A/N: This was submitted two weeks ago for the AO3 Natsume Yuujinchou Fic Exchange. Much thanks for Puimoo for providing the prompts that created this piece.
One Little Push
Satoru rarely, if ever, felt jealous.
But he knew, deep inside, that he was slightly jealous of his friend.
He appeared suddenly in his life one day, a transfer student, unfalteringly polite, wearing a too-fake smile. With light brown hair and golden eyes, and a dark, mature air about him, he and his pretty face had been the main topic of interest among the girls at first, before enough time passed and they all realized that Natsume wasn't interested in getting to know anyone.
Then time passed, and the dark air around Natsume gradually softened, and at times seemed to disappear altogether. Satoru felt a twinge of pride at that, assured in the knowledge that he had partly been the cause of that. After all, he had been the first to approach Natsume Takashi.
Perhaps that was why he was feeling jealous.
Not that it was Natsume's fault. Nor could Satoru deny that Natsume, Tanuma, and Taki seemed to have some unspoken connection with each other. The way Natsume and Tanuma looked at each other, serious and quiet and knowing, that sometimes sent a chill down Satoru's spine. Satoru pretended not to notice. On the rare occasion that he dared to voice a complaint, it was over Taki. All in good fun of course.
It still didn't take that slight twinge of jealousy away.
"I want to know what they're talking about sometimes," Satoru complained, safe in the conviction that aside from Kitamoto, there was no one else on the roof. "Especially when Natsume's alone with Taki! It's not fair!"
"Let it go," Kitamoto said. His levelheadedness often kept Satoru in check, but today it annoyed him more than it helped.
"It makes me wonder if those two know something that we don't. Haven't you ever wondered about that?"
"Sometimes you're too impatient, Nishimura," Kitamoto said.
"Why won't he tell us?" Satoru said, abruptly sitting up.
"Careful," Kitamoto said, also sitting up, then carefully leaned his back against the wall. "You don't even know if he's really keeping secrets from us."
"You and I both know that he is," Satoru said heatedly. "Don't even try to deny it."
Kitamoto fell silent then, but it didn't last for more than a few seconds before the unspoken rebuke created a flash of guilt.
"We can't make him tell us, you know."
"I know, I know. It's just… just once. I just want him to trust us, just once, you know?"
"He does trust us," Kitamoto pointed out. "Remember what he was like before."
"Look, let's talk about this another time. I know you're upset. So'm I, sometimes."
"Your sister?" Satoru asked, noticing the time. Unlike him, Kitamoto had a family that wanted him back home.
"Yeah, sorry. I need to get back home."
Satoru stood up, and leaned over the wall, looking down onto the school grounds. Most of his classmates had gone home. But there was one figure down there that had not.
"Hey, Natsume's still at school."
"Remember what we just talked about…" Kitamoto said.
"I know, I know. I'm not stupid. I think I'll just catch up with him and ask if he wants to try the arcade or something." Satoru paused. "You know, we've never asked him to do that with us."
"Well, invite him and see how well he does. Then we can invite him along more often in the future. Anyways, I need to go. I'll see you tomorrow."
When Satoru finally left the school, he had walked out just in time to see Natsume take the road toward the forest. It wasn't an unusual path for him to take, though a bit roundabout. He was just about to call out when something stopped him.
Out of the forest stepped out several men, dressed in traditional robes. Then one man stepped out from among them. Half of his face was hidden in shadow, but what Satoru saw of him sent a warning chill down his back. And the look on Natsume's face…
Satoru didn't stop to think.
"Hey! Who are you guys? Leave Natsume alone!"
Then everything turned black.
When he came to, he found himself sitting upright for some odd reason. The room he was in was beautifully appointed, a traditional Japanese room with spreading tatami and expensive looking scrolls and vases along the walls. It was a room built to impress, to awe, to amaze.
All Satoru felt though, was fear.
He'd been miserable before. Lonely, sick, depressed, shocked, and occasionally, spooked, but not fear.
At least, not this kind of fear.
There was something wrong with this room. But it wasn't anything that Satoru could put a finger on. Just that there was something wrong.
"Ah, you're awake."
Somehow, he'd managed to completely miss the man sitting across the table from him. How had that happened? Why hadn't he noticed the man? It was like the man had just appeared magically in front of him. Like magic…
"So," the strange man said, interrupting Satoru's panicky train of thought. "Your name?"
"N-Nishimura," Satoru said. "Nishimura Satoru."
"And you're a friend of Natsume Takashi."
"Yes?" Satoru could not help squeaking at the end.
The man was uncanny. Everything, from the long black hair to the paper seal across his face, shouted danger to Satoru's instincts. He wanted to run. Needed to run. Except he felt something heavy across his shoulders, pushing him forcibly down onto the cushion beneath his legs. It weighed on him, cold, sick, and heavy.
"My name is Matoba Seiji. I am the head of the Matoba clan," the man said.
A thousand thoughts shot through his head. So this man was the head of a clan? What did what was apparently a powerful and wealthy person have to do with someone like Natsume? Why? Nothing made sense. If anything it just made Satoru more confused.
Satoru gathered up what courage he had.
"Why am I here?"
This man, Matoba, had the audacity to act surprised. Matoba tilted his head slightly, and his lips formed the shadow of a smile.
"Why, I thought you wanted to come here. Didn't you come up to me, rudely demanding to know who I was? I am only doing what you wanted, Nishimura Satoru-kun."
"I wanted to know why you were frightening Natsume!" Satoru shouted, suddenly both terrified and angry. "If you've done something to him…"
Why couldn't he stand up? Why couldn't he move? The weight across his shoulders only worsened.
Matoba narrowed his one eye, but the smile never left his face.
"I can see why Natsume begged so hard for me to not hurt you."
Satoru suddenly found it hard to breathe.
"I have done nothing to hurt him. But your presence is an added complication. Though…" Matoba's visible eye glittered. "Yes. I can use you, I think."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Satoru demanded, outrage temporarily overcoming fear. "Who are you? How are you connected to Natsume?" Once again, he tried to stand. Why couldn't he move?
Matoba chuckled. It was almost pleasant sounding, but Satoru had a feeling that it was at his expense.
"It looks like you're a completely ordinary child. I had wondered."
"You can't move at all, can you?"
"H-have you done something to me?"
Matoba's smile deepened.
"Do you think I have?"
"You've done something to me. Maybe drugged me or something, or…"
"Well, they're not bad guesses. Considering your handicap."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"So he's told you nothing?" Matoba said. "Ah, not that he would, would he?" The tone of his voice could almost be considered pity, if Satoru hadn't already been convinced that everything about this man was untrustworthy. "After all, you can't see."
"Can't see what?"
But as Satoru finished his words, he recalled his twinge of jealousy whenever he saw Natsume together with Taki and Tanuma. Yes, there was something he was missing, somehow. What was it? What was he missing?
What wasn't he seeing?
The shouji screen to Satoru's right slid open, and a nondescript man poked his head inside.
"Master, Nanase-san is here. She has brought the boy with her."
"Let them in."
A woman looking to be in her late sixties entered the room, though she walked with the energy of someone half her age. She bowed once, then immediately left the room.
Behind, hands crossed in front of him, was Natsume.
Natsume was pale, his eyes wide with untold fears.
"Matoba-san, I asked you to let him go," Natsume said, fiercely. Satoru was temporarily taken aback by the cold anger in Natsume's voice. He had never heard Natsume use such a tone on anyone.
"Of course. Nishimura-kun is free to go at any time," Matoba said. "After all," the man's voice took on a deeper quality, "nothing's stopping him."
Throughout the exchange, Satoru couldn't help but notice that Natsume's hands never uncrossed. In fact, it was almost like something was binding them. Except there was nothing that Satoru could see.
Matoba turned his attention back to Satoru.
"Well, was there anything else you wanted to ask me?"
Satoru found himself looking down, to the cushion beneath his legs.
"What can't I see?"
He heard Natsume's gasp and the sound of a scuffle, but he ignored it. When he looked up again, all of his attention was focused on Matoba.
"What can't I see?" he repeated.
"Ah, now that," Matoba said. "Do you really want to know?"
What aren't I seeing?
"Matoba-san, don't tell him!" Natsume cried.
Satoru turned to face Natsume, who had grown even paler. His heart constricted at the look of desperation on Natsume's face, but something inside him remained firm.
"Why?" Satoru asked.
At this, Natsume fell silent, his eyes wide, lips pressed tightly together.
"What is it that you don't want him to tell me?" Satoru said. The hurt and jealousy that he had been pushing away was coming out now, like water out of a broken dam. "What do you tell Tanuma and Taki that you don't tell the rest of us? Why? We're your friends, me… and Kitamoto. Aren't we?"
Natsume bit his bottom lip and lowered his head, but not before Satoru saw the hurt and guilt that had flashed across his face.
"I'm sorry, Nishimura. This is all my fault. You've become involved, because of me. You got taken here, because of me. I'm so sorry."
"So you still won't tell him?" Matoba said.
The two of them turned to look at the man.
"Why are you so frightened of them knowing?" Matoba asked. "Just tell them. If they leave you because of it, what do you have to lose? After all, there are others who will accept you as you are." The man looked pointedly at Natsume. "You know this."
"I'm never joining your clan," Natsume said.
What? For a moment Satoru was frozen, both by Matoba's implications and by Natsume's blunt refusal.
Matoba turned back toward him.
"Your clan. What does it do?"
"What does it do?"
"Ah, that. Well." A look of satisfaction appeared on Matoba's face. "As I'm sure you've realized by now, I'm the head of a very powerful clan. But you see, our line of work is special. Quite special."
"What, are you part of the mafia or something?"
"No, nothing like that. In fact, most people don't believe people like us exist anymore."
"Natsume, if you cannot be quiet, I'll have my servants lead you from the room," Matoba said.
"So then what…"
"We're exorcists," Matoba said.
Satoru watched Natsume freeze, then lower his head with a look of visible despair.
"You see," Matoba continued, all but enjoying Natsume's misery, "unlike most people, we can see spirits. Those who can see tend to be attacked by spirits more often, so a long time ago, various families gathered together for protection. The Matoba clan was one of the strongest ones. But you see, nowadays few people believe in spirits, and it seems that the power to see is also fading, even in the stronger families. So when someone like Natsume comes along, it's in our interest to have him join us. After all, spirits don't stop attacking humans just because we can't see them."
Then Matoba fell silent.
Satoru stared, for a long time trying to absorb what he'd just heard.
What aren't I seeing?
Was this what Natsume had been hiding from him? He thought about all the times Natsume had fallen ill, been late, fell, gone missing, shouted or cried out at nothing—the list went on and on. Was it because things were tormenting him, things that Satoru couldn't see?
And if Tanuma and Taki knew, was that because they could see? Satoru then recalled that Tanuma too, also got sick often. So that meant…
"I can't believe this."
Matoba raised an eyebrow.
"So you don't believe me?"
"This is stupid. As if… as if," Satoru took a deep breath, then another. "As if Natsume would ever join forces with a creepy guy like you." He swiveled his head to look at Natsume, whose expression hadn't shifted. "Natsume! The reason why I can't move… there's…" Satoru closed his eyes, breathed deeply, then opened his eyes again. "There's something holding me down, right?"
Natsume gave a start.
"Natsume, there's a lot of things I don't understand. And it looks like, because of what you can do you've suffered a great deal." Satoru smiled, the first time he'd been able to do so since everything had happened. "I'm sorry, Natsume. I'm sorry for all the times you've been hurt, and you didn't feel like you could tell me. It must have been really hard for you. But I'm glad Natsume, really glad, that at least you had Tanuma and Taki to talk to about this."
Natsume continued to look at him with the hurt look on his face.
"I'm sorry. I've thought… wondered… if maybe I should tell you. But it…"
"Natsume, you don't have to explain right now. I mean—"
And that was when the world exploded.
When Satoru was able to open his eyes again, the beautiful room was shattered, the wall on one side completely gone.
"Ah, it looks like the kitty has managed to find us," Matoba said standing up. One hand reached into the sleeves of his robes.
A second later, the weight on Satoru's shoulders lifted, and he found that he could move. Stumbling slightly because of lost circulation, Satoru lurched upright.
"Natsume, is something there?"
"Nishimura, catch my hand!"
Somehow, Natsume was sitting on thin air. Satoru reached out.
"Did you think I would let you get away again?" Matoba said. From his sleeves, he took out a piece of paper.
There was a moment of silence, and Satoru looked back and forth, wondering what was going on.
"I see. So all of you came," he heard Matoba say.
"Come on, Nishimura," Natsume said softly.
There was the feeling of something grabbing him, and then before Satoru could fully comprehend what was going on, he felt himself lifting higher, and higher. Then there was a rush of wind.
Suddenly, he was flying.
Somehow, they landed safely on the ground, in an area of forest Satoru identified as being close to Natsume's house. Once his feet touched the ground, Satoru heard a puff of air from behind.
"Honestly Natsume, you get yourself into the worst trouble. Do you know how long it took to find you, and get past the barrier?"
"What in the—" Satoru turned his head to find, of all unexpected things, Natsume's fat, ugly cat. "Cat."
"Ah, Nishimura, are you okay? Ummm…"
"The cat." For the second time that day, Satoru felt his world explode. "The cat talks?"
"Um, yeah. Nishimura, this is Nyanko-sensei," Natsume said, looking both embarrassed and earnest at the same time. "He's kind of my body guard. I know it's strange and all but he's really—"
"I knew it!"
Satoru couldn't contain his excitement. All the times he'd thought he'd heard things, and now finally, finally, there was proof.
"There was that time, when I thought I was dreaming. I remember you were talking to that cat. And all those other times." Satoru grinned, then squatted in front of the ugly cat. "So you can talk, Nyanki-sensei!"
"That's what I said. Aw man, wait 'til Kitamoto hears about this…" Satoru suddenly paused. "Ah… um. Natsume, is it okay if I… if I tell Kitamoto about this?"
"You might as well allow it, Natsume. I don't think this kid can keep a secret like this for long," the cat said.
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Satoru said. Then he smiled sheepishly. "Though it's kinda true. At least with Kitamoto."
A flicker of emotion crossed Natsume's face.
"Nishimura," he said.
"Nishimura, you don't have to force yourself. I know that all of this… It must have been terrifying for you. So you don't have to pretend."
"Natsume…" Satoru stood up, and walked over to Natsume, then put an arm casually around the other boy's shoulders. Natsume looked at him, eyes wide with surprise. "Look, I was scared. Actually, more than scared. I'd never been more frightened for my life." He laughed, but couldn't quite keep the hitch out of his voice. "Horror movies aren't going to be much now, after all that. But you know, Natsume, I'm also glad it happened. Because now I finally know."
"How long have we been friends, Natsume?"
"Hm? Umm… at least…" Natsume paused, mentally counting the years. "More than two years now."
"I've been friends with Kitamoto since we were in diapers. And you know, if he'd been keeping a secret like this, and somehow got hurt…" Satoru dropped his arms. "I wouldn't want to wonder. I'd want to know. You too." Satoru turned to face him. "I'd rather know and worry, then go on happily without ever knowing the truth."
"Natsume, don't you think… don't you think you should tell Touko-san and Shigeru-san about this?" Satoru said softly. He could sense Natsume stiffen. "They'll believe you, you know." Seeing the look on Natsume's face, Satoru pushed on. "That Matoba guy, he's bad news. He's not going to stop with this one time. I mean, he tried to use me against you today. And he'll probably try Touko-san and Shigeru-san next. I know them, probably not as well as you do now, but I know that… well… they'd rather hear it directly from you. Before, you know. That guy gets to them first."
"I just don't want to worry them. I want them to keep on smiling."
"I know you do. But…"
"It's like you said. Perhaps it's selfish of me," Natsume said. "I know, Nishimura. I know that Matoba-san will come again." He smiled. "Thank you, Nishimura. Thank you, for believing me. And thank you, for being my friend."
"You know, if you feel nervous about telling them, I can always come with you."
For a long time, Natsume was silent. Then he smiled, his eyes shining unusually bright.
"Thank you. Thank you, Nishimura. But I think this is something I should do myself." He looked down at the cat. "And perhaps, with Nyanko-sensei also. But thank you for offering. It gives me a little more courage."
"Well, a talking cat is likely to convince them anyway," Satoru pointed out. "Anyway, tell me. Why did you name him Nyanki-sensei? It's such a stupid name."
"What? How dare you, you insolent little brat. That's…"
"It's something I gave him the first day we met…"
Satoru listened quietly as they walked through the woods, occasionally laughing and commenting in turn. He understood that Natsume still wasn't necessarily going to tell him everything. That was all right. Knowing Natsume, he probably didn't tell anyone everything; that was the way he was. It was a start though. A good start.
Kitamoto had told him to be patient. In principle, Satoru agreed with him. But sometimes, things required a little more than that.
Sometimes it required one little push.