"Reflect," a voice says, sing-song and distorted, a screech in the dark like the cry of a bird, "on your childhood."
He tumbles face first into a pool that's as black as night and still as glass even as he breaks through, and the air that is ripped out of his lungs escapes in a trail of pretty, thin bubbles that race back to the surface above him. He reaches for them with an outstretched hand, as if he can catch them in his palm and bring them back to fill his burning lungs.
Darkness swallows his vision.
The first time he begins to suspect that there is something special about them is when Dante falls from the swing off of the tree in their back yard. He lands on his arm at an awkward angle, and when he sits up, it's shifted out of position in a way Vergil knows, even at the age of seven, is definitely not right. He's on his feet and sprinting into the house in seconds, calling for their mother to come to his aid, and by the time they've returned Dante is already hanging from the rope swing again as if nothing has even happened. He waves at Vergil with his now straight and perfectly fine arm, and just grins at him: "See, I'm okay!" he says, as if he hasn't just worked a miracle.
Eva pats Vergil on the head and tells him it must not have been as bad as he thought, but he knows it was broken, knows that there was something seriously wrong with it, but Dante's hanging from the swing and laughing and he thinks, 'maybe I was wrong.'
So he drops it.
When he next opens his eyes, he is sitting under a tall oak tree, the wooden bark pressing into his back. It's summer and the sun shines bright and strong overhead, suffusing the world around him in a warm orange glow. Every inch of his body is heavy, weighed down as if he is covered by a thick blanket from head to toe.
Somewhere near there are children playing, their excited cries ringing out in the sunlit day as a joyous chorus. He turns his head toward them, his mind thick and muddled, and despite the black spots swimming in his vision he sees them rolling through the green grass nearby. Two boys, equal in size, laughter escaping their lips. Shockingly white hair, pale skin nearly glowing in the sun. A familiar sight.
"Dante," he tries to say, but his voice cracks, broken and distant--it's just a garble of noise when it leaves his lips, like he's underwater and has just tried to speak, sucking liquid into his lungs in exchange for the word.
Dante pushes his brother off with a kick, laughs when he's met with a hand on his ankle, and they tumble, limbs intertwined, indistinguishable from one another as they roll down the hill, grass stains streaking their clothing and dirt flying in the wake of their joy.
Their mother will be so mad at them for the mess they've made of themselves. She was always so mad about their messes.
"Did she love you?" The voice is like a knife piercing through the back of his skull, distorted and warped, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. He opens his mouth again, and again no words can form. He isn't sure what to say, anyway.
The ground gives way beneath him and he's falling once more, reaching out in every direction, fingers outstretched to find purchase, anything to stop his descent. He falls for an eternity, for the blink of an eye. He falls until he's unsure if he is even falling any more or if he is just floating, suspended forever in perpetual darkness.
He thinks he blacks out.
When their house is attacked a year later and Vergil is running for his life through their back yard, his father's sword clutched to his chest and tears streaking his face, his suspicions are confirmed in the worst imaginable way. He'd tried to hide in the graveyard by their house, but those horrible creatures had caught up to him so fast, and then he'd switched to fighting, swinging his father's sword in frantic, sloppy arcs, fueled by panic and fear. He'd tried so hard, but it wasn't enough, and now he's pinned to the cold headstone of a random grave with his own sword through his chest and blood filling his lungs and thinking: 'this is how I die, isn't it? I don't want to die.'
He calls out for his mother, for Dante, for someone to find him and help him, and the wet, dying rattle of his voice fills him with so much fear that he's shaking from head to toe, trying desperately to pull the sword from his chest, but lacking the strength.
Darkness fills his vision and he slumps forward, and there's a moment, a split second that stretches on for an eternity, where he feels like he's floating, and then a fire ignites in his veins and he changes. Claws and fangs and sharp, pointed wings, power that rolls off him in uncontrolled waves, and the next time he opens his eyes he's standing in a circle of demon bodies, blood running down his face and hands and pooling at his feet. He collapses to his knees, drops his sword, and wraps his arms around his chest, unable to stop his uncontrollable shaking, the feeling of lingering power that sings through his veins.
Nausea overwhelms him and he pukes into the grass at his feet, throws up until he's just dry heaving and his throat is raw and bloody from the effort of it, and all he can think is: what am I? What am I? What--
The house had been empty when he'd finally managed to crawl his way back save for the mangled and charred corpse of his mother, and he'd sat at her feet and he'd screamed and screamed until he was hoarse, but no one had come. No one had saved him.
"She didn't, did she?" The question is what wakes him, piercing through his unconsciousness, an arrow in the dark. When he comes to his senses again, he is trapped, pinned to the wall behind him like a butterfly on display. He casts his gaze around--he knows this place.
He's sitting in the graveyard. At his feet are the broken bodies of demons; at his back, a gravestone. The Yamato pierces his chest at an upward angle, through his ribs and his lung and his spine, and his breath is a wet, shallow wheezing in his ears.
A fire rages in the distance.
"Do you know how I know that she didn't love you?"
The fear hits him like a wave, crashing into him, crushing him beneath its terrible weight. He doesn't want to die, not here, not alone, not like this. When he tries to reach for the hilt of the Yamato to pry it from his chest he finds his limbs still will not work; they remain heavy and disobedient at his sides. Panic vibrates through his skin and his blood pulses hot and thick down his chest with each frantic thump of his heart.
He tries to say "shut up," but all that escapes his lips is a thin whine that is quickly swallowed by the bubbling of his blood in his lungs, spilling up through his throat and filling his mouth with the bitter taste of copper. He coughs and pain rips through him like fire.
"Because she left you. She left you all alone. She left you to die."
His world turns white and all he can think is "no, not like this, no, please, not like this." He claws at the dirt beneath his hands and he's afraid, he's so afraid of dying that he would do anything to take it back, undo what he did and start over. He was wrong. He was wrong. He was--
"You're so scared. Do you want to be freed from the fear?"
When he thinks "please, yes, please" it's without any hesitation or restraint, fueled by the blind and primal panic that only the steady encroachment of death can instill. Once more he is engulfed in darkness, wrapped in it as if in a cocoon that folds in on him from all sides. There's a loud snap, a sound that reverberates through his soul, and he realizes with distant horror that the hilt of the Yamato is falling slowly out of his reach. He thinks, father will be so angry with me for breaking it, and then his world erupts into an explosion of white hot agony as he's torn apart.
He has no voice and no thoughts of his own outside of those that his master wills him, except when he dreams. He dreams of things he doesn't understand, of places that a part of him whispers that he should remember, but he does not. He dreams of being a child, of being afraid, clutching a sword to his chest that he does not recognize and hoping and praying that someone will find him, that the night will end, that he will survive.
He dreams of an outstretched hand, reaching for him as he falls and falls and falls into the darkness beneath him, always out of reach. He dreams of fighting, of losing, of icanstillfight, and he wakes breathing hard, knowing that this is a reminder, a portent of what faces him should he disobey.
Sometimes, when he is a good and faithful knight, when he does as he is told and is given an opportunity to rest for his service, he dreams of green grass and an open field and an oak tree at his back. He lies on the ground and looks at the blinding sun that filters down through the wide branches of the tree and he listens to the strange sounds of life that creeps around the edges of his awareness.
In these dreams, there is a boy who has no face sitting at his side. He is small and dressed in white and black and he is, as far as the knight can tell, human, weak and small and frail. His mouth opens as if to speak, but he hears only static.
This is okay. These dreams are his best dreams, a reprieve from the others, a glimpse of things that he does not understand but that, either way, bring him peace. In these dreams he lingers, listening to the quiet sounds of life and the radio static of the boys voice, and he thinks about --
home and family and a life he thinks he might've once had --