Sometimes, Ritsuka wondered if he would get into trouble for using his brother's Fighter. He wondered if Seimei's order made it okay, because he couldn't imagine a life without Soubi. And sometimes, especially at times when he was curled up in Soubi's arms, he wondered what would happen if the Loveless Fighter unit would appear before him. They had talked about it, once. Soubi had refused to answer, saying that it wasn't likely to happen. "If no one has contacted you so far, they probably never will."

Ritsuka wanted to believe him: at sixteen, he'd been paired with Soubi for four years. They were best four years of his life. He had never taken Soubi up on the offer to permanetly move in, but he really only went home when he needed to sleep or if his mother requested. Nothing had changed with his mother in four years, and she still demanded that the "real" Ritsuka come back to her. He'd leave after a particularly fierce night and go to Soubi's apartment. His friend would insisted they go to the hospital, but Ritsuka would always refused. Soubi could help disinfect and bandage his wounds, so why did he need to see a doctor?

It had been another one of those nights. His mother had been more violent than he'd ever seen her. He'd barely made it over to Soubi's before collapsing on the floor. He woke up the next morning in Soubi's bed, head pounding and pain radiating from everywhere. The smell of food came floating to his nose and he wondered what time it was.

"Soubi?" he called weakly. He tried to get up, but his wounds protested. He tried again.

"Ritsuka, don't hurt yourself with effort," Soubi said quietly, sitting beside him on the bed. "You won't get better that way."

He blushed slightly. "You shouldn't leave cooking food unattended, baka. You'll burn down the house."

"Of course," came the reply, although neither of them moved. After a moment, Soubi asked, "Would you like to eat now, Ritsuka?"

"Yes," he replied.

Frowning slightly, his friend's eyes dropped to the bandages on Ritsuka's arms and shoulders. "Suki da yo," he whispered, dropping a kiss on his forehead before leaving.

Soubi returned a little later with his food, as if to emphasize Ritsuka's need for rest. They ate the simple meal in silence, each comfortable in the other's presence. Afterwards, when the dishes had been put away and Soubi came to sit beside him again, his friend said, "Take off your shirt."

"Pervert," Ritsuka responded playfully, knowing what the other man meant.

"Your bandages need to be changed, Ritsuka," Soubi explained matter-of-factly, showing him the rolls of tape and gauze on the floor. Ritsuka sat up slightly and tugged off the black shirt he'd long since stolen from Soubi. Soubi's hands came up to loosen the blood-stained bandages from his torso. It hurt to move his arms and he was thankful that he had gotten out of his house without any broken bones. He hadn't known that his mother was physically strong enough to do damage to this extent. He supposed her mental instability lent a certain amount of willpower to her actions, but to see the number of bruises and bloodywounds on his body...

"You should fight back, Ritsuka," Soubi said softly. "If it were anyone else, you wouldn't hesitate to defend yourself."

Ritsuka hesitated slightly, knowing he was right. "I don't want to talk about it, Soubi."

Soubi sighed. "Please, Ritsuka, I--"

"I said don't talk about it. That's an order." Soubi continued his work silently, but Ritsuka knew that eventually he would have to admit that Soubi was right, that his mother was a dangerous woman when she beat him. But he loved his mother and couldn't bear the thought of leaving her alone with no one. First his father had left, then Seimei, but Ritsuka wouldn't do that to her. Who knew what she would be capable of doing if she was left to herself?

He regretted his harsh tone when Soubi quietly requested that he turn around. The other man worked silently, which made Ritsuka feel even worse. "I'm sorry, Soubi. Don't be mad at me."

"I'm not angry at you," he replied. "I only want what's best for you, and taking such abuse from your own mother is not..."

"Soubi, I already told you--" He felt Soubi's fingertips run over the left side of his back several times, almost caressing. "What are you doing back there?"

He looked behind him to see his friend grinning. "Can you walk to the mirror, Ritsuka?"

"I already know she hit me there, baka! I don't want to see--"

"Then I'll bring the mirror to you." He lept up and retrieved a floor length mirror from another room, placed it in front of Ritsuka, and walked into the bathroom. Ritsuka heard some drawers being opened and shuffled through, then a slight exclamation from Soubi. When he returned, he held in his hand a smaller mirror.

"Here," he said, handing it to Ritsuka. "Look."

"Soubi, I don't want to--"

"Just look."

Shrugging his shoulders, he positioned the mirror so he could see the reflection of his back. As he suspected, it looked as bad as it felt, but he didn't understand why Soubi was so adamant about him seeing it. And then, Soubi drew his attention to a little black mark under a bruise just below his shoulder blade. He could barely see it.

"So?" Ritsuka asked. Soubi's finger trailed down his back slowly, stopping at the place where his tail was adjoined. More little black marks littered the path his finger had taken, eight of them altogether. He looked closer at the marks, but couldn't tell what they were. "Soubi, what--?"

"Your name," his friend said simply.

Ritsuka looked again at the trail on his back. This time, the letters were more legible. L O V E L E S S.

"What are you so happy for?" Ritsuka spat. He had always dreaded the day his name would appear, because it would mean that the time he had left with Soubi would be almost nothing. The Loveless Fighter unit would appear before him any day now and he would have to leave Soubi forever. "This just means I'll have to...go away someday."

"No it doesn't, Ritsuka," Soubi replied, pulling the back of his shirt over his shoulders. "Look."

And there, on the same place on Soubi's back, were the same little eight black marks.