Teasing his precious Rubedo would have to wait.
Albedo's fingers tightened around Rubedo's shoulders, holding him fast in place as his mind raced. How had Richard located him so quickly? Why was that little annoyance back?!
"I really hate it when I lose my toys," Richard giggled, voice crackling over the communications line. "Good thing I knew where to find you."
Rubedo snarled, thrashing in Albedo's arms. "Why don't you come and see if you can beat me without any dirty tricks!"
"Rubedo," Albedo hissed. "Your injuries-"
"I don't care. That bastard's gonna pay!"
Rubedo was awake and alive now, fully revitalized from Albedo's healing. This was a far cry from the stumbling, dizzy little failure Albedo had caught in his arms only minutes ago. Still, Rubedo was hardly capable of doing battle yet- it would be all too easy for Richard to take advantage of his weakness.
Albedo wouldn't give him that chance. He wouldn't allow Rubedo to come to harm at all. No one else could possibly deserve that pleasure.
The thoughts came to his mind instinctively, like a recitation memorized, yet now they brought a strange feeling to Albedo's churning heart. These were his plans, the ones he had nursed for so many bitter years, but he couldn't help but hesitate. Jealously hoarding Rubedo's pain meant little when Albedo had no punishment planned, and couldn't bear to choose what pain he would subject his other half to. Such trifles almost seemed futile now that Rubedo had admitted to his guilt. Albedo had heard how pained he was in his nightmares. He had heard Rubedo confess while conscious, awake, before tipping into Albedo's waiting arms.
What purpose was there now in revenge? Albedo could hardly make Rubedo repent when he had already. What was there for him- for them- now? Rubedo was within his grasp at last, but Albedo hardly knew what to do. He was almost grateful that Richard had interrupted them.
The boy's shrill laugh sounded again. "Oh, we'll fight, I assure you. I'll have you screaming again in no time."
"Why go to such lengths for a lowly hostage…?" Albedo mused. "It couldn't be that Ormus' youngest agent has failed to capture the Realian, could it? My, my. How embarrassing."
"Actually, I have her right here."
Albedo recoiled at the ease with which Richard said it. When he concentrated, he could sense the Realian on Richard's ship, just as he claimed. The boy wasn't lying.
This certainly was troublesome. Albedo needed the Y-Data. If Richard and Ormus secured it themselves, they were under no burden to share it with him. Albedo's brows furrowed.
"MOMO!" Rubedo cried. "You bastard! You're gonna regret this!"
"Oh, we'll see who comes out on top. I won't let you get away with humiliating me. I'll make you pay, Albedo- and I'll take that little wretch from you, too!"
Albedo closed his eyes. What a mess. In his desperation to stop Richard from toying with Rubedo- a blind, unfocused need- he'd revealed his own weakness.
Of course, it could hardly have been avoided. Albedo hadn't even known he felt this way- was even surprised at himself for thinking about Rubedo like that. He'd loved Rubedo when they were children, with the senseless devotion of a child, but surely he would be different now. He was stronger, smarter, far beyond the spell of Rubedo's shallow charms.
Rubedo had lied to him and abandoned him. For that he deserved to rot, but Albedo couldn't possibly leave him to Richard. He knew immediately that he would defend Rubedo again, yet he couldn't think why. Surely he must want to protect Rubedo for his own gain, to have his revenge. Otherwise Albedo was only betraying himself.
Albedo thrust Rubedo forwards at the shout. He spun around to catch the encroaching weapon with his hands- a staff, swung by Richard's retainer.
Albedo grit his teeth. This one had already snuck onto the ship? He'd become far too distracted by Rubedo.
"You-!" he heard Rubedo sputter. He felt confusion emanating from his other half, followed by a dull sort of realization. Albedo hadn't thrown him to injure him, but to protect him.
"A surprise attack?" Albedo asked. "How cliché…"
The man only responded with a grunt.
Albedo let go of the staff they were grappling over, stepping backwards to cover Rubedo. "Not in the mood to talk?"
Hermann was unamused. "I don't waste my breath on unworthy opponents."
"Ooh, how scary!" Albedo laughed. "Or are you just embarrassed to show up like this, beholden to the wits of a child?
He dodged Hermann's next attack- slow and plodding, just like he was- meeting it with a swipe of his claws at Hermann's side. The lug avoided it, however, faster than he looked, stepping backwards and casting some defensive ether.
Albedo grinned. His claws crackled with electricity, and with his palm outstretched he sent a bolt towards their attacker. It only slowed him down for a second, however, before Albedo was forced to sidestep another swing of Hermann's staff.
Here, however, he was met with Hermann's hand, pushing Albedo backwards and into the wall. The next blow from Hermann missed him only slightly, slamming into the wall, and after Albedo punched at him, Hermann didn't flinch. Instead, he grabbed Albedo's arm and twisted roughly, breaking it in two.
It was glorious. Albedo exhaled, laughing to himself.
"Ah… finally! So sweet… how my heart races. Perhaps this won't be boring after all." Albedo smacked his lips together, savoring the feeling. There was no sensation like that of pain, pure exhilaration, as if any peril Albedo felt was real.
Hermann seemed just as surprised as Richard to see Albedo regenerate, his eyes widening as they desperately studied the renewing of bone, the stretch of Albedo's sinews and skin as they worked over the hole where his bone had protruded only moments before.
"So it's true. You are a monster."
"Not quite. More like… evolved." Giggles rose up in Albedo's chest, before coming up to a full-fledged laugh. "This is power beyond your puny mortal comprehension… beyond what humans can even imagine!"
He hadn't thought he would have to use this. He hardly wanted to, with Rubedo so close- but far enough that U-DO's power wouldn't harm him just yet. It was mere child's play to stoke the flames of U-DO burning inside of him, rising up with every laugh, every delicious bit of pain. Hermann even stepped back, cautious.
Albedo's hair whipped about his face. His eyes were wild, manic. "Why, if I didn't speak to unworthy opponents, I might never speak at all!"
The strength of U-DO's power forced Hermann backwards, pressed flush against the wall just as Albedo had been. Albedo kept his hand outstretched, holding him in place.
Of course, this couldn't be the extent of Richard's attack. The little annoyance himself was likely en route, if not on the ship already… Albedo closed his eyes. Yes, he could sense someone nearby.
He didn't have the time to think too deeply. His goals were twofold: to secure the Realian, and thus the Y-Data, and to protect Rubedo. Perhaps the second goal was flawed in its conception, but Albedo couldn't find the strength to care. Perhaps he had always simply wanted to protect his other half.
Albedo could distract Hermann well enough, but Richard was more clever. If a second opponent were to appear, it was likely that Rubedo would become involved, or that one of the two would see fit to harm or use him. Knowing Albedo's weakness, Rubedo would make a tantalizing hostage.
Albedo's eyes flung open again. His teeth gnashed. His outstretched palm curled inwards, nearly to a fist, and the pressure on Hermann compounded.
He couldn't stand the thought. He would never allow that to happen.
Rubedo was itching for a fight, anyways.
"Rubedo!" Albedo called. While Hermann was still stunned, he pulled Rubedo's pistols from where he had secured them on his belt.
Rubedo nodded. There was no need for words between them, especially not on the battlefield. This was what they were born and bred for. They were one.
Albedo flung the guns into the air, and they landed in Rubedo's hands. At the familiar weight, his eyes gleamed.
"Showtime," he said.
Rubedo was lightning quick to his feet, firing even as he pulled himself up. The bullets, however, weren't much to Hermann, who grunted, eyes coming open again.
Albedo followed them with a jolt of ether electricity to keep Hermann incapacitated, eyes sliding back over to Rubedo. He casted whatever defenses he could- Albedo couldn't be injured, but Rubedo certainly could. Albedo would loathe to see it.
Albedo didn't have time to spin before he felt his arm sawed off. It dropped to the floor uselessly, regenerating quickly from his barren shoulder.
Albedo couldn't help but laugh. "That tickles."
The click of reloading was quickly followed by Rubedo's guns aiming behind Albedo, straight for Richard.
"Haven't had enough yet?" Rubedo asked, smile wide. It seemed that Richard wasn't the only one here with designs on protecting his own pride.
That was fine. Rubedo merited pride.
"I think it's past the time for negotiations… now is the time for punishment." Richard swept his rapier up, brandished in front of his face. "Hermann!"
"Yes, Master Richard."
Hermann's words were slow, and his movement sluggish, but he pulled himself to Richard's side nevertheless. He had clearly recovered, just as Rubedo had.
"Two versus two?" Rubedo quipped, looking over at Albedo with a familiar smile. "And here I was hoping for a fair fight. You'll need at least twice as many to beat us!"
"Bold words, Rubedo." Albedo rose his hands in front of him, a block and a starting position for his attacks. Ether burned on his fingertips, ready to strike. "…you're certain only twice as many?"
Richard's grip on his sword was too tight, shaking. "SHUT UP!"
As he lunged at Albedo, however, Albedo was already rushing forwards himself. Albedo came swinging, a flurry of punches aimed at Richard's torso. He could hear the dual chorus of Rubedo's triggers clicking and the bang of his pistols firing. The deluge of attacks broke through Richard's defense, sending him stumbling until an ether-soaked punch from Albedo flung him backwards.
That left Albedo just enough time to dodge Hermann's incoming strike, stepping back with his cape curling around him. Rubedo's next shots went straight for Hermann's eyes, giving Albedo the opportunity to swing around and aim a kick into his back.
Hermann groaned and leant forwards, but didn't topple over. Before Albedo could levy another attack at him, however, Richard came springing at him, sword swinging furiously.
The cuts on his torso healed just as quickly as they were made, and Albedo thrust both his arms forwards to summon a circle of fire ether. It forced Richard back, sputtering, just enough time for Albedo to look over and see Hermann advancing on Rubedo.
It didn't seem like the brute would be too successful in that regard. Albedo hadn't seen his brother fight in years, but it was clear that the time spent apart had only served to age him like a fine wine. Rubedo used his small stature to his advantage, twisting and spinning from his opponent's reach before he could be grabbed. His dual pistols flashed in his hands, thrust out and crossed over one another, aiming with perfect accuracy in but an instant.
Rubedo fought almost like a dance, lithe and graceful. It would be like grabbing leaves in the wind to try and hit him, yet even in his admiration Albedo was worried. Rubedo was small, and still recovering, and Hermann's staff had an impressive range.
Albedo dashed over with a bolt of ether energy, a little distraction for his Rubedo. Hermann, however, grabbed his arm and twisted it, just like before.
Albedo laughed. What a fool! "You haven't forgotten my powers, have you?"
"No, I haven't."
Hermann didn't let go even as Albedo's arm warped, stitching itself back together again. Instead, he wrenched it behind Albedo, holding him fast.
Albedo grunted. So Hermann's aim was to pin him. He had to admit, it was clever- certainly better than the minuscule fool could dream up. Even if Albedo couldn't be damaged, he could still be imprisoned.
Richard had made for Rubedo with a series of quick sword swipes that even Rubedo could hardly dodge. Yet, even so, he was captivating like this, still smiling as his longcoat whipped through the air. His short hair trailed behind his movement, pushing forwards to kiss his cheeks.
Albedo didn't call out to him- he couldn't bear to distract Rubedo. Hermann, however, was like a wall. No kicks or ether could dislodge his grip on Albedo's arm.
Of course, Albedo wasn't an ordinary human. He didn't strictly need this arm. He brought his free hand over, attempting to wrench the arm Hermann was holding off of his body.
Hermann noticed quickly, however, dragging Albedo backwards and slamming him face-first into the wall. Albedo grunted, eyes sliding shut. His head spun, and his nose burned red-hot, repaired quickly by his regenerative capabilities.
So the thump had caught Rubedo's attention. Albedo hoped dearly that the little fool wouldn't be harmed for his sake. He gritted his teeth, praying it wouldn't be so.
Albedo wasn't expecting to hear the clinking of coins, followed by the more likely sound of gunshots fired. They were so quick they became instantaneous machine-gun fire, ricocheting everywhere all at once. The pressure on Albedo's back was suddenly gone, and he stepped back to see Richard and Hermann recoiling, and a mess of coins scattered on the floor.
So he hadn't imagined the sound.
Albedo raised an eyebrow. "Reflecting the bullets off the coins?"
Jr. blew smoke from his pistol. "Watch and learn."
"What an adorable little party trick."
"Hey, shut up! I'm the one who saved you back there!" Jr. pressed his hands, still clenched around his guns, to his hips. "And- look out!"
Albedo didn't strictly need to duck, but it did save him the hassle of regenerating his head- a slow waste in a battle like this. Bringing his hands together, he was able to summon a draining beam, weakening Richard enough for his next strike to momentarily daze him. He could hear Rubedo's gunshots singing behind him, still as energetic as ever.
"-and I'm still waiting on a thank you!"
"As am I, mon Rubedo."
"Oh, go to hell!"
Hermann's strikes were too slow to catch someone so nimble, leaping and crouching with every pull of a trigger- or so Albedo comfortably believed, so focused on matching Richard.
Looking back costed Albedo his leg, but anything was worth it for Rubedo. As Albedo crashed to the ground, his leg fast regenerating, he caught a glimpse of Rubedo collapsed in turn, laid flat on his back and clutching his side. The staff must have caught him there, knocking him off his feet.
Albedo was struck with an odd sort of feeling, the disembodiment he usually felt when his head and his body were separated. Wasn't this what he wanted? He had longed for Rubedo to feel pain as he did, to suffer as he had forced his brothers to. Yet, Albedo felt no satisfaction now. He felt strained, hollow.
Permitting Rubedo to lie there and suffer was hardly even an option in his mind.
Rubedo still had one pistol, the other having been sent clattering to the ground, but the bullets weren't enough to stop Hermann advancing, and Albedo's dazed dragon looked far too exhausted to move. Hermann raised his staff over his head, readying his next strike, and plans forgotten, Albedo felt a burst of power from within.
He launched himself into the air, sending a wave of flames out and forcing both of their attackers back. Rubedo looked over his shoulder with a weak smile.
"Looks like they almost had me there."
Albedo hoisted him to his feet. Rubedo's smile became stronger, but Albedo could sense that he was exhausted. He hadn't fully recovered yet.
"I'm fine!" he protested, but the words rang hollow. Rubedo spun around, so ethereal, so intangible, and Albedo could only ponder how his blue eyes had flashed for a moment before he heard Richard's voice again.
"I don't have time for these games. You've become so tiresome!" He pointed his rapier at Albedo. "I'm afraid this is the end for you. No more dallying around!"
If Richard was now aiming to kill, it wasn't alarming news for Albedo, but it was for his smaller companion. Rubedo couldn't possibly wish to die here, and Albedo didn't want it either.
He'd never wanted anything less.
Rubedo had become more cautious, stepping backwards with every shot he fired at Hermann. Albedo kept Richard at bay with a series of punches and kicks, but he found himself leaping backwards out of the reach of the boy's sword- and into Rubedo.
Rubedo's back pressed against his- or more accurately, Rubedo's head met the small of his back, but details, details. Good as it felt to be near Rubedo again, the conflicting forces of U-DO and red dragon crackled painfully at their backs.
Rubedo couldn't hide how tired he was now. His breathing was becoming labored again. They had to finish this somehow.
"Albedo," Rubedo panted. Albedo could feel both of their hearts thundering in their chests, pressed so close together. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"As always, mon petite bête, our minds are one."
It was a foolhardy idea, of course. But what part of this wasn't?
Albedo could hear Rubedo's grin. "Sweet."
Albedo concentrated, bringing up his U-DO laced powers from where they slept within him. It was taxing, and dangerous around Rubedo- but that danger was now precisely the point. He could feel Rubedo at his back, hissing in pain, allowing himself to shift into red dragon mode for but a moment.
It was only a fraction of their competing powers, but when the two forces met the burst of heat and light was immense, incomprehensible, intolerable. Albedo felt it for only a second before everything went suddenly dark.
When Albedo's eyes opened again, he was collapsed on the floor. He groaned. His body repaired itself quickly, but he still felt the vestiges of a terrible ache. That power was nearly enough to rip him apart.
The thought made his heart dance with excitement. Perhaps there was a way he might come to die, after all. Perhaps he and Rubedo could be joined in death one day.
That reminded Albedo. He pulled himself up, alarmed. Where was Rubedo? He couldn't be seen in any part of the war-torn room, and Albedo didn't sense him among the various bodies and rubble.
For a fear-stricken moment, he wondered if it had been too much- if Rubedo had died. Albedo quickly located him in the link, however, and pressed the palm of his hand against his still-beating heart. He exhaled. Rubedo was alive.
Where was he?
Albedo pressed further on their link. He was still close, but no longer on the Song of Nephilim- in space. He was on Richard's ship.
Albedo clicked his tongue, suddenly understanding. Rubedo was a resourceful little scavenger. He had commandeered Richard's ship and taken the Realian for himself- a thrilling double-cross.
Albedo sneered, amused. How like Rubedo- running again. This was the second time Albedo had been abandoned by him.
Yet… Albedo's hand drifted to his heart. He felt no fury like he had the first time.
Perhaps fleeing was simply a part of Rubedo's nature, but this seemed something more than cowardice. This encounter was more than mere chance… it was something deeper, something stranger for the both of them. They had been reunited under such odd circumstances, both longing to fight, and yet, they had found an ally in one another. Just as Albedo had shown mercy to Rubedo, he had chosen not to press his advantage while Albedo was unconscious.
Why, then, had Rubedo fled? He could have apprehended Albedo, or stayed, but chose neither. Rubedo chose not to confront him, and simply left instead. Yet, Albedo could sense him still. He was like a trail in the wind, close enough to touch, yet so elusive.
Perhaps he hadn't run. Perhaps he was beckoning Albedo forwards, leading him. Albedo did savor chases like these.
Albedo opened his eyes again, looking down at the twin hearts which beat in his chest. He felt so warm within. He couldn't fathom any of Rubedo's decisions, or hope to explain what Rubedo had done. There was much he was uncertain of.
There was one thing Albedo was certain of. He couldn't wait to see his other half, his heart, again.