Squeezing my eyes shut, I let out a choked laugh. “It’s funny when you cuss.”
“Only you would laugh at something like that,” he said, and I heard the relieved amusement in his voice. Fingertips appeared under my chin, and Aiden lifted my gaze to his moonlight-colored one. “You’re with me now?”
I blinked back tears. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Good.” His thumb smoothed over my jaw as his intense gaze searched my face. “I’m happy to have you back.”
Turning my cheek into his palm, I swallowed hard. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m the one who should be apologizing, especially for last night. I was jealous, and that was stupid, I know, but I’m—”
“No.” I shook my head slightly. “No, you were right to be upset, but that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s not what I’m apologizing for.”
His brows rose.
My chest ached. “I know…I know there was a part of you that was okay with the idea of us having a baby. I know there was a part of you that was excited in spite of everything else, and I’m sorry that’s not what was going on. I’m sorry that it was this and not—”
“Stop.” Aiden dropped his forehead to mine and slid his strong hands up to cup my cheeks. “You do not need to apologize. Ever. Do you understand me? None of this is your fault. And you haven’t done anything wrong. What we thought? It doesn’t matter.”
“You have to be disappointed,” I whispered, curling my fingers around his wrists.
“Never,” he swore. “If anything, I’m upset this happened to you. I’m freaking pissed that it did, but, Alex, we have a lifetime ahead of us to have that conversation and feel that way again.”
My breath caught. “You’re perfect.”
“And you know that’s not true.”
A throat cleared behind us, and then Apollo said, “Seriously, you two? It’s not like you’re keeping a god waiting or anything.”
Aiden drew back with a soft groan. “Sometimes I hate him.”
My lips curved up. “Sometimes.”
“I heard that,” Apollo said. “And I’m pretty sure there’s someone else you hate more than me. I’ll give you two clues. Starts with an S and ends with an H.”
There was an audible huff from inside the office.
I started to grin.
“Well, you got that right.” Aiden’s eyes were fixed on me. “You want to do this right now?”
I nodded, and then Aiden lowered his head once more, kissing me in a way that truly felt like the very first time. When he lifted his head, his eyes shone with everything he was feeling in that moment. I knew what he’d said moments before was the truth. He believed we had a lifetime to feel that odd little burgeoning of hope again, and I latched onto that.
Together, we turned and headed past Apollo. He followed us in and took up stance in the middle of the room. “Well, the gang’s all here. Almost. We are missing a few, but this will do.”
We were missing Solos, Luke, and Olivia, and it didn’t feel right that they weren’t here. And it felt really weird that Seth was here. He was leaning against the wall where the daggers had once hung. He arched a brow at me.
“Your mark should be gone, which means the twins won’t be able to get back into you,” Apollo said, and I resisted the urge to yank my shirt up and check right then. Then he turned to Seth. “And don’t think you and me are okay. It’s great you’re no longer Ares’ little bitch-boy, but you’re still a punk-ass.”
“And I hope your jaw really hurts,” Apollo added.
Seth smirked. “Hey, if you want to go a few rounds again, Golden Boy, we can do it.”
“This is an awesome start to our Army of Awesome meeting number two,” Deacon murmured.
The air around Apollo crackled, and I let out a loud sigh and propped myself against a chair. “So, I’m assuming you had a reason for coming here besides helping me and arguing with Seth.”
I waited, and when Apollo said nothing, I crossed my arms. “And that would be?”
“We need a plan,” he replied.
“Wow.” Seth folded his arms. “That’s a unique concept.”
“Seth,” I hissed, shooting him a look.
“That’s okay,” Apollo replied, smiling at Seth in a wholly creepy “hide your kids” kind of way. “When you least expect it, I’m going to turn you into a pink flower that smells like cat pee.”
I choked on my laugh. “Oh, my gods…”
Seth’s eyes narrowed into thin, amber slits, but before he could volley back, a whole different conversation sprouted out of the depths of my very own personal hell.
“I’m sorry.” Marcus was leaning against the desk, looking a bit green. “Am I the only one stuck on the fact that these two thought they might’ve been…that you could’ve been…that there might have been…?”
“That we could’ve made you a great-uncle,” I supplied since he’d obviously run out of words. His eyes narrowed, and heat spread across my cheeks. “Can we not talk about that right now?”
“I second that,” Aiden muttered, shifting awkwardly.
“I disagree.” Apollo’s “hide your kids” smile was now spreading across his face. “This conversation is going to be epically entertaining.”
“For you.” Aiden cut him a dark look.
“Exactly,” the god replied.
Marcus ignored that. “I don’t know how many times I’ve told you two that you shouldn’t be sharing a room.” He turned to me. “I don’t care how old you are or that you’re an Apollyon, Alexandria. You’re my niece; therefore, I am responsible for you. And you?” He spun on Aiden, whose eyes widened. “You know better.”
“Oh my gods,” I moaned. I rather have run naked through the quad then had this conversation both with my uncle and with an audience. Especially with this audience.
“Don’t ‘oh my gods’ me.” The color had returned to Marcus’ face. It was red. “Do I really need to have a conversation with you about responsible sexual activity?”
Seth looked like he wanted to shove a dagger in his eye.
“I think you do,” Apollo suggested.
“Oh! You’re one to talk!” I whirled on Apollo. “Seriously? If I was to Google ‘irresponsible sexual activity,’ it would be your picture staring back at me!”
Apollo made a face at me—actually made a face at me like he was ten years old or something.
Marcus was now staring at Aiden like he wanted to take his dagger and use it on Aiden in an area much lower than the eyeballs.
“Okay, can we move on to the important stuff?” I demanded, losing my patience. “If not, then this is wasting my time, and I’m going to bed. That just might include irresponsible sex, because I’ve had a really crappy day!”
Five sets of eyes settled on me. One set was particularly interested in what I had just said.
“What?” I rolled my eyes, scowling. “Get on with it.”
Apollo sent Seth one more scathing look, which I was sure wouldn’t be the last one directed at the First. “As I said, we need a plan, and although I have many talents…”
For some reason, I couldn’t help but look at Deacon. He flushed.
“I am not a strategist, not like Ares.”
The look on Seth’s face said he was wondering why Apollo was here then, but before he could vocalize that opinion, another fissure of energy whipped through the air. The aether in my veins hummed, and the marks raced to the surface. Seth and I stiffened in anticipation.
A shimmery blue form appeared and then solidified beside Apollo. A second before, there had been nothing but a glittery waterfall, and now there was a tall brunette woman dressed in a tailored business suit. Her hair was pulled up in a tight bun, which did nothing to lessen the ethereal beauty of her face. In her slim, almost delicate-looking hands, she held a rolled parchment.
Gods were like opossums. You could go your whole life without seeing one, but once you found one of them, you found the whole freaky family.
Every pure in the room bowed, leaving Seth and me standing straight like two douches. We apparently were a little slow on the show of respect. The goddess didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Athena, please meet the, uh…Army of Awesome.” Apollo arched a brow. “Or whatever they are calling themselves.”
The goddess of wisdom, strategy, and a whole slew of other things inclined her head. “Nice title.”
“Nice suit,” I said, my gaze dipping to her pointy heels.
Her all-white eyes centered on me, and one side of her lips tipped up. “I picked it up at Saks along with this amazing leather satchel and these to-die-for shoes.”
“Oh.” I slid Aiden a glance. He studiously ignored me. “They’re very nice, too.”
She strode forward, placing the parchment on the desk. Marcus swallowed and stepped to the side, giving the goddess a wide berth. It was a map. A really crudely drawn map of trees, mountains that looked like upside-down Vs, and stick people. Apparently, drawing was not one of Athena’s skills. “The plan, and I assume that has not changed,” she paused, passing an arched look between Seth and me, “will require the God Killer to get close to Ares. Currently, he’s camped out—”
“In the Catskills,” Seth interrupted, and I thought of my father. He was there. Seth came forward, eyeing the map. “He’s got around the same number of Sentinels that I have here with me, plus mortals. All of them are under compulsion.”
“Ares’ compulsion?” Marcus asked, and when Seth nodded, my uncle sighed. “There’s no way to break a compulsion from a god, is there?”
“Not unless you take out the god, or so we assume,” Apollo said. “Dionysus has confirmed that the mortal encampment is several miles out from the Catskills.”
“We would have to get past them, and then get through the walls of the New York Covenant, which are guarded by Sentinels.” Seth tapped his finger along what appeared to be an uneven brick wall, squinting. “But that’s not all. Ares is heavily guarded.”
“Guarded by what?” I asked.
“Daimons,” Seth said, looking away. “And you know how he’s controlling them.”
My stomach roiled. I did. He was feeding them pures and probably halfs—dinner in exchange for loyalty. I remembered the days when the Council didn’t believe daimons could reason. Now the daimons had most likely drained those Council members dry.
“And the automatons.” Athena glanced at Apollo. “Hephaestus has completely lost control of them.”
The god sighed. “Don’t start.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I warned all of you that using them was a bad idea. We had no idea what god was responsible for this, and using a creature designed for war without such knowledge was a poor plan.”