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Always There

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"A cell phone?" Natsume's brows knit together and he stares at Natori like the movie star's just spoken in a language Natsume doesn't know. They're walking down the street -- Natori had said there was something urgent to tell him, but after a couple of blocks of meandering past shops and swerving to avoid gawking fans, Natsume is past ready for Natori to get to the point.

Natori gives one of his tinkling, airy laughs. He takes out his phone, as if Natsume's never seen one -- though it's true that he's never seen one this fancy before. And why does Natori have a picture of himself on the screen?

"If you had a cell phone I could call you whenever I'm thinking about you," Natori says. He winks. "So I'd be calling you a lot. But," he adds, considering, hand posed carefully on his chin, "if it's during school, I'd just send you messages instead."

"I don't think I need one." Natsume can imagine what would happen if he got frequent calls from Natori. What would Touko and Shigeru say? And what would he have to say to Natori on the phone anyway?

"And see," Natori says as if Natsume hasn't spoken, "you can put a photo of me as the wallpaper. In fact..." He pushes a couple of buttons and it's only when the phone makes a noise like a camera that Natsume realizes Natori's just taken a photo of him.

"Wait," Natsume protests. "Why did you do that?"

Natori chortles, then taps a few more buttons and shoves the phone forward. Natsume recoils and covers his face, then realizes that Natori is trying to show him something. On the screen is Natsume, in miniature, face contorted like his stomach hurts.

"Please don't put that on your phone."

"Oh, I think you look adorable. So flustered, Natsume!" Natori does something else to the phone and Natsume's photo disappears. "But I'll delete it." With a flourish, he shows Natsume the screen. "Now let me take another one." He raises the phone again, and Natsume blocks his face with his hands.

"Please don't!"

"All right, Natsume. Even though you're so cruel."

Natsume, peeking through his fingers, drops his hands as Natori puts the phone away.

"But Natsume," Natori adds, "I wasn't kidding when I said you should get a phone."

Natsume frowns. "I don't think I'm missing out if you can't call me every hour!"

"I'm hurt, Natsume! Are you saying you wouldn't like to hear from me?" Here a clutching of the chest by Natori. "Actually, there's another reason." Natori's changed, now, an instant transforming him from frivolous idol to dead-serious exorcist. "You're in danger, Natsume."

"Danger?" Natsume echoes.

"From youkai," Natori hisses, leaning in. Natsume flinches a little from Natori's breath in his ear. "They know how powerful you are, right?" He draws back a little, just enough to stare in Natsume's face and add, "I'm going to buy you a phone, Natsume. Because someday you're going to need help and there may not be anyone around who can get to you in time."

"What do you mean?"

Natori snorts and pushes himself away from the wall where he's all but pinned Natsume. "I'm going to buy you a phone," he repeats, "so that when you're in trouble you can call me. And even if I'm not around, I can send Hiiragi to help you."

"Oh, no, that won't be necessary."

"It is necessary," Natori says, and this time he does shove Natsume against the wall. He smiles, not the seductive sparkle of the upcoming idol, but the toothy grin of the exorcist who knows he's got his prey where he wants him. "You may care little for your own safety, but you're doing a disservice to the people you say you care about in the process."

"The people I say I care about?" Natsume blinks. He doesn't say he cares about people if he doesn't. He scowls.

Natori leans in and says, "Think of it as you doing me a favor. Does that make it easier to accept?"

Natsume thinks about it. "Maybe. But Touko is going to think it's very strange that I have a phone that I didn't buy myself."

"Can't you tell her you bought it?"

Natsume stares at Natori. "She knows I don't have any money."

"Can't you just keep it hidden from her?"

"No! I have so many things I'm keeping secret from them already." Tears prick Natsume's eyes. "If you think it's that important, maybe I'll try and figure out a way to ask her about one."

"Wonderful," Natori says, all charm again. "I'll pick you up tomorrow and we can go choose a phone."

Natsume sighs and waves goodbye as Natori walks away. He slumps against the wall of the department store -- somehow the TVs in the front are showing a commercial with Natori in it again -- and wonders what he's just gotten himself talked into.