Chapter Twenty-Nine: Peace

Spotlights were everywhere, bathing the walls in a warm glow, illuminating each plaque that rested above the paintings, glittering and sparkling. Champagne classes clinked together as people talked and toasted, the alcohol quietly swishing as a waitress passed, arm held a loft as the guests slowly unburdened her overflowing tray. A waiter passed with a tray of caviar, the stench of eggs trailing behind him for a moment.

Ritsuka paused at the door, but was nudged forward by Kiyoshi. He stopped again a minute later, looking around in wonder. "I thought this was going to be…casual," he sad quietly to his father as a woman dressed in a ball gown passed them, attached to the arm of an older gentleman who reeked of money. "Are art galleries always this," Ritsuka searched for the right word, "glamorous?" He suddenly felt very under dressed in his black dress pants, button-up violet shirt, and black blazer. Soubi hadn't told him it was going to be a black tie affair. "Wh-"

"Would either of you gentlemen like some champagne?"

Ritsuka blinked at the pretty waitress, who simply smiled widely at them, pushing her tray forward. Kiyoshi plucked one of the flutes off the simple black tray, politely thanking her. The swish of a woman's long dress filled Ritsuka's ears for a moment.

He looked around the waitress, not wanting to drink and knowing that Kiyoshi wouldn't let him even if he had. Ritsuka looked back at the waitress as she repeated her earlier question. Ritsuka shook his head, smiling, as the waitress looked him up and down, an appraising, pleased look in her eyes. Kiyoshi cleared his throat and opened his mouth to say something, but Ritsuka beat him to it.

"If you'll excuse me, I have to find my boyfriend."

Ritsuka smiled to himself at the waitress's dumbfounded look and his father's resigned sigh. Ritsuka weaved, squeezed, and twirled his way through the crowded, oddly quiet room. With this many people, it should be really loud. Is an art gallery like a library? Maybe I should've gone to one before this. He groaned as some lady's purse rammed into his back.

She smiled politely at him, excusing herself and flashing him a brilliant, white smile. He smiled tightly, wrapping one arm around the now aching bruise. What did she have in her purse—bricks?

Ritsuka turned away from the crowd to look at the painting in front of him and nearly laughed out loud at the memory it brought back. The painting was one of contrast—a huge butterfly whose wings touched either side of the twenty-two by twenty-two inch canvas. The right side was covered in dark blues, purples, greens, and black. The wing was damaged, ripped, dark red seeping out of the wounds. The left side was the complete opposite; fired in yellows, oranges, light reds, and pinks. The wing was perfect, undamaged, intricate, each vein distinct and perfect. The left side was peaceful and content; the right dark and violent. Ritsuka let out a quiet yell as another lady's purse slammed into the same bruise. He wanted to growl at the lady, but he couldn't after she started profusely apologizing and nearly hugged him. He could only nod, temporarily blinded by tears, one hand on the bruise on his back, the other on his stomach in an attempt to push back the rising nausea. His legs felt shaky. The lady was still apologizing and he could hear another voice, but he blocked them out to focus on breathing regularly.

"Ritsuka, what happened? What hurts?"

Ritsuka grabbed his father, blinking furiously. I was hit by two purses on the same bruise," he said quietly, leaning his head against Kiyoshi's chest. Kiyoshi wrapped his arms around the teenager, rubbing his upper back in a circle. Kiyoshi smiled at the distraught woman, reassuring her that Ritsuka would be fine in a few minutes. By the time he finished speaking, there was a small crowd, curious as to why the teenage boy was crying in public. Kiyoshi's arms tightened around his son, glaring at the onlookers as he turned them around so his back was to the crowd.

"Is it getting better?" Kiyoshi didn't try to disguise the concern in hiss voice. Ritsuka nodded once.

"Yeah, I just need another minute," Ritsuka whispered, cheeks burning with humiliation as he heard all the voices around him and the complete quiet of the rest of the room. He heard no glasses clink, no champagne quietly swishing, and only two sets of footsteps, one he immediately recognized and relief flooded his body.

Soubi!

Ritsuka slumped against Kiyoshi a second later, barely containing a whimper, as a hammer shattered his heart once again. Kiyoshi frowned at the raven-haired head nestled against his chest, repositioning his arms. Soubi finally got through the crowd, his face impassive, and eyes bright with concern. "He's had an accident with a couple of purses. They hit the same bruise on his back," Kiyoshi offered before Soubi had a chance to open his mouth. "Physically, he's fine now, but I think he tried to contact you and couldn't…"

Ritsuka and Soubi both looked at him in surprise. "How did you figure that out?" Ritsuka asked quietly, still conscious of the slowly dispersing crowd as Okashera shooed everyone away.

"You pretty much collapsed once Soubi started coming. Normally, you perk up when he comes near you; you did the opposite, so I assumed you had tried to contact him through your connection and couldn't."

"Oh," Ritsuka said simply, unsure of what else to say. He pulled back from Kiyoshi, giving him and Soubi a small smile. "I'm okay now. It just hurt really bad for a few minutes." Ritsuka looked into Soubi's eyes, trying to push the panic and depression that was tearing at the hole where his heart used to be. Soubi gave him a small smile, silently communicating, "I know."

Ritsuka wanted to hug Soubi, but Okashera-san came back with a smiling couple, dressed more simply than the extravagance of hand-beaded ball gowns that had assaulted Ritsuka's vision.

"And here's the artist, Agatsuma Soubi," Okashera-san nearly boasted, sweeping his hand dramatically toward Soubi. Ritsuka and Kiyoshi both smiled as introductions were made.

"This," the man (Ritsuka had already forgotten his name) said, "is one of my favorite paintings. The contrast is striking. What prompted you to paint this?" Ritsuka didn't bother hiding his smile. If Kio hadn't walked in on them, he would've lost his ears that day.

Soubi hesitated for just a second, remembering why the painting had turned out as a contrast. He knew the couple was expecting some profound statement about how it represented the good and evil in the world, but instead he went with part of the truth. "I was in a very melancholy, angry mood when I first started painting it. Ritsuka distracted me in the middle of the process and put me in a better mood. When I began painting again, I couldn't keep with the tone of the first half." The couple just nodded along, never once wondering what the distraction was or why the pale-haired man was suddenly glaring at his slightly sheepish son.

Ritsuka turned away from Soubi and Kiyoshi as he spotted a familiar face. He nodded toward her and returned her shaky smile. He looked back to Soubi as the man squeezed his hand. "I'll see you later," he said quietly before Okashera all but dragged him away.

Ritsuka looked back to where she had been standing, relieved to still see her there. "I'll be right back," he said to Kiyoshi. He made his way through the crowd again, never taking his eyes off her. She never smiled, eyes wide and scared. Ritsuka thought wryly. He finally reached her. She just stared at him, unmoving. Another moment passed.

"Good evening, Sakura-chan."

She stayed silent for a second then draw in a deep, shuddering breath, tearing springing to her eyes. "Good evening, Ritsuka-kun. Can I talk to you for a few minutes? I want to explain some things. I also need to apologize."

Ritsuka frowned at the last part, stuffing his hands in his pockets and shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Sure," Ritsuka said and started walking to a hallway that led outside. He stopped in the doorway and turned back to face her. "I agree that you need to explain some things, but I don't understand why you feel you need to apologize. You didn't really do anything wrong. It was all Yukoi."

Sakura looked down for a second, but then met Ritsuk'a gaze head on. "Yes, Yukoi was the one who physically hurt you, but I could have stopped him. I knew his plan for over a month. I knew how crazy he was, how obsessive he was, how violent he was. I could have told someone at school or the police. I could have stopped him."

Ritsuka could tell she believed the words, but he didn't. "You mentioned Yukoi's violence," he started quietly. "What would he had done to you if he had discovered you had told, or even realized that you wanted to tell?" Sakura lowered her eyes, swallowing loudly. "I know you were terrified of him. I could tell that from our first meeting in the park. You did whatever he said. You looked like you knew what would happen if you disobeyed him. It's the same look I often had right before my mother would hit me."

Surprised, Sakura looked up at this. She opened her mouth and then closed it again, then sighed, shoulders slumping forward. "Yes, I knew what would happen if I disobeyed him, but I should have done something to try to help you." She suddenly looked up at him, straightening her shoulders out, a sudden fire burning in her eyes. "Yukoi had no right to kidnap and hurt you."

Ritsuka sighed lightly, nodding. "I know, but it isn't your fault that it happened. You can't place the blame solely on yourself. Yes, you knew him the best, but if he was that bad, one of your teachers should have seen something. They could have spoken up. Soubi and my father would have never left my side for a single second, and it wouldn't have made a difference. Yukoi wanted me and was determined to have me, no matter what stood in his way. Do you honestly think that telling someone would have stopped him?"

Sakura slowly shook her head. "No, I guess not, but I still feel guilty over it." Ritsuka opened his mouth, but closed it as the girl shook her head. "Just let me finish. Part of me knows it isn't my fault, but I can't really believe that yet. I know you don't hold me responsible, but I need to properly apologize." She paused, staring intently at Ritsuka. Ritsuka resignedly nodded his head. "I am truly sorry for everything Yukoi did to you and my role in it."

Ritsuka just stared at her, unsure of what to say. He knew she probably expected him to forgive her, but he didn't feel she needed forgiveness. "I don't feel like I should say this, since you need no forgiveness, but I forgive you."

Sakura's eyes shined briefly with tears before she nodded once and quickly bowed. "Thank you, Ritsuka-kun." She glanced quickly at her watch. "I have to go now. We probably won't ever meet again."

Ritsuka frowned, surprised at how much that statement hurt. "Why not? I want to stay in touch and see you. You know, be friends."

Sakura's already wide eyes widened even more. "Really? You want to be friends?"

Ritsuka smiled at her incredulous tone. "Yeah. Why not?" he shrugged.

Sakura fumbled for a minute. "Okay… we can talk, but we probably won't see each other again. My family and I are moving to the UK." Ritsuka blinked at the huge move, but quickly refocused. "Could we email or something?" she asked while pulling out her phone to save Ritsuka's email address.

Ritsuka gave her his email address and then saved hers in his phone. He flipped the phone shut, looking expectantly at her. She smiled again, but this time it reached her eyes, lighting up her whole face. "I have to go now," she said quietly, reaching out a hand for Ritsuka to shake. Ritsuka raised his eyebrows, but shook her hand anyway.

"I'll talk to you later," he said as she smiled one last time and walked away.

Ritsuka smiled softly to himself, feeling as if one horrible chapter of his life had finally been closed.

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

The opening was a hit. Everyone wanted to buy at least one of the paintings, but Soubi was willing to part with only a little over half. All those who could afford it were offering ridiculous amounts of money for the painting of Ritsuka; some even offered insane amounts for Ritsuka himself. Okashera-san immediately had them leave while Soubi and Kiyoshi glared after them. The news press ate it up, fueling the rumors wondering if the artist and the handsome, teenage boy were an item.

Ritsuka was introduced, had his hand shaken nearly off his body, hugged, and even spun around by one over zealous gentleman. He smiled until his cheeks hurt, wondering when it was going to be over; he wanted to finally be alone with Soubi for more than a quick hug in a back hallway.

The first gallery showing ended early that morning, but Soubi's career took off. More and more people wanted to exhibit his art. It took only a few months for the international art community to notice, and offers from China, France, Great Britain, the United States, and even Russia came pouring in. Soubi let his art be shown and more paintings be bought, but he refused to travel those first few times. He was still too scared to be too far away from Ritsuka without having their mental connection.

Almost exactly one year after their connection had been permanently severed and Soubi was contemplating traveling to a near by district for a showing, the news came that Misaki had committed suicide. Ritsuka had been visiting her about once a month for the past six months, and it had looked like she was getting better. The medication seemed to be working, and she never once acted out toward Ritsuka.

In her note, Misaki said that the voices and urges were just too strong for her to beat. They were still telling her to hurt Ritsuka, and she didn't believe she could fight them and was unwilling to put Ritsuka at risk. She had stolen pills from the other patients over two weeks and then had taken them all in one night.

Ritsuka and Kiyoshi had been devastated by the news. It had just started feeling like they were going to get her back, but then suddenly she was gone forever. Once a year he would visit her grave and say a prayer and tell her that he loved her.

It took ten years for Kiyoshi to start dating again, but once he did it took him only one date to find the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Asami was everything he wanted and needed. Ritsuka had been unsure at first, but after seeing how happy his father was with her, he couldn't object.

Ritsuka graduated valedictorian of his high school class and went on to attend a prestigious university where he psychiatry and a possible way to reverse memory loss. He also founded a group similar to AA for people with amnesia and other types of memory loss. Despite all of his prize-winning research, Ritsuka never discovered the cause of his own amnesia. However, he didn't really want to any longer. He liked his life the way it was and would rather die than forget Soubi.

Soubi was the constant, stabilizing force in Ritsuka's life. Though they had learned to live without their mental connection, there were still the occasional panic attacks. Whenever one happened, they would hold each other until it had passed.

They learned to communicate without words, slowly realizing that even though they had lost their Fighter and Sacrifice bond, they hadn't lost their bond and connection as a couple that loved each other and most of all best friends. They could still communicate a whole conversation with only a look.

"It's been ten years since our connection was broken," Ritsuka said, curling closer to Soubi's warm body, stretched out on their living room couch. Soubi bushed Ritsuka's long bangs off his forehead.

"It feels like yesterday." Ritsuka nodded, fiddling with a seam on Soubi's shirt as pink, orange, and red sunrays flowed into the room, bathing them in a soft glow.

"I love you," Ritsuka said suddenly, looking back up at Soubi's face. Soubi bent down and kissed him deeply.

"I love you too, Ritsuka. Forever and always."

Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who has reviwed, read, alerted, and favored this story. I could not have done this without your support, and thank you for going on this journey with me. A huge thank you to my betas for this story: D.E. Alexander, Manialoll, and last but not least, IrishKoaru, without whom the lemon chapter would be horrible. I will not be doing a sequel for this. I need to foucus on my last year of high school and my original stories. Thanks so much again and please review one last time and tell me what you think! Thanks!