Hey~~ It's been quite a long time since I updated, OTL. Anyway, I didn't like the last chapter at all, so I rewrote it. The first half is the same as the one before this however, so you can skip it if you want.


Natsume Yuujinchou

Chapter 21

Tanuma's eyes travelled down to the hunched over teen, worried. Homura had not said anything for a while now, nor did he move much. He, on the other hand, was the one going back and forth, torn between the need to strike up a conversation to relieve the tension or just be there by Homura's side instead.

In the end he flopped down on the seat next to Homura, rested his head against the wall and closed his eyes. If Homura had been alert enough to notice his presence right beside him, he didn't show it.

He wouldn't say that 'everything is going to be all right', because it doesn't apply to most of the many unfortunate things that happen every day. But he did wish he could say something, anything that could at least relieve some of the horrible feelings his friend might be experiencing right then.

Homura sighed inwardly. Hospitals, he thought.

I hate them.

It had only been a few weeks ago, when he felt like calling his parents. He rarely ever did, usually his mother would be the one calling him, and then they would talk a while before she handed the phone to his father.

He had been curled up in the couch, when Suzuya and Kirinosuke weren't in the house.

"Hi," he said, awkwardly.

"Hey, Homu-chan." His father was the one who had picked up.

"Stop calling me that, I'm not a kid anymore."

His father laughed. "And? It's so rare for you to call, I assume something must have happened? How's the apartment? How are you holding up? Are the neighbors nice? What about friends? Do you have more friends now? Oh, and—"

"Stop. Stop. I'm fine here, really." His father was always like that. His mother, too. Always asking about him. Always stopping midsentence to continue on to the next topic. Not that he disliked it, not really.

At the other end of the line, Akatsuki Renjou smiled. His son seemed to be okay. He was always worried for him, ever since the day they had found out about his apparent gift. But as much as he wanted his wife and himself to stay by their son's side at all times and protect him, he couldn't. Their jobs required them to travel around frequently. Sometimes he thought that maybe, he had made a mistake. Maybe they should just quit, go back to Japan, start over. But then Homura would tell them that he's alright and they needn't worry.

They continued on talking for a while, and Renjou picked up on the little hints in Homura's voice he scattered here and there. His son's voice told him that he was not okay, no matter how many times he said otherwise. His son's voice told him that he has friends, that he felt a bit lonely, that there were many, many things he wanted to say but couldn't. Probably about Kagurazaka Seiji. He knew that Homura still hadn't gotten over his friend's death; he didn't expect him to for quite some time.

In truth he felt guilty. He couldn't even manage to go back to Japan for just a little while to embrace his son and say soothing words to him that will lose its effectiveness over a phone and distance. The night when his son had called him, sobs exploding in his ears the second he picked up, had to be the worst day in his life. The call lasted over an hour and his ear hurt, but he was with his son right to the end, until he was finally too exhausted to utter a word anymore. Homura didn't ask for his mother, nor did he intend to pass the phone to her. Both knew she would be worried sick, maybe even worse than what he had been feeling throughout his son's crying.

Then his son started talking about a group of nice-sounding friends—he even laughed while he was telling him about somebody named Tanuma and board games. Aah, he had wanted to spend a weekend playing with his son, too.

"That's great. I'm happy for you."

Homura had been wondering whether his father had meant the fact that he had made friends, or whether he was able to slip out of his pathetic depressed state, little by little.

"… I miss you, Dad," he'd said quietly. His father had to strain his ear to hear him.

After that Homura asked for the phone to be passed on to his mother, and Renjou made a decision.

He would go back to Japan, for about three weeks, maybe, with his wife. They would buy presents first, since Homura's birthday was coming up, and they would surprise him. He was excited. His wife was excited. They hoped Homura would be happy too.

Homura's mind ran over the things that happened ever since he'd gotten the call. It was from the hospital staff. Saying that his parents had gotten involved in an accident, which, he realized later, had been a mere half hour away from where they all were.

He didn't even know his parents had planned to come back to Japan, so it was all a big shock. Big enough to cause him to want to yell at the person at the other end of the line to stop messing with him and shut up.

And then he'd asked the others where the hospital mentioned was, and while Natsume tried to get him to calm down Kitamoto scribbled a map on a piece of paper. He and Nishimura had wanted to tag along, but they had to go home before dinner. Natsume wanted to get home, maybe he would come with Touko-san and Shigeru-san later on. Tanuma followed him.

Even though a nurse had told him about what had happened, how the taxi they had been in veered off route and crashed, her voice pissed him off. It was the exact same kind of reassuring, calming, counseling voices he so hated. That kind of voices had accompanied him all throughout his stay at the hospital a long while ago. He told her to stop dallying and get straight to the point.

Everything is so messed up.

"… Do you think they're dying?" he asked.

"What?" Being hunched over like that, Tanuma couldn't hear him.

"Are they… Are they dying?" he asked again, his hands clenching.

"Homura…" Truthfully, he didn't know what to say. He understood a little of what Homura must be feeling, since his own mother had died too, but that was years ago. And he only found out when she had already died and his father told him. He didn't find out through a call and had to wait in a hospital like this. He still has his father. Natsume lost both parents too, but he now has the Fujiwaras.

Homura doesn't have anything left.

The following events happened in a blur for him. The Fujiwara couple helped to arrange the funeral for him and send out invitations and finding out distant relatives and acquaintances, while he mostly just lingered around. On the day of the wake itself he tried to prove useful to Touko and Shigeru by sitting at the front desk and receiving all the condolence money without being asked, and though it felt as bad as he expected it to be, with people talking to him in sympathetic tones and others in prying but hushed voices behind his back, he made an effort not to take notice. He'd heard the words 'unlucky', 'nothing but trouble' and some others but as long as they said nothing bad of his parents and Seiji, that's okay.

Most of what they said were, in some way, true, after all.

"Hey," Natsume greeted, coming closer. Homura thought he looked quite nice in a suit, but would do better if only he'd put on a little more weight. He imagined him being older and ruff out his hairstyle a bit, maybe put on sunglasses and have a gun strapped to his belt. He nearly laughed. That would look interesting. But I doubt he'd be a very violent yakuza. Maybe he could be the type to 'persuade'.

Homura had been looking at him so intently Natsume felt unnerved. Maybe he's feeling sick…?

"Um, Homura?"

"Yes?" he answered back immediately, snapping out of his untimely delusions. "What's up?"

"I'll take it from here. You go inside. The service is about to start," he said.

Homura's eyes darkened. "… I see." Does he really need to go in there? Walk in there with people's fixated stares boring holes into his back? Listen to more talk about him and his family?

Of course he needed to. He was their only son, their only remaining heir. He had to chin up and pay his last respects to them before he really couldn't see them anymore, before they send them to the crematorium and nothing but milky white crumbling bones come out, before he'd have to pick them up with chopsticks and place them in an urn, before incense filled his nostrils with its heady scent and cloud his mind, before white lilies and people in black clothes blinded him.

Of course he needed to.

Homura skipped a whole week of school after that. He wasn't trying to trouble anyone; he just wasn't ready yet. He didn't want people to pity him and start talking to him all of a sudden, he just wished they would leave him be and treat him like they always did. But then the time came for him to go to school, before he got a letter for frequent absence. Now that will only spell trouble for him.

Not that being at home was entirely peaceful anyway. The house was eerie quiet the first few days, though Homura hardly noticed how awkward Suzuya was being while he was sitting around staring off into space, with the tengu giving out his bossy 'orders' as before only to stop himself short in the middle. Kirinosuke wasn't being unusual. He would just pet his head sometimes or give him comforting squeezes and tell him to go to bed when it was late. Even Rie dropped by occasionally, always arriving perched on different little forest animals and always bringing something with her: berries, sweet-smelling flowers and petite human trinkets. Homura had no idea what the bright, colorful, glittering beads and pins and marbles are for, but Rie always seemed to favor them so he didn't question her, and kept them in a little wooden box where she often checked every now and then and played with them.

None of them brought up the slightest hint of his parents' death or the funeral, and he was thankful for that. But he didn't like the idea of them keeping their distances.

His friends called, but he never answered, sending a brief text message informing about his welfare instead. But one day Touko got really worried and pressed Natsume into bringing her to his home, and he just had time to tidy up some and send Suzuya and Kirinosuke out of the way for a few hours before the doorbell rang.

She had asked him how he was doing, just like everybody else did whom he ignored. He tried to act normal, but both Natsume and her were looking at him weird so he guessed his smile must've been quite unconvincing. Homura knew the flowers they'd brought along were for the altar and so was waiting for them to tell him so. They didn't. He politely asked and led them to the altar. He kept it clean and prayed every day, though honestly he disliked the scent of incense and rarely lights them.

He had waited, on edge, for Touko-san and Natsume to finish paying their respects to his dead parents.

… Back to the matter at hand. He'd woken up early and prepared everything for school, and now that he was all ready to go, after finishing his breakfast, he started to get a little bit paranoid. He didn't know how to act. Would people know when they see him walking to school among them? Would they start talking then? What would happen once he entered class? He imagined deathly silence as he slid open the classroom door to countless pairs of eyes staring up at him. What about the teachers? Would they try to comfort him or just ignore him? He didn't know which was better.

What should he do if there were flowers on top of his desk and letters inside? Homura's heart skipped a beat. Last time—after the Seiji incident when he'd finished his rehabilitation—there were flowers. He'd totally understand it had they been on only Seiji's desk, but his had them, too. As if the other classmates had known he would be going to school again that day and decide to make the rest of his life more of a living hell than it already was.

He suddenly lost the appetite to finish his food.

"What's wrong? Eat up or you will be late," Kirinosuke reminded him. Beside the fox-eared youkai Suzuya was stuffing his face with rice and fish and eggs, too busy to even notice.

Homura smiled at him, at the same time wondering what would happen if he happened to kick the stupid tengu from under the table right then. "Nothing." He forced down mouthfuls and got up to go.

"Homura," Kirinosuke called.



He smiled another time.