A/N: Moving away from the depressing thing last chapter, I'm returning to the short, slice-of-life, warming goodness that Natsume Yuujinchou is famous for. It's ridiculously short, but unfortunately dear readers, you'll have to use this to tide you over. I won't be able to write for the next two weekends, as I won't be in the country, or close to internet access. Apologies for that!
It's been a while since I've gotten to write just Natsume and Nyanko-sensei. I feel that their relationship has grown distant in recent chapters, so here is my attempt to bring them back. And here's to more cuteness in future chapters!
A New Promise
The harvest season is over, and with it will soon come the shortened days of winter. Most spirits see this as a time to rest, a time to wait until the growing period returns. Even the gods will enclose themselves within their shrines, preparing for sleep. Only humans go against this, working while the rest of the world is at rest. It is yet another thing about humans that spirits find confusing, who see no reason to go against what nature dictates. But that ability to go against nature is the very thing that allows humans to see beyond what is there, to imagine endless possibilities—possibilities I too hope to realize.
"Natsume… how much longer?"
"I still have another two sections to complete," Natsume says, barely glancing away from his workbook. He frowns at the problem, and then sighs. It's not the math that troubles him, but knowing which formulas should be used for which situation.
Much like the way he has had to figure out which words and actions are appropriate for the gods he has had to deal with.
But compared to that, math is far harder.
The longer he stares at the shapes and dotted lines on the paper, the more the images begin to blur, until it appears to be a uniform smudge on a page full of equally unintelligible writing.
Definitely more difficult.
"There's a festival tonight. A harvest festival. You've been late to all of the festivals that have been held since summer. Never mind the ones you've missed."
Natsume sets his pencil down, then looks at Nyanko-sensei, who glares back at him with a thoroughly disgruntled look.
"What did Hinoe threaten to do to you?"
"Last time it was to pull all of the hair from my tail."
Natsume glances toward Nyanko-sensei's tail, which still retains its white fuzz ball appearance.
"Hmm, and yet your tail is as puffy as ever."
"This time she threatened to withhold sake from me for a year! A year! As if I'm at all responsible for your repeated failures."
"You could stop worshipping me at any time," he teases. Natsume reaches a hand toward Nyanko-sensei, who, despite his disgruntled expression, moves underneath Natsume's hand. The feel of Nyanko-sensei's fur beneath his hand is comforting, a solid anchor in a world of increasing uncertainty.
"If you stop bothering me and let me concentrate, I'll head up the mountain once I'm done, and we'll both make Hinoe happy."
An unnatural silence comes between them, but Natsume can sense the unspoken question, can hear the doubts that have been left unsaid.
"I have to do this, Nyanko-sensei." Natsume sighs. "Just because it may end at any moment, does not mean I should stop."
"How long do you intend to straddle both lines?" The look on Nyanko-sensei's face is unreadable. "Right now, it is the humans in your life keeping you tied here. Will you leave when they are gone?"
The question causes Natsume's chest to constrict.
"Or will you find new humans to care about?"
"Even without the Fujiwaras, there are reasons to stay in the human world," Natsume says. Something rises up from within him, which Natsume does not bother to suppress. "We've discussed this. Do we need to discuss it again?"
Internally, he trembles at the coldness in his voice. This is the cold fury of a god, angry at being questioned. But even so, to have it come out in front of Nyanko-sensei… No, he must not. Not to Nyanko-sensei. To anyone else, any other spirit, yes. But not to this one. One who is more than a worshipper.
"I'm sorry, sensei."
"You're a god now, Natsume. It's only natural."
"But not to you." Wordlessly, he holds out his other hand, and Nyanko-sensei walks into it, until all of the cat is within Natsume's embrace. "Don't you see? If I leave the human world, this is what I'll become. More and more. I will no longer be Natsume Takashi."
"Natsume Takashi is dead."
"Not yet." Holding Nyanko-sensei up until they see eye to eye, Natsume smiles. "I'm not dead yet. Not until there is no one in this world who remembers me. And you will make sure that that will never happen. Right?"
Nyanko-sensei does not answer, but there is a new silence between them. A new promise.
"I broke our first promise to you, Nyanko-sensei," Natsume says. "I won't break this one."
For a long while, there is silence.
"Idiot. What are you talking about?" With a wriggle, Nyanko-sensei jumps out of Natsume's arms, to curl up a short distance away. "You didn't break the first promise either. It still holds."
"The Book of Friends is mine the moment you pass from this world. That still holds, no matter what you think."
"Then the second promise…"
"Done." Nyanko-sensei's eyes glitter, their half-moon shape becoming crescent slits.
Natsume lets out a breath of relief.
"Hmph, I'd rather you manage to get to the festival on time today. That's a far better thanks than some measly words."
Laughing, Natsume turns back to the books on his desk, tackling the math problems with renewed vigor.
It matters not what the gods say, or what the exorcists will believe. Natsume Takashi is alive, has always been alive.
With Nyanko-sensei to remember, Natsume Takashi will continue to exist. Forever.