Stray Dogs

Summary: Tsubaki Seiji won't be teaching the fifth grade language class for long. Just long enough to become curious about the strange, solitary little boy with golden eyes who claims he can see Youkai. Preseries.

Reviews of every kind welcome!

Note: In my cheater-style of writing, I have thought written in all italics and memories things said in the past as "italics in quotes". I hope you enjoy my laziness. :P

Rated: K+ (PG)

As one elbow bumped another, for just a moment, time slowed to a lethargic crawl. The boy was jostled just enough to turn his head and he glanced up in slow motion. A wave of pale, nearly transparent yellow hair caught in the little breeze of movement and fell aside.

A set of dark gold irises, wrapped around wide pupils stared out of a thin, young face. Those crystal clear eyes… even though he couldn't be older than ten, it was as if he was seeing everything.

Perhaps he was seeing too much.

Then abruptly, time wrenched forward far too fast, making up for its stalling. Seiji had his mouth open to apologize but, too late, saw the heal of the boy's school shoe disappearing around the doorway.

Kagami Toru, the fifth grade homeroom teacher, saw Seiji watching and nodded once before entering the head teacher's office as well. He shut the door behind them.

Now alone in the echoing school hall, Seiji tried to remember what he'd been doing. The fleeting encounter clung to his mind instead, causing one hand to come up and wrap around the part of his elbow that had brushed the boy's.


He jumped from his thoughts and turned around quickly, letting go of his own arm. "Megu - eh - Inori-sensei. Good Morning!"

Inori Megumi came to halt in front of him, clutching a stack of blue and gray binders to her chest with both arms. "I don't think it is anymore… if the hall clock is right."

Seiji blinked and glanced at the large clock over the nearest classroom. The hands were solidly at 1:52 AM. "Ah! Not good!"

Megumi started to laugh in her light, rather husky voice. "Don't worry, recess only ended a few minutes ago."

Without thinking, Seiji ran a hand through his once-combed, feathery hair. One more way to look unprofessional on his first day.

"Twelve minutes late to my only class today? They should fire me!" He spun around and started running down the hall, cursing the stiff fabric of his pants for slowing him down. "Sorry, Megumi - Ah! - Inori-sensei!" He spluttered, turning a full circle, mid-sprint.

"No running in the hall!" She called back, still laughing.

At exactly 1:15, he burst into a classroom full of chattering ten and eleven-year-olds. They all quieted and immediately returned to their seats as he entered, but he thought he heard some soft giggles trickling through the lines of desks.

Well, better to just roll with it.

"Right then." He made an attempt to smooth his hair down as he came up behind the desk. "Welcome to your Intermediate Compounds class. I'm sure you've all been beside yourselves with anticipation for the past ten minutes, but that has always been my way of exciting my students curiosity. And that's the truth."

This time, a more decided wave of laughter went through the room. Seiji gave a satisfied nod. "Good! Now as you all know, I am only the substitute teacher for this class. I normally teach Language Studies at Inba High School. However, until Yoshida Nao-sensei, returns from her maternity leave, I'll be filling in.

"Hopefully it wont be too confusing, since my given name is Seiji and, as you all know, the second Kanji in "Seiji" means "to mend" and can also be read "Nao". Wait," He glanced around at their curious faces. "You didn't know that?" He shook his head and smiled at each one in turn. "Well, don't worry. That's what we'll be learning about in this class."

Despite his late start, the class seemed to take off well from there. He started by asking each student their names and what the Kanji in them meant. He'd often used this method, more as mnemonic for himself than anything else. That way, he could address them by their names from the very first day.

It was very nostalgic, teaching in an Elementary School classroom again. It brought back Seiji's first three years of teaching vividly. He could still remember the names of most of his students and subconsciously calculated how old they'd be now. Twenty-one and twenty-two-year-olds.

Seijji sighed inwardly, feeling suddenly very old himself. Nearly thirty-four. He needed to hurry up and get married.

It was about twenty minutes 'til the end of class when suddenly, the door slid open. "My apologies, Tsubaki-sensei." Kagami's deep, commanding voice filled the quiet classroom as Seiji turned to look at him.

Standing in front of the tall teacher, barely coming up to his elbow, was the yellow-haired boy from the hall. "I'm terribly sorry to interrupt, especially so near the end of class, but…"

"No trouble at all," Seiji replied mechanically, staring down at the boy. His gold eyes were locked on the floor and his fists were at his shoulders, clutching his backpack-straps. "Sorry -" Seiji said suddenly, as Kagami turned to go. "My first day here… is he in this class?"

Kagami nodded once. "His name is Natsume Takashi. He was removed from his homeroom class for causing a commotion and was meant to spend the lunch period, as well as this class, in Shuujo-sensei's office. However, the head teacher was called away for a meeting today, so he instructed me to bring Natsume-kun back to class."

"Oh -" Seiji got halfway into a "thank you for your trouble", but Kagami had already turned back down the hall, leaving Natsume standing in the doorway alone. "Well… Natsume-kun, you can go ahead and have a seat."

The boy looked up from beneath heavy eyelids, still wearing a blank expression. He nodded, slid the door shut and turned toward the empty desk near the middle. Then he stopped.


All at once, every drop of color drained from the boy's face. The heavy lids went up and his gold irises narrowed on empty desk with an unmistakable look of terror.

"Could I …" a soft, almost inaudible voice slipped out. "I - I should stand in the hall… 'cause… I was in trouble. I'm not allowed to stay..." he trailed off, continuing to stare fixedly at his desk.

"No, that's alright." Seijji watched him uncertainly. "We don't have much time left. You should copy what you can off the black board for your homework."

Natsume clutched his backpack tighter, taking another step forward. Seiji decided it would be best to move on. He turned back to face the class, raising his voice again.

"Alright, these are your practice sentences, but I have printed copies for all of you to take home. You can fill them out and bring them to me tomorrow. After that, I'll be giving you larger assignments to do in your han groups."

As he spoke, Natsume finally made it to his desk and sat down in it stiffly, setting his backpack on the floor next to him. He stared hard at the blank desktop without taking out a pencil or looking at the blackboard.

Seiji sighed. He pulled one of the practice sheets out of his desk-drawer and walked through the first three lines of seats to Natsume's.

"Natsume-kun, since you haven't been here for the compounds we learned today, why don't you get a head-start on your homework now?" He set the sheet down in front of Natsume, who nodded without looking. Seiji's eyes glanced over him once more. He was sitting up very straight, shoulders tense and fists in his lap. Perhaps it was only Seiji's imagination, but he thought the two small fists were shaking a little.

He turned slowly and walked back to his desk. The classroom was silent, save for the scratching of pencil leads on paper and the occasional autumn breeze through the window . Seiji decided to use the temporary quiet to make some notes on their first class. Already, he had four or five things he needed to discuss with Yoshida-Sensei before she took over for him. He wrote in his own notebook for a few minutes, then glanced up at Natsume again.

The boy had a pencil out now, and was leaning intently over his paper, but still not writing. In the silence, Seiji started to hear a soft muttering sound.

"I can't. Go away, I can't see you." The words were so quiet, Seiji could barely make them out. "I can't see you… I can't!"

"Sensei!" Wataru Daichi raised his hand in the air before pointing his whole arm sideways at Natsume. "Takashi's talking in class!"

"As are you, Wataru-kun." Seiji raised an eyebrow at the dark-haired ten-year-old until he reluctantly dropped his hand. "Natsume-kun, please be quiet until the end of class."

"Sensei…" Natsume said softly. "May I please have a bathroom pass?"

Seiji ran a hand down the back of his head. "Well… no, wait 'til the end of class. It'll only be about ten minutes now."

Natsume didn't answer, but leaned even closer to his paper. He pressed his hand against the side of his face, as if to block out the sunlight pouring through the open window.

The room fell quiet again.

Seiji glanced at his watch. Ten minutes. He wondered what time Megumi's classes would end for the day. They'd planned to have dinner together after school let out, to celebrate his first day as a substitute teacher.

Of course, she would probably be helping with several different clubs. She'd always loved the extra curricular activities with the children, more than the stuffy classrooms. Seiji caught himself smiling.

Then suddenly, he heard of sound of paper sliding over wood and Natsume muttered louder than before, "Stop it - no, go away!"

Seiji looked up to see the boy had sat up straight again, accidentally brushing his practice sheet onto the floor. A moment later, his pencil rolled off of his desktop as he slammed his palms against the inside edge, fully shouting, "No, no stop!"

"Natsume-k -"

Without warning, he pulled his hands off the desk, locked them at his sides and flung his head down toward the desktop. His forehead slammed onto the hard wood with a bang that made Seiji flinch. The boy gave small cry as the momentum carried him halfway back up and tipped him sideways.

He tumbled out of his seat and landed on his side next to it, holding his forehead in both hands.

"Natsume-kun!" Seiji was already halfway out of his chair as every head in the classroom turned to stare down at the boy on the floor. "Natsume-kun, are you alright?" Seiji ran two steps and came to a stop in front of the first line of desks.

Just then, a strong breeze went through the window, billowing the curtains outward. The students held their papers down with as the edges peeled up and blew toward the window. Seiji inhaled sharply. He felt cold all through, as if his insides had filled with Hokkaido rainwater.

A long-gone memory stirred in his mind; a memory he'd pushed down for years and years. Something in the dark… there were things out there, whispering. In the dark…

The breeze died away. The damp coldness evaporated from Seiji's chest.

Natsume sat up on his knees, still clutching his forehead and staring down at the floor. Slowly, he looked up toward the window, golden eyes apprehensive. After a moment, the tension seemed to lift away and he dropped his gaze again.

Seiji walked a few steps closer, his shoe soles making an echoing sound in the silent room. "Natsume-kun… why did you do that?"

"I didn't," The boy barely whispered. "I… I really didn't do it."

Seiji blinked. Was he trying to get a classmate in trouble? Seiji glanced automatically at Wataru, but he was staring at Natsume, too, his face showing nothing but curiosity. "I was looking right at you," Seiji said hesitantly. "No one pushed you."

"Sensei, Takashi-kun tells lies!" Mawato Ayame, today's student monitor, spoke up loudly from her seat next to the window. "He makes up stories about ghosts and spirits talking to him and chasing him around." She shook her head with an attempt at adult-disappointment. "He just does it to scare people."

"It's true," Wataru interjected. "That's why he had to leave homeroom this morning!"

"Yeah, he's a liar!" Another boy from across the room called out.

"He's creepy!"

A few other's piped up with similar remarks and Seiji straightened up, raising his hand for silence. The elementary-students quieted down instantly, pretending to return to their papers.

"Natsume-kun?" Natsume looked up from under his hands. His eyes were squinted with pain, but other than that, his expression had returned to its usual emptiness. "Do you have anything to say?"

The boy slowly dropped hands, and shook his head from side to side. At the small movement, a little trickle of red slipped down from the peak of his forehead and stopped just above his nose.

"Hey, he's bleeding!" The girl at the desk in front of Wataru's exclaimed. "Tsubaki-sensei, he's bleeding!"

Seiji felt his nerves spike for the umpteenth time today, and he quickly bent down to help Natsume up. "Alright, calm down, Hayate-chan. Come on, Natsume-kun, let's get you to the nurse's office."

"I'm okay," Natsume replied quietly, picking up his backpack as he stood.

"Well, that's good, but I want to be safe." Partway through his sentence, the bell rang shrilly in the hall. Natsume shouldered his bag and ran for the door before Mawato could dismiss the class. "N - Natsume-kun!"

Natsume threw the sliding door back and bolted away without shutting it behind him. Seiji stared at the now empty doorway as the students' murmurs and whispers filled the classroom.


Note: Yes, I do know the name of creepy Matoba-clan-eyepatch-guy is Seiji (now). When I started writing this, I didn't realize that, and by then it was too late to change it. Fortunately, it is a common Japanese given name, so... you know? *is swallowed by fail-whale* XP