The sounds of life surrounded him, even without the aid of his adept hearing. A blend of children playing, chatter, laughter, childish squeals of joy, birds chirping and a plethora of other noise floated through his ears, but were largely ignored. Save the aural surveillance sweeps every now and then, the one life Dante largely focused on was his daughter and all the sounds she made.
Despite how rarely he actually used his extensive senses in public, he kept a keen ear on her heartbeat and the changes in her breathing; these were the first to change if she was in any sort of danger. He listened to the sound of her footsteps pattering in grass and on concrete, using it to determine how near or far away she was and what direction she was in. Her breathing would slightly change if she were to speak to someone, and he also kept mind of the breathing around her, ever aware of any who approached.
Needless to say, despite his outward appearance—lazing on his back, eyes closed and an arm over his eyes—he was, in every subtle way, a highly observant parent.
It was a beautiful spring day, a cool breeze in the air with the warmth of the shining sun to keep the temperature comfortable. Trish was the one to suggest Dante took a break for the day and spend time with Patty. Neither father nor daughter disagreed to the idea and had already spent the entire day doing things together.
In the wee hours of the day, they went fishing, because despite Patty's typical preferences, she was willing to try new things. She actually did enjoy fishing and even caught a good-sized fish, even if she disliked the smells afterwards. They then had an early brunch at Fredi's, had ice cream, and went to Patty's favorite mall. They spent hours there, having fun when they shouldn't have, like the mischief makers they both could be. They did some brief shopping—or at least, Patty did with her father's help—before ending up at the park for Patty to try out her new kite.
For the first fifteen minutes, Dante taught her how to use the gliding contraption with the inexperience of someone who had never actually used a kite before, himself. But he grasped the concept easier and was able to hold his place as teacher easy enough before letting her fly it on her own. His dear daughter nearly crashed her pink, smiling butterfly into a wyvern, some weird shapes, a triangle, and another, larger butterfly in her eager distractions to show him how well she could do on her own. Crisis narrowly avoided.
Now he rested, sure she could keep an eye on her kite herself, and she was comfortable with that, simply glad he was near. With most of his focus on keeping his senses alert, he gave idle thought to what they could do afterwards...
"That's the girl I was talking about..."
His brow slightly creased upon hearing this, and another portion of his hearing listened in on this conversation.
"The little loli? Cute little thing."
His entire form tensed and his eyes snapped open with red rimming his irises. This wasn't just some idle compliment. By the suggestive tones and the word "loli", it was obvious.
No...NO. Some perverted fuckers were NOT talking about his daughter.
Slowly, he removed his arm from his face and sat up, head turning into the direction of the two masculine voices without bothering to hide the murderous glare upon his face.
Two grown men, one perhaps in his 30s and the other in his 40s, were on the concrete some distance from where Patty or even most other children were playing on the grass. They appeared to be joggers...Nice cover. They were, without a doubt, looking in Patty's direction, every now and then looking around so they didn't seem to stare.
Against his better judgment, Dante peered into their minds, only to find himself on his feet and stalking towards them before he was even aware of it. It'd be a snowy day in EVERY of the 9 Hells before these human monsters touched ANOTHER child.
Break them! his devilside hissed within him. Rip them! Choke them with their lifeblood! Maim them! Cut them, feed them their own flesh...!
Oh, how he promised himself he would destroy the men until they begged for the Malebolgia's Realm. And then he'd kill them AGAIN...
But he heard an even more distressing thought that warranted his attention instead.
He heard another man, further from the immediate area, mention his daughter's name. This froze him in place, though his glare on the two pedophiles didn't lessen in the slightest. He was close enough, and obvious enough, for them to take immediate notice of him, and he cast a deathly glare at them when they did.
Blanching, they swiftly and stiffly ran away. But not before he got a whiff of their scents. He would deal with his prey later...
He steadily returned to where he rested under a nearby tree. Patty, her kite upon the grass, looked at him with a wondering, nervous expression. No doubt she noticed and felt his rage, be it he neared her while walking into the men's direction. He shook his head and gave a dismissive smile; he'd tell her later. As if. She gave a determined frown expressing he would tell her, in her childish way, before returning her attention to her kite. His smile widened. Briefly.
...Now about this other guy...
Expression darkening again, he gazed at the man...who was approaching. Approaching Patty. The man was young, wearing a suit and tie...but looked too casual to be a businessman. Long brown hair was pulled in a ponytail and his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.
The man's thoughts...were...troubling: "It can't be her, she should be a teenager by now...But the similarities are...undeniable!"
...There was also a telltale, lingering scent about the man that made Dante's eyes narrow.
Instead of jumping to a parental conclusion, human or otherwise—though he was damned close to doing so—he watched as the man stopped at a safe distance from Patty.
The girl stopped in her tracks, backed a bit, and then looked at the stranger, but didn't speak.
"Is your name Pa..." The man took notice of the girl's defensiveness in her expression and posture. "...Ah...yes. My apologies. Is your mother, father or guardian near?" he properly asked.
Expression slightly easing, Patty moved a few more steps back until she shortly bumped into someone's legs. Unalarmed, she moved slightly to her father's side to grasp his leg and hide behind it.
Naturally, Dante had moved the second the man spoke again.
Upon taking a good look at just what sort of person Patty clung to, to be expected, the man's expression dropped in surprise. He nearly blanched at the leveled, yet somehow wickedly dangerous glint in the slanted, electric blue orbs.
"What business do you have with my daughter?" Dante asked coolly, his even voice at odds with his expression.
Swallowing, the young man cleared his throat before nearly stuttering, "My-ah, my name is Simon Earl." He began to make a motion to offer a handshake, only to wisely think better of it. "...Yes...ah...I've traveled throughout the country at the request of Gwendolyn Lowell, the matriarch of the esteemed Lowell family."
A white brow rose at the familiar name.
"Mrs. Lowell lost her daughter, Nina, who, 15 years ago, was pregnant with a girl to be named Patty, short for Patiel Lowell," Simon continued, glancing curiously at the girl behind Dante.
Patty felt her father slightly tense as her own eyes widened at this revelation. This had some similarities to the story told to her. She looked up at her father, catching a glimpse of his almost troubled expression before it transitioned into thoughtfulness.
"Someone still held onto the hope you were alive, Patty," he said, smiling down at her. However, the smile didn't quite meet his eyes. To Simon, he asked, "So what were you to do if you found her?"
Despite the drop of the tense atmosphere, Simon still looked uneasy. Lowering his sunglasses, revealing hazel brown eyes, he admitted, "...To be honest, despite the coincidences...Patty Lowell should be around sixteen years old, today. Th-there's no pos—"
"She would be," Dante interrupted, his voice unusually gentle as he brushed his fingers through Patty's hair. "...It is a...long story." A gross understatement.
Simon could only digest this information by a bit, looking from Dante to the small blonde still hiding behind red-clad legs. After a few seconds, he seemed to come to a decision and he reached into his suit to take out two envelopes from an inside pocket. Wordless still, he handed both to Dante, who took them just as silently.
Observing all of this, Patty had no idea what to make of the situation, but she did not like it. She watched as her father examined the envelopes, one letter sized and the other smaller. Both were closed with a wax seal of an emblazoned 'L' with a gem motif surrounded by what almost looked like barbed wire...thorns. Dante estimated, by the weight and smell of the contents within the smaller envelope, that it contained photographs. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Patty staring up at both and at him with childish wonder in her large, blue eyes.
Cracking a small smile, Dante shifted to take her hand and lead her to a park table, motioning the still speechless Simon over as well. The hunter sat beside his daughter while handing her the small envelope, causing her to awe over the seal. He opened the letter-sized envelope as Simon sat across from him.
The letter within contained the same emblem as the seal at the letterhead, which Dante supposed was the Lowell family crest. Cursive handwriting greeted him as he began to read.
"To whom it may concern,
"Thank you for raising my dear granddaughter, Patty, esteemed member of the Lowell family. 15 years ago, my daughter, Nina, was attacked and killed by a band of demons that were after my family, as we are a long line of efficient Infernal Hunters. At the same time, Patty, my little angel, was a newborn. Though I knew hope was slim, I believed in my heart that she may have survived, be it her body wasn't found with her mother's.
You have my most sincere gratitude and blessing for taking Patty in as your own. I invite you and your family to my estate; my envoy Simon Earl will escort you.
Please tell Patty her grandmother, her uncles and cousins eagerly await her visit, and yours.
Dante lowered the letter, glancing at his daughter, who was inspecting a collection of photographs splayed out on the table. The Lowells. He was familiar with their name and legacy, but nothing else. Considering how long they had existed, he supposed they were as proficient as claimed...Perhaps Lady knew more...
He also knew money when he encountered it. The fragrance permeating the letters, the envelopes, the seal, the letterhead, the proper language, and the inflection he heard in his mind while reading the letter...Old legacy usually meant old money; Dante would know. And if he was unlucky enough, that also meant they were aristocratic, which could easily mean old-fashioned, which could include a plethora of other unsavory things.
...And luck tended to avoid him as if he were the plague.
He sighed to himself, and then leaned a bit to look at the picture that Patty was staring at.
It was of a young blonde woman sitting in a chair, the backdrop a lovely blue, laced wallpaper, and she smiled warmly. The similarities between the woman and Patty were...too obvious.
"Is this my mother?" the girl asked Simon, showing it to him. Both men could tell she knew the answer, but wanted clarification.
Simon nodded after giving the photo a mere glimpse. "Ah, yes. Miss Nina. She was an amazing woman; cordial, intelligent, witty, and proficient at her craft," he sighed sadly with a touch of wistfulness. He then caught himself, clearing his throat. "All will be explained once you visit the Lowell estate, Mr...?"
The hunter had already guessed what Simon was reacting to. "Just Dante, and I already know Patty is an alchemist. Figures one of her parents would be one, too," he drawled, amused by the younger man's instantaneous expression of shock. And something else...
"H...how?" Simon stuttered. "No one unrelated to the family is supposed to know that!" he nearly exclaimed.
"He's my father," Patty countered with a frown, lowering the picture. There was a passion in her voice and an unsaid challenge to denounce Dante's place in her life was clear in her expression.
Hugging her to his side, Dante softly chuckled and gave Simon a shrug. "Helps that I'm a Hunter, myself."
Initially, Simon sputtered some incomprehensible words, or tried to, at Patty's statement. After what her father said, he gave a pause before calming down. "...Good. Very good. Hopefully that will ease things a bit..." He suddenly looked at a watch on his arm. "Will you be leaving soon? There are procedures that must be addressed as soon as possible before I return to the estate."
Dante's expression slowly faded. This...didn't sound comforting. "...Such as...?"
"Oh, the living condition of Patty's home environment, if she is doing well in school...Simple necessities like that," explained Simon with an expectant smile.
Something, in the metaphorical sense, twisted inside of Dante, and whether he wanted to or not, he couldn't help but to wince at these words.
The trip back home was a silent one, the red convertible leading the black car towards the slums. Of course, Dante didn't specifically mention where they lived, simply telling Simon to follow them. Was he ashamed of where he lived? Not a day in hell; it was a perfect place for him to live, away from people, out of sight, out of mind. Was he ashamed Patty had to live there with him...?
...His traitorous mind stayed mum on that...
Granted, the knowledge that she was from such a prestigious background in itself didn't mean anything; so was he, after all. But...Patty's family...could possibly do something he sure as hell wouldn't stand for because they were such...
He gripped the steering wheel even tighter, eyes looking at and watching the road, but his mind a million miles away. There was also...the possibility, one he didn't want, that...
...Maybe...it would be, could be better...
His daughter was just as silent as he was, undoubtedly picking up on his own emotions, ever tuned she was to him. During the first few minutes of the drive, he asked her if there was anything she wanted to talk about or if anything was bothering her. But all she said was that she was in deep thought, so he let her be.
...He hated this...
Soon, they had passed Bullseye Bar and he sighed heavily as they entered empty streets and traveled past blocks of abandoned, broken buildings. Only then did Patty finally speak.
"Yes, Tea?" he quietly asked.
She looked at her hands, then glanced up at the side mirror to the car behind them. "...I don't think Simon is a human," she admitted.
Nodding, he replied, "He's not. He's a demon, a lesser one, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Lowells had such weak, harmless demons in their presence." He sighed, turning onto Slum Avenue. "...They are likely servants."
"...Oh..." she muttered, lowering her gaze again. She didn't like that idea at all. "...Am I going to have to live with them...?"
At her dejected, soft tone, he reached over and placed his hand upon her head. He combed through her hair, but didn't reply. He didn't know how to reply.
She could see the warring emotions upon his face and unbuckled her seatbelt to move into his lap, hugging him. He simply didn't feel like scolding her and held her as they pulled up in front of the office.
...Home, sweet home.
The black car slowly came up behind them. Honestly, Simon didn't know what to think when they drove into the slums. At first, after some thought, he considered they were going into another city on the other side of the slums. But then the convertible pulled up and stopped in front of a large building with steps leading to double doors. It in itself didn't look...bad...but...
Looking around at the abandoned building, the bleakness and darkness of it all, it was no "neighborhood" to raise a child in. And then there was this...feeling...in the air. It didn't feel right, let alone safe.
He blinked as Dante exited the convertible, holding Patty against his chest with one arm. She clung to him, her arms around his neck, her face hidden from the envoy's sight. Brows furrowing, he turned his car off and stepped out, watching the so-called hunter walk up the steps and push a door open.
He was quick to follow, tentatively opening the same door to peer in.
A smell reached his nose, an earthly one...but he had no idea what it was. A large black trash (garbage?) bin beside the door was overflowing with papers, rubbish and...a lot of black bags...Full black bags...Beside it was a small recycling bin, just as full with...soda cans? Beer cans?? More paper and the usual things to expect in a recycling bin...
The room was...enormous. With wide eyes, he stepped further inside, taking note of all the various demonic skulls and other body parts and artifacts in various spots on the walls. There was also the wall of weapons underneath a staircase behind a large brown desk and chair; several guns, including ones that seems of Hell itself, strange artifacts, and three large, long swords, one of which looked rather demonic...
...Fine, so he was an Infernal Hunter...
A coatless Dante sat on the long couch, arms folded, and watched the young man take in the sights. Patty was in the upstairs bathroom. If Dante was being honest with himself, no bullshit whatsoever, he'd agree the house had looked much worse in the past. At the moment, though, he decided he wasn't going to care. Drama over. He'd go with the flow, as he normally did.
"So, Simon," he said to the envoy, standing to walk to the refrigerator beside the bar, "any idea if the Lowells planned to get Patty into devil hunting?"
Frowning a bit, closing the door to the outside, Simon responded, "Well, no. The women of the Lowell family usually take up less...physical—"
"Right." Popping the top of a bottle of beer, Dante closed the refrigerator and turned to the other. "I hope they have a choice in the matter," he said before drinking.
Openly staring at him, Simon couldn't believe what he was seeing. Now that he looked at it, the entire space had bottles hidden around...An...alcoholic??
Reading his mind, literally, said drinker raised his bottle. "Want some?"
Stiffly, Simon shook his head.
Shrugging, Dante walked over to his desk and sat in his chair, legs thumping heavily atop the flat surface just as small footsteps were heard upstairs. Simon looked to the staircase to see Patty at the top floor, pausing to peer down at him. She gave the man a rather annoyed look, then leaned over the rail and spoke.
...Or at least...that's what Simon guessed that...noise was coming out of her mouth.
Whatever it was, it was harsh-sounding, discomforting and made his head spin, and even Dante stopped from his drinking with a rising brow. Yet he looked rather humored. And proud?
After the...sound...words...left Patty's mouth, to Simon's greater shock, the same thing came out of her father's, though it was far more guttural and inhuman. He said less than what she said, and Simon watched as the girl made a displeased face. With a huff, she walked down the stairs and ignored him to walk around the other side of the banister and down a hall.
What the hell just happened?
"She's bilingual," Dante responded to the unsaid thoughts. "...Well, at the moment, actually, she knows about five languages," he said between a sip of his beer.
"That was a language?!" Simon balked, only to receive a calm, careless nod. "What the...What language? Of what country??"
"A dialect from the demon world."
"WHAT?!" Simon slammed his hands down on the desk, shouting, "Why in the name of the CREATOR would you do such a thing?! Such filth should never be taught to a child, let alone come out of her mouth!"
Still perfectly nonchalant, though his devilside was the extreme opposite on the inside, Dante wasn't even looking at the envoy as he smoothly answered, "She has an advantage over the vast majority of Infernal Hunters worldwide by being able to understand what demons say."
The brown eyes only widened with unadulterated shock as Simon realized what was being insinuated.
Patty could hunt demons.
Focusing on him, Dante jabbed a thumb at the weapons. "The one with a pink gem is hers," he said, referring to the swords, "and the two with wings on them are also hers." He pointed at the guns.
Looking at them, Simon took a step back. "Oh...what have you done...?" he groaned, covering his eyes with one hand. He suddenly startled, however, upon seeing a deadly gleam in the eyes that glared at him before his vision was hidden.
"What I did was teach my daughter how to defend herself," Dante growled, trying with a great lot of his power to keep his devil under control when all it wanted to do was rip the lesser being before him apart for thinking he knew what was better for his own. Slowly, he lowered his drink and stood up, placing his hands on the desk to stare the man in the eye. "I don't know how it's done in the Lowell norms, but Patty knows spells as well as how to use a gun and wield a sword. Is that a problem, demon?"
Immediately lowering his hand, the envoy looked upon the now standing man with a bit of a cower in his posture.
Briefly closing his eyes, Dante figured the younger man was born in the human realm if he didn't know exactly what was standing before him. That, and he was assuming the Lowells didn't bother too much with matters outside their...district, he guessed. It wasn't uncommon for hunters of Infernal Kin to have their own territories. Hell, he had one...But at the same time, something was off about all of this.
How did Simon not know just who and what he was dealing with...?
Several hours later, Patty had just gone to sleep. Her father had tucked her in, and was now sitting upon the couch.
The lights in the office were off—all light, save the ones coming from Dante's eyes...
Red orbs directed towards the doors as they opened. In walked the only person who could possibly handle Dante's worst moods.
"...What happened, Dante?" the woman asked, heels slowly clicking upon the floor, breaking the second silence within the room. She wasn't truly expecting an answer, and only received a soft, weary sigh as a response. Wordlessly, the demoness sat beside him and pulled him into a hug.
Dante didn't react, but he didn't pull away, either. Rather, he liked these silent moments with Trish when he could lower his guards and get out his deepest emotions locked within him. Or at least, as many as he dared...
After the little spat, Simon was allowed to have a silent look into Patty's room before leaving, wordless sans asking for Dante's number. It didn't give Dante a good feeling inside, and Patty had worried as well. But for what...neither really knew. It was just...a feeling. The familiar nervousness that arose when confronted with human trifles began to grow within Dante from then on.
All they were left with from the events of the day were the two envelopes. Together, father and daughter went through the photographs, familiarizing themselves with some of the Lowell family. It had been a silent activity, but it felt better than worrying over something unknown. Afterwards, Dante ordered takeout and he spoke to Patty about what she would like to do.
Yes, of course, she wanted to meet her biological family, but she didn't want to stay with them. Even when she was told she didn't really know that yet, she was adamant about it until she was nearly in tears. So, they didn't talk about it after that. An hour or so later, she went to bed.
Which left her father alone with the darker half of his being.
Therefore, it was no surprise that the strong smell of alcohol and blood were in the air and clinging to Dante's body. The alcohol because, over the past sixteen years in which Trish knew him, the man's alcoholic tendencies never disappeared. They simply hid, returning at predictable moments or for predictable reasons. With his otherwise flawless self-control, he could even trick himself into thinking he wasn't a heavy drinker.
The blood because, the moment Patty was good and asleep, he hunted down the pedophiles from earlier. Add his wretched mindset in the mix and...he did not hold back. Didn't want to.
Once he was finally calm enough, his eyes no longer hellfire red, he gave Trish the envelopes before leaving to his room. But not before returning the hug.
She watched after him as he walked up the stairs, his paces strong enough to show he hadn't drunk enough to become intoxicated, at least to the point that it was obvious...
Once the man she considered her younger brother had disappeared up the stairs and into his room, she went through the envelopes.
Then it all became clear.