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qui tollis peccata mundi

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Alone in her back pew, Carmilla sighs quietly and shifts her weight from one knee to the other, struggling for a moment to remember why she'd thought this was a good idea to begin with. She had lived without this for over three hundred years of her life, and perhaps more importantly, it had never felt like any great loss. Until now. 

Perhaps it was her recent brush with death - and technicalities aside, it had been a truer brush with death than any she'd ever known before. (She's intellectually aware of the fact of her first death, but she also recognizes that there's something to be said for the fact that she is here in this place to be having these thoughts despite it - she still walks and talks and wants, and so whatever of death she's experienced already is at most a prelude, as far as she's concerned.)

Or perhaps it's that, for the first time since her rebirth at eighteen, Maman is gone - truly gone. It had been Maman, after all, who had mocked her naïve piety at the start of it all. Centuries before she awoke to Nietzsche's bold obituary for the divine, her mother had crooned to her, "Dieu est mort, ma petite chérie, and we shall reign in his stead." Contrary to what some might think, the general vampiric aversion to religion has never been the result of anything inherent or demonic about their species - though if the undead tended to lack faith in the existence of a loving and all-powerful deity, could one fault them?

The priest's sermon drones on, and this is something she definitely hasn't missed. Perhaps this truly was all a mistake; she's glad that no one knows she's here. How had she ever thought she could belong here again? (There is a part of her that wonders if she ever belonged here, ever could have - when she'd been alive she had never heard the word "lesbian," there had been no one to tell her that others like her existed, but there had always been her, and sometimes she thinks that her vampirism might actually be a ways down on the list of things that damn her.) 

She remembers her words to Laura - Ethics is a game played by children trying to impose order on an arbitrary universe. Perhaps morality is real after all, she thinks for what isn't the first time, but subordinate to the pursuit of some greater good - she's long had a soft spot for Kierkegaard, after all, though she hadn't gotten to read his works until he was dead and her imprisonment was ended. Maman had disapproved of theology and philosophy in equal measure. It's one of Carmilla's few regrets - so many brilliant minds, so many geniuses she'd been denied the opportunity to meet before and during the years stolen from her in that wretched coffin. 

Where had God been while she was wasting away under the earth? She ponders for a moment what the priest would say if she asked him - perhaps he would simply gape like a fish, wordless. Perhaps he would run in terror, or inform her of what she already knows too well - she is damned, and eternal torment is all that she deserves. (Would that make Maman an agent of the Lord? She almost chuckles at the thought.)

The sermon is over, and she feels a twinge of panic in her gut - the only sign of her anxiety she'll be given by her body, without quickened breath or a heartbeat to measure. The part of the service that has drawn her here is quickly approaching, and her every instinct is to run. She scans the modest sanctuary of the parish and realizes, to her dismay, that there is no subtle escape route, no way to change her mind without making a scene. Her nerves only begin to calm when she realizes that no one has been watching her at all, no one notices her fumbling over some of the prayers - the innovation of the vernacular liturgy may bring more familiarity to some, but without the measured rhythms of Latin she feels unmoored within the service - and omitting other prayers altogether. She supposes she has the apparently omnipresent forces of secularization to thank for the fact that the only other congregants are a small handful of stern-faced men and elderly women more interested in praying their rosaries than attending to anything or anyone around them. 

Still, she is uncomfortably self-conscious as she leaves her back pew to go forward to receive the Eucharist - her palms are sweating, she notices absent-mindedly. It's the first time she's done this since her death, since the end of her first fleeting childhood and the beginning of the second. She works hard to hide her nerves as she kneels at the altar rail, but the priest pays her no more attention than the other congregants had during the service. 

Das Blut Christi.

Even as she mutters a perfunctory "amen," she feels something shift within her at the priest's words, and there are tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. She heads straight for the door rather than back to her pew, and steps out into the dark January night. "The Blood of Christ" - it isn't blood, she knows blood better than any priest or theologian, and yet there is something... She is moved. Perhaps it is only that it is the first time she has been offered the chalice, offered communion in both kinds. Spoken to of Christ's blood in her first tongue, no less - her father would undoubtedly have disdained it all as unconscionably Protestant. 

She walks home along a familiar path. For decades upon decades, the forests of Styria have been her cathedral, the great existentialists her evangelists bringing good news, the stars the only heaven for which she has longed. Caeli enerrant gloriam Dei, et opera manuum eius annuntiat firmamentum - she breathes the once-familiar words out softly. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the works of his hands

She is the work of so many hands. Who is her creator? Maman had been the easy answer for so long - she'd held Carmilla's life and death in the balance, and had chosen to give life. Older now, she can recognize that her mother was no god, that it had all been a lie, and yet nothing within her is willing to simply return to the dogma she had believed before her mother had come into her life and shattered everything she'd thought she had known. 

Carmilla enters the dorm room quietly, out of habit more than anything else. She smiles softly at the familiar sight of Laura, fallen asleep at the desk. She sits on the bed for a few moments, enjoying the peaceful look on her girlfriend's sleeping face. Eventually, though, she ends her indulgence and kneels down next to her, a hand gently shaking her shoulder. "Let's get you into bed, m'kay?"

Laura swats at her hand and mutters a protest, still more asleep than not. With an exaggerated sigh, Carmilla moves easily to slide her arms under Laura's knees and back and picks her up in a single, smooth motion. As she places her in their bed, Laura's eyes flutter open for a moment. A look of confusion crosses her face for a moment - she isn't used to seeing her home at this time of night, Carmilla knows. 

"Is everything okay?" she asks sleepily, and Carmilla kisses her forehead.  

"Never better," she says, and it's enough, because it's only moments before she nods and rolls over, asleep again almost instantly.  

Her hair has fallen away from her neck, and Carmilla's eyes fall on the two small scars there - her own doing, she can't help but remember the moment of it, and she freezes in place.

Take, drink... this is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

Laura is no more divine than Maman was, she knows when she stops and thinks about it. And yet, as she sits in the dark of the little room that has somehow - miraculously? - come to feel like home, as she sits and listens to the sound of soft breathing, Laura looks for all the world to her like redemption.