Tears streamed down my face, but I laughed again. He felt so warm and real. Alive. “Gods, I really am dead.”
“Yeah, you sort of are.”
I sniffled. “How can I be sort of dead?”
Caleb pulled back and tipped his chin down. A mischievous smile tugged at his lips. “Well, there’s this really big, blond god raising all kinds of hell with Hades right now. Apparently you’re still in limbo or something. Your soul is still up for grabs.”
My insides knotted, and I blinked. “What?”
He nodded. “You’re not going to be dead for very long.”
I wiped under my eyes. “I’ve been here for hours. I’m so dead.”
“Hours here is only seconds there,” he explained. “When I came up here I was worried it was too late, that Hades had already released you.”
“I’m not going… to stay dead?”
“No.” Caleb smiled. “But I had to see you. There’s something I need to tell you.”
“Okay.” A twinge of pain in my stomach startled me. I jerked against him. “Caleb?”
“It’s okay.” His lanky arms held me still. “We don’t have much time, Alex. I need you to listen to me. Sometimes we hear things down here… about what is going on up there. It’s about Seth.”
A burning kindled deep inside me. “What… what about Seth?”
“He doesn’t really know, Alex. He thinks he’s in control, but he’s not. Don’t… don’t believe everything you hear. There’s still hope.”
I tried to laugh, but the burning was turning into a full-blown fire. “You’re still… such a Seth fanboy.”
Caleb made a face. “I’m being serious, Alex.”
“Okay,” I breathed, clutching my stomach. “Caleb, something’s… wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong, Alex. Just remember what I said. Sometimes people have a hard time remembering everything after these kinds of things. Alex, can you do me a favor?”
“Tell Olivia that I would’ve picked Los Angeles.” Caleb placed his lips against my forehead. “She’ll understand, okay?”
I nodded although I didn’t understand why as I held onto his shirt for dear life. “I’ll… I’ll tell her. I promise.”
“I love you, Alex,” Caleb said. “You’re like the sister I never wanted, you know?”
My laugh was cut off by the fire tearing apart my insides. “I love you, too.”
“Never change who you are, Alex. It’s your passion—your reckless faith—that will save you, save both of you.” He held me tighter. “Promise me you won’t forget this.”
As the pain grew and my vision clouded, I held onto Caleb. “I promise. I promise. I promise. I prom—”
I was ripped away from him, or at least, that was how it felt. I was spinning and spinning, coming apart and slamming back together. Pain was everything. It swamped my senses, fueling the terror. My lungs burned.
“Breathe, Alexandria. Breathe.”
I gulped in air as my eyelids fluttered open. Two all-white eyes—no pupil or irises—stared back at me. The eyes of a god.
“Oh, gods,” I whispered, and then I lost consciousness.
PEOPLE MOVED AROUND ME. I COULDN’T SEE THEM, but I could hear their feet smacking on the tile, their voices hushed. Someone hovered near the bed. Their breathing was even and steady, lulling. I caught the scent of burning leaves and sea salt.
A door opened, and the person beside my bed shifted.
I faded out after that, slipping back into the pleasant haze. When I opened my eyes finally, they felt like they’d been sewn shut, and it took a few tries to get my vision to work. White walls surrounded me—plain and boring white walls. I recognized the med room. There were no windows, so I had no idea if it was night or day. There were faint memories of Linard and pain, then a flash of light and a feeling of falling. After that, things were hazy. I remembered a musty smell and there was more, but it seemed to exist just on the fringe of my thoughts.
My mouth felt as dry as cloth, my limbs wooden. A dull ache throbbed in my sternum. I drew in a deep breath and winced.
“Alex?” There was movement on the other side of my bed, and then Aiden came into view. Dark shadows bloomed under his eyes. His hair was a mess, falling every which way. He sat on the bed, careful not to move me. “Gods Alex, I… I never thought…”
I frowned and reached over to take his hand, but the motion pulled at my stomach. Tender skin stretched, sparking a sharp sting. I gasped.
“Alex, don’t move around too much.” Aiden placed his hand on mine. “He patched you up, but you need to take it easy.”
I stared at Aiden, and when I spoke, my throat felt raw. “Linard stabbed me, didn’t he? With damn Titan blood?”
Aiden’s eyes flashed to a dark, thunderous gray. He nodded.
“Rat bastard,” I croaked.
His lip twitched at what I said. “Alex, I’m… I’m so sorry. This shouldn’t have happened. I was there to make sure you remained safe and—”
“Stop. This wasn’t your fault. And obviously I’m okay for the most part. I just didn’t expect Linard—Romvi, yes. But Linard?” I started to move, but Aiden was faster, gently pushing my shoulders down. “What? I can sit up.”
“Alex, you need to lie still.” Exasperated, he shook his head. “Here, drink this.” He held a cup in front of my face.
I took the straw, glaring at him over the rim of the cup. The peppermint-flavored water did feel absolutely divine, easing the soreness in my throat.
Aiden stared back at me, drinking me in as if he’d never expected to see me again. An image of him leaning over me, stricken and pleading, flashed through me. An array of emotions flickered over his face now: amusement, weariness, but most of all, relief.
He pulled the cup away from me. “Easy.”
I pushed the covers down, surprised to find that I wore a clean shirt and the gray sweats that the Covenant usually handed out. Ignoring the twinge of pain, I pulled up the hem of my shirt. “Oh crap.”
“It’s not as bad—”
My hands trembled. “Really? Because I think this would make your James Bond proud.” The angry red line was two inches long and at least an inch wide. The skin around the mark was pink and puckered. “Linard tried to gut me.”
Aiden took my hands and pried them away from my shirt. Then he pulled it down and fixed the blankets around me carefully. It never failed to amaze me how… careful and gentle Aiden was with me even though he knew I was tough to the core. It made me feel feminine, small, and cherished. Protected. Cared for.
For someone like me who was born and trained to fight, his gentle handling undid me.
A muscle flexed in his jaw. “He did.”
I stared at Aiden, sort of in awe. “I’m like a cat. I swear I have nine lives.”
“Alex.” He looked up, meeting my eyes. “You used all those lives, and then some.”
“Well…” The musty scent came back to me.
Aiden cupped my cheek, and warmth sped through me. His thumb smoothed over my jaw. “Alex, you… you died. You died in my arms.”
I opened my mouth, but closed it. The bright light and the sensation of falling hadn’t been a weird dream and there was more… I knew it.
His hand trembled against my cheek. “You bled out so quickly. There wasn’t enough time.”
“I… I don’t understand. If I died, then how am I here?”
Aiden glanced at the closed door and exhaled slowly. “Well, this is where things kind of get strange, Alex.”
I swallowed. “How strange?”
A brief smile appeared. “There was a flash of light—”
“I remember that.”
“Do you remember anything after that?”
“Falling—I remember falling and…” I scrunched up my face. “I can’t remember.”
“It’s okay. Maybe you should get some rest. We can talk about this later.”
“No. I want to know now.” I met his gaze. “Come on, this sounds like it’s going to be interesting.”
Aiden laughed, dropping his hand. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”
I started to roll onto my side, but remembered the whole no moving thing. Staying still was going to be a challenge. “The anticipation is killing me.”
He inched closer, his hip bushing my thigh. “After the flash of light, there was Leon crouching over us. At first, I thought he’d just gotten to the room, but he… he didn’t look right. He reached for you, and I thought he was going to check your pulse, but he put his hand on your chest instead.”
My brows lifted. “You let Leon cop a feel?”
Aiden looked like he wanted to laugh again, but shook his head. “No, Alex. He said that your soul was still in your body.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Then he told me I needed to get you to the med clinic and make sure the doctors started surgery to stop the bleeding, that we weren’t too late. I didn’t understand, because you… you were dead, but then I saw his eyes.”
“All-white eyes,” I whispered, remembering a brief glimpse of them.
“Leon’s a god.”
I stared at Aiden, unable to come up with any response to that. My brain pretty much shut down with that little piece of information.
“I know.” He leaned over me, smoothing my hair back with one large hand. “Everyone pretty much had the same expression when I brought you in here. Marcus had arrived then… and the doctors were trying to get me to leave. Some were closing off the wound. Others were just standing there. It was chaos. You had to have been…. gone a couple of minutes—the time it took me to get you from your dorm to the med clinic, and freaking Leon just popped into the med room. Everyone froze. He walked up to you, put his hand on you again, and told you to breathe.”
Breathe, Alexandria. Breathe.
“And you breathed,” Aiden said, his voice hoarse as he cradled my cheek. “You opened your eyes and whispered something before going unconscious.”
I was still stuck on the whole god part. “Leon’s a… god?’
“Well,” I said slowly, “holy daimon butt.”
Aiden laughed—really laughed. It was deep and rich, full of relief. “You… you have no idea…” Averting his eyes, he ran a hand through his hair. “Never mind.”
Jaw tensed, he shook his head.
I reached up and the moment my hand touched his, he threaded his fingers through mine and looked at me. “I’m okay,” I whispered.
Aiden stared at me for what seemed like eternity. “I thought you were gone—you were gone, Alex. You had died, and I was… I was holding you and there was nothing I could do. I never felt pain like that. His breath caught. “Not since I lost my parents, Alex. I never want to feel that again—not with you.”