All characters © Ono Fuyumi
Author's Note: Fic exchange piece! I think this has been my most difficult exchange, and not only because it's my first try at writing for Shiki. I am a gen writer, and this exchange was with a huge yaoi fan. I don't write yaoi, but I tried to achieve something that was both gen but whose meanings could also be ambiguous if one wished to interpret it so. I hope I accomplished this somewhat!
Additional note: There is no such game as Apocalyptic Zombinator IV. The title of this fic is in reference to a vampire horror novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which I thought oddly fitting.
Let The Right One In
Yuuki Natsuno needed to use up more fingers on his hands to keep track of his age than to keep track of the number of friends he'd had. Not that he was counting, or anything. In the city, people were far too busy with their own bustling lives to pay attention to anyone else. They only had the time to run around, buy groceries, go to work, pay taxes, and occasionally reproduce. Natsuno had made friends in his fifteen years of boyhood (his parents would certainly have referred him to a child psychologist if he hadn't), but before he had gotten the chance to grow close to them they had either lost interest in him or, like most, had moved away.
Then one day it had been his turn.
Natsuno had actually preferred the city, where he could hide in the throngs of fast-moving people, blending into the sweat and heat and body oils that covered his scent. Sotoba was a loathsome village, an underdeveloped community of luddism where lips flapped and tongues wiggled faster than a happy dog's tail to spread the word. Everybody knew everybody, and they shared a sense of community that was utterly absent in "those big cities," as the villagers referred to them as, or even more eloquently the "cinder block mazes with their barbaric pollution and questionably dressed population."
Sotoba was different, and although you had to walk a quarter-mile to get to your neighbors, Natsuno felt exposed. He couldn't hide here. It was only a matter of time before—
—an intruder showed his face.
"Are you under the assumption that I don't have a shower at my home?" Natsuno asked coolly, wiping water out of his eyes and pushing his sodden hair away from his brow.
Mutou Tohru, the boy who lived down the road, laughed jocundly and pointed the dripping garden hose away from him. "Sorry, Natsuno!" he chimed. "My hand slipped!" Natsuno gave Tohru a pernicious glower that could have chilled the hot summer day outside.
"My ass, 'your hand slipped'," Natsuno grumbled, trying to wring out his shirt. Tohru had abandoned his own tee long ago and was clad in only a pair of faded khaki shorts that looked as if they had seen better days. He ambled over to Natsuno, bare feet squelching in the wet grass of his lawn.
"Come on, Natsuno, it's summer!" he laughed. "Hose fights are awesome."
"Only if you're the one doing the hosing," Natsuno replied dourly as he attempted in vain to restyle his hair.
Tohru stared at Natsuno for a minute, blinking green eyes contemplatively. "You know if you part your hair to the left right now you'll look almost exactly like Yasuki Juunei."
"Come on, you can't tell me you haven't played Apocalyptic Zombinator IV."
"I told you I'm not interested in video games."
With a light sigh, Tohru walked over and ruffled Natsuno's wet hair before he could protest. Natsuno wasn't partial to physical contact, but he held his ground. He saw what was wrong here: Tohru wanted to be his friend. Like the others. And whenever someone wanted to be his friend, they always disappeared. Also like the others.
Tohru fell down and spat out water only seconds later. Natsuno stood over him with the hose raised and smirking. "Gotcha."
It was two weeks before Natsuno ran into Tohru again on the road. Temperatures that day were hot for late June, but not as unbearable as the weeks before. The sun was setting over the hilltops in a seeping gradient wash, elongating all the shadows and causing the more sensitive eyes to squint.
"How come I haven't seen you anymore?" Tohru asked, poking Natsuno's forehead with his index finger. Again with the touching. Natsuno tried not to shy away, though it took an effort.
"My week's been better without your annoying face in my line of sight," he replied, gently swatting away Tohru's hand. "I'm late and you're in my way."
"You'll never make any friends with that attitude, Natsunooo~" Tohru sang, pouting with folded arms as Natsuno headed down the road. The day was ending, and Tohru looked faintly lonely as he stared at the dust that rose around his shoes.
Natsuno stopped and turned, the colors on his back rippling in the faint heat haze that rose from the ground. He gave something of a bitter look.
Despite his efforts to spurn Tohru, Natsuno found that he underestimated the power of boredom. During the summertime, Sotoba was an unbearably rural village whose technology had not yet extended beyond cord phones, and the yearn for entertainment soon overpowered Natsuno's feelings of social awkwardness. He even found himself playing Apocalyptic Zombinator IV.
However, he would sit as far away from Tohru as possible while in the other's company, almost as if Tohru had an infectious plague (if Natsuno had known what would happen to the town that fall, he would never had made that comparison). He had felt the warmth of friendship before, but, like nicotine, once you tried it you began to crave it. That's why you had to avoid it, or you would be hopelessly hooked. The barriers Natsuno put up to protect himself were strong; bastions of mental steel that emitted repelling feelings of ennui and phlegmatic indifference to anyone who got close enough.
The village was funny about personal barriers, since everyone felt a strong sense of kinship with one another. They regarded the Yuuki family as somewhat of an oddity, partially because the Yuukis, like the Kirishikis, were from Outside. Natsuno's parents had similar walls built up, though their reasons for having them were completely different from his. His teachers had a vague understanding of his walls and chose to respect them. Shimizu Megumi didn't understand nor respect his walls.
"Yo, Natsuno, is this gear supposed to be in D or R?"
"Drive doesn't begin with the letter R, stupid. What do you think?"
He tightened the passenger's seat's buckle now as Tohru attempted to exercise the power of his first driver's permit. He didn't like being in the car with Tohru, despite the premise of air conditioning. The guy's mouth just wouldn't stop. Loquacity was an overestimated art, Natsuno concluded, as he harrumphed and nodded and answered with laconic, one-syllable responses. He asked no questions. Tohru would take the hint eventually that he wasn't interesting in any sort of friendship unless he was a complete idiot. Natsuno didn't let anyone in, no matter how hard they tried. Tohru should have taken Shimizu as an unfortunate example of this, but he was either too oblivious or to stupid to do so.
"C'mere, Natsuno. I won't bite. Give you a noogie, maybe, since you totally need one."
He would let no one in, noogies or no noogies. Natsuno was confident in his barriers.
"What?" Tohru found himself asking one evening, his confusion successfully smothering the pleasant surprise in his voice. "You're sleeping over my house tonight? Why?"
Natsuno gave a vapid yawn and closed his eyes. "This is the only place I can sleep anymore..."
So Tohru covered him with a blanket, smiling faintly at the fact that he had been placed in such trust by someone so cold.
The barriers were impregnable so that no one could get in. Now Natsuno thinks that maybe he had just never let the right one in. Those barriers had taken fifteen long years to build, and yet it only took three months for Tohru—stupid, grinning, clumsy Tohru—to break every single one and let himself inside.