Actions

Work Header

Dry Lightning

Work Text:

Sometimes, in the spaces between Nero’s continuously persistent concern for his well-being and Dante’s truly distasteful brand of humor, Vergil thinks that he sees himself.

He’s sitting on the couch when it first happens, relaxing in the downstairs level while Dante and Nero argue over something relatively meaningless to him in the background. He tunes them out, for the most part, only half-listening as they go back and forth about the latest job they’ve taken on, about the case of the human’s missing or deceased relative or some other problem that Vergil can hardly bring himself to care about.

His time spent in a human form of his own hasn’t abandoned him, but even after everything that’s happened--discovering his humility, finding his son, righting his wrongs alongside his brother--he can’t quite abandon the core values and ideals he’d held so closely around him for the majority of his life. He’s grown to care for those around him, now understands that sacrificing his relations was hardly worth the price he’d paid for in his quest for power, but he has a little more trouble extending said care to complete strangers, and uninteresting ones, at that.

It feels like white noise against his ears, the words blurring together until they suddenly fade away, and then, when Vergil isn’t paying attention, his mind tugs him gently away from the world. The area around him warps as he’s unwillingly made to retreat into his memories, the lighting of the room dimming and the walls fading away, and he thinks he feels water lapping at the sides of his boots.

He blinks, once, twice, and then his own self is laying on the ground, half-submerged in the layer of water, a younger version of him, untouched by time, but not much else. There’s his own blood seeping into his vision, stinging his eyes as it drips from the gash at his temple, and when he exhales, the motion rattling against his unsettled bones, he feels vaguely like his insides are rearranging themselves.

“I can still fight,” he hears himself insist, struggling to even lift his head up, and his voice sounds foreign to his ears, if only because he hardly remembers sounding quite so fragile.

On some level, he’s distantly aware that he’s looking at a memory, viewing it quietly in his own mind, but he feels his blood run cold at the deep, answering chuckle nonetheless, his nails digging into the flesh of his palms in his paralyzed, frozen reality.

“So you continue to claim, Son of Sparda.”

In the darkness of his memory, a familiar shape emerges from the shadows surrounding them--his own weapon is being tossed back at him, Yamato neatly placed back within its sheath, splashing as it makes contact with the water beneath his body. It slides to a stop next to his outstretched hand, and his trembling fingers reach to make contact with it.

“Let us, as you say, fight, then.”

Vergil does not want to see this. 

He does not want to see the pitiful way his other self so readily accepts the weapon, and with it, his inevitable failure. He does not want to see the way he forces himself upwards on unsteady legs and broken bones, the way even the single action of drawing Yamato sends shocks of pain through his veins and across his skin.

But even if he closes his eyes--and he thinks he does, in the present where he actually exists--he can’t look away. He watches himself distantly, trying and failing to detach his feelings from the sight, but his other self fights so desperately, his normally controlled movements tainted by pain and unchecked emotion and the oppressive knowledge of exactly how powerless he truly is.

He’s knocked away easily, his form smashing into the unforgiving ground, and he tastes blood in his mouth, heavy and thick like it was always meant to be there. 

He can still fight, though. He has his sword and he has his own will, and those two things will be enough, because they have to be enough, because Vergil has nothing left to offer and nothing left in the world that he can possibly call his own.

He struggles to get up again, his hands and knees slipping in the wetness of his own blood and the dark-ink water of the underworld, and he lifts a shaking hand to his face, trying to wipe at his eyes with the dirtied sleeve of his coat, blinking away the obstructions in his vision. 

Mundus waits patiently for him the entire time, looking on at his efforts with a faintly amused aura radiating from his stone expression, and Vergil clenches his teeth at the thought of being looked down on like this, an old, dull anger flooding his senses and fueling his actions. He’s being toyed with, he knows, and whatever he does is ultimately useless, will not even put a dent in the immutability of Mundus’ form, but what else can he do?

There are no other options left for him—he has no way out of Hell, and even if he could leave, he wouldn’t, he can’t. He’s facing his mother’s murderer, and possibly his father’s, too, and he’s spent too much of his entire life trying to get to this point to back down.

And even if he’s throwing away his life like this, that’s alright, too, because there is no future for him after this moment--either he wins or loses, and after that, there’s nothing.

Stand up, he thinks to himself, frustrated with his body’s inability to respond, at the human weakness that still plagues his every movement.

Stand--

“--up?”

The scene fades around him, and Vergil blinks again, finds himself staring up at his son, his heart jumping unpleasantly in his chest and adrenaline coursing through his body in a dizzying rush, and it’s all he can do to keep himself still and his face blank as he tilts his head.

“Nero,” he acknowledges, in a voice far calmer than he actually feels. 

He doesn’t trust himself to go further, though, afraid of the way his words might shake. If he’s not careful, he’ll sound like his other self, laid open and raw and fighting for something he slowly stopped believing in. 

Nero seems to realize that Vergil hasn’t been paying attention to the events around him at all, and he runs a hand through his lengthening bangs, something like exasperation crossing his face. Vergil finds his gaze drawn to the movement, and wonders if the boy’s hair has always been this long, enough so to start falling into his eyes.

The most clear picture of Nero that he has in his memories has the boy with his hair cropped short, only a few wispy strands framing his forehead--so where have the moments in between, the time that Vergil apparently spent oblivious to this change gone?

“I was asking if you could maybe stand up--Dante says he’s lost the information that the client gave us, and I’m almost certain he dropped the paper in between the cushions when he was lazing around on his fat ass over here.”

And there’s the concern that Vergil has grown so familiar with, in the two weeks since he and Dante have returned from Hell, only to find themselves both more or less in the care of their youngest descendant. Nero doesn’t say it outright, will probably never choose to state his worries to Vergil’s face, but the boy wears his emotions on his sleeve, and the way he looks Vergil over, studying the pale set of Vergil’s skin and the minute tremble in his hands, easily betrays the depth of his care. 

Vergil decides not to address Nero’s highly unnecessary behavior, forcing himself to breathe in as he gently presses his hand against his ribs, feeling the solidness of the repaired bone underneath his fingers. His body is whole again, and nothing hurts, and he’s sitting in his brother’s shop, over twenty years away from that memory. 

The fact that he has to remind himself of this means nothing at all, is merely a rare moment of weakness amongst a lifetime. 

“Of course,” he agrees smoothly, taking the time to ensure that his feet are indeed capable of taking his weight as he fluidly gets to his feet, stepping aside to allow Nero to go on with his task.

“You two are quite finished with your pointless argument, then?”

He wouldn’t be interested, normally, but he’s maybe looking for a way to anchor himself to this present now--if he becomes more involved in their matter, perhaps he’ll have less of an opportunity to slip away like that again. If he tries his hardest, if he fights to keep his mind where it is and should be, he should succeed.

Nero grimaces as he starts to unearth the cushions on the couch, kneeling in front of it as he gropes blindly around in search of the aforementioned paper.

“Wasn’t really an argument. Dante’s just dumb--you’ve really gotta say everything like, three times, if you want to get it through his big head.”

There’s an undeniable note of fondness in the boy’s words, though, and when he extricates the necessary paper with a roll of his eyes, the corners of his mouth tilt upwards just a little.

“Would you look at that. Think I’m starting to hang around the two of you too much, at this point.”

“Do not compare us,” he starts to say automatically, an immediate response built upon years of fighting to differentiate himself from his identical twin.

But then he blinks again, hears the scraping of metal and the splashing of water, sees the figure of his most prized possession being so tauntingly returned to him, and he thinks that perhaps Nero is right.

Vergil is indeed quite skilled at misplacing his things. 

The thought cuts his next words off, and he falls suddenly silent, turning his face away from Nero’s gaze. The boy is concerned for him, but Vergil has always been quiet and curt in nature, and, after a moment, Nero seems to shrug to himself, perhaps thinking his silence a natural consequence of Vergil’s taciturn tendencies. 

“Sorry--I didn’t mean it like that.”

Vergil cannot comprehend why the boy is apologizing to him, of all things, for a comment that should and does mean absolutely nothing, but Nero’s unusually prominent brand of kindness has always been a never ending source of confusion for him, ever since Dante had dragged him to the boy’s doorstep upon their return from Hell.

He’d been convinced that Nero wouldn’t have wanted to see him, not after the offenses that Vergil had committed against him, and especially not after the abruptness with which they had parted ways.

“Anyway, Dante and I are gonna go out on this job, and it might be a while. I got pretty sick of the super shitty pizza leftovers the bastard keeps leaving all over the place, so I made something and stuck it in the fridge. So, you know...if you’re hungry…”

Nero ducks his head, running his fingers through his bangs in mild embarrassment as he averts his gaze, possibly not wanting to be caught in the middle of his caring. Somehow, Vergil feels himself oddly compelled to reach out and touch the top of his head, an urge that he hastily squashes with no small amount of mild confusion on his part. 

“I understand. Thank you, Nero.”

Nero nods at Vergil’s confirmation, and Vergil fully expects the boy to leave so that Vergil can return to sorting out his problems in peace, but he lingers around for a moment longer, shoving his hands nervously into the pockets of his jacket and blowing his bangs out of his face with a quiet huff.

“Do you, um...do you maybe want to come with us? I mean, I know you’re not really all about helping strangers out, and it’s not like the job is that hard--nothing that Dante can’t solve by smacking his big head against it. But, uh...I dunno. Seems like I’d go a bit crazy if I was stuck in here all day.”

Vergil is rarely one to be surprised, but the invitation leaves him blinking slowly at Nero in an incredibly poor attempt at hiding his shock. The offer is awkwardly extended, but it’s there, nonetheless, and Vergil feels something vaguely warm stirring in the bottom of his stomach at the notion of being included.

A part of him--a rather large part, at that--is inclined to agree. 

Accompanying the two of them on such a venture would be ample opportunity to observe his son’s fighting style, beyond what he’d already gathered in the fight they’d had when he’d seen Nero last. And, more than that, it would afford him the ability to spend time in the company of his brother, without his usual reservations.

As it stands, his current relationship with Dante is a bit...unstable, if Vergil were to describe it. They’d spent weeks--

or days, or months, or years, time flows differently in Hell, and Vergil knows that better than anyone--

--weeks wandering about in the underworld, with no one but each other for company, and, in the silence, an easy sort of camaraderie had settled over the two of them. Vergil had found himself exchanging casual banter with his brother, light and barely barbed remarks flung at each other over the heat of battle.

At the time, he’d appreciated how easy it was to reconnect with Dante, after all their years apart, and hadn’t expected anything to change. Somehow, despite everything he’d done, Dante seemed more than willing to allow him back into his life, delighted with his very presence and existence.

But on the surface world, surrounded not by empty air and dying roots, but rather the leftover pieces of Dante’s already established life, Vergil has come to realize that things aren’t as simple or as efficient as he’d hoped. 

Simply put, Dante has lived for years without him, has built a world and a life while Vergil spent the better part of his own adult years rotting away as a mindless slave, and nothing made this highly disconcerting fact more clear than their coming back to the human world.

Vergil’s own time had stopped the moment he’d lost sight of who he was, but the universe hadn’t stopped for him. So now he lives out his days in the shop that Dante’s founded with someone else, watching him take on the practice that he shares with someone else, and sits around, alone in his own mind, wondering where his days have gone.

And now Nero is trying to pull him into that world, is making a space for him in Dante's carefully-constructed life, and Vergil knows, with more certainty than ever, that he simply won’t fit. 

He doesn’t belong here, and doesn’t know if he wants to belong here.

He pushes down his own protests before they can arise, taking a step backwards and nodding curtly at the boy. 

“It’s alright. I have little interest in these excursions of yours, anyway. Guard yourself carefully while you are away.”

Before he turns on his heel, he thinks he catches a flicker of disappointment on Nero’s expressive face, but he chooses not to see it, if it was even there at all. Dante and Nero will hardly miss his presence--from the sound of it, the job they’ve taken on is meant for a single person, with Nero possibly accompanying simply to keep Dante in check, or perhaps to handle the actual business part of the interaction, given his brother’s less-than-stellar financial tendencies. 

There aren’t any other roles involved, nothing for Vergil to do, other than to stand around like an ornament--

or perhaps a puppet on a string, a dog on a chain, a slave at his--

--and if he has no purpose in existing in a situation, then he simply shouldn’t do so at all.

“I will,” he hears Nero call after his turned back, shuffling his feet slightly against the floor in his usual nervous behavior.

“Look after yourself too, okay?”

A foolish thing to say. Vergil is in no danger of his own, and even if a problem were to arise, there is nothing in this outside world that Vergil cannot handle on his own. 

He shrugs in acknowledgment of Nero’s words, allowing his feet to carry him up the stairs and into the room he’s been lent. Beneath him, he hears Dante and Nero moving about and gathering their things, their words blurred by the distance between them and Vergil. 

Somehow, it’s the loudest when they leave, the door closing behind them with a firm noise that seems to rattle the foundations of the shop.

He and Vergil always used to get in trouble for it, the way they always slammed the doors when they were kids. Dante was doing it because he liked the noise, because he liked the attention it brought and the message it sent, but Vergil--

Vergil always closes his doors tightly, because he wants them to stay shut.

The resounding silence in the room falls heavily on his shoulders, and he thinks about how easy it is to slip away like this, with nothing to distract him or tie him to his present. If he doesn’t try especially hard now, he might slip up, the floors and walls will fall away, and he’ll see something he tried to cut out long ago.

He runs a hand down his face, his feet taking him a few steps forward, and when he looks up again, he sees his own reflection in the mirror, a hint of green tinting the irises of his own eyes. His throat feels tight, like something’s wrapped around it, and his skin prickles uncomfortably with a phantom sensation.

Instinctively, he brings a hand to his neck, digging his nails in hard enough to break skin, anything to rid himself of the itch, and when he does, when he catches sight of his hand in the mirror, black ink winding its way around his wrist like vines--

like a contract, an agreement, one creature bound to another, a chain

--his heart jumps in his chest, and he tastes the name of an old memory on his tongue.

“V--” he tries, his words moving before his mind can catch up, but the flesh at his neck stings with the gash he’s accidentally clawed into it, the skin hurrying to repair itself, and when Vergil looks again, the only person in the mirror is himself.

He shouldn’t be as surprised as he is, given what he knows.

V is a part of him, as much as any of him is, but when he reaches into his own thoughts, his mind is quiet, and he can no longer feel the entity that used to be his human half. There’s no distinction between that part and the rest of him, and not for the first time, Vergil wonders if he’s somehow managed to erase the person that V was, despite them being one and the same.

The second that he allows himself to creep towards the thought, though, he can already tell that it isn’t a safe one. A low, unpleasant, almost anxious sort of feeling gnaws away at the pit of his stomach when he dares to get closer to it, and in the end, he decides against progressing further, bringing himself to sit at the edge of his bed. 

His time as a human has made him more of a coward, maybe, has made him more content to stay where he is. It hardly helps him justify his own behavior to himself as he lays against the mattress and stares up at the blankness of the ceiling.

He tries to find a point to focus on, one particular crack in the material or a single part of chipped away paint, because if he can concentrate on it, if he can embed it into his mind and into his reality, he’ll know how to keep himself in this room. He’s always prided himself on his attention to detail, after all, on the way his logical mind strictly takes in every part of his surroundings and shapes his perception with it.

In the end, though, keeping himself in his present proves to be an unnecessarily thankless task, exhausting and ultimately serving no true end. Even if he drifts away now, the only person who will suffer the consequences of such is himself. There is no conversation he must take part in, no worried Nero that he must appease, no twin brother that he must force himself to fall in line with, and simply no point in fighting.

There often never was a point, but he always fought anyway, first because he made himself, and then because he was made to—

Vergil shuts his eyes, oddly comforted by the darkness on the insides of his eyelids, and sleeps.

 


 

Their mother had read them a book, a long time ago.

It’d been an anthology of stories, a collection just like his own, and every night, he’d crawled into his side of the bed, and Dante had gracelessly flopped into his, and she’d sit in a chair on either side of them, turn to a page, and read. 

At some point, he’d grown old enough that he could read his own stories, was capable of looking through material far more advanced than the kind their mother would tell them. But there was something inherently relaxing in listening to her voice, in shutting his eyes and losing himself in a story unlike his own.

He liked the feeling back then, the feeling of drifting, of imagining himself away from the present.

Dante had complained, occasionally, but Vergil knows that his brother had liked them too, because one night, after their mother had left and the lights had been turned off, his brother had rolled onto his side and poked him awake, his expression twisted in thought.

The story of the night had been about a princess, who pricked her finger on a spindle and had fallen into the deepest sleep, laying still and pale in a castle slowly surrounded by thorns, frozen in time as the world had turned without her. 

“Do you think she dreamed about anything? A hundred years is really long…”

Vergil, his mind clouded with sleep and his temper considerably shortened, had merely shut his eyes and lightly pushed his brother away with a groan.

“I do not know, Dante--and I have yet to discover what I will dream about tonight, due to your interference.”

He thinks about Dante’s question that day more than he likes to admit, if only because it so unknowingly touches on a subject so close to Vergil’s own heart.

He remembers being terrified to sleep on his first night away from the ashes of his home, not because he’d thought he’d have a nightmare, but because he’d believed that he would see impossible images of his family, happy and whole, and then wake up again to relive the truth. He supposes such a thing could be called a good dream in most people’s eyes, a fantasy of something perhaps unattainable.

But in his best dreams, he is not with his family. He is not powerful, either, he is not invincible, he is not untouchable, he is not any of those ideas he spent his life trying to be.

In his best dreams, Vergil is always free.

Because Dante has already put an end to the physical manifestation of his nightmares, Vergil finds that his sleep, at least, is empty of the usual memories that plague it. From the looks of it, he hasn’t quite figured out how to escape them completely, how to remove his past from his present, waking world, but his dreams, at least, are empty.

The water underneath his feet is blue and clear, and the air around him well-lit and clean, and he feels settled in, the further he goes, walking idly along in a world of his mind’s own creation.

“I thought I might find you here.”

The voice sounds far away, but it echoes in his ears all the same. The words feel like a whisper against his skin, the low, raspy quality of the tone twisted into an almost affectionate lilt, and despite himself, Vergil thinks he smiles, stopping in his tracks but not quite turning around.

There’s light splashing from behind him, the sound of unsteady footsteps in an uneven gait, and beside it, the beating of wings against air, and a deep, gentle purr rumbling in a strong chest. 

“Were you looking for me?” Vergil asks, responding to what he knows to be a figment of his imagination.

“Not quite. Perhaps the reverse, actually.”

Vergil looks down at his hands again, checking his forearms and noting the unmarked, smooth color of his flesh, and in the reflection of the water, he sees only blue. A part of him is afraid to turn around, because he remembers how it was in real life, he remembers what always happens to good dreams like these--

A hand touches his shoulder, the fingers slender and thin, with little strength behind the motion, but heavy intent, and Vergil feels the building storm inside of him start to settle down, a warm and weighty comfort draping itself over him at the familiar touch.

He isn’t very good with contact, not since he’d returned from Hell, and even before then, he’d never been too accepting of physical gestures outside of his family. He’s more like his father, in that regard--he was never very good with this sort of interaction, either.

But V’s is a touch that he can trust, a rare thing that he can put his faith wholly and completely in, a fundamental part of himself.

Vergil faces him, his gaze flickering over the familiars still at V’s side. 

Shadow stalks forward, purring in the back of its throat as it rubs up against his leg, warmer and softer to the touch than Vergil had thought it’d be. 

“What’s up, superstar? You miss us?” 

These are illusions, too, conjured up to stay at V’s side because that is how Vergil will always remember him, trailed endlessly by the parts of his past. 

Somehow, Griffon is less annoying than Vergil recalls him to be. He doubts that his own tolerance has grown any higher, or that the bird has actually changed, but absence makes the heart grow fond, as the saying goes, and he can’t quite deny that fondness is indeed what he feels.

“This is hardly the ideal spot for a reunion,” V muses idly, tapping his cane lightly against the ground.

He looks at Vergil expectantly, before tilting his head in an indicative direction, off to the side, in a clear motion for Vergil to follow him.

Vergil doesn’t usually allow himself to be led around so easily, but his feet carry him after V’s form anyway, not entirely with his own permission. He feels light and unmoored in his mind, being gently pushed along by an invisible pressure, but when he drifts here, it’s nowhere near as bad.

There’s nothing for him to see, nowhere for him to go, other than the place where V is taking him. His nightmares don’t exist here, and his memories cannot touch him, and it is here--and maybe only here--that Vergil is safe in being himself.

The area around them ripples as they go further along, the shape of his dreams transforming themselves according to his own unconscious will, responding innately to what he might want, and when V comes to a stop, the bottoms of their feet brushing up against hardwood flooring and a soft carpet rug, he is standing in the room he’d fallen asleep in, the one place he tentatively calls his own in the real world.

It is a borrowed thing, in reality, a part of his brother’s own property that has been shared with him, but this world is composed solely of him and V now, so when he sinks down on the familiar bed he thinks he might actually feel at home. 

It isn’t a complete reconstruction--the ceiling is spotless, and the walls are free of cracks and stains, the door to the room hangs slightly ajar, with nothing quite clearly visible behind it.

The other side of the bed sinks down with added weight as V makes a place next to him, leaning his cane against the bedside drawer. Shadow curls up around the foot of the bed, and the noisy bird makes himself at home on one of the pillows, tapping his claws against the surface experimentally.

“So why are you here?” Vergil asks, because although V’s reappearance is not unwelcome, it is certainly unexpected, after so many days of silence. 

V looks down at him, taking his time with his words as always--the human side of Vergil has always been more cautious in this way, measuring out the pauses in between the way he speaks and acts, tempered by the human notion of limits in the way that Vergil himself has never been able to master.

“Most simply put, I am here because you willed it.”

Did he? 

Vergil doesn’t remember doing such thing, but evidently, that’s hardly an out-of-place occurrence, these days. He frowns, anyway, thinking back in an attempt to recall exactly when he’d wished for such a thing, but V interrupts him with a dry, quiet chuckle, his familiar face softened with wry amusement. 

“Don’t think too hard about that one, perhaps. You do quite enough of that in the waking world.”

He narrows his eyes up at his counterpart, feeling an unusual flash of irritation at the vagueness in V’s replies, the way the man seems to talk in circles around him. Somehow, he remembers Nero’s face, the confusion that was constantly present in his son’s expression whenever he’d spoken to him as V, and Vergil is starting to understand why.

“Is that your purpose in bringing me here, then? To preclude me from thinking?”

V shrugs easily, before reaching over for the pillow that Griffon is perched upon, shooing him away with a sweep of a hand and ignoring the resulting squawk of outrage the bird gives in return. He props the pillows up against the front of the bed, leaning back against them as to properly sit by Vergil’s side.

Like this, his form is pressed up against Vergil’s own, the sides of their arms touching. It’s a tame gesture, but neither of them are very prone to overindulgent displays of affection, and when Vergil closes his eyes and leans into the touch, he feels a little more grounded where he is, a little more like he is where he’s meant to be.

“Do what you will, this life's a fiction. And it is made up of contradiction.” 

Contradiction, indeed.

Driven by some sort of long-dormant instinct, Vergil slides his hand over until his fingertips touch the warmth of V’s hand. 

It’s strange--when he was V, he remembers his skin being cold, ashen and clammy and falling apart at the seams, but he supposes that it’s only natural for things to be different, now that neither of them are on the edge of death.

Underneath his touch, V turns his hand over, until his palm is pressed against Vergil’s, and for a faint, wildly imaginative moment, Vergil thinks he can feel the flutter of the other’s pulse against his skin.

“You are not alive,” he says, with a certain sort of finality, the barest hint of an apology laced underneath his words.

V is not alive because Vergil made it that way. He’d given V a few, precious days as a human on this earth, had allowed him to clean up the mistakes he’d made as Vergil, and then had abruptly returned V to himself, merging him back into nothing.

So to have him here with him now, warm and breathing and pretending to be alive, is a contradiction, one that Vergil may not entirely deserve to keep.

“No,” V agrees, after a pause, pressing his hand a little more insistently against Vergil’s palm, as if willing him to understand.

“But I’m real. To you, at least.”

Vergil smiles at the words, his senses drawn to the gentle cadence of V’s voice. 

Time flows differently here, and it feels frozen around him as he counts out the seconds by the rhythm of V’s words, lingering too long in the pauses in between. He’s always found that Dante and Nero talk too fast, somehow. They move fast and act fast and live fast, and Vergil has come to realize that he can no longer quite keep up.

They go on without him, usually, and in the moments when they turn towards him in search of his input, Vergil finds himself with nothing to say, his words halted at the tip of his tongue or swallowed up in the constricting tightness of his throat, and in the end, his opportunity passes and life moves onwards. He’s taken to tuning them out, because their topics are generally of disinterest to him, but also mostly because not listening is better than constantly trying and fighting to do so, in the way he always is in the real world.

But listening to V is easy. 

It feels like a long walk down a gentle, sloping plane, with no end in sight and no particular goal he must rush to attain, and Vergil lets himself breathe gently out and relax, a thin smile pressing against his lips. There’s nothing inherently joyful or humorous in the situation to warrant this expression, but he feels so strangely light, for once, and can’t quite help the way his body wants to react.

“Something funny?”

Vergil opens his eyes again, attempting to memorize the sight of the face above him, just in case. There’s a certain kind of softness in V’s gaze that Vergil doubts he could ever mimic, even after everything he knows now--he’s still too far removed from how humans act and think, how emotions truly work--but he thinks that when he looks at V, he comes a little closer to understanding these things.

He doesn’t reply immediately, languidly trying to tug his thoughts into order, but V waits for him anyway, comfortable in the silence around them. He expects nothing from Vergil--no one can expect anything from him, not here, and so even though Vergil feels a familiar guilt within him at the vivid green of V’s eyes and the whorls of ink spilling across his skin, he doesn’t apologize.

“No. Something simply occurred to me.”

V raises a brow, dipping his head indulgently in a motion for Vergil to go on, and Vergil returns his gaze to the spot of chipped paint above his head, distantly wondering when he should return to reality. He doesn’t know how long his body has been sleeping while his mind has wandered here, but perhaps that’s for the best.

He never knows where his time goes while he is awake, so at least, when he’s asleep, he knows that his lost time can be found here, in a place of comfort and stability. 

No one is waiting for him, anyway. He can afford to linger for as long as he wishes. 

He turns his attention back to V, who has been gazing gently at him in the wake of his extended pause, thinking nothing abnormal of it.

“I merely wondered,” he says, testing the uncertain words against his tongue.

“If you missed anything in particular, during your time as a human.”

It isn’t an apology as much as it is a silent offer of compensation, but V tilts his head in thought anyway. Vergil remembers that he’d stolen V’s experience from him even before absorbing him, preoccupying his mind with his own troubles and forcing Urizen’s prevention to be V’s first and last and only priority. 

If V knows what he’s truly trying to do, he doesn’t acknowledge it, a smile to match Vergil’s own playing at his lips.

“There is something, perhaps. It would certainly take a while to get into it.”

Vergil allows himself to settle back into the pillows, his movements careful and slow, intentionally stretching out the best of his dreams for as long as V is willing to go, and the concept of the dream itself, the line that stands between this and reality erodes slightly away.

“Tell me about it, then.”

 


 

Dante and Nero watch him when they think he isn’t looking.

Nero’s concern has always been a present thing, a constant that Vergil could often find himself relying on, so feeling the boy’s gaze burning into the side or the back of his head while he’s in the middle of drifting off is nothing new. It brings him a little back to awareness, in fact, even if these days he finds himself increasingly reluctant to return to reality, now that he actually has somewhere to go.

But when Dante starts joining in--or, at least, when the level of Dante’s worry has increased to such a degree that it actually becomes noticeable behind the mask of a stranger that Vergil sometimes feels his brother hides behind--Vergil supposes that the present state of affairs must be worse than he’d thought. 

It’s getting harder for him to tell, though, because he spends most of his time in his own room nowadays, laying in bed in an attempt to sleep as much as humanly, or rather, demonically possible. He rarely feels tired anymore, but he shuts his eyes and forces himself underneath awareness anyway, because he’s begun to crave it, the feeling of belonging and acceptance and being at home that he really only ever feels with V anymore. 

It’s not as if Dante and Nero aren’t trying--in fact, they’re trying a little too hard to drag Vergil into their world, or at least Nero seems to be. His son continuously approaches him with conversation that Vergil finds himself with no energy to continue or little actions that require his input when Vergil is honestly at a loss for what to do. 

Vergil generally isn’t one to bow to the whims of others--

but he certainly understands how to

--but Nero always shows such painfully genuine interest in interacting with him, and when Vergil looks at him and remembers what he used to see in this boy and how he used to see him, as a means to an end, as a new opportunity, as a last resort, more of those slowly amalgamating drops of guilt start to come together, forming something wholly unpleasant and unfamiliar in his stomach.

He still isn’t sure how to deal with feelings such as these, not after a lifetime of instructing himself to lock them away, and so in the end, he finds that his best option is to excuse himself, the coward’s way out.

But a way nonetheless. 

“You’re here rather often, don’t you think?” V asks him one day, because of course he notices the increasing frequency of which Vergil is visiting his dreams.

It’d be hard to miss, even if V weren’t him, and Vergil wisely holds his tongue as he settles himself into the chair opposite of V, the other’s eyes flicking up from the page of the book in his hands to study him carefully. It’s a different kind of scrutiny than what he receives from Dante and Nero, a deeper level of understanding that only a part of himself could achieve.

“Yeah, not that we’re sick of your face or anything, but surely you got better things to do than to hang around here having tea parties?” 

Griffon hops off of his perch on V’s shoulder to land on the table, bending down to peck at a plate of cookies set upon it, his claw poking curiously at the cup of tea in its saucer. None of it is real--Vergil himself can neither eat nor drink it, but V had told him he’d most enjoyed the flavor of tea, back when he’d walked the earth, and Vergil’s long since rifled through his memories of that time and unearthed this imprint of a familiar memory. 

“This is my world,” he replies outwardly, folding his hands on the table, and the area around them ripples and changes, the lighting altering itself and the background warping into color, as if to prove his point.

“I can reside here for as long as I like.”

V doesn’t reply immediately, hooking his slender fingers through the handle of the tea cup and lifting it to his lips, his green gaze unblinking at Vergil as one part of his imagination absorbs another.

“You never know what is enough, unless you know what is more than enough.’ It stands to reason that you don’t quite know your limits.”

He never has, really. Becoming aware of his limits only makes him increasingly determined to surpass them, to the point where his persistence has become one of the core principles that he defines himself by.

“Does that bother you?” 

V chuckles, the sound dry and low in his throat.

“Isn’t that what I’m here for? To know them for you?”

It’s almost a relief, a burden that would be shared, but he remembers that V isn’t here, not really, that Vergil has to watch and know himself in the waking world alone, and he doesn’t even know where to start with that.

Perhaps it’s the apparent insurmountability of this task, or maybe it’s because of how much he spends laying around, inert and languid in these recent days, but in his hours awake, Vergil is filled with a constant sort of restlessness, an inexplicable, unplaceable desire for something he can’t quite put a name to.

Whatever it is, it takes Vergil to different places, his body and feet pushing him into motion before he’s quite aware of himself. Often, he’ll allow himself to drift away, and then when the distinct coolness of the night air touches his face and the familiar itch tingles at his neck, he’ll blink and breathe himself back into the present and find himself standing in the middle of some nameless road, turned in whatever direction he’s been pulled in while he was away. 

It’s admittedly quite unnerving, the way he’s rapidly starting to decline away from reality, no longer able to immediately locate himself in even the physical sense. He’s not rooted to any one place in the human world, and it certainly shows, with the way his body wanders with nowhere to go.

The people in his life have certainly taken notice of it, and when Vergil finally awakens from another long night and checks his green-eyed reflection in the mirror and moves himself halfway down the stairs, he can hear Nero’s attempts at furious whispering, the boy trying to emphasize his emotion without raising his voice. He’s mostly unsuccessful in the attempt, but Vergil’s senses have always been sharp anyway, and the sound of his own name in his son’s mouth has him admittedly interested, more attentive than he’d normally allow himself be.

“Dante, he’s sleeping for like, sixteen hours a day--no way in hell is that normal, even if it is some sort of screwy demon biology thing.”

There’s a lazy pause, in which Vergil imagines that his brother shrugs, leaning back in his chair in that carefully practiced way of his.

“Maybe not. But it’s what he wants to do, yeah? So I’m not about to complain. Better than when he wasn’t getting any sleep at all in those first days, anyway.”

Right. Because there was a time in which Dante’s words were the truth, when Vergil laid awake and feared what sort of too-good dream would await him on the other side, when he hadn’t known and hadn’t wanted to know what had become of V.

Nero sighs in exasperation, and the sound makes Vergil feel oddly fond, a distant memory of the way Nero had put up with his many requests as V settling into his heart.

“Can’t you at least talk to him or something? You’re his brother.”

“Yeah. And as his brother, I’m telling you that you should back off. You don’t know him, Nero.”

He doesn’t have to see Nero’s face to know his expression, then, the amount of hurt hanging in the air clear enough for him to tell. He knows it well, because he’s put that look on the boy several times before, each time he’s omitted a piece of the truth for him or turned his back or left him and the rest of the world behind.

“Sorry, kid. That was a shitty thing to say. I just mean...Vergil is not...the best at opening up. If he doesn’t want to talk about something, he won’t.”

Vergil feels like some sort of switch has been flipped inside his head, and when he presses a hand against his head, his pieces sliding abruptly out of place again, his neck itches and itches until something solid and heavy and wraps around it, burning into his skin. He wants to scratch at it, and he thinks he does, but even if tries and tries, he can’t erase the feeling or remove the--

he won’t talk, he won’t tell this demon--his master--what he wants to hear, he doesn’t know why, he doesn’t know who he is, but these words are a secret to him all the same

--”If you push too hard, you’ll push him away entirely,” Dante adds, in a more subdued sort of tone, the muted quality of his words seeping hazily through the place that Vergil suddenly finds himself lost in.

“I just got him back. I don’t want to risk it.”

That’s not quite true. Dante didn’t push him away, no one pushed him--

he fell, he stepped backwards, he made his choice and made his own end to his own story

--it’s just the way that Vergil is, an unchanging aspect of his personality.

He thinks that Nero might be about to reply, to continue on with this thread concerning him, but Vergil is already unanchored, moving away from this conversation that he doesn’t want to exist, another reminder of the way he’s interrupted the natural flow of life. Somewhere in the most rational part of his mind, he convinces himself to wait until the voices have fallen mostly silent before he ghosts down the stairs and steps lightly towards the door.

If Dante and Nero see or hear him, they don’t try to stop him, and Vergil pushes himself into the quiet night, tracing his footsteps against the blackness of the road beneath his feet. There’s nothing behind or in front of him, no other presence that he can register amongst his senses, but his heart jumps uncomfortably in his chest anyway, icy adrenaline prickling through his blood, his body prepared for an invisible, nonexistent sort of threat creeping up from behind.

The world is changing in between his heartbeats, and when the path stretches out for too long and the city is quiet and empty like a held-in breath, he suddenly remembers having no name and no identity, and how his then-master had sealed him away when he’d had no purpose.

The form that he sees, then, could possibly be himself, but he prefers to think of it otherwise, his hand in the real world already starting to claw at his neck at the sight of the chains wrapped around not-his throat. 

He’s being held in the darkness, his limbs achingly tight with the way they’re being pulled upon, straining with the weight of suspending him in the black ink encasing him. This is--

this is my world, i can reside here for as long as i like

--this is where he stays, when his master has no need of him, and the worst part of it all, the part that hangs the heaviest upon his armor-clad body, is the absolute emptiness around him. Nothing happens, when he’s here,

time flows differently here, and it feels frozen around him 

and there is no sight or sound or sensation, nothing to mark the passage of how long he’s been here as his mind slowly scrapes itself away from the inside. He almost wishes he could speak to himself, if only to be able to register something, to be able to remind himself that he’s still alive, but he’s lost his voice long ago, along with his name and face and life, his tongue held still by the force of his own will. 

His master had demanded answers, ones he simply could not give, and he’d found it easier to simply stop speaking, and now that--

he's spent weeks, or days, or months, or years

--so much time here, simply floating in the silence, he thinks he’s forgotten how to speak altogether.

He’s going insane, he thinks, perhaps both in the memory and in the present--he wouldn’t know how to tell the two apart for sure at this moment, anyway--and the thought maybe frightens the person he thinks he used to be, because he’s already lost everything he’d thought he’d had to give and more.

He can’t lose his mind too, he won’t, he’ll hold onto it--

just like he held onto the hilt of his sword, the chain of his amulet, the outstretched hand of his own brother

--with everything he has, even if he has nothing.

In the real world--he guesses it is real, because he feels something, here--a coppery, warm wetness trickles down his fingers, the thinner parts of his neck nearly scratched away by his nails, and when he swallows hard, almost relishing in the sting that the stretch of the broken skin gives him, he looks down and finds himself farther away from the shop than he’s been before. 

He’s on a bridge, water trickling gently beneath his feet, the distant moonlight glowing softly against the stream. A quick glance at his surroundings allows him to read the text off of the signs, and he’s somewhat aware of where he is, a vague memory of Dante taking him through this path the first time they’d limped out of the underworld, leaning against each other for support.

He’d leaned into Dante’s touch then, both because he’d wanted more of it, and because of the necessity of keeping himself upright. Vergil looks down at his boots and remembers the way his footsteps had stumbled as his gait became uneven and crooked, and he’d shifted into Dante more heavily than usual, staggering against the force of gravity and into his side.

“Woah, there--I’ve got you, Verge.”

Vergil feels the phantom imprint of his brother’s hand against his side, and then against his own palm, and despite the way he tries to hold onto himself, this time, Dante’s memory isn’t enough to keep him here. 

The clouds roll over the moon, and the light dims, and Vergil feels like he’s been thrust into the darkness again, he’s alone and empty and he’d made himself that way, and the more he waits here, doing nothing, feeling nothing, becoming nothing, 

nothing left to offer and nothing left in the world that he can possibly call his own

the more he wants to think about nothing, too.

It’d be so much easier for time to pass, if he wasn’t aware of it.

The him in his memories shuts his eyes--or maybe his eyes were always closed, and he simply couldn’t tell, with the unchanging dark around him--and his form goes limp, his thoughts sparking out of awareness as he drifts away.

Already, he’s forgetting--

“The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks.”

The voice should be too loud, relative to where he is, after so long spent in the silence, but he sees himself look up, and he does too, the him of the past and present staring at the same spot in different times. He can’t tell which time the V that is standing in front of him is from, but he gravitates towards the presence anyway, taking a few hesitant steps forward.

His other self, in comparison, nearly cringes away, confused and almost overwhelmed by this presence he doesn’t know. Vergil didn’t know who V was at that time, either, so he hardly blames this emptier, unknowing part of him for being wary. 

What are you, he wants--or wanted--to ask, but he has no voice to ask it with.

The being understands him anyway, and the hand he extends towards him is pale and unmarked, free of the ink that binds the V of Vergil’s memories to his old nightmares. His fingers are cool and soft against Vergil’s cracked, corrupted face, and when he leans in, pressing his forehead against this memory-not-Vergil’s own, the emptiness around him is a little less oppressive, a weight lifted off of his shoulders.

“You are a useless dream,” V whispers to his old self, stroking gentle circles into his cheek with a careful thumb, bringing him back to awareness with each movement.

He wants to lean into the touch, but he can’t move, still restrained by the bindings wrapped around each of his limbs, snaking through the armor and nestling themselves against his throat. As if hearing his thoughts, though--perhaps because this stranger is his thought--the being presses himself ever closer.

“But as am I. The matters of our existence are at odds.”

A contradiction--

i am here because you willed it

--V has no reason to exist at either of these points in Vergil’s life, past and present, and yet Vergil sees him.

He blinks again, his eyelids heavy with the movement, the skin of his neck stinging as it quietly returns itself to normal, but when he looks harder at reality, the image of V is still standing before him, leaning quietly against the bridge, a small smile against his face.

Vergil thinks he understands, then, that he does not need to sleep, in order to dream.

He’d done so before, creating V from his thoughts out of necessity, a survival mechanism, almost, a way to hold onto the pieces of his already fragile mind, and now he’s called his form to him again, a piece of his own comfort to bring him back when he drifts too far.

“I think you’ve wandered quite far enough,” V says wryly, tilting his head to survey the surroundings around them, the water beneath their feet.

Relief cracks open in the pit of his stomach, cool and grounding and soothing as it blankets itself over the too-fast beat of his heart and slows the blood in his veins. V knows his limits, knows their limits from where he’d walked this earth, and Vergil trusts in his judgment, acquiescing with a slight nod.

The way V walks is strange, firmly ethereal, one little last detail to remind Vergil that this is the dream he should know it to be, and he glides over to stand next to him, pressing his hand against his side, right where Dante had caught him, weeks before. Vergil is surprised that V’s hand feels like a touch at all, but he allows the other to slowly lead him back, retracing his steps to the shop.

The streets aren’t so empty, with this one other non-person beside him, and Vergil doesn’t drift away again, his senses concentrated on the feeling of V’s palm against the fabric of his coat, the touch seeping into his skin.

They stop at the edge of the doorstep of the shop, as V slides his hand up to Vergil’s shoulder and faces him, a faintly amused smile curling at his mouth. His fingers brush against the healed over skin of Vergil’s neck, and the touch is heavy enough to feel solid against him, and light enough to almost tickle, but in a pleasant way.

Like this, he knows that it’s only V’s hand that is touching him, there are no chains, and the surface of his neck is smooth, free of blisters and cracks and parts rubbed raw by futile struggle.

“Perhaps you should consider cleaning this up, before you actually go in. I doubt either of them would take it very well, if you showed up with blood on your collar.”

“I had not thought you capable of looking after me,” Vergil admits wryly, but he readjusts the edge of his coat, anyway, folding the fabric in a way that will disguise the stains. 

“Well, someone has to.”

Vergil dips his head in a semi-agreement as he pushes open the door. The second he steps inside, V’s presence fades away from his awareness, leaving him standing alone in the entrance of the shop. 

Now that he’s properly looking again, he can see Nero seated at the kitchen table, his hands wrapped around a steaming cup of liquid. The boy looks up when he hears Vergil approach, the sound of his boots against the wooden floor echoing against the walls.

Nero looks at him in what could almost be surprise before he rubs at his eyes and stifles a yawn, stirring the drink in his hands with a spoon.

“Oh. Welcome back.”

Vergil patiently expects Nero to say more, to ask where he’s been and what he’s been doing, and Nero certainly looks as if he wants to speak, but at the last moment, he bites his lip with a tiny, barely-there shake of his head.

“Have you seen Dante?” 

Have you seen the other one, the other twin, I already possess one son of Sparda, how divine would it be to have a complete set, tell me where he is tell me what you know of him tell me his weaknesses his strengths his everything or I will--

“I assumed he was with you,” Vergil replies flatly as he starts to crane his neck in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the time.

If Dante was wandering about, at this hour, perhaps it wasn’t as late as he’d thought, after all.

“He, uh...he sort of...went out to look for you, after you’d been gone for more than a couple of hours. I thought for sure he was gonna run into you--he’s weirdly good at tracking people down like that.”

Dante’s familiar penchant for finding trouble, no doubt.

Vergil slowly shakes his head, Nero’s words filtering into his brain at a sluggish pace, and the realization of exactly how long he’s been gone for reaches him belatedly. He feels like he should be more surprised, because he hadn’t known he’d been standing out on that bridge for so long, but he knows where his time went--he spent it with V, and he spent it well.

“Do not worry,” he attempts to reassure Nero, pulling the words from himself with entirely too much effort, and they feel heavy and slow against his tongue.

“Dante can handle himself.”

Nero looks at him for a long moment then, his face strangely unreadable as he drops his gaze into his cup, his grip tightening slightly around it.

“Yeah, I know. I just...he’s old, and museum artifacts like him usually hop into bed at like, two in the afternoon. His cranky ass is going to bitch at me all morning tomorrow now.”

Vergil thinks he knows his son well enough, but--

you don’t know him, Nero

--but he can’t, in this moment, trust himself to read the situation correctly. He thinks that Nero might be concerned for Dante, but he doesn’t know what Nero wants or expects him to do about it, if he wants Vergil to go back out in search of his brother, or perhaps apologize for causing Dante to go out in the first place.

So he stays silent, as usual, and Nero seems at an unusual loss for words, too, tracing the surface of the table idly with the fingers of his right hand. The boy swallows hard, looking up at him several times in a nervous gesture before letting out a soft exhale.

“There’s, uh...there’s more hot water over there, if you want tea. Kinda noticed that more people than me have been drinking it lately, and I don’t think Dante actually drinks anything that isn’t pizza grease.”

Nero doesn’t quite look at him as he speaks, an embarrassed flush barely pinkening his cheeks as he unsubtly slides lower in his chair. It’s obvious what the boy wants, and for a moment, Vergil thinks he could do it.

The kitchen is small, and the room is quiet and cozy, and there’s almost enough room that Vergil feels like he might have a place here. 

But when he reaches into himself, he feels nothing but a bone-deep sort of exhaustion, with none of the energy required to sit here and make himself a part of Nero’s life. His throat tightens again, the skin above his pulse fluttering with its usual itch, and when Vergil blinks, he closes his eyes for a second too long and almost loses himself in the process.

“No,” he says, stepping away with a small shake of his head, turning his face away so that he won’t have to see Nero’s reaction.

“Thank you. But I think I would prefer to go to bed.”

Nero doesn’t reply, and Vergil takes his silence as an invitation towards freedom, disappearing up the stairs and into his room. Each of the steps feels like a longer stride than the last, the distance between himself and his son widening with each movement, but he has nothing left in him to go back. Vergil never turns back, anyway, he’s--

he’s spent too much of his entire life trying to get to this point to back down

--he’s always made it a principle of his to attempt to control his future, rather than dwell on his past.

His body takes him through his usual routine--he strips off his coat, folds it neatly up and places it on a nearby chair, glances in the mirror at his green-eyed reflection, and settles himself underneath the covers.

This time, though, even though he really tries, he doesn’t sleep right away.

At least, he’s awake enough to hear it when Dante comes back through the door, closing it softly behind him, in a way that hardly sounds like himself.

“You’re late, old man,” Nero murmurs, his voice drifting up through the thin infrastructure of the house.

“I found him.”

“And you didn’t bring him back with you?”

There’s a silence, then, enough of a gap in time for Vergil to imagine his brother’s state, collapsed into a chair at Nero’s side and shaking his head slightly, his expression reminiscent of one who’s lost a familiar friend.

“I already got him back,” he sighs wistfully, his words too fragile to truly belong to him.

“But I can’t make him stay.”

Vergil feels a bitter memory welling up inside of him, the memories of reunions gone wrong and betrayals twice over and fight after fight after fight--

he always fought anyway, first because he made himself, and then because he was made to

 --pushing against his eyelids. 

The thoughts are as dangerous as any of his own usually are, and when he feels the pressure against his side and the ghosting of fingertips against his palm, he pushes himself away from the sensation and lets himself drift.

 


 

It gets harder to convince himself to stay, as Dante had so aptly put it, after that.

Dante’s quiet confession hasn’t left his mind, the uncharacteristic tone of defeat in his brother’s voice rattling around in the hollow parts of his brain without end. He’s never heard Dante sound like that before, and maybe it’s because Vergil is never around him for long enough to hear it in the first place, or maybe because Dante can’t let himself be like that with Vergil, not after everything he’s done. 

The thought stings at him unpleasantly, drives itself home along with all his other missed opportunities and destroyed relationships and parts of the world long gone by, and so, in the moments when he finds himself unable to escape from the twisting, sinking feeling in his own stomach, he deals with it in the only other way he knows how.

The world is peaceful, for the most part, now that no true demonic rifts have been opened and no beings of ill-intent are attempting to upset the balance of things in mad, futile quests for nothing, but there are always stray incidents lingering about in the city, little cracks in the Underworld spawning the occasional demon.

V follows him as Vergil takes Yamato in hand and not much else, and disappears out the door while Dante and Nero sleep. He’s learned to time his outside excursions around their schedules, to minimize contact with the two of them as much as possible, but Dante is unfortunately often unpredictable, and there’s been more than a few close calls.

V is always following him, these days, either to keep an eye on him or to keep him company. Vergil doesn’t question his intentions, whatever they are, content enough with V’s continued presence to refrain from asking.

It feels good to fight again, even if his current enemies are mostly composed of the brainless, barely sapient dregs of the underworld, the ones that pose threats to basic humans but are little match for the likes of him. There’s no challenge in the particular task he’s chosen to take on, but this is one of the rare times in his life when he has no need for one, when the action of throwing himself into the fray is enough.

When he fights, at least, he knows where he is and will be. He knows the reason behind the too-fast beat of his heart and the fluttering pulse of his veins, and the invisible threat of his past steps away for the briefest o moments as he sinks into the familiarity of his actions. 

“Can’t resist showing off a little?” V inquires lightly as Vergil slowly slides Yamato back into its sheath, hearing the unpleasant sound of demonic guts splattering against the road underneath their feet. 

He stands up, wiping his face with the sleeve of his coat before he crosses his arms, trying to hold onto the feeling that the afterglow of battle always gives him. The statement doesn’t dig at him in the way that it would, coming from another mouth, and he merely shrugs, taking a few steps away from the ruins behind him. 

“As I seem to recall, the one with more of a penchant for the dramatic, between the two of us, would be you. Your own skirmishes always seem to involve an unnecessary amount of light shows.”

“True--but we both know I am not the one to blame for that. I finish the opponent in a timely, and efficient manner, while my familiars squawk about and concern themselves with flashy displays.”

Griffon materializes by V’s head, then, a sudden appearance that makes Vergil look a little harder at the image before him, but V’s form doesn’t flicker, and when Vergil hesitantly and unsubtly alters the path of his gait as to brush up against the other’s side, V’s presence is warm and solid to the touch.

“Woah, hey! Why the drive-by, V? I do all this work for you, and this is the thanks I get? Yeah, real grateful--next time, I’m gonna find a new buddy to draw up a contract with, and you can both eat my birdseed!”

V tilts his head then, giving Vergil a private, knowing look of amusement, like they’re sharing a secret sort of joke. Then, with a wave of his hand, he easily swats Griffon away, the bird disappearing back into the shadows with one last outraged squawk.

“Hush. The adults are speaking,” V murmurs dryly, his voice edging on a laugh, and somehow, Vergil feels a tinge of loneliness at the sound, a bittersweet sort of feeling welling up in his chest.

V seems to take notice, able to read him in a way that no one else can, likely as an effect of actually having been him. He doesn’t ask, though, doesn’t push, merely presses himself closer against Vergil and silently takes his hand, his palm burning against Vergil’s own as they aimlessly walk without direction.

Vergil glances down at their linked hands, and if he blinks, once, twice, and stares just hard enough at the tattooed skin blending against his, the world will shift into place and he sees that he’s holding empty air. 

He curls his hands a little tighter, the resistance that he feels mostly imagined in his own mind, and when his fingers clench and his nails dig into his palm, V’s hand shimmers out of existence for a tangible second. And then he’s looking down at his own hand, and his skin looks different, discolored, thicker, like he’s wearing a glove--

or maybe a suit of armor, metal and magic melded into his flesh to protect him from his own face

--and then he remembers himself, being touched and unable to touch. He sees himself back in the nothingness, his head bowed and his body immobile, resisting his mental commands or perhaps not even receiving them at all.

V’s arms, frail, a little more solid, and still yet unmarked wrap around his form as he presses his face into his armored back, and he remembers jerking at the touch, first away and then towards it, craving more of the contact that the armor around him blocks out. He’s aware of V’s presence, but he can’t truly feel it, and his skin crawls and itches underneath the magic that surrounds him.

“I wish you were real,” Nelo thinks and Vergil says, and Vergil feels a slow shudder pass through him at the way that his--not his--old name resurfaces in his mind, forcing himself to reacknowledge the thing that he used to be.

He unconsciously lifts up a hand, gripping the side of his own arm and rubbing his palm gently against it, trying to make himself remember the feeling of contact before the rising panic can threaten to overwhelm him. He swallows hard, pressing a little harder against his own self, and when the episode fades and his heart calms and he properly looks up, he’s given a moment to appreciate the pitiful quality of this situation.

He’s leaning up against a wall of an alley he doesn’t remember stumbling into, one of his trembling hands holding his sheathed blade by his side and the other holding onto himself like a lifeline. Vergil shuts his eyes and tries to press himself against the wall more harshly, the bricks scratching through the fabric of his coat and digging into his skin.

The sensation of touch is almost too much and still not enough, and Vergil doesn’t know how to make it enough. He feels like a stranger in his own skin, so far removed from the sensations his body is experiencing, and his mind tells him that he’s felt this way before, back when he was someone else.

So it really isn’t anything new to him, and therefore, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern, he should know what to do and how to do it, and instead,

he waits here, doing nothing, feeling nothing, becoming nothing,

he’s standing here and losing himself to his past, accompanied only by an illusion of his own mind.

V has followed him everywhere, and V has borne witness to all of the lowest points of Vergil’s life, and V is the only one who could perhaps even come close to understanding the thoughts that plague Vergil, because he is Vergil’s thoughts, and here, in this thoroughly unpleasant reminder of this fact, Vergil can’t even escape, because V is what he escapes to--

“What could we have been,” he hears himself ask aloud, talking to himself in the silence.

He’s so halfway buried in his own memory that the sound makes him jump, his throat tightening and his ears ringing at the sound made unfamiliar by the way he’s gone back in time.

“Had you been real--what could you have been?”

V is silent for a moment, drifting forward a few paces, reaching out for where Vergil’s hand is slowly starting to tear the fabric of his coat into shreds, with the force of his grip against his own arm. Instinctively, Vergil loosens his hand as V slowly replaces his touch, and Vergil’s hand falls away from his arm altogether.

“I had my chance at a life, so helpfully provided by you,” V reflects quietly, his tone honest and not quite reassuring.

Vergil knows that neither of them have been very prone to softening their words, in the past, and it's something of a relief that V doesn’t make an exception for him.

“And it came to its natural end, as such things tend to do.”

He leans in closer, and Vergil instinctively presses his head back against the wall, his gaze drawn to V’s own, then down to the rest of his face. The hand against his arm flattens slightly as V pushes against him, and Vergil feels him more closely and deeply than he remembers ever being able to before, when it had been just the two of them, him with a different name and V with much of the same purpose.

“But ‘he who kisses joy as it flies by will live in eternity’s sunrise.”

This is not real, Vergil reminds himself, but he remembers Nelo, he remembers the feeling of wishing, of reaching, of straining against his bonds and trying to hold on to something,

like he held onto--

and, in a rare moment of weakness--or perhaps not as rare as he would like, these days--he allows his eyes to slide closed.

“Is that a warning or a request?” He asks, his voice prickling against the dryness of his throat in what could be anticipation.

There’s another pause, and then V shifts forward again, closing the gap between them. Vergil’s never been kissed before, so he can’t quite properly imagine what it feels like--but it’s as warm and as light of a sensation as he assumes it to be, lasting just long enough to let it sink in.

“I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.”

When he opens his eyes, seconds after the feeling fades, he’s alone again, with the wall supporting his suddenly weightless body, the cool air of the night seeping into the torn threads of his ripped sleeve.

It becomes routine, after that, this little interaction that he pretends he can have.

Vergil finds himself craving touch more often than not, and he can hardly ask for it, not when his pride flares up at the very notion of doing so and not when he’s already built up his walls between the two people most available in his real life. 

He and Dante have never had that kind of relationship, anyway, the kind where Vergil could very easily open up and pour out his feelings without fear--their whole rapport, all of their interactions up to this point, has been built up on fight after fight, the tension of their rivalry filling each other with a strange sort of determination to surpass each other. It’s been too long, and Vergil honestly isn’t sure how to look at things from another angle. 

Nero would maybe help him, if he asked. The boy is so eager to get close to him, possibly desiring to make up for the time they’ve lost--

Vergil lost it, he lost his time and he’s still losing it, and it’s hardly fair to ask Nero to recover it for him

--but the problem in that is that requires the action of Vergil asking in the first place, and so he doesn’t.

So he only allows V to help him, because V knows what he needs, without any prompting. It isn’t real, none of it is real, as he must continually remind himself each time, but it certainly feels real, or at least enough for Vergil’s purposes.

It’s a little disorienting, though, because when he opens his eyes afterwards--

he always stops himself from looking, because if he looks then he’ll know 

--he’s forced to try and remember where and when he is, to try and measure how much time he’s lost while he’s been forcing himself to pretend.

His confusion is difficult to hide--it makes him unusually careless and a little less attentive to detail, his mind too absorbed in projecting a fiction, and it makes Dante find him on one occasion, blinking away the aftermath of his encounter with his hand pressed against his mouth.

Dante doesn’t say anything, but Vergil is aware of his presence, anyway. He’s always known where Dante is--

tell me where he is--i do not know where he is, master--he is tell me what you know of him--i do not know anything of him, master--tell me his weaknesses his strengths his everything--there is nothing 

--his instincts always slightly on edge around the person he’s fought for higher ground with since birth.

“Dante,” Vergil greets neutrally, and it takes a moment before he can convince himself to truly turn around and face him. 

His grip tightens on Yamato--to his surprise, because he doesn’t even remember bringing her along, but he supposes he did, out of routine--as he looks Dante over. His brother looks more tired than Vergil has seen him in a while, running a gloved hand through his hair before sticking his hands in his pockets, his body tense despite his attempts to appear casual.

True to his word, or at least the word he’d given Nero, Dante doesn’t push for answers, merely standing across from him in the silence, letting the seconds go by. It’s only when Vergil takes an experimental step forward that Dante finally reacts, straightening up as he pushes slightly away from the post he’s leaning against.

“Do you want to fight?”

Vergil pauses at the question, his eyes flicking to his brother’s expression again, but Dante’s face is strangely unreadable, wiped free of the usual levity present on it, his eyes sparking with something darker. The tension in Dante’s muscles doesn’t lessen, not even when he extends his hand and his new weapon materializes in his hand, the tip of the broad sword digging into the concrete beneath them.

A foolish question.

Vergil always wants--

he doesn’t want to fight this person, this person with the necklace that burns his mind and skin and the face he’s maybe seen, he doesn’t want it, but his master wants it, so he must want it too

--to fight, it’s simply the human interaction with Dante that he wants to avoid altogether. 

Vergil steps to the side in an attempt to move around Dante, but, somewhere in between his first and second blink, Dante lunges towards him, his jaw clenched and his eyes tinted burnt orange, the edge of his sword coming straight for Vergil’s throat.

No matter how disconnected his mind and body have been as of late, the former moves to protect him anyway, his hands unsheathing his sword in a movement too fast for the eye to track, blocking Dante’s blade with his own. Despite his reservations about interacting with Dante at all, he can feel his demon side stirring angrily in the pit of his stomach, flaring up at the clear challenge presented to them.

He barely represses a snarl at his brother as he roughly plants his boot in Dante’s midsection and forces him away, putting a space of distance between them. His human part, though, twists sharply in a vague sort of concern, Dante’s behavior prickling wrongly against his skin.

Dante doesn’t pause before he starts forward again, the two of them exchanging blows, energy sparking around them as they both come closer to shifting into their trigger forms. There’s a heavy amount of force behind each of Dante’s strikes, fueled with intent and emotion, and Vergil matches each one with his usual grace.

In the past, Dante’s always been talkative during their fights, seemingly unable to stop himself from running his mouth as he throws out insults or banter, taunting Vergil to come closer. He’d treated their battles like a game, almost, a continuous argument thrown back and forth between the two of them since childhood.

But Dante is quiet now, his eyes dark and serious, and something about it fills Vergil with an odd sort of dread. He’s hardly intimidated by his own brother, not when he stands on equal footing with him in terms of power, but the way that Dante behaves now is something that Vergil doesn’t know, a side of Dante he’s never really seen.

i do not know anything of him, master

The next time their blades clash, the sound of it feels off, the clang of the metal turning warped as it echoes through his mind, and then Dante’s clothes change, his hair changes, the lines on his face recede into his skin and the stubble at his jaw fades away, his appearance undone by time. 

Vergil’s neck itches again, a different sort of sensation from before, his skin bound by a different chain, and he--

he wants to see his brother’s face, he wants his brother to see his face, the helmet is molded into his skin, is what makes him, but he peels it off

--he very nearly reaches up, his hand twitching towards the itch, and it’s all the opening Dante needs. His brother darts forward, one foot far in between Vergil’s space, and then the world tilts--physically rather than mentally, for once--and Vergil is blinking up at his brother, his back pressed against the cool concrete.

The point of the devil sword digs into Vergil’s neck as Dante breathes heavily out into the night air. Vergil’s instincts tell him to shove Dante away, and when he turns his head to the side, he sees so many possibilities on how to break free, on how to use this to his strength and turn the situation on its head, but his body trembles with an unusual sort of exhaustion, his limbs going limp against most of his will.

His fingers uncurl from around Yamato’s hilt, and the sword at his neck dissolves into air.

“Nero was right,” Dante mutters finally, speaking more to himself than to Vergil.

“Guess we really do need to talk, after all.”

he won’t talk, he won’t tell this demon--his master--what he wants to hear

Dante reaches down, extending a hand towards him, but Vergil looks past it, placing his palms flat underneath him and getting to his feet without Dante’s help.

“Talk, then,” he offers flatly as he picks up Yamato and replaces it in its sheath.

There is no part of him that wants to engage in such a conversation with his brother, but--

he doesn’t want it, but his master wants it, so he must want it too

--but Dante had won, as distracted and pitiful as Vergil’s current mental state is, and Vergil is ever-bound by his own code of conduct, the honor that compels him to at least indulge in Dante’s request.

He turns on his heel, starting to walk a few paces away from Dante, fully expecting his brother to follow him. There’s no reason for them to remain still while interacting in this dreadful conversation, and if they reach the shop early, perhaps he can foist Dante off on Nero and successfully escape into his room.

“You know that’s not what I mean, Verge,” Dante insists, his footsteps tapping against the ground as he quickens his pace to catch up to Vergil.

Vergil doesn’t know. He doesn’t know his brother, and his brother doesn’t know him--they’d only lived together for eight years, after all, in a lifetime ago when they were children.

He tries to hide the way he tenses when Dante falls into step beside him, and he turns his head to the side, refusing to see Dante’s expression.

“You are the only one who wants this, Dante. Therefore, the burden of conversation is on you. Speak.”

His brother’s irritation is palpable in the way that it suddenly spikes, and Vergil feels Dante’s emotions like a tangible heat beside him, a mixture of pent-up frustration and true anger cloaking his form. Vergil’s own instincts automatically shift in preparation again, but Vergil’s mind doubts that Dante will attack him again, so he tries to control his own self, something he’s found himself having immense difficulty with nowadays. 

“Fine, I will speak--I want to know what’s going on with you. Tell me what the hell is up.”

 tell me where he is tell me what you know of him

“Must you interfere in every aspect of my personal life?”

“It isn’t interfering so much as wondering why Nero and I never see you. You lock yourself up in that room for more than half the day, and when you do come out, it’s only when you think you won’t have to see us. What, you hate being here so badly?"

this is my world, i can reside here for as long as i like

“So you continue to claim--”

son of sparda

“--and yet we have run into each other anyway, only for you to attack me.”

“Yeah, because it’s the only way I can get you to stick around for longer than a few seconds nowadays. The only thing I know for sure is that you’d never turn down a good fight.”

let us, as you say, fight, then

“And so we have fought--was it everything you hoped for, brother?”

Dante suddenly reaches out then, seizing his arm and jerking Vergil to a stop. The touch feels like it burns against his skin, and suddenly Dante’s hand against his arm is too big, his presence is too close, and everything about this one moment is simply too much.

“Don’t give me shit, Vergil. I’m asking you to talk to me here, because you’re obviously not okay.”

His brother tugs more insistently at his arm again, forcing Vergil to properly look at him with the motion, and Vergil feels the frustration on Dante’s face within himself, his jaw clenching as he struggles to suppress the sudden surge of emotion.

“Why is this so important to you?” He grits out, because he genuinely doesn’t understand, doesn’t understand why Dante and Nero continue to try so hard to reach out to him when there’s nothing for them to find.

Dante looks at him like he doesn’t understand the question, and for a dazed moment, Vergil thinks maybe he trailed off midsentence or simply forgot to say his words at all. He wouldn’t be surprised, not with how scattered he’s starting to feel, like every part of him is in a different place.

“You’re asking me why I care about whether or not my own twin brother is okay?”

Vergil closes his eyes for a second too long, wondering if the swaying sensation he feels is his physical self becoming unbalanced or if he’s shifting into another time and place again, and the frustration in his gut suddenly swells, building up into something like actual anger. He snaps his eyes open again, tearing his arm away from Dante’s grasp and stepping back from his brother, his muscles tense and an instinctual growl building up in his throat.

“Because you should not, Dante--in fact, it is absolutely irrational for you to care. We lived together for eight years, and then after that, our relationship has been far from amicable. It is clear that I have wronged you, and several times at that, and yet, you continue to insist on keeping me at your side. Why?”

He is nothing if not logical, and his logical mind can hardly wrap itself around Dante’s reasoning. His brother has hardly asked him to pay his penance for his assorted sins--in fact, even after Vergil had essentially sacrificed a city of innocents and his relationship with his son in search of one last desperation-driven rush towards power, Dante hadn’t seemed to care. He’d merely patted him on the back sometime during their excursion in Hell and asked for a spar, as if no harm had been done.

Dante isn’t a fool--he might act the part, but Vergil knows that his brother’s true intelligence lurks behind his usual mask. So either Dante is pitying him, or Dante is lying to him, and Vergil can hardly stand the thought of either.

Dante blinks at him slowly, lowering his hands back down to his sides, staring at Vergil as if he’s never seen him before.

“Well,” he says carefully, a note of caution lingering in his words. 

“You’re my brother.”

“And that absolves me of any guilt?” Vergil snaps in return, hardly able to contain the agitation that he feels.

Such displays of emotion are highly unbecoming of him, but this is just another part of himself that he no longer has control over, another part of his identity that continues to unmake itself, the longer he spends here in the human world.

“No. It doesn’t. And I’ve never said that I forgive you for what you’ve done, either. Because I don’t. At least, not all of me does. Part of me still definitely blames you for everything, and I don’t think that’s going away any time soon.”

His throat constricts again, this time blocked by something suspiciously close to an automatic apology, but Dante shakes his head at whatever look Vergil must be wearing, dragging his hands down his face with a sigh. Dante steps forward, reaching out and pressing a gloved hand against Vergil’s shoulder.

“But the point is, I figured out a long time ago that I don’t really care about your apology. I don’t need to hear it. Whether you say it or not, I’m still gonna feel what I feel, and I’ve still got a right to feel it. Not really going to make the situation any better or worse.”

Dante looks him in the eye again, and Vergil hates to think of the way he must look now, vulnerable and open to his own brother for the first time in too many years.

“You’re here. So that’s enough.”

But Vergil isn’t here--not all the time, at least, and Dante doesn’t know, Dante doesn’t understand--

Dante is looking at him expectantly, looking at him the way that Nero looks at him, the both of them wanting and hoping for Vergil to give something in return. Dante’s opened his heart up to Vergil, so Vergil should do the same, he should answer Dante’s initial question, he should tell him what he wants to know.

Only Dante’s presence keeps him from scratching at his neck like he wants to, feeling the crawling of his flesh inch its way underneath his clothes and everywhere across his body, until the only thing he wants to do is get out of it.

Dante could maybe understand, if Vergil would just open up and tell him the truth, explain that he sometimes drifts away, often in the middle of an event or conversation, that he finds himself too drained to make the effort of staying consciously in his present. Dante would listen, and he doubts Dante would judge.

“I am…” he swallows hard, trying to force the words to come out, but when he reaches for the rest, there isn’t any more to find.

“I am tired.”

It’s an admission, as close to the truth as Dante will probably get in this one night, but even so, Vergil knows it’s not enough.

it’s not enough and he’s not enough, not enough power to control his own life and not enough strength to protect the lives of others

Dante pauses after his words, tilting his head and searching Vergil’s face for more, and Vergil lets him, if only because he knows Dante won’t find anything.

The man drops his head slightly, a soft exhale leaving him as his hand slips away from Vergil’s shoulder, and the relief that Vergil feels far outweighs any sense of longing he’d had for the contact, his too-sensitive skin still stinging from where Dante’s hand had been. 

“You want to head to bed then, Vergil?”

Dante sounds tired himself, distant and far away.

Vergil feels himself nod, bringing a hand to his lips and pressing his fingers lightly against his mouth in an unconscious attempt to recreate the last friendly touch he knows how to accept.

He blinks once, twice, and then his vision tilts, and when he looks over Dante’s shoulder, V is standing behind, watching him with his usual quiet green gaze.

“Yes,” Vergil says vaguely, unsure of who he’s talking to anymore, but looking clearly past Dante and into another world altogether.

He’s happier in that world, his skin is warm and doesn’t hurt to touch, and his mind is quiet and V smiles like the sunrise, subtle and gentle and inviting. 

“I would like to go.”

 


 

 

For the most part, Vergil thinks he’s being avoided.

Either Dante’s warned Nero away from him, or the boy has simply given up on his attempts to reach out to Vergil altogether, because neither of them interfere with his life anymore. He’s already driven Dante out of his life long ago, so it hardly fazes him that his brother’s presence is slowly starting to fade out of his life, but Nero’s lack of appearance is somewhat jarring. 

A part of him is grateful for this, because now he no longer has to pretend to be a part of this world. He can spend as many hours as he likes with himself, asleep in his bed or wandering in the streets or lost in the depths of his own mind, and no one will expect him to keep up. 

In the times when he’s actually aware, though, he’ll open up his door and find a plate of pizza by his feet, possibly arranged for by Dante and brought to him by Nero, or the sound of their quiet voices will drift up the stairs and occasionally pierce through the fog in his mind, and the compounding sensation of emptiness in his stomach and chest will worsen. He still doesn’t understand it, entirely, how he can possibly feel lonely when he’s hardly alone--Dante and Nero are still physically present, and V is always with him, now more than ever.

When he lays his head against his pillow, he pretends that he can feel the phantom touch of V’s long fingers, running gently through his hair and pushing his bangs out of his eyes. A piece of him must know that it’s himself going through the motions--he’s the one who smooths out the wrinkles in the fabric of his coat and styles his hair in the way he always does, but when he looks in the mirror and glances at his own hand, sometimes he can’t tell the difference.

It isn’t just that his eyes are green or that his skin is a shade more olive or that lines of inky black curl their way around his wrists and neck and other visible parts of his body. His frame is thinning, too, the strength he’s built up over years and years of being himself fading away the longer he goes, and Vergil thinks that it’s probably because he often forgets to eat, forgets to move, forgets to do anything but chase after a good dream.

He’s always been single minded in his pursuits, after all, following each and every one of his individual goals to the end--

to the very end, i’ll stop you even if that means killing you, to the end of his life

--to their end, and this is hardly any different, another part of his life that will soon fade into a memory, a piece that he can cut out.

He hardly finds incentive to get up these days, anyway. Most of the time, he’ll open his eyes and stare up at the chipped-paint on his ceiling, and a strange sort of drowsiness will blanket his mind, despite his having just woken up. 

On rare occasions, he’ll convince himself that this is perhaps abnormal behavior, or that he has duties to attend to, has an obligation to his own self to try and make something out of the mess he’s left himself with. 

But more often than not, the spot he’s staring so hard at will bend and twist and fade out of existence, and then maybe he’ll see a flash of himself again, sometimes with armor surrounding his body--

and sometimes with armor surrounding his heart, nineteen years young and more fragile than he’d ever wanted to admit

--and sometimes with just the familiar sight of his own face, his expression twisted into a glare beyond hatred, but his eyes betraying the true futility of his situation.

It’s so much easier to close his eyes when things like this happen, and even though he was born to fight and lives to fight, some battles need not be engaged in at all. His body doesn’t always respond to him anymore, anyway, his hands heavy at his sides and his limbs covered in invisible weights, a certain sort of pressure bearing down at him.

He’d almost panicked, at first, upon finding himself near-paralyzed and only half-aware, an unfortunately familiar sensation at this point, but then V had faithfully appeared, his gentle touch tracing over Vergil’s face and the palm of his hand covering his eyes, and in the end, Vergil had learned to simply return to sleep.

It’s only when his two different kinds of memories combine, that Vergil starts to question things.

He’s actually sitting upright, for once, the soles of his bare feet pressed against the floor beneath him, but when he tries to actually stand up, everything tilts quite unpleasantly, and his hollow stomach curls violently in his gut. He stumbles forward, instinctively catching himself with a hand against the doorframe and another curled in his messy hair, his too-long bangs falling through the spaces of his fingers and into his eyes, and when he looks up, he’s someone else again, a different being with a different name and different master, but he’s seeing himself, too.

“I don’t understand,” he murmurs softly, or maybe the sound that he hears is his imagined thought, rather than his actual voice.

Vergil recognizes his own self in the reflection of the water starting to replace the ground beneath him. He knows well the way his own eyes widen behind his bloodied bangs, the way his jaw clenches as he pants out in ragged, shallow breaths, his left arm wrapped tightly around his side. 

But Nelo doesn’t, and Nelo is seeing this memory with him, somehow--Vergil finds himself hard-pressed to remember his time as that creature, now that he’s cut that chunk of his life out of him, and he can only accept the memories as they come towards him, too quickly and too confusing to quite handle.

Nineteen-year-old Vergil drags himself to his feet, the point of his sword digging into the ground beneath him as he leans on it for support, swaying unsteadily on the spot as he looks up through his stinging eyes and at the invisible threat before him. Something strikes him, faster than his exhausted reflexes can dive away from, and in his bonds, Nelo jerks away like he’s the one who’s been hit.

The motion carries him sharply away from the memory, and then he’s looking up at his master’s extended palm, from where it had been pressed against his head seconds before, reaching into the depths of his mind and extracting whatever and whoever that had been to the forefront.

 why did you show me that master, i don’t--

“--understand. How am I seeing this?”

Vergil shakes his head roughly, twisting to face V who stands so serenely beside him, somehow calm throughout the experience.

“I cut you--them--out. You are not real,” Vergil reaffirms, speaking mostly of his nightmares, the ones still scrawled over V’s skin, but also of V himself, because he did, he did that too, he--

he hauls himself to his feet, his legs threatening to give out with every step, the point of his newly restored sword dragging on the ground behind him, and he only has one purpose, one destination, one last request

--he removed himself of his last weakness, and Dante had finished them off for him, and he’d thought he would never again see who he was.

But then again, he’d hardly expected to see V again, either.

“Everything that lives, lives not alone, nor for itself."

V’s thin arms drape around him, their height similar enough that Vergil can feel the other’s gentle breath against the skin of his neck, soothing away the familiar itch threatening to break out across his body.

“I am with you because you need me--but I was with him, as well. You cannot remember me without naturally recalling him.”

They are, as Dante might so simply nickname it, a package deal, then. 

Vergil’s heart twists abruptly in his chest, and the hand pressed against his head immediately moves to claw at the fabric of his coat, his breath slightly strangled in his throat. The room hasn’t changed back to how it’s supposed to be, yet, and when he struggles to clear his vision, he finds himself closer to the floor than he remembers, kneeling against it with his head bowed in submission to a long-gone being.

“That is hardly desirable,” Vergil grits out, the hand pressed against the doorframe starting to splinter the wood in his grasp from the strength of his trembling grip.

“I prefer to stay with you. Alone With alternate distractions of this sort aside.”

V’s grip tightens slightly on him, then, and Vergil takes comfort in the embrace, even if he knows he’s wholly imagining the tension in the nonexistent body behind him. He exhales shakily, allowing his hand to cease its abuse of the construction of Dante’s shop, and presses his hands firmly against the floor.

There’s a slight, soft sigh, quiet and raspy and soothing against Vergil’s ears.

“I know. I’ve certainly enjoyed our time spent together. But you shouldn’t prefer the state of mind that allows us to meet.”

Vergil tilts his head away from V, then, because they both know what is being said, and only one of them wants to hear it. He can’t let himself hear these things, and for that, he can’t stay here.

After a few more breaths of silence, Vergil staggers to his feet again, waiting for his body to regain its bearings before he pushes himself out of the room, taking the memory with him.

The world restores itself to normal as he leaves his own room, the door slightly open behind him, easily awaiting his return. The ground underneath him feels solid, and he hears the tapping of wood over the splashing of water, and in the emptiness, he maneuvers himself into the kitchen and towards one of the chairs.

In another time, he would be fairly disgusted with himself, with the way he simply sits and stares at the wall, keeping his focus on the little details of the area. But it’s an effort now to keep himself here, more of an internal battle than anything else, and there really isn’t much he can focus on with all of his resources turned inwards.

He counts out the number of silverware tucked into one of the racks, takes note of the polish of the wooden cabinets and the tint of the metal appliances, and beneath the chair, he digs his hand into his thigh, all the parts coming together to remind himself of where he is.

He’s so concentrated on keeping himself in the world that he barely notices what happens in it, and so, when Nero comes down the stairs, rubbing sleepily at his eyes with hair tousled in various directions, Vergil feels a mutual sense of surprise as the two of them stare each other down.

Nero glances upwards, then back at Vergil, as if checking if he’s really sitting here. The Vergil of the past would maybe have offered up a wry smile, but he feels no energy for the emotion that requires, and instead chooses to look blankly back at his son.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Nero comments, a tinge of badly-concealed hope coloring his tone, the kind that makes Vergil immediately want to retreat back into his room, because he really isn’t so certain he can carry that sort of hope.

Instead, he forces himself to pause, digging his nails in a little harder underneath the table.

“I require a change of pace, occasionally. A shift in the scenery.”

Nero takes his explanation in stride before walking past Vergil, opening up one of the cabinets and stretching up to rifle through it, offering up his own reason for his presence downstairs at this time.

“Well I’m, uh...getting myself a snack. Kind of.”

From the cabinets, Nero unearths a truly grotesque-looking rainbow-colored box, one that rattles ominously with the sound of sugar and processed carbohydrates when Nero deposits it on the table. Vergil allows himself to inspect the cereal box curiously, if only because the sheer amount of negative energy radiating off of the object provides him with enough of an unusual distraction to use as an anchor to reality. 

Vergil only looks up when the focus of his attention is shifted, as Nero picks up the box of cereal and pours out a rainbow shower into his bowl, following it up with a rather disproportionately small amount of milk, barely enough to actually cover the cereal. He seems to pay Vergil’s presence no mind as he stuffs a spoonful into his mouth, chewing contemplatively in the silence.

Despite Nero’s lack of further comment, Vergil can’t help but feel that his being here is somewhat awkward for the boy. Nero clearly wasn’t expecting any company, given the rather haphazard state of his dress, with his button-up pajama-shirt crookedly done, the too-long hem lightly draping over his shorts. Vergil wonders if he should leave, should allow Nero the privacy he thought he’d be getting, but Nero hasn’t actually spoken out yet or taken action, and in the end, Vergil can find no true reasoning to explain his sudden departure, aside from his own foolishness. 

The rhythmic crunching noise of Nero’s chewing is rather monotonous, and it fades into the background, along with everything else, as Vergil re-enters the beginnings of another drift. V isn’t here with him now, perhaps driven away by Vergil’s refusal to hear him out, or maybe because the rational part of him realizes that it’s rude to speak to himself in the company of another, far more stable individual. 

In a last-ditch attempt to ground himself, he moves his hand from his leg and up to his neck, digging his nails in, just barely gentle enough to avoid drawing blood. He can’t actively scratch at it, not with Nero mere feet away from him, and despite the contact, he feels the itch get worse, his head dropping downwards as his vision clouds over, and then he’s looking at--

what is he looking at, why am i looking at this, master, i don’t understand

--at the wooden surface of the table, clenching his jaw against the ringing in his ears, the echoing of a too-deep, too-loud voice dripping with amusement, the words not yet intelligible to his mind.

Vergil controls his flinch of surprise at the sound, still dimly aware of Nero’s presence. He can’t act out, not with the boy here, but he can hardly vacate the premises, for fear of causing an even bigger disturbance, he can only force himself to be still, his fingers pressing dangerously close against his fluttering pulse in warning.

he can only kneel in place, frozen by the grip of his master’s shadowy, projected hand against his chin and then his forehead, and then--you are looking at yourself, do you remember this, do you remember being so formerly pitiful, so tainted by your blood?

Nelo doesn’t--or didn’t--but Vergil does, he remembers it then and he remembers it now, he remembers being eight, then nineteen, then--

i am but two days old

--then however old he is now, with the same blood and the same biology floating through his veins.

Nelo’s confusion rattles against the inside of his skull, rolling over him in a slow shudder, and he must mirror the motion in reality, too, because the noise of Nero’s chewing stops, and the boy’s spoon taps lightly against the edge of his bowl in hesitation. 

“...Vergil?” Nero asks cautiously, and Vergil lifts up a hand and presses it against the edge of the table, prepared to push himself away, but holding himself in place all the same.

i do not remember this, i do not know who i am

“What?”

Nero’s voice is a little sharper, on the second question, and Vergil’s mind slowly fills in the blanks for him, indicates that he’s actually articulated Nelo’s thoughts and his memories aloud this time. He’s gotten so used to being alone that he’s forgotten how to coexist with someone else, has forgotten how to keep his body quiet while his mind is loud.

He shakes his head jerkily, trying to swallow down the thoroughly unpleasant feeling of being the object of Nero’s potential pity is, as well as the embarrassment of his unintentional admission. Vergil closes his eyes, mostly because he does not want to have to see the way that Nero is looking at him now, possibly with unneeded sympathy, or worse, the desire to help, but against the blackness of his lids, he sees and hears--

you are what i make you, and i choose to make you mine

“No,” he protests automatically, and the shock of being reminded that he once again has a voice, that he is Vergil and no longer Nelo, opens a crack in the darkness, the little details of the kitchen he’d forced himself to take in flooding back in.

When he breathes in again, it’s a little more steady, and the hand that he drags down his face doesn’t quite tremble.

“I mean--it is nothing. I was merely thinking to myself.”

His deflection is especially pitiful to his own ears, but Nero drops his gaze rather quickly, poking around in his cereal for a second longer. A moment passes in which Vergil allows himself to exhale in relief, because at least this particular situation has been firmly swept underneath, but then Nero tenses again, likely in preparation for further conversation.

“So what’s your favorite food?”

Vergil stops, blinking slowly at his son, wondering if this is perhaps another personal delusion of his, a memory gone completely corrupt, but when he forces himself to look harder, Nero looks very much the same, watching him with something like flustered impatience starting to creep across his face.

“Like, you know. If you were me right now and it was three in the morning, and you really wanted something to eat--what would you do?”

Vergil has a few, very well-defined weaknesses, and engaging in small talk with others is most definitely one of them, but even he is quite certain that this is not the logical progression of a normal conversation. But Nero seems completely willing to steer the topic away from Vergil’s accidental utterance, and if the boy wishes to do so, without Vergil’s prompting, then he is more than happy to oblige.

The actual answer to the question, though, is not so easy, because as he turns it over in his mind, he realizes that he isn’t quite aware of the answer himself. He remembers a particularly fond moment from his childhood, when he and Dante had fought over the last slice of chocolate cake, in the days before Dante had discovered the wonders of strawberries and had subsequently become addicted to said fruit. 

But after that point, most things in life had lost any sentimental, enjoyable sort of value for Vergil, and he’d eaten mostly to survive. 

he hadn’t eaten at all in Hell, fueled first by his demonic biology, and then, when his last reserves ran out, nothing at all, an endless, hollow sort of ache clawing at the bottom of his stomach, but by then, he no longer knew what the feeling was called

“I...am unsure,” he answers slowly, and the twisting in his stomach is back, another little reminder of how much he’s missed in all the years he’s been gone for. 

He doesn’t even have these basic things, these parts about themselves that nearly everyone has, and he’s never had and maybe never will have to time to catch up.

Nero doesn’t look too surprised at his response, though. 

Instead, the boy shoves over his brightly-colored box in Vergil’s direction, nodding towards it.

“Good. In that case, I’m converting you then. Dante thinks my cereal’s disgusting, but I say that’s just his taste buds dying off from his old age.”

At Nero’s further prompting, Vergil hesitantly moves from his chair to gather the necessary ingredients to prepare himself his own bowl of cereal, grateful for the way that having an actual task set before him helps to keep him in reality. He sees little point in the matter of even having a favorite food in the first place, though, and he doesn’t hesitate to voice such thoughts when he settles back in front of his son.

Nero watches him as he reluctantly pours a small amount of the rainbow mess into his bowl, swallowing down another bite.

“I mean, Dante’s got his pizza. I have my cereal. So you should have something, too.”

Right. Dante and his pizza. 

It’d been one of the first things he’d noticed about his brother, upon their return from Hell. He’d immediately wanted to head off track and to his favorite pizza shop, but they’d been covered in blood and demonic entrails at the time, and eventually, he’d decided against such a thing, coming to the conclusion that entering the pizza shop in the current state would likely frighten away other prospective customers.

Pizza is one of his brother’s great loves in the human world, and the two are rather connected in Vergil’s mind. In fact, beyond hard-headed, impulsive, and foolish, pizza is perhaps one of the first words Vergil--or anyone else--would use to describe his twin.

Dante is a man who likes pizza, Nero is a boy who enjoys cereal, and Vergil is--

you are what i make you, and i choose to make you--

--Vergil is about to discover if he does, as well.

Later--he doesn’t remember how much later, exactly, only that is--he lays with his head tucked against V’s lap, the sweet sensation of marshmallows and milk in his mouth, carrying over into his dreams.

“It was oddly satisfactory,” he clarifies, and this is one of the rare moments in which he dares to bring his real-world exploits into his shared space with V, to break the quiet, monotonous peace of this illusion with a true event.

“I’m surprised. I hardly would have taken you for the type. I myself doubt that I would be partial to such sweet things."

The irony heavy in his tone is not lost on either of them, but he doesn’t think that the private little joke is entirely the reason behind their subtle half-smiles.

“Conversation with myself leaves little room for variety, I suppose, if we share so many of the same preferences.”

Vergil shuts his eyes, then, leaning into the hand against his forehead, a different, far gentler touch than the one that pushed him down into submission. It carries the comforting notion of an equal, and he feels the disquieted part of him start to settle down, little pieces falling into place.

“But even so, I find that your presence is essential, for now. I need you.”

The admission feels strange on his tongue, his mouth unused to forming words so prone to giving away these parts of himself, but there is no one to catch his mistake, here, no external force awaiting this opportunity of his weakness. He is reluctant to actually admit, out loud, how much he relies on V, how often he turns towards him in hopes of finding sanctuary from his own mind, but it’s much easier to acknowledge his need for help to someone who is already so innately aware of it.

Eventually, perhaps, he’ll learn to extend this same sort of courtesy to those outside of this space, to Dante and Nero and whoever else keeps trying to reach him, but at the moment, the idea still feels like a distant thought, an ideal part of another world.

But he has time here.

He lifts up his hand and places it gently against V’s palm, hooking his fingers underneath the hand against his head and turning it over, holding gently onto it.

“Stay,” he murmurs, a question, a request, and a wish rolled into one word.

V’s touch is his agreement, and when his hand presses a little harder against Vergil’s own, it tingles slightly against his skin, a gentle, not wholly unpleasant feeling. Vergil exhales lightly, staring up the spotless ceiling of his mind’s reconstruction of his room, and when he blinks once, twice, the paint chips away, the anomaly marking its own place in Vergil’s time.

Maybe his two worlds are finally starting to merge, or his meticulous attention to detail is finally paying off, or perhaps he’s just losing more of his mind, piece by piece. 

But maybe, as he just barely allows himself to hope, he’s just starting to wake up.

 


 

 

They watch a lot of movies.

Either Dante and Nero are perceptive enough to have figured out that it’s the activity that Vergil likes best, or maybe Vergil accidentally let one of his thoughts slip free and into the open when he wasn’t paying enough attention. 

That, or Dante and Nero really are just addicted.

Whatever the reason, Dante comes home with a full stack of boxes one day, waving them indicatively in the air in both of their faces. Vergil, of course, isn’t quite sure what on earth his brother is doing, but one look at Nero tells him that the boy is only slightly more aware of what’s happening that he is, which is something of a relief, if he’s honest.

“Neither of you ever heard of Disney? Yeah, I figured.” 

Vergil, having spent most of his adult years either in Hell or dead by the time these types of things had come to popularity, of course knows nothing, but it’s only when Nero mumbles out something about “banned objects” and “Fortuna” that Vergil comes to realize exactly what sort of sheltered childhood his son had had while growing up.

Dante absolutely assures them that they’ll enjoy the experience, and the three of them more or less pile onto the couch, with Dante and Nero seated more to the left, and Vergil making himself a spot to the very far right of the couch, crossing his legs. He looks down at the floor, staring at his uncovered feet and remembering the last time he’d drifted away here, but his mind seems content to stay in the present, at least for now.

As much as Vergil hates to concede anything to his brother, the activity of watching movies is genuinely a good plan, because whatever film they’re watching, filled with color and sound and quite a bit of noise is a common excuse to have them all in the same room together, without any of the usual awkwardness that accompanies these types of meet-ups. There’s no need for conversation, either, not unless Dante points out some ridiculously innate and minute sort of detail he’s picked up with his sharp eyes and the mind he tries to hide behind his usual mask of foolishness.

“Maybe they got lazy--you notice how they just took the same text from the book a couple scenes back and slapped it right onto this newspaper?”

“No one notices that, grandpa! Shut up, I’m trying to watch!” Nero snaps in reply, thoroughly engrossed and possibly on the edge of some sort of emotional display, despite his earlier, emphatic protests that the movie Dante had selected was for “the viewing pleasure of museums and nursing homes.”

The two of them go back and forth for a moment longer, and Vergil curls further into his end of the couch, a blanket of calm and warmth settling over him with the sound of their voices. There’s no need for him to participate in the conversation, and trying to actively listen in on these things is easier, because he actually understands what they’re talking about for a change. He has the reference point of their discussion right in front of him, and if he just concentrates a little more, he can see the meaning in their words.

Besides, Nero doesn’t know many of these things, either, so Vergil finally feels like he’s maybe not alone in his displacement, like he is with so many other topics that tend to arise in the Human World.

It feels a little like how he does with V, easy conversation and easy listening, and even though Vergil loses track of his time once or twice during the course of the film, that’s alright too. The attention isn’t on him, not with the way that Dante and Nero’s heads are turned fully towards the television, and if he drifts off on occasion, he finds that he hasn’t really missed anything particularly eventful or momentous.

He’s unsure of this little every-other night ritual, at first, but it quickly starts to grow on him, and eventually, he’s out of his room and on his relatively isolated spot on the couch before Nero has even finished cajoling Dante into whatever the healthy vegetable of the week happens to be. 

If Dante and Nero notice his increased eagerness to be in their general vicinity, neither of them say anything about it, and Nero just sets out an extra place for him at the table for dinner and Dante asks him what sort of toppings he’d like on his pizza.

He can tell they’re trying, and the way in which they attempt to include him in their world is fairly unobtrusive. For the most part, he’s grateful for it, an emotion he’d really understood how to learn only when he’d become V, but the part of him that is still wholly Vergil is still unable to truly accept such help.

It’s irrational, illogical, and unhelpful, but Vergil sometimes finds himself intentionally engaging in counterproductive behavior.

He’ll ignore the empty chair that Nero’s left for him, or when Dante inquires about his food preferences, he’ll merely shrug and turn his head away, and a large part of himself is honestly confused by his own actions. 

It comes to the point where he’s learned to divide his days up, into good days and not-so-good days, solely on the basis of his own schedule.

On his good days, he’ll measure out his time correctly, he’ll drag himself out of bed when the ratio of hours spent in his room begins to grow a little too unbalanced, and he’ll camp out downstairs and force himself to start relearning the way the world now works. 

His not-so-good days are harder to categorize, because sometimes he doesn’t come out at all, and sometimes he does, he sits with his housemates and stares at the television, but mostly, he’s really watching the movies playing on the inside of his own head. Usually, he’ll see another part of his past, he’ll see the emptiness that Nelo lived in and existed in and eventually became, or he’ll find himself at nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, and all the years before, slowly walking towards the person he’s become now.

But on his worst days, he sees V.

These are unusual, both because of their recency and their content. They aren’t memories or true parts of his past, but they come at the most inconvenient times all the same.

He’ll sit at the table and stare into his tea or he’ll stumble upon a particularly profound quote in one of the films they’re watching, or he’ll crack open and book and look down at the pages, smooth and fine underneath his touch, and he’ll--

i wish you were real

--he’ll see V across from him or next to him, but it isn’t the way he usually does.

In his eyes now, V’s skin is a shade healthier, his gaze fuller and lighter, the colors of his clothing and person more vivid in their intensity. There is no Shadow or Griffon, but there are tattoos marking his skin all the same, and when he smiles, the corners of his mouth tilt upwards in a way that no longer resembles Vergil’s own, but rather, a unique expression on a new person.

“Who are you?” Vergil thinks he mumbles at one point, maybe into the silence while he stirs his tea or maybe with his eyes closed where he lays in bed, because he is confused by this new presence, the existence of a V that is no longer a part of him.

If V--or this resemblance of him--provides an answer, Vergil doesn’t hear it, because each time the stranger’s lips move in answer, the world shifts and spins, and when Vergil looks up again, blinking the dizzy spots out of his eyes, he’s looking at Dante or Nero or nothing at all.

The new development is frustrating, because, by all appearances, Vergil thinks that despite his efforts, despite how much he is trying, he is slipping infinitely backwards--

im staying, this was our father’s home, and then his feet meet empty air and then the tip of his sword drags across dante’s palm and then he falls, a long, long way down, and then nothing

--increasingly losing his grip on both reality and progress with the passage of time.

“I see you,” he informs V, during one of his dreams, the only place he’s absolutely certain of which version of V he’s looking at anymore.

“Do you know that? In the real world--I come across you, and you look...different.”

This V is thankfully, unfortunately, a part of him, and cannot give him an answer that Vergil does not already have the capacity to know. The confusion in Vergil’s own heart is reflected slightly in V’s green gaze, and the lack of a poetic response is a clear indication of V’s state of mind.

“Is that an undesirable outcome for you?”

Vergil knows it should be. The most desirable outcome is for him to see no one at all, nothing but the real world in front of him, with his mind firmly stuck in one place and nowhere else. But--

i am here because you willed it

“It is not. You...you look real. As if you belong in that world, and perhaps you do indeed. You are more well-suited to it than I, as empirical evidence from prior experience would show.”

They should trade places, really, with V on the outside and Vergil disappearing inside of his head, to become little more than one-half of a whole. He catches himself wondering too often about how peaceful that prospect might be--he’s already become quite skilled at fading away, withdrawing from the world around him, so it would hardly be a monumental effort in learning to adjust.

Such thoughts are rather unbecoming of him, and uncharacteristic, at that. The easy way out has never been an option in his mind at all, and the harder he fights for something, the better he considers the reward to be. 

He hasn’t changed, he doesn’t think. Fighting is still very much in his blood and in his nature, his first instinct and his last action.

But Vergil is so tired.

Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, he wakes up with a bone-deep sort of exhaustion, a kind he’s never felt before, not even when he was eight years old and shivering against an alleyway wall underneath the chilling rain, not when he was nineteen and laying halfway in black water at the stone feet of a stone god, tasting blood in his mouth, and not when he was forbidden from the concept of sleep altogether.

His waning muscles ripple underneath his skin and tension prickles against his sides, much like an unbearable, irresistible urge to stretch, to spur himself into action, to fight, but in the end, he spends so long trying to force something out of himself that nothing happens at all.

“A tempting idea,” V murmurs, his raspy voice tinged with something like concern.

“And yet, hardly plausible. You have a life in that world, and I, none at all.”

Vergil is tired of that too.

He is tired of the idea of having to fight to keep the people close to him in his life, the idea that sometimes--

his father presses the Yamato into his hands, his stiff arms pulling him into a stiff hug, and then a turned back, disappearing into the distance, and vergil turns his back, too, he turns his back away from the ruined ashes of his home, because if he lets himself look he might--

--that sometimes, his intervention is not enough to hold onto them. And in this case, it is his intervention that has created this predicament in the first place.

Vergil shakes his head automatically, the protest already catching in his too tight throat, and it’s strange to feel this familiar itch in his dreams, too, when before his more undesirable thoughts knew their place in the real world. 

“I do not. I had a life, and I lived it out according to my own choices. It came to its natural end--I have no place in the human world, anymore.”

He thinks of the gap between himself and Dante and Nero on the couch, the empty chair at the table, the third open spot in their two-people missions. He thinks of preferences he doesn’t have, items he doesn’t own, concepts he doesn’t understand, the evolution of time in the two decades he’s lost. 

If he wants to fit in, he has to change for the world, and Vergil hardly knows what or who he should change into. 

V considers this for a moment, and if Vergil looks just a little more closely at the other, he thinks he can see a flicker of sadness across his expression, one that he hides easily underneath an easy sort of smile.

“Admittedly, it’s in my best interest to keep you here. But we know you can’t stay. And I would prefer for one of us to live.”

“Always so insistent on this. You don’t believe you have given me enough?” Vergil demands, and a slight ache passes over his body.

His limbs feel frail and his skin is dry, as if prone to flaking off and falling apart at any second, the phantom memory of staggering his way to the equivalent of his own human death still lingering in his muscles.

“I will always give you everything, because in the end, you have no need for me.”

Vergil grits his teeth, tired of fighting, but still all too aware of how to do so.

“You don’t know that.”

V glides forward, situating himself against Vergil’s form a moment, his lips ghosting over his forehead, one thin hand pressing lightly against his chest. 

“In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors."

He drops his head so that their eyes meet, the fingers of his free hand tracing light circles against the side of Vergil’s neck, chasing away the usual itch.

“Perhaps you should venture into the in between."

V presses down with just a little more force, and Vergil wakes up.

It’s the first time V has actually pushed him out of the dream, rather than allowing him to wake up naturally, and Vergil feels himself sit upright immediately, his breath catching painfully in his lungs at the sudden, rough transition. He presses a hand against his forehead, trying to keep the feeling of V’s lips against his skin there, but it fades away easily, along with whatever sense of peace he’d attained from their encounter.

V is incorrect.

Vergil does need him--he’d thought, before nothing and everything, that maybe he--

he doesn’t want this, the nightmares that plague him, the scars that twist his skin, he hauls himself to his feet, his legs threatening to give out with every step, the point of his newly restored sword dragging on the ground behind him

--that maybe he could learn to be truly free, if he just cut out his burdens, his humanity, his blood, and now, only with V’s help has he come to understand that he was wrong.

That he needed assistance in the first place, and that he was wrong--neither of these are things that the Vergil of another time could have even begun to comprehend, and surely, the Vergil of the present is equally as incapable of it. Conceding defeat burns bitter and black against his tongue, but he needs it, he needs a human touch to teach him human matters, and as he is now, he is only half of that.

He stands up abruptly, feeling the blood drain from his face in a dizzying rush, his steps staggering as he moves himself unsteadily to the mirror, bracing himself against the counter and looking at his reflection. He can barely see himself, underneath the green eyes and black ink, 

he can barely see himself, underneath the web of cracks lining his face, the dim light of his family home barely casting the blade of the Yamato into focus

but when he calls to V, the other doesn’t appear for him, and the room is silent, save for the sound of his own heart beating uncomfortably in his chest.

His feet take him out of the room without his permission, perhaps because a part of him wants to be away from the reflection. The air around him feels too close and too crowded, and only when he bursts through the doors and into the empty night does the building pressure against his chest start to lessen.

Dante and Nero don’t stop him because Dante and Nero aren’t there, they aren’t in the shop, and it takes Vergil a minute of blinking and breathing and digging through his tired mind to recall that they are out on another job tonight. Vergil had gone to sleep early because they hadn’t been there, and without them there, he found himself with little to do. He’d laid down only a few hours ago, and yet he’s already forgotten, and it stings all the worse for it. 

He used to take pride in his mind, and then later, refuge, because--

because at first it was what he was known for, differentiating him from his more impulsive, rash brother, and then later because it was all that he knew, the last thing of himself that he’d managed to hold onto

--because he’s always been logical and rational, clinical and calculating, organized and well put-together.

But he can hardly trust in it now, not when he can barely recall the events of his own day, when hours bleed into seconds and sometimes stretch out into years and the world is pulled out from underneath his feet in unpredictable occasions.  

So he cannot trust in his own mind, his own body, or any part of himself--he has nothing.

he has nothing to lose, not here, faced with the final decision he will make as himself, and dante is the first name in his mind and the last on his lips, his feet twist around, his back turning on his family--

His feet twist around, his back turning on the empty shop, and he lets himself walk without destination, his eyes clouding over and his mind reaching into a further, more distant place.

There is no purpose to guide his direction, and no one to accompany him, and when he takes one, two steps forward, he sinks back into a memory. 

He sees himself at nineteen again, trading blows with his twin brother, the last battle for the possession of the Force Edge. He won’t give it up, not to Dante, not when he knows what his brother lives and fights for. Their souls are at odds, and he opposes Dante’s beliefs in the deepest part of his heart.

the heart is a tumor of weakness, he’d been told, a distant voice in a distant past, and he knows it to be the truth now. there is broken glass on the broken floor, and a hint of green in the eyes of his reflection, the image of the weakness he’d created for himself as nelo, when he was weak enough to think he needed help

He needs more power, and Dante stands in his way, his own twin, but Vergil will cut him down if needed. He’s already had his chance at a family, eleven years ago, and he’s already let that go, he’s turned his back on it the day he failed to be enough. He’s spent the last decade of his life learning that power is the ultimate form of control, and as long as he has it, he needs not trust in anyone or anything else.

i have no need for you any longer, he says to the green-eyed reflection, and he feels light arms around his body, the mockery of the embrace he used to need, and he knows that this is a crutch, a human projection of a human mind, and only the foolish rely on others as a form of weakness

Dante’s sword opens a gash in his side, sharp and painful, and the Vergil in the real world touches the same spot. The skin underneath his clothes is no longer scarred, his form reborn after his death, but it burns against him all the same. He feels his feet stagger underneath him from the force of the memory, and when he reaches out to lean against something, he’s touching the railing of a bridge, the familiar one he’d walked across with Dante, weeks or months or forever ago.

The water is black in the dim light of the moon, the flickering streetlights barely casting a visible shadow against things, and down in the stream beneath his feet, it looks like nothing at all is underneath him.

those green eyes look at him, half-pleading, half-accusing, but he cannot see anything, there is nothing at all, and he readjusts his grip on the sword, his fingers curling around Yamato’s hilt, piercing sharply through his skin

Vergil doesn’t quite feel like himself as he plants his hands more firmly against the railing, pulling himself upwards so that he nearly sits on it, his legs still on the land side of the bridge, his upper half lingering dangerously close to the water beneath him. 

There is no railing in his memories, the spray of water brushing against his skin and face freely as he sees himself stumble backwards, his fingers wrapped tightly around the amulet in his hand.

“Leave me and go, if you don’t want to be trapped in the demon world. I’m staying,” he hears his own voice insist to Dante as he puts another step and ten, twenty years of distance between himself and his twin brother.

the world fades sharply out of focus, white noise in his ears, and figures take shape in his mind, one tall and strong and demonic, bursting with power and nearly untouchable, and the other, too-thin, too-fragile, too-human, too-familiar. vergil is not any or either of these, individually

He is nineteen, and he is whenever he is now, and he is staring down into the black water, the emptiness beneath him. This is his father’s home, this a river he crossed walking out of his father’s home, and nineteen-year-old Vergil takes another step backwards, and the Vergil of now swings one of his legs over the railing.

and heavy chain that does freeze my bones around, he separates himself and them, time and distance in between, and green is the last thing he sees before he grasps the sword more tightly

and drives the yamato into his own heart

Dante reaches for him as he falls backwards, but Dante is too late, and Vergil is already on the other side of the bridge, the wrong side of the bridge, the water beneath him running fast and clear and unfathomably deep, and he remembers how it was, at nineteen, with his age behind him and his life ahead of him--

i am here because you willed it

--to fall, a long, long way down, and then nothing.

 


 

 

Sometimes, in the spaces between what is too much and not enough, what is known and unknown, Vergil thinks that he sees himself.

 


 

 

“Vergil.”

He opens his eyes.

He’s still on the wrong side of the bridge, but now he knows it. He’s not nineteen, and there is no ledge, no portal to the human world, no endless expanse of Hell beneath him, and Dante is standing on the other side of the railing, his hand wrapped firmly around Vergil’s left arm.

Vergil feels remarkably steady as he blinks at his own brother, looking slightly over his shoulder to where Nero is standing off to the side, his hands shoved into his pockets and his too-long bangs falling messily into his eyes.

He remembers seeing his son this way, he remembers watching Nero as he’d fallen asleep on a particularly late night, at the end of a movie, and he remembers reaching out with careful fingers and brushing the boy’s bangs out of his face.

Dante had laughed, the sound strong and clear in his chest, the smile on his face wide and easy.

“Kid calls me old, but he’s the one falling asleep all over the place. What a punk.”

His gaze had moved up to Vergil’s face then, turning slightly softer and more knowing in the dim light.

“You must be tired too, yeah? I’ll take care of him--you go up ahead.”

It’s a memory of one night, one night lost amongst a blur of others, but it’s something he’s managed to hold onto, and he thinks that it’s maybe part of why he feels so calm, a quiet, odd sort of content in his chest.

“Dante,” he answers evenly, and something in his tone must give him away, because Dante looks more relieved than anything, reaching out with his other hand to grasp Vergil’s shoulder, and gently pulling him back over to the other side.

Vergil allows Dante to move him over, allows Dante to help him, because perhaps it is a necessary thing after all. 

When his feet safely touch the right side of the bridge, Dante audibly exhales in relief, his hands not quite leaving Vergil’s body as he continues to stare him down. Nero’s form, slightly obscured by the distance, seems to shrink as well, the tension going out of the boy’s body.

“I was underneath the assumption that you two were out.”

Dante shrugs amicably, not moving them from their spot just yet, his hand sliding down to curve around Vergil’s back, his palm pressing against his side. The touch is pleasant, grounding, almost, and Vergil lets himself lean into it, resisting the urge to shut his eyes completely, in favor of looking at Dante and Nero.

“We were. But we figured you might need us. And this.”

Dante extends a hand, making a familiar sort of motion before the Yamato answers his call, materializing in Dante’s hand easily. His brother presses the sheathed blade into his hand, watching as Vergil’s fingers curl around it. 

Vergil looks down at his hand, maybe expecting to see blood on his fingers or pooling in his palm, and when he finds his hands clean, he hesitantly unsheathes the sword part of the way. His reflection in it is clear, his own eyes staring back him, and the blade is whole and unbroken, its pieces put back together and kept safe with his son, and now returned to him by his brother.

He swallows, restoring it to proper order, and straightening up, looking his brother in the eye, then at his son.

“Yes. I do need it. And you.”

His admission brings an easy smile to both of their faces, and Dante gently pats at his side against, pushing him forwards ever-so-slightly. 

“Hurry up already. I’m sleepy as fuck,” Nero grumbles, rubbing at his eyes blearily, but there’s an unmistakable note of relieved affection in his voice, and Vergil once again finds himself looking at the boy’s fluffy locks, wanting to feel them underneath his hand.

Dante raises an eyebrow at Nero’s declaration, and when he meets Vergil’s gaze again, Vergil senses that maybe Dante is remembering the same night as he is, with the way he grins conspiratorially at him.

“Yeah, we got it, kid. Sleeping Beauty needs his rest in the pretty princess castle.”

Aside from Nero’s answering squawk of outrage, they don’t speak further as they pile into the van, and Nero slides into the driver’s seat as Dante joins Vergil in the back. They sit somewhat close together, as close they can be while retaining a natural distance, but when one of the turns maybe not-so-accidentally pushes Dante a little closer to him, Vergil can hardly find it himself to complain.

He feels anchored by the touch, a soothing calm settling over him, and when he shuts his eyes, he doesn’t quite sleep, most of him still tied to the real world, in the warmth of the van with Dante and Nero.

“I told you I was a useless dream. Nothing more,” V murmurs wryly, his image forming behind Vergil’s closed eyelids, an expression of clear content across his face.

I will always give you everything.

Vergil smiles too, remembering the echo of these words a lifetime ago. He’d needed V when he was Nelo, and he’d needed V when he was a different, more desperate Vergil.

“But a good one. The best, perhaps."

Thank you.

V knows his meaning as well as Vergil does, his green eyes falling shut as his person starts to fade, and when Vergil blinks back into awareness again, the clock in the van telling him he’s lost barely five, maybe ten minutes, the world is just a little more empty.

But not by much.

Dante nudges him lightly, apparently having watched the way that Vergil was beginning to drift off.

“You good there, brother?”

Vergil quirks his lips upwards at his twin, his posture relaxing itself as a quiet laugh escapes him. He knows Dante would understand, and Nero, too, the both of them close enough to his heart to be willing to listen.

“I am tired,” he admits, bringing the two of them closer into his world.

“But I am merely happy to be here.”

 


 

Vergil wakes up to the sound of rather obnoxious pounding on his door.

The knock has enough firmness in it to be either Dante or Nero’s, but only his brother would treat his property with such rapid aggression, with Dante somehow awfully fond of the practice of breaking various parts of his shop, much to Nero’s dismay.

He lays in bed for a moment longer, staring up at the spot of chipped paint on the ceiling, content to force Dante to wait outside to his heart’s content, until he takes pity on both the piece of infrastructure and on Nero, who is undoubtedly having to listen to Dante call Vergil’s name in the most intentionally irritating tone known to man.

“Yes?” Vergil asks calmly, opening the door mid-knock and tilting his head out of the way as Dante’s enthusiastic fist accidentally flies past his head.

“Oh, good. You’re awake.”

Dante runs a hand through his hair, scratching idly at the hair on his jaw. Vergil’s quite certain that his brother is attempting to grow a complete beard, something he and Nero have speculated about in private, with a mixture of horror and quiet repulsion. Nero is personally of the opinion that they should slice the monstrosity off once it surpasses a length of six inches, but looking at his brother so close-up now, Vergil doubts he can wait for that long.

“Indeed. And, judging by your haphazard knocking, as well as your siren calls of my name, you wish to summon my presence?”

“How long did it take you to figure that one out?” Dante chuckles, before shaking his head to himself, cutting off whatever other snappy reply he had in mind.

“Anyway. Nero and I are going out on another job. You wanna come?”

Vergil is a little surprised by the offer, if only because his presence in any setting is potentially a risk. He’s still occasionally prone to drifting off at times, still finds it hard to remember all the little details he’s lost about his life, and Dante and Nero are well aware of his slight issue, now that he’s actually informed them of it. 

He doubts that the problem will resolve itself in any way other than the passage of time, and he has little qualms anymore about patiently waiting for such a day to come.

Dante must read the hesitation on his face, because he reaches out and pats Vergil on the back, his hand lingering a little too heavily for a moment.

“Don’t worry. It’s a one-person job, really. I do the work, Nero stands around looking pretty, and you can go sightseeing or something.”

Vergil feels himself smile, not entirely against his will.

“I suppose there is no harm in accompanying you. You always have needed a caretaker, after all.”

Dante grumbles out a protest, but seems fairly pleased that Vergil is actually coming along, turning on his heel and starting out the door. Vergil means to follow him, but a part of him hesitates, his head tilting back to glance in the mirror behind him.

He sees himself, mostly, his own blue eyes and his own face, but he knows that if he thinks hard enough or wishes for it deeply, he could maybe see some green in his reflection, as well.

i wish you were real

His neck tingles slightly, the skin tickling with the faint reminder of an itch, and he presses his hand to it, watching the way his unmarked hand moves in the mirror.

Behind him, he can hear Dante shuffling against the floor, his hand resting on the edge of the door, prepared to slam it behind them.

He could drift back now. He could go back and take V with him, this little world and this room with the chipped paint on the ceiling, and bring it back into his mind, allowing himself to slip back just a little further. 

you have a life in that world, and I, none at all.

He’s in that stage of in-between, and if he reaches out enough to the other side, he could easily pull himself back away from reality, but he--

“Alright, brother,” he answers, somewhere in between green eyes and good dreams, where the world he is part of and the family he knows waits for him. 

“Let us go.”

He steps away, over the edge of the doorframe, replacing Dante’s hand with his own, and allowing himself one last look, but somehow finds that there isn’t much to see anymore. 

he and Dante always used to get in trouble for it, the way they always slammed the doors when they were kids. Dante was doing it because he liked the noise, because he liked the attention it brought and the message it sent, but Vergil--

Vergil always closes his doors tightly, because he wants them to stay shut.