Mikan was taken away from the Academy when she was ten and was whisked off to a dingy little island for some intense training! Now she's back at the Academy, facing new dangers with her freshly-mastered Alice. But whoever threatens her doesn't unnerve her one bit. In fact, what she's scared of the most is facing Natsume because even after all those years, she still has feelings for him.

Disclaimer: Gakuen Alice is the property of Higuchi Tachibana.

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Two Quarters And A Heart Down
1: Return
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I closed my eyes though my body remained rigid.

My shoulders were tensed and my hands were tightly clasped in my lap. I fidgeted slightly in the plush leather seat of the limousine.

I could feel a pair of eyes staring at me intently --- blood red eyes concealed by a white mask. The owner of those eyes was sitting opposite me, clad in a long, black coat.

I attempted to pull my skirt down. It was impossible in my sitting position. After years of wearing nothing but grimy sweats, I felt naked in the short, ochre skirt of the Alice Academy high school division uniform.

"Sakura-dono," Persona's silky voice cut the silence. "You really must relax. It's a long ride back to the Academy."

I ignored his suggestion. To say that I hated this man was the understatement of the year. It was this very man that took my happiness away, after all.

The short time I spent at the Alice Academy was the happiest in my life, needless to say. But before I turned eleven, even less than a year since I entered the Academy as a student, this dark man called Persona took me away.

He took me to a dreary little clump of land in the middle of the ocean with six other students from the Academy. The sky was always dark and the atmosphere was constantly depressing and a sense of hopelessness hung thick in the air. The mood alone was enough to convince you that life wasn't worth living any more.

We called that miserable island "The Black Hole".

There, we underwent rigorous training of our Alices. For what, I didn't know.

The training was horrible and very demanding. We were forced into situations so deadly that we had to summon our Alices to the point where our bodies could no longer take it. They called it "bringing out the fullest potential".

There were times when we were forced to wear special control devices too. But they weren't Alice Controls; they were Emotion Controls. These devices prevented us from feeling certain emotions such as joy or else immense pain would be inflicted on us. Our "trainers" believed that our emotions got in the way of us mastering our Alices.

We had to go through physical training as well. Everyday, we ran barefoot through the dense island jungle, braving the forces of Mother Nature. There were countless poisonous plants and animals in the jungle as well. I myself had been bitten twice by poisonous snakes but had somehow lived through the ordeals with the help of my fellow prisoners. To make matters worse, there were no doctors or anyone with a Healing Alice on the island. And our "trainers" just didn't care.

It was no surprise that four of my companions died during our time on that plethora of despair.

On the Black Hole, there was no clear indication of time aside from our own bodily changes.

You can imagine the shock I felt when Persona told me I had just turned sixteen the other day. And, they were letting me go back to the Academy.

That was when everything became clear to me.

The Alice Academy was fighting a silent war with the Anti-Alice Organisation. They were desperate and sent the seven of us to a faraway island so we could concentrate and master our abilities then come back to help them fight, before the AAO could get their hands on us.

Why they wanted me and my Nullifying Alice, I could understand. My companions had some pretty amazing Alices too --- definitely useful in a "war". It was a pity that four of them died.

My remaining companions were two boys named Hiro Hayasaka and Kenta Fujimori. Kenta had an Intangible Alice and had gone back to the Academy before me. Hiro-kun had an Alice of Ice and he was still on that dump of an island; still stuck in damp hell.

What I didn't understand, however, was why they didn't send that fire boy, Natsume Hyuuga, away with us.

The limo screeched with a halt and my eyes fluttered open. We were at the Academy gates now. I felt my stomach do loop-de-loops.

Persona chuckled in amusement as he watched me twist the fabric of my skirt.

"Sakura-dono," a bored voice to my left drawled. "It's still a long way to the main building; no need to worry just yet."

The voice belonged to Urumi, my personal torturer over the past six years. It was possible that I loathed her even more than Persona.

What is it with these people anyway? I thought in annoyance as I glanced at Urumi. Both Persona and Urumi had their faces half-hidden. While Persona wore a white eye mask, Urumi's mouth and nose were covered with a black cloth that extended from a tight black turtleneck she wore. Also, she had a thick, long black fringe that covered half her face. It made one believe that she had only one eye.

Why were these people so intent on hiding their identities?

I gulped. The main building was where the headmasters and teachers of the school resided in their free time. They were taking me to meet my teachers, and, possibly, my father.

During the time I spent on the Black Hole, I learned about my parentage. My father was one of the three headmasters of the school and my mother was… The head of the AAO. It was no wonder, really, that the school desperately sent me away to train; away from the influence of the opposition. I would be a threat to the Academy if I were fighting on the other side.

Since I was the headmaster's, their boss', daughter, that pretty much explained why they called me "Sakura-dono". They wanted to stay on my father's good side.

But that wasn't what I was worried about.

After whatever affairs were settled in the main building, I had to go for my classes. And then I'd have to face my old friends again.

You'd think that I'd be looking forward to that more than anything else in the world.

But, no. You see, I was taken away six years ago so… abruptly. There was hardly any time for goodbyes.

I imagined that all my good friends --- Hotaru, Yuu, Ruka, Natsume, Tsubasa-sempai, Anna, Nonoko, Koko and even Sumire --- would be downright mad at me. I couldn't even send them letters explaining my sudden departure.

And, when you knew the ten-year-old Mikan Sakura, dumb as she is, you had certain expectations of her.

Everyone expected Mikan Sakura to be ever-cheerful, ever-smiling.

And that's why I was so afraid to face my old friends again.

I was afraid that I couldn't meet those expectations and they'd cast me aside because they didn't know this person. Though we had the same name, we weren't the same person.

But then again…

People change. If I had changed, then so had they, right?

Though we were friends in the past, we were strangers now.

The limousine halted, tires screeching with a sense of finality.

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I felt like laughing.

However, I didn't dare to as Persona and Urumi were still in the room.

We were in the waiting room in the main building. Yes, the same waiting room I had sat in all those years ago, watching Natsume sleep. And, I was looking out through the same window that Ruka had broken all those years ago.

It was very nostalgic. And, well, here I am again.

I snapped out of my reverie as the doors opened to reveal none other than Narumi-sensei. Misaki-sensei and Jinno-sensei trooped in after him.

Narumi-sensei was probably in his early thirties now. He didn't look much different though his hair was shorter and his face had very faint worry lines on them.

Misaki-sensei was the same, not including the part about the hair and, dare I say it, Jin-Jin looked exactly the same. He always had those wretched wrinkles at the edges of the mouth, be it summer or winter.

I wanted to smile at them, hug Narumi-sensei, cry "I'm back!" but I couldn't lest Urumi and Persona would see. I didn't want to wear one of those blasted control devices again.

I did, however, let a small smile grace my features and I sincerely hoped that the two abominations didn't notice.

"Mikan-chan!" Narumi-sensei happily greeted. He gathered me into an embrace and I could smell his sweet cologne. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Persona smirk and Urumi wrinkle her nose in disgust. She never understood the significance of these signs of affection.

Cautiously, I fought the impulse to return his embrace. He broke contact though both his arms remained on my shoulders. "Narumi-sensei," I said in acknowledgement. My voice sounded soft and faraway, probably from lack of use. I gave a little bow as well.

Sadness seeped into his purple eyes and I felt a pang of guilt.

Persona stood up from his seat and his heels clicked on the marble floor. "Please inform the headmaster that his daughter has arrived."

"I'm sorry," Jinno-sensei said. "The headmaster has more pressing engagements to attend to at the moment. He expresses his sincere regret and requests that your meeting be postponed to tomorrow."

"That's fine," Urumi waved her hand in irritation. "Tomorrow then."

Misaki-sensei handed me a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. "This contains your timetable, school diary, allowance for the month, a map of the campus and the keys to your dormitory room."

I turned away from Narumi-sensei and his hands fell limp by his sides. "Thank you," I said listlessly as I accepted the package from Misaki-sensei.

Without another word, the three teachers walked out of the room. Narumi-sensei shot me one last dejected look before snapping the double doors shut.

I sighed and told myself to expect similar, and probably worse, even violent, reactions from my old friends and classmates.

Persona's heels clicked on the marble floor as he headed towards the door. "I have business to attend to," he said simply. "Ah, yes. Make sure you're free tonight. We'll see how much six years' of training is worth."

I nodded solemnly. My first day back and already I had a mission. I felt sick.

"Urumi-sama?" I said quietly.

"Mm?" She didn't bother making eye contact with me.

"I feel… unwell. May I skip my classes today?"

This time her piercing gaze met mine. After a while, she said in that muffled voice of hers, "Very well."

For once, I felt grateful towards her. We headed out of the main building.

"Sakura-dono," she said listlessly. Her eye had a dull shine to it. "You have no clothes other than your uniform. Go to Central Town tomorrow and buy new ones. I doubt that your ten-year-old garments still fit you."

"Hai," I said just as listlessly.

"Don't be late tonight. Or else." Her eye took on a manic glint.

The only times Urumi showed any emotion was during training. The transformation was always frightening.

She grunted and walked away from me. I didn't know where she was going but I didn't care anyway.

I walked towards the dormitories, hoping that I still remembered the way.

I couldn't help but think how strange Urumi looked against the cream and white façades of the Alice Academy buildings. I had grown accustomed to seeing her framed against the dreary dark sky of the island.

Now, seeing her walking in the light, I couldn't help but notice how she looked like a fish out of water.

Her sharp, purple eye was narrowed in annoyance as she glared at all the flowers around her. She was visibly squinting because of the sunlight. Her shoulders were hunched and she looked completely out of place with her black, billowing robes.

She knew this well and was striding purposefully towards the Northern Forest, eager to hide away from the sunlight. What annoyance she felt now, she would probably take it out on me later.

I frowned at this thought then I sniggered.

Seeing her like that… Well, even Persona looked more natural on the Academy grounds and that was saying a lot, considering he was a man that wore a lot of jewellery, high heels, nail polish and lipstick.

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I sat in front of the vanity mirror in my new room.

Apparently, I had been promoted in my star rank so it took me a long time to find my room, especially since I had to refer to the map Misaki-sensei gave me, as I didn't know where the high school dormitory building was.

Indeed, time didn't matter on that little island as every day was spent struggling for survival. If only I had paid a little more attention to my physical growth, I wouldn't find it so shocking every time I looked into the mirror.

There was only one decent bathroom on the Black Hole but that was for trainers only.

Before going back to the Academy, Urumi took me to a nearby city by boat and we stayed in a small hotel overnight. There, I managed to take my first decent shower in eons. The amount of dirt and grime that washed out of my hair and body was unbelievable!

I guess that was another thing I was thankful to Urumi for: she was a girl and she understood the importance of looking presentable.

I blinked at my reflection in the mirror.

Urumi looked uncomfortable in every single situation aside from those where she was inflicting pain.

I almost liked her when she was "vulnerable".

What made her become who she was?

I shook my head and refused to think about it. If I so much as thought that Urumi had a shred of humanity in her, I would hate her less.

When it came down to it, hatred was the only emotion I had that made me feel sane. Along with pain, it was the only constant in my life for the past six years.

I blinked again. I was going to have to adjust to a whole new routine back at the Academy. And I'd have to get used to dealing with people again too… People who had no idea of where I've been or what I've been through recently.

I pushed that thought into the back of my mind and stared at the girl who stared right back.

I was sixteen now. I hadn't even realised my own growth.

I stroked my hazel hair. It was lustrous and wavy, reaching to my hips. It was once thin but my hair was now thick, my fringe covering the part of my forehead that was once exposed when I was a ten-year-old.

My fingers and legs were considerably longer and I was much taller of course. My hands were calloused from years of training.

I stood up and looked at my figure. I had filled out at my hips and my chest had developed. I cupped my breasts.

I wondered if I could be considered a woman now.

"Little girl."

I blushed. Why did I suddenly remember that stupid nickname Natsume always called me? And why was I thinking of that pervert now?

I sat down again and wondered how much Natsume had grown too. Did he have a girlfriend now?

I blushed again.

I smiled at my reflection. Classes were officially starting for me tomorrow and I was looking forward to seeing how different my old friends looked now.

My smile quickly turned into a frown.

I remembered that whole "expectations" thing.

I placed my hands in my lap and found myself thinking, What would the old Mikan do?

She'd go with the flow and smile no matter what.

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To be continued...

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