I didn’t want to return to the God Complex. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of a choice. I couldn’t return to the Revolt House in the state that Sergai had left me in. The ripped, bloody clothes, black eye, bloody nose, cut lips, and bruises would freak them out. They would fuss over me and demand to know where I’d been when the truth was completely out of the question. No lie I could come up with would be believable, not with the severity of my wounds. I, at least, needed to clean myself up before I returned to the house. I could make the damage look better than it was, and then maybe a lie would work on them.
There was only one place I could clean up, and I needed to be quick about it.
I teleported to the Complex. Taking my time to stealth in, I snuck past the front desk while the receptionist was away. I was grateful to find the lounge empty, with no sign of anyone coming by soon. I went straight into the kitchen. I stripped, exposing as necessary to clean up all the scratches and open wounds. I kept the water on low or completely off when I wasn’t using it, hoping to avoid attracting anyone’s attention. I didn’t even bother turning on any more lights. It was difficult to work in the dimness, but I had managed to do more under worse circumstances.
I was able to get the scratches all cleaned up without being interrupted. The biggest issue was the black eye. It needed to go down a bit more, so I wasn’t stuck with just one eye. I opened the freezer and pulled out an icepack. I wrapped it in a damp hand towel as I made my way back into the lounge. Lying back on one of the couches, I pressed the icepack to my eye. I hoped the swelling would go down soon, before—
“Rough day, cupcake?” Of. Fucking. Course. It wasn’t enough to get caught by anyone who hadn’t been present during my mental breakdown. It wasn’t enough for me to be caught by someone who had been there. I just had to be caught by the traitor herself.
I raised my head just enough to give Atë a one-eyed glare. She was standing there with a hand on her hip, smug as ever. She was lucky Sergai fucked me up as much as he had. I was too tired and sore to pounce on her, despite no one being there to stop me.
It took all my discipline not to tense when I felt her lean over the back of the couch to look down at me. I would not give her the satisfaction of knowing I was afraid of her. “Who hit you? Actually, no. Who did you let hit you?”
“Why do you care?” I snapped, putting as much venom into my sass as I could.
Well, you can at least take this opportunity to let her know just who she’s fucking with. That was the argument I made to myself when I felt the need to tell her the truth. Twisting my face into a scowl, I stated, “Underground cage fighting ring. I challenged their most roided-up guy.”
“Hm. Sounds like fun.” This woman was truly psychotic. Why anyone ever doubted that, I didn’t know.
I relaxed a little when she left her perch on the back of the couch. I heard her go into the kitchen and return before she spoke again. “You know, I’ve been thinking, Adrestia.” I couldn’t stop the scoff, but I managed to bite my lip hard enough to keep my snarky comment in check. Of course, that broke my lip open again, and it started bleeding. “Dangerous. I know.” Oh, she was psychic now. “I admire your spirit. Such passion. We’re not that different, you know?”
“I’m not taking that as I compliment,” I said flatly.
“It’s true. A girl taught by her father how to fight in a world that is less than kind. A girl who is strong-willed and believes with her whole heart, she knows what’s right.” Atë’s tone slowly went through a metamorphosis as she spoke. She started very know-it-all and ended with a seriousness I never would’ve believed her capable of. “You have the drive to protect your family. You love them with all you have. You would die for them, yes?”
I couldn’t stop myself from raising my head, curious where she was taking her train of thought. I recognized this trick. It was one Eros had used on me more times than I cared to admit. So I was waiting for the other boot to drop.
“So tell me,” Atë challenged, “what would you do if everything you ever loved was ripped from you?” Pretty sure you did that to me last night. “What if you were cast out for centuries, while the ones you would have died for forgot about you? What if they left you like they never cared?” She sunk her teeth into the apple she had been absent-mindedly spinning on the counter.
“You’re not getting in my head,” I denied flatly. I wouldn’t let her in. Being Eros’s little sister had taught me how to avoid the traps and pitfalls of tricksters like her.
“Of course.” She smirked slowly. “I’m not trying to. Although, if I tried, I probably could.” How was I, or anyone else, supposed to like this bitch when she made threats like that for the fun of it? “Well, maybe not. Tartarus and…something else has made everything a little off-kilter.” Mental note: find whatever something else is. Any weaknesses of hers I could have mentally filed away was another layer of protection against her.
“Our reactions are the same, whether or not you want to admit it,” Atë insisted. “You’re hurt, you lash out. Same as me. The only difference is you are made of war, and I am made of ruin.” As she said that final statement, she presented the apple. She showed it to me as the half-eaten fruit decayed right before my eyes and then tossed it away.
Why did all tricksters have to be graced with the silver tongues that made you want to listen to what they had to say? I couldn’t stop myself from taking in her statements as she continued, “Whether or not you want to admit it to yourself, I am not the same goddess I was when I tried to rip Zeus to pieces. Tartarus is a prison, but it’s more than that. It takes something from you…” The way she trailed off almost made me believe her. Almost.
“If we’re so alike, then tell me something.” Atë leaned against the counter, her arms folded over her chest, giving me the opportunity to speak. “If our situations were reversed, if I had released the horror of the Titans on the world, and nearly killed everyone you loved, would you forgive me? Would you trust me?” Would you be afraid of me?
“Is that what you want?” Atë asked. “To forgive me? To trust me? To kill me?”
“You didn’t answer the question.” Another trick of the tricksters. “Would you forgive or trust me?”
Keeping her arms crossed, Atë shrugged. “If—if I loved again, then yes. But I said we are alike. Not the same. There would be nothing left in this world or the next of the person who hurt them.”
“Then why shouldn’t I be afraid of you?” I couldn’t stop myself from saying it, and once it was said, all I could do was hope the honesty wouldn’t come back to bite me in the ass.
“Because I’m not here to hurt anyone. Not anymore.”
“What guarantee of that do I have?” I challenged. You walk around, wearing your actions as a badge of honor, showing no remorse. Why shouldn’t I assume you’ll do it again? I don’t gamble. Not with the lives of those I love.”
Atë’s attitude reared its ugly head as she scoffed. “You know Kronos is still free, right?” I did know that. Great grandfather was the only Titan we hadn’t sealed away again. At least, the only one still against us. And as much as Atë scared me, I knew he probably had the power to make me die of fright. Of course, I would never admit that. “Why would I come back here for a rehab program when I could go find him and try again?” Probably because you’re his spy on the inside. “I got my retribution. I tried. I failed. I paid for that, but I am not one to pretend I am something I’m not. You want remorse? I have none. I did what I had to.”
“You look like you tried to pick a fight and lost, little sister.” Great. It wasn’t enough that I was dealing with the traitor. Now I had to deal with my older brother. The same one who, the night before, had picked her over me. All when I was fighting for him, his wife, and his children. I needed to get out of there soon before the night before began repeating itself.
But I couldn’t just leave the conversation with Atë where it was. “So it was all worth it to you? The lives lost? The pain wrought? The trauma endured? All worth it?”
Before she answered, Atë flashed a look to Eros, who was pouring himself a cup of coffee. “Most of it, no.”
“You said you have no remorse. So which is it?”
“Remorse isn’t something Attie does,” Eros answered on her behalf. “She wears her mistakes like armor, waiting for those mistakes to push away the people who love her.”
Atë’s look at Eros changed to a glare before she turned her attention back to me. “You asked if it was worth it, and I said most of it wasn’t. I didn’t say I had deep regret for said actions.” Tricksters. Always obsessed with their semantics.
“I don’t see the difference.” And I didn’t. “All I know is, if someone doesn’t feel bad for their actions or doesn’t receive proper punishment, they will believe they can get away with anything and everything.” I had seen too many unremorseful people given too many second chances. Some of those second chances were ones I’d given myself. After enough experience, I knew better.
Eros’s laugh interrupted us again. “You’re forgetting one thing, little sister. Me.” It was my turn to glare at Eros. I guess I should’ve expected them to gang up on me. The night before had made that clear. “What? I didn’t remember Attie when she fell. I do now.”
“So?” I challenged.
“Tia, what would you do to protect me? Or Din? Phobos? Deimos?” Eros asked in that trap-setting way of his.
“Kill.” The word came out on pure instinct before I could stop it. Had I taken a moment to think about his recent actions, I probably would’ve taken more time to come up with a wiser answer. An answer that more accurately reflected my current feelings about it. Besides, just because the answer didn’t apply to Eros anymore didn’t mean it didn’t apply to my other brothers.
“See?” Atë pointed out with a smirk. She really, honestly, thought she had made a good point I couldn’t argue against.
Eros smirked as well. He was thinking the same thing. “There is no one more vicious in protecting those she loves than Atë.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said, my voice heavily laced with sarcasm. “Release the greatest evils in the world to kill the family you want to protect.” I proceeded to give them the sassiest air-quotes I could muster. “There’s an idea.”
Eros’ smirk fell so he could roll his eyes. “That was ’cause she didn’t have us. We didn’t remember her. She does now, as do you.” There they went again, trying to compare me to her.
“You both are making very poor arguments as to why I should be okay with this.”
Eros shrugged. “You don’t have to be okay with it. I never said you did.” Why didn’t they understand that forcing me to allow her to live was forcing me to be okay with the situation? “You’re a general, like me. Why make an enemy when you could make an ally?”
“Well, let’s think about this, Eros. Maybe because that ally has a history of stabbing us in the back?” Why was this so difficult for them to understand?
Atë lifted her hands in admittance. “I mean, technically, you’re right.”
“Not to mention making older brothers betray their families.” I couldn’t stop myself from letting that out. I needed to say it.
“No, not my power,” Atë denied.
Eros put his hand to his chest in mock surprise. “Betray? Moi?”
“You picked her over me. We were all there. We all saw it.”
Eros threw off his carefree manner to scoff. “I didn’t pick her over you, Tia. It’s not about sides. It’s never been about sides.”
I needed to leave. This was shaping up to be exactly like the night before. I was not going to let that happen again. “I’ve had enough. Go hang out with your new favorite.”
I had barely made a step for the door before Eros caught me by the arm, pulling me back to him. “What’s the matter with you? You are my only sister!”
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked back. “I’m not the one trying to defend the bitch that nearly killed you and Dinlas and tried to deny your children the opportunity to live!”
That got to Eros, as I knew it would. His eyes flashed as he snapped his teeth at me. “Don’t bring my kids into this.”
I could feel myself reaching that spontaneous combustion level again. If I didn’t leave, it would be over. “Fine!” I yelled, ripping my arm away from my once favorite older brother. “You don’t want me here!? I’ll leave! Good luck dealing with Kronos while there’s a knife in your back!” I made a beeline for the lounge door.
Everything happened so fast. I went from up-right on my feet to elevated in the air with pressure on my stomach and my gaze to the floor. “Nope. You don’t get to run away.”
“Put me down! Let me go!” I screamed as Eros started carrying me out of the lounge.
“No. You get healed, and we fight. It’s how Din and I work through shit. Welcome to the club.”