Summary: Ritsuka just doesn't understand anything at all.
Warnings: Loveless is shota by definition, but there's nothing particularly objectionable in this fic. Amateur piercing.
Spoilers: the big Seimei spoiler.
Original Story: Forgiveness by Dusk_eyed
AN: Thanks to marksykins for looking this over. Canon by osmosis!
"Ritsuka!" Yuiko hollered, but Ritsuka kept walking, head down and glaring at the pavement as the clatter of Yuiko's shoes caught up to him from behind. "You aren't going to leave Soubi-kun there, are you?!"
"I didn't ask him to come," Ritsuka snapped, letting his sneakers slap harder against the pavement. He didn't look back, but the image of Soubi was still clear in his mind, the unlit cigarette he was twiddling between his fingers and the flinch as Ritsuka stormed past him without so much as a word.
"Are you two having a fight?" Yuiko pressed, bouncing along beside Ritsuka. Her pigtails were practically whipping Ritsuka in the face as she turned her head back and forth to look from Ritsuka to Soubi. "Ritsuka, Soubi-kun is just standing there! You can't just leave, you have to make up!"
"He started it," was Ritsuka's only comment, shoving his hands further into his pockets, fingers curling around the cold metal of his cell phone, which hadn't rung even once last night no matter how hard he stared at it.
"But he came to see you!" Yuiko pressed, grabbing Ritsuka's arm and trying to tug him to a stop. "He looks so sad, can't you forgive him just a little?"
"No!" Ritsuka jerked his arm out of Yuiko's grip and stared at his sneakers, trying to calm the hitch in his breath while he remembered the bark of Seimei's voice and the glint of Soubi's glasses in the streetlights, the graceful sweep of Soubi's fingers, so thin and pale, as he directed the spell, needles of ice prickling over Ritsuka's skin before the words had even reached him. Ritsuka squeezed his eyes shut. "No, if Soubi wanted to, he'd…"
Ritsuka trailed off, fingers tightening around the phone until his fingertips were tingling. "He started it."
"Oh, Ritsuka," Yuiko said, voice so sad that Ritsuka finally did look up, just long enough to see the droop of her shoulders and the graceful curve of her neck as she twisted to see Soubi still the whole way back at the gates. "You don't understand anything."
When the phone rang, Ritsuka pounced on it, homework forgotten, and nearly knocked the phone off his desk along with his lamp in his haste to answer it.
It was the Zeros, and Ritsuka made an exasperated face before answering. Natsuo would just keep calling and calling until he did. Which was exactly how Ritsuka ended up sneaking out at ten o'clock on a school night to skulk around the park with them.
Puberty had been good to Natsuo so far, giving him some height and making his hair feather lazily around his emerging cheekbones. On the other hand, that meant that Youji had been enjoying puberty far less as his title of "the cute Zero" came into question. He'd compensated by cutting his hair too short, so that it spiked up around his ears, and wearing the stompiest boots he could find.
The better for kicking up piles of leaves with. "So, you and Soubi-kun are fighting again, huh?"
Ritsuka scowled and shrugged, wondering why everybody always knew his business. He kicked at some leaves too, ears flattening against his head when Youji shouldered into him, bumping him in hopes of starting a wrestling match.
"We went to see Soubi-kun yesterday," Natsuo explained, bumping Ritsuka from the other side, snickering when Ritsuka's ears and tail bristled. "But he wouldn't fight us or anything. You don't take very good care of your things, Ric-chan."
"You set all of your things on fire!" Ritsuka snapped, kicking harder and making Natsuo hop out of the way to keep his ankle safe. "And Soubi isn't a thing!"
"Of course he is, idiot," Youji said, reaching across Ritsuka to shove Natsuo; Natsuo tripped and crashed to the ground in an explosion of leaves. "He's your fighter."
"He's a person," Ritsuka argued, scuttling around to the other side of Youji when Natsuo kicked out to tangle their ankles together. Youji tried to kick back, but ended up tripping anyway, grabbing the front of Ritsuka's hoodie to yank him down too when he started to fall.
Ritsuka gave a yowl when he landed hard on his palms and got an elbow in his stomach; the Zeros laughed as they shoved and scratched at each other.
"He's Soubi," Youji said when they were finally tangled up in a heap. He was curled up tight against Natsuo's side, and Natsuo was yanking casually on tufts of Youji's hair, a bruise rising on his cute new cheekbone. "He's yours."
Ritsuka huffed a breath, sending a few leaves scattering off his chest. "He's—"
"He's yours," Youji interrupted, reaching over to give one of Ritsuka's ears a savage tweak. "God, you're so stupid you should just die. How can you still not understand anything about being a sacrifice?"
School the next day was a haze. Ritsuka hadn't come in until well after midnight, and had nearly been caught sneaking in by his mother. Fortunately he had just got the door shut, and his mother only thought that he was up past his bedtime.
If she'd actually caught him coming in the door…Ritsuka shivered and put it out of his mind, then tried to find a position where his cheek could rest against his hand without upsetting any of his bruises.
So he wasn't exactly at his most alert by the time he was leaving school and nearly ran head-first into a glowering Kio.
"Ritsuka-kun!" exclaimed Yayoi-san, who'd been walking behind Ritsuka and stumbled right into him when he stopped so abruptly. Pushing up his glasses, he peered around Ritsuka's shoulder at the pierced college student tapping his foot in front of them. "You didn't get a new boyfriend, did you? Because if you're trying to make Soubi-kun jealous, trust me, it doesn't…"
"SHUT UP," roared Ritsuka, tail bushed out to at least twice its normal size. Kio was glaring at both of them harder, and Ritsuka glared right back. Behind him, he heard Yuiko tell Yayoi that they should go and leave Ritsuka to work things out, but Ritsuka didn't bother to stop glaring long enough to say goodbye to them, or even turn around.
"Nice," Kio said. "So you aren't just an ass to Sou-chan?"
"What are you even doing here?" Ritsuka demanded, crossing his arms. "This is a junior high school!"
"That's usually where you go to find little brats." Kio kept right on talking while Ritsuka spluttered. "Look, you, I don't know what you did to Sou-chan, but you need to fix it."
"What I did!" Ritsuka's ears went flat, his hands clenched into fists. "Soubi's the one who—"
"What are you, five?" The chill in Kio's voice brought Ritsuka up short, mouth open. "You won't speak to him, you won't call him…"
"He could call me just as easily!" Ritsuka shouted, his phone like a rock in his pocket, cold against his leg.
Kio just shook his head. "You don't understand anything about Soubi, do you?"
No, Ritsuka realized much later, finally. He really didn't.
And the way Soubi stared at him when he came out of his art class and found Ritsuka waiting for him proved it.
He just stood there, hands limp at his sides and streaked with bright red paint that had given Ritsuka a moment of raw terror before he saw the chewed paintbrush stuck through Soubi's hair. He didn't ask what Ritsuka was doing there, or why he hadn't called, or even greet him.
Soubi simply stood, looking lost, like he hadn't had a single moment of sleep or peace in the last three days, like he'd rather die than go through one more. Like he couldn't bring himself to eat or change clothes or do anything besides chain-smoke and paint butterflies, beautiful and helpless.
And even though he did understand now, maybe not all of it, but the important parts, it still made Ritsuka angry that Soubi saw himself that way, and made Ritsuka's voice come out rough and irritated when he called Soubi's name.
Soubi's eyelids fluttered just barely at Ritsuka's voice, but Ritsuka was watching close enough to see. He wanted to look away, the blank expression Soubi was fixing on him giving making his stomach roll, but Ritsuka forced himself to look, to see.
That was Soubi, after all. For Soubi there were only orders, and for Ritsuka there was only Soubi. It couldn't be helped.
"I'm your sacrifice," Ritsuka said, wanting to get the worst part over with, even though they were on the street, students passing by and shooting curious glances at the fourteen-year-old barking orders at the twenty-two-year-old.
But Soubi nodded, all his attention fixed on Ritsuka, and Ritsuka forced himself to get through to the end, to the part where the words "It's an order!" sent a shiver down Soubi's whole frame.
There was a terrible moment, where nothing happened and Ritsuka thought that maybe he didn't understand Soubi at all, maybe he didn't understand anything, but then Soubi said his name, low and rough and wanting, and Ritsuka was so relieved that he grabbed Soubi's hand in both of his, half-dried paint smudging onto his tightly curled fingers.
The movement made the object in Ritsuka's pocket bump against his leg. This time it wasn't his phone; it was square and sleek and something a nice young boy his age shouldn't be walking around with. But then again, nice young boys didn't get a rush of heat in their veins from the thought of pushing needles through smooth skin, of watching blood darker than paint or butterflies slide in slow drops down cold silver.
But Ritsuka wasn't a nice young boy. He was Soubi's sacrifice. And Soubi was his fighter, which meant that Ritsuka had to take care of him, somehow.
"I understand now, Soubi," Ritsuka said, because he really wanted it to be true.
"Ritsuka," Soubi answered, the name a spell, and Ritsuka smiled and squeezed Soubi's hand tighter, because he understood at least that spells were meant for sacrifices to step in front of.