Just a little story for one of my favourite manga/anime; Natsume Yuujinchou. This series is simply beautiful and heart warming. I decided to write something about Natsume and Nishimura "bonding", and I think I might have been inspired by the cold autumn weather, because suddenly the story turned out like this. ^^ (I apologize for any grammar errors, as this was written in the middle of the night… ^_^'')
I hope you'll like the story, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it! : ) (Also, a virtual cookie goes to whoever can recognize the quotes from the series~)
Disclaimer: I do not own Natsume Yuujinchou or any of its characters. I only own this story.
The golden and white lights from street lamps, houses and vehicles lit up the night. From his position in a tree on the hill, Natsume Takashi thought it looked like gold dust had been sprinkled across the dark landscape stretching out in front of him. As if the town was reflecting the stars in the clear night sky, or perhaps the town was trying to overcome the sky in terms of beauty.
Sitting like this, Takashi could almost forget that the only reason he was sitting in a tree at this time of night was because an ayakashi had been chasing him for hours through the cold, barren December landscape. He could almost forget that even in the beautiful town he was gazing at, held dangers lurking around every corner for someone like him. Being chased by ayakashi were tiring enough, but then Matoba came along, and suddenly exorcists had started taking an interest in him as well.
Quite frankly, a part of him wanted to just hide here in this tree and never come out again. Not that he could do that, of course. He had people who cared about him now, and people whom he cared about a lot. Earlier, his wish to disappear was something he had quickly squashed immediately, simply because he didn't want to be a bother to those who had so selflessly taken him into their homes. Now, there was a different reason why he didn't allow thoughts like that to grow.
Sighing softly, he winced as the motion tickled his throat and made him cough. He buried his face in the scarf wrapped around his neck as the icy wind reminded him that humans shouldn't stay outside late at night in cold weather like this. Particularly not humans as frail as him. He lifted his head to gaze at the sky, noticing that clouds had begun shielding the stars from view. There was a soft scent of winter in the air, and he wondered if it would start snowing.
He barely had the time to think the thought, before soft white flakes began drifting down from the clouds, dancing about in the wind until they landed on his coat and in his hair. More began to follow, and Natsume couldn't help but smile gently. He had always liked snow, even though the cold weather tended to make him sick. Biting his lip, he suddenly felt an overpowering urge to stick his tongue out. So, naturally, he did. It felt weird to be smiling while having his tongue out, but he couldn't help it as he felt the cold, fragile crystals melt on his tongue. He remembered doing this as a child, when he was sure no one would see him. Back then, snow had been one of the few things that could make him really smile. Even now, he felt a strange warmth settling somewhere in his chest, despite the chilly weather.
"Natsume…?" Jumping in surprise at the sudden call of his name, he accidentally bit his tongue, and he whirled around to see who was calling. The sudden motion wasn't a good idea, though, and the world suddenly toppled sideways as he began to fall. Barely managing to grab hold of a branch, he was somehow able to swing himself down to the ground in a surprisingly graceful manner rather than plummeting headfirst like he had for a moment been sure he would. "Shit, are you ok?!"
The person who had – unknowingly – disturbed his fleeting moment of serene happiness, turned out to be one of the last people he had expected to see all the way out here. Gazing into Nishimura's deep brown, wide eyes, he didn't say anything at first. His friend had taken him completely by surprise, as he hadn't thought anyone else would be out at this time of night. When he noticed the other boy look a bit awkward, however, he realized he should probably speak soon so the other wouldn't think he was angry or anything.
"Um… What are you doing out here, Nishimura?" was the only thing he could think of asking. He could tell that the question was one Nishimura had hoped he wouldn't ask. He recognized that look of someone who was trying their best to come up with a convincing lie from the top of their head. After all, he imagined that was how he looked a lot of the time. He couldn't help but wonder of it was that obvious when he did it as well.
"I should be asking you the same," Nishimura said, apparently deciding that he wanted to ignore the question all together rather than lying. "What on earth were you doing up in that tree?"
"I was just… I was catching snowflakes… with my tongue." He had no idea why he said that. Perhaps because he too was sick of lying? He couldn't exactly explain the full reason he was out here, but his answer was still truthful. Even if it did feel kind of embarrassing. Nishimura stared at him for a moment, before chuckling softly. The chuckle soon turned into louder, more heartfelt laughter, and Takashi couldn't help but smile at the sound.
"Well, I could see that. Sorry I startled you, though. Is your tongue all right?" Nishimura managed to get out in between the infectious laughter.
"It's fine, don't worry about it," Takashi replied. His smile died down somewhat as he began to notice Nishimura's tired, somewhat pale face. The laughter had sobered down into a smile that looked drawn and not at all like his usual cheerful expression. It was odd to see Nishimura like this, as he was usually the most lively out of their little group, with a smile ready at any time. Only a few times had Takashi seen his expression look strained, and every time, it would look so out of place on his face.
"It sure is cold out here," Nishimura murmured, breaking the calm silence that had enveloped them. He brought his hands around himself, almost as if he was hugging himself. "I didn't think it was going to snow, but… really, I don't mind that much."
"You like snow, Nishimura?" Takashi asked, and instantly recognized the gentle look in his friend's eyes at the question.
"Yeah. It reminds me of…" he broke off, as if he suddenly realized he was about to let a secret slip. He glanced at Takashi for a moment, before averting his eyes. "You promise you won't laugh at me?"
Takashi hadn't expected that. Nishimura never seemed to care what anyone thought of him, and wasn't afraid to speak his mind honestly and clearly without thinking about the consequences. Nodding seriously, he gave a small smile. "I won't laugh," he reassured the other, and he meant it. Who was he to laugh at what other people had to say? He knew, after all, how much it hurt to have others doubt or make fun of your words and thoughts.
Nishimura looked back at him for a moment, as if he was trying to decide whether he was telling the truth or not. Finally he seemed to be reassured, and his eyes drifted up to the sky.
"You know, once, when I was little, I got lost. It was winter, and I was out playing, but I went too deep into the forest. Before I knew it, I couldn't find my way back, and it was getting so dark and cold. I remember thinking 'oh… am I going to die out here, all alone?'." Nishimura gave a small, solemn smile that didn't reach his distant eyes. "You can probably imagine how scared I was, running around screaming for help while searching for anything familiar. The forest that I used to play in all the time was completely transformed by all the snow, and wherever I looked, it seemed as if the trees were stretching out to grab me and tear me apart."
Takashi listened closely to his story, imagining quite clearly how Nishimura must have felt. He was familiar with the feeling of being lost and hunted by dangers lurking in the shadows, after all.
"I eventually tired myself out, naturally, running around like that. But just when I was about to lay down and give up, I heard a voice. It was just a soft whisper, but I heard it so clearly. 'You're almost there,' it said. 'Follow me, I will lead you safely'. I wasn't sure who was speaking, but when I looked up, I could have sworn I saw a shadow of someone… or something ahead of me. Well, I say shadow, but it was more like… it was made of light, shining in the darkness." Takashi swallowed, recognizing the description to be more like an ayakashi than a human. "I was terrified, and wasn't sure whether I should follow or not. But that light felt so warm, and my legs moved on their own, following it through the forest. Before I knew it, we had reached the field next to our house."
Nishimura paused, looking a bit uncertain before finishing in a soft tone. "When I looked back at the forest to thank whoever had led me out, I saw the person behind the light. Except, it wasn't really a person, she was too pale and beautiful to be human. She looked almost like she blended in with the snow, apart from her black hair and her eyes. Somehow, I felt as if I should be afraid of her, but… her eyes were so sad and lonely." Nishimura shook his head abruptly, giving a small, shaky laughter. "Of course, when I told the adults of this later they said I had been hallucinating because of how cold and tired I was. Eventually, I began thinking that I really might have imagined the whole thing, but… it seemed so real, you know?"
"Yuki Onna…" Takashi whispered before he could stop himself. The description sure did sound like her, if he should trust the legends he'd heard, and what Nyanko-sensei had to say about her – Takashi had asked him once because he had been somewhat curious. He grew aware of Nishimura looking at him with an odd expression, and silently cursed his habit of thinking aloud. "Um, no, I was just thinking it sounded like one of those legends, you know…?" he quickly said.
"Yeah, I actually did think of that as well," Nishimura said, looking back up at the sky. "But when I looked into it, most of the legends described her as some kind of demonic and deadly creature who wouldn't hesitate to freeze people to death." A frown appeared on Nishimura's face for a moment. "Why would someone like that bother to lead a child out of the forest?" He was silent for a while, before suddenly blushing. "Jeez, listen to me, talking about this like it actually happened… You probably think it sounds crazy, don't you?"
"No," Takashi replied softly. "If you say you saw something that night, then I believe you." After all, he was in no position to doubt the truth of such a story, when he knew for a fact that things like this were in fact very much real. He remembered Nyanko-sensei saying something about how some ayakashi could show themselves to humans, while others could sometimes be seen in certain situations or environments. Whatever it was that made Nishimura see her that day, it didn't seem crazy at all.
"Natsume, you…" Nishimura's voice was soft, and Takashi was a bit surprised to see how immensely grateful his friend looked. "You're the first person who has ever believed me. T-thank you." Takashi merely smiled in return, having no idea how to respond to that heartfelt comment.
"We should probably get home soon, it's getting really late," he said instead. Nishimura nodded in agreement, with a soft sigh. The two walked towards town in comfortable silence. The snow fall had picked up around them, but not so much that it was an annoyance. Takashi's thoughts drifted to Yuki Onna and Nishimura's story. If he remembered correctly, Nyanko-Sensei had mentioned that while he didn't know much about her, the stories did indeed claim her to be one of the more malicious youkai who disliked humans. Then again, stories and rumours weren't always true. Those little fluff ball ayakashi that he had encountered a while back, for example – rumours had it that they gathered together and devoured other ayakashi, yet they had turned out to be quite innocent and gentle, gathering together more for protection and companionship than for brute strength.
"Hey, Natsume?" Breaking out of his thoughts, he glanced sideways at Nishimura who had a thoughtful expression on his face. "Imagine if there really was a world around us where creatures like Yuki Onna exists. Like demons from the old stories and such. Do you think… do you think they would all be as evil as legends say they were…?"
That was a question Takashi had asked himself many times over the years as he encountered various ayakashi. Nothing good ever came from approaching them. At least that's the way he had used to think about it. Lately, he had come to the realization that this might not be true after all. Many of his encounters with ayakashi brought bad memories, but many were also memories he looked back at with fondness.
"I don't know," he began slowly as he realized Nishimura was waiting, and hoping for a reply. "But perhaps they wouldn't be as different from humans as we seem to think. Perhaps they too have friends that they are willing to protect no matter what."
To me, my friends are like family. I must protect the few I have left…
"Perhaps they have loved ones that mean more to them than their own lives."
Even if I am no longer around, that person will continue to smile…
"Loved ones, who they would want to be happy."
If it can be granted, I wished that I could play just once more. If I could play again, then for my kind and gentle friend... I wanted to play for you…
"Perhaps they too would feel sad at times. Perhaps they too feel lonely and scared…"
No more… I can't take it anymore… I don't want to be alone!
Takashi could almost hear the voices of the ayakashi he had met, echoing in his mind. The determined voice of an ayakashi who had just had most of her friends murdered in front of her eyes. The selfless whisper of an ayakashi who watched the man who had once seen her and loved her, marry a woman who would make him happy. The smiling wish of an ayakashi who wanted to do something for a dear friend, who had done so much for her.
The pained, heart-wrenching sobs of an ayakashi who was unable to stand the thought of being alone any longer. Whose grief and loneliness nearly consumed him, the same way that hatred and betrayal had consumed his friend.
"I hope you're right." He nearly jumped at the sound of Nishimura's voice, having almost forgotten about the other's presence. He hadn't even realized that he had stopped walking, and had for a moment lost control over his words. Glancing uncertainly at his friend, he was about to apologize for muttering weird things like that. The words froze in his throat, however, when he saw Nishimura's sincere smile. "I really hope you're right, Natsume."
Takashi couldn't help but feel like Nishimura looked lighter, somehow, as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Had he been thinking about this for all these years, worrying about that gentle soul that lead him to safety when he was a kid, without having anyone to discuss it with? Or perhaps he had simply been reminded of it today, and that's why he was in such a strange, heavy mood.
"Maybe humans, and demons or whatever they might be… maybe we're all like snowflakes?"
Nishimura smiled, some of the playful brightness having returned to his expression as he pointed at the falling snow. "They're all different, right? But despite being so different from the other snowflakes, they're all basically made of the same stuff."
Takashi smiled, listening as Nishimura gradually went back to being his bubbly, talkative self, going on about what kind of activities they could do during the winter. His eyes drifted back to the snow, as he silently thought about Nishimura's oddly philosophical words. Maybe he was right, and they were all just the same as those snowflakes, dancing along in the wind, occasionally bumping into each other, sometimes even growing attached.
Truthfully… It was a rather comforting thought.
Thank you for reading!
Oh, and for those of you who aren't familiar with the (many) legends of Yuki Onna... She is basically a snow woman (like the name implies) who is said to show no mercy on human travellers, freezing them or leaving them to die. She's mainly portrayed as evil in the legends, but there are some stories where she marries a human man and have children with him – she supposedly told the man she married that she would not freeze him, for their children's sakes. Which left me to wonder… perhaps she's got a soft spot for children? :3 Anyways, it's an interesting story, and I recommend you check it out if you're interested in Japanese culture!