Life had never been this pleasant for him, for someone who barely had the chance to feel those elusive strands called 'acceptance'. All the years of pain and exclusion he had endured all in silence and loneliness. And now he had finally find where he belonged in the care of loving family and friends.
He was content.
But... what would become of him if all of it was ripped away from his possession?
Chapter 1: Fitting Enemy
Tanuma strode along the bustling hallway of the school, a small smile lifted the corner of his lips, and a box of 'Inary' goddess small statue was tucked among the spaces of his crossed arms. His pace was light-hearted, full of leisure, and yet still brisk with barely contained giddiness. If he was attempting to mask that feeling of exuberance, then he was doing a great work as the dark-haired boy looked as composed as his calm-self normally would.
He had just returned from a long trip with his father, a work-trip to exorcise some rebellious ayakashi executing minor havoc in the Kyoto region. His father asked him to tag along in order to further deepen his exorcism skills. Although he needed to bail a few days off even after the end of their semester holiday, he agreed to it as he was tempted with the idea of being closer to the ayakashi world.
But he knew fully well that it wasn't the sole reason, Tanuma's eyes brightened as he saw the familiar class of his destination, as it all lied within one name.
The person who shared the same burden, if not heavier, as him. Being the target of weird stares directed at him for most of his younger days, the victim of hushed whispers behind his back, and being labelled as 'freak' as one of the more daring kids would address him of.
He had shutted his heart then.
But after a fateful meeting with this somehow ordinary yet quirky boy, Tanuma had learned to accept his difference. That it was a gift, to be able to 'feel' whereas other people couldn't.
That one golden-eyed boy had worked magic to his self-imposed principle to block off people out of his world.
He had brought sunlight to his storm-filled heart, filling the cold-vessel with warmness like in the arms of a loving and caring mother.
That amazing person was normally called-
"Natsume!", Tanuma exclaimed at the door of the half-empty class with enthusiasm, the box of souvenir in his arms jiggled slightly. His shining eyes, giddy with the idea of meeting the said boy after such a long holiday, immediately flicked to Natsume's seat which was located by the window.
But found no sign of the sandy-haired boy as it was empty.
Frowning slightly, he lifted his eyes to find that the members of their 'club' were staring at him wide-eyed. He approached the familiar faces including Taki, Sasada, Kitamoto, and Nishimura which were all gathering around the empty seat of Natsume.
"Oh, uh hi Tanuma! Long time no see!", Nishimura greeted him with a smile, but Tanuma could easily see the fakeness of it.
"How was your holiday to Kyoto, Tanuma-kun?", Taki added with a smaller voice than usual, he also noticed the lack of her cheery attitude she normally carried.
Tanuma lifted a brow in confusion, "It's fine I... guess..."
Something told him that there was a sort of 'dodging-a-topic' kind of aura here, he felt that there was something big that they were hiding from him. Whatever it was, he was going to find out. Starting with the most obvious clue, "Where is Natsume?"
Almost as if on cue, the atmosphere changed with that one question, a heavy gloomy silence blanketed the four people being asked as they all avoided eye-contact with him. Taki lowered her head to gaze at her shoes, Sasada gripped the hem of her skirt and bit the corner of her lips with a scrunched-up expression, and both boys closed their eyes in remorse.
A pang suddenly stroke the cord of Tanuma's heart.
"I-Is he sick?"
A shake of a head was his answer.
"Is he skipping school?"
Taki finally met his eyes, "Tanuma-kun, we've been trying to contact you this past few days but... none of us have your number. Only Natsume-kun has. And unfortunately, Touko-san didn't allow us to borrow Natsume-kun's mobile phone because... uh..."
The girl's voice was shaking slightly as well as her small body. And why did she look at him with a guilty-like expression?
"Because? And why did you need to borrow Natsume's mobile to contact me while you could ask him yourselves?"
Again it was silence that answered his question. Tanuma, despite his self-reassurance, couldn't help but felt his heart beat faster. Cold perspiration was beginning to form at his temples as he stared wide-eyed to the gathering crowd, feeling a bit queasy at this point.
He was about to open his mouth to launch yet another critical question when someone beat him to it.
"I'm sorry Tanuma-kun..."
His eyes automatically focused on the source of the voice, recognizing it instantly, "Sasada?"
The motionless girl still had her back to him but he could see the barely-contained shaking that wrecked at her tiny body.
"Natsume-kun...", she whispered nearly inaudibly, turning her head to look at Tanuma's worried face. And as she finally turned to him, the dark-haired teen was surprised to see the tears glistening down on the sorrowful girl's face, adding more to the apprehension that had clenched his heart so painfully.
"Natsume-kun... Natsume is gone..."
"Nat. Su. Me~!", a sing-song voiced exclaimed cheerfully, hooking the attention of a sandy-haired boy instantly as he turned his head over his shoulder.
The said boy was in a leisure walk with Nyanko-sensei in a nice sunny day of his long-awaited holiday, not in the very least expecting that he would run into his friends in this private chance.
"Nishimura? A-", Natsume only had the time to say that one name before he was glomped from behind. Nyanko yelped in surprise as he lost his balance on Natsume's head and collided with the ground, face first.
Nishimura grinned at him as Kitamoto, Sasada, Taki approached behind him in a rushed pace, "Where are you going Natsume? Why didn't you tell us if you are going out?", the ever cheerful boy asked on Natsume's shoulder.
"Huh?", Natsume wiggled slightly, he was not used to being in a close contact with anyone, but apparently Nishimura chose to be ignorant at the boy's discomfort, "I'm just going on a walk with Nya- my cat. And why do I need to inform you of that?"
"Because Natsume-chan, we're all planning to visit your house and if you're not at home then it becomes sort of pointless don't ya think?", Nishimura pointed out confidently, proud at his 'smart' analysis.
The rest of the gang finally catched up on the two teens, panting slightly, "Ha.. Ha.. Ha.. Yo-you don't need to dash like that as if you spot a hot chick Nishimura, now we're beat because of you!", Kitamoto jabbed a finger at his friend accusingly.
Taki sweatdropped, "Well it's not a proper reason for rushing like that too"
"Huh? Hot chick?", Nishimura grinned, "If you're talking about hot, Natsume-chan here can be counted as one too, right? Although he is more into the cute type. Ne~ Natsume?", Nishimura winked his eye suggestively.
Natsume couldn't help but blushed as he shrugged off Nishimura's arms in a rush, "Wha-what's that supposed to mean? And why do you guys want to visit my house anyway?"
Sasada suddenly was in front of Natsume and her narrowed eyes glared at the golden-eyed teen accusingly, "Don't tell me that you forget about today, Natsume-kun?"
"Today?", Natsume cocked his head to the side. He tried to go through his brain about the particular information but sadly nothing came up.
Taki also crossed her arms accusingly, "Today is the agreed date for us to investigate the haunted spot in the woods! Don't you remember?"
A lightbulb suddenly appeared above Natsume's head as his eyes widened in realization. Yes, this was apparently the date that they, the 'Supernatural Seeker' club had agreed on to start their project of 'ayakashi' investigation, "Ah yes... Now that you mention it, we do have some schedule for that... Sorry for forgetting. So when will we start?"
"At 2 o'clock", Kitamoto answered, "We're planning to discuss about that first before commencing on the investigation. The former plan was to do it at your house but since you're not there and we're closer to Taki's house, then I think it's better to do it there"
"Ah sou...", Natsume blinked, "Well I think I'll ask Touko-san's permission first. I also forget to bring my mobile", the boy stated sheepishly, "You can go on first"
Nishimura shook his head mockingly, "Ah you and your mama boy's nature. Well come on then!", the boy hooked Natsume's arm and then proceeded to drag him to the direction where they first came from.
Natsume stumbled, "Eh don't worry about me! You should just go on first, I'll join you later", he urged the group with a smile.
Kitamoto shrugged, "Well, guess that's fine for me, but you'd better hurry Natsume!", he warned.
Not long after, Natsume was standing alone in the quiet road with a twitching neko's legs sticking up the air. The golden-haired boy glanced at the butaneko before sighing, he approached the motionless body before bending down and pulled the neko by one of its fat paws.
"Come on sensei, I need to go back to tell Touko-san that I'll be returning late"
The seemingly lifeless cat suddenly twitched before jumping out of the boy's clutches and landed on the ground gracefully. He rustled his short fur briefly and specks of dust flew out.
Nyanko then looked at the boy reprimandingly, "Hey Natsume! Why do you agree to have that worthless investigation with your friends? Don't say that you forget the ayakashi celebration tonight!"
Natsume widened his eyes and his jaws comically dropped down, "Aaah! That!"
Nyanko narrowed his black beady eyes at the dumbfounded boy. "You forget, don't you"
It was a statement.
When no retaliation could be heard, he shook his furry head. Sometimes his human confused him. Humans had far shorter lifespan than ayakashi but despite their brief time in existence, they tend to forget even the simplest and most recent matters. Whereas ayakashi could still remember even a hundred years worth memory. Humans were definitely still mysteries for him.
"I wanna drink some good fill of sake no matter what so I-", Nyanko stood on his hind legs and pointed one blunt claw at the standing teen, "-forbid you to join your human friends in what-it's-name club's stupid activity! No questions!", the fat cat huffed, seeming proud of his commanding performance, as he waited for an answer while posing.
But none came as the boy was already walking ahead. Nyanko blinked his eyes, confused for a second at the fact that he could only see his human's back in a quite distance ahead before a vein popped on top of his grey-orange forehead.
"Hey Natsume! Now you dare to ignore me, the GREAT MADARA? I could devour you in one gulp you stupid idiotic insufferable human BO-
"NYANKO-SENSEI! Ssssh! Not so loud! There's a lot-
Unbeknown to them, a pair of glowing emerald orbs peered under the safety of the bushes, following their every moves stealthily, surreptitiously. No not them, Natsume. Their scrutinizing glare narrowed in absolute loathing as the ayakashi witnessed the interaction between the human boy and his human friends.
The matching pair of eyes also narrowed in pure blaze of envy as the human and his ayakashi keeper argued heatedly and bickered quite a commotion in the nearly empty street. Claws digged on the soil where the root of the bush looped in, as the ayakashi gritted its strong jaws in malevolence.
Arguing, but not even the slightest sign of malicious intent could its sharp sense of smell detect from their scent. Quarreling, but completely were at ease with each other, casting aside their difference in nature and race to interact casually and intimately.
How this human could relate to both humans and ayakashi was beyond its comprehension. How... can this little human, the grandson of Natsume Reiko whom failed to befriend both kinds, be accepted in human's as well as ayakashi's world.
"Natsume Takashi...", it hissed in maliciousness, "I would definitely not accept this. You, a mere human, could prevail to win both human's and ayakashi's acceptance. Both which belong to absolute opposite of worlds"
"I will see to it, that all of that revolting connection you manage to flourish all this years, be stripped and ripped to oblivion in front of your very own eyes, eradicated and nullified to nothingness until none remains..."
The ayakashi retreated back to the darkness as the blazing green orbs gradually vanished under the thick shadows of the trees.
"This Tamamo-no-Mae will see to it"
~Golden Mist Fox