Author's Notes: So here we are at the last chapter! And since this is our grand finale, note that every scene shifts POV among the characters. To make things easier, I've named the scenes respectfully. Enjoy!
CHAPTER 10: Nullified
It was the day of the prom. I was happy. Koko was happy. Yuu was happy. The male population of the Alice Academy was generally… satisfied. Except for two. The top two: Natsume Hyuuga and Ruka Nogi— dateless, rejected, pathetic. It was surreal. If anyone told me six years ago that these two would end up unwanted and bereft, I never would have believed it. Funny how things turn out.
At the moment, Natsume was at his seat, fast asleep, with a manga pulled over his head. He looked completely untroubled by the fact that across the hall, Mikan Sakura still refused to speak with him. In contrast, Ruka was full of mad energy that morning. He was at his table coaxing his little white ferret while holding a rose up to its nose.
"See the rose Shiro?" He said eagerly, "I need you to take this rose to Hotaru. Can you do that? Of course you can do that!"
I can't speak ferret but I think Shiro said yes because he moved forward and clamped the flower in his mouth. I cleared my throat, "That's for Hotaru, huh?"
"The first of many."
I slid a glance outside the window, brows drawn. "Well, you'd better get a move on. She's leaving the building." Ruka hurried over to stand next to me and panicked.
"She's leaving?" He glanced at his pet then to my surprise he flung the window open measuring the distance with his gaze. I gaped when I realized that he intended to throw Shiro outside like a shot put then thought better of it. He held up the white furball to me, "Mochu, would you please?"
I rolled my eyes, "Gimme."
Slightly amused, I levitated Shiro, with the rose secure between his teeth, from the window. I let him hover a bit behind Hotaru before letting him land in front of her. I must say, he did look adorable, sitting in the middle of the path, hopefully holding out the long-stemmed rose. She stopped walking and stared down.
"Is it working? Is it working?" Ruka asked anxiously, hiding from view of the window.
I quirked an eyebrow, "You poor, poor man."
"What is she doing?"
"She's walking forward… she's picking him up…" I frowned, not sure if what I was seeing was part of Ruka's plan, "Now she's walking away."
"With the rose?"
"Yup… and Shiro."
"What?" Ruka cried, jumping out of his hiding place and bracing his hands on the ledge. Together, we watched as Hotaru headed for her lab, white ferret, rose and all. Ruka went ashen, "She took my ferret! Why is she taking my ferret?"
"She took your ferret?" Koko repeated, joining us at the window with a smirk.
"Yes," he said in a strangled voice.
"She took Shiro?"
"She gave you that ferret…"
"You'll never see him again."
Our shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. Then instead of lamenting his new dilemma, Ruka's fists clenched and for an instant I actually saw the old Ruka Nogi back with a manic glint in his eyes. Koko and I exchanged a glance then suddenly Ruka slapped a hand on the ledge with a bang, "That's it! This means war."
"Hotaru Imai is going down."
That didn't sound good coming from Ruka Nogi, sworn admirer and ardent suitor of Hotaru Imai. But then, he was also the same guy she'd heartlessly blackmailed for six years. I suppose some form of retribution was in order. Nonetheless, his expression was alarming.
"What do you mean?"
Ruka turned to us with a freakishly scary smile, "If you want to know, be at Hotaru's lab. Three o'clock."
The girls in class could barely contain their giggles. Next to me, even Mikan was shaking with silent laughter and obvious delight. Meanwhile, I was too busy mentally cursing Ruka Nogi to bother telling them off. I shot yet another vicious gaze at the window where a large army of colorful butterflies were fluttering about spelling out outrageous messages:
Forgive me, Hotaru!
Be my date to the prom.
I miss you already.
That last one really struck a nerve especially when Nonoko sank lower in her chair laughing. Even Mr. Misaki, who was teaching the class, struggled to keep a straight face as the butterflies rearranged themselves into a more revolting statement:
Ruka and Hotaru forever.
The whole class cracked up.
"Damn the man," I muttered under my breath then thankfully the final bell rang signaling the end of today's classes. The room immediately erupted into an excited babble as we were set free to prepare for the prom. I gathered my things and quickly strode out of the room, needing to get away from the insects and the knowing glances being thrown my way. No sooner had I stepped out the door when a little gray squirrel scampered up to me with a rose between its teeth.
I cursed. Behind me, girls squealed. I could not believe they found this adorable. Ignoring the little animal, I walked on but it dutifully followed close behind. I held my head high, knowing that somewhere its master was probably watching in amusement.
"You have to forgive him Hotaru," Nonoko said cheerfully, as she and the other girls caught up with me, "He's obviously very sorry."
"Very, very sorry," Anna chimed in.
Her tone made me look back and to my shock I saw that a dozen other woodland creatures were following the first squirrel, each one holding a different blossom in its mouth. The other girls were laughing.
"Ruka's such a sweetheart," Mikan smiled.
"You blockhead," I hissed. Then ignoring my entourage, I hurried down the steps and out of the building. The little band scurried on following me and my laughing friends. Out in the sunshine, I took a deep, calming breath.
"So, are you guys getting ready for the prom?" Nonoko asked.
"In a bit," I said, "I need to head for my lab first." I waved to them then started walking away. As soon as my feet hit the cobbled path, a bird swooped down from above and dropped a long-stemmed rose at my feet. I froze, "He wouldn't." I took another tentative step and two birds flew down to drop more roses on the path.
"Oh, he would," Anna pointed skyward. I gaped at the flock of birds patiently circling above us, carrying roses in their beaks.
"Take this walk with me," I ordered, grabbing Mikan's arm. She yelped as I tugged and the three of them followed me down the path while roses were showered all around us. People were beginning to point and stare. At length, someone I didn't know actually yelled, "Forgive him Hotaru!" that was followed by more cheers and laughing, which was quickly silenced when I pulled out my baka gun and shot the offending stranger.
Mikan grinned, "It's actually very pretty."
"No it's not," I muttered, "It's annoying and embarrassing."
"Oh look," Nonoko cooed. She bent down and picked up a rose to hold out a tag, "Just in case anyone's mistaken, he's labeled every flower with your name."
"It says, To My Hotaru Imai," Anna observed, "Ruka must really like you."
"You know, we can actually use these for the prom," Mikan said picking one up too, "To decorate the tables and stuff. Do you mind?"
"It's yours," I said shortly then in the horizon I noticed a particularly large flock approaching and paled, "No way..."
"Well, it is a pretty long walk to your lab," Nonoko pointed out, "You'd better run for it Hotaru."
She didn't need to say so. I already started running the rest of the way. Just before I reached the building, the flock overhead caught up with me and simultaneously released the roses that fell in a rain of color. When the deluge finally ended, I was fuming. I rushed up the front steps of my lab and slammed the door behind me.
How dare he? That brainless, no-good, inconsiderate… I trudged upstairs to the first door on the left that I used as my study then sulkily threw my bag on the floor. How could it possibly come to this? I didn't have to be a genius to know that the guy was actually teasing me now. So he actually decided to enjoy himself a little, did he? Ruka Nogi is going to pay…
My gaze flitted around the room, passing over little Shiro who was wandering around the maze I had built to keep him occupied, then landed on the incriminating object on my desk: the infamous pink screwdriver. My annoyance shot up several notches. Stupid Ruka. Why did he have to give that to me in the first place? And why did I have to take it so hard anyway?
Still brooding, I walked over to my desk and sat down, chin on hand. For a couple of minutes, I remained that way. This was maddening. Here in my lab surrounded by a hundred inventions waiting for my attention and I could think of nothing but the pink screwdriver. So instead of working I took an envelope of newly developed photos out of my coat pocket and started laying them out on the desk per category.
Mass consumption… Limited edition… Mass consumption… Mass consumption… Limited edition… Then I paused. I came across a shot of the idiot with a scowl on his face complaining to Natsume. This was taken just last week when I was buying the girls ice cream cones in Central Town. He looked endearingly frustrated. I blew the hair out of my eyes before mentally classifying, Personal collection…
Before I could continue classifying Ruka's photos, there was a loud tap on the window. I looked up and glowered. It was a swallow carrying yet another rose. Pointedly ignoring it, I returned to the task at hand. There was another loud tap, which I ignored. Then another… and another…
"Oh honestly," I breathed before slashing the window with a terrible look. I gaped when I realized that the swallow had been multiplied a dozen times over. Thoroughly provoked, I stood up and headed for the door, intending to get Invention no. 256, an upgraded model of the robot cat I made years ago. This time it was a robot tiger.
I pulled the door open and halted. Outside the door leaving no room to walk around, sitting just beyond the jamb as though it was the most normal thing in the world was a giant panda snacking on a bamboo shoot. I sputtered, "What the—" Then slammed the door.
Irate, I walked across the room to the window and threw it open just to get the incessant tapping to stop. The flock swooped in, dropped their blooms and flew out. I watched them leave, gripping the ledge, struggling for composure. Then my gaze fell upon the view outside the lab and I was completely floored.
On the grounds, spanning the entire length of this gigantic building were animals; lots and lots of animals. Huge jungle animals, domesticated farm animals, cute and cuddly forest creatures, vicious looking predators— it looked as if every animal in the Academy was assembled in front of my lab, which apparently included the army of butterflies that continued to flash appalling messages across the sky. Each creature had brought a blossom. Then there, standing in front of the congregation looking very pleased with himself, was Ruka Nogi.
"What do you think you're doing!"
"If I'm going to embarrass myself today, by god, you're going down with me," Ruka answered her, in a voice that carried to the very back of the crowd.
I was genuinely afraid for his safety. This stunt could make or break him. From the look on Hotaru's face there was a very good chance that it was going to break him. But then, I'm just a spectator. I stood in the sidelines with most of the original Class B, waiting for what was going to happen next. The boys looked on with a mixture of chagrin and hilarity. The girls, on the other hand, looked misty-eyed and hopeful. The moment Hotaru threw her window open we held our breaths as the two of them locked eyes, not saying anything for a while.
Then Hotaru spoke in a dangerously calm tone, "Ruka Nogi, get these animals off the premises and your presence away from my sight."
Ruka laughed, "I can't."
"Really, I can't," he grinned, "I maxed out my power Hotaru. Every animal in the Academy that could respond to my Alice is here. It's not as easy to send them back."
Hotaru's eyes narrowed, "Why did you do this?"
"We need to talk and this is the only way I could think of to get you to hear me out."
"By placing me under house arrest?"
"It's not a foolproof plan," Mochu muttered to me. Quite a number of people have already gathered to witness the spectacle, and a few of them were from the faculty. Surprisingly, no one was doing anything to resolve the situation as though everybody wanted this scene to play out.
"Not very wise either," Natsume commented.
"That's our Ruka," I said grimly. King of half-baked dating schemes.
"You see Hotaru, we need to straighten out a few things," Ruka went on, oblivious to the comments being thrown around him. "We already know that I like you very much; and we all know that you like me too. The question is, why are you fighting it?"
"I like you?" Hotaru looked like she was going to explode.
"Of course you do. Why else would you be so upset with that screwdriver? I have it on good authority of your two best friends, Mikan and Yuu, that the reason it bothered you so much is that you have feelings for me."
"Leave me out of this Ruka," I mumbled as Hotaru's eyes flared.
"You care about me Hotaru," Ruka said confidently, "You gave me Shiro, who I'll be wanting back by the way, when I lost my rabbit. You agreed to be my prom date without charging a single cent. And you've been taking my picture since we were ten. You don't need to profit off of them now. Everyone knows that. You take my picture because you want to. Because you like me."
"Is that what this is about? Your pictures?" Hotaru said tersely. She disappeared from her window then suddenly returned with a full drawer, "You want your pictures so badly, well here!" Then she released a torrent of photographs that cascaded to the ground sending the animals in an upheaval. She disappeared a second time and came back with another drawer, then a third…
"Hold!" Ruka yelled and the scampering animals froze in gathering the pictures that were now scattered all over the Academy grounds where humans and animals alike just picked it up to see. Ruka laughed, "You vindictive woman. You're amazing."
"I love you."
Hotaru staggered and so did the rest of us. Seeing her reaction, Ruka looked absolutely delighted. He grinned, "You heard me. I'm past liking you. I'm in love with you. I'm making it clear. I love that brilliant but crazy mind of yours."
We all watched in amazement as Ruka went on to boldly profess his feelings for Hotaru. Her face was unreadable. She stood still, listening for a while with her jaw clenched tight. Then suddenly she left the window again while Ruka continued to speak.
"And even if you're so damn stubborn— are you listening Hotaru?" Ruka asked, stopping mid-speech when his lady love did not return to the window. He frowned, "Are you building something up there?" Hotaru came back into view and there was a united shriek as she aimed a huge baka bazooka at the crowd and fired. Then Ruka did something we never saw him do before. He dodged. He leapt nimbly around before shouting, "Stop that!"
"You think saying those things is going to get me to be your date again?" Hotaru seethed.
"Who cares about the prom? I'm asking you to be my girlfriend," Ruka returned as he straightened again. Another hush fell over the crowd.
"Boy, he's really putting everything on the line now," Koko smirked.
"Somebody shut him up, he's making me look bad," Natsume said in amusement. Not far from us I saw the girls gripping each other, looking utterly thrilled by Ruka's declaration. Hotaru went still, the bazooka lowered at her side.
Ruka wasn't finished, "I care about you Hotaru. And I know in my gut that you have feelings for me too. It's crazy, but I can feel it every time you blackmail me, every time you call me an idiot, every time you shoot me with your baka gun. You act like you don't care, but I know you do. I'm sorry about the screwdriver. I promise I'll never be that stupid again."
"I don't believe you."
"All right fine," He conceded, "I may be that stupid again but I know you'll love me for it."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I'm feeling very stupid right now and I know you love every minute of it," Ruka answered. Then after a pause he added earnestly, "And besides, for the past twenty minutes I've told everyone how much I love you and you stood there and let me say it."
We held our breaths again as we waited for Hotaru's response. She was quiet for a long time, her eyes sweeping over the crowd, taking in the sight of Ruka surrounded by every animal in the Alice Academy and of the grounds carpeted with hundreds of Ruka photos she collected for six years.
"If you stop being stupid," she said at last, "then how can I shoot you with my baka gun?"
"Show me you love me Ruka," Hotaru said tonelessly then to everyone's shock, she placed one foot over the ledge and leapt out the window.
"Oh my god!" Ruka cried. It was like nothing I've ever seen before. He climbed on the back of a hippo, clambered up the neck of a giraffe, jumped off its head in time to catch Hotaru mid-air and together they landed safely in the arms of a grizzly bear. The crowd burst into applause.
I smiled then glanced across the crowd to catch the eye of a tearful yet laughing Mikan and give her a thumbs-up sign. Then we strained our necks to listen to what Hotaru said next as she actually smiled at Ruka and leaned her head against his shoulder in a very un-Hotaru-like fashion.
"Falling wasn't so bad after all," she muttered with a faint blush, "I'll make it easy for you. I'm going in white."
And just as Ruka sighed with relief and beamed at his new girlfriend, Hotaru held out her ever reliable camera and took a picture of them both.
I can't believe he actually did it. Ruka Nogi brought Hotaru Imai down. I should've given him more credit. Or maybe I should just credit all this to the fact that miracles do happen. Regardless, the fact was my best friend managed to get the girl he loved by pulling one of the most outrageous stunts I've ever seen. Of course, he had a lot of explaining to do but Narumi was more than happy to defend him seeing as it was done in the name of love.
I was back in my room contemplating all this just as the clock struck six. It was exactly ninety minutes before the prom. With the Hotaru and Ruka drama over, the only unresolved conflict left was between Mikan and me. I knew the others were waiting for something to happen. Specifically, they were waiting for me to do something.
Hanging on my closet door was the shirt I bought weeks ago. I walked over then took it off the hanger, staring at it with a deep frown. Inwardly, I cringed at the color and wondered for the eighty-seventh time what I was thinking when I purchased it. It was completely mental. I can't believe I even got away with it in the middle of Central Town. I wasn't even sure back then if I was going to the prom but I got a silk shirt anyway as though I was getting ready.
"Hey Natsume— what's that?" Ruka stopped at the door, which he had opened without knocking.
I froze, having been caught then cursed loudly, "Nothing."
We stared at each other for a second, a look of astonishment on his face then he grinned knowingly, "It's a silk shirt!" He walked inside and threw my closet open. "That's a new suit!" He looked back at the shirt I was holding with considerable amusement, "And it's pink."
"No it's not," I walked over to my table and moodily studied the color swatches that have been sitting there for ages, "It's… winterberry."
"Where'd you get those?"
"From that woman Hitler you now call your girlfriend."
"Hotaru? Nice, she wouldn't even give me color swatches," Then he grinned widely, without saying anything. His expression was infuriating.
"It doesn't mean anything Ruka."
"Sure it does," Ruka looked like his happiness was complete, "You're going to the prom."
"No, I'm not."
"Then why did you buy it?"
I raked a hand through my hair with an irritated sigh, "Why did I buy her Fluff Puffs? Why did I draft that check? Why did I waste time welding at the quad? And why did I want to beat the crap out of four people that I've never even laid eyes on before? I don't know! Because when it comes to Mikan Sakura, I have no answers."
"Well it's about time you got them, don't you think?" Ruka said encouragingly, "You don't need a lot of answers. You just need one reason."
"Well, I'm not getting that tonight because I'm not going to this stupid prom."
"Oh we're back here again, aren't we?"
"It's not my thing."
"So help me god Natsume," Ruka muttered, staring at the heavens for supplication. Then he gazed back at me, "You should go to the prom. It's practically half yours."
"I'll just ruin her evening."
"I think it's your absence that's going to wreck it," he said wisely, "Come on Natsume, I know you don't like fighting with her. What better time could there be to fix this?"
"Not all of us are looking for a happy ending tonight Ruka."
"Did she tell you that?" I asked, knowing that it would matter if she did.
I felt deflated, "Then I don't have to be there."
"And what are you going to do this evening while the rest of us are at the prom?" He asked impatiently, "Mope in your room with your winterberry shirt and an expensive suit you're never going to wear."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"Then who's going to watch over Mikan while she dances the night away with other boys? I'll be with Hotaru. Koko, Yuu and Mochu all have dates. She's still free. Basically, she can dance with anyone she wants."
I can't believe my best friend was baiting me. Ruka never baited me before. I scowled, "She's free to do whatever she pleases."
"You're really stubborn, you know that?"
"I've been told."
"Well, let me just say this," he paused for effect, "Mikan's not going to wait for you forever no matter how much she likes you."
"Wait for me? Ruka, I was her last resort!"
"Get over it. You were also her first choice," He stressed, "She only said that because of what we told her. You forgave us and she's way more important to you so step up and fix this."
"What if she won't talk to me?"
"You'll find a way," He insisted, "Besides, have you ever known Mikan to cut you direct no matter how badly you've treated her?"
"So give it a shot."
I sighed heavily, realizing Ruka came in here expressly for this purpose. I was somewhat amazed. I guess he really did learn something from his failed attempts. This was an honest to goodness talk. He was right of course. Mikan has never been able to ignore me for long. We've argued so many times in the past but it was always so easy to make up. She never gave me a hard time. It was one of the things I like about her. She just wouldn't give up on me.
Ruka halted, "Excuse me?"
"I said fine."
I must admit the prom committee did an excellent job, especially for a team that was led by Mikan Sakura. So far everyone who had come to join us at the quad looked appreciative of the arrangements and I was actually proud to have been part of the preparations.
After the fantasy theme was scrapped, we decided on a Victorian theme. As always, the large beacon used during the Festival Dance was at the center of the quad and the rest of our nineteenth century props were bedecked around it. For some reason, Mikan toned down on the colors and opted for black and white hues instead. We brought in black wrought-iron chairs and sweeping white clothes for the tables and seat cushions. For color, the centerpieces consisted of rose arrangements and next to it was a small cylindrical luminaria that came in different colors. At the moment, both the beacon and the luminarias were unlit.
The entrances leading to the quad had risings arches that were covered with climbing plants that were in full bloom thanks to Mr. Misaki's assistance. People were entering beneath the romantic archways and were strolling about in their colorful dresses and elegant suits— exactly as Mikan had envisioned on her first day as prom head.
I was standing next to the punch bowl while my dear Mochu poured us both glasses. We matched each other perfectly though I wondered where he found his magenta tie. After a while we were joined by Anna and Nonoko who brought along their dates.
"It's lovely, isn't it?" Anna grinned.
"We actually pulled it off," Nonoko agreed then she pointed, "Oh look, the new couple has arrived."
Ruka and Hotaru had made their appearance at last and were welcomed at the archway by enthusiastic admirers. Hotaru was wearing a beautiful white halter gown that closed at her throat and wrapped fittedly around her middle. It had a long flowing skirt with fine embroidery detail and her arms were encased in long white gloves. The ensemble looked very expensive. Next to her, Ruka was in a black suit with a matching vest and a white neckcloth instead of a tie. Hotaru was visibly wearing a corsage with a purple ribbon on her wrist while Ruka was proudly sporting a white rose bud on his coat lapel.
They looked so good together. All they needed was an aisle and a priest. People were congratulating them on getting together. Ruka looked thoroughly pleased whereas Hotaru seemed to be slowly sidling away from the well-wishers.
"Can you believe them?" Hotaru muttered when they finally joined us.
"Congratulations Hotaru!" Koko greeted with a wide grin.
"She has her baka gun with her," Ruka told him, still smiling affectionately at his girlfriend. I know the look well. I recognize it from Mochu eighteen months ago.
It was as though we were all set to have a good time this evening. Everything seemed perfect. Except at the moment, our prom head was wandering around looking like somebody just died. Her expression was in complete contrast to the lovely pink gown she was wearing. It was a strapless princess ball gown with a fitted chiffon bodice. There was a delicate floral pattern splashed across the duchess silk satin adding elegance. Part of her hair was pulled back in a half pony that had been curled at the ends and primly secured by a rose barrette. She would've been very charming if she wasn't so morose.
Mikan was mingling with the guests, her princess skirt swishing prettily about her but she looked positively dismal. She came over to us then scanned the crowd one more time. Then she sighed.
"Nice winterberry dress," Ruka said cheekily as he moved towards her with Hotaru by his side. Mikan looked back at him in confusion.
"That's what I told him."
"Huh?" Mikan looked bewildered but Ruka just gave her an odd smile. Hotaru rolled her eyes and the rest of us caught on quickly. There was no other person whom that 'him' could refer to. Nonetheless, Mikan looked as clueless as ever and we watched her search the quad again. When she let out yet another heavy breath, my patience snapped.
"Mikan! If you're going to sulk all night, why don't you just march upstairs and fetch Natsume already!" I said bluntly. She balked.
"Natsume!" I said again, "That's who you're looking for, right? You're sad because he's not here. Admit it. You've been planning this whole prom imagining Natsume going with you."
"No I haven't!"
"And I think he's been thinking of going with you too," I said smugly.
"No he hasn't," she blinked, "Has he?"
"Of course he has!" I said emphatically and the others nodded in agreement. "Why else would he have taken such interest in the prom?" Mikan looked puzzled and I realized the girl was far more ignorant than I supposed. I let out an exasperated breath, "Think about it! He's been involved since we started. We changed the theme because of his advice. He fixed this quad when the handyman didn't show up. He funded the prom and allowed us to change our band. We have two because of him!"
"That was Natsume's money?"
"How thick can you be?" I exclaimed, "Who else with an Alice Academy checking account would finance the prom?"
"He sends in catastrophes when our meetings stretch into the night," Hotaru smirked, "The sprinklers, the demons, Mr. Jinno's sudden interest in our progress—"
"Now there's a memory," Anna said grimly, remembering all too well the night Mr. Jinno interrupted our meeting to demand a status report before sending us to bed.
"He did all that for the prom?"
"No Mikan," Nonoko smiled, "He did it for you."
"Oh honestly, you are the only person alive who Natsume would give a can of soup to and think it's normal," I continued impatiently, "You have Natsume to thank for making your dream prom happen. And anyway, just look at the way he reacted when we started that rumor that someone was going to ask you to the prom! He was beside himself."
"You guys did that?"
"It was just a rumor?" Yuu said dumbfounded.
"Boys aren't the only ones who can scheme," I said breezily, "Mochu told me everything. Mind you, our plan would've worked if they hadn't messed up so badly."
"Messed up what?" Mikan turned reproachfully, "Ruka!"
"My intentions were noble," Ruka said quickly and the rest of the boys echoed him, "Unexpected circumstances just got in the way."
Hotaru raised an eyebrow, "The Drinking Alice?"
"Totally unexpected," Koko put in.
Mikan stared at us, absorbing everything we were telling her then abruptly dismissing it all with a shrug, "You're wrong. I don't need Natsume here. He can come if he wants. He can stay away if he wants. The prom is perfect enough as it is."
It was like she tempted fate. Before any of us could call her on that unbelievable statement, all the lights suddenly went out and the quad became pitch black. The music died as well with a deplorable groan from the speakers as the shutdown became complete.
"What happened?" Mikan asked in a panicked voice.
"It must be a power failure," Yuu said apprehensively, "That's strange. There's never been a power failure in the Academy before."
"Mikan," Hotaru's sharp voice came out in the darkness, "What power voltage did you prepare for tonight? I told you to prepare at least 22000."
"I did," Mikan whimpered, "At least I think I did… I'm sorry Hotaru!"
"Oh you're right Mikan, this is just perfect," I said sarcastically as people around us started moving restlessly and muttering among themselves, "What now prom head?"
"Candles! Lots and lots of candles!" Mikan answered, clearly stating the first thing that came to mind. "Light the ones we have now and go get some more!"
"Brilliant!" Koko cried, "I'll go look."
"Don't be rash," Anna stopped him, "It's completely dark Koko… Koko? Somebody stop him!" There were scuffles then a loud thump sounded nearby.
"Ouch! Who pulled me?"
"That would be me."
"I hit you."
I couldn't tell who was talking but it sounded like Koko was hurt and none of the boys were too sorry about it. We could barely see anything in the dark. Needless to say, this could spell out the untimely demise of the first-ever Alice Academy prom. I could hear some of the faculty members muttering nearby and apparently one of them was looking for Mikan.
"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh," Mikan fretted, "How could this happen? Yuu, what can we do?"
"Ahh…" Yuu murmured, thinking hard. People were getting restive and I heard snatches of their disgruntled conversations.
"I guess this evening's going to end early—"
"What a pity, I got all dressed up…"
"Where's the food? I can't see the food—"
"Wouldn't it be cool to have an Alice to shoot light beams out of your eyes…"
"This sucks. Two bands and no music."
"I'm getting a flashlight!" Mikan suddenly cried. I felt her skirts slap against me as she turned away from us. We tried to stop her but she burst out, "Get a flashlight. Get a lantern. I don't care. Just get some light in here. I need light!"
As though in answer, a tongue of fire appeared just above her shoulder. It illuminated the space around us, revealing our surprise. Before anyone could speak, another one emerged above Mikan's head then yet another lit up near her feet. The murmurs stopped as more fireballs came out and danced blithely around us, slowly casting the quad in soft radiance.
Only one person could do such a thing.
"It's Natsume!" Somebody cried and we turned in unison. Sure enough, Natsume Hyuuga was standing beneath the archway, searching the crowd as more flames erupted around the shadowy quad. When his gaze rested upon Mikan, he started walking towards us, his own fire illuminating the way.
He strode in with the same confidence he wore everyday. To say he was gorgeous just wouldn't suffice. He was the only guy in the whole courtyard wearing a long coat. It was charcoal gray like his vest and pants and added to that was a loose tie around his neck, the same casual way his uniform tie always hung. But what really caught my eye was the pink silk shirt he had underneath. It was unmistakable. Natsume wouldn't choose that color on his own.
"He's in winterberry!" Mokoruyama gushed to his "best friend", recognizing the color at once.
"Winterberry?" I repeated.
"He matches you!" Nonoko exclaimed, glancing at Mikan in awe.
"What a coincidence," Hotaru said dryly.
"He's in pink! It must be love," Anna remarked and the boys snickered.
I had to hand it to Natsume. He sure knew how to make an entrance. He was in pink. No other boy in the Alice Academy could look as dazzling in such a feminine color. But then, he could have come in denim pants and a t-shirt and he'd still be the best-looking guy in the quad.
"You're drooling, love," Mochu said wryly as I joined at least two dozen other girls who had walked a few steps away from their dates as though enticed by the prince in pink.
"Just a second, hon," I told him.
"Looks like I just lost my date," Mochu said with a small laugh.
"Looks like we all lost our dates," Koko replied as even Anna stepped forward to get a better view, "Tell me again why we tried so hard to get Natsume to attend the prom."
Natsume ignored the admiring stares he was receiving from all sides as he strode across the square. Mikan still hadn't moved. She seemed incapable. She hadn't spoken a word either since he arrived. It was as though Natsume's gaze had her rooted to the spot. I raised an eyebrow. I'd say the rest of the courtyard vanished from her sight as Natsume stalked forward, captivating half the females in attendance.
Then abruptly she snapped out of it and cried, "Stop using your Alice!"
Natsume halted. He flicked his gaze around and the luminarias on the tables started lighting up. Then he stretched out his hand and fired at the center beacon, setting it ablaze. The light from the huge chalice cast the quad in a dramatic orange glow as the floating fireballs faded away. The crowd oohed.
Having finished that, he turned back to Mikan and we watched breathlessly as he came to stand in front of her with a look that could melt a glacier. Then he reached out and took her hand. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people started forming a circle around them to see what was going to happen next. Seeing this, Natsume started to lead her away, holding her arm like he was her rightful date all along. The crowd slowly parted as they moved past and more than one heart sighed.
Then all of a sudden Mikan stopped. They exchanged a sentence or two before she glared, pulled her hand away and left a thunderstruck Natsume standing in the middle of the open circle. At once, an excited murmur swept the quad.
"She walked out on Natsume!"
"She's my hero."
"Mikan, walked out on Natsume," Nonoko said as we exchanged anxious looks, "What happens now?"
"I'm going to kill her!" Hotaru burst out her patience at its end. Ruka's hand shot out to stop her.
"Go after her. Please go after her," He whispered, watching Natsume as he stood transfixed in the middle of the throng while some girls started closing in on him. It took him a while but he seemed to hear our silent pleas because he followed Mikan to the exit.
"Great. He'll fix that. I'll fix the fuse box," Hotaru said instead, whipping out her pink screwdriver then dragging Rula along, "Come on, date."
"Five rabbits say Natsume gets it right this time," Mochu said out loud.
"That's a sucker bet," Koko returned at once, "There's no way he'd get it wrong this time. I'll bet they'll be back here in ten minutes."
Mochu grinned, "Fifteen minutes."
Koko's eyes twinkled, "You're on. Hey Yuu, you want in on this?"
I looked at them in disgust then before they could place their wagers about Natsume and Mikan's future I dragged Mochu away to a table.
The nerve of him! He's the most impossible person I've ever met. Did he think that just by walking in there, looking like that and taking my hand, I would forget everything he said to me? All right, maybe for a while there, I did but I still had enough sense to snap out of it. And I'll be damned if he gets off so easily this time.
I walked away from the quad and got as far as the second bench on the cobbled path before I heard Natsume finally catch up. He'd been calling my name since I stepped out but I didn't heed him.
"Would you hold still? I want to talk to you!" Natsume said but I didn't turn back, "Mikan." I wouldn't listen, "Mikan! Mikan, wait." Abruptly, I rounded on him.
"Oh, it's Mikan now is it? I thought it was Pigtails or Idiot or Little Girl!" I fumed.
He sighed, "Mikan…"
"Stop calling me that!" I cried then frowned, "Wait, that can't be right."
He almost chuckled but sobered quickly when I glared again. He frowned, "Don't tell me after all that, you're walking out on your prom."
"It's not my prom!" I hissed then moved forward to jab a finger at his chest, "I was just informed tonight that it's actually yours."
"Yes!" I cried, "Everything good about the prom was your doing: Your theme. Your quad set-up. Your money. Your Alice."
"What difference does it make? I did it all for you," He answered quietly.
I was startled. I didn't think he'd say that. It was the closest thing to a confession I ever got out of Natsume. But after he said that, he didn't continue. I waited for a few more seconds but he just stood there as though expecting me to fall down at his feet like one of his fan girls. Frustrated, I gathered my skirts and turned away again but this time he reached out and caught my arm.
"I got you a corsage."
"So you're supposed to wear it, right?"
"I would if I were your date," I retorted, "Your date is supposed to wear it."
Natsume visibly struggled with himself. I knew I was giving him a difficult time but I wanted to see what he would do.
"I don't see why you're being so stubborn," he spoke at last, "You're not here with anyone, are you? You're dateless." I wish I had pie to throw at him. Contrary to what he seemed to think, he was not too good-looking to be turned down.
"You idiot," I hissed.
"I wouldn't open my mouth if I were you."
"What? What do you want me to say?" He said, sounding irritated now.
"How about I'm sorry?" I snapped, "Or 'I was wrong' or 'You look really pretty in that dress'."
"You look really pretty in that dress," he said, his lips twitching.
If my skirts weren't so heavy I would've leapt and tackled him to the ground, my hands around his throat. He was so aggravating. For the third time, I turned.
"Don't go," he said, this time stepping around me to block my path, "We're here now, aren't we? At the prom, like we both wanted."
"Both?" I repeated, "I don't know Natsume. I've always said so. All I ever heard from you is that you're not going."
"That's not true," he contradicted, "I told you I changed my mind. And that same time you told me that if the girl I ask says no, we'd go together."
Was he really bringing this up? "I seem to recall you said 'hell no'."
I stopped and stared. That simple statement must have taken a lot of effort. For all the time I knew him, Natsume has never apologized for anything he said or did to me. Because it was so rare, I couldn't help but soften.
"Is that why you're here then?" I said grudgingly, "Because the girl you like turned you down?"
"Not really… see, I haven't asked her yet," He returned then in another rare gesture he smiled at me and I felt my heart jump, "Mikan, would you go to the prom with me?"
"Now? You're asking me now!"
Finally! My heart screamed. I stared at him speechless. He looked calm enough but I could tell that he was somehow nervous. It was a precious moment to see him nervous and for a while I basked in it. Despite finally hearing that question, this argument was just so much more than the prom now.
When I didn't say anything, he voiced, "You know, even if you turn me down, we're still going together. The idea was to be each other's last resort, remember?" When I didn't respond to that he sighed, "You're the one who said you'll always remember the prom and wonder why I wouldn't dance with you."
"I was talking about Hotaru," I fibbed.
"And I could tell you I was talking about Ruka but then I'd be lying."
There it was: another bout of honesty that left me astonished. I thought back to our confrontation yesterday, remembering everything that was said then narrowed my eyes skeptically, "So… you love me?"
He scowled then looked away in annoyance, "Mikan, come on…"
I smiled, seeing a rare opportunity to tease him, "You've loved me for a long time." He didn't answer, "And you admit you're an idiot."
"Good, now is this fight over?" He asked, evading everything I said, "I came here to dance with you."
"Natsume Hyuuga dances?"
"Apparently Natsume Hyuuga also goes to proms and wears pink. So what do you say?"
I'd say he couldn't have been more evasive. This wasn't like how Ruka had bared all his feelings for Hotaru. He had been straightforward about it and the upshot was that they were together now. I realized Natsume still had a long way to go before really admitting that he cared about me. I cared about him too so I would wait. And the fact that he showed up tonight, just for me, was worth more than anything he could've said anyway. Especially since he can be such an idiot with words.
"As friends?" I said tentatively.
He paused, "For now."
That was fine with me. "For now is good. For now is perfect."
Slowly he reached out and took my hand to tie the corsage he had brought on my wrist. It had little pink rosebuds that matched my dress perfectly, and I wondered how he could've gotten that right. I stared at it for a moment then realized I didn't have anything for him. I looked at him apologetically then noticed his loose tie. I stepped closer then reached out to fix it.
"I don't have a boutonnière for you, seeing as you asked me so late," I said softly, to his shirt front. I secured the tie, glanced up again, and was startled to find him looking down at me too. I swallowed. Then knowing I may never get this close to Natsume again in a long while, I let the devil fly.
I love you, too, my heart whispered. Then with a soft tug at his necktie and standing slightly on my toes, I brought down his head and placed a soft kiss on his lips. I felt my face grow warm as I pulled back.
Natsume stared at me, stunned and my lips twitched in amusement. It was the only time I ever saw him blush.
"What's the matter Natsume? You look completely nullified."
By the time Natsume and Mikan got back, the prom was in full swing. It didn't take long for Hotaru to fix the fuse box. Apparently, it didn't need fixing. When they got there they found Youichi trying to get away but Ruka caught him easily enough. They got him to admit that he had turned off the power in an effort to prompt Natsume into going to the prom, predictably to help Mikan out. It seems that everyone was a schemer now.
Anyway, with the power back, the beacon lit and music blaring from the speakers, the party was proving to be an unqualified success. And still, the biggest news of the night was when Natsume finally showed up with Mikan on his arm. We asked them what happened but Natsume ignored us and all Mikan said was that they were talking again. I'd read their minds but I had the controlling device on. I figured it could wait.
I was at the dance floor with Anna when I began noticing quite a number of people who I met because of this prom. There was Takeo right out of the hospital wing hanging out with a girl I didn't know. He seemed to have fully recovered. Same goes for Nakazato, Kintaro and Tetsuya who were also in attendance tonight. Hitomi stood by the buffet table with, to my surprise, Sakai. It really was a small world in the Academy. Also on the dance floor was Minoru who was busy keeping a wide girth from Ruka. I chuckled to myself then I saw my buddy Hideki waltz by.
"Sup!" I greeted.
"Yo Koko!" He beamed and nodded his head towards Natsume and Mikan, "It's been real."
I laughed then turned my attention back to Anna, "Things worked out in the end, huh?"
"Just be happy you still have all your limbs."
"I think he's thanking us in the inside," I went on, "And you know what? I don't need to read his mind to know that." Anna laughed.
So after the disastrous weeks we've had, the prom was finally coming to a close. Towards the end of the night, Mikan walked up the stage and took the microphone while Natsume stood in the wings, looking quite happy.
"Good evening everyone," she said cheerfully, "And thank you for coming to the first-ever Alice Academy prom!" People cheered. "Before we end tonight, it's time to announce the first-ever Prom King and Queen. The votes are in and I have the results right here. Drumroll please." There was rumbling in the background as she peeled the envelope open, "For Prom King, we have… I don't believe it, Kokoroyumi!"
I gawked, "Really?" The crowd burst into enthusiastic clapping and I rushed onstage my arms held high. I saw my friends laughing as they applauded. I beamed at Mikan then said, "What do you mean you don't believe it?"
"It seems all the people you brought together in the past weeks voted for you," she said with a chuckle as she crowned me, "Congratulations Koko." Then she turned back to the audience while I took a seat at the makeshift throne. "Now for Prom Queen, we have… oh my gosh, this is amazing! It's like she never loses! Ladies and gentlemen, your Prom Queen is Hotaru Imai!"
I could read Hotaru's lips from where I sat, "Oh crap." Ruka was laughing as he escorted her forward then came to stand next to his best friend.
"My date's the Prom Queen," He said with glee, "Hey Natsume, I'm with the Prom Queen."
"Do you want me to shove this screwdriver up your nose?" Hotaru barked as Mikan walked over to crown her. Then she proudly hugged Hotaru who remained expressionless.
"Speech! Speech!" The crowd eagerly chanted.
"What is the matter with you people!" Hotaru began, snatching the microphone from Mikan. I jumped out of my chair and hastily grabbed it away from her.
"Thank you! Thank you very much. This is such an honor!" I shouted, "I want to thank everyone who voted for me. Hotaru thanks you too, deep down in her heart. I wish you all happiness and enjoy the rest of the night!" When I returned the microphone to Mikan, Hotaru was staring daggers at me. I punched her lightly on the arm, "Come on Hotaru, it's a party."
She rolled her eyes then let herself be led to the dance floor for the customary King and Queen dance. Meanwhile, I saw Ruka walk over to Anna and gallantly ask for a dance just as the music started playing. After the song, I gave Hotaru back to Ruka and Anna and I walked over to join Mochu and the others at our table.
"What is everybody looking at?" I asked as another slow song started playing. Yuu simply nodded towards the dance floor, a soft smile playing on his lips. I turned.
There was Mikan dancing with Natsume. And there was Hotaru dancing with Ruka. Seeing that, I couldn't help but smile as well, getting his meaning at once.
The top two were back.
By Monday morning, everything was back to normal. The euphoria of the prom was finally over and the Alice Academy resumed its usual routine.
After I walked Hotaru to her class, I went inside my own classroom and joined Natsume at our table. That morning, Mochu stood by the front door in his usual stance. After fifteen minutes or so we could hear Mikan rushing up the steps. On cue, he signaled Kokoroyumi and the latter immediately turned around to signal me. I looked over at Natsume, "She's—"
"Good morning Natsume!"
He was evidently startled by the voice and he shot to his feet, dropping his comic book on the floor. Mikan stood at the back door beaming at him while he glowered back, not really sure what to do. Then Mikan graced me with a smile as well, "And you too Ruka. Good morning everyone! See you at lunch Natsume!"
Then she turned on her heel and headed to her own classroom. Wordlessly, Natsume picked up his comic book then sat back down. I bit back a laugh at the funny look on his face. Before I could comment, he suddenly muttered, "That idiot."
And ever since then, that's how we started everyday.
It was like clockwork.
- THE END -
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who supported this story (and my other fics), especially for those who took the time to review and share their thoughts. I really appreciate the enthusiasm and unrelenting encouragement. I'm glad you guys liked "Natsume Nullified" as much as I loved writing it.
Anyway, 'til next time! Take care everyone!
August 13, 2006, 9:50pm