“Kate, you may go,” said Walter, and I left the throne room without protest. I might have been young and inexperienced, but that didn’t make me an idiot. And if they wouldn’t fix it, then I would.
Shadows danced on the walls of Milo’s nursery as it materialized around me, and Cronus hovered over his cradle. He looked paler than usual, but his eyes swirled with fog, and a faint aura of power surrounded him.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” He set a hand on my lower back, and I recoiled.
“You’re a monster,” I snarled, reaching into the cradle for my son. “Do you realize how many people you’ve just—”
As always, my hand met empty air, but this time it was different. I squinted into the mess of blankets, and I froze. Milo wasn’t there.
“What did you do to him?” I said, and my voice broke. “Where the hell is my son?”
Cronus gestured behind me, and I spun around. Ava sat in a rocking chair that hadn’t been there the day before, and she cradled Milo.
“She has barely put him down since you last left,” said Cronus.
I hurried over to her, and Ava glanced up. For one horrible moment, I thought she could see me, but instead she looked right through me. “It won’t work,” she said to Cronus. “I don’t care how many times you try it. Kate isn’t here, and even if she was, you wouldn’t be able to see her.”
Still in denial then. For now, it didn’t matter; I watched Milo happily suck away on the tip of her pinkie, and my heart melted. Opening his eyes, he stared right at me, and I could have sworn he smiled around her finger.
“Hi, baby,” I whispered, kneeling beside Ava. The blade of her rocker sliced through my insubstantial thigh. “Look at you.”
His eyes were bright, his cheeks pink, and he waved his little hands at me with more enthusiasm than before. He looked like a healthy ten-day-old baby. Whatever Ava was giving him, it was working.
“Why does he look so much healthier?” I said to Cronus, and he repeated the question.
Ava, who must not have realized that he was once again speaking for me, shrugged. “Everyone knows that newborns need to be held, and not by a walking void of emotion either. A little love does them wonders.”
And right now, she was the only one who could give that to him. I bit the inside of my cheek and focused on Milo. He was so beautiful that it hurt to look at him, but I couldn’t tear myself away.
“Why did you attack those people?” I said to Cronus.
“For the same reason I attacked Athens,” he said. “To teach the council a lesson.”
“And what lesson was that supposed to be?” I snapped. “The more you hurt them, the less likely it is they’ll agree to your truce.”
“We both know that will not happen,” said Cronus, and in the rocker, Ava’s brow furrowed with confusion.
“Stop it,” she said, her grip on Milo tightening. “She isn’t here.”
“Tell her that you lied yesterday,” I said. Ava was doing something no one else could or would for Milo right now, and if Cronus said the wrong thing, I couldn’t risk Ava leaving the baby alone again. The last thing he needed was to lose someone else who loved him.
Cronus sighed and said in an annoyed voice, “My words yesterday were purely my own, not a reflection of what Kate expressed. My sincerest apologies.”
Ava smirked triumphantly. “I knew it. You’re scum.”
“So I have been told,” said Cronus with surprising ease. “My dear Kate, the fact remains that we all know a truce will not happen, not while Walter is in charge of the council.”
“It isn’t in my power to convince them to overthrow Walter, and even if I could, I wouldn’t,” I said.
“Then you know the consequences,” said Cronus. “The time for inaction is over. I have given the council long enough to surrender, and now that they have chosen not to, I will do what I must to put them in their place.”
My stomach dropped. “Please,” I said. “Give them a little more time. Give me a little more time.”
“It will not make a difference. The winter solstice is in less than three months. The council’s bonds will no longer hold me then.”
“Then why did you come?” said Cronus. “Do not tell me it was merely to see your son.”
I would’ve spent eternity locked in a room with Calliope if it meant getting to spend five minutes with Milo. But I didn’t say that, because Cronus was right. He was always right. “You know why I’m here.”
His footsteps echoed behind me, growing closer until he knelt beside me and snaked his arm around my waist. Ava pulled away from him. I didn’t blame her.
“Kate?” she said, her voice trembling as she searched the space I was in. I ignored her. Now wasn’t the time.
“I want to hear it from you,” said Cronus huskily, and despite his lips lingering next to my ear, he no longer had any breath. Not warm, not cold—nothing.
I tightened my hands into fists and focused on Milo’s blue eyes. Henry would understand. He had to. “I’m here to make a trade.”
“For real this time?” said Cronus.
“Yes,” I whispered. “For real.”
Cronus gave me seven days with Henry and my mother before he would attack again.
It wasn’t out of the kindness of his heart. I had no way of reaching the island on my own yet, and I couldn’t ask anyone to go with me. Besides, the more people I involved, the bigger chance it had of getting back to Henry.