title: Golden Week
fandom: Natsume Yuujinchou
characters/pairings: Natsume/Tanuma, Nyanko-sensei
rating: G/Teen
warnings: kissing
summary: Natsume and Tanuma take a trip together (future-fic)
notes: written for my trope bingo card, road trip and holiday in one (which, of course, is kinda obvious).

Rounding the corner, he took a deep breath, and saw Natsume. He was sitting on a bench with his fat cat, either playing or arguing. Tanuma had to smile. He also had to catch his breath; he'd been running late all morning, and he'd jogged all the way from the car to the station. That really wasn't so far, but it was too much for him, perhaps.

Or maybe it was something else.

He approached, and Natsume noticed him, and smiled. "I was getting worried. The train's going to be here soon, so we should..."

"Ah, I had a thought about that," Tanuma interrupted. Natsume had... changed. Well, of course he had. It had been three years since they graduated from high school. His hair was a bit shorter, his face was a bit more mature. That was aided by the presence of very light fuzz along Natsume's jawline.

Tanuma's cheeks felt warm.

"You did?" Natsume asked.

Right, right... Tanuma grinned, and nodded for Natsume to follow him. The fat kitty complained as Natsume stood up, but Natsume was following Tanuma, so. Tanuma led him to the parking lot, and the car. He grinned at Natsume, who looked... puzzled. "Here we are!"

"What is this?" Natsume asked.

"It's a car," Tanuma laughed. Natsume raised an eyebrow at him, and that just made Tanuma smile wider. "I thought we could make this a road trip."

"This is your car?" Natsume asked, pointing.

"Is it that shocking?" Tanuma grinned. He popped the trunk for Natsume's luggage, and pointed at the camping gear he had already stuffed in there. "I spend most of my breaks traveling around on folklore trips, so this is just convenient."

"Trains are convenient, too," Natsume cheerfully added, but he carefully fit his pack in Tanuma's trunk.

"Are you sure you know how to drive this thing?" the cat sneered at Tanuma, but the look on his face wasn't malicious.

Well, his face didn't really change that much... "Relax, I can get us there and back safely," Tanuma assured him.

"Hmph," the cat snuffed. And then he jumped from Natsume's shoulder to the back seat of the car. "Natsume! Snacks! Treats! It's time, it's time!"

"Don't make a mess in Tanuma's car," Natsume sighed, opening a bag of chips and putting it back there for the cat.

Tanuma shook his head. "It's really no biggie. Just make yourself comfortable, Ponta," he teased the cat.

"Stupid boy!" the cat huffed while trying to inhale the entire bag at once.

Natsume got into the passenger seat, and Tanuma got in to drive.

"Some things don't change, huh?" Tanuma joked, looking at the cat in the backseat.

"I don't know about that," Natsume grinned. And then he tugged on Tanuma's ponytail. Tanuma sputtered and turned red, but Natsume, undeterred, poked at the bridge of Tanuma's glasses. "And since when do you wear these?"

Tanuma cleared his throat, trying to recover his sensibilities. He straightened out his glasses, starting up the car. "I've been told that I look very academic with these on."

"Oh, is that it?" Natsume laughed quietly.

Tanuma glanced at Natsume and pulled out onto the road.

Natsume had changed.

"Is it really ok?" Natsume asked.

"Of course, I've been the mountain you mentioned before, anyway. There's a really good road leading right into the area."

"No," Natsume corrected him. "I meant... you're heading into your senior year, right? Are you sure you have the time for me and all? Don't you have to work on your project, that sort of thing?"

"Oh," Tanuma laughed. "Don't be silly, of course I have time. I've already gotten all my field research done, anyway."

"Hmph, told you! That weak kid would always make the time for you!" the cat added from the back.

Tanuma swallowed. He didn't want to get too nervous. "Well, naturally. Natsume is my important friend."

"Eh?" Natsume looked away. "That's embarrassing!"

"What?" Tanuma laughed nervously. "I wouldn't even be alive if it hadn't been for..." he trailed off.

"Well," Natsume replied quietly. "That's probably true for both of us."

"Like I said," Tanuma nodded. "Important friends."

The cat in the back started to make kissing sounds, and Natsume grinned, and turned on the radio.

While Natsume and the cat were in the bath, Tanuma stretched out on the tatami and pored over the map. He had been to the mountain before and he did know how to get there, but he wanted to be sure he knew the best route for hiking, since his previous trip had not involved much in the way of mountain climbing. Plus, as long as he was looking things over, he might as well check to be sure there weren't any interesting stops or detours.

They were on vacation, after all.

The cat came running out first, cackling like an old man, dripping and leaving wet paw prints on the mat. Natsume was rushing after him, complaining, "Sensei! You're making a mess!"

Tanuma smiled and used his towel to mop up after the cat. He glanced over at Natsume, fresh from the bath and wearing just a towel, and then he turned his attention back to cleaning. "You really should dry off before leaving the bath. Ponta."

"Stupid kid!" the cat sneered at him, but at least he was too disgusted to keep running away from Natsume, who now had him wrapped up in a towel. "Your long hair is still wet, too!"

"It takes a long time to dry," he shrugged. "It's not dripping."

"Is it hard to take care of?" Natsume asked, giving him a look Tanuma couldn't interpret.

Self-consciously, Tanuma messed up his hair some. "It's kind of a pain, but my hair has always been kind of a pain, so."

Natsume smiled warmly at him, but Ponta started to laugh harder than Tanuma was comfortable with. "Oh, right, you always looked shabby, right, kid?"

"Hush, sensei. That's not true," Natsume put the towel over Ponta's face and rubbed him, either to dry him off or to shut him up.

Tanume blushed, watching Natsume from behind his bangs.

Ponta and Natsume fought a bit, and finally Ponta got out from the tortures of the towel, and scurried over to Tanuma. "Hey, hey, kid. Call that old woman and have her bring more sake!"

Tanuma shook his head. "You're so rude, Ponta. Her name was Kasahara-san, and she's not a maid or anything. This is her house and she's being generous letting us stay here, so just be quiet and get some sleep."

"More sake! More sake!" Ponta complained, swatting Tanuma with his chubby paw.

"Sensei," Natsume wearily picked him up and moved him aside. "Tanuma is right. We're borrowing this room. Stop being so selfish! All you've done all day is eat and drink and sleep!"

"Hmph!" Ponta stuck his nose up, turned his back on them, and waddled regally over to Natsume's duffel to rummage for more snacks.

Natsume and Tanuma shared a grin, and Tanuma was aware that Natsume didn't seem in a hurry to put on clothes.

"This map is a mess. Can you really still read it?" Natsume teased him.

Tanuma felt tongue-tied and like they were still in high school and he was still desperate to become a part of Natsume's life. "These notes are helpful! I've been all over this area on research trips so I have to keep track and all."

"So that's what you do to become a shinto priest? Travel around and talk to people about their histories and stuff?" Natsume frowned, peering at Tanuma's notes.

"I'm not studying to be a priest," Tanuma sighed. "It's just... the same school, but my major is in folklore and mythology."

"Mythology!" Ponta sneered.

Tanuma grinned and shrugged helplessly at Natsume. "Most of the people at Kokugakuin believe in ghosts and ayakashi and the like, but you know."

"Have you met other people who can see?" Natsume asked, his face unreadable.

"I haven't met anyone like you," Tanuma said quickly, and then he blushed, realizing how that sounded belatedly. "That is... people who can... really see. There's a few like me, you know. But it's kind of... a hard thing to talk about in class. I had a teacher last year who was obsessed with that stuff. He said his grandfather would talk to spirits all the time, but the way he described him... well, his grandfather might just have been crazy, too. He was, well... passionate."

Natsume grinned. "Yeah, I think I've met the type a few times."

They were sitting comfortably side by side, Natsume in his towel and Tanuma in his sleeping pants. The window was open and the air was fresh and warm. Tanuma opened his mouth but he didn't know what to say.

"You sure you have the right mountain? It is a god we're dealing with," Ponta interjected.

Tanuma tapped the map, though Ponta was too far away to see, but Natsume could. "From what Natsume told me, yeah, this has to be it. Not only do the geographic details track, but there's a legend about a mountain god that fell in love with a river and ran out to sea from about... a hundred and fifty years ago, so that tracks, too. The shrine you described has fallen to disrepair, but there are still stones there, and apparently the markings are like you said he described. I actually wrote a paper about the shrine and story last year, so... Serendipity, I guess?"

"I guess..." Natsume echoed, his voice dipped in nostalgia and something like wonder that made Tanuma blush.

He pointed to the wooden box with paper seals wrapped around the edges that Natsume had carefully taken out of his duffel earlier. "Is... is the mountain god really ok in there?"

"Should be fine," Natsume nodded. "Those seals are really tight, because he willingly entered the vessel. Barring any catastrophe," he tapped his knuckles gently on the wooden doorframe for the closet. "We should be fine." He smiled at Tanuma, noticing Tanuma's puzzled reaction to his ritual. "Well. Any good luck is good."

Tanuma laughed. "What's true is true," he teased, and then was rewarded with a blush from Natsume.

"Are you two gonna keep flirting or are we going to go to sleep soon?" Ponta teased them, causing them to turn away from each other.

"Just a minute, Sensei. You slept all afternoon, though, so stop complaining!"

Tanuma folded up the map and tucked it neatly into his pack. He got up to stretch out and grab an extra pillow from the closet. "Here, Ponta. Sweet dreams."

"Idiot!" the cat screeched, slashing at Tanuma's ankles, but Tanuma jumped away in time.

Natsume was silently laughing at him from behind his beer. Tanuma could tell. He scooped up some noodles, and gave Natsume a sharp look. "What?" he hissed before beginning to eat.

"No, it's nothing," Natsume waved him off, but he was still clearly amused. Tanuma just kept glaring daggers at him while eating his noodles until Natsume relented. "Ok, ok, but it's really nothing, it's just so funny to me." Tanuma's look alone must have have communicated his feeling of What?! so Natsume continued. "You really have no idea that the waitress is hitting on you, do you?"

Tanuma started to choke on his noodles, and nearly had to spit them all out, which apparently was hilarious to Natsume. He glared, and wiped his mouth. "What are you talking about?"

Natsume put his head down on his hand, his elbow on the table. He looked... cute... "C'mon. You got an extra pork cutlet. You look hungry." He imitated the waitress' voice admirably, albeit unfavorably. "Your girlfriend won't like it."

Tanuma blinked. Was it possible that he'd fallen into some kind of pocket universe where things were slightly but disturbingly different from at home? "Gir- I don't have a girlfriend."

"You don't have to keep it a secret from me," Natsume said, shaking his head. There was something in his tone... maybe Tanuma was reading too much into it. "It's not that big a deal. It's... understandable," he shrugged, and his voice definitely sounded tight.

"Natsume, I'm not keeping secrets. I don't have a girlfriend. Why do you even think that I do?" Tanuma asked, feeling deeply unsettled.

"I know," Natsume said quietly, but he wasn't looking Tanuma in the eye. "When I called you last week to ask about the mountain... The first time I called, a woman answered your cell, she said you were in the bath. I told her I'd call back later," he shrugged, finally looking Tanuma in the eye.

He looked hurt... definitely... hurt. Right?

"Natsume... That was a classmate. She's a shrine maiden. She's already engaged to someone. We were working on a project together, that's all. I mean... she spent the night in my room, but..." Tanuma shook his head, and blushed. "I slept on the couch. If she knew you thought she was my girlfriend, she'd be horribly offended. She's always making fun of me for being so disheveled."

Natsume's eyes widened slightly and he looked away. "Sh-she sounded really... comfortable answering your phone and all..."

"She's like a princess at home. And she's kinda bitchy at school, just, well, smart," Tanuma shrugged.

"If you had a girlfriend, that would be fine, you know," Natsume insisted, still looking away.

"I don't have a girlfriend," Tanuma stressed.

"I mean, you could tell me if you had a girlfriend," Natsume cleared his throat.

"I don't have a girlfriend," Tanuma repeated. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

"No!" Natsume burst out, and then looked embarrassed.

At least he wasn't looking away. "Maybe you have a boyfriend?" Tanuma asked, stabbing at his pork cutlet, too embarrassed. "You know, working with that Matoba now..."

"You think... I'm... Why, of all the people, Matoba!" Natsume sputtered.

"I don't know," Tanuma laughed, sneaking a look at Natsume. "You... you never would have... been working for that guy if..."

"I'm not really working with Matoba," Natsume shook his head, looking sheepish. "Definitely not for him. It's more like..." he waved his hand around uncertainly, trying to come up with the right word.

"In the general vicinity of?" Tanuma suggested, smiling.

Natsume laughed, and then sighed. "I guess...? It's strange, but so far, things are working out just fine."

"Even though... you never really wanted to be..." Tanuma trailed off. It wasn't like Natsume confided in him, things like what he wanted to do and all. It was just. Becoming an exorcist...

"Mm, but it's not bad," Natsume smiled. "I even get to spend a lot of time with Touka-san and Shigure-san, still. I might even be suited to it, or something." He was still smiling, but Tanuma didn't really know if he looked happy.

He was definitely overthinking it. "Well. That's. I mean. It's good. And you know, if you got a girlfriend..."

"Or a boyfriend," Natsume added quietly.

"Ye- ah. That." Tanuma blushed, and shoved some pork into his mouth. Stupid, stupid, stupid...

"That waitress was definitely flirting with you. If you wanted to split up for the evening..." Natsume teased.

"I didn't even notice the waitress," Tanuma cut in, looking Natsume in the eye.

And then Tanuma turned bright red.

He and Natsume got busy eating and drinking in silence for a bit, the awkwardness not at all broken when the waitress came back to offer Tanuma a free refill on his drink. They finished up eating and went back to the car. They had to find a place to stay before heading up the mountain in the morning. In the car, the cat yelled at them for forgetting his manju.

He stepped back and admired his handiwork for a moment. Setting up a tent was no longer a big deal to him. His tent was roomy when he was camping alone, and snug with two people, but serviceable. This time, it would be two people, and a fat cat. It would probably be a bit cramped. He thought about sleeping in a cramped tent with Natsume and then he turned away from the tent, flushed.

Fire! He needed to start a fire!

He had just gotten it going when Natsume returned with the cat and two pails of water, huffing and puffing. He put the pails down a bit roughly, letting water slosh out the sides. "Wait. I went and got us water... and you... set up the tent and got out the supplies we needed and set up a fire?" Natsume questioned, dismayed.

"Heh, looks like you're still the wimpiest!" the cat crowed.

"I'm just used to this," Tanuma laughed. "C'mon, I'm going to make some tea. It'll feel good, after all your work."

"You're making fun of me," Natsume accused gently, but he sat down.

Next to Tanuma.

"Wouldn't dream of it," Tanuma assured him. He repressed the urge to squirm. He tipped the pail near him to pour some water into the kettle, and then he hung the kettle over the fire. "Water is heavy! I know that!"

"You are making fun of me," Natsume sighed. "It's all right. I suppose I'd make fun of you, if our positions were reversed."

"Well, it's not like you had any help," Tanuma said, giving the cat a sidelong look.

"Hmph! These woods could be dangerous, you know! This mountain lost its god a long time ago. Who knows what's lurking out there?" the cat taunted.

Tanuma just smiled cheerfully. "Well, there are foxes and probably tanuki. Might be bears, but the locals said that they haven't seen any bears this year yet, so. Anything else, I suppose we'll have to trust you to take care of us. Sensei." Natsume smiled at Tanuma, holding back his mirth.

"Huh! Maybe I'll look after that brat, but I never agreed to look after you! You're on your own, blind monk!" Ponta declared, snuggling up to Natsume's legs next to the fire.

"He's not blind, Sensei," Natsume pulled on his cat's cheek. "Don't be rude, or we won't feed you."

"Abuse! You can't starve me! I'll leave you behind for real!" the cat complained.

Tanuma and Natsume shared a look, and smiled.

They walked for about two hours after breakfast, heading up as far as they could on the mountain. Natsume kept the box with the god tucked under his arm, so he walked slowly to keep from having any mishaps. Tanuma walked just behind him, just in case. It was a beautiful, clear, crisp morning leading into a sunny afternoon. They stopped to have lunch when they found the stone steps leading up to the former shrine of the mountain god. As they ate, Natsume kept looking up, but Tanuma wasn't sure if he was seeing something or if he was just thinking about what he needed to do.

They cleaned up after eating and Tanuma slung his pack back over his shoulder. They walked up the steps, but the shrine was mostly gone. There was still a statue in a clearing, so out of habit, they stopped to offer a prayer.

And then Natsume turned to him and smiled. "Tanuma... would you mind if I asked you to wait here? While I... while I go ahead to let the god out?"

Tanuma opened his mouth, but he kept his initial reaction to himself. "Is there... something ahead?" he asked quietly.

"No," Natsume laughed. "Not that I can see. I just... I made a pact with this mountain god. I don't know how he'd react to another human around, especially since... you probably won't be able to..."

"See him, I know," Tanuma nodded, and he winked at Natsume. He looked ahead and took a deep breath.

Nothing for it.

"All right. I'll be right here, then. Be careful."

Natsume blinked, and then he smiled.

Beautifully.

"Hey, Ponta. Take care of Natsume," Tanuma told the cat.

"Idiot," the cat stuck his nose in the air, and waddled ahead. "No wonder he wants to leave you behind!"

That stung a bit, but Natsume's reassuring and grateful smile dulled the pain.

Tanuma sat down on the top stone step, and leaned back on his elbows. He listened carefully, but it wasn't long before he couldn't hear the cat's voice or the sounds of Natsume moving, so he closed his eyes, and offered up another prayer, though he didn't know to whom or what he prayed.

He took out a book from his pack, and read until he bored of reading, and then he wandered the area of the old shrine a bit, cataloging plants and insects, marking off the foundations of the shrine, and making a sketch of the markings on the statue. He sat back down and ate an energy bar, and read a bit more.

Natsume came back.

"How did it go?" Tanuma asked, though Natsume was still alive and able to walk, so that was all he really needed to know.

"It was fine," Natsume shrugged. "The mountain god told sensei he had a stash of sake, so we probably won't see him until morning. Let's head back to camp."

"All right," Tanuma agreed good-naturedly.

It took longer to get back than it did to get up, so it was just becoming dark when they arrived. Tanuma quickly made a fire. Natsume was exhausted, clearly, but he sat near the fire and patiently waited for Tanuma to make dinner. As they ate, he told Tanuma more about the mountain god, about how three different Matoba exorcists, including Matoba himself, had failed to expel him from the well he had been inhabiting, or compel him to follow them. About how he had gotten the god to talk to him, and how he had made this deal to return him to his mountain, about how the god described the river spirit he'd followed and how she had been fickle with him.

When dinner was over, Natsume put his head on Tanuma's shoulder.

Tanuma froze, but after a few moments, he forced himself to breathe enough to relax. "If you're sleepy, we can turn in. You worked hard today."

Natsume chuckled soundlessly. "No... it wasn't really work... well, the hiking was," he sighed. "I am tired, but. It's a beautiful night. The sky is so clear."

Tanuma looked up and saw a million stars for the first time that night.

"You really don't have a girlfriend?" Natsume asked softly.

"I really don't," Tanuma smiled, his cheeks feeling warm.

"Are you a virgin?"

"Wha... the hell?" Tanuma sputtered.

Natsume snickered, and the way the firelight was playing across his face made him look much younger, younger than even when they'd first met. "Sorry. That was... abrupt."

"You wonder about that stuff?" Tanuma asked dubiously.

Natsume looked up, looked right into Tanuma's eyes. "I do."

Tanuma felt heat spill all over him. "I... I... yeah, I mean..." he sighed.

"Do you wonder?" Natsume asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"About sex?" Tanuma asked.

"I mean... about... me..." Natsume coughed slightly, turning his face away.

"Ah, you mean..." Tanuma started. "That's... well... there was that... incident our third year. That ayakashi who was... attached to you." And Natsume to it.

"Yeah..." Natsume sighed, his voice far away. "If you hadn't contacted Natori-san, I'd probably be dead now."

"I don't know if it was... that serious..." Tanuma hedged, embarrassed.

"The more I think about it, the more I reflect... the more I realize that ayakashi wasn't... a friend at all. That it wasn't a relationship, really. He, or it... was feeding off of me. I guess I got caught in its thrall. If you want to be dramatic about it," Natsume shrugged.

"So you did do... stuff with it," Tanuma nodded, because really, he already knew that. That was why he had to contact Natori-san, even though he'd been super nervous at the time, thinking Natsume would be furious with him for having his 'friend' exorcised.

"I don't really know. It wasn't human," Natsume smiled at him, looking a bit mischievous. "I think... what we did... it wasn't. You know. It's not really comparable."

"I'll never understand why that stupid cat didn't intervene. Isn't he supposed to be your protector? But he just left you to go hang out with Taki," Tanuma grumbled, still managing to find himself pissed off at Ponta.

"He said something about wanting to see how much like my grandmother I was," Natsume shrugged. "Still and all, there's one thing about the whole incident that makes me happy. That ayakashi kept referring to you as that cursed child. That was the first clue I had that you were under the influence of a curse." Natsume's voice was serious, like if he thought about it, it would still frighten him.

"That's a mixed blessing, though. The ayakashi that cursed my mother while she was pregnant with me..." he swallowed hard. It had been painful to learn that his mother had died young due to a curse. "That was under Matoba's control. To get the curse lifted, you had to make a deal with that Matoba. If it hadn't been for that..." he started, but Natsume cut him off.

"You would be dead," he finished for Tanuma flatly. "I'm really glad you're not dead."

"Oh, thanks. I'm glad you're not dead," Tanuma replied, smiling.

And Natsume smiled in return, and Tanuma's heart skipped a beat.

"Are you really going to become a Shinto priest?" Natsume asked seriously.

"I'm not," Tanuma shook his head. "Like I said before... that's not... my major, my interest. I've just been... learning about... folklore, and stuff like that."

"Learning about ayakashi," Natsume bluntly stated.

"Well. Yes," Tanuma conceded.

"And what do you intended to do with that?" Natsume asked sharply.

"Whatever you'll let me," Tanuma admitted, though he had always been sure that Natsume understood. That was why he chose to study at Kokugakuin. Short of becoming a monk, which would have taken too long, anyway, he...

He needed to be useful to Natsume.

"Is that really what you want?" Natsume probed.

"What is that you want?" Tanuma asked him gently, hoping he'd answer.

Natsume sat up straighter, looked right into Tanuma's eyes, touched his jawline, and then they were kissing, for just the third time in their lives, and this time, they took it slowly, letting the kisses deepen. Natsume pulled back and licked his lips.

Tanuma gulped, his heart pounding.

"I'd... maybe like to go to bed now," he said, and maybe it was the firelight, but his cheeks reddened.

They intended to get a bit further along on their trip, but when they stopped for gas and a snack, the girl at the convenience store told them about the festival in town that was holding, so they decided to stay. They found a cheap inn with a room still available, rested for a bit, and then went out to the festival in time to eat there for dinner. Natsume bought a charm bracelet for Touko-san, a bell for Shigure-san, and a few other trinkets for friends of his, including a fox doll Tanuma was pretty sure was for an actual fox.

They bought all the snacks Sensei begged for and played some games, mostly losing but they did win a stuffed animal, which Tanuma gave to a little girl, after getting tacit approval from her mother. They followed the crowd to watch the fireworks, ending up on a riverbank. They sat side by side, staring up at the sky, their fingers just barely touching. Tanuma thought back to the first time they watched fireworks together, and when he looked at Natsume's face to be sure he was enjoying it, he caught Natsume looking at him. They both went back to watching the sky, their cheeks burning, their fingers grasping for a firmer grip.

Tanuma had his map spread out on the hood of the car, checking the route. Natsume came up behind him and looked at the map, rubbing his chin on Tanuma's shoulder. "Hey. Why don't we just head straight into Tokyo?"

Tanuma looked at Natsume in surprise. Natsume looked away, smiling a little bit, but trying to hide it.

"Well. I thought it might be nice. You know. If I could. If I could see your school... where you live. That sort of thing." Natsume stared at his shoes so Tanuma stared at them, too.

They were nice enough sneakers.

"Yeah, ok. Works for me if it's ok with you."

"I don't really have a schedule. It won't be an imposition?"

Tanuma laughed as he folded up the map. "No. No, not at all. Actually..."

But he couldn't just come out and say that it made him very happy.




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