Back on the far side, in the Brotherhood's mansion, John Matthew sat in a stuffed chair across from the bed where Tohr lay sleeping. The Brother hadn't moved since they'd gotten home hours and hours ago.

Which seemed to be the SOP for tonight. It was like everyone in the house was asleep, a collective, pervasive exhaustion overwhelming them all.


Well, everyone except John. And the angel who was pacing in the guest room next door.

Tohr was on both their minds.

God, John had never expected to feel bigger than the Brother. He'd never expected to be physically stronger. He'd certainly never thought about taking care of the male. Or being responsible for him.

He had all of that going on and more, now, because Tohr had lost sixty pounds, easy. And had the face and body of a male who'd gone to war and been mortally injured.

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It was weird, John thought. At first, he'd wanted the Brother to wake up right away, but now he was scared to see those eyes open. He didn't know if he could handle being shut out. Sure, it would be understandable, given all that Tohr had lost, but... it would kill him.

Besides, as long as Tohr was still asleep, John wasn't going to break down and sob.

See, there was a ghost in the room. A beautiful, red-haired ghost with a rounded pregnant belly: Wellsie was with them. In spite of her death, she was with them, and so was her unborn child. And Tohr's shellan was never going to be far. There was no looking at Tohr without seeing her. The two had been inseparable in life, and they were in death as well. Sure as shit, Tohr might have been breathing, but he wasn't alive anymore.

"Is that you?"

John's eyes shot to the bed.

Tohr was awake and looking across the dim stretch that separated them.

John slowly stood up and straightened his T-shirt and jeans. It's John. John Matthew.

Tohr didn't say anything, just kept looking him up and down.

I went through the transition, John signed like a fool.

"You're D's size. Big."

God, that voice was exactly like he remembered it. Deep as the bass note of a church organ and just as commanding. There was a difference, though. There was a new hollowness in the words.

Or maybe that was coming from the blank space behind those blue eyes.

I had to get new clothes. Jesus Christ, he was an idiot. Are you... are you hungry? I got roast beef sandwiches. And Pepperidge Farm Milanos. You used to like¡ª

"I'm good."

Can I get you something to drink? I got a thermos of coffee.

"Nah." Tohr glanced over at the bathroom. "Shit, indoor plumbing. Been a while. And no, I don't need help."

It was painful to watch¡ªsomething out of a future John didn't think would come for hundreds and hundreds of years: Tohrment as an old male.

The Brother put a shaking hand on the edge of the sheets and dragged them off his naked body inch by inch. He paused. Then slid his legs out so they dangled to the floor. There was another pause before he heaved himself up, his once-wide shoulders straining to bear weight that was little more than that of a skeleton.

He didn't walk. He shuffled like the advanced elderly did, head down, spine curving toward the floor, hands up as if he expected to fall at any moment.

The doors shut. The toilet flushed with a gurgle. The shower came on.

John went back to the chair he'd been in, his gut empty, and not just because he hadn't eaten since the night before. Worry was all he knew. Concern the breath he drew into his chest. Anxiety the very beat of his heart.

This was the flip side of the parent/child relationship. Where the son worried about the father.

Assuming he and Tohr still had that whole connection going on.

He wasn't sure. The Brother had stared at him like he was a stranger.

John's foot ticked off the seconds, and he rubbed his palms on his thighs. Strange, everything else that had happened, even the stuff with Lash, seemed unreal and unimportant. There was only the now with Tohr.

When the door opened nearly an hour later, he went still.

Tohr was wearing a robe, and his hair was mostly detangled, though the beard was still ragged.

In that loose, unreliable shuffle, the Brother went back to the bed and stretched out with a groan, settling awkwardly into the pillows.

Is there anything I can¡ª

"This is not where I wanted to end up, John. I'm not going to front. This is not... where I want to be."

Okay, John signed. Okay.

As silence stretched, in his mind, he had the conversation he wanted to have with Tohr: Qhuinn and Blay ended up here, and Qhuinn's parents are dead, and Lash is... I don't know what to say about him... There's a female I like, but she's out of my league, and I'm in the war and I missed you and I want you to be proud of me and I'm scared and I miss Wellsie and are you all right?

And most important... Please say you're not leaving again. Ever. I need you.

Instead, he rose to his feet and signed, I guess I'll leave you to rest. If you need anything¡ª

"I'm tight."

Okay. Yeah. Okay...

John pulled at the hem of his T-shirt and turned away. As he walked to the door, he couldn't breathe.

Oh, please let him not run into anyone on the way to his room¡ª


He stopped. Pivoted back around.

As he met Tohr's weary navy blue stare, John felt like his knees were having an out-of-socket experience.

Tohr closed his eyes and opened his arms.

John ran to the bed and grabbed on to his father for everything he was worth. He buried his face in what was once a broad chest and listened to the heart that still beat inside of it. Of the two of them he held on harder, not because Tohr didn't care, but because he hadn't the strength.

They both cried until there was no more breath with which to wail.

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