"Something like what?" Mick asked, knowing full well what that something was.
Malcolm smiled at him knowingly. "You're very intelligent. I'm sure you know."
Mick just lifted his chin stubbornly and refused to speak.
"It will go very hard for you if you persist with this attitude," Gerod warned. "If you cooperate, your punishment will not last long."
"What a comfort," Mick retorted with brave sarcasm, but his mind wasn't as calm as he was pretending. Please stay where you are, Beth. Please, Mick begged inwardly. He knew that if Malcolm decided his human friend was expendable, there would be little Mick could do to protect her.
"You're young, Mick, but you been a vampire quite long enough to understand how these things work. Surely you didn't believe you'd be allowed to pry into the business of Council Elders. Tonight you will learn the error of your ways. Jackson."
Apparently, the voicing of the name was an order for Malcolm's fledgeling, because he immediately strode forward. Mick braced himself for the attack. He knew he and Jackson were almost exact in age, though the asian vampire looked younger, having been turned in his early twenties. Mick knew he had a fair chance of winning a confrontation with Jackson, but he also knew it would be foolish of him to hope that the other two vampires would let it rest at that. If that were the plan, they wouldn't be there at all.
But he sure wasn't going down without a fight. So he braced himself for Jackson's attack, widening his stance and feeling a low growl rumbling in his throat. But it didn't come. As Jackson neared Mick's position, he detoured around Mick and headed for the front door just behind him. And Mick knew instantly who Jackson's real target was. Mick spun around, intending to grab or tackle the other vampire- anything to prevent him from reaching the hallway outside of the still open door. But Mick never got close. Jackson continued into the hallway unimpeded as Mick was grabbed from behind and slammed down hard onto the floor, landing on his back.
Mick heard a shriek from the hallway, obviously Beth's. He jumped, startled and panicked, ready to fight his way to her aid. But as he sat up with vampiric speed, he was stopped with a crushing blow to his chest that pushed him back down to the floor. Gerod had used his foot to halt Mick's progress.
Quicker than Mick's eye could follow, Gerod had reached over his own shoulder to a previously unseen scabbard and pulled something from it with a smooth swishing sound. Mick froze as a shiny sword was laid against his throat. It was laying lightly against his flesh, but the weapon was more that razor-sharp and Mick felt the pain of splitting skin. He could feel and smell his own blood as a small rivulet trickled down the side of his neck.
He stiffened, waiting, but the sword stayed in place. His mind was working furiously. Would the the people who'd insistently offered him protection just weeks ago now harm him? Kill him? They might if these were the traitors of the group, and he could easily believe that of Malcolm. Mick could still feel the burn of his slightly sliced neck. The fact that it hadn't healed yet, and that there was a burning senstation beyond the small wound itself, suggested that either the sword itself was made purely of silver or that it was silver plated or laced within it's metal.
All this had happened in less than several seconds, having been acted out with both vampire's superior speed and reflexes. As Mick lay still, he heard another yell from Beth, and this time he was rational enough to register that it had been a cry of outrage rather than one of pain. His relief was palpable.
As he heard the struggle approach from the hallway, Mick risked turning his head and craning his neck to get a good view of the door. The movement earned him another burning slice across his neck for his trouble, but he ignored it and kept his eyes on the open door.
Jackson entered with Beth struggling at the end of his reach as he held her upper arm. It really wasn't much of a struggle against his much superior strength, but she did her best. She pulled against his bruising grip, kicking, slapping and punching at him. She became even more infuriated when Jackson completely ignored her attempts, her strength less than nothing to him. Once she even tried to reach around and bite his gripping hand, but he gave her one rough shake that left her wobbling on her feet and being held up only by him. When she regained her equilibrium, she decided that it probably wasn't a very good idea to try biting a vampire anyway.
Jackson continued into the apartment with the struggling Beth and quickly shut and locked the door behind him. He pulled her along across the room, sparing a glance toward the sword-restrained Mick on the floor, and came to a stop before Malcolm. Jackson then pulled Beth around in front of himself, facing her forward and holding onto her from behind by her upper arms. He pushed her forward slightly.
"Sire," he said to Malcolm, presenting Beth to him.
"No," Mick whispered, more to himself than to any of the others in the room.
Malcolm reached up and moved a strand of Beth's hair behind her ear, then slid his knuckles slowly down her cheek. Mick was staring up at them from his position on his back, and he could see that Beth was stiff, in an almost trance-like state, frozen in terror at the aura of power and intimidation that even a mortal could feel from him. Malcolm had that effect on most of his fellow vampire's, it was too much to expect a human to fare any better. Malcolm Bershire was the thing of most mortal's nightmares.
Malcolm looked down at Mick with a mocking smirk. "You have great taste, Mick St.John. She's pretty. Beautiful, in fact. And she is scared, but I can feel her inner bravery. Rare in a mortal."
"Don't you hurt her," Mick demanded, then realized the elder vampire might very well take that as a challenge or a dare. "Please," he amended in a softer voice. "Please don't hurt her."
His tone still mocking, Malcolm answered. "But why? She is only a human, our food. Her death would mean nothing to us, Mick, and she would be barely missed among the humans. They would remember her for a short time, then she would be forgotten, as all are. Or would she? Do you care for her, Mick? Do you love her? Would your world stop turning if this jewel no longer graced the earth, Mick? Would you be the one being to remember her for all eternity?"
Mick understood now. He understood with the dread in the pit of his stomach. It hit him with a sudden clarity. Apparently they were here to teach him a lesson for what they saw as a transgression, but they planned to use Beth to do it. No, he thought. Not Beth. Please not Beth. Maybe he'll be willing to trade my life for hers. Unless they plan on taking both.
Mick had a sudden and urgent longing for Josef. He just knew that if Josef would come, despite the odds, everything would be okay. Josef would take care of everything. Mick wasn't sure if it was simply the desperation of his situation that brought out this wanting of his friend, or if it was some fledgleling instinct in the face of danger. Probably a little of both, but he didn't really care where it was coming from. He just knew that he wanted Josef- his friend, his sire- right now. But Josef wasn't here, and he'd have to do this alone. He couldn't let them hurt his Beth.
Before Mick could make whatever response that would have fought it's way past his lips, he was startled by the ringing of his cell phone. He jumped as it vibrated on his hip and only Gerod's quick reflexes kept Mick from slicing his own throat at the move. That would have been bad. The silver in the weapon would have prevented the wound from healing fast enough and he would have likely bled to death. Even a wound or injury caused without the sword now would not heal as fast as usual. He'd already lost a small amount of blood and had suffered the trauma of silver, minor though it was. To heal from any injury properly, he would need to replenish himself with blood or suffer the pain until he could.
He wondered why Gerod had been so quick to prevent a possibly fatal injury. They obviously had no problem causing him pain, but perhaps this little 'lesson' was not meant to include his death. Or maybe Gerod was not one of the traitors and didn't really want to have to hurt him? Or maybe they just wanted to make it slow by torturing him- and Beth- first. Beth's pain would be more traumatizing to him than his own, and he was pretty sure they knew it. He prayed that if he and Beth were both to die tonight, that he would be given the mercy of going first. Witnessing his Beth's death would be more than he could stand.
The phone rang a second time.
"Jackson," Malcolm ordered. As Jackson released Beth's arms, Malcolm cupped his hand under her chin and gripped her jaw. It was a solid grip, and Mick prayed Beth didn't get any notions in her head of picking this moment to try to fight or flee. If she tried, she would accomplish nothing more that snapping her own neck.
As Jackson stepped over to Mick and reached down for the phone, Gerod place a foot against Mick's chest in warning to stay put on the floor, though the sword had been replaced against his neck. Gerod's new position made for a bad sword-wielding stance, but with the fatal silver and thin-edged sharpness, his stance hardly mattered. The weapon was being held by Gerod's strength alone and one slip would have Mick beheaded or bleeding to death from a sliced carotid. Mick wasn't quite sure which he was actually being threatened with, but he figured he'd be just as dead with either one, so it didn't really matter.
Jackson pulled the cell phone from the holder clipped to Mick's hip and looked at the caller ID. "Josef," he informed his sire.
"As expected," Malcolm intoned. "He no doubt senses his childe's distress."
Jackson reclaimed his hold on Beth as Malcolm walked slowly over to Mick and squatted down beside him. "But don't get too excited, Mick," he was warned as Malcolm shut the phone off in the middle of another ring.
Malcolm made a waving motion with his hand and Gerod removed his foot from Mick's chest and the sword from his neck. Malcolm reached down with one hand and curled his fingers around Mick's throat. He used the grip to pull Mick up to an uncomfortable half sitting positon, then squeezed hard. With a grip that would have already killed a human, Malcolm crushed Mick's throat until Mick could feel the veins popping and the bones and cartlidge caving in, his larnyx crushing. Involuntary tears of pressure and pain leaked from his tightly closed eyelids. He wrapped both hands around Malcolm's wrist in a vain attempt at freedom, no longer with the mental ability to rationalize a better defense. This vampire's strength far outdistanced anything he had ever known, and Mick could sense that it was just a fraction of the strenght Malcolm posessed. The hand tightened another degree. Mick was in agony.
Malcolm brought his face close Mick's. "Josef won't be running to your rescue. He will be conveniently detained. It's just you and me."
The older vampire tightened his grip still more- Mick wouldn't have thought it possible- then slammed Mick back down into the floor before letting go and standing.
Josef knew the moment Mick was in trouble. He could feel it, their bond literally vibrated with it, it thrummed. He stiffened in his seat, becoming still as he felt along the link. He could feel it so strongly, but it was a mess of emotions, nothing clear. He stood from his seat, knowing he had to find Mick, to help him, but hesitant in his panic.
Where had Beth said they were going? The movies, but which theatre? No, not the movies. Mick's place first. That would be the obvious place to start. But had they made it there? What if something had happened on the way? Could it be a car accident, maybe a fiery wreck? No. Nothing as simple as that, tragic as it could be. Beth would have much less chance of survival in an accident than Mick, and that would certainly put a panic in his younger friend. But there were other feelings that didn't coincide with something like that. It had started as stealth. Then fear, pain, despair, anger. Yes. Lots of anger. And suprisingly, Josef discovered, a longing for himself.
Stop! Josef commanded himself. He knew that these strong emotions from Mick had panicked him and were clouding his mind. They had caught him by suprise, and he was vexed and irritated at himself that he'd allowed a momentary leave of common sense. He dampened the feelings from Mick along their link, and he was suddenly clear minded. He'd follow their link to find him. It was a skill that Josef was well versed in, and the only sensible thing to do under such circumstances. Josef knew Mick would never let him live it down if he ever found out about his little moment of indecision, not after all the training he'd been giving Mick in this very same skill. Josef was never going to let himself live it down.
Set now on a course of action, Josef was through the large home and at his front door with vampiric speed. His first instinct had been to leap through the nearest window, but he thought he might need a car to make transporting Mick more effecient, should he need to, and he'd been about to head to the office. Just before he'd been bombarded with Mick's feelings, he'd ordered a car to be brought to the front of the house. It should be waiting.
He yanked the heavy door open with no effort, then....stopped. In suprise, his face changed in seconds and he bared his fangs with a growl at the two vampires blocking his exit onto the porch. He knew instantly why they were there.
"Is that any way to greet your guests?" Rake asked. Josef bridled at the amusement in the older vampire's tone.
"You betrayed us!" Josef accused. He'd really hoped that Rake wouldn't be one of the traitors, but he was obviously there to prevent Josef going to Mick's aid.
"Have I?" Rake asked calmly.
Josef let his eyes flick toward the other vampire, the woman- Sylvia, he remembered- then back to Rake. "I trusted you."
"And I warned you not to."
"What's being done to Mick?"
"What is being done, must be done."
Sylvia spoke for the first time, her tone neutral. "He is being taught a vital lesson."
Josef ignored her, keeping his attention on Rake. "I won't let them hurt him."
"You have no choice but to allow this, Josef."
Not gonna happen! Josef thought to himself. He let out a fearsome growl and launched himself at Rake, but he never reached his target. Josef fell to the stone porch as his muscles siezed, fiery pain radiating from his shoulder where a short wooden stake protruded. He cursed himself inwardly for letting his anger get the best of him in his attack, for not being prepared. He'd ignored Sylvia. He'd been focused only on attack, with no thought for defense, and now he had no chance at all.
Rake squatted down, directly above Josef, shaking his head. Josef thought he might have detected a trace of sympathy in Rake's eyes, but then decided he'd imagined it.
"I had hoped to avoid this, Josef. I really did, but you left us no choice. It's necessary that you be kept from running to Mick's side as I know you so desperately want to do. This is his ordeal to face alone. Now. We can do this one of two ways. If you can remember the proper way to treat guests, I will remove the stake now and we can all go inside like civilized vampires. If you choose not to behave, I will have no choice but to leave you like this- uncomfortable, angry and in pain- until it's time for me to leave. Which will it be?"
Josef tried his damndest to snarl, curse, anything, but his paralysis was complete. He had no choice. If he had any hope of helping Mick, he'd have to cooporate. And if necessary, he'd run rather than fight. That thought galled him. Josef Kostan is not a runner! But for Mick he would. For Mick, Josef knew he could suck up his pride and take his chances when and where they came.
Josef had no way of voicing his decision, but Rake must have recognized the sheen of defeat in his eyes. The older vampire nodded his head with a little smile.
"I knew you were intelligent, Josef."
Rake reached over and, with a tight grip on the wood, yanked hard. The stake came loose with a quick gush of blood and several exclamations of not so nice words from Josef's lips at the pain.
Rake stood, then offered a hand to Josef. Josef glared at Rake and, ignoring the offering hand-up, he fluidly stood on his own. Other than residual soreness in the muscle, the wound was already closed. But he growled in irritation when he felt a draft through the tear in his shirt. Damn it! This shirt is made of imported silk.
"Come, Josef," Rake said as he laid a deceptively light hand on Josef's shoulder to prevent a possible attempt at escape. "Invite your guest's inside, and we'll sit and talk." Josef recieved a small push against his shoulder as a hint to proceed through the doorway.
"Yes," Josef said sarcastically as he preceded the two older vampire's into the entryway. "Why don't we all go in and relax." Behind him, Rake chuckled at Josef's resigned sarcasm.
Rake lightly propelled Josef into the first doorway, which happened to be a living- room-type parlour, where all three vampires seated themselves. Rake and Sylvia sat near each other on the couch while Josef sat alone across from them on the shorter loveseat. A low glass coffee table separated them.
"I want to know what's happening to Mick," Josef demanded. He tried to make the words sound friendlier, but he was pretty sure he hadn't succeeded.
"He has pried into the business of Elders. You know he cannot get away with that," Sylvia intoned. Josef just curled his lip at her, respect be damned. He'd known she couldn't be trusted ever since Mick had first mentioned her little visits.
Rake glanced at a gold watch on his wrist, then at his centuries-old fledgeling. "Syliva, isn't there somewhere you must be soon?"
The woman vampire glanced from her sire to Josef, then back. "I'm where I must be, Rake."
The black vampire's face turned hard. "Go."
Josef watched the interplay with interest as Sylvia's jaw clenched. But she just said, "Yes, Sire." She shot Josef a dark look as she rose and left the room. Moments later, he heard his heavy front door slam.
Rake shook his head and looked at Josef with some humor. "You will be opening yourself up to a whole new experience, Josef, if you ever choose to sire a woman."
Josef's thoughts flashed to Sara, but he quickly pushed the thought down. This wasn't the time for such thoughts. "What's happening with Mick?" he asked icily.
Rake smiled. "Have no fear, Josef. What is being done must be done. But your friend is not truly in danger. He is simply being taught a lesson, as Sylvia said."
"It doesn't feel like a simple lesson, Rake," Josef said angrily. "I can feel his fear and anger. I can feel his pain."
"The lesson must be memorable. And everything is not what it seems."
"Why should I believe you?"
"What choice do you have?"
Josef didn't answer, knowing it for the truth. But not a truth he liked. Josef was not used to being helpless. He was used to controlling any situation. He didn't like this at all.
"What has Mick done that merits punishment? At least tell me that."
"Don't you know? No, I don't suppose you do. He has delved into the pasts and the secrets of the Elders. It isn't certain that he's learned anything, but it's best that he's not given the chance. He's very tenacious, that Mick."
"Yes," Josef said, anger tinging his voice. "He is." That little shit! The anger and disappointment at Mick for lying rushed back full force. As well as anger at himself. He'd given Mick time to come clean and 'fess up, but apparently it had been too much time. The warning he'd been given was being carried out, and Josef might have been able to prevent it if he'd confronted Mick about it earlier.
Josef probed along his link, opening it, feeling for Mick. Still the fear and anger and pain, but smaller now, more subtle. It was fading.
Josef looked at Rake. "I suppose you were right," he admitted grudgingly. "He doesn't seem to be harmed. Yet."
Ignoring Josef's statement, Rake tilted his head in an appraising gaze. "So you did know what Mick was up to."
"At first. I gave him conditions to follow, and he promised to uphold his end. But he's misled me to believe that he was finished."
"But?" Rake's voice was kind, and there was something in it that made Josef want to talk to him. Maybe it was the fact that Rake knew how Josef felt. Rake was someone that Josef could talk to that might have been through some of the same things and could give valuable advice.
"A week ago I recieved a message warning me to keep Mick from persuing his investigation of the Council. Up until then, I'd thought he'd abandoned it. He lied to me. Lied. To me! And now this. He brought it on himself, and yet I allowed it. I was trying to preserve both halves of our relationship. But I messed up. And he messed up. We're both just messed up."
Rake smiled. "Josef, no deep relationship is simple. The more complicated a relationship, the deeper and more meaningful it usually proves to be. You will work it out in the end, but you will have many trials before that will happen. And Josef, close friends you may be, brothers, even....but you must learn when to seperate the two halves of your relationship. You will not always be able to be his friend."
Josef nodded, knowing it for the truth. He'd come to the same conclusion himself, he'd just not yet discovered a way to successfully implement it. He looked up at Rake. "I don't know why I can't keep myself from trusting you, but....you give your word that Mick won't be harmed?"
"Mick will not be seriously harmed."
Josef nodded, not sure why he believed this vampire, but he did. But he noted the stress on the word 'seriously'.
Rake cocked his head a little and stared off, as if listening for a hard to hear sound, then focused again on Josef. "It's time for me to leave. I've done my duty here and you're free to come or go as you like." Rake stood, preparing to leave, then looked down at Josef where the younger vampire still sat. "I wish you luck with the trials ahead, Josef. But let me give you a piece of advice that has helped me many times. Try to rid yourself of anger before any confrontation with Mick. It will help you think clearer and possibly prevent irrepairable damages. Good evening." And with that, Rake was gone.
Josef sat in his seat, mulling over Rake's words. It was sound advice, but it wasn't helping in the slightest to temper the anger that was boiling in Josef's veins and what he saw as a betrayal by his best friend. Or was that the wrong way to be thinking of it? Perhaps it should be....disobedience by his fledgeling.
Josef stood up abruptly and moved quickly to the bar. He fixed himself a drink, the larger portion the blood that would calm him. He sat at the bar with his drink, his thought wandering.
He ran one hand across the finished wood of the bartop, taking a sip of his drink, then setting it down. He and Mick had had countless friend moments at this bar. Plenty of joking and bantering, advice given, solemn talks, even arguments and the later peacemaking of arguments. Josef knew there would be a bump in their relationship very soon- like tonight- and he hoped their friendship was strong enough to get through it. He hoped there would be many years to come of more friend-moments at this bar.
But first they must get over this next hurdle. Josef reached into his pocket for his cell phone.
Mick slammed back into the floor, choking and gasping, his crushed throat healing much slower than it would without the trace amounts of silver in his blood. The slow healing was causing as much pain as the injury itself as the bones and cartiledge- and his larnyx- shifted and moved in it's slow attempt at recovery. If he were a human, he'd be dead.
As Mick watche through pain-hazed eyes, Malcolm returned to Beth. He grabbed her shoulders and spun her around, then stepped behind her.
Even frozen in the predator-stance as she was, her eyes were anguushed and streaming tears. Now facing the right direction, her eyes moved to Mick and fixed on him. She was completely aware of what was going on.
Mick met her eyes and tried to convey assurance to her, an assurance he didn't feel.
Beth's lips trembled as, behind her, Malcolm lowered his head to place his mouth lightly against the side of her throat. He kept his eyes on Mick at all times, a cruel and mocking gaze watching for a reaction.
And Mick could do nothing but watch.
Malcolm lifted his lips and flicked out a tongue, tasting her skin. He closed his eyes, as if to savor her flavor, then reared his head back with a snarl, letting his fangs extend.
No, Mick mouthed, but the inner scream was silent in his injuries.
Malcolm smiled at Mick, and lowered his head again to Beth's neck, burying his nose against her throat. He sniffed her scent slowly, from her throat and up her neck, up under her ear, his eyes on Mick the whole time.
A hand came up and tangled in Beth's hair, pulling cruelly until her head was tilted far back, her throat exposed vulnerably.
Malcolm leaned forward, his fangs against Beth's sensitive throat, and scraped up lightly, leaving two thin trails of welling blood that ran slowly down her throat and onto her chest and the neckline of her blouse. Beth was shaking.
Mick shook his head, pleading with his eyes. He no longer had any thoughts of dignity or stoicism. He would do anything to keep Malcolm from harming Beth. He would even beg.
Malcolm's tongue flicked out, slowly licking up the welling blood. He let his head fall back as he savored the flavor, then locked his eyes on Mick.
"Now I see why you keep her around, Mick. Very tasty, a rare vintage. But don't let it age too long. Unlike a fine wine, she will not get better with age."
Then he let go of Beth and pushed her aside roughly. She landed hard, with a grunt, but the look of anger in her eyes assured Mick as nothing else could. She was still his Beth.
Malcom squatted down to be more level with Mick, and pulled the younger vampire up by the front of his shirt. Mick's hands curled around Malcolm's hand in an attempt to steady himself.
"Remember this, Mick. Remember what could have happened. Stay out of business that is not yours, or next time I won't be so forgiving." Malcolm shot a look in Beth's direction, then looked back at Mick with a smile. "It wouldn't be hard to acquire a craving for your beautiful morsel over there. And I don't make a habit of denying myself what I want. Remember that."
Malcom stood, again slamming Mick into the floor, then in an almost inaudible swoosh, Malcolm, Gerod and Jackson were gone. The drapes at the balcony sliding door fluttered, the only sign of their recent passing.
There was a moment of stillnes and silence, then Beth jumped to her feet and ran to where she knew Mick's stash of blood to be. She returned with three bags, holding them one at a time to Mick's mouth as she sat on her knees next to him. He drank them down greedily, eager for the healing properties and relief of pain they would provide.
After a few minutes, Mick looked into Beth's anxious eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked, his voice a little hoarse still.
Beth opened her mouth to speak, then closed it and shook her head.
She threw herself on him in a tight hug. He held her trembling form tightly.
"Are you okay?" she asked into his shoulder.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah. I'm okay."
"Good." She sat up and slapped his face hard, the resounding crack filling the room. Mick's jaw dropped in suprise, his cheek stinging for a quick second.
"You knew they were here!" she accused. "You knew, and you still came in. Damn you, Mick! They could've killed you!"
"But they didn't," he said, reaching for her to pull her into an embrace. He carefully refrained from mentioning that she'd been in danger as well, and much more vulnerable.
But she pushed away from him when he tried to envelop her. He could have easily overpowered her, of course, but that wouldn't have endeared him to her at all.
She pushed against him, then slapped his chest. "Damn you! Why'd you come in? Huh, Mick? You could've run, you could've left. You didn't have to walk into the lion's den!"
Mick sat back, his hands holding him up. It was obvious to him that there would be no comforting her until she calmed down.
"I didn't have a choice, Beth. If I hadn't faced them now, it would've been later. They wouldn't have just given up. And I didn't want...."
"What? What, Mick?"
"They knew I was here, Beth. Things could've gotten very agressive if I'd tried to run. I had you stashed out in the hallway. I didn't want to risk getting you caught in the crossfire."
Beth's face stilled, then calmed. She nodded slowly. "Okay," she said. "Okay." Mick was grateful that she didn't mention that she'd gotten pulled into the middle anyway. Or that she didn't insist, as she so often did, that she could take care of herself.
She leaned forward, against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around her.
They sat there on the floor, in their entwined positions, for several minutes, not speaking, just taking comfort in each other and that they were both okay.
They didn't move until they both heard Mick's cell phone trilling. They separated, looking around, and Beth spied it a few feet away on the floor where Malcolm must have tossed it. She crawled the few feet to the phone, not bothering to stand, then returned the same way and handed it to Mick. He answered it on the fourth ring.
"You're okay?" Josef asked flatly.
There was something about his tone that Mick didn't like. He hestitated, then, "Yeah. I'm okay."
"Good. Stay put. I'm coming over."
"Yes, right now. We need to talk."
"Uh...maybe we should talk later. Tomorrow, maybe."
"I'll be over soon. And get rid of Blondilocks."
"Josef..." Mick tried, but all he heard was dead air. Josef had disconnected.
Mick shook his head. Great. There were going to be fireworks tonight. He turned to Beth.
"I think maybe you'd better go. I'll call you in the morning, okay?"
"What? Now? Why?"
"Just trust me on this one, Beth. I need you to go. Please."
Beth opened her mouth, but closed it on what Mick knew would have been another protest. Finally, she just said, "You'll be okay?"
"Of course. Don't you know by now that I'm indestructable?" he joked.
"Yeah, well, let's not put it to the test, okay?" She leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on his lips, then turned and headed for the door. But then she turned back.
"Mick? My car's at Josef's. I rode with you, remember?"
Mick dug his key from his pocket, then tossed them to her. She caught them with no effort. "Take my car. I'll get it tomorrow. Beth....be careful, okay?"
"Yeah," she said softly. "You too. See you tomorrow."
When Beth had gone, Mick locked his door in a futile gesture and flopped down on his couch. What a night. And it wasn't over. Now he had to deal with Josef.
At the thought of his friend, Mick felt a sharp poke of remorse for misleading him and lying to him. Their relationship was going through enough changes already without the added measure of Mick's admittedly juvenile behaviour. And Josef hadn't sounded too happy, either.
"Maybe if I hunt down Malcolm, he'll put me out of my misery before Josef gets here," Mick said softly to himself in a groan.