Not a Bubblegum Girl

By

Stars of Gold

DISCLAIMER: It was once mine, but someone stole it from me, and now it's not mine anymore. It's actually a tale of adventure, romance and slight angst, but we don't have time for that.

Chapter 7

Tsubasa finally falling down onto the floor in a pitiful heap of sad with a loud thud wrapped up the trip to Misaki and Tsubasa's. The four teens said their goodbyes and left.

"Uwaaah! That was nice," commented Mikan.

"I liked the part where that shadow freak fell on the floor," Natsume said with a smirk. "Me too," Hotaru and Ruka chorused. "Man, you guys are so mean!" Mikan pouted.

"Well, where to next?" Ruka asked absently, trying to take his puppy from Hotaru. "I-mai! Gimme her!"

"No way!"

"Oh, come on! She's mine!"

"No, I want her!"

"Hey! No fair! I raised her mother; it's only fair that I get her, too!"

"You have her mother, so let me have this one!"

"She likes me!"

"All animals like you!"

"All the more reason why I should have her!"

"No, she'll get jealous of all the time you spend with the other animals, so I should get her!"

"You'll be too busy working on inventions and money-making schemes to take care of her!"

"I can make time for anyone!"

"Tch, yeah right! How many times have you shunned Mikan-chan because of your inventions?"

"Hey, don't pull me into this!" Mikan protested. "Why don't you guys agree on a custody plan or something?" Natsume suggested, annoyed at their bickering. Mikan's eyes lit up. "Yeah! That's a great idea! You guys work out who gets the puppy on certain days! That way you don't have to fight!"

Ruka and Hotaru eyed each other. "Okay…" Ruka said slowly. "Sure, I'll do it." Hotaru shrugged. "I call Sunday!" they chorused. Eyes narrowing, they protested in unison. "No way!"

Mikan sighed. "HEY!" she called to get their attention. "What about you two spend the day together with the puppy? Then the both of you get to spend the day with the puppy."

"Okay."

"Sure."

"Good. Now who gets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?"

"I'm fine with that. Hotaru-chan?"

"Okay. I'll have her on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Deal?"

"Deal." And they shook on it. "Good. Now what do we name the puppy?"

There was a silence as they contemplated several names. "I know! Rukaru!" Mikan cried. The two stared at her. "Huh?"

"Ruka-pyon's name and Ru from Hotaru! How about it?"

"I'm okay with that, but Hotaru-chan's pride might not let her accept that."

"I'm fine with it, thank you very much," Hotaru retorted.

"Rukaru, huh? Sounds like one of those pairings in a fan fiction," Natsume commented. (Wow, he's clairvoyant…) "What? Natsume, you spend way too much time on the computer." Mikan chided.

"Tch, whatever, Polka Dots."

"STOP CALLING ME THAT!"

"Whatever you say, Polka Dots."

"MY NAME IS MIKAN!"

"I know that…Polka Dots."

"ARGH!"

--

"Anna, why are we following them?"

"Because, Koko, we want to know if they like each other!"

"But I could've just used my Alice…"

"On Ruka-kun, maybe, but Natsume-kun and Hotaru-chan are sure to notice and Mikan-chan has her Nullification Alice."

"Oh, right."

"Yes, dumbass."

"You do know that I can see everything going through your mind right now, don't you?"

"Yeah, but you couldn't possibly blackmail me with anything in my head."

"'I hope he doesn't find out about Mr. Snoogleums, my most precious teddy bear in the whole world,'" Koko quoted, crossing his arms and looking at her pointedly. "You have a precious teddy bear?"

"It's none of your business! Stop reading my mind!"

Koko smiled innocently. "Yes, mistress. That's one of your kinky fantasies, isn't it? Someone calling you mistress? And the chair, and the whip, and – is that a nurse outfit I see?"

Anna blushed like a beetroot. Suddenly, they heard people drawing near. "Oh shit, it's Ruka-kun and Imai-chan," hissed Koko urgently. Anna, thinking fast, pinned him to the ground and jammed her lips onto his.

Ruka and Hotaru came across this sight with slight disgust. "Oh, geez, get a room," Ruka said, covering the eyes of the puppy in his arms. Anna pulled away and said, "We had enough privacy until you two showed up." She was blushing, as was Koko. "Okay, sorry, we'll just be leaving now," Ruka said, rolling his eyes and turning around. "Come on, Hotaru-chan."

"Remember to use protection!" Hotaru called gleefully back towards them as she walked away with Ruka. Koko and Anna blushed a terrible shade of red. "Uh…Anna?"

"Yeah?"

He kissed her again. "Hmm," he said after breaking the kiss. "That settles it. Anna, I love you too. Will you be my girlfriend?"

"You know it." And then they found something much more interesting to do than spying on their classmates.

--

"Well, Nogi, it looks like we've managed to get those two together. Now let's go get Yuu-kun and Nonoko-chan!" Hotaru said brightly. Ruka sweatdropped. "Even as a bimbo, she never stops with the schemes," he mumbled to himself. "But I guess these schemes are much more –"

He caught sight of Hotaru scrolling through various photos in her camera, murmuring, as she did so, "In this one Koko's a bit blurry, and in this one Anna looks disfigured…"

"– selfless." He sighed. "I guess not, then."

"Come on, Ruka-kun! Let's go and lock Permy and Mochu in the same room for a few hours!"

"…Hotaru-chan, how long are those painkillers going to last?"

"Oh, they should wear off in about half an hour's time!" She cocked her head cutely. "Oh, I should take some more pills, shouldn't I?" she giggled and pulled out a bottle of oddly shaped pills.

"NO!" Ruka yelled. "I mean, let's bring them to Nonoko-san and see if she can work out any kinks!"

"Yeah! Great idea!"

She then ran off enthusiastically towards the girls' dormitories. Ruka wondered what had happened to her immense laziness for a brief moment before running after her.

"Hotaru-chan, don't run too fast! You might trip and –" She suddenly let loose a shriek, accompanied by a loud thud. "– fall." Sighing once again, he quickly made his way towards her. "Hotaru-chan, are you okay?"

She rolled over so that she was facing the sky before groaning. "Ow. I think I'll stick to the scooter." Ruka chuckled. "I take it you're alright?"

"Never better."

"Good to know. Now let's walk, not run, to the dorms instead. Why are we setting all these people up, anyway?"

"It's fun."

Hearing that sentence coming from Hotaru, accompanied by a wide grin, was very, very, very weird. It took all of Ruka's willpower not to stare at her weirdly. Instead, he offered her a hand, which she took, and pulled her up.

"Huh, so I was right. You're really light."

"Thanks." Hotaru flushed slightly at the compliment, but Ruka didn't notice as he checked his watch. Ten minutes had passed, and if all went well, by the time they reached the dorms, Hotaru would be back to normal. He didn't know how much more of this girly, bimbo Hotaru he could take.

"Ruka-kun?" Her voice jolted him out of his thoughts. "Sorry, what?"

"Y-You can let go of my hand now," she said timidly.

"Oh. Uh, sorry about that."

"It's no problem." Hotaru giggled. Ruka's eye twitched involuntarily. "Okay, come on, let's go."

--

Yuu sighed. Nonoko was sleeping, as she had been for the past two hours, and he hoped that when she woke up, she would be much more agreeable.

Just then, there was a knock on the door. When he opened it, he was quite surprised to see Ruka and Hotaru. "Hey, Iinchou," Ruka greeted. Hotaru merely flinched and glared at him ill temperedly.

"Ah, don't mind Hotaru-chan, her painkillers just wore off, thank God."

Hotaru switched her glaring gaze to the blonde boy beside her. "Ah…What I mean to say is that she was freaking me out, being all girly and whatnot. It was very disconcerting to see a usually stoic, emotionless blackmailer suddenly become…Mikan-chan."

"You tolerate Mikan, why not me?" Hotaru asked monotonously.

"One Sakura Mikan is enough, thanks. Plus, if you become exactly like her, you'll end up quarreling with your best friend over Natsume."

Yuu cleared his throat. "So what brings you two here?"

"We were wondering if Nonoko-san had any glitch-free painkillers."

"Ah, no, sorry. I can't even give you the tranquilizers, because I've used them all on Nonoko-chan herself."

Ruka raised an eyebrow, but didn't question it. "Okay then, I guess that our trip here was completely useless. Rukaru-chan, come!" He whistled, and a small puppy bounded towards them. Picking it up, Ruka said, "That's a good girl. Here." He handed the puppy to Hotaru, who, despite her hangover, cracked a small smile as she took the puppy from him. She'd always had a soft spot for animals.

"Say hi to the wife for us."

"Yeah, no pro – wait, what wife?"

"Oh, you know…" Ruka was being too vague for Yuu's liking. But before he could question his taller and much cooler fellow blonde, said blonde had already left after Hotaru, yelling something about custody agreements and puppies. Yuu didn't even bother trying to decipher that, and went back into Nonoko's room. Why do I get such weird classmates?

--

Hotaru hummed as she took her sweet time changing back into normal, completely pink free clothing, as well as removing all traces of pink and glitter on her face and replacing it with a darker shade of makeup. Ruka had walked with her all the way up to her fourth floor room only to wait outside as she changed, then, once she was done, would walk with her down to the dining hall to eat dinner.

She'd never thought it was possible for anyone to like her enough to go through so much trouble for her – Mikan, definitely, but never Hotaru. She was sorely mistaken – Ruka did. He was definitely poking a gigantic hole in all of her theories and plans about him.

Ruka was probably the nicest guy – oh, wait, the plan! She wasn't supposed to be falling for him; she was supposed to watch with a cruel disposition as she blackmailed him with pictures of him in his sorry, heartbroken state.

But was she really so heartless?

"I don't think Ruka can handle his heart getting broken again."

Natsume's words rang through her mind. What did he mean by that? Would Ruka break down? Would he cry? Would he commit suicide?

No, she told herself. No. Ruka is strong. He wouldn't commit suicide. He wouldn't resort to drugs. No, no, he wouldn't.

Would he?

"And I don't think you should go through that, either."

She took a deep breath, then opened the door to Ruka, Rukaru in hand. "Ruka-kun," she began shakily. He looked up, concerned. She cleared her throat. "Ruka-kun," she began again, this time more steadily. "I think I'll just stay and sleep off my hangover."

"Oh." He looked disappointed. "Okay. Do you want Rukaru to stay with you? Something warm and cuddly will be a comfort among all the robots you have in place of soft toys," he teased, offering Rukaru to her.

Her lips twitched up involuntarily, but she shook her head. "No. It's your turn tomorrow, anyway."

He nodded. "Okay then. Sleep tight, Hotaru-chan. I guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow. Bye."

"Bye."

And then she closed the door and flung herself onto the bed, trying desperately to figure out how exactly her plan was going to work.

--

When Natsume noticed that Hotaru was missing from dinner again, he frowned, deeply troubled. Hotaru would never miss a meal for just anything, and while Ruka had claimed that she was sleeping off her hangover, Natsume highly doubted it. Hotaru was the kind of person who would try to tough something out than wait until it ends without doing anything in the mean time.

Stealthily grabbing a three star boxed dinner, he slipped it quietly into his pocket and made his way to Hotaru's room. Something must have gone wrong with that plan of hers.

--

Hotaru had fallen asleep at one point, dreaming dreams of Ruka and various morbid scenes that he might place himself into if his heart was broken once more.

"And I don't think you should go through that, either."

That one sentence stung her quite deeply, and she wondered just how hard it was to suffer from heartbreak.

But even if she fell in love with him, what was wrong?

What…?

If he loved her, and she loved him, then…what was the problem?

…The problem is that I don't trust him with my heart. I'm…scared. Scared to love. I…don't want to be exposed so greatly. He could betray me, and…and I am not as strong as he. I would not be able to stand heartbreak. I'm not strong, I'm weak. I hide my weakness in my cold, confident outer shell…but on the inside, I'm weaker than everyone else.

She cried in her sleep, awakening to the cool feel of air as it made contact with her wet skin. She continued to cry, unable to stop.

And then there came a knock on the door. "G-Go away!" she whispered to herself, curling into a ball.

"Imai? Are you in there?"

So it was Hyuuga that came. "Go away!" she repeated, this time loud and strong, carrying her voice to the door.

"No. I can hear your blocked nose, Imai, I know you're crying."

"S-So?"

"So I can help. Listen, I'm coming in right now, whether you like it or not."

"No! Go away!"

Natsume went in anyway, and if he was surprised to see her curled up in her bed, crying for all she was worth, it didn't show on his face. He closed the door behind him and placed her dinner on a table before approaching her and sitting on her bed.

"Hey now, chin up, Imai," he said, his voice surprisingly smooth and gentle. "What's wrong? You know you can tell me anything, and I won't tell a soul."

"N-Not unless you want your secrets posted on every wall of the Academy," she choked out. Natsume rolled his eyes. "Even in the middle of a sobbing fit, she still finds time to blackmail people," he muttered to himself. Sighing, he stretched his arms and fingers. "Listen, Imai, just tell me what's up. I can't help you unless I know," he added gently.

Slowly, Hotaru choked out what she was so worried about. Natsume listened, never interrupting her.

When she had finished, he let out a deep breath. "Imai, you're very observant when it comes to things like other people's love problems. But when it comes to your own, you're as blind as a bat."

He chuckled and placed a hand on her head. "Cheer up, Imai. Don't worry so much. Sure, heartbreak is terrible, but you're not as weak as you think. Just for being able to take all the bad comments people throw about you and go about pretending that everything's alright proves that. You're so much tougher than you know, Imai.

"And as for Ruka…well, I really can't say, but I think he'll be able to get through anything, even if he falls for you and you reject him. He's tougher than that; he wouldn't do all those …things. I would never let him, and Mikan would never let him either."

He stood and stretched. "Plus, you'll never be a millionaire if you sulk all the time. Chin up, Imai. And don't forget this talk – I don't want to have to do it again."

Natsume wiped all traces of kindness and concern off of his face and tone of voice, then left her room, saying, "See you tomorrow, Imai," as he closed the door behind him.

Hotaru smiled into her pillow. At least one of my brothers cares, she thought. Even if he isn't really my brother.

She slowly drifted off to sleep in a much better mood than before.

--

Meanwhile, Natsume was tossing an apple into the air and catching it again periodically as he walked down a hallway. He often did such things to occupy himself while he thought deeply. On this particular occasion, he happened to be thinking about the relationship between his best friend and his love interest's best friend.

Being the only one who knew something was a burden, and this situation definitely counted. He knew that Ruka liked Hotaru, and he knew that Hotaru liked Ruka as well. Ruka was getting Hotaru to open up way more, and Hotaru, in turn, was trying to get Ruka to fall for her. Natsume himself, of course, knew everything, and Mikan was blissfully oblivious.

"Natsume!"

Speak of the devil. Here that little idiot comes.

"Nee, Natsume, what's up?"

"Nothing."

"Yeah? You looked like you were deep in thought."

"Really?" He was mildly surprised at her level of empathy, but passed it off as underestimation of her abilities. "I was thinking about Ruka and your supposed best friend."

"Oh, Ruka-pyon and Hotaru? What about them?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Nothing? Okay… But come to think of it, the way they've been acting is bothering me. It's almost as if they have a crush on each other…"

Natsume raised an eyebrow. He hadn't thought that Mikan's level of observation was high enough to come to that conclusion.

Mikan caught sight of his raised eyebrow. "Yeah, okay, so it sounds ridiculous. But it's possible."

"I never said it was ridiculous."

"…So you think I'm right, then?"

"Don't push it, Polka Dots. Now run along and go get some sleep. There's going to be a pop quiz in Algebra tomorrow."

"WHAT? How do you know?"

"I have my sources. 'Night."

"Goodnight! And thanks, Natsume!"

"Hn."

--

Ruka sat cross-legged on his bed, attempting to enter a peaceful state of mind. Or, in other words, trying to meditate. Unfortunately, he found himself unable to do so, as every time he slipped into a meditative state, he relaxed, and when he relaxed, he often thought deeply about anything under the sky.

Eventually he would think about puppies, which would then link to Hotaru, and for a while, he would smile peacefully – but since he was, after all, a teenage boy, his thoughts would drift into a particularly inappropriate section of his mind. He would then proceed to blush fire engine red and open his eyes rapidly, thus ruining his meditation.

This meant that he was unable to meditate, hence also unable to sleep, since he had been using meditation to enter the state of unconsciousness we call sleep since a particular incident concerning his neighbor, his neighbor's girlfriend, the sound they were making and, most probably, the spatula, whipped cream, rope and several unmentionable objects that were later found in the aforementioned neighbor's room.

Ahem.

As I was saying, Ruka was failing miserably to meditate, so he sighed and forcefully veered his thoughts away from an increasingly distracting image, instead deciding to think about everything else.

It sure was funny when Narumi announced that he wasn't actually engaged. I'm sure Serina-sensei is happy about that – frankly, I think she has quite the crush on him. Maybe I'll get Koko to spy on them.

Spying…that reminds me of Hota – NO! He shook his head furiously. One last image – the most indecent one of all that had been running through his poor male mind – presented itself to him, and he groaned. Quickly falling back onto his bed and rolling over so that he was face-down on the bed, he yelled in frustration into his pillow.

Just then, there came a knock on the door. "Oi, Ruka, it's me," came a familiar voice. Ruka sighed and went to open the door. "Hello, Natsume," he greeted.

"Hn." He walked in, kicked off his shoes, then plopped himself onto Ruka's bed. "So," he said as Ruka closed his room door. "Are you planning on telling Imai? You know, before I get killed on a mission?"

"Touch wood. But anyway, don't rush me. I love her, yeah, but, well, things don't just happen overnight. Besides, I highly doubt she returns any of my feelings, despite all the opening up she's done lately. And before that, she was really mean to me, you know, blackmailing me and everything."

Natsume sighed. "Love is truly blind."

"What? Why would you say that?"

"You're proving, right now, that blondes really are dumb. But seriously, you fell for a sadistic blackmailer who particularly chose you to torment. If that isn't blind, I don't know what is."

"Oh yeah? What about taking a look at your own situation, huh?" Ruka retorted. Natsume raised an eyebrow. "I don't have any situation to look at."

"Tch, yeah right. I seem to recall a certain New Year's Eve when you downed sixteen shots of vodka and had to be restrained by a certain strikingly familiar blonde fellow before you professed your love to Mikan-san in a cheesy, drunken and terribly inappropriate way for which she would murder you, after which you would then be pummeled by her own best friend for the same reason, who, might I add, was armed with several very large Baka Weapons at the time."

"I was drunk, I have an excuse. She's attractive, so I, in my drunken state, decided, just as many boys my age do, that I loved her. The feeling does not remain when I am sober."

"Yeah, okay, right. Then what about the time the little boy we somatic types call Cupid told us clear as day that you liked her?"

"Oh yeah, you're a somatic type. Have fun with that Permy girl? And why was that little kid with us, anyway?"

"No, Permy, as you call her, which I suppose refers to the cat-dog thing that leads our fan club, is driving me nuts. And I had to babysit that kid, everyone else was busy, and they couldn't let a little four year old run wild. Now stop changing the subject. Face it; you fell for that girl hook, line and sinker."

"Hn."

"I'll take that as a positive 'hn'. Now, come here and help me catch the spider on the wall before I accidentally crush it."

--

Nooooooo! It's shorter than the chapter before. I don't particularly like this chapter. Tell me what you think.

EGAD! The OOCness! Everyone's OOC!

Stars of Gold