"We do not choose our paths because of the sins we carry, but rather we are burdened with the sins of the paths we chose."

-AT

Prologue

"The data that was stolen. Specifically, what did it concern?"

"The Aoyagi seat. Highly classified."

"How sensitive?"

"Don't play dumb. You know what that information could do if it came out."

"But should I care?"

"This could affect your seat too!"

"Could it? I wasn't aware the incapacitated still held seats in the Septimal Moon."

"Well, you don't have an heir and we can't risk having anymore empty seats."

"I don't? Maybe I do..."

"No way! That's ridiculous, it doesn't work that way, stupid Ritsu!"

"We shall see, Princess."

Chapter 1

The hospital smelled like disinfectant, and the white tiles reflected harshly into his eyes. His parents were brought into a hospital much like this one, laid out beside each other on bloody gurneys. He doesn't remember much besides being insulted by a tall man, who took his hand shortly thereafter, and then took everything else.

'Funny how things always seem to loop right back to the beginning,' Soubi thought as he entered the small ward, trying to disguise his hesitation.

"You're scared," a calm voice called out from behind the pale hospital curtain, like the disembodied voice of god. Or the devil.

"I doubt that," Soubi replied, brushing back the long plastic. His former teacher sat in the hospital bed, propped up against the pillows. He looked rather imperial, sitting there in that grey kimono. A blind emperor, dictating to the invisible masses.

Ritsu sighed, inclining his head towards the other's voice. "There shouldn't be pretenses between teacher and student-"

"You aren't my teacher anymore," Soubi said curtly, pulling a chair up, relishing the screech of metal legs against the floor. He hoped it left ugly black marks the other will never see. Ritsu showed no reaction, merely arranging himself more comfortably.

"That's what you think," he said with a wry smile. "How have you been doing with the younger Aoyagi? Is he treating you right?"

"It's none of your business, just get to the point, Ritsu," Soubi said with a tinge of impatience. This man made him uneasy, and he wouldn't have come to the hospital at all if it wasn't for Ritsuka's sake. The young boy had asked him if he wanted to accept Ritsu's offer of information on the condition that Soubi came alone. They both knew that Soubi wouldn't have gone of his own will, but they both also knew how much Ritsuka wanted to know the truth. And Soubi would do anything for him. Thus, he found himself sitting with the last person he wished to be with.

"He doesn't know, does he? I suppose such topics aren't appropriate for children-"

"Ritsuka is not a child," Soubi interrupted, feeling as if the other could see his expression despite being blind.

"-but he doesn't know. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't have let you come. Such a compassionate child. Or did he order you, perhaps?"

"I'm here of my own volition," Soubi lied.

Ritsu scoffed. "Let's not lie to each other, shall we? At least, not anymore than we have to," he said with a smirk. "We both know full and well you don't have a free will, you were designed that way-"

"We can argue semantics later Ritsu. If you have information, give it to me, if not, I'm leaving."

"Oh, ye of little faith," Ritsu said dryly. "Though, I really did want to see my cute student again,"

"You're blind," Soubi said, getting up. This was just Ritsu toying with him again. Testing him, poking him repeatedly in the eye until he either snapped or went just as blind as Ritsu. He was tired of it. The man truly had nothing else to live for other than perfecting the art of being annoying.

"But not dumb," Ritsu countered, grabbing the other's arm with a surprising amount of accuracy for a blind man. "Sit down, I have something for you. Two things actually," he said, reaching into the drawer beside the bed. Soubi jerked his arm away sharply, sitting back down. "As you know, your mother was my colleague-"

"Your fighter, you mean," Soubi said with a bitter smile, remembering how he had begged for attention, acceptance, and partnership with his teacher. And it amounted to nothing, in the end, because who wanted a blank? Much less the child of the woman who spurned you. All these things he had never realized in that cloistered office, fingers splayed against the smooth wall as fear and feelings were whipped out of him. Only once he was thrust into the equally unforgiving world, did he realize exactly how much Ritsu must have hated him.

"Yes, and while we were working together, she held the seat in the Septimal Moon,"

"No, she didn't," Soubi said coldly, hesitant to believe what could be a very convenient lie or a very real nightmare. Or both.

"Of course, this was before you were born. After she left, she forfeited her seat to me. But with circumstances the way they are now..."

"No," Soubi said quickly. "I don't want it. I'll have nothing to do with the Septimal Moon. Find someone else."

"Be quiet, Soubi," Ritsu said, holding out a small metallic seal, no longer than his index finger. "You cannot refuse me. Someone incapable of defending his seat is not qualified of holding it. But more importantly, you want to protect Ritsuka, don't you?"

"What do you mean?" Soubi asked, heart jumping at the word 'protect'. Could he really protect him, when the collar of letters choked him every day, tightening with every look from his young master. He had to protect him, at any cost. Even his love and hate, pain and pleasure, life or death, was forfeit to Ritsuka. Yet if the incident at the library happened again...

Ritsu sighed, head angled in a way he seemed to look past Soubi. "Things are going to get very ugly, very quickly. With Seimei on the loose and a pair like Bloodless backing him... and of course with the knowledge I have here," Ritsu said, procuring a white envelope from inside his kimono, "You will understand why this is your fate."

Soubi grudgingly took the seal from his open palm, the cool metal drawing the heat from his hand. "What am I suppose to do with this?" he said, examining the end where complex grooves formed a character he didn't recognize.

"You will know, soon enough. At any rate, take this and leave. I'm tired."

Soubi resisted the urge to say Ritsu called him here first, but he just pocketed the seal and envelope, standing up with a resigned sigh.

There was the screech of a chair, the rustle of a curtain, hollow footsteps and a door closing. Finally, silence.