A room on a ship. Small, but clean; wide windows opened to the voids of space. Simple. Empty, but for a chest on the back against the wall, made perhaps out of the same material — welded as one more part of the chamber. Silence, the whirring of a ship moving, distant chatter of serfs. Then — footsteps. Heavy footfalls, in power-armored boots, getting closer. Stopping briefly. Behind the door, the noises of armor being removed. Latches unlocking. Someone toeing out of his boots, delicate. Even more serf chatter; smaller footsteps, lighter, as they left. Silence. Silence, for a moment — then a metallic whine as the door to the chamber opens.
An unnaturally tall figure, in casual clothing. Black and draping. He turns around; the door clicks closed, locked. The figure steps forward. He's graceful. The chamber is small enough for him to cross it in but a few steps.
He stops before the chest, breathes in deep. He's carrying something - a lighted candle. It's small — smaller than his hands — and white, and it burns with a tiny, golden light.
He kneels before the chest — first one knee, then the other, slowly, as if they could not hold his weight. The candle, carried on a small metallic disc, is left on the floor. His fingers reach the latch; it opens with a faint groan, and he opens the chest in one swift movement. He has done this before. He picks a few things up from the depths of the chest: a small wooden box, a few sticks wrapped in a black ribbon, a large red candle. He places them on the floor with practised ease, and closes the chest.
The figure places the wooden box on top of the chest. It almost looks like a music box. It's uncarved but for a brusque, unpolished symbol, its edges softened more by touch than by sanding. An infinity. The red candle is placed by the box's right, and the sticks by its left, diagonal.
The figure lifts the white candle and uses it to light the red one. He places the white one behind the red one, stares one last time at the galaxies — for a moment — and closes his eyes.
"I miss you," he begins. His voice is clear, sonorous. It is beautiful. He hesitates before continuing. "Today, more than any other day," he repeats, "I miss you. ...Where to even begin?"
He sighs. "I still am oft reminded of the day you died. When I saw you hold onto your first captain... You could've lived through it, I know you could've. You were one of us. You could've yet lived... but you didn't want to, did you?" He pauses. "I remember seeing you, holding him to yourself so tight as he burned. Spontaneous combustion, was it called...? The fires licked your arms. I remember your face — your eyes on me, on..." He trails off. "Until they melted." Another pause. "You could've come back from this. You didn't want to. ...I think I understand, now." He smiles, weakly. "I will not die in vain. But... I figure you didn't feel like your death was in vain either, did you? ...Excuses, perhaps. Maybe you did. Maybe dying was worth any lie, any excuse."
There is silence, for a moment.
"...you died in vain," the figure repeats, now devoid of question. "I... do not know why I feel so nostalgic tonight." It's not the right word, maybe, but - maybe it is? "...Well. That's not entirely true. I think I do know why. But... it's not something I'd like to think about." He pauses. "And yet, I feel like I should tell you."
He swallows. His Adam's apple bobs. A lock of hair untucks itself from behind his ear. His eyes flicker away from the candle, to the windows, to the stars — to a star — then back.
"...You never liked your homeworld," he says, slowly. "I've long doubted following its rituals of mourning, for you. But — it's too late for that now, is it." He drums his fingers against his thigh for a moment. "...Nothing makes sense these days. There's something of a comfort in this, in..." In knowing why he did this, when he struggles to understand the reasoning behind others' actions. Others' violent actions. "...in secrecy. Perhaps that is the reason for..." He stops suddenly, quietens. He hides his eyes for a moment. It flashes by. Soon, he's fine again.
"...You died in vain," he states. "Hah. Look at me, repeating myself. You would've found that funny, wouldn't you?" ... "I'm deflecting, I know. It's just... painful to admit something like this to you, knowing how..." He pauses. "How you died. Why you died." There is a bitter weight on his tongue. No, not bitter — acidic, metallic, like blood. He almost laughs at that thought, but—
He glances at a star, a different star, a guiding star — wonders perhaps if his words will have consequences. If he will hear. Well. He wouldn't like him doing this in the first place, so what's one more stripe to the tiger?
"...There is a flaw," he reveals to the air, the thin air, the tinny air of the ship, "in my legion." He waits a moment, haunted. He has seen it. It is not — that isn't all that haunts him. He's waiting for a reply, he realizes, ridiculous as it sounds. He feels like a coward, burning in his chest, running down his limbs. "...I'm so sorry," he says. "I couldn't say anything while your fate was decided. At least you made your death your own, didn't you? ...Did it bring you any comfort, to die on your own terms? And by the flaw that decided your fate, too." Burnt to ash. He blinks away dust.
"...according to that judgement, I should be dead, too. Like you." His breathing is measured. "I was afraid. Of... so many things. Death; not mine, but... well." Images of his men, their corpses littering a planet, the planet burnt to ash— "...I know why I didn't speak. I think you might have known, in the end, how heavy my silence was. But I can't stop thinking it could've gone differently. I know mine isn't the only flawed one. I wonder... I wonder how he learnt of yours." He laughs, and it isn't funny. "Brother, even if it still stood — nothing in this galaxy could make me return to Rangdan."
Something shines briefly, in the low light of the stars and the candles and the distant sun, as it drips to the floor. The figure rustles, shuffles for a moment, then settles down again.
Sound waves cannot travel through the void. Space is, before anything, quiet — there's nothing that could hear you, anyways. Or — nothing that you'd want to find listening to you. If you're lucky.
"...I know we haven't spoken in some time," the figure says. "I'm sorry. It's been..." He sighs. "A lot of things have happened." How do you deliver bad news to someone who's been dead for so long? "...I still see your children between the Ultramarines sometimes, brother. Or — well. What remains. There's a dreadnought I'm sure was one of yours, but I can't confirm it. I've been sworn to never say your name, and so has he. I can't imagine how it feels, to be entombed in the wrong colours."
He blinks. Looks away. He has long lashes, and they reflect the candlelight when they flutter. "I wonder if our father regrets the order sometimes. I can't imagine what he must've felt, to enact something like that..." But he can. He can and he does imagine, and he doesn't want to, because every piece of his sibling's flaw, his trial, his — the circumstances behind his death, the order, it all adds up to something he doesn't want to think about. He knows their father loves them, but...
"...He forbid speaking of you, but never to you," he muses. "I wonder if that was on purpose. Or if our brothers have realized." He swallows. "I know you were devastated when... our mutual sibling was condemned to damnatio. You actually spoke up against Father. Contested him. I can't say that I..." Well. He can't avoid what he's been talking around any longer, can he. "...Perhaps you would've joined Horus, on his."
The word gets stuck in his throat. He has spoken it before, many times. His what?
"On his treachery."
There it is. He raises his shoulders, shuffles his limbs closer to his body. Guarded; defensive.
"He has betrayed us," he whispers out, breathless, "betrayed the Imperium. He champions some — strange, dark gods. I fear they have corrupted him. And... he seeks to kill our father." A pause. "Alongside half of our brotherhood, too."
He hesitates for a moment, his head leaning forward, and then he lays it on the chest, right besides the box. Cold metal against his cheek. One hand is tracing the carving on the box, the other content to rest beyond his head, half on soft blonde hair, near the edge of the chest.
His brother gave better hugs than anyone else did. Most of his brothers are awkward, or crush his ribs, or don't know how to hug him, or only deign to half-hug. He doesn't blame them; he isn't easy to hug. But — his brother had somehow done it.
"...if you had been here, Lorgar wouldn't have fallen," he tells the box. "Our brothers wouldn't have fallen. You were the glue that kept us together. I tried—" He makes a small noise, and saltwater drips onto metal — "I swear on the stars, I tried." Plink. "But I was never good like you were." Plink, plink. He swallows.
He waits for a moment, lifts his head up slowly. He watches the candles' flames tremble. "I was unmerciful on Rangdan. Unlike you. Perhaps if I'd been unable to, we would not be here."
There is silence, void like beyond the open windows. The candles flicker like distant stars.
The figure stands up slowly, lifting one leg and then the other. He grabs one of the sticks from the bundle, slides it under the ribbon that ties it together. He stands before the wooden box, quiet, hesitant, a mountain; better yet, a dune, shifting in its greatness. He lifts one of the candles and lights the stick, watches it start to burn and carbonize.
When he speaks, it is with renewed strength, but still low.
"I came to speak with you today," he says, "because I doubt I will be able to return. I... know our brother well. ...Or I thought I did, at least. It's unfortunate, isn't it? ...I don't know. He seems. Different, these days, somehow." But he's stalling, and he realizes that. "...I don't think I will return to speak to you," he says. "I wanted to do that one last time, at the very least, before…" Well. "...I wanted to tell you. About my secret." He's trying to hold something back in his chest, between his ribs. A bleeding-heart dove in a birdcage. "...I kept visiting you," he hums, "and never telling you about it, and I meant to get around to it, eventually, and I… don't have an excuse for not having told you before." … "...before you even died, but."
The dove pecks at the bars of its prison. The primarch shudders, and it is beautiful and violent both.
"I did it, though," he whispers, in the empty shade of the chamber, and he lifts one hand to thoughtlessly trace the infinity symbol on the wooden box. "I told you, in the end… in the literal end. I won't return from this battle," he repeats, and every time he says that it feels more and more true. "I don't know who will kill me, is I think the scariest part…? I thought I knew, before, but." He's had time to mull over it.
He smiles and for once his smile is ugly, for the first time in his life, unpleasant to the sight of his enemies and allies alike. "I thought I'd die at the hands of our father for the longest time," he mentions. "Ever since you did. And then, when I realized Horus would kill me — I felt… relieved. Embarrassing, isn't it? You'd mock me for that one." … "And now, I don't know anymore. They're both angry, I know it, but…" He continues softly tracing the infinity. There's a knot in his throat and it's a noose, isn't it.
"...I should leave," he mentions after a moment, "but I don't…" A sigh. Then, a small noise; he shifts, presses his forehead, his face to the cool metal. The smell of the sea, faintly, only close enough. "I don't want to die," he admits, very small, like something — like someone — that would only come up to his knees. Something hangs, unspoken, even unthought about in the air; the sentence doesn't end there, but he doesn't finish it. The first half is hard enough to admit.
He lifts his head. Golden-dyed hair trails behind his head, tan skin and neck turning into a royal profile. He blinks, clearing his sight: a small bundle of sticks, two candles, a box. A chest. And on the chest, a tiny ocean of private grief.
The dove bats its wings and it is free. The primarch's shoulders rise and fall and he shrinks, somewhat, and in the darkness transparent trails of tears suddenly grow, revealing sharp cheekbones, full lips, a single mole under the jawline as he briefly raises his head, looks away. Gathers strength.
He picks the bundle of small sticks up, and with two fingers slowly takes one out. The stick wobbles a little bit. He is not to blame. He moves the stick; its other end meets the candle and slowly starts burning. A pleasant smell fills the cabin.
It takes some time. He moves a few times, shuffles where he's kneeling, sits legs criss-crossed and all limbs defensive. The embers light his face, delineate the fleshy pinks below dark eyes. Eventually, though, the stick burns out, leaving only ash behind, and he brushes it onto his palm, opens the box with his off-hand and places it there.
He stares at the ash for a moment, part of a bigger pile. There is a piece of bone beneath it. A tooth, if he remembers; a canine. Canine, of course it would be, a fang and the brother who'd… No, he won't go there. Not with how little time he's got left.
"...I'd burn the rest here," he says. "Give you their ashes, like you told me about, once. But I'm expected before tomorrow." He swallows, smiles. "I'm not expected tomorrow at all," he muses. "...but I'll burn them. There must be some fire, right?"
Unsaid forever goes: if I was anything like you I would be the pyre.
"...Well." He's almost tempted to touch the porcelain below centuries' worth of ash. But he doesn't; he closes the lid, carefully; he places the box and the candle and the sticks on the floor, and he lifts the chest's lid and stores them, safely, and looks at them one lance time and closes the lid, and then softly he says —
"Goodnight, brother. Stay safe, wherever you are. And I'll see you soon."
He stands up, and it's not two seconds before he hears someone knock at his door, outside the small chamber. Through multiple sheets of thick metal he hears, muffled, a questioning my lord Sanguinius?
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he hums, almost under his breath, and leaves behind the tomb.