Chapter Three

Akito prepared himself as the maid bowed her head and stepped aside. He waited and waited, but after several long moments had passed, it became clear that there was no one else there.

Where is she? he thought, feeling slightly annoyed. I don't see anyone but that stupid maid.

He considered that perhaps Tohru Honda had been so overcome by terror that she had run away. Much as this thought amused Akito, however, he sincerely hoped that that was not the case. Because if she had fled, he would have no choice but to order someone to chase after her, and...well, that would just waste time.

"Akito."

The zodiac god blinked in surprise. He knew very well that that shout had not come from meek little Tohru Honda.

Who in the hell-?

A tall young woman strode purposefully through the open doorway. Strands of long black hair whipped behind her as she made her way toward the zodiac god, her hands clenched tightly into fists at her sides. When their eyes met, Akito found he couldn't help but sneer.

"Ah, my lovely Isuzu," he said, though the words were laced with mockery as he told her, "What a surprise to see you. Do come in."

Akito paused to study her lean, strikingly feminine figure. Isuzu Sohma. The horse. Strong-willed, fierce, independent...rejected. Akito smirked. He hadn't been lying when he said that he was surprised to see her. He was irritated that she'd shown up without appointment—Tohru Honda would be arriving soon, after all—but watching his stubborn mare grow angrier and angrier had never ceased to be one of the zodiac god's favorite pastimes. And by the looks of it, he already had quite a head start. Isuzu's dark eyes were smoldering as she leveled her gaze with his; she was already very angry, though for what reason Akito couldn't begin to fathom.

Isuzu's eyes never left him, and when there was no more than a foot or so of space between them, she finally stopped.

Akito tilted his head to one side. "Why do you stare at me so intensely? Do you have something you wish to say?"

Isuzu's face twisted into a scowl that was almost enough to make her look ugly. Almost. "Don't play dumb," she snapped. "You know why I'm here."

But he didn't. For once, Akito was truly confused. Normally, whenever Isuzu came stomping toward him in a fit of rage, he knew immediately what it was he'd done. This time, though, he found that he was completely clueless.

"I don't know, actually," Akito said. He extended one arm, inspecting his fingernails, trying to look bored. "But be a dear and spit it out for me, would you? I'm expecting a visitor soon-"

"Don't you dare hurt that girl. Do you hear me? I don't know who she is or why the hell Shigure is letting her stay in his house, but-"

"It sounds like your quarrel is with Shigure," Akito interrupted calmly, "not me."

At that, Isuzu inhaled sharply. Now she just looked murderous. "You're the one who's allowing her to stay with him! You could have said no. You could have sent her away. Better yet, you could've had Hatori suppress her memories-"

"Yes, but would that have been the civil thing to do? The foolish woman wanted to keep her memories of the Sohmas so badly. Shigure and the others seemed to want her to as well, so how could I possibly say no?"

"Since when have you ever had a problem with telling any of us no? Give me a break! You would never let an outsider into this family unless you had some kind of plan up your sleeve!"

Akito raised both of his hands flat out in front of him. Isuzu really was very entertaining when she was angry. Which was basically all the time. Perhaps, he thought, I should order her to come to Sohma House more often. It does tend to get rather boring around here during the week...

"All right, all right," he said. "So what if I do have an ulterior motive? What's it to you?" He crossed his arms, eyeing her as he waited expectantly for an answer. "Well? Why do you even care what happens to this woman?"

Honestly. What was it about Tohru Honda that made everyone want to jump to her defense? It was truly infuriating for Akito to witness.

"I...I just hate it when good people get hurt," Isuzu replied after a long moment of silence. She gazed down at the floor then, her face softening slightly. "I hate it so much, I can hardly stand it. And if she chooses to remain involved with this family, she will get hurt. It's what always happens."

Good person? Isuzu believed that Tohru Honda was a good person? Akito's mind flashed with a rage so intense that he had to turn his back on the horse in order to keep himself from lashing out at her.

"Get out," he said. "And don't return anytime soon. If you do, I swear you will regret it. "

But Isuzu stepped forward, not letting him put any distance between them. "I'm not going anywhere until you order Shigure to kick that girl out of his house. She doesn't belong with us-"

That's when Akito decided he'd had enough. He turned swiftly on Isuzu, reaching out just in time before she could try to scurry away. His arms were shaking as he seized her wrist and yanked her toward him, until their faces were inches apart.

"Who do you think you are?" he demanded, his voice low, yet sharp and authoritative. Wide-eyed, Isuzu tried to break away, but Akito tightened his grip on her. "You think you can just walk right in here and order me around? I am in charge of this family! I say who remains in it and who does not!" He threw his head back then, chuckling darkly. "Tohru Honda has made her choice to stay, and if in the end she suffers as you all do, then she has no one to blame but herself."

He could easily have said more. In fact, he likely would have, had he not been cut off by the sound of the bedroom door sliding open.

"Err…Master Akito?" It was the same maid who had disturbed him earlier. She sounded even more frightened than before, no doubt because she'd just heard him admonishing Isuzu. "You have another visitor here to see you."

A devilish look flickered across Akito's face. Could it be...?

"Should I...tell her that you are busy?" the maid stuttered. "That you are already talking with-"

"No."

Akito abruptly released his hold on Isuzu. "Get out," he told her, swiping one of his hands through the air in an arcing motion. "I'm finished with you for now."

Isuzu rubbed her wrist as she stared at him, her mouth slightly ajar. For a moment she almost looked like she might cry. But her eyes quickly narrowed again as she nodded and made her way toward the door.

Akito smirked at her back as she went. He knew that he would win in the end. He always did, after all. If she were smart, she would've stopped these insolent confrontations years ago, he thought smugly to himself.

But just as she had her hand on the door, Isuzu spoke again. "Haru agrees with me."

Akito growled. What is she doing? She'd lost! Couldn't she just swallow her pride and leave him in peace?

"I said Haru agrees with me," Isuzu repeated. "He's met the girl. He knows she's kind, and he's worried that if she keeps living with Shigure and Yuki-"

"Oh, and I suppose he was the one who inspired you to come and speak with me?"

But Isuzu just shook her head. "Don't think you've won, because you haven't. Haru and I are not going to let you destroy her."

Akito frowned, annoyed by the way that she spoke so fondly of Hatsuharu. He had known for quite some time that Isuzu and Hatsuharu were…well, together, but he hated to be constantly reminded of the fact. They were related, after all—either second or third cousins—and didn't that make their relationship incestuous on some level? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Akito still wasn't sure. Regardless, he found the entire ordeal to be completely nauseating, not to mention the fact that they'd never asked him permission to have such a relationship in the first place.

In fact, now that he thought about it, he realized that he still needed to punish them for that…

"Master Akito?" It was that hag maid again. "What do you wish for me to-"

"Let her in. And be sure to shut the door behind you."

The maid blinked in bewilderment before bowing and stepping aside. And that's when someone else stepped into the entryway. Akito smirked, his eyes gleaming with satisfaction when he saw who was standing there awaiting his greeting.

"Welcome back to Sohma House, Miss Tohru Honda. Please come in."


Tohru made a sloppy bow to Akito. She was so nervous, but she was going to do her best not to let him know it.

"Oh! Thank you so much!" she said. "I'm very sorry, but...I didn't bring a gift! Please forgive me. I..." She averted her gaze to the right, where a pale girl with long black hair was standing, staring at her. Tohru thought she looked rather distraught.

I wonder if she's all right, she thought worriedly. Or maybe she just doesn't like me being here?

"You're a guest. Think nothing of it," Akito said smoothly. "But please, do come in. I had the maids prepare some tea for your arrival-"

"Are you kidding me?"

Tohru's heart leaped at the sudden shout. She turned to face the black-haired girl, who now looked even more upset than she had just a few moments ago.

Even so, she is still so beautiful! Tohru thought. I wonder if she's a Sohma.

The girl jabbed a finger at Tohru. "This is her, isn't it? Isn't it?"

Akito took a long, deep breath before replying, almost as though he was trying to calm himself—which, Tohru knew, was very likely to be the case. "Who my visitors are and why they come to see me is none of your concern." His voice was low and monotonous, but there was no mistaking the underlying threat to his words as he said, "And anyway, I believe I just told you that it was in your best interest to leave. Now."

For several moments, no one spoke. Tohru could feel a sort of malevolent tension steadily building between the girl and Akito as they glared at one another. She fidgeted anxiously as she waited for one of them to say something, anything.

"This isn't over," the girl finally declared. "You haven't heard the last from me. Or Haru. That I can promise you."

And with that she swept past Tohru and was out the door in the blink of an eye.

A beat passed before Tohru returned her attention to the zodiac god. "Um…Akito?" she said. "Who was that girl?"

In response, Akito snorted and rolled his eyes. "Oh, that was just Isuzu Sohma. Ignore her. She's terribly rude and insubordinate." He sighed. "Alas, I am forced to interact with her quite regularly."

"Isuzu Sohma?" Tohru's eyes widened in recognition. "Is she-"

"Yes, she's part of the zodiac," Akito said, his voice dull. "Now then-"

"Which animal is she?" Tohru whispered, only to immediately clamp a hand over her mouth. "Oh! I'm so sorry...I interrupted you. Please forgive me. But I'm truly curious-"

"You can earn my forgiveness by shutting your damn mouth. The less you stand here babbling about meaningless things, the sooner we can get to the business at hand."

His choice of phrasing confused Tohru. "Err...the business at hand?" she echoed.

"Yes," Akito snapped. "I told you yesterday that I needed to speak with you privately. Don't you remember?"

At that, Tohru nodded her head up and down. "Yes. Of course I remember. I just…well, I didn't exactly know what you meant by 'business at hand'. Of course, I should've assumed that you were talking about-"

"Shut up. You're doing it again."

Ashamed, Tohru hung her head low. She was being a terrible guest! First she had failed to bring Akito a gift in order to thank him for his hospitality. Then, later, she'd interrupted him while he was speaking, and now, to make matters even worse, she was annoying him!

"I'm sorry, Akito. Truly, I am."

She didn't know why, but she expected him to punish her. To grab her hair again, like he had the last time she'd angered him. Or maybe he would do something worse this time. Maybe he would hit her. Maybe he would do the same thing to her eye that he had to Hatori's. Tohru's breath quickened fearfully at the thought.

Please, she thought to herself in a silent prayer. Please, Mom, don't let him hurt me...


Akito gaped at Tohru Honda in astonishment.

What is she doing?

Did she honestly think that he was going to try to hurt her?

Just as a test, Akito extended one of his hands out toward her. Immediately she took a step back, flinching, and Akito found he couldn't help but smirk at her reaction. He'd known she was afraid of him, but this?

This is just too perfect, he thought. All too easy.

Akito waited for her to realize that he wasn't going to harm her, but when she still didn't open her eyes, he lunged forward and grabbed her by the wrists, similar to the way he had Isuzu earlier. It was a terrible idea, in hindsight, though at the time Akito found himself hoping that the sudden touch would cause Tohru Honda to momentarily forget her fear and look at him. He was careful not to grip too tight, though it appeared that that small kindness wasn't enough to satisfy the girl. In the next instant she reached out with both arms and shoved him forcefully backward.

"A-Akito," she stammered. "What...what are you-"

But he cut her off before she could continue, taking extra care not to let the surprise he felt at what she'd just done show on his face. "Listen to me, you foolish girl. You can't win."

Tohru blinked several times before finally gazing up at him. She wore an expression that appeared to be a combination of shock, fear, and sadness. It was the exact same way she'd looked at him several days ago, the look that had made Akito falter and loosen his grip on her hair. It wasn't the shock or the fear that had moved him. Those things he was all too used to seeing reflected in the eyes of his zodiac. No, it was the genuine sadness he had seen when she'd gazed up at him.

"The important thing, Akito," she'd whispered, "is that right now...you're alive."

Akito averted his gaze. He couldn't allow himself to fall for her act again. For surely that was what it was, a ploy to try and get him to believe that she actually cared about him, and it was likely her great hope that, over time, this emotional connection would cause him to open up to her about his joys and sorrows; his walls would come crashing down, bit by bit, piece by piece, and then, before he knew it, she would have him wrapped around her finger, just like she did the rest of the zodiac. Akito almost laughed at the utter simplicity of her plan. Did she really think that was how it was going to be? Did she really think that he would be so easily duped?

"Don't look at me like that!" he snarled. "This is what you do to them, isn't it? You bat your eyes and they fall to their knees, ready to cater to your every whim."

"Akito-"

"Well it might work on them, but you don't fool me! I'm the only one in this family who knows of your conspiracies!"

"Akito, please-"

"And don't think that that won't change! Soon enough they will all know. I will finally reveal to them what you really are..."

Tohru Honda lowered her head. Then, burying her face in her hands, she began to cry. Her tiny body quivered as she sobbed quietly to herself, and Akito was so surprised by this sudden upheaval that he paused, which allowed Tohru the time she needed to find her voice.

"Akito…please. I know you hate me, and I…I still don't understand why, but…please, just let me help! I want to help you!"

Then she sprang forward and threw her arms around him in a tight embrace.