accountability: an ares/nicola mythfic
filled commission for daria (phaedraportokalea)
after a particularly bad night, ares opens up to nicola. (3,824 words)
According to the bedside clock it was 2:38 when the front door burst open. She was moving before she was even properly awake, her survival instincts—honed over years of investigative reporting in some of the most turbulent places in the world—acting on auto-pilot. When she properly opened her bleary eyes the Glock was in her right hand, the safety was off, and she was already at the end of the hall.
She’d left her cell on the kitchen table and whoever had broken in was between her and it. Calling the cops was out of the question. Looked like she’d have to put her firing range lessons to some practical use…
Pressed to the wall, she rounded the corner—and was immediately engulfed in a pair of huge, powerful arms. Before she could catch enough breath to scream, a hand clapped over her mouth.
The husky voice in her ear was familiar and she sagged with relief. “Ares, what the fuck are you doing?” she demanded, before noticing the obvious. He positively reeked of alcohol and he was leaning against her not only because they’d never had any personal space with each other, but because he was swaying on unsteady feet. She reached over and hit the light switch.
“M’key wouldn’t work,” he said reproachfully, blinking in the sudden glare. There was a fading bruise around his right eye, his top lip was split, and his shaggy hair was an absolute rat’s nest; combined with the cloud of whisky and the ripped, bloody shirt, the most plausible answer was ‘bar fight’.
“So you just kicked the damn door in?” She pushed at him hard enough to give herself enough space to step away. Went to examine the damage: a splintered door frame and a destroyed chain lock. With a sigh, she braced a chair against the dangling knob to make some semblance of privacy and security. Flicking the safety back on, she set the gun on the sideboard.
He was still staring at her, key held up. He hadn’t moved, but he was staring rather obviously at her breasts.
“That’s not even the right key,” Nicola pointed out, crossing her arms over her chest. She’d turned the heat down before bed and it was chilly enough that her skin was covered in goosebumps—and her nipples were clearly defined beneath her thin camisole. “How long have you been drinking?”
“Wha’ day’s it?”
She knew it took a lot to inebriate a god—and that if Ares was trying to drown out the noise with booze, it had to be serious. “Why’ve you been drinking?” she amended the question.
“I’ll fix the door,” he said uncertainly, swaying. She found herself staring at his split lip. After Nigeria, he’d told her about the Pact: part legal contract and part magic spell, the reason why he and the other Olympians were now living in the Lito. It had essentially warped their essence into something that was equally immortal and mortal, changing ancient gods at a fundamental level. Their minds now operated at a slower pace so they could function in a world regulated by time, gravity, and the other laws of physics. Their bodies were ostensibly human, too, able to feel the gamut of normal sensation, but there were certain things they were immune to. Their bodies didn’t age and were able to withstand the occasional spike of impossible power when they tapped into their latent godhood. And, perhaps most importantly, they were impervious to lasting injury—any bruises or cuts gathered healed almost instantly. Nothing manmade had the power to inflict lasting harm upon them.
So why hadn’t his lip healed? Why was his eye still blackened? The hairs on the back of her neck began to prickle with unease, and when she spoke her voice was harsh in her throat. “Ares, why’ve you been drinking?”
“I… I think I…”
And in a crash that shook the walls, his legs folded and he collapsed to the floor. It took her by such surprise she could only stand and watch; it was like seeing a redwood fall. He’d pushed himself up into a slumped sitting position by the time she knelt beside him, shaking his head like a dazed prizefighter, mumbling incoherently as she braced her legs against his back and pressed a hand to his forehead. His skin was hot and slick as if with a fever. The tattooed arm he leaned against was shivering.
A momentary panic blossomed in her chest, razor sharp and with a freezing burn. Was he sick? Dying? Would a doctor be of any help? Should she call one of the other Olympians?
As if sensing her thoughts, he pressed his head to her chest. “No,” he said. “Don’t want… anyone else. Can’t go… Lito…”
There was nothing else for it; she couldn’t sit there with him on the freezing floor all night. Looping one thick arm around her shoulders, she managed to brace herself enough to haul him upright. He was a massive man and she was a buck forty—not the best of combinations when it came to something like this. Luckily he managed to summon a second wind and was more or less moving under his own power by the time they reached the bedroom—still, it was an uncoordinated fall onto the bed. The springs of the mattress shrieked at the ill-treatment and she extricated herself from the tangle of limbs with some effort. His legs dangled over the edge at uncomfortable angles, but he was already breathing deeper and easier now that he was supported by something soft and forgiving.
The light in the bathroom was too harsh and white and she had to blink back swimming spots as she wet a towel in the sink and grabbed a bottle of peroxide. When she climbed back onto the bed he’d turned himself over and lay on his back, arms spread-eagle and mouth gaping, eyelids twitching fitfully as if he’d fallen straight into a nightmare. Combing back his long hair with her fingers, she wiped at his face, anointing the wounds as gently as she could.
Not for the first time, she wondered at herself. At the tenderness she could feel for a man like this, for the embodiment of war. He hardly deserved such kind treatment; he didn’t deserve her concern. But perhaps that was exactly why she gave it to him. He was a paradox so it was only right that their relationship should be one, too. He was what he was. She was what she was. Perhaps it really was as simple and complicated as that.
As she unbuttoned his shirt he started to stir, mumbling anew. The bruise pattern over his chest had to have been the work of fists—many fists, if she knew him at all. In any conflict he was always at the center of it, the instigator and most abused. She wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the entire bar had turned on him and gotten their fair share of licks in. She lightly pressed the towel over his heart, where the brunt of the blows had landed, and knew that if he had been just a man he would be dead by now. So many punches on any other man would’ve cracked ribs, punctured lungs, bruised the heart tissue itself. If not for his innate immortality, Ares would now be zipped inside a body bag and loaded into a van bound for the morgue.
That was sobering. And to think she’d gone to bed worrying about meeting her next deadline.
When she lifted the towel she saw, to her immense relief, that the bruises were already paler. The ruddy blue-black was fading into the mottled yellow-green of a half-healed contusion. And, yes, his lip looked better, too. Almost before her eyes his body was absorbing the marks of the altercation. She touched his cheek and the skin was only warm, not burning hot, the sweat drying on his brow. The mumbling had faded and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
While he slept she manhandled him into a more comfortable position, pulled off his boots and ripped jeans, and drew a sheet over him. Decided to count the night as a loss and put on her robe before padding into the kitchen and turning on the coffee maker. While she was up—and the last shreds of panic dissolved in her blood like acid—she might as well polish her latest article.
She was finishing her second cup and had just sent the completed piece to her editor when she heard him call her name from the next room.
He was sitting up, back pressed to the wall, and looked confused. “I don’t remember… When did I get here?” he asked.
“About an hour ago. You were in a pretty bad way—do you remember what you were doing tonight?”
Ares shook his head slowly, running a hand over his face and through his hair, mercilessly ripping through the knots. “Noise. Whisky shots. I think someone hit me with a chair.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
He looked down at his blood-stained shirt. Pulled aside the fabric and saw the faint splotches. “How bad was it?” he asked, voice hoarse. When he met her eyes she saw a quicksilver flash of something incredibly unsettling: fear. Fear and understanding.
“Whoever you pissed off made a concerted effort to beat you to death,” she said bluntly. “If you weren’t what you are, you’d be dead.”
“Oh, fuck,” he said quietly but with feeling, before lapsing into a guttural language she didn’t recognize.
She set her coffee mug on the bedside table and knelt on the edge of the bed. “Ares, what’s going on? What did you do? The state you were in—I thought you said it was impossible for you to get like that. Nothing mortal can harm an Olympian, that’s what you told me. But you passed out. Your body wasn’t healing like it should. How can a bar fight knock out the God of War?”
“Nicola,” he said slowly. “I fucked up. I fucked up bad.” He was breathing heavily, shallowly, like a man on the verge of a panic attack. Her blood pressure had just evened out but now it spiked right back up. It was terrifying seeing him so rattled. When a god was this disturbed something was seriously wrong.
“Should I call someone?” Her mind raced. After her insistence he’d started seeing the trauma therapist she’d recommended: “Bia?”
He shook his head. “No, no, she can’t—no one can—oh shit. Nicola, I did something— She promised me— I knew it was all bullshit, I knew it was stupid, I knew I couldn’t trust… But when you get to the edge, when you know there’s nothing else, no one, you’re willing to do anything. Anything. I was so fucking angry. Desperate. I knew she’d fuck me over, I knew it wouldn’t help, but I did it anyway. For the first time in decades I was feeling good, I felt like I had control… I brought this on myself. I fucked myself over.”
The words were a bitter torrent; his expression was thunderous. He was gripping the bed with such force that his fingers had torn through the sheets, were piercing the mattress beneath. He looked on the verge of literal explosion.
She slapped him. It was an instinctive move, more a reflex than a conscious decision, and she didn’t put a lot of weight behind it. But it was sharp and sudden enough to shock him from his self-flagellation. The anger on his face instantly crumpled, the mask falling away, and she saw how absolutely terrified he was beneath.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I don’t know why I—”
“Thank you,” he cut her off, catching her by the arms, pulling her closer. “Thank you.” His arms wrapped around her waist and he bowed his head, forehead pressing against her sternum. He was shivering with emotion and she cradled his head and neck, utterly off-balance. She had never imagined such a tableau with him, had never expected it would be anything but rough and antagonistic between them. Never thought she’d see him so achingly vulnerable and in need of comfort.
“What can I do?” she heard herself whispering. “Tell me what to do.”
He lifted his head and she could swear his eyes were glowing, golden like a cat’s in the dim light spilling in from the hall. “Give me strength,” he said. “Give me my power back.”
He surged up and kissed her, fingers dragging at her back. As was always the case, she instantly submitted to the force of him. It would be unthinkable not to—when he touched her, kissed her, pressed his body against hers, she could think of nothing else but him. Gone were her scruples, washed away in a wave of hormones. When he pulled at her camisole, she immediately lifted her arms. When he tugged at the waistband of her shorts, she shifted her hips to dislodge the fabric.
The lingering flavor of coffee on her tongue met the whisky on his as he pressed her down into the mattress. His hands tightened around her wrists, pinning them above her head as his teeth scraped the curve of her neck. Was it only her imagination or was he becoming more forceful, more confident with each second? The moment of unusual vulnerability had passed and he was once again the same demanding, hungry Ares she’d always known.
Every time they had sex it was overwhelming. There would come a moment when she would remember with blinding clarity that he wasn’t just a man and she was just a woman. There’d be a momentary panic that this time, this time, he would forget his own strength. That his power would suddenly slip free and her humanity would prove inadequate to handling it. Every time he fucked her a part of her would wonder if he would literally be the death of her and she hoped that there was some fine print in that Pact preventing such a thing.
But then he would kiss her again, his hand would cup her breast, and she would stop caring. After all, she flirted with death every day—it had to be better to die in a rush of pleasure than in a hail of bullets.
He paused abruptly, knees firmly bracketing her hips, her legs immobile under the weight of him. She was clutching at the sheets with hands still pinned by his. Her hair was in her eyes and she made no effort to remove it. Her entire body was trembling, primed, waiting.
“Do I frighten you?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
“And yet you still welcome me into your arms. Into your bed. Why?”
“Because I want you so much it hurts,” she confessed. She felt giddy and light-headed, and the predatory smile he flashed—all sharp white teeth and hunger—ran through her like the most potent of aphrodisiacs. A psychologist would have a field day over what that said about her.
He thrust into her and her breath caught in her throat. “Did that hurt?”
“Please,” she gasped.
“You’re beautiful,” he said, breath hot against her cheek, his beard rough over her skin. “Especially when you beg.”
“Please,” was all she could say, heart thumping like mad against her ribs, body aching, every other coherent thought dissolving around the fact of him as he fell into a hard, almost punishing rhythm.
He kissed her as she came, swallowed her cry with lips that curved into a smile as she shuddered beneath him. Body satiated, her mind regained some semblance of control and the first hazy thought she had was, He could do anything to me in the throes and I would thank him. I put such trust into him; I really shouldn’t. Why do I give him such power over me? Because he’s a god—or is it some other reason?
When he lay beside her, a proprietary arm tight around her, she lifted a hand to brush away her tangled hair. Looked at the dark red marks his fingers had imprinted on her wrist. “Ares,” she said calmly. “What did you do?”
He was silent.
“This arrangement only works one way,” she said, pushing herself up from his chest. “You can’t come to me for help—take from me—”
“I only took what you gave,” he said.
“No,” she said firmly. “Don’t think I didn’t realize what was happening. I’ve been around you and the Lito enough to know some things. You all have power that’s still connected to your old domains—it’s what keeps you alive, that and your Pact. Whatever you’ve done damaged that part of you. That’s why you picked a fight in a bar, isn’t it? Because you had to tap back into it somehow and you didn’t have enough time to start a full-scale war. And when that wasn’t enough, you came here. Because you already know how you can take power from me; how I give you control. I felt it while we made love—how your strength came back.” She looked pointedly down at his unbruised chest. “How the last of your injuries healed. Now you tell me what you did, because that was the deal: I’ll give you control so long as I can hold you accountable.”
His brow furrowed—it was an impressive one to furrow. He curved his free arm beneath his head. “I made a deal with Eris,” he said flatly. “I let her tap into my godhood.”
“Why?” Nicola demanded.
“Because it was the only way she could get around the confines of the Pact. Because she promised me control when it was all over.”
She swallowed thickly; with such an offer, of course he’d do something stupid. Control over his barbaric nature was the only thing Ares had ever truly wanted. “When what was over?”
He pulled away and slipped out of bed. “She wants to destroy the Pact. Kill Zeus, Poseidon—most of the family, really. Take things back to the way they used to be.”
“But you said that was impossible,” she said weakly. “That you were fading away before the Pact. How does she think that it would ever—”
“Eris doesn’t care,” he said loudly. “She really doesn’t. If destroying the Pact destroys her, too, she’d still do it. That’s what she is. She just wants everything to burn. It doesn’t matter if she burns with it.”
“And you helped her?” Nicola demanded, leaning forward and grabbing his arm. “Why?”
“Because I was at a point where I didn’t care any more,” he said. “I was so angry I just wanted it to stop. I didn’t see the point in living in this world any more. If we all died, if the whole fucking planet exploded, maybe then I’d finally have some peace.”
“You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to tell the others.”
“If I move against her,” Ares said slowly. “She’ll do worse than kill me. She’ll drain me dry. Leave me nothing but this physical body.”
“She’s already doing that—you almost died tonight.”
He stared at her, eyes entirely focused on her face rather than her bare, heaving chest—and yet she felt more exposed rather than less. “That matters to you,” he said quietly. “Whether I live or die.”
Her voice was gone; it had taken her breath with it.
“What if I did die?” he went on. “Really died. Maybe that would be a good thing for the world. Maybe if I was gone, war could cease to be. Maybe I’d take the whole bloody concept with me to the grave. If I was at peace, maybe humanity would be, too.”
“No,” she managed to say. “No, it doesn’t work like that. We made you, not the other way around. Isn’t that what you told me? You’re something we made after the fact—you were never the cause. If you were gone… something else would fill the vacuum. Or maybe wars would break out everywhere, chaotic and unstoppable, like hurricanes. Maybe you’re the only way war can be at all contained or governed.”
“That’s very philosophic of you.”
“If you truly wanted to die, you wouldn’t have come here.” The words had slipped from her lips unbidden but she knew they were cold truth as soon as she uttered them. “You came to me because you knew I could help.”
He looked away. Pulled on his jeans. Picked up his stained shirt.
“God damn it, Ares, you know I’m right.”
“Yes,” he said roughly. “You’re right. You’re always right, Nicola. I came here because I knew you could pull me back. Because you’re a tether. Because I let you put a collar round my throat and gave you the leash to hold. I go too far and you choke me—but when I come back in I can breathe again.” He threw the shirt down and sank onto the edge of the bed, his broad dark back to her. “I’m fucked,” he said after a long pause. “Either Eris will destroy me or Zeus will.”
When she reached out and touched his shoulder, he flinched. He was so accustomed to violent blows that gentle caresses startled him. Even with all of his faults and transgressions, it was impossible for her to completely harden her heart towards him for just that reason. “Yes, you probably are fucked,” she agreed, sliding her arms around him and pressing her cheek to his, breasts brushing his shoulders. “But you brought this on yourself. Which means the only way to fix any of it is to accept the responsibility and do something about it,” she whispered in his ear. “You’re a god, Ares. So act like one. Do something that’s worthy of sacrifices and offerings. Look after the humanity that made you.”
He reached up and grasped the arm looped around his neck, thumb rubbing a circle over her freckled skin. “Will you come with me?” he asked. “Would you stand by me when I face Zeus?”
A sobering thought: facing down the king of the gods in a moment when tempers were bound to run high. Zeus had never been known to be good at anger management; collateral damage was often enough to be a given. But she tightened her hold of him and nodded. “Yes, if you want me there.”
What he said next made her believe that perhaps miracles were possible. Because Ares, the once unrepentant God of War, who had only ever taken and maimed and scarred the world without ever asking for permission or forgiveness, who had never been grateful to anyone, said in a voice that was little more than a whisper:
“I do. Want you. Thank you.”