James focused on the spot where he was hidden. The question isn’t whether or not I want to help Lux. You know that Kate called Walter a heartless bastard?
And an asshole. I am quite proud.
The corner of James’s mouth twitched. Yet you took Casey back to the Underworld.
Henry hesitated, and through the leaves, he found Kate. She leaned up against a tree a few feet from Pollux, her face crumpled and red and her cheeks glistening with tears. He hadn’t seen her so utterly miserable since the day she’d come to Eden Manor searching for a way to change fate.
And once again, it was his fault.
I know we have had our differences, but I need you to trust me.
James raised an eyebrow. Oh yeah? And why should I do that?
Because you care for Kate, and you care for the twins. I have made mistakes, as have you—but they should not suffer because of it.
Several seconds passed. How do I know this isn’t a trap?
You don’t. You simply have to trust me. Henry paused. You owe me that much.
Silence again, longer this time. James glanced at Kate, and he must have seen the same thing Henry did: that keen sense of loss, as agonizing as it had been for her when she’d faced the inevitable death of her mother. The fact that it hurt her so badly when she barely knew the twins made Henry’s heart ache for her, and he was once again reminded how much he did not deserve her.
All right. James’s gaze shifted back to him. What do you need me to do?
The wait was agony. No matter how much a I wanted to believe that eventually Henry would do the right thing, I wavered between hope and despair. He had Casey. Hell, for all I knew, he’d returned him to his afterlife already. James wouldn’t lie to me about something like that. And if that were the case, then we’d already lost.
That left me with only one choice: to believe Henry was good. That after all he’d gone through with Persephone, he would understand how badly it hurt to be ripped from the person he loved most in the world, and he would relent. It was a long shot, but I had to take it.
Lux was oddly silent once Walter left. I expected him to rage, but he didn’t even struggle to undo his bonds. He just rested against the tree as if he’d accepted his fate.
That was the worst part, seeing Lux give up. And that was why, when Ella turned her back to pet one of her massive slobbering dogs, I closed the distance between us and sat beside him.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly. Lux didn’t look at me. “I should’ve done more.”
“You stood up for us. That’s more than anyone’s done before.” His voice was hoarse and his eyes deadened, but at least he hadn’t shut out the world completely. Yet. If he hurt a fraction as much as he looked like he did, however, it would only be a matter of time.
“It wasn’t enough though.” I frowned. “Could you petition the council to let you become mortal and join Casey in the Underworld? If they let Persephone do it, then—”
“Their pride would never allow it.”
He was right. Of course he was right. “Then—then once I’m queen, I’ll do something. Whatever it takes, I’ll help you find him, and you can either stay there or I’ll help you smuggle him back out or—”
“It’s too late.” At last he looked at me, his expression void of anything resembling humanity. “Hades has him, and he would rather destroy himself than allow my brother to leave again. To him, this is a matter of everything he stands for. Once someone has entered the Underworld, they stay. Period. The few times he’s allowed the dead to leave, they’ve never made it.”
“But he did allow them to try.” I leaned in closer. “We’ll find a way to fix this, okay? I’ll do whatever I have to do, but you can’t give up. Promise me.”
As we stared at each other, his brown eyes seemed to thaw. Finally, a spark of life. “Why do you care so much? This has nothing to do with you.”
“Yes, it does.” I couldn’t even explain it to myself, but the way he was looking at me—he needed some show of kindness. Some small amount of hope that the gods weren’t all as bad as he seemed to think they were. And so, for that matter, did I. “This isn’t just your life. I mean, it is, but—it’s mine, too. And I don’t think I can be with someone who would intentionally hurt you this badly.”
“Hades,” he said, and I nodded.
“I can’t rule like that. I can’t make those decisions. I don’t have to know you to get what you’ve been through, and I just—I don’t understand why the council can’t see that.& C;t t have #8221;
He shrugged. “They see what they want to see. We all do.”
“That’s no excuse for cruelty.”
“They don’t consider it cruel.”
“Well, I do.”
Dead leaves crunched. I glanced up. Ella was moving toward us, bow in hand and a hulking dog following her. Normally I loved animals, but the damn thing was practically drooling over us, and I drew the line at animals who considered me lunch.
“What are you two whispering about?” she said, touching the dog’s jaw, and it whimpered as if it were injured. That must’ve been the one Lux had punched. I still didn’t approve of what he’d done, but at least it hadn’t gotten the chance to eat us alive.
Lux clammed up and glared at his hands. I considered silence as well, but there was still one tactic I hadn’t tried. Ella didn’t seem to have a metaphorical dog in this fight—she was doing it for Walter, not because she had any personal vendetta. Which meant there was still a chance. A small one, but I wasn’t about to give up, even if Lux already had.
“We’re talking about how Lux is going to lose Casey for good,” I said. “Surely you can imagine how that would feel.”
Ella’s eyes narrowed, but she said nothing. She’d nearly lost her own twin brother in Eden Manor, though her loss would have been temporary at worst given the fact that she and Theo were immortal. She’d never have to suffer through permanently losing him, even if his mortal form died. Lux wasn’t so lucky.
“Why are you doing this, Ella?” I stood, and my knees shook underneath me. I might’ve been impervious to bullets, but apparently not to nerves. “You know how much he’s hurting. What do you have to gain?”
More silence. She shifted so I could see her profile, and she stared straight ahead. I didn’t care if she was ignoring me—she could still hear me, and that was what mattered.
“You know how scared you were in Eden after Theo was injured? You almost lost him for, what, three months? Lux is going through that exact same thing, except he’ll never see Casey again. Not in three months, not in three millennia. Just imagine how you’d feel if the situation were reversed—if Theo had been born mortal, and when he died, you made a deal with Walter to share your immortality with him. But you didn’t find out until it was too late that Walter changed the terms on you, and you would never be together. What would you have done?”
More silence, but at least now she was staring at the ground. That was something.
“I bet you would’ve done the same thing—you love Theo so damn much that you would’ve broken into the Underworld and found him, and you would’ve done anything you could to keep him safe. Even if it meant defying Walter and being on the run for thousands of years. It would’ve been worth it, right? Not because you were sticking it to the council, but because you would’ve taken any risk as long as it meant you two got to be together, consequences be damned.”
Her lips parted as if she were about to say something, but instead she pressed them together and shook h Cr adiv>
“Ella?” called James. Sometime during our conversation, he’d wandered into the woods. He was back now though, with a leaf stuck behind his ear. I didn’t want to know.
Ella looked up. “What?”
“Hello to you too,” said James, eyebrow raised. “Walter wants to speak to us.”
“Then why doesn’t he come here and do it?”
“Because he doesn’t want a certain someone to overhear.”
Ella’s mouth formed a thin line, and she eyed Lux and me as if she were searching for any signs that this was a trick. My heart pounded. Of course it was a trick. It had to be—Walter would show himself if he really wanted to talk to Ella and James. And she had to know that, too.
They stared at each other as if they were having some sort of silent conversation, and after several seconds, Ella sighed. “Fine. Come, Cupcake.”
Ella followed James into the woods, and the slobbering dog trotted after them. I wrinkled my nose. Only Ella would name something with that many teeth Cupcake.
As soon as they disappeared, I flew to Lux’s side and started to unknot the glowing ropes. They held fast, and I swore.
“A little help here?” I muttered, and at last Lux came to life. He squirmed like he was trying to shimmy underneath his bonds, and when they began to saw into the trunk of the tree, my eyes widened.
“What the hell are you—”
“Can’t break the ropes,” he said. “Gotta go through the tree.”
“But you’re going to kill it!” I said. My mother would be furious.
“Shut up and watch,” he muttered, and I bristled. Fine. If he didn’t want my help, then I wouldn’t offer it.
After half a minute of sawing, however, the ropes were about a quarter of the way through the thick trunk, and at last Lux had enough room to slip from his restraints. “There,” he said, flexing his muscles. “That was the easy part.”
“If it was so easy, why couldn’t you have done it thirty minutes ago?”
He said nothing, and I sighed. Figured. Whether he was in a talkative mood or not, we had to get out of there before Ella and James returned from their powwow in the trees. Turning her back was one thing; doing nothing while we ran was another.
I grabbed his hand and led him in the opposite direction. “So how are we going to get down into the Underworld to get Casey?”
“We’re not,” he said. “I might have a shot if I lie low for a while, until they have bigger things to bother with. But this is where we’re parting.”
I scowled. “I’m the one who helped free you, and I don’t exactly C17;="0have anything important to do in the next six months. I want to help you. Please.”
“You’ve already done plenty.” He stopped in a small clearing and squinted up at the sky. The sun was directly overhead by now—it was impossible to tell which direction we were going by looking at it. “And six months won’t be enough. Six years, maybe, but until then—”
“Are you kidding? You can’t possibly let Casey stay down there for six years. Let me help. I promise I’ll find a way to get him to you sooner, and I’ll distract Henry and—”
“No need.” James’s voice cut through the trees, and I jumped, shifting so I stood between him and Lux. Whether or not he’d helped us escape, I hadn’t forgotten that it was his fault Casey and Lux had been caught in the first place.
“What are you talking about?” I said. “Where’s Ella?”
“About a hundred and fifty feet that way, trying to come up with a way to explain to Walter why she let Lux go.”
I frowned. “Well, great. Thank her for me next time you see her. What do you mean, there’s no need to distract Henry?”
“Exactly what I said,” said James. “Casey isn’t in the Underworld anymore.”
Beside me, Lux went rigid. “Where is he?”
Which was the million-dollar question, but there was another surfacing in my mind as well. “Wait, you mean Henry just—”
“No time to explain,” said James. “I’ll take care of Walter when he comes back. In the meantime, you’ll find Casey at the place where this whole mess started.”
I had no idea what James was talking about, but Lux nodded. “Thank you. Even if I should break your jaw for leading the others to us in the first place.”
James shrugged. “Rain check.” But something snuffled behind him, and Ella’s slobbering dog—Cupcake—stepped out from the other side of a cluster of trees.
My blood ran cold. Had she reneged already? “Er, James—” “Oh, right.” James patted Cupcake’s furry neck and focused on Lux. “Speaking of broken jaws, in exchange for letting you go, Ella wanted you and Casey to look after Cupcake while hers heals.”
Lux swore. “Why us?”
“You are the one who punched her, aren’t you?” James shrugged. “I’d do it if I were you, man. You know what Ella’s like when she’s pissed off.”
Lux grumbled something unintelligible and stepped forward. “I swear, if you try to take a bite out of me again, next time I’ll aim for your neck.”
Cupcake whimpered, and I frowned. “Hey—play nice.”
James handed Lux a burlap sack stuffed to the brim with what looked like beef jerky. “Cupcake’s things. Ella said she’ll pick her up when she has the time.”
“Yeah, in another blood century,” muttered Lux, and Ja Cd Lp when shmes shrugged.
“Not much I can do about it. Kate, I’ll see you in a few. Take care of yourself, Lux.”
But Lux didn’t seem to be listening. He was already a good ten paces in front of me, and I gave James an apologetic look. “Lux, wait!”
I raced to catch up with him, and he slowed down, but only barely. “Bloody dog. We’ll never get rid of the damn thing now,” said Lux, moving through the woods without making a sound. “At least James isn’t all bad. No idea why he treats us so well.”