Disclaimer: I had the choice of owning either Gakuen Alice or this awesome plate of rainbow sprinkled chocolate brownies. I chose the brownies.
Dedicated to:
You NatsumeMikan fans. [Because you're cool like that, ha.] :D


-;-

Pretty As a Picture

Because even if everything else in his life wasn't constant,

it was reassuring to know that she always would be.

-;-

"Has anybody ever told you how awkward you are, Natsume?"

His eyes flick away from his open manga to the brunette sitting at the base of the wired fence, munching on her Howalons. He snorts, purposefully raising an eyebrow that Mikan doesn't see anyway because she is busy looking through the wired loops. Whether down at the school grounds or over the school walls as she usually does, Natsume doesn't know for certain.

Though life at Alice Academy can't be classified as normal and routine, Natsume appreciates the cold wind on his face and the fairly typical scene from atop the roof.

They both sit on the roof of the elementary school building with a couple of his recent manga, three and a half boxes of Howalon (because Mikan already ate 1½ of the customary five), a cucumber (because he really, really likes them) and the Alice Dodgeball, as they do every Friday afternoon.

Natsume remembers how it started. How their tradition of meeting up on the roof and sitting between chimney and fence with their gathered supplies before dinner had begun a couple of months before graduating elementary school and heading into middle school. Only, of course, when Natsume can find the time. Sometimes, they have to put off their Friday ritual because of the missions that have been frequently interfering with their plans.

He remembers stiffly telling her, that strange girl with the big brown eyes, that the school only wants him to do weekend missions so that he misses class as little as possible. He also remembers the clear disbelief on her face and the knowing, small smile she sends him in return for his lie. In truth, Natsume knows Mikan has become less dense than she was when she was younger. The intensity in her eyes the moment he tells her the lie shows that she knows Persona wants to interfere with them as much as possible. He wants to make Natsume focus on missions and nothing else.

Too bad for Mikan, she's been categorized as "nothing else".

But too bad for Persona, Natsume has never cared much for following orders.

So on days that they can, they meet up on the roof.

Natsume reads his manga.

Mikan eats her Howalons.

Natsume chews on his cucumber and they both toss the Alice Dodgeball back and forth between mindless banter until sundown.

Today has been a quiet day for them. Three Fridays have been put off in lieu of Natsume's missions and between school, friends, curfew and more missions, they hardly have any time with each other. It's early December and though snow has yet to start falling, the weather has kept to being chilly and cold.

Mikan shivers with it and Natsume can't help but think that— she's not strong enough to live without him— it's only been ten minutes, how can she already be shivering! But Natsume doesn't bother doing anything about it. If she wants warmth, she'll shift over for it like she's done before. Natsume knows—because he knows her—that she's probably too distracted to even know she's cold.

"Has anybody ever told you how awkward you are, Natsume?" she turns, her hand sticks out from her winter jacket to pluck a Howalon from its box. Natsume tries to keep the amused smirk off his face, but the sight of Mikan with a huge jacket all buttoned up with the exception of the very middle button so that one hand can reach into her Howalon box makes the corners of his lips twitch amusedly.

"—because you're really, really awkward. And you're horrible at taking hints too. Not to mention you have terrible people skills."

This girl…

"… You're annoying."

She rolls her eyes. "Oh c'mon, Natsume. You've established that—don't you sneer at me, punk. Of course I know what 'established' means—ages ago. All I'm saying is it would be nice if you would start off the conversation first for a change. It was killing me waiting for you to say something for the last… eleven minutes."

And fifty four seconds, he adds, because she isn't the only one keeping count.

"Oh crap!" She pouts, glaring at him sullenly. "Look what you just made me do!"

"You dropped your Howalon on your own, moron. It's clearly your fault you're clumsy."

"Clumsy my foot!" she sulks. She sniffles. "What a waste. Anyway, as I was saying," she pops another Howalon in her mouth, "—you wasted eleven minutes, Natsume. Eleven! Do you realize how precious eleven minutes are?"

"You wasted eleven minutes," he corrects fluidly, sliding his eyes back to his manga. "I was reading." Liar, his mind likes to point out. They both know he never reads his manga when she's around.

She's making faces at him, as if he can't see, he scoffs to himself. She grins cheekily, almost mischievous but he deftly catches the incoming Alice ball from the air and spins it in one hand, smirking as she grumbles. "Show-off," she grouses.

"It's rude to throw things at people who aren't looking," he admonishes nonchalantly, inwardly scoffing at the disgruntled look on her face.

"It's fair when you're up against the invincible, emo boy," she sticks her tongue out at him. She polishes another box of Howalons off and sticks the finished box into the other two to her left before she clasps her hands together and looks at him sternly. "So emo boy, I've been thinking—don't you give me that look, jerk—and I think we should run away with each other."

Natsume blinks, his jaw tightening to keep it from falling to the ground, "Polka, what the heck are you—"

"… To Central town because there's this neat photo booth beside the Howalon store I saw them repainting today and it'd be really, really, really, really cool if we could get pictures together!"

He glares at the mock innocent sparkle in her eyes and for a while, he can only stare at her with disbelief. "Why would we do something stupid like that?" He returns haughtily.

"Because I want to!" And as if to emphasize her words, she picks herself off the floor, gathers her two remaining boxes of Howalon and shift over so that she is sitting right beside him against the chimney. "So there!"

"Then go by yourself," he says, just because he likes to annoy her.

"That defeats the purpose, Natsume! What part of 'we' do you not understand?" she slaps him on the arm. "So I say we go. Now."

He shrugs, still slightly pleased at the sound of 'we' before grumbling, "Polka, no."

"But Natsume—!"

He shoots her the look and she pouts, pushing herself until there's two centimeters of space separating them and crosses her arms. "Fine, Natsume. Go into your emo corner of doom. See if I care. I'll just keep your belated birthday present to myself. It's kind of a shame because I worked so hard to make it for you."

And then she sighs that dejected sigh of disappointment that he hates and even though he suspects that she might just be faking it and that she knows he'll cave in, he can't help but give her a sidelong look. Perfect timing too, because he catches a glimpse of her lower lip wobbling and he knows that whatever she asks now, he'll do anything.

Another sigh and she gets to her feet as if to leave and with a roll of his eyes, Natsume grabs her wrist and sits her back down beside him until there is no space left between them. She brightens and smiles. "So will you go with me?"

He doesn't say yes but neither does he say no and as if grasping for straws, Mikan frowns and asks, "What if… I gave you your birthday present now?"

He looks away from those sparkling eyes and grunts, "Hn."

She snorts, "I knew you were a sucker for birthday presents, emo boy. Close your eyes 'kay? I want it to be a surprise!"

"It's not a surprise when I know what's coming," Natsume finds it necessary to point out. But he closes his eyes anyway because getting a kiss as a birthday present from her is quite possibly the best present he's ever gotten. And she's given him one every year since they turned eleven.

"Ungrateful little—" She trails off and after a while (a long while) Natsume opens his eyes wondering what the heck is taking her so long… to find her desperately trying to unbutton the second button of her jacket.

"What are you doing?"

She yelps and blushes an endearing crimson before hugging herself with mortification. "I told you not to look!"

Ignoring her, Natsume asks, "Why were you taking off your clothes?"

Her dark blush deepens and Natsume knows that that look will be in his mind forever. She drops her arms with a frown and looks like she has trouble trying to stop from punching him in the face. "Stop smirking at me, Natsume. Your birthday present is under this jacket! Now help me take it off!"

He can feel his face turning fifteen shades of red before Mikan yelps, puts up her hands and waves emphatically, "Not what I meant, you pervert! NOT WHAT I MEANT! This is what I meant when I said you were awkward, Natsume! Only you would think of something so perverted. Ugh, sometimes I can't stand you!"

"Trust you to say something stupid," he drawls back, turning his face away to hide the blush still apparent on his cheeks. "You should be glad you're pretty."

"…You think I'm pretty, Natsume-kun?" She teases and he can hear the grin in her voice. When he doesn't answer, she pats him on the arm, "Don't worry Natsume. I think you're pretty too."

"…You're annoying."

She just laughs.

After a bit more shuffling and mumbled curses, her face appears in front of him. Her jacket is off and in her hands is a photo album akin to the photo album she gave him for his birthday before they headed to middle school. It's blue—not quite navy but not quite sky blue either—decorated with cut-out silver stars and orange fireballs and fireflies and bunnies. It takes him a second to identify the beige-pink blob in the top right-hand corner to be a piece of Howalon.

This girl…

"Open it," she whispers excitedly, crouched with her hands clasped together and brown flyaway bangs around her face.

The first page is a picture of the four of them. Him, Ruka, Imai and her in their middle school Academy uniforms at the Howalon stand. Her hands are together as she looks ahead at the line-up and he's looking at her. He doesn't really look at Ruka or Imai because the only person he really pays attention to is her.

The photo album, like the last one, is filled with pictures of their school years, except in middle school and not elementary like the one before. There are pictures of Koko and Kitsuneme, Sumire and Nonoko, the Cooking Alice and Mochu. There are lots of Imai and Ruka, Tsubasa and Narumi and him but…

He wants to ask her why there aren't many pictures of her in here but something stills his tongue. It was probably that damnable pride of his but a small part of his brain wonders if she thinks everybody else is more important than she is. Knowing her, she probably did but to him, there really wasn't anybody as important as her.

Before he knows it, Natsume reaches the last page which is surprisingly empty.

"It may be selfish, but I want this very last page to be mine," Mikan declares, lifting her chin as if challenging him to say otherwise. "You and me, actually. That's why I need you to get your butt off the ground and to Central Town before dinner."

He doesn't know what to say. She thought she was selfish? God.

This girl…

"This is my birthday present?" He scoffs, flicking her in the forehead with his index finger so that her obnoxiously large eyes aren't right in his face. "What's the purpose of a bunch of photos?"

"So that you'll remember, silly!" She wrenches the photo album from his hands and turns to one of the middle pages, pointing to a picture. "Remember this? This was the time when we had to do that one assignment where you had to write a long metaphor about a friend or someone important to you—"

"And you compared me to an onion," Natsume interrupts, none too pleased about the fact. But thinking about it, Natsume feels that warm feeling in his chest—that is definitely not Alice related—swell when he thinks that she believes he's good enough to be someone important to her.

"Yeah, and remember how Koko compared you to a fish and you burnt up his assignment so that he had to improvise in front of the class? Oh man, his face is so red, I had to buy this picture from Hotaru to put in here!"

Natsume stares at her in surprise. "How many photos did you buy off Imai to make this?"

She's only a two-star after all…

She laughs, popping a Howalon in her mouth from one of the boxes at her side. "It's for me to know and for you to not." She grins at the glare he sends her but then proceeds to flip open to another page further back. "And look at this one! I took this picture myself, which you can probably see because the picture is kind of blurry—Hotaru would never take blurry pictures—when Koko made that huge Valentine's card for Sumire and tried bringing it into the classroom—"

"—but since he's such a moron, he tripped and ended up going right through the card and since his head is right in the middle of the disgustingly sparkly heart, Shouda walks right up and kisses him." Natsume scowls and crosses his arms. "I remember. That's the point, I remember. What's the point in this when I remember everything on here anyway?"

She laughs.

"Natsume," she drags out his name when he asks. "Not only are you very, very ungrateful, but you just said 'sparkly' and—" She snorts out another laugh but still manages to make it sound cute and Natsume clenches his jaw, looking like he is trying to decide to either smack her or admonish her.

"Plus," she says lightly, "I'm scared that you're going to forget us one day and if you do, and you find this, it'll help you remember the people that care about you."

He sits for a while, and she doesn't press him, as he thinks. Though she doesn't say it, he can hear one of her unvoiced worries: she doesn't want him to forget about her.

As if he ever could.

Finally, he sighs and closes his manga. From beside him, Mikan has already put her jacket back on and seems to have polished off another box of Howalons, already working on her last, when she looks up. "So, we're going?"

He gives her one of his looks and she's on her feet with empty and full Howalon boxes in her arms and her jacket looking very much thinner than when they'd arrived. As they walk to the Central Town bus, Natsume looks down at her, "So you stuck my photo album down your shirt?"

She sends him a dark look of displeasure before chewing a Howalon rather loudly, "First, you punk, that photo album isn't yours until I finish off the last page and second, I didn't stick it down my shirt, I stuck it in my jacket! I'm surprised you didn't get it when you saw me with this huge jacket on and the imprint of a book on my front."

"Your chest always looks like that."

She smacks him none too gently on the head before they make it to Central town and stand in front of the photo booth. "Okay, so this is how it goes. Four photos are going to be taken. The first one will be a show me the money picture, the second one will be a goofy picture, the third one will be a depressed emo picture—because I know how much you like being emo boy—and the last one will be smiley picture, 'kay?"

He raises an eyebrow. "What expression is 'show me the money'?"

She stiffens to a stop and looks extremely offended.

"Unforgivable," Mikan mutters under her breath, adding a good shake of her head. "I told you to come watch that one movie with me on movie night but noooo, you said you'd rather eat broken glass. Okay, watch." She sends him an 'okay, watch me and I'll show you, son' look before proceeding to strike a look between constipated gangster and Matt Damon in Ocean's Eleven.

Natsume isn't very impressed.

They both climb into the photo booth.

"Remember," she says, brushing her bangs out of her eyes, "—first is the gangster pose. Just imitate what I just showed you an—hey, don't sneer at me—the lights are blinking, what—?"

There is a click and a flash. Mikan's following groan makes Natsume smirk.

"That was a disaster! When the light starts blinking really fast, that's when you do the pose and it takes your picture. Well who the heck was supposed to know that?" Mikan grumbles, waiting for the next picture.

Natsume opens his mouth, quickly decides it isn't worth it, and promptly closes his mouth.

"Goofy picture Natsume!" she chirps. "Then again, some of us don't have to try to look goofy." She nudges him in the arm none too subtly and settles back into the seat.

The lights start flickering but he doesn't change his expression. When the picture is taken, she whirls around to face him.

"I was just kidding when I said that Natsume!" Mikan huffs, slapping him on the arm. "And I bet you're going to keep your expression the same for our 'depressed' photo, huh?" She pouts sullenly as the lights flicker. "Can you make a face?" She asks. "Pleaaaase?"

The click of the photo sounds and Mikan rounds on him in annoyance.

"Screw you, you hippie," she hisses when the photo is taken. "This was what I meant when I told you that you couldn't take hints. This is the last photo Natsume. Could you—oh, I don't know—not screw this up?"

"It's nice to know you think I screw up pictures by looking like myself," Natsume mutters carelessly, watching from the mirror in front of them as she sticks her tongue out.

She grumbles. "Okay could you smile for the next one please? It can even be one of those really small constipated smiles you force out when you pretend you're happy but you're not."

He glares at her but she can only smile cheekily until he resolutely folds his arms and leans back with a scowl on his face. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry, 'kay? Could you pretty please smile for this one? Pleaaase?"

He doesn't move and the lights are already blinking.

"I was kidding when I said your smile looks constipated. At least the fake ones do… but please Natsume? Smile?"

He doesn't move.

As a last, die-hard attempt, Mikan launches herself at him and kisses the corner of his mouth.

-;-

They step out of the photo booth, Mikan launching herself at the photo album with a manic gleam to her eyes and Natsume just shakes his head, wondering how the heck he can find her so enchanting when she was just so… childish.

"Happy birthday, Natsume!" She presents the gift with one of her smiles, kissing him on the cheek. He wants to state blandly that the kiss in the photo booth doesn't count but it's not like him and—"Oh my gosh, we're missing dinner! We have to hurry up and go Natsume before all the food is gone!"—because she eats more than any mammal could.

On the bus ride home, on the last page of his photo album, Natsume flips to the back of the book and can't help but cringe. He's stuck staring at a film of consecutive pictures of that crazy, brown eyed brunette—that isn't quite his girlfriend but is too good a friend to be just a friend—and wonders what the heck she was on when they took these pictures.

Because Natsume is pretty sure she'd get killed on the street if she poses like the first picture. He knows that her eyes are definitely not supposed to be able to go both directions in the second one and—Natsume glowers—he is definitely certain she's trying to imitate him on the third.

But this girl…

As much as Natsume would like to admit, the last photo may be the best one yet. Her cheeks are flushed, her brown eyes bright, her messy brown hair in her sloppy bun is in wild disarray and those lips that had boldly met his are sparkling in its smile.

Too bad his answering smile, so disdainfully out of place compared to the rest of his photos, seems just as bright as hers, even if it is just a lift of his lips.

"See? This is the small constipated smile I was talking about, Natsume!"

This girl…

Sometimes, Natsume thinks, this loud-mouthed, obnoxious, endearingly flawed girl may just be made for him.


Author's Note:

Fluffy? Check. [Because that's how I roll, son]. Uh, I wrote this on my vacation when I wasn't feeling emo, as you can tell. Everything else you'll probably see in the next few days will be startling depressing, angsty or DANGSTY. Clever, huh? This is the part where I leave. Um, don't hurt me because this oneshot was terribly random. The plot bunnies for this were relentless. I like the beginning though. :D

The underlining thing wouldn't work for the longest time, so I shall shoot it. Then I'll eat a brownie.


My Hopeless Romantic