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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:53:54

The man who came through the door was five-nine, five-ten, with short curly hair the same deep brown of Micah's, but the hair was even curlier so that cut almost military short there was still tight curl close to his scalp. Large gray-blue eyes dominated his face, so that was what you saw first, and I had to look twice to see he had Micah's full lips and a skin tone only a few shades darker, but that was where the resemblance ended. The man's features were clean and handsome, but there was no hint of the delicacy of Micah, his dad, or Cousin Juliet.

'Mike, so you are here,' he said in a voice that was deeper than I thought it would be.

'Hello, Jerry,' Micah said. Unless there was a cousin Jerry we didn't know about it, this had to be his brother, Jerry.

'Beth said you'd come. I said you wouldn't.'

'She was always the hopeful one,' Micah said.

Jerry stood just inside the closed door looking at his brother. 'Little sisters are like that, I guess,' he said.

The two men just looked at each other. Nathaniel and I stood on either side of Micah, but we might as well have been on the moon for all we mattered in that moment.

'I don't know about all little sisters, but Beth was always kind.'

'Softhearted, you mean.'

Micah shrugged. 'Either way.'

I wanted to tell them to hug or something, but I'd never met his brother, and I didn't know enough of their history to push.

'Why'd you come back, Mike?'

'If he wasn't good enough to see while he was ... before he got hurt, then why the hell do you care now?'

'What? You expected to come home like the prodigal son and we'd all forgive and forget?'

'No, I didn't expect you to forgive me.'

'Yes, you did. You thought you'd get your Hallmark moment where everyone cries and says nice things, and you get forgiven before he dies. That's why you came home, to be forgiven. Well, if he wakes up and forgives you, remember, I won't.'

'I'll remember,' Micah said, his voice low and even. His face was as blank as he could make it.

'Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?'

'I didn't think you wanted to be introduced.'

'I don't hate them, big brother, only you.'

Micah did a long blink, and then without any change of expression turned to me and said, 'Anita Blake, this is my brother, Jerry.'

I did the only thing I could think of under the circumstances; I went forward and offered my hand. He could ignore it and be utterly rude, or he could shake it. He looked surprised for a second, and then he took my hand. He didn't seem to know how to shake hands with a girl, or maybe it was me being the girl with Micah. Either way it was a step forward from him just refusing.

'This is Nathaniel Graison,' Micah said.

Nathaniel followed my example and Jerry shook his hand, too. He gave Nathaniel a firmer handshake; maybe he was recovering from the surprise of us being polite?

Micah came up behind us, closer to his brother. 'I'm sorry I didn't come home sooner.'

'I thought you'd hate me, so there didn't seem to be much point.'

Jerry's eyes were shiny. 'Well, you're right, I do hate you. You said terrible things to Mom and Dad.'

'I know I can't explain it, but I didn't feel I had a choice.' Micah's voice was a little thick now, as if Jerry weren't the only one whose eyes were shiny. I fought not to look at him, not to move too much, as if moving would ruin things.

'Dad's friends with a Fed. He said that he saw files about what would have happened to us if you hadn't convinced some bad-guy shapeshifter that you hated us.'

Again, I wondered how in the hell any Fed knew that and where the information had come from. But now wasn't the time to ask, and Jerry wouldn't know anyway. I wasn't sure if I was looking forward to meeting this friendly Fed or dreading it.

'I saw him do terrible things to other families. I couldn't risk it.'

'You did a good job of making us think you hated us. Mom cried for weeks, and Beth didn't hear it, so she didn't believe you'd said it, any of it. She thought we were lying, because we thought you being a wereleopard made you too dangerous. She thought we'd kicked you out for years.'

'I don't know if I could have said all I needed to say if Beth had been there.'

'I know you couldn't have. No way could you have looked her in the face and been so ... cruel. You were her favorite brother even though you hunted and killed things with Dad, and she hated that, but she still loved you more.'

'She didn't love me more, Jerry; she loved me different, that's all.'

'You lying bastard.' His voice held the tears a moment before the first of them slid down his cheek. His voice was choking on his tears when he said, 'I hate you, you lying bastard.'

'I know,' Micah said, and something I heard in his voice made me have to look at his face so I could see the tears falling down his face.

It was Jerry who made the first move forward, but Micah didn't wait for more. They were suddenly hugging, clinging to each other and crying. Jerry was still calling him a lying bastard, but somewhere in all the name-calling I heard Micah say, 'I love you, too.'