I stared at that damned door for what felt like eons now. You know that state of mind where you stare off into space without blinking. Thinking but not breathing, not moving, unaware of how long you have been lost in that void of space. That’s what it felt like most of my days, that or the nightmares. But it was short-lived as the scraping of metal on stone signified that once again, I had a visitor. My eyes shot up as someone I never thought would come back here, encompassed my doorway.
“Well, well, well. Look who came to visit. Color me surprised.” My voice croaks from lack of usage.
“This isn’t a visit. This is business,” Zeus states bluntly.
I lean forward, smirking weakly. “I have no more business.” I pause, waving my hand around my permanent home. “You made sure of that.”
He steps forward into the room, a single eyebrow quirking upwards. “Did I? It seems to me, part of the reason you’re here is because of the business you engaged in.”
I look behind him, expecting Hades to be here as well, but no one else came. Of course, they wouldn’t need to. He was the King of Olympus. He needed no one. No escort. My eyes take in the appearance of my father. Here. In Tartarus. He seems better than our last meeting, granted he wasn’t bleeding nor was I. But still weak in some parts. His posture is demanding but not as straight. His voice is stern but less powerful, which is a facade. He can kill me now, shit he could have killed me before, and yet he didn’t. He left me to a fate much worse.
“And what exactly does that mean? What I did is done. You’re alive and forgiven, loved by all.” I use a single hand to help myself stand, almost stumbling forward. “And me? I am left to rot.”
“Forgiven?” Zeus laughs softly. “You clearly don’t get the news down here.”
His answer catches me off guard for a second as I tilt my head. “Don’t tell me the mighty King has fallen? Have they turned on you too?” I remark earnestly, before slowly shaking my head side to side. “Tsk, tsk such a pity. Tell me, how does that feel?”
Zeus’s retort matches mine in attitude, another reminder I am my father’s daughter. “Fallen? Not so much.” He pauses, reaching around the outside of my cell, grabbing an old metal chair and sits slowly, as if in pain. “They are about to start a war, however, so if that’s what you were after, you got really close.”
“Does it hurt you?”
Zeus sighs slowly. “Would that please you? Hurting me more?”
More? The words hang in the air for a moment as I contemplate what they mean. I had given up a long time ago that my father, or any of them, cared for me, so why now do I second guess it? He only means from the fight, nothing more.
I shake the thought from my head, shrugging. “Honestly? Just the once will do. Spend a couple hundred years here, and you realize it doesn’t matter. None of it does. So tell me, why are you here?”
Zeus nods nonchalantly. “You have something to give me.”
I look around, placing a single hand on my hip. “What? A room with no view? Sure, if you want to trade. Be my guest.”
With his elbows propped on his knees, he rubs a single hand across his beard before speaking, “I know that you will view anything you have in your head as leverage, so let me tell you this right now.” He pauses to meet my gaze, making sure I know he means every single word, “I can’t let you out.”
A corner of my lip quirks as I cross my arms. “How many years has it been, and you still know how my mind works. Fine. But I know you too, and you don’t do chit chat. So again, what do you want?”
“Haven’t seen her.”
Zeus stares at me for a brief second before letting out a labored, painful laugh. His exhausted, seemingly weak frame shakes with laughter. “No, I imagine she hasn’t stopped by, but you do have an idea of where she’s been. There has been some talk of you being one of the last people Hera has seen in the last month.”
I swallow at his words as they ring true. I did see Hera last. Right before I handed her over to Kronos.
I fold my arms again, tilting my head to the side. “And you what? Are going to be her white knight and save her? What makes her so different? You’ve had wives, lovers, mistresses. Being your oldest, I have lived through almost all of them, and yet you come here. Tartarus. For her. Why?”
I watch as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat before answering, “I am a piece to a larger puzzle. Without her, I am not what I need to be.”
I know what he means, and a part of me feels for him—only a small part. It is the one thing I crave. The one thing I want but never will admit. The thing mortals died for, fought for, killed for. The one thing I think I could have had with Erebus.
Smirking, I drop my arms and head back to the end of my cell, sitting, almost mimicking his posture. “Hmm, can’t say the word, can you? I think I get that from you too. But if you are asking me about her now, and it’s been this long. I am afraid you won’t like the answer.”
“There have been a lot of answers lately that I don’t like. Doesn’t make them any less necessary.”
“And there is no chance of a lesser sentence for my answer?” I pause, placing a hand over my chest. “I tell you this out of the goodness of my heart?”
His brow ticks upward. “Lesser how? I could lower your sentence outside of this cell. It would still feel like an eternity here. What would a lesser sentence mean?”
“I don’t want to be in here for an eternity.”
“What do you think your crimes have earned you, if not eternity?”
I scoff, but know I need to plead my case. He is an honorable man, and besides, I have something he needs. Her. Therefore, I have a chance to get out of this Hell prison. “Listen, Dad, you are going to want what I have to give, but I need to know that giving this up means I get considerations. Less time. A shot at sunlight. Something.”
Zeus sits there for a minute, contemplating my words before speaking, “If it is worthwhile, or results in something tangible. We can talk.”
A slow smile plays upon my face. “So, do you want the cliff’s notes or the full version?”
Zeus leans back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other, relaxing. “You act as if there isn’t an abundance of time. You have what I need, so I am here. All I want from you is the truth, in whatever form, however long it takes.”
“It started with a little gift for you, but Hera opened it first. Chronos and his obsession with time. It was an ugly watch from what I remember, but what it held could turn back time. While you were sleeping from a now-dead poet, your wife opened it, and it turned her into a teenager. Kronos was livid. It was supposed to be you. I think they figured you would be easier to kill. Which also fucked with my plans for you. Although I double-crossed him too, so being the,” I pause, holding up air quotes, “devoted lackey he thought I was, he sent me to retrieve her. Which I did.”
Zeus doesn’t move or make a noise, waiting for me to continue.
Leaning my head back, the night replaying as I went on, “You want to know the funny part?”
“That after everything you did, after everything she did, I watched them take her away, and I actually felt guilty.” I stop, raising my head to look at him. It is the first time I admitted that to anyone. Let alone myself. “So yeah, guess my crimes have earned me eternity.”
“Why?” His voice has a hint of pain, pleading to it, “Why did you give her away? If you felt something wrong with doing so.”
My voice strains as I lean forward, “Because I wanted to take everyone away from you. Like you did me. I wanted you to suffer as I had.”
“Yet you hurt yourself in the process. It seems to me your plan wasn’t fully formed. Perhaps not even your plan.”
I brought my knees to my chest. “You should probably hurry if you want to find her.”
“Why? What do you mean, hurry?” Zeus stands in one solid motion, the first sign of emotion or urgency in his demeanor. “What did they promise you for her? What did they promise you for me?”
I push against the wall to stand, a defense mechanism, not that I had the strength to fight him. “No promises. He just wanted her. She was in the way at that age. Destructive. And if it got rid of her, then I obliged. The plan was always to get you alone. Weak. Vulnerable.”
He shakes his head at me, a disappointed father, not King. “What did you get out of it? That seems like such a short term victory.”
“Revenge, of course. I would get mine, and Kronos would get his. He may hate you, but he hates the Primordial more. Sore loser from the first war.”
Zeus looks at me one more time before shaking his head and heading towards the door. His voice echoes back to me as he prepares to leave, “You weren’t the player Atë, you were played.”
“I got what I wanted. Just wasn’t enough.”
Zeus stops at the threshold of the door, his hand on the frame as his head snaps back to me. The energy in the room becomes charged as he turns, “You think you won?” He stalks forward. “The poet got to me first, you missed your shot. If you wanted me, you fucked up. If anything, you got lucky I came back at all. Your plan, however clever you think you are, did not work. Did it? The only thing that you did was let the Titans lose because someone else told you. You had to hurt my wife because someone else beat you to me.” He stops in the middle of the room, scoffing, “Some consolation prize. You couldn’t even do it for yourself. You had to do it because your idiot granddad gave you the plan.”
I push off the wall and I sneer, half laughing as I fake-clap to an empty room. “There’s the good old dad I remember. Are we done now?”
“Done?” His voice echoes, “Are you serious? I wanted to forgive you. I wanted to find a way to keep you from being in here.” Zeus stops as he grabs the chair and smashes it against the wall, bits of electricity race up his arms. This was the father I remembered—the one who haunted my nightmares, who tossed me away. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Only hurt.
“Still, you fucked it up. I had to do my job because of this stupid crown. I had to put you in here because that’s what I am supposed to do.”
“You wanted to!” I yell back. My eyes burn as tears fill them, I fling my arms out to the side, not caring what happens to me any longer. “YOU HAVE WON! You took everything from me again! I am alone again! What more can I give you?”
“What did I win?” Zeus points to himself. “Tell me, what have I won? My wife is a hostage, my daughter a prisoner, and half the family wants you freed, half wants you dead. Duty forced my hand, but I am the reason you’re in here at all.”
I shake my head, and my voice strains as tears fall. “You discarded me then, and you’re going to discard me once more. I know what I’ve done. I see it every fucking time I close my eyes. Do you want an apology? I’m sorry. Ok? Does that help? Make it better? I’m a monster.”
Zeus walks directly over to me as I stare upward, meeting his gaze, not moving. I won’t back down. Not like before. My voice is cold as I snap, “But you made me this way.”
I expect anger. For him to lash out once more. A part of me terrified he will smite me in this very cell, and another part wants it just so that it will finally be over. But his next words shock me. A catalyst of a broken Goddess.
“I want you home. I want you free of this burden that you carry. I know why. I know what for.”
My voice cracks at his words. Free of this burden? “I don’t know how.”
“You had a choice, Atë.”
“I had no one. For centuries. Do you know what that does to you? What you have to change to survive? They didn’t even remember me. Who did I have to turn to, to talk to? You took them all away.”
Zeus’s hands grab my shoulders, but not as before, and no malice follows his grip. “Then you should have killed me. YOU should have come for me. That would have been fair. That would have been just. That would have been a mercy. In all those years by my side, what did I teach you? You who so wish to be the master of her domain. What lessons did you ever learn from me? Never be a tool for someone else’s scheme. You were used.”
I wipe tears from my face with the back of my hand. “I didn’t have anyone else.”
“I am broken, Atë. I am shattered and fractured, but I have to save this family from itself, or we all lose. And you will be stuck here as a pawn in another man’s game. The same game he’s always played.” He pauses, stroking the matted mess atop my head. Not as a king, but as a father. “We do not have to be our fathers’ children. You want revenge? You want retribution? You want to strike a blow to those who have caused you harm? Tell me where Hera is, and you can take your anger out on me when she’s home. This family will live on without me, but it can not be divided against itself. Hera holds them together, more than I ever could.”
I close my eyes and nod “I took her to a prearranged location, and from there Kronos took Hera to somewhere she couldn’t go, but a personal Hell. Somewhere not on this Plane. That’s all I know.”
I expect Zeus to disappear as quickly as he came once I told him all I knew. Instead, he wraps me in a tight embrace. “When this is over, I promise you’ll never be alone again.” Zeus lets me go, turns, and walks out of my cell, the door closing behind him.
The sound was deafening.