Major characters: Tanuma, Taki, Nishimura, Kitamoto, Natori, Natsume, the Fujiwaras, Matoba.

Minor characters: If they recur in the series (or are one-offs who I really liked), they'll probably end up in here at some point.

Pairings: None yet. Knowing me, it'll probably stay that way. If it doesn't, I'll update this note.

Warnings: Lots of death. Most of it offscreen, none of it graphic.

Timeline: (Very, very) AU after volume 17. Since the manga plays very fast and loose with seasonal continuity anyway, I'm saying that everything up through volume 17 happened in the space of a year (somehow). This story starts in May of the following school year, Natsume et al's second year of high school. (Note that this assumes the Japanese calendar, so May is fairly near the beginning of the school year.)

Since it's hard to judge based on technology level when the manga takes place, I've also taken the liberty of setting this story in the early-to-mid 2000s, since that's when it was first released.

OCs: If you don't recognize someone, chances are good that I made them up. One notable exception: Furuya Kouta, Class 1's representative, I stole from "The Ayakashi's Dream" (妖の夢路), one of the short stories in the Natsume light novel.

General notes: I don't even know where this came from. But hopefully you will all enjoy reading it at least as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

# # # Chapter 1 # # #

Tanuma Kaname winced as he exited the art museum. The mild headache he had been struggling to ignore for the last hour spiked as he squinted into the early afternoon sun. I wonder if there are any youkai around here. It feels a bit like one of those headaches. He sighed and rubbed at his temples. They'd been getting a lot better lately, his headaches, barring the sort of overexposure he'd experienced at Omibashira's mansion. He'd started to hope that maybe he really was building up a tolerance to the sort of low level youkai activity that seemed so common at home.

I wish Natsume was here to ask. He bit back another sigh. This trip would have been more fun in general, with Natsume. Unfortunately, his friend was somewhere else in the city with his own class, visiting a completely different museum.

"You all right?" Kaname blinked and looked up. Kitamoto lingered halfway down the stairs, looking up at him, as the rest of their class gathered around their homeroom teacher at the base.

Kaname smiled, dropping his hands. "Yes, I'm fine. The sun was just a bit … unexpected."

Kitamoto didn't look like he entirely believed him, but he just nodded and fell silently into step as Kaname caught up.

The instructor shot them a look as they finally rejoined the class – he had always been a bit on the strict side – and cleared his throat. "Don't forget that your worksheets are due by tonight. I'll be collecting them after dinner. Does everyone have their materials for the next museum?"

Kaname quickly double-checked his bag, and was relieved to see everything where it should be. He had thought he remembered packing everything that morning, but his headache was making it increasingly hard to think.

"You're sure you're okay?" Kitamoto asked, and Kaname guiltily tucked the hand that had snuck back up to rub at his forehead again into his pocket.

"Fine." He said shortly, and immediately regretted it. He stopped, closed his eyes, then tried for a properly apologetic smile. "Sorry. Just a bit of a headache. I get them sometimes."

"Well, say something if it gets worse." Kitamoto said. "If you're going to faint in front of me again, I'd like a little forewarning."

"I'll be sure to aim for your arms." He said dryly, reflexively stepping out of range of Kitamoto's playful retaliatory punch. "It's not anywhere near that bad, though. Just irritating."

"If you're sure." Kaname threw him a look that bordered on a glare, and Kitamoto backed off, grinning. "Just a question!"

Their instructor finished speaking – somehow having missed their exchange – and they started walking again. Kaname hoped he hadn't said anything else important.

I really wish Natsume was here. Although the initial stab of pain from the sun had subsided back into the previous dull background pounding from before, either said pounding was getting steadily worse or it was getting harder to ignore. If there is something around here, it must be really big. Even Omibashira's mansion didn't affect me this badly at first. And while he doubted he'd be any help against something that large, he'd at least like to know that someone who might was around.

Though I wouldn't want to wish that sort of confrontation on Natsume. He turned his eyes away from the class; their bobbing heads were beginning to make him feel a bit sick to his stomach. Maybe I'm glad that he's not here, after all.

Kitamoto nudged him, and the suddenness of the motion almost threw him off-balance. "Hey. Think a drink would help?" His friend asked, and Kaname followed his gaze to a vending machine on the other side of the street.

"Maybe." Kaname pursed his lips. If it really was youkai-induced, the chances of drinking something having any impact at all were slight. But … "It couldn't hurt." He raised a hand. "Sensei?"

Their teacher stopped and turned around, and the class as a whole ground to a halt, turning to look at him as well. "Yes, Tanuma-kun?"

With all those eyes on him, he was having a hard time remembering what he had wanted to say, or why he had thought saying it was a good idea. Thankfully – though he hated admitting it – Kitamoto spoke up. "Could we go get something to drink?" He gestured at the vending machine. "Tanuma's feeling a bit sick."

Their instructor looked irritated at the interruption, but waved them off. "Go on."

"Thank you." Kaname said quietly. They backtracked a short distance to the nearest cross-walk. Happily, it wasn't long before the light turned. "Sorry about that." He said to Kitamoto – quietly, as he noticed that a couple of their classmates had followed the two of them, apparently deciding that getting something to drink sounded like a good idea.

"Don't worry about it." The other boy said dismissively. He flashed a smile. "I'm getting thirsty, too. Lunch was quite a while ago."

Kaname eyed his friend, but decided against saying anything else. For all that Kitamoto often faded into the background when Nishimura was around, he could be surprisingly stubborn.

He did, however, make a point of buying two cans – mixed fruit juice for himself and a can coffee of a brand that he'd seen Kitamoto drinking once or twice. He tossed the second to Kitamoto, then cleared out of the way for the next person in line, a girl with shoulder-length black hair held back by a red headband, who sat halfway across the room from him and whose name he couldn't quite remember. Yama … something?

Kitamoto caught the can coffee, looked between it and Kaname, rolled his eyes, opened it, and started to drink. Kaname smiled and followed suit. The mixed sweet and tanginess struck his tongue with nearly the same force as those first rays of sun before, though far more pleasantly. Surprisingly, his headache actually did seem to be letting up slightly. Maybe just because the taste is a pleasant distrac –


He crumpled to the ground, holding his head. Dimly, as though through a long tunnel, he heard the clatter of the half-empty can as it bounced across the ground, and the sound of a concerned male voice – Kitamoto's? It would have to be, but even voice recognition was beyond him, when it felt like something was driving nails through his skull.

All he could do was curl, pressing his forehead against his knees in the hopes that the pressure and the dark would reduce the pain.

It didn't.

Then, as suddenly as it had descended, the pain disappeared. Completely. Even the headache that had been following him around most of the day was gone. He felt almost dizzy at its lack, and attempting to stand did make him dizzy.

A warm hand caught him under the arm as he staggered, and he looked over to see Kitamoto standing there, looking paler than he'd ever seen his friend. The hand holding his arm gripped with a force that bordered on painful. "Kitamoto?"

He didn't reply. Just kept staring across the street with the sort of fixed stare that made unease blossom in Kaname's stomach. He wished that he had a reasonable excuse to not look at whatever had Kitamoto's attention.

At first, what he was seeing didn't make a whole lot of sense. Their class representative stood towards the front of where their class had been standing, looking around slowly. A blond boy and a girl with long black hair stood several feet away from him; two girls – one with shoulder-length dark brown hair and glasses, the other with a pair of medium-brown braids that framed her face – clung to each other a bit further back; another girl with short dirty-blonde hair who wore a bright blue scarf stood near where he and Kitamoto had been; and a boy with black hair tied back in a stub of a ponytail had stopped about halfway across the street. Of the rest of the students in the class, and of their teacher, there was no sign. Did he take the rest on? It looked like he was going to wait, but … Or did everyone else decide to come get something to drink, too, and pass us without me noticing?

He turned to look back toward the vending machine, but saw no one. He and Kitamoto were the only people on this side of the street as far as he could see in either direction.

"Where is everyone?" He asked.

Kitamoto's attention snapped to him, looking more than a little bit wild-eyed. "They just – disappeared."

Kaname blinked.

Across the street, the girl in braids started screaming.

"By disappeared, you mean –"

The sound of a rapidly approaching car distracted him. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the boy in the middle of the crosswalk scrambling backwards, but most of his attention had been captured by the vehicle, a four-door Yokota with a car seat strapped in the back seat.

An empty car. No one sat in the front or passenger seat, or even in the car seat, which a dazed part of his mind noted was buckled together as though a child had been in that seat until just moments before. It was almost as though they had just …


Then his self-preservation instinct caught up with the part where the car was coming straight at him, and clearly – with no one at the wheel – unlikely to stop any time soon. He shoved Kitamoto as hard as he could, the world snapping crystal clear. "Move!"

Kitamoto stumbled, and Kaname followed after, continuing to shove him until he started moving on his own. They finally stumbled to a stop just as the car sped past, close enough that Kaname could feel the breeze of its passage ruffling his hair. He winced as it reached its ultimate destination, smashing into the vending machine with enough force to almost drive it through the side of the building.

"Good thing we didn't want another can of soda." Kaname said, not even sure where the sudden flippancy had come from.

At his side, Kitamoto snorted suddenly. Started chuckling, then laughing outright.

I didn't think it was that funny. He eyed his friend with concern. "Are you all right?"

Kitamoto kept laughing, forcing the words out in between. "Sensei and most of our class just disappeared, we just almost got run over by an empty car, I don't even know –"

"… Do you think they disappeared, too?" Kaname asked. It seemed like the most reasonable conclusion to draw. … Which says a lot about the last couple of minutes.

Kitamoto sobered. "Yes." He said quietly. "I'm not sure what's going on. But whatever it is, I think it's affected a lot more than just us." He looked around, meaningfully, at the street that was far more empty than a street at this time of afternoon had any right to be. Another loud crash sounded off to the right, maybe a couple of blocks away, and Kaname winced. Another empty car? Hopefully empty, not just missing the driver. Aside from that, the only sounds were the girl in his class, still screaming, and her friend, babbling in a voice that was only a few shades away from hysteria herself.

"You mean … it might have affected the entire city?" Kaname asked. Could any youkai have that much of an effect? Instantaneously?

"… I hope it's just the city." Kitamoto said, eyes still wild. "What if it's more than that? What if it's all of Japan? What if it's the entire world?"

"That's not –" Kaname started, then paused. What if it's not a youkai? I can't think of any youkai I've ever heard of who could affect the entire world. But if it's not, then … Subdued, he continued, "I hope it's not that bad."

Kitamoto looked at him sharply. "Do you know something?"

Kaname looked away. "No." Just guesses. Certainly nothing he wanted to share with anyone other than Natsume or Taki. I don't want him to think I'm crazy.

Though with the world apparently also going crazy …

Kitamoto sighed and ran his hand through his hair, spiking it more than usual. "Fine." He said, a bit more of an edge to his voice than usual. He sighed again, and repeated in a more normal tone. "Fine. Let's – let's just get back to the others."

Kaname nodded, feeling guiltier than he expected about his silence. He followed his friend across the street, head flashing back and forth as he watched for more cars. Or. He wasn't entirely sure what the 'or' could be, and only hoped that he would recognize it if he saw it. The world around him still maintained that odd feeling of clarity, so clear he felt almost as though he was looking at it through a sheet of glass. And he couldn't remember the last time his head had felt so clear.

It felt like he was noticing everything at once; things he almost never noticed normally. The purple-ish blue of a small sprig of flowers that had pushed its way stubbornly up through the cracks in the concrete. The way the flag for a nearby ramen shop, such bright white on red that it almost had to be new, flapped in the slight breeze. The crisp quality to everyone's shadows in the afternoon sun. The branches of a nearby tree, bowing low enough to brush the heads of unwary passersby, covered in vibrantly green leaves.

He almost made it back to the remnants of their class before the illusion broke and he had to face the fact that the reason everything else seemed so clear was because it was easier to pay attention to those things than the handful of other crashes in both directions down the street. Or the way the sidewalks were completely bare of people, their small handful of classmates aside. Or the shrill, rhythmic honking near the edge of hearing that he suspected was a sign of yet another crash. Or the open windows and shop-fronts that were so clearly meant to have people standing in front of or behind them that he almost thought he could see them there still. Or the muffled sobbing in the wake of the other girl's screams.

Or the sudden feeling of emptiness, where before he hadn't paid enough attention to the area around him to have even thought to think of it as full.

Kaname shuddered, then did his best to push everything out of his mind as they finally drew even with the remnants of their class.

He recognized all their faces – he wasn't that oblivious – but would not be able to swear to the name of anyone but Kitamoto and Furuya, their class representative, whose sister he and Natsume (mostly Natsume) had helped with a youkai-related problem not that long ago. Maybe he'd – but no, it was pretty clear he thought everything was a dream. He could see no sign of the other boy's normally cheerful demeanor now.

Furuya looked at them as they approached. "Oh, good, you two are okay." He looked past them, and his initially hopeful face fell. "Were you the only …?"

Kitamoto nodded. "Was Sensei one of the ones who … disappeared?"

The braided girl choked back another sob and buried her face in her hands. Her friend rubbed her back, leaning in and murmuring something soothing, though Kaname had no idea what. He couldn't think of a single reassuring thing to say, not when so many people were just … gone.

Furuya shuddered, then plastered a smile on that even Kaname could tell was fake and spread his hands. "What you see is what you get, I'm afraid. Just us and the pigeons."

Kaname blinked and looked around. The pigeons were indeed still around. A handful sprung into sudden flight as he watched, and he spotted another couple perched on nearby power lines and awnings. So whatever happened, it didn't affect the birds. Probably? Maybe there were a lot more birds around before, too, but … I don't think so …

The girl comforting her friend looked up, eyes wide behind her round glasses. "What's going on?" She asked, biting her lip. "Why is everyone else just –?"

And, unspoken but still clear, the thought that Kaname suspected was on everyone else's mind, too. Why didn't we disappear, too?

Kitamoto shook his head. "I don't know." He glanced at Kaname, sending another thread of guilt through him, even though he truly didn't know any more about what was going on than anyone else. He just shrugged.

The braided girl wiped away her tears, straightened, and swallowed. Her face was clearly paler than it had any right to be, and when she spoke, her voice still quavered. "What do we do now?"

Find Natsume.

Kaname suppressed his urge to give his initial knee-jerk response, knowing that it was the wrong thing to say. Knowing that he'd never forgive himself if he ended up being the one to turn Natsume into a pariah at this school, after all he'd been through up to this point. (Kaname might not be good at speaking, at pushing boundaries and asking pointed questions, but he was good at listening. And the rumors that had followed Natsume around, even by the time Kaname transferred in, had been pretty clear.)

(He knew, too, what life had been like for him in certain of the schools he'd attended growing up – the ones where his tendency towards illness had made him an object of pity and occasional suspicion that he was just faking it; where his occasional habit of starting at shadows gave him a reputation for being a bit strange and overly nervous. He thought he could extrapolate pretty well what things had been like for Natsume, who hadn't just seen shadows.)

"We should meet back up with everyone else." Kitamoto said. Kaname blinked, but lost no additional time nodding his agreement.

Furuya nodded too. "Do any of you know where the other classes are supposed to be now?" Everyone shook their heads. He pursed his lips briefly. "The hotel, then. It's a lot earlier than we were supposed to return there, but, well …"

The girl with a scarf opened her bag and, after a few moments of digging around, pulled out a cellphone with a sound of satisfaction, flipped it open, typed furiously, paused for a moment, punched one last button, and shut it. When she noticed that she had become the center of everyone's attention, she flushed. "I thought I'd let Mio-chan know we're heading back to the hotel." She said, defensively. "She's in Class 5."

"That's actually a really good idea." Furuya said. "Does anyone else have a phone? Or know anyone's numbers?"

All but one of the girls turned out to have a cell phone, as did both of the guys who Kaname didn't know. He, personally, regretted for the first time that he'd turned down his father's offer to get him one for his birthday the previous year. It hadn't really made sense to him at the time to spend all that extra money when none of his friends had one, and he spent practically all his time either at school, at home, or with them, anyway.

... Dad.

He froze. If this really was wide-spread. If home had been affected. His father was away on business trips a lot of the time – was, in fact, away on one at the moment, and not due back until that evening – and even when at home, they didn't always really know how to talk to each other. But he'd never doubted for a moment that his dad loved him, and the thought that he might have just disappeared, with no forewarning and no chance for Kaname to say more of a goodbye than the "See you in a couple of days" that he'd called on his way out the door …

He forced the fingers clutching his bag to loosen their white-knuckled grip, and wished that it was as easy to get rid of the panic that clawed at his throat. Stop it. You know he's not at home today, so even if one of the others lent you their phone, calling home wouldn't prove anything.

It didn't make it any easier to just stand there and wait and worry. Especially as none of the texts sent or calls made appeared to be connecting. Fear bit deeper. What if we really are the only ones left?

He shook his head. Stop it. We're in too much trouble already to start borrowing it.

The car alarm from before must have shut off at some point, he realized, as he started really noticing just how quiet the street was apart from their group. No cars driving past. No people out and about – shopping, chatting, manning store fronts, the thousand little things that people did over the course of their day. He thought he saw the shadow of something out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned, it was gone. I wonder if the youkai are all gone, too? Or if they're more like the birds, unaffected by … this. That might explain why my headache is completely gone now.

If so, I'd rather have kept the headache.

"Tanuma." Kitamoto said, quietly enough that even standing right next to him, Kaname barely heard him.

"What?" He didn't manage to keep his voice quite as quiet, but close enough that none of the others, increasingly frantically trying to figure out someone, anyone who would pick up the phone, paid him any mind.

"You're really sure you don't know anything? Even wild guesses?" He asked, running a hand through his hair again. "It's just … you collapsed at the same time everyone else disappeared. Exactly the same time. So if there's anything you noticed, anything that might explain why everyone else disappeared and we didn't … like maybe it was trying to take you away and didn't quite manage it, and maybe that's why you collapsed?"

Kaname shook his head. "It didn't feel like anything was pulling at me." He offered. "It didn't really feel like anything in particular, other than pain." He grimaced, just remembering. "I can't remember ever having a headache that bad."

"Oh." Kitamoto seemed to wilt slightly. "Wait, do you get headaches often? I thought you were just …" he looked uncomfortable. "A bit delicate, you know? Depressed immune system or something. Are the headaches triggered by anything?"

"My immune system's mostly fine, I just take longer than usual to get better, a lot of the time." Kaname said. "Headaches are … not uncommon." He bit his lip. He did know what caused his headaches – at least, most of them. Should he tell Kitamoto? Once again, the fear of scorn or disbelief (he wasn't sure which would be worse) held him back.

Luckily, before his silence became too obvious, Furuya cleared his throat, and Kaname used that as an excuse to turn his full attention towards their class representative.

"So if I've gotten everything straight, it sounds like things are like this where classes 4 and 5 are, too." The upset girl – he really needed to learn her name; it wasn't like the rest of them weren't also upset – shuddered and curled further in on herself.

"Rika-chan and Yamada-san are the only ones left in Class 4." The girl in glasses said; voice steady, but grip on her phone tight enough to turn her knuckles white.

"And still nothing from 2 or 3." The black-haired guy said, lowering his phone from his ear and giving it a black look. "That idiot Takaya never remembers to charge his phone, though, so maybe it's just out of battery."

Kaname couldn't help his flinch. He'd never really connected with most of his class; they all got along well enough, but aside from a couple of the most memorable-looking of his classmates, most of the ones who had disappeared were already fading from his mind. And he hated that he wouldn't even be able to keep their memory alive.

But hearing someone mention one of the probable-missing by name … it made things feel more concrete. If this Takaya person was missing … what about Natsume and Nishimura? What about Taki? There weren't many people at this school he truly cared about, but he wasn't sure what he'd do if any of them were actually gone.

"Is Taki –" He started to ask, but quickly found his voice drowned out by his other classmates, all with their own variations on the same query. He looked down, letting his bangs fall into his eyes as he fought his impatience. It wouldn't accomplish anything for him to barge his way in and start yelling with the rest. Besides, they had made contact with class 5, so they'd know to meet back at the hotel. He'd see her again then.

Or if not …

He clenched his fists. No. I will see her later. I refuse to accept the possibility that she might – that –

A warm hand landed on his shoulder, and he looked up. "I'm sure they're fine." Kitamoto said, clearly doing his best to sound reassuring.

It didn't work too well when even Kaname could see how strained he was with worry. But he appreciated the thought. "Yeah." He agreed, wishing he could manage to sound a little bit less empty. "I'm sure you're right."

"Guys." Furuya was saying. "Guys." No one seemed to be paying attention. "GUYS!" He shouted, sounding even louder in the comparative quiet that surrounded them.

Once he had everyone's attention, he raised his hands. "Guys, I know you're worried. We all are. But pestering each other isn't going to accomplish anything but distracting those of you with phones from continuing to try to get through to classes 2 and 3. So just … be patient, please. You'll see your friends once we meet back up." He opened his mouth as though to continue the thought, then bit his lip instead, looking away.

Or if you don't, you'll never see them again, anyway.

"So what do we do?" The girl with the scarf asked, just shy of belligerently.

Furuya jerked his head in the direction they had been heading before everything happened. "Let's start walking." With a ghost of his usual levity, he added, "The hotel's not going to come to us after all."

No one laughed, but Kaname could see a few other weak smiles like the one that had surfaced on his own face, in appreciation for the attempt if nothing else. And when Furuya turned and started walking quickly away, the rest of them fell into some semblance of order behind him. Though Kaname was not the only one who turned and gave their little patch of sidewalk a look before they left.

It just looked so … ordinary. An ordinary little patch of sidewalk in an ordinary little corner of a town that was quite a bit larger than their own, but still not Tokyo or anything like that. I always thought that if something crazy happened to my life, it would be in a crazier way. Not just … standing in the middle of an ordinary street, in the middle of an ordinary school field trip.

I also figured it would be because of Natsume.

Kaname snorted, quietly amused for a few moments before the worry crowded its way back in.

Natsume … you had better be all right, or I'll come rescue you again, whether you want me to or not.

He didn't know how he'd effect said rescue – whether a rescue was even possible, or if there was actually anything left anywhere to rescue – if Natsume turned out to be one of the ones who had disappeared. He didn't know what he'd do if that happened. But he'd figure something out, because he knew Natsume would do the same if it was him – or Taki, or any of his friends, human or youkai – in danger.

"Care to share?" Kitamoto asked. "I could do with a laugh."

Kaname shook his head. "Sorry. It's nothing."

Kitamoto's shoulders fell, and he looked away. "Oh. All right."

Guilt bit again, and Kaname looked away as well. Kitamoto was probably just trying to make conversation, and it was Kaname's fault that he wasn't nearly as good at it as Nishimura. Hah. I wish Nishimura was here, too, at that. Amusement tugged at his expression again, and then he realized with a bit of a start that even though Natsume wasn't a subject he wanted to broach, Nishimura was completely fair game.

"I was just thinking … wishing the others were here, too." He said. "Nishimura'd probably be going off about something by now."

Kitamoto cracked a smile. "He would, wouldn't he. Joking even at the end of the world." His face fell again. "If he's even …"

"He's alive." Kaname said flatly. Maybe if he said it with enough force, he'd convince himself. "He's alive, Natsume's alive, Taki's alive. My dad's alive. Your –" he trailed off, suddenly realizing that he couldn't remember ever talking to Kitamoto about his family before. He didn't even know if he had any siblings. "Your family's alive."

Kitamoto peered at him, eyes narrowed with something that seemed unable to quite decide whether it was suspicion or hope. "How do you know?"

Kaname resisted the urge to hide behind his bangs again. "I don't." He admitted. "But … I'm not going to give up hope until I know for sure." And maybe if he said that enough times, he'd believe it too.

"I agree." Furuya said. Kaname blinked. Last he'd noticed, the class representative had been up at the front of the group, leading the way in what he assumed was the general direction of either the hotel or the nearest subway station. This being their third museum of the day, he'd really lost track of their location, so he was glad someone seemed to know where they were going. But apparently, sometime between setting their direction and now, Furuya had decided to fall back towards the tail end of the group, falling easily into step on Kaname's other side. He resisted the urge to feel trapped. "Can I talk to you for a minute, Tanuma?"

He blinked again. "Sure?" Furuya's eyes slid past him to Kitamoto, and he started looking uncomfortable.

"I'll go see if there's been any more luck contacting 2 or 3." Kitamoto said abruptly. Kaname whipped his head around, but after a significant look whose meaning completely escaped him, his friend sped up, falling into step next to the black-haired boy. He turned his attention back to their class rep.

Furuya still looked a bit uncomfortable. "I don't really know how to say this, but … you don't know anything about what just happened, do you?"

First Kitamoto, now Furuya? Do they really think I'd hide something of this magnitude if I did? "No more than you do." Kaname said. "Why?"

Furuya shrugged. "You just … seem like you'd know, if anyone in our class would. And didn't Kitamoto say something about you collapsing just as everyone started disappearing? It seems connected, don't you think?"

"It was just a really bad headache. I get them sometimes." Kaname said. "… The timing does make it seem connected, but even if it is, I still don't know any more than the rest of you. I was a bit busy trying to deal with the blinding pain to pay much attention."

Furuya laughed. "That would be distracting. What about your friend, Natsume?" Another flash of discomfort. "He seemed to know … things."

Kaname stared at him. "He's in Class 2. I have no more idea where they are or what they're doing" or if they're okay, please let them be okay "than the rest of you."

"… Right." The class representative looked briefly chagrined. "I don't suppose you know his phone number?"

"Neither of us have cell phones." Kaname said. "So, no." He looked around at the still-empty street. So far, they still had yet to see anyone else. It was beginning to go from merely creepy to outright disturbing. "And … I'm afraid that whatever this is, it's probably beyond Natsume, too."

Furuya pursed his lips. "You may be right. But …" He shook his head and offered a thin smile. "Never mind. Concentrate on what we can do, and hope for the best for the rest, yeah?"

Kaname nodded. Feeling like he ought to say something else, he tentatively offered, "You seem to be doing a good job of keeping everyone in line so far."

Furuya grinned, though it rang a bit false. "Not even the end of the world can get me down." Their group started slowing, as voices rose near the beginning of the line. He rolled his eyes. "And apparently my job is never done." He raised a hand in absent farewell as he jogged back towards the front of the line, already demanding to know what the fuss was all about.

Kaname watched him go. I hope his sister is also okay. He's already almost lost her once. He shoved that thought out of the way, too. No point in dwelling on things he couldn't do anything about. First, we need to get home.

Not long after Furuya ran forward, Kitamoto drifted back into his former position. He gave Kaname another look that left him with no doubts that the other boy was curious, but he seemed to be willing to hold his peace.

Maybe that was why Kaname decided to speak. Or maybe it was just his irritation, as justified as it arguably was. "He also wanted to know if I knew anything about what had happened."

Kitamoto looked momentarily surprised, turning his head to stare forward for a long moment before turning back to Kaname. "Huh. Because of your collapse?"

Kaname nodded. "That and," he hesitated, knowing this was opening a door he didn't particularly want to, "well, I do have a bit of a reputation for … you know."

Kitamoto huffed. "You and Natsume both. When anyone who actually gets to know you can tell that you're both totally fine." An expression flashed across his face, but before Kaname could figure out what it was, it disappeared. "I really wonder if everyone else's lives are really that boring, that they feel the need to gossip about people they don't know."

Warmth suffused Kaname, even as he couldn't entirely suppress the guilt that accompanied it. He wished, sometimes, that Kitamoto and Nishimura weren't quite so normal. He knew Natsume reveled in it; would protect that normalcy with all he had because some part of him wished he could be that normal. But even what little Kaname could see of the world that was so clear to Natsume … it was scary, sometimes, but it was fascinating, too. And it hurt, now that he actually had friends, not to be able to share it with them.

"… I don't think anyone's life is going to be precisely boring for a while yet." He finally said.

Kitamoto huffed a laugh that contained very little, if any, actual amusement. "There is that."

Kaname stepped around a large purse that just sat in the middle of the sidewalk, as though someone has put it down and walked off, forgetting it. Except probably she didn't walk off. Probably it'll just … stay there, unless someone else comes along and takes it.

He frowned and rubbed at his temples. Stop it. Even if it's true, that's not helpful. … I wish I knew if we really are the only ones left. Was there an age limit or something? But in that case, you'd think we'd have heard at least a few babies screaming for parents who will never be there for them again.

Wow. Maybe I should just stop thinking altogether.

"Headache coming back?" Kitamoto asked, looking more worried than Kaname thought the questions really warranted.

Unless he thinks my headaches are a sign that something's going to happen.

And put that way, Kaname found himself getting worried, too. "A mild one." He said reluctantly. "Not even as bad as it was this morning. But …"

"You've had a headache all day? Tanuma …" Kitamoto drew the final syllable out with a very well done admonishing tone.

He rolled his eyes. "I get headaches all the time. Usually they're just" signs that there are youkai with nontrivial amounts of power and malicious or mischievous intentions nearby "that, just headaches. Not signs of an impending … whatever just happened."

"… I didn't realize it was so bad." Kitamoto looked away. "Guess I'm not as observant a friend as I thought I was, huh?"

Tanuma shook his head. "They've been happening all my life. It's annoying, but usually not debilitating." Anymore. Moving to their new home had been one of the best things to happen to him in a long time, and he still wasn't sure what caused that, whether it was Natsume's influence, or a tendency towards friendlier youkai in the area – for some reason, they didn't tend to affect him nearly as badly – or simply that the country air really did help. Most of the time he tried not to think about it too hard, and just be thankful for what he now had.

He waved a hand dismissively. "I just don't talk about it much because it's not like there's anything that can be done." A pause. "… Hopefully, it's just a normal one." He added, reluctantly. "Although I'm not sure what else could happen, after who knows how many people just … disappeared."

Kitamoto shuddered. "I'd rather not find out."

… Kaname could definitely agree with that.