This story was written when I was at my paternal grandparents' house for a Christmas dinner. The year was 2007, and I was still in high school. One of the popular bands at that time was The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus; and one of their songs, Cat and Mouse, made such an impression on me that I knew I just had to write something based on it. The result was this twelve-paged one-shot.

As much as I would like to keep it in its original form, I just can't bear the thought of having people read something I wrote from a time when my grammar was so atrocious. Several superfluous words and sentences have been omitted, but the story remains the same.

Cheers.


What is love and how come, despite all unfortunate circumstances, a man can still find it in his heart to love?

There was once a boy who was destined for anything but a good life. His home and family were taken away from him and he was brought to a new place with a promise of a new life. In this place, he was immersed in a world of hatred and even bloodshed.

He never wanted any of this. He desperately tried to escape from all of it—the academy, the lies, the killing, the guilt, the pain, the humiliation, and that immense, and yet unwanted power of his. But no matter how hard he tried to run away, Fate and Destiny prevented him from having the life he really wanted. Forced to carry on with his dark life, he forgot how to look on the good things in life because he believed none existed in his.

But amidst all of this, the boy found a girl. She was nothing like him—optimistic, lively, and happy. He couldn't believe nor perceive that a person like her existed in that place where lies and deceit reigned. He shunned her at first because he couldn't understand her at all. But Fate and Destiny brought her to him for a reason. She taught him that the bitterness and the horrors of life could be forgotten—even just for a while—with a smile. And that was why he decided—if the situation deemed it necessary—to die for her.


The Masked Boy

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The room was filled with students, but no one was in a mood to talk. All of them were garbed in their sleeping clothes such as pajamas or night gowns. All of them should be asleep in their respective rooms at that moment but they obviously weren't.

None of the school staff had expected this to happen—not yet at least. The Anti-Alice Organization had always been a threat to them, but they never expected the organization to make such a bold move—to invade the Alice Academy and destroy it in the dead of night.

Anjo Narumi, the teacher who had been tasked to watch over the students and eventually help them escape the academy, shook his head.

The academy's security was the best in the world. How did the Anti-Alice Organization manage to get pass the barrier and everything else?

Someone from the organization had set the elementary students' and middle school students' dormitories on fire. Thankfully, Narumi had arrived in the nick of time to gather and lead them to a bomb shelter designed for worst case scenarios. No one had been seriously injured, but some students quietly cried because they had lost everything memorable they had in the fire—photos of their families, gifts their parents sent them, letters from their siblings, and anything else that connected them to the outside world.

The blond teacher eyed all of the students who were placed under his care. Their faces were young, and yet they held a fear that children should never have to experience or feel. Their eyes were wide open as they listened to the explosion and the tumult on the other side of the walls.

They have lost all innocence they have.

He grimaced.

This was the great Alice Academy. This was the academy that swore to protect all of the 'special' children from anything and anyone that could harm them. And now here they were, in a shelter, as that great academy fell into enemy hands.

He should be out there with his fellow staff, fighting that organization. But he knew that he couldn't abandon the students. He would never forgive himself if the organization managed to capture one of them.

A few yards away from the troubled teacher, Imai Hotaru and Tobita Yuu sat next to each other. Both of them were equally afraid and frightened with the events that were unfolding in front of them, but only the straw-haired boy showed it in his bespectacled face.

"Hotaru-chan, have you seen Mikan-chan?" Yuu suddenly asked.

The violet-eyed inventor shook her head. If Yuu could have seen her in the darkness, he would have easily noticed that her calm face had become slightly bothered with his question.

"Wasn't she with you?" Hotaru asked.

After a few minutes of silence, a horrific feeling befell on the two students. They knew—they simply knew—that the brunette was not in the room. She was still outside where chaos and destruction reigned.

Twenty minutes have already passed. Narumi's orders were to lead them out of the academy if the staff still did not manage to suppress the enemy forces.

"All right everyone," Narumi said. "It's time for us to leave this academy. None of you are safe here."

"Sensei!" Yuu stood up, his voice laced with panic.

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She opened her eyes.

The world around her was a formidable sight. Her surroundings had been set on fire and the air was thick with the smell of smoke. As the flames continued to lick at the academy's buildings, she could not comprehend what was happening before her.

She coughed. It was getting more and more difficult to breathe. As she did so, a shooting pain erupted from her sides. A stifled cry of pain erupted from her chapped lips. Then it dawned to her: her ribs had snapped like twigs when she hit the ground. It was a jump that would have probably ended her life, but she could not have thought of any other way of escaping from the burning structure. She had hesitated at first, but as the flames dominated her surroundings, she closed her eyes and jumped from the nearest window. And now, here she lay, alive but in agony.

Mobility was almost impossible for her. The pain in her sides was too much. It seemed like something was painfully digging into her lungs because every breath was torture for her. Her attempt to sit up and run away from the flames was futile. All she managed to do was evoke even more pain. Tears welled up in her beautiful brown eyes. She feared that her death was near and she did not want that. She had never done anything wrong that would make her deserve to die, especially in that state and manner.

The flames continued to lick at the building next to her. As she stared at it, she knew that it would collapse at any moment now. At that thought, she weakly raised her left arm to the fields and trees, hoping that someone would emerge to rescue her.

Someone please save me.

It was a selfish request, but it would be granted to her.

A dark figure slowly appeared from the trees nearby. She could not tell who it was at first, but when it was only a few feet away, she immediately knew who it was. Only one person would wear that mask.

"Natsume-kun—" she whispered. Her face suddenly hardened into a pained expression. Even speaking had become difficult for her.

The masked boy did not say anything. He simply knelt down and eyed her injuries. His hand slowly moved away the wet bangs on her sweaty forehead. Once he pulled his hand away, she saw it covered with wet blood.

Natsume-kun, please help me.

After a while, he carefully lifted her off her feet. She winced in pain but she tried to force a smile into her face. She must always smile whenever Natsume saw her. It was a promise that she had made to herself.

"Thank you, Natsume-kun." Her smile became slightly wider.

Everything turned into blackness after a while.

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The masked boy tried to walk as fast as he could without hurting the brunette that lay in his arms. She had drifted off to unconsciousness and the pained look on her face softened a little.

Baka.

He had been surprised to see her sprawled on the ground. Blood had matted her russet hair. With the way she had looked and spoken to him, he knew that something within her body had been damaged due to her fall. He knew that if she did not receive medical attention, death would become highly probable.

Those people did this to you, right?

A sudden feeling of anger and hatred was aroused within him. A desire to kill the one who had set the building on fire—the one who had made her jump—boiled within him as he continued looking at the beautiful girl in his arms. He was surprised when he saw a small smile etched on her pale face.

How can you manage to smile in this condition, after what those thugs did to you?

There had never been a time in his life when the brunette never failed to bring about a strange feeling within him. But he knew that she never realized this. She was too innocent and immature. So he had quietly kept his secret to himself. He needn't tell her his feelings. Just seeing that cheerful face had been enough for him.

What was it that made her so endearing to him? Was it her bubbly personality? Was it her kind heart? Or was it the smile that came easily from her lips? He never really knew or thought about it before. All that had really mattered to him was to see her happy and carefree—to see her as the person that he could never be.

But now here she was, injured and hurting. He couldn't bear to see her like this.

"Bastards," his voice that came from his mask was full of anger and malice. "You'll pay for this."

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Darkness reigned.

Smoke. Fire. Building. Burn.

Jump. Pain. Fire. Smoke. Death.

Someone. Natsume.

Natsume.

Natsume!

"I think she's coming around."

The world of darkness slowly disappeared. The faces of her dear friends and her old teacher replaced the dark realm. Their faces all carried looks of relief when they saw that she had finally awaken.

"Mikan-chan!" Yuu's voice sounded cheery despite the events.

"Baka, you gave all of us such a scare." Hotaru's voice was calm, but her eyes showed that she had been extremely worried about her best friend.

"You're fine now. Hotaru's onii-san came a few minutes ago from the other shelter to heal your injuries. He immediately left afterwards."

Shelter?

Once she was on a sitting position, she surveyed her surroundings.

She was in a big room, but she saw that they were the only ones there. But traces of human inhabitation remained. Used cots lay all over the place.

Gunshots and explosions could be heard outside.

"Everyone's escaping right now." Narumi said. "Come Mikan-chan, we must do the same thing. The organization might be headed this way now. There isn't a moment to lose."

Her amber eyes turned to look at the people who had been worried about her.

Hotaru-chan. Iinchou. Narumi-sensei. Ruka-pyon.

A heavy feeling fell upon her chest.

"Where is Natsume-kun?" she asked.

No one spoke for a while. Finally, Hotaru sighed and told her the terrible truth.

"He was the one who brought you here. Narumi-sensei tried to stop him, but he said he would bring you back," she began. "After returning with you, Persona-sensei came and told him that he had to help fight the Anti-Alice Organization."

The brunette did not understand. Her eyebrows formed a frown.

"Mikan-chan, the organization that kidnapped you, Natsume-kun, and Sumire-chan a few years ago has invaded the academy." Narumi explained. "Persona came and told him that he had to help fight the people from the organization."

The heavy feeling in her chest worsened after hearing his explanation. She still could not comprehend. She couldn't believe that the academy would send Natsume to fight. Wouldn't that mean giving the enemy what they wanted? Another matter bothered her as well. Didn't Natsume possess an Alice that could kill him if he overused it?

"Why didn't you stop him?" she asked. There was anger and questioning in her voice.

"Mikan-chan, he wantedto go." Ruka replied.

She couldn't believe her ears.

Boom!

Another explosion erupted. Everyone immediately covered their ears. The blonde teacher eyed his old students, fearing for their lives and safety.

"Please Mikan-chan, we have to get out of here!" Narumi chided.

Mikan's eyes were wide with trepidation.

An awful scene appeared before her. Natsume lay on the grass, bleeding from a mortal wound. He was slowly and painfully drifting off to a permanent sleep. His eyes were slowly losing all spark of life they carried. His mouth was slowly moving, calling upon her name. Fresh blood was slowly cascading down the sides of his mouth—

Natsume! He can die out there!

She abruptly stood up and headed for the entrance of the shelter. Ruka stood up and grabbed her by the wrist. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to find Natsume-kun!" she cried. With one bite at the boy's hand, she was free. Before anyone else could stop her, she had already gone past the entrance of the shelter. It had all happened too quickly. Everyone was stunned at what the brunette had done. No one made a move to follow her.

"Baka," Hotaru said. "You never listen."

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Blood was everywhere, but the men that lay before him were not dead. Injuries similar to Mikan's had been inflicted upon them. He wanted them to feel the exact same pain they had caused her. His surroundings were bathing in a sea of flames. The air was thick with smoke. It would have been a beautiful night if the smoke did not conceal the moon and the stars of the night sky. Deep in his heart, he prayed that she was all right. He prayed that she would live. He prayed that she was somewhere safe.

I must bring this organization down. They will hurt her and everyone else if they manage to reach them.

I must die for her.

More of the organization's men appeared before him.

"The Black Cat!" one of them said.

Hatred was once again aroused within his dark soul. A flame suddenly appeared on his hand as the men readied themselves to attack him. Each man had a gun but he was not afraid. The men sneered at the sight of him. They knew that the Black Cat could not possibly have that much strength left to cause another explosion. Their comrades had managed to inflict a bullet to the boy's shoulder. Sooner or later, the boy would have to succumb to defeat.

The boy winced and eyed his wound for a brief moment. He was losing more blood that he had expected. He knew that they knew of his disadvantage.

Bastards.

Without hesitation, without fear or concern for his life, he charged towards the men. All thoughts of mercy or kindness towards them did not exist in his mind or heart. He was ready to break them. He was ready for anything, even death.

As he was starting to gain momentum, an image suddenly came to his mind. The brunette with amber eyes was smiling happily at him. Her hair was fixed to her usual pigtails. It also seemed like—just for a few seconds—her happy, innocent laughter had pierced the air tainted with smoke and battle.

For her, I will die.

The sounds of gunshots, an explosion, and the frightened and pained yelps of men filled the air for a few seconds. More blood tainted the battleground. Nothing else could be heard aside from the cackle of the flames that surrounded the masked boy and the men. All lay on the ground, still and barely breathing.

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The academy was a horrific sight for her to behold. She could not believe nor perceive that this was the same school she knew. Everything was ablaze. Corpses lay here and there. Men and women from the organization and the academy continued fighting. The academy had turned to a battlefield.

Adrenaline rush had begun to kick in. Running as fast as her agile legs could carry her, she headed for the trees nearby. In the shadow of those trees, she thought of how to locate the raven-haired boy.

There's no way that I can survive out there. I haven't even fully mastered my Alice yet.

Her heart was pounding hard and fast against her ribcage. The more she thought of the boy, the more worried and apprehensive she became. Tears of frustration appeared in her eyes.

Natsume-kun! Where are you?

Another explosion suddenly pierced the air. Mikan immediately looked at where the explosion had come from. It was not very far. Instinct made her leave her hiding place and run towards the explosion. Dark smoke and flames met her, but she did not stop. Coughing fitfully while shielding her nose and mouth from the smoke and flames, she desperately made her way.

Softly we tremble tonight
Picture perfect fading smiles are all that's left in sight

What she saw was a sight that she would never forget. Amidst the flames and smoke, she found Natsume, sprawled on the ground. Men surrounded him, but they were not moving as well.

"Natsume-kun!" her voice perforated the silence. Her voice was high and frightened as she made her way towards him.

I said I'd never leave, you'll never change
I'm not satisfied with where I'm at in life

She knelt down beside him and immediately saw that he had lost too much blood from the bullet wound on his shoulder. The sight of so much blood made her go numb as she held his masked face in her hands. The gray mask had turned into a horrible mixture of black soot and brick red blood. She fervently hoped it wasn't his blood.

Am I supposed to be happy
With all I ever wanted, it comes with a price

She carefully removed it from his face. Natsume's eyes were closed. He made no sign of life.

Am I supposed to be happy
With all I ever wanted, it comes with a price

You said, you said that you would die for me

"No!" she said. Tears rimmed her amber eyes. "Natsume-kun! No!"

Hot tears flowed from her eyes and wet his handsome face. She couldn't believe it. She didn't wantto believe it. He had been with her a few moments ago. He had saved her. She had felt his touch. She had even smelled his smell as her carried her away to safety. And now here he lay in her arms. He felt cold to her touch. His lips did not move. What would she give just to hear him insult her or comment on the underwear she was wearing?

I need to hear your voice.

The tears refused to stop pouring from her seemingly damaged tear ducts.

We made plans to grow old
Believe me there was truth in all those stories that I told

"Natsume-kun," she managed to say through her tears. "I never wanted any of this. I never wanted you to get hurt. Why did you go?"

The wind suddenly blew. She coughed as she inhaled the smoke, but she continued eyeing the boy. Along with the wind came the memories she had with him in her younger years. They were memories of the past that the two shared. Good or sad, these memories were golden ones for the two.

Lost in a simple game cat and mouse

Are we the same people as before this came to light

She didn't like him in the beginning because he always commented on her underwear. He had set her hair on fire multiple times when they were younger.

Am I supposed to be happy
With all I ever wanted, it comes with a price

But as time passed, she began to understand that he had a terrible life in the academy. That was why she decided to do what she could to get him to smile.

Am I supposed to be happy
With all I ever wanted, it comes with a price

She also realized that he cared for the safety and well-being of others before his. He risked his life to save hers and Sumire-chan's when they had been kidnapped.

You said, you said that you would die for me

"Natsume-kun, you know that I have always loved you, right?" she said.

She neared her head to his. His face looked so handsome and peaceful. She kept his head closed to hers and her tears continued to flow. She cried quietly, without complaint.

After a while, she spoke again.

"Natsume," she began. "Would it be selfish of me to ask you of one more thing?"

The boy did not reply.

"Would you—live for me?"

You must live for me too
For me too

"Mikan-chan!" a voice from behind sounded.

She turned to see who it was.

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You said that you would die for me

You said that you would die for me

"Natsume-kun. Please wake up."

He couldn't see the person who had spoken those words to him. Was it her? He doubted it. She must have already escaped from the academy.

Am I dead?

Nothing but blackness surrounded him. Coldness enveloped his body.

Well, I do not regret it. It was all for her.

But for some reason, he felt something warm perforate through the coldness he felt. Something warm filled his cold body—if he still had it. Light slowly began to overcome the darkness in his world. A voice came along with the light, loud, clear, and endearing.

"Natsume, would you live for me?" it asked.

Once again, he saw an image of her. Her face was smiling, innocent, and full of hope and joy. Her laughter came out from that mouth of hers. Her eyes—those alluring eyes—were shining brightly and she eyed him. He remembered the times that he had with her. He remembered feeling warm and contented just by hearing her laughter. Could he really bear to leave her just like that? Could he really bear to be alone in the darkness?

"Natsume, you must live. Live for everyone. Live for me!" Her voice was loud, powerful.

Mikan!

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He finally opened his eyes. Sakura Mikan, Imai Hotaru, and her onii-san were all beaming at him. Imai's onii-san had placed his hand on his shoulder, healing it completely.

"Natsume-kun!" Mikan smiled.

"Mikan," he murmured.

"You really scared me you know," she said. "Don't ever do it again, okay?"

He was speechless for a while. He stared at the brunette. Her hair was a mess, and she was soiled from head to toe. Her face was gray from the smoke of the fire, but her amber eyes were beaming happily at him. A smile was etched on her face. It was the same smile that had always managed to make him angry, jealous, or contented.

"You don't have to worry now," Imai's onii-san said. "The organization has fallen back."

Natsume continued eyeing the brunette. If it hadn't been for her, he would have died, even if Imai's onii-san came in the nick of time. For him, Sakura Mikan was the one reason he had for living. Yes, it was true that he would still die for her but if it would be her wish, he would continue living for her as well.


Up to this day, people still marvel at this boy's story. He continued living his life in the academy, exposing himself to horrors and lies. People still wonder how he could have managed to bear all of the pain, lies, humiliation, and not to mention the unwanted power he possessed. Some people say that he didn't. Some people say that one day, he managed to escape. But I believe that this boy never ran away from this life.

The boy loved a girl. And she loved him in return. What was it in this girl that helped him live on? Was it her laughter? Her smile? Or just her mere presence? We may never really know for sure because the boy chose to keep a mysterious profile and the girl never mentioned her dear masked boy openly, even to her closest friends. But I believe that the main reason he had to live, to fight, and to remain in this world was her last wish from him—to live for her.


I would like to stress that I do not own Cat and Mouse and Gakuen Alice. Both belong to The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Tachibana Higuchi respectively.

—Rocket Palette Snippet

Edited: September 1, 2012