Disclaimer: I do not own Gakuen Alice. The plot is reminiscent of Ugly Betty and you'll see a lot of parallels but with a Gakuen Alice twist. Happy reading!
The Devil's Contract
If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.
Chapter 1. Nothing Personal
"With all of this, what more could you possibly want, Mr. Hyuuga?"
Without looking away from the window, Natsume briefly caught sight of his best friend's form reflecting on the pristinely cleaned glass and the telltale wisps of air as Ruka flipped through the magazines on his desk. He didn't even have to check the look on the boy's face to know there was a knowing, Cheshire grin on his face.
"Ruka," he turned, eyebrow relaxed, "—what are you doing?"
The blond shrugged with an air of indifference that countered the smirk of triumph on his face. The cheeks that were once plump during his childhood had disappeared leaving his cheeks all smooth and hard planes. His bright blue eyes were enhanced by the pair of firmly sculpted dark blond eyebrows and the lashes that surrounded his eyes accentuated his light features even further.
"I thought you might get a kick out of these magazines." Ruka's grin widened at the tightening of Natsume's lips and spread out three thick magazines on his desk.
Natsume rolled his eyes at Ruka's usual morning cheerfulness before pulling his seat out and slumping bored on the cushion. Frowning at Ruka's insistent smile, he looked blandly at the pile of magazines with an expression of half annoyance and half expectance.
"I wonder how they manage to always find something about you to write about," Ruka commented, mock serious. "You'd think that after the Alice War, the Alice journalists would think of lying low and letting the thing go away but here they are, wedging every page about you on it. I wonder why those non-Alices still pick these things up when they have absolutely no idea what's so great about you."
At that, Natsume let a slow smirk fall on his lips before reaching for the first magazine, eyes brushing the cover and through the pages with mild interest. "They don't have anybody else to write about," his eyes flashed quickly to Ruka's face, red eyes amused. "Maybe you should run down the street in one of those ridiculous outfits Imai made you wear back at the—" the light from his eyes dimmed, something that Ruka hadn't missed. Clearing his throat, Natsume looked back to the magazine, "—that place."
He could feel Ruka's dark gaze on his face and nonchalantly, Natsume raised the magazine higher to cover the frown on his face and read the first article that caught his attention. It wasn't quite a surprise to Natsume when he found his stern, slightly enhanced photo in the top right hand corner of the page, taking about a quarter of the whole article. Briefly, Natsume thought again how he'd never thought owning a company as diverse as his would garner him so much attention.
Annoying fools, Natsume scoffed.
Ruka had said it earlier, there was always something in the magazines or in newspapers that featured him. Whether it was because of the diverse empire that he owned or the fact that he'd won the "Hottest Bachelor" for the third time since he'd gotten out of the … Academy—Natsume didn't know but he was rather displeased to find article after article that featured half-lies and far too much exaggeration.
It was annoying to find a bunch of girls crowding the corporation doors in the mornings after reading an obviously unrealistic article about how he was desperately looking for "the one and only" girl that would take a seat at his right, to be his queen. The brief flashback made a sick lump form in his throat before he swallowed it, eyes immediately honing onto the article and ignoring the blurred memory of a brown-haired brunette back when he was in the Academy. His heart had stopped beating the day he left that place, Natsume liked to think. Someday… someday he'd have to get it back.
His fingers clenched the magazine once more and he forced himself to read.
Natsume Hyuuga has outdone himself once again with the release of his latest product, the "Haptops"…
…welcoming over five million into his already overflowing bank account in the first week…
… especially since he owns over seventy-five percent of the stocks of Japan's Trustiest Bank…
What will the prodigy do next to stun the world?
In an interview last week, the young entrepreneur stated:
"Just a little something the world can remember me by."
As if we could ever forget this revolutionizing man that has changed life as we know it.
"Natsume Hyuuga, the world can't get enough of you…"
He heard someone laugh from above him and he looked up, slightly annoyed to have forgotten about his small audience.
"There's an especially interesting article in Tokyo Times, Natsume," Ruka piped in, drumming his fingers on Natsume's desk. There was a permanent smirk on his face when Natsume rolled his eyes.
"The world can't get enough of me," he quoted, flipping through the newspaper. "You can give this to Imai. I know she's crazy about me," he teased, throwing the magazine calling him the "sexiest man alive".
Ruka caught it swiftly with a mock hurt expression on his face. "Right," he rolled his eyes, "Hotaru would rather eat a metal fork than fall in love with you," Ruka replied, rolling up the magazine. "Speaking of relationships, you're the one that can't seem to get a girlfriend of your own."
Natsume contained a wince before glaring at his best friend, voice icy, "You know there's never been anyone but her."
Ruka smiled, trying to hide the sympathy for his friend before slapping him on the back. Trying to lighten the mood, he smiled slowly, "Yeah... well the Financial Post wants to know when you're going to take over the world."
Natsume shook his head with a bitter smirk, "All in due time."
Ruka chuckled and shook his head before turning towards the door, "I'll see you later, I guess."
He watched his childhood friend leave the room and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. Swiveling the chair to face the window directly behind him, Natsume watched the sea of heads that passed below on the streets of Tokyo, bustling and bumping into each other, trying to get to their destinations.
"You're the one that can't seem to get a girlfriend of your own."
Natsume snorted and shook his head, leaning his chin onto his open palm.
It had been three light years after the Alice War that reigned over the span of his last year of Alice Academy and Natsume still couldn't get over the changes that had taken place because of it. Classes had resumed at a fast pace, dishing out assignment after assignment just to keep all of the students busy. The panic that had flooded the place he'd once called home was palpable when the Anti-Alice Organization had started to take action; their moves were always more drastic than the last.
That was a good way to describe the actions that took place on Alice Academy's part, Natsume mused bitterly. Even then, maybe drastic was an understatement.
Natsume frowned and looked down at the Tokyo Times. He was turning page after page idly when an article caught his eye. At the bottom right hand corner, was a small article, filler that took up no more than an eighth of the page. But what shook him to the core wasn't the fact that the article had no reference to him. No—he was more surprised to find his heart had started beating rapidly knowing the article was about a deranged girl by the name of Mikan Sakura.
She should have been happy.
One of Japan's most popular newspapers had a segment on her!
Fashion was a tough business. There were countless designers, workers and people that have always wished to delve into the world of fashion, models, make-up and hair but have never been able to make it. Whether it was the physical and emotional strain of the work, the financial difficulties or the greater responsibilities that have outweighed the dream, just a handful of these people were able to make it—really make it.
And Mikan Sakura was a girl that would definitely make it. It wasn't that she was cocky about her talents or certain about the future. Truth be told, the only way she knew she'd make it was because she was unwilling to give up. This was something that she loved to do and it didn't matter that she was low on funds and that she seemed to have the worst luck to ever grace the life of one person. It didn't matter because she had drive and she had passion and she was persistent. That and she refused to lose what little dreams she'd managed to keep together.
She'd made a promise when she was younger and she wouldn't go back down on her dream. At least, Mikan thought firmly, she knew she wasn't the type of person to go back on her word.
She had finally made it or she would be there soon. She should have been happy.
But she wasn't.
Because in her hands was a bill telling her she had a fat debt to the bank.
She pulled out a calculator and punched in the digits. The fifty thousand dollar loan, rent, groceries and sewing supplies… it was a mistake and she had the receipts to prove…
Mikan's stomach turned and she lurched across the room and down the narrow halls before throwing herself to the ground, heaving what gross mess of vomit she'd accumulated in her stomach into the toilet.
She was over eighty thousands dollars indebted to the bank. Her mind was spinning with the thought.
She collapsed back onto the couch while clutching the devil's written letter with a thousand thoughts ricocheting off the walls of her brain, all the while wondering, How could this have happened?
She'd calculated it all and though she hadn't started out too smart at the Academy, she'd quickly learned after a sudden urgent incident in her last year in the Academy that it was time to grow up a little bit. She'd been pleasantly surprised to find with her maturing mind came the third top ranking student in her graduating class behind Hotaru and Iinchou.
How had things fallen a part at the seams so quickly? Everything was going so perfectly. How could this happen! And more importantly, what was she going to do about it?
The doorbell rang and she jolted to her feet. Were the cops here to get her? She stuffed the bill under the cushion of the sofa and walked slowly towards the door. At the third ring, she turned the door knob, opened the door wide and promptly collapsed against the doorframe.
"Oh, Koko!" she breathed out a long breath, "You startled me! What are you doing here?"
"It's Sunday, silly," he rolled his eyes, the signature goofy grin on his face. "I'm here to take you out."
She coughed. "I can't Koko, I… ah… have to finish up some more sketches."
His bright expression fell. "Aw … c'mon Mikan! You work too hard anyway and don't think we didn't see your bit in the paper today!" he urged, brown eyes bright with congratulations. "We're supposed to celebrate at times like these and when you come back with alcohol in your system and some awesome cooking from Anna, you can get your butt back here and sew all the buttons you want. I promise!"
She paled and the change didn't go unnoticed by Koko's sharp eyes. He straightened, playfulness gone from his lenient position and he stuck his hands out to steady her shoulders. "Whoa, are you okay?" he asked, eyes wide with worry. "You're looking really pale."
"I'm fine," she said above a whisper.
"You haven't been overworking yourself again, have you?" he scolded suspiciously, narrowing his light brown eyes and glancing over her petite form.
"A little," she conceded sheepishly, eyes drifting away from his face. "I'm just a little tired so how about you go and hang out with the gang and I'll sleep in. I go to next week's dinner, I promise."
She shifted her feet from one to the other and looked up at him apologetically, his unruly blonde hair catching the wind outside and whipping it around on top of his head. "Do you want me to take you to the pharmacy? Maybe you just need a check up and some sleep."
She put a hand on his arm and shook her head. "No, really. I'm totally fine. I'll just catch some sleep and I'll be as good as new tomorrow," she promised, all the while wondering how she could sound so calm when there was a mini war inside her stomach. If Koko didn't go now, she'd spew the contents of her lunch all over him… again.
"You aren't having troubles, are you?" he asked finally, his hands falling from her shoulders and making their way into his pockets. "Because all you have to do is ask. You know I'm not doing too bad as a lawyer and Anna's restaurant and bakery are doing great and God knows Imai has been as relaxed as can be. All you have to do is ask, ok? All of us need a little help sometimes. You've always been stubborn but don't get yourself into too much trouble when we're here, hm?"
His words shook her resolve but she held firm and forced her lips to curve upward in a semblance of her usual smile. "I'm fine, it's great. Really," she pressed.
He smiled with relief. "Yeah, I won't worry about you. You'll have everything under control like you always do. You were always the dependable one out of all of us. Our constant," he finished with a grin.
If only you knew how wrong you were, Koko.
"Okay then. Next weekend," he said sternly. "You—me—gang at Anna's place." He grinned at her nod and turned to leave. "Good night!"
"Good night," she said, smiling as she closed the door but when the latch was in place, she crumpled to the ground, sulking.
"What am I going to do?" she moaned.
And for the first time, Mikan regretted the day she tried her luck in the fashion business.
She unlocked the door with a flourish and threw her jacket over her shoulders, closing the door behind her. A walk would do her some good, she hoped.
The fresh air tackled her hair as it had with Koko's and it sent her long, brown hair tumbling around her shoulders. Her goldish brown locks were turning somewhat reddish orange and the light evenings of the summer were coming to an end as the sky turned steadily into an eerie dark blue.
She breathed out a puff of air, wisps of grey dancing before her. She shivered and pulled her jacket closer towards her body.
I can't just give up now. It just got on the newspapers, for heaven's sake! What will the papers say?
She was going to have to pull off several jobs and gradually pay off her debts. That would be the sensible and hard working ways that the old Mikan would do it. Might as well give it a try. She was a smart and hard working girl and there was bound to be a whole bunch of places looking for employees… right?
She'd have to do it without giving Hotaru any indication of what was going on. If Hotaru found out she was indebted to the bank… Mikan shuddered and gripped her jacket closer to her body.
With her thoughts in order and a plan quickly formulating in her head, Mikan headed down the sidewalk toward her apartment. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she darted her eyes left and right, sure that there was something lurking in the distance. Her Alice senses had been lax months following the Alice war but always managed to alert her when another Alice approached. She blamed it on the sensitivity of her uncle's Alice that she'd copied.
She'd have to visit him soon. She hadn't visited either of her parents or her uncle for months. The flowers have no doubt wilted…
A hand touched her shoulder and Mikan winced at the shriek of fright that left her lips.
She whirled around, her fist at the ready when she caught sight of bright red eyes and her heart thudded to a halt, her fingers uncurling voluntarily. "What are you doing here," she hissed darkly, body as stiff as a board.
Natsume Hyuuga was currently standing stoically in front of her, face as tense and handsome as she'd last seen it.
"Polka Dots," he called lightly, expression smooth.
"I asked you what you were doing here," she repeated firmly, turning on her heels and storming up the walk. "And stop calling me that ridiculous name. We're not—" she paused for a long second "—we're not there anymore. Grow up."
If she'd taken the time to inspect his face at that moment, she would've seen the dark change in his features. As quickly as the look had come, Natsume batted it away and followed her into her small apartment, eyes softening as he glanced around the small space. His hands instinctively dove into his pockets so that he could hide the white knuckled hands that he clenched tightly in her presence.
Brown eyes whirled to meet his and he fought the urge to recoil at the blank look on her usually expressive face. Not that he'd know… he hadn't seen her since the day they graduated except on the odd day he passed her on the streets without her noticing…
She cleared her throat and looked at him with narrowed eyes, "As much as I like seeing you after three years of reprieve, I have things to do Hyuuga."
The name cut him to the core but he stored the way she spat his name at the back of his mind to wallow on at a later time. "I have a proposal to make," he replied instead.
"I refuse," Mikan responded immediately.
"You haven't heard it."
Her throat constricted painfully and she gulped air before turning back to look at his painfully familiar face. She'd forgotten him, or at least what he looked like in the years that they'd been apart but… honestly, who was he to come all of a sudden at her doorstep to give her some kind of proposal when he'd said those things to her in—
"I don't want to hear anymore that you have to say."
Silence reigned before he clenched a fist into the couch and sat patiently. He looked at her with such intensity that Mikan's resolve almost crashed. To cover up her moment of vulnerability, Mikan drew a long breath and looked at a point just past his shoulder. "What is it then?"
"You need help," his said immediately, without skipping a beat. Ignoring the way she threw an indignant look in his direction, Natsume reiterated, "Your job and this place. I can give you a proposal that you can't refuse."
Clenching her jaw, Mikan returned coolly, "My job and my place have no business with you. This is my life and my house—"
"This isn't a house," he shot the last word at her like it was trash. "Look around. The place is ratty and what? Two roomed?"
"Not everyone is a multi- I don't even know what –naire you're on now. Billionaire? Trillionaire? Not everyone has that, Hyuuga," she remarked dryly.
He scrutinized her with dark irises. "I have a job offer for you."
For a moment her interest had been sparked but she rebuked herself internally. "Not interested."
"Look M—Sakura," his voice shook just the slightest. "I know you're in trouble—financially."
"Really, because I'm not."
His tone sharpened. "I own more stocks than anyone—"
"Oh, don't go there," she snapped. "So you have money and stocks and do nothing while getting it. Fine. Just don't throw that all in my face, you bastard," she replied acidly.
"I know what you owe."
At that, she stiffened once more and flushed. "Nothing," she hissed, "—that has to do with my personal life has anything to do with you anymore. I'd like it very much if you'd stop looking through my stuff, using your status to rub your nose into my affairs and walking back into my life like you own it!"
He quieted and shrugged, unwilling to respond.
Clenching her fists, Mikan counted to ten and lowered her voice, "You haven't changed one bit," she bit out. "I guess being a patronizing ass for your whole life really is a hard habit to change."
He chuckled humorlessly.
She growled in frustration and put her head into her hands, once again collapsing into a chair and desperately trying to hide the loud groan about to escape her lips. "Just say what you want and leave," she said through clenched teeth, finally meeting his gaze with a fiery glare of her own.
She could even feel the air around them shift in favor of his victory, courtesy of his Alice, before he murmured softly, "I want you."
She jumped to her feet, pointing an accusing finger in his direction, her whole body trembling as she blanched. "You sick bastard! How dare you!"
He almost choked, "Not that way!"
A wave of nausea attacked her and she was afraid she might vomit on him. "You're crazy."
She lifted her head up and pressed her lips into a thin line, annoyance marring her features. "I want to hire you," he reiterated.
She wanted to laugh at the irony of it all. If one considered their past, it was a wonder he could waltz into her apartment three years after the Alice War and hire her. She threw her head back and did laugh.
Her laugh shook him. The unfamiliarity of her bitter laugh had never made his heart fill with such dread. "What," he started, clenching his fists, "—do you find so funny?"
"You," she cackled. "I can't believe you'd come here and have the nerve to try to—" She sobered suddenly and took a step forward. "Let me get one thing straight," she put her hands together, pacing the room. "You don't like me and I pretty much hate you. I can't possibly work for you."
The thought of her hating him only strengthened his resolve. His heart told him to give up but he just… he couldn't.
"I want you to make a fashion line for the Hyuuga empire," he threw out quickly, watching with mild satisfaction when her jaw dropped and her eyes sparkled with her surprise.
"You actually like my designs?" she asked incredulously, peering at him through wide doe-like eyes.
He didn't answer for a while until she narrowed her eyes just the slightest. "It's organic. It's new."
She narrowed her eyes skeptically. "What are your motives?"
He narrowed his, "You make money, I make money. What other motives are there. Honestly, it's nothing personal," he draped his arms on the back of the couch and quirked an eyebrow at her. "It's a yes or no answer. Take your pick," he drawled blandly and Mikan couldn't help but think it was reminiscent of his attitude when she'd first come to the Academy.
She paused and fixed a skeptical look on her fair features.
"I'll pay for your debts. I'll pay for all the supplies that you'll need and you can do anything you want with your designs as long as it meets my deadlines. What more can you possibly want?"
They dueled out the remaining fight with their eyes. Hers were narrowed whereas his were dark and bland. She could feel her resolve burning in hell and yet, a bit of her, the intuition that never seemed to fail told her to accept. Her heart was telling her to keep the hell away.
"We'll need a contract," she mused thoughtfully, suddenly very apprehensive. After all of the years in Alice Academy, she didn't know what was going on in that strange mind of his. That strange, patronizing, evil mind…
He reached inside the jacket of his suit and pulled out a wad of paper that she took immediately for the contract. Scanning the pages delicately with her eyes, Mikan frowned. "What's with the secrecy part?"
He breathed a long sigh. "The element of surprise," he answered. "I want to take the public by storm."
With another moment of hesitation, she bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, thinking deeply. There were so many reasons why she should refuse but the only thing that presented its case was that her boss would be him. The most infuriating man on Earth. And just as she was about to say no, the picture of innocent animals pushed into cages and skinned alive brought her back to Earth and she breathed hard before making her decision. "Fine."
The air fizzled with his obvious delight and Mikan rolled her eyes at the smirk on his face. He probably didn't even know the air around him changed with his mood. He handed her a pen and Mikan was careful to avoid any contact with his skin. God knew she'd fail—
"Wait, I'm not signing this!" she exclaimed, slightly appalled. "You wrote it and who knows what other things you have in here. I'll write another one up," she threw the contract on the table and went for the door.
"But you'll work for me?" he asked, the question sounding more like an awkward statement.
"I'm working for the animals that would skinned alive from other designers, not you." She bit her lip at the look of boyish annoyance on his face. "I'll work for your company, yes."
He breathed a sigh and red eyes fixed determinedly on hers. "When will you move?"
He looked around the room as if it explained everything but when he looked back at her, she still hadn't gotten the gist. "I'll have an apartment for you close to headquarters. You'll move there."
"I'll do whatever I want and you can't make decisions for me!"
"You're moving," he stated firmly. He stood up, tall frame and wide shoulders suddenly struck her with familiarity. "It's final. There's no way you're working here. I'm your boss and it's easier for me to check your progress otherwise."
She lifted her chin to argue when he put up a hand, eyes weary. "Don't argue, please."
He had her name on the tip of his tongue but refrained from using it. Instead, he rubbed a hand down his cheek and finished, "Come to my office at nine tomorrow morning and we'll work on the contract. Deal?"
She sighed heavily.
She looked up one more time, running her eyes over his face, noting the startling red of his eyes and the way his raven hair shined in the dim lighting of her house. He looked the same, like the boy from their Alice Academy days but was that a good thing or a bad thing? She hardly knew how to answer that after all of the rocky issues that they'd had during the years of the Alice War. He looked good, that much was easy to see but he looked tired. Maybe life wasn't treating him as well as she'd like to admit either.
Maybe, just maybe, they could work something out.
She shook her head and let her hands clench into fists by her sides. Looking him dead in the eyes, Mikan pressed her lips in a line, "Deal."
Mikan couldn't help but think she'd signed her fate with the Devil himself.
Natsume's triumphant expression disappeared when he turned toward the door, a hand on the door knob. "By the way, Polka Dots—don't be late tomorrow. God knows how many times you've been late with other things."
"Good night—" he waved without turning back, "—Polka Dots."
My Hopeless Romantic