The Shadows(Black Dagger Brotherhood, book 13)(47) by J.R.Ward
He cracked his knuckles, one by one. “Is there nothing we can do for her?”
“Not that we can think of so far. One of the challenges is that we don’t understand the mechanism of the disease. My suspicion is that after the bone growth is triggered by God only knows what, her immune system somehow rebounds and attacks the offending material, destroying it as if it’s a virus or infection. And her body’s defensive mechanism knows when to stop, as her original skeleton is intact afterward. There probably is something inherently different about the ‘bone’ growth, but I wouldn’t know unless we did a biopsy.”
“So why does she have to…” Shit, every time he blinked, he saw Selena lying on the table, her body in that god-awful contortion. “Why can’t she just keep fighting things off and recovering?”
“My guess is, the immune system fails. When you think about it, it’s an extraordinary series of events on the cellular level. When I saw the first set of X-rays, I would never have guessed her body could come back from that to any kind of functioning.”
He fell quiet, and stared at the tile floor. “I want to take her out tonight. You know, for a date.” When the doctor stayed silent, he glanced up. “Not a good idea, huh?”
Doc Jane crossed her arms over her chest, and pushed her chair back and forth on its little black wheels, the seated version of pacing.
Fuck. He should have had this conversation before he’d suggested an excursion—
“How frank do you want me to be?” Doc Jane asked.
Trez had an image of Vishous’s goateed profile highlighted under that ceiling fixture outside in the corridor. “I need to know where we’re at.”
Even if it killed him.
It was a minute or two before Doc Jane answered, and he guessed she was running scenarios in her head. “The most conservative route is for her not to leave the compound, and for me to do a total work-up on her, one that involves multiple biopsies, a CAT scan, an MRI out in the human world, and consults with human doctors through Manny’s contacts. And then we’d probably want to start her on an aggressive course of steroids—even though that’s more a hunch than anything certain, I have to believe the inflammatory process has something to do with all this. There could be other drugs to try, maybe some procedures, but it’s hard to guess at them with any certainty from where I’m sitting right now.” She rubbed at her short hair until the stuff stuck straight up in blond spikes. “We’d have to get moving fast because we don’t know how much time we have, and everything would be trial and error, with probably more of a prolonging goal than a cure. Although again, that’s just a hunch, nothing concrete.”
He closed his eyes and tried on for size telling his queen that instead of going to that restaurant she was so excited to eat at, they were going to—
“But that’s not what I would do if I were her.”
Trez popped his lids and looked over at the physician. “So there’s another way.”
Doc Jane shrugged. “You know, at the end of the day, I think you have to consider quality of life. I’m not sure how far we’d get in treating or understanding this disease even if we climbed all over her. I’m basing that on the fact that she is, to borrow an infectious disease term, ‘patient zero’ for us. Nobody has seen this even though a minority of her sisters have suffered for generations from it. There is a very complex series of things going on, and I just … there’s a lot to try to get a grip on. And for what? Do you want to ruin her last nights—”
“Nights?” he blurted. “Jesus Christ, is that all we have?”
“I don’t know.” She lifted her palms. “No one does, and that’s the point. Would you—would she—rather spend whatever time she has living, or simply waiting to die? I’ll tell you right now, if it were my choice, it would be the former. That’s why I’m not going to make her come down here or try to have her feel bad because she’s not in a big hurry to lie down on my table.”
Trez blew out the breath he’d been unaware of holding. “Rehvenge went up North. To the colonies. To see if there was anything in the symphath tradition that would help.”
“I know, Ehlena told me. We’re hoping to hear something soon.”
He could tell by the professional tone of the female’s voice that she wasn’t holding out much hope. “What happens if Selena gets into … a situation … and we’re out to dinner?”
“Then you call us. Have I shown you Manny’s new toy?”
She got to her feet and patted his knee. “Come with me.”
Doc Jane led him out of the exam room, into the corridor, and then down, down, down, past the unused classrooms to the parking garage’s heavy steel door. Opening the thing wide, she indicated through the jambs with her arm.
Trez stepped out into the cooler, damper air. The enormous ambulance was shiny as a penny, boxy as a LEGO, bigger than Qhuinn’s Hummer. Bigger, actually, than the human ones he’d seen out and about in Caldwell.
It was a goddamn RV.
“That is some serious shit,” he said.
“Yup. One of the things Manny and I have been worried about—”
The back doors of the vehicle burst open, and Doc Jane’s human partner hopped out. “Thought I heard voices.” The man grew grave as soon as he saw Trez. “Hey, man, how you holding up?”
The two shook and Trez nodded at the vehicle. “So this happened, huh.”
“Come see inside.”
Trez shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and walked around to the back. Through the open double doors, he saw … a large center aisle with two gurneys, one after the other, surrounded by all kinds of medical equipment stored in glass-fronted, locked cabinets that lined the side walls like bookshelves on steroids.
“It’s like a miniature operating room,” Trez murmured.
Manny nodded and jumped back in. “That’s the plan. We want to be able to treat serious, potentially mortal field injuries quickly. Sometimes, getting patients back here or to Havers’s is too risky.”
The doctor started opening up those cupboards and cabinets, showing an array of sterile dressings, sterile operating tools, even a microscope on an extending arm that could pivot around to either of the beds.
He patted the thing like it was a pet. “This baby is also a portable X-ray machine, and we have ultrasound technology. Oh, and as a bonus, the RV is bulletproof.”
“That was my husband’s contribution,” Doc Jane added in.
“And V also did the computer systems in here.”
“As he would say, true that.” Doc Jane glanced at her partner. “So listen, Trez is taking Selena out for a date tonight.”
“That’s a great idea. Where you two headed?”
Trez made a circular motion with his forefinger. “The thing in the sky. That goes around and around.”
“Oh, yeah, I know the one,” the guy said. “At the hospital we called it Engagement Central, ’cuz that’s where the doctors took their girlfriends when they were ready to put a ring on it. Very romantic.”
Trez stared at the expanse of the mobile OR, trying to decide whether it made him feel relieved or depressed as shit. The good news, he supposed, was that with the flashing lights over the cab of the vehicle and Manny’s legendary lead foot, they could make it to downtown in about ten minutes. Especially with there being little traffic.
But what if that wasn’t enough time? What if Selena needed—
“Trez?” the male doctor said.
He shook himself out of his ambiant panic. “Yeah?”
“How ’bout I go with you—no, not as your chauffeur,” he cut in as Trez recoiled. “I’ll park in the rear of the building and just hang out in case you need us. This thing has counterfeit badges on the doors and the hood and the back, and I’ve got all kinds of forged papers. No one will bother me, and I’ll bring a Brother with me in case I need to scrub any humans.”
Trez blinked. “God, I can’t ask you to do that—”
“You didn’t. I volunteered.”
Trez stared into the state-of-the-art ambulance. He couldn’t believe the guy was prepared to—
“Trez?” Manny said. “Hey, Trez, look at me.”
Trez swung his eyes back to the human. Manny was well built for a non-vampire, with an athlete’s body that he continued to keep up after mating V’s sister, Payne. But the strongest thing about him? His confidence. Trained in the human world, the former Chair of the Department of Surgery at St. Francis Hospital downtown radiated the kind of my-way-or-the-highway attitude that meant he fit right in with the Brothers.
“I got you,” the guy said gravely. “I got you and her.”
Manny extended his palm, and for a moment, all Trez could do was blink. But then he clasped that which had been offered him.
Trez’s voice cracked. “I don’t how I can repay you.”
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