The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(15) by J.R.Ward
And that was when iAm knew that this was not bad, but BAD.
The male wasn’t terrified.
He was already in mourning.
Trez wasn’t immediately sure who his savior was. Didn’t recognize the hand that joined his own, even though it looked almost exactly like his. Didn’t track the new scent in the room. It wasn’t until he looked up that he saw …
iAm, of course.
As if it would be anyone else.
The image of his brother got wavy. “iAm, she’s…”
He couldn’t say the words. His thought processes literally flatlined sure as if he’d had a stroke or something.
“Let’s hold the plate,” iAm said. “Together.”
“You should be behind the lead thing.”
Trez wasn’t surprised iAm hung in, and he mouthed a thank-you, because he didn’t think his voice was functioning any better than his brain or that hand of his was.
“Let’s get as still as we can,” Doc Jane said. Then there was a brief whirring sound from the machine and Doc Jane and Ehlena came back at the table.
iAm was the one who handed the plate over—and good thing, because Trez would have dropped it. Screw his hands, his whole body was shaking.
“Thank you,” Doc Jane said. “I think we have enough now. Do you want to call the others in?”
Trez shook his head. “May I have a moment with her?”
“We need to stay in to look at the X-rays.”
“Oh, yeah, I know. I just…” He glanced to the door, and knew those people had as much right to be in here as he did. Actually, they had more.
“Trez,” Doc Jane said gently. “However you want it, that’s how we’ll do it.”
But what did Selena want? he wondered, not for the first time.
“Look,” Doc Jane murmured, “there doesn’t seem to be an emergency issue right now. There will be time for the others to come in later—and if her condition changes? We’ll make different choices depending on where we’re at.”
“Okay.” He nodded toward his brother. “But iAm. I want him to stay.”
His brother nodded and brought over a chair—but not for himself, as it turned out. He shoved it under the backs of Trez’s knees, and functioning joints being what they were, a total collapse of the vertical happened but quick. As his ass smacked into the seat, he thought, yeah, he had been feeling a little light-headed. Probably a good idea to get off his feet.
With not a single word, iAm took a load off on the floor beside him, and it was incredible how just having the male in the room calmed him.
Trez refocused on Selena. She still had not moved from the position he’d found her in, and all those hard angles of her body were a total nightmare.
In fact, this whole thing just seemed so … devastating.
From what Cormia had said, the Arrest was a disease that struck a tiny minority of Chosen females. In all of history, there had been only a dozen, maybe fewer, who had suffered from it—which meant the statistical chance of getting the disorder was very small. Unfortunately, the condition had been uniformly fatal.
Goddamn it, he didn’t want any of those females to be sick, but why her?
Of all of them, in the entire history of the Race, why did Selena have to be one of the ones cut short like this?
And it was a horrible way to die. Frozen in your own body, unable to communicate, trapped in a fading prison until everything went dark and you …
He closed his eyes.
Shit, what if she didn’t want him here? He had bonded, yes—and everyone else was treating him with the respect that a bonded male would have in this situation, even as they wondered how it had happened without them knowing.
The problem was, he and Selena weren’t mated. In a relationship. Even dating.
Hell, they hadn’t even spent two minutes together in months—
With a jerk, he popped his lids. Doc Jane was in front of him, her forest-green eyes alert and grave. “I’ve looked at the X-rays.”
He cleared his throat. “Maybe the others would like to be here for this?”
Shit, should he step aside so Cormia or someone could hold her hand? Would that be better? His body would hate that and so would his soul. But this was not about him.
A lot of people came in, more than there had been, and he nodded at Tohr, Qhuinn and Blay—and was glad that Layla was there, along with Cormia and Phury. Forcing himself to his feet, he went to step back, but the Primale came over and eased him down into that chair again.
“You stay where you are,” Phury said, squeezing his shoulder. “You’re right where you need to be.”
Trez let out some kind of croak. It was the best he could do.
Doc Jane cleared her throat. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” She called something up on the big computer screen by the desk. “It’s as if the joints themselves have turned to solid bone.”
The black-and-white image was of what appeared to be Selena’s knee and Doc Jane indicated different areas with the head of a silver pen. “On X-ray, bones register white and pale gray, whereas connective tissue like ligaments and tendons don’t offer that kind of contrast. Here”—she drew a circle around the joint—“there should be dark patches in between the cap and the socket. Instead it’s just … solid bone. The same is true for the joints in her feet, her elbow, her…”
More of those images flashed up on the screen, one after another, and all he could do was shake his head. It was as if someone had poured cement into all the junctures.
“What’s particularly worrisome is this.” A new picture became visible. “This is her arm. Unlike the other joints, the bone growth appears to be spreading and invading into the musculature. If this continues, her entire body—”
“Stone,” Trez whispered.
Oh, God, those marble statues in that place he’d found her.
That wasn’t a courtyard—that was a cemetery. Full of the females who had suffered and died from this.
“The only thing I’m aware of that is remotely like this is a human disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. It’s an extremely rare genetic condition that causes bone to form where muscles, tendons, and ligaments are, and it results, over time, in a total restriction of movement—to the point where patients must choose the position they want to be locked into. The growth of the bone happens sporadically and can be triggered by trauma or viruses, or can be spontaneous. There are no treatments for the disease, and surgical removal of the growth just triggers further genesis. What Selena’s going through is like that—only it seems to have occurred all over her body at once.”
Trez twisted around to the two healthy Chosen in the room. “Has this ever been treated? At any time in the past, did someone try to find a way to stop it?”
Layla looked at Cormia and the latter spoke up. “We prayed … that was all we could do. And still the attacks came.”
“So this is … an episode of some sort?” Doc Jane asked. “Not the terminus?”
“I don’t know how many of these she’s had.” Cormia brushed a tear off her cheek. “Usually there is a period of them before the final one from which they do not recover.”
Doc Jane frowned. “So the body unlocks? How?”
“I do not know.”
Trez spoke up to the Chosen. “Did either of you have any idea she was sick?”
“No one did.” Cormia leaned against her hellren as if she needed his support. “But considering the condition she’s in now … I believe she must be toward the end of the disease. It’s my understanding that the early episodes affect only parts of the body. This is all of hers.”
Trez deflated on his exhale, his strength expelling out of his mouth. The only thing that kept him from breaking down was the possibility that Selena might be aware of what was happening—and he wanted to appear to be strong for her.
Doc Jane leaned her hip against her desk and crossed her arms. “I can’t imagine how the joints can recover from this kind of state.”
Cormia shook her head. “The attacks, those few I’ve seen, come on fast and then … I don’t know what happens. Hours or a night later, they start to be able to move again. After a period of time, they regain mobility—but it always happens again. Always.”
“They also choose a position,” Layla said quietly as she, too, brushed at tears. “Like the humans you spoke of, our sisters always chose—they would tell us how they wanted to be and we would make sure…”
There were more things said. Questions asked. Explanations given to the best of people’s abilities. But he had stopped tracking.
Like a train gathering speed, his mind, his emotions, his sense of total impotence and all his regrets started to churn along a defined path, gathering speed and intensity.
He hated that her hair was a mess and he couldn’t fix it.
He hated that there were grass stains on her robing, bright green smudges where her knees had hit the ground.
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