Chapter Twenty-Nine

"She did what?" Yuki could scarcely believe what he was hearing.

"Yeah." Haru's reply was monotone through the receiver, though Yuki could tell that he was concerned. And why wouldn't he be? The girl he loved had just narrowly escaped an encounter with a would-be murderer. "Rin doesn't know what exactly her plan was, but by the sounds of it, her aim was to kill Akito."

"Again." Yuki glanced down the hall. He could still hear Shigure talking to someone in his study. At first, he'd assumed that his cousin was on the phone with his editor. But the conversation had been going on for several minutes, and the more time that passed, the less sure Yuki felt.

"I called to warn you because Rin said she made a break for it."

"Made a break for it?" Yuki questioned, keeping his voice low as he tried to pick up on what was being said in the other room. But it was no use. From this vantage point, Shigure's voice was nothing more than a muffled noise.

"Yeah. Tore off down the hall and out of sight. Rin has a sneaking suspicion that she'll set her sights on Shigure next. Apparently, those two have something of a history. Did you know about that?"

Yuki suppressed a sigh. If only I didn't. "Yeah," he said. "Shigure admitted just yesterday that he and Ren are-"

He stopped short. Another voice was speaking from behind the closed door of the study. This time, Yuki was certain that it didn't belong to Shigure. He's not on a call. Someone's in there with him.

"Yuki? You still there?"

"Yeah," he answered, eyes still glued to the door. "Sorry Haru, could you hang on for a second?"

He crept down the hall and pressed one ear to the door. It took all of five seconds for him to confirm that the second speaker was Ren. He would recognize that sultry feminine voice anywhere.

"If you ever cared for me at all, Gure, then I ask that you would help me in one last endeavor. One final scheme, and then I will disappear from your life forever."

Yuki put one hand on the latch, bracing himself for entry. Wait. If I reveal myself now, I'll never know what Ren is up to. He hesitated, mentally weighing the pros and cons of choosing this moment to intervene.

Shigure was in trouble. Of that, there wasn't any question, and remaining silent might be to his cousin's detriment. At the same time, Yuki had to admit that he was curious to know what they were discussing. Besides, he couldn't just barge right in there, as he wasn't altogether confident that he and Shigure could handle Ren by themselves. I need a plan, first.

He walked quickly back to the phone, using his tip-toes so that his footsteps would be soundless. "Haru? Listen, I've got to go. Ren's here now. I don't know what she wants, but she and Shigure are alone in the study, and I don't trust her for one second. Would you mind getting in touch with Hatori?"

At that moment, Ren spoke again, loud enough that Yuki was able to hear her from where he was standing: "I will find the strength to do what I must. No matter how much it may hurt me, this time, I will not falter. I will not fail."

Yuki frowned over his shoulder. "On second thought," he told Haru, "maybe call the police instead."

The last thing he wanted was to jeopardize Hatori's life, too. Most everyone in the family treated him like an authority figure, and while Yuki knew that this was likely only because he happened to be the most distinguished and the most mature, much was expected of him. Yuki could only imagine how burdensome that was. It's not fair to ask something of this magnitude from him. He's a doctor, not some superhero from an anime.

"Yes," he clarified. "The police should be the ones to handle this. Thanks, Haru."

After he'd hung up, he edged back down the hall, holding his breath. Once he'd reached the door, he was able to hear the voices more clearly again. "I was afraid you were going to ask that," Shigure said. There was a pause, followed by what sounded like someone rifling through a drawer. Or a pile of clutter. Yuki had seen the disastrous state of Shigure's office, and knew full well that it could be either. "Frankly, I'm at a loss to explain how you could possibly expect me to say yes."

He was still rummaging around for something, though the noise was overridden by the sound of Ren's pacing. Her heeled shoes clicked against the wood floor with every furious step. "You promised you would always look after me, Gure. Ever since that day, you promised-"

"Yes," Shigure said smoothly, "though I don't see how helping you murder your son has anything to do with protecting you, or keeping you safe. Which, if you recall, that is what I actually promised."

What is he talking about? Yuki was still disgusted by the fact that Shigure had once been romantically involved with Ren. Part of him couldn't help wondering if maybe he still was, despite what he'd said the day before about being done with her.

"But this?" Shigure resumed, and Yuki was glad to hear what sounded like genuine disgust in his voice. "This is beyond any help I can provide." His voice quieted. "I'm sorry, Ren. I can't save you from the consequences of what you've done. To be honest, even if I could, I'm not sure I would want to."

"How dare you?" Ren's response was a verbal slap, sharp enough even to make Yuki flinch. "After everything we've been through, all the times I've helped you-"

"That's not the same," Shigure argued. "This is murder we're talking about. Not to say that I would refuse to help you in all such endeavors-"

Yuki suppressed a scoff. I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that.

"-but this is your son, Ren. I know you two have had your differences, but at the end of it all, he is innocent- "

"Innocent?" Ren exclaimed, incredulous. "Do you think I've not heard of all the ways he's tormented you? His zodiac were nothing but playthings to him."

"Yes," Shigure said mildly. "Just like he was a mere plaything to you."

That silenced her, if only for a brief moment. "You cannot think to blame me for the way my son has turned out."

"Can't I?" Shigure challenged. "Yes, so silly of me. You're right. He must have learned from someone else that the best way to deal with dissidence is to make the offender suffer until they comply."

"How dare you suggest that I-"

"Enough," Shigure said, louder so that she couldn't talk over him. "My point is that much of his behavior is reflective of your own. As such, the way he treated us can't possibly have bothered you all that much. In fact, I daresay you even approved, at times. So that leaves me wondering: What is the reason you wish him dead, if not out of hatred or revenge? I want the truth, Ren, whole and complete without omission. I don't care if you think that I won't understand or believe you. Just tell me."

I really should go in there. Yuki's heart was pounding, both in dread and anticipation. He promised himself that he would go in, soon—that is, right after Ren finished explaining why she'd stabbed Akito. He had to admit, he was as curious as anyone to know the answer.

"You'll think I'm mad," Ren said, "and maybe I am. I'm not sure. I've begun to doubt myself more and more lately. The only thing I know for certain anymore is that I want Akira back. I would do anything to get him back, Gure, even kill my own son." She broke off, choking on a sob, and Yuki was surprised by her display of emotion. Or was it faked? With Ren, you could never really be sure.

"I still don't understand," Shigure said after a beat, "how you think that killing Akito will bring back your long dead husband."

Ren's voice turned furious then. "You think I don't know what I did was wrong? I do know, Gure. I do." She sniffed, and Yuki could imagine her angrily wiping tears from her face. "Akira urged me not to follow through. Begged me, even. He said, 'I won't allow you to rob our son of his life for my sake.' But I did what I had to. I stabbed our only child, and now…" She sucked in a breath, as if trying desperately to prevent herself from breaking down. "Now, Akira will not speak to me. He hasn't said a single word since last night, and I fear I've lost him forever. I fear…"

The room fell deathly quiet after that. "What do you mean," Shigure asked, his voice calm but clearly hesitant, "that Akira has not spoken to you?"

There was a long silence before Ren was able to compose herself enough to answer. "If you must know, then I will tell you.

"Whether you wish to believe it or not," she began, "Akira has a spirit, too. Like the zodiac, there is a part of him that lingers. I suppose you could say it is similar to what happens when one of the zodiac members dies. That animal spirit must wander for years, even decades, until the appropriate time has come for it to take on a new host. It is the same for Akira—only, his spirit doesn't have a body to inhabit."

Now Yuki understood why Ren had believed that Shigure would dismiss her story as lunacy. Because it was. What she's saying is completely unhinged and can't possibly be the truth. Or, could it? Yuki admitted to having doubts—he had no idea how spirits worked—but he could say that he was at least fairly certain that this whole thing was nothing but an invention of Ren's grief-stricken mind. On one hand, he supposed he ought to feel sorry for her. On the other…

"I have been patient, Gure," Ren declared. "For over ten years, I have been haunted by Akira's spirit. Yet, I welcomed this, as to me, it was an indisputable sign that our love was eternal." She laughed dryly. "As time went on, though, I still grew lonely. To have him here without being truly present was torturous. And so I sought ways that I might revive him and make him flesh and blood once again. But of course, all of it was to no avail. I became frustrated, enough that I daresay I even began to lose hope. Then, one day, I devised the perfect solution."

"Akito." Shigure's tone indicated that he finally understood. Yuki, however, still did not. He leaned in as closely as he dared, listening with rapt attention.

"It couldn't have possibly been more perfect," Ren said. "As zodiac god, his days were numbered anyway. All I had to do was wait, and as I mentioned, I'd done plenty of that already. What was a few more years? Yet, it seemed that no matter how long I bided my time, he kept living. His health would take a terrible turn, I would get my hopes up, and then he would recover. On and on this cycle went.

"There began to be talk among the attendants. None of them seemed to be able to shut up about how different this zodiac cycle was from the others. All of the animals were together this time, they said. One of them had even been freed from their curse! Surely, that meant the others would soon follow."

"That's why you were so angry when Rin and I started 'meddling', as you put it," Shigure mused. "You didn't want the curse to be broken. You wanted it to run its course through Akito so that he would die, and so that you could then…"

He trailed off, and Yuki could imagine him looking expectantly at Ren, a silent request for her to finish the thought.

"I can feel the judgment coming off of you in waves," she said. "But I won't apologize. For any of it. As I said, my son was slated for an early death."

"Did you really think it would work the way you were hoping?" Shigure asked her. "That once Akito was dead, Akira's spirit would simply…rush right into him?"

"I didn't know how it would happen," Ren replied tersely. "All I know is that Akira's spirit needs a vessel—and quickly, for I fear that his presence may be waning. I am at a loss to explain his silence otherwise."

"Let's think," Shigure said, and Yuki didn't miss the heavy sarcasm in his voice. "Assuming that what you say is true, and you really are communicating with your dead husband, don't you think it's at least possible that the reason he won't speak to you is because he's furious?"

Ren's lack of retort was, to Yuki, a sure sign that yes, she had considered this already, and was loath to give voice to the thought.

"While I understand that you bore no great love for Akito," Shigure said, "I know for a fact that Akira did. And again, assuming that everything you've told me today is true-"

"I knew you wouldn't believe me," Ren shouted, and Yuki hastily removed his ear from the door. "But then, I always was a joke to you, wasn't I, Gure? I came to you that day and bore my soul, and you listened and pretended to sympathize. But you never truly cared, did you? No, you were laughing at me all along. I was there for your amusement and nothing more!"

Things are escalating quickly in there. I can't stay invisible for much longer. Yuki turned to cast an impatient glare at the door behind him. Hurry up, Haru!

"You're honestly going to accuse me of not caring about you because I won't help you commit murder?" Shigure sounded just as angry as she did now. "Even you must admit how unreasonable you're being."

Ren took a deep, shuddering breath. "Fine," she huffed. "If you won't help, then the least you can do is provide me with an out."

"An out?" Shigure questioned, his puzzlement clear.

"Yes. Help me escape this wretched family."

"But where will you go?" Shigure demanded, still confused. "You haven't spoken to your own family in nearly twenty years. Do you even know if any of them are still alive?"

"Idiot man!" Ren hissed. "All I'm asking is for you to get me out of here."

"Why? So you can avoid arrest and imprisonment? As I said, I'm afraid that sort of help is beyond me."

"Come now, Gure," Ren snapped. "It's perfectly within your power to discreetly make arrangements for my departure. I can't do it myself, because if I did, it would be obvious what I intended. But you-"

"I'm sorry," Shigure cut her off, sounding like he was anything but. "Did I say I can't help you? What I meant was, I don't want to help."

Silence. Then, Ren screamed, a screeching howl that Yuki had no doubt the entire house had heard. Footsteps pounded on the steps behind him, but he didn't turn to see who it was. By then, he'd already flung the door open, adrenaline rushing through his veins as he burst into the room.

"Shigure!" he shouted, taking in the scene before him. Ren had her arms raised as if to attack Shigure, who, in defense, was holding what appeared to be a sharp, pointy object. A knife? Yuki thought, shocked. But then recognition washed over him, and he relaxed. Not a knife, a letter opener. He nearly laughed out loud. So that was what he'd heard Shigure rummaging for earlier. A weapon, albeit not the most sturdy or reliable one, but a weapon, nonetheless. Which spoke volumes when it came to just how much he trusted his ex-lover.

"Yuki!" Shigure breathed. "Your timing is impeccable."

"What are you doing here?" Ren fixed Yuki with a scowl that was so hideous he visibly recoiled from her. "Shouldn't you be upstairs in your bedroom?" She sneered. "Go back to your sniveling and let the adults talk!"

Anger boiled beneath Yuki's skin. Without thinking, he took a step forward, head high, cool eyes blazing. He smiled when Ren shuddered beneath his gaze. "I'm pathetic?" he said, his voice eerily calm. "You're the one who spent the last ten years of your life believing it was within your power to bring a man back from the dead. Yes," he said when her eyes grew wide. "I heard everything you just said. You've dedicated your entire existence to that of another. In some instances, that might be admirable. But this is a dead man we're talking about. Your husband left this world, and you lost all sense of yourself—who you are, what your purpose is. That, to me, is more pathetic than anything."

"Yuki." Shigure was gently begging him to shut up, but Yuki paid his cousin no mind. He didn't think what he'd just said was true. At least, not entirely. But Ren had prodded one of his old wounds, and now, all he wanted was to make her hurt. "Losing your husband was traumatic," he continued. "The things Akito did to me as a child were equally so. You don't get to jeer at me for stumbling through life in the wake of all that's happened to me when, here you are, doing exactly the same. Only, arguably, you're faring worse than I am. At least I haven't tried to kill someone."

That did it, as Yuki had suspected it might, though Ren responded in a way that was wholly unexpected. She launched herself at him. Shigure sighed. "I tried to warn you."

Yuki jumped back in order to avoid being attacked. That's when a flash of orange rushed past him. "I've got her!" Kyo grunted as he wrenched Ren's arms behind her back, holding her in place. "Somebody call the police. Or Hatori. Whoever, I don't care. Just somebody take her away, damn it!"

"Get your vile hands off of me!" Ren jerked her shoulders back and forth in an attempt to wriggle out of Kyo's grip. "I'm not going anywhere with you or that quack doctor! Let go of me! Let. Go."

"Kyo!" Shigure hollered in warning, but by then it was too late. Ren threw her head back. A sickening crack ensued as her skull connected with Kyo, who swore, dropping her wrists. His nose bled, but even so, Ren wasn't finished. She stomped on his foot with one of her heels, and Kyo yowled in pain. That time, Yuki rushed forward, as did Shigure. Together, they apprehended Ren in a matter of seconds. She still fought back, but with their joint efforts, it soon became clear that she didn't stand a chance.

"I won't go quietly, Shigure," she murmured once she'd finally settled down. "You know that, right?"

"I do," he replied, sounding every bit like he believed it.

"I also assumed that would be the case," Yuki interjected. "Which is why I called Hatori and asked him to send the police out here." It was a shortened recount of what had actually happened, but Ren shot him a murderous glare at the mention of police. Yuki's features hardened. "You're not going to get away with what you've done," he told her, to which she barked out a laugh.

"How odd. You admitted to me just now that the worst experiences of your life were a direct result of my son's cruelty."

"So?" Yuki said, his voice ice cold.

She arched an eyebrow. "Most in your position would see what happened to their abuser as justice. You, however, appear to have a different view. As does your horse-girl."

"Rin?" Yuki said, though he admonished himself in the next second for asking something so stupid. Cursed or not, of course she was talking about Rin.

Ren scowled at the mention of her name. "If it hadn't been for her, I might've succeeded in my plans. That's right," she said, noticing Shigure's stunned expression. "I thought for sure I'd be able to count on her to look the other way while I did my terrible deed. But she didn't. She saved my son, and I'm still trying to figure out why. Perhaps it is simply that weak-minded people don't have it in them to do what needs to be done."

"What's going on here?"

Everyone turned as one toward the new voice.

"Miss Honda." Yuki gasped when he saw that it was Tohru who had entered the room. Her red-rimmed eyes enlarged as she took in the chaos before her.

She's been crying. Yuki jerked his head toward Kyo, who at least had the decency to look abashed. "You shouldn't be in here," he grumbled. "It isn't safe-"

"Tohru," Shigure pleaded. "I need you to go back upstairs for me. As soon as the police arrive-"

"No," Ren crooned, "let her stay. I have a few questions I would ask."

"Like hell you will," Kyo snarled, putting himself between Tohru and Ren.

"Why ever not?" Ren asked, her expression one of feigned innocence. "It's only words, after all."

"Need I remind you," Shigure said, "that the last time you 'asked Tohru a few questions,' she ended up with that cut on her face?"

Ren cast Tohru a cursory glance. "Hm. Yes," she acknowledged. "But what harm can I possibly do her right now? You and the rat boy have me restrained. Besides, what else are we to do while we wait for the police to take me away?"

No one had an answer, and Ren seemed to take this as permission to continue. "As much as I despise you," she said, addressing Tohru directly this time, "there is one thing I must admit: You are an extraordinary girl. I say this not because I admire you, but because it takes a very special person to look past so much ugliness and find only good."

When Tohru stared blankly, Ren sighed, as if exasperated by the girl's evident confusion. "I'm referring, of course, to Akito. As a child, he was spoiled and showered continuously with praise by his father. As a man, he was feared and avoided—though, of course, everyone continued to cater to his whims and do exactly as he asked, lest they suffer dire consequences. Then you came along and, for whatever reason, decided that he might not be as awful as everyone claimed. Some might call that courage. Personally, I think it foolish. Regardless, your efforts to help him have clearly been a success. Without your interference, I don't believe Akito would have had the strength to break the curse before his time came. Do you understand what I'm telling you, girl? You're the hero here." She bit back a humorless chuckle. "And I'm the villain. Or at least, I'm sure that's the way you will tell the story."

No one said anything, and she sighed again, interpreting their collective silence as confirmation. "I wonder," she said, a hint of intrigue creeping into her voice. "If you've forgiven my son, might you also find it in your heart to forgive me?"

What's her play here? Yuki exchanged a glance with Shigure, who looked equally suspicious.

"If he is worthy of redemption," she continued in an undertone that Yuki didn't trust for one second, "might I be as well?"

Kyo growled, clearly not buying it. "Quit trying to mess with her head. You're going to jail. Nothing you say is gonna change our minds about that!"

But she might change Tohru's mind. At last, it dawned on Yuki what Ren was trying to do. This was her last ditch effort to try and garner sympathy from the one person that she knew she was most likely to get it from.

"You think Akito is a tortured soul? Why do you think I'm here in the first place? What could have possibly driven me to do the things I've done, if not desperation? If you only knew the hell I've been through-"

"That's enough," Shigure said tightly. "You're not going to sway Tohru with your pity party."

She might, though, Yuki realized as he studied Tohru, who was watching Ren through earnest eyes. "Shigure's right, Miss Honda," he supplied. "She's only saying these things to try and win you over."

Something about that phrasing seemed to strike a chord with Tohru. She straightened, blinking rapidly. "I understand now," she whispered to Ren before nodding her head and taking a step back, as if she'd come to a decision. "You can have her taken away," she told Shigure. "But please, don't send her to jail. Instead, send her somewhere she can get help. It can be far away from here-"

"The police are on their way," Kyo interrupted. "There's not a lot we can do to stop them."

"Yes, I know," she responded gently. "As I said, they can take her away. But there must be something that can be done, some place she can go to receive the care she needs."

Shigure's expression was softening, and Yuki knew at that moment that, for better or for worse, she was at least managing to convince him.

"I know that everything she says isn't true," Tohru said. "Honestly, I'm not sure anything she said to me just now wasn't a lie. But I do know one thing, and that's that she's in pain. And no person wants to be in pain. It may explain some of her actions. It may not. But doesn't she at least deserve the chance to get better?"

Yuki snuck a glance at Ren, who hadn't spoken for several minutes. He'd assumed she was standing by to see how everything played out, though judging by her expression, there might be another reason for her silence. She looked positively stupefied as she gaped at Tohru, bottom lip trembling. Yuki couldn't tell if she was preparing to say something, or if she was on the verge of another emotional outburst. He supposed he would never know. In the next second, the front door blew open. Footsteps thundered down the hall, moving in their direction.

"In here!" Shigure shouted when a group of men appeared in the doorway. Police officers, Yuki thought, taking in their blue uniforms, each of which had a yellow stripe running down one leg. To his surprise, Ren did not begin to thrash about or fight. If anything, her shoulders drooped in resignation.

"That's Ren Sohma," said a deep voice, and everyone turned quickly toward Hatori as he strode into the room. "Last night, she attempted to murder our cousin, who is now in the hospital with fatal injuries. We request that she be charged for her crimes-"

"Wait," Tohru said suddenly, holding up one hand. "Before you do, there's one thing I'd like to say." She glanced at Ren, who was clearly hanging on her every word. "What Hatori just told you is true. Last night, Akito Sohma was fatally wounded by this woman, Ren Sohma. His mother." Hearing this, the officers exchanged glances of astonishment. "I still don't fully understand what drove her to do this," she continued, "but I do know that she isn't in her right mind. This can be confirmed by her doctor." She nodded at Hatori, who inclined his head. "And that's why, instead of sending her to jail, I ask that you first do the best you can to rehabilitate her. I know it may not be easy, but if there's even the smallest chance that she can get better…she deserves it."

The officers talked among themselves for a moment. Then one of them approached Tohru and patted her shoulder. "You have a good heart, miss," he commended her. "But we still have to take her to the station. Since you say you're a witness to the event, we'll need to question you as well. If indeed she is found to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, your testimony might help her in a court of law."

That may be true, Yuki thought, remembering Tohru's recollection of the event. If even half of what she'd said was true, then her testimony would leave any jury without a doubt as to Ren's guilt and insanity.

The officers took Ren by the arms. They looked almost apologetic as they did. Yuki didn't blame them. He was sure it wasn't every day that they arrested an elegant and otherwise harmless looking woman in a nice dress. "It'll be okay," Shigure whispered as he let her go, to which Ren snorted.

"Don't make yet another promise you can't keep, Gure."

After they had left, Shigure said to Hatori, "It took you long enough to get here."

For once, Yuki didn't think his cousin was joking around. It had taken Hatori a long time, long enough for things to have gone very wrong.

"I assure you, we came as quickly as we could," Hatori replied. "But now that we finally have Ren in custody, I have some good news I would share with you all." He caught Tohru's eye and smiled. "Akito is awake and ready to see visitors. The doctors are still closely monitoring his condition, but they have every reason to believe that he'll live."