A/N: Another one~

Yes, this one took a bit (just a little bit) longer than usual (and it's pretty short), but I feel entitled to that time considering that the last few chapters were updated really quickly. Plus, I have been bombarded with schoolwork lately (tests and projects and essays that I barely finish before getting another one T^T), so I've had much less time to write (and probably will continue to have less time to write). But I have been mentally working on this, so I've got plenty of storyline planned out and do not foresee writer's block anywhere in the near future. (Not that it'll be easy to write out some of the more difficult chapters, but that's just life.)

I was tempted (very much so) to do a more dramatic kidnapping scene (because in the NY-C fandom, Matoba equals kidnapping), but I decided against it (must...resist...urge...), as it would be a little...forced to have Natsume just pass out and wake up at the Matoba's temporary residence. Plus, having Natsume know exactly where and in what conditions Seiji lives in would mess up a lot of pre-planned story bunnies who introduce all that stuff. (Does that even make sense? Pre-planned?) This chapter didn't want to be written as much as the other ones, though, so I might have forced it a little anyways.

I'm starting to give more details to everything, now that I'm doing more planning than writing. The Rakutos now have names~ They are now officially Arisa and Shimuzu Rakuto (for people who happen to be even more Japanese-culturally deficient than I, Arisa is the woman). I have absolutely no idea if Arisa would change her last name to Rakuto when she married Shimuzu, so I'll just call her Arisa in the few times that I mention her from here on out. (If anyone knows, you are free to tell me.) Also, the place where Natsume first met Seiji in the (terrible excuse of a) first chapter will probably just be referred to as 'the Shinto shrine', because that's apparently what it is.

I realized that I wanted to do this scene on a weekend, because then I wouldn't have to worry about how school time fit into this. (I'm...pretty sure Japanese elementary students also have weekends off, right?) Then I realized that I had no idea how many consecutive days of school I'd given Natsume so far. T_T So I went back and counted. It was six. He meets Seiji in a shrine, he gets a rest day, he is almost killed by Fukuro, he sees Fukuro after school and talks to it, he starts getting stalked by the owl, and he gets lost in a forest (a poor summary, but it'll do). So I had to go back and get rid of the rest day. Which I have done.

NY-C isn't normally a very day-to-day centered story, so I hadn't really thought about the progression of the days before this...

Anyways, all's well that ends well~

This chapter is dedicated to BendSpaghetti, who (-will probably never read this, but whatever-) wrote a very touching piece from Natsume's past called "Stray Dogs" that you all should read if you're interested in stuff like that :L It was very inspirational, particularly in regards to this piece.

Natsume sat on a stone ledge, slouched over dejectedly, lost in his thoughts. He replayed the last half a day over and over in his head. Fukuro had dropped him off at the doorstep of a very annoyed couple and disappeared somewhere. Arisa-san had glared at him disapprovingly all throughout dinner, and put him to bed as soon as he was done (he was left to clean the blood off and bandage his mow-healing wounds himself). Then he'd gone to sleep, and woken up early the next morning. He ate breakfast by himself while the Rakutos got ready for work, and was kicked out of the house for the day as soon as Shimuzu- and Arisa-san left for the day. (They'd left him alone last Saturday, but he'd made a huge mess of the kitchen in another youkai-caused incident).

So he'd walked to school (because that was what he was used to doing and he had nothing better to do). And then he'd gone to the old, empty Shinto shrine. And then he wandered the forest a little bit (there was much more undergrowth on this side of the river; civilization seemed to be centered on the other side. No, I have no idea where this could possibly be :P ), but quickly gave that up; he was well aware of how dangerous that could be. He also went back to the clearing where he'd threatened to pull out Fukuro's feathers if the bird didn't answer his questions.

It was only when he caught himself staring at the empty bench in disappointment that he realized what he was doing, what he was searching for.

Pathetic. Natsume didn't know where the thought had come from, but it rang true. He left the empty clearing without a backward glance. He'd always been alone before; he didn't need a youkai for company now. He knew Fukuro wouldn't (or was it couldn't?) be a permanent part of his life anyways, not when he was sure he would be moving again in a few weeks. It was stupid to get attached.

So he'd gone back to the empty house with the locked door and spent the rest of the morning sitting on the porch. He couldn't stop himself from wondering where the owl had gone, but firmly told himself that he didn't care (no, he really he didn't. He was just bored. Right. Just that). When noon rolled around, he'd gotten tired of sitting on a step and walked to a nearby park. (He was also getting kind of hungry, but he was used to that. He'd just have to put up with it for a few more hours.) Then he sat on the ledge he was currently sitting on, tired, lonely, restless, flipping through memories because he had nothing better to do.

Maybe if he'd been less bored or sleep-deprived, he would have noticed them sooner. As it was, he didn't even notice the park empty out as people went home for lunch.

Seiji blinked open his eyes. He got up and stretched, working out the kinks he'd acquired. Then he brushed the dirt off his pants (he was wearing normal clothes today, instead of the black garb he usually wore) and stamped his feet, trying to get some feeling in his legs. He was tired; setting up spells took a lot out of him, and he still had to get back to the house. He was greeted by one of his shiki as soon as he stepped out of the circle.

"Have you completed your search?" The shiki nodded. "Show me where he is, then." They walked a little, until they cleared to the trees and ended up in one of the public parks that had paths snaking through trees. The shiki directed him to a bench, on which lay the unconscious body of a child, guarded by two other shiki. Seiji stared at the familiar head of silver hair.


The three shiki gathered together and nodded as one. They then enacted a crude struggle, starting with two of the shiki jumping the third and ending with the third falling backwards and mimicking banging its head on something as it fell. Then, report done, all three stood and turned to face Seiji.

"No, no, no. When I tell you to find a youkai, you bring it to me. When I tell you to find a human, you report his location," Seiji snapped. All the shiki shrank back unanimously. "Get out of my sight." The shiki scattered, afraid of being punished (which Seiji was rather seriously considering).

Seiji turned away from the now-empty path and turned his attention to the boy on the bench. He sighed and checked the wound on the back of the boy's head. No blood, just bruises; the child should be fine in a day or so. He propped the child upright in a sitting position and sat down next to him, prepared to wait for the boy to wake up. Natsume slumped over until his head rested on Seiji's arm; Seiji let him be.

Since Natsume was already here, he might as well take this opportunity to clear things up.

When Natsume dragged open his eyes, the first thing he noticed was that his head was throbbing in time with his heartbeat. He groaned softly and tried to get his bearings. He could see the sky...he was outside. He was leaning on something, and he was sitting on...a bench? He struggled to sit up properly, feeling woozy. Strong hands helped push him up.

"You woke up surprisingly quickly." Natsume froze at the sound of that voice, automatically twisting out of the grip of those hands. His eyes flickered up of their own accord. Seiji stared back at him impassively.

"I apologize for the behavior of my servants. They're still in training." (Matoba always, ALWAYS uses that excuse in the manga. I kinda wanted it to be legitimite for once; it always seems like he could be lying when he says that...) Natsume inched back along the bench, away from the older boy. "You should take it easy for a bit, Natsume-kun. You hit your head pretty hard." Memories snapped into place as Natsume remembered exactly how he'd passed out. He jumped to his feet, swaying a little, and turned to run.

Seiji casually stuck out a foot and tripped him. Natsume hit the ground hard, arms just a little too late to break the fall.

"You're rather predictable, you know." Natsume, struggling to get up, flinched in surprise; Seiji's voice was alarmingly close. Seiji bent down and set Natsume on his feet, fingers tightly gripping his wrist. "You never hold your own against anything, especially youkai. You just run. You should try to be more confident in your abilities; you're pretty powerful. It's not an easy feat to take out one of my shiki." Natsume wriggled his arm, trying to get free. "Stop that, Natsume-kun. I just want to talk." Seiji held his wrist firmly and grabbed Natsume's shoulder with his other hand, shaking the boy a little. Natsume stopped trying to get free for a second; the whole world was spinning and Natsume felt sick. Seiji had said something about hitting his head...

"Let go!" Natsume twisted his arm weakly; his head was throbbing, he felt dizzy, and he was only standing because he was clutching Seiji's arm for support. He stepped away from the older boy, trying to put some distance between them even though he was only standing thanks to Seiji's support.

"I said that I just wanted to talk, Natsume-kun. I'm not going to hurt you."

"You mean any more than you already have?" Natsume spat. He slammed his fist into Seiji's arm and yanked back. Seiji lost his grip on Natsume's arm, more because of surprise than pain; the sudden spike of energy that accompanied the otherwise harmless blow shocked him. Natsume pulled away and tried to run again, but he didn't get far. He only managed a few steps before he stumbled and dropped to his knees, one hand on the ground, the other supporting his head. He felt nauseous, he felt dizzy, and he felt weak... He couldn't stand even if he wanted to, and he was dangerously close to passing out again.

He heard hurried footsteps, somewhere far away. They took a long time to reach him...

"Are you okay, little boy?" He flinched away from the arm that reached out. Wait, that wasn't Seiji's voice...

Natsume blinked and tilted his head up to look at the kindly older woman, who was looking down at him with concern.

"He'll be fine. He just has anemia." Seiji had come up behind him again...Natsume hadn't even heard him...

"Are you sure? Anemia can be pretty serious, can't it?" The woman fretted and gave him a worried look. Natsume recognized that look...

Huh? Wait, what?

"I'm fine. Thank you for your concern." The words slipped out on their own, automatic, a response to that all-too familiar gaze of mingled suspicion and kindness. He shouldn't get this person involved in his youkai problems...

"If you say so, little boy..." Giving him one last, uncertain glance, she turned and continued her stroll down the tree-lined path.

"Can you stand, Natsume-kun?"

"She could see you."

Natsume was...confused. (Which would be putting it mildly under normal circumstances, but the dizziness wasn't helping his thinking processes.) Seiji sighed, took the boy's answer for a 'no', and roughly tugged Natsume to his feet. He led the boy back to the bench, Natsume dragging on his arm for support and balance the whole time (about five steps total :b).

"You hand is warm. It isn't cold." The observation was stated with a curiously flat tone. Natsume, after collapsing on the bench, stared at Seiji as though seeing him for the first time. Seiji, wearing normal clothes and no longer toting about an umbrella, looked like a normal high schooler with black hair and red eyes.

Seiji, for his part, sat down on the bench next to Natsume and watched the child's eyes go strangely blank.

"You're not human." This wasn't directed at Seiji; Natsume himself seemed to be trying to reconcile this fact with what he was seeing in front of him. Seiji sighed.

"Yes, I am. I said this before, didn't I? You keep running off before I get a chance to explain."

"The other children couldn't see you. Oh! Was that lady just now an akayashi?"

"No, she was not. The other little kids from before couldn't see me because had spell set up to keep normal humans from bothering me."

"There aren't spells like that..." I think. (This is Natsume.)

"Yes, there are. I really am human, Natsume-kun." Why won't he believe me? (And this is Seiji.)

"Prove it." A stubborn frown creased Natsume's face as the child glared challengingly at Seiji.

"Proof...Let's see..." Seiji took a moment to make sure his remembered enough of the information. "Natsume Takashi. Your birthday is the first of July, and you're nine years old now. Your parents died when you were four. Since then, you've been passed around between your late father's relatives. You were never in one place for very long; your behavior frightened other people. You've been hospitalized at least four times now, all for supposedly self-caused injuries. Your maternal grandmother is Natsume Reiko, who's quite famou-"

"How do you know this?" Natsume interrupted. His voice was quiet, hushed with fear.

"I asked some people to investigate your background after we met in that Shinto shrine." Just one person, actually. (He'd asked Nanase to confirm if Takashi was human, and the megaworkaholic had come up with a birth certificate, two death certificates, records of school enrollment, a few sightings of the boy by various youkai and a few humans, and a handful of interesting tidbits of information. All within the course of a few days; he now owed Nanase a huge favor...) "You interest me; people who can see are rare. And you're quite powerful, especially considering your age."

Natsume paused to consider this. That Seiji knew all this disturbed him (a lot. Natsume almost felt like he had a stalker), but...

"This doesn't prove you're human," Natsume insisted. Seiji raised an eyebrow.

"Oh? And why not? Unless you've told all this to youkai at some point -which seems unlikely, considering that most youkai aren't interested in irrelevant human troubles or circumstances- then the most likely way I got this information is through human means."

"Maybe you...you looked into my memories, or something." Natsume frowned, trying to find a way to make it all fit. It wasn't that he didn't want to believe Seiji (he wanted it so badly it was dangerous), but he had already faced that disappointment once. He wasn't going to allow himself to accept hope nearly as easily again.

"Hmm...Well, I suppose that's not impossible. There are youkai capable of-" Seiji bit off the end of his sentence abruptly. A group of teenagers, talking and laughing, rounded a curve in the path and came into view.

"This isn't an appropriate place to have this conversation," Seiji murmured quietly. "We'll look suspicious if we just sit here. You can probably walk now."

"Eh? No, I- mph?!" Something -paper, it felt like- had sealed itself over his mouth. Natsume put his hand to his face to try to peel it off, but it was stuck firmly in place; he could barely tell where his skin ended and the paper began.

"Come on. Let's go somewhere else." Seiji stood and gripped Natsume's wrist, pulling the child to a standing position. "If you try to struggle or run, you'll just involve anyone who sees you," Seiji hissed quietly. Seiji had noticed a while ago how martyr-like the boy tended to be; his suspicions were confirmed when Natsume made an alarmed, half-pleading sound through his nose, shot a glance at the approaching group of people, and made no attempt to resist being pulled to his feet.

Seiji led the way down the path to the more populated areas, casually passing the noisy teens and dragging a very, very confused little boy along with him.

A/N: I sort of abandoned the idea of a perspective somewhere towards the middle, but I guess it works out...sort of...

Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed that. I tried. I really did.

I was really, really uncertain about this chapter, because there were just TOO. MANY. BUNNIES. They were all stopping the development of a proper, solid sequence of events because they wanted to barge into the plot somehow. I was actually sort of intending to start this with Natsume accidentally stepping into one of Seiji's alarm-spell-thingies and knocking himself out because the spiritual shock was too much for him...or something... But yeah, this is how it all turned out. I hope you all enjoyed it anyways.

I've sorta decided on an age for Natsume; he's now nine, which would make Matoba about sixteen. I'm gonna bump it up to seventeen, just because sixteen seems a little young for what I have in mind.

The next chapter: In which Matoba finds out exactly much he underestimated the task of convincing a boy in denial.

(It will take a good while to get the next one out, unfortunately, but I AM working on it).