A moment passed. “I do not like yelling.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” And I was. “But I would never hurt Deacon. He’s my brother.”
Confusion flickered over her face. “You said you were going to strangle him.”
I really wanted to strangle him now. “I didn’t mean it. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean when we’re upset.”
She appeared to consider that. “When you yelled, I saw something.”
“What?” I inched forward, careful not to startle her. “What did you see?”
Opening her hands, she stared down at them. The bishop was in her hand, leaving behind angry red marks from how tightly she’d been holding it. “Blood—there was blood on my hands, but it was not there. Not really.”
I had no idea what she meant by that, but I’d moved to her side while she’d been talking, and she hadn’t seemed to notice. I sat next to her, stretching out my legs in the cramped space. My shoulder brushed hers, and her eyes shot to my face, questioning and indecisive but not scared.
“Is there still blood on your hands now?”
Alex shook her head. “I heard something, too. It was a voice,” she continued softly. “It was important.”
My stomach sank. I didn’t like where this was going, what it would lead to. If she was starting to remember things, it meant she’d need another dose, another compulsion. And I’d just given the last dose two days ago. I sighed. “What is it?”
Her fingers twisted along the edges of the bishop. “You’ll kill the ones you love.” She lifted her gaze. Tears glistened in her eyes. “Have I?”
“Alex…” There weren’t words for this. Her lower lip started to tremble, and my heart squeezed. My mind was made up. “No. You’ve never killed anyone.”
She blinked and her voice was just a hushed whisper. “I haven’t?”
“No, agapi mou, you haven’t.”
Wiping under her eyes with her sleeves, she sighed. Pain brimmed underneath the surface, as did confusion. “I dream that I have, over and over again.”
I smiled for her even as I felt my chest constricting. “They’re just dreams. That’s all.”
Several moments passed, and then she pressed against me, wiggling until she wedged her body under my arm. She curled up, her head resting against my chest and my arms folded across hers. “You are very nice, even if you say mean things you do not mean.”
I shook my head, but I wrapped my arms around her. “Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw you?”
She shivered. “No.”
Closing my eyes, I felt her snuggle closer. My hand curled into the thick material of her sweater. I rested my chin on her head. “I was sixteen and you were probably fourteen.”
“I can’t remember fourteen.”
“That’s okay. I remember for both of us.” I counted to ten before I continued, making sure my voice didn’t give. “It was toward the end of the day and I was heading into the training rooms with a friend. Classes were still going on, and I was walking by the door—it was open—and I heard laughter. Something you don’t usually hear during training. I had to stop and see what was going on.”
It was the first time I’d seen her. No one could miss her. She was the smallest in the room, shorter and skinnier than all of her opponents, but that wasn’t why she stuck out. There’d been this impish grin on her face, an energy that was infectious as she’d bounced around the mats, circling a tall, blond-haired boy. The Instructor had been irritated, no doubt by her and the attention she was drawing from a pure and an entire class riveted on her. But once I’d seen her, I couldn’t look away. It was like being hit by lightning.
“You were training with Cal—with a friend—going through takedown moves. He kept trying to get the upper hand, but you kept laying him out, laughing the entire time. Both of you were laughing. That’s why I looked.”
“Did you know me then?” she asked sleepily.
“No.” I held her closer, as if I could somehow pull her inside me and keep her safe. “But I knew, in that moment, you were amazing.”
APOLLO SHOWED UP JUST AFTER ALEX’S FOURTH DOS-age with no news. The Sentinels hadn’t reached New York. They’d stopped in Pennsylvania and scattered. The Khalkotauroi followed. Seth and Lucian were still outside of Nashville. From the look of it, their army had nearly doubled.
Having so many Sentinels willing to side with them wasn’t that surprising to me. They’d been offered something none of us had ever provided, and they were willing to die for freedom.
And there was a good chance they would, according to Apollo.
“Hades, Poseidon, and Demeter,” Apollo ticked the names off on his fingers, his eyes a vibrant blue. “And Ares, who is thrilled by the way, and Hermes, and Hera have all pledged war.”
“Hera?” I rubbed my chin. “At least we have Zeus.”
Apollo rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t mean much. He’s probably only siding with us to upset Hera, but we do have Athena and Artemis. That’s something.”
“So, they are willing to wait and see? To give us time?”
He nodded. “They do not want to see another war. Not after what happened with the Titans. So many mortals were lost during that time, and with the population now, the loss would be several times larger.”
And our only hope was that Alex could somehow break the connection with Seth and defeat him. I looked at the sleeping girl curled beside me on the couch. The outlook was bleak.
“And no one’s found anything to break the connection?”
Apollo sighed. “There’s nothing that any of us can find, Aiden. Not in the old myths or scrolls. And if one of the other six know, they aren’t telling.” He glanced at Alex and fondness crept into the coldness of his voice. As did a great sadness that caused dread to explode in my gut. “I’ve run through all the prophecies. They haven’t changed. One to destroy. One to save. Only one can live during any generation.”
He leaned back, shaking his head. “I can’t let my brethren go to war.”
I placed my hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Are you giving up on her?”
“I’m preparing for the worst.” Apollo stood. “And don’t hit me, Aiden, but I think you need to start preparing for it, too.”
My skin burned and I said in a tight voice, “You’ve asked me to put her on the Elixir, and I told you then that you asked too much, but I did it. Asking me to give up is unacceptable.”
“It’s not giving up.” He crouched, meeting my stare. “I would make sure she was taken care of, even allow her to visit you. We could do a Persephone thing.”
I sucked in a shrill breath that came back out sounding like a growl. “You’re asking me to let you kill her.”
“I would make sure there was no pain,” he said, standing again. He turned his back—daring considering I was close to shoving a dagger into it. “This isn’t easy for me. I care for her. She is basically a child of mine. And I’ve watched over her for years, far longer than you’ve known her.” He faced me, hands on his hips. “This would not just be your loss, but only one of them can live and I can’t do a thing about Seth. Nor do I know who he’s linked to.”
My hand curled into a fist as I moved to stand between Alex and Apollo. “Get out.”
“I mean it. Get out.”
His eyes flashed to all-white. No pupils. No irises. “I only allow you to speak to me like this because I know your love and pain, because I have felt it myself. Hyacinth wasn’t turned into a flower by my brethren. It was I who did it. It was the only way I could save him from them. So I know what love does and the pain that comes from that kind of sacrifice. But make no mistake, I do not regret what I had to do. And I will do it again.”
I stayed in place between them, my legs widespread, so ready for battle I could taste it. “And make no mistake, Apollo, I will not make that same sacrifice.”
I couldn’t stand to be in the house any longer. My nerves were stretched taut, my body ready to fight. Bloodlust had invaded my system.
I needed fresh air.
So did Alex. Once she’d woken up, she’d been all over the place, not able to sit still for longer than five minutes.
For the first time since she’d Awakened, I led her outside. Seeing the joy light up her eyes and the cool breeze brushing the hair off her cheeks lessened the darkness growing inside me. The almost-hyper bounce in her step as she made her way around fallen branches and shrubs reminded me of the old Alex.
Especially when she stopped suddenly, spying a small stream up ahead. She spun around quickly and threw her arms around me.
Surprised by the sudden affection, I froze, then wrapped my arms around her waist and leaned back. “What’s that for?”
Alex shrugged. “I wanted to.”
I caught her hand as she shimmied loose. “I liked that.”
She smiled. “Maybe I’ll do it again.” Glancing over her shoulder, excitement hummed through her. She tugged me forward.
Letting go of her hand, I stopped. She looked over her shoulder again, brows knitted. “You can go,” I urged.
“Are you sure?”
I nodded, and then leaned against an old oak. Her gaze darted over my face and she seemed to find whatever she was looking for. She turned, slowly starting toward the creek bed. Her footsteps were quick but not jerky. The antsy energy she’d been feeling all day would eventually grow. Crippling pain would assault her again soon as her tolerance to the Elixir grew and Seth started pecking away at her.
And if I didn’t give her a larger dose along with a booster compulsion, the bond between them would form again.
Closing my eyes, I tipped my head back. There had to be another way. We couldn’t keep doing this to her. Sooner or later, the effects of the Elixir wouldn’t wear off. She’d be like this forever—forever stuck between the tenacious and strong-willed Alex and this naïve, watered-down Alexandria. To do this to her wasn’t right. The wrongness of it coated my mouth and throat like bile. It was acid churning in my stomach, burning a hole through my soul.
And Apollo… he was giving up, even if he didn’t want to admit it—giving up and preparing to kill Alex.
Clenching my jaw, I opened my eyes. Alex sat on a fallen log near the slow-moving creek. She held something in her hands—flowers? Her face was turned to the side and her lips were pulled down at the corners. Sadness had crept into her features.
I pushed off the tree but stopped as she picked off a petal and placed it on the log. Then another and another, until ten or so petals formed a loose circle beside her. She placed two more, completing the circle, and then two more inside the circle.
My chest tightened and, without any warning, a fissure of energy skittered over my skin. I turned, expecting to find Apollo—or worse yet, an unfriendly god. I sucked in a sharp breath.