Apollo took pity on me. “Remember when I told you that I would take care of you? It was a promise I wasn’t going to break, but this—this is not all me.”
“It’s not?” I still held onto Aiden’s shirt.
“I knew that this could be the outcome long before you agreed to it,” he explained. “A lot of things in life aren’t fair, and there are lessons to be learned from that, but there was no lesson to be gained in your death. So when I took you to Olympus after your first fight with Ares, I made sure that, no matter what happened, you would be rewarded.”
“By giving me Aiden?” I asked, and well, while I really appreciated that, it didn’t seem fair to Aiden. Elysian Fields was nice and all, but it was the Underworld.
“No,” Apollo said. “I gave your mother a drink to give you. Remember? I told her it would help you heal?”
I remembered that. “It tasted good, but…strange.”
That smile was back, tipping his lips up at the corner. “It wasn’t a normal drink. It was ambrosia.”
My lips slowly parted as I stared at him. Ambrosia? The nectar of the gods? Those who were gifted with ambrosia became immortal. “I don’t understand. I’m dead. That couldn’t—”
“You had a mortal death, Alexandria, but you are not truly dead, not like those around you. By setting the spirit boat free, you set the next stage of your existence into play. You are immortal. To get technical, you are now a demigod.”
My jaw was on the sand. There were no words. None at all.
“But for every gift, there has to be an exchange,” Apollo continued. “You did have a mortal death, and my brethren were not aware of what I’d done. They say it will upset the strands of Fate if there is not an exchange. Follow me?”
Uh, no, but I nodded.
“You will have to spend six months in the Underworld—six months Underworld time—and then you will be allowed to spend six months—six months mortal time—in the mortal realm.”
“Like Persephone?” I shook my head when he nodded. “Holy gods, I don’t know what to say. Thank you and—wait!” My heart jumped as I looked up at Aiden. “If I’m immortal, then what about Aiden? He can’t stay in the Underworld for six months. I don’t understand.” Not that I was ungrateful. If I could see him and my dad and friends just for six months topside, I’d take that, but I was thoroughly confused. Aiden had said he wasn’t visiting, and I knew I was missing something. “Someone help me out here.”
“That’s the other half,” Aiden said, dropping his chin and kissing the top of my head.
“And that had nothing to do with me,” Apollo said. “I would’ve made sure that Aiden could visit you when he could and for however long he could be here, but this…this is all because of Seth.”
I blinked. “Seth?”
“If you’re surprised, just imagine how I felt.” Aiden’s arm tightened. “Seth made a deal with Apollo and Hades before I even knew what was going down.”
“What deal?” I looked at Apollo. “What deal did Seth make?”
“First, you must understand that Seth never should’ve been, Alexandria. You were always meant to be the Apollyon, and Seth knew that. To him, for you to be the one who died, he couldn’t live with that,” Apollo explained, and my skin chilled. “When he came to me, I told him that you would be fine. I told him that you’d been given ambrosia, and I explained the exchange to him. I even told him that you would see Aiden again, and that in the end, you were being taken care of and you would be happy, but that wasn’t enough for him.
“He knew that, when Aiden died, his soul would go to Hades, and who knows what mood Hades would be in when that day came. And in the end, you would out-live Aiden. You would have to watch him grow old and die while you stayed the same during those years he aged. Seth didn’t want that for you.”
Aiden’s hand smoothed over my hip as he spoke next. “Seth offered an exchange. He offered his servitude to the gods, which is needed, since no one can find Perses and none of the Olympians can kill Seth.”
“We need him on our side, so we were willing to deal,” Apollo confirmed. “He offered his servitude and obedience in exchange for ambrosia for Aiden. And then he offered to Hades to take Aiden’s place once he died. And as you would guess, Hades was over the moon with the prospect. We accepted.”
My eyes widened. I didn’t know what to say. Seth…oh my gods, that little punk…that wonderful little punk. “He gave up his life to the gods, basically? You’ll be able to call on him whenever.” And knowing Seth, that would drive him absolutely crazy. “And when he dies?” I shook my head, beyond words.
What Seth had done was unbelievable. He’d sacrificed so much. My heart was pumping fast. I wanted to cry again. I probably would. And I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to find Seth and shake him because he hadn’t needed to do this. He shouldn’t have. My future with Aiden wasn’t more important than his future, no matter how badly I wanted that.
I was blown away.
“Seth didn’t want you to know he did this, and while I have honored most of his requests, I felt you needed to know what he has done for you. He gave you this, Alexandria. He gave Aiden this. And I know it is hard for you to accept. And it was hard for Aiden to fully accept, surprisingly,” Apollo added dryly. “But it was Seth’s decision, and it cannot be undone. And when you go topside in six months, you should find him and thank him.”
I was actually going to hug and squeeze and love the dude. Then smack him. And then hug and squeeze and love him again.
“We are not sure what it does with your connection. You are no longer the God Killer, as you did die a mortal death, but this has never been done before.” Apollo shrugged. “You may still be connected once you’re in the mortal realm. You may not be. We don’t know.”
There was so much I wanted to say. My head was spinning. I hadn’t expected any of this, especially not what Seth had done. He had given us everything. I couldn’t imagine how I could repay him, but I would find a way one day.
Apollo’s smile was soft then, the most human thing I’d ever seen from the god. “His journey is not over, Alexandria. And neither is yours. Or Aiden’s. Remember that.”
Choked up in a ridiculous way, I nodded and then, without any warning, Apollo faded out. I stared at the spot where he’d stood for a long moment, then turned into Aiden’s embrace.
One side of his lips curved up, and a dimple appeared in one cheek. “We owe Seth a lot.”
“Everything,” I agreed, my fingers still digging into the front of his shirt. “We owe him everything.”
Aiden lowered his head, brushing his lips over mine. My mouth immediately opened to his. I sank into him, ready—
“Oh. I almost forgot.”
I jumped a good four inches off the ground at the sound of Apollo’s voice, which was right in my ear. “Oh, my gods, will you ever stop doing that?”
“No. Make sure you give Hades some hell while you’re down here.” He winked, and then he disappeared again.
Aiden looked from where Apollo had been, then to me, and then laughed. “Do they have bells in Elysian Fields?”
A laugh bubbled up in my throat. “Yeah, I’m sure they do. You kind of need something, and it appears. Like, if you want to eat some coconut shrimp, you get coconut shrimp.”
“Really?” He laughed again, looping his arm around my waist. “What about Big Macs?”
“Yep. Even Big Macs.”
“Wow. This must really be paradise for you then.”
The knot of emotion was back in my throat again. “It…really isn’t. I’ve missed you terribly. I…” I stopped myself.
He pressed his lips together as he smoothed his thumb along his jaw. Then he glanced over his shoulder. “Is that what I think it is?”
I bit down on my lip, hoping this didn’t make me come across like a total creeper. “It made me happy, and it felt…it felt like you, so it turned out to be a part of my paradise.”
Aiden’s hand slipped down my arm, and he threaded his fingers through mine. When he spoke, his voice was rough with emotion. “Show me?”
I led him into the cottage, and as he looked around, seeing the familiar living room and kitchen, his hand tightened around mine. I felt my cheeks flush. “It has a bedroom and a bath, like yours, but there’s a garden in the back. I know it’s not—”
“It’s perfect. You’re perfect.” His silvery gaze landed on me. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here sooner. I know—”
“Don’t,” I said, placing my fingers over his lips. “You have nothing to apologize for. Apollo told me about the Council and the Breed Order. What you were a part of was amazing. Solos on the Council, and how the Breed Order was revoked, and—”
Aiden swooped down, silencing me with a lingering kiss that left me breathless when he lifted his head. “Nothing that I did was truly amazing, Alex. It was just what needed to be done. I only wish it hadn’t taken so long from your perspective.”
He told me then that Seth had made his deals before the Council meeting, within hours of my death, but that he had taken care of the Council seat and spoken with his brother before he’d left with Apollo.
“Deacon,” I gasped. “Oh gods, you won’t see him for six months. And it will be even longer for him with the time-moves-differently thing.”
I shook my head. “But he’s your family, and I know he means the world to you.”
“He does mean the world to me, and I’m going to miss him, but he’d try to kick my ass if I didn’t come to you.” Aiden grinned. “He knows how I feel about you. He saw how I was…afterwards. He understands, and he’s happy. Besides, we’ll see him again.”
Then it struck me. Excited, I almost started bouncing. “Oh, Aiden! You’ll get to see your parents. I haven’t seen them, but they’re here. Somewhere.”
“I know, but as terrible as this sounds—and gods, it probably is—right now, I don’t care.” Using my hand, he turned me around and hauled me against his chest. “That’s not what I want right now, or what I need.”
Grandma Piperi’s prophetic words came back to me. There is want and there is need… To her, those two things had been very differently entities, but right now, they were one and the same.
He placed the tips of his fingers on my cheeks, the hold heartbreakingly tender as his gaze moved on my face. “Look at you,” he said. “Your eyes…”
I stood still, letting his fingers trail an unseen path across my face. “I look a lot better half-dead or whatever, huh?”
“You’ve always looked beautiful to me, Alex.” He trailed his fingers over the line of my jaw and down my neck. His hands trembled as he slid them down my shoulders. “Gods, Alex, I’d thought after what happened with Linard, I’d never face losing you again. Even when you were connected with Seth, you were still alive. And even if you didn’t want to be with me, you were living, and in the end, that was all that mattered.”