Disclaimer: Gakuen Alice is not mine, not mine, not mine…
Okay... BREATHE IN... BREATHE OUT :)) Merry Christmas everyone!
I know, i know you guys probably thought that something happened. Well a lot did and it stumped me. But after so many years I saw this comment on writing. That whatever writer's block should come a writer's way the only solution is to continue to write until I could drive the writer's block away.
This chapter is a sort of breather chapter. Just a chapter describing a moment in the lives of our two characters after Hotaru left Japan. The next chapter would be the last and I'll be posting it soon because it is actually finished I just feel a little hesitant to pose it because it would mean the end for MGR. A bit sentimental and holding on to it for a little bit longer :))
I hope you guys enjoy this extra chapter and MERCI BEAUCOUP! Happy Holidays to everyone!
Chapter 17: Progress Anew
There are moments in our life that we have to move on to a new phase, a new story. Like finishing a chapter of a book and moving on to the next one. People call it with different names. Change, progress, development… and they say that it's the only constant thing that there is in our planet.
But before people finally decides to step into a new realm, before people admit that they indeed must look towards the future… they tend to be apprehensive… they tend to be scared… tend to fear the unknown… and for those people who were able to take a step forward… those who gulped down their fear before throwing them out… they would be the ones who have understood… that it was only natural… that it might have been inevitable… for to search for certainty would be futile since the only certainty in life is uncertainty.
The Only Certainty in Life is Uncertainty
It has truly perplexed me how my friend Natsume could turn notorious crime leaders into jelly puddles just by glaring at them but could be very jittery when it comes to a certain brunette.
It was pitiable actually… considering the fact that the fire-wielder became a sort-of cupid together with our other friends to let me patch things up with Hotaru. Though Hyuuga would incinerate me if he knew I associated him with the cute, chubby and winged creature.
But really… at least I was able to confess and have a relationship with Hotaru Imai right? It was a great feat since Imai was as scary as Natsume could be or more. How could I say that? Hotaru hurts people using her own free will, while Natsume does according to orders. See my point?
Anyway, back to my "dense" friend. People would usually associate the word with Mikan but seriously that was when we were younger. Sakura Mikan might let people think that she was dense and a baka but she was the very opposite of it. Being trained by Yuka and serving under the Gakuen's Special Missions have honed her.
So in truth, Mikan does know that she likes Natsume and she has suspected that he likes her too. But she was apprehensive for she always thinks that her presumptions might have been wrong. There were many times I was tempted to tell her that my friend indeed loves her but it was not my place… though thinking about how Hyuuga interfered with my life was posing like a carrot dangling in front of a bunny… tempting really…
But here I am now watching Hyuuga Natsume pacing back and forth while I was sitting comfortably on his plush chair. Oh how the world goes round…
"You know, I don't see any problem with Mikan going on a date."
If he could only do it, my friend would've snarled a huge ball of fire as he glared at me. He growled, "What do you mean there's no problem with that? She's dating Tono!"
"That's Tono-senpai for us…"
"As if I use honorary words and you don't even use it with Matsudaira!… and Tono is far from honorable!"
I snorted and gave him a bored look. "Well Mikan might be part of the girls who like older men," I heard another growl from him and this time it was meaner, "and besides why are you getting all worked up? It's not like she has a relationship with you other than being colleagues and friends."
Natsume Hyuuga glared at me with such a menacing face that would make the world crumble to ashes and he was walking towards me, but I was not finish yet, "Besides, Mikan was the one who asked Tono-senpai out and the only problem I see from your perspective is that it's not you who's going on a date with Mikan. You're just jealous."
"I am by no means jealous!" Natsume bellowed roughly, the flames inside the fireplace crackling loudly, "I am just worried because she's a baka woman and Tono is a pervert!"
I slouched more comfortably as I looked at him, "Exactly… you're jealous."
"I told you I am not!"
"Then let her go…"
Natsume suddenly stopped pacing around and gave me a disturbed face. His mouth opened and closed several times. I smirked at him, "You can't?" Staring now at his ashen face, "Baka… if you can't let her go you should've done something other than rejecting her when she confessed to you two years ago and repeated it 6 months ago."
My friend winced, in pain or in remorse I am not really sure but I think that did it. Natsume looked at me, "And what do you want me to do about it?"
I rolled my eyes in exasperation. Payback was certainly going to be a bitch but hey I am a concerned friend and I don't want to mince my words into someone like Natsume. I sighed, "You know you should have also let Mikan know that you have feelings for her. This wouldn't have happened."
"Tsk, and it's coming from you? The great love philosopher?"
I sarcastically laughed loudly. "See what I mean and you cannot even make a nice comeback at me. That was a lame title… the grade school students could make that." Natsume threw his jacket at me and I was reveling the fact that my friend was acting childish. "But if you don't act now, Mikan might move on you know. You might be her decade-long crush but when she decides to move on… she will and she will totally trample you behind."
Hyuuga stared at me. "Like what she did to you?" Hnn… it was obvious who he was referring to. "Ours was a different kind. But yeah, with Mikan, she might just do that. She's Sakura-chan after all."
I didn't push after that though. I was also thinking about my well-being, for if I push my friend too hard, there was no telling where it would end us. At least he was staying put at the house and not trailing Mikan and Tono-senpai. And it was a good wake up call for Natsume.
After an hour, Natsume and I heard a car stop outside. We sneaked out of the house, well I would have preferred just to go out and say hi but well my friend was paranoid and wanted to be a snoop. So we ended up hiding beneath bushes near Sakura-chan's house
We couldn't hear a thing but my eyes were alert as Tono-senpai walked Mikan to her doorsteps. They look kind of tipsy by their flushed faces and I was apprehensive whether our senpai would kiss her goodnight or what.
But nothing prepared me for what happened next. Tono-senpai did kiss Mikan goodbye on the cheek… then I saw her say something that caused her date's eyes to widen. It was a blur after that. Mikan's hands shot out, grasped Tono-senpai's collars and kissed him… passionately and with abandon. Then they went inside, still lips-locked.
I panicked and looked at a seething Hyuuga Natsume. What we saw was BIG trouble. Major. Catastrophic. Armageddon on the way.
Natsume suddenly went out of the bushes we were hiding and then banged his fiery fist on the door. Nothing happened. He then tried incinerating it but it seemed that Mikan had attached her nullification alice throughout the house and added some security measures.
I went near him and we could hear banging inside. I closed my eyes shut. This was not happening. Nope, I was not witnessing and hearing what was happening now. No. No. No. But more importantly I was worried with the state Hyuuga was in now. He was just staring at the door. As if he was rooted on that spot ever since the day he was born.
Perhaps we stood over that door for about an hour but there was no sight of Tono-senpai leaving the house. And it became quiet. I had to pull out Natsume from his reverie and I swear his face could've torn Persona's icy emotion with the look on his face. And here I thought Mikan was just trying to make Natsume jealous. Turned out that she got pissed with my friend's rejection and well… was having a rebound relationship. Shit comes.
I dragged Natsume to the restaurant where they held me hostage and had me re-live my memory of overhearing Hotaru and Hayate's incomplete conversation. It was the best and most private place I know.
As soon as the waiter placed the bottle of bourbon down, Natsume opened it and took a huge swig… straight from the bottle mouth. I couldn't say anything to comfort him. It was his fault really. Sigh. What a stupid pair of best friends we were… messing up around the women we love. So depressing.
After 5 bottles of bourbon, 2 bottles of cognac and another bottle of tequila, Hyuuga Natsume, fire-alice wielder, hunk extraordinaire, dangerous alice top agent, was officially and messily drunk. And I had to carry his heavy frame around the restaurant's maze of design.
Damn it. Where were our other friends when we needed them? So here I was huddling Hyuuga and fumbling with my keys when Natsume seemed to become lighter. I looked up and I saw someone lifted the other side of Natsume's limpid body. It was none other than one of our senpais. Matsudaira Hayate. Sometimes I wonder how come he was so good in timing…
His eyes smiled at me. "I believe you needed a little help, neh Nogi-san." He then took Natsume's full weight and signaled for me to open the door. Succeeding with that, I opened the door of the backseat and Hayate dumped the body of the kuro neko.
"What happened to him?" he asked, "he's wasted to eternity!"
I shrugged and mumbled something and noted that the man in front of me was also inebriated and would be as wasted as Natsume except that he was still conscious and could stand on his own.
He then asked me where I would take Natsume and told him that I would send him back to the Gakuen since he might be called for something. Hayate glanced at the sleeping form of Natsume inside and we both knew that with the state my friend was in, there was no way he would be able to go to an operation tomorrow. I just hope he has no assignment.
Hayate then asked me if he could have a ride with me and I agreed. I was not an ingrate and I could not leave him behind seeing that he was also drunk. So we settled inside and started our way back to the school. At first, both of us were silent but Matsudaira-san opted to have a chat.
While talking I noticed that he has a red, bluish, bruised -like mark on his face and I couldn't stop myself from asking where it had come from. Hayate went rigid for a moment and then told me that a girl slapped him when he tried proposing to her.
I gave him an incredulous look while trying to maintain my concentration in driving. Slapped and proposing? Wait proposing? He has a girlfriend then. What the hell was happening?
Hayate sighed. "I used my alice and propelled us in the air when it was sunset. Then when we were up I tried proposing to her…" He sighed again and I just gave him a look egging him to go on, "Turned out she was afraid of too much height… and well she didn't take the ring and slapped me once we landed… now she's mad."
I swear to my deepest heart and to the lives of all the animals on earth that I tried not to give any hint that I found his story hilarious. Really I did. But I couldn't help it when my lips twitched just a little for Hayate-san to see.
But even though he saw it he just sighed. He took a glance at a mumbling Natsume and said, "You can laugh about it. I know it was kind of stupid and my girlfriend would forgive me in the future and I could propose another time. Besides, I think Hyuuga here has a more complicated problem than what I have."
I shook my head in agreement. "He's… well yeah… kind of complicated…"
"About Mikan and Tono?"
My head whipped towards him, "How the hell did you know about that?"
"We work at the same place Nogi-san. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to see there was something."
"But it would take Matsudaira Hayate to notice it."
His lips quirked upward as if I said something funny. "Well if you ask me, I think the situation is simple. Your wasted friend here has no guts to man up and get Sakura for himself. And people, however kind and patient they are, would reach a certain point where they would say enough is enough."
"Has Mikan reached that point?"
Hayate glanced at me, "She wouldn't be doing Tono if she didn't, don't you think?"
Okay, bad mental image there. I remembered the sound of banging at Mikan's house and reeled my mind to focus on driving. "Should we say goodbye to the hope of having a Hyuuga-Sakura nuptial?"
My voice waved with uncertainty and apprehension. I have given up Mikan before for my friend Natsume. I cherished and protected her at all cost for my friend and at the end they wouldn't be together. Not that I have anything against Tono but so much for hard work.
Matsudaira grunted, "Nah… there's still hope and you know where it should start."
"So my friend here needs to man up?" I sniggered, well that was something to tell Natsume. I wonder who could tell that to him up front. Hayate sniggered back, fully understanding how amusing it would be to see my friend's reaction if ever he heard that.
"Matsudaira-san…" I said after a couple of minutes of silence, "Do you have any idea how could I help those two idiots?"
He glanced at me, "Well, aren't you helping him now?"
"I don't know… I was just watching him the whole time he was drinking." This time I sighed. I do feel bad that I was also at a lost as to how to help Mikan and Natsume with their situation. If he and Hotaru were hard-headed, those two were like diamond-headed. Sharp and unbreakable once they set their minds onto something.
He didn't give me an answer and we were quiet for the whole trip back to the school. We both had to carry Natsume to his bedroom and dropped him unceremoniously on his bed. I offered to let Hayate use another guest room in Hyuuga's house but he declined stating that his house was just a few meters away. Lucky them, they have quarters inside the school.
Polite as it was I walked him out of the house and bid him goodbye. He nodded and went to move to the direction of his house but he stopped and turned to me and said, "You know… sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing…" Hayate brushed aside some of his hair that fell on his face, "There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own destiny…. But the most important thing is that there is a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it's all over."
Then he waved a hand at me and said he'll see me whenever. To say I was stunned at his words were nothing in comparison to the shame and regret I have felt. Shame because I have seen how deep and wise the man was. Regret because it was only now that I have realized it and I could've profited more had I extended my friendship to him earlier. But it was not too late and at that moment I would respect Matsudaira Hayate in the manner that he was worth. But at least that explained why he was always good at timing… it was obvious it was his philosophy… a dangerous ability really…
I sighed and went to go to bed too. Well, I took the liberty to use a room in Natsume's house. There was no way I would leave him with his own devices... was there?
As my subconscious was starting to eat my consciousness I couldn't help the fact but smile at the irony of life. I never thought that Mikan would have the guts to go out with another guy, no less than do intimate things (I suspect) with another man other than Natsume. And Hayate… the person who I thought was head over heels with Hotaru has a girl he was willing to marry.
I chuckled as my battle against sleep was slowly getting in vain. Truly there was nothing certain in life… except for the fact that the only certainty in life would be uncertainty… and it might seem disconcerting but at the same time comforting for uncertainty does give the notion that there is hope…
"The greatest friend of truth is Time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion is Humility" – Charles Caleb Colton
Hotaru adjusted her scarf as she prepared to leave. She missed her laboratories back in Japan where she could work without even tracking the time. Where she was working now she has to juggle her time between inventions and convincing sponsors of her works' marketability.
It was challenging actually. At Japan she didn't need to worry about sponsors because the baron would provide for all the cost as long as she could give evidence that her inventions would bring income in the future. And she didn't have to try hard for the baron has confidence in her.
"Here, I have to constantly update them even with the most minute detail everyday… ridiculous…" She rolled her eyeballs thinking how the people there expected to get results just after a day. Well technically that does happen but with inventions it takes time and the EXCESSIVELY constant reporting was really just a bother. She could've used those times actually getting the job done than spatting out saliva without any benefit from it.
And now she was irritated with the knowledge that her invention wouldn't be reproduced because she packaged it to have the figure of a gecko. It was a two-tiered spray that causes all body hair to shed and gives out a really natural, sun-kissed glow. She made it because she noticed how the people in the West spend millions on tanning booths that were bad for their health and were incredibly expensive. Plus it could act as a tester of the amount of UV the skin has absorbed of if the person was in danger of skin cancer.
What was so wrong with the spray being a gecko? It was functionality and quality they were after. And even though she does buy that packaging would always be part of the marketing Hotaru Imai couldn't accept that she was laughed out just because of that.,
So here she was, kind of thankful this time that she has a reason to go out of the laboratory and get herself some coffee and a good rest away from the other inventors.
Willing her eyes to be alert, Hotaru drove around the town to find a Starbucks or a Mr. Donut. Any of the two would do just so she could grab something. As she passed a slightly dark street a speeding black car appeared on her right side. She reflexively pulled the steering wheel to the left but it was too late and she lost control. Her car started going around circles on the road, the thin ice that settled on the pavement giving it more momentum. Hotaru gripped the steering wheel as she fought for control and then looked up, her eyes widening and then clamping them shut as she braced for impact.
The sound of metal scrunching against metal pierced through the icy night followed by the cracking of glasses and falling debris on the cold, dark concrete. It was all too fast. Hotaru felt the impact and barely registered the air bag going out, causing air to be knocked out of her lungs. Her eyes wanted so much to close but she fought against it. It would do her no good to lose consciousness for she knew she was in a deserted area. Help wouldn't come quickly.
She then felt someone tugging her door and a pair of hands taking out her seatbelt and hauled her out. Slightly dizzy, Imai silently thanked that she was out before she got suffocated. The chilly air was now calming her nerves.
"Well, well if it isn't the girl inventor" She heard the person who helped her and was now holding her shoulders to prop her up uttered. Her eyes widened and a small shiver of fear trailed down on her spine. She would recognize that voice anywhere. Imai looked at the person and saw the grim face of none other than Persona… but he was without his mask and she could see his piercing eyes glimmering.
Before she could say a word of acknowledgement, or shock, Persona grabbed her by the arm and tugged her beside him as they took cover behind her car. By his voice Hotaru heightened her senses. Sergio's presence in America only meant that he was in a mission and she was right. She saw him fumbled with a device with his right before a commotion on the other end got her attention.
Imai heard groans and curses as people got out from the car she collided with. She listened to their footsteps and silently mouthed to the man beside her that there were six people.
The dark-haired man nodded and was about to say something when suddenly the men started shooting a rain of bullets on her car. ON HER CAR! Imai shouted in her head as she ducked and protected herself even though she knew that it was bullet proof.
She felt her former sensei's body cover her. "Girl, you've been to missions haven't you?" she nodded, feeling his head bob a little as it was resting on top of her nape. "I trust you could operate even without practice in years?"
She nodded again and shivered lightly as she felt his breath on her neck as he sighed in somewhat relief. "Then when the opportunity comes, do what you must do." She nodded again and felt Persona move away from her.
When the firing stopped for a moment, Imai's instinct and adrenaline kicked in. She lunged her arm back inside her car and grabbed something under the driver's seat. She thanked Kami that that part was not destroyed.
Hearing a loud boom and more cursing from the other part she took a glance at Persona and saw him looking at the thing she was holding and nodded his head. Turning her attention back to their enemies she slowly stood up and took the hazy smoke forming around.
Her eyes widened as she pulled her scarf up to her nose, their bastard for a teacher just threw a tear gas without informing her! With the assurance of the heavy cloth as her protection she took a deep breath and pushed a button that transformed the thing she got from her car into a sleek baka gun.
First shot, she aimed at a man waiving around his gun as he tried dissipating the gas around him. Bull's eye! Right on the midsection. She then hit a second person that was coughing on the ground.
Imai then saw Sergio darted out and threw quick punches and kicks to the two men near him that caused them to get unconscious. Then a flash of light almost blinded her as a spear of lightning past her eyesight and zoomed to her companion's way.
She shouted at her previous teacher and then turned the intensity of her baka gun to full and aimed a shot the man who has the lightning alice that threw the spear. Imai had hit him on the head and the man fell, face first, on the pavement.
The last of their enemies stood his ground and activated his alice. Suddenly, Imai heard a great rumbling from above and to her horror a great wave of snow was coming down their way. She then heard a loud grunt and saw the dark figure of Persona stumble down, his hands holding his stomach.
"Oh fuck it!" Imai shouted in her mind as she noticed the man started running away. "Oh no, you don't just run!" She shouted and aimed her baka gan to the fleeing figure. The baka gun calculated as it tried centering on the target while the rumbling above started getting stronger. One second… two…. Three… locked on. She fired and it hit the running enemy on the head again. She was a sharp shooter at best.
With that settled she then concentrated at the now monstrous figure of the snow coming down. She held her baka gun once again and closed her eyes, "Mikan, help me," she whispered before Imai clicked the trigger.
She was breathing hard as she expected to be buried with snow at any moment. Her logic told her that it was in vain to use her baka gun for what she saw was too huge for her gun to even make a dent. But a couple of minutes passed and she could still feel herself panting and everything was quiet until she heard someone speak.
"Girl! Come over here!"
She opened her eyes and took in the disappearance of the white monster that she was expecting a few moments ago. Huffing in relief she walked swiftly to the dark-haired man who was splayed down and was trying to his best to stand up.
"Could you stop calling me girl… we're not in school you know," Hotaru snapped as she huddled beside Persona. He huffed and grabbed her shoulder for support. As he stood she saw blood trickle around his midsection but noticed how he was not giving attention to it.
He took something out of his coat and shoved it to her hands. Imai stared at the kit of gadgets and snapped her attention back to their sensei. "I trust that you know what it's meant for." She nodded, "Get to work."
Then he purposely walked to the two men he had knocked out of consciousness. She winced as Persona injected he gadget, with two-inches long needle, on each of their skulls. Hotaru Imai wanted to be anywhere at this point as she went to the man she had hit first and injected the thing that was given to her. It was another model of her memory harvester. A sort of chip that converts memories to photographs that directly gathers them from the brain tissues.
"Hurry! Go to the others!" She heard Persona hissed at her as he was on his way to another fallen enemy. She then noticed that the bodies were starting to shake and it registered to her. They were programmed to self-destruct and their memory would be lost. Hotaru Imai sped to the two remaining bodies and swiftly placed the remaining harvesters to their brain. She controlled herself in order not to throw up at that moment. It was an unpleasant sight as foam started foaming in their mouths while the small machines were twinkling with multi-colored lights.
As the memories were completely gathered the little machines unlatched themselves automatically from the brain. Hotaru took the gadgets silently while trying not to stare at the quivering bodies. She turned her attention to Persona and her heartbeat skipped as she saw him tugging out the glove of his left hand using his teeth and then he started touching their fallen enemies.
Hotaru had a glimpse of black marks starting to appear on the men's face and bodies before she opted to turn her back and stare intently at the starless sky. At least she wasn't hearing any painful scream as what has been the usual case when Rei Sergio puts his judgment of death. She had never witnessed the act, heard it from those who were the last to leave the mission scene and just from the stories it was horrible. It was her choice not to witness it and save her eyes from the trauma it might bring.
"Girl, snap out of it…" She heard him breath out those words and when she opened her eyes she was now face to face with a heavily panting Rei Sergio. She turned her head to her surroundings and saw nothing of the men nor of the car they used. Only what were left were her, Persona, her slightly dented vehicle and a few bullet cases scattered all around.
She stared back at him, a little bit flustered on seeing her previous professor's face. Then Imai jumped in fright as she realized that he was holding her! She screamed and took a couple of steps back, almost tripping from her sheer panic. He was holding her! She frantically checked her arm to see if there were spots… confusion then came after as time passed without any sign of her body decaying.
A heavy puff of exasperation came from Persona, "Are you done being a drama queen?" He asked her pointedly as he held out his hands that were now covered with black gloves. When had he put them back she wasn't sure but that certainly explained why she was not affected.
"You know girl, I would've praised you for your timing but such idiocy and complete loss of emotional control just blew it off. And to think I had expected more from you."
Hotaru's eyes went into slits but also felt shame. She was indeed taken over with her prejudice and didn't take into consideration that Persona was not the evil villain they all thought he was before.
Those thoughts occupied her mind even as she drove them to her house. Apparently her car was not that damaged and the engine was still intact. Persona didn't have a hotel to stay as he was in a pursuit so they opted to just go to her apartment.
Once the lights flooded her apartment and they stepped inside, Sergio lost consciousness and went limp on the polished floorboard. To say that Hotaru Imai was shocked was truly an understatement. But who wouldn't? It was not everyday that you would see Rei Sergio, aka Persona, aka the Man of Death, aka the Killer, aka the maniac, aka adjectives of evils, okay he was not really any of those as a whole… but to think, nay just imagine him faint… well it was just absurd. It would impossible for anyone to believe.
Luckily, Hotaru had Amanatsu with her who helped her carry the man to a guest room and had the robot take off his upper body clothes. There was the ugly wound that came from the lightning spear during their fight. It was longer and deeper than what she would've thought from the way Sergio acted and it was now turning into an uglier sight.
Antibiotics, bandages, cleaning tools, gauzes and medical stuffs came flying in and out of the room. Amanatsu automatically turned off while Hotaru slumped on the nearby sofa after four grueling hours of taking care of the wound and observing her previous teacher. He might've gotten an infection for as they were cleaning him, his temperature had risen and he was moaning in pain.
They had to observe him for several hours and when they deemed it was okay to rest, the sun was already up and Hotaru had to call her work to say that she was having a sick leave of two days. Thinking that everything should be fine, Imai submitted to sleep with the normal and continued sound of breathing of a sleeping Persona as the last sound that entered her conscious mind.
The heavenly smell of bacon alerted her nose and made her eyes flutter open. Imai looked around her as she noticed that the ceiling was definitely not her room and Amanatsu was laying flat on the floor. Then she saw the bed with ruffled sheets and a few stains of blood. Wait…
Turning around abruptly Hotaru found herself flat on the wooden floor as she tumbled over the sofa. She cursed loudly as the back pain from sleeping uncomfortably came at the same time that she banged her whole front on the floor.
But with the memories coming back and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee traveling down to her grumbling stomach Imai immediately stood from her unwomanly state and ran down to her kitchen where she heard clanging, banging and cranking.
And ohhhh kami… was she fated to be ever the witness to unexplainable and totally out of this world sights? Who would have ever thought that the day would come when a single living creature would witness, Sergio, the sexy devil's pawn, so naturally good in a kitchen?
And yes, she said sexy because for all her stubbornness Hotaru Imai was not a hypocrite. Persona was wearing his pants (thank Kami for that) and his black polo shirt with only one button closed (because the others were totally ripped out by Amanatsu) so that she had a free view of his sculpted abs. She noticed that he was also wearing his gloves… and it was perfectly natural if your thinking travels into a slightly naughty way.
As if Persona knew what was going on inside her head, he raised an amused eyebrow as he waited for her to come out of her stupor. To say the least, he was grateful for the woman's presence and help. Although surmising the fact that he woke up with a mended wound and practically shirtless it was not hard to miss that Imai Hotaru had seen him lose consciousness and had tended to him and that gave a tiny sting on his pride.
He wasn't prepared for that kind of situation since it never happened before. He had not anticipated that the people he were pursuing would be hell bent on escaping that he was not able to call for back-up. Good thing that the best friend of Mikan Sakura was there. The woman had an impeccable timing he thought.
"I took the initiative to use your kitchen as I see it fit," he drawled as he noticed the blush spreading across the disheveled face of Hotaru. "Bet she couldn't put my appearance to my personality…"
Imai just nodded and proceeded to get herself a cup of coffee before settling herself on a stool. She was ashamed for getting caught ogling her previous teacher. Even though she was not directly his student but still… She sipped from her coffee and reveled on the hot liquid going down her throat and settling on her cold stomach. At least the man was terrifically mean in making coffee.
They settled for a moment of silence before Imai spoke, "Last night. I want the details."
He turned to her and gazed at her eyes, "Last night was a mission. You were there and became part of it. Mission Accomplished. End of story."
"I said details not a summary."
"Not for you to know." Persona took the stool in front of her as he deposited a plate of crab and brocolli salad and took a sip from his own coffee mug. "By the way, you were given a nullification stone."
He said it in a matter-of-fact tone and looked straight at her not giving her a chance to be surprised or attempt to deny his statement, "Sakura Mikan gave it to you."
Imai just nodded. There was no point in denying it since he probably wouldn't accept it. Besides she wouldn't get anything from lying to Persona.
"Well at least Sakura has some use."
She just shrugged at his maligning comment towards Mikan. His statement was obviously not laced with malice but of mere amusement. Hotaru could hear the relief in his voice and that was enough for her to know that she did the right thing in saving the man instead of letting Amanatsu kill him last night.
Then just to clear out the upcoming silence she blurted out the question she had been wanting to ask ever since she saw him last night, "Where's your mask?"
If Imai had expected him to throw her a piercing glance, she was so wrong. She would swear that at that moment she saw Sergio's lips twitched just a tiny little bit as if he smiled. But at a split second it was gone and she was staring at a bored looking one. "I don't need it."
Then as if Persona was her long time friend and that they were talking about the weather he explained to her that he was inserted with an alice stone of will and self-control. So even without the mask he was able to control his alice of death already and even informed her that it was done several years ago.
Gaping like a goldfish, "But I saw you before and you still had your mask on?", she uttered in confusion and amazement.
Persona filled his plate with food and munched a few bites before answering, "Image is important. You should know that."
"So you're letting yourself be known as the one with the Mark of Death, aka the cruel murderer, aka the puppet of Gakuen Alice, aka the cursed child?" Hotaru couldn't control herself from saying those words. But seeing a sharp glint on the eyes of Persona made her cringe and she wanted to run away.
She stuttered an apology to which Persona just shrugged his shoulders and this time gave a small smile to her. This sent Hotaru to have an apoplectic shock. Rei Sergio just smiled and without his mask he was just heavenly looking.
As if to send her to her early death, Sergio inched his face nearer to hers, "Imai-san…" he breathed out slowly, "I wear the mask for the purpose you have just fairly elaborated. I am what I have become and even though I regret some things at this point I have accepted the fact that I have to bear the responsibility of instilling fear to get students checked."
His voice then became a little bit harsher, "From all the people inside the Gakuen, you should be the one with less prejudice. Being with a lot of the Dangerous Ability members should've torn your stereotypes but did the western air muddled your brain or did the scientists in that wicked workplace of yours tinkered on your alice that you have been left with less neurons to work with?"
She would've mumbled another apology while staring intently on the food, avoiding eye contact in shame but Sergio stopped her by speaking again, "Besides… if I don't wear my mask and use my 'persona' I would be a cause of constant pheromone outrage in the Gakuen. That school does not need another Narumi and I wouldn't even wish to be mobbed by obsessed naïve girls."
Hotaru started bowing her head and planned to really kneel down to ask for his forgiveness when his words sank inside her mind. Her head snapped up and saw that he was having the kind of smile that was telling that he was just pulling her leg. Oh had the world really turned around?
"Aren't you a little bit conceited, Persona-sensei"
Sergio stared with amusement at Imai Hotaru, his eyebrow flinching and his lips quirking upward, making her fidget under his gaze. Who would have thought that Subaru's sister would become a normal woman who responds with a blush when under a heavy gaze of a man? Persona laughed inwardly as he remembered how Imai was dubbed as the Ice Queen. So much for the ice now. Imai Hotaru has become a human being.
He sighed heavily, moved his body backwards together with the stool he was sitting on as he continued his eye contact with Hotaru. And to Imai's shock Rei Sergio snipped the only button joining his black shirt, took it off and slammed its crumpled state on the counter and gave her his most wickedly beautiful smile.
Any woman and any woman would do just what Imai had done and that was to let her eyes wander down from his face, to his neck with a sensuous Adam's apple, to his flat, lean chest until his sculpted abs. Any brave woman would have gone lower but Imai was not that kind as she blushed profusely from obviously ogling her sensei and not being able to control herself.
Persona's lips quirked another notch upward as he saw her reaction. Hotaru then saw his hand reach out towards her. Her breath hitched as she stared at his coming hand. She was half-expecting that he would touch her when he suddenly grabbed the gecko tanner which she didn't notice was just beside her.
"I wouldn't even buy this product with its ghastly packaging."
His baritone voice filled Hotaru's head even before his statement sank in her head. Spark of pride flashed in her eyes as she defended her work. She went on explaining that the two spray tiers were efficient since it would give out a longer staying power. Hotaru would've ranted on when Persona raised his hand to silence her and proceeded to use the tanner on his left arm first.
He observed how the first spray gave an invisible, sticky substance and how the second spray was tinted and how his skin absorbed the sandy substance. Within a few seconds his left arm started getting a tan that could be compared of a Filipino or a Malaysian native. Satisfied with its results he proceeded to spray it all over his exposed body and face. And so it happened that in front of Imai's eyes Rei Sergio transformed from his vampire like ghoulish skin to an olive skinned Mediterranean glow.
"Well, at least the product has its future." His eyes, which were becoming a mix of red and orange because of his new tan, met Hotaru's bewildered face, "How many of these do you have now? It says here Beige 302."
"I-I have 10 pieces of that color with me right now." She stammered, as she couldn't comprehend the sight of a tanned Persona. Damn! She better check if her cameras were all working. This moment needed to be recorded.
Persona's face became a little sour. "Just 10? Then you better think of a better packaging than this ghastly gecko. It would be waste if you couldn't reproduce this thing."
"You read my files?"
He smirked with something that could compare to Natsume's, "I'm a spy. The invention company you're in has no need for this, technically. By the way, give me five of these."
Now understanding that he was indeed interested with her product and did actually praise her she gave a sardonic smile, "I didn't think you like being tan."
"I didn't think you're talkative."
"I was just amused."
"You're welcome. And that's for being amused by me and having a free view of my body"
This man was unbelievable was the only thing that entered Hotaru Imai's thoughts. "Who are you?"
Persona smiled again at her, stood up and took his crumpled shirt. He then made his way out of the kitchen and told her that he would get ready to leave and she better prepare the 5 tanners he wanted.
Hotaru stared at the place Persona vacated for some time. She couldn't just comprehend what happened but her mind was also planning to check out her video room and making sure to get the things he wanted.
Then an idea popped out of her mind. In no time she was drawing images on papers. By the time Persona went down in his usual garb, coat and all except for the mask, Hotaru's head was bent on her work. She only noticed his presence when he coughed and looked at her pointedly.
Imai swiftly handed him the paper she was working on, "I need to take a picture of your abs."
"E-excuse me?" Persona said as he stared flabbergasted at the woman before him and then stirred his attention over the paper she gave him. There was a drawing of a man's upper body where at each shoulder there were snouts and the abs were sculpted. The body was tan and had a base of black petals making it look like the body was resting on a black rose. On one side of the rose was a hole big enough for an adult's pinky and a screen beside it. A text was inscribed on top of the whole stating that it was a UV tester. And as he looked at it closely the spray snouts were designed from the style of one of his limiter earrings.
"You told me that I needed to think of a good packaging and I found one."
She said it in a matter-of-fact tone and his eyes exchanged from looking to her and taking in her design. It was not bad… really not bad at all. "Yes but what about taking a picture of my abs?"
Imai looked at him as if he had asked the most stupid question. "I needed to take close-up photos for me to make a perfect replica."
"And who said I would do it for you?"
This time she smirked, "First, I saved your life. Second, your body would be marketed around the globe to be appreciated by millions of people, gender issues irrelevant as the packaging would be universal and that would satisfy your ego's gluttonous appetite."
Persona grunted. He had no doubt that the product would sell like wildfire in Western countries and with his body being the pattern for it… well. His red eyes pierced through her now serious violet ones, "You do know that I should receive payment for this one, 30% will do."
She stared at him. "Well, with the organization having ownership over it I think you could just go as far as 7%"
He shrugged lamely and told her that he would settle for 50% and he would help her set up a manufacturing company rather than let another just claim money over her work. Imai looked at him as she weighed that he was not joking.
Quickly thinking, "Back to 30 for you as I have the creative side."
He clucked his tongue, "45, I'll be giving you connections." To which she snorted and reminded him that she also has connections not including the fact of her natural talent in "researching" aka "personal information retrieving" aka "stalking. "Only until 35% since you gave me the idea too"
Persona seemed to calculate things inside his head. It was disconcerting to see him in his usual attire with a tanned face. It just wasn't what she was used to. She waved the camera she was holding to which Persona's eyes glittered in mischief as he started stripping his coat and his shirt… and that was as good as a yes… even better
"You don't need me to lower my pants do you?" He asked as Hotaru made way to get closer to him and got ready to take shots. She just glared at him and proceeded on taking photos, ordering him to raise his hands or make a pose for her to get all angles.
"Never in my life had I imagined that you would be interested in taking photos of my body."
She snorted slightly, "Well it wasn't everyday that we see you topless."
"Ahhh," he said softly, "so now you must admit that I have every right to be conceited." He looked down at her as the shutter of her camera made another sound. Hotaru then straightened her body and looked at him, "No, it doesn't hurt to admit that you have every right to be proud of being a nice looking human being." Then she made her way to the sofa where his clothes were lying and threw them at him.
"Done taking advantage of me Ms. Imai?"
She nodded and looked away as Persona started wearing his clothes on. It was too late for propriety and he was supposed to be the one who should uphold it but oh well… She has her perfect packaging.
"You could go now if you want to."
Persona tugged on his coat to check its fit. "You make it sound like I'm some kind of prostitute you want to send home after a hot romp"
She laughed sardonically. "I wouldn't even dream of it."
"You better," he said and it was late for Imai to register that his laid back demeanor suddenly changed to a fierce one as Persona was suddenly in front of her, grabbed her neck and kissed her on the lips.
The kiss was not passionate or too gentle. Imai could not describe it as shock racked her whole system and it was finished before she could even register the sensation. Persona's lips then went to her ear, "That was for two things. For having perfect timing and for having the sensibility to admit things against your stereotypes."
And as if Persona was like a ghost, his image and presence disappeared like a blur in Hotaru's house, together with the 5 tanner containers that were on the coffee table. She was stunned for hours before she admitted that she did benefit from all the misadventures.
Who would've have ever thought that the day Imai Hotaru discovered that she could use her former teacher would also be the day that she would know that Rei Persona has terribly nice abs and was an incessant flirt if he wanted to be. It was not a bad day to admit her faults openly when she was just given a private sneak peek and a chance to make more money.
But with such a distracting event, she had to do something and the only thing she did was finish her project containers and it was until the wee hours of the morning where she was able to reproduce an exact model.