There was a time when Natsume probably would have turned Tanuma away—out of fear, nothing but sheer unadulterated panic.
But..seeing the look in Tanuma’s eyes, hearing those words...his chest felt warm and he suddenly had the overwhelming urge to cry.
He ducked his head as the tears began to flow, embarrassed at himself for crying in front of another person, but then Tanuma’s hand was tracing his cheek down the path of a tear--
And his hand was so, so warm….
Natsume slowly let his eyes meet Tanuma’s, the blur from the tears not able to hide the smile on Tanuma’s face before he could see it.
“Tanuma...” He found himself softly calling out, bowing his head as he wiped at his tears. “Tanuma...” He said again, hoping that he could get words out this time besides his friend’s name.
But they just wouldn’t come out.
“Hey, it’s okay to cry you know,” Tanuma slowly turned and looked out the glass door. “You’ve probably kept those in for too long. You...need to learn to let yourself feel what you need to feel, Natsume. Emotions aren’t there to hurt you...they just exist.”
A soft gasp and Natsume finds himself smiling through his tears. His chest felt like it was burning, but it felt so good—crying felt so good—just letting it all out--
His head rested on Tanuma’s shoulder.
Tanuma tensed and for a moment, Natsume was afraid that he’d messed up, but then slowly he felt the other’s shoulder begin to relax beneath him.
Tanuma was almost afraid to move for fear of disturbing the moment. Every soft breath Natsume let out against his neck sent a chill down his spine. This was the closest they’d ever been and his heart was trembling, yearning for the need to wrap himself around Natsume, bury his hands in his sandy hair, and tell him everything he was holding back.
It was painful, so very painful, to stay still until Natsume eventually pulled away and smiled at him, tears no longer flowing. “Why don’t we go out and look for that youkai? Maybe we can get it to stop harassing you.”
Tanuma—despite the feelings warring inside his chest—managed a soft smile. We. He’d said we. Not just him.
In the end, they didn’t find him. Dawn was nearly upon them and they were both exhausted.
Natsume grinned at him, looking happier than he had in days as he waved, “I’ll ask Touko-san if you can stay over tonight. That way we can lure it out.” And hopefully Nyanko-sensei would be around to help get rid of it—for good this time.
“Yeah...” Tanuma forced his lips to move. Even in the dark, his entire soul lighted up at the sight of Natsume’s smile, and he watched as Natsume ran off, hoping that he wouldn’t be too tired today after a night of no sleep.
Tanuma certainly found himself struggling. He’d dropped his bag twice when his shoulder—which was unbelievably sore—spasmed and the bag slipped off his arm.
It was embarrassing, to have to lie and say that he’d injured his shoulder when he fell against a sharp rock the night before. But it always sobered him to remember that Natsume had lied countless times to protect himself and his secret.
To protect his own fragile heart.
A glimpse of which he’d seen last night.
Heart fluttering, Tanuma made his way to the benches for lunch. He was exhausted, but--
He couldn’t get the feeling out of his head, the way Natsume had felt pressed against him like that. Natsume...he’d never initiated a touch like that before or really any touch for that matter. He’d always seemed so distant, so far away from Tanuma that the dark haired boy felt like he would never reach him.
But last night...he had breached something, broken through a wall.
In the entire time he’d been friends with Natsume, he’d never managed to do that. But last night, he had.
And his heart couldn’t help the hope that welled up inside him even as he tried to stomp it down. It wasn’t romantic, he told himself. Natsume didn’t mean it that way. So stop it.
But the flutter in his chest just wouldn’t stop and--
There was Natsume already sitting with Taki, hair looking just as warm as the sunlight beyond it, grin on his face as he laughed at something Taki said.
Gods, this one-sided love was going to kill him.
They both had noticed him, it seems. He gave a little wave and walked over, forcing a smile. His shoulder ached something fierce and he was having trouble holding his bag up even on the opposite shoulder due to the occasional muscle spasm, so he just about collapsed onto the bench and let the bag slip off his arm with a sigh.
“Touko-san said you can stay over. You asked your Dad right?” Natsume peered worriedly at him, eyes focused on his injury, and Tanuma gave a small smile even as he winced getting his lunch out of his bag.
“Yeah I asked him. He said it was okay--” His lunch was snatched out of his hands. The offender? An irate looking Taki.
“You’re injured and you think you’re going to feed yourself?”
“B-But--” Tanuma actually flushed a little, embarrassed, but in the next moment his chopsticks were in his face, a sausage in their grip. Taki stared at him with a bright smile.
Tanuma blinked, looking to Natsume for help. Unfortunately, Natsume only smiled and laughed quietly, so Tanuma gave in and allowed Taki to feed him.
“You should get someone to carry your bag for you,” Taki worried over him afterward, when they were walking back to class.
“Ah, about that--” Besides them, he didn’t really have many other friends….
“I’ll walk him to his class,” Natsume took the bag out of Taki’s hands and smiled brightly.
“But--” Tanuma tried to protest, but was quickly silenced by Taki who pushed him down the hall. He waved goodbye to her with his normal shoulder, wincing still, and held his injured one as he walked with Natsume.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
He expected something along the lines of ‘it’s my fault’, but what he got instead made him shiver down to the bottom of his shoes.
“I wanted to.”
Tanuma swallowed thickly and forced the blush off his face as they walked to Class 1. Natsume might be late by doing this, he really shouldn’t, but--
Soon he was plopping down in his seat, Natsume setting his bag on the desk. Tanuma gave a quiet thank you, but Natsume merely shook his head. “I’ll come get you when class ends. Be careful not to strain it too much okay?”
“...A-Ah...” He agreed and watched as Natsume walked away, feeling like something had definitely changed.
It had. It wasn’t his imagination. It couldn’t be.
He liked it.