Peace Talks Page 1

Author: Jim Butcher

Series: The Dresden Files #16

Genres: Fantasy


My brother ruined a perfectly good run by saying, “Justine is pregnant.”

That kicked me completely out of my mental zone, and suddenly I became aware of the burning in my legs, my heavy breathing. I dropped out of gear and gradually slowed down until I was walking. In the blue light of July predawn, Montrose Beach was deserted. It wasn’t hot yet. That’s why I was up at oh-God-thirty.

Thomas slowed down, too, until we were walking side by side. His dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Like me, he wore an old T-shirt, sweatpants, and sneakers. He was one of those men who were so good-looking that it made people check around to see if they were being pranked.

He was also a vampire.

“Let me get this right. You pick me up this morning,” I said. “We came all the way down here. We did six miles in the sand and neither of us said a word. The whole city is still and quiet. We’ve barely seen a moving car.”

“Yeah?” Thomas asked.

I scowled. “So why’d you have to go and ruin it?”

His mouth twitched at the corner. “Sorry to spoil your man time, there, Hemingway.”

“Nnngh,” I said. We had reached the end of our last lap and were almost back to the cars anyway. I stopped and turned toward the lake and breathed. The weighted vest I was wearing pinched at something on my shoulder, restricting its movement, and I rolled it irritably.

Far out over the lake, the blue had begun to lighten. Sunrise would be soon.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Very,” he said.

I glanced aside at him. The ideal symmetry of his face was stretched tight with tension. His eyes, which were sometimes blue, usually grey, were tinting toward reflective silver. I knew the look. He was Hungry.

“How did that happen?” I asked him.

He looked aside at me without turning his head and lifted his eyebrows. “Did no one ever have this talk with you?”

I scowled. “I mean, weren’t you careful?”

“Yes,” Thomas said. “And my kind are all but infertile to boot. Happened anyway.”

“What happens now?”

“The usual, mostly. Except that the baby’s Hunger will draw life energy from Justine. She’s going to be fed upon continuously for the next seven and a half months.”

I studied him. “Is that dangerous?”

He swallowed. “According to the family records, just over fifty percent either don’t survive the delivery or die shortly after.”

“Hell’s bells,” I said. I kept staring out at the water. Blue had given way to lighter blue and then to the first wash of gold. Chicago was starting to wake up around us. The burble of noise from the freeways had begun to escalate by slow degrees. Birds in the sanctuary at the end of the beach were beginning to sing.

“I don’t know what to do,” Thomas said. “If I lose her …”

He didn’t continue. He didn’t have to. There was a universe of pain residing in that ellipsis.

“You’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll help.”

“You?” Thomas asked. A faint smile lightened his profile for a second.

“I’ll have you know I’ve been a full-time dad for well over a month, and Maggie isn’t dead yet. I clearly have mad parenting skills.”

The smile faded. “Right. But … Harry …”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “Don’t borrow trouble,” I said. “There’s plenty of that going around without looking for more of it. She needs taking care of. So whatever needs to happen, we’ll do it.”

He stared at me for a silent moment and nodded once.

“Meanwhile,” I said, “you should probably focus on taking care of yourself so you can be there for her.”

“I’m fine,” he said, waving one hand.

“You don’t look fine.”

That made him jerk his head toward me and glare. The expression changed him. Suddenly he looked less like a human being and more like something carved from marble. Angry, angry marble. I felt my shoulders tense up in the presence of a creature I knew was genuinely dangerous.

He glared at me, but he had to look up to do it. My older brother is right around six feet tall, but I’m six nine. Usually, I have a commanding advantage when looking down at him. Today, I had less than usual, since I was standing in a depression in the sand.

His voice was cool. “Leave it, Harry.”

“If I don’t,” I asked, “are you gonna punch me?”

He scowled at me.

“Because you know. I’m all Captain Winter now. It might not go the way you assume it would.”

He sneered. “Please. I’d hogtie you with your entrails.”

I squinted at him. Then I spoke carefully and slowly. “If you don’t take care of yourself and act like a sane person,” I said, “maybe we’ll find out.”

He scowled and started to speak, his expression darkening.

“No,” I said simply. “No, you don’t get to do that. You don’t get to go into an emo vampire angst spiral over this. Because that’s selfish, and you can’t afford to think that way. Not anymore.”

He stared at me for a while, his expression furious, then thoughtful, then disturbed.

Waves rolled in on the beach.

“I have to think of them,” he said.

“Good man would,” I said.

His grey eyes stared out at the lake. “Everything is going to change,” he said.


“I’m scared,” he said.


Something in his body language relaxed, and suddenly he was just my brother again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That I got edgy. I … don’t like to talk vampire stuff with you.”

“You’d rather pretend we were just normal brothers, with normal problems,” I said.

“Wouldn’t you?” he asked.

I squinted down at my feet for a while. “Maybe. But you can’t ignore things that are real just because they’re uncomfortable. I’ll sit on you and make you take care of yourself if I have to. But it’s probably better for them if you do it.”

He nodded. “Probably. I have a solution in mind,” he said. “I’ll work on it. Good enough?”

I raised both of my hands, palms out. “I’m not your dad,” I said. Then it was my turn to frown. “Your dad’s side of the family going to be an issue?”

“When aren’t they an issue?”

“Heh,” I said. Silence stretched. Over the lake, the sky began to swell with the first faint band of deep orange. It had already gotten to the skyscrapers behind us. The light moved steadily down the buildings’ sides.

“Sometimes,” Thomas said, “I hate what I am. I hate being me.”

“Maybe it’s time to work on that,” I said to him. “Isn’t really the kind of thing you want to teach to a little kid.”

He glowered at me. Then he said, “When the hell did you get deep?”

“Through experience, wisdom I have earned,” I said in Yoda’s voice. But it tickled my throat weirdly and made me start coughing. I dealt with that for longer than I should have needed to and was straightening up again when Thomas said, his tone suddenly tighter, “Harry.”

Next page