Disclaimer: I don't own Gakuen Alice.
Dedication: HotaruRuka fans; I hope I do them justice.
Author's Note: This is a HotaruRuka, five chaptered story. It's my first try at HotaruRuka after one botched-up attempt that I'd rather not speak of. But I hope you enjoy, nonetheless.


Cryptic Signals

Senses were meant to be sent into overdrive.

-My Hopeless Romantic-

Chapter 1. The Smell of Ambrosia


"Mikan-chan is so lucky! Natsume-sama is so cool!"

Ruka's writing hand immediately stilled on his notebook and he shrank into the small cubicle in the library in order to hide from the voices that he heard. It was a small giggle and a tiny whisper but he'd discovered, with the time he spent within the heart of the forest, his sense of hearing was far better than the middle-aged librarian posted a few feet away.

He didn't know why he tortured himself this way. He could've sworn the other day that he wasn't a masochist but here he was, subtly moving his head to the right in the direction he'd heard the feminine giggles.

"—I did, too! You never see Natsume-kun hold Mikan's hand in public but you know that dingy old Sakura tree? They're always there! They're so cute! You know they were meant to be together when Sumire gives her blessing!"

Ruka's heart lurched and he restrained himself from clutching the fabric of his shirt over the area his heart was supposed to be.

"I was there with you, Nonoko-chan. He actually let her sleep on his shoulder! Natsume-kun would never let any other girl do that and get away with it!"

He leaned his head against the cool surface of the desk and sighed. Ruka knew he was being beyond pathetic. He knew Natsume deserved the girl of his dreams but at the thought of Mikan, with her big brown eyes and large heart, Ruka couldn't have begun to prepare himself for the onslaught of despair and hurt that he felt once they'd gotten together.

She'd been the only girl that made his heart flutter rapidly in his chest. She'd been the first girl to extend her generosity and concern to him without a thought about herself, holding nothing for her own personal gain. She was innocent and she was kind. Mikan Sakura had made him feel something that could only be love. How else could he explain the fullness of his heart and the way it beat like crazy when she came near?

Ruka breathed in slowly, frowning at the blurred lines of his textbook. He truly wondered why and how he could put himself through the same torture everyday, for the last three months. It should've made him happy to have his best friend and best girl get together. Ruka knew, deep down, Mikan and Natsume were meant to be together. He'd known for the five years he'd been pining after her and he knew his best friend better than anyone and Natsume had been pining after her for the same amount of time, if not longer, than he had.

The thought made it hard for him to swallow.

"I saw them kissing once!"

Ruka's head jolted up and his book bag fell to the ground with the startled jerk of his elbow. Chatter immediately ceased and Ruka quickly started gathering his books and pens, trying in vain to fight the heat of hurt from his face. His things were jammed into his bag in a pile of messy disarray that was rare for him but he couldn't seem to get out of the library quick enough.

He couldn't take it anymore. The feeling of coming in second to his best friend once again left a bitter taste in his mouth and blinded by the jab at his pride left Ruka stumbling into the hallway. He knew he shouldn't have looked back. He knew he should have run with the little bit of pride he had left but that little masochistic section in his heart that seemed to grow by day forced his head to turn just in time to glimpse the look of pity on Anna and Nonoko's faces.

The last thing he needed was pity.

The last thing he needed to feel was jealousy.

He thought, after a few weeks had gone by, that he'd be able to get over his petty crush on Mikan. Of course, the 'petty crush' was putting it in rather simple terms. He'd tried every possible tactic to rid her of his mind. He'd tried ignoring her, to which she didn't seem to understand. She'd come up to him with a heartbreaking expression of hurt on her face and Ruka's resolve seemed to shatter when she asked sadly;

"Ruka-pyon… are you m-mad at me?"

Maybe it would've been a little easier if she hadn't decided to look up to scrutinize his face with her large, innocent and rather teary brown eyes. It was nearly impossible when Ruka saw the small quiver of her bottom lip which only made his heart beat faster. He never knew how to console a crying girl; his first love, no less. So he'd said the only thing he could;

"N-no! Of c-course not, Sakura-san! I c-could never be mad at you…"

She'd sniffled, perking up immediately with a cry of "Really? Thank goodness! I was so worried…"

And she'd promptly invited him to lunch with Natsume and her best friend, Hotaru, to which he couldn't have gotten out of if he'd tried. Ruka winced at the memory of the awkward lunch. Maybe it'd only been awkward for him after monosyllabic answers and the conversation that ensued between the three, excluding him. Even Natsume seemed to be speaking more than he was and that was disconcerting in itself.

It wasn't their fault that he had a rotten time. Or who was he kidding? Of course, it was their fault! If they'd never gotten together in the first place, things would've been a whole lot easier. But there they were, Mikan and Natsume, the happy golden couple of the middle school branch and who was he? He was Ruka, just Ruka, the animal wrangler extraordinaire.

After avoiding them didn't work, Ruka had taken to simply watching and listening with a heavy heart. To be honest, he didn't know what else he could really do. He couldn't very well mentally kill them off. Nor would he want to. They were important people in his life and even though it pained him to no end, having to see them together, all other options either didn't work or were far too severe to contemplate.

Ruka sighed softly, hefting his book bag over one shoulder and tried not to look into the eyes of those passing him by. Apparently, it had been obvious that he'd been in love with the bubbly brunette girl. Apparently, it was obvious that he'd been heartbroken when the golden couple had gotten together. And apparently, everyone seemed to put it upon themselves to pity him. It made him feel sick to his stomach.

Couldn't they see that he was human…?

He closed his eyes briefly and sighed, hefting his book bag higher. If only he could just disappear for a moment and have his feelings magically vanish, he'd give anythi

He felt the air get knocked out of him and stumbled backwards, apologies already at the tip of his tongue. "Oh, I'm sorr—" he blinked, slightly astonished, "Imai?"

Irritated, dark purple eyes met his and Ruka automatically felt himself stepping back to put some distance between them. He closed his eyes, expecting camera flashes in all directions but instead, he heard a rough sigh and a bored voice, asking, "What are you doing, Nogi?"

"I was…" expecting you to take pictures, he thought.

"What?" she questioned monotonously, raising a slim, sculpted eyebrow.

"N-Nothing," he sighed finally, finding his gaze directed at the ground. Books were scattered on the ground, his as well as hers and Ruka immediately knelt down to pick them up in order to hide the dark blush on his cheeks, the heat collecting rapidly up his neck and into his face.

"Hurry up, Nogi. I'm busy," Hotaru stated blandly and Ruka resisted the urge to roll his eyes and drop all the books at the comment. Instead, he exhaled softly and urged his hands to quit shaking, picking up all of the foreign books to deposit into the stoic black haired girls' outstretched hands.

"Where's your robot, Imai?" Ruka asked, puzzled—looking around the petite girl to locate the missing robot. "I thought you never left without one to bring your things."

Hotaru shifted the books in her arms and Ruka expected a sigh of annoyance to come out of the girl's lips, but didn't catch it. Eyeing the pristinely trimmed black, boy-cut hair and the firm line of her lips, Ruka inwardly chuckled, beating himself over the head for thinking that Hotaru Imai would let somebody know about her struggle. She was much too independent, he thought.

"Why should it matter to you?" Hotaru replied, a small frown on her face. "It doesn't matter where it is because you'll make a satisfactory substitute."

She smirked and still in the clutches of surprise, Ruka gaped open-mouthed as his body moved on its own accord, hands outstretched in order to receive the pile of books the inventor dropped into his hands. "Come along, Nogi. I trust you know where my lab is," she spoke, a lilt of amusement in her voice.

"B-but Imai, I have other thin—"

"Complaining will get you nowhere, blondie," she smirked, sidestepping him to walk past the library, "Just be happy I'm not taking pictures of you when you're red in the face like that."

Ruka was at a loss for words and quickly shifted her books onto one arm, picking up his books and tossing them roughly into his bag before trailing after her with a frown on his lips. He supposed she was right. Anything was better than those blackmailing photos the girl was so fond of selling. Looking at the back of her head, Ruka wondered briefly how such a small girl of her size could expel so much horror to his life. Blackmail from incriminating photos seemed to be her best friend and he thought, once again, how strange it was for a withdrawn girl like Hotaru Imai to be able to hold the love and best friend title that Mikan readily gave her.

Mikan…

Ruka bit his lip to dispel the incoming thoughts of the cheerful brunette and focused on the dominating girl before him. Why was he carrying her books anyway? Shouldn't he be throwing them all over the floor? He mentally laughed, shaking his head. He could never do something like that. His conscience would never let him.

you're too much of a gentleman… his conscience mocked, and it doesn't even matter. No matter how nice you are, Mikan will never love you like she does Natsume…

Ruka frowned, knowing only that it was the truth.

"Stop frowning," Hotaru called over her shoulder, turning back briefly for Ruka to glimpse the paleness of her skin, "If you keep up with the rate you're going, you'll be so ugly, no one would buy your pictures."

Wryly, Ruka shook his head. "To think for a second, I thought you cared about me, Imai," Ruka replied callously, surprising himself with the sharpness of his voice. He looked down immediately, barely catching the ghost of a smile on Hotaru's face with his sharp, blue eyes.

She stopped, turning around fully and took two steps closer to him. She was so close, in fact, that Ruka felt his heart beating quicker with the knowledge as the distant, powerful girl stood before him. Faintly, he could smell the tantalizing scent of ambrosia that had always enticed him in the heart of the forest. A smell he would've never pinned the youngest Imai of sporting. The musky scent tickled his taste buds and Ruka swallowed thickly as his stomach flipped with pleasant surprise.

"I-Imai, what are you—"

"Doing?" she questioned slyly, smirking at his flushed face, "Really, Nogi. You should know better than anyone, it's nothing personal, it's just business."

She pulled away, sadistic smirk still in place before resuming the walk to her lab. Ruka, the lovely odor no longer clogging his senses, blinked and breathed out swiftly. Really, he inwardly scolded himself, watching her retreating figure, so she smells nice, so what? It doesn't change the fact that she blackmails you every other day.

Gathering his wits, Ruka hurried to catch up to the black-haired girl whose figure had disappeared upon turning a corner. Blue eyes softened as he pondered briefly about the smell that had made the girl he'd always thought to be boyish, into so much of a female. He shivered slightly and started at the sight of Hotaru opening up her door.

Ruka stepped in cautiously, his eyes darting around suspiciously looking for traps of some sort. When he'd made it inside without being harmed, he took in the large lab with keener eyes, noting how organized and agonizingly neat the room was.

"Where did you want me to put your books…Imai?" he asked, looking for the girl in question. He finally spotted her leaning against the wall near the door, looking at him with intense amethyst eyes that made his arms weak.

The books… the books are heavy and they're taking a toll on your arms… nothing more…

She remained quiet for a moment before looking past him and gesturing with her eyes, "On the desk."

Shyly, he placed the books down and groaned, stretching his arms and winced when he heard them pop. He refused to meet her gaze and shrugged his shoulders, "I—um… I guess I'll see you later, Imai…"

"Whatever."

He heard her feet shuffle as she walked toward her desk, the familiar, achingly sensual smell of ambrosia meeting his nostrils as she passed and he resisted the urge to shiver before he sighed deeply. He'd almost made it out the door, reluctantly moving away from the odor before she stopped him in his tracks.

"Nogi," she called softly.

Ruka found himself turning around a little too enthusiastically, eyes wide and expecting. "I-Imai, wha—"

Several consecutive flashes of lights and the hiss of her telltale camera blinded him until he stumbled out the door, putting his hands up in surprise and defense. Finally, he sputtered, "Imai, what are yo—!"

The flashes stopped and blearily opening his eyes, Ruka barely made out the turn of her lips into a smirk, her parting words, "I told you, Nogi. It's nothing personal, just business."

He heard her slamming the door in his face, the warm smell of ambrosia, once again, hitting him in the face. And as his vision slowly cleared, Ruka remained standing out her door, mouth agape, briefly wondering how such a girl like Hotaru Imai could emit such a lovely scent.


My Hopeless Romantic