Three years, I thought to myself, nearly reeling from what Ritsuka had just said. I had supposed it would take the boy longer. When I had come to visit that day, Ritsuka didn't look all that enthused to see me. He was sitting on his bed with a textbook of some sort in his lap, scribbling furiously on a sheet of paper. Upon hearing my slightly hesitant knock (which should have been well-known by now), he looked up at the window with a glare. I smiled softly and waved at my Sacrifice. The boy only rolled his eyes and stomped over to me.

"I have homework to do, you know," he grumbled condescendingly. "I can't play with you right now. Don't you have anything better to do?"

"What's wrong?" I asked gently. Ritsuka would never talk in such a manner to me unless he felt hurt or vulnerable. The instant I asked the question, I saw the beginnings of a horrible bruise on the boy's cheek and saw a spot of dried blood over his eye. I frowned slightly and took a step towards, only to be viciously pushed back.

"Nothing, you idiot! I just want to be alone!"

I tried to reach for him again. "Ritsuka, I told you to call for me the next time she—"

"I was just clumsy and tripped over my book bag, and I had a bad day at school because some idiot asked me when I was going to come out, and—!"

I grabbed his wrist and pulled him into my chest, effectively silencing him. His flinch and very audible yelp told me he was hurt in other places, which meant his mother had indeed beaten him. At the feel of hot, unwilling tears on my neck, I bent my head to his ear and whispered, "I promise you, Ritsuka, that when you're old enough, I will take you someplace far away from your mother, a place where you will never have to worry about whether you will be beaten or not for some unknown trespass, and we will be together forever. In the meantime, you need to trust in me to protect you whenever there is a need." I took his head between my hands and forced him to look in my eyes. "We have a connection stronger than anything else in this world. All you need to do is call my name in your heart and I will be there."

He pressed his face back against my chest and sobbed harder, the sounds thankfully muffled against my body. He trembled slightly in my arms, and I tried my best to comfort him, knowing nothing could completely soothe him until his pain was only a memory in the back of his mind.

Before long, the crying ceased but the small body against mine stayed where it was. I heard Ritsuka mumble something under his breath and asked him to repeat it. "Thank you."

"I love you, Ritsuka. I always will."

After a moment, he quietly and unexpectedly replied, "I love you, too, Soubi."