Graded Recitation

Disclaimer: The author rightfully respects the genius of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice.

Author's Note: This is a writing exercise. Before I continue His Dark, Kind Soul, I thought I'd do another story on a lighter scale. This one is set after Natsume Nullified (that story has reached over 300 reviews, and I would like to celebrate with much thanks).

To set the stage for this fic, note that the gang is seventeen years old, Mikan is a three-star student and it's after prom. The prose used was first published on FictionPress.


The Prose

It was a love he never dared to say out loud. He knew it. She felt it. But the words were always left unsaid. It lingered in his mind, in her heart, like a wonderful secret known by all. It was a certainty but not quite a fact.

She waited for him to say something but he was stubborn. He thought she would speak first but she also knew how to play the game. He could never be bothered while she could never be convinced and so a decade lapsed without a promise uttered.

Yet the promise was there and though subtle it was enough to keep them together; even when everyday it grew more difficult to believe in the unspoken promise.

He grew old, as did she, but their feelings never wavered. He became soft. She grew constant. And not a day over seventy did they part. It was a love stronger than the finest note, firmer than an edict, as heartbreaking as a mother's song. It was strange but also inspiring: that love— that too true, too bizarre, too soulful love.

Four offspring, a dozen grandchildren and a thousand memories later, he took to the night in peace. With the softest breath he said the words that ended three scores of waiting. He had been steadfast. She had been devoted. He was swept. She was crying.

They gazed at each other and the vow was in their eyes, just as it had always been— a breath away from utterance. Then three words broke from him as though he'd said them to himself a hundred times in his lifetime and could hold them back no longer.

"Farewell, my love."

Mikan closed her book then blinked. She turned to the window, thinking about the peculiar emotions the literature brought her.

"What an odd story."

The Story

"Sakura, you're next!" Mr. Narumi sang out.

Mikan shuffled to the front of the classroom, still grumpy after yesterday's debacle. Since she and Natsume were no longer in the same regular class, she didn't have to deal with him the whole morning. However, this was their Elective— the only class they had together after Yuu convinced most of the original Class B to select the same subject. Just her luck she also had to have her oral recitation that day, which meant she needed to face the classroom with that idiot in the audience.

"So let's begin," Mr. Narumi said with a grin, oblivious to Mikan's uncharacteristic glum. "What story do you have for us Mikan?"

"My assigned story is Unspoken by N. Romeo," she began unenthusiastically. "It's about a man and a woman who fall deeply in love with each other but manage to hold back the words until the end. It's not that they couldn't admit it. It's obvious that they knew how the other felt. After all, they did stay together and form a family but they never bothered to say it out loud. The story ends with the man dying after bidding his wife farewell."

The class grew silent at her very despondent and brief summary. Narumi cleared his throat, finally noticing that his favorite student was in an odd mood.

"Anything to add?"

She seemed to be channeling Natsume. She shook her head. "That's about it."


"It was a short story."

"Ahh… hmm… curious." Narumi rubbed his chin. "Let's all turn to page 76 and see what Mikan's taking about, shall we?" His eyes scanned the book while the class followed. Then he looked back up at Mikan. "So what do you think is the message of the story?"

"Men are unemotional jerks."

The girls began to giggle and even Narumi smiled. "But don't you think there's a deeper meaning to that last line?"

Mikan tipped her head. "I think it just compounds his emotional bankruptcy. The last three words he had for his wife spoke of goodbye not love."

Narumi clicked his tongue. Clearly Mikan, supposedly a natural romantic, wasn't in the right frame of mind when she read this story. He wondered what the Black Cat had done to her and decided to do some digging.

"Any comments from the class?"

Yuu, who seemed to feel the need to defend his species, spoke up, "There are other ways to express your love… not only through words. After all, she still married him. He must have shown his feelings through actions."

To the teacher's surprise, Mikan slashed Yuu with a cold look. "But the words are important Yuu. She waited for a very long time and just because they had a family together it doesn't mean she didn't need to hear it."

In a rare move, Mochu took up the debate. "She couldn't have been unhappy the entire time. After all, they grew old together."

"What makes you think she was happy most of the time?" Sumire burst out and her boyfriend turned white. "The story explicitly says that it grew more difficult everyday."

"Uhhh…" Mochu groped for words then ultimately swallowed. "I think Koko wants to say something."

Koko threw his friend a dark look then took a long time to respond as he stared blankly at the page in front of him. "But he… never left her. She never left him. They never left each other. I'm really no good at this…" Then he threw a crumpled paper ball at Mochu.

"What Koko is trying to say is that despite the fact that it was getting difficult, neither of them gave up," Ruka jumped in. "That makes it a strong relationship, right?"

"But he never said it!" Mikan exclaimed. "And if he's not going to say it then at the very least he shouldn't go around attracting random girls just to get his girl jealous!"

She had dropped a bomb and that's when the whispers began. Narumi smiled. Ahh… that was it… the exhibit…

Yesterday, the Alice Academy held an art exhibit and Natsume Hyuuga had made one of his rare appearances. Mikan was also there, acting as gracious host to a couple of visiting male artists. Seeing the attention she was receiving, Natsume had apparently retaliated simply by not fending off the attentions of his fan club, as he normally did. The little chess game they played wasn't missed by those present and from Mikan's reaction today, it was clear who had won the match.

Hotaru, always a voice of reason, spoke up, "There was nothing in the story that spoke of infidelity Mikan. And anyway, why didn't the woman say something first? Did it really have to come from the man?"

Mikan glowered at her treacherous best friend. "Yes," she said stubbornly, still not returning to the homework. "Yes it does, because he's the one who started this stupid game! And I think it's really tactless of him to flaunt how gorgeous he is just to prove a ridiculous point!"

Somebody snorted. Another guy coughed. The girls started giggling again. Ruka's head snapped sideways to glare at his best friend. "Say something, dammit."

Natsume looked uninterested. "So you're saying… the girl thinks the guy is gorgeous?" Ruka nearly slid off his chair.

"You insufferable pig—!"

"I don't see what the big deal is," Natsume went on. "As far I could tell he was never unfaithful and he stayed with her for as long as he could."

"But he always meant to say goodbye," Mikan returned. "He said the words a hundred times in his lifetime. At the back of his mind, he always meant to leave her."

"No, you idiot," Natsume replied impatiently, "He said the words to himself. What it means is that he's always been afraid that he'd have to leave her. He never promised because he's not sure if he'd be able to keep it and he didn't want to break his word to the woman he loves."

The class grew silent at his somewhat morose answer. Plus, it was unlike him to talk so much in Narumi's class. "Deep," Kitsuneme said out loud. "Way too deep Natsume."

"Well that's just stupid of the man," Mikan said distractedly, "Because he's had several chances to tell her. He didn't need to promise her eternity together! She just needed him to be honest about his feelings."

"He didn't promise her eternity but he gave it to her anyway," Natsume countered with annoyance. "That's pretty good. What's her problem?"

"Her problem is that he keeps her guessing all the time and frankly, there are times when he just doesn't play fair."

Natsume's eyes narrowed. "Are we still talking about the story?"

"Evidently not."

"Then I think that pretty much dismisses this class." He came to his feet and everybody knew he was getting ready to walk out. It was signature Natsume.

Mr. Narumi looked keen enough to let him go. "Any last comments Hyuuga?"

"The guy pretty much summed it up," he said irritably.

"He said farewell," Mikan griped.

"He said, my love," Natsume shot back. "Really, I don't understand how a sap like you could possibly miss that."

When the bell rang Natsume was the first one out the door.

"Look at the bright side Mikan," Anna said cheerfully as they all gathered in the dining hall for lunch. "Apparently, Natsume intends to tell you his feelings after all."

"Yeah, on his deathbed," Hotaru said cynically. "Divorce him."

"Hotaru!" the rest of the girls chorused.

"She's right," Sumire piped in. "He's biding his time just because he has the influence to scare off all the other guys in school. Who does he think he is?"

"That statement is staggering coming from you," Wakako commented to the founding president of the Natsume-Ruka fan club. "Considering you used to think Natsume was the best thing that ever happened to the Academy."

"I turned the guy into an icon and I still think he's hot," Sumire said dismissively. "But we're all growing up and Natsume's more of a friend now. And I think he plans to make Mikan wait forever if he had his way."

"I don't get it," Nonoko spoke as though she was thinking out loud. "You two were so honest with your feelings when we were ten. What happened?"

Mikan sighed irritably. "We were children. Natsume was more in touch with his feelings back then. We hadn't hit puberty yet." The girls laughed.

"Well, I think what happened at the art exhibit and in class this morning were promising," Anna said optimistically. "He must have his reasons for holding back."

"I can't believe you're taking his side," Mikan said, shaking her head.

"How can't I?" Anna smiled then declared matter-of-factly, "In case you guys didn't notice, he understood the story better than anyone else!"

Mikan tipped her head. That was annoyingly true. Natsume did seem to have a better grasp of her assigned story than she did. Her friends weren't finished with their analysis of the Black Cat.

"Natsume must have identified with the character or something," Nonoko said thoughtfully. "That's why in the end, he couldn't help but walk out."

"I agree," Wakako said after a moment's thought. "After all, we all know how Natsume gets when things become too touchy-feely."

"You mean he shuts down?" Hotaru asked dryly.

"Exactly," Anna said cheerfully. "But don't worry Mikan. He's looking at you and no one else. I'm sure of it."

"Anna, you can be such a romantic," Nonoko giggled.

While they went on to dissect Natsume's reaction in class and Anna continued to insist on its romantic implications, Mikan spied the subject of their conversation get up from another table. She saw girls of all ages look up with adoring expressions as Natsume walked past them. He didn't take notice though and kept his indifferent expression. However, when he passed by her his facial cast turned into a smirk, as though he was thinking of another particularly entertaining joke at her expense.

"Did you see that?" Sumire asked smugly. Apparently, she had also detected the subtle change in Natsume's expression when he had spotted her. "He smiled at you!"

"No Sumire," Mikan grumbled. "He sneered at me. Vast difference."

"No wonder Natsume thinks you're an idiot," she said airily. "You always mistake the signals he sends you. Natsume's smile is a smirk, dummy."

Mikan scowled. "Well, if he already knows I'm an idiot, why not just tell me straight out instead of sending me confusing signals?"

Hotaru rolled her eyes. "Duh. We just took that up in class. Because it's a love—"

"He never dared to say out loud!" they all finished in chorus then burst out laughing.

Mikan was not amused. She gave them a grumpy look then grabbed some change and headed for the vending machine to get away. That was a wrong move and she realized it only when she was already too near the soda machine and couldn't turn back without looking stupid. Natsume was standing there, choosing among the weird and popular beverages listed down.

It was a love he never dared to say out loud.

Mikan sighed loudly when that wayward thought popped into her head. Hearing her, Natsume glanced over his shoulder and it was hard to describe the look on his face. Anna was right. He's looking at her all right but what his stare actually meant escaped her.

He knew it. She felt it.

Natsume turned his attention back to the vending machine then instead of dropping a couple of rabbits into the coin slot, he simply banged the glass with a fist then added a thump on the side for good measure. At once, a soda bottle popped down into the vent for free.

Show off, Mikan thought irritably as he picked it up. Then he stood aside to let her have her turn but he lingered beside the vending machine and continued to watch her. Mikan stepped up and their eyes locked. His gaze, as always, was unnerving.

She waited for him to say something but he was stubborn. He thought she would speak first but she also knew how to play the game.

Mikan breathed out and decided to just ignore him. Or at least she tried but it was difficult to have her pseudo-boyfriend, whom she had just fought with, stand there in silence and stare at her intently. She felt vulnerable beneath his scrutiny. How could her heart be spilling at his feet when he hasn't even said anything?

Yet the promise was there.

Mikan gritted her teeth, trying to focus on the task at hand. The short story was repeating itself in her head. Suddenly, she found herself identifying with the female character and because of that she could somehow guess what Natsume was probably thinking when the graded recitation unfolded that morning. She exhaled. This was so exasperating. Six years and one prom later and they were still dancing around each other.

But their feelings never wavered.

They've been through so many things together. Everybody knew it, which is why their story was held with some fascination. Mikan snuck a glance and found Natsume still staring. Behind them, all of their friends and perhaps half the student body were watching this drama play out as well.

It was strange but also inspiring: that love— that too true, too bizarre, too soulful love.

Mikan licked her lips then glanced towards the vending machine. She chose an orange drink then dropped her coins in. She punched the selection button but then nothing came out. Quickly she pushed the eject button but the machine wouldn't spew out her rabbits. Natsume began to snicker.

He was swept. She was crying.

"Arrgh!" Mikan cried in frustration when she didn't get her money back. This was obviously not her day. She seriously considered kicking the infernal machine but she didn't want to make a scene with everyone watching.

Natsume chuckled then stepped forward causing her to back away automatically. He knocked on the glass and banged on the side, exactly as he had done a few minutes ago. Then he added a loud whack against the coin slot. Her drink fell into the vent instantly and with it the exact change she had dropped in earlier. Mikan gaped and he grinned, looking arrogantly pleased with himself while the story finished itself in her head.

Three words broke from him as though he'd said them to himself a hundred times in his lifetime…

"It's for you."

Mikan blinked, her mouth falling open. Natsume didn't say anything else and he returned to that carefully nonchalant expression he was known for. Gingerly, she fished out the drink from the vent. Then they went back to their respective tables in silence.

"What was going on at the vending machine?" Nonoko asked when Mikan sat down with a somewhat dazed expression.

"Nothing," she said. Her cheerful disposition was suddenly completely restored. "I was just having another conversation with Natsume."

"You look really happy," Anna commented. "Did you guys make up?"

"I think so."

"Was it a good apology?" Wakako asked eagerly.

"Yeah," Mikan said. She lifted the juice to her lips and smiled to herself as she remembered. "It was marvelously unspoken."