You should have told him.
Ryou ignored the little voice in his mind, the last remains of what had once been his conscience, but was steadily evolving into an annoying dead weight. Where he was going, he wasn't going to need a conscience. He wasn't going to need anything, in a little while.
"This place you found had better be worth the walk," he said to his companion.
"It's fine," said Edo absently. "And you never answered my question."
"About your brother," Edo replied. "The one you were so keen on running off and rescuing. Not that it makes a lot of difference to me either way, but..."
There wasn't any way to answer that question completely and honestly. Ryou settled for, "He'll be fine. I've set him straight." Then, a bit more sharply, "Stop nagging me about it."
"All right, all right. Have it your way," said Edo. "We really do need to get some shelter soon. Someone needs his nap."
"You're funny," Ryou sneered. "Drop it. I'm not in the mood for it."
Edo gave him an inquisitive look, apparently decided Ryou meant it, and looked away again.
"You know, you're not as good at hiding things as you think you are," he said.
"I'm not hiding anything," Ryou said. "I'm just not talking about it."
Edo shrugged and dropped the subject. Ryou managed to feel grateful. It wasn't that he really minded Edo's company - at the moment, he preferred the boy's slightly edgy company to someone like Asuka or Fubuki. They would have tried to help him. They would have tried to guide him back to the safe and gentle, nurse his hurts and soothe his mind, and tried to put things back the way they were before. They would have advised him to stay with Shou.
They'd never understand, he thought. The two of them loved each other so much that the idea of leaving each other to fend by themselves would have been unthinkable. It was amazing to see, really. They were so different from each other. Fubuki loved crowds and attention, and was never happier than when he was in the spotlight. He basked in the love of his many admirers. Asuka, on the other hand, preferred to be left on her own, or among a few close friends, and probably would have preferred that the world see her as sexless or at least undesirable. He'd always gotten along well with her, that way. But Asuka and Fubuki, different as they were, still loved each other. More than that, they were each other's worlds. For all his myriad fans, it was doubtful Fubuki would ever find a girl he loved half as much as he cared about his dear sister, and Asuka was freer with her emotions around Fubuki than she was around anyone else.
Shou and I have never been like that. Not ever.
He trudged along, following in Edo's footsteps and keeping his eyes peeled for obstacles. He wondered somewhere in the back of his mind if it would ever cease to be night in this place. Perhaps there was some appropriate symbolism in his finishing his final journey in the dark, but it just wasn't dignified to go around stumbling over tree roots. He rubbed absently at his chest, trying to ease the ever-present ache there. It didn't even really hurt, at the moment. It was just a dull discomfort, a faint sense of something not being quite right. During daylight hours, he could almost ignore it, but it got to be troublesome at night when there was nothing else to distract him. It had been a long time since he'd slept through the night without waking. He had almost dozed off in front of the fire when he should have been looking after Shou...
Looking after him. That's a joke.
A flash of guilt filled him for a moment, followed immediately by defensiveness. Staying to look after him was a joke, not to mention an exercise in futility. What did he think he was going to do - make up for lost time?
I've never been there for him before. Why start now?
Well, maybe that was an exaggeration. He'd been there sometimes. Whenever Shou really needed him, he'd been there. He had stopped Shou from having to embarrass himself in front of the school after he'd gotten too cocky during a duel. He'd saved him from Camula and her Phantom Gate card. He'd been there tonight to save him from that Doom Dozer. But when it came to being there when he didn't need him...
If he'd been honest with himself, he would have said truthfully that he hadn't known for years what Shou had been doing. He knew the general outline - that he'd been going to classes and hanging out with his friends and occasionally helping to save the world - but really, he didn't know. He wasn't the one who was there to help him with the latest homework assignment, or playing frisbee with him out on the lawn, or just spending a lazy afternoon basking in the sun. All the things that would have made them friends as well as brothers, he had never done.
If I'd had my way, he never would have been a duelist at all.
He remembered when Shou had first approached him about the idea of going to Duel Academia and becoming a professional duelist. Ryou's reaction was to tell him that he couldn't do it - he wasn't good enough, wasn't strong enough, couldn't handle it.
Look at him now. I'm the one who couldn't take the pressure...
Of course, it wasn't just Shou alone who had made it this far. If he had never met Juudai, he probably would have ended up exactly as Ryou had predicted he would. There was no doubt about it, that boy was a miracle worker. Ryou had seen that years ago, and even now, with things as they were, he still believed that somehow Juudai would turn this mess around.
That's why you have to stay with him. He can be saved, but I...
"Ryou? Hello, earth to Ryou!" Edo called. "Okay, this isn't Earth, but..."
"Is something wrong?" asked Ryou, irritation plain in his voice.
"Only that I've been calling you for the past five minutes," Edo replied. "What planet were you on?"
"Nowhere. I was just thinking."
"You've been doing a lot of that, lately," said Edo. "Not that it's any of my business or anything."
"Hm," said Ryou. He walked a short distance in silence before saying, "That old line about how if you really love someone... how does that go?"
Edo laughed. "What? Getting romantic all of a sudden? Is there a girl back home I don't know about?"
"No," Ryou replied. "It isn't like that. Something about leaving people alone."
"Oh, that. ▒If you really love someone, you'll let them go'? Is that it?"
"That's the one," said Ryou. "It's not true, you know."
"You think about the strangest things," said Edo. "I'm having trouble believing you're not sick."
Ryou didn't answer him. After all, it was true - it was partly because he was unwell that he was thinking about these things.
If you really love someone, you'll let them go. So that's what I'm doing, right? I'm letting him go. He won't have to suffer watching me take my final fall... Juudai will take care of him. He's better off this way...
"See? I told you I'd found a good spot," said Edo.
Ryou stopped walking with a sense of relief - his heart was racing far too fast for what should have been a leisurely walk - and looked in the direction his companion was pointing. There was a gloomy old house hunched in the shadows of the trees, its windows vacant and dark. Ryou thought it looked like it might fall over if someone sneezed at it.
"It will do," he said.
"It's better inside," said Edo apologetically. "And there's a fireplace."
They trudged up to the manor's door and let themselves inside. The front porch creaked slightly under their weight, but it wasn't really as bad as it looked from a distance. It was gray and bleak, and there were cobwebs in the corners, but it was still structurally sound. The promised fireplace was there, unlit, but someone had piled wood in it. Ryou knelt next to it and set about trying to strike up a blaze.
"We'll sleep here tonight," he said, though there wasn't really any question of sleeping anywhere else. "I'll take a better look at it in the morning, but I think this will do."
"And here I was hoping we'd find a five-star hotel with an indoor pool and a spa," said Edo brightly.
"You're pushing your luck tonight," said Ryou.
He took off his cloak and spread it on the floor. Between that and the carpet, he almost had a comfortable bed. Edo attempted to lie down on a sofa, but it creaked so ominously that he got up and lay down next to the fire a few feet from Ryou.
"See you in the morning," he said. He rolled over and, to all appearances, went to sleep.
Ryou didn't answer. He simply lay quietly, staring up into the shadows near the ceiling and feeling the irregular flutter of his heartbeat. He probably wasn't going to get much sleep tonight, either.
It isn't true. If you really love someone, you'll be there for them no matter what. Shou understood that. That's why I had to leave him, and why he has to watch over Juudai. He can be a real brother to him, in a way I'll never be able to. It's not true what they say - letting them go doesn't take love, it takes indifference. It's staying and bearing the pain that shows you care about someone. I already know you'd bear this for me, Shou, if you could, but...
His eyes slid slowly shut. He was more tired than he'd realized. Maybe he could nap for just a few minutes, anyway.
Take care of him, Shou, he asked silently. He'll come back to you someday, but as for me... you're going to have to let me go.