Lady, as I have officially decided, is an Orthodox Christian. I'm not, so it was a tougher decision to make since I was dealing with religious practices that I'm a bit less familiar with, but it worked out best not only for my schedule but also in terms of Lady's heritage. I know the chapter is late, but Sunday rolled around and I realized that I hadn't worked on it at all, and today was the first chance I got after that. So here we are.
Additionally, this chapter marks a jump back to the Dante-Lady-Trish period more specifically towards the beginning. So hey, did you want to see Lady and Trish friendship? Feast your eyes. If you didn't? ...um. Sorry.
Oh, by the way, the next chapter is going to be for Mother's Day, and then, a month later, Father's Day. This is probably a good thing given the ungodly schedule I'm going to have in May, so I can curl up into a little ball until my shows and homework assignments are over and done with. Sorry for the gaps, but it's for the best—this chapter was late as it was.
WARNING: this chapter deals with religious themes, and characters will say (or do) things that don't reflect my actual opinion. If for one reason or another that makes you uncomfortable, I would suggest you just stop reading this chapter . If you do read the chapter through to the end, or even if you don't, please be considerate in expressing any opinions you might have via review, lest someone get offended.
The first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon in the Julian Calendar, 2007
She hadn't gone to church since her mother's funeral sixteen years ago. She had been inside of a church, of course, having been on many a mission that involved demons on holy ground, but simply couldn't bring herself to pray to a God that had made her father dabble in the supernatural and completely upend her life. Before then, she had gone often—not every day, or even every Sunday, but at least once a month. Back then, she had still believed.
Now, Lady had some reverence for the Church, respect for what she one believed in despite having lost her faith. If she had faith, it wasn't in God and it probably wasn't in other people, though she did appreciate the ways in which people and things continued to surprise her. If a demon, of all things, could be a kind soul—albeit a loudmouth, slob, and incorrigible flirt—then anything was possible.
If people had told her that she would eventually feel the need to go back to church she would have laughed at their face. Perhaps people sensed this, and for this reason never brought up religious topics with her. As it was, she had started attending a boarding school after her mother's death and father's disappearance, as there had been no other living family members to take care of the sixteen-year-old girl, and Lady's inheritance was enough to let her finish her high school education at least. This new school was secular, and as a result there was no obligation to attend mass services at the nearby church—which were protestant, anyway—if she had even wanted to. There was no need to worship and pray, no need to be a part of a religious community: she was more interested in her studies, immersing herself in schoolwork and keeping to herself for the most part.
Besides, there had been her entire desire for revenge, which didn't exactly match the good Christian mindset that her mother had instilled in her, and which was slowly fading away. Perhaps God existed, but He certainly wasn't doing anything to help her.
Then something happened, and Lady started toying with the idea of going to church again. Just once, really, no big deal, but she felt like she needed to. It was something about that one New Year's Eve with Dante and Trish that had opened her up to the idea of being a part of a family again for the first time in sixteen years. Because her sense of religion had died when her family had, she associated one with the other, and by meditating on one she couldn't help but remember the other.
Once. For old time's sake.
"Wait, Lady," Dante started as she was fathering her belongings together. It was a Friday night, and the three of them had just been hanging out a bit—nothing special, just a beer and conversation. As usual, Dante had been the middle of the conversation, with Lady and Trish speaking more to him than to each other. Honestly, Lady liked the woman, but found it hard to associate with her when she seemed so intent on marking her territory. What did it matter, anyway? Just because Dante was the first—and for a while, only—person that Trish had met in the Human world, it didn't mean that he was hers and hers alone. Dante, as it turned out, had other friends. Friends like her.
"Yeah, what?" Lady asked, grabbing her jacket from where she had tossed it over the arm of the sofa.
"Trish and I are going to Arn's on Sunday," Dante continued, ignoring the look that Trish was giving him. "What to come?"
Arn was their favorite motorcycle mechanic and supply man. He didn't live in their city but the next one over, so they only usually went to him if they needed a good fix or for an occasional upgrade. This seemed more like a casual visit to pick up some cool parts, and she had actually wanted him to look at brakes anyway because she had been skidding a lot more lately ... but it was on Sunday. "Can't," she briefly replied, hoping that they would take the response as it was and not question her. She also opted to ignore the slightly relieved look on Trish's face, likely pleased that Lady wouldn't be there to intrude on their time together.
"Why not?" Dante asked, crossing his arms. "It's going to be awesome."
"I'm busy," Lady explained, this time a little more insistently.
Trish snorted lightly.
"Yeah, what she said," Dante said, pointing to the blonde. "Don't you want to go? Or do you just not want to go with us? It's fine if you don't want to."
Lady groaned lightly, turning away from them a bit. "Look, this Sunday, I'm ... going to church," she said, putting on her jacket.
Just like that, she felt the energy of the room change, though she could have explained the sensation if she had been asked. It was as if the temperature suddenly dropped, the air prickling with cold and static that stabbed needles into her skin. A chill crawled up her middle and settled in her solar plexus, so that her breaking suddenly felt as sharp and cold as the air around her. Turning to face the others, she found Dante watching her in surprise—almost horror—and Trish in skeptical amusement. Lady was almost surprised by their reactions, but recognized that her admission had, to them, come out of nowhere. They didn't know that she had been wrestling with the decision for some time now.
"Why?" Dante asked, stunned.
"It's Easter," Lady said, opting for the simple, hopefully inoffensive explanation rather than a longer one.
Dante frowned in confusion. "I thought Easter was last Sunday or something."
"Orthodox Easter," she clarified. The words rolled off her tongue familiarly, though she hadn't said it in the longest time—there hadn't been a need.
"You are?" Trish asked, crossing her arms. Her expression had barely changed since Lady's initial admission. "You never struck me as the religious type."
Trish was right, but it still stung: Lady wasn't religious anymore, but the comment seemed like an affront in her newly revived interest in going to church. It wasn't like she had found God or anything—hardly—she just wanted to go to church for the first time in sixteen years. For peace of mind. "I'm not," Lady corrected. "I'm just ... going to church."
"Why?" Dante repeated, just as confused as ever. "I mean, what's the point of going to church if you're not religious?"
Lady hesitated. "It's ... a symbolic gesture."
"Yeah? Of what?" Dante pressed. He seemed almost angry, she noticed, and wondered why this was setting him off.
"It's just something that I haven't done in years, that's all," she explained, attempting to tread lightly. "I was raised in this religion, I drifted away, and now I just want to go to a service, just to—"
"Lady, let me explain something to you," Dante interrupted, moving forward in an almost intimidating way. "Christianity doesn't believe in me. In Trish. In your job. Religion doesn't believe in me."
"Well obviously I do," Lady said, her tone almost light if it hadn't been for the lump forming in her throat.
"Then why are you wasting your time going to church when the priest or whatever is just going to tell you that demons don't exist? That my father doesn't exist?" he continued, and if she wondered if he had actually just gotten taller or if her mind was playing tricks on her.
"That's not what Easter mass is about, Dante." As much as she sympathized with him, she needed to stand her ground. She had made her decision, and it had nothing to do with him. "Even in normal mass, it's not like they add: 'Oh, and by the way, demons don't exist.' And I know that Rome officially says that demons don't exist and it's heresy to think they do, but Orthodoxy hasn't been vocal on this matter, so as far as I'm concerned—"
"I'm—no, just—stop talking," Dante snapped. He turned away from her, back straighter than she had ever seen it. The familiar, casual slouch to his posture was gone, replaced by something rigid and surprisingly intimidating, even as he was retreating. "I'm not fucking talking about this right now."
Lady was angry—how could he shoot her down like this? Yes, as a half-demon, it was hard to appreciate any organized religion, which didn't accept him as a person. But this wasn't about him, it was about her and getting over her disconnect with religion, and for fuck's sake going to church for the first time in sixteen years when she hadn't been able to. She was trying to heal. Why couldn't he respect that? "Dante..." she started warningly.
"Don't," he sharply said, his head turned over his shoulder to look at her. She had never been afraid of Dante. He was too strangely goofy of a guy to fear, strong but never vicious, and more a protector than a hired killer—despite the fact that that's what they all were. Even when he succumbed to the bloodlust of battle, he was still Dante, and therefore nothing to be afraid of. And even back then on Temen-ni-gru, when he was still a nameless demon who could take a bullet to the brain and simply wipe the blood from his forehead, she didn't fear him. But something about him, right in that moment, terrified her.
Thankfully the moment was brief, and he quickly retreated upstairs, probably to stew in his juices. That was Dante's usual way of dealing with things that made him angry—that or going hunting, or sometimes just going out, and what he did then she didn't want to know despite all of the guesses she had. She still felt unsettled, even though she knew that he was just overreacting just because he didn't approve of religion. He still could have been more supportive of her choice.
"God, this was an awful idea," Lady muttered, suddenly overcome by regret. Whether she regretted her choice or the fact that she had told him, she wasn't sure. "Maybe it's not worth going."
"You can do whatever you want, at this point," Trish said, sitting on the edge of the desk and looking at a spot on the wall. Lady had almost forgotten that the blonde demon was in there, despite having just spoken for Trish's benefit—maybe she just hadn't expected Trish to really answer. "The damage is done."
"Me wanting to go to church has nothing to do with the two of you," Lady snapped, crossing her arms tensely. "He didn't have to throw a fit."
"You don't see anything wrong with it?" Trish calmly accused, standing and focusing her sharp gaze on Lady. Trish didn't get angry easily, more often than not coldly scolding them without raising her voice. It was a little frustrating. "Of course you don't, you're human. You can just skip off to your church and listen to people who say we don't exist while praying to a god that doesn't exist."
"And what the fuck do you know about religion, Trish?" Lady shouted. "You're a demon! You don't know shit about the way human society works!" She grabbed her keys from the spot on the desk where she had left them and stormed towards the door. "Maybe if you stopped parroting Dante and developed a fucking opinion of your own you would actually learn something!" she added as she threw open the door, stalking off into the night.
"Why isn't Daddy going to church with us?"
Kalina Ann turned to face her daughter, her mouth slightly open as she tried to process the question and find the best way to answer it. Young as she was, Mary knew that she had just asked a loaded question, one that her mother wasn't sure how to answer. "Daddy doesn't usually go to church," she explained, looking back over at the mirror to tuck a loose strand of black hair back into her bun.
"But why?" Mary pressed, squirming in the white dress that her mother had only recently buttoned her into. "Won't God be mad if Daddy doesn't go to church?"
"Daddy doesn't go to church," Kalina Ann repeated, as if stalling. "And God won't be mad, because Daddy still ... loves God. In his own way." She sighed lightly, staring at her reflection briefly. "That's what counts."
"Then why do we have to go to church?" Mary kicked off one of her party shoes, tired of the way they pinched her feet. "Can't I just stay home with Daddy?"
"No, sweetie," her mother corrected, her eyes wide as she kneeled in front of Mary to put the shoe back on. "It's an honor to go to church and pray to God. We get to speak to him directly that way. Daddy doesn't go to church because he's chosen not to, just as we choose to." She clasped her hand on her daughter's knee and smiled. "We choose God. And that's always the right choice."
Mary nodded. She had wanted to ask if, when she was older, she too could choose not to go to church, but her mother seemed happy and she didn't want to do anything to ruin that moment. Her mother always did have the widest and brightest smile.
"He'll just meet us at Aunt Sonya's after church," Kalina Ann added, standing up to smooth out her skirt.
"Is Aunt Sonya making kulich?" Mary asked, jumping up excitedly. "She makes the best kulich."
Kalina Ann winced lightly, once again hesitating. "No, dear," she started. "Your Aunt Sonya—"
"Why not?" Mary demanded. "She always makes kulich! There has to be kulich!"
"There will be," Kalina Ann assured her daughter. "I'm sure someone will bring kulich. Just not Aunt Sonya."
"Oh." Mary nodded. "Okay." She paused for a moment to think before adding: "It just won't be as good."
She had tried to make kulich, attempting to recall the old family recipe, but frankly Lady was not a good cook by any means. Following the recipe was simple enough, but there was a certain finesse to cooking that she just didn't possess. The texture was never right, or she used too much milk or too much yeast, or she baked it for too long and it came out looking more like a brick than a cake.
On top of that, she had spent her Saturday trying to bake the cake, which ended up being a terrible idea because she had tried to keep fast the day before Easter. Staring at the milk and candied fruits, and even at the unappetizing cake batter, had been far too difficult. By the end of the day she had just given up on baking a cake, opting instead to watch TV and pretend that she didn't miss her friends. A part of her wanted to think that it was Christian forgiveness that had freed itself from wherever it had been locked away, but that wasn't it. She just regretted her words, but was too proud to admit it.
She ate Chinese leftovers once midnight rolled around. She wasn't sure if that was how and when she was supposed to break fast, but damn it she was hungry.
By the next morning, she attended Easter mass at the nearest Orthodox Church. Fortunately this church, like the one she had attended as a child, held a mass on Sunday morning as well instead of just holding the midnight Vigil mass, so she didn't need to participate in any of the rites that she wasn't familiar with—she was out of practice enough as it was.
The church bustled with a festive energy, and Lady was pleased to see some of the things that she remembered from childhood. There were the older, more devout parishioners, the families with the anxious-looking kids, the bored teenagers who really would have rather slept until the afternoon... It was familiar, but she still felt so disconnected from it. Her hand ached slightly as it tried to grasp another than that she knew hadn't been here for years, her head aching as it forcibly recalled memories that she had tried to ignore for years.
She quickly scooted into a pew in the back, trying to ignore some of the parishioner's glares at her tough-looking boots, bare legs, and messy hair. She flipped through the service book until the procession and beginning of the service.
It was ... nice.
Honestly, that was all she had to say. The chorus sang beautifully—she found herself singing the hymns as if she hadn't avoided service for sixteen years—and the priest spoke very well—the homily seemed very wise at the time, though she immediately couldn't remember what it had been about. And that was the problem: while she was very impressed by the service and the faith of the parishioners, she felt so disconnected that none of it sunk in. It had just been too long, she guessed.
When the time came for Holy Communion, Lady couldn't bring herself to stand. The Eucharist was for the faithful—she couldn't really put herself in that category. It would be wrong to partake in something she wasn't sure she believed in, and so she contented herself to watch, allowing the others in her pew to pass her to go up themselves. Now they definitely say her as an outsider, and they were right.
"Mary asked me today why you don't go to church with us," Mary heard Kalina Ann say as she stood outside of her parents' room. She hadn't been able to fall asleep, and as such had gone to ask her mother for some Ovaltine before stopping to listen to her parents' conversation. "I told her that you choose not to, but that you still love God."
Her father snorted lightly before responding: "What do you want me to do, start going to church?"
"Yes," she answered, once again earning a snort from her husband. "I pray for you, Victor. I pray that you will start going to church with us again—that you haven't lost your faith."
"You shouldn't pray for me," Victor instructed. Mary wasn't sure why her father wouldn't want her mother to pray for him. Did that mean that she should stop praying for her father as well? She prayed for all of her family, when she did. "Instead pray for Sonya. She was too sick to have hosted Easter this year. She move around as much as she does with that cancer—"
"Please, I don't want to talk about it," Kalina Ann interrupted. Mary didn't know what cancer was, but it didn't sound like a good thing. She would have to ask her mother later.
"Your mother had it, your sister has it—Kalina, you might get it, and yet you never get yourself tested." Victor exhaled in frustration. "You can't be this irresponsible. Think about your daughter."
"I'm fine. We don't need to talk about this." Kalina Ann paused for a moment before adding: "Besides, it's in God's hands in the end."
Victor laughed derisively. "That's stupid and you know it."
"It's not, and maybe if you went to church and prayed instead of doing whatever it is you do instead, you would understand," Kalina Ann hissed.
"Fine, you know what? You respect my beliefs, and I'll respect yours," Victor decided, cutting the conversation short with a usual impatient dismissal. One of the lights in the room turned off and Mary heard the sound of sheets rustling. "Turn off your light. I need to sleep. Lots of work tomorrow."
"Give me a minute—I'm coming," Kalina Ann said. A few seconds later the other lamp was turned off; the room, like the rest of the house, went dark. There was no point in disturbing her parents now—and besides, Mary knew that things crept around in the shadows, and it was better to retreat to her room to try to sleep than risk getting snatched up.
"What? Now? No—I'm trying to sleep," she heard her father say as she tiptoed back to her bedroom.
"You're always trying to sleep," her mother responded, her voice getting softer and softer with each step away from the door. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong..."
"It's you," Trish said from Dante's chair behind the desk.
"Where's Dante?" Lady asked, walking into the office with a casualness that she hoped would put Trish in a better mood.
"Out," Trish responded, looking back down at the magazine. "Picking up pizza. He doesn't want delivery charges."
Lady nodded, sitting down on the couch. "So did you get anything at Arn's?"
"We didn't end up going," Trish explained. "Dante was being too grumpy to want to make the trip." She shut the magazine and put it down on the desk. "Look, what are you doing here after—what the hell are you holding?"
"This?" Lady indicated the cake on her lap. "It's kulich."
"What is it, a peace offering?" Trish asked, standing to get a closer look. "I don't know if Dante will be swayed with cake."
"It's a traditional Easter food," Lady explained, standing to hand the cake to Trish. "My family has this recipe that was passed down from generation to generation, all the way back from Russia. This one's actually store-bought, because I'm a terrible cook and couldn't make it the right way. But my Aunt Sonya was really good at it."
"So it's a peace offering," Trish concluded.
"Pretty much," Lady admitted.
Trish nodded and put the cake down on the desk. "I'll give it to him for you. You'll probably get a call from him if he accepts it."
"Are you trying to get me to leave?" Lady asked, frowning.
"I was trying to be subtle," Trish clarified.
"I'm not just here to apologize for Dante. I also want to make amends with you." Lady sat back down and looked down at her hands, which for some reason felt stiff. "I shouldn't have said what I said the other day. About you not understanding. It was wrong of me to judge."
She looked back up at Trish, who was staring at her expectantly. "Go on," Trish instructed.
"I mean, I barely understand Christianity myself," Lady continued, "and I'm actually Christian—well, not anymore. I don't know what I am, but I don't believe in what I used to believe in. Can't."
"Why, because it's wrong?" Trish asked judgmentally, crossing her arms.
Lady winced, that little shred of devotion that remained in her essence rendered uncomfortable by Trish's words. "Not exactly," she explained. "I can't explain religion. I'm not sure why the existence of demons has to clash with God's existence, and why everyone can't be right. I mean, you can't disprove God, can you?"
Trish looked away. "No."
"Exactly. The thing is, I believe in God, but I don't believe in religion. And that ... well, that's supported by the existence of demons, but it doesn't define my beliefs." Lady waited for Trish to say something, and instead found that the blonde was listening to her with an uncharacteristic amount of attention. "I wasn't going to church to spite you guys, I was going to church because I haven't been in sixteen years. I started doubting when I was younger, when Aunt Sonya died and my Mom started getting sick, but then my father—" She interrupted herself, wrung her hands to quell potential tears, and continued: "I'm thirty-two years old. It's been half a lifetime since I've prayed and I wanted to see if I could do it again. And I can't."
Trish sat down on the couch next to her. "Are you ... glad you went, though?"
"I think so," Lady responded. "If anything I can't say that I haven't tried." She laughed despite herself and rubbed at an eye that was just starting to well up. "My mother wouldn't be proud of me abandoning religion like this. She wasn't happy when my father did, but he did it for the wrong reasons. I'm doing it because I don't want to force myself to believe when I can't. Whatever little shred of religious faith I have left in me knows that it's wrong and that I shouldn't." She looked at Trish. "I just needed to feel that for myself."
"I've been unfair to you," Trish suddenly and guiltily said. Lady was surprised by the soft expression on the blonde's face in that moment, but didn't want to interrupt what Trish was about to say. "I traveled so I could open myself up to new places and different people and learn what it's like to be human, but then I came back and expected things to be the same as they were before." Trish squirmed slightly, clearly rendered uncomfortable by the idea of opening up about her feelings. "The point is ... I want to be your friend."
"Well, someone needs to be there when Dante's being an idiot," Lady joked, trying to take some of the heat off of Trish.
Trish laughed. "Did you ever live here?" She laughed again when Lady shook her head. "You didn't miss much."
"I can imagine." Lady smiled and looked down at her hands. "I am sorry about what I said before."
"Apology accepted. And—"
Trish stopped talking when the front door opened and Dante walked into the shop. He didn't look at the couch where Trish and Lady were sitting—Lady figured that he had recognized her bike out front and planned on ignoring her. He walked over to his desk and put the two boxes of pizza that he was holding, pausing for a second when he noticed the kulich on the table. "Trish," he said, "what's this?"
"Cake," the blonde responded, looking at Lady slyly. Lady got the impression that Trish knew something, but what it was Lady didn't know. "Lady brought it over."
"She did, did she?" Dante asked, and turned to the couch, locking eyes with Trish. "Well, if she brought cake over then she can have a slice of pizza."
"Only one?" Trish bartered.
"We'll see if the cake is any good," Dante added.
Lady smiled and, at Trish's nudging, stood to go get some pizza. She hummed while she moved, relieved by the fact that Dante wasn't mad at her anymore, or at least not as mad. She knew that they had talked about religion at some point, but whether he remembered was a mystery.
"What are you humming?" Dante asked, now looking directly at her.
She paused, embarrassed—she had been humming one of the hymns from church that morning. "Oh, nothing," Lady said, glancing at him over her shoulder as she grabbed a slice of pizza, "just an old song that came to mind."
"Oh," Dante said. "It sounds pretty."
Lady smiled at the irony. "Thanks."