Mick knew Josef was there before he even heard the firm knock on the heavy door, but even after his friend made his arrival known, Mick stayed on the couch. He wasn't ignoring Josef; no, he knew that wouldn't work. He was just gathering the energy to open the door and begin what he knew would be an unpleasant vistit.
When Josef pounded again, more insisintly this time, Mick knew his time was up. Josef wasn't very patient even at the best of times.
Even as Mick rose from the couch, Josef's angry voice came through the door. "Open the door, Mick."
Mick winced a little at the curtness in his friend's tone. Mick approached the door, but stopped a few feet away. Just in case. Josef Kostan wasn't to be underestimated.
"I'll open the door, Josef, but I think you need to calm down first," Mick bargained. He felt a spike of anger from the other side of the door and he could hear Josef's growl.
"Look, I know you're mad, and I don't blame you. I'm mad too, at myself. I know all this happened because of me. I'm sorry, okay? I know we should talk about it, but I think we should be calmer first." Mick tensed after his little speech, waiting for a response. Of course, they both knew who Mick meant when he said 'we'.
The door thundered again. "Open up this damn door! Now!"
Mick took an instinctive step back, startled. He shook his head. Maybe he should just open the door. It didn't seem like Josef was going to calm down any time soon. In fact, Mick's reluctance to face an angry Josef just seemed to be making the situation worse. But still.....
"You need to calm down first, Josef. We don't want anything to happen that'll be regretted later."
"You don't want me to do anything I'll regret. I say, the more regrettable the better. Open up. Now."
"Now, Josef...would you please just calm down, okay? I told you I was sorry. You're being irrational."
"You should've opened the door, Mick."
Mick jumped violently, then spun around to face the voice behind him. He hadn't even felt Josef leave or slip in behind him.
"Shit! Josef!" Mick exclaimed in startlement and a veneer of anger, but he was hiding his actual fear. Josef was pissed, Mick knew he was, and he'd made it his life's mission to not deal with a pissed-off Josef. Especially if Mick was the one that had pissed him off. Mick knew that was the main reason that he'd survived as Josef's best friend for so long. Survived at all, in fact.
Mick considered questioning how Josef had gotten in, but then he decided he didn't really need to know. He had more important things to worry about than Josef's methods of breaking and entering. Like the burning anger in Josef's narrow-eyed glare. And was that a hint of betrayal under the stony expression on Josef's face?
Mick sighed as Josef just stared at him with burning eyes, but he was unable to meet Josef's gaze.
Mick's memory did a quick flash to when he was seventeen and he'd come home drunk. He'd stood there, just like this, with the same guilt and sense of wrongdoing, as his father had stared at him just like that. With a mixture of anger, betrayal and vindication.
Mick mentally shook the image from his mind, wondering what Josef would think if he knew Mick sometimes couldn't help the comparison between Josef and Mick's father. It popped up at the oddest moments, usually brought on by certain emotions in Mick. Mick smirked unconsciously, imagining how Josef would react to that revelation.
"I'm glad you think this is a joke, Mick. You have no idea what could've happened."
Mick's little smirk disappeared immediately and he shook his head. "I don't think it's a joke, Josef. I just....listen, I know you're upset . I don't blame you. I realize I got in over my head. I should've listened to you."
Any other time, Josef would have been elated to hear Mick admit that he regretted not listening to him. Normally, Josef would have taken any opportunity to make a joke or rub it in, teasing Mick about the admission. The fact that Josef ignored the opportunity just impressed upon Mick how extremely not-happy Josef was at that moment.
"Yes," Josef said flatly. "You should have."
Mick waited, but that seemed to be all Josef was inclined to say at the moment. Mick fidgeted, unable to keep up his usual pretenses of coolness with Josef, the only one that could see through him. Josef was a very deliberate person. Mick knew that he did very little without already knowing what he desired from it; everything Josef did was calculated.
So Mick knew Josef wasn't going to make this easy on him. He was going to make him feel as bad as possible, and he knew that he'd be unable to combat it. Mick resigned himself to just playing the game by Josef's rules. What else could he do, after all? And it would get them through it quicker.
Mick made a vague, nervous gesture toward the seating area. "Why don't we just sit down. We can talk about it."
Josef stared at him for a few moments with an intensity that only an angry Josef Kostan could manage. Mick waited for Josef to make the first move, following him with obvious relief when Josef turned and headed to the chair he always sat in when he was in Mick's home.
Mick reflected that it had been a very long time since he'd felt like this. Nervous and expectant, knowing he'd been the wrong one in a situation and guiltiy wanting to make up for it. He had an uneasy but undeniable urge to make Josef happy with him again.
Josef sat and Mick hesitated, then took a seat on the end of the couch. Josef's eyes had followed him each inch like the predators they both were, and Mick had almost expected to be ordered to remain standing, even in his own home. And he would have.
Mick wasn't sure if it was the fact that he himself knew he was wrong, or if Josef was exuding some of his new dominance over Mick- maybe both- but Mick knew that, right now, he would unfailingly do as Josef commanded. It was a very surreal feeling, and Mick wondered if he'd ever get used to it.
Mick sat, still unable to look straight at Josef but with strumming nerves under Josef's glare. Mick waited for his friend to speak, the silence growing thick and heavy between them, Josef seeming content to let the silence rest even as it felt smothering to Mick.
Finally, Mick could take it no longer.
"Listen," he started, pausing almost with the expectation of a silencing motion from Josef. When it didn't come, he continued. "Josef, I'm sorry. I know you're upset. I know this caused all kinds of problems." Mick paused, waiting for a response, but there was only that glare.
"I take full responsibility," Mick offered into the void. "You didn't want me to do it in the first place and I should've listened to you. You were right, Josef. I was wrong." Mick thought that, for sure, would get a reaction. But no. Josef was a stone, with the same unmatchable, burning eyes. Mick sighed in frustration. He wasn't sure what else he could say. He'd already said so many things that, though true, were uncharacteristic of him, and they'd all failed to get a reaction out of Josef.
Mick suddenly had a terrible thought, and he sat up in alarm, staring at Josef. "Josef, did they....did they come to you, too? Did they do something to you? Hurt you?" Mick's alarm had an edge that would easily turn to rage if he'd let it. If they'd hurt Josef....
"Hurt me?" Josef finally spoke, still staring at Mick fiercely. Josef leaned forward, and Mick leaned back a little, not quite comfortable at the moment being within easy reach of his friend. "Hurt me?" Josef repeated, this time with something in his voice that said Mick should know, that it was obvious. Josef threw his arms wide, holding them apart.
"Look at this!" he exclaimed.
Mick stared at Josef in bewilderment, scanning his friend's body for lingering injuries. Seeing nothing, he let his eyes rest on Josef's face, shaking his head a little, waiting for a hint.
"This!" Josef yelled in indignation, one hand plucking at his shirt.
Mick looked closer. "Your shirt?" he asked unsurely.
"Yes, my shirt! Are you blind? It's torn!"
"You're mad about a torn shirt? Josef, come on."
"This shirt is made of imported silk, Mick. That's hard to get and expensive as hell."
"I'm sorry about your shirt. Okay?"
"No, not okay!" the older vampire yelled back in full voice. He stood up and looked down at Mick.
"This happened because of you! You, Mick! Because you don't think about anything going on but what you want, my shirt's torn. With a wooden stake, no less!"
Mick's guilt and shame was overpowered by sudden anger. All the stuff they've got to get straight between them, and Josef's taking issue over a torn shirt?
Mick shot up from his seat, squaring off with his smaller but more powerful friend. Characteristically, Josef refused to back down, and the result brought them inches away from each other, face to face.
"So what about the damn shirt, Josef!" Mick's shouted words matched Josef's in volume and anger. Josef didn't even blink as the words were shouted inches from his face. "Screw the damn shirt!"
"It was an expensive shirt!!" Josef shouted even louder, stepping forward the few inches separating them, forcing Mick to take a backward step.
"So WHAT!!" Mick practically screamed, stepping forward and regaining his lost ground. Josef was reluctant to give it up, so they were now almost chest to chest. "You could by a hundred more! You probably have a hundred more!"
"That's not the point! The point is, it's your fault! You caused it, so you should pay for it!!"
"FINE!! I'll pay for the damn shirt! I'll pay for ten more! Happy?!"
"NO! Forget the damn shirt! The shirt doesn't matter, because that's not the issue!"
"I know that! The issue is because I lied! Okay? I caused all this because I lied to you!"
Mick's face held the angry scowl that had been there since the yelling match began, but as he waited for Josef's next angry retort, he was suprised to see his friend's face soften as he gave a little nod at Mick's screamed admission.
Josef stepped back a little, ending the confrontation, and softly said, "You lied. You lied to me, Mick. To me."
The anger slid from Mick's face and his heart as he came to the realization that that was the real issue, at least to Josef. Of all the reason's in the whole situation that Mick could admit to a guilt of, Josef was the most upset about the fact that Mick had lied to him. It almost sounded as if Josef were more hurt than angry about the fact.
Mick's angry tenseness faded and his shoulders slumped a little, the guilt and shame once more returning, replacing the anger.
"I know," Mick said softly, and he let himself drop to the couch, slouching and resting his head against the back with his eyes closed. "I'm sorry. That's never really happened before, has it? Not like this."
The cushion next to Mick shifted, and Mick felt Josef sit next to him. Mick took a peek and saw that Josef had mirrored Mick's exact position, head back, eyes closed and all. Mick closed his eyes again.
"We can't keep doing this," Josef said. "It's like a dance on a never-ending loop. We just keep going back and forth and we never get where we're going."
"I know. It's hard, isn't it? I hadn't thought what it might be like from your end. I really am sorry about all this, Josef. Just so you know, when we talked about it and I promised that I wouldn't do it if you didn't want me to, and I made the promises I made..... when I told you I respected you too much for that....I really meant it, Josef. I didn't say those things deceptively or set out from the beginning to mislead you. It just kind of happened. It didn't feel like such a big issue while I was doing it."
"You told me you gave up the investigation of the Elders, Mick. That was a flat out lie."
"Actually, I just said I'd come to a dead end. I actually had given up the investigation at that point, but I'm pretty sure I didn't tell you that." Mick felt Josef stiffen just a little next to him. He didn't have to look to know that this wasn't the right time to split hairs over the semantics.
"I wasn't lying, Josef," Mick continued quickly, wanting to avoid another agressive confrontation. He'd expected Josef to exert his power over him at some point, but it hadn't happened so far and Mick wanted to try to keep it that way. "It's just that...well, after I told you that, I got a breakthrough from a contact that I'd forgotten about. At first, I just didn't say anything because I didn't think it would actually come to anything useful. Then....well, I was gonna tell you at some point, but it just kind of snowballed from there. I'm sorry."
"You said that already."
"I'll say it ten more times if that's what it takes."
"You could say it a hundred times, Mick, and it doesn't mean squat it you don't mean it."
Mick lifted his head from the couch and looked over at Josef. "You don't think I mean it?" There was no animosity in the question, just true curiosity and more than a little hurt. Mick tried reading Josef's feelings, but the older vampire was shielding himself. Mick couldn't get anything from him.
Josef lifted his head, too, and met Mick's eyes. Mick had to force himself to maintain the eye contact, the fledgling inside wanting to avert his gaze. That was something Mick had gotten used to struggling with.
"I think you mean it now, Mick. But what about later, when something else comes up, and you decide that what's going on takes a higher priority than your friends and loyalties? Than me?"
Mick was about to protest, but suddenly thought better of it. Josef was right. "I do tend to let myself get overly-obsessed about things, don't I? I never realize it at the time, but I always regret it later."
"It's not a bad thing, Mick. It just means you're passionate about whatever's on your mind at the time. But you're going to have to learn to control it, keep your priorities in mind. When you get on the bandwagon of some new obsession, you let it control you, run your life. It's the only thing you think about, any decisions you make are based only on that obsession- of- the- moment. Nothing else matters at those times. That's gonna have to change."
Mick just nodded. The tone of the statement hadn't been lost on him. Though Josef had said it solemnly, it almost sounded like a mandate. Mick knew Josef would give him no peace about such things in the future. He knew that he could look forward to many instances of having his judgement and truthfulness questioned in the future until he'd earned his friend's trust back. And Mick found himself wanting to earn Josef's trust back. Josef was one of very few people in his life that he cared about having the trust and respect of, and certainly one of the most important of two.
"Beth knew," was said softly from beside him.
Mick opened his eyes and lifted his head from the back of the couch to look at Josef. Was that....jealousy?
"What?" Mick asked, sure he heard right but wanting to make sure.
"You told Beth about the investigation, everything that was going on, what you found on the Council. But you couldn't tell me? When did that happen to us?"
Mick tried to read Josef's face, but his friend wouldn't look at him, just stared straight ahead. Mick began to realize just what kind of damage might have been caused by such a seemingly small, thoughtless act. Would he ever be able to fix this?
"What can I do to make this right?" Mick asked, his voice tight with emotion.
"I don't know," Josef responded so softly that even Mick's vampiric hearing had trouble discerning it. No human would have detected that Josef had spoken.
Josef rose from the couch fluidly and headed for the front door. Mick stood quickly and followed a few steps.
"Josef. Josef, don't leave like this. We should talk about it."
Josef just unlocked the heavy door and pulled it open. He turned to look at Mick silently for a few minutes, then stepped out into the hallway and shut the door behind him.
Mick stood there, stunned, shocked. He was shattered. He'd known Josef was upset, though he'd been shielding his emotions from Mick, but this..... Mick had never seen Josef like this.
What had he done? How could he have done it? This was Josef, Josef. His best friend, the one that had practically taken him under his wing when Mick had left Coraline and had shown him so much of what he'd needed to know. The only constant in his life since he'd become a vampire, the only one that had always been there. The one that had hurdled his own fears to change Mick back when Mick had begged for it, then taken on that huge responsibility even in the face of Mick's angers and resentments.
Mick owed him so much, and he'd done the one thing that Josef had always seen as a betrayal. Mick couldn't imagine how Josef must be feeling right now, but he knew he had to make it right.
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