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Thicker Than Water

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It didn't seem like this much of a trap when I accepted the invitation, I swear.

To tell the truth, most invitations in the supernatural world originally seem like traps. "Meeting, at midnight on the Blood Moon to negotiate who controls the territory on the southwest side. Come alone and bring no weapons. Snacks will be provided. Please check box in your reply if you do not consume human flesh." All the parties I get invited to lately sound like that, so – really – I had no way of knowing that this particular one was a massive set-up.

The meeting place was the former Washington stop on the Red Line. I'd heard plenty of explanations for why Washington had been shut down over the last few years, but don't believe anything the CTA said. The truth was that, with all the chaos that has been running through Chicago lately, supernatural bigwigs needed neutral ground where they could meet. The subway under the Loop was ideal because it was easily accessible to those who lived aboveground, belowground, and through the Nevernever. Besides, everyone from the North Side always got off at Lake, anyway.

When I arrived, the usual suspects were already beginning to assemble. Gentleman Marcone looked thoroughly out of place in his tailored suit without any muscled thugs guarding his back. He nodded to me when passed through the turnstile, and I nodded back. It was all very covert ops.

I stood at the far end of the platform, mostly because I was trying to avoid Marcone these days. It wasn't anything personal against Marcone, you understand. As amoral mob bosses with supernatural street-cred went, Marcone was all right. I'd just had to deal with Marcone encroaching into werewolf territory a bit too recently, and I wasn't eager to deal with him again anytime soon. I'd gotten a hairsbreadth too close to selling my soul away last encounter.

I'd thought it was just the two of us when, five minutes after I arrived, Kincaid suddenly emerged from the shadows and scared half the hair on my head gray. The old Washington stop wasn't as well lit as it had been back when it had been open, but that still shouldn't have given Kincaid any place to hide. The man is half composed of shadows, I swear.

Kincaid gave me a curt nod as well, and if Kincaid were inclined to smile, I was pretty sure he'd be smirking at how jumpy I was.

A Red Line train passed right on by us, its riders looking blankly at what they saw as an empty stop. I'd done most of the spell-work on this meeting place myself, and I could go on and on about how all the concealment spells worked to keep any civilians from seeing what happened on the platform (and had done so once until Molly threatened to replace my Folgers crystals with decaf if I didn't stop; my apprentice plays mean).

We waited another minute, and then Marcone checked his watch and commented, "Ms. Raith is late. I despite tardiness."

Lara despised tardiness, too, which was why I was surprised she wasn't the first one there.

"She better not have found a snack on the way," Kincaid snorted.

Privately, I agreed with him. I sort of looked the other way where the White Court was concerned, but I always felt guilty about it. "Can we start without her?" I asked. I didn't like to be rude, but it always made me edgy having to represent the White Council, and I was suddenly feeling up for some nice Chicago-style hotdogs. Or maybe a pizza. Or, hell, maybe the canned soup that I was pretty sure was the only thing in my pantry. My stomach made a growling noise in agreement.

"She called this meeting," Kincaid responded.

That was news to me. Supernatural nasties generally don't bother to sign their summons, so I'd figured it was either Lara or Kincaid; Marcone's notes always came on his personalized stationary, and were usually accompanied by a goon or two.

We waited another minute, and then there were footsteps on the stairs. They weren't the sharp clicking of high heels, however; these footsteps were heavy and thudding, like those made by sloppy gym shoes. They sounded weary to my ears, but then Molly always accuses me of having an overly-dramatic poetic sense.

The fourth representative of our meeting arrived, and my breath caught in my throat at the sight of my brother. He was wearing a black hoodie pulled down over his face, and he had his hands buried deep in the pockets, but I would recognize him anywhere.

I hadn't seen him in four months, ever since Lara had whisked him away. In truth, I had been beginning to despair of ever seeing him again. That skinwalker's torture and Lara's subsequent brainwashing had done a real number on him. Still, I was surprised Lara had let him out of her sight to attend this meeting. She seemed to realize that I was more than eager to snatch him back from her nefarious clutches.

Thomas entered through the old, clanging turnstile and deliberately didn't meet my eyes. "So," he said impatiently, "who called this meeting?"

To our credit, it only took about two seconds after that announcement for us to realize it was a trap. By that point, though, it was too late.

Kincaid dove for turnstile only to collide was an invisible magical barrier. It glowed and shimmered like a giant bubble, and I could see in that second that it covered the entire platform.

Marcone swore and helped Kincaid up to his feet. Thomas approached the barrier, let out the most inhuman snarl I'd ever heard from him, and tried to punch his way through. Sparks of kinetic energy shot from the point of impact and sent him careening halfway across the platform. I ran over to help him up, but he brushed me off. I tried not to take it too personally.

"This sure looks like magic to me," Marcone commented lazily, fixing me with a pointed stare like somehow this was my fault. "So why don't we let our wizard handle it?"

I hadn't done anything until now mostly because, despite what everyone who has ever met me insists, I can actually keep my head in a crisis. I hadn't really thought about our situation or, specifically, how screwed we all were until then, however.

"That's not a good idea," I informed my three reluctant companions.

"What does that mean?" Marcone asked suspiciously.

Kincaid cocked his head at me in a threatening manner.

Thomas looked like he was doing his best to pretend I didn't even exist.

"It's a reciprocal shield," I explained. "They're usually used as a type of ward."

"And what does that mean exactly?" Kincaid snapped.

"It means that the more energy you put into it, the more energy it hits you back with. If I tried to blast out, the backlash would probably be enough to incinerate this whole room."

"So how do we break out?" Marcone demanded. I tried to remember if he'd ever been locked up and was surprised to realize that I didn't know. Then again, in Chicago, you need scorecards to keep track of all the mobsters and corrupt politicians. It seemed likely he'd once faced hard time, though, given how anxious he looked. I'd seen Marcone face half the uglies out there without breaking so much as a sweat, but apparently the thought of imprisonment shook him up. Once a mobster, I guessed.

"Well, the short answer is that we can't," I answered carefully. "It's a pretty solid spell, designed by those with weak magic to keep out things a hell of a lot nastier. Usually the spellcaster is on the inside, and the spell can only be dissolved from the spellcaster's side."

"But we're on the inside, and we're the ones trapped," Kincaid summarized.

"It's been cast in reverse," I agreed. "So, in this case, something on the outside is going to have to undo it."

We all exchanged looks.

"I instructed my bodyguards to storm the subway if I didn't return within four hours," Marcone finally offered. "However, they don't know how to cast magic."

"No one's coming for me," Kincaid said. "Ivy will eventually notice and send someone, but who knows when that will be?"

I looked to Thomas. He just shook his head. No help from the Raiths, then. I considered the odds that Molly had followed me and would try to sneak down to spy on our council. A year ago, the odds would have been pretty good, but Molly wasn't as insecure and desperate to prove herself as she'd once been. I never would have thought I'd miss my disobedient apprentice.

"It looks like Marcone's men are our best bet," I concluded. "When they come down, I can talk them through it. I assume whoever it is is weird-savvy?"

"Hendricks and Ms. Gard will be in the first wave," Marcone agreed.

I tried not to think of the sort of paranoia involved in organizing your own rescue mission into waves. "Great. I can work with them. It's not hard, from the casting side of the shield."

"Then we wait," Kincaid concluded.

"We wait," I agreed. I was starting to feel chipper about the whole thing. After all, in the long run, a four-hour wait was hardly the worst crisis I'd faced throughout my life. In fact, as far as supernatural threats went, this one was a piece of cake. Annoying that I wouldn't get my pizza anytime soon, but not much of a danger.

I should have known better than to underestimate my enemies like that.

***

It wasn't until the first forty-five or so minutes had passed that I noticed that something was wrong.

Marcone had been antsy from the get-go, but I'd explained that away in my head. He kept checking his watch as far away from me as he could get, but – again – given most mechanical things' response to my vicinity, that was just as logical.

Thomas had also isolated himself on the far end of the platform and stared out into the abyss of the Red Line tunnel. Three trains had passed so far, but none of them would see us to help.

It wasn't until Kincaid started pacing restlessly that I realized something was up.

One of us being jumpy was well within statistics. Two could be explained by stressful circumstances. But three? I'd seen all three of these men make it through the worst this world and the next had to offer, and they'd all remained cool as cucumbers. Hell, I should've been calmer given how much of a dud the trap had turned out to be, but I was cold and hungry, and something instinctive inside me was panicking.

Over the years, I'd learned to trust the panic instinct.

I walked as casually as I could over to where Thomas leaned on the far pillar, his back to the rest of us.

"Hey," I tried to make it casual, "I need your help."

Thomas tapped his foot impatiently, and I realized that he was worse off than I'd thought. "All right," he said with a sigh. There was something encouraging about that; even after all that had happened, I could depend on my big brother in an emergency. "What's up?"

"Everyone's antsy," I explained. "Too antsy."

Thomas looked over at Marcone and Kincaid and nodded his agreement. "What do you think?"

"Some kind of subtle mood-altering spell?" I suggested. "Make us high-strung, fed-up with each other?"

"Yeah, I don't think I'm going to be much help with that." Thomas sounded nervous.

I frowned. We hadn't seen each other for months, but I doubted even Lara could change Thomas' fundamental character this much. "What's going on?" I rested a hand on Thomas' shoulder.

He batted it away with such sudden viciousness that I took a staggering step back. "Thomas?" I asked in alarm.

Thomas looked up at me, and I could see for the first time that his face had gone pale and unearthly. The eyes that stared back at me weren't my brothers' eyes, but those of the hunter that lived inside him. "It's me," he confessed raggedly, and I could see the effort it took him to force the demon back. "I'm the one causing this. Harry, I don't want to hurt you."

I put two and two pretty quickly together after that. A hungry incubus would be spreading pheromones everywhere to lure in prey. They were reacting in exactly the wrong way off Marcone and Kincaid; no wonder they were so nervous. I was largely spared because Thomas' supernatural charm had never worked on me. There were studies about that sort of thing, how pheromones were designed not to incite responses in close blood relations. I'd never had a chance to test that theory to its limits, however, and I really didn't want the opportunity.

I took several big steps back. It suddenly made a lot more sense why Thomas had been standing as far away from the rest of us as possible. "When did you last feed?" I asked in a hushed voice. The last thing I needed was for Marcone or Kincaid to pick up on the threat.

Thomas' eyes flicked away from me once more. "Right before I came," he answered a bit too quickly.

I didn't let myself ask whether his prey had survived. "You've never needed to feed that often, even when it was just surface feeding."

Thomas shook his head. "I noticed the change as soon as I passed the turnstile."

My stomach took that moment to grumble again. I hadn't thought too much about being hungry since, let's face it, I don't exactly have the most regular of diets. But it was quite possible the turnstile had pulled the same trick on all of us. Only on one, the effects were deadly.

"How long can you hold out?" I glanced nervously over at Marcone. He still hadn't given the signal that the first hour had passed.

Thomas wrapped his arms around his stomach. "I'm amazed I've held out this long."

I swore. "What can I do to help?"

"Get me out of here or feed me those two." Thomas snorted and nodded over in the direction of Marcone and Kincaid.

"Keep hanging on, and I'll work my hardest on the first of those," I promised.

Thomas just nodded and turned back away.

I jogged over to check on the time we had remaining.

***

An hour and a half into our confinement, Thomas wasn't even registering as human to my senses anymore. This, of course, meant that Kincaid started noticing the same thing.

"What's with the vampire?" Kincaid's eyes narrowed at where Thomas was now pacing at the far end of the platform.

"Don't worry about it," I said and examined the equipment I had before me. We'd been told to come unarmed, so naturally we were all armed to the teeth. I had Thomas' short sword, two guns and a knife from Marcone, five guns and a garrote wire from Kincaid (which seemed to prove my theory had his pockets contained extradimensional pockets, because no one could go that armed and not show it), as well as my usual arsenal.

It was a really good stash for getting in a shoot out with the SWAT team. Unfortunately, none of it was much good for disabling a reversed reciprocal shield. This was turning out to be one of those days I envied MacGyver.

"I'll stop worrying about it when he stops pacing like a caged animal," Kincaid retorted, distracting me from my task at hand.

That was the second advantage to requesting everyone's weapons: if things turned ugly, everyone was less likely to get hurt. Or, at least, Thomas was less likely to get hurt. I tried not to think about what I could be condemning Marcone and Kincaid to, if I couldn't get them out of this mess. I also tried not to think too much about how I'd live with myself afterwards, if it turned out I had to choose Thomas over them.

I examined the shell casing on Kincaid's semi-automatic. It was the largest caliber of all the guns assembled, and I was hoping I could use the shells. "If you want to help, take this," I tossed him Marcone's knife, "and hollow out the shell."

Kincaid gave me a look like I was crazy, but he did what I said anyway. Marcone was a lot less willing to concede that I was our best chance out of here in one piece.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, crouching down between me and Kincaid. It was the story of my life: too many shepherds and too few sheep.

"I'm trying to slip a magic bomb out through the force-field by disguising it with inert materials," I explained and began unfastening one of the charms from my shield bracelet.

"I thought you said using magic would get us all killed," Marcone retorted.

I glanced up and could see he was starting to sweat, even though it should have felt cold on the platform. I noticed it, too, now that I thought about it: things were heating up. As I watched, Marcone leaned surreptitiously over Kincaid where he was working studiously and sniffed his hair.

I gaped like a fish for several undignified moments and then redoubled my efforts. I did not need this. "Blasting would get us all killed," I corrected. "I'm trying to go for subtlety."

"Of course," Marcone agreed mildly, "because you're so well known for your subtlety."

"Wow," I said wryly. "These days, everyone thinks they're a comedian."

Marcone snorted, and I could have sworn there was something warm in his eyes when he looked me over. Oh, I very definitely didn't need this.

"Here." I handed my shield bracelet over to Marcone. It was a calculated risk, but whoever set this up seemed to be banking on the fact that we'd kill each other, so I doubted I'd face a direct attack any time soon. "Get one of the charms off, and then see if you can fit in into one of Kincaid's shell casings."

Marcone looked over at Kincaid and (I swear to God, Satan, Santa Claus, and anyone else you can think of) actually blushed.

I felt kind of bad about leaving the two of them alone together like that, but things were just going to get worse unless I could cut the problem off at the source.

***

I found Thomas sitting back against one of the far pillars, so that we couldn't even see each other. His hands were trembling with effort, and I could see from their paleness and the thickening of the muscles that he'd given in to the transformation into the hunter, at least on the physical side.

"Hey," I said cautiously and sat down by the pillar across from him. "How you holding up?"

Thomas snarled at me. "How does it look?" he snapped.

"You look like me before my morning coffee," I retorted.

Thomas blinked in surprise at my response and then let out a shaky laugh. As his shoulders shook, some of the tension in his body seemed to leave.

"I've got Larry and Curly over there working on our escape plan. Hopefully, it won't be much longer." It wasn't much encouragement, but it was all I had.

"If they're Larry and Curly, odds are they're trying to bust through the wrong wall," Thomas shot back. "Isn't it about time for Moe to go slap some sense into them?"

"Moe would like to keep all his limbs, thank you very much, and he's pretty sure Larry still has some sort of concealed weapon."

"This metaphor is getting tortuous," Thomas managed a grin.

I laughed. "I'd call them Chico and Harpo instead, but we'd just be left with the same problem."

Thomas laughed, too, and I realized then just how much I'd missed him. There was a certain sort of insanity that could only be shared between brothers. I'd once tried to do a Stooges' riff with Murphy, and she'd looked at me like she would a hairball clogging up the bathroom drain.

"So I suppose that makes me Shemp," Thomas concluded. "Everyone hates Shemp."

"You're not Shemp," I assured him. The last part, of course, was incontrovertible fact.

"Shemp did not work well with Moe and Larry, and Curly ended up dead."

I winced. "I thought we were giving up on this metaphor."

"Tell them to hurry," was all Thomas said and buried his head back in his hands, straining with effort.

***

When I got back, Marcone and Kincaid were most definitely not hurrying. The incubus pheromones were thick enough in the air now that I was feeling woozy. Kincaid and Marcone hadn't stood a chance.

A low moan reverberated between the columns, and Marcone pinned Kincaid back down on one of the benches and resumed licking his throat. Kincaid squirmed in a hopelessly erotic way and seemed to be fully enjoying the experience, even though I knew pretty much for a fact that neither of them swung that way.

For that matter, I shouldn't have found the sight of the two of them all over each other that hot. "H-Hey." My voice came out shaky, needy. Just great. "Calm down, guys. We need to get out of here." I shook my head to try to clear it and grabbed Marcone's shoulder to pull him back off Kincaid.

Marcone stopped what he was doing, but then he looked up at me, and the look in his eyes was feral. I remembered then that Marcone had always had a weird interest in me, and now was probably not the best time for me to initiate physical contact. Or, at least, that was the sophisticated version of what I was thinking. What it came out as was "Oh shit."

Marcone slammed me hard against the nearest concrete pillar, before I even had a chance to react. Then his mouth was on mine, and it was rough and grating…and actually rather pleasant, although I was blaming that mostly on the incubus hormones at the moment. I tried not to think too much about how Marcone's weird interest in me wasn't entirely one-way.

I was pretty sober for the initial shock of the kiss, and I'd foolishly thought it would be easy to break away. After all, Thomas' pheromones still weren't hitting me that hard. Unfortunately, Marcone and Kincaid were so far gone that their pheromones were now in play, and I didn't have any helpful, inherent, biological immunity to those.

The embarrassing truth of the matter was: I melted at Marcone's kiss.

At some point, Kincaid came over to join us, and by then I had my arms wrapped around Marcone and was halfway to giving up something that I'd never, ever thought of giving up before. Maybe to both of them, in turn, because I was suddenly seeing everything that Murphy had ever seen in Kincaid, and I didn't care what he was just then, except that he was an excellent kisser, as well.

Marcone's hands had gotten themselves under my coat, which turned out to be spectacularly unequipped to deflect this particular form of attack. I heard a pathetic little mewling sound and realized, with some shock, that it was coming from me.

I had one quick flash of clarity when I realized how screwed I really was (and would be quite literally very shortly), and then I went completely under.

It was like a shock of cold air when Marcone and Kincaid were suddenly pulled roughly off me, but it was exactly the shock I needed. I gasped for breath, eyes wide, and took assessment of my situation. I was half naked, sitting back against the pillar, and someone had been using teeth in a not-entirely-unpleasant way. All in all, though, I'd gotten out of the impromptu orgy before things could go too far.

I looked up, and Marcone and Kincaid were still at it, but with a new focus this time. Thomas writhed between them, and I felt as though I could see the sexual energy flowing into him, feeding his hunger.

Marcone and Kincaid both looked more than happy to be fed upon. In fact, they looked rapturous.

For a moment, I was genuinely torn. I was pretty sure Thomas could still hold himself back enough not to kill them. I still trusted him that much. I could sit back through some of the most awkward moments of my life, but in the end we'd probably all come out of it alive. Probably.

However, now that my brother had pushed me safely free of the carnal carnage, I could appreciate how really happy I was that I'd gotten out in time. I knew Marcone and Kincaid would appreciate having that same free will, and I really doubted Thomas had gone so far back to the incubus way of life that he wanted this to happen, either. The hunger inside him? Sure. But my brother, who was trapped with that monster for the rest of his life?

In the end, I had to do for Thomas what he'd done for me. Besides, I kind of appreciated the irony of what I was about to do. It was the ultimate sort of "fuck you" to whoever had set us up.

Marcone and Kincaid didn't even notice my presence, although Thomas frowned for a moment in a way that told me he still had some awareness. None of them caught on in time to stop me, though. I grabbed Thomas around the waist and yanked him back away from Marcone and Kincaid. Thomas and I fell backwards and hit the floor. Marcone and Kincaid blinked in surprise and then turned to come back in for more, but the second's reprieve was all I needed.

I flung up a reciprocal shield and then, with a quick flick of my wrist, inverted it. Thomas pushed back off me, howled, and dove for his victims once more. He bounced right off my shield and landed harmlessly back in my lap.

Marcone and Kincaid, who were now separated from all the incubus pheromones Thomas was releasing, came to.

"What did you do?" Thomas snarled at me.

"Bought us some time. We need someone sober to get us out of here," I insisted.

"Let me out," Thomas demanded angrily, and it was the closest contact with his demon that I'd ever gotten.

"No can do," I shrugged apologetically. "I reversed the shield. It can only be taken down from the outside." I mentally patted myself on the back. My little trap-within-a-trap was quite a clever touch, if I did say so myself.

"What?" Thomas hissed.

"So as soon as we knock down the outside barrier, Marcone and Kincaid can knock down this one, too. That way we all make it out alive." I looked up to Marcone and Kincaid, and they nodded in agreement and returned to the task I'd set out for them, looking rather embarrassed and dishevelled but otherwise none the worse for wear.

Thomas shut his eyes, and the muscle in his jaw ticked. "Harry," his voice was very tense, "you can't just interrupt me mid-feeding like that. I-I can't control it."

"I have faith in your ability to control yourself," I assured him.

"Don't you understand?" Thomas snapped at me. "You need to let me out, or I'll kill you!"

"No," I told him more confidently than I felt at that moment, trapped with a ravenous incubus in a shield bubble barely tall enough to stand, "you won't."

***

Without Thomas' sexy incubus powers to distract them, Marcone and Kincaid worked quickly. It probably also helped that they were refusing to talk to each other. For some reason, they were both still willing to talk to me, which might mean that they'd forgotten the whole part where I was in the middle of the Marcone/Kincaid sandwich.

In any case, it felt like being an intermediary between fighting teenagers: "Kincaid said to tell you that he's finished preparing the shell casing." "Marcone says he's still having trouble rigging the charm." Of course, even that would have been a lot easier if Thomas hadn't started getting touchy-feely on me.

Thomas' conscious mind was fighting a lot harder now that I was his only potential victim. However, his hunger was still running rampant, and our close proximity wasn't helping matters. Next time, I'd remember to build us a bigger bubble so we could at least split apart. This time, unfortunately, I'd been too concerned with making sure that Marcone and Kincaid didn't end up trapped inside with us.

"Okay," Kincaid finally announced, "I've got it." He held up two shell casings that were tied together with the garrote wire. The charm from my bracelet was completely hidden inside.

Thomas nuzzled my throat. It tickled, so I smacked him in the shoulder. That sobered him up some.

"Great," I said. "Now, you're going to have to push it through the barrier while keeping the charm concealed and then, once it's outside, wiggle the charm free."

"Easier said than done," Marcone snorted and took the contraption from Kincaid. He had finer control of his hands, which we all knew now and were trying desperately not to think about.

"If you jostle the shield charm a bit, it'll let out a magical spark, which will be more than enough to pull down the barrier, and – presto – we're free."

"MacGyver, eat your heart out?" Thomas guessed. Have I mentioned yet how much I really miss him?

I smiled back at him, which was apparently the wrong thing to do, because suddenly Thomas' face paled.

"H-Harry…" he warned.

Marcone swung the wire right into the barrier, and the barrier sparked. "It doesn't work."

"Try pushing it along the ground," I suggested. "Slowly. The less force you use, the less the barrier will react."

Marcone knelt down and tried this. "It's going through," he said hopefully. "It feels like I'm pushing it through molasses, but it's going through…"

"Harry," Thomas repeated quite curtly this time.

"Just hold on," I encouraged him. "Just a few more minutes."

Thomas nodded shakily. "When I find out who did this…" he said angrily.

I had to agree. "Lara?" I guessed.

Thomas shook his head. "She was going to come, but there was a last-minute emergency at the office. Otherwise, she never would have let me…" He trailed off pointedly. See you again, I inferred.

"Maybe her plan was for you to kill me," I countered. I wasn't feeling very charitable toward Lara Raith these days.

"I would have suspected," Thomas insisted. That part, at least, was probably true. "What about," he began hesitantly, "your enemies?" He looked guilty then, and I realized it was because he didn't even know who my enemies were nowadays, whether I was on a case or any details about my life.

"Only the usual suspects," I assured him. "My money's on the Black Council."

Thomas nodded at that. I was a major thorn in the Black Council's side because 1) I knew they existed, and 2) I'd just taken out one of their moles. They'd be just the type to eliminate all the major players in Chicago and then set it up so that it looked like Lara Raith was responsible. I began to seriously wonder about the nature of that last-minute emergency.

"It was a good plan," Thomas considered. "Low risk, low manpower."

"The only thing they didn't count on," I agreed, "was the fact that you couldn't hurt me."

Thomas' eyes flicked nervously to the side at that.

"Come on, Thomas," I insisted. "You think that shallow feeding was making you weak? Look at you now. Your control used to be a lot better than this. Feeding all the time isn't making you stronger; it's making you dependent."

"I don't want to talk about this," Thomas glared.

I didn't really care about that at the moment. Some people say my stubbornness is my best quality; Thomas was always more likely to put me in a headlock until I cried uncle. In any case, as long as we were trapped, I wasn't going to waste a second to try to bring my brother back.

"Stop," Thomas said in a husky voice, and then he did stop me, with a kiss.

I could tell from the start what Thomas was trying to do. He was trying to let go just enough to show me what a monster he really was, to get me to let go. It didn't turn out that way, though. I was family, and that was deeper than any demonic hunger in the world. The kiss turned sweet, chaste, almost innocent.

Thomas' eyes shot open, and he looked just as shocked as I was. What we were sharing right now… There was nothing monstrous about it at all. Thomas couldn't feed off this. It was pure love, but not the kind of love that burned.

Marcone got the barrier down, and Thomas and I broke apart with a gasp. Kincaid tossed my mangled shield bracelet to me, and it ripped right through the smaller barrier that was holding me and Thomas prisoner. I caught it almost without even realizing what it was.

"I should go." Thomas glanced hungrily at Marcone and Kincaid and moved to leave.

I caught his shoulder for one last second. "You can fight it," I begged. "You did fight it. If Lara had come today instead of you, do you honestly think she'd have left any of us alive?"

I could see a momentary confusion in his eyes, but then he brushed me off and was gone, faster than the human eye could see.

The air on the CTA platform suddenly felt a lot clearer and less oppressive. It also felt, to me at least, a lot emptier.

"Two hours and fifteen minutes," Marcone announced from the stairs as he checked his watch one last time. The knowledge hung grim between the three of us; if we'd waited for Marcone's reenforcements, we never would have made it out alive. With that final threat, Marcone turned to leave.

Kincaid gave me a knowing look and then looked to the place Thomas had just vacated. I realized with a sigh that it wasn't just Thomas' neighbors who would think he was my boyfriend now. I'd always secretly suspected Kincaid of being the gossipy type. I didn't try to dispel the rumor, though. Today, the secret that Thomas and I were brothers might very well have saved our lives. That, more than anything else, proved Lara's innocence; she knew better than to underestimate that bond.

Marcone was gone by the time Kincaid and I made it up to the street. I couldn't really blame him. I wanted to forget certain portions of this afternoon just as desperately as he did. Other parts…

"Let's not have to deal with each other again for a really long time," Kincaid announced.

"Sounds like a good plan."

He left me with a nod and vanished off into a side alley.

I watched the pedestrians mill around me through the bustle of downtown for a minute. And then, with a shrug, I went to get two extra-large Chicago-style pizzas to bring back home to Molly, Mouse, and Mister and tried not to think that, if Thomas had still been with us, it would have been three. Sometimes, it was the only thing to do.