Disclaimer: I wonder how it'd feel, to have Gakuen Alice as my own, but since I don't want to steal, I'll have to settle for a loan. :) Wow, this is my poor attempt at another disclaimer-rhyme. Forgive my lameness.
Dedication: crimsoneyes44 because I kinda-sorta adore how you always back me up on my writing and how insanely proRukaHotaru you are. XD This story was most definitely written for you, subconsciously. Told you this would be out in two days. :)



Cryptic Signals

Senses were meant to be sent into overdrive.

-My Hopeless Romantic-

Chapter 5. The Taste of Hotaru


Ruka hated all of the whispers and stares.

If anything, Ruka prayed that everyone's attention would just return to Mikan and Natsume, or maybe Wakako and Kitsuneme now that they'd gotten together, instead of continually giving him the sad eye or the sympathetic glance once again.

Hadn't they gotten enough of looking at him after Mikan and Natsume had gotten together?! Granted, the glances of sympathy were no longer because he was stuck in an unrequited love with his best friend's girlfriend – oh no.

They were looking at him this way because Hotaru Imai was out for blood.

Ruka shrunk lower in his seat as the doors to the classroom were thrown open and Hotaru walked in, cool velvet eyes as bland as always and footsteps like a woman set out on a mission. The chatter, which had swelled when Ruka had walked into the room with Natsume, dimmed appropriately but that didn't seem to deter the inventor. As usual, she walked into the room like she owned it and Ruka clenched his jaw with annoyance.

He honestly had to stop being frustrated about how unaffected she was.

It had been two weeks, after all.

Two!

He had to get over it. He was supposed to be done with her, not looking at her every move whenever she was in the room and not glaring at the back of her head whenever she did something as she normally would. It wasn't her fault he couldn't seem to drop the subject and it wasn't her fault he couldn't be as unaffected by the whole thing as she was. And as bitter as it made him feel to say it, Ruka hated the fact that he couldn't stop replaying the whole argument again in his mind and having the feeling that he was missing something distinctly important in the way the situation had panned out. There had been so much anger and tension and—screw it if he knew. But damn, if he could get her out of his mind because he'd tried. The Lord knew how hard Ruka had tried to rid Hotaru Imai from his thoughts but no matter what he did and no matter the time of day, something about her and the way things had ended between them didn't sit right.

And he knew he really had to stop looking at her but…

She'd clipped up her bangs today.

"Ruka."

Ruka automatically snapped his gaze away from Hotaru and turned his eyes to the window in time to hear Natsume's low snort of amusement.

"Natsume," Ruka hissed, his cheeks immediately heating up at the smirk on his friend's face. "I'm glad you seem to find my current situation amusing," he continued dryly, willing the dark blush away from his cheeks, "—but you're attracting attention."

"You're the one blushing."

The words seemed to trigger a white, hot anger that welled in his stomach. It seemed strange, irrational even, but the idea of Natsume pointing out his inability to get Imai off his mind rubbed Ruka the wrong way. Running a hand through his hair, Ruka glanced in her direction and blinked rapidly when Hoshio Hoshino leaned perilously close on her desk, a charming smile on his face. Ruka's foul mood intensified dramatically before he couldn't stand sitting with her across the room any longer. Glaring, Ruka breathed darkly, "Don't follow, Natsume."

He'd soon regret his abrupt actions later but at the moment, he didn't care that he'd reacted like Natsume by knocking his seat over and storming toward the door. Ruka didn't care that the whole class was bound to be gazing intently at his back, watching as if he was some sort of freak display on exhibition. And Ruka could honestly care less about the whispers that immediately shook the doors.

He hated the way the idea immediately flashed through his thoughts, but the only thing he actually seemed to be annoyed about was the fact that among those so interested in the room he'd left behind was a girl that couldn't have cared less about him.

A vivid image of piercing velvet eyes blinked in front of him and Ruka almost tripped over his feet before blinking rapidly.

The empty hallway stared back at him.

He snorted bitterly. Hotaru? Chasing after him?

Ruka honestly couldn't fathom how he'd believed she would ever think of going after him. It was Hotaru Imai after all. Hotaru Imai didn't do such things. It wasn't much of a surprise that she was driving him crazy, either.

Another bitter laugh escaped him.

She'd always been able to scar him far deeper than any other.

Ruka gritted his teeth and let out a loud breath of anger, before tucking his hands moodily into the pockets of his shorts and heading down the corridor. He didn't even blink as the school bells rang heavily in the air around him and the thought of going back to class couldn't have seemed any less revolting. Natsume skipped all the time when he wasn't up to class, Ruka thought vaguely, leaning against one of the hallway pillars. Skipping one himself shouldn't be a big deal.

Scattered footsteps and a feminine squeal of panic brought him out of his thoughts before Ruka managed to catch the figure of one, Mikan Sakura.

"Ah, Ruka-pyon!"

"Mikan," Ruka blinked in surprise as familiar large brown eyes stared at him in shock. Before he knew it, Ruka's eyes widened when brown eyes narrowed to slits and small arms that had been in his grasp shoved him in the chest until his back hit solid cement.

"You!"

Years from then, Ruka would still probably wonder how in the world little Mikan Sakura had managed to muster so much power into those small arms of hers. Despite his surprise, he blinked up, dazed from his position sprawled on the ground at the brunette who seemed to be sizzling with a fiery anger he'd never seen directed at him before.

"Just who do you think you are, Ruka-pyon?" she folded her arms, scowling at him menacingly from above.

"Uhh."

"How dare you do something so horrible as to make Hotaru this sad!?"

For the third time in the frame of thirty seconds, Ruka found himself blinking in surprise. "Hotaru? Sad?" A scoff left his lips before Ruka rolled his eyes. "Hotaru is not sad and if anything, Hotaru is the predator in our situation. I'm taking it she didn't tell you the whole story."

"Of course she didn't," Mikan snapped, stomping one foot and pursing her lips. "Hotaru never tells me when she's upset. She bottles it in and works and works and works herself mad in her lab."

"If she didn't tell you, then how do you know this is my fault?" Ruka couldn't help but ask, folding his knees and leaning his back against the pillar. He draped an arm around his folded knee casually, glaring at the wall before him. "I'm not the one who threw our meager friendship down the toilet as if it were used toilet paper."

Ruka looked up at her snort and watched as she wrinkled her nose. "Can't you see that Hotaru is sad, Ruka-pyon? Can't you see how much she misses you?"

Ruka groaned and closed his eyes, remembering the frequent unaffected glances he'd caught her throwing his way and the way her eyes seemed to flash with anger before submitting to easy indifference. Ruka, against his will of course, had taken to observing Hotaru Imai in the days following their spat and he'd seen the ranges of her expressions going from haughtily bored to bland indifference. It didn't look like Hotaru was capable of expressing anything else other than variations of the two above.

"So no," Ruka relayed, clasping his hands together. "I honestly don't see it."

Displeasure stretched the length of Mikan's pretty face and Ruka made it a point to turn a blind eye to it.

"She hasn't hit me for two weeks."

He almost didn't hear the quiet whisper of her words but with the amount of dependence he had for his hearing and senses, Ruka managed to catch it and furrowed his brow. "What do you—"

Mikan threw her hands up. "She hasn't hit me for two weeks! Do you know what that means Ruka-pyon?" Her voice had managed to raise an octave before she answered in a panicked whisper, "You've replaced me!"

Her choked gasp almost made Ruka laugh but something rock hard seemed to be crammed in his throat. "You've got to be kidding." He shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, hissing, "I haven't replaced you, Mikan. If you haven't noticed, Hotaru doesn't want anything to do with me and I'm afraid the feeling is mutual this time around." He let a laugh escape his lips. "You can have her."

"Ruka."

He blinked at the formal use of his name, focusing clear blue eyes on the determined girl before him. She shifted slightly, biting her lip as if reluctant to continue the conversation. "Ruka… Hotaru, she …" Brown eyes glittered dangerously, making it even more difficult for him to swallow. "She's been letting me hug her."

A bark of laughter slipped from him before he could control it and he looked up at her in amusement, watching as she stomped her foot, frowning. "C'mon, Ruka-pyon! Believe me when I say there is something bugging Hotaru and it's your entire fault!"

"Shouldn't this be making you feel happy? That she's letting you hug her, I mean."

Ruka watched Mikan pause, looking up thoughtfully, clasping her hands behind her back and rocking on the balls of her feet. "Well, you know… knowing that Hotaru is upset enough to want to hug me makes me happy that she trusts me but—" she shrugged, a small smile on her lips, "—if the only reason Hotaru wants to hug me is because she's sad, I'd rather get rare hugs from her and have her happy." She fixed a stern expression on her face and placed her hands back on her hips. "So you'd better not mess up Ruka-pyon! You know how to fix this!"

"I would if I was the one at fault here," Ruka muttered low under his breath.

"Are you blaming Hotaru?"

Startled by the low, dark accusation, Ruka bit his lip and shrugged. "Why don't you be the judge of that?"

"Ruka-pyooon," Mikan moaned painfully, falling in a heap beside him after he relayed the events that had transpired in the inventor's lab. "How could you be so thoughtless?"

"How am I the one that's thoughtless?" Ruka sputtered. "She's the one that took advantage of me while I was sick for her insane sadistic pleasure," he pointed out, burrowing himself deeper into the wall. "So if you ask me, I have a right to be angry that she'd choose her blackmailing lifestyle over our friendship."

Mikan harrumphed, folding her arms in front of her chest before she set her piercing brown eyes back to his blue. "She took care of you while you were sick, Ruka-pyon."

"I woke up on the hardwood floor," Ruka returned dryly, running a lithe hand through his hair. Even as he said it though, his mind turned the image of her nursing him to back to good health and the thought made a laugh rumble through his chest and a blush blossom to his cheeks. "The least she could've done was give me the bed…"

"Oh Ruka-pyon," Mikan huffed playfully, knocking their shoulders together. "When it comes to Hotaru… you can't ask for 'what she could've done'. It should mean something that she did something for you in the first place." She cocked an eyebrow and put a finger to her lip in thought. "I would've thought that if anybody, Ruka-pyon would know that well."

Ruka frowned. "Why would—"

"You spend more time with Hotaru than I do sometimes," Mikan cut in lightly, leaning back on her palms. "Ruka-pyon knows that if Hotaru didn't care, she wouldn't have brought him to her room, right? She would've dropped you off at the infirmary if she didn't care."

She was smiling thoughtfully, tapping a foot on the ground with one of her black school shoes when a giggle slipped past her lips.

"What is it?"

"I was just thinking," she giggled once more, "—how Hotaru would look as she treated you. She's not heartless, you know. She's my very best friend."

Ruka fought back a retaliation that lay at the tip of his tongue before she started once more, "Plus, I think Hotaru might like you, Ruka-pyon. Like-like you." A wolfish grin appeared on her lips and her eyes glittered mischievously. "And I know you like her too."

Ruka's face heated up and he sputtered as a wide grin probed at her lips. "What… you can't be serious. I doubt—"

The bell rang and with a yelp of hysteria, Mikan bolted to her feet. "Oh no, I skipped class! Natsume is going to kiiiiiill me!"

Before he could question her any further, Mikan had hoisted her bag back on her shoulder and ran the way he'd just come with a wave. "Fighto, Ruka-pyon!"

And footsteps echoed in her wake.

Ruka chuckled humorlessly, shaking his head.

He still couldn't quite believe what Mikan had managed to divulge in terms of Hotaru's state. Was she honestly as sad as Mikan made her out to be? Judging by the indifferent expression permanently etched on her face, Ruka decided that it probably wasn't serious. Hotaru being sad over what they had fought over? He just couldn't see it, couldn't quite grasp the idea of Hotaru being so affected.

Then again, the idea of Hotaru actually admitting her wrongs didn't seem very Hotaru Imai, either.

A light chuckle escaped him.

Oh, what a stubborn pair they made.

A faint ache in his chest started palpitating and Ruka clenched his fists, forcing his feet out of the school and into the light mid morning air.

It had been so easy to be unaffected by Hotaru's absence the first few days after their fight but Ruka wondered how in the world it started getting so unbearable. What started off as a normal school day bantering with Natsume and the gang turned out to be so incredibly…

He didn't know what to name it.

Lonely?

Was that the word? Ruka hated the way it sounded but the definition seemed to match perfectly with how he felt and it was just too pathetic to fathom. He shouldn't be affected by her at all. He shouldn't even need to think about the whole thing. Two weeks ago, he promised himself he'd start anew without Hotaru Imai. Without the constant bickering, the blackmail and the inane analysis she managed to do on his character every other hour they were in each other's presence.

God but he missed her.

Ruka had accepted the fact a mere two days ago but that didn't make him feel any less disgusted of himself. Disgusted of the fact that after all his big words and hearty exclamations and the inexcusable things that she'd done, he still managed to miss her, of all things. Why? Why did it have to be her of all people? Anybody but her would do but it just had to be her.

"You know, if you miss her that much, you should just go talk to her."

Ruka choked on his spit before whirling around to meet brown eyes filled with mirth. "Koko," he hissed darkly.

"Yo," he made a small wave, "Missed you in class, man."

With a low snarl, Ruka grabbed the boy's arm and pulled him over to the thick foliage of the Northern Forest. After slamming him none too gently against a tree, Ruka pinned him down with merciless blue eyes. Without bothering to beat around the bush, Ruka muttered, unyielding, "How much do you know?"

A boyish grin lit up Koko's face before he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Did you mean about how much you want Imai to apologize to you or how much you miss her? Or even the fact that you were insanely jealous when Hoshino made the moves on Hotaru this morning?"

Ruka wanted to choke him to death.

Koko took a cautious step back, pressing himself into the tree with both of his hands up in surrender. "Hey hey hey! You're the one who asked! Would you rather I lie to you instead?" Koko whined in annoyance, "Because I can do that, too!"

"Koko, you…" Ruka shook his head and ran a flustered hand through his hair before huffing in annoyance. "Why can't you just mind your own business for once?"

Koko rolled his eyes as if in mild pain. "I can't help it when you're standing in my way with all of your thoughts practically hammering my brain!" Koko took a cautious step forward before swinging an arm around Ruka's shoulders amicably. "Listen, Ruka. I've been going out with Sumire for over eight months now. Eight! Do you know how frustrating it can be when your girlfriend digs the drama?" Koko asked in a pained whisper. He tilted his head back and sighed, "But you have to suck it up. That's what I learned. If you think she's worth it, you suck it up and grovel. It'll be worth it in the end."

Koko nodded, a pleased grin on his face before he glanced Ruka in the face once more. "Trust me, man. I'm pro."

"You're pro at groveling?" Ruka snorted. "Why should I strive to be as whipped as you are? Now it's clear as to who wears the pants in your relationship."

"Ha ha," Koko huffed dryly, taking his arm away from Ruka and leaning against a nearby tree. "At least I have a relationship to boast about. All I'm saying," Koko stressed, backing off at Ruka's dark glare, "—is that you've been moping about this for days. Days! Wouldn't it make the both of you more at ease to just get over this pride-thing that you have and talk about it? Who cares about who starts off the conversation first if it ends with you two finally getting together?"

Ruka's expression was grim. "What do you mean, finally?"

"I'm talking about the sexual tension that's been killing me for the past—man, I don't even know how long!"

Ruka sputtered, his efforts to restrain himself from being swayed by yet another friend getting completely shot to hell. "Sexual tension? What sexual tension?"

"The sexual tension that oozes from your very pores," Koko returned gravely. "Listen to me, man. I've got experience. Eight months of painstaking experience." He dropped both palms on Ruka's shoulders and looked him sternly in the eyes. "You've got to talk it over before the sexual tension gets too much. Ah ah! Don't even start," Koko cut in when Ruka looked about to retaliate. "Just listen. There is sexual tension and trust me because I know, if you decide to ignore the sexual tension, it's going to bite you in the ass."

"You're ridiculous," Ruka scoffed, flustered. "Absolutely ridiculous!"

"Your pride is ridiculous!"

Ruka glared darkly at the brunette and watched with mild satisfaction when Koko recoiled cautiously. In a low mutter, he shrugged, "Pride is the only thing I have left after Imai was finished with me. I'm not going to let her take the last thing I have."

Silence reigned and Koko coughed awkwardly.

Having just about enough of this, Ruka rubbed a hand through his hair and sighed. "I'm heading out. Thanks for trying to help, Koko," Ruka returned half-heartedly, "Cover for me. I'm skipping the rest of the day."

Tucking his hands back into his pockets, Ruka headed out of the forest, looking up at the May skies to predict the time before Koko's words made him still.

"I bet you're going to kiss her senseless by the end of the day."

"What on earth are you—"

"The sexual tension," Koko repeated again. "The amount of sexual tension is ridiculous, I can't believe you don't even see it! And since you're so keen in not giving in first and God knows Imai won't, the next time you see her, by God you're going to snog her until she can't snog another man in her life."

By the time Ruka managed to clear the surprisingly vivid image that immediately floated to mind, the bastard was gone and Ruka's mind was shocked to the core.

His feet wandered aimlessly around school grounds, taking care not to walk to areas infested with students and teachers like Central Town and the recreational facilities of the school. Instead, by early afternoon, Ruka found himself standing in the barn with stray pieces of hay and wheat scattered across the barn floor.

Before his feet had even stepped into the barn, the animals had already started slowly congregating in a semi-circle around him, pushing their noses into the fabric of his shorts or rubbing their pelts against his legs. In all honesty, Ruka knew they were trying to make him feel better. Even the smallest insect could feel the distress in his movements.

Usagi, who'd taken refuge in the barn for the last few days, burrowed and played with another bunny, sending him a glance that snorted scornfully, "Still? I like her too but she's not like us."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

The dark whisper made all of the other animals still but Usagi's ears flattened, whether from annoyance or the fact that his master still seemed unhappy, Ruka couldn't tell. "Ruka-sama is angry." Usagi noted pointedly. "It doesn't matter, she smells nice."

Ruka snorted, rolling his eyes. "Yeah, well apparently everyone likes her."

An image of Hoshino making the moves on Hotaru begged his attention and Ruka snarled darkly before feeding the animals in the barn. His thoughts strayed occasionally, but again, his masochistic side reigned and managed to string his thoughts back to the subject of his distress.

Hotaru Imai.

"I think Hotaru might like you, Ruka-pyon. Like-like you. And I know you like her too."

To think he'd liked Mikan for five years and she'd never known about it even after he'd hinted almost shamelessly. How the hell had she managed to come to this conclusion? It was laughable! Of course, the idea of liking Hotaru hadn't been too hard to believe but Imai liking him? Oh man, he'd bring it up to the group in fifty years and damn, they'd laugh about it.

Sighing, Ruka left the barn with Usagi in tow until they made it to their regular patch of warm grass on the hill just adjacent to the barn. He lay on his back with one hand tucked beneath his head, the other lazily petting Usagi, who had taken to jumping onto his stomach and burrowing into his diaphragm.

"If you think she's worth it, you suck it up and grovel. It'll be worth it in the end… If you decide to ignore the sexual tension, it's going to bite you in the ass."

Honestly, all he needed was Natsume to put in his two cents and the day would end with everybody pushing him to grovel at Imai's feet. Then again, Natsume had made it a point not to dwell on the subject too much and when something came up, all he could manage to do was smirk and take utter amusement from the situation.

What a friend, Ruka thought dryly.

What'd they take him for? Everybody thought of him as the pushover within the group but in this, he would not back down. And if they all objected to it, it wouldn't matter. At least he had the animals on his side.

Ruka groaned as the significance of his last thought struck him. How pathetic was that? Oh God, he had to get over this and fast before he drove himself into the mental asylum for good.

With a startled twitch, Usagi dug his paws into Ruka's shirt before kicking off.

"Usagi, what are you—"

Ruka swallowed thickly, immediately sitting up to observe the intruder. "Imai," he ventured cautiously, nodding in recognition. "What brings you here?"

She didn't answer immediately and after taking one look at her face and consequently having it burn up like a red beacon, Ruka turned his gaze to glare daggers at his pet rabbit's back who had taken to purring intently into Hotaru's shoe.

The damn traitor.

With a rustle, Hotaru took out a folded piece of paper from her pocket and extended her pale hand down to hand it to him.

Meet me at the barn, please.
Ruka

He could see the 'please' had been crossed out two times before being written glaringly dark onto the white piece of paper. He recognized the writing, of course, and it sure wasn't his. Oh boy, Natsume Hyuuga was going to get it.

Bastard.

Ruka could practically picture his best friend caving in at Mikan's watery brown eyes and enigmatic smile, the traitor. They were all traitors, he mused dryly. And now he was here with the girl of his nightmares with no preparation and nothing to say.

Damn, he was screwed.

He jumped slightly at the foreign sound of her voice, so familiar from the last time he heard it, melodious and calm.

"I know you didn't write it." Hotaru rolled her eyes at his startled expression and crossed her arms defensively. "You don't write like that."

"If you knew I didn't write it, why bother come?" Ruka asked after getting over his initial shock. He tried keeping his voice neutral but among other things, he couldn't completely control how utterly displeased he was for being caught off guard by her presence.

She shifted her feet, a cool wind immediately tackling her black hair into disarray before she tamed it with a brush of her hand. Amethyst eyes shimmered mysteriously, "I was curious."

Ruka wondered why he'd hoped she'd respond differently. "About what, may I ask? If you're curious about my well-being, I'm holding up just fine without your presence." He looked up to scrutinize her reaction and only managed to be struck by how she stood out against the barn and grassy scenery. Maybe this was what Usagi meant when he said she wasn't like them…

"I was curious as to whether or not you managed to grow up," Hotaru bit out with a roll of her eyes. "I suppose even I can be proven wrong."

"To think I actually thought you came to apologize," Ruka shook his head. "I should've known you wouldn't be able to swallow that enormous pride of yours."

"I have nothing to apologize for."

"You can't be serious." Ruka tilted his head back to regard the sky with exasperation before chuckling bitterly. "I hate to bring up the past but you… you—"

"I what?"

"You're heartless." He couldn't even look at her face. Ruka couldn't believe she had the nerve to say she had nothing to apologize for. "I had my whole spiel that day two weeks ago and I'd rather not repeat myself. You're ever the attentive listener. I'm sure you were able to catch every word."

"I'm heartless," Hotaru deadpanned after a pause. "If I'm heartless, you're a bastard."

"I'm a bastard? I'm the bastard?" he repeated disbelieving. "How the hell does that even work? I'm not sure you noticed Hotaru but you took pictures of me while I was sick, left me on the floor and took a video of me making a complete fool of myself before rubbing my face with the fact. I could see where your nickname came from when I first met you but I never really believed it until you showed me that video." Ruka bit the inside of his cheek to hold in his anger and snapped, "You really are a heartless, blackmailing ice queen."

"That breaks my heart," Hotaru rolled her eyes. "It really does. Really Nogi, I've heard that one enough times for it not to cut anymore. If you're trying to hurt me, hit me somewhere deeper than that."

"Well gee, I'm sorry I don't try to dig up blackmailing information from everyone in my spare time so that I can, one day, use it to my advantage to hit my opponent where it hurts the most," Ruka returned sardonically, gripping the grass with a tight fist.

She frowned and Ruka didn't miss the way she turned her head just the slightest to what? Hide a slip of vulnerability? A laugh, perhaps?

"You never know when it comes in handy."

"Oh yeah, because you honestly have to blackmail me everyday, right? It's a life or death matter, after all."

His sarcasm wasn't lost to either of them.

Hotaru straightened, crossing her arms tight across her chest before glaring at him heatedly, "I don't need to justify myself to you."

"Of course you don't," Ruka scoffed. "You made it clear we weren't friends when you…" He growled with frustration. "You know what? I don't want to talk about this with you anymore."

"Then we don't have anything to talk about," she turned to leave. Before she took another step, Hotaru murmured bitingly, "I'm not going to beg. I'm not going to apologize. But I will say this: You can't see the whole sky through a bamboo tube."

It took Ruka but a minute to run the proverb through his head before he jumped to his feet with the familiar feeling of white hot anger broiling and churning in his stomach. With a jerk of his wrist, he caught her arm and turned her around, mildly surprised by the anger in her eyes.

"Are you saying I'm ignorant? Blind?" He threw up his hands and growled. "You never make any sense! Stop beating around the bush and stop sending me these cryptic messages because God knows I'm going to stew over it for the rest of my life and end up driving myself crazy over you."

Her lips twitched into the semblance of a smile before she snorted a laugh.

"What? What's so funny?"

Ruka colored when he realized what he'd just said and sputtered, "You know that's not what I meant. And again, this doesn't have anything to do with the matter at hand. Why'd you say that?"

She paused, her gaze was almost unnerving. Looking almost disgusted with herself, Hotaru forced out, "We can't be friends if you expect me to change."

"That isn't what the proverb means," Ruka pointed out. "And I'm not asking you to change at all. I'm asking you to be considerate for once and maybe, just maybe, make me feel like you actually value me as a friend."

Hotaru rolled her eyes, just as he knew she would. "I wouldn't bring you into my lab and take care of you if you weren't a friend." She shot him a mysterious look of… he didn't even know what to call it before pointing out, "Be grateful I gave you the floor. If it were anybody else aside from the idiot and you, they'd still be lying out in the hallway."

Ruka couldn't help but laugh. "So you're saying I'm your best friend? That you like me? Or both?"

He blushed, flabbergasted that he'd managed to force out the blunt questions but the embarrassment was well worth it when he saw the surprising twin pinpricks of pink dotting both cheeks. "Of course not," she snapped, sounding almost disgusted. "Really Nogi, it's a surprise that after all this time I've spent in your presence, you've still managed to prove to be an irreversible idiot."

"Only in front of you."

The blush deepened and with a dark glare of displeasure, Hotaru turned on her heels and stormed down the hill.

He didn't know why he did it.

Screw it.

If Ruka was actually being honest with himself, he damn well knew why.

She'd practically confessed, in her usual roundabout way. Of course it didn't negate the fact that she'd still done all of those horrible things, but just the thought of her saying, "If it were anybody else but you" made Ruka irrationally pleased. Considering it was Hotaru to boot, that must've done horrible things to her egoespecially since she'd said it in the hopes that he'd understand.

The thought made a grin erupt onto his lips.

It didn't matter though.

She was cold and ruthless, selfish and unkind, greedy and demeaning.

Or at least, that's what he'd thought before.

But could a cold and ruthless girl blush the way she had or feel the teeniest bit embarrassed by a roundabout confession? Could a selfish and thoughtless girl manage to treat him when he was sick, no matter the conditions? The more Ruka thought about it, she must've done a good job in treating him if he'd managed to gain coherency in less than 15 hours of being seen, delirious and feverish. As for being greedy and demeaning, he'd have to discover those on his own but the more he hung out with her, talked to her and argued with her, Ruka couldn't help but be stunned at how human she was.

Human…

That was a good word to describe her.

"Ruka-sama likes her." Usagi sniffed, padding to his feet, watching with his master as the black-haired girl descended down the hill. "She may not be one of us or like the other one we liked, but if Ruka-sama likes her, Usagi likes her too." As an afterthought, he added, "She smells nice."

Then with an affectionate nibble, he'd bounded after her, startling Ruka out of his thoughts and into the run as well. He could see her back stiffening when she stopped, but a second later, she started in the direction to the girls' dorm once again, mumbling something low under her breath that even Ruka's ears couldn't pick up.

That didn't bug him, though. Just the sound of her voice making incoherent noises made her all the more adorable.

"You're not mad, are you?"

She whirled around, violet eyes flashing. "Nogi, you're an idiot. The words that come out of your mouth are always stupid and yo—"

He didn't know what made him do it. He could think about it years from then and still wonder how the hell he managed to move his body without his brain having a clue but Ruka had an inkling that it may have had to do with the fact that he could feel the warmth of her anger radiating off of her body and could smell the light ambrosia still lingering on her skin.

Her voice, once so calm, was biting and the words that were coming out of her mouth were less than flattering, but just the flustered tone she had made a tingle of desire run down his spine.

Her black hair was messy from the wind and there was a little bump of stray bangs that were caught in her clip that made her look ridiculous, but Ruka barely even noticed. He was too busy noticing the way her cheeks pinked from the wind or her anger, either way, it tantalized him. And those eyes, dammit…

God but she was beautiful.

He couldn't stand it.

"—I bet you aren't even listening, are yo—"

He kissed her, practically crushing their lips together. Ruka didn't know why he felt so desperate for this, but just a touch of the lips and he was already burning. He'd never kissed a girl before other than his mum and Mikan on the cheek but this… weren't these things supposed to be soft and gentle?

All thought abandoned him when Hotaru shivered, biting his lip gently before returning his kiss with soft ones of her own. Her eyelashes fluttered against the skin of his cheeks and he could feel one of her warm hands grip the fabric of his shirt.

Ruka hadn't known what to expect and granted, ten seconds ago, he hadn't even known he'd be kissing her like this. It was Hotaru Imai, god dammit. She wasn't supposed to smell like ambrosia and feel this warm. She wasn't supposed to taste like … what word could describe the taste of her? It was something lighter than toffee and warm like vanilla and just something that he couldn't word other than to call it very Hotaru.

Was it supposed to feel this special, the first kiss?

It felt like a new world was opening up with hidden potential and no apparent direction, like a new story where Ruka had no clue what to expect. All he could do was wade through it blindly and hope for the best but …

She was devastating.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she snapped dryly, after they'd caught their breath and after she'd managed to put about a meter distance between them.

"Nothing," he grinned, not minding the confusion in Usagi's thoughts.

"This doesn't change a thing," Hotaru reminded sharply, setting a quick pace. "I still don't like you very much."

"Alright."

She shot him an aggravated look over her shoulder before her expression smoothed back into the indifference he was so used to.

But Hotaru wasn't fooling him anymore. She could pretend and hide behind that mask she held so dear but he'd already gotten a glimpse of the person that lie underneath and man, was she something.

He didn't love her, to say the least. That would've been ridiculous. Ruka did, however, like the fact that she'd shown him small fragments of how human she was. It was only a matter of time before he discovered it all.

Was this how Hotaru had felt all those times she'd walked away as the victor of their arguments? He would've never known it would feel this good to catch her off guard for once and if Ruka was being honest with himself, he couldn't wait to do it again.

It was probably bad that he was feeling ridiculously excited to pick up one of her bad habits but staggering the Hotaru Imai was definitely a defining moment in his life, as pathetic as it may sound.

And for the first time in a long while, Ruka felt that maybe the cogs of the world's axis were finally going to work smoothly from now on.

Or dammit, at least he hoped.


She could see it on his face, the deliriously happy grin.

He thought he'd been able to win against her?

Inwardly, Hotaru snorted.

Phases one, two, three and four moved along just nicely, though the last two didn't go quite according to what she'd planned.

No matter, phase five had been completed to perfection.

Hotaru glanced to her left at the ridiculously happy boy and couldn't help the satisfied smirk that immediately made its way onto her lips. Really, sometimes Nogi was just too easy. Granted, he'd managed to catch her off guard with his unexpected outburst, but turning the tables had been far easier than she'd imagined. It helped that Mikan had reacted just as she'd expected. She'd probably have to get her a hefty Christmas present for this… But getting Ruka Nogi was well worth it.

Honestly, if there was one thing displeasing about the whole ordeal, it was the fact that she'd won against Ruka without him knowing, so she couldn't even patronize him for it. Then again, everyone had to make sacrifices, she thought, even hefty ones like hers in order to win the prize.

The prize

It was almost disgusting, the inexplicable crush she had on Nogi. What was there to like about him that made him so special from the others? Hotaru didn't know but thought, if it were anybody else, she wouldn't have had to go to such great heights to get what she wanted. And it was only a matter of time before she got what she wanted. Hotaru always made sure of that.

She was quick, she was calculating and she was always one step ahead.

She was Hotaru Imai, after all.

A force to be reckoned with and all that.

And

Inwardly, she chuckled.

Yes, she had known Ruka would be hers by June…

... and the rest is still unwritten...


Author's Note:

Oh man, I've always pictured this story ending something like that. Seeing this dream turning into a reality kinda rocks. XD

I know I wrote this story in mostly the Third Person Limited (Ruka's) point of view, but man, Hotaru didn't really get to show the readers her thoughts so that last scene was just a taste (get it, taste? XD) of what it'd be like if I ever got around to writing a story in Hotaru's (third person limited) point of view. Plus, crimsoneyes44? Yeah, I know how much you love her. :)

WOOT, that was the last chapter and I sincerely hope you liked my first RukaHotaru story. Though I've gotten some requests, I'll be thinking about whether or not another RukaHotaru story will find a place in my writing agenda. I have to admit, I have some ideas but let's just wait 'til I've finished TBATB, hm?

Thank you to everyone that read and reviewed, I really, really appreciate it. I especially loved the reactions I got from Ruka's delirium and the theme of the chapters. Yes, it had to do with the senses: smell, sound, touch, sight and taste, so kudos to those that managed to get it.

Oh holy moe, I can't believe I got over 100 favorites for a five-chaptered story, too. It's insane!

Thank you, thank you, thank you very much!You guys are way too awesome!

So
how about a review for old time's sake?


My Hopeless Romantic

Completed: June 7, 2009