This is my first anime related fic (along with the Inuyasha fic I am also doing) so I hope I don't mess it up too much! Besides that I hope you all enjoy this fic!
The Sohma family has been living under a terrible curse for centuries. Every generation there are twelve who are doomed to live their lives possessed by the vengeful spirits of the Chinese zodiac. Now they are beginning to ask one very important question. What is the source of the curse? But are they really ready to learn the terrible secret of their family's bloody history?
Chapter 1: Behind Closed Doors
Winter: New Year's Eve
The night air hung cold and dark over the city, the clouds sifting a light dusting of snow upon the ground. Soft, glowing pinpoints of light lay scattered within the darkness despite the late hour, every household still awake and waiting for the coming dawn; the first sunrise of the new year. As the flakes settled into the stone courtyard of a large traditional style Japanese house the sound of muffled music could be heard cutting through the freezing wind. Behind the imposing closed gates at the front of the compound every window of every building blazed with warm, apparently welcoming light, fighting off the cold of the night by sheer force of will.
A door in the largest of the assorted buildings opened quickly, revealing a tall slightly sloppily dressed man with a mop of attractive shaggy, black hair. He waved cheerfully over his shoulder at the rather sober looking man with sharp eyes who stood directly behind him. "Don't worry Ha-san. I will just go and see what he is doing."
Crossing his arms over his chest Hatori Sohma considered his cousin, and long time friend, with an even, no nonsense glare. "Shigure, just make sure that you don't wander off on your way over there. Everyone is beginning to wonder what is holding things up. We cannot start the banquet without Akito being here. It is tradition."
The Sohma New Year's banquet was an annual celebration where a very select few of the family had the opportunity to come together in order to usher in another year. This one holiday was taken especially seriously not because of the new years itself but rather because it was the one occasion when a very particular twelve of the Sohma clan could feel as if they were not so different from normal people, as if they were not cursed. It was a cheap and impermanent delusion to be sure, but it was the one day a year they were all safe from the mysterious magic that plagued them, if not from each other.
Pulling a face at the mild reprimand Shigure patted his friend on the shoulder. "Now, now. Is that any way to act on New Year's night? You are always so serious Ha-san! It isn't good for you. Being a Doctor you should know that laughter is always the best medicine!!" When Hatori merely cocked a dark eyebrow at Shigure's passionate speech the black eyed man sighed dramatically. "You are hopeless!!"
Raising a hand to swipe his cousin's grasping fingers from his jacket lapel Hatori turned on his heel and headed back into the house. "Remember go and come right back," he repeated evenly. "The banquet cannot start without the head of the family."
Watching his cousin's immaculately dressed figure disappearing around a corner Shigure cupped a hand around his mouth and sang out. "Have no fear!! It isn't as if I would ever wander off in the middle of a party!"
Tucking his hands into the pockets of his black dress pants Shigure stepped outside and closed the sliding door behind him. Hunching his shoulders against the cold he hurried across the small snow covered courtyard that separated the banquet hall from the personal quarters reserved specifically for the head of the family, Akito Sohma. Arriving at his destination quickly he climbed a pair of stone steps and slid open the door. Reaching up he absently brushed at the snow sprinkled in his dark hair and squinted around the dimly lit hallway. Seeing no one in the immediate vicinity he straightened his tie, secretly wishing all the while for the more relaxed garb he normally wore at home.
Letting out a sigh he gave his tie one final tug and stepped forward. "Akito?" he called out as he stuck his head into a side room. Opening his mouth to call out again Shigure hesitated when he caught sight of a dim shaft of light leaking out from under a door at the far end of the hallway. Heading in that direction he instinctually quieted his step when the muffled sound of a voice reached his ears.
Tilting his head slightly to one side he listened intently for several moments just outside the closed doorway. It did not take him long to recognize the voice as belonging to Akito. Who in the world is he talking to? He wondered as the good natured smile usually pasted over his features slipped and fell into a considering frown. Everyone else is in the banquet hall… even Yuki came this year. Knowing that no one outside of the cursed twelve should be within the inner gates at this hour Shigure was at a loss to explain why he could still hear Akito mumbling away.
Allowing his curiosity to overpower his better judgment the black-eyed man gently nudged the door open an inch and peered inside. Akito's voice, now clear enough to make out the individual words, continued on in a quietly even tone; sounding much more structured than what one would use in conversation. Tilting his head in order to scan the room through the small crack Shigure quickly noted that the room was empty except for a single hunched figure sitting bent over a desk in one corner.
Recognizing the dark head of hair and slouching posture as belonging to Akito, Shigure eased the door open another inch. Watching quietly Shigure saw the young man in the room pause his speech long enough to carefully turn the page of some document sitting upon the desk before him. Hmm, he is just reading aloud. Man do I feel stupid… Rolling his eyes over how worked up he had become over something so uninteresting Shigure moved to step forward and escort Akito to the banquet, but what Akito said next stopped him in his tracks.
"… every one hundred years shall mark out a time for the curse to bloom… renewed again and again by the hatred of its source. And a year of ruin shall rain down upon the twelve under the punishment of the heavens. Their judgment will never rest so long as their accusers remain…" At this point Akito shifted on the cushion he was seated upon, slowly lowering his head until it rested upon the surface of the desk as if he were suddenly too tired to hold it up.
"Four times…" Akito murmured, his voice dipping low. "Four times in five hundred years it has gotten worse… but soon it will be five. This is the year, our five hundredth anniversary."
Completely engrossed by what he was hearing Shigure felt his mouth fall slack. Never once in his entire life had he heard someone speak of the curse like this before, like there was some solid information describing it. He knew only the obvious, that when he was born with the Sohma's curse it meant that he transformed into the form of one of the Chinese zodiac, the dog to be more exact, when a person of the opposite sex embraced him. During his younger years Shigure had wondered if there was something more to know, if there was a cure to be found, but as the years had passed with no answers to his many questions he had given up hope. Had he been wrong to stop looking? Was the answer to the origin of the curse hidden in just the other room? And, more importantly, had Akito known about it all this time?
A light sheen of sweat broke out across his forehead as his mind raced with the possibilities. That book… he is reading it all from that book. A floorboard creaked under his foot as he leaned forward to try and catch a glimpse of what Akito was reading. At the sound the young man in the room turned his head to the side and slowly sat up, his eyes narrowing as he shot an icy glare over his shoulder.
"Come in here Shigure," Akito ordered, a dangerous edge slithering just under the surface of his words.
Knowing that it would be useless to withdraw now Shigure fixed a bright smile on his face and slid the door open. Waving cheerfully despite Akito's frigid welcome Shigure stepped fully into the room. "Hatori asked me to see where you were. It is almost time to begin."
Remaining silent for a long heavy moment Akito studied Shigure's face. Doing his best to hold onto his innocent expression under the intense scrutiny Shigure stuffed his hands into his pockets and forced himself to meet the younger man's gaze; his heart hammering painfully against his ribcage all the while. In a bid to take his mind off of the nearly palpable tension thrumming in the air Shigure focused on the young man across the room.
Akito Sohma was deceptively young given his position of ultimate authority in the family. From the moment he was born he was designated the unquestionable leader and had long since grown used to this role. Though he had delicately handsome features his eyes were sharp and calculating, giving him the over all air of someone of far more advanced years. After what seemed like an eternity Akito sighed and turned back to his desk, leaving Shigure to sag slightly in relief.
"How long have you been standing there Shigure? It isn't polite to lurk outside of doorways you know," Akito asked, a gentle scolding hidden within his words.
"Ah that…" Shigure began. "Well I just walked up when you called me in here. Sorry I didn't mean it to look like…"
"Like you were spying on me?" Akito finished softly as he opened the top drawer of the desk in a slow deliberate manner.
"Oh no, I would never do anything like…"
"I know exactly what you would and would not do," Akito snapped his voice rising incrementally with his agitation. "I am the heart of this family. I know you all better than you know yourselves. And I know each and every one of you would betray me if you had the chance."
"You know we wouldn't…" Shigure argued though he wondered at the truthfulness of his own words. There were more than a couple members of the family who were not on the best terms with their leader.
"It is my responsibility to keep us all together…" Akito continued as he picked up the ancient looking book from the desktop and carefully placed it in the drawer he had opened. Removing a key from his sleeve he locked the drawer with a decisive snap of his wrist. "Forever if need be."
A shiver of dread crept up Shigure's spine as he watched Akito tuck the key back into his sleeve. "Can I ask what you were doing before I came in?" Shigure blurted before he made a conscious decision to speak.
Akito calmly adjusted the collar of his kimono and stood, his pale hands hanging limply at his sides as he turned with a wide, indulgent smile gracing his lips. "Just as I said," he replied as he strolled over to Shigure and lightly ran a finger down his cousin's tie. "Keeping us together."
When Shigure could only stare down at Akito in silence the younger man patted him comfortingly on the chest before stepping away and gliding to the open doorway. While his back was turned Shigure's eyes strayed momentarily to the top drawer of the desk across the room. An almost overpowering spark of desperation ignited within him as he stared at the drawer. What is really in that book?
"Are you coming Shigure?" Akito asked from the doorway, his dark gaze carefully cataloguing Shigure's every move even though a smile lit his pale face.
Taking a deep breath the black-eyed man tore his eyes from the desk and turned. "Yes, I am coming," he murmured as he stepped to his cousin's side. "We wouldn't want to keep everyone waiting."
Closing the door behind them with a sharp click Akito gave an elegant shrug and led the way towards the banquet hall. Following behind with a reluctant step Shigure forced himself to put everything he had seen to the back of his mind. He could not risk letting Akito know that he had overheard everything he had been reading. Akito could be a terror in the most usual of circumstances and Shigure wasn't sure what he would do if he found out. No one must realize something was wrong. Until I know more I cannot say anything. I will have to wait…
On the other side of the world from the Sohma family residence, high up in a Manhattan office building, an imperiously tall man strolled sedately down a marble lined hallway. Reading over a contract that insured the hostile takeover of a profitable piece of land the man looked every bit the high powered business man that he was. With high sculpted cheekbones, a wide mouth set into permanently hard lines, and piercing ice blue eyes he looked more like a statue carved from stone than a living being, only the pair of square glasses perched upon the tip of his nose giving him any semblance of humanity.
Pausing in his inspection of the contracts he glanced up at a clock on the wall. Standing with an almost unnatural stillness he watched the second hand tick upward until it hit the twelve. A soft chime sounded, signaling that midnight, and the New Year, had arrived. Letting out the breath he had been holding the sandy haired man lowered his bespectacled gaze from the wall and picked a speck of lint off of his thousand dollar Italian suit.
Waving the papers in his hand, he signaled that he was done reading them, within seconds a lackey ran up without a word and took them away. "Everything seems to be in order. Tell the legal department to begin to get things rolling," he said with a charmingly cultured accent.
"Yes, Sir! Right away, Sir!"
Taking the groveling note in the nameless person's voice as a matter of course the man continued down the hall and breezed through the door of a large office. Moving to a small table with an assortment of glasses and bottles arranged on its top he poured himself a hefty shot of whiskey. As he raised the amber colored liquid to his lips a soft chuckle sounded from behind him.
"Celebrating the new year, sir?" A young man of about twenty-five with neatly trimmed chestnut hair asked from the open doorway, his sharp gray eyes glittering with a mirthless inquiry. "I didn't know you were so sentimental."
Not even bothering to turn his head the older man tipped back his head and drank the whiskey in one swallow. "I am in a good mood right now, Kai, so I will simply ignore that," he stated evenly, the threat hiding just below the surface of his words. Raising a hand to adjust his glasses he turned his attention to his Rolex, which now read 12:05.
Taking the hint Kai cleared his throat. "Excuse me, sir. I meant no disrespect," he said grudgingly. When his employer remained silent he looked down at the closed wooden box in his hands. "I brought what you asked for. You mentioned that you wanted to see this at midnight."
Looking away from the time, the blue-eyed man moved to sit behind a large oak desk that occupied one whole wall of the office. "Bring it over here then," he ordered, steepling his fingers before his frowning mouth.
Jumping to comply Kai set the box onto the desk and carefully lifted the lid. "Sir, is there a reason you wanted to look over the family records now?"
Looking down at the nondescript cloth-bound book settled within the box the older man did not answer right away. Slowly unfolding his hands he reached down and gently flipped open the book to the first page. Printed neatly in small horizontal lines Japanese kanji covered the yellowed pages within, telling a story that was not recorded in any mainstream historical text but that was just as bitter and blood soaked as any war ever fought. Reading the first few lines of his family's past, the sandy-haired man's eyes turned ugly behind his fashionable glasses.
"Do you know what is in this book, Kai?" he asked blandly, though his eyes glittered like broken river ice in the sun.
"Yes, sir. It tells the family's story."
Looking up at his young employee the man narrowed his eyes slightly. "Yes, it is a history but it is more than that. It records the reason we are all still here, why we were able to pull ourselves up from the brink of destruction."
"Revenge, Kai," the older man murmured with relish. "It is the reason we have survived for the last five hundred years. It courses through our blood and has been passed down through the lines to live within us to this very day. Revenge… nothing in all the world could be sweeter and this year will give us the opportunity to fulfill our ancestor's most cherished wishes. This year we will pass judgment once again upon a blight that continues to infect the world with its poison. This year, on our five hundredth anniversary, we shall crush the Sohma's into the dust where they belong."
A slow, dark grin spread across Kai's elegant features as he folded his hands behind his back. "It would be my pleasure to help out in any way possible, sir. I can have some of our associates look into their holdings. Since you asked me to keep my eye on their movements last year I have found that they have vast amounts of property. It would be easy to ruin their finances. All I would have to do would be to…"
Coming out of his brooding thoughts slowly the older man shook his head. "No, your services will not be needed yet. I would like to go a different route first. I don't just want to see them squirm under the curse… I want to crush their spirits once and for all. And that will take a much subtler approach."
Looking slightly annoyed for being passed over so easily Kai pursed his lips into a thin line. "What do you mean, sir?"
Steepling his fingers once again the older man allowed a mean smile to curve up the corners of his lips. "I think it is time I finally took a little trip to the birthplace of my ancestors, Kai. If I remember correctly Japan is lovely this time of year."
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