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[personal profile] ink_stained
Day #24 -

Title: Even Frozen, Time Goes On
Fandom: Natsume Yuujinchou
Characters: Natsume Takashi, Nyanko-sensei (Madara), Natori, Tanuma, Nishimura, Kitamoto
Rating: PG
Words: (+/-) 1819
Summary: Takashi muses, Natori promises, and Tanuma thinks too much.

Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3 . Part 4 . Part 5

It was a cloudless night and the stars were shining, as brilliant as ever, from their far off place in the sky. Takashi marveled at their resilience, how they could patiently wait for their light to burn out, never knowing the passing of time and holding out forever. They led a longer life when compared to humans, but they had nothing on the life of an ayakashi.

Nights and days had blended together over the past two and a half months. It was hard to tell the good from the bad, let alone one day from the next. Seconds ticked by, faded into minutes, and minutes into hours, but it all felt like one big blur to Takashi. He barely noticed it, the passage of time. His body no longer needed to sleep or eat, and everything had begun to meld together because of that. It was endless, unforgiving.

Nyanko-sensei swatted at a dandelion and the white seedlings took flight into the night air, disrupting Takashi’s view of the darkened sky. He sat up and held out a palm for a seedling to land on, but a wind caught them and they drifted away. His hand fell to his side, empty. There were plenty of dandelions in the open field, beginning to bud since spring had come early, but for some reason, he had wanted that dandelion to stay - and now it was gone. It would have to grow again, somewhere new, and it would no longer be the same dandelion.

“Sorry for the wait!” called Natori moments later, reminding Takashi that he wasn’t as unconnected from the world as he felt.

He smiled; he couldn’t help it. “How did your date go?”

Natori took off his hat and spun it on one finger, grinning as well. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Then he sat down beside Takashi and bumped shoulders with him, resting his hat on one of his knees. “We’re not here to talk about me, though, Natsume. How are you feeling? Holding up well?”

“Well enough,” commented Takashi, shrugging slightly, the motion connecting him even more with someone from another world. A world he wanted to be part of again. Like a shooting star, falling, wishing, hoping, knowing it wanted be reunited with something that was always out of reach. “So, how is it? When can I …?”

“A little longer,” Natori promised. “There’s something I have to take care of first.”

Curious, Takashi asked, “Is it a job?”

“Sort of,” was the response he earned. “Don’t worry. It shouldn’t take long.”

That didn’t answer anything, but Takashi let it go. He didn’t have any right to criticize another’s secrets, not when he had so many of his own. “All right,” agreed Takashi, but he made no move to get up, content to stay like this for as long as he could. Side by side and enjoying the fleeting moment.

Natori didn’t seem like he was in any rush to leave either. “You can come with me, you know. I won‘t say no.”

It was a nice thought, but - “I can’t, Natori-san. They may not know I’m there, but I have to stay with Touko-san and Shigeru-san.” Because he had to do something, no matter how small, to return their kindness - the kindness they had shown by taking him in.

“What if,” Natori paused, thinking over his words carefully, “what if you can’t go back, Natsume? Do you realize the gamble you’re taking?”

“I know,” assured Takashi. He was confident of his choice now; he would see things through to the very end. “I trust you, Natori-san. You said there was a way, so I’ll believe in you.”

For his part, Natori chuckled. “Same old Natsume. You haven’t changed at all.” Then he sighed and fixed his gaze on Takashi, serious. “Be careful, I can only do so much.”

“I know,” Takashi repeated, quieter than the last. “I’ll be careful.”

Smiling once more, Natori picked up his hat and placed it on Takashi’s head. “You hold onto that for me, then. I want it back in one piece.”

Takashi tugged at it experimentally and it fell off - landing on Nyanko-sensei, where it stayed. “It’s a little big.”

“What did you expect, Natsume?” the lucky-cat spoke up, unimpressed by his newest accessory and trying to swat it away. “The brat has an ego big enough for the both of you, it has to fit somewhere.”

“Is that why your forehead is so big, Sensei? Because that hat fits you just right.”

Natori and Nyanko-sensei exchanged looks before turning to Takashi, insulted. “Hey, don’t compare me to that!” It was funny how even their objections were in synch. They were getting along, Takashi decided, and that made him smile.

“I’ll take care of your hat, Natori-san, but with Sensei wearing it, I can’t say whether you’ll get it back in one piece or two.”

--

That night, Tanuma was unable to sleep. He had too much to think about and not enough time to let it sink in. It would have been a miracle if he had been able to sleep, because while Natori had been civil, there had been an underlying hostility. This is your fault, the man had said behind that smile. Natsume has to suffer because of you.

It bothered Tanuma that his friend had to rely on Natori now, and it was worse that he had driven Natsume to it. But where had Natori been when Natsume had been so sick? What had the man expected from two kids that desperately wanted to save their friend? If there had been any other option, any means of saving Natsume without having to let him go, he would have taken it.

Natori could scorn his choice as much as he wanted to, Tanuma wasn’t going to regret it. No, what he did regret was the ayakashi that had taken his friend’s form. He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if it caused Natsume trouble. Not when Natsume was so close to becoming human again.

His mistakes could be undone, and perhaps Natsume could forgive him, even if he couldn’t forgive himself. Had he been foolish? Had he acted too quickly? It was too late for that, because soon Natsume would be back home and it would be as if nothing had happened. But would it really?

The Fujiwaras were going to be furious and want an explanation. Nishimura and Kitamoto were already suspicious, so they’d want one too. What would Natsume tell them? Another lie, another story? Or the truth? He supposed that last one meant he would have to face the repercussions of what he had done, but he didn’t mind. That was the least he could do, lessening the burden Natsume would have to bear.

Turning beneath the covers of his futon, he pulled the pillow closer and closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep. If he wanted to help Natsume, he would have to start by looking forward. There were things that only he could do and he would discover them. He would be of use to his friend, because Natsume was someone he didn’t want to lose.

--

Nishimura scowled and jerked a thumb in the direction of the large window down the hallway. “What the hell is that guy waiting for?” Because outside a man with glasses posed like a model, smiling his charming smile as he wooed girls with just the shine of his teeth. Nishimura didn’t like him.

“Isn’t that Natori Shuuichi?” remarked Kitamoto, stopping long enough to catch a glimpse out the window for himself. “I heard some girls mention it. Apparently, he’s shown up here before. I wonder who he’s waiting for this time?”

“Who was it last time?” Nishimura wondered. “That had to be embarrassing. The guy practically sparkles.”

“It was Natsume,” Kitamoto shrugged and started walking away, his curiosity satisfied. “Maybe he doesn’t know he’s missing?”

This, however, had the opposite reaction from Nishimura, who had been on edge lately and wasn’t calm on the most basic of days. “That creep knows Natsume? Then maybe he knows something! Let’s go, Kitamoto.” He dragged his friend down the stairs, through the hallways, and out of the school before Kitamoto had a chance to say, I don’t want to.

--

“My, my, I keep meeting Natsume’s friends in the most unlikely of ways,” Natori laughed. It was hard not to - this was the first time he had been tackled by a boy who wasn’t a fan. “Would you mind letting me up, though? Gravel isn’t as comfortable as it looks.”

The boy who hadn’t joined in on the ‘tackle the famous actor’ plan picked the other boy up by the back of his shirt. “Don’t mind me, I’m just here to make sure he doesn’t do anything too crazy.” As comforting as that was, Natori made sure to put a bit of distance between them.

“Is there something I can do for the two of you?” Natori asked, brushing off the dirt and grime from his backside. “I’m in somewhat of a hurry, but it seems I’ve been stood up. So I’ll hear you out.”

“Do you know where Natsume is?”

“Ah, that’s right. When you came flying at me, you said the exact same thing.” He tilted his glasses down, smirking. “What makes you think I know where Natsume is?”

“You kidnapped him, didn’t you?” It was a good thing the other boy still had a hold on his friend or Natori was positive he would have been tackled again. The boy was certainly feisty, he’d give him that.

“I don’t have any shady hobbies, if that’s what you’re asking,” Natori declared, blatantly omitting the fact that he operated as a part-time exorcist. “So no, I do not know where your friend is, nor do I have him locked up somewhere.”

“Then why are you here?” the boy demanded. “Are you looking for Natsume, too?”

“Too?” Natori raised an eyebrow, amused. “Where have you been searching, I wonder?”

“Natori-san!” a more familiar voice called, and Natori turned to the person, beaming.

“At last, Tanuma-kun! I thought you had forgotten about me.”

Tanuma grimaced - and then noticed he wasn’t alone. “Oh. Nishimura. Kitamoto. What are you two doing here?”

“We could ask the same of you,” the more level-headed boy said, but not unkindly. “I guess this is something else you can’t tell us?”

“Sorry,” began Tanuma, apologetic, “but that’s exactly what this is. I’ll explain later! Natori-san, please lead the way.” The boy even bowed, appearing humble and willing - but Natori could see in his eyes that he had found the worst possible candidate as an apprentice. Tanuma was determined, yes, but his eyes were focused somewhere far away, on a place that Natori couldn't tread.

“Well then. Let’s get those after-school cram sessions started, shall we?” Natori smiled, but it was with bitterness.

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August 2012

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