“Maybe because that’s the kind of person he is.” I crashed across the forest floor, having to run to keep up with his long strides. If Walter wanted to track us down, I was making it embarrassingly easy. Not that Cupcake’s loud footsteps were helping much either.
Lux scoffed. “They like to pretend they’re good people every now and then. Lets them keep their high opinions of themselves. But you’d do well to remember that the council does nothing unless they can reap the benefits.”
In the face of everything I’d witnessed that night and day, his bitterness was rubbing off on me, but I’d seen a much different picture of the gods during my time in Eden. They may not have done anything without having a reason, but they didn’t always need a direct reward. “They’re not as bad as you think they are.”
“And they’re not as good as you think they are either.” He slowed down enough to peer at me out of the corner of his eye, and I flushed underneath his gaze. “I like you, Kate Winters. You’re better than them, and you’ve got the guts to stand up to them, too. It’s been a long time since the council’s been infused with new blood, and if you stick to your guns, you might have a prayer of making them see past their own pointy little noses.”
“I’m not interested in changing them.” But as I said it, my insides twisted uncomfortably. If this was what my future held—facing the ghosts of the council’s decisions and seeing the lives their choices had destroyed, all for the sake of rules and pride—I wasn’t so sure I could do it.
“We’ll see about that.” Lux was silent for a long moment. “You’re not one of them. You don’t match, and because of that, one of two things is going to happen. You’re either going to let them taint you, or you’re going to fight like hell and get shat on until you don’t think you can take it anymore. But you can,” he added. “For all of us who have suffered because of them, just remember that you can.”
I grew quiet. This was my family he was talking about—the same people who had granted me more time with my mother, who had shown me kindness throughout the past six months, and who had allowed me to squeak by in my tests even though I’d nearly failed several times. Despite the myths I’d learned, it had never occurred to me that they were anything but benevolent. They were gods, after all. What did they have to lose by being kind?
But in the four days since I’d left, I’d seen enough to know that Lux was right. They weren’t perfect. They weren’t always kind. And sometimes they made mistakes. They were as human as the rest of us, even if they’d never taken a mortal breath in their lives. It would Ces.saksimply take some time for me to rearrange my thoughts to accept this new reality.
What would happen when we inevitably did butt heads? Them sticking to tradition, me only understanding the part of the story I saw in front of me—the part full of pain and suffering. I’d gotten lucky this time, manipulating Ella’s emotions to make her sympathize with Lux, to make her understand that what the council was putting them through was flat-out cruel. I was one person, and I couldn’t win every fight against the council.
But I could remember the victories, small as they might seem. Casey and Lux would have each other for a little while longer because of James and me, and that would have to be enough to get me through whatever losses I faced down the road. If Lux was right, they were inevitable.
We walked the rest of the way in silence, with Cupcake trudging behind us. Wherever we were going, Lux seemed to know exactly how to get there. Several miles out, thunder echoed in the cloudless sky, and he winced and increased his pace. I didn’t argue.
At last we reached the mouth of a cave, and while I didn’t see anything particularly special about it, Lux held his breath. Leaning into the darkness, he was careful not to step inside. “Casey?”
Nothing. I bit my lip. This couldn’t be a trap. Henry wouldn’t do that—to me, if not to Lux. And James definitely wouldn’t lie. Casey and Lux would be reunited, and it would all be okay.
But what if it wasn’t? What if I had Henry and the council pegged all wrong, and now I had to spend the rest of eternity knowing—
“Lux?” Casey’s voice was soft, but unmistakable. He stepped out of the darkness. “Took you long enough.”
Lux burst into the first real grin I’d seen from him. “Yeah, well, I stopped at a pub and had a few drinks. Figured you could wait.”
He didn’t step into the cave, but the moment Casey was within arm’s reach, he grabbed his brother and all but yanked him over the threshold. The pair of them tumbled to the sun-soaked ground, but neither brother complained.
“You’re in one piece? The rotten bastard didn’t hurt you?” said Lux, looking him up and down.
“I’m fine—worried about you is all.” Casey paused and eyed Cupcake, who was lurking in the shadows. “Er, Lux?”
“What? Oh—right.” Lux made a face. “My penance for socking her in the mouth. We have to keep an eye on her while she heals.” He stood and offered his hand to his twin. “What did Hades do with you anyway?”
Casey took it, and soon enough they were both on their feet. “Took me to the palace and stared, mostly. Looked like he was having a mental fit. I thought I was a goner for sure.”
They started back into the forest together, and I hesitated, not knowing if I should follow. But before I could decide, Lux stopped, and the pair of them turned around simultaneously. “Thank you, Kate Winters,” said Lux. “You’ll make a brilliant addition to the council.”
My cheeks warmed. “It was nothing.”
“Doing the right thing C rith="5%"is never nothing,” said Casey. “Nor is sympathizing with those less fortunate. Not everyone has that gift. And what you did, putting your own well-being on the line for us—”
“I think she gets it,” said Lux, nudging his brother in the ribs. Casey pretended to flinch, but Lux pulled his brother into a bear hug, and the pair of them continued into the forest with Cupcake rumbling behind them.
“Thanks,” I called. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to follow. “Sorry for the trouble, but it was good to meet you. Take care of yourselves, all right?”
“You too,” said Casey. “Don’t be a stranger.”
“Unless they’re on our arses again.” Lux smirked at me over his shoulder, and by the time I raised my hand in a wave goodbye, they were gone.
Henry stood in the cave, his form cloaked by darkness as Kate made herself comfortable at the base of a tree. Watching Casey walk away from him stung in a way he could not describe, but the way his heart swelled upon seeing Kate made it bearable.
He’d done the right thing. He could not always guarantee the twins their safety, and once his brother caught wind of his betrayal, things would be less than pleasant for a long while. But for now, it was worth it to see Kate happy once more.
The air beside him shifted, and a ghost of a smile tugged at his lips. Speak of the devil.
“Brother,” said Walter quietly. It did not matter though; Henry had already ensured their voices would not carry into the world above. “It seems I have misjudged your devotion toward upholding your laws.”
“Some things are more important than pride,” said Henry. “Perhaps one day you will understand.”
He felt the burn of his brother’s withering stare, but he did not look away from Kate. He would not give his brother the satisfaction. “Very well. I will allow the twins more time together, but someday they will be brought to justice.”
“And when that day comes, Kate and I will decide what to do as rulers of the Underworld.”
“You are forgetting that while Castor is your charge, Pollux is mine, and I will not let him off so easily.”
Henry sighed. “No, I imagine you will not.” The trees rustled, and James stepped out from between them. Kate stood, giving him a hug in greeting, and Henry’s chest tightened. Some things he did not want to witness. “Until then, I am confident we have done the right thing.”
“So you say.”
Walter disappeared, and though part of Henry expected him to go after the twins once more, he instead reappeared a few feet away from Kate and James. Henry saw her tense even from a distance, but at least his brother’s appearance served one purpose: she let go of James.
“You are walking a thin line,” said Walter. “I will not be so forgiving of your insubordination in the future.”
Despite her fear, she squared her shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. Henry cracked a smile. “I won’t apologize for any of it. You can’t ruin people’s lives like that just because you decide you’re bored and want to play games. It isn’t fair.”
“Life is not fair, and the sooner you realize it, the better.” Walter peered down his nose at her. “You can either be an asset to the council, or you can be a hindrance. It is up to you to decide which.”
“If being an asset means swallowing whatever bullshit you’re feeding me without thinking for myself, I’d rather be a hindrance, thank you,” she said, and Henry had to press his lips together to keep himself from chuckling.
For a moment his brother looked utterly perplexed, his brow furrowing in the face of her sass, but the expression was gone as soon as it had come. He wouldn’t soon forget what she’d said, Henry was sure of it. But while it could cause problems later on down the road, for now Henry was immensely pleased and proud of her.
Focusing on his brother, he pushed a thought toward him. Let it go.
Walter’s frown deepened, but he glanced into the darkness of the cave and gave him the barest of nods. Without another word, he disappeared, and Kate looked around as if she expected Walter to pop out of the bushes.
“Do you think he went after the twins?” she said. James shook his head, slipping his arm into hers as he glanced back into the cave. Henry glowered at him.
“They’re fine, at least for now.”
Henry watched as they disappeared through the trees, and as soon as he could no longer see her dark hair, he closed his eyes. These six months were hers to do with as she willed; he had no say in it, and he had to respect that no matter how much seeing her walk off with James wounded him.
In less than half a year’s time, she would be his again, and he would make sure to remind her why she had married him in the first place. Until then, the thorn that James had shoved into his heart would only dig deeper, but as he’d done for the past several thousand years, he would withstand it.
For Kate. For their life together. And because he had no other choice.
By the time we reached the edge of the forest, it was nearly dark. The city of Athens glowed in the distance, and I yawned, struggling to stay awake as James led the way. My body craved sleep, and just the promise of a warm bed was enough to make my knees buckle.
“Where do you think they’re going now?” I said as we meandered toward the road that would lead us back to the city.
“If they’re smart, as far away from Greece as possible,” said James.
“Do you really think Walter and the others are going to hunt them down again?”
He shrugged. “Eventually. I think you bought them a few hundred more years though. Maybe a thousand, if they’re lucky.”
“We.” At James N rithugh. Ma217;s confused expression, I added, “We bought them a few hundred more years. Maybe a thousand, if they’re lucky. You did distract Ella, you know.”
He grinned and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “You have a point. We make a good team.”
I made a face and shrugged him off. Good team or not, there was one problem we hadn’t solved yet. “I’m still mad at you, you know. This whole thing was your fault. Ava would’ve never found the twins if you hadn’t led her straight to them.”
“Oh.” James turned pink. “I thought we’d have time to get away. I didn’t realize Walter would sic Ella and her dogs on us. I mean, the council’s come close to tracking them down before—they just usually don’t put so much effort into it.”
“That’s not an excuse for putting them in danger like that.”
He sighed. “No, it’s not, and I’m sorry about that. I really am. It worked out all right though, didn’t it?”
“Barely.” I hesitated. “Why did you do it anyway?”
He scratched his head sheepishly. “Because I knew you idolized the council, that you thought we were these—superheroes or something, and I wanted you to see that it wasn’t true. We’ve got our dark side, too, and you had to see that before you decided to spend eternity with Henry.”
For a long moment, I said nothing. I should’ve known the council was capable of something like this, and maybe deep down I did. I’d never realized Henry had it in him as well though.
“I’m not sure I can do this,” I said softly. “I thought—I thought when all of this started that the council members were the good guys, you know? The ones who protected mortals. The ones who made the right decisions. And now—”
“And now you realize we’re not all we’re cracked up to be,” said James, and I nodded. “That’s not a bad thing, you know, the fact that we make mistakes or let our pride get in the way. It keeps us from being infallible.”
“But at others’ expense.” That was the part I wasn’t crazy about.
“Sometimes. But Lux is one of us—he’s not a council member, but he is the son of Zeus. And he has just as many flaws as the rest of us.”