Let the games begin, Mick thought as he pulled up to Josef's mansion at the appointed time. He was the first guest to arrive, if you could even call Mick a guest, but Josef had left a message on Mick's voicemail 'requesting' that he be there at a specified time before anyone else was due to arrive. He got a strange look from the security man that opened the door when Mick stashed the duffel bag he was carrying in a back corner of the room, but he just smiled at the man and headed upstairs on his own. Josef's staff knew him well enough by now to know he was eccentric, but a friend, and no danger to their employer. As if Josef needed protection, anyway.
Mick didn't have a concrete plan in mind, but he had a few good ideas. Some of it was going to depend on how the evening went. He would just play it by ear. He chuckled to himself in anticipation, then he wondered if this was how Josef felt when planning someone's demise. Somehow, added to the wish to do something simple to show Josef how angry he was, there was now a childish sense of mischief. He just had to remember to play it cool. If he let's his nerves get ahead of him Josef will know, and that will put an end to the fun before it even begins. And that will never do.
Mick followed his 'Josef-sense' until he found the room the other man was in. He gave a little tap on the door and walked in, giving a little nod as Josef turned from the window to face him.
He knew he was there for inspection. Josef is a clothes-hound, and is forever critiqueing Mick's choices of apparrel. Mick had known that for such an occassion, Josef would want to approve- or at least see- what he had chosen to wear. It wasn't quite as formal as Josef's extremely expensive suit, but Mick's slacks, shirt and blazer-type jacket should pass.
Mick stood still as Josef eyed him critically and nodded in approval of his choice. But then Josef frowned a little and gave a long-suffering shake of his head and strode forward.
"Honestly, Mick. Do you sleep in your clothes?"
Mick was used to this familiar routine and just rolled his eyes a little as Josef proceeded in his task. He adjusted Mick's collar and straightened his lapels. Then he brushed the shoulders and ran his hands down the sleeves of the blazer smoothing imaginary wrinkles, giving each cuff a tug before he stepped back, satisfied. And just like every time, Mick had an instant flashback of his own mother performing the very same ritual when he was a child. Every Sunday morning before church. He smirked a little but quickly made it disappear as Josef glanced up at him. He didn't think Josef would appreciate the comparison.
"What's funny?" Josef asked curiously, having sensed Mick's humor.
"Nothing," Mick answered quickly. "Just a passing thought. Private joke."
"Glad to see you're in better humor than you were last night."
"I have a whole new outlook tonight. Don't they say 'life is what you make it' ? I have a feeling tonight's gonna be better than I thought."
Josef stepped back and looked at Mick appraisingly, then nodded slowly. "Wow. I'm impressed, Mick."
Mick just blinked at Josef in suprise. This was unexpected. "Impressed?"
"Yes." Josef laid a hand on Mick's shoulder and gave a little squeeze. "And for what it's worth, I'm proud of you."
"You are?" Damn. Any other time Mick would bask in the glow of hearing Josef say something like that to him, but given his current plans, it just made him feel the first little niggles of guilt.
"Sure. This is a complete turnaround. It says to me that you're trying. I can't ask for more than that."
Great. There was no way he could follow through on his little game now. Josef said he was impressed. He was proud of him. Why does he do this to him? The thought of doing something that would disappoint Josef now was unthinkable. Mick let the idea of the night's fun disintegrate. And strangely, he had no problem with it. The moment he no longer had a reason to feel guilty, that coveted glow of pleasure at having given Josef a reason to be proud of him arrived. Mick stood up a little straighter in pride.
"Thanks, Josef. That means alot." He valiantly put out of his head the knowledge that it hadn't been honestly earned.
"You're welcome. And I mean it. I knew it wouldn't take long if you just took the time to think about what I said."
Think about what he....? What?! "What do you mean?"
"I was worried when you went off in a huff. I thought you might let your anger get in the way of taking sound advice. Especially my sound advice. You weren't too receptive last night, you know."
"I was mad," Mick excused lamely in distraction. What is Josef trying to say here?
"That's okay, Mick. Like I said before, we won't always agree on what's best. But it'll all work out fine when you understand that I only want what's best for you."
"Sooo....as long I listen to you, everything'll be okay." Mick clarified flatly. Who the hell does he think he is?
Josef smile broadly, his serious moment gone. "You're a quick learner, Mick."
Mick was aware that this last from Josef was meant to be a joke, maybe even in response to the irritation Josef might be feeling from him- maybe trying to lighten the mood, but Mick didn't care. He didn't like the inference that Josef knew best, Josef was always right, and all happiness could be found if Mick just did what Josef decided was best. God. Sometimes Josef can be such an arrogant ass.
He also wasn't comfortable with this new sense of bitterness and worried about where it might be coming from, but in his present frame of mind he decided it didn't matter right now. Not so much as putting Josef in his place a little, anyway.
Screw guilt. Game time.
Josef didn't like the idea of these Elders being so interested in Mick. It's not that he really thought they were a danger, it was more the perception of danger. They were accorded respect because of their age, power and station, but..... they were on his turf, in his territory. And he couldn't help that protective, possessive feeling that they might be a threat to something that was his. He'd wanted to warn Mick to stay close by, where Josef could see him and keep an eye out on him, but he knew Mick would resist that with everything he was worth. Especially given that surge of anger he'd felt from Mick right before Josef had been informed of his first guests arriving. He was still confused as to where that had come from, what had prompted it. He'd have persued it if they'd had time, but it was time for him to play the gracious host.
He had a feeling the the Elders were more than just interested. He thought they might have been sent to 'inspect' Mick much as Josef would be inspecting the two new fledgelings here tonight. But he didn't really know what they might be looking for. When Josef inspects new vampires in his community, he's making sure they're being socialized and controlled, that they're adjusting okay, and that they seem to have no tendecies torward going feral. But being that Mick's not really new, those concerns don't apply to him.
"Good evening, Mr. Kostan."
Josef turned at the cultured, slightly accented voice that had spoken his name. Speak of the devil....well, devils.
The three attending Elders stood together facing Josef, and he couldn't help but think of a judging panel. "Good evening," Josef replied in kind. "I do hope you're enjoying yourself."
"Yes. Lovely place, by the way," replied the same one that had spoken Josef's name. Josef knew all three, vaguely. He'd had a few encounters with them over his four centuries, but had never had much occasion to get to know them too well. The only one to have spoken thus far was going by the name Nigel. Josef did remember that he'd never cared much for that one. A little on the short side, though just a little shorter than Josef himself, and slightly pudgy, he'd always reminded Josef of a middle-aged business man. He was a little over seven hundred years old, by his own reckoning, and had never said exactly where he'd come from. But he still spoke in a highly stiff English accent, and he carried himself with that 'better-than-you' pompous attitude that one might imagine came from an English butler with delusiouns of grandeur.
The vampire next to him, the one in the middle, Josef knew as Malcolm. He was a powerful vampire, and the oldest among the three at almost a millenium. Josef could feel the power radiating off of him, and he was given plenty of space by all the other guests. He was humorless, with a stern countenance. And his appearance supported that, his tall, lean form, and his shoulder length black hair slicked back and held with a piece of leather at the back. It was his eyes that showed his true soul, though. There was a cruelty there, moreso than anything Josef had ever known. Where Nigel fancied himself better than everyone around him, Malcolm knew it. There was something in his eyes that said he had love for no one, and he saw no being as his equal. His fellow vampires were almost as far under him as their food source, the humans. If there was ever anyone Josef Kostan had ever met that he would admit a fear of, it was this one.
The last of the Elders was tall with shining ebony skin, and dark kinky curls close to his head. Josef knew him only as Rake. He was the second eldest at around nine-hundred years. He had the same powerful aura as Malcolm, due to his age, which was barely under Malcolm's, but he was missing the high level of menace that was present in his counterpart.
"I see you've welcomed two new fledges into your community, Josef. How does it look?" Rake's voice was rich and deep, matching the color of his skin. His tone was less condescending than Nigel's had been, even as he used Josef's first name rather than his last as Nigel had.
"It looks good for the the young lady. She seems to be adjusting well. Time will tell with the other. He has a wife and children he's left behind and he's having trouble adjusting. I promised his sire a little more time to see if she could get him to adjust before a decision is made, so long as he makes no stupid mistakes like trying to contact his family."
"A fair decision," Rake approved.
"A bit too lenient, if you ask me," Nigel huffed. "If they can't let their past go from the beginning, it will never happen. Terminate him now and you will save yourself plenty of trouble later."
Malcom said nothing, simply stared at Josef with a look in his eyes that Josef couldn't decipher, but it was a look he didn't like. It was almost a humorous look, like he found something funny and was laughing to himself but wouldn't deign to share the joke. As Josef met the vampire's eyes, Malolm slid one corner of his mouth up into a smirk. He gave one curt nod of the head and turned, walking away without a word as Josef stared at his back.
"You'll have to forgive our companion," Rake said. "He's a man of few words."
"Hmph. Among other things," Nigel added, but Josef noted that it was said quietly enough to prevent it being heard by Malcolm's retreating form.
Before Josef could respond, another of the guests, Alexander Chisolm, approached Josef from behind and clapped him on the back.
"Well, Kostan, I guess congratulations are in order." Alex grabbed Josef's hand and pumped it in a handshake.
Alex was a vampire close to Josef in age, in fact, he would likely be the Community Elder if Josef hadn't been there, but Josef and he had a bit of a strained relationship for that very fact. Alex was considered second in the community and as such could easily share some of Josef's responsibilities, but Alexander Chisolm doesn't like second. If it wasn't for that, they might have very well been friends. Alex had a very open and easy going personality.
And now Josef stared at the other vampire in confusion. "Congratulations?" he asked.
"Sure. But I never thought you'd do it. And it's brave, really. I mean, the girl was one of you freshies. I suppose there's nothing wrong with it, marrying a freshie, but the fact that you want her to stay human is suprising. I'd have figured you'd turn anyone you consider to be wife material."
"What?" Josef could only stare in shock, his usual cool decorum having fled for the moment.
"Listen, I know you didn't want anyone else to know yet, but since I found out I just wanted to extend my congrats. And no one will hear it from me until you're ready to announce it. I'll let you get back to your other guests. Gentlemen." And with that Alex wandered off to another group he spied across the room. He just knew they'd love to hear the suprising news.
"Well. Congratulations, Josef."
"No," Josef answered Rake, still in confusion. "No, there's no congratulations. I'm not getting married."
"No. I'm not sure where Alexander got that information, but I intend to find out."
"Hmm. A rumor, perhaps."
"Maybe," Josef answered a little doubtfully. Alex had seemed too confident about the news for it to have been heard as gossip.
"We'll talk some more later, Josef. It would not do for us to monopolize the host."
"Yes," Josef agreed distractedly, and barely noticed when his two elders wandered away.
Josef mingled himself into the crowd, putting that strange encounter to the back of his mind, and played the perfect host, meeting, greeting, conversing and mingling.
But from then on, he had many more strange encounters that he couldn't explain. A couple of the attending Cleaners cornered him and wanted to know what was up with his assumption that they were not doing their jobs well enough to suit him. Several of his business clients accosted him with the worried assumption that he was dismantling his current business, without informing them, and might be ready to make off with the exorbiant about of their own money they'd entrusted him with. He recieved several more congratulations on his mysterious upcoming marriage. He had a tense encounter with Ryder, in which the younger vampire pleaded for Josef to give him one more chance to prove himself useful as a tech before Josef found himself someone else to do the job.
Josef had no answers for any of them, only protests. Where were these people getting all this?
After about an hour of these strange encounters, Josef finally began getting some answers. Well, one answer, really. One that he'd found hard to believe at first. Mick St. John. It seemed Mick had begun his own little rumor mill. Josef was stunned to hear that he'd been the source of these unreputable murmurings, until he remembered some of Mick's recent behavior and some of the vibes he'd gotten from the younger vampire. Seems Mick is on a mission of revenge. That little demon! Now, where is he?
During his search of his wayward fledgleing- in which so far Mick had been successful in evading him because Josef had to constantly stop and make nice with his guests-Josef found himself once more approached by the Elders. He was relieved to note that it was only two of them. Malcolm was not among them.
"Josef. We met young Mick," Rake informed him without preamble on their approach.
"Crass young thing, he is," Nigel snorted in derision.
Josef frowned. That didn't sound like Mick at all. True, he's not as polished as Josef, but Mick has no problem being personable when the occassion calls for it. But then again, Mick was quite out of character tonight. An event that would not be ignored, Josef vowed.
"Rather disrespectful, really," Nigel continued indignantly. "It's easy to see that fledgeling has had no discipline."
Josef drew himself up straight at the assumption that he was wanting in his job as a sire. "I hope you'll excuse him. We had a bit of a disagreement last night. He seems to be perfecting his own brand of rebellion." It about killed Josef to have to make apologies to this vampire, with his overblown sense of superiority, but he was an elder.
"Rebellion would not exist if the correct discipline were in place. It's easy to see this one needs a heavy hand. Perhaps you were not yet ready to have sired."
Josef said nothing, just clenched his jaw. Nigel just nodded his head knowingly, then said, "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen. I think I'll go see where Malcolm has disappeared to."
Josef and Rake both watched Nigel depart, then Rake turned back to Josef. He couldn't help but think - judging by his expression as he'd watched Nigel walk away- that Rake didn't care much for the English- sounding vampire either.
"So tell me, Josef," Rake began. "Mick is your first?"
Josef thought of Sarah. He certainly couldn't tell Rake about her, and anyway, to be truthful, he'd never experienced the Sire/fledgleling connection with Sarah, thanks to her condition.
"Yes," Josef answered mostly truthfully. "He is."
"This is quite a unique case. No other vampire has ever been turned twice."
Josef did not speak, worried for a moment how much he should say. He didn't want Mick in danger.
But Rake seemed to guess his feelings and smiled a little. "Have no fear, Josef," he assured with a little humor. " The council has been aware of Mick St. John for quite a while now. We are quite gratified of the new circumstances. Coraline did not do him justice as a sire, and it is believed that Mick's self-hatred stemmed from departing from her too soon. Though the fiasco with the temporay 'cure' for vampirism was a bit worrying, we are seeing this as a second chance for young Mr. St. John. And you are to be credited. It is believed that the only reason Mick did not suffer the usual bad effects of an orphan is because you took him under your wing these many years until you turned him again."
Well. That was suprising.
"However," Rake continued, and Josef knew there'd be more. "As tiresome as Nigel can sometimes be, he is correct in one thing. For Mick's own safety, you must get a handle on him."
"It's a little complicated," Josef protested. "Mick a very good friend, and had been before I turned him back. He's resisting the new relationship."
"That is not altogether new, Josef, and no excuse. Many vampires are turned by lovers or friends, as you well know. I myself am the sire of nine, two of whom I had very close relationships with before I turned them."
"I'm just not sure what's right for him. I don't want to make things worse."
"But you are, by not doing what is needed. You are half my age, Josef, but you are old enough to remember how things used to be handled by sires, and still are by the old ones. But today's new turns were brought up in a time when it is believed such discipline is abuse. It is not necessary to do things the old way, Josef. You do not have to be cruel or abusive. You will find your own way. But you must command his respect. Not demand it, but command it. There is a difference there. To demand his respect, you would simply be forcing him into it, but to command his respect, you would be teaching him that he wants to. It would be a feeling within him, and you would have earned it."
"The biggest issue is that Mick's not a newborn," Josef explained. "He doesn't really need the same kind of care that a new turn requires."
"Ah, but he does, Josef. He does not require the same constant supervision, but he craves the same attention."
"He sure doesn't act like it," Josef responded in slight irritation.
"And that is your failing," Rake said, not unkindly. "I have been observing him. He needs things he does not even realize. Some of the things he feels, but does not want to admit.He fears this new dependence. It is your job to supply what he needs whether he wants it or not, or thinks he needs it or not. Has his personality changed at all?"
Josef looked up in alarm at the veiled meaning in this question. "A little," Josef admitted hesitantly. Rake nodded at him to continue. "He's become a bit more irritable than usual, less easy going. It doesn't take much to set him off these days."
Rake nodded knowingly. "Under the circumstances, Josef, it is believed that Mick could easily go feral at what might seem to be the rejection by his new sire. I know you are not actively rejecting him, but the fledgeling inside him doesn't realize that. You have been negligent in your duty as a Sire, Josef."
Josef flinched at the proclamation, suddenly realizing the truth. "What can I do to change it?" he asked, bowing to the voice of experience.
"I think you know, Josef. Am I correct in assuming that you have not yet asserted your dominance as his Sire?"
"No," Josef admitted. "Not really. I was afraid that it would damage him more if he wasn't ready."
"He was ready the moment you turned him. Now it is imperative. I suggest, for both your sake's but especially Mick's, that you take that step as quickly as possible. He will fight it, likely, or perhaps try to manipulate you out of it- he is stronger than a new turn- but you must persevere and follow through. Simply allow your instinct take over and you will know what to do. As will he, when he gives in to his own instincts. All will be well. I am going to guess that Mick has not verbally acknowledged that you are his sire?"
Josef shook his head negatively. Now that he thought about it, they'd discussed it, and he knows Mick knows it intillectually, but Mick had never acknowledged the fact, really. Josef was pretty sure Mick had never even said the word 'sire' in any of their conversations.
"That is one of his coping tactics, Josef. He feels that if he doesn't acknowledge it, maybe it doesn't exist. That should be your first step."
"Thank you, Rake. This has been a valuable conversation." Josef had a new respect for this older vampire, and his wisdom.
"You're welcome." Rake paused, then cocked his head a little, his glance flicking to some distance over Josef's shoulder. "It seems your Mick is rather more dressed down than he was when I encountered him earlier."
Josef turned and gave a double take at the picture Mick presented. In place of his former passable attire, he was now wearing an old pair of jeans- faded, dirty and torn-, a black t-shirt with the logo of some obscure heavy metal band, worn, dirty tennis shoes, and a folded- thin bandanna wrapped around his head ninja-style. What the....?! The complete costume was grossly out of place for such a formal gathering, and Mick was recieving many looks of derision and amusement. And there were just as many fearful glances in Josef's direction in anticipation of his reaction, as well as a few head shakes at the behavior of his childe.
"Excuse me," Josef said tightly to Rake with a last respectful nod.
Josef made a bee-line for Mick's position, vowing that this time nothing would prevent him from reaching his target.
As Rake watched Josef hurry off to save face, he was joined by his two comrades that had been waiting nearby.
"You spoke to him?" Malcolm asked.
"Of course. He recognizes his mistakes. He is young. He will learn."
"We shall see."
"He will do what's right."
"I'm not so sure," Nigel added stuffily as the other two looked at each other in sufferance of their companion. "I don't think he has it in him."
"Josef Kostan is not to be underestimated. Everything will be fine."
"We shall see," Malcolm said again.
Mick was having the time of his life. He'd loved watching the reactions of his fellow vampires at the 'rumors' of the very public Josef Kostan. He'd loved even more the look on Josef's face when confronted with these rumors, the couple times he'd risked staying near enough to see it. This was the perfect plan. Maybe it would make Josef sit up and take notice. Maybe it would make Josef think twice next time he felt the need to treat Mick as if he didn't know how to run his own life. The wardrobe change was the coupe de grace.
He'd had a couple moments of panic when he'd realized that Josef had discovered his little game earlier, but he'd managed to keep ahead of him long enough have a little more fun and change his clothes. Oh, he knew he'd have to pay the piper later. He knew he wouldn't get away with this indefinately, but for now the only thing that mattered was 'the lesson'. He'd worry about everything else later.
Even now, as he was speaking with a couple of freshies about the possibility of Josef converting to only packaged blood (not true of course, but their stricken expressions said they believed him) he spied Josef headed his way with single-minded intensity and murder in his eyes.
Uh oh. Time to skedaddle. Inevitable or not, he'd much rather deal with the consequences of the night's fun after Josef had a chance to calm down and see the humor in it himself. Yeah. That'll happen.
Mick bid the ladies a hasty farewell and headed off, trying to disappear amongst the other guests. He knew Josef could track him easily by using their link, but earlier Josef had been distracted by the other guests and Mick hoped that would work again. In fact, judging by the expression that had been on Josef's face, Mick thought maybe calling it a night would be the best thing. He could leave early and call Josef tomorrow.
Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea.
He threw a glance behind him to note Josef's progress and was suprised and relieved to discover that he seemed to have lost him. He smiled to himself in satisfaction....
....and then his feet flew out from under him as a harsh grip on the back of his neck stopped his forward momentum just as he entered the foyer.
He landed hard on the flat of his back. He blinked up at the terrifying sight above him.
"Uh... hi, Josef." He gave a weak smile that lasted only a moment before it slid off his face. Josef looked anything but happy.
"Stand up," Josef ordered. Mick's eyes widened a little. The tone of Josef's voice made Mick want to do nothing more than to stay right where he was and sink into the floor, safely out of his friend's reach.
Mick stood up slowly, backing away just a little as Josef remained immovable, refusing to give the younger vampire the personal space he would need to stand up withought colliding with Josef. On the way to his upright position, Mick ran through several possible things he could say to appease the older vampire, but he was not given the chance to voice even one.
The moment he was up, Josef reached out swiftly and again caught the back of Mick's neck in a harsh hold. Mick couldn't help his little grunt of pain. Josef used that hold to pull Mick the rest of the way to his feet, then pulled him close. He pulled Mick's head down a couple inches to accomodate for Josef's shorter stature as he spoke into Mick's ear.
"Immensely," Mick responded in an unwise flash anger that was gone before the word had even completely left his mouth.
Josef squeezed just a little harder, and this time Mick's grunt of pain bordered on a whimper, and he immediately wished he'd kept his mouth shut. It would take a vampire much stronger than himself to remain stoic under such force. And besides, this is Josef. Mick had taken on many vampires older and more powerful than himself- even when he should've known better. Sometimes he'd won and sometimes he hadn't. But Mick would never actively fight Josef, he couldn't bring himself to, and instinctively he knew that was one battle he'd be on the losing end of, anyway.
Josef brought his mouth a little closer to Mick's ear. "I think we need to have a little talk, Mick. Why don't you go up to the study and wait for me to excuse myself to my guests."
"It seems to me we've talked enough, Josef." Damn. Why can't I just learn to keep my mouth shut?
"You're right, Mick," Josef said thoughtfully. "We have done enough talking. It's time for another approach. Go. Upstairs."
Mick's brow wrinkled and Josef sensed his uncertainty. He tightened his grip yet a little more. Mick groaned just a little in the back of his throat, and tried to shift position subtly to lessen the pain just a little, but Josef's fingers were like iron. "If you insist on making a scene, Mick, I'll drag you up there kicking and screaming. Is that what you want?"
"No? Does that mean you'd like to hold on to your dignity and walk up there on your own?"
"Then go now," Josef growled and gave Mick a little shake. "Before I change my mind and drag you up there in front of everyone like a misbehaving child."
Josef dug his fingers into the muscles of Mick's neck to get his point across and Mick stiffenned at the pain in his already abused muscles. When Josef finally let go, Mick almost moaned in relief. He almost thanked him. Instead he spun on his heel and quickly headed for the stairs before Josef did indeed change his mind.
When Mick reached the room Josef had specified, he entered and shut the door behind him. He had the irrational urge to lock it so he only had to deal with Josef from the other side. But of course that wouldn't work. Damn. His neck and shoulders still hurt, the deep bruises on his muscles not having faded yet. And yet, he knew he'd been fortunate. Josef had been angry, but did not want to hurt him. Not like he would to someone he truly meant harm to. For vampires, with their accelerated healing and superior strength, such treatment is painful, attention getting, but not damaging. Mick had seen many young vampires treated in such a way, and harsher ways, for the sake of discipline. He knew that had been Josef's aim, and he was aware that it could have been worse. There are many ways to cause pain without causing damage, and he would bet Josef knew every one of them. Mick thought maybe he'd let the 'game' get too out of hand. Maybe he'd better just suck it up and apologise when Josef get's up here.
His mind made up, he stood up straight as he felt Josef's approach. Josef entered and, with his back to Mick, shut the door softly. Mick waited for Josef to face him before he said anything, but he had no chance to speak.
When Josef turned to him, it was with a predatory hiss and Mick's eyes widened in more than suprise when he saw that Josef had changed to show his vampire face. Mick was too stunned to even move as Josef flew at him faster than the eye could follow.