Albedo's fingers clenched.
He didn't even think about it, not really. Trying to cling to the hand that had just left his was only natural- a mere reflex. It had been since the day he was born, since their backs were first hewn from one another, since one first became two.
His fingers, however, closed on nothing. As his wide, panicked eyes darted up, Albedo found himself suddenly unable to use any of his senses. Blinding light flooded his eyes, sound thundered in his ears, and heat razed flesh from bone. It was all too much, so hopelessly much he couldn't bear to process it. His senses frayed and fizzled, and suddenly Albedo had no body at all.
That in and of itself was not surprising. Albedo was no stranger to pain or violence. He had suffered nearly every injury over the course of his life, and he cared no more now than he did then. It was all so impossibly meaningless when he couldn't die.
It became soon apparent that this, however, was different. It still didn't kill Albedo, of course, but it was a dimension of pain Albedo had never experienced before. Though it only felt like a moment, for that terrible instant Albedo's consciousness dissipated. His entire body was torn to pieces, reduced to mere atoms floating in the cosmos.
It was more than agony. It was nothingness, a moment and an eternity of oppressive darkness, equal and opposite to the overwhelming light just moments before. It was like being dragged underwater and held there, helpless and panicked, even as he thrashed and kicked to escape.
Disintegration, however, was only temporary. Albedo came back to himself soon enough, to his body perfectly re-formed, collected from space debris and made fully functional once more. He gasped for air that couldn't come into his lungs, chest heaving, and his hand floated before him, still outstretched, reaching for a mirror that didn't exist anymore.
All Albedo could see was the vast darkness of space. He wondered, for a moment, if his eyes weren't working, if he hadn't fully re-formed just yet. As time ticked on, however, Albedo soon realized that the darkness wasn't a mistake. It was all he could see, which was confusing. Albedo couldn't have possibly moved so far as to be launched into space.
Albedo didn't want to think about it, but alone like that, in the darkness and silence, there was little else to do. The truth dawned on him slowly, painfully, like a needle entering his arm for an injection. The only possible explanation was that he hadn't moved. This was the same spot Albedo had been standing in before, except Miltia was gone, the URTVs were gone, and Rubedo was gone.
The pieces came together in Albedo's mind languidly. He knew the truth, but he couldn't bear to confirm it to himself. He wrestled with the thoughts as they came, trying desperately to find some alternative explanation, some other way of seeing things.
There was none.
Miltia was gone. Albedo was alone in space, surrounded by debris. The light could only have been an explosion. Their clash with U-DO had somehow vaporized the planet, and every living thing on it.
The realization choked Albedo, but there was no air in space to gasp for. It didn't matter. Albedo couldn't die. The planet exploded, but he had re-formed, and space suffocated and froze him but here Albedo remained, undying, deathless, left behind to rot in the mortal plane.
Tears sprang to his eyes. Fear welled up in his chest, and he began to shake. This was everything Albedo had ever been afraid of. He was completely and totally alone.
It had never been this silent before. There was no sound in space, but more than that, the link was completely and utterly broken. Albedo couldn't hear his siblings' thoughts, or feel their presence in the web of their minds. There was no one to speak to, no one to comfort him, no one at all.
There was no breath in his lungs to scream with. All Albedo could do was curl in on himself, squeezing his knees to his chest.
The others were worthless to him. What really hurt was the stillness in his chest. Rubedo's heart used to beat there, a constant reminder of his warmth and power. With that steady rhythm, Rubedo's own body alive in Albedo, Albedo always knew he was safe. It was their link, their connectedness that protected him.
Now that was gone. Albedo's chest was empty. There was no one there for him. It was only him and the debris, wafting aimlessly through the dead chill of space.
There was no way to move, no nearby planet to take refuge on. He didn't see how he could ever be rescued. A part of Albedo didn't care. Maybe he deserved to be trapped here forever.
Maybe it was better than existing without Rubedo.
The Federation police that had picked him up weren't as good at whispering as they thought they were.
How is this kid alive?
They were only there to survey the damage, and to investigate what had happened. Albedo had heard them discussing it.
They had put a blanket around Albedo's shoulders, too. Kid's freezing. He should've died out there.
Any human would have. Albedo wasn't human. They came to that conclusion quickly.
"He doesn't look like one."
"Have you heard of a single android created in the last century?"
"No, even a Salvator wouldn't have survived without air."
"No other Realians survived."
They had gone into the other room to discuss, the marginally preferable alternative to their previous activity, whispering at each other behind the blonde man taking Albedo's vitals. Albedo could still hear them.
"It's really weird."
"What part of this isn't?"
"He's got to know something."
"Aww, c'mon. He's just a kid."
"Looks like a kid."
"He's right. What regular kid would survive that?"
The blonde man knelt in front of him as the medical sensor did its work. He had kind blue eyes, though he squinted and narrowed them. It made him look very serious.
The man glanced back at the door to the other room of the spaceship. He could hear them, too. When he looked back at Albedo, concern flashed in his eyes.
"Do you… have a name?"
Albedo nodded. His voice stuck in his throat. He didn't know how long he had been floating there, how long it had been since he had spoken to another person. Words felt too unwieldy and alien to use.
This man had features like a URTV. He had short blonde hair and blue eyes. He looked nothing like their father, however, with a broad chest and shoulders.
"I'm A-Albedo." He finally managed to choke.
Albedo didn't know if he could trust these people. He had only ever really trusted Rubedo. With his other half gone, what could he possibly do?
He didn't want to return to their father and the Institute. Maybe these people could help him.
The man seemed perplexed at the sight of Albedo's vitals, eyebrows drawing together. Albedo probably didn't have the same makeup as a regular human.
Being with others, however, felt normal. It made Albedo feel like maybe he was waking up from a bad dream, like maybe everything had been too sudden and too strange to be real.
"Where is Rubedo?" Albedo asked.
"Who is that?" The man asked in turn. His voice was deep, gravelly.
"He's my other half." Albedo explained. It was impossible for others to understand, of course, but he had to try. "We share the same heart."
The murmurs were back. The others had returned, though whether to look at Albedo's shocking vitals or to hear him speak, Albedo didn't know.
"Should we tell him?"
"He has to know."
"Nobody could've possibly-"
"We haven't seen him," The blonde man said, voice even and controlled. "We're still looking."
"Unless he's like this kid…"
The man handed the data pad back to the others. They crowded around it, still murmuring, still talking, still excited. Albedo, however, couldn't hear a word they were saying.
So it was true. He couldn't bear to believe it. It all felt too strange, too unreal, to horrific to even imagine. Albedo wrapped his arms around himself. It only reminded him of Rubedo's hugs, of the warmth of his arms and the strength of his chest, and Albedo suddenly felt like he had been hollowed out.
Nobody could've possibly survived. Rubedo was nothing like Albedo, couldn't regenerate like he could. Rubedo would die just the same as any other mortal.
Albedo could suffocate on the outpouring of tears.
"N-no…" he mumbled. It couldn't be true. Rubedo was too strong, too lively. It didn't make any sense.
"Like Yuriev's… erm, kids?"
"Yeah. Creepy stuff."
"I didn't know they were on Miltia."
"It still doesn't explain how this one survived. His readings…"
They were all fools. Albedo couldn't bear to listen to their meaningless tittering anymore. Their faces and voices blurred into featureless sludge, a sickening, suffocating mass.
"NO!" he screamed. He shouted with everything left in him, harnessed the turmoil flooding through his body. It was enough to cut through the nothingness, the grey haze of inane comments and concerns none of which was Rubedo, none of which was even a fraction as important.
Albedo could feel their eyes on him. He could feel the pause lurch, as they wondered if they should say something. He shook. He didn't care.
"He has to be there. We have to find him!" He insisted. Tears spilled from his face. "He c-can't be…"
"It's okay," one of them said as Albedo gasped for air. A worthless platitude.
"He's got to be asking about another unit, right?"
"Yeah, right here. Unit six-six-six. He's six-six-seven."
"Ah, right. You can see it on his palm."
"I need him," Albedo insisted. They could never understand, but he had to make them. "Please. I know he's not dead!"
The second heart in his chest felt like an anchor. It felt like it was crushing him, like it was an unbearable weight pulling him down. It wouldn't be this still if Rubedo was alive.
"He can't be," Albedo repeated, as if to convince his body itself. "He can't be."
He could be. Rubedo could die, and Albedo couldn't. This was inevitable. Why did it have to come so soon? How could Albedo possibly survive without him?
The blonde man's hand rested on Albedo's shoulder. It was heavier than it should have been, and cold. He was a machine.
"It would be cruel to deny you the truth." He said. His voice was almost soft. "Your brother didn't make it."
"You're lying!" Albedo shouted. "You h-have to be. I told him- I told him he couldn't leave me behind-"
His voice was becoming more ragged. Hiccups and gasps for breath interrupted him.
"You don't understand!" Albedo pushed the man's hand away. He was much stronger than Albedo, but he let it fall. "I need him! I need him!"
"Stop it! You don't understand!" Albedo pushed at him, scrambled back, fought for room. This was worse than space. He felt even more like he was choking, like he couldn't breathe, because all the air he could inhale couldn't possibly matter when his lungs couldn't use it, and every beat of his heart was meaningless so long as it beat alone. "I need him! He's a part of me- my other half! I can't live without him! I won't!"
"Someone stop him!"
Albedo didn't care. He didn't care what they thought of him. It felt good to claw like this, to tear at his face and his body. He could drain as much worthless, infinitely regenerating blood as he wanted. Maybe this would bring him closer to death. Maybe it was closer to Rubedo. Oh, he hoped so.
The shock gave them pause. Their stupid cries stopped, and Albedo giggled. It was so easy to distract mortals. It was so easy to confuse them. He yanked and pulled at his limbs, trying to break bone. He would snap his own neck if he could. It was just this stupid regeneration- the warm glow of purple light that signified his body repairing itself- if only he could damage himself more than it could repair-
Before Albedo could continue, however, he was lifted into the air. Two strong, cold arms had looped around him, holding him tightly in place.
"The sedative-" A deep voice said just behind him.
"I'm on it!"
Albedo howled like a wounded animal. He thrashed, though uselessly. His legs dangled in the air, and the man's grip was iron-strong.
"Stop it! Stop it!" He cried. "Let go of me!"
"It'll be okay."
It wouldn't! How could any of these people pretend to understand?! They were nothing, imbeciles, idiots, people who didn't even know who or what he was, who couldn't possibly know Rubedo, and wouldn't ever know Rubedo because he was dead, and his light had been extinguished from the galaxy, and there was no point in continuing without him-
Something sharp jabbed into Albedo's arm. He was interrupted by his own squeak of pain, only realizing then he had shouted his thoughts aloud.
He felt hopelessly sleepy.
"No," he mumbled in protest. His tongue felt too big for his mouth. His eyes were drooping, like someone was tugging them closed.
Albedo had to fight. He couldn't remember why, but he had no other choice. He had to fight.
But he was so tired.
Maybe he could rest for a little while.
Albedo inhaled and held his breath. Maybe if he slept, he could pretend that he was dead too.
He wished he was. He wished he could be with Rubedo, even if it was together in nothingness. Existence was agony.
Albedo closed his eyes.
It shouldn't have been hard. Albedo had practiced digging graves before.
He always cried. His fingers always bled. They healed faster than they could hurt. It didn't matter. None of it mattered.
Albedo had always imagined he would have a body to bury. It would be like how humans did it in books and plays and movies, staring into glassy unseeing eyes and tugging them shut with barely ghosting fingers. He could see Rubedo, burn his face into his memory one last time, a willing act of preservation. Maybe he would reinforce his memory with touch, running his hands along the curves of Rubedo's face, his soft cheeks and lips.
That was the point of burial, after all. Humans surrounded the body with ceremony, headstones and graves and flowers as one final consecration. Albedo, however, had just finished burying an empty coffin.
It was foolish, but Albedo didn't care. The scratches on his hands quickly healed. He didn't particularly care about the dirt smeared across his clothing- white with accents of red, a hint of life, a burst of color.
Albedo had insisted on being alone, because no one could possibly understand. No one could possibly care like he could.
How could they? They had never met Rubedo, and they never would. He pitied them, so wholly and fully. They would never know true warmth, radiating from his shining eyes and his cocky smile. An army of psychologists and the like had attempted to plunder Albedo's mind, to understand, but none of them ever could. The love he held was not fit for human consumption. It was something too powerful for their feeble minds to comprehend.
The inscription on the headstone was simple. For Rubedo, my other half, my heart.
It was pathetic, but the task itself was futile. Albedo couldn't possibly explain his feelings in words. This was the most he could approximate, explaining how they were linked. He would never be whole again, with Rubedo gone. Every passing second felt more like falling, like he was spiraling endlessly through the now empty universe.
Albedo loved Rubedo more than anything. He loved Rubedo more than life itself.
He had gathered as many flowers as he could to lay on top, red and white and every shade in between. He liked to think Rubedo would enjoy them, would like seeing how their colors mixed and blended. Albedo remembered how Rubedo held his hand, how he used to comfort Albedo. He had known how deeply they were connected. They were one soul dwelling in two bodies, an unbearable separation given human form.
The flowers contrasted hopelessly with the freshly overturned dirt. They looked too pristine, too beautiful to be left here. It couldn't possibly be a waste, however, not when they laid here for Rubedo's sake. Rubedo deserved anything Albedo could offer him, even in death. His memory was more than enough justification to choke the life from these plants, pretty as they were. Albedo would do anything, even now, so long as it preserved Rubedo, so long as it was for him.
Even in death, he was Albedo's soul, his life, his purpose.
Albedo sat with his legs crossed, staring blankly forwards at the grave. This was all he had left. Rubedo had been reduced to mere particles, forever erased from the cosmos, and this pitiful stone would lay his mark on this world.
It was fine. Perhaps this was the reason why Albedo was immortal. Maybe it was his duty to carry on Rubedo's memory, a torch in his chest where his other heart had once warmed him. If no one else remembered Rubedo, Albedo would. He would remember Rubedo forever, so the world never forgot him. He may be gone in body, but he would never be lost in soul.
And oh, was Rubedo's soul beautiful.
In some ways, remembering was Albedo's tragedy as well as his privilege, equally burdensome as it was pleasurable. There was so much he could never do, so many words he could never tell Rubedo, so much forever out of his reach. Everything Albedo had once enjoyed was gone, slipped through his fingers. He could never again melt into Rubedo's arms, feel the pleasant burn of his blue eyes on Albedo's face.
It was agony, to miss him like this. It had become commonplace, mundane, but it was agony nevertheless.
Albedo had heard about the humans' ways. He heard about their legends and stories, the beliefs of Ormus. Humans said that after death, the dead lived again. Nearly every human religion had some promise of eternity, some afterlife, some heaven where they and their loved ones might reunite.
Eternal life had never felt more like a prison. Albedo would never die. He would never pass into any paradise where Rubedo dwelled. They would be separated forevermore. He would be in this state forevermore, in agony, dying but never dead.
Their link was empty. It was more than impossible for Rubedo to sense anything Albedo sent him. Yet, in this moment, it felt right. Humans still spoke to graves, after all.
You are a hole in my heart. Albedo thought. There is nothing without you, Rubedo, and yet, I exist still. What is there to do but think of you?
He tried to imagine what Rubedo would say. He might comfort Albedo, or tell him to straighten up. He'd always believed in Albedo.
"And yet, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
The voice just behind Albedo was decidedly not Rubedo's. His brow furrowed. He hadn't wanted anyone to interrupt his private moment. Rubedo's burial was his and his alone, not to be shared with the lowly masses.
"You like Shakespeare, don't you?"
Albedo turned to snap. He was ready to unleash fury on this interloper, to make him regret such crass disruptions (and wondering, quite alarmedly, just how a stranger knew what Rubedo used to read to him), but when he saw the man's face, he froze.
"You," he said, bewildered.
It was the same man he had seen for years, observing, always just out of view. Albedo glimpsed him mostly in his peripheral, but those red eyes, that thin smile, those ashen curls were unmistakable.
"Yes, it is." The man said. His smile curled upwards. "And you… are Albedo, URTV Unit number six-six-seven."
It wasn't so strange for him to know Albedo's name, but it was a bit stranger for him to know Albedo's designation and unit number. No one had called him by those in years, not since the initial shock had passed through human society at his miraculous survival, and the television stations and newspapers had all crowed about him. The man didn't look like anything special. He was dressed in a simple black suit, but he looked only as old as Albedo did, with a round face and wide eyes.
"How rude, to leave me without a name when you already know mine." Albedo said. He was beginning to get the feeling that this man would not leave, even if asked.
"Wilhelm will do." He only looked more amused at Albedo's candor. "I imagine you won't insist on shaking my hand?"
"I might insist on your exit."
"Ah, yes." Wilhelm sighed. He looked around, more a gesture than genuine curiosity. "I've encroached on a rather tragic moment, haven't I? I'm sorry to hear of your loss."
It was incredible, how every word from his mouth could sound so insincere. That, paired with his encroachment, meant Albedo felt no shame over telling him precisely what he told everyone who gave him similar apologies.
"Save your breath. You knew nothing of him." Albedo turned back to the grave. He hadn't bothered to stand. This Wilhelm was powerful- Albedo could sense it, hanging around him like thick mist- but Albedo was immortal.
"No, I never did meet Rubedo in person… but your dedication leaves quite the impression."
Albedo laughed, humorless. So this man could read. "You aren't fit to speak his name."
"Oh, I mean no disrespect," Wilhelm said, with a smirk and a lilt in his voice that reeked of just the opposite. "I empathize."
Albedo's annoyance had roared to a wildfire by now. What right did Wilhelm have to interrupt his private moment- something that was supposed to be for him and Rubedo alone?! How dare he trespass, knowingly, and for what purpose?!
Albedo rose to his feet, face twisted in displeasure. He was pleased to note that, even at his mere seventeen years, he already towered over this Wilhelm.
"Leave us." He hissed.
Despite having to look up at him, Wilhelm was entirely unintimidated. His hand didn't leave the pocket where it so casually laid. "Ah, but I do so hate an unhappy ending."
Before Albedo could snap, he pivoted. Though he paced away, he still spoke to Albedo, head turning over his shoulder. "You've seen pitifully little of this universe. You remained at that institute until you were twelve, is that right?"
"What could I possibly care?" Albedo spat. "This universe means nothing to me. It represents little more than humanity's delusions."
If permitted, he would remain here until the end of time, watching over Rubedo's grave. What meaning could there possibly be, without Rubedo? What could Albedo possibly care about? He didn't want to know any more of this universe.
"I don't disagree." Wilhelm stopped in place. Albedo couldn't see, with Wilhelm's back turned to him, but he could picture Wilhelm's smug smile. "What we see now is hollow, empty… perhaps you might call it meaningless. But I say this not out of grief, as you would."
Albedo huffed. "I care no more about you than any other human."
"It would be a shame if that were true… considering how desperately you need my information."
This man was unshakeable. Albedo's anger was usually foolproof- even those who weren't intimidated by him could be provoked into attacking him, and once they saw his regenerative powers they knew better than to bother him any longer. Something told Albedo that even if Wilhelm saw him regenerate his entire head, Wilhelm would tilt his head and simply give him that same pristinely constructed smirk.
Perhaps it would be more prudent to play his little game.
Albedo waved a hand. "Well, don't delay. You've been so terribly dull so far. You might just put me to sleep."
Wilhelm chuckled. "I would hate to bore you… but I imagine news of the death of the universe might entice you."
Albedo outright laughed at him.
"Are you deaf, or just stupid?" He asked. "I've told you- I don't care. This universe can die, and I will shed no tears."
What could he possibly wish to protect? Rubedo was dead. The rest of the universe was completely worthless. Albedo saw no value in joy or beauty, things Rubedo would never get to have. Nothing left could possibly be good or worthy. Albedo didn't care.
"See, Albedo, I don't believe that." Wilhelm said. "Your will shines with such wondrous light… your devotion is proof of that. I consider it a great waste that your power lies dormant. It takes great might to shape this universe, and you are more than capable of wielding it."
"If you're truly to beg for my help, you could stand to do a little more groveling." Albedo sighed, put-upon. He couldn't fathom Wilhelm's aim. This was a pathetic way of attempting to convince him. Albedo would not be intimidated by a pristine suit and prophecies of doomsday.
His comment went disregarded.
"Irrespective of either of our personal feelings, I suspect it would be quite a shame to lose the Lower Domain." Wilhelm's hand extended, grazing the branch of the tree beside him. It looked uncomfortably odd, like he was a projection, like he wasn't in the same physical space as Albedo. "But there is no power great enough to save it. The destruction of our realm, our universe, is inevitable."
Albedo huffed. Perhaps, in his youth, such a discovery might have frightened him. It didn't now. The destruction of the universe could only be a good thing, a final sleep after his agonizing life. Perhaps it would reunite him with Rubedo at last.
"I think you would quite like my solution, Albedo." Wilhelm said, eyes flicking over to him again. They were endless, like the space Albedo had stared into the day, week, month Rubedo had died. "I plan to invoke eternal recurrence."
Albedo didn't know to defend himself. Wilhelm looked wholly distracted, musing over a leaf. Perhaps that was his purpose, to show how unimaginably powerful he was, how little of his notice was necessary to shift Albedo's organs around in his chest.
Albedo choked. Blood flooded his mouth, and his legs shook, leaving him to crash onto his knees. He was used to pain- this wasn't worse than decapitation, or disintegration- but had he been a mere human, he might have collapsed entirely. His insides tinged like they had been stabbed, like they were being stretched to their breaking point, pain shooting from his chest to every extremity.
He regenerated quickly, gasping for air, but the shadows of pain lingered. It wasn't enough for Albedo to fear Wilhelm- he couldn't die, and pain was little object to him- but it was enough for his attention to turn to Wilhelm, rapt, even as Albedo gingerly picked himself back up.
Wilhelm watched him with shining eyes.
"This is precisely what I am talking about. You will never die, Albedo, because your body will always repair itself." His smile was all teeth. "It's a fascinating process. It's something humanity can do as well. We need only return to a point before our doom, and it is possible to repeat indefinitely… forever postponing the death of the universe."
His voice dropped then, hopelessly soft. "What is it that you desire most, Albedo?"
Albedo's chest had only housed one heart for years, but in that moment, it beat so quickly and so loudly it almost felt like two again.
Returning to a point before?
If Wilhelm spoke the truth, there was a way to recover all he had lost. He could create a new universe, a better possibility, one where Rubedo lived and the world had meaning and light.
This world that he hated so much, the same one that had ripped Rubedo from his arms and cast him into nothingness, could be destroyed as it deserved to be. It would be rent for scraps to fashion a new world, a better world, one where he and Rubedo could be happy together. Perhaps that dream humans had, of life after death, of final togetherness, was within reach.
Albedo's breath caught. It was impossible to believe, but Wilhelm truly was as powerful as he implied. Few could harm him. He certainly couldn't trust this strange, watchful man, but perhaps so long as their interests aligned, they could cooperate.
"I could have Rubedo once more," he breathed.
"Of course. He is your singular desire… the object of your will." Wilhelm was still smiling. It was far from the polite, detached quirk of the lips he had begun with. That smile made Albedo felt as though he had been caught in a trap, even though he was being given everything had had ever dreamed of. "I will grant you limitless power to achieve this goal. Don't worry, I ask for nothing in return. I want only the best for you."
Albedo didn't believe it. Wilhelm had all the trappings of a liar. He just missed Rubedo so badly, like he was starving, like his body hungered and wasted away and all he could do was long for relief. Wilhelm only wanted him for his plot, but if that gave Albedo his Rubedo once more, he would gladly give over his body and mind.
"Then we have a deal," Albedo said. He said it with a smile, and felt a surge of power rush through him- surely Wilhelm's work, from the amused breath he exhaled- but he felt nothing but cold emptiness as Wilhelm turned to leave.
It felt strange. Albedo was more powerful than ever, beyond life or death, but he felt strangely hollow, like a glove to be worn. He didn't dare think on whether it was a mistake. If there was even a mere chance to become closer to Rubedo, he would willingly drink of this dangerous draught. It was worth it.
Wilhelm paused. "Oh, and, Albedo?"
Albedo looked up. Wilhelm turned his chin, so his mouth was only just visible.
"About your beloved's death… I feel I ought to tell you. It wasn't an accident."
It took only a breath, a fleeting instant, before every bit of Albedo's grief was reborn as fury.
Dmitri Yuriev, the lowly bastard who happened to be Albedo's father, looked all the worse for wear after these long years. His new body didn't hide his pathetic air very well. He still looked every bit the coward who would tremble before U-DO, who would send his own children on a suicide mission.
Albedo couldn't help but marvel at him, at the features that echoed his own face, and the face Rubedo had worn. How had such a man produced Rubedo? They were perfect opposites, equally opposed, ideal light and loathsome darkness. It only proved how incorruptible Rubedo was, how beautifully he wore Yuriev's traits and features, that he could be so perfect while still burdened with Yuriev's genes.
"Aren't you bold?" Yuriev asked. He didn't look up from his data pad, staying seated at his desk. "I'd very much like to know who saw fit to sponsor an intruder now… Ormus? The Federation Opposition?"
Albedo chuckled. His father always longed for power, phrased his ambition in such grandiose terms, but was such a limited person in reality. He couldn't think past petty Federation senate rivalries.
"Not quite…" Albedo murmured. "My purposes are beyond your understanding, beyond feeble human desires like power."
It truly was pitiable. Yuriev really thought that might would satisfy him, would quell the fear in his heart. He thought it would make him a god. It was so foolish it was laughable.
Yuriev snorted. "In that case, you can be on your way. I don't care for whatever cause you champion."
"Oh, I won't be leaving… not so soon, anyways. After all, we have a lot of catching up to do." As Albedo stepped forwards, he plucked the beaklike mask from his face. "It's been awhile, hasn't it, father dearest?"
No surprise crossed Yuriev's face. He merely blinked at Albedo, seemingly uncaring, his features remaining perfectly still.
"So," he said. "You're still alive."
Albedo laughed. "Please. There isn't anything in this universe that can kill me. All I had to do was simply… regenerate."
Yuriev looked back down to his data pad. "Unsurprising… yet fascinating. Unfortunately, I have no time to study you. Such feats will become a simple matter for me once I have completed my goal."
Albedo couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "About that…"
With the powers Wilhelm had granted him, there was little he could not do. Proud as his father was of the Omega project and every other piece of technology he had crafted, they were still primitive human implements, with primitive human flaws. Omega was nothing more than a sharpened stick to Albedo.
It crumbled easily.
Albedo had been so overjoyed to learn that Yuriev's office had a window to the construction zone. It meant his father had the pleasure of turning around and watching as his greatest creation was torn to shreds by Albedo's mind alone, like the pathetic hunk of metal and wiring it truly was.
"What are you doing?!" Yuriev hissed, whirling to his feet and facing the rubble. His eyes bugged out of his skull. Even if it was only slight, this was the first sign of emotion he had shown beyond that of detached smugness. It should have satisfied Albedo, to provoke anger in his worthless father. Instead, it only made Albedo furious.
"I wonder, were you so upset when you learned of what happened on Miltia?" Albedo asked, voice hushed. "Did my Rubedo's death inspire such emotion?"
Albedo didn't need to ask. He was certain of the answer already, so much so that he was certain he was wasting his own breath.
"So that's it, then?" Yuriev spat, turning to face Albedo again. "Revenge. You've fallen prey to petty human emotion."
Albedo could have done it from a distance. Yuriev was a small man, with a fragile will. It only felt right, however, that he strode forwards and fisted his hand in Yuriev's shirt, wrenching him out of his chair and throwing him to the floor.
"Don't bother shouting." Albedo said. Yuriev was, at the very least, smart enough to infer that his security detail was dead, but it still bore stating. "It's just you and I, here at the end of the world."
"How disappointing." Yuriev snarled, even while sprawled on the floor. "You could've so easily become more."
Albedo must've been well and truly enraged then, because a wave of hysteria came upon him. He laughed frantically, endlessly, dragging his hand down his face.
He couldn't imagine anyone more pathetic, mired in plans and projects that only amounted to a futile attempt at superiority. Albedo was greater even in this state, broken in half and ground into dust.
"So much power, so disused." Yuriev mused. "All this, and you've only amounted to a traitor who never made his way back home."
"Shut up." Albedo growled. His boot made satisfying contact with Yuriev's stomach, sending him wheezing and gasping. His father was so fleshy, so vulnerable, so human.
Yuriev only chuckled. "Is this the revenge that took you a decade to craft? What a failure you are. It's positively crude."
It may not have disproved his critique, but grabbing him by his hair and smashing his face into the concrete floor certainly felt good. Yuriev's nose broke with a satisfying crunch. When Albedo pulled him back up, copper-red blood stained the floor.
For all of Yuriev's bragging, his nose didn't repair itself.
"I didn't create you URTVs to be so primitive." Yuriev grumbled. Albedo tossed him over, back onto the floor.
"You took him from me," Albedo said. It was the simplest way he could possibly explain, the only words that came to his mind. Just thinking of it had his hands shaking with rage.
This was the man who had killed Rubedo. This sad, sorry creature of flesh and bone had robbed the world of Rubedo, its most precious inhabitant. It was all down to him that Rubedo didn't stand here now. It was his doing that Rubedo was not killed as he deserved to be, taken gently by nature herself or defeated by a worthy opponent, but instead tossed aside like meaningless trash by a man who was himself positively worthless.
It was unfair. It was cruel of the world. It was stupid, and horrifying, and so wrong Albedo could scream and break down into tears.
But he wouldn't.
Looking at Yuriev's face, at his misshapen nose and the smear of drying blood on his face only made Albedo furious. This was the man who had taken Rubedo's life. This sole, solitary man was the reason Albedo would never see him again, the reason why he would forever be incomplete.
"Don't be ridiculous," Yuriev wheezed. "They fulfilled their purposes. You were all expendable from the start. This was always the plan."
Albedo knew, of course. Wilhelm had told him. The records were easily available, particularly with a testament's clearances. Still, to hear it only made the anger more violent, the inferno burning within Albedo more all-consuming.
"I don't expect you to understand." He hissed. How could Yuriev possibly? He hadn't known Rubedo. He had never cared. He would never understand the longing that burnt within Albedo, the cloying, clinging need that clawed and sank into him. It was like hunger, like thirst, like lust, like nothing Yuriev would ever know.
"Oh, I understand." Yuriev chuckled. His voice had become nasally after Albedo broke his nose, and speaking was an effort, judging by how his chest struggled to expand. "What could be more simple than human emotion? I thought you might become more advanced with my genes, but it seems that was a hope in vain. If you would rather perish like those gibbering, sentimental fools, then so be it."
Yuriev was the fool, of course. Wilhelm had spoken the truth. Will was the foremost power of this universe, and emotion, longing, the source of that determination. The feelings Yuriev derided were in fact where all strength was drawn from. He was so deliriously wrong that it was almost laughable.
"You took him from me," Albedo repeated. "You killed Rubedo. You stole from me, and now you will pay for your trespass."
Yuriev exhaled. He drew himself upwards, leaning on his forearms. Blood dripped from his nose, but through the injuries he was completely conscious and fully in control of his faculties. It was apparent by how he rambled.
"Commit whatever violence you wish," Yuriev muttered. Albedo circled him as he spoke, a shark smelling blood. "It won't matter. There is no pain you can inflict that will change the truth. If it may assuage your soul to believe that I have done you wrong, that you can be wronged, that you are all independent beings and not just an extension of myself that I myself created-"
Albedo finally stomped his foot down on Yuriev's. The bone split underneath Albedo's heel, rending the appendage into an unusable disarray of fragments. Yuriev groaned.
Albedo didn't know why he held back his screams. Such an injury had to be painful. Perhaps he didn't wish for Albedo to have the satisfaction. Perhaps he was simply too detached to feel, too far removed from the body he had been born with. Albedo didn't particularly care. He relished the challenge either way.
"Shut up," he commanded. Yuriev didn't.
"I understand, of course." He panted. "Such a realization must be quite a blow to the feelings… are you upset, Albedo?"
"Oh, no." Albedo said. "I'm outraged."
Another foot was shattered. Yuriev inhaled, sharp, but did not scream. Albedo didn't care. He was patient.
"You don't deserve to breathe." Albedo hissed.
"How bold. But I am your creator. It is by my hand that you exist at all- and your precious Rubedo as well."
Time could move so slowly for Albedo now, if he so wished. He watched Yuriev's blink turn slow, languid, as he unsheathed his dagger and sank it into Yuriev's thigh. It would be but an instant to his father, a single terrifying movement.
Yuriev gasped in pain.
"Don't dirty his name." Albedo growled. Yuriev didn't deserve to have created Rubedo, and he certainly didn't deserve to think of him now. Rubedo's memory would not be tarnished by this trash. It would not be manipulated by his filthy hands.
"He was a tool to be discarded," Yuriev breathed. "Your anger is a waste. But this is the way of lower life-forms, to shackle themselves to this banal human realm with emotion-"
Albedo tore the knife from his leg. Yuriev grunted.
"How mortifying it must be, then, to become so far outstripped by your own tools." Albedo mused, turning the knife over in his hand. Red dripped from it, slow and languid. "Rubedo's memory holds more power than you ever could."
Yuriev laughed, breathy, faint. "By what valuation? Yours? Please. Death means nothing for me- not as it did for him. Before long I will achieve my goals."
"A little senile, aren't we?" Albedo hummed. "By your own terms, father dearest. Rubedo was nothing like you… he was far too brave to be gripped by that fear in your heart. It really seems like there's no one more human than you."
Yuriev's teeth ground and grit. "You have no idea-"
"We made contact, that day on Miltia." Albedo said. "You're just the only coward in this family, I'm afraid."
Yuriev would never achieve his goals- at least, not in this version of their universe. In no time at all, he would be wiped away along with the rest of this reality, scrubbed clean so that a better timeline could play out. It was the sole truth Albedo relied on now, the only rock to beat back wave after wave of despair.
It was the only reason Albedo could look at Yuriev now without collapsing into mindless fury, without ripping and gnawing and tearing every bit of him to shreds.
Instead, Albedo could have his fun. He landed another kick between Yuriev's ribs, a reminder. The pain would keep him conscious, lucid, so they could enjoy more of one anothers' company.
"Do you think they'd care about you avenging them?" Yuriev finally spat. "They barely knew they were alive in the first place."
Albedo crouched down in front of him, smile wide.
"You don't need to play dumb, Father. You do it so well already."
He would force Yuriev to beg for mercy, the same care and concern he had denied Rubedo. Albedo didn't plan to grant it. Were Rubedo here, he would probably protest- he did so hate it when Albedo punished the standard units, after all.
Rubedo, however, wasn't here.
When the time came, the knife sank so easily into Yuriev's chest.
When Albedo inhaled, his chest was full again. For the first time in years, he could truly breathe.
This nightmare was nearly over.
All it would take was one final turn of the key, before Wilhelm pronounced them both free and ready to live once more.
Albedo's heart (still aching, lonely, but not for long) swelled with anticipation. Would this next world begin just as this one had? He hoped so. Perhaps it would not be him as he knew himself, this same tormented consciousness, but some Albedo would soon be born linked inextricably with some Rubedo. Albedo would happily die for any cause, even if just for the sake of his own peace, but even more happily to lead the way for he and Rubedo to be together once more.
Perhaps he would not know it, would not remember this false life, but soon Albedo would be reborn with his heart fully intact, sewn together with Rubedo's as it was meant to be. Soon, all would be right in the world, as it was meant to be.
"Are you ready?" Wilhelm asked. His voice was soft, melodious, gentle, as he delivered the universe's last rites. Words were beyond Albedo once more. He could only nod.
Soon, Rubedo would be born again. His lungs would draw breath, his eyes would shine, and he would turn back as he always did, offering a hand so Albedo could keep up.
For the second time in his dismal life, Albedo was split apart into atoms, into indecipherable vapor. He exhaled for the last time.
For the first time since that terrible day, he was happy.