“No,” I whispered, placing my hand on his cheek. “There was nothing that you could’ve done. You’re not at fault for any of this.”
His gaze searched mine as if he was looking for a hint of insincerity, and when he didn’t see it, his eyes drifted shut. “The thing is, Layla, even though there are parts of me that feel that way, it does nothing to touch the elation of holding you in my arms, the thrill that comes along with feeling your heart beat and hearing each breath you take. That’s what matters most.”
Roth was giving me a pass. There was no doubt in my mind he wanted to lay into me, but he got why I had to do what I’d done and he was letting it go. He never ceased to amaze me with his very un-demon-like tendencies. He’d once said that people with the purest souls could be capable of the greatest evil, and I knew that worked both ways, especially when it came to him. I might not be able to see a soul around him and everyone might say he didn’t have one, but at his core, he was better than most humans and Wardens I knew.
His lashes lifted as he slid his fingers out from my hair and followed the curve of my jaw to my mouth. He dragged his thumb along my lower lip. “I wish you hadn’t had to be by yourself. You must have been so scared.”
I’d been terrified, but I didn’t think he needed to know that. “You couldn’t have been there with me,” I told him quietly. “You would’ve never allowed it to happen.”
“True,” he remarked. “What... How did it go down?”
I searched his face. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
Drawing in a deep breath, I moved my hand to his bare chest. “As soon as I left here, the Lilin found me. I guess he knew I’d come to him eventually, but to join him. And he’s... He really is a he. I asked that he show me who he was. First, he shifted into me. Like I was looking into a mirror.”
“You are nothing like that thing,” Roth ground out.
My lips slipped into a small smile. “I know. He finally showed himself. He kind of looked like me, if I was a dude. It was weird. Maybe not, since he really was sort of my brother. I have a really messed-up family.”
He snorted. “Shortie, that is one thing I can understand.”
I arched a brow. “I stabbed him in the heart. He didn’t see it coming.” At that point, I left out the gory details surrounding the whole dying part. “I ended up in this bizarre, in-between place. I saw... I saw my mother again.”
Shock splashed across his striking face. “What?”
“It really wasn’t her. More like her spirit. All of us were connected—are connected. When the Lilin died and I was dying, she was able to come to me.” I paused, frowning. “She was kind of a bitch. Again.”
Roth let out a surprised laugh. “I could’ve told you that.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, but told him what Lilith had said to me. “She talked to me for a little bit, and then the world started falling apart around me. I thought I heard her say that she had loved me when she’d first held me as a baby, but I’m not sure. That really doesn’t match everything else she said to me.
“Anyway, Lilith told me that I was dying and it felt like... It felt like I blinked and then I was in the tree house. It didn’t feel like days had passed. Maybe minutes, at the most an hour or so. I didn’t think I’d get this—a second chance. I’m still not sure how I did.”
Pain flickered over his face, and it resonated within me. His voice was low when he spoke. “I never thought I’d see you again. That I’d spend an eternity wanting you—mourning you. I could’ve dealt with that if I knew you were alive and happy. It would’ve been hard. I probably would’ve spent a lot of time banging my head off a wall if you ended up with Stony.” He paused. “And I probably would’ve also been a creepy stalker keeping tabs on you. I mean, I’m a demon. What does anyone expect? But as hard as that would have been on me, I could bear it because you would’ve been alive.”
Turning my head, I kissed his palm. “This isn’t some kind of dream or hallucination, is it?”
“I don’t think so, but if that’s the case, I don’t want to wake up from it.” His nose brushed mine as he spoke. “I could spend forever like this.”
I bit down on my lip, knowing so much more still needed to be said. “It was so hard leaving your bed—leaving you. I want you to know that. I didn’t do it lightly. It hurt, Roth, and it was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. All I could’ve hoped was that one day you’d forgive me and find some sort of peace, because I had to do it. I had to...”
“You needed to...save the world,” he said softly. “And you did. Look at you, you little hero, saving mankind from the apocalypse.”
“I guess I did.” That felt weird to think, to believe in. I kind of felt like someone owed me a lifetime supply of sugar-cookie dough, my favorite thing in the world to eat. “This is going to sound terrible to admit, but when I...well, after everything happened and I was lying there, I thought that saving the world really wasn’t worth it, because I—”
“I get what you’re saying. You don’t even need to finish the sentence, and no, it doesn’t make you a terrible person. If I’d had my way, we’d be lounging in some far-off island as the world around us went to shit.”
“No, you wouldn’t have left.”
A single dark brow rose. “You give me too much credit, Layla. That’s exactly what I was planning. I was pretty much going to kidnap you and whisk you away. I figured we could survive, even against the Alphas, while drinking mojitos and getting a suntan. We’d try at least, and I was willing to watch the world burn if that meant being there with you to watch it. I wouldn’t have sacrificed you. My...compassion for others, with the exception of you, does not run that deep.”
He was being honest and he was a demon, so it wasn’t really like I could fault him for any of that.
“So that was all with Lilith?” He smoothed his thumb along my cheek. When I nodded, he frowned. “I don’t understand. How did you get back here?”
“You mean how am I alive?”
His lips pursed. “I was trying to avoid saying that, so I didn’t sound ungrateful or anything.”
“I don’t know how, Roth. I was wondering if you did something. Made another deal, maybe?”
“I tried. Went to the witches, but they said there was nothing they could do,” he explained. “I did get to see Bambi. Well, Bambi peeled herself off that woman the moment I showed up. It was... I needed to see her then.” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t do this, Layla. Trust me. If I could gloat about saving you, I would be all over that, but this... I had nothing to do with this.”
“Then who?” I whispered.
He gave a little shake of his head. “I don’t know. Had to be a higher being. Maybe the Alphas?”
I snort-laughed. Real attractive, but I couldn’t help it. “Doubtful. They hate me. They probably threw a pizza party in the clouds when they learned I was gone.”
“Pizza party?” he murmured, the corner of his lips tipping up slightly. “More like a kegger.”