My breath caught. He sounded so genuine, but what was he doing out there? This whole time? How did I get here? Did he fight the Titans and free me? I had so many questions, but I didn’t have the will to ask them at the moment.
I could only say, “You left me.”
Seth’s eyes slammed shut and he dropped his hand. Steam filled up the bathroom. He lowered his head until his chin almost touched my knee. “I know. Saying I’m sorry is never going to change that or what happened to you, but I am.” His lashes lifted and he peered up at me through them, and his eyes looked oddly moist. “I have never been more sorry about anything in my life.”
The twisting motion in my chest increased as I croaked out, “I need to shower.”
Seth went as still as one of the statues out in the hall and then he exhaled unevenly. “Can you stand in there?”
It wasn’t going to be easy, but I wasn’t sure I could handle Seth helping me. Yeah, he’d seen all of this before, but I . . . I just couldn’t. “I can.”
He didn’t look like he believed me, but he touched me again. Just the tips of his fingers against my cheek, and I fought the urge to press against his touch. “You’re safe here. You will be safe from here on out.”
There was the word again. Safe. That word rang as a falsehood, because if I had learned anything about my time with the Titans, no one was safe anywhere, but I nodded anyway.
Seth stared at me for a few more seconds. “I’ll be waiting outside. If you need anything, call for me.”
He lingered and then dropped his hand. He rose and left the bathroom, leaving the door cracked open so he could obviously hear me if I busted my ass, which was entirely possible.
I sat on the bathtub for a couple of minutes and then I got down to the painful process of stripping out of my disgusting clothes. I left them on the floor, never wanting to see them again as I walked toward the shower, moving like I was ninety years old and passing a fogged mirror on the way.
I couldn’t make out much of how I looked, but I could see enough to know I was an utter mess.
Clutching the half-wall of the shower, I stepped in and under the warm stream of water. I gasped as the water hit my skin. My body simultaneously rejoiced and recoiled. Raw areas stung and burned like a thousand fire ants were gnawing on my skin, but I stayed under the stream, lifting my face up. The water washed away days of grime and dried blood as my knees wobbled.
It could be worse.
Those were the words I repeated over and over as I looked down and grabbed a bottle of shampoo. Pink and brown-tinted water swirled along the basin, cycling down the drain. It took two shampoos, one round of conditioner, and a complete, achy body scrub down for the water to run clear.
And I still stood under the shower, picking at the dirt under my fingernails, and when my nails were clean I washed myself once more. I soaped up my wrists and tried to work the bracelets off until my skin was red and hurt, and only then did I give up. The bathroom smelled like a botanical garden by that point.
I didn’t allow myself to think through the whole process. Not until I was reaching for the faucets did the first real thought break through the haze and the simple joy of being clean again.
My mom was dead.
She was truly gone.
Through the whole time I was with Hyperion, I couldn’t let myself think too much about, but now that I was here, I could see her face, the almost always distant glaze to her eyes, the sweet smile on her lips.
There would be no saving her.
No more looking forward to seeing her.
My father had lied and he had left me to rot with Hyperion, and I had rotted, from the inside out. The pain. The darkness. The constant fear. I’d lived in that for days and days, and it was still inside me, still haunting every breath.
And now I was here. I was with Seth. I was where I’d planned to be before I learned about my mother and before Hyperion had taken me, and it was all wrong. That had not been the reunion I’d anticipated, the one that had helped me keep my sanity in the long, dark hours trapped underground. It had just been wrong.
Clapping my hands over my face, I stepped back until I hit the cool tile wall. I slid down and curled into myself, drawing my knees to my chest. The position hurt. Tugged on raw skin. Pressed on bruised areas, but the tears started and it was like a floodgate opening up as I buried my face between my knees.
I don’t know how long I sat in the corner of the shower. It could’ve been minutes or hours, but the tears didn’t stop, and I couldn’t move—couldn’t force myself past all the pain and fear that festered inside me, the all-consuming, sucktastic realization that I was weak. I wasn’t like Alex.
If I were stronger, I wouldn’t be sitting here, in the shower, sobbing like a kid who didn’t have anyone show up for their birthday party. If I had my shit together, I would already be out of this shower, ready to talk about what I saw, what I knew.
But I couldn’t move.
Couldn’t get my brain past any of this.
I was broken, truly, utterly broken inside, and the panic building in the back of my throat told me there was possibly no chance of fixing that, because I knew only I could repair this, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do so.
Or maybe I did.
Maybe once I got all this messy emotion out of me, I could piece myself back together, because I had to. I knew I did, but right now, right this very second, I couldn’t.
So caught up in my own head, I hadn’t heard the door open or Seth call my name, but I suddenly heard his curse rip through the air. A few seconds later, the water turned off and then he was climbing in the shower, fully clothed, wrapping a fluffy, warm towel over my shoulders.
I lifted my head, barely able to see him through the tears. “My mom is dead.”
He said something too low for me to make out, and then he was pulling me toward him. I was half in his lap, my legs between his, and water dripped off me, soaking through his jeans and shirt.
Seth didn’t seem to notice. He wrapped his arms around me, holding me as tight as he could without squeezing me as I buried my face against his chest. One of his hands delved deep in the wet mess of my hair.
“It’ll be okay,” Seth said, his lips moved against my forehead, and he kept saying it, over and over, but the last time he’d held me and said that, it had been a lie.
When the tears ebbed and then stopped, all of the tension seemed to fade from Josie. Her body went limp in my arms. She was asleep, completely out of it.
Concern spiked when I lifted her and rose, and she made no sound or movement. She’d been unconscious when I brought her here and had only been awake for about an hour. Then again, unconsciousness was not the same as restful sleep, and I still had no idea what she’d gone through.
And why wasn’t she healing?
Those damn bracelets drew my attention as I stepped out of the shower, my jeans now wet and clinging to my skin.
I shifted her in my arms, and the towel parted. Because I was the worst kind of asshole at the moment, I didn’t look away quick enough to not catch a glimpse of the soft swell of her breast and a rosy peak. Lust punched straight through me, and the walk to the bed was not a comfortable one.
Using the element of air, I willed the blanket back and then laid her down, resting her head on the soft pillow. As I started to pull away, her hand fisted the front of my shirt. My gaze flew to her face. She was still asleep, but obviously, even dead to the world, she didn’t want to be alone.
I couldn’t refuse her.
Gently prying her fingers off my shirt, I stepped back from the bed and stripped off the wet shirt. The jeans went next. I grabbed a pair of loose sweats and pulled them on and then climbed into bed beside her. Josie was shivering from head to toe. I didn’t think about what I was doing. I circled an arm around her waist and as carefully as possible, I drew her against my chest. She made a soft little sound, her lips brushed my chest, and that was all.
And I held her.
I held her as I thought about everything Alex and I had talked about. I held her as I replayed the moment I’d turned around and seen Josie, my beautiful Josie standing on the balcony with a look of horror and confusion in her sea-colored eyes. I held her as I saw her curled up in the corner of the shower, her entire body shaking with her sobs, and it killed me. Sliced right through, cutting me wide open, to know I wasn’t there for her when she learned her mother had died or that I hadn’t been able to protect her from Hyperion. I’d made so many mistakes, countless ones. I did not do right by her.