TEN YEARS TO DATE
Disclaimer: The author rightfully respects the genius of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice.
Author's Notes: I wrote this to celebrate the first anniversary and 200th review of Natsume Nullified. Ü A hearty thanks to everyone who reads my fics. This story is set before My Best Friend's Girlfriend and after Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say.
"Did you do the assignment?" Ruka hissed.
"No," Natsume answered in a clipped tone.
"Why Natsume?" he asked helplessly. "It would've been an easy A for you. It wasn't that hard to begin with. You could've just—"
"Shut it Ruka," Natsume said through gritted teeth then slouched in his seat. Resigned, Ruka turned back to the blackboard.
Mochu was nearly finished reading his essay. He looked smugly at the class while he went on to describe his future career as an aviator-turned-astronaut with the remarkable talent of piloting aircrafts to record heights. Unfortunately, his rather long paper also described how he was going convert to Buddhism at forty and thereafter attain diplomatic peace with alien life forms.
"Then, after I return from my third trip to Mars," Mochu read out loud, "I will finally come home and go through an intense evaluation of what I've done with my life. At my deathbed, I will achieve a state of nirvana and eventually float up once again—"
"Okay," Mr. Narumi cut in quickly, "That's about all the time you have Mochu. It was interesting to hear about your— ah, rather lofty— plans. Though your homework was only to write about where you'll be ten years from now and not what you'll be doing for the rest of your life— you've come up with quite a spectacular essay."
The class applauded and Mochu raised his hands, basking in the praise. He sauntered over to his table then gave Koko a high-five.
"All right, now let's hear from…" Narumi ticked off his class record. Ruka swallowed. This was it. "Hyuuga, you're up."
Natsume stood quickly only to declare, "I didn't do the assignment."
Narumi looked up from his grade sheet. "Why not?"
"Because it's stupid."
Ruka looked down at his desk. Here we go.
"And why is that?" Narumi asked evenly.
"It just is."
The class was completely still as Narumi studied Natsume for a while. At length, he laid his record book on the table then very calmly regarded his most stubborn student again. "I don't see why writing about your future is stupid. All your classmates managed to come up with very admirable plans for themselves—"
"Yeah well, that's because they're naïve," Natsume bit out.
Don't. Don't provoke him, Ruka mentally chanted when he saw mild amusement register on Narumi's face. Their teacher sat at the edge of his desk.
"Yeah," Natsume barked. "Who really believes that Koko is going to be a psychiatrist or Mochu an astronaut when both of them could barely pass Science? Ayako can't be a lawyer, she hardly talks in class. And Daisuke is too clumsy to be a tightrope walker."
"Is he trying to make everyone cry?" Koko muttered to Ruka.
Way to trample on everyone's dreams, buddy. Ruka thought then continued to watch in mortification because Natsume wasn't finished.
"You make us think it's going to be all rainbows when we get out of this school; that we're going to be world leaders or rocket scientists or concert musicians one day."
"That is what happens to Alice Academy alumni—"
"But not all, right?" Natsume challenged. His hands formed into fists at his sides. "Not everyone got where they wanted. Not everyone got what they deserved."
Ruka heard someone suck in his breath. He took a quick look around the room only to see that practically no one was moving and absolutely everyone was facing the front of the classroom as though they were afraid to even glance at his best friend.
"That may be true," Narumi answered gently, "But that has no connection to the assignment whatsoever. I asked you to write about your future and that's what I expect you to share today to earn your twenty-five percent."
"Then you're going to have to give me a zero because I'm not wasting my time writing that."
"Come now Natsume," Narumi prodded. "Surely, you have some sort of vision of where you'll be ten years from now."
Natsume's glare intensified. "Yeah I do."
"Then let's hear it."
Thankfully, the lunch bell rang.
Natsume walked down the long dark corridor of the Alice Academy. It was half past midnight but he couldn't sleep. Not with the scene this afternoon lurking in his head. News of him losing his cool in class had spread like brushfire. By dinner, everyone knew about it and people were steering clear of him. That wasn't a big change. He was used to everyone fearing him at some degree. But what truly annoyed him was that he could tell their caution was now mixed with pity.
"Idiots," Natsume muttered. It's not like they didn't know. The whole class B found out when they were ten that his Alice had the fourth form. Narumi knew it better than anyone. It wasn't such a big secret anymore.
That was a truly stupid assignment for him. But even after class, Narumi had persisted on the subject, insisting that Natsume could probably write something brilliant if he truly searched his heart. What a moron.
"You're going to fail if you don't complete the assignment," Narumi had said. "I would love to have you back in my class next year but I'm sure you won't enjoy it as much."
"Go ahead and fail me. It's not like your stupid rules apply to me anyway," Natsume retorted. Then he turned to leave.
"I'll make you a deal Natsume," his teacher persevered. "You don't have to read your paper to the class. You don't even have to do the whole essay. Just give me one sentence."
He stopped, suddenly curious. "Just one?"
"One sentence is enough to tell me that you still believe in a future," Narumi had replied kindly. "Think about it."
A moron indeed.
Natsume reached the end of the hallway and stopped in front of the library. He paused then having nowhere better to go he pushed the doors open. The lights inside were extinguished save for the row at the far end of the room. The library was also empty except for one girl who was writing furiously at the corner desk.
At the start of the year, Class B had been split into two classes. Mikan, Hotaru, Anna, Nonoko and Yuu were all in the other class while he ended up with Ruka and most of the others. Because of that he didn't see as much of Mikan as before and though he never admitted it out loud, that bothered him quite a bit. Still, it did have its advantages. For instance, she hadn't been around when he had that argument with Narumi. He had no doubt Mikan would immediately take the teacher's side.
Before Natsume could change his mind, he walked over to Mikan and pulled out the chair in front of her. She looked up and frowned.
"What do you want?" she asked. He didn't answer and sat down. Mikan straightened and glanced around the empty room. "Couldn't you find another table?"
"What are you working on?" Natsume asked instead.
Mikan glanced at her homework with a fond smile. "Mr. Narumi's essay. I'm doing my report tomorrow morning. I'm almost finished writing about my dreams. Why are you scowling at me? I haven't done anything wrong."
"You're as stupid as the rest of them," he said plainly.
"What? Why am I stupid?"
"You're staying up to finish pointless homework," he replied, wanting to get a rise out of her, which had always been easy. But Mikan surprised him.
"Ohhh… I heard about you," she returned coolly. "You threw a tantrum in class about doing this assignment." She clicked her tongue.
"It wasn't a tantrum," he said scathingly.
"There you go again, getting mad at me for no reason at all." Mikan rolled her eyes. "That may have worked before but we're twelve now. And besides that, I'm a two-star so I'm not scared of you anymore."
She loved reminding him of that fact. The day she became a two-star she danced around Natsume as though he had been the one stopping her from moving up. He stared at his classmate in annoyance then without warning he snatched the paper she was working on. He came to his feet and took a few paces away.
"Let's see what you've got Pigtails."
"Hey! Give that back!" Mikan cried, shooting to her feet. Natsume kept her at bay with a proffered arm then his eyes swiftly scanned the page. She continued to swipe at her paper but he kept her at arms length by laying a hand on her forehead.
His expression turned to hilarity at Mikan's inelegant writing style: I'm going to be a ballerina or a teacher or maybe even a doctor. I don't know for sure but I bet it'll be wonderful…
"You shouldn't be so proud of being a two-star," Natsume said dryly. "Even Youichi writes better than this."
Mikan hit him lightly on the arm for that gibe then straightened. She waited patiently as Natsume finished his scrutiny: Ten years from now, I'm going to be married to the sweetest man…
"And he'll come home everyday and bring me a box of Fluff Puffs?" Natsume read out loud in disgust. "He'll love the dinner I cook for him and tell me everyday how beautiful I am—this really is idiotic!"
Mikan snatched back her paper. "And I never asked you to read it!"
"You're going to be married ten years from now?" Natsume taunted as he followed Mikan back to the desk. "You're planning to settle down at twenty-two?"
"That's way too early," Natsume argued. "You're practically fresh out of school. How can you be sure you know the guy well enough to marry him?"
"I don't know. Maybe we'll date for the next ten years," Mikan said in exasperation.
Natsume took her arm. "Are you dating someone right now?"
"No, I'm not!" she exclaimed, pulling away. "That was hypothetical. He'll be my fiancé then. Does that work better for you? The point is I'm going to be with someone I love ten years from now. What is with you? It's none of your business."
She stomped to her seat and sat down. Natsume took a chair again and there was brief silence between them. In the end, he couldn't resist commenting.
"So you're planning on staying inside the Academy."
"I'll be wherever Hotaru will be."
"But you said your husband will be bringing you Fluff Puffs everyday—"
Mikan put down her pencil. "By then, I expect Fluff Puffs to be sold outside the Academy." She scanned her paper. "I mentioned that in paragraph five."
"That's nuts," Natsume countered. "The outside world isn't ready for something like Fluff Puffs."
"So what? The outside world isn't ready for you either but they're planning on releasing you in the future," Mikan answered irritably.
"Maybe they won't."
Mikan caught his sorrowful tone and found that she couldn't give a snappy rejoinder. So she decided to change the subject. "I think I'll write about how my future son is going to be a basketball player."
"Basketball?" Natsume looked at her in ridicule. "Football would be a much better sport for him."
"Yeah, but football is too violent. I'd rather have him play a sport where he wouldn't get attacked and hit all the time."
"I was talking about soccer."
"Soccer? I guess that's okay too…" Then suddenly her eyes lit up. "Or maybe he'll be into music instead. That's less dangerous."
"What? No way," he contradicted. "The kid has to learn a sport and be active. If he sticks to music and art, how can he learn to defend himself?"
"We can defend him."
Natsume opened his mouth to argue then stopped. "We?"
She waved a dismissive hand though she could feel her cheeks heat up. "Yeah, me and my future husband."
Mikan started scribbling again, careful to avoid his gaze. She cleared her throat. "I'm going to live in a sweet little village with well-kept lawns and white picket fences—"
Natsume laughed. "Of course, and where you live there'll be sunshine everyday and rose petals scattered on the path."
She stuck out her tongue then continued out loud while she wrote, "I'm going to have a bright kitchen and a cozy living room and a—"
"A manga library would be nice," Natsume cut in. He stared upwards, thinking. "And maybe a game room—"
"Why would there be a game room?" Mikan asked in bewilderment. "I'd sooner prepare a small lab for Hotaru for when she visits. Other than that all we need is a bedroom, a pretty garden and maybe a nursery.
Natsume frowned. "What a boring house."
She gave him a quelling look. "It's my house, not yours."
Mikan rolled her eyes again then she continued writing the essay with Natsume sitting right there, keeping her company. And she didn't quite mind his presence. Not even when he kept interrupting her work with questions.
"There, all done," she beamed, thirty minutes later. "I'm so excited for tomorrow!"
"I bet you are," Natsume muttered. Abruptly, he stood up and prepared to leave. Mikan watched his retreating back, a sudden ache in her chest.
"How do you see yourself ten years from now?"
"Six feet underground."
"Good… good… go with that," Mikan said encouragingly. "I never thought of you as a geologist but that's a good start…"
"I think I'll be dead, dork."
"Now that's not a very positive idea about yourself," she pouted. "Try harder. What is it that you've always wanted to do?"
"Get out of the Academy."
"Okay… then what?"
"Then I'll be somewhere where people won't ask me stupid questions," Natsume bit out. Mikan rolled her eyes.
"You're so moody. Are you planning to cut ties with all of us?"
"Nobody would miss me."
"I would," Mikan retorted. Natsume's eyes widened and she quickly added, "And Ruka and Mochu and Koko and Yuu and basically the original Class B. Hotaru probably won't miss you as much but she'll wonder about you nonetheless."
"That's crazy talk."
"Nobody wants you to fall off the face of the earth Natsume," she insisted. "So you'd better take care of yourself."
"Whatever." He turned for the doors again.
"You're going to be a secret agent," she blurted out. He paused without turning around. "You'll be working for the government undercover. You'll use your skills to save people and protect those who are important to you."
"It's not a waste of time, you know," Mikan said to his back. "If answering where you'll be ten years from now is so hard then try answering this: where do you want to be ten years from now?"
He didn't answer. He looked like he was about to but thought better of it. At last, he raised a hand in a wave. "Good night, Pigtails."
When Natsume was back in his room, he thought about what Mikan said. Truly, the girl had a way of getting in his head.
What is it that you've always wanted to do?
He wanted to leave the Academy. That was always clear to him. But what happens after that? He figured he'd be incredibly sick by the time he graduates. He had this idea that he'd just get away from everyone and start over where nobody knew about his Alice. He'd run from the Academy and go somewhere nobody could take advantage of him. Maybe he'd die alone.
Nobody wants you to fall off the face of the earth Natsume.
Natsume glanced outside the window. In the horizon, he could see the perimeter wall that kept everyone in. Unlike the others he stepped outside once and a while because of his missions. That was probably why his view of the world wasn't as innocent as theirs.
You'll use your skills to save people and protect those who are important to you.
Who was important to him? At once, an image of Class B flashed in his head. That's the reason he was staying in the Academy, wasn't it? The reason why he was enduring all this was to protect his friends. But what happens when all this is over? The reason why he didn't want to write the essay was because he didn't want to build dreams he may never have. But just supposing he was wrong and the Alice Academy did cut him loose…
Where do you want to be ten years from now?
And the answer was as clear as day.
The next morning, Mr. Narumi was all smiles.
"This is perfect! It's the best essay I've read!" Narumi exclaimed to his colleagues as he practically danced around the faculty room. Mr. Misaki watched him sardonically.
"You can't seriously think that work makes up for what the kid did," he argued. "He talked back in class and now he submits a single sentence expecting to pass."
Narumi placed Natsume's paper next to Mikan's then his grin widened. He laid a hand on his heart melodramatically as though his very soul had been moved by the words.
"Narumi? Are you listening to me?" Misaki came over and waved a hand over his friend's face. He took the paper and read it again. "You can't pass Hyuuga with just one sentence."
"Pass him?" Narumi looked at him with utter delight then took the priceless paper out of his hands. His eyes glazed over it in admiration. "My dear friend, for this piece of art, Natsume Hyuuga deserves an A!" He got up and breezed out of the room carrying the paper with infinite care in both hands. "I'm going to frame this!"
Misaki watched him go, shaking his head. He couldn't understand it but then, odd as he was, Narumi had always graded his students fairly. He must have his reasons. Misaki leaned back on his chair and tried to decipher the meaning of Natsume's homework, but it was just too oblique to decode. After all, the essay had simply read:
I'm going to work in an office near a Fluff Puff store.