Vergil was writhing in his chains by the time Dante and Lady came back, snarling and snapping like a panic-stricken dog. The chains strained against his wrists, the split rafters creaked and groaned, barely moving as he drew his body as far away from his restraints as possible.
“The hell’s gotten into you?” Dante quipped, clumping by on bare feet.
“Give me the Yamato,” Vergil commanded shortly. The rafters gave another keening grouse as he relocated his stance. He narrowed his eyes in his best rendition of a death-defying scowl. He’d looked into the cold, soulless eyes of plenty a Grim Reaper, Dante looked like a Maltese puppy in comparison. Though he could concede that it made a good illusion for Dante’s fighting spirit.
Dante made a noise that sounded halfway between a laugh and a wet cough. He cracked his best smile, one that just reached up to the dark circles forming underneath his eyes. “What makes you think I’m gonna do that?”
“It belongs to a Son of Sparda,” Vergil said.
“Yeah, that’s a real convincing argument,” Dante replied, rifling around underneath his desk. He swore for a second before letting out a triumphant cheer and reappearing to slide a pair of boots on. “I do fit the criteria, though. So by your logic, it belongs to me.”
Devils loved to take a romp around a helpless quarry, mock them, leave their sickening odor over everything they touched to make the rules of the game. Vergil hadn’t imagined the masked freak that had appeared in Dante’s shop mere minutes ago and he hadn’t imagined the horned, winged demon that prowled around behind it. He’d called Yamato to him then and yet it still didn’t respond to his curt resolution to take both of them down. He was powerless without it.
Vergil flashed his teeth. “It’s just like you to act like this. Childish, trivializing, arrogant-”
“At least,” Dante interrupted. The clipped end of his words hung in the air with a chilling pause. “I didn’t raise a Hell Tower for, quite literally, the hell of it. I think the world is just fine with the non-demonic version in Pisa, Italy anyway.”
Vergil glared at him with the most bloodthirsty purpose he could manage. A quiet rage stirred in the pit of his stomach, keeling and wallowing like the white water rapids that surged through his veins, roaring in his ears louder than the hell hounds that always bayed in the distance and nipped at his heels. A piercing sibilation slipped free from between his lips, rivulets of steam sluiced into the air. His eyes turned a silvery shade of green, a sliver of metal cut between each of his irises like the pupils of a dragon. Serrated fangs began poking out from his gums, moving the bones in his jaw around with a skin-slicing fervor as a menacing growl scraped furiously against the back of his throat. He opened his mouth-
The force of a waterfall crashed onto him and an ear-splitting crack shattered the air, forcing him to stagger down onto one knee and revert back to normal. Ragged breaths tore from his chest and his eyes burned with something. From the desk, he could feel Dante rise to the challenge and his blood orange gaze take him down a notch.
“Calm the fuck down, Verge,” Dante retorted, kicking his feet up lazily. “I have other problems to deal with outside of you, yanno. I need to finish the shop you demolished and Lady and I’s client stiffed us, so I’m running a little short.” Whether it was on cash or on patience, Dante didn’t elaborate.
“He didn’t stiff us,” Lady said. It was then that Vergil remembered she had been standing there. She didn’t seem in the least bit shaken by his out of his control display of demonic power and she walked right past him, no sign of hesitation anywhere in her countenance. She plopped down onto one of Dante’s couches. “We only have half of what we’re owed, he’s gonna give us the rest of our pay tomorrow morning.”
“He better,” Dante muttered.
Vergil remained silenced, glowering at the hardwood floor as if it were the thing that had wronged him this whole time and not the living creature that made up his annoying brother. With the way he’d nearly come loose just now, he couldn’t bring himself to meet his brother halfway anymore. Never had he come so close to losing himself, never had he been so ashamed of such a performance. Through discipline alone, he had made a habit of controlling most of his emotions, of keeping collected when situations heated up past the threshold with the exception of anger, this time set off by Dante’s ignorance.
The hell of it? He never made decisions with long-term consequences without proper thought, despite what his brother had gathered from him. The power of his birthright passed down indirectly from his father would have been more than enough to chase the demons and nightmares away, to finally take the constant buzz of anxiety and paranoia off his back, to protect himself and…
Vergil decisively left the rest of that thought unfinished.
Truthfully, could he ever lay his confidence out bare to his twin? Could he ever stand on the same playing field as him without any need for a fight? Could he choose to let his demon’s heart show the soft, tender parts of himself to someone that’d been a stranger to him since he was eight-years-old? Could he, hardened by the brand of devil hunting and losing the people he’d cherished, from his mother to his master, be vulnerable to his brother? To someone who’d put away his own pride for the sake of helping him? Could he ever relinquish these weighted secrets to Dante?
He didn’t know.
Right now, his capabilities extended solely to keeping stock and cataloging his surroundings to soothe his nerves, a skill he’d learned as a kid, and nothing more. Every once and awhile he would catch a tell of annoyance from either his brother or Lady. Dante would carp or cavil wordlessly every few minutes from his reposing chair and let his head fall back while his mind drifted to something unreadable. Lady chanced a dark look at him when she thought he wasn’t paying attention to her. Four times Lady clicked her gun while cleaning it, six times Dante checked the chorded telephone for a call that might not come.
And his brother cracked first.
He reached for the phone. “I’m gonna call for pizza.”
“Or you could work on your shop,” Lady suggested with just a hint of passive-aggressive spite. “I didn’t get you all that wood just for it to go to waste.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I will. I’ll do it while I wait.” And just like that, Dante kept true to his word, ordered local, hung up, and picked up a hammer to nail away at the back wall.
“Do you only ever eat pizza?” Lady snarked.
“What? It’s delicious. And cheap,” Dante said. He’d never looked like he’d had to defend his tastes against anyone ever. With his light-hearted jabs and nonchalant attitude to life, perhaps no one had challenged him. “Besides, it’s my shop. I’ll eat whatever I want.”
Lady blew out a puff of air in exasperation, turning away from the exchange.
“Hey, Milady of the Loveseat!” Dante shouted out to her. He reached for a box of nails, securing a couple between his teeth. “Mind helping me out?”
“Why? So you can owe me more?”
“Just offering,” Dante shrugged, making the nails in his mouth move up and down teasingly. “Wouldn’t want you to just sit there and be a pretty face. Unless, of course, you want to stay there and admit that you like what you see.”
Vergil watched as Lady sprung off the couch and marched over to Dante, bickering with him the entire way. Curiosity consumed him. Why did she stay by his side? Her task had been completed the second Arkham hit the pavement and started pushing up daisies for good. It was obvious to him, in the way she indulged him, let him befriend her, that she had a soft spot for him or at least some semblance of one. But even attachment had its limits. She didn’t feel obligated to keep an eye on both him and his brother, right? Vergil sincerely hoped not. He already had Dante to deal with, any further than that and he might blow.
An abrupt wave of nausea slammed into Vergil and his vision spun. He inhaled and exhaled quickly, trying to get the oxygen to and from his burning lungs. ‘Don’t tell me-’ Had Dante’s attempts to disorient him do more damage than either of them originally thought? Was Vergil still so weakened from their fight in the Underworld? The air undulated up and down, jiggling like a bowl of jello aboard a ship in a stormy sea. The Jukebox lined up against the far wall wiggled like it was dancing to the music it produced. The floor swayed and for a moment, it looked so… comfortable...
The world faded to black. In the distance, Vergil could hear his brother calling out to him.