The first ring felt deafening.
Vergil was not a creature much given to regret. He'd lived most of his life without, and only a scant few things had pierced that barrier since his return from Hell. Of those privileged few, only one was truly important to him. He wouldn't admit it aloud. He couldn't admit it aloud. But his actions, if he had not taken such care to keep their full breadth away from watchful eyes, would have outed him immediately. He told himself this didn't count. He didn't believe it, but that was hardly the point.
The second ring went almost unnoticed.
He readjusted himself and tried not to pace around the polished dogwood desk. Crumbs and telltale tomato stains marred the exquisite finish. Four long months since they returned from Hell and despite his every effort to keep it clean, it never stayed that way. Luxury was wasted on Dante. He insisted on it for a few very specific things, but he maintained those things just as poorly as everything else in this cramped hole in the wall. Vergil almost wished that Lady and Trish had refused to give the deed back. At least then they might have a location that wasn’t suffering from two decades of neglect and baked in grime.
The gentle third ring of the phone came and went. It was possible that he wasn’t going to get an answer at this hour. Maybe it was better if--
A click interrupted the fourth ring. If not for a slight shuffle of sheets and a low, cranky grumble before he spoke, it would hardly sound like he'd been sleeping. "Yes."
"I need to speak with you." Silence answered him, and he knew it was an intentional and annoyed silence. Vergil never called him. He added quickly: "It's about Nero."
More silence, and then a faint but sarcastic laugh. "Fine. What do you want?"
"Not here. I'll come speak to you personally."
"It’s 3am. Now is not--"
"Now is preferable."
“Is Nero ill or injured?”
“Then it can wait.” The voice on the other lowered severely. "Or did your vacation in hell debase you such that you've once again become a demon who intrudes into others' homes regardless of their wishes?"
A blue wind swept around Vergil's legs. There it was. That infuriating habit of his, always taking things where they didn’t need to go. But Vergil bit back his urge to hang up. This was for Nero. He’d wracked his mind and come up with a thousand answers and none of them felt right. He needed a human touch. A human perspective.
"Tomorrow, not a second before 10AM.”
“And not a second after.”
A click and the line was empty.
V’s existence had resumed much like it started. He woke up bare-assed and white-haired on the rotted remains of the red lounge chair that had once been the focal decoration of the living room in the Sparda estate. Through a series of events he chose not to elaborate on, he managed to get in contact with Nico and was safely delivered to Nero and Kyrie’s care in Fortuna. Some two weeks later he began screaming in the night. Like Athena bursting from the skull of Zeus, his familiars had filled his head with nightmares and then erupted from it. An event, they found out later that day, which coincided with Dante and Vergil’s return from Hell.
No one had figured out how any of it could possibly have happened, and in truth, no one was asking; V least of all.
Though he was a frail shade of Vergil, he was still an extremely competent devil hunter. It showed every sign of being an annoyance to him, but he’d integrated into society with relative ease, and the apartment was the most recent sign of his successful endeavors.
Vergil didn’t know what he expected as he climbed the tight stairwell, but he knew when the door cracked open five steps from the top that it had been prepped specifically for his visit.
He wasn’t wrong.
Shadow raised her head over the back of the couch opposite V, gave him a disinterested look, yawned, and lay back down. When he tried to sit, she made no effort to move out of his way. Over faintly playing music that would have been at home in Nico’s truck, Griffon could be heard snickering. There were books on the low table between them—stacked tomes on the subject of Enochian and Umbra Witches. Over the scent of chocolate, the air smelled faintly of rosemary.
V sat half-dressed in a recliner the color of wine, nestled into a zebra print robe. His hair was damp and swept back in a messy ponytail. Beside him was a slice of chocolate cake with glistening jam running through it, so rich it was almost black against the whiteness of the plate. A steaming cup of tea sat at its side. Even from across the table, it smelled the way expensive brandy looked.
It was subtle. If Vergil had come with anyone else, they wouldn’t have understood why Vergil sat like a statue and gripped the Yamato like he was expecting to be attacked. Even the bedroom door was partially opened, and he didn’t want to imagine what lengths V might have gone to in order to make that most private space as upsetting as possible if Vergil dared to pay it any attention.
He tried to focus on the touches that were clearly normal fixtures. Carefully placed shelves that provided homes to pots of plants from bright aloes and slender ivies to pale spathiphyllum and dark (and admittedly lovely) African violets. Bottles of unopened wines sat on top of kitchen cabinets, and empty bottles with odd but strangely satisfying designs adorned display cases.
“You seem on edge.” V took a bite of his cake. “More so than usual.”
Vergil scoffed. “I’m wondering what part of me could be content with such a meager existence.”
“I suppose no man likes to look at the parts of himself that shame him most.”
“I’m also wondering where you got that appalling robe.”
“It was a housewarming gift. From Nico.” No doubt to mock him, V seeped even more luxuriously into the deepest, plushest reaches of the recliner. “But let’s not stray from the topic, Vergil. I am meager, it’s because you believed me to be when you cut me away. And as has been the case with most of your power grabs, that proved to be an underestimation.”
“Perhaps,” Vergil said begrudgingly. “But you’re your own now.”
“I am, and this is how I live. If you see me relaxed in my own home and think it meager, that says more about your ineptitude at living like a human than about me.”
There was nothing relaxed about it and they both knew it. V was indulging every human delight and concern Vergil had ever chosen to throw away, from a love for chocolate to interest in their mother’s history. Part of the reason they so rarely talked was that V could not resist lording how comfortable he was in his humanity over Vergil, just as he was doing now.
The other part was that Vergil hated how antsy it made him to be in the company of someone who vocally acknowledged things he could barely entertain in the privacy on his own mind.
“Besides,” V said before Vergil could retreat too far inside himself. “I couldn’t dislike this appearance, frail as it may be. It takes closely after our mother.”
Vergil stared down his nose. “You mean my mother.”
V’s cane flicked playfully, but the point reached Vergil’s neck with a baleful violet glow to its tip. “That’s an ill-mannered thing to say to a man you’ve come to beg assistance from.”
“Ask,” Vergil corrected sharply. “For help with Nero’s birthday present.”
The cane wavered, and slowly returned to V’s side. He sat up, a cocky smile cracking the illusion of unbothered comfort he had woven around himself. “Pardon?”
Vergil stilled under the increasing amusement in his other’s eyes. “Nero’s birthday is in two weeks. I wish to acquire a gift.”
V’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. “And you come to me. You must truly be desperate.”
“Sincere,” he said quietly. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “I am trying to be sincere.”
V’s eyes—their mother’s eyes—watched his. The mirth drained from them, and he sagged back with a low sigh. “Ah, I see. You want an appropriate gift for your soon-to-be 25-year-old son. The one you sired during a single tryst when you were barely a man and whom you have damaged in ways both direct and indirect from the moment he was born.”
“V,” Vergil warned.
“You abandoned him,” V continued without a care. “Came back just to enter his home and take the only piece of his heritage he had, and then, after he had saved you and that fool brother of yours from yourselves, you abandoned him again, leaving only a gift whose worth he could not possibly understand.”
Shadow growled disapprovingly as demonic energy swirled off Vergil’s body. He didn’t move. His hands remained tightly clasped around the Yamato. But he was fast approaching his limit and V had to know it. “That’s enough.”
“It isn’t,” V said softly, and let his chin rest on his palm. “You owe that child your agony. If it wounds you beyond what your pride can bear just to hear the ways you failed him from me, forget this effort.” His eyes had dropped, and his expression grew distant. “You will only hurt him more if you flee from him as you fled from me.”
It was a trick only V could perform to be so scathing yet so attentive to the way Vergil perceived the world. It was also was the exact reason Vergil had called on him. He hated him for it, but he would’ve hated it far more for this matter to become the subject of some imbecilic joke from his brother or any of his gallery. V was pushing his buttons but from a position of comprehensive context that no one else would or could ever imitate.
And his words were correct. Nero was hot-headed and foul-mouthed, and he would no doubt make his grievances known in the most abrasive ways he could the moment Vergil tried to get closer. The two of them were oil and water at times just trying to exist in the same space.
Vergil had never thrown him away; he would have had to know about him to do that. But it probably didn’t feel that way to Nero, and by a certain measure, he was right. Vergil’s younger self would not have changed his course for a son.
He knew that well, and so did V.
“There is... much I hope to convey,” Vergil said carefully. “But I do not wish to overstep his boundaries or my own.”
“I know,” said V, his tone just shy enough of pity to not raise Vergil’s defenses. “Which is why we’ll have a challenge. We’ll give him something from the heart, and see which he likes best.”
Vergil brows raise. “We?”
“Of course.” V raised his chin and his haughty expression was terrible in its familiarity despite the unfamiliar angles of his face. “Nero is our son.”
Vergil cracked a smile. V looked barely any older than Nero, but they were getting somewhere, so he kept that thought to himself. Besides, it wasn't a completely unwarranted claim. He had no idea what, if anything, he'd been thinking that night, but V probably remembered. “What do you propose?”
“Food. Specifically, our mother’s apple pie.”
Vergil drummed skeptically at Yamato’s scabbard. “You truly think that will make a suitable gift?”
“Nero beat you and Dante into submission so you wouldn’t kill each other.” V took the saucer of cake into his lap and wiped up a smear of jam. “You may not know Nero well, but you know what motivates him.”
Family. Of course. Perhaps it would ease both him and Nero in if they began with something ancestral. It was quite personal, but Vergil could accept that in exchange for how temporary it was. Whether Nero liked it or hated it, it wouldn't linger like a material gift. Whatever happened, they would both be free from reminders.
He nodded, said he’d be in touch, and quickly stood up. Their business was done and he was eager to be out of V’s space.
It was only when V’s voice did not chase him at the door that he felt comfortable enough to pause. He tilted his head, enough to see his other self, but not enough that V could see the smile tugging at his expression. “Did I hear you correctly earlier? Eva is our mother, and Nero is our son, but Dante is my brother?”
V scowled with the fork still protruding from his lips. “You can keep that oaf all for yourself.”