The hurt in her eyes was painful to see, but I forced myself to continue. She had to understand there were limits, and until she stopped hurting others, I couldn’t stand by and watch anymore.
“Stay in Eden as long as you want, but don’t you dare come near me or Ella or Theo or any other man in this place again, do you understand? You leave them alone. You leave me alone. I have enough to deal with right now without having to make sure you don’t get anyone else killed.”
I would have buckled if she’d looked at me, so I stormed out of the room and past Henry, who wordlessly followed me to my suite. I wanted to slam the door, but he was behind me. Pogo and Cerberus were still curled up together on the floor, and the pillow I kicked missed them by inches.
“Now what?” I said, turning on Henry. “Do we sit here and talk about what happened? Are we the judge? The jury? What happens now?”
“Nothing,” he said, giving Cerberus a scratch behind the ears. “You have already made your decision.”
I paused. “What?”
“Ava will not have any romantic contact with any men, nor will she have any contact with you or Ella,” said Henry, and I sat down heavily on the bed. “As for Theo, that is not a judgment I could possibly ask you to make. Not yet.”
“Why not?” I said, my throat dry with the realization that I wouldn’t see Ava again. After everything we’d both been through since September, I felt like I’d failed her. But in a way, hadn’t she failed herself? I knew it wasn’t her fault, not really—she couldn’t have predicted this would happen. She’d still been careless though, and I’d stood by and let her. This was on my shoulders, too. But no matter who was to blame, Xander was still dead.
“Because you do not yet have the ability to see past a lie.” He moved to my wardrobe and began to pick through clothing as if we were talking about the weather or something equally as mundane.
I raised my eyebrows. “And you do?”
He ignored me. “Nor do you have the power to go into the Underworld and question Xander. Fortunately, that will not be necessary. I already know what happened.”
I cuddled Pogo to my chest, finding comfort in his warm body. I didn’t want to ask, dreading the possibility of Theo’s guilt, so I didn’t. Henry couldn’t search through my closet forever, and he would tell me sooner or later whether I wanted to hear it or not.
A minute passed, and finally he set a clean pair of jeans and a white sweater on the bed. “Theo is telling the truth, and therefore he will not be prosecuted. Your punishment for Ava is appropriate, and there is no need for me to intervene. I will instruct the others to ensure she follows your restrictions, and that will be the end of it.”
I nodded numbly. Setting Pogo down, I took my clothes to change behind the screen in the corner. There wasn’t anything else to talk about, and the weight of my judgment fell heavily on my shoulders. Had I done the right thing, or had I reacted in anger? And how would Ava, who was already so alone in this house, survive being cut off from me and Theo as well?
“I will see you down at breakfast then,” said Henry, though the thought of food was enough to make me nauseous.
I heard the door open, but not close. Still distracted by the thought of what I’d done to my only real friend in Eden Manor, I buttoned my jeans and stepped out from behind the screen, only to see Henry still standing there. His shoulders were weighed down by some invisible load, and he shoved his hands into his pockets, looking so similar to how he had in Persephone’s room that a jolt of fear ran through me. But his eyes weren’t deadened as they had been so many weeks ago—he was weary, but he hadn’t given up again.
“What you did today is never easy,” he said, “but it was necessary. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for you, especially considering Ava is your friend.”
“Was my friend,” I whispered, but I wasn’t sure he heard me.
“Do not feel guilty for it. Her actions are not yours. I do not regret inviting her here, knowing she has, up until now, been good company. Your safety and happiness are what matter most to me.”
I nodded, and he left. Glancing at the reflection he’d given me, which now sat on my nightstand, I felt even guiltier than before. No matter how at fault she was, if I couldn’t even protect Ava, how was I possibly going to do the same for Henry?
Even if this hadn’t been a test, I still had several to go. The wrong word, the wrong thought, the wrong action and this would all be over. Henry’s life was no less fragile than Xander’s or even my mother’s, and I felt myself start to crack under the burden of fighting for him on my own. Henry stood on the sidelines because I had dragged him there, forcing him to pay attention, but I couldn’t make him care. I was the only one fighting for him, and I was no longer sure I was up for the challenge.
One unfortunate side effect of Ava’s banishment and the risk that she might try to take revenge was the towering guard that was now with me everywhere I went. Measuring in at six and a half feet tall, he was the large blond I’d spotted at the ball back in September. He walked with a limp that didn’t seem to affect his speed, and I was too afraid to ask how he’d gotten it. While he didn’t say much, Calliope called him Nicholas, and he was nice enough for a guy who could easily kill me with his pinkie.
I was never alone anymore. When Nicholas wasn’t with me, Henry was, and he had more guards stationed outside my room while I slept. They were only for show; after Christmas Eve, Henry spent every night with me, a complete turnaround from how he’d acted before Christmas. It was as if I’d broken through an invisible barrier, and now instead of avoiding me and hoping I’d keep myself alive, he seemed determined to do the job for me.