A/N: I haven't written a casual, slice-of-life piece in a while now, and I confess that I've missed it. Things have been so intense, and while the crossover arc had been fun, there had been quite a few serious moments there too. Natsume as Lord Onwa can be a bit emotionally heavy at times. But as this series has progressed, I'm finding that it is impossible at this point to separate the two. One reader once told me that it feels like Natsume is developing split personality disorder, and I have a feeling that eventually the two sides will fuse. Not sure yet though. Natsume develops at his own pace. There is nothing either you or I can do to change that.
Anyway, here's some nice, good ol' mundane Natsume. With the Fujiwaras. It's supposed to be lighthearted, but I think I kind of failed at it. I did this while juxtaposing it with another issue I've always wanted to address. I hope I've managed a good balance. If I fail... OTL. Nevertheless, please enjoy.
Humans die. It is a fact of life, an attribute of mortality that is both feared and yet revered at the same time. Spirits are all too sensitive to it, for it is a peculiarity that is rare among them, an oddity that inspires curiosity. But there is one feature that most spirits do not notice, and until now, I never thought of. And now it may be something that is cut off from me. I was a child when I became a god, and now a child I will forever be. For while all humans eventually die, before that happens, they age.
"What do you think?" Touko-san holds up a shirt against Natsume, humming contemplatively. From a distance the shirt looks like a plain blue, until one takes a closer look and notices the subtle pattern of gray and silver lines crisscrossing along the edges.
"It's nice," Natsume says. "But I really don't need a new shirt."
"Nonsense. You're a growing boy. And you'll need new clothes for the school trip."
"Now, let's go find another," Touko-san says firmly. "Shigeru-san, you hold it."
Shigeru-san, who had been looking bored and distant, now turns around with a look of confusion on his face.
"Hm? Why must I be the…" Seeing the expression on Touko's face, he trails off. "I suppose this is my job."
"Yes, it is. Your job and duty."
As Touko-san hands the blue shirt over to Shigeru-san, the two of them pause, then turn their gaze upon Natsume, fond expressions on their faces. Natsume feels himself blushing, and looks down, the slow blooming of joy warming his belly.
"You've grown so much since we first took you home with us that day," Touko-san says. From the tone of her voice, Natsume senses that she is not merely referring to his physical growth.
"Takashi-kun was so fragile, remember? I remember. We took you home the moment the hospital discharged you," Shigeru-san adds, "and you were so pale and quiet." He chuckles. "There were times when I wondered if we had brought home a ghost, instead of a boy."
"Mm." Natsume nods. Indeed, he remembers. The lack of expectations. The hopelessness. The fear that the Fujiwaras will end up rejecting him like all the rest. So much has changed since then.
And yet some things no longer will.
As they continue onto another section, and Touko-san begins piling a variety of shirts, pants, and jackets onto Shigeru's soon overburdened arms, the thought gives Natsume pause.
For now, things can be easily explained away, but eventually, even if no exorcists come to interfere with Natsume's life, people will start to notice.
Notice that Natsume is not growing. Not aging.
Spirits generally do not age. There are a few who do, such as those more closely linked to plants and beasts—the little fox spirit being one example. As one who is part-beast, the little fox will gradually age to match the body of his beast form. How fast he ages will depend on skill and power. The more powerful, the slower the process will take.
Most spirits however, enter the world as they are, and never change. Some may take the form of children, while others the form of the aged. It is who they are, no matter how much time passes, and in that form they will remain, until they fade back into the earth once more.
Natsume, having been created from a human, had entered the spirit world in the form he had worn the day of his transformation: a fifteen-year-old boy. Though he is a god, and he is capable of slightly altering his human form, his abilities do not extend toward the control and delicacy necessary to alter his body to age convincingly. He has no idea, for one, how to even begin to do that. The human body after all, does not all age at the same rate.
But then, it had taken practice to emit the amount of heat necessary to convince other humans.
"One more thing to look into," he says softly to himself.
"Hm? Were you saying something, Takashi-kun?" Touko-san asks.
"Oh. Um, I was just thinking of the things I want to see when I visit China," Natsume says, smiling. He sighs, inwardly. That too is another urgent thing he needs to look into.
"Ah, of course. Have you heard anything yet about the class schedule?" Shigeru-san asks.
"We're getting them this week," Natsume says.
Though to be honest, he cares less about the schedule than he does about inadvertently antagonizing the local gods. With the meeting with Lord Tenjin yet to take place, Natsume has taken to browsing through the Chinese mythology section in both the school and town library. What he has discovered has both helped—and confused him. While many of the human stories about spirits have a grain of truth in them, there are also a lot of misconceptions. And Natsume has no way of figuring out just which parts of the stories are true.
"Well, that's enough for now," Touko-san says, adding one final pair of pants to the now very formidable pile. "Takashi-kun, take these to the changing room and try them on."
Natsume stares at both the mountain of clothes and at Shigeru-san's long-suffering expression.
"A-all of them?"
"We'll wait outside the doors," Touko-san says.
Resigning himself to an afternoon of clothes shopping, Natsume takes half the pile from Shigeru-san and heads toward the waiting attendant, who holds back the door to the changing room while he attempts to shuffle in without dropping anything. At the very least, as a god, he had never needed to try on any clothes. His robes are presented to him, fait accompli.
"Takashi-kun, don't forget to come out for each one you try on. I want to see how they look!"
Natsume cannot help it. As much as he dislikes trying on clothes, he finds comfort in Touko-san's fussing. Smiling, he calls back.
Then he turns to the pile of clothes, and sighs.
After what feels like hours later, they finally exit the store, Natsume and Shigeru-san both burdened with bulging paper bags. Only Touko-san looks like she has any energy left.
Both of them turn to stare at Touko-san in horror.