The voice didn't echo or boom, exactly. It wasn't the grandiose return Jr. had been expecting, instead something more present, insistent. Even though the call jolted him awake, like someone had grabbed his shoulders and shook, Jr. could hardly call it something abrasive.

This wasn't like what Jr. had felt that day on the Durandal when the Song of Nephilim had appeared before them, like cold fingers circling around his neck. This was something warmer, something gentler, something familiar. What Jr. felt now was the company of an old friend, the welcome of something better.

Albedo! Jr. said. You're awake!

When the excitement wore off, however, Jr. remembered where- and when- he was.

Ugh. It's like 2 am. Really?

Don't complain. Albedo sniffed. I know you've been lonely without me.

If his body had been there, Jr. wouldn't have hesitated to slam a pillow into his face.

You're such a bastard now. He muttered instead.

My, my. And you so coarse.

I call it like I see it.

Albedo snorted. Jr. could feel his amusement, pumping through Jr.'s veins like his own emotions did. It was a strange sensation, like there was someone else layered on top of him, but not unwelcome. He liked this feeling, liked having Albedo so close.

He'd never felt anything like this before.

How are you feeling? Jr. asked. Are you alright? Do you need anything?

He could sense some of what Albedo was feeling, yes, but he had no idea if there was more to it. His own emotions mixed and wove with Albedo's until they were nearly inextricable. Jr. was suddenly struck with the worry that he might be crushing Albedo somehow.

See? You're worried about me.


Jr. could feel him smile, then, like Jr.'s own lips had curled.

Oh, Rubedo, Albedo said, slow and full of awe, can't you feel it? This sensation…

Jr. gave in and let himself smile. So Albedo did feel this same thing. Yeah… it's like I'm finally whole.

It was warm. If Jr. closed his eyes, he could imagine Albedo's arms encircling him, his chin on Jr.'s shoulder, more real than the actual sheets at his back. It felt like being pressed together, like holding one another, but also something more. Every breath they took was in sync, their hearts as one.

Maybe… this is always how it was meant to be. Jr. mused.

Before I formed in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. Albedo murmured. Any existence with you, Rubedo, is worthy. I thought I might rest in death, but only here have I found peace at last.

Jr. pressed his hand against his heart. I'm glad.

It had hurt so much when he thought Albedo was dead. A part of him always wondered if he was being selfish- death was what Albedo had wanted, after all- but if this made Albedo happy, then Jr. was happy too. Finally, he could be someone better for Albedo. He could actually help, instead of uselessly fighting.

MOMO had a message for you. She wanted me to say 'hi' when you woke up.

Albedo trilled, amused. Hello, ma peche.

Jr. pressed a hand against his face. No, it doesn't work like that. You're gonna say hello for real when she calls next time.

Oh, Rubedo. I'm a master of etiquette.

Memories flashed through Jr.'s head- of Albedo attacking people, and rummaging through MOMO's mind, and ignoring everyone who wasn't Jr.

Albedo scoffed at the implied accusation. It's only that they're so beneath my notice… poor, meaningless mortals. They're nothing like you, Rubedo.

You're gonna have to be nice to them, Albedo. They're my friends.

Well, I'm not the one doing the talking.

I'm not gonna cover for you. I'll only tell them exactly what you said. Jr. made a face so Albedo could tell he was serious.

He loved Albedo a whole lot, but he needed to learn to behave himself. Jr. wasn't going to excuse all of the terrible things he'd done. He would help, sure, but that was something Albedo would need to figure out for himself.

Only you could threaten honesty. Albedo chuckled.

I'm serious! You're always so weird around other people. I know you don't actually hate them. But the way you act, they all think you do.

Albedo had always been uncomfortable around people, even the other URTVs. He acted like a warped, maniacal shadow of who he was, drunk off a terrible cocktail of conflicting emotions, afraid and condescending and dismissive and nervous. Jr. didn't even know how he could explain it to people.

Albedo couldn't really talk on his own anymore, it was true, but Jr. still wanted people to like him- them, now- better. Albedo really wasn't the monster everyone thought he was. He just acted like it.

Whose opinion could ever trump yours, Rubedo? How could I possibly force myself to care about humans?

Jr. sighed. He pressed a hand to his forehead. If you won't force yourself, I will.

I look forwards to it.

Jr. wasn't kidding. He was going to get Albedo and the others to at least tolerate one another. Even if they couldn't see or hear him, exactly, he was still a part of Jr., and they all had to cooperate somehow.

Though, Rubedo…


The universe… feels different.

It was a meager statement for everything that had changed, for the deaths and rebirths and shifts in the very fabric of the cosmos, but Jr. could feel the slew of questions ducking and weaving through it- where are we? What happened?

Ah, that's right. You don't remember any of that, do you?

Jr. didn't even know where to begin. It was nearly impossible to explain. So much had happened, more than Jr. could possibly say. He was still sorting through everything himself, even though it'd been a good month since. It was the same with everyone on this ship. Whether they talked about it like Mary, asking Jr. every day how he felt with Albedo in his head, or said nothing like Shion, who Jr. always saw sitting on her own, they were all just trying to understand, in their own way.

Jr. wasn't really the talkative sort, not when he was trying to sort out his own problems. He didn't like making other people worry, and he never found the right words for everything in his head. This, however, was different. Albedo didn't want to navigate through Jr.'s feelings. He needed information.

We went to Michtam for the Zohar. It was just like you said. We had to fight off just about everyone… Ormus, the other testaments, even Wilhelm.

Jr. couldn't suppress the shiver that ran through his body. It was just like Miltia. Every time he thought about it, he was confronted with just how many people were now dead. He hadn't particularly cared for Margulis or Voyager or anything, but just knowing that they were gone, along with almost everyone else, felt strange.

This was easier than Miltia. It was easier to survive in a group. It was easier with his friends, to have other people to talk to and other people who remembered. Easier, however, didn't mean easy.

Even with his pathetic little explanation, Albedo's interest was piqued.

You defeated them all? How impressive-! It seems you haven't forgotten yourself after all, my little wildfire. Oh, if only I could have seen it…

Jr. rolled his eyes. Albedo was always weird about stuff like this. Jr. wished he never had to use his powers and training. Yeah, yeah. We had help for most of it. Kevin's actually the one who attacked Wilhelm.

If Albedo was interested before, he was hysterical now. Kevin! How amusing… Wilhelm didn't threaten his lady love, did he? What a foolish decision that would be…

Actually, yeah. Jr. blinked, surprised. He had only just been reminded of how strange Albedo was, how little he cared about others. When did he learn to figure out people?

Oh, please. It's only obvious. He wore his feelings on his sleeve, a bleeding heart for all to see.

Pot, kettle.

As if he could ever compare to me.

Jr. was facing a severe dearth of remaining eye rolls and sighs. His body would surely start to deteriorate if he had to produce any more.

Albedo's voice grew warmer. It was all Wilhelm's design, of course. He sought out the beings with the most powerful wills… those who could exert their power on the universe itself. He employed only those with feelings like mine.

That made sense. Each of the testaments had been completely obsessive- Vergil with Febronia, Voyager with Ziggy, Kevin with Shion. They were all hopelessly fixated on someone, all consumed by longing.

Perhaps Wilhelm thought this would make us easier to control. It was just the opposite, I'm afraid. I doubt he realized how unpredictable such desire can be.

It was true. All of the testaments had been defeated through their very same wants. All of them had abandoned Wilhelm and his plans the second they could.

Jr., however, clearly didn't know as much as Albedo did and this only raised more questions- ones that made the hair on his neck stand up. Did he actually try to control you like that? Through the things you wanted?

Are you asking if he used you to make me cooperate? Oh yes, certainly.

It made Jr. feel strange, like he was the one in the wrong body instead of the other way around. He hadn't even known. Everyone knew that Albedo cared about him, but this was something else entirely- letting himself be ordered around just for Jr.'s sake. Did Albedo really care about Jr. that much, so much that he would do anything for him?

I really did long for oblivion, Rubedo. I had every intention of dying that day… but Wilhelm suggested another path.

That bastard. Jr. muttered. Just trying to play games with you!

It isn't as though I cared.

It seemed like a stupid thing to say- of course Albedo cared, otherwise he wouldn't have been manipulated, wouldn't have done any of this in the first place- but then Jr. remembered how he had talked when they were fighting Yuriev. He remembered Albedo's plan.

'Another path'… to the same goal?

You planned on dying anyways.

Albedo was quiet.

It must've seemed like a foolproof solution, to him. He could stop Yuriev, then have the peaceful death he wanted so badly.

That Nigredo, Albedo muttered. A goody-two-shoes until the very last moment. Acting like a savior despite all he'd done… He always was quite the inconvenience.

You don't mean that.

…but, perhaps, Albedo sighed, it is possible he understood more than I thought.

He probably understood more than Jr. had, honestly. He'd known better than Albedo or Jr. how badly they longed to be together, how much they belonged as one. He'd brought them together. He'd given them peace for the first time in so many years.

Whenever they joined him in the afterlife, Jr. would have to be sure to thank him. We owe him everything.

Albedo harumphed. I've already admitted he might have understood, Rubedo. Don't push your luck.

Jr. exhaled. Okay, tough guy.

Getting Albedo to play well with others would be harder than he thought, if Albedo could hardly stand the brother who had put them together in the first place. It was fine, though. They had time.

The thought swelled in Jr.'s chest, like flowers blooming. They had time.

They hadn't had time in so long. They had only met for such short moments, already having given up on the other, clashing furiously. Even if Jr. had wanted to help Albedo- and a part of him always did, a part of him always longed to take care of him, to protect him- they didn't have time, because Albedo wasn't listening, Albedo wanted to destroy Miltia, Albedo wanted to rip apart space and destroy himself. Jr. was always so focused on stopping him, fixated on his own anger, that they never had a chance to just talk. They were always just trying to piss each other off.

It hurt. Jr. always missed him. It was only now that he realized just how much he had been given, just how much he had with Albedo. They had another chance. They had a new beginning. Now they could fix things.

There was no rush. There was just the two of them, together, hand in hand. They would make things better together. Jr. could make up for all the ways he'd hurt Albedo, and Albedo could become a better person.

Jr. realized then that he'd been quiet for a while. He should say something.

…it feels kind of weird to talk to you like this. Jr. said. We aren't fighting or anything. I don't think we've just talked in… forever.

He had assumed they never would again. First Albedo was his enemy, completely insane and impossible to even communicate with, and by the time they'd reached an understanding Albedo was dead. Jr. remembered the emptiness well, losing Albedo as a child and then again as an adult.

But they were one body, linked forever. Albedo had never truly been gone. Jr. could always feel him, a heart beating in conflicting rhythm, an emptiness eating at his body.

It was only now that Albedo's presence felt good again.

If I am to live like this… I am glad to be alive, Rubedo.

Jr. exhaled in relief. Albedo had been scared of life for as long as Rubedo could remember, constantly worrying about fighting and dark corners and being alone. He was almost never happy, and it was even rarer to see him peaceful.

Jr. supposed they were both peaceful now, bringing comfort to one another as their twin hearts beat in sync. Knowing that Albedo was safe, that things would only get better from here, made it easier to breathe.

Jr.'s eyes flicked over to the window. There he could see the recesses of space, stretching and yawning. Space was a normal sight for him, on the Durandal, but he was still overcome with wonder every time he looked out into it. The pinpricks of starlight, the gentle purplish hues of nebulas were like a balm to his soul. Now he could see it all so clearly.

And where, precisely, are we? Albedo murmured. You never answered me, Rubedo.

Oh, yeah. Jr. smiled. This is our new universe… our adventure.

Oh, it's back to heroics?

Jr. snickered. He wished. More like our duty. We're out here to find Lost Jerusalem. It's our best bet.

Yes… since you've stopped eternal recurrence. Jr. could almost see Albedo shake his head, bemused. How very like you, to take such a risk.

Not like you agreed with Wilhelm. Jr. huffed. I'm sick of running away from everything. If we've got problems, we've got to face 'em. Simple as that.

Wasn't that what he and Albedo were doing now? They were making amends, solving things. This was the best they'd ever been, because they were together. Maybe humanity was the same way. They needed to find some way of making peace with the universe, with finding their place in the world.

Albedo sighed. I must say, I never imagined I might be searching for humanity's birthplace… but unfortunately, I would do anything so long as it was by your side.

Say what you would about the guy, Albedo really consistently nailed the grey area between weird and sweet.

Thanks, Albedo, Jr. said, because really, what else could he say? He knew that Albedo didn't think much of humanity, or other people in general, so to have him say nothing about it and agree to help was like an I-love-you in whatever bizarre language he spoke. Jr. would take it for what it was.

Albedo was nothing like anyone else in the galaxy. He was as well-spoken as he was coarse, dangerously violent but still so tender and fearful. He was strange, but since the moment they'd been conceived he was Jr.'s, so Jr. supposed it was just something he'd have to live with.

Maybe he secretly liked Albedo's quirks a bit, too.

I missed you. Jr. said. His eyes were still lost out there, in the boundless recesses of space. He felt a little like he was floating.

Words could never contain my longing for you, Rubedo.

Show-off. Jr. grumbled. He heard Albedo laughing.

It felt nice, to admit things like this. It used to seem dangerous, or stupid, but now Jr. could be honest with Albedo and himself. They were together again, finally.

Jr. exhaled. Maybe, more than searching for Lost Jerusalem, that was the real reason they were out here. All of them had survived so much, and now, they had the opportunity for something else- a new beginning.

What do you wanna do tomorrow? Jr. asked. We can talk to the others… Shion's here, and Allen, and Mary and Shelley, and-

Albedo made a noise of protest, high and whining. Jr. snickered. Alright, maybe not people. Maybe I'll just show you around the ship.

It was like he said earlier. There was no rush. Jr. didn't just have this moment with Albedo. It was a precursor to so much more, an infinite amount of tomorrows where they could do anything they wanted.

His twin hearts were like a comfort, like a warm blanket wrapped around him, a steady rhythm echoing in his chest. Maybe all this hoping should have made him excited, but instead Jr. just felt peaceful. It was like some turmoil had always existed in his mind and body, bubbling underneath the surface, but had only now quelled at last.

Jr.'s eyes drifted slightly. Maybe now he could rest easy.

Let's go to sleep, Albedo.

But Rubedo, Albedo whined, I just woke up!

Okay. It was going to be a long night.