It only took a moment for the crown to appear as I stepped foot into the underworld. Between one breath and another, I felt the weight of the Iron on my head. I was here out of sync, and part of me worried what effect it would have on the seasons above. I met Hades at the gates to Tartarus as arranged, and he accompanied me for the interview with Atë. We went deeper into the prison, down to the cell that had previously held a Titan, but now held my sister as punishment for her crime.
I stopped outside the door, peering in through the small window, taking in her disheveled appearance, the deep smell of earth, and the overall cool atmosphere of Tartarus. Without a second thought, I pushed open the door. The sound of metal scraped against the stone and alerted her to my arrival.
“Atë, would you like to talk?”
She craned her neck to peer over at me. The time alone in the cell had already eroded her confidence.
“What do you mean, talk? Don’t we always..?” Atë paused a moment to listen before continuing, “They talk,” another pause, “he talks, everyone talks.”
“I mean, you talk and I listen. Not talk at you.” I sat down on the floor inside the cell. No fast movement to trigger a threat response or worry. I pressed my back against the wall as Hades stood outside, listening to our conversation.
Atë stood and craned her neck. To her, this time was different than before. The door was never open. Atë darted forward faster than I expected and hit the same shadow wall of her prison.
I watched as her hand scratched down the invisible shield before she turned and met my eyes.
“Oh.” Her voice was dry, with no humor, no snark, and completely devoid of any personality. “So you are really here. What’s it been? A hundred years or so?”
I knew she could read the pain on my face as I met her gaze. I had no poker face. “I am really here. I promised I would come.” I kept an even, soothing tone in my voice as I spoke to her, removing my crown. I set it on the floor next to me. I wanted to be here as a sister first and the queen second. “But no, Atë, it has not been that long. Though I am sure it seems as if it has.”
She shook her head before tilting it sideways like a bird. “I don’t remember promises,” her voice was haunted. “I don’t remember much of anything, really. It all kind of bleeds together.”
“At Father’s meeting. I promised. I will always be here for you, no matter what. What do you remember? Do you remember why?” I never took my eyes from her, even when she avoided my gaze. I wanted to keep watching her behavior.
Her eyes shifted to the darkened emptiness next to her and then back to me. “Remember why? Why I am here?” Just listening to her broke my heart. This was a shattered soul, a broken being, and not the confident and cocksure sister I grew up with.
“Yes, dear. Do you remember why you are here and why you did what you did?” I tried to keep my face neutral, but I could already feel the tears welling up.
Remaining silent for what felt like an eternity, Atë snickered, then burst into laughter. She pushed herself off the floor, and her eyes turned wild.
“Remember that?” There was an edge of madness to her. “How could I forget?” Her voice dropped lower, “It’s all I dream about. That and…” she faltered back into silence. I let it hang, watching and keeping eye contact.
Whirling, she turned back to me, and raised a single elegant finger, nail broken, and red polish chipped. “I have a question now. Why are you here?”
That was the easiest question to answer. “Because you are my sister. And I love you. And I do not think this is the end for you.”
Atë scoffed and looked between where Hades remained, stoic in the doorway, and at me still sitting on the floor.
“So he let you down here after a hundred or so years, because you love me?” She spat the words at me with derision, “I don’t buy it.”
“It has not been a hundred years, Atë. But yes, I came because I love you, and I want to be here for you. No matter what.” I hung onto my tone, keeping the tears at bay as much as I could.
“Funny. So funny.”
“Why is that funny, Atë?”
Her laughter bounced off the stone walls of her prison as she clasped her hands together and looked at me. “Because I almost ripped Zeus and the world to pieces. I’ve done terrible things, Iron Queen,” she said my title with a curl of her lip, “and now, after I am left to rot, you all come to me because you care?”
“I know.” I nodded. “It seems too little, too late. I understand that. There was a lot that was hidden from me. A lot I never understood or could even know. But. I still think what you did came from a place of hurt.”
“And you’re what? Here to fix me?” The mass of her hair hung in an uncombed mess around her face.
“Do you want to spend forever down here?” I countered. “I am here to listen. To be what you needed all along. Family. A friend. Someone who does care.”
Atë choked on her next words, “Are you suggesting freedom?” She shook her head. “No, you couldn’t…”
“Yes. That is what I am suggesting.” I subconsciously tucked my own hair behind an ear in a reaction to her tangled mess. “Others do not agree with me. But I believe in you.”
She shook her head as if to clear a dream. “And how would you get me out? Zeus would never allow it.”
“Therapy. Rehabilitation. Working together. I am preparing a program for him and Hades.” I would not sugarcoat it for her; it was not going to be easy. Neither convincing them, nor the process.
“Rehabilitation? What do you mean? Like,” her breath caught in her throat, as her golden eyes peered at me from beneath her hair, “I could leave?”
“Yes. IF,” I emphasized the word, “Father and Hades approve the program. It would be therapy and rehabilitation for you and I to work together, focusing on letting you leave here.” I looked at her, meeting her gaze, trying to impart the compassion I felt. “But I am committed because I think you are worth it.”
The possibility of release was the catalyst of her interest. Atë weighed her next words carefully. “What would I have to do?”
“Weekly visits with me. Therapy. The stuff you hate the most like talking about feelings,” I laughed sardonically. “Agree to harm no one on Olympus.”
She paced the small chamber, her feet shuffling against the stone. “And that’s it? No shackles or chains? I just show up, spill my guts, and not hurt anyone?”
“No shackles or chains. You do have to feel remorse, if you are insincere, he will know.” This was going better than I had hoped it would. I had been certain she would not even talk with me.
I watched as she looked down, muttering quietly, “Shouldn’t he already?”
“That is why I am here, because I think he does know just like I do. But as a King, he has to make decisions that kill him inside. Decisions that he does not want to make, but that have to be made.”
“So what do I do? Sign a paper? Seal it in blood?” Her usual snark began to return, with the way she spat the words.
“With me, it is just your word. With Zeus and Hades…” I shrugged. I did not know what the Kings would require of her.
Atë raised her eyes to me, “I’ll do anything. Anything.” The last word was a mere whisper in the stone room.
“Atë, I cannot say it will be easy. But I promise you that I will do everything to get you out of here.” I did not want to give her any false hope, but I would do all I could. “Are you ready? Can you do this? If Zeus and Hades approve, are you ready to work at this?”
I watched as her eyes tracked from me to Hades, who stood in the door, and back. “No tricks, no games? I agree to this, and I get out, right?”
“No tricks. No games. I have to get Zeus and Hades to agree. That is why he is here. To attend this discussion. But if they agree, and you agree, yes.”
Atë moved forward, dropping to the floor to sit opposite me, crossing her legs. “I agree. So what’s the first question, Doc,” she paused and looked at me. “Can I call you Doc?”
We had made some ground. “You can call me whatever you want.” I took a deep breath and smiled at her. “Atë, what is the first thing you remember? After Father called us back.”
With weary eyes, I studied the papers before me. I had gathered all the information I could and put together the best proposal I had. Scientific criteria on rehabilitation, the studies I had done on all the Titans who I thought were worth the effort, and what the repercussions would be if I failed.
The day I had spent in the Underworld with Atë was enlightening, but also draining. Rubbing my face, I closed my eyes, knowing what I put on the line by suggesting this.
It was a gamble, but then anything with Atë was a gamble. If she backslid, if Helios backslid, I would be in a cell right next to them.