Chapter 1: One – Milan
There was a tourist in the library, and a striking one at that. He stalked around the shelves in an ostentatious blue coat, sleek midnight vest with a matching ascot, and tight black pants, head uncovered to reveal white hair pushed back from sharp blue eyes. He was stacking books in one hand, pulling out tomes of history and esoteric doctrine about The Dark Knight Sparda, while the other held some kind of elaborate tasseled walking stick in striking black and shimmering gold.
Most of the books in Fortuna's biggest public library were about Sparda, but how he moved through the stacks…
Milan had seen countless tourists browse the shelves before, ever since she started working at the library two years ago. Tourists typically moved with a casual, amused whimsy among the texts, not quite believing what the island professed to be true. This tourist was on a mission, and as his stack of books got higher and higher, Milan wondered who he was to be so invested in Sparda.
After another minute of watching him prowling the stacks, Milan returned to her own book and made another note on an inconsistency between the history and accepted doctrine. Worship of The Dark Knight was the only way of life for a Fortuna citizen and Milan was no different. Unfortunately, she had always gotten in trouble at the children's home for asking too many questions, and was no different in that regard at sixteen than she was at six. So she paged through one of the older historicals on Sparda and compared it's records with what was taught. Until the tourist in blue stepped up to her table with a wrinkle in his brow. A handsome tourist needing her help; she'd had much worse interruptions to her scant personal time.
Milan slipped the ribbon marker in place and closed the book, opening her mouth to ask what he wanted. She couldn't get a single sound out before he swept the book she was just holding off the table and added it to the top of his rather tall pile, turning on his heel without a word and walking to the door.
After a moment of pure shock Milan jumped up and stomped after him, snatching the book back off his stack as he pushed the first set of glass doors open.
“I was reading that, jackass.”
The librarian at the desk gave her a scandalized look for swearing, but Milan only had eyes for the tourist. Slowly, deliberately, he turned on his heel and faced her—his face cold as marble.
“I need that book.” He spoke it like it was the gravest sentence in the world.
Milan snorted and rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, well I already checked it out. So you'll have to wait two weeks.”
“You can't possibly comprehend the power in these texts.”
“You don't seem to comprehend the power of our checkout system. Do you even have a card with us?”
He was half-in the foyer, practically out the door, and certainly had not stopped at the main desk. Was this how libraries worked where he was from? Well tough shit, he was in Fortuna now. She reached out to take the tower of books still balanced in his hand, but he just leaned his cane against the doorframe and set his free hand on top of the stack. That was all, just rested it with no apparent effort but a narrowing of those cold blue eyes. It was like trying to pull the books out of a vise and when the slightest hint of a smirk curled the corner of his mouth Milan snarled,
“Look asshole, it's less than a cup of coffee for non-citizens to get a card here, and it'll last you five years before it needs to be refreshed. But if you don't check these out, I'll call the Guard on your ass and then you'll really be in trouble.”
The bastard actually had the audacity to chuckle before giving the tower a sharp tug. The thick leather covers scraped her fingers as they were jerked out of her grip, but he didn't make for the exit. Instead, he purposefully stepped up to the main desk and with a thump left the books in a neat stack. All while maintaining perfect eye-contact with Milan.
The tourist bowed, smirking, and picked up his ridiculous walking stick. He strutted out the door while tapping his cane’s gold heel on the ground with every step, until he turned a corner and vanished from sight.
“What a dick…” Milan muttered, causing another round of tutting from the librarian.
“Milan! How will you ever find a husband with language like that?!”
“If a few swears is a deal-breaker for any man, then I wouldn't want him anyway.”
She tried to lift the books the tourist left on the desk as he had—balanced in one hand as easily as someone might carry a platter of finger food—but she could barely lift the mass of thick texts with both hands. That tourist was no bodybuilder, that coat was far too tight for him to be hiding that sort of bulk, yet somehow he had carried these tomes one-handed without a care in the world.
She heaved the books into the reshelving section and returned to her notes, hoping that the tourist did something stupid in front of the Guards. See how long he could keep up his smirk then.
The next day while she was on shift and trying to find a book for a citizen, and it wasn’t on the shelf; it wasn’t waiting to be reshelved, and their records didn’t show it being checked out. It was, funnily enough, one of the books Milan had to reshelf yesterday from the jackass tourist’s book pile. Curious. It didn’t take long before she found every book that asshole in the blue coat wanted to take was missing from their shelves. All but one, the one she had checked out and taken home with her after the library was closed.
If she ever saw that tourist again, she’d break his nose before calling the Guard.
“Oh, you're such a dear Milan, Sparda bless you for this! Goodnight!” Alessa waved as she frolicked out the door, completely ignoring the muttered curses Milan directed her way.
Alessa and Milan had both been assigned lock-up duty, but something had suddenly come up, and now the job was left solely to Milan. Again. With Alessa still able to convince the Head Librarian that she was a perfect model of what a good Fortuna girl should be.
“Bitch…” She muttered, pushing the cart out into the stacks to reshelf the last of the books. This could take all night, and Leonardo was waiting to be fed. Maybe she should just bring him here whenever she was scheduled for lock-up...
That thread of thought amused her while she traced through the stacks, shelving books and keeping an eye out for trash too large for the vacuum. She fantasized about where she could hide Leo's litter-box, how she'd play with him in the stacks during her lunch break, how everyone would swoon over how handsome he was in a perfect dream world where co-workers didn't run for the door the second the boss had her back turned.
She ran the vacuum, wiped down the tables, and scrubbed fingerprints off the windows and doors. By this time it was nearing nine o'clock and Milan was more willing to be sloppy for the rest of her tasks. If anyone got mad, she could look innocently shocked and say that Alessa had been doing that job. She turned off the lights, swept up her bookbag, and stepped through the first set of doors; pausing when she realized she forgot the keys. She slipped back through the door as it swung shut and returned to the main desk, stepping slowly and carefully in the dark.
Then, she heard a thump. Solid and distinct coming from the maze of shelves. Her heart jumped a bit, but she closed her fingers around the keys and flicked on the small light attached to the set.
This wouldn't be the first time someone homeless had snuck into the library. The procedure was to kindly but firmly tell them that they couldn't sleep in the library overnight, offer them a few addresses of sanctuaries and shelters, and make sure they left before locking up. Of course, there were usually two people facing whoever it was. One to talk to them, one to call the Guard if they got violent. But Milan did her best to swallow the rising panic as she approached the stacks. Every time she found someone trying to hide in the library after hours, they had been kind and apologetic of the trouble they were causing her. Leaving after a few words and grateful for the advice on which shelters were the best. Why would this time be any different?
She listened amongst the shelves, tiptoeing further in at the sounds of a scrape, followed by the flutter of paper. She took a steadying breath, straightened her back, and turned a corner.
“Excuse me, but I'm afraid the library is closed for—”
Milan had seen a few things in her day, but never a vagrant with such a lavish blue coat. Or a gold and black walking stick leaning against a shelf. Or a real steamer trunk sitting open on the ground, revealing leather bound books and neat rows of fancy clothes.
The tourist, that damn tourist who almost certainly stole those books not even a week ago, was standing in a small nook, a new book in hand and an expression that was almost surprise on his arrogant face.
“You!” Milan stomped forward, but the tourist… Vanished. He stooped down, slammed the trunk closed, swept his hand towards the cane, and vanished in an actual puff of smoke. Milan was alone in the dark building, the ghostly light from her set of keys shifting through the traces of dark mist that marked where the stranger had been. An ornate, arrogant stranger who could vanish with a heavy steamer trunk in an instant but still apparently needed to sneak into a library after hours. Laughter started to rise up Milan’s throat, bursting out of her when her light caught on something gold.
The tourist left his cane behind.
Milan picked it up, a little surprised by its heft, and tapped it on the floor in a mimicry of the tourist as she returned to the set of doors. With a heavy clunk the bolt slid into place, leaving Milan in the cool night air and dim street lights. She giggled to herself all the way home as she held the cane by its long silky tassels, plotting how she would hold the cane hostage and threaten to report him to the Guard for theft until the arrogant bastard returned all the books he stole.
Leonardo wailed and twined about her legs the second she unlocked her own door, his dark amber fur clinging to her red hem as she struggled to step around his bulk.
Leaning the cane against the arm of her sagging couch, Milan dropped her bookbag on the floor. Pushing Leo out of the way, she filled his bowl and took his water dish to the sink to top it up. He ate with single-minded focus, letting her run her fingers through his thick fur and heavy ruff at her leisure.
Her house was tiny, once part of a much older stone building that had been divided up with new brick to make a dozen little houses. One bedroom, one bathroom, kitchen and sitting room practically the same space. But the walls were solid enough to keep out the noise of her neighbors, the rent was just cheap enough for an emancipated teenager working in a library, and nobody raised a fuss about Leonardo.
Even if it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, with no space for a bookshelf big enough to hold her second-hand collection, and the glass in the only window was warped with age, it was Milan’s.
Standing up and unclasping her cowl to drape it over the back of a chair, Milan shook out her dark curls and kicked off her shoes. Her stockings clung to the cheap upholstery of the couch as she curled up in the divot several previous owners had worn into it. She stretched out and caught the strap of her bag, dragging it close enough for her to fish out her book, and reached over the cane to turn on—
No. No, that was not a cane. Under the lamplight and nose to nose with it, she could see how the white-wrapped handle was much more like a hilt. How the curve of the shaft would only frustrate anyone trying to use it earnestly as a walking stick. Those long gold strips of fabric that she had initially ignored as useless decorations, but now struck her as a means to tie it to a belt.
This was a sword.
That arrogant, possibly homeless, disappearing thief of a tourist had been strutting around Fortuna, carrying a sword.
Had everyone else, including the Guard, made the same mistake she had, and assumed it was a decorative walking stick?!
Milan pulled the sword into her lap, and slowly revealed a few inches of the blade. The steel was pure white, with a rippling wave design in the metal indicating the edge. It was beautiful, and the implications alarming. Only members of the Guard and Order Knights were allowed to wield a sword in public, and this tourist was most certainly neither. He could have cut her in half any of the times she had been rude or inconvenient to him, and knowing now that he could teleport away immediately afterwards made a chill run down her spine.
Leonardo hopped onto her lap without warning, stopping her heart for a moment and almost making her drop the sword. She slid the exposed section of blade back into its sheath and almost threw it to the other end of the couch, while Leo made himself comfortable on her lap and started to purr. Picking up her cat and cradling him against her shoulder, Milan stared at the sword and wondered if the stranger would appear now in a puff of smoke to reclaim his blade and cut her down.
But he didn’t.
And he still didn’t.
And after Leonardo got tired of being held and wiggled out of her grip to stare out the window, the owner of the sword still hadn’t shown up. Milan thought back to all her interactions with the tourist and realized he never once went for his sword when she was bothering him. He had leaned it up against the doorframe when she first met him in the library, and had been so quick to flee from her when she found him alone, in a dark building, that he had missed his sword when he grabbed for it before vanishing.
The chill of fear rapidly thawing, Milan wondered what he needed this sword for if not to harass people. Perhaps in wherever-he-came-from, he was a member of their Guard. Or people just carried around elegant swords in his town. She grabbed one of the golden tails and pulled the sword back into her lap, pulling the blade a few inches out of the scabbard to see if it was even real and not just decorative. One bleeding thumb later and she had her answer. Cursing at the pain she sheathed the sword and rummaged through her bathroom to find a plaster, reconsidering her earlier plans.
She could still hold both the sword and the threat of the Guard over the stranger’s head, but now she had goals beyond getting stolen books returned. She wanted answers from this stranger: who he was, why he was so interested in Sparda, why he carried a sword he did not use, how he could teleport, and why he dressed so lavishly but still needed to hide in a public library with his luggage.
Putting the sword under her bed for safekeeping, Milan got ready for bed with plans and responses to imagined threats and pleas from the mysterious tourist. Tomorrow she would be the one to smirk, holding both carrot and stick for the upcoming ordeal.
If anyone is curious about the release schedule, I intend to post a chapter every other week. While several chapters are already written and edited, I don't want to rush out a mass of chapters that may need to be revised as the story progresses. So unless I finish this piece unexpectedly quickly, or I hit a major snag that postpones the creation of future chapters, expect a new chapter every other Tuesday. Please enjoy, and thank you to those who have already left kudos and comments!
Chapter 3: Three – Vergil
He forgot Yamato. He forgot his father’s sword. He left his only inheritance in his rush to escape the embarrassment of being discovered sulking about in a library for want of a roof over his head, and when he returned to the darkness of the building in another cloud of smoke, both sword and the young woman who found him were gone.
He returned to the roof of the library, the cold wind whipping the wisps of smoke away and tugging on his coat like an insistent child as he scanned the city. Among the narrow and knotted streets, illuminated by the dim puddles of light cast by Fortuna’s ancient lampposts, he saw no sign of the girl. No sign of his father’s sword. What a failure he was as a Son of Sparda.
Are you happy now, Vergil? He snarled inwardly, sweeping his trunk up off the shingles and balancing it on one shoulder, tricking to another rooftop across the street. No sword, no place to sleep, no more money, and notes going nowhere because you cannot find one pathetic book. You’ve just elevated Dante to the rank of Sparda’s Best Son. Pathetic. Absolutely disgraceful.
He traveled around the city’s rooftops until dawn started to push her pale fingers over the horizon, hunting for a girl among the labyrinth of streets. A girl who at this very moment could be reporting his face to the Guard, or selling his father’s blade to the Church for them to seal away in one of their pathetic rituals. Or, and Vergil despised this thought even as it repeated ad infinitum in his mind, taking his weapon apart. Finding whatever spells necessary in their dusty, primitive scripture to strip away Yamato’s magnificent power and warp her to their own short-sighted designs.
There was no sign of the woman. Not on the streets he traveled, not in the Guard outposts he managed to secret himself into, and not in any of the gossip priests and holy fools shared in the ungodly hours of the morning. She had vanished, taking the sign of his sire’s power with her into the void. Perhaps she was a demon. Even as Vergil had the thought, he knew it was a ridiculous notion; he would have smelt if she had even a drop of demon heritage in her veins. Yet, she had been able to evade him, carrying his most prized possession no less.
The sun had completely risen, and the city below awoke to begin their morning when Vergil stopped, leaning against the night-cold stone of a church steeple and massaging a headache that had started to develop in his brow. It was true morning now, so unless that girl had taken whatever ludacris sum the Church had paid for his sword and left that very night, it was reasonable to assume she was at the library this morning. He would approach her and—in a manner that aroused as little suspicion as possible from the citizens around them—insist that she reveal what she did with his sword.
Vergil returned to the library across the city’s rooftops, secreting his trunk in a shadow of the building’s gables. Fortuna citizens and tourists alike wandered in and out of the library, a perfect camouflage as he teleported into an alley off the main street. Stepping out into the bright sunlight and the flow of humanity, Vergil smoothed back an errant strand of his hair and stepped through the glass doors—
And there was Yamato. Sitting inside a chipped wooden box far too small to hide her, ‘Lost and Found’ inscribed on the side in thick white paint. Vergil moved as quickly as he could without running or tricking up to his weapon, a tense sigh of relief slipping through clenched teeth as he closed his hand around her scabbard.
“Good morning sir. How may I help you today?” He looked up, face to face with the same girl who found him last night and had insisted on hassling him about the books he required for his research. She had a brilliant false smile, one hand closed firmly around Yamato’s hilt and the other casually resting on the main desk of the library.
Vergil took a step closer and started to slowly pull Yamato closer to him, warning the woman sotto voce,
“Release my property, and I will allow you to continue your day in peace.”
“Oh, is this yours?” She asked, saccharine sweet. Her smile turned into a devious smirk. “Well, if you could just provide us with some evidence that this… Object belongs to you, I’d be happy to see it returned to its rightful owner.” The way she paused before she said ‘object…’ She knew Yamato was a sword, and not the ornate cane everyone else had mistaken her for since he stepped foot on this island. But if she did know, why was she not afraid of him? Surely, she wasn’t so dim as to not consider what he could do with just a flick of bared steel? He pulled a little harder, knowing he could outmatch her in strength a hundred times over at a moment’s notice. He just needed to get his blade and leave before any more attention was drawn to him.
“She’s mine, you’ve seen me with her before. Remember?” A cold smile curled one corner of his mouth. “You called me a jackass.”
“That I did.” She hissed, leaning close enough for him to smell a hint of lavender and sage on her person. “And you were, especially after you stole a collection of some of our rarest books on The Dark Knight Sparda. Now, I may not have solid proof that it was you, but I do have proof that you are carrying around a sword when you are not a member of the Guard. Now, what kind of things do you think the Guard would find if they took you in and rummaged through that trunk of yours?”
Cold anger seeped into his veins coupled with the bitter knowledge that this girl was right to some extent. He could easily evade a group of humans, but in doing so it would make his efforts in researching his father exponentially more difficult. Hissing softly through his teeth, Vergil tightened his grip on Yamato and ground out,
“What. Do you. Want?”
Her smile was absolutely crocodilian.
“Answers. How did you pull that little vanishing act, yet couldn’t find me last night to get your sword back? Why are you researching Sparda, and why are you willing to steal books to do it? What could you possibly be doing in your research that requires a sword? How—”
Her stream of questions was suddenly broken by a rumble akin to distant thunder. It took every ounce of Vergil’s willpower not to break eye-contact with the girl as mortification flooded over him. That sound was his stomach growling.
“... How long has it been since you’ve eaten? Or slept, for that matter?” Vergil refused to answer, letting his gaze slip to just over the woman’s cowled shoulder to see another librarian giving the two of them a highly disapproving look over her spectacles. He had very little money when he landed in Fortuna, food and lodging quickly consuming what he had left. His last meal was close to a week ago, and traveling the rooftops hunting for Yamato all night had almost certainly left him with marks darker than bruises under his eyes.
“I see… Well, how about this…” Keeping one hand firmly on Yamato, she stretched out the arm that had been supporting her to reach behind the main desk, pulling out a rather battered bookbag by its strap. From between sheaves of paper covered in writing, she pulled out the book he needed to continue his research. Holding it aloft, she made her proposal. “I hold onto this thing,” She gently shook Yamato, before wiggling the book before him as if to distract a baby with a shiny toy. “And in return, I let you borrow this book from me. You do the research you need, and once you’re done, we swap. I get my book back, you get your ‘cane,’ and you return the other books you stole in exchange for me not telling the Guards on you. Seem fair?”
Vergil's jaw tightened. He needed that book. He needed Yamato without causing a scene. He needed this girl to stay quiet on what she knew about him so he could carry on his research in peace. This deal was the clearest way to solve the debacle, and it was humiliating that he had even gotten into this situation. Slowly, fingers aching as if they could not stand to be parted from her, he released Yamato. The woman set the book in his hand, nodding once and leaning away from him to fully stand behind the desk, taking Yamato with her and tucking her out of sight.
“Pleasure doing business with you.”
Vergil did not deign to reply to that and found a chair as close to the main desk as he could manage, where he could keep a constant eye on the girl holding his sword hostage.
All his notes were locked in his trunk, so Vergil was forced to make do with his memory as he started reading. Several early chapters made reference to events that no other book he had examined so far mentioned, and other events he knew of had details included that directly contradicted what his notes held. Two theories took root. Either this older book held a more unvarnished truth, which Fortuna's church saw fit to buff away as it started to become inconvenient to the doctrine they preached. Or, this older book was out of date and the newer volumes contained updates that scribes and scholars included without bothering to note inconsistencies between past volumes. The overwhelming cynicism Vergil felt towards this little cult that worshiped his dear father encouraged him to favor the former thesis, but until he was able to properly compare this book to his notes, he was forced to reserve judgment.
On and on he read, glancing up ever so often to check that the girl hadn't left with Yamato and occasionally rubbing at the persistent ache that throbbed in his brow. Hunger was becoming an increasingly familiar sensation as of late, but sleep deprivation coupled with a lack of proper beds for the past week or so was making this simple task far more draining than it had any right to be. Setting the book down for a moment and pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes he let out a slow breath, passing his fingers back over his hair to smooth the strands that had been falling into his eyes back into place. And blinked in mild surprise; the girl who was currently holding his sword hostage was sitting across from him, offering a small package of baking paper.
He stared at her until she sighed and pushed the open book off to one side, setting the parcel in its place.
“Here. Eat.” She then left for the desk again, returning with a fresh fig and a cup of coffee on a saucer for herself. Inside the baking paper there were two open face sandwiches. A few inches from the heel of a baguette topped with tomato, mozzarella, and olives laying under a fine layer of basil and the gleam of oil. It was humiliating how welcome such a humble meal was in that moment.
He ate quickly and carefully, avoiding the gaze of the girl in front of him as she observed him with the interest one might spare for a fascinating piece in a museum. The library was mostly empty at this time, most probably off for lunch at their homes or in overpriced cafes. At the main desk the older librarian who gave him and the girl such a scandalized look earlier was glaring at her fellow librarian's back with undisguised contempt. When she caught him watching her, he raised a single eyebrow and chuckled as the librarian flushed, suddenly bustling about behind the desk in an attempt to appear busy.
“What's so funny?” The woman across from him had almost finished her fig at this point, and Vergil could not help the curl at the corner of his mouth as he leaned a little closer to confide,
“Your co-worker seems to disapprove of you, and is very embarrassed to be caught in her judgements.” He nodded slightly towards the main desk. The girl worked on her final piece of fig as she turned in her seat, giggling at the sight. Swallowing the fruit and taking a sip of her coffee, her dark eyes gleamed with wicked amusement under the shadow of her white cowl.
“It's because of you. We were already far too close earlier, and now we're sharing lunch at the same table. She already was convinced that I would never find a husband because I know how to swear. Now she'll be sure to whisper in the pews about what a whore I am. Talking quietly, to a man! And a tourist at that!” She leaned back and took another sip of her coffee, her laughter soft and mocking. “Church is going to be sooooo fun this week…”
Vergil felt a small chuckle rumble his own throat, leaning back in his own chair. The sandwiches were gone; he let his hands occupy themselves by folding the paper they were wrapped in into smaller and smaller triangles.
“How obnoxious it must be, constantly under that kind of scrutiny.”
“You have no idea. But, that's life for a Fortuna girl. Especially one who grew up in a Children's Home. You either follow Church teachings to the letter, never talk to boys—except to giggle and duck your head when they talk to you—get married at eighteen and start popping out babies—after a year of definitely not being pregnant to prove that you came to the altar a virgin—or you're a sinful slut like me who'll never find a good man to take care of her.” She said this whole monologue as casually as one might relay the plot of a novel they found rather dull, but Vergil doubted the hint of bitterness in her voice came from the coffee she drank.
Unable to press the paper into another fold, Vergil allowed it to spring up and balance on its edge, glancing up to see the older librarian scowling again.
“What about devoting one's life to God? Or…” It was a battle to suppress a laugh at the notion of a crowd of nuns symbolically wed to his father. “Sparda, as it were?”
She snorted and rolled her eyes, tipping back the dregs of her coffee.
“You're thinking of the Mainland churches. We don't have nuns in Fortuna, Sparda doesn't need human wives. Girls in Fortuna are sweet and pure singers or altar servers until they turn eighteen, and become women who need to get married off before they become old maids at twenty.”
“Or they're foul-mouthed harlots who consort with foreign men, correct?”
She was openly grinning now, clearly pleased at the contempt he showed for the pointless dichotomy. She rose and returned to the main desk, which Vergil took to be the end of the conversation. Until she returned not a minute later and set a fresh cup of coffee in front of him. He reached for the cup only for her to slide it away from him.
“My name is Milan. And you're welcome for the food. And this coffee for that matter, neither of which I had to get you.”
He looked up at her, eyebrow arched as she waited for his response. He stood up slowly, and bowed with all the propriety a good Son of Sparda should display.
“My name is Vergil, Milan. And I would be much more grateful if you were not holding my sword hostage.”
“Maybe next time you won't lose it then. Or be an asshole to librarians trying to do their own reading.”
And with that, she slid cup and saucer up to him before returning to the main desk.
Vergil returned to his book, Milan returned to her job, until evening fell and he was forced to leave the library while the librarians lingered to lock up.
He returned to the roof of the building and freed his notebooks from his trunk, scribbling down notes under the fading light of sunset and the rising of the waning moon. Only when he was absolutely positive that the library was utterly empty did he take his trunk and teleport into the building proper. He checked behind the desk as soon as his feet touched the ground, but of course Milan had taken Yamato with her. It wasn't surprising, but still mildly unnerving to be without her subtle weight at his side.
With a click of a reading lamp Vergil returned to his research with a new zeal. No matter how amusing Milan could be when plying him with food and caffeine, he needed to complete this little enforced deal of hers as soon as possible and reunite with his inheritance before something found it—or him—first.
Vergil was a constant in the library after the little deal she pushed him into, always as close to the main desk as he could get and pouring through the book she lent him. He only ever paused to add something to a leather-bound journal—with a fountain pen no less, in ridiculously immaculate calligraphy—or eat what she gave him from her lunch.
After that first day of giving the sulking man her sandwiches, Milan had decided that she was not his mother and therefore had no obligation to feed him. But after a few days where he clearly had not eaten since the part of her lunch she shared, concern started to pester her. So, Milan came to a compromise with herself.
She would eat a bigger breakfast and abuse the free coffee she could access in the cramped break room, which allowed her to give up the greater part of her lunch without feeling much loss. It felt nice to give the pompous bastard food every day; a satisfying combination of smug superiority over the richly dressed tourist as she gave him whatever plain meal she could afford on her paper thing budget and the warm glow of charity one felt when offering a treat to a stray cat. Besides, if she had the food, she had something to barter with every day.
“How did you do that vanishing trick?” Milan asked four days after their deal was set, sitting across from Vergil and showing him the portion of her lunch she was willing to offer, coupled with a cup of strong coffee.
Vergil slowly capped his pen and set it besides his journal, one frosty eyebrow slowly raising.
“I don't recall information about my person being part of this transaction last time…”
“The first hit is always free. So, unless you've suddenly come into some money and can buy your own lunch, answer the question.”
“Or else what?”
“Or else I eat this and the rest of my lunch right in front of you before going back to work.”
A small sigh hissed through Vergil's teeth, his pale eyes rolling up to the ceiling.
“And you call me an asshole…” He shut the book and slid it to one side, his journal and pen to the other. Extending one hand to receive his lunch, Vergil answered in his constant bored monotone, “I gained the ability by honing the skills I was born with, mastering the technique at thirteen.” Milan huffed, a little unsatisfied but unsure which question would help her dig deeper. She just needed more information on this man.
So, she gave him lunch and coffee, and the next day asked another question.
“Why do you need to carry around a sword to do research in a library?”
And he gave a similarly vague and frustrating answer.
“Others have sought me out, hoping my blood will sooth the humiliation they received at my father's hand. I learned quite young that it pays to be prepared for an attack, anywhere at any time.”
“Why that sword in particular? You can appear and vanish at will, why not steal a weapon from a Guard or Knight of The Order if you're so worried about being attacked?”
“That sword is my inheritance from my father. And she is my sword; I don't want a cheap replacement for her power.”
“Your father…” Milan ventured, watching Vergil slip the ribbon bookmark into his place. He was almost done with the book, and it was making Milan feel oddly sad. It was rather fun asking questions of Vergil, and sharing banter as they ate until she returned to work. Like offering food in exchange for pets from a particularly aloof cat in a handsome coat. “You bring him up, but never a mother. What's your family like?”
“A touchy subject…” Vergil's voice dropped an octave, his gaze fixed on her eyes but not quite seeing her. “One I'd rather not get into...” Even his body language was like a cat, his comfortable lean to hear her better drawing back to a defensive stiff spine, shoulders square to make himself look bigger. Milan sighed and waved a hand, trying for a different angle.
“Fine, fine. What about siblings? Do you have a sister, or maybe a brother?”
It was as if she dumped ice water over his head. He bristled and hissed between his teeth, all the blustering rage of Leo after a bath.
“Dante?! My stupid, foolhardy, disgrace of a twin brother… He doesn't deserve all our father gave us, and yet he flounders about to squander his power at every turn!” Vergil was standing now, fist actually shaking as he ranted about this Dante person for a solid five minutes. Milan sipped her own coffee as she watched, vaguely impressed by his passionate dislike of his twin and more than a little amused at the naming convention. Vergil and Dante… Their parents were clearly fans of the classics.
Finally, Vergil—breathing rather heavily after he wore himself out—sat back down and adjusted his coat, clearly attempting to collect himself. In his rant, most of the hair he normally had swept off his face had fallen forward, shielding his eyes. He tugged both lunch and coffee that Milan offered closer to himself, peering into his coffee and letting out a low growl that ended in a disapproving tsk. With a stroke of his hand and toss of his head, Vergil swept his hair back and pierced Milan with those winter blue eyes.
Milan used that moment to take a large gulp of her coffee, lest he notice her doing anything stupid, like blushing. She had thought Vergil handsome—if a bit overdressed—since she first saw him. That motion however, made fever-heat rush through her body and encouraged her chest to get uncomfortably tight. Milan wanted him to do that again, preferably under low lighting with much less clothing between them. Vergil was, however, a cold bastard who didn't like her because she was holding his inheritance hostage. And Milan knew that fostering such an unlikely fantasy as a torrid affair with a good-looking tourist was an exercise in futility.
So she swallowed her coffee and twirled his fancy pen through her fingers, smirking as she waylaid any possibly that he might guess the true reason behind her pause.
“Sounds like this Dante is everything you aren't. Mind making introductions for me? I could use a man like that.” Vergil scoffed and took a swig of his own drink, clearly still furious at the very thought of his brother. Milan left as he started eating, returning to her job and quashing any efforts the silly, hormonal part of her brain made to remember that moment of attraction.
Just before the library closed for the day, Vergil finished the book, and approached with all the swagger of a warrior from the victory grounds. He dropped the book with a solid thunk on the main desk and gave her his cold little smirk, as if Milan would be amazed at his ability to read a book within a week.
“Wonderful. Hold onto this for tonight.” She slid the book back towards him, flipping through a different book that had just been returned to check for damages. The back of her neck prickled with Alessa’s stare, and she could swear that the Head Librarian was sputtering quietly with the scandal of it all as Milan leaned closer to Vergil and whispered in his ear, “I’ll bring your sword here tomorrow, before the library opens. Meet me by the front doors.”
“No, do it tonight.” Vergil hissed back, pushing the book back towards her as if to force her to make the exchange. “I can wait as long as it will take for you to retrieve my sword.”
Milan frowned, and was about to protest, before she remembered what Vergil had said days previously on keeping his sword with him to stave off attacks. While she doubted whatever gang or cult Vergil was so paranoid about would find him in Fortuna, she was feeling a prickle of guilt for keeping even a placebo measure of security away from him. He had no place to stay, perhaps was even avoiding shelters out of some misplaced fear of whoever might hurt him for his father's mishaps. With a sigh, she leaned away from Vergil and nodded once, accepting a stack of books from a citizen and checking out their selection with automatic motions.
“Fine. Tonight.” She gave the citizen their card back, handing over the books and letting empty goodbyes fall out of her mouth while she spied her coworkers furiously whispering together out of the corner of her eye.
Vergil nodded once, slipped the book under his arm, and dipped into that gallant bow he offered when they exchanged name. As soon as he was gone, the Head Librarian spent the evening scolding the Mainland's culture and its irreverent, irresponsible attitude towards the sacred act of union between man and woman, while Alessa tried to whisper questions about this supposed tryst whenever their mentor stopped for breath.
Milan ignored them both and did her part in locking up, the process actually completed in a timely manner tonight, as the Head Librarian remained under the pretense of observing their work ethic in the closing up routine, intent on keeping Milan under her watchful eye until the door was locked, and they all had to part for the night. As soon as woman and girl were out of sight, Vergil appeared at her side in a puff of his drifting dark smoke.
“How will this exchange be made? I hope you elected to store my blade somewhere secure…”
“Your sword is hidden at my house. Secure enough for you?”
Vergil huffed, clearly unsatisfied. Opening the book again and fluttering through the pages, he examined a woodcut of The Dark Knight, wrenching free of the chains of Hell in His effort to defend humanity.
“I will wait here then. Go get my sword, and let us make the exchange.”
Milan hesitated. Like an idiot she hesitated, because she had a terrible, awful, stupidly risky idea. A cold wind blew as she stalled, only strengthening her resolve instead of shaking her free of this momentary lapse in all common sense.
“You… You have nowhere to go, do you?”
There was a long silence, Vergil turning a page but eyes reading nothing.
“I have the library. And I am stronger than you could dream of, Milan. I can survive this inconvenience.”
“But you got caught once, it can happen again. And how do you take care of yourself by hiding in a library after hours?! At least a shelter has showers and a real place to sleep.”
He closed the book with a snap, his stare hard as ice and his tone twice as cold.
“I'm managing, I promise you that.” Vergil's face was drawn and thin, shadows still lingering under his eyes. His knuckles were white around the book, his rich clothes showing signs of his living situation. A wrinkle here, a torn hem there; scuffed toes on his neat shoes and dust stains on the knees of his sleek black slacks.
Now guilt was truly gnawing at Milan, as well as pity, which she tried to stamp down. She hated it when others pitied her, and was sure that proud Vergil would feel the same.
With a deep breath, Milan resigned herself to making one of the naivest decisions of her life.
“Would you like to stay at my place? It's barely more than a closet, but I'd let you use my bath and sleep on my couch. As long as you like cats, that is...”
There was a very long pause. Another gust of cold wind blew, and Milan shivered under her light summer dress. Fall was coming fast—a hard time to be without a consistent roof over one's head.
Vergil remained silent, letting the wind toss about stray strands of his hair. Then he vanished, and returned with his trunk tucked neatly under his arm.
“I question your logic in letting a stranger into your home, but will gladly take advantage of your ill-advised charity.”
“Wonderful.” Milan sighed, hiking her bookbag up over her shoulder and walking towards her home. “Just promise me you won't be a creep. And you will be helping with the housekeeping, especially since you can't pay rent.”
“I will be the very model of a gentleman, Milan. I can't promise anything on my homemaking skills, however.”
“Oh, you'll learn fast.”
She led him through the maze of Fortuna's streets, some strange exhilaration buoying her all the way to the old stone building. Vergil had a slow, careful way of walking, while never falling behind. He held his trunk with a casual ease, while Milan's bookbag made her shoulder ache with the weight of new books in it. Teleportation and inhuman strength, with a twin brother he hated, a family he never talked about, and a sword he cared for more than anything else. What else could she learn about him, when he'd be under her very roof?
The lock clicked, and Leonardo padded around the corner to greet her as he always did, until Vergil stepped in after her. Leo stalled his approach, amber eyes narrowed and tail twitching as he studied the stranger in his territory. Vergil had a similar look, back stiff and eyes slitted as he eyed her cat. Milan sighed and scooped up her pet, bringing him eye to eye with Vergil.
“Vergil, Leonardo. Leo, Vergil.” She carried Leo into the kitchen, filling his food bowl and letting him eat before she straightened to face Vergil, spreading her arms to encompass the narrow space of kitchen and sitting room. “This is most of it, including your couch. Make yourself at home, the bathroom is upstairs on the right. And if you get hungry, you better make enough for two. My budget is tight as it is, and if you're going to be here too, we need to eat light and cheap.”
She expected some amount of disgust or regret on Vergil's face. A man with such rich clothing, with such a sense of entitlement that permeated his aura, would surely find her home pathetic. But—while he certainly didn't look impressed—he examined the small space with mild curiosity. Without commenting on the size of her home, or how worn everything was, he stepped up to the couch with an analytical eye, as if measuring his tall frame against its length while setting his trunk down on the floor.
With Vergil settling in, and Leo eating his dinner, Milan slipped upstairs to get his sword. She pulled it out from under her bed and scrubbed off the fine veneer of dust the scabbard had collected, taking the opportunity to unclasp her cowl and lay it on the bed. When she returned, Leo was standing on an arm of the couch and sniffing delicately at Vergil's outstretched hand. Her cat swiftly abandoned the stranger to curl around her ankles, and Vergil forgot about the cat the moment he saw his sword in her hands. In two strides he was before her, pushing her book into one hand while the other took back his blade. With a single smooth motion, Vergil turned on his heel and drew his sword. It had a luminous gleam about it, light skating off the razor edge as he gave it a small twirl, then returned it to the sheathe in two motions—one to draw the back of the blade over the mouth of the scabbard, one to slide it back into the sheathe with a satisfying click.
“Your sword is beautiful. Does it have a name?”
Vergil slowly faced her, tying his sword to his belt with swift, automatic motions. A new elegance had entered his posture, an aura of confidence that had caught her eye when she first saw him in the library.
“Pretty.” That was the name of one of Sparda's swords, the one that divided the human world from the world of demons. If Vergil's father gave him that sword, it made sense that he was so interested in Sparda; a family interest in esoteric religion, or even former Fortuna citizens.
Vergil withdrew into the bathroom with his trunk, her old pipes clunking and rattling above her as Milan curled up on the couch with Leo in her lap. She had a new housemate. One with no money, but expensive clothes. The personality of a cold snap, and the beauty of a statue. Mysterious powers, and a seemingly inherited interest in Sparda.
Milan had to be living with the most interesting person on this island, and she was determined to know him better.
A mystery was the one thing Milan could never leave alone, and studying Vergil had the potential to be far more rewarding than picking at inconsistencies in her religion.
Finals are eating away my sanity, but I still have a few chapters on standby to publish regularly. This does mean that I've fallen behind on responding to comments however, and I want to deeply apologize to you wonderful people who are leaving those comments! They are my anchor in this crazy period, and I fully intend to respond to each of you once finals week ends. Until then, to all my readers, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the love you've given this piece!!
A roof over his head was preferable to none. That was a lesson Vergil learned quickly when the money ran out. Cold did not bother him as it bothered humans, but the rain bothered his clothes very much. He could easily outpace any human without bothering to employ the style of the Dark Slayer, but the humiliation he endured at Milan’s hand was a stark reminder that even he was susceptible to leaving things behind when in a rush. Demons were far stronger than anything a human could have built, but subtle warding magics old as civilization itself made any residence or place of sanctuary—even one as public as a library or hotel—safer than trying to steal snatches of sleep on rooftops.
Milan’s home was not the dustless hotels he once had been able to afford, nor was it the vaulted spaces of the childhood home he visited when memory bled into nightmare. But it protected him from the rain, gave him a place to sleep without concern for any future hasty escapes, and was enough of a shield against the demons that did sulk in Fortuna’s shadows that Vergil was able to breathe easily.
Especially now that he had Yamato in hand again.
That brief week without her had been a particular form of torment. The library was a place of sanctuary, and moreover a place full of knowledge specifically on demons, which made if safer than most. But without his blade on his hip, Vergil had felt worse than naked—he felt weak. And if life and nightmares ever taught Vergil anything, weakness was the worst state anyone could be in.
So Vergil kept his blade close at hand while he poured over his notes, trying to comprehend his father’s incredible power. It seemed that the newer books had been written to censor out certain pieces of information, but Vergil had hit another roadblock in his attempt to affirm this theory. He didn’t have enough access to the more ancient texts, to confirm that newer additions had been glossing over certain events and facets of his father’s history. Fortuna’s libraries had a great deal of modern and relatively archaic texts on Sparda—as well as demonology in general—but copies of truly ancient texts were hidden behind glass cases lined with spells he did not know how to break. And he assumed that any surviving original manuscripts from scholars and historians who recorded the unvarnished truth of Sparda were only where high-ranking members of the church could have access to them.
Vergil's research stalled, and as his time in Milan's house lengthened boredom and frustration broke to inane questions as he stared endlessly at his unchanging notes.
“What is the purpose of the cowl?” Vergil asked, Milan untying her shoes at the front door and cooing at Leonardo as he tangled himself in her hem. She had just returned from the Sunday service, her white cowl still on as she stepped into the living room. “My first guess would be some sort of modesty that all genders adhere to, but I’ve seen people who were certainly not tourists walking about with their heads uncovered. Why do some wear it, and others don’t?”
Milan sat on the other end of the couch with her feet tucked up under the edge of her dress, Leo curled up in her lap and purring loud enough to imitate a distant motor as she unclasped her own cowl, and unpinned her long black curls.
“It’s not quite modesty, but… Humility.” She draped the cowl over the arm of the couch, burying her hands in Leo’s ruff as she pondered her explanation. “Humility before Sparda. He sacrificed everything a demon is meant to be, betrayed his own kind to save humanity from his kin. We—normal people—wear the cowl whenever we’re in a public place to show how humbled we are for his sacrifice.”
“And… Non-normal people...?” Vergil raised an eyebrow, amused at Milan’s scoff.
“If you’re high up enough in The Order, you’ve served Sparda well enough that you’ve earned the right to approach with head uncovered. But if you ask me, that kind of shit completely defeats the point of being humble...”
Now Vergil couldn’t help but chuckle. Humility… As if his dear father gave a damn about that when he married his mother…
Letting his journal fall closed, Vergil capped his pen and extended a hand to Leo. The cat gave his hand a few cursory sniffs, then let his eyes drift shut as Vergil scratched behind his ear.
For about two seconds. Then Leo twisted his head around and bit Virgil’s hand, hissing as Vergil withdrew with some offence. Dante had inflicted much more serious wounds at playtime when they were six, but Vergil’s pride was what stung most. Especially as Milan laughed at his plight, hauling her cat up to one shoulder and cuddling the purring beast as a child would a toy.
“He was like that to me too, when I first got him. Just give him time, he’ll warm up to you eventually.”
From his vantage point in Milan’s arms, Leonardo looked smug.
Damn bastard cat…
He returned to his notes, the script unchanging since he last glanced at them and no new tomes magically producing themselves to be read. A headache was starting to throb in his temples. While he rubbed at the pain, Milan leaned over to see what he was looking at.
“That’s all you have?” She asked with her usual tact, continuing to cuddle with that vile creature she called a pet. “With all the books you still haven’t returned, I’d think you’d have more by now…”
“The book you… Lent me revealed the possibility that all the newer texts may have been censoring the truth in some way. But I cannot find any older books to confirm—”
Milan set Leonardo down on the couch between them, and walked upstairs without a word. Leo glanced up at Vergil with slitted eyes, before continuing to purr and rubbing his tawny head against Vergil’s pants; leaving a fine veneer of cat fur all over the silk. Vergil tried to nudge the cat away, only to receive another bite, followed by a series of licks and his shirtsleeve receiving its own layer of fur rubbed onto it.
Milan dropped her bookbag on the floor before him, pulling out three heftier tomes that had clearly seen better days and dropping them on his lap.
“Here, one of these was written around the same time as the one I lent you, and the other two are much older. The oldest ones that can be checked out, actually.”
Vergil stared at the unexpected gifts foisted upon him.
“And you had them checked out, because...?”
“My own research, obviously.” She picked up Leo, slinging him over one shoulder and making her way towards the stairs. “I was looking into Sparda’s history to see where the doctrine they teach in church deviates from what really happened.”
Milan shrugged, vanishing around the corner while her voice carried down to him.
“Because what else was I going to do, besides nod along for the rest of my life?”
He heard the door to her bedroom open and close, and suddenly he was left alone. Vergil dove into the new material, mind whirling. Milan worked in Fortuna’s largest public library, of course she would know what they had stocked. And moreover, she may have knowledge on rarer texts. Where they were kept, who had access to them, even the contents thereof.
He just had to get her to tell him where they were…
It was difficult to bribe someone, when you had almost nothing to your name. Vergil had a trunk full of clothes that would not fit Milan, a sword he had just fought to have her return to him, and a series of notes he had gathered so far from his hazy childhood memory and the tomes he had access to.
What could he give Milan that she would want, in exchange for information on books not available to the public?
Nothing. He had nothing she would want, and anything she might have wanted that he had access to belonged to her anyway.
So he had to try a different tactic.
When he was small, before Sparda vanished—when they all pretended to be a happy, normal family and knew nothing of the bloodshed on the horizon—he remembered how father interacted with mother. Kind smiles, bundles of flowers, laughter in the kitchen, and father scooping the two of them up when Dante pulled Vergil into a mess so their mother wouldn’t have to clean them up. Romantic, that was the word for it.
Milan however… Vergil doubted she was the kind of girl to be wooed by flowers and sweet whispers. The only soft thing Milan seemed to actually care for was her cat, and Leo made it clear every time Vergil attempted to touch him that he did not like him. She already had Vergil helping out with household chores, so doing more of that was unlikely to achieve the results he desired. Any food he knew how to make with skill, she had taught him how to make; and of course, since he had no money anything he made would just be her own groceries served back at her by an inexperienced chef.
The things Milan seemed to enjoy most was reading, venting her frustrations about her co-workers, and mocking his inability to keep house. Only one of which she technically needed him about to do, but was unlikely to win him any favor.
The only other thing he could possibly conceive of to convince her to provide him with the information he required was to threaten her, which was out of the question. Sparda and Eva had raised their sons to be proper young men, and as Dante was clearly unable to follow their lessons it fell on Vergil to respect what their parents taught them.
So, Vergil was left waiting; reading and rereading his notes as he finished the three texts Milan lent him, watching autumn creep over Fortuna as he tried to divine some strategy to bribe Milan—as he might watch a mighty enemy to learn their patterns of attack. Milan, for her part, seemed perfectly content to let him stew. She coddled her cat, cursed her co-workers with reckless abandon, and laughed as she taught him the minutia of keeping a house in order. Giving away nothing—no weak points, no gaps in her armor. She seemed perfectly contained in her life, a mere human who would be unable to last more than a moment against even the weakest of demons. Why did she even keep him around, if she needed him for nothing?
Perhaps it was for her own amusement, as she never seemed happier than when her damnable cat was baiting Vergil. The beast had rolled in his back, stretching and purring as Milan rubbed his stomach and cooed at him. When Vergil tried to do the same however, Leonardo not only sunk his teeth into his hand—annoying but inconsequential—but caught his claws on the cuff of his jacket, which was much more difficult to replace.
“Let that go, you insufferable cretin!” He hissed, Milan cackling from her new vantage point at the table as he tried to remove Leonardo from his coat without harming his clothes or the cat. Milan was still laughing as her pet hopped into her lap, looking happier than he had seen all week as she cuddled Leo.
He could use this. A few phrases, a leading question or two, and she might let something slip. Carefully, inspecting his sleeve for damage, he walked around the table to take a seat crosswise from her.
“How was your day at the library?”
“Weren’t you listening? I told you ten minutes ago that the Head Librarian is being a pain in my ass!”
“What I meant was—I was referring to the library itself.”
“It’s… Just like it always is. Big and dusty... “
“Yes but— Has anything happened recently? Have any new books come in?”
“Why would you care? You stopped going there a while ago; you said that there weren’t any other books there worth your time.”
“Well with your experience, I’d assume you know about… Hidden things. Corners people barely check, secret reading nooks, places the common man rarely sees…”
Milan was looking at him like he was raving on a street corner. Vergil attempted to resist the urge to avoid her stare, struggling to think of something that would save this travesty of a conversation he had found himself in. Finally, after Leo had wandered off and Vergil had still been unable to think of anything to say that was preferable to biting his tongue, Milan broke the silence.
“Are… Vergil are you feeling alright?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because you’re acting fucking weird, that’s why. What about the library has you so interested in it? You do remember that you can go in there whenever you want, right? You don’t need me to tell you what’s going on.”
Vergil briefly entertained the notion of tricking up onto the roof to escape this situation, but crushed that impulse without mercy. Fleeing was weak, and if Vergil could slay a demon in a single stroke, he could pry some information out of a human just as easily. Leaning an elbow on the table, Vergil met Milan’s eyes and stated,
“I may venture into the building, but you know its secrets. Have you ever heard the adage, ‘knowledge is power?’ On some level, I disagree. Power is power, knowledge is but a facet of its strength. And you probably know more than the rabble about the knowledge kept by the church. That makes you quite powerful, by comparison.”
Vergil felt quite proud of that little speech, and appreciated the silence as Milan drank in his words. Eventually, head cocked as Leo did when he watched birds from the window, Milan asked,
“Vergil, are you asking me to help you find books that aren’t on the shelves?”
Help seemed a little too much like pleading, which a Son of Sparda never did. He was however, suddenly so close to his goal that all he felt secure saying was,
“Vergil…” Milan briefly put her face in her hands, and raked her fingers through her hair before facing him again with exasperated incredulity on her face. “How long have you needed my help, and did it ever occur to you to just start with, ‘Oh Milan, I could use your assistance on this little project of mine…’”
Her imitation of his voice was rather insulting; he was nowhere near so nasal when he spoke. Her question however… It felt safer to remain silent.
Milan sighed, and slowly stood up, muttering oaths to the ceiling.
“Okay, okay. First, if you ever need help, for the sake of Sparda’s Mercy, tell me. Second, if you come to the library tomorrow after lunch, I’ll be off shift. Then I’ll help you find what you need, and in return you won’t spend ten minutes dancing around a problem that I spend all damn day fixing for dozens of people who aren’t sleeping on my couch.” And with that, Milan stormed upstairs, removing Leo from his perch at the window as she went.
Well… That reaction never happened between father and mother, but he had the results he desired. All considered, this was… A pyrrhic victory.
Finals are over! I hope to be able to respond to everyone's comments and get back on the writing train within the week. And as a warning, there will be a lot of very long Vergil chapters ahead, so please brace yourselves for that. I hope everyone is enjoying Spring Break!
“Look, I don’t see why you can’t just teleport me in.”
“I’ve never done that with another person before.”
“First time for everything.”
“Yes, but only one chance for you if it goes horribly wrong…”
Milan sighed and shivered under her cloak, the October wind much harsher on her human body among the spires of the church, than it might have been on the streets below. Vergil would have loved to just flit below the roof and find the text he needed alone, but Milan was unable to give him a comprehensive enough set of directions for him to follow; and if he took the time to search every inch of Fortuna’s largest church, he risked being stuck somewhere inconvenient come morning.
Peering down the edge of the roof, Vergil hunted for a solution. He could enter on his own, and unlock the door to let Milan in from the ground, but even close to midnight Fortuna’s town square was not empty. More irritatingly, most that wandered about were tourists, who were sure to have phones primed for pictures if they saw two people entering such a famous building after hours. He stepped off the roof and appeared on the roof of a building across the square, peering through the darkness to try and find something that looked like a promising entry point for Milan.
Most of the windows Vergil could see were large, stained glass monstrosities that would not open. He returned to the church, hooking one gloved hand around a spire a floor or so lower than where he left Milan and hunting for anything smaller, with the chance of having a hinge. He repositioned himself three times around the building, before finding a small, round window hiding under a gable. Teleporting just beyond its glass, he found that it was a window to some kind of attic—one where half the floorboards were missing, including what was under his feet. With a light kick against the wall, Vergil landed with barely a sound parallel to the window, balancing easily on a dust crusted rafter.
He gave the beam a few stomps, trying to estimate how much Milan weighed and how much strain this beam would hold. When one could easily punch a hole through a cement wall and lift a small car over his head, it became difficult to judge weights. Eventually, he decided that if the beam proved too weak his own speed would allow him to keep Milan safe, without needing to utilize the Dark Slayer style.
Tricking up to the window, the latch stuck, then broke with two short tugs. He just started to fall as he gave the window a push to open it, then returned to the rooftops and Milan in a puff of smoke.
“So, what’s the plan?” She asked, clinging to the edge of a steeple as if falling was a risk while he was there. Vergil offered her his hand, lifting her up against his chest and stepping towards the edge of the roof closest to the open window.
“I found an attic, with a window that could be opened.”
“Great, so… How are you going to get us both in without—” Air left her lungs in a high gasp that might have been an attempted scream, as he stepped off the edge. Vergil let them fall, shifting Milan’s weight to one arm and snatching the edge of the gable with the other hand. A tile slid under his fingers as he swung them towards the window, cracking under the force of his grip a second later. His heels clipped the sill, but he managed to avoid losing his grip and smashing Milan’s head on the frame as he threaded them through the open window. Once his own head was clear, Vergil curled in sharply, causing another startled gasp from Milan as he braced the ball of one foot against the wall and kicked. At the resonant crack of masonry behind him, Vergil knew he had used too much force. They were going to overshoot the target. He sucked in a breath as he rolled in the air, catching the beam as they sailed over it and swung them about like a gymnast on the bar. After one rotation, Vergil released his hold on the upswing, letting their momentum carry them high enough into the air for him to right them, and land on his feet. The beam groaned alarmingly when they landed, but after a held breath Vergil predicted that—while it may be unwise to perform such a maneuver again—they were in no immediate danger of falling.
The hand he had grabbed the bar with was covered in dust, the brown leather over his palm stained a dull grey while his exposed fingers were full of splinters. Much more concerned about the dust than the nigh unnoticeable pain, Vergil blew away what he could and glanced about the attic, hunting for a safe path down while Milan buried her face in his chest.
“Vergil…” Milan’s voice was rather shaky, something he had never heard from her before. “Never, ever, do that again.”
“Who was the one to suggest this little break-in?” He asked, making a short leap from one rafter-beam to the other and landing neatly on the ball of one foot. Milan gasped and clung all the tighter as he jumped, the hem of her cloak and dress trailing behind them to join his coat's tri-tails.
“If I had known it would involve being upside-down three times in three seconds, I would have told you to figure this place out by yourself…” She pried her face from his coat as he made another jump, and made a rather ill-sounding whimper as she glanced down. Vergil passed the backs of his fingers over her eyes, coaxing them closed before he carefully but firmly pressed her face back into his chest. It was disquieting to have an ally so afraid while being so close to him, and he most certainly did not need her being sick as he navigated them out of the rafters.
There didn’t seem to be any section of floor stable enough for him to simply jump down to, but besides the far wall he could just barely see the next floor through a large gap in the floorboards. The gap was nowhere near big enough for him to run down the wall, but he could fall vertically through the gap while still holding Milan. The problem, was the landing. Even disregarding the probability that the floorboards underneath was just as fragile as those that used to be above, Milan could get hurt by the sudden stop, whereas he would hardly notice. He needed a way to slow his descent.
A wicked smile started to creep over Vergil's face as he drew Yamato. Hopefully, his father would be merciful to the sin of desecrating his church… Swallowing a chuckle with that thought, Vergil lept towards the wall. Twisting in midair, he just barely felt the brush of the wall against his back before they started to fall, and with one thrust sank Yamato’s blade into the wood behind them. The noise as it carved through the wall was not what anyone would call pleasant, but they were slowing significantly. When they were about to stop their decent altogether, Vergil yanked his sword free and let them fall the now rather short distance to the next floor, bending his knees to try and spare Milan some of the shock of impact.
Milan kept her face firmly buried in his vest when they landed, her arms squeezing just a bit tighter as he glanced around this new space. It was in slightly better repair, barely illuminated by what light shifted through broken floorboards from the sparse windows one floor up. Trails in the layer of dust lead to various crates, showing that some humans had ventured up here somewhat recently. Vergil followed the paths worn into the dust, eyes straining against the darkness until his boot clipped a circle of metal in the floor. Planting Yamato between the floorboards, Vergil gripped the ring and gave it a yank, the sound of splintering wood and the snap of steel accompanying the opening of the trapdoor. Vergil spared a glance at the broken bolt on the underside of the door, before acknowledging that he had neither the ability nor the inclination to try and fix it. All that could be done now was to move on, and be far away from the scene of the crime come morning.
There was absolutely no light wherever the trapdoor lead, and the pale fingers of moonlight that barely illuminated this space was unable to penetrate the darkness. Briefly mourning the dustless nature of his pants and trailing coattails, Vergil took a knee and set Milan on the floor next to him, allowing her to grip his arm as she steadied herself. Once she released him, Vergil sheathed Yamato and inspected the space he uncovered.
It was a rather small shaft, a cold steel ladder on the side with the bolt.
“Milan, are you able to climb down a ladder?”
Milan was collecting herself, standing slowly and drawing her cloak about her as she managed a scowl, which he much preferred to her being nauseous and terrified.
“Of course, I’m not a baby.”
“No, but a moment ago you were about to be sick.”
Milan refused to reply to that, and stuck her own hand into the pitch-black shaft to feel for the ladder. Without a word she started to climb down, the darkness slow to swallow the red of her dress and white of cloak and cowl. Vergil listened to her descend, and was surprised to hear how steady—how much like herself—Milan sounded when she called up to him that she had reached the bottom. Vergil slid down the ladder after her, landing on what sounded like stone, over wood.
“What do you see?” Milan asked, her voice surprisingly loud in the darkness. He felt her fingers skate over his back, before finding his arm and holding his elbow as if he might escort the blind.
“What? Can’t you see in the dark?” She had stepped closer now, her breath hot on his neck. It took him a moment to answer, his mind fogging over at the sensation of her mouth so close to his throat, her voice vibrating through her chest into his arm as she held him. With a few blinks he shook off the strange lapse in focus, and started passing his free hand over unfinished stone walls.
“No, of course not. Why would you think that?”
“You can teleport, pick me up with one hand like I’m Leo, and do impossible flips without even ruffling your hair. Seeing in the dark seems rather basic compared to all that…”
Vergil scoffed, fingers finding wood instead of stone, and trailing up and down in the hunt for a doorknob.
“None of the powers you listed have any connection to night-vision.” He found the doorknob and gave it a twist, frowning as it refused to turn on the first attempt and giving it a more forceful wrench. Something snapped within the knob, and the door swung open to another branch of darkness. Unknotting Yamato from his belt, he gripped her hilt and slid the sword in a wide arc about them, feeling a wall far enough away to indicate they were most likely in a corridor. Tapping Yamato's kojiri on the floor, Vergil reached for the power of his blood and summoned a sword a few feet before him. Milan gasped as a blade of pure energy manifested before her eyes, suddenly filling the small service corridor they stood in with incandescent blue light.
“You can do that,” Milan pointed at the sword, glaring up at him in the ghostly light. “But you can’t see in the dark?!”
Now Vergil was feeling rather defensive. If his father—who Milan worshiped as a god—had not given his sons night-vision among the plethora of incredible powers they inherited, it was because they did not need night-vision to be their father’s inheritors!
He decided not to respond to Milan’s indignation, electing instead to focus on manipulated the sword to hover parallel to the ceiling, several feet above and before them to illuminate the path ahead. The eerie silence of the service corridor was only broken by the echo of their footsteps, the swish of their clothes, and Milan’s mutterings as she peered at every door they passed.
“Okay, if this is around the East Wing… We need get to the West, and find some stairs.” She released Vergil’s elbow and settled into a light jog, rounding a corner and rattling the handle of a much more ornate door at the end of the passage. With a single firm push, Vergil snapped the deadbolt out of the doorframe, and revealed a room clearly meant to be seen by someone other than a cleaning crew.
Under his summoned sword’s pale light, the white and gold decoration of what he assumed was some kind of sitting room for low-status priests looked sickly, drowned even under the watery glow. His father would have not approved; the home Sparda and Eva had occupied was full of dark wood and heavy fabrics dyed rich, cool colors—the most prominent he remembered in the few memories devoid of bloodstains being royal purple. Any decorations were more likely to be paintings by his mother’s hand and flowers grown by his father’s, over the gold that gilded the edge of every conceivable surface. Vergil actually chuckled as he imagined The Dark Knight Sparda, arm in arm with his human wife and effortlessly keeping peace between his clashing sons, criticizing the decor of a church raised in his name while priests danced about kissing his feet—all while trying to maintain their precious religion's status quo.
“What’s so funny?” Milan asked, more than a little peevishly as she stood in a doorway across the room, while Vergil stood unmoving in the center of the space smiling to himself. He faced Milan, and for a moment wanted to tell her exactly what he was thinking. But she did not yet know where his heritage lay, and revealing that little bombshell could wait until they weren't in the middle of such a sensitive operation.
So Vergil stepped up to her side, sending the summoned sword a few feet ahead to reveal the new passageway of equally tacky design choices before them.
“The decorations in here are terrible.” Was all he said in explanation. Milan huffed and rolled her eyes at him, before resuming her role as guide with one hand holding his cuff to pull him along.
She led him out into the church proper, pausing only when she reached a locked door for him to break open. They walked down silent hallways, illuminated only by the hovering sword before them—making statues and suits of armor into silent wraiths whose empty eyes followed their path.
Finally, as Milan pushed open a massive set of truly garish gilded doors, they entered the chapel. His sword's glow suddenly seemed very small, swallowed up by the massive darkness that pressed in on them from every side. Pews became tombs within the stark shadows their light cast, the base of a statue seemingly endless as they walked past it. Vergil stopped when he found the inscription, summoning forth a pack of swords to join the first and lining the stone giant with light to reveal its full form.
It was his father, or some clumsy facsimile of him. Though the statue had his father's demonic horns, the rest of his body was clearly human—much broader than his father had ever been and draped in a shapeless robe that the Sparda Vergil recalled wouldn't have been caught dead wearing. The sword he held was neither Rebellion or Yamato, but some generic piece Vergil had never seen before. His face was both stern and calm, eyes blank as glass marbles and full of as much emotion. Sparda—in whatever form he took—was bursting with emotions; from the lovelorn looks he and his wife shared, to the uproarious laughter that seemed to fill the whole world as he played with his sons. That empty, vaguely beatific face had no place on any true depiction of Sparda, and Vergil was surprised at how disgusted this flagrantly unfaithful effigy of his father made him feel.
Milan's hand touched Vergil's arm, light as a bird as she followed his gaze up to the statue's stern facade, her own expression something soft and thoughtful as she examined the sculpture.
“Do you believe at all?” Vergil asked, shifting his gaze from the golden calf meant to be his father to Milan, face drained of color under the blue light. “That he saved humanity? That he’s worthy of being worshiped as a god?”
Milan quirked her head to one side as she answered, continuing to study the stone titan that towered before them in much the same way she had studied him—an interesting piece in an art exhibit.
“What would I even be believing in? The Hellgate in the city makes it likely that someone did something huge and dramatic in Fortuna. Sparda is as good a guess as any, when the event happened 2,000 years ago. But Sparda isn't like the gods of Mainland churches; he doesn't have lessons for us, or rules and requirements for us to enter his arms. He just… Cut the demon world away from the human world. And I don't know why he did it. Maybe it had nothing to do with humanity at all…”
Her voice trailed off, her head resting on his shoulder as she craned her neck to see where the light from his highest sword ended; just barely outlining the designs in the leaded glass ceiling above them.
“He loved humans…” Vergil heard himself whisper, something strangling his voice as he recalled Sparda and Eva—mother and father—dancing to a record in the kitchen while their sons were meant to be asleep. He and Dante stood in the doorway, all designs at mischief forgotten as they watched their parents quietly waltz; the devotion in their faces so pure as to cement in their child's minds forever that love was real, and it was the kindest thing one person could feel for another.
“You think so?” Milan asked, as if this was some theological debate and not one of Vergil's dearest memories.
“I know so.” He stated, vanishing all but one of the phantom swords that had illuminated the icon of an unfeeling guardian, turning sharply and giving Milan's arm a tug to prompt her to move again.
She stalled only for a moment before continuing to lead him through the chapel, pushing open another set of massive doors and starting down the long hallway it revealed with his summoned sword hovering overhead.
Until they heard a set of footsteps further down the hall—where the light did not reach—and two unfamiliar male voices piercing the silence,
“Hey, do you see that?”
“Yeah, what the hell is it?!”
Vergil appeared at Milan's side in a puff of smoke, taking her by the waist and lifting her off the ground as he hauled them both towards a door on their left. Milan, to her credit, refrained from squealing in alarm as he grabbed her, her arms clenched about his shoulders as he broke the locked doorknob and slipped them through, sending the phantom sword flying down a right-hand branch of the passageway as the footsteps grew louder. Vergil felt the sword hit the end of the corridor and burst into shards of light just as he pulled the door closed behind them, sealing himself and Milan into total darkness.
Smaller, dimmer lights filtered under the door to their hiding spot, following the lure his summoned sword had been away from where they now hid. Just as the footsteps started to fade—just as Vergil was starting to relax and lower Milan to the ground—a third voice met the other two.
“What's going on?”
“We saw a light coming this way, did you see anyone?”
“Okay, you two split up, I'm going back the way we came. Shout if you catch anyone.”
Vergil cursed in unison with Milan, hiking her back up into his left arm and flattening himself against the wall. A dim light followed the nearing footsteps, the door to the neighboring room rattling as the guard tested the lock. Vergil closed his free hand around the doorknob he just broke, holding his breath as the light marked out the shadows of the man’s feet outside the door. He rattled the knob, but Vergil refused to let the doorknob shift an inch lest the guard hear the clatter of a broken lock. With a small grunt of satisfaction, the guard moved on to the next door; progressing down the hall towards the chapel and testing every room along the way.
Milan’s breath hissed out in a slow sigh as she heard the rattle of doors and footsteps get farther away, the sound right against Vergil’s jaw. Without releasing the doorknob, Vergil turned his head and felt her nose brush his. Milan letting out a startled little gasp as he pressed his cheek to hers, whispering in her ear,
“Which way do we need to go?”
He was so close as to feel her swallow, her low murmur in his ear making him feel a strange, prickling shiver in the darkness.
“To the end of this hall, and take a right. The first door on the right should lead to some stairs, and at the bottom should be the archives.”
Vergil let her feel his nod, before giving his instructions.
“I’m going to hold you a little lower, and gather up your skirt and cloak so they can’t hear them moving. You need to press your head into my chest, keep your eyes closed, and take a deep breath. Only let it out when we stop moving. Understood?”
She pulled her skirt and cloak into the hand that held her, her head sinking into vest and coat while her arms tightening around his middle. He could feel her sucking in a breath, and when he felt her squeezing him a little tighter to signal that she was ready, Vergil moved.
He pulled the door they were hiding behind open and shut, slipping between the crack faster than it would take a human to blink. He did not look back, only forward into impenetrable darkness.
And he ran.
Faster than the human eye could see, Vergil sprinted blind down the carpeted hall, steps so light as to barely touch the ground. He unknotted Yamato in one movement, holding her just a hair above the carpet before him. This was literally a breakneck pace for a human, and he not only needed some warning before he went through a wall, but he had to slow down enough to not give Milan whiplash when they stopped. He felt the end of the hall just for an instant against his sheathed blade, before he yanked Yamato back and took his first step up. Making two wide spirals up the walls and across the ceiling, Vergil spent his momentum and stepped off the far wall to stop completely. He bent his knees in a deep crouch on impact, wincing as the carpet underfoot was unable to completely muffle his landing. The entire trip had taken a few seconds.
Milan let out a strangled gasp into his vest, chest heaving against his as she struggled to breath, and do so quietly in her shock. Vergil pressed the knuckles of the hand that still gripped Yamato against the right wall, and started moving as quickly as he could back to where the corridor branched. When he felt the corner under his hand he spotted the distant light of the guard at the chapel doors, before he turned and backtracked to the first door he had felt.
The doorknob was not locked when he turned it. Instead, there was a deadbolt keeping the door secure, and with one shove from his shoulder it let out a nightmarishly loud crunch that Vergil could feel in his teeth. Shoving the door closed behind them and desperately wishing he had something to bar the door with, Vergil summoned another sword before them and started down the stairs.
He did not stop until he was two floors down, where he pressed his back against an alcove and dismissed the phantom blade. The darkness was almost comforting at this point, his ears straining for the sound of a door opening or footsteps approaching. Nothing. All he could hear was the pulse of blood pounding through his head, and Milan’s stifled breathing warming the fabric over his heart. Vergil tried to count the seconds, but he kept getting thrown off whenever Milan took a shuddering breath, or he felt her curled legs in their layers of petticoats shift within his arms.
Vergil forced his arm to relax, and slowly lower Milan to the floor. Her skirt caught on the buttons of his cuffs, and in the darkness he rested Yamato against the wall before helping her untangle her clothes. Behind her, beyond the nook they were still pressed into, Vergil summoned another sword and looked down to see if Milan was alright. She looked rather shaken, her cowl somewhat askew and a curl fighting to escape over one eye. Her cloak was pushed back over her shoulders, her hands still resting on his wrists even though her clothes had been freed. Within the dim blue light, her chest heaving as she struggled to recover, her eyes looked huge and dark enough to swallow the whole world.
He closed his hand around Milan’s wrists, lowering them to her own sides as he asked,
“Are you alright?”
Milan opened her mouth, but only a soft sigh left her. Carefully pulling her own hands free from his, she nodded, and looked around at what the summoned sword illuminated. Vergil took that moment to collect himself, tying Yamato back onto his belt and following Milan as she stepped out of the alcove.
“Do you know how many floors down we are?” She asked, looking up the spiral staircase to try and guess their depth.
“Two.” He smoothed back a few strands of hair that were tickling his brow, Milan glancing away as he did so to push her own hair back under her cowl and straighten it.
Once they were both pulled together, Milan led him down the remaining floors. The stairway was sleek polished wood, their footsteps swallowed by a heavily embroidered runner as they descended floor after floor. Finally they reached the bottom, and Vergil was forced to break several locks out of place to shove the door open—accidentally shattering the top hinge in the process. Milan sighed and tried to chastise him on the finer points of subtlety when breaking into a building, but Vergil could barely hear her. They had entered the archives, and it swallowed his attention whole.
Shelves upon shelves stuffed with books stacked up to the ceiling, all framing a centerpiece of glass cases where even more tomes lay on display—their covers cracked and pages yellowed with their intense age.
Vergil started his work immediately. He had his notes and his best pen in his jacket pockets, and the first thing he noted was the spells he could feel surrounding the glass cases. Those few tomes on display for tourists were also under spells thicker than the glass that shielded them, but here Vergil did not have to worry about unknown human eyes on him. Not to mention he was surrounded by books on the knowledge of generations of Fortuna scholars and priests. One of them had to mention the spells they utilized.
He poured through the texts, Milan directing him through the organization system as he stacked books on the most hardwearing desk in the archives. Many were written in Italian or Latin, but even more were written in older tongues. Some were not even human languages, but demonic scripts that pulsed with their own subtle power. It was times like these when Vergil blessed the more passive powers his father’s blood gave him, as all languages—written and spoken—were revealed to Vergil at first glance.
Milan was actually rather impressed when he revealed that particular skill of his, and once he had settled within his wall of books, she curled up into a chair and fell into a doze. Vergil let her sleep, paging through books and sorting which ones seemed the most promising, writing down incantations whenever he found them. The spells used to seal the oldest books were woven from the lives of lesser demons, knitted together to make invisible webs that stopped those without the proper counter-spell from reaching the glass that covered them. Vergil poured through the books on spells, carefully unpicking the seals over the ancient tomes and stacking them on the far corner of the table. Once he had freed all he needed for his research, he started to read.
Starting with the oldest books, he started adding to his notes, returning each book to its case and recasting the spellwork over them as he finished each one. Time crawled by, his notebook slowly filling as each page was turned. It was four in the morning according to his pocket watch when Vergil sealed the final tome back under its glass and spells, and returned all the unneeded spellbooks back to their proper places. Now he had several piles of less precious history texts and records of demonic activity, which took less than a half-hour to teleport in bursts across the city back into Milan’s sitting room, and place besides the couch for later inspection.
Returning to the archive in another series of smoky appearances and disappearances, Vergil put a hand on Milan’s back to rouse her. Thankfully, now that he knew where the archives lay, he would not need a guide to find them again, and could appear within them at will. Milan would not have to be part of another heist; though knowing her Vergil wouldn’t be at all surprised if she insisted on accompanying him anyway.
Slowly uncurling herself from under her cloak, Milan crawled into Vergil’s arms and yawned as he ran them up the stairs, at a pace slow enough that Milan could talk comfortably.
“Did you find what you need?”
“Yes. And if I need more, I can teleport back in now that you’ve shown me the way.”
“...Yes. Thank you, Milan.”
She made a content humming sound at that, her head resting on his shoulder so he could feel the vibration against his throat. His face grew warm, though after a moment Vergil dismissed it as his energy levels running low. This was not a long, high stakes battle, but he had been using a fair amount of his demonic powers consistently from midnight to morning, sparing not a moment for rest as Milan had.
And he was not able to rest yet, as they still had to escape the building. Vergil paused at they reached the top of the stairs, the door he broke still shoved closed as he had left it. Counseling Milan to hold her breath again, and shifting her so she could brace her head against his chest, Vergil ripped open the door and started to run in earnest.
Escape, it so happened, was much easier than entry. He had what he wanted, and there was already evidence in the form of broken doors and missing books as to a break-in, so attempting subtlety was low on Vergil’s priority list. All he needed now was to escape, and to not be identifiable as he did so. And when one could move as swiftly as Vergil, it was hard to even know that someone had passed. Moving in lightning fast bursts no longer than a second, Vergil slipped by guards and priests with barely a draft to indicate his passage, Milan in his arms and timing her breathing to the soft commands he gave so the speed would not leave her gasping.
Tracing down a different corridor than the one they entered by, Vergil saw a magnificent stained window at the far end of a branching passageway. Though it was still dark as midnight outside, sconces had begun to flicker on in the church, giving Vergil enough light to negate the need for a summoned sword’s glow. A cold smile curled the edge of his mouth, as he summoned an arc of blades about him. Hunching slightly, Vergil marked his target, whispered for Milan to hold her breath, and pulled her cloak over her head, ensuring she was completely covered.
Then, he ran. He was fast, but his summoned blades were faster. They streaked down the passageway, just beating Vergil to the window. In a cacophonous crash, the arc of phantom swords shattered the window, clearing the way for Vergil to brace one foot on the cleared frame and leap across the square to a rooftop. He was still running, leaping to the next rooftop before he heard a cry of alarm, quickly fading to the distance as he ran off his momentum, making one final leap almost a block away from the church, and pressing his back against a chimney as laughter threatened to overtake him. His heart was pounding, his body nigh shaking with triumph. The cold air made him feel as though he could run and fight forever, while Milan only shivered in his arms.
Pulling her cloak off her head, Vergil shook away the few shards of tinted glass that struck it before letting it fall about her. Milan gasped as she looked up at Vergil’s face—he was lacerated from the shattered glass, a few cuts burning slightly as his demon healing forced shards out of the gashes. He put Milan down on the roof and fished out his handkerchief, already stained wine red for the eventuality of needing to mop up his blood to spare the rest of his clothes. The scratches closed quickly, pieces of glass clinking on the tile they stood on while Milan watched with a kind of disturbed awe.
“All that…” She murmured, pulling her cloak even tighter around herself as Vergil tucked his handkerchief away and preened under her wonder at his powers. Until an impish smile slid over her face, and she quipped, “But you still can’t see in the dark.”
Vergil scoffed, which caused Milan to burst out laughing. Her giggles continued as he carried her over the rooftops, setting her down in an alley so she could step out onto a street close to her home and access a payphone. The public library Milan worked in was one of the few Fortuna businesses that had both a phone and answering machine, which made it convenient when Milan had to call in sick to work. After a very convincing vocal performance to the answering machine, Milan told Vergil that she could walk the rest of the way home, and encouraged him to go back alone and get started on those books.
Vergil obeyed, tricking across Fortuna’s rooftops and into Milan’s home within five minutes. Leo gave him a rather peevish look from an arm of the sofa, but Vergil had no mind to spare for the cat. He stripped off his jacket, laid it over the back of the couch, picked up one of his new books and—
He awoke to the smell of coffee. Sunlight was filtering in through the drawn curtains of Milan’s solitary window, and Leonardo was curled up on his coat, purring contently. Vergil pried himself off the couch, a blanket he did not remember pulling on sliding off his shoulders when he stood. As he stretched out his back, he could see his housemate in the kitchen. Milan was in her night clothes—despite it being mid-afternoon by his estimate—leaning against the counter with a mug in her hand, another cup steaming beside the press for him.
Her hair was unbound, an unruly black tousle that framed dark eyes still heavy with sleep, but content as she sipped her coffee. Her feet were bare, her white shift just past her knees and carelessly knotted closed at her sternum. Her dressing gown was the soft yellow of aged lace, loosely tied at the waist and slipping off one shoulder to reveal the curve of her collarbone. When she saw Vergil before her, she smiled a drowsy smile between co-conspirators, and offered him his cup of coffee.
In all the years he had lived alone, Vergil was highly familiar with the sensation of pain. He had been shot, stabbed, burned, frozen, bludgeoned, starved, ostracized, and mugged. Yet the pain he felt that very instant was something entirely different. His chest contracted as if being crushed in an invisible vice, his very heart aching as though a bullet was lodged in it. His blood was fire in his veins, burning out any rational thought and leaving behind a desire for something he couldn’t quite place, yet so powerful it left him speechless.
It was all he could do to reach out and take the cup, Milan closing her eyes and going back to her own drink without even noticing Vergil’s sudden, overwhelming distress. Vergil stumbled backwards, hardly noticing the burn as his drink sloshed onto his fingers. He sank into a chair and let his mug clunk down onto the table, unable to take his eyes off Milan as he tried to decipher what could possibly be wrong with him.
He had seen Milan in her sleepwear before. She had made him cups of coffee in her sleepwear before, and he had done the same for her. But now, he was feeling something akin to those heart-pounding moments in the darkness of the church—where his mouth felt dry, his face hot, and his mind unable to focus as Milan was closer to him than they had ever been. Yet this was so much more potent, so much more delicious and stunning in its pain, while Milan was across the kitchen—nowhere near his body.
“You okay Vergil?” Milan asked, pouring more coffee into her mug and running her fingers through the mass of hair she had negligently flung over one shoulder. Vergil doubted he could have said anything intelligent in the moment, so he tore his eyes away from her and locked them on the depths of his drink before croaking,
Milan hummed in sympathy and gave his arm a consoling pat as she walked by. His flesh tingled where she touched him, prompting a shiver to chase down his spine.
“Well, get some more sleep. You’ll study those books better when you’re properly rested.”
And with that, she disappeared upstairs. Vergil was left alone with the sleeping Leo, who for once had decided to leave him be in his moment of weakness. His thoughts raced back through past experiences with the fairer sex in the hopes of finding some answers, any answer. Women on the midnight streets mistaking him for an adult, assuming his wealth and reaching out to pull him into clubs or dark alleys. No… this wasn’t like that. Where else?
He went deeper into his past. Before the blood and abandonment. Flowers, laughing, dancing, and a warmth he had only ever witnessed from the outside. A face that would be his nestling into a mess of blonde hair in the morning. That was much closer.
Still, it wasn’t quite there. That was more serene, more content. Vergil had never been content in his life and he certainly wasn’t starting now. This was a feeling related to panic—almost fear—that gave him a rush which left his head spinning. This was a thrill; an anxious, excited desire for… For…
Vergil let his head sink into his hands, a low moan escaping his throat as realization seeped into him. The heat that had overtaken him a minute ago was instantly replaced with cold clammy despair, and as his head dropped out of his hands to bang on the table Vergil let out another groan of anguish.
“No God dammit, no…”
This was both incredibly difficult, and very fun to write. Which miiiiiight explain why it's too long... Sorry! I hope everyone can enjoy it regardless, and found Vergil's utter inability to understand what having butterflies over someone means just as hilarious as it was for me to write.
Chapter 7: Seven – Vergil
Attraction was not something Vergil had any expertise on. He knew the mechanics of it—pulled from the driest medical textbooks he had been able to get his hands on at thirteen—but experiencing this earnest, overwhelming attraction to a person was utterly foreign to him.
When reading those medical books, Vergil had thought the whole process of sex seemed rather disgusting, and any short lived fantasies that managed to distract him while he grew from child to man were utterly abstract; the vague image of a woman's body, the concept of a naked man—nobody he knew, and nothing ever specific enough to put names to the images. At fifteen, he had started to keep what remained of his libido on a tight leash—and felt like the pinnacle of discipline when he did so; especially when he walked down those seedier streets, where fools reeking of drink and even more intoxicated by their own lusts let half-naked men and women lead them off to waste their money on a few moments of filthy release.
How dignified he had felt. How strong he thought his character must have been.
Now, all he felt was chagrined anxiety as his body betrayed him. Milan was what all his fantasies comprised of, and they returned with a vengeance seemingly compounded over years of repression. But beyond just fevered dreams and private fantasies of her naked body, he was yearning for basic contact. They would read together, and Vergil would battle the desire to rest his head on her shoulder. She would talk to him, and the urge to lean over and kiss her cheek or forehead would set his teeth on edge. Even those few times they walked together in public would fill him with the ridiculous desire to hold her hand—the want so potent it made his chest ache and fingers twitch.
It was, frankly, humiliating how quickly all control he had over his baser desires unraveled. And even more exhausting to constantly keep himself in check. He had given Milan his word that he would not, in her own words, “be a creep” while she let him stay in her home. However, being overcome with lust at the mere idea of her in nightclothes was—in Vergil's opinion—the dictionary definition of “a creep.” So, whenever Milan was around, Vergil had to spend most of his energy making sure he was displaying no sign of his ardor. She didn't seem to catch on to his attraction to her, but she was getting progressively surlier as Vergil became more likely to lose the thread of a conversation—too wrapped on in policing his body and gauging her own reactions to him to properly focus on her words. And Vergil was becoming just as frustrated with himself and she was; not only that he was ruining their comradery with his perverse urges, but that he couldn't scrape together enough willpower to do something to prevent it.
Even though he knew that being around Milan only made his impulses more unmanageable, he craved being in her presence and sought it out more than ever. Even though he knew the end result would be him the in the bathroom scrubbing his hands for half an hour and cursing himself for his lack of restraint, he still let his lusts overtake him in the privacy of a bath or the darkness under his blankets, listening to the creak of Milan's old mattress just a floor above him. Despite how much stress these new desires were injecting into his life, in his weaker moments he could not help but think that such agonies were also impossibly sweet. A wound that was slow to heal, which he could not help but re-open to relish the pain.
In short, Vergil was an absolute mess. If Dante could see him now, Vergil had no doubt he would laugh himself sick. Most likely while also prancing about him with some asinine chant about Vergil having a girlfriend.
Maybe that's what he needed—his brother to show up unexpectedly for one of their annual family reunions so they could cut each other to ribbons, and have Dante's painfully simple worldview show Vergil just how much of a fool he was being.
But when Vergil last checked Dante was still somewhere in Northeastern Europe, most likely entirely ignorant of Fortuna's very existence, let alone that Vergil was currently living there and in need of his blunt child's wisdom to make him come to his senses. So, Vergil was forced to make do with the short-lived pleasure he found in private, and the much less degrading gratification he found in the slaughter of demons.
Though only small demons could reliably slip through the cracks between worlds to lurk in the shadows of the human world, shedding their blood gave Vergil a temporary diversion from his angst. But as October gave way to November, Vergil was starting to experience the shadows hunting him, not the other way around. And not only were the devils starting to catch onto his scent, but stronger beasts were starting to stalk his footsteps.
None had dared attack while he was in Milan's home, or among a crowd of humans, but if he ever found himself outside alone—even in broad daylight—it was not long before some herd of demonic vermin led by two or three more dangerous predators made an attempt on his life. They all fell to his blade—far too weak to dream of overpowering a Son of Sparda—but the frequency of such attacks was concerning, as was the increasing strength and number of demons that sought him out.
A truly powerful demon would need to be summoned directly to be able to bridge the gap his father had made when he split Hell and Earth apart. Unfortunately, the more Vergil read of The Order's forbidden texts the more convinced he was that the priests that worshiped his father were all insane—and would absolutely not put it past them to summon a demon lord out of some abominable combination of power-lust and a misguided attempt at worshipping Sparda.
A summoning ritual required massive amounts of magical energy, a feast lesser demons were drawn to like rats to full pantries. And any greater demon the fools in The Order managed to let out of Hell was certain to know the scent of Sparda's blood, with a craving for revenge that could only be temporarily sated by smearing Vergil across the ground.
Not that it would be able to, of course. Vergil was a Son of Sparda; the one with not only the strength necessary to take up his father's power, but the discipline to wield it most effectively. But a demon strong enough to remember Sparda would also have no difficulty entering a home in its lust for Vergil's blood, and when Vergil wasn't lost in tawdry fantasies of Milan while he slept, he was tormented by nightmares.
The usual horrific memories of his mother's death had haunted Vergil's dreams since childhood, and he had found ways to cope with that reality. But now, they were taking on new life. Images of blood splattering across the ceiling of Milan's sitting room, Milan herself bleeding out in a pile of her own entrails. Demons screaming in delight at her weak human agony, roaring their hatred for Sparda and all that those of his blood held dear. Vergil, just as pathetic and helpless and weak as he had been when his mother was murdered, barely able to crawl under a piece of wreckage from what had once been their home while holding his own guts in place with his tiny child hands, Yamato locked in the crook of his arm and still slick within her scabbard with the blood of the feeble demon that had almost managed to kill him.
Milan had run downstairs one night after hearing Vergil's strangled scream, shaking his shoulders and shouting his name before being thrown flat on her back a good foot away from him. Vergil was unable to remember where he was, convulsing and clutching Yamato's hilt while his eyes rolled like a mad beast in the hunt for demons and blood.
He had knocked the air clean out of Milan's lungs with that single push, and it was a stroke of luck he had not broken her ribs, or even snapped her sternum. Had he not been so consumed by sleep paralysis when he woke, he might have drawn Yamato right there and cut her in two, making his visions of her blood decorating the walls a reality.
And yet, even with her voice hoarse and her chest heaving as she struggled for air, she asked if he was okay. If there was something he wanted to talk about. Vergil had apologized for pushing her, and told her that he was fine. That she should go back to bed and catch her breath. That this was his own business, he could handle it himself, and she had no right to demand answers from him, as she had no notion what he might be enduring.
“And I'll never know if you don't tell me—” She had tried to yell, her voice cracking at the last word and dissolving into heaving gasps. Vergil dared put a hand on her shoulder as she got her breath back, feeling as though his skin had been peeled away to reveal just how pathetic he still was underneath. He felt sick. He felt scared. He felt like he was eight again, barely able to kill a single demon while Dante was traumatized and their mother slaughtered for the crime of loving their father. More than anything, he wanted to curl his entire body around Milan and bury his face in her neck, until the whole world melted away and nobody was left to care that Vergil wasn't strong enough to save his family.
But Milan did not owe him that, certainly not now that she was gasping for air after trying to free him from a nightmare. So, he waited until her breathing settled, and when she started to push him for answers again, he took up his coat and vanished with Yamato. From Milan's rooftop, Vergil teleported across Fortuna, smearing demon blood across the skyline until he was trembling with the exertion, and sure that Milan had gone to work.
On the kitchen table, there was a cup of lukewarm coffee and buttered toast, a note in Milan's lovely scrawl folded beside it
When you're ready to talk, I promise I'll listen
Vergil read the note until the words blurred on the page, before he crumpled it up and threw it on the stovetop to watch it turn to ash when he lit the burner. He didn't need to talk, he needed to get stronger. He needed his father's power, because if father had been there when he was eight those demons would have been smudges of brimstone before they could even cross the front gate. He needed to get himself under control, before his fears or his lusts hurt Milan more than they already had.
He let his breakfast turn cold on the table, and sat on the floor with his back against the couch. He had intended to meditate, legs folded with Yamato across his knees as he sought for the place inside himself where he had once kept his desires so tightly chained, and attempted to imprison his fear in the same dungeon. But instead Leonardo came trotting down the stairs, doing nothing but purr as Vergil gathered him up in his arms and buried his face into the cat's endless fur.
This felt worse than pain, this shivering anguish like the world was looking down on him to witness just how inadequate he was; how scared, how childish, how utterly weak Vergil was when compared to the glory of his father. Even when compared to Dante, Vergil was pathetic. Dante never shivered in the dark like this, never felt as close to tears Vergil had ever been since the death of their mother. Dante was fire incarnate, light and brash energy exploding out of him like bullets from his precious guns. Dante was the very essence of his own inheritance, Rebellion. Vergil was unworthy to be given such a magnificent duty as Yamato; Sword of Judgment, Great Harmony.
Father would judge him weak if he saw Vergil now. Swamped by internal discord, and trembling with fear almost a decade old.
Eventually, Leo got tired of being held and squirmed out of Vergil’s grasp to go eat, which signaled to Vergil that he had to pull himself together. He took a bath and changed out of his pajamas to put on some day clothes, forcing himself to eat the toast and pour the stone-cold coffee down his throat. He washed the dishes, refilled Leonardo’s food and water, and extracted his notes from his trunk. The loons within Fortuna’s church were almost certainly planning to raise a powerful demon, and Vergil needed to deduce where such a demon would be when it inevitably broke free of whatever pathetic restraints the priests attempted to tie it down with. He could not afford to let the creature come to him. Vergil needed to strike first, and be done with the whole ordeal in one blow, as was his way.
He read until Milan returned from work, and when she attempted to discuss the events of last night, he cut her short.
“Milan, I’m only going to say this once; drop it.” His tone could have frozen over the fieriest circles of Hell, his face as unmoving and uncaring as the offensive statue pretending to be his father The Order displayed in their church.
Milan visibly wilted, but her tone was vinegar sour as she replied with a clipped,
“Fine. So sorry to bother then.” Before she picked up her cat and book bag, marching upstairs to snap her door shut behind her. Vergil took the blossoming pain of having her upset with him, and crushed it. Cramming that pathetic emotion into the darkest part of his psyche, Vergil let the dry tomes and their archaic spells consume him. Milan eventually returned to make dinner, and Vergil took the plate she offered him without comment, or looking up from his notes. She sat on the opposite end of the table, her glare threatening to burn a hole through the top of his head. The silence between them was palpable, as was her hurt. Oh, Milan was most certainly angry with him as well, but how much his refusal to confide in her hurt as well as enraged was easy to sense as the smell of blood.
Vergil however, continued to exercise his self-discipline. Any twinges of guilt or regret were locked away without mercy, leaving his mind free to piece together where the most likely places the summoning might take place.
Milan went back upstairs without a word to Vergil once she finished her dinner, the groan and rattle of pipes as she took her bath an irritating distraction as Vergil cut down the possible locations for a summoning ritual to the most likely candidate; Fortuna Castle.
The fools who wrote the books Vergil paged through claimed that Sparda himself had ruled over Fortuna from that seat. Vergil scoffed as he read that ridiculous fiction and took down whatever information he could locate about the structure from those dusty tomes—squashing that snide voice in the back of his head that reminded him of how useful Milan might be in this regard, as she had almost certainly been in parts of the castle before. Vergil didn’t need Milan’s help. He was a Son of Sparda, he could deduce the layout of that ancient stone hovel by himself.
He slept only when he came close to knocking his head against the table when he dared rest his eyes for a moment too long, pushing aside any notions his tired mind might have had for drifting into another ridiculous fantasy of his housemate until sleep finally took him. There he was unable to escape the primal recesses of his mind, which plied him with vision after vision of Milan in various stages of undress, her anger towards him forgotten and her mouth sweeter than victory as it mapped his body.
Waking up felt worse than falling asleep, his body tense as a violin string about to snap and his arousal unseemingly prominent. Lucky for his dignity, he had a habit of sleeping curled on his side facing the back of the couch, and Milan had already left for work when he managed to drag himself upstairs and drown the lingering fire in his veins with a deluge of cold water.
Milan hadn’t left breakfast out for him that morning, Leonardo was in a tetchy mood, and thick flurries of snow rode on howling winds that made the window rattle and leak. Vergil refused to let any of this bother him. While he went through his morning routine, he fell into the meditative mantras he had adopted while still mastering Yamato; he was a glacier, a mountain of solid ice to be unmoved by the world around him, displaying nothing of the incredible power that lay just under the surface and indomitable as the frozen nature of Hell’s depths.
Once he had eaten and taken care of his chores for the day, Vergil pulled on his coat, wrapped a handsome black scarf that matched his vest about his throat, and pulled on a pair of sleek midnight gloves instead of the fingerless brown leather pair he preferred. The snow was near blinding when he stepped outside, but the cold was merely one sensation among many as he walked Fortuna’s icy streets, no more bothersome to him than fire to a stove.
Even within what was quickly becoming a blizzard, Fortuna Castle was impossible to miss. It loomed over the island in a pathetic imitation of the mountain the island was born from, desperate to prove to all who beheld it that it was not some outdated piece of architecture with sheer size alone. Two Knights of The Order stood at the gates that separated the city streets from the ostentatious stone bridge that led to the castle proper, backs stiff and faces hidden amongst their cowls. They were practically invisible in their white uniforms as snow continued to fall, likely miserable in armor designed for aesthetics over function. Vergil walked past them without a glance, stepping around the corner of a hotel and tricking up to its roof.
The castle itself was a swiftly fading silhouette as snow piled onto the parapets, any guards walking about impossible to see as the weather continued to deteriorate. Vergil needed to get closer before he could ascertain a point of entry, and he needed to approach without anybody raising an alarm. He followed what lines he could see of the castle's towers, and marked his target.
In one leap, he had cleared the wall that separated city from castle. It took him four bursts of midair teleportation to make it to the tower roof he had marked, coming down from little higher than he planned and immediately starting to slip down the roof's conical sides. The building layers of ice and snow kept him from digging in his heels, so with a muttered curse Vergil drew Yamato. With a singly thrust through the icy tile he halted his slide, the wind screaming in his ears and filling his vision with snow.
With Yamato as his anchor, Vergil knelt and peered over the lip of the roof to mark his next target. With one motion he freed Yamato, returned her to her sheathe, and dropped from roof to the ledge of a window being swiftly buried in snow. The stone sill crunched under his fingers as he caught it, his fine dress shoes digging grooves in the icy stone for lack of proper footholds. Vergil hefted himself up, then immediately dropped back down and cursed his luck. Two men in priest’s robes were in the room, one facing the window in the middle of a gesticulation towards the other before him. Vergil only had a glance at the room, but he knew that man had seen him and he needed to move now. Praying he would not find himself inside a wall, Vergil tricked into the room, trying desperately to hold onto the image of the two priests and force himself to appear in a space he had no time to see.
He reappeared too high up, hovering several feet over a wide pale table for an instant amongst a cloud of navy smoke. Then he started to fall, and Vergil looked up to see the shadows of a dimly lit chandelier. In another burst of smoke, he was gripping the iron branches, heaving himself up until he could catch the chain and thread himself up above the tangle of metal limbs to perch among the flickering candles. The priests had their backs to him, the elder of the two hefting up the iron latch of the window with a squeal and pulling it open. Wind and snow immediately started howling throughout the room, sending the candles that ringed him into guttering pulses of light if not outright extinguishing them altogether. The smoke that marked his movements vanished even quicker than usual under the gale, and Vergil dared release a sigh of relief as the men argued over the sill about the face the younger man claimed he saw.
The two priests took their time inspecting the window and what lay below them before they finally locked the window again, leaving the room cold and quiet. Vergil sank lower from atop the chandelier, praying the remaining candles were dim enough to not cast too distinct a shadow and tightening his scarf to muffle his breath. Both men shivered as they patted snow out of their hair, the elder of the two giving his companion a stern frown as he made sour remarks about the early winter.
“This is an exercise is madness Emilio, and my students-”
“Your students don't have a decade of experience between them, Matthias. His Holiness demands that we stop creeping about the edges of our Lord’s power and truly grasp the strength we deserve, as followers of The Legendary Dark Knight Sparda.
“If you and that band of wailing infants you call pupils are too craven to take on the true power of Sparda, then stand aside. We who are worthy of taking up The Dark Knight’s righteous cause will perform the ceremony without your incessant mutterings, and when we become as Lord Sparda’s right hand you will not even be a footnote in The Order’s new chapter.”
The younger of the two fools folded his arms and smirked at the end of his monologue, while Vergil resisted the urge to scoff at the sheer arrogance of these zealots. By pulling a demon lord out of Hell and slaughtering it like a sacrificial lamb, these lunatics thought Sparda would bless them somehow; else they simply craved the power one could draw from the dying breath and crumbling form of a powerful devil. Either way, Vergil had no doubt the masters on top of this little hierarchy had fed Emilio that speech about grasping dear father’s true power, while they intended for warriors just like him to die in the attempt of slaying whatever beast Hell spat forth.
Matthias sighed and shook his head, sorrow weighing his ancient croak as he turned to leave.
“It will fail Emilio; the binding ritual is not nearly stable enough, and none of your warriors are strong enough to slay what His Holiness intends to bring forth. I mourn you, and the men we will no doubt lose when the monster shatters its bonds.”
Emilio turned red and pale in turns, before he drew the sword at his hip and gave the tip a jab into Matthias’ back. Vergil arched an eyebrow, wondering if Emilio was about to outright murder his elder for the sake of this mission His Holiness had instilled in him. Perhaps he should intervene; it would reveal him—or at least the presence of someone—in the room, but Matthias might be grateful enough to keep Vergil a secret and offer him some wisdom.
Matthias slowly raised his hands, while Emilio pressed his advance a little further, his breath coming in ragged but his hands steady. Vergil closed one hand about Yamato’s hilt. A single draw, and he could disarm or kill. Which would be better? To keep his presence a secret, it would be best to kill Emilio; yet there was no honor in killing an opponent who did not know of your presence. Vergil was a warrior, not an assassin, and Sparda had taught Vergil how to fight with a warrior’s honor.
“Emilio…” Matthias warned, and Vergil had to credit the old man for the lack of fear in his voice. “I have known your commander and his second since they were both initiates. They will not let my murder go unpunished. And I am not without friends elsewhere; surely you’ve seen how quickly Sanctus has been rising? Who do you think he turns to for guidance, and whose ears will he whisper in if I am slain by one of his Knights?”
Vergil could hear Emilio grinding his teeth, even from atop the chandelier. The man twisted his wrist ever so slightly as he pressed a little deeper into Matthias’ back, filling the room with the low growl of an engine, coupled with the smell of heating steel and petrol. Then he yanked back his sword, giving it a brief set of twirls that lit the blade with a coat of flame for a few blazing moments, until all at once the fire died and he returned his sword to the sheathe. Now Vergil was tempted to strike solely in retribution for the sheer arrogance of such a design, an utterly inelegant compensation for the weaknesses of the human knights.
He once held a degree of respect for the Order, and their devotion to the noble art of swordsmanship over the crude spectacle of gunplay. But this— All the spells hoarded within the archives’ books, and their solution to human frailty was to strap a crude engine onto a blade?! Disgraceful… It was the sort of overcompensation that Dante would love.
A sharp knock at the room’s door broke the suffocating silence between the human men while Vergil fumed from above, another Knight peering into the room and straightening as he saw the occupants.
“Knight Emilio,” The Knight yelped, cracking voice betraying his youth. “Commander Adrius summons you.” Emilio’s own spine straightened at the name of his superior officer, and with a very shallow bow in Matthias’ direction he left the room. Matthias straightened his own robes and left as well, the young Knight giving the elder a much more respectable bow before lingering in the doorway a moment, back turned to Vergil like an invitation. In a puff of smoke, he was behind the young man, grabbing him by the shoulder and forcefully turning him about. His free hand caught the hood of the Knight’s cowl, and yanked it down to cover his eyes.
The Knight had not even been able to gasp before Vergil hauled him back into the room and kicked the door shut, releasing him all at once and tricking directly behind him. An attempted shout of alarm was smothered by heaving coughs from the smoke Vergil left behind, and further muffled by the hand Vergil closed around his mouth and nose. Vergil’s other hand went to the Knight’s neck, finding the vein in his throat that gave blood to his brain and pressing down hard with his thumb.
Within thirty seconds the Knight had gone limp, and Vergil laid him on the ground. Still breathing, pulse still strong, Vergil imagined the only harm from this little engagement the Knight would receive was a bruise on his neck; all with him never having a chance to see Vergil’s face.
Satisfied with his handiwork, Vergil stripped the Knight of cowl, coat, and sword belt, dressing himself in The Order’s colors. The Knight—who was barely more than a boy now that Vergil could see his face—was pushed under the table to awaken at his leisure. Yamato was re-tied at his belt to hang down, following the line of his leg as he folded up the sleeves of his blue coat and tucked its tails up against his back. With the long white coat overtop of it, Vergil looked bulkier than he actually was; and belting the terrible motor-sword over where Yamato was hidden was in no way comfortable. However, with the cowl on to finish the uniform, Vergil was simply another Knight of The Order—as long as one didn’t look too closely.
He stepped back out into the Castle and started walking as if he knew exactly where he was going. Priests, Knights, and young people in robes not unlike altar servers on the Mainland passed him by without comment, while Vergil traced the castle corridors with ears pricked for any snatches of conversations to direct him to where this demon was being summoned.
People murmured about the weather, about His Holiness’ poor health, even about that Sanctus person Matthias mentioned and how quickly he was scaling The Order’s hierarchy. Finally, Lady Luck deigned to smile upon Vergil in the form of Emilio. Vergil had almost walked past another intersection in the Castle, when he caught Emilio’s voice amongst the chatter,
“... Commander Adrius himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was on my way to a promotion soon, he seems to rely on me more than his second!” A girlish titter helped guide Vergil back to the intersection, where Emilio was leaning against a wall talking to a young woman in an ornate white dress. As he approached, Vergil could just see the woman’s expression within her cowl; the face of a woman desperately pretending to be interested in a man’s boasting while she hunted for an escape. Vergil stepped up to the pair and bowed, keeping his face down as he addressed Emilio.
“You are summoned to the location of the binding ritual, Knight Emilio.”
“What? I was just told to—”
“Your dawdling has made Commander Adrius impatient, Knight. He has gone ahead, and sent me to ensure you meet him there.”
Emilio flushed, eyes darting over to the woman he had been attempting to impress—who was keeping her expression carefully blank. With a muttered curse Emilio stormed away from the woman without a farewell, Vergil stalling only long enough to give her a respectful bow before he followed the humiliated Knight.
Tailing Emilio at a distance, Vergil was led down into the depths of the Castle. The crowds thinned the deeper they went, the cold of the Earth seeping through the stone as they descended flight after flight of stairs. Finally, they turned a corner and reached a heavy set of doors. Barred with steel and guarded by four Knights, it dripped with sinister intentions. Vergil stayed around the corner, peeking out just enough to see if Emilio would be able to get through.
Emilio was even less successful impressing the guards than he was the woman he had been pestering, but lucky for Vergil a pair of priests exited the guarded room while Emilio floundered. He saw a long dark corridor as the priests exited, and while the doors swung shut Vergil teleported behind them a moment before they closed with a bone-deep rumble.
Very few torches lit this path, but at the end of the hall was an archway, leading to a space full of light and noise. Vergil hugged the wall to keep as close to the shadows as he could, trying to peer unseen into what looked like an ancient chapel and locate a perch from which to observe. Among cowled priests and knights bustling about the cavernous space, Vergil spotted several men standing off to one side, uncowled and unmoving as they watched their underlings toil. Behind them, stood another statue of his father. More demonic in design, wearing armor that was vaguely similar to that of a beetle, this statue was of a much rougher cut than the polished lie that stood in Fortuna’s grandest church, glaring down at the series of symbols being cut and painted into the stone floor with cold fury. Vergil preferred it much more than the other statue, though of course both were only cheap imitations of his father’s full character.
The distance from the base of the statue and the archway Vergil skulked behind was farther that he had ever teleported before in a single burst; the chance of dropping into the middle of the room too great to consider making an attempt. He needed to move closer, and he needed to do it without drawing attention to himself. Peering back into the chapel, Vergil watched priests in ornate robes wielding great tomes and sheaves of parchment dense with writing direct less assuming men. These men—Vergil put them as priests of a lesser caliber and status—mixed liquids, painted symbols, and ordered Knights about in the more physically taxing labors. These men carried pots and jars, hefted thick twines that gleamed gold under the candlelight, and carved great rifts that linked into elaborate patterns with chisel and hammer into the floor.
All the unused supplies were stacked and piled against the walls, set under the light of dimming oil lamps. Vergil set his sights on a collection of paint drums that huddled in the shadow of the massive pedestal, straightened his spine, and stepped from the archway. He walked with a crisp gate and absolute purpose to the shadows that lingered about his father’s effigy, only to be stopped by a wrinkled claw on his shoulder.
“You there, help lift this.” The wizened old man was gesturing to an impressive length of the golden wire, twisted and bent into a pentagram a foot or so taller than Vergil was. Several knights already lingered around it, and as Vergil was pushed to take the only empty point the priest hollered as if prompting a team of oxen, “Up! Take it over to Bishop Francione.” Vergil took up his corner and hefted the piece, trying to match his movements to that of the other men lifting with him. The shape was large, though not heavy—more awkward to wield than anything. But the other Knights were struggling to keep their pieces level as they inched across the rubble strewn floor, and it took all of Vergil’s patience to match their attitude and pace over just hefting the thing onto one shoulder and carrying it himself.
When they finally made it to the Bishop, the man waved the collection of Knights over to the deep lines carved into the marble floor, making a setting for the pentagram to rest in. The process of lowering the shape to the floor was absolutely painstaking, and when they finally released the wires the rest of the Knights shook out their hands and stretched their backs while priests swarmed around the piece for inspection.
Vergil slipped away among the throng of bodies, flexing his fingers as a burning tingle swept over wherever his hands had touched the pentagram. Not gold twine, but electrum—reacting to the demonic blood in his veins. These fools knew something about summoning rituals then, but the more Vergil saw, the more he agreed with Matthias; this ritual would be nowhere near powerful enough to contain a truly powerful demon once they called it from Hell.
He managed to make it to the pedestal without being accosted a second time, and in a single trick he had balanced himself on the ledge the statue’s arms made—held clasped behind its back with the space between gauntlet and vambrace making a convenient slot for Vergil to settle in.
Sweeping away dust and cobwebs, Vergil peered down from the shadows at the mob below, straining his ears to catch anything specific in the babble that managed to reach him. From what he could glean, everyone seemed fully convinced that Sparda would look on them with the highest favor for the poorly contained madness they were conducting, and nobody seemed to have a more definitive time frame for when the summoning would take place except ‘soon.’ It was all very boring and frustrating, and eventually Vergil lost interest. He knew where this place was now, which would make it infinitely easier to enter in a puff of smoke as he pleased if and when their plans escalated to the point where he would have to step in.
Tricking back down to hide directly behind the statue’s base, Vergil timed his exit from the shadows with a crowd of Knights moving towards the archway that he had entered by. Appearing behind the formation and stepping neatly into their pattern, nobody raised a single alarm as he brought up the rear. He followed the Knights up through the floors of the Castle, until he spied a window. Using the small mob of Knights as cover, Vergil tricked through the window and out onto the buttresses beyond—more snow than stone at this point. Then it was just a series of small, comfortable teleportations to the castle walls, and across the empty air to the same hotel roof he had started this little mission at.
Back down on the streets of Fortuna, Vergil was practically invisible not only in the snow-white uniform he stole, but as a Knight of The Order. He was just a piece of interesting scenery to tourists, and just another Knight to the Fortuna citizens. Though there were few enough to see him, as the snowstorm was still in full force and night had already fallen. His pocket watch was trapped under two coats, so Vergil could not tell what the actual time was, but when he crossed a street by the library, he saw an unmistakable red dress struggling through the flurries.
Milan was holding her bookbag in both hands over wearing it over one shoulder, her winter cloak useless as it flapped about her with every bellow of the wind. Vergil hurried up to her and tapped her shoulder—momentarily forgetting both that he was currently in disguise, and that Milan was angry with him at the moment. She turned and clearly mistook him for a Knight, halfway through a firm yet respectful query as to what he wanted before Vergil pushed the cowl back far enough to show her his face.
“Oh, it's you...” Her persona changed in an instant; tired, sullen, and not bothering to hide how much she was struggling to get through the snow with both hands occupied with a bag stuffed with books. Vergil took the bookbag from her arms to Milan’s obvious relief, and discovered while she wrestled with the wind to get her cloak back around her that the strap had broken. Coiling up the fraying fabric and tucking it under the flap, Vergil held the bookbag under one arm and walked in silence with his housemate, the hurt between them as palpable as the wounds Vergil had inflicted and experienced throughout his life.
Finally, Milan broke the silence.
“That’s quite a disguise. Must have had an exciting day to get ahold of it...” Her tone was waspish, body practically one with the snow as she hugged her white cloak about herself and walked almost a foot away from Vergil’s side.
Vergil didn’t want Milan to be angry at him. That desire burst out of the prison he had tried to contain it in, and flooded over him as the need for sleep would after days without rest. He just wanted Milan to be his friend again, and that thought startled him. They were friends; Vergil had a friend—his first friend since Dante, who as his now estranged brother never truly counted—and he desperately did not want to break their friendship. All the other things he wanted—the hand holding, the kissing, the fevered dreams of the two of them unclothed—he could let that all wither, as long as this friendship they had continued to bloom.
“Not too exciting.” Vergil remarked, and dared take a half-step closer to her. “But I promise to tell you all about it when we get home.”
It was as if someone turned on a heating lamp next to his face, so quickly did Milan go from cold to bursting with warmth. She stepped right up next to him and hooked her arm around his, positively beaming as she tugged him forward.
“Then come on! I’m freezing, and I want to hear all about it.”
It turns out, Milan had thought Vergil had been mad at her, because she had insisted on prying into something deeply private. And she was very exasperated when he revealed the he had not held any anger towards her.
“Would it kill you to just talk to me Vergil?!” Milan exclaimed over dinner, to which Vergil raised an eyebrow and deposited Leo—who had hopped onto the table for the third time to try and get a taste of the fish stew Milan had supervised him in cooking—back on the floor.
“I’m talking to you right now Milan.”
Milan scowled and huffed as she threw a hand up in surrender, grabbing her cat with the other as he tried his luck with her bowl.
“Just don’t let it drag on like this, okay? If you’re angry at me, for anything at all, please tell me so we don’t go through this mess again.” She took a sip of her stew, mumbling curses at how hot it still was and draining her water glass before continuing. “I thought we settled this with the whole research thing months ago.”
Vergil felt his ears redden at the mention of that fiasco, which prompted a round of giggles and lighthearted teasing from Milan all throughout dinner.
They were still friends. Milan was no longer mad at him. He knew where The Order was going to summon the demon, and he would be able to strengthen his skillset until it was time to do battle. Even though those niggling carnal desires still strived for his attention, Vergil was able to phase them out into a background hum, and focus on what he liked most about Milan; her laugh, her acerbic wit, how quick she was to devour new information and spend all night discussing every angle of the new revelations. Even Leo seemed to be finally warming up to him, often curling up in his lap as he read and purring sleepily as the hours drifted by on the snow.
Maybe, this was what contentment felt like. That was a feeling Vergil would do just about anything to maintain.
“Oh, I’m sure you think it is Vergil; I just can’t believe it.” Milan was paging through a leather-bound journal he had long since filled with notes as they curled up on the couch, raising a skeptical eyebrow as she found a cluster of drawings.
All of them were of Sparda in his demon form, the closest approximations Vergil had been able to sketch throughout the years on fading childhood memories and slowly developing artistic skill. A black and gold creature with the figure of a man, covered in a beetle’s exoskeleton with elytra spread to display several pairs of bat and insect wings. Large horns curled down towards a vaguely human face, his smile full of shark’s teeth and oblong eyes glowing a hellish red. Sparda in his truest form, only revealed to Vergil once in his life before his father vanished.
Milan traced a finger down the curve of a horn—one of the few things The Order accurately depicted—before she held the journal up to his face to compare Vergil to his sketches.
“Not much of a family resemblance from where I’m sitting.”
Vergil rolled his eyes and moved Leo off his lap, ignoring the cat’s protestations as he pulled his trunk out from behind the couch. Sliding the false bottom out of a drawer, Vergil extracted a sleek silver tin full of small keepsakes. Coins from across the globe—twenty-three so far, one from each country he had visited—rattled against an old pearl earring from his mother—Vergil could never remember how or when he got that earring, and often considered that for the best—and half of a snake’s skull he had won from Dante in a footrace when they were children—Mother had been horrified, but Vergil won it, so keeping it was more to spite Dante than any great affection for the old bone. Carefully setting some pressed flowers from his father’s garden aside in the tin’s lid, Vergil slid a small collection of polaroid pictures out from under the mess of trinkets.
Each picture was kept in a plastic cover, but behind the protective film they all showed some sign of damage. From watermarks to singeing to a few old bloodstains, all the photos had been marred in some way by the time Vergil had found them amongst the wreckage of his childhood home. Flipping through the polaroids, Vergil found a picture with the clearest image of Sparda and offered it to Milan.
Inside the photo, watermarks eating at the edges of the image, a family of four smiled for the camera.
Dante and Vergil stood in the foreground—perfectly identical at six years old—snowy hair trimmed neatly above their brows and both with expressions of impatience as they waited for the photo to be taken. Mother had made them both wear matching dress shirts white as their hair, with black western ties closing their collars and their hair brushed down the exact same way. The only true way to distinguish between them was the amulets their mother had given them for their birthday, proudly displayed on their chests—twin red gems set in gold for Vergil and silver for Dante.
Eva stood behind Dante in a conservatively cut black dress, smiling gently at the camera while she leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder. Nothing of Eva was left in her sons—her blonde hair, brown eyes, and soft round features completely absent in the children before her.
Sparda was all her children inherited; hair white as salt and eyes blue as the morning sky. His face was the kind of precisely handsome nobility one would see engraved on coins, and the perfect image of Vergil at seventeen—especially since Vergil combed his hair back the way Sparda always had. Dressed in an elaborate purple frock coat and leaning affectionately on his wife, Sparda smiled at the camera without reservation with a hand resting on young Vergil’s shoulder.
The sight made Vergil’s chest uncomfortably tight—it had been almost two years since he had taken out any pictures that featured his mother or father, and the sensation was not eased as Milan drew a finger over Sparda’s face, head cocked as she examined what had once been his family.
Finally, Milan set the photo alongside the drawings of Sparda’s demon form, and offered both to Vergil. Cuddling Leonardo up to her shoulder as he meowed piteously for affection, Milan asked with frank curiosity,
“So, Sparda separates the human and demon worlds from each other, rules Fortuna for upwards of two thousand years, then goes off to the mainland and finds your mother to settle down. Where is he now? How would nobody else have seen him and gotten word back to The Order?”
“I don’t know, he vanished shortly after Dante and I turned eight.” And six months later, the demons had arrived. Something sour was rising up Vergil’s throat while Milan leaned over his shoulder and tapped on the image of child Dante’s face, thankfully oblivious to Vergil’s moment of weakness.
“Is that you? Or… No, that one is you, I’ve seen you make that face before. So if Sparda vanished into the ether, where is the rest of your family? Is Dante traveling like you right now, or is he with your Mother? And where did you live if not in Fortuna Cas—”
Vergil dropped the book, suddenly unable to breathe.
Something had just happened, but Vergil was unable to describe what that something was. It was not a sensation like pain or fear, or a smell to lead him off to prey. No sound had shocked him, nothing momentous happened in view of the living room window. It was… As if Vergil had suddenly felt the Earth turn under his feet. As if he had suddenly gained control of his heartbeat, and was painfully aware of every pulse. It was a hypersensitivity to himself, and everything that he was.
Vergil rarely felt this sensation, and he had a strong suspicion as to what caused it now.
“... Okay? Vergil, can you hear me? Hey!” Milan was shaking his shoulder, concern weighing down every word as he stood stone still, staring off into the middle distance.
He gently pushed her hand aside and stooped down to get the journal and picture, putting both away before he fetched Yamato from where she leaned against the wall. Tying Yamato’s sheath to his belt, he allowed Milan to turn him around to face her.
“What the hell is going on!? What happened?”
“My current theory is that those fools that run your church just summoned a demon lord.”
“What? Right now!?”
“It’s probable. Especially considering the date; they may have thought the first day of a new year to be a fortuitous omen, the imbeciles...”
Milan turned rather pale at that possibility, her hands squeezing tighter as she asked with an uncharacteristic warble in her voice,
“And… And if they did?”
“Then I kill it.”
Vergil wanted to leave now, before the beast had time to catch his scent and track him to Milan’s home, but Milan refused to release his shoulders. Slowly, as if she was not sure herself to what she was doing, Milan stepped closer and wrapped her arms around Vergil in a one-sided hug. Being so close to Milan made his cheeks hot and his heart skip a few beats, but his ardor softened to something more tender as she pressed her cheek against his chest and muttered,
“Well, be careful. Okay? Promise me you’ll come back from this...”
Vergil had no idea how he should comfort her—would hugging her back be too much? Smoothing a hand over her hair certainly must have been improper, but it was all he wanted to do at that moment—so he rested a hand on her shoulder and stepped away so he could meet her eyes.
“I will come back. And when I do,” A smile started to tug on the corner of his mouth, imagining the moment when the demon would fall and he could drink in their strength. “We can continue to reminisce about my childhood.”
And I will have a new weapon to toy with, hopefully you’ll be impressed.
Milan sighed, and nodded once before she stooped to pick up Leonardo. She insisted on walking Vergil to the door, even as he told her he could simply trick up to the roof as he usually did, and wished him luck for the upcoming battle.
“Luck will have nothing to do with it.” It was the first thing that came to mind, but feeling that it was a poor goodbye when Milan was so unnecessarily worried for him he offered her a bow. “I’ll be back tonight. Save some dinner for me.”
That brought out a small smile from Milan, which sparked a fluttering warmth in Vergil’s chest.
“No promises.” Was her response, before Vergil left the building in a puff of smoke.
The streets of Fortuna seemed undisturbed, except for a minor block of tourists and Fortuna citizens gathered about the gates of Fortuna Castle. Five Knights of The Order stood guard, all refusing entry to the small mob pestering them for reasons why they could not enter such a popular tourist destination. Vergil bypassed them all, tricking across the courtyard and through a window without a single guard raising an alarm.
Inside the Castle, it was eerily quiet. Vergil found no need to slip between shadows and lurk on chandeliers, as every corridor he passed was absolutely devoid of life. There were no bloodstains, scorch marks, or piles of ash alongside human corpses to indicate any kind of demonic attack, just an utter absence of people.
As he descended lower and lower through the building’s upper levels, Vergil pondered if everyone in the building who would not be taking part in the ritual directly had been evacuated. Finally, he reached his preferred spot for teleporting directly into the ancient chapel beneath his feet. Unknotting Yamato and holding her easily in one hand in preparation for a fight, Vergil tricked straight down.
The cathedral was in ruins. Bodies were smeared about the walls or staining the few remaining pieces of the floor, in various awful states of mutilation or decay. The statue of Sparda Vergil intended to land was almost completely shattered, several pieces of which had completely broken through the middle of the ritual circle. Tricking down to land on one of the larger shards of rubble, Vergil slid down to the hole in the floor. The painted stone had given way to dark tunnels underneath the castle, cold and dimly lit by flickering lamps bracketed into the walls. Falling further down, Vergil found himself surrounded by rusted minecarts, broken rails, and ancient bits of pickaxes left to rot under the castle. An abandoned mineshaft, no doubt what helped raise this castle before it was closed off to make way for more lucrative paths through the mountain. Only used now for foolhardy priests with a hunger for demonic power, and the demon that was destined to die by his hand.
Following the pale lantern lights, Vergil started walking through the tunnel. He kept Yamato loose in his hand, shoulders high and relaxed, ears pricked for any sound to lead him to his prey. The rocks around him gave his footsteps a ghostly echo, the January winds somehow oozing through hidden cracks and crevices to make a haunting whistle. And somewhere above him, he heard something scrape over the stone ceiling.
Vergil kept walking, gate slow and unchanging as he stepped into a massive open cavern ringed with watermarks, broken rails branching off into various twisting corridors. Directly above his head, he heard the soft clatter of bones clicking together, as tiny shards of stone rained down upon him.
Smoke was all the beast met when it dropped, Vergil tricking backwards and finally getting a look at the demon those dead fools thought they could control.
It was easily as tall as the building Milan lived in, a silhouette of ragged black feathers topped with the skull of some massive long-beaked bird—three empty eye sockets with pupils of pulsing gold light tracking his every move. Crow-black wings spread, revealing the leathery folds of bat wings hiding under the coating of dusty feathers. A ragged black overcoat scraped over the ground as the demon balanced on the massive claws that protruded from their bat-bird wings, ending just above corpse pale human knees that swiftly faded to scaled black talons.
“I smell your blood, Son of Sparda…” The demon crooned between clatters of bone and rustle of feather, voice soft and sibilant as the beak picked out each word. “I am Pandora; mother of plague, jailer of hope. And for the betrayal I once felt—”
Vergil flicked Yamato out of her sheath. In the same move he was across the cavern, passing Yamato over the mouth of her sheath and sliding her back home. With the click of his blade, Vergil heard the harsh splatter of blood hit the stone floor and Pandora’s words suddenly stop on a gurgle. A smile was impossible to resist; her chest would be carved open to the bone, her life good as his.
“... And for the betrayal I once felt at your father’s hand…” The thrill of victory withered instantly. Vergil turned to see Pandora rising, could hear a low buzzing gathering behind the hulking masses of her wings as her voice rose to compensate, laughter tainting every word. “I will feast upon your soul, and feed your flesh to my children!” In a whirl of crow feathers, Pandora faced him and fully opened her wings. From the cut across her chest locusts poured out of her as thick as blood, flying in an impenetrable mass directly towards him. Vergil tricked back around the battlefield in a bid to escape, Pandora and her plague of insects tracking his every move. The locusts crumpled into dust the moment they hit the stone wall that boxed them, but a simple graze against the horde had eaten away a swath of skin from the back of his hand.
Cursing at the pain, Vergil teleported behind Pandora and tried to focus his energies on healing, but Pandora moved far too fast for his focus to bear any fruit. She snapped her massive beak at his head, catching only a mouthful of smoke and a slash in her throat for her troubles. No bugs left this wound this time; instead a jet of flame hot enough to turn the rocks about them bright orange belched out of the cut to meet him. Vergil managed to duck down and trick to the other side of her head, but could still smell a hint of singed hair as he stepped back into reality.
Pandora was truly laughing now, her flaming wound sputtering out as she wheeled her massive head to face him and opened her feathered bat wings, inviting him to take another hit.
“You will rot in this grave, traitor’s spawn!” And with a single beat that blew Vergil flat on his back, Pandora was in the air, clinging with talons and claws to the ceiling and far out of reach. Vergil rolled back to his feet just as Pandora’s scream pierced his eardrums—part bat squeal, part bird cry, part banshee wail—and she dove for him. Vergil stood unmoving as he watched Pandora rocket down to spear him on her beak. Her wings folded in like a diving raptor, her beak open and laughter ringing all around them as she dove—until she crashed head first into the stone floor, a cloud of smoke the only mark that Vergil had been there.
Stepping from one trick to another, Vergil appeared high in the air above the stunned monster and put all he had behind a downward slash to her neck, hoping against hope that he could simply decapitate her and end it there. As soon as his feet touched the earth again, he tricked backwards and barely managed to avoid the roar of water that gushed with the force of a raging river at him. It left a hole in the rock wall besides him, before dripping down to become thick coppery blood pooling at his feet. Vergil ignored the impossibility of it and settled into another fighting stance as Pandora started to rise. Scabbard still clutched in his sluggishly bleeding hand, he gripped her hilt and drew his blade. It happened faster than any eye could see, the draw and sheath. But at the click of Yamato into her saya, space itself warped around Pandora’s massive shoulder. Countless cuts carved into her flesh within an instant, ruining her wing joint and leaving her screaming on the floor. Lightning, cockroaches, and several clouds of various colored gasses left the wounds, but Vergil had already strafed out of their range.
Vergil could win this—he had the power; he had the skill. All he had to do was keep his distance, and be sure that every strike counted. Circling Pandora as she staggered to her taloned feet and raised her wings to shield her body, Vergil calculated his next move. When she reeled back for a strike, he could pin her down with summoned swords, or trick away at the last moment and carve into her while she was stunned—
“Is that the extent of your power, Son of Sparda?” Her wings rustled with her every movement, slowly circling him with her strange crawling gate as he paced backwards to keep his distance. Refusing to rise to her bait, Vergil responded with a jab of his own.
“You’re wasting my time…” He risked half-turning to show her his back, running a hand over his hair and acting utterly disinterested. Pandora laughed at that, and though the rapid series jabs she made with her beak was easy enough to dodge, she moved directly into his retaliating strike over trying to escape, forcing the hiss of clear gas that escaped her wound to fill his lungs before he could trick away. Vergil was nearly brought to his knees at the wave of pain and sickness that overwhelmed him; vomiting up a river of blood as soon as his feet touched earth again and unable to stumble out of the way as she brought up one huge wing and backhanded him into the opposite wall.
“Pathetic. To think a demon as powerful as Sparda created something like you…” She approached him slowly, head tilted like a curious songbird as she watched Vergil struggle to his feet and heave up another mouthful of blood. “An embarrassment to Sparda’s legacy…” She brought down one massive clawed foot, but Vergil was already behind her, filling her back with summoned swords as he dodged even further back to avoid the mess of plagues that flowed from her.
All Pandora did in response was laugh, ruffling her feathers as if clearing them of water from a light rainstorm before launching herself back up to the ceiling.
“To think, Sparda settles for a mortal woman to further his line, and this is the results of his investment; A human, with the stench of a traitor in his blood and all his real power held in an inherited blade.” Blood pulsed hot in Vergil’s ears at the mention of his mother, at the notion of her being nothing more than breeding stock and himself the disappointing result of an experiment. Pandora stalked along the ceiling with low laughter clattering her beak, and Vergil launched barrage after barrage of summoned swords at her. None did any visible damage, which only made his rage burn brighter. His hand throbbed as he squeezed Yamato’s hilt, the pain utterly inconsequential as he planned his next attack. He would let her crush her skull against the stone floor, and carve her open like a holiday roast. Pandora dived with her monstrous scream, and Vergil tensed for the trick and strike.
He must have tricked away too soon, or she was simply too smart to let the same ruse work twice on her, because Pandora lifted out of her dive and sent out a powerful blast of air from a single wing beat to steady her landing. Vergil hadn’t teleported nearly far enough away to avoid the small tornado her flapping created, and was blown head-over-heels before he managed to get his feet under him. He still had Yamato in hand, if he lunged now and managed to get away from the nightmares she bled this might still—
Pain. Piercing, agonizing, utterly destructive pain robbed Vergil of every thought in his head. He had no focus for teleportation, no space in his head to fill Pandora with summoned swords, he wasn’t even sure if he was still holding Yamato as the roar of moving air filled his ears and vertigo crawled up his throat. This timeless moment of agonizing motion could have lasted seconds or days as far as Vergil knew, but it ended with the breathless, crushing impact of being thrown into the cave wall.
He slid to the floor with a hail of stone shards to accompany him, barely catching himself with his right arm and desperately clutching at the source of his agony with his left. A hole the size of a large man’s fist was punched through Vergil’s torso, blood gushing hot and thick over his fingers as he struggled through the haze to stand. Pandora watched from the center of the cavern, head lifted as she laughed and laughed at his weakness. The two halves of her beak had a thick coat of blood staining the tips, and the notion that Vergil could press his hand all the way through his side because of her suddenly filled him with nausea. He needed to heal, but there was no time to give his wounds the focus they would need to close. Pandora was already settling back into her defensive stance, chuckles still chattering her beak as Vergil struggled to stand after she shook him like a dog with a rag-toy.
“Such a pathetic way to die, though there is some lovely symmetry to it all; don’t you think?” Her coo was sweet as a dove’s, her massive taloned feet scraping ruts in the stone as she stalked closer to him. Vergil had to bite his tongue to keep himself from whimpering from the pain, but his legs still obeyed him and waylaid any fear of a broken spine. He could stand, but Yamato was absent from his hands. Without her, Vergil was already a corpse.
He raked his gaze around the battlefield, vision skating over cracked earth and splatters of blood before he caught the gleam of gold. Besides where Pandora had just put her foot down, Yamato lay in her sheath under the demon’s massive body. Vergil completed his sweep of the floor without allowing his eyes to linger on his sword, before meeting Pandora’s three-eyed skull and waiting for his moment.
She chuckled at the sight of his pale, bloodstained face, and tilted her head to peer down at him with her burning-ember eyes.
“You will die, little human, just as your pathetic mortal dam and traitorous sire did. Though I was not fortunate enough to feast upon your mother’s flesh, I assure you; ripping into Sparda’s entrails was the most satisfying meal I ever partook of.”
A deeper cold seeped through the chill of blood loss to settle right into Vergil’s soul. This simply was an unacceptable concept. Sparda was not dead, it was as impossible as the sun not rising in the morning. He had left them yes, but it was because of some great and noble mission he had to engage in. It was because he had to battle with his immortal enemy Mundus yet again, and in whatever dimension they occupied time passed differently than it did in the mortal world. It was because his father was a demon, and it was selfish of Vergil to expect that he would want to be anywhere but his true home in Hell. Sparda could not have returned simply because he died. He couldn’t—The Legendary Dark Knight Sparda wouldn’t allow himself to be killed when he had his mortal wife and un-human sons waiting for him—
“Oh! What a face that is!” Pandora crowed, head bobbing as laughter shook the cavern around them. “Would you rather that your father simply abandoned you and your mother to die? No, dear mongrel child. He knew we were coming, and left his den to meet us like a true and noble knight… And we split open his armor and ate his traitorous flesh! All while he screamed for mercy!” Her screech was loud enough to burst his eardrums, but fate was never so kind as to spare him from what words Pandora had next. Hunkering down to put her head to eye level, Pandora stood not twenty feet away from him, voice dropping to a low hiss and she gloated over her prey.
“But don’t fret… No matter how pure you’ve been, Heaven would never take a soul who was spawned from a demon. They certainly didn’t take your mother; her crime of rutting with a devil landed her soul in a special corner of Hell... I’m sure she’ll be so delighted when you meet her there!” Pandora screamed as she lunged, beak extended like a lance, but all she met was the unforgiving stone that encircled them. Vergil tricked under her and slid across the scarred stone floor, snatching Yamato up and drawing her in the same motion. Vergil didn’t care where he hit her, or what plague assaulted him in retaliation, all he knew was fury so hot it burned white through his veins. He would kill her for her words alone, make her beg for mercy as he carved out her very heart and filled her lying tongue with as many swords he could possibly summon.
He emerged from under Pandora just as she came crashing to the ground with a horrific shriek of pain, her wings falling open to reveal where Vergil’s wild cut had landed. Barely hidden by her ragged overcoat, snakes of every description squirming on a wave of blood as they left the wound, was a gash in the human part of her leg deep enough to reveal the white gleam of bone amongst the red meat of her thigh. Pandora was crippled until she had an opportunity to limp away and heal herself, and Vergil had no intention of giving her the space to even ponder that option.
He lunged into her exposed flank with a series of strikes too fast for the plagues to pour out of before he managed to trick up and over the demon, carving into her other side as snakes and miniature typhoons wailed in futile protest just beyond her prone form. His strike combinations were deep, powered by more force Vergil knew he had in his body and faster than any eye could see. They had no style or finesse to them, but Vergil was too lost in fury and pain to care. Too consumed by the need to silence this lying devil before she poured more poison into his ear. He tricked back into the air just as the hiss of a new wave of plagues seeped through his bloodlust, ignoring the jaundiced clouds and swarms of rats that left the wounds below him in favor of sighting his next target.
Pandora was just starting to lift her head, slow and clumsy movements betraying just how much damage Vergil had done to her. From his vantage point in the air Vergil lifted Yamato, and forced her head right back down into the stone with a blow to the neck strong enough to feel her blade biting into the spine under flesh and feathers. Pandora screamed loud enough to shatter windows in the castle miles above them, cyclones whirling out of her wounds to add to the cacophony. Vergil tricked forward, dropping Yamato's sheath to gripping onto the cold bone of Pandora’s face, as the tornadoes desperately tried to pull him away. His coat billowing behind him, hair whirling about his eyes in the storm, Vergil met the gaze of the massive middle socket, and plunged Yamato into the burning ember at its pupil.
He heard the bone crack just as a whirl of black fog rushed out of the wound, screaming like a thousand souls being tortured in Hell. He could not risk tricking clear and losing his opportunity to end this devil, but even as he held his breath the wailing vapor found its way inside him.
He was eight and holding his intestines in place with one hand, clutching Yamato in his other as he squirmed under a hunk of rubble that had once been part of his home. His mother was screaming, begging, pleading for Sparda to help her as devils dug their claws into her flesh, splitting her chest open with their blades. He was crawling through the smoldering wreckage and calling for mother, for Dante, for father, and only finding flat stained photographs to mark that they’d ever been alive at all. He was a spirit, simultaneously watching demons crack open his father’s armor as if he was a lobster to be feasted upon and watching his mother screaming in the torments of Hell. He was a man, standing over Milan’s corpse while she somehow looked at him with nothing but disgust and order his weak, filthy presence out of her house.
He was all these things, yet was still holding onto Pandora’s skull and Yamato’s hilt. Pandora shook her head violently in an attempt to get him off of her, Vergil holding his anchors in a death grip as an endless loop of nightmares filled his mind’s eye. But Vergil was still here, still feeling the pain on his hand as it clutched Yamato and the agony of the hole Pandora had punched through his liver. Drawing his sword out of the pit he had made in the devil’s eye socket, Vergil shifted his balance and plunged his blade into the leftmost socket.
This time, the plague was marked not by a cloud, storm, or even beasts. It was signaled by Vergil’s eyesight completely vanishing. There was not even darkness, simply a void where all he could visualize was the screaming horrors his mind was unable to stop playing. They were blurring into each other now, and as Dante murdered their mother and Milan feasted on his flesh among a crowd of demons all Vergil had left was the cold sensation of bone beneath his fingers. As he focused on that frigid skull, he could hear—just past the screaming cacophony of his waking nightmares—Pandora shrieking curses at him, his traitor father, and his human mother for daring to be the sow Sparda bred such a pathetic larva with.
Vergil drew Yamato up again, and adjusted his footing. He slid his leading foot forward until he could brace himself against the edge of her center eye socket, digging his back foot into the ridge of her beak until he felt the bone crack under his shoe. He turned his body to the right, his right-hand clasping over his left on Yamato’s hilt. He sucked in a single breath, and plunged his father’s sword down into The Mother of Plague’s final ember pupil.
There was no scream. Or perhaps the scream was too high for his ears to pick it up. What he could register was the ground slamming into his side and scraping the skin off his jaw as he slid across the damaged stone; still completely blind and mind a blur of horrific visions. He dug Yamato’s blade into the ground, fumbling to get his feet under him in preparation for Pandora’s next attack only to fall when agony shot through his leg. Pandora was somewhere across the cavern, stirring up gusts of wind with her wings and scraping her talons over the ground, and Vergil had to stand if he was going to face her. A summoned sword came to hand, and gritting his teeth against pain and fear, Vergil levered himself up. Leaning on the phantasmal sword for support, wielding his father’s blade in his free hand, Vergil blindly faced where Pandora seemed to be and braced himself for another blow.
A hideous rumble marked Pandora dragging herself towards him, her voice echoing about the cavern.
“Oh, how the Fates can surprise us…” Her clacking laughter rang throughout the stone, light bleeding through Vergil’s blinded eyes just enough to show the shadow the demon cast as she loomed over him. “Savor this victory while you can, little human. It will soon turn to ash in your mouth…” More light, brighter and brighter until Vergil was forced to shield his face. A screaming laugh high enough to drown out even the nightmares rising and rising, until it and the blazing light was snuffed out.
The silence left seemed louder than the battle. Somewhere distant, water dripped at a steady pace. Liquid was running down Vergil’s cheeks, the nightmares fading into nothingness as the pain of his injuries swept over him in the calm.
Scrubbing his sleeve against his face, Vergil blinked until darkness gave way to a dim blur of stone and lantern light, leaving behind a smear of blood on his dust-crusted coat. Letting the summoned sword shatter into nothingness, Vergil hissed as he gingerly put weight on his broken ankle and mopped the blood off his face while his eyes healed from their blindness. Once the bloody tears had ceased, most of his injuries had faded to a dull ache and his vision has completely returned.
Several feet to his left, Yamato’s saya lay over one of the many ruts Pandora’s talons had carved into the ground. Vergil retrieved that first, inspecting the glossy wood for any sign of damage and managing a smirk when it showed no mark. Sparda’s weapons were truly in a class of their own…
Returning Yamato to her sheath and tying it back onto his belt, Vergil faced where Pandora had fallen. No body remained to rot in this tomb, the only indications that Pandora had ever existed in this plane was the damage to the mountain around them, the slowly healing marks on Vergil’s body, and a box left in a settling cloud of brimstone smoke.
Or rather, a briefcase as Vergil approached his prize. Sleek black, traced with pulsing gold lines and marked with Pandora’s three-eyed skull, surrounded by her infernal wings. Vergil bent—gritting his teeth as the wound in his side protested the motion—and took up the case by its handle. Words whispered through Vergil’s mind as he held the weapon, the soul of Pandora giving instructions of use to her new master. With barely a thought, Vergil ordered the case to change, and groaned in disgust as a large gun took shape and balanced itself over his shoulder to be fired. He ordered a different form, only for it to become another gun.
And another… Worthless… Gun!
A small crater was left in the wall after Vergil threw Pandora with all his injured strength, cursing that demon through every circle of Hell and several layers of purgatory. All that effort, all that blood, and what did he have to show for it?! A box of awful guns, miles of new nightmares to torment him every night, and his favorite set of clothes absolutely crusted in dust and blood. Vergil was tempted to just spend the time it would take to finish healing himself throwing Pandora around as hard as he could, but as he stormed up to the useless box he heard the echoes of voices chasing down the tunnels. The Order of the Sword finally mustered enough courage together to try and face the demon they summoned. Or, wanted to see what killed her and steal her power from his weakened state.
In a burst of smoky tricks, Vergil had escaped the stone prisons of mountain and castle, to be battered by billowing midnight winds heavy with snow. From rooftop to rooftop Vergil made his way back to Milan’s home, teleporting down through the roof of the building and going straight into the kitchen to scrub out his mouth and clean his face of dust and blood. Pandora pulsed in Vergil’s hand as he put his head under the faucet to wash out his hair, mocking him with its uselessness. His head pounded from pure exhaustion under the icy water, wanting nothing more than dreamless sleep and to forget he ever left Milan’s side that evening.
At the sound of a voice, Vergil shut off the water and spun to look into the sitting room. A pile of blankets bunched into one corner of the couch unfolded, and Milan climbed out of the depths rubbing sleep from her eyes. Her hair was a tangle around her head, her shift wrinkled from the curled position she had dozed off in, her eyes still dull with exhaustion as she looked him over with mounting concern. “Holy shit, are you okay!? You look like you crawled out of your own grave…” Had she been on the couch since he left, waiting for him to come home? She stepped closer to look over his torn and filthy clothes, her warm hands reaching up to smooth his wet hair away from his face.
Vergil could only vaguely hear Pandora dropping to the floor. His thoughts were stuck in some kind of feedback loop, only able to process in his exhausted haze that Milan had waited for him, and that he had never seen someone more beautiful than her in this moment. He didn't process leaning into her, just the feel of her mouth against his. Her breath was hot against his cold face, her mouth so much softer and fuller than his fantasies had projected. He rested a hand on the nape of her neck, relishing how tender her flesh was and shuddering at the low whimpering sound she made against his mouth.
Until his brain caught up with the rest of him; Vergil had promised Milan—given her his word—that he would be a gentleman, and forcing a kiss on her when she had only wanted to see if he was well was the antithesis of that oath. He snatched his hands off her and stumbled away, his back hitting the wall behind him as he tried to get out an apology.
“Sorry, sorry! I'm so sorry Mi—” Milan grabbed Vergil by the lapels of his jacket, and hauled him down to her level.
“Like hell you are…” She growled, before bracing her hands on his shoulders and making a small leap into his arms, her legs tangling with his coat and Yamato as she attempted to wrap them around his waist.
Her mouth devoured his, hands clutching his shoulders and thighs squeezing his hips in an attempt to keep herself up. Milan kissed him as though her very life depended on it, a rough sound Vergil could only describe as a purr rumbling from her mouth to his as she licked his bottom lip in an effort to deepen the kiss.
Decapitation could not have been a more effective way to destroy Vergil's ability to think in that moment. All he knew was want now, and foremost of those wants was to get Milan closer to him by any means necessary. With one hand he untied Yamato from his belt, tossing her easily onto the sofa and shedding his coat just as swiftly to follow the blade. Both his hands slid up Milan's exposed thighs, hiking her up flush with his body and pressing her back into the wall in a single fluid movement.
She moaned against his mouth as his hands squeezed her flesh, one hand gripping the back of his head and the other wandering down to caress his exposed bicep. All of Vergil's fantasies and dreams had done Milan a great injustice. Milan's mouth was not pliant under his, it was demanding. The sweetness of her kisses had a sharp edge of hunger to them, the hand in his hair tugging to maneuver him to her liking. Milan kissed him as if she was starving for his taste, her legs clamped about him as if she planned to never release him again.
Vergil was lost in her passion, consumed by her desire. She was eating him alive and he needed every second of it. Adrift in the taste of her tongue in his mouth, the only coherent thought left to him was the realization that his hands were far enough up her thighs to feel that she was wearing nothing underneath that shift. And as he pressed her closer to the wall and against his own body, he was quite sure the same could be said for her chest.
He wanted to know, needed to know if Milan was completely naked under her nightgown, and pried his mouth from her’s only to be lost in the sweet, soft flesh of her throat. Her hips rolled against his in a motion both graceful and desperate, stoking Vergil's arousal to new heights as he sought every spot on her neck that prompted another moan or sigh from her.
Hefting her higher in his arms, Vergil broke away from Milan’s skin with the intent to... Something. Whether it was to tug open the strings holding the front of her shift closed, ask Milan just what she wanted from him tonight, or shift her weight so he could free up a hand and loosen his trousers—Vergil couldn’t remember. The moment he lifted his head the whole world simultaneously spun twice as fast and ground to a halt—leaving him reeling so badly he pressed his forehead past Milan’s shoulder into the wall for some sort of anchor.
Milan squirmed in his hold, and it took an alarming amount of effort to set her down gently over just letting his knees fold and taking her down with him. Still horribly lightheaded, blood boiling in his veins, and body torn between exhaustion and arousal, Vergil tried to apologize for spoiling the moment.
He couldn’t get a single word out before Milan stood on her toes, and brushed the softest kiss over his mouth. Lips touching his on every word, she whispered,
“Sleep. We can talk tomorrow.” And with that, she withdrew back upstairs with barely a creak on the steps. Vergil had to take several moments just to process what she had said, feeling as though his whole body was fighting to simply shut down for the night. He had no notion how they would talk about what just happened, what he could even say without seeming like a monstrous fool, but if talking was what it would take for this exchange to repeat, then damn his anxieties.
Stumbling onto the couch and kicking his shoes off as he went, Vergil collapsed face first into the upholstery, where blissful, restful darkness swallowed him whole, and spared him this one night of the nightmares old and new. In the morning he woke up alone, but someone had pulled his blanket over him. And in the curve of his body, purring softly, Leonardo slept without a care in the world.
Oh boy, it's finally happened!
Does a first kiss in the eighth chapter count as slow burn, and I need to add it to the tags? Have you all been fed up with me drawing out the romance? How quickly will I ramp this up now that I've finally bitten the bullet? Find out not-next-Tuesday-but-the-one-after-that, in... Me being terrified that I won't be able to deliver on these nerds getting it on!
(In all seriousness though, thank you all so much for reading, commenting, and hanging onto this fic. I really hope this chapter delivered, and hope that future chapters will be even better!)
Chapter 9: Nine – Milan
“Did you hear what happened at Fortuna Castle?” Milan glanced about to see who might be watching, and shrugged as surreptitiously as she could. The New Year sermon droned on before them—delivered not by His Holiness, Pontiff of The Order of the Sword, Vicar of The Dark Knight Sparda, but by some Cardinal Milan had never seen before; which only strengthened her sour suspicions that the demon Vergil killed had taken its summoners down to Hell with it. The pew behind her creaked as Liana leaned as close as her pregnancy would allow, while Milan tilted back as casually as she could to hear her friend better. “I heard there was some demon attack, and the Knights there had to—” There was the unmistakable sound of a slap, barely quiet enough to not be irreverent, coupled with a gasp of pain.
“Quiet! Church is no place for gossip, you little—”
“Now mama, you know how women are with friends…” Liana’s husband chastised his mother, while the old dowager scoffed and fumed.
“I’ll have you know I was raised properly, unlike these stray chits.” With that she gave Milan a hard pinch on the shoulder, before whispering a well-worn rant to her son about taking a firmer hand with his wife.
Resisting the urge to rub away the sting, Milan watched the Cardinal speak without taking in a single word of it, wondering what kind of butchery Vergil walked into when he went to fight a demon lord. How many people died, and if she knew any of them. None of the priests and bishops had any particularly tender place in her heart, and she even had a hard time mustering up any kind of special grief for His Holiness when such a dramatic operation as demon-summoning must have been executed on His command. But she knew a lot of boys from the Children’s Home who had entered The Order as Knights, and the idea that any of them might be dead at this very moment—
Deep, piercing cold soaked through her, and Milan ducked her head momentarily to send a silent prayer to Sparda. The mantra of prayer rolled effortlessly through her mind, before it struck her that she could very well be praying to Vergil's father. The image of Vergil’s family portrait floated before her eyes, the smiling man in a purple frock nothing like the austere statue of Sparda that looked down on the congregation.
Could she even believe Vergil’s story? She doubted he was flat out lying to her, and yet the idea that the son of the Dark Knight Sparda—one of a pair at that—was living in her tiny home… It just didn’t sound likely, didn’t sound possible. More like a irreverent joke than anything that could happen in real life. Especially after their kiss…
Heat flushed through Milan, and she ran through a few more prayers to stifle the excited flutters kindled with the memory; these were completely inappropriate thoughts to be having in church, though she couldn’t help but briefly ponder if it would be better or worse if Vergil truly was the son of Sparda—A theological query she could never bring to a priest if she didn’t want to be completely excised from Fortuna society. Nevermind the notion of whether it would be sinful or sacred to kiss a Son of Sparda, there was no basis for any children of Sparda to be considered. There was no record in doctrine or history of Sparda ever having any form of bride—human or otherwise. The news that he had taken a human wife, had twins with her, and raised them not as Lords and Ladies within Fortuna Castle but out in the ignorant and sinful modernity beyond the island—
Again, the entire concept sounded like a joke; the kind that would get your mouth washed out with soap and your backside whipped in the Children’s Home. It just didn’t seem real, didn’t seem possible for such a legendary warrior as Sparda to have such a human life.
Milan sank down onto the kneelers in sync with the rest of the flock, head bowed and hands clasped as she tried to puzzle out when her life became so sacrilegious. She had never been the kind of Good Fortuna Girl who prayed five times a day, always had her scriptures in hand, and was praising or thanking Sparda with every other breath. She always found sermons dull, heartily disliked how limiting the Church’s standards of decency were, and was the child forever being spanked and having her mouth washed out for asking heretical questions.
But she still wanted to know. She wanted to know and understand the history behind the Hellgate, and if she found Sparda amidst that history she wanted to know why. Why did Sparda split the demonic realm from the mortal world? Why did he remain in Fortuna for centuries upon centuries, only to vanish without a single trace? What, if anything, did he see in humans? Or was humanity no more a factor in Sparda’s actions than earthworms are in a gardener’s decision to pull weeds.
A blonde woman in a black dress… That was who stood by his father in Vergil’s picture. The two had leaned so casually against each other, their smiles so soft and genuine while their children scowled at being forced to stand still. And Vergil, so lovely in the blue light of the magic swords he could create at a whim, almost whispering as he stared up at the very sculpture that looked down upon Milan now,
He loved humans…
It actually made her throat tighten to recall that now, whether she could believe Vergil’s claim or not. Sparda, loving humans enough not only to free them from being nothing more than demon prey, but enough to marry a human woman. A human woman who he could pose with in such a casual and intimate family portrait, smiling above the pouting expression of baby-Vergil with a face almost identical to the Vergil she saw every day—but for the fact that Sparda had an easy happiness etched into every line as he stood amongst his family.
Her prayers for the rest of the service were much more earnest than they had been in quite some time, and when she rose to clasp hands with her neighbors and bid them Sparda’s protection and blessings even the sour glare Liana’s mother-in-law offered her couldn’t curdle her mood. Gathering up her bookbag, Milan trailed after Liana as the crowds filed out of the chapel. The wind was still rattling windows outside, the snow on the ground thicker than the most expensive featherbed. So instead of socializing in the courtyard, everyone packed themselves into the rooms just outside the chapel, clustered into packs of extended families and friends while children raced about and were occasionally given half-hearted scoldings to be quiet.
This was the lifeblood of the Fortuna community; no matter now pressed anyone was for time, or how many guests one had coming over for dinner that day, none but the truly ostracized didn’t linger for at least a half hour to catch up with their fellows. This was where wedding announcements were made to the general public, when congratulations for a promotion amidst the Order’s ranks were given, new babies cooed over, and friends old and new kept in touch. For women especially—who after they wed had a house to keep and children to wrangle—this time of casual companionship was essential.
Milan slipped through the crowd to meet her own group of friends—all girls from the Children’s Home she had grown up in. The girls she had been close to were years older, and each were married off by now. Several had children, many had in-laws just as delightful as Liana’s, which made this time a haven for the orphaned girls. But just as she managed to avoid being trampled by a herd of children racing about the room, a hand on her elbow pulled her off to one side.
“Hi Milan!” Alessa squealed this like they were the best of friends, even pulling her in for a kiss on each cheek while her own group of friends ogled at Milan like she was an exotic beast being tamed. When they separated, Alessa slung an arm around Milan’s waist and pulled her in closer to her own group, wasting no time in showing her hand now that Milan couldn’t escape without being unconscionably rude. “You know I hate gossip, but Alba saw you out with some Knight, and—”
“My bag broke, he was just being charitable; I don’t actually know him.” A few of the girls giggled like she had made the funniest joke, while one of the taller ones leaned in and asked with no pretense of friendship,
“What did he say about all the Order members who aren’t here? Where are all the missing Knights?” That line of questioning took Milan off guard. She had thought the only things that filled Alessa’s head was her own reputation and future marriage prospects, and assumed her giggling friends were just the same. Glancing around, she was able to appreciate just how few Order uniforms there were in the room. Everyone’s chatter had a low edge to it, the few Knights that were present absolutely crowded by people that they were shaking their heads at. Just how many people had been hurt or killed by whatever The Order had summoned?!
“The only Knights I really know used to live in the Children’s Home with me, and I haven’t heard anything from them.” Milan needed to split away now, and find what she could on those knighted orphaned boys. Some of them might be dead, and she needed to know who. Someone may have answers, and she needed to know what the Knights saw—or what The Order told them they saw—before she went home to ask Vergil what he witnessed.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Taking a sidestep and a half-turn worthy of a waltz, Milan freed herself from Alessa’s grasp and waved to the girls in farewell before ducking back into the crowds. She pushed past and between blockades of people before finding her own cluster of friends, each one entrenched in the same topic everyone else was hung up on. Milan settled into the huddle of women and was immediately passed a baby to hold, which she settled onto her hip automatically while catching up with the conversation.
“Adelo isn’t here, and Mauro refuses to talk to me! And never mind my own man; the whole island could be on fire and all he would do is give me a kiss and tell me not to fret over Order business…” Perla fumed amidst the sympathetic nods of her friends, all agreeing that brothers and husbands were truly useless informants—either too hung up on you being their sister, and therefore someone to shun so they could play knights with the other boys, or too duty bound as a husband to worry the homemaker with anything from the shocking world of men. As babies wiggled and sputtered on hips, and toddlers stayed confined in the constructed playpen of their skirts, Milan listened to everyone bouncing similar reports about the circle. None of the Knights they knew were telling them anything. So many were missing, and no reports had arrived to confirm or deny death or injury. Several women were near paralyzed with the fear that their husbands were dead, and themselves left as widowed mothers with the only families left their in-laws.
Milan held the baby she was offered, handed him back to his mother when he started fussing to be fed, and stopped a one-year-old from escaping the pen they made to be trampled by a rampaging crowd of eight-year-olds. The only man in her life was most likely putting together lunch, and—even if it took the prodding to move a stubborn mule—would at least talk to her like an equal, over speaking to someone he saw more like a child. That made her lucky, very lucky; almost unheard-of-on-Fortuna lucky.
But Vergil was a Mainland boy, and they had all sorts of men out there. Some even more awful than the Knights who would get drunk and far too close to any girls without escort, some like Vergil— who kissed her in their otherwise empty home, shy as if it was his first, and broke away to babble out apologies for fear of coercing her. Vergil would have no intentions of telling everyone in the pews that Milan was loose enough to give him a kiss, leaving him with chortles from the men and her with icy silence from all. Vergil would not be setting up their marriage date with that one exchange, and expecting her to follow along lest he expose her as some slattern. When she was that lucky—when she would be that lucky until Vergil finally went back home to his smiling human mother and the brother he couldn’t stand—and the girls she had known for most of her life so afraid that their husbands’ deaths would leave them at the mercies of their family…
The fear came back to her then. A deep, empathetic fear that pricked her eyes and crushed around her chest as she made rounds about the circle to offer hugs to her shaking friends. She had no right to promise that everything would be well; she knew some of these in-laws they feared, knew even better that some of the women she held prayed that their missing husbands would stay missing—but she could promise that they would be there for each other. They would always have now, have this time after service, have this huddle of girls without families who grew up sisters before becoming friends.
The door to the room creaked as it opened, and Milan would never had noticed if the conversations buzzing about the room hadn’t quieted so suddenly. A tall man with grey in his hair looked over the crowds with a calm smile, the Knights scattered about the room springing to attention. General Sanctus motioned with one hand for the Knights, soothing over the restless buzz of the crowd as the soldiers hurried to his side,
“Please, good people, no cause for alarm. Some minor Order business; a little housekeeping as we welcome the new year.” He spoke to them all like an indulgent father to impatient children, giving the room at large a bow before leading the rest of the Knights through the door and out of sight. Conversations exploded into new life then, and Milan was pulled into a new discussion; theorizing about what the General could possibly know, be planning, or didn’t want them—the common folk of Fortuna—to hear from the Knights he led away.
It was snowing again when the crowds finally drifted away to their own homes, Milan hugging her friends twice over and promising to keep an ear out for what could have happened to the missing Knights. She trudged through the snow with her mind whirling with questions to ask Vergil, details she needed to know, and ignored the silly part of her that was still dizzy with the kiss they shared. No matter how long she had been sighing over his handsome face, missing people were more important than a single kiss.
When she finally managed to get home, she kicked the ice off her boots and shook melting snow off cloak and cowl without her cat underfoot. Leo abstained from his usual greeting, electing instead to stay sleeping on a pile of clothes stacked on chair in the kitchen. Vergil stood beside him with a rag in hand, scrubbing the table with no sign of the damage he arrived with last night. The bloody and dirt-crusted vest and coat he had arrived with had been replaced by a neat, navy button-down and black slacks, his hair smoothed away from a face calm and composed. Whatever he had brought in with him last night—box or suitcase, that glowed with such an eerie light—was nowhere to be seen. The oven had warmed the whole house with the rich smell of bread and soup, and when Vergil glanced over his shoulder the smile he gave her was so earnest, it actually made her blush.
Vergil could smile, but so often it was cold and sardonic. This was the small smile of a shy young man, who had kissed her last night with enough passion to steal her breath. Nudging back a few strands of wayward hair, Vergil turned back to the table and schooled his expression, asking if she enjoyed the service in his usual tones of cool disinterest.
Huffing about how boring everything was, Milan wandering over to the stove just to have something to do while she collected herself. Milan let the scent of ribollita rush over her as she cracked open the oven door—chastising herself for getting all twitterpated over a smile while she had important information to gather. Checking between the crust of bread on the soup and the timer ticking away on the counter, she let the door shut and took a steadying breath before facing Vergil. Stepping up beside him, she started to let her eyes wander up the strong lines of his arms before forcing herself to keep her eyes off him—only to be distracted by what Vergil was actually cleaning.
“Um, Vergil? What happened to the table?”
“The floor wouldn’t take the chalk.”
“Mm-hmm… And you needed to put chalk places because...?”
The table had a mess of chalked lines smudged under the rag Vergil wielded, one dark spot where several lines met in a point looking disturbingly similar to a semi-dried pool of blood. Vergil kept scrubbing all the same, completely nonchalant.
“There was no way to clean the clothes I was wearing last night normally, so I had to set up a ritual circle for a spell.” Milan checked over her shoulder, and sure enough, Leo was snoozing away on the folded coat Vergil had been wearing yesterday. It was back to its magnificent royal blue color, the silver embroidery shining star-bright, and not even single button out of place. Awed, Milan turned back around to marvel that he knew such a spell, only to blanch as the dishrag gained a stain the unmistakable red of blood as Vergil swept the last of the table clean.
“And you needed blood for that?!” Vergil stepped neatly around Milan to get to the sink, washing the stains out of the dishrag while the timer ticked on behind them.
“All magic needs power, and mine… Isn’t as tuned to ritual magic as I would like…” He scowled down at the rag, before catching Milan’s look of shock and horror and fumbled to add, “It was my blood, don’t worry.” As if that made anything better. She knew there would be no marks, but Milan couldn’t help but scrutinize the skin exposed by Vergil’s rolled up sleeves—what his open collar revealed of his throat and chest. She had seen his healing powers in action when they were stealing the books that sat in the corner by the sofa, but the idea of Vergil cutting himself open on purpose—
It made her stomach churn, but he seemed so unconcerned by the whole idea. Only worried that she thought he had sacrificed a goat or some such to clean the stains of battle out of his clothes. Maybe for someone with his abilities, spilling his blood was as trivial as losing a strand of hair from his head. Milan’s head was starting to spin as it tried to wrap itself around Vergil’s powers; what they meant to her, to him, to the fact that he claimed to be one of Sparda’s sons—and she still couldn’t make herself accept any of it. So, she did what always worked when face to face with Vergil’s incredible powers, and teased him.
“If I had known you could clean clothes with magic, I would have set you with laundry duty from the very start.” Vergil snorted and wrung out the rag, draping it over the faucet to dry.
“I like you very much Milan, but the amount of blood I’d have to spill to clean one load of laundry is just a bridge too far.”
“But you’ll let Leo sleep on your magically clean clothes?” Vergil’s face twisted into such a petulant scowl that Milan couldn’t help but burst out laughing. That was the face; the one she had seen on the picture of tiny-Vergil in the family photo.
“If you know any way to get him off of them, be my guest…” He grumbled, the buzzing timer drawing him away while she tempered her giggles. Leonardo was removed from the chair with some difficulty, the cat adamant to remain where he was and willing to unsheathe his claws to protest. But when Vergil set the pot on the table, and Milan had moved the fur-covered pile of clothes from chair to couch, Leo gave up the fight in favor of begging for tidbits.
Milan set the table, Vergil filled the glasses. He re-filled Leonardo's food dish, and she said a quick blessing upon the food. When both had the steaming soup in their bowls, Milan took in a breath to start her questions, only for Vergil to beat her to the punch.
“Milan, I need to talk to you about last night.” He was staring directly at her, severity etched into every line of his frown and sending a chill down her spine. What had he seen last night, that could make a man as powerful as Vergil shed his casual arrogance? Milan nodded for him to continue, and he took his time to collect his thoughts; staring down at his bowl, at Leo, even down at his own hands in their tight fists before he met her eyes again and stammered, “Wh-What we did last night… Our… You…”
“Our kiss?” Milan tried not to sound dejected, because she really wasn’t. She was absolutely buzzing for Vergil to tell her that he wanted her, and was very upset with herself for having something so frivolous as a kiss on her mind when there were people missing. And even more upset for not stopping the conversation right there, and picking Vergil’s brain for every detail of the demon attack in Fortuna Castle. Because Sparda have mercy on her weak human soul, she yearned for Vergil to bring up their kiss last night. Yearned like only a teenager could—and as autonomous as Milan was—she was still a teenager, with very earnest affections for the young man she had opened her home to.
Vergil was back to staring down at his steaming bowl, scrutinizing the softening croutons as if to divine a map for this conversation to take while Leonardo chirped for attention at his feet. Milan recalled his fumbling months and months ago, when all he needed from her was help finding books, and decided to throw him a line.
“Would you rather we ignore what happened? I’ll understand, I’ve heard stories about Knights who come from battle with emotions running high; it doesn’t have to change things between us.”
Vergil grumbled at the general direction of his water glass, scowling like it had done him great personal insult while his ears turned very pink.
“No… I—I want thing between us to—That is to say…” He sighed, absolutely defeated. “I have no idea how to do this.”
Milan almost laughed, biting her lip lest Vergil think she was being cruel. Vergil—powerful, arrogant, grumpier-than-a-soaked-cat Vergil, couldn’t spit out that he fancied her. It charmed her more thoroughly than any love spell could have, and as she reached out to rest a hand over one of Vergil’s, she swore she heard his breath catch.
“Well, I do.” Vergil’s hand was cool, calloused from swordplay, and shook ever so slightly when she pulled his fingers from their fist, and interlaced her’s with his. “I know that I like you, Vergil. I have for a while now, and I want to kiss you; just as much as I want to look through books with you, talk for hours, and laugh when Leo gets you in a huff. Is that okay with you?” He nodded slowly, staring at their hands together like it was some kind of miracle before his eyes. Unable to contain her smile now, Milan drew his hand up to her mouth and gave it a kiss, before releasing him and turning her attention to her soup.
Leonardo had moved to Milan throughout their exchange, and as Milan ate spoonfuls of ribollita he put his paws on her knee in an effort to tempt her with his precious face. Milan nudged and shooed him away, glancing up to see Vergil still staring at the hand she had held and kissed. His expression was a little odd; a look of shock and confusion—of not-quite-there—but at her voice he blinked and glanced up at her.
“Vergil...? Your food’s getting cold.”
At that, he fumbled with his spoon and ate in silence, leaving Milan to wonder at how such a beautiful man could be so shy around a girl. He must have had every Mainland girl that ever laid eyes on him clinging to his coattails, yet he could hardly stammer through a confession and was set speechless by the most chaste of touches. She doubted it was because of her beauty or anything so vain—Milan knew full well that she could never compare to the women glimpsed on Mainland magazines. Maybe it was that as a Mainland boy, he was much more accustomed to the casual flirting and sensuality of younger tourists, and more innocent affection was out of his depth. Stifling a smile with every bite, Milan making it her mission to teach Vergil about the ins and outs of courting—while he could demonstrate what carnal knowledge he must have gathered in the wild and carefree culture of the Mainland.
When the meal had ended, the dishes washed and set aside to dry, the pot covered and left out to cool enough for the fridge, Vergil and Milan settled on the couch to read through their trove of stolen tomes. Vergil fussed with his fountain pen as he settled into his usual spot against the arm of the couch, Milan plucking the bundle of clothes away from Leo and remembering what was actually important.
All the light, eager joy of knowing that Vergil liked her drained out of Milan in an instant, filled instead with shame and cold, cold anger. People were missing, most likely dead, because of a demon The Order had called upon in Sparda’s own castle. This was a time for answers, not for flittering away the day mooning over a handsome boy.
She sat beside Vergil with a huff, raging against how stupid and distractible she could be around a pretty face, her partner raising an eyebrow at the violent shift her mood had taken. Pushing Vergil’s coat back into his hands, Milan took a breath and spat out the question.
“What happened in Fortuna Castle?” Vergil blinked, and set aside his notes to take his clothes.
“Their demon summoning was a success, but their binding spells were wholly inadequate for containing what they brought forth.”
“Was anybody hurt when you arrived?” Vergil had risen to fetch his trunk and put his things away properly, tone as casual now as when he discussed spilling his own blood for a ritual spell.
“I assume some people survived, as I could hear a crowd approaching after I had killed the beast. But from what I saw in the summoning room, most died the moment the demon broke free.”
Milan thought she had been prepared for such an answer, but it pierced her all the same. Dead. People—husbands and brothers and friends—died because of The Order. Because of what preached Sparda’s mercy in saving humanity from what they unleashed in the castle he had reigned within. Betrayal was what hurt her so, not anger or grief. Betrayal at what held sway over every aspect of her life, and murdered their constituents before preaching of salvation and mercy the very next morning. Tears came to her eyes as she fumed over the treachery of it all, Vergil staring at those angry tears with something like horror dawning on him. Scrubbing them away with her sleeve, Milan grumbled that she was fine, while Vergil slowly sank back into the couch beside her—as if any sudden movements might prompt her to lunge. Face dry, Milan pressed on,
“If I described anybody to you, do you think you could recall if they were among the dead?”
“Everyone was in uniform, and I didn’t linger long in that room...” Of course they were; none of Milan’s companions knew anyone high enough in The Order to have their heads uncovered. She had nothing that could comfort her friends—only information that was sure to get her jailed if she shared it among the gossip circles. Vergil actually flinched as she huffed in frustration, bowing his head like a penitent.
“I’m sorry.” New guilt rose sour in Milan’s throat, prompting her to put an arm about Vergil and pull his chin up to face her.
“You killed a demon that The Order couldn’t contain, I wouldn’t call that…” Vergil had frozen under her touch, expression drawn and eyes more than a little distant as he stared past her shoulder. Jerking her hands off of him, Milan tried to apologize for presuming too much when Vergil blurted out,
“Wait! I mean, I—” Vergil reached out his own hand, but before he even brushed her dress, he snatched his hand back and drew himself back into himself. Back straight, hands curled in his lap, legs locked side-by-side to prevent himself from touching any part of her. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?!” Absolutely bewildered, Milan tried to piece together what just happened. She had been trying to comfort him, and that reaction… It seemed like aversion, but that look in his eyes was what she saw after she had kissed his hand at the table. Did people just not comfort each other with touch on the Mainland? Vergil kept his eyes squarely on the arm of the couch, each word pulled from him like teeth.
“I… Don’t know how to do this.”
“Do what?! Be comforted?” A chill ran over Milan at his silence. Now making a conscious effort to step delicately, she ventured, “What about your mother? If you’re sad or upset, she never—”
“She’s dead.” Milan could have slapped herself for stumbling onto that landmine. How had she not seen it sooner? He had told her outright that family was a sensitive subject when they had still been meeting in the library, and the only parent he ever spoke of was Sparda—discussed as more myth than father in any case. His mother had only existed in the photo he had shared, and nowhere else.
“And your brother, Dante?”
“We… Haven’t been on speaking terms in quite some time.”
“What about friends? Or lovers even? They must have—”
“I don’t—” Vergil’s fists were shaking—so tightly were they clenched—actual shame oozing into his voice as he grit out, “You have been my first… Friend. Lover. My first anything...”
Milan had to take a moment to actually process it. She had been orphaned since before she could form memories about her parents, but she had friends. Friends close as sisters by necessity in the Children’s Home, and even as she had done everything in her power to be emancipated from that place, she still kept those friends close to her heart. Even as they wed, and wifely duties limited their time together to a few hours after services, they were her confidants. They were the arms to hug her, the voices to laugh with her, and hands that offered endless support as she did to them in turn. And Vergil had her. Only her, beginning a few months ago and leading to now, when she was unknowingly given his first kiss and paralyzed him with a single hug.
Proud Vergil hated pity, and she doubted he could distinguish it from sympathy. But he had her sympathy anyway, and the best way she could think to share it was to rest one hand on his, even lighter than she had held his at the table. Slowly, perhaps unaware that he was even doing it, Vergil listed towards her until Milan shifted close enough for him to set his head on her shoulder. He let out a single, shuddering breath as if he was about to cry—but no tears ever came. He simply started to unwind, tension easing out of his body to rest against hers, hands relaxing enough to take her hand in his. When he finally tilted his head up to face her, their kiss was that shy first embrace they shared.
“... Tell me if I’m doing something wrong.” He mumbled when they parted, Milan smoothing a hand over his silky hair and reassuring,
“Right now, you’re doing perfectly.” Before she captured his lips again, and allowed that to speak for both of them.
Vergil was still shy, and eventually parted with pink in his cheeks to get books and notes to occupy himself. Milan got her own reading out as well, and as they sat resting against each other Leonardo made himself comfortable in the small space between their bodies. They read and passed notes between each other, occasionally rising to warm a bowlful of soup from the pot until night had fallen. It was almost painful to pull herself away from Vergil’s side, and though the request for him to come upstairs with her danced in the back of her mind, she knew that Vergil was in no way ready to make such a leap. So, they parted with a final kiss instead, and Milan spent the night humming with the rush of young love.
This wasn’t the burning, anxious lust she felt when she saw an attractive tourist her own age, and was puzzling out if she could have a few kisses without someone from church seeing her. This was soft and warm, with the lust toward him tempered and made sweeter by how dear Vergil was to her as a friend. It thrilled and soothed simultaneously, letting her float through a quiet morning and hardly feel the cold as she trekked through new snow to the Library.
Only to have cold water poured directly over that soft flame she carried, in the form of two Knights flanking the Head Librarian.
“Ah, Milan. Come in girl, once Alessa arrives these gentlemen have some questions for us.”
Alessa came in nearly ten minutes later, any and all excuses dying on her tongue at the sight of the Knights waiting within the building. The senior of the two Knights wanted to conduct interviews in the break room, while the second Knight was ordered to wait in the main room with Alessa and Milan.
“They are not to speak to each other…” The elder growled to his subordinate, who offered a crisp salute before the Knight stalked away to the first interview with the Head Librarian. The door marked “Employees Only” squealed as it shut, the sound still hanging in the air when the remaining Knight sighed and leaned up against the front desk.
“Ladies, please forgive my associate for his rudeness. He has never had a gentle temperament, even in the best of times.” Alessa chirped back the polite platitudes, while Milan folded her arms and stared down at the hem of her dress. The Knight continued chatting amicably, lounging against the desk as he and Alessa traded commentary about the weather, the new year, and anything other than all the missing Knights everyone outside The Order was concerned about. Anxiety was winding her tighter and tighter, the polite bantering from the Knight scraping against her nerves the longer she had to stand and listen to it.
What game was he playing? This Knight had to know something, had to be under orders to keep quiet about the demon summoning, about how many were dead or injured, and who was who among all the missing. But all he did was stand and gab on as if this was just some social call, and not an interrogation where he was under direct orders to keep Alessa and Milan from speaking to each other for fear of them planning for their interviews. He must be trying to wheedle information from them, gauge how curious they were, how loyal their ties to The Order were, or—chills were chasing down Milan’s spine now—they knew that someone in this Library knew something, and this courteous Knight was the honey to tempt the culprit into slipping up, into revealing what she knew before she was sent through that door and—
“Milan?” Milan jumped like a spooked rabbit, Alessa bursting into startled laughter at her violent reaction. The Knight was giving her a curious look, and Milan feigned a yawn to give her a moment to formulate her excuse.
“Sorry, I had a late night.” Sparda’s Mercy, Alessa’s look was absolutely piercing in her hunger for new gossip. “I got my hands on some new books, and I stayed up reading them later than was wise.” As soon as the sentence ended, Milan was ready to kick herself. The Order might have been looking for missing books, and now was not the time to be declaring a love of reading within a Knight’s hearing.
Unfortunately, the Knight made her paranoia even worse by turning to Milan, and asking with an air of bright curiosity,
“Oh! You enjoy reading, Miss? What takes your fancy? Hopefully not those vulgar dime-store rags that are so popular with the tourist girls.”
“Oh, well… Recently, I’ve been reading—” Everyone jumped at the sound of knuckles rapping on the glass door of the Library, a tourist man in a brown suit scowling at them and the un-flipped closed sign. Milan grabbed at this excuse with both hands, curtsying to the Knight with an apology and hurrying away to see to the door. The lock squealed as she turned it, and Milan was just able to catch Alessa saying ‘... reading about Sparda; very pious, you know?’ before the elderly tourist was blustering in her face.
“What is the meaning of this?! Do you people realize that I only have a week to spend on this island?” Milan had to take a moment to parse what the man had actually said; he was speaking in strongly-accented English over Italian, and she had never excelled in the few classes she had been given on the language.
“I’m very sorry sir, but church um, business is—”
“What?” Milan sighed and dug through her memory to ensure she had the grammar right, speaking as clearly as she could.
“We will open soon, but now—”
“Oh, move aside girl. I’ll speak to the Head Librarian myself.” The man made to push past her, but Milan braced one hand against the doorframe and refused to budge. A snarl started to tug on the corner of her mouth, the building anger a welcome relief from the fear. As the man crowded into her personal space—trying to bully her into moving—Milan looked him square in the eye and let him see that she was in no mood to entertain him today.
“You understand me perfectly well, sir. We are closed now and will open soon, once our business is finished. Until then, enjoy Fortuna.” He turned absolutely red in the face, gripping the edge of the door and pointing a finger right at her nose as he sputtered,
“I’ll be reporting this; do you understand me?! I’ll report this whole facility to your little church!”
“Do have fun with that. And be sure to mention that you were interfering with the affairs of our ‘little church.’ I’m sure your stay will be much shorter for it.” Milan pulled on the door, wondering if he was stupid or angry enough to keep his fingers there while it was shutting. The man held his ground for a moment, before his nerve failed and he yanked his hand back. Straightening his suit jacket, he gave Milan a final sidelong look and sneered,
“I thought here, they trained their women to have some respect…”
“Oh, they do.” Respect; Milan could have spit. He was looking for subservience. Pliability. Meek obedience. “I’m disappointed the Mainland cannot claim the same for her men.” And she shut and locked the door.
The man tapped on the glass behind her—desperate to have the final word perhaps—but she didn’t give him a glance over her shoulder. Report them to The Order, Milan almost laughed; this was a library, it would not live or die on one presumptuous scholar’s whining, and she was no shop-girl whose pay hinged on her customer’s happiness. He could come back when they opened, or he could get sent off the island by revealing his meddling in Order business. The fire of righteous anger burned in her chest, eating away her anxieties, and giving her new confidence as she returned to the Knight. The Order had gotten their own members killed with their recklessness, and now they thought to sweep it all under the rug. Milan would not be another loose thread to be snipped away; whatever questions they might have, they hadn’t a shred of evidence that could link her to a crime. And without proof, there could be no investigation. They could not scare her, for she had nothing to be scared about.
Alessa was nodding excitedly at whatever the Knight was saying, the man halting what was probably a story about his knightly escapades within The Order to acknowledge Milan’s return, and glanced over her shoulder to comment,
“He’s still there…”
“I know.” Milan continued to ignore the man, still tapping away like a starving woodpecker beyond the locked door. “I told him that until The Order’s business was concluded, we were closed. It’s his business if he wants to waste his oh-so-precious time out there.”
The Knight chuckled, turning to Alessa and commenting in the sly tone of confidants,
“I see what you meant…” Clearly, Milan was supposed to ask what they had been discussing while she was dealing with the tourist, but Milan was done waiting around. Ducking behind the desk, Milan asked the Knight,
“You won’t mind if I start work, do you?” Who laughed again, and said that was just fine.
Milan cataloged a new shipment of books and flipped through the lists of requested texts, while Alessa and the Knight gossiped. They kept their voices just low enough when she was near to make Milan suspect they were talking about her, but with the angry fire fueling her movements and the investigation The Order was here for buzzing in the back of her mind, she found it difficult to care. Alessa could hardly say anything to incriminate her; the worst she had was that Milan read a lot of books on Sparda, and piety was certainly not a crime. Besides which, she was a librarian; a habit of reading would only be suspicious if absent from someone in her profession.
The new books were cataloged, tagged, and shelved. The requested texts located, labeled, and set aside. Milan had hunted through the shelves and put aside books she wanted for her own study—even as she still had quite a few checked out. She was now bustling behind the front desk, hunting for something to do to keep the fear from oozing back in, when the employees-only door squealed open. The Head Librarian walked out first, the Knight holding open the door and locking his gaze on Milan—the closest one to him.
“You next.” Milan straightened up and stepped through the doorway, swallowing hard as her heart pounded violently in her throat. The Knight let the door close behind them and stepped around her to take the lead, while Milan desperately clung to that flame that had been stoked inside her. They were the enemy, who had killed her friend’s brothers and husbands. They had no evidence, no reason to suspect her. She was only a young librarian and knew no more than her friends on what The Order was hiding. There was nothing they could do to her. They were her enemy, and should be scared of her.
The break room was cramped and constantly smelled of coffee. There were enough chairs for the three women who worked there, an icebox humming in one corner, and the well-worn coffee machine dripping in time with the leaky sink. The lights were the rather dull white of strong bulbs getting to the end of their days, flickering occasionally before brightening for a minute or two, only to drop back to their dimmer light. The Knight pulled out Milan’s chair for her, stiff-backed as if this was another military duty. Then he pulled out a slim file from a folder on the table, and sat across from her to begin the interrogation.
“Milan D’Atri, correct?”
“Parents declared deceased when you were three; records show you filed for emancipation from the Children’s Home that was sheltering you at fifteen, and are currently living alone and independently. Is this correct?” Was it just her, or did the man sound disapproving? Was her isolation evidence against her, as it left nobody to offer an alibi? Milan kept her head tipped at an angle that she hoped conveyed humility, while not appearing guilty. Her fire felt weak as a wet match against his overwhelming presence, but she tried to cling to it all the same.
“And you are seventeen now? Birthday, November fifteenth?”
“Yes, sir.” The Knight grunted once and flipped the file closed. Trading the file for a small notebook, he flipped to a clean page and pulled out a pen.
“When was the last time you have visited The Order’s archives, Milan?”
“Oh, I was assistant to The Head Librarian, when she had been summoned.” Milan recounted the tale, the Knight scribbling down the details intermittently—cold sweat trickling down her spine as he flipped between pages to cross-examine her account. At the end of her recollection, the Knight grumbled over his notes, his pen clicking intermittently between the fluttering pages. His bowed head shielded his expression, but the hard lines of his shoulders refused to relax from their military posture as he read and re-read his notations.
“Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary lately, either within the archives or within the library?”
“Not when I was down there, no. And nothing really out of the ordinary ever happens here.” Innocent confusion and deference to a Knight were what Milan strove to project; a simple little librarian who wouldn't dream of rising above her station to challenge The Order's might. But the Knight kept his cowled face turned to his notations, his stiff posture revealing no predilections towards her act.
"Is there anybody you have shared information on the archives with?" He didn't look up from his notes, his voice decidedly neutral as the lights above them hummed, brightening for one of Milan's terrified heartbeats.
They don't know. She chanted in her head, repeating her mantra with the devotion of prayer as she shook her head.
"No, of course not, sir."
The Knight let out a hum of his own, one that dripped with suspicion as he set down his pen and finally met her eye. He was getting on in years; frown lines drawn deep into his face, black beard liberally salted with grey, his pale eyes roaming over her face like unwanted hands. Projecting her best look of doe-eyed innocence, Milan met his stare and suppressed every urge to fidget in the silence.
"Have there been any new developments in your life?"
The question should have been light and casual, but his tone held all the weight of accusation. Milan took one breath to pretend to ponder, before shaking her head again and fighting to relax. If he wouldn't play the game of casual conversation, she would, and would do it better.
"Nothing, unless you count my neighbors' new baby. Poor thing is colicky, Sparda's mercy upon her." Her voice was pious and simpering, exactly what a good Fortuna girl would say. But face unchanging, the Knight leaned forward to ask,
"Are you sure? No new acquaintances? No boy you're courting? Anything at all significant." A boy; stronger, purer fear closed around Milan’s throat. Who had seen? They had been so careful since Vergil had moved in, and it had been months—last year—since she had been loaning him that book and spoke to him at lunchtime. All mutterings about her and a tourist had died down within the month they had sprung up, all thanks to how meticulous they had been. Vergil used his tricks to enter their home over using the front door. They rarely were seen in public together, and if they did happen to cross paths nobody could interpret their complete neglect to speak or glance each other’s way as familiar. But the Knight was glaring at her with such intensity, it was as if he could see every sin that stained her soul. To confess would be her end; unless he outright stated that The Order knew about her and Vergil, she would play the doleful cow that a Good Fortuna Girl was supposed to be.
“No, no new friends.” Her chest felt tight enough to pop, and a quick gasp made her sound remarkably close to tears. “And no boy either…” Milan ducked her head, dabbing at her eyes with her sleeve and sputtering an apology as she feigned tears over the horrible fate of being unfettered. “I’m terribly sorry sir, but I’ve been praying to Sparda for so long, and…” Another shaky breath, Milan squeezing her eyes closed as tightly as she could to milk out a tear or two. The Knight leaned back in his chair and fished out a kerchief, offering it to her without a hint of tenderness, voice stern to chastise her as if she was his own misbehaving child.
“Well, you’re still young, girl. Remain virtuous, and continue offering your heart to The Dark Knight. Sparda is merciful to all our human plights, and despite your liabilities, men are always looking for wives—as you women search for husbands.” Ah, that anger was kindled in Milan again, and she took the handkerchief more to hide her face, lest she give away the bluff. Her liabilities was it?! Her lack of a family would be such an inconvenience to any man who would deign to take her; if her husband perished in service to The Order before he had gotten her with child, his family would be stranded with a widow to house and remarry over shoving her back into the arms of her own family. This Knight hadn’t seen how her friends wept and prayed in Church yesterday—how dare he frame that as a husband’s burden to bear.
With a snap, her interrogator closed his notebook and rose, hand extended to retrieve his kerchief. Milan offered it back and was nearly toppled over as she tried to stand, as the Knight had marched around the table and yanked her chair back for her. Covering her fumble with a curtsy, Milan followed the Knight back into the Library proper.
Alessa was beaming from ear to ear for some reason when they re-entered the room, the Head Librarian giving Milan a keen look while the second Knight smiled at her like they were bosom companions over utter strangers. As Alessa vanished through the door with the elder Knight, the silence between the three remaining lasted only as long as it took for the squeal of the door to fade. Turning to Milan and clasping her elbow, the older woman tugged her before the Knight and rattled out with all the rote skill of a woman with several daughters,
“Milan, this is Knight Samuele Vitali. He’s twenty-three, and looking for a good girl to court.” She gave Milan a significant look, and after a moment of shock, she dipped into a curtsy. Knight Vitali bowed back, poised as a prince in a storybook while the Librarian rattled off details about Milan’s life to this stranger—half of which was clearly surmised from her own opinions over anything Milan ever told her. According to the woman who gripped her arm tighter than a crab with its dinner, Milan was a sad little orphan girl who was rough around the edges—as all those children are, with no proper family to raise them right—but had a passionate piety for Sparda and a keen mind that would, no doubt, make her a brilliant teacher for her future children—Milan had to duck her head so her expression wouldn’t give away the lie on that one. The woman even gave away her age and birthdate to this man, who nodded with the enthusiasm of an eager pupil while Milan stood stock still, and waited for it to be over.
Courting had always been the last thing on Milan’s mind, marriage a vague thing destined in her future that seemed more of a dark cloud than anything as she watched more of her friends disappear into it. And now that she had Vergil, the idea of dancing around the complex social rules of courtship—her own role as the pure maiden withdrawing from every touch until marriage was finally proposed… It made something sour sting the back of her throat, filled her with the impulse to yank her arm away from the vise that clutched it and tell this Knight to ignore everything being said.
But despite the role she was playing, the Head Librarian was not Milan’s mother; she was something far worse—her boss. A mother might castigate her daughter within the privacy of their home for ruining a potential courtship, but here, if Milan said anything disparaging, she might just be fired. So, she kept her head down and her mouth shut—while her boss and a strange man talked right over Milan’s head about her until the Knight’s partner returned Alessa.
From there, another five minutes were wasted as the senior of the pair grumbled to them about their responsibilities to The Order, how vital it was that they kept Order secrets within The Order, and on and on until finally the two Knights bowed, and left them to finally open the library to the public.
The day was slow, their late start and a new northern wind howling through the streets keeping most inside homes and hotels and bars over seeking higher learning. Which—thanks in part to Milan’s efforts before her own interview—left her co-workers with little work and in a position where they felt comfortable haranguing Milan at every possible turn about Knight Vitali.
“Honestly Milan, I know you never had a mother to teach you all this, but there is a difference between being demure, and being a statue!” Milan hummed noncommittally, and pried one of her books from her overstuffed bookbag.
“Isn’t he just, so handsome Milan?! You’re lucky I already have a few boys courting me, or I’d snatch him up for myself!” Nodding vaguely, Milan shook her pen as the ink threatened to run dry—did she even remember what that Knight looked like?
“I know you girls always pine after the younger boys, but honestly Milan, men are always preferable. Five years is a good difference between husband and wife; boys just don’t have the wisdom needed to guide a household and care for a woman.” For Fortuna, a five-year difference was quite average; but after Vergil, it seemed ancient.
No wonder so many husbands treat their wives like children…
"And you know," Alessa patted Milan on the shoulder, unintentional condescension staining every word. "As long as you're always sweet to them, lots of men like feisty wives!" Milan bit her tongue to keep from retorting, aggressively underlining a copied quote in an attempt to vent her anger. She never bothered to be sweet to Vergil, never coddled his ego to make him feel special compared to others. They spat at each other like cats when they first met, and that had become a friendship Milan wouldn’t have traded for anything. He kissed her no matter her temper, allowed her past barriers that nobody had before been permitted past—regardless of how sweet she had been to him compared to others.
The day dragged on, and Milan’s limited supply of patience was burned away by comment after comment about Knight Vitali and how best to cater to his wishes to land herself an engagement. She couldn’t help but compare every chastisement and recommendation towards her behavior to the Knight to how freely she could act around Vergil—how Vergil would scoff at the words of her co-workers, how dear he was to her compared to this stranger she was being shoved towards. Vergil thought the purity politics enforced on women were ridiculous—he had told her as much before they could even be described as friends. He was not threatened by her curiosity, and even praised her intelligence in his own, Vergil way. Her temper was never scolded, her swearing never chastised, her actions never controlled. He was conscious of her boundaries, careful of his words, and catered to her need to keep their relationship secret without any complaint.
By no means was he perfect—Milan would never had taken that title herself, in any case—but by Sparda’s own mercy Milan never had to constantly plan five steps ahead to tend to his masculine ego the way she was currently being schooled to do.
It made her furious; generally, viciously angry at Fortuna, her co-workers, Knight Vitali, Vergil, and most of all, herself. Vergil would leave, eventually. Even if she now knew he had no mother to return to, that he had a difficult relationship with his brother, Vergil was still a tourist. He had places to go, sights to see, and a life to live outside of the brief researcher’s pilgrimage he was currently taking. He would go, and Milan would stay. She would have to get married eventually, there would be no other option if she wanted to stay welcome within Fortuna society. Knight Vitali seemed as good a man as any Fortuna had to offer, and right now Milan wanted to spit every time she had to think about him.
If Vergil living in her home got out, Milan would be considered ruined—not worthy for any man to take to wife; now that she knew Vergil, all other men seemed ruined to Milan. None could be as witty, as delightfully acerbic, as handsome and proud while still being so shy when holding her hand. And she could think of none in Fortuna that could treat her with half as much respect as Vergil did.
Somehow, by some miracle of Sparda, Milan refrained from screaming at her co-workers by day’s end—thanks in part by the Head Librarian leaving as soon as the sign was flipped back to closed, allowing Alessa to flee off into the night with no protest from Milan. Milan spent hours cleaning alone, shouting and venting to the empty building until she finally burnt herself out; hurrying through her final duties before getting her bag, locking the door, and walking alone in the snow-muffled night.
A few drunk tourists hollered at her from across the street. Their leers following her flaming-red figure as she trudged through the white night, too emotionally drained to shout back insults and simply veering off course to avoid crossing their path. This day was a complete wash, and all Milan wanted now was to curl up on the couch with her cat on her lap and Vergil at her side to listen to her grievances.
When she finally got to her door, Milan was greeted warmly by her housemates. Leonardo chirped his own greeting as he rubbed against her ankles, and Vergil silently relieved her of her bookbag with his own subtle smile. Hanging up her cloak and setting her boots aside, Milan led her procession down the cramped hallway into the living room. Leo meowed piteously as Milan collapsed on the couch, while Vergil set her bookbag beside her and took his own seat.
“Would it be an inconvenience if we have an early dinner tonight?”
“I mean, my plan was to just eat last night’s leftovers, so I doubt it.” Milan patted her lap, relishing Leo’s purrs as he hopped up and made himself comfortable while Vergil allowed her to lean against his shoulder. “Why do you ask?”
“Because tonight, I intend to enter the archives for new material.” Vergil rested his head atop hers, nuzzling his cheek against the fabric of her cowl with a soft sigh of contentment. It would have made her heart melt, if she wasn’t so utterly horrified by what he just suggested. And with that silence, Vergil interpreted her reaction as something warranting the question, “Do you want to come as well?”
Milan twisted her head around until Vergil lifted his own, allowing her to stare up into his eyes and ask, tone void of any humor,
“My workday didn’t start until almost two hours past opening time, and do you know why?” Vergil’s brow creased, but Milan gave him no time to ponder. “Knights had come to the library and took us aside for questioning. To ask us about how much we know about the archives, what books it contains, and when we last visited. Or if we told anybody who had skills in burglary how to get in and out with a pile of incredibly valuable texts.”
There was another long, excruciating silence after that, where Leonardo was not given the adequate amount of petting and left Milan’s lap to go sulk on the windowsill in protest. Vergil started to shift his body away from hers, but Milan leaned back until her back was to his chest. Taking up his hands and pulling them across her body in a hug, Milan tried to project concern over anger. She had been the one who had concocted the notion of the first break-in; she had been the one to insist that if Vergil was as powerful as he claimed, there could be no fear of detection by bringing her along as a guide. That was her idea, and the consequences had finally hit them in the new year.
Slowly relaxing with their embrace, Vergil smoothed his thumbs over the back on Milan’s hands. “You don’t have to accompany me this time, and I will be as cautious as possible. But I need to find new books.”
“Do you need to, or just want to?” The question came out in much more of a grumble than she meant it to be, Vergil tensing up behind her.
“I need more information on Sparda’s power.” He was getting defensive now, drawing up and letting that arrogance of his coat his words. “And as your precious Order puts so much emphasis on my father’s swords, I decided that there may be some texts that deign to be more specific about their abilities.”
“After today, precious is not something The Order is to me.” That was a growl on Milan’s part, and after a beat of silence Vergil dropped his pretension.
“... I’m sorry, Milan.” Sighing, Milan sat up and fussed with her heavy winter skirts until she could face Vergil. Sliding her arms about his shoulders, Milan briefly touched her forehead to his.
“Thank you, but I need to apologize too—” A short shake of Vergil’s head cut her short.
“No, you don’t. Your day was disrupted by church authorities putting you under a small-scale inquisition; you don’t need to be an accessory to burglary as well.”
“Again.” She quipped, then giggled as she added, “Though, as that first time was my idea, you were more the accessory than I was.”
“Even though I performed all the necessary actions for that little stint of breaking and entering…” His tone was deadly serious, but the small quirk to the corner of his mouth gave away the joke. Leaning in to meet that tiny smile with a kiss, Milan conceded,
“Well, I guess you were some rather useful muscle for the operation…” Vergil was warm and solid against Milan, his mouth soft and movements gentle as his hands rested on her waist. Milan melted slowly against him, pulling him further and further down until they lay across the length of the couch, Vergil a comfortable weight over her as they kissed. When they finally separated Milan had tossed her cowl aside, and Vergil’s own hair was a rather wild mess that he was slow to fix with Milan’s fingers still lazily carding through it. The silence they were left in now was an easy, companionable one; one Milan didn’t feel the need to break until Leo returned to them, climbing up the back of the couch to investigate what they were doing.
“You’re still going to go to the archives tonight, aren’t you?” Vergil kept his eyes on Leonardo, but nodded once before quietly insisting in his usual rumble,
“I need those books…”
“Fine, then let me up.” She pushed at his shoulders, sitting up as he freed her from his weight. “We’ll eat now, then I’m taking a nap. Wake me up at midnight; we’ll go then.” She could stand up at this point—Vergil clearly about to protest—but she turned on her heel before he could get a word out, gliding into the kitchen with Leo on her heels. “Well come on, are you eating or what?”
It was so much like the first, but experience made the journey both more mundane, and exponentially more exciting. Milan walked through dark side-streets and alleyways unpopular with tourists, Vergil overhead using his trick to move silently across the ice-slicked rooftops. Members of the Guard patrolled in pairs, who were spotted by Vergil upon his perches before he appeared by Milan’s side, and led her out of their path lest they detain her under suspicion of prostitution. They moved together with hardly a word between them, working as a single unit as they traced through Fortuna’s streets to reach their mark.
Tourists occupied the main square, most various levels of drunk and fumbling with their cameras to snap pictures of their friends against the illuminated facade of the church. These people were to be avoided, but instead of Vergil hefting Milan in his arms to start scaling the building, Vergil led her around the back to hunt through snow drifts and buried shrubbery. Further from the street lights, the night sky far too cloudy to provide even weak illumination, Vergil summoned one of his glowing swords to light his way.
Struggling to push through the untrod snow with skirts weighing her down and cloak dragging behind her like a bridal train, Milan did her best to keep up. Vergil teleported to the other side of a low hedge, and crouched down to fuss with something low to the ground under his magic’s blue light.
“When did you find a new way in?” Vergil peered over his shoulder, face wrinkling in concern as he saw that Milan was still struggling to reach the hedge and had no way over it. He stood and offered both hands, only to take her by the waist and lift her directly over the barrier and by his side. The roof of the building shielded that part of the grounds from snowfall, leaving the dead grass cold but dry as Milan shook herself free of the clotted snow and examined the small window Vergil had been fiddling with. It had once opened out over the frozen grass as a point of ventilation for whatever room lay below; now with its top hinges snapped clear off, leaving a small hole for them to enter through and a glass pane still in its frame leaning on the wall beside it.
“What do you think I do all day, after chores are done and you’re still hours away from coming home?” Milan crouched down, trying to peer down into the darkness the open window led to.
“Wait for me to come back.” Vergil scoffed, so she added, “Just sitting by the door all day, like the saddest of puppies.” Huffing in disdain as he offered a hand to help her up, Vergil countered in a most superior of tones—despite the fact that he was living on her couch,
“I have a life outside of you.”
“Mmm, no you don’t.” And she kissed Vergil’s pouting mouth to punctuate the joke. “So, how high up is this window from where you want me to land?”
Vergil took a moment to answer, blushing and scowling simultaneously before he knotted his sword to his belt and smoothed out his expression.
“High enough. I’m going in first, and then you slide through the window. I’ll catch you.” Then he was gone, his light source bursting into pieces with the dark cloud he left behind. For a heartbeat, Milan was in total darkness, but before her eyes had a chance to adjust a new source of blue light came to life near her feet. Crouching back down and peering through the window frame, she could see Vergil and his new glowing sword standing… Quite a way below her. Vertigo started to creep up on her, so she snapped her eyes away and tried to blindly fit herself through the window.
After a few attempts at fitting all her skirts through the hole, she elected against falling feet first. But she just could not get more than her head and shoulders through the window before seizing up. Her whole body refused to tip forward, her fingers locked in a death grip on the frigid window frame.
“Milan…” Vergil called from below, so far below that Milan could only crack open her eyes for a second before snapping them shut again. “You need to fall. I promise, I will catch you.”
She knew that. Of course, he would catch her—there was no fear on that front. But even with a heart void of doubt towards him, she simply could not make herself fall into that empty space. Even knowing who was below to catch her, the idea chilled her blood and made her horribly nauseous.
“Vergil… Could—I think I need you to give me a tug to get me—” A navy cloud of smoke suffocated her sentence, and leaving only sensation as a hand grabbed up the back of her dress along with a handful of her cloak, another swiping her hands off the frame. The motion was so fluid, she didn’t realize she had let go until she was pulled through the window in a single tug. Smoke was still in her throat, so her scream was more of a strangled cough as she went head over heels, until she was firmly wrapped up in a pair of unmovable arms and they both started to fall. For a few terrifying feet, they fell straight down, until the heavy sound of impact on stone jarred through Milan’s teeth and they were sent sailing through the air away from the wall.
At this point, the cloud has cleared enough for her to let out a shriek of panic, burying her face in Vergil’s chest and waiting for it to be over. Had it been this nerve wracking the first time?! She had remembered some vertigo and impossible flips, but what stood out the most among those memories was being so wonderfully close to Vergil, and wishing that her affections were not hitting the human equivalent of a stone wall. Milan decided then and there to never, ever let herself forget how much stomach-churning gymnastics breaking and entering involved—no matter how many fascinating books she received or how much time she got to spend in Vergil’s arms.
Their journey ended in a long slide across the stone floor, the awful sound of the rough stone scraping against the hard soles of Vergil’s boots painful to hear. When it all finally stopped Milan dared crack an eye open, to see Vergil as his usual perfect self, looking down at her with his head quirked in his form of worry. She, of course, was an absolute mess of petticoats—with the bookbag twisted around her torso and her cowl pulled crooked over her head. Kicking her feet until she was set down, Milan straightened out her clothes while Vergil wandered back to the window, and unwrapped something set against the wall.
Opening up a bundle of old, heavy canvas, Vergil uncovered the Knight uniform and sword he had stolen from his little jaunt to Fortuna Castle last year. In less than a minute, Vergil was passably disguised as a young Knight, and offered her his arm in a most gentlemanly fashion.
“Um, I know Knights can get away with a lot,” Milan linked her arm with his, Vergil leading her up some wooden stairs to a poorly fitted door. “But I don’t think they’re allowed to just escort unknown women around confidential spaces.”
“Nobody should even know you’re here.” Vergil assured, giving the door a small shove. It squealed horribly, revealing that its lopsided nature was from a broken hinge and a shattered lock. “The uniform allows me to scout ahead, but the passages we will be taking are mainly service corridors. And at this time, the ones we need will be empty.” They stepped into the hallway, path lit by Vergil’s magical light, and began their trek to the archives.
Just as Vergil promised, the majority of their travels lead them through bleak, unadorned janitorial passages, emptier than a ransacked tomb and eerily silent. Nobody spotted their blue light, nobody accosted Vergil whenever he was forced to step into the proper corridors. It was too easy—especially after being questioned all morning about her interactions with the archives—and yet they made it to the stairway they needed without a single scare. Even the archive's door was unlocked, gliding open silently on hinges oiled and polished to a gleam.
This was where Vergil became cocky, strutting into the dusty room with Milan on his arm, his razor thin grin just visible around the edge of his cowl. One step towards the shelves; all they managed was a single step, before a man’s voice split the silence.
“In the name of The Dark Knight Sparda, reveal yourself!” Milan’s blood froze in her veins, Vergil’s hand moving immediately to his side before he relaxed his hand, released Milan, and in a gesture ordered her to stay put. Heels echoing upon the polished floor, Vergil stepped around the shelves towards the voices, and received three placated responses.
“Oh, another one.”
“Didn’t they say they’d stop sending the newbie’s our way?”
“Well, where else are they going to put them? Come on down kid, pull up a chair.”
Vergil’s footsteps traveled to the very back of the archives, the clamor of voices bleeding into one another as Milan fumbled for a new plan. Vergil was now the distraction; the Knights made no mention of a secondary figure with him, so they had most likely heard their entrance over observing them enter. Vergil had gone to the right of the shelves, and was currently against the far wall of the archives, or close to it. The books they were after would be shelved in the fifth row, somewhere in the middle of the stacks.
Every movement was painful, every beat of her heart loud enough to be mistaken for thunder. But she crouched down, and lifted her skirts over her knees. The knots on her boots were still damp with melted snow, and her hands shook as she struggled to unknot them. And while she struggled, the Knights chatted with Vergil.
“So, new meat, what’d they call you?”
“Well Emilio, welcome to guard duty. Easiest job in The Order.”
“Cheers to that!”
Milan stepped out of her boots, and onto the polished floor. Her stockings were silent, and if she held her skirts, they were quiet enough to not be heard by the Knights at the other end of the room. Slowly, painfully slowly, she crept towards the shelves.
“Call. So, my brother, right? His superior gets leprosy or something from that monster, and who gets promoted?”
“Call. Not him.”
“Of course not! Bloody Sanctus, whose palms were he greasing to jump him all the way to Supreme General?!”
“Well…” That was Vergil, the severity of his voice completely out of place among the casual complaints and companionship of the other Knights. “So many members perished at the hands of that demon, from high and low on the ladder—and nature abhors a vacuum…”
Back pressed up to the closest of the bookshelves, Milan buried her face in her hands in the following silence—smothering her ability to curse Vergil’s dramatics down into Hell. But the tension broke with a roar of laughter from the other Knights,
“Sparda’s own blade, you are new!”
“Oh, I remember when I took it all that seriously…”
“Here, kid. Drink, and you’ll start to realize that not everything is as serious as the higher-ups want you to think it is.”
Milan crept up past the rows, keeping to the left side and as far from the Knights. She passed the second row, third, fourth…
“Alright Emilio, call or fold?”
“I… Um… Fold.”
She made it to the fifth row, slipping along the isle as closely to the bookcase as she could, hunting for the correct notations on the brass placards that marked each shelf.
“Three of a kind.”
“Ugh, double pair…”
“Alright, your turn to deal. And Emilio, what’d you have?”
The books were thick, the leather covers old and cracking on many of them, the pages sharp and yellowed. Their weight strained her back and the stitches she had used to reattach her bookbag’s strap, but every book she could reach was added to her cache.
“Emilio why, in any layer of Hell, would you fold when you had a straight flush?!”
“I’m not familiar with this game...”
“Then I’ll help, since I’m dealer this round.”
She could fit no more in her bag, so she stacked the remaining books that seemed relevant in her arms. Slowly, so slowly since she could not hold her skirts to silence them, Milan started for the door.
“Hey, Siro. Whatever happened to that girl of yours?”
“Eh, her father made it clear that he wanted someone higher up the ladder for his son-in-law.”
“Damn shame, she was such a lovely thing…”
“Well, plenty of other flowers to pick. And you?”
“Haven’t spoken about an engagement to her father, but her mother absolutely dotes on me.”
“That’s where it really is. Charm the mother, you get the father.”
“Easy for you to say, Mario, you’ve already got—”
There was a horrible, heavy crash somewhere behind Milan, amongst the shelves, and it made her heart stop. Did she improperly set the remaining books? She had been so careful, how could enough of the heavy books tumbled to the floor, to create such a cacophony?! All playful conversation ceased, chairs shrieked and thumped from where the voices had so casually drifted from.
Milan was frozen for a painstaking heartbeat, before she forced herself to move. The floor was slick under her stockings, threatening to trip her at every step. She could hear the engines of Order swords growling in the back of the archives, terse commands barely audible over the pounding in her ears. But all Milan saw were her boots by the door. That was her goal. Reach her boots, and she would reach the door.
Something dark and drifting flickered in the corner of her eye, but she ignored it. It must have been smoke from one of Vergil’s tricks, because nobody was shouting orders for her to set the books down. The back of her neck prickled painfully as she was forced to stop and blindly shove her boots onto her feet, but that was her terror putting every nerve on a razor’s edge. Her feet were in the boots, just a few steps to reach the door—
An absolutely blood-curdling scream split the tense quiet they had all been lingering in, and Milan bolted. She thundered up the stairs, no summoned sword to light her way and desperately praying on every step that she wouldn’t trip over her loose laces. She did almost fall when she reached the first landing, just managing to catch herself and the pile of books weighing her down before she followed the guardrail over to the wall. Curling up in one of the alcoves that lined the landing, Milan huddled up with her books and waited for Vergil.
Darkness made time both impossibly slow, and terrifyingly fast. Her heart was still pounding, her breath still coming in horrible gasps. And every hair on the back of her neck stood ramrod straight, as with every agonizing breath Milan took, she was more and more certain that someone was standing over her.
She could see nothing in the darkness, but as her eyes fought to adjust Milan was sure that she could pick a darker figure out of the shadows. It was so hard to hear past her own strained breathing, but somewhere she knew that under that, there was a set of slow, calm breaths just brushing the top of her cowl. Milan had no weapon on her person, her only armor a stack of ancient tomes against whoever, whatever might be before her…
Milan took one deep, shuddering breath to steady herself. She slid one of her feet forward. Just an inch. Then another. Then another. On and on until she had nearly completely extended her leg, and had met no resistance. Extending one shaking hand, she poked at empty air. Nothing. Nothing was before her.
Then why did she still feel as though she was some unwitting subject, about to be sliced open on the dissection table?
Just as that gruesome thought finished rolling through her head, a blue light made itself known from the base of the stairs. Relief poured over Milan in an instant, banishing any fear of unseen observers with that familiar glow, and the man she knew was following after it. With the weight of fear lifted off her shoulders, Milan hefted the very real weight of books in her arms and rose from her hiding spot.
When Vergil met her on the landing, his face crumpled in a displayed of concern she had never witnessed from him before. He looked her over as if hunting for some injury, taking the books from her arms automatically and pressing a kiss to her forehead when he determined she was whole.
“Thank God…” He whispered, his breath carrying the sweetly sour fumes of grappa. Milan swayed forward, and with her cheek to the rough fabric of his stolen uniform she asked,
“What was that? That scream?”
“Not a clue. But now that I know it wasn’t you, it made for quite a distraction.” And that was clearly enough for Vergil, as he gave her back the stack of books—freeing his hands to scoop her up in both arms and start to carry her up the stairs. Milan wanted so badly to protest, to question if he had felt whatever had warned him of the demon summoned in Fortuna castle, to ask what it could have been if neither human or demon.
But stress had wrung her absolutely dry, and even in Vergil’s arms she still shivered at the deeply uncomfortable sensation of being scrutinized by an unseen stranger’s eyes. So, she tucked her cheek against Vergil’s shoulder and, with what little amount of humor she could muster, asked,
“How do you reach the age of seventeen, and not know how to play cards?”
Well, this has been an absolute trip, and I am blown away every day by how many people read, leave kudos, and comment on this fic. It truly boggles my mind that so many people enjoy this piece, and I'm humbled by the love I've been given with every chapter.
Unfortunately, I have run out of chapters that are pre-written, and knowing me and my writing speed, I wouldn't be able to write and edit a new chapter bi-weekly without it being an absolute train wreck.
And so, I am taking a hiatus from today (June 25th, 2019) to the first Tuesday of September (September 3rd, 2019). By then, I will have another passel of chapters written, edited, and waiting in the wings for you all to enjoy, and I dearly hope it will be worth the wait.
I will still be replying to any lovely comments that appear and will strive to keep everyone abreast of anything that might change the duration of my hiatus, but until then, I leave you all with this:
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everyone who has read this fic. Thank you to the thoughtful, kind, and encouraging comments that have been given to me for every chapter. Thank you to those who give this fic kudos, and thank you to the readers who just give this piece a chance, whatever your final opinion on it is.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I will see you all in the comments, and deliver more of these two kids and their nonsense in September~!
Sitting on Milan’s ancient sofa, Leonardo purring in his lap and Milan herself a warm weight against his shoulder, Vergil realized that he was happy.
Happy in a way he had not noticed he had been missing; hunger pains he had forgotten to feel—had numbed himself to since he was eight.
Eight—the ignorant years of his childhood—had been the years of happiness. Oh, of constant annoyance towards Dante as well; of frustration at how slowly he was growing, of pouting when mother wouldn’t let them stay up late, of awe he could barely comprehend as father slowly revealed his more impressive powers to his sons, and explained to them how they were different from the other people who shared the world with them. But of simple, childish happiness as well. Of sitting on father’s shoulders to watch a performer in the park, of eating cookies he helped mother make, of discovering something new and fascinating with Dante during their romps around the manor grounds. All thoroughly cauterized out of him when the demons came, and showed him a glimpse of Hell in his burning home.
From then on, Vergil did not think in terms of “happiness.” He thought in terms of survival, and if pressed for happiness would gesture to the smooth silk of his clothes, the grand hotels he roomed within, and the satisfaction of knowing others looked on in envy at the figure he cut. Happiness as excess, as things wanted over needed, and sadness the cold frustration when he squandered his money and had to struggle for a new fistful to spend.
Dead, empty things. That was what he had strove to fill his soul with. And when he could think of no other extravagances to want, he turned to knowledge—on affirming his glorious legacy and armoring himself by strengthening the only things that could shield him from what was truly dangerous in the world; the demonic powers that pulsed through his blood, and sang from his sword. That had been all he could conceive of as happiness for almost a decade, and now…
Milan’s house was often cold, and hard winds made the only window rattle and leak. The fridge was often on the verge of emptiness, and the worn-out couch he slept on was nowhere near long enough for him to completely stretch out. He had no money to spend, and extra effort had to be taken—on top of his daily chores—to keep the silks he did possess in good shape.
But Vergil was so, so, so happy living with Milan.
Happier than he had a right to be, living in her home with no contributions to offer her to their living situation. Jobs in Fortuna were exclusive to citizens, and Vergil’s own skills in demon-killing was something he took great pains to conceal from the general population. Humans never took his powers well, and whether the response was fear or adulation the result was always incredibly tiresome. Humans, except for Milan. She had seen his powers, and teased him for it. Shown as much interest in them as she might show towards someone’s skill in juggling. Treated him no different than any other man who was fortunate enough to catch her eye.
She was more than Vergil deserved, and he had nothing to give back; no money to ease the burden of housing him, all his skills in cooking and housekeeping taught by her hand. He didn’t even ease her load to a meaningful degree—Milan always returned from her work and took up the chores she had promised to take on; no matter that Vergil was home all day and she could easily have assigned such tasks to him. And in return for all that Vergil was a burden, Milan made him feel… Happy.
She made him laugh with her dry wit, stretched his mind in discussions that could last for hours, warmed his side with her body and helped her cat feel comfortable enough to rest on his lap. She now glanced aside at him while she read, and when she knew she had caught his eye leaned her head towards his in invitation of a kiss. One he took with relish, marveling at how intimate such a gesture felt after so many years of complete isolation from human touch. Touch first avoided out of fear, then of arrogance. His body was that of Sparda, of a legendary demon knight, and superior in every aspect towards any human that walked the Earth. With Milan, her mouth soft and sweet under his and her hand absently smoothing down his hair, it was hard to remember why he had ever thought himself worthy of such a pedestal. To conceive of why he would starve himself of such nourishment as simple, human touch.
When they separated, Milan returned to her book, and Vergil returned to stroking Leonardo. His own books—the ones stolen at great risk to both of them, explicitly for him to study—lay open on the arm of the couch, pages unturned. His journal sat closed on his knee, pen still capped as he carded his fingers through Leo’s tawny fur. The research that had been so vital, the urge to consume knowledge so crucial to be near manic, only rarely drifted through his mind.
What filled his head now, was Milan. Was Leonardo. Was the house he had no right to live in, and yet was allowed into nevertheless. Vergil had to make sure this went right. This, being everything he had managed to stumble into; which had turned his life around in a direction he had never conceived of, and now could not bear the thought of living without. It pained him to reflect on his earlier interactions with Milan, because all he could see was stumble after stumble that any sane person would have used as an excuse to break all ties with him.
He needed to be better. Whatever Milan saw in him that encouraged her to keep him in her house, he needed to be nothing but that. He needed to somehow compensate for the burden he put on the household, find what made him so appealing to keep around, and keep his head down elsewhere to remove The Order’s suspicions from her. His mind hummed with all he needed to do, keeping him up long into the night as the house settled around him.
Morning came slowly, the sky overcast and Vergil only able to drag himself about the kitchen thanks to the steaming mug in his hand. They ate toast topped with the last of the eggs, caffeine leaching just far enough into Vergil’s system to allow him to focus on Milan.
“So,” Milan crunched through the last of her toast, tipping back her own coffee before she took her dishes to the sink. “I can take on the sweeping and vacuuming. Are you okay with laundry and mopping?”
Vergil pushed around his egg on the plate, watching the yolk ooze into the corner of his lazily nibbled toast. Leonardo was in the corner of the kitchen chomping through his own breakfast, while grey and white filled the window in the living room.
“Yes… What about the bathroom?” Milan gave her dishes a final rinse and set them on the counter, drying her hands off on a corner of the washrag they rested on.
“Oh, um… You did it last time, so it’s my turn.”
“It’s no bother to do it again.” Vergil half-mumbled, tipping back the dregs of his coffee and repressing a flinch as Milan stepped up from behind and pecked him on the cheek.
“No, it’s my turn.” She smoothed a hand over his hair, and detoured to give her cat a scratch behind the ears before gliding upstairs to finish getting ready for work. Vergil stared down at his plate and cursed the sudden pounding of his heart, hating that his body would still treat Milan like an enemy. Like surprise advances made on his person could only be made to harm him.
Milan would never hurt me.
Vergil mouthed this to himself, forcing down the rest of his food and letting the steaming water pour over his hands as he washed his plate. Leonardo finished his breakfast, and hopped up onto Vergil’s abandoned chair to give himself a thorough bath. Upstairs, Vergil could hear the sink running in the bathroom.
There is no reason to cower, when all she does is give you a kiss.
He liked Milan’s kisses. He had spent months fantasizing about them, and he relished every one given and received. But for some reason, whenever she approached him the wrong way—came at him from behind, gave him a kiss or affectionate squeeze when he wasn’t expecting it—his whole body shuddered and tensed as if he was about to be launched into battle. It was ridiculous; Vergil had walked into the bowels of a mountain with the intention of fighting a demon lord, had gone on two missions breaking into the heart of a chapel’s forbidden archives to seek information on his father—For God’s sake, Vergil had been the one to initiate the first kiss between himself and Milan! He dropped his plate on the drying rag beside Milan’s and violently shook his hands dry, shoving back the locks of hair that had fallen into his eyes.
Why was he like this?! What was wrong with him—so at ease with Milan as to feel true happiness, only to recoil from her touch as if she was another bloodthirsty demon…
Leonardo had finished his tongue bath, and slithered across the floor to rub against Vergil’s ankles. The cat purred and rolled onto the floor to show Vergil his belly, thick tail twitching as mischief gleamed in the animal’s eyes. Sighing, Vergil allowed the shadow of a smile to touch his mouth and crouched down to pet Leo. Milan swept down the stairs to see Vergil scuttling his fingers across the floor, Leonardo swatting this way and that to try and catch him without leaving his sprawled position. Stepping up to where the two of them played, Milan stooped down to give her cat his farewell pets before she met Vergil’s eyes. He touched one finger to her cheek, lighter than a butterfly, before they exchanged their goodbye kiss.
“Have a good day Milan.”
“You too Vergil. See you tonight.”
And with that, Vergil had the house to himself—except for the cat at his feet letting out annoyed chirps because his playtime had stopped. Vergil spent a few more minutes teasing Leo, but had to eventually step over the cat and start his own morning routine. A warm bath, fresh clothes, and his bedding folded at the foot of the couch to be used that night—Vergil was feeling much more collected when he started on his chores. And if he straightened up the bathroom more than was strictly necessary, or got out broom and vacuum for downstairs, it was only because Milan would appreciate having less chores when she got home.
When he was finished for that day, Vergil tidied up the kitchen—what they agreed was a shared responsibility—and nibbled on another slice of toast as he settled onto the couch and pulled out his journal. Hauling up one of the new tomes onto his knees, Vergil clicked his tongue a few times until Leo sauntered over and settled himself in the space left on Vergil’s lap, before he popped the cap off his pen and opened the book.
Lo, Sparda. The Dark Knight of all Legends. Who awoke Himself to justice and integrity, and through great and noble sacrifice, saved humankind from the scourge of His demon brethren.
The text was an ancient demonic script, the pages thick and humming ever so gently with the power of the language. Vergil spun the pen between his fingers, skimming over the introduction in a hunt for something about Sparda’s weapons. Usually, he reveled in all praises heaped upon his father, but in this moment the endlessly familiar words just allowed his mind to wander.
Shearing all ties with The Demon King Mundus, Prince of Darkness, that beast who bestowed Sparda with His own Knighthood, Sparda battled all the armies of Hell, and beat them back from the human world.
Time moved slower than the snowflakes that fell beyond the window. The only sound that filled the room was the hum of Leo’s purrs and the occasional scuff as Vergil’s pen nib grazed a blank page of his journal.
Each gate to the demon world was closed … The Hellgate stands testament to His great and marvelous power … After centuries of wandering, Sparda elected the blessed island, Fortuna, to be His seat …
Does Milan notice that I sometimes flinch when she comes near me? Does she resent that I have no money to offer? What could I do to help ease the burden I impose on her?
The pen was left in the gutter of his journal, Vergil’s hand instead occupying itself with stroking Leonardo’s tawny ears as his mind fretted itself deeper and deeper into the abyss. He could, possibly, sell that useless gun-box Pandora had become—currently shoved under the couch and gathering dust—to The Order. Underground individuals who were knowledgeable of the demon world often whispered about how much this island cult was willing to pay for devil arms and items of demonic origin—it turned Vergil’s stomach to think of how much The Order would be willing to pay for possession of Yamato, or even himself as one of Sparda’s heirs. But the threat The Order still posed to Milan was very real in Vergil’s mind, easily negating any allure the money might have.
Very little research was done that night. And for the rest of January, Vergil slowly started taking on more and more of the chores Milan had given herself when household duties were divided between them each week. The stolen books sat unused beside the sofa, Vergil flipping through old pages of his journal in the spaces between discussions on Sparda, Milan’s work, or how slowly the snow took to melt. February arrived damp and cold, but Vergil could hardly notice with Milan at his side and Leonardo pressed between them.
There was nothing that could dim the persistent glow Vergil carried within him, his anxieties alleviated with every extra task he took up while Milan was away. With every load of laundry completed, every pass of the mop, every little thing Milan had assigned to herself that week completed before she even stepped back through the door, Vergil felt assured that nobody could be as thoughtful and compassionate a partner as he. It was a rush of ego, just as he felt after a battle—where he had not simply been victorious over his enemies, but had been perfect in every stylish slash and trick.
“Did you do all the laundry while I was out?” Milan would ask, and Vergil would be unable to fight a smile as he nodded and played at being casual.
“I needed a break from research.” And Milan would settle down on the couch, pressing a sweet, grateful kiss to his lips before cracking open her most recent book and calling Leonardo to her lap. Vergil would glance towards his own stack of books, but even in the rare moments where he attempted to study one, his mind would inevitably drift to Milan. What else could he do? What else did she need from him? How could he ensure that he was the best partner this woman could have?
These questions just disrupted his calm, and eventually he set the book aside and turned his attention to Milan. It was easier to feel secure in this new relationship when he rubbed Milan’s shoulders, or slipped his arms about her middle and got to listen to her soft sounds of contentment as her head rested under his chin. Vergil even got bold enough to comb his fingers through Milan’s hair, his heart jumping into his throat at the delighted purring sound she made as he toyed with her curls.
“Do you know how to braid hair?” She asked after a minute. Vergil hadn’t the slightest idea, and the rest of the night was spent learning the ins and outs of braiding while Milan sighed and giggled as Vergil muttered crossly at any result that did not reach his standards. Vergil learned a lot about long hair that night, and experienced just how much Milan loved to have her hair combed and toyed with as they kissed.
The boundaries between their bodies were slowly dissolving as the month wore on, moving from slow shy kisses to much more wild and frantic things. Vergil gave up wearing his coat inside the house, while Milan took to wearing shift and dressing gown much earlier in the night—shuddering with delight as Vergil trailed his fingers up her thigh and tangled his hands in her hair. They recreated their first kiss, Vergil far less shy and Milan delighted at how long he could effortlessly hold her up against the wall. They stretched out as far as they could on the couch, Milan’s bare legs straddling his waist and their fingers intertwined for what felt like hours. Once, Vergil stripped to the waist while Milan sat in his lap, his amulet gleaming red and gold upon his breastbone. For a moment, Milan paused as her eyes lit with recognition, a finger trailing over the chain and smoothing over the gem’s surface. Vergil thought—throat tightening at the very idea—that Milan would move to take the pendant off, but instead she dipped her head and pressed her open mouth against his neck. It took all of Vergil’s will not to jump at the sensation of teeth, but something in his demeanor had given him away all the same.
“What? Don’t like that?” He didn’t even have time to answer before she looked him full in the face, nodded once like his impassible expression was a plainly worded sentence, and pecked his cheek with an apology sweet with sincerity. She was so perfect, and Vergil was in an uphill battle to repay how happy she made him.
It was that night, in the frozen center of February, that his nightmares truly returned. His dreams were inescapable, and the subject matter often upsetting, but a nightmare left him paralyzed under his blanket. Left him shivering in a cold sweat, a scream harder than a fist in his throat while visions of blood and fire danced over the familiar shadows of Milan’s living room. It took several minutes for him to reach some semblance of normal breathing. For him to trust himself to open his aching jaw without a scream escaping to disturb Milan. His body ached with tension as he forced himself to sit upright, knuckles white as they clenched Yamato’s hilt.
Vergil got dressed. He bundled himself up in slacks, vest, ascot, coat, and boots under the pale light of a summoned sword and drew up one of his stolen books. He freed his journal from where it was last wedged into his trunk several weeks ago, and whispered a curse as his hands shook while uncapping the pen. Milan was still asleep, and Vergil thanked whichever god cared that he had managed to wake up silently—not come to his senses with Milan completely winded thanks to an errant, senseless blow from him. Leonardo was upstairs in Milan’s room, practically the moon in terms of what comfort the cat could offer him. So Vergil was left to his own devices, as he had been all his life. And what soothed nightmares of blood and demons then, was assurances in Sparda’s—and therefore his—power.
The bookmark left him in the middle of a dry monologue about the power of the Rebellion, and Vergil skipped directly through the section with no remorse. The heavy pages rustled through his fingers in a rhythmic, soothing wave, taking him from Rebellion, through diagrams of two unknown swords—one rather generic and the other a fleshy, gruesome scythe—to his destination. Yamato.
The diagrams were detailed beautifully, and with a love one could only apply to an object of worship; yet Vergil could see where features had been missed—perhaps unseen altogether by whatever artist or scribe had rendered the image. The shape of the guard was incorrect, the designs rendered upon kojiri and kashira absent, even the length and knot of the sageo was completely inaccurate. But the name was correct—all the names of Yamato rendered in beautiful calligraphy, neighboring a passage that Vergil eagerly dove into with pen and fresh page at the ready.
Yamato; The Sword of Judgement, Sparda’s purveyor of Great Harmony. Forged of Darkness, the tool used to make the first stroke in sealing the Realm of Demons from the World of Humans.
Vergil frantically scratched notes, drinking in the incredible feats Sparda had accomplished with Yamato’s might, and relishing the thrill of revealing just how much power he had left to unlock. He read of his father performing the reality warping cuts Vergil could produce; of how in Sparda’s hand, Yamato was strong enough to carve through dimensions. That was how Sparda sealed so many portals leading between Hell and Earth, one whole page dedicated to a sketch on the monolith known as the “Hell Gate” in the center of Fortuna. Vergil had to pause his notes to reread a certain passage, which described Sparda swinging Yamato in the space before him and carving a tear in nothingness, which he stepped through as casually as one might a door—the rift sealing up behind him without a trace of his passing.
This was a skill Vergil had never considered. Taking Yamato’s power, and instead of focusing his will into the speed of the cut, allowing himself to feel for how keen she could be under his hand. A blade honed under his power to be sharp enough to cut through the fabric of existence.
The night air bit as savagely as any demon, wind screaming by with shards of ice burrowing into his skin. Vergil ignored it all, and teleported to the next rooftop. And the next, and the next, all leaving behind a breath of dark blue smoke that was dashed to nothingness by the February gales. His teleportation—his tricks—was a skill both practical and stylish. Convenient for escape and attack, dodges and advances, misdirection and decoys. But it had its limits. Vergil could only teleport so far in any given trick, and though the distance slowly increased as he grew more experienced, a quarter inch or so every two years was nothing exciting. Teleporting into places he had not seen before was simply impossible, and even highly detailed pictures or even video images of a space could throw him off enough to make him over or undershoot his target. Or—and Vergil felt the phantom stab of agony through his left leg, just by brushing against the old memory—leave part of himself sunk into a piece of wall or furniture.
But if he could master Yamato enough to carve himself through space itself, travel would never be an issue again. He would not need to carefully time teleports and know when certain people would be in certain hallways to sneak about in Order buildings. He could cut himself right into whatever bar Dante was lounging in, slice him to ribbons, and be back in Milan’s home before she even woke up. All he had to do was make the right cut. Find the proper angle, feel where space and time stirred from humanity's' collective breath, and hone Yamato’s perfect edge against the whetstone of his power for a single, superb strike.
He stopped atop the grand central cathedral, poised against the screaming winds and gazing over the empty streets, feeling for his inner calm. That level of perfect concentration—where Vergil was one with not only his sword, but with the demonic power that burned within his soul. The draw was careful, the pass of the blade through the air slow and deliberate. The space before Vergil was unmoved by the motion, but Vergil hadn’t expected as much from the first try. It took a thousand successes to truly master any given strike, and Vergil was already planning for his hundredth attempt.
Practice continued until people started to trickle back onto the streets, leaving him just enough time to return home and change back into his pajamas before Milan’s alarm went off. She questioned the bruised look about his eyes, but at a gesture to the books laying on the arm of the couch she laughed and spent the rest of the morning in lighthearted teasing.
Vergil took such ribbing with grace, desperately ignoring the part of him that accused him of lying to Milan. Lying by changing out of his coat so she would not know he had been outside; lying by not explaining why he had pulled those books to him in the first place; lying, by wishing so desperately to keep any and all effects of his nightmares hidden from her view. Milan was of course ignorant of all of this, and unintentionally strengthened the guilt on Vergil’s consciousness when she pressed a final goodbye kiss on his cheek,
“Make sure you get a nap today. Chores can wait, as long as this doesn’t become a habit.” Her giggles fell on deaf ears. Vergil spend the whole day cleaning— furious at himself for his dishonesty with her, anxious to get back to the open air and practice more with Yamato, guilty for allowing his duties to be so consumed by the prospect of a new skill to learn. He scrubbed the house from top to bottom, and when Milan came home Vergil could feel the unease building as she stepped through the shining kitchen, noticed the crisply vacuumed carpets in the sitting room, and how obviously exhausted Vergil still was.
“Vergil, did you do all the chores while I was at work?” Her tone was incredulous, and perhaps even a little accusatory. Vergil kept his eyes down, watching Leo purr about the hem of Milan’s skirt.
“I wanted you to be able to rest once you got home…”
“Well, that’s nice. But you need to take care of yourself too.”
The rest of the night was quiet; Milan spending dinner in silent contemplation while Vergil cursed himself for making her worry, both of them sitting on the couch with open book on their laps—pages unmoving for nearly half an hour. Milan broke first, closing her book and wrangling it back into the crowded confines of her bag before offering Vergil a backrub. Vergil agreed after a moment’s hesitation—he had never received a massage before—and very much enjoyed the sensation of Milan stripping away his clothes until he was left in his slacks, as spread out as he could be on the little sofa. But when it came to the backrub itself, Vergil simply couldn’t help but tense up whenever Milan put any weight behind the passes of her hands—resulting in the massage going as successfully as an attempt to rub the stiffness out of a brick wall.
When Milan withdrew and shook out her sore hands, Vergil stood immediately and pulled his shirt back on.
“I’m sorry Milan.”
“Why?!” Vergil almost jumped at her tone, accusatory and embittered as she glared down at her own hands. “This isn’t your fault Vergil! I just—” Milan made a wild gesture of impotent frustration, tossing her hair and pressing the heels of her hands to her temples. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I shouldn’t be yelling at you.” She caught one of his belt loops and gave him a tug, guiding him back down onto the couch. Resting her head on his shoulder, Milan slid one arm around his waist and sighed once, deflating against him.
“I’m not mad at you Vergil. I’m just… I don’t know. Worried?” Vergil wanted to ask what she could possibly be worried about, what he could do to alleviate this burden from her—when she lifted her head and one hand closed firmly on the nape of his neck, attempting to pull him down for a kiss. His words caught as a gasp in his throat, body tightening against her touch before he could command himself to lean closer. Milan yanked her hand off of him like she was scalded, both of them fumbling for apologies and trying to tell each other that the other had no reason to be sorry.
Finally, Milan stood up and declared that they were both being “ridiculous” because they needed more sleep. She scooped up Leonardo and plopped him into Vergil’s lap, announcing that she was going to take a bath and go to bed early.
“Leo,” Milan pointed a finger at her cat, who utterly ignored her imperious command in favor of washing his foot. “Make sure Vergil gets enough sleep tonight, okay?” And with that, she vanished upstairs for the night.
After some investigation, Leo discovered that Milan had shut her door for the night and settled into the curve of Vergil’s body instead, while Vergil’s mind ran circles through the night’s events. What was happening between himself and Milan?! What had he neglected, or done to make her so upset? He left after an hour of struggling with his own mind, tricking from rooftop to rooftop and practicing his dimensional cuts in the pauses. The exercise strained his exhausted body, but wore out his mind just enough for him to snatch a few hours of precious sleep when he returned home.
Home, where when he awoke Milan had already left, and his dutiful devotion to chores left precious little to be cleaned. So Vergil ate, fed Leonardo, re-read the passage about Sparda’s use of Yamato, and when he could take the calm no longer, returned to the rooftops. He clung to the highest buildings to avoid detection, finding the odd stray demon hidden in an alcove or buzzing behind a steeple. All were easy prey, and the motions of victory over the weak little monsters helped hone his focus. Kept his mind on the strikes and tricks before him, over the panic that was threatening to overtake him.
Lunch was a quiet affair, Leonardo purring on his lap in the aftermath and lulling Vergil into a long doze, before he caught the scent of a demon. It lingered by the window, scent hovering in the air, and plucked every one of Vergil’s nerves like strings on a violin. Moving slowly, deliberately acting as though he had yet to notice the demon’s presence, Vergil removed Leo from his lap. He sorted through the piles of books in the corner, casting out his senses until he was sure of the demon’s location; crouched in the blind spot of the window, against the rough brick of the building. Yamato slid silently into his hand—a deadly extension of his arm, loosened from her saya with a flick of his thumb. Blue-black smoke from Vergil’s teleportation swallowed the world for less than a heartbeat, Yamato’s steel cleaving through the air with the strength behind it to bisect a car. But nothing was there for him to target. Nothing, but that prickling sense that a demon was near.
Giving chase, Vergil tricked up rooftops, stalked through alleys, and even stood in the middle of Fortuna’s Churchyard Square, baffled at how he was being avoided so thoroughly. The scent had never waned, yet Vergil had not been able to catch even a glimpse of his prey. The monster led him over patches of solid ice on rooftops, or sections of damp pavement and cobblestone where no footprints could be divined. Vergil snarled inwardly as he pushed through crowds of tourists, every fiber of his being screaming that the demon was directly before him, yet with nothing but humans in sight. Knights struggled to keep crowds moving, tour groups were ogling the architecture while completely ignoring their guide’s words, a Fortuna mother scolded her crying child, a bald tourist frowning down at a book. No demons. Nothing but business as usual in Fortuna.
Slipping back into an alley and returning to the rooftops, Vergil made wide loops about the square—keeping clear of the streets to avoid being caught in any cameras as he cast his senses about. But the demon did not reveal itself, Vergil giving up as the scent grew stale, cold, and eventually faded. He crossed the rooftops in a fury, raging at himself for allowing a devil that had been prowling around Milan’s home to escape without even managing to catch a glimpse of the thing.
A flash of red on the streets below broke through Vergil’s incensed rants against himself. He skidded to a halt, and after a moment of processing, realized that he had crossed paths with Milan’s route home from work. The Head Librarian must have remained in the building and forced the other girl to do her share once the library closed, letting Milan come home earlier than usual. She was standing off to one side of the road, speaking to an Order Knight while the evening rush of tourists and citizens flowed around them. Vergil crouched down atop his perch and balanced on the balls of his feet, desiring to wait until Milan split off from the Knight and walk home with her once she stepped onto the emptier streets.
Only, she didn’t leave the Knight. Or rather, the Knight didn’t leave her; Milan started to walk away from the man three different times, only for him to trot after her and take her elbow—guiding her to a stop and letting his hand linger on her person. The whole scene made something sour burn the back of Vergil’s throat, but he was at a loss for what was to be done. It would be disastrous for Milan’s reputation if he strolled up to her and displayed any sort of familiarity—would it be condescending if he simply approached to speak to the Knight and pretended to ignore her, allowing her an opportunity to vanish into the crowd? Should he do nothing? He had no notion of who this Knight was, but it was possible that Milan knew him, and would see it as a sign of spiteful jealousy if Vergil made some misguided attempt to “save her.” But then again… Vergil knew Milan’s body language, and she did not seem comfortable talking to this man. Milan was not the type of person to attempt to walk away from a conversation she was genuinely enjoying, let alone make the attempt three times only to be steered back to him.
The entire scenario set Vergil’s teeth on edge, and he eventually decided to just wait where he was. Milan was amongst a crowd, and even the sourest of Knights would never do something criminal to her with hordes of witnesses around them. Vergil could clearly see the entire street from his vantage point and unless the situation escalated, he would stay hidden—unobtrusive, but ready to lend a hand if the Knight tried to drag her off to somewhere isolated.
It took ten minutes, but Milan finally seemed to give a decisive enough goodbye to send the Knight on his way. He turned and started walking back down the street, while Milan went the other direction towards their house at a crisp pace. More than a little relieved, Vergil stood and stretched, before tricking home himself—any trace of the escaped demon gone from the house.
Leonardo was the first to greet Milan at the door as usual, but Vergil was the one who received a kiss when he took her bag and cloak for her. Milan seemed to have shed whatever frustrations she had been harboring against him, curling snugly into his side once they settled on the couch and lamenting at the terrible day she’d had.
“The place has leaks! Who in their right mind sees a leak that big and goes, ‘oh, I’m sure it’s not a problem, it’s not like this is a library that holds books or anything!’ And the tourists—! This month must be when all the weird tourists come out of hiding to flock to the library, and pester me for history on the local architecture as if I’m a tour guide!” Vergil hummed with sympathy and smoothed a hand over her hair, just freed from its cowl and slowly coming undone from its pins. “Everyone seems to need a piece of my time today; even Alessa having to stay and help turned out to be a devil in disguise—I swear, if she tries to stage something like that one more time…” Milan mimed strangling her co-worker, before she started yanking pins out of her hair. Once he saw a strand of hair ripped out along with its pin, Vergil nudged her hands away and freed the rest of her hair with a much gentler touch. Just as Leonardo nuzzled into Milan’s petting, Milan sighed and leaned into Vergil’s touch, while Vergil appreciated the smooth slide of her curls through his fingers.
“What did Alessa try to stage?” He asked, and when Milan just scoffed and grumbled about her co-worker needing to keep out of her personal life, Vergil recalled what he had just witnessed. “Did it have anything to do with that Knight on the street?” Milan stiffened against him, and panic started to flutter in Vergil’s stomach. “What? Did he hurt you? Threaten you? Was it more questioning about the missing books?”
Milan remained silent for several seconds, her voice very neutral when she asked,
“How did you know about that?”
“I saw it.”
There was an even longer silence after that, and Vergil struggled to decipher where he had stumbled.
“Vergil, were you… Following me?”
“No! Of course not.” Vergil explained the scent of the demon he had been tracking, and how when he finally abandoned his fruitless search his rooftop path happened to cross with her street side one. The mild horror creeping over Milan’s face faded once he got the entire tale out, the tension slowly bleeding out of her and her head nudging against his shoulder as she settled back against him.
“Okay. Thank you for not jumping down there as soon as you saw me.” Vergil nodded once, and went back to toying with her hair.
“So, what did the Knight want?”
“Something he’s never going to get…” Milan huffed, and Vergil elected to drop the subject. She would tell him if this had anything to do with their stolen books, and unless she told him to get involved, Vergil was more than happy to remain the rock she leaned on in the privacy of their home.
The night kept up an easy atmosphere, dinner a steaming pot of alfredo sauce and Milan’s insistence that Vergil had over-boiled the noodles—Vergil countering with a smile that Milan’s form of cooking amounted to dipping the raw pasta in boiling salt water for barely a minute, before serving it as is. They playfully elbowed each other out of the way as they did the dishes, and lovingly trailed their hands over each other’s bodies as they kissed on the couch.
“Vergil?” Milan asked, laying on his chest with her shift tangled above her knees and tracing tickling lines across his collarbone. “I wanted to talk to you about the housework…”
“Why? Have I been doing something wrong?” Milan send her curls flying with a firm shake of the head, her eyes meeting his with absolute sincerity.
“No, you’ve been doing too much! Vergil, you’ve been doing my chores for weeks now. It isn’t fair for you—”
“Milan, you have a job!” Vergil protested, levering himself up on one elbow while Milan fussed with the hem of her shift. “And I need to do my share to stop being a burden on you!”
“Burden?” Milan looked shocked. Then anger wrinkled her brow and she hiked her skirt higher up her thighs, straddling Vergil’s hips and giving him a firm poke on the chest. “Vergil, this was what we agreed on when I made the offer for you to live here. I told you that for you to live here, you needed to respect my boundaries and help with the chores around the house. Help. Not do them all.”
Laying flat, Milan touched her forehead to his and pressed a kiss long and fierce against his mouth—one arm bracing her against the couch and the other holding the back of his head like she never planned to let him go. They separated with a gasp, stray strands of Milan’s hair trailing over his face as she spoke in a near reverent whisper,
“You were not a burden then, and you are not a burden now. I live here too, and it’s only fair that I help just as much with the housework as you do. If our roles were switched, would you tell me that I had to do all the chores?”
“Of course not.” Milan nodded, and settled into another lingering kiss.
“I always see red when, after the service, my friends group together and moan about their aches and pains because they cook and clean and run after the children all day. And when their husbands come home, the men sit in their chairs or laugh with their friends in the smoking room; chastising their wives if the children bother them or dinner is late.
“I don’t want to live with you like that, Vergil. Not with anybody. We both live here, and whichever one of us works doesn’t matter—we both carry the load, together.” Milan was rather flushed after her speech, sitting up and crawling off Vergil to tug on a curl of her hair. “So… That’s that. Little things are fine. Helping each other is fine. But don’t take everything onto your shoulders Vergil. It isn’t fair to you, just like it wouldn’t be fair for me to do the same.”
Sitting up, Vergil passed a hand over his tousled hair and sighed. Swallowing his pride, he dipped his head and solemnly apologized. Milan accepted it with a final kiss, before finding her bookbag and settling down to read. Vergil got his own books as well, but once Milan asked him how his research was going, they both forgot about their reading. They talked late into the night about Yamato, about the techniques performed with her, and Milan producing endless questions on how Vergil intended to accomplish the reality-cleaving swings Sparda had displayed.
Vergil went back to doing his own chores, and in his free time stood on Fortuna’s highest rooftops to practice with Yamato. Milan often read beside him as he studied Yamato’s abilities, though more and more often the books were set aside so they could occupy themselves with each other. The desperate hunger that Vergil had considered long since quenched started to claw within him during these more passionate sessions, leaving both of them flushed and panting as they separated unsatisfied. Nearly every night he and Milan would tangle themselves up in each other on the worn-out little sofa, only for one or both to break away when such passions felt a step too far. Too close to a line that was unknown and unsafe for them to cross—leaving Milan passing him looks of frustrated regret as she climbed the stairs, and Vergil laying down most nights with achingly unsatisfied desires.
The final week of February, when the icy hold on Fortuna had finally started to crack and spring was slowly but surely creeping over the island, was the change. A note had been left for Vergil on the table, slipped onto it when he was occupied with the dishes and Milan had left for work. Slightly perturbed, Vergil poured himself another mug of coffee, sat at the table, and patted his lap to tempt Leo over. While the cat was making himself comfortable, Vergil picked up the note, and almost choked when he read what Milan was unwilling to request of him in person.
Look at that, a new chapter out and a bunch waiting in the wings! Thank you all for your patience during my hiatus, I'm delighted to announce my return and hope that the new chapters will be worth the wait. Until then, I'll see you all Thursday-after-next with another chapter. Hope you all had a wonderful summer~
Milan was counting every second, dreading and impatiently anticipating their every tick. With every passing moment she was closer to going home, and the idea was as terrifying as it was comforting. Home was where Vergil was, and just the thought of him left her flushed among the stacks. Of him, and her note…
Vergil, I left some money on the bathroom counter. I need you to go to the pharmacy and buy some condoms.
She led tourists about robotically, haunted by that little scrap of paper slipped onto the table once Vergil’s back was turned. What must he be thinking of her now?! What would he say when she got home? It was a mistake to do it, she insisted to herself—yet she could not help the slow build of heat simmering through her blood as her thoughts lingered on Vergil. He might be horrified or disgusted; but he may have been tormented by the same fantasies that had plagued Milan for months.
That notion truly made her blush, and sent shivers of excitement racing down her spine. She had been close enough during their more passionate kisses to feel his arousal, but that meant little about his heart’s desires. He had spent so long isolated from humanity’s touch, and it had not taken an insignificant amount of time for him to feel as comfortable as he was around her. What she asked of him in that note may have just been too far and too fast for him.
But she had to know. Night after night of laying on the couch in Vergil’s arms, only to pry herself away to her cold bed and unsatisfied desires, had finally worn her down. The worse he could say, she insisted to herself when she drafted that damnable note, is no; it cannot destroy what we already have, and Vergil certainly is not the type to pose this unprompted. If Vergil rejected her note, Milan knew on a logical level that he would not be a brute about it. There would be blushes and perhaps an awkward dinner between them, but one little piece of paper could not destroy the companionship they had built together. And if he took to her request… If he had not only accepted her implied proposal, but been eager to know of her yearning…
Lunch was slow, Milan staring into the depths of her lukewarm coffee until the Head Librarian chastised her for sloth and herded her back out to the front desk. Alessa pestered Milan endlessly about her mood, but Milan waved her away and told her she simply wasn’t feeling well. It was clear the girl didn’t buy the feeble excuse for a second, but Milan had no space left in her to care. Alessa could tell everyone she knew that an engagement between Milan and Knight Vitali was sure as summer sunshine—as long as she didn’t encourage the overeager knight to hold her up when she walked home, both of them could get stuffed as far as Milan was concerned.
The day dragged on; tourists passed by in an indecipherable blur, books were logged and shelved with barely a thought given to the action, Milan’s foot tapped out an endless anxious rhythm whenever she was forced into the chair behind the front desk. Only when the last of the patrons finally drifted out, when the Head Librarian bid the two girls goodnight and vanished into the cold damp dark, did Milan strike. She grabbed Alessa by the wrist before the girl could even start for her cloak in the breakroom, and forcefully dragged her down the hall to the cleaning closet.
“You’re going to be doing the wiping down, sweeping, and vacuuming.” She bit out the words before Alessa could object, and when her rote excuses started to spill forth Milan yanked her set of keys out of her pocket. She thrust them right into Alessa’s face, voice dropping into a growl fit for a she-devil as she set her ultimatum. “I also have places to be tonight, so either I shove these keys into your hand and leave right now, or you do your part for once and we both leave on time.”
Alessa was lost for words for a moment, before she attempted one last gambit.
“I can’t believe you Milan; after I went out of my way to help you find some time with Knight Vitali—”
“Well, maybe this will encourage you to never pull something like that again…”
With that, Milan yanked open the closet door and shoved rag and broom into the girl’s hands, before she grabbed her own buckets for the restrooms.
The rumble of the vacuum and slosh of a mop bucket were the only sounds in the library that night, Alessa’s glares absolutely poisonous as she ambled through her work while Milan worked with the unrestrained fury of a typhoon. She was near rabid to get home, absolutely terrified of what might happen when she did, and above all else, Milan was positively livid with anger. Anger, for how much of a coward she was. In the safety of her own home she kissed and teased to her heart’s content, but she still had to secretly leave a note for Vergil that only implied what she truly desired between them. She could curse Alessa’s name to Hell and back in her absence, but Milan still let her leave early near every night with only token resistance. She never told the Head Librarian about Alessa’s shirking, out of simple fear that the woman would refuse to believe that such a Good Fortuna Girl as Alessa would be so blasé about abandoning her responsibilities. All of tonight was long overdue, and Milan was sick of being so worried about it all. Alessa was going to stay here and clean tonight, and if she tried to leave tomorrow Milan would report her to the Head Librarian. Milan would go home, apologize to Vergil for skirting around him with such a stupid little note, and tell him flat out what she wanted. If he didn’t want the same from her, then it was little enough to bruise her pride in order to discover the truth. And if he shared her wishes… Milan had to stop that line of thinking, too flushed with anger already to properly enjoy any fantasies of Vergil finally in her bed.
It was almost seven thirty when Milan locked the library doors, her co-worker stomping away without a single farewell while Milan broke into a brisk trot over the icy cobbled streets. She took the fastest way home, cutting through alleys and paying no mind to slushy puddles or whistling tourists. Taking the steps to her own apartment two at a time, Milan fumbled with her key and embraced the warm gust of air that greeted her frozen cheeks when she crossed the threshold. Leo appeared as he always did, but the dampness of her hems dissuaded him from twining about her ankles as was his usual greeting. Vergil was nowhere to be seen, and once Milan had freed herself of cowl and all her winter trappings, she marched down the hall with the intent of a general to the tune of her internal battle-cry.
The worst he can say is ‘no.’ His ‘no’ won’t kill me. ‘No’ will not destroy what we have.
Vergil was standing in the center of the living room, stiff as a knight on duty with two things in his hands. One was a small handful of change, and the other—which made Milan’s heart skip several beats, an involuntary blush rising to her cheeks—was a box of condoms.
Neither of them spoke. Blood was roaring in Milan’s ears, any butterflies in her stomach replaced by swarms of angry hornets. It took the meowing from Leonardo—hungry for love, as always—to snap Milan out of her anxious stupor. Vergil would stand there forever over opening the conversation, so it was up to her to tell him what she wanted.
“I… Glad it was enough money. Um…” Stupid stupid stupid! She screamed at herself, trying desperately to control her tripping tongue. “Sorry I didn’t tell you in person… I was…” Afraid? Nervous? Absolutely paralyzed by the fear that you’d just laugh at me?! “I didn’t trust myself to be as clear as I could be in writing.” Sparda have mercy, she sounded like she was talking to her boss about a salary raise. ‘Sparda have mercy,’ Milan almost burst out into crazed giggles when she processed the automatic expression, and who she was attempting to proposition. The possible sanctity or blasphemy of kissing Vergil was still very much up for debate; inviting him into her bed was either a sin worthy of excommunication or a divine act that merited sainthood.
Vergil’s eyebrow quirked as Milan struggled to smother her laughter, and as she hid her smile behind her hand, she felt the desperate tension between them ease slightly. Taking a moment to settle her breathing, Milan stepped closer to Vergil and brushed back a strand of his silk-smooth hair.
“I’m sorry I’m acting like a loon, but I’ve been worrying about this all day. All week, if I’m being honest.” Vergil leaned into her touch; his beautiful face so serious as he clung to her every word. “I want you, Vergil. I’ve wanted you for…” Her face started to burn, but she stumbled through lest she lose her nerve. “A long time. And if you don’t feel the same way, I will never hold a grudge against you for it. But…” Deep breath. All he can say is ‘no.’ “If you want, I’d like you to start sleeping upstairs, in my bed… With me. And…” They had moved even closer now, and Milan wasn’t sure if it was her or him that had done the moving. “If you’ll have me… I want to be y—your—your lover…” She finished, cringing at the weak ending. The box of condoms was caught between them, a corner of the cardboard digging into her stomach as she quivered on tenterhooks for Vergil’s response.
The jangle of coins slipping from his fingers was his warning, before his hand—so cool against her flushed face—cradled her cheek and drew her in for an affirming kiss.
It was a fumbling rush to get up the stairs and into Milan’s room—Milan herself immediately sitting on the bed and starting on the line of buttons down the front of her dress. Yanking her arms out of the sleeves and letting the fabric pool around her waist, Milan was halfway through unlacing her stays before she realized that Vergil had frozen. The sleek waistcoat he was wearing was unbuttoned, but other than that he remained fully dressed—long fingers fidgeting with the condom box and eyes locked on the rumpled bedclothes.
“I… I’m sorry.” Milan didn’t have time to tell him that there was no need to apologize before he continued, “I’m just… Nervous. And I have no notion why I would be. I've also been…” His ears were turning pinker by the second. “Wanting you for quite some time.”
When she reached out, he clutched her hand as if it were a lifeline, a low sigh escaping him when she drew him closer and kissed his palm.
“Being nervous is nothing strange. You said that I’ve been your first? Well, with this, you’re my first as well. So, let’s explore together. Whatever happens or doesn’t tonight, I’m thrilled that it happened with you.” She barely had to pull before he was sitting beside her, just as he received no resistance when he lifted her up and settled her in his lap. Their kisses were long and desperate, a new wildness in both of them now that sex was a distinct possibility. The condoms were their safety net, allowing them to break boundaries that otherwise prompted them to separate. Milan could feel Vergil growing hard under her, and instead of scurrying away lest things move too far, Milan relished the feel of his arousal—her own desire burning to new heights with every groan and gasp she managed to draw from him. She yanked the last laces of her stays open and separated just long enough to toss the pair of bodies over her head, before Vergil started working at the buttons of his shirt. It and the waistcoat vanished over the side of the bed, leaving only that gleaming gold amulet to cover his well-toned chest. Reminding herself that he didn’t appreciate being kissed on the neck, Milan trailed her fingers down his shoulders, over his ribs, and dragged her nails up his back before she met him in another embrace.
His moan vibrated against her lips, hips pressing against hers and sending arrows of delicious fire up her spine. The red jewel was a cool spot between them, smoother than silk and surprisingly heavy against her sternum—felt when Vergil gripped her legs through the layers of dress and petticoats and slowly levered her down onto the bed, him atop her as he murmured softly to her. The words were English, their cadence beautiful but her mind far too distracted to properly parse their meaning. The pins in her hair were digging into her scalp, but Vergil was such a delicious weight over her she took far longer than was comfortable before gently pushing him back.
Hardly a single pin had been removed before his nimble hands took up the job, each curl of her hair lovingly combed and smoothed to send tingles racing through her. A hum of contentment left Vergil at every blissful sigh and shiver from her, the rumble deep and content while fingers slid down to her scalp. Short nails barely scratching, he hunted for every pin and let it clink on the nightstand, mouth lighter than breath over the back of her neck while she melted into his touch. He took his time freeing her hair, and even when it was completely loose, he threaded his fingers up and through her curls until every one of Milan’s nerves was quivering for Vergil’s touch. But even as she turned to start another kiss, Vergil stood and hooked a thumb in the waistband of his slacks, a nervous cough escaping him.
“You wouldn’t mind if I...?” Milan was almost eye-level with what was causing him such discomfort, her own face burning as she nodded once and bolted to her own feet. Averting her eyes, Milan shoved dress and petticoats over her hips and onto the floor, her stockings swiftly joining the pile. Now, she was only in her shift—not entirely uncommon with Vergil around, but instead of feeling bold and daring in his presence, Milan felt an unusual pang of shyness. She wanted to clutch the fabric close, just as much as she wanted to throw the thing over her head and finally fulfill the dreams that had been tormenting her for months; herself and Vergil, in her bedroom with nothing to separate each other from their bodies.
When she finally dared look at Vergil, she had to remind herself to breathe. His body was so long and lean, well-muscled as a jungle cat with only a little black garment preserving his modesty. His underwear was even tighter than his trousers were—a feat that somewhat amazed Milan—which left his arousal even more obvious before her. It took a moment before Milan realized that she was staring, and another moment to realize that looking at her own feet was little improvement. The bed squealed as she sat back down, Vergil's own face an impressive shade of pink that reached from his ears to his clavicle. He was back to standing soldier straight, eyes cast away as she toyed with the bow that held her shift's collar closed.
"Is this far enough?" He asked, and Milan took a single fortifying breath before she unraveled the bow and shrugged her shift off her shoulders. The catch in Vergil's breathing at the sight of her breasts fed the aroused heat that was pulsing with her blood, and when she met his eyes, she could see that his own shyness was swiftly being consumed by the same heat.
"I will go as far as you want, Vergil. If this is enough for you—" He shook his head once, and was back on the bed with her before she could even think to pull him close again. Her shift was rucked up around her waist, thighs pinning his body to hers as she was set back upon his lap. Vergil's mouth was branding delicious bruises all down her throat, his amulet a thrilling chill against the heat between them as he murmured more tender English into her skin. His hair was woven between her fingers tight enough that if she had her wits about her, she might have apologized—but in this moment there was nothing else but the feel of Vergil's body, and the maddening need for more of him every time she felt a twitch or throb from his erection.
Standing, Vergil picked Milan up and laid her out on the savaged sheets with the care Milan fancied a Queen might be given; spoiled only when he tried to level himself on top of her, and the heavy jewel of his amulet almost took her in the nose. Vergil caught it as Milan squeaked in alarm, and after a quick check that she was unharmed he pulled the charm up over his head.
It took him a few moments, staring into the gleaming jewel with a look Milan couldn't quite parse—mournful and begrudging, but with a reluctance to release the object evident in every pause between actions. The trinket was clearly incredibly important to him—a keepsake from his parents, from his childhood past—that for a moment, Milan almost said that there was no need to part with it. But before she could reach for the words, he hung it over the bedpost, and when he met her eyes again a new determination had beaten out any lingering anxieties.
"Milan, if you would have me…"
"Oh, yes Vergil." The burning ache she was tormented with throbbed with her ecstatic heartbeat. "Let's get the condoms."
A brief search later, Milan found that they had been kicked under the bed, giving her the honors of opening the box and breaking off one of the condoms from the line. For a moment she worried that this wouldn't work, that neither of them would know how to use it properly, but Vergil took it with confidence and assured her that he knew how it was used. He had been able to read it in books on the Mainland, which gave Milan a flicker of jealous awe that on the Mainland, that was something that could just be read over passed about by whispered hearsay from one friend to another.
Her shift was doing precious little to preserve her modesty at this point, but Milan still felt a rush of nervous excitement when she pulled the thing over her head and threw it towards the pile of clothes they had created. Vergil took his time stripping off his underwear, his back to her until he was finally naked. Milan had never seen a completely naked man before—not in person or in depiction—and it was a rush to look Vergil over, and finally put images to the vague descriptions of sex and reproduction she had been given in the Children's Home.
"Um, you… You're very beautiful Milan." Milan snorted as she giggled, his tone was as formal as a compliment one would pay to a stern mother-in-law.
"Glad to know you finally noticed." She teased in return, pecking his cheek once before laying on her back. This was it. The moment. It would hurt—that had been explicitly mentioned in the lessons, but with how much Milan wanted him, she couldn't fathom that it could last long. "Now, shall we?"
But Vergil hesitated, and set the condom aside on the rickety bedside table.
"It'll feel better if I—If you are prepared first, before we actually have sex." After a fumbling explanation she understood what Vergil was referring to—it was how she found her own pleasure at night, but the idea of Vergil doing it added a whole new dimension of arousal to the concept. Another wondrous thing he must have been allowed to read or just know in the loose Mainland culture. Laid out on her back, Milan took Vergil's hesitating hand, and pressed a single kiss on his fingertips before she guided him between her legs. As always, his fingers were a cool shock against her flesh—quickly warmed with her body heat and eagerly pliable under her touch.
The act reminded Milan of an organ; watching the keys sink and rise under the skillful touch of the player to bring forth resonant music she could not help but associate with worship. Vergil's own fingers were her keys, and at each press and nudge from her they played her body to bring forth such music that she feared the neighbors would hear. Turning her head to the side and burying her face in a pillow, she guided Vergil through her favorite motions until he memorized the tune. Each stroke was firm without becoming harsh, each press deliberate while maintaining its tenderness, every curve and bend of his fingers maintaining a grace that had Milan shuddering against the pillow that muffled her. His mouth pressed kisses soft and airy against her sternum, while his voice rumbled with groans and sighs barely audible over the creak and squeal of the old mattress. Her back bowed as he worked in another finger, his name escaping the confines of the pillow and her hands yanking at the sheets in some effort to ground herself.
When he finally withdrew his hand, the blue of his eyes had been consumed by the darkness of his pupil. He fumbled for the condom, wiping his fingers dry on the sheets before he met her eyes and asked with absolute seriousness,
"Are you sure you're ready to go through with this?"
"Vergil," Milan propped herself up on one elbow, chest heaving as she came down from the high he had brought her to—one that had been backed away from just before she reached satisfaction. "If you've wound me up this much just to leave me…" Vergil rolled his eyes at her grin, and leaned in for a brief kiss.
"Just tell me if I start hurting you." He ripped through the little package and rolled the latex over his erection, hovering himself over her with his weight on his elbows. It took some adjustment to find the right angle between the two of them, the first push stealing Milan's breath while Vergil threw back his head and snarled through clenched teeth.
"God…" He choked out the word like a curse, before he arched his back and breathed, "Milan...!" Like it was the name of worship. He sank even further into her, her nails digging into his shoulders and thighs pressing him ever closer as his breath burned deliciously under her ear. The rhythm was slow, each thrust rippling from one to the other and Milan struggling to keep herself quiet. She occupied her mouth with Vergil’s own to muffle herself, the rumble of their voices passing between their lips and gasping out whenever one or the other parted for breath. When Vergil slid them both higher up the bed, one hand bracing against the wall and the other scooping Milan up to find a new angle, she bit into the meat of his shoulder to muffle her scream. Vergil however, only added one thing to his low groans. A single, shuddering phrase released on a desperate exhale,
"I love you…"
Milan became immediately grateful that her face was hidden from his view, because she was sure that any soft passion would have frozen right on her face. Love?! Vergil only kept with his thrusting, his moans rumbling through their bodies without any acknowledgement of his confession. Did he actually love her? Did she love him? The word was terrifying; managing to scare her beyond any anxieties about sex ever could. Love was the dangerous word used for marriage, and they could never have that between them. It was a word for family, which neither of them had much of. It was a word that was terrifying her so much as to poison her own arousal, and the last thing Milan would allow at this moment was not relishing every second. If he mentioned it again, Milan would deal with it then. Not now. Not when she could finally embrace the fire that had been scalding inside her for months on end.
Arching up her hips against Vergil, Milan pushed until they were leveled into a more upright position—Vergil still cradling the small of her back one-handed without a quaver of exhaustion while she threaded one hand through his beautiful hair, and slid the other down between their joined bodies. Vergil swore at the sensation, Milan gasping briefly before she sank her teeth back into his shoulder and prayed she was muffled enough. Her whole body throbbed with the ache to find release, and as Vergil canted his hips to hers in an increasingly erratic rhythm her entire body shuddered tension—his own pleasure coming on a wave of breathless curses and frantic thrusts until the storm wore itself out. It turned fire to lightning, blinding her to everything but sensation for a timeless moment until she came back to the feel of Vergil’s flesh under her nails, and the ache in her jaw from muffling her screams of ecstasy.
With a slow shift and a shuddering moan from both of them, Vergil withdrew from Milan and carefully set her back down onto the bed. His hair was an absolute mess, those winter-blue eyes dark and exhausted in their satisfaction while the marks her teeth left on his shoulders swiftly faded from red, to pink, to nothing at all. Her whole body throbbed with the last embers of pleasure, Milan taking her time watching Vergil settle himself, slowly letting her fingers travel back to stroke between her legs as he rose to dispose of the condom. When he returned, she met Vergil’s eyes in the doorway and beckoned him onto the bed.
He had gotten a damp washcloth from the bathroom, and while Milan came down Vergil passed the cool cloth over her body and between her legs. His face was back to its ever-stern mask, silent and scowling even as he brushed a tender kiss over her shoulder and settled back onto the bed with her.
“Alright, what’s wrong? Didn’t like it?” He mumbled a negative and curled his arms about her, nuzzling his head into her hand until she started smoothing out his hair.
“No, it was… Very good.”
“Mmm, such high praise.”
She couldn’t help the sarcasm, or the smile as he huffed and grumbled into the curve of her neck. Between a line of absent kisses, Vergil admitted,
“You were wonderful. I just… My stamina was appalling—I’m sorry.”
Scoffing, Milan tugged his face up to hers and pressed a firm kiss right on his apologizing mouth.
“Well, practice makes perfect, hm? I happened to have enjoyed all of it, not just because it was ‘very good,’” Vergil scoffed as her imitation of his voice, but a smile was teasing the corners of his mouth all the same. “But because it was with you. You could have lasted only a few seconds, and I still would have been delighted to do this with you.” At that, the final edges of tension bled out of Vergil’s body. They lay curled together, Milan letting her eyes drift closed and her mind wander. Her attention caught on the smallest of sounds—the drip of water from the bathroom, the muffled wail of her neighbor’s baby, the tidal rhythm of Vergil’s breathing, Leonardo meowing downstairs for his dinner.
That final sound was getting progressively louder until she felt a small thump at the foot of the bed, and a paw batting at her exposed toes. When she cracked her eyes open, Leo gave her his most pitiful of meows and left the bed to go stand by the door, looking down the hall and back to her to prompt her to action. She sat up with some regret, pausing at the new look of somber contemplation on Vergil’s face.
“What do we do now?” Low and quiet, his tone gave the question all the weight of the world. All the seriousness he might have given for a proclamation of love—and though she had no response but terrified confusion at any questions about love, she had a clear answer for his literal question.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. And Leo certainly needs to be fed, or else he will surely starve.” She gestured to the piteous form waiting by the door, and Vergil rolled his eyes. “And after dinner, we can move your things up here.” And easily as that, Vergil was sleeping in her room. His trunk pushed into a corner; the stolen books stacked by the wall, his clothes settled in the drawers of her wardrobe. And every night after, Milan got to slip under the sheets and curl herself into the spaces his body made, and ponder just how lucky a Fortuna girl she was.
Ooooh boy, I hope everyone enjoyed these nerds' fumbling!
In other news, my idiot-self finally realized that the italics and occasional bold-script that are in my drafts haven't been showing up on this site, and it should be fixed with this chapter! Which also means I will be going back and giving the other eleven chapters the same treatment, so if today or tomorrow you see this thing updating multiple times, be aware it's just me giving the chapters back the italics they were always meant to have '-_-
Thank you all for reading, and I do hope this chapter was worth the wait <3
Chapter 13: Thirteen – Vergil
March was cold and wet all across Fortuna, but at least the snow was melting. Huge glaciers of the stuff were packed alongside streets and doorsteps, slowly running into the deep storm drains. The icy river was running high, the docks were covered in mist well into the morning, and spring was still undetectable in the icy winds. But, on occasion, the sun managed to burn its way through the grey skies, showing holes of blue so beautiful Vergil couldn’t help but stare. Winter was begrudgingly giving way to Spring, and Vergil marveled at every second of it.
Ice was slick and dripping, the rooftop snow that remained dense and damp with every step—if not sliding off the sloped roofs entirely as soon as he put his foot down. Demons were essentially a non-entity, leaving Vergil free to trick about practicing his strokes and endlessly testing out the reality-severing sweeps that his father had performed. He still had no progress with that particular maneuver, so any time that was not spent practicing on rooftops or wandering Fortuna’s streets was on the couch—pen scribbling frantically as he paged through tome after tome, Leonardo chittering at falling drops of meltwater by the window.
Yamato had massive chapters and sections of books dedicated to her, but so much of the information on her was devoid of context, or otherwise completely muddled with unrelated information. Events and actions were named without ever being explained or defined, powers of flight and healing were listed besides massive multi-angle attacks performed in a single swing without any instruction or description—Sparda’s power was lauded as a strength of the soul, of blood, and of his own weapon with no clarifications for if any, all, or none of these were literal sources. It seemed as though the sections had been poorly translated, or else cut from a variety of other tomes and jumbled together. Scoffing with frustration, Vergil scribbled out another note and shoved his journal aside, moving from one tome to the other. Beside the heavy, yellowed pages and their illuminated Latin, the second book had shining words wrought in silver ink, glowing gently from pages dark and scaly. This book was written in one of the countless demonic languages that floated about Hell, and even as it alluded to events and figures Vergil had never heard of, at least it had some sense of organization about it.
Two mugs in hand, Milan settled herself beside Vergil on the bed and peered over his shoulder.
Vergil took his mug and shook his head, paging back to the beginning of the Latin book to try and track when there was such a shift from discussions on the creation of Yamato, to a hymn on Sparda’s merciful judgements. Milan stared at the more demonic of the tomes until her head wobbled and briefly dropped onto Vergil’s shoulder, a soft exclamation of pain escaping her as she leaned back and massaged her forehead.
“Ouch! Does it do that to you too?”
“Do what? What happened?” Milan grimaced and took a pull from her mug before answering, still rubbing at her head with no visible wound to be seen.
“Looking at the spookier book started making my head spin, then gave me a hell of a headache. It’s already starting to fade, but I can’t imagine what kind of pain tolerance anyone would have to endure reading that…” Setting the books aside, Vergil pressed a kiss to Milan’s temple and smoothed a hand over her curls.
“I have never gotten a headache just from reading these books—most likely my demonic heritage protects me.” At any other time that would have been a boast, but Milan being in pain smothered any instinct to gloat, turning the sentence into a somber statement of fact. “I have no notion how such books were transcribed, however. Perhaps Sparda once had demonic followers who also recorded his exploits…” Milan muttered something that might have been a ‘maybe…’ and let her head rest in Vergil’s hand, her eyes drifting away to the ball of fur on the bed that was her sleeping cat.
“Must be nice… Having that kind of power…” Her voice was near a whisper, still tinged with pain and mournful enough to stab Vergil through with guilt. But before he could get out an apology, Milan picked her head back up and gave him a strained sort of smile. “I’m sorry, I—I just wish I could help you more. But I can’t read half of these books without my head threatening to pop, and the rest are in languages I just don’t know—or Latin. And my Latin skills are… Remedial. At best.” Rolling his eyes, Vergil set his mug on the nightstand and took Milan’s face in both his hands, kissing her with reverential care before resting his forehead against hers.
“You are the reason I have these books, at great personal risk to yourself. You are also the reason I have a home on this island. You taught me how to cook, clean, take care of a pet, and hold a normal conversation.” That last one was his attempt at a joke, and he couldn’t help the grin of triumph when she snorted in amusement. “This is my project, and I am responsible for its completion. Your support is always welcome, but you have already done more than enough for me.” My love. The words clung to the end of his tongue, but he forbade them to pass his lips. Bad enough he had already let slip the dreaded phrase to Milan when they first had sex—and he thanked God that she hadn’t heard him when it happened—he didn’t need to pressure her further by bringing up something so terrifying and binding as love. He was not a Fortuna citizen; not someone she could take to her church, not someone her community wouldn’t use as an excuse to smear her reputation. And eventually, he would have to leave her home when it was time for her to move on with her life. Love would only impose upon her—and after all she had to say about Fortunese men and their expectations towards women, imposing was the last thing that appealed to Vergil.
Her returning kiss firm and heated, Milan murmured her thanks to him when they parted for breath, before her own mug joined his on the nightstand and research was forgotten for the night. The books were moved back to the new pile on the floor, the pen capped, journal put aside, Vergil’s pendant hung over the bedpost, and Leonardo set outside the room—much to his emphatic protest.
Both of them were already changed into their nightclothes, and Milan retrieved another condom as Vergil joined her on the bed. In the two weeks since their first night, six more condoms had been broken off the line until this night, where the seventh was passed from her to him as clothing was stripped away.
Sex was a thing best prolonged. Or at least was something to be given a slow introduction, as Vergil was experiencing it. The act itself was wonderful, but he found that pleasure was best—deeper and sweeter on a level beyond the physical—when his partner was a shuddering mess under his touch. Or tongue, as it were. A moan bubbled out of him without permission as he tucked Milan’s legs up onto his shoulders, and she made that unconscious gasp of anticipation when his mouth descended.
Her naked body truly was the work of God, and Vergil was still shocked that he was permitted to worship at such a temple. The lines and curves of her flesh were beautiful, the pressure of her thighs against his head exciting, the scratch and sting of her fingers against his scalp torturously sweet. The voice that could captivate him for hours was muffled by a pillow and as Vergil labored, he wished that they had a place where there would be no fear of neighbors telling tales if they heard them together. Somewhere where Milan could moan, scream, encourage him on, order him about, whatever she needed to voice that had to be quieted. Somewhere… Maybe in Japan?
Oh, Vergil wanted so dearly to take Milan to Japan. She would adore it there—so beautiful in scenery, so rich in mythology, so dense in its history. She would be divine; reading under the blooming cherry trees or atop the magnificent mountain peaks, lounging in a hot spring… Vergil couldn’t help but shudder at that image, and made a promise to himself to bring up the concept of sharing a bath with Milan sometime in the future.
With a shudder and a suffocated scream, Milan came with her fingers clutching his hair and thighs squeezing his head as though to never let him go—which he certainly didn’t mind. He lapped at her until she nudged his face away to properly catch her breath, unable to control her smile at seeing Vergil’s satisfaction at her pleasure. It took her some time to feel settled enough to continue, and while she came down Milan pulled him up the bed to lay nose to nose together.
Kisses were slow, Milan now petting over scratching his scalp while she rolled on top of him to straddle his waist. Her weight was a warm comfort, hands soothing in his hair and mouth so sweet against his. Nothing else in the room—in the world—mattered to Vergil when Milan was kissing him like this; guiding him with gentle hands and hungry moans, showing him what she wanted most and delighting in every reaction she drew from him. When she parted, her mouth was flushed a sweet red, the rise and fall of her chest deep and relaxed. Unable and unwilling to quash his smile, Vergil took one of her hands and kissed it, before he realized that Milan was asking him a question.
“The condom Vergil. Where is it?”
“Ah. Um…” He had lost it in the shuffle, and the next few minutes were ruffling through the sheets and hunting around the bed while Milan teased him.
“How did you manage to lose that thing while just sitting there?”
“Quite easily, as I was very distracted.” He waited until she glanced his way before he let his tongue flicker over his bottom lip, to which Milan had the very elegant response of blushing and blowing a raspberry at him before she leaned over to check under the bed. Vergil smiled before he snapped a fold of the coverlet straight, which revealed the foil package. Giving Milan a light pinch on the backside—and chuckling at her squeak as she sat up to give the offending hand a playful slap—he handed her the condom and lay back out on the bed. Sitting on his thighs, Milan twirled the package between her fingers and exclaimed with mock indignation,
“You’re just going to lay there and make me do all the work?” Vergil shrugged, and was inspired to fold his arms behind his head as if lounging on a beach.
“Fair’s fair, after all.” Milan burst out laughing and ripped open the condom, sliding it over him after a few strokes and settling onto him with a hiss and a sigh. Swiftly forgetting his posture of faux leisure, he took hold of Milan’s thighs and started to roll his hips, trying to focus through the tight wet heat of her body to match his own strokes to hers. She had such grace when they had sex, a smooth rhythm in her hips that rippled through her every motion and made him feel a clumsy oaf in comparison. His instincts encouraged him to make short, jerky thrusts when he was inside her, but echoing that sleek roll Milan displayed felt far more refined.
And focusing on keeping up with those motions helped him last longer, which was something he was desperate to improve on. Despite Milan’s assurances that she didn’t care about his stamina, he cared very much about not being a disappointing lover. So, while Milan sighed behind a muffling hand, Vergil focused on the roll of his hips as if practicing footwork for a strike combination. A clear, easy rhythm that he was determined to make second nature. His concentration however, was easily pulled away. Milan was a potent distraction—especially when she leaned down and kissed him, sliding one hand up behind his head and hauling him up to a sitting position while her nails drew lines of delicious pain over his shoulders.
There was no going back after that, with Milan bouncing in his lap and his mouth climbing down to her throat to feel where she struggled to keep her moans and curses quiet. With an involuntary shudder, Vergil came with stars behind his closed eyelids and his teeth briefly clamping down on the juncture of Milan’s throat and shoulder. When reality slid back into focus, Milan was still on top of him—stroking herself with one hand and biting down on the other as she found her pleasure a second time. The quivering pulses around him were almost too much to bear, but the overstimulation balanced such a thrilling line between pleasure and pain that he refused to lift her off until she slumped over his shoulder, panting and shivering in his arms.
She curled right up to his body, tugging him down and close as she kissed and hummed her satisfaction against his lips. Vergil let himself float on the soft affection and lingering warmth pleasure left in his blood, before he forced himself up with a sigh and started for the bathroom. Milan loudly complained behind him, but when he opened the door the telltale creak of the bed let him know she was following. Leonardo meowed peevishly at his feet, scolding Vergil for shutting him out and begging for attention from Milan as they washed up.
The condom was discarded, both of them wiped themselves down. Vergil brushed his teeth and washed his face, while Milan fetched a towel and started the water for her nighttime bath. The cramped space steamed up quickly, Leonardo abandoning his place in the bowl of the sink to sit in the hallway to give himself his own bath. While the tub filled, Vergil slipped up behind Milan and pressed a kiss against her throat, peaking at the bitemark he’d left while she rolled her head back to encourage him on. There was a clear outline of red where his teeth had sunk in, but the skin hadn’t been broken, and her moan was one of pleasure when he gave the area an apologetic kiss.
It was a constant fear of his—a niggling concern in the back of his mind that somehow, he would hurt Milan in the throes of passion. The fear was completely groundless so far, but he could still hear how harsh Milan’s breathing had been—how long and rattling her coughing fit was when he’d shoved her back while lost in his nightmare. His strength was a deadly weapon, even as Milan only displayed amusement at his ability to effortlessly hold her aloft—whether they were committing crimes or making love. No matter that it hadn’t happened ‘yet,’ it could happen in the future. Another mark against the control he wielded over his abilities that had to be scrubbed out before he would be satisfied.
The faucet’s hot water had become tepid by the time the tub was filled, Milan’s relieved sigh as she sunk into the water halting any attempt to mention his recent fantasy about sharing a bath with her. He just offered her one last kiss—the romance spoiled as she squeezed the water between her fists so a stream caught him square in the face—and returned to the bedroom to settle in for the night. Leo was curled up on his pillow—as usual—and made his perfunctory complaints when Vergil moved him aside and made himself comfortable. Sleep had been coming easier as of late, and he managed to drift off before Milan had even returned from her bath.
The scent of demons, however, was always a potent alarm. Vergil jerked awake and closed his hand around Yamato before he even processed what had woken him, summoning a sword above his head with the tip pointed directly at the source of the demonic stench.
Nothing was in the bedroom. His sword aimed at the empty space beside his side of the bed, the blue light briefly making his eyes sting and giving the whole space the eerie illusion of being underwater. The house creaked, a baby distantly cried, Leonardo purred in his dreams while Milan quietly snored undisturbed. But every part of Vergil was prickling with the knowledge that a demon was here, the very blood in his veins boiling from the sensation of a demon’s presence and his senses undeniably sure that something hellish had been standing just before the bed. Slowly, grinding his teeth until they ached with the creak of the old mattress, Vergil stood and drew Yamato out from behind the gaps in the headboard. The phantom sword followed him from above as he stepped into the empty space, nothing but a lingering smell only he could detect showing any evidence of a demonic intruder.
The stacks of books cluttering the room were undisturbed. The mugs they had forgotten sat cold on the nightstand. His mother’s pendant sat looped around the bedpost closest to him, the gold appearing tarnished and the gem purplish in the ghostly light. He slipped the charm up over his head, its weight a comfort he didn’t want to admit he’d missed. It was what his mother had given him, a six-year-old’s birthday present with his aggravating twin gifted its silver duplicate. This and his human flesh was Eva’s legacy—an inheritance Vergil had a much more difficult time swallowing than Dante ever had.
Dante… What Vergil wouldn’t give to have Dante here, snoring away on the couch and able to confirm or deny Vergil’s unease in an instant. But Dante was most likely still in northern Germany—and even if he wasn’t, Vergil knew that just the sight of their mother’s amulets or the knowledge that Vergil was researching Sparda’s power was enough to drive them to blows. Dante would be going on and on about how father had abandoned them, while screaming that Vergil didn’t know anything when he mentioned that Eva had—when her back was against the wall and demons were burning down their home—rejected searching for Vergil in favor of preserving Dante.
Dante didn’t know anything—had never known anything and had never been anything but a loud, irresponsible nuisance who only knew how to break whatever he touched. Father had taught Vergil his secrets, told him everything that could be shared with a child before his duty called him away and Vergil failed to slay the demons that destroyed his home and killed his mother. Even if she had chosen one son over the other, she was only a human. Dante had always been her favorite, and that was simply how it was. Any tears to shed over that fact had been steamed away in the flames of his destroyed home, and dwelling on it now was pointless.
Whatever had been in the room was gone—if it had even been there to begin with. Vergil needed sleep, and he needed to stop allowing his paranoia to control him. With a snap of cracking glass, the summed sword shattered into swiftly fading shards of light and Yamato was slotted back behind the headboard. Vergil curled back into bed and squeezed his eyes shut, filling his head with meditation mantras to drown out old memories and unalterable truths.
And if he slept that night with his amulet around his throat and a hand closed tightly around the jewel, it was only because no matter who his mother had loved more than him, that necklace was still a piece of her. A piece she had given him, that he was still too weak to discard.
“Go back to sleep, it’s church today.”
Vergil barely came back to consciousness at the shrill ringing of Milan’s alarm clock when her words connected, which let him drop his head right back on the pillow and tug the blanket up over his eyes as she turned on the lamp.
Milan’s church services started much earlier than her job did, and he was still unaccustomed to being woken at the nightmarish hour of five-thirty in the morning. Before he had been invited to share her bed, Vergil had been allowed to sleep through the alarm until Milan poked him awake or her banging about in the kitchen stirred him. Here, there was no escape; but Milan was merciful enough to insist that he stay in bed on church days, allowing him to go back to sleep until a more humane hour and make his own breakfast whenever he managed to drag himself out of bed.
When he finally did manage to rouse himself, it was to the peeved batting of his face by a hungry cat, to which Vergil located some pajama pants on the floor and shuffled downstairs to give Leonardo his breakfast. The coffee in the pot was barely lukewarm, but he drank a mug anyway to encourage his brain to start functioning properly. He had his bath and dressed himself, eating eggs that had attempted to become an omelet, but ended up scrambled as he shooed Leo off the table and knocked back another mug of coffee.
Eva’s amulet was still cool and heavy around his throat, still a comfort that he was embarrassed to admit, even to himself. But he ignored those dark, humiliating confessions in favor of shuffling the contents of the fridge in a hunt for something that could be put together for the Sunday dinner. They had eggs in the carton that needed to be used sooner rather than later, a wrapped package of bacon that had been lodged in the back of the freezer, and an abundance of dry spaghetti noodles—making pasta carbonara the choice meal from Vergil’s carefully cultivated notes on Milan’s recipes. He washed the ice off the stone-hard slab of bacon and wrapped it in a towel to let it thaw, briefly considering resuming his research until Leonardo charged around a corner and attacked Vergil’s ankles.
The rest of the morning was taken up by playing with Leo, teasing him with lengths of yarn and old ribbons Milan explicitly kept around to act as cat toys until Leo got tired enough to lay on the floor and ignore the dancing fabric. Vergil took that as his cue to let the cat take his afternoon nap, while he grabbed coat, gloves, boots, and sword before taking to the rooftops.
Most Fortuna citizens were in church at this time, which meant most businesses were closed as well. A few tourists ambled about, snapping pictures of this and that landmark or building, but by and large the streets were predominantly empty. This allowed Vergil to act a bit more stylishly than was strictly practical—sliding down slush-slick roofs and spinning around church spires between drawing Yamato in endless attempts to split space and time as his father once did. There were no successes, and the barest simmers of frustrations were starting to disrupt his practiced calm. It had taken years to achieve the mastery he currently had over his teleportation tricks, but even when he was unable to move an inch there had been flickers where he was untouchable. Breaths of the navy smoke that signaled future tricks. Before a single sword had manifested at his will, he could feel shimmers of power hovering like heat waves at his efforts. Always a sensation of harnessing his demonic powers, and slowly feeling it strengthen like a muscle being worked.
This… This was nothing. Just Vergil drawing his sword and letting it fall through empty space to absolutely no effect. No sensation of his powers being utilized, no flickers from Yamato or the air before him after nearly two months of practice, nothing demonstrating that Vergil was doing anything other than making a fool of himself on Fortuna’s rooftops. The chapters that had described that power of Yamato had been clear—Sparda drew Yamato and sliced open dimensions. Sparda used Yamato to open or close entrances between the human and demon worlds. The power of Yamato was activated and amplified by Sparda’s powerful blood, and only he could wield such a blade and power. Vergil was performing the same actions with the intent to divide the fabric of reality, with the blood of The Dark Knight Sparda pumping through his veins. Vergil was even standing on an island that claimed to be the very place Sparda sealed the two worlds from each other for God’s sake!
So why wasn’t this working?!
Vergil tricked up and about until he was atop the grand cathedral, the huge black monolith known as ‘The Hell Gate’ looming over all in the square beside it. He sat on the roof and glared at the monument while the sun peered through holes in the grey clouds, trying to unravel what he could be missing that was preventing him from unlocking this power. He was following the tomes exactly—at least, the tomes that were comprehensible. But all the texts written in any human language seemed to have been picked apart and had their pages shuffled with other texts; whole paragraphs nonsensically thrown together on the page and chapters non-sequentially referencing each other while outright contradicting themselves from section to section. It was baffling that such respected texts were so poorly compiled, especially compared the comparatively orderly hellish scripts.
The tile scraped under his boot heels with the painful grating of broken bone, prickling his hackles as he started to pace. These damnable humans put so much pomp and presumption into their ridiculous cult, only for their holiest of holies to be nothing but scattered notes compiled by a blind drunkard! Even as Sparda betrayed and defeated all of demonkind with his actions, those very devils still managed to keep better records than the Fortunese fools he currently stood over.
Cursing, Vergil raked his fingers through his hair and stared out over the empty streets. There were simply no more leads. He had the most valuable texts Fortuna’s most sacred church held on Sparda’s history and weaponry, and the books that should have been the most useful had resulted in unreadable nonsense. There was nothing more complete to fall back on—Vergil had hit a dead end that even Milan’s knowledge couldn’t circumvent. She couldn’t even read the more complete texts without the power of the demonic languages hurting her.
Something acid burned inside his chest at the memory of her headache. Another reminder that what he was doing was increasingly dangerous for Milan, and here he was—atop a building with no progress to show for all the risk. He needed to get this to move forward, or he was nothing but a—
Milan’s voice interjected his own thoughts, memory overtaking the spiral into despair as she reminded him that to her, he was not a burden. She was just as invested in their research-driven crime sprees as he had been, and if she wanted him gone, he was under no illusions that she would hesitate in telling him so. She was a remarkably independent woman, and Vergil only did her a disservice by wringing his hands over her wellbeing as if she was a child. She was brilliant, remarkable, foul-mouthed, and quick to anger. She loved to tease him, had a habit of snoring, and hogged the blankets in bed.
How perfect she was…
Vergil returned home with the soft warmth of affection glowing in his chest, still too skittish to openly label the feeling as love but more than happy to bask in the sensation as he started his chores. He scrubbed the bathtub and sink, mopped the bathroom floor, and started a load of laundry before he got out his journal and joined Leonardo on the couch. Milan tended to return home around two in the afternoon, so Vergil took his time paging through old notes and sketches of his father while Leo purred by his side. Sparda’s demonic form was a magnificent monster, terrifying in shape but comforting in the knowledge that this beast was his protector. His teacher. Father.
At around one-thirty, Vergil put the book aside, Leonardo following him into the kitchen in the vain hope of tidbits. The water was just beginning to boil and the pan for the bacon warmed, while Vergil dug out the parmesan only to see that mold had crept up a corner of the little block. His first impulse was to throw it away, but Milan had once told him that certain cheeses were fine to eat if you just cut the moldy part away. He couldn’t recall if parmesan was one of them, so he simply set the block aside for when Milan came home. He’d also misremembered how many eggs had been in the carton, which left him short an egg as he attempted to put together the sauce mixture. Leo was no help at all as Vergil debated having the mixture be short one egg yolk or one whole egg, only purring around his ankles and mewing piteously as Vergil drained the bacon.
Milan came home with a laugh easily heard from the kitchen, almost skipping up to him with a bottle of wine cradled in her arms like a new baby.
“Perla gave it to me!” She squealed, hurrying the bottle to the fridge before launching into a tale about a mix-up in orders for a dinner party and a furious debate with the wine merchant leaving several bottles of wine that needed to be drunk—Milan being given one such bottle for her own enjoyment.
“I haven’t been able to have wine in ages, when should we drink it?”
Vergil shrugged, and gave the pasta a final turn in the hopes that it would improve the sauce’s consistency. It was far too watery, and even he had to admit he’d over-boiled the noodles while fretting about the missing egg.
“I doubt tonight’s dinner will be worthy of a glass of wine… Maybe on a birthday?”
“Ugh. Well mine will be in November, and I’m not waiting that long. What about you?”
“Yuck, still too long. How about tomorrow? I have the day off—we can go to the market early and pick out something fun to pair with the wine!”
“Early?” Vergil pulled a face, but couldn’t help the smile when Milan laughed and promised him that after the long and arduous task of grocery shopping tomorrow morning, he would be permitted a nap.
They ate—with the cheese turning out fine after Milan chopped the molded part away—and threw ideas as to what would pair well with the wine back and forth, fetching books from upstairs and switching to passing theories between each other as Vergil struggled over the nonsensical older texts. His notes went nowhere, and eventually they both agreed to retire early in preparation for tomorrow. Preparation Vergil’s body clearly did not appreciate, as when Milan woke him up at six the next morning, he struggled to stay conscious in the bath while Milan made some toast and totaled up their grocery funds.
They were down to the dregs of their coffee tin, but Vergil still received a mug and gratefully let the caffeine ooze into his bloodstream while Milan outlined their plan of attack.
They both needed to stay separate in order to protect what good standing Milan still had with her community, so she had divided up the shopping list and distributed their meager funds accordingly between them.
“And yes, I gave you the list with the heavier stuff. Any protest?” Vergil shook his head, still too tired for a smile but appreciating the wicked gleam in her eye as she forged ahead with their battle strategy.
Vergil was indeed tasked with getting the bulkier items—milk, cheese, various vegetables and cuts of meat—while Milan had given herself the more lightweight items, with a large series of question marks at the end of her list that she declared to be whatever surprise foodstuff that would pair well with red wine, and was within their budget. They were to buy what they could with the money Milan had estimated each of their lists would require, and anything that was missed due to miscalculation could be picked up after they met back at the house.
Plan set, Leo was fed right before they set out into the early March air; Milan hugging her cloak tight as she traveled the streets and Vergil relishing the invigorating bite of the wind as he moved over the rooftops. Fortuna’s market was predominantly open air, with the broadest native selections coming from the sea. Fisherman were moving about the morning fog setting up stalls full to the brim with ice, fish and cephalopods laid out beside massive tanks and barrels full of crabs, urchins, and mollusques. Most other produce was local as well, though there was the occasional ship carrying produce or luxury goods from overseas to be sold as well. And even though the market was officially open at eight, seven-thirty still had a fair few Fortuna citizens buying and chatting, though Vergil was the only tourist he could spy as he dropped off a roof and into an alley.
Unknotting Yamato from his belt, the sword returned to her disguise as an elaborate walking stick when he stepped onto the market’s cobbled square, the crisp tap with every step a magnificent rhythm to keep as he looked over his list. Everything was simple enough to find and in remarkable quality, the only true annoyance being the glares he received from the market’s Guards for daring to be the first tourist of the day. But he had enough money for everything on the list, and as he made his purchases it was a delight to glance out of the corner of his eye to see Milan in her favorite red dress chatting with this or that vendor. To pass her by in the sparse street and feel the thrill of knowing her, while playing at being strangers. To be passing by her stall, and when she fumbled her change onto the cobblestones, stoop for a moment to help as any polite gentleman would for a lady.
By the time his list was finished, Vergil was laden with several paper bags and Milan was off by the docks, talking animatedly with a fisherman leaning on a barrel. With no desire to leave until she started for home, Vergil wandered between the stalls—smelling the salty air blown up from the sea and enjoying the quiet chatter between buyers and sellers. A gentle murmur of life that had yet to become boisterous and crowded, with tourists occasionally trickling into the square and mostly keeping their cameras away in favor of shopping. A good, beautiful morning. One with wine and something to pair it with promised later today, and Milan’s company to enjoy the whole way throughout.
Ten minutes of quiet wandering was appreciated, Milan passing him by at the end of it and heading in the direction of home without glancing his way. Smiling faintly, Vergil counted the seconds until he could follow without stirring up any gossip, and stepped back onto the streets after a few minutes had passed. Life was oozing back into the city, citizens and tourists alike starting their days in cafes, shops, and in the market square. The sky was almost completely clear, the hot sun just risen and painting the horizon in unreal colors. It was all so beautiful, Vergil wanted to take his time walking home.
But of course, fate could never be so kind.
He had just rounded a corner, only a block or so away from home, when his blood boiled with demonic heat. The back of his skull hummed, and on the air, he could smell what only those touched with demonic blood could catch—a trail felt as much as smelt. A demon was nearby, and moving swiftly over the rooftops.
Vergil jerked his head up in the same moment he teleported, landing directly atop a nearby rooftop and peering out over Fortuna’s rustic skyline. There was no sign of any devil atop the rooftops, but the scent was so fresh Vergil could follow it like a blood trail across the street and down into an alley. He wove between pairs of Fortuna citizens and pushed through crowds of tourists, straining his senses for the demon. It was probably a beast of middling strength, and incredibly swift if it kept up a trail through the crowded streets without Vergil ever catching sight of it. Most likely human-shaped, or else invisible in some way to hide itself from the knights and civilians that bustled about.
It may have been what had awoken him in the dead of night, but Vergil had no way of confirming it. Only Dante and Sparda had an aspect to their presence that he could differentiate between other demons; all others only separating themselves to his senses by their strength. Weak demons barely made his nerves prickle, while Pandora’s might had thrown his whole world out of balance when she entered this dimension. What he chased now had the same middling strength as what had intruded into Milan’s bedroom, but it could have easily been one demon of a pack; a notion perhaps more alarming than just a solitary demon stalking him.
Cutting into an empty alley, Vergil returned to the rooftops and cast about his senses. There was a general miasma of demonic presence in the air, but nothing on the streets or rooftops indicated anything amiss. It was business as usual.
Snarling with frustration, Vergil returned to the streets one last time to try and locate his prey. He circled the entire city block, the most exciting event being a tourist with his nose in a book bumping shoulders with Vergil. The trail went from hot to stone cold as he finished his loop—not even a wisp of demonic presence remained when Vergil gave up and tricked his way home; Milan unpacking groceries in the kitchen and somewhat startled when she turned around to see him stepping out of a cloud of smoke.
“There you are! What held you up, I was sure you’d beat me here.”
“I caught the scent of a demon on my way home.”
Vergil started unloading the groceries automatically, detailing his fruitless chase to Milan and feeling more and more a fool as he described the pointless loops through the streets. His mind again drifted back to waking up in the middle of the night, and doubt began to ooze into him once his story was complete. He had never caught sight of a demon—not in Milan’s bedroom or on the streets of Fortuna. Perhaps he was simply stir-crazy; his stalling research wearing his nerves so thin as to fool him into sensing demons around every corner. That, or his nightmares were simply manifesting themselves in the waking world over the dream one—a possibility Vergil fervently denied to himself if only because he didn’t want to ruin the rest of his day by questioning his sanity.
“Well, as long as it didn’t follow you home, I’d say it’s nothing to worry about.” It was a blessing that Milan had her back to him, as Vergil could not control a guilty flinch. Milan had no knowledge of Vergil’s midnight scare, and he now intended to keep it that way until he had solid proof that such a demon was real. No point in terrifying her if the event was simply a sign of his own psychosis—a notion that threatened to pull him down into the dark spiral of his mind until Milan brought him back with a shake.
“Vergil? Are you there?”
“Yes… Just disappointed that I failed to catch the beast.” She sighed in a fond sort of exasperation and kissed him, settling her arms over his shoulders and nuzzling his cheek when they parted.
“Don’t worry about it.” As if it could be so simple… But laying on the couch with Milan draped over his chest, feeling the warm weight of her body over his as he drifted in and out of a nap to the flutter of pages, made the anxieties a little easier to ignore.
“I don’t…” For a moment the rest of the sentence slipped out of his mind, his attention snagged on the graceful toss of her head and motion of her throat as Milan shot back another oyster. “I don’t think this is the best way for me to learn cards…”
“Nonsense! When have I ever had a bad idea?” Vergil rolled his eyes and took another sip from his glass, relishing the floral wine as much as he did Milan’s drunken giggles as she clarified, “‘Never’ is the correct answer, by-the-by.”
“Duly noted.” And he tossed back one of his own oysters, giving his lips a salacious lick to encourage Milan’s giggling into an adorable snort.
The surprise had been two dozen oysters, hidden in a covered bowl of water in the back of the fridge before he had made it home and revealed with a flourish come dinnertime. Vergil had taken on the duty of cleaning and opening the mollusques, warning Milan that red wine was often too harsh for raw oysters, only to be assured that Perla had sworn the vintage was a light and fruity one. And Perla had not steered them wrong—neither had the fisherman who sold the oysters, which were plump and buttery within their brine. Milan had been the one to do the wine pouring and relocating Leonardo upstairs, surprising Vergil after they enjoyed a toast by pulling out a pack of cards and declaring her intentions to teach him poker.
Discarding two cards and barely glancing at what Milan dealt back, Vergil tipped back the last swallow of his wine and reached for the bottle. While he refilled his glass, Milan threw two more of her empty oyster shells in the middle of the table with a challenging smirk, to which Vergil passed and the cards were revealed. Milan cursed as Vergil’s flush beat out her straight, Vergil pulling his small horde of shells to his side of the table and partaking in another oyster.
“You weren’t even looking at your cards!”
“No, I don’t see much of a reason to.”
Tipping back her own glass and fixing him with a look of utmost suspicion, Milan reshuffled the deck and began the deal again.
“Is one of your powers some kind of supernatural luck? Or are you just reading my mind?”
“Neither. I’m not even trying particularly hard to win.” He raised his own glass, and winked at her. “Sparda must simply favor his son.”
To which Milan burst out laughing. Honestly, he was finding it harder and harder to focus on the game—the wine softening the edges of the world while Milan was being delightfully distracting, with her tipsy blushes and the sensual movement of her throat with each oyster she ate. He simply tossed out the cards of the lowest value and pushed the ante-shell into the pile, and somehow kept winning. Which, he had to admit, was rather fun; the prizes of discarded oyster shells were so beautiful on the inside, Vergil kept reminding himself to save one to put in his treasure box. Even when he had to bow out of Milan’s life, he would still have a memento of their time together.
They played down to the bottom of the bottle and the last of the oysters, Vergil’s head propped up on one hand and idly attempting to make his wine glass sing with the other. As he ran his wine-damp finger around the rim of his glass, Milan discarded three of her cards and tossed the last of her shells into the pile.
“So, why do you think so many of those old books read like someone put their pages together wrong?”
“Hm?” Vergil had been lost in an attempt to recall a dirty joke about eating oysters with beautiful women, and only when Milan repeated herself twice more did the words penetrate his drunken haze. “Haven’t the slightest idea. Poor documentation?”
Milan hummed, unconvinced as she studied her hand.
“No… They wouldn’t leave such valuable information in such a state… Unless they did it on purpose?”
This whole line of conversation seemed far too much effort for a drunk mind to embark on, so he merely shrugged and pushed the rest of his shells into the pot. All but the biggest one, which he turned under the light to admire the iridescent ribbons of color within the shell’s curve while pushing his cards towards Milan for her to inspect. He’d apparently lost, or else Milan was cleaning up the shells because the wine and food was gone and therefore it was time for bed. Vergil drained his glass for the final time and stood, only to fall against the table and need to take a minute to settle his swimming vision.
“How are you this drunk from only half a bottle of wine?!” Milan tugged on his arm and started leading him up the stairs. “The grappa didn’t hit you nearly so hard; you made it all the way home with me in your arms.”
“But the hangover nearly killed me…” He moaned, his head starting to throb with just the memory of it.
“Still, you’ve got to be at least 180 centimeters tall—and you have magic!”
“That second one has nothing to do with anything…” Though he did find it a little unfair that Milan—who was at most five and a half feet tall, and that was being generous—seemed so stable in mind and body after the same amount of wine. “Perhaps it’s because when I had the grappa, I was afraid…” He could remember that feeling as clearly as the memory of the sweet-sour liquor in his mouth. The fear as the Knights grew suspicious of a noise in the library, his whole body prickling with nerves whose demonic source burned fiercer than the alcohol. The terror of that awful scream, and being so sure that Milan—that something had gotten Milan, something…
His train of thought abruptly derailed as Milan sat him down on the bed, and started unbuttoning his shirt with machine efficiency while Leo prowled around them, no doubt in search of the source of the briny oyster smell they both carried. Vergil managed to snag a few kisses from her as she helped him undress, but knew he was far too drunk for any attempts at sex tonight. He was more than satisfied to just curl around Milan once she had rid herself of her own clothes, humming with contentment as she tugged his hands about her soft stomach, and breathing in the sweet smell of her hair as sleep took him.
The morning left him with a hangover that wasn’t nearly as bad as the grappa, though his mouth felt even dryer if that was possible. Milan—due to some great cosmic injustice—seemed no worse for wear, and offered him mild teasing as he groaned when her alarm clock went off. The dim light of her lamp was far too bright, but Milan lured his head out from under the blankets with a glass of water and a pair of aspirin. Vergil took the pills and guzzled the water, setting the glass aside and starting to lay down when his whole body froze. He had moved to sweep aside his amulet so he could comfortably lay on his stomach, but his fingers only touched bare skin when they brushed his collarbone. His head throbbed at the temples and vision swam when he jerked himself up, yanking back the sheets in a panic and gasping through the fear,
“Milan! My amulet—what happened to—” Clearly alarmed, Milan dropped her dressing gown and pointed directly over his shoulder. Sure enough, his amulet was hanging by its chain over the bedpost—where he always put the charm if he had to remove it. How had it come off? Who put it there? His breath was coming in short gasps, cold sweat breaking over his body as the sudden rush of adrenaline settled when he took back his mother’s gift. His hands shook as he fumbled with the clasp—why was this so hard? All he needed was to get this on, to feel its cool weight and know he still had it—
A hand closed around one of his wrists, the other on his shoulder to hold him in place—to keep him still for the claws that would split his middle and leave him clinging to his own guts while fire raged around him. He tricked; appearing in a puff of smoke beside the bedroom door with Eva’s amulet clutched in both hands. Milan was coughing, and the moment Vergil realized what had happened, he looked up fully expecting to see Milan thrown against the opposite wall with her chest caved in—But no, she was only fanning away the cloud of navy smoke that drifted before her, meeting his eyes with her own face full of regret.
“I’m so sorry Vergil, I didn’t know it was so important to you! I’ll never do that again, I promise!” He was still shaking, rush upon rush of panic making his stomach unexpectedly heave. When he managed to swallow down the acid scalding his throat, he was on one knee with a hand clamped over his mouth, the other white-knuckled over the only evidence of his mother’s affection. Milan was kneeling before him, hands hovering but not touching. “It’s okay Vergil. Everything will be okay. Take a deep breath for me, okay? Just a deep breath…” She sucked in a slow lungful of air and released it just as carefully, repeating the action until Vergil’s own breath was mirroring hers.
“Shhhh… Just breathe. I’m sorry Vergil, I’ll never take your amulet off you again. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sorry…” Vergil wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to apologize; he had been too drunk to warn her, and she had seen him remove the charm and put it where she had hung it plenty of times. It was not that the amulet was not on him itself that prompted such dread, but that when he realized it was gone, he had no idea where it was or how it was taken from him. It was an honest mistake, and she was not at fault. He had overreacted when all she wanted was to check on him, and he should be apologizing to her for the simple fact that he could have hurt her again in his terror. But it took so much of his focus just to match the breathing pace Milan had set, all he could do was lean forward until his head rested on her shoulder.
He didn’t know exactly how long they were there, but when he could lift his head, he reminded Milan that she had work today, and he didn’t want to get her in trouble. Milan was midway through a vibrant description of how little she cared what her boss would think if she arrived late, when Vergil stood.
“I don’t recall, did you manage to get a bath before we went to sleep?” When she shook her head, Vergil nodded once and got the clasp of the necklace open on the first try. “You go take a bath, get ready. I’ll make breakfast.” The amulet was cool and heavy on his breastbone, and his fingers closed the chain with practiced ease.
“But, will you be okay?”
“Yes. I’m fine now I just—” Just want this to stop already there are no demons here why am I still like this I’m happy now so whywhywhywhy— “I could use some breakfast.”
Milan had her bath, Vergil fried bacon and eggs. Leonardo was fed, the coffee pot dripped in the background. Milan came down with hair still damp and fully dressed, spending more time asking Vergil what she could do to help, what she should avoid in the future, until Vergil sighed and stated,
“Milan, I’m sorry. But right now, I don’t want to talk about it.” She was a put out, but there was no anger in the resulting quiet as she finished her breakfast and tipped back the dregs of her coffee. She parted for work with a final lingering kiss, Vergil left to nurse his hangover in private.
It took well into lunchtime before Vergil was feeling fully human again, laying on the couch with his journal in one hand and Leo’s purring body under the other. His notes sat unchanging before his eyes, leaving him no closer to unlocking Yamato’s secrets than he would be if he just turned over and kept his face in the couch cushions until Milan came home. Had they talked about the research last night? He vaguely remembered Milan with her serious expression, and something about intentionally poor documentation. But what was much clearer was the artful curve of Milan’s throat with each oyster she slurped from its shell, how easily she laughed when tipsy, how flushed she got with each pull from her wine glass.
Heat simmered through Vergil’s blood as he dwelt on those memories, sweeter than wine and twice as intoxicating. This is what he wanted his mind to dwell on; not injuries long past and fears best forgotten. Milan was still hours from coming home, but Vergil couldn’t help but dwell on the slowly developing fantasies for a few precious minutes before he rose and took up Yamato. The brisk March air cleared his head, and the fates were kind enough to spare his senses from any demons—phantom or otherwise—that might have been lurking around the city. The snows were only clinging to Fortuna in stubborn drifts that sweated under the sun, the sky blue enough for a painting with the sun warm even through the chilly wind. A day not to be sullied by panic and memories.
When Milan did return, Vergil was back to paging through his notes, with a look on her face that promised further questions where he was not ready to tread.
“Milan, please. I just… I can’t talk about what happened. I’m sorry.”
She was so obviously disappointed, so clearly curious for information on his fits of panic and their causes; but she did not press him, and it was one of countless reasons why he was constantly biting his tongue to keep back the dreaded phrase ‘I love you.’ After dinner they went upstairs to read, but more than an hour was spent fussing with a heating pad, Milan groaning about the pains of her starting menses while she struggled to find a comfortable position on the bed. While the heat of the hot water bottle slowly sunk in, she grabbed one of the Latin books and paged through it while Vergil combed his fingers through her hair.
“So… What do you think of my theory?” At Vergil’s confusion, Milan nudged his shoulder and took up his journal as well, comparing notes to text. “That these books are so confusing on purpose, in order to hide the secrets, they hold.” It… Wasn’t a completely outlandish theory. These texts held true demonic power, and it would be a point in The Order’s favor if they thought to keep their most sacred texts encoded.
“But what kind of cypher would they use?”
“I don’t know. Would it be possible to have something universal between all the languages they’re written in?”
“No idea… Here, let’s group them together by language. We might be able to see a pattern within one group, at least.
The night was spent organizing, the next week pouring over tome after tome in an attempt to find any indication of a pattern that could lead them to a cypher. Vergil spent a few days aiding in the organization, but his attention was inexorably drawn to the demonic tomes. These books made some sort of sense to him, and illuminated details of Sparda and his powers no human text ever described.
One week bled into the next. They kept themselves up until midnight with research, only to fall into each other’s arms with the kind of frantic passion only the young can have in bed. Vergil’s journal was filling up not with his neat calligraphy, but with Milan’s rushed scrawl and her own asides heavily flavoring the margins. By the third week of March, Milan had sorted all their stolen books by language, notating each story and hymn within clusters based on the language they were written in. Vergil’s journal was nearly full, but answers still eluded their reach. Yamato’s true power was beyond Vergil’s grasp, despite near daily practice sessions upon the rooftops when Milan was away.
Come April, Vergil was close to giving up. There were no more books to read, not even in the most obscure of demonic script. All there was were myths, stories, and songs to praise Sparda, with his powerful swords. Swords of Sparda’s strength, of his blood. Swords that sang in harmony with the soul of Sparda, and raised The Dark Knight’s own prodigious abilities to the levels of which could beat all the armies of Hell out of the human world. A sword that was Vergil’s birthright, and yet kept her own secrets from him.
Sparda had given Vergil Yamato and Dante Rebellion when they were six, his own gifts mirroring the amulets bequeathed by Eva. They were still so small, their demon powers barely a fraction of what they would display at seventeen, but Sparda was insistent that they handle the blades, even if their actual training was done with wooden facsimiles
‘These blades are one with your souls.’ He would tell them, showing each boy the proper form in turn amidst the riotous blooms of his beloved garden. ‘They are the keys to your power; power that may save your lives, if it comes to that…’ Yamato had saved Vergil’s life once when he was eight, and countless times after. She was an extension of his arm, a piece of his legacy, a part of Sparda tied as close to Vergil as the blood in his veins. So why could he not show the same mastery father had displayed to these scribes and priests who wrote Fortuna’s scripture?!
He was Sparda’s oldest son. Sparda had given Vergil Yamato with his own hands and trained him with a wooden blade for two years in preparation of wielding her might, until his mysterious mission called him away to the unknown. What was he missing?!
Springtime was humming outside the window. Leonardo chattered at bees and birds beyond the glass of the window while Milan dozed on the couch with her head in Vergil’s lap. Vergil was staring at his notes, the words blurring into each other and lacking nearly all meaning.
Blood. Power. Demon strength. Sparda. Yamato. Blood. Key.
Yamato was the key to sealing the portals between the human and demon worlds. Yamato was strengthened by Sparda’s own blood, and Sparda in turn was strengthened by her. Sparda had given Vergil Yamato, and called her the key to his power.
Slowly, Vergil slipped out from under Milan’s head and fetched Yamato from upstairs. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, Vergil drew the blade and spun her once in the air, appreciating the gleam of light off her white blade. Running his thumb along her edge, blood sprang up freely and his nerves hummed gently with the ripple of demonic power. It was similar to the sensation he’d felt when a child, and Sparda had shown Vergil his true demonic form in all its glory. Like when he and Dante clashed, and Yamato tasted his twin brother’s potent blood. It was the power of Sparda, and Yamato recalled it even then.
Milan was waking up at this time, her gasp was sharp and shocked when she saw him squeeze his ungloved hand over the blade and slowly pull his palm along the length. Blood ran freely onto the linoleum, Yamato’s aura pulsing once against his senses in response. Response to Sparda’s blood. A demon’s blood; blood that had saved him from injuries that would kill a human time and time again, that stirred in his veins at the presence of another hellish creature. A key given by Sparda to unlock his power…
Milan was saying something, her voice rising but Vergil unable to hear. Closing his bleeding hand about the other, Vergil lifted Yamato up, up, up until the point rested just below Eva’s golden amulet, and thrust the blade directly through his heart.
Vergil choked on his own blood, scarlet spilling over hands that still gripped his sword’s hilt, whose white blade gleamed out his back. Milan couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe—she had been asking Vergil what he thought he was doing, cutting his hand open with his own sword, when pure animal fear closed her throat as Vergil put that very blade through his chest.
She had never seen so much blood, never could have imagined what sounds a person would make with their lungs pierced. Vergil’s hands dropped from Yamato’s hilt. His knees folded as if he was in prayer, head rolling back and face simply empty of emotion.
The air pulsed. It thrummed and fizzled the way it did when a thunderstorm was approaching, as palpable to her senses as the thick blue aura that was lighting up around Vergil’s form. His face contorted, and with another thrum in the atmosphere like the beating of the world’s own heart, Vergil screamed.
It was the scream of a monster.
A deep, primal roar of agony that sent Leonardo screeching and diving under the couch while stealing the very air from Milan’s chest and freezing her to the spot. The blue light emanating from him became the dark navy of the smoke left behind when he performed his vanishing trick. His body… Burst out of itself as an insect left its cocoon: Two pairs of huge, leathery wings exploded out of his back. His body bulged with bright blue scales, his head split to sport two huge lumps of white horn and a wide maw full of gleaming black fangs. A demon in the shape of both dragon and man roared its agony on her kitchen floor, before crumpling forward into the pool of Vergil’s blood.
Silence ruled over the world in seconds that seemed to stretch into years.
Milan could barely breathe, waiting for the thing that might not be Vergil to stir.
Then doors started slamming throughout the building, and Milan was shocked back to her senses. Everyone must have heard the demon’s roar—Vergil’s roar—and unless she wanted to be found out, she had to act just as ignorant as her neighbors.
Leonardo was still under the couch, and Milan knew there was no way she would be able to drag the cat out. Vergil was unmoving on the floor, Yamato gone from his chest and no sign of a wound left on his new scaly body. She left him there and bolted out the front door onto the landing of her floor, almost running directly into her neighbors’ children as the father hurried them across the landing. He and his wife had a wild look of terror about them, the baby wailing in the mother’s arms and their children shaking as they clung to their father’s side. Milan looked to the mother and asked,
“Did you hear—?” She nodded violently, and in one jerky movement gestured for Milan to follow them. She complied at once, finding some small relief in being part of a group as the family went down to the bottom floor, where everyone else in the building seemed to have agreed to gather. The landlord was stuck in a crowd of terrified people, insisting over and over again that he’d called the Knights, and that everyone needed to stay calm and stay together. The father of the family added his booming voice to the chorus that harassed the landlord, while the mother tugged on Milan’s arm and whispered in her ear,
“Stay with us until we know this is settled, okay sweetheart?” Milan nodded once, completely sincere in her terror. Because Vergil… Vergil was…
He was exactly what he claimed to be.
Vergil had told her he was a son of Sparda, had shown her his fucking family pictures, and yet—
It never connected in her mind. She’d never wanted to think about what it really meant for Vergil to be Sparda’s son, because it would have been too hard to wrap her head around. At every display of his powers and claim to Sparda’s heritage, she’d made a joke and let the implications fly over her head. Her ignorance was a blindfold she’d willingly donned, and now everyone in her building was suffering the consequences with her. Vergil’s scream haunted her even amidst all the noise of humanity she was locked within, deep and resonant enough to ripple the air around them with a sword she’d seen so many times she’d stopped thinking about through his chest.
Yamato… She’d rationalized away any claims that Yamato was The Yamato—the blade whose mark left the towering Hell gate in the middle of Fortuna—another sign of her ignorance and hubris. Of course, Vergil was spending all this time researching his own sword’s power, not some ancient blade his own sword was named after. It was stupid to think otherwise, and for the past few months Milan had been a willful idiot for the sake of not having to truly consider what Vergil’s parentage implied with her association with him. What it actually meant to have him in her bed, to have him whisper in her ear that he loved her in the throes of passion; how she could conceive of Sparda in the context of his human wife, but not in connection to Vergil’s nightmares and paranoia.
The knights arrived to a terrified clamor of questions and one very harassed landlord, but the commander of the squad insisted over the noise of the crowd that as long as everyone remained calm and quiet, everything would be fine. The commander took the landlord aside, while the rest of the knights dispersed themselves to travel from family to family to begin asking questions. Milan kept her head down behind her neighbors, hoping she would be overlooked as she tried to wrap her head around Sparda as Vergil’s father. She had compared the idea of a smiling photograph to the emotionless statue in church before, and found the concept of Sparda as the man in love very appealing. And yet, Sparda had vanished when Vergil was eight. What could have possibly killed Sparda? And if nothing could have slain the Dark Knight, what excuse could he have to abandon his family to whatever caused Vergil’s screaming nightmares and episodes of uncontrollable panic. Something so potent that even after months of living together, Vergil could not even begin to broach the topic. Something that drove him to plunge his own sword through his chest in an effort to heighten his own strength, and turn himself into…
Well, into a demon. There could be no other way to describe him. Demon. The cambion son of Sparda that was living in her house, sharing her bed, and bleeding on her floor. A blue lizard-thing that was confidant and lover to her. On some level, Milan was sure that the concept was supposed to invoke disgust in her; the idea of a monster having sex with her so revolting as to make her sick.
But all she felt was worry. Worry for Vergil, and if the bleeding had truly stopped. If his healing powers could close a wound that large and keep him alive. If he would awaken scared or confused, and fall into another panic without anyone to ground him. Anyone except Leonardo, and oh how she wished she had gotten her cat before she fled. Unless Vergil was truly lost, she was sure he would never hurt Leo, but the poor baby was undoubtedly terrified of the strange, roaring entity that had taken Vergil’s place—
“Miss? Miss, can you hear me? Are you feeling faint?” A knight was tapping her shoulder, her neighbors crowded around her and asking how she was feeling as she braced herself against a wall with her mind in a death-spiral of fear for her lover and her pet.
“I… I…” Was it better to lean into an impression of a swooning damsel, or to pull herself together and get out whatever answers they wanted. “I’m fine, thank you. Just… I never thought demons would come so close to—I suppose I’m still in a bit of a shock.” If she outright feigned fainting, they might carry her off and keep her in the hospital overnight to recover. And she needed to return to her apartment as soon as she could, to check on her family.
“Well, that isn’t too uncommon.” The knight assured her, smiling in a sweet sort of way as he flipped to a fresh page in a little notebook. “Now, do you feel well enough for a few questions? Just on what you heard or saw that made you panic.”
Milan acquiesced, detailing a quiet evening before a terrifying roar split the air and prompted her to bolt. She hadn’t seen anything that could have made the noise, detected no scents of sulphur or brimstone in the air, and felt no sudden changes in the air’s temperature before or after the sound. The knight nodded and only made perfunctory marks in his book, just turning to leave as he asked her name. When she gave it, he halted mid-step and Milan’s heart plummeted into her gut.
“Milan D’Atri? Do you know a knight by the name of Samuele Vitale?” For a second, Milan was wrong footed. At the recognition of her name, she expected questions about the library, about the interrogation she had been put under and the missing books in the archives that might pin her as culpable in this sudden demonic presence. Not a mention about that clingy knight everyone seemed to be intent on pushing her towards. When she admitted they had met a few times, the knight launched into what might have been an improvised novel on how dearly Knight Vitale missed their walks together—strange, as they had walked together all of once when Alessa contrived it, and from then on Milan had taken a different path home in order to avoid the man—how sweet was his memory of her—had she been anything but tepidly polite to him, if not utterly silent?—and his hope to be in her company again—which Milan planned to continue to avoid even after Vergil left Fortuna.
None of these thoughts could be shared, of course, so Milan played at being demure and made the appropriate noises on how she was still too young for courting, and when the knight finally left to continue with his duty Milan slumped back against the wall and waved off the concern of her neighbors. While the husband gave her a fatherly sort of joshing about all the handsome young men that were waiting on tenterhooks for her to come of a marrying age, the wife patted her shoulder and whispered conspiratorially on how blind men could be to the most obvious of signals. The children pestered their parents on when they could go back into their homes, the baby had fallen into a restless slumber, knights continued to roam, and the general noise mellowed as boredom slowly began to leach the panic out of the room.
When the landlord returned with the commander, the lead knight ordered his subordinates to follow him, and requested that all tenets stay inside while they did a sweep of the perimeter. Her neighbors were discussing going to their parent’s house for the night until they were sure this debacle was over, and Milan was just in the middle of gently rejecting the offer for her to join them when the unmistakable sound of The Order’s swords revving their engines snarled on the street. There were screams, prayers, a roar for silence from the landlord, and a swarm of people trying to run with nowhere to go. Both children were scooped up in their father’s arms, mother clinging to her infant while pressing her own body into her husband’s side, and Milan dove into the crowd with single-minded intent. Crushing her skirts in her fists and hiking them up higher than was ever proper, she elbowed and shoved her way through the crush until she was spat up at the foot of the stairs.
She took them two at a time, red skirts flying as she skidded to a halt on her landing and fumbled with the door. Leo was still hidden from view, Vergil’s blood was a cooling puddle on the old kitchen tiles, but Vergil himself was absent. The roar of the sword-engines was even louder than before, and she dared to peak between her window’s curtains. On the street, just below her window, was at least a half-dozen demons. Bipedal figures crusted with scales, drooling dog heads sniffing around the ground while an emaciated figure gestured with hands whose fingers stretched into claws long and thin as icepicks. Milan leaned closer to the glass, and as if the thing could hear the squeak of the floorboards from the street below, the claw-handed demon twisted its bird-ish head around like an owl and let out an ungodly screech before it leapt straight for the window. Milan’s own scream was strangled in a throat closed with fear, her body flinching in some pathetic attempt to flee while every joint locked. But the monster never even managed to scratch the glass, before a sword made of blue light pierced it from above and sent it careening back down to the road.
Knights shouted in confusion while the demons howled and shrieked, Milan just managing to get her face back up to the window to see rings of Vergil’s magical swords spinning around every other demon, before they all pierced through their targets to pincushion the surrounding devils. One voice rose above the other knights and demanded them to fall back, while a different blue light fell over the staggering pack. Or, not a light, but a filter. As though looking through a sheer blue scarf a shade or two darker than the summoned swords. Until a flash filled the street, with the shimmering field split through as though a mosaic. When her vision cleared the world had lost the blue halo about it, with the demons left in pieces to slowly melt into ichor and brimstone on the cobblestone.
Just as the knights started to approach the bodies, Milan’s ears popped and the air hummed around her. In the middle of her living room two lines forming an ‘X’ drew themselves in the air, splitting into a void ringed in navy light and showing only indigo shadows beyond—the shape of a dragon-man stepping through the portal before it sealed itself up behind him. The humming stopped, not a mark left where he had stepped through reality. Not a mark on his body from his stab wound either; Yamato’s blade was completely clean, and as he spun it in his hand the light caught on the sword’s dangerous edge. Half of the steel gleamed a dark and smoky grey, the wavering line that marked the edge dividing the blade between storm grey and gleaming silver. With a sharp, sure move, the demon lifted Yamato and sheathed it—not in the black scabbard she had seen so many times, but in a growth that had appeared on the forearm of his offhand. Long, slender, and curved, Yamato settled into his body like it had been molded just to carry that sword. Weapon stowed, the devil lifted his alien head to face her.
“Milan…” He rumbled, and it was without a doubt Vergil even if his voice resonated in a way that was felt as much as heard. It took a moment, but Milan was able to rise without her legs giving out from under her. She circled his new body slowly, Vergil silently watching her as she soaked in every detail.
‘Dragon’ still seemed an apt description of him, though the longer she looked at that bizarre sheath on his arm the more she couldn’t help seeing a praying mantis in his form. Still and poised, ready to perform a single deadly strike at just the right moment. His head also called to mind that of the mantis, as the thick wedges of white horn made his head oddly triangular while the blue scales that stood guard on either side of his motionless mouth evoked an insect’s mandibles. Circling around his back, Milan noted the bat wings he had grown and observed how oddly the two sets hung at rest. The inner set did a strange little tuck inside themselves while laying flat down his back, the black leather almost reaching his knees. The second, outer pair folded down and around Vergil’s waist, settling themselves in a break between the raised, scaly armor of his torso and legs. This, bizarrely, gave Vergil a roughly three-tailed silhouette like that of his favorite coat; created with black leather that fluttered and flexed when Milan dared brush a finger down it, warm as any living being and softer than the finest kidskin glove. His chest rose and fell as she traveled back around to face him, his flat face under the horns and scaly guards black as his wings—and perhaps as soft, if she dared to touch. His expression did not shift in the slightest when she lifted onto her toes and leaned closer, a soft hush of warm breath filtering out from snake-like nostrils, while his eyes glowed with a cerulean light that hid any possible details within them. When she backed away, his mouth parted ever so slightly as a stripe of bright blue darted out to taste the air, just as a lizard might. Despite everything, she couldn’t help her giggle.
“Why is your tongue blue?” Vergil glanced down at himself, before meeting her eyes and shrugging,
“To remain consistent with my color pattern?” His face still hadn’t shifted an inch but for the opening and closing of his mouth; Milan wondered if this shape just didn't have the facial muscles to form human expressions—as even with the reverberations added she could still hear the humor in his voice. Fear vanishing by the second just to hear Vergil being so himself even in such a strange new shape, Milan took up one of his hands. It still had five human-shaped fingers—with sleek dry scales on the back and the soft leather on the palms—but other than the neat little black claws it was a remarkably familiar hand. It still easily laced with her own fingers, and Vergil leaned closer in that way he always did when comfortable with her touch. Even his feet weren’t so different; five toes in the general shape of a bare human foot, with only scales and claws to truly differentiate it. This was still Vergil, and just as expected of Sparda’s son he protected humans from demons no matter his form.
“So, now that I have you here,” Milan lifted up the hand she was holding to inspect the growth on his arm that held Yamato. “Would you mind telling me what the hell possessed you to just up and stab yourself in my kitchen?!”
Ducking his head, Vergil grumbled,
“I needed to see if this was the missing key to my power. If I was wrong, I would have easily healed from the wound and cleaned up the blood.”
“Oh, don’t think that just because it worked you get to escape cleaning up that particular mess.” It was absolutely comical to see a demon bow his head and mumble apologies and assurances in such abashed tones, finally killing any lingering hesitations within her as she leaned in and pecked him on the cheek. His face was just as soft as his wings, which fluttered behind him like an excited heartbeat at the feel of her kiss. His own new mouth had no lips to speak of, but the gentle nudge from his forehead to hers held just as much tender affection as any returning kiss could.
“... I’m glad I don’t scare you…” Was murmured into her ear, another clawed hand resting at the small of her back while she smoothed her own down his face to trace his scaled armor.
“Well, next time give me a warning if you plan to gut yourself right in front of me. Then I can at least get Leo upstairs and fetch some bleach.” A tension bled out of Vergil when hearing her blasé tone, curled fingers trailing their strange scaly pattern down her cheek before a flash of blue light briefly dazzled her, and returned scales to skin before the spots left her vision.
And there was Vergil as he was before, not even a tear in his clothes to mark where he’d thrust Yamato—the sword itself in its black sheath and tied to his side. His hair, eyes, the subtle smile at the corners of his mouth, all was as it was. Even his voice had lost the echo, and returned to its natural baritone as he stared at the couch with a wrinkle in his brow.
“How do you suppose we tempt Leonardo out of there?”
And that was that. As if none of this had ever happened. Milan spent a few minutes shaking Leo’s freshly refilled bowl, and once the cat had slithered out, he offered a few tentative sniffs in Vergil’s direction before eating his dinner with no further fuss.
But Milan could hear her neighbors collecting their belongings next door, and Vergil was forced to teleport out of sight when they knocked on her door to again offer her a place with them in the husband’s family’s house. She declined with genuine gratitude for the gesture, but once the door was shut and Vergil had returned, she couldn’t help but agonize over the fear everyone had been put through.
Though she still found it genuinely rude that Vergil had not at least warned her of his plans before he drove Yamato through his chest, he himself admitted that he had no notion of what would have happened if it had worked. Neither of them could have anticipated such a transformation and the violent roar it would bring out of him, and the demons that sniffed around the apartment certainly couldn’t be blamed on Vergil either. But so many people were terrified, were fleeing their homes out of fear of demonic attack, and Milan had to say that she knew nothing of the cause in order to maintain her own reputation. And that knowledge soured her stomach; the fact that she was complicit in uprooting so many lives and causing so much terror, only because she could not risk reassuring everyone that the demon that made such a roar was her lover, and he had no intention to hurt anyone.
Logically, Milan also knew that she was letting Vergil off far too lightly—it was his own ill-conceived plan to potentially unlock unknown quantities of demonic power with no consideration for the fact that he was in the middle of a crowded apartment. But try as she might to truly feel some amount of anger for Vergil’s utter lack of consideration for her neighbors, Vergil was just so… Happy.
Even on his hands and knees scrubbing his own blood off the floor, Vergil was near vibrating with delight as he described the rush of strength and magical energy he felt once he opened his eyes. The effortless passes of Yamato through the air to finally succeed in the reality-rending maneuver he had been desperately practicing for months on end. How even the simplest flexes of techniques that had taken him years to perfect—Milan already knew about his summoned swords, but his description of some kind of reality-warping multi-slash was a shock she fought to hide behind a mask of intellectualism—resulted in moves that obliterated six demons in seconds, all from the building’s roof. Cracking the window open to vent the chemical smells from the apartment, Milan let Vergil expound on his brief experience with his awakened powers—Vergil’s discarded journal entering her hand. She took notes as she had when they examined texts she could not read, trying to keep her script legible as she struggled to keep up with Vergil’s excitement. There was so much to put down, so much to record, and so many questions she struggled to squeeze into the margins of every page she filled.
When the stain on the kitchen floor was completely scrubbed away, Vergil immediately took Yamato back up and extended a hand to Milan.
“I need to explore these new powers; will you come with me?” And it was a surprise to even herself to feel her head slowly shake in rejection. So much panic in the last hour, coupled with her swiftly developing crisis of faith was leaching any emotional energies Milan had left. She begged off with the claim that she’d had enough excitement for the day. Before she could rise and give him a kiss farewell, Vergil was cutting another cross through the air that opened into that alien, shadowy landscape.
“Well, in case this is the last I see of you tonight, goodnight Milan.” And he was gone. Milan was standing in her empty apartment with nothing and nobody but her cat for company, who sniffed around the place where Vergil vanished before rubbing his head against her skirts. Her dinner was lukewarm leftovers, eaten in silence with only Leonardo's begging to distract her. She tried to read, only for her eyes to wander. All she could think about was Vergil—Vergil and Sparda in their strange demonic forms. A blue dragon beside a beetle-warrior, one her lover and the other her god. A lover nobody could know about, and a god that undeniably had a family before vanishing into the ether.
Reading was a lost cause, so she drew her bath and spent most of the time in the tepid water watching Leonardo batting at drips from the faucet. What was Vergil’s new goal, now that he’d unlocked the power he’d been searching for? Would he still need those books, or would he just drop them back into the archives now that he was done with them? Would he leave Fortuna altogether? That thought made something sour and cold ball up in the pit of her stomach…
Eventually, Vergil would leave Fortuna. He would not stay, and when he left Milan would be out of excuses to herself to postpone looking for a husband. Old maids rarely found welcome in Fortunese society; even ones as young as twenty-two were held at an icy arm’s length, with rumors swirling constantly about what sins or deficiencies left her unmarriageable. Maybe the women from the Children’s Home would still be friendly, but so many would have to battle against their in-laws’ concern for reputation to do so. And if the rumors got scandalous enough, Milan had no doubt that she’d be out of a job.
So, it would probably be in her best long-term interests to at least attempt feigning interest at Knight Vitali. He was in good standing with The Order, most likely had a stable future as a Knight, and seemed unlikely to abuse her. He even had a nice face, and was attracted enough in her to be sharing tall tales with his fellow Knights about how familiar they were.
But she just wasn’t… Interested. On any level. His face was definable as handsome, but not even an ember of desire was stirred by it. He seemed genteel and unlikely to lash out when angered, but with each word she heard from him, he made it clear that he would see a wife as a precocious child over a partner in life. He pestered her in the street and spread gossip to other Knights, without considering what such things could do to Milan’s reputation of they got twisted enough—or else he desired to push her towards marrying him by manipulating her desire to preserve her own image in the eyes of the faithful. Not to mention, the man was five years older than her. She did not want to meet that man again—not on the streets of Fortuna, not in the Library, and certainly not at the altar. Maybe she could find someone else; it wasn’t as though every single one of her friends struggled with their husbands. Several were very much in love. But Milan…
She wanted Vergil. Plain and simple. She wanted Vergil to always be home, always be about to chat with for hours, to tease and pester, to share housework and meal preparation before crawling into bed beside him from now until the unknown mists of the future.
But that simply wasn’t possible.
Milan knew this; something like rage and sorrow smashed together crushed her throat with a waiting sob, before she dunked her head under the water for a final time and pulled the drain. It was much too early to go to sleep, but there was nothing else to do. Sleep, and put an end to the last few hours of fear and doubt and emotions she couldn’t—wouldn’t—name. She didn’t even bother pulling on a shift, just dried herself off before flinging herself onto the bed and pulling the blankets tight around her. Leonardo must have sensed the typhoon of emotions swirling inside her, and elected to slink downstairs over cuddling with her as was his wont. With how enraged she was, sleep seemed impossible; yet when the dream took her, she hadn’t even noticed it happen.
She was walking through the library, pushing the reshelving cart and looking for… A shelf? A person? Something. She tried to look at the books to see which shelves they belonged to, but none of the tags or titles were legible. None of the shelves had any labels, and twisted in on themselves to create a labyrinth of hallways both familiar and alien to her dreaming mind. But even as she was unable to read their stickers, Milan knew that she had to get all of these books shelved. If she didn’t, she’d be in trouble with the Head Librarian. The last thing she needed was to lose her job, because if she did, she’d have no choice but—Around a corner, Knight Vitali was approaching. Waving with a jovial spring in his step that could not hide the fact that under his cowl, he had no face.
Go away, go away!
She yearned to shout at him, but she could not speak; this was a library, people would hear her. So, she gave the cart a shove in his direction and ran the other way, the shelves stretching up and up to a vaulted ceiling with blue glass mosaics glaring down as she ran. The corners became tighter, the silence heavier and heavier in the air against her screaming thoughts, she wove between shelves and around a bend until… A dead end. A reading nook. And standing before a shelf, was a man in a purple coat. He read from a little book, face older than Vergil’s, with lines that spoke of happiness even in its relaxed state. He glanced up as she entered, and gave her a brief smile before he turned a page. Milan couldn’t recall moving, but somehow, she was directly before the man.
Where are you?
Sparda did not answer her unspoken question.
Why did you leave?
Leave humanity? Leave Fortuna? Leave Vergil? Milan did not know what she was asking, and The Dark Knight did not answer. She knew the book he was reading from; she had seen Vergil inscribing his notes in it more times than she could count. Had put her own messy handwriting on those pages.
Vergil has nightmares.
Vergil’s father looked up at her, and though his soft smile had not faded from his face, the devil before her was crying.
Where was Vergil? Had he left already? No, he couldn’t leave, she had to—She needed to—
Help me find him.
She could not speak, so she closed her hand around the sleeve of that purple coat, only to see black and gold chitinous armor. Huge horns curling down to a shark’s smile and weeping eyes a hellish red that still managed to speak of that smiling man who stood beside a blonde woman in a black dress and two little boys for a family picture—
Something thunked, and Milan opened her eyes to dim blue light and the muffled sounds of Vergil cursing beside the far nightstand. Turning on the lamp on the other table, Vergil met her eyes with an apologetic grimace and let his own glowing sword shatter into pretty pieces.
“... How was your practice?” Why did she sound so cold?
“Very productive, thank you.” Sparda’s Mercy. Milan sighed and shoved the blankets away, offering a hand to Vergil. Flushing gently at the sight of her nudity, he took her hand and came to bed, helping pull her on top of him as their lips met. His clothes were flung somewhere unimportant, and when he sat up to pull her more firmly onto his lap his entire form flickered briefly. Human lips vanished into a flat devil’s face for a split second, and when Vergil ducked his head away and tried to apologize, Milan pulled his face back up and said with absolute certainty,
“It’s alright. If you want, I wouldn’t mind exploring your new shape.” A sigh, deep, and so full of relief that it stabbed Milan through with worry left Vergil in a rush; before his small smile curved his mouth an instant before it all vanished in a blue flash. Vergil’s scales were hard as steel, but smoother than silk under her touch—cool at first but warming wherever her body touched it. His immobile face was a trial to kiss, but when she pressed her forehead to his as he had done, a rumble not unlike Leo’s contented purr vibrated through his chest. When she pressed her fingers into the nape of his neck, his wings did that gentle flutter while he nuzzled his face to hers. And when her hands wandered up to feel the lines of his stout horns, a shiver ran up his spine and sent his jaw cracking open. Blue flickered out and grazed her neck—a feat that would have impressed her considering that his head had barely shifted, except that at this angle, she could see that his mouth reached from one side of his face to the other. It put a split through half his head just by having his tongue out, and at Milan’s curious look Vergil opened his mouth even wider for her examination.
It was like looking down the gullet of a snake, with how wide he could open his mouth with no apparent pain or discomfort. The inside was a deep navy in the dim lighting, with two rows of pointed little black teeth and that brilliantly blue tongue flexing under her gaze. Sitting back, Milan watched Vergil shut his mouth and flick his tongue in her direction, asking in complete seriousness,
“How can you speak normally with a mouth like that?” To which Vergil’s glowing eyes met hers and he responded with a simple,
“Magic.” Of course it was; Milan found herself grinning as she peppered his face with kisses, a squeal escaping when Vergil’s tongue dragged up the side of her throat. She clapped her hand over her mouth too late, but even as she started to worry, she remembered that her neighbors were away. It wouldn’t be wise to scream at the top of her lungs, but a bit of a weight was lifted as some of the worries that always hummed in the background fell away for tonight.
“Are you tasting me? Or are you smelling me, whenever that tongue flicks out?”
“Hm, a bit of both…” He nudged his forehead to her cheek and pulled her closer, his claws absently trailing down her back and encouraging delightful shivers down her spine. “I can taste your skin, just as my human form can. And I can smell much more than I could before without having to put out my tongue as a reptile would. And yet… I can detect something new. It’s neither smell nor taste… It’s...” Vergil shrugged, and dragged his tongue from her collarbone up to tickle her chin. The rumble in his chest infected his already distorted voice as he chuckled, “It’s intoxicating, whatever it is.” And he tipped Milan backwards onto the bed, and settled his face between her legs.
After only a few teasing licks on the creases of her thighs, Vergil snapped back up and pulled her with him—lifting her up onto his shoulders as if she weighed less than nothing, and stabilizing her with both hands on the small of her back. Even with his unmovable strength supporting her, Milan was feeling just the slightest bit of vertigo from the top of his shoulders—high enough to be closer to the ceiling than she’d ever wished to be.
But Vergil was stable as a tree under her, and bracing her hands on those ivory lumps of horn helped cut through any irrational fears of falling. She had just shut her eyes to mitigate any chance that looking up or down would feed into her fear of heights, when Vergil started truly demonstrating just how long and flexible that new tongue was—leaving her in a place where time wasn’t real. Where nothing existed but Vergil underneath her, and the fire that bloomed inside her with every pass and flick of his glorious tongue. It was definitely selfish to be glad that her neighbors had been scared out of their home, certainly made Milan a terrible person to be so grateful that Vergil’s nonsense uprooted so many people for the night—but with Vergil’s demonic tongue inside her it took all of Milan’s focus to bite her hand whenever she screamed, let alone muffle the cries, curses, and pleas that certainly would have given the whole affair away if her neighbors had actually been home. So, she let herself be terrible for tonight—if there was ever a time for it, it was when making such sweet, secret love to a devil.
She was a mess of shivering when Vergil withdrew his tongue and asked if she needed a break, to which she could only gasp out a yes and press herself into Vergil’s cool body when he laid her on the bed. He stretched out his wings behind him, the leather hushing softly against itself while he trailed a hand over her hair. Milan took her time catching her breath, trailing lazy eyes over Vergil's demonic body and vaguely wondering if this form had any way for her to reciprocate. He wore no clothes of course, but his scaled armor had no accommodations on his groin for any sort of—
"Any particular reason why you're staring?" Milan glanced up at Vergil and smirked, trailing a finger down his scaled mandibles as she replied with an absurd amount of drama,
"Oh, I was just so stricken by your… Masculine virility." And Vergil snorted, slowly sitting up so Milan could settle herself on the bed before him.
"Well, feel free to touch all you want. This body is just as foreign to me as it is to you." His phrasing was bold, but when she braced her hands on his thighs his breathing stopped. They were both staring down at his groin as if awaiting some magic trick, and Milan doubted such scrutiny would be helpful.
"Well, I suppose the first question would be…" She laid her hand down, palm flat between his legs and slowly rubbing as she might have aroused his human body. "Can you feel this? Does it feel good?"
His wings shuffled behind him, claws gently flexing into the mattress as his glowing eyes slid shut. At an increase in pressure, that rumbling purr started up again, his voice deep as the sea as he replied,
"Yes. It's good, but not as sensitive as my human shape." He tugged her closer, her hand still keeping up its constant motion as he nuzzled his face to her cheek. His tongue flickered out along her throat several times, but it was at the insistent pressure of her hand and the slide of her fingers into the joints of his armor to find the black skin underneath that something shifted under Milan's hand. His armor was parting along a hidden seam, revealing the soft black skin underneath, and at her touch Vergil's hips bucked and shuddered. Claws drawing delicious stinging lines over her thighs, teeth pressing into her shoulder only for the pinpricks of pain to be lapped away seconds later—Vergil whimpered her name as under her hand, his body bloomed with arousal. Black like his wings, with soft veins of navy and indigo tracing down from the rounded head that pulsed just under the delicate skin with the vibrant blue of his tongue.
With just a few strokes he was gasping for air, wings fluttering and mouth begging to be inside her. She climbed into his lap and kissed his lipless mouth, relishing every second of the wet slide and how beautiful Vergil always was when they made love. He was a work of art, a new masterpiece that the world had yet to behold babbling sweet nothings in her ear as he thrust inside her. There was nothing else. No time. No fear. Milan didn't even have the space to worry if he would tell her that he loved her; for all she knew, that was exactly what he was saying but she hadn't the slightest idea, because even what was coming from her own mouth was nothing but unknown sounds.
There was only them. Vergil in a shape new and strange and beautiful that she knew she adored just as much, in every way, as the shape she had met him in. The shape of a man that if she dared, she might have said she loved. Even if only in her own mind.
Because one day, Virgil would want to leave. And she would not try to constrain him. But Milan would cling to every second she could before it inevitably happened.
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