- The Darkest Passion
She’d stayed for him. She’d endured a Hunter’s brutality for him. He would not penalize her for that.
Always. Aeron twisted midair, and sure enough, a scowling Lysander was only a few feet away. He no longer held the sword, his hands empty but balled. The moment their gazes met, both of them stilled, hovering, not quite within striking distance.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Aeron said.
“It can be no other way. You claim to love her,” the angel snarled, “and yet you would keep her here while you bed another. You would ruin her spirit.”
“I had planned to let her go first!” But would he ever have been able to do so? He’d wanted to kill something every time he’d considered it. And when she’d wanted to go, he’d convinced her to stay a little longer. Despite the danger.
No, he never would have been able to let her go. He never would have been able to sleep with Legion.
He would have reached this decision eventually. Lysander had merely sped it along.
“I will only ever be with her,” he said with a proud tilt of his chin.
“And that’s worth continuing to allow her to put herself at risk? Do you know what the Hunters did to her?”
He shook his head, stomach clenched painfully. “No. But I saw her, saw the end results, and I will be haunted by that image for all eternity.”
“That’s not enough! Listen. And know. Stefano hit her with a closed fist, as well as an open palm. He broke her bones. Tried to drown her. She, who has not a single thread of malice inside her. And the demons, the ones she battled to reach you? They touched her in places only a lover should. But she endured it all. For you.”
Hearing that, Aeron spread his arms, face lifted to the highest part of the sky and roared. Roared with fury so potent he had never known its like. He’d known Olivia had been hurt; as he’d said, he’d seen the evidence. He’d raged even then. But now, having the details tossed at him, sharper than any blade…that rage intensified. Grew. She was so delicate, so fragile. She could have died, alone and human. Wrecked by pain.
“Stefano will pay. By my hand.” Target, switched. End result, the same. Another vow. He’d already decided to kill anyone involved, but this…Stefano would be brought to the brink of death over and over again, only to be revived so they could start again. “The demons, too.”
“I have stood back and watched all of this, helpless to stop it from happening.” Some of Lysander’s own rage seemed to cool. “I tried bargaining with you. I tried helping your cause, even distracting the gods who pulled your strings. But no longer. You will feel pain by my hand. You will suffer as my Olivia has suffered.”
Pinpricks of red dotted Aeron’s vision. “She is not your Olivia. She is mine.”
Ours. Ours to protect, ours to reward.
“For how much longer?” the angel snapped.
“Don’t you understand?” Lysander shouted. “You can’t give her forever. You decided not to bed the demon Legion, only Olivia, so Lucifer will be coming for you. There’s no way around that. Your friends will die, one by one. Their demons will not be able to defeat their master. And that’s what Lucifer is to them. Master. The women will be next. Think that your woman, your human woman, will be overlooked? Only your death can fix the problems you have wrought.”
Wings flapped, a war cry sounded, and then Lysander was there, all distance between them conquered. They collided, rolling through the air. Fists hammered at him, even as his own hammered at the angel in defense. There were grunts and groans, explosions of breath. Their legs tangled, kicked.
So engrossed did they become, they forgot to flap their wings and began to fall toward a rocky cliff in a clashing heap. Just before contact, Aeron realized what was happening and latched onto the angel’s hair, pushing his wings with all his might. The two of them darted back into the sky.
Lysander ripped free and nailed Aeron in the mouth. Pain exploded through his teeth and gums, blood trickling down his throat. As the angel came at him again, Aeron kicked him in the stomach, sending him propelling backward. They’d reached the fortress, and the angel slammed into a wall. Stones crumbled and dust plumed around him.
Through that dust, he shot forward, knocking into Aeron and sending him hurtling back toward the ground. This time, he didn’t catch himself and hit full force. Oxygen abandoned him, nothing more than a sweet dream. A few bones even snapped apart.
He quickly stood—cringed as his ankle gave—and pushed back into the air. One of his wings was broken. Not again, he thought, ignoring the pain screaming through him. Where was Lysander? His gaze circled the area, but he— A hard weight punted him in the back, spinning him through the air.
He knew Lysander would be waiting, ready to punch him the moment he stilled. And so when that inevitable moment of stillness came, he slashed first, managing to make contact with Lysander’s side. Perhaps smashing a kidney.
That would have felled anyone else. The angel merely grunted. But he didn’t attack again. He remained in place, golden wings gliding smoothly up and down. “You want to save both Olivia and Legion, as well as your friends?”
Aeron, too, remained in place, panting, sweating. “Yes.” More than anything.
“Well, the only way to do that is to die.”
Of course Lysander would say so. “Legion’s bargain—”
“Is voided if you die before the allotted time. That was part of their terms.”
Voided. Voided with his death. She would be free. His friends could live without the threat she now presented. But… “Olivia?” he asked through the sudden knot in his throat.
“Will be able to go home, without the guilt of knowing you hurt someone you loved because of her. Without the burden of wondering if you will one day resent her. Without the shame of leaving you behind, if she decided you would one day resent her. Without being captured once more by your enemy. Without fearing she’ll be forced to kill you.”
She would do anything for Aeron. He knew that now. She would endure any hardship, any mental or physical pain. And that’s what his life would bring her. Pain. No matter what he did, how he lived, he would bring her pain. Key word: lived.
He couldn’t do that to her. Couldn’t give her that choice. She shouldn’t have to endure anything, whether she was willing or not.
Without him, she could live without guilt and shame. Without pain. And that was what got him. The thought of her living as she was meant to: happy, free, safe.
We are to die now? Wrath asked, knowing, as he always did, the direction of Aeron’s thoughts.
You will continue on. Crazed, but Aeron didn’t remind the demon of that.
To punish. A statement, not a question.
Yes. To punish. He prayed the demon remembered this after their parting. They hurt her.
So they will die.
So simple. Thank you for everything. Now, for the rest. “You’ll protect her?” he asked Lysander. “Always?”
“And my demon?” If the angel meant to—
“Your demon will be contained. Galen now has Distrust, therefore to balance the scales, I will capture Wrath and give him to Cronus. I have already spoken to the god king, and he has chosen a body. A body that belongs to someone he’ll be able to monitor himself, ensuring she doesn’t aid your enemy or hurt your friends.”
Panic bloomed. “She?” Not Olivia, not Legion. Surely.
“No, not Olivia or Legion,” Lysander assured him, clearly sensing his thoughts. “Have no worries on that score. Legion will return home. And as I told you, I will see to Olivia’s care myself, now and always.”
“Wrath has a mission to complete. Will you ensure that Cronus—”
“I sense the nature of the mission, and I will ensure it’s completed. In a manner you would find highly satisfactory.”
Very well, then. Though he hated that he would have no part in the upcoming massacre, and that’s what it would be. “I have one last request, before I allow you to end my life.”
A nod. “Ask.”
“Olivia craves fun. She needs to have fun.”
Before the last word had left Aeron’s mouth, Lysander had begun shaking his head. “Such a need stemmed from her association with you. Once you are gone—”
“Vow it or the fight continues!” On this, too, he would not bend.
Lysander scowled at him. “I will do my best.”
“That isn’t good enough,” he gritted out. “You live with Bianka, a Harpy. I know the little witch is fun incarnate.”
“Yes,” Lysander said, and there was pride in his tone. Pride Aeron probably exhibited himself when he spoke of Olivia. “Very well. I will make certain they spend time together.”
All the details were taken care of, then.
Death, he thought next. Here it was, staring him in the eye. It had finally caught up with him, and he was willing. There was no resistance on his part. Again, he waited for emotions to consume him but again, they remained absent.
He would have liked to say goodbye to Olivia, to remind her that he loved her. But she would try and talk him out of this. He knew it, just as he knew he would crumble. This had to happen now.
Aeron drew in a deep breath, held it…held it…Then, as he slowly released it, he splayed his arms. “Do it. Take my head.”
Lysander merely looked at him, head tilting to the side curiously, as if he hadn’t expected Aeron to comply. “You are sure?”
The angel stretched out his arm and the fiery sword once more appeared.
“No!” Olivia screamed from below them. “No! Aeron! Lysander! Please, no!”
Aeron didn’t want her to see this, but it was too late to ask Lysander to whisk them to another location. That sword of fire was already arcing toward him.
Goodbye, Aeron, Wrath said softly.