“You were the same person the day you found out about your father,” he said, eyes turning the color of a thundercloud.
Anger began low in my stomach, humming through my veins. “That has nothing to do with this.”
Aiden pushed off the wall, hands coming out of his pockets. “What is this?”
“Everything!” My fingers dug into my palms. “What’s the point in all of this? Let’s just think hypothetically here for a second, okay? Say Telly or whoever doesn’t manage to send me into servitude or kill me and the furies don’t end up tearing me apart, I’m still going to turn eighteen. I’m still going to Awaken. So what’s the point? Maybe I should leave.” I stalked to where I’d dropped my bag. “Maybe Lucian will let me go to Ireland or something. I’d like to visit there before I be—”
Aiden grabbed my upper arm, turning me so that I faced him. “You said you had to stay at the Covenant so you could graduate, because you needed to be a Sentinel more than anyone else in the room.” His voice dropped low as his eyes searched mine intently. “You were passionate about this. Has that changed?”
I yanked on my arm, but he held on. “Maybe.”
The tips of Aiden’s cheekbones flushed. “So you’re giving up?”
“I don’t think it’s giving up. Call it… accepting reality.” I smiled, but it felt icky.
“That is such bull, Alex.”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I’d argued to stay at the Covenant so I could become a Sentinel. And I knew, deep down, I still wanted to become one for my mom, for me, but I wasn’t sure it was what I needed anymore. Or what I could agree with if I was honest with myself. After seeing those servants slaughtered on the floor and no one cared… no one came to help them.
I wasn’t sure I could be a part of any of this.
“You’ve never been one to wallow in self-pity when the odds are stacked against you.”
My jaw snapped. “I’m not wallowing in self-pity, Aiden.”
“Really?” he said so softly. “Just like you aren’t settling for Seth?”
Oh, good gods, not what I wanted to hear. “I’m not settling.” Liar, whispered an evil voice in my head. “I don’t want to talk about Seth.”
He looked away for a second and then settled on me again. “I cannot believe you’ve forgiven him for what… for what he did to you.”
“That wasn’t his fault, Aiden. Seth didn’t give me the brew. He didn’t force—”
“He still knew better!”
“I’m not talking to you about this.” I started to back away.
The hand beside him clenched. “So you are still… with him?”
Part of me wondered what had happened to the Aiden who held me in his arms when I’d told him about my father. That version had been easier to deal with. Then again, obviously I wasn’t behaving like the person I was before either. And a part of me liked the way he said “him”—as if the very name made him want to punch something. “Define ‘with,’ Aiden.”
I tipped my head up. “Do you mean am I hanging out with him or are we just friends? Or did you mean to ask if we’re sleeping together?”
His eyes narrowed into thin slits that shone a fierce silver.
“And why are you asking, Aiden?” I pulled back, and he let go. “Whatever the answer is doesn’t even matter.”
“But it does.”
I thought about the marks and what they meant. “You have no idea. It doesn’t. It’s fate, remember?” I grabbed for my bag again, but he caught my arm again. I looked up, exhaling slowly. “What do you want from me?”
Realization crept over his expression, softening the hue of his eyes. “You’re afraid.”
“What?” I laughed, but it came out sounding like a nervous croak. “I’m not afraid.”
Aiden’s eyes drifted over my head and determination settled into his eyes. “Yes. You are.” Without saying anything else, he turned me around and pulled me toward the sensory deprivation chamber.
My eyes shot wide. “What are you doing?”
He kept pulling until we stopped in front of the door. “Do you know what they use this for?”
“Um, to train?”
Aiden glanced down at me, smiling tightly. “Do you know how ancient warriors trained? They used to fight Deimos and Phobos, who used the warriors’ worst fears against them during battle.”
“Thanks for the daily weird god history lesson, but—”
“But since the gods of Fear and Terror have been off the circuit for awhile, they created this chamber. They believe that fighting using only your other senses to guide you is the best way to hone your skills and face your fears.”
“Fears of what?”
He opened the door and a black hole greeted us. “Whatever fears are holding you back.”
I dug in my heels. “I’m not afraid.”
“Aiden, I am two seconds from—” My own surprised shriek cut me off as he hauled me into the chamber, shutting the door behind him, casting the room in utter darkness. My breath froze in my throat. “Aiden… I can’t see anything.”
“That’s the point.”
“Well, thanks, Captain Obvious.” I reached out blindly, but only felt air. “What do you expect me to do in here?” As soon as the question left my mouth, I was assaulted with totally inappropriate images of all the things we could do in here.
Well, that blew. I inhaled, catching the scent of spice and ocean. Slowly, I lifted my hand. My fingers brushed against something hard and warm—his chest? Then there was nothing but empty space. Oh gods, this wasn’t going to be good at all.
Suddenly, he grasped my arm and spun me around. “Get into stance.”
“Aiden, I really don’t want to do this right now. I am tired and I got kicked in the—”
“Excuses,” he said, his breath dangerously close to my lips.
I locked up.
His hand was gone. “Get into stance.”
Aiden sighed. “No you’re not.”
“How do you know?”
“I can tell. You haven’t moved,” he said. “Now get into stance.”
“Jeez, are you like a cat that can see in the dark or something?” When he didn’t respond, I groaned and moved into the stance: arms halfway up, legs spread, and feet rooted in place. “All right.”
“You need to face your fears, Alex.”
I squinted, but saw nothing. “I thought you said I was fearless.”
“You usually are.” Suddenly, he was in front of me and his scent was driving me to distraction. “Which is why being scared now is so hard for you. Being afraid isn’t a weakness, Alex. It’s only a sign of something you must overcome.”
“Fear is a weakness.” Expecting him to still be in front of me, I decided to go along with him. I threw an elbow out, but he wasn’t there. And then he was at my back, his breath dancing along the back of my neck. I swung around, grasping air. “What are you afraid of?”
A whoosh of air and he was behind me again. “This isn’t about me, Alex. You’re afraid of losing yourself.”
“Of course not. What was I thinking?” I whipped around, cursing when he was gone. This was making me dizzy. “So why don’t you tell me what I’m afraid of, oh-fearless-one?”
“You’re scared of becoming something you have no control over.” He caught my arm as I swung toward the sound of his voice. “That scares you to death.” He let go, backing off.
He was right, and because of that, anger and embarrassment flooded me. Out of the darkness surrounding me, there was patch thicker than the rest. I threw myself at him. Anticipating the move, he caught me by the shoulders. I swung out, catching him in the stomach and chest.
Aiden pushed me back. “You’re angry because I’m right.”
A hoarse sound moved up my throat. I clamped my mouth shut and swung again. My elbow connected with something. “A Sentinel is never afraid. They’d never tuck tail and run.”
“Are you tucking tail and running, Alex?”
The air stirred around me, and I jumped, narrowly missing what was probably a perfect leg sweep. “No!”
“That’s not what it sounded like earlier,” he said. “You wanted to take Lucian up on his offer. Visit Ireland?”
“I… I was…” Dammit, I hated it when he was right.
Aiden laughed from somewhere in the darkness.
I followed the sound. Going too far, too caught up in my anger, I lost my sense of balance when I attacked. Aiden caught my arm, but neither of us could gain our footing in the darkness. When I fell, he came with me. I landed on my back, with Aiden right on top of me.
Aiden caught my wrists before I could hit him again, pinning them above my head and down on the mats. “You always let your emotions get the best of you, Alex.”
I tried to push him off, not trusting myself to speak. A sob was rising in my throat as I wiggled under him, managing to get one leg free.
“Alex,” he warned softly. He pressed down, and when he breathed in, his chest rose against mine. In the utter darkness of the sensory deprivation room, his breath was warm against my lips. I didn’t dare move. Not even a fraction of an inch.
His grip around my wrists slackened and his hand slipped over my shoulder, cupping my cheek. My heart was trying to come out of my chest in those seconds and every muscle locked up, tensed with anticipation. Was he going to kiss me? No. My lip was busted, but if he did, I wouldn’t stop him and I knew that was so wrong. Chills went down my spine, and I relaxed under him.
“It’s okay to be afraid, Alex.”
I threw my head back then, wanting to be far away from him as much as I wanted to be right where I was.
“But you have nothing to fear.” He guided my chin down with gentle fingers. “When will you learn?” His voice was heavy, gruff. “You’re the only person who has control over who you become. You’re too strong to ever lose yourself. I believe that. Why can’t you?”
My breath came out shaky. His faith in me was nearly my undoing. The swelling in my chest would’ve lifted me off the mats. Several moments passed before I could speak. “What are you afraid of?” I asked again.
“I thought you said I was afraid of nothing once,” he threw back.
Aiden shifted slightly and his thumb caressed the curve of my cheek. “I’m afraid of something.”
“What?” I whispered.
He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m afraid of never being allowed to feel what I do.”
THE AIR HITCHED AS I TRIED TO BREATHE. I WISHED I could see his face, his eyes. I wanted to know what he was thinking right at this moment, to touch him. But I lay there, my heart the only part of me that was moving.