ink_stained: (natsume: book)
[personal profile] ink_stained
Day #13 -

Title: Youkai Water
Fandom: Natsume Yuujinchou
Characters: Natsume Takashi, Tanuma, Taki, Hinoe, Nyanko-sensei (Madara); mentions of Touko and Shigeru
Rating: PG
Words: (+/-) 1504
Summary: Not all promises can be kept. Not all stories can end happily either. Natsume gets sick and the only cure is something he can’t accept.
Notes: I found a prompt on the [community profile] natsumeyuujinchou comment meme that inspired this.

At first, they thought Takashi had caught a cold.

He had been crossing a frozen river yesterday and a part of the ice had given way, causing him to fall into the depths of the water. The Fujiwara couple were aghast and demanded to know why he would be so reckless, worried about him more than they were angry. His school friends had laughed and told him to get better soon. Then the two who knew his secret had shown up and their stares accused him of hiding things again.

“What were you thinking!” Taki seemed angrier than he had ever seen her. Tanuma, too, looked like he wasn’t going to hold back for once. “Why didn’t you ask us for help if you were having trouble!” She didn’t have to say anything else. Takashi already knew what she meant. He should have told them days ago that something otherworldly had been harassing him. A persistent, savage youkai that wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer - because Takashi wasn’t going to use the Book of Friends for anything but returning a name.

Tanuma lightly tapped him on the head, garnering his attention. “Depend on us, Natsume. You keep forgetting you’re not alone.”

Embarrassed, Takashi pulled the blanket up to cover half his face, the action reminiscent of a small child. Taki struggled not to ‘awww’ at the sight. She was still upset and it wouldn’t be good to let him off easy just because he could sometimes be as cute as his cat. Then Tanuma was brushing sweat-soaked hair out of Takashi’s eyes and she couldn’t help it: she let out her suppressed feelings.

“Both of you stop being adorable! I don’t have my camera!” She crossed her arms and sulked. Albeit, it was funny how fast Tanuma could turn red when it came to Takashi, and she was going to tease him plenty for it later. But right now, she wanted her own Takashi time and pushed Tanuma out of the way, although not with much force. Once she was kneeling at his side, she pulled the nearby bowl closer and wrung out the wash cloth that was floating in it. Then she placed it over the feverish forehead of her friend.

The coolness of the rag made Takashi sigh in relief, thankful for the respite, and he closed his eyes, ready to drift off to sleep - but Taki and Tanuma were still there and that would be rude. He had to say something to them, anything to rid them of their worries. He managed to whisper, “When I get better, you can take all the pictures you want.”

Taki patted his covered up shoulder, grinning, and said, “I can’t wait.” Tanuma didn’t seem too thrilled, but he nodded as well, agreeing there would be an impromptu photo shoot in the future. After that, his two friends left and he fell asleep not long after. He dreamed of cameras and lights, flashes and smiles, and plenty of laughter. He dreamed of his friends.

--

Days went by and the sickness worsened. His foster family, Touko and Shigeru both, would pace the floors at night, stopping outside his room and listening to make sure he was still there. It was as if they believed he would disappear if they didn't. In a way, their fears weren’t uncalled for; a few youkai had come and gone, with their offers of taking him away, making him better, showing him the world he was missing by being tied to his human body. He didn’t think unkindly of them, but he had no need to become an ayakashi or anything like that. He was going to get better on his own.

Nyanko-sensei didn’t share his opinion and voiced it frequently. “Fool. You let it get this bad and you still think humans can save you?” He noticed, though, that Sensei snuggled a little closer in the futon on nights where they fought. Or on nights when Takashi couldn’t sleep because the coughing kept him up. Or during the day when Takashi’s fever reached its peak and he awoke, twisted in his blankets. But Sensei was always close. His fur would be warm and comforting, and it always made his heart ache a little. He wasn’t used to this many people, youkai and human alike, caring about him.

He was making them all suffer because of his own foolishness. He didn’t know what to do anymore.

--

Takashi was deathly pale by the end of the month. There were dark circles under his eyes and a tinge of blue to his cheeks. He was thin, much too thin. His clothes hung off him. His hair remained a ratty mess. And he struggled with every breathe he took. Doctors had come and gone and there was nothing they could do. They recommended many things, but none of them had effect - and they swore up and down that it was just a cold. It would go away once Takashi’s healthy and able immune system fought it off.

It didn’t.

Takashi grew weaker and those he loved were forced to watch his life extinguish, bit by bit, like a gently burning flame on the wick of a candle. The more the candle melted, the longer the wick became and the faster it burned. They couldn’t stop it. They didn’t know how.

--

It was Hinoe who first started leaving hints to Takashi’s friends - his human friends - about what needed to be done. Madara may, or may not, have helped, but it came down to Tanuma discovering a book of lore in his dad’s study that he didn’t remember being there. He thumbed through the book, curious, and then a sudden wind turned the pages for him.

When it settled, he looked around, wondering if a youkai had caused the phenomenon - then turned his attention to the book. The story was about a boy’s sick mother who could not be healed. He didn’t think a coincidence like that existed, but he shrugged aside his doubts and avidly read the text before him. If there was a way to save Takashi, he would do it. Even if the youkai were tricking him.

If it meant Takashi could live, he would sacrifice anything.

He showed the story to Taki the next day at school and she agreed. They would do what it took to make sure their friend didn’t disappear. The day after that, they were absent.

--

“Drink it,” Tanuma pleaded, but Takashi pushed the bottle aside weakly. “Drink it,” he said again, and he pressed the bottle back to Takashi’s dry lips that begged for something to quench them. Too white, too raw. Tanuma had to force himself to look, because the sight of Takashi so withered wasn't something he wanted to see. “Drink it, please,” Tanuma begged, and he hated how his voice cracked and how his eyes began to water.

Taki was the one propping Takashi up, supporting his back, and while she couldn’t see nearly as much as Tanuma, she felt each knob of his spine and every harrowing breath he took. Her eyes met Tanuma’s and they both looked away, unable to convey anything. Without Takashi, the walls around them slammed back into place and refused anyone else entrance. “Natsume,” Taki whispered and she carded a hand through his hair. She winced at the roughness. “Natsume, you need to drink what Tanuma’s holding out. Come on. You can do it.”

He shook his head. “I won’t.” The water was from Mount Fuji. He knew what they were trying to make him do.

But humans weren’t meant to drink the water of youkai.

--

He was tricked. The bitter taste to his tea went down uneasily and he grimaced. Takashi had thought it would be safe. Touko and Shigeru couldn’t see the supernatural and that meant they couldn’t touch it either. They shouldn’t have been able to lace his tea with Cherry Blossom Liquor from the mountains. That meant someone else had helped, but it was too late to wonder who or decide what he was going to do. There was no going back and he wasn’t strong enough to fight it.

When Natsume Takashi became an ayakashi, there was no dramatic change. There was no flashing light or strange mask suddenly adorning his face. He was just himself, and he was an ayakashi now. He was no longer sick, and he felt more alive than he had in months. But it shouldn’t have been like that.

He didn’t want an eternal life. He would have been all right with dying. It wasn’t something to be feared.

At least then he would have been able to say goodbye.

Part 2

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off on an adventure

August 2012

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