“It’s just that you are the last person who plans anything.”
I grinned, because he had a point. “But I like these kinds of plans.”
“Okay.” He moved his thumb along the inside of my palm. “I’ve been thinking about the future—our future.”
I loved the sound of that—“our future.” When Aiden said it, it seemed possible. “What did you come up with?”
“It’s more like something I’ve decided.” He pulled his hand free and smoothed back my hair. “Let’s say everything blows over with the compulsion thing, okay?”
Not likely, but I nodded.
“I don’t want to stay in our world.”
I caught his hand, lowering it to where my heart pounded as I twisted around in his embrace. “What? What do you mean?”
Thick lashes shielded his eyes. “If we stayed in this world, the Hematoi world, we couldn’t be together. There will be some who don’t care, but… it’s too much of a risk, even if we did manage to get assigned to the same area.”
Air left my lungs as I stared at him. “But if you left you couldn’t be a Sentinel anymore, and you need that.”
He looked up, meeting my eyes. “I do need that. Being a Sentinel is important to me, but it’s not my world, my life, or my heart. You are. And I want you in my life, really in my life. It’s the only way.”
I suddenly wanted to cry. Again. I couldn’t even form a coherent word, and I knew he could feel my heart slamming itself against his palm, but I didn’t care.
Aiden leaned in, brushing his lips over mine. “I love you, Alex. I’d give it all up for you, and I know you’ve been thinking about it, too, but that’s up to you.”
Could I give it up… this almost inherent need to become a Sentinel? Could I let go of the desire driven by years of having duty ingrained in me, and the need to somehow make up for what’d happened to my mother? Leaving this world would require assimilating back into the mortal world, something I had totally sucked at for three years. Old fears rose in that moment as years of never fitting in, of always being the freak, flashed before me. Mortals, for the most part, were naturally uncomfortable and drawn to us in the same breath. It was hard being around them, always pretending.
But I had been thinking about a future that didn’t include the Covenant or being a Sentinel. I just never thought it could be possible, but when I looked into Aiden’s eyes and saw only love—love for me—I knew I could do it. We could do it. Aiden was worth it. Our love was. Living like a mortal had choked me before, but now it could provide the type of freedom I yearned for. And together, anything seemed possible.
Tipping my head up, I met his silvery gaze. I could always tell what Aiden was feeling by the color of his eyes and right now, he was laying everything out there and still giving me the choice.
“Yes. I could do it,” I whispered. “I would do it.”
A shudder rocked Aiden’s body. “I was almost afraid you’d say no.”
Misty-eyed, I cupped his cheek. Day-old stubble grazed my palm. “I could never tell you no, Aiden. Not that I would ever want to. But… but what about Deacon and Marcus? How can we do it?”
“I think they could know. We could trust them.”
There were so many “what ifs” with this plan. How could we escape the Covenant and the society that probably would be very unwilling to let either of us go? We needed a plan, a good one if we even had a chance to make it work, but right now, the idea itself flooded me with warmth and so much hope. And hope, it was a fragile thing, but it kept me going.
Aiden lowered his head, bringing his mouth to mine. He made a sound in the back of his throat as the kiss deepened. The tentative touch gave way to something infinitely more. When he rolled his body, fitting it against mine like a warm blanket, my heart thundered. I was feeling so much and not enough—never enough. There was a yearning, devastating and raw, that would never go away. I lost track of Aiden’s hands and how many times we kissed as our bodies moved, and in those moments, we finally found a way to make time stop.
NOTHING… AMAZING HAPPENED ON MY BIRTHDAY
All morning, everyone watched me as if they expected me to sprout a second head or start floating to the rafters. And I didn’t feel any different from last night. No additional marks of the Apollyon popped up. The existing ones didn’t tingle. I tried to levitate a chair in the kitchen—it didn’t happen and I just felt stupid afterward. By the afternoon, the whole Awakening thing seemed very anticlimactic.
“Hey.” Aiden popped his head into the bedroom. “You busy, birthday girl?”
I looked up from the magazine Luke had brought back from the store. “No. I’m just sort of hiding.”
Aiden closed the door behind him quietly and smiled. “Why are you hiding?”
Shrugging, I closed the magazine and tossed it to the floor. “I kind of feel like an Apollyon failure.”
“Why?” He sat beside me, eyes a soft heather gray.
“Everyone keeps watching me, waiting for something to happen. Earlier, Marcus stared at me so long his eyes crossed. And while Solos was making lunch, he asked if I could heat up the soup with the fire element.”
Aiden looked like he was trying not to laugh.
I smacked him on the arm. “It’s not funny.”
“I know.” He drew in a deep breath, but his eyes danced with mirth. “Okay. It is kind of funny.”
My eyes narrowed on him. “I can take you, you know?”
He leaned over, lips curving into a wolfish smile. “You can’t take what you already have.”
A heady feeling came from knowing that, but I socked him on the shoulder anyway. “Stop trying to sweet-talk me.”
“I have something I wanted to show you.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. “And then you have to come downstairs and stop hiding.”
My eyes were glued to the box. It was plain white, but there was a red bow tied around it. Thoughts of jewelry stores danced in my head. “What is that?”
Aiden placed it in my hand. “It’s your birthday, Alex. What do you think it is?”
I looked up, meeting his gaze. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“I know. I wanted to.”
I slid off the lid, hooking that soft material of the satin ribbon with my pinky. Upon opening the box, I immediately choked up. “Oh, wow. This… this is so beautiful.”
Nestled against more satin, a dark-red crystal had been intricately designed into a rose in bloom, carved as if the petals were reaching up toward the sun. It hung from a delicate silver chain that complemented its beauty. I plucked it from the box. Lights winked and danced off the precious stone and it immediately warmed to my skin.
“Aiden, it’s… where did you find something like this?”
“I made it.” The tips of his cheeks flushed. “Do you like it?”
“You made this?” My eyes widened. I breathed a little harder. It was remarkable that he could craft something so astonishing. “I love it! When did you make something like this?”
“A while back,” he said, cheeks reddening further. “After you gave me the pick, actually. I wasn’t sure I’d ever… get to give it to you. I mean, I just started making it one day and the more it took shape, I thought of you. I was just going to leave it in your dorm, but then everything happened…” He trailed off, looking contrite. “I’m just going to stop talking now.”
I stared at him wordlessly.
“Are you sure you like it?”
Climbing to my knees, I threw my arms around his neck. I clenched the rose in my hand as I kissed his cheek. “I love it, Aiden. It’s perfect. Beautiful.”
He laughed softly, gently untangling my choke-hold. “Here, let me help you put it on.”
I popped around obediently and held up my hair. Aiden clasped the chain behind my neck, letting the crystal rose settle above my chest. The weight of it felt wonderful. I reached up, running my fingers over the delicate edges. Then I sprang around and tackled Aiden.
Laughing, he caught me before we both tumbled off the bed. “I guess you do like it.”
I pushed him down and kissed him. “I love it. I love you.”
Aiden reached up, tucking my hair back as his molten stare pierced me to my core. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“Great minds think alike.”
“Later,” he growled.
I started to protest, but he rolled me to my feet. “Boo.”
He gave me a cheeky grin. “You have to come downstairs.”
“Yes. So don’t argue with me.”
“Fine. Only because you’re wonderful and this necklace is beautiful.” I paused, nudging him with my hip. “And because you’re sexy.”
Aiden ushered me out of the room after that. Before I reached the stairs, I tucked the necklace under my shirt. People may know or suspect something, but I wasn’t about to broadcast it, even though I wanted to shove the necklace in everyone’s face and make them coo over it.
I followed Aiden into the kitchen. My steps slowed as I saw everyone gathered around the table. “What’s going…?”
Deacon and Luke stepped to the side. “Happy Birthday!” they cried in unison.
My gaze fell to the table. There sat a birthday cake, decorated with eighteen burning candles and… Spider-man? Yep, it was Spider-man. Red and blue tights and all.
“It was either that or My Little Pony,” Luke said, grinning. “We figured you’d appreciate Spider-man more.”
“Plus he’s all wicked cool with the whole climbing buildings stuff,” Deacon added. “Maybe one day, when you decide to Awaken, you’ll be just as cool.”
“I lit the candles,” Solos said, shrugging. “All by myself.”
“I gave them the money.” Marcus folded his arms. “Therefore I was the key part of all of this.”
“And we got grape soda.” Luke gestured at the bottles of soda. “It’s your favorite.”
“This… this is… wow.” My eyes found Lea, sitting behind Solos. Her hair was pulled back from her face, eyes still swollen. She caught my eyes and smiled just a little. “This is great. You guys are awesome. Really.”
Deacon grinned. “You’ve got to blow out the candles and make a wish.”
What to wish for? I smiled. That was easy. As I crept to the table, I blew out the candles and wished that all of us made it out of this alive, including Seth.
“I want the spider web!” Deacon yelled as I stepped back, producing a supersized knife.
“Yikes.” I stepped back into Aiden.
“It’s her birthday,” Luke took the knife from him. “She gets to pick what piece she wants first.”
I laughed. “It’s okay. He can have the spider web. I’ll take the head.”
We set about carving the cake and passing around grape soda. I was overwhelmed by everyone. I hadn’t expected much of anything on my birthday except weird looks, but this was amazing. It was easy to forget about everything and what today symbolized. Here, surrounded by friends, things were sort of… normal.