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The Weakest Link

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    When Tohru first came to live with them, Yuki had looked at Shigure with narrowed eyes and said “You’d better not be scheming.” And Shigure, the dog who lay at the foot of god, had replied “Of course not, why would I be scheming? Honestly Yuki, you wound me.” Yuki had looked like he was about to say something else but was stopped dead when Tohru entered the room.

    She was still in her uniform, but had new ribbons in her hair, yellow with little watermelons printed on them. She had a tray of cookies fresh from the oven that she’d inexplicably dyed pink. And she beamed as she set them on the table.

    “Ok so they might not be perfect, I’ve never tried this recipe before. But i think they came out pretty good.”

    “Oh miss Honda, they’re wonderful!”

    Tohru had blushed and fiddled with her hair, practically glowing. And was delighted when even Kyo was convinced to take a few bites. Shigure wrapped a few in a napkin and retreated to his study, leaving the teenagers to their business. In truth, the scent had been so nauseatingly sweet he could hardly stand it. Like rotting strawberries and something bitter.

 


 

    Years and years ago, Hatori, Ayame, and himself had shared a dream. And the next morning they had all gone to the main house and gathered around Ren, in awe of the tiny god growing inside of her. Even then, they had been enraptured, completely bound to the little god as surely as if they’d been chained.

    Years and years later, the facts are these. Shigure loves Akito. He loves her more than springtime and Tohru’s cooking. He loves her more than deadline extensions and minor tax evasion. Loves her more than old paperbacks, and new shoji to replace what Yuki and Kyo break on the regular. Shigure loves Akito the way he had when he was still young and dreaming, and when she hadn’t even been born.

    But the facts are these. There is a bond that runs from God to his attendants and back again. And that bond is as sure and unbreakable as an iron chain.

    And sometimes, not often but enough. Shigure hates Akito so much he could die from it.

 


 

 

    “How has it been so far?” asks Hatori. It is February, and they are smoking on the porch to spare Yuki’s asthmatic lungs. Shigure shivers and flicks the ash from the end of his cigarette before replying.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Living with them. Yuki, Kyo, and Tohru. They’re pretty...energetic.”

    Shigure laughs. “Mostly just Yuki and Kyo. Tohru is really a sweetheart. Such a nice girl.” Hatori looks at him through one good eye and takes a long drag. “What?”

    “You’d better not be scheming.”

    “Tori! Why would I be scheming? And to hear such accusations from the mouth of my dearest frien-”

    “Hush.” Hatori stubs out his cigarette against one of the wood pillars supporting the roof. “I know you Shigure. You always have something going on.”

    “Hmm. And what if I do?”

    The wind blows harsh and bitter and Shigure closes his eyes against the gale. Hatori is unaffected because of course he is. He does not reply.

    At last Shigure relents. “It’s just all too good to be coincidence. The whole zodiac assembled for the first time in centuries. The cat out of the cat’s room. And then dear Tohru stumbles in, and you know what she’s like. This could be it.”

    Hatori hums noncommittally. “You need to be careful, Shigure.”

    “Why Hatori, are you worried about me?”

    “Not about you, no.”

    Shigure recoils ever so slightly and turns to stare out into the garden. He thinks of Tohru and Yuki studying late into the night around the kotatsu. Tohru and Kyo eating lunch on the roof. Kyo and Yuki fighting less and less. He thinks of Akito.

    If he were wrong, there would be dire consequences for all of them.

    Oh but if he was right. If he was right then this gamble would pay off in spades.

    “I’m always careful.”

 


 


    He finds her in the rain, kneeling in a pool of her own vomit and hardly able to stand. Akito is looming over her, mouth twisted in a sneer as she whispers something cruel in her ear.

   “Akito!” God looks up at Shigure’s call. She stands and smirks triumphantly. And with scarcely another glance in his direction, steps into the waiting car and is gone. The headlights illuminate Tohru’s quivering shoulders, her hunched back, every scratch on her skin and stain on her clothes. To Shigure, she looks drowned.

   “Tohru.” What could he say? what could he do? “I’m sorry. I thought-” ‘ what? What had he been thinking?’

   ‘I thought you would be strong enough to take it,’ he thinks, ‘that it wouldn’t hurt this bad, that even if it did, it would pay off and we’d all go home together.’ But he’d known all along, hadn’t he? Known from the start that he was putting her on the chopping block, just hoping it would work out.

  For years, Shigure had pursued his goal with a kind of  determination that Ayame called relentless and Hatori called single minded. It is only now that his resolve begins to crumble .

   When he looks up again, Tohru is limping further into the storm. And he. Cannot bring himself to go after her.

 


 

 

   Tohru comes home bloodied but unbroken, Kyo held tight in her arms and Yuki flanking her. The clouds lift as she steps into the yard and Shigure cannot help but laugh. He stumbles onto the porch, hands fluttering around her with some repressed urge to embrace until she takes his hand, squeezing it once before heading inside. It is only then that he notices the black car pulling away just over the treeline.

 


 

   

    In the aftermath of the storm, Akito summons all of them to the main house. Kyo is forced to wait outside by the gates while Shigure and Yuki do their damndest to keep Akito off of Tohru. Hatori is stunned into stillness, but really he can’t be blamed.

    “Get out,” Akito relents. “All of you get out. Except for Shigure,” she adds as an afterthought.

    Shigure ignore Hatori’s pointed stare and waves off Tohru as they leave the room. And then Akito and he are alone.

    “You disobeyed me,” she spits. “You undermined me.”

    “Just now, or that night?”

    “Kneel, dog.”

    “I’m not going to do that.”

    Like a child, Akito snarls and turns away. Instead of hitting him, she storms out into the garden. Shigure follows and stands behind her as her shoulders begin to shake.

    “That girl is a fucking witch,” she sobs. “She’s going to ruin everything, she’s already turning you against me. I should have her fucking executed.”

    “That’s not true,” Shigure says evenly. Akito couldn’t actually have anyone executed, even if she was God. But more importantly, the dream. “I’m not turning against you.”

    “Yes you are! You took her side.”

    ‘Because i think she’ll end up being good for you’ , Shigure doesn’t say. Instead he steps forward so that he is right at Akito’s shoulder. She is clawing at the sleeves of her kimono, teeth grinding and jaw clenched. Furious and upset. There are birds in the garden, and their song becomes the soundtrack to her wrath.

    “I’m not taking anyone’s side,” says Shigure, and rests a hand on her shoulder.

    Akito stiffens. In a second, she withdraws and becomes God. She turns to him with hard eyes, hands in fists as she shakes him off. “Leave me,” she hisses.

    So Shigure leaves.



 

 

 

Later, Tohru will make them dinner and the boys will be extra helpful about it. Hatori will stay for the evening. And he and Shigure will smoke on the porch and fight over what ‘being careful’ entails. But really, the point will be moot. If Shigure hadn’t been sure before he is absolutely convinced now. Tohru Honda is the silver bullet, the miracle they’d been waiting for. A born curse breaker, if there had ever been such a thing. And so he will lie awake and think of Akito. And dream of chains being pulled long and thin and delicately golden, before breaking with a cry.