Walking Backwards.

The lights were on when Kio arrived home, which meant that Ritsuka had let himself in with the keys that he had given him. Kio winced for a moment, hoping that he wasn't too badly injured: when he was, it always took Ritsuka a while before he let Kio help him, and that always broke his heart a bit.

But, he also knew, the only thing he could do at the moment was to pretend he wasn't worried. Whoever had created adolescence never had to suffer a teenager's pride, and the last thing Kio needed was for Ritsuka to think he pitied him or worse.

"I'm home!" he called instead, leaving his bag and shoes by the door, shifting the groceries to his other arm.

He could hear the sounds of the RPG Ritsuka liked coming from the living room, and then a distracted: "Welcome back!" from Ritsuka, which calmed him. He probably stayed away from home when he saw that his mother had been in one of her temper tantrums. A quick check to the door told Kio that Ritsuka had probably ran away from home when his mother started one of her tantrums, since there were no shoes - nor any sign of a jacket - there.

Still, it was a definite improvement from six months ago, when he had first met Ritsuka, and the kid had been convinced that he had to stay back home and let his mom hurt him rather than her being hurt. And, as a very selfish plus, Kio didn't have to deal with a hurt and hurting Ritsuka, all angry, lonely violet eyes and arms around his bony knees.

It took Ritsuka almost fifteen minutes to pause the game, either having reached a good pause or having saved the game, and Kio was half done with putting the groceries away when the kid picked up a grape and popped it in his mouth.

"I really don't feel like cooking, Ritchan," Kio said with a pout, looking at Ritsuka. "How about we order some pizza?"

"You're the one always complaining I eat too much fast food," Ritsuka told Kio, rolling his eyes the way teenagers do when they think grown ups are being stupid, silly, or both at the same time.

"That's because you do," Kio said, unwrapping a sucker and licking it, grinning at Ritsuka. "But, unless you have learned how to cook in the last forty eight hours, or unless you are in the mood for instant ramen again..."

"No mushrooms in mine. Nor onion," Ritsuka interrupted him, helping him put the soda and beer inside the fridge. "Oh, that creepy guy called again."

Kio paused, the eggplant still in his hand before he finished the motion, giving it to Ritsuka, who apparently didn't notice.

"Ritchan, how do you know that?"

"The phone was ringing when I came here, and I forgot, sorry," the kid shrugged. "But when he asked who I told him that it was the wrong number and I hang up."

"Good," Kio said, feeling a headache already starting. He picked up one of the coupons he had for pizza, motioning outside. "I'll order the pizza, then. You want anything else?"

"I'd say that you shouldn't ask anchovies because then your breath stinks, but I doubt you'd hear me," Ritsuka shrugged, still going through the groceries. Kio rolled his eyes.

"Brats don't know what they're missing, Ritchan," he told the kid, snickering when Ritsuka stuck his tongue at him, going to the door and closing it behind him, leaning against the railing, suddenly exhausted.

He took out his phone, glaring at it as if it was responsible of the fact that he was going to have to speak with Ritsu Minami before he turned it on, the phone telling him that he had over seventy lost calls. Kio was willing to bet that at least sixty nine of those were from Ritsu.

"Of all the moments to have stopped smoking," Kio told absolutely no-one before he dialed Ritsu's phone, frowning. And before Ritsu could even say hello, Kio declared: "No."

"... Kio-kun, you don't even know why I'm calling," and the bastard sounded amused, dammit all to hell.

"I still don't care," Kio told him. "I don't care if you're dying and in fact, if that's why you're calling, chances are that I'll dance on your grave. And if it's not that, then you're most likely calling me with something to do with Seven Moons, and I told you, I'm done with that."

He had never been a good Fighter. Kio simply disliked the idea that he belonged to someone like that, and screw free will. The only reason he had worked with someone had been because Hikari had been just the same. They hadn't called each other a team when the same name appeared on their backs, only doing it when they both felt they were actually a team. It had been one of the best days Kio could remember, because Hikari had been his friend, not a master or any of the other things the other Fighters seemed to believe a Sacrifice was.

And then she had died, not even in a battle, but in a car crash, and Kio had simply walked away from the Seven Moons. He had spent almost a whole year in relatively peace, getting himself into art school and a part time job, and even a kid to look after instead of a pet. He had liked his life just fine, without Ritsu having to butt in.

"Is that so, Kio-kun?"

"Yes, you bastard. That's so. So stop calling, or I swear to god I'd rather stop having phone numbers than having to hear about you every day."

"Even if I have found you a possible Sacrifice, Kio-kun?" He still sounded smug. "It's a very strange case to have a blank Sacrifice, and I thought that--"

"Fuck off," Kio said, hanging up the phone, barely resisting the urge to smash it againts the wall or simply to drop it and see how it shattered into a thousand of tiny pieces. He had to remember the fact that he would have had to pay for buying a new one, and money, so far, didn't exactly come from the trees.

Kio glared at no-one and at nothing, a hand to his shoulder where his name remained, but it was slowly, so very slowly fading away. He was sure that one day it was going to disappear completely, and he was also sure that his heart was going to break up again when that last link to Hikari disappeared.

"Kio, did you order some--" Ritsuka stopped short when looking at him, a worried look on his face even when Kio tried to regain his calm. "Did that man say something?"

After Hikari's death, Kio hadn't really been stupid, in part because he had known her and how she would have reacted if he had done so. She would have been positively murderous if Kio had turned suicidal 'just because she wasn't there', so he had taken care of himself, more or less. He had gotten a cheap apartment, done groceries more or less frequently and he had gotten himelf into school. But it had been meeting Ritsuka what had, in the end, helped him the most, when the boy had been so very angry and lost. Kio had decided that if he was going to take care of someone, then he had to take care of himself properly, which he had, eating more than simply instant ramen and cutting down his smoking.

"Nothing important, Ritchan," Kio sniffed, wiping his face with his wrist before he hugged Ritsuka tightly, feeling the way Ritsuka tensed and started trying to push him away. "He's just an annoying asshole."

"Not so different from you, then," Ritsuka grumbled, but Kio noticed that he wasn't really pushing him away, which made him grin a little before he wailed, complaining about Ritchan being mean and about how he was going to keep all the pizza bread for himself and not share with Ritsuka at all.

**

Kio almost forgot about the call, when a week later Ritsu had, apparently, given up on calling him. Kio had assumed that it had happened simply because since he wasn't one of Ritsu's precious Sacrifices, he didn't care much of what happened with him, which suited Kio just fine.

But a week later, as he was herding a glaring, bleeding Ritsuka towards his apartment, Ritsuka's glare turned towards his door, frowning in confussion.

"Kio, someone's waiting for you."

"What?" He frowned, still holding unto Ritsuka's shoulder before the boy bolted away. There was a tall, thin man waiting there, with long ash-blond hair. Kio paused for a moment. The man wasn't knocking at the door, wasn't really moving, he was just... standing there.

"Do you know him?" Ritsuka asked, looking at him.

Kio shrugged. "I have never seen him in my life."

But before he could call to the man, the man crumbled over: he fell to his knees and then to his side, and after a moment of shock, both Kio and Ritsuka rushed to his side, Ritsuka kneeling by the man's side, moving his hair off his face.

"Kio, he's injured!" Ritsuka cried, his eyes wide and worried when he noticed several bandages wrapped around the man's arms. For all that the kid was constantly covered in cuts and bruises thanks to his mother, Kio was pretty sure that it was the first time he had seen another person injured and that was always different.

"Fuck. Okay, Ritchan, calm down. Open the door for me, and then take out the first aid kit and put some towels on the bed," Kio said, hoping he didn't sound like panicking. First he'd make sure that the stranger wasn't dead and then he'd call an ambulance to pick him up.

Ritsuka nodded, though with his shaking hands it took him two tries before he could get the keys in the lock and open the door, leaving it wide open for him. Kio heard the sound of shoes hitting the floor and then Ritsuka running towards the bathroom, so he sighed, leaning over the man and, holding him from his armpits, he started dragging him inside.

"Done!" Ritsuka cried again.

Kio grunted an acknowledgment, ever so thankful when Ritsuka came to help him, picking up the man's legs from the ankle to help him even a little. Between the two of them they managed to put the stranger on top of the bed, panting for a moment for breath before Kio nodded to himself.

"Okay, now..." he wondered if he should tell Ritsuka to go away, but before he could actually do or say anything, Ritsuka had leaned over the unconscious man, taking off his glasses and putting them on Kio's nightstand, then moving to take off his boots, so Kio just shook his head and he carefully undid the buttons of the ruined shirt.

But as he did so, he frowned. Most of the cuts and bruises on the man's body were at least days old, and though they were terrible, they weren't life threatening. Having an awful suspicion all of the sudden, Kio picked up his scissors and carefully cut off the bandages around the man's neck, the only place where he seemed to be bleeding.

The letters were raw and tacky with blood, the edges red with what was possibly an infection, but he could clearly read the word 'BELOVED' there.

"Ritchan, do me a favor, clean his neck, okay? I have to make a phone call."

"To a doctor?" Ritsuka asked, picking up the gauze and disinfectant.

"Something like that," Kio muttered, going outside again, but leaving the door open so that he could check on Ritsuka and that man.

Ritsu sounded smug and amused when he answered, and pacifist or not, Kio had never been quite so tempted to wipe that smarmy look of his face. He was sure that if he had had the man in front of him, he would have, and damn the consequences.

"Kio-kun, this is a surprise."

"What. The. Fuck!" Kio screamed. "Start talking already! Who is he, why does he look as if he had been used for a boxing bag and--"

"Does the name 'Aoyagi' mean anything to you, Kio-kun?"

That was Ritsuka's family name. Kio glared, glancing towards Ritsuka as if to make sure he was still there before he hissed in the phone.

"Don't you dare bring him into this, Minami."

"Oh?" Ritsu chuckled. "I merely wanted to ask if you had also heard about the name 'Seimei', as in 'Aoyagi Seimei'. Ring any bells?"

If he wasn't mistaken, that was the name of Ritsuka's older brother. Kio had never met him: six months ago, when he had first met Ritsuka, his brother had disappeared, causing his already unstable mother to have a nervous breakdown. By the way Ritsuka talked about him, he worshiped him, the older brother who had helped him after his amnesia and who had protected him from his mother's anger.

The feeling of dread increased.

"Aoyagi Seimei, Fighter of the Beloved team. He chose Soubi-kun as his Sacrifice, and since it seemed he didn't have one, it was allowed. But six months ago, he--"

"Disappeared."

"Yes. But last week, Soubi-kun appeared at the Academy as you see him, almost unresponsive."

"And you just left him like that?!" Kio shrilled.

"Soubi-kun was trained by Nagisa. He won't respond to anyone but his Fighter."

"And what the hell am I supposed to do?! I am NOT his Fighter, in case you've grown senile!" the realization hit him, and Kio cursed again that he had given up smoking. "You want Ritsuka to do something."

"While the boy isn't a Fighter, he does resemble his older brother," Ritsu agreed, though Kio almost thought he sounded concerned. "And since we thought it was unlikely you would agree to bring him here..."

"Fuck you," Kio told Ritsu, pressing his finertips against the bridge of his nose. "What about Ritchan's brother?"

"The whereabouts of Aoyagi Seimei are unknown at the moment," Ritsu said. "Perhaps if Soubi-kun talks, we might find out about that."

Kio hung up, not caring to listen to anything else that Ritsu could say. He sighed, looking inside. Ritsuka was bandaging some of the wounds, and he had started talking to the man softly, the way Kio talked to him after Ritsuka came to his home injured.

Kio would bet a month of candy that Ritsuka had absolutely no idea that his beloved older brother had been, most likely, the one to leave Soubi like that, and Kio was sure that he didn't have the heart to tell him so. Not without proof, at the very least, and maybe even then.

And the other man...

Kio still didn't want another Sacrifice. He _was_ done with all that shit. But the man was injured, most likely lonely and feeling lost. That, Kio could commiserate about. He wasn't going to just stay there and watch him die, not if he could do something about it.

With a nod, he went back inside to help Ritsuka and tell him about the stray that, he had, apparently just decided to take in.

.

.

.

.

NOTES:

FOR THE MOMENT, THERE IS NO PLAN TO WRITE MORE OF THIS AU. This was written for an LJ community as a prompt, and thus, for the moment, is FINISHED.