ink_stained: (drrr: festival)
[personal profile] ink_stained
Day #18 -

Title: To Fight Their Own Battles
Fandom: Natsume Yuujinchou
Characters: Nishimura, Kitamoto, Tanuma, Taki, Natori
Rating: PG
Words: (+/-) 3424
Summary: Nishimura and Kitamoto decide to try ghost-hunting, and Tanuma and Taki have a run-in with a ferocious piece of paper.

Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3

In class, Nishimura paid even less attention than usual. His gaze kept drifting to Natsume’s empty desk and there it stayed. He had been avoiding it, pretending it wasn’t there, but today was different. Today, he had seen Taki and Tanuma in an empty classroom, whispering over a shirt. A shirt that would have been too big for Taki and too small for Tanuma, but it was still a part of their school uniform. It belonged to someone he knew and he was certain that someone was Natsume. And that meant Natsume wasn’t gone - but then, where was he?

“Earth to Space Cadet, anyone out there?”

“When did you get here?” he asked, quickly snapping out of it and looking away. “Is it lunch already?”

Kitamoto glanced at where he had been looking and then said nothing for the longest time. When he did speak up, Nishimura wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Let’s go somewhere else. I want to talk about something.”


They were outside, under the largest willow tree Nishimura had ever seen, when Kitamoto began to explain himself. “This tree is rumored to be haunted, but you know what’s funny?” From the grim, almost bitter look on Kitamoto’s face, there was nothing funny about it. “The rumors say Natsume is the one haunting it.” That was strange to hear that from his level-minded friend. Kitamoto had never been one for idle gossip, so for him to take it seriously - “And I’ve seen it. Something that haunts this tree looks just like Natsume.”

Nishimura’s intelligent response was, “Huh?”

“I know. It sounds ridiculous,” admitted Kitamoto, embarrassed - but he rested a hand on the willow tree and his hand did not shake. “Still, I saw what I saw. Do you think it’s possible?” He bent his head, as if acknowledging how foolish he sounded, and his short black hair fell forward. It wasn’t enough to hide his earnest eyes, though, and how alive they were at the prospect of finding his friend. “Do you think Natsume could be here?”

“What are you saying?” Nishimura asked, incredulous. “You think … what? That Natsume’s some kind of ghost?” He didn’t know why, but he started laughing - and then the laughter turned to tears and the tears to rage. “Natsume’s not dead,” he insisted, the words broken with emotion, “and I won’t believe it, so don’t you dare try to make me think otherwise.”

Kitamoto dropped his hand from the tree and said, “I didn’t think it was Natsume either.” There was sadness lingering within every line of his face. “But it would be nice if it was.”

“Then what? A youkai playing tricks? Those things -”

“Don’t exist?” concluded Kitamoto for him. Nishimura shrugged and couldn’t meet Kitamoto’s eyes. He was too afraid that Kitamoto would see straight through him and discover how much he wanted to believe it was possible they did. “Maybe they don’t, but maybe they do. Maybe it is Natsume,” and before Nishimura could curse at him again, he hurried to say, “and it could have nothing to do with the supernatural. Maybe Natsume’s running from something, but staying close to the school.”

Nishimura relaxed and thought it over. It was possible. Natsume didn’t like to trouble others, and this was just the kind of stunt he would pull. If that was the case, they had to help their friend - whether he wanted the help or not. “All right,” Nishimura decided, “we’re camping out at the school tonight. Time for some ghost hunting.”

“I thought you said Natsume wasn’t a ghost?” Kitamoto pointed out, eyebrows raised.

“Oh, don’t worry. He will be when I’m done with him.” Nishimura cracked his knuckles with a smile.


For all of his bravado, Nishimura was the one huddling against his friend with every snap of a twig or rustle of a leaf. “I-I’m not scared,” he would insist to Kitamoto, but that didn’t mean it convinced anyone.

“Just be quiet,” Kitamoto replied, after hearing it for the fiftieth time. “You’re going to scare off everything with that loud voice of yours.”

“And what about you? You’re being loud, too!”

“I am not. I’m whispering.”

Nishimura glared, because that wasn’t fair. He could be quiet, too - when he wanted to be. It was just harder to do when he felt like they were going to get mugged or eaten by strange creatures. “Fine, whatever. But whose bright idea was it to forget sleeping bags?” He was freezing.

Unimpressed, Kitamoto clarified, “That was your fault. Don’t play dumb.”

“Hey, you could have brought a sleeping bag, or two; it wouldn’t have killed you,” accused Nishimura.

“My little sister would have noticed, and then she would have followed us. Did you want a tag-a-along? Because I can still go back and get those sleeping bags, if you don’t mind.” Nishimura staunchly ignored how sarcastic his friend was being.

“Did you hear something, just now?” There was the faint sound of a harp playing, possibly from inside the school. Or it could have been his imagination, like how Kitamoto had imagined he had seen Natsume in the willow tree.

After a while, the music faded and Kitamoto shook his head, unable to hear anything. “Are you sure you heard something?”

“I-I don’t know. I guess nothing was there.” Uneasily, Nishimura settled back against the willow tree and - maybe, possibly - scuttled closer to Kitamoto. Not that he would admit it.

Kitamoto shoved him over and drew a line in the dirt. “Stay on your side.”

“Aww, come on! Don’t be like that.”

Their argument would have continued in heatedness for a while, if not for a deafening twang that drowned out their furious whispering. It was as if a string had snapped on an instrument - and Kitamoto heard it, so Nishimura was fairly sure their imagination hadn’t conjured something up to scare them. Looking up into the branches of the tree, where the noise had come from, he gasped and grabbed onto Kitamoto’s arm reflexively. “It’s appeared!”

There, floating in mid-air, was a butterfly aglow with golden light. And on the highest branch, where the long, wistful leaves were parted, as if a curtain had been pulled, there stood a harp with a missing string. Someone had just been playing it. In the tree. Above them.

“Y-You know, Kitamoto?”

“Y-Yeah, Nishimura?”

“I don’t think our school has ever had a willow tree.”

They started running when the realization hit them: they had played right into youkai hands.


The next day, Kitamoto had trouble sitting still in class. He kept glancing out the window, his leg bouncing with an anxiety he couldn’t hide, and his eyebrows were drawn done sharply to form a frown. None of this went unnoticed by Tanuma, but his classmate waited until after class to ask about it.

“Are you okay, Kitamoto-kun?”

“I’m fine,” he bit out, harsher than intended, and let his face fall into his hands as he became aware of how rude he was being. “I’m sorry. The truth is: I’m not fine. But you’re going to think I’m crazy if I tell you why.”

“I’ll hear you out.” He heard the scratch of a chair being pulled out and he peeked through his fingers to see Tanuma sitting backwards, resting his arms against the chair and prepared to listen. “You look like you could use a friend.”

He eyed the lingering bruise on Tanuma’s cheek and snorted, dropping his hands entirely and collapsing against his desk. “Like you could have used one back then. You don’t have to try and be polite, Tanuma.”

“We’re friends,” Tanuma was obstinate, “so stop holding back and tell me what happened.” The way Tanuma’s eyes suddenly went distance, he wondered if the guy was still talking to him, but then his classmate snapped out of it. “It wouldn’t have anything to do with a willow tree, would it?”

Kitamoto lifted his head and stared. “How did you know?”

“Ah.” Kitamoto really didn’t like the sound of that ‘ah’. It got worse when Tanuma leaned forward, pale as a sheet, and asked, “Did you see Natsume?”

A few pieces of the ever elusive puzzle began to fall into place. “Do you -” - see youkai? He paused, attention caught when Tanuma hid his trembling hands. He had already turned a blind eye when Nishimura punched him. This time, he wouldn’t turn away from the pain he was causing his classmate - his friend. So he finished his question with, “You like Natsume a lot, don’t you?”

Tanuma breathed out softly, relief reflected in his smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I do. I heard the rumors going around, but it’s silly, isn’t it? The school doesn’t have a willow tree.”

“Yeah, and Natsume isn’t a ghost,” Kitamoto agreed, going along with the conversation. “Because that tree isn’t haunted by a human.”

He was aware of the way Tanuma sat up a little straighter, but Tanuma only said, “Oh?” As if he had no idea what Kitamoto was talking about.

“The tree. I saw it. It’s a butterfly. And it can play the harp.” He would have expected anyone else to start laughing, but Tanuma had turned a sickly shade of white.

“I-It’s not Natsume?”

“I thought we agreed it wasn’t,” Kitamoto said slowly. “Is there something you need to tell me, Tanuma?”

“I have to go!” If there was one thing Tanuma had going for him, it was his ability to make a fast escape.


Taki was as shocked as Tanuma to hear that the ayakashi at school wasn’t Natsume. Then again, they had neglected to ask Natsume the day before if he had been appearing at school. It hadn’t come up, and they had been too distracted by the fun they were having.

They had been together again and that had been all they cared about.

“Maybe Natsume’s actually a butterfly and forgot to tell us?” suggested Taki, but there was no real conviction to her voice.

Tanuma shook his head, saying, “I think we would have noticed the wings if Natsume had become a butterfly ayakashi.”

“That’s if he didn’t hide them,” mused Taki, starting to warm up to the idea. She folded a piece of paper, bored, and flicked it across the table to Tanuma. They were at his house again, discussing Natsume, but this time a circle wasn’t involved. Since another circle meant another instance where they would have to watch, all over again, as Natsume disappeared. There was only so much they could take of that.

Flicking the miniature paper-football back to Taki, he admitted, “I wouldn’t mind seeing a Natsume that had wings.”

“And if they were gold and matched his eyes?”

“Or,” Tanuma snickered, “what if he had antennas?” They both paused as they tried to picture it, paper football forgotten for the moment - and then they fell over sideways, giggling non-stop. “That would make a great picture.”

“Yeah,” agreed Taki, staring up at the ceiling iand neglectng to get up. “Do you think a circle would allow him to show up on film?”

“It’s worth a try.” Tanuma didn’t bother to get back up either, content to watch the corner of his room where he could see the shadows of fish he normally couldn’t see. They now reminded him of Natsume and he smiled softly. “Yeah, let’s take one last picture together. All of us.”

“I’ll bring my camera tomorrow.” Taki’s smile mirrored his; it was soft, warm, and a touch playful now that they had mischief to plan. Then they sobered and got back to the discussion they had been avoiding. “So,” she began, “what do we do about the fake-Natsume?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, honest as could be, “but I may know someone who can help.” Sitting up, he flicked the paper football hard enough to fly and land on the relaxing Taki. “By the way, where did you get the paper for that?” He hadn’t had any out.

“It was on the table,” she replied, taking a hold of it as she got up. She tapped the place where she had found it, but Tanums still seemed confused as to how it got there. “It’s not yours?” The paper started moving and she let go of it at once, a cry of surprise torn from her lips. “Do you normally keep paper around that can walk?” And that was what it was doing. It had grown two legs, two arms, and a head - and it was roughly the size of the palm of her hand by now. Paper wasn’t supposed to look that human. It just wasn’t. Even her grandfather hadn’t been capable of that. But this was a temple. Stranger things could have happen, she supposed.

“It’s not mine!” Tanuma reminded her and pulled her forcibly away from it. “Run, we don’t know what it is.”

“But we can both see it, can’t we? Maybe it’s not harmful. Let's ask.”

“I’m not going to stand here and ask, and neither are you, let’s go.” Taki didn’t resist when her friend dragged her out of the room and started running. He did have a point; if it had enough power to show itself, then maybe they should just leave it alone. Is that what we’re going to do about the fake-Natsume? That didn’t sit right with her, somehow.

“Where are we going?”

“To the main temple,” explained Tanuma. “There’s something I want to try if it follows us.”

So he wasn’t just running away. He was thinking ahead. That was more like the Tanuma she knew.


The temple was larger than Taki thought it was from its outward appearance. She felt like they could keep running for ages and still they wouldn’t reach the destination that Tanuma was headed towards. “Almost there,” Tanuma would say, “a few more doors, Taki. Come on, hurry.” She was starting to run out of breath and they had yet to lose their pursuer, and their pursuer kept growing an inch for every door they passed. The paper doll had nearly reached the height of the ceiling.

“Here!” Tanuma cried, and grabbed her hand. She may or may not have blushed, but neither of them were practically mindful of those details right now. The door slammed closed behind them and shut out the thing that had followed them. All they could see was the shadow of it as it prowled outside the room. She wanted to ask why it wasn’t coming in, but Tanuma made her lose her words when he squeezed her hand and said, “Want to help me with that idea I had?”

She wasn’t sure she could say no without hating herself, so - “Sure. What did you have in mind?”

“A sutra. If it’s paper, I know the perfect one!” He still hadn’t let go of her hand, but that was okay. It reminded her that no, this wasn’t a dream. They were going to fight their own battles now.

There was hope for them yet if they could pull this off.

“Do you need me draw something?” she hazarded a guess. That was what she was good, after all. Tanuma’s encouraging smile told her she was right.

When he finally let go of her hand, he took his time browsing the bookshelves in the room. It was almost like an abandoned library in here: dusty and home to large, ancient texts that were written in some language she didn’t know. She hovered over Tanuma’s shoulder, reading what he was reading but still unable to make much sense of anything. As the seconds ticked by, she couldn’t help but wonder, “Why isn’t it coming inside?”

Tanuma flipped another page in his book. “I’m curious about that, too, but I think it has something to do with the markings in the corners of the room.” He let out a triumphant, “Aha,” and flipped the book around to show Taki what he had discovered. “This. Do you think you can do it in two minutes?”

“That’s all the time you’re going to give me?” She gave a put-upon sigh. “Well, if I must.” Grinning at the challenge, she began to roll up her sleeves. “Make sure to do your job properly, Tanuma. I’m counting on you.”

“Ready?” He placed a hand on the sliding door.

“As I’ll ever be.”

Then they opened the door, knowing very well it could make or break them.

“Over here, you overgrown piece of toilet paper!”

Taki found it hard to concentrate when Tanuma’s insults grew increasingly more exaggerated and shouted, “You’re distracting me more than that paper guy, Tanuma!” She missed the blush that spread across his cheeks when she returned to drawing on the floor. At least Tanuma had taken her words to heart and settled for a more physical showdown, rather than trying to insult it to death.

After the circle’s new symbols were completed, and the paper guy had been smacked a few good times on the head, they lured it into the center where the kanji for fire was written. The rest of the symbols were foreign to the both of them.

Next, it was Tanuma’s turn. “Stay behind me,” he warned, and then he started the sutra. “When a house is on fire, the vessel salvaged is the one that will be of use, not the one left there to burn.” A tiny spark went off where one of the paper legs met the circle on the floor. “So when the world is on fire with aging and death, one should salvage one’s wealth by giving: what’s given is well salvaged.” The spark lit the paper on fire and the doll struggled futilely. The sound of crumpling paper filled the hallway, its cries going unheard without a mouth, and the smell of something burning took prominence over the incense that Taki had used to draw the circle with.

Tanuma remained undistracted. His eyes closed and his hands clasped together, he went on with the sutra, “What’s given bears fruit as pleasure. What isn’t given does not: thieves take it away, or kings; it gets burnt by fire or lost.” The fire spread quickly and the flames dissolved into nothingness once the paper burned, leaving behind only ashes. “Then in the end one leaves the body together with one’s possessions. Knowing this, the intelligent man enjoys possessions and gives.” There was nothing left to burn, but Tanuma finished the sutra anyway. “Having enjoyed and given in line with his means, un-censured he goes to the heavenly state.”

After that, he fell to his knees, panting for breath as if he had just run a marathon. “Taki.”

“What is it?” She approached him from behind, but her gaze was trained on the ashes that were drifting off away on a wind they couldn't feel.

“We did it.”

“We did it,” she repeated. “All that’s left is -”

Someone started to clap and she turned to find a man wearing a hat, glasses, and a coat inside a temple. Something about that seemed suspicious to her, and she trusted her instincts.

It was Tanuma who asked, “Who are you?” Taking the words right out of her mouth.

“I thought you would remember me, Tanuma-kun, but it’s really not your fault.” The hat and glasses were removed and Taki gasped, unprepared for the sight, her eyes going wide. “After all, my disguise is masterful, is it not?”

Tanuma felt like face-palming. “You’re that famous actor - Natori-san, right?” He stood up on shaky legs with the help of Taki. “I actually wanted to talk to you about something, but I wasn’t sure how to get into contact with you.”

“You know each other?” Taki’s amazement was crystal clear. “How?”

“Natsume,” the two said at the same time, and she noticed that Tanuma wasn’t as happy about that as Natori was.

“I enjoy meeting Natsume’s friends,” Natori explained, and bowed graciously, “but I apologize for my wayward shikigami. It seems to be the reason we've met on this fateful night. Better than a house full of ayakashi, though. Right, Tanuma-kun?”

Tanuma tensed and moved away from Taki’s support, taking a step closer to Natori. “Why are you really here, Natori-san?”

“You’re a perceptive one, aren’t you? The truth is that I’m after what my shikigami was after, but you’re not what I expected to find.” The actor pocketed his glasses and replaced his hat atop his head. “I don’t suppose you two could spare a few moments? I’d like to talk with you as well.” Then he said what had their attention completely, “It’s about Natsume.”

Part 5
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off on an adventure

August 2012

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