Before you read this, I'd like to point out the genre tags in the description of this story. Angst, yes, angst. So don't say I didn't warn you. This is Josef's story, not Mick's, not Beth's. Sometimes doing what is right means doing what hurts you the most. - Laurelin
There was banging, and shouting, and his name being called, but it took Mick a minute to figure out where he was. Waking up to a cacophony in a strange freezer was rather disorienting, but finally Mick remembered. He'd just had great sex with Beth, the woman he loved more than life, and he'd fallen into a contented sleep about… he looked at his watch… two hours ago.
Mick popped the lid of the freezer and found Josef looking… angry. "Everything okay, Josef? Is Beth…?"
Josef's face softened a bit when he answered. "She's fine, Mick, if a little tired. She's sleeping quite contentedly, in fact."
Mick stood, visibly relieved, and grabbed his pants from the nearby chair. "Then why do you look like you're ready to rip someone's heart out?"
Interesting that he should put it that way, Josef thought, while he took care to school his features back to neutral. He turned to Mick, and prepared himself for the inevitable beating that was to come, content with the idea that he wasn't going to fight back. "I slept with Beth while you were in the freezer. It was completely my fault. I seduced her, so please don't blame her for it. I'm sorry, Mick."
"I expected nothing less, and honestly, I doubt she did either. So why are you so upset about it?" Mick looked comfortable with the idea in a way that Josef found disturbing under the circumstances.
"Because you're supposed to be mad!" Josef's anger was getting the better of him, and the decibel level was increasing. "You're supposed to tell me how I wasn't supposed to touch her without you there. You're supposed to tell me how she's yours, dammit!" He was upset because there was going to be no confrontation, no way to rid himself of the sin against his friend. The worse part was that Mick didn't see it as a sin at all, and neither did Beth. They would give no penance, no absolution.
"Calm down, Josef," Mick said as he pulled his shirt on. "She had my permission today to do whatever felt good, with either one or both of us. And I trust you with her. You're careful and even considerate of her needs. Now, it's just for today… and if all goes well maybe tomorrow, and then we'll have to see if you think I'm safe enough to be alone with her."
"Great." He sat down on the floor and tried to regain some composure. "Really. Great." The mock enthusiasm didn't reach his eyes, or for that matter his voice, and it wasn't fooling Mick. They'd known each other too long.
Mick combed some of the frost out of his hair while trying to give Josef a moment to collect his thoughts and get himself back together.
Josef stood up and smoothed the sides of his neatly pressed khakis with his palms. "You're ready to be alone with her now, Mick. You won't forget how much you love her, and as long as you are well fed, on fresh blood and not that morgue slop, you'll be able to control yourself. I'm not worried about you, though I think after today you'll have to give her at least a week to replace some of the blood she's lost. Then just keep the feeding to a minimum each time and she'll be fine. I'll make my freshies available to you on a rotating schedule so that there are always two on call at any given time, and they can meet you at Beth's, or your place, or here for that matter. You're welcome to the suite anytime you want, and I'll make sure you have a set of keys to the house in the next few hours." Giving directions seemed to help Josef focus, even if his mind was racing. But order helped. Making preparations was preferable to wallowing in self pity, as far as he was concerned.
Mick looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time since he'd been summoned out of the freezer. Something was terribly wrong. "Josef, what happened?"
Josef only smiled at him, but it was a smile full of loss and sorrow, not so much a smile at all. It was the expression of someone resigned to their personal Hell. Beth was everything he couldn't have, not just now, but for the last fifty years, the last four hundred years. He'd been denied the love of his life in Sara, and he knew he had no place keeping Beth and Mick apart. Jealousy was part of his sadness, but it was mostly that seeing Mick and Beth happy together rubbed salt into his long-standing wounds. Wounds that were never going to heal, he finally admitted to himself. They deserved to be loved, both of them, but Josef couldn't stand there watching them and pretend to be happy.
"Go to her Mick," Josef finally replied, ignoring Mick's question. "She's awake now, can't you feel it? She's waiting for you. Just promise me something."
The seriousness on his friend's face worried Mick, because there was nothing left of his usual cocky humor. "Sure, Josef. Anything."
"When Beth asks, and she will ask, turn her. Don't deny her eternity with you."
Mick started to protest but was stopped by Josef's upraised hand. "The fact that she loves you means she doesn't hate what you are. She loves who and what you are, and she'll want eternity with you. Don't screw this up."
By the time Mick thought about what he was saying, Josef was halfway down the hall. "What about now though? You might think I'm safe with her, but I'm not... Josef?"
He didn't turn around, merely stopped in the hallway to give his answer. "I'll be in the house. Her blood is in my veins. I'll know if something is wrong," he said quietly, then turned to go downstairs.
"Josef?" Mick asked, but received no reply other than the quiet sound of footsteps on the stairs.
Sitting alone in his dressing room, Josef couldn't help but feel like a bystander at a car accident. He wanted to look away, hold his hands over his ears, ignore what was happening one floor above him, pretend that Beth and Mick weren't in the shower enjoying the pleasures of each others' bodies, that they weren't whispering endearments to each other. But he couldn't look away. At any other time he would have insisted on joining them, and part of him still wanted to, but what he really wanted was to give himself over to the dreamless sleep that was a gift to his kind, maybe for an extended time. There was to be no reprieve today. He'd promised Beth he'd keep her safe and happy, and from the sound of it, she was more than happy to be alone with Mick. Her cries of pleasure were untainted by fear, or pain, or loss. Mick was no danger to her… hadn't been that time in the desert when he was very hungry, and certainly wasn't now when he was well fed.
How things had changed so much so quickly… from the time Beth asked him about vampires and humans being intimate, to him sitting here alone and still, waiting for Mick and Beth to finish their lovemaking so he could go… he had no idea. He'd thrown a couple of suits and a casual change of clothes into a garment bag along with his shaving kit and an extra pair of shoes. That's all there was to his time here. That's all there was to take with him.
Now he waited. God, he was tired of being alone. He was just… tired. He'd heard the old ones speak of this moment but he hadn't believed he'd ever be the one experiencing it. It was the turning point, the beginning of the end. It was the time when eternity was no longer a gift, but a curse. Beth belonged with Mick, and Mick deserved to have her. Sara would never be his again, and he was just holding onto hope out of a childish naivety. He'd missed his chance, but he'd be damned if he was going to interfere with the chance that Mick and Beth had. He couldn't stay here and keep that promise.
Being so close to her today, being so close to that soul-soothing comfort and knowing that he was still welcome upstairs if he chose… knowing that he couldn't go back… the contrast just made the loneliness worse. There was no longer any anger left inside of him, just emptiness. Resignation. It was time to go. It was time to let go.
When the water had been turned off and he felt Beth's contented mood as she rested her head against Mick's chest, Josef finally stood and picked up his bag and the small envelope he'd prepared. He threw his keys onto dining room table in front of where Mick had left his tuxedo jacket and shoes. In front of where Beth had left her handbag. Josef placed the small envelope into her purse and headed out to the waiting limo, his hand clenched around the antique ring in his pocket. He was going to miss L.A. and the only two friends he had.
Two days later
Beth hung up in her closet the velvet dress and jacket that Josef had given her and wondered where he'd gone, and why. He hadn't said goodbye to her, or to Mick; just snuck out like a thief into the night. She wasn't angry, she was worried, as was Mick.
She found a pocket for the shoes in the organizer on the back of her closet door, and turned to unpack the small purse that matched the dress. There hadn't been much in there, just some lipstick and powder, a few dollars for a theater program that she never got to buy.
Opening the purse, Beth was surprised to find a white envelope with her name written in the elegant hand of someone who had learned to write hundreds of years ago. She opened it slowly, revealing an emerald and diamond bracelet that was a match to the expensive necklace and earrings Josef had given her. There was a note with it, which Beth was honestly afraid to read. A tear fell down her cheek as she unfolded the delicate paper.
I'm sorry that I am not able to stay with you any longer, but it is time for me to go. I am truly Fortune's fool.
If the day comes when you ask Mick to turn you, I sincerely hope that he will abide by your wishes. I have pleaded with him to do this so you may be together always. He loves you.
But if he should refuse, know that there is one more piece of jewelry to this set, surpassed in its beauty only by you. If you come to me to claim it, know that I will not deny you eternity with me. The caretaker at my New York address will know how to find me if that time comes, but I hope you are able to stay with the man you love.