V’s face barged into Trez’s line of sight again. “I’ll get her down safe. You can trust me.”

Trez nodded numbly. “Okay. Let’s do this.”

He was given her oxygen tank and a flappy plastic IV bag full of God only knew what.

“Put that mask back on yourself,” V said. “The tank’s in my pack, so we need to stay close.”

“I love her,” Trez explained. “Even though it doesn’t make sense.”

V was known for empathy to the same degree one would expect it from a loaded shotgun. Nonetheless, the sadness and regret that transformed his harsh face was not so much a testament to a character transformation, but the life-or-death situation they were all in.

“I gotchu, true?” Vishous said softly. “And you and I are going to get her out together.”

Trez nodded and got to his feet. Or… tried to. The fact that he lurched and had to throw out a hand to the wall was a good indication Doc Jane had made the right role assignments. To help himself, he snapped his oxygen feed back into place, and took as much as he could of the plastic-scented, force-fed air.

As V bent down and gathered Therese’s arms and legs, she stirred. But when he lifted her from the floor, she cried out in pain under the mask, her eyes flaring open, her hands clawing, her legs kicking.

“We gotta be quick,” V said urgently. “Fuck.”

“I’m right here!” Trez repositioned the mask on her face, making sure the seal was tight around her lips and nose. “We’re getting you to help!”

“Down the stairwell. It’s to the left,” Doc Jane ordered as they moved as a group out of the bathroom.

“Stay with us,” Trez yelled through his own mask. “We’re almost there!”

Bullshit, they were almost there. They had countless landings, dead humans in the way, and God, Manny’s mobile surgery unit had better be where he said it’d be. Wherever the hell that was.

“Not long!” Trez said loudly.

As Doc Jane opened the outer door and they reentered the smoky, hot corridor, he stayed as close as he could to Therese and kept talking, for all the good it was doing. Her eyes had rolled back in her head, and he worried that the shock of the relocation was killing her.

“I’m behind you,” he said as V rushed out with his precious cargo, turning sideways through the jambs to fit Therese’s head and legs.

Left, Trez thought. They had to go left.

Faster, now, through the smoke, the level of which rose as they left the fire behind, now at their chests. Now above their shoulders. Better visibility and less heat—and then they were passing under the EXIT sign and entering the stairwell. Amid the screaming alarms and blinking lights, there were stragglers descending, some with bags in their arms, others with TVs they either had stolen or were protecting from theft or water damage. As Team Therese joined the rush, Trez struggled to keep his legs moving. He couldn’t feel anything in his body, his head dizzy even with the supplemental oxygen.

He was going to pass out. He was going to fucking pass out.

“Stay with me,” he repeated. “Stay with me…”

He didn’t know whether he was talking to Therese.

Or himself.


Trez didn’t make it.

As he stumbled on a landing, and his knees failed to catch him, he twisted around and held out the IV bag and oxygen to Doc Jane.

“Stop,” she yelled to her hellren. V froze on the dime as she caught everything Trez threw at her.

Coughing, he tore off his oxygen mask and blinked in the flashing lights. “Go! Fuck me! Take her and go!”

“I’m sending help!” Doc Jane said as she turned her mate around and removed the tank that fed Trez’s mask. “I’m sending help!”

As she dropped the thing by him, Trez pushed himself back out of the way. “Go!”

It was a relief to see them continue the descent, Therese’s lax head bouncing off the crux of V’s elbow as the Brother jogged down the stairs.

Putting his mask back in place, Trez could not seem to get any oxygen into his lungs. As his vision faltered, two other humans—both men—came down, their arms laden with electronics. They didn’t spare him a glance, and he had a worry they would catch up to Therese. Although what they would do to her, he didn’t know. Like they were going after oxygen tanks?

He wanted to move. He wished he could move. He tried to move.

But his body had given out, to the point where even his heart was slowing down. Was it shock? He didn’t know—

Boom, boom, boom…

Thunderous footsteps. Ascending the stairwell. Coming at him.

And there he was.

Tohrment, son of Hharm. The sensible leader of the Brotherhood. The one who took care of all the others.

Who else could it have been? Trez wondered mutely.

The Brother was dressed for war, covered in leather with weapons hidden but never out of reach. And there were no wasted words, no salutations, as Tohr picked Trez up like he weighed nothing more than a toaster oven.

“Is she alive,” Trez said. Or tried to. He didn’t know what came out of his mouth.

“Hold on to that tank,” the Brother told him.

Trez did the best he could with that, but he couldn’t seem to make his arms work right. They mostly hung like ropes from his torso, useless, inanimate. And his breathing got worse as they hit the stairs. Like the words he had attempted to speak, nothing was working right in his throat, inflow and outflow jammed up.

On the bottom floor, Tohr kicked open a steel door, and the cold was a shock, not a relief, the icy air stinging Trez’s face. As a serious fucking coughing jag stole his breath and his eyesight, at least Tohr’s arms remained strong, and the Brother’s boots made fast work over the dirty snow. The mobile surgical unit came to them—or at least it seemed that way. Trez couldn’t tell. All he knew was that he was suddenly thrown into the back of the RV, and Manny Manello caught him. As he was stretched out flat on the metal floor, he had a brief impression of Therese on the treatment table, all blistered and burned skin with medical people around her, but then there were too many things on and in his face for him to see anything.

Down his throat.

Air. Being actively forced into his lungs.

There was a pinch on the back of his hand. An IV.

In confusion, he looked up and saw Ehlena. “Am I really that bad?” he asked.

Rehv’s shellan didn’t stop to answer him. Or maybe he’d done another one of his not-really-made-it’s with the words. Either way, she was giving him a shot of something, and abruptly, his head cleared a little. It was a false reconnoitering, however, short-lived and insubstantial.

As he began to lose consciousness, he forced his eyes to focus on Therese.

When he had looked into her face back in that fire, he had known what he had seen: A soul crossing the divide of death, returning to him. And not just because she looked like the one he had lost.

Because she was Selena. And Therese. At the same time.

Somehow, Xhex had known this.

Somehow, he had sensed this all along.

And more than that, his love had called unto him for help. From out of the depths of his migraine, and the strange, phased-out sleeping he often had with those headaches, she had come to him in that vision that was of another realm, pleading to him that she needed to be saved.

“She’s coding!” Jane yelled. “V, get those paddles on her.”

Oh, God, he had been too late, he thought with despair as he lost his hold on the present catastrophe and sank deep into an abyss that offered no respite from his fears or his sorrow.

* * *


Bumpy, bump, bump… bumpy. Then smooth. Perfectly smooth. And finally, there was a sudden decline, the mobile unit tilting forward onto its front wheels—

Trez gasped and jerked upright. Disoriented and in a panic, he flailed at the stuff on his face—

Tohr captured his hands, the Brother’s deep blue eyes grave. “No, leave that on. You need it.”

As Trez looked at the treatment table in a panic, Tohr put his face in the way. “She’s still with us. They’re just working on her.”

Trez tried to stand up off the mobile surgical unit’s floor, thinking he could help—in spite of the fact that he had no medical training and was totally compromised physically. Fortunately, Tohr gently yet firmly kept him where he was.

“You don’t want to get in the way.” The Brother shook his head. “You want to stay right here. And as soon as we come to a stop, I need to get you out fast. Okay? It’s going to move really quick the second we pull up. Do we understand each other?”

Trez started to hyperventilate. But he nodded.

And it happened exactly as the Brother said. The descent ended, the mobile unit stopped, and the doors were opened. Eager to be more than an inanimate object, Trez tried to shuffle out the back, but Tohr was the one who actually moved him, the Brother scooping him up and rushing him forward as Zsadist and Qhuinn ran a gurney to the RV.

With Tohr gunning for the training center’s entrance, Trez wanted to see whether Therese was okay—he knew the answer to that question, though, didn’t he—whether they were getting her out of the—

His brain was making no sense, his thoughts like pennies spilled on a hardwood floor, spinning all willy-nilly before falling down in random disorder. And then the next thing he knew, he was in an exam room, on a table. Determined to get with the program, he lifted his hand up to reasonably remove the mask so he could communicate better.

He didn’t recognize his forearm or what was attached to it. Everything was blackened with smoke, and he had some burns on him, although when that had happened, he had no clue. Looking up, as if Tohr, who had not been with him, could explain anything, he found the Brother taking off his leather jacket with hands that shook.

Tohr was normal. As in not sooted up the fuck, but he was pale and it wasn’t just his extremities that were shaking. His whole body was on vibrate, a phone on silent waiting to be answered.