First Half, Now and Then
It wasn't supposed to end like this, Tohru thought. This wasn't right, not the slightest.
Natsuno should be warm, soft, and full of life.
Beneath the brooding exterior, Natsuno was a big softie at heart. Natsuno was the type of person who had little amount of important things, but hold those important things very close to his heart and ready to sacrifice himself.
Tohru knew this at the moment he first laid sight on the younger boy. And before long, they had become closer, drawn to each other.
Natsuno's hands were always warm, and Tohru liked that greatly.
Natsuno wasn't supposed to end up like this; broken, lifeless, and so very cold.
Natsuno's eyes were frightened, full of hurt, when Tohru turned a Shiki's feral gaze and barred those damnable fangs towards him.
Then those look vanished, replaced by a flicker of sadness, disappointment, and most of all, soft understanding.
And Tohru sunk those (his) fangs deep into Natsuno's jugular, hearing Natsuno's soft little gasp, feeling Natsuno's warmth slowly seeped away, tasting Natsuno's sweet, intoxicating blood on his bitter cold lips.
Natsuno never struggled, just laid still on the harsh ground, pinned by Tohru's own weight.
Tohru shifted his fangs a bit, and Natsuno's breath hitched.
"I wonder… why you… hang out with me…"
Tohru released Natsuno's neck, fangs sliding free. "I don't understand, Natsuno…"
A weak smile, and Natsuno elaborated in ragged whisper, "I don't have… very welcoming personality, but you… you still go on and befriend me anyway…"
They stared at each other for quite some moment; blood red into deep lavender.
"Thank you for that, though…" Natsuno whispered again.
Tohru's unfeeling, frozen heart clenches painfully. Natsuno thanked him still, after all Tohru had done to him—
Natsuno's hand was warm on Tohru's icy cheek, soothing away formed tears on Tohru's eyes.
"You sure cry a lot lately," Natsuno said softly, and the dam of Tohru's heart was broken completely, irreparably.
"Fuck!" Tohru tore away himself from Natsuno's body. "I can't do this! I…! I…!"
Natsuno emitted a breathless grunt as his frail strength failed to propel him from the ground.
To hell with all of this, Tohru grimly thought, carefully holding Natsuno's body to sit upright.
"Let's leave, Natsuno."
Natsuno's dumbstruck expression would have made Tohru laugh if the situation wasn't so grim. "What…?"
"You offered to leave with me, and I agree. That's all."
"But… your family—"
"It will be bloodbath around here. I can sense failure on the Kirishiki's plan. I'll take you away before it happens."
"I'm serious, Natsuno."
Natsuno looked deep into Tohru's eyes, and finally nodded. "Okay. We're leaving."
Tohru gave his friend a small smile. Natsuno returned with his own, stronger and sure.
"We'll be okay, right?" Natsuno said.
Tohru nodded. They would be okay.
Tohru only watched, sitting on Natsuno's bed, as the younger boy moved around to collect some preparation and the needed stuff for their travel. Natsuno didn't bring much; just wearing thicker jacket, his savings, a change of clothing, and some ransom from the kitchen.
"Come to think of it," Tohru said. "This is the first time I enter your room."
Natsuno looked at Tohru strangely. "You're right. I never invite you in."
Tohru watched as Natsuno tore off a paper from one of his book and wrote something on it.
"What's that?" Tohru asked. "A letter?"
Natsuno nodded. "Just saying something needed to be said."
Tohru read the letter from behind Natsuno's back. It only had a short message; "I'm sorry. I love you two. Natsuno."
Natsuno left the paper on his desk.
"Come on, Tohru-chan," he said. "Your house next."
Tohru was glad that his parents never touched his room after his 'passing'. That way, his savings was kept undisturbed. He watched Natsuno silently crept inside his house, as Tohru himself couldn't enter his own house anymore. A few minutes later, and Natsuno was out with the desired item.
"You really have no qualms, Tohru-chan?" Natsuno asked, face carefully blank.
"I said I will leave with you," Tohru replied, determined. "I'm done with this place."
Natsuno's eyes were soft and warm and full of understanding, and Tohru wanted to cry.
Tohru's eyes were full of tears, distorting the sight of Natsuno's rapidly cooling body. But he held his gaze still, to the empty shell of his best friend, almost brother.
Tohru cradled Natsuno gently, closely, silently cursing his own icy, dead body, for not providing some needed warmth.
And Tohru grieved.
Sotoba quickly became small dot behind them.
At first, Tohru had to carry Natsuno as he ran all the way to the nearby town of Mizobe. A Shiki was fairly quick on his feet, and after having Natsuno's blood as his meal, Tohru could run on his top condition. Natsuno's blood was surprisingly potent, appeasing Tohru's hunger better than any blood he'd ever tasted.
On Mizobe, they caught a bus to the next town, intent on leaving Sotoba as soon as possible. Natsuno fell into exhausted sleep not long after they boarded the bus, his head rested on Tohru's shoulder. Tohru huffed a little, relived and also worried.
Now that Tohru no longer needed to run, his brain kicked on full gear. Tohru was worrying over the 'next'. They didn't have a particular destination, and their funding was also limited. With Tohru's needs, it would be fairly difficult to live. Tohru is afraid that he would kill Natsuno one day.
"Guess I wasn't thinking right," Tohru mumbled, absently stroking Natsuno's hair.
They stopped on the small town of Fujimi, partly because Fujimi is the last stop, and partly because Tohru needed to sleep. They stepped outside the bus, into the early autumn's cold rain.
Natsuno was getting frail much faster; the cold rain didn't do any help. The younger boy was easily tired, and the sun would soon rise in less than an hour.
"Go, Tohru-chan," Natsuno said weakly. "Leave me on hospital or something and go hide."
"No way in hell I'll hide alone," Tohru stubbornly refused. "I'd rather burn to death than leaving you."
Chuckled breathlessly, Natsuno retorted, "I'd rather not. I still want you alive."
Tohru stopped walking as Natsuno's knees buckling beside him. "Natsuno—"
"Go," Natsuno said. "Quick, Tohru."
Making a swift decision, Tohru said, "Natsuno, I'm so sorry about this."
Tohru hit the younger boy's neck, right on the pressure point he learned from the nurse Ritsuko back on Sotoba. Natsuno crumpled on Tohru's arms instantly. Easily, he carried Natsuno to a nearest house, with the name 'Akiba' placard, and rapped the door furiously. Hearing rustles behind the door, Tohru laid Natsuno on a position so he wouldn't get crashed by the opening door.
Tohru dashed away right after hearing locks turned. He saw a middle-aged man opening the door with a woman—his wife, apparently—and noticed Natsuno lay crumpled on their front door. Both gasped, and the woman was instantly on Natsuno's side. Tohru watched as the man carried Natsuno inside, the woman fussing over them.
The door closed shortly after.
Tohru found out that the Fujimi town had a particularly complicated underground water system, and its entrance under the bridge. The structure was probably like Sotoba's underground pipeline in some part, and it would be a very good hiding place. He destroyed the sealed entrance without much thought. His eyes quickly adapted on almost total darkness of the tunnels, and he entered. He moved into the deepest part, far from entrance and sunlight. He then spread out a sleeping bag he got from Natsuno. Natsuno had given him that, so he would sleep a little more comfortable.
Curling up on the surprisingly warm cocoon, Tohru was fast asleep within minutes.
Once, Tohru found Natsuno napping on the school's rooftop. It wasn't an unusual sight by itself, because Natsuno liked to be there, overlooking the view. The weird sight was the tools Tohru found lying on Natsuno's stomach.
There were pencil and sketchbook. Tohru didn't know that Natsuno could draw. Natsuno never showed any particular interest beside brooding and studying for exams. That befitted Natsuno somehow, that no matter how much the younger boy disliked his parents, Natsuno still had the same creative and artistic urge.
Tohru also knew that Natsuno still sketched now, even more than before.
The Akiba couple—Shirou and Rin—accepted Natsuno surprisingly easily, almost without question. Natsuno had made up a spectacular story of abusing in his house, and he had a 'friend' who helped him to run away. Or rather, the couple guessed for themselves and Natsuno only added occasional bits and pieces. The couple didn't have any child, and more than happy to have Natsuno around. Natsuno, surprisingly enough, had taken a liking to the couple and agreed to stay longer. He was immediately introduced to the neighborhood as a distant relative.
The Akiba also insisted on reinstating Natsuno back to high school. Natsuno initially refused, afraid that he would be a financial burden, but he finally caved in to his benefactor's wish. Natsuno went to a nearby high school resuming his freshmen year, with a promise that he would do his best at school for the couple. Natsuno insisted that he would take part-time job to pay his small expenses. Natsuno quickly garnered reputation as 'mysterious and cool Yuuki-san' between students.
Tohru didn't dare to show himself in public. He chose to remain anonymous. Natsuno had offered to secretly share his room, but Tohru would always refuse. He didn't trust himself and his control around Natsuno's potent blood. He also never told Natsuno that he practically lived underground. He only came around at night, when the couple was asleep.
After much of Natsuno's insistence, Tohru had agreed once-a-week deal to feed from Natsuno. Outside of that, Tohru had to find his own meal. Natsuno also suggested Tohru to feed of animals' blood, and he did occasional hunt outside Fujimi town. Of course, animals' blood wasn't as potent as humans', but he had accustomed himself to it. Occasionally, he also raided the blood banks. He was sure that Natsuno knew, or at least suspected, but Natsuno never said anything. Tohru also took late-shift jobs for his own savings, to prepare if they need to leave Fujimi.
Life settled peacefully on Fujimi as Natsuno and Tohru fell into their routines; Natsuno adapting with his life in the Akiba household, school, and part-time job while Tohru with his own night jobs and occasional hunts. Every night, Tohru would visit Natsuno and the two would exchange stories. Tohru would stay until Natsuno fell asleep, then he would go back to his hiding place.
"I didn't expect things to be so easy like this," Natsuno mused aloud.
Smiling, Tohru said, "You're right. I think we ought to enjoy this."
"I still don't like your arrangement, though." Natsuno smiled sadly. "It's not fair. I live comfortably under the sun with the Akiba, while you live in the dark."
"I'm a beast pretending to be human, Natsuno…"
"I know you're not that bad, Tohru-chan. You even threw away your family to be with me."
"I chose so myself. I knew when I chose to run with you, I will only live for you, as long as you stay alive. I'm willing to do anything for you, Natsuno…"
Natsuno didn't say anything anymore. Instead, he was smiling his soft, sad, understanding smile that Tohru had come to recognize as a new habit.
Tohru brushed the strayed bangs from Natsuno's eyes.
Natsuno was so breathtaking like this, eyes closed, brows completely relaxed and face peaceful. Sometimes, when Tohru came too late at night and Natsuno was already asleep, he would just stay on Natsuno's bedside, watching Natsuno on his repose, wondering what dreams Natsuno was dreaming.
A Shiki didn't dream, after all.
On November, almost one month after they started living on Fujimi, they found out that Sotoba was burned to ground.
Natsuno called his house number for almost an hour, and stopped after getting no response.
Tohru's hiding place was soon overflowed with unsent letters.
Natsuno had found out that Tohru lived underground, and threw a fit over that.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't want you to worry. You have much on your hands already."
Natsuno's eyes were very sad, and Tohru's lifeless heart clenches at the sight. He couldn't refuse those eyes, couldn't do anything but comply those eyes.
"I don't want to kill you."
The truth was out now, and Tohru could only wait for Natsuno's—probably—disgusted reaction.
"I understand." Was Natsuno's response, before he gave Tohru that familiar wistful, understanding smile, and turned back to leave.
Natsuno never bugged Tohru to move into the Akiba household again.
Natsuno was very cold, and Tohru clutched to the younger boy even harder, savoring the warmth left on Natsuno's slender frame.
The night slowly crept away, and the dawn was near.
But still, Tohru didn't want to let Natsuno go.
Natsuno celebrated his first Christmas in Fujimi with the Akiba couple. Tohru watched on sidelines as the three people walked around the town at Eve, alight with Christmas light. Tohru caught Natsuno's searching eyes a few times, searching for him, but resolved to stay hidden.
Only seeing Natsuno surrounded by people he cared for and laughing under the light was enough for Tohru.
Later at night, Tohru came by and dropped Natsuno his Christmas gift.
"Mittens?" Natsuno asked Tohru, amused, eyeing the pair of sky blue mittens Tohru got for him.
Tohru almost pouted. "Winter is quite cold around here. I want you to stay warm."
Natsuno let out an amused chuckle. "It's rare for you to be so considerate."
"I like your hands warm," Tohru admitted in a mumble. "And the color suits your eyes…"
Natsuno's eyes were warm and soft and full of understanding again. "Thanks, Tohru."
Tohru almost blushed when he realized that Natsuno called his name without honorific for the first time.
"I got you something too."
Natsuno's voice brought Tohru back from his stupor, and he curiously looked at the box on Natsuno's proffered hand.
"Go on," Natsuno made a vague gesture with his eyes.
Tohru took the box, opening it. "Muffler…?" Tohru said, stifling a laugh. "Now I know why you look so amused."
Natsuno scratched his head. "Well, both of us are thinking along the same thing…"
Tohru grinned, pulling out the light brown muffler from its box. "This looks like handmade. Did you knit this yourself?"
"No way I could do that, it'll be unrecognizable tangle." Natsuno glared. "Rin-san made it."
"You asked her?"
Natsuno nodded. "I don't know if Shiki gets cold or something, but I guess it could be a present."
Tohru smiled, ruffling Natsuno's hair fondly. "It's great, I like it."
Natsuno swatted Tohru's hand. "Don't treat me like a child."
Tohru chuckled and released Natsuno's head. "Thanks, Natsuno."
Natsuno didn't answer, but his smile was enough.
In snowy days, Tohru would saw Natsuno wore a new, similar knitted muffler, only sky blue in color, and matched Tohru's mittens perfectly.
Cradling Natsuno like this, Tohru remembered the first time he'd bitten Natsuno, back in Sotoba all those months ago.
Tohru remembered Natsuno collapsing right beside that sacred water well after he released the bite. He remembered watching Tatsumi grinned in satisfaction, and Megumi's hateful, horrified glare. He remembered feeling the hard ground on his knees as he collapsed on himself. He remembered fingering the fresh bite mark on Natsuno's neck, the mark of his sin, the mark of a monster he had become. He remembered Tatsumi's order to take Natsuno home after driving Megumi away.
Tohru didn't need the order, actually. As if he would let anyone else to handle Natsuno.
Tohru remembered slipping his arms under the small of Natsuno's back, under Natsuno's thin legs; Natsuno was always so thin, so delicate. He remembered Natsuno's alien heartbeats hammering near his own chest, remembered feeling the rush of Natsuno's blood, feeling the connection between that blood and his own.
Tohru also remembered crying all the way to Natsuno's house.
Tohru didn't find Natsuno in house. In fact, the building was completely empty. Panicking, Tohru almost went off to search, but stopped when he saw a piece of paper on Natsuno's desk.
"'Going for Hatsumode, be back in a few hours'?"
Tohru's shoulder sagged in relief. He'd forgotten that the night was New Year Eve. Natsuno had told him last week that the Akiba couple always went for Hatsumode in the night of Oomisoka. Of course, as the latest addition in the household, Natsuno would go with them.
Sighing, Tohru flopped himself on Natsuno's bed. He would wait.
Sound of footsteps nearing, and Tohru jolted from the bed. Natsuno's voice was right outside the door, apparently speaking with Akiba Shirou. A few moments later, the door opened and Natsuno went in. Tohru launched himself to Natsuno as soon as the door closed.
"Tohru," Natsuno said, tone amused. "Do you miss me that much?"
Tohru didn't answer, only snuggled closer, burying his nose to Natsuno's hair.
"Tohru…" Natsuno protested. "I'm full of snow here…"
"Don't care," Tohru replied. "I panicked, you know… you were not here, the house's empty…"
Tohru felt Natsuno's slender arms returning the embrace. "I won't go anywhere. Not without you. I'm here, always."
Tohru released the younger boy and looked to Natsuno's eyes. Natsuno was smiling that smile again, soft and full of understanding. Tohru suddenly realized that his skin was certainly cold for Natsuno, and pulled away. Natsuno held Tohru's arm on his own, stopping Tohru from pulling away completely.
"I'm back, Tohru," Natsuno said softly. "Sorry I took so long."
Tohru nodded, returned the smile. "Welcome back, Natsuno."
Tohru's eyes were dry, his sadness and tears were already spent. He stared at Natsuno's closed eyes blankly, reliving the memories of those eyes on his mind. He really wanted those eyes to open again, to look at him with that warm, soft understanding again.
A traitorous little voice whispered demented hopes that Natsuno could rise from dead, as a Shiki.
But Tohru didn't want those beautiful amethyst orbs to become the accursed, blood red eyes of a Shiki.
April came along with the Spring and sakura petals dancing in the breeze.
Natsuno started his sophomore year that month. His scores were the highest on school, and Akiba Shirou boasted about Natsuno's feats to the neighborhood. Before long, Natsuno garnered yet another reputation and his popularity took off almost uncontrollably. The new occurrences quickly became another routine for both Natsuno and Tohru himself. Almost every night, Natsuno would report about confessions from various female students to Tohru. Natsuno would also reported about newest stalkers and yet another request as a tutor for young children.
Neither of them expected that the peaceful days would end so soon.
Tohru forced his eyes to remain open. The sun was nearly up, and with that, Shiki's instinct to go to sleep kicked in. But Tohru didn't want to leave Natsuno; not like this. He didn't want to fall asleep and found Natsuno gone later.
But Tohru fell asleep anyway.
Tohru smelled Natsuno's blood in the night air.
The small alleyway Natsuno usually passed on the way home from his part-time job was full of blood. The stench flared on Tohru's nostrils.
Ozaki Toshio, Sotoba's young doctor, was the only one standing there. Kirishiki Sunako and Muroi Seishin's corpses were on his feet, stakes sticking out from their body, right on their heart.
Tohru's eyes widened when he finally saw the fourth figure, slumped to the wall.
Toshio's head snapped to Tohru's direction. Tohru cautioned at the sight of another stake in Toshio's grasp.
"Mutou Tohru," Toshio said calmly. "So you're also in their merry band?"
"I'm different from those two!" Tohru screamed, tears streaming his cheeks. "I ran away from Sotoba with Natsuno months ago! I refuse to be a monster like them!"
Toshio didn't budge, still brandished the stake to Tohru.
"Please…" Tohru pleaded softly, brokenly. "Natsuno… let me come to him…"
Toshio downed the stake and hammer. "Go on," he said, nodding to Tohru. "But he's dead, Tohru-kun. I arrived too late."
Tohru was instantly on Natsuno's side. Gently, he cradled his friend's broken figure close. He could faintly see two fresh bite marks on each side of Natsuno's neck.
"Natsuno…?" Tohru whispered. "Open your eyes... you're not dead, right? You're playing, right?"
But Natsuno's eyes were still closed.
"You promised me…!" Tohru pulled Natsuno to a tight embrace. "You promised not to leave me…! You promised! Natsuno!"
"Tohru-kun…" Toshio put a hand on Tohru's shoulder.
Tohru gritted his teeth. "And why didn't you come earlier!?" he spat, turning to Toshio. "Why didn't you!? If you came faster, Natsuno wouldn't…!"
"I'm sorry." Toshio's voice was grave and guilty.
"I don't want to see your face again," Tohru growled. "Finish your business in this town and leave. Don't come seek us again."
"Alright," Toshio nodded.
Tohru gathered Natsuno to his arms and turned to leave, but Toshio's voice stopped him for some moment.
"Your family lives in Mizobe now, Tohru-kun, Natsuno-kun's father too." Toshio smiled slightly. "You can come to visit someday."
Tohru's eyes snapped open. He found himself face-to-face with twin amethyst orbs, warm and soft and full of understanding.
"…I'd like some blanket if I were you. It's freezing down here."
Tohru's eyes were wet again, this time with tears of joy.
"You have strong grip, by the way. I can't even move."
"Why…?" Tohru whispered hoarsely.
"Do you have to cry so often, Tohru?"
"But you're alive!" Tohru almost cried out. "You're alive, Natsuno…"
"I'm half-dead, probably. Certainly I'm no longer human."
Tohru's eyes widened. "But… you have pulse… and still warm…"
"You know there are others like myself. But for now, I should probably head home. I'm sure Shirou-san and Rin-san are worried sick."
Tohru watched as Natsuno stood up and stretched his thin limbs, flexing the kinks from long sleep. Natsuno then turned to Tohru, saying, "Well, don't you have work? It's Sunday, you know."
Knowing the day brought Tohru to a new realization. Only past one day after the attack and Natsuno was already healthy. That could only mean one thing.
"You're a Jinrou," Tohru said, horrified and amazed at the same time.
Natsuno shrugged. "So I've gathered."
Natsuno's eyes were soft and sad and full of understanding again.
"Come on, Tohru."