"What'd you do that for?!"

Rubedo was funny. He leapt back frantically, clutching his cheek as though he'd been shot. Considering their combat capabilities, this would be an excessive reaction even if he had sustained a bullet wound. The URTVs were built to withstand most threats.

"What?" Albedo asked, hurt only now settling in. There was no sensation more painful than the revulsion on Rubedo's face- Albedo would know firsthand.

He'd tried actual bullet wounds before.

"That! Ugh, you're so-" Rubedo's passion, the fiery light that shone on his face, died down when he met Albedo's eyes. "Aww, jeez Albedo. You don't have to get all sad. Just don't do that again."

Albedo was always more skilled at cloaking his feelings. He knew from their link that Rubedo's disgust was nothing compared to what coursed through Albedo now, choking him with rage, but his voice remained level and small.

"Why not?"

"Well it's- I dunno. We're not supposed to do that." Rubedo's voice was gentler now, mired in confusion. He didn't know how to explain.

It didn't matter. Albedo could lose himself in Rubedo's soft, comforting eyes, in the way he edged closer on the bench. Leadership came so naturally to Rubedo, concern and empathy rolling off him in waves.

"Didn't you like it?" Albedo asked, voice wavering. Rubedo's eyes flicked away, and he scrambled to answer.

"Well, it's- it's not about that! We can't always just do what we like."

"Why?" Albedo repeated. His voice shook as he confronted Rubedo, unable to control himself any longer. These days, he hated to cry. He hated to burden Rubedo any more, as their responsibilities mounted and the others began to resent him.

It just felt so good when Rubedo comforted him, when all of his attention centered solely on Albedo. In those moments they were one again, as they were meant to be. There were no distractions. No Nigredo, with dark eyes Rubedo couldn't see behind, or Mizrahi, with her simpering smile, pulling Rubedo towards her.

The mere thought of her brought the fire back to Albedo's heart, stoked on by a paralyzing fear that made it beat faster and wilder. Why? Why was she different? Why would Rubedo accept affection from her, but not from Albedo?

They were brothers, two halves of a whole. It was more natural. It should have been easier.

The words poured forth from Albedo then, mired in frustration.

"Is it because we aren't human? Because we're not built for it?" Albedo rubbed at his tears with the heel of his hand. That was the difference between him and Sakura, wasn't it? She was an ordinary human, and Albedo a monster. He couldn't compare to her gentle banality. Rubedo had seen Albedo with blood on his hands.

That was what his anger reminded Albedo of. It was just like when he had attacked Number 623. Rubedo was frustrated, unable to explain, but disgusted. Albedo didn't understand being human like Sakura did.

But then again, neither did Rubedo. He was just the same as Albedo, wasn't he?

"But it can't matter what we're made for. You don't like killing, and that's what we're supposed to do. Why would you want someone else? We were even- we were made together."

Rubedo blinked slowly, eyes wide. Albedo cursed internally. He had seen all of Albedo's thoughts through their link when Albedo admitted his possessiveness- all of his fruitless questions, his confusion at Sakura.

"It's… different when she does it." Rubedo explained hesitantly.

"How?" Albedo's voice broke even as he asked. All that came from Rubedo was sympathy, never understanding, never an explanation.

"You don't like talking about Sakura," Rubedo reminded him, but Albedo shook his head.

"Tell me how."

Rubedo seemed surprised. His cheeks turned red, and his eyes pulled from Albedo, and even if they weren't telepathically connected Albedo would know he was thinking of that girl. He got this sickening starry-eyed look, something that should have belonged only to Albedo but was stolen away by that uncaring thief.

"Well, for one, it was more… gentle." When his eyes came back to Albedo, the worry returned to them. "…I dunno if I should go on. You're kind of frantic right now."

His concern was more pointed now, real words replacing the feelings that had once flowed to Albedo. Are you jealous?

"I don't want to be like her." Albedo said curtly, tears long gone. He scrubbed at his face anyways.

It was rougher than necessary. His nails scraped away skin, healed before Rubedo could react.

Albedo exhaled. The pain helped. It grounded him.

He told the truth- he didn't want to be like her. Albedo was better. He was a URTV, so powerful he couldn't even die, and she was dying as they spoke. And when it came to Rubedo… after she was gone, he would have Rubedo all to himself.

He already did, in some respects. They shared one mind, one heart. He would always have Rubedo.

"Yeah. That's right." Rubedo said. "I need all of you… Sakura, Nigredo, and you, Albedo. I just want you to be Albedo… like you always have."

It should've been a victory, Rubedo admitting to needing Albedo. Instead, it was an insult- to be mentioned in the same breath as Sakura and Nigredo! Rubedo didn't need them. They only hurt him, greedily siphoning up his time and attention.

Albedo would show him. Albedo would be everything Rubedo possibly needed, his entire world in one.

"I can kiss you more gently," Albedo offered. He didn't want to change himself- and he wouldn't. Rubedo surely loved him. But if Rubedo liked affection kind and delicate, Albedo would oblige him.

Rubedo's hands braced themselves on Albedo's shoulders, holding him back. "No! I just said you shouldn't."

"Why not?" Frustration bubbled up in his chest. It hurt bitterly to be held back from Rubedo, to be denied even the smallest touch- separated, like they never should be. "I hold your hand. You hug me."

These were things Rubedo now shared with Sakura, too. Why did she get to have every affection that used to belong to Albedo? Why couldn't Albedo kiss him like she did? What made her so special?!

"I already told you! It's different." Rubedo's frustration passed in a sigh. His hands dropped from Albedo. "You never answered. Why'd you do that?"

Wasn't it obvious? Albedo didn't even know why he had to explain. Surely Rubedo could feel the love flowing through their bond, like a sun-warmed stream flowing through the summer. Albedo's affection was powerful, unmitigated and unconditional.

A part of him couldn't blame Sakura for her trespass. Rubedo was crafted to be loved. He was brave and cocky, with an energetic smile and a shoulder for anyone to cry on. He was empathetic and soft, loud and spirited. Every quality of Rubedo's mixed with a boundless charm, so effortlessly it couldn't possibly be intentional. He simply was- and he was perfect.

But Albedo loved him more than Sakura did, more and better than anyone else could. He was Rubedo and Rubedo was he, they were one and the same and two halves of a whole. He knew everything that dwelt within Rubedo's mind, could map every inch of his perfect face, had memorized the thoughts in his head. Who else could possibly love him like Albedo did? Who else could possibly deserve him?

"I would do anything for you," Albedo answered, because he would, he'd do more than she would, more than anyone else possibly could. He would love Rubedo until the end of time and then some, and do whatever he wished.

"You don't have to do anything."

Albedo's heart stuttered as Rubedo stood, and he must have felt it, must have felt it tapping against his very ribcage in panic, because Rubedo turned around with a smile.

"You don't, Albedo," he repeated. "You're enough."

It was just like before.

It should have been comforting, to have Rubedo's smile over him, to see Albedo's reflection swimming in his blue eyes and to hear Albedo's name on his lips. It was everything he wanted, but nothing at all, nothing. A void gnawed at Albedo.

Enough. Their relationship was enough. Albedo was enough. Rubedo wanted nothing more, didn't feel the craving Albedo did, didn't want more closeness or more togetherness or more, more.

Albedo's eyes flooded with tears in an instant. He bowed his head in a snarl, teeth catching on his lip, pulling, tearing.

Rubedo was lying. He had to be. But there was nothing in his heart but pity, a quiet sort of love, nothing Albedo wanted, nothing.

Albedo was nothing, a mistake cast aside in his brother's shadow. But Rubedo loved him, saw something no one else did, held him when he was frightened and comforted him when he was unsure. Rubedo had chosen him. So why?


He could say Albedo's name all he liked, but Albedo knew the truth. Rubedo wasn't thinking of him, his mind lingered on that stupid girl, someone who didn't realize what she even had, didn't deserve it, couldn't possibly. He'd kill her, he really would, he'd crush and tear, he'd take the life from her and take Rubedo back from her and savor every moment-

"Albedo, stop!"

Rubedo's hands clutched at his, warm, gentle. The sensation was enough for Albedo to look up, coming back to himself.

A drop of blood fell onto Rubedo's hand, red from white. Albedo hadn't realized how hard he had been clawing at his face.

"It'll heal," he said stupidly, eyes lost in Rubedo's blue. It already was healing. Rubedo shook his head with gusto.

"It doesn't matter! You can't do that! You always do stuff like this- it's weird!"

"I'll always regenerate," Albedo repeated. "I won't die, Rubedo."

Something thrummed through their link, something paralyzing- fear. Albedo would have thought his words comforting. He could hurt himself as much as he liked, and nothing would happen. Rubedo didn't have to worry.

Rubedo would die, and thousands of years would pass, and Albedo would still be there.

"Stop it," Rubedo protested. "Albedo, c'mon. Don't do this."

"That's all you can say," Albedo heard the words more than he spoke them, numb. "Not to do things."

Don't hurt the other URTVs. Don't kiss Rubedo. Don't hurt yourself. Don't be scared.

Albedo could tear at himself. He could cut himself open, pull and dismember. He would force himself to feel.

Rubedo's hands squeezed Albedo's, like the thump of their heart. "You're my brother, Albedo."

But that word was too small for what they were. Brothers didn't share one heart and one mind. They didn't feel such pain when separated. Albedo couldn't call them mere brothers.

Albedo could feel what Rubedo thought of that girl, warm and gentle, always dwelling in the back of his mind. It was insulting. How could he divide his affections like that? How could he take that from Albedo?

He nearly couldn't stand to hold Rubedo's hands like this, to be near him any longer. But Albedo still loved Rubedo despite it all, loved him more than he could stand. He had no choice but to forgive this trespass. Everything hurt.

"Rubedo," he protested weakly. He hardly knew what to say, how to make him understand, what could possibly begin to describe what was going through his mind.

They didn't need Sakura- or Nigredo, for that matter. It could be just the two of them again. Albedo and Rubedo, linked by their very heart, one and the same. Why had everything changed?

Didn't it hurt Rubedo when they were separated? Didn't it ache like it did for Albedo?

The red staining Rubedo's hands was washed away as Albedo's tears began to fall.

"Don't-" Rubedo caught his words. "I mean… you shouldn't cry. It's alright."

It wasn't. Nothing would ever be alright again because Albedo knew what he did, that Rubedo loved her more than him and Albedo would lose him even more quickly than he thought possible. He would live forever in empty nothingness, as Rubedo rotted beneath the ground and his heart, their heart, Albedo's heart, was given to another.

Albedo shook his head. He threw his arms around Rubedo's torso, pulling him close, arms tight. He wouldn't lose. He worked so hard protecting Rubedo from Nigredo and Citrine, snakes in the grass, and he would defend him from this seducer too.

Rubedo hissed. "A little tight, Albedo."

Albedo relaxed his grip. He could see little markings where his nails had dug into Rubedo's skin, pressing through Rubedo's thin institute clothes. He felt Rubedo's chest expand, taking the breath Albedo's arms had stolen from him. Something in Albedo squirmed at the thought of hurting Rubedo, but there was a second, stronger conviction building in his mind.

No one would ever take Rubedo from him.