Warnings: Character death, angst.
Word Count: 3810 of ????.
Characters: Post!Damned!AlbedoxNigredo. Shifting POV. Cameos of Yukari, Renamon, Ritsuka, Miku, Schuldig, Artemis, Haku. Brief mentions of Farfarello, Homura, Sanzo, Sylar, Peter (1), and Junior.
Notes: Post-Landel’s!free but in that world with full powers. Character death is through an accelerated version of S-C, if that wasn't clear. This is the long-awaited flashback chapter. =/
Summary: In the space betwixt and between, you always forget. You seldom remember.
They were twelve and the Institute had just fallen. They would be thirteen soon, but their birthdays weren't known. One white, one black, and they traversed their new world, looking for something they would never find. The older never spoke in public. The younger never wanted to. There was still a division there--one missing a piece, and the other feeling too much like something mismatched. He wouldn't fit, and so remained distanced, and so the other remained in pain.
This is how time passed.
This is how they danced.
Words had become needless between them. Needless, unnecessary, and unused. Looking back, perhaps, that was wrong, incorrect. Perhaps it was the exact opposite, and was the only way to continue. Albedo had became something of a silent shadow to the younger as Nigredo traveled as he had said he would, searching for the one thing that promised to make them whole. Albedo held no hope. Nigredo forced his along.
They had encountered others before. Ones that had warned or advised or attacked, and they had grown used to this. Words were seldom heard; they had learned by themselves. And attacking two retrovirus units with full capabilities--one with a bit more to offer than considered normal--was never an intelligent course of action. The ones that hunted them fell short--two small boys were hard to find, harder when they had experience in dodging adults. Harder still when they stayed away from most civilization. They had no need for what it offered. Rubedo... wouldn't be there anyway.
So the lights through the trees were noticed with trepidation. The pair settled into the bushes there to watch, impressions exchanged carefully and silently; each touch through the link delicate, scraping glass. One would think both solemn, silent as they were. Detached and focused little soldiers. It would take a closer look to determine the severity of their apparent bond--two hands clutched together like it was the most natural thing in the world. Neither seemed to even notice the fact. It had become something normal, something taken without a thought.
The two had just finished detailing their thoughts on the size of the group before them, one of the largest they had seen. It seemed a risk, especially since they couldn't truly tell if these were previous patients, or a different group of people. One separated from the group and headed in a straight line towards their direction. One reassured that she couldn't know they were there. The other pointed out she was coming directly at them.
"It's alright, you know," the girl called out once she was within earshot. "We know you're here. We know who you are. It's okay." This caused a trembling in one, a tensing in the other, and both made the decision for combat. Knowing who they were was never something for comfort.
The instant one moved, there was a presence at their back. Someone from nothing. In the dark, they couldn't see, and even with one facing each, they had a hard time telling. The newcomer didn't look entirely human. It didn't make a difference, one remarked. They weren't either. Silence came at this. "You have nothing to worry about with us," the new voice came, low and even and possibly female. "We're from the same place you are. Farfarello told us to retrieve you. Schuldig heard you talking."
A denial. "We weren't talking."
A noise that could have been a laugh from the other girl. "Yep. That's how he heard you." Framed from the fire from the camp, they saw the girl tap her head. "Telepath. Sucks."
The other continued. "You don't have to stay. But you're hungry. And there's no reason for you to remain where you are, when you're among others like yourself." That said, the being passed them. They questioned as she moved--a tail? Was that a tail? As she shifted in front of them to join the other girl, they saw tall ears placed on top of a vulpine head. No, not human, one agreed. The other shrugged warily.
Others such as ourselves? Not quite. Not quite at all.
Nigredo privately agreed, but urged Albedo to speak if needed while they were here. They had no wanting for someone else to learn the things that they had held so dear.
Their guides were traded when they reached the camp, the girl and her fox-like companion leaving as another pair approached. Both watched them go, the yellow bipedal fox looking back at them in what may have been concern as the girl revived a conversation their presence must have interrupted, visiting another group to find her classmates. After a while, the fox returned her attentions on the girl, and the Variants slid their combined attention forward instead.
A girl and a boy had come forward in the absence, the boy seeming to have what looked like cat ears and a tail. After the fox-woman, this was less startling. Albedo still stared. The girl shifted her feet, and the Variants then noticed the cameras that were decorating both of their necks. Interesting. How strange. "Hey," the boy called, his voice slightly self-conscious. "Good to see you're both alright."
Nigredo nodded. Albedo remained still. The girl smiled slightly, trying to play the role of the friendly welcoming committee. "I'm Miku. This is Ritsuka. The two that picked you up were Yukari and Renamon. And this..." A gesture at the camp. "Is the largest settlement we know of. It's safe here." She smiled again. "If you need a place to stay."
Both stared at her now. Ritsuka cleared his throat, gaining their attention. "You're... Nigredo, right? And Albedo?" The shock fell quickly into their faces and Ritsuka rushed to explain. "Artemis told us from what Schuldig found out." That name again. That danger again. They didn't have to fully link to know that both agreed. They could not meet this man. Especially if he had gathered this much without close contact. They glanced at each other, then away. "So... enlightenment, huh? Was that on purpose?"
Nigredo blinked at Ritsuka along with the girl, then Albedo cleared his throat, rasping from disuse. "We don't know. They could have thought it was ironic." Nigredo looked at Albedo. His sibling didn't return the gaze.
Ritsuka was silent, considering both this and Albedo, then nodded carefully. "You should meet someone in charge. They'll be able to answer any questions you have."
Nigredo started, "Not Sch--"
Ritsuka shook his head. "No. We wouldn't take you to him. And anyway, he's not really in charge. You can meet Artemis." The boy smiled. "He's a friend, don't worry."
Friends were few and fleeting. In the firelight, Albedo found Nigredo's hand again. In the shadows, Nigredo squeezed it.
The main tent was clean, neat and tidy. Books lined the floor in neat piles and writing instruments were scattered around in an unknown pattern along with indescribable notes. There was a cot set up against the far wall; a dark haired boy reclined on it, a long haired girl resting comfortably next to him. Entering, Ritsuka smiled at the pair, and as the Variants entered, the girl stretched as an excuse to stand. It was almost unnoticeable, but the two weapons noted the carefully casual pose, the inherent tension in the muscles. A fighter, a weapon. The girl might be this Artemis's paramour, but she was also his bodyguard. Interesting. They didn't exchange glances this time. The boy in front of them smiled grandly. "Welcome to our home. It's not much, but we're working on what we have. Even so, what we have is yours while you're here. Perhaps you'll choose to remain." The smile changed. They weren't sure how but it did. "I am Artemis Fowl the Second." The smile changed again as Artemis looked towards the girl, became more sincere. "And this is Haku."
Nigredo spoke for both, as had become habit. "I'm Nigredo, and this is my brother. Albedo."
Artemis nodded. "I know. I'm sure you were told that my associate overheard you two." The boy leaned forward, eyes becoming sharp. "Can you do that with anyone? Or is it genetic?"
Albedo looked at Nigredo, but Nigredo ignored him. "Genetic," came the easy lie, the simple half-truth. There were ways for others to hear them, but all invited a kind of shunning. The ways that underlined their point as weapons.
Whether or not Artemis believed Nigredo seemed irrelevant. He nodded again, the smile staying. "Rest. Ritsuka or Miku can show you where to get food. Once you've settled in, I'll talk to you again." There seemed a glint in the other boy's eyes. The Variants realized as one that they were two separate colors. "I'm sure we'd have much to discuss."
Only a couple days passed, but already they were finding patterns. Sleeping and eating and working, the two didn't complain about the methods, merely did. They were good little weapons, good little children thankful for food and shelter. At least they were for each other's survival. Both seemed to place little significance to their own livelihood.
The sibling who held a fondness for papercrafts had been adopted by Ritsuka, the older boy questioning his reasoning and motives for his actions in such a gentle, persisting way that it was accepted and answered in kind. He seemed to want to teach Albedo photography, for better or for worse, and the white-haried Variant readily accepted; another hobby in which to explore. He spoke more to Ritsuka than he had aloud to Nigredo in months.
Nigredo, in turn, was being taught about the camp and the ways that it ran by Artemis. The younger Variant showed a remarkable talent for understanding all of it, and even offered ideas to compliment Artemis's. The other boy seemed pleased with this, though Nigredo couldn't understand why. Their walks through the camp had already become commonplace, and Nigredo, still wary, had developed an appreciation for the young leader.
In this, one learning to trust and one learning skills he wouldn't have, things shifted gradually. Two that had become one became two again. At night, things were no different. Both still clung plaintively to each other, the only way both were able to actually sleep.
It was curiosity that would destroy them. Perhaps it would have been something else. But as it was, one brought up Artemis's eyes. It seemed simple, innocent, to ask. Genetic abnormalities drew their attention. And this was one in itself. And so, Nigredo thought to ask as they walked through a nearby field, Albedo back at camp learning to make baskets--ever the persistent failure at domestics. The link remained open between them despite Nigredo's misgivings. Albedo was curious about the answer, and the man called Schuldig hadn't been seen once. And so Nigredo asked.
Artemis laughed, then sat down in the middle of the field, an eyebrow raising. "It's nothing so simple as genetics. But I'll tell you my story if you tell me yours." Nigredo, in the middle of crouching to sit, hesitated, eyes wary, form ready to bolt. Artemis sighed, and waved him the rest of the way down. "How about how you're able to communicate with Albedo? Is it true telepathy?"
Nigredo sat, considering this. Was there harm in revealing this at least? Of course there was; there was risk in revealing anything, but it seemed to have less risk than most. Nigredo looked down. The grass seemed to be dying.
"Here," Artemis offered congenially. "I'll go first." The tale about faeries seemed crazy; time travel and molecular displacement notwithstanding. At the other end, Albedo nodded along, seemingly accepting. At least listening. Nigredo tried the same and found that when he stopped applying logic, it seemed to make sense. A faerie eye. Why not? Klavier had had a hard time believing they were weapons. "It became more once we left," Artemis was saying, watching Nigredo carefully, though the younger boy had no visible reactions. "I was captured. Again. And experimented on." There was a careful pause, placed strategically. No response. Artemis mentally shrugged and moved on. "It worsened because of the faerie part, I think. When they made me into what Schuldig is."
And there was the response. Nigredo's head whipped up, panicked, fearful. Artemis only smiled. "Don't worry. I haven't had it for long. And I have dampeners on my mind." He tipped his head to the side, amused. "I can only get base thoughts, and from you, almost never. You have good guards."
"You try growing up with six-hundred and sixty-eight siblings with the same ability," the boy muttered, thrown off.
Artemis's smile widened. "Ah," he said, inherently pleased. "Now this sounds like a story."
Of course, Nigredo filtered the knowledge, and of course, Albedo was still angry. He wouldn't link with him that evening, and refused to sleep with him that night. Nigredo accepted this, and silently cried himself to sleep until being woken by muffled sobs at his back; the elder curled behind him. There was only the briefest pause before Nigredo reached for him.
These outings continued, and Albedo stopped being pleasantly distracted by Ritsuka when his sibling was out of sight for hours on end, in that same field, with that same person. Nigredo denied him nothing, and always allowed him to experience what was going on with him, if he so chose, but still Albedo found fault. Nigredo could do nothing about this--Artemis offered him knowledge at the price of stories, and Nigredo found himself willing to pay. Albedo was in disgust, and left the other end.
This day, however, started different. Artemis was looking at his fingernails carefully. "Last time, you asked me if I had seen your brother." The boy's voice was cool.
Inexplicitly nervous, Nigredo answered, "Yes. I did."
"So I asked around," Artemis continued. "Had the group pass it amongst themselves, quicker and cleaner than any gossip." Nigredo found himself holding his breath. "Nothing," the older boy explained. "Nothing. No one had seen him out here."
This was when Artemis started to look at him. "But a few had seen him at the Institute, remembered enough of him for Schuldig to reach out for him a little farther. But he told me something." A careful look. "That you know what happened to him."
Nigredo brushed confusion, shock. He leaned forward, brow furrowing. "I don't," he said, tone almost childlike. "I don't know what happened to Rubedo. Neither of us do."
That careful look again. His gaze returned to his hands. "Schuldig doesn't know what you know. You have good guards, I've told you that. But he is certain that you have seen your brother after the initial fall of the Institute."
Nigredo felt expression cease. His own hands were palm up on his knees in supplication, and Nigredo stared at them. "I don't," he whispered. "I don't know." After the fall? Where had he been? Memory started a few towns before the town he had found Albedo in, but that was... Months, already, after the fact. Where had he been before?
"I don't think you're lying," Artemis offered. "But I do believe Schuldig." Nigredo said nothing. Artemis reached over and briefly touched Nigredo's hand. (Come here tonight.) The boy started at the echo in his head, so different from his siblings' presences. It was definitely foreign, definitely did not belong, but slid into his mind seductively even so. Nigredo stared at Artemis.
The other boy got up, smiled. "I'm heading back now. I'll see you tomorrow, Nigredo."
Sitting there, the Variant saw for the first time the red haired man that stepped from behind a tree to accompany the young leader. The man spared him no glance, but Artemis looked back, smiling ever-so-slightly.
Had he always been there? What else was there that Nigredo wasn't able to see?
It started to rain that evening, cool and clear. Albedo was almost congenial towards Nigredo, all light smiles and brief touches. Nigredo found himself relaxing slightly despite the weight of Artemis’ words--a sibling’s kindness had always pulled at him. Nigredo joined Albedo after supper, pointing out the flaws in the basket Albedo had been working on and trying to show him an easier way to achieve success with them. The white-haired Variant pouted, unable to duplicate the technique, and Nigredo smiled without realizing, a simple kind of happiness in the time spent.
And when had that happened? What had passed to create the shift, the change in behavior and self of both to a point where both had become something familiar, known; as much a part of each other as anything else had been. At arm's length and within arm's distance, separate and apart learned the quality of closeness. This could be seen elsewhere. Three separated to two and bonds growing from that. It was a different set, but the pattern held all the same. What had been separate could bond most fiercely. This was a lesson learned, a lesson lost.
Despite the events of the quiet evening, movement was forced. Steps taken if only to secure knowledge, find what was unknown. In ifs and maybes, Nigredo couldn't see telling Albedo only to upset him. Here it lied; he knew the stability of his sibling was a faltering dance. Adding more would only make things worse, especially if nothing panned out. If there was nothing to be learned. In the absence of memories, in the place that now space resided, Nigredo wondered at the blankness, wondered at what the body knew but didn't share with the mind.
Artemis was where he had promised, alone and without guard. The rain pressed, drops moving faster, but the other boy didn't seem to notice. Something rumbled in the distance and, on edge, Nigredo closed the space between them, eyes wary.
"He's not here," Artemis called softly, hands open and out in a display of trust. "You can make sure if you want."
If he wanted. From before, from earlier, this could be seen from touch. But how could one know that what didn't exist did not reside close by? Fingertips slid forward to touch palm, and the rain lit up in a rainbow blaze. Nigredo started, and took a step backwards. Artemis only smiled. Silence moved between them, and Nigredo slowly reached out again, this time looking past colors for a shock of hair too familiar to something known.
Nothing. Artemis nodded once in comprehension and spoke over the rain. "It will be like that. 'Something out of nothing.' You will see where you were blinded."
Nigredo quietly thought of how that was an apt description. Moving in a world of senses, sight was most used and least trusted. Even finding Albedo had been only because of the link and nothing more. And it was too appropriate to go back to that. Even as caution grew, dread lining his stomach. How could he know what happened to Rubedo? Why wouldn't he remember? It was too questionable to be trusted, too disturbing not to be questioned. Slipping into habits, Nigredo nodded without speaking. Artemis nodded just as solemnly, and reached to grasp both of Nigredo's hands. Too dramatic was the irony--Albedo would appreciate it, but the other wasn't here--lightning flashed as Artemis spoke into his mind, a word so simple that it caused the deepest fear; a shaking of one's soul.
To a cold heart and empty places.
An explosion would signify a fall, an end. Rubble would shift to allow plaster to fall. These things were noted and placed to the side for reference. They were not needed, not when there was a job to be done. He had a duty to fulfill. A mission to complete. And that--
-Nonononono, please no, please don't, don't make me-
--Was what was important. What mattered.
Retrospect would call later, note other movements and actions mirroring this one. Fail-safes. In the event the institute fell, for each being that harbored a level C power, their antithesis was activated. Elsewhere, one would see one called a god facing a monk, a special who took abilities against another who borrowed. And here was a pale horse, hunting a dragon. It was only fate, a cruel irony that in this case, the end had already been predetermined.
From his hands dangled a machine gun--little use and all but forgotten against what was being hunted. Against something like that, there was only--
There was sobbing somewhere. It, too, was placed to the side.
"Hey! Nigredo! Where have you--"
Target acquired. And comprehension started to dawn.
"Wait. Don't tell me they--"
There were many things capable when a person's personality layer was shut down. It could be literal in a Realian's case--emotions dropped to unveil fact. And in the case of a weapon, a goal could overtake desires. It could allow for an ability unused to be picked apart and prodded to activation. Its creation was to serve one purpose, after all. And here, purpose and point--
-...reason for existence-
--Were effortlessly clear. The Red Dragon was a threat. It needed to be eliminated. Something flashed, bright as life, large as death, and behind that a rumble (raining, was it raining?). And under that, sobbing, two voices intermingled in a crescendo of mourning--sounds raised in a mix and mingle of despair and outrage, guilt and accusation both; waveform splitting, shifting, colors differentiating to a deep green and clear violet--
In the moment Nigredo's head whipped up, hands jerking from Artemis's, the place between 667 and 669 cut harshly, the former pulling away with a painful force. Instinctually, Nigredo's waveform reached to follow, and was shut down, rejected violently. Between the two losses of different aspects, Nigredo curled in on himself. Nothing followed. Artemis's voice could echo all it wanted, an absence could pull at him endlessly, and a fear reborn now justified could sit to deteriorate inside of him. The truth was what had been forgotten. And now there was only this. Nothing else. Nothing more.
A friend of the older would tell how he vanished, ran into the night to vanish without a trace. It was that one's nature, to disappear with ease, to glide under wandering eyes to be as if he had never existed. The younger would remain for a time, silent and without any wantings. There was nothing else, and so, there was no need for movement. Time would shift, the camp would be broken, and people would disperse. Space would have the older finding ones known within a city's limits, approach something like bonds in what was still given. Both stepped unevenly, leaning on the borders of loss and despair, continuing their own existence for reasons unknown. Something had ended. Something lost as if it had never been there.
This was how they moved.
This was how time passed.