The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(7) by J.R.Ward
He lifted his now-mangled hand, staring at the stubs that were all that were left of four out of his five fingers.
The knock upon the door was soft, and as he inhaled, he caught the scents on the other side. Bracing himself, he pulled the sheets up higher on his thin chest.
The Chosen Selena wasn’t alone, as she had been last evening.
And he knew what this was about.
“Come in,” he said in a voice he still didn’t recognize. Ever since his ordeal, his speech had been huskier, deeper.
Qhuinn came in first, and for a moment, Luchas recoiled. Whenever he had seen his brother previously, the male had been in civilian garb. Not tonight. He’d clearly come fresh from the theater of conflict, black leather covering his powerful body, weapons strapped on his hips, his thighs … his chest.
Luchas frowned as he noticed two particular fighting implements: His brother had a pair of black daggers upon his sternum, the handles facing down.
Strange, he thought. It was his understanding that such blades were reserved only for members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
Mayhap they allowed their soldiers to wear them as well now?
“Hey,” Qhuinn said.
Behind him, the Chosen Selena was silent as a ghost, her white robes floating around her slender body, her dark hair woven up high on her head in the traditional style of her sacred order.
“Greetings, sire,” she said with an elegant bow.
Glancing down at his leg, Luchas wanted desperately to get out of bed and pay her the respect she was due. Not an option. The limb was, as always, wrapped up tight in white gauze from toe to knee, and underneath that sterile dressing? Flesh that would not heal, the heat of the infection simmering like a pot of water on the verge of breaking into a boil.
“So they tell me you’ve stopped feeding,” Qhuinn said.
Luchas looked away, wishing there was a window so that he could feign distraction.
“Well?” Qhuinn demanded. “Is that true?”
“Chosen,” Luchas murmured. “Will you kindly permit us a moment alone?”
“But of course. I shall await your summoning.”
The door shut silently. And Luchas found that all of the oxygen in the room appeared to have departed with the female.
Qhuinn pulled a chair over to the bedside and sat down, propping his elbows on his knees. His shoulders were so wide, the leather jacket he had on creaked in protest.
“What’s going on, Luchas?” he asked.
“This could have waited. You shouldn’t have come in from fighting.”
“Not according to your vital signs.”
“So the doctor called you in, did she?”
“She talked to me, yes.”
Luchas closed his eyes. “I had a…” He cleared his throat. “Before all of this, I’d had a vision of what I would be doing, what my future was going to be. I was…”
“You were going to be like Father.”
“Yes. I wanted … all the things I had been taught defined a life as worth living.” He lifted his lids and glared at his body. “This was not it. This … I am as a young is. People tending to my needs, bringing me food, washing me, wiping me. I am a brain trapped in a broken vessel. I do nothing for myself—”
“No!” He slashed his mutilated hand through the air. “Do not placate me with promises of some future health. It’s been nine months, brother mine. Preceded by a captivity in Hell that lasted a century. I’m done with being a prisoner. Done with it.”
“You can’t kill yourself.”
“I know. Then I do not enter the Fade. But if I don’t eat, and I don’t feed, that”—he jabbed a finger at his leg—“will get the best of me and carry me off. Not suicide. Death by sepsis—isn’t that what Doc Jane is so worried about?”
With a sharp motion, Qhuinn took off his jacket and let it land on the floor. “I don’t want to lose you.”
Luchas put his hands over his face. “How can you say that … after all the cruelty in our household…”
“Not your doing. That was the ’rents.”
At least that was one thing he’d done right. “Qhuinn, let me go. Please. Just let me … go.”
The silence lasted so long, Luchas began to breathe easier, thinking that his argument had been accepted.
“I know what it’s like to not have hope,” Qhuinn said roughly. “But destiny can surprise you.”
Luchas dropped his arms and laughed bitterly. “Not in a good way, I’m afraid. Not in a good way—”
“Luchas. I’m telling you—”
“I’m a fucking cripple!”
“So was I.” Qhuinn pointed to his eyes. “All my life.”
Luchas turned away, staring at the cream-colored wall. “There’s nothing you can say, Qhuinn. It’s over. I’m tired of fighting for a life I don’t want.”
Another silence stretched out. Eventually, Qhuinn cursed under his breath. “You just need to feed and get your strength back—”
“I will e’er refuse her vein. You might as well accept this now and not waste any further time on arguments I find unpersuasive. I am done.”
As Selena waited in the corridor, exhaustion cloaked her in heavy folds that were no less real for being invisible.
And yet she was antsy. Fidgeting with her robing, her hair, her hands.
She did not like time that was unconsumed by her duties. With nothing to occupy herself, her thoughts and fears became too loud to contain within her skull.
And yet she supposed there was a utility in this solitude. If she could stand to take advantage of it.
What she needed to do as she stood out here was practice her good-bye. She should try to compose the words she wanted to speak before she ran out of time. She should get up the courage that was going to be required to say aloud that which was in her heart.
She was going to follow through on the impulse to tell Trez good-bye.
Of the many people she would leave behind, the Primale and her Chosen sisters, the Brothers and their shellans, Trez was the one whom she mourned already. Even though she hadn’t seen him in … many, many nights.
Even though she hadn’t been alone with him in … many, many months.
In fact, after they had ended their … relationship, or whatever it was, he had all but moved out of the mansion. No matter what time she had come or gone, she had not seen him face-to-face, and only on occasion caught a glimpse of his big shoulders as he headed in an opposite direction from her.
That he was avoiding her had been a treacherous relief at first. It was going to be hardest leaving him, and harder still if they had continued their assignations. But lately, as her time grew shorter and shorter, she had come to decide that she needed to tell him …
Dearest Virgin Scribe, what was she going to say?
Selena looked up and down the corridor, as if the perfect little monologue might obligingly march on by, at a pace leisurely enough so that she could memorize it.
For all she knew, he had forgotten their time together. By his own admission, he was well versed in finding female diversions of the human variety.
No doubt he had wiped the slate well clean.
And then there was the reality of him being promised to another.
She dropped her head into her hands. For her entire life, she had taken comfort and purpose from her sacred duty—so it was a shock to discover that as she drew closer and closer to her demise, the one thing she was driven to get right was her departure from a male who was not her own. With whom she had had an affair of the very shortest duration.
There had been many nights that she had spent in her bedroom up at the Great Camp, attempting to convince herself that what had happened with Trez was pure folly, but now, as time was running out? A strange clarity was focusing her. It mattered naught the why. Only that she accomplished the goal of telling him how she felt before she died.
She did not want to approach him too soon, however—rather embarrassing to pour out her soul to a potentially indifferent vessel and then linger for nights, weeks, months.
If only her expiration came with a date, as if she were a carton of milk—
Qhuinn emerged from the hospital room, and the tight expression on his harsh face cleared away her tangle of preoccupation.
“I’m so sorry,” she murmured. “He is refusing again?”
“I can’t get through to him.”
“The will to live can be complicated.” She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. “Know that I am here for you both. If at any time he changes his mind, I shall come.”
“You are a female of worth, you really are.”
He gave her a quick, hard embrace and then stalked off down the corridor, as if he were leaving the facility. But then he paused in front of the closed door to Doc Jane’s main examination room. After a moment, he pushed through.
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