Two weeks after being brought back to life, I went to see my brother.
I'd emerged from the Nevernever just a few blocks from Thomas's apartment building, but I didn't go inside right away. Instead, I just stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the massive wall of windows in silence. Gathering my thoughts, I told myself. Gathering my courage, was more like it.
I hadn't seen Thomas since before I'd died, Uriel's angelic visitation notwithstanding, and I wasn't sure what kind of welcome I was in for. Especially once Thomas discovered that I'd organized my own murder.
'Maybe we'll leave that conversation for the end,' I decided, after a moment.
After another couple of minutes, I finally started toward the front door. The doorman manning the lobby raised an eyebrow in surprise when he recognized me, his mouth dropping open in momentary shock before he snapped his jaw shut.
"Mr. Dresden," he stammered, unable to completely contain his reaction. "I'd heard that you were-"
He trailed off, shaking his head in numb surprise, and I took pity on the man, grinning at him.
"Rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated," I confided in a loud whisper.
"Glad to hear it," the doorman said, with a smile of his own. "Go on up, Mr. Dresden. Did you want me to call you in?"
"No," I interjected, quickly, before the man could reach for the intercom. "I wanted to surprise Thomas."
The man smirked broadly at me, buzzing me through the door. It was patently clear what he thought my surprise was going to entail, but Thomas and I had invested too much into his cover for me to correct any assumptions, now.
The elevator glided silently up to Thomas's floor, a far cry from the creaky contraption that my old office building had. Thomas's apartment was at the end of the hallway, and I could feel the tingle of the wards surrounding his place before I'd even gotten close. I recognized the feel of my own wards, and I was glad to see that my magic had outlasted my death. It meant that I wasn't going to have to deal with someone else's magic, and his threshold was still likely to let me in.
I knocked on the door, and then a second time when there was no answer. When there was still no answer, I tried the doorknob, surprised when it turned easily under my hand. Then again, when the apartment was occupied by a psychic vampire armed with a small arsenal, home security probably wasn't very much of an issue.
Stepping into the apartment, I felt only a small tingle as I passed easily through the wards, my magic folding around me like a comfortable, well-worn coat. I closed the door softly behind me, and then I turned around to find the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun just inches from my face.
'I probably should have anticipated this kind of reaction,' I thought, wryly, as I slowly moved my hands up into the air, where Thomas could see that I wasn't holding anything.
"Hey, Thomas," I said, softly, and I heard an almost animalistic snarl coming from my brother.
"I don't know what the hell you're playing at," he growled, glaring murderously at me, "but the last son of a bitch who came at me wearing my brother's face got splattered into a hundred pieces. You're about to be next."
I was about to snap off some witty reply when I took a closer look at my brother. At the glassy sheen of Thomas's eyes, the way his hand shook ever so slightly as he held the shotgun in my face. At the tell-tale empty bottles sitting on the living room table. Apparently, Justine's attempt to heal Thomas hadn't worked, at least not for very long.
"Thomas," I said, slowly, trying to keep my voice low and even, "it's me, I swear. Could I have gotten through the threshold, otherwise? The wards?"
Thomas glared at me, suspiciously, but he had yet to make good on his promise to shoot me, and I was encouraged by his hesitation.
"Look," I said, softly, reaching slowly under my shirt to pull my pentacle necklace out to rest on top of the soft cloth. "Thomas-"
Almost instinctively, he fumbled for his own necklace with his free hand, clutching the cool metal so hard in his palm that it probably left an imprint. I focused on the pentacle in my hand, sending a gentle pulse of energy through the link we shared, and a second later, Thomas's eyes widened in amazement as my magic spoke to his. He stared at me, numbly, the shotgun falling from his hand toward the floor, and I barely caught the weapon before it hit the floor and accidentally went off.
"Harry?" Thomas whispered, his voice ragged, and I nodded, feeling tears choking my own throat.
There was a moment of absolute silence as we just stared at each other. Then, faster than I could even think, Thomas had lunged at me, his fist slamming into the side of my face and sending me flying backward. I crashed heavily into the floor, too stunned to defend myself. Not that I would, not against Thomas.
I looked up at my brother from where I was sprawled on the floor. Thomas was standing over me, shaking, his chest heaving as he struggled to keep from losing control.
"Damn you," he growled low in his throat, staring down at me with a furious expression on his face.
"Thomas-" I started, but Thomas wasn't going to let me finish.
"Damn you!" he howled, lunging at me even as I was trying to get back to my feet.
He hit me with the force of a freight train, knocking me back to the floor so hard that the blow knocked the breath out of me. We slammed into the heavily-carpeted floor, Thomas pinning me beneath him. His eyes were blazing with anger and his hands were like burning brands on my arms.
"You. Left. Me!" he gritted out, shocking me with the raw emotion in his voice. "I needed you, and you just – damn you!"
"I didn't have a choice," I protested, but it was clear that Thomas wasn't going to let that stop him.
"There's always a choice!" he choked out, glaring down at me. "You could have asked me for help; we could have found a way out of the bitch's hold over you-"
I hadn't told anyone about my deal with Mab, about taking on the mantle of the Winter Knight. But, it didn't surprise me that Thomas had managed to figure it out. Of course he knew; he was my brother, and he knew me better than I knew myself, sometimes.
"I had to watch them grieve for you, had to watch Murphy go cold and close herself off from everyone else," Thomas went on, undaunted. "Had to watch Molly descend into her own madness, had to watch Michael Carpenter fall apart-"
"I'm sorry," I whispered, my voice cracking with the tears that choked at my throat, but I don't think that Thomas even heard me.
"Something died in me when I lost you," he said, his voice hollow. "Do you know how often I would think 'I need to talk to Harry', only you weren't there? I can't – they needed me to be strong for them, and I don't know how to be strong without you."
Thomas's quiet admission would have knocked me off my feet if I was still standing. As it was, I stared up at him in amazement, my mouth gaping open, silently. Thomas didn't seem to notice.
"You left me, damn you," he whispered, but the heat was gone from his voice, leaving just that hollow, broken echo.
I wanted to say something reassuring, make some rash promise I knew I could never fulfill. But, the words wouldn't come, couldn't force their way past the lump in my throat.
Instead, acting on an instinct I could barely name, I reached out and brushed my hand gently against Thomas's cheek. He jerked away from my touch like I'd just burned him, his eyes wide with shock. His eyes had gone liquid silver, and I could see him struggling to contain his Hunger as I touched him, again.
"Don't," I murmured, when he tried to pull away, again, and Thomas froze at the sound of my voice. "I'm sorry," I repeated, firmly, meeting his gaze for a single heartbeat.
Then, Thomas was jerking away from me, bolting to the other side of the room. He'd wrapped his arms tightly around his torso, visible tremors running through his body even from where I was slowly pushing myself to my feet. He was hunched in on himself, his long, ragged hair hanging loose around his face, and he was projecting the air of someone who'd been constantly beaten down, and just given up fighting.
A wave of protectiveness swamped me, seeing my brother look like that, and everything in me screamed to do something, anything to fix him.
I crossed the room to stand behind Thomas, hesitantly placing my hand on his shoulder. He jerked under my hand, but didn't pull away, which I took as a good sign.
"Go away, Harry," he said, so quietly that I almost couldn't hear him. "You don't want to be here, right now."
"I don't think I want to leave, actually," I replied, and Thomas whirled around to glare at me, knocking my hand off his shoulder with the movement.
His eyes were completely silver, now, and he was literally shaking with the effort from holding back his Hunger.
"You don't want this," he gritted out, even as he stared at me like he wanted to devour me.
"If you need to feed," I started, but Thomas cut me off with a bitter laugh.
"I don't-" he started, breaking off as he stared over my shoulder at the far wall. "I need, I want-"
He stopped himself before he could finish the sentence, but I could hear the unspoken words lingering in the air between us. I could sense the shame rolling off him, not even dampened by the demon fighting to be released.
I knew where he was coming from. Even for vampires, there were some lines that just weren't crossed, and my brother was expending every shred of self-control he possessed not to cross this one. He was fighting an unwinnable war with his demon, struggling not to turn into the kind of monster his father had been.
But, I'd been crossing lines my entire life, some of them as clear and obvious as the Great Wall of China. This thing between us, it wasn't so much a line as it was a fuzzy, barely-there specter standing between us. One that was easily brushed aside with hardly more than a thought. My brother needed me; that was the only thing that mattered.
"You are not a monster," I murmured, very deliberately stepping into Thomas's space and laying my hand on the side of his face, locking gazes with him. "You are not your father."
Thomas's eyes flared wide as he caught the meaning behind my words, his mouth dropping open in surprise.
"Harry," he choked out, "You can't-"
"I want this," I went on, still steadily holding his gaze.
Then, before he could think to push me away, I hooked my hand around the back of his neck, applying a gentle pressure at the base of his skull until he tipped his head back. His mouth was still open when I covered his lips with my own, swallowing his shocked gasp.
For a second, Thomas was rigid against me, but then he practically melted against my chest, clinging to me for dear life as he kissed me back, hungrily. I wrapped my arms around Thomas's back, pulling him tight against me. I only pulled away when I started to get dizzy from the lack of oxygen, and then only far enough to rest my forehead against Thomas's.
"I want this," I whispered, raggedly, just in case Thomas hadn't gotten the message the first time around. "I want you."
We stumbled through his apartment toward his bedroom, both of us shedding clothes along the way. We toppled onto his bed, Thomas twisting so that he landed on top of me, pinning me to the bed. But, then he hesitated, a guilty look flashing across his features, and I huffed an irritated sigh, pulling him down into another kiss.
"Just let go," I murmured, when we came up for air, again. "You don't have to fight it; you aren't going to hurt me. Trust me."
Thomas sighed, his eyes closing for a moment. A second later, warmth rushed through me, pulling at me, every sense focusing solely on him. I could see why he'd been afraid, if this was what even a sample of his power had felt like, and he was right, I would have been practically helpless against it when I'd been just a wizard.
But, I was different, now, and, honestly, I was worried about what I might do to Thomas, if I sensed his chained-up demon during a critical moment. I still didn't know my own strength as the Winter Knight, didn't know the true extent of my powers, and Thomas releasing his demon while we were both still in control of ourselves was as much for my benefit as it was for his.
I could feel Thomas's Hunger flowing around both of us, drawing on the wellspring of power that emanated from me and giving it back to Thomas. He was still being so careful, though, so hesitant, and I wondered if he was having second thoughts. But, when I reached for him, he caught my hand with one of his own, pressing me back gently into the mattress.
"No," he whispered, hoarsely. "Just let me, please?"
I nodded, silently, my turn to trust him, now.
As I relaxed back against the pillows under my head, Thomas slowly, thoroughly kissed his way down my body. I couldn't help squirming under his touch, sparks shooting up my body everywhere his lips met my skin.
"Thomas," I moaned, and my brother shot me an uncharacteristically shy smile before ducking his head, again.
His lips trailed lower and lower down my stomach, and then I practically arched off the bed when he licked a broad stripe up my cock. Before I'd had any time to adjust to even that, Thomas had swallowed my cock in one smooth motion, enveloping me in an almost electric heat.
His Hunger surged in response, and for a brief moment, the world grayed out in front of my eyes as our magics clashed. When I came back down from my momentary high, Thomas's mouth was still on me, working on a slow, steady rhythm. He had one hand braced on my hip, and the other was stroking gently along my backside, a finger dipping into my ass.
He pulled off long enough to shoot me a worried look, and I rolled my eyes at him, affectionately, before he could say anything.
"Don't you think if I was going to protest, I would have done it by now?" I gasped out, resisting the urge to demand that he get back to what he'd been doing. "Just fuck me, already."
"If you insist," Thomas all but purred, and I was happy to hear even a hint of his former confidence returning.
"I definitely insist," I told him, affecting a lofty tone (as much as I could with Thomas's mouth on my cock, anyway).
Thomas's fingers returned to my ass, easing inside and stretching me open, slowly enough that I wanted to scream. But, finally, he seemed satisfied with his work, because he slowly withdrew his fingers. Then, a second later, he replaced his fingers with his cock, sliding in as deep as he could.
I hooked my legs around his waist as he started to move, bracing myself with a hand. With my free hand, I reached down and wrapped my hand around myself, tugging in tandem to Thomas's thrusts. We moved together, setting up an easy rhythm.
Above me, Thomas's breathing was becoming erratic, his eyes glazing over. I wasn't doing much better. Experimentally, I tightened my muscles around him, and he jerked in surprise.
"Empty Night, Harry," he gasped out, his voice ragged, and I smirked as I did it, again.
Thomas's eyes rolled back in his head as he let out a breathless shout, shuddering as he came inside me. I had a moment of smug satisfaction knowing that I was the one who'd made him come apart like that, but my satisfaction was short-lived when Thomas twisted around, impossibly, and took me in his mouth, again.
He sucked hard, once, and I was fairly certain that I passed out for a couple of seconds from the force of my climax. Not that I would never admit that to Thomas, however.
Thomas collapsed on top of me, minute tremors still wracking his body, and he pulled out as carefully as he could. Even as I reached for him, he was rolling away from me, huddling as far away from me as he could without actually falling off the bed. He was acting ashamed, and I could practically see the waves of guilt rolling off him.
"Oh, come on," I said, trying to make light of the situation, "I didn't think I was that bad."
Thomas's shoulders jerked in response, but he still wouldn't turn around and face me. Irritated, now, I reached and I tugged on Thomas's shoulder until he'd twisted around to look at me, kissing him, deeply.
"What are you so scared of, Thomas?"
"Losing you," came the quiet response, and Thomas wouldn't meet my eyes as he rolled back over, his shoulders hunching, defensively. "If I wake up, and this is just a dream-"
"This is no dream," I told him, firmly. "And when you wake up, I'll still be here."
To prove my point, I wrapped my arms around Thomas, resting my head pointedly in the crook of his shoulder.
"Old girlfriend once compared me to an overly-clingy octopus," I said, into the silence that filled the room, and just like I'd hoped, Thomas cracked a small smile.
"I went by to see Maggie," he told me, as he relaxed back into my arms. "She's beautiful, Harry."
"She is," I agreed, quietly.
I stroked a hand through Thomas's unkempt hair, watching as his eyes fluttered shut in exhaustion.
"You look like hell," I said, quietly, and Thomas snorted out a weak laugh.
"Always the charmer," he said, his words slightly slurred. "Haven't been able to sleep."
"Just close your eyes, then," I suggested, and Thomas nodded.
"You'll stay?" he asked, a hint of vulnerability in his voice that I knew I never would have heard, otherwise.
"I'm not going anywhere," I told him. "Sleep, now."
And we did.