“His very soul is dark and twisted,” Ren screams, dark hair flying as she spins, strands tangling with the knife in her hand. “He's nothing but a deceitful toy!” The whites of her eyes flash, gleaming as they roll in their sockets, glaring out at everyone who meets her eye.
“Please, calm down,” one of the older maids says, trying to calm Ren even as her aged hands flutter helplessly in the air. “You'll hurt yourself.”
Ren just lashes out, a sharp crack in the air as the maid stumbles back, but the red drops flying out are hers at least.
Akito sits on the ground, robe crumpled around herself, and tries to breathe. The red hangs in the air for a moment, petals tinged too dark for the spring fall. Her ankle is throbbing, and her mother is out of control.
“Is the doctor coming?” Akito hears one of the younger maids whisper to another, both of them backed into the corner. “What should we do?”
Ren, hearing the whispering, spins around and starts toward the side of the room where Akito and the two younger maids are. The older maid is calling for help even as she's stumbling down the hallway, voice fading. Ren doesn't even stop, reaching out with the knife and her smudged hands as Akito kicks out. Even breathless, she manages to catch Ren’s wrist with her left foot, sending the knife spinning.
“Yes,” Akito says, trying to stall for more time, or at least that's what she tells herself, “you're right.” Ren doesn't even blink, knife seemingly forgotten.
“Yes,” she snarls, fingernails digging into Akito’s shoulders, yanking her up only to shake her. “You’re disgusting and useless. I should have gotten rid of you when I wanted to, before you took my Akira away from me.”
There are footsteps thumping down the hallway now, but Akito can't see around her mother, so close that she can smell the sour warmth of her breath. It smells like rot.
Even as voices babble over into an indistinct cacophony, hands reaching out to pull Ren away, Akito curls her fingers into fists, knuckles white, and waits for it to be over.
“Checkmate,” Shigure says, knocking Akito’s black king over with his white knight. Akito scowls at him before glaring at the board, trying to figure out where she went wrong. The sleeves of her jacket are too tight, the buttoned collar crawling up her throat, and she can't think.
“What a weak king,” Shigure laughs, almost a bark, and Akito is suddenly fed up.
“Get out!” she shouts, sweeping the chess board off the side table as she knocks that over too, pieces flying to land with little clicks across the parquet. That word is crawling up her throat, her mother’s accusations spilling in again and her glass is overflowing. The wine is dark and sticky over the front of her shirt.
“Calm down,” Shigure laughs, putting his hands up in front of him. Akito chokes on a gasp, eyes tearing even as she coughs, waving away his help. She's turning into her mother. She's turning into her mother.
“I don't want to hurt you,” she says, turning her back on Shigure and his complicated expression. Who is he looking at, anyway? Everyone is always looking at her, but all they see is the head of the family.
Her pocket vibrates, and Akito pulls it out of her pocket to see that Kureno has messaged her. She flicks the lock open with her thumb, turning her back as she leaves the room, leaving Shigure to pick up the pieces.
“You should tell him,” Kureno says, dipping his toes into the koi pond. They both watch the bright flashes of the fish darting around in the water. Akito sighs, brushing her fingers across the surface.
“I feel like a monster, these days,” she admits. Kureno doesn't say anything, and it's too easy to keep talking. “I just want him to see me. I want everyone to see me, not who they think I am.”
Kureno makes it easier to talk, but that doesn't mean that talking is easy. The shadows of leaves flicker in the reflection on the water, and Akito loses herself in the spirals for a while.
“Maybe I am a monster, under everything,” she finally says. The sleeve of her shirt is wet; she pulls her hand back from the water and dries it on the leg of her trousers, leaving a damp stain in the fabric.
“Maybe we’re all monsters,” Kureno says, instead of telling her that she isn't, and that's the best thing about him.
“How could you do that?” Akito yells. The words feel like nails, tearing up her throat as she pushes them out, leaving bleeding gashes in their wake. She blinks, vision going blurry and then focussing again, leaning against the wall.
In her peripheral vision, she can see arms reaching out to steady her, but Akito just shoves them away. By the time she's steadied herself, eyes meeting Shigure’s, his gaze is cold.
“What does it matter to you anyway?” he asks, and Akito can't do anything but scream, the words all tangled in her head and throat and stomach until all there is is despair. A blinding moment, and then she takes a deep breath and shoves everything down into the deepest recesses of her chest to rot.
“I was going to tell you,” she says, because that's all she has left to say. “I thought I could trust you.” She can still hear Kureno telling her to tell Shigure, and he was probably right.
“Tell me what?” Shigure asks, too quickly, and Akito can hear the cracks in his ice. It doesn't make her feel any better.
“It's none of your business, anymore,” she says. “It's too late. Have fun with that woman.” My mother, she doesn't say. The monster, she doesn't say. They're all monsters now, every single one of them.
This time, turning her back on Shigure feels like goodbye.