Author's Note: Not much action in this chapter, but I had a few things still to set up before we could proceed. Besides, I just can't pass up the opportunity for one more dream sequence.
For anyone who's curious, the title of this chapter is from Battlestar Galactica. It comes from an episode dealing with the question of whether the ends always justify the means. In the story, the characters are lucky to even be alive and their survival is constantly being threatened, but they have to decide whether it is enough to survive at any cost, or if they must still be worthy of survival for their lives to have meaning. In this case, I see it as something of a question.
Worthy of Survival
When something was making Dante uneasy, his first reaction was to do something about it. He didn't want to talk about it or analyze why it was making him uneasy. He wanted to tackle it and destroy it before it had the chance to take the advantage. But he was uneasy about their current situation on many different levels, and he couldn't think of a single thing to do about his uneasiness except stew in the corner of the room while his companions debated the various minutiae of the events that had led them to this time and place.
"I still don't understand how a month could have passed," Karasuma repeated with patience that was growing brittle around the edges. "We've only been here a day."
"Perhaps you have been. But we parted ways in Japan a month ago, so if you weren't here, you must have been somewhere." Amon retorted without a hint of humor in his voice.
Doujima shivered. "That's just so creepy."
"Don't worry," Sakaki said quite reasonably. "Unless there is some sort of spatial anomaly around here that is warping time, then we've either been in suspended animation for a month or abducted by aliens."
Doujima's face scrunched into a sour expression. "That doesn't make me feel any better at all."
"Though I hesitate to agree with him," Vergil mused with an pedantic air, "he might have a point. Lucifer could very well be capable of distorting our sense of time."
Robin glanced at Vergil covertly—as if his comment surprised her, though not in the way that one normally expected to be surprised when a person as stiffly condescending as Vergil started speaking technobabble like he was in an episode of Star Trek. In fact, Robin had been exchanging secretive glances with Vergil practically since he walked in the room—another item on the list of things that were making Dante uneasy. Right above it on the list was the way he couldn't seem to make sense of her feelings, as if she were guarding their connection and filtering out the emotions she didn't want anyone else to notice. He didn't know why she would do such a thing, but he knew that it meant something was wrong and it didn't matter what it was because he didn't like it.
"What would Lucifer have to gain from keeping us stuck in time?" Karasuma frowned. "It sounds like a pretty elaborate illusion."
"It gives him more time to find his body," Michael commented. "We can't look for it if we're trapped in his illusion—and we can't get in his way either."
"But it must take a lot of energy to keep us trapped here," Trish countered, tapping a finger against her lips. "That's a lot of drain when he's still not at full strength."
Dante wished that she wouldn't have drawn his attention to her lips. Frowning, he crossed his arms over his chest and tried not to look at her—tried not to even think about her. About her hair, silken soft when he ran his fingers through it and down her spine to the small of her back, fine and delicate as it tickled against his face when he nuzzled her neck. Or her the way her lips would quirk with the slightest smirk when she was pretending not to laugh at his terrible jokes, unbelievably soft when he would—
Telling himself to stop, Dante took a deep breath and tried to cool his head. Trish had made a significant effort to stay out of reach all evening, and had not been happy with the idea of sharing a room with him, let alone standing next to him when they gathered to hear Amon's story, deliberately choosing a spot on the opposite side of the room. He didn't think that it was his company that she was avoiding so much as she was trying to ensure he would not unwittingly brush up against her or breathe on her or give her cooties or whatever. She didn't seem to trust his control, and while he had to admit that he wasn't having the easiest time controlling his desires at the moment, her lack of trust only served to further frustrate him. He had always had a hard time keeping his eyes—and his hands—off of her, and it didn't matter that his brother had done something to drive a wedge between them, or that he had managed to make matters worse with his impatience, because he still wanted her just as badly.
Sighing, he tried to focus on the conversation again.
"Does it really matter why he's doing it?" Vergil demanded, his scowl more bitter than usual. "We've already agreed that, unless we've missed something utterly obvious, Lucifer is the only person around with both the capability to create such an elaborate illusion and a reason to do so. The question is not how he's doing it or why, but what we must do to break free of it."
Robin nodded and turned her intent gaze on Amon. "Do you know how you broke into this illusion?"
Shaking his head, he replied, "I don't know exactly. I was using my craft when things around me seemed to shift. I couldn't tell you exactly what I did—if it was even my doing to start with—and I passed out afterward so I don't even remember coming through to the other side."
"And all I remember is waking up with a headache worse than a hangover," Amon's half brother added, taking a drag on his cigarette. Frankly, Dante couldn't see the least bit of visual resemblance between the two of them, though he couldn't decide if that was because they really looked nothing alike or if he was simply too distracted by Nagira's massive sideburns and eccentric fashion sense to see anything else.
"Regardless," Lady huffed, attempting to casually wave Nagira's cigarette smoke away from her face, "it sounds like we don't have a lot of time to either find his body or break out of this illusion. Demons don't generally have a lot of patience and I'm sure this one's no different."
"While I agree with you," Karasuma said, slapping her palms on her thighs with an air of finality, "I think we would be able to think much more clearly about all of this after a good night's sleep. These endless spirals of circular reasoning are bound to only further exhaust us."
"Speaking of sleep," Lady said with an uncomfortable smile, "Do you know if there are any extra rooms available here?"
"Yes," Amon agreed, flushing a pale pink. "It seems that our reservations do not exist inside the illusion." Judging by the emotions he could sense through their connection, Dante would say he was embarrassed though he had no idea why.
"I'll go see if there's anything else available." Karasuma stood up, but hesitated on her way to the door. "But I have a feeling we're still going to have to do a little rearranging to get everyone to fit."
Dante didn't like the sound of that one bit, but he supposed it would probably improve Trish's mood somewhat. He had a strong suspicion about how Karasuma would decide to divide them up; being such a prude, she would undoubtedly start assigning rooms based on gender. And her next decision would probably be to put family members together.
His eyes wandered over to Vergil before he could stop himself. How long had it been since they had slept in the same room? Long enough that he couldn't even imagine the scenario—and back then they had at least pretended to get along enough to ease their mother's mind. Now, they would be lucky to survive a night without somehow murdering each other.
Focusing on taking off his shoes, Nagira listened to Amon's conversation on the other side of the room while trying not to visibly intrude. The two had been catching up for nearly an hour, and while he found Robin to be unsurprisingly mild-mannered and sweet, he was startled to find that she also had a stubborn, decisive side that made her seem more mature than she looked.
"I sensed you in the church too," Amon was telling her. "I simply knew you were nearby—just as I had when we were in the bar."
"That's amazing, Amon," Robin said cautiously as if she didn't want to disappoint him, "but I've never been to either of those places."
Nagira had always been proud of his ability to immediately tell if someone was lying. He had always thought it was a good trait for a lawyer to have—especially one who dealt with as many unusual cases as he did. She was working hard to sound sincere, but he knew instinctively that she was not being entirely truthful, though he had no idea why she would lie about something so unimportant.
"Perhaps you simply haven't gone there yet," Amon replied, seemingly oblivious to her lie. "If time is flowing at a different pace here than in the outside world, maybe I was sensing you in the future."
Tossing his coat over a nearby chair, Nagira slid under the covers and cleared his throat a bit more obviously than was necessary. He sensed Amon casting a glare on him and he smiled, trying to arrange himself under the covers while wishing that his suitcase and comfy bunny pajamas would have come with him into this pocket dimension or whatever it was they had decided to call it.
"It's getting late," Amon said finally with a sigh that betrayed his annoyance. His tone shifted when he added reluctantly, "Maybe I should walk you back to your room."
Nagira watched Robin nod through squinted eyes that he was pretending were fully shut. "I am feeling rather tired," she agreed, but neither of them moved right away, clearly reluctant to end part now that they had finally been reunited.
While he couldn't blame them, he was fairly exhausted from all the bizarre things that had happened that day and he knew he wouldn't be able to resist the insistent tug of sleep for very long. Whether or not they managed to escape before his snores began reverberating through the room was not really his problem.
"Goodnight, Mr. Nagira," Robin said in that delicate voice he couldn't help but find endearing. She bowed politely on her way to the door.
Stirring from his half-sleep reluctantly, Nagira waved to her from the bed with a goofy smile he couldn't seem to avoid making. "Night, Robin. Don't let Amon try anything on the way back to your room."
She blinked at him. "Try anything?"
"It's best to ignore him," Amon said with his usual scowl, opening the door for her.
"I mean it!" Nagira called after them as they disappeared through the opening and Amon shoved the door shut behind him. "Underneath that tough exterior, Amon is quite the pervert!"
Pleased with himself, Nagira wriggled further under the covers and closed his eyes. Opportunities to truly get under Amon's skin didn't come along every day, and he was finding this new, adorably amorous Amon to be an easy mark. He was almost asleep by the time Amon returned and purposely kicked the bed on his way past.
Squinting up at him, he grumbled, "Are you really going to be that immature?"
"You started it," Amon retorted, though his tone was milder than he had expected. The relief of knowing Robin was safe had apparently done wonders for his patience.
Nagira blinked up at the ceiling as Amon sat down on the other side of the bed and began taking his shoes off. "She's a sweet girl," he said hesitantly, wondering if he should even be attempting this conversation when he was barely awake.
Amon sighed, but did not reply, stripping off his coat and sliding under the covers next to him.
Hesitating, Nagira glanced at Amon, but was unable to discern anything from his gloomy profile. "A bit younger than I expected," he said carefully, knowing he was asking for trouble.
"I am not having this conversation with you."
Nagira blinked in surprise at Amon's quick dismissal. "Amon..."
"No." Amon's scowl deepened and he rolled on his side, turning his back on Nagira. "I am not justifying myself to you, of all people."
"And exactly what is that supposed to mean?"
Amon's voice was muffled as he responded from between the covers and his pillow. "It means that you have never shown any particular restraint or wisdom in your choices of potential mates. You're not exactly in a position to lecture me."
Anger blunted the soft haze of his sleepiness and Nagira pushed himself up on his elbow. "I might have dated my share of unusual women, but I'm not so stupid as to fall for jail bait."
"I love her."
The simple honesty of Amon's statement stalled the protest in Nagira's throat. He had never before heard Amon utter the word "love" with such conviction, and he felt suddenly guilty for trying to interfere with the emotion when Amon so rarely even seemed capable of it.
"I don't need your permission or even your respect," Amon continued softly. "I can't change the way I feel—though I have tried on countless occasions. She has managed to win me over every time."
Dumbfounded, Nagira tried to come up with another argument, but he could hear the resignation in Amon's voice and he knew him well enough to interpret the tone of frustration. Amon hated to lose at anything, but he had clearly been defeated by this girl. Considering this new perspective, Nagira realized that he had vastly misinterpreted the situation. Amon was not taking advantage of Robin at all—with his stubborn streak, he had likely done everything in his power to fight her off.
"She must be persistent," Nagira said finally, lying back on the bed again.
"You have no idea."
Vergil glared at the wall as he listened to Dante's soft snores, wishing that he could have found a way out of this situation and half considering sleeping on the floor rather than continuing his fruitless attempts to ignore the warmth at his back. The bedroom was certainly spacious enough, and the bed was probably the largest in the house, but the irony of the fact that they were sharing their parents' bed was potent enough to make the mattress feel woefully small.
He should have seen the suggestion coming, but when Karasuma had maneuvered them all into their new room assignments with only a parting request that they not kill each other during the night, he had been too shocked to think of an excuse. He couldn't help but notice that with all the rearranging, she had ended up being the only one with a bed to herself. Perhaps he had underestimated her skill in manipulation.
Dante snorted softly causing Vergil to stiffen uncomfortably; the sound itself was rather unattractive, but he knew that every time Dante made a noise like that, he was bound to shift in his sleep. As expected, Vergil felt Dante roll over, and he clung to the edge of the mattress as it dipped behind him to prevent himself from sliding closer to his brother. Dante managed to make contact nonetheless, his hand brushing against Vergil's back.
Closing his eyes, Vergil tried to distract his mind, thinking back to everything Robin had told him. He didn't like finding out that he had been fooled, and Lucifer had clearly played him for a fool numerous times already, literally wiping his memory and pushing him this way and that like a toy made for his amusement. The fact that Robin had succeeded where he had failed made the frustration that much more painful.
On some level, he took satisfaction in their little clandestine pact, knowing that it would infuriate Dante if he knew, but the fact that he was literally relying on her more than he had ever relied on anyone before soured some of that joy. He didn't think she was dishonest enough to double cross him, but he still had a hard time trusting her. She had already demonstrated that she was capable of seeing straight through to the heart of his intentions, and that ability would make it difficult for him to gain the upper hand, especially when she seemed determined to keep him honest.
While the subject matter should have been compelling enough, exhaustion was taking its toll on him and thoughts kept sliding out of his mind. Dante shifted again behind him and he didn't even react, his body too heavy to be persuaded to even move. Floating in a state somewhere between waking and sleeping, he imagined that Dante's hand had drifted up his back and then back down his side and around his waist, pulling him closer as he nuzzled against his neck, spooning him as if they were lovers. It must have been a dream, but it felt so pleasant that Vergil didn't even question his perceptions, burrowing himself closer to the warmth behind him and finally drifting off to sleep.
He was walking down a dark hallway. A flash of lightning illuminated the tossing limbs of tree outside as it grasped at an oppressive evening sky. He reached for a nonexistent sword when he heard the clatter of marionettes dropping from the ceiling. Glancing back over his shoulder, he watched them approach with awkward steps, half-moon blades slicing through the air. Though he didn't remember the place or the enemies, he knew that he had been there before, and he knew where to go.
Kicking the door open and ducking into the room beneath a barrage of blades, he managed to fling the doors shut again before the creatures could follow him. Thunder heralded another brilliant crack of lightning and he turned just in time to see a tall figure silhouetted against a row of tall windows. Curved horns rose from the figure's helmet, and wicked spikes extended from various points along the night-black armor, faint blue lines circumscribing the shape as the figure turned and glared at him coldly.
"Nero Angelo," Vergil said crisply, recognizing the mask that he had once worn and understanding for the first time how Dante had failed to recognize him before it was too late.
The figure removed the helmet and tilted its head at him, pale hair streaked with blue and skin an icy, frostbitten hue that nearly camouflaged the familiar features. Brandishing a broad blade, the figure scowled at him, but did not speak.
"What do you want?"
Shaking its head, Nero Angelo buried its blade in the marble floor and looked away.
"Tell me," Vergil insisted. "What do you want from me?"
Looking back over its shoulder, the figure replied in a dark, distorted voice. "Death." Taking a step toward him, it spread menacing hands like a ghastly actor, claw-like fingers stretched wide. "You are already dead."
Maggots began crawling out of the armor, scurrying over Nero Angelo's pale visage, and Vergil stumbled back a step in horror. The ground rumbled beneath him and he heard Nero Angelo pull the sword out of the ground again as he turned on his heel and began to run.
Air was burning in his lungs before he realized that he was not in the castle anymore but outside on a barren hillside, his boots raising a cloud of dust every time they landed. Sliding to a stop against an outcropping of rock, he tried to catch his breath, the dingy air choking his lungs. He didn't know where he was, but he was noticing a disturbing similarity in his surroundings with the demon world.
Clutching a stitch in his side, he straightened and limped his way over the top of the hill to get a better view. The hill ended in a cliff overlooking a ragged chasm. He could see the faint glow of something red deep within the fissure and the air wavered above it with obvious heat. Deciding he could go no further in that direction, he turned back the way he had come and froze when he saw the man standing behind him, white hair painted red with blood and crimson coat shredded and haplessly dangling from broad shoulders.
"Dante," he whispered.
Smirking weakly, Dante glared at him with tired eyes drained of their color. "Are you done pretending yet?"
Vergil shook his head. "Pretending?"
"Pretending you're alive."
"What happened to you?" Vergil countered, avoiding the question.
Dante approached him one step at a time, blood dripping from his chin and leaving tiny puddles at his feet as he slowly closed the distance between them. "Did you think Lucifer would be content to just keep playing with us forever?"
"He wouldn't hurt you," Vergil protested without any real conviction. "He knows that would be the quickest way to make me his enemy."
Chuckling bitterly, Dante shook his head. "Do you really think that matters to him? It's not as if you could be a threat to him."
Vergil backed up a step, intensely conscious of the chasm at his back. "I am more of a threat to him than he thinks."
"How could you be?" Dante grinned, throwing up his hands as he leered at Vergil. "He owns you, brother. He's the one who makes your heart beat. He's the one who breathed life into your lungs. Without him, this illusion of life that you're clinging to would fade away to ashes."
Taking another reluctant step backward, Vergil growled, "Even so, my weakness is also his. He bound his fate with mine when he brought me back."
"Is that what you believe?" Dante stopped, close enough now to touch, the gashes across his face all too clear as he smirked at Vergil through a mask of blood, the faint white of bone flashing beneath his cheek as he spoke.
Vergil looked away sharply as nausea washed over him.
"If that's really what you think," Dante hissed, grabbing his arm harshly and pulling him back toward him, "then you know what you must do."
Looking back at him before he could think better of the action, Vergil recoiled when Dante leaned closer.
"You must atone for your sins."
Vergil shook his head and tried to take another step, hesitating when he felt rock crumble beneath his foot.
"Father sealed Lucifer's body away with more than his blood," Dante continued. "He sacrificed some of his own power to create the seal." His hand gripped Vergil's shoulder painfully. "Our blood might break the seal, but how will you destroy Lucifer once it's broken?"
"I don't know," Vergil whispered.
Dante's hand slid toward his neck and closed about it with a vise-like grip. "Sacrifice is a powerful tool. But it must mean something. It has to represent a significant loss—has to be made for the right reasons—to make a difference."
Choking, Vergil clawed at Dante's hand, glancing desperately over his shoulder as his brother forced him back a step and the cliff crumbled beneath his feet. He could feel the heat rising from the yawning fissure as Dante held him suspended over the void. "Don't do this," he pleaded in a gasp.
Tilting his head, Dante smirked again like a macabre clown, his face painted red with blood. "You love me."
Vergil moaned softly at the back of his throat, his eyes blurring as his hands went still on Dante's and he felt his strength waning.
"If you love me, then you will die for me." Leaning close enough that his bloody lips brushed against Vergil's cheek, he breathed, "You're the one who jumps off the cliff and leaves me behind...just like before."
"No!" Vergil cried when he felt Dante's grip loosen, trying to hold onto Dante's arm before it was out of reach, but he was already falling, gravity pulling him hungrily downward past knife-sharp shards of obsidian rock and into the depths.
Vergil's throat felt raw when he sat up in bed and gasped for air, his breaths sounding harshly in the quiet. The room was dark and cold, and he shivered as the sheen of sweat seemed to freeze on his skin, shudders wracking his body as he tried to convince himself that the disturbing experience had only been a dream.
"So, I ask myself," Dante said suddenly, shattering Vergil's illusion that he had a moment to collect himself, "what could possibly cause someone as guiltless and honorable as Vergil to wake up screaming?"
Taking a shaky breath, Vergil looked over at him, surprised to find him sitting casually on the other side of the room in a chair. "Did I wake you?" he asked sarcastically, hoping that he had brutally woken him out of an incredibly pleasant sleep.
"You groped me in your sleep is what you did," Dante retorted.
Vergil grimaced. "I can't be responsible for what I do when I'm asleep," he muttered.
"Makes me wonder though...was it a wet dream or a nightmare? Either way I don't think I'm going to be sharing the bed with you any time soon."
"You won't have to." Vergil slid out of bed on shaky knees, reaching for his coat and slinging it weakly about his shoulders.
"Where are you going?" Dante smirked and the expression reminded him painfully of his dream. "To take a cold shower?"
"On a walk," Vergil answered sharply, shivering even in his coat.
To his surprise, Dante caught his arm before he could reach the door, a shred of concern revealed in his eyes as they caught in the moonlight. "Hey," he said softly, suddenly serious as if he had finally figured out that it had been a nightmare and that it had clearly disturbed Vergil. "You want to talk about it?"
Caught off guard, Vergil gaped at him for a moment. The sincerity in Dante's expression sent a sharp ache piercing through his chest and Vergil had to look away to keep himself from losing control. "Go back to bed," he ground out, his throat tight.
Dante held on to his arm a moment longer before releasing it reluctantly. It was all Vergil could do to keep walking, fleeing Dante's undeserved compassion and trying to stop his uncontrollable shivers.
Staring at the ceiling, Trish wondered why she was even bothering to continue lying there when she knew that she wasn't likely to get to sleep any time soon. She hadn't sleep well since the demon world, and while the opportunity to delay the inevitable with Dante a little longer had eased her mind, it hadn't improved her poor sleeping habits. The truth was that avoiding telling Dante the truth wasn't helping anything; it made her edgey and him frustrated, and the guilt seemed to grow a little heavier with each day.
Lady rolled over and narrowly avoided hitting Trish in the face with a flailing arm. Grimacing, Trish decided it was probably best that she was awake already because Lady wasn't the safest bedmate; she had already kicked her twice, and she was hogging more than half of the bed though she was a good deal shorter than Trish and should have technically taken up less space.
"Mmmahmmm...nnnumbers..." Lady mumbled as she settled back into a deeper sleep.
Raising an eyebrow at her, Trish decided that she had had enough and slid off the bed. Tying her hair back loosely in a knot, she slipped on some shoes and decided to go for a walk, hoping that a little fresh air would refresh her.
Her feet carried her to the back door and she found herself wandering down the steps and into a crumbling courtyard before she began paying attention to where she was going. The paving stones were cracked and overgrown with weeds, gravel crunching beneath her feet as she wandered along circuitous paths lit with pale starlight. She found the fresh air invigorating, but it was slightly too cool to be comfortable and she hugged her arms to herself when a brisk breeze howled past. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," she muttered, but didn't move, gazing up at an incredible sky so heavy with stars that it seemed close enough to touch.
"Beautiful, aren't they?"
Startled, Trish found Vergil standing nearby, perched on a broken pedestal with his arms wrapped around his waist. He had been standing so still that he looked like just another broken statue silhouetted against the starry sky. She should have turned and walked back into the house before he had a chance to try anything, but she refused to let him know that she still feared him. "What are you doing out here?" she asked tonelessly.
"Trying to forget a nightmare."
She raised an eyebrow, stunned that he had admitted a weakness so freely, but also suspicious about his reasons. "It's hard to imagine that someone like you has nightmares."
He chuckled dryly. "Everyone has nightmares."
She shrugged. "Everyone capable of experiencing doubt, at least. I didn't know you fell into that category."
"It's not doubt," he murmured. "It's fear."
Another cold wind whistled through the ragged cracks in the cracked architecture while Trish regarded him in wonder, her teeth chattering as she tried to cling to her body heat before it was swept away. "What could you possibly be afraid of?"
He looked at her, his eyes glimmering like mercury in the starlight and the expression on his pale face strangely vulnerable. He said nothing for a long time, and then looked away again, his jaw set with some emotion she could not interpret. "You look cold. You should go back inside."
Irritated that he had frozen up so quickly after dangling the carrot of vulnerability so temptingly before her, Trish snapped, "Done talking already? Worried I might find a way to use your weaknesses against you if you keep going?" She took a step toward him, her anger helping to warm her. "I have a revelation for you, Vergil: not everyone is as manipulative as you are."
"You still haven't told him, have you?" he said calmly, simultaneously changing the subject and proving her point.
Gritting her teeth, she retorted, "Unlike you, I don't like to see Dante in pain."
"He's already in pain. Wouldn't it be better to end it quickly?" His choice of words was distant, clinical, as if he were suggesting euthanizing an injured animal.
"Are you resorting to reverse psychology now?" she asked with thinly contained malice. "You're the one who was so eager to watch him suffer."
Ignoring her comment, he said, "He would forgive you." His smile twisted with bitterness as he looked back up at the sky. "He's very forgiving."
Confused, Trish shook her head. "There are some things he won't forgive."
Closing his eyes, he stepped off the pedestal and landed on the stone cobbles with liquid grace, his coattails rippling with the movement. She held her ground as he approached her with measured steps, refusing to back away when he caught her in his unblinking gaze. "He loves you," he murmured. "If you tell him, he will forgive you and he will hate me more."
"Isn't that what you wanted?" she asked, unable to shake the feeling that she was actually hearing regret in his voice.
"Yes," he murmured with a self-deprecating smile. Then, shrugging out of his coat suddenly, he swept it gently around her, his fingers lingering on her shoulders. She was too stunned to even move, though he was standing far too close for comfort. "Caring about me is the last thing he needs to do."
She shivered beneath his coat, but this time it had nothing to do with the temperature. Vergil was so cracked that she could barely wrap her mind around his contradictory nature. "All he's ever wanted from you is a brother," she said acerbically. "Is that so much to give him?"
Turning his back on her, he said softly, "I don't know how."
"Maybe you should learn."
His eyes darted back to her. "That's not the real reason you're so angry with me, though, is it? I think I know why you're really angry, but what happened between us in the demon world is not your fault. You have no reason to feel guilty."
Shaking with wrath, she growled, "Don't you even dare..."
"I provoked your reaction and you had no choice but to submit," he said icily, blocking her punch with seemingly little effort and catching her other wrist to prevent a second attempt. "I used what I knew about your nature against you."
"Let go." Panicking, she tried to twist her way out of his grip, hating that the danger was arousing the demon within her.
He released her abruptly and she stumbled back a step, watching him cautiously as she tried to catch her breath.
"I was jealous of you," he said, his palms still raised, though now the gesture looked almost like surrender. "Because of what you have that I never will."
"What are you talking about?" she demanded, rubbing her wrists.
That bitter smile twisted his lips again. "The same thing we've been talking about from the beginning." Shaking his head, he walked a few steps away and looked up at the sky again. "Dante."
She decided she no longer wanted to understand what he was saying. His coat blocked the wind and was warm about her shoulders, but she didn't want it either. Flinging it carelessly on the ground and grinding it into the pavement with her heel, she said, "You don't deserve to even be related to him. If it's hatred you want, then you've got it. I wish you many more nightmares, asshole."
Stalking back to the house with only her anger to warm her, Trish tried to shake off the feeling that he had just shared a deep secret with her and that she had refused to even consider it. In her opinion, he had done nothing to merit a second chance, and she had only made an effort to be civil to him for Dante's sake because the fewer reasons he had to hate Vergil, the better off he would be. But now she thought that the only time Vergil would stop making people hate him would be when he was dead. And even then, she wondered if he could find a way to get around the inconvenience.
Robin woke with the faint glow of dawn on her face. Though they had gone to bed late, she had slept well enough to feel fully rested despite the early hour. Smiling as she snuggled under the blankets, she considered trying to sleep in for once and enjoy the comfort of knowing that Amon was sleeping just down the hall. They still had a lot to figure out and Lucifer was still a threat, but all of it seemed less daunting now that she knew he was nearby.
But the dawn light was distracting her and she was already too awake to doze. Sighing softly, she crawled out of bed and dressed quickly, trying to be quiet so she wouldn't wake Doujima who was still an unmoving lump buried somewhere beneath the covers. Slipping out into the hallway and softly shutting the door behind her, Robin decided to leave her hair down for the moment and shoved her ribbons into her pocket. The floor creaked beneath her feet and she walked as lightly as she could down the stairs, trying to decide what she was going to do with this extra time before the others finally crawled out of bed.
The sitting room was on the east side of the house and already filled with golden sunlight when she entered. She had decided to search the bookshelves for a good book, but she paused when she noticed that the room was not empty. Books were strewn across the floor along with various papers and notes, and she immediately recognized the blue coat thrown over the back of a chair.
He glanced at her without moving his head, one hand braced against the window as he leaned against the wall with a weary posture. His eyes were shadowed by dark circles and his skin was ghostly pale, nearly as white as his unusually disheveled hair. "I've solved the riddle," he said softly.
She took another step, her neck straining so she could get a better look at him. "Did you sleep last night?" she asked with a hint of concern, disturbed by his haggard features.
"I know the answer," he insisted, ignoring her question entirely. "Are you prepared to hear it?"
Her eyes widened as she realized what he was asking and she immediately raised a shield with her craft to keep Lucifer from overhearing their conversation. "Yes."
Nodding once, he turned to face her, his expression deathly serious. "Sparda sacrificed a good portion of his life energy in order to create the seal on Lucifer. He knew that even he was not strong enough to destroy him completely, so he chose to seal him away, separating his body from his soul in order to keep him from reviving. But his seal was flawed because it left Lucifer's soul in a place that could still be accessed by demons. Now, Lucifer's soul has managed to escape, and it cannot be destroyed when his body is still sealed. While he is not at full strength without it, Lucifer is essentially invincible as long as his body is safe. That is why he's in no rush to claim it. As long as his body is sealed away in a place no one can touch, he cannot die."
Standing next to him at the window, Robin considered his explanation with a hint of dread, the feelings of contentment that she had felt on waking dissolving quickly. Everything he said made sense, but it only made their task that much more daunting. "If that's true, then how can we win?"
Turning back to the window, he frowned. "Spells of this magnitude invariably require a sacrifice. Father sacrificed his blood and a part of his power to create it. Dante and I will need only our own blood to unlock it. But that is only half of the solution."
"I thought we were going to renew the seal," Robin protested, her hands tightening in her skirts.
Pale blue eyes narrowed to slits. "Haven't you been listening? A seal will only delay the inevitable. He cannot be killed as long as he is separated from his body, and someday he will find a way to destroy even a new seal if he is allowed to roam freely."
"But he will be so much more powerful when he has access to his body."
"We will have a brief window of time before he can bring that power to fruition. During that period he will be more vulnerable than ever. But he will surely know that and take precautions to keep himself safe. That's why we must catch him off guard."
He glared out the window at the town below. The buildings were painted in soft shades of gray as the sun slowly ascended over the distant mountains and sparked fire along the peaks. "A sacrifice," he whispered. "Altruism is a threat to Lucifer. It is the antithesis of everything he is—and it will weaken him."
"A sacrifice?" she repeated, trying to find some shred of emotion in his eyes though she could not seem to locate even a hint of humanity.
"Yes. Father sacrificed enough of himself that it eventually proved to be his downfall. But he still did not make the ultimate sacrifice. That is what is required now."
"Death," she concluded, suddenly aware of her heartbeat in a way she had not been before. Though she had felt well-rested only minutes before, she felt tired now as if she had been awake for days. She could barely remember the pleasant feeling she had felt upon waking--as if the feeling had been only an illusion to begin with--and she wondered how she could have been so foolish as to think that all of the pain was already behind them.
"We should arrange for the others to become aware of the church today and the tomb beneath it," he said casually as if they had not just been talking about suicide. "We need Dante for the next step."
"You intend to make me the sacrifice, don't you?" she murmured, trying to piece together what he wasn't saying.
He did not reply, but she could feel his eyes watching her. Glancing up at him, she tried to interpret the complicated expression on his face, but he looked away before she could make sense of it. "A pure sacrifice would likely have more power," he said finally. "And your purity is undeniable."
Nodding, she tried to soak in this revelation. She knew that she had been created for a purpose, and somehow she had always known deep inside that her true purpose would require her death. She didn't want to die, but if her death meant that those she cared about would be safe, then she would be happy to die. "I'm not afraid to die, and I will do anything to protect them." Looking back at him, she added firmly, "But I ask that you give me one more day. We will still have time to do what we must tomorrow."
Again he remained silent, only inclining his head in consent. "Tomorrow we will end this. Lucifer will be dead before his deadline expires."
Author's Note: All the not sleeping going on in this chapter made me tired. Yawn.
This chapter turned out to be more Vergil-centric than I intended, but he really is the key player in this last arc, so I'm not going to feel too bad about the emphasis on his character. I think the next chapter will feature Robin much more prominently though as she tries to come to terms with what she thinks must be done. I'm not sure if we will get to the final battle in the next one or not—I guess it depends on how wordy I get. :) Regardless we're really really close (and it's already partially written).
And don't worry overmuch about Robin. I promise not to give us a depressing tragic sort of ending—at least not entirely.