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A Shade

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          Nero comes around with aching slowness, his vision blurry and head pounding. What the hell happened? One minute, he's fighting just fine on his own in the warehouse near the docks, and the next.... 

          Vergil.  

          Vergil called his name and Nero felt a brute force slam into his shoulder, hurling him away from the battle. A howl that can only be described as blood-curdling still echoes in his ears. Damn it. How long was he out? Did...? Did Vergil knock him out when he pushed him? He could've been helping. It was an accident, of course it was, but Vergil knows Nero can hold his own. 

          The frustration steadies him and clears his vision. Blood assaults his senses, putrid enough to choke him. Nero climbs to his feet and turns only to be grabbed and dragged against a muscled chest. 

          "Don't, kid. Don't look. Don't." 

          Nero's sharp retort fizzles and dies at the sound of Dante's voice. He's never heard such a failed attempt at steadiness from his uncle. Dread drops like a stone into Nero's gut. "Dante, what happened? Where's my-" 

          "Don't. Just stay here." 

          The younger hunter squirms, shoving at his uncle's chest, but Dante doesn't give in. Dante's grip is tight and unyielding no matter how much strength Nero uses. He doesn't even realize he's yelling until Dante starts hushing him like a child. It only fuels Nero's struggle. "Let go! Just tell me! Where is he? Tell me, Dante!" 

          "Listen to me, kid. Listen. Listen." 

          Nero heaves in panicky breaths, hands still weakly shoving at Dante. "Please, Dante. Please. Just tell me." 

          Dante hushes him again. "It's okay, Nero." His grip tightens when Nero renews his efforts to escape. Why do they have to be so fucking strong, he just wants- "Nero, Nero. He'll be okay, but you gotta listen to me, all right? You need to calm down before I tell you anything." 

          "I am fucking calm, Dante! Just-" 

          "No, you're not." Dante hisses, the steel in his tone halting Nero's words in his throat. "Breathe, kid. Breathe and relax." 

          The effort takes several minutes, but Dante is patient. His heartbeat still thrums under his skin, the odor of blood on the air too strong and too human and too much. Wherever it is, there's a lot of it, and Dante won't let him see. "Dante. Please." 

          Dante nods, not daring to loosen his grip despite Nero's lack of fight. His left hand holds Nero's head, the crushing pressure of his right around his back. "All right, you remember that sorceress we were tracking? She showed up while those demons were keeping you busy. Threw out some kinda spell, and it tore Vergil up pretty bad. If it would've hit you....  Just.... He'll be okay, but I need a few minutes to move him. He doesn't want you to see, all right? I'm gonna take you outside, but you have to promise me you'll close your eyes." 

          "Dante-" 

          "I know you're scared, but please, kid. Just promise me." 

          Nero nods, scarcely daring to breathe as Dante lets him go. As much as he'd tried to wrestle free, he almost wishes Dante wouldn't have. As his uncle steers him away, Nero holds back tears for every blind step he takes. The floor is sticky. It's blood. Nero knows it is, and it's everywhere. 

          "Dante...." 

          "I know, kiddo. Stay with me, all right? He'll be fine." Dante keeps saying that until he pulls Nero to a stop somewhere outside. Nero smells the sea air on the breeze, the scent of blood now downwind from him. Not that it matters. "You wait here. I'll go get your dad." 

          Get him. As in, he's not walking under his own power. 

          Nero tries not to think about it. He and Vergil don't always get along, but he's still Nero's father. He's still the man who offered to train Nero further, and he's still the same man who put protective wards on Nero's house when he thought his son wasn't looking. Whatever horrors Nero had seen in the past, Vergil told Dante to keep him away from this one—to protect him the only way he knows. 

          "All right, kid. You can open your eyes now. I need both my hands, so I can't lead you." 

          The young hunter opens his eyes, unable to help himself. He turns. Vergil rides piggyback on Dante's back, the majority of his body hidden by a dark-colored blanket. What little of him Nero can see is already too much. White hair is stained red. His neck is torn ragged, blood still slowly leaking onto Dante's shoulder. The skin of his face that's visible through the spattering is pale. Scarlet covers his arms and legs, his sleeves shredded and hanging in tatters at his elbows. His breaths contain an audible rattle. Blood drips to the cement beneath Dante's feet. 

          Dante hefts Vergil a little higher, his injured brother's head and arms flopping limply. "Come on, kid. Let's get to the shop. Walk ahead of me so I can keep an eye on you, okay?" 

          Antsy and upset, Nero can only walk in silence for so long. "Dante, that spell...." 

          "He took more damage than he could heal at once, kid. That's all. He just needs a little time." 

          Nero grits his teeth. "The sorceress?" 

          "Dead." 

         The modicum of relief from his uncle's statement fades immediately from the sound of the struggling breaths in Vergil's chest. Dante keeps Nero talking as much as possible, but his mind continually stays with his father. The younger hunter unlocks the doors to the shop when they arrive, ushering Dante inside as he glances down the street behind them. He was expecting a blood trail of some kind, but there isn't one. The blanket probably absorbed most of it. Or he just didn't have that much blood left to spare. 

          "Stay there, kid. I gotta go get the kit." 

          Like a kit would ever be enough to replace the blood Vergil lost. 

          "Dante-" 

          Strong arms wrap around Nero, pulling him close. "It's okay, Nero. I promise you he'll be fine. I just need to get him cleaned up a bit and then you can look, all right?" 

          'A bit' ends up taking thirty minutes, but Nero doesn't dare turn. Dante promised him Vergil would be fine. If there was nothing he could do, he would let Nero say goodbye, wouldn't he? Nero fights back tears. How could anyone survive that much blood loss, half-demon or not? 

          "Come here, Nero." 

          Nero swallows hard, turning around. Dante has his brother laid out on the couch under a blanket. Bandages peek out from the collar of a fresh shirt. Red splotches are already appearing on them, hardly combatting the damage caused by the sorceress. Dante gently prods at his sibling's neck, muttering softly to himself with a nod. Whatever he said was good news because he gently tips a bottle of water against Vergil's lips. 

          "Come on, Verge. I know you can hear me. Just a couple swallows." 

          A soft moan of pain leaves Vergil's mouth.  

          "I know it hurts, but you gotta work with me here." Dante tips his brother's head up to help him, sighing in relief when Vergil manages a pair of tiny sips. "Nero, can you go grab a pillow from upstairs? We'll need to keep his head and neck supported." 

          "Okay." Nero manages. 

          He pauses on the stairs, glancing back at the twins as though one or the other will disappear if he loses sight of them. Dante cards his fingers through Vergil's hair and wipes blood from his pale face. 

          His father is often still when within the confines of the shop, but never so helpless. The word almost doesn't compute for Nero in relation to his father. 

          "Okay, kid." Dante says, suddenly beside his nephew. Nero doesn't remember him moving. He gently leads Nero back down the stairs to Vergil's side. "You stay with your dad. Keep him company. I'll take a look-see upstairs while you do that, okay? Gimme a holler if anything happens, okay?" 

          "I can do that." 

          Nero crouches beside the couch, unsure what to do with himself sitting this close. He and Vergil haven't always gotten along, but the man is still his father. If he's honest, it's too endearing to watch him try to be a dad with no small amount of awkwardness to stay upset with him. 

          "Nero?" 

          The young hunter startles at the soft sound of his own name and he stares shamelessly at his father. He has one ice blue eye cracked open. It's focused solely on Nero. 

          "You shouldn't even be conscious right now." Nero says softly. "Don't think that just because you've got that blanket on that I don't know that." He takes his father's hand, hating how cold it feels but refusing to let go. "If you weren't half demon, you'd have died. Hell, you still might've died if Dante hadn't been nearby." 

          "Wouldn't... matter." 

          Nero grits his teeth. "Of course, it fucking matters. You're my dad." 

          "Nero." Vergil croaks, squeezing his son's hand.  

          The set of his expression is immovable, making clear even without words that Vergil would rather walk through hell all over again than let his son die. It should probably scare Nero that his father can manage such a look even while half-dead, but it doesn't. Nero shakes his head with a laugh, eyes flicking to the stairs where Dante trots back down with a couple pillows and an extra blanket. 

          "You're a stubborn bastard." Nero mutters, low enough for Vergil to hear but not Dante.  

          Vergil snorts, closing his eye and surrendering himself to Dante's mothering. He must be feeling a bit better if he's willing to laugh. Even half an hour ago, it would've been too much to ask.  

          "Don't worry too much, kid." Dante ruffles Nero's hair, earning himself a scowl as Nero straightens his hair out. "I'm gonna head out and get some soup for your old man. He'll need the energy, and he won't be taking anything too heavy for a few hours yet." 

          "Oh." 

          Dante huffs. "Like I said, don't worry. His stomach gets jumpy after a rough day." 

          Nero gets the feeling Vergil would be rolling his eyes if they were open, but he doesn't protest. Instead, he merely grumbles as Dante playfully presses a kiss to his forehead and scampers out the door before he can get stabbed for it. Nero could be imagining things, but Vergil's neck—the unbandaged portion—suddenly seems a little pinker. 

          "How the hell do you still have enough blood to blush?" 

          "Lucky." 

          Nero sobers, ignoring the memory of his father's blood under his boots as well as he can. It doesn't work. He still remembers the smell, thick and close and- "You scared the hell out of me, dad," he whispers. "Dante wouldn't even let me look at you. I thought-" 

          "Nero." 

          The young devil hunter stops. His father puts so much into that single utterance of his name: reassurance, admonishment, and relief. No one says it quite like Vergil does. 

          "I am here. Do not fear, my nestling." 

          The tips of Nero's ears go red with flame and he nervously brushes his nose. "Thanks." 

          "You're welcome. Now, get some rest." 

          "Shouldn't I be the one telling you that?" 

          Vergil's lips tip up in the barest hint of a smile. It's easier to read when he's relaxed, Nero realizes. Despite the pain he must be in, Vergil maintains his calm demeanor. "I am resting. You are worrying." 

          Nero clicks his tongue and settles on the floor, leaning against Vergil's side. He closes his eyes, surprise flickering through him when he feels the gentle weight of Vergil's hand on his head. He's glad now that Dante wouldn't let him see Vergil earlier, even if he probably looks like a mummy beneath the blankets, because however he looked before was sure to be nightmare fuel. 

          "I will protect you where I can, Nero. It is not a commentary on your abilities, but because I.... I care. I do not wish to lose you." 

          "Thank you. But I don't want to lose you either." 

          Vergil hums, carding his fingers weakly through his son's hair. "Sleep, Nero. I will watch over you." 

          Despite the ridiculousness that is his father in promising such a thing Nero takes comfort from it anyway. He falls asleep to the steady rise and fall of Vergil's breath.