Alex moved suddenly, slower than she normally would, and grasped my hands in hers. “Your hands…”
Stunned that she was even touching me, I couldn’t respond. Like an idiot, I sat there as her thumbs smoothed over the bones in my hand, stopping short of the raw knuckles.
“You’re hurt,” she said. “Why are you hurt?”
As gently as I could, I pulled my hands free. “I’m not hurt. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Her lashes swept up as she searched my face. Then she nodded and settled back, staring down at her own hands with a frown.
She tired quickly after that, becoming lethargic before it was nine. I managed to get her to eat before I took her back upstairs. She was out the minute her head hit the pillow, and I retreated to the couch. We repeated the same action the next day, and it was like there was a giant clock over our heads, counting down the minutes until I’d need to give her another dose.
We spent the morning in the sunroom, but I coaxed her out of that room, mainly because I was going to lose my ever-loving mind if I had to look at another plant again. The den was always occupied by my brother, Lea, and Luke, but there was another sitting room upstairs that was full of books. I took her up there after grabbing a bag of chips and a grape soda for her to snack on.
I watched her move around the room, looking for signs that she was growing antsy. She stopped in front of a desk, picked up a pen and then placed it down. Her fingers roamed over the top of a notepad, and then she made her way to a bookcase. She stood there, brow pinched as she placed a finger on the spine of each book.
“Do you want to read something?” I asked.
She jumped at the sound of my voice, and then lowered her chin obediently.
I started toward her but stopped. Any unexpected movement seemed to send her fleeing. “It’s okay, Alex. If you want to read something you can.”
“My name is not Alex,” she whispered. “It is Alexandria.”
A dull burn started in my chest, under my heart. “But you like to be called Alex.”
Shaking her head, she backed away from the books and slowly headed toward the TV, eyes downcast. She stopped in front of the blank screen. I picked up a small statue of Athena, and then placed it back down. I wanted to go to her, to hold her, but I wasn’t sure how she’d respond. Everything between us was stilted and awkward.
“Want to watch something?”
Her chin shot up, but she didn’t look at me. At her sides, her hands opened and closed. “May I?”
May I? Gods, when Alex was better, she was going to flip out. “You can do what you want.”
A small, tentative smile pulled at her lips and her lashes swept up, revealing those shattered eyes. I breathed out slowly, but it did nothing to ease the pressure clamping down on my chest. Her gaze flickered away from mine. “Will you—”
The door opened and Apollo strolled in. “There you two are.”
Alex froze in front of the TV, like a wild animal that had just been encroached upon. Then she dashed across the room, ducking behind me. She huddled there, clenching the back of my shirt.
Apollo stopped short, blond eyebrows shooting up. “Did she just hide behind you?”
I glared at the god. “She’s not the same. You know that.”
He blinked all-white eyes. “I know. It’s just unexpected. She’s like a little nymph or something.”
Hearing the word “nymph” come out of Apollo’s mouth grated at my self-control. “What do you want?’
Apollo cocked his head to the side and spoke low. “Testy, testy, Aiden.”
Her fingers dug into my back. I moved to the side, shielding her completely. If Apollo had had normal eyes, I was sure they would’ve rolled at that point. Ignoring him, I smiled down at her. “It’s okay. Apollo won’t hurt you.”
Or at least I hoped so.
Alex peered up at me through her lashes. For the first time since she’d Awakened, I saw trust in her expression. Warmth poured into the cold cavern where my heart rested. I’d never seen an indentured half-blood look upon their Master that way. It had to mean something.
Apollo cleared his throat. “And I see some things never change.”
I frowned. “What’s that mean?”
“Oh, you know, the googly-eyed looks of love. Even when someone—ahem, like me, a god—is standing right in front of you two.”
I rolled my eyes, prepared to ignore that comment, but Alex tugged on my shirt. “What does he mean by that?” she whispered.
How was I supposed to answer? The fact that Alex didn’t remember a lot was key to keeping her away from Seth, but I wasn’t sure how much information to share with her. And she was actually asking a question, which was huge. “I’ll explain it later.”
Apollo chuckled. “I’d love to hear that conversation.” My eyes narrowed, and he grinned. Sometimes I think his sole purpose was to get under my skin. “There’s been a development I believe you should be aware of.”
I doubted it was good news. I started to respond, but Alex tugged on my shirt once more and whispered, “My head hurts.”
“I’ll get you something for that in a few moments. Okay?”
Casting her eyes down, she nodded.
I wanted this to hurry up. Shifting to the side, I shielded Alex. “Does it have to do with. the other one?”
Catching that I meant Seth, he nodded. “He’s not happy about not being able to make contact. Dionysus’ spies have said that both he and the Minister are growing agitated.”
“I bet.” No one really knew how Seth would react once the bond was broken. I felt Alex peek around me. She was watching Apollo with large eyes. He grinned at her, and she gave him a hesitant smile. “Has he done something?” I asked.
“Hmm, if you count obliterating two Sentinels who refused to join their cause? Then yes.”
“Gods,” I murmured, shifting again when Alex moved behind me.
Apollo craned his neck to the side, following Alex’s nervous movements. “They haven’t moved against the Tennessee Covenant yet, but about fifty of their Sentinels have broken away and appear to be heading toward the New York one. He’s with the Minister still.”
“And if they make it to New York, what will happen?”
His expression turned grim. “I’ve let a few things out of Olympus, just in case those Sentinels are up to no good.”
Dread blossomed. “What few things?”
“A few of Hephaestus’ most interesting creations—namely the Khalkotauroi.”
I choked on my breath. I had to have heard him wrong. The Khalkotauroi were automations—bronze bulls that breathed fire—but they weren’t what were known in the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece. First off, there weren’t just two of them. There were hundreds of them, and they walked on two legs. Like all the creatures that belong to the gods, they had been rounded up and sent to Olympus when the gods had retreated from the mortal world.
“And what happens if a mortal sees them?”
Apollo arched a brow. “The Khalkotauroi know how to stay hidden, but if New York—or any of the other Covenants—goes under siege, it will be a moot point. The mortal world will become well aware that some myths are true.”
There really wasn’t anything else to say to that, and my mind was already occupied with too many concerns to dedicate time to this latest development. Apollo left, but not before trying to talk to an edgy Alex who wanted nothing to do with him, much to his amusement. It amazed me that the whole world was on the brink of war and Apollo was laughing.
Granted, this probably wasn’t his first time at the rodeo.
When Apollo left, she stared up at me, expression pinched. “My head… it hurts.”
“I’ll get you something now.”
As I left to find her some aspirin, she followed, never straying too far from my side. Taking the two pills without question, I realized then how such trust could be abused—and was with many other halfs—in the wrong hands. A sick and twisted kind of fear rose with that realization.
The aspirin didn’t seem to work. Alex withdrew further into herself, eyes squeezed shut through most of the movie I’d put on. A dark voice picked up in the back of my head, remaining constant even after she’d fallen asleep and I carried her to bed, her weight seeming nonexistent. Her headache was a sign.
The Elixir was wearing off. Tomorrow would be the fourth day.
The thought of giving her another dose chipped away at me. Hours passed as I lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling, watching the thin slips of moonlight reach across the darkness. The quilt twisted with my legs as I flipped onto my side. Could I do it again? Hand her something that destroyed her very core and watch her take it with that innate trust in her eyes?
I squeezed my eyes shut, folding my arms beneath my head. There was no other choice. Apollo needed to find a way, because she couldn’t do it on her own. Sleep finally claimed me, but it didn’t last long.
I was jolted awake later. Darkness cloaked the room and the couch felt infinitely smaller than before. The scent of… peaches surrounded me. Something warm and soft pressed against my side, wiggling closer. Hands clenched the old t-shirt I’d dug up the day before.
My eyes flew open.
The top of Alex’s head came into view as she placed her cheek on my chest and let out a little sigh. Every muscle in my body locked up. Was I dreaming? I think I stopped breathing. What was she doing over here, on the couch. with me?
“Alex?” My voice sounded gruff. “What are you doing?”
She lifted her head enough that I could see the shreds of amber peeking out from behind her lashes. The shattered eyes were the damndest thing to see at night. “My head hurts.”
I started to sit up, but Alex shifted, throwing a leg over mine as if she was asking me not to move without saying a word.
“Uh…” I’d never been more unsure in my life, or unable to read a person. “Do you want me to get you some more aspirin?”
“No.” She placed her head on my chest again, snuggling down. “It feels better now. Empty.”
I swallowed. Hard. “Empty?”
“Mmm-hmm,” she murmured, shivering. “It’s quieter when I’m near you.”
My heart stuttered. “Quieter? Are you hearing things? A person?”
“I don’t know. It’s like…” She yawned, splaying her hand across my chest. “It’s like someone talking to me far, far away. Does that make me.?”
Seth. Anger surged through me and I fought to keep it out of my voice. “What?”
“Crazy? Does that make me crazy?”
“Not at all, agapi” I lowered one arm and reached down, tugging the quilt up so it covered most of her. “Can you make out what the voice is saying?”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to know. I don’t have to, do I?”
“No.” I ached for her.
“Good,” she said, and I wondered if she smiled. “Can I stay with you?”
“Always.” Good gods, I didn’t want her to be anywhere else.