Don't forget to let me know what you think. This chapter is a bit lighter than the other. Hope you enjoy.


Take This Nothingness From Me

Meeting her large honeycomb colored eyes with his, Kyrie let Dante see her own pain. Shaken, he saw her fresh grief and compassionate understanding. He caught on, for some reason, she knew what his problem was.

Although Dante knew there wasn't much known about him and his family history (he made sure of it), given what he knew about her past history, it was logical to assume she'd done some research. Based on Nero's reaction, she'd kept her mouth shut. (He appreciated her discretion and respect for his privacy.)

When Kyrie saw Dante's eyes soften from the blue-green diamonds they'd been, she gently urged, "Here Dante. Drink this. It might make you feel better."

Noticing the filled tumbler in her hand, he harshly demanded, "Precisely what's in the glass?"

Maintaining her poise, Kyrie told him, "It's a fine whiskey I hope you'll find to your liking." Adding a twinkle to her eyes, she smiled, "You look like you could use a drink... or two." Relaxing his guard, Dante tucked Ebony away as a shade of a smile crossed over him.

"A drink or two? Well, you could be right about that." Pausing, he mused, "To be on the safe side, maybe you should bring out an entire liter. Heck, make that a half-gallon if ya can."

Brightening, she laughed as she held up a liter bottle hidden behind her back, "I'm not sure about the half-gallon, but I do have more where this came from."

Taking the glass and bottle from her, Dante read the label. "Darn Kyrie. You're on the mark. This may do the trick."

Palms pressed together, she cajoled, "So you'll stay?" Further tempting him, she artfully informed him, "Your pizza's almost ready."

Grinning, Dante teased, "Since you went to all the trouble, I guess I'd be pretty rude not to have a taste... or two."

Returning his grin with her own, she agreed, "Absolutely. I'd be terribly affronted if you left without letting me know how I did."

"If you put it that way, I suppose I can hang around for awhile," Dante relented, winding down under Kyrie's courageous thoughtfulness. Right then and there he decided if Nero didn't know what a gem he had, he'd beat some sense into him. Not many (as in, few to none) would face his ire, much less care to calm him down, and then entice him to remain in the vicinity.

Grateful for her generous concern and understanding, Dante breathed easier. By responding to his loss of temper casually as if it was no big deal, he reckoned Kyrie definitely knew how to treat a dangerous man (or, he should say, half-devils - which had to worse than regular men, right?). He didn't care if she burned his food to a crisp - he'd eat every bite, and if the kid gave her grief, he'd give him some of his own.

Confirming Dante's assumption about Kyrie's closed mouth, Nero demanded, "What the hell just happened?"

Whirling around with arms spread, he offered an off handed, "Why, just what it looked like. I wanted to leave, then Kyrie made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Oh. Sorry about the gun. I get jumpy when someone comes at my back."

Nero muttered under his breath, "Jumpy, huh? Is that what you call it? Next time you get all riled up, take a minute will ya?"

Dante laughed at him flat out, "Look who's talking, Mister Calm, Cool, and Collected."

Miffed, Nero folded his arms, "Alright already. I said I was sorry."

Cupping an ear with one hand, holding on to his booze with the other, he observed, "Excuse me? You did? I don't seem to recall any apology. The last I heard, you owed me - which isn't quite the same."

Grumbling under his breath, since Dante appeared to be in full witty rebuttal mode, where insults and diatribes flowed off his back like water off a duck, Nero dragged Kyrie to the side.

Settling back to enjoy the show, Dante downed the first glass before pouring himself another. It took a whole bunch to get him drunk, though he might get lucky in getting a nice buzz going.

Nero started with, "Kyrie are you crazy? You can't block Dante like that. He'll eat you alive."

"Yes Nero," she replied meekly with her head down. Holding in a chuckle, having seen plenty of women in action, Dante wanted to see how big a hole Nero dug for himself.

While she remained demure and placating, he proceeded to give her a lengthy lecture on safety. Then he pointed out, "Look, if Dante got so upset over me telling him to watch himself with your stuff, he obviously isn't in the best of moods."

Boy, that's ONE way of describing it, Dante silently interjected.

Kyrie grabbed the opening. "But Nero, this is DANTE."

This was the moment Dante had been waiting for. Casually taking a drink from his third glass, he was feeling more relaxed by the minute.

"Meaning what?" Nero asked sternly.

"He's more than a guest and can do anything he likes as far as I'm considered," Kyrie declared.

"What? How come he gets to break the rules when you're such a stickler for them, including with guests? And whadda ya mean he's more than a guest?" he wanted to know.

Pretty little Kyrie, who came up to Nero's shoulder, responded in her sweetest tone, "I think anyone who saved our lives to then give you Yamato deserves special treatment, don't you? And are you forgetting he's somehow blood kin to you? I'd think you'd be grateful and eager to make Dante as welcome as possible." As she trapped him with large eyes threatening tears, Dante muffled his laughter at Nero's stumped, slightly panicked expression.

"For the love of God Kyrie, don't cry. I got it. And you're right. I'm sorry. Whatever you want's fine with me. OK? Just don't cry. I can't stand that, especially since you're not the crying type. If it means that much to you, no problem, alright?" he begged.

Sniffling, she nodded, "Thank you Nero. I appreciate your understanding. I think I'll check on dinner." As Nero breathed a sigh of relief Kyrie turned in Dante's direction. From the merry sparkle in her eyes he could see she was smothering her laughter too. He was tickled when she rapidly disappeared before she really bust loose. Taking another drink, he marveled at the sheer deviousness of the female mind.

Slouching next to him, Nero groused, "Give me some of that would ya?" Handing the bottle to him, Dante watched him take a healthy, needed, slug. He couldn't blame him. Dealing with the opposite sex was a dicey dance.

Returning the bottle, he wiped his mouth with an arm before commenting, "I don't get it. How come I never seem to win any arguments with her when she's so agreeable?"

Crossing an ankle over the opposite thigh, Dante informed him, "I gotta tell you, from personal experience women always win. Save yourself the torture by folding your hand before the cards are even dealt." Scowling, Nero was plainly unwilling to accept reality. Shrugging, figuring he had a ways to go, Dante'd leave his education to Kyrie.

As they sat side by side, Nero mulled things over. Glancing at Yamato, he thought of how Kyrie said he and Dante were kin by blood.

Tentatively he began, "Do you think we really are related somehow?" Stiffening, Dante closed off, putting Nero on alert. He waited, but Dante remained still as a silent grave as he took another swallow of his drink.

"It's OK Dante, I'd like to know. I don't have any family I can remember. I know we're probably not related, related, but if I am part of your dad's bloodline we gotta be something, right?"

Expressionless, Dante replied, "Truth be told, there's a lot of indications we might just be."

Again Nero waited, but when no more information was forthcoming he prodded, "What kind of indications? You said Yamato belonged to your brother and wanted it to stay in the family. Is this why you gave it to me?"

Dante slid hooded eyes at him. "No. I didn't 'give' you Yamato. The sword's my brother's - meaning I can do a returnees if need be. I entrusted it to you. There's a difference."

Cautiously Nero ventured, "Difference? Why? What was your brother like?"

What was Vergil like? Where should he start? He didn't think Nero would be too thrilled to learn about his twin.

Finishing his drink, Dante readied himself to leave again though he did say, "Kid, you got a great set up here and I'm bad news. Believe you me, you don't wanna know. You certainly don't need any baggage I might hand you. Drop the subject while you're ahead."

Seeing him ready to bolt, Nero grouched, "I don't get it. I mean it's not fair. You show up out of nowhere. I'm told I'm descended from Sparda. I look a lot like you. I get turned into some kind of devil and Yamato fixed itself to come to me. Then you let me keep it for you. And now you're gonna take off again? Just what am I supposed to do? Or think? Would you leave me alone to figure out all this stuff on my own?"

Startled, Dante looked at him. REALLY looked at him. (Nero felt he might be being sized up for lunch.)

In checking him out for clues he was hankering a ride on the rush Yamato could produce without finding any, Dante hadn't realized Nero felt confused, anxious and alone. He didn't want to talk but the kid needed something.

Hesitantly, he ventured, "What do you want from me? I'm not exactly what you'd call a nice guy."

Nero vehemently shook his head, "Bullshit. That's plain BS Dante. You are a nice guy. You think because you took a chance on me and I messed up, you're to blame? Come on, we're both demon hunters. You know things go wrong. You go by what you think the best course of action is at the time. It's easy to look back and say 'I should have done this' but that's not how it works."

Inadvertently hitting a sore spot, Dante hissed, "Ya see Nero, that's where you're wrong. I should've never handed Yamato over to you. You're too young, or ignorant, to understand its power." As Nero began to protest, he held up a hand, "I'm not insulting you. I'm stating facts. It's not personal. At least not on your part. The blame's on me."

When he became silent again, Nero wasn't going to let that one go. "Oh no you don't. You can't just drop cryptic hints and leave it there. That's not gonna cut it. What're you afraid of? If I don't know, how can I know what to watch out for?"

Dante gave a self-depreciating barked laugh, "Afraid of? What to watch out for? Kid, I hate to break this to ya, but the thing you gotta look out for is me."

"You?" Nero asked warily, "Maybe you better spell it out and get it over with."

Having said this, Nero didn't miss the veil of regretful sadness falling over Dante as he explained in a low voice, "Nero, I have to make sure the sword's used properly. If it's not, then I'll have to take action and I don't want to be put in that position. That's one of the reasons I haven't 'educated' you about Yamato. In your case, I'm thinking ignorance is bliss. Are you getting what I'm saying?"

Stunned, Nero thought he did but he couldn't (or didn't want to) believe he would ever come after him. Man, Dante is an enigma wrapped in boxes sealed in bigger boxes with steel chains used as wrapping paper with no key in sight.

Suddenly he got an inkling of the implications of his warning. With trepidation, he inquired, "Dante, are you saying... Are you saying you had to 'take action' against Yamato, like with your brother, because he wasn't using it 'properly,' as in, for the right reasons?"

Looking out the window away from Nero, he quietly admitted, "Yeah. That's what I'm saying."

Electric currents made tiny hairs on Nero bristle in alarm. Maybe he should return the sword - right now.

But why had Dante entrusted him with Yamato in first place? Was he saying he thought he would use the sword for the right reasons, unlike his brother? In addition, he wasn't asking for Yamato back. Nero didn't think Dante was evil and had given him the sword until he was ready for a rematch. And what had he meant about there were indications he was attached to him somehow?

Rapidly putting pieces together, he began to catch a glimmer of one tragic picture. "I'm not your brother Dante," he assured him. Dante shrugged. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Eyes narrowing, unsure whether to be offended, pleased, scared, or what, he insistently asked, "Wait a minute. Are you thinking I remind you of your brother?"

As he was turning to him, Nero saw the vulnerably in Dante's eyes before he quickly shuttered them. "Well, let's just say, you share some of the same features, characteristics and interests. So, being a moron, I decided to give you the same chance I gave him. Added to the Yamato chose you factor, I figured it felt a connection."

Nero's head spun before steadying. He had to know, "And what about you?"

"Me?"

"I mean," Nero persisted, "do you and I also share certain traits?" When Dante mumbled under his breath, he wasn't about to let him off the hot seat, "Sorry. Didn't catch that."

Crossing his arms, relenting, Dante crossly muttered, "Yeah. And it's so weird, it's surreal."

Hearing himself, he hastened to say, "Don't get the wrong idea. Ya may remind me of us, but you got your own personality Nero. That's a given. You're no carbon copy. It's just... What makes all this rough is when I see you, I imagine how different things could have been. This's why I don't want you fucked up by me and my history. Not to mention my rep. That's the last thing you need. You're great and going in the right direction down the right road. I want you riding that highway without any bumps making you veer off course or taking wrong turns."

Secretly getting a charge of pure joy, Nero burst out, "But Dante, I'd kill to be related to you. You're the one who's great."

Disturbed by the phrase "kill to be related to you" (Nero'd nailed the target alright), Dante's eyes glittered cold jewels as he bitterly laughed, "Kid, you don't know what you're taking about. Thanks for the compliment anyway."

"No," Nero said urgently, "You're being too hard on yourself. Yeah, I know you got way more experience than me and were probably already into some heavy duty shit when you were my age, but you didn't let up on doing what you thought was right. Even, based on the hints I got, when you were all alone. And, you don't take crap from anyone. You care about people and give them the benefit of the doubt, even if they let you down. Why in the world wouldn't I want to be related to someone like that?"

Suppressing the vision of Nero lighting cheery flames under the dead wood in his dormant, empty fireplace on a snowy night, Dante braced himself for the rejection he was sure to come.

Lowly, he confessed, "Nero... I let you down. I should have let them take me instead of you and Kyrie. I should've known they'd use her as a hammer, but I didn't think. The second I heard they had her, I should've gone in. Instead, because of you, I didn't listen to my common sense and let you take the first shot. And look what happened."

"No, Dante. You're wrong. If you hadn't been working behind the scenes, you better believe they'd have come after me - with or without Kyrie or knowing I had your dad's power. They hated me 'cause I blew them off too often." (Dante could relate there.)

Nero continued to reason with him. "If they'd taken me out... You saw what happened with Kyrie's brother. Don't ya think he would've caught on sooner or later? Then she'd really be alone and unprotected. Yeah, I don't doubt you could've destroyed the Hell statue on your own, but wouldn't they have just tried again? Only worse?"

Unwilling to give Nero's theory just due yet inwardly comforted by his insistence he'd come through for them, Dante was forced to admit he had a plausible point.

Willing Dante to believe him, and in himself, Nero earnestly explained, "I let you down, but instead of turning away, which would've been the easiest thing to do, you sent the sword back to me. You gave me a second chance and showed me I was stronger than I ever thought. Dante, by your actions, you saved me. In saving me, you also saved Kyrie and don't think for a second you didn't. So, if you want to come over and hang, that'd be terrific. I dig you not wanting to tell me about your past or whatever. Besides, if you're not around, who's gonna teach me about this half-devil stuff?"

Dante studied him before saying, "Listen Nero, you're smart enough to figure these things out on your own. You don't get it." Gesturing to their general surroundings, he candidly revealed, "This isn't my life. I've never had a real home. It's hard to take in and kinda freaks me out."

Nero grinned slyly, "So basically you're saying you're a dog too old to learn new tricks?"

Inwardly amused by Nero's temerity and flattered he was determined to keep him around, Dante raised a brow, "I may be a junkyard dog, but I'm not that old and you better watch yourself because this dog has tricks you can't imagine."

"Then you shouldn't have that much trouble learning some new ones, right? Let me tell you, Kyrie knows how to create a home and it's nice, real nice. After killing disgusting demons all day, coming home makes for a great way to end the day. You could at least try a few visits to start off with, couldn't ya? It's not like we're asking you to move in or anything. Maybe you might just like this family stuff you're so scared of."

Dante retorted, "Hey! I didn't say I was scared. I said I was scared for you, nitwit. You blew a fuse from me putting my feet up on the coffee table. I live down and dirty and that's the truth."

It was Nero's turn to raise a brow, "So, what? You saying you can't be civilized or something? Like we have to house-train you?"

Unable to help himself, doubling over, Dante started laughing, "Good one kid. I don't think I'm that bad. Get a grip."

Eying him, elated, Nero figured he had Dante more than halfway where he wanted him. A clap of thunder rattling the house had him abruptly sobering. "Damn."

Dante straightened. "What's up? It's only thunder."

As if waiting for something, Nero glanced over his shoulder as he answered, "We might have problem." Curious, Dante saw the sheepish grimace before he went on, "Ya see. I know this may sound strange, but Kyrie has this thing about storms."

"Yeah? What kind of thing?" Dante was interested to know.

Kyrie came rushing in while Nero was replying, "She likes them. A lot."

Confused, Dante didn't see what the big deal was. He got into storms too. They were fun and Kyrie evidently thought the same as she cried, "Look Nero! A storm's coming. Maybe a big one. You know what that means."

Groaning, Nero answered, "We eat outside?" Unable to stop the grin, Dante watched her practically bounce on her toes.

"You bet. Dante! It'll be wonderful. We have a big covered deck and you guys can enjoy the storm while you eat. Do you suppose you would like that?" Glancing at Nero, Dante spread a slow smile.

"You know what, Kyrie? I think that's a fabulous idea." Nero groaned again.

"Not you too?" he asked, pained.

"Oh heck yeah. There's nothing like a good storm to get your blood up," Dante threw in his support - to Kyrie's delight.

"Alright then," she stated, "You both go get settled with a good view. I'll get the food."

Swallowing the chuckle, Dante approved, "Sounds like a plan. Can't wait."

Nero snarled, "You had to go and egg her on, didn't you? Now I have to sit outside while my pizza gets cold, fast," to which Dante coolly responded, "I guess you'll have to eat - fast."

Little did he know when it came to eating, Nero took the words "eating fast" seriously.

...

As thundering rain slashed the roof and a refreshing, moist breeze added to the night alight with flashes of lightning, Dante found the atmosphere a surprising pleasure. Thoroughly sheltering them from the turbulent elements, Kyrie and Nero had a very comfortable back deck with padded chairs, tables, a fire pit, and lots of plants with flowers. He noted Kyrie (the considerate darling) had placed a bench in front a reclining chair.

When she brought them a large, loaded, steaming pizza on a platter, he discovered Kyrie made some delicious pizza - without an olive in sight.

Adding more checks in her favor, Nero told him after he complimented the chef, "Yeah, she's good. This is how she sneaks my vegetables in. She does something to where you can't taste them but they make for more crunch. As a major plus, she really knows how to make the crust and load on the cheese."

As the weight he carried morphed into a knife striking a quick stab through his heart, Dante hoped Nero knew how lucky he was to have someone looking after him with such thoughtful caring.

While he was recovering from being emotionally sideswiped, Nero immediately attacked the pie. Comparing the kid to a wolf starved throughout the winter, Dante was hard pressed to fight off Nero for his fair share. Growling a complaint, he threatened to belt him.

Watching them, Kyrie laughed reassuringly, "Don't worry Dante. I made two more. You should know, I've been cooking for men most of my life."

Stilling, Dante couldn't get over Kyrie. As she placed another large pizza on the table between them, she reminded him of a little mother. Another sudden arrow pierced him as he remembered his own long lost mother. Stepping into the breach between her sons as they bickered, she had coddled them in much the same way Kyrie did. Alongside the painful grief and memories came the soothing re-experiencing of a similar scenario.

Impulsively kissing the back of her hand, Dante grinned, "Thanks Kyrie."

As she smiled, "You're welcome," Nero took advantage of his distraction to dive into the fresh food.

"Hog!" Dante snarled.

Slurping a sliver of melted cheese into his mouth, Nero smirked, "Finders keepers. Losers weepers. Loser"

Figuring the kid had no clue who he was up against, he indulged himself with an internal wicked laugh, Oh yeah. Nero was in for it alright. He may be a tough act to follow, but Dante didn't lose when it came to pizza. Period.

Right on cue, unnatural lightning sizzled - blasting the grounds.

"Dammit," Nero growled, drawing Blue Rose, "I knew it. They just love to show during storms, don't they?" Pleased to see he carried his piece on him as he did, Dante looked over a surly Nero and a Kyrie on pins and needles.

"Oh boy, go get them Nero," Kyrie encouraged enthusiastically.

Grumbling, Nero explained as he prepared to rise, "This is the main reason I hate thunderstorms. Not only does my food get cold, I get wet and have to fight off a bunch of demons. Kyrie gets a kick watching me kick ass."

Finding humor in that piece of news, Dante waved him down, "No prob. kid. This happens to be one of my favorite parts during thunderstorms. You sit back and relax. I'll handle this group." Dante had to choke on another laugh (though he couldn't suppress the grin), when Kyrie grew more excited as he openly checked Ebony and Ivory.

"Alright Dante!" she cheered him on. Wow. She was on the edge of her chair at the chance of seeing him in action.

Always happy to have a fan, Dante was more than willing to accommodate the audience. He'd give her a good show - if the demons were worth a hill of beans.

...

Nero and Kyrie were startled when one minute Dante was there, then, as the night went black between flashing bolts, he was gone.

Blinking in astonishment, they gazed around until they found him lazily sprawled out on top of their wooden, horizontal, logged fence. Leaning against a post as one of his legs swung back and forth, Dante had the other bent at the knee with his boot planted on the log he sat on. Appearing he hadn't a care in the world, Dante munched on pizza from a round, heavy, silver platter balanced on his hand.

Once he got over his shock, Nero slid his eyes to the side to see an empty table. "What the H? He stole my pizza!" he yelled, outraged.

Kyrie covered her mouth as she discreetly cleared her throat of rising laughter while nudging him, "Look Nero." Nero did, and saw a demon appear before Dante.

"Dante?" it shouted, "There is no need for you to be here. We came for the other son of Sparda."

Get your facts straight before you eat death, jackass. And does every freakin demon know Dante? Jeering, feeling sorry for Dante, Nero was sick and tired of being hounded by demons out for Sparda blood.

Finishing off a slice, Dante informed the creature, "Son of Sparda? Bub, I only know of one son of Sparda and you're looking at him. Stupid as you're ugly." He and Nero could sense the other demons hiding in the shadows watching and waiting to see what Dante planned. Dante figured stupid didn't come close to describing them. Come ON. Just what did they think he was planning? Idiot shitheads. (Nero was pretty much thinking along the same lines.)

Taken aback, the demon protested, "You lie. It is well known a descendant of Sparda resides here." Continuing to eat his dinner, Dante didn't bother paying the demon much attention.

Between mouthfuls, he noted, "I take it back, you aren't stupid as you are ugly. You're just plain stupid. Where'd you get that idea? From some pathetic, pitiful human?" The demon appeared as abashed as a demon could when he hit the mark.

Flustered, it spouted, "It makes no matter where we learned this."

"Uh huh. Sure it doesn't," Dante remarked, finishing off his food while the demon let this heads up sink in. Being demons weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, he figured he had plenty of time to chow down.

After a while, the demon asked him warily, "What is it you do here, Dante?"

"I'm eating my pizza, obviously. Ya missed that? You're dumber than I thought and I already thought you were as dense as they came."

Kyrie and Nero could almost see exclamation points coming from the demons as they jolted upright and froze. Whoa! They guessed the demons knew not to get between Dante and his pizza.

Their tangible alarm made Nero rethink his strategy in regards to Dante and pizza. Maybe they should get separate pies? Nah, that'd take away all the fun.

The demons went from alarm to flat out fear when Dante casually drawled, "Since you came for the only son of Sparda, give me a sec. I'll be right with you. There's nothing like a fight now and then to make life a little more interesting. Don't ya think?"

Sputtering, the demon made to flee. Unfortunately for it, Dante had cleaned his plate - now he was going to clean theirs.

Without a word, or changing his pose, Dante flung the platter like a boomerang acting as a rocketing pinball bouncing off demons scattered throughout the yard as if they were bumpers. A whirling dervish, the flying platter ricocheted off one demon to hit the next with unerring procession, blowing each one to dust. After Dante caught the rebounding platter the only one left alive was the original demon.

He wanted a delivery boy to spread the news about leaving this house alone - for good. The demon was willing to take the job and disappeared before Dante could change his mind about employing its services.

Striding forward with the platter tucked under his arm, Nero and Kyrie could see he wasn't wet. Disgruntled, Nero mentally wondered, How did Dante pull off shit like that? If he thought he was going to let him be after all the things he'd just seen him do, he had another thing coming.

Dante climbed the stairs of the deck to Kyrie's applause. "My goodness Dante. That was phenomenal! Do you think you could teach Nero to do that?"

Chuckling, he handed her the platter, "As to that, I don't know. Nero's a quick study. After seeing how it's done, knowing him, he'll probably pick it up all by himself... eventually." He sent Nero a smug smirk.

Nero bristled, "Yeah. Well, I will too. Wait and see. Jerk. By the way, did you have to take the pizza with ya? The least you could've done was leave me a few slices."

Still smirking, Dante taunted, "Finders keepers, kid. Isn't that what you said? Don't come crying to me 'cause you weren't quicker on the draw."

As Nero crossed his arms mumbling irritably under his breath, Dante turned to Kyrie. "Sorry about the plate, Kyrie. It's a bit worse for wear, but I think you can still use it if you scrub it down."

Holding the platter to her chest with stars in her eyes, she proclaimed, "Are you kidding? I'm going to frame it." As he laughed outright, she told Nero, "See what I mean? Dante should use whatever he likes however he wishes. Next time there's a storm, if he doesn't mind and decides to visit, I'll have to bring out more items for him to use." Nearly coming unglued, Dante could just imagine Kyrie bringing out all kinds of household items for him to play with.

"That's mighty considerate of you, Kyrie but, ah, I kinda told the demons to vacate the premises - permanently. I didn't want you or Nero possibly getting injured," he revealed. While Nero lit up in relief, Kyrie sulked.

He thought she looked cute as she playfully pouted, "Darn it Dante. Did you chase away my favorite thunderstorms?" Although a tad disappointed, she was touched and felt she should've known he would ensure their safety.

She was rewarded by Dante shyly delighting in teasing her back while nettling Nero, "I suppose you'll simply have to find another place to thoroughly enjoy your storms, Kyrie."

Hearing him, Nero instantly came alive, "No way. NO WAY. Kyrie, Dante, don't you EVEN think about searching for some God forsaken place for me to fight demons in a freakin storm."

"But think about how much fun it would be to try out different places in all different kinds of storms," Dante slyly suggested, barely holding in the glee as Kyrie caught the ball he tossed her.

"Yes! That's a great idea. Right, Nero?" Kyrie asked. Nero disagreed - vehemently.

Watching the show, Dante settled into his chair. Poor Nero. Dante would bet on Kyrie getting her way on this one. All she had to do was take off on her own and Nero was sure to follow. Unless he got to her first and tied her down.

Entertained, Dante was finding jabbing Nero a hilarious experience in itself. Having Kyrie help was an added bonus. It was nice to have a partner in this particular type of crime. Usually in Nero's shoes, Dante enjoyed the heady experience of being on the giving versus the receiving end - for once.

Nearly purring like a cat under stroking hands, Dante thought "weird" and "surreal" didn't begin to explain the sensation of how easy it was to be with Nero and Kyrie. It was as if they'd known each other for years, or something. When Nero and Kyrie concluded their "discussion" and Kyrie left to get their desserts, he roused from his thoughts. Too satiated to fight himself anymore, he relished Nero's reaction as he rounded on him similarly to Vergil when they were young.

Nero hissed, "Don't think I don't know what you're doing, dirtbag. You did that on purpose."

Widening his eyes in feigned innocence, Dante objected, "What? Me? What'd I do? I didn't do anything. Besides, you should be thanking me for getting those dumber than dirt demons off you, or rather, your house." Dante scored since Nero couldn't blame him there nor could he say exactly what Dante had done because it was too vague. But Nero knew Dante had done something devious. When he figured it out, he'd get him back.

...

When Kyrie returned, she placed a hot fudge sundae in front of Nero. Trying not to pale, Dante remembered hot fudge had been Vergil's favorite. Another spear stabbed Dante, yet again, Kyrie soothed the wound by placing a large, loaded, strawberry sundae in his hands. Beaming (good God, he was BEAMING for hell's sake - what the fuck?), Dante kissed her palm after savoring a creamy, cold, sweetly tart mouthful. An expert on a scale from fair to great, he would place this one over the top into the super range.

"Wow Kyrie. This is fantastic. You sure do know your sundaes," Dante complimented her. At her faint blush, he smiled.

"I'm happy you like it Dante. I made it special - just for you. I added lots of berries I grow in a sauce I make from them too."

"Whoa. You mean these are homegrown strawberries? You know, Nero couldn't possibly fully appreciate a woman as gifted as you. What say you toss him aside and marry me?" Dante joked. Not only did he get to see Kyrie's blush deepen, but Nero grab her possessively around the waist, haul her into his lap and scowl at him.

"Get your own woman, pervert. You're way too old to be coming on to Kyrie." Dante discovered he didn't have to retaliate because Nero did it for him when he stuck his foot in his mouth by observing, "Besides, I've seen the kind of women you hang with and Kyrie doesn't fit the bill." Mentally rolling his eyes, Dante could see where this was going and wished Nero had kept his mouth shut.

Sure enough, Kyrie asked, "Fit the bill? What do you mean?"

Getting the clue he'd painted himself into a corner, Nero actually flushed as he searched for a tactful answer, "Uh... Er... You see Kyrie, Dante is into women who are... gack." By the steady, unwavering question in Kyrie's eyes insisting on an explanation, Nero knew she wasn't going to leave be.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dante cross his ankles, interlace his fingers on top his abdomen and simply wait for him make an ass out of himself. Clearly, there was no help coming from his corner.

Moaning, Nero tried again, "Let's just say, Dante's type seems to be women who are... bold?" When Kyrie furrowed her brow in confusion, Nero tread delicately, "I mean, they're obviously demon hunters too and are... (yikes, he didn't know if he could say 'sexy' without Kyrie thinking she didn't make the match which she definitely did - without doubt). They're built like warriors (that sounded OK, didn't it?)."

"Built like warriors? I don't understand," Kyrie professed.

"Oh man, Kyrie, can't you just let it alone?" Nero pleaded, making Dante's eyes dance in mischievous vindication.

Stubbornly Kyrie stated, "No. I want to know."

Nero's temper snapped, "Fine. OK. From what I gather, they're built like you wouldn't believe, know how to strut their stuff and have 'You so do not want to mess with me' written all over them."

Now Dante was angry.

While he may get a kick out of sticking it to Nero, after everything Kyrie'd done, Dante didn't want her feelings hurt. And he could see they were.

So he moved to say as he visibly reveled in licking his spoon clean, "As to what type of woman I go for, I'll get back to you. If you're talking about the women I hang with, I'll give Trish and Lady your highest compliments. However, unlike most women I'm around, Kyrie knows the way to a man's heart." He paused for effect when he saw her gratitude before announcing, "Through his stomach. So my offer still stands. That's a definite."

Quick to accept the advantage he offered her, Kyrie smiled brightly and slowly, conspicuously, ran her eyes over him - starting at his toes, lingering here and there, until she reached his face. All the while she made sure Nero saw how much she enjoyed the view. Winking at her, Dante urged her on.

Fanning her face with a hand as if cooling herself off, Kyrie replied, "My Dante. You certainly are a tempting devil. An experienced man who can truly appreciate a woman's talents and work is positively a positive plus."

Making a supreme effort, Dante struggled not to howl as Nero yelped an aghast, "What!"

She turned to him, "And I don't think Dante looks old - at all. I would say he's in his prime." When he saw Nero's priceless expression, Dante had to fight even harder to keep from laughing aloud. (He didn't want to spoil Kyrie's fun.) Instead, he made a knowing, mysterious, cocky smirk to add insult to Nero's injury.

Flabbergasted, Nero opened and closed his mouth as he gaped. Letting him feel the burn a long moment, Kyrie laughed with her sparking, coppery hair flaring in the breeze as she cupped his face in her hands.

Softening her eyes, she gently assured, "Don't be silly, Silly. Of course I love you and can't imagine being with anyone else. Dante's... Well, Dante's truly wonderful, and you two are related, somehow. Because you are, I feel Dante's kinda a brother-in-law, sort of. Who better to tease you than family?"

Dante and Nero stared at Kyrie and then at each other. A strange, strong feeling welled up inside Dante until the hollowness inside filled and the heavy weight became buoyant. Yeah, it was still there, and always would be, though, for once in a long, long time, it was floating free.

But still... Some sort of brother-in-law? Who was Kyrie kidding? Not him. Dante didn't know about this family business. Lord knew, his real family put the fun in dysfunctional. However, he did know he liked the strange warmth invading his system and thought Nero was on the mark regarding Kyrie positively knowing how to go about making a home (or, to be on point, making him feel at home). And hadn't he been having fun with Nero as he had with Vergil before everything went to Hell (literally) in a handbasket?

Gazing at Nero and Kyrie together, Dante felt happier, more relaxed and at peace than he could remember.

Driven by a compulsion he couldn't ignore (and didn't really want to), Dante indicated Kyrie, "Nero, do you mind?" Nero saw the unguarded emotions in Dante's eyes and his genuine smile. Liking what he saw, he released her so Dante could gather her in a hug.

Kissing her cheek, he breathed for her ears only, "Thank you Kyrie, for everything. I'll try. But no promises. OK little mother? Or should I say little sister?" Drawing back, Kyrie placed the flat of her palm along his cheek and smiled tenderly with a nod. She understood. Dante appreciated her all the more for her generous, unconditional offer to include him in her family - if he chose.

Standing up she announced, "Now, who wants chocolate cake?" Dante guessed this was a special treat when Nero lit up like a spotlight.

"Chocolate cake? Like in triple chocolate overdose cake? With ice cream and hot fudge on top?"

Kyrie laughed, "Yes. I know you love it and thought, maybe, Dante might like to add some to his strawberry sundae. After all, there's nothing better than strawberries and chocolate with vanilla ice cream on the side, don't you agree, Dante?"

Deeply moved, Dante found he could completely handle more dessert and it sounded like Kyrie had just the ticket. "You bet cha. I'm game. Bring it on," he told her eagerly.

...

Once they were alone, he leaned back and casually asked Nero, "You got a really nice place here. You two doing OK? Ya know, like with the upkeep and all?"

Nero assured him, "Yeah, we're doing OK . Between Kyrie's singing and my job, we manage."

Dante persisted, "But how much longer do you have before you've cleaned the city up? I mean, it appears to me, the demon population is dwindling here."

Uncomfortable discussing the topic, Nero reluctantly agreed, "Yeah, I've noticed. I figure I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

"Look, Nero, you're damn good at what you do. I should know. If you want, I don't mind throwing some business your way. Hell, I've got so much on my plate I could use a little help with the overflow. What do you say?"

Nero slid suspicious eyes at Dante. "I'm not a charity case. You're not jerking with me are you? Or feeling sorry for me or anything? 'Cause if that's the case, don't bother."

Dealing with prickly pride on a constant basis, Dante firmly stated, "No. That's not the case. I'm serious. You'd be doing me a service. If you feel a need to throw me a referral fee, that's cool."

Seeing Dante meant what he said, Nero replied, "That'd be great. Thanks, Dante."

Then, because he couldn't help himself, Dante offered, "I'll make a another deal with you. What say in exchange for letting me visit now and then, I teach you more about using your powers and talents?"

Dante needed sunglasses (and earplugs) against the brilliance of Nero's blazing, enthusiastic, resounding, "YES!"

Settling back to enjoy the fresh aftermath of the storm, he wondered what he was letting himself in for, but he didn't care. At this moment, space and time, Dante's world felt right and, for now, that's all that mattered.


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