I picked at my sandwich, my stomach too full of knots to be hungry. Part of me worried that I was throwing way too many vibes at Seth, but I suspected he was blocking me. After all, he was a hell of a lot better at it than me.
Giving up on the food, I set the plate aside, left the large sitting room, and investigated the house. I lost count of how many rooms were downstairs after I walked through what looked like the third sitting room. Who needed this many rooms? And why were there so many short halls? It was like a maze.
Sighing, I pushed the shorter strands of hair that had escaped my ponytail out of my face. I knew I should be back in that room with Aiden and Solos. They had been talking about plans for tomorrow. I should’ve been leading those conversations—or at least paying attention. Or pretending to listen by being in the same room as them.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty.”
I jumped at the sound of Seth’s voice, surprised that he was able to sneak up on me. Turning toward him, I found him under the archway. Well, there went the idea that he was blocking my feelings.
“Are you following me?” I asked instead of acknowledging his statement.
“Shouldn’t you be following Perses?”
“Why?” He tipped his head down, and a lock of blond hair fell across his forehead. “He’s behaving. Right now, he’s outside with the Sentinels, getting them all wound up.”
I sat on the edge of an antique couch that had the hardest, most uncomfortable cushions ever. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“I think so. He’ll get them ready to battle. We’re going to need everything we have to get past the army Ares has and inside those walls.”
I nodded slowly. “You think we can do it?”
“Most definitely.” One side of his lips quirked up.
“And you think we can take out Ares?”
“I do.” Seth strode over the couch and sat beside me. My initial reaction was to get up, especially since he was having so many problems ignoring the allure of the power that rested inside of me, but I stayed put. “Perses will make sure we get to him, and then he will weaken Ares, giving us time to make the transfer. You remember how to do it?”
“Yes.” I clapped my hands together in my lap and peeked at him. The amber hue of his eyes was deeper. I decided to take a stab at the argument again. “Waiting until the very last minute is risky.”
“You doing it now is risky, Alex. You don’t know what it’s like. I know—”
“I believe you,” I said, and I really did. The power had corrupted Seth, and he was only the First. Becoming the God Killer was apparently going to turn me into an aether-crazed Terminator. Besides, yelling at him hadn’t worked last time. “If I can’t handle it after I take out Ares, you’ve got to get away from me. Quickly.”
His frown did nothing to lessen his beauty. “I don’t think I’ve said this to you right.”
My brows rose.
His frown deepened. “You can handle it.”
Now I was confused. “That’s not what you said before.”
“Like I said, I’m saying it wrong.” Seth twisted toward me. “And I’m not being honest.”
The knots in my stomach tightened, and I resisted the urge to hit him before he spoke, because I figured whatever he was about to say would deserve a five-finger hello to the face. “Seth.”
“What in the hell could you possibly not be honest about now?” I demanded as a rush of anger rose inside me. “That you’re waiting until the thirtieth hour to divulge?”
Seth looked away, his chin jutting out stubbornly. “You could lay off the attitude.”
I flipped him off.
A reluctant-sounding chuckle parted his lips. “Okay. Do I think you’re going to go a little power-crazy? Probably. You’re already a little crazy.”
My eyes narrowed.
“But you’ll handle it. You always handle everything, and I…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “We have to wait until the last minute because I’m not sure I won’t try to stop you. I’m not sure I won’t try to take the power myself.”
I stared at him, the scowl slipping off my face as his words sank in. Holy babies in a manger, this was a big deal. Apollo had been right. I had wanted to believe Seth that night at the University, but Apollo had been right.
Two pink spots appeared in his cheeks. “You’re looking at me like… like I said the worst thing possible.”
“Well, that is pretty…um, well, it’s something.” I shook my head. “Seth, if you think you’re going to stop me and try to do it yourself, how in the hell is waiting to the last minute to do it a good idea?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he looked away, focusing on a really creepy deer head hanging from the wall.
Lowering his chin, he rubbed the palm of his hand over his cheek. I’ll let you do it then. I know I will.
How? What if you don’t? What if—?
“I will,” he snapped, lifting his head. His eyes were glowing. “I know I will then.”
“Excuse me if I’m not reassured by that!” I started to stand, but he grabbed my arm. The tiny hairs on my body rose.
“I know I will, because too much will be riding on me to let you do it.”
Was he saying that he’d perform better under the pressure? That somehow having our heads on the line would ensure he wouldn’t suck me dry? What the hell was that? I tried to pull my arm back, but he held on. “I think we should do it now.”
He closed his eyes.
“I’m serious. We could do it now.” My heart was trying to come out of my chest. “I’ll get Aiden, and then we’ll do it. Afterward, he’ll make sure we’re separated and—”
“I’m not going to fail you or anyone. Not again. We’ll do it then, as planned.”
The marks of the Apollyon went crazy, spinning and twirling across my skin, reaching his. His face contorted, and I felt the cord jump inside me. My pulse kicked into overdrive as every warning sensor went off. The last time, he’d said—
Suddenly, the tip of a Covenant dagger was under Seth’s chin, pushing into the delicate skin of his throat. My gaze dropped to where Seth’s hand was wrapped around my forearm and then back to the tip of the dagger. Definitely a silent way of saying “let go.” Seth released my arm, finger by finger.
I looked up, and my gaze locked with eyes the color of warm chocolate.
Air halted in my throat, and my voice cracked on one word. “Dad?”
The huge, potential problem of Seth taking the God Killer power from me at the last and possibly worst moment known to mankind was suddenly insignificant.
I was staring at my dad.
He looked just like I remembered—a classically handsome face lined by the weather and his life, but his brown eyes were lively with intelligence and awareness. He was thinner, gaunter than before.
And he was wearing a Sentinel uniform.
Something in my chest came unhinged, like a door had been thrown open too fast and too hard. Tears poured into my eyes.
He was in a Sentinel uniform.
My father also held a dagger against Seth’s throat.
“It’s okay,” I said, my voice hoarse. I glanced at Seth, who looked as surprised as I felt. “Seth?”
Standing slowly, Seth raised his hands. His amber gaze was locked on my father. “I’m not going to hurt her.”
My father didn’t look convinced. His lips curled in a sneer as he kept the blade against Seth’s throat, but he let Seth back away. The First headed for the door, stopping once to look at us, and then he disappeared through the archway.
I stared up at my dad, too afraid to look away because I feared he might actually vanish, too scared to stand because I knew my legs wouldn’t hold me. My throat clogged with emotion, and his face blurred. This whole time, from the moment I first received Laadan’s letter, I had hoped that I would see him again, but I never really thought that I would.
And here he was, on the night before battle, standing before me.
“Dad?” I croaked. It was all I could say. It was like I’d lost my ability to speak in comprehensible sentences.
He expertly sheathed the Covenant dagger the way we’d been taught in training. For a whole minute, he didn’t move or look away. His gaze crawled over my face, and the lines around his eyes deepened, as did the furrow between his brows. I knew it was the scars, and even though he had never been in my life—couldn’t have been—they had to affect him deeply.
Letting out a breath that he seemed to have been holding for years, he sat beside me on the couch. I didn’t know what to say. There was so much pressure in my chest and my throat.
He reached out with one hand and cupped my cheek. His hand was cool, but I didn’t care. I squeezed my eyes shut to stop the tears. The pressure increased, pushing at the seams. My dad didn’t say anything, because he couldn’t, but his touch…it was better than any words that could be spoken.
I struggled to pull myself together, waiting until I was more sure I wouldn’t start sobbing all over him before I spoke. And of course, I said the stupidest thing possible. “It’s really you?”
He nodded, a slight smile appearing.
Taking in a shuddering breath, I blinked a few times. “Did you…did you get my letter?”
“Okay. Okay.” I took another breath. “How long have you’ve been here?”
He held up a finger, and then leaned back. Reaching into the side pocket of his tactical pants, he pulled out a small notebook and pen. He wrote something quickly and handed it to me. His handwriting was neat and small, so unlike mine.
“Two days?” I read out loud and then waited while he scribbled something. “You heard that a group of Sentinels had arrived.” My heart tripped up as I glanced at him. “You left the Covenant to see if I was among them?”
My dad wrote: I knocked out the guard he had watching over me. He thinks I don’t know that he knows who I am.
I laughed, and his lips twitched into another small smile. “Gods,” I said, smoothing my hands over my thighs. I wanted to hug him, but I wasn’t sure what he’d do. “When I was at the Covenant before, I didn’t know it was you. If I had, I would’ve done something. I swear I would have.”
His pen flew across his little notepad. Two sentences. I know. Not your problem.
“But you’re my dad. It is my problem.”
He shook his head no, and then wrote quickly. You look so much like your mother.
I smiled widely, blinking back another rush of tears. “Thank you.”
There was a pause as he stared at me, and then he started scribbling away, faster than before. Your mother and I wouldn’t have wanted this kind of life for you.
He held up a finger and finished his note. Laadan kept me updated on you, telling me what she could. I would’ve wanted anything but this for you, but I am so very proud of you.