Nero marches into his room, slams the door, and promptly throws himself onto his bed face first. It’s probably petulant of him--it’s definitely petulant of him--but god, he doesn’t even care. Six hours of meetings, two hours of combat lessons, and an hour and a half of being scolded by Credo for doing all of it wrong has put him in a foul mood, and he thinks he’s owed a little petulance.
He hasn’t even had dinner yet, even though that’s his own doing; he’d been so irritated with Credo that he’d refused to join them, had stormed up here to his room instead in a desperate bid to get away from the disapproving looks of everyone else in the entire goddamn castle. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, though, because now he’s starving on top of being pissed off, which means his night is about as frustratingly annoying as it can get.
Going downstairs with his proverbial tail between his legs and asking the cook for food is out of the question for a multitude of reasons, though, beginning with Nero’s pride and ending with one pretty simple fact: people don’t like Nero yet. He knew that’d be his biggest hurdle when Credo’s family had officially adopted him and he’d suddenly found himself with a royal title he had no idea how to live up to, so really, he isn’t that surprised. But knowing about something and actually dealing with it are two vastly different things, Nero’s finding, and the reality of the collective royal court’s distrust for him weighs heavily on his shoulders.
Combine the oppressive expectations he feels like he’s never going to live up to with the relentless lessons and desperate attempts from his older brother to whip him into shape, and Nero’s about ready to dig a hole through the wall to escape.
Grumbling, Nero flips onto his back and stares up at the canopy above his bed. If only he could get out of here for just--god, just a few hours, maybe half a day. Living in the castle has been a stifling experience, from strict timelines and schedules to guards constantly at his back. It’s more structure than he’s ever had to deal with before, even though he’s lived here for several years now; he’d been an unofficial son to the king for years, but it wasn’t until six months ago that they’d made it official.
From that moment on, everything’s only gotten both better and worse for him, and he’s still working to find a new life balance with the sudden change in his social status.
Part of that balance has been adjusting to his two new shadows, the warwolves who were bonded to him not long after his adoption. Warwolves are a staple companion in the royal family--fierce fighters, they are notoriously protective of whoever they are bonded with, and they spend their lives fighting, living, and dying alongside the members of the Fortunian royal family. Being a prince, and therefore eligible for accession to the throne one day (if, god forbid, something were to happen to Credo or Kyrie, who’s claims are stronger given they are actual heirs to the king), Nero has the unique pleasure of being bonded with two warwolves: a pair of twins.
He’s pretty sure they hate him, too, or at least only vaguely tolerate him. Vergil, the eldest from what he’s gathered out of their frequent bickering, all but ignores Nero, speaking only when absolutely required, and Dante, the youngest, acts as if he could care less one way or another, his disinterest in everything except needling at his brother and getting his next meal almost palpable. They’ve done their jobs well so far, helping Nero learn to (officially) fight and keeping a close watch over him twenty-four-seven, but he wouldn’t even call them acquaintances.
Which is awkward, really, because they spend all of their time in Nero’s presence, even when he should, in his opinion, be alone. He can’t even bathe without one of them waiting outside of the door, and he doesn’t remember the last time he slept without one of the twins standing watch next to his bedroom door, as if a threat could show up at any minute. The entire thing seems like overkill to him, but Kyrie had insisted that the protection was required, both because demon attacks were increasing in frequency lately and because the neighboring kingdoms were far from favorable about Fortuna’s general approach to the whole thing. So basically, tough shit, learn to live with it.
Just like everything else.
Nero groans, scrubbing at his face with his hands. How late is it? Maybe if he’s lucky, no one will be in the kitchens and he can just pilfer something without a confrontation. Stealing isn’t a new hobby of his, considering his early life spent roaming Fortuna before Kyrie’s family picked him up, but he hasn’t resorted to it in years. His guards would probably snitch if he tried it--Vergil seems like the kind of man who wouldn’t tolerate such things, at least--so he crosses that option off with another groan.
The sound of heavy footsteps through his room makes him bolt upright in bed, feeling a little self-conscious about his very obvious display of frustration. When he sits up, he sees that Dante has crossed the room, a vaguely intrigued look on his face and his tail swinging lazily in wide, low arcs at his back. Nero’s learned that this means Dante’s interested--honestly interested, not just bored-interested--which makes him flush a little, because that probably means Dante heard him over here grumbling to himself about his own sorry state.
“You doin’ okay, kid?” Dante asks, bright blue eyes sweeping over Nero’s form as he inspects him, probably making sure he’s not injured or sick or something. When his eyes settle back on Nero’s face, he can feel his cheeks get even warmer, and he ducks his head to the side to try to spare himself from that embarrassment, too.
“I’m fine,” he says, and then with another groan he adds, “It’s been a shitty day.”
Dante laughs, a loud and boisterous sound that Nero’s never heard him make before, and his ears and tail perk up in obvious interest now. “Yeah? Can’t be all that bad.” The older man saunters over to Nero’s dresser to lean against it while he watches Nero with an appraising glance, and there’s something about his posture that makes Nero want to actually talk to him, despite having barely shared more than five words with the man that weren’t absolutely necessary before this.
What harm can it do? They could just ignore him if they want to, it’s not like they can leave, and he’s feeling like a wound-up spring about to snap at any moment. Maybe getting some of his frustrations off of his chest wouldn’t be so bad.
Determined to actually see this through now that he’s gotten the idea in his head, Nero flops back onto the bed and refocuses his attention on the canopy, deciding that it’d be easier if he wasn’t actually looking at Dante. “It’s just been a long day,” he starts, throwing an arm over his eyes and letting out the building frustration with a sigh. “I think I suck at this. Credo spent a good fifteen minutes giving me shit because I can’t remember the names of half of the stuffy old men on the council six countries over before he launched into an hour long tirade about how important ‘cultural history’ is to negotiating with nearby countries.”
Dante laughs again, loud and, Nero thinks, earnestly, and he peeks out from beneath his arm to get a glimpse of the other man’s face. A smile has worked its way onto Dante’s features, his ears perked up and his tail continuing that same lazy little back and forth from when he first approached Nero, and Nero looks away before he can talk himself out of this. It’s weird to have Dante’s attention on him in such a friendly, casual way, and it makes his skin feel too tight and tingling under such obvious scrutiny.
“Can’t blame you there,” Dante says, once his laughing fit has subsided. “There’s enough councilmen out there to fill this damn castle, probably. No way I could remember even half of ‘em.”
From across the room, Nero hears a pretty distinct snort of derision from Vergil, who is apparently paying a lot more attention to their conversation than Nero would’ve ever expected. The realization almost makes him give up on his little tirade, but then Dante laughs again, and he decides he doesn’t particularly care right now what Vergil might think of him in this moment--getting this shit off of his chest feels good.
Hearing Dante laugh feels good, too, makes him feel warm and pleased with himself. Nero’s not sure he should feel that way about making his bodyguard laugh, considering their relationship is purely professional, but it’s not often he gets to have what feels like a friendly conversation with someone who isn’t Credo or Kyrie, and he’s maybe a little overeager in that regard.
“Exactly.” Nero pushes his hands through his hair now, shaking loose the gel his overly fussy stylist had used to sleek it back, fluffing it back into its normal chaos with his fingers while he talks. “I’m just so goddamn tired. I can’t even remember the last time I even left the stupid castle.” To make matters worse, his stomach chooses that moment to rumble loudly, and judging by the twitch of Dante’s ear he can see out of the corner of his eye, the other man definitely hears it. “And I’m hungry,” he admits with a groan. “I would kill to just get out for a little while. Get some fresh air or something.”
There’s a low, thoughtful hum in response to that, followed by a moment of silence where Dante glances across the room, toward the door, and seemingly has some kind of silent conversation with his brother. Whatever they’d communicated to each other must have been interesting, Nero guesses, because Dante turns back to him with a decidedly mischievous grin on his face. He crosses his arms over his chest and tilts his head to the side, like he’s mulling over Nero’s words, before he says:
“Then why don’t you?”
Nero freezes, staring at Dante like he’s gone mad. “I can’t just leave.”
“Why not?” Dante responds, broad shoulders tweaking upward in a brief shrug. He pushes himself off from the dresser and crosses the room, standing closer to Nero’s bedside; Nero sits up so he can face him properly, feeling more than a little out of his element sprawled on his bed with Dante towering over him like that.
“Why no--because I’m a prince, remember? I don’t get to just walk around the place at random!”
“Again: why not?”
Nero is beginning to get the impression that Dante is just screwing with him at this point, so he shoots the other man a glare and slips off of the bed. Talking about this is just going to make his mood worse, because he can’t have it, no matter what Dante says, and the reality of that is just as frustrating as the claustrophobic feeling of staying inside.
When Nero doesn’t respond, Dante explains further: “If you’re royalty, don’t you get to make the rules? The way I see it, so long as you have your pre-assigned full time guardians with you--that’s us--then there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Nero freezes. Does it work like that? He’s almost certain that it doesn’t, but he also would never have expected either of his guardians to be on board, and the fact that Dante sounds more than willing to go along with whatever idea Nero has is enough fuel on the dull, flickering ember of rebellion that Nero is currently feeling that he’s willing to jump on it.
“I… guess?” Nero says, pausing in his trek through his room to scratch at the back of his head and glance at Dante curiously.
“Then I don’t see why not.” Dante shrugs, easily confident in his words. “I wouldn’t mind some fresh air, either. Never been into these stuffy castle atmospheres.”
The room’s other occupant chooses that moment to speak up, a sharply uttered “Dante” the first word Nero’s heard out of Vergil in what he’s pretty sure is at least half a day. Nero shoots the elder twin a glance and sees that Vergil is facing Dante, arms crossed and expression hard, clearly disapproving of whatever plan his brother is in the middle of concocting. Nero can basically feel whatever little flicker of hope had flared to life in him going out under that gaze, and he looks away with a sigh, resigned to his fate of being trapped indoors so long as Vergil is standing nearby.
Dante, however, doesn't seem to be so easily dissuaded, and he saunters across the room and loops an arm around his brother's shoulders, dragging him into his side. Vergil snaps at him, his ears pressed flat back on his head and his tail a straight line of clear annoyance, but Dante doesn't seem to care at all, ignoring all of the obvious signs of aggression to instead pin Vergil against him so he can't wriggle free.
"Don't be like that, Verg. Some fresh air'd probably do you some good, too," Dante says, patting his brother amiably on the chest and getting another snap of teeth for his trouble. "Lord knows you've been a fussy son of a bitch lately--"
"Get off of me."
Dante ignores him. "And besides, look at the poor kid."
Nero blushes at the mention of him, turning his face away to hide the fact that having both of their attention on him at once is a little too much for him to handle. The way Dante says it makes it seem like he's pathetic, and he has half a mind to tell the older man off for it, but he seems to be in Dante's good graces right now, and he doesn't want to mess that up. Especially not if it means he gets their support breaking out of here for a little bit.
Vergil stays silent for a painfully long handful of seconds before he sighs and pushes his way out of Dante's grasp. "This is a terrible idea."
"Ha, I knew you were a big softie at heart," Dante says, smacking his brother on the back and earning himself one more pointed growl in the process. Dante's quick to skip out of Vergil's reach before he can get snapped at again, though, immediately making a bee-line for Nero's bedroom window. With a flourish he throws it open, leaning precariously over the ledge as he looks around and scopes out the surrounding area.
Is it really going to be that easy? Nero kind of can't believe that they're even going along with this with so little convincing, considering how serious the two of them normally are about their job. Granted, he hasn't really had a proper conversation with either of them since they were first assigned to their new post, so it's possible this is just how they always are and he's just never had the opportunity to find out prior to right now. That makes him feel a little guilty--he should make an effort to talk to them more, especially if they're willing to risk getting reprimanded for breaking him out after hours.
This will definitely fall on their shoulders if they do get caught, and while Nero doesn't think it's all that serious of an offense, he doesn't want to be the cause for either of them getting scolded by Credo. While Dante does whatever it is he's doing hanging halfway out of the bedroom window, Nero moves to his dresser, rummaging around for something a little less official looking to switch in to in the event someone does spot them.
He ends up swapping out his stiff brocade jacket for a knee-length navy blue coat, tossing a brown cloak over the whole thing for good measure. Hiding his hair is the most important part, considering he'll stand out like a sore thumb otherwise, so he brushes it back the best that he can and pulls up the hood of the cloak in an effort to hide it, pinning the whole ensemble in place with the most subtle clasp that he owns.
Dante and Vergil are pretty obvious themselves, considering silver wolves aren't the most common around Fortuna, but there's no rules that say they can't be out on their own so long as Nero's still being properly guarded. Hopefully if anyone spots either of them they'll just assume Nero's with someone else, like Credo, and the twins are running some kind of errand.
It's not the most solid of cover stories, but it's late enough in the evening that they hopefully won't have to employ one at all, so Nero decides it's just going to have to be good enough. Sparing a moment to examine himself in the mirror, making sure his hair is well and truly hidden, he crosses the room and stands at Dante's side, looking out of the window alongside him.
Dante spares him a quick glance, nodding once in approval at his choice of clothing change, before pointing to a roof below them. "Figure going this way is the best if we're trying to be sneaky," Dante says, pointing out a few more spots further down while he talks, and Nero leans out of the window with him and glances down at the earth below.
Oh god, he forgot how high up his room actually was. There's at least four more floors beneath them, and while he doubts anyone will notice them at this hour, the distance alone is enough to make his stomach churn.
"Out the window?" Nero follows Dante's gestures, scanning the roof and awning that he's pointed out as his apparent path to the ground with no shortage of trepidation. "How?"
Nero's so startled to hear Vergil's voice so close behind him that he jolts, looking over his shoulder at the other man in surprise. "You're kidding me."
"We aren't exactly human, kid.This is child’s play," Dante says with a casual shrug that Nero feels is definitely not suitable for something as absolutely insane as jumping out of a fifth floor window.
"How the hell am I going to get down?"
Dante laughs. "I'll carry you."
Nero sputters, leaning back over the window to get another look at just how far of a drop it is to the ground. "You're insane." Nero trusts Dante with his life, but this seems like taking it a step too far. One little misstep and they could both crash down to the ground in a heartbeat, and while Dante sounds pretty confident that he knows what he's doing, Nero's not sure he wants to put his life into the other man's hands for a literal leap of faith.
"Come on, princeling, live a little," Dante says, patting Nero on the shoulder. "Look, Verg'll go first. He'll catch you in the extremely unlikely event that I drop you. Sound good?"
Behind him, Nero can hear Vergil take a sharp inhale of breath and open his mouth as if he's going to argue, but Dante shoots him a look and so instead he just sighs. "It will be fine, Nero."
Convincing. "God, okay," Nero says, turning away from the window to face Dante. "Guess I'm more desperate than I thought if I'm agreeing to this..." He takes a deep breath, steeling his resolve, and nods at Dante. "How do you want to--"
Before the question can even finish leaving his mouth Dante scoops him into his arms, one under his knees and the other wrapped securely around his shoulders, pulling him close to Dante's chest. Nero lets out a rather un-princely yelp in surprise, throwing his arms around Dante's neck and clinging to the larger man desperately in his alarm. Neither of his bodyguards wait for any more protests before they're out the window, free-falling through the air toward the next available landing, and ohdeargod Nero regrets this so much already.
They land on the awning below them with a surprisingly faint thump. Dante doesn't even make a sound as he hits the stone roof, but Nero clutches to him all the tighter anyway, burying his face into Dante's chest. Looking at the ground rushing up to meet them is going to make him sick, and he closes his eyes and presses his nose against Dante's collar and prays to every single god and goddess he can think of that they don't slip and die in the castle courtyard.
"You okay down there?" Dante says with a laugh, arms tightening around Nero as he makes the leap over to the next roof, and Nero just nods against his chest with a quiet groan as he feels the air whip around them. Warwolves are powerful creatures even when in humanshape, so the ease with which Dante carries him isn't a surprise, but fuck if it isn't horrifying to be jumping from rooftop to rooftop held secure only by the strength of someone who is, effectively, a stranger.
"We're almost there," Dante adds, and Nero considers briefly glancing out at the surrounding area to confirm what Dante says, before he abruptly changes his mind, staying firmly tucked against Dante's chest.
It's... kind of nice being carried by him like this, even if it's more than a little terrifying. Dante's arms are strong and sure around Nero, his chest and shoulders broad and firm beneath his cheek and arms. The steady thump of Dante's heart against Nero's face is as reassuring as the warm embrace that holds him close, and he lets himself savor the touch of another person for a moment with a soft sigh.
Nero's been on his own long enough to know better than to get attached to something like this, but he can't really help it. Between the frustrating day he's had and the general discomfort of leaping their way to temporary freedom, he thinks he should be allowed to bask in the contact for a little while. So long as he doesn't get too used to it, it should be fine, because he really doubts Dante's going to make a habit of carrying Nero around the place, and quite frankly, it's pretty embarrassing anyway.
But for a few minutes, at least, it's okay.
"You can put him down now, Dante." Vergil sounds exasperated--Nero can basically hear the glare in his voice--and Nero pulls his face away from Dante's chest and spares a look at their surroundings. He realizes only belatedly that they're no longer jumping around the place and are, rather, walking at a nice, leisurely pace.
"I dunno, he seems to like it," Dante says, looking down at Nero with what he would confidently describe as a shit-eating grin. "You're pretty cute when you're not stomping around the place all princely like."
Nero smacks a hand against Dante's chest in retaliation, squirming in his arms to get free. Shit, he didn't even realize they were on firm ground again, and he can feel his face burning with embarrassment at letting Dante just carry him around for basically no reason. Dante lets him go with a chuckle, and Nero stumbles around for a moment, off balance, before he finds his footing and spins on Dante with a glare of his own.
"You didn't tell me we were already outside the castle walls!" Nero snaps, feeling no shortage of indignant rage at Dante's failure to communicate that piece of information. With a mumbled "asshole," Nero turns to look around at their surroundings, trying to orient himself in relation to his room.
They've exited the castle grounds somewhere on the South end, it looks like, if the dark line of trees he can vaguely make out in the distance is any indication. The moon hangs full and bright in the sky, doing a serviceable job of lighting everything around him well enough that he can see even without a lantern or a torch, and for the first time in what feels like years, he finds himself facing freedom.
It doesn't occur to him until now that he has absolutely no idea where to go. Frowning, he looks around, but other than open grass, a single, narrow dirt road--trade mostly comes from the North, not the South--and an old farm far in the distance, there's really nothing to see.
Dante and Vergil are both looking to him for next steps, their collective gaze prickling along the back of Nero's neck uncomfortably. With a sigh, he rubs the back of his head and tugs his cloak closer to his face to hide his blush as he says, "I, uh. I don't know what to do now."
Both twins make small noises in response, Vergil in obvious annoyance and Dante in clear amusement, before Dante steps up beside Nero and sits a hand on his shoulder. "Don't sweat it. I think I've got an idea." He turns to Vergil next, waving his other hand somewhere vaguely in the direction of the line of trees. "Do you remember that place we used to go to?"
Nero can't help but look at Vergil curiously to gauge his reaction. Neither of the twins have talked much about their past around Nero, and outside of the written log of their military experiences and bodyguard duties (which he'd read when they were first bonded), Nero knows next to nothing about them. It's obvious that whatever Dante's talking about registers to Vergil, though, because his eyes widen almost imperceptibly, and he glances toward the trees with a quiet hum.
"I do," Vergil says slowly, thoughtfully, mulling over those two words like they're a fine wine. Nero watches him for any kind of reaction past his initial twitch of an expression, but he’s turned inward, thoughts drifting toward whatever memory Dante’s dredged up with his comment. Silence prevails between them for a few heartbeats before Dante takes a couple of steps forward away from Nero, standing next to Vergil and brushing their shoulders together.
“Shouldn’t be too far.” He crosses his arms, hesitating against Vergil's side for a moment so brief Nero's not sure if it was intentional or accidental, before he steps away from his brother with a flourish. Dante spins on his heel, arms outstretched, and gestures back at the forest. "How do you feel about a run?"
This question is clearly for Nero. With a hum he bites his lip, looking between his two bodyguards before glancing over his shoulder at the castle walls. When he'd made this decision--which, to be honest, was hardly a decision, as spur of the moment and ill thought out as it was--it hadn't been with the intention of going far. Hell, even the castle garden would have been a nice change of pace.
However, now that he's got the offer to go further, he finds excitement building in his chest, making him bounce on the balls of his heels. "Sure."
"You give him a ride, Vergil," Dante says, turning away from them again and, with a running start and a brief flicker of his form, he's in his wolfshape, pouncing several feet ahead of them before looking back over his shoulder. A grin breaks onto his face, tongue lolling out of his mouth in a playful display that stands counterpoint to his massive, almost frightening size. "Race ya?"
Nero has seen warwolves transform enough times that the novelty of it has worn down some, but Dante and Vergil are different, and he can't help but marvel at the way their silver fur shimmers in the moonlight. Vergil's transformation is considerably smoother, with less dramatic flourish, but he is no less impressive for it, massive and intimidating in his wolfshape, especially up close.
Nero spares a moment to admire his companions and the strength that nearly radiates off of them in tangible waves before he approaches Vergil, who lowers himself onto his belly in the grass to allow Nero easier access to his back. Climbing atop a warwolf, especially one as big as Vergil, is no easy feat, but Nero has had plenty of practice and has always been pretty skilled at getting around, so he manages without much issue. Fully seated on his companion's back, Vergil rises, sparing him only a brief moment to remind Nero to hang on before he trots up next to Dante.
"You know you'll lose, little brother," Vergil says, turning his head toward Dante and nipping at his ear with a short, but playful snap of his teeth. Dante pushes back against him, butting his head into Vergil's jaw before taking a few steps back and lowering himself to the ground.
"Sure. Just like last time, huh?"
Vergil doesn't answer that, and Nero laughs as he settles himself on top of Vergil's back, hands fisted in the thick fur around his neck. Luckily he is used to riding without a harness of any sort--he's never liked the idea, the contraption that fastened to their collars a particular sort of cruelty in Nero's eyes--and so he settles comfortably and pats Vergil on the side to let him know he's all set.
"Give us a countdown, prince," Dante says, so Nero does, counting backward from five. The moment the word "one" leaves his lips the two of them are off, tearing through the open plain with wild abandon.
It's exhilarating. They run without a care for anything but the race, focused and determined, a blur of silver over the dark fields. The wind whips past them, yanking the cloak around Nero's shoulders and tossing the hood from his head, but he doesn't even care, not when he feels so free. He laughs when Dante overtakes them, smacking his tail against Vergil's snout with a playful bark; leans his chest against Vergil's back and quietly eggs him on, encouraging him with firm words of support.
They break through the treeline of the forest with a crunch of underbrush before they are darting between trees, weaving through the woods as effortlessly as they'd ran through the open fields. Not for the first time since he was bonded to them, Nero marvels at their obvious skill and strength, wondering for the hundredth time why they were selected as his bonded warwolves. Surely creatures of such power would be better serving a true king.
His musings are forgotten as they leap into an open clearing, landing with a soft thump on a bed of dry leaves and tangled undergrowth. Dante enters immediately at their heels, skidding to a stop nearby in a shower of leaves and twigs with what Nero thinks might be a laugh--although it's hard to tell, considering he is in his wolf shape still.
Vergil is panting hard beneath Nero, tongue hanging from his mouth and ribs heaving against Nero's legs, but despite his exhaustion he seems pleased with himself, his head held high and his tail wagging faster than Nero's ever seen it before.
"It seems I'm still the faster one," Vergil says, once he has regained his breath enough to do so, and Dante swipes at him with a paw, smacking against his haunch enough to make Vergil twitch, but not to cause harm.
"Thought giving you the extra cargo would give me an advantage, but I guess not. Kid must be too scrawny," Dante says, bumping his head against Vergil's; they snap at each other, and Nero smacks Vergil lightly on the neck when Dante's teeth get a little too close to his right leg for comfort.
"Watch it, you two," Nero says as Vergil, seemingly remembering that he's not alone, goes still beneath him. "Let me down before you get carried away. I don't want to get caught up in whatever competition you've clearly got going on here."
Vergil lowers himself to the ground with a low, almost apologetic sounding growl, and Nero slips from his back and lands on solid ground once more. Not that the race wasn't enjoyable, making his blood sing in excitement with adrenaline, but he's happy to be back on the earth and moving at his own pace.
A quick once over around the clearing reveals that the area must have been a homestead, many years ago--there's a half-collapsed wooden building tucked between the trees, and he can make out the vague shape of a stone well nearby, it's form murky in the darkness. The clearing seems man made as well, the dimensions too perfect to be anything but, and trees different than those throughout the majority of the woods line the northern edge.
These Nero thinks he recognizes, wandering over to them and letting out a little whoop of delight when he realizes that they are exactly what he'd expected: apple trees.
With fruit, even.
"Holy shit," Nero whispers, circling the tree like a predator stalking its next meal. He'd forgotten how hungry he was in all of the excitement, and the prospect of enjoying some fresh fruit has his mouth watering. There's one particularly sturdy looking branch hanging low enough that he can reach it if he jumps, so he does, using the trunk of the tree as leverage to climb into the boughs of the tree and surround himself with the plump, fresh fruit he can just make out the shape of in the dim moonlight.
"Figure it used to be a farm. We used to come out here way back when. Makes for a nice hideaway, I'd say," Dante says from beneath him, and Nero looks down to see his companion sitting on his haunches, face turned toward Nero and eyes gleaming in the dark. It's almost freaky--Nero suppresses a shudder and focuses his attention on plucking a particularly plump apple that's hanging near his head, biting into it with relish as a distraction. Sometimes he forgets they’re demons, in a way; it’s probably good to have the reminder.
Nero nods. "Yeah." He rubs at the back of his head with his free hand, looking away from his companion and clearing his throat. "Thanks. For helping me out."
Dante flops onto the grass, rolling around on his side like he's attempting to scratch a particularly difficult itch, and Nero sighs at his display even as fondness warms his chest and face. Dumb wolf is going to get dirty and Nero really does not feel like explaining to the cleaning staff why there's a trail of dirt and dry grass leading through his room.
"Don't mention it," Dante says, from where he's still rolling amidst the fallen apples. "I was gettin' pretty bored in there myself." Before Nero can comment, he flips onto his stomach and adds, "Hey, toss me one of those."
Nero does, throwing the apple straight down toward Dante's face, and he catches it out the air with a loud snap of his jaws, seeming to swallow the entire thing in one quick chomp. When he opens his mouth again, tongue flopping to the side and ears perked forward in anticipation, Nero tosses him two more, the loud crunch of the fruit in Dante's jaws making him shake his head and laugh.
This is the most time he's spent with either of them in an unofficial, relaxed capacity, and he's surprised to see how... well, how laid back they are right now. Even Vergil seems to be enjoying himself, although he's clearly doing his best to pretend that he isn't; Nero has seen his tail lazily wag several times since they settled into the clearing, and he is presently lying on his side, legs stretched out before him and head cushioned on a pile of leaves. Perhaps they should try to make a habit of this. Lord only knows Nero'd love the excuse to get away, and the tension from earlier has already bled out of him, leaving him feeling relaxed and content, meaning the trip is already worth it.
The moment doesn't last long, however, before Dante is on his feet and prowling around his brother, mischief evident in every line of his body. Vergil's aware, of course; he opens one faintly glowing eye and peers at Dante with a look that'd melt a glacier, but Dante seems utterly immune, continuing his slow circuit around Vergil.
When Vergil growls, Dante growls back, and there's a moment where neither move before Dante lowers his front half to the ground and a split-second later pounces.
They roll away together in a writhing heap of silver fur and flailing limbs, jaws snapping at each other as if they weren't just peacefully coexisting a heartbeat ago. None of what they're doing seems serious, so Nero just watches them with mild curiosity as he eats another apple, content to let them do whatever they'd like for the time being.
He's seen the twins fight before--verbally, mostly, although they have lifted a sword against one another during their combat training--and now, as with before, they are utterly focused on each other. Even in wolf form their movements are fluid and coordinated, as if they share some unspoken language between them that informs them of each other's next move. It's impressive, and vaguely intimidating, knowing that he exists alongside their clearly established bond.
Before long they've taken the fight into the trees, the sounds of Dante's boisterous yapping and the crunch of dry foliage around them the only indication of where they've gone. Alone in the clearing--alone at all, for the first time since his "ascension" to princedom--Nero takes a moment to close his eyes and tip his head back against the tree and simply be, soaking in the cool early autumn air and the crisp smell of apples with a contented sigh.
Perhaps he will get better at this with time, like Kyrie insists he will. He'd hoped that living with them for so long would've prepared him for the basics, at least, but no part of his new station has been easy so far, and he's struggling to imagine it ever becoming easy. Royalty still sits wrong with him, a mindset he doesn't think he'll ever shake no matter how much Kyrie and Credo's family does for him. When you grow up in the streets, seeing the other side first hand, it's pretty hard to willingly adapt to that lifestyle.
That's why I've got to do a good job, he thinks. Someone who knows what it's like to scrape by can bring a perspective to the Fortunian royal court that it sorely lacks, and if he's going to be stuck with this life, then he's going to do his damnedest to make the best of it. Maybe he can actually change something--a thought that immediately makes him laugh, quietly to himself, because yeah, wouldn't that be the day.
Nero pulls his cloak tighter around himself with a sigh. Best case scenario, Credo becomes king, Kyrie handles all of the diplomatic parts Nero sucks at, and he can go off and do his own thing. Maybe travel, work with the military, go out and fight demons on the front lines. He doesn't even know why they'd decided to officially adopt him in the first place, considering he was an unofficial family member already, and doing so seems to have complicated matters, if the whispers that spread through the rest of the court are to be believed. It's a mystery he's still working on solving, although he's made frustratingly little progress on that front in the last six months.
Time passes, the moon dipping slowly below the canopy of trees that surrounds the clearing without Nero's noticing, and it's only the sound of footsteps approaching from somewhere near by that draws his attention out of the doze he's let himself fall in to. He opens his eyes to see Dante and Vergil stepping from the line of trees, side by side, arms touching and once more in their human forms. Dante is smiling, wide and easy, and Vergil shakes his head at something he's said, although it's clear he's enjoyed himself as well, the usual tension that always seems to linger along his shoulders and neck eased some, his posture more casual.
Good. Nero's glad that this was nice for them as much as for him--he would've felt bad dragging them out here otherwise, and it's good to know they've enjoyed themselves as well.
"Ready to head back?" Dante asks once they've reached the tree where Nero is perched. Nero drops down from the branch and lands with a small grunt, then stretches his arms above his head to relieve the uncomfortable tension from his impromptu--and inopportune, really--nap, hiding a yawn beneath the neck of his cloak.
"Yeah. The last thing I need is Credo finding out I'm not exactly where I should be and giving me another two hour lecture."
The return trip is slow and uneventful, exhaustion and contentment working in tandem to make their pace considerably more casual than their original trek from the castle grounds. Slipping back inside proves more difficult than leaving, but it's late by the time they return, and most of the guards are tired and easily distracted by Dante, allowing Vergil and Nero to sneak past with little fuss. (That's probably not the greatest thing for castle security, and if Nero wasn't using it to his advantage right now, he'd definitely tip Credo off--but hey, one lax guard among a dozen isn't the worst.)
By the time they return to Nero's quarters, his eyelids have grown heavy, his movements sluggish from the late hour. He's going to regret this in the morning, when his attendant inevitably wakes him before dawn, but Nero's pretty sure the change in pace will be worth one overly tired day, in the long run. Vergil retires for the night first, leaving Dante to guard Nero's room while he gets some sleep, and Nero pauses at the door, watching Vergil leave.
He hesitates, biting his lip thoughtfully, before he says, "Thank you both again," and bows ever so slightly at the waist, because nothing about their vastly different societal status says he can't show proper gratitude where it's due.
The motion makes Vergil pause halfway through the door to their small sleeping quarters, attached to Nero's sitting room, and Dante laughs, dropping a hand on Nero's shoulder.
"Hey, I already said don't mention it," Dante says, squeezing Nero's shoulder gently before releasing him. It's probably not in proper etiquette for his guard to be so cavalier with his casual touches, but Nero's not about to stop him, because, as this evening as already taught him, he's growing fond of the older man. It's nice, being treated just like a normal goddamn person and not just royalty.
"Yeah, well. Thanks anyway. Seriously." Nero turns to open his bedroom door, casting a glance back at his guards and offering them a quick nod.
Vergil returns the gesture with a quiet, "Good night, Nero," and Nero retreats into his room, cheeks hot with embarrassment and a warm flutter that he doesn’t care to analyze too hard twisting in his stomach.
At least one part of his day went well, all things considered; he’s content to deal with any consequences of their little excursion, if it comes to it, in exchange for the sense of peace that settles over him like a warm blanket, and he retires for the night feeling surprisingly hopeful about this still new arrangement, for the first time in months.