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“Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of their heart.”

Rumi


Natsume looked down at the paper clenched between his trembling fingers once more. He had applied for a seminar about mythology and lore, a course that would go over excruciating details of the world that wasn’t seen as clear as a towering tree in the forest, or a rushing stream of water. The class was meant to talk about what lived in the branches, what dwelled beneath the swirling depths of a river. Natsume wanted the validation that he was not alone in what he knew to be there, what he could see.  

The paper in his hand, telling him that he was accepted into the class despite the late entry was everything. He didn’t want to move too far ahead of himself in expectation, but he wanted change. 

Natsume walked into the small classroom- it felt less like a classroom and more like a meeting room. The chairs looked more comfortable than any of the other chairs that he had seen in his other classes. The room portrayed an air of exclusivity that the class was known for. It was extremely selective in who was allowed to register- at least it had been. Apparently the instructor had been too tight fisted to the point where there would be semesters where the class was empty because there was no one worthy of joining. The department had eventually threatened to have the class discontinued entirely if there was not a certain quotient of students passing through. After that, the class was always packed, always quick to fill. By the time Natsume had managed to register for the class, there were no more spaces to fill, and he had gone to the department to plead his case. He had not even been able to meet with the instructor themself, but an aide. He had been interviewed, and told that his information would be passed onto the instructor for review.

When it was all said and done, Natsume found himself unable to leave things to chance. In the moment it had felt much more than just a need to be in class. He had gone directly to the library, found the instructor's email address, and composed an email with shaking hands. The day before the class, he had found a reply stating that he would be added- it hadn’t come from the professor himself, but Natsume took his victories where he found them.

He was not the first into the class- which was mildly surprising as it was an early morning class. Most of the twenty seats were already taken, and he had to settle for one further away from the instructor’s desk. Two minutes into his being there, the door opened again and the last of the students stepped in taking up the rest of the seats. Natsume looked about him, wondering if the professor would actually be late for the first class of the term until he saw a man walk up to the professor’s desk.

When the man addressed the class, Natsume’s eyes narrowed in confusion. The man could not be more than five years older that Natsume himself- he looked like a student as well. 

“Good morning, everyone.” His voice was lithe. The student’s chorused the greeting, their voices high in excitement. Natsume was struck with a brief thought, he wondered if this youthful man before him was not in fact a spirit. Who else would find sense in teaching such a class in the open without fear of being deemed insane beside a spirit itself? When Natsume saw the bright ruby like tint to the professor’s eyes, he only grew more resolute in his musing.

“I didn’t know it was him teaching this class.” An exasperated sigh escaped someone behind Natsume, making him turn in his seat. It was one of the students who had wandered in after him, a boy around Natsume’s own age with black hair parted down the centre of his head. He looked quite serious, and when his eyes caught Natsume’s he turned back swiftly in his seat. 

Beside him, someone shuffled too much and Natsume’s eyes were drawn to them next- they were restless in the way they adjusted the brim of their hat to sit lower on their forehead. He couldn’t tell whether they were male or female at first, the slight of their shoulder was no proper indication as he- begrudgingly - passed for more feminine than masculine in his own looks. 

He knew it was rude to stare, moreso as the person’s movements seemed to grow in discomfort- Natsume looked away to his notebook in front of him. 

He did not know what to feel of the class atmosphere, there seemed to be two distinct feelings enveloping the room. His mind tried to urge him to think upon it, and he was lost in his thoughts until the person beside him hesitantly prodded at his shoulder. He looked up to see them, see her as her eyes looked to him then to the direction of the instructor pointedly. Natsume followed her gaze, and startled when he noticed the entire class’ attention on him.

“Self-introduction.” A voice mumbled behind him and he recognised it as the boy who had spoken before.

Natsume slowly stood from his seat, a wave of self-consciousness washed over him. The gazes all around him pierced his skin and burned on the insides. “My name is Takashi Natsume. Thank you for having me in your class.” He made to sit before the professor spoke causing him to pause.

His laughter tinkled throughout the room, and the very air around him seemed to blossom. Natsume was not sure he liked the sound, it seemed false somehow, but he was grateful that the sound had captured some of the attention, and Natsume had less pairs of eyes boring into him. “Why don’t you tell us why you decided to take this course, Natsume- kun .”

His heart clenched. How was he to say that he had joined because the class had spoken to him, that he felt that he needed to be there because not being would eat at him.That he hoped to gain answers. He needed to know that he was not alone, but how much of himself was he allowed to bare.

“I joined…” His hands tightened into fists at his sides, and he waged internally before they relaxed at his sides. “I want to know more about the spirits, the bonds between us and them. I-”

A sharp noise like the abrupt end to a sneeze cut through Natsume’s words. But when he looked at the direction it had come from, he knew it had been laughter- the person’s face was still contorted with an amused grin. They held up their hands, and quickly apologised, but their looks showed that it had not been sincere. Natsume lost all his words.

The professor opened his mouth to speak, but the girl beside Natsume had gotten the words out first.

“I want to know more as well.”

Natsume could only think that she was making fun of him as well, until he saw her face clearly. The smile on her lips was much more different then the sneer that had been over the other student’s. Her’s was a smile of kindness, and solidarity. When Natsume had recognised it for what it was, it had startled him just as much as the ill intended one had been.

“And why don’t you introduce yourself.” The professor spoke just as kindly back.

“Yes. U-um, I’m Tooru Taki. My grandfather was a priest who studied a lot about spirits, and I,” she took a calming breath “I want to learn about them too.” She turned back to Natsume giving him another warm smile that said your reasons are validated before sitting again .

“Thank you Taki- san, Natsume- san. Thank you so much for sharing. We’re all in this class to learn about the same things, so let’s all work closely together.” He sent a smile at the girl who had snarked Natsume’s response, and she flinched, aware enough to know that the words were directed  to her just as much as anyone else.

“Yes, professor Natori.” The class echoed her sentiments before the session proceeded.

The boy behind Natsume seemed to be the last to give his introduction, and stood without needing to be told. “My name is Kaname Tanuma. My father is a monk, and I wanted to take this class to learn more about what he has to deal with.”

“Thank you Tanuma- san . I’m happy that everyone had something to share. And so, I’ll tell you all about the syllabus for the semester.”

Natsume let the words wash over him. His hands didn’t shake as much anymore, the nerves that still bundled around inside him were anticipatory- anxious to know what lessons the semester held for him. 

He was utterly exposed in the classroom, there were no divisions that blocked him from the gazes of anyone who decided to look, no walls that stopped whispers from meeting his ears. But the spaces beside, and behind him felt oddly warm and comforting.

And just for a moment he imagined he was not alone.