I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Was being the Apollyon all about death and destruction instead of saving lives?
“Can you stand?” she asked.
Nodding, I pushed to my feet and winced as pain splintered down my legs. Concern pinched my mom’s features, but I waved it off. “I’m fine.”
She stood, keeping a hand on my arm. “You should sit. Apollo said that it would take a little while for… you to feel normal.”
Feeling normal wasn’t possible, probably never again, but I sat on the edge of the bed and watched my mom glide toward the raised dais and the table. She didn’t walk—never had. My mom had this innate grace I always wished I’d been born with. Instead, I stomped around like a cow most of the time.
She picked up the pitcher and a glass that had been behind it. “He wants you to drink this.”
My brows rose in suspicion. If I’d learned anything over the last eighteen years, drinking or eating something from the gods warranted a hefty amount of misgiving. “What is it?”
Mom poured the contents into an ancient-looking glass cup and headed back to the bed. Sitting down, she handed it over. “It’s a healing nectar that Apollo’s son concocted to aid what he had done. You can’t stay here the amount of time that it will take you to heal completely, but this will help. Even for you, there’s too much aether in the air. It will suffocate you.”
Suffocation sounded sucktastic, but I stared at the chalice warily.
“It’s okay, Lexie. I understand your hesitation, but this isn’t to trick you.”
With a great deal of trepidation, I took the glass and sniffed it. The aroma was a mix of honey and something weedy. Because I knew this was my mom, and I could feel that truth deep inside me, I drank from the glass. I was relieved when I discovered it tasted sweet and not like butt.
“Drink it slowly,” Mom cautioned. “It’s going to make you sleepy.”
“It is?” I frowned down at the chalice.
“When you wake up, you’ll be back in the mortal world.”
A cold wind filled my chest. “This isn’t a dream, is it?”
“No.” Mom smiled as she reached out, catching that piece of hair that always fell forward and tucking it back. “This isn’t a dream.”
Letting out a stuttered breath, I took another sip. There was so much I wanted to say. Many times since she’d died, I’d fantasized about seeing her again and had created this massive list of things I wanted to say to her, starting off with a whole slew of apologies for sneaking out, cussing, fighting, and being a general round-the-clock nuisance. And then I’d move on to how great of a mom she’d been. Now, it was funny and strange. When I opened my mouth, emotion choked out that list, erasing it completely. The words I spoke were, “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too, but I am with you as much as I can be.” She watched me drink the healing nectar. “I want you to promise me something.”
“Anything,” I said, and I meant it.
A small smile appeared. “No matter what happens, and no matter what you have to do, I want you to absolve yourself of guilt.”
I stared at her. “I—”
“No, Lexie. You need to let the guilt go, and you need to let what Ares did go.”
Lowering the glass, I looked away and gave a little shake of my head. Let go of how badly Ares had broken me, how I had begged for death? Impossible. “Did you… did you see it?”
“No.” She placed her hand on mine and squeezed. “But Apollo told me.”
The laugh that came out of me sounded incredibly bitter. “Of course he did. And where was Apollo when I was getting my ass handed to me, by the way?”
A pained look crossed her face, and I immediately regretted saying that. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “He was probably off doing important god stuff.” Or chasing nymphs.
“It’s okay.” Her hand swept across my cheek, and I was surprised to find that my face no longer ached. “Apollo is very concerned about you. So am I.”
“I’m okay.” The lie rang false in my own ears.
She tilted her head to the side and sighed. “I didn’t want this life for you. I wanted to spare you this darkness.”
“I know.” Looking at her, I soaked in her features. Gods, my mom was beautiful. It was more than good godly DNA. It was what was inside that bled through—her goodness, love, and everything I aspired to be. In my eyes, she shone. And her life had ended way too early. She deserved so much more, and I wished I could give that to her. But I couldn’t, so I gave her the only thing that I could.
“I promise,” I told her. “I promise to let it go.”
Her lips curved up at the corners. “I want to kill Ares for what he did to you.”
I choked on my drink. I don’t think I’d ever heard my mom say she wanted to kill anyone, except after she’d turned into a daimon. Then, she’d wanted to kill everyone. A different kind of ache filled my chest. Not wanting to think about that, I swatted those thoughts away.
Smothering a yawn that came out of nowhere, I finished what was left of the sweet drink. Mom took the cup from me and stood, replacing it on the table. By the time she’d turned around, I was lying flat on my back.
“Damn,” I murmured. “That stuff… it’s strong.”
Hurrying to the bedside, she sat beside me. “It is. I wish we had more time, baby.”
“Can’t we?” I tried to lift my arm, but it felt cemented down. Panic clawed at my chest. I wasn’t ready to let her go. It wasn’t fair. I needed her now more than I’d ever needed her. There was something inside me and it scared me. “There’s so… many things I still have to tell you, that I want to ask.”
With a smile that wrenched at my chest, she cupped my cheek. “There’ll be time later.”
“But I’m not ready. I don’t want to leave you. Please…” Strange. I forgot what I was saying. Apparently I’d drunk the ADD nectar.
As my lids became too heavy to keep open, I heard her say, “I’m so proud of you, Lexie. Always remember that I’m proud of you and that I love you.” There was a pause and then her sweet voice said, seconds before I slipped away, “Don’t give up hope, baby. Paradise is waiting for you in the end.”