An ethereal glow surrounded the feminine form and slowly faded, revealing a slender woman who stood taller than me. Lilies adorned the brown hair that had been piled atop her head in an intricate maze of braids. A sheer white dress covered her body and left very little to the imagination. I felt I should look away but couldn’t. She was almost painfully beautiful—unreal.
A faint smile appeared. “Hello, Aiden.” Her voice was a symphony, and I started to bow, but she stopped me with a raised hand. “That is not necessary. Unlike my brothers and sisters, I do not have a taste for formalities.”
It took me a few moments to find my voice. “You’re one of the Moirae… one of the Fates.”
“I am Clotho.”
Fear formed a cold, hard ball in the center of my chest. Clotho was responsible for spinning the thread of human life, but she also decided when gods could be saved or put to death. I glanced over my shoulder at Alex. Did her powers extend to god-like creatures, too? I moved to block Alex from her view.
Clotho’s laugh was soft and melodious. “I am not here to harm her, and even if I were, I cannot cut her thread. Neither can Atropos.”
Relieved by that piece of information, I faced the goddess. “Why are you here?”
“I’ve been watching you and her.” She stepped to the side. Sunlight broke through the branches, cutting across her bare shoulder and over her dress. The material shimmered. “It pains you to see her like this, I know. You love her so.”
I saw no reason, no point, in lying to a goddess of Fate. “More than anything in this world, and without her.” Clearing my throat, I looked away. I couldn’t finish the sentence, let alone the thought.
“Going on would be like existing with a piece of you missing?” She nodded when I looked at her again. “Your threads are intertwined. Not by my doing, you see?”
I didn’t see a damn thing. Now I understood Alex’s frustration when she’d spoken to the oracle. I opened my mouth but closed it. Understanding slid over my skin like thick oil. “She was Fated to be with Seth, wasn’t she?”
She looked at me and her smile faded. “She was, but Fate has many plans for her.”
“What will happen to her?” I asked before I could stop myself. Somehow I knew that asking a Fate that kind of question equaled poor social skills.
“You do not ask for yourself?”
Sure, curiosity was there, but my fate didn’t matter. I shook my head.
Her brows rose. “Most would not pass up a chance to learn their fate, but I cannot tell you what lies in wait for your Alexandria. Some things are even unknown to us.”
Disappointment seeped into me, wrapping its way around my bones likes a too-tight binding. I turned back to Alex. She was watching us, eyes wide and hands stilled over the petals.
“It’s okay,” I called out to her.
Alex didn’t move for a full minute, and then she gathered all her torn petals, tossing them one by one into the creek.
Clotho watched Alex too. “Their threads are intertwined closely—the First’s and hers.”
My hands clenched. “And there’s no way that can be undone?”
She tilted her head. “No. Just like yours cannot be undone. Fate is fate, you see, but there is one thing we do not take into consideration when we spin the threads of life, not even when we cut it.”
Part of me didn’t expect an answer, but I asked, “What is that?”
“Love. We do not take love into consideration.”
I looked at her. “Seriously?”
She laughed and it carried on the breeze. “Love is such a wild and reckless creature. It cannot be planned or threaded. It cannot be controlled. Love can coexist with Fate, or it can undo it. Love is the only thing more powerful than Fate.”
The words were slow to sink in as I stared at the goddess. Was this why the goddess had made such a surprise visit?
Her white eyes burned and hummed with electricity. “You want to know how to break the connection?”
My breath caught. “Yes.”
Sympathy creased Clotho’s brow. Stepping forward, she placed a small hand against my chest, above my heart. “There is no god or person who can break their connection, but there is still hope.” She dropped her hand and stepped back, nodding. “There is the heart, Aiden. There is love, which means there is always hope.”
Then Clotho shimmered out of focus and disappeared. Feeling as if my nerves were exposed, I stalked around the fallen branches and overturned trees. Reaching Alex’s side, I realized I was holding my breath.
Something was building inside me, clicking together.
Alex turned to me, her shattered eyes meeting mine. The mix of brown and gold was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking. I really looked into them, seeing the trust that had always been there, devotion and love buried deep inside her. No bond—no connection—could fully extinguish that. It was why she’d hadn’t destroyed the necklace I’d made her.
There was still hope.
Clotho had said that love was stronger than Fate. Was that really the answer we’d been searching for? Love—our love for one another?
Then I remembered what Alex had said to me. “I won’t lose myself, because… well, how I feel about you, it would never let me forget who I am”
Somehow I’d forgotten that. I’d believed that she’d forgotten who she was, but in reality none of us, especially me, had had hope once she’d Awakened—not that kind of undying hope that saw people through the tough stuff. Granted, this wasn’t the ordinary tough stuff that most couples faced.
And what had I told her then? “I’d never let you forget who you are.”
Lowering her lashes, she opened her hand and the rest of the petals fell from her grasp, fluttering to the ground like thin, torn pieces of paper. “It’s beautiful here… and quiet. Can we stay for a little while longer?”
I wasn’t sure what I was doing when I placed my hands on her cheeks, tilting her head back. “Alex…”
Instead of correcting her name, she let it slide. Her eyes searched mine. “Aiden?”
My lips curved into a smile for her—always for her. “Do you believe in love?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Do you?”
“I do.” My hands slid to her shoulders and she shivered. “I believe in love.”
Thick lashes fanned her cheeks again and a grin tipped her lips. “I think I am in love.”
Six words stopped my heart when facing down a horde of daimons couldn’t.
She bit her lip and a faint blush stained her cheeks. “I feel it in here,” she said, placing her hand against her chest and then against her stomach, “and here. It’s like there’s not enough air or room inside me. That I may… burst out of my skin or drown in it, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I always have… and will.” She tipped her chin up and her entire face was a rosy color. “It’s you. I… I love you.”
Heart pounding, I swept her against me in a fierce hug, lifting her off her feet. Her giggle was smothered but light. I buried my face in her hair. “I love you, Alex, always you.”
DETERMINATION BURNED THROUGH ME LIKE A RIGHTeous fire. I had a plan—I had hope—and nothing was going to stop what I was about to do.
After depositing a worn-out Alex in the bedroom, I quickly changed into my Sentinel uniform. A sense of rightfulness filled me as I strapped on the daggers and laced up what Alex referred to as my “ass-kicking” boots. I smiled.
I hadn’t worn the uniform since we’d left Deity Island.
Straightening, I glanced at myself in the mirror. Freshly shaven and hair brushed back, I looked and felt like a different person. The heavy weight that’d settled on my shoulders had lifted the moment I’d made up my mind.
I left the bathroom, stopped by and checked on Alex, and pressed a kiss to her temple before going downstairs. It took me a few minutes to round up the group of Sentinels who’d stopped in on their way east. I sent them packing.
Solos snapped at my heels. “What are you doing, Aiden?”
“They don’t belong here.”
He stared at me as I closed the door behind the last one and stepped back. “They would come in handy if Seth finds his way here, you know.”
“No, they wouldn’t. No one would stop him if he finds his way here.” I knelt, pulling out a Covenant dagger. “Only Alex would be able to stop him.”
“And is Alex in the frame of mind to stop him?”
Marcus came into the hallway behind us. “What’s going on?”
“Go get Lea, Luke, and my brother. We need to talk.” I cut my palm, hissing at the flash of pain. Blood welled quickly. I placed my palm on the floor and started to draw the symbol I’d seen in Lucian’s house.
Marcus sucked in a breath. “Aiden, what is—?”
“Get them.” I finished with the snake symbol. An instant later, a flash of bright white light filled the hallway. The walls were luminous, sealing off the property, preventing Apollo from entering the home. I stood, wrapping a rag around my hand. “I’ll explain.”
“Dear gods, I hope so.”
Solos still stared. “Aiden has gone Rambo on us.”
Everyone gathered in the den. Nervous energy surrounded Lea and Luke. Only my brother seemed relaxed. Perhaps he’d seen this version of me before and knew that nothing could change my mind once it was made up.
Nothing except Alex, and this was about Alex—this was for Alex.
I stood before them. “The only way for Alex to break the connection is for her to do so herself. No one—no god, no magic—can do it. She has to. And I believe she can if given the chance.”
“Didn’t we give her the chance?” Solos asked.
“Not enough,” I told him, prepared to send his ass flying out the window if he didn’t agree. “But I believe in her—I have hope. And hope is what we need. I’m taking her off the Elixir.”
Marcus stared at me, then nodded. “What does Apollo have to say about this?”
And here’s the kicker. “He’s giving up, and he’s preparing himself to kill her. Only one of them can live and she’s the one he can do something about.”
They didn’t question what that meant, but I think they had a good idea.
Lea’s eyes narrowed. “He wouldn’t.”
“He would. And I understand why.” My jaw ached saying those words. “He has to protect humanity. That’s what he does. But I’m not giving up on her. And if any of you have, I suggest you leave now.”
No one moved, but I waited, giving them ample opportunity to choose. “There’s no doubt in my mind Apollo’s going to be pissed when he realizes what I’ve done and what I plan to do. If you stay here…”
The unspoken words hung in the room. They knew. On top of everything else, they’d face Apollo’s wrath.
Luke glanced at Deacon and smiled. “Apollo kind of freaks me out, anyway.”