Summary: "Save her from herself. Isn't that what gods are supposed to do?"
Notes: For Moonsheen, because her job is boring. Thanks to same for the title.
He hasn't seen Rukia in a while. Kuchiki Rukia still resides in Soul Society. It's her face he sees across courtyards, her voice reporting for duty in the 13th division headquarters, her body getting up in some cloistered room in the Kuchiki house every morning -- not that he'd know anything about that these days, he hasn't gotten laid in months, fuck. They were always busy, but there was even less time when this ... bizarrity hit them.
A malfunction in the order of reincarnation due to the imbalance in spiritual pressure caused by the war, said the 12th division. Another nasty little gift left by Aizen to fuck up their lives even when he was dead. The 12th promised it would be fixed eventually, said they only had to weather the storm before the balance would return and things would go back to normal.
As if that helped any. There were nights, early on when everything was just starting, when Rukia didn't sleep -- lay on her side shivering, facing away from the moon, trying not to hear calls Renji was deaf to. And Renji was too afraid to touch her: lay apart, kept still, because his hands were no longer entirely his own, and he's had enough of war.
He would've held her anyway if he'd known it was going to get worse.
Too late for that now.
"Rukia," he ventures to say to his captain one day. "She doing okay?"
The pale face turned to him looks nothing like the sun. Kuchiki Byakuya is not noticeably more musical or better at healing than he ever was. The strain of holding out's marked in the gauntness of his face, the hard look around his eyes, but Renji has to admit it. His captain's a bastard, but quality shows.
"Rukia," says Captain Kuchiki, as if he's misplaced the meaning behind the name.
"Your sister," says Renji. He pushes, though he feels like a moron doing it. "Haven't really seen her around lately."
"Forget her," says Byakuya. His words fall into the silence like blades spilt on the ground, gleaming-sharp and harsh. "I do not think we will ever see her again."
He's a pessimist. All nobles are, that's why Rukia fit right in. Renji's from the Alley and he's learnt how to fight and how to hope, and he promised himself he wouldn't let go again. Rukia's only doing this for Ichigo; she'll stay in Artemis-mode just for long enough to make sure he's safe, but she's strong and she's never lost herself and she'll come back. He knows that.
It's harder to know what to believe, though, what with the General going crazy with thunderbolts and the rest of the Thirteen Court Divisions nervy as animals before a hurricane. Soul Society's always been a minefield, but it's harder to navigate it without being blown up when there are voices in your head telling you to freak out and kill everybody. Renji was transferred out of the 11th division for a reason.
He makes a brief visit to the living world, pops in to see Ichigo and the rest of the crew, but they're doing fine. Not a clue about anything that's been going on, and thank -- nobody, Urahara hasn't told them a thing.
"Think he's having way too much fun being Hermes, if you ask me," Renji observes to Yoruichi.
The cat shrugs, somehow making the gesture marvellously feline instead of merely comic. Frankly, Renji couldn't give a shit what happens to Urahara, but Yoruichi's been a good ally.
"Riding the line a little, isn't he?" he says. "Could spend the rest of his afterlife being a Greek god if he isn't careful."
"Do you care?" says Yoruichi.
"I wouldn't be able to tell the difference," says Yoruichi, with delicate contempt. She still makes the hairs on the back of his neck leap to attention, but yeah, Renji likes her.
He's a little more worried by the way the resemblance in Ichigo strikes him when the light's right. No Japanese teenager, however freakish, should be able to look that much like an ancient Greek hero, but Herakles lurks under every feature. There's nothing of the guy elsewhere in Ichigo, though ("Good," snarls Ares, "always hated that snotty little dickwad"), so Renji's about to leave with most of his peace of mind intact when Ichigo grabs his sleeve and pulls him aside.
"Hey," he says. "About Rukia."
Renji knows his face isn't showing anything. He's spent years undercover.
"What about her?"
"I'm -- she's -- she doesn't -- " Ichigo struggles with the words. It's clearly a novel experience for him to be talking about Rukia and not be complaining about her insanity. Renji knows the feeling.
"Look, I'm not stupid," he says finally.
"Could've fooled me."
"Shut up, asshole." But Ichigo says it almost absently, and that's when Renji knows it's serious. "She's not okay. She's -- fuck, my life is a goddamn TV show -- she's not herself."
Renji must not have been able to keep from giving something away, because Ichigo lets go of his arm and shifts, Herakles coming through now in every bone.
"Am I gonna have to stage an intervention?" he says.
"I'm handling it," says Renji, but that's such a lie it's laughable. "She's handling it. She knows what she's doing."
"Renji," says Ichigo. "I don't think she knows anything right now. Whoever's in charge, yeah, maybe she knows what's going on. Who is she?"
"I'll talk to her."
Ichigo still looks troubled.
"Try fucking trusting her," Renji suggests.
"I do trust her, numbskull! I trust her to do something fucking stupid and heroic and get herself killed!"
Renji reminds himself that he can't hurt Ichigo. Rukia would come back and kick his ass just for that; Yamamoto would fry him when he found out who Ichigo was, as he was bound to; Renji would lose, anyway. He even likes the guy. None of this is stopping a part of him from saying, Just one stab to the gut ...
He's not even sure if that's Ares' voice, or his own.
"I'm not going to let her go again," he says. Low, because if he starts shouting, he's not going to stop.
"I suggest letting her know that," says Ichigo. He steps back. "You're a death god, aren't you? Save her from herself. Isn't that what gods are supposed to do?"
Ichigo's only a kid. He doesn't know shit about anything. He's also a kid who's saved the world multiple times and is juggling a medical degree, a girlfriend and a part-time job dispatching Hollows at the advanced age of 19, though. Renji's been given worse advice.
He finds Rukia outside her room, in one of the exquisite courtyards troops of invisible servants must attend to every day. She's sitting beside a pool. Her hair's getting long again, Renji notices irrelevantly. Her feet are white, weirdly luminescent, in the water. They could be twelve years old again, crouching by a river.
Except that when Rukia turns to look at him, he looks back into the eyes of a goddess.
"When do you think you'll let go of her?" he says. He doesn't know how Zabimaru got into his hand. They work well together that way.
Artemis looks amused.
"Do you miss her so much, little dog? Ah, now, be careful with that!"
And he doesn't know how it happens, but Zabimaru's out of his hand and in -- oh gods.
Artemis trails her fingertips over the hilt. Renji sucks in a breath, just stops himself from whimpering when she places her palm flat against the pommel and slides her hand down.
And down, warm flesh sliding along the whole length of the blade. (Rukia did that once, when he first got his sword and -- just once, because he could barely think for days after that, couldn't function, only wanted to -- ) Fuck, she's doing it again --
Renji comes to himself with Artemis sitting on his chest, dreamily licking the blood off her hands. Every cell in Renji's body feels ecstatically alive. He's thrumming with energy; he feels like he could fight off an entire Espada; he's madder than he's ever been.
"You sick bitch. You fucking whore."
"Wrong pantheon, little dog," says Artemis. "I am not Ishtar."
"Give her back," snarls Renji.
"To whom?" Artemis cocks her head, in a way wholly animal and not quite repulsive. Renji bares his teeth, ignoring the heat uncoiling low in his stomach. "She gave herself to me, remember."
"-- not going to let Rukia throw herself away for any fucking orange-headed maniac -- "
"You speak out of place, little god," says Artemis, her voice chill as winter. "She was clay, but I have made her marble. She is unspoilt now, pure as the hunt."
"Pure as fuck you!"
"You want her back." Artemis considers him. "And what would you give me in return, little dog? Would you scent out my prey for me? Would you follow at my heels, as you did hers? They are the same heels. We are one."
"No," says Renji, "Rukia's even more of an insane bitch than you are, I can tell, the difference is obvious, I'll fucking kill you if you don't let her go."
"Be still." A cold hand on his forehead. The goddess's eyes look down at him, reflecting the light of a moon that isn't yet out.
"Do you trust her?" says Artemis.
Renji's panting. If he doesn't kill Artemis he might kill himself, for not realising how far it's gone. How many promises is he going to break until he learns to hold on?
"Yes," he says, because there's no other answer he can give.
"Then trust that she has decided herself whether or not she will return to you." Artemis stands up. With her face in shadow, he could almost pretend it's Rukia, glaring triumphantly down at him after a fight won through barefaced cheating. Renji gets up.
"I'll be watching you," he growls. She shoves Zabimaru against his chest. It's sheathed now, but Renji still has to breathe through the shock of the touch.
"Do as you wish, little dog," says Artemis. "Little god. Better souls than you have fallen in love with the moon. Do you think you're strong enough to take her away from it?"
"No," says Renji. "... but Rukia is."
Artemis' laugh is like the howling of hounds on the scent.
"A romantic," she says. "We'll see. Beware my brother Strife, little god. He is no kinder than I."
Before he can stop her, she's vanished into the house. Renji slumps, too exhausted even to be angry anymore.
"See," he says aloud. "Nobody likes you."
Just because I don't hand out orgasms to every minor god who talks to me --