“And he laughed?” Tears filled my eyes, but they did not fall. The hurt inside me twisted into something ugly and violent.
“Yes,” came Seth’s reply.
There was always a chance Seth was playing me, but I had no doubt in my mind that what he had said about Lucian was true. My stepfather had known what Ares was going to do. And he had laughed. To me, there was nothing more evil than that. Seth wasn’t a completely innocent bystander. He’d made his own decisions, but Lucian had aided that process. He’d led Seth down that road. Maybe he hadn’t held his hand, but who knew where all of us would be if Lucian hadn’t had friends in higher places and hadn’t used Seth the way he did.
I didn’t feel calm, but there was an acceptance that slipped into my bones, mixing with the coldness inside of me. The only thing that was warm as I stared at my stepfather was the cord connecting me to the First.
In my head there were two outcomes. Being the bigger person was one. Revenge was the other. Two options, and that cold voice inside me told me there really wasn’t any choice between the two.
Aiden shifted warily. “Alex, what’s going on?”
Moving lightning-fast, I drew the Glock and fired one round.
Lucian didn’t make a sound.
Falling over backward, he landed in a motionless heap—his black eyes fixed sightlessly on the cloudless sky and his dark hair spilling out around him like an inky puddle of blood—with one small, titanium-laced bullet hole in his forehead.
Grandma Piperi had said I’d kill the ones I love. She’d been right and wrong in this case. I did kill Lucian, but I’d never loved him. I would’ve, maybe at one point in my life, if he hadn’t treated me like the antichrist or, later on, an object.
Aiden swore under his breath, but he kept his gun leveled on Seth.
“Gods.” Marcus exhaled hard as he stared at the Minister. “Alexandria…?”
I stepped back, legs shaking. “That takes care of one problem, doesn’t it?”
My uncle shook his head slowly, and in those deep, forest-green eyes, there was fear. I couldn’t bring myself to be that affected by it.
Seth stared at me, almost like he hadn’t really believed I’d do what I did. I don’t know what he thought I would do. Pat Lucian on the head? Smack him, and have that be all? But that tortured tautness to Seth’s expression deepened until I felt stronger stirrings of unease.
“Alex,” Seth whispered, and that single word was heavy and sad.
Had I done the wrong thing?
It was a little too late now to be questioning that, I supposed.
The gun was still hot in my hand as I slipped it back into the holster. I turned to Seth. “I still don’t completely trust you.”
“I didn’t think you would.” The glyphs seeped into his skin, disappearing. “So what do we do now?”
Aiden snapped forward, cracking the butt of the pistol off the back of Seth’s head with enough force to kill a mortal. Seth slumped over. Apollyon or not, that was going to take him out for a couple of hours. Aiden met my wide eyes. “I’m not taking any chances, either.”
Seth was taken to one of the cells under the main Council building. The bars were made of titanium and the Guards stationed to watch him were pure-bloods, but if Seth wanted to get out, he was going to get out. We didn’t have Titan blood or Hephaestus to build an Apollyon-proof cell, so we were taking a huge risk by housing Seth. But we really had no other option. We also had hundreds of Sentinels loyal to Seth on the other side of the gate, and who knew how long they’d remain there if they didn’t hear from him. Only good news was that he’d be out for a while, but when he came to, well. I’d deal with that when I had to stampede that bridge.
Right now, I needed to shower.
Sweat slicked my skin like leftover residue from the adrenaline that had coursed through my veins upon seeing Seth, but it was more than that. I felt grimy and grubby inside and out, like I hadn’t bathed for days.
I felt dirty—like, morally corrupt.
My heart was pounding a little too fast as I scrubbed until my skin turned a bright pink. I squeezed my eyes shut and took several breaths.
Had I been wrong?
Had killing Lucian been the wrong thing to do? Morally speaking? Duh. It was wrong, but hadn’t he deserved it? Hadn’t he had it coming to him?
“As a Sentinel, I’ll kill daimons. That’s not the same as playing jury and executioner.”
The spongy loofah fell from my suddenly limp fingers, landing with a wet thud against the shower floor. My stomach roiled as I bent at the waist, nauseated. Water beaded across my back, but I barely felt it.
When I had pulled that trigger, I hadn’t felt a damn thing. There had been anger right before that, even a brief welling of sadness in response to Lucian’s cruelty, but nothing when my finger squeezed. As if taking a life was an insignificant action.
There was something wrong with that—wrong with me.
It seemed like yesterday when Seth had wanted to kill Head Minister Telly and I’d told him it was wrong. That even as the Apollyons, we couldn’t make those kind of decisions.
But I had.
I had killed Lucian.
In cold blood, whispered that nasty little voice. You didn’t even blink.
True. I hadn’t felt a damn thing as I’d pulled that trigger, nothing beyond anger, but even then that fury hadn’t felt tangible. Gods knew I totally had an anger management problem, but I had never snapped like that. Throwing apples was one thing. Shooting people in the head was taking it to a whole new level.
What was wrong with me? Better yet, what was I turning in to?
Forcing several deep breaths into my lungs, I straightened and let the suds rinse off my body. I turned off the shower and grabbed a fluffy towel, wrapping it around me.
The numbness was inside me, seeping through the pores, coating my skin. I felt like I needed to take another shower and keep taking them until it washed away whatever this was.
I didn’t check myself out when I opened the door and stepped into the adjoining room.
Aiden sat on the edge of the bed, hands resting on his knees. The Glock was next to him, and the daggers were unhooked, placed in a neat line beside the gun. He lifted his head, his dark gray eyes slowly moving over me until centering on mine. My heart jumped in my chest, and I felt the muscles in my lower stomach tighten.
When I was around Aiden, I wasn’t numb.
I could feel so much.
Crossing the distance between us, I stopped between his spread legs. Aiden sat up straighter, his gaze questioning. Air hitched in my throat as he lifted his arms. I moved forward, placing my knees on either side of his hips. He folded his arms around me, sealing my chest to his as I rested my cheek against his shoulder. Minutes ticked by in silence. His hand trailed up and down my back in a soothing gesture that beat away at the numbness, but I wanted to feel more. Needed to feel more.
I rocked back in his lap and placed my hand on his cheek. A jolt of awareness ran from my palm up my arm. Unseen to him, the marks of the Apollyon bled through my skin, swirling down my arm until they reached my hand.
His lashes lowered. “We need to talk about what happened, Alex.”
Talking was the last thing I wanted, right next to thinking. Feeling was the only thing I was interested in at the moment. I leaned forward, pressing my forehead against his. Our mouths lined up perfectly, and Aiden’s chest rose sharply.
His hand tightened into a fist against the small of my back. “This isn’t talking.”
“I don’t want to talk.” I brushed my lips across his. Nothing more than a quick sweep of our mouths, but Aiden’s embrace tightened. “I want to feel you.”
I pulled back a little and dropped the towel, surprising even myself since I was definitely on the body-conscious side of things at the time.
Aiden held my gaze for a moment, and then it dipped, and I felt his stare as if it were a heated touch. Warmth rose to my skin as he dragged his eyes back up. Knowing Aiden, he wanted to do the right thing. There was a lot we needed to talk about—the numbness I felt, the fact that I’d frozen in battle the day before, the meeting in the Council, Seth, the fact that I’d just shot my stepfather in the head, and the possibility of us becoming very unprepared parents. The Aiden I knew would want to hash all that out, because every single item was important, but the Aiden I loved wouldn’t ever turn me down again.
He placed his hands on the sides of my face and guided my head to his. The moment our lips touched it was like waking up after a too-long sleep. Sensation raced through my system, pouring into my bloodstream and chasing away the coldness. The kiss deepened, and I knew that Aiden was right where I was. We would talk, but it would be later. Much later.
“What is this?” Aiden asked, his voice deep and husky.
His fingers slimmed over my hip and lower back. He was touching the oddly shaped scar. I stiffened. Grabbing his hand, I moved it away. I kissed him deeper, harder, drawing his attention from it until I knew he wasn’t thinking about it any longer. His hands slid across my shoulders and then down to my waist, leaving a shivery wake behind. He tugged me to his chest and, though he was still in his uniform, his skin seared mine. Kissing Aiden was like taking a deep breath of fresh air after not being able to breathe. His kisses chased away all the what-ifs and strange feelings that had twisted inside me.
Aiden’s lips blazed a path down my throat, and my head tipped back. He wrapped an arm around my waist as his other hand drifted up my stomach and then further up, eliciting a sharp gasp from me. A deep, nerve-frying sound came from within his chest, and every muscle under my hands knotted in response. His lips neared the sensitive spot, and his breath rasped in my ear. There was a painstaking moment when neither of us moved and it was just our hearts pounding in our chests, thundering in our veins, and then in an instant, the exquisite feel of his lips against my pulse wasn’t enough.
I pulled back to get my hands on that annoying shirt of his and opened my eyes.
All-white eyes stared back into mine. Lips were twisted into a cruel smirk. The face was frightening familiar—chillingly handsome and devoid of compassion. “You can never win.”
Icy terror froze the scream building in my chest as I jerked back, breaking the hold around my waist. I thumped onto the floor. Ignoring the burst of dull pain across my backside, I rocked to my feet and lurched to the side, grabbing Aiden’s pistol. It was only as my fingers closed around the handle when I realized how fruitless shooting Ares would be.
I swung the gun around anyway, because I figured it had to sting at least, but I froze because it wasn’t Ares standing there.
It was Aiden, his eyes wide and the color of the sky before a violent summer storm. His hands were at his sides, and his chest rose and fell sharply. “Alex? What… what are you doing?”
I drew in a ragged breath, but it never reached my lungs. A boulder had landed on my chest, crushing me as I took a step back. I didn’t understand what I was seeing. It had been Ares—it had been him! His face—his voice.
“Agapi mou, talk to me. Tell me what is going on,” he said, his voice hoarse but his eyes still holding mine. “What’s happening?”