression. "I've just never seen you so passive before. You usually opt for the 'kick-ass, don't mess with me' way of doing things."
Josef let the intense anger at these other vampires fill him, then replaced it with his protectiveness torward Mick, which was no less intense. "Make no mistake, Mick," Josef said with both emotions filling his voice as Mick looked to the floor and shifted in his seat uncomfortably at the intensity he felt across their bond, "I have no intention of being passive. Anyone that tries to harm you will pay dearly, no matter what their power or standing in the Community. You're mine now, and whoever messes with you, messes with me."
Mick just looked at him with a little shock showing on his face, and Josef suddenly realized he'd let himself vamp out in response to the strong emotions and he was quite suprised himself. Josef usually had better control that that; he hadn't changed involuntarily since he'd been quite young, as that's a crucial skill for fledgelings to learn early as a matter of survival. Apparently there's a few things he needed to learn as a new sire. It had apparently made unforeseen changes in him as well as Mick. He'd been so focused on Mick's problems, insecurities and reactions that Josef had spent very little time analyzing himself, but as he changed his face back, he decided he'd better remedy that as soon as he could so that he had a better handle on himself. As Mick's sire, it was his job to teach, support, protect, command and care for him. He'd been very suprised at how strong the sire-related emotions were, but he knew he wouldn't be worth squat to Mick if he couldn't even handle himself. He briefly wondered how some vampires were able to handle more than one childe. Mick took all his energy and attention, and he's not even brand new! He remembered Rake mentioning that he had nine fledgelings, and he shuddered. Josef decided right then and there that he would wait a very long time before he considered bringing across a second fledgeling.
As Josef calmed himself, he felt Mick relax. Josef's emotions would always affect Mick in some way, it was natural for their kind, but Josef reminded himself to teach Mick how to block some of it, for his own comfort. Being Mick's sire, Josef would always have the ability to penetrate Mick's defenses if he felt the need to, but if Mick learned to block him he would be secure from most of Josef's strong emotions unless Josef actually penetrated Mick's blocks deliberately.
"You okay now?" Mick asked in slight concern at Josef's obvious momentary lack of control. He'd never seen Josef quite like that, not without an obvious direct threat. And besides, biologically and emotionally, regardless of what kind of confidence Mick has in himself on his own and as a separate man, Mick's inner flegdeling feeds off of Josef, and his instinct screams that if his sire is insecure, all is not well. It's not the perception of direct danger, more like an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling. Similar to the way a natural predator in a jungle might take his cues from his fellow pack or pride. When one senses danger or becomes uneasy, all are aware and cautious. Only for the vampires, this instinct is biologically born of blood from sire to childe, and when necessary they can allow their common sense and ability to reason -something animals lack- to override instinct.
"Yeah," Josef assured, "It's all good. Just lost myself for a minute. I'm okay." Just so Mick would get rid of that worried frown, Josef sent a slight push of calm toward him across their link, reassuring Mick that he was fine. Josef was gratified to see that Mick didn't fight it, but accepted it and let himself relax. It had actually been a while since Mick had seemed to have a problem with what he called 'influencing' him but you just never know with Mick. Could be he's just getting used to it; it's almost a regular occurrence now, since it plays a big part in the reason Mick still has to come to Josef most nights.
"Good," Mick said simply, then brought the conversation back to their previous subject. "I think I'm gonna investigate them."
"Are you crazy? No." Josef's tone was startled, but determined.
"What do mean no?" Mick asked indignantly.
"I mean," Josef clarified slowly and surely, "no."
"I'm an investigator, Josef, that's what I do. And you know I'm good at it."
"Yes, you are. But this isn't some lecherous human screwing around on his wife that you've been hired to follow around, Mick..."
"I've handled my share of vampire cases too, Josef," Mick interrupted.
"Yes, you have," Josef acknowledged. "And you've taken on vampires older and stronger than you for the sake of your job that usually by all rights could have caused your untimely death, but you've been lucky."
"It's not just luck, Josef, it's skill. I've been doing it for a long time."
"These aren't the vampires to mess with, Mick. Theyr'e out of your league. They're out of my league. Going up against them is only worth it if it's in defense. It very possibly might come to that sooner or later, but until then, we don't want to do anything to make them more agressive in whatever they're planning. I want to be able to figure them out, and the way to do that is make sure they think we're no threat If they find out you're investigating them, they'll realize we're onto them, and that could make things worse. Not to mention that it's just flat out dangerous for you. Forget it, Mick, and don't bother trying the argument I can see you gearing up for, because it won't work."
"Josef, you can't just tell me....." Mick began to protest, but trailed off when Josef's eyes flashed silver. He didn't want Josef to feel the need to assert dominance. That was an instinct Mick had no hope of overiding, and he'd never win under such a circumstance.
"Let's not go there, Mick."
Mick clenched his jaw for a moment in anger, then he took a deep breath and relaxed. He met Josef's eyes squarely. Josef was expecting Mick to argue harder despite Josef's warning at the futility of it- he was as stubborn as they come- but when Mick next spoke, his tone was no longer contrary, but was mild and reasonable instead.
"I'll be careful, Josef." He promised, knowing Josef was mostly worried about his safety.
That tone almost did Josef in, and he wondered for a second if it was simply a new strategy of Mick's to get him to agree to something, but when he explored across their link he found that Mick was sincere rather than manipulative. He almost gave in, but....no- it was too dangerous.
"I don't like arguing with you, Mick, and you can be mad at me or hate me if you want. But under the circumstances, that's a risk I'll have to take. It's a much lower price than the possible alternative."
"But I can do it. I know how to be discreet. I'd never make a living as a P.I. if I couldn't."
"But it might be the only way to figure out what's going on with some of them."
"I said no, Mick." Josef reiterated, more impatient now.
Mick opened his mouth for another argument, then paused. "Okay," he said, and Josef gaped at Mick in astonishment at him having given up so easily.
Mick just gave Josef a one-shouldered shrug and a sheepish smile.
"Okay? Just okay? No more arguing?" Josef had finally found his voice, but he couldn't hide his suspicion.
"Sure. You said no, so it's no."
"What're you up to, Mick? What are you planning?"
"What do you mean? I'm not planning anything."
Josef just gazed at him suspiciously, and with that look that says 'I know you better than that'.
"What?" Mick asked after a few seconds of Josef's look.
"You're acting really wierd, Mick. Not quite like....you. What's going on with you?"
"I don't know what you mean, Josef."
Josef scowled at Mick's matter of fact but slightly humorous tone. "Yes you do. You know exactly what I mean."
"Why are you upset? I was just agreeing with you. Would you rather we fought about it? Because I really don't want to, if you don't mind."
By the smug look on Mick's face and the humor still in his voice, Josef knew Mick was having entirely too much fun. Normally, Josef would just play along or enjoy Mick's humor, but there was something about it that disturbed him. The way Mick had just given up so quickly wasn't like him, it had been too abrupt a mood change. Mick didn't seem upset or overly stressed, but there was something....off....about him.
"You're kind of starting to freak me out, Mick. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine! Jeez, Josef, did your last freshie have espresso in her blood? Maybe you should switch to decaf."
"Knock it off!" Josef demanded in irritation, but he grew concerned when Mick's face lost it's humor and his expression fell. He felt along their link to discover that Mick was crestfallen. He also noted traces of guilt, fear and failure. What is going on with him?
"I'm sorry. I thought that's what you wanted...." Mick cut off his sentence abruptly, and Josef realized his friend had been about to say something that he hadn't meant to. Josef somehow suddenly knew this was about the things he'd sensed Mick hiding, and maybe the root of his strange mood and personality changes. He decided it was finally time to get to the bottom of all this once and for all.
"You thought what was what I wanted?"
"Nothing," Mick declared nervously and stood up from his chair. "I'd better go. I promised Beth we could do something tonight. I'll call you tomorrow, Josef."
"No!" Josef stood up hastily from his seat behind his desk. He was settling this tonight. "Mick, wait."
Mick stopped and turned back to him, glancing at the office door longingly.
"Don't go, Mick. I think maybe there's something we should talk about. Don't you?" Josef was careful to keep his tone soft, non-confrontational. He didn't want Mick to get defensive.
Mick licked his lips and Josef could feel the younger vampire's nervousness. But he could also feel that Mick was resigning himself to giving in. Josef's urgency calmed. Battle won.
Josef moved around the desk and approached Mick, making eye contact with his friend as he stopped directly in front of him. "I've been worried about you, Mick. I know something's been going on with you, something you haven't wanted to talk about. But I think it's something that could be taken care of if we talk. Am I right?"
Mick glanced away, unable to keep eye contact. When he spoke, it was less than a whisper, but easily heard by Josef with his vampiric superior hearing.
"You'll hate me."
Josef's face registered suprise at Mick's quiet statement. "I don't hate you, Mick. I could never hate you."
Mick knew that Josef probably didn't hate him now, but once he told him about the dream and his fears, Josef would realize the truth of it. He would see it then, see what is probably already there, but buried. Mick really had no desire to bring it to the surface, but it was inevitable, really. It was going to happen sooner or later, and frankly, Mick was tired. Tired of worrying about it, tired of dreaming it, tired of hiding it. It was time to let it out, and if Josef chose to turn Mick away and dissolve their friendship as the consequence of Mick having selfishly asked him to turn him back, well, there was nothing Mick could do about it. And in the long run, maybe sooner was better than later. It would give him time to try to adjust. He was trying to be practical about it, but his heart shriveled at the thought of living for eternity without Josef. The one that had been there as his best friend for Mick's entire vampiric life, the one that was now his sire and would leave a void if he wasn't there to fill it.
"Why don't we have a seat and make ourselves comfortable. Okay?"
Mick just nodded and followed Josef to the stuffed leather chairs and couch in a corner of the office. Josef took a seat in one of the armchairs, and Mick chose the end of the sofa nearest Josef.
Mick knew Josef was waiting for him to speak, but when it became obvious that Mick would not be the one to initiate the conversation, Josef spoke first.
"What did you mean a minute ago? You were about to say you were just doing what you thought I wanted. What did you mean? What is it you think I want?"
Mick hesitated, not sure where to start. Josef must have taken the hesitation as a refusal to speak, though, judging by his next words, a plea.
"C'mon, Mick. This is me. No more secrets, okay? Please."
"I don't know, Josef. I don't know what you want, what you expect. I try to figure it out on an everyday basis. When I said that earlier, I just.... I had realized you weren't happy with me arguing with you, and that I was being....disrespectful. So I stopped. But then you got upset, and I had just thought I was doing what you might want. I was trying to be less like....me."
"I don't know! I just feel like.... you're my sire now, but you turned me because I begged you to. It wasn't really completely your decision. I figured I could pay you back for doing that for me by being what you would want me to be. The kind of vampire you would have chosen on your own."
"I did choose you, Mick. And it was my own decision. Yes, you asked me, but have you ever known me to do something I didn't want to do? If I really hadn't wanted to turn you, I wouldn't have. I'm ashamed, Mick. Not of you, but of myself. I made you a promise that I would do my best for you, but apparently I've failed."
"What do you mean?" Mick was stunned. This was turning out all wrong. He was the failure, not Josef, and now he had Josef feeling bad for Mick's own hang-ups.
"You said it yourself. You don't know what I want from you, or what I expect. I thought we understood each other, but I guess I was wrong. I'm sorry. Mick, I just want you to be you. I don't expect you to try to become someone else for me. What did I do to give you the idea that you were doing something wrong?"
"Nothing! Josef, you didn't do anything. It started with.... well, with a dream." Mick finally admitted. For the next ten minutes Josef listened raptly as Mick described the dream in detail and the emotions he experiences during and after it. He confessed his fears that he wasn't meeting Josef's hight standards, and that Josef would decide he no longer wanted Mick.
When Mick's spoken version of his daily dream came to an end, Josef shook his head in sympathy. "Sounds like you've had a hell of a time, buddy. But you have to know that's not how I feel, don't you? It's just a dream."
"But it makes sense, Josef. You and I are completely different. If you'd decided to sire without pressure from me, there's no way you'd have picked someone like me. You'd want someone that would make a good vampire, and I have all my 'issues'. So I tried to become what I figured you'd want. And I kind of figured you might be old school when it comes to something like that, so I tried to change the way I act toward you. I know you like respect and you expect others to obey. I just had trouble remembering sometimes that we aren't just friends now. I tried to be someone that would do you proud, but I couldn't even manage that."
Mick was tense, waiting for Josef to declare that Mick was right after all, that he couldn't be what Josef wanted.
Josef sat forward and reached out with a quick hand. He twined his fingers into a fistful of Mick's hair at the back of his head and pulled him forward. Mick was startled enough to give a token resistance before simply allowing himself to move forward with the motion. He was pulled forward off the couch and he fell heavily on his knees, but remained upright. He came to a stop with his own face inches from Josef's. Josef remained seated in his own chair, but sat tensely forward on the edge, and Mick's position on the floor put them at almost eye level with the way Josef was leaning forward to invade Mick's space. When Josef snarled, Mick tried to instinctively move back, but Josef's arm held it's positon like iron. The grip on Mick's hair was not enough to really be painful, but it was firmly immovable, holding him still with no effort.
This is it, Mick thought. This is where he tells me he wants nothing to do with me. The dream was a sign. He felt twisted inside, and a fine, barely noticeable tremble had settled in his body. He stayed still- not that he had a choice under Josef's strength- and waited for the declaration from Josef. Mick decided that unlike in his dream, he would take it with dignity, sparing himself and Josef the spectacle. Well, as much dignity as a man...vampire....could show on his knees.
"Are you actually trying to convince me to turn you away? Because that's what it sounds like."
"No, Josef," Mick answered softly. "I just want you to know I understand why you feel this way."
"You listen to me, Mick St. John," Mick winced as the fist in the back of his hair gave his head a small shake. Josef's words were almost growled rather than spoken. "I want nothing from you except what you are. Yes, you have issues. So do I, so does everybody. They just make you who you are. I don't know how many ways I can say this to get you to believe it- I..will..never..turn..you..away. You are mine now. It was my decision alone to turn you back, and I haven't regretted that decision once. Do you understand? I am as proud to be your sire as I am to be your friend and nothing will ever change that. I'm not going anywhere. It was a dream, Mick. Not a sign, but a dream brought on by your own fears and insecurities. Nothing that I said or did in that dream will ever become reality. Okay?"
"Okay," Mick agreed, relieved beyond belief. But just in case..."Promise?"
Josef sat back and his face smoothed out. He relaxed his hand so that it was no longer gripping Mick's hair. He let it rest lightly on the same spot for just a quick second then removed his hand. "You have my word," he assured, meeting Mick's eyes. "You know I never break a promise."
Mick relaxed and the unbearable weight he'd been carrying for so long finally lifted. He was almost euphoric at the relief. His mind was clearer now than it had been for a very long time and that too familiar trepidation was instantly gone. He knew they still had a little more to talk about, but now he knew he could. He was assured of his place in Josef's eyes.
"May I get up?" he requested softly. He was pretty sure they were finished with this part, but his fledgeling instincts were still reeling from the minor show of dominace. That particular instinct was almost impossible to supress, and besides, even common sense dictated that it was best to make sure Josef was finished and had his instincts under control before making his own assumption that would result in a faux pas.
"Have I made my point?" Josef asked.
"Then please do," Josef answered with his usual snark, but his eyes were soft, holding none of the sarcasm that his tone contained. "I'm sorry I had to do that."
Mick paused from brushing the carpet lint from the knees of his jeans. "Don't be sorry. I deserved it. And I needed it. It pulled me from all that emotional pitying crap I've been dealing with. Besides, you have every right."
"You mistake me, Mick. I'm not sorry I did it. I do have every right and it's my job. And you did need it. You're so damn stubborn that sometime's talking to you just doesn't work, and sometimes the instincts are as strong in me as they are in you, and just as hard to resist. I'm not sorry I did it. I'm sorry I had to do it. I can't help but feel that maybe if I'd done something better or different, you wouldn't be having such problems. This has all been hell on you, and I can't help but feel that some of it's my fault somehow."
Mick reclaimed his former seat on the sofa and looked at Josef earnestly. "Please don't feel like that. It's not your fault, Josef. You've been as patient and understanding as I could have hoped for. I know I haven't made this easy for you."
"Nothing with you is easy, Mick," Josef joked, trying to lighten the serious moment.
Mick cocked a half smile in acknowledgement, but decided now was the time to get the rest of the weight off his chest. "I felt like you were disappointed with me."
"You haven't done anything to cause me to be disappointed in you."
"Not in me, with me. In general. I thought you were disappointed with what you got when you turned me. I thought if I could change into what you wanted, you would have no reason to regret turning me back. And I felt bad for asking you to turn me back, once I realized what it must have put you through. I felt like I needed to make it up to you for that, and the only thing I have to give is me."
"I noticed you're using past tense. I take it these issues are resolved?"
"Yes. Thanks to you. So please don't feel like any of this could be your fault. You know what needs to be done and when."
"Mick, I want you to understand. I don't want these changes to affect our friendship. I want things to be as normal as they can be between us. But there will be some differences, some things we just won't be able to help. It's a part of us, now. I don't want you to act toward me any way that you don't feel comfortable. Do what feels right. But there will times when our instincts take over, and I think you know me well enough to know I won't hesitate to pull rank if I feel like I need to."
"It's been a long time since I've had to deal with this kind of stuff, Josef. How am I supposed to know when you're being my friend and when you're being my sire? Do you expect me to just guess?"
"Oh, you'll know, Mick. Don't you worry about that. It's all instinct. Any time you're unsure, and that won't be often once we learn to read each other better, just let go. Let instinct take over, and you'll react according to what you feel. Besides the fact that you'll feel it through or bond, it's also a biological thing. Your body chemistry will react with mine to prompt the proper responses. Just like it did a few minutes ago. I know it's been awhile, but this is stuff you already know. It won't take long for you to get used to it again, to fall into the habit of automatically reading me. It takes no effort, it's all instinctual."
"I know. I guess I've just been trying too hard and second guessing myself."
"Well, now you can stop."
"Yeah. Josef, about what we were talking about earlier.... Don't get mad, but I really think it could help if I investigate the Elders. I know you're worried about my safety, but I'll be careful."
"Damn it, Mick. I already told you how I feel about that."
"I won't go against your wishes, Josef, I have more respect for you than that. But I'm asking. Please let me do this. I have to feel like I'm doing something besides just sitting around waiting for them to decide my fate." Mick was telling the truth. He no longer felt the sense of failure and disappointment he'd been dealing with these past weeks, but his respect and devotion for Josef had gone up a couple notches, though he would have thought it impossible. He had finally embraced their full relationship and all it encompasses, and he was at peace with it. If Josef told him he didn't want him to do this, he wouldn't. But he felt a desperate need to try to control as much of this Elder situation as he could. Even as he decided he'd do as Josef wished, he was silently pleading. Please, please, please, he thought to himself, silently trying to will Josef to agree.
"You really wouldn't do it just because I say no?"
"You told me to behave the way I'm most comfortable. That's how I feel."
Josef looked at Mick, then away, thinking. "You'll be careful?"
Josef looked back at Mick, spearing him with his eyes.
"I want to know what you're doing every step of the way. I want to know every thing you find out as soon as you discover it."
"And you don't make a move with the information without my say-so first. I want to know everything. Got it?"
Mick frowned, a little hurt. "You don't trust me?"
"You know better than that. I don't think this is the best idea, but if I'm going to agree to it I have to know you're safe. That's the deal. Take it or leave it."
Satisfied that trust wasn't the issue, Mick hastily said, "Take it," before Josef could change his mind. "Thank you."
"Be careful, Mick. Don't make me regret it."
"You won't. And you'll know everthing the minute I do."
"Didn't you say you had plans with Beth?"
"Yeah. I guess I'd better go, I'm already late. I'm suprised she hasn't called me yet." Mick stood up from the couch and headed toward the door. "I'll stop by the house tomorrow night, you look like you've got a lot of work to catch up on." He waved a hand at the top of Josef's paperwork- littered desk.
"Okay. But if it's after nine I'll be here. Have fun with Blondie."
Mick stopped at the door and turned back to look at Josef. Josef was just looking at him quizzically, no doubt wondering why Mick was looking at him strangely.
Mick was suddenly filled with many emotions, all of them good for a change, but so sudden and strong as to be overwhelming. He was suddenly peaceful, but he felt overriding senses of relief, gratefulness and a devotion to Josef for just being there for him. He strode back back over to Josef an enveloped him in a quick but tight embrace.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, then let go. A little embarrassed, he turned and hurried for the door and into the hallway as Josef stood stunned and speechless.
Mick took the elevator to the ground floor. They still had to worry about the Elders and whatever they might be up to, and Mick was still unsure about how best to juggle Beth and his life without letting them interfere with each other. But somehow, everything felt right, and he knew that in the long run everthing would be okay.