My brother's eyes are like glacial lakes, in a Northerly country where I am not welcome.
They are glasslike and distant, as you might see them from the air, flying overhead and looking down—even as he stands before me now, reflecting myself back to me, heartless and silent as an unstrung harp.
A glacier endures.
Nothing flickers; nothing sparks in him at the sight of me. He knows your face, I reason. He wears it every day.
I am immediately angry with myself for wanting to justify his indifference. It is a reflex I've never been able to exorcise. A vestigial limb on a skeleton. Party favors from another life. I could cough up excuses until I turn as blue as his coat, twisting in the wind around him. I don't want to twist in the wind. The anger inside me ratchets up another notch, and I welcome it.
My brother's hair is pale and unreal like mine, but the true length is obscured, pushed back from his immaculate brow in wayward spikes and jags of winter-white, like a Caesar's crown of laurel.
And glaciers are cold, and immovable, and I am not, never was wanted in this latitude.
"Well, if it isn't the bluebird of unhappiness."
"Dante," he says, as if he knows he must, now that he can no longer ignore me. He seems preoccupied, as he always has, as if he has been coolly brooding since the day he left the womb. I am meeting his gaze with unwavering bravado, sliding down the surface of those eyes, unwilling to admit how much he unsettles me, even to myself. It's something I'll think about later, when he's dead.
"...Conspicuous as usual."
I'm pleased that he notices. I pride myself on being conspicuous. And somehow I always go where I'm not wanted.
"Looking good," I tell him, and I mean it. I mean the next thing I say as well. "Sharp coat, bro. It's too bad I'll have shred it to get to you."
He turns his head, and his eyes pass over me in wintry appraisal. "I'll spare yours," he says, with flawless certitude. His attention fixes on my unguarded chest, revealed beneath my open coat, and lingers, pointedly.
"Hey, I made it easy for you, didn't I?" I say, as I rub my hand absently over the slight ridges of my stomach. "Left myself wide open."
"Nothing is ever easy with you, Dante."
He would like to put this off. It gives him no pleasure. He has never cared for me enough to enjoy killing me.
"What is it? Don't like the coat? How can you resist this come-hither red?" I turn a careless circle, feeling the steadying counterweight of Rebellion resting on my shoulder.
"Do I look like an angus bull?"
His voice is withering.
He has yet to draw his precious Yamato, yet to take up any position contrary to mine, and yet, if I attacked him at this moment I have no doubt I'd be hanged by my own offense. He's that good. I begrudge him his breath, his body, his being, but I can't deny his talent.
Talented or not, my brother is taking his sweet time, and it's making me fairly vibrate with impatience. I look around for something to kick. Nothing but grass and statues. I throw up my hands.
With a click and a flip, Ebony is straight-armed at his head.
"Half-dressed and half-cocked," he remarks, idly. "As usual."
My eyes narrow, and travel over him, tracing his lines- the ridged chevrons of satin-black leather that encompass his chest, the gilded patterns of serpentine trim offset against the twilight-blue expanse of his velvet longcoat. His collar is stiff and high, a black silk cravat swathed and tucked beneath it.
" 'Well-clad, and deserving of no more respect than deserved,' " I retort, the words thick and acidic.
" Nicely quoted, Dante," he says, as if there is no intimacy in the act of speaking my name. "It seems you sat still long enough to read a book. I wonder what else has changed since I've been gone?"
His voice is artful, just as I remember it—modulated and sonorous, edged with a slight rasp, and the nightmarish quality of a lullaby. I have never heard him raise it. It is menacing only in its utter equilibrium. My brother can trust himself, for his nature never betrays him. I, who burn out of control, must take care.
A nickname is one thing. It's a derisive cartoon, a shadow appellation. A name is something else entirely. I am not as cavalier as my brother when it comes to presumptuously invoking past endearments. Names are tied to intimacies. Intimacies are bolted to memories. Memories are indelible, and chained to sentiment. Sentiment is soft earth on a treacherous path. Backsliding is inexcusable.
Before I dare to speak it, I swallow his name, and lock it away where it belongs, keeping the company of my blackest thoughts.
"You're one icy fuck, Vergil. I'll give you that."
I'm flip enough as I say it, even laughing a little, but the look that invades his face is disquieting.
He pauses, deliberately. "Is that a noun or a verb?"
Speaking of invoking past intimacies. My brother's tone is coldly curious, curiously cold. My lips twist into a microexpression that I cannot edit fast enough.
"Strange that a man of such few words should be so interested in grammar."
I manage to crack wise, but in truth I am taken aback. I run my hand through my hair and feel the mist settling, cool on my face and chest.
Vergil blinks slowly. "Who says I'm interested?"
My brother is an icy fuck, no doubt about it.
And now, here, in this isolated place, holding those words in the mouth of my mind, I am suddenly, abruptly, almost certainly unsure of myself and my intentions. I have to stop and check my head.
My moment of obscurity is a pure instant, which is all the time Vergil needs to draw his katana.
I evade the singing threat of Yamato by the skin of my teeth, by instinct, relinquishing Ebony to the air. I catch her again as she falls, peripherally catching a telltale flick of Vergil's eyes, and a flick of his wrist as he strikes my hand smartly with the flat of his sword, pressing down with light but unsmiling intent.
"Put that away," he says. "It's barbaric."
The edges of his sword are honed paper-thin, and they lay intimately against my skin, hissing of lavishly spilled blood and surgically precise carnage. They are ultimately bound to the whims of their master, however, and Vergil seems disinclined to relieve me of my hand.
"Fine," I mutter. "We'll do it your way."
He remains still for a moment, then wordlessly lifts his blade. Sighing loudly, I honor my promise and holster the revolver. My brother is regarding me coolly as he sheaths his sword once more. His expression is blatantly unconcerned, almost thoughtful.
"I don't hate you, Dante," he says, after a moment.
Of course he doesn't. Hate is a twisted outgrowth of love, a different branch on the same warped tree.
"Yeah? Well I don't like you."
I am lying. I hate him, and I want to see him dead.
I reach behind my shoulder and grasp the cold hilt of Rebellion, drawing it forward in a fluid arc of slow mercury.
"You are ungrateful, of course," Vergil remarks. "You always have been."
"Shut up," I tell him, viciously decapitating an unfortunate angel statue. We watch as the head hits the loamy ground with a muffled thump.
Vergil narrows his eyes. "Quit acting out. It's unbecoming."
Rebellion is solid in my hands now, and I am readying my stance. "I wouldn't get too comfortable, big brother."
Vergil has the slightly peeved look of a Persian tomcat. "Be reasonable, Dante," he warns me. "Or it will be just like old times."
"I'm feeling nostalgic."
"I'll send you weeping home to mother," Vergil says ominously, and it honestly throws me for a second, considering that our mother is...
Oh, wow. Just wow.
I level my gaze at him.
My brother looks terminally underwhelmed. His katana remains where it rests, the gilded hilt just visible, like a cobra slyly protruding from the sweep of his coat. I lunge, abruptly, so as not to betray my intent, but you cannot underestimate Vergil. I intend to blitz him when he's arrogantly careless, but somehow his sword is out before I can even land a strike. It clashes against mine, and slides down the length to lock at the hilt, where we are at a brief impasse, before he pushes off and away.
So it's on. It's on, because I brought it on.
"My serve," he murmurs.
Yamato slices in a graceful arc, descending, whispering deadly promises in a language I can't speak, but have always understood. I sidestep, and air-trick, and face him once more. It is straining my considerable ability to stay out of his range. I am not his equal, but I am holding my own by a thread, as I always have.
He moves with uniquely seamless grace. I remember being younger, and mesmerized by his movements, so liquid and organic that I could scarcely believe there was any force behind them. I know better now.
We are biological clockwork, striking and evading, an infinite mechanized precision, as if we were intended to interact and react in exactly this way. Rhythmic interaction. Pulse and ebb, plunge and withdraw. My mind begins to wander at the thought, straying into pastures that I never intended to revisit, recalling things I never-
"Ha," exclaims Vergil, sharp-soft, in subdued triumph.
I realize I've fucked up, truly and well, a split second before it is illustrated to me in the media of pain. It's the kind of mistake my brother adores, the kind that makes his eyes go all light and narrow, and he's obviously pleased, even though his mouth is taut and set, because I know how he looks when he's pleased. That's exactly why I lost my focus in the first place.
I am outmatched.
I hate him with every fiber of my essence.
A blow to my stomach sends me falling back, and I attempt to recover, as my brother sheathes his sword. A kick follows, ensuring that my path follows through to its ultimate conclusion, as my back abuts the cold, worn wall of a freestanding ruin. Vergil's weight joins me a moment later, slamming me back, reinforcing my fall.
I am too furious to respond, too conflicted at the sudden proximity. It isn't what I wanted, this body caging mine, those lean hands pinning my wrists into the ancient grit of the monument with polished brutality. It isn't what I came for. My brother looks down at my lips, and I feel myself slipping into the smooth-worn groove of a pattern so indelible it might as well be tattooed into my existence. Clearly my body has an entirely different opinion of Vergil than I do.
He removes himself before I can push him away, releasing me with perfunctory physical indifference.
"You telegraph," he tells me, breathing softly. "All of your intentions. Always have."
"You don't say." My voice is willful, forcedly even.
"Guess I'll have to work on that," I reply, insolently leaning against the headless angel.
"If it bothers you," Vergil says, coolly. "It never has before."
"Yeah, but you always have," I retort. "And I'm willing to bet that won't change."
"Always was once a collection of befores," Vergil says, cryptically.
My eyes narrow. "What the fuck does that mean?" I demand, incredulous.
Vergil turns. His fingers slowly graze upward over the hilt of his katana, and he lets the gold laces slip through them, the gesture almost sensual, definitely reverent.
"You're far better, Dante," he concedes, neutrally. "But nowhere near good enough."
I stand there, seething with indignation, and outrage, and most of all, I can't believe I'm jealous of a sword.
Meanwhile, my brother is walking away with his hasteless stride. I can never understand why I always have to run to catch up with him.