The party was infuriating, and I hated myself for being here. I looked around the room at all the faces of those who were supposedly her friends. It made my blood boil, and yet I was one of them. I could still feel Clio’s mouth on mine. Glancing down at the ridiculous costume I wore, I tried shaking the disloyal feeling that sunk deeper and deeper, but it made no difference. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to leave, and I needed to leave now. Hades had been keeping a close watch on me, probably worried I would lose control.
Don’t worry, Hellboy, I won’t release my shadows.
“What is on your mind, Erebus?”
“Why the fuck are we here? She was your best friend.” My stomach rolled with unease. “Playing a kid’s game, as if nothing else matters.” I ran my hand through my hair.
“Our lives do go on,” Hades replied.
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure I can.” It’s not every day you realize what’s really in your heart.
“How’s that?” Hades cocked his head to the side.
“I need to step out, will you come with me?” I never thought in a million years I would have to ask Hades for anything. “I just have a lot on my mind, the tv show…Atë.” I gave him a look. Don’t make me ask.
“Of course, do you wish to see her?”
Ass, he’s going to make me beg. “I’m not in a partying mood.”
Hades continued to wait. He wasn’t leaving until I said it and I didn’t have all night. Being there another second longer would have turned bad, very, very bad.
Hades appeared on the banks of the River Styx, and I stood next to him. He watched the ferryman come closer, and nodded silently, handing over drachma for both of us. The fog from nowhere seemed to roll over the river, making the environment even eerier. Hades stepped onto the boat, turning back towards me, waiting for me to follow him.
“What the hell was that?” I said as I followed Hades onto the boat.
“What was what?”
“That shit show up there? Why are we celebrating her incarceration?” I looked back to where we boarded the boat. “I shouldn’t have been there.”
Hades remained silent for a moment, looking at the river in thought. “Olympus needed a celebration. No one celebrates her incarceration.”
“Whatever,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Hades tensed. “Do you think I would celebrate one of my best friends being imprisoned?”
“I don’t know anymore what you would, or wouldn’t do,” I scoffed.
Hades fell silent again as the boat scraped along the banks of the other side of the River Styx.
“Nor I, you, Erebus,” he said, stepping past me to get off the boat.
I followed Hades and stepped onto the ground of Tartarus, looking around at a place I once considered my second home. My skin crawled as the memory of the last time I had been here rushed my mind. My stomach churned at the very thought of seeing her again. What if she hates me? What if she laughs in my face for coming here? My shadows danced all around, feeling my apprehension.
We walked in silence for what felt like forever. I had never known Hades to be quiet for so long. Maybe he was riddled with guilt too? I hated that they asked me to take part in locking her up. A wave of familiar anger settled inside of me as Hades led me to the cell, still guarded by my shadows.
Hades looked at the heavy lever, pulling it down with one hand. The time within the cell synced with our own, enabling Atë to appear, no longer outside of our time.
Atë stirred from her place on the floor where she laid scrunched up in a ball.
“More visitors, Hades? Come to tell me just how terrible I-,” she muttered under her breath before stopping, noticing us. She ran her hands through her hair as she sat up.
Immediately I started second-guessing myself and my reasons for wanting to come here. I’m a fool for thinking I can come here and what—admit my feelings to her? I must be crazy. My outburst at the party fresh in my head, I was too embarrassed to return, not that I wanted to. There was no turning back now. As soon as I saw her, my heart began to ache. Her long black hair was no longer picture-perfect, the sparkle in her eye had long vanished. She looked ragged and exhausted and utterly breathtaking. I looked down at my costume and wished I had changed clothes before coming here.
Hades walked a few steps away, turning his back on us, though he remained within earshot.
“Come to pay me a visit, have we? And look, you both even dressed up…how thoughtful.”
I looked over my shoulder at Hades, his back still turned. “Can you give us more space?”
Rolling my eyes at Mr. Stick-in-the-mud, I muttered under my breath before turning to smile at Atë. “There was a…thing.”
She nodded with a little smirk.
Looking up and around at the door that closed Atë in her cell, it occurred to me the door was not what was holding her in.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, waving at my shadows, “for all of this.” I stepped back, shuffling side to side on my feet, fidgeting, folding and unfolding my arms across my chest. “How are you holding up? Or is that a dumb question—” I rubbed my head, “That was a dumb question.” My idiocy flustered me. Why am I so flustered? Pull your shit together, Erebus.
Atë stood, walking closer to the edge of her cell. She couldn’t leave, not with my shadows mixed in with hers. I had to use her own shadows to cage her in. Otherwise, she would be able to mist out. She couldn’t very well leave a piece of her behind. I cringed at the very thought of my shadows manipulating her. The corners of her mouth twitched. Oh fuck, she knows I’m nervous. I can’t be nervous. I’m not some young schoolboy. I’m the primordial of Darkness. I don’t get nervous.
“Well…I have been better,” she joked. “Why are you here? You seem way too dressed up for just a visit?”
I looked down at my costume again. Damn. These stupid things. I patted my robes self-consciously, feeling the box from the party I had tucked away.
Atë slid down the wall, sitting, tucking a piece of her already-tangled hair behind her ears.
“They’re nice. I like the look. It’s very…old school.”
The way she looked at me made me feel insecure. I hadn’t felt like this since—since never. I ran a hand through my hair. “So, remember that time you helped me capture a Titan?” I tried to joke.
Atë smiled weakly, folding her arms around her knees and bringing them to her chest tight.
“Yeah,” she scoffed, “and look how much that helped me.”
“I’m pretty sure Zeus would have still locked you up. You kind of made a mess of things.”
I took a step closer to her without entering the cell. The strain I had felt in my head ever since I helped lock her up, finally started to ease. I took a deep breath and relaxed a little. “Do you regret it?”
Atë tilted her head regarding me then slightly smiled.
“Do you want the truth or a lie?”
I couldn’t help but smirk at her remark. This had become our thing.
“Some parts…I regret some parts, especially now, with no hope of freedom.”
Hearing that was like being punched in the gut. I knew she hadn’t meant for her comment to hurt me, but it did all the same.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what parts?”
It took everything in me to look at her. Gods, she is beautiful.
“Which parts?” I asked.
Her eyes met mine before looking away. “Mostly the parts with you. Well, I suppose working for Kronos wasn’t the highlight of my immortal life, starting a war, and of course, there was the time I kidnapped Clio, but, mostly I regret what I did to you…” her voice trailed off.
“To me?” I was surprised. I slid down the wall to sit beside her, close but still outside of her cell.
She nodded. “The whole nightmare realm and getting others involved. Especially after you kept letting me inside of your head. I mean, to see what you have already been through, you didn’t deserve it…” she paused, swallowing hard. I could see her struggling. “I was just so angry and hateful. I was willing to tear apart anyone and anything that got in my way of killing my father.”
“Is that why you kept putting me into the dream realm? Because you thought I would out you to your father?”
“I can’t force you into the dream realm, Erebus. You can’t force the willing.” She looked down for a moment, then back to me.
“You know, I would have never done that.” I leaned forward, touching her hands.
She stared at my hand on hers, her lip twitched at my touch. “Yeah, but I had my reasons. First, you are primordial and could have been a problem. And two…”
She rubbed her thumb over the back of my hand, sending a tingly sensation throughout my entire body. Her touch was soft and maddening at the same time.
“Whether or not you want to admit it, there is something between us, Erebus. You always find me—always. It didn’t matter if I had shown up in Olympus or was hiding in Italy. You know, I can’t get into just anyone’s head as I can with yours. Well, like I used to…”
I touched my head, remembering. I hadn’t heard her voice since before I helped lock her up. The dreams of Emily—Atë had stopped as well. Just when I had finally started getting used to her being around, and then everything changed.
“Why do you suppose I can’t hear you anymore?”
She looked around her cell and then back at me.
“I believe Tartarus holds more things than just the wrongdoers of Olympus. Or maybe we just aren’t that close anymore.” The fear in her eyes clear as day. Hesitantly, she scooted as close as she could to the line where her own shadows worked against her, preventing her from leaving, working exactly how they were supposed to.
And then suddenly she was there, in my mind. I could sense her before I heard her.
“If you hear this, just know Tartarus smells like pig shit.”
I looked at Atë, surprised, and let out a laugh. “Well, that truly is sad.” I pulled a bottle of bourbon out from under my robe that I had swiped from the party. “Sorry, I didn’t have a chance to grab glasses.”
Atë let out a sigh. “Honestly, I don’t care, I’ve had nothing but stale water here, so…” she held out her hand and motioned to me to hand her the bottle. “Yes, please, gimme.”
I twisted the cap off the bottle before handing it to her. She grabbed it more forcefully than I expected, taking a long sip, closing her eyes. After she had finished, she licked her lips, making the cutest sound.
“Where did you get this?” she asked.
“Do you want the truth or a lie?” I raised a brow at her.
She giggled. I didn’t know if it was because she was feeling a little more like herself, or maybe it was alcohol after having nothing to eat for a while. Perhaps it was the fact I was using her own words against her. Either way, she looked a little happier.
“I’ve quit the deejaying business, and I’ve decided to go into a bootlegging business.” I put my hand out, asking for the bottle back.
She snickered again, and as she handed the bottle back, her fingers grazed over mine. Her touch was electrifying. I took a long swig, all the while keeping eye contact with her. Guilty, I remembered where I had come from and why I had the bottle.
“Bootleg business, huh? I never would have guessed.”
We sat quietly for a moment. I debated on telling her the truth about why I was there, and then I remembered the box I was carrying in my robes. I patted them softly, searching for the small box Hekate had given each guest at the party. My fingers fumbled the corners of the box as I pulled it carefully from my pocket and held it in my hands.
“What have you got there?”
I placed the box on the floor in front of me.
“I kind of dropped the ball and didn’t get you anything as a housewarming gift.” I slid the box across the ground, hoping she would think my comment was funny.
My eyes shifted from the small box back to Erebus, confused. I took it slowly before sitting back and opening it. Whatever I thought it would be, was not what came out. A dozen or so blue butterflies flew up and into my dark cell. The contrast of vibrant colors was stark compared to the darkened cell. I reached my hand out as a few touched me, then quickly flew off. I didn’t notice until I turned back that I was actually smiling for once. Well, since I had been locked in here.
A strangled gasp escaped me, “Butterflies? You brought me butterflies? They’re beautiful.” My smile faded as the harsh reminder of where I was set in. “It’s sweet, Erebus, but you shouldn’t have. Nothing lives here.”