The Exposition

(In which there is…frankly, a lot of talking.)

-

"What," Dante snapped, his temper coming immediately and unequivocally to the end of its tether, "the hell are you talking about?"

"Leinth," said Vergil calmly. "It was her. That night when our mother died. She was the one."

Dante didn't respond to that for a moment, just remained very, very still because there were a very limited number of topics in the world that could rile him. One was standing right in front of him, talking through the medium of a teenaged devil hunter who didn't deserve to be here. The other was the woman who'd died a freezing night in December while his brother and he ran like hunted animals through the snow. He didn't like either one brought up individually. He hated them brought up as one. It complicated things; this shit right here complicated things and if there was another thing that pissed him off, it was things getting complicated beyond his capacity for patience.

"Mom? You're talking about… Oh no. Fuck this."

Vergil's eyes were on him (Nero's eyes.) "It wasn't Mundus, Dante. We were wrong."

Dante laughed, shook his head mockingly. "No, Vergil. This is about you. You fuck yourself over – which, by the way is your grave to lie in – and now you're using Nero to get out of it. You're just pissed the bitch fucked you up in hell and you're getting even. No! Shut up!" Vergil closed his mouth on whatever he'd been about to interject and Dante glared until he was certain his brother was listening. "Now," he continued more evenly than he felt. "Even if what you're saying is true – which I doubt, because you're a lying dickweed – it doesn't change the fact you're using the kid as a meat puppet so you can have your little run amok."

"Meat puppet?" Vergil repeated incredulously. "Forgive me, little brother, you're talking about this like an errant demon possession."

The other hunter shrugged and smiled. "Well, hey, if the shoe fits." Dante stepped toward his brother, hands up in a truce-like fashion. "Now," he said conversationally, "just to be clear, I'm not asking you politely when I say you need to get the hell out of the kid. He's got nothing to do with this shit between you and me and whatever ghoulie you think you've gotta gank to get even. So let him go."

"You surprise me, Dante." Nero's mouth quirked in a fashion that didn't suit it. "In all those years, I never saw you as the paternal type."

"No. It's just that, there was a time when you drew the line at women and children. Back in the good old days when you had a speck of honor, decency, your own body. Which by the way is mega fucked up, even for you." Dante smiled in a fashion deceptive in its politeness. "But now that the jig is up, you'll be clearing the merry hell out of the kid's head and taking your drag show on the road. And in a hasty fashion I might suggest, lest you want to piss me off any farther than you have."

"And what have you to threaten me with?" Vergil inquired derisively. "Violence?"

"Yeah. I've got that."

"Ever the bright one, aren't you? How do you propose to threaten me when I'm in the body of someone else? Beat the boy unconscious and hope it's him that wakes rather than I?"

"It occurred to me."

"Then it should unoccur, like most idiotic ideas." He raked damp bangs out of his face, expression full of Vergil's seriousness…the sort that didn't look weird on Nero's features. Oddly, that just made Dante want to punch him even more. "Now, will you listen to my proposition, or will you blunder your way through things as you usually do and get someone else killed for the trouble?" Vergil's tone was flat. "I assure you, there is only one death that I'm pursuing, but if you want to make things difficult for me, I could stand to add another to the list. It makes little difference to me."

"No deals, Vergil. I want you out."

"If I leave, the boy dies."

Dante smirked. "You're bluffing."

"You, who could never win a hand at cards to save you life, have no business calling anyone's, much less my, bluff. Though, you're right in thinking that my leaving his body will not kill him directly. I could vacate the premise and leave the boy in perfect health. That way, he could die in perfect health when the devil currently looking for me finds him and tears him limb from limb."

Dante took a step closer to his brother, leaned over him.

"Anything that happens to Nero because of you…I swear to God, it's not demons you'll have to worry about. It will. Be. Me." He waited; let that really sink in before continuing. "Now the way I see it, if you vacate the premise then there isn't much reason for your buddies to come hunting for him. I told you, I don't want the kid involved. No negotiating. However, if this bitch is really the one who killed our mother – or you've managed to convince your crazy ass that she is – then it's between you'n me and the hell whore. You want to team up and take out the bitch. Fine, but we'll take care off it ourselves. Don't you bring the kid into this."

"I'm afraid there's little choice in the matter. Nero is in as much if not more danger than I." Vergil held up his right arm, the concealed Devil Bringer. Even from within the jacket sleeve, some of its faint blue glow issued through the heavy fabric of Nero's coat. "You don't know what this is, do you?"

"The kid's right arm. Do I get an A?"

Vergil gave him a look.

Dante sighed. "Can't say it's come up in casual conversation. No."

"This arm is not a symptom of demonic power, contrary to the Order's misguided delusions," said Vergil quietly. The soft patter of falling rain threatened to overwhelm his voice. "Rather the opposite actually, this arm is a weapon. The most powerful in hell, designed to do nothing but bring death to even the highest echelons of the demonic. The mere threat of its use has kept Leinth in power for the better part of several millennia." Vergil shoved his hands back into his jacket pockets and scowled (for a second, making him look exactly like the kid.) "So when I say there will be armies coming after Nero I do mean it."

There came another of those long, contemplative silences in which the two of them stood there considering one another the way arch nemeses might. It was impossible to say what Vergil might have been thinking. There was a time – of course – when he would have been able to say without a hesitation exactly what his twin was thinking, but that was before Vergil had elected to go stark raving mad and vanish, leaving Dante literally alone for the first time in his entire life with nothing but the belly wound and shock – shellshock from the betrayal, later the creeping debilitating shock of realizing his brother was not coming back. This was not a usual fraternal fisticuff that would repair itself after a week of growling and glaring at one another. This wasn't the same brother and still wasn't.

"Dammit, Vergil. Can't you ever reappear without dragging hell at your ass? I mean seriously, what the fuck?"

"Leinth wants her toy soldier and she'll tear this world apart to be queen of her hill in hell. She will come for him whether I am here or not."

"Well, forgive me then. But doesn't it seem a bit thick bringing Nero right to her, because that sounds like it's what you're doing."

"It won't much matter if we bring her her weapon so long as we kill her with it," Vergil pointed out.

Well, you had to admire his logic, crazy as it was. "Ah, kill 'em with irony. I like the concept, hate the execution. I give you thumbs down, bro."

"You want to leave Nero out of the fight, to handle this yourself." Vergil's expression was deadened as his voice. "Cocky as usual. You have no idea what you're dealing with, Dante. Running into things, sword drawn, guns blazing won't work."

"Seems to work pretty well when I do it."

For some reason that made the other Sparda burst into a short-lived fit of laughter.

"You both," he snapped. "Unbelievable. You know nothing and yet profess to have the solution to everything. Leinth is not someone with whom you do epic battle and slay. She will not come at you head on like that lumbering fool, Mundus, with his ham-handed attempts at temptation and of hostage-taking. She will come at you from a place you don't expect. Sideways and diagonal, always singing her siren song and you won't see it coming 'til it hits you where you can't afford to be hit."

"I'm liking your little problem less and less, Verge."

"Problem?" Vergil echoed. "Yes, certainly a problem. A little problem? No. I'm sure you haven't dealt with something of this caliber in a while, so allow me to place things in perspective. Mundus is a prince among demons. Leinth is a queen. Do kindly work the math on your own, brother."

"Shit."

"Good," Vergil said lightly. "You're beginning to understand the breadth of our troubles."

"Okay, back track. Most powerful weapon in hell? Big badass arm thing – how the hell does a kid like Nero get hold of something like that and no one knows about it? I mean, I'm not real keen on the incorporeals, but I do listen in on the chit-chatter down under. No one breathed a word about this thing."

"Forgive me, Dante. But until I spoke of her, you didn't even know the name of hell's fourth ruler. Your resources are poor as they come and Leinth was not one to advertise the fact her greatest weapon had been stolen by one of Sparda's half-breed bratlings."

"You jacked it?"

"…it's complicated."

Dante holstered Ebony and Ivory with a resigned kind of mutter and rumpled his wet hair in irritation. "Why, why, why the hell's it always gotta be complicated…? Okay!" He threw up his hands in surrender. "Fuck. Whatever. Uncomplicate it for me, asshole, even though I'm sure I'm not gonna like it anymore when I understand it."

"I told you, Mundus was not the devil who held me in the Demon World," said Vergil tersely, rain running down Nero's face, making his hair run into eyes that held the wrong history inside them. "Leinth's power is the greatest in hell. Even our father, Sparda, didn't dare do battle with her and consented the only reason Leinth was less dangerous than Mundus was the nature of what she is. She is a mistress of the underworld. Her ambitions are limited to hell and she has little interest in anything outside its boundaries." He turned away, moving to stand away from Dante, back to him. "Anything that leaves hell, she loses interest in eventually. Anything that enters hell or piques her interest however, she will pursue to the end of time."

"And she's got her eye on you and Nero?"

"Yes. Nero more than I. She would abandon her hunt for me in pursuit of him if given the choice, Dante. So contrary to your suppositions, it's not to my personal benefit to remain here. She's been looking for someone to wield the Devil Bringer for centuries and now that she's found a suitable candidate, she will stop at nothing to have him for her own personal use."

"Well, that's vaguely dirty sounding," Dante laughed. "Hell. I didn't realize the kid was so damn special. I might have been nicer."

"No, you wouldn't have."

"Fair enough. Remind me again why the kid's so special?"

"The Devil Bringer is a semi-conscious construct," explained Vergil, tone utter butter-smooth apathy. "Like Yamato and Rebellion it knows the difference between wielders. However, unlike our father's swords, it will not serve a master it does not resonate with. I knew immediately that it did not align with me. My intent was too singularly dark for its purpose and because of this, I was forced to merely steal the weapon and seek a bearer suitable to its requirements."

"Wow. There's alotta first person pronouns in there." Dante's words held in them the kind of cold and dark promise bullets might. "When you say it like that. It really starts to sound like you had something to do with dragging Nero into this cluster-fuck of a situation."

"Leinth did not want it known that she herself could not wield the Devil Bringer, so her search for a devil knight to serve her has been private. She herself reached into the Human World to find someone with the aptitude she sought. She was already coming after Nero. I did nothing that would not have –"

Dante cut him off, words hollowed of emotion. "You gave him the Devil Bringer didn't you?"

Vergil narrowed those blue eyes that weren't his. "I told you, it could not be wielded by anyone."

For a long moment Dante gazed at the body holding his brother's soul and wanted more than anything for the spirit possessing Nero to be a lie. He wanted Vergil safely dead, mad, power-hungry, strangely broken the way Dante remembered him dying. Vergil had faded, goddammit, had dimmed like a scar in his memory until he no longer devoured Dante's every waking thought with stupid questions like 'Why?' Vergil was a war wound that flared up only now and again, had been that for years now. It had been long enough, Dante realized, to make him forget what an incomprehensible asshole Vergil could be.

"You son of a bitch, you did bring him into this," he whispered. He took that in, carbonized it, exploded. "Where the hell do you get off? This is a family matter. Something between you, me, and the red-eyed fuck who killed our mother. You had no right to bring the kid into this. Fuck!" Dante raked a hand through his hair, paced away like he was going to stalk off, but spun instead, rounding on his brother. "He's a goddamn puppy and you set a monster worse than Mundus on him, because you're too chicken-shit to do things properly, you stupid, selfish son of a –!"

"If I could wield it myself," Vergil interrupted him curtly, cutting him off. "Trust me; I would spare myself the irritation of possessing the boy."

"Man, he must be pissed. I hope you get a motherfucker of a migraine."

"Leinth had already found him long before I was in any position to steal the Devil Bringer. By giving him the weapon and hiding away in Nero's subconscious I was able to mask us both from her eyes. I have protected him. Much as you'd like to think otherwise, what I did was for his benefit."

"Right. You getting out of hell had nothing to do with it."

"Of course it had something to do with it, you utter moron." Goddamn, Dante hadn't heard that much condescension in years. "My motives don't change that fact he's only alive because of me. So save your philosophies of right and wrong for someone who could even begin to care."

"Alright, asshole, so how did Leinth find you if you're so damn ninja?"

Vergil made a noise of terse irritation. "Actually, I have you to thank for that. When you met Nero in Fortuna, you awoke part of his demonic nature. Up until your appearance there'd never been a reason for Nero to use the full potential of the Devil Bringer in battle and therefore no way to Leinth to seek it. You triggered his devil blood and in consequence awakened me. This would have only been a minor set back if not for the Order's idiotic dabbling in the acquiring of dangerous Devil Arms…"

"Yamato," Dante finished flatly.

There was a pause. Vergil's expression was difficult to read on Nero's features but it seemed to be one of hesitation.

"I… mislaid it in hell," he went on finally, voice impossible to get any emotional bead on. "I thought it lost. I couldn't have known it would make its way to me again or that it might recognize me even through the physical from of another. Even partially awakened, that was enough familiarity for Yamato to take action to restore itself. It's been the work of months for Yamato to wake me fully."

Dante felt like he was too old for this shit.

"And now that you're awake, Leinth's got your scent again, and by happenstance, the kid too."

"And so the situation stands, little brother. Leinth will stop at nothing to have Nero and the Devil Bringer. Her attacks will continue until the city is razed to the ground by battle. I am the only one with any knowledge of hell thorough enough to penetrate Leinth defenses. I need your help to fight Leinth as my capacities are reduced until I can reclaim my own body. The only solution is Leinth's death, Dante. Lest you would give Nero up to her merely to spite me."

Dante smiled. "Wow, you've really got this wound airtight, don't you big bro?"

"I've had a while to contemplate it."

"Fucking freak."

"Yes. Do continue be that charming, but do it while you make a decision. Will you help me fight Leinth or will I be taking Nero's body to battle on my own?"

"I could exorcise your ass. Then me and the kid could take the bitch on."

Vergil snorted. "Dante. You're older now. Maybe slightly wiser. But you're an idiot if you think you're well read enough to exorcise a contracted devil soul of my caliber. Especially as my soul is not entirely demonic and therefore has no precedent for exorcism. But by all means, due try. I'll even hold still if you like."

"Asshole."

"Decision, Dante?"

There was a long pause.

"Fine. I'll help you kill this bitch and get your body back. But after that…"

"You'll kill me?" Vergil concluded, rolling his eyes.

Dante narrowed his eyes. "Are you fucking nuts? After you get your body back, I'm going to beat the shit out of you then tie you to a fucking chair until you stop being so goddamn crazy. Maybe then you can explain to me what the fuck you thought you were doing back on Teme-ni-gru."

For the first time, the expression on Nero's face was an emotion recognizable to Dante as something besides condescension. It lasted for exactly two seconds before vanishing, but the younger Sparda hadn't missed it – bright and obvious as a billboard in the night.

He looked genuinely fucking surprised.

-

Nero woke up and the first thing he saw was Dante stooped over him. This, unfortunately for Dante, was not the best thing for him to wake up to given the nature of his recent nightmares. He reacted accordingly by screaming 'Fuck!' whipping Blue Rose from its place at his left hip and doing the expected.

Bang!

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!"

"Get the fuck away from me!"

Bang! Bang!

"Wait, kid! I'm not –!"

Nero, however, was already moving; having darted up from the ground and thrown a right-handed haymaker, the Devil Bringer plowed into the half-devil's right temple at the exact moment Nero realized that only the real Dante would call him 'kid'. By then, the other hunter had been launched pretty effectively across the street where he slammed through the front display window of a toy store and crashed through the cashier counter, obliterating children's playthings and domino tipping all the aisles. The deafening noise of collapsing toy racks filled the air. Then the street fell eerily quiet, only the soft grumble of rainfall to fill the static shock of having just clocked the son of Sparda…again.

Nero swore and wandered awkwardly to the jagged void of the window. "Dante?" He leaned in a little, squinting into the debris of the store. "Shit…"

A fallen shelf shifted, stood, then fell over, revealing the leather-clad devil hunter perfectly unharmed…scowling slightly and dusty, but unharmed. He brushed himself off, picking a tangled Elmo puppet off his shoulder and tossing it.

"That's the second window tonight," sighed the hunter wearily. He glanced at Nero. "Well, I see that arm of yours hasn't lost its bite. Bit of a funny way to say hi though – you know…the shooting and the throwing through the window. That."

Nero ran both hands through his hair, gripping it at the back of his neck and squeezing his eyes shut. "I thought…fuck. I thought you were…"

"My evil twin? Yeah. See. This is one time that possibility is completely viable."

He looked up, startled from his momentary freak-out fest and glared. "You're gonna have to run that by me again. Slow motion."

Dante sighed, scratching the back of his head in a distracted sort of way, opposite hand gesturing superfluously. "Well, it's kind of a long story. You know, complicated. It's gonna take some time to get through it and you're probably not gonna like it. On the up, though, it's full of drama and sexy anecdotes. With me in them."

"Oh fuck me," Nero lamented. He pushed his hair off his face and groaned. "You're still a goddman fruitcake. Fuck everything…"

"Fruitcake?" Dante sounded mildly offended.

"Shit. Okay. Just tell me what the hell is going on." He looked around. "Starting with where the fuck am I?"

Dante heaved a sigh and climbed out of the window to join the other hunter on the sidewalk. He clapped him on the shoulder and gestured up the street. "Walk. I'll explain on the way back to the office. Just try to keep an open mind and don't…scream so much. You're loud. And you mostly just yell swear words anyway, which is tres ineffective."

Nero took his admonition as well as a stressed out, half-panicked part-demon could be expected to… by which is meant not very fucking well. He yelled something like 'Screw you. You suck!' but less nice and whacked Dante's arm away. He spun and shoved the other hunter hard enough to slam him into the nearest wall ("Ow," he muttered resentfully.) and grabbed the front of his jacket. Having thus pinned the older hunter, Nero uncorked the raging diatribe, he'd no doubt accumulated over the last couple days.

"This has something to do with your brother and the fucking Yamato doesn't it? You asshole, that sword did something. The nightmares are back. Everything went to shit. I'm blacking out. Some 9uckweed with your face is in my fucking skull and I can't stay awake and I know you know something so don't 'kid' me. Don't you fucking dare! Kyrie is scared out of her mind and – oh shit! Kyrie!"

He dropped his hold on the red-clad hunter, anger dissolving instantaneously into panic.

"Goddammit. I don't…I don't remember anything. Fuck! How long was I out?"

"Kid," Dante interrupted gruffly. "Calm down. She's fine. She's at the Devil May Cry right now."

"I –" Nero took a breath. Evened himself out. Went on. "She's okay?"

"Not a scratch on her. She's a bit shaky, worried sick of course, but you didn't lay a hand on her…which was what tipped her off apparently, but yeah."

"Fuck you," Nero said weakly. He leaned back against the wall, head dropping back against the brick. His human hand fisted and whacked the stone by his hip in a show of half-hearted frustration. "Fuck."

"Okay. Seriously," Dante interjected. "Stop swearing. What are you, the poster boy for Tourettes?"

"Nervous tick," he muttered. "I start mouthing off for lack of a better solution to the fucking problem at hand."

"Okay. You. Shut up. You're not helping. Just sit there and listen to me and don't talk."

Lacking the energy to protest, remotely grateful that someone seemed to know what the hell was going on, Nero just nodded and closed his eyes.

"Okay. Severely edited version: You're being possessed, but I guess you know that. And maybe you guessed, but the spirit possessing you is my brother. Apparently, he's the one who changed your arm and as part of the deal he's been renting lease in some sublet of your sub-conscious. I can tell none of this is surprising you, so you must have suspected something like this for a while."

Nero nodded.

"Okay. Less upsetting then. Still, upsetting, but slightly less so. Here's the deal. Vergil's agreed to back off for now. We use tonight to get everyone caught up, rest a bit, then we have to get moving. Basically, there's a big nasty demon chasing my brother and it's got some kind of hankering to get that right arm of yours. So you and me, we gotta bust Vergil outta hell and waste this bitch before she wastes us. That pretty clear?"

Nero nodded.

"Really?" Dante stepped back, expression vaguely surprised. "Huh…Uh, wow. You're taking this very well."

Nero eyed his eyes. "Screw you, old man. Just take me to Kyrie. I wanna talk to her."

Dante sighed. "God, I hope I wasn't like this when I was younger."

-

Meanwhile, somewhere in hell, former devil captain had been demoted after failing with extreme lack of style to do anything even remotely resembling the capture and imprisonment of Vergil and his strange young vessel. It should be noted that a demotion in the demonic realm is actually not too dissimilar from a military demotion… except that involves having important limbs hacked off as symbolic reminders for incompetence so great that you did not even deserve your old limbs. The devil captain in question – the same one Dante had shot in the face, and his brother had incinerated from the human world – was being busted, basically, to private so he would have to lose quite a lot of limbs. This would take a while.

"My lady?"

"Yes? What is it?"

"You have issued no orders as follow up to Meerik's failure. Have you lost interest?"

"Oh, dear me, no. Not at all. I'm all the more intrigued. I have not been so entertained in decades, little imp."

The 'little imp' actually was rather small. Like most of her personal council, his form was deceptively human and even delicate, but again like most of her personal council appearance had no bearing on strength. The demon was a lord of hell in her kingdom and a knight in her court of anarchy and his true form was terrible to behold, could drive men mad. Which is why it entertained her to have him disguised in her presence as a small effeminate creature, barely more than five and a half feet tall. He was obviously puzzling over her disinterest in Meerik's failure.

"Shall we deploy a devil knight?" he inquired.

"No, Bartholomew. I believe I shall handle this next flourish on my own." She waved him away. "Go on. I'll call you when I have need of you."

"Yes, my lady."

Leinth stood up at length, stretching a little and savoring what was to come. The two Sparda boys? Together again after all these years? Why, it was challenge that hadn't been heard of since Mundus' fall at the hands of the devil knight's twins. She thrilled at the thought of them coming to her kingdom, wondered what sort of man the younger brother was to have grown up beside a creature of raw emotion and despair as Vergil. She wondered what sort of man could watch his twin fall into hell, whether he'd despaired of the loss, or spat on his metaphoric grave. She wondered these things, so she decided to act in accordance with this. She would see for herself what kind of creature Dante was.

Like a suggestion of shadow she slipped away, into the human world, and sought the door steps of those who held devil-hunter's heart.

She was determined to know what sort of man he was.

Author's Excuses:

Well, I confess. I just plain lost interest in this story for a while. Hope you'll forgive my wandering mind and thank your fellow reviewers who were kind enough to rekindle my interest in the awesomeness that is the Sparda bloodline. I certainly hope that the plot remains crystal clear even after the hiatus. If not, feel free to point it out and I can reply to you. Terribly sorry that the latest update is all plot and no bloodshed. I'll promise this shall be rectified in the next chapter. And yes, I did change my penname. You're not crazy.

Reviews are my muse, but I love a creative critic.