Wow. I'm blown away by the number of readers continuing to favorite "Emptiness." THANKS!

I'm very happy you like this story because it is a personal favorite of mine too. Although, you would shoot me over the moon while positively making my day if you leave a comment or whatever. I don't care how long ago I wrote it - seriously.

I get curious why people like Emptiness and am always disappointed when no-one says anything. I swear I'll send back a grateful thanks if you make the effort to review. Honest! :D


Familiar Shadows Closing In

Speeding down dark winding roads, Dante was glad he was forced to concentrate on holding his bike steady. Carrying the scent of an approaching storm, the lashing deafening wind blurred fractured memories skimming reflective mirrored shards splintering his mind.

An ever present companion he couldn't shake, Dante wanted the wild ride to jar loose the unforgiving metal lodged within him - tempered by a scorching forge of nothingness, sorrow and regret. Most times weren't this bad. But when he had no distractions, the inner molten emotions hardened into unrelenting, unbending, weighted iron. The melding threatened to bring him to his knees tottering on the brink of insanity.

As his coat streamed behind him, Dante found himself riding toward a place he was drawn to again and again. Cursing himself for being a sentimental idiot, he revved the engine to full throttle. Severely telling himself he should leave well enough alone, try as he might, he couldn't. The embedded silver-blackened iron wouldn't let him. (Dante could visualize the feelings made solid as clear as day.)

He would have thought it would have shown some rust by now, yet it stayed as shiny and solid as the day it was born and had grown larger, heavier and, dammit, so painful he wondered why it hadn't killed him.

Dante knew the past was the past and there wasn't an ice's chance in hell in turning back the clock. Even if he could, he probably wouldn't make a difference anyway. He'd spent many a night replaying various, previous, ugly scenarios in his mind, and based on what he'd known at the time, he kept ending up with the same outcomes.

Remembering, he wanted to shout to high heaven life wasn't fair - but life and fair were two incompatible words. If there was one constant in this universe, Dante was convinced of this fact.

With a compulsion he couldn't control, he skidded his bike to halt outside the city's gates. Marking the progress of the work restoring its previous grandeur over these past six months, he honed in on a beckoning presence. This was his lucky, or unlucky (he couldn't decide which) night.

Disregarding the lightning illuminating black skies with ominous claps of thunder, he silently slipped from shadow to shadow until he found who he was searching for. He looked over the furious battle being waged as he perched on the roof ledge of a high building. As the kid ferociously threw himself into a horde of demons like a rampaging cyclone, Dante couldn't understand why he had such an urgent need to maintain sentry duty over Nero.

Alright. Yeah, he could. If Nero was somehow part of the family he no longer had, Dante couldn't leave him alone.

Hiding, as always, Dante studied him. There was a connection here and he'd watched with a critical eye the young man's growing competence throughout the weeks. He had noted Nero learning to utilize that arm of his along with Yamato and his other weapons to further his advantage. Dante would still call Nero anger management kid because his fervor to take out any demon he could find hadn't died down in the slightest.

Discerning Nero's resemblance to him and Vergil, Dante detected where he displayed both their fighting styles. Whereas Nero went for broke like Dante - like Vergil, he didn't waste time messing around. However, neither he nor Vergil had ever gone into battle with Nero's blind bloodlust. He personally could count experiencing going berserk on one hand. After observing and testing his expertise, Nero could afford to cool off. In Dante's opinion he was missing out on some fun.

As the crisp air ruffled his hair and the sound of demons dying alongside war cries reached him, Dante took a long hard look at the wedge lodged dead center in his chest. Over the years he thought he would've gotten used to the excruciating pain, yet he never did. For months he'd be left in peace, then the weight pressing on his heart and gut would rear up.

Actually kinda artistic, he could imagine talking to a blacksmith, saying, It's a bueat all right. 6"X4"X2." Not made of just any iron. It's bona fidiably the strongest metal known to mankind. Notice the scrolled edges indicating stories are etched inside? You see, no one knows them. Except me, naturally. I've personally lived those stories, and they're all mine. Sealed in the core, there's no getting to them. Believe me. I know. I've tried.

Dante had a good idea why his particular cross to bear was making itself known, and he was looking at the reason right now.

Nero.

Was he the future?

A future Dante couldn't comprehend (and quite frankly, terrified of) was a hazy cloud in a distance he couldn't see through. He wasn't at all confident in heading that direction. Therein may lay a madness he'd never recover from. He might have a choice but was absolutely uncertain whether to reach for the vision or not. Where one future scene was encased in light, the other was shrouded in darkness.

One spoke of possible happiness and peace. Two emotions Dante had fleetingly experienced so far and between, he didn't know if he'd even recognize them. The other spoke of tragic endings he was much, much more familiar with. If these were his choices, he would take the middle ground.

He'd balanced his life to a certain extent and wanted to keep his equilibrium. But after what happened six months ago and who he'd found, his balance was shaky.

Dante contemplated for the hundredth time why he'd given into to the impulse to entrust Nero with Yamato. By all accounts Dante should be the one guarding the irreplaceable sword. Perhaps unfortunately, he'd seen its attachment to Nero and felt a rendering vicarious link to his twin. An iffy sentiment at best.

He recalled hoping Nero would be different. He was, wasn't he?

Like an idealist dumbass, Dante had allowed Nero the opportunity to use Yamato for something worthwhile, only to have the kid snatched - in his place.

(Dante would have liked to have shown those twisted bastards just what would've happened if he'd gotten in that statue of Hell. He'd have gutted the thing from the inside out.)

Afraid he'd fucked up, again, Dante had decided to give the kid another go and sent the sword winging back to Nero. Since he'd been having a bit of trouble getting inside, Dante figured his tactic couldn't hurt and (with fingers crossed) thought maybe his action would speed up the process. He had been more than relieved he'd been on target because Nero had grabbed hold of Yamato and cleaned house.

Wasn't there a saying about love conquering all?

Dante knew that was one hit or miss saying. But, he'd chanced it and Nero had hit it.

Nevertheless, Dante didn't think for a minute his gamble let him off the hook. Trish'd been right. The situation had gotten ugly because Dante had been shooting for redemption instead of using his brains.

Disgusted with himself, Dante wished he could get over his obsession with Nero's possible kinship to him. What was he? Some sort of stalker or something? Or was he so pathetic he needed to feel he had some kind of family left? Probably both. OK, although he'd been called it before, he figured he was now officially a sap. He also highly doubted Nero would take too kindly to being babysat.

Regardless, the knowledge Nero existed and lived a life he nor Vergil ever had made the terrible weight lift. Dante had an image of Nero punching through his chest to wrench out the heavy metal threatening to suffocate him like a cancerous tumor.

Talk about an unrealistic, ludicrous wish.

Moreover, he was acutely aware even though Nero helped him breathe deeper, the thick iron was suspended in a vast emptiness - an insatiably hungry, deadly emptiness.

Thriving on a fight to the finish, he dealt with the emptiness by hunting the prey it demanded. The fiercer, more cunning, and dangerous the quarry, the better (which he thought said a lot about his character). If he had to bring death to come to life, Dante didn't necessarily see himself in a positive light.

Saving others and being with Trish and Lady helped fill part of the void. They kept his soul intact and putting one foot in front of the other. Everything else in his life acted as a standby until he came alive in battle by achieving a purpose which would temporarily fill the dreadful emptiness inside.

When he couldn't find playmates of his own, this was another reason he sought Nero. Dante could go into combat with him as an active spectral spectator while feeling Nero's need to destroy the hideous evil around him. Honestly, to his mind, he was being a dolt, not to mention, selfish. Indulging himself was a crime against Nero - a kid he didn't want hurt by any means.

Standing with a swipe at the dirt on his coat, swearing to return only when obliged to check out Nero's progress, Dante turned to leave. Deciding he was used to his stark rough routine and more or less preferred the life he'd created for himself, he'd maintain the status quo.

Yeah, Dante may occasionally have the opportunity to peer into windows of happy homes with wishful yearning, but that existence was beyond his scope.

Seriously, what precisely was he contemplating (or wanting)? With his history, if he invaded Nero's space, Dante'd either make his, or Nero's, life worse. Lord knew he didn't need anymore added guilt and he didn't even want to think about what might happen to Nero. Thinking all's well that ends well by Nero getting the girl along with his revenge, Dante didn't see any reason to intrude on his happily ever after.

As he began gliding away, the hair on the back of his neck whispered a warning fresh danger was on the horizon. Dante didn't have to look to narrow in on the threat. He knew Nero had demolished most of the demons. In addition, he easily picked up the disruption in the air telling him a Demon Lord was rising behind Nero - with reinforcements. Acting on gut instinct, he didn't think twice about landing before the monstrosity.

...

Whipping around, Nero couldn't believe his eyes. DANTE? What was he doing here? Then he saw the Demon Lord with its small army. Motioning him to take the lesser demons moving to surround them, Dante faced off against the head demon.

"Well, well, well. What've we got here? Come to pay a visit? I've been looking for you, but you must've missed my invite. I was beginning to feel a little ignored," Dante drawled.

As Nero dove snarling into the horde feet first, he wished Dante would get with the program already. What was he waiting for? An RSVP?

The demon shouted a shocked, "Dante! Leave this place and I will leave you to your own pursuits. I came for another."

"Y'know, I kinda figured that one out myself. I guess you're not too into partying hardy. You must be getting conservative in your old age. What's with you? You into kiddie shows or something?" Dante taunted.

The demon roared, "How dare you insult me? The only thing I seek are worthy opponents. Are you implying I am fearful of you?"

"Pal, I'm not implying. I'm saying it loud and clear," Dante challenged. As Nero decimated demons left, right, and center, he got the clue Dante was provoking the demon into losing its cool. And it did. Howling, the Demon Lord came at him full speed.

"Now you're getting a bit more interesting," Nero heard Dante comment before meeting the incoming demon with his sword. Thrown back, the furious demon bellowed and started to charge again. Sailing over the thing, he then shredded it with an explosive barrage of rapidly fired miniature missiles from Ebony and Ivory.

Man, Dante's guns sure do some lethal damage. Nero wondered if Dante would teach him how to power up Blue Rose. As the demon shrieked in death throes, Dante didn't break a sweat as he leaped swinging downward to cut it in half with Rebellion.

Blinking at the abrupt death of the Demon Lord, Nero was impressed. Dante hadn't flinched, once, and when he got the demon where he wanted, hadn't missed a beat in taking it out. Yeah, Nero had flipped off demons a few times but only when the demons insisted. Apparently, Dante knew how to manipulate them to the max.

The night air rumbled as dust settled alongside disintegrating demonic body parts. Waving a curt farewell, Dante began to walk away. Stupefied, Nero realized he wasn't going to be given a chance to say hello before saying goodbye.

Couldn't Dante hold up a sec? His mind racing, Nero didn't want him pulling the same disappearing act he had before. "Hey! What's the rush? What are ya doing here anyway? Besides, there's a storm coming," he called.

Spinning on a heel with a flare of his coat, Dante responded, "Don't worry yourself. I can handle a little rain. No prob."

Nero persisted, "Yeah. But you didn't answer my other questions. Mainly, why are you here?"

Crossing his arms, Dante shrugged, "I was in the neighborhood on some personal business." No lie. Covering his tracks, he gestured where the Demon Lord had been.

"OK. I'll buy that, but, seriously, what's the rush? If you're finished, you can hold up at my place until the storm's passed," Nero offered.

Dante hedged, "I don't know if that's such a good idea."

"Why not? It's no trouble. I can promise you a hot meal from a great cook. Kyrie's wouldn't mind the company, and I bet you haven't eaten yet. Or have you?" he tempted. Nero knew he was making headway when he saw Dante begin to waver.

Upping a cheerful note, he coaxed, "Come on Dante. Even if you don't want to eat, we never got the chance to just chill. Whadda you say?"

With misgivings, Dante mentally cursed. Having made up his mind to carry on alone he didn't want to risk or saddle Nero with his aching, asinine, loneliness. Hell, he'd lived with the pain for years - no sense in trying for the unattainable.

Finally convincing himself if he made certain the kid was happy he would alleviate the urge to spy on him, Dante grudgingly agreed.

Jubilant he'd won, Nero took the lead.

...

Barging into a well-kept, custom built house, Nero shouted for Kyrie. Surveying the welcoming interior, despite himself, Dante balked in the doorway. He heard Nero loudly announce, "Kyrie! You'll never guess who's here. It's Dante."

"Dante?" came a startled dulcet reply, "Nero, are you joking with me?"

"No, really. Come see for yourself," he answered enthusiastically.

Barely holding himself steady, Dante doubted he could take one step across the threshold. He didn't belong here - for sure. As he was about to head for the hills, Kyrie appeared.

Now he didn't know Kyrie except by sight. Based on what he'd seen, she seemed the quiet ladylike type. He remembered her absolute faith in Nero, but whether she had been scared mute (he couldn't fault her there) or had a spine of steel, he didn't know.

Kyrie was a different type of female all together than those he knew. Dante hung with women who were sexy, confident, mortally perilous, and, let's not forget, smartasses. If they weren't taking his head off, they were finding new ways to torture him. Be that as it may, he did have to admit they sure were fun and kept him on his toes. He supposed they had a good thing going. They made him feel needed and an all around fellow companion.

When Kyrie saw him tentatively standing in the entrance, she smiled a supportive greeting and approached with her hands outstretched. Taken by surprise, Dante let her clasp her delicate hands in his. Before he could dig in his heels, he was in the middle of the clean, tastefully decorated, cozy living room.

"Dante," she spoke sincerely, "How wonderful to see you. Please. Make yourself at home. I was just about to make dinner. Is there anything in particular you prefer? Don't be shy. I don't mind. Truly." She didn't know her offer (something he supposed others took for granted) bothered him. Her natural friendliness and obvious happiness to see him made him acutely aware he didn't fit into this homey atmosphere.

Dante was a hardened combat veteran who lived as far back as he could remember as a Spartan. Was that a universal irony or what?

Serenely keeping her expressive amber eyes on his, Kyrie saw his discomfort and Dante's comfort was what she most wanted. Unlike Nero, she'd been studious in learning about the legendary Sparda. Although the Church and Order hadn't mentioned too much about his family, she'd gone out of her way to fully educate herself.

Kyrie was fascinated by the heroic Devil who turned his back on his own kind to set right what he came to see as wrong. This feat was practically unheard of in either the Human or Demon World. Very, very few were brave or independent enough in their convictions to go against the established order and popular belief system. Her studies had included whatever she could find on his family after Sparda had vanished.

Based on what she learned, she correctly surmised Dante was much like his father in his beliefs, and because of this, lead a harsh life. Ashamed she hadn't recognized him when she first saw him, Kyrie wanted to thank Dante for unselfishly coming to their aid and apologize for her ignorance.

Addressing him, she explained, "Dante, I merely wish to thank you for your help. So please stay and let me in some small way do so." Taken aback, Dante didn't detect any simpering in her manner. By her fearless actions and gracious manners in full view of his armed, predatory appearance, he decided Kyrie was the steel backbone type.

But she wanted to THANK him? For what? Letting her and Nero get captured and used like parts of a machine?

Dante lowly confessed, "Don't bother yourself. There's no need to thank me (REALLY). After all, it should've been me in there instead of you and Nero."

Kyrie's eyes widened. Did Dante feel guilty? How awful. Appalled he would feel this way, she earnestly exclaimed, "You don't blame yourself, do you? How could you have known they'd zero in on Nero and use me to get to him when they couldn't get you?"

Yeah, right.

Dante hadn't known until Trish had given him the inside scoop, but he should've guessed. It didn't take a genius to figure out those sadistic pricks would use Kyrie as a hammer. The instant Trish had told him what they'd done he should've immediately let them take him, but noo, he just had to give Nero the same chance he'd given Vergil (a stupid, emotional, impulse). Dante hated to think what Nero and Kyrie had gone through because he hadn't be quicker on the uptake.

Chagrined, Dante could tell Kyrie was determined to "thank him" for royally screwing up (that's a first). Cornered, he informed her, "Alright then, I've a hankering for pizza followed by a strawberry sundae." Waiting for the usual disdain in regards to his eating habits, he was thrown when she lit up.

"Pizza? Why, that's a terrific idea. Nero loves pizza and ice cream. What do you like on it?" Kyrie asked.

What? Nero loved pizza and ice cream? And Kyrie could make his favorite dishes? This was too unreal. Dante regained his balance with a nonchalant, "Whatever. I'll take it as loaded as it comes. The same goes for my sundae. Though I don't much care for olives." Resigned, but putting in the last part anyway, Dante didn't expect his request to be granted. He always ended up with them, somehow.

"Great! I'll get on it right away," Kyrie responded. As she headed for the kitchen, Nero arrived in jeans and a tee shirt. "Nero, I'm going to start dinner. Why don't you show Dante around?" she suggested over her shoulder.

"You got it hon," Nero answered, "Come on Dante. I'll give you the grand tour. Aren't you going to take your coat off? It's plenty warm in here."

Having to adjust to a relaxed, friendly Nero versus the spitfire one he was familiar with, Dante replied, "Uh, yeah. Why not?" Stowing Rebellion next to Nero's gear, Dante slid off his coat while inconspicuously hiding his guns behind his back. An established habit from being consistently on guard, Dante would've felt naked without them. Nero didn't notice, or care, as Dante followed.

When they came to a large room obviously belonging to Nero, Dante saw floor to ceiling shelves containing numerous books on all kinds of different subjects and an electric guitar standing in the corner.

Swimming in deep water, Dante heard himself ask, "You read all these? And play the guitar?"

Nero shrugged, "Yeah. I dig learning about stuff and love a good jam session now and again. I like playing while Kyrie belts out a few."

Raising a brow, Dante muttered, "Please don't tell me you like pool and poker."

"Sure. Who doesn't? Though when it comes to cards, I don't get to play too often since I win so much no one wants to play me anymore," Nero revealed before scowling, "Damn jerks are a bunch of sore losers. If they're gonna get pissed off, they shouldn't take me on. I mean, get real. What'd they want me to do? LET them win? As if."

Dante almost laughed. There was the Nero he knew and he sounded like Vergil. He sucked at cards unless he got serious - then look out. When Dante played to win, he played to WIN.

Completely at home and enjoying his hobbies for fun, he was glad he'd seen for himself the kid was happy.

Even so, these likes and dislikes of Nero's were too weird and hit too close to home. Dante had a dizzying vision of him and Vergil meshing together to become like Nero. Nero definitely had his own personality, but the commonalities were dumbfounding.

Was this what he and Vergil had missed out on?

What would it have been like if they'd had a real home where they could've kicked back rather than always having to be on alert? Everything they'd done had been for survival reasons. Well, maybe not everything, but mostly. While Dante couldn't imagine having family holidays and such, he could imagine a closer, more normal (whatever that meant) relationship with his twin.

Nero chattered as they went into the living room with Dante half listening. Lost in his thoughts, he fluidly plopped in an armchair and crossed his boots on the coffee table. Always aware of his surroundings, Dante knew the second Kyrie appeared on the scene. Considering she moved gracefully to quietly nestle into a nearby chair, he dismissed her.

Dante didn't know Kyrie was subtly, carefully, scrutinizing him.

Raised around soldiers always ready for battle, she'd seen up close and personal what they endured. Kyrie had learned to look for tell-tale signs of the jumpy, unpredictable symptoms that came with what she considered battle fatigue. Growing up, she noticed this condition became debilitating as soldiers were scarcely able to live, or even recognize, a normal life.

They routinely saw atrocities that wouldn't leave them which they refused to talk about . Forever caught in this seemingly never-ending cycle of violence, blood and horror, they held themselves in stiff, stressful, readiness - constantly braced for an imminent attack. The more time went on, the more their days, and often nights, became unceasing battles.

Thinking hard and studying everything she could find on the subject, Kyrie had resolved to create a healing haven for Credo and Nero. After finishing her studies and talking to knowledgeable people on the subject, Kyrie arrived at and implemented a plan.

Using everything at her disposal, she got them used to pleasant, informal social gatherings, fresh, "normal" clothes, good food and a soothing environment. She relentlessly encouraged them to discover fun hobbies. Resisting her all the way, it took awhile, but Kyrie stubbornly persisted until they gave in. She'd been ecstatic when they'd finally adopted a more healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Once she felt they'd settled in, not being dense (or masochist) Kyrie had then laid down ground rules. Deciding ordinary housekeeping chores would be good for them and further grounded, she insisted they put their personal belongs in their proper places, keep their clothes and rooms (and, boy, that definitely included their bathrooms) clean while she maintained the rest of the house and did the cooking.

She learned other tricks too - just in case she ran into special circumstances. Her reasoning had been astute as her men became capable of holding the terrible shadows within them at bay. Triumphant, Kyrie kept them sane and enjoying peaceful pursuits.

Although, she couldn't help feeling she'd reached her brother too late.

Sadly reflecting on how he'd eventually broken under the strain, Kyrie thought perhaps he'd been too long a warrior. But Nero, her beloved, remained strong and balanced. Because of his ability to maintain his integrity and clear vision, Nero hadn't been taken in by the Church's lies. Nightly she prayed with all her might he'd never, ever leave her like Credo had. She wondered if his age is what made the difference.

With this in mind, her thoughts turned to Dante who appeared younger than her brother, but because of his lineage she couldn't be certain. How long had Dante fought, and, being who he was, what terrors had he seen and experienced? Kyrie inwardly shuddered. She didn't deceive herself in thinking she could comprehend what his life must've been, and was, like.

Kyrie discovered throughout the years the harder a warrior fought, the mightier and tougher he, or she, became. If they fought hard for a noble cause without surrender, they cared for others deeply. They had to erect a thick shield around themselves so they wouldn't break under the heavy burdens they carried.

Awestruck, Kyrie remembered reading about some of Dante's battles and had personally had the privilege of him fighting for them. His actions made Kyrie believe Dante was a caring warrior who surpassed other warriors in greatness because, unlike so many, Dante endured. Remaining steadfast, he lent his might to those in trouble by destroying that which was evil.

Thinking of the trauma suffered especially by warriors driven to defend the innocent, Kyrie became thoughtful. She'd seen for herself how he shouldered the responsibility for her and Nero's ordeal.

Watching him, she thought she could see certain traumatic signs rising to the surface - though Dante was difficult to read. While Nero was open, Dante was a turtle hiding in his shell. He didn't reveal a thing about himself or his life.

Did this mean he had no one to care for him? Did he live alone with terrible shadows creeping into his nightmares? Kyrie's heart cracked.

Narrowing her focus to exclude everything but Dante, Kyrie sifted through her bag of tricks to uncover the best thing to do to bring him some peace.

...

Oblivious to Kyrie's scrutiny, Dante fought to stay in here and now - which wasn't easy. He couldn't stop staring at Nero. The more he stared, the more the past blurred into the present. When Nero turned his back to him, Dante nearly paled. Nero's hair was choppy and had a disturbing resemblance to the way Vergil's hair looked when he'd kept it swept back.

At the time, Dante couldn't of cared less his straight as a pin hair hung almost to his chin. He'd taken comfort in seeing the world through its fringes while hiding his eyes from the world. He could see out. No one could see in.

Not Vergil though. No, he'd made sure everyone did see, and fear, what they saw there. In a way, Vergil had been more honest even if his schemes had been on the dark side.

He had only felt similar to his twin when the rain or a fight left Vergil's face as covered as his own. Dante wouldn't let Vergil see into his eyes until he was good and pissed. Afraid of what he might see in the mirror, he hadn't wanted to look at an image of his brother's rage reflected in him. It'd taken years to feel OK enough to face himself.

Yet Vergil hadn't cared. In this aspect, he had been braver than him. Those intense blue eyes had DARED anyone to get in his way - but Dante had been forced to. Was there a more accursed hell?

His eyes landed on Yamato restored by Nero's blue-white energy, so much like Vergil's chilling one. But Nero wasn't ice - he was fire. Though Dante hadn't seen Nero in ice mode, with his cool blue energy he must possess part of that coldness. Maybe Vergil had needed his ice to cover and control his burning drive to get what he wanted. Dante covered his ice with fire. Flaming in battle, he felt ice when he pulled the trigger.

So far, he was grateful for the numbness. His lack of remorse kept his relish in the kill in check. In a strange twist of fate, he figured there was one positive thing about the emptiness inside him. It demanded his predator's lust for the chase and kill be one of vengeance against the sinister, depraved darkness which had devoured his family from doing the same to others. Dante's targets were the bad guys and he had no desire to cross the line.

With a start, Dante realized he didn't want Nero crossing the line either. He'd seen the single-minded drive in Nero and worried how carefully he'd watch his step. The kid took out his targets without a thought. Additionally, anyone threatening Kyrie was the walking dead. How could Dante possibly explain the consequences to him? He didn't want Nero losing what he had because he couldn't control fiery hatred and/or icy resolve.

Having witnessed first hand what became of someone running on one track, Dante knew one tracks lead to self-destruction. Shit, he felt self-loathing staying on the right side of the different roads he traveled as much as possible. How would the kid deal if he wandered onto a left, single path?

Shifting his gaze to Nero, Dante was glad he had used the sword the way it was meant to be used. Except... Pondering the heady power it employed, he wondered if Nero could resist using it without restraint.

...

Watching him, Kyrie went on alert. Dante was staring at Nero as if seeing a ghost. A chill went through her as she abruptly understood. Like Dante, she too had lost her parents and her brother. The fresh grief of losing her own brother came alive, matching Dante's. The books she'd read said Dante had lost his TWIN without specifying when he had or exactly how. They talked of a mighty battle between them while extolling Dante as a hero.

Kyrie didn't think Dante thought he was heroic. How could he? She knew she didn't. Even though she knew it wasn't her fault Credo had succumb to his desire for power, Kyrie secretly felt there must have been something she could have done. Because of this gnawing, insidious, false guilt, she felt she was somehow to blame. Had there been clues his vision had dimmed in the shadows between right and wrong she'd missed? Logically she knew she hadn't, but her heart wouldn't listen.

Was this how Dante felt?

Although his twin had been painted as evil and Dante as just, she now knew history wrote itself in favor of the victor. Hadn't the Order thought its ends justified its means? Hadn't the Church rewritten history to match its foul ideals?

Had Dante confronted his brother in an effort to save him then couldn't? The weight of such an unspeakable loss would be intolerable. Even betrayed, Kyrie loved her brother and the empty hole he left behind refused to close.

There were things time couldn't erase. Yes, time may temper the pain (a master at full force sneak attacks), but didn't heal the wound. If she didn't have Nero, she didn't know if she'd want to go on - alone.

And Dante looked more alone than anyone she'd ever seen.

Did he have anyone to console him? She fervently beseeched the Lord above he did. Her heart bled for him and her. Dante was transfixed on Nero - a relation by blood with an uncanny resemblance to him. The searing hole threatened to overwhelm her as she thought of how she'd feel if she came in contact with someone looking like her lost loved ones.

Oh dear. This could be a spell for a disaster in the making.

Her suspicions were warranted when Nero admonished, "Holy hell Dante. Don't you know not to put your boots on someone's table? Where's your common sense? That table belonged to Kyrie's parents. I don't want it scuffed up by an unthinking roughneck. It means a lot to her."

Inadvertently Nero sealed the deal on Dante's reservations about staying. Rising to his full height, his boots hit the floor. Looking Nero in the eye, Dante, for a split second, saw Vergil in those too familiar blue eyes. Nero's lacked the cold menace, but for an instant, Dante saw the same expression in them as Vergil's when he'd lectured him.

In a vividly excruciating flashback, he saw Vergil warning him against the threat of being caught within the Demon World. Unconsciously, Dante clenched his fists. His hands had reached for, and failed, to save his brother, and later they had cut him down. Deciding the kid had a been dealt a winning set of cards, he hoped to God he wouldn't have to use his hands on Nero. He may have a blood bond with him but somethings were better left alone and unknown.

"Y'know what kid? You're right. I got no business here, not knowing how to behave and all," Dante remarked, "I guess I'll be going. Maybe we'll see each other in a more appropriate setting."

Shocked speechless, Nero couldn't see what the big deal was. Dante hadn't struck him as the type to walk away from a little fight. He should know. After all the insults he'd thrown his direction, Dante had always blown him off. Now he was heading for the door because he'd told him not to put his feet on the furniture?

Before Nero could move, Kyrie was there - blocking Dante. "Don't go Dante. It's all right. Really," she reassured him urgently.

Towering over her petite form, he replied, "No, Kyrie. It's not all right. I appreciate you welcoming me into your home but I gotta go." Reaching for his coat and sword, she stepped in front of him.

"Please Dante. I don't want you to go," she pleaded.

"Get out of my way Kyrie," Dante warned.

Positive Dante was unaware he carried slight beads of sweat on his forehead along with haunted eyes, Kyrie wasn't about to let this superlative, noble warrior leave without doing what she could to give him what he needed and stood firm.

Dante's crystalline eyes widened, then narrowed. Feeling Nero coming up behind him in a protective fury, he had Ebony's barrel staring straight at him in a twirling blur.

Without taking his eyes off Kyrie, Dante rumbled, "Back off."

Sliding to a standstill, Nero could tell he wasn't fooling around. In his eagerness to know him better, he'd forgotten just who, and what, Dante was. Berating himself, he prepared to go into battle mode.

Although, after all the help Dante had given him and the stuff he'd put him through, Dante had been careful not to hurt him regardless how savagely he'd attacked. Torn, he didn't know what to do.

Dante wouldn't harm Kyrie, would he? He couldn't have been that wrong about him, could he?

The one thing Nero did know was if Dante made a single move against Kyrie, he'd come at him with everything he had - gun or no gun. Cautiously relaxing his stance, he stayed on full alert while feeling ten times brainless for coaxing an experienced, lethal predator into his home.

And the tiger was out of his cage.