FEELING CAME BACK IN MY FEET FIRST, AND THEN MY legs. A pins-and-needles tingling rushed over my skin, causing my fingers to spasm. The sweetness of the nectar still coated the inside of my throat. My body ached as if I’d just completed a triathlon and come in dead last.
Or like I’d had my ass kicked and gotten patched up by a god.
Movement beside me brought the whole side of my body closer to a hard warmth, and I thought I heard my name called, but it sounded like it was on the other side of the world from me.
I was moving at the speed of a three-legged turtle, so it took a while to blink my eyes open, and even then it was just a thin crack. When my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I recognized the buttercup-colored walls and all the titanium trim of the dorm rooms at the University in South Dakota, the same room Aiden and I had done a whole lot of not sleeping in right before Dominic had brought us news of Deity Island survivors. Things…things were different then; it already felt like years ago.
A terrible heaviness settled like a stone in my chest, pressing all the way down to my spine. Dominic was now dead. So were the Dean of the University and his Guards. It had been a trick played out by Ares, who’d been masquerading as Instructor Romvi. Our enemy had been among us the entire time. My dislike of that man had been epic before I’d discovered who he really was, but now? Every fiber of my Apollyon being loathed him. But my hatred of Romvi/Ares/Asshat wasn’t important. So many people were dead, and Ares knew where I was. What was stopping him from coming back for round two? And what was stopping him from killing more people?
I heard my name once more, and now it seemed louder and closer. Turning to the sound, I willed my eyes to open. When had my eyes closed again? I was like a newborn kitten or something. Daimons across the nation shuddered in fear. Gods, I was lame.
My heart skipped a whole beat, and then sped up in recognition. Ah, I knew that voice. My heart and my soul knew that voice.
“Alex, open your eyes. Come on, baby, open those eyes. ”
I really wanted to, because for him I’d do anything. Fight a horde of half-blood daimons? There. Tangle with ticked-off furies? Sign me up. Break a dozen or so rules for one forbidden kiss? Done. Open my eyes? Apparently that was asking too much.
A warm, strong hand curved along my cheek; the touch was so different than my mother’s, but equally powerful and heartbreakingly tender. My breath caught in my throat.
His thumb traced the curve of my jaw in such a lovingly familiar way that I wanted to weep. I should weep, actually, because I couldn’t fathom what he’d gone through when Ares and I had been locked in that room. Come to think of it, I should’ve cried when I saw my mom. I’d felt the tears, but they hadn’t fallen.
“It’s okay,” he said in a voice gruff with exhaustion and emotion. “Apollo said it could take some time. I’ll wait for however long it takes. I’ll wait forever, if I have to. ”
Those words pulled my heart all over the place, twisting it into mushy knots. I didn’t want to make him wait for another second, let alone forever. I wanted—no, needed—to see him. To tell him that I was okay, because I was okay, wasn’t I? All right, maybe I didn’t fall into the “okay” category, but I wanted to relieve the harsh edge of stress in his voice. I wanted to make him better because I couldn’t make my mom better, and I knew I couldn’t make myself better.
There was a part of me that felt vastly empty.
That was it. I felt dead inside.
Frustration coursed like acid in my blood. My fingers fisted in the soft sheets as I dragged in a deep breath. He stilled beside me, like he held his breath and waited, then let out a ragged exhale.
My heart plummeted.
Gods, all I needed to do was open my eyes, not walk a tight rope.
That frustration quickly flipped to anger—a soul-deep kind of rage that tasted of hot bitterness. My heart rate picked up, and that’s when I realized it was there—the cord. It had been absent in Olympus, but it was back. I hadn’t felt it at first because I’d only been acknowledging the ache in my muscles and bones, but the cord connecting me and the First buzzed like a million yellow jackets, steadily increasing until I swore I could see it in my mind, an amber-colored cord tangling with a blue one.
His reply didn’t come in the form of thoughts or feelings, but a rush of energy so pure it was like being zapped by lightning. Strength poured into me, a torrential downpour of vitality encasing every nerve ending. Every distinct sound in the room was magnified. My own breathing, more steady now, and the deep and slow inhales of the man beside me. Doors opened and shut in the hallway outside the room, and there were voices, muted but distinct. My skin came alive. Glyphs bled through, swirling across my body in response.
I didn’t understand it, but I knew Seth was lending me his power, like he had in the Catskills when I’d fought the furies for the first time. He’d claimed no knowledge of what had happened, chalking it up to adrenaline, but Seth had…he had lied about a lot of things.
But now he was helping me. It didn’t make sense, since I was much easier to deal with in this state, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth right at the moment.
My eyes flew open.
And I saw him.
Aiden was on his side, facing me. His hand still cupped my cheek, his thumb smoothing along my skin, and I could feel the marks of the Apollyon gliding toward his touch. His eyes were closed, but I knew he was awake. Thick, sooty ashes fanned the tips of his broad cheekbones. His dark brown hair was a mess. Waves tumbled over his forehead, brushing the graceful arches of his brows.
An ugly, purplish bruise marred his left eye, and I wondered if he could even open it. There was another violent mark, an astonishing mixture of reds, shadowing the strong line of his jaw. His lips were parted, neck and shoulders tensed.
Without warning, I was thrown back to the very first time I’d seen him.
The Covenant in North Carolina no longer stood, but it felt like I was there again, standing in the training room used for novices. I’d been practicing with Cal and Caleb. I’d done something incredibly moronic, which was nothing new, and the three of us had been laughing. I’d turned and had seen Aiden by the doors. At that time, I didn’t think he really saw us. He was a pure-blood, and they didn’t show any interest in halfs, so I had assumed he was just dazing. Even then, I’d been captivated by him. To me, he’d honestly been the most alluring male I’d even seen—a face that could be both hard and beautiful. And those eyes, flashing between heather gray and quicksilver, had been permanently etched into my memories from that moment on. That curiosity had been inflamed when he’d shown up in Atlanta, saving me from some really annoying and talkative daimons three years later.
Our love had never been easy.
As a pure-blood, he was untouchable to me even though I was the Apollyon, and even now he risked everything to be with me. He was my strength when I needed him to be, my friend when I needed someone to talk me down, my equal in a world where by law I would always be less than him, and honest to gods, he was the love of my life.
And he would wait forever for me, just as I would wait forever and a day for him.
Except forever will probably end up being fairly short, whispered an insidious voice, and it was right. Even if I managed to get past all the obstacles between me and Seth, and transfer his power to me, there was no doubt in mind that, even as a God Killer, I was going to have problems fighting Ares. And if, by some miracle, I survived that, there was a really good chance the other gods would kill me.
So why even bother?
A huge part of me, especially that dark, cold place that had been born when Ares held me down, agreed wholeheartedly with that plan. Run away. Nothing seemed smarter or simpler to do.
But I couldn’t, because there was too much that had to be done. People relied on me, and the world would descend into absolute chaos if Ares wasn’t stopped.
I held onto that needle-thin thread of duty with my life and spoke. “Hey. ”
His lashes fluttered opened, revealing silvery eyes that never failed to make the muscles in my stomach tighten and my heart do a little pitter-patter.
Our gazes met.
Aiden jerked up, his face paling by several degrees, making the bruises along his jaw and left eye stand out in stark contrast.
Fear exploded in my stomach, which was kind of strange since terror typically wasn’t my first reaction to sudden movements, but I scrambled against the headboard. My breath stalled out as my body protested the sudden movement.
“What?” I croaked. “What’s wrong?”
Aiden stared at me with wide eyes. Color hadn’t returned to his face. He was as pale as a daimon, and while disbelief shattered his gaze, pain churned in them.
He reached out but stopped short of touching me. “Your eyes…”
“What?” My heart beat so quickly I was sure it would jump out of my chest and do a little jig on the bed between us. “I opened them. I heard you asking me to. ”
Aiden winced. “Alex…”
Now I was really starting to freak out. Why was he reacting this way? Had Ares rearranged my face so badly that my eyes were on my chin or something?
He glanced toward the door and then back to me, his face going stoic, but he could never hide his feelings from me. I could read everything in his eyes. There was so much pain in them that it broke my heart, but I didn’t understand why.
“What are you feeling?” he asked.
Uh, what was I not feeling? “I’m…I’m going to go with confusion. Aiden, tell me. What’s going on?”
He stared at me so long I started to feel a wee bit self-conscious. Several seconds passed, and then I really became convinced that my eyes were on my chin, but then it made sense. Panic unfurled in the pit of my stomach and spread like a virus.
Springing from the bed, I hit the floor. Hot slices of pain ricocheted up my still-healing bones. I stumbled to the side, catching myself on the wall.
In a heartbeat, Aiden was off the bed and beside me. “Alex, are you—”
“I’m okay. ” I bit back a moan.
Aiden reached out, but I pushed away from the wall before he could touch me. Each step hurt like Tartarus. Sweat dotted my forehead, and my legs shook with the effort to make it to the bathroom that joined the two suites together.
“I have to see,” I gasped out.
“Maybe you should sit down,” he suggested, close behind.
I couldn’t. I knew what Aiden was thinking. I was connected with Seth, and maybe he even thought this was a trick of some sort and was waiting for me to break free and pull out Deacon’s ribcage, but Seth was quiet on the other end of the cord.
Reaching around me, Aiden pushed the bathroom door open, and I all but fell inside. Light flooded the small but efficient washroom when he found the switch on the wall. My reflection formed in the mirror.
by Jennifer L. Armentrout / Young Adult / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on46 votes