Albedo never liked Nigredo.
It didn't surprise him one bit to learn their youngest brother was bad news. He was always strange like that- quiet, lurking. Though he was always kind to Albedo- meaningless, placid gestures- his eyes fixed on Rubedo like he was aiming down sights.
Albedo sighed. His jealousy had always been indiscriminate. Genuine threats were just as fury-inducing as the bland and inoffensive. Mizrahi's girl always sparked a special kind of anger in him. She was sickly and powerless, particularly compared to combat models like the URTVs, but that pathetic, simpering air only made her all the more frustrating. How could Albedo blame Rubedo for doting on her when her station so demanded it? He was trapped, forced to watch and suffer.
Nigredo, however, was the worst of both worlds. He was pitifully weak for a URTV- a weak waveform and lessened combat capabilities, not to mention that he was the baby of their group. He fed on Rubedo's protective instincts like every parasite that latched onto him. Rubedo was just too perfect, too irresistible for the weak and useless.
Unlike Sakura, however, Nigredo's worthlessness was mere farce. He was, in reality, the puppet assassin for their waste of a father, a failsafe to ensure Rubedo's death. What irony, that Rubedo clung to him after Miltia! Nigredo had been born to kill him. He could deny it all he wanted, but self-deception would only get him so far. Lies never lasted long.
Their father, Dmitri Yuriev, had also fashioned Nigredo as a vessel for his decaying, putrid soul. This was the true danger- Nigredo had proven himself too passive for something like murder, a meager comfort in these trying years. It was easier to sleep at night when Albedo remembered that, despite his proximity to his mark, Nigredo didn't have the guts to kill Rubedo.
There were times when Albedo bitterly told himself that Rubedo deserved to die, if he was foolish enough to choose Nigredo. If he wanted that apathetic moron for company, if he was too oblivious to see the glaring threat Yuriev's little assassin posed, maybe he had chosen his own fate.
He always regretted it, of course. Rubedo, for all his heroism and leadership, was a soft little fool. He could hardly be blamed for the same blindness, the same selflessness that made him so charming. It was in his nature not to see a traitor, for he trusted too much. He never viewed any of his sycophants with suspicion.
However harmless Nigredo was, however, Yuriev was different. The instant he had taken command of Nigredo's body, Rubedo was in danger. Where Nigredo was languid, their father was cold and ruthless. Rubedo lived only because Yuriev didn't care yet to kill him.
Albedo's teeth gnashed. He wouldn't allow that to happen. This was the very reason he had eschewed death, after all. Much as he longed for his oblivion, the peaceful rest after his feverish existence, Albedo couldn't deny his feelings for Rubedo.
Wilhelm had been quick to exploit them. Albedo needed only the lure of Rubedo's safety to forgo the one thing he had longed for all these years. There was no sacrifice too great for Rubedo.
Wilhelm would surely be upset if he knew where Albedo was now. He stressed non-interference, something about the dangers of tampering with the natural order… it was no matter. Albedo surely deserved this one indulgence. Nigredo was in no position to spoil their plans.
It was with that thought, naturally, that the man himself should stumble into the room where Albedo was reclining. His face was pallid, just like their father's always was, a fact little obscured by the hand he pressed against his face.
Despite clumsily lurching forwards, as though he might pitch over and fall- wouldn't that be funny- Nigredo paused when his eyes drifted up to Albedo, draped across one of the room's chairs. He blinked slowly in disbelief. Although Albedo was somewhat disconnected from the URTV's old bonds, he could feel Nigredo's apprehension and confusion as though they were his own.
Albedo laughed. He might as well prove to Nigredo that he was hardly hallucinating. "Why, you're looking well."
Nigredo, ever tepid, simply continued to stare. It was almost amusing, as Nigredo rarely was.
"…Albedo?" he asked at last, voice raspy and uncertain.
"My, what sharp deduction."
Nigredo continued to stare, but it seemed the myriad of senses that told him Albedo was really there, really alive, could little be denied. He finally exhaled, shoulders drooping from where they had tensed.
"I should have known you weren't dead." He sighed. "But Jr. seemed so certain…"
He seemed almost disappointed.
"Oh, don't be mistaken. I died." Albedo waved a dismissive hand. "But you of all people should know that it's hardly permanent."
Death had been the most blissful experience of his life, comparable only to those early days when he and Rubedo were truly joined. Being near Rubedo was imitation enough, but after Miltia, the distance between them only seemed more and more permanent. A world without Rubedo was no world at all. Albedo couldn't exist in such a state.
Nigredo's confusion, however, went well beyond the matter of Albedo's continued existence. "Why are you here?"
The rest went unsaid, yet potent- why are you here, talking to me, and not with Rubedo?
"Would you believe me if I said I missed our little talks?" Albedo leaned his head into his fist. Nigredo shook his head.
"Sharper and sharper…" Albedo muttered. Nigredo didn't seem to mind. He rubbed at his eyes, shuffling over slightly, studying every part of the room they were in.
"Where are we?"
That had Albedo laughing again. "He doesn't even tell you?"
"I'm a nuisance to him…" Nigredo said. "He'd rather that I know as little as possible, so I can't interfere with his plans. I only have control when he has to rest."
What nonsense. Nigredo could hardly decry the position he knew he was to fill- the very thing he had been born to do.
Albedo closed his eyes, brows furrowing. "Save your breath. You won't have any pity from me."
Nigredo let out a short breath. "I know."
Still, there was no harm in indulging his stupid question.
Albedo waved his hand, theatrical. "Our dear father has recently completed the Strategic Integrated Warship Merkabah. He spends most of his time here… wafting amongst his various worshipful minions."
Their father always did have an incurable ego, a megalomaniacal edge. What kind of man would use his own DNA to produce hundreds of child soldiers?
Nigredo grunted. "He works faster than I thought."
Albedo bit his tongue to keep from berating his brother. What else could be expected? Yuriev wasn't as smart as he thought he was, but he was pernicious and motivated. Their time at the Institute had only showed them firsthand what he was willing to do to meet his goals.
"No greater danger than underestimating your opponent," Albedo murmured.
Nigredo's eyes came back up to him. Albedo didn't know how Rubedo never realized he was something different. His eyes had the same pierce their fathers' did.
"Speaking of which…" He said, more to himself than anything. "Am I to understand that you're really alive?"
"Would that be easy enough for you to comprehend?" The side of Albedo's mouth quirked upwards, and he mimed studying his hand, as though proud of his body. "Of course, I'm more than alive… life and death are such petty concepts to an immortal."
"But you did die…"
Albedo snorted. "I'm not about to reveal my secrets to you."
Wilhelm would be furious. Albedo didn't particularly care, but Wilhelm did know how to motivate him. Much as Albedo loathed being strung along like a puppy taught how to do tricks, he had done far more degrading work for Rubedo's sake, and he would gladly suffer much more were it necessary.
"I'm not merely alive- I'm stronger than I ever was." Albedo breathed.
It was easier to brag than to think about what that meant. Albedo had never cared for power, not really. The only thing he wanted was Rubedo, and if not that, death.
Nigredo's eyes drifted from him. He leaned his weight back against the wall.
"Why don't you tell him?" Nigredo asked. There was no use specifying which him, because there was only one him, and if not for him Nigredo and Albedo would have no cause to talk at all.
Albedo gritted his teeth. He didn't answer, tilting his head away in turn. Who was Nigredo to patronize him like this?
"He's miserable." Nigredo said. "He doesn't want anyone to know it, but he was crushed when you died. I'm not around often, but I can still tell."
Albedo's teeth ground against one another. "I know that."
No one could be surprised at how often he watched Rubedo. This was the very purpose for which he had been revived, after all. His love, his yearning, his obsession for Rubedo was a need that could not be quelled. Watching him was paltry relief, but it was still more than Albedo had for years.
Rubedo was as miserable as Nigredo had observed. He hid it quite well in his usual infectious energy, but Albedo knew him better than anyone. He saw the times when Rubedo would stay in his room, alone- terribly uncommon for Rubedo, who thrived among people- and lie there, helpless.
"He hasn't been this heartbroken since just after Miltia." Nigredo observed, softly. Albedo hated when his voice turned soft. It meant he was trying to convince Albedo, but thought he would be too stupid to notice. "I never know what to do. I can't really help him. I just know he would be happy to find out you were alive. It's what he wants more than anything."
"Oh please. It's not like you aren't keeping any secrets." Albedo snarled. The hypocrisy was enough to make him choke. At least Albedo wasn't actively endangering Rubedo. "All you ever want to do is please people."
Rubedo, their father… Nigredo never had any will of his own.
Nigredo's chuckle was humorless. "You could stand to do it more often."
Normally, Albedo would relish a lighthearted exchange. Ormus' soldiers always loathed him for his impish attitude, his complete failure to revere their holy mission and the worthless god they worshipped. Today, however, he felt the same fury that had gripped them so- the righteous wrath against the profane.
He advanced on Nigredo slowly, each step deliberate.
"Don't lecture me about Rubedo." He hissed, speaking the very divine name that held so much power over them. "You want me to believe you're concerned for him? Don't make me laugh. You are a narcissist, Nigredo, and a hypocrite. You were selfish to stay this close to him. You really intend to weep and whine now, about the very position you put yourself in? You're nothing but a useless coward."
His finger jabbed into Nigredo's chest, with more force than was strictly necessary. Nigredo winced. His eyes drifted away from Albedo's. He really was a coward.
"I tried to stay away." He said. "I thought I was stronger."
"That was your mistake."
He laughed again, the bastard. "I can't disagree."
Albedo dug his finger into Nigredo's chest, snarling. "Don't give me that self-depreciating bullshit. Hating yourself won't absolve you of your sins."
"It wasn't me." Nigredo said, looking back at Albedo. "I did try to say no, but it was Rubedo who wanted to stick together. He'd never admit it, but… I think he missed you. He was lonely without you."
It was baseless flattery, but Albedo couldn't pretend to be unaffected. He had missed Rubedo so bitterly for those fourteen years. He knew that the ache couldn't be entirely his own- they were two halves of a whole, after all- but to think of Rubedo, sad and empty, and the problem of denying him solace… Albedo turned away, gritting his teeth.
He loathed to empathize with Nigredo.
"How two-faced… first it was your own doing, now it was Rubedo's. Say what you like, but you certainly haven't changed. You're dad's little assassin, through and through."
"It seems none of us can change our destiny. I'm his pawn, and you're not dead."
Albedo ground his teeth. "For now."
Defeating Yuriev would take an immense amount of energy- an amount that might kill him. Wilhelm phrased it like a warning, but the smile on his face said otherwise. He was happy to give Albedo a better route to his desired end.
It was just as well. Better to die for Rubedo than to die for nothing. Albedo thought for a long time that he wouldn't care how he died, so long as he could, but now he knew better. He still longed for oblivion, but if he could do so in Rubedo's name, it was purer bliss than he could possibly know.
"Albedo…" Nigredo said, voice gaining in strength. "You never told me why you were here. You're here for a reason, aren't you?"
Albedo's hands rested on his hips as his head tilted towards Nigredo, not quite meeting his eyes. "Surely you've guessed."
"Not information gathering?"
"Far from it." Albedo turned back around. "I've already proven I know more than you. I was able to find you this quickly when you yourself didn't know where you are. I'm watching, Nigredo. I know everything."
"So… you're here to give me information."
"I'm here to tell you precisely what you've told me, so many precious times." Albedo spread his arms as he spoke, singsong, before his voice deepened into a growl. "Stay away from Rubedo."
Nigredo's lips quirked only slightly. His eyes were glued to the floor. "I believe I told you we could reconcile."
"I know better than to believe you, executioner."
"Oh, I'm not complaining." Nigredo closed his eyes, leaning his head back. Just the sort of tepid answer Albedo would expect from him. "I'm actually glad to be threatened. I'm powerless like this… but you're different. If I can't stop him… I'm glad to know someone will."
"How like you, to leave all the hard work to me. You're lucky I don't mind."
Nigredo's eyes latched onto Albedo. They were piercing, uncomfortable, disquieting. "Well, it's for Rubedo."
Wasn't it always? Albedo lived for him, and now he would die for him. How fitting. Still, it was insulting to be reminded of this by Nigredo. It was his fault that this problem had developed, anyway.
"Don't mock me." Albedo felt his eyebrows draw in. "You couldn't possibly understand the depth of my feelings."
Of course. That was all Nigredo could ever do- accept whatever he's told.
Nigredo actually stood up straight then, taking a few steps closer to Albedo. How bold.
"Kill me if you must." He said, jaw set, resolute. "There has to be a reason why you haven't done so already, but when the time comes…"
Albedo snorted, looking off to the side. "I wouldn't hesitate for your sake."
Nigredo's smile was wan. "I'm grateful. Rubedo used to worry constantly when you weren't around. You used to be so soft… Maybe that's why you're so ruthless now."
Albedo smiled in turn, though he imagined his was more malicious, with his head tilted back and his teeth bared. "One of us has to be."
Even if he wasn't expected back soon, Albedo would leave now. Things were getting too cozy for his liking. Nigredo was a fool and a coward, and Albedo didn't pity him one bit for all he had chosen. The idiot would have the fate he deserved.
Albedo turned. "Don't let our father know I'm alive… or do. I hardly care. Tell him he poses no threat to me, if you'd like."
"I won't tell Rubedo." Nigredo said.
It was a cruel sort of favor Nigredo was giving him, a barbed olive branch. Albedo was struck with the reminder that Rubedo was mourning now, perhaps at this very moment, that his tears were shed for Albedo's sake and his heart was wrenched in two.
Of course, that was hardly uncommon for them, these days.
"You want to know why I won't tell him?" Albedo asked. He felt something inside of him snap. "It's because I love him, Nigredo. I refuse to give him false hope. If I know I'm to die, I won't taunt him further. Rubedo deserves happiness, no matter how painful it might be."
Nigredo, as infuriating as ever, could only weakly agree.
"You're stronger than I am."