I feel different after Tartarus. I feel wrong. It feels like every cell in my body has been ripped apart and slammed back together, and I just expected to be okay. When I got out, the first thing I did was go to the people I thought care for me. I need to talk to someone, and since Persephone’s voicemail told me she would be back in a few days, I just need to wait. The headaches are worse since I left. My plans after, of course, involve finding Erebus. I want to thank him if he really paid my way out of Tartarus. I also want to apologize for what I said when I thought I was trapped in Tartarus for eternity. I was cruel, but I didn’t mean it. I wanted to push him away since there was no hope for us.
So, first thing first, I search the office floor, where he stays in the OA, and even the caves, but come up empty. It is disappointing, to say the least, but also has me a tad bit worried, too. Which is ironic, since I don’t worry about anyone. Ever.
Fine, if I can’t find him, maybe the two others I need are around. My next stop is to see Eros and Clio. The God Complex is empty except for the mortals that work here. I manage to scare one receptionist and get their floor number since I don’t know where they stay. The elevator ride, like everything else here, is almost too quiet. No screams or wails echo around me, but I still felt like they will. The walls feel tight, like they are squeezing in around me. By the time the doors open, I practically run out into the hallway and scurry to the right room. I am still adjusting. Terribly. I smooth my tank over my leggings and adjust the long white shawl I wear as I lift my hand. I hesitate for a moment before my knuckles rap against the door.
Turning, I cross my arms, tapping my foot on the floor beneath me. I face the empty hallway, looking both ways before I hear the elevator ding. I look at it expectantly, waiting for someone to exit, but no one does. Tilting my head, I watch as the button next to it repeatedly lights up as if being pushed over and over again. What the fuck?
Suddenly the lights along the wall burst one by one and I jump slightly startled. The clean and plush hallway is slowly consumed by darkness. Shiny marble floors are replaced with cold stone as wails whisper then scream down the hallway, heading straight for me. I back up, my hands covering my ears, and my eyes tightly shut. I knew I had not escaped Tartarus.
The sound of Clio’s voice cuts me out of my daze. I snap open my eyes and turn back towards their door and then the hallway. The lights on the walls are still in perfect condition and glowing, and the floor once more holds its marble shine. I hear more fumbling as Eros’ voice grounds me in the present.
“What? Titans?” he asks.
Clio giggles. “No. The door.”
Footsteps approach as his voice draws nearer. “The door. Right. Door.” He swings it open, his face splitting with a broad smile as he sees me. “Attie!”
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and quickly drop my hands from my ears.
“You guys are home? Good. I was starting to think Olympus cleared out,” I answer with a forced smile.
Eros rolls his eyes. “Yeah, they went on some family bonding cruise, but my hair does not stand up in humidity, so…” his voice trails off as he opens the door wider. “Come on in.”
I take one last glance down the hallway before stepping inside. The door clicks behind me as Eros shuts it, and my fists clench at the all too familiar sound.
I turn my attention to the room as Clio gets up from the couch. She sees me and beams, her eyes glistening. She walks over, engulfing me in a hug. I momentarily return the embrace before stepping back and looking between her eyes and her growing belly.
“Well, that is new.” I stop, looking at Eros over my shoulder. “Not that I am surprised. I mean, it took you long enough.”
His laugh echoes behind me. “If I have my way, I will have her knocked up every year for the rest of our lives.”
Clio glares at Eros as he comes to our side, shrugging.
“What?” he asks. “I want a lot of kids.”
I snort softly before letting go of Clio. I adjust my shawl tighter around me as I make my way around the room. Pictures of them line the dressers and hang on the walls among their other decor. Their place is nice and homey if you want to live in a football field. A large wrap around couch sits in the middle of their living room with a few oversized blankets thrown over the back. A large glass table rests nearby with a cup and several snacks on it. Pregnancy symptoms. Turning back towards them, I nod at them and then around the room.
“A lot has happened. Last I remember, Eros was fumbling even to admit he had a crush on you.”
Eros rolled his eyes once more. “Yes, yes, I was an idiot.”
Clio smiles at him before heading to the even more luxurious kitchen and calling over her shoulder, “I will grab some cookies.”
Eros’ eyes follow her like they always have, before he turns back to me and tilts his head. He gestures towards the couch, seeming almost wary of me. I follow his lead, and we sit down. I fold my legs under me, wrapping the shawl in front of me and playing absently with the long threads at the bottom. Eros sits a little further from me and relaxes his arm across the back of the couch.
“So, did you break out? Do we have to cover for you?”
A smile tugs at my lips, my gaze meeting his. He was always the one to cover, even though what I had done, on a scale of normal to catastrophic, fell off the scale.
“Funny story. The door just…opened. And here I am.” Or at least I think I am actually here, I think to myself, not daring to speak it out loud. Every day feels like I am still stuck there, and I am having a hard time telling if this is even real or just another nightmare.
Eros’ brow quirks. “So, you didn’t have to drink anything? Because I went to a party like that once.” He pauses, shuddering. “Do not drink it! You will wake up three states away with nothing but someone else’s ID in your prison wallet.”
His comment catches me off guard and causes me to throw my head back in laughter, and it was the first real laugh I have had in forever. Clio walks into the room as we still chuckle and places the plate of cookies down on the glass table before sitting next to Eros.
“I’m serious,” he adds, still laughing.
The aroma of chocolate chips ripple through the air, distracting me from his conversation. My hand whips out, grabbing one from the plate and shoving the entire thing into my mouth, a small growl escaping my throat. I don’t know if I chewed it as I grab another one. I swallow and stop, remembering I am in a room with others. I turn away from them, wiping the back of a hand across my mouth, Eros’ and Clio’s gaze stuck on me.
“Sorry,” I remark, grinning uncomfortably. “I have been starving since leaving. I think I ate a whole restaurant clean once I was out.”
Eros tilts his head, smirking. “Her cookies are like crack, I’ve had to swear off them.” He sheepishly pats his flat stomach. “She is a cookie pusher.”
Clio turns to him with a scowl, jabbing him in the ribs. He lets out a breath before telling her she is and placing a kiss atop her head. I smile, slightly uncomfortable as my chest stings.
Clearing my throat, I tear off a piece of the cookie before asking, “So how’s life been since the whole I want to end the world thing? They told me it was a thousand years for me and only a month for you guys.”
Clio sighs before looking at Eros once more. “It’s been busy. I have been homeschooling our daughter, and Eros has been teaching her how to fly.”
I choke on the cookie I just started eating, hitting my chest as I cough and clear my lungs. “Da-Daughter? Like a non-fetal one?” I ask, gesturing to her stomach.
Eros snickers before calling out, “Thávma, come meet your aunt!”
Another coughing fit strikes me as the sound of a door opening behind me grabs my attention. I turn to see a tall, slender teenager come from the room. She pulls her cat ear-shaped headphones from her head, her sandy blonde hair a mess as the twin tigers I had gifted Eros trot behind her.
“Another one?” she sighs, folding her arms and looking at me.
Yup, definitely a teenager.
The sound of a soft slap turns my attention back to Eros and Clio. “Should we not explain everything to her?” Clio hisses softly.
“To who?” he responds.
“To Atë, she doesn’t know what happened.”
Eros shrugs before calling his daughter over. “What’s life without a little surprise?”
The look of shock must still be pretty evident on my face as they all continue to look at me with a slight smile. My mind wanders, flitting to the past. How they used to fall over each other, and now they have a whole family. My momentary joy turns to sadness and then anger until finally regret. I have missed so much, and now they have a whole family. I am not needed, and this is yet another reminder.
I place the remainder of my half-eaten cookie on the table as I turn back to them. “How old is she?”
Clio speaks first, “It’s complicated.”
Hedone interrupts her mom, “I’m eighteen.”
“Huh?” I am more confused than before.
Eros leans forward as Clio slowly strokes her daughter’s hair. Eros goes into further detail about how she grew up in a realm outside of time, how she found them, and the past with Clio as Psyche. My head spins, wrapping around this new information. I feel a touch of sadness for the little girl, growing up in a realm without her family. Regardless of the situation, I feel I can relate to her.
“Tough life, kid,” I said softly, nodding towards Hedone.
Eros clears his throat at the growing silence. “So you haven’t told us what brought you to our door, Atë.” His lip twitches, eyes focused on me. “You do nothing without purpose.”
Little love God still knows me so well. I chew the inside of my lip, not telling him where I stopped first before coming here. “I…I couldn’t sleep.” I respond, shrugging. It’s not a complete lie. At least.
Eros’ eyes flash with concern. “You know you’re always welcome to stay with us.”
Clio echoes his words, “Yes, you are always welcome.”
Nodding, I smile, looking down and fiddling with my shawl once more. “While that is a super sweet offer, I feel as if you already have a full house.”
Eros’ eyes narrow on me as I look back up. Clio looks from him to me and back once more.
“You seem different,” Eros almost whispers.
I shrug. “Well, I was trapped in Tartarus for a thousand years, so….”
His eyes glow a bright blue as he stares at me and then shakes his head, a grin forming. “That’s impossible.”
My brow furrows. “What is?”
He leans back into the couch with a smug grin on his face. “Interesting. So Attie, tell me, have you had any new men in your life?”
My face pales as the blood rushes from it. “What does that mean?” I almost snap.
He shrugs with a glint of pure mischief on his face. “It’s just a question. Why so defensive?”
“How would I have any new men in my life? I was trapped.”
“Yes, trapped. In Tartarus. How so again? I mean you’re a big strong goddess, why couldn’t you break out? Unless something, or,” he stops tapping his chin, “someone locked you in.”
“Erebus,” I speak his name aloud before my brain knows I am doing it. My breath hitches, knowing Eros too damn well. I know what he is thinking. He, just like me, does nothing without some purpose.
The corner of his lip twitches. “Erebus?”
The memory replays in my head of the last time I spoke to Erebus, and now I can’t even find him. I silently curse Eros because he knows what he is doing. He is playing with me, like a cat plays with a mouse. He says something to pull more information from another, and back and forth they go. Only I am not a house cat, much less a mouse.
My gaze narrows, trying to nip the conversation in the bud. “Nothing Eros. It’s nothing.”
Clio seems to ponder the stare-off between her husband and me before she stands up and heads to the kitchen, rambling in ancient Greek, mostly cursing at Eros.
Eros turns, smiling at his still cursing wife before he turns his steel-blue gaze back to me. “Attie? Is there something between you two? Because last I heard, he imprisoned you.”
I look down at my hands and back as visions of Erebus and Tartarus fill my mind. Guilt and my words are playing back to me.
Clio comes back into the room with a glass of water, placing it on the table beside me before she sits once more, glaring slightly at her husband.
Eros lets out a breath, chuckling to himself. “Okay good, because that ship sailed.”
I reach for the glass, taking a sip before Eros’ words slice into my consciousness. “What?” I ask, my voice edged with anger as I turn back to him.
Clio glares at Eros, folding her arms, still speaking in ancient Greek, “This is your fault!”
“What?! Also, you do know she understands us?” he responds in the same dialect.
“What’s Eros’s fault?” I ask, the words clipped. My control slowly snaps as my mind races. The hair on the back of my neck rises like a feral cat. If something has happened to Erebus because of Eros, I am afraid I will have to skin one of my best friends alive. Family or not.
Clio ignores my comment as she sticks her tongue out at Eros, responding in Greek, “Hedone doesn’t, and I rather her not hear me call you an asshat.”
“Clio!” I snap. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Clio meets my gaze, tucking a piece of stray hair behind her ear. “Erebus came to speak with us a few weeks ago.”
“He did? Why?” I ask as my heart thunders in my chest. “Is he okay?”
Eros looks around, scratching the back of his head lightly. “Um, he was, uh, a little broken.” He pauses, clearing his throat. “I may have encouraged him to do something out of character.”
I don’t answer, continuing to stare at Eros. Call me crazy, but I am actually concerned. Is he on the cruise with the other gods? No Erebus hates crowds. He’s more of a loner like me. Maybe he is hurt? No, he’s also a primordial and very hard to kill, although he was shot and wounded that one time.
Clio sighs, cutting me from my thoughts as she responds, looking at Eros, “I knew I should have gone against your idea.”
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t know!” Eros responds, looking at Clio before holding his hands up briefly, then clearing his throat and looking back at me. “I signed Erebus up on a show.”
A wave of relief floods me, as it isn’t bad news. I release the breath I have been holding and wave a hand through the air, nonchalant. “Oh, a show? I thought it was something serious.”
Eros scratches a single eyebrow as he looks at me. “It’s a dating show.”
“WHAT!” I scream as the glass I am holding shatters in my hand, spilling water all over me and the couch.
I’m on my feet in an instant as I feel my eyes blaze to life with a vengeance. My fist curls painfully at my side and it feels like my heart has been torn from my chest once more. It takes a moment for me to realize it’s not my vision that is shaking, but the room itself. Eros is on his feet within the moment as Clio follows, standing close to me.
Clio gently grabs my arm. “Atë. Let’s talk this through”
I yank my arm from her grip, sneering as I look at her. “There is nothing to talk about,” I snap before turning back to Eros. “Where. Is. He?”
“Attie. You broke his heart,” Eros murmurs. “Why did you lie? You clearly feel more for him.”
“Little Eros, always sticking his nose where it does not belong.” I chime as I walk past Clio. My control is gone. Anger replacing my reason and another emotion I am not familiar with. “You know nothing of Erebus and I. I did what I had to, so he.” I stop before I say too much.
Eros doesn’t back down. He never does with me. His eyes narrow as he folds his arms. “So he would move on?” he asks as he stops, placing his hand on the side of his mouth before continuing, “I sent him on the dating show, the winner gets engaged.”
I hear Clio’s audible sigh as she yells Eros’ name. But the blood is pumping too hard in my ears to hear the rest. I raise my hands as if I am reaching to choke the life from him but stop short.
“UGH!” I yell before dropping my hands, causing the room to vibrate violently once more.
I slam my shoulder into his as I push past him, heading for the door. I reach for the handle, nearly ripping the frame off the wall as I open it. I stop at Eros’ voice as he shouts from behind me.
“You better tell him you love him before he falls for someone else.”
I turn back, looking at them, the old Atë back in rare form. Fuck this, and fuck trying to be better.
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. You just signed his death certificate.” It is the last thing I say as I slam the door behind me.