As Trez nixed his mask, he realized he was connected to the Brother by thin tubing, him with the breathing apparatus, Tohr with the tank.
“This should be with Therese,” Trez said in a raspy voice.
“No, they have her on a big tank now.”
“That’s my shellan, and I need to get intohelpherfeedingfeedingneedstohappen—”
“Shh.” Tohr put his palms out. “It’s going to be all right. Put the mask back on until someone can check you out.”
Even though Trez was like a soda bottle with the cap cracked, all kinds of words rushing to get out around the too-small seal of his mouth, he recognized that if he wanted to be taken seriously, he needed to pull it together.
“She needs to feed,” he said in a more even tone. “And I don’t want anyone else doing it.”
“They’re working on her.”
“Then she’s not dead yet and she needs me.” Trez grabbed the Brother’s arm. “If that was your shellan, who you could help with your vein, would you want to be stuck in here?”
The Brother blanched. “You’re not well.”
“Maybe. But can you argue for even a second that she’s not so much worse off?”
There was some cursing on the Brother’s side, low and nasty. “Stay here.”
Tohr put the oxygen tank on the floor next to the exam table and Trez resumed breathing through the mask, not because he was worried about himself, but because he was anticipating the need to give Selena the very best blood he could.
When the Brother didn’t immediately come back, Trez got anxious. And then terrified. He imagined the medical staff doing chest compressions and shouting demands for more meds across Therese’s lifeless body—
Before he was aware of deciding to move, his body slid off the table and stood on its own—and as something didn’t feel right, he looked down. He’d lost one of his loafers. Who knew when or where.
Limping over to the door, he opened it and looked out.
Down on the left, Tohr was arguing with someone. Vishous. And their voices were low and intense.
“He’s half dead,” V hissed.
“What’s it going to hurt? He probably thinks it’s Selena. Everyone says they look alike—”
They both stopped talking and stared at Trez.
“Come on,” Tohr said, “I’ll take you in.”
V threw up an f-bomb and went for his Turkish tobacco, the rest of his curses staying mostly under his breath.
But Tohr held out his hand, and Trez went to the Brother. Linking his palm with the other male’s, as if he were a young, as if he needed guidance—because he did—Trez allowed himself to be drawn into the treatment room next door.
It was the same one.
The same one Selena had died in before.
On the table, under the medical chandelier, Therese was lying under a sheet. Tubes were going in and out of her, fluids pumped in, fluids pumped out, and there was a stand of monitoring machines by her head. Dr. Manello and Doc Jane were speaking softly and quickly by her feet. Ehlena was at the ready with a crash cart.
Doc Jane looked up. “What is he doing in here—”
Therese moaned on the table, and Dr. Manello said, “Heart rate is getting stronger. Blood pressure normalizing.”
Doc Jane glanced at her patient. Looked back at Trez. “Come closer.”
Trez limped over, and Therese turned her face to him, even though her eyes remained closed.
“I’m here,” he said.
“Heart rate stabilizing. Blood pressure continuing to improve.”
“Get him a chair,” Doc Jane barked. “Before he falls over.”
When something hit the back of his legs, Trez let himself go down. He wanted to take his female’s hand, but he remembered when they had been in the corridor, in the fire. It had hurt her.
“Take from me,” he said urgently. Bringing his wrist up, he struck his own vein with his fangs. “Take my strength.”
As he held the puncture wounds over her mouth, Dr. Manello said something sharply, as if he did not approve. But then a drop of blood fell on Therese’s mouth and she moaned. After which, her lips parted, and her head lifted ever so slightly.
Trez put his wrist right down. “Take from me, my queen. And come back.”
He worried she wouldn’t be able to do it, but then she latched on and took from him, even in her compromised state. And as he watched her neck work as she swallowed, his eyes watered. He had been here before with her. He had done this before, and he had lost her.
Not this time, though.
This time… he had won the fight.
Therese would survive, and they would be together, and he was going to accept the complex truth that all was as it should be, even though it defied logic and explanation.
But that was kind of what true love was, wasn’t it. Against all odds and probability, two souls could indeed find each other in the soup of time and humanity, and forge a trail to walk along, hand in hand, forevermore.
It made him think of an old proverb:
Blessed are those who believe in all that two hearts aligned achieve. For once united, no matter where winter finds them, they will always be warm.
Female: Her vitals are stable.
Male: What about the pain?
Female: I’m still worried about her breathing. She’s too close to the edge.
The back-and-forth voices were close by, but from behind Therese’s closed lids, she couldn’t exactly place them. Were they in front of her? To the side? Behind? And what was the beeping. There was incessant beeping.
Some kind of fear, transient yet persistent, dogged her, but as with the voices, she couldn’t place its source. She knew only of its existence. And what were they saying about pain? She felt nothing. Were they talking about someone else?
No, wait. She did feel something. As she swallowed, her throat was sore.
And she could taste. Dear Lord, could she taste… there was the most incredible dark wine in her mouth, and down the back of her throat, and deep within her gut. It was a source of warmth, of strength, like a banked hearth—
Therese’s eyes flipped open, and as she gasped, three heads leaned over her. A male and a female she did not recognize—the voices, probably? Because they were in doctor garb—and then—
“Trez,” she croaked.
As she lifted her hand, the male she wanted to see above all else captured her palm in the gentlest of holds.
“I’m right here,” he said roughly. “I’m right with you.”
Yes, she thought. He always had been with her. Even though… well, he didn’t look so hot. His face was an unnatural red, and he had one eyebrow singed, and a section of his hair was missing—
Something was on fire, she thought. She could smell the smoke.
Therese opened her mouth to say something, but abruptly she became distracted by the bandages that ran up her forearms. Lifting her head, she looked down at her body. She was wound up with white bands from collarbone to ankle.
That was when the pain registered. Except how was it possible that every square inch of her body hurt? And there was heat, too, not like the sustaining, sultry engine of life in her belly, but a burning—
Fire. She’d been in a fire. In her rooming house.
As with the sensation in her body, memory came back in a rush that nearly knocked her unconscious, so great was the barrage of images, sounds, smells. She remembered everything, from the scent of something burning right before the explosion, to the blasts, to the flames and the smoke along the corridor. She recalled trying to douse the fire out on that female with the slipcover and then something swinging down on her from the ceiling. Then the crawl on the filthy runner and her trying to get to safety. She remembered going as far as she could to get herself away from the heat, but it had not been fast enough. Far enough.
Her skin had burned. All over her body.
That was the reason she was bandaged.
And she was here in this hospital because Trez had gotten her out.
Therese sought his face, while, off in the distance, alarms sounded. Still, she met his gleaming black eyes.
“Thank you,” she said. “For saving me.”
The doctors were talking fast again, but she couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying. It was all she could do to speak what she needed to to Trez. With her pain level shooting up as high as it was, the sensations ricocheting around her body, in her skull, were so dominant that she felt like she was shouting through a concrete wall.
But she had to let him know.
“My queen,” he whispered, “I would never have left you there.”
Strange, but it seemed completely normal for him to say such a thing. My queen—
That was when the other half of it all came to her. The female in the white robe emerging from the smoke, seeking her out… because that was her, in a different form, in a different life.
Abruptly, over the shoulder of the Shadow, Therese saw someone standing in the corner of the hospital room. At first, she wasn’t sure what she was looking at, but then… it was herself. Again. Just as it had been in the burning hallway.
She was staring at herself staring at herself.
As Therese smiled, the female—the other version of her—smiled back.
All will be well, the vision mouthed. All is as it should be.
“This should help the pain,” someone said.
Therese looked at the person who spoke. Just as she was going to ask what they had given her, a cooling entered her body, coursing through her veins, calming the raucous firing of so many nerves.
Shuddering in relief, she was able to focus better on Trez.
“How did you know I needed you?” she breathed.
“Because you told me.”
Therese looked back at the ghost of herself, still hovering in the corner.
“Yes,” she whispered, “I must have.”
The ghost of her raised a hand and waved… before slowly dissipating, as if her job was done. And then where she had been standing, someone else took her place, like an existential baton had been passed and only one could inhabit the space. It was an angel. An angel with gossamer wings, and blond and black hair, and gold rings around his throat and his wrists.