A/N: I'm being good this week by posting this story earlier than usual. Think of it as a Christmas/New Year's present. Or not. I confess that I'm finding these chapters harder and harder to write, in part because my mind is being lured away toward a new fandom. I may need to temporarily sate my urges by writing SnK fic. Which annoys me immensely. Because as much as I want to write baby!Eren and Papa!Levi fic I can't afford to start another one (Especially when I have a baby!Natsume and Papa!Madara fic that's still unfinished, lol. I just love baby fics, what can I say?). Unless you readers would like to read that as well?
I'll have to think of something to salvage this. Hmmm... I wonder how Natsume would survive in the SnK Universe. I mean, he's pretty used to having giant monsters trying to eat him all his life (has even actually nearly been swallowed before).
Nooooo! Must. Resist. Plot. Bunnies.
Anyway, the following chapter can be summarized thus: Natsume attempts damage control, except he ended up trying to patch the wrong thing. Ooooh, poor, poor, Natsume.
Please read and enjoy.
Tripping Acts (Confrontation Arc: Part 2/3)
There is always a choice: from the moment I decide what to say, what to do, what to assume, to the actual act itself. In all of this, I could stop at any time, change my mind at any moment. So I have no one to blame when the consequences of my decisions come back to haunt me. I can only do my best to make decisions for which I will have the fewest regrets. And when the regrets come, to face them honestly.
It takes a while to assume control over himself. The Natsume he used to be, though it has only been a year since the change, is no longer easy to recall, and it takes time to remember, to remember the boy he was.
To remember that the Natsume of last year would be cautiously friendly to Onizuka-san, but still wary. After all, Onizuka-san had been introduced to him by Natori-san. Surely the man is at least kind.
"Are you… Onizuka-san?"
Before Natsume can continue further, Onizuka-san turns to him, face dark with barely contained anger.
"You're going to play that game with me, are you?"
Natsume inadvertently takes several steps back, stunned by the level of anger directed at him.
"You must have thought it was hilarious," Onizuka-san continues, taking a step forward. "When Natori had introduced me to you, you must have had such a good laugh afterward. Did you laugh too, when you overheard our conversation in the store? Oh I know you must have been amused. At the foolish exorcists who were naïve enough to trust you."
The words are practically spat out in disgust.
"I-I don't know what you're talking about," Natsume says, too caught up in the whirlwind of anger to think properly. "I don't understand…"
"You don't think I know who you really are?" Onizuka-san snaps. "Natsume Takashi." If anything, the fury and disgust in his voice increases. Suddenly he leans forward and grabs Natsume by the collar, turning around to slam Natsume against one of the steel poles supporting the bridge arch. Natsume lets out a slight gasp, and instinctively grabs at the hands around his neck. "So how long have you been doing this? How long have you been pretending to be human?"
Abruptly Onizuka-san lets go, and Natsume stumbles, staring wide-eyed and shocked into Onizuka-san's face.
"I had my men look into Natsume Takashi's background," Onizuka-san says softly. "He lost his parents at a young age and was passed around by relatives who did not want him. A child cursed with a strong spiritual ability with no one around to appreciate or guide him through his gift." Onizuka-san steps back. "It's a thorough history. Certainly not something a spirit, no matter how fond of humans, would be able to create."
"If that's true, then I don't understand," Natsume says desperately. "Why?"
Onizuka-san takes a deep breath, and then looks over Natsume with a chilling expression that makes Natsume tremble. A dread feeling of foreboding settles in his stomach.
"I would certainly be willing to believe that Natsume Takashi is completely human… if it weren't for one thing." His eyes flash darkly. "Have you forgotten, Lord Onwa? That you had shown me the face beneath your mask?"
Natsume freezes, his limbs feeling oddly weak and unresponsive. It is all he can do to stand where he is, the unrelenting feeling of despair he had felt that morning returning once again. The feeling that time has run out.
The thing I had forgotten. The act that has come back to haunt me.
What more can he do, under these circumstances?
"I've been caught, I see," Natsume says slowly, softly. He smiles sadly. "I'd wondered how long it would take for someone to notice."
Onizuka-san looks at him intently, fury and dissatisfaction still on his face.
"Is that all you have to say?"
Natsume flinches, this time honestly confused by Onizuka-san's persisting anger.
"What else did you want me to say?"
"Natsume Takashi. The real one. What happened to him?" Onizuka-san's hands are clenched so tightly that the rest of him is trembling. "I told you just now. Natsume Takashi's background is too detailed for any spirit to concoct. Not to mention that I can't imagine any spirit as powerful as you enduring the kind of humiliation the child must have gone through. Which means…"
Natsume's eyes widen in horror.
No. No. He thinks I… I…
"Were you too tempted by Natsume Takashi's power, by the idea of a plausible human life? Did you think to replace him, only to find yourself too caught up in his memories?"
"No!" He almost does not recognize the wild cry that has issued from his throat, desperately willing, hoping, that Onizuka-san will believe him. Natsume stares at Onizuka-san, the assumptions behind Onizuka-san's words making him sick. "No, I didn't. I…"
"Then what happened to him?" Onizuka-san shouts. "What—" Much to Natsume's surprise, Onizuka-san falls silent. Only when Natsume follows the man's gaze does he realize that they are no longer alone on the bridge. There are now other students also on their way to school. "Shall we take this elsewhere?"
"I'll be late for school," Natsume says automatically.
The look Onizuka-san gives him is icy.
"You don't understand. I have classmates who are expecting me. They… worry when I'm late."
"What does it matter?" Onizuka-san says. Then he stiffens. "Unless you…" Once again, his fists clench tightly. "You've mixed ordinary humans up into your little game?"
"It's not a game to him."
Both Onizuka-san and Natsume whirl around to face the new voice.
A split second later Natsume feels himself pushed behind, Tanuma interposing himself between them, shielding Natsume protectively from Onizuka-san's ire.
"It's not a game to him. You'd know that, if you knew Natsume at all," Tanuma says.
Natsume has never heard Tanuma sound so furious. In fact, he's never even felt Tanuma annoyed. Frustrated, yes. Worried, often. Frightened, more times than he would like. But never angry.
"Who the hell are you?" Onizuka-san snaps, but there is less power to the bite, warring as it is with surprise and confusion at Tanuma's appearance.
"Tanuma is one of my friends, Onizuka-san," Natsume says, before Tanuma can reply. Slowly, he steps out from behind Tanuma, putting a hand on his friend's arm reassuringly. "Thank you, Tanuma." Natsume turns in Onizuka-san's direction, pushing down all of the feelings he has warring against each other. "You're right, Onizuka-san. Let's resolve this now. Shall we move our conversation elsewhere?"
The snort that Onizuka-san gives is nowhere near civil, but he does take a step back.
"Your lead then."
It is not lost on Natsume that this concession may be the last that Onizuka-san will ever give. He will trust Natsume, for now.
Whether he will continue to do so, will depend on what Natsume does next.