The thing is, Satoru kind of absolutely loves Natsume. It’s not even really a secret.
Kitamoto will always know him better than anyone, and Taki and Tanuma are the best school buddies a guy could ask for, but Natsume is somethingspecial.
“Heeey!” he calls across the room the second a dusty blond head appears in the doorway. “You finally showed up!”
A few of their classmates shoot him long-suffering looks, and an exasperated Tsuji says, “You see him every day, Nishimura. Tone it down a little.”
But Natsume smiles, his face going soft the way it does for Touko and Taki and his ugly cat, and says, “Good morning” so fondly that everyone else just sort of sighs and leaves them to it. His voice turns teasing when he adds, “You’re gonna get us thrown out one of these days, you know.”
“Their loss,” Satoru announces. “We’ll just take the party with us!”
It makes Natsume laugh, a sunny sound, and Satoru grins at him. Just like that, he thinks, it’s going to be a good day.
The bag in his lap is bursting with promo posters and demo CDs, the kind of painfully exclusive merchandise that would make him the envy of every person on every Natori Shuuichi fansite. Of course they’d never believe that Natori handed him the bag himself, in person, with a warm smile.
And of course, Satoru knows the only reason he got the VIP treatment was thanks to Natsume’s gentle presence at his side.
He’s eager to go through the contents of the goodie bag—he hasn’t had a chance to look yet, afraid to drop it in the hustle and bustle of the crowd at the station—but even now, in the middle of the long train ride home, with the rest of the car all but empty, Satoru can’t bring himself to open it.
He can’t bring himself to move at all. Or even breathe too hard.
Because Natsume is asleep, with his head on Satoru’s shoulder. His hair is soft under Satoru’s cheek, and his breath is warm. Satoru’s arm was stretched out along the back of the bench when he dozed off, and now—very gingerly—he brings it closer, curling around Natsume’s shoulders.
Just in case the tracks get bumpy. Just to make sure he won’t slip down the seat or bump his head.
Natsume’s cat is on the bench on his other side, staring sidelong at Satoru with judgmental green eyes.
“I didn’t do anything!” he hisses at it, hardly more than a whisper. After a long moment of mutual glaring, it heaves a put-upon sigh and settles in for a nap. Well—whatever. Satoru didn’t need its approval, anyway.
They get a few odd looks as people get on and off at every station, but Natsume sleeps right through most of the trip, and Satoru can only find it in his heart to wake him when theirs is the next stop.
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty,” he says lightly, poking Natsume’s forehead. “Or do you wanna ride the line all the way back to Higasaki?”
“Higasaki, please,” he murmurs without budging an inch. Satoru grins at the top of his head.
“Dude, how long have you been awake? My arm is like, numb.” It isn’t really, but it’s worth lying about when Natsume finally wakes up all the way and blushes red to the roots of his hair. He jerks away with a babbled, “oh my god I’m so sorry” and Satoru laughs and laughs and laughs.
“You should have woken me up the second I fell asleep on you!” Natsume is still griping ten minutes later, on the dark walk home. His face is still flushed faintly pink, and his shoulders are bunched up by his ears, and Satoru is hopelessly enamored by all his weird social failings and prickly temper. He can’t help smiling, totally without cruelty, as Natsume stops short at the point where their paths divide and says goodbye in clipped tones.
“See you, Natsume,” Satoru replies warmly. “If you’re still mad tomorrow, I won’t even steal out of your lunch box, okay?”
Satoru can see it, the moment he relents. Can never hold a grudge for longer than a heartbeat, that Natsume. He gives for Satoru, the way he always does, and finally smiles back.
No matter what anyone says, there’s no way Satoru is monopolizing Natsume’s free time. Not with all those secret shenanigans he gets up to with Taki and Tanuma. Not with all the times they pack up and go fishing with Kitamoto.
No way. It’s rare for Satoru to have Natsume all to himself. And that’s exactly why his stomach has started doing this unpleasant twisty thing when it’s just the two of them in a corner booth of a restaurant, just the two of them in a row of squeaky theater seats—when Natsume smiles over the top of his drink and offers him his last bite of dessert, when Natsume’s hand brushes his on the shared armrest between them as the lights in the theater go down.
There’s no other reason for it, right?
“Thanks for inviting me out tonight,” Natsume says. “I needed that.”
He’s still pale, but not as pale as he was this morning. The circles under his eyes seem less pronounced, too, where they stand together under the yellow glow of a buzzing streetlight. He looks better.
“We’ll do it again,” Satoru blurts without thinking. “Soon. This weekend. We’ll do it again, you and me.”
Natsume softens, starting in his eyes and ending in the curve of his smile.
“Goodnight, Nishimura,” he says fondly. It isn’t a no.
“Touko-san said it was alright if I stay the night,” Natsume says quietly, handing Satoru’s cellphone back. “She doesn’t want me coming home in all this rain. But—are you sure it’s alright with your mom? She seemed—”
“Nah, she’s always like that, it’s okay,” Satoru says, waving a hand. “Besides, she likes you.”
“She does?” Natsume looks unfairly surprised by that. “Um. That’s good. Why, though?”
“I guess she hasn’t forgotten about that time I got hurt and you carried me out of the woods on your back, all the way to the hospital,” Satoru says dryly. “I haven’t forgotten either, by the way. It’s a pretty memorable thing that happened.”
Natsume flushes, and looks down at his hands. “That wasn’t anything special. And it was so long ago.”
“Oh, shut up and go take a bath,” Satoru says without cruelty, throwing a pair of pajamas at him. Natsume catches them with a sideways grin and does as he’s told, closing the door behind him silently.
Satoru finishes cleaning his room and dragging out a spare futon from the linen closet in the hall and setting it up for his impromptu guest in the time it takes Natsume to finish up in the bathroom.
“Oh, I would have helped with this if you would have waited,” comes the reproving voice at the door, and Satoru rolls his eyes, glancing up with his mouth open around a retort.
He snaps it closed, so fast it hurts his teeth.
Natsume, warm and clean from his bath, in Satoru’s rumpled pajamas, damp hair curling slightly with clinging moisture. He tilts his head a little, a big question mark all but visible in his eyes.
“Nishimura? You okay?”
“Fine,” he says lamely. “Yes. Good. Time for bed.”
He normally counts himself lucky that Natsume seems to find his shortcomings charming—but in this case, he kind of wishes he could sink through the floor and disappear. Because his stupid stammering makes Natsume laugh, muffling the sound in the towel draped around his shoulders, and it’s altogether much too much for Satoru to process all at once.
“Time for bed,” he says again, with more determination. He can feel his face burning and a little bit wants to die when Natsume smiles indulgently at him, soft and sweet in his borrowed clothes, in Satoru’s bedroom.
He reaches up and yanks on the cord of the overhead light, and the amused shape of Natsume’s mouth is the last thing he sees before the room goes dark.
“See you in the morning,” his friend says wryly, and Satoru mumbles something back through his hands.
Natsume wakes up slowly, as though his dream relinquishes its hold on him reluctantly, a finger at a time. His long eyelashes stir and open around warm amber eyes, hazy and distant with sleep. He lays that way for a handful of long, unhurried moments, reorienting himself to the world.
The early sunlight from the window above Satoru’s bed is bracketed by the blinds, and falls in broken bars across the floor. Natsume’s eyes burn an impossible gold in that light.
He hardly looks human. He hardly looks like he should be in Satoru’s bedroom, in Satoru’s loose-fitting T-shirt, rubbing an elegant hand through a fluffy cloud of bedhead.
“Hi,” he murmurs, when he notices Satoru is awake already.
Weak to his bones and helplessly charmed, Satoru musters what might pass for a smile and whispers back, “Hi.”