To Be Human

Author Note: Here's the rest of the chapter. Once again Shigure (fumes) was causing trouble. Seriously, no other character has ever deliberately disobeyed me the way he does. Now I know how Akito feels.

So yes, if you are reading this I've finally pushed my through the block that was their dialogue (which I've been stuck on for months, as you may have noticed). Please enjoy!

Shigure had come in late the night before, waking Yuki with the swish and clatter of the door. Shigure had forgotten to take his shoes off, and an annoyed frown had creased Yuki's lips at the heavy footfalls. The sound continued as Shigure paced back and forth. Yuki had sighed, wondering if he should get out of bed to tell the stupid Dog off. It's not like they had someone to take care of the house anymore. Eventually he had rolled over and snuggled back into his pillow to sleep.

But now it was well into mid morning. After cobbling together a light breakfast of (burned) rice and green tea, Yuki had found himself with little to do. The house was tomblike without Tohru or Kyo. Student Council would not be meeting that day and it wouldn't be right to try to intrude on Tohru at her family's home so soon. With a little time he would try to convince her to return.

Which left only the Dog. Yuki took a final sip of the watery tea and left the empty mug in the sink. He had half a mind to tell pester Shigure for conversation, or perhaps just tell him off for coming home so late the night before.

He found Shigure asleep at his desk in a puddle of drool, still wearing his suit from the previous night, and moved to shake him awake. His office smelled of musty books and stale coffee, the desk was a disaster area of scattered pages, newspapers, and notebooks filled with scribbled longhand. The power button on the computer blinked sleepily. Yuki's eyes wandered over the piles of papers, vaguely curious at what might be the novelist's latest project, when he saw Tohru's name peaking at him from a notebook at Shigure's elbow. Without really registering what he was doing, he picked it up, his eyes flickering as he studied it. The rest notes made little sense, a random collection of sentences and lines like, "Can it still be broken?"

"What is this?" he murmured, glancing down at Shigure. Tohru's name had been underlined, circled and, then circled again for emphasis. But lifting the notebook had revealed another hidden beneath it, this one yellowed with age. A far more careful hand had filled those pages, though it was still recognizably Shigure's penmanship. Yuki picked up the second notebook, turning to the first page. There was a number in the top right hand corner, and with a shock he realized it was a date, roughly 900 AD. It seemed to contain transcriptions from ancient records. Prominently visible were the words Zodiac, blessing, and Jade Emperor. Beneath those words was another note "The remaining record has been lost to the fire."

"Lost to the fire?" Yuki murmured. Were these Shigure's notes on the Curse? He lowered himself to the ground; the notebook cupped in his hand, and began to read. It did not take long, none of the pages held more than a few fragmentary sentences chronicling the path of the Sohma family from the dimmest reaches of time. The Zodiac members in particular figured prominently, and a pattern quickly emerged. There was no mention of missing family members. Even when the fragments of a death record were recorded (Rabbit and Tiger were lost in the battle…) the next fragment would speak as if they were all there (…once again united by birth, the Zodiac made common agreement…). Even though many of the records were incoherent, or seemed to only document daily goings-on, he found himself engrossed. It was a side of his family he had never before seen, though he knew they were an old clan. Even the Imperial family and the oldest samurai clans did not always have such detailed records covering this many centuries. Then again, they were not caught in an endless cycle of reincarnation that stretched back hundreds of years. Chills ran down Yuki's spine when the Rat's name appeared and he told himself that what he felt could not be a dim memory, grabbing at his soul like the fingers of a ghost.

He flipped another page and blinked. Somehow he had already reached the end. There was only one sentence, and a date. He did a quick calculation in his head, placing the event during the summer of 1600. A year dripping in blood. It appeared the Sohma Clan had been as guilty of violence as any other.

I, Hisui Sohma, Jade Emperor of the Sohma Clan, do hereby authorize the execution by seppuku of Keiji Sohma, the Cat, for crimes against the clan.

Yuki sat staring at the page. What did it mean? Why was Shigure going through these records? Was he still trying to find a way to break the Curse?

"That is the last record from before the fire. After 1600, the Sohma family began recording all the births and deaths of the Zodiac members in detail. They were never united again, until today." Yuki jumped, slamming the notebook shut. Shigure was awake, his head still pillowed in his arms, gazing at Yuki. His eyes were red-rimmed with exhaustion.

"Why was he executed?" said Yuki. A faint flush colored his cheeks at being caught snooping, but the curiosity was too great to dwell on it.

Shigure grimaced and rubbed the drool off his lips against his sleeve, "What do I think? I think the Cat committed some crime that destroyed the Zodiac Cycle. Why else would the god have him executed?"

"I suppose that would make sense," said Yuki, furrowing his brow and glancing back at the yellowing notebook. "Why were you reading this? And why did you come back so late last night? You forgot to take your shoes off," he added crossly.

Shigure lips twitched but his eyes were distant, as if he were rolling Yuki's words over in his head. "Hmm. You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Yuki cocked an eyebrow at him. With a sigh, Shigure pushed himself upright and stretched luxuriously, falling back on his hands. "So, what would you say if I told you I'm not Cursed anymore?"

The blood in Yuki's veins seemed to freeze, "I would say you shouldn't joke about that sort of thing," he retorted sharply.

"And if it wasn't a joke?" Shigure said. Yuki fell silent. If it wasn't a joke? The thought was like a vice around his throat. Too much hope rising inside him, too much painful jealousy. Why Shigure? The man was already free of Akito's grasp, already leading his life however he pleased. By what right had he been freed of the Curse? "Am I really the kind of person who would lie about this sort of thing?"

"Yes," said Yuki. Shigure clasped his hand to his heart as if stabbed.

"Ah, Yuki, you wound me," he whined.

"Spare me, Shigure, this isn't funny," Yuki said, then crouched to his knees next to Shigure, looking intently into his eyes, daring him to lie, "Is it true? How did it happen? And why? Is it… spreading?"

"First, I don't know why, the whole thing was quite sudden," said Shigure. "And, as far as I know, I am the only one." Not strictly true, but Yuki does not need to know of his suspicions. And now the line of loyalty was clear. As long as Yuki is bound to Akito, and the boy would know if he were not, he could not actively defy the holder of his bond. Unless…

Unless defiance was the key to breaking the Curse.

Yuki looked crestfallen at Shigure's admission that his freedom from the Curse was not imminent. And that was the problem, wasn't it? For all that Yuki was amongst the most damaged by Akito, he had never fought back even in the face of torture. Moving in with Shigure had been his greatest act of defiance, but he had never truly left the sphere of Akito's influence. It would take only the crook of Akito's finger to drag him back into that darkness.

Shigure studied his younger cousin as the boy chewed on his lip, clearly struggling to come up with some way to tease more information from him. Clearly wanting to be rescued, though he would never admit it. In a way, Shigure hated him for thats.

The boy was beautiful, passive, and delicate. The perfect victim. In every instance he brought the worst out of Akito, drawing out her desire to dominate, to hurt, to control those around her and force them into submission as a twisted parody of love. Yuki was her drug, and his very presence wreaked havoc on her sanity. Shigure had offered Yuki a place in his home, despite his desire for solitude, for this very reason. Not to save the boy, no, one who could not rescue himself did not deserve to be rescued. But because it took one more drug away from Akito, one more crutch that she depended on to convince herself that the Curse was her only method of keeping those she loved.

But perhaps the boy had grown. Perhaps one more push was all that was needed to for him to finally fight back. "I do know one other thing though," said Shigure, "Akito knows, and he blames Tohru. He'll be looking for her already, and knowing him he will most likely want to wipe her memories."

A look of dawning horror turned Yuki's already pale skin paper white, "You…you," he stuttered, "you stupid dog, why didn't you say something sooner?"

"There was no need, as Akito does not know where she is," Shigure said with a proud little smirk.

Yuki gaped, his mouth working as if gasping for air and suddenly Shigure was knocked back and Yuki was grabbing, no, strangling him by the collar of his suit, "Shigure, one of the Sohma House chauffeurs brought Tohru to her grandfather's house. Of course Akito knows where she is!" He threw Shigure backwards and shot to his feet. "I have to go, we have to do something before Akito finds her," he looked down at Shigure and gestured impatiently, "Come on. What if he has her already? Shigure, he might kill her!"

"He doesn't, I would know," said Shigure quietly, but Yuki's panic was infectious and he shifted uneasily as he sat back up, tugging at the collar of his shirt. But would he know if her memories had been erased? He had not felt any sort of fear, which Tohru would certainly experience if she were to be captured. He felt only the low pulse of anger at the other end of the bond, like a heartbeat. Surely that meant her memories were still intact, that anger could only come from outrage over Kyo. Which meant she was safe, though he could not tell how long until that anger pushed her forward, back into danger.

"You can't know that," said Yuki, "And you're the only one who can convince Akito to let her go. We have to hurry."

"I can assure you, nothing good will come of me intervening on Tohru's behalf," said Shigure. He stared up at Yuki, unmoving, his gaze steady. Yuki took one last look at him and retracted his hand, then turned and dashed out the door.

Shigure stared for a moment after Yuki, listening as to the swish and clatter of the door as the boy took off towards Sohma House. It's for the best, he told himself, Akito would be furious at the sight of me, there's nothing I could have done. And who knows, perhaps this will be enough to free Yuki. But the uneasiness did not depart, and the assurances he whispered to himself prickled like lies.

Voices swirled about her, plucking at her consciousness like children at a mother's dress. Lord Akito, what food to serve…? Lord Akito, the quarters for the Zodiac members, where will they be? Lord Akito, please guide us…Lord Akito…Lord Akito…

She had screamed at them, meaningless words that served only to ban from her presence. The windows of the audience room were shuttered and there was no one to open them for her. She drew her legs up to her chest, her forehead to her knee that poked out white and cold from the careless drapery of her kimono. Exhaustion pressed on her brain like knife-edge while the dizzy cloud of sleep crushed her, the darkness of the room seducing her, dragging her down to oblivion. Her eyes fluttered…

Brown coils shifted and tightened, driving the air from her lungs as Dragon bewhiskered face was lowered to meet hers.

"You should not have come," it spoke with Hatori's voice, though its lips made no movement. The coils clenched, but this time they did not let go, did not release her to run, sobbing with fear from his presence. No, this time the pressure grew, her ribs cracking as the fragile bones gave way, her lungs collapsing, blood pouring from her mouth in a gurgling scream as the Dragon's mouth opened, revealing rows of ivory teeth like knives. It pulled her inexorably toward its mouth, its hot breath like an oven...

The jaws slammed shut.

With a gasp of terror she jerked awake, her teeth set as if she could brace her whole body against the nightmares that haunted the edge of sleep. She scraped the raw flesh of the heel of her hand against her eyes, her breath ragged as she swallowed, forcing the memory down. Time, she just needed time. Another two days and the Zodiac bond would be renewed. Just two days…

A shard of light stabbed across the floor as the door slid open. A subdued voice murmured into the room, "Lord Akito, Yuki Sohma is here. He has requested an audience. Should I send him away?"

"Send him…" her voice creaked as she spoke, "Send him…in."

The silhouette bowed and vanished behind the door. Akito fixed a single baleful eye on the door as her Rat appeared; figure as slim and willowy as a girl. A secret smirk tugged at her lips as he stepped forward and faltered at the darkness. She could see the fear rising about him like smoke. The dark room of his childhood shone in his eyes, turned them black. Still he came forward, haltingly, until he knelt at the foot of her dais.

"Decided to come early, have you my dear?" she crooned. With a single snake-like motion she uncoiled and rose, her naked feet stepped delicately from the dais. Yuki's lowered eyes could not help but follow them as Akito stalked forward, circling him as if he were prey, her thick silk robes dragging behind her. "Were you really so eager to come here? Are you truly so alone that you had no peace to make with the world? … Though, that would be true to form, would it not?" Akito said with a tiny smile as she looked down at her Rat. He was so small, crouched down like that, fragile and shivering. This was one who would never leave her. He wouldn't dare.

"I don't understand what you mean, Lord Akito," his voice was soft, but steady. And sincere. Akito's gaze shot to his face in surprise.

"Then why are you here? Did you…miss me?" an acid tone disguised her flash of hope. How foolish, the god worrying about the loss of her animals; or being happy if they returned.

Yuki looked at her, uncertainty replaced by something stronger. "I came to offer myself."

Akito missed a step, one foot flicking out to cover the stumble by resuming the dais. She lowered herself across from him, staring intently as if to find an answer hidden in his face. "In exchange for what?"

"Tohru Honda," Yuki said, "If you leave her alone…if you stop hunting her…I will stay here. For the rest of my life. I won't try to escape, or contact the outside world. Just give me proof that she is safe and I will remain by your side. Forever. Please." He looked to her from beneath his lashes, unintentionally seductive, "Please, just leave her and her memories alone."

He was sincere, and so trusting as he pleaded with those big violet eyes. There was really nothing else to do but laugh. She threw back her head and did just that. Just laughed and laughed and laughed. It echoed amongst the rafters in great hysterical peals and the tears of exhaustion streamed down her face unchecked. Yuki was staring at her in bewilderment, the fear growing and twisting inside him like a worm as he began to understand. Oh, wasn't that just the best part? Watching the understanding dawn in his eyes, his body twitching towards the door like an animal that had just realized how well and truly trapped it was.

"My poor, stupid Rat. You're not very good at this, are you?" Akito giggled. "Even when you try to resist you just enslave yourself more tightly than ever. The first thought you had was to offer your freedom; as if it was something you could give away. As if it was something you had ever possessed."

"If you trap me here, I will escape. I will never forgive you, and I'll never stop fighting you," said Yuki, his face twisting into a pale shadow of defiance.

"Oh Yuki, you act as if that would concern me. You can fight all you want, until you die even. It doesn't matter to me. It never has," said Akito gaily.

Yuki's body was pulling in on itself unconsciously, defensively, as she spoke. As if the weight of the darkness and her laughter were pushing down on him as her words sank in, "Just… don't hurt her. Please."

She stopped laughing. "Or you'll do what?" Akito said. Her eyes found his, her gaze transfixing him like a snake watching a mouse.

He dropped his gaze. "Nothing," Yuki whispered. "There's nothing I can offer you that you can't take, and I don't have any favors I can trade you. I can only beg. Please, Akito, if you ever loved us, any of us ever, you will let her go. Maybe we were always just toys to you, born to worship. But she treated us differently. Around her… I felt like a human being. And…I know its wrong. It was wrong to think that. But that wasn't her fault, she didn't know any better. Just for a little while she made us all happy. That has to count for something, right?"

And the fire that had burned in her stomach since she had heard the damn girl's name exploded. She was on her feet, one hand buried in Yuki's hair, pulling his head up as if to cut his throat. He cried out and she forced his face higher, pulling him into a half-crouch.

"Shut up about the girl!" she screamed and threw him to the ground. He fell hard on his side. "She didn't love you. Don't you understand? She only pitied you! It wasn't magic, she isn't special. Anyone who knew all of you, your pathetic secret, your Curse, would pity you. I am the only one who has ever loved you, really loved you, for who you are. I alone have never flinched away from you true existence, from the Rat that lives inside of you. Your own parents could not love you, your brother didn't even try, but I did. I alone treated you as you deserved!" Her heart hammered in her chest and her blood burned in her veins. The Rat stared up at her from where he had collapsed, his eyes wide…but not with fear. Instead he looked puzzled, as if only now he had begun to see the solution to a puzzle that had bedeviled him for years.

"Yes…yes you did," he said, slowly collecting his composure. He resumed his seisa position and stared up at her calmly. "But she treated me like I deserved more."

Her full-armed slap rang out across the room. Yuki recoiled, clutching his cheek, and with a grunt she clutched her hand at the pain of the impact. Akito opened her mouth to scream at him, to put him in his place, when a thought flashed across her mind like a meteor, burning all other plans away. A look of animal cunning twisted her narrow features.

"My poor Rat, don't you realize that I was only trying to spare you the pain? If you had just been able to come to terms with her true intentions…oh dear, this has become so awkward. You see, she came to us to have her memories erased."

"Impossible," said Yuki flatly.

"But its true. Kyo…well, he said such horrible things to her. And when she learned the news, she simply couldn't bear it."

"What news?"

"She said that losing her memory would be less painful…"

"What news, Akito?" grated Yuki.

"Why, that she would be losing all of you to the Banquet." The blood drained from Yuki's face. "You didn't know? How unfortunate, as it is only two days away. Though on second thought…"

Yuki shot to his feet, his body stiff and rigged and poised to flee.

"On second thought, why wait?" Akito said, her smile growing as the idea became more appealing. "Why not have it…tomorrow? Guards!" The door to the audience chamber slammed open, sending a shiver of shock through Yuki's body. "Alert the staff that Banquet will be moved forward to tomorrow. Furthermore, Yuki Sohma is to be confined to his room until that time. His old room."

"No," Yuki breathed, "No, you're lying. She wouldn't have her memory erased for that. She would stay, even if the memories were painful she would stay!"

"Believe what you will," Akito said dismissively as the guards rushed into the room, grabbing Yuki by the arms. "I watched the light go out of her eyes; I watched her face go slack as she forgot you, all of you. She's not there anymore, Yuki. The bitch you worshipped is gone." Her words finally struck home and Yuki gave a strangled sob, his face ashen as the servants surrounded him. He made no move to resist.

She settled herself back on the dais, the warm glow of pleasure suffusing her limbs. True, it would be difficult to have the entire matter arranged for the next day, but the servants would manage. She was the god, after all.

Shigure looked up at from his notes at the sound of the knocking, running a careless hand through his hair as he stood. He still wore the suit, rumpled as it was, from the night before and he had not moved since Yuki departed. Unable to sleep, he had turned back to his notes, trying to tease some small meaning from the dusty archives of Sohma family history. So far there had been no new revelations.

He walked to the front door and slid it open, plastering his most empty-headed smile across his face for the two gentlemen at the door. Both wore the familiar suits of Sohma House servants.

"Is this about Yuki?" he said, his good-natured masking slipping only a fraction.

"Shigure Sohma, you have been summoned to Sohma House by order of Lord Akito. This is not an optional invitation. You will come with us peacefully."

"And if I don't?" said Shigure with some amusement. Without the Bond there was no compulsion to follow Akito's order. Fascinating.

"Then we will our utmost to…persuade you," the second servant said. Suddenly Shigure the two were not alone. A second car had parked behind the first, with four men waiting inside. "We are not here to play games, Master Shigure," warned the first man. "We do not want to hurt you, but we have been authorized to do so should you resist."

"Resist what?" said Shigure impatiently, unease growing in his belly. "What is so important that Akito requires me now?"

"You have been summoned to attend the Banquet, Master Shigure, the final Banquet," Shigure's eyes widened as realization shot through his veins like lightning. He should have seen this, he should have known. And Yuki was already there, how could he have been so stupid. "There is no need to collect your things. Everything you need will be provided. Now, if you will please come along."

Author Note: Can you tell I that I've been recently obsessed with "Tangled"? Ugh, been waiting forever to get this chapter out, Yuki's POV is strangely difficult for me. Anyway, let me know what you think, any predictions you might have, anything you'd like to see before the end. It all helps! I love hearing from you.