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Day #20 -

Title: Discussion with a Side of Tea
Fandom: Natsume Yuujinchou
Character: Natori, Taki, Tanuma, Hiiragi, Natsume Takashi, Nyanko-sensei (Madara)
Rating: PG
Words: (+/-) 2488
Summary: An exorcist, an onmyouji, and a priest walk into a bar - or that time Natori, Taki, and Tanuma went out for tea and along came a cat.

Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3 . Part 4

“Now then,” Natori began, once he had placed an order for tea and the waitress had left (reluctantly, because his dazzling smile had that effect), “would you mind answering a few questions, first?”

Tanuma shifted nervously in his seat. “That depends on the question, don’t you think?”

Natori looked to the pretty girl expectantly, awaiting her own rebuttal. She merely said, “As long as it’s not too personal, I don’t see why not.”

Ah, so she was still wary of him, but not enough to completely ostracize him. That summed up Tanuma’s reaction, too. To put it simply, they were smart, cautious children. He wondered why Natsume couldn’t adhere to the more ‘cautious’ side, like them. Then again, after what they had did …

“I see.” He smiled and laced his fingers together above the table top. “Then what would you say if I asked for your name, little miss?”

She flushed a shade of red that wasn't that flattering, probably remembering she had forgotten to introduce herself. “Taki Tooru. I go to school with - I mean, I used to go to school with Natsume.” At that, her pretty face became crestfallen, but that didn’t particularly concern him. It meant that Natsume hadn’t told them what he was planning, and that was the truly distressing part. Leave it to Natsume to make more work for him to take care of.

“So you both know Natsume through school,” he mused conversationally, still keeping his award-winning smile. “Interesting. Then let me ask you this: have you seen a willow tree at that school of yours? Either of you?” Taki glanced at Tanuma and Tanuma glanced out the window. So it was Tanuma that he would have to interrogate; that sounded like fun. “What did you see? That tree is causing quite a stir. Among humans and youkai alike. Rumors have even reached those in my line of work.”

The girl, Taki, tapped a finger on the table, attracting his attention, and said, “What does acting have to do with anything?” She seemed to know what he was really talking about, so her comment was more of a subtle hint that she wanted him to return the courtesy of an introduction - a proper one.

“My apologies,” he said, “I meant my job as an exorcist. As a descendant of the Natori clan, I have a responsibility to protect those who cannot see what I can from the things you would call youkai. You probably know me from watching my movies, but I assure you, miss. These wondrous good looks of mine are in no danger through my moonlighting as an exorcist.”

“I wasn’t worried about that,” deadpanned Taki. Tanuma snickered.

“Moving on,” Natori cleared his throat, “I have good news and I have bad news.”

“Let’s hear the bad first,” Tanuma insisted, “I’d rather have something to look forward to, if it’s about Natsume.”

Natori studied the boy for a moment longer than necessary, considering something. When he had it figured out, he concluded, “It was you, wasn’t it? You’re the one that awoke the sleeping ayakashi in the willow tree.” Confusion didn’t suit the boy, so Natori elaborated further. “The ayakashi you saw … it looked like Natsume, didn’t it?”

Instantly, Tanuma paled. “You’re saying it’s my fault … ?”

“No, no,” Natori waved his hand dismissively, “it’s not your fault it looks like Natsume. You can’t help what’s on your mind.” His grin turned slightly wicked. “However, it is your fault if this fake-Natsume attracts too much attention, so I hope you’re ready.”

“Ready for what?” Tanuma seemed to be the plan and wait type, unlike a certain reckless boy he knew. It was good to know this one wouldn’t go rushing off alone, at the very least, and the girl was following her friend‘s lead with conviction. They would make a cute couple.

“Well, this ayakashi feeds on desire,” explained Natori, amusement deepening when Tanuma blushed and Taki gaped - but he had to stop there, because their tea was served and the waitress had lingered to talk. It took a bit of time to politely ask her to leave. And once she was gone, he was sad to discover the previous embarrassment - and Taki's morbid curiosity - had vanished into thin air. “Now where was I?”

“You were telling us how much I desired Natsume,” grumbled Tanuma, sinking lower in his seat. “Was there more to that, or are you making fun of us?”

“There was more,” Natori assured. “The stronger the desire, the faster the ayakashi grows - and the more powerful it becomes. If it becomes even more powerful than it is now, it will surely attract the attention of the Matoba clan, if it hasn’t already.”

“The Matoba clan?” Taki interrupted up, interested. “Just how many clans are there?”

“A great many,” answered Natori, “but none that can equal the Matoba in power.” He glanced around, checking to make sure the crowded, busy café wasn’t host to any savory sorts - and by that, he meant Matoba’s spies. There were no humans that he recognized, so he placed his glasses on and had a second look. No youkai, either. Good. He hadn’t felt anything strange since entering the café with the kids, but he had wanted to be sure. Night was approaching, after all, and there were all kinds that tended to lurk in darkness. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this. You’re going to have a fight on your hands, and soon, if you don’t stop wishing for Natsume to come back.”

He had never seen two people react like these two did in real life before, but Taki and Tanuma did it splendidly: the shocked expressions, the suddenly bowed heads, and the furious blushes. “Did you think I meant something else by desire?” questioned Natori, masquerading behind a face as innocent as the first dew-drop of spring.

They quickly shook their heads, and Natori decided not to tease them anymore. He didn’t want Natsume mad at him.

“And the good news?” Taki reminded.

“Ah! That’s right. Let’s see, what was it again …” Well, maybe a little more teasing wouldn’t hurt anything. They’re too easy, Natsume. Forgive me.

“Wait. There’s one thing you didn’t tell us,” Tanuma pressed. “What does any of that have to do with Natsume? The ayakashi, the Matoba, all of it.”

Natori sighed dramatically. “See, this is why you perceptive types are trouble. I’ll spare you the details and tell you this. Matoba will set his eyes on the real Natsume if he comes here and finds an ayakashi impersonating him. If that happens, and he finds out what has become of Natsume, what do you think an exorcist would do?”

The girl whispered, “He would seal Natsume away?” Much too naïve; she was chaste in her thinking.

It was Tanuma that bit his lip and struggled to find the words to ask, “What could he do with Natsume?” This one had seen more of how exorcists worked. He was probably running scenario after scenario through his mind, wondering if Natsume would be killed. Or worse, taken away and enslaved. Because that was what it looked like between a contractor and a youkai, no matter what the person could or couldn’t see.

“Matoba will give him a name,” Natori said, simple and clear-cut. “And that name will destroy any chance Natsume has to be human again. So I’ll say this now, while I have your attention.” And he had it, thoroughly. The both of them were hanging on his every word, as if he had cast a spell - and it started and ended with Natsume. “Matoba must never know what has become of your friend. If someone starts asking, don’t say a word.”

Dropping the serious look, Natori reached for his now cold tea and smiled. “And if you were paying attention, you probably realized - that good news? Natsume is coming back home, where he belongs. But I’ll need a bit of help, if you two would be so kind.” He took a sip of his tea, eyes closed, expression unchanging, and thought, Some things you just can’t do alone.

“Thank you,” Tanuma said, and Natori snapped open his eyes in bewilderment, raising an eyebrow to urge the boy to go on. “You already told Natsume, didn’t you? That’s why he seemed so …”

Natori coughed when the tea went down the wrong way. “You’ve seen Natsume? The real Natsume?”

“Oops.” Tanuma had a shouldn’t have said that aura around him. Natori didn’t need any special glasses to see that much, and he stared at the boy from over his glasses, at a lost for words. Was Natsume that powerful an ayakashi, or … ?

The boy let out an ‘ow’ and glared at Taki as the girl played with a strand of her hair, too sweet and cute to have been the culprit behind whatever had happened beneath the table. Natori wasn’t going to let this matter drop that easily.

“Taki-san, I was wondering - and this is speculation, mind you - but is it possible that you can draw something that allows you to see youkai?” This time his smile was forced, unlike the previously ones. Taki was fidgety and her gaze was anywhere but on him. It gave off the impression that she had something hide. And if Natsume had told her to - “You know what, Taki-san? Never mind. How absurd that must have sounded, as if anything like that could exist.” He noticed how she winced, as if he had insulted her, but he didn’t take it back - and if she knew any better, she wouldn’t look that gift horse in the mouth.

If it was true, if she was really using forbidden circles, then it was by pure luck that she had met the one exorcist that would look the other way. The one exorcist who had met Natsume and wanted nothing more than to stay friends with him. He would protect her this time, but next time, Natsume would have to protect her from him. He could only pretend for so long these days - and that was another thing he could blame on Natsume.

Picking up his hat, he placed back on his head and tipped it in the direction of the two across from him. “Pardon me, but I need some air. Meet me outside and I’ll walk you both home.” He had taken up enough of their time. Everything that he had needed to say had been said. Paying for his tea and the untouched cups in front of Taki and Tanuma, he stepped away from the table and pulled on his coat. Once it was buttoned, he gave them one last half-hearted smile and walked out.

Outside, the air was cold and he could see his own breath. The unnatural chill was revealed when he said, “Hiiragi, could you do me a favor?”

“Anything,” his faithful youkai promised.

He sighed and leaned back against the café’s outer wall. Overhead, the shop’s sign flashed in bright neon. “I need you to find Natsume. As you thought, the shikigami didn’t work.”

That boy had to be the most paradoxical being in existence. As a human, he was always getting tangled up in Natori’s paper dolls, clumsier than any low-ranking ayakashi. But now, as something that wasn’t quite human, he was escaping him left and right.

Natori wanted Natsume back to his usual clumsy, bumbling ways. Although, it wasn’t so bad being the only human that could touch an intangible Natsume. At the moment, anyway.

He was going to fix things before that changed. Before Matoba came, and tried to steal something that wasn’t his to take. Because he didn’t doubt that Matoba would come. Not when something this interesting was going on.

“Natsume?” Hiiragi repeated.

“Yes, please find him quickly.”

“No, I mean, Natsume is right there.” She pointed out a young man walking towards them; a young man that was holding a lucky-cat in his arms. Natori had to admit, that was fast. She certainly got the job done.

“Hello, Natori-san.” Natsume was smiling, damn him, and looking happy. Where were those worries from his human days? His eyebrows would always pull into a tight, fixed expression as he worried and worried and worried some more. Natori wasn’t sure he could handle a Natsume that looked at him like that, like he was his everything. And perhaps he was, to Natsume - to the Natsume of right now. He was promising the boy something that had been out of his reach - and now he had to deliver.

“Evening, Natsume,” he replied, and the lecture he had planned on giving him after his talk with Taki promptly exited stage right inside his mind.

--

Takashi moved Nyanko-sensei around in his arms, trying to find a more comfortable position. “I thought Sensei was joking when he said you were back, but it’s true.” He glanced at where they were, saw the café, and chuckled. “Were you on a date, Natori-san?”

The actor gave a long, wistful sigh of what could only be described as longing. “If only! Unfortunately,” the neon lighting flashed on Natori’s glasses, giving them an almost sinister look, “I got lost, but two kids were kind enough to help me.”

“That must have been horrible. Did you miss your date?” Tired from holding Nyanko-sensei’s dead weight, he placed the cat on his shoulder. His diverted attention was the opening Natori had been waiting for, however, and the man took full advantage of it, roughly messing up Takashi’s hair. It wasn’t the usual soft affection, but that was okay. It was still warm.

“I didn’t miss anything. Actually,” Natori’s mischievous smile said, I’m joking, “why don’t we continue this date elsewhere, Natsume?”

“You’re not busy?” Takashi disregarded the joke as if it never existed. He had heard worse from this very same person.

Natori seemed to remember something and cursed under breath, sending an anxious glance to the café door. Takashi followed his gaze, but nothing was there. “Natsume, can we meet up at the field where we first met? I have something I left unfinished, so I might be a little late.”

“I don’t mind.” The cat on his shoulder, though, wasn’t the type to be nice and scuffed.

“Don’t come at all, you stupid, suspicious brat!”

Natori remained smiling, even if his eyebrow was twitching. “Who are you calling suspicious, you clingy cat?”

Taking care of the problem, Takashi crashed a fist down on the cat’s wide forehead. An easy target. “Be quiet, Sensei. Natori-san has his reasons, I’m sure. Let’s go. Quietly,” he tacked on, for good measure.

Nyanko-sensei refused to comply and grumbled about suspicious brats and foolish kids the entire trip.

Part 6
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off on an adventure

August 2012

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