In hindsight, I really should have seen this coming.
I lived the biggest part of my life with a constant flood of danger, misery and pain. I just got so used to it, that I couldn't imagine a world without it. I skipped breakfast on a daily basis because something vicious that couldn't at least wait until I had my coffee pulled me out of the bed. I fought for my life before lunch and was glad when I had a few minutes to gobble a steak at MacAnally's and maybe drink a beer, before the chaos decided to attack me again.
This was my life for years. I hadn't known it any other way. Maybe that’s why I have developed some sort of inner defense mechanism, that keeps me from expecting something bad.
I know bad things happen all the time. And I definitely know they happen to me. I’m just so used to it that I can’t predict the exact moment anymore. When I think about it, it sounds like a pretty good excuse.
If you ask me, why I hadn't had this bad feeling when someone pounded at my door at three a.m., I would most likely shrug and tell them, they should try to live my mess of a life and see if they’ll still be surprised by anything. I bet they wouldn't last a week.
The problem is, there was so much shit in my past, all I have left are bad feelings. It’s a constant in my life. I have a bad feeling, when I shower (and that’s not just because the water never gets warmer than a river in march). I have a bad feeling when I go for a walk with my big, bad dog, who likes spending his time dozing in front of my oven, when he isn't scaring the shit out of some innocent bystander and ripping the limbs out of not so innocent bad guys. I have a bad feeling when I’m sitting at Macs and sip at my beer after a rare normal day. And I definitely have a bad feeling when I am being chased by (you can insert what comes to mind here: werewolves, vampires, ghouls, goblins, demons, gods, ghosts, an angry ice queen, an angry summer queen, goats, the White Council (many of them probably related to goats), an ex-girlfriend, the guy who constantly tries to sell me a WiFi router, the landlord, pixies, the press and every single angry creature that I annoyed just with my general presence and charm…). If it exists, I was chased by it. I am really proud to say, that I managed to get away every single time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of running. Its just my professional opinion, as private investigator and wizard, that you have to choose your battles carefully and sometimes that means running for the hills and asking questions later. I burned my fingers on enough occasions (pun definitely not intended).
My whole point with this is, that I definitely don’t expect something especially weird, when I open the door at three am in the morning to my breathless half-brother who stumbles inside like a horde of angry salesmen is on his heels, mumbles something along the lines of “Harry, they’re after me…” and immediately collapses unconsciously onto the living room carpet.
On the bright sight: I had four whole hours of peace. Must've been a record for me.
The first thing I do after I stared at his unconscious form for ten whole seconds, is close the door. Someone has to act responsible, its freaking cold outside.
I immediately reactivate my wards in case Thomas is right and there is some unknown evil force now lurking outside my flat (or actually it’s Mollys flat, I’m just the lodger and it’s probably good she isn't in the city this week) in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to attack the defenseless wizard (Hah! Bring it on scumbag, whoever you are!) I make sure every security spell is in place before I turn to Thomas.
He lies between the small sofa and the comfortable chair on the ground and he isn't moving. Mouse jumped up, when he stumbled through the door and now my dog stands with his ears on high alert in front of said door and growls.
“Calm down, boy.” I mumble in his direction before I kneel next to Thomas and let my hand hover over his shoulder.
I don’t touch him, he’s a white court vampire after all and if you like having all your limbs attached, you never touch a wounded vampire without warning.
“Thomas.” I say and when he doesn't move, a little louder: “Thomas!”
He groans. It’s a painful groan. Damn it, he has to be hurt even more than I thought.
“Thomas, I’m going to turn you over now. Please don’t attack me. It’s me, Harry.” I say carefully and just for good measure. “Your handsome brother.”
I hear something from him that could have been a chuckle, but sounds like a wet cough instead. I’m getting really concerned about him, so I grit my teeth and turn him onto his back as carefully as I can.
My breath falters as soon as I have a good look at his chest. There is pale blood everywhere.
“Hell’s Bells what did you do?” I snap at him and immediately regret the harsh tone. He didn't do a thing, obviously. And I would very much love to talk a few words to the person who did.
Deep gashes mark his chest, fresh blood seeps from them. His white shirt is soaked to a degree where you have to wonder if it wasn't red in the first place. It wasn't, obviously. Thomas wears always white. He’s got strange fashion sense, but who am I to judge? My every day outfit consist of a pair of jeans, comfortable working boots, my good old duster, and whatever shirt isn't bloody, singed, ripped or reeking of smoke at the moment. There isn't much room for glamor with these options.
Mouse makes an impatient noise and I realize that I should maybe try to focus less on people’s wardrobe and more on my bleeding brother.
“Don’t look at me like that…” I mutter in my dogs direction (who is way too smart as always) before I address my brother. “Thomas, can you hear me?”
His breathing is shallow, which is as worrying as his pale skin and the silver shimmer in his eyes. He seems to be cold, he has goosebumps all over his arms. Probably a side effect of all the blood loss. “Why did you come here? You have to feed.” I say now a little bit panicky.
Its not the first time I see a dying White Court vampire and my instincts scream at me to run as fast as I can. If they’re hurt, they are the most dangerous. He could kill me within a blink. But I also tell myself, that this is my brother and I can’t just leave him here bleeding on the floor. This is an emergency.
He tries to sit up and fails miserably. His breath comes fast. “Harry…can’t…they would have…mistake to come here…go…leave me here…”
I shake my head. “What are you talking about, idiot? I can’t just leave you! You’re leaking more blood than an average human even has in his body!”
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Go…please…don’t know how long…control it…” he is mumbling now, obviously too weak to form whole sentences but I get the message. He is afraid of his demon getting control and hurting me.
“Nope.” I say and get to my feet. “Nope. Nope. Nope. Not happening.” I scramble for the landline phone in the corner, the only proof in the flat, that we aren't in the 19th century anymore. “I’m not losing the only family I have!” I grumble and after that a little bit louder. “I’m going to call Justine.”
I get the first three numbers punched in before a train hits me from the side.
Or at least it feels like one.
Thomas is hurt, dizzy and not even able to stand on his own, but he manages to push me away from the phone and into my bookshelf nonetheless. White Court vampires. These stubborn bastards.
When my head stops ringing and I am conscious enough to register my surroundings I find a growling Mouse between me and my brother. Thomas doesn't seem like he wants to argue with my dog, but tis to late anyway. The phone has vanished somewhere in the chaos of the flat.
I stare at him. “Are you insane? Do you want to die?”
He grits his teeth and sinks onto the couch which is fortunately in his reach when his legs give in. Even though the blood still flows, and his eyes stay the same silvery color he seems to have regained a little bit of his posture through the adrenaline. When he speaks his voice doesn't waver anymore.
“You can’t call Justine.” He says matter-of-factly.
“Why not?” I ask and my tone definitely doesn't sound like a whining kid. Thank you very much.
He sighs. “Harry, I don’t want to drag her into this. It would risk her safety.”
“What are you talking about? Who attacked you?” I reply and when he doesn't answer: “Stars and Stones! Thomas, cut the crap and tell me already!”
In all the time I've known him, he has looked at me happy and sad, angry and pitiful, excited and bored, scornful, annoyed and amused. But I have never seen the flicker of fear, that I see now in his eyes.
A powerful White Court vampire, a strong personality. A life with more pain than most people can even imagine. He doesn't fear much. Especially not me, his brother.
I stare at him taken aback. Dread comes over me like an ice cold flood, which is not new to me because, newsflash, I’m the Winter Knight. “Thomas…”
I take a step in his direction.
He flinches again.
“Who attacked you? Why are you afraid of me?” I ask in the most calming tone I have. Hell’s Bells he is my brother. He shouldn't flinch away from me.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a brief moment before he directs his silver gaze at me.
I blink at him dumb folded. “Huh?” I ask eloquent as ever.
Thomas has the impertinence to actually roll his eyes at me. “Empty night, Harry! Your people! Magic-throwers, wizards, old men with beards and wants and potions, all this crap. Should I phrase it another obvious way, so you understand it?”
I can’t hear him anymore. Within seconds I’m at his side, staring at the wounds again. I have to admit I am not the fastest one when it comes to understanding emotions, but at one thing I’m quite good, because I had a lot of training over the years. I know what magic looks like. It’s so plainly obvious, now that I’m right next to Thomas and I can’t believe that I haven’t noticed it sooner. Magic! His wounds were caused by magic. That means I can do something about it. I try to ignore the screaming voice in my head, that tells me what else this means. There is enough time to think about consequences when Thomas is done unintentionally dyeing my carpet in a pale shade of red. I’m very picky when it comes to interior design, thank you very much. I concentrate on my brother again and this time I don’t even need Mouse to snap me from my thoughts.
“I can help you. You should have said something sooner, you idiot.” I hiss. I let my hand hover over his chest. “Will you let me do this?” I ask just in case he decides to hit me again.
I realized a long time ago one punch before breakfast is enough. Believe me, I can take a lot, if you just let me finish my coffee first.
He narrows his eyes at me. “Promise me, you won’t call Justine.” He says and of course, that’s what he’s concerned about, while bleeding out on my couch.
“Okay, I promise, Romeo. Happy now?”
His lips twitch. “Jerk…” he whispers before he closes his eyes.
I slap his cheek a few times. He’s so damn cold. “Thomas? That’s not the time for a nap!”
He doesn't answer. I look at Mouse for guidance, who gives me one of his looks, which I learned to interpret as stop dawdling and get your shit together, Harry.
“Okay, okay, I’m on it…” I mumble, let my hands fall onto my brothers chest and close my eyes.
I immediately recognize the spell. This is one of the few things my first mentor Justin DuMorne really thrilled me into. It’s also one of the spells I swore to never use again. I grit my teeth when the anger hits me. Whoever did this wanted to hurt Thomas severely. This is a torture spell. It’s pretty easy. The wizard simply throws it at the unfortunate victim and wherever it hits deep gashes appear and leak blood. These wounds are made in a way, that doesn't allow any healing except the magical one. It throws the victim at the mercy of the wizard, because even though he caused the pain in the first place, his magic or the magic of another wizard is the only way to heal it.
The goal with this spell is to cause immense pain, in most of the cases to kill the victim. The thought to use such a raw aggressive force sends shivers down my spine. I know I’m no boy scout, I use fire and wind, and lately ice basically in every fight, but it always seemed like cheating to me, to use such a spell. Maybe it was Justin’s way of teaching things that made me hate it. He threw that thing at me and caused me pain every time I wasn't fast enough to defend myself. Then he healed me and hit me again with it. I know first-hand what Thomas feels in this moment. Justin thought that pain was the best way to learn how to avoid pain. Sometimes I wish he was still alive just so I could kill him again.
However the thing about these magic wounds is, you can reverse them pretty easily. That’s why Justin used this spell so often and another reason why I don’t use it. If you know how, you could just wave your hand at it and all the effects disappear in front of your eyes.
There are unexperienced wizards who think it’s cool to use such a spell, just because it has such an immediate violent effect and there is a lot of blood involved if you hit correctly. It must have been a younger wizard, who hit Thomas with this thing. The old guys, Wardens or not, know what to do in a fight, and it’s definitely not this. In times like this diplomacy is a big issue. You can’t just run around and kill people on a whim. It causes a lot of paperwork, when you show up at the headquarters and the first thing everyone says is, did you start a war with another vampire court? or you know he should be alive to be questioned?, or why is there so much blood on the floor?
Trust me. I have experience with this sort of questioning.
If there is one thing the Wardens don’t like its someone running around and starting wars. Don’t look at me like that, it was an accident.
I concentrate on Thomas again and do some wavelike gestures over his wounds, which are entirely unnecessary, because come on, this isn't a fantasy novel. All I need is to concentrate on the wounds, think the right thoughts, and let my magic flow through my fingers. The dramatic gestures are just remnants of one of to many cases, where some old lady came to me, to talk to her dead husband. I’m a little bit ashamed to admit I played my role as street magician rather good. Yes I know, I’m a hypocrite, but last month’s rent was due and the good payed jobs had made themselves scarce so I needed the money.
The wounds close under my fingertips and I release a breath I haven’t realized I was holding.
Thomas blinks his eyes open as soon as the last gash has vanished. “Wow…that was fast…” he mumbles his voice still a bit raspy.
“Careful.” I say as I help him sit up on the couch.
He looks down at his chest and sighs. “Another shirt ruined. Why are there always wizards involved when I need a wardrobe change?”
“Thomas!” I groan. He is unbelievable. A few seconds ago he could've died and what is he concerned about? His clothes. And it’s not even that he has no money to buy new ones. He’s loaded, the bastard.
“What?” his voice is pure innocence. “I swear if I lose another single shirt because of you lot…” he grumbles but I see the corners of his mouth twitch before he gets serious again. At least as serious as he can get. Its Thomas after all. His default setting is annoyed amusement with a hint of horniness.
He rubs his arms. “It’s freezing in here. Did you break the heating again?”
I throw a blanket at him. “You lost a lot of blood, it takes a while until your body temperature is normal again.”
He wraps himself in the blanket and obviously remembers why he came here. “Harry, its bad.” He says.
I hold up a finger to tell him to wait. I get up, walk over to my icebox and get us two beers. Macs beer of course. I hope he never finds out, or I lose my dealer and I can’t stand the awful brew they sell in the supermarket. I give one of the ice cold bottles to Thomas before I settle next to him on the couch.
I take a big gulp and look at him. “Now I’m ready. Spit it out.” I say.
His lips twitch again, and he takes a sip of his beer before he looks at me. “I was on my way home from…let’s say from a club.”
I know what that means. When my brother goes to ‘a club’ it isn't as innocently as it sounds. There is probably a lot of naked skin and body fluids involved. At least it explains why he isn't dead. He probably just fed an hour or so ago. He is a white court vampire, he looks like a movie star, and obviously he needs to feed. There is no lack of women (and men) willing to throw themselves at him. I try not to think too much about it. On one hand because I don’t want to spend my free time imagining my brother having orgies, on the other hand because my own love life isn't even worth mentioning when you just count the women that didn't try to kill me at least once. I think I’m a lost cause.
Thomas continues. “So I walked down the street back to my car, I parked it a few blocks away because you don’t want the people in these kind of clubs see how you arrive. I heard a sound behind me and when I turned around there were three of them.”
I sigh. “Them, Thomas? Could you please be a little bit more cryptic? I love a riddle.”
He snorts. “Wizards, Harry. I already told you that.”
“How did you know, they were Wizards?” I ask skeptically.
He laughs. “Empty night, Harry! How do you know I’m a vampire?” I know somehow it takes a lot out of him to not roll his eyes at me again.
I frown at him. “You told me.”
He obviously lost the battle because now he rolls his eyes. “No, I never said to you hi my name is Thomas, I’m a vampire. How did you know?”
I blink at him. He is right. He never told me. “I guess I saw you and just knew it.” I say. “The pale skin, the way other people behaved around you, your look, the sex vibes…” my cheeks are getting hot.
He waves impatient with his hand through the air. “Yeah, see? And I looked at you and thought: dusty coat, no mobile phone, strange jewelry, old car, keeps setting things on fire-”
“-hence Wizard. Each one of us has his own attributes. Little things that tell an observer what we are. So I just knew, trust me. Besides: They threw magic at me, Harry.”
I snort because of course now he thinks I’m stupid. “What happened then?”
He grimaces. “They attacked me.”
I stare at him. “Just like that? Without any reason?”
There is a flicker of anger in his eyes. “I never met them before and I sure as rain didn't attack them first. I was on my way home, not hungry, not looking for a fight.”
I hold up my hands. “Calm down, I believe you. I just want to understand what happened. Did they say anything?”
He frowns. “They called me abomination, I think, but I wasn't really paying attention, given the fact that I was fighting for my life. One of them hit me with a spell while I tried to fight the other two and you saw the result. If there hadn't been a police patrol near the street, that apparently heard the commotion I wouldn't have gotten away. I don’t know if they wanted to kill me, or if the spell was an accident.”
I nod grimly. “I know this spell. It isn't used anymore because these days there is too much diplomacy at work to outright kill someone, but there was a time where it was a very effective method to torture and kill. It causes wounds that can only be healed by magic.”
He narrows his eyes. “You never used it?”
“Not voluntarily.” I say quietly. I think about Justin and his training methods. Bastard.
Thomas looks like he wants to ask but I interrupt him before he can. “How did they look?”
He frowns. “I don’t know, it was pretty dark, and they attacked without warning. But Harry, I’m sure they were Wardens.”
I stare at him, my mouth gapes open. “They wouldn't be allowed to do something like this.” I say. “It would be a serious breach of all arrangements made with the White Court.”
He snorts. “Do you think I don’t know that? The White Court holds a fragile peace with your people, Lara made sure of that. She wouldn't do anything to endanger that. Both sides are too strong. If it comes to war, at the end of it there would be more dead than alive on both sides. Lara is not stupid, and I don’t think your people are, these three must've taken things in their own hands.”
“How can you be sure, they were Wardens?” I still hope he is wrong. Three common wizards who decided hunting vampires on a whim, aren't as bad as three rogue Wardens knowingly breaking the agreements.
“I just am.” He says. “They worked together too good, knew each other. They obviously hadn't grey cloaks but their magic seemed pretty strong. They fought with practiced moves and had a tactic. They weren't just simple wizards.”
I sigh. “We can’t act until we know for certain who they are. It would be terrible if they truly were Wardens and this comes to light. Like you said, it could cause a war.”
“So what? You just do nothing because it’s bad if this gets out?” his tone is angry.
I shake my head. “Don’t be stupid. You are my brother. Even if it wasn't you they attacked, but another White Court vampire, I would look into this. If there is just the tiny possibility of this being rogue Wardens the White Council has to know. We can’t allow something like this to happen.” My gaze turns stern. “I try to find out what I can but Thomas, you must promise me to lay low. Maybe it was no coincidence they attacked you.”
“What do you mean?” he asks frowning.
“Maybe someone found out about how we are related.” I muse and I pray to some god, that isn't the case.
I had not much time to think about what would happen if this particular secret would come to light because to be honest things have been crazy lately. I found out I am a father, saved my daughter, killed her mother, started a war with the red vampire court and destroyed all of them. I died. Was a ghost, came back just to be Mab’s Winter Knight.
And now here I am trying to keep another war from happening. It’s not easy to be me and sometimes, okay very often, I wish I was just some ordinary guy with an ordinary job and don’t have to watch my every step because I never know who wants to slit my throat today.
Lately every day felt like a horror version of my birthday, with a ticking present on my doorstep, which I had to keep even though I never asked for it, a surprise party where even the most hated of my enemies showed up and tried to push me into an early grave and fireworks as a culmination of the evening where it wasn't sure if I still got all my fingers after it was over.
Today it was Thomas, three insane wizards and an extremely delicate diplomacy problem, tomorrow for all I care, it could be Santa Claus, who was abducted by Christmas-hating aliens or a mermaid on a personal revenge quest against all fishers with an constant rage against all people eating sushi. No matter what, it will be my problem, and I hate it already.
“You really think, someone knows we’re half-brothers?” Thomas asks and gets my mind out of the gutter.
“I don’t know.” I say honestly. “But we can’t take any chances. You can’t go back to your flat. Stay here. If they don’t know how we’re related, they won’t expect you here. If they do, they come to us, it saves me a lot of work and we can deal with them in a familiar vicinity. Just do me a favor and don’t tell Lara about this.”
“Do you think I’m nuts?” Thomas asks incredulously. “If Lara gets wind of some wizards, maybe Wardens, attacking a White Court vampire, all hell breaks loose. I thought we wanted to avoid that.”
I nod. “That would be great. Hell is outside my jurisdiction.”
He laughs. “Harry, I try to tell you for several years. You don’t have a jurisdiction. You just don’t know how to look away and leave it to others when things go south. If hell knocks at your door, you open it and throw a welcome party before you deal with the mess, even though it hasn't anything to do with you.”
I suppress a smile and take the last sip of my beer. “Shut up.” I mutter under my breath. He just knows me to well. I could never turn down a chance to save people.
Thomas just keeps laughing and suddenly this is one of these moments where I know everything isn't as bleak as it looks. As long as you have family, what could go wrong? I probably should have known better, but like I said: I’m blinded by all the constant chaos.