I'll give everything I have got to have an ending with you.
It doesn't matter if it is sad or happy, as long as I can be with you.
Because haven't you heard?
The ending is just the beginning.
Chapter nine: Endings
In a knee-jerk reaction, Natsume pulled Mikan unceremoniously behind him, protecting her from the menace that had haunted his whole life.
A delighted smile graced the thin lips beneath the pearl white mask. "Natsume, Natsume, why the animosity?" Persona said silkily.
"What are you doing here?" The words came out a hiss, Natsume's crimson eyes narrowing dangerously even as bright orange flames burst to life in his palm, the color slowly darkening to a poisonous blue that lit the house eerily.
"What is she doing here?" With a slick ease, Persona twisted the question around. The sharp blackened and unnaturally long fingernails lifted to one of the fluttering gossamer curtains that framed the balcony, caressing it. Before their very eyes, the cloth turned black where it touched his hand and slowly disintegrated away until nothing was left.
Mikan unconsciously took a step back, horrified at what she was seeing. The destructive power of Persona's cursed alice was mind-numbing.
Persona took a few steps forward, the heels of his boots colliding with the marble floor with a hard click each time. "I hope you remember our little…pact, Natsume." The smile turned chilling. "The safety of the people close to you," this was said with a sneer as his eyes flicked momentarily to Mikan, "in exchange for your life service."
Mikan was reeling back from the realization of what Persona had said.
The safety of the people close to you in exchange for your life service.
Natsume hadn't abandoned them because he wanted to. He had turned away from them for their sake. He had cared for them enough to give up his own life.
"Natsume…" Tears gathered on the sides of her eyes, threatening to slip unbidden down her cheeks.
At the sound of his name, Natsume turned his face slightly towards Mikan, his cheekbone silhouetted by the moonlight that streamed in from the balcony. A hint of the old Natsume came back as a smirk passed his face. "There is snot on your face."
A half laugh half sob escaped Mikan's lips. Trust him to be so obnoxious at a time like this. "Natsume baka."
And for a moment, as amber and crimson locked together, it was almost like the old times.
"How touching." Persona's voice broke through, easing the tension up a notch. "Now, since you have broken the little rule regarding our pact, I guess I have to kill you and the girl."
It didn't happen in seemingly slow motion like those of the movies. The event sped by so fast that Mikan didn't even have time to comprehend that she was shoved to one side by Natsume a split second before Persona struck.
Having dodged the attack with the agility born from years of missions and blood shed, Natsume yelled at the sprawled Mikan even as he sent two fire balls speeding towards Persona.
"Get out now! Go!"
The fire balls crashed into the wall behind Persona in a brilliant display of lights as he sidestepped them with only a small nick on the sleeve of his black cloak, leaving an ugly burn stain on the originally pristine white wall.
Natsume's words broke Mikan out of her stupor and she scrambled to her feet, rushing over towards where Natsume was poised on the side of the room, eyes fixed onto the dark figure prowling the room.
Even if her alice was never as well controlled as Natsume's, even if there was only a fifty percent chance it would work… she moved in front of Natsume just as Persona made his move, darting towards them.
"What the – get the hell out of the way, you idiot!" Natsume's eyes widened as he attempted to step in front of Mikan to protect her. He hadn't done so many things in the past years to protect her only to have her die now.
The last thing she heard was Persona's amused words before she shut her eyes and shoved all her alice at the man.
For Natsume, he watched in wordless horror as Persona's hand reached for Mikan's face. He knew how even a touch of Persona's alice would mean a painful and drawn out death as his alice slowly ate away at the person's immune system. Just as he thought all was over, a blinding flash of white burst out from Mikan's hands, engulfing Persona and tossing him backwards carelessly like a rag doll.
Relief coursed through Natsume and his tensed shoulders sagged temporarily. Then anger slowly seeped through and he gripped the shoulders of the brunette who stood shakily in front of him, turning her roughly around to face him.
"Don't you do that again!" He hissed out, only to be rewarded by a blinding smile from Mikan.
"Natsume, did you see that? I did it!" Mikan grinned happily, a small laugh of amazement bursting forth from her. Without warning, Natsume pulled her into a suffocating hug as he let out a shuddering sigh.
"Don't you do that again." He repeated, softer this time.
The smile of satisfaction that had been on her face disappeared as she realized how reckless her move had been and how worried Natsume must have been.
"I am sorry." She whispered out before burying her face into his chest.
"Good. Now get out of here." As sudden as he had pulled her into his arms, Natsume released her, shoving her towards the door.
Mikan stared incredulously at Natsume. He was so thick.
"No!" She yelled obstinately, planting her feet onto the carpeted floor and refusing to budge. "I am staying with you!"
"You. Are. Not." Natsume gritted out, fury burning in his eyes. "Don't make me haul you out of here."
"I want to fight with you." She glared at Natsume with a determined look on her face. "I won't let you fight alone."
"No means no." Natsume spared her an annoyed look before he lit a flame threateningly. "Don't make me burn you."
"Stupid Natsume! I – behind you!" Mikan's retort gave way to horror as she spotted Persona just behind Natsume.
A voice whispered in her head and Mikan watched in barely concealed horror as Persona aimed a kick at Natsume.
The boot connected with the side of Natsume's face with a sickening crunch as bones broke, sending him sprawling to one side of the room.
Mikan let out a horrified cry and made to rush over to Natsume, only to be nailed by a kick to the stomach. She doubled over onto her knees, gasping for breath.
"Tsk, tsk. Always be on the alert, Natsume. Caring has made you weak." Persona glided over to where Natsume was sitting up, a spatter of blood finding its way to the carpeted floor as Natsume coughed.
A streak of blood ran down from the side of his mouth as Natsume spat out bitterly," You are a monster."
A chilling sound rang out as Persona threw his head back and laugh, "I don't find it worthwhile to care for scum like those," He pointed languidly at Mikan.
"Once, I thought you would be my greatest masterpiece, the perfect killing machine groomed by me," Persona shifted until his shadow covered Natsume, forcing the raven-haired male to tilt his head back. "Oh, how you disappoint me time and again, Natsume."
"Shut up." The words were accompanied by burst of flames that smothered his fist. Without warning, he swung it towards Persona's face, only to be intercepted easily by Persona's hand.
The flames leaped and engulfed their joined hands for a moment, then, it simply went out, leaving a spiralling smoke in its wake. Natsume panted with the effort, completely drained of his power. He could feel the strain in his muscles, the drain of his energy as he willed his alice to work. The mission had taken a lot out of him, both mentally and physically, and he wasn't really up to a fight with the man who had tutored him.
"Now," In a swift move, Persona was kneeling beside Natsume, one hand wrapping around his neck, "As payment for the breach of the pact," He tightened the grip, the sharp ends of his nails digging into Natsume's flesh, "You will die."
Natsume's fingers grabbled helplessly at the grip as he tried to use his alice, ignoring the pain the effort was causing him. Persona smiled chillingly, the other hand lifting to touch his cheek. Natsume flinched away, knowing that death was only a finger's touch away.
"Get away from him baka!!" A small body crashed into Persona's forcefully, throwing him off balance.
Mikan ignored the sharp pain that rain through one side of her ribs; all that ran through her mind at the moment was that Natsume was safe. Hands suddenly tug at her hair ruthlessly, jerking her up to her knees painfully. Persona loomed over her, a twisted angel of death. He lifted a hand and slapped her across her face neatly twice, the impact each time throwing her face to the side.
She dimly heard Natsume calling her name, blearily saw him struggle to his feet, hands fisting as flames burst into existence, weak flames that flickered weakly.
She knew each and every time Natsume used his alice, it ate away at his lifespan.
Please, no more.
Persona jerked her face up to his, the smooth surface of the white demi-mask gleaming in the dark.
"Troublesome girl. I'll dispose of you before I kill that useless brat."
Mikan closed her eyes, wondering if this was the end fate had dictated her.
A high pitched shriek screamed through the room suddenly. Almost immediately, the grip on her hair loosened. She collapsed onto the floor, befuddlement racing through her. Beside her, Persona had collapsed, out cold, a bullet shaped in a human fist stuck on the back of his head.
"That is such a stupid sound for a bullet to make, Imai," A familiar voice groused out.
"No one asked for your opinion." The cool voice could only belong to the one and only Imai Hotaru.
Mikan blinked, her gaze shooting towards the previously vacant balcony. Gathered there, was the previous occupants of Class B.
Youichi stood slightly apart from the rest of them, but he smiled slightly at Mikan.
"Yo!" That head of blond hair, wide smile and enthusiastic wave could only belong to mind reader, Kokoroyumi. And was that Kitsuneme waving furiously behind him?
"Mikan, are you alright?" Ruka broke away from the rowdy group and moved quickly towards Mikan, helping her up while casting wary looks at the prone figure beside her, as though unsure when Persona would wake up.
"Ru-ruka?" Mikan murmured, half-disbelieving as she ran a hand over his cheek, as though to ascertain he was genuine, not a figment of her imagination.
"Yes." Azure eyes smiled reassuringly at her even as hands checked her for any broken bones.
"Give this to her," Hotaru moved to stand over them, one had pointing the dangerous looking gun she had in hand at Persona while holding out in the other a small blue pill shaped like a flower.
Ruka nodded, taking the pill carefully from Hotaru's palm and holding it up to Mikan's mouth.
"Hotaru." Mikan stared up at her best friend, tears gathering in her eyes. Perhaps it was a trick of light, but Hotaru's violets eyes seemed to soften ever so slightly.
"Eat it. Nonoko and Anna concocted it."
Mikan nodded, taking the pill from Ruka's palm and swallowing it. A rush of coolness spread throughout her body and she watched in amazement as some of the scraps on her knees and hands mended themselves with lightning speed.
"Subaru's alice." Hotaru explained simply before turning to where Natsume was a few feet away, attended by a worried Sumire, Youichi, Koko, Kitsuneme, while Mochu simply stood over them.
"You too," She lobbed the small blue pill to Natsume, who caught it easily. He didn't swallow it immediately, simply observed it before lifting his gaze to the violet-haired girl.
Hotaru returned his gaze calmly. She knew he was asking why they were here.
And just like before, the answer was as simple as the question.
"We are her friends." She answered simply. "When Youichi told us of Persona's movements, we came."
And we would protect her with our lives, just like you would.
Ruka turned to look over at Natsume, wary azure colliding with undecipherable crimson. They didn't speak, simply held gaze. Slowly, a smirk formed on Natsume's face and he drawled out, "What is with using my balcony as the entrance?"
Koko grinned, slapping Natsume cheerfully on his shoulder as he told him, "Stairs are bad for health."
Natsume raised a cynical brow.
"Hey, you were the one living on the fifth floor in a building without an elevator!" Kitsuneme complained good-naturally.
"So we got Mochu-kun to transport us up here. Your balcony was the best option," Sumire explained as she wrapped a makeshift bandage around a long gash down his arm.
A tremulous smile touched Mikan's lips as she looked around with teary eyes. "Thank you." She whispered the words shakily, tears slipping down her cheeks, "Thank you so much."
"Che, what is there to cry about? What are friends for? You are such a cry baby, Sakura." Sumire said airily, but if one were to look closely, her olive greens eyes were glittering with unshed tears.
"Kokoroyumi, Kitsuneme, tie him up with this anti-alice rope," Hotaru commanded, handing the duo a silvery rope, still keeping the gun trained on the man just in case.
"Roger!" With twin maniacal glints in their eyes, the two pounced on the unconscious Persona.
"Mikan, Natsume. Time to go." Hotaru stated softly.
Natsume stared at her quietly for a moment before nodding, but Mikan panicked, "What do you mean?"
Violet eyes assessed her silently before Hotaru answered, "You can't stay in Japan. There is no knowing what Persona would do. You have to leave."
Mikan understood the reason Hotaru gave perfectly. Yet, as she looked at the best friend of twenty years, something pulled at her heartstrings. "But what about you?" She whispered out.
"You have to be strong Mikan. You can't rely on others forever. Go with Natsume." Hotaru held out a hand to Mikan, waiting for her to take it.
Mikan stared at the slender hand quietly, emotions warring within. She didn't want to go, to leave everything behind, yet…
She turned her amber eyes to Natsume who was waiting so patiently beside her. His vivid crimson eyes held hers, crimson eyes that held so much weariness and hope in them. She knew if she wanted, he would go alone. He was that selfless.
And that is why she loved him so much.
Mikan turned back to Hotaru and took the proffered hand. A small smile touched Hotaru's lips and she pulled Mikan up into a tight hug.
Mikan buried her face into Hotaru's shoulder. "I love you, Hotaru." She sniffled out.
Hotaru's hand lifted to stroke her head reassuringly, "It is not as if we won't be able to talk to each other forever. I'll mail you daily."
"Promise. Now, Hyuuga," Hotaru commanded calmly as she looked at Natsume over Mikan's shoulder, violet eyes flickering slightly. "IF I hear anything about this baka here being unhappy…rest assured I won't hesitate to fly over and use my newly created Kamikazi Baka gun on you."
"I am very assured." Natsume answered dryly as he eyed the dangerous looking gun she held in her hand.
"Good." Pulling away from the hug, Hotaru thumbed away the single tear that had found its way down Mikan's cheek, "Mikan. Your crying face-"
"-makes you thirty-percent less graceful to me." Mikan chorused, a teary grin forming on her lips as she recited the familiar words together with Hotaru.
The two exchanged a knowing look that only best friends who have known each other for the whole of their lives would, a look that spoke of understanding and a deep rooted love for each other.
Breaking the gaze first, Hotaru pushed Mikan gently to where Natsume was waiting, violet eyes flickering to Ruka for a moment.
The blonde nodded and smiled as he walked up to the couple, handing them a thick manila envelope.
Natsume took it, crimson eyes scanning the ordinary package before looking back up at Ruka for an answer.
"Inside are two air tickets to France and a deed to a cottage on the outskirts of town. The cottage used to belong to Shoda's father and has a lovely view of the sea. I think Mikan will like it there." The last he said with a small smile at the brunette, who exchanged a startled look with the flame caster.
"B-but Ruka, minna-" Mikan barely started before Sumire cut in with an annoyed toss of her shoulder-length olive hair.
"Just take it, Sakura. It is something we want to do for you, so the least you could do is to accept it graciously and never forget us. Because if you do…" Sumire trailed off menacingly, though the glint of amusement in her eyes gave her away.
"Take the sedan parked downstairs," Hotaru continued. When Natsume quirked a brow, she added on dryly with a quirk of her brow," You didn't think we teleported here did you?"
"With you it is always hard to say, " Natsume drawled out, a smirk on his face.
Mikan smiled, her hand reaching down to clasp with Natsume's, quiet gratitude in her eyes.
Sumire, Mochu, Koko, Kitsuneme, Youichi, Ruka, Hotaru and even the absent Yuu, Anna and Nonoko. There was so much she wanted to say, to thank them for everything.
A moan was heard as Persona stirred, turning wary gazes to the man currently bounded up cheerfully with a big bow on his neck, courtesy of the grinning Koko and Kitsuneme. Koko lifted a brow and simply bonked Persona across the head once.
"Out like a light." He confirmed as Persona's head lolled lifelessly to one side.
Chuckles broke out in the room, breaking through the heavy feeling shrouding the room.
"Now go, while we can still keep him down." Hotaru commanded as the laughter died down. The others nodded in agreement, with Koko and Kitsuneme flashing thumbs up.
Natsume nodded and tugged lightly at Mikan's hand to get her going.
Mikan locked her eyes with Hotaru's violet ones; it may well be one of the last times she would see her best friend, the one person she had loved more than her grandfather. And she kept that gaze until they turned a corner and Hotaru's beloved face disappeared from sight.
Mikan turned her face back to the front, willing herself not to cry and continued to walk beside Natsume in silence.
Natsume stopped suddenly and Mikan, whose hand was still clasped in his, was pulled to a stop.
Startled, she turned around to face Natsume.
Crimson eyes observed her emotionlessly, taking in the tears that hung at the edge of her eyes. He released her hand, saying quietly," You don't have to follow me. You will be safe with Imai and Ruka."
Mikan was startled into silence.
Then, she grasped his hand with hers and started walking, a sunny smile on her face as Natsume was dragged along.
"Natsume, you are the stupidest smart person I have ever met." She said conversationally, "Did you think I did all of those things just to let you go alone?"
Natsume, dragged behind by the brunette who suddenly acquired inhuman strength, blinked once at the back of Mikan's head. Then a small smile formed on his face before he let out a chuckle.
This time, it was Mikan's turn to stop and blink. In her whole life, she had never heard Natsume make a sound as such. The sound was rusty, almost hesitant, as if he hadn't done it in a long time. Yet, it warmed her heart.
Mikan spun around; grabbing Natsume's other hand as she beamed happily at him.
"I'll make you laugh more," She swore much to the amusement of Natsume.
He quirked a dark brow at her before pushing her towards the silver sedan parked at the edge of the road.
"Oh and Natsume, I'll name our child Sakura, after the sakura tree we were always at."
Natsume, stilled halfway in the act of getting into the driver's seat at the weird proclamation. He gazed at the woman he loved over the hood of the car before asking dryly, "What if we have a son? Will you name him Sakura?"
Mikan blinked before saying thoughtfully, "Hmmm, I haven't really thought about that." She frowned before her face brightened," How about Natsume Junior?"
Natsume rolled his eyes. He should have known that asking the pea brain would result in something like that.
But still, you love the 'pea brain', a voice in his head hinted slyly.
"Get into the car." Natsume drawled out before settling into the driver's seat.
"Ne, ne Natsume, how about Natsume the second?"
"No. That is a stupid name."
"Natsume is a stupid name?"
"No, adding on 'the second' makes it a stupid name."
"But I thought it is a good name!"
It was his wedding day, a cloudless day of sunshine with skies as blue as his eyes.
He smiled as she walked up to him, resplendent in white lace that trailed along the jade green grass, a crown of daisies nestled on her hair. In her hand, she held a beautiful bouquet of daffodils, their cheerful yellow heads nodding along to the wind that swept across the lawn.
It was a simple wedding held in the lawn of Hotaru's house, where a small number of their closest friends and family gathered together to witness the small event, together with an odd collection of animals perched around the lawn, much to the amusement of the guests.
There was none of the lavish preparations that filled most weddings, simply the soft and sweet melody of Pachelbel's Canon in D playing in the background against the rustle of the bottle green grass blades and the soothing cries of the crickets.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy matrimony."
The priest's low baritone intoned the ancient words that had guarded over so many unions of love, one that had brought so many lovers together.
As she laid her gloved hand in his, he knew this day was everything he had ever wanted, everything that he needed.
I love you.
The words slipped from his lips, as feelings of joy and happiness overwhelmed him. Violets eyes he had come to love so much jerked up in surprise, then a smallest of smiles edge onto her mouth.
She mouthed back, violet eyes twinkling at his. He tightened his grip on her hand as the age-old vows washed over them.
"Do you, Nogi Ruka, take Imai Hotaru as your lawfully wedded wife? Will you love her, comfort and keep her, and forsaking all other, remain true to her as long as you both shall live?"
He never hesitated even for a second, the words coming confidently from his lips and heart. "I do."
"And do you, Imai Hotaru, take Nogi Ruka to be your lawfully wedded husband? Will you love him, comfort and keep him, and forsaking all other remain true to him as long as you both shall live?"
"Then let the exchange of rings bind your love for eternity."
Ruka turned expectantly to the silken aisle strewn with wildflowers of rainbow hues for his ring bearers.
Smothered giggles and coos of adorations rose as the small gathering of friends and relatives turn their attention from the couple to the unusual ring bearers that were scuttling down the aisle. A snow white puppy frolicked down beside the rabbit that bounded effortlessly to the puppy's pace. Around their necks, silver ribbons securing the rings glinted in the sunlight that poured down from above.
Ruka knelt down as they reached him simultaneously, the puppy furiously trying to lick him. He tugged gently at the ribbons to loosen them, a soothing hand reaching out to pet both animals as he thanked them quietly.
The beautiful deep purple stone set in the smaller ring glinted in the sunlight, a tribute to Hotaru's unique eyes. Ruka had contemplated between a diamond ring and this particular amethyst piece; but in the end, he took the amethyst, because like the woman he loved, the ring was both beautiful and distinctive.
He rose and with all the love in his heart, lifted her left hand and slipped the ring onto her finger. The ring fitted snugly, almost as if it had been made for her. Hotaru calmly took the other ring, a plain silver ring this time round and in turn slipped it onto Ruka's fingers.
The priest beamed happily at them before he announced in that deep resonant voice of his with pride, "And now I pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Catcalls immediately followed, breaking through the solemn atmosphere that shrouded the ceremony and bringing light laughter into the air. Ruka lifted a brow at Koko and Kitsuneme, the origin of the catcalls and only got a cheeky grin and shrug in return.
Ruka shook his head in amusement and turned back to Hotaru, who simply lifted a brow. He knew the main reason why she wasn't pointing the kamikaze gun at the two was because the off shoulder wedding gown hadn't allowed her to carry any of her beloved inventions with her.
Ruka bent down slightly to touch his lips to Hotaru's, his palm sliding along the smooth skin of her cheek as he cupped her face. It was a simple chaste kiss, yet it bore all the importance in the world to the both of them.
"I pronounce you man and wife."
The two of them pulled away as cheers rose up around them. Friends crowded around the couple to congratulate them; others, like Koko and Kitsuneme, attacked the buffet table.
"Ruka, Hotaru-chan," They turned to find their old teacher standing in front of them, a twinkle in his purple eyes as he ran one hand through the untidy mop of blonde hair peppered with grey, beaming at them.
"You are still tastelessly dressed, Narumi-sensei." Hotaru observed without much tact as usual.
"Hotaru-chan, you are still as blunt as ever," Narumi laughed gaily, pushing away the barb on his flamingo pink shirt and polka dotted scarf easily.
"Narumi-sensei," Ruka inclined his head slightly and smiled, "It has been a long time. How have you been?"
"Genki, genki," Narumi waved away Ruka's concern, "I am worried about you." He added on, "The upper heads are angry about losing their best weapon. Even though I am trying my best to cover for you all-"
Startled, Ruka blurted out," How did you know that it was us?"
Narumi eyed him with an amused look. "Do you think anything my students does escapes me?"
Ruka exchanged a look with Hotaru. Even though they had made certain that no evidence was left behind after Natsume and Mikan's departure, they were .
"As I was saying, the upper heads are not too happy about losing Natsume. Currently, they do not suspect the few of you and are concentrating on hunting down Natsume and Mikan-chan." Narumi continued, a touch of a frown appearing on his forehead. "I am worried about them," He added softly.
Narumi started as Hotaru placed a hand onto his sleeve," They are safe. We'll make sure of it."
He held her gaze for a moment, a smile blooming on his face, "I'll be counting on you then, Hotaru-chan."
"Narumi-sensei!" The blonde haired man turned around to find his old students crowding around him, their excited questions rendering the man helpless.
"Sensei, you have white hair!"
"Ne, Narumi-sensei, when are you and Serina-sensei getting married?"
"That is priva-"
"They are getting married in April."
"Ah Koko! Don't read my mind!"
Laughter broke out at the flustered look on Narumi's face as he tried to shush Koko from reading out his private thoughts.
Hotaru had her attention trained on something else. Ruka followed the direction of her gaze and saw the two empty iron wrought chairs in the centre of the first row. They had been reserved for Mikan and Natsume, the two people who had meant the world to them even though Hotaru had known perfectly well that they would not be able to come.
"They will be alright." Ruka smiled down at Hotaru, taking her hand in his before lifting it to his mouth to brush a kiss over it.
A smile wobbled on Hotaru's mouth and she nodded silently. Her hands clenching the bouquet of daffodils, she turned to face the crowd and threw the bouquet of flowers in the air, starling the birds to flight as the flowers soared through the air.
Ruka lifted his eyes to the skies as the birds took to the skies with the noisy flutter of wings, the white of their feathers a contrast to the flawless blue of the skies.
Natsume, Mikan. God bless you.
The smell of the sea was in the air, twining in with the sweet scent of daffodils in the wind that whipped her long auburn tresses into her face.
She lifted a hand to hold the unruly hair in place; the other shaded her eyes from the sunlight that filtered down from the skies above. The crash of the sea against the rocks created a melody the seagulls sang to in their shrill voices as they spiral the skies above.
Mikan reveled in the beauty of nature that surrounded her, her amber eyes taking in the cheery dance of the row of daffodils lining the edge of the cliffs, stunning in their yellow beauty. Natsume had planted those for her when they had first arrived in the lovely costal village, giving her something to remember the past by. And so, whenever Mikan felt the pangs of missing her homeland and friends, she would walk out to the cliffs and simply look at the daffodils.
But she was happy here, because she had Natsume with her. That was all that mattered. A small smile bloomed on her face, lighting up her eyes to a beautiful shade of gold.
"What are you smiling about?"
She shifted her gaze to the raven-haired male who had walked up to where she was seated on the bench, a laughing toddler held carefully in his arms. With eyes the brilliant amber of his mother and hair as black as ebony, Hyuuga Shirou bore his father's handsome features and his mother's brilliant smile.
Delighted giggles filled the air as Mikan lifted the boy from his father's arms and swung him high before nestling him close to her, rubbing her nose with his playfully.
"Shirou-chan," Mikan cooed, grinning as a chubby hand tightened on a bunch of her hair, tugging relentlessly.
Natsume slung himself on the bench next to her, a small smile on his face as he watched his wife and son interact with each other. He hadn't thought he had it in him to love so much, yet when little Shirou had been placed into his arm, he felt a love burn so bright in him, it was almost hard to breathe.
It rendered him speechless sometimes, and because of it, he contented himself with simply watching the two people he loved most in the world, revelling in the love they gave him unconditionally.
Shirou was the light in their lives; he was the one who brought their minds away from the terror of being caught by the Academy, the uncertainty of their lives.
"Thankfully I stopped you from calling him Natsume Junior." The dry comment accompanied with a smirk had the brunette shifting her gaze from her son to glare at her husband.
Natsume cocked a brow, daring her to rebut. A reluctant smile tugged at Mikan's lips before she simply grinned and reached over to clasp his hand in hers, leaning her head on his shoulder as she listened to the wind that blew past her ears and the joyful laughter as her son tugged at her hair happily with the unspoiled delight of a child.
She twined her fingers with Natsume's strong ones, observing the scars that ran over some of them, a stark white against the tan of his skin. It was a bitter reminder of who he used to be, yet that was what made him strong, made him the Natsume she loved so much.
They sat in silence, letting the happy laughter of the toddler ring in the air around them. Then Natsume reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a clean envelope.
Curious, Mikan plucked the envelope from Natsume's fingers, turning it over to flip the flap open. Smooth photo paper reached her fingers as she pulled out the contents. The glossy finish of the photos spilled out onto her lap, much to the delight of Shirou, whose attention immediately diverted from handfuls of his mother's hair to the pretty pictures the wind obstinately tried to tug from his grasp.
Mikan stilled as a smiling Ruka in a tuxedo smiled at her from the picture, a hand holding a beautiful woman in a wedding gown close to him. Amber eyes ran from the crown of daisies to the violet hair swept up in a chignon, to the violet eyes and finally, the rare smile that graced her lips.
"Hotaru…" She whispered out, a finger tracing the face.
"This came by jackdaw post a few minutes ago," Natsume spoke up, referring to another of Hotaru's infamous inventions, this one with the ability to deliver mails from one end of the globe to another in a matter of hours, the messenger in the shape of a jackdaw.
"They finally got married," Mikan started laughing, a dimple easing onto the side of her face.
"Why, I wonder." Natsume drawled out under his breath. There was nothing about Imai Hotaru that he could find that was the tiniest appealing as a female and hence, it bemused him constantly to hear of her getting married.
"Look Natsume!" Mikan tugged at Natsume's hand to get his attention. She held up another photo, one filled with familiar faces waving and grinning at them, "There is Koko," she pointed to the mind-reader smack at the front, "-and Permy, Yo-chan, Kitsuneme, Mochu, Iinchou, Anna and Nonoko!"
The near squeal his wife gave upon seeing the blonde man she had near idolised in the past had Natsume commenting dryly, "The windows are breaking."
Mikan ignored her husband. Instead, she bounded to her feet, hauling Shirou up with her with the ease of one used to taking care of young children. Shirou let out a delighted gurgle at the movement, one chubby hand going around his mother's neck.
"Stop behaving like a monkey." Natsume drawled out, a hand snaking out to clamp onto the active brunette's arm.
"I am going to write back to Hotaru!" Mikan laughed out gaily as she hurried back to the cottage, the contents of the letter already forming in her head, "I shall enclose my homemade Shepard's pie to them!"
"Pea brain." Natsume uttered under his breath. It was almost amusing the things his wife came up with sometimes.
Mikan, never one to miss insults aimed at her, immediately returned with a wide smile on her face. "But that is why you love me ne?"
Natsume never replied, but the small smile that crept onto his face was more than enough for her.
Yes, that is why I love you.
Because you are the only one for me.
It was purely accidental that I picked the daffodil as the flower to bring Natsume and Mikan's past together, yet, it was almost as though it was dictated by fate, for as I found out after I started writing this chapter, the daffodil means misery and also the most potent meaning of all: You are the only one for me.
It has been a long journey from the first word i wrote from daffodil to this final author's note for this story and a thoroughly enjoyable one smattered with the occasional writer's block. Hmm, and now, I am contemplating a sequel featuring kawaii Hyuuga Shirou lol.
For those who are constantly egging me on to finish, know that the main reason why I have managed to reach this far is because of your efforts. For those who reviewed constantly, for those who gave your support silently by reading, I thank you.
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