A Four Letter Word

“If you leave, you terminate this program. If you fail with me, you terminate this program. If you refuse to engage, you fail this program. I have strict orders from your father, Zeus, yes? If you fail, you return to Tartarus,” she said with a smile that sent a chill up my spine. “Also, no mind games either.” She shrugged, still sitting and still smiling.

I cover my eyes with my hands as I rock back and forth on the floor of my apartment at the God Complex. The sun beams into my room from the large pane window. The curtains in tatters, like most of the place. My head pounds like a war drum, keeping soldiers in line as the voices continue to taunt me.

Why are you still crying?

“Shut up,” I snap, throwing a chair at the Tartarus version of myself. It smashes into a few pieces, taking a chunk of plaster from the wall. 

You didn’t have to come back here, so why did you? We could have run like before. 

I try to cover my ears again as the other me forms on the opposite side of my damaged apartment. “No. I need…help.” 

No one can help you now. 

The voices have gotten worse since I got my powers back. It feels like Tartarus all over again, but amplified. I have no space. The room is too cramped. I don’t sleep, or I do and can’t remember. Maybe this is just another dream. I lift my head, scratching at my arm. The same spot that took my powers away the first time. Curtains lay shredded, matching the same designs as the pillows that should be on the bed. Every wall is covered in scratches, the result of another power I can’t control. It feels like I am an adolescent again, trying to learn how to keep them in check. A shrill ping echos in my room, and I clutch at my ears, trying to decipher that high pitched demonic tone. I follow it into the living room and it grows louder. A small light flashes off the counter. Oh, my phone. I pick it up, flipping it to face me. Fuck. I forgot about rehab today. 

******

I practically run out of the elevator as it reaches the floor I need. The lights inside stop flashing, and the screams of the damned end as soon as I step out. I am never going to get used to this. I scurry to Persephone’s door and raise my hand to knock. I stop short. I am already a few minutes late. She is probably expecting me. Twisting the handle, I take one last calming breath, throw on my best fake smile, and open the door. 

Walking in, I call out, “Honey, I’m home!”

Only Persephone isn’t sitting at her desk. Instead, there is a small brunette in a tailored pantsuit. The moment the door opens, she focuses on me, her eyes light up as a small smile crosses her features as she stands, smoothing her outfit and coming to greet me. Her hair is in a tight bun, and she has a pair of thin modern style glasses she pushes back as she walks toward me. I can tell she is mortal, and I am a little taken aback. 

“Hello, Atë. You made it. It’s so nice to meet you.” She holds out her hand, waiting for me to shake it. “My name is Sarah, and I will be your mentor, so to speak.” 

The confusion and disdain must be apparent on my face because she quickly lowers her hand as I stare from it to her and back. She nods slightly before extending her arm towards the couch for me to sit. 

“Excuse me, what? Where is Persephone?” I ask, folding my arms. 

“Mrs. Persephone will not be joining us, or in charge of your rehabilitation any longer, I am afraid,” she says nonchalantly as she sits in the chair across from the couch and folds her hands in her lap. 

“Why?” I ask. 

“Well, because you ditched her, I guess is the proper way to say that. Upper management feels you need someone with a little more experience to deal with your certain level of trauma. That’s why I am here.” 

I snort, but it only hides the brief bit of pain. Was she mad at me for that? I wasn’t trying to leave her, but I needed to find Eris. Also, why did I suddenly care? I looked at this mortal Sarah, shaking my head before I turned on my heel to exit out the way I came. Fuck this. If Persephone wasn’t doing this, I was out. No mortal, alive or dead, would tell me what to do. 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she called out as I placed my hand on the doorknob. 

I turned fully, slowly, my eyes lighting up. “Excuse me?” 

“If you leave, you terminate this program. If you fail with me, you terminate this program. If you refuse to engage, you fail this program. I have strict orders from your father, Zeus, yes? If you fail, you return to Tartarus,” she said with a smile that sent a chill up my spine. “Also, no mind games either.” She shrugged, still sitting and still smiling. 

If I didn’t hear her heartbeat and smell the stench of age coming off her, reminding me she would eventually meet Thanatos, I would have sworn she was a deity of some sort. Her words hit a chord, though. I didn’t want to go back. I wouldn’t. I move away from the door, never taking my eyes off her. Walking fully into the room, I flop on the couch, my arms stretched along the back behind me. 

“Very well, Sarah. That is your name, right? How exactly are you going to help me?”

She nods once before reaching over and grabbing a notepad and pen. Opening them, she crosses one leg over the other, adjusting her glasses before she looks up at me. “Okay, we can start with me. My name is Dr. Sarah Lachland. I am a professor and a clinical therapist. I have a Ph.D. in trauma counseling, which is why I was called to help you. I grew up in the states and moved here recently when I received a job offer. Now enough about me. We should be talking about you. Do you want to tell me what was so important you needed to leave so abruptly during your engagements with Mrs. Persephone?”

I shrugged. There was no point in lying, and it wasn’t like I was leaving anytime soon. “I wanted to see an old friend. Eris, to be exact. I felt them, I guess, when I got out. That little bit of chaos.”

“And how are they?” Her pen echoes on the page as she writes. 

I reach over, scratching my arm again. “They’re fine.” I clear my throat, shifting in my seat. “So how long do the sessions usually last?” 

She stops briefly before writing once more, then her gaze returns, scanning mine. “The time frame for our scheduled meetings is typically an hour.”

An hour? Holy Tartarus. How am I going to last an hour? Ugh. I roll my eyes, shaking hair from my face. “Oh, joy.”

We sit and go through the motions one by one. She asks the normal questions I would assume one would ask. Questions about my family, how they make me feel. She tiptoes around my fall, my movements alerting her as I fidget on the couch every so often. She asks about my stay in Tartarus and what I remember and what I wish I could forget. I give her the short clip versions. Things I know she wants to hear. I’ll play the part if I have to. I mean, it’s not like she can see I’m lying. 

She pauses and chews on the end of her pen before pointing it at me. “That. That right there. Why do you keep scratching at your arm? I know the history of you and your family. You heal. Very well, I might add. So why?” 

I scratch my arm once more before I realize what I am doing and drop my hand. “Oh, umm, nothing.” 

“Lying won’t help us move forward, which means even more long one hour sessions.” 

I fake shiver at the mere thought of being stuck here with her longer. Okay, fine, no lying then. I fold my arms, making sure I don’t inadvertently scratch at my left one. “What do you know about Hind’s blood?”

She pauses with her pen in hand, tilting her head slightly. “Not much. Care to enlighten me?”

I nod. “Yes, well, it is a substance that can pretty much take or, well, lock a god’s power. Makes us mortal, so to speak. Easy to kill.”

Her eyes widen for a split second before she writes in her notebook. “And what does this substance have to do with you?” 

I swallow a growing lump in my throat, rubbing my arm before folding my hands in my lap. “Anything I say stays here? With us, right?”

Her brows slightly furrow with a hint of worry. “Of course. Your right to privacy is respected here with me.”

I nod before fiddling with the sides of my pants, then standing abruptly and wringing my hands together as I pace. My body breaks out in a cold sweat as I try to choose my words. I have to be honest. For once.

“Okay, because I did something. Something I am sure you are familiar with if you know anything about me.” I wave a single hand through the air. 

Her eyes follow my movements, but she remains quiet. Not pushing or interrupting, letting me work out my thoughts freely. I take a deep breath for my next part, my eyes darting towards her every half pace around the room. 

“I got out and found out about Erebus. He’s the Primordial of Darkness, I’m not sure how much you know about us. We have had this thing between us for a while, I guess. He visited me in Tartarus, trying to confess these feelings he had, and I sent him away.” I pause, taking a deep breath. “Anyway, I got out and found out about this stupid fucking dating show, and long story short, I tried to use Hind’s blood to kill him.” 

I stop before turning, holding my hands up in defense.

“Which I didn’t, he is still alive…I think…whatever. Anyways we had a fight, and I got scratched. My powers are back now, but they feel…heightened, I guess. Wrong…I don’t know.”

I stop pacing, turning, and looking at her as I chew on my bottom lip. A couple of emotions dance across her features, but none I expected. I thought she would gasp? Run out of the room? Maybe call my father and realize, like everyone else, I am a lost fucking cause. But she doesn’t, she folds her hands on her lap and slightly tilts her head. 

“Is it control?”

Not what I expected, so the question catches me off guard. “What do you mean?” 

“You said your powers feel wrong or heightened after your encounter. Is it control of them or just feel wrong in your skin?” 

I take a deep breath and look down at my Jimmy Choos, rubbing my hands together again before folding them under my arms. Contemplating. “Maybe both. When I’m alone, it’s deafening. The voices, the images…I…I don’t know.” 

She pauses, watching me for a moment. “Why don’t you tell me what you hear? What do you see during these episodes?”

“Sometimes myself talking to me, sometimes others. The nightmares I have replay over and over. I see the inside of Tartarus.” I snort. 

She nods. “I have done my research on Tartarus. I am aware it is a type of prison, so to speak. And I am also aware your time there was sped up. A thousand years is a very long time, even for a goddess, Atë. You were stuck in an environment meant to torture those sent there, and that is what you have been through. Torture. It is a lot to deal with. Being there and then suddenly back here with a whole different list of noises. What do you do when you face these things?”

I sigh and walk back to the couch. Sitting down, I put my head in my hand, my fingers running through my loose curls. I glance at her once again. “I don’t know. I don’t remember if they ever really go away. The only time I can remember in the last thousand years that my head wasn’t screaming at me was when…” my voice trails off as I subconsciously scratch  at my arm again. I shake my head, looking back down, rubbing my hands through my hair a couple more times.

She folds her hands in her lap, leaning forward just a bit. “Was when you were with this Erebus person. Having feelings for someone can also cause a heightened sense of emotions. Do you care for him?” 

My head snaps towards her, my eyes alight, angry, and hurt at even the mention of his name, but only briefly. She didn’t do anything, and what happened was not her fault. Besides, I have to be honest with this mortal doctor. Fuck. 

I groan, rubbing my eyes with my hands. “Yes. No. It’s complicated, and I made it worse.”

Although I know my anger is apparent, she doesn’t flinch. “The Hind’s blood? That made it worse?”

My voice softens as I stare toward the wall, “I guess. It wasn’t like the others talk about. Sure it hurt, but it was the first time I could think clearly, feel anything besides that aching void screaming in my head. And there he was. Again. It felt like he saved me again. I know it sounds stupid, but I felt peace. It was like the Erebus I had dreamt about for so long found me and saved me again. So…” my voice trails off again, “I slept with him.”

She nods again as she opens that damned book, writing in it once more. She looks up at me, adjusting her glasses. “The type of hurt you described, the getting angry and getting even as you said, usually comes from another place. A place of love. You fought to overthrow your father because he rejected you, tossed you out, but you got angry, got even like you mention you always do because you love him. The same with this. Erebus hurt you because he made you think he cared about you. Do you love him?” 

I shoot up from the couch, feeling like the room is closing in on me. “No!” I snap.

“It’s okay if you do, Atë. Love doesn’t have to be something bad.” 

I hold up my hand, shushing her. “I do not love him, and can we please stop saying that word or talking about this? You sound like fucking Eros.”

I let out a deep breath. She was hitting on topics I wasn’t even ready to think about. I don’t know if I will ever be able to admit it again. A part of me planned to take that information to my grave. It was more than sex with him for me, and that notion terrified me more than anything. Which is funny considering my track record. 

“Avoidance isn’t healthy either, Atë. This is a very sensitive subject I can see, but you have to admit you care about him or even want to be with him.”

I scoff, “No, I want nothing to do with him.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. I had weighed the pros and cons over and over again in my head and knew this was for the best. I wasn’t the relationship type to begin with. Another nod towards my track record. Plus, he and I would never work. I am everything he should be against. Rebellious, hateful, cold, mean, vindictive. I mean, the list goes on. He needs someone soft, delicate, someone who can love him. Properly. I am a train wreck, and I am not taking him along for that ride. It stings even admitting that to myself again. 

She smiles softly. “This is about helping you heal, Atë, nothing more.” 

I wipe my hands down my pants, turning back towards her. “I don’t want to talk about him anymore.” I look down and check the watch I recently stole. “What time is it, anyway? Has it been an hour?”

She glances at the clock and back to me. “Not yet, I am afraid. Why don’t you take a seat and we can talk about something else.” 

I follow her gaze from the clock to the couch and decide to listen. Begrudgingly. 

She lifts her pen once more, turning a page. “Oh, and can you please stop making the building shake?” 

I look around, realizing that I have, in fact, been using my powers the entire time. I shake my head, focusing as I draw them back and calm myself. I open my eyes, knowing they have returned to my normal hazel, and fold my hands in my lap. 

“So how about those Lakers?” 

Atë (Amber Albright)
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