He had to admit, he's felt much better since that night at Josef's a little over two weeks ago. The night he'd fallen asleep in his office. He'd awakened in a better frame of mind than when he'd first arrived, and the two of them had been able to have their first conflict-free conversation in a while. And somewhere during that conversation, Josef had extracted a promise from Mick that they would get together no less than every three nights, though every two was preferable. He'd actually fallen into the schedule with much less problem than he'd thought he would, sometimes not even skipping a night between visits. And it wasn't really rigid. It was not necessary for Mick to always go to Josef's home. Sometimes he accompanied Josef to his work office, and several times Josef came to Mick's apartment. They'd learned that it was only necessary for them to be together for a few hours for Mick to get what he needed, though he sometimes opted to stay the whole night if he didn't have anything else to do, and it required no effort on either of their parts. Mick just had to be around his Sire, with Josef offering whatever contact he felt Mick might need. They'd both begun to enjoy the companionable time spent together, much more so than even thier friendship filled times of the past.
The only downside was the fresh feeding Josef was insisting on. He'd only made it mandatory twice a week, and Mick had to admit that he felt better for it. Stronger. But he just couldn't get past the feelings of guilt and self-disgust that pervaded him after each feeding. He'd tried re-negotiating with Josef about it, using the fact that it was against his principles as the basis for his argument, but the older vampire had been non- receptive. Mick had decided that for the sake of their newfound accord, that could be a battle for later. For now, everything was as close to normal as it was going to get, certainly the closest thing to normal since the turning. They both valianltly ignored the undercurrent of something not finished, an expectant feeling of waiting for something more that had to happen. There was a slight tension there that both vampires could feel, but it was easily ignored and neither of them ever mentioned it.
The tension that Mick couldn't ignore was Beth. She was adding a whole new stress that Mick was finding hard to deal with while also dealing with these new changes in his life. And he felt guilty for thinking like that. He still liked spending time with her, cared for her more than he'd ever admitted, and they spent time together a few times a week- precious time that Mick cherished. It's just that- she's so damn persistant! And that made it all the harder, having to keep things from her. But Josef had been right when he'd said Beth's knowledge of vampires could be dangerous for her. All it would take is the wrong person- vampire- finding out how much she knows, and Mick would not be able to protect her.
She already knows what she knows, so there's no changing that. The biggest problem is coming from Mick trying to keep her from any further involvement. The woman is pushy, to say the least. But she's his beautiful, pushy woman, and he was determined to discourage her in some way. But that was becoming harder now that she's noticing the changes in him. He didn't want to involve her in all that. Obviously, she knew he'd been turned again, and by Josef, but apparently she doesn't know enough to know what that means for the two men. And since he's had such a hard time with it, Mick didn't want her to know. He knew she would feel guilt that it had happened so he could rescue her, and he didn't want her to feel any worse about that than he knew she already does. But she'd been pestering him to death about what was wrong with him, and his 'vampire business' explanation had only worked so long before she'd lost patience with it. And for some strange reason, she'd also been bugging him about coming with him when he visits Josef, which he'd been refusing to allow. After Josef's 'request' that he keep Beth out of vampire affairs, he decided that keeping her off Josef's radar was a good first step. Unfortunately, she didn't agree. Not that she knew exactly that's what he was doing, but she knew something was up, and she was giving him no peace about it.
In fact, that's what tonight's argument had been about, their worst disagreement yet. And in a roundabout way, the reason he was on his way to Josef right now, even though he'd originally had no plans on visiting tonight. The evening was supposed to be a nice romantic evening with Beth. They were going to relax, drink wine, talk. Maybe a little more. But she'd just had to start in again with her questions. He'd lost his patience and snapped a time or two, she'd gotten angry and snapped back. Somehow the argument took several different turns and by the end, it wasn't even about what had started it in the first place. Funny how that happens. They'd both said things that he, for one, was now extremely sorry for but had been left unresolved as she'd stormed out and slammed the door.
Hence the desire to be near Josef. Mick had gotten used to the driving need to take comfort from the other vampire on a regular basis, so he'd barely had to think about it when he'd headed out his door for Josef's home, just because he was feeling upset and discouraged. It had happened almost on auto-pilot. His mind had already started making the Pavlovian connection- when he's upset, relief can be found with Josef.
When Mick entered the room he knew Josef to be in, the other man was just donning his suit jacket.
"Hey, Mick. I didn't think you'd be by tonight. Didn't you have some big thing planned with your reporter?"
"Yeah, I did. She's not a reporter anymore, remember?"
"Once a reporter, always a reporter. Nosiness is born, not learned." Josef fastidiously adjusted the sleeves of his jacket over his shirt cuffs, then stilled for a moment and looked up at Mick with a falcon-like gaze. "What's wrong?" he asked the younger vampire.
Mick was suprised. He hadn't realized Josef would sense anything so quickly, but apparently he'd immediately picked up on Mick's downtrodden emotions through thier link. He'd kind of been hoping maybe he could get out of this without having to mention the problems he and Beth were having, but deep down he'd known that was impossible.
To his relief, Josef didn't ask anything about it, just acknowledged that he knew Mick needed him. "Do you want to go to the office with me?"
"Yeah," Mick nodded, grateful for what he knew was only a temporary respite. "For a little while, at least. If it's okay?."
Josef gave him a reproachful look. "Of course it's okay. You should know better than to even ask."
Mick grimaced at the mild chiding. "I know. Sorry."
Josef gave his head an amused little shake and said, "C'mon. I'll drive."
The ride to Josef's office building was quiet, Mick lost in his thoughts and Josef concentrating on the traffic. Suppossedly. But every so often, Mick caught a side-long glance or corner-eyed look that Josef threw in his direction, and he knew Josef would only hold off his curiosity so long. Mick was suprised- and touched- to feel concern mixed in with that curiosity. Josef knew that although Mick's power in this area- feeling the other's emotions across their bond- were not as strong as his own, he knew it was there. So Mick figured that since Josef wasn't hiding his concern from him- a trick he himself had still yet to master- that meant his friend wanted him to know it was there. He couldn't help thinking back to the night he'd felt a rush of tenderness from Josef just as he'd been falling asleep on Josef's couch, followed by a gentle hand on the back of his head. He'd gotten the sense that Josef thought that moment had been confidential, so he'd never mentioned it- he'd even resisted the urge to use it for teasing entertainment- but he'd been touched by the gesture and suprised at the depth of caring coming from his friend, and for that quick moment he'd felt a security unlike any he'd ever known. He wondered if his mentor had always felt like that toward him, or if it was the result of their new....developments.
By the time they'd made it to the building, then through it and up to Josef's office, Mick was just waiting. It was almost funny, actually. Well, it would have been if he hadn't felt so....down. Josef was by no means a shy or timid man, and he'd never had trouble speaking what was on his mind. Especially where Mick was concerned. Yet here Josef was, trying to be....patient. Mick could almost laugh. But then he felt a little apprehensive, realizing that Josef was just feeling his way along. He could sense that Josef was mostly indecisive about how to handle the situation as a whole, how best to deal with specific circumstances that come up. Mick suddenly recognized this, but he pushed down the sudden and unexplainable sense of unease he felt at this new knowledge. For some reason, the idea that Josef wasn't as totally in control as he usually was- or at least made it seem like he was- made Mick feel very insecure.
He seated himself on Josef's office sofa while Josef made himself busy for a few minutes at his desk. Mick ignored the little puttering noises of the computer being turned on and Josef speaking to an employee over his desk intercom. He sat forward on the couch and put his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his upturned hands. He couldn't get his mind off Beth. He wanted to make things right with her. If only she could just let the whole vampire thing go. Why couldn't she just be satisfied knowing what he is without trying to insinuate herself into that dangerous part of his life? It would make things so much easier, for her and him, and they could be happy like that. Josef's been telling him for months that a relationship between a vampire and a human just couldn't work. Mick was startled to realize that he was wondering if maybe Josef was right. But, no. He won't give up Beth. He won't! He'd work this out somehow. He had to, he couldn't bear the thought of losing her. Hopefully he could figure this out without having to indulge Josef's curiosity too much. Mick now felt the need to be a little more careful about the Beth-related topics when talking to Josef than he used to be, ever since Josef's 'request' that he keep Beth out of vampire business. He was trying, dammit!
He'd been so immersed in his brooding that he was startled when Josef settled himself next to Mick, but on the arm of the sofa rather than on the other side of him on the cushions. He hadn't heard- or felt- Josef approach. Josef's chosen perch put him a little higher that Mick's position, and Mick lifted his chin a litte to look up at his friend.
"Well?" Josef prodded. "Are you going to tell me what has you so bent out of shape tonight?"
"Nothing, really. Just a bad night."
"You know, I can't help but notice that for all the planning you put into this big night with Blondie, it seems to have ended at a rather unnaturally early hour."
"You know her name, Josef."
"You mean it's not Blondie?"
When Mick just glared, Josef momentarily put his hands up, palms forward, in apology. "Okay, okay," he gave in, " all jokes aside, Mick. What's up? I can feel how upset you are, I know something's happened. Is it Beth?"
"She's just so....so...." Mick threw his hands up in frustration, unable to find the right word.
"A woman?" Josef supplied.
"Sometimes I just don't get her."
"You never will. Let me tell you a secret, my friend. Women are not meant to be understood by men. Even when you get to be my age, the understanding of the female phsyche will still be firmly out of your reach. It's just meant to be. Even if you kept the same woman for four-hundred years- Beth for example- you would probably know her very well, but you would still have no hope of understanding the mystery that is Woman."
"Sometimes I just don't know what she wants, what she expects of me."
"Of course not, Mick. It's against their code-" he reached over and laid one had at the base of his dejected friend's neck and massaged the muscles there. That had become their usual practice for the few times Josef had felt Mick needed contact as well as his presence to draw what he needed. "They can't make it easy for us, you know."
"Their code? Their women's code, Josef?" Mick asked in some amusement at Josef's humor.
"Sure," Josef reiterated. He massaged a little harder and included the curve of one shoulder- right where it curves into the neck-in his treatment. He smothered a smile as Mick let his head drop forward at the calming contact he'd needed and the pleasure of the gentle massage. "Women don't want us to know this, but it's like a club, and they're inducted at puberty. I wouldn't be suprised if they have a secret handshake and everything."
"Now you're just being ridiculous," Mick accused, his voice a little muffled. He'd leaned his forehead into his hands, which were again braced on his knees by his elbows, as he'd succumbed to the elder vampire's ministrations.
"You think so?" Josef asked cryptically.
"If it's such a hopeless case, then why do men even bother?"
"You'll know the answer to that when you can tell yourself why you're even bothering. Women have the power, and they know it."
"Sometimes I'm not completely sure it's worth it."
Josef stilled for a moment, then asked "Is that really how you feel?"
Mick moaned in frustration. "No."
"I didn't think so. Listen, Mick, I know I've given you a hard time about the whole 'Beth' thing, and I still don't believe a relationship with a human can work. You two will have to work that part out eventually. But if you care about her as much as I think you do, then let me tell you.... it's worth it. Okay? All the crap that we have to deal with just because we want to be with someone.... it's all worth it if you love her. Remember that."
Mick lifted his head and looked up at Josef. "Is that how you felt about Sarah?" Josef's jaw clenched and for a moment Mick thought maybe he'd overstepped his bounds, but then his friend's face softened.
"Yes," he answered softly. "It's how I still feel about her. I'm just not sure she'd agree, at this point."
"I'm sorry," Mick apologized. "I shouldn't have asked."
"It was a fair question."
"Mick," Josef looked at him with a little smile%