Disclaimer: I do not own Gakuen Alice. All rights and privileges to this awesome manga belong to Tachibana Higuchi. : )
Chapter 1. Blatant Truths and Unpleasant Impressions
Clouds were a strange thing.
Especially on a day as beautiful as the day everything seemed to change. There were bright rays of sunlight streaming through transparent plates of glass, the brush of leaves against the ashen sidewalk and the gentle winds that promised a cool, refreshing start.
Walking along the sidewalk with her book bag over one shoulder, the clouds seemed to darken upon her steps and the trees seemed to want to wilt within a five meter radius of the girl. Flying brown locks seemed to dance in the air as the wind picked up but the rhythmic, almost ballerina steps, light as a feather were like echoing knocks on a hollow skull.
Through bright brown eyes, Mikan Sakura saw the world in nothing but pink. She didn't bother to wonder why it felt strangely cold for the first day of September. Nor did she ask why there were already shriveled up flowers by her feet as she walked to school. It was the way of the world. Winter would cause all of the plants and green shrubbery to die away but come spring, all of them would be blooming brighter and healthier than before. She convinced herself the darkening of the sky, that a moment before had been bright and sunny, was caused by the coming of winter. They'd have to turn the clock forward one hour to make up for the missing light, she thought.
"Good morning, Sakura-san! Had a nice walk?" asked a dimply boy that sat a few rows away from her in class.
Mikan nodded emphatically and clasped her hands together behind her back, "Yeah! It was really sunny out and everything was beautiful! I can't wait for school to be over so I can play in the sunlight before winter comes! How 'bout you?"
He shared her enthusiasm and Mikan was well on her way to school.
As she passed the slightly mossy gates of the school entrance, Mikan darted a smile at familiar faces and exchanged polite nods and greetings. Though she'd never been much of a scholar, Mikan loved to go to school. Seeing her friends there everyday and walking to and from school when the sun was shining always made a smile touch her lips and though she wasn't much to look at, her smile could make even the prettiest of girls just a little envious. Her eyes always twinkled with life and her bubbly personality could charm even the snootiest man. They just couldn't help it.
As she entered her classroom, she was bombarded by girls and boys, shouting her a good morning! Then, they'd started talking all at once about something or other that she couldn't keep up with.
"Good morning, everyone!" she greeted instead, smiling at the class with a sparkling smile. The moment was cut short however when the teacher cleared her throat loudly. She was a stern old lady that tied her hair so tightly that she always managed to look like a cat with her eyes slanted and narrowed to slits. That cleared her path to her desk.
Before she could settle into her chair, however, the intercom of the small classroom buzzed with announcement and the other students craned their ears to hear what the principal wanted to say. "Would Miss Sakura please report to the principal's office?"
The teacher narrowed her eyes at Mikan and the class held its breath when the teacher immediately let Mikan go, enjoying the small whispers and murmurs that started filling the air. Worriedly, Mikan stepped out of the classroom as quietly as she could and instantly started panicking to herself.
She didn't remember doing anything wrong for the past few days and even though she occasionally disrupted the class, accidentally; Mikan couldn't help but notice that her throat was dry and she had troubles swallowing. And though her grandfather loved to spoil her, he was quick to point out her faults and to teach her a lesson. Mikan could only imagine what he would say to her after being called down to the office.
Upon arriving at the intimidating oak double doors of the principal's office, she knocked politely and entered after hearing a muffled, "Come in."
She stepped into a dimly lit room and instantly settled her eyes upon the figure that was standing morosely in front of his windows, busy looking out upon the school grounds. Without letting her eyes dart around the room and infinitely aware of the butterflies within her belly, Mikan wet her lips. "Good morning, Headmaster. You wanted to speak to me?" she was surprised to hear her voice so calm.
The Headmaster had always been an intimidating creature with his immaculate suit and his hair slicked back. He always seemed to have a stern scowl on his face and she wondered immediately what he was going to do to her. Her stomach always seemed to fall apart until she could get away from his presence.
Something about the man had always unnerved her.
"Yes, Miss Sakura. Please take a seat," he drawled, gesturing with his head to the seat in front of his desk. He took the seat across from her and clasped his hands together, scrutinizing her innocent eyes with his. Mikan shifted uncomfortably. "Early this morning, I had a very persistent caller wake me up and the news that came to me concerned you, Miss Sakura. Now, I won't beat around the bush and put icing on the cake but there is somebody here to speak to you and if I understand correctly, your grandfather has already consented, being your guardian, to whatever proposition that man in the corner will be giving you."
Her stomach dropping to her feet, Mikan turned her gaze away from the malicious sneer on the Headmaster's face to look behind her at a figure that she hadn't noticed. Biting her lip in confusion, Mikan scrutinized the young man with intrigue and exasperation. His apparel consisted of a silk, cream button-up shirt and a pair of slacks that defined his toned figure. When he stepped into the light, however, Mikan couldn't help but be in awe at the peculiar shade of purple that was his irises.
"Hello there," he said in a distinctly masculine voice, stopping just a meter away from her. He offered his hand for a handshake and Mikan, looking into the captivating purple eyes, couldn't control her hand if she tried from grasping the firm one that was proffered. "As you might've heard, you're grandfather has already consented but in order for you to come with us peacefully, we've decided to let you in on what we have in store for you, Mikan-chan," the man started casually. The offhand way he said that made a shiver of anxiety shift through her body and Mikan sunk back into the chair to get away from the man before her. "You're being transferred to our elite school: Alice Academy. It's a boarding school, so you won't get visits from your grandfather as much as you'd like but with our trained teachers and professional personnel, you'll get an upgraded education than anywhere else in Japan. This will ensure that your future leads to as many open doors as possible."
Wrinkling her nose, Mikan asked, "Why does this Academy want me?" She looked up at the startled man and explained, "I mean I know I'm not the smartest girl and the only thing I'm good at is gymnastics. So why does this elite school want me? And who are you?"
"My name is Narumi-sensei," Narumi said with a cheerful grin on his face. Offering a hand to pull her to her feet, Narumi nodded towards the Headmaster and turned to Mikan, answering, "I'll explain it on the way there but at the moment, we are very late for your meeting with the principal of Alice Academy and he's not a very patient man. Do you understand?"
Hesitantly, Mikan nodded and slipped her hand into the large one that was proffered. "You're certain that my grandfather agreed to this?" she asked to make certain.
Narumi nodded, laughing, "Well, if your belongings are anything to go by, then yes; he did. He packed your bags last night and we picked them up on the way here so let's go!"
Walking a distance away from him, Mikan easily caught the wrinkles of unease around his smile and the distracted shadow of his eyes that looked to have once been bright with adventure. Stepping into the long, black car, Mikan pulled on her seat belt and leaned back, turning to see Narumi-sensei ducking in, too. It was a long car ride and from the things that Narumi told her, Mikan understood that the place was probably filled with snobs. If his repetitions of 'elite' and 'powerful' and 'talented' and 'unique' were anything to go by, Mikan was not anticipating the welcome her untalented body presented to the school.
"I still don't understand why I was chosen to go to this school," she pointed out with a huff.
"It's a prestigious school for very gifted individuals like you," Narumi informed her, emphasizing the word 'gifted' like it meant something more. She furrowed her brows and tried to press the subject but Narumi just smiled manically and told her that she would see. And despite all of his evasiveness, Mikan couldn't help but like his cheerful disposition. It was probably his charm or his contagious excitement but she found herself curious. What would the school be like? How would they treat her?
She gulped, wondering what on Earth she was getting herself into.
"We're here!" Narumi sang delightedly, pointing out the tinted window. The first thing Mikan saw were the big iron gates that were slowly grating open, leaving the entrance wide enough for only a single car to pass by and nothing more. The second thing was the wide expanse of property that immediately made itself visible for her viewing delight. The place was enormous and despite the feeling of apprehension, Mikan was delighted to see kids her age running and frolicking as they would in her old school.
Maybe they weren't as different as she'd expected.
If not for the fact that there were kids picking up dancing flowers and boys who were floating in the air and wow, even producing bubbles from one kid's bellybutton! Unable to tear her eyes from the scene, she asked without looking, "How can they—"
Narumi only smiled and said, "It'll all be explained soon."
Her excitement vanished and all she could find herself doing was wishing she'd put up a fight back at her old school.
Mikan walked a ways behind Narumi, following him begrudgingly. What could she do? She'd already gone with him thus far and trying to run away was futile. She didn't know her way around this part of Japan and he was the only person that she knew. She wasn't stupid enough to think that she could run the lengths of Japan back to her hometown without getting lost or getting caught.
Tugging at the cuffs of her school uniform, she was aware of the stares that wearing a different uniform brought along. Her uniform consisted of only black and white whereas this school's uniform consisted of uniforms that ranged from blues to reds to yellows. It was mind-boggling how they could discern who was who with so many different colors clashing.
She walked blindly, keeping her eyes solely on Narumi's back when they'd left the Academy school grounds and reached the almost deserted hallways safe for the strays that would blindly ogle her like she was a freak on some exhibition. Her skin crawled at the stares.
When she reached yet another pair of Headmaster doors, Mikan sighed and entered the room after Narumi's polite knocks and it was like she was in the Twilight Zone because there was yet another man standing in front of the windows, looking out upon the school grounds.
"She's here, sir," Narumi's voice interrupted the silence within the office. The Principal hummed his acknowledgement and after a pause, he turned around and Mikan couldn't help but let a breath of appreciation leave her mouth. He was an extremely handsome man. He had a mixture of blonde and light brown hair that gave him a natural, friendly aura and his eyes were a charming grey that looked to be of molten lava.
"Please take a seat, Miss Sakura," he said kindly, gesturing to the chair across from him after shaking her small hand. His voice sounded like rolling thunder, deep and distinctly male and a shiver ran down her spine at the familiarity of it. Though for the life of her, Mikan couldn't place where she'd heard it before.
She sat down obediently while Narumi stood and resting his hands on the armrests of his chair, the Principal smiled kindly and said, "How are you, Miss Sakura?"
Frowning, she bit her lip from making a rude remark and rearranging her thoughts, she started, "I'm confused, a little unhappy, apprehensive and feeling sick." She nodded to herself and looked up determinedly at the Principal who frowned and leaned to clasp his hands together on his desk.
"Well, are most of those feelings centered on the fact that you don't understand why you've been pulled into this… situation?" he asked kindly.
She sat up and nodded. "Yes, exactly! I've asked questions but all I've been given is 'you're special' or 'I'll explain soon' and yet, here I am still clueless to everything!"
Nodding with understanding, the Principal leaned back and upon slight hesitation, said, "Mikan-chan, do you know what an Alice is?"
"Well, yes," she replied with a confused expression on her face. "It's the name of a girl, isn't it? Like Alice in Wonderland?"
A chuckle burst from his lips and from the corner of her eyes, Mikan could see that Narumi seemed a little amused himself, though he seemed more surprised to hear the Principal laughing above all.
"Aside from that, I'm guessing that you don't know what Alices are," the Principal said with an amused smile on his face. "Well, this school, Alice Academy, is named because everybody in the school has an Alice."
"I don't have an Alice," Mikan piped up, slightly relieved and slightly disappointed. "I mean, I have my Grandpa and I have my friends Yuri-chan and Miki-cha—"
"No," the Principal laughed, shaking his head ruefully. "Alices are powers, Mikan-chan. All the students and teachers in the school have special powers that they were born with. Take Narumi-sensei, for instance. His Alice is Human Pheromone. He can make people, girl or boy, fall in love with him."
Mikan turned, gob smacked to look at Narumi who smiled impishly in return. "So that boy who made bubbles come from his bellybutton…"
"This is absolutely insane," Mikan murmured, shaking her head. "I don't believe you. This is all just a dream and I'll wake up if I just—"
She yelped after pinching herself and stared wide-eyed at the man before her. "What's your Alice?"
"I have the Alice of Recognition," he replied smoothly, sharing a smile with Narumi. "I can sense the origin of somebody's Alice by a touch or a picture."
"Then why am I here?" Mikan shouted, jumping to her feet. "I don't have special powers! I'm just an ordinary thirteen year old girl who likes to sing in the shower and can't solve a math problem to save her life! So why did you bring me here! I'm not special or talented!"
The sound of her ragged breathing was the only thing in the room and eyes ablaze, Mikan glared daggers at the Principal who smiled sadly and said, "That's not true, Mikan-chan. You are a very special girl."
"What are you talking about?" she hissed darkly.
"You have an Alice," he replied bluntly. "Or rather, two Alices: Nullification and SEC. Both rare and one that is highly dangerous."
Mikan looked between both men and seeing Narumi as surprised as she, Mikan glared at the Principal and snarled, "Don't lie to me! You didn't even know me before this and how could you kno—"
"I saw a picture of you."
"I don't believe this!" Mikan cried, "This is impossible!"
Dazed, Narumi flopped down in the seat that Mikan had just vacated and said tiredly, "It seems very real, actually." He looked over at Mikan with a tired smile, "I tried to use my Pheromone Alice to stop you from asking questions in the car but it didn't work. You probably nullified me subconsciously because you didn't trust me."
Looking between both men again, Mikan sat on the floor with her back against the door and narrowed her eyes at both men before her, "Say perhaps I did believe you. So I do have special powers. What does that have to do with you guys? Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"
"It's dangerous for Alices as rare as yours to be drifting in civilization without being informed of how to act and control your Alices. There've been instances where many disasters occurred involving an Alice that went out of control. It's for the sake of the people around you that you care about that you're sent here to learn exactly how to control your Alices," Narumi said wearily, rubbing the back of his eyes.
"Nullification won't be much of an issue, though," Mikan pointed out, mentally applauding her wisdom.
"There are two sets of Alice Organizations. There are the good, that's us: we teach and show children how to control their Alices in order for them to be able to conceal and use their Alices without the detection of normal human beings. Then there's the other: The Anti-Alice Organization whose goal is to take down this facility in order to take over common civilization and to make normal human beings their slaves. We are the only things stopping bad Alices from taking over Japan and the world, for that matter," the Principal explained seriously.
"Okay," Mikan nodded, relaxing a bit. "And say that I believe you and understand what you're doing," she paused. "What happens now?"
There was silence where both men looked at each other and finally, Narumi agreed, "What happens to Mikan-chan now? She has two Alices, two rare ones at that…"
The Principal looked at her and with a sad smile said, "She'll go to training like the multi-Alices before her."
Crimson eyes immediately snapped open and narrowed when the sensitive hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Bracing a hand on the ground, Natsume stood from his comfortable seating position and bent his knees. His eyes were silently roaming the quiet area around him.
Crickets chirped and Natsume's ears seemed to draw to the sound and he whirled around smoothly, his lithe legs bounding a few meters back to avoid the rustle of fabric and the dark figure that leapt into view. Without jerking out of his ready position, Natsume straightened his legs and shoulders just the slightest and peered, stoically at the man before him.
"What do you want?" Natsume asked blandly, hands clenching at the ready. He was never one for pleasantries and the man with black lipstick covered lips frowned at his rude tone.
"That's not the tone you use with a teacher, now is it Black Cat?" he drawled scathingly, taking a step toward him.
Natsume didn't budge but kept his steady glare directed at the man. "I've never spoken to you in any other tone and I don't see why I should bother starting." He paused and eyes fierce with fire, he snarled, "Don't come near me."
Persona stopped in his tracks and seemed to roll his eyes. In a dismissive voice, he leered, "You will obey me, Natsume. You don't have any other choice."
Natsume straightened immediately and stared coolly with expressionless eyes. The flawless planes of his face were hard without emotion and from the long periods he spent training for missions. He was all lean muscle and nerves of lightening. "You can't do anything to make me do otherwise," he commented sardonically. "I'll get my sister back. I'll get her back myself."
Persona chuckled humorlessly and caught a drifting, healthy green leaf in the palm of his hand. Natsume watched his movements carefully like he did with everything else. He watched the slow way Persona curled his fingers around the leaf and then, he watched enraptured when the leaf crumpled to black dust.
"You'd do well to listen, Neko-chan," he drawled venomously. "And as for your sister, no matter what, you'll be here. Working for us. You don't have a future other than this."
Natsume didn't bother to retort. Instead, he waited patiently for the older man to finish with his sadistic practices so that he could go to his room and curl up to some nightmares. Even with Ruka, Natsume couldn't feel motivated enough to care. It was only when Ruka said Natsume's death would cause him to take his own life did Natsume feel the need to come back everyday. If it weren't for Ruka and his sister held captive by Persona, he'd have welcomed hell with open arms.
"You have a mission tonight, Kuro Neko," Persona muttered offhandedly, dissolving yet another leaf into thin air. Natsume didn't move when Persona's beady black eyes settled on his form and didn't twitch when a smirk flitted across his lips. "The gates at eleven tonight. Don't be late."
"Whatever," Natsume murmured, walking away. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Natsume ducked his head and leapt up into the trees. The calluses on his hands made the rough bark seem like silk and in his anger, Natsume was blind to the leaves and twigs cutting the skin of his face. The only thing he was aware of was the calling of his bed and the manga on his bedside table.
"A mountain," Mikan deadpanned. She stared disbelieving at the Principal and couldn't help the dry laugh that echoed from her lips. "You… want me to train on a mountain… by myself like a monk?"
The Principal pressed his lips together and the lines around his eyes deepened with his exhausted sigh. "We're taking necessary precautions, Mikan-chan. Your time on the mountain depends solely on how determined you are to finish your studies. We have to make certain that you have all of your Alices under control," the Principal explained once again. He folded his hands in his lap and peered at the girl with an indescribable expression on his face. "This is for the good of the school, the good of the ones you care about and the good of justice."
A film of tears and a fresh flood of anger filled her belly and Mikan struggled to swallow as she pounded her fist on the ground. "This is cruel," she hissed between clenched teeth. "You're taking me away from my grandfather. My only living relative and you're making me … work for you! Has it occurred to you that I'm only thirteen? I'm not old enough to … to do whatever you think I should do! I'm not old enough!"
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, gritting out, "This is the only way," he murmured. "Do you think I want to send thirteen year olds on missions? I don't, but for every child that I spare from the vicious outside world, double the increase in chances for an Alice student to get taken and sold to the highest bidder."
"Why me?" Mikan hissed bitterly.
The Principal's lips thinned and there was a hint of regret in his eyes when he looked at the determined girl before him. "Your Alices," he started, leaning forward onto his elbows. "Your Alices have the potential to save scores of students. Students that don't have offensive Alices like you do. Alices like us, we are living proof of the citation, 'With great powers comes great responsibility.' This is our duty."
There was a long silence that followed that last lingering statement and Mikan's resolve collapsed with defeat. Clenching her fists weakly, she lowered her eyes to the carpet, "I'll do it."
The walls were white and so was the ceiling.
Sighing unhappily, Mikan turned to lie on her side and brought the covers of the blanket down with a thud. Trying to sleep after all of those revelations in the large four walled office was futile and Mikan's lips turned down in a frown when she realized that one of her most precious hobbies would evade her for the night.
To think that these people would pop up all of a sudden in her stable, safe life to tell her that she had super powers still made her head spin. But after walking out of the office in time to see boys still floating in mid-air and a cloud of rain following another, she had no choice but to believe it.
How had things fallen apart so quickly? In the span of less than one day, she was transferring schools, getting superpowers, forced to live on a mountain to train, aware of a battle waging between two superpower groups and living a nightmare without her grandfather to wake her up in the middle of the night. She was sure this was a nightmare, nothing but a nightmare. But then again, she knew more than anything that this was all just wishful thinking.
Sitting up in bed, Mikan jumped to her feet and tiptoed toward the door, slowly pulling it open to rush out of Narumi's little house.
Some fresh air and a quiet walk would calm her, she thought.
The hairs on the back of his neck prickled once more and Natsume sucked in a breath of annoyance. He'd just come back from his mission, tired and weary and the bastard had the nerve to come back and poke him until he exploded.
Quickly getting to his feet, Natsume leapt easily onto the branch of his tree and stilled his movements, his Fire Alice pumping in his veins to keep his muscles warm and elastic. Raven locks danced before his eyes and Natsume's eyes seemed to blaze with annoyance when the figure of a young girl about his age, stepped into the patch of moonlight.
His eye twitched upon hearing her speak.
"Don't be so selfish, Mikan," she scolded herself. "You know this is the right thing to do so stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus. You won't have to worry about this until tomorrow so enjoy what life's given you for now. Mum and Dad would've been proud of you for this. They would."
Natsume rolled his eyes and tried to ignore the terrible itch that came from the annoying girl's voice. Relaxing his muscles, Natsume squeezed the upper branch he'd been holding on to once more before falling toward the ground, feeling the rush of wind that instantly flew through his hair.
The girl at the base of his tree screamed a blood curdling scream and his legs instantly rushed over so that he could clamp a hand over her mouth. "Shut up already and get lost before something unfortunate happens," he snarled darkly, enjoying the look of fright in the girl's eyes. He quickly took his hand away from her lips when he felt the girl wanting to chomp onto it and he pushed her roughly away from him until she toppled to the ground.
The girl looked terrified. Her large eyes seemed to dart to and fro infinitesimally and Natsume couldn't help but scoff at her from afar. As quickly as it had come, the girl's eyes flashed from fear to anger and she stepped forward boldly to hiss, "Well sorry. If you weren't such a creep to start jumping in front of innocent people, I wouldn't have screamed like that!"
She huffed with a pout and Natsume narrowed his eyes, once more. "Did you miss the part where I told you to get lost?" he drawled.
She crossed her arms over her chest and turned her head away from him. Deciding to ignore his question, she asked instead, "Why aren't you sleeping? It isn't safe for kids to be out here at night, you know," she said like she was speaking to a child.
If only she knew, he thought, what things he did in the dark of the night…
"Beat it, little girl."
"This looks like a good place to think and I have to think," she bit out snootily. "Why don't you beat it?"
And to prove she wasn't afraid of him, she sauntered over and took a seat right where he had sat and Natsume couldn't help but wrinkle his nose with distaste. He'd never liked girls before. They always screamed or latched themselves onto his arms and over all, it was just too troublesome. "There are plenty of places for you to think so go somewhere else and stop whining to me."
"How inconsiderate," she commented idly, turning to look out at the darkness in front of her. "I think I have a right to whine. You couldn't possibly understand."
"Wouldn't want to," Natsume snapped.
From the corner of his eyes, Natsume could see that the girl was seething with anger. Her fists were clenched and her lips were pursed into a thin line.
Finally, she broke the silence by saying, "I can't believe I'm going into exile for ungrateful jerks like you." She turned to look at him in the eye and glared, "Do you know how it feels like to have to bust your butt to protect the likes of you? You're clueless! You don't have to sacrifice anything and you don't have to leave everything you know behind! You're just a mean, cruel jerk!"
Aware of the silence, the girl got to her feet and Natsume watched icily as she turned to look at him condescendingly. "Fine, wish granted you jerk. I'll leave."
The fire within him roaring with anger, Natsume fixed his gaze on her retreating figure. That girl, she could only be new. She didn't know who she was messing with. He needed to get her name. Tomorrow.
He'd hunt her down tomorrow.
The girl stopped in her tracks and turned her head, looking slightly startled to hear his request. "My name?" she repeated dumbly, crossing her arms with suspicion. "Why should I tell you?"
He didn't answer, only stared at her coolly. Shifting under his intense scrutiny like he knew she would, the girl turned her head away and closed her eyes; her breath coming out to create wisps of grey in the cold night air.
"I expect yours in return," she commented lightly, turning to fix her eyes on him.
Natsume shifted uneasily and mentally shrugged. She'd find out tomorrow morning, or rather, later in the morning anyway.
"Hyuuga Natsume," he drawled casually, clenching his fists when the girl smiled victoriously. With a cheerful grin on her face, she chirped, "Sakura Mikan!"
And with a lingering, childish giggle, the girl was gone.
My Hopeless Romantic