Drinks on the house
Nero leaves Fortuna the same day he turns eighteen.
He had spent the last ten years in an orphanage, after his parents died in a car accident. Absolutely no one would take care of him after that – no relatives, distant or close to adopt an orphan - and he had no friends in the city anymore. Kyrie and Credo had both gotten adopted by a family outside of Fortuna and had to leave Nero behind. Nero thinks about going to them at first but he needed to save much more money than he has now. A travel to the other side of the world costs a lot.
So Nero packs his bags in the morning, awkwardly listens to other kids singing him “Happy Birthday” at breakfast and tells the boys who shared the room with him to not make too much trouble. And then he is ready to go. The nuns walk him to the entrance of the orphanage, asking what he was planning to do and where will he go. The headmistress of the facility hadn’t made it a secret before that if Nero wanted to stay in Fortuna, she would be able to help him find a job and a place to live in the city.
The problem is Nero doesn’t want to stay in Fortuna, not when he has so many memories of his parents, Kyrie and Credo connected with the city. The life in the orphanage hasn’t been bad, nuns and volunteers really tried to make all children feel good and Nero had to blink tears away when he received farewell hugs from his caretakers.
Yet, when Nero steps outside the gate of the orphanage, he feels like something heavy falls down from his shoulders. He turns the last time to wave to the nuns and some of the children who came to bid him farewell, adjust the bag on his shoulder, and starts walking towards the port to catch a ferry.
Nero has another moment of hesitation when he steps into the boat and he needs to take a few deep breaths to calm himself down. He has never left the city and Nero’s stomach clenches with nervousness when the ferry starts moving away from the island towards the barely visible mainland.
He doesn’t feel guilty at all when he lays down on the bench, taking much more space than he should. There aren’t many people in the boat with him – it is the middle of the week after all. Most people come to and leave Fortuna during the weekends.
Nero listens to music – a generic pop song - broadcasted from the navigational bridge, smelling salt of the ocean and slowly his nervousness gives in to excitement. He takes out from his hoodie a note the headmistress gave him yesterday, when he went to her to take care of legal matters before he could leave the orphanage.
There, on the small piece of paper, is an address of a pub run by an old friend of her sister. The guy agreed to give Nero a chance to work at his bar and even sleep in the back, until Nero finds himself a better place to stay. Nero has planned from the beginning to go to Capulet City, hoping to find work once he got there. He is quite skilled with his hands, used to both helping in the kitchen and taking care of small repairs at the orphanage. He thinks he wouldn’t have much trouble finding a job but hey, Nero isn’t one to refuse such a generous offer.
He puts the note back into his pocket and zipped it shut. Nero then folds his hands under his head and closes his eyes, letting the rocking of the boat pull him into a shallow nap.
Tonight is slow. Nero keeps half-heartedly wiping glasses with a towel, just to give his hands something to do while he listens to tonight’s singer, Alastor. The guy is a regular performer in the bar and from the first moment Nero had met him he knew why. Alastor’s voice is mesmerizing, low and a little raspy. He mostly sings blues songs and ballads, and he is clearly people’s favourite.
Yet, tonight the storm outside is big enough to scare most of their customers off. People starts to leave barely after ten when normally they would stay until at least midnight. Nero sighs. The business does well, so a night without many customers isn’t too bad. He just hated being bored.
When Nero arrived at Capulet City over a year and a half ago, he didn’t expect to keep working in the bar. The owner, Mr Jefferson – ‘call me Tom’ – taught Nero how to mix drinks. At first Nero helped the previous bartender, but after she resigned, Nero took her place and now he runs the bar with the new trainee, Caroline. He thought he wouldn’t stay too long, but with every passing week Nero had discovered more and more how much he liked the job. It is fun to make drinks and to think about new ones, fun bickering with Alastor, fun pretending Nero and the other singer, Nevan, dislikes each other for being “a young punk” and “an old hag”. Nero hadn’t been sure if his temper would be an obstacle, but beside a few incidents when his patience with drunk patrons ran out, he still manages to be polite. Most customers who sits at the bar don't want to be bothered anyway.
Moreover, even if Capulet is bigger than Fortuna, it is difficult to find a job here when you’re an outsider without friends in the city. Even finding a flat was difficult but Nero managed to rent a place close to the bar. It is just one bedroom with a small kitchen and tiny bathroom, but he doesn’t have to share it and he loves it. The first thing Nero bought to decorate the room was a cork board to pin old photos of his parents and postcards from Credo and Kyrie. It puts a smile on his face every time he looked at it.
Alastor finishes singing another song but any applause is drowned in the sound of thunder. At the same time the door to the bar opens and Nero’s insides tightens with excitement when he catches in the corner of his eye a familiar shade of red. Pretending to be still busy with wiping off glasses, Nero doesn’t turn until he heard the newcomer sit at the bar and Nero’s greeted by the now familiar, “Hey, kid”.
With a practiced annoyed scowl, Nero turns around.
“Who you calling ‘kid’, old man?”
The man throws his head back and laughs, the movement making raindrops fall from his hair onto the counter.
His name is Dante and he is a regular at the bar. Nero remembers how he met him months ago: a tall, muscular man in his early thirties with a charming smile, dressed in black and red, with a big sword on his back and even bigger smug expression on his face. Dante was the first person that night Nero had served a drink, and he remembered how Dante had drunk it whole without wincing, as if it was water not alcohol, and then commented about bad proportions of tonic and vodka. That had wounded Nero’s pride almost as much as Dante’s next question about Nero’s age and being too young to work at a bar.
Nero promised himself back then that he’d get better at making drinks, if only to wipe off Dante’s smirk. Dante spent that night at the bar then, getting progressively more and more smashed while testing Nero’s drinks, but somehow still managed to leave the bar without stumbling a few hours later. Tom only patted Nero’s back when Nero asked about Dante.
“He always drinks a lot.” Tom shrugged, frowning. “Don’t ask me how he does it, because I sure don’t know. Don’t mind his weapons either; he’s just our local demon hunter.”
Nero had figured that much when no one in the bar reacted with a scream when Dante had entered with a big ass sword strapped to his back. Only demon hunters wear weapons like that; Nero had seen soldiers in Fortuna wearing similar ones, only much smaller.
But, well... Nero’s gaze slides appreciatively over Dante’s wide chest and bulging arms resting on top of the counter. There aren’t many small things about Dante.
“C’mon kid, I’m not that old.” Dante pouts in a way which should look out of place on a guy his age, but Dante somehow makes it work for him.
“Stop calling me ‘kid’ and we’ll talk.” Nero answers, putting the glass on the shelf and making a show of huffing in annoyance.
It’s their own old, private joke. It wouldn’t be the same if Dante didn’t call Nero ‘kid’ and if Nero didn’t pretend to be angry about it. Honestly, if Dante ever came to the bar and didn’t make fun of Nero’s age, Nero would start thinking there was something wrong with him.
“What it will be tonight? We have new syrups and –“
“That red one I drank the last time,” Dante says, taking off his coat and putting it on the chair next to him. He leans his sword against the counter.
Nero’s throat gets dry when he sees how Dante’s black, wet shirt stretches over his torso. It clings to Dante even more than usual, showing off his forearms and biceps even more. Honestly, Nero isn’t sure how those stupid belts around Dante’s chest haven’t gotten ripped off yet every time Dante takes a breath.
“Nero?” Dante waves his hand in front of Nero’s face, his eyes half-narrowed in confusion.
“S-sorry, I was just thinking.” Nero can’t help when his gaze falls to Dante’s arms again for a fraction of the second before going back to Dante’s face. For a moment he thinks he sees how Dante’s eyes gleam with red. They really need to get better light in the bar. “It was a Manhattan, I’ll make it for you in a moment.”
Dante flashes him a smile, but there is something calculating in the way he’s looking at Nero and Nero curses himself for staring at him like some idiot. The last thing he needs is for Dante to realize that Nero fancies him. Nero knows he’s not Dante’s type and he prefers to keep Dante as a weird combination of a friend slash customer than to let Dante crush his dreams.
Nero’s hands tremble slightly but the moment he takes the bottle of whiskey, they stop. Pouring and mixing drink has a weirdly calming effect on Nero. Or he’s just able to focus on his work with his crush sitting close to him.
His crush. Dante. A man with not the best reputation in the city because of how often he breaks something when he saves people, who drinks too much, has bad pick-up liners and who is so warm and nice once people bother to get to know him closer... Nero can’t point out when he started falling for Dante, he only knows that he has done it. Dante is a silly old man, but he always asks about Nero’s plans and dreams, and he even sometimes helps Nero to close the bar.
Dante has his demons and it’s apparent when he comes to the bar only to drink until he’s close to getting sick, not in the mood to talk with anyone. But even if Dante has won Nero over with his jokes and bright personality, but Nero decided he wouldn’t run away if Dante opened up about sadder parts of his life. He cares about Dante, about this smug asshole with a heart of gold hidden behind his smugness and sarcastic jokes. Nero wishes Dante would show some interest in him, would give Nero chance to ask about his own life even if that would overstep boundaries between a bartender and a customer.
Not like it will ever happen, Nero thinks, signing into his scarf. He pours whiskey into a shaker and adds ice to it. Nero has seen the type of people Dante liked to charm in the bar: confident about themselves and outspoken, people who attract attention to themselves just like Dante does. And Nero is just... Nero. Shy when it comes to contact with other people, and with temperamental issues.
“How was your day?” Dante asks when Nero starts shaking the shaker, his blue eyes following the cup in Nero’s hands.
Nero fights the warm spreading in his chest. Dante is only being nice, there is nothing to get happy over.
Still, Nero’s smiles brightens.
“I got a new record at bench in the gym today.” Nero’s arms hurt at the mere memory of lifting weights but it has been so worth it.
Dante’s gaze lingers on Nero’s arms and his smile turns... If Nero didn’t know better, he’d say ‘seductive’ but he knows it cannot be that because Dante would never get interested in someone like him.
“Oh? Maybe you’ll be able to carry me around soon.”
“Of course,” Nero huffs, pouring the shaker’s contents to Dante’s glass. They both know that given Dante’s bulk Nero would never be able to carry him, but it would hurt Nero’s pride if he said anything else. He adds a cherry and pushes the glass to Dante. “I could take you anytime.”
Dante’s lips twitch and Nero blushes, mortified.
“I’m sure you could,” Dante agrees with the same weird smile, taking his glass from Nero’s hands. Nero tries very hard to not stare at how Dante’s single palm dwarfs his own in comparison.
This isn’t the first time Dante says something towards him which could be counted as an innuendo nor it’s the first time he smiles like that at Nero – satisfied and content, like a cat after eating a bowl of cream – and Nero has no idea what it means. Dante usually flirts with everyone but he has never behaved like that towards Nero. Weird.
Thankfully, Nero is saved from thinking about Dante’s weird behaviour when their new waitress, Alice, comes to them with an empty tray. She stands two chairs away from Dante, looking warily at his sword before talking to Nero:
“I have an order for the group at table six,” she says in that special, conspiratorial tone of voice, brushing her dark hair back.
It piques Nero’s interest. He takes the note with the order from her and quickly looks into direction of the table six. He sees two faces he doesn’t recognize: a man with short, blond hair, and with a trendy beard looking to be in his mid 20s and a classy dressed woman with auburn hair. She looks to be older than that man by good ten years.
Alice is practically vibrating place, watching Nero’s reaction.
“Have you seen them?” she whispers, leaning a little over the counter.
Nero nods, reaching for a bottle of vodka. He sees how Dante suddenly has gotten interested in his own drink which means he’s listening to them.
“Yeah. Who are they?” He pours vodka to two tall glasses. The order is very simple, just vodka and juice, but Nero sees how much Alice wants to talk so he’s doing both drink very slowly.
“They are a couple! He calls her ‘honey’ and they are holding hands, really.”
“Really.” Nero tries to not look at them nor at Dante. He feels like something heavy has nests on his shoulders. “That’s all? You came here all excited, I thought they did something more.”
Alice pouts, her green eyes looking at Nero with confusion.
“Nero, she’s like fifteen years older than him. Shouldn’t they look for people in their age group?”
This time Nero can’t help himself. He throws a quick glance at Dante and he sees how Dante is observing him, absentmindedly swirling whiskey in his glass. Being under that gaze makes Nero feel hot. He doesn’t know why but he feels like something depends on his answer.
“Who cares as long as they love each other?” Nero puts glasses with drinks on a tray. “Dating older people isn’t a crime.”
“I know, but can you imagine them meeting each other’s parents? She’s almost old enough to be his mother. I bet people wonder why a young guy like him would see in her. Do they even have any common topics or—“
“Better bring them their drinks, they’re waiting.” Nero interrupts her rudely. He doesn’t care though; Alice’s words have made something in his stomach turn unpleasantly.
What she says are just the same things Nero keeps thinking about alone, at home, when he lets himself believe for a moment that Dante would like him. If they went for a date, would people gossip about them like that too? Would Nero care about it? Would Dante?
“Hey, Nero, can I have another glass of whiskey?” Dante waves at Nero with his empty glass. He isn’t smiling anymore.
“Y-yeah, sure.” Without another word Alice takes the tray and Nero takes Dante’s glass from him. “Only whiskey?”
“Only,” Dante confirms. He observes how Nero pours him a drink without speaking; he’s looking like his thoughts are away so it surprises Nero when he speaks, “You don’t think she’s too old for him?”
What the hell?
Nero freezes under Dante’s icy-blue stare, feeling like a mouse facing a cat. A shiver runs down his back. He doesn’t know why he suddenly feels like there is something wrong, however something in Dante’s close face and his tense shoulders makes Nero want to run away. Or climb Dante like a tree. He’s not sure yet.
“I think it’s not our business.” Nero crosses his arms on his chest and raises his chin up, looking at Dante with challenge. “They’re adults and they can do what they want. Who cares about what other people think?”
“Hmm...” Dante takes a sip of whiskey, but his eyes never leave Nero’s face. “It doesn’t change what your friend said. She could be his mom. Hell!” Dante drinks the whole whiskey in one gulp, throwing his head back. He wipes off his mouth, putting the glass down with a little too much force behind it. It almost makes Nero jump. “I could be could be your father.”
Nero’s heart starts to race.
“So?” He says in a steady voice which doesn’t betray his panic. “I wouldn’t care if I dated someone much older than me.”
It is the closest thing to admitting his crush to Dante Nero has ever said aloud. He refuses to look away though even is he feels his cheeks going hot. Dante is the first one to turn his head away.
“Young people are always so idealistic,” he murmurs, pushing his empty glass towards Nero. “Another one, please.”
Nero opens the bottle with whiskey with a little too force, Dante’s words seeping into his brain like a poison, making him both angry and sad at the same time.
“Someone has to be when the world is full of pessimistic old fuckers like you.” The words are out of Nero’s mouth before he can stop himself and he gulps, realizing what he had just called Dante.
Dante has always insisted to be treated more like Nero’s friend than a customer yet even he may object to being called an ‘old fucker’. However, all Dante does is taking his glass back from Nero, looking suddenly very tired.
“I will call for you when I need another one.”
That’s a very polite way of Dante saying he wanted to be left alone. Nero wishes awful hard to stay with Dante, to talk some more because something has happened but he isn’t sure what.
But Nero sees clients walking towards him and, well. Nero was on a shift, after all, and had work to do; double so since Caroline had taken a night off.
Nero brushes his long fringe from his eyes – he desperately needs to visit a barber – and adjusts the scarf around his neck. He turns to other patrons with a smile, pretending he doesn’t notice how Dante’s half-smile vanishes completely and his shoulders drop, when he slouches over his drink.
For the next few hours Nero keeps himself busy with mixing drinks. Despite the storm outside, more people visited the bar around midnight. Among them was a small gathering of friends celebrating a birthday of one of them, and they kept asking Nero to make more drinks for them, telling him what to mix. Some of the drinks sound interesting, and Nero promises himself to check how they taste later, and maybe add them to the menu. Tom always says that he leaves managing the content of the bar to bartenders – within budget’s limits – as they know the best what people want to drink.
Even as busy as he is, Nero keeps an eye on Dante. He’d been nursing the same glass of whiskey the whole time with a closed expression on his face. Some other regulars tried to approach him at first, but they quickly left him alone after it became apparent that Dante was not in the mood to entertain anyone with small talk. He doesn’t even look to be in the mood to be here anymore. This bar is so far away from Dante’s office too; why did he even bother with coming here?
Around one Nero has his break. He’s already hungry, and he needs a break from the party celebrating “Michael’s birthday!”. If that Michael guy starts flirting with him again, Nero may just do something drastic. He has never been good at responding to people flirting with him, and not only that; he was also at work, he cannot just tell one of his patrons to go to hell.
Once or twice when Michael was too loud, asking for Nero’s phone number so they could “talk later”, Nero thought he could feel Dante observing then, but every time he turned around, Dante’s eyes were glued to his drink. For some reason it makes Nero annoyed, both at himself and his stupid crush on Dante, and at Dante for... Nero isn’t sure what, but knowing Dante, he has surely done something today to deserve Nero’s ire.
One of the waitresses, Annie, takes his place behind the bar, and Nero sneaks outside through the backdoor. Usually, he’d just stay out the back, and pretend he doesn’t watch Dante like some kind of a creep, but tonight he needs fresh air. It rarely rained in the city, and Nero kind of misses the long storms so common in Fortuna; there is something relaxing in watching rain. The outcropping balcony above the back door should shelter him nicely from becoming wet after all.
On his walk there, Nero takes an umbrella with him and two bags with trash. Since he already wants to go outside, he figures he’ll take out trash too.
Nero shivers when he steps outside, cold prickling his skin. It is still raining hard, and it looks like it is not going to stop any time soon. With a sigh, he hangs the bag with sandwiches at the doorknob and opens the umbrella. He’ll put the trash in the container first and then eat.
With how long it’d been raining the whole pavement is one big puddle, and Nero has no way to avoid getting his shoes wet. Thankfully, Nero was at the gym before coming to work and he has a pair of shoes in the duffel bag. Spending the rest of the shift in wet shoes would probably result in a fever or worse.
Something scraps in the alley behind him, but Nero pays it no mind. He has already learnt to not bother with any sounds the city made at night – demons never get close to the centre of the city and Nero isn’t too afraid of other people. As long as he doesn’t hear anyone walking behind him, Nero doesn’t care. And even if it is someone with ill intent, Nero has gone through enough brawls to be able to take care of himself.
Carefully keeping the umbrella above him, Nero opens the heavy lid of the container. The awful smell of trash makes him gag. He throws the first bag inside when he hears the same grinding sound as before – like something sharp grazes over a brick. Curious, he looks behind himself, but doesn’t notice anything. The alley is as empty as usual, with the same cracked pavement and layers of paint peeling off the building. There aren’t even any cars passing through the main street the alley ends at.
Nero shrugs, but something keeps nagging at him to hurry. If he is back under the balcony, he’ll have a much better view at the whole alley. Just in case.
Shaking his head, Nero throws the second bag into the container. Really, he behaves like a kid getting scared over just some sounds. There are flats in the buildings around; someone probably just dropped something and Nero—
Suddenly, hissing is coming from above him, and Nero’s body reacts before he even completely registers what is happening. He jumps backwards, tripping and falling into the puddle – which is a good thing because a second after that happened something slashed the air right above him. Nero rolls to the side, water splashing into his eyes as he frantically tries to put some distance between himself and whatever attacked him, his right hand hurting from falling onto it.
Nero knows demons are real. All kids has classes about safety and what to do if you are attacked. There are flyers with information about different types of demons and how to avoid them. In Fortuna, the Order’s soldiers came to the orphanage for talks about the dangers lurking in the dark.
For his whole life, Nero has thought he was ready to see a demon, that he was prepared enough to not get paralysed with fear. But now, soaking wet in a puddle and looking at an abomination hanging off the building’s wall, Nero finds he cannot move. The demon reminds Nero of an overgrown ant with a distorted head. It has a pair of scissors-sharp pincers and green liquid dripped from its fangs.
For a second they both just stare at each other before the demon tenses its muscles and jumps away from the wall straight at Nero. The scream dies in Nero’s throat, and he tries to crawl away but he knows he won’t be able to run away; he has no means to protect himself, he –
Nero closes his eyes, throwing the umbrella he is still clutching in his non-injured hand in front of himself as if it could be enough to protect him. Yet, instead of getting his head sliced off, there is a clang and Nero hears something heavy landing in front of him. Blinking rain away from his eyes, Nero raises his head and opens his eyes.
First thing he sees is the familiar red coat. He looks up, bewildered, his heart pounding in his chest. There, in front of him, is Dante; he is blocking the pincers with his sword and has his left hand in the demon’s jaw, pushed past its teeth. The beast makes a high pitched sound, which gives Nero goosebumps, but Dante only fucking pushes the demon’s pincers back, seemingly without any effort as if it isn’t ten times stronger than an average human.
Suddenly green blood splashes from the demon’s head like a fountain, falling heavily to the ground, followed by the sound of gunshots and it takes Nero a moment to realize that Dante has his gun between the demon’s jaws. The demon jerks violently with every shot and Nero’s stomach churns at the sight of it. Yet, Nero watches with wide eyes how Dante throws the creature’s body down before stabbing it in the chest with his sword.
“Just to be sure.” Dante murmurs, before finally turning to Nero.
Dante is normally pretty pale, but now Nero thinks his skin as white as the marble monuments in Fortuna’s museum, as Dante crouches in front of Nero, concern written all over his face. Somehow, despite being so much bigger than Nero, Nero doesn’t feel crowded when Dante moves closer to him.
“Nero? Are you okay?” Gently, Dante touches Nero’s shoulder. His hand is trembling almost as much as Nero does.
Feeling like he’s just an observer in his own body, Nero’s gaze falls to Dante’s arm – the same arm that’s been in the demon’s mouth just a minute ago.
He sees the deep wounds, torn open skin and blood, and he barely manages to push Dante away before he turns to his left side and vomits, choking on his own saliva and acid. It hurts his throat and Nero feels tears gathering in his eyes – he’s not sure if they are from pain or a reaction to almost dying.
Nero feels Dante’s big palm slicking his hair back, making sure it doesn’t get dirty. He puts his arm around Nero’s chest, keeping him upright and he is saying something. Between the sound of blood still rushing in his ears and the sound of his coughing, Nero doesn’t hear any words. But just the calming tone of voice Dante is using is enough to help Nero stop trying to vomit his whole stomach. He grabs at Dante’s arm around himself, shivering, and takes deep breaths.
Dante killed that demon. He’s safe now. But what if there are more of them, what if they are just waiting for Dante to leave Nero alone before attacking again, what if—
“Nero?” Dante turns Nero’s face towards himself. His hunching over Nero, his big body practically sheltering Nero from the rain. He still looks worried. “There are no more demons around, I promise.”
It takes Nero two tries before he’s able to ask: “H-how can you be sure?”
Gods, Nero hates how weak his voice sounds. He drops his gaze, unable to look at Dante any longer, too embarrassed by his reactions. His eyes wander to the corpse of the demon and Nero gulps, his heart beating faster again.
“I promise, there are no more of them around.” There is so much confidence in Dante’s voice, Nero doesn’t have a choice but to believe him. “Let’s go back, okay?”
Nero nods but when Dante stands up, he realizes he cannot. His legs could be a completely different entity for how little power Nero has over them. He tries to move his legs, however they only tremble more. He hears a soft, quiet sob and it takes Nero a moment to realize he made it.
“Let me help you.”
Before Nero asks what Dante wants to do, Dante is already bending over him. He puts his arm behind Nero’s back, the other under Nero’s knees, and suddenly Nero is in the air. He squawks, grabbing at Dante’s shirt, startled. Nero hasn’t expected this.
Dante looks at Nero, worry slowly disappearing from his face. From below, for Nero, he looks like he’s much bigger than Nero. Or maybe it’s because of how Nero is curled up in a ball in his hold, pressing himself to Dante’s chest like a wet kitten, Dante’s arms almost engulfing him whole.
Nero presses his face into Dante’s shirt harder, taking in his smell with his every breath. Dante’s scent and the warmth of his body is almost enough to make Nero forget the horror he had just witnessed.
The next half an hour passes so fast Nero barely registers what happens. Dante helps him get up, taking Nero back to the bar and asking for the first aid kit before bandaging Nero’s injured hand.
“It’s only scrapped, it’s nothing bad.” Dante judges before going to work on it.
Nero tries to weakly protest that he can do it himself but, truth be told, he was still pretty shaken by what had happened. What could have happened.
“I’m sorry I was late.” Dante says at one point, his eyes glued to Nero’s hand, his face serious. “I didn’t think that fucker would come closer and attack anyone. If I knew you would get hurt, I –” Dante stops talking, clenching his jaw.
“Huh?” Nero blinks at him. Through layers of shock, he feels like Dante’s words should surprise him.
“It’s nothing, kid.” Dante ruffles Nero’s wet hair and Nero doesn’t even feel like getting annoyed by it. He couldn’t feel anything but how Dante’s hand is big and warm, and how it felt good to be touched by another human being and being reminded that he’s alive. “You should call Tom and tell him what happened. No offence, kid, but you don’t look like you’re able to work anymore tonight.”
It turns out calling Tom isn’t needed – Annie had already done it. She looked pretty shaken when she gives Nero her phone to talk with Tom. Her eyes are glassy and she looks like she’s barely holding herself from crying. Nero remembers how someone – was it Nevan? – mentioned that Annie lost her siblings in a demon attack when she was a child.
If Nero’s brain functioned properly, he’d try to cheer her up. But he’s still slow at registering everything around him; he barely understands what Tom is saying, telling him to take the next few days off. Nero nods, mumbling something close to ‘sure, thanks’ before he gives the phone back to Annie.
Only then does Nero notice that Dante is talking with someone too. He was on the other side of the room, but his gaze was trained on Nero; Dante smiles when he sees Nero looking at him.
“No, he’s fine. He’s pretty shaken though.” Dante rolls his eyes with an over dramatic expression at whatever the person on the side of the phone has just said.
Normally, Dante’s antics would put a smile on Nero’s face. Now, he only shivers, pulling Dante’s coat more over himself. Nero wants to argue that he’s not some helpless victim, but he can’t make a sound. He’s barely aware that Annie had her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s dead. I will make sure he visits the station when he feels better, okay?” Dante runs his hand through his hair, ripped off material of sleeves flapping around. There is something off about it, but Nero couldn’t put his finger on what it was. “Um-hm, yeah, that’s fine. You’re the best, girl, I owe you.” Dante finishes the call with a sight, putting the phone in the pocket of his trousers.
“Was that the police?” Annie asks, biting her lip. “Should I tell Tom to come here?”
“Yes and no.” Dante walks to them, and Nero suddenly feels much less anxious when Dante is back at his side. “I explained the situation. Some of your neighbours already called the police about gunshots, but since it was only me and not someone running around shooting at other people, they won’t bother coming. You’ll have to go to the police station later just to confirm that.” Dante directs his last words at Nero.
“No problem,” Nero says in a hollow voice, his throat dry. The shock is disappearing slowly, leaving Nero with a mix of feelings he’s not ready to face yet.
He could have died, just like all those years ago when a car hit the one he was in with his parents. Nero remembers the scream of tyres, his mother’s panicked yell and an ear-splitting sound of glass breaking around him... He shivered again, Dante’s coat and his wet scarf weighing him down.
Nero sees Dante and Annie exchange worried looks above him, probably surprised at Nero’s lack of emotions, but he’s too drained to react. Not yet.
“Nero lives close, right? I’ll walk him home and check the streets around here.”
Once again Nero thinks he should protest to being babied so much, but when he tries to speak, his gaze falls to Dante’s guns strapped at his sides and he’s back in the alley, sitting pathetically in a puddle as demon attacks him.
It doesn’t take them long to leave the bar. Annie brings Nero’s bag to them, and Nero clutches it to his chest, feeling a little better when holding something familiar. He had half-thought to ask how their clients were, if they heard gunshots or not, but Annie leaves before he has a chance to speak.
Nero’s steps falter when he steps outside, and Dante moves past him, leaving first. Dante’s back is broad enough that it hides Nero completely; even if something jumped on them, it wouldn’t be able to reach Nero...
“It isn’t raining anymore.” Dante comments, reaching with his hand for Nero. Nero steps outside, into Dante’s reach, and Dante puts his arms around Nero’s shoulders.
It’s... grounding, in a way, and it makes breathing a little easier. Nero looks up at Dante’s face, hating how carefully Dante is watching him, like he thinks Nero will fall apart at any moment.
“Good, it’s been raining almost the whole day.” Nero says. He disliked small talk, but at the same time he was getting tired of behaving like he’s mute.
“Yeah.” Dante pulls Nero closer to himself and Nero doesn’t stop him. “Show the way, kid.” Dante’s tone was light, like he’s trying to pretend nothing bad happened.
Nero appreciates how Dante doesn’t keep asking how he feels and how he doesn’t comment when Nero had made a fool of himself and vomited all over Dante’s shoes. Dante just is, keeping close to Nero and he even gives Nero his coat when Nero starts to shiver.
They walk in silence for a few minutes. Nero almost needs to run to match Dante’s long steps; Dante must notice it, because he slows down once they cross the street. His arm is heavy on Nero’s shoulder, not letting Nero move away from him, and Nero feels himself relaxing feeling Dante’s warm.
“... I didn’t think I wouldn’t move.” Nero finally says, looking down and watching how his steps splash water in the puddles. Next to him, Dante tenses. “Everything happened so fast. I just—” Nero shakes his head, wet hair plastered to his face.
Dante goes quiet for a moment. When he speaks, his voice is gentle – it’s the first time Nero heard him speak like this, and it fills him with warmth as Dante’s words shower on him:
“You aren’t trained to fight demons, kid. People rarely react in a different way than you did when they encounter demons.” Dante’s fingers started to massage Nero’s skin and Nero finds himself breathing in the rhythm of the moving; up and down, breathe in and release. “All your reactions were the norm, Nero. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Hearing that make Nero flush in embarrassment.
“I couldn’t even protect myself, I just—”
“Nero, stop.” Dante touches Nero’s chin and raises his head up, forcing him to look at Dante. He’s not smiling, but his expression is gentle and his eyes are so fucking understanding of what Nero feels, it's as if Dante is touching his very soul. “Who is the demon hunter here?”
Nero licks his lips before stating the obvious, his chin burning where Dante is touching him:
“And who is a civilian?”
Nero’s hands clench into fists.
“Exactly. So don’t beat yourself up over something you weren’t prepared for, Nero.”
“Fine, whatever,” Nero mumbles, some of his usual annoyance seeping into his voice.
Still, Dante is touching him, looking down at Nero with an expression Nero cannot read, and Nero squirms in his hold, suddenly nervous. Dante is so close to him they would kiss if only –
“Can we go? I want to take these clothes off.”
Dante’s solemn expression turns into a mischievous one, with hunger shining in his eyes, and Nero abruptly realizes how he must sound like.
“You won’t even buy me dinner first?”
Nero flushes harder, squeaking in embarrassment.
Dante only laughs at him. He releases Nero’s chin and they continue walking towards Nero’s flat; Dante still had his arm around Nero, and with the shock slowly passing, Nero was becoming more and more aware of how close Dante was to him. He felt the well-defined muscles of Dante’s arm moving against him, and Nero needed to focus on his breathing to not say or do something embarrassing.
He kept throwing glances at Dante, using the fact that Dante was busy watching their surroundings to stay unnoticed. Nero admits he was amazed by how Dante looks like he hadn’t fought a demon at all. Not counting some sweat gathered on his forehead and the torn sleeves of his shirt, someone would think that nothing bad happened.
All too soon they were standing in front of Nero’s door.
“You’ll be okay, right?” Dante asks hesitantly, putting his hands in his pockets.
Nero already misses having Dante’s arm around himself.
“Yeah, I t-think I will.” Fuck, of course he has to stutter when he was nervous. Nero turns his expression into his usual scowl, masking the internal turmoil. “I’m not a child.”
Either Dante buys his acting, or he sees through Nero’s facade and decides to indulge him.
“Sure you aren’t.... kid.”
“Tsk, whatever.” Nero shrugs, reaching for the keys in his bag. He has to push the sleeves of Dante’s coat up, and it hits him that he’s still wearing it. “Shit, sorry, your coat. I almost forgot.” Nero quickly takes off Dante’s coat, shivering again without it. He desperately needs to get changed into warmer clothes.
“It’s an amazing coat, I understand.” Dante jokes. He swings the coat above his shoulder, holding it there casually. “So... I’ll be going then.”
Nero nods tentatively. Suddenly, the air between them feels uncomfortable. Funny, considering it wasn't like that when they were talking in silence a few minutes ago.
“Thank you, Dante,” Nero blurts out suddenly, reaching for Dante and grabbing his hand. Dante looks at him with raised eyebrows, surprised and yeah, in the morning Nero is going to be mortified by his behaviour, but right now he doesn't care. “You saved me. I – Thank you.”
The surprise on Dante’s face gives in to his normal smug smirk. He puts his big, warm hand on Nero’s own and Nero feels like floating from happiness.
“It’s my job, kid, and believe me: the pleasure is all mine.” Dante winks at him and Nero’s face goes red. Dante steps closer and makes a move with his hand like he wants to ruffle Nero’s hair, but in the end he only adjusts the coat on his shoulder. “Go inside and rest, kid, you deserve it.”
Nero watches Dante turn around and walk down the stairs, leaving the building. With a sigh, Nero takes the key from his bag, his hands shaking only slightly. With a pounding heart, he opens the door, suddenly feeling scared of going inside. But are were no weird sounds coming from within and, when Nero switches on the lights, he sees how everything is still in its place.
With his knees feeling way too soft, Nero wobbles to the bathroom to take off his wet clothes. It’s late, and the plumbing system was noisy as hell, but Nero needed to get warm. He got into the shower, turning on water on the hottest setting. Nero shivers violently when the hot stream hits his cold skin; still, it feels good. He rests his forehead on the tiles, letting the water warm him up. He should probably put a bag on his injured hand to protect it, but he has bandages and can replace them on his –
Nero never finishes that thought, suddenly remembering Dante talking on the phone back in the bar and later, holding Nero close to him. Despite standing in the stream of hot water, Nero feels cold again. The panic, which had been teetering on the edge of his consciousness, hits him with full force and Nero hunches in on himself, breathing erratically and trembling, blindly pressing his hands against tiles to support himself.
All of it because he now remembers why the sight of Dante’s arms in the bar unsettled him so much: all wounds caused by the demon’s fangs were gone.
Nero wakes up way past noon. His hands are still shaking when he gets dressed and as he makes himself breakfast; but Nero thinks he has everything, mostly under control. The panic attack in the shower during the night is gone, and the only thing that stays is the realization of how quickly Dante’s wounds healed.
Munching on his marshmallow cereal, Nero keeps repeating the events of the night in his head. It was dark in the alley but he is sure he saw marks on Dante’s skin. These marks were gone by the time they left the bar. This is a fact, no matter how unpleasant it makes Nero feel like. It isn’t normal for wounds to heal that fast, and Nero wants to kick himself for not realizing what had happened sooner.
The question is what Nero can do now? He doubts he can pretend he hadn’t noticed anything; he’d never been a good actor. So, the only solution is to go to Dante and... And what? Ask what is wrong with him? Nero groans around a mouthful of cereal. Oh yeah, that would be perfect. He’d be lucky if Dante didn’t slice his head off for –
No. Nero shakes his head. No matter what is different about Dante, the truth is he had helped Nero and he’s been keeping everyone in the city safe from demons. It’s still Dante: a big, smug bastard with too understanding eyes and a penchant for bad jokes. The same Dante who teases Nero about his work and tries to cheer him up when he sees Nero is sad.
Pushing the bowl of soggy cereal away from himself, Nero makes a decision. He’ll go to the police station first, and after that he’ll visit Dante’s office. Nero needs answers and Dante better give them to him before Nero goes crazy.
The visit at the police station is thankfully short. Maybe because people take pity of Nero’s injury, or maybe because Nero’s temper is getting the better of him. Either way, he is tenth in the queue, but gets called to the room with a very tired looking policeman before anyone else.
“This is what the hunter told us.” The officer slides a piece of paper towards Nero, who sits at the other side of the desk. “Read it and sign it if you agree with everything.”
Nero takes the pen, scanning the page quickly. It is a short note about how Dante had to shoot a demon trying to attack Nero. There is also a fancy signature of Dante’s at the bottom of the page, and Nero is somehow thankful Dante has already been at the station. He isn’t sure how he would react towards Dante in front of other people.
Still, he has to ask something that had been nagging him since he’d woken up, besides the mystery of Dante’s wounds:
“No offence, officer, but you just... trust Dante?”
The man’s eyes narrow as he pins Nero with his gaze.
“Is there anything wrong with his statement?”
Nero shakes his head, pushing his fringe away. He doesn’t like how excited that man sounds, like he would love to find something Dante had done wrong.
“No, it’s the whole truth. I was just curious. You know,” Nero smiles his best fake, sugary smile at him, “Dante is a hunter but none of police showed up last night. Does he work for you?” Nero tries to keep his tone light and expression full of innocent curiosity.
He didn’t pay it any attention after the attack, but it is surprising how Dante had arranged everything and someone from the police department had listened to him.
The officer humms, looking like he’s wondering if he should – or wants to – tell Nero anything. Finally, he says:
“You’re not from the city, right?” When Nero shakes his head again, he continues. “Dante is on the city’s payroll and works closely with the police. He called last night and explained what happened.” The man shrugs. “I understand if you don’t feel comfortable with someone running around the city with weapons on display, but I assure you, Dante will not hurt anyone other than demons. If you see any abnormal behaviour, you should immediately notify us though. We’ll take care of it.”
It takes all Nero’s willpower to not smash the guy’s nose with his fist. He has sounded like... like he thought Nero isafraid of Dante, as if Dante isn’t a fucking hero who stood between Nero and his certain death. The police hadn’t been able to help him at all yesterday,they would only show up to put his body in a bag, and this guy...!
Furiously, Nero scrawls his name next to Dante’s and puts the pen back on the desk with too much force.
“Here. Can I go now?” Not waiting for permission, Nero grabs his hoodie from the back of the chair and leaves the office before he says something that would result in a fine.
It is chilly outside, and Nero wishes he took his scarf with him. He isn’t yet used to how quickly it gets cold in the city. In Fortuna, winter is almost non-existent, summers are hot, springs and autumns are almost the same. The first winter he had spent in the city left him trembling from cold for months, despite the layers of clothes he wore back then.
Dante’s office is on the other side of the city, so Nero takes a bus to get there. It makes him wonder why Dante does keep coming to their bar if he lives so far away. Dante always just winks at Nero and tells him he loves their service when Nero asks about it though. Nero doubts Dante tells the truth, but he always gets so flustered by that wink he doesn’t pry.
When Nero gets off the bus it is already getting dark. With his hands hidden in pockets of the hoodie, Nero marches down the long street, towards the Devil May Cry office. There aren’t many people outside and Nero doesn’t even have anyone to ask if he is going in the right direction. Finally, after consulting the map on his phone four times and twice taking a wrong turn, Nero stands in front of Dante’s place.
For some reason, Nero had thought Dante’s office would be in a dark corner of one of alleys, hidden from any prying eyes. He hadn’t expected to see a big, three-story building with bright neon lights showing the name of the office. Somehow, it fits Dante – he doesn’t look like someone who does anything by halves and definitely not like someone who would hide himself.
The lights are on, but when Nero knocks no-one opens.
“Dante? Dante, it’s me, Nero!” Nero knocks again. He thinks he can hear some rustling inside, but the door remains closed. Anger flares in Nero; he had just rode to this place for over an hour; he won’t let Dante ignore him. “Old man, are you deaf? Open the door!”
Nothing. Annoyed, Nero grabs the doorknob and pulls at the door. He doesn’t expect it to actually swing open, and it almost knocks him down. Nero quickly looks behind him, hoping no one sees him.
The street behind him is completely empty, thankfully.
“Dante?” Nero calls, stepping into the office.
The office does look like an office a demon hunter should have in Nero’s opinion. There is a row of skulls on the wall behind the desk, and Nero shivers when he realizes that none of them look like skulls of any animals he knows. There are also weapons there: a few guns and a beautiful, blue katana. Dante’s usual sword is left leaning against the desk. While these things look like they belong to a demon hunter, the many pizza boxes scattered around the office didn’t.
Nero scowls seeing the mess. Yet, somehow, he is not surprised that Dante’s place isn’t clean.
He closes the door behind him, looking around. Dante is nowhere to be seen, but there are stairs going to the first floor and Nero hesitates before taking them. It is one thing to walk into the office, which is apparently open to the public, but a completely different one to go to Dante’s private rooms.
Nero rocks on his heels, rubbing his nose while he thinks. If Dante was home, then he would’ve already called for Nero, right? So maybe Nero should take a sit on the couch and wait for him to come back?
Nodding to himself, Nero turns to the couch, but stops when he hears a painful groan coming from above. Nero’s pulse speeds up and he is on the first floor in record time, taking two steps of stairs in every stride instead of one.
“Dante? Are you here?” Nero looks at the row of doors, not sure which of them is Dante’s room. Or why Dante hasn’t greeted him yet.
Nero doesn’t like either of those things.
He hears more hurt groans coming from the door at the end of the hallway, and Nero stomps there, making enough noise to alert Dante to his presence. Dante may get pissed at Nero for invading his privacy, but he sounds hurt enough for Nero to not care about it.
Still though, Nero stops in front of the door, suddenly remembering why exactly he had come to Dante’s. What if whatever had happened to Dante is connected to how quickly his wounds healed yesterday? Is Nero sure he wants to go in there?
“N-nero?” Dante’s raspy voice makes Nero jump. Dante sounds like he is in pain, and Nero has his hand on the doorknob before he knows it. “What... what are you doing here?”
“I-I wanted to talk. The door was open and I...” Nero gulps, pushing the door slowly open, his heart pounding in his chest. Something bad is happening with Dante and he needs to see what it is. “Are you hurt?”
Is it because of Nero? Maybe Nero’s mind had played a trick on him and Dante’s injuries hadn’t disappear?
“I’m fine.” Dante sounds anything but ‘fine’. “You can... you can go-ah! fuck!”
“Dante?!” Nero hates how panicky he sounds. When Dante only groans in reply, Nero decides to take matters into his own hands. “I’m coming in.”
“No, Nero, wait!”
But Nero cannot wait, not when it is apparent Dante is hurting so much he can barely speak. Nero swings the door wide open; it is dark in the room, the only source of light being the lamps in the corridor.
Yet, it is enough for Nero to see how Dante lays on the bed in a foetal position, trembling under the duvet. Nero blindly touches the wall next to the doorframe, looking for the switch to turn on the lights.
“Nero...” Dante says quietly, and it sounds so close to begging Nero doesn’t know how to react. “Please, just... just leave...”
“Like hell I’ll leave you now.”
Dante can get pissed at him later, after Nero makes sure that Dante is completely one hundred percent fine. He can kick Nero’s butt out of his home, but Nero isn’t going to leave him right now, not when it is obvious that Dante can’t even leave the bed.
Nero finally feels the switch under his fingers. He flicks the light on and promptly freezes in place.
Dante’s bedroom is even messier than his office, with pizza boxes lying on every available surface and dirty clothes falling from the closet. But this isn’t what had made Nero stop in his tracks.
What he had taken as a duvet covering Dante isn’t a duvet at all – but a pair of big, black leather wings.
“D-Dante...?” Nero whispers, his lips suddenly dry.
It is Dante on the bed, but he doesn’t look like normal Dante. Not only does he have wings, but his hands are turned into claws with scales coming up to his forearms. Half of his torso had turned into a map of black and red scales too. And his eyes... Dante’s eyes are red as blood with golden irises when he looks at Nero, revealing pointed fangs in a snarl.
“I told you to leave! I- damnit!” Dante’s bits the pillow in obvious pain, shivering all over himself.
Despite being terrified as hell, Nero’s legs carry him closer to the bed. He sees clearly now how Dante’s whole body is covered in a thin layer of sweat and how his sheets are all torn up. Dante’s chest is moving rapidly as he sucks in air between the jolts of pain racking through him.
“What – How can I help you? Dante?” With a terror seizing him in a cold hold, Nero gets even closer, now standing in front of Dante. If Dante was to reach out and grab him with his claws, Nero wouldn’t be able to jump back in time... “Dante? Do you hear me?”
Dante pushes his head away from the pillow, and turns his face towards Nero with a groan of pain. He starts to sweat even more; big drops of sweat running down his head, his eyes focusing on Nero with difficulty.
“That demon poisoned me.” Dante finally admits through clenched teeth.
Nero doesn’t have to ask which demon; there is only one both he and Dante had faced, and Nero is now reminded about the green liquid coating the creature’s fangs.
“Is this why you look like... like this?” Nero asks quietly, his own hands trembling as he kneels by Dante’s side.
His instincts are screaming at him to get the fuck out of there, however Nero’s chest clenches painfully at the thought of leaving a sick Dante alone.
Dante laughs bitterly at Nero’s words, his form still shaking. He pushes himself up onto his hands, towering over Nero and Nero suddenly realized how massive Dante is in this form. His forearm alone is bigger than Nero’s fucking thigh.
“No, kid. All of this,” Dante waves at his body with fake nonchalance, “helps me burn the toxin quicker.” He bares his teeth at Nero, two sets of pointy, strong-looking fangs, before he laughs humorlessly. “I’m a part demon, boy. And it’ll be better for you if you just run away now.”
Dante’s voice turns sad at the end, and Nero watches, confused and scared, feeling sad as Dante tries to push himself up in a sitting position, only for his arms to give out under him. He falls onto the bed again, the impact rocking all the furniture in the room. This time, instead of groaning, Dante makes a low, long sound – it reminds Nero of a wild animal close to dying.
If Nero ran away now, he’d never forgive himself.
“Who do you think I am, old man?” Nero pushes his sleeves up and stands, looking from above at Dante’s shivering body, his insides clenching uncomfortably. “I’m not a child who’ll run away. What can I do to make you feel better?”
With his face all flushed – looks like beside sweating like a pig, Dante has a fever too – Dante looks at Nero in complete surprise.
“You want... to stay?” He asks through gritted teeth.
Dante keeps looking at Nero like it was Nero who is the sick one here, and Nero finally has enough.
“Yeah, dipshit, so cooperate.” Nero bends down to take one of the pillows from the floor and throws it at Dante’s face. “Stay there and don’t move.”
Dante mumbls something in a reply, but Nero doesn’t stay long enough to listen to what it is. He leaves Dante’s bedroom and goes on a quest to find the bathroom. Next two rooms next to the bedroom are storage – and Nero is almost sure the green stick in one of them growls at him – but behind the third door he finds a bathroom. The state of the room is only barely better than the other place in Dante’s home, and Nero cringes with disgust when he sees spiders running away in the corner. Yuck.
Thankfully, because there are some universal things in the whole world, like keeping a trash can under the sink in the kitchen, Nero finds a small basin in the cupboard under the sink. He fills it with cold water, takes two of the cleanest looking towels from the rack and goes back to Dante.
Dante lays exactly like when Nero had left him. Nero takes a second to gather his courage before walking towards him. He kneels back at Dante’s side, and soaks the towel in water. Dante observes him with half-closed eyes, but he doesn’t make a sound when Nero lays the towel on his forehead.
“It should help with fever.” Nero mutters, looking away from Dante.
He feels weird under the scrutiny of Dante’s red eyes, so different than the blue ones Nero has gotten so used to. Nero himself doesn't know what to think about this whole situation. Dante is a part demon? How is that even possible? It does explain how Dante’s wounds had closed so quickly though; demons are hard bitches to kill not only because of their strength but because of how fast their wounds heal.
Nero feels like he should be more terrified – like running away from the building, screaming in terror and yelling for help – but other than the first shock, all he feels is sadness. Dante was hurt because of Nero. If only Nero hadn’t decided to leave the bar, Dante wouldn’t be in pain right now. And... Nero throws a curious glance over black and red scales; how Dante looks doesn’t even unsettles Nero that much too. Dante resembles a human enough for Nero’s brain to not freeze up, feeling as if he is in danger. Okay, yeah, the claws are terrifying – long and definitely sharp enough to slice Nero’s throat off without any effort – but then Dante’s face shows the very human emotions of being in pain.
How could Nero leave him? Or think about him as a monster?
Nero wets the second towel and carefully puts it on Dante’s chest, above scales. When Dante doesn’t push him away, Nero starts to slowly wipe sweat from Dante’s torso and arms. To avoid thinking about how much his hands shake or how hot Dante’s skin is under his palms, Nero starts talking:
“You said this form helps you heal?” Dante nods hesitantly and Nero makes a sound of frustration. “Would it kill you to answer with words?”
Dante sighs heavily, the towel falling from his head. Nero puts it back quickly, using this opportunity to check if Dante’s forehead is still hot. It is, and Dante looked even more flushed than before. Shit, is he getting worse?
“Sorry, ki— Nero. I’m just... surprised you didn’t leave.” Dante bites his bottom lip in due to a sudden jolt of pain, drawing blood, and Nero jumps skittishly when Dante’s claws grip at the mattress, ripping a chunk of it. “It’s a part... a part of my demonic form. I already... feel.... better.” The last few words Dante practically spits out.
“Rrright.” Nero rolls his eyes. “You totally sound like you’re fine, old man.”
Dante goes quiet and Nero goes back to wiping sweat from Dante’s stomach. Nero’s face is all red because, even half-turned, all of Dante’s muscles are on clear display and Nero is touching them. Him. For fuck sake, he should get his mind out of gutter. Dante is sick, Nero shouldn’t be thinking about how good he looks naked, half-demon or not.
“... It was worse before.”
Nero’s head yanks up like on a string when he hears Dante’s whisper. Dante has his eyes closed his eyes again, his jaw clenched. However his body isn’t shaking as violently like a few minutes ago.
Pushed by some completely irrational feelings, Nero reaches for Dante’s head. Before he has a chance to touch Dante, Dante has his wrist seized in a strong hold, holding it delicately between his claws. It makes Nero gulp, but Dante isn’t hurting him. Nero should probably have said something before trying to touch him.
“Sorry.” Dante says, letting go of Nero’s wrist.
“It’s okay, grandpa.” Nero lets his hand rest on Dante’s hair and ruffles it a little, just like Dante does so often to him when they are alone in the bar. When Dante closes his eyes in pleasure, making a small purring sound, something in Nero’s melts. “I-I’ll bring you something to eat, okay? When was the last time you ate?”
Finally, Dante smiles at him. It is the same bright smile as always, even with fangs poking out from his mouth and scales decorating his cheeks.
“Yesterday’s evening, I think. There should be pizza in a fridge.”
Nero doesn’t grace Dante with a reply, but he makes sure his scowling expression is enough of an answer to Dante’s request. Reluctantly, he moves his hand away from Dante’s hair. He takes in the sight Dante makes: half-turned into a demon, laying on a destroyed mattress and looking at Nero with so much gratefulness it makes Nero choke. He quickly leaves the room before he does something stupid like kissing Dante and burying any chances at being friends with him.
The kitchen is behind the office downstairs. It looks almost unused, with a big layer of dust gathering on every surface. Fearing what he may find inside, Nero opens the fridge. Thankfully, there is a packet of cheese, and in the freezer he finds half of a loaf of bread. Neither the microwave or the oven works, so Nero just has to wait for the bread to defrost. Simple sandwiches with cheese are better than nothing. Nero feels uncomfortable with leaving Dante alone for too long; no time to do any shopping and moreover, he hasn’t seen any grocery stores when walking to the office..
He remembers to lock the front door before going back upstairs. The last thing Dante needs in his condition is another visitor.
“I have food!” Nero announces, walking into Dante’s bedroom with a plate of sandwiches and a glass of water. Dante, the heathen, doesn’t even have tea. Or a working kettle.
Dante smiles at him with some difficulty. His eyes are glassy, and what is visible of his natural skin on his face and parts of his chest is all flushed. Fuck. Nero places the food on the bedside table and touches Dante’s forehead, worried.
“Feels good,” Dante mumbles, closing his eyes. He nuzzles his head against Nero’s hand, and if Dante wasn’t burning with fever, Nero would jump in joy.
Now though, he grabs Dante by his arms and tries to pull him up and make him sit. It is a difficult task, especially when Dante has problems with cooperating in the beginning; Nero cannot even nudge him a bit, his strained arms barely able to hold onto Dante. Slowly, with the help of Dante’s wings, they manage to get Dante to sit though, only for him to start sliding down again.
“Fuck this shit,” Nero curses, frantically thinking on how to keep Dante up long enough to feed him.
Then, because Dante’s health is obviously more important than his own dignity, Nero sits between Dante’s spread legs, putting his own legs behind Dante, under Dante’s arms. He makes the spot where Dante’s back connects with his smaller set of wings, close to Dante’s sternum, rest on Nero’s bend knees. Dante’s bigger wings slide behind the tall headboard and the wall. This way Dante is trapped between Nero and his own wings, and Nero quietly prays that Dante will eat without causing any problems. Dante is so heavy right now; Nero’s legs tremble from squeezing his sides and trying to not let Dante fall onto his side.
“C’mon, Dante.” Nero quickly reaches for the bedside table, taking the plate with sandwiches and not thinking about which part of Dante is currently pressing against his ass. Absolutely not. He puts one of the sandwiches against Dante’s closed mouth. “Go on, you need to eat.”
Groaning brokenly, Dante opens his eyes, his gaze barely able to focus on Nero.
“Not... hungry...” he mutters, yet he opens his mouth obediently, taking a bite of bread and cheese.
Relief washes over Nero. He doubts he’d be able to force Dante to eat if Dante really didn’t want it. Nero knows jack shit about demons, half-demons even less, but he knows people need food to fight sickness. Nero isn’t sure if Dante’s body trying to get rid of a poison is in any means similar to ordinary humans fighting with a fever, but he thinks it isn’t good either way that Dante’s last meal had been yesterday.
Despite his initial protests, Dante goes through the sandwiches at terrifying speed. Nero stares in sick fascination at how quickly Dante’s fangs tear through his meal; he wonders if they would be strong enough to tear through a demon too. This makes Nero shiver as his brain conjures a picture of Dante biting much more innocent creatures than demons and yeah, that’s enough daydreaming for Nero.
He slides away from Dante, taking his knees from under Dante’s wings. Without the additional support, Dante wobbles to the side, his big wings shooting up to let him fall down without hurting himself. He is still flushed, but the skin on his face has a more healthy shine to it after eating. It makes Nero a little hopeful that Dante is on a good path to recovery, because if not, then what Nero is supposed to do? Call an ambulance? With how Dante is looking, Nero doubts there would be any doctor willing to get close and help him.
“Nero?” Dante asks sleepily, his head laying close to where Nero is sitting.
It occurs to Nero he should probably get up from Dante’s bed, as he had already invaded Dante’s personal space enough, but then Dante snuck his arm around Nero’s stomach and Nero can’t move even if he wanted to. More than that, Dante moves closer, pushing his face against Nero’s thigh.
“Don’t go,” Dante whispers, practically half-asleep, and Nero doesn’t feel like protesting anymore. He looks up at Nero, his eyes still glassy and his expression full of sadness and, fuck this, Nero can’t say ‘no’ to him. “Everyone... always leave...”
Fuck, fuck, fuck, this is too much for Nero. Rationally, he knows it is the fever talking and that tomorrow – because Dante is going to feel better tomorrow, damnit – Dante will be embarrassed by his behaviour. Tomorrow, Nero will hear how he should have stayed away, how he has infringed upon Dante’s privacy: first by walking into his home, second by touching him without his consent. It upsets Nero greatly, but now... If Dante needs some comfort, Nero will give it to him willingly.
He’s such a fool in love.
“Y-yeah, okay, I’ll stay.” Nero slides his hand again through Dante’s wet hair. Dante sighs in content, probably happy at the cold feeling of Nero’s hand and a small, sad smile appeared on Nero’s lips. “And tomorrow you will leave me.”
First his parents, then Credo and Kyrie... Dante will be just another person who had brought something good to Nero’s life only to disappear from it.
Nero is already used to that.
Dante suddenly scowls and he looks up at Nero, annoyed.
“I won’t leave you.” He yawns, showing off his teeth and Nero may be a little fucked up in his head, because he doesn’t even feel scared of them anymore. “Nero is... best thing... to me...” Dante mumbles his speech into Nero’s thigh, but Nero still hears him loud and clear. “Don’t want... Nero to ever... ever leave...”
Nero’s fingers stop moving in Dante’s hair, and he stares down at Dante, his mouth agape. Had Dante just...? Something akin to hope flutters in Nero’s chest, the excitement threatening to blow Nero into tiny pieces. He can’t believe what he had just heard, but Nero knows he hadn’t imagined it.
Slowly, Nero leans down and brushes his lips against Dante’s forehead, feeling all giddy inside.
“We’ll talk tomorrow.” Nero promises, suddenly looking forward the next morning, when just a few minutes ago it had been filling him with panic.
Sure, Dante may still be angry at Nero for trespassing, and there is also the matter of Dante being a fucking half-demon, yet, somehow Nero isn’t afraid anymore. It hadn’t been a love confession, but just knowing that he is important to Dante, fills Nero with rare for him optimism.
Dante lays his palm on Nero’s own still resting on his head; his big, sharp claws entwining with Nero’s fingers. His hand is warm and Nero feels so safe it surprises him.
“Tomorrow,” Dante mumbles, rubbing his face against Nero’s thigh like a cat would, a half-sleepy smile spreading across his face.
Nero’s heart threatens to burst out of his chest from happiness. His voice is cracking when he speaks, too overcome with emotions.
“Tomorrow,” Nero agrees, squeezing Dante’s claws in answer, knowing full well he’s grinning like an idiot right now.
It feels like a promise.