Here's a one-shot. For the new readers, if you don't know who Tess is, nip over and read my two other fics. If you're the tl;dr kind, she's a redhead witch with a certain power over fire and a hinky second sight. Old friend of Dante's. Puts up with his bullshit.
I wrote this story in a bit of a slump between writing one of my original works.
Three fucking days.
That's how long he's been gone.
If she were a different sort of person, she would be sitting on his couch and crying herself into a quiet delirium. Or she would be raising hell (rather literally, too) in a fruitless attempt to get him back. Instead she's standing by the window, looking out.
Holding the fort, as he'd say.
Tess isn't sure whether she's worried, bored or just plain angry. She just stands there, with her hands folded over her chest, staring outside through half open blinds and through slightly dirty windows, speckled with the faint echoes of the last rain. She thinks she's pretty calm but under that knowing is a tension that's keeping her from leaving his dingy office or even sitting down.
Outside the wind was making a racket fit for a gothic story that she thinks is—
Probably coming down from Canada, or something. I don't know.
Finally she turns around, walks across the office on the soft creak of a moisture-puffed floorboard. The couch lets a soft sigh as she sits down on it. She won't sigh, since she's stiff as a ragdoll. She shouldn't even be there, she should be home, sleeping off the headache lancing through the back of her skull, sleeping off the throbbing pain of her ankle –
That was a nasty little twist you managed there, Twig, she hears Dante saying. How does that work, you can bring down demons without so much as a bruise and a slightly steep staircase kicks your ass and twists your ankle?
"Shut up…" she mumbles before she can stop herself.
She's so used to saying that when he gets on her nerves and she's too irritated to think up an appropriate little witticism to fire back at him, that now she does it even when it's just her head talking on his behalf. She rubs her forehead and stares at the drum set across where she's sitting. He's had that thing for a dog's age but she's hardly ever seen him play. When she asked him about it he smirked, shrugged and said
(I don't do requests, Twig.)
that he didn't do requests. She assumed he just didn't want to admit that he was a lousy drummer and kept it around for show.
Now, if she hadn't seen it for herself, Tess would assume that he was just on some job that took longer than expected, or that he was just goofing off some place or other, maybe even snoozing in some sleazy dive for his own amusement. She would be fine with either case; if he wanted to spend a weekend and a day chasing demons or skirts around, that was his problem. If he wanted to rot away in some bar with some sticky-fingers tart going through his pockets and smelling of enough booze to light up a bonfire, that was even more so his problem.
Thank you for your faith in me, Tess, I love the smell of love in the evening, the Dante in her head chortled.
(Shut up, just shut up)
Instead she'd seen the gate shut close, the gate to the underworld that some moron sorcerer had opened
(why do they always do that? Are they all dropouts from Evil Magic School?)
and which they were there for. Closing these gates was bread and butter by now, either of them could've easily done it on their own, Dante even more so, but he said he fancied company.
You're saying you just want me around so you won't fall asleep while closing a demonic gate, Tess of three days ago said. Is that it?
Always with the questioning, can't you just say yes for once and roll with it? He'd laughed.
Tess of three days ago smirked. That wouldn't be fun.
Tess of right now wishes she'd kept her big mouth shut and told him to leave it alone, it was just a stupid gate. But of course that's not how things worked. Gates to the Underworld can't be left alone. And then the demon had tried to force its way through, probably too big for that stupid little gate and it looked like the gate had broke – how the fuck does a hell gate break, anyway? She doesn't know enough about hell gates to be certain what the hell was going on, but she knew enough to be certain that something was not right.
And then he up and decided to go in, told her to stay there and keep any demon from coming out and before she could call him a reckless dipshit he was gone and then the gate had closed, just like that, just like you close a drawer.
Closed, gone and left behind a very empty space and left her a representation of stunned silence.
First she got mad, that desperate kind of mad you get when you're faced with nothing but a void. She shouted, cursed very badly – Dante loved saying she could put sailors, truckers, prostitutes and even vulgar demons to shame when she got going – cursed him, the sorcerer that started this mess, the powers that got fucked up and then she just stopped.
She tried everything she knew to open the gate again and got nothing. Zero. Nada. Jack shit. Zilch. Squat. Nichts. Diddly.
Then she waited. An endless wait, so much so that she wasn't exactly certain she was awake. Hell maybe she even fell asleep sitting beside that charred and burnt out circle of power in case he found a way to slip back through – because that's kind of what he did, slipping away from the bad and coming back around
(I'm like a bad penny, Twig, I find my way back.)
like a fucking bad penny.
Then she left, again it felt like a dream, leaving that place and she nearly doesn't remember how she made her way back and straight to his office. Why there? It just felt like that's the place he'd get back to if he ever got back from anywhere. Where he'd drag his sorry ass back to if there was ever a place he would. Except now she isn't sure if he will. Maybe he'll end up-
(hush you, hush now Tess don't think – STOP THAT)
She hunches forward and her head droops between her hands, and she presses the balls of her palms against her eyes. That throbbing headache is hammering away again with loud beats at the back of her skull like her thoughts are trying to dig their way through and run away.
She'll never admit she's worried; she's seen him bounce back from worse things, things that could make people doubt what they know, make them crap their pants at the hidden face of reality they're too busy to see. But this time she just doesn't know and it's bothering her. Trish is away, Lady too and Roy has been off since the start of the week. She's really all alone now; sitting in his dingy office, waiting and the wait kills her.
The worst part is that she can't stop her thoughts from running over things she desperately wants to avoid thinking. Not bad things necessarily, but even good things hurt when you think about them at precisely the wrong time and place and setting. Like that evening when it rained like the world was going to drown and the power went while she was there, to give him his cut from another joint job. She decided to wait the rain out there. His office was dark and she joked that the demon heads stuck to the walls looked glad they didn't have to look at the mess any longer
(shut up Tess, just stop it)
But she can't. Not after what happened. Whose fault had it been? Maybe both of them were to blame. Maybe they'd never grown up, just two stupid, horny kids in a dark room with the storm having a field day outside. She hadn't thought of it much, tried to never think of it and they never really talked about it. It just happened. The joke turned to a touch, the touch progressed into a kiss, the kiss snowballed…
She stiffened and shot up from the couch, paced back to the window and leaned against it, arms bracing against the glass. She couldn't sit there thinking about that, not when he'd laid her bare there and taken her to a practically effortless climax, where they tried some things that almost made her lose her mind with the mind-numbing goodness of them, where she'd found that particular button of his that made him shudder right before he came and sometimes made him shout –
(stop it, stop it, STOP IT)
She breathes out and the glass responds by fogging up softly. Well, now he's gone – she's not sure whether it's plain gone or really gone – and she's regretting it. Her biggest mistake, perhaps, giving in to that. But now it's happened and she can't pretend she regrets it; right now is not the time for such things.
Now she just wants him to stroll in, let loose some cheesy, annoying little bit of wit and snark just so her mind can stop conjuring up bad thoughts about why he isn't back yet.
It helps to think of their better times together, but at the same time it also hurts. She thinks of that time when they were surrounded by enough large, screeching and disgusting demonic bugs to make even her start to lose her composure. He took one look at the mess and said exactly the right thing to set the pace for the battle
(At this rate, I might as well go full time bug exterminator and rename the shop…)
and put a smirk on her face at his irreverence and they cleaned that place out in no time. He always has a way with words, as cheesy as the things he says are, they're always perfectly timed. Tess often tells him to shut up, stop running that everlasting mouth of his, but it rarely has any effect. It's just one of those things that one gets used to (part of his Dante-ness, if you will).
And right now she misses that way he runs his mouth and drives her crazy because the silence of the empty office is getting to her head. She gets off the window, runs her hands over her face and walks back into the shop. She comes to his desk. It's a big hunk of a thing, made of dark, weathered pine. Usually there's more than a few beers and pizza boxes stacked on it on one side. The other is reserved for his mother's picture. Tess tilts it a bit and looks at Eva's face. It's not often that Dante speaks of his mother but whenever he does, it's with an awkward but honest love that really makes her smile and annoys him when he realizes he's sounded soft. Now as she looks at the lovely woman in the photo she starts to get scared.
Her ankle hurts again as she shifts her weight to it and Tess is forced to sit – absently she does so in his chair and instantly regrets it. Dante's chair is another big wooden thing, beautifully carved and having survived quite a lot but although Dante loves it, she finds it ridiculously uncomfortable. She doesn't intend to stay long in it, just enough to rest her ankle, but already she feels antsy; the chair is massive, and Dante fills it out perfectly but she seems even punier in it.
I should've been calling you Little Red all this time, Twig!
Oh how he loves poking fun at her small stature. Of course, he'll sometimes joke that she's a Viking woman in a small package, bless his humor, but that never makes her feel better. The scene reminds her again of his absence. How could this big, annoying lug be missing this long? She props her elbows against the desk and cups her face again, breathing out and restraining her tears. Crying would never be able to help and it'd just send her spiraling down a steep emotional pit that she really didn't need now.
She gets up from the chair, telling herself she probably ought to just head home and plan what to do next when she hears it. Footsteps, very faint but they get closer and sound clearer in the dead calm of the evening, but she doesn't recognize them. They're slow, a bit sluggish and almost dazed. She half limps to the door, wide-eyed as the footsteps stagger to it at their own pace. The door opens from the other side.
He doesn't speak immediately.
"…Hi, Twig," he says and he sounds uncharacteristically mild and most of all, tired.
Dante looks awful compared to his usual appearance as he stands in the threshold. His hair is even more tussled than usual, a bit dirty with what she hopes is just ash or soot; he's got a big smudge of something reddish on the left side of his face, his lips look dry and chaffed and he just looks…haggard. She's only ever seen him look this worn out after a battle once and hoped it would be the last.
Tess can't talk immediately. If she tries she's afraid she'll sob or that her voice will crack. Instead she just seizes a handful of his dusty coat and pulls him inside.
"What the hell happened?" she croaks, stumbling back towards the sofa as he gently shrugs her hand off and moseys in, with none of his usual confident strut.
"I'm not completely sure," he admits and takes his sword off his back, laying it on the desk as if it were heavy, then with a painful flex of the shoulders, pulls his guns out and lays them on the desk too. "The gate just collapsed after I went through. I got…stuck."
"It's been three days," she says in a half-stammer.
"Yeah I…thought it'd be as much," he mutters and she realizes he sounds surprised.
"Had to go to some pretty crazy lengths to get a gate opened back, I got lucky. Beat some other porker demon to it," he chuckles, taking off his coat, again with a painful flex. "I'd forgotten how fucked up Hell can be, even if you are part-demon. Damn place is still confusing as…as…well, hell."
He sits heavily on the couch and that's when she sees just how bad he looks. "Wait."
She vanishes into his kitchen, snatches a glass and a relatively clean dish-cloth that miraculously is around, and opens the tap. She fills the glass, wets the cloth and goes back out. She catches him rubbing his face with his hands and she just knows. She hands him the glass.
"Drink. You're parched. I can hear it," she says.
He does as told and he looks downright grateful for the water. He downs it in three big, greedy gulps and relief is practically etched on his face. The damn fool hates losing face. He'd sit there and half-die of thirst before he'd ask her for a glass or wait for her to leave before he took care of himself. He puts the glass down and looks up to catch her wiping his face with the wet cloth. She doesn't say anything, just takes her hands to his face and gently tilts it up, wiping the dust and the sweat off his brow and the smudge off his face. He smirks a bit, in a tired, stiff way.
"Can I start calling you nurse?" he says. "Because I really wouldn't object—"
"Dante, just shut up," she says and she knows her voice gives everything away as she cools his tired face and finds relief in that she can see and feel him there, where he belongs.
And for one of the few times since she's known him, Dante does indeed shut up.