Her arms were folded like a petulant teenager, with her hip cocked out in such a way you couldn’t tell if she was trying to play sexy or preparing her body to strike. Her eyes gave me the once over, a nice casual up-down to let me know I was being inspected.
“Well, would you look at that? Justice has come home. About, umm, a few years too late, though. Don’t you think?”
A smirk curved my lips as I rolled my eyes. “So people keep telling me. Does that mean you missed me?” I asked, arching my brow.
A bright, obviously fake smile curved Atë’s lips. “Been a little too busy to miss anyone. Haven’t you heard? I’m the local bad guy.”
A feather-light pulse tickled my core before vanishing. The gentle bead of truth in her words, so raw and poignant it had sailed through me without me even reaching to see her truth. I turned, shrugging slightly as I took her in fully. “Bad guys are required for good guys to feel good. Who’d you piss off so much you thought they brought me in?”
I watched as she started ticking off on her fingers, one-by-one, before snickering and finally throwing her hands up. “Well, would you look at that? It seems like I don’t have enough fingers to count. Also, between us girls, calling you seems a bit late since I just got out of Tartarus. Where were you, during the what, third Titan release?”
I gasped, shifting slightly to my left, away from her. Atë was known for mischief as much as ruin. Shocking me to catch me off guard would totally be in her wheelhouse. Asking questions and playing snarky family catch-up was fine, but letting my guard down wasn’t happening. “They were out? Again? You were in…what the fuck have y’all gotten up to? Is this why BDZ summoned us back?”
For a moment, she looked confused and interested, a furrowed brow transforming her face as she asked, “How long have you been gone, Justice?”
“Apparently too damn long,” I replied, glancing around the lobby.
“Oh, you’re in for a treat. What’s the last thing you remember?” she asked, suddenly circling me like prey.
I frowned, watching her. It didn’t matter how long I had been gone. I would definitely never be one of Ruin’s prey. She was part of design and balance, but I’d judge her before she even got a wall to tremor.
“Atë, this seems like a conversation we probably shouldn’t have in the lobby.” I paused, then continued after deciding to answer her question. “I remember BDZ disappointing me as much as the mortals and justice becoming a game. What side of that game are you on?”
She hunched her shoulders, her arms folded across her chest as she paused her circling appraisal. “Mhmm, depends on my mood these days.” She paused, I’d say dramatically, but everything about Atë was dramatic, so nobody would see beyond the ruse. Then she followed with the sucker punch. “Did you know dear old dad almost died?”
The bomb drop hurt, but far less than I would have expected. It was more of a nick than a gash, so avoiding an outward reaction was easy. “What did you miss?” I asked, even as the internal quaking began. “I know about nothing but the summons.” Pausing, I flashed back to my arrival a year before. “And I ignored that until I…couldn’t.”
“No. I tried after the fact. I failed and ended up in Tartarus. But,” she opened her arms wide, clapping, “now I’m free and on my absolute best behavior.”
I doubted that more than everything else she’d said so far.
“But I do wonder,” she began, tapping her chin lightly, “why call you back now?”
I thought again about my road home, this time, my thoughts stopping on Anthony. That internal pulsing was back, but I ignored it, deciding just to answer the question.
“I was called back a year or so ago,” I offered with a nonchalant shrug. “I took a different route home.” My brow crinkled as I considered how pressing the call had been over the last few weeks. “Was I called here to judge you, Ruin?” I asked quietly, rolling my shoulders and arching my brow.
With the question drifting in the air, part of me felt calm, settled. I hated the idea of judging Ruin. She’d always gotten a raw deal. She was needed for balance, others’ inability to accept that had always caused more tipping than any mischief she could’ve ever wrought. I mean…she definitely wasn’t innocent. But I’d never wanted to pull her truth, or thought, to judge her.
Yet, I wondered if my return may be just for that reason. I could feel the inner vibrations, my palms aching for Balance and Truth. My internal processes started calculating possible maneuvers and damage potential. The possibility of judgment steadied me and made me feel whole. The concept of balance it inspired was drastic enough. I was immediately able to recognize the impulse wasn’t balanced or right.
“Doubtful,” Atë offered, helping pull me back. “I already had my judgment, a thousand years worth. Doubt you could do better.”
Instantly my eyes flashed silver, my thoughts trailing to Alton. “You’d be surprised what I can do in the name of justice and balance.” Slowing my breathing, I added, “A thousand years in Tartarus seems excessive…even for what I remember of your talents.”
Atë smiled coldly. The chill emanating from her was damn near physical. It was so potent it was almost its own entity. “Not really. I mean, I did come back, release the Titans, try to have a few gods kidnapped, and attempted to kill said father.” She shrugged. “Seems fair, don’t you think? Balanced, yes?”
“Balance is determined in the why.”
“Ummm…not my department.”
“You don’t know why you tried to kill ole lightning bolt? Or let out the Titans? Or kidnapped…who did you kidnap? Never mind. Ruin, you always have a reason. What was it?”
I shifted forward slightly, hoping my other senses would take over just a smidge. There was no way I was balanced enough to test her truth without serious internal scale repercussions, but I hoped to be able to tell by more than just my gut and memories. “Or are you scared? Scared to speak your truth to Justice?”
She laughed, but I saw no mirth in her eyes. I just saw a shit-ton of pain as she said, “Me, scared? I’m not scared of anything. But I am curious. Something must be happening for you to be back. It’s been quiet from what I’ve gathered since I’ve been free,” she paused slightly, “but I have a feeling that’s about to change.”
I shrugged. “I’m back because I didn’t have a choice.” I turned away, glancing back toward the front of the lobby. “And apparently, I was expected…and I’m welcome.” I furrowed my brow, still unable to figure out why the welcome disturbed me so much. Turning back to Atë, I added, “I even have a Welcome packet to go pick up. So, you know, find me when you want to tell me the truth about what’s gone down here…in my absence.”
“Oh, you’ll learn soon enough, little peace,” she tossed out mid-cackle before disappearing in a cloud of thick smoke.
Frowning, I shook my head before turning to continue toward the elevator bank and said welcome packet. On every star in Virgo, I hoped I didn’t run into anymore family along the way.