Title: Quicksand – Part One
Notes: What I had intended as a slashy one-off is growing into a series. This is part one of the second story in the series. Which I've now decided to title after Bowie songs. Not because they're about those songs, because songfic--yikes! But because I can't think of better titles on my own. Be kind and feed the author. Thanks!
Whatever misguided voice in his mind had told Mick that Josef would be monogamous was laughing its rosy-cheeked head off at the moment. They were on Sunset, quarter to one in the morning, at a cramped neon martini bar with a trendy name like Zachs or Inkas where a wrinkled duo sang Muskrat Love to each other over a drink-ring stained grand piano. You couldn't smoke in California anymore but the haze still hung about the tasseled green drapes Mick rested his aching head against in the darkest booth the bar could muster. The martini clientèle sipping their chocolate-cayenne-pepper rimmed glasses didn't pay him any mind as long as he sat very still. Josef, on the other hand, was anything but still. Manhattan in hand, he was effortlessly holding the rapt attention of three ex-cheerleaders in matching sequined halter tops, one twice-divorced matron in revealing velvet and a tool named Barney in a tweed suit coat and tee who claimed to be an independent film producer of some note. One of them (possibly two) would end the evening passed out in the alley behind this joint. And not from too much drink and braggadocio.
Mick flicked his solitary maraschino cherry across the table. Uh-oh, that was movement. The barmaid saw him and pushed her way through.
"Sir? Can I get you anything else?" This was the fifth time she had asked.
Mick shook his head.
"I do need to ask you to pay the bill now."
"I just gave you three twenties."
The waitress indicated the fan club at the piano. "Your friend said I should see you about the round he just called."
Mick groaned under the geriatric lounge vocals and reached for his wallet. He tossed a credit card onto her tray. "When do you close?"
"At current pace, about a hundred and twenty-five dollars from now."
Mick got up. "You can clear the table."
"Mick! Are you going to crawl out of your closet and join us? How nice."
Mick leaned into Josef's ear. "We're done here. I'm ringing you out."
Josef gave him his best Taxi Driver look. "But the night is young."
"Not young enough," Mick said, taking Josef's elbow and escorting him toward the back door.
Josef slipped free once they were by the phones. "Hey, I'm all for a little PDA, but do you have to be so tactless about it?"
"Tactless? What was that 'closet' crack all about? You know I hate that shit."
"Whoa, down boy. You know, you're being awfully cranky for a guy who came so hard this morning his nose bled."
Mick looked over his shoulder and pulled Josef further out of view. "Can we just drop that?"
"Yeah, the altitude at sea level's a real bitch on the sinuses. Look, man, I'm sorry. I wouldn't...question your sensibilities of you occasionally actually pretended like you wanted to be seen with me."
"I am seen with you. When there's standing room."
Josef grinned. "Here we go again: different night, different place, same tiff. It's four months on now, Mick, and it's growing tiresome. I'm outta here."
Mick rounded on him, palms up. "All right. I know I promised. But can you just wrap things up already? I'm not a walking ATM."
"Wow, two acronyms in this go-around. We're becoming more efficient, my dear. Get the car, I'll be out back in ten."
Mick sat idling with the top down, watching the neon tooth-picked olive sputter over the rear exit at the opposite end of the alley. Josef emerged in nine, with the black velvet woman in hand. He spun her around and pressed her against the filthy brick wall, kissing her in his notoriously precise and elegant manner. Mick looked away and then he didn't look away. Time was when it was him, not behind the wheel of the Mercedes, but in the back of it, with one of Josef's cast-offs, pulling up her skirt and pulling down her collar. Anything for a hot, quick meal. Josef had this belle du jour fucking his fingers and sliding out of her straps before he even got serious about tasting her throat. It was a bit of a show, he knew. Like a car wreak, it was hard to ignore.
In another minute the prey was sobbing his name (why did he always use his name?) and shuddering around his hand as he took a good long drink from her. But not too much, no. He was civilized now. Sort of. Usually. Oh, come on. Mick honked the horn. Josef pulled his hand free of her hemline to flip him off. Mick laughed. No, this wasn't funny. It really wasn't. Stop it.
Josef finished his leisurely sup and propped her up against the rear door. Then rang the buzzer for the bouncer and ran for the car. Class act.
"God, you have got to get off your high horse and try the cougars," he said, hopping in, licking his lips. "They're my favorite flavor of 2008. Aged to perfection."
Mick turned on his blinker and rolled out onto Sunset. "You can spare me the commentary, thanks. She gonna be okay?"
"Mick, come on. It's me."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"At worst, she's got a story to tell her weekly manicurist. You're missing out, pal. Just saying."
"Okay...but do me a favor and don't touch anything until you've washed up."
Josef held up his prize fingers. "What? This?" he inhaled. "That's the scent of victory."
Mick stopped short at the light and looked at him. "How old are you?"
"Hey, you get testy if I put my dick in them. What else can I say? Turned at twenty-four. But in my day, that was getting 'up there.'"
Mick nodded. "I wondered."
Josef stretched out in the seat next to him, eyes glowing. His entire body was radiating heat. There was something to be said for supper on tap. He'd nuke a pint when they got home. Or two. Then slam Josef to the floor until all the guilt was fucked away. "You didn't use to give me all this grief before, you know."
"I know," Mick said. The light turned green.
"I haven't dropped a girl since New Year's 1989. What's changed? Other than the obvious?"
Josef's tone was serious for once. So Mick gave it serious thought. "I don't know. It bothers me."
"More than before...we..."
Josef sucked up his fangs. "Sorry. I can't seem to help it. I tried."
"I know. It's okay."
"Come on. Don't blow me off on this."
Mick grinned despite himself. "I've known you for over half my life, Josef. And I still like you anyway. It's my problem. I'll get over it." He had to, he knew that much.
"I know it's why you don't like being seen with me."
"It's not... you I don't like socializing with. It's your dinner."
Josef leaned his head on his hand. "It's just...I like showing you off a bit, you know? When you let me."
"I know." Mick felt he should say something more but the lights stayed green the rest of the way home.
Mick was expecting a client to come by at nine the next morning so he left Josef snoozing in the icebox while he showered and dressed, leaving a big sign pressed face-down on the air-tight lid. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PUT ON PANTS!
He was just booting up his laptop when the bell rang. He answered it. It was Beth.
"Are you...going to let me in?"
Mick blinked. "Uh, yeah...are you my 9am?"
"Never mind. I was expecting a client."
"Can I come in?"
Mick backed up. "Sure."
He watched her move into the room, looking around like she hadn't been by in four years instead of only four months. She turned and conjured a smile. "So how you been?"
"Can't complain. You?"
She nodded, then her smile faded. She looked on the verge of tears.
"Beth, what is it?"
She pressed a hand to her mouth. "Dammit. I said I wasn't going to cry."
Mick took her arm and gently guided her to sit on the couch. "Can I get you something? Water? Kleenex?"
She took a breath. "Water would be nice; thank you."
Mick filled her a glass from the fridge dispenser and brought it to her. She looked tired, he thought--worn out underneath a carefully applied layer of makeup and perfume. A subtle but noticeable change from the radiant woman he remembered from her wedding. "Here, take your time."
Beth sipped her water and, after a thought, Mick took the chair opposite. "Beth, if you're in any kind of trouble you know I'll help. I just need you to tell me what's happened."
She nodded. "I'm so embarrassed. I can't believe I'm having to ask you this, but I need you to tail Josh for me."
"Tail him? Why?"
Her face started to fall again, but she caught herself. "I think he might be having an affair."
"Josh?" Mick said, amazed. "What makes you suspect him of infidelity?"
"I know he's not being honest with me about something. He comes home late; he's evasive about his business plans; there's been strange calls."
"What kind of calls?"
"Calls from someone who just hangs up if I answer the phone. But when he answers, he takes it in the other room. Most of the time they go to his cell. He tells me they're all business."
"Have you taken a look at the number?"
"Mm-hm. It's an unlisted LA number. I tried it from my cell and a friend's cell but no one ever picks up. There's no voicemail."
There was a knock at his door. "That's probably my 9am." He grabbed a note pad and pen. "Here, write down the number for me. I'll make this quick."
Mick took his appointment into the office but kept an eye on Beth through the half-opened door. No, he hadn't counted on seeing her in his living space again, not after the wedding. He really hoped Josh was just in over his head with some debts or shady associates and trying to keep it from his wife. An affair seemed too obvious. Besides, this was Josh. As his client droned on about an insurance fraud case Mick watched Beth get up and make her way upstairs. The hell?
She came back down fifteen minutes later, looking a little paler than when she went up. What for, he had no clue unless Josef was thumping around. But then Mick would have heard him first.
"So I'll start a surveillance of Dan Tyce's activities next week, Mr. Blane, and we'll see how that back surgery is really working out for him, okay?"
"Thanks, I'm certain my cousin couldn't have been wrong, seeing him throw a turkey at Los Feliz Lanes last week."
Mick stood and shook his hand, getting him out the door as soon as possible. Beth still sat on the couch, staring at her hands.
Mick shut his door and went over to her. "So...did you write down that number?"
She lifted her head. "When were you going to tell me, Mick?"
He shrugged. "Tell you what?"
Her eyes were dark. "You know what."
"I've been upstairs, Mick." Crap, did she see the note?
"Why did you go upstairs?"
"I had to pee. Dammit, Mick, Josef is asleep in your freezer!"
"So...? He got in late. Needed a place to crash. He does that."
"Does he crash so much he needs to keep his entire wardrobe in your closet?" Pants themselves were proving to be more damning than the related note.
"Why are you giving me the third degree? Yes, Josef keeps a few things here. He has ever since the fire bombing. He hasn't had a chance to really get back on his feet."
"That was over...five months ago."
"He hasn't been terribly motivated. I don't know why you're getting so upset about this. It's Josef."
She dropped her face in her hands. "There's only one freezer upstairs. It's bigger than your last one."
Mick sighed and rubbed his forehead. "What do you want me to say, Beth? That Josef and I are having hot monkey sex in the Kenmore every night? Talk about freezer burn."
She made a snorting noise. Then another. Before Mick knew it, he was laughing, too. He took a seat next to her on the couch and shared her mirth, hoping to God he and Josef hadn't let anything untoward roll under it of late.
"I apologize," she said, wiping her eyes. "You vampires drive me nuts sometimes." She reached for the notepad. "Here's that number."
Mick took it, folded it up and slipped it into his back pocket.
"Vampires are doing what to you now, Beth?" Josef was descending the stairs, buttoning a long-sleeved shirt. Mick hadn't heard a thing. He wondered how long Josef had been listening. "Don't mind me, just coming down for breakfast. Beth, can I get you something?"
"Hi, Josef. And no, I'll pass. Since when does Mick ever keep something on hand for breakfast?"
"Good point," Josef said, passing them and entering the kitchen. "But I do try to be polite."
Mick made a quick throat slashing motion with his hand from behind Beth. Josef caught it. What he'd do with it, who knew. "So Beth, how's married life? Mick hasn't mentioned running into you since the nuptials," Josef said, pouring himself a helping of Mick's leftovers from the previous night into a coffee mug and popping it into the microwave. Beep.
"Oh, I've been keeping busy. I guess Mick and I have been traveling in different circles lately."
Josef's mouth twitched. "I guess so."
"Josef, Beth's here about a private matter. An...investigative matter."
Josef studied them both. "I see. Don't worry, I'll be out of your hair in a jiffy."
They all stood or sat in silence until the microwave beeped again. Josef held up a finger, fetched it, gave it a dollop of clotted cream from the fridge and excused himself back upstairs with a final side-long glance at Beth. Mick relaxed.
Beth smiled. "I'm surprised the two of you haven't managed to kill each other yet."
"So am I. But, hey," Mick said, patting his back pocket. "I'll get going on this right away. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation."
Beth got up. "I hope you're right. It's been really good seeing you." She went to Mick and he put his arms around her. She was warm and soft against him. He hoped he could go on protecting her. While upstairs, Mick sensed Josef's presence hovering in the hallway, just out of sight.
At night, spooned on the floor in front of the fire, Mick eased himself into Josef's body, lying pale and expectant beside and under him. He'd bought the futon roll-out after fielding several complaints from his best friend about rug fibers getting stuck in places no polypropylene ever should be. So for the first time in half a century, Mick owned a bed. Of sorts.
Josef groaned and arched into him. They'd taken it slow tonight for a change—kissing and undressing one another at a leisurely pace. They were also staying in. It made for less friction--the unpleasant kind, that is. But Mick knew as sure as the dawn would rise that Josef couldn't go more than three days without getting jumpy for something fresh on the hoof. Old blood, he said, needed proper tending. You'll understand in another hundred years or so. Mick hoped so--sometimes, he really did. Especially now--arms about his lover, lips at his neck, stroking him slowly, hearing him moan. This could last forever--it could, if they let it.
"Ah, shit," Josef snarled, tensing, pressing back harder. Mick squeezed him rhythmically in hand, stroke for stroke, until the shuddering spasms left his lover's body relaxed and pliant again. It tugged at him every time, knowing how fragile Josef could be when he was undone. How innocent his young face became when soothed by pleasure. Mick held fast to him, nose buried in his hair, until he worked his own desire through peak and release in a serene effortless flow. I'll protect you. Keep you close. Always.
The easy somnolence gradually melted away and Josef stirred beside him, donning his wardrobe of sarcasm before he'd let his soul lie exposed for too long. Even to Mick. "Not too bad for a couple of old geezers, huh?"
Mick laughed and kissed his shoulder. "No, not bad at all. But then, I'm still considered young."
"Yeah? By whom? Other than yours truly. Most vamps these days can't crack triple digits. Takes skill, artistry."
Mick let his fingers glide down Josef's back. "Many of them don't have the right friends."
"What is it?"
Josef shook it off. "Nothing."
Mick pressed a kiss to his nape. "Something's wrong. Is it Beth?"
"No, it's not Beth."
"Don't lie to me, Josef. Not right now."
Josef rolled over onto his back and ran a hand through his hair. "So you think her fresh new husband's stepping out on her?"
Mick shook his head. "No, I don't. I think he's in trouble, is all."
"And you're going to help them, right?"
Mick stopped caressing Josef's arm. "Yeah, I am."
Josef smirked. "Always the hero..." He paused; his expression turned serious. "Listen, I know you don't want Beth to know about us. I get that. It hurts a little, but I'll respect that. I understand."
Mick studied him. "Do you?"
"Yeah, I mean, if it were Sarah..." He trailed off to a place even Mick was fearful of. "I'm just saying, I know you still have feelings for her."
"Thank you, for that."
Josef nodded and started to get up. Mick sat up. "Hey, who makes my nose bleed?"
Josef turned back to him, amused. "I must say that was a first for vampiredom."
Mick reached for his face and kissed him firmly. And again. "There's a lot of firsts for me, in this. But I swear I'm going to do whatever it takes to work though it."
And Josef smiled for him. The kind of smile that let Mick see inside again, if only for a moment.