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Sola Fide (for love of her)

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Prologue

High justice would in no way be debased
if ardent love should cancel instantly
the debt these penitents must satisfy.
- Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto VI: 39

July 15th

Vergil is tired.

His muscles ache and his lungs struggle to gulp for large inhales of air. Fervently, he resists the urge - it would reveal his weak state to Dante.

Eyes fixated on his brother, Vergil raises the Yamato in the sei tai position. He'd rather seek death than admitting the burn to his muscles that prevents him from performing the more effective stance of iai goshi.

The Sparda twins have fought lesser demons and each other for days of endless battle, clashing swords and grinding the gravel of the ground to dust. Before Vergil ventured into hell to sever the Qliphoth roots with Dante, he was bested in battle by Nero. Vergil has no plan of losing to his brother.

The faint flashes of lightning that emanate from the sky of the underworld hit the blade of the Yamato and sends a prism on the ground. Around them lay littered carcasses of dead Riots, Chaoses, and Furies. The stench of the exploded eyeballs of a sliced-apart Nobody stings Vergil’s nostrils.

He smirks.

His taunt has the effect he seeks. Inelegantly as always, Dante responds by sprinting towards him with a growl.

The clang of their colliding swords bounces against the withering stem of the Qliphoth roots. Vergil grits his teeth and parries the hit of Dante’s blade with enough force to send them both sliding on their behinds. Dust and demon blood fly around their limbs and stains their clothes.

Dante coughs. He makes a half-hearted attempt to stand but falls back on his behind with a chuckle. The sight sends a confusing spark of warmth through Vergil. Using the Yamato as leverage, he veils the sentiment through sending his brother a glare.

“You know,” Dante flicks a tress of hair from his eyes, “I’m starting to think this is never gonna end.”

In a wish not to expose the flash of disquiet that runs down his spine, Vergil doesn’t meet his brother’s eyes. It had to end, and there was only one way.

“Maybe.”

He raises his hand in a jaded gesture and musters whatever spite he has left.

“We've got plenty of time.”

Dante grins. Did he - roll his eyes? It was hard to tell because of the characteristic long tresses of hair that falls over Dante’s eyes. The gesture reminds Vergil of how his brother used to taunt him with similar expressions when they were children. The way Dante eye-rolled at him always signified an air of you are a dumbass.

The brief trip down memory lane stings like the cuts Vergil’s received from Dante’s devil sword.

Vergil frowns at a confusing realization. Although it’s clear Dante is likewise getting tired, he's never lost his air of absolute mirth despite their entrapment in the wastelands of hell.

Could Dante be happy about being - with him? Preposterous. What were these new emotions that crept upon Vergil like a web of sticky sugar? This ache in his chest? Had he accidentally inhaled Qliphoth spores?

V. That melodramatic, tattooed emo that insisted on merging and thus infested Vergil with his memories, his thoughts, his ridiculous feelings

(Vergil resisted the idea of V as himself. It was easier to think of himself as Urizen, although that identification equally rang an unsound note.)

Dante lifts his hand in a friendly gesture.

“Hey. How about you cut us out of this shithole place and we go get pizza, huh? I’m hungry.”

Vergil is grateful he is on the ground. The surprise from Dante’s words is strong enough to floor him and he didn’t wish to give his brother that amusement.

“You are not getting away, brother.” Vergil infuses the word with dripping acid. “We have a score to settle.”

Dante sighs and gets onto his feet. Vergil follows suit, tensing his muscles for the next assault but Dante does no such thing. He makes a face.

“Yeah, yeah, how about we settle it later, huh? I’m getting bored. Plus, this place stinks, literally.”

Vergil’s mind stumbles. Bored? Bored of fighting him? This was the most important fight of their lives, the one clash that would teach Dante the error of his choices. Dante would see how Vergil's understanding of their heritage was superior to embracing human life…

This was the fight that would settle everything, and Dante was - bored?

Dante tweaks his fingers in an impatient gesture.

“C’mon. One slice with the Yamato, and we’re outta here. I need to make sure them crazy bitches back home hasn’t wrecked my place.”

A zing of something hot runs through Vergil at the mention of Dante’s “business partners”. He readjusts his grip of the Yamato.

“So, I have won.”

Funny how nothing about this situation feels like a victory. Dante sends Vergil a grin telling him there are no battles lost.

A slow rise of determination fills Vergil's chest. This is for the best - yes. By letting Dante go, Vergil will be free of the confusing web of candied sensations in his heart. Alone has always been strong. His body and soul healed, strength returned, he could quench his desire for revenge for being tortured until he forgot his name, his purpose...

Vergil has no desire to interpret the wave of panic rising in him. The thought of staying in the underworld again, alone, has his limbs go numb. Small stars dance in front of his eyes.

“I will let you go. Return, and know that I have bested you.”

Vergil cringes at how he gulps the last word.

“Oh, you’re coming with me. Did you think I’d leave you here alone? Uh-uh, buddy.”

Vergil’s heart skips a beat. Dante’s earlier promise to stay by his side - you’re going to need someone to keep an eye on you - he’s intent on keeping it.

The way Vergil’s throat constrict is humiliating. He opens his fist, reminded of a cut to his brother’s palm. Surprised by his own impulse, as if he’s not in control of his actions, Vergil slices a cross in the air with the Yamato. A glistening tear appears, tinged by a purple lining. The portal emits a faint sucking sound.

Dante nods with a satisfied grin and cocks his head towards the opening.

“You first, brother.”

“No.”

Vergil’s jaw aches from clenching it hard.

Dante shrugs.

“Ok. Beauty before age.”

He snickers and takes the first step into the portal.

Vergil swallows. He is alone. Bereft, fear showers over him like a bucket of icy water.

This is absurd.

He takes two long strides into the portal. Before the human world appears to his senses, he turns and closes the tear with the Yamato.

A faint wind teases the hems of his coat. Vergil takes a large gulp of the clear overworld air, letting his lungs expand and the oxygen soar through his limbs. Blinking, he adjusts his eyes to the sun that sets over the rooftops of storage houses, illuminating the skeleton of the old harbour bridge. He was there when it fell. No - that was V, grasping the clawed talons of Griffon, soaring over the collapsed remnants of the structure in pursuit of - himself. He was fighting his way through the blood clotted jumble of the Qliphoth with Nero.

A lingering sensation of unbelievability always hits Vergil the seconds his mind slips to - his son.

Vergil pushes the thought of Nero away. Curse the soft swelling of pride mixed with pain (arm ripped off, screaming in agony, blood flushing from the wound) in his heart.

If the Dark Lord finds out -

The barnacle-shaped flower of the Qliphoth, attached to its meaty stem, no longer juts into the overworld sky. Instead, tall, yellow derricks loom over building sites and restoration sections. A large dumper filled with debris and broken concrete roars past the Sparda twins, causing the ground to tremble beneath their feet.

“The humans are reconstructing their city.”

Dante picks up a newspaper that sails pass on the ground.

“Yeah. They’re kinda tenacious that way. They go on with their lives the best they can.”

“Like ants,” Vergil murmurs, overcome by a confusing spark of tenderness. He pushes it back, neck prickling with irritation.

His brother snorts.

“I guess. Hey,” Dante holds the front page of the paper up. “Looks like we spent our birthday in hell.”

Vergil turns with a frown, the weight of the Yamato in his hand the only thing grounding him at this moment.

When was the last time they celebrated their birthday?

Dante tosses the paper to the winds and crosses his arms on his chest. A faint whistle escapes his lips as if he’s having a hard time believing they’re both on the other side of hell.

“So. Wanna head to the office?” Dante points with his thumb over his shoulder. “You look like you need a rest.”

A spike of panic surges through Vergil. She might be there…

He lifts his arm and thrusts the Yamato in the air towards his brother.

“This is not over.”

He strides towards the edge of the roof, triggers his devil form and flies off.

Dante unlocks his arms from his chest with a sigh.

“As long as I know you’re not in hell without me.”

*

Vergil has no idea where to go but staying in his brother’s company is fraying his nerves to the point of wishing to crawl out of his own skin. Something tugs him towards the old city park but he refuses the impulse. Soaring on a warm current of wind, he directs the icy flames of his body towards the place where everything started.

The mansion is in a derelict state - more so than Vergil remembers from his last visit. Positioned on top of a cliff, the remains of the building hover above the crater from the sprawling roots of the Qliphoth. The walls are blasted apart and most of the interior is missing.

The position near the epicentre of the Qliphoth was, of course, no accident. Inside, Vergil thrust the blade of the Yamato through his chest and became Urizen, wrecking the house further.

Vergil lands inside their former parlour and transforms back into his human form. Unable to take another step, he melts onto the dust of the parquet, shoulder blades hitting the floor in a flump sound. He closes his eyes and tumbles in a profound sleep. For the first time since after the Temen-Ni-Gru, he is untroubled by nightmares.

Three days later, he wakes with a groan, heart thudding in his chest and face flushing. His dream lingers like a soft fabric draped around the edges of his mind, reminding him of her. The softness of her kisses. The expanse of pale skin exposed from when he pushed the coarse overall down her shoulders, her waist, her hips. The way her nipple pebbled in his mouth, her moans in response. The glistening perfection of her sex, the scent of her - it sends a bolt of heat right to his groin, making him so hard it hurts.

With a growl, Vergil jumps onto his feet and summons his sword in a vain attempt at cutting his dream into splinters. His leather trews strain from the humiliating erection that has followed as a result of his dream. He has an impulse to stab himself with the Yamato again to grab his human side by the throat and beat the memories out of them both.

V. That lewd freak... Vergil clenches his hand so hard around the hilt of his sword his fingers hurt. He peers out of the crashed wall into the falling sunlight outside, unsure of how long he’s slept. A faint skittering below alerts him of a remaining red Empusa searching the rubble for blood clots. He jumps to the ground and sends it crashing into the wall with a single thrust to the sheathed Yamato, red crystals raining around him in brittle thuds.

Killing the demon does nothing to dampen his agitation. Unfolding his opalescent wings, he lifts towards the sky and soars in a wide circle.

Vergil contemplates finding Nero. His guts burn in humiliation at the thought of being bested; a vain wish to challenge his son and prove to him that he is stronger pulses through his brain. The memory of Nero’s demon form still has him pausing in awe. Such strength - it could be enough to serve his purposes. Was Nero strong enough? There was only one way to find out.

Something stops Vergil from heading towards Fortuna. Instead, he soars back to Red Grave, avoiding populated areas. He’s driven by the lingering spark from his dream.

That night, he finds her on the other side of the in the mile-long crater where the Qliphoth erupted. Straddling her motorcycle, Lady fiddles with a black gadget in her hand, her rocket launcher resting on her shoulder. The rays of the falling sun fade the contours of her frame into a silhouette and send a glitter on the tresses of her hair.

Crouching behind a fallen block of concrete, Vergil has a sensation of his insides tensing like scraps of metal cutting into his joints. Underneath the collar of her biker jacket, her clavicle protrudes underneath her skin. She has lost weight, and she didn’t have much to lose from the beginning. Purple strands rest underneath her eyes.

His tight insides melt at the sight. She’s still hurting but she continues her life, her demon hunting.

Lady fastens a white cord to the gadget in her hand - a screen? And inserts small cases to the hollows of her ear. Vergil frowns. The device in her hand must be a modern sound apparatus. Is she going to fight the demons below while listening to music? Insane. The loss of hearing will make her vulnerable to flanking attacks -

Smiling, Lady demounts her bike, readjusts the Kalina Ann on her shoulder with a small hop, and jumps into the crater. Vergil holds his breath. Without preamble, she grabs two guns from the holsters hanging from her hips and shoots the attacking Empusas in a deafening cacophony of bangs and screeches. A green Empusa dodges her bullets and jumps at her, serrated limbs lifted in a heaving motion. Effortlessly, Lady twists (how can she do it with such flexibility despite wearing the heavy rocket launcher?) and reloads her gun in the flight. She lands, blasting the demon to falling red crystals.

Vergil scoffs. Never will he respect the vulgar use of firearms preferred by his brother and his associates. A battle won without honour is meaningless - but he supposes her lack of demonic power warrants the use of pistols and k-pists. Tensing, he narrows his eyes at the sight of a frenzied Antenora rushing her from behind. Crackling spectral swords form a halo over Vergil’s head, ready to strike.

With a jerk to her head, Lady crouches and jumps to grasp a metal beam above her, leaving the demon slashing its cleave in empty air. From her hanging position, she equips her goggles and grabs her rocket launcher from her shoulder. She blasts the Antenora into a bursting cloud of limbs, blood and mucus with a satisfied grin.

Disintegrating his spectral swords into thin air, a wave of warmth flushes through Vergil’s chest.

Mine. My strong, beautiful, brave -

He flinches at his own treacherous thoughts. It’s like V momentarily occupied his mind, speaking to her over Vergil’s feeble attempt at self-control.

She is not his - anything.

She was, a thought slips into his mind, she gave herself to you like you wanted her to.

When Nero and Nico came carrying Lady from the grasp of Artemis into the van, V held back a gasp. A pang of something he had hidden for long wracked his chest at the sight of her unconscious form. The resolved girl who chased her father up the Temen-Ni-Gru had grown into a veritable beauty.

Her struggle with the memories of being imprisoned inside Artemis awakened his compassion. He wished to give her relief. A part him of craved the sense of power in seducing her but also to give in to another desire; to assure her she was untaintable, unbroken. As V, the parts of him wanting to explore what it could mean to be physically close to another, to give and take pleasure without fear, were given free reins.

The strength of her response surprised him. It filled him with a sensation he could hardly name. Pride, affection. He attained power in ways he'd never experienced before and without force.

Down in the crater, Lady releases her grip of the metal beam and falls, crouching, onto her feet. Slowly rising to her feet, she pulls her goggles below her clavicle and directs a squinted eye cast at where he stands.

Vergil curses and presses his back against the block. His heart pounds like a wild animal in his chest. He doesn’t leave his hiding place until the roar of her motorcycle rattles further away with a dwindling crunch of broken concrete under the wheels.

The next morning, Vergil wakes from another dream, pulse soaring in his ears and his pants painfully tight. This night, his brain conjured up ideas of them entangled naked. She pressed the short nails of her fingers, painted black, into the skin of his back while crying out his name. This never happened; it was no memory but something worse, a wish brewed by that insidious human part of him. Teeth gritting, Vergil feverishly tries to resist the urge to reach down but it’s too strong. He opens his pants. Gripping his shaft, he pumps it until he spills his seed in hot, humiliating surges. His head spins from the release.

It’s not enough. It will never be enough.

Vergil stays in the remains of his father’s mansion for weeks in an attempt to kill the visions inside him. Every night, he dreams of her, of them, until he’s had enough. Frock flapping around his calves, he strides out into the city, determined to find where she lives.

He’s leaving to fight her. As Urizen, he triumphed over her once, made her submit. He’ll do it again. Anything to be free.

A wave of warmth flushes Vergil as if a being inside beamed in treacherous affection for his naive attempts at veiling his desire with his wrath.

Chapter Text

I’ve realized the gravity of the crimes I’ve committed. How important everything was… everything I’ve thrown away in my pursuit of power.
- V, Devil May Cry 5

 

August 26th

A faint smell of leftover pizza and gun grease sticks like plaster to the walls in Dante’s shop. Besides the steady whoosh of the rotating fan in the ceiling and the occasional car rushing by outside, the silence in the room is thick enough to be cut with a knife.

Nero rests by the pool table, hands pushed into the pockets of his jeans. Dante leans his rear against his walnut desk, eyebrow arched in an amused expression. On the wall behind him hangs a poster of a woman in a bikini.

Vergil stifles an eye roll at the sight. Turning his gaze to his brother, his insides tighten in a rush of disquietude. The only thing preventing him from marching out and closing the ports behind him is the knowledge things would be worse if he did.

Vergil has made a vow. To reach out. To try to forge bonds with his family, new and old.

He imagines the calming weight of the Yamato in his hand in an attempt to mollify his unease. He is the one who has asked for this meeting; it is his responsibility to break the silence.

He opens his mouth when Dante speaks before him, a smirk curving his lips.

“You’ve been busy since we came back from hell, brother! Here I thought you were hiding somewhere, licking your wounds - turns out you’ve been seducing my associate!”

Vergil doesn’t reply. He’s torn by a mix of irritation at the flippancy of Dante’s conception of how he’s spent the last weeks and a spark of jeering pride.

That’s right, Dante. I’ve had her in ways you never will, made her cry out my name and promise she’ll never belong to anyone else.

Nero lifts his head and meets Vergil’s gaze.

“Do you love her?”

Vergil frowns at the bluntness of the question.

Love? He always regarded such emotion with disdain. He was once tortured until the love he felt for a family bled from his soul like water through a dam. A few droplets remained in his heart, more like a memory of affection than the actual emotion.

He and Mary shared lust. He pursued her, driven by the will to conquer, to take, to devour. He cherished her body, from the arches of her feet, the shape of her legs to the texture of her skin intersected by scars. He admired the dark shade of her hair and the varied tint of her eyes.

Admittedly, he delighted at some of her habits; how she tapped the tips of her fingers against her lips when she was concentrating, her curious taste in awful action movies, the way she crooned some absurd song when she was happy. Like an idiot, Vergil once nearly bumped into a lamp post when they ambled down the street together, too enraptured by the way her eyes lit when talking about her upcoming studies to take notice of his surroundings.

Perhaps it was how she didn’t close her eyes to the entirety of him. How she didn’t wish for his demonic side to go away as it made him who he was. When he pursued her, he underestimated the part of him that longed to give, to reciprocate… to trust.

Love - was it the relief in being accepted and wanted?

Swish, swoosh, swoosh, sing the ceiling fan.

“I am grateful Mary has expressed a wish to be with me. It is more than I deserve.”

Dante huffs.

“You can say that again!"

Nero doesn’t undo his intense glare on his father.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Vergil pauses, searching for his feelings. Mary’s told him how much of Nero’s motivation lay in his love for his girlfriend. His son’s question was more than an inquiry into Vergil’s affection for Mary - it was an attempt to understand if they shared predispositions.

Vergil settles for honesty. How to name something so new, so unfamiliar?

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve decided to stay because of her?”

“She’s part of the reason why.”

“Only part?”

There is also you.

Vergil doesn’t voice the thought to his son.

“Hah!” Dante snorts, “your moronic smiles say something else!”

To Vergil’s irritation, he finds the corners of his mouth straining from what must be a smile. He corrals his expression.

Nero eyes him up and down.

“What more do you need?”

A current runs down Vergil’s spine. He has a near out-of-body moment of knowing he must phrase the next words right, lest he loses - everything.

“I need to know I have done what I can to apologize for the crimes I have committed… against you. Even if you refuse me, I will not be able to find peace unless I’ve done what I can to reach out.”

The previous, stiff silence returns. Vergil’s kin observes him, one with eyebrows raised in an expression of amused astonishment, the other with a deepening blush of anger.

“You ripped my arm off!” The pitch of Nero’s voice soars high, “you tried to kill me twice, you’re responsible for the deaths of thousands of people!”

Vergil takes a deep breath. He never could muster much regret for the people killed by the sprawling Qliphoth, but a spike of pain tears at his chest because of what he did to Nero. Still, he’d rather face his son’s rage than his indifference.

“I never tried to kill you. I have bested you - as you have bested me. You did not listen to my reasons for fighting you, and perhaps this is not the time to repeat them. Only know I wish you no harm. I regret that I needed to tear off your arm to survive, but I don’t regret being alive because of it.”

Nero doesn’t retort but directs his gaze to the floor, cheeks flushing in a vexed expression.

A muddled pressure of panic rises in Vergil’s chest - he’ll never forgive me - but he lets it simmer to a hot undercurrent in his mind. Some things are hard. It doesn’t mean they’re not worth it.

As V, he ventured into the sprawling Qliphoth with Nero as an ally, a friend. The sensation of Nero supporting him to the top still lingers in Vergil’s memory like a spiritual scar.

“What you said about the ‘Dark Lord’ returning,” Nero darts an askant eye cast from his father to his uncle, “is there any truth in it?”

Dante huffs.

“Trish and I sealed that asshole away in the Mallet island vault. I’d like to see him try.”

Vergil grits his teeth. Dante is full of arrogant pride, so certain of his feat.

“You don’t know the Dark Lord the way I do.”

“Well, don’t try to convince us you’re doing this for the sake of humanity,” Nero sneers, “you want revenge, and you need our help. Right?”

The callous words rip a wound inside Vergil. Mary once met him with the same distrust, before she was ready to accept him. Is that why Nero thought Vergil wanted this meeting? Despite the knowledge he has done nothing to earn his son's trust, Vergil seethes with bitterness. Clenching his fists, he wills his wrath to subdue.

“Whatever my motivations are, helping me will undoubtedly benefit humanity.”

Dante snorts. He nods with an inexplicable, lopsided smile at his brother.

“That thing you’ve been doing lately - slicing the Yamato into our limbs? It complicates the issue of helping, you know.”

Vergil mutters, gaze to the floor. The fan spreads a circling shadow from above.

“I vow to never hurt you again...” He sends a smirk to his brother. “Unless you want me to.”

“Ok then,” Dante exhales. He pushes from the desk. “How about you join us to hunt some demons while we figure this whole situation out? Morrison’s got us a gig by the old industrial area north of the docks in a few days. Lady - I mean Mary’s coming.”

To Vergil’s irritation, Dante winks.

“Mary has her first classes at uni tomorrow. I don't believe she’ll -”

“If you think she’s going to quit demon-hunting because she’s taking some botany classes, then you don’t know her very well.”

The comment makes Vergil want to summon the Yamato and thrust the hilt into the face of his presumptuous brother. He resists the urge. Fighting wouldn’t do wonders for their frayed relationship.

“Yeah, I guess you could come on a gig or two,” Nero mumbles.

The envy-tinged irritation at his brother and the sting from the distrust of his son lingers like hot coals in Vergil's guts. He fails to recognize the olive branch.

“I have no interest in joining in on your ‘gigs’. This trifling with lesser demons is a waste of -”

He forgets to check the disdain in his voice. A surge of regret has the tips of his ears warming. Vergil inhales to say something, but it’s too late.

“Fine. I’ve had enough of this.”

Nero leaves his position by the pool table and heads for the small stairs to the exit.

Vergil’s pride disallows him to urge his son to stay. The bang and gust of wind from the closed ports echo in his chest.

The two brothers Sparda stays gaze interlocked for a few excruciating moments. The silence returns beside the swoosh of the fan and the blaring sirens of a passing police car. Vergil smooths his clammy palms against the fabric of his frock.

Dante heaves his chest in a sigh.

”You know, I was surprised when you agreed to join me from hell. Why’d you do it?”

A taste of bile rises in Vergil’s throat. Because the thought of being alone in that place again made me cold with fear. He would never confess such a thought, not to Dante.

“I have squandered enough time in the Netherworld.”

“And what do you plan on doing in the human world, huh?”

The amused smirk on Dante’s face has Vergil bristling. He searches for a suitable answer to his brother’s question. What the hell was he doing in the human world? Inevitably, it would only lead to new paths of pain, of failure…

To heal, a voice inside him whispers, to forge bonds. To be brave enough to love again without fear. Vergil pushes it back into his mind so hard his teeth clack.

“To prepare. Grow stronger. The next time the Dark Lord emerges, I’ll be ready.”

“Yeah?” Dante pushes from the desk and passes him towards the stairs that lead to the second floor. “Good luck with that.”

“You should take the threat of his return seriously –“

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Dante replies with infuriating aloofness. “Hey, next time you want to reach out to your son, how about not being an arrogant prick? He’s a good demon hunter. Looking down your nose at his job is the same thing as looking down at him.”

He ignores Vergil’s scowl.

“Let me know if you’re ready to have some fun sometimes. Relax a little. You need it. Ugh, I need a nap. This family reunion was fun and all but it’s made me fucking exhausted.”

Vergil seconds the feeling.

*

“So,” Mary helps herself to a slice of the pizza on her kitchen counter. She bites into it carefully to test the heat of the melted cheese and tomato sauce. “How was it? I haven’t seen you shred anything to bits with your sword yet, so it must have been alright?”

A few of her potted plants bloom behind her, spreading a fair scent, although not enough to override the smell of burnt oregano and thyme from the pizza. Nor do the plants hide the faint gusts of cigarette smoke from Mary’s clothes. She'd stayed in Nico’s van while waiting for him during his disaster meeting with his son and his brother inside the Devil May Cry shop.

“You know that movie you love? With the giant maggots?” Vergil shoots her a glance from his position on her footstool, resting his temple against the heel of his hand.

“I believe Nero would prefer one of those creatures as his father to me.”

She lets out a compassionate mix between a sigh and a laugh.

“It’s going to take time for him to get used to this. To earn his trust. Don’t be discouraged because he doesn’t accept you full-stop immediately. He has his pride and fear to overcome…” She lifts an eyebrow. “Like you.”

“I do not fear –“

Ears warming, Vergil shuts his mouth at the accuracy of her words. Pride and fear were all he felt these days besides the emotions she stirred in him.

Mary leans forward to caress Vergil’s cheek with a gloved hand. Despite the faint smell of smoke that lingers in his nostrils from her touch, he doesn’t mind. It’s a gesture of care, and although he is not used to be the object of such sentiment, it’s - not unpleasant, coming from her.

Accepting kindness is brave, the voice inside him whispers along the edges of his mind.

Mary makes a motion towards the carton on the counter, her expression a silent question if he wants a slice. He shakes his head.

She needs to eat better than this constant junk food. Dante’s had a bad influence on her. Vergil doesn’t voice the thought, stopped by a hunch she wouldn’t appreciate the concern.

An idea forms in his mind. He should learn how to cook. Something tells him he’d be good at it.

“You are taking a ‘gig’ with Dante and Nero soon?”

“Yeah,” she answers thickly, mouth full of pizza. She swallows, narrowing her eyes. “Wait, did Dante tell you it was his?”

“No, that’s not… Do you plan on continuing the demon-hunting business while studying full time?”

“Mm-hm,” she puts the tips of her fingers in her mouth to lick them free from fat. The sight has Vergil’s ears warming from a rush of attraction. Yesterday, she put the tip of his index finger into her mouth and directed it to the heat between her thighs. The memory has his groin tightening to knots.

“Not like before, naturally, but I need to pay rent. I have savings, but I don’t wish to deplete them.”

She tilts her head with a frown and removes the pad of her thumb between her lips.

“I know you want to make plans on how to deal with Mundus. I promise this won’t get in the way -”

“Don’t think about it. Or about money. I’ll pay your rent. You shouldn’t hunt demons if it distracts you from your studies.”

Judging by the way she stiffens, it’s the wrong thing to say. Vergil has a sensation of the air growing thick.

“I love my job.” A shade of pink raises on Mary’s cheeks. “I’m good at it. Besides, I’ve taken care of myself since I was sixteen. I don’t need anyone else to take care of me.”

With a hot flash searing in his veins, he fastens his gaze on her legs crossed on the counter, unable to meet her eyes.

“I wasn’t – “

He goes quiet. Wasn’t what? He wished to help but his offer could be interpreted as him not respecting her professional integrity - like he disrespected Nero earlier.

Still, he meant to help and she distrusted his intention. Was her reluctance to trust related to her - their - history? Or did he confuse care with possessiveness?

A hard rush of anger wakes in his chest. All his life, he’d learned to settle matters of differences through domination and force. The impulse to lash out at her for not sharing his understanding has his mind spinning.

Another impulse soars through his veins. He did wish to possess her. Hot surges of jealousy run through Vergil’s chest at the thought of how Dante gets to spend so much time with her - had spent so much time with her.

No - this isn’t the person I want to be -

Vergil fights for the flames of wrath inside to die and inflates with a low groan. This day was a catastrophe, like his sorry excuse for a life. He’ll never achieve it, this will to become a – a what? A person? Once, he ambitioned to become the most powerful demon to ever have existed. He would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for that insidious human part of him.

Mary hops off the counter; the fabric of her pants makes a faint whooshing sound. He allows her arms around his shoulders and places a hand on the small of her back.

“Look,” she mumbles against his hair, “I know you didn’t mean to –“ There's a moment's pause when she searches for the right words. “I’ve been taking care of myself forever. I - I’m as new to this as you are. We’re going to need time too.”

He raises his gaze to hers, still from a gentle rush of warmth inside. Her ambition to work on things between them rather than abandon him has him stunned. The number of people in his life who wished to look past his wrongs was none, except -

He doesn’t finish the thought but stays in the moment. The fabric of her shirt is soft underneath his hands. He inhales the smell of her skin that no cigarette smoke could override and pulls her closer.

She leans forward to kiss him, a soft press to the lips.

Relief washes like a warm flow through his chest. The sentiment is replaced by a knot in his stomach as the thought of his son reenters his mind. He releases her lips.

“What do you think should be my next - step? Regarding Nero?”

Mary caresses his hair.

“I think you already know what you need to do.”

Vergil makes a decision. He needs to try again, try better.

“I should… Meet him again. Without Dante, this time.”

She nods with a smile.

Chapter Text

I do know that Sparda had a heart. A heart that could love another person. A human. That is what you lack.
- Nero, Devil May Cry 4

 

August 29th

The tunnels under the old bridge are still abandoned since the fall of the Qliphoth. The brick walls reek with the smell of coagulated blood and frenzied demon adrenaline, making Vergil’s nostrils flare. From the adjacent room to his right, flashes of light follow the buzz of Nero’s sword and his occasional shouts of “get out of my sight!”

Vergil frowns at the dry bangs of firearms followed by the screeches from a blasted Empusa. He controls his expression. No more looking down his nose at his son. He rounds the entrance where an exit sign sends a green shadow over the dust-covered floor, overlooking the dug-out cavern where Nero stands, surrounded by whisks of gunsmoke.

“Nero.”

His son spins, firearms raised and eyes wide. The dim light of the bulbs above land on the devil bringer on his hand, gleaming in magenta and white.

“Holy crap, you scared me! I thought –“ Nero lowers his hand with a tired expression. “What are you doing here, Vergil?”

“I wish to take up on your offer to accompany you to one of your – gigs.”

Nero places the blunt edge of Red Queen across his shoulder with a reluctant frown.

“I thought you had no interest in my business.”

Vergil clenches his jaw.

“What I said was arrogant, and disrespectful. I apologize.”

The veneer of disbelief on Nero’s face falls, replaced by genuine surprise. He shifts on his feet.

“Ok, um… I’m done for the day. These –“ he gestures towards the Empusas and Hell Cainas biting the dust, “gave the construction workers some headache. They shouldn’t be a problem now.”

The defiant, proud expression on Nero's face tells Vergil his son wants him to know he's a professional.

“Have you triggered your devil form since –“

Vergil halts his question. Since I attacked you on top of the Qliphoth, still full of hate.

“No.” Nero lowers his gaze to the floor with a blush. “I don’t need it against common demons. Not when I have this.”

He lifts his devil breaker. It makes a faint wheezing sound.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. Your devil trigger. It’s remarkable.”

It was beautiful - powerful.

Nero’s blush deepens.

“Yeah, well, I was – uh, I was thinking about heading back home –“

Vergil frowns at Nero’s stumbling. Did his son feel ashamed of his demon form? He’s lived among humans his entire life, after all. Asking requires a different form of intimacy than they had.

What did they have in common?

The scene on top of the Qliphoth remerges in Vergil’s memory.

“Have you read my book?”

Before Nero answers, a crack erupts behind them like the crunch of feet on dry leaves.

Vergil squints. Two death scissors float from the crimson pattern in the air, their black robes billowing behind them. The wind that accompanies their shrill snickers rushes towards father and son in cool waves.

Nero turns to Vergil, eyebrows raised in an amused expression.

“They’re all yours if you want.”

Vergil summons a halo of bright swords above his head. With the force of his mind, he centres the swords to one and thrusts them into the weeping mask of the first death scissor. The mask contorts into a screaming hole, bleeding from its edges. Bull’s eye. Vergil rushes to thrust the Yamato into the face of the demon, slicing it in two. The large scissor falls to the ground with a metallic thud accompanied by a brittle eruption of red crystals.

The other death scissor spins towards him, blades open in a glistening tornado. Vergil lunges at the scissor with a slicing motion of the Yamato to feel the satisfying clang of steel against steel. The demon parries his blow with a shriek. Vergil reaches with his hand to Griffon’s talons to escape the next strike of the razor-sharp blades–

His mind goes numb. He is not in control of his nightmares anymore. He is not V.

Before the death scissor closes around his midriff, the demon is yanked from him with a howl. Nero lands the demon, attached to the line of his devil bringer, a foot from the barrel of his raised gun. He pulls the trigger.

The scream from the dying death scissor bounce against the walls. Wiping his hair free of red crystal dust, Nero squints at Vergil.

“You ok?”

Vergil grumbles an affirmation and dismisses the Yamato. The misstep has his blood soaring in his ears.

“You wanna get out of here?”

Another nod in affirmation. The two men leave the underground tunnels and step into the fading daylight, squinting against the sun that sets over the roof tops. The Indian summer’s heat lands over them like a blanket, provoking beads of sweat to break out on their temples.

“So,” Nero sends Vergil a curious gaze, “what do you do now that you’re back from the Netherworld? Like – how do you spend your days?”

Vergil stills from surprise. The question isn’t hostile or weary. Nero might pity him for his less than outstanding performance as a demon hunter and has decided to be kind. Whatever reason, the gesture sends a flow of hope through Vergil’s chest.

“I spend a few hours per day at the city library.”

Vergil omits his pursuit of learning the cooking trade. It feels... intimate.

“Yeah?” Nero releases the devil bringer from his arms in a metallic buzz. Vergil stiffens at the sight. The sight of the hand that prevented him from slaying his brother provokes a sensation of someone’s forcing a spike through his heart.

“Julio and I are going there on Saturday. He’s entering a chess tournament. He’s really good at it!”

A proud smile spreads on Nero’s face.

Vergil searches his memory without finding any recollection of a ‘Julio.’ It must be one of the orphans Nero and his girlfriend take care of.

“I see. Chess is a respectable game. I played it myself as a child.”

“You did? Um, well… How about you meet us there?”

Vergil checks his impulse to wince in surprise. An invitation to join his son and his protégé in a space where Vergil isn’t out of place? It’s perfect. It might be a start. To what, Vergil doesn’t dare to spell out.

“I would like that.”

“Ok, uh –“ Nero brushes his palm against the back of his head in an awkward gesture, “see you then. The tournament starts at nine.”

“See you then.”

The sight of his son leaving with a hesitant wave warms Vergil in a way the blazing sun above never could.

 

September 1st

Outside the public library, the sun blares sharp rays on the hot asphalt. The days are shorter than in the thick of summer, but during midday, the air still hovers in shuddering waves over the ground. People pass wiping their foreheads and everything smells of over blooming trees and burnt tire rubber.

Vergil pauses in front of a poster plastered to a bus stop. The city is covered in political messages, depicting the candidates for governor in the upcoming elections. The posters cry out promises of lower taxes, of faster reconstruction of the city, of taking greater measures against crime. Mary has told Vergil of a new tactic by the most controversial of the candidates, the CEO of a famous robotics engineering company Seamus Do. He slanders the previous governor for not acting strongly enough against demons, thus allowing the rise of the Qliphoth.

Mary predicts he will win the election.

Once, Vergil would have agreed with the message promulgated by the controversial candidate. Politics are about taking back something lost - with force, if necessary. The hate against the other is legitimate. The respect for the other is a weakness.

He didn’t anymore, equipped with enough experience to know it was a disposition that led him to lose everything that mattered.

Vergil scorns the way present-day politicians like Do use blatant lies and propaganda to reach their goals. For them, politics was about emotion, not knowledge or thought. They didn’t care for actual threats to human existence but fabricated webs of arbitrary lies to control their positions of power.

At least he pursued power with honest force.

Vergil turns from the poster to face the library. He squints to better outline the pair climbing the large stairs to the entrance of the library. It's undoubtedly his son - there wasn’t many other white-haired men of Nero’s age - and the orphan boy. Vergil takes the stairs in two steps at a time, heart boxing against his ribs.

Nero sends Vergil a hesitant smile when he notices him. He places a hand on the shoulder of the boy beside him.

“Hey, there you are. This is Julio. He’s the one who’s about to enter the local chess tournament. Julio, this is Vergil, my - um...”

Vergil initial warmth at the presentation dies at Nero’s inability to acknowledge him as his father. He steels his heart.

After what I did, I’m hardly in a position to blame him.

Julio cranes his neck to look Vergil in the eye and widens his hazel eyes with a smile of admiration.

“Whoa, you look awesome!”

Vergil blinks, unsure how to respond.

“Hey, remember when I told you not to comment on people’s looks?” Nero emits an embarrassed chuckle, “It makes them uncomfortable.”

“No need to apologize for having good taste.” Vergil sends one of his tight-lipped smiles at the boy. “Tell me about your upcoming tournament. Did Nero tell you I have experience of the game?”

Julio nods so hard the cap on his head wobbles.

Nero looks like he’s stifling an eye roll before he sends the boy a tender smile.

“How about we get inside, huh?”

Ambling into the library building, the boy chats with Vergil, leaving Nero hot on their heels. The air-conditioned coolness inside whisk against their faces. They turn left at the large auditorium by the entrance and descend the stairs for the periodicals floor where the tournament will be held. The open space is enframed by large shelves stacked with a motley assortment of books, periodicals, prints and documents perused by interested citizens. By the northern wall parades a large aquarium full of exotic fishes that sends a turquoise prism on the otherwise dull floors.

“What’s your preferred opening?”

“Latvian gambit if I’m playing white.”

“Aggressive.”

The boy responds to Vergil’s praise with a contented grin. Nero shrugs with a smile that indicates he has no idea what they’re talking about.

“Hey, I’m happy Julio’s got someone to nerd out with.”

Both chess enthusiasts ignore him. Julio's neck is threatening to snap as he looks up at Vergil.

“Who’s your favourite player?”

“I’ve always been an admirer of Paul Morphy.”

“Ancient!” Julio chuckles, “My favourite’s Bobby Fischer. Hey, have you ever played Overwatch?”

“Is that an endgame strategy?”

“Dude, it’s a video game!”

The boy laughs again and starts a tirade on characters with obnoxious names such as Torbjorn, Symmetra, and Widowmaker. They reach the tables set for the tournament, leaving Vergil confounded but amused.

Julio enters the tournament or rapid games with a duration of thirty minutes, with zeal. He plays aggressively and manages to defeat two boys his age.

During the matches, Nero asks Vergil twice about the strategies of Julio’s opponents. Not without pride, Vergil explains some of the intricacies of the game to his son. He inhales the whiffs of something spicy from Nero’s hair, probably one of those common shower gels for men you found at every supermarket. He is overcome by the wonder what it would be like to press Nero close in a hug.

Was the inclination to embrace his son absurd?

Julio loses his next game to a girl five years his senior. Still an impressive feat, Vergil assures him. Nero pats Julio on the shoulder with a proud smile and tells him they should go buy sundaes to celebrate his two wins. The boy lits up like a tinder stick.

Julio asks if Vergil wishes to join them to have ice cream. Vergil is afraid to stretch the astonishing sociability of the morning to the point of breakage and bids them farewell. He commits the image of the three of them socializing to his memory, filled by a soft feeling inside. The two hours spent at the library appears to him as delicate like a spider’s thread, easy to break but forming a pattern of temporary congeniality.

He ascends the stairs to the corridor that leads to the exit and heads towards his usual favourite spot of the classics section.

He stiffens at the sound of Nero and Julio speaking on their way out. None of them realize Vergil is behind the paper-thin wall that separates the corridor from the books’ section.

“Your dad’s awesome!”

Vergil’s heart soars in initial pride. When Nero doesn't answer, Vergil's pride sours into pain.

“At least you have a dad,” Julio continues, less enthusiastic, “unlike a lot of people.” His voice holds a bitterness no eight-year-old should harbour.

“I only realized he was my father like, a few months ago,” Nero replies, “blood isn’t everything.”

His last word drown by the spinning of the glass doors that separate inside from outside.

The books give no solace that morning. Vergil waits until he is certain he won’t bump into Nero and Julio again. He leaves, dejected and hurting, despite Marys’ words resurfacing from his memory; it’s going to take time.

On his way out, he stops by an open newspaper resting on a table depicting advertisement for real estate deals. Eyeing one ad in particular, he closes the newspaper and places it on its intended shelf before leaving for the business district.

*

Vergil cuts into the piece of tuna in his hand with satisfaction. He has roasted the meat to leave a raw core, red like cherry, the way he intended. Not a bad feat, considering it’s his first time, and considering Mary’s oven was ancient to the verge of belonging to a museum.

It was a relief - the looming sensation of stumbling along a path of continuous failure dogged him with particular force this day – but it didn’t apply to this tuna steak.

The door opens; he lifts his head. Mary steps inside. She hangs her jacket on the coathanger and approaches him with a curious smile, shifting her gaze from the food to his face. Pulling her hair behind her ears with both hands, she closes her eyes in a blissful expression.

“It smells so good! What is it?”

Vergil serves her a plate of the tuna carpaccio. He has drizzled it with a vinaigrette and chopped chilli, sprigs of fresh coriander and crushed, salty peanuts. She indulges in every piece of the carefully roasted fish with low moans of pleasure.

“This is amazing,” she groans, mouth stuffed.

“You’re amazing.”

She blushes like she always does at his words of appreciation. He never means them as compliments but as honest truths.

“You are so suave, Sparda. I remember that night at the Scandinavian restaurant when you called me a work of art.”

He hasn’t entirely gotten used to how she calls him after his father’s namesake when she sasses him but takes pride in how she never uses it for Dante.

She lowers her lashes.

“I think I fell for you at that moment.”

A rush of mirth has him wishing to tease her.

“You have a praise kink.”

She huffs.

“No, I don’t.”

“No?”

Amused, he recites the poet she introduced to him while softly grazing a strand of her hair from her cheek,

Your being proud, royal flower-scent fine
I would secretly drink, a holy wine -

Her lips part in rapture, until she groans and wrings her eyes shut.

“I can’t believe I have a praise kink.”

He chuckles and fills her wine glass with Riesling wine.

“You were saying something earlier about your professor.”

Her eyes lit; she leans forward.

“Yes. She remembered me from the last time I took courses in organic chemistry! Said she knew about my father’s work. She impressed with my theory of how his methods didn’t allow for a full understanding of crop-fungi symbiosis. She wants me to apply to a post-graduate position that starts in January next year. I’d be part of her research project!”

A warm sensation makes Vergil smile. Pride. He’s proud of her. The best part of his days always was when he caught her smiling as she did at this moment.

“Will you apply?”

A cloud passes over her face. She fidgets with a coriander leaf.

“I would if I had a finished master’s thesis. I abandoned it last time I went at uni to go back to full-time demon hunting.” She spins a dreg of the wine in her glass to an amber vortex. “Technically, I could write it before the application date expires but it’s going to be a pain in the – “

She smiles and stops the twirl of her glass.

“Stressful. It’s going to be stressful.”

“Do it. I’ll help you. I’ll –” Vergil’s mind goes blank at the lack of ideas of how he could help, only knowing he wishes to, “- You should do it.”

Her eyes glitter.

“Ok. I will! Only, it’ll mean a lot of late evenings in the lab…”

He tenses. Her neighbourhood was notorious for its high crime rates; he didn’t wish for her to return to her apartment during late nights more than she already did. Not long ago, she was attacked by a common thug on the street outside and nearly got killed.

A wave of nausea washes over him at the memory. It’s an excellent opportunity to tell her of his endeavour earlier that day.

“Mary. This morning, your faucet broke again. The stove is a death trap and the smell in the corridor outside is getting worse. Your landlord is obviously an indifferent moron. This afternoon, I signed a contract for an apartment in the business district area. I know it’s not your typical residential area, but it’s safe and has all the luxury you need. It’s closer to the University –“

He halts at her expression. Her face grows a dark shade of pink.

“You did what?”

“Mary,” he interjects with a mix of worry and irritation simmering through his veins. “I understand this may hurt your pride but you must listen to reason. This area is unsafe. Your apartment, no matter how much you’re attached to it... Frankly, it’s inhabitable.”

“I told you, I can take care of myself.”

Her voice strains with resentment.

“Yet I recall you being a second from being stabbed, had I not interfered.”

She blushes harder from the truth in his words.

“What would it cost us to live there? In the business district?”

When he tells her, her eyes widen in disbelief.

“I won’t even be able to pay a third of that price!”

Vergil’s grasp of the counter tightens.

“Again, listen to reason. I am more than capable of ensuring all financial matters are taken care of to let you focus on your thesis. Running around chasing demons is-” he stops his more scathing remark of her work “- isn’t as important. Can you honestly tell me it’s a bad arrangement?”

“Yes!” Her voice rises an octave. “I don’t want to live in the business district! I hate that area. It’s full of suits in the day and completely empty during nights. It has no parks, no - life! Nothing that makes it liveable -”

“Neither does this area.”

She shuts her mouth, jaw clenching. He’s right, and she must know it.

He stares at her, filled by a sensation that rises in his chest like acid. He’d made her a more than a decent proposal. Was this about something else – about him?

The last thing Vergil ambitioned when he emerged from hell after spending a decade in chains, his body and soul splintered and in disarray, was love.

Until his brother followed him into hell and back.

Until Nero.

Until her.

Did not the poet say -

Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite.

“You don’t wish to live with me.”

Telling by how she flicks her gaze to him and back onto the counter, her cheeks glowing, he’s hit the nail on its head. A heavy stone sinks in his stomach.

“Vergil…” She looks at him with a pleading expression. “We’ve just started this – being together. I need more time.”

“I see,” he says, his anger rising to veil his hurt. After a few excruciating moments where they stare at each other, he releases the grip of her kitchen counter and marches for the door.

She follows him, calling his name.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll need to annul the contract for the apartment.”

“Vergil…”

Without turning, he opens the door, steps out, and closes it behind him.

Chapter Text

Why are you so uneasy - do you think that I am not here with you, guiding you?
- Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto III:24

 

September 4th

The ports to the Devil May Cry office open and shut with a bang. Mary ascends the smalls stairs, her hands pushed into the pockets of her ivory leather jacket and a wrinkle of worry creasing the skin between her eyebrows.

Trish redirects her attention from the firearm she’s assembling on the mahogany desk.

“I take it he wasn’t at your usual love nest?”

Mary swallows visibly. She chews on her lower lip, her gaze on the floor.

“No.”

Trish crosses her arms over her leather bodice and exhales in a tired sound.

“Go over this with me one more time. He left because you didn’t want to live with him?”

“I never said I never want to live with him! I just don’t want to live in the business district!”

With pursed lips, Trish eyes Mary’s angered blush.

“I bet he's brooding somewhere, feeling lost. You’re the one thing that’s kept him from falling apart since he came back from hell. Let’s face it; Dante cares for his brother but they haven’t exactly worked out things between them. His son still thinks he’s an arrogant asshole. The thought of not having you probably scare him shitless.”

Mary makes an incredulous sound through her nose.

“Are you taking his side?”

Trish rolls her eyes skywards.

“No, all I’m saying is that the two of you need to communicate about these things if you want to stay together.”

Mary mulls over Trish’s words while working her jaw.

“I’m not a quitter. But this is bullshit. He can’t decide on such a thing all by himself and then give me the silent treatment when I don’t agree with him.”

“More like the invisible treatment,” Trish concurs. “Look, you got together with Vergil with the ambition to accept him as he is. If you want to be with the devil, you’re going to need the patience of an angel.”

Mary’s expression turns raw.

“We both need to change. Learn how to be - I don’t know. Part of a relationship.”

Trish’s frown deepens.

“As much as that might be true... Is he worth the energy? I know what I told you before about stopping the cycle of pain and revenge but I hate seeing you like this.”

“I know you feel that way," Mary pleads, "but he’s actually –“

“Mary, you know me." Trish picks up a bullet and fidgets with it. "I’ve been where he is. He wants control because the world confuses and scares him, not because he’s evil. I’d still like to kick him in the groin for hurting you.”

“Please don’t,” Mary smiles, “I happen to like that part of him.”

Trish scrunches her nose and places the bullet back on the desk with a clink.

“Ugh, too much information.”

Mary chuckles, but her smile soon dies as fear takes a hold of her again. Her eyes sting and her throat constricts. She has a sensation of her heart aching raw like a scab in her chest.

“What if he went back there – to hell?”

Her whisper is hoarse.

Trish knits her eyebrows in an expression of concern. She takes a large inhale when the ports open behind them; Mary spins on her heel. Her heartbeat rushes but slows again when Nero walks into the office alone. Disappointment spreads like soot in her veins.

He surveys the place, his face pale with fatigue.

“I take it you haven’t found him yet.”

The two female demon hunters shake their heads.

Nero meets Mary’s gaze.

“Me neither. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. Thank you for helping us search for him.”

Nero heaves his chest in a large sigh.

“I’m the one who should be thanking you. I’ve been doing some thinking…”

Mary holds her breath with a sensation of her blood running slower but Nero doesn’t finish his thought.

“Anyway, I best be going. It’s late and Kyrie’s waiting for me. Let me know as soon as you learn anything, alright?”

“Alright,” Mary breathes and follow Nero with her gaze as he leaves with a goodbye. She turns to Trish with a sigh.

“I’m going to wait a bit longer for Dante to come back. If he’s not here in an hour, I’m leaving.”

She shakes her head.

”Is that man ever going to get a smartphone?”

Trish smirks in response and returns to her firearm.

*

Vergil thumbs the cross guard of the Yamato with a scowl. He has planted his leather-clad behind on one of the remains of Eva’s furniture, a once plush sofa with mahogany frame and buttons in lilac velvet. His gaze rests on the floor but doesn’t register the occasional cockroach that skitters across the tarnished polish of the parquet.

He’s given up trying to untangle all the exhausting emotions that struggled to fit into his chest; anger, despair, shame...

The pressure from adjusting to the human world took its toll on him. The rift between human and demon in him was straining. Recently, he had found aspects of being in this world, of living out his human side, to be enjoyable. Still, there was the confusion of emotions, the impressions of this world, the masses of people he cared no more for than he cared for a swarm of gnats.

The human world weighed him down.

She didn't.

Alone, Vergil would never have the strength to stay in the human world. His brother pushed him to take the first step into it, still, his relationship to Dante felt like pulling oneself forwards by barbed wire. The relationship to his son is like a delicate thread, easy to break, but Mary always offered him a steady rail to hold on to. He didn’t wish to sever that bond, yet he cut into it with his inexperience, his pride and his clumsy mistakes.

He didn’t wish to hurt her but inevitably, he would. He’d hurt Nero enough for a lifetime, his son would never care for him. Dante… Vergil wouldn’t mind hurting his brother a bit more, preferably in a few more jousts but he’d lost the will to defeat Dante he’d harboured for so long.

Vergil snaps his head at the unmistakable sound of boots crunching against gravel. He squints against the beam of crimson light that falls through a cracked window that outlines a familiar silhouette. The tint reveals the coming twilight, contested by the lingering heat of the day.

Dante ambles through the blasted-open whole in the wall that opens to the stale landscape outside. Vergil musters all the ice he has to his voice.

“Dante.”

“Hey, dumbass.”

Dante tosses his hair from his eyes with an infuriating smile.

“I thought I would find you here, brooding like one of your romantic heroes.”

Vergil has a venomous retort on the tip of his tongue but swallows it at a creeping realization. He stands, unable to hide the thread of panic in his voice.

“How long have I been away?”

Dante bends and picks up a broken piece of plaster. He summons his sword. Vergil stiffens, but Dante uses the sword like a bat, sending the plaster flying through the hole in the wall in an arched whizz.

“Oh, I’d say about three or four days, considering how worried Mary is.”

Vergil curses in a groan.

Dante picks up another piece of plaster, eyeing his brother warily.

“You’ve ruined a good demon hunter, brother. I’ve never seen her like this.”

He sends the plaster flying through the hole, startling a crow that leaves with a series of indignant caws.

“Mary used to care about two things. Dollars and firearms. Now she’s all soft for you.”

He smiles in that infuriating, lopsided way he so often does.

Vergil narrows his eyes at his brother.

“You oppose our relationship.“

“No, I don’t,” Dante snaps, “I think you can be good for each other. But that means you need to pull your head out of your ass - starting by remembering that time behaves differently here than in hell.”

Vergil exhales another curse, too remorseful to mouth another scathing retort to his brother.

“I need to get back.”

“Yeah, you do.” Dante places the devil sword on his shoulder in an infuriatingly similar gesture as Nero. “Apologize to her. Chicks love it when you tell them they were right, and you were wrong.”

Dante picks up a round object from the rubble with a surprised laugh. It’s a yo-yo, dirty and cracked.

“Hey! Remember this? I used to know how to do some rad tricks.”

Vergil hesitates, clutching the Yamato. His pride rises to prevent him from uttering his next words, but he pushes it away.

“Thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dante replies, rolling his eyes in tandem with the swing of the yo-yo in his hand, “get going before Mary calls Morrison to find you. She got Nero to search for you, you know.”

Vergil halts on the spot.

“Nero searched for me?”

Dante smirks.

“Yeah, dumbass. He did.”

*

When Vergil arrives at her apartment, Mary isn’t home. He carefully enters the living room when a set of keys are inserted into the lock. Mary steps into the hall, halting at the sight of him. Inhaling sharply, she clenches her hands to fists and lifts them to cover her eyes.

“Oh, thank fuck,” she whispers.

“Mary…”

She lets her hands sink. Her eyes are glossy with purple strands underneath.

“What were you thinking?

Not knowing the right way to act, he marches over and presses her against him, lips to her hair. Her familiar scent sends a wave of warmth through him.

She sighs and lifts her arms to place them against his chest as if shielding herself from him.

“I was afraid you’d gone back to that place… Where I couldn’t follow you or find you.”

He’s unaccustomed to the continuous waves of shame that flows through his guts. She wasn’t angry; she was afraid.

A stunning realization has him forgetting to breathe. He held her heart in his hands. She once admitted she had given him the power to hurt her; for the first time, he is faced with a power he doesn’t wish to yield.

“I’m sorry. I needed some time alone. I shouldn’t have left without telling you where I went.”

She leans her forehead onto his chest, muffling her voice against his vest.

“No, you shouldn’t have.” She blinks up at him. “Vergil, if you disappear during an argument, I feel like it’s a way to punish me for having a different opinion. It’s cruel.”

“Yes,” he croaks, her words cutting into his heart.

I’m an idiot.

He searches for her gaze.

“This is not an excuse for my behaviour, but that day when I left, something happened that… unsettled me.”

He tells her of how the afternoon with his son and Julio at the library and how Nero dismissed their kinship.

She peels from his embrace. His heart cramps at the sight of the capillaries in the white of her eyes, colouring them in an exhausted pink. Had she slept at all the last days?

“I didn’t ask about your day, I just... gushed about my studies. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t let you in.”

She lingers gaze to gaze before she takes a few steps to her bookshelf, lifting onto the balls of her feet to pick something from the top shelf. It’s a dried piranha fastened to a wooden base, one of her more curious artefacts.

“Look,“ she holds the piranha in one hand, “how about we do like this? When you need time alone but don’t have the energy to tell me, you place Charlie here on the table, or somewhere else where I can see it. I’ll know you won’t be here for a few days but that you will come back. Ok?”

He nods, stupefied. It’s a solution that doesn’t force him to change. It allows him to be the person he is, with the need for occasional isolation, without the downside of making her feel rejected and abandoned.

His heart swells in his chest.

“If you need things around you to be quiet but still want to stay here, you can place this –“ she grabs the pot holding her monstera plant and puts it on her living room table “- here, and I’ll know you need some space.“

She places her hands on her hips, pressing her lips together. Tears amass in her eyes.

“If you want to leave and never come back, you’d better be brave enough to tell me, because I –“

He steps forward to cup her face in his hands and kisses her.

“That will never happen. I’ll have this – you – forever. If you can live with me. You are everything, I…”

The man nicknamed “Shakespeare” by the demon bird once that insisted on accompanying him is lost for words. He kisses her again. To his relief, she responds by lifting herself up on her tiptoes to press against him, arms wrapped around his neck.

She lowers herself and wipes at her cheek.

“Look, when you told me about the apartment, I didn’t mean –“

“No. I shouldn’t have decided things for you. It was disrespectful and you didn’t say anything I didn’t need to hear.”

Dante’s awkward advice pops up in his memory.

“You were right.”

She blinks at him in a van smile.

“Hey. How about, in a couple of months’ time, when I’m less stressed out about the thesis, we’ll find something together?” Her complexion turns pink. She wrings her eyes shut as if not believing what she’s saying. “It needs to be a place we both like – and where I actually have a chance at paying half the rent.”

Surprised, Vergil is hit by a wave of emotion that tightens his chest. A compromise - this was an improvement to her initial refusal. She was willing to meet him halfway.

He stares at her in admiration. This ability of hers to overcome fears, to find solutions, to listen and to care - they were all attributes related to strength. Merely a year ago, he would have thought of them as weaknesses.

He holds her again, tight. He's filled with gratitude towards the steps he’d taken to not be that person anymore – the person who thought of strength as the ability to coerce, dominate, or control. The person who had nothing of value.

She smiles again. It’s beautiful.

“We’ll figure it out. This - us. If you wish to stay here, you could contribute to the rent. It would be like a - a warm-up to living together proper.”

He nods. The way she made him wish to try again, try better – it was remarkable.

He lifts an eyebrow at the petrified piranha staring at them with dead eyes from the table.

“You named that thing Charlie?”

To his delight, she dips her forehead into his chest and exhales a soft chuckle in response.

*

That night, he makes love to her slowly, wishing to savour the moment for as long as possible. She digs the short nails of her fingers into his shoulders and makes those small noises he loves.

“Tell me you’re mine.”

He interlocks their gazes from his position on top of her and moves his hips against her in careful motions. Her skin is so soft against his own it makes his head spin. All he wants is to thrust into her hard and fast but also for this to never end. He’s fighting a strange urge to cry he’s reluctant to admit.

“I’m yours.”

She moves against him in perfect sync. He hooks her knee under his arm and bucks into her the way she loves. She gasps and knits her eyebrows in an expression of abandonment.

“You’re mine, too.”

The tip of her tongue darts to her lower lip; she bites into it and raises her hands to grasp at her headboard. Her eyes blaze.

“Don’t hold back. I need you. Please -

Letting go is all he wants. He obliges.

Chapter Text

Be a big boy, a man. If I don’t return, you must run. By yourself, alone. You must change your name. Forget your past and start a new life as someone else. A new beginning.
- Eva, Devil May Cry 5

 

September 8th

Mary and Vergil make their way towards the meeting point for the demon-slaying gig. Striding over a rusty railway track towards the old industrial area, they inhale the faint smell of sulphite hovering over the many warehouses and wholesale repositories. The crunch of their footsteps mixes with the distant murmur of city noises; passing cars, the faint cry of a police siren, a barking dog. The leaves of the surrounding birches hang limp, unruffled from absent winds.

The late summer's’ warmth settles like a lid over the city.

Mary readjusts the Kalina Ann on her shoulder and points with her index finger.

“You see that old brick warehouse over there? That’s where the police found the sliced-to-bits joggers. Morrison’s spotted some Empusas, but they don’t make those kinds of wounds. I’m betting we’re dealing with either a Death Scissor or a Chaos.”

A glint lit in her eyes.

“I’m actually hoping it’s a Chaos. Dante’s not going to get the first blow.”

“I would rather be at your place.”

Mary arches an eyebrow at Vergil with a smile.

“I’m glad you agreed to come with us. I know it’s your way of apologizing for your previous - disregard -” her pause indicates she has a less polite expression on the tip of her tongue, “of our profession.”

Vergil keeps his expression neutral, which in his case means scowling. Inside, his wounded pride grumbles but he orders it quiet, aware of the hurt he’s caused by his patronizing attitude.

“Besides, this is a chance to bond with your family,” she adds.

He stiffens from a warm flow that courses through his heart. My family.

“A curious way of bonding, but then again -” Vergil clears his throat - “my family members are curious individuals.”

“No more curious than you.”

He snorts.

“I suppose you’re right.”

Dante, Trish, and Nero wait for them by the large, arched building of a mechanic workshop, all with their arms crossed on their chests. The only other creatures in the vicinity are a pair of passing jackdaws nipping at a discarded package of french fries on the ground.

Mary waves and hops to readjust the Kalina Ann on her shoulder before she speeds up her steps to reach her friends. For a second, Vergil rests his gaze on the round shape of her behind. The night before, he removed those black briefs she wore to her army pants in a slow caress down the full length of her legs. The flashback causes an untimely tight sensation to his groin.

Vergil lifts his gaze to meet the steely gaze of Trish.

A bolt of ice lances through him. This is the first time they’ve properly met since he got back from the Netherworld. He could never be near Trish without his skin prickling from unease. As a slave of Mundus, the Dark Lord tormented him with the image of her printed upon the female demon before him, making him writhe in agony.

Did Trish remember? Did her limbs fill with dread at the thought of it as it did to him?

“Look what the cat dragged in.”

Trish tilts her head, eyes menacingly narrowed, and takes two long strides to reach him.

Vergil stiffens. His entire body screams for her not to touch him.

Her fingertips hover an inch from his chest.

“Welcome back, Vergil. This is for putting me inside that demon.”

A current blasts from her hand, sending him flying towards the adjacent warehouse in a loud crackle. The back of his skull lands against the brick wall with a faint crack, causing a shower of dust to swivel around his body.

Gritting his teeth, Vergil gets up on one knee. It takes all the willpower he has not to break out into his demonic form and end her, once and for all.

Through his vision, blurred from dancing stars, he catches the sight of Mary placing herself between him and her best friend.

“He might have deserved it. But I won’t let you hurt him.”

About to stand on his feet and shove Mary out of the way, Vergil stills when Dante joins her.

“Yup. Sorry, Trish, but I claim the exclusive rights of kicking my brother’s ass.”

“Nah, it’s my right too. But it’s our right only; me and Dante’s.”

Vergil stares at Nero in stupefaction, heart skipping a beat. Trish leans, hand on her hip, to look him in the eye between the limbs of his family members.

“Do you see what you’ve got, Mr I Need More Power? Don’t squander your second chance at this.”

Raising to his feet, Vergil meets her pinning gaze. At last, he nods.

A faint swish makes him prick his ears. The air around them vibrates. With a sound like when you tear flesh, the sky transforms into a crimson net, trapping them.

Equipping the Kalina Ann, Mary blasts a rocket into the spinning form of an approaching Chaos, stopping it in its onslaught.

"Let's go!"

Nero charges Red Queen into a frenzy and rushes towards the stunned creature, followed by Mary. The ground of the parking lot shatters from the emergence of three Cainas, their scythes glistening in the dim street lights.

Dante sends a knowing glance at Trish. In a synced motion, they lift their firearms and blasts bullets into the demons, empty cartridges raining to the ground in low thuds. The repeated bangs cut into the night like fireworks.

Vergil purses his lips in a sneer. The fascination with guns was one of his brother’s more vulgar traits - their father would never have approved.

The thought vanishes from his mind as a faint crackle of ice forms at the soles of his shoes.

He moves from the spot with a speed that leaves faint blue streaks from his form. The ice blast explodes where he stood, sending tiny shards to land like spikes on his skin. The hovering Baphomet conjures another ice spell, weaving its fingers and dancing its tail like a floating snake.

Vergil tenses his muscles and jumps. In the air, he frees the Yamato from its scabbard and slices with all his might into the shield of the demon. The Baphomet shrieks, a piercing yell, and falls to the ground. Vergil lands to lift it by the throat and meets its yellow eyes.

“Resist all you want.”

With a vertical move to his arm, he slashes the throat of the demon with his blade. The Baphomet roars a guttural cry and shatters into crimson crystals that break against the asphalt.

Vergil re-sheats the Yamato in elegant motion. He meets Mary’s and Nero’s gazes. Their eyes are wide with wonder.

“It was like fighting with V all over again,” Mary breathes.

He frowns at that, unwilling to associate that the parts of him that displayed strength and resolve to his human side. V was fragile enough to be swept over by a faint gush of wind. Still, an unyielding side to V kept him going even as his body barely kept together by the last threads of demonic power. The comforting weight of his silver cane still lingers like a memory to Vergil’s hand. It was reminiscent of how it felt to hold the Yamato, along with the rush of commanding three powerful demons in battle.

Through sheer stubbornness, his human form was in some ways stronger than his demon form. Vergil pushes the thought away.

“Why isn’t the net disappearing?”

Nero surveyed their entrapment with a crease between his eyebrows. The devil bringer on his hand lit with a blueish current and emits a faint wheeze.

“Watch out, boys and gal,” Trish says, reloading her gun.

In the corner of his eye, Vergil spots a dripping cloud, red and small like the jackdaws that have fled the scene. In a fraction of a second, a pair of saw-bladed limbs disappear from the vanishing spot.

A shimmer in the air behind Mary tells him where the demon intends to materialize. A wave of panic showers over Vergil, strong enough to suck all sound from his ears. He moves fast enough to leave a burning crease in the asphalt and crashes into Mary with a thud. She gasps, sliding on the ground with him on top.

The slice from the Fury cuts into Vergil’s back, splashing a trail of blood all the way to the parking lot. Vergil groans, teeth gritted, but muster the strength to stay on his elbows over Mary not to crush her. She reacts in an instant; grabs the firearm by her hip and stretches her arm from under his body to shoot at the demon that attacked.

For the first time, he’s grateful of guns; bangs from several guns pierce the scales of the hissing monster and land in splattering hits. An icy light falls on the wet asphalt followed by several steady thuds mixed with the angered roar of Nero. Vergil turns his neck. His muscles, tendons, and nerves rebuild inside him with the usual burning sensation that followed his hasty ability to heal.

Nero has entered his devil trigger form and lunges at the staggered Fury with his winged fists, beating it into a pulp. The web around them withers into grey smoke and disappears. Dante and Trish don’t interfere but observes the massacre, her elbow on his shoulder and him smirking with his arms crossed on his chest.

“Lotta power in those fists,” Dante comments, “nearly bitch slapped me to death once.”

Mary fights her way out from the cage of Vergil’s arms and places her hands on his shoulders.

“Are you ok?”

Her voice shakes. Kneeling, they stay close, breathing. The last merging of healed flesh sends a sting through Vergil’s body but he hardly notices it. His senses are filled with her scent, her arms around him.

“Yes. You?”

She nods, hands cupping his face. Exhaling from relief, she kisses him.

Dante raises a fist to his mouth in a harrumph.

“Ok, that’s enough. Get a room, you two.”

Meeting his gaze, they rise to their feet, holding hands. Around them lay scattered corpses of demons and crystal dust, dancing in a faint gust of wind over the upset ground.

“Well!” Dante exclaims, “I guess that solves the mystery of who turned those two joggers into sliced bread! I've got a hankering for pizza. Who’s with me? Verge?”

Vergil doesn’t answer, as always mildly irritated with his brother’s happy-go-lucky demeanour.

“What’s with the frown, brother?” Dante smirks, “oh, that’s right, I keep forgetting you have the most spectacular resting bitch face south of the north pole.”

“Not me,” Nero interjects over Dante’s snigger before Vergil can snarl something in response, “I’m going home.”

Nero’s wings linger on his back, casting a cyan pattern on the wet asphalt. He rests his gaze on Vergil as if he wishes to say something, but changes his mind and lifts his phone from his pocket to call Nico.

“Me neither,” Trish raises her hands over her head and yawns. “I feel like taking a bath. This heat is killing me. Perhaps make a mud mask, paint my nails... See you later, people.”

She winks at Mary before she leaves.

Dante rolls his eyes and ambles towards the city, hand raised in a goodbye greeting.

“Alright, lovebirds. I’m out. Take care. And uh, Verge.” He makes a little pause. “Don’t be a stranger. You know where to find me if you wanna hang out.”

Mary and Vergil stand among the demon corpses, observing their friends and family leave.

*

Back in her apartment, Mary cleans and empties her firearms before placing them in her weapon cabinet. Vergil runs the tap in her kitchenette and frown at how it spits and gurgles before the water runs clear. She sends him a soft eye cast which he returns after he’s gulped down a glass of the ice-cold water.

“Did you notice Nero’s reaction when the Fury attacked? He was scared. He cares for you.”

She accepts the glass he hands her.

Her words should have made him glad, instead, Vergil is filled with vexation. It's a reaction that so often emerged to conceal his worry, a long-learned instinct to cover up a weak emotion with a more powerful dito.

“He must control his feelings. Once you’ve given in to fear, you’ve already lost.”

“Oh?” She raises an eyebrow and the glass to her lips. “So, the reason you fell me to the ground was - what? You were glad to see me?”

He stiffens with an intense sensation of being naked although fully clothed. The memory of the dread that coursed through his veins when the Fury attacked has a sheen of cold sweat break out on his temples.

Her teasing smile dies at his expression. She leaves her glass by the counter and takes his hand.

“I love you too,” she whispers, “I know it’s scary.”

He doesn’t answer, gaze plunging into hers and nostrils flaring.

Was this love? The vortex of panic in your chest from the fear of losing someone? It would take him a lifetime to unlearn the sensation as a weakness, but the thought isn’t repulsive.

When she coaxes him to follow her to the bathroom, he does. They undress each other and rest embracing under the sprinkling water until she reaches for his hard length pressed against her abdomen and kisses him. He palms her behind and lifts, pushing her back against the walls and sheathing himself inside her in a slow thrust.

It isn’t so much the slick clench of her around his cock that sets his blood aflame, but how she is so thoroughly there with him, lips parted and eyes glossed in an expression of want. Rocking up and down, she exhales low gasps and whimpers, legs tightly wrapped around his waist. Her thighs tremble and contract to meet him in each thrust, backside grinding against the wall while the waters flow around them.

I love you - her breath hitches between each whispered phrase against his lips - I love you, I love you.

Shivering, he pulls out of her with a choked groan to let his spend swivel with the water into the well of the floor, head spinning from his orgasm. To his surprise, the flow is tinted red. He lifts his gaze to observe a thick drop of blood sliding down the inside of her leg, overcome with worry that he’s hurt her - until he understands. He traces a pathway of kisses down her body and stands on one knee. Placing one of her legs over his shoulder, he laps at the peak of her sex until her body convulses and she comes with a cry, banging her fist against the wall. The light from her release spills onto his tongue with the copper tang from her blood.

After, they settle in her bed but find it impossible to sleep. Outside, the lingering warmth flows in breaths of wind that teases the gauzy fabric of her curtains, making them appear like billowing ghosts. She raises and takes his hand. Together, they leave her apartment for the old parts of the city. They climb the cobblestoned streets, smiling at how he needs to be careful not to bump his head into the many arched entryways. Through a hole in the thick shrubbery of flowering gardenia, they enter an orchard near the ruins of an old fort on top of the hill. Inside, a fountain burbles water into a nearby pond covered in white lilies. Mary and Vergil overlook the silver band of the river below and the glistening of rooftops in the clear moonlight.

“I came here a lot as a kid. When my father still lived with us.” Mary exhales in a sound that resembles those breathy puffs of air she does to laugh, only full of sadness. “I couldn’t stand him, so I ran away. I never stayed away for long, though. Someone had to protect mom.”

Directing her gaze to the twinkling lights of the city, her eyes glaze over in melancholy.

“I failed.”

Vergil imagines her as a girl, in this place. Did she rest her palm against the surface of the pond? Planted her nose into the white jasmines to savour their scent? Did she dare to dream of a future where she didn’t have to feel so much fear and hate?

At the same time she used to come here, he roamed the vicinity of Red Grave, searching for any trace of his father to understand why he left his family vulnerable to Mundus’ attack. Would he, the young man consumed by thoughts of revenge, of loss, of obtaining the power to never be hurt and vulnerable again, have seen her? Could they have known each other, shared their losses?

Vergil doubts it. He closed his eyes and heart to anything and anyone but his pursuit of power.

“You were just a child.”

She sighs.

“I guess. I was so full of hate but deep down, I was scared and alone. I hated my father. Still... all I wanted was for him to love me. When he killed my mother to gain demonic power, I dedicated my life to revenge, and to protect humans from demons.”

She smiles, blushing.

“I wanted to save the world.”

“You will. You’re going to do research on how to grow new types of crops that can survive the rising temperatures. It’s a piece in the puzzle to survival.”

“Hey, you really have been listening to my tirades.”

He exhales a soft snort.

She grasps the railing and directs her gaze to the city again.

“Maybe we both deserve to live our lives guided by something else than revenge for once?”

He stares at her, taken aback at how her words rasp at his insides. He’s been guided by revenge, hatred, and fear his entire life. Who would he be if he didn’t follow that path anymore?

She meets his gaze and reaches out to caress his cheek.

“The attack on your family - you were also just a kid. You and Dante. Do you remember what he told you before you ate the fruit?”

He nods. On top of the Qliphoth, the knowledge his mother never abandoned him didn’t sway him from his conviction he needed to defeat his brother. The hurt and the hate ran too deep. If not for Nero, only one of Sparda’s sons would have walked the human world this night.

Standing in the orchard by the ruins of an old fort, he is ready to acknowledge that none of them failed, not him, not Dante, nor Mary. All they wanted was to be loved and protected. They were failed by those who should have been there for them.

He exhales in awe. Is this what strength in needing others mean? Could he have reached such a conclusion on his own?

Her gaze searches for his.

“I’m sorry about your father. Dante told me - about how he abused you.”

Incredulous, he stares at her. Is that how Dante understood their childhood? Their father pushed them to their limits out of fear of what might happen. Although it was violent, Sparda did it out of care. It was only after he disappeared that a clawing suspicion he didn’t love them started taking a hold on Vergil.

“He wanted me to get stronger.”

“He prepared you for war?”

“Yes.”

We didn’t realize how soon it would come.

The air carries the buzz of night-living insects. A gust of wind teases the tresses of her hair in front of her eyes; she wipes them away.

“Vergil, about Mundus returning - what are the chances he’ll actually do it? What’s going to happen?”

He takes a deep breath.

“Anything can happen. He has unparalleled power. I need to convince Dante and Nero that he still poses a threat. My brother -”

“Vergil, listen to me. I understand Mundus is a serious threat. But you can’t forge bonds with your family with the only reason for wanting them to help you fight him. They are people, not chess pieces in a game of war.”

Her gaze sinks to his chest and up again.

“You want to earn their trust, right? To know them?”

He should be angered by her words. He’s not. A mix of relief and pain washes over him.

All his adult life, the fleeting relationship he’s had has been those of transactions - grounded in contempt, often using another for a selfish goal. He didn’t want that for his son. He once had a brother who - admittedly, he fought with most of the time - but once was his family. What would it be like to have that again?

“Yes,” he admits, “only - I’m still unsure if I can ever gain the trust of my s- Nero?”

“How about you reach out to Kyrie and ask her for advice? She knows him better than anyone. Or Nico. You were friends with her as V, right?”

Vergil checks his impulse to make a face. Nicoletta provoked nothing in him but a neutral observance of her skill as a gunsmith at best, irritation at her uncouth behaviour at worst.

“I’m probably the last person in the world my son’s girlfriend wishes to socialize with.”

Mary smiles with narrowed eyes as if she admired the subject of their conversation but didn't know how to make sense of Kyrie.

“You’d be surprised by that girl. Kyrie seems fragile but she’s strong. She cares for Nero and wants him to be happy.”

He drags his fingers along the moss-speckled stone of the walls that separate the orchard from the city below and sends her a closed-lipped smile.

“Thank you for taking me here.”

She returns the smile, but her expression changes to one of seriousness.

“Vergil, promise me one thing. If you go after Mundus… Don’t do it alone.”

He stares at her, jaw tensing.

“Promise me.”

He nods, once, the gesture taking all his willpower.

She grabs his hand.

“Let’s go back.”

They return to her place. Mary falls asleep as her head hits the pillow. Vergil rests by her side, reading the collection of poems she gave him.

He admires the poet Boye. Like Blake, her poetry illustrates a love for the world, for nature, for humanity. Yet she never closed her eyes to the worse of human life and human ambitions; their fragility and strength, the yearning to be gods but coming from dust. Like him, she was searching for herself. Her message soothed him; don’t be afraid. Let the pursuit take the time it needs.

When morning arrives, a light rain whispers against the windows of Mary’s apartment. He brushes his lips against her temple and leaves to follow her advice.

First, a visit to his brother.

Chapter Text

Turn and face the strange changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
- David Bowie, Changes (Hunky Dory, 1971)

 

September 9th

The sliding doors to the supermarket open before Vergil with a sucking hiss. The cool air greets him with a contrasting sensation to the reigning heat outside and prickles against the skin on his face. The blessed rain that fell that morning didn’t last more than an hour, and the sere grass of the nearby park slouches in a yellow tint.

A store might be a bizarre place to introduce himself to his son’s girlfriend but Vergil has few alternatives. Hopefully, the public neutrality of the space will prevent her from slapping him for once nearly killing her boyfriend.

Not that he didn’t deserve it.

Imagining the reassuring grasp of the Yamato in his hand, Vergil wills his nerves to calm down. He is still a bit on edge after he earlier left Dante’s place, warm, confused and aching with something he couldn’t name.

It wasn’t an unpleasant forenoon. They played pool while his brother chatted idly and laughed at his own jokes. Dante offered him a spare room upstairs in his office, to which Vergil muttered something that wasn’t an affirmation nor a rejection.

He wasn’t overcome by the wish to assault his brother more than once (when Dante argued for the superiority of bourbon-style whisky over triple-distilled Irish whiskey) which, Vergil supposed, was an improvement.

Fighting was all they did as children, in the way people who live in conviction they would always be together did. On top of the Temen-Ni-Gru, they fought like two people who had lost each other. Dante followed him into hell, still, the history of violence and resentment between them lingered like a gulf of pain. The need to prove he was stronger than Dante still rushed through Vergil’s veins not as a current ambition but as an imprinted memory. By defeating Dante, all Vergil had fought for wouldn't have been in vain, leaving him in loss of - everything.

How could they overcome the past wrongs between them?

At least the dense grin that spread on Dante’s face when Vergil stepped inside his shop gave Vergil a sensation of not everything being lost.

Passing the feminine hygiene shelf, Vergil wakes from the thoughts of his brother. He scrutinizes the assortment of colourful packages and grabs a purple box.

Vergil continues past the shelves of tins and cans of vegetables to reach the open space of the fresh fruits and greens section at the back of the shop. He halts at the sight of a young woman in auburn hair and white linen dress, standing by a box of apples. Mary had described Kyrie’s look to him; red-haired with bangs, hazel eyes and tall with a slender build. Inspecting the fruit, Kyrie places a few apples in a transparent plastic bag.

“Kyrie?”

She jumps. Her apples tumble to the floor and roll in a star-shaped pattern from her feet. He bends down to catch one in his hand, cursing at his ineptitude.

“Oh! You startled me,” she exhales with an embarrassed smile that quickly dies. Her eyes widen in recognition. He hands her the apple; they rise to their feet, staring at each other with eyes wide. Her gaze sinks to the box of tampons in his hand and up to his face again.

To his surprise, Kyrie’s face doesn’t contort into hate, her teeth don’t grit in disdain. From her eyes emanates a strange light, as if she has - anticipated him to approach her sooner or later. From her neck hangs a pendant with a winged form.

“You’re Vergil. By the Saviour, you are so alike.”

Her comment sends a wave of warmth through him. Vergil has observed the likeness between him and his son; the typical colour-less shade of their hair, the way Nero frowns like him, the dimple in their chins. Nero’s eyes remind Vergil of Eva. Otherwise, his son has an irritating way of resembling Dante with his swagger pose and impatient gestures, void of refinement and elegance. A few of Nero’s traits were unfamiliar to Vergil; he supposed they came from her. In truth, Vergil did not remember the face of the woman who became Nero’s mother.

“I am. I apologize if I frightened you -”

“It’s ok, I just wasn’t expecting to meet you here! Is there something I can do for you, Mr Sparda?”

She sends him a calm smile and readjusts the basket full of wares in her hand.

Vergil reaches out and takes it.

“Let me help you carry your groceries, and please, call me Vergil. I wanted to introduce myself to you -” How do I phrase this?  "- since you are close to my son -” Should I have called her his girlfriend?  “- and, well…”

He groans internally. The feeling of being a bumbling idiot was something he could do without.

“Ok, Vergil.”

Smiling, Kyrie ambles towards the pasta aisle. He helps her fetch a packet of spaghetti from a tall shelf and places it in the basket. She breathes a ‘thank you,’ amused by his nervous state.

“I would like to ask you for advice, on Nero,” he admits, following her to a shelf full of oatmeal packages.

“I’m glad,” she replies, “I’ll help you in any way I can... Vergil. Don’t forget your box.”

Vergil curses silently and returns to the pasta aisle where he left the box of tampons. His face warms despite the cool air of the shop.

“It’s for Mary.”

Kyrie titters.

“I figured as much.”

 

September 12th

Vergil waits for Nero outside Dante’s shop and catches him when he is about to get inside to claim his part of the night’s payment. Vergil greets him; the crimson light of Dante’s neon sign spills onto Nero’s surprised face. The hesitant spark in his eyes amplifies the knot in Vergil’s guts but he does his best to ignore it.

“Nero, I - wanted you to have something. I have been told your birthday is approaching. I’m not suggesting you spend it with me but I have tickets to a concert with the band ‘Subhuman’ the day after. I understand they are a favourite of yours.“

Nero’s eyes grow large.

“Whoa - really?” He grabs the tickets from Vergil’s hands and scrutinizes them with large eyes, “I thought they were sold out!”

Nero shakes his white head, smiling with a confounded expression.

“You got these for me?”

“Yes. We could go to this concert together and, um - ‘grab a beer’ -” why did I say that as if I were ironic?  “and ‘chat’ -” Vergil curses internally, “if you wish.”

Nero’s eyebrows do a little bounce but he doesn’t scrunch his nose in disgust at the proposition, which is good.

“Uh, sure! Yeah, I just - didn’t think you were into punk rock music.”

“The choice of activity was made with concern for your preferences.”

Nero snorts.

“Alright. Cool.”

Although he is not one hundred per cent sure Nero’s words are an affirmation, the crooked smile on his son’s lips give Vergil a light sensation to his chest.

The heart is a tumour of weakness, the Dark Lord once told him before he obliterated his mind. Standing in front of his son, promised a chance to heal the wrongs between them, Vergil knows the Dark Lord was wrong.

“I’m pleased.”

 

September 15th

Father and son meet Saturday night by the Hunky Dory, a rock club by the river. Vergil wears his usual attire of a ribbed vest, embroidered coat and leather pants. That outfit will allow you to stand out enough to blend in, his brother said with an annoying wink. The gothic, English feudal lord-look is very in, in certain cliques, Mary asserted with a teasing smile.

Vergil didn’t care for his capability to ‘blend in’. He has a sense of what is appropriate when and where but dresses in what fits his timeless stature and status - like his father.

Nero’s usual attire of a sweater torn into gashes, worn jeans and coarse boots are far from being a result of his many battles; the shabby look is a fashion choice. It is unusual to see him without the Red Queen on his back.

“So, what kind of music are you into?” Nero asks while they hand the guard their tickets. A tune with hard bass and sing-song guitar noise blasts from inside the club.

“Classical, mostly. Händel, Stravinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev…”

“Bless you.”

Vergil sends a spiked eye cast at his chuckling son.

“I’m not a complete snob. I have some knowledge of popular culture.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“I know that this establishment was named after an album by David Bowie.”

Nero rolls his eyes.

“Everyone knows that!”

Vergil snorts. Nero smiles in a way that causes a spark of warmth to erupt in Vergil’s chest.

They enter the half-filled club and steers towards the bar, meandering between the dark-clothed clientele. Vergil asks Nero what he wants and buys them their beverage of choice. He arranges his facial expression not to frown at Nero’s request for a Budweiser - a beer that, to him, had the aroma of stale tap water. About to suggest he drinks something better, Vergil halts the impulse.

Accept him. Love him for what he is, not for his potential to be you.

“I didn’t think you’d be the type to drink beer,” Nero comments after they’ve found a standing table to place their glasses on, “you seem more like a wine person to me.”

Vergil pauses at that. What other understandings of him did his son have, besides being into classical music and being thirsty for power? They had little conception of each other.

“Well, I enjoy Trappist beers, like d’Orval or Rochefort. The German Weissbier is also good…”

“What is ‘Trappist?’”

“It is a beer traditionally brewed by monks.”

The speakers resound a tune Vergil recognizes; it's a song by the band with the ridiculously painted faces Dante idolized when they were children.

“Huh! Who knew.” Nero cocks his head to the walnut-coloured beverage that brims the glass in Vergil’s hand. “That’s what you’re having there?”

“No, this is a sour beer, Belgian in origin. I was glad to see they import this brand at such a second-rate place.”

“Hey, this is a good club!” Nero grabs Vergil’s bottle and reads the misty label. “La Folie. Can I try it?”

Vergil nods and hands him his snifter, not commenting on Nero’s incorrect pronunciation of the name. Nero takes a sip and scrunches his nose.

“That is sour,” he wheezes, voice hoarse from the acidity of the beer. He takes a swig from his honey-coloured excuse for a lager to wash the taste away.

Vergil doesn’t comment. He snorts in a near indiscernible laugh and shakes his head.

A stiff silence settles between father and son. They sheepishly regard each other.

“Has Julio practised his Paris gambit?” Vergil prompts.

“I think so?” Nero shrugs. “I don’t understand any of your chess terms, but he’s playing a lot against his computer.”

“Ah.”

Another silence.

“So,” Nero places his glass on the table, “I know you’re not a fan of small talk -”

“I am perfectly -”

“You’re not. I brought a few conversation cards to keep us busy, alright? It was Kyrie’s idea. Don’t gimme that look - like I’ve suggested we go take salsa classes together, or something. It’s a way for us to get to know each other.”

Stunned, Vergil acquiesces with a nod. My son wants to get to know me better.

Rummaging the pocket of his jeans, Nero fishes out a few white cards with a red edge. He keeps one in front of him with a smile that conveys a mix of embarrassment and amusement.

“If you could pick your own name, what would you choose?”

Pick my - this is absurd.

“Why would I choose another name? I have a good name.”

“It’s hypothetical, Mr Good Name! You can’t think of anything?”

Vergil grows frustrated. These games were meaningless.

“No.”

Nero scrutinizes him for a heartbeat.

“If you could have picked a name for me, what would it be?”

The question has Vergil go numb. If he had been present at Nero’s birth, known of his existence…

He wouldn’t have chosen Nero. The similarity to the Dark Lords creation after shattering Vergil’s mind and body strikes him as a horrid coincidence.

“Are you not pleased with your name?”

Who gave it to you? Her?

Nero rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, my name is fine, can you try to make an effort?”

A hot flash rushes through Vergil’s chest. He had promised as much.

“How about William?”

Nero’s lips curl in a teasing smile.

“Like your poet? Nah.”

“Henry? Samuel? Robert?”

Nero’s grin widens at every suggestion.

“Man, you really wish to call me after some old British dude, don’t you?”

“Samuel Beckett was Irish -”

“Whatever. How about another question?”

Vergil nods, head hot from the beginning of a headache. He takes a large sip from his beer to cool his nerves.

Nero scrutinizes the card.

“If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?”

Vergil checks his impulse to groan. Make an effort.

An animal… As V, his familiars existed in the edges of his mind, swirling across his body in the demonic currents of his tattoos. When summoned, Shadow, Griffon, and Nightmare took independent forms but were bound to him through a connection that resembled being them. The electricity coursing through Griffon’s plumage, the power clustering in Shadow’s runes, the concentration of flesh and liquid, the solid yet melted stone of Nightmares limbs… Vergil experienced it all.

As much as he cherished his freedom from them as himself, he missed the symbiosis of their relationship as V.

“A shark, perhaps. They have grace, power, speed…”

“Unless you’re one of those carpet sharks.” Nero grins.

Vergil reciprocates the smile. Nero was right; sharks came in many different forms, some of them with not so flattering nor impressive shapes. He had had the stereotypical torpedo-shaped mako shark in mind.

“How about you?”

Pondering, Nero directs his gaze to the ceiling in a curious expression and takes another gulp of his beer.

“How about a hawk? Fast, lethal, energetic…”

“Screeching…”

“Hey.”

Nero lifts his index finger in a mock-threatening gesture at Vergil’s teasing. They both snort.

A pleasant warmth courses through Vergil's chest. Perhaps the conversation cards weren’t such a bad idea after all.

“Mary would be a cat. Agile, graceful…”

“Sharp claws?”

“Very funny.”

Nero chuckles but stops in a sigh.

“Kyrie would be a nightingale. She sings really well.”

Vergil raises an eyebrow in amusement. Nero’s infatuation with his girlfriend couldn’t be more obvious if he wore a t-shirt with the words “I love Kyrie” on it.

“Hey. It was cool what you did at the warehouse. When you took the hit for Mary.”

A rush of embarrassed warmth fills Vergil at that. The impulse that made him act was so strong, yet… Unfamiliar.

“As was your dealing with the culprit.”

It’s Nero’s turn to blush. He smiles, lifts the card in his hand and downs the last mouthful of his beer.

“Ok, one more question. If you could have a dream come true, what would it be?” He lifts a narrow gaze. “Don’t tell me unlimited power.”

To hear you call me ‘father’.

Nero did once, on top of the Qliphoth, uttered in ironic disdain. Would he ever say the word in affection?

Was it wrong of Vergil to bare his heart? What did he have to lose? Vergil plunges into unknown waters.

“To be a part of your life.”

Nero blinks, lowering his gaze to the table. His Adam's apple bob.

“Give me time.”

“It’s more than I have the right to ask for.”

Nero meets his eyes, his gaze void of all spite or joviality. Vergil has a sensation of his heart sliding down his stomach.

“How about you? What would be your dream come true?”

Nero regains his crooked smile, but before he answers, the band walks up on the stage. Nero shouts an excited “Woo!” with a raised fist.

“I’m going in closer to the scene!” he shouts to be heard over the buzzing guitars and slamming drums, “you wanna join me?”

Vergil shakes his head and motions to convey the message that he will stay by the standing table. He’ll need at least a week of zero socializing after this. The grin his son sends him before he is swallowed by the crowd makes it worth it.

After the concert, an annoying, faint beep linger in Vergil’s ears despite the earplugs he was offered by a considerate waitress. His head spins from all the noise and people, but Nero blushes with happiness.

“That was awesome! Thank you, Ve -”

In the mess of people queuing to grab their coats and leave, a man with tattoos over his arms and neck smashes his fist into the jaw of another man in a maroon hoodie. The hooded man slides across the floor in a pained whimper.

“Hey!” Nero calls, eyebrows furrowed, “what the hell are you doing?”

“Stay out of it,” the tattooed man warns in a growl and points an index finger at the young man on the floor who’s spitting blood. “I’m giving a half-demon what he deserves.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Vergil places a hand on Nero's arm, but he recoils. People are forming a circle around them, avoiding to interfere. A pair of guards move towards them.

“It’s in the eyes,” the man replies, “he’s got weird eyes. I read on Nemefrego that all half-demons have weird eyes.”

The man on the floor blinks up at them with his arm raised to protect his face. A bruise is forming on his cheek and his lips quiver. His eyes have an unusual shade of green, like lime or seaweed. There is nothing demonic about him.

Nero opens his mouth to give the assailant another retort but the guards arrive and hook the man’s arm on his back and frogmarch him towards the exit.

Clenching his jaw, the hooded man on the floor stares at Nero. He rises to his feet and runs.

*

Nico meets them with her van by Dante’s shop. Vergil gives her a curt nod that she reciprocates with a raised eyebrow and a puff of cigarette smoke through her nostrils.

“People are assaulting anyone they believe is a half-demon now? What the hell is ‘Nemefrego?’” Nero's blushing with resentment.

“You don’t know?” Nico taps at her cigarette. “It’s the number one website for the rising anti-demonic crowd.” She spins her index finger at her temple. “Run by loonies.”

Vergil doesn’t care for any rising political movement steered towards hate besides the way it upsets his son. Nero turns to him and musters a smile despite the lingering frown creasing his forehead.

“Thanks, Vergil. I had fun. It was…”

He doesn’t finish his sentence but smiles.

“Are you staying at Mary’s place?”

“Actually…” Vergil directs his gaze on the Devil May Cry neon light above Dante’s port, “I’m thinking I should take up on my brother’s offer and stay with him. For the night, at least.”

Nero and Nico nod, smiling with closed lips.

“Ok. Make sure you call her so she knows."

"I will."

"You coming with us on more gigs?”

“I will if you want me to.”

Nero opens the door of the van to the passenger’s seat.

“Yeah, that’d be cool. See you later, old man.”

Vergil stops breathing. It’s not ‘father’ or ‘dad’, but it’s close enough.

“See you later.”

Nico flips her cigarette on the ground and climbs the driver's seat. The engine roars. She takes a sharp turn around the corner of the street, the wheels of the van screeching. A few upset gulls flap from the roof of a nearby building.

It’s a start. Vergil lets his gaze linger on the street corner. A start.

Chapter Text

C’mon babes - let’s rock.
- Dante, Devil May Cry 4

 

December 21st

Stepping through the corridors of the biology department at the Red Grave University, Vergil sends a glare around the crisp milieu. He’s balancing a box in his hands, careful not to tip the potted plant Mary has placed on top.

Mary fishes a set of keys from her pocket and presses the box she’s carrying in the crook of her arm.

“It’s over there.”

With a smile, she points towards an office door further ahead. The keys clink in her hand.

The light in her eyes tells him she’s happy. In the last four months, she’s worked hard to finish her master’s thesis and handed it in three weeks in advance. She joined her professor’s research project as a doctoral candidate and has been designated an office: the one he’s helping her to settle into.

While she worked on her thesis, Vergil spent his days adjusting to the world. He’s done a few more gigs with Dante, Trish, and Nero, and he’s aided Mary by reading the drafts of her thesis. He understood little of the topic but helped her with readability and grammar, pointed out when she repeated information or needed more rigour in her arguments.

Whenever she stayed late at the university, he fetched her. The fear of losing her manifested in paranoid wishes to overlook her every step. She let him escort her, more from an acceptance of his desire to make sure she was safe than a need for his protection.

A week earlier, they celebrated her birthday at a newly opened restaurant on top of an old sales house that had been turned into an urban garden. Their seats by the windows of the circular room offered a spectacular view of the city. Vergil thought long about what birthday present to give her. He settled for something that would further let her know he regretted his previous disdain for her demon hunting. Enclosed in a black box lay two silvered Glocks, engraved with her name.

She loved them.

As much as he enjoyed spending time with her, Vergil craved solitude. At times, dark, sticky thoughts like a web of ink, spun a pattern of doubt and fear in his brain. What was he doing in the human world? Could his brother, his son, ever forgive him? Why did he attempt a relationship? No one had ever been with him without using him for ulterior purposes. Resting in the remains of the Sparda estate, he waited until the black stickiness left his mind to be replaced by a soft whisper. It’s not too late.

She always met him with a silent embrace. As long as he left the piranha on the table; their sign that he would return, she gave him the space he needed.

Vergil’s relationship to Nero was still fragile, still tentative. Vergil had joined Nero and Julio to another chess tournament. The mutual interest of the game between him and Nero’s protégé proved to dismantle some of the doubt his son felt towards him. Slowly, their relationship thawed into something that could resemble mutual care… if not trust.

Mary inserts the key into the office doors. They step into a bland space, typical for state institutions. The desks on either side of the room are accompanied by office chairs, identical bookshelves, and bulky computers. The single window is framed by unflattering curtains with a flower pattern. The only agreeable feature of the room is a faint smell of soft soap that lingers from the morning’s cleaning.

She places her box onto the desk to the right and reaches for the plant on top of the books in his hands.

“Thanks for helping me.”

He’s glad she’s removing the plant from his sight. It’s the least agreeable flower he’s seen; resembling small mouths surrounded by sticky outgrowths, red like blood. Venus flytrap, she’s learned him they’re called. Qliphoth shoots were dainty in comparison.

“Hey, don’t frown like that at Bart.” Mary places the flower pot on the window sill. “He’s going to help me fight the pesky fruit flies that always escape the labs.”

Vergil swallows a chuckle. Against himself, he's charmed by her habit of naming every object she was attached to.

With a hand around her neck, Mary clears her throat with a frown.

“I hope I’m not coming down with something...”

She reaches into the box of books he places on the desk and lines a few of them into her shelf. Advancements in Physiological Botany. Cambridge Library Collection: Botany and Horticulture. Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry. Her cream-coloured sweater rides up to show a stretch of soft skin when she reaches for the top shelf. She pulls a strand of her hair behind her ear, drawing his gaze to the pink on her lips from her coloured chapstick. When she bends forward to place her hand on the computer mouse and start her pc, the black leather of her skirt invitingly hug her behind.

A warm thrill travels down his thighs.

At home, she relaxes in her black briefs with oversized sweaters that never stayed on either one of her shoulders. He should find it graceless; he doesn’t. He likes the way she attempts at more formal clothing at work but doesn’t succeed to hide the rebellious part of her.

He glances at the door. It’s closed. He walks over to lock it.

“The person you are sharing offices with. Are they coming in today?”

“Hm?” She turns her gaze from the login screen to him, “No, Laura’s in Alaska doing fieldwork. She’s monitoring the disappearing glacier at -”

Her cheeks turn as pink as her lips.

“... Why are you giving me that look, Sparda?”

He doesn’t respond but strides to reach her and cup her face with his hands. Her lips open against his. To his satisfaction, she responds by pressing her body to him and lifting her arms to his neck. She has to dart a hand to the desk for support when he slips his tongue into her mouth in sync with the fever soaring in his veins.

He wants her. Normally, he’d consider love-making in such as space beneath them, but he’s guided by a dark pit of envy inside him towards this university. Her work takes so much of her time, her energy, and her emotions. He’ll make her think of him whenever she walks into her office.

She breaks their kiss when he sneaks a hand under her sweater and palms her breast over her bra.

“I’m holding a lecture in twenty minutes,” she breathes with a raspy voice. She whines when he rolls her nipple to a hard peak between his thumb and index finger. The sound goes straight to his groin.

“I can make you come in ten.”

He pauses to search for her gaze at the realization that she’s hesitating.

“If you don’t want to…”

“No, it’s just - I’m surprised that you'd want to do it in a place like this.”

“You have a devilish influence on me.”

She laughs against his neck, sending a thrill down his spine.

“You’re crazy, Sparda. I love you.”

He palms her other breast, filled with the soft amazement that always stirred in him when she uttered those words.

“The window… pull the curtains.”

“We’re on the sixth floor. Nobody can see us.”

She emits another small laugh - it sends a wave of warmth through him - and rests her behind on the desk. The way she opens her thighs, letting her skirt ride up enough for him to place his hips between them has the blood rush in his ears. Her eager want for him fills him with pride - and a wish to push into her immediately and pound her senseless.

He pushes the impulse down and grabs the hem of her sweater to pull it over her head, smiling at how her breath comes out shallow. Her ribs are no longer visible on her chest and her clavicle doesn’t threaten to break through her skin - a result of his cooking. The sight fills him with pride.

His smile dies at the swell of her lips and the gleam to her eyes, the mirth replaced by dark want. She reaches for him and they kiss, the air of their lungs forced through their nostrils.

He pushes her bra straps down her arms and kisses his way down her neck. The heat that always roared in him from being with her gains an extra edge knowing the clock is ticking. He has no doubt he’ll succeed in what he’s set out to do.

The sound of footfalls passes in the corridor outside. Vergil ignores it.

Pushing her bra down, he licks at her nipples and reaches down to draw circles on top of her soaked underwear. She gasps and lets out a drawn-out moan. His cock twitch in his pants.

“You’ll have to be silent,” he whispers against her skin, “I don’t want anyone to interrupt us. I want you to go to your lecture with your knees weak from what we’ve done.”

She nods, eyes closed and a small wrinkle creasing the skin between her eyes from pleasure. With a little effort, she opens his pants and frees his erection from his underwear. He leans back to see what she’s doing; the sight of her small hand grasping his cock always did things to his ego.

Returning to her mouth, he slips his hand under her black briefs and slides his finger along her slit. She feels divine, soft like silk. He kisses her and carefully eases his finger inside her, moaning low from the hot clench. He lets the pad of his thumb graze her clit, up, down. She whimpers against his lips.

She’s ready. Releasing her, he pulls her to her feet and turns her to let her lean over the desk, hands star-shaped onto the wooden surface. She pulls her skirt high enough for him to reach her underwear and remove them from her hips. The briefs fall and pool beside her low boots.

He grasps his cock and pumps it once, twice, to get the edge off. She turns her head with a faint smile and an eager gleam in her eyes. The tip of her tongue darts to her lower lip before she bites into its plushness; the sight has a bright rush of heat in Vergil to run southward. His mind is still reeling from how she wants this as much as him.

She always was brave.

The scent of her arousal has the same powerful effect as seeing her open for him. He grabs her hip with one hand and lets the tip of his cock tease her opening to lube himself with her fluids.

“Oh, God.” She rolls her hips and stretches her arms to encourage him to enter her.

“Please,” she whispers, “please -”

He presses into her, unable to stop the low groan that rumbles from his chest. Nothing felt better than the hot clench of her around him. Than being this close. She places a hand on her mouth to stop the cry that slips from her throat.

“You always take it so well,” he breathes into her hair and removes her hand from her lips. He directs it between her legs, guiding her motions with his own fingers while rocking into her. She lets out another whine but stifles it, clamping down on him hard enough to make him hiss.

Ten minutes. He sets a harsher pace, making her tense the muscles in her arm not to fall forwards. The heat swirls in his groin with the growing pressure for release. He’s overcome by the familiar mix of gratitude and will to lose himself that always came from being with her.

“You’re exquisite in your skirt,” he hisses, “I know your students think so too. They’re probably ogling you when you’re not looking.”

She’s too lost in their act to reply. Together, they work their fingers in circles on her clit while he thrusts into her in the same rhythm. He pushes harder when she signals she wants him to with her movements.

To his delight, she speaks her desire knowing how much he loves it.

“You feel so good... Oh, God, I - I’m already close…”

Her head falls forward, her body trembles. The coil in his groin swirls like a spinning vortex, like a rubber band stretched to its limits.

“You’re mine, Mary,” he says through laboured breath, “You’re going to teach your class with my spend sticking to your thighs. Now, come for me.”

He raises his hand to her mouth. As he wants, she sucks his digits and goes rigid; his fingers in her mouth silences her hoarse cry. Her pleasure pulls him along in ripples of blinding waves, like a bucket of light thrown over their bodies. He continues to fuck her through her orgasm until his own white-hot release sends him into vertigo.

Whenever she came while he was inside her, the light in her spilt over to wash through him in drenching waves. It was amazing - and perplexing. Although the sensation left him unsettled, he craved it like he craved solitude or respite in books.

They rest for a few moments, breaths slowly calming and hearts pounding in their chests. She gasps when he pulls from her and adjusts his pants back on before he takes her in her arms and kisses her. She’s still trembling; good. He’s not hiding his smugness.

She eases her skirt down and smooths her hair to make it less unkempt, but nothing can stop the flush on her face. He stands on one knee to help her step into her underwear. With his fingers, he massages the fluids - his fluids - that eases down her thigh onto her skin. She gasps, the hands she’s placed on his shoulder tensing.

“I need to go,” she says in a scratchy voice. He stands and nods with a spark of genuine worry; perhaps she was coming down with something. Her cheeks glow in a way that seems unusual even after they’ve made love.

Still trembling, she pulls the sweater over her head and a hand through her hair.

“I bet I look a sight.”

He brushes a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

“You look beautiful.”

She shakes her head in a low peal of laughter.

“No one’s ever made me blush like you do, Sparda.”

The comment has him wishing to take her back to her apartment for another round but he pushes the impulse away.

She reaches out to press her lips to his.

“That was amazing.”

“It was.”

“Can you find your way out on your own?”

He nods. They leave the office together.

Closing the door and bidding her goodbye, he smiles at how her legs wobble as she hurries down the corridor to her lecture.

*

When Mary returns later in the evening, he’s prepared vegetarian chilli from soy strips cooked in stout beer and ancho chillies, topped with fresh parsley. Mary’s convinced him they should switch to a vegetarian diet to lessen their carbon imprint. In the fridge rests a mascarpone trifle he’s made with pickled strawberries that taste of rosemary and vanilla. The strawberries were hard to come by but the morning’s happening calls for something special.

He greets her with a smirk, his gaze still on the saucepan.

“How was your lecture?”

When she doesn’t answer, he darts a glance at her. She’s steadying herself against the walls of the hallway, her knee raised to take her shoe off. A sheen of sweat glistens on her forehead and her complexion is pale under a feverish blush.

“It was, um… I feel a bit...”

Her voice rasps like a saw running through a plank.

Alarmed, he hurries over and picks her up, bridal-style. He places his lips against her forehead. She’s burning up.

Heart dropping, he carries her to her bedroom and places her on the bed. With care, he removes her shoes and her jacket.

“What can I do? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“No.” Her smile contorts into a grimace that tells him her throat hurts, “I just need some water.”

“Of course.”

He halts at the sight of a piece of paper in her hand he’s failed to notice. He takes it. It’s an advertisement for an apartment in the old town, a loft with one bedroom.

She gestures towards the ad with a sluggish motion.

“I thought we could check it out.”

He stares at the paper with a tender sensation rising in his guts.

He wanted a home with her. To cohabit, coexist. He’d lost so many years to one proud moment of refusing an outstretched hand. Having a space to call his own... The thought calmed him. Flitting between Dante’s shop and her apartment did not.

Heart full, he helps her get under the cover and fetches her a glass of water. She agrees to let him take her phone; he leaves for the kitchenette to call Dante. His brother picks up after three signals.

“Devil May Cry!”

“Dante.”

“Vergil! What can I do for you? Need help to pull that stick out of your -”

“I need you,” Vergil snarls and folds a towel in his hands, “to go buy any medication that alleviates fever. And something to cure a sore throat. Mary’s ill.” He places the towel inside Mary’s small freezer compartment.

The distant clink of ice through the phone reveals Dante’s having a glass of scotch.

“Hey, the last time she called in sick, she was secretly getting down and dirty with you! You want me to believe that -”

“Dante.” Vergil refrains from the impulse of shattering the phone in his fist. “If you don’t do as I say, I swear to the dark I will push you down a portal that opens over an active volcano and close it faster than you can say ‘pizza slice’.”

“Aw, you worry about her!” Dante coos in a way that sets Vergil’s veins aflame with irritation. “Don’t wish to leave her, huh? That’s cute. Alright. Gimme uh, half an hour? I’ll get her some Tylenol, maybe some Ibuprofen. And something for the throat. How’s that sound?”

Vergil pauses. He’s never heard the names of those medications before. One benefit of being half-demon was the inability to catch human ailments. He’ll have to trust his dim-witted brother to have more knowledge regarding correct remedies.

“Yes, good. Please hurry.”

“See ya in a minute!”

Dante hangs up. Vergil pulls the towel from the freezer and returns to the bedroom. Mary’s fallen asleep, chest rising and sinking peacefully. Her eyelashes send shadows like tiny fans on her heated cheekbones. Carefully, he places the cool towel over her forehead and strokes her cheek with the back of his fingers.

Chapter Text

What would you know about family? You’re a demon.
- Lady, Devil May Cry 3

 

February 11th

Surrounded by boxes in their new apartment, Vergil lifts the worn paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet and places the book into the bookshelf. Mary has asserted that she doesn’t mind the ordeal with moving boxes and things that are nowhere to be found, packed furthest down in some bag.

He minds. Although her belongings were sparse (except for her many books, something he prized about her), the disarray of things irked him. While she spent her days either at the university or out blasting demons to dust, he took it upon him to arrange their new loft. It was near the university, the library, and his favourite antiquarian (the same where she’d found him the poems of Karin Boye). It was also closer to Dante’s shop than the apartment he first suggested, something that was as much of a curse as it was a blessing.

Mary claims her favourite part of the loft was the bathtub. After making her come twice inside it, Vergil was inclined to agree.

He enjoys how she’s decorated the place with plants; her pink coleus blumei, the monstera, a triplet of bulbous cactuses on the window sill. She’s placed greenery in the bathroom, a large bracken at the textured glass of the window. His favourite plant was the wreathing Devil’s ivy that fell in green cascades from the top of the bookshelf. He’s less enthusiastic about her idea to use a part of the brick walls of their apartment as a display for her many firearms but doesn’t protest.

One day, she dragged a ceramic, life-sized leopard from a flea market and placed it next to the sofa.

“What?” she asked with an innocent expression, “she’s cool! Her name’s Betty. You’ll love her with time, I promise.”

She grinned and disappeared into their bedroom, crooning the well-known Paul Simon song,

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
You can call me Betty,
and Betty when you call me you can call me Al

Vergil refrained from commenting. The things he did for love.

The buzz of his phone on top of the kitchen counter interrupts his reverie.

Vergil tenses. He hasn't grown accustomed to using the small hand computers (smartphone, Mary always corrects him, she’s the one who’s insisted he get one) and hesitates to answer whenever anyone calls. Not that anyone but Mary does; Dante has a habit of showing up whenever he wants to and Nero mostly meets Vergil at the Devil May Cry shop. Nero and Kyrie asked if Vergil and Mary wanted to spend the holidays with them, but Mary’s influenza stopped any chance at socializing.

Vergil wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed at the missed opportunity to spend more time with his son. Everything was so new, so raw. No matter how much he wanted to forge bonds with Nero, the effort exhausted Vergil from time to time. Sons should come with instructions.

Speak of the devil; the capital letters of ‘NERO’ blare at him from the screen. Mary has added his son’s number to his phone. Nero wishes to speak to him… through this device.

Vergil takes the gadget in his hand. There are several icons on the screen indicating how to answer. How to do this again?

He presses an icon.

“Hey - oh, you wanna facetime? Ok,” Nero’s bleary voice echoes out into the room. His face, eyebrow raised in a surprised but amused expression appears on the screen. Vergil’s own scowling visage is visible in a small square to the upper left corner.

“No - yes - I must have pressed the wrong button…”

“It’s ok,” Nero smirks. He is standing on top of a building. A clouded sky and rooftops appear behind him. “We can talk like this. So, how’s it going? Settling in alright?”

Vergil is struck by a faint wave of warmth at his son’s question. Pleasantries are not his forte but with the people he cares for, it isn’t - unpleasant.

“Yes, we are. Are you out on a gig?”

Nero rolls his eyes at his father’s attempt at small talk with a smile.

“Yeah. Look, I’m calling because Kyrie and I would like to invite you and Mary to dinner. Saturday, at six. We’ve invited the rest of the gang and would like it if you came.”

Another wave of warmth laps at Vergil’s heart.

“Of course. I’ll check with Mary, but I don’t think she has any plans that evening.”

“Great! See you then!” is Nero’s buoyant answer, which signals the end to their conversation.

“See you then.”

Vergil presses an icon to abort the call. The screen flips to show his face. Irritated, he presses another button. To his stupefaction, a shower of heart icons emanates from the image of his head.

“What in… What is this? Nero? How do I make it stop?”

Nero doesn’t answer. He is howling with laughter.

“This is hardly amusing,” Vergil growls.

“I beg to differ, old man, I beg to differ,” Nero wheezes.

Vergil presses another button in desperation. To his great humiliation, a skull covers his face like a death mask.

Nero disappears from the small square on the screen, seemingly fallen over from hilarity.

“Nero, I am one second from slicing this thing in two…”

“Ok, ok, I’ll hang up. See you later.” His son appears again, teary-eyed with laughter.

“Yes, see you later.”

The screen goes black with a faint beep. Vergil resists his urge to open a portal and toss the device into the darkest pits of hell. He places the phone on the counter, ears burning.

The distinct clap of a door closing tells him Mary’s back from uni. She steps in, an angry pink tinge on her cheeks mirroring his own blush. Hanging her biker jacket on their hatrack with stiff motions, she marches in without a word of greeting.

“What’s wrong?” He asks.

She slaps a small pile of printed papers on the counter and points at the top one. Vergil recognizes it as an article from one of the many scientific journals she reads.

“Remember that article I told you about a few months ago, the one published by that post-doc I met at the biological engineering conference?”

“The one that claimed vaccines cause demonic isomorphism?”

“Yes. A professor from Yale has refuted the whole thing. Methods, research design, results… The original article will be retracted, but the damage is already done. It’s like that one or two per cent of research that claim global warming is caused by demonic activities, while the bulk of research confirms it’s man-made. The news picks up the deviating theories and presents them as if they held the same knowledge claims!”

She sits on one of their barstools and leans her elbow on the counter, head in hand. Strands of her hair frame her face.

“It’s just -” Mary raises her hands in a defeated gesture, “I believe in science. I believe in the scientific community. The reason we venture into academia and spend so much of our time researching is that we want to further knowledge, to find the truth.”

She gestures at the paper on the counter.

“That article about vaccines - nothing but lies! It wouldn’t surprise me if an anti-demonic lobby organisation commissioned it. It’s the opposite of everything I stand for. What academia should stand for.”

She shakes her head, the muscles in her jaw taut.

“And it breaks my fucking heart.” She snorts at that, but it’s a sad sound. “Maybe I made a mistake switching demon hunting for post-graduate studies.”

“The theories about global warming and vaccines might be wrong,” Vergil responds, “but demons are a real threat.”

She sends him a narrowed eye cast.

“I know. But there’s also you. And Dante. And Trish, Nero, and all the other half-demons that may exist in this world. There was your father.”

He doesn’t reply. In his opinion, lies were contemptible but misplaced care was not much better.

She sighs.

“There was another anti-demonic demonstration at the town square today. Plugged the traffic. Seamus Do is leading the polls for mayor - you know, that demagogue I told you about.”

Mary mutters with another peek at the pile of papers on the table and widens her eyes. She picks up a letter from the pile and opens it, perusing the text with parted lips.

“Oh my God.”

“What is it?”

She hops off the barstool and turns the letter to him. It’s written in Polish.

“The Polish authorities have confirmed my mother’s lineage. I’m allowed to take her name.”

Vergil scrutinizes the paper in her hands.

“Stenbock-Fermor?”

She nods with a hint of a blush.

He raises an eyebrow.

“It sounds first-class.”

“Yeah, well,” she rolls her eyes, “as I’ve said, my mother’s family were nobility, but they weren’t rich.”

“Are you going to take her name?”

A wrinkle appears between her eyebrows during the pause she takes to mull over his question. Something naked gleam in her eyes.

“I reclaimed my birth name to prove my father didn’t have the power to hurt me anymore. Still, I hate the name 'Arkham'. Yes… I would like to take my mother’s name.”

She sends him a determined gaze, eyes burning with pride.

On a whim, he grazes her cheek and quotes Leonard Cohen.

Oh, you are really such a pretty one
I see you've gone and changed your name again

It makes her smile.

It takes Vergil a moment to recognize the pinch in his heart as remorse. Like when he was a child and wrote his name on his every possession to keep them from Dante, he entertained the idea of her having his name. The mere thought brings a wave of something bright through his chest.

“Nero called,” he says to change the subject, “he and Kyrie invited us to dinner on Saturday, at six. ‘The gang’ are also coming, apparently.”

Mary’s eyebrows do a little jump.

He guesses her thoughts. When she met him in the park on the night they agreed to become a ‘they’, Vergil told her he couldn’t give her what he supposed a normal relationship entailed. Such as family dinners.

Here they were, invited to a such, and he’s agreed to go.

“Ok,” she says softly, “that sounds nice.”

 

February 15th

At five to six on Saturday, Vergil parks his Ferrari 250 GTE by the road outside Kyrie’s and Nero’s home. Nico’s van is occupying the driveway, and Dante’s bike stands next to it.

Mary sends Vergil a worried glance. He’s breathing forcibly from his nostrils.

The last and only time Vergil’s been to Nero’s home was when he ripped his son’s demon arm from his body and reclaimed the Yamato. The image of Nero roaring in agony, blood rushing from the wound, replays in Vergil’s mind as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

It’s a miracle Nero’s invited him to his home. Into his life again, after what he did.

Mary places her hand on his, still resting on the leather-clad gear level.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes. I hope Nero is, with me being in his home.”

“He invited you. Trust people when they wish to find ways to forgive you. To give you a chance to do better.”

He nods, filled by relief. She never excuses his deeds or diminishes them. Yet she never doubts that the gravity of his sins are insurmountable as long as he keeps trying to make amends.

He sends her a soft gaze.

The bangs of her hair shine and her makeup accentuate the fine features of her eyes. The white shirt she’s wearing underneath her warm jacket, tucked into tight, high waisted jeans are open enough to reveal her pendant. The low Dr Martens on her feet give a coarse impression but are very her.

She smiles at his admiring gaze with a wink and opens the door to the car.

Kyrie and Nero’s house is a former school rebuilt to fit a four-room apartment and a garage. The couple operates an orphanage to the children left without families after the massacre of the people of Fortuna. Currently, they only take care of Julio, as the rest of the orphans have found adoptive parents in Fortuna, Red Grave and other neighbouring cities.

Behind a flower pot with a pink geranium in their window, Kyrie waves at them from inside.

Nero meets them at the door, opening it with a welcoming gesture. After the greetings are done, where Julio makes a fist bump with Vergil that has him equally awkward as proud, he hands his son a bottle of red wine. Nero accepts it with an expression that conveys slight embarrassment.

“Thanks, um… I don’t know anything about wine but I’m sure it’s great!”

“Yes,” Vergil says, controlling his impulse to frown, “it’s a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from last year.”

Nero makes a motion with his hand.

“Alright. Come in!”

The rest of the dinner guests rest inside their living room. They share scattered greetings by the table, set with napkins and wine glasses. In silence, Vergil registers the second-hand character of their interior; frayed table-cloth, cracked plates, worn furniture…

With what resources did Kyrie and Nero live on?

Mary slides over to Trish and Nico. Dante greets him with his habitual grin and one of his awkward hugs that amounted to a bump of chests and a few claps on the shoulders.

“Don’t get tipsy tonight, brother. I want you in your best form tomorrow.”

“I won’t. I’m driving.”

“Hey, about that…” Nero says, “can I come?”

Vergil stills from stupefaction. Nero is speaking of his and Dante’s usual duels, fighting not to defeat each other but to keep their skills sharpened. Mary would sometimes join them, Trish did once, but so far, Nero has abstained from fighting his father and uncle.

Until tonight.

Vergil’s been waiting for this. Can it be another sign of trust?

“Of course, kid!” Dante says with a grin, “Can’t wait to kick your butt!”

Nero makes a derisive sound through his nose.

“Getting your butt kicked, you mean.”

He turns to Vergil.

“Hey, can I speak to you in private?”

Nero cocks his head towards the hallway.

Surprised, Vergil follows. In the bedroom, Nero gestures at his father to sit and closes the door behind him. The mattress of their bed dents as Vergil places his weight on it. The crocheted bedspread in a flowery pattern gives him an uncomfortable sensation against his rear. Frowning, he darts a glance at a framed poster of a wolf howling against the moon hung on the wall but directs his gaze to his son.

Nero brushes his palms together in a nervous gesture.

“So. I took you here because Kyrie and I want to announce something tonight. She is pregnant.”

Vergil stiffens from a zing of horror and surprise.

“That is extremely irresponsible -” he growls, blood soaring in his ears. What is Nero thinking?

“I knew you were going to say that!” Nero lifts his hand in an angry gesture. “This is why I wanted to tell you beforehand so you wouldn’t upset Kyrie.”

“Nero. The world is burning. An anti-demonic sentiment is spreading. We don’t know if another demon invasion is coming. This is -”

“We don’t know that, exactly! I can’t direct my life after your fears. We are happy about this and I won’t let you spoil it. When we get out there later and tell the others, you better be smiling and pretend to be pleased, or so help me God -”

He squints, index finger pointing at his father.

Vergil’s initial anger solidifies to ice. This is bad news, but it has happened and there’s nothing to be done about it. Vergil silences his protests. If he wants to stay on a good foot with his son, he needs to support their decision, no matter how foolish it is.

“I simply worry. You are both very young, after all.”

“Yeah? Kyrie's twenty-five, I'm twenty-four. It’s not that young. How old were you when you made me, huh?”

Vergil clenches his jaw. Touché.

A thought has him still his anger despite the lingering thread of fear in his veins.

“Is this your dream come true?”

Nero raises his eyebrows. His hard expression turns curious.

“Hm?”

“At the concert. I asked you what would be your dream come true, but you never got the chance to tell me your answer.”

Nero blushes. His Adam’s apple bob.

“Yeah,” he whispers, “yeah, it is. To have a life with her. A family.”

The comment pinches Vergil's heart but he allows a soft wave of stupefaction to drown the ache.

“I have very recently gotten used to the fact that I am a father. And now you are telling me I’m going to be a grandfather?”

To his relief, Nero grins at that.

“Yeah well, I need to get adjusted too. Don’t be surprised if you’ll find me in the backyard in a year, barbecuing while wearing tube socks in sandals and an apron with the text ‘kiss the cook’ on it.”

Vergil laughs in a snort.

Nero pats himself on the stomach with a grin.

“You think I’ll look good in a dad bod?”

“I’ll think of it more as -” Vergil pauses, “a father figure.”

Nero lets out a laugh, like a bark.

“Ugh, classic dad joke!”

A wave of warmth flows through Vergil. He stands and faces his son.

“I’m sorry for my reaction. Congratulations, to both of you.”

Nero observes him for a heartbeat, gaze warm.

“Thanks.”

He extends a hand and pats Vergil’s shoulder, once. Vergil forgets to breathe. It’s the first physical contact between them after they fought those months ago. His skin underneath his shirt shivers with a pleasant warmth.

“Also, we’re going to get married before the baby arrives. You and Mary are invited to the wedding.”

Despite the lingering tinge of worry, the news about his son’s marriage sends something soft sifting through Vergil’s heart. On an impulse, he extends his hand and gently squeezes the part of Nero’s arm that meets his shoulder.

“I’m honoured.”

Nero smiles a bashful, tight-lipped smile. Struck by fierce stupefaction at his own expressions so perfectly mirrored in the face of his son, Vergil’s heart cramps in his chest. Partaking in thy flesh and blood, my soul with thy love’s ardour fill. The words invade his mind from a source he didn’t know he had.

“Nero. Let me pay for the wedding. Everything you need.”

Nero’s eyes widen.

“Nah, I couldn’t do that -”

“Please. It’s the least I can do.”

His son places a hand on his neck and jerks it up and down with a blush.

“We’re not planning anything fancy. Just a ceremony and a small reception.”

Vergil nods. They can have this conversation another time.

They return to the others. Mary meets Vergil's gaze with a slight raise to her eyebrows, pausing from her discussion with Nico.

He nods at her in a way of saying all is well. She directs her attention back to Nico.

The dinner progresses without any unpleasantness, still, it leaves Vergil with a slight headache. Kyrie engages him in a conversation about the wine (which Mary, Trish and Nico lips with gusto) and compliments him on his jacket. After she’s put Julio to bed and they’ve had dessert (a low budget vanilla ice cream with homemade caramel sauce that according to Vergil’s standards hasn’t been salted enough) the guests settle in the living room.

Kyrie and Nero interrupt their activities, his hand on her shoulder.

“Listen, we brought you here tonight to tell you something. Kyrie and I are getting married.”

All besides Nico and Vergil draws in a breath. With a cheer, Dante embraces them both, mashing their bodies together.

“It’s about time you made an honourable man out of him!”

Kyrie blushes.

Trish and Mary congratulate the pair with more grace, smiling and embracing them separately.

Arm around Kyries waist, Nero clears his throat.

“We have one more announcement. We’re having a baby.”

Again, all but Vergil and Nico let out surprised gasps. Releasing her fingers from their interlocked position over her abdomen, Kyrie gestures towards Julio’s room.

“We wish to adopt Julio, but we haven’t asked him yet. We’re hoping he wants to be part of the family”.

Her eyes glitter in a smile.

Vergil is stunned. Nero and Kyrie are so young, still taking such responsibility on their shoulders, about to raise a family… His son is a far better man than himself.

Nico grins. Obviously, she has been the first to know of the news.

“I’m going to be a Godmother! Y’all must have noticed how I haven’t smoked a single cigarette tonight? Mm-hm.” She nods with her eyebrows raised as if letting everyone know what a sacrifice that entails.

Vergil stiffens in protest - Nico, godmother to his grandchild? - but keeps his mouth shut.

“Congratulations,” Trish musters her kindest smile that looks like it hurts her face. A burst of laughter drowns her voice.

“So it’s a shotgun wedding!” Dante hoots, “Ha! Hey, I know a great Elvis impersonator, he can be your minister!”

Kyrie pales.

“Dante!” Nero growls and plants his face in his palm, “I knew I should have talked to you beforehand too!”

Vergil glares at his dim-witted brother but admittedly, he would have behaved no better had he not been forewarned. Nero took the right decision to speak to him first.

“Whaddaya mean ‘too’?” Dante sends an amused eye cast to his brother, “you told your old man?”

Nero responds by rolling his eyes.

Kyrie taps Nero’s hand on her hip and directs a steadfast gaze to Dante.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve been married to Nero in heart and soul ever since the happenings in Fortuna. This will merely be a juridical affirmation of our bond… Plus, we get to throw a party for our friends and family.”

Vergil is impressed. Mary once said Kyrie gives a fragile impression but has a resolute core; he agreed.

“When will the baby be born?” He asks in a gentle tone of voice. The impulse to kindness strikes him as unusual but… not unpleasant.

Kyrie smiles shyly.

“I’m only twelve weeks pregnant. It’s a bit early to tell others at this point, as miscarriages may happen up to week twenty... or so the doctor said, but it's going to show soon...”

She wrings her hands trying to smile but her eyes glimmer with tears.

Vergil’s heart does a small cramp.

“Nothing will happen. Everything’s going to be ok.”

Kyrie sends him a wide-eyed, grateful look. Nero’s equally stunned glare holds a spark of resentment. For a fraction of a second, Vergil struggles to understand why, when it dawns on him that it’s Nero’s role to reassure his future wife, not his.

Clenching his jaw, Vergil signals his intent to keep quiet. He catches the sight of Mary bending forwards like a melting jackknife. Face waxen like a sheet, her eyes roll back and flutter shut. With a swift motion, he pushes Dante to the side to catch her before she hits the floor, bumping his shoulder into a cupboard with a bang. Kyrie gasps and places her hand over her mouth.

On one knee, Vergil holds Mary’s unconscious body, her neck bent over the crook of his arm. He pushes her hair from her face, more confused than scared as the pulse point on her neck throbs faintly but steadily.

“Mary?”

Nico rushes to get a glass of water and a towel to wipe the cold sweat from Mary’s temples.

*

Mary groans. She sits in the passenger seat of Vergil’s car, face in hands, flushing from shame. He places his hand on her knee after he’s shifted gear and steers the car towards the high road leading back to Red Grave.

“I can’t believe I wrecked their happy announcement.”

“Don’t blame yourself. You are still recovering from the trauma of being inside Artemis.”

She stomps her foot into the floor of the car in frustration.

“I hate this! This isn’t me. I don’t faint.”

“You can’t control how you will react to what happened to you.”

She lets her hands sink to her lap.

“I don’t know what happened. I imagined the baby inside her, and in the next moment my eyesight blackened…”

He says nothing but grabs her hand, holding it tight. Another apology rests on his tongue, but there is no use in repeating that which has already been said. She has forgiven him, she’s assured him of that. It doesn’t help the wave of self-contempt that crashes over him. He lets it ebb. Self-hate is a useless emotion that entices nothing but apathy.

Still, a thought has a spike of pain lancing through him. Taken aback, he slows the car down and parks it at a pocket by the road. The trunks of trees at the edge of the forest bend and groan in the wind. The darkness surrounds them as he shuts the motor off, safe for the band of street lights expanding further along the road.

“Vergil?”

She searches for his gaze, eyes open in surprise.

“Have I,” he ventures, voice thick with emotion, “…taken your will to become a mother from you? Because of what I did to you as Urizen?”

“No.” She sits more erect and turns to look him in the eye. “I’m glad you asked. I guess it’s a conversation we should have. I’ve never wanted to become a mother, and it has nothing to do with being trapped inside a demon.”

She shrugs.

“It’s not that I don’t like kids, I just know it’s not for me. I mean, until recently, I lived a life where having a kid was unthinkable. Plus, I’ll be forty next year. I’m a bit old for child-rearing.”

He exhales from a rush of relief. It takes a heartbeat for another emotion to well in him; a will to protest.

“I see. Forgive me if this is presumptuous, but there is something…”

“What?”

“The light in you. It appears to me as - lifegiving. I may have stereotypically interpreted it as fertility. I believe it plays a part in why you don’t look a day over twenty-five.”

She lets out a small gasp, eyes widening.

“You’ve felt it?”

“Yes. Every time we…”

She rests in this revelation a few heartbeats, her face reddening before she opens her mouth.

“Vergil, do you… wish to have more children?”

“No,” he admits with a faint buzz down his spine, “but the lineage of your heritage shouldn't be broken. You are a descendant of the priestess that helped my father seal the Temen-Ni-Gru. Imagine our combined blood…”

She releases his hand. He silences at the look on her face; eye narrowed and her shoulders stiff.

“You sound like my father.”

His stomach sinks. Being compared to her father is the worst appraisal she could give anyone. It’s the last person he wishes for her to compare him with.

“He also wanted you to have children?

“No. He thought of people as tools for a greater cause. For him, the end always justified the means.”

She gains such an unhappy expression it makes a chill run down his spine.

“I’m a person, Vergil. The only reason why I would have a child would be because I wished to become a parent. Children deserve to be put into this world because they are wanted, and longed for, not because of their potential to become some… Powerful breed.”

Vergil forgets to breathe.

Why did Sparda have him and Dante? Their father must have known it was foolish, a moronic choice. His children would always be hated by demons and humans alike if exposed, always hunted, always targets.

Sparda and Eva must have wanted them - him and his brother - enough to feel the risk was worth it. Perhaps they longed to be parents, to take care of their children and love them.

Did Sparda love him and Dante? Somewhere beyond the fear that prompted their father to forge his sons into warriors, there was affection. When Eva told Sparda she was expecting, did he grin as proudly as Nero did this night at Kyrie?

Vergil stares at Mary, dumbfounded. Would he want a child with her because they wished to become parents? A daughter perhaps, with vari-coloured eyes and ashen hair…

The prospect frightens him as much as it sends a spark of tenderness through his chest - like it did when Nero revealed the news of his coming grandchild. Like it must have frightened Sparda.

No, Vergil doesn’t wish to have more children. He wishes for Mary not to hurt because of him.

“You’re right,” he mutters, “I’m sorry.”

His veins tingle with spikes of fear. Has he lost her through his carelessness? Was this it?

She heaves her chest in a great sigh, closing her eyes - from relief?

“It’s ok. I guess I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s still not right.”

Billowing in a delicate, yet steadfast atmosphere, they observe the sombre landscape outside the window. A car passes them in a whoosh, sending circles of light that temporarily illuminate the surrounding forest scape.

“I’m learning -” he stumbles, interrupting his own words with a gulp. To not treat others like tools.

“I know. As long as you keep trying, I trust you.”

He reaches out with his hand. She takes it, sending a hesitant wave of warmth through him. She smiles at him, a calm twitch to her lips that melts the ice in his veins and ceases the ache in his heart.

“Is it wrong to be both relieved and… Disheartened by the thought of us never having a child?”

A compassionate light lit her eyes.

“No, not at all. That’s what being human is. You are conflicted, feel opposite emotions and sometimes struggle to understand them. Feelings are just feelings, Vergil. You don’t have to act on them, you can observe them and let them go.”

A few moments of silence spread in the car after that, but it's not a heavy or uncomfortable silence. She slumps back against the seat.

“I have to apologize to Kyrie,” she says with a low groan, “I’ll call her tomorrow.”

“That girl is too kind to be resentful. She told me she wants you to help her arrange their wedding.”

“She did?” Mary’s eyebrow raise. “I don’t know anything about weddings. Or wait - I’ll make a playlist! Did they say when it’s going to be?”

He smiles crookedly at the light in her eyes, relieved of the vanished tension between them.

“They’re planning on holding it in May.”

She gains a smug smile.

“I know plenty of love songs that will be perfect.”

“As long as you don’t play any of that techno of yours.”

She taps his knee.

“It’s called electronica.”

He snorts and lifts his arm around her shoulders to press a kiss against her temple. She chuckles against his neck and drapes an arm around his waist. They rest for a few heartbeats in their newfound togetherness.

“So,” she says, “I’m about to date a grandfather.

“I’ve told you I don’t think ‘dating’ is a fitting epithet for our relationship. And yes… You are.”

“It’s a bit kinky, that’s all.”

He casts her a side glance, eyebrow cocked.

“I won’t hold it against you if you feel that way.”

She laughs.

Chapter Text

In springtime, in sprouting time,
the seed its shell destroys,
and rye becomes rye and pine becomes pine
in freedom without choice.
- Karin Boye, Spring Song

 

February 19th

The dry buzz of the Red Queen rattles the air like a wind-up chainsaw. Specks of snow mixed with dirt fly from the tip of the blade wedged into the cold ground.

Resting his devil sword resting on his shoulder, Dante responds to Nero’s taunt with a twitch to his fingers.

“Come at me, kid.”

Nero sprints towards his uncle. The clash of their swords sends sparks flying around their heads. The repeated clangs of steel against steel bounce against the edges of the crater, echoing through the cold air.

They’re back where it all started; the hole blasted by the Qliphoth, empty after the withered stem fell over Red Grave. This part of town is still abandoned, largely avoided by citizens. Tears in the veil separating the Netherworld and the human world occasionally appear by the crater, pulling demons through and giving the demon hunters their bread and butter.

Mary wipes a bead of sweat from her brow, smiling at how much Dante is enjoying his spar with Nero. Her arms ache from the blows she’s received from the Yamato against the Kalina Ann when sparring with Vergil. Their fights are uneven but they are a chance for her to hone her battle technique. He finds it amusing.

She’s asked him not to hold back. He does. He’d swat her like a fly if he didn’t. He’s asked her to do her best to hit him with a bullet; she seldom succeeds.

Her greatest problem isn’t matching his speed or strength; she’ll never do that, but to maintain her concentration enough not to gawk at him as they fight.

Vergil is never more at home in his body as to when he fights. Summoning the Yamato into his hand, he calculates the pattern to his assault, leaving blue streaks in the air from his rapid movements. The fluid elegance of his stance, the way he slides the sword against the top of his scabbard and sheaths it with a thrust, the dramatic flap of his frock against his legs…

When sparring with Vergil, she’s reminded of the weeks when she fought him after V merged with Urizen. It was before they admitted it was a choreography fueled by their lingering feelings from his time as V.

At the end of their fights, Mary’s so aroused she attacks him with other intents than honing her battle skill.

He always had standards, but she’s convinced him to do it against the brick wall of an abandoned warehouse, on top of a pair of pallets, and in the cellar of an old residential building smashed by the Qliphoth.

Joining her to observe his son and his brother, Vergil caresses her back with a motion full of promise and pinches her behind. She exhales a yip and sends him a glare. With an expression of absolute smugness, he directs his gaze to Nero and Dante.

Nero dashes around the edges of the crater while avoiding the bullets from Dante’s Ebony and Ivory in a speed that has his form blurring. Vergil frowns, as he always does at Nero’s and Dante’s use of firearms. With a gleeful cry, Nero’s jumps and slashes Red Queen at Dante, staggering backwards from a parrying blow.

Dante smirks.

“You’re gonna have to do better than that, kid.”

“Oh yeah?”

Nero swings his legs and hooks his feet around Dante’s ankles with a jerk. Dante lands on his buttocks with an indignant “ouf”.

Vergil throws his head back with a laugh, his warm breath coming out in whisks of smoke. With a bit more grace and consideration of her friend, Mary hides her snicker behind her mouth.

“I’m glad you are amused, brother!” Dante gets up on his feet, the devil sword back on his shoulder.

“I always am by your technique… brother.”

“How about you quit your sniggering and come fight me, hm?”

“Or me.”

The atmosphere stiffens at Nero’s words. Vergil’s smile dies.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Nero shrugs. “No devil trigger. C’mon, old man!”

Vergil takes a step forwards, Dante raises his eyebrows and takes his place beside Mary. A nervous thrill runs down her spine. When father and son clash, she closes her eyes against the sparks from their swords. When she opens them again, the blue streaks of the Sparda descendant’s movements fills her eyesight.

Something behind them catches her eye. She squints. By the other end of the crater, a small item catches a ray of the sun like a glittering gem.

Mary scurries over, no longer taking any notice of the two men fighting and crouches at the item. It’s organic, the size of a pigeon but round to the form. It clings to the exposed roots of reed, a type of grass in the Poaceae family. Mary pulls the item from the root system with a tug; it releases its grip of the reed with a slimy sound.

Dante calls her name and approaches.

“Dante, what is this?” She holds the peculiar, grey like ash thing to him. A smell reminiscing of fermented meat oozes from its limbs.

“That’s a Nidhogg hatchling. It’s a seed to a parasitical growth on the Qliphoth. I think V killed it.”

He waves his hand in front of his face.

“Whew, it sure does stink.”

Mary eyes the hatchling and reaches out to inspect the reed with a silent gasp. A hot flash runs through her body like a pillar of light.

“This isn’t a parasite.”

She runs towards the other edge of the crater to her bike. Vergil and Nero stop their sparring and send her confused looks.

“Where are you going?” Dante hollers, “What are you going to do with that thing?”

She mounts her bike and places the hatchling in her pocket with a grim look of determination.

“I’m going to save the fucking world.”

 

F ebruary 28th

Vergil’s phone buzzes inside his pocket. He’s in the library, looking for works from the Russian Acmeist school. Lifting the device set on silent mode, he frowns at the screen. It’s from an unknown number, but the code tells him it's from Fortuna. Besides Nero, only one person in Fortuna would call him.

Choosing a random collection of poems, he leaves for the exit, loans the book and steps outside. The cold greets him like a thousand needles, tensing the skin on his face. Dirtied snow amass on the sidewalk and sends a chill through his boots up his calves.

The lingering warmth lasted until mid-October, interrupted by a brief period of yellowing leaves and rainy afternoons before the snow tumbled from the sky in December The heavy snowfall soon covered the city. The sheer amount of snow caused traffic to brake down more often than it sailed smoothly. The papers cried out absurd blame on demons for the extreme weather and refuted the evidence on global warming, to Mary's irritation.

Vergil picks up his phone and calls the unknown number.

Kyrie answers after two dial tones.

“Vergil, hi, thanks for calling me back.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yes! I’m fine!” A smile colours her words. “I didn’t call you because there’s something wrong with the baby, or anything.”

Her voice bears no hint of pain or disquiet. Exhaling from relief, Vergil replaces his initial worry with curiosity.

“I wanted to ask you a favour. I need your advice,” Kyrie continues, “on something important. Care to meet me tomorrow at lunch? Julio’s at school and I can meet you before I pick him up at two.”

Vergil’s filled by a mix of pride and confusion. His advice?

“What can I help you with?”

“You’ll see tomorrow,” is her taciturn answer, “meet me at the central mall, by the train station!”

Vergil affirms. Kyrie rejects his offer to get her with his car before they hang up, leaving him shaking his head with a confused frown. Nero’s placid girlfriend sure had a way of surprising him.

The frost numb the tips of his fingers. He places the phone back into his pocket.

 

February 29th

Vergil is seated on a large, round sofa in front of a small corridor of dressing rooms. Around him, fanciful dresses fill the walls of the shop. Most of them are ivory white, some pearl grey, made from layers of satin, silk, and lace. Some have filigree collars and inlaid pearls to them hems, others with embroidered flowers at the arms. Mellow piano music flows from a pair of speakers and a scent of lavender spreads from a purple candle on the counter.

It’s his first time inside a bridal shop. He’s grateful there is only one other customer perusing dresses in the shop beside him and Kyrie.

He leans his elbows on his thighs in an attempt to relax. His mind wanders to Mary and her curious interest in the Qliphoth parasite. He didn't understand much of her explanation why she decided to grab it like it were a rare diamond and not a rotting carcass but the way the hatchling grew on the reed piqued her interest (to put it mildly). 

Vergil snaps his head up. Kyrie strides forwards from a dressing room to his right. She's wearing a dress with several layers of satin, bulging from her hips in a clock-shaped skirt. A flimsy lace covers her neck and arms down to her wrists.

“What do you think?”

Her eyes beam.

Vergil goes numb. By everything light and dark, help me in this.

“You look -” like a meringue - “lovely.”

“That bad, huh?”

Kyrie titters behind her hand.

“I'm joking. This is a vintage dress from the 1980s. I wanted to see your reaction.”

She laughs at the way he deflates from relief.

“Do you see any dress you like? I depend on your sense of style. You are always so on point. I couldn’t ask Nero as I want it to be a surprise, and I trust your opinion.”

He grows an inch from the praise. Always on point - well, he did take some consideration about apparel, in contrast to his brother. Vergil still groaned thinking of that shirtless look Dante sported back when they fought inside the Temen-Ni-Gru.

Vergil lets his gaze wander around the many dresses in the room. His stops at a dress in cloud-colour satin with a deep v-neck. No. Such a dress would be more suitable for Mary (the thought brings a strange surge of warmth through him) but this is not about what he finds attractive. What could fit Kyrie for her big day? Her person requires something more modest, yet elegant…

“That one.”

He rises and approaches a dress that, although bolder than the dress she’s wearing, still modestly covers the chest up to the clavicle. It’s a simple but timeless model with a skirt covered in a flowery lacing, something that strikes him as very Kyrie.

He nips the delicate fabric between his thumb and index finger.

“This, and flowers in your hair. White and orange, to match your colours.”

“It’s beautiful,” Kyrie breathes. “Of course, I’d have to ask for them to add extra fabric at the waist…” She blushes.

“Try it on.”

With a tiny squeak of joy, Kyrie grabs the dress and runs back into the dressing room.

Vergil returns to the round sofa with a smile. The saleswoman, busy in a phone call from the desk, mimes a “don’t hesitate to ask if you need help." He nods.

The room silences in a pause between two ambient piano songs. A sudden chill runs down Vergil’s spine, prickling the hairs on his neck. A faint hubbub of shouting voices draws near.

Outside the large, concave windows, a train of people marches past. Their combined steps rumble the ground. Many are holding signs in their hands depicting crossed-over symbols of humans and demons. The crowd chant demands of greater protection for humans and support for the mayor candidate Seamus Do.

It is not the crowd that freezes the veins in Vergil’s body but the winged creature among them. Marching besides the chanting protesters looms a large man with a set of white wings folded to his back. His body is clad in a metal gear, white and grey with glistening parts of steel, aluminium and hardened plastics. On the other side of the street strides a similar being, metal armour outlining a muscled body adorned with a helmet-like head.

As Nero Angelo, Vergil often passed statuses of winged creatures that encircled the Dark Lord’s citadel, much like the ones before him. One of them, large like a hell portal, loomed over the many corbels and baileys of the temple. The statue sent shadows from its wings like a reminder of the eternity of agony Vergil believed he had to endure.

One of the robotic-like creatures turns its head and stops flat. It directs its unseeing eyes under the glistening helmet into the bridal shop, scrutinizing Vergil as if recognizing him.

“Those are the Seraphels,” the shop assistant chirps, “they are part of the mayor candidates’ private guard. I read on the Nemefrego that they are engineered to function as the guardians of the people.”

That is not a robot. The thought zings through Vergil’s head like a burning arrow.

A gasp prompts him to turn.

Kyrie has returned from the dressing room, wearing his suggested bridal dress. She’s holding her hands over her heart, eyes shimmering from fear.

Vergil redirects his gaze to the creature outside, heart freezing in his chest. It has directed it’s gaze at Kyries abdomen, surveying her while the protesting humans pass.

All sound drown from the pulse soaring in Vergil’s ears. That is his grandchild being the object of such a cold, scrutinizing glare. His blood...

The robot releases them from its chilling attention and continues marching. Its metallic limbs hiss and wheeze as it moves.

“Aren’t they stunning?” The shop assistant sighs. “Finally, someone is devoted to protecting us from demons and half-breeds.”

“You have forgotten that a demon once saved the world from destruction,” Vergil replies in a low growl.

“Oh, sir! You mustn’t utter such blasphemy!” She squeaks with a blush. “The congress is voting to forbid any attempts at promulgating heretic beliefs. If you continue to utter such views, sir, I’m sorry but then I have to ask you to leave.”

“The congress is voting to abolish freedom of speech?”

The glossy lips of the clerk quivers.

“This is about our freedom not to be slaughtered like cattle! Think of the Qliphoth! We remember what happened at Fortuna!”

Red in the face, Kyrie marches back into the dressing room. She returns dressed in her usual jeans and a knitted sweater. Her jaw tensed, lips pressed to a thin line, she flops the bridal dress onto the round sofa.

“We don’t wish to spend money on an establishment run by bigots,” she spits and leaves for the exit, head held proudly.

Vergil follows in her trail, ignoring the exasperated gasp from the clerk.

Later, in the car towards Fortuna, Kyrie observes the passing landscape with silent tears trailing down her cheeks. Vergil casts her occasional glances but remains quiet. His heart aches like it’s full of splintered glass.

They share the same thoughts. The world in which another descendant of Sparda will be born has forgotten his deeds. Humans are turning against all forms of a demonic presence, no matter how placid or beneficial it might be. Vergil is inescapably responsible for two incidents that have stemmed the tide for the spreading anti-demonic sentiments; the Temen-Ni-Gru and the Qliphoth.

The human world is a place where their demonic heritage must remain closeted at all costs.

“I need to calm down,” she sighs, “I don’t want to upset Julio.”

“I’m glad he accepted your proposal to adopt him,” Vergil says to change the subject from the anti-demonic rally.

She smiles through her tears.

“Oh Vergil, he was so happy! We love him so much, I’ve taken care of him since he was a baby…”

Vergil sends her a tight-lipped smile while keeping his eyes on the road.

“He’s a fine boy.”

When they arrive at Julio’s school, the boy is ecstatic to be fetched in Vergil’s Ferrari. He gushes about the vintage car model all the way back to Kyries and Nero’s home. Well there, Julio insists Vergil come inside and shows him his favourite video game. Vergil listens with patience, oddly amused. Something softs sift through his heart at the realization that, legally, Julio is going to be his legitimate grandchild.

He leaves Kyrie and Julio, unsure if his actions were supportive enough.

*

Vergil opens the ports to Dante’s shop to find his brother is not inside. To his intense aversion, Trish looks up from a paper in her hands. With a narrowing gaze, she slowly rises from her position on Dante’s antique leather sofa.

“Vergil.”

The tone of her voice could freeze a lake.

He pushes the feeling of pained disgust away.

“Is Dante here?”

Trish places her hands on her hips. A strand of her hair glistens from the light of the setting sun outside that is descending into its winter dormancy.

“No.”

Unable to look at her, he clenches his jaw and directs his gaze to Dante’s desk, illuminated by the purple light from the neon sign above the sofa.

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know, Vergil. I’m not his mother.”

He darts an angered gaze at her, breathing through his nostrils. Her words were nothing but cruelty.

“Don’t puff yourself up like that,” she sneers, “you’ll get a gastric catarrh.”

She flops back onto the couch and picks up the magazine. It’s one of Mary’s old gun brochures, one of those that stacked up against the wall of their loft as she read and discarded them.

“Trish,” he ventures, willing his voice not to come out in a hiss, “have you ever encountered demon… robots in the overworld? Like the statuses parading the grounds of the Dark Lord’s temple?”

She peeks up from the magazine with a frown.

“No. Not like those. Why?”

“I’ve seen two robots today, similar to those statuses. They were accompanying a rally.”

She places the magazine next to her with a small crease between her eyebrows telling of her contempt.

“You should know all about robotic demons. After all, you created Cavaliere Angelo.”

A hot streak burns Vergil’s insides. It takes him a heartbeat to recognize the feeling as shame.

“I didn’t. I let him control his army under my reign. I never had the power to create any of the demons you encountered - I merely set them loose.”

She doesn’t answer. He has an impulse to fidget from her narrow-eyed stare.

The words fall from his lips, rolling from that pit of shame in his stomach.

“I’m sorry for what I did to you.”

Her eyes widen. She gains a sudden look of fear as if she’s not ready to accept apologies.

Vergil is struck by a need to reach out to her. Trish is the only one who knows the Dark Lord as he does. If the robot demons have anything to do with him...

“Trish. You and I both know Mundus isn’t dead. When the time comes…”

“No.”

She stands again, boring her icy gaze into his.

“I know what you’re asking. The answer is no. I won’t allow you to kill yourself - not when it would break my best friend’s hearts.”

Vergil frowns but a lump of hot coal burns his stomach. He is not yet used to the sensation of being loved.

She eyes him up and down, slender arms crossed on her chest.

“I remember what the Dark Lord did to you. I’ve never seen anyone so tortured.” She huffs in a sad sound. “It’s amazing that you’re alive, and in this world. Have you told Mary? Do you speak of it at all?”

The lump in his guts transforms into a boulder.

“The nightmares are gone.”

“Because Dante killed them. He took down V’s familiars before he faced you on top of the Qliphoth.”

The hard mask of anger on her face falls. She looks so much like Eva, Vergil has a feeling his chest is about to collapse.

“Vergil, I went to the Overworld to fetch Dante into Mundus' temple but I never wanted -”

The ports open and Dante strides in with two pizza cartons in his hands, whistling. The familiar smell of roasted oregano and melted cheese accompanies him.

He stops flat at the sight of his brother and darts his gaze from Vergil to Trish.

“Oh, hey! What is this? You two in the same room without killing each other? I’m impressed!”

Dante’s wearing his usual rust-coloured leather coat. Vergil frowns; at least he gives the semblance of being human by wearing a warm jacket. His brother throws the pizza cartons on the desk with a flump, sending a speck of tomato sauce on the mahogany veneer.

“Wish you could have told me you’d come, brother! I would have ordered pizza for you too!”

Vergil takes a step towards him.

“I don’t want - Dante. Two winged robots followed the crowd at an anti-demonic rally today. They wore chrome- and plastic armour. Have you seen anything like that before?”

“Can’t say that I have!”

Dante takes a bite of a pizza slice, a long string of cheese plastering to his chin. Vergil presses his lips together in irritation.

Trish walks up to the desk, a tensed expression on her face.

“You’re sure they looked like the ones in the temple grounds?”

“Yes. They are called Seraphels. They act on the order of the candidate for mayor, Seamus Do. I didn’t like the way one of them stared at Kyrie.”

Dante’s eyebrows disappear into his hairline.

“What, you two are getting close?”

A warmth creeps up Vergil’s collar.

“She asked me to help her choose a wedding dress.”

To his irritation, Dante’s grin widens from ear to ear. Trish sends him a tight-lipped smile, eyebrow arched. The warmth on Vergil’s neck spreads to his face.

“Hah!” Dante folds his arms on his chest with the most infuriating smug expression, “Who would have thought that the huge-ass demon on his throne inside the Qliphoth would one day pick out dresses for his future daughter-in-law!”

Dante does a snorting sound that grates Vergil’s ears. Gritting his teeth, Vergil turns on his heel to leave. He’s had enough of his brother for one day.

Before he lets the heavy door close behind him, Dante calls him by that abbreviation Vergil hates.

“Verge! You’re doing alright. You are.”

Filled by a reluctant warmth, Vergil steps out into the cold to go home. He needs to tell Mary about the happenings of the afternoon.

Chapter Text

The morning blushed fiery red
Mary was found in adulterous bed
Earth groan’d beneath, And heaven above
Trembled at discovery of love
- William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

 

March 3rd

Vergil tips his head back to take in the full height of the skyscraper in front of him. Its elongated body jut into the sky like a gigantic version of the icicles that hang from the windows near the entrance.

The cold nips at Vergil’s lips. He pushes his hands deeper into his pockets.

“You’re sure this is his office?”

“Yes.” Mary squints against the street sign on the facade. She’s wearing a black chimney cap on top of her head and a grey woollen scarf wound several times around her neck to keep her from the biting cold. “It’s the address in the email. Mr Do likes to keep his business incognito.”

“I guess once he wins the election, he’ll move offices to the city hall.”

She peeks at him with a small wrinkle between her eyes.

“If any of his robot guards recognize you…”

“Only another demon would recognize me. If that happens, Mr Do will have to explain why he’s using them as his bodyguards. Especially since he’s claiming the Seraphel’s act as protection from demons.”

“Ok,” she sighs, “do you remember the details about your field of research?”

“I believe so.”

Mary extends her hand to the round doorbell by the entrance to the edifice and presses it. A ring tone beeps from the squared message apparatus below it. After a few seconds, the silvery voice of a woman answers the call.

“Ghogiel Enterprises, how may I help you?”

Mary bends forwards to speak into the square.

“My name is Mary Ann Arkham. My colleague and I are from Red Grave University. We have a meeting with Mr Do at one.”

“Come in, please.”

A louder, more distinct buzz indicates the unlocking of the large ports, ready to let them in. Vergil pushes the metal frame and allows Mary to step in before him.

They enter an airy vestibule of chrome, steel and glass where the name of the enterprise hangs in a sober font above a large, unmanned desk. The sound of heels against marble approaches from around the bend. Rounding the desk, Seamus Do arrives, accompanied by a large man in a black suit.

The sable hair of the mayor candidate gleams in the light of the round lamps in the roof. He extends a hand to Mary with a tight-lipped smile.

“Ms Arkham, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Mr Do,” Mary says with her best effort to smile. The change to her mother’s family name had not yet been approved by the authorities. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for considering my proposal. My department -”

“Biological chemistry at Red Grave University, yes.”

He shakes her hand, surveying Vergil with an inquisitive gaze. Mary half-turns and faces the candidate for mayor again.

“This is my colleague that I mentioned in my email, Per Hylland from the biological engineering department. We are eager to learn more of the Seraphels.”

Mr Do releases her hand, but not his gaze on Vergil.

“I ran a check on the biological engineering department. There is no Per Hylland listed among the staff.”

Mary’s pulse spikes, despite being prepared for this situation.

“That’s because I am a visiting associate professor from Oslo University, Mr Do”, Vergil replies, “I only recently arrived in Red Grave.”

“Ah.”

A frown lingers on the face of the mayor candidate but soon, he smoothens the wrinkle between his eyebrows and smiles.

“Welcome to Red Grave, Mr Hylland. I hope you will enjoy your visiting position.”

“Thank you, Mr Do.”

Mary lets out an indiscernible puff of air from relief. The mayor candidate motions for them to leave their warm outer garments by the desk and follow him. Mary’s wearing her most formal suit. She has convinced Vergil that a pair of glasses and a brown corduroy jacket with padding at the elbows are very “associate professor” so that’s what he wears. She fights back a blush at the sight of him. Although dressed to look dull, Vergil manages to look nothing but dashing.

Behind them strides Mr Do’s bodyguard, shorter than Vergil but twice as bulky.

Mr Do continues to turn his attention to Vergil as they walk down a long corridor to a set of elevators.

“You must be used to this climate from Oslo, Mr Hylland? It’s quite unusual for Red Grave, but nothing that we can’t handle.”

Vergil nods curtly. Mary’s given him strict instructions not to mention the effect of global warming on extreme weathers. Seamus Do was famous for his climate scepticism.

“But let us not divulge too much in pleasantries.” Mr Do uses a card to swipe at the key reader of the elevator; the doors open with a faint hiss. “I was more than happy to receive your email, Ms Arkham. A potential research collaboration between your departments and Ghogiel Enterprises might just be what we need to further our vision of future robotics.”

“Yes, Mr Do.”

The elevator reaches its designated level and opens to a large room filled with buzzing, blinking machines. By one of the walls stands several pods like large, transparent eggs. Inside each, ten in total, is a Seraphel, wings folded around their bodies.

“The idea of the Seraphel came to me in a dream,” Mr Do chuckles, “I have always been interested in mysticism, especially the realms of demons and spirits. Do you know what the name of my enterprise means, Mr Hylland?”

Vergil shakes his head. Mary stifles a lift to her eyebrows, certain that Vergil is lying.

“‘The place empty of God’. God is dead, Mr Hylland. We must fill the space he has left and make our own angels. We are the only ones who can protect ourselves from evil.”

Mary faces one of the pods, stepping so close her breath leaves a fog on the surface. A machine makes a whizzing sound behind them.

“Are they built with any living material, Mr Do?”

“Not yet. That is where I hope you may play a part. Our collaboration may bare the most lucrative of fruits. Depending on your success, the patent to a new type of robot would be the property of Ghogiel, of course, but not without benefits for your careers and for the future of your departments.”

“May we open one of them?”

Mr Do hesitates, his smile waning, but he nods at his bodyguard. The man extends his hand and presses a code into the side of the pod. It slides open with a hiss. Mary holds her breath facing the helmet of the winged guardian, glossy and unseeing.

“The polymer of their armour. Can you tell me more?”

“Oh, it’s a simple mix of keratin, polystyrene, and glass. The details are better explained in a further meeting. This is simply the first tour.”

She darts a glance at Vergil. He nods, signalling he needs no further look at the robots. With one last, narrow gaze at the Seraphel, his shoulders relax.

Nothing demonic, nor living, emanated from the figure in front of him.

“Right,” Mary exhales, “Mr Do, I believe we have seen enough. Thank you for guiding us and showing us these remarkable robots. I will begin the application for ethical approval right away. It’s the one thing that might impede upon our possible collaboration…”

“Ah, yes.” Mr Do smiles in a way that sends a shiver down Mary’s spine. “The continued prohibition against experimenting with living tissue on robots… Don’t worry, Ms Arkham. I have connections in the House of Congress. It is only a matter of time until this matter is solved, rest assured of that."

“Good,” she swallows.

Vergil and Mary are escorted back to the elevators by a smiling, ever polite candidate for mayor and his silent bodyguard.

Following Vergil with its gaze, one of the Seraphel’s further down the room shudders. Its wings tremble and its irises expand and shrink with the dying light of the room.

Outside, Mary shudders from another sentiment than being cold.

“Ugh, that guy gives me the creeps.”

She raises a curious gaze at Vergil.

“I couldn’t feel anything. Could you?”

Vergil sends another narrowed-eyed gaze at the glass structure in front of them.

“No.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“It is.”

 

March 10th

Trembling, Lady lifts the Kalina Ann and launches a rocket into the enormous eye in Urizen's chest. The demon staggers backwards with a rumbling moan. His muscles, like wired tendons or sickly tentacles, slither around his body in cramped motions. He falls to his knees, blood gushing from the wound, seeping through his gigantic, clawed hands. He shrinks, his roar diminishing to a cry of pain from a human throat. The silky, black tresses of V’s hair whisks in front of his face, crumbling from agony.

“No,” she whispers. She throws the rocket launcher from her shoulder and dashes towards him. It’s like running through syrup. Reaching out with her hand, her fingertips brush his shoulder, when his mouth open, wide and gaping. Large wings expand behind him.

A Seraphel - no, it’s Artemis, snickering while opening her maw wide.

Lady’s caught. Eyes wide, she screams in a silent shout when the demon swallows her.

“Mary?”

Gulping for air, she wakes, entangled in the sheet she uses as cover.

“You were dreaming.”

Vergil narrows his eyes in worry, his hand on her arm warm. The moon shines through their white curtains and falls over his bared torso, painted in a silvery light.

She falls back onto the mattress, arm over her eyes. Her heart is still pounding from the vision of the dream. Glancing to her right, her alarm clock blares the numbers 04.18 in crimson digits.

Shit. She has a ton of student papers to grade in the morning, but she won’t get any more sleep. Sighing, she throws the sheet from her body and sits to leave and make a soothing cup of tea. A hand on her shoulder stops her.

“Let me.”

Heart softening, she meets Vergil’s gaze and slumps back onto the bed with a nod. The mattress makes a small bounce when he leaves.

He returns with a large cup of steaming tea emanating a fair scent of jasmine. She accepts the cup from her sitting position, back against the headboard of their bed. Her skin still crawls from the memory of her dream.

“Thank you.”

“Did you dream about Artemis?”

“Yes. And the Seraphel’s. And V.”

He remains silent. They have spoken about her going to see someone, to talk about her trauma, but she refused the idea. What would she tell? My boyfriend split his demon and human side apart and put me inside another demon to use me as a battery? I fell in love with his human side and later for the merged person that is him?

Yeah, unlikely.

His hand circling her hip sends a warm thrill dancing on her skin.

“Will you read for me?”

“What would you like me to read?”

“Anything.”

She lowers her gaze into the tawny liquid in her hands. As a child, her mother read her bedtime stories before she went to sleep and when she awoke from nightmares.

He picks up a book from his bedside table. Osip Mandelstam, it says on the cover. Selected Poems. Carefully placing himself next to her, he opens the book. She scoots to place her head onto his shoulder. His skin is soft and warm. The peppery scent of his shower wash soothes her mind.

She lips the tea as he recites,

What shall I do with this body they gave me,
so much my own, so intimate with me?
For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,
tell me, who should I bless?
I am the flower, and the gardener as well,
I am not solitary, in earth’s cell.
My living warmth, exhaled, you can see,
on the clear glass of eternity.
A pattern set down,
until now, unknown.
Breath evaporates without trace,
with form no one can deface.

Mary is filled with a soft sensation.

They sit like that in a warm silence until she raises from the bed and walks out to their living room. She unhooks her guitar from the wall but the song she’s working on won’t cooperate with her this morning. To relax, she plays one of her favourite songs, Fade out by Radiohead.

When the clock shows 05:00, she raises from the sofa to start the day.

*

Closing her laptop and pausing her reading, Mary rubs her eyes.

The dead Nidhogg hatchling she found by the crater confirmed her suspicions. It had formed a symbiotic relation to the Poaceae plant and started a chemical reaction that bound carbon dioxide and nitrogen to the soil. As far as she knew, this was a scientific revolution. The little former parasite could hold the answer to two of the most urgent questions of our times; how to deal with the looming food crisis in wake of climate change, and with excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The fucking Qliphoth could very well form part of the answer to some of the worst effects of climate change.

Problem was, the chances of finding more hatchlings were slim to none after Vergil and Dante severed the roots of the demon tree. Because of it, Mary secretly conducted a series of experiments using the Nidhogg DNA and common fungi to clone the hatchling she found, sclerotic but alive.

The faux invitation for research collaboration with Goghiel enterprises was still in lock-down because of the continuing restrictions against experimenting with life in the engineering of robots. It was part of Mary’s plan all along. The fact that Seamus Do’s connections to higher instances of politics may change such restrictions didn’t worry her too much. The laws were in part enforced by international research legislation. The “visiting professorship” of Mr Hylland came to an abrupt end when a member of his family sadly passed away why “he” returned to Norway.

Mr Do shouldn’t be able to see through the fake research webpage for Mr Hylland she made.

She hasn’t shared any of her cloning experiments with Vergil, nor with her professor. The evidence was too fragile; she needed more time. She worked hard to write a research grant that would allow her to work with the experiments for a few years and publish her results in a way that guaranteed public access to the solution.

Amidst the writing of her application for the research grant, she needed to grade student papers. Happily surprised by the one she’s reading (an original exploration of how the concept of ‘good quality’ in modern horticulture has evolved in relation to the emergence of wholesalers), she darts an eye cast to her phone. It has two new messages.

The first is from Vergil. Meet me at the Avondale baths at six-thirty. She blinks. The baths? Besides the city library, Vergil avoided crowded places, and the Avondale baths were popular.

The second message is from an unknown number.

Hi Mary, it’s Kyrie. I’d like to ask you to help me with something. Call me? The message ends with a heart icon.

A warm feeling fills Mary’s heart. Kyrie doesn’t resent her for fainting from terror at the news of her pregnancy. Mary saves Kyries number to her phone and darts a glance at the clock on the wall. Five twenty. She has time to eat and call Kyrie before heading out to the baths. She finds leftover Gołąbki, traditional polish cabbage rolls, in the refrigerator. Vergil surprised her the day before using a recipe identical to that of her mother’s.

She’d never tasted Gołąbki as good as his before.

*

Passing the city library towards the Avondale baths, Mary’s boots crunch the newly fallen snow that powders the sidewalk. People in warm parkas and scarves pass her by to get home from their offices and workplaces. A cramped bus full of passengers going towards the western parts of town rumbles by.

Mary mulls over her earlier conversation with Kyrie. Kyrie wants to practise shooting with a pistol, and she doesn’t want Nero to know, not yet.

Mary has a mixed sense of excitement and concern at the prospect. She’s happy to teach Kyrie what she knows of firearms and is flattered Kyrie called her for advice rather than Nico. But why would Kyrie want to learn how to shoot a gun? She gave a cryptic answer when Mary asked. I thought it might be fun - besides, it might come in handy.

In handy for what? Did it relate to the incident at the bridal shop and of Kyrie’s reaction to the Seraphel’s?

No woman about to have a baby should pick up a firearm on the premise of having to protect themselves from danger. Women like Kyrie should live in peace and with a complete sense of safety.

Mary’s unsure whether she should reveal her conversation with Kyrie to Vergil. Kyrie begged her not to, and it would feel wrong to betray her trust. Mary sighs.

Vergil is waiting for her by the entrance to the impressive nineteenth century, Jugend style baths, his hands inside the pockets of his dark peacoat.

A pang of attraction hits her in the guts, warming her cheeks despite the frigid winds. He is devastatingly handsome. Reaching him, she raises on her tiptoes to accept his embrace. They venture inside hand in hand.

Reaching the lobby, Mary is struck by a realization that crept up on her when she approached the baths. The place is empty save for them. No other guests scurry to the exit or pay at the cashier to get an hour of relaxation. No personnel are inspecting the guests in the pools on the other side of the glass windows or are seen walking in and out of the dressing rooms.

The heavy doors close with a click. A sign with the flipped word ‘chartered’ is visible through the glass panes.

They are alone.

“What..?”

She passes her gaze around to the right and left with a growing sense of surprise.

“I’ve reserved the place for us tonight. We must leave before midnight, but the baths are exclusively for us until then.”

She stares at him, mouth open in surprise.

“You’ve reserved -”

She pauses, stupefied. How much did it cost him to rent the entire place for a night? And why?

“Vergil, I haven’t asked you before because my mother taught me it’s rude to talk about these things, but - where do you get your money from?”

The tips of his ears reddening, he presses his lips together in a way that tells her he’s reluctant to speak about this particular topic.

“My father was a wealthy man.”

“Inheritance?” She frowns. “But if that’s - then why is Dante always -”

She halts her impulse to tap her palm against her forehead with a groan.

“That’s why he’s always been able to buy new weapons and gear despite claiming to be broke! I can’t believe I agreed to let him borrow money from me!”

“My brother is as skilful dealing with money as he is on the dancefloor,” Vergil huffs. “I asked our father’s accountant about Dante’s financial situation. He told me he’s paid for Patty Lowell’s college education and the rent for her student apartment for years to come. Dante’s also donated large sums for reconstructing cities he’s more or less knocked down in various demon-hunting businesses.”

Mary gapes before she chuckles in a wave of affectionate astoundment. Patty was an heiress of a fortune, he didn’t have to... Dante, you big, soft-hearted bad boy.

“He’s a good guy.”

“Perhaps,” Vergil replies with a derisive expression, “but he is also a financial idiot. I have tried to persuade him to invest any money he makes more wisely but he simply laughs at me. He enjoys his self-image of being a ruffian.”

Her smile dies. She sends him a matter-of-fact eye cast.

“You should follow his example.”

He frowns, not meeting her gaze.

“I have anonymously donated a considerable sum to the city council. It was used to reconstruct several schools and the hospital. It doesn’t erase what I did, but… Nothing can.”

She squeezes his hand with astounded exhale. A conversation she held with Kyrie a few months ago resurfaces from her memory.

“You make me proud of myself for loving you.”

He gives her such a naked gaze at that, she lifts herself up on the balls of her feet to kiss him again.

“So,” she whispers, “why are we here tonight?”

“To swim, of course.”

“I don’t have anything to wear -”

“I’ve thought of that. Here.”

From behind the counter of the empty cashier’s stand, he fetches a paper bag with the brand of a known under- and swimwear label. She accepts it, eyebrows raised in surprise and follow his instructions to change in the women’s dressing room.

“Follow the signs to the ‘Lethe’ pool. You’ll find it.”

In the dressing room, she places her clothes in a locker more out of habit than out of necessity. The only sounds heard are a faint buzzing from the pipes above and the lap of water from the pools outside. She’s filled with a mix of anticipation and nervousness, unsure why he’s taken her to these baths. Did it relate to her nightmare? Did he want her to relax? The thought warms her, but he doesn’t know swimming isn’t her forte. When did she visit a public pool last?

The paper bag contains a towel, small bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, and a black, plain triangle bikini with adjustable straps. She puts it on after she’s soaked her hair and body in the shower. It fits perfectly. He must have made an effort to know her size. The gesture moves her in ways she can’t put into words, like all small tokens of care from him; buying tampons when she needs them, making her tea on nights she’s buried in student papers to grade, the way he’s made an effort to learn how to cook since she’s useless in the kitchen…

Walking out of the dressing room through a corridor to the largest of the baths called the Lethe pool, she stops with a gasp.

She has heard of the splendour of the Avondale baths. They were founded in the late eighteenth century after an outbreak of cholera. The baths have been renovated several times since with the original decor in mind. The interior matched the exterior in jugendstil with tall, arched windows around an oval pool with a trampoline at one end. The walls are painted in ocra bright as the sun with intricate patterns like winding leaves that crept over the windows. The salle is crowned by a large fresque in the middle depicting an ocean landscape with frothing waves and plump clouds at the horizon. The turquoise waters of the pool are lit from within and stylish lamps hang from the wide, white-painted roof. A faint smell of chlorine hanging in the air is mixed with the fresh scent of a few, scattered palm trees at the edges of the room.

Vergil meets her and reaches for her hand. He’s wearing a towel around his hips which he discards to reveal a pair of blue boxer swimwear. The nervousness lands like a stone in her stomach. The sensation of his warm hand with the shallow flush of the waters as they step in calms her.

“I haven’t been in a pool in ages…”

“It’s ok. I’ve got you.”

She halts at that, insides warm from affection. The waters are a few degrees over body warmth, but she tenses nonetheless as he steers her to the deeper part of the pool.

“I want you to trust me.”

She nods and submerges her body to take a breaststroke. He’s treading the waters which means the bottom of the pool is unreachable.

“Are you ready? On three.”

“Dive?”

He nods.

“One, two, three -”

She gulps a large inhale of air, closes her eyes and sinks with him.

At first, everything reduces to the watery sound of bubbles. Her hair flows above her head, the liquid enclosing her completely, wrapping her in warmth, like flesh…

No. Nonono.

She opens her eyes in panic and kicks her limbs to reach the surface. Spluttering, she fights for breath when a strong arm encloses her midriff. She clings to him. He holds on to the edge of the pool with one hand and the other around her, trying to meet her gaze.

“You’re ok. I’m here.”

Her frantic heartbeat calms against his chest. Her laboured breathing stops to a normal rhythm.

He kisses her hair.

“There’s nothing that can hold you unless you want it to. You’re free.”

She allows herself to return to the baths, to this room, to be in a body of water, nowhere else. This is why he took me here, the thought has her stupefied, to let me face my fears.

The lapping waters caress her limbs, unable to snare her. She can get out and leave whenever she wants to.

She lifts her face from the crook of his neck to look him in the eye.

He smiles, a twitch to the corner of his mouth.

“One more time?”

A knot in her guts, she nods.

He counts to three, she takes a deep breath, and they sink again. This time, she allows herself to sense the waters surround her with one conscious thought replaying in her head; I’m free, I’m free. She returns to the surface with him after a few seconds, but without the panic swelling in her chest, sending him a hesitant but sincere smile.

They dive a few more times, each submersion longer until her head spins. She raises to the surface to sit on the edge of the pool with a feeling resembling euphoria.

Fear is a feeling Mary loathes. Anything that helps her overcome it is a gift. She splashes a few droplets on him.

“I’d like to do something.”

He removes his swimwear and throws them to her. She catches them with a surprised smile.

He sinks into the waters again. A blurred light fills the pool and bounces against the sun-coloured walls. She gasps.

He’s transformed into his demonic form. His large wings expand across the pool, tail unfurling below him like a spiked rope in the blurred surface of the waters. The sight has her gaping in awe.

She’s never seen his demonic form but once, in a dream. There’s a frightening beauty to him like this, the way an erupting volcano can be mesmerizing. He stays so long submerged she’s afraid he’ll drown but concludes he must be able to breathe underwater.

Giving in to an impulse, she inhales and pushes from the edge back into the pool. Her eyesight blur. She sinks to his form and places her arms around his scaly neck. Blue flames flow from his horns and his eyes, directed to her face. He places his hands around her waist, careful not to let his claws rasp her skin.

In a whisp of blue, glistening light, he lifts her out of the waters, still in his demonic form. The whoosh of his wings makes her skin break out in goosebumps. Slowly, they land on the glazed tiles of the floor. She doesn’t release her grip of his shoulders.

“I’ve dreamt of you like this,” she whispers.

“A nightmare?”

His voice is different; deeper, as if coming from the pits of the underground.

She shakes her head.

“No.”

For so long, she nurtured hate towards anything demonic until became a part of her identity. She had to admit that she was wrong, to open her eyes to how demons could harbour humanity and to how humans could act worse than demons. It hurt her pride enough to make her lose her footing.

She’s glad for that pain today. Without it, she wouldn’t have grown, not been as brave as she is inside these baths.

“What’s it like being a demon?”

“It’s easier,” he replies with a spark of pain in his eyes, “in some ways. Demons are unable to feel things like love or compassion, but also envy or boredom. Strength is the only thing that dictates them. They kill and hurt because it gives them pleasure but they don’t know how to lie or manipulate. Humans see demons as cruel but they are like cats playing with mice, indifferent to good and evil. Unless they are very powerful demons.”

“Like your father?”

“Yes.”

“Like Mundus?”

“Yes. He knows the pain in others and thrives in it.”

“You’re also different.”

In a cobalt shimmer, he transforms back into his human form. The icy blue light of his eyes solidifies to his normal irises enclosing his pupils, large and black. His wet hair falls down making him so alike his brother it makes her smile. He wipes his hair back with his hand.

“I’m not a demon. Just like I’m not human.”

She scans his eyes, heart aching in her chest.

“You have humanity, compassion. You care.”

The permanent, small wrinkle between his eyebrows deepens.

“For some. Very few.”

She caresses his cheek.

“It’s enough. It’s a lot.”

She casts a gaze around the room.

“Thank you for this.”

He joins her to the women’s dressing room because who’s going to protest? And stands with her, chest to her back under the sprinkle in the shower booth. He empties the small flask of shampoo in his hand and massages the flower-scented emulsion into her scalp, across her shoulders, down her arms.

Hot tears mix with the froth of shampoo and warm water down her face, down her body. Not since her mother died has anyone washed Mary’s hair. Not since Kalina Ann has anyone cared for her, body and soul as he does. Life is fragile and beautiful to the verge of incomprehensibility at this moment.

She is free, she is loved. It takes all the courage she has to accept it.

*

One night, as she prepares to go to bed, he tells her the details of his enslavement by Mundus. Unprepared, her eyes widen as he blurts out memories of being chained, tortured, of his soul, stretched and ruptured. Years and years of hopelessness, degradation, and pain.

No words can express the dread that has the blood in her veins run slower from what he tells her. So she says nothing. She takes his hand and leads him to their bed where she embraces him all night. His skin is damp from cold sweat, the pounding of his heart reverberates in her chest.

The next day, she calls in sick. They don’t speak much. Together, they venture to the Museum of Modern Art and stroll in silence all afternoon, holding hands. Vergil expresses admiration for a temporary exhibition with works by Agnes Martin. When the stars lit in the sky that spans soft like black velvet above their heads, they return to the ruins on the hill. The crunch of their boots against the snow mix with the brimming waters from the fountain underneath a thin layer of ice.

Back at their apartment, she massages the tensed muscles on his back. She’s unsure whether being there is enough. Words are so useless in the face of everything. He falls asleep that night in a profound way that gives her hope that the hurt he harbours inside isn’t killing him.

“Thank you,” he mumbles the next morning, touching her hair, “I didn’t want to tell you because I thought it would be too much. That I’d lose you like I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved.”

“Hey,” she says softly, “You never have to hide from me. All the shit that happened to you? It’s part of us. I’m going nowhere.”

She embraces him, inhaling the scent at his neck. Her arm around his chest rise and sink in tune with his calm breath.

Chapter Text

There, where life swell into day breaks and goes,
It waits for me concealed, my god-begotten I.
- Karin Boye, Idea

 

March 17th

Mary inhales the rich scent of pine resin and fir needles at the glen in the forest outside Fortuna. The sun peeks out from occasional clouds and sends bright rays dotting the needle-covered ground, speckled with snow. Mary’s black army boots crunch the dry leaves underneath. Trish’s high heeled shoes make no sound as she positions a homemade dummy made from a jute sack filled with old clothes and sheets against a tree.

Kyrie lifts Mary’s SIG Sauer mosquito gun with both arms outstretched. She glances at Mary with a tentative expression, blinking. Mary nods.

Kyrie pulls the trigger. The detachable silencer decreases the recoil and the bullet leaves the barrel with a sharp ‘pfuitt’. The reflex has Kyrie closing her eyes despite wearing Mary’s goggles and she stumbles back a step, hands falling to her hips.

The shot hit the dummy in the make-belief groin. Mary chuckles. Kyrie pulls the goggles she’s wearing to her clavicle with an expression of equal embarrassment and amusement, scrunching her nose at the chemical odour of gunsmoke.

“Not bad for my first time?”

“Not at all. How did it feel?”

Before Kyrie answers, Trish raises her Ombra and blasts five consecutive bullets into the heart of the dummy. Grey gunsmoke fizz from the barrel and a flock of startled tits flutter from the scene.

“Oh!” Kyrie makes an astounded expression, eyes wide. “That’s amazing!”

Trish winks at her with a brief smile. She places her hands on her hips, unable to hide how the flattery went straight to her ego.

“Lots of practice, sweetie.”

“How did it feel?” Mary repeats to Kyrie.

“Like I had no idea what I was doing, but also - exhilarating!”

Kyrie blushes but her eyes shine with satisfaction. A burst of cool wind lifts the auburn tresses of her hair. The wind carries the distinct smell of the cornfields outside the forest, fertilized and ready for spring.

Mary glances at the small protrusion underneath Kyries mom jeans.

“No pain or anything that felt off? We need to be careful, for the baby’s sake.”

“None at all.”

Kyrie sends them both a proud smile and lifts the gun barrel pointing to the dummy.

“Can I try again?”

Half an hour later, Kyrie lifts the SIG Sauer with more confidence, hitting the dummy in the shoulder, stomach and ribs, closer to bull’s eye each time. Mary’s impressed with her progression.

“Not bad,” Trish compliments with her hands on her hips. Kyrie beams at the praise.

“So, are you excited about your big day?” Trish continues, pushing a brown leaf that’s fallen from the nearby tree to land on her shoulder.

Kyrie sinks the gun with a forceful gulp. She tries to smile, but in vain.

“Yes - only - I wish…”

Mary knits her eyebrows.

“Kyrie?”

A tear glitter in the corner of Kyrie’s eye. She sniffles, voice thick.

“I miss my brother. I can’t imagine my wedding without him. I always pictured him leading me to the aisle.”

Mary embraces her. The palpitations of Kyrie’s heart knock against her ribs and the protrusion of her abdomen press against Mary’s stomach.

“I’m sorry,” Kyrie exhales in an embarrassed chuckle.

“Don’t be. Do you want to practise your aim again?”

“I think I’ve had enough for one day. My hands ache a bit. How about we grab lunch together?”

“You go,” Trish replies, I have an appointment at the hairdresser.”

“Ok,” Kyrie smiles at her, “I hope I’ll get to see you at the wedding. You and Dante.”

Trish halts, her shoulder stiffening.

“Of course.”

Kyrie tilts her head.

“You two are so handsome together. I always thought... Trish, have you and Dante ever -”

“Dante’s a lot of things,” Trish interrupts, face motionless and voice hard, “but he’s not that kind of motherfucker.”

The atmosphere freezes like someone has pushed a pause button.

Mary winces. Trish’s words are too harsh, too raw. She expects Kyrie to draw in breath in an exasperated gasp and cry, but she doesn’t.

Kyrie’s eyes glitter. She silently holds Trish’s gaze with an expression of compassion until it’s too much. Trish closes her eyes and looks away.

“I’m sorry,” is all Kyrie says.

Trish meets her gaze again, nothing giving her feelings away except for the slight tremor to her lips.

“Don’t be. I haven’t been for a long time.”

Mary finds it hard to breathe at the scene before her.

Several years ago, Trish asked her about her feelings for Dante. Mary answered with a huff and an assurance she’d never be with anyone, especially not a demon. It was a different time, she was a different person. Mary never assumed Trish’s question related to any kinds of feelings of her own.

She was so blind. Had Trish loved Dante, knowing he’d never feel the same? Did she still -

Mary is overcome by a shower of a guilty conscience. Since the moving and working full-time at the biology department, she and Trish hadn’t socialized the way they used to. An annoying side effect of falling in love was how “staying at home” never had had such appeal before.

Mary vows to be a better friend.

*

An hour later, Kyrie and Mary enter a café. It's one of the typical urban franchises that try hard to appear like a living room with custom books in shelves and rust-coloured sofas. The silvery tones of a female singer resonate in the room half-filled with students typing on their laptops.

They sit by the short end of the café. Kyrie sighs and sinks her gaze to her hands, knitted on her belly.

“I hope she’ll forgive me.”

“She will. Trish may look like an ice queen but she has a heart.”

They nod at the waitress who arrives with their orders.

Lipping her steaming espresso, Mary tastes the familiar tartness of the hot liquid. Kyrie has ordered a tall chai tea latte, a roasted chicken sandwich and a cinnamon bun.

“Kyrie,” Mary ventures, “I had fun today and I don’t mind teaching you a bit or two about guns but - why did you wish to practise shooting? Is this about what happened at the bridal shop?”

Kyrie blushes and swallows the large bite of sandwich she’s chewing on.

“No. That was frightening, but I -” She smiles, “I wanted us to hang out. As friends. What better way than through one of your greatest interests?”

Mary's lips fall apart. Did Kyrie want to reach out through her love for firearms? 

“You don’t need to learn how to shoot to be my friend, Kyrie.”

Kyrie winks in a way that surprises Mary.

“Well, it was fun, right?”

Mary agrees with a grin.

“How are you? You feeling ok, with -” Mary lowers her gaze, “- everything?”

Kyrie dimples a smile.

“I’m good!” She caresses the protrusion on her belly and takes another bite of the sandwich. “It’s funny, the first months of pregnancy were tough, I was exhausted all the time. These days, I have this sense of renewed energy! Have I told you Nero and I are reopening the orphanage?”

She smiles at Mary’s surprised expression.

“Someone has made a huge, anonymous donation to the social services in Fortuna! We’re able to employ more staff and to renovate a new house for the children! Isn’t it amazing? I won’t work until after the baby is born - maybe not until a year after - but I’m so thrilled!”

She sighs, eyes shining with joy.

“Angels exists. I believe they do.”

Mary nods, heart thudding in her chest. Could it be…

If it was Vergil who donated the money, he wouldn’t want Nero and Kyrie to know. Mary’s heart softens from a rush of affection.

Kyrie peers around, blushing. No other guests are seated in their part of the café to overhear them but she still whispers.

“Now that you’re asking…” She smiles. “I feel wonderful these days. I have these rushes of… intense happiness, and bliss, and…”

She squirms, but not from uneasiness but in way that conveys sensualism.

“I’m so - you know -”

Mary stifles the initial lewd concept that comes to mind.

“Aroused?”

“Yes!” Kyrie sighs as if she’s relieved of unloading a burden, despite blushing so hard her complexion resembles that of a ripe tomato.

“It doesn’t make sense!” She exhales in a sibilant whisper, “I’m already pregnant, why this now?” She opens her eyes wide to convey her confusion, her hand over her mouth.

Mary chuckles from a rush of affection.

“I guess logic and hormones don’t go hand-in-hand.”

“They certainly don’t,” Kyrie huffs. She laughs behind her hand, but gains an urging expression, leaning closer to Mary. A whiff of apple shampoo falls from her hair.

“Mary… Can I ask - I don’t have any girlfriends to speak to about these things… I’d ask Nico but - well, first of all, she’s not into men, and secondly, she and Nero are like siblings… you know.”

Mary nods.

“Nero and I, we were… when we started, well...”

“You were each other’s first.”

“Yes. Although I feel like I can speak to him about anything, this is something I’d like to discuss with someone who's more experienced... If you - I mean if you don’t mind.”

Mary smiles. She didn’t expect this conversation when she and Kyrie made a deal to practice shooting.

“Of course not. You can ask me anything.”

“Oh, thank you! It’s - well, we’ve mostly done it, you know, him on top -”

Kyrie’s blushing so hard, tears prick in her eyes. She darts her gaze around, whispering. The sweet vapour from her chai latte caresses Mary’s cheek.

“But that’s uncomfortable now that the baby is getting bigger, so we tried doing it with me on top but... it hurt a bit...”

Mary frowns.

“Sex isn’t supposed to hurt. You should talk to your doctor about this, to check everything's alright.”

Kyrie nods with a hint of a mischievous smile.

“You’re right. Could it be - because I’m getting heavy?”

“You’re not. Besides, Nero’s a strong guy. It might be that you need a little more practise.”

Kyrie smiles so bashfully it makes Mary smile in turn. Perhaps a bit less decent proposal is in order? Mary swirls the last dreg of espresso in her cup.

“How about you do it from behind? You can stand on your knees - or on your feet, hands against the wall.”

She holds a hand out, fingers spread to illustrate.

“Oh!” Kyrie places a hand over her heart. “It seems so… animalistic.”

Mary frowns. Animalistic? Kyrie must have gained that understanding from her days in the Order.

“Kyrie, I hope you know that if you both want it and enjoy it, there is no sin in being together in any way...”

Kyrie grabs her chai latte and fidgets with the handle of the cup.

“You’re right. I was brought up rather strict, that’s why I can’t speak of these things without blushing like a schoolgirl…”

“I sort of understand where you’re coming from,” Mary sighs. “My mother was catholic - not in the strictest sense but... She had pretty ancient views on sex.”

Kyrie smiles at how Mary does a little eye roll.

“How about you lay on your side with him behind you? You can rest your head on his arm, he can hold you or caress your back…”

“Is that something Vergil likes to do?”

It’s Mary’s turn to blush. The song played in the café changes to an upbeat tune, matching her heightened pulse.

“I - yes.”

She sips the cold espresso in an attempt to hide her embarrassment. In truth, Vergil preferred positions that allowed eye contact, plunging his gaze into hers… Mary abstains from sharing that particular information.

Kyrie lowers her lashes.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked…”

“No, it’s ok. You’re being earnest with me, it’s only fair that I am too.”

Kyrie beams.

“Thank you so much.”

“Any time. And Kyrie… Don’t hesitate to tell Nero how you feel. My bet is that he’ll be nothing but happy about your - state. Trust me.”

Kyrie sends her a radiant smile. They give up their pretence of being unfazed by their conversations and laugh, earning a few curious gazes from guests by the other side of the café.

“Kyrie,” Mary places her cup on the table, “I'd like to talk to you about something else. The anniversary of the Qliphoth is coming up and the Mayor is holding a petition on how to commemorate it. I have an idea and I need your opinion.”

 

March 20th

Trish empties her ammunition into the screeching maw of a Firebat. The demon lands with a meaty thud against the tin roof of the crumbling building. On an instant, it’s body swells like a hot air balloon while tangerine flames lick the metal beneath it.

Mary jumps to hide behind the walls, pressing the Kalina Ann against her midriff. Trish joins her and diverts her face from the molten explosion of bat limbs that graze the skin on their faces with a shower of sparks.

Spring arrived in Red Grave earlier than usual, melting the last remains of the lingering snow. The flows swell in the city river and enticed the first of the golden and violet anemones to push their stems through the soil. Mary squints against the sun. The light is not yet shrouded by the bulky formation of clouds that release strings of rain further away to the horizon.

Trish emerges from their shelter and places her hands on her hips.

“Long time no see one of those assholes. The rifts between the worlds are diminishing since the fall of the Qliphoth. Funny how it poses a problem for us who rely on them for our income. To do good, you need evil.”

She flings her hair over her neck and faces Mary with a raised eyebrow.

“Not that that’s a problem for you anymore, ms crazy scientist.”

Mary snorts, but her stomach does a little twist at what she wishes to say. Perhaps it’s not the best occasion, but she made a promise to be a better friend.

“Trish. The other day at the glen - are you -”

“You know what?” Trish gazes out on the rooftops and the jagged skyline below. “I’m tired of talking. Can we just -”

She meets Mary’s gaze again with a faint smile.

“Can we go to your place and stuff ourselves with things that are bad for us while we watch a movie? I haven’t had a relaxing night in ages.”

Mary nods, the muscles of her shoulders softening.

“Yeah. I’ll ask Vergil to sleep at Dante’s place tonight.”

*

Mouth covered in a tangerine crust, Mary dips her hand into the bowl of cheese puffs and puts a few of the crusty loops into her mouth. She licks her fingers free from artificial cheese seasoning with a hum. An empty pizza box and two bottles of Indian pale ale rest on the table before them.

Wrapped in a knitted plaid, Trish pushes Mary’s arm with her knee.

“That’s disgusting.”

With a mischievous grin, Mary wiggles her fingers under Trish’s nose. Trish recoils, nose scrunched and eyes screwed shut.

“Ugh, that smells like ass.”

“Still tastes better than your caramel popcorn. What are you, the queen of England?”

“Shut up,” Trish fails to stop the smile that escapes her cool surface, “this is my favourite part.”

On the screen, the slim features of Trinity appear, her face hard and determined. She’s in the Nostromo, ready to enter the Matrix.

Let me tell you what I believe, she says to Neo, I believe that Morpheus means more to me than he does to you. I believe if you are really serious about rescuing him, you are going to need my help. And since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don't like it…

Trish and Mary echo her next line.

I believe you can go to hell. Because you're not going anywhere else.

“You tell him, Trinity.” Mary throws a cheese puff on the perplexed face of Neo. The orange curl bounces off the screen and lands onto the mat underneath.

Trish pulls her hair behind her shoulder and puts another sticky popcorn into her mouth.

“He totally fell for her at that moment. Guys secretly love women who boss them around.”

She presses her lips together as if regretting her words. Mary’s smile fades as the atmosphere turns delicate.

“Are you ok?” She ventures at last in a low voice.

Trish’s jaw goes stiff. She reaches for her beer bottle and fidgets with the label glued to the glass.

“Yeah. I’m as ok as someone who was made to be another person for the sake of torture can be.”

The blood in Mary’s head rushes down to her stomach.

Of course. To shield herself from the pain of thinking about what Trish resemblance to Eva meant, Mary had pushed the thought of her role in Mundus’ actions away.

“He used you to -”

“Yes. Mundus made me parade in front of Vergil in similar clothes Eva wore. This was before he was transformed into Nero Angelo. The Dark Lord made me say things to him - ‘I never wanted you. You were a burden’. Such bullshit.”

A rush of pain soars over Mary’s skin like a cold wind.

Trish visibly swallows.

“It did something to me. I never understood why Mundus acted the way he did. I understand power, the need to kill or to assert strength but not such needless, neverending cruelty. I knew Dante and Vergil were brothers. I didn’t want them to kill each other and still… A part of me hoped Dante would kill Vergil, to end his suffering.”

“Oh God,” Mary whispers, “I’m so sorry.”

On the screen, Neo asks for guns, lots of guns, but Mary’s lost attention. She puts her hands to her face. Pain and sorrow and white-hot rage flow through her chest at the inexplicable cruelty two of her loved ones endured because of that insidious Dark Lord.

When Vergil gets back home, I’m going to hold him, tell him that he was always loved, and wanted...

She fixates Trish with her gaze, willing her voice not to wobble.

“Mundus used you as a tool but you are not just some copy. You are your own.”

Human beings are a disease, Agent Smith muses to a captured Morpheus on the screen, a cancer on this planet. You are the plague and we are the cure.

Trish holds Mary’s gaze. The red polish on her nails gleams in the light of the tv as she pushes her hair behind her ear.

“I haven't found out who I am yet, or what my place in the world is. The possibilities are endless, I guess. There must be a meaning to my existence even though I was made to be, well. A copy.”

She smiles in a way that tells Mary Trish’s had enough conversation for one night.

“Perhaps a big adventure awaits me out there somewhere. But for now, I want to watch Trinity and Neo save Morpheus.”

Chapter Text

Love kindled by virtue, always kindles love if the first flame is clearly visible.
- Dante Alighieri, Purgatory, Canto XXII:12

 

April 20th

“Nero?”

“The baby moved! Kyrie placed my hand on her belly and I felt it!”

“That’s - amazing.”

“I wanted to tell someone - you. I wanted to tell you.”

Vergil makes a brief pause from the call to collect himself lest his voice cracks into a high pitch. He clears his throat from the lump wedged inside.

“I’m glad.”

 

May 12th

Vergil enters the bedroom of his and Mary’s apartment and stops flat at the sight before him.

Mary is wearing pink, a sombre shade resembling that of salmon. The dress reaches mid-thigh and is neatly crossed on her front. The soft fabric reaches down her arms and covers her back. She’s holding a pair of golden loops to her ears.

A bolt of warmth flows through him.

“Excellent choice.”

“Yeah?” She twists, scrutinizing her behind in the mirror, “I thought I’d break my black and white dress code for one night. The skirt might be too short for a wedding though.”

He shamelessly lets his gaze wander from her hips to her feet. She had exceptional legs, strong, scarred from countless battles. The insides of her thighs showed stretch marks he loved to trace with his fingertips. He’d be proud to go anywhere as her partner while she’s wearing that dress.

He’d be proud to go anywhere with her wearing anything.

“I have an alternative. Help me decide.”

He affirms with a nod. She places the loops on the dresser next to the mirrored wardrobe. With a hand on her shoulder, she points to the zipper of her dress. Her typical black nail polish gleam in the light that breaks through the arched window of the bedroom. A gentle gust of wind, one of the first warm currents of spring, billows through their white curtains. A whiff of her lily-scented lotion reaches his senses.

He steps forward to help and meets her eyes in the mirror, not hiding how he enjoys their difference in height.

“So petite.”

She huffs with a thread of amusement in her voice.

“We can’t all be overgrown beanstalks like you.”

He chuckles but his grin fades by the sight of Mary’s underwear, all black lace that caresses her skin. She’s wearing something fastened to her hips attached to black stay-ups, accompanied by leather straps that hold a holster for a small gun.

“Do you expect demons at my son’s wedding?”

She sends him a cockish smile.

“Besides you and your brother? I always expect demons. Besides, I’d feel naked without a firearm.”

He grazes the edges of her bikini-style briefs, smiling at how her skin breaks out in goosebumps.

“Naked, you say?”

She taps his hand.

“Concentrate, Sparda. I need to choose an outfit.”

He grins and takes the two steps backwards needed to reach the edge of their bed. Instead of letting her go, he hooks a finger into her bra strap and has her stumbling towards him with a surprised sound. Planting her onto the bed, he lays on top of her and cups her face to bring their lips together.

Kissing until her breath come out short, she squints at him.

“Jerk.”

They stay like that for a few contented moments, kissing and caressing exposed skin until he lets go of her mouth.

“Do you remember our first kiss?”

His voice has dropped a note from this unexpected but welcomed intimacy.

“Yes,” she groans and makes a face, “it was a catastrophe.”

He stumbles at that. A catastrophe? To him, it was amazing. It was the moment he’d been waiting for since he found her in the van, recovering from the nightmare of being caught inside Artemis. Since he fought her inside the Temen-Ni-Gru.

“You just stood there like a statue! I felt like I forced myself on you.”

Oh. He exhales in relief. That’s what she counted as their first kiss?

“I meant that time by Nico’s van. Before I ate the fruit.”

A small wrinkle creases the skin between her eyebrows. She pushes him onto his back and climbs on top.

“I don’t think of that as our first kiss. You’re not him. You are you.”

If that answer isn’t all he wants her to say. He must kiss her again. She moans into his mouth when he cups her breast in his hand.

He sends her a sly smile, letting his gaze slide southward.

“Do you really need such intricate underwear for your outfit?”

He outlines the shape of her right breast with his fingers, pushing the lace aside to graze her nipple with his thumb.

“No.” She gasps and closes her eyes.

“Did you choose them with me in mind?”

“Yes.” She arches her back to let him kiss her neck and reach her breasts with his lips.

Her confession makes him as hard as the sensation of her nipple beading against his tongue. He brings the two soft mounds together and gives her other breast equal attention.

“Oh fuck, that feels good,” she breathes and grinds against his lap.

He smiles. He did like it when she couldn’t hold back curses as a result of his touch. He continues to fondle her breasts until she whimpers and rocks her hips against his in a dizzying rhythm.

This new experience of having the power to give pleasure and bliss rather than to hurt and control was one Vergil hadn’t entirely gotten used to. It required him to let go as she let go, to take as she took. To give in without the fear of losing control. If it meant he could be with her like this, he’d gladly give himself the time to learn.

“Mary,” he says, voice strained from want, “climb further up.”

She acquiesces by crawling forward until her thighs enclose his head. His lips never leave her heated skin, hands lifted to caress her hips.

This close, her scent makes everything inside him knot. Tracing the cleft between her legs with his fingertips, he smiles at the soaked cloth that covers her sex. She lets out a sharp gasp. Shifting, she helps him take the holster off and pull the briefs down her thighs, leaving her legs covered in the stay-ups after he’s unhooked them from the small girdle on her hips.

Gazing up at her, the glistening sublimity before him, he needs a moment. Surely, this is why he came back from hell.

How did he deserve this?

Refusing to answer his own question, he angles her hips to encourage her to arch her back and opens her with a stroke of his tongue.

“Oh, God,” she chokes in a gasp.

He takes his time, wanting it to never be over. Adorning her with languid licks and fluttery wisps to his tongue at her clit, he makes her exhale the most exquisite sounds while caressing her behind in slow circles. He doesn’t quicken the pace of his tongue until she exhales whimpers that resemble sobs. Her entire body trembles. When she whispers a breathless “yes”, he eases two fingers inside her in a crooking motion, lifts his tongue to her bud and sucks hard.

She tenses with a strangled cry. Her walls spasm once, twice, hard around his digits. The light that courses through her veins in these moments spills onto his tongue, leaving a taste of honey in his mouth. He has asked her how it is for her, she answered that it felt different for each time. Sometimes it was like a sunset where the light bleeds into her limbs in shimmering gold, other times like a wave washing over her or like a train forcibly hitting a wall.

Steadying her with a firm grip of her hips, he continues to ride out her pleasure until she jerks her pelvis from him with an “ah!”

Climbing back down, she drapes her body over his and pants into the side of his neck. Not without smugness, he smiles and caresses her hair until she lifts her head and meets his gaze, eyes still glazed in wonder.

They kiss, slow, warm presses to their lips while she reaches to palm his groin. Breaking the kiss, she unbuttons his shirts and climbs down until she faces his bulge. She teases by releasing his erection from his boxers and places open-mouthed kisses on his shaft.

He stops her.

“Not this time. Sit on me. Bounce on my lap.”

She places her knees beside his hips. Using her hand, she sinks onto him, closing her eyes and biting into her lower lip.

A shiver of pleasure rushes down his legs at the sight of her; face flushed and lips swelled, a small frown of pleasure creasing her eyebrows. Her breasts still peek out from the cloth of the pulled-back bra. The slick drag of her around him has him groaning. He imagines how freezing it is in Alaska, or in Siberia where entire rivers transform to glittering icicles. The image vanishes when she swivels her hips in a rolling motion.

“You feel so good,” he groans, all sensation rushing down between his legs.

She angles her pelvis, leaning forwards with her hands on his shoulders and breathes another moan, all the while working on top of him. Entranced by the way his cock disappears between her folds, he stares at the point where their bodies meet. He follows her rhythm with his own careful thrusts, ignoring the part of his brain roaring at him to pound into her.

He loves this position. It enables her to find her sweet spot and control the pace to ride them home.

A hot pressure builds at the base of his cock. He wasn’t going to last long this time; her lingerie does things to him that rushes the sensation to dangerous heights. Since she had the contraceptive implant, the only thing he missed about the condoms was how they tended to make him last longer.

“Mary -“ a shudder wrecks through his body. He angles the back of his head into the mattress, hands tensing on her hips. “I’m going to -”

“Don’t hold back,” she says, “come for me.”

Her breasts nod so beautifully when she sets an eager rhythm. He lets go and pumps his hips hard and fast to meet her. Everything inside him rushes downwards, tightens, centres to his groin. A storm crashes inside him. He reaches to pull her face to his and kisses her, letting her swallow the mesmerized groan he emits. He has no other sensation than his release, pulsating inside her in convulsing surges.

She stays on top of him for a few heartbeats until she pulls away from his lap with a sigh and flumps on her back beside him. Her chest still heaves and her heart still thunders when he twists to kiss her again, enjoying the way she combs her fingers through his hair.

Smugly, he grazes the inside of her thigh and the moist that sticks to her stay-ups. She bites her lower lip in a near-inaudible moan.

“You’re lucky I have an extra pair of those.”

She makes a motion to sit, but he gently prevents her, eyes riveted to the way his spend pool at her entrance. He places his fingers between her thighs and pushes the seed that spills from her back in. She gasps, sensitive from their act but her eyes gleam dark when he raises his fingers to her mouth.

A satisfied groan escapes him at the sight of her lips sucking his digits clean. Moments like these were the most powerful he’d ever experienced.

*

Mary settles for the salmon-coloured dress. Despite their need for a second shower, they arrive at the church an hour before the ceremony.

Lush bushes of flowering dog roses surround the octagonal-shaped church chosen for the ceremony. Kyrie wished to get married in the Mary Magdalen, a rebuilt version of a sixteenth-century church built by some of the first settlers to these lands. Today, the church is a part of the regional museum complex. The sky is a lively azure interrupted by occasional cumulus clouds. A few cars are parked by the nearby lot, and through the open ports of the church, a few scattered guests survey the interior. A little girl jumps from the stairs of the church with a gleeful cry, followed by her father who chastises her for not being careful.

Few of Kyrie’s and Nero’s friends survived the Fortuna incident. Most of their guests are families of adopted children from their orphanage, Kyrie has informed them.

Mary and Vergil step the stairs to the narthex when she releases his hand, excusing herself. Vergil nods and continues inside the nave, letting his gaze wander around.

He’s always enjoyed churches. Despite a contempt for organised religion, similar to his contempt for political ideologies, the space of religious edifices offered a peaceful aura of reflection, respect for solitude and silence.

He has an ambition to one day visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, fascinated by the pictures of the structure with its many minarets he’d found in books and on websites. Hopefully, Mary would go with him if he asked her to.

This church was a bit small for his taste but interestingly built, with large, arched windows in colourful palettes depicting religious symbols. A pulpit carved to resemble a fish looms over the rows of benches and a semi-circular altar that forms the centre, surrounded by candle lights. To his left and right, church benches stretch in rows with scattered bibles on the cushions.

When Mary returns, her lips are coloured by a matte, red lipstick. The sight sends a bolt of heat to his groin that has him cursing silently. He’s glad she waited until they arrived to put it on; they would have risked being late otherwise.

She sends him a mischievous smile and leaves to greet Trish who arrives through the ports with Dante, Patty Lowell, and Morrison.

Vergil shakes his head with a tight-lipped smile at her teasing.

Nero appears from the vestry with the priest. She's a middle-aged, blonde woman wearing a typical ceremonial robe of crisp white linen and a purple stole hanging from her shoulders. Nero’s eyes lit at the sight of Vergil. He gestures.

Filled with pride, Vergil follows him to a small room used to store priest robes and liturgic containers. A few candles burn on a corner cupboard. The air fills with their scent of stearin mixed with the lush scent of assorted wildflowers in a glass vase on the table at the centre of the room.

Vergil’s heart swells at the nervous blush on Nero’s cheeks. He’s done his best at disciplining the spiky tresses of his white hair but failed. Squirming in the elegant suit Vergil’s helped him choose, he looks as if he wishes to jump out of his own skin.

“Here. Do you think she’ll like it?”

Nero fishes a ring from his pocket, a simple golden band, 23 carats.

”I bought this after everything came crashing down in Fortuna and we started the orphanage. It’s second hand and not as fancy as I’d like it to be, but at least I’ve had it engraved.”

He holds the ring up for Vergil to scrutinize its inside. ‘Kyrie & Nero, May 12’ it says in squiggly letters, with the digits of the current year.

“Kyrie’s going to love it.”

“You think?” Nero exhales with a nervous twitch to the corners of his mouth.

“Yes," Vergil nods in reassurance, "because it’s from you. She probably would have accepted a ring made from hay as long as you bought it.”

Nero reaches out to take the ring back with a huff.

“At least I had earned enough not to settle for something that bad,” he snorts, “I’m only sorry I couldn’t afford a ring for myself but hers matter most –“

“Nero,” Vergil says hard, “why didn’t you tell me?”

Nero rubs his neck in his usual, embarrassed gesture.

“I couldn’t ask you to spend more money than you already have.”

“What time is it?”

“Three fifteen –“

“I’ll be back before the wedding starts. I promise.”

“Vergil, wait -“

Nero reaches for Vergil’s arm, but he shrugs loose of his son’s grasp and strides towards the door to the crossing and down the nave to the open ports.

Mary silences from her conversation with Trish and sends him a surprised gaze. I’ll be right back, he mimes, ignoring her exhale that sounds like a ‘but-’

Forty-three minutes later, Vergil arrives at the church where the bells toll and the organ plays a psalm. The gravel crunch under his shoes as he marches up to the church stairs from which Nero and Kyrie have begun their entrance together. Nero lifts his head in surprise, a worried wrinkle between his eyebrows smoothening when Vergil approaches.

Vergil places a gold ring in Nero’s palm, engraved with a leaf pattern. He pats his son’s shoulder and continues inside to take his place beside Mary before Nero can protest. The near-full church stares at the late guest.

“Hey, where've ya been?” Dante hisses, leaning over Mary.

Vergil halts his answer at the sight of Dante’s dark apparel accompanied by a purple vest and a black tie.

“Are you wearing Morrison’s suit?” He hisses back.

“So what if I am?”

“Couldn’t you at least have shaved?”

“Ok, brothers Sparda,” Mary whispers between them, “could you please save your sibling rivalry to another occasion?”

At that moment, the wedding couple walks past them to a calm psalm played on the organ. Happy sighs erupt from the benches from people flashing camera lights onto Nero and Kyrie. Kyrie wears a dress similar to the one Vergil earlier picked for her, only a note whiter to the lace and silk and with a bodice that caresses her round front and reaches up to her slender neck. She wears orange and white flowers in her hair, the same flowers that decorate the aisles of the church.

The tune of the organ reaches its crescendo when they arrive, hand in hand, at the smiling priest. Nero hastily hands the ring to Nico, his combined best man and bridesmaid, who grins and winks with a thumbs up. She’s wearing her cowboy boots to a purple dress that is ill-fitting to her form but fitting for the occasion.

Vergil checks his impulse to roll his eyes.

The ceremony begins with the traditional words from the priest, fitting verses of love and devotion coupled with recitation from the holy scripture.

“The bridal couple has made a wish to recite a few words of their own.”

The priest smiles; a net of jovial wrinkles spreads at her eyes. An anticipatory silence settles in the church.

Nero and Kyrie face each other, hands interlocked.

“Nero,” Kyrie says with a radiant smile. The tone of her voice is strong enough to resonate through the room.

“Despite growing up as an orphan, I’ve always felt surrounded by love. For long, I took that love for granted. Being loved and feeling safe was as natural to me as breathing air. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was a privilege, for many even an anomaly. You gave me that safety, Nero, that love. You and Credo.”

She makes a pause where she swallows forcibly. Nero squeezes her hands.

“I’ve always loved being me because I’ve been loved by you. Thank you for that gift, Nero. I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together, you, me, Julio and our little bean.”

Nero exhales in a low laugh. He lets go of one of her hands to scratch at his nose. He clears his throat, his ears shine red.

“Kyrie.” Nero’s hand twitch as if he wanted to rub at his neck. “You know I’ve never been good with words. But someone I once met was. He often recited this poem: ‘I curse my stars in bitter grief and woe, that made my love so high and me so low.’ It resonated with me because, for the longest time, I didn’t think I could have a chance with you.”

A low rumble of laughter spreads among the spectators. Kyrie smiles with a glitter in her eyes.

“You were like an angel - you are an angel, and I’m just a guy with a - what I thought was a serious handicap.”

Kyrie caresses the knuckles of his new hand with her thumbs.

“You’re my home, Kyrie. My everything. We’ve been through a lot, you and I,” Nero swallows from emotion. “I’m proud of myself for being someone you love. I’m proud of us. I can’t wait either, for our life together. I know it’ll last until the end of our days.”

The couple smile at each other, both teary-eyed, and turn back to the priest. She asks them to recite the traditional vows.

Vergil is numb with stupefaction. His son quoted his book - him, in a way - on his wedding. Vergil tossed the book to Nero in an arrogant impulse with the motive to make his son grow and become refined, like him. Behind the arrogance lay a genuine wish for Nero to see his perspective, to understand him better.

He’s overcome by the sweet realization that a decision of his has resulted in a good outcome. It’s a rare sensation.

Mary lifts a hand to her face to wipe away a tear.

“Those kids keep impressing me,” she whispers thickly with a short laugh and takes a pic with her phone.

The priest signals to Nico. She saunters to the couple and hands them the rings with a grin. To Vergil’s surprise, tears also glitter in her eyes.

With shaking hands, Nero slides his ring onto Kyrie’s finger. She has pretty, pink nail polish on her manicured nails. With less tremble, she slides the golden ring onto Nero’s finger, the wedding ring of Vergil’s and Dante’s father, Sparda. It fits perfectly.

“I now pronounce you man and wife! You may kiss the bride!”

Nero follows the instruction of the priest with zeal. He lifts his wife by the midriff and spins her around while pressing his lips to hers.

“Jackpot!” Dante cheers and applauds, ignoring the icy glare he receives from his brother.

*

Kyrie makes a happy squeak when she, hand in hand with Julio and Nero by her side, enters the banquet hall of the restaurant next to the church. The edifice is an old barn reworked into a modern part of the museum complex, renovated to keep its rustique interior. Delicate white fabrics hang from the oak beams that traverse the high ceiling, together with cords of small lamps that shine like stars, entwining the wooden pillars of the roof. Round tables covered in crisp linen cloths fill the rest of the room, each with a vase of wildflowers on top. Waiters in suits greet the guests by the entrance by handing out glasses of champagne.

Kyrie turns to embrace Mary with a breathless ‘thank you’. Mary returns the hug with pride. She wasn’t alone in decorating the restaurant for the wedding; Vergil helped her with suggestions on everything to location, placement of guests, and choice of flowers, but she did make a lot of effort into the planning. Trish helped choose the menu. Dante mostly rolled his eyes and avoided any involvement, except for his suggestion to give a concert with his electric guitar. Vergil threatened to pin Dante to the wall of the church with the Yamato and leave him hanging if he so much as strummed a single chord at the reception. His brother snickered in response.

They planned the reception with Kyrie’s modest taste in mind, knowing whatever made her happy would also make Nero happy.

The dinner passes in a pleasant atmosphere. The guests devour the salted tenderloin carpaccio and roasted quail while smiling into their wine glasses. The wedding cake is a five-story pastry covered in white marzipan and orange, sugary roses. A replica of the couple parades on top of the cake, only, a teenage mutant hero turtle figure stands next to Kyrie's figurine. Julio’s prank makes everyone chuckle; Nico laughs so hard her glasses fall to the floor.

“Hey,” Nero snorts and rubs his fist in Julio's hair, “that’s Raphael! Everyone knows I’d be Leonardo.”

After Kyrie and Nero cut the wedding cake, the guests relax and changes their seating, chatting amongst each other. The air resonates with their happy cachinnation and the clinks of teaspoons in porcelain cups.

Mary seizes Kyrie at an opportune moment and hands her a gift wrapped in a shiny paper. Kyrie accepts with large eyes.

“We told you, no gifts!”

She rips the paper off while biting her lip, a spark in her eyes.

“Oh, Mary….”

Kyrie caresses the 9mm Luger handgun with her fingertips, outlining the engraved, squiggly letters of her name on the silvery body.

“It’s light in weight and easy to tear down and reassemble. Plus, it looks good.”

“It’s beautiful! Thank you!”

Kyrie embraces Mary. She lets go with an excited squeak.

“I have to show Nero!”

Lifting her billowy skirts, she flits over to her husband on the other side of the room. He nods in a tight-lipped smile that tells Mary he’s trying his best to conceal his awkwardness over Kyrie’s newfound hobby.

At eight o’clock, the light of the room dims and a disco ball spins prisms on the section of the barn turned into a dance floor. Bryan Adam’s “Everything I do” plays. Flustered, with an air of having promised to do his best, Nero leads Kyrie to the dance floor. When the second song plays, more couples join them. Morrison offers his arm to a woman in a flowery dress, Nico makes an elegant bow before Trish who agrees with a cool smile. Dante is unwillingly dragged to the floor by Patty.

With a warm hand to the small of her back, Vergil smiles at Mary, a sly question in his eyes.

“You know I have two left feet,” she groans.

“Yes,” he says leads her out on the dancefloor. She grabs his shoulder, hand in his, and tries her best to follow. Cursing silently, she stumbles, unable to let go for him to lead.

The other night, Vergil showed her the basics of the waltz in their apartment. She stepped on his toes until she gave up and placed her feet on his, letting him guide her completely. Feeling like a fool, she leaned her head against his shoulder and listened to the beat of his heart. Enjoying the rhythm of his breath against her chest, she relaxed into the slow dance.

“You’re overthinking it,” he says, turning them around, “try to act the way you do when your fight. I’ve seen you kill enough demons to know you turn on the autopilot.”

“I’ve been killing demons since I was sixteen,” she sighs, “this is only the second time I’ve tried the waltz.”

“Think about how we spar together. Close your eyes. Trust me.”

Frowning, she does as he says. Like when they spar, they soon fall into a synced motion. Her legs gradually move in sync with his, her feet shuffle the floor to his rhythm. She follows a tune in her head, relaxing in Vergil’s arms. After a few seconds that feel longer than minutes, she opens her eyes and meets his gaze. He smiles in an affirmative nod.

They dance like they’ve done nothing else. He leads her in a predictable pattern she follows without thought. Struck by how active the role of being passive is, she allows him to set the pace and pattern to their bodies.

She inhales the scent of his aftershave and lets herself relax completely. People around send them appreciative glances.

At ten o’clock, most of the families with small children have retired. The more upbeat love songs from Mary’s playlist resonates from the speakers. The thinning crowd immediately responds by making happy gestures and exhaling tipsy squeals, moving in sync with the beat. Nero raises his arms in an enthusiastic dance move that makes Kyrie laugh with her hand over her mouth.

I’ll follow right down the river
Where the ocean meets the sky
to you, to you

Mary catches a glimpse of Vergil standing by the wall, observing the crowd. A burst of warmth flows through her at the sight of him, his tall frame, ashen hair and broad shoulders. His black bow tie and the elegant, dark suit fit him like a glove.

Her knees give in a little from the sight.

Only you, only you

It isn’t the tattooed man that kissed her by Nico’s van that appears to her eyes, nor of the demon lord on his throne. It’s a boy who once faced an army of demons and survived, afraid and alone, convinced the ones he loved and trusted had abandoned him.

That boy still lived inside Vergil, slowly learning he was never unwanted, never unloved.

Vergil catches Mary’s gaze with a smile and a head shake. Mary directs her gaze to where he’s looking and catches the sight of Dante flailing his limbs in an improvised choreography to the beat of the music. Beside him, Nico dances with no lesser zeal.

Mary smiles back and directs her attention to Trish who’s dancing with her, the hems of her elegant dress flowing along her slender legs. If Vergil doesn’t wish to dance, Mary won’t persuade him - you can’t lead a partner in this dance, after all. They can enjoy the night separately and come together later as it’s time to go home.

When the next song plays, Mary catches the sight of Kyrie approaching Vergil by the wall. A flower in her hair hangs down her temple; Kyrie pins it back onto the laurel on her head. She makes a face where she puffs up her glowing cheeks and smiles, stroking her belly. Vergil returns her smile in a soft, tight-lipped way that warms Mary’s heart. He cares for his son’s wife. Kyrie lifts her arms and embraces him. Vergil’s eyebrows bounce from surprise, but he hugs her back, awkwardly.

Trish arches an eyebrow at the scene.

Allowing herself to get lost in the music, Mary directs a glance to the tiny lamps above, twinkling like stars.

Half an hour later, Mary, Nico and Trish step outside the museum complex through a heavy door at the backside. Mary plats her back against the walls and shakes her head at Nico who’s offering her a cigarette. To her surprise, Trish accepts and leans close to Nico’s lighter.

“Trish!”

“What?” Trish raises a sharply plucked eyebrow, “I want to try. Lots of humans seem to enjoy it.”

“First of all,” Nico chuckles, “you lit the white part, not the orange part.”

She pulls the cigarette from Trish’s red lips, turns it, and puts it back.

Unfazed, Trish inhales. The tip of the cigarette glows. She exhales with a stiffened pose and pulls the cigarette from her mouth, pressing her lips together.

“Humans are a curious breed.” She makes a little cough, hand to her mouth.

Nico laughs. She peers at Mary through the smoke that whisks through her nostrils.

“So. Anniversary of the Qliphoth coming up, huh?”

Mary groans. She grazes a hand over her arm, dotted in goosebumps from the cool air. Nico adjusts her glasses and lifts her chin in a small movement.

“I take it yours and Kyrie’s petition didn’t win the call for how to commemorate it?”

“No. I guess we were naive for thinking the Mayor would listen to us. I still think we had a great idea. Planting a tree for every citizen killed by the Qliphoth would also be a symbol of the need to battle climate change.”

Trish pushes her unsmoked cigarette to the ground with her stiletto.

“Vergil’s still insists he wants to witness the ceremony?”

Mary nods, overcome by a wish she’d never stopped smoking as a teenager. A crunching sound has her prick her ears. On instinct, she reaches for the small gun at her thigh; Trish summons her sword a heartbeat later.

Nico unlocks her arms from her chest and stares into the eyes of a Riot, unfurling its long, blue tongue like a whip with a hiss. Another Riot approaches behind it, raising its claws to gleam in the dull rays of the moonlight.

“If you assholes think you’re going to ruin my best friend’s wedding,” Nico says through gritted teeth, “you’re dead wrong.”

“Actually, you’re just dead.”

Trish lunges at the demons. Her words are followed by gunshots muffled through a silencer, slashes of a demon sword and the shrieks of the Riots.

Chapter Text

You my despair and my strength
You took all the life I owned
and because you demanded everything
you gave back a thousandfold

- Karin Boye, To You

 

June 8th

Vergil shifts the gear of his car and steers towards Fortuna with a knot of anticipation in his guts. Nero called the day before, asking Vergil if he wished to “hang out”.

“I wanna show you a cool place,” Nero told him through the phone, “you’ll like it! Or at least I think you will.”

He managed to pique Vergil’s interest. What spot or place would his son find to be of his taste?

Nero meets him by the Fortuna city park, waving from the sidewalk. Vergil parks the car and greets him, amused by how Nero thought the Fortuna park was a place particularly suitable to his taste.

Not that Vergil disliked city parks. He’s happy to spend time with Nero no matter the location.

Nero pulls his earphones from his head with a smile. The sight sends a breeze of warmth through Vergil’s heart. Not long ago, he was afraid Nero would never meet him with anything but disdain.

“Hey,” Nero does a little nod, “how are you?”

“I’m well. How is married life?”

“It’s great,” Nero says with a blush that has Vergil stifling a snort, “so, I don’t know if you’ve been to the Japanese gardens in Fortuna before…”

Vergil closes the door to his car, his mind coming to a halt. Japanese gardens? That was something much more aligned with his person than an ordinary park.

“I haven’t.”

“Ok,” Nero grins, “they’re nice. C’mon, it’s about a ten minutes walk that way.”

He inclines his white-haired head, so like Vergil’s own, towards the entrance of the park.

A plain of beeches shrouds the gardens. Their silver-grey trunks tower over the leaf-filled floors, spotted by fuzzy peduncles. Before Vergil and Nero reach the gardens, the fresh scent of moss and water tells them of the coming sights. A pond, large like a lake and traversed by an arched bridge lay calm, surrounded by lush lawns and winding trees. Across the pond, a pavilion in Japanese style with its curved edges to the roof mirrors its posterior into the shallows where a pair of long-necked cranes honk their calling as they lift to the skies.

Vergil allows the serenity of the surroundings to permeate his being. The chirps of blackbirds and low murmurs of visitors sails pass and add to the calm of the gardens. Winds blow occasional shivers over the pond to make it look like wrinkled silk.

“This is a place I like. Thank you, Nero.”

Nero blushes. It’s delightful.

“Hey, look over there.”

Nero points to another pavilion further up the grassy slope.

“It’s a dojo. They teach Iaido there.”

Vergil’s heart skips a beat. Did his son show interest in the variant of swordsmanship Vergil revered and had honed throughout his life?

“It is an honourable technique.”

In a rush of excitement, Vergil adds,

“Would you like me to teach you some of the basics?”

“What, right now?”

“No,” Vergil says with a brief smile, “some other time.”

Nero returns the smile and shrugs.

“Yeah, why not? That’d be cool.”

Vergil is filled with intense pride. As a child, he read the teachings of Iaido and trained until he was a self-taught expert. Dante never took interest in the martial arts, often teased Vergil for being a dork. ‘Learning how to fight through books about philosophy - boring!’

The prospect of bonding with Nero, to teach him something like a father to son, it was all Vergil wanted. To be Nero’s role model in something, like Nero was to him.

Unlike Sparda, Vergil wouldn’t punish Nero for not being perfect, for not pushing his boundaries until he cracked. He’d allow Nero to learn according to his own wishes, as he was his own person, with his own knowledge and skill.

Nero nods towards the arched bridge.

“C’mon. They have fish in the pond that looks like small dragons.”

They step onto the wooden planks of the bridge, painted in a lively green. Underneath them, large carps swim through the stems of pond lilies, their fins like flowing shawls whisking behind them. A carp breaches the surface to mouth at a drowning fly. Behind the bridge, a small stream joins the pond through a ladder of stones in burbling shallows.

Nero leans against the railing with a frown. A passing cloud sends a shadow over his face.

“Look, Vergil, I’d like to know about my mom. Who was she?”

Vergil stiffens with a sensation of turning hot and cold. Of course, this conversation would come at some point. It was natural that Nero wished to know about his mother but Vergil had managed to repress the thought of her enough for the memories to disappear. His ears redden from unease.

“There is not much I can tell you. I’m sorry.”

“So, it was a one-night stand?”

Vergil checks the miserable groan that threatens to leave his throat.

During his adolescence, Vergil shunned every impulse towards sexual desire as a sign of the weak, human part of him. One day back at the mansion, he spotted a feature from a ridiculous space movie in a glossy magazine on Dante’s bed. He held his breath at a picture of a brunette in a golden bikini, strangling a gargantuan snail with a chain. The picture caused his pulse to spike and his groin to knot in a way he didn’t like. He threw the magazine in the fireplace of their parlour and got into a fight with Dante because of it.

To acknowledge sexual desire was to give in to the most basic of human needs, and Vergil spent the bulk of his life before his fall into hell struggling to cast his human side off.

During his visit to Fortuna and his investigation of the cult of his father, a woman approached him at the library where he perused a leather-covered tome. To his surprise, her advances enticed a spark of interest to simmer under his initial irritation. Admittingly, she managed to awaken a shard of vanity in him.

Vergil wasn’t sure what stopped his impulse to kill her when she coaxed him to follow her into a storage room. It was small and dust-filled, illuminated by a beam of moonlight shining from a small window to the roof. Perhaps it was curiosity. Perhaps it was the way he convinced himself he needed to know more of that he wished to shun to not let it frighten him.

It was over devastatingly quickly - he doubted he lasted for more than thirty seconds. He gritted his teeth in shame, knowing what they had done hardly could count as sex but rather of him emptying himself inside a human. He couldn’t muster enough care to apologize or reciprocate. Angered, disgusted, hot from shame, he stormed out of the room, ignoring her trembling request to know his name.

It was an awkward, humiliating experience. He wasn’t about to share that particular information with Nero.

“It was - well, yes, a brief encounter. We met at the library of the Order of the Sword when I was searching for information about my father. I left Fortuna the same night and I never met her again. Soon after, I raised the Temen-Ni-Gru and fell into the Netherworld.”

“What did she look like?”

Vergil pinches the bridge of his nose. Think. What did she look like? Did she have blue eyes?

A distinct memory rises from the murky banks of Vergil’s mind. Lilies of the valley reminded him of Mary; it had become his favourite scent. This woman carried the smell of mulberries.

It wasn’t a detail important enough to share with Nero.

“She was of average height. Slight build. I believe she was blond, but like the other members of the order, she was veiled. Remember that this was a long time ago.”

Nero grasps the railings of the bridge and pushes from it with arms fixated, staring into the pond.

“At the orphanage, they told me I was left outside the door in a basket with a note asking them to take care of me. My guess is that she left Fortuna after I was born. The zealots of the Brotherhood didn’t exactly look with kind eyes on pregnant, unmarried women.”

A splinter of pain rasps in Vergil at the thought of Nero as a baby, left behind, unknown by anyone.

“I often wonder how things would have been had I known about you.”

Nero re-leans his elbows against the railing, a raw expression to his face as if he’d thought the same thing.

“What do you think?”

An aching to his chest tells Vergil the knowledge of Nero’s existence wouldn’t have changed anything. He was too proud, too arrogant, too consumed by his will for power to care for anything else. He would have treated Nero like he treated Dante; with disdain for their inclination towards humanity, their weakness.

He wouldn’t have loved Nero for who he is. Like he deserves to be loved.

“Theorizing is pointless. We are here now. You are about to become a father yourself - of two.”

“Yeah. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

 

June 15th

On top of a five-story residential building near the crater, Mary and Vergil overlook the unveiling of the bronze statue depicting Odin’s sons Vidar and Váli. The ceremony solemnizes the anniversary of the Qliphoth.

Face unmoving, Vergil hardly blinks at the sight of the crowd gathering below. The sun is blissfully hidden behind a hovering blanket of grey skies and warm winds push against their bodies, carrying a briny scent of the ocean. A few gulls patrol the area in hope for scraps of food from the gathered mass, their squalls drowning most of the speech made by the new Mayor. Mary and Vergil catch the gist of it; of retaliation, of the need for strength, of protection from invading forces of malign creatures.

The depicted brothers from Norse mythology are a symbol of death and vengeance.

Mary abhors how the statue fuels the lingering anger of the inhabitants of Red Grave. The mayor should have arranged something that spoke of the need for moving on, for forgiveness and unity in grace. Seamus Do wasn't known for those virtues.

Vergil’s hand in her makes a small twitch. She raises her gaze to his to find that he is looking behind them, muscles tensed.

From the adjacent roof to the deck rises one of the Seraphels, it’s polymer armour glistening from a ray of sun escaping from a crack in the grey skies. With a wheezing, the guardian opens the plates in its arms and withdraws two attached blades, like that of a Fury. Two giant wings unfurl from its back.

The surprise and horror zing through Mary with such force it momentarily whitens her eyesight.

How did the Seraphel know - that they were on this roof, that Vergil was...

Vergil lets go of Mary’s hand and summons the Yamato.

She equips her silvered Glock 17-series and pushes the silencers on. The last thing they need is drawing attention from below, or attracting more Seraphels.

The robotic creature attacks Vergil without a word and with such agility any doubt Mary’s had about its demonic state is dissipated. No one moves with such speed but devils.

Vergil responds by unsheathing the Yamato and parrying the first blow from the Seraphel with his blade. More blows follow, countered by attacks by Vergil. It happens with such speed nothing but blue and white stripes of their motions are set to the clangs of steel and whisk of boots against the floor.

Frustrated, Mary hesitates to shoot, afraid she’ll hit Vergil if she does. A bead of sweat tickles her temple and a gust of wind blows a strand of her hair into her mouth. When Vergil staggers the Seraphel with a blow to the chest, she seizes the momentum and shoots.

Her eyes widen when the robotic demon’s armour absorb the bullets. The Seraphel doesn’t react when the blasts hit. She fires four more consecutive shots, each one melting into the plastic of the demon’s back and helmet. The surface of the armour shivers and returns unscathed.

It turns its unseeing eyes to her, hid under the white visor. She freezes, scrutinized by the cold plastic of its helmet and shadowed by its large wings.

Spectral swords hovering over his head like a spiked halo, Vergil slices one of the wings off with a downwards motion. The Seraphel stumbles. More rays of the sun break from the clouds and send prisms from the Yamato into the ground. With a graceful upwards slice, Vergil severs the other wing and pierces the demon’s chest with a crack, a shower of blood staining his leather pants. The Seraphel raises its hand. With a click, the plastic gauntlet releases and lands on Vergil’s right arm. The Seraphel drops to the floor with the last wheeze.

To Mary’s stupefaction, Vergil drops the Yamato and its scabbard. Gritting his teeth, he pulls at the hand attached to his arm, bends forwards. Mary runs towards him at the distinct crunch of bones breaking from underneath it. Vergil groans in pain. In vain, she pulls at the strange polymer form melting like hot glass and spreading along Vergil’s arm, slowly taking over his limb one inch at a time.

When he grows increasingly pale, she calls Nico.

*

The code pad to the lab tweets when Mary holds her key card to it and presses the cross-formed number code to get in. Behind her, Nico and Nero half-carries, half-pushes Vergil forwards, each of his arm on their shoulders. The bulk of his weight rests on Nero whose forehead is glistening with sweat. He’s holding the Yamato in his hand.

The molten plastic reaches to Vergil’s elbow. He’s delirious with pain, head slouching to his chest, a bright stream of blood flowing down his fingers.

Nero grits his teeth, placing Vergil on the floor, his back resting against the walls and facing Mary.

“Are you going to tell us why we’re here?”

Nico wipes her forehead and glances around at the sterile instruments and machines in the lab. An unforgiving light from the fluorescent lamps above illuminates the sterile room.

“Whoa. This place is cool.”

“Don’t touch anything.” Mary runs to the other side of the room and presses another code to an adjacent lab. Her heart is beating wildly and her fingers tremble enough for her to miss the digits on the first try.

Vergil groans. The molten polymer inches its way on his arm, eating it.

“Hold on,” Nero says through gritted teeth, “Mary’s going to help you.” He casts a scowling gaze towards the door where she disappeared. “I hope,” he adds silently.

“Nero,” Vergil inhales in his best effort to speak, “if it reaches my chest - if it -”

“It won’t,” Nero tugs at the plastic as he did back in the van during the ride to uni, “we’ll get this thing off -”

“Nero, listen. It will change me. Make me into one of those things - I can feel it. Take the Yamato. Cut my arm off.”

Nero stares at his father, his Adam's apple bobbing.

“Nero, please. I lived for years as a mindless slave. Don’t let it happen again.”

Nico stares at him, lips parted in an expression of fear.

Eyes wide, Nero reaches for the sword by his side. His hand tremble.

Mary slides her staff card into the reader on the fridge where she keeps her experiments. The hatchlings rest inside, packed in neat plastic cartons filled with different crops. She’s successfully cloned several larvae from the hatchling she found in the crater, small babies in comparison. Where the first specimen was as large as her underarm, her clones are no longer than her thumb. It’ll have to do. She grabs one by the back, causing it to make a surprised squeak. The hatchling lets go of the carrot it was resting on and flails its little tentacles. Closing the door with a hiss, Mary dashes towards the other room.

She has no idea if her plan will work. There isn’t any time for hesitation.

The sight in the open space of the lab has the heart in her chest stuttering. With the Yamato in his hands, Nero raises the swords at Vergil, still on the floor. Vergil is holding his infested arm towards his son, shadowed by Nico who’s witnessing the scene with her hands over her mouth.

“Stop!”

Nero freezes. Vergil sends her a bloodshot gaze and Nico lowers her hands from her face.

“Mary,” Vergil pushes through his teeth, “this might be the only thing -”

“Not until we try this first.”

In the muddled panic in her mind, there is no other alternative. It has to be right.

She places the tiny hatchling onto the white polymer spreading on Vergil’s arm. It reaches for the surface by extending its tentacle-like limbs and grabs hold with a small screech.

At first, nothing happens. A crack erupts from the glass-like plastic; Mary fears it’s another of Vergil’s bones but soon a pattern like ripped paper erupts from the hatchling. With a brittle sound, the casket shatters in thousands of glistening pieces thudding against the floor and lands in the patch of blood beneath Vergil’s arm. The Nidhogg hatchling emits a startled screech.

Mary exhales in relief, Nero and Nico gasp. At the sight of Vergil’s arm, Mary flings to her knees. The skin is ruptured to the verge of melted, an ooze of burnt skin raises in the air. Nico scrunches her nose. His bones are broken in several places and his hand has gained a sickly, purple shade.

“Fuck,” Nero runs his hand through his hair, “are you ok?”

“I will be,” Vergil answers with a groan and stands on his feet with the help of Mary. On an instant, his skin rebuilds and his bones regenerate with cracks that grates her ears, like a puzzle finding its pieces. After a few minutes, the bluish tint to his hand pales to his normal skin tone. Tentatively, he clenches and unclenches his fist and directs his gaze to the Yamato.

Nero hands it to him.

“What was that robot thing? Was it the same creature that scared Kyrie?”

“Yes. They are called Seraphels. They are demons trapped inside an unusual form of armour, like plastic.”

“We saw them at Ghogiel enterprise!” Mary turns a worried gaze to Vergil. “The real one - it must have hidden somewhere? Or was it even there?”

Nero turns to Mary, brows furrowed in worry and confusion.

“That thing you put on his arm - it was a Nidhogg, wasn’t it?”

“In a way,” Mary answers, “I combined the DNA of the Nidhogg hatchling I found by the crater with a common fungi. I call these Sefirots.”

Mary bends to scrutinize a piece of the shattered, parasitical polymer. “This is not plastic. It’s organic, alive. I’ll need to study it.”

Nico crouches and grabs a piece.

“Awesome! Can I take one?”

“Take as many as you want.” Mary raises onto her feet, sending a worried glance to the corridor outside. “But make it quick. We need to clean this mess and get out of here before the security guards do their rounds.”

Nico grins and grabs another large piece of the polymer.

Mary picks up the little Sefirot hatchling.

“You’re going back to the box, little one.”

The hatchling responds with a squeak.

*

Back at their apartment, Mary marches to her brick wall of weapons and rips two k-pists from their hooks. She throws her empty Glocks on the floor and pushes the k-pists into her weapon belt.

“Mary,” Vergil frowns as she reaches for the Kalina Ann, “what are you doing?”

“I have a few questions for Mayor Do.”

He grabs the rocket launcher from her hands.

“You can’t go to Ghogiel Enterprises armed to your teeth. Do will simply deny everything and have you incarcerated. You’ll risk your entire career.”

She stares into his eyes. Her eyebrows are knitted but her throat moves in a forceful gulp. He places a hand on her arm.

“What you’re doing at the university - it’s too important. I can let you throw it away because of this.”

Mary heaves her chest in a shuddering sigh. She doesn’t protest when he hangs the Kalina Ann back onto its hooks.

“I don’t understand. Neither of us felt any demonic presence in his labs. What was that thing?”

“This Seraphel belonged to Mundus. He had several statuses similar to the Seraphels parading his temple in the Netherworld.”

She narrows her eyes. His heart does a little cramp at the hurt in them.

“Why haven’t you told me?”

He doesn’t reply. The old habit of being alone, surviving alone, kicks in with such force it has him clenching his fists.

She takes a step closer, close enough for him to feel the scent of lilies on her skin.

“What are we going to do?”

I, not you. Not you. I’m not risking your life.

Vergil doesn’t voice his thoughts, knowing it will hurt her.

“I need to talk to Dante. Only -”

“What?”

“I tried to speak to him after the first time I encountered the Seraphel’s. He merely scoffed at me.”

Both jerk their heads to Vergil’s phone that buzzes on top of the kitchen counter. The lit screen blares the letters ‘NERO’ into the room. They hold their breaths as the gadget dances on the marble surface.

Vergil marches over to the counter and picks up the phone. He presses the green icon.

“Nero?”

“It’s happening! The baby’s coming! Nico’s driving us to the hospital!”

Vergil’s blood rushes from his head to his feet.

“I - I thought Kyrie wasn’t due until another three weeks.“

Mary approaches, her palms pressed together to touch her lips. Her eyes are wide.

“Tell that to the baby!” A moan of pain is heard behind Nero, distinctively from Kyrie.

Vergil’s heart did not beat this fast during his fight with the Seraphel.

“Please call us if you need anything. Ok?”

“Ok, yeah!”

Nero sounds out of breath as if he’s no nervous he’s forgotten how his lungs function.

“Good luck.”

“Thanks, we’ll keep in touch!”

“Yes,” Vergil confirms but Nero has clicked the call off.

“Holy crap,” Mary says in an exhale, “it’s happening.”

On the inside, Vergil feels as stupefied as she looks. They meet in an embrace.

“How long do these things take?”

Vergil seconds the lack of knowledge into the finer details of childbirth.

“Twenty-four hours? I don’t know.”

Mary smiles with an incredulous shake to the head.

“I guess all we can do is wait.”

Chapter Text

The more souls there are above who are in love
the more there are worth loving; love grows more,
each soul a mirror mutually mirroring
- Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto XV: 75

 

June 16th

Vergil has never experienced time move as slowly as it does the twenty-one hours it takes before they are reached by any news from the hospital. Mary goes to work and comes back in the evening, met with no more information than in the morning.

Vergil paces in their living room, skin prickling with nervousness. He stops at the sight of Mary fetching spinach, cottage cheese and shredded cheese, tomato sauce, lasagna plates and walnuts from the fridge.

“What are you doing?”

“Lasagna.”

Her eyebrows shoot in the air at his sceptical look.

“What?” She raises her hands in an attempt at an unfazed gesture but fails to stop the blush on her cheeks. “I have a recipe! You shouldn’t have to cook tonight, you’ve got better things on your mind.”

“We could call for take-away.”

She rolls her eyes and grabs a bowl and a wooden spoon.

“I’m an adult, I need to learn how to cook someday. Why not today?”

“Do you need help?”

“No. I can manage on my own.”

“Ok,” he says with a snort, “only, you should start by turning the oven on.”

She darts an unsure glance at the oven and presses a button to turn it on.

“I knew that.”

“Do you know what temperature -“

She picks up a kitchen towel and throws it at him. He cowers with a snicker.

For the next hour and a half, he sits with a book in his lap, unable to concentrate. He sends repeated, inquisitive glances to his phone. At times, he turns to cast a curious gaze at Mary but she squints at him in a threatening fashion each time. He chuckles and returns to his book.

His heart skips a beat when his phone emits a ping. A message from Nero. Vergil picks the phone up and stands to call Mary who scurries to his side.

She’s here! Say hi to Faith!

A photo appears under the text message. Two tiny hands, clasped into fists, enclose a little face, red and a bit swollen at the eyes. The baby’s mouth is open and a soft fuzz of ashen hair covers the top of her head. A blue blanket with a pattern made of small Winnie the Pooh’s covers her little body.

Vergil is acutely aware of his corporeality; his breath moving through his lungs, his blood flowing through his veins and pulsating through his heart, the sense of the floor against the soles of his shoes, the tendons in his hands holding the phone.

Mary directs a smiling gaze from the screen to his face and back.

“She’s beautiful. Look; she has your mouth.”

Vergil lets out a breath. The baby resembles Nero so much it was comical – the nose, the ears, the colour of her hair. She’s her father’s little doppelgänger.

Had Nero resembled him as an infant?

With clumsy fingers, he types the words ‘She’s beautiful’ on the screen and presses send.

Come and visit us tomorrow, another message from Nero arrives soon, the visiting hours are between 10 am and 2 pm.

“I’m supervising my last students for the term those hours,” Mary sighs in disappointment, “tell Nero and Kyrie congratulations for me. Are you supposed to bring flowers?”

Vergil doesn’t reply. He lifts his gaze from the phone, nostrils flaring at a faint smell of - something burning.

Mary’s eyes go large at his expression and turn to the kitchen.

“Oh, shit!” She wails and sprints towards the smoking oven.

*

Vergil scowls at his brother who’s approaching on his bike with a motor growl. Dante’s red coat flap behind him and dust and demon mucus speck his black boots. He parks outside the entrance to the maternity ward with a wide grin.

“Congratulations, brother! You’re a grandpa! Finally, a title appropriate for your general grumpiness and ancient vocabulary!”

“Dante,” Vergil hisses, “you can’t walk into a hospital armed to your teeth.”

He cocks his head towards Dante’s holster and the engraved Ebony and Ivory inside.

“Ah, yeah,” Dante admits, equips his guns and de-summons them, leaving a few specks of black remaining from their physical form.

They enter the sliding doors that open for them with a sucking hiss.

“You should wash your hands before you meet her. Infants are vulnerable to infections –“

Dante rolls his eyes.

“Ok, Florence Nightingale.”

Vergil clenches his jaw but to his surprise, Dante acquiesces and makes a short pause to slide into the men’s restrooms. When he returns, he holds up his clean hands, palms first.

“Happy? Where do we find them?”

They search around for signs to direct them when Nero appears from a corridor to their left. He has dark strands under his eyes and a tired but happy grin on his face.

He greets and hugs them both, accepting their congratulations with a tired blush. Vergil stifles his impulse to hold on to his son in a lingering embrace.

"How is Kyrie? The baby?"

“They're good, they’re both sleeping. God knows Kyrie needs it, well, both of them.”

Nero does a small embarrassed smile.

“So, here’s the thing. The nurses say only close family members can visit; Nico and Julio were here earlier and only Julio was allowed in. It means…”

“It means I stay put. It’s ok!” Dante says, “I’ll get a coffee by the cafeteria over there." He points to the end of the corridor. "No problem.”

“What we can do is we’ll go and fetch her, and take her to the cafeteria so you can meet her -“

“Nah,” Dante adds, “I’ve heard infants are vulnerable to infections.”

He winks at Vergil.

“It’s ok, we’re at a hospital,” Nero responds with a lopsided smile.

Dante shrugs a jovial “ok” and leaves for the cafeteria.

“They’re over here, in this corridor.” Nero gestures at Vergil.

His muscles strangely transformed to wood, Vergil follows.

“Was the delivery… Satisfactory - I mean -”

“It was great!” Nero grins. “Well, I was useless. Never felt more like dead weight in my life. Kyrie was amazing! She was in so much pain but still happy. ‘I’m working towards a miracle’, she said.”

Nero makes a face of bashfulness and pride. The smile dies. He lowers his gaze to Vergil’s arm.

“Hey, are you ok?”

Vergil confirms with a zing of surprise. He has completely forgotten the incident with the Seraphel.

They reach a sofa outside a room where Kyrie shares her room with another newborn child and mother. Vergil takes a seat, waiting for Nero to return. When he does, he has a bundle in his arms wrapped in the Winnie the Pooh blanket. He gently closes the door behind him with a click.

“Kyrie’s still asleep. Say hi to little Faith,” Nero whispers. He sits beside Vergil and gingerly hands him the baby.

Stupefied, Vergil accepts the bundle into his hands, trying his best to copy the way Nero held her. Within a minute, his arms accommodate her own their own, forming a protective loop. His body instinctively shields her.

Little Faith sleeps with a pacifier in her mouth. Her little eyelashes are thick and her round cheeks glow with a soft light. A curious scent whiffs from her little form; warm, spicy and - new.

Unable to resurface from his numb instinct to protect her, Vergil stares into her tiny face. Time slows down and speeds up in a confusing mix of intense now. She's so light in his arms yet its the most significant weight he's ever held.

“She is a miracle.”

Nero swallows in an audible gulp.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he mumbles.

Vergil’s lungs constrict to make it hard to breathe. A year ago, his son didn’t want anything to do with him. At this moment, he’s trusting Vergil enough to let him hold his newborn daughter.

“Nero,” he says, voice thick and eyes stinging, “I’m sorry –“

“Yeah, I know.” Nero’s eyes are glossy, he directs his gaze to the wall. “I haven’t slept in two days and I’m a bit emotional as it is, so – another time?”

“Another time.”

Vergil nods curtly and redirects his gaze to the baby in his arms. Her little chest heaves and sinks in a peaceful rhythm. It’s all that matters in the world.

“How about we let her great-uncle meet her, huh?”

Vergil nods, gaze still fastened on his grandchild and his heart transformed into a fuzzy prune. He smiles crookedly at Nero's words.

“Dante’s going to hate that epithet.”

*

Inside Dante’s shop, Trish bites into her lip. She’s listening to Mary recounting the happenings on the memorial with a quickening pulse and an increasing clammy sensation to her palms. The leather of her bodice strain against her deep gulps of air.

“Could he be right?” Mary’s gaze moves in a way that is telling of her worry. Trish has always loved how the forest shade in Mary’s right eye deepened the mahogany tint of her left eye.

“Yes. The Seraphel could be sent by Mundus. Vergil told me he suspected it the first time he encountered them.”

“He told you - why won’t anyone speak to me about what’s happening!” Mary pulls her lips back in a pained expression.

“I thought he had.”

“What the fuck does this mean?”

Mary’s voice tremble.

Trish is once again struck by how her friend has changed since he fell for Vergil. The range of her emotions has stretched and deepened, her capability for joy, love… also, for fear and hurt.

“I’m not sure. I told you I never understood the Dark Lord’s actions towards Vergil. But he always enjoyed instilling fear and doubt in his enemies. My guess is… Mundus wants Vergil to know he’s still alive.”

Mary starts pacing, arms folded on her front.

“I want to know what the Mayor has to do with this. What’s his role?”

“He’s likely under some kind of spell. Perhaps taken over by a demon.”

“No,” Mary shakes her head, “I would have felt it. Vergil would have felt it.”

Trish follows her with her gaze, repressing the glint of pain in her chest.

“We have to wait, to prepare and be ready. Mundus won’t attack right away, perhaps not even for a long time. He enjoys the torture of making people sit on needles.”

Mary gives her such a naked gaze Trish digs her nails into the veneer of the desk.

“I can’t make any decisions over Vergil’s head. This is his fight, I just… I feel powerless. There’s got to be something I can do.”

“Well, can you blame him if there are other things on his mind right now?

Trish is rewarded with a smile and another shake to Mary’s head. They both imagine Vergil at the hospital, meeting his granddaughter for the first time.

Mary sits beside her on the desk and emits a sigh.

“I guess I can’t. I just hate this... Stalemate.”

"You are doing something," Trish says, "those insects you cultivate in your lab? What did you call them again? They're something."

"Yeah." Mary gains a hard expression. "The Sefirots. If any of those winged Seraphel bastards try to kill Vergil again, they're in for a surprise."

Chapter Text

You sons of Eve!
- Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto XII: 72

 

August 21st

A light rain drizzles over the dry ground, sending whiffs of dust like small eruptions from each fallen drop. Geese honk their greetings above, flying in a v formation towards the south. From an opening in the sky, the early autumn sun casts a ray of light onto a battle of brothers.

Vergil musters the courage to speak to Dante about the Seraphel and his suspicion it was sent by Mundus. He counters Dante’s inelegant slash from his devil sword with the sheathed Yamato when his phone buzzes in the pocket of his coat. Distracted, he steps to the side, leaving his brother hanging in the air from his next attack. Dante’s eyes pop wide open in surprise. He crashes onto the ground with a curse.

Clutching his jaw, Dante rises to his feet.

“Hey, I thought I told you to turn that off while we’re sparring -”

“Quiet.”

Call me Kyrie hospital

With a worried frown, Vergil taps the screen of his phone and lifts it to his ear.

“Nero? I received your message. What’s wrong?”

His son’s voice resonates in a high tone of fright on the other line.

“We’re not sure. She was bleeding and passed out. Listen. Nico’s with Faith and Julio in the house. He’s pretty upset. I’d like Nico to take him away from the house for a couple of hours and I need you to take care of Faith. Can you bring Mary? Please.”

An icy flash of fear runs through Vergil’s spine and makes the skin on his neck prickle. He’s unsure whether the reaction stems from the news of Kyrie or the prospect of taking care of Faith without her parents being present.

“I’ll do what I can. Mary’s at work, I’ll call her and - I’ll go right away.”

Nero’s voice softens from relief.

“Thanks. It means a lot. Everything you need is at home; diapers, formula, wet wipes, pacifiers... Please, hurry.”

“I will. Call when you have any news.”

“Ok. Thanks… Dad.”

Nero hangs up. Vergil freezes at the word he has longed for Nero to utter ever since he returned from hell.

He must not fail Nero now.

“Hey, Verge.” His brother places a dusty hand on his shoulder. “I heard every word of that. C’mon, let's get your ride and go.”

“You’re coming with me?”

Dante cocks his head in mock indignation.

“Hell yeah! She’s my grand-niece. Besides, I’m good with kids!”

Vergil nods, striding towards his car in hasted steps. Dante did take care of that girl Patty, but did he know anything about infants? He lifts his phone to call Mary. In his agitation, he accidentally calls the number to Mei’s Place, their favourite Chinese restaurant, and hangs up with a curse. The dial tone to Mary toots as he and Dante reaches the car.

No answer. He exhales another curse.

“Hey,” Dante taunts with a grin, “gimme the keys and I’ll drive while you fiddle with your phone. Goddamn Vergil, why do you still have key sound on, like some old goof?”

“You use an analogue phone!”

Vergil scowls at his brother but halts any further retort. He needs to find Mary. Face turned to his phone, he throws the car keys to his brother and rounds the body of the car to open the door to the passenger side.

“Woo!” Dante whistles, “she’s a beauty.”

Twisting the key and flooring the pedal, Dante accelerates the Ferrari, tires screeching. Vergil’s insides rush to his throat from the propulsion. He drops his phone onto his lap.

“Dante, for crying out loud -”

Regrasping the screen, he taps a message to Mary, attempting to summarize what Nero had told him. She ought to be on her way home. Perhaps she was helping some student with questions on the love life of mushrooms or some other botanical issue - it wouldn't be the first time.

Burning a rubber trail on the asphalt, Dante steers towards Fortuna.

When they reach the house, Dante parks the car by Nico’s van (if screeching the wheels to a stop can be called ‘parking’). The two brothers march inside.

“Well if it isn’t the brother’s Dalton,” Nico greets them. Despite her normal air of witticism, Nico is pale. She’s holding little Faith on her arm. Julio’s beside her, his eyes red from tears.

“Heya,” Dante greets, “Everything’s alright?”

The bottom lip of the boy quivers.

“The ambulance came for Kyrie...”

Dante squats before the boy, placing a reassuring hand on his arm.

“That’s right kiddo, and the doctors are going to take good care of her. She’s going to come back to you real soon. Don’t you worry.”

“Dante’s right,” Vergil adds, his heart bleeding, “be brave, son.”

Julio nods and wipes at his eyes. To Vergil’s surprise, the boy wraps his arms around his midriff, pressing his wet cheek against the ribbed pattern of his vest.

Vergil returns the embrace, stroking the boy’s hair with a bright sensation of pride to be someone Julio trusts enough to seek solace in.

Nico places a hand on Julio's shoulder and leans down to his level, the strands of her frizzy hair falling into her face.

“Let’s go for a ride, cowboy. I’ll let you hold a firearm. Unloaded,” she adds at Vergil’s pointed eye cast and adjusts her glasses. “What? I held my first gun when I was three!”

A grin replaces the boy’s worried expression.

“Oh boy! I just need to p - I mean, go to the toilet.”

Nico tightens her grasp on his shoulders.

“Go in the van. It’s for the best.”

Unceremoniously, she hands Vergil the baby.

Faith scrunches her little face, squints her eyes, and wails.

“Don’t worry cowboys,” Nico assures before she and Julio leaves, “you’ll be fine!”

After she’s closed the door of her van with the boy inside, she returns with a serious expression on her face and speaks in a low tone not to be overheard.

“I cleaned most of the mess in the bathroom. If you find any more blood, remove it before Julio and I get back. We won’t be long, this is just to cheer him up a bit.”

Dante salutes in response.

Standing rooted to the spot with the crying baby in an awkward position on his arm, Vergil stares at the door to the house after Nico shuts it.

“Hey, hey…”

Dante’s attempts at soothing Faith falls flat. She is inconsolable.

“What if you bounce her a little bit? You know, like mom used to do?”

A flash of pain runs through Vergil’s chest at those words. Stiffly, he moves his arms up and down in careful nods.

Faith continues her wailing.

Dante’s eyes light up at something on a chair by the wall.

“Hey! Try this on. It’s one of those baby carriers. I bet she’ll like that.”

Confused, Vergil stares at the black device, it’s many straps like a labyrinth. His guts burn from the intense sensation of incompetence. What did he do to deserve this?

Well, besides almost destroying the human world twice?

“Right.”

Vergil hands Dante the baby and discards his coat. It takes them a good ten minutes to figure out the clasps and to adjust the straps before Faith is fastened face to chest in the carrier on Vergil’s torso.

It works. She whimpers but ceases her crying. Dante gives granddaughter and grandfather a thumbs up.

Vergil is overcome by a mix of relief and mortification. Why did he abandon hell again? Hacking and slashing demons was as simple as ABC in comparison to this.

On a sudden, Faith tenses and lets out a tiny grunt. Vergil frowns at an emerging odour.

“Um, Dante, I believe she has…”

Dante scrunches his nose and waves his hand in front of his face.

“Been cuttin’ some plums! Well, good for her! That’s probably why she was angry; I know I am when I -”

“Spare me. What do we do?”

“Change her diaper, of course.”

A drop of sweat gathers at Vergil’s temple.

“Of course. The required items for change are in the restroom?”

“I sure hope so!” Dante grins. “They best not be changing shitty diapers in the kitchen!”

Vergil swallows his bite back and heads towards the bathroom, little Faith still wailing in the carrier strapped to his chest. A remaining, faint smell of blood reaches his senses. A ruby droplet rests on the floor by the toilet.

He locates a small mattress on top of a table that looks dangerously rickety. Ikea. Why won’t they let him pay for proper equipment? The angered thought does not dissipate the knot of nervousness in his guts.

Who knew the sound of a crying child could be so stressful? Vergil has an impulse to tear something apart, but that will only make things worse.

He must not fail Nero; he promised.

Carefully, he unfastens the hooks on the carrier to enable him to lift Faith out and freezes. Holding her in her tiny armpits, his fingers press into something wet and sticky. Turning her, his suspicion is confirmed.

“Dante!”

The smell is like nothing he has experienced before, and he once sat on a throne of blood.

His brother peeks inside, grey tresses covering his eyes.

“Yup?”

“She has… soiled herself… all the way up on her back.”

To Vergil’s great irritation, Dante throws his head back in a guffaw.

“She really needed to go! Well, we best bathe her. Let's rinse her first. Here, I’ll make sure the water is nice and warm.”

Faith is still wailing, tears glistening in her eyes.

Supporting the back of her head, Vergil carefully pulls the tiny, blue pants from her little legs (those toes! how can something be so small?) and peels the white body patterned with pink hearts off her torso. Off goes the diaper. His ambitions to not getting his hands dirty is futile but he needs to focus on her. A shudder runs along the skin of his back.

“Here.”

Dante stands by the bathtub, water sprinkling from the shower nozzle. He tweaks his fingers to state he wants Vergil to approach with the baby, smiling as if he’s done nothing but removing poop from infants all his life.

“Make sure the water isn’t hot or cold.”

“It’s slightly warmer than my skin.”

“The pressure must be -”

“Ok, Mr grandpa of the year! Let’s clean her up.”

With utmost care, Vergil holds Faith one hand on the back of her head and one hand holding her little buttocks. Slowly sinking her closer to the water, he tenses his muscles to steady her. With equal care, Dante pours lukewarm water from the nozzle onto her body. Stained water swivels down the well of the tub.

Faith's little red face relaxes. Her wail ceases with a few, hitching breaths. When Dante moves the slow spray of the waters up and down her body, her gaze turns inwards.

“See?” Dante says softly, “She likes it.”

Hands warm and soaked, still holding her, Vergil is overcome by utter relief. He has an adrenaline rush soaring through his veins stronger than when fighting Dante in their demon form.

She likes it. She isn’t in pain or frightened. Above all, she isn’t screaming anymore. Stupefied and warm inside, he observes his granddaughter’s little face, her chubby arms, the little tuft of white hair on her head.

She’s beautiful.

“We should let her bathe if she likes water? The sink is big enough!”

Vergil casts his brother a worried gaze.

“Do you think it’s safe?”

Dante smiles a crooked grin.

“Yeah, of course! Don’t you remember how mother showed us pictures of us bathing when we were Faith’s age? Or maybe we were a little older, but still!”

A rush of pain makes Vergil’s heart constrict. He did indeed remember such pictures. Did their father take them?

“Do you mind taking her while I wash my hands and rinse her clothes? Where to put the diaper..? Ah.”

Vergil locates the bin. Dante kills the water from the nozzle and takes Faith. She accepts without a sound. While he fills the zink with more lukewarm water, Vergil rinses her clothes and places them in a plastic bag. He carefully washes his hands with several dabs of soap in the tub.

“Hey,” Dante calls from the sink, “She likes this even better.”

Vergil takes the two steps needed to reach his brother. Dante’s placed Faith in the water, supporting her neck and letting a soft drizzle from the tap caress her body. She swings her hand and kicks her little foot, splashing a few drops on Dante’s nose.

“Hey! Little rascal,” he chuckles.

Vergil has a sensation of cotton candy replacing his insides. On a whim, he recites William Blake.

What shall I call thee?
I happy am,
Joy is my name.'
Sweet joy befall thee!

“Yeah, yeah, Shakespeare,” Dante coos in a way so like Griffon’s Vergil is momentarily struck by an intense loss for the rude bird. Griffon would have lost half his plumage from falling over with amusement at this scene.

The two brothers smile at the baby while she kicks her little legs and splashes more droplets on their fronts. She emits a tiny squeak of contentment.

“We handled this situation quite well, brother,” Vergil remarks woodenly.

Dante snorts.

“Even better than that time we blasted Arkham to pieces!”

A wave of regret steals the air from Vergil’s lungs. The memory of them fighting together in perfect sync is something he treasured beyond words, but the aftermath... He aches like he’s taken a bullet to the chest.

“I’m only sorry we didn’t kill him. That we - that I - left that burden on Mary.”

“Believe me, if we had killed her father, she would have hated us for it. It was her family business. It might have been a burden, but it was hers to bear.”

“The logic of a child full of pain and hatred. It should have been me.”

“Maybe.” Dante shrugs. “Regrets are pretty useless, though. They don’t change the past.”

Vergil agreed. There was a difference between acknowledging and wallowing in past mistakes. His brother wasn’t all hare-brained.

Dante indicates towards the towel rack with a jerk to the head.

“I think that’s enough. Get her a towel will you?”

Vergil does as he says, words burning on his tongue. How strange that an occasion like this - when he's holding his grandchild and covering her in a soft towel inside his son’s bathroom - would be when he acknowledged his greatest regret. The words spill from his mouth like a flood.

“Dante. I should have taken your hand. I still remember the look on your face as I cut your palm. I lost almost twenty years to that mistake. I lost my soul, my body, my mind. You. I was an idiot, so stubborn and proud, convinced of my superiority. You once asked why I came back from hell with you. It was because I couldn’t stand the thought of making the mistake of losing you again.”

For a fraction of a second, Dantes usual expression of sarcastic mirth falls and his eyes shimmer with a strange glow. He lowers his gaze to his palm before he slaps it onto Vergil’s arm with a grin and a swagger of satisfaction.

“You don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear you say those words, brother. You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”

Throat wrung like a handkerchief, Vergil places little Faith on the changing mattress and fishes up a diaper (so small!) from the shelf beneath. His heart hammers in his chest, his hands tremble.

He hates how weak he is by the bonds he’s forged. Yet, it is nothing to how weak he was without them. Strength made you fragile. No wonder demons didn’t understand; light knows he didn’t.

Lowering his gaze to his grandchild, Vergil opens the diaper and turns it, hesitantly lifting Faith by the legs and placing it under her behind. A warmth settles on his ears.

“How does this equipment work? Am I doing it right?”

Dante peeks over his shoulder.

“I think so. Open the straps at the back. Place them on top of the tummy….girdle? thing? Yeah, like that. A little harder. Looks great!”

For a second time, he taps Vergil’s arm in a reassuring gesture.

Faith utters a tiny gurgle. Vergil meets her eyes; dark blue and large, plunging into his and rooting him to the spot. Before her gaze, he is recognized, accepted.

Unable to take another moment of being so profoundly seen, Vergil lifts the baby to his chest and leaves the bathroom. Dante follows him with a silent chuckle.

Well inside the living room, Faith wrinkles her little face and exhales a few, stuttering sobs.

“What is it now,” Vergil asks in worry, “is she in pain?”

“I bet she’s hungry. Let’s fry a few sausages in the pan,” Dante suggests.

“That is hardly -”

“I was joking! Geez. Let me see if I can find the formula. I’ll prepare a bottle.”

He leaves for the kitchen. On instinct, Vergil rotates his body side to side, supporting Faiths neck with his hand. She smells of something distinct; baby scent. It’s sweet and warm with a hint of spice.

After what takes a bit too long; Faith is crying again, Dante emerges from the kitchen and hands Vergil a small bottle with a milky liquid inside. Vergil accepts it with a sense of utter incompetence.

“How do I -”

He doesn't’ finish his own sentence. Irritated with his own clumsiness, he sits on the worn leather armchair, places Faith's neck into the bend of his arm and offers her the bottle.

Spitting the rubber top out, she fusses a bit, until she gets the hang of it and swallows the formula in languid, satisfying gulps. She takes occasional pauses for breathing, eats again until she finishes the bottle. With a white trickle down her chin, Faith's eyes close with a flutter to the eyelashes, and like that, she’s asleep.

Dante has the presence of mind to keep quiet when he grins at Vergil with a smug expression and two thumbs up.

Vergil does not reciprocate, but inside, he’s as proud as his clown brother looks. Carefully, he raises to his feet, walks into Nero’s and Kyrie’s bedroom and places Faith into her crib. She whimpers at the loss of his body warmth; he places a soft teddy bear to her cheek.

Faith’s little chest, rising and falling peacefully, grounds him. What would it have been like to hold Nero like this, feed him, bathe him?

The thought of his son has him jerk his head towards the living room and his discarded coat. He marches over to fish up his phone from his pocket.

He has three missed calls; two from Mary and one from Nero. He opens a message from Mary.

Stuck in traffic, accident by the central station, omw!

Vergil has recently learned the abbreviation for ‘on my way’. He taps the screen to call Nero.

Nero answers after a few dial tones echoing in Vergil’s ear.

“Hey,” Nero exhales, worry colouring his voice, “how’s Faith? She ok?”

“She’s doing fine,” Vergil answers with pride, “I've fed her and she’s asleep. How is Kyrie?”

“Uh, wow. Thanks, Vergil,” Nero says as if his father told him he’d just climbed the Matterhorn naked, “Kyrie’s fine, they had to remove a bit of tissue from her womb that caused the bleeding. They want to keep her overnight but we’ll be coming back tomorrow, no doubt. Can you stay with Faith?”

“Of course. I’m glad Kyrie’s alright.”

“Yeah, me too,” Nero replies with such warmth is sends a wave of tenderness through Vergil. His son was lucky to have found someone to love like he loved Kyrie.

“I gotta go back to her, but call me later ok? Thanks again. I’m really glad I could trust you with this.”

“Of course,” is Vergil’s answer, stiff from a surge of pride. Nero bids him goodbye and hangs up at the other line. At that moment, Mary opens the front door.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she breathes, “Is Kyrie ok? How’s the baby?”

Dante sticks his head out from the kitchen, chin bulging from a piece of bread he’s chewing on.

“Hey there, Your Grace!” He calls, mouth stuffed, “we’ve got it all under control, don’t you worry!”

Mary rolls her eyes at his epithet for her and redirects an eagerly asking gaze to Vergil.

*

During the next thirty minutes, Vergil informs Mary of the situation. They share a light meal of toast and tea until Faith calls from the bedroom with a series of baby sounds. Mid-sentence, Vergil dashes into the room so fast he leaves Mary blinking, her hair flowing from the gust of wind he makes. He returns with Faith on his arm. She sits like a little queen on her throne, sternly surveying her surroundings.

Mary stands, arms outstretched.

“Can I hold her?”

Vergil hands her the baby, but as soon as Faith settles in Mary’s arms, her chin wobbles in a few hiccupy sobs. Eyes large, Mary hands the baby back to Vergil. He rocks Faith in his arms; her crying ceases in an instant.

With a gurgle, the baby mouths a drooling patch on his shoulder.

A burst of pride and affection erupts in Vergil’s chest. Mary grins at him with an impressed nod.

Dante leans against the door frame with a smirk.

“He’s got the hang of it.”

He puts his coat on. A ray of sun falls through the kitchen window and sends flower-shaped shadows on the wall from Kyrie’s pink geraniums.

“I’m leaving. Trish and I have a gig by the city outskirts. Hey, Mary? Did you get here on your bike?”

“Yes.”

“Can I take it?”

She narrows her eyes at him.

“You better take care of her.” She throws him the keys. “I parked a bit further down the road, didn’t want to scare the baby with the motor sound.”

Dante catches the keys with a grin.

A chill of slight panic runs down Vergil’s spine.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ll be fine grandpa," Dante winks, "remember to warm more bottles if she’s hungry. The rest of the stuff you know! Because this is pretty much it, isn’t it? She sleeps, poops and eats. Easy as pie!”

With a cock to his chin, he leaves, whistling a merry tune.

Vergil directs his gaze to Faith, trying his best to check the impulse to let out a frustrated curse word.

To his stupefaction, she smiles at him, gurgling another baby sound.

“Hey,” Mary whispers, “she likes you.”

He glints a smile with a feeling of understanding the term ‘proud as a peacock’.

Mary gestures towards a patchwork blanket on the floor with a rattle-box and a white, toy giraffe placed by its corner.

“How about we put her on that? I read babies need tummy time.”

“Tummy time?”

“Yeah, to spend some time on their fronts each day. Apparently, babies who have at least twenty minutes of tummy time per day develop certain motoric skills faster than babies who don’t.”

Carefully, Vergil takes a few steps to the blanket and places Faith on her front. Mary hands her the toy giraffe; the baby immediately puts it in her mouth.

Smiling at Faith’s flailing on the blanket and the way she drools a glistening patch on her own chest, Mary scans the room with a searching gaze.

“We should find her some clothes. And read up on how to make the formula.”

Vergil’s eyes don’t leave the baby.

“Do you mind if I stay with her while you find her clothes? They should be in the bedroom.”

She squeezes his arm in an affirmative gesture and leaves. She returns with a tiny, striped overall they dress Faith in after changing her diapers again. When Mary tries to dress her, Faith reacts with stuttering breath, the corners of her mouth pulled down in an unhappy expression. She relaxes as soon as Vergil takes over.

Mary smiles but her eyes glaze over in thought, fixated on the toys before them.

Vergil hands Faith a striped doll with large eyes and threads for hair, but his gaze rests on Mary.

“What’s wrong?”

She sighs.

“There are new reports on global emissions. They’re increasing. The Amazon is burning, large parts of the Siberia and Australia too. I just…”

Brows furrowed, Mary grazes the threads of Faith's toy with her finger.

“Sometimes I hate humankind. What we’re doing to this earth. To future generations.”

Faith coos and bites into the toy. It makes a squeaking sound.

Mary regains her smile. She hides behind Vergil’s back and peeks her head out from his side with a ‘peekaboo!’

The baby stares at her, eyes wide. The next time Mary does the surprise gesture, Faith’s little face scrunches in a peal of baby laughter, cheeks round and eyes squinting.

“But it’s all worth fighting for, isn’t it?” Mary whispers, touching Faiths nose with her fingertip.

A violent wave of affection rams Vergil’s heart with such force he forgets to breathe. He lifts the baby and presses her to him, careful not to hurt her, and sniffs her little head.

The door opens and the voices of Nico and Julio enters the house. Faith drools on her brother’s cheek when he smilingly takes her in his arms.

Vergil places his arm around Mary’s shoulder.

“You’re right.”

“About what?”

“It is worth fighting for.”

Chapter Text

Then take now into your hands
this day that is past, like a token
For I know: into good you will turn
What I have held or broken
- Karin Boye, Evening Prayer

 

August 22nd

Vergil switches to a higher gear and glances at Mary beside him in the car. She hides a great yawn in her hand.

Faith fell asleep at eight-thirty the other night, woke up at midnight and once more at four am to eat. Vergil soothed her crying while Mary prepared bottles of formula.

A memory of Mary telling him of her insomnia enters Vergil’s mind. Since the visit to the Avondale baths, she hasn't woken from nightmares or spent the nights strumming her guitar. These days, she’s used to long nights of sleeping and shows purple strands under her eyes.

“I admire Nero and Kyrie. I really do,” she says and stretches like a cat. “I’m so tired even my fingernails are yawning.”

That same morning, Kyrie and Nero returned eager to greet their children and hear about the previous night. Although paler than usual, Kyrie gave a healthy impression. She embraced both Vergil and Mary with a radiant smile, while Nero held little Faith, kissing her cheeks. The baby cried for her mother who immediately took her inside to feed her.

“I had to use an electronic pump at the hospital!” She sighed, “I’ve never felt more like a cow in my life.”

Nero thanked Vergil and Mary and hugged them both. The clench of Nero’s arms, the awkward but sincere pat on Vergil’s shoulder still burned Vergil’s skin an hour later. It was their second embrace since they learned they were kin. It felt like another milestone.

Vergil will do whatever it takes to be a person Nero looks at with that expression of pride and fondness. To be someone he throws his arms around in affection. Someone he turns to when he needs help…

The pettiness of his previous motivations, before he learned Nero was his son, strikes Vergil as glaring. What did power, rule, control, destruction, and revenge amount to in comparison to being someone Nero trusts, lean on, cares for?

Being a person who receives a smile from Faith?

Nothing.

“Hey,” Mary calls him back to reality, “that little girl adores you. We should ask Kyrie and Nero if we can babysit her more. She and Julio can come and stay with us now and then?”

“No. Our apartment is full of weapons.”

She blushes.

“You’re right. I’ll get a cabinet. I’ll make sure it’s safe for the kids to be at our place.”

He sends her a warm gaze.

“I’d like that.”

After a few heartbeats of silence, the landscape rushing by in late summer’s verdure, he ventures for a jump into a conversation he’s wanted to have for long. His heart palpitations grow stronger.

“The more time Faith will spend with us the more she’ll think of you as her grandmother.”

Mary emits a humorous exhale.

“I guess. Ugh, that makes me feel like I’m ancient…”

His heartbeat races like the speedometer in front of him.

“Especially if we get married.”

Her eyes widen in something that resembles feared surprise.

“Are you - you’re not proposing, are you?”

He groans.

“No. I have standards. If I did, it wouldn’t be in this casual manner...”

“Vergil,” she says, her posture tensed, “we should concentrate on planning for how to deal with Mundus. This is -”

“Don’t do that. Don’t use him to change the subject.”

She closes her mouth and pales. Vergil works his jaw, his heart turned into a stone.

“Are you not sure? Of this? Of us?”

She gains a pleading expression.

“I’m sure about what I feel for you,” Mary turns in her seat to face him, “but please remember that my only role models for marriage were my parents. Their relationship was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. I never thought I'd be in this situation, with someone like you.”

“We are not your parents.”

She swallows, not meeting his gaze.

“You’re right. We’re not.”

With a pressure building in his chest, Vergil keeps his sight on the road. He holds his gloved hands on to the steering wheel so hard his knuckles whiten.

He never understood love. He never dared to understand the sentiment, first convinced it was a weakness, later believing it was out of his grasp. He’s ready to claim the word for himself.

“We don’t have to get married. But I need to understand. When you say you love me, what does it mean?”

She lets her hand slide down her throat to her clavicle in a nervous gesture.

“You know I’m not good with words like you are.”

“Try.”

“Ok.” She directs her gaze to him. ”I sometimes think of everyone who’s ever hurt you and I want to kill them. I never want you to suffer again. Even if we were to break up, I’d want you to be happy. I’d be devastated it couldn’t be with me, but...”

A glint of pain appears in her eyes at that; it sends a spark of satisfaction through him. She’s afraid of losing him as he is of her.

Her next words come to him unprepared.

“I’m grateful to be with you. For the first time, to need someone and to be needed isn’t scary, it’s freeing. I used to be so prejudiced. I disregarded feelings like love because - well, you know this,” she exhales in a sound of embarrassment, “loving my father turned me into a gullible fool. You’ve made me a braver, more caring person. I know you haven’t told me half of everything you’ve been through because you think you need to protect me, but... I’m glad you’ve trusted me enough to let me carry a part of that burden for you.”

Vergil swallows a lump in his throat. This - the bright mix of gratitude, of pride and fear to hurt another with the thorns of your history - it must be love. If not, the word failed the emotion ensconced in his heart.

“I may have a different outlook on marriage as my parents were happy,” he replies, voice thick, “perhaps also because I’ve lost so much time. Ever since I came back from hell, you’ve been what’s kept me from falling apart. My heart was restless until it rested in you. What we have, it’s everything to me. I’d do anything to make it last.”

He turns a burning gaze to hers. She blinks in an expression of rapt.

“I want you, wholly. I am jealous of the winds that touch your hair, of the lotion that gets to be on your skin. I want you to be mine like the shores belong to the sea or the ink to the pencil.”

When you are gone, then wildly hungers my soul.
When you are near, I yearn even so -

“Fuck, Sparda,” she breathes, eyes glossy and hands cupping her glowing cheeks, “do you want me to cry? Cause you’re going to make me cry.”

He doesn’t answer.

“Thank you,” she whispers, and it’s the right thing to say. He understands.

“I’m going to need a few days to let this sink in, ok? To process it.”

He glances at her with a concise nod. They were good at accepting the needs of the other, whether those needs were flaws or not, without trying to change them. It’s part of what made him believe in them.

She smiles with her eyes.

“What is it with us and having serious conversations in cars?”

He snorts.

“In a car, there’s nowhere to run.”

She chuckles at that.

 

August 23rd

Vergil wakes with a panicked gulp, strands of his hair plastered against the cold sweat of his temples. His stomach churn at the image of three glowing eyes settling over Faith’s crib.

Mary sits and places a hand on his shoulder. She whispers, eyebrows knitted in worry.

“Was it a nightmare?”

“Yes.”

Vergil’s heart drums against his ribs. He’s waited too long for Mundus to act.

“I need to speak to Dante.”

“Ok.”

He gets out of the bed and summons his attire. Remembering she might be hurt if he leaves in such agitation, he leans down to brush his lips against her cheek.

“Do you want me to place Charlie on the table?”

She responds by cupping his face to kiss him.

“No. I’ll talk to you later, ok?”

He nods. With a last kiss, he leaves.

*

“Dante.”

Dante grunts in protest from his bed, cracking an eye open at his brother.

“Hm?” Face streaked by a pillow wrinkle, Dante turns to peek over his shoulder at the digital clock on his bedside table. “What are you doing here at the ass-crack of dawn, brother?"

Receiving no answer, Dante opens both eyes and directs a less hazy gaze to his twin. Vergil fidgets with the Yamato, the muscles of his shoulders tensed.

“Right, I get it. Let’s get going, I know just the place.”

Dante climbs out of bed and puts his leather pants on, a crumpled shirt, his boots, the holster for his firearms, and his red coat.

At the ports, Vergil stops to cast an impatient glare at his brother who disappears into the small storage room under the stairs.

“Are you coming?”

“Yeah, yeah, gimme a minute.”

Dante emerges, hand in his pocket.

When they arrive at the outskirts of the city, entering the derelict garage used as storage for construction materials, Vergil hasn’t uttered a word.

They fight, no devil triggers until they are both covered in soot, sweat and various small cuts. With a final slash to the devil sword to parry a clip from the Yamato, Dante sends Vergil sliding across the concrete of the floor. He smashes his back against the plaster with a bang. With gritted teeth, Vergil sheaths his sword and uses it as leverage to get up. His chest heaves with every ragged breath, but the weight of his nightmare has released its grip of his heart.

“So,” Dante saunters closer, squinting against the rays of the rising sun that falls through the dirty windows, “you’re gonna tell me what’s going on? Don’t think I’ve seen you like this since we came back from hell.”

“I had another nightmare. It involved Faith.”

Dante nods with a serious expression. He fought Vergil’s nightmares once – the gravity of their existence isn’t unknown to him.

“That dream isn’t about something that actually happened this time – right?”

“No.”

“So why –“

“Because of the same reason our father isolated us on the estate. Faith’s blood relation to Sparda must never be known; it would put her in peril from demons and humans alike. The same thing goes for Nero. And for Kyrie, as she gave birth to his spawn, or so humans would reason.”

Vergil closes his eyes, his dark coat illuminated by the rising light.

“I worry, Dante. I worry that I won’t be able to protect them. That I’ll fail them – like I failed mother. Like father failed us.”

To Vergil’s surprise, Dante doesn’t protest. For long, Vergil blamed himself for Eva’s death, for not being strong enough to protect her. Lately, he’s acknowledged the inevitable powerlessness of a child abandoned by their father, a father that left without a word.

Dante takes a deep breath and directs his gaze over the remains of a pair of gleaming aluminium turbines in the room, arms crossed on his chest.

“If anything happens, brother, we’ll be there for them. Nero can fight, Trish and Mary won’t let anything happen to Faith. We’re not alone.”

Vergil lets the meaning of his brother’s words seep in, holding Dante’s gaze as scattered clouds sent occasional shadows over his face. To not feel like his whole life, all his ambitions rested on the foundation of failure, Vergil once fought Dante with the passion only one betrayed could – the betrayal of not having your goals shared by the one you love the most.

Not anymore - could it be?

Dante sighs.

“What do you think happened to dad?”

Vergil inhales the smell of oil, concrete, and metal of the garage.

“I don’t know. After the attack, I searched for him. For years. I found nothing, not a trace. I gave up and redirected my searches for a way to raise the Temen-Ni-Gru and gain his powers. The rest you know.”

Dante shakes his head.

“He didn’t abandon us. Something must have happened. Mom never gave up hope that he’d return.”

A weight burns in Vergil’s pocket.

“Dante, I have a confession.”

“Yeah? What?”

“I didn’t only take father’s ring from the vault on Nero’s wedding day.”

Vergil digs into the pocket of his coat.

“I also took hers.”

Vergil holds Eva’s ring for his brother to see. A ray of light falls from the scattered clouds to illuminate the brilliant-enclosed diamond fastened to the silver band in a bright flash.

Dante and grazes the ring with the tip of his finger with an incredulous smile.

“Hey, I’ve been wondering where that went! So, why’d you - oh!” Dante’s eyes grow large. “Are you thinking about poppin’ the question to Mary?”

His grin reaches up to his ears.

“Hah! My stuck-up, cold-shouldered, stiff-upper-lipped brother –“

“Dante,” Vergil growls in a warning.

”- is a soft-hearted romantic! Aw, man! This is going to be glorious!” Dante chuckles, his shoulders shaking. “When do you plan on doing it? Hey, I once saw a movie where the guy put the ring in a bowl of soup. You could try that.”

Vergil huffs.

“I haven’t got an exact plan on how to propose but it wouldn’t be in such a ridiculous way -“

“In bed?”

Dante waggles his eyebrows.

Vergil responds with a scowl. His brother lets out another chuckle, only with a tinge of embarrassment this time. He rubs his neck in a way that is irritatingly like Nero’s nervous gestures.

”So, um. If you’re serious about this, I guess I need to confess something to you too.”

Vergil frowns. What would Dante have to confess? Using their father’s sword for picking his teeth after eating pizza?

“That day Mary and I chased you and Arkham up the Temen-Ni-Gru… I may have… tried to kiss her.”

Vergil flinches so hard a muscle in his neck strains. His veins boil with white-hot rage. He grabs his sword with such force his fingers crack.

“Whoa, nothing happened!” Dante holds his palms up, “She turned her head away as if she were about to be smooched by a rotting Caina! You know she wasn’t very keen on demons back then.”

He stands to back away from the tip of the Yamato held against his chest. Vergil squints in hate at his brother. The question that’s been gnawing on the back of his head since he, as V, saw her unconscious and barely covered in Nico’s van, rushes forward.

“Has anything ever happened between you and her? Tell me.”

Mustering all the flames of wrath in his voice, Vergil fears the answer with the force of an ice storm.

“No, never. She’s never so much as batted an eyelash at me.” Dante lets his hands sink as Vergil slowly removes the Yamato from pointing at his heart. “To tell you the truth, I’ve never been into her either. I flirted with her because she’s cute, sure, but I was trying to act cool. Cool guys come on to cute girls, right? I was just a kid.”

Vergil blinks, staring into the concrete of the floor, lost in confusing thought. His brothers flirting was an act? Like Vergil often felt like he acted human rather than being one? What was Dante’s experience in these things?

He’s not sure what makes the question spill from his mouth.

“Dante, have you ever… Been in love?”

His brother responds with an uncharacteristic blush. He wipes a droplet of blood from a cut on his wrist.

“I’m not sure. I don’t think so? You’re supposed to know, right? I guess I never got the hang of that part of being human. Funny that you should, brother, considering how you hated the human in you to the point where you cut him out.”

Vergil forgets to breathe. It was true. Falling in love was a human trait he used to regard with disdain despite the fact that his father’s ability to love was the reason for their existence. The irony that he, who chose the demonic path was capable of romantic love and not Dante, who chose the human path, did not escape him.

“Hey, Verge,” Dante calls, waking Vergil from his reverie and digs in his own pocket.

“I have something for you.”

Dante flings an item of gold and red in an arch through the air -

Vergil stiffens. His amulet lands in his hands like a bird to its nest.

“You saved it,” he whispers.

“Yeah, yeah.”

The tips of Dante’s ears turn red underneath the mane of his grey hair.

Vergil forgets the world around him. He’s holding his amulet, his mother’s heirloom.

He thought he’d never see it again. He thought Dante had destroyed it like he was certain Dante had destroyed all hope of him ever returning to the human world.

Vergil is speechless. His throat wrings with something he’s experienced twice in his adult life: tears.

Once when the Dark Lord shattered the Yamato.

Once when he dared to believe there was a way back to this world, like himself, to be cared for and forgiven. When the gravity of his crimes came crashing upon him.

“Dante -” he chokes.

Dante takes the two steps needed to reach him and wraps his arms around him. Amulet still in hand, Vergil returns the embrace, too emotional not to recoil from his brother’s touch.

*

Vergil speaks to Dante about the Seraphel that attacked him. About his conviction that the demon acted on Mundus’ command. Dante listens without a word of contempt nor an eye roll of disregard.

“The next time any of those feathered assholes try to get at you,” he says, “they’ll have to go through me first.”

“Something’s ending, Dante. I can feel it.”

Dante shakes his head with one of his lopsided smiles.

“No, Vergil. Can’t you see? Things are just beginning.”

*

Mary’s eyes sting from the early hour. She’s walking the corridor to the staff room to start a fresh batch of java in the coffee machine before she attacks this day’s yield of emails. Her skin tingles from the thought of her and Vergil’s conversation in the car two day before. She never thought she’d be in a relationship, not to mention get married but here she was, not panicking by the prospect.

Ever since Kalina Ann died, Mary has been alone. Vergil has taken her solitude; she didn’t mind. She’s seen and known so much ugliness. A life knowing him, loving him, being his - it's a beautiful thought.

A small knot form in her stomach at the thought of his nightmare, and the way he couldn’t speak to her about it, but she’s glad he wished to reach out to Dante. He’ll talk to her in due time - when he was ready.

Passing the postal shelf, she checks her compartment if the book about complex organic polymers she ordered last week has arrived and pauses at her name tag. Mary Ann Stenbock-Fermor. The name change came through the week before, filling her with surprise and pride and melancholy in a confusing mix.

It sounds first-class.

The book hasn't arrived yet. Instead, her hand reaches a fancy A4 envelope with the sigil of the National Science Foundation on it.

She gasps. Hands trembling, she opens the letter.

Dear Ms Arkham, (Mary groans) we regret to inform you that your application for a research grant (Dnr 215-522) has not been considered for funding...

Intense disappointment showers over her in a numbing wave.

In her application, she had literally promised to play an important part in solving one of the most pressing issues regarding climate change; the transformation of carbon dioxide into the soil through mycorrhiza processes and the development of resilient crop that could withstand heatwaves. She never doubted she would receive the grant.

Mary is overcome by a childish impulse to cry. This was her dream, her chance to play a small part in saving the world. She gave up demon hunting for this.

A flash of anger replaces her disappointment. Why do I try so hard to save the world when those in power don’t care about the world being saved?

The surprise was a stupid reaction. The new president, like the mayor of Red Grave, openly voiced his scepticism towards scientific proof for global warming. Defunding climate research was a natural consequence of that ignorance.

Breathe, Mary. Be a big girl.

She sighs. All researchers face rejection during their careers. She needs to rewrite the application to make it better and send it to a different funder. There had to be people who cared. Professor Hochschild helped her write the application; surely, she’d help again?

Mary forgets the coffee and turns to run up the stairs to Prof. Hochschild’s office. Pushing the doors open to the fourth-floor corridors, she bumps her palm against her forehead.

It was six am. No one was at work beside her. She pushes the doors to descend the stairs when a flow of light from the professor’s room catches her attention. Her door is ajar, the lamps of the room lit. Could she be at her office?

“Professor Hochschild?”

Mary approaches the office and pushes the door open. The scent of blood reaches her senses a second before she steps in. She freezes on the spot. The documents in her hand tumble to the floor in concise thuds and lands in a patch of blood. The fluid blooms from the head of Professor Hochschild, laying on her back with her feet under the desk.

Hands trembling, Mary rushes forward and places her fingers against the professor’s pulse point. Nothing. She caresses a grey strand of her mentor’s curly hair, pain travelling in waves through her guts like a shower of knives.

Few people in Mary’s life had believed in her. This woman, with her bright and generous intellect, always did.

Mary fishes her phone out of her pocket to call the police when a shadow rises over her to block the faint light from the streetlamps outside. A Seraphel hovers by the window, wings expanded behind its polymer frame. It surveys her through its gleaming helmet.

Adrenaline rushing through her veins, Mary lets go of her phone and grabs at the Glocks not attached to her hips. She hisses a curse. After a madman opened fire in the cafeteria last year, claiming he hated all women in academia, firearms were prohibited on campus. All students and staff had to go through a metal detector to enter the premises of the main university building. Like she did this morning.

She pushes the office chair from her in a hard thrust and leaps to escape out to the corridor. She must get to her batch of Sefirots in the adjacent building - if she can stall this demon long enough. A bang and a large crash tell her the Seraphel has knocked the desk down to reach her. The armour attached to the demon’s limbs screeches.

A hand grabs her jacket, yanks her hair.

Large wings enclose her in darkness.