The rustic roar of a motorcycle engine cutting off let Dante know Lady was about to strut through his doors. It was rare of Dante to call her when it wasn't to complain about how much she shortchanged him. So he was a little doubtful of her appearing at his request. Maybe she just missed him and wanted to see him? Not that she would admit it, but he entertained himself with the thought. He lazily turned the page to his men's magazine, barely registering the sound of her heavy footsteps. It wasn't until he could feel her eyes burning through the magazine he held, that Dante decided to acknowledge her presence. He leaned forward, bringing his chair down from its titled position, its front legs pounding against the dusty floor with a loud bang.
"Ah, well look who it is," he said and acted as though he wasn't really expecting her. He could see the eye roll she gave him through her tinted shades.
"To what do I owe you this visit?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
To what indeed he almost said aloud as his eyes quickly skimmed her over. He could look all he wanted as long as he didn't touch. He didn't make his gawking obvious, but he wasn't shy about it. Lady looked good and that blazer left little to the imagination so really, how could he not look? In the thirteen years they've known each other, their relationship managed to stay the same. It always seemed to toddle the fine line between friendship and something more, but she was quick to draw the line and Dante made sure to never cross it sometimes. Maybe, way back then, if she relented and let Dante kiss her, things might have been different today. But she didn't and here they were, thirteen years older and probably none the wiser if their constant runaround and snarky bickering were anything to go by. He knew she would never consider him a lover, a reality that hurt once he realized it wasn't going anywhere despite their chemistry. But Dante learned to move on and she wasn't the only woman around. He still had Trish; though that was its own can of worms with how much she looked like his mom. Still, they somehow managed to make things work in their relationship, both professionally and intimately since Trish didn't seem to mind their occasional rumps.
So he and Lady weren't lovers and Dante learned to accept this. As friendship was the next best thing, he thought that knowing her for a little over ten years would warrant him some kind of leeway. Though he joked and flirted with her from time to time, it just never felt real. Lady was good at meeting him half way, playing his game to keep him amused, armed with flirty smirks and snarky replies, but she was also good at keeping him at bay. It felt like she kept him at arm's length, despite her knowing that he would never hurt her and knowing that she could put her trust in him, just like he put his trust in her. He just wished she realized that now and stop being so guarded.
He will give her credit where it was due, however. When Lady was a teenager, she was a badass hothead with a quick trigger finger and a sharp attitude. The years have softened her some, and she was less likely to blow a gasket over the littlest things (though if you managed to push her buttons a certain way–watch out). She was more compassionate and understanding, though that didn't stop her from shoving a heeled boot up anyone's ass if they needed one. She was a bit more laid back, but serious when it came to her work. And of course, she still ripped him off on jobs, which never seemed to change regardless of how many years went by.
"Well? Aren't you going to say something to me? Or would you rather speak with the girls?"
The girls? He blinked and his eyes fell on her chest. Right. Those girls. Not that he had anything to say to them, though he could probably come up with something he'd like to do to them.
"I need you to do me a huge favor," he said, moving his gaze up towards her face. She raised an eyebrow in suspicion, but uncrossed her arms and came forward more. She sat on the edge of the desk, lengthwise, bringing her left leg up to rest against the table's surface. He could barely see the scar on her thigh, which had also softened its appearance with time.
"Depends on the favor," she replied.
Dante inwardly winced. That was like an indirect no in his book. But he could always try, right? Take a chance. Lady had the tendency to surprise him from time to time, so maybe this was one of those times.
"I have this guy friend and—"
He frowned at being cut off.
"You didn't even let me finish."
She crossed her arms over her chest again, only this time he could detect a hint of annoyance. He repressed the urge to roll his eyes because really, she was the one being difficult.
"He's a little young—"
"A little young?" she cut him off again, an eyebrow raised and her voice thick with sass and attitude.
Dante smirked, knowing that tone of voice all too well. "Oh come on, you look like the cougar type."
"Seriously?" she said, looking down at him enough so that her glasses slid down the bridge of her nose slightly. Bi-colored eyes peeked at him, none too amused of course at the implication. She wasn't that old and this was clearly not helping his cause, but he couldn't help but take a couple of digs at her for rudely interrupting him earlier.
"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," he said, a cocksure grin on his lips.
At this she smirked. "And you tried?"
Dante shrugged. "I'm apparently not his type."
"Shocking to hear," Lady said, snorting a laugh.
"All joking aside," he said, straightening his posture and getting serious. "It's the kid, you know, the one from Fortuna."
Lady nodded at the mention of the island she sent Dante to about three years ago.
"What about him?"
"The kid isn't doing so hot. Not since he lost his girl about a year ago."
Demons. He knew the word was at the tip of her tongue when he saw her tense slightly. It didn't need to be said as demons were the root to almost every problem they've faced. Dante cleared his throat, licking his lips.
"The kid was pretty much a wreck when I went to see what he was up to a few months back." He folded his hands together, the leather of his gloves squeaking as he squeezed his grip.
"Should've seen him, Lady." He looked at hands, his gaze seemed far away as though remembering. "The nuns there, at the convent he was staying in barely saw him out and about, but when I caught sight of him, my jaw nearly dropped. He was so thin and pale, eyes so sunken in and dark, like the life had been drained out of them."
It was a jarring sight to remember. Dante asked one of the nuns what was wrong and it was explained to him that Nero had lost Kyrie in a terrible demon kidnapping a year prior. He wanted to know more specifics, but the women couldn't tell him more from the little they got from Nero. They said that he just showed up to the convent, it being the place where he was abandoned as a baby, covered in blood. He came back a broken man and they didn't question him much. They just took him in and tried their best to heal his wounds.
"He was like this walking husk," he continued. "Barely registered I was there until I put a hand on his shoulder. He flipped out, threw me through a wall before I landed in a court yard."
"And you're sure he's safe to be around?" Lady asked. "Unlike you, I can't bounce back from being thrown into a court yard."
"Relax; he was like that a few months ago and I'm sure his knee-jerk reaction was a result of my own demonic aura triggering something." Dante got up to stretch his legs a bit.
"I stayed there and helped him a bit," he said, slowly walking around the table. "You know, get him back into shape, and help swallow the grief a little. He's less feral now. Showers often even, like normal people do." Dante tried to smirk at the last part to show that things were a bit better, but it quickly faltered.
Nero was a damaged man, broken to what others might assume beyond repair. But Dante wasn't going to give up on him yet, he knew that things could get better for him.
"So that's why I couldn't get a hold of you for awhile," Lady said, tilting her head as she examined him. "Though Trish was a good substitute."
"I told her to go easy. We don't want to end up owing you money for a job you hired us to do," he said, pointing an accusing finger.
"Perish the thought," the woman replied, though he could read the humor in her tone. He knew she was quick to keep tabs on money matters; she was the reason why he was always broke.
"I'm sorry for the kid's loss and I really do hope he gets better, and from the sound of things, he seems to be on the right track if he's showering every day," she said, "But what does all this have to do with me?"
"The kid's rusty. Some good old fashion training would do him some good. And I want you to be his drill sergeant."
Lady stood up, placing a hand on her hip. "You're serious?"
"As a heart attack," he replied.
Dante watched her drop her hand, and she walked a couple of paces away from his desk, her face pensive as she watched her feet. She brought a hand to her chin and he wondered if she was thinking of the risks, the consequences, the factors that would play a role in all of this and what did it all mean. Did she have something to gain? Or was she going to lose?
"If money's a problem, don't worry," he said, hoping to quell her doubts. "I'll pay you for this." And he meant it because it was worth it. If saving Nero meant going into deeper debt, then let it happen.
The glare she shot him was enough to quell his doubts of her participation and he almost felt ashamed for bringing it up.
"Money isn't the issue here and it isn't going to be," she said and came back to stand in front of him. "I can't just drop everything to train some guy I barely know."
"I'm not asking you to drop everything. You can still do what you need to do," he reasoned, "Just know that you also have to work on him and that you're not alone in this."
Lady gave him a slow nod, though she didn't look completely convinced.
"He's not a bad guy," Dante started. " 'Course he's got a mouth on him, but it's mostly snark, nothing you can't handle. He's a quick learner when he wants to be and strong." he sighed, knowing that Nero would tell him to back off, that he was strong enough to make it. "But brute strength alone isn't going to cut it, not if he wants to make a living hunting again. That's where you come in."
"Said it wasn't worth her time," he said, shrugging.
Lady snorted, rolling her eyes. "Classy."
"But she did agree to help out once in a while," he said, quickly coming to Trish's defense.
"So we'll be seeing more of Gloria then?"
"It's her thing, and she gets a kick out of it when it makes the kid uncomfortable."
"I'm glad she's able to find some amusement from of all of this," she said, and then frowned, her lips almost pouting. "I can't."
Dante raised an eyebrow. "Can't or won't?"
"Both," she said, turning around and walking away from him. She stopped before reaching the door.
"Are you sure I'm the right person for this?" Her hand reached for the doorknob but stopped short of turning it when he followed, his footsteps echoing as he approached her from behind. "I'm not a coach and if you even think I'm going to be the kid's therapist then you're—"
She stopped when he placed a hand on her shoulder. He felt her tense, seeing her shoulders rise up before slumping down as she relaxed.
They stood in silence and he wondered why she was fighting him so hard on this. There had to be something else she wasn't telling him and it hurt to know she would hold it back from him. Not trust him enough to have him help, knowing that he would in a heartbeat.
"I would think that you—being who you are, having already gone head to head with him and giving him Yamato—would be the sole character in all of this. You'd be the one to save him," she said.
He dropped his hand from her shoulder.
"And you know what?" he said, "I thought I was. But I'm not exactly what he needs."
"What he needs he just can't have and that's the problem, isn't it?"
"Just because he lost her doesn't mean he needs to stop living." He looked up to the ceiling closing his eyes as he rolled his neck, feeling something pop and relaxed. "And just because I'm not exactly what he wants doesn't mean I'm not going to try my hardest to help him," he said, looking back down at her. He wanted her to turn around, to have her face him, but as it was, her hand was still on the doorknob.
He saw her turn it and he found himself mentally sighing in disappointment. He couldn't let her leave, not yet, not when he knew she had an important role in all of this and it hit him. The reason why she was so against it in the first place and why the more they talked about it, the more she backed away until he had her basically cornered.
"He reminds me of you." And Dante was sure that was it because the tension returned to her shoulders. "You lost everything years ago because Arkham took everything you had. A chance at a normal life, your mother…"
She didn't say anything.
"…you lost everything and still had the drive to go after him because you felt responsible. You went and dealt with him, not because you had to, but because you wanted to, because you knew that it was the only way for you to move on."
He heard her snort, probably a dry laugh she was holding back.
"I got revenge by killing my father and laughed about it, a hollow victory at best." She let go of the knob and turned around, taking off her sunglasses and looking up at him, bi-colored eyes dark. "And what do I have to show for it now? An ugly scar and the disgust of waking up every morning and seeing his eyes stare right back at me. Am I really the right choice now?"
He cupped her face. A bold move on his part, but at least she couldn't run away from him. Lady stared at him, her eyes so big that he felt like he'd drown in them. She closed them when his thumb traced the scar on her nose, her cheeks flushing a slight pink, making the scar stand out even more. The skin there was softer than it should've been and it made him lick his lips in anticipation though he knew he wasn't allowed to cross that line despite being so dangerously close to it. It'd be stepping the line if he dared to press their lips together and just melt into her and take whatever he could get. Gorge himself until there was nothing left and pull away just before she was aware that he was trying to steal what was never going to be his to begin with.
Instead, he brought his lips down, just above her eyebrow.
"You're perfect," he whispered, lips brushing against soft skin and fine hairs. Like Nero, she was also broken, her past following her like a shadow, stopping her from branching out, limiting how close others could get. Lady was what Nero could become if he wasn't careful.
That wasn't to say that Lady was a lost cause. She wasn't…not yet. He hoped that during all of this, she'd realize how silly she was at keeping him and others at arm's length. That maybe, she'll open up, let herself go and live a little. That she come to terms with herself as a woman and realize that she was beautiful, both inside and out, and that she was never going to be Arkham despite what the mirror portrayed her to be. She may not be open to examining her inadequacies, but maybe seeing her own flaws in someone else might help trigger the healing process Dante felt was way overdue.
"Years ago, you made me realize what was important," he said pulling his face back and letting her face go.
"Even if it meant sacrificing what I held dear. That's what you've done and I owe you a lot for it."
She chewed her bottom lip, her eyes avoiding his gaze as they looked off towards the side. It was something she always did when she felt embarrassed or nervous.
"You can do the same for the kid. Make him realize what's important. Save him from himself."
He moved back, giving her some room. Lady cleared her throat as though composing herself. She put her sunglasses on and it was as though the past five minutes never happened.
"So, what's the time frame for this?" she asked.
"With our combined efforts, I give him six months, nine or ten if he's stubborn about it and fights us every step of the way."
"That's a long time."
"He'll be out of your hair before you know it," he assured her.
"Alright then." She raised her sunglasses into her hair and looked at him. He couldn't help but smirk at the look of determination in her eyes. "I'll do it."
"Nice! So, you won't mind meeting us at the bar tomorrow night? Ten sharp?"
Lady didn't hide her frown as she brought her sunglasses down in their place.
"Really, the bar?"
"What's wrong with that?" Dante didn't see anything wrong with it and just shrugged, turning around to walk back towards his desk. "We'll talk details over a couple of drinks, I get to see you wear a nice top, the kid learns to play pool, everyone wins!"
"I'm sure," he heard her mutter as she followed from behind.
"So what's he like?"
Dante took a seat in his chair, tilting it back and placing his feet on the table.
"He looks and acts just like me," Dante said grinning.
Lady frowned. "Oh joy."