Since Madame Nyx did fanart for me – I've used it as the cover of this fic, even though it has little to do with this fic aside from Eva's expression – I'm doing this oneshot for her as thanks.
Sparda leaned forward, paying no attention to the red eyes reflected in the mirror, and pushed back some of the white hair that had fallen forward, loosened by the rain. Since the closest the demon realm came to hair was either spines or tendrils, some devils never got that right. Not to mention that hair matted with dried blood had an entirely different texture, so capturing samples might not be entirely helpful.
It was that careful attention to detail that had made him so valuable as the commander of Mundus' forces In the human world, and that attention to things most devils overlooked that eventually led to his treason, he found himself musing, not for the first time.
He'd been here for two thousand years, which by the standards of his kind was no time at all. Mundus was still considered a frighteningly precocious young terror of an Emperor – if he was brilliant enough to conquer their world and almost take its twin as well at such a young age, it was still whispered, what would he be like once he had the kind of experience most devils, like Sparda himself, spent eons attaining before they even thought of pursuing power over others as well as personal strength?
Most humans assumed that being thrown out of their world would have set Mundus back – they underestimated how much their world mattered, really they did. It was of strategic importance as a food and energy source – perhaps he could liken it to one of the oil-producing countries? That might help, the next time he had to try to give an explanation to someone.
Eva most likely, he acknowledged.
If you couldn't trust someone's word, then you had to assume that they would stab you in the back at the first opportunity. Trust was the only reason devils could surrender and become devil arms instead of fighting to the death: the only reason devils didn't need to kill defeated opponents. Humans took their given word so lightly, likely because they didn't spend millions of years dealing with the same people. Setting a precedent like that wasn't so serious when the same situation wouldn't come up again, and again, and again…
Setting out to deceive someone was entirely different. Humans who dealt with Mundus' devils should know that they were dealing with the enemy, that the war still raged, and that by offering to betray their own kind…
Mundus hated traitors, after all. Hated Sparda and everything that reminded him of the dark knight, because Sparda's defection was the first time he had lost. His first defeat.
Most devils viewed defeat as a temporary loss: it could be survived, learned from, and eventually they would recover, eventually…
Mundus was far, far more like a human than he knew. Like a spoiled child, for all his genius. Perhaps it was dealing with Mundus that had let Sparda begin to grasp some of how humans didn't think of the long term. Couldn't think of it. China's empire had boasted of planning for the next millennium: millennium? Singular?
But for them, that was such a staggering long time. Generations would live in die, all of those in power would have been replaced over and over again.
He had to face it, Sparda thought. He was beginning to feel old.
By the standards of his own kind, of course, he was no age at all. A teenager setting out to make a name for himself: anyone but Mundus would have considered him too young for the authority he'd wielded, personal strength or no personal strength.
He was still young, he acknowledged. Impressionable.
(Humanity was still making an impression on him.)
Rash, to turn on Mundus in that manner, to make it a betrayal instead of just waiting until he could do it properly. Free Earth in a manner that wouldn't have made him too dangerous to live in his own world, because he could not be trusted and that meant no one else could relax at all as long as he lived, no one could have any confidence in any alliance he made.
But the humans hadn't had that time. And Mundus should have understood that better than the rest of their kind, the prince who had risen so far so fast, who demanded immediate victory, for things to happen now. Who had taken being walled off from the human world for a mere two thousand years as such a personal insult, when what should have bothered him was being defeated, not being balked.
By the standards of his own kind, Sparda knew, he was infinitely adaptable. He'd adapted to human rapid social and technological advancement just fine, even their new weapons. Especially them.
Just because he didn't change his appearance every five seconds didn't mean he was stuck in a rut. Except by human standards, he had to admit that it did. This physical form made it hard to guess his precise age, so he didn't have to worry about mimicking a human's brief lifespan, spend hours turning individual hairs from black to white to mimic their peppery gray.
Devils stayed with the same forms for eons. You wanted to be recognizable, wanted a reputation.
"You've looked like that for fifteen hundred years?" Eva had asked. "Don't you get bored, seeing the same face in the mirror all the time?"
If they were talking about faces, he'd been wearing this one for two thousand years. First to taunt the human who had been born with it, and now… There was something to be said for remembering the past.
Especially when, in Mundus' mind, that past was far too recent, the wound far too fresh, for passions to cool. He wouldn't put up with waiting for any dish long enough for it to grow cold, especially not vengeance.
At least the clothing was recent, he told himself, and then grimaced at how he was grasping at straws, calling this relatively recent when he'd started wearing it precisely because it seemed antique to humans. In fact, there was exactly no time or place that would ever have considered it modern, much less 'in the mode.'
Perhaps he'd stuck with it since then because of just how much the Victorians had irritated him, using everything as an excuse to look down on others, setting the bar not higher, otherwise they would certainly not have passed, but instead deliberately moving it, even ensuring that it was hidden away from anyone who wasn't them. They were the rudest and by far the pettiest human culture he had ever encountered, and to think they were now remembered as polite and refined!
He tapped the amulet that rested over his collarbone with an unpainted but still elegant nail – tasteless, to display so large a jewel, but it had certainly served to shut them up. It also attracted demons and other thieves, so wearing it while walking down dark streets at night was something of a public service. According to Eva, and was that why he found himself caring about her opinion? Because so often she voiced his own thoughts, or things that really ought to have occurred to him?
Really, she was right: by human standards he shouldn't be allowed to dress himself. He'd always gotten human advice when choosing new costumes, if only because the human was the one who had to sew it. Wearing a different thing every day, simply having that much clothing? Yet to humans here and now, that was normal, instead of something done in order to show off. Something just as tasteless and ostentatious as a huge hunk of what appeared to be ruby.
Yes, though: it was beginning to be the bad kind of odd, by human standards. Unsanitary instead of beyond reproach. It was one more indication that he didn't think the way humans did, that he wasn't… He certainly didn't count as ancient, but he didn't dare be old. Not when that meant mortal, meant dying. Unable to adapt, when soon he would need every bit of his (old) strength, take advantage of every human advancement Mundus had missed…
She'd offered to take him shopping, clearly for personal amusement but he recognized it for what it was: bread and salt, the acceptance of a gift to seal this friendship between them, but he didn't think that was enough.
Oh, he'd accept her offer, the alliance, but she had pointed out a real problem, he was forced to acknowledge, tilting his head to the side and examining that profile, the line of that nose.
He could still see the man who had worn that face in his mind's eye as though it was only yesterday… Which was certainly a very 'old man' thing to say, wasn't it?
"You are such an old man," she'd said, more amused than anything.
She hadn't meant those words to alarm him, but alarm he felt. "I am not an old man," he'd protested.
Recalling it now, his hand again touched the fall of hair she'd darted her hand forward to tug on, remembering how much of an effort it hadn't been to refrain from biting that hand off, from interpreting it as an attack. He thought it wasn't that familiarity bred contempt, but the alternative…
"Looks like an old man to me," she'd said, still expecting him to become huffy, to play along with the joke.
He should have accepted the peace offering, but he'd been too dismayed to react properly to the accusation of weakness, a deadly serious matter, until she'd realized that he really did have a problem with what she'd said.
The frown when she thought it was the man part he'd objected to, as in human? That he hated the idea of going native? Of being thought of as one of them? He'd nearly put himself and the huntress back at square one, back at the reality of the fact that he was a devil, and devils did think in terms of millennia. That spending two thousand years studying a population and its weaknesses, undermining its defenders before attempting a conquest was, by their standards, the sensible thing, what he should have recommended to Mundus.
What he would have recommended, if he hadn't been young, reckless, and inspired by Mundus' daring and success himself.
He was not that kind of devil, nor was he what she thought of when she thought 'old man' either, wealthy forces of oppression, that gathered power without thought of those beneath them, those they never saw or gave a moment's thought. Much less tried to understand them.
So no, a new outfit, or new outfits, just flashing lots of money around certainly wasn't what he needed. He was in a rut, compared to quick thinking, fast-living humans (like her), so he should get himself out of it.
As much as he didn't quite want to say goodbye to this face, it had been two thousand years. Sorcerers were the enemies now, and it was hunters instead, humans who relied on their own power and inventions instead of stealing the power of devils, no matter how cleverly. He could respect an enemy that could face him on his own terms.
How much more should he respect someone, to face them on their terms?
Yes, he decided, wrapping some of that white around his fingers. He needed a change. A dramatic change. And perhaps he wanted to shock her as her words had shocked him, remind her that she was dealing with someone who didn't fit into neat categories like 'devil, therefore enemy of mankind.'
And he wasn't old. Old was not a word that should apply to him in any way, shape or form. He didn't want to try to explain that, didn't want another repetition of the 'oh, so you hold us brief mayflys who have no time to start gaining wisdom in contempt, or worse, pity, do you?' conversation he'd had with far too many people (it never went well), but calling him an old man…
He paused, an expression that was his best imitation of a pout (trying to play along, trying to see it as a joke), replaced by a slow smile, and he let his eyes glint, the glow drawing attention the fact that no, they were certainly not any sort of brown.
If he wasn't young, rash, and daring, he wouldn't have kept his eyes this color all this time. As for his shadow…
Sparda shook his head, chuckling. "So, she thinks I'm an old man, does she?" the devil mused, tapping the mirror.
It wasn't the glass that rippled.
Sparda had expected more disbelief. Eva was leaning back, but the expression on her face was more 'seriously?' than shock or disbelief. Those were there, but, "If you were going to change something, why didn't you fix the eyes? And you've got the same nose, I guess…"
"Maria had a terrible nose. It made her look like she was perpetually on the verge of either crying or pouting, especially when she was absolutely furious and about to do her considerable best to kill you. Quite a powerful sorceress, but I can count on one hand the humans who took her seriously." Arms folded within the sleeves of a silk dressing gown, Sparda continued, "Mind you, I didn't realize the problem was the nose, exactly, until I tried on her face. She was Roman, but I'll keep this Roman nose, thank you."
"You copied someone else's appearance?"
"Yes. You call her 'the priestess.' I don't actually know what her real name was: who names their child 'bitterness?' Well, it's a common name now, but they're named after a character, not actively choosing that fate for their child, or declaring their intent to bring a bitter fate unto others."
"The priestess you sacrificed?" the huntress was still clearly on the fence: Eva was refusing to be visibly startled, to let him win points by shocking her, so she wanted a response to this besides 'what the hell?'
"It's not as though she stayed dead." Sparda hoped that avoided any talk about 'disposable women.' "She also has descendants still living, so it's not as though she needs me to carry on her legacy." The idea was laughable. "I can just imagine her response to that."
"Sharp knives." The devil grinned, but decided not to mention that the priestess hadn't been the most articulate person, except for things like, 'Die, you bastard!' Virgilius' response to his enemy copying his face had been much more entertaining.
Responses. They wouldn't have kept fighting in the face of the demon world's hordes and their power if they weren't bloody-minded.
"So," Sparda said, examining fingernails that were now longer (and sharper, which was quite pleasing), "Who exactly is an old man?"
"Alright, you've made your point." Eva nodded, acknowledging the score.
"Good. Now that that's settled, I'd like to take you up on that offer of help shopping. I'm going to need a new wardrobe. Nothing fits, as you can see." A wave indicated the feet of purple silk pooling on the ground around boots no amount of socks would render secure on these feet.
"You're going to stay this way? Seriously?"
"You're the one who pointed out that it was time for a change," Sparda reminded her, a wicked light glinting in those red eyes.
Eva went through a list of things that might dissuade the devil.
High heels? The better to stab you with, and the fact they were torture devices might just make them more appealing. Lipstick?
She'd probably want a color that would bring out those red eyes.
Eva had to acknowledge that there weren't really any good arguments she could use here.
Sparda shouldn't be a woman? Did that imply there was something wrong with being a woman? Besides the fact you got looked down on, but watching people look down on the dark knight (and it would be hard for them not to: the legendary priestess had been damn short) promised to be fun.
As for 'you just don't do that?' No, Sparda had made his point. Her point. For Eva to be the one to make an issue of this? She'd lose as soon as she opened her mouth: Sparda clearly knew that, and knew she knew. And losing to a devil, even (or especially) this devil?
No, the one who said 'this is too damn weird' and wanted him to go back to normal wasn't going to be her.
Because if it was because she couldn't handle the insane things demons did?
Or because she found herself missing the way Sparda had looked before?
Just a little.
And if the devil looked sexy even now, well, that was just what devils did, she told herself. Something about how that belt and those holsters barely clung to silk-clad hips. It wasn't like it meant anything. Nor did it probably mean anything that he'd made this big a change because of what she said.
The request was Sparda genderbending like this, which was a fun request.
I just can't see Sparda with Lady's nose. It's cute on her, though. Kind of bulldog, and stubborn is good.