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[personal profile] ink_stained
Day #25 -

Title: Learning
Fandom: Natsume Yuujinchou
Characters: Matoba Seiji, Nanase, Natsume Takashi
Rating: PG
Words: (+/-) 2061
Summary: Matoba was in a good mood, until he saw what had become of Natsume.

Part 1 . Part 2

As bored as Seiji had been the day before, he was actually looking forward to today. He had slept well, eaten a decent meal, and now he was ready to go ‘hunting’ - or to be perfectly honest, he was ready to kill time until his meeting with Natsume. And he knew the best place for that - the archery field. No one would object to him practicing, as he rarely felt in the mood to do anything of the sort.

The field was empty when he arrived, the early risers having already finished. He had a few hours to himself then, before the latecomers put in an appearance. The shed to the left of the field was Seiji’s current destination, as his bow was housed in there along with the rest, despite his objections. It was a normal bow, no matter how it was turned or held, but to him, it was the difference between life and death. His choice weapon.

He only felt truly safe, truly whole, with his bow in his hands. It had protected him more times than he could name. Pulling it from the rack, he grabbed a quiver of arrows to use and made his way to the closest target. It was a badly beaten practice dummy, but it was Seiji’s favorite. He had created it together with his brother, years ago. They had tried to make it look like the scariest youkai they had seen, but it had ended up looking like a clown - and it had grown worse with age. Discolored straw stuck up in odd places and the clothing was falling apart. The painted face from years gone was faded and smudged, an eerily resemblance to that clown from the past.

Notching an arrow, he shot its head off - and watched the past crumble, as it did every day. He was going to remake it, from the bottom on up. If the Matoba clan was the lock, then Natsume was the key. He could use the boy. He could reshape the clan. He could become something more than a puppet on a string, dancing to someone else’s tune.

Shooting another arrow, he aimed straight for the heart.

“Why, young master, you’re actually practicing?” He didn’t break form to respond, positioning an arrow and letting it fly. “What brought this on?”

Seiji turned, his drawn bow dropping from its seamless form, and smiled as he said, “Natsume.” This worked out nicely; he could see what Nanase knew of the boy.

His clan member frowned in thought and readjusted her glasses. “That name …” To Seiji’s disappointment, she finished that sentence with, “It belongs to the boy from yesterday, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” he admitted, “that’s all he would tell me. Do you know of any Natsume families that live around this area?”

“For you to be this interested, just what is he?” mused Nanase, folding her arms across her chest. “He seemed a normal, overly polite boy to me. What are you seeing that I don’t, young master?”

“That’s just it,” Seiji began, returning his attention to his practice target as he notched an arrow, “he can see. He saw Inugami.” He pulled the bowstring taunt and then let go, releasing the arrow and hitting his intended target, which was the arrow that had already pierced the heart. “He could see it clearly with those eyes of his.”

“How do you know?” questioned Nanase. “Perhaps he felt the presence of that mutt of yours. There’s no guarantee he saw anything. You would be better off making amends with the boy and leaving him be. Let him live his own life.”

That wasn’t relevant to his interests, so he disregarded the idea. “No, I think I’ll keep him around. There’s something about him, something different, and I want him to join our clan.”

Nanase sighed, probably giving up hope that she could sway his thoughts. She was right. Seiji didn’t know the meaning of ‘leave well enough alone’. Anyone else would have seen Natsume Takashi, patted the boy on the head, and sent him on his merry way. Seiji saw Natsume Takashi, patted the boy on the head, and kept him tied to him on a finely concealed leash. It wouldn’t do for such a useful, unpolished tool to stray too far.

“Then I have a warning for you,” Nanase changed tactics as Seiji let loose another arrow, “and it’s from your mother.” The next arrow missed the target altogether and fell limply to the ground. Seiji scowled and broke form to retrieve the arrow. “Be careful not to lose what you‘ve found.”

After picking up the arrow, it snapped from the force he held it with and Seiji stared at it, gaze unfocused. “She should be careful, too, or what I’ve found may shake the very foundation our clan stands on.”

Uncrossing her arms, Nanase waved one hand dismissively. “The boy is no threat to us. Do what you will with him. I only ask that you not permanently scar the boy. That bite mark from the mutt is going to take time to heal.”

Seiji tossed the broken pieces aside and smiled. “I’ll try.”

--

Natsume wasn’t at the front gates of the middle school, so Seiji went around back - and there he was. If this was the best Natsume could do at sneaking away, he had a lot to learn. Crouching down to the feet sticking out of a large bush, he said, “Found you. Are you hiding from someone, Natsume-kun?”

When the boy, without having to be told, came out of the bush, he was surprised to see the scratches along the child’s face - and the arm, wrapped tightly in bandages and held protectively against his chest, was another oddity he hadn’t been expecting. He knew Inugami hadn’t caused that. Anger settling onto his face, Seiji demanded, “What happened to you?”

It worried him more that he could see the pendant peeking out from beneath Natsume’s uniform. This wasn’t the doing of an ayakashi, then, and he wasn’t sure what to do with that information. It was even more awkward when Natsume lied, saying, “Nothing.” Then an expression of relief crossed the boy’s face, out of place and odd, but it was gone far too quickly. “You actually came.”

“Of course,” Seiji said, offended. He stood up and offered the boy his hand. “Come, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Natsume refused the help as he got off the ground. At his full height, the boy barely reached Seiji’s shoulders, but being upright seemed to put the boy at ease - as well as the fact that he didn’t have to depend on anyone. Seiji briefly wondered if he could break the boy of that habit.

“Are we going back to your home?” asked Natsume, almost shyly, as he followed after Seiji’s quick strides.

“The Matoba residence,” Seiji corrected. “I wouldn’t call it my home.”

It was silent until they reached the outskirts of the forest that separated the Matoba manor from the school. Within the shadows of the trees, Natsume seemed confident enough to ask, “Then what is it, if it isn’t a home?”

A good question, but Seiji hadn’t thought of what to call it, if not a home. He finally admitted on a whisper, “I don’t know.”

The boy smiled, but it was a thin, broken parody of a smile. “Maybe we are alike, Matoba-san.”

For some reason, Seiji didn’t want to hear that.

--

A faint steam wafted from the bath, the water warm and comfortable, and it felt good on Seiji’s overworked muscles. It had been a while since he had practiced that long. He would have been enjoying the bath more if it wasn’t for Natsume, who seemed like a lost sheep, not sure what to do with himself.

“Get in. There’s plenty of room,” Seiji insisted, but the boy - with his feral cat look - looked ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. Sighing, Seiji motioned with his hand for the boy to come closer, which Natsume did, reluctant as could be. “At least wash off. You can do that with a towel on.” He handed the boy a scrub brush and soap and put the boy to work on making himself presentable.

Meanwhile, he relaxed in the water and let his tired body unwind.

He didn’t know how much time had passed, but Natsume brought his attention to it when he said, “I’m sorry I took so long, but … um.” Cutting his eyes to see out of his peripheral, he couldn’t help but let out a laugh at the sight of Natsume practically covered in soap bubbles.

“You might want to rinse off,” suggested Seiji, quelling his laughter into chuckles and chuckles into clearing his throat, staving off further amusement. “Do you need some help?”

The boy glared, clearly not agreeing to that, and rinsed off without getting into the tub. It was if he had been waiting for permission to even touch the water. Seiji filed that away, since it was another thing about Natsume that he would have to look into.

Once the boy was bubble free and Seiji was done soaking, he threw a towel over the boy’s head and grabbed one for himself, wrapping it around his waist after he had dried off. “Now, for clothes.” He studied Natsume’s thin frame - and it was a little too thin. He could count the boy’s ribs. With clothes on, it hadn’t been that noticeable, but this … “And you’re staying for dinner,” he didn’t leave any room for argument, “so tell me your number and I’ll inform your parents.”

“My parents are gone,” Natsume said, but Seiji couldn’t see what kind of face he was making from beneath the towel. He imagined it was a lonely expression, though, a face that could break hearts, but he also thought it would be beautiful. Like picking up a piece of sea glass, holding it up to the sun, and seeing through the opaque coloring. It was still transparent, as easy to understand as its smoothed edges, but it could be painted, reused, made into something else. He was starting to understand what it was about Natsume that fascinated him so.

“Then your guardians,” dismissed Seiji, and that was the end of it. He didn’t pry, as much as he wanted to know more, because Natsume would open up to him in time, a clean slate to be steeped in color.

--

The yukata swallowed Natsume’s fragile form, large and too much for his small body. Seiji folded up the sleeves, bundling them around the boy’s elbows, and then pinned up the bottom, so he wouldn’t step on the fabric and trip. “It’s just until your uniform is cleaned,” reminded Seiji when Natsume gave him that I don’t like this look that he was so good at giving.

“You don’t have to do that,” the boy mumbled, “and I -” Unconsciously, he was rubbing at his injured arm, which he still hadn‘t explained. “I shouldn’t stay for dinner. It will cause trouble for my relatives.”

Seiji played with the pendant around Natsume’s neck, pretending as if he hadn’t heard. “I don’t care if I cause them trouble. You’re staying for dinner. You can stay forever if you like.”

“Please don’t joke,” Natsume said quietly, and he pushed Seiji’s hand away - but it wasn’t the rough treatment of yesterday, where he had been slapped, kicked, and yelled at. This Natsume seemed scared and attempting to put on an act. I’m okay. I don’t need anyone. The only part that hadn’t changed was the act.

“I can hardly use you for anything as you are now,” declared Seiji, “so you either stay and eat - possibly explain what happened to you - or I am going to take back my side of the deal.”

Natsume clutched at the pendant, eyes noticeably widening, and said, “Don’t.”

“Then stay,” Seiji commented, flippant, and he stood and stretched. His own black yukata fluttered around him, fitting him perfectly. “I like you, Natsume-kun.”

He wondered if the boy had ever heard those words before, because he was turning an awfully blatant shade of pink. “I still don’t like you, Matoba-san.”

That didn’t stop the boy from saying his name with such reverence. Although - “You can call me Seiji.”

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August 2012

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