A/N: I will not be even the slightest bit surprised if no one reads this. It's been months, and for that I'm really sorry. I had every intention of continuing this fic, but I ran into a couple of snags. First of all, there's an issue with the timeline—I need a graduation scene, but graduation? Technically doesn't happen at this time of year in Japan. However, the way things are set up, I couldn't do it later without time warps, and I couldn't skip it all together. I didn't think it through properly. Also, I found a new fandom, Death Note, which I've been writing a lot of fic for these days. I still love Fruits Basket, but finding something shiny and new made it difficult to keep up with my old projects. Also, I have no idea where I'm going with this story. I need serious help if I'm going to write beyond this chapter.

Anyway, here's the long awaited chapter eight. Please leave a review if you read it, reviews make me incredibly happy.

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Burnt Rice

Chapter Eight – Competition

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Tohru slinks in hours later, ready to grovel, ready to beg but Aki's sleeping. It's been ages and it's late at night, he rarely has the strength to stay awake past nine. Taeko's whining, Tohru's told to tend to her and leave, sleep somewhere else besides with Akito tonight. "He's not exactly in the best of moods," warns Hatori, "and he really isn't feeling well. If you go in there you'll wake him up, he needs his sleep and besides, now's not the time for a showdown. Tomorrow's a big day, he's going to have to leave the house for the first time since Kyo…well you know."

"Is he?" she asks, patting Taeko on the back in hopes of shushing her, waking Akito's the last thing in the world she wants to do. "Didn't you just say he wasn't feeling well though, shouldn't this wait until he's better?"

Hari sighs, shuts the door all the way and straightens his shirt. "If it were something he could be persuaded out of then yes. But its Yuki's graduation, I don't plan to even try."

She freezes, eyebrows twitching, she'd forgotten about school. With her family screeching demands in her ears every minute she hasn't had the time to think or care. And she hasn't been to school, not for months, she's missed the year and she…she will not graduate. She has failed not only God but Mommy too, she can hardly see how she deserves to live. But she won't wallow in it, she'll smile and ask for the details, let Hatori believe she's fine. "Really?" she says, "when is it? Can I come too?"

Hatori nods, says he's not sure she'd enjoy it but she's welcome if she wants. "We're leaving at 9 AM, so be ready. You might want to leave the baby behind, or give her a light tranquilizer to keep her quiet. I'm sure you don't want to draw too much attention to yourself."

It's true; she is the Sohma's shame, the failure and the whore. They keep her and they try to love her but she sees the way it might be hard. She's wrecked their Christ and killed their Cat, they don't want anyone to see her. Of course. "I can't leave her home," she says, "there's nobody to watch her. But I'll make sure she stays quiet, don't worry."

Again Hatori nods. "9AM," he repeats, and walks off.

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Tohru wakes up to a cramped back and a screaming baby, to Yuki rushing through the house to get ready. He seems to be missing his shoes or something, he looks a bit panicked and it's Tohru's first instinct to help him. But Taeko's been bellowing all night, she's hardly slept and she can't bring herself to move. All she can do is place a hand over the baby's mouth, pray that her yelling hasn't woken Akito. Pray that she can make it through this celebration faking happiness for Yuki. Well, not faking, she is happy, she's thrilled for him, it's just…she was…well anyway. Time to focus on the whole waking up thing.

She does. She ignores her exhaustion, the pain in her back. It's irrelevant, this is not her day. The only time the way she felt meant anything was on the day that she gave birth. Even then Aki tried to outdo her. Tohru yawns, sits up and jiggles the baby, begs her for silence and then Yuki walks by, says, "Tohru, do you need any help?"

"Oh, no!" she squawks, violently shaking her head, hair flying everywhere, no she hasn't even had the time to comb it out. "It's fine, I'm fine, Taeko-chan's fine you, you need to get ready! Do you need any help?"

Yuki shakes his head, says he thinks he knows where his shoes are, and other than that he's good to go. "Let me just try something," he says, moving towards her with his arms half out, he'd like to hug her, exploit the curse for the child's amusement. But Taeko might end up scared, and anyway he just can't bring himself to finish up, he's frozen. Tohru doesn't want him touching her. If she feels anything for him he's sure it's obligation, silent loathing that's deserved. Instead he smiles, bends down to Taeko and sticks out his tongue, pulls his eyelids.

The screeching stops, Taeko's curious if not intrigued. She swings her pudgy fists in his direction, makes a grab for his hair and fails at holding it, she squawks a bit about that but she's happy, Taeko's mouth is twitching upwards into…what? A smile? Is this child who's done nothing but sob and shriek going to smile?

Tohru and Yuki stare her down, Yuki keeps making faces as they wait for her to make their morning. She does, she spreads a sloppy grin across her little face and squeaks happily. And this is perfect, a syrupy little moment that ought to bring the family together. But this isn't the family. Kyo's gone and Akito's probably off somewhere puking. Having Yuki here as the cause of her smile is just…well it's wrong. Not that Yuki isn't wonderful, not that she wouldn't move Heaven and Earth for him but…this just isn't the family. Akito ought be to be able to make Taeko smile.

"I should get her ready," she says, swooping her up and heading for the spare room where she's been keeping Taeko's things. "We wouldn't want to be late for your graduation…" She trails off, heads for the door and turns around says "Yuki-kun? Thank you so much I…I don't think she's been happy in a long time…I don't know if she ever has, so…thank you."

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It takes ages to prepare for this, Taeko's screamy and ballistic and she craps her diapers twice. As expected Aki isn't any easier, his medication was misplaced somehow and the hunt through the house takes ages. He's got to be set up in the wheelchair, dressed despite his broken leg. By the time they're ready Yuki-kun's long gone, it's a major endeavor just to get this group of people out the door.

But they manage and they're in the car, moving at breakneck speed towards the school. Tohru drapes an arm around Akito, buries her face in his unnecessary jacket. They go screeching over a speed bump, causing Taeko to start bellowing and Akito to require help outside the car so he can vomit. She wants to be worried, wants this to matter but this is every day, this is drudgery and she just wants to get to the ceremony smoothly. Helping Akito takes about ten minutes, and when she hops out to do her part she gets a death glare. Hatori doesn't seem to mind a bit, he's got his hand on his back and he doesn't wince when the puke splashes his shoes. There is no glance of sympathy between them when they get back in the car. And Taeko keeps screaming, there is nothing Tohru-kun can do. She has sat there useless. She has failed again.

Akito does not speak to her the whole ride long. He idly chats with Hatori, coughs to fill the gaps in conversation. When Tohru tries to speak she's just ignored. "I'm sorry," she says, "I've made so many mistakes, I…I'm sorry Akito…"

He does not respond, and Tohru can't tell if he knows she's screwed up with Kagura, if he's just angry for the sake of being angry or if she's done something else that's wrong. She doesn't ask, she just looks out the window and watches the storefronts that seem to speed by.

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They arrive and file in, lose each other in the hoards of joyful parents. There are Sohmas scattered here somewhere, and Tohru's not sure if the plan is to find them or not. She considers asking Akito, but it occurs to her that he hasn't got much choice about it either, that Hatori's the one steering the wheelchair. Everything they do is up to him.

But apparently they're moving towards them, Ayame and Shigure are waving madly and though Hari may want to ignore them, he can't. A woman Tohru doesn't recognize is glaring their way, and Akito doesn't bother to greet her. He nods at his cousins, rambles on about what a proud day this is for all of them, seeing Yuki-kun graduate and blah blah blah. He doesn't sound enthusiastic. He sounds like he's in pain.

Ayame chuckles, throws his hands on his hips and loudly proclaims that of course this is a proud day, it's a crossing-over for his little brother, the day he takes another step towards becoming the sex-god he was always meant to be. Hatori glares at him and Shigure sighs, says "it really isn't the same without Kyo. He should be here too, and Tohru…" He stops. He's not about to tell the world that Tohru-kun has failed.

"I know," she says, ignoring herself and her incompetence. "Kyo-kun worked hard to get this far, it seems so unfair that he died just before graduation."

"It's his own damn fault!" Akito snaps, digging nails into his knees and failing to draw blood. "It's not like he died in some accident or got sick, he killed himself. He took his own life, there's no reason to miss him. He wanted this. So everyone just shut up about Kyo!" He's gasping when he's done with this, so tired he could die. His eyes fall shut, Hatori hovers around in case he needs treatment. It's only emotion, Aki isn't even all that sick today, just broken. The Sohmas comply, Kagura isn't here so there's no point in not, they may miss Kyo but they have no right to claim his tragedy, no right to go against their God.

"You're right," says Tohru-kun, once again swallowing grief. "It is his fault…now lets…lets just find a place to sit so we can watch this."

And so they do, they all sit down and wait for the ceremony, it takes ages for anything that matters to occur. Even Tohru doesn't care what the principal or the teachers have to say, and maybe that's a defense mechanism, maybe she'd care if she were up there, but anyway she's just waiting for Yuki. He's supposed to give a speech of some kind, he was either some kind of official or he made the highest grades. Tohru-kun's clueless but whatever it is he'll be speaking.

He walks out looking shaky, he's likely just nervous but Tohru's concerned, she looks over at Akito and he's ripping up his skin. She's about to stop him, cover raging hands with calm ones but one look from Hatori and he's done. They look to the stage, watch Yuki who's adjusting the microphone.

"Hello everyone," he says, still a bit twitchy. Tohru smiles widely, knowing he can't see her from where she's stashed in the back, hoping he has hawk-eyes all the same. "For those of you who don't know me, I'm Sohma Yuki. I apologize to those of you who were hoping for someone more impressive to give the speech, but what can I say, they picked me." And he goes on from there, detailing classroom milestones and how great it is that they've all grown up so much and come so far. This should not be so hard for Tohru-kun to hear. It is, though, and no matter how hard she tries she can't stifle her crying. She should be happy for Yuki but the fact remains; she failed. She didn't graduate, she didn't keep her promise to her mom. And Kyo didn't graduate, either.

Akito shoots her a scathing glance; he's grinding his teeth and not doing any better at concealing how he feels than Tohru is. But he says nothing and she says nothing and they look ahead with everything they have. At Yuki, the shining boy who has everything they wish they had. Who looks like he's about to faint up there.

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The ceremony ends and they meet up with Yuki-kun outside, Tohru holding back while everybody else throws their arms around him. She almost does, and it's not the curse that holds her back, she's forgotten. It's Akito. He's got a death grip on her one free hand, and with Taeko in the other there's no way she's hugging Yuki-kun. His fangirls are arriving in droves, every one of them coming over to tell him how wonderful his speech was, how much they love him and will miss him when he's gone. When they're all gone. Everybody's smiling 'til one of the girls, Natsumi or someone, wheels around and sees Tohru with the baby. "Oh my God," she gasps, pretending she had no idea that Tohru-kun was pregnant. "When did you have a baby? And," she pauses, turns her pseudo-shock into amusement. "Who would have a baby with you?"

"What do you mean who would have a baby with her?" Akito snarls, tries to launch himself from the wheelchair and attack the girl. She's a bitch, she needs to die this instant and if Akito doesn't kill her soon, he'll explode, kill somebody who matters later on. "I can think of a large number of people who would, actually. Myself included, I'm the father. And your precious Yuki-kun included, too. Isn't it obvious that all he wants to do is jump her bones?"

The fangirls stop in their tracks, lock onto Akito. "Excuse me?" Motoko says, parting through the crowd like Moses through the red sea. "You dare to ay such base and perverted things about Yuki-kun? What, exactly, gives you the right to say such things? Do you know who I am?"

He laughs hysterically, shoots his arms out to wring her neck but Tohru stops him, pleads with him to not get violent, just let this stay an okay day. "I don't give a flying fuck who you are. Whoever it is, I win, alright? I'm Yuki's cousin, the head of the Sohma family. Your darling little prince belongs to me." With that he grabs for Yuki's hand, crushes it red and glares up at him. "Isn't that right, Yuki?"

Yuki doesn't respond, just looks at the ants crawling in the dirt by his feet. Of course Akito owns him, what more is there to say? The rest of the family looks like they want to protest this, but no one does, they know it's true, and only the fangirls jump to his defense. And what they say means absolutely nothing. "Tohru and Yuki are both my toys," Akito says gleefully, grabbing Tohru's hand again. "And if I want them to fuck each other, then they're just going to have to do it. Maybe I will. Do you think I should do that, Miss whatever-the-hell-your-name-is?"

"Of course not, that's disgusting!" Motoko shrieks, and then Akito abruptly wheels around, says they're leaving right this minute, if he has to look at these disgusting freaks another second he will puke. And because Akito said so, they go. Tohru doesn't even have time to speak to Hana and Uo, she sees them heading for her but she has no choice, she's got to do what Aki wants her to.

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Later, Tohru sits by herself in Yuki's room and cries. He's not there, he said he needed a sane opinion on Akito and so he sought out Kagura. They are sitting in the kitchen talking shit about him, making up lies and exaggerating truths for the sake of their mutual anger. And sometimes, speaking the most searing truths in their arsenal. Tohru's heard all this, it kills her but she doesn't take it to heart. Right now she's still upset she didn't graduate, that all she has to show for all her years in school is a shrieking baby, a dying fiancé. Who is evil and insane according to Kagura and Yuki-kun. Okay, maybe she does take it to heart a little bit.

Akito wheels in furiously, face wet and shriveled like he's just thrown up. "Hi," he says. "Hi," she says, and the pleasantries stop right there, Akito slaps her, Taeko shrieks instead of her. "What are you crying about?" he demands, any sympathy he might feel crushed to death by his own self-pity. "Today's supposed to be a happy day, isn't it? Wonderful, special little Yuki-kun finally graduated. Isn't that supposed to be great?"

"Yes, yes it is, of course I'm happy for him I just…" Tohru stops, takes a few ragged breaths and hold her baby closer. "It's just that I…I wanted to…I wanted to graduate, too. I promised my mother I would and…" She brings her hands to her face to catch the tears and rub the injury. She says nothing of what else she feels, the humiliation of being with him and the baby, the pain of losing Kyo.

"So what?" Akito snaps. "Even if you don't get some shiny piece of paper saying you're done with school, you still went. Up until recently, you had a completely normal life, you had a future. You still do, you can get your goddamn GED or you can stay back a grade. Somebody else will watch the brat. Me, I never got to go to school. Maybe for a week before they realized I was too sick and too crazy. And there was no point anyway, because I was just going to die. I've never had a future, never had a normal life. You do and you have, so what the hell are you sobbing about?"

Tohru stares at him, speechless. She knows her tragedy pales in comparison, but that doesn't mean it doesn't make her sad. Her parents died, that's what this is tied up in, doesn't that earn her something on the misery scale? And why is this a competition? Why does Akito have to have it worse than everybody else? She opens her mouth to question this, to apologize for making a scene, say something, but this gets him on the defense, Aki says "don't speak. I don't want to hear excuses for your disgusting behavior. Don't think I've forgotten your failure with Kagura. I haven't said anything because it's Yuki's graduation, and I have some respect for him, some self-control. But don't think you will come away from this unscathed."

And with that he takes his leave, Tohru thinking that's a total lie, the man has no self-control at all. Tohru thinking that she or her daughter will soon be killed.

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Nana: And there you have it, chapter eight. One of the most difficult things I've ever written in my life. Hopefully it turned out alright despite my difficulties, and once again I'm sorry for taking so spectacularly long. Better late than never, I suppose? I will not make any guarantees about the next chapter—I intend to write it, but I don't know how long it will take, and I don't want to keep anyone waiting.