Title: All's Fair - Prequel to In Love and War
Fandom: TVD, Greek Gods AU
Ship: Klaus/Caroline Forbes, with hints of Stefan/Caroline, Damon/Katherine
A/N: Quick update only because this was originally part of the last chapter, but I decided to chop it into a separate chapter because it made more sense that way. Don't get spoiled. I may not be this reliable for future chapters. _ Also this is unbeta'd so mistakes are abound! Thanks for reading! =)
Diomedes watch from his divan as people congratulates Paris, clasping their hands on his shoulders and back. The Trojan prince beams in the limelight. Despite all the games and tournaments that have taken place, battles fought and won and valor proven, the chariot race remains the single event that shines above all.
Throughout the day, people have been asking him to recount the heroic tale, but Diomedes had claimed the entire event was a blur to him. They praised him for his humility, but in seeking a better storyteller, they gravitated towards the outspoken Paris who was only all too happy to narrate the entire scene with great extravagance.
This allowed Diomedes the company of his thoughts with mild interruption. His head was abuzz. He had lied when he claimed the event was a blur. He remembers it all too clearly and most clear of all was Athena's eyes, piercingly blue and knowing, before the start of it all. He knows she's involved somehow, but he does not know how and it upsets him.
He looks again to the happy faces surrounding Paris, laughing and ah-ing over each delectable detail the Trojan spins. At face value, the taming of the bull was heroism, the kind of spectacular event that should grace the grand tournament of a king. They overlook the damage done to the city from the stampede, or those who were injured or hurt. These are the things Diomedes will have to deal with once everyone else has moved on, the fall out.
"You look tense," Helen says, placing her hand over his, shaking him out of his reverie.
Composing himself, Diomedes turns to her and smiles, shaking his head. "It's just been a long day. I'm weary, that is all."
"Well you did wrestle a bull," Helen says teasingly.
Diomedes chuckles, "I merely restrained it, Paris, over there is the one crazy enough to wrestle the creature."
Quirking her eyebrows at him, Helen swats his arm. "Are you jealous of the attentions the Trojan prince has won?"
Diomedes laughs. "Gods, no. Paris can soak up all the praise and attention as he likes. I'd much rather stay in the shadows."
"Well, if it matters any..." Helen leans forward and whispers into his ear, "My attention is all on you."
Her breath is warm and slightly spicy, like cinnamon. Turning to face her, Diomedes suddenly notices their close proximity. As it would be, somebody else has noticed as well.
"It seems like the prince would like to speak with you," Helen says, tilting her head towards Paris. She stands up in a singular graceful and fluid movement, her clothes rippling as she does so.
Making his way through the seas of people the prince of Troy stops in front of Diomedes. He inclines his head slightly and places his hand on his chest in salute. Diomedes rises from his seat to acknowledge the greeting.
"Paris," Diomedes says, forcing a smile.
"On behalf of Troy, I thank you for your hospitality."
"Of course, Troy and Argos are friends, are we not?" The words are loaded and Paris knows it. His lips twitch into a caricature of smile.
"Of course," he replies.
Behind Paris the Trojans have started loading their horses and carts with luggage, crates, and other possessions of the prince.
"Leaving so soon?" Diomedes inquires.
"My father calls for my return," Paris answers.
"That is a pity. We shall miss your presence."
Despite his cordial tone, Paris can tell Diomedes does not mean what he says.
"Alas I will return empty handed it seems. There was no victor for our race," Paris says, a slight twist of disdain on his lips.
"No, but it has a hero," Diomedes replies smoothly. "And you will not be going home empty handed." With a wave of his hands, several soldiers appear from beyond the gate dragging an enormous bull behind them.
"The bull that stampeded the race, it is yours. As a symbol of my thanks and as a gesture of friendship."
Paris watches as the soldiers, ten grown men, struggle to control the monstrous animal.
The Argive king places the reins to the bull into Paris's open palm. The moment that he does, the unruly creature stills. They both stare as the previously untamable beast goes docile.
Diomedes's lips twitch upwards in a bemused smile. "Somehow, I think gods meant for you to have him."
Paris stares at the Argive king. There is a ring of sincerity in the Diomedes's words that Paris could not ignore. Unlike his previous politeness, Paris does not doubt the king this time.
"Αντίο*, Prince Paris."
Breaking eye contact, Diomedes turns to his advisor. "Chancellor, will you please see to Prince Paris and all of his men's needs?"
"Of course, my king," the man replies, bowing.
With a last parting nod, Diomedes turns away, his cloak sweeping the floor as he does so. When the Argive king is no longer within view or earshot the chancellor sidles up besides Paris conspiratorially.
"Our plot failed," the chancellor grumbles lowly. "If the race had gone on just a little longer, the king would've crossed the ravine first and the bridge would have collapsed beneath him. It would have been the perfect crime. He had seen to the restoration of that bridge himself, it was a project left unfinished by his father. There would have been no suspicions."
"No point crying over spilt milk," Paris replies dryly.
"The bull's stampede may have deterred our plans, but it would have killed him had you not come to his aid," the chancellor points out.
"His men would have speared the bull before it came to that," Paris retorts.
"It was still a possibility-"
"There was no guarantee of death other than that of the beast," Paris replies, firmly. "And besides...how could I resist such a magnificent creature?" As if agree, the bull snorts.
Paris places his hand against the bull's head and glances back up at the silhouette of the Argive palace, its flag waving in the wind. In one of the open verandas, he spots Helen upon a divan. For a single moment their eyes meet. She regards him with a nod and a most enigmatic little smile.
"Perhaps it was fate," Paris says, eyes still upon the Spartan princess.
The bull snorts and stamps its feet, tearing his attention away from Helen. Rubbing his hand across its snout, the creature soothes.
"I think the gods have more in store for me yet."
Diomedes is on his way to his study after consulting with his advisors and physicians regarding the damages of the chariot race when the sound of clapping coming from behind him makes him spin around. Above him Athena perches on a wall. Her eyes are dancing with mischievous glee.
"I saw Troy's banners disappearing over the horizon. Well done, young king. I'm impressed by your diplomacy. Prince Paris will not soon forget your gift to him."
He returns her smile with solemnness.
"Did you know that the Trojan prince has an affinity for bulls? His favorite pastime is to train them to battle against one another. I knew he would not be able to resist demonstrating his prowess."
"So the bull was your doing," he doesn't say it like a question, his intonation carefully measured.
Oblivious to Diomedes's tone, Athena revels in her own cleverness.
"When I found out that he had entered himself into the race I knew you could not have risked winning against him for fear of insulting the Trojans. Yet you could not lose in your own tournament as king. It was a diplomatic conundrum. Both paths before you were bleak," she shrugs. "So, I changed the odds."
"You could have told me this."
"I tried, if you'd recall," Athena says pointedly, "but you were drunk and you didn't seem to be in the mood to talk."
Diomedes's face is stony and he doesn't reply. It's not at all the exuberant reaction Athena had expected from him.
"Do you know how many were injured because of that stampede?"
Athena's expression turns grave. "Eight men, five women and a child."
"So you do know," Diomedes replies. "Of course, you know everything don't you?"
"I'm a goddess," she says frankly. "Do you expect less?"
His mood does not lighten.
"I don't understand why you are upset."
"Because you put my people in danger, Athena!"
"It was the lesser evil. Those fourteen injuries are significantly less than the hundreds and thousands that could have occurred had you offended Troy. If you would only think about this logically, you will see that I am right."
"No, I see everything. I understand completely. Statistically, yes. You are correct. Fourteen injures means nothing in the scheme of things. Especially not to the gods. But these are my people, Athena. I cannot afford to think of their lives so lightly."
"No other god is more empathic to mortal plights than I. How many times have I demonstrated that? You've borne witness to it yourself. And despite what I may feel, sometimes I have to make the difficult decisions that will benefit the greater good of humanity. You will have to understand that if you are to be king, Dio."
The use of her childhood nickname for him is too much and it only fuels his anger. He does not need her to patronize him, to reveal his already overflowing insecurities about kinghood.
"Yes, you are the champion of us mortal heroes, but unlike you we are imperfect, flawed. When we inevitably fail, you will find others to replace us. I'm sorry to be such a disappointment."
His words cut her, a wound deeper than she thought words could cut.
"Where is this coming? Before you are my champion, you are my friend. I did what I did today to protect you. That's all I've endeavored to do. I will not apologize for that."
"Perhaps it's time I learn to protect myself. You were right. I must learn to make the difficult decisions myself as king. I can't keep letting you fight my battles for me."
Silence draws out between them.
"I'm sorry," Diomedes says, his hands covering his face. "I did not mean to sound ungrateful. I am grateful. For what you've done, for all that you've done for me before today. I just... Perhaps I have just been living with my denials for so long I've come to believe them." He looks up at her. "And now it's time to face the truth."
"And what does facing the truth entail?" Athena asks cautiously.
"It means... I have decided to court Helen."
Wholly unexpected, the words feel like a physical slap to Athena, though she somehow manages to keep from stumbling backwards from the blow.
"As you've said she will make a good queen and Argos would benefit from being Sparta's ally. My kingdom will be stable with her by my side."
She listens as he throws her logic and reasoning back at her. Everything he says is true and she knows that he is merely taking her advice, but to hear them come from his mouth brings an unwanted twist to her stomach.
"And she's not an unlovely girl. She will bear me sons, I'm sure. They will have half Spartan blood in them and be warriors."
Somehow hearing him speak of a mortal future is more than she can bear and she raises her hand to silence him.
"That's enough. I know all the reasons why you should court Helen. You have no need to convince me of their merit."
A lump forms in Diomedes's throat. He already regrets everything he has said even if he knows it is all truth. And Helen... Perhaps he's trying to convince the both of them.
"You're my favorite, you know," Athena confesses. "More so than Odysseus, Jason, more so than your own father... you're my favorite. Did you know that?"
He does. And perhaps this is why it hurts him so.
"I only wish the best for you, but you're right. It's time I should stop arranging fate and let you find your own destiny."
"If you ever need me-"
"I will always need you, Athena. I just need to learn to stand on my own feet."
The words are bittersweet.
"Well, then if you ever find yourself stumbling..." She closes the gap between them, rises to the tips of her toes and presses her lips against his cheek. "I'll come. You only have to call."
Somehow it feels like good bye.
Her parting with Diomedes has left her in foul spirits. Her chest feels laden with lead and her head cloudy. As if in tune to her mood, Zeus has sent thunder clouds over Argos. As she wanders about the streets in her disguise, it begins to rain.
She finds herself tracing the path of the chariot race tracks, chasing the little muddy rivers that has formed from the rain. The water feels nice against her skin, clearing her thoughts. As she chases a leaf caught in the water's torrent, she hears screaming and shouting.
Following the clamorous voices, she reaches the ravine near the end of the race tracks. A small crowd of people has formed, rushing about in the rain in panic.
"Help! Please! My husband is stuck underneath the bridge! Please, somebody!"
Pushing her way through the crowds of people she sees the terrible ruin of the bridge that once reached across the other side of the chasm.
"What happened?" she asks a woman standing nearby.
"It seems like the man was trying to pull his cart across the bridge when the whole thing just went under. He's stuck down there now and no one seems able to get him out. It's just too dark for them to see. Poor soul, he'll be crushed for sure. Or if this rain won't let up, he'll drown."
Overhearing this, his wife's wailings grows louder, rivaling the rain and thunder.
Glancing around Athena spots several abandoned metal shields lying against the side of a nearby building.
"How many lanterns do we have?" Athena asks.
"A mere handful," a man speaks up.
Smiling, Athena says, "I have an idea."
Athena leads a group of men down to the ravine, their arms laden with the few lanterns they had and the shields. Once they've reach the ground floor, she directs them on how to position the shields and lanterns.
"I don't know what you mean to achieve with these shields, miss. There's just not enough light down here. There's no chance we can navigate through the wreck to find the man."
"Just position everything as I say and trust me."
Though skeptical, the men scurry to do as she asks. They just couldn't seem to deny the curiously enigmatic young woman. She has an oddly persuasive and commanding aura about her.
After several moments of bustling about, everything is in place.
"Turn on the lanterns!" Athena shouts.
Obediently the men do as she says. The moment the lanterns are lit, the entire place is suddenly flooded with light..
"My gods! How did you do that?" the man beside Athena says in awe.
"The shields are reflective," Athena reply simply. "And by arranging them this way with the lanterns, they reflect the most light towards the bridge. Now you must hurry!"
Without wasting any more time, the men rush to action, carefully removing rocks and debris. After what seems like an infinitely long time someone yells, "I think I see him!"
Athena's heart leaps up. Looking up above, she sees the man's wife clutching the woman beside her, watching at the edge of the cliff. A smile blossoms on her lip to see the woman's eyes light up with hope. Turning back to watch the men's progress, she can see a shadowed figure in the wreckage.
Her smile dies instantly the moment they pull the man out. In the brightness of the reflected lanterns, Athena can see that his head has been crushed in. Hades has already claimed him.
Athena has never heard a sound as heartbreaking as that of the man's wife when they carry his body to her. Diomedes accused her of missing the trees for the forest, that she only cared for the glory of mankind, but not its individuals. If that is so, why does her heart hurt as much as it does now?
"Don't blame yourself, dear. He must have died instantly. Not even the gods could've saved him," one of the men says, gently touching her shoulder.
The words, spoken kindly, do not make her feel any better.
Athena doesn't remember how she got back up out of the ravine, but she distinctly recalls the man's wife crying over her dead husband's body, the rain mingling with her tears and washing away his blood, turning the water pink. Eventually her neighbors manage to drag her away and carry her husband's body off to where it can be properly buried.
Athena remains in the rain, watching water build up in the ravine. Her eyes fixate on the wreckage of the bridge.
This shouldn't have happened, she thinks.
Making her way towards the edge of where the bridge had broken off, she recalls Diomedes signing a decree to have all the bridges on this side of the city torn down and built anew. The construction finished mere days before the tournament. Kneeling down and inspecting the wood, her suspicions are confirmed. The wood, despite the ruinous state it is in, is new.
Bridges don't just collapse on their own.
Perhaps it was just a case of faulty workmanship. And thankfully nobody has ever even been on this bridge before today because it was closed off for the chariot races.
And then it clicks. Her hands begin to tremble as the puzzle pieces fall into place before her. She wasn't the only one manipulating the fates.
Somebody was trying to sabotage the chariot races.
Finding it impossible to shake the ghosts of her discoveries, Athena remains in Argos after the rain lets up. Unable to come up with logical explanations for motive or suspects or even confirmations of her paranoia, she finds herself wandering to the steps of the arena to sort out her thoughts. Something about basking in the spirit of the battles there calms her. The place is empty, except for a few servants sweeping the grounds and putting away weapons and armor.
She quietly watches them work, letting her thoughts drift when a familiar husky voice interrupts her.
"The tournament is over, so why is it that the Goddess of Wisdom is still lingering at the balconies? I didn't think sweeping would be an activity you enjoyed watching."
Athena starts. His scent, musk, sweat and something distinctly Ares, assails her senses as he steps into the empty space beside her. His presence seems to swallow up all the air in her lungs. She watches him from the corner of her eyes. The sight of him after all of her proclamations, vocal or otherwise, makes all of her conviction seem like lies.
"The fresh air helps me think," she answers belatedly, twisting her hands together.
The memory of the man crushed underneath the bridge nags at her, the truth seeker in her stirring.
"A man was nearly killed crossing the bridge over the ravine last night... it just occurred to me that the bridge was part of the race tracks."
"Don't you find that curious?"
Ares laughs. "I don't. Why waste your time? These mortal affairs are trifle things, Athena."
She's suddenly embarrassed for having confessed her suspicions at all to him. Perhaps because his words echo the same thing Diomedes had accused her of, not caring.
"You dismiss me, but do you not realize that without these trifle mortals, we would have none to worship us? You think yourself all powerful, but we are mere idols without them."
She thinks he will laugh, but instead he regards her seriously. His focused attentions have the effect of staring into the sun. It makes her dizzy and blind.
"Is that why you care? Self-preservation? If so you have nothing to fear. They are weaker than us." He points to one of the men working on sweeping clean the stadium. "You see there? An arrow can fly through the air right now, pierce his chest, puncture his heart. And soon someone else will be sweeping up his blood. The humans are fleeting so there's no use in getting attached.
She scoffs and shakes her head. His logic is of the typical boneheaded, bigoted fashion.
"You don't believe me?"
He turns his glare towards the humans in the stadium and utters a single word.
The man who was sweeping drops his broom. Like a puppet pulled by invisible strings he walks towards one of his companions and calmly, inexplicably wraps his hand around his throat, choking him. The other, alarmed, tries to pry him off, but he does not relent.
"What are you doing?"
Ares does not answer her. Doesn't look at 's eyes widen as the struggle below begin to escalate.
"Τέμνω," he says and one of the other men picks up a fallen knife from the floor. The others look at him with their hands upraised, fear evident in their eyes.
"Aἰκία," Ares whispers. And all hell breaks loose.
As if madness has overtaken all of the men, they cut and strike and strangle one another. Screams of pain and shouting fill the air. Athena's knuckles turn white from clenching the banister.
The violence is ascending new levels of brutality. When the commotion draws the attention of some soldiers they are soon drawn into the scuffle as well. Ares does not move, his glare, hard and cold, focused entirely on the men below.
"Stop it." Her voice is a dark whisper, gravely in Ares's ears. He does not yield, even as he feels her hot, hate-filled gaze boring into his skull. He is stubborn and prideful and he has a point to prove.
But she is Athena and she will not be ignored. Gripping his arm with supernatural strength, she wrenches his gaze from the arena and forces him to look at her.
"Ares, stop it! Stop it right now."
He yanks his arm away, but the moment he does she reaches out and encircles her hand around his wrist, pulling him roughly towards her.
"They are innocents," she bites out. "You've made your point. Now, stop."
Her eyes, usually clear and blue, are now stormy skies and he feels if he stares into them any longer he will be swallowed into the eye of the storm.
Tearing his gaze away from hers, he turns back to the men and says softly, "Ἀμνησία."
The men immediately stop, hands dropping to their side like dolls. They are still for a moment and then they rub their eyes, shake their heads as if to clear some dark cloud that had previously occupied the space in their minds. With eerie unquestioning calm, they go back to their duties once more as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Athena releases a sharp breath and glares at her fellow god.
"That was completely uncalled for and unnecessary."
"It was a lesson," Ares replies. "Those men could rip each other apart until the sand is soaked with blood if I wished them to. And your precious Argive king? He is the same as the rest of them."
"You are cruel."
"I am a God," Ares says simply. "And they are mortals. They are but specks of sand and we are the wind that carves dunes and hills and valleys. The humans can build cities in a year's span and we can tear them down with a single breath in mere seconds. We can move mountains, rivers, make it rain hail or fire at our choosing. We are Gods." He enunciates each word carefully. He doesn't raise his voice, but it seems to boom in her ears.
His conviction shakes her, but she doesn't let it show.
"Thank you for the lesson. It won't be one I will forget soon," she grinds the words out, ice clinging to them. "Are you done with the lecture now or do you mean to torture me some more?"
"No," he answers severely. "I am reminding you who you are. I understand that you are close to these humans, but don't think for a second that you're one of them. You're not. A dragon cannot pretend itself a bird. You don't belong with them."
"Then who do I belong with? The likes of you?"
Her words are scorn, he knows this, and yet the answer is on the tip of his tongue. Yes. You belong with me.
It screams in his head, a symphony, a battle cry. All of his frustrations suddenly becoming clear. The realization is so deep and profound that he feels himself almost tearing asunder with the knowledge. He wants her. Athena, he wants her.
Instead silence draws out between the two of them. Her gaze, piercing blue, grows too heavy to hold and he is the first to look away, unable to hold the weight of her disdain.
"I did not come here for this," he says curtly, frustrated with himself. "I did not mean to engage in an argument with you." He does not look at her.
"Yet here we are," she says coldly. "It's a habit we seem unable to break."
He turns back to her then. "I'm here to break it," he responds.
She casts him a withering look, eyebrow arching. "Oh? You have such a way of showing your intentions."
He is a fool. How quickly he has made a mess of things. She did not need any more reasons to hate him.
He takes a deep breath before speaking. "I came to see you because I would like to propose a deal."
"Thanks, but no thanks. I think I'm done striking wagers with you," she retorts. Before he can respond she says, "And no, I will not be kissing you again."
His lips quirk with amusement. "It's not a wager. Just... an agreement."
Curiosity tugs at her despite her misgivings. "What kind of agreement?"
"I'd like to request your company."
"My company," she parrots, skepticism evident in her voice.
"Yes," he replies exasperatedly. "And if you'd let me go on..."
"Oh yes, please do," she says with a tight smile.
Something about that little lilt of her lips, even as she was aggravating him so, even when she hates him so, makes his pulse race just a little bit faster.
"I need a sparring partner. I'd like that to be you."
"You already have many sparring partners," she responds.
"What? The mortal champions? They bore me and Dionysus cannot be bothered to put down his wine long enough to pick up a sword. Not that he'd be any good anyways. I need someone who can actually provide a challenge. Apollo is more interested in chasing maidens, Artemis is maddening, and Poseidon rarely ever leaves his domain. That leaves only you."
"I'm glad I'm so high up on your list," she drawls.
"Were you not listening? You're the only one on the list. You're the only one that understands war the same way I do."
"I highly doubt that we understand war the same way," she drawls. He probably just cares about how high he can get the body count.
"You have the freedom to reject me, but as far as I am concerned no one else will do. I just thought I'd let you know that."
She stares at him, slightly startled by his inadvertent praise. He's staring at her so earnestly that she believes his sincerity. No one else will do. She could feel her cheeks turning hot. She turns her head slightly away from him to gather her thoughts.
"Is this a trick?" she asks, bluntly.
"Do you really think that low of me?"
"Yes," she answers without a beat.***
Her quick answers bring a smile to his face.
"I understand your hesitation. We've been at odds even before we met, but I am hoping that perhaps we can bury the bad blood between us. Start anew."
The sincerity of his voice startles her and she stares at him in disbelief. He takes her hand and raises it to his lips. "Please consider it, Athena."
As she watches him disappear, she wonders how any sort of person can be as maddening as Ares. He is a puzzle with hidden compartments and booby traps and Athena is not quite she if the risk outweighs the satisfaction of solving him for her to pursue a solution.
In the span of a day she has lost Diomedes and gained the attentions of Ares. It feels like Atlas has turned the world upside down. She shakes her head as if that would put everything right. The gesture is futile. It would seem that the men in her life are bent on providing her with endless complications. She needs rest, she realizes. Proper rest. The kind that cannot be achieved by hanging about empty stadiums and arenas with her tumultuous thoughts for company.
Just as she gets up, she spots a familiar face that makes her freeze.
"I'm sorry, did I startle you?"
Aphrodite's face stares at her, but something was different about it. Athena knows her sister and while she cannot see any illusion, the girl standing before her was not Aphrodite, no matter what her outer appearance may look like.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Helen."
Ice water flows through Athena's veins at the sound of that name.
"My mistress wants me to deliver a message to you." In the most uncanny Aphrodite-like way, the girl smiles and says, "She wants you to know that your king is in check."
*Αντίο mean goodbye/farewell, but according to this: wiki/αντίο , it is also supposed to mean "to God" which can allude to how Diomedes states that the gods wanted Paris to have the bull.
**For those who are curious... here's what Ares's words mean:
Aγχω: to strangle, throttle, choke
Τέμνω: cut, incision
Aἰκία: torture, suffering
Ἀμνησία: amnesia, oblivion (in this case I mean to use it as a way Ares can stop his spell on the humans and make them forget what just happened to them)
You can find more words here: wiki/List_of_Greek_words_with_English_derivatives
*** A little nod to canon klaroline via episode 3x11, a.k.a. the only time I thought canon did klaroline right.