A/N: Forty-three. Forty-three reviews. Holy crap. I'm... I'm touched. I really am. But oh my god guys, do you know how much pressure that puts me under? I don't think I'm capable of writing anything that can match the hype and excitement you guys had after that.
I'd originally written this drabble with a fluffy, hopeful, cliffhanger ending, but then realized how it was my wooby feelings coming to light and not actually what would happen. And if I wrote what I did, it would also ruin all the other exciting things I have planned for this series. So I went back and changed it. This is an exploration of Natori, and the man's relationship and feelings towards spirits. Natsume also has to deal with his position as a god, and all the restrains that puts on him. This was, to put it mildly, a very painful drabble to write.
But hey, it's also longer than usual! So, as always, enjoy.
God and Exorcist (Lord Mibu Arc: Part 2/5)
I've always known that this day would eventually come. Even as I thought it, the rest of my mind had flinched away from it. Such a thing was too scary to contemplate. But now that the moment is here, I find myself strangely calm. My thoughts had been more frightening than the real thing.
"And why," says Hinoe, the expression on her face coldly skeptical, "should an exorcist wish to meet with a god?"
Natsume reaches out his senses again, searching for the exorcist, the human, the man—the friend that he knows must be there. But as he does so, even as his heart leaps at the faint sign of familiarity, he knows that to reveal who he is will be too dangerous. And so even as he finally senses Natori hiding in the crowd of spirits, he pushes Natsume aside, becoming wholly Lord Onwa.
"Hinoe, that is enough," Natsume says softly, firmly.
"Lord Onwa…" Hinoe says, looking at him with wide eyes.
"Let your Master speak for himself," Natsume says, turning to Hiiragi. "You say he does not come with ill intent?"
"My Lord." Hiiragi, still on her knees, bends forward until she is prostrated completely on the ground. "My Lord, I swear, I swear, on the contract that binds me, on my life…"
"What worth is the life of a mastered one?"
"As if pledging on such a dirty contract is…"
"My Lord!" a spirit shouts, its colorful robe a contrast to its black, formless body, "There is no need to be kind to mastered ones such as this. Let us kill this one, then hunt down the exorcist that controls it!"
"You will not."
"But… Lord Onwa…"
The forest breaks into shocked whispers, but flowing beneath the shock is the dark mutters and grumbles of resentful spirits. Natsume senses that if he does not act, and act soon, there will be a riot.
But Natsume is no longer the naïve child-god he was a few months back. He has grown into his power, and the nights where he has held court has helped to reshape his manners of speech, his posture, the very aura he exudes. And now he does one more thing: deepening his voice, adding a hollow quality that serves to make him sound distant, remote.
"Lord Onwa, if you continue this, it will look like you favor shiki and exorcists over your own followers," Hinoe whispers, her voice sounding urgent. "You mustn't…"
"I am the god of spirits, am I not?" Natsume replies, raising his voice. With his will and power, he makes himself heard by every spirit lining the path. "However," he says, lowering his voice again, "those who are displeased are welcome to leave at any time. I will not stop them, nor will I force anyone to stay against their will." He eyes the formless spirit, who gawks, and then gradually cringes under Natsume's steady gaze. "Will you obey me, Katachinashi? Or will you leave?"
The spirit bows, its body temporarily forming something that is the likeness of a head.
"I… I will stay, Lord Onwa."
He nods once, while the spirit scurries back to its original place on the side of the road. Then he turns in the direction where the exorcist had hidden himself, and says, in a voice only heard by Natori-san, "Natori Shuuichi, will you step forward?"
In the shadows, Natsume sees a figure flinch, but he knows Natori-san, sees the man straighten, then walk forward, fearlessly stepping under the blue glow of fox fire. His ever-present spectacles flash under the floating fires, highlighting the location of his eyes, but does not reveal them.
"So you knew where I was the entire time, even with my shields," Natori-san says, removing the hat that had hidden most of his face. Underneath, the man is smiling, an expression that Natsume finds painfully nostalgic, but even so, he shivers. Natori-san's eyes are hard, untouched by the smile. But that is only to be expected. Because it is not Natsume that Natori-san is facing, but Lord Onwa. Not a human boy, but a spirit. A god.
"As to be expected from a powerful god. My compliments, Lord Onwa."
Next to him, Natsume can sense Hinoe bristling at the insult. He reaches out a hand, gently brushing her left shoulder. Hinoe turns to look at him, her anger still visible, but she tightens her lips before looking forward once more.
"You have now met Lord Onwa, exorcist."
"That is certainly true," Natori-san says, his smile deepening, his face shifting into an expression of genuine amusement. "But I would like to speak with Lord Onwa as well, if that is at all possible."
"Lord Onwa is on his way to a concert, he has no time for your games."
"I have not come here for games," Natori-san says. "I have merely come for an answer."
The man shifts, his hands unconsciously inching toward the places in his robes where Natsume senses seals. Is there a pot among the seals? He can only sense the power, but not the form.
"You have asked no questions," Natsume says, once again breaking protocol.
The second shift in the exorcist's posture is barely perceptible, and had Natsume still been a boy he would not have sensed it. But Natsume can feel the man slightly relax at Natsume's display of willingness.
"As you are aware, I am an exorcist," Natori-san says, smiling in that familiar way Natsume knows all too well. "And among the exorcists, your existence has recently come to our attention. Your followers have been growing in number, and our investigations have revealed that you also have a number of powerful spirits among your followers."
Natori-san looks directly at Natsume, the man's eyes straight at his, easily finding the eyes behind the mask. It is a challenge that Natsume does not fail to recognize, but it is at that moment that he realizes. Tinged within that challenge is a feeling of desperation, a shadow of the emotion Natsume had felt within Onizuka Kiyoshi. The source however, is different.
The horror of sealing a god…
At that moment, he realizes, looking at Natori-san standing before him, that it is not just Natsume who has changed. Would the Natori-san of a few months back trust the word of a spirit, even that of a shiki? Enough to stand openly before a god in the middle of his followers?
"You have come here expecting to die, Natori Shuuichi," Natsume says.
The exorcist visibly starts, his face glistening under a sudden sheen of sweat. Despite this, the man quickly recovers.
"Are my fears so transparent?" Natori-san smiles, though a hint of strain shows through. But he perseveres, a fact that both pains Natsume and fills him with admiration. "You are right. If you are not what Hiiragi says you are, if I am forced to seal you…" The rest of the sentence is lost in a storm of threatening growls and hisses as the spirits around Natori-san react to his words. His voice grows dry, hoarse with tension. "In the middle of your followers…"
Lord Onwa's followers would, in the rage and horror of seeing their god sealed, tear Natori-san to pieces.
"Even if you were to use the last drop of your power, you could not seal me," Natsume says, knowing that the truth of his words will be heard by Natori-san as well.
Natori-san is powerful. But in that moment when Natsume had truly seen the man face to face, he had realized that it was not enough.
In the past few months, Natsume has grown in power far beyond that of the god he had been at his birth.
"So my death would have been for nothing," the man murmurs, chuckling. "How stupid."
"Believe in your shiki," Natsume says, softening his voice. But the gentleness is lost on Natori-san.
"You ask a lot of an exorcist, Lord Onwa," Natori-san says, his voice still filled with the faint hint of bitter laughter.
"You would not have come here if you did not," Natsume points out.
"That is true. Very true," the man says. "Very well then. I have found out what I needed to know. Hiiragi."
"Yes Master," Hiiragi says.
The spirits begin to part as the exorcist and shiki turn to leave. Seeing their backs sends a sudden pang through Natsume. To not have seen Natori-san for so long, only to part so soon…
"Wait." Beneath the sleeves of his robes, Natsume's hands clench. "I would be friends with you."
Natori-san turns his face back toward Natsume, the expression on the man's face holding no trace of amusement.
"Friends? With an exorcist?" Natori-san puts his hat back on, once again hiding his face in shadows. "Even a god like you, Lord Onwa, cannot do the impossible."
And then without looking back, Natori-san walks back into the forest.