Chapter 6: Ferule for the Oblique Felon

The last of the retiring sun shone on the windows of the bus Natsume and his companion, Youichi were riding. As the mighty eye of the heavens resumed its departure, our dark purple-haired friend stifled a yawn which disturbed (yet again) his six year old cohort. He was struggling whether to ask his 'nii-san if he was fascinated or not by the joke shop they visited awhile ago.

Last night when the weather was disagreeable, Youichi asked for Natsume's company. And since the people in charge of his department need not be told twice (because they don't want to be subjects of the boy's tantrums and what goes with it), they phoned who he sought after and Natsume, being the goody old 'nii-san heeded the call which made Youichi jubilant in an instant.

Youichi handed him a jewel and explained to him what it does. Natsume thought it was cool, which made Youichi feel a bit proud. He was over the moon when Natsume asked where he got it and he promised to show it to him in exchange of assistance to go there. Natsume nodded in approval and before he was sent to go, Youichi elucidated that the jewel must be given to the old hag, as a practical joke, for she was special and he wanted her to be the first one to try it out. And since the Middle School quarters are far from his branch, he gave the jewel to Natsume for an immediate bull's-eye.

When they met the following afternoon, Natsume seemed disturbed for he talked less in the already short talks he usually gives Youichi. Nevertheless, Youichi was pleased he was able to clutch from him that their little joke on Mikan was a success. But the day continued to draw a conclusion that Natsume's attention was not inside the joke shop. Youichi worried of Natsume's lack of interest in the seemingly magnificent store, especially when he sounded so enthusiastic about it last night. And then he began to worry more, for he must've been droning on about the joke shop and he most likely just hallucinated that his 'nii-san was interested.

Natsume saw his partner's sudden change of look that he grabbed a rubber orange that had 'Squeeze Me' written on it. Youichi suddenly smiled which made Natsume confirm that he was not paying much attention to him and his newly-found treasure cove. He grasped the toy tight when he remembered what happened inside the classroom earlier. The toy suddenly exploded and hundreds of thin folded paper scattered around the shop. One landed on Youichi's head and when Natsume unfolded and read it, he issued a warning to everyone to not read what's inside or else he's going to burn the place down.

Youichi smiled at him and told him that he doesn't need to worry for the papers would disappear after a minute. He felt embarrassed by what he had done, but he'd rather be misunderstood than let anyone step on his pride. Youichi can't suppress his soft chuckles though, for he knew what the plaything does.

Inside the bus, Natsume combed his hair with his hand and Youichi watched him with orbs that tell you the beholder wants to voice out something. Natsume still had the image of his best friend and that idiot's best friend staring at each other when Youichi tugged at his sleeve. Natsume looked at him as he folded his arms and received several questions from Youichi.

"Did 'nii-san like the joke shop?" Youichi managed to say. Natsume nodded and there was a shaft of light in Youichi's eyes.

"Come back with Youichi?" Youichi tugged tighter. Natsume nodded and Youichi smiled.

"Promise?" Youichi lets go of Natsume's sleeve. Natsume nodded and Youichi rest assured that he was just in paranoia awhile ago.

There was still some of what's left of the sun that had set when Natsume bid good-by to Youichi. He decided to walk toward the dormitory to have precious time to clear off his mind of some things.

The note he read from the toy orange clearly stated what, or rather who he had in mind awhile ago. When he found out the purpose of the plaything, he thought of it an evil thing for it reveals who your heart desires. And because he somehow regained his heart the past few years, the evil thing saw through him and found out that the reason of why he has it back was the person he seeks to care for the most.

He felt his cheeks reddened as he thought of what could've happened if people around the store didn't know about his temper plus the capabilities that flow with it and read the notes. He would've been a goner by now, embarrassed for eternity. He shook his head and reminded himself that he has to get these things off his mind.

Fifteen minutes passed and he was not doing any good. Being with the person he half-blames for what had happened that morning for more than three hours didn't help him dump the subject from his mind. If he hadn't chosen to please the kindergartner by displeasing the love of his life, he could've won a free date (or so he thought) early that morning. But then, the longing eyes of a comrade don't fail to seep through him, especially when he got his heart back…at least somehow.

Natsume could already see the tower of the dormitory which made him wonder what Mikan was doing. He thought he'd drop by and peek on her bathing again but he was too busy wondering what the eye-contact between Ruka and Hotaru meant that he just had to drop the idea.

A number of regrets and cursing pierced through his mind as he continued to tread the familiar path back to the dormitory. The light posts started to liven up the dull trail and Natsume was put into a sudden stop when he saw his best friend coming from direction he was walking to. Natsume was surprised to see Ruka holding down a familiar umbrella with a goose as its head. It seemed as if Natsume wasn't the only one studying, for Ruka eyed Natsume as if he were an animal he had not yet seen.

Natsume was brought back to his senses when he saw how Ruka looked at him and continued his pace. A conversation without eye-contact embarked on before Natsume passed Ruka.

"Where have you been?" Ruka began.

"I just went to fulfill another favor." Natsume answered in a monotonous tone and Ruka joined him.

"I thought I'd find you in Youichi's department. I guess I was on the right track." Ruka fervently said. There came a minute of silence and to avoid suspicion, Natsume continued the discussion. He eyed the umbrella in his best friend's hand and asked:

"What are you doing with the inventor's umbrella?"

Ruka looked perplexed and it seemed as if he had forgotten until now that he was in possession of Hotaru's umbrella. He turned beet red but kept his face hidden as he replied with another question.

"How did you know it was hers?"

This notion gave Natsume yet another to think about. Just what is going on between these two? He almost had slipped his mind that he had to reply so he did.

"That green-panty girl borrowed it from her greedy best friend once and tried to beat me to death with it."

When Ruka heard what Natsume termed Mikan, he grew redder for he was reminded of what happened earlier. It also replenished his memory of the purpose of finding who he already has found. This time, a five minute silence prevailed.

"Uh…Natsume---you're not mad, are you?" Ruka broke the silent chain. Natsume was aware of where this is going, but he kept to his pace without giving away his consciousness of the topic.

"Mad about what?"

"About…about what happened awhile ago?" Ruka managed to spit out. If they found each other earlier when the sun was still setting, Natsume would clearly see how Ruka's face lit red.

"What event?" Natsume replied.

"…Mikan." Ruka would probably explode by now.

"What about her?" Natsume kept his cool.

"She---weren't you there earlier?" Ruka's sudden pitch of tone gave away his annoyance of Natsume's avoidance.

"Where?" Natsume's eyes fired up, but he's still on his pace.

"In the classroom!" Natsume noticed Ruka's free fist clenched.

"What time?" Natsume asked, still in his droning voice.

"Early in the morning." Ruka answered with a tone that doesn't seem to belong to him.

"I was there." His best friend triumphantly responded.

"Then stop pretending you don't know anything about it!" Ruka finally gave in and raised his tone higher than before. Natsume stopped walking, still facing on the direction of the dormitory.

"Why would I be mad about it?" Natsume asked in a grave tone, finally giving in.

"After that you barely looked at me. You went alone when lunch came. You left without a word by dismissal---What do you suppose me to think?" Ruka tried to control his tone of voice but he couldn't and all Natsume received was a bellow. He went ahead after leaving a statement.

"I don't know why your sixth sense made you jump to that conclusion."

"---I'm going to tell her my feelings."

Natsume paused once more, his eyes focused on the girl submerged with several of his classmates in front of him who were entering the dormitory. He could hear Ruka gasping behind and he didn't know why the sentence his best friend dropped tore him wide open.

There was an uncanny silence and the tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate, began.


That was the fourth this time, inside her laboratory.


That was the sixth this time, inside her laboratory.


Who knows how many times she cussed this time, inside her laboratory?

Hotaru Imai, all alone again inside her comfy dome, was situated at one section wherein she was fixing the coupe she would use in the marathon. She kept dropping her wrench for an unknown reason as she yanks on knobs, which was why she kept on cursing. As for the sighing, she had something else in mind.

She gave up on the wrench (promising she'd deal with it later) and shifted into programming the coupe instead. She got inside the driver's seat it was only a matter of seconds when a perfunctory female voice echoed around the closed capsule, prompting the person in the driver's seat for verifications.

"Please state your name---"

"It's me." Hotaru slid her thumb on the neck of the stirring wheel where a slate for verification of thumb print is located. It was for her own convenience, for she knows how long the verification through speaker is. If ever she becomes unselfish at a certain time and would let another person ride her coupe, that's when the speaker does its job.

"Miss Hotaru Imai, what a pleasant surprise!" A hologram flashed right away before her eyes. It was a screen that contained needed information of a racer and an inventor.

"State the bugs you have scanned…that is, if you did find one." Hotaru checked everything inside the coupe and found that everything's neat as she had left it last night.

"Virus scan was completed without delay at exactly 12:03AM. No bugs were detected much to your greatness, Miss Hotaru Imai."

"Perfect. Now I need to input more possibilities of who could ride you. Keyboard please," Hotaru asked and another hologram appeared on the dashboard of the coupe.

The silence continued to linger, that the coupe acted on its own and turned its player on. It so happens that the song played was the one Hotaru's mother used to sing to her daughter. Hotaru brought her typing to a standstill and was haunted by the 'something else in her mind' previously. The image of her brother's cold stare flashed before her again and she shook her head as another person sparked as a hologram in front of the car.

"Nogi." Hotaru whispered as her mind thrashed about whether to let him in or not. She opened the roof of her coupe and she was able to hear what the hologram was saying.

"Imai, I know you're around. Open the door, will you?" She heard him say.

"Who is that person beyond the flap, Miss Hotaru Imai?" The voiceover asked. Hotaru slid herself out of the coupe and stood in front of the hologram.

"He's grown taller and I haven't even noticed it before." Hotaru mused and the more she studied him, the more she became interested in him.

"He's not a bad chap to be paired with that dimwit." Hotaru said, walking around the seemingly specimen in front of her while eyeing it.

"By dimwit, you don't mean Miss Mikan Sakura?" The coupe prompted the obvious which made Hotaru just nod, as if the mecha would see and understand her. She wasn't able to open her mouth for a response for she was already looking at the umbrella Ruka was holding. What she saw awhile ago came flooding in her memory rapidly that she disliked it and became again, the disagreeable child everybody knows. She turned away with the right generalization that her elder brother asked this boy the favor of returning what she had left the night she had a row with him.

"What a jerk." Hotaru said as she situated herself back in the coupe.

"Is there a jerk outside the entrance Miss Hotaru Imai?" The coupe asked.

"It's not the one outside the quarters. It's beyond those hills that send chills to your spine…or in your case, your roof." Hotaru emblematically said as she tried not to listen to the persisting person outside her laboratory. She prepared her fingers for more typing that night and thought she heard Ruka cursing to stay and wait for her that she looked at the hologram. Ruka was sitting, his back on the wall, Hotaru's umbrella on his lap and one hand of his on his cheek. Hotaru stood up from the coupe again and told it to shut down by itself. The coupe closed its roof and by that time, the hologram screen inside already disappeared. Hotaru stared down at the hologram and listened to it speak.

"…Drats. I wish I kept mum. I wonder…would Natsume talk to me again?"

The listener wondered why her friend did not have any animal companions with him to talk with. She ventured more into thinking and concluded that he might not want to worry them. It surprised her that Ruka and her actually had something in common.

"If only I was that cold and steel Imai, I would be able to handle this. Yeah, she'd know what to do." Ruka passed his other hand through his hair and gave another sigh. Hotaru smiled at his remark and began to walk away.

She went to the main computers and took a picture of Ruka with the use of the hidden cameras. When she was satisfied, she took her actual camera and opened the door. While in the process, she took a picture of Ruka which blinded him for awhile.

"Get up." Hotaru commanded. Ruka was bewildered, but got up anyway.

"What took you so long?" Ruka asked, dusting the dirt from his pants. Hotaru just let out a smile, motioning Ruka to enter the lab. Somehow, Ruka felt uneasy with that beam…but he entered with her anyway and the door closed behind them with a thud.

Ponpokopi no Bebenben!

I'm sorry if I took so long to update. I was really busy with other stuff and I had this long-term writer's block due to it. But anyway, here's yet another short chapter. I wish you enjoyed the slight angst between the best friends. Fufufu…on with the notes!

(1) What's up with the title? Otei. Ferule is actually a ruler that is used to punish students way back…er…1919? Meh. Well anyway, it stands for as punishment. Oblique means indirect, slanted, whatsoever which represents Natsume-kun, who is also the offender or felon. I used indirect because the real person behind Mikan-chan's suffering was Youichi anyway. So there, you now have my point.

(2) So we all found out that You-chan was the one who asked Natsume-kun for that stupid favor which made Mikan-chan a laughing stock in the previous chapter. Uh…about his age: I did read from somewhere that he's only three years old in the anime, that's why people can't get much words from him. So yeah, three years plus three more would make him six…I did Math right this time ne?

(3) Did the note contain Mikan-chan's name on it? Uh-huh and I don't think Natsume-kun would act so bloodcurdling if her whole name wasn't written there.

(4) 12:03AM there has significance. I assigned a number to the English alphabet and here's what I got to spell out Ruka: 18,21,11,01. I thought of how to turn it into time, so I used the number of syllables in Ruka-pyon's name to divide the numbers. I got: 1821:1101 and decided to sum up the numbers on each term of the "ratio" and ponpokopi! I got 12:03.

(5) Something in common between Ruka-pyon and Hotaru-sama? Since it really is difficult to pair these two up, I had to make something up. Fufufufu! Just kidding…I don't know about you guys, but I do believe that they have a lot in common. We just have to look further…er…help me otei? Fufufu! Anyway, the similarity I was pointing up there is the fact that they'd rather keep their business to themselves than worry others by telling.

(6) Does Ruka-pyon know that it is possible for Hotaru-sama to be watching him? I think he's got a lot in his mind that he forgot that it was possible for her to hear everything he said and see everything he did. Fufufufu…I'm evil.

Again, I'm really sorry for the delay. I hope you still want to read this after all those days...hahahaha! Expect a shorter delay by the way, since sem-break is approaching! Fufufu...