I’ll be going now
Understanding the differences, but even more so the similarities between the divine and the human bond in the narrative — particularly how both sides grieve, are afraid, and cling to eternity — is important to grasp just what exactly is conveyed in the confrontation between Akito and Tohru in volume 21.
The climax of the story is so very important and outstanding because all along, Tohru and Akito have been pitted against each other — by the narrative, by the members of the zodiac, but also by Akito herself, who is obsessed with harming Tohru because she thinks it is Tohru who has been taking everything away from her: her place in the zodiac’s life, their love, which she never truly had, and her very place in life.
And although the confrontation starts off precisely with Akito’s accusations, the conversation abruptly shifts when Tohru reaches out to Akito: Just as Kyoko had many times before, Tohru is able to see Akito’s loneliness — and in that loneliness, she recognizes herself. I think that the reason Kyoko’s ghost appears next to Akito in Tohru’s eyes is because Tohru suddenly understands that they both have something they’re trying to hold on to — so desperately that it drives them to tears.
That’s when Tohru confesses her real feelings and her fears that she has kept bottled up for so long, hidden beneath her smile. She confides not in any of her friends, the person she loves, her housemates, or anyone of the zodiac, but to Akito, the person who has harmed so many people around her: to the girl who, just like her, was left behind.
“Unchanging for all eternity”… You had no choice but to repeat those words over and over. Because everything that changes frightens you. It frightens you. […] I opposed your idea of “eternally unchanging”, but in reality, I longed for it. For everything to stay the “same”. For feelings to remain unchanging. For nobody to leave. (For us to always be together.)
But…! (Mum! I have fallen in love. Living means change. What a cruel form of kindness that is. I have been fighting with myself for a long time… […] I’ve decided not to stand still and live in the past any longer. Mum… I’ll be going now.)
Neither people nor feelings can be bound. But surely, you must have realized that yourself. Because that is the reason behind your pain. Your sadness. Your grief. You were lonely, weren’t you? Tohru, Volume 21
And because Tohru is able to admit that, she is able to take a step forward. Akito, however, is much too afraid to take that step; unlike Tohru, she hasn’t known anything beyond the confines of the Sohma household, and has no line of support outside of a few members of the zodiac, who are all slipping away from her now.
No…! I don’t want them to leave me! What am I going to do now? No! I’m scared! I don’t want that! I don’t want a world like that! (A world where nobody needs me. Where everyone is a stranger.) […] It’s too late for that! It’s too late! I can’t live in such a world! Without guarantees! Without a bond! A world full of strangers, where nothing is “everlasting”! A life like that scares me! I’m scared…! Of a love without guarantees. Akito, Volume 21
In a final parallel, Tohru offers Akito her hand so that they may grow side by side and face the uncertainty of the future together: Just as Tohru has to let go of Kyoko, Akito has to let go of the zodiac — their promises of eternity.
What the two of them had to learn is this: Goodbyes are sad, but they are a part of life, and each parting leads to a new beginning. Letting go of Kyoko doesn’t mean that Kyoko never existed, because bonds, once established, will always remain with you in one way or another.
As a symbolical reminder of this final lesson and the convergence of the two narratives, the chapters leading up to the series’ ending and the very last page of the epilogue continue to display Kyoko’s picture: Now, it is no longer carried around by Tohru, but firmly sits in the place she calls home — right next to Tohru’s zodiac figures. It is in this way that Kyoko continues to watch over Tohru, and everyone whose life she has touched at some point, just as she always has.