A/N: I know no apology can possibly make up for me being a terrible writer, nonetheless I believe I owe it to you guys so… I'm deeply sorry I hope you haven't given up on me yet.
And also thank you so much for all your support!
Disclaimer: I don't own Gakuen Alice or any of its characters.
Chapter 24 Moving On
Dinner was, as could be expected, an extremely uncomfortable affair. No words were exchanged as the unlikely trio sat in awkward silence fidgeting with their cutlery. It was not a long time before Natsume grew weary of the situation as he attempted to silently chew on a particularly crisp bit of chicken and the almost deafening crunching noise echoed throughout the room.
Having been raised as good-mannered gentleman he knew this was not proper etiquette and thus suddenly stopped his chewing and tried to swallow the food as was; which was not the most brilliant of ideas as he subsequently started choking on said bit of chicken and the coughing and heaving that followed were not exactly gentlemanly-like at all.
After unceremoniously downing a glass of water the episode was over but the mood seemed to have lightened slightly as Mikan laughed rather indiscreetly and Masao stared with confused eyes. He could not have done better had he done it on purpose.
"I'm fine if anyone cares" Natsume said trying to steady his breath.
"I'm sorry" Mikan managed to blurt between chuckles "You weren't doing it on purpose?"
"Why would I do something like that on purpose!"
"How should I know? You're the one who's always doing stupid things to break the ice!"
"Oh I'm the one who does stupid things now!"
As the usual bickering continued Masao looked at the two quarreling teens and a tiny smile spread on his face. This was the first time in over ten years his house was filled with joyful voices. In spite of everything that had happened, the fact that someone like him could actually enjoy such a happy scene seemed, even now, slightly unbelievable. He felt a little apprehensive of intervening in the conversation lest he make the situation uncomfortable again.
"Besides you were the one who suggested it. Why should I be the one to-?"
"All I'm saying is, since I'm letting you stay at my place and all, you should make my meals. Breakfast in bed would be nice…" Mikan retorted cutting Natsume's sentence short.
"So it's like paying rent then? I should have known there was a limit to how magnanimous you can be." He replied with a slight amused tone.
"Now that you mention it, that's not a bad idea. I let you stay at my place and you do the chores!"
"Why should I-?" Natsume was suddenly cut off.
"Stay over?" Masao glared at the young man sitting a few feet away. "What exactly do you mean by 'stay over', hm Hyuuga?"
"I- I can explain! It's not what it sounds like. Because I left home and all she's letting me- I'm just- We're not- She's-." Natsume started sweating and rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
Masao fell silent for a second as he realized what he was doing. What right did he have to act like an overprotective parent? It was not his place to complain and as he watched Mikan turning to him about to speak he was certain she would say something along the lines of "it's none of your business."
"It's not…" she started hesitantly "It's not what you think! He's even staying in his own room I swear!"
The older Sakura was speechless. Did this mean it was okay for him to join in their little game?
"So you don't deny it." Masao exclaimed "A young lady and a disrespectful brat sharing the same roof! Who knows what goes on in that head of yours, you brat!"
"He's got you there, you know?" Mikan prompted.
"Well at least I'm not the one who walks naked around the house!" Natsume defended hastily.
Mikan's face turned beet red, so did Masao's although his was for a completely different reason, if the vein about to pop in his forehead was any sign of that.
"I- I was not walking around naked Kazume! Stop saying things that can be misunderstood!"
"Oh that's right, my bad, you weren't naked, you were wearing a towel." He retorted rolling his eyes.
"Shut up! Besides that was just one time. At least I don't walk around in my underpants polka-dots!"
"You aren't really helping your case here since YOU asked ME to strip Minako." He smirked at her as her blush became more intense.
It seemed both of them had forgotten the adult about to explode sitting next to them but they both noticed him as he slammed his fist on the table and called for two of the maids to enter the room. Both teens sat in silence as they stared at Masao.
"I want you to move all of the young lady's belongings to the room on the second floor." He said to the maids who looked absolutely astounded "You can bring yours yourself" he added turning to Natsume "We'll see if I can spare a supply closet for you to sleep in."
"Wha- buh- I didn't even-." Natsume was interrupted by an outraged Mikan.
"What do you mean move my things? I'm fine where I am, I like having my privacy besides I've always been there since -."
"Well, not anymore you're not." Masao said with a decisive tone "I'll have you both here where I can keep a close eye on you." He glanced sideways at Natsume "Especially you."
"Like hell I am! You can't tell me what to do!" Mikan suddenly shouted.
"Watch me." He replied simply.
Masao knew he might be stepping over the line but he did not care. He would not let Mikan be living in the same house as that brat unsupervised. Even the surveillance cameras were only set in the living room to ensure her safety but were generally kept off to protect her privacy.
So, maybe he had no right to be meddling into her business but at least in this he would not budge. He knew that even if she got mad at him this was for the best, no good could come out of letting two teenagers run amuck, what with hormones and whatnot. Not to mention the fact that the brat was a Hyuuga and if Masao had learnt anything about Hyuugas in his time was that they were not exactly the innocent type.
Who knew what that Natsume was thinking? What he had done with-? Oh god! What HAD he done to the innocent Mikan! He hadn't touched her, had he?
"You're being so unreasonable!" Mikan complained.
"And you are being so whinny." Masao countered "Now, if you want to you can move your things yourself but you must do it now."
Mikan looked like she was about to retort but she just huffed and muttered an angry "Fine" between her teeth and stomped over to the door "This isn't over!" she called over her shoulder before storming out.
"I think I may have stepped over the line." He commented after she was already gone.
"Are you kidding? Didn't you see how happy she was?" Natsume asked.
"Happy?" Masao inquired surprised "She looked like she was ready to bite my head off!"
"Trust me, if she had really wanted to she would have." Natsume reassured him "I think she was really enjoying fighting with you like that. That must have been the first time in her life anyone treated her like a child who needs to be protected rather than an adult who should 'know better'."
Masao pondered on these words for a moment. True, he had never treated Mikan as a child, let alone as someone who needed protection. He did not want her to rely on him so he had kept her away.
"That fight just now" Natsume added "was really like a normal teenager arguing with her dad."
Masao smiled in spite of himself. "Perhaps I may be able to spare a proper room for you after all."
"That would be nice." Natsume said "Oh, and just so you know we really haven't done anything. Though I don't really think that's the only reason you want her here, I just thought you might want to know."
"Yes, it is indeed good to know."
"I mean, everything has been so hectic lately no one has had any time to relax and all… besides kissing we haven't really-." Natsume suddenly shut his mouth as he noticed the visible twitch in Masao's right eyebrow.
"I take back what I just said" he said between gritted teeth "A supply closet is too good for you. I'll have you sleep with the dogs you perverted brat!" he shouted as he chased Natsume out of the building.
Masao walked to the study and dropped himself on the armchair sighing.
"Is it really okay for someone like me…" he pondered out loud "to be able to feel the simple joy of sharing a peaceful meal?" he looked out the window at the darkening sky.
"Yuuka-." He choked on his words. "Is it all right for this horrible man to protect her in your place?" He softly rubbed his eyes with the tips of his fingers. "After everything I've done can I-?"
As tears started trickling down his cheeks Masao covered his face with his hands and softly began sobbing. For some reason he did not understand a smile never faded from his features.
"Admit it!" Natsume said smirking as he sat watching her putting her clothes away in a box "You can't even stop smiling long enough to deny it."
"I am not happy!" Mikan said trying to wipe the smile off her face.
"You don't have to lie to me, you know? I can see it in your eyes."
"W- Well maybe I am the tiniest little bit… glad" she whispered the last word in a hushed tone so he would not hear.
"Aw look at you acting all coy. That is so ad-." A stray flying shoe found its way to Natsume's stomach before he could finish his line.
"You acting like an idiot is incredibly annoying." Mikan said as she sighed and sat at the edge of the bed "It's just that, this feels so… unreal. I don't know even know what I'm trying to do here."
Natsume stared at her for a moment and pondered whether to make a joke about how she never knew what she was doing but thought better of it. He realized this was probably one of those times to get serious so he simply took a seat next to her and waited for her to keep talking.
"Is it okay for me to just accept what's happening? Aren't I being a bit of a hypocrite? Shouldn't I hate that man? Shouldn't I be trying to get revenge on him? And yet I'm just having dinner with him like it's nothing. And it's not even like I don't understand his feelings at all. I mean, if you hadn't been here with me I don't know what I would've done…" a little out of breath after her long rambling she stared at him expecting a reply.
Natsume did not look her way, he did not even speak and had he wanted to he wouldn't have known what to say. He silently put his hand over hers as if to reassure her that it would be all right but couldn't bring himself to tell her so for he did not know himself if it ever would be.
Deep down he knew that there was no way this could end well for everyone. Seeing Mikan so troubled only made him think about things he would rather ignore for the time being. He needed to keep levelheaded for her, no matter how much this was also troubling him she had it tougher and he had promised he would always be there when she felt like crying.
He just had to stop thinking. Stop thinking…
Mikan noticed his obvious discomfort by the way his hand gripped hers so tightly. She knew it wasn't just her that had to go through all of this and yet she had been selfishly pushing her feelings onto him without considering his and he had accepted all of it without uttering a single complaint. Thinking back on it she felt pretty bad about it…
Without a second thought Mikan released his hand and swiftly wrapped her arms around his neck whispering a hushed apology as she did so.
A bit surprised by this, it took Natsume a few seconds to react properly and put his arms around her waist and as weariness hit him he lowered his head to rest on her shoulder. It was at this moment that his brain finally made the decision to stop working. As the warmth of her body slowly engulfed him and the scent of her hair intoxicated his senses, only then did he realize that he had no more strength to hold back.
At the time he pressed his body closer to hers his last shred of self-control tried to stop him from doing anything. This is not the time for this. It said. She's vulnerable and you're both extremely riled up about everything. Those words were quickly overturned though when she meekly looked up at him wondering why he had suddenly frozen.
For Natsume to actually have his brain completely shut down was not a common occurrence. It had happened before but he could count those times with the fingers in one hand. The odd feeling of peace it brought him was incredible. For a person like him who tended to overthink about everything, being unable to grasp a thought from inside his head was, in a word, refreshing. All of his worries suddenly vanished into thin air as if they had never been there in the first place.
If letting go now meant having all of those doubts and uncertainty come rushing right back he rather never withdraw. His mind fought to keep his last speck of sanity but, as is in most cases, the heart won the battle as Natsume looked at her with a languid expression and immediately kissed her.
Surprised though she was Mikan responded tenderly to his empty kiss. She understood the sentiment behind it if only because she could relate to it; his need to make everything disappear, his wish to forget it all if only for a brief moment, his desire to erase the uneasiness. If it took nothing but a mere caress, a simple touch, this at the very least she could do for him.
Before he realized it Natsume found himself pushing Mikan down onto the bed. The moment her back hit the mattress however she unintentionally let out a yelp of bewilderment which instantly snapped Natsume back into reality. As if he had been awoken from a trance he stared with shocked eyes at her the moment he noticed what he was doing, what he was going to do.
He glanced at her disheveled hair and her flushed cheeks and couldn't help but feel the urge to pretend nothing had happened and continue what he was doing. Alas his mind finally settled down and as his heartbeat slowed down and his breath returned to a normal rhythm he drew back with a heavy sigh.
"Sorry" he said as he got off the bed and helped her sit back up.
"Don't be" she replied "Especially when I should be the one saying that."
"Not kicking you awake"
"Ah, yes, that was entirely your fault… and would you please not give me that look? It just makes me feel worse."
"What look?" she asked looking affectionately at him.
"That look! It makes me really uncomfortable after-. Just forget it, I'm going to take a shower, I'll come back to help you move your stuff when you're done." After that he quickly walked out of the room leaving Mikan to resume her packing.
'Brilliant idea a shower…' he thought as he stepped into the warm water 'Just the place to go when the last thing you want is to think.' He remarked sarcastically.
Don't beat yourself up, kid. You did the right thing. The little voice in his head prompted.
"Oh, perfect, you… just what I needed. And where do you get off calling me kid anyway?"
Don't be like that! It's just an endearment. Besides it sounds good for lecturing purposes.
"I'm not going to let me lecture myself!"
Well too bad kid, there's really nothing you can do about it.
Natsume groaned and banged his head softly against the marble wall "Don't you have a mute button or something?"
No, so shut up and listen. First off, about Mikan, you need to understand that girls are...
Natsume grumbled and simply let his mind continue to torment him as he went about quietly with his business and attempted not to strike conversation with himself again; insanity had its limits too.
That night, after having settled down in her room, Mikan sat silently in the sitting room. She had found herself unable to fall asleep so she had decided to do some exploring and the gorgeous brown tail piano in the room had caught her eye. She sat in front of it and let her fingers trace the keys.
It had been so long since she had last played. She remembered the stories Jii-chan told her about her mother and how beautifully she could play and because of it she had decided to do the same, every time she played she felt somehow closer to her. She had stopped however when she deemed it a waste of time she could be using to become a more suitable woman for Kaname. How foolish she had been.
Hesitantly Mikan placed her hands in position and pushed one of the keys. As the sound echoed through the room she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and raised both her hands slightly. As she released the air from her lungs she let her arms fall and her fingers started quickly hitting the keys. So lost was she in the melancholic music filling the room that she did not notice the presence of the person behind her.
"Moonlight sonata" the intruder said making Mikan stop abruptly.
"I'm sorry! I couldn't sleep and I found the piano and I just-!"
"It was her favorite piece." Masao said sitting down on a couch and lighting a cigar "She said it felt like her life story being told in three movements. Of course at the time I had no idea what she meant, I only understood it when she finally left."
Mikan did not say anything in response, she chose to continue playing. Her favorite piece, her life story in three movements, she could identify with that. The painful yet strong first, as her hands slid expertly through the notes memories of her childhood, Jii-chan and becoming part of the Sakura family. Everything seemed like nothing but a far off dream, still the sorrow was fresh in her memories.
As she slipped into the second movement and a more cheery sound filled the room she could almost see Natsume's face on that very first day she had thrown that paper airplane. Although it was quite short it made her smile in spite of herself. That was until she reached the third and final movement.
She knew this was it. Whatever happened from now on was exactly what fit into this tune. Her fingers rapidly moved through the intricate patter of keys that made the melody and her breath started becoming shallower. She could feel fear and despair thinking about what lay ahead and suddenly her hands dropped stiffly on the keyboard producing a discordant disturbing sound, her body refusing to play any further.
"Exactly" Masao said blowing the smoke of his cigar and staring at the mist as it disappeared "If you really want to stop the music from playing you know what you have to do."
"Do you really think that I…" Mikan abruptly turned around on her chair and faced him "would be convinced so easily? Stop the music? Why would I want to do that? " she added with a defiant smile on her face. "I'll just change it to suit my pace."
Masao who had been puffing on his cigar unexpectedly choked on his response and started coughing.
"Also" said Mikan "in a completely unrelated topic. I want to ask you about Harada-san."
"You talked to her?" said Masao in a shocked voice.
"Yes, well, not really… See, it was really strange. When I asked her about my dad she didn't seem to know anything about, well, anything."
"You didn't say anything about it, did you?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about. Why isn't-?"
"Harada-san is, as you probably know, the mother of that maid who eloped with Izumi's father some 35 or 40 years ago I think."
"So then she is my-!"
"You should keep quiet about it. She doesn't remember any of the incidents from 20 years ago."
"What do you mean doesn't remember?"
"When she found out about what happened to Izumi and what he had done her heart couldn't cope. The doctors said her brain had blocked the memories of it due to the shock and that it'd be better not to speak to her of it unless she remembered on her own."
"So right now where does she think her grandson is?"
"Somewhere living happily with Yuuka I presume" he replied grimly "She never brings it up for my sake so it works well enough for all of us."
Mikan looked dejected, like her last childhood illusion had just disappeared.
"She's been like a second mother to me, Harada-san, so I would appreciate it if you didn't do something that would bring her woeful thoughts. Her heart might be too weak to take it this time."
"Can I… still speak to her, about them?"
Masao looked thoughtful for a moment and then simply replied "So long as you don't mention anything about what happened or who you are..."
She nodded and dazedly walked out of the room without another word.
"Change the music" he muttered to no one "now why didn't I think of that before?"
"It's not too late" Natsume's voice cut through the silence.
Masao scoffed "Eavesdropping?"
"More like keeping an eye on"
"YOU keep an eye on ME?"
"Somebody has to…"
"Not as dumb as you look, eh?" said Masao walking past Natsume into the hallway.
"It's not like I think you'll betray her…"
"Not so sure about where you stand then?" he asked giving his back to the young Hyuuga.
"Something like that."
"Good." He replied before disappearing into the dark corridor.
The thing about groundbreaking revelations is that they usually give you no time to adapt to them before normal life comes back into the picture. Also, the thing about normal life after groundbreaking revelations is how incredibly surreal and far away it seems. So, going to school the next day was… strange to say the least.
Sitting at the table during lunchtime was incredibly abnormal. To everyone around them it seemed as though everything had just gone back to how it used to be and the peaceful days had returned and somehow it felt as though it really had. So both Natsume and Mikan silently agreed that at least for now they would relax and just go with it.
Remarkably enough, it seemed that everyone had settled into the idea that Mikan and Natsume were dating and nobody found it the least bit extraordinary, or at least they didn't dare utter a word about it. It was as if his existence as the outcast at Alice Gakuen had been completely erased of the collective memory.
"All joking aside though" Koko commented casually "I honestly thought that if anything Mikan would be dating Kaname."
"Now that you mention it" Ruka pitched in "I've heard something like that before…"
"Don't be silly guys" Kaname finally spoke looking nervously at Natsume "Mikan-chan and I have always been like siblings."
"And besides this guy probably already has someone he likes! Though he won't say who it is…"
"Tsu- Tsubasa!" Kaname stuttered as his classmate took a seat beside him. "It's not like that okay?"
For some reason the atmosphere became heavy and silence set in. Natsume couldn't help but stare devilishly at Kaname and then at Hotaru who was quietly sipping some juice apparently oblivious to what was happening around her. Ruka was the only one who clearly caught on to this and muttered an amused "Oh" while turning his gaze towards Kaname.
"You always say that but I know I'm right." Tsubasa defended breaking the silence.
"Andou-senpai, if Sonou-senpai says it's not like that then you shouldn't tease him." Said Ruka pleasantly "Right, Sonou-senpai?" he added flashing him a charming friendly smile.
"Right" Kaname returned his gesture with an equally gracious princely smile.
"Well! This is certainly interesting. You guys are freakishly similar." Natsume commented.
"Oh? Whatever do you mean Natsume-kun?" Kaname asked smiling politely at him.
"Yeah, what makes you think that?" Ruka beamed at him happily.
Natsume knew better than to believe in those smiles by this point. He could feel the cold murderous aura behind them and the promise of certain death if he spoke out of place but this was too great a chance to let it go.
"You know… blond hair, blue eyes…" he began "same taste in women…" he added lowly smirking at the pair.
"Same taste in wh-?" Tsubasa tried to speak when suddenly
"TSUBASA!" Misaki's shriek echoed through the cafeteria.
"Oh boy, what did I do now? Hey, what day is it today? I didn't miss her birthday yet, did I?"
"You might want to hide under the table" Mikan chimed in helpfully.
"Don't bother" said Misaki standing behind Tsubasa and grappling his shoulders.
"Mi- mi- Mi- Misaki I'm so sorry! I'll never do it again I promise! Please have mercy!" Tsubasa said desperately covering his face behind his arms.
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Misaki asked looking suspiciously at him "I came to thank you for finishing the decorations for the-. Wait, what did you do?"
"Deco-? Um… I was just kidding? Of course I didn't do anything."
Misaki sighed "Fine. I need you to help me with the touchups for the costumes."
"It's gonna have to wait Misaki we were in the middle of-."
"What? You're saying there's something more important than helping your girlfriend prepare for our last Alice Festival?"
"She's right Andou-senpai" said Ruka "You should be gentler to your girlfriend."
"No buts Tsubasa, this is important for her you should be a supportive boyfriend" said Kaname.
"Kaname, Ruka you guys are so sweet!" Misaki turned to Tsubasa and smacked him over the head "You should learn from them Tsubasa!"
"Misaki you little- and you guys too don't get on her side!"
"Come on stop whining! You're coming with me anyway…" she said grabbing his arm.
Both Kaname and Ruka smiled nicely at him and waved as Tsubasa was dragged away by his girlfriend.
"Well lunch break is almost over anyway so we should be heading back" said Koko.
Without another word the group stood up and started walking back to their classrooms, Natsume and Mikan lagging slightly behind.
"It's all right" he told her "You don't want to make them unnecessarily worried anyway, do you?"
"Yeah, I guess…" she said "It's just that… it feels kind of artificial."
"Didn't it before?"
"Well, yes, but it's different now… I don't really think I can explain it."
"I can. That's Mikan trying to break out right there." He said smirking at her "Seems like she's tired of waiting for the brave prince to come and rescue her." He added ruffling her hair.
Mikan elbowed him playfully and pouted "Baka" she said "It's not like I have to wait anymore. You've already rescued me."
"Wa-." Natsume's flustered response was thankfully interrupted.
"If you two morons are done flirting back there" Hotaru cut them off with a somber expression "there's someone here to looking for you, Mikan."
"Me? What are you-?"
"Mikan?" a woman with short brown hair walked past her friends and faced her with watery eyes.
"Who are you?" Mikan asked taking a step backwards, away from the woman.
"It's me!" she said bursting into tears "It's mommy!"
"You guys go ahead I'll be right over." She said to her friends and though hesitantly they eventually left her behind understanding it was better not meddle for now.
"Go away" she said coldly brushing past her after everyone was out of earshot except Natsume who stood in place.
"Wait! Don't go! I'm sorry! Please listen to me!" she pleaded grabbing the sleeve of her shirt.
She quickly shook her off and looked at her with disgust "Get out of my face woman. If you get my friends involved into this I will not forgive you."
"Mikan please let me explain I'm your mother, Yuuka! You can't-!"
Mikan slapped her across the face not holding back an ounce of strength making her lose her balance and collapse onto the floor clutching her cheek.
"Don't you ever dare speak her name again!" she threatened "And you tell that bastard for me, no more games, if he wants to fight fairly I'm ready anytime." She added before walking away.
"Mik-." Natsume quickly covered the woman's mouth with his hand to keep her from saying anything else.
"Listen to me, I don't know who you are but for your own good you'd better back off. I'll go deal with that man myself so just go away." He finally released her when he was sure Mikan was not around.
When she looked at Natsume's anger filled crimson eyes she simply nodded and walked off still clutching her red cheek and with tears in her eyes.
Natsume had finally had it with these sick little games his father insisted on playing so he made up his mind. He knew that sending that woman had been his way of calling out to him and he was not about to ignore it this time. If confrontation was what he was looking for then confrontation he would get.
A/N: I wanted to end this chapter on a cheerer note but then everything just went right back downhill…
Thank you for reading I'm honestly really happy to know that there still are people who enjoy my writing.
To be continued…