His thumb brushed my cheek once more. “That’s what scares me.” Then he lifted himself off me. He backed up, the mats rolling under his unsteady step. “I’ll be in the other training room when you’re ready… to walk back to your dorm.”
There was a brief flash of light from the outside training rooms when he slipped out the door and then darkness covered me again.
I didn’t move but my brain raced on. He was afraid of never being allowed to feel what he did. Gods, I wasn’t stupid, but I wished I was. I knew what he meant and also knew it didn’t mean a damn thing. Part of me was angry, because he dared to say it when all it did was make my chest heavy with an aching want—a want so intense that it felt like it could crush me under its weight. And why admit it now, when I’d begged him before to just tell me he felt the same and he’d denied it? What was so different now?
And he was right about the other thing. I was terrified of becoming something I couldn’t control, of losing myself to the bond, to Seth. It seemed like, even if I got past all the other obstacles in my way, there was that one—the one I couldn’t hurdle over with good oie Alex recklessness.
The door opened again and the soft murmur of two male voices floated through the room. There was a deep, husky chuckle as the mats dipped under their feet. I could’ve said something, but I was too lost in my own thoughts to even utter a single word.
A second later, feet tangled with my legs and a surprised yelp sounded. The mats gave way as a body crashed down, half-sprawled atop me. I let out an “oomph” and pushed the hands off my chest.
“Gods, Alex!” exclaimed Luke, rolling off me and sitting up. “Holy Hades, what are you doing in here?”
“How’d you know it was me by just feeling up my boobs?” I grumbled, throwing an arm over my face.
“It’s a superpower.”
Luke snorted. I felt the mats roll as he faced his silent, mystery partner. “Hey,” Luke said. “Can you give us a few minutes?”
“Sure. Whatever,” the guy responded, dipping back out the door. The voice was super familiar, but as best as I tried, I couldn’t place it.
“Pervert,” I said. “What have you been using these rooms for, Luke? Naughty.”
He laughed. “I’ll go with something a hell of a lot more entertaining and normal than what you’ve been using them for. You’re the one lying in a dark sensory room like a little freak. What are you doing in here? Plotting to take out the Covenant? Meditating? Self-pleasuring?”
I made a face. “Don’t you have something better to do?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Then go. This room is already occupied.”
Luke sighed. “You’re being ridiculous.”
I thought that was funny considering he had no idea why I was being a “little freak” in the sensory room. Luke had no idea what had just gone on in here. He probably thought I was hiding from everybody or having some sort of mental breakdown. That last part was still up in the air and could be a strong possibility. If it’d been Caleb who’d stumbled upon me, he would’ve known. I sucked in a sharp breath.
Missing him wasn’t getting any easier, I realized suddenly.
“It sucks not having any friends, doesn’t it?” Luke asked after a few moments.
I frowned. “You know, it’s a good thing you can’t become a therapist, because you really suck at the whole ‘making people feel better about themselves’ thing.”
“But you do have friends,” he continued as if I hadn’t said a damn thing. “You just seem to have forgotten us.”
“Like me.” Luke stretched out beside me. “And there’s Deacon. And Olivia.”
I snorted. “Olivia hates my guts.”
“She does not.”
“Bullshit.” I dropped my arm, facing him in the darkness. “She blames me for Caleb’s death. You heard her the day at his funeral and in the hallway yesterday.”
“She’s hurt, Alex.”
“I’m hurt, too!” I sat up, crossing my legs.
The mats shook as Luke rolled onto his side. “She loved Caleb. As impractical as it is for any of us to love someone, she loved him.”
“And I loved him. He was my best friend, Luke. She blames me for my best friend’s death.”
“She doesn’t blame you anymore.”
I smoothed back the tiny hairs that had escaped my ponytail. “When did that happen? In the last twenty-four hours?”
Undaunted, Luke sat up and somehow found my hand in the darkness. “The day she came up to you in the hallway, she wanted to apologize to you.”
“That’s funny, because I remember her saying something like I needed to rein in my grief.” I didn’t pull my hand away from his, because it did feel kind of nice for someone to touch me and nothing freaky happen. “Is that a new form of apology I’m unaware of?”
“I don’t know what she was thinking. She wanted to apologize, but you wouldn’t stop to talk to her,” Luke explained softly. “She lost it. She was a bitch about it. Olivia knows that. Then you owning her ass in front of everyone didn’t help, either.”
The old Alex would have snickered at that, but it didn’t make me feel good.
“You need to talk to her, Alex. You both need each other right now.”
I pulled my hand free and came to my feet swiftly. The room suddenly felt stifling and unbearable. “I don’t need her or anyone.”
Luke was standing beside me in an instant. “And that was probably the most childish thing you’ve ever said.”
I narrowed my eyes in his general direction. “And I have something even more childish to say to you. I’m like two seconds from hitting you.”
“That’s not very nice,” Luke teased, stepping around me. “You need friends, Alex. As hot as Seth is, he can’t be your only friend. You need girl time. You need someone you can cry to, someone who isn’t trying to get in your pants. You need someone who wants to be around you not because of what you are, but who you are.”
My jaw hit the mat. “Wow.”
Luke must have sensed my stunned response, because he laughed. “Everyone knows what you are, Alex. And most people think it’s pretty damn cool. What they don’t think is cool—the reason why everyone is avoiding you—is your attitude. Everyone gets that you’re hurt over Caleb and what happened with your mom. We understand that, but that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate your constant bitchiness.”
I opened my mouth to tell Luke that I wasn’t the one being the bitch, that it was all of them who’d been treating me like a three-headed dog since I’d returned—and even before then—but nothing came out. Besides spending time with Seth, I had isolated myself from everyone.
And sometimes I was a terrible person. I had reasons—good reasons, but they were just excuses. Weight settled over my chest.
In the silence and darkness surrounding us, Luke found me and wrapped his arms around my stiff shoulders. “Well, maybe we do have to tolerate it a little bit. You are an Apollyon after all.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “And even though you’ve been a giant bitch, we still love you and we’re worried.”
A lump formed in my throat. I fought it, really I did, but I felt tears stinging my eyes as my muscles started to relax. My head somehow found his shoulder and he patted my back soothingly. For a moment, I could believe that Luke was Caleb and in my head, I pretended that I told him everything that had happened. My make-believe Caleb smiled at me, held me closer, and ordered me to pull my head out of my ass. That no matter what had happened and everything I learned, the world hadn’t ended and wasn’t going to.
And for the time being, that seemed to be enough.
Aiden was waiting for me when I finally pulled myself out of the sensory room. He didn’t say anything as we headed outside. Both of us had said and probably thought too much as it was. There wasn’t any awkwardness between us, but there was this vast sense of… uncertainty. Although, it could just’ve been I was projecting my own feelings onto him.
We made our way up the walkway, heading toward the dorms. The wind kicked up sand and there was a cold, damp feeling in the air as we neared the garden.
Two pure boys were staring at the marble statue of Apollo reaching for Daphne as she changed into a tree. One elbowed the other. “Hey, look. Apollo is getting wood.”
His friend laughed. I rolled my eyes.
“Alex.” There was something about Aiden’s voice, a roughness that told me that whatever he was about to say was going to be powerful. His gaze moved to my face, then behind me. “What the hell?”
Not what I was expecting.
Aiden brushed past me, solely focused on something other than me. Dammit. I whirled around. “You don’t—oh.”
Now I saw what had cut Aiden off.
Two half guys carried a barely conscious Jackson between them—a hardly recognizable Jackson. He looked like he’d woken up on the wrong side of an ass kicking. Every visible inch of his skin was bruised or bloodied—eyes swelled shut, lips split wide open—and the deep, angry mark smeared across his left cheek suspiciously resembled a boot print.
“What happened to him?” Aiden demanded, taking the place of one of the halfs and practically supporting all of the boy’s weight.
The half shook his head. “I don’t know. We found him like this in the courtyard.”
“I… I fell,” Jackson said, blood and spit trickling from his mouth. I think he was missing some teeth.
A dubious expression crossed Aiden’s face. “Alex, please go straight to your dorm.”
Nodding mutely, I stepped out of the way. I was still pissed at Jackson. He had tried to stomp my head in, but what had been done to him was horrific and calculating. Compared to the fist Aiden had planted in his face when Jackson had…
My wide eyes met Aiden’s for a second before he carried Jackson off toward the med building. My conversation with Seth came back to me.
“So, who did you spar with in class?” he’d asked.
“I always get paired with Jackson.”
My gods, Seth had done this.
It appeared that Seth was avoiding me for the most part, probably because of the whole ham sandwich incident. Our practices were either cancelled or consisted of working on my mental shields. For a whole week, whenever I saw him, I asked him about Jackson. With a look of complete innocence, he’d told me he hadn’t done it. I didn’t believe him and I’d told him just that.
He’d looked at me, expression beautifully empty and said, “Now why would I ever do such a thing?”
I didn’t want to believe that he had, because whoever had done that to Jackson had put him out of commission for a long time. Jackson wasn’t talking, literally. His jaw was wired shut, and I’d heard he needed a lot of dental work. Even though he’d heal a lot quicker than a mortal, I knew he still wouldn’t talk. The boy had had the ever-loving crap scared out of him.