“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Luke muttered.
And it didn’t surprise me either. Even though Deacon had substantially cut back on the drinking, he could easily be mistaken for Dionysus’ soul-twin.
I had a decision to make—send them away or treat them like the adults they almost were. Luke was—or had been—months shy of graduation. Soon he would’ve been out in the world hunting daimons, but part of me balked at the idea of drawing Deacon into this further than he already was.
But I couldn’t baby Deacon for the rest of his life. Perhaps I’d done too much of that already, which might explain some of his previous behavior and why he didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about his relationship with Luke.
I nodded. “Come on.”
Both of them looked like I’d just professed my love for Seth, but they shot forward as if worried I’d change my mind. Following them into the den, I rolled my eyes when Apollo arched a brow.
“Okay,” Apollo said, looking around the room. “Now that everyone who is anyone is here, we have one more thing to discuss.”
Luke grinned as he moved to stand beside Solos, and my brother went to the chair furthest away from Apollo. I couldn’t figure out his aversion to Apollo, and dear gods, if those two had something going on, I might have to hurt someone.
“Alex,” Marcus said, leaning against the desk. His right hand absently spun a nearby globe.
Apollo grimaced, and I knew this was going to be bad. “The only hope we have of preventing a full-scale war is if Alex. comes around and agrees to take out Seth.”
In the past, Alex never would’ve agreed to that, but now? If we could somehow reach her and break the bond, would she go after Seth? And did I even want her to? She could get hurt… die. As a Sentinel, I needed to accept those risks, but as a man, I couldn’t when it came to Alex.
“We have found a way to break the bond. temporarily,” Apollo continued. He blinked, and bright blue irises appeared. I had to look away, because it reminded me of how Alex hated the god eyes and how Apollo toned them down for her. “It will give us time to find a permanent solution.”
Everything centered on what Apollo had just said. A temporary break in the connection was better than nothing. The rush of anticipation couldn’t be stopped and it almost knocked me on my ass. “What temporary fix?”
“You’re not going to like it—none of you are going to like it—but it’s the only option that we have at this point.”
My hands flexed. “Just get on with it. What’s the fix?”
Apollo’s brows furrowed. I was pretty sure that if it weren’t for the friendship we’d cultivated during hunts, he would’ve blasted my ass by now. “I’ve spoken with Ananke—”
“No,” Marcus said before I could open my mouth. He pushed off the desk. “There is only one reason why you’d be speaking with Ananke, and the answer is no.”
The god folded his arms and the way his entire face hardened, I could tell he wasn’t used to being told no. “I know that the thought is unsavory.”
A hot rush of rage twisted my insides into raw knots. “‘Unsavory’ isn’t a word I’m shooting for,” I grated out.
“Okay, I don’t get it.” Deacon brushed the flop of blond curls out of his eyes and frowned. “I’m totally failing Myths and Legends. Who in the hell is Ananke?”
The fondness in Luke’s voice ruined his smirk. “Besides the fact that she’s the momma of the Fates and of destiny, she rules over compulsion and all forms of slavery and bondage—bondage as in imprisonment.”
“Our ability to use compulsion is gifted from Ananke,” Marcus explained, eyes narrowed. “She’s a lesser-known goddess, practically forgotten.”
“Except that she was the one to come up with the Elixir that keeps halfs in servitude docile.” Solos’ jaw hardened.
Deacon looked at Apollo, his nose wrinkling. “Then why are you contacting a goddess that…?” His mouth dropped open. “Oh. Shit. You want to put Alex on the Elixir.”
I folded my arms to keep from hitting something. “No. Apollo, absolutely not.”
“I don’t even see why we’re discussing this.” Solos headed around the couch, wisely avoiding the area around me. I was like a geyser seconds away from erupting. He stopped beside Marcus. “The Elixir won’t work on the Apollyon, right?”
“Not the kind that we give half-bloods, but Alex would be receiving something different.” Apollo paused. “She’d be getting something stronger. Ananke has assured me that it would break the bond, and the effects would only be temporary. It’s not the same thing that’s done to the others.”
“It’s not? Because it sounds like it is to me.” The idea of putting Alex on the Elixir turned my stomach and pissed me off. “I can’t do that.”
Apollo opened his mouth but seemed to be choosing what to say. “We have to break the bond, Aiden. At some point, Alex will discover where she is. Then what? Seth will come for her and transfer her power to him, and it will be all over. There will be no second chances.”
“There has to be another way!” My control snapped. In that instant I was this close to finding out if I could actually take out a god. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I knew Apollo was trying to help us—help Alex. I didn’t doubt that the god cared for her. “We just haven’t looked hard enough, checked every available resource.”
“Where else can we look, Aiden?” Apollo faced me, eyes wide. “I have turned Olympus inside out looking for a way to break their bond. The only thing is the Elixir and—”
“No.” I held my ground.
Apollo looked around the room for help. Solos stepped back, raising his hands. “Don’t look at me—I’d like to keep my face in one piece, thank you.”
Clearly struggling for patience, Apollo paced the den. “This is only a temporary solution, Aiden.”
“That solution is unacceptable!” I yelled so loudly that Deacon jumped. He’d been on the receiving end of my anger time and time again, but the surprise flickering across his face told me he’d never quite seen me like this before. How I felt for Alex, if there was any doubt held by those in the room, was now painfully visible. “You’re asking us to agree to strip away everything that she is! To turn her into a mindless zombie who has no control—” I broke off, sucking in a shallow breath. It was Alex’s greatest fear. The thing that had kept her up at night, that had haunted her steps like a vengeful ghost. “She would have no control.”
“She has no control now,” insisted a soft feminine voice.
I spun around. Lea stood in the doorway, as tall and thin as her older half-sister had been. Her cinnamon-colored hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. Dark shadows spread under her eyes and her cheeks were gaunt.
“You don’t understand,” I said.
She inched into the room, glancing at Apollo and then the rest of us. “I haven’t seen her, but I’ve heard her. We’ve all heard her. And the gods know that she and I have never been friends, but Alex—she never would’ve said the things I’ve heard her yelling. That isn’t her.”
Pressing my lips together, I turned away, shaking my head. Lea had a point. What was down in the basement wasn’t really Alex—not the girl I loved with every breath I took. And she wasn’t in control of herself.
But the Elixir—that was different.
Lea sat beside Deacon, folding her small hands in her lap. “The idea of using the Elixir screams wrong on every level, but what choice do we have? We can’t keep her down there.”
“She’s not eating,” murmured Marcus. He rubbed his brow, face strained. “I’m not sure she’s even really sleeping or if… if she’s communicating with Seth, and that’s what’s keeping her up.”
I stared at him. “Marcus, you know how terrified she was of being put on the Elixir.”
Unable to hold my stare, he looked away. “I know, Aiden. Dammit, I know, but something’s got to give. As much as I hate the idea of doing this to her, it will give us more time.”
Refusing to believe that this was our last option, I searched frantically for another way and grasped at brittle, painful straws. “What about the Fates? Can you go to them and see what the outcome is? If she will break the connection herself? Or if there is some way for us to do so?”
Apollo shook his head. “The Fates are no fans of mine, and even if they were and if they knew, they wouldn’t tell me or you. You know how they work, Aiden. You—”
“You know what this will do to her!” I roared, flushing hot with fury.
“I know what this will do to you,” he said quietly. “And I know the idea of doing this is killing you—”
“Stop—just stop,” I seethed, backing up. “I will not let any of you do this to her. So help me…”
The threat hung in the air like thick smoke that choked the occupants of the room. Marcus just looked sad, almost beaten down by it all. Solos was pale, probably because he thought Apollo was seconds away from knocking me through the wall. Lea and Luke stared at the floor, faces drawn. Did the two younger halfs feel the sharp bite of guilt for agreeing that Alex needed the Elixir, knowing what it would do, what it would mean?
They were too young for this—for this shit.
So was Alex.
So was I.
The only person in the room who now watched me was my brother. A faint, sad smile appeared on his face. “Alex would kick our asses for considering something like this, but. I think she would understand, Aiden. I think she would understand why.”
Then Marcus stepped forward, placing his hand on my shoulder. I fought the urge to shake it off. And to hit him—to hit something. But he was suffering, too. “There was another thing that Alex feared.” His voice was so low I doubted anyone besides Apollo could hear him. “And you know what that was.”
I did. Gods, did I ever know.
Alex feared losing herself to the First—to Seth. And I’d promised her, sworn that it would never happen. And it had. I’d failed her. The sting of that festered and rotted inside me, but agreeing to the Elixir was no better. It would be just another way I’d failed her.
Stepping away from Marcus, I dragged my fingers through my hair. No one really talked for a few moments. The silence was as bad as my threat. Finally, everyone started talking, tossing around more ideas. “Take out Seth” topped their list, but it wasn’t possible. “Move Alex further away”—maybe that would lessen the connection, give her breathing room, give us time to search for more runes and spells and prayers.
The best efforts just added to the hopelessness of the situation.
Apollo finally approached me. “We need to talk in private.”
I wanted him to just leave, but I nodded, and we slipped out and headed toward the empty kitchen. My steps were quick and harsh. “There is no way you’ll be able to convince me that putting Alex on a souped-up version of the Elixir is the right thing to do.”