Disclaimer: Gakuen Alice ain't mine.

This is an entry to NatsumeSeries Contest. Submission starts on June 21 and ends on July 21. For further information on the contest, contact Vione or Romantically Loveless.

Clandestine Devotion

Because hidden under the lies and the cool facade,
everything he'd ever done had been only for her.
Always for her.

Natsume hated the man in front of him.

Not only did the man seem to have captivated unwanted attention again, but the fact that he was fooling everyone made Natsume's jaw tick. If he'd known going to the bathroom for a light break would entail a meeting with him, he would've gladly suffered the rest of the night without a word of complaint. All of the wayward glances and the charming smiles he'd been forced to show would be easy to deliver if he hadn't encountered him again.

What was so great about him anyway?

Hell, if he knew. All he knew was he hated the way the man's average black locks fell into his obnoxiously exclusive eyes and the way everyone seemed to be in awe of him. There was nothing special about him. The small details of his face could easily be dampened if they could catch a glimpse of her and hell, if they thought he was charming, wait until they got a load of her and they'd know what the real definition of charming was. Unbeknownst to the wide-eyed gawkers, Natsume knew the man was fooling everybody. Even his colleagues didn't know two bits about him.

But Natsume knew the man like the back of his hand and what he knew disgusted him.

He was a despicable, conniving man with the face of an average human. What was it that captured everyone to his person? Was it the 'mystery' he exuded or the sharp planes of his face?

The thought made him scoff internally.

Whatever, it didn't matter.

The man could jump off a bridge for all he cared. Without him, the world would be all kinds of good. Honestly, Natsume couldn't fathom how the man could bear to continue living the lie he managed to call life.

The muffled beat of the music playing from behind the bathroom door increased and Natsume clenched his jaw, eyes flashing with annoyance. Without turning around, his eyes flickered to the corner of the bathroom and he straightened over the sink, not even trying to hide the darkening of his facial features.

There was an awkward jiggle of the door handle before it opened with a squeak, pulling Natsume from his thoughts once and for all. Without bothering to look at the intruder, Natsume schooled his features and waited. Awkward moments later, a forced command shook from the man's throat, "Mr. Hanazawa, sir – Ms. Sakurako advises you to be out in two minutes or you'll be forced to relinquish the mission to more—" the underling paused with an audible gulp and Natsume closed his eyes with a clench of his jaw, "—capable hands."

Capable hands? Honestly, what did Imai take him for? To think he'd been a member of the Alice Ringu Kikou for just about four years now with more than enough years of basic training at Japan's elite military school and Imai still didn't think he was capable of undertaking the most basic mission that can be given to people like them. Hell, even neophytes in Alice Academy could complete this mission without breaking a sweat.

Inwardly growling and unclenching his jaw, Natsume patiently counted to three in his head and slid his hands into the pockets of his suit. "You can tell Ms. Sakurako that I'm well on my way," he replied frostily, opening his eyes once more. "And it would do you well to remember your station, Mr. Nendo. I expect you to knock before you enter."

He felt, rather than heard, the man shift uncomfortably before hearing a choked, "Yes, sir!" On another day, in another place and at another point in time, the man's response and the hasty close of the door would've made him laugh.

But as everything changed around him, Natsume stood still.

This wasn't another day, in a different place or in a different period of time.

He'd been different the day he decided to join Yukihara's secret operatives. The day they'd taken her away from him and he'd vowed to protect her, Natsume had changed into a different man. He was doing this all for her, changing for her. Everything he'd done, it had always been for her…

Of course, that did nothing to stop him from hating himself.

With one last lingering glare, Natsume turned away from the mirror and left.

The party had been in full swing the moment he'd stepped foot in the Mouri Manor's ballroom and Natsume had to mentally prepare himself for another party filled with blinding jewelry, fake smiles and high-pitched, cackling laughter. He'd never much liked girls since his mission as a high school student which required him to mingle with members of the opposite sex in his first ever co-ed high school. They hadn't left much of an impression on him, to say the least.

Except her, of course.

Then again, she'd never been the type to wear jewelry, be fake or do anything that would ever benefit herself. Well… back then, anyway.

Leaving the bathroom behind, the sounds of the harsh song that had been on moments earlier, softened into an upbeat waltz and Natsume allowed his eyes to wander quickly from the ceiling of chandeliers that lit up the room to the semi-circle of white-clothed tables surrounding the dance floor as well as the curtained stage at the head of the room, furthest wall from the entrance.

The room was impressive, Natsume admitted begrudgingly. The ceiling itself looked like it went on forever and was only given away by the dangling chandeliers. Everything in the room was decorated in whites, golds, purples, blacks or silvers in their shimmering silk fabrics or on framed mirrors around the room. If anything, the room screamed the Mouris' wealth and Natsume couldn't help but wonder how many people they'd manage to step on in order to acquire such a place.

After all, he'd known Reo Mouri years before and after a dodgy singing career, he'd taken to inheriting the family business which hadn't been very prosperous until just recently. Natsume wasn't an amateur when it came to the workings of high society. He'd done enough undercover missions involved with them to know that there were hands working behind the scenes, blood being shed over table dealings and double—even triple agents working for both sides.

But for him, there had always been one objective, only one goal to obtain: Mikan Sakura.

"Took you long enough, Hanazawa. If I'd known any better, I'd have thought you were a girl for how long it takes you in the bathroom. Was the bathroom mirror being over-complimentary again?"

Natsume sighed and turned his head to the side just the slightest in order to glimpse Hotaru Imai—or rather Ms. Sakurako, whom had been deemed the leader of their mission. He hadn't understood when they'd been debriefed and he couldn't, for the life of him, understand at the moment, how Imai had managed to become the leader of their group. He was the one that had the most experience when it came to missions. He was the one that had graduated earlier than anybody in his year and he had been the one that had managed to divulge the information that had been critical for this mission.

So why had Imai been chosen?

It had been rather like a slap in the face when Yukihara had sprung the news on him.

This was his mission. Everybody at headquarters had known that. So why—

"No retort?" Imai cut in lightly, her pale features accentuated with the slightest of make-up. "That isn't like you at all."

"If I'd known you'd be standing outside the men's bathroom waiting for me, Ms. Sakurako, I would've taken much longer," Natsume clipped in return, shooting her a bland stare. "May I ask how you fared with Mr. Matsudaira?"

Natsume watched semi-satisfied when Hotaru's lips twitched as if ready to pull back into a menacing snarl. "One word, Hanazawa," Hotaru replied darkly. "You know as well as I do that a replacement waits for my orders. You can either be on this mission or off it."

"Pretty words but you know as well as I do that you wouldn't dare."

"I'd like to see you try me." Hotaru's lips thinned into a line before she threw him a dark, foreboding look of disdain. "Watch yourself, Hanazawa. Remember what we're here for." Before he could return her advice, Hotaru had already turned, walking up to Hayate Matsudaira once again and coyly taking his arm. The look of jubilance on the young man's face and the mask of delight on hers weren't lost on Natsume and he quickly averted his eyes, scanning the room in order to find his own prey for the night: Luna Koizumi.

She wasn't a hard target to find, in her blinding, red satin number and crown of golden hair. Amongst the midnight blues and blacks, she had been one of the few that had dared to wear a bold red dress, one that dipped low in the back to display the delectable, silky white skin of her back. Heads had turned when she'd entered on her father's arm and the charming smile that had immediately lit up onto her face had caused a fair number of knees to wobble precariously.

Natsume had watched carefully from afar and he too had to admit that she was a sight. He'd heard murmured whispers of,

"Can't you just picture a cascade of gold running down her back? Damn, if she could just loosen that hair of hers…"

"Just look at her! Is she trying to show us all up? I spent a fortune on this dress and it's completely outshone by hers!"

She was beautiful, alright. Anybody could see that.

But as Natsume started towards her, a casual hand in his pocket and red eyes determined, the only thought that floated in his mind was the fact that Luna Koizumi had nothing on Mikan Sakura.

"Oh, Ryuuki!" Bright blue eyes immediately came into view and Natsume allowed her to grab onto his arm, nodding at those in attendance. "Have I introduced you to Reo? He's the son of Fuwa Mouri, the holder of this grand party and let me tell you, he's accomplished quite a bit when it comes to the business."

"So I've heard," Natsume drawled, hiding the sarcasm from his voice as he met dark violet eyes. "It's an honor."

He smirked, basking in the attention before he asked with mild disinterest, "And what do you do, Mr. Hanazawa?" Natsume could tell from the look in his eyes that he suspected him. Though Natsume managed to have an impeccable memory when it came to neutral people of the high society, it seemed Reo found him familiar but his eyes immediately settled on Luna, instantly uncaring if he could pose a problem or not.

"Accounting," he returned smoothly. Natsume found that nobody questioned him when he'd used the profession as his own. When Reo lifted one sardonic eyebrow in his direction, Natsume explained tartly, "Distant friends with the Nogis managed to convince me to come tonight."


"And we're very, very delighted you decided to do so Ryuuki. Really," Luna smiled. Natsume felt a slight twinge of guilt for using her, but the bigger picture remained in his mind and Natusme quickly smothered the feeling with one of determination. He wasn't here to mingle with the wealthy. He had a job to do.

"Though I received the invitation, I haven't been very informed as to what we are celebrating tonight. Mr. Mouri, seeing as you're the heir to this event, I suppose you'd know?"

"You may call me Reo, Ryuuki," he replied after a tired sigh. "As you know, our company has flourished in the past year or so and my father had decided to make a presentation of the fruits of our labor as well as announce a few more products for the New Year." Purple eyes flashed with annoyance when Natsume questioned him further. "Other than that, I don't know what else. The old man has wanted to have a large bash as a commemoration of the approach of Christmas for years and it seems like he finally has the means to do so."

"I see," Natsume clipped coolly, forming what he hoped to be a charming smile at the man. Lying bastard.

Natsume quieted, barely paying attention to Luna's questioning voice and Reo's answering replies, taking to glancing discreetly around the room to the boxes located high up on each wall which would end up seating the wealthiest of high society. The boxes, Natsume knew, overlooked the whole room and behind the curtains, deals were being made amongst the other wealthy guests. One of the deals, he'd been tipped off earlier, would reveal the Omonaru Rekki (the master's list) of the leaders of Japan's largest black market which included the darkest members of lower, middle and high class society.

Natsume's job was to acquire this list without pushing suspicion on himself or to those within his organization. A retrieval mission was all it was and though it was classified as A or B rank, Natsume couldn't find the reason as to why it would be so. It was a file, a piece of paper or a tiny scroll with writing on it. Why his organization needed such a thing, Natsume had only grey hints of an answer. All he knew was it'd be one step closer to getting what he'd always needed.

"Oh, Hayate!" Luna's voice broke him from his thoughts. "I'm glad you could make it. The last I heard from you, you'd told me you didn't know if you could come!"

Natsume raised an acerbic brow when Hotaru came into view with her large violet eyes trained on Reo and her forest green dress fitting every curve of her body. Though she loathed the green color, she'd told him that someone she knew at the party would love it and it'd be a sure way to get what she wanted. And if Hayate's lustful look was anything to go by, the dress was doing its job to the T.

"Well, when I learnt that an old friend was dropping by and needed a date, I couldn't say no," he answered with a cheeky grin, pulling Hotaru's waist into his body. Natsume had to commend Imai for restraining herself from mauling the man in the head but he'd never say it out loud. Besides, they weren't supposed to know each other.

"Everybody, this is Setsumi Sakurako," Hayate presented. "Isn't she a beauty?"

Amongst the murmurs of affirmation, Natsume spied the elbow that immediately dug into Hayate's ribs.

"Oh, this is Ryuuki Hanazawa," Luna piped in.

He was about to reply when he caught a murmur from behind him, "-ver there? That's Mikoto Shinkawa. I heard she came with Kaname Sono-sama—"

His eyes were casually darting around the room as he returned, "It's a pleasure to meet you but if you'll excuse me, I have a matter to discuss with an old friend." He didn't miss the way Hotaru's eyes immediately narrowed or the way Luna clutched his arm desperately before begrudgingly letting it go. All he could really care about was the subtle flash of blonde and brown before he immediately started heading over.

He probably had a fierce look of determination on his face but he couldn't care less. It was good thing, if the parting rivers of people were anything to go by. He'd been waiting for this the entire night, if not for the past four months since he'd last seen her. His heart was pounding with quick succession and his eyes were stinging from the lack of relief as his eyes roamed over the tiny group of people clustered around the famous Kaname Sono and his date.

A girl he remembered to be Sumire Shouda immediately looked up and Natsume wanted to blast her mouth off when her lips formed words he couldn't hear and then, she turned around with a flash and his heart promptly stopped.

She looked the same. How could she look the same? It'd been months and as everybody managed to change, she looked the damn same and god, it was frustrating as hell! She had the same large brown eyes and her honey-brown hair had been pinned and pulled up into a neat twist of brown with tendrils of soft locks framing her face.

She had never needed tons of make-up to look breath-taking and the proof was in the way she looked. Smooth, pale skin stretched across her cheeks with a small dusting of pink on her prominent cheekbones and the dark black mascara that had splattered every other girl's eyelashes in the room was a mere coat of wax on hers. Just a hint of a pink gloss on her lips and Natsume's blood was boiling with remembrance.

And while Luna Koizumi was the epitome of an exotic beauty with her bold, blood red dress and glittering jewels on her person, all Mikan had to wear was a floor-length black dress to accomplish the look of a simple beauty.

"Mikan, you—"

Just then, the lights darkened and Natsume cursed as she managed to slip away. Before he could make a move to follow, a hand clamped down on his arm and pulled him into a dark corner.

"Are you trying to screw everything up?!"

"Andou," Natsume growled darkly, shoving his arm off and instantly pushing them into his pockets. "Why are you interrupting me on—"

"Imai sent me, of course. She was practically glaring daggers at the back of your head and she called me over just before the lights went out to tell you you're off the mission."

A shock went through his body and Natsume looked up to glare at what looked to be the silhouette of Andou's face. "Funny," he drawled, "—but you know as well as I do that this is my mission. Mine."

"Be that as it may, Imai's group leader and her words are final," Tsubasa answered with finality. "I'm not like Nendo, Ryuuki. You don't scare me at all and I know you care about Mikan like the rest of us but drop it and leave. Hoshino is scheduled to take your place in a few."

Natsume tore away into the crowd and immediately located the velvety-eyed beauty, stiffly asking Matsudaira to relinquish his hold on her. "What the hell do you think you're playing at?" He snarled lowly.

Her voice as bland as it had always been, Hotaru answered impassively, "I warned you, Hanazawa. If you can't rein in your emotions, then you're off the mission and once you stormed away and into her circle, you were out. Now leave. We don't need reckless fools on this mission. We need the best."

"I am the best," was his dark reply. "You know this. Despite the fact that Yukihara made you leader, it was obviously under foolish pretenses since I'm the one with more experience. Who are you to kick me off of this mission?"

"I'm leader because I don't let the fact that my best friend is on the enemy's side deter me from completing our mission, which I assume you've forgotten," Hotaru drawled carefully. "Now if you'll excuse me and leave, our real mission commences in fifteen minutes and since you're out of commission, I'll have to get Nendo to brief Hoshino on what's to happen."

"There's no time and you know as well as I do that I won't leave even if you tell me to. I'm here for her, yes – but that doesn't mean I won't put the list before her."

Dark amethyst eyes narrowed even further and Hotaru reached up to straighten his tie, all the while murmuring darkly into his ear, "If you screw up, I'm going to make sure you're off every mission that she'll be present in. If you do anything to jeopardize the mission, I'll make sure your life will never cross paths with hers. I know you're the best but you know as well as I do that you would never put anything before her. She comes first to you but you'd better hope you get the list into my hands before you do something that we'll both regret."

With another look of disdain, she released him and made her way toward her date once again and Natsume pulled at his tie, inwardly snarling at the fact that she'd practically suffocated him as a warning.

The hairs on the back of his neck went on end before he felt the warmth of a figure behind him. "So?"

"I'm back on the mission," he returned to Tsubasa. "Now get back into the shadows and wait for my signal. We move in ten minutes." He heard Tsubasa shuffling away before his eyes trained onto the stage strung with bright lights and silk fabrics wound around the stage.

"Please rise to welcome your host, Mr. Fuwa Mouri!"

As announcements and thanks were shared, Natsume's eyes wandered again throughout the crowd but try as he might, he couldn't locate Mikan again. Her black dress melded well amongst the shadows. He cursed the timing.

Checking his watch once again, he moved towards the entrance of the ballroom, watching with meticulous eyes as throngs of guests continued to make their way into the ballroom after the echoing announcement. He'd leaned against the wall, pretending to be engrossed in a call from his cellphone until the last of the stragglers made their way inside, leaving maids and servants in the foyer.

Without a backwards glance, Natsume glimpsed the winding staircase that led upstairs and like a cat, he stealthily climbed the stairs, melding into the shadows. If the servants who saw him questioned his presence in the third level of the manor, they left no indication that they did so. Instead, they eagerly gestured him towards 'his' box when he'd said he'd come as a proxy for the Nogis. Apparently, that had been good enough for them.

But instead of actually remaining in his box, once the servant had left, Natsume had made it up another flight of stairs to the fourth floor boxes where the Sono's were meant to be sitting. Needless to say, he didn't care whether or not they were present or not. Having them present would mean that Mikan would be there and if they weren't there, well… that'd mean his plans for the list's capture would be far simpler than planned.

Three empty seats stared back at him and Natsume didn't know if he was torn between anger and disappointment more. Was she purposefully acting like a spineless coward? Checking his watch, Natsume found that there were seven minutes left.

He didn't bother sitting, however. Instead, he stood up against the railing that overlooked the crowd below and he scanned the cluster of guests below, wasting no time to find Andou pressed against the wall adjacent to the stage.

Imai was in the middle of the crowd with one arm clasped around Matsudaira's arm and the other clenched in a fist, where he knew she'd be waiting for the opportune moment to use one of her inventions embedded in either the bracelet or the ring she'd been wearing, Natsume wasn't certain which.

Koko was pressed up against the wall on the opposite side as Andou while Nendo and Tobita were situated by the entrance. Everybody was waiting for his signal. Natsume checked his watch once more.

Two minutes.

Mikan was still nowhere to be found. If everything worked out as planned, there'd be no casualties. If chaos ensued immediately, he hoped she'd be able to get out. If Natsume was being honest with himself, this would have to be one of the more interesting missions he'd been sent on. The guests would have no idea what hit them. The wealthy, which were so used to the cream of the crop and the finest of silvers, sure had something coming today.

The faintest shimmer of a smirk lit on his face and his eyes glinted with a dark mischief he hadn't felt in ages.

Leaning just a bit further from his position on the railing, Natsume glimpsed at the lower boxes and wasn't surprised to find a number of tuxedo-decked men around tables with wine glasses and cigars. He still couldn't be sure as to which box would have the list dealing but amongst the lower boxes, there were only four to choose from and hopefully his first would be lucky.

The seconds were ticking down and Andou's face was upturned to watch his signal.

Three… two… one.

And then, he jumped as the lights went out.

He couldn't help the dark smirk that took to his lips the moment he heard the screams of surprise.

He'd noticed, during his inspection of the room earlier in the night that each box got smaller and smaller the higher up it was located. Consequently, the fall had been a short one and Natsume managed to fall on all fours with a faint patter on the box below. He pressed himself to the wall and waited for a few more seconds before the lights went on and he caught the vulgar curses of the box guests when they glimpsed his flashing red eyes and the feral smirk on his face.

Too bad there were only playing cards, glasses of wine, cigars and their ashtrays on the table.

The lights went off again and Natsume bounded onto the railing once again, bracing himself on the wall before readying himself. Balancing, he took off on the railing and leaped off of it, landing with a soft roll onto his feet. This landing wasn't as quiet as he'd hoped because immediately, there were loud curses of profanity and Natsume rolled to the wall, waiting for the customary flashes of light that'd be given every thirty seconds thanks to Imai.

Timing was everything for this mission. It was the most fragile point of their mission and Natsume's heart was pounding as he awaited the upcoming bout of light as he dodged the feet and the manic cries of surprise.

Leaping onto the railing once more, Natsume's eyes trained onto the box and when the flash of light went off for a period of five seconds, he'd caught much the same sight he'd seen previously: wine, cigars and fat, rich old men.

It was only when his feet landed on the third box did he know immediately that chaos would be a factor to his mission. Not only was the heat unbearable in the box, but when he'd rolled to a stop, he'd knocked into quite a number of people. The flash of light came far faster than he'd expected and his breath hitched when he glimpsed Mikan, eyes wide and a white gleam of paper in her gloved hands on the verge of making a break for the door.

Left and right, muffled cries of indignation rang around the room but Natsume's eyes trained on Mikan's form, even as the lights went out once more. Throngs of people in the boxes were already making their way out the main door of the third floor and Natsume joined the cluster of people, ignoring the smell of fright in the air around him.

All he could think of was how perfect it was to have both mission objectives together and his for the taking.

As everybody made their way downstairs to the main exit of the building, Natsume took the stairs two at a time, following the escaping brunette who'd been doing a good job of bounding up the stairs with a floor-length gown and however tall stiletto heels she was wearing. She really was a sight, Natsume admitted, a hint of creamy skin was his for the gawking as the slit in her dress rose higher every step she took.

The winding staircase seemed never-ending and Natsume made quick work to catching up with her. With a dark growl, she paused on the stairs and with one fierce pull of the skirt of her dress, it tore until the ends were jagged and fabric was hanging off the end. She smirked then, a dark upward turn of her lips directed in his direction. Then she was off once again.

"Mikan, stop."

Her head whipped around just the slightest before she sent him a chilling glare. "Then stop following me, Natsume."

Her voice sent a shiver down his spine, the soft command but a whisper amongst the echoing shouts of indignation just stories below them. In a second, she was off again, dashing from the stairs and into a room to her left. The door hadn't even closed fully before Natsume barged into the room, watching as she threw open the doors of the balcony.

His arms wrapped around her in an instant. "I said stop," he murmured darkly.

"Oh yeah? And when have I ever listened to you?!" Mikan shouted, kicking under his legs and shoving him to the ground. He'd evaded by leaping backwards into a roll before bounding back, fists at the ready and expression fierce with determination.

"You don't belong there and you know it!"

"Belong here, belong there. Why would it matter to you?!" Mikan returned coolly, glaring him down as they circled each other. Only their silhouettes could be seen within the darkness of the room and Natsume cursed darkly at the fist clenching around a wad of snow white paper.

It had to be his.

"I told you when I left and I'll tell you this one last time," her voice was soft and acerbic. "My father was killed because of you guys and my mother—my last living relative has taken me back! After all this time, she wants me back, Natsume! Do you honestly think I'd abandon the only family I have? I won't be apart of an organization that has the responsibility of my father's death on their shoulders and if that means I have to be apart from you guys, then so be it!"

But damn, she had to be his too.

She'd tried to escape from the balcony but his legs brought him to the entrance before her shorter ones could make it. The dark growl from her lips only strengthened his resolve. "You're doing this because of your mother? The same mother that abandoned you the day you were born only to come back when you're fourteen to take you away from us? I hate to break it to you Polka Dots but she doesn't love you like we do. She's using you to get to—"

"Shut up," she murmured, her body trembling. "Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!"

Natsume dropped his hands and approached her cautiously, but she recoiled, ducking under his arms and jumping onto the railing. The wind outside was roiling and something like rolling thunder could be heard from up above.

"Don't come near me! I don't want to listen to anything more you have to say!"

"Then come home with us!" Natsume shouted darkly. "Come home! You may think that you're with your mom now because she's family but think about it! Think. We've been with you through everything and we've wanted you back the day you left. We've never left you. We're your real family. You abandoned us." He clenched his fists, dark eyes taking in her devastatingly familiar figure before he gritted out, "I want you back."

"Don't kid with me, Natsume," she returned coldly. "I don't want to hear this from you!"

She turned around, ready to jump from the railing when he lunged forward, grabbing her arm with what seemed to be lightening speed before she tipped forward, tumbling into him. His arms wrapped themselves around her and he pushed her head into his neck in an awkward, desperate hug in order to make sure she wasn't able to break out into another mad run off the balcony.

"Do I look like the type that jokes around?"

He hated it, hated the fact that he was trembling like a pathetic school girl because of her. Trembling because of the deplorable fact that because of her, he was reduced to a reckless agent who'd been supposed to put the mission before all else. But he couldn't do that, not to her. She was far too important to brush to the side like dust under a rug. She'd been deemed an enemy a few years back but she was there, right there with him, in his arms like he'd always wanted.

Something deep inside him told him to tighten his arms and keep her there because this was too much like a dream, a dream wherein chaos ensued in a darkened ballroom below, where a helicopter was hammering the sky with sharp blades from above the building and where a storm was brewing right between the both of them.

He knew it was temporary, because nothing like this was ever destined to happen to him. He'd always been alone. His mother had died, his father in the hospital and his sister taken by the enemy only God knew where. So this moment of bliss of having the one person he cared about with him this way, Natsume knew to cherish it like it was his last.

And his brain almost short-circuited when her tiny arms folded themselves neatly around his back, pressing her small body flush against his. And if anything, Natsume had never felt like something could ever feel this right ever again.

I want you. I'll be there for you. I need you. You're everything.

He could feel it. This was everything, she was everything. Dammit, if he didn't love her.

Suddenly, it felt like he'd suffocate if he couldn't sate the fire burning through his veins. With raw determination, Natsume took hold of her chin and crushed his lips against hers. He wished it was soft and gentle so that he didn't scare her away. He wished he could stop forcing himself onto her but he couldn't. There was something about her being there, alone with him and holding him just as tightly to him as he was to her that made him see red.

And every frustration, every minute and second that passed in the four months he'd last seen her and every fiber of his being poured from the desperate hold he had on her, wishing she could feel everything that he did in that one moment where passion and vigor were combined to its ultimate degree.

God but he loved her so much he couldn't see straight.

Her lips were a delicious red when she pushed him away and stepped out from under his arms. Brown eyes which had been cold, hard chips of brown had returned to their normal pools of root beer and Natsume swallowed thickly at the look of heartbreaking regret on her face.

"Don't even think about making promises you can't keep," she murmured softly. "You know this can't happen, Natsume. We're enemies, usually after the same objective and constantly at each other's throats. We can't possibly have this," she pointed to the space between them, "—when we'll have yet another meeting in a few months like we are now, each of our sides expecting us to be ruthless to the other. It's too difficult."

"Then come with me," Natsume responded calmly, clenching his fists. "Come with me and the people that care for you and nothing will stand between us. It's not as hard as you think."

"Gee, thanks for understanding like you always do, Natsume," Mikan murmured sarcastically, her voice clipped with annoyance. "I swear, every time I see you, you're more of a selfish bastard."

"Only for you."

Her head snapped forward to glance at him with disbelief and she shook her head, backing away. "You've got to be joking," she whispered darkly. "Stop saying those things to me, Natsume. Tell me the truth for once! Those words, they aren't allowed to come from you!"

"And why not?" he asked scathingly, stepping forward. "Are you afraid to accept the truth? That everything I've done ever since I met you, every minute that passes by that I work for your very uncle and his organization, every mission that I take is for you? Everything, everything has always been for you."

"Stop it!" she screamed. "Stop it, shut up, shut up!"

Tears streaked down her cheeks as she wrinkled her nose, a devastating expression on her face. "Stop it, stop it…" He'd never liked it when girls cried. They'd always looked splotchy-eyed and pink and, to put it simply, ugly. Nobody looked good when they cried but Mikan, she cried quietly with tears neatly spilling from the corners of her eyes … she looked like a broken angel.

And something tugged viciously in his chest causing his legs to be frozen in their place as he watched quietly from the sidelines, as he'd always done.

"Is this what you want?" she whispered viciously, holding up the wad of paper. "Was this what you wanted all along?!" She threw the bundle of paper at her feet with a bitter laugh, "Then take it. Take it! You want to succeed in your mission, Mr. Hanazawa? Are you purposefully making me feel like this so that I surrender to you?! You know how I feel about you! You know it and you'll exploit it because you're nothing but an arrogant, selfish bastard! Is this what you want then? Is that what you want from me?!" she screamed. "Then take it and leave me alone!"

She jumped onto the railing of the balcony, teetering on the edge before she jumped off the post, falling like his stomach had. "NO!"

He forced his feet to move onto the balcony, only to find that she'd grabbed onto an awaiting rope ladder dangling from the side of the helicopter above. With her streaming brown tresses unbound by the angry winds and tendrils of her dress moving with the whirlwind of wind, the helicopter pulled her up and away from the building, leaving Natsume with a bundle of files and a dark, empty feeling in his chest.

Natsume easily mingled with the throngs of people clustered at the foot of the staircase and pooling into the foyer, the important documents folded neatly in the inside pocket of his tuxedo.

Koko raised a brow at him the moment their eyes met from across the room and when they passed one another, discreetly passing the documents from one hand to the other's, Koko asked with a grin, "I bet the mission went in your favor, huh? Had a good time?"

He'd been met with a dark scowl for a reply.

The documents changed hands from Koko's to Tsubasa's and from Tsubasa's to Hotaru's in a matter of minutes and before long, they were leaving in separate cars, all going to the same destination.

"When's the next mission?" He asked immediately, as champagne flutes and congratulations went around the room.

Yukihara, looking far younger than his age told, eyed him with amusement. "You know, this always happens, Natsume. Every time you come back from a mission involving her or may have the smallest tie to my niece, you always come back right after asking when the next mission is. Don't you want a break from all of this?" He waved a hand around the lunch room of their headquarters. "Don't you want to breathe in the fresh air and I don't know, visit your father or hang out with your friend, Ruka Nogi? This can't be the only life you want to live, filled with missions and life threatening situations. Rest assured, Ms. Imai told me what your mission entailed and I don't approve of your hasty jumps from balcony to balcony. You know as well as I do that bodyguards aren't trained to hold those guns of theirs for show."

He remained silent, his champagne flute untouched on the table, a torrent of thoughts assailing his memories. "Our side must prevail," he chose his words wisely. "I want to speed up the process."

"You're certainly doing so, Natsume," Yukihara assured, "—but I want you to take the next two days off and relax. I'm not Persona. I won't push you to your limit and you shouldn't push yourself too hard either. The next thing you know, Mikan'll be setting flowers by your grave if you keep up your demanding mission requests."

"I see," Natsume murmured, setting down the flute he'd been playing with. Standing up and grabbing his jacket, Natsume turned to leave. "But I doubt that'll happen."

"You shouldn't be too cocky, Natsume. Nobody is invincible, no matter how much they'd like to believe."

"I'm not saying I am," he returned, a bitter smirk on his face.

He just couldn't die because she was still alive and apart from him. He wouldn't stop his missions until she was safe and sound and in his arms. She was his reason to keep on working, she was his reason he lived through every mission.

Yukihara said there was more to life than missions and life-endangering situations but for him, that wasn't true. Not really, anyway.

Because she was his life, his reason to live and if it meant he'd have to battle every second of his life in order to get closer to her, then so be it.

Because he lived his life for her.

Everything had always been for her.

Author's Note:
Yesh! Finished on time! Hope you guys enjoyed the shot and please read all of the other NatsumeSeries entries for the contest. All of the writers, I hope, like myself, would love the input on their shots as well. These can be found in the NatsumeSeries community in either Vione's or Romantically Loveless' profiles so be sure to check it out as well as their awesome, awesome Alice Times NewsLetter. The link can be found on my profile. :)

I definitely encourage anybody that hasn't heard or decided to write for this contest to give it a try! I find these challenges to be both refreshing and interesting to see the different stories everybody can come up with when the same criteria is given but different imagination is put to use. Good luck everyone!

And since we all know how fun it is to press buttons, why don't you readers go down and press that review button down thur and review? :D

My Hopeless Romantic

P.S. – Writing in third person makes me happy. Excuse the grammatical errors. I've yet to edit this thoroughly and will do so when I come back from my vacation in seven weeks. :)