ENTITLED: I'd Rather Pretend
FANDOM: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
DISCLAIMER: What has happened to this manga gross sobbing ugh ugh ugh case closed.
NOTE: A couple of people have been wondering why I am having The Big Moment in chapter seven, instead of nine, and also why it comes with a lot of forewarning. The answer: One, traditional plot structures have the climax in the middle of the story, not the end, (see: The Great Gatsby for a very good example) and also because this story was never really about the sex. I really, honestly believe that the point of the story I am trying to tell here is not about physical intimacy barriers. Also, I think it's kind of funny that everyone is assuming things will go well. Sleeping with someone can ruin everything. Final lesson: do not sleep with your assistant teacher.
GOOD NEWS: The sex chapter is here! Now the story is rated M! Oh my!
ABOUT THE SEX: Guys, I don't know. I sort of think of R/M ratings as like, soft-core porn. I guess NC-17 is hardcore porn? IS THERE A MIDDLECORE PORN? THIS IS MIDDLECORE PORN. Okay, look, I tried to warn you. Whatever. NSFW, either way.
LENGTH: 7/9


CHAPTER SEVEN; The Twice Drowned

"I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her."

"Great Expectations", Charles Dickens


The morning came, as it always did, and as she lay in bed trying to remember if she'd slept even a little, Natsume found herself wishing it had all just stayed dark.

It took a lot of herself to get up, and stumble into the bathroom, where she looked at herself, fascinated, for several minutes. Certainly, she was a wreck. Her eyes were swollen from crying, her hair a mess, face bloated. But these were little things, things she knew how to cover up, things that any girl who knew a little about make-up could easily do away with. Funny, how easy it was to pretend that nothing was wrong.

For a while, she thought about staying home. The thought of going to school—of passing Sasayan in the hallways and looking down and knowing that he would be able to see the pain on her face, and maybe she would see his, too—

The thought made her sick.

But, it could only get worse, couldn't it?

She pulled back her hair, and started rubbing concealer into the bags below her eyes.

Half an hour later, when she stepped outside, no one was waiting at the gate. Her stomach lurched. She told herself, as she shivered into her cardigan, that it was all for the best. After all, the school year was ending in just five months. After all, they would probably distract one another from their studies—the last final chance she had of getting into university and not destroying the rest of her life, though knowing her, she could always find another way.

After all, the only thing she could give him was a broken heart.

Natsume trudged to school with her hands low in her pockets, trying to decide if she wanted Sasayan to move on, or not.


The first day, he didn't go to school.

For some reason, this shocked her.

She'd expected to see him sitting, right where he always was, smiling and joking with his friends like everything was fine, like nothing at all interesting had happened and hey, anyone got a big screen and plans to watch the World Series?

But his desk was empty.

Natsume brooded on this through the rest of her lesson. She even thought about telling Shizuku, who, Natsume was fairly certain, would probably ignore everything that was said or else just call Natsume an idiot. Final exams were but months away. Natsume was sure, no one would be able to get a word out of Shizuku until they were over. It was, after all, Shizuku's last chance to beat out Haru for the top score.

Natsume dropped her head to her desk.

At lunch, one of the boys Natsume recognized as Sasayan's friends approached her and asked, "Natsume-san? You know where Sasayan is? Is he sick or something?"

"I don't know," she mumbled, not meeting his eyes.

"What, seriously? Aren't you his girlfriend?" the boy glanced over his shoulder for confirmation from the group of boys across the classroom, and Natsume stiffened, which did little to steady herself.

"Not anymore," she said quietly, and bit her lip.


By the next day, a half-second before Sasayan slid the class room door open, Natsume froze. She pulled her shoulders up to her ears and pooled herself down as low as she could in her seat, her stomach cramped up, and all her muscles held so tense it was nearly painful. The ensuing silence, as everyone in the room turned to look at Sasayan—except her, of course—made it even worse.

Natsume kept her head down, twisting knots in the hem of her skirt. There was a sudden, forceful footstep just beside her, and then the sound of a chair being drawn sharply backwards, and Natsume jerked around with panic bombs blowing up all over her body—

Shizuku was sitting down in the desk next to hers, directly between Natsume and the door. "Did you watch the quiz show last night?" Shizuku asked, maybe a little too loudly. "They had some special categories, stuff about make-up, so I thought you'd probably have won. Takaya beat me, anyway."

There was a faint blush across Shizuku's pale cheeks which the other girl seemed determined not to acknowledge. Natsume thought she was going to choke on her own gratitude, or at least burst into tears. Meanwhile, their classmates had started talking again, though perhaps more quietly, and Sasayan had taken his seat.

"Mitty…" Natsume blubbered, then recovered enough sniffle, "You've done your ponytails crooked again, let me fix them."

Shizuku turned her head obediently, and while Natsume ran her finger through her friend's hair to straighten it, she dared peek towards Sasayan's desk. He had his back to her, and was talking normally to some of his friends, apparently not noticing their concerned looks. One of his friends caught her staring, and Natsume looked down again hurriedly, with a flush.


Two days later, they accidentally walked out of school at the same time. For a half second Natsume paused, staring openly across the space between them, before she remembered herself, and fled.


At home, she took hour long baths, where she played games keeping her head underwater for as long as possibly, until she was dizzy and gasping and barely strong enough to hold onto the edge of the tub, to keep herself from slipping back under. She did most of her crying underwater. There could be no sound, no tears. She took even longer getting ready in the morning.


In the halls, after a week, he said, "Good morning."

"G—" Natsume stuttered, and broke off, and then rushed to the bathroom, where she locked herself in a stall, and pressed her head between her knees until she was five minutes late for her next class.


After a week, he left a note in her shoe locker. Can we be friends again?

Without know what else to do, she put the bit of paper carefully in her pocket, took it home, and pulled it carefully into little pieces, but couldn't bring herself to throw them away. Over the next several hours she kept dashing back to her desk, scribbling apologies and acceptances and then destroying them instantly. The pile of shredded paper grew, if not into a mountain, than certainly into a respectable hill.

The seventh time she did this, her mother stuck her head in the room and observed, "Are you sure you'll be alright on your own this weekend?"

"I'm fine!"

Her mother shook her head, and shut the door quietly behind her.


What little success Natsume had managed in putting Sasayan's peace offer out of her mind was instantly destroyed the following morning. He looked up sharply as she entered the classroom, a spark of something like hope falling between them. Natsume glanced away hurriedly, her stomach churning. She regretted it instantly, hated herself for not just—smiling, at least.

She stole a look towards him as she took her seat. He was frowning a complicated, almost thoughtful sort of frown.

Trouble was brewing.

Natsume fretted for the rest of the day, rubbing her hands, knees, and toes together so frequently that they began to blister and smart. She tensed, as the last bell rang, expecting—knowing that he would be there, to tap her on the shoulder, and say something like—

She waited.

"Hey," Sasayan said, and tapped her on the shoulder. "Can I stop by later?"

Natsume swallowed. Slowly, she managed to look up at him. Her throat felt stuck up and flat. She nodded.

"Cool. Later," he acknowledged, and turned swiftly away. Natsume watched him go. She couldn't seem to get out of her seat. Shizuku paused, looking over her shoulder on her way out. She lifted her eyebrows, just barely, in question. Natsume shook her head, and smiled as best she could. Shizuku shrugged.

On the way home, Natsume stopped to buy three different candy bars. She devoured them swiftly, the result being that she was still nervous, and now also slightly sick.

The car was gone, she realized once she made it home. No defense. No father to yell, You leave my daughter alone you scrawny punk!, or mother to usher her back inside, Natsume has a lot of homework to do, so she can't talk to you anymore.

Natsume flopped onto the couch, and stared miserably up at the ceiling. She didn't even like candy that much. After perhaps twenty minutes had passed, she got up and collected every single pillow, blanket, and cushion in the house, which she used to build a sprawling fort in the middle of her room. Yes. Better. Much safer in here.

Natsume painted her nails, flipped through a magazine, wrote several maximum-privacy-filtered blog posts, and screamed into any number of pillows. When the door bell rang, it took her longer than usual to answer it because she was entangled, not because she was afraid.

"Can I just say one thing?" Sasayan asked, as soon as she'd opened the door. He was still wearing his baseball uniform. "Let me just say one thing, and I swear, I'll leave you alone. I think you owe me that."

Behind her back, Natsume dug her fingers into her thighs. Just one more thing. One more thing, and he would be safe from her forever. She swallowed, and said, more steadily than she thought she might have managed, "Go ahead."

Sasayan nodded. He swayed forward and then rocked back on his heels, his lips pulled in and pressed together. She had the feeling that he was looking at something far beyond her. "Okay. Okay. Maybe this is all wrong and I'm going to sound stupid but, but I think that I know you so I don't think that's the case. So, I—" he abruptly looked away, and laughed hollowly, "I'm pretty sure this has been the worst week of my life. I'm not saying that to make you feel guilty. And not to prove anything either, because—I hope you know, I meant everything I ever said to you. I hope you know that."

Natsume hung tightly to the door, which was steady, and hard, and kept her still.

"I hate not being with you," he said simply, "and for a while I was angry with you, for cutting me off. Or at least, I thought I was. But that was all wrong. What I really felt—what I really feel, is sorry."

"What?" Natsume blurted out. "Why are you sorry?"

"Because I know everything about you. All the good and bad things. And sometimes—sometimes you make me so mad because sometimes you just do these things that are so stupid, but then, you can also do things that I never could. It's crazy. When I first met you, I thought you were out of your mind, feeling so much, leaving yourself so open. I didn't like it. I felt like, I had to watch out for you. So I did, kinda, and then as time went on, something changed. At some point, I got jealous. I think, I wanted to be more like that."

He'd been staring at his toes as he talked, but now he looked straight at her, with such focus that she almost flinched, and despite herself, she slid slightly more out of sight, back around the door.

"The thing is," Sasayan continued, "The most annoying thing is, you have no idea. So I just wanted to say, it doesn't matter to me anymore. You can push me away, hate me, forget all about me. But don't think that you weren't worth it. Don't ever think, I fell in love with you because I didn't really know you, or maybe I made a mistake, somehow. You must be joking. The only thing I'm sorry for is that I didn't make you see exactly how incredible you really are."

Natsume's lips parted as a great numbness fogged up her head. Sasayan clasped his hands behind his back, and looked at her once more with fierce earnestness before, all too soon, he turned away. Mute, Natsume could only watch as his every step carried him further and further away from her.

"Wait," she whispered, so softly she was sure he couldn't have possibly heard her—but of course, he did. He stopped, and looked back, waiting.

She came out from around the door, and down the front steps, feeling so vulnerable that the skin all over the body was prickled with goose bumps, as though she were naked. The stone path leading up to her house was cold and wet beneath her feet.

"Please don't leave me," she said, because it was the only thing she had left to say.

They stood together for a moment, until finally, he raised a hand and wrapped it loosely around her wrist. "Then, what should I do?"

"I don't know," she confessed. "I thought—I thought the best thing I could do was let you go, but I couldn't. I thought if I let you leave, I would never be happy again." She reached impulsively for his face, and then pulled back at the last moment, wavering uncertainly. "You love me?" she asked, her voice very small.

"I do," he said.

"Really?"

"I'm not going to take it back."

She nodded, swallowed, and then admitted, "I think—I changed my mind. I don't want you to—I don't want you to take it back."

"Why?" he asked, and began pushing her, step by step, back inside the house. He must have noticed, the car was gone. Natsume glanced around, for neighbors or passing cars or an angry god—but there was no one, of course. She swallowed, then turned back to him, walking backwards so she wouldn't have to look away.

"I don't know," she said. "I was so afraid, before. I still am."

"Why?" he insisted, and kicked the door closed behind them. He put his hands just below her ribcage and lifted her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck, and dropped so their foreheads rested together.

"I don't know," she whispered. The wall was hard against her back. It felt good, staying like that, holding him with her whole body. She wondered if it was really so easy, his forgiveness. Falling back towards each other. Sasayan had kept his eyes closed.

"You must hate me," she said. "At least just a little."

"No," he mumbled, and shifted to bury his head in her shoulder. "Not even a little." She looped her arms around his neck, carded her fingers up through his hair. She let the hard things in her go loose, let herself rest back against him. She put her cheek against his hair, breathed in his clean-boy smell.

"I have three questions," Sasayan said after a while. She wondered if his arms were getting tired.

"Okay."

"First. Why aren't there any cushions on your couch?"

"I made a fort. It's in my room."

He didn't laugh. "Second. Where are your parents?"

"Spa. For the weekend. It's their anniversary."

"I see. Last question." He pulled away, and looked up at her, expression determined. "Are you ever going to lie to me again? Or did you mean it, some of it? And now—are we back together, now?"

"That's—"

"Don't say it's not one question. Tell me what you think."

Natsume bit her lip, and glanced down uneasily. "I thought it would be better if I hurt you a little, rather than a lot, in the future."

"Oh, what happens in the future?"

"What?"

Sasayan bent a little, letting her legs slide back down to the ground. His arms slid up to hold her gently by the waist. "I said, what happens in the future? You seem so sure that there's some catastrophe coming. Do you have something planned?"

"What? No!" Natsume sputtered, "I—! I just—this wasn't an easy week for me either, you know—but…I'm no good at things like this. I'm the sort of girl who can't make friends so I thought—I thought—I might do something stupid, on accident." She trailed off lamely, her face hot, wondering why her convictions back then, which had seemed so overwhelmingly, powerfully righteous, now wilted from her tongue like old daisies.

It was hard to think, with Sasayan standing so close, looking at her like that, his hands still running up her waist. He bent towards her, and told her neck, "You want to be with me." She shuddered when his mouth touched her skin. She started to raise her arms to touch him, but he held her wrists down—gently, she could have broken away, but—

"I do. I know I shouldn't, but I do." Natsume admitted. A little shiver of sadness passed through her, and then was immediately forgotten as Sasayan moved lower, right by her collar. She felt the sweet, satisfying scrape of his teeth, and she sighed a little, hands twisting quietly in his grasp.

Sasayan pulled back, releasing her. He plucked at the hem of her shirt, then undid the bottom button. She watched him, swallowing, a nervous giddiness making her quiver. "You're wrong. You should. I'm tired of being the only one wanting." Sasayan said. His fingers were awfully quick, she thought.

"That's not fair," she laughed, perhaps the weakest chastisement of her life. Sasayan slid her shirt down over her shoulders, hands trailing down her arms after the sleeves, to again hold her wrists. He raised her hands up to his mouth, and kissed her fingertips.

"You're right," he said. "Apology accepted."

"Hey—" Natsume growled, then stopped because Sasayan had just started tugging at her skirt. She yelped and slapped at him. "No, you take something off next!"

"Do it for me," he said, still focused. Natsume jerked at his uniform, scowling.

"That's impossible."

Sasayan sighed and ripped his shirt off in a single movement. Natsume stared. She tried not to think about how she was now bared down to her underwear. He'd seen it before, right? Right.

"So," Sasayan said, with extreme nonchalance as he struggled out of his shoes, "Can I see your fort?"

"Oh, smooth."

"What?"

"You think I'm going to fall for that?" Natsume asked indignantly. Sasayan laughed.

"No, I actually kinda thought you'd say it first." He reached for his pants.

"Wait, no, I like those," Natsume interrupted unthinkingly, and then blushed. She grabbed his hand and dragged him hastily after her, but hadn't made it to her bedroom door before he jerked her back and kissed her deeply. She tried to pour all of her apologies into that kiss. They teetered backwards, and when his hands touched her bra she whispered, "Okay."

Then there nothing between her skin and his, and she pressed herself to his chest, wondering how anything could feel so warm, so sweet. "You're a maniac," he muttered, when he saw her fort, then, "I really missed you."

"I—Ahhh…" Natsume groaned, and buried her face in his shoulder. He was touching her, carefully, through the fabric of her underwear. She quivered with embarrassment, then forgot about that, too, as an urgent, swelling tension began to fill her—as though she could only inhale over and over again, releasing none of her oxygen. Her fingers dug into Sasayan's shoulder, fingernails raising faint red lines. She sank, shaking, to the floor and, looking up, commanded hoarsely, "Take off your pants." A second later, because he was always so careful with her, she added, "Please."

She slid out of her underwear as he did so, trying not to meet his eyes, her face burning, suddenly shy again. She hoped he wasn't looking at her too closely, as she was certainly doing.

Sasayan snickered.

Natsume jerked, and snapped her head back to stare at him with huge, wounded eyes. He shook his head quickly, still grinning, "No, just—you looked—so horrified."

"I am not!" Natsume bristled. She added, "I've read magazines."

Not understanding, he started to kneel beside her, but she stopped him with a quick jerk of her head, said, "No, let me—"

And then, before she could loose her nerve, she opened her mouth and wrapped her lips around him. Sasayan went very still. Natsume had read an awful lot of articles about blowjobs. One of them recommended humming to stimulate vibrations. She suspected this to be an utter lie. Was she supposed to suck in her cheeks, or puff them out? She couldn't remember. She focused on relaxing her throat, and was just starting to feel ridiculous when Sasayan let slip a shaky, gasping sort of moan—and suddenly, it was like she was the most powerful woman in the world.

Natsume leaned back, grinning up at him triumphantly, wiping a little spit from her chin. "Was it okay?" she asked eagerly.

"What?" Sasayan said blankly, then, "Okay. Yes. It was super okay."

"I have condoms," Natsume said importantly, as she now felt there was little left at stake when it came to dignity. Sasayan stared at her.

"What."

"Well, my mom bought them for me when we started dating," Natsume explained, as she rolled out of the fort to loot under her bed for the goods in question.

"Hey, me too," Sasayan noted. Natsume wasn't sure how she felt about that. Sasayan tugged on her ankle. "Hey, hurry up. Why do you always leave me?"

"That's not funny." Natsume crawled back, and threw the little packet towards him. "Here, do your thing."

She busied herself with rearranging the cushions, trying to ignore the hot, insistent pressure still silently filling her ribcage, and when she turned back again, Sasayan kissed her—hard enough to push her down onto her back. She shivered as he stroked up between her legs again—gently though, more of a graze than anything, but enough to send her spine arching up into him. Then he pulled back. Natsume blinked. Sasayan slid his hand up the back of her thigh, stopping at the crook of her knee. He pulled her leg up over his shoulder. Natsume accepted this with a sort of dazed confusion until she thought about it a little, and then grew extremely alarmed.

"Wait!"

"Please, no," Sasayan groaned. She ignored him.

"What is, what is this?" she gestured at her leg, which was now firmly notched alongside his neck, so that her lower shin was right alongside his mouth. He turned his head and nipped at the skin just before her knee, right where one her old scars started. She'd gotten it from a bike collision, back in grade school. And he was already pulling on the other leg.

"It's, it's fine," he said, looking distracted. Natsume wondered if she should fight back. It felt strange and vulnerable, now that he'd pulled back from her a little and could see—everything. She covered her face with her hands, because her pillow was on the floor and too far away to be much good as a shield right now.

"Hey," Sasayan said, suddenly, and leaned forward to pull at her hands, and even his thumb scraping on her wrist felt good, somehow. "I hate it when you pretend I'm not here," he said, and she let him drag her hands down, but not far. She pinched herself together, forearms pressed protectively over her breasts. He was still wearing that new, uncompromising look that was so terrifying and exciting, and Natsume felt herself flush, if possible, a yet deeper shade of red.

"W-what are you talking about! I was just—I was just thinking that you're doing it all wrong!"

Sasayan blinked at her. "What are you talking about? Are you—hurt?"

"No!" Natsume looked at him furiously, and snapped, "How could I be hurt!? That hasn't even happened yet! Just—my legs are not supposed to be over here!" She kicked a little, calves bouncing against his shoulders. Sasayan stared at her.

"What are you talking about?"

"I am supposed to lie flat." Natsume ordered. She felt significantly more comfortable, now that she was back to nagging, and Sasayan was looking irritated, instead of sexy.

"This way's better."

"As if you know," Natsume hissed scathingly. Sasayan widened his eyes at her.

"Are you trying to be the more savvy virgin or something? Where are you getting this ideology from? Girl's manga? You know what I have? Three older brothers, and porn."

Natsume's mouth fell open. Then she slapped him.

"Ow. Should we have a safe word?"

"Porn?!" Natsume repeated, voice shrill. She jerked her legs back away from him, and scrambled to sit up straight, one arm crossed over her chest in some half-hearted attempt at modesty. "You watch—!"

"Oh my GOD," Sasayan said, and gave her a little shove backwards. Natsume toppled back over with a squeak. She managed to struggle back up onto one elbow before his face met hers and he pressed a long, slow kiss onto her suddenly trembling mouth. Instinctively, her hands fluttered up to run along the smooth, warm skin covering his ribs. She felt him shudder. Emboldened, she tested the swells of muscle in his arms and stomach, down to the sharp ridges his hip bones made—and then, finally, a wave of wickedness swept through her chest, and Natsume reached around to grab his ass.

Sasayan broke away to glare at her. She squeezed, chortling.

"Having fun?"

"You're naked."

"Ha," Sasayan said, without an ounce of humor, and then retaliated by ducking his head, and kissing her breast. Natsume breathed in sharply, her hands suddenly flying up to grip his shoulders, which she held too tightly. The hand he wasn't using to hold himself up moved to touch her face, thumb running carefully over her lower lip, and then sliding downwards over her throat—tightening for a second just under her jaw—and then traipsing onwards, fingers spread wide, all down her sternum and shivery, tight stomach, and then Natsume was opening her mouth to say yes, or no, she wasn't sure, but all that ended up coming out was a gasp.

He changed course, reached down to just above her knee and began working his way back up to the inevitable, then just before—he pulled his head up and asked her, "Okay?"

"Ye—es," she sighed, finding the word slowly.

And then his fingers were hooking up into her, curling in the way that someone might beckon a lover to come closer, then extending again, quicker, and she was a twisting gasping mess, eyes shut tight until she thought to open them—to look at him—and pull him down with her so he could kiss her like he was supposed to and she wanted—she wanted—

"Please," she meant to say, but went on saying it, so the word tripped over itself, repeating until he pulled back, and watched her carefully, and held her hand so tight and she was touched but also she wanted him to hurry up pleaseoh

"It doesn't really hurt," she said.

"You're sure?"

"It's a good hurt."

"There's no such thing."

"Like tearing off a scab."

"Gross," Sasayan laughed, pulled and pushed, and that time hurt a little, but she kept her mouth shut because something else was happening, she just knew it, she just had to ignore—

She pulled at Sasayan's back over and over and over again, their faces hidden in each other shoulders, sweat now making them slippery and it was so, so hot and Natsume felt—she was sure—that some old, unsatisfied part of her was being filled just then and she realized—she realized that she could never have done this with anybody else, nobody but the boy with his fingers in her hair, his kiss on her lips, and then Sasayan suddenly lurched one final time, and went still on top of her, shaking. She kept her arms tight around him, her own breathing quick and shuddery. They stayed that way for several minutes cooling.

She never, ever wanted him to let go of her.

"Don't be mad," Sasayan said, his voice muffled. Natsume tensed. Great. Now she was pregnant.

"What?"

"I think we did it on your parents' bedspread."

Natsume's heart stopped. She wondered if this was really any better than her initial suspicion. With enormous dread, she double-checked his prognosis, then groaned when he turned out to be absolutely right. When he started laughing, she punched him in the ribs. He staggered away from her fury, still laughing, to use her bathroom, then returned to her still happily naked. Natsume watched his serene expression, and swallowed. She wanted him to hold her again.

"There are stars on your ceiling," Sasayan said after a few moments had passed, looking up and not at her. Their shoulders just touched—nothing else. She felt strange and cold and a little sad, looking at the fake, silly plastic stars she'd had put up almost ten years ago.

"I didn't think it would be in my room," she said, which wasn't what she meant at all. But what she meant was silly and embarrassing and unsayable.

"They're on my ceiling too. I liked space when I was a kid. I still do. Yours are all just regularly spaced though, mine are actual constellations."

"They're fine, aren't they?!" she snapped, though she hadn't meant to. She heard him shift a little at her side, and wondered if he was looking at her. She was afraid to look back and, for some reason, felt ashamed of herself.

"Yeah, they're fine. I'm glad you have them. Can I hold your hand or are you mad at me?"

She thought about it for a second, then she lifted her hand up into air, so it teetered about, unsteady on her elbow. She watched it hang there, alone and thin and wavering, until he reached out and pulled her back down to safety. Natsume closed her eyes, and replayed the sight of his hand wrapping around her own. Her chest felt tight and frightened.

"Can't we just stay like this for a minute?" she mumbled, and wondered if she was going to cry. He kissed her cheek.

"Sure," Sasayan agreed, sounding sleepy. She tensed up. It seemed unfair, that he could be so relaxed when she felt like she was on the verge of explosion, of complete meltdown. The gates had been opened, and all the crazy was running free. Natsume squeezed her eyes shut. Her heart was too big and too loud. How was it that he hadn't noticed?

"I love you, too," she whispered.