This is my entry to Hilaire's Gakuen Alice Fan Fiction Challenge (HGAFFC) # 1 wherein the challenge is to portray Natsume as a farmer / rancher / grazier. I've made some changes so it's actually a bit longer than the original fic that was posted under Hilaire's challenge account. Nevertheless, the story is still the same. For those who haven't read it before, prepare for some cheesiness... lol...
Meet Me Halfway
by: Esa MaRie
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"Please Hotaru… I need this…"
The pleading voice sounded strangled against the downpour of the heavy rain as the car continued to speed through the darkness.
"You're an idiot, Mikan. I've told you before not to agree to that stupid manager of yours. You already know that all he sees is how to make you produce more money for him. It's too late for all this whining."
The girl restrained herself from closing her eyes and pounding her head on the steering wheel. She knew it was her fault, but she had always trusted her career to her manager. Her previous manager Misaki Harada had been a good friend and mentor and with Misaki's guidance, her career as a teen actress had been a success. The media had seen her blossomed from her cute and hyper sitcom roles to the heavy dramatic roles of the movie industry. At the age of 24, she was a highly successful and in-demand actress and model. However, two years ago, Misaki got married to her long time boyfriend Tsubasa Andou, and had to take a leave due to her pregnancy. Mikan's agency had no choice but to assign her to another manager, Rei Serio or more known as Persona.
As a manager, Persona was one of a kind and would do anything to get his charge on top of the entertainment ladder. However, as a person, he was a selfish and cunning manipulator. When he started as her manager, he immediately told her that she should not be contented with her current popularity. And in order to make sure that her name continued to glorify the entertainment news, he linked her from one actor to another.
At first, she didn't mind. As the actress Mikan Sakura, she had been staged to several love teams, though that had been innocent pairings. But Persona had forced her to enter into romantic relationships with her partners as to make the love teams more believable. Within just a year, her popularity escalated more, but gossips and scandals began to surface making her look like some dumb playgirl who got hots on any good-looking male.
She was seen on dates with the hot new model Kaname Sono, then was caught on photo in a make-out session with Akira Tonouchi. True, she went on a date with Kaname since he was her lead actor for one of her movies, but she was not in a relationship with Tono and he was the one who suddenly kissed her! It turned out that Persona had planned everything since Tono was going to be a guest and will act as a rival for her love in one of her dramas.
She had taken it all in a stride, just continued with her bright smile and cheerful personality, but inside, she was stressed out. Then everything just exploded when Persona called her for a meeting for another movie. As always, she was excited for another role, only to be horrified to learn that the movie will have a sex scene and that she will have to appear nude on screen. She had always tried her best to embrace all challenges but she was not ready for that. She refused and Persona got angry and threatened to leave her and ruin her career. But she had enough. She was a serious actress, not some dumb sexy starlet desperate for any role. And for the first time since Persona had become her manager, she walked out on him.
Filled with confusion and disappointment, she packed up a few change of clothes, threw them into her old two door SUV, leaving behind her silver Mercedes Benz Roadster as she knew her best friend probably had placed a tracking device on it, then headed off to the rest house in Niigata that she had recently bought but never had the chance to visit.
"I just need to be alone for a while Hotaru. I need to think things over," she said tiredly against the headset.
She heard Hotaru sighed irritably. "Okay, leave this to me. Don't worry about that bastard, I'll take care of him. But forget about getting over your matters. Go home. Knowing what an idiot you are, I wonder if you'll get to think of anything even if you leave."
"Hotaru!" Mikan pouted. Sometimes, she just had to wonder if Hotaru truly cared for her as a friend.
"Don't Hotaru me, you baka! I know you, you don't have a sense of direction. And you're so stupid to leave in this kind of weather. You haven't heard that-"
The line was cut off as another rumble of thunder was heard.
"Eh? Hotaru? Hotaru?" Mikan shouted at the headphone but there was no response.
It was probably due to the signal interferences caused by the storm. Mikan let out a heavy sigh as she took a glance at the map at the passenger seat, wondering if she could reach her destination considering the bad weather condition. Of all the time for a thunderstorm, why did it have to be today? And with the heavy rain, she couldn't make out the road anymore.
As she continued to drive, a flash of lightning struck one of the branches of a tree ahead, the bright spark surprising her as she saw a shadow of the falling branch. Her hands and foot moved before her mind could process a reasonable course of action, turning the wheel in full to the right, and pressing the brake hard, making the car skid against the slippery road. And before she knew it, the car slammed head front to a tree.
She groaned as she lifted her head from the airbag that had exploded, cushioning her against the impact. She sat there almost frozen as she finally collected her thoughts and stared through the windshield, the car hood was pushed up; the tree trunk now decorated the front of her SUV. Desperately, her hand trembled as she reached for the keys and tried to turn on the ignition, hoping that the vehicle still managed to survive somehow. Unfortunately, the engine remained dead.
She could feel her heart pounding wildly, nervousness consuming her as she wondered on her state. She closed her eyes and chanted a prayer. And as if her prayers were granted, she caught sight of light beyond the downpour. Wasting no time, she got out of the car and followed it. She battled through the heavy rain despite the muddy ground and the darkness covering the whole area. She was panting, yet she was relieved when she found herself in front of a house. She pounded through the door, calling for someone. But no one answered. She had been pounding on the door for several minutes already and she was ready to give up when she heard footsteps coming.
She heard the lock clicked and the door opened. Shivering, she hopefully raised up her eyes only to be met by a pair of tantalizing crimson orbs. She had prepared what to say, but all words died down as she found herself in front of one of the most gorgeous men she had ever seen, not to mention that he was bare-chested sinfully displaying his lean physique, wearing only a pair of jeans with his raven hair still dripping wet, obviously coming out from a bath.
"What do you want?"
The voice was clipped and cold, and Mikan found herself unable to emit a single sound. For Pete's sake, she was an actress and was supposed to be used already being in front of a lot of handsome men. But for like a minute, her mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for water.
Those gorgeous crimson eyes narrowed as he took her large hazel eyes, long auburn hair that was dripping wet, pink lips parted slightly, her clinging white blouse that was almost transparent making her polkadotted brassiere visible, and short skirt that had a rip on one side showing off one creamy thigh. A disgusted look crossed his face and without another word, he slammed the door on her face.
Mikan gasped as she found herself staring in front of the thick piece of wood, and it took her a minute before she finally realized that he had shut the door in front of her. In front of someone who was desperate for help!
Gritting her teeth, she pounded against the door with all her might. This time when the door opened, she was ready with her speech.
"Why the hell did you slam the door at me?!" she shouted at the guy, the previous admiration on his physical attributes disappeared in an instant. "Can't you see I need help?!"
The raven-haired man just raised his brows. "Wasn't obvious with that stupid look on your face." He crossed his arms and stared at her. "Now, what do you want?"
"Can't you let me in first?" she asked shivering as she felt the cold wind on her skin.
"I have no time for theatrics here. So if you-"
"I got into an accident! My car broke down! Now I'm hungry and cold, and this is the only place I could find nearby!" she shouted, interrupting his speech. Tears began to fall freely from her face as she mustered all her strength to face him. "Why can't you act like a human being for a moment, and stop acting like a pompous jerk?!" She lost control of her emotions as frustration and anger over the past events mixed up with the desperation she felt on her current situation. She continued to shiver against the cold and her head throbbed as she began to feel dizzy. She didn't know what happened next, but she felt herself losing consciousness, the last thing she remembered was a voice cursing her.
"What the hell?! Goddammit! Don't faint on me, you polkadotted panties girl…!"
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Her lids slowly opened, adjusting to the bright light. Her vision remained hazy but she felt that her bed seemed harder than usual and the airconditioner was turned off. Her head felt heavy but she forced herself to get up and rubbed her eyes.
Her mouth gaped open realizing that she was in an unfamiliar bedroom. Panic was already filling her when her gaze drifted to a mop of raven hair sleeping by the couch. She moved to stand, making the blanket covering her fall to her hips, revealing that she was only on her underwear!
A loud scream filled the whole room and Natsume was awakened to a series of objects thrown against him.
"You pervert!" the woman screamed at him, clutching the sheets around her, then hitting him with a pillow. "What did you do to me?!"
Natsume didn't get a chance to speak as another item was thrown against his direction. "Stop it!" he shouted back as he neared her, blocking her hits. His irritation had gone to its peak as he caught her hand, making the pillow drop. But she continued to struggle that he lost his balance and they both fell on the bed. Seeing that she was about to hit him again, he pinned both of her arms up and glared at her.
"Listen here, you idiot," he growled, his crimson eyes darkened with anger. "You barged into my house in the middle of the storm, then fainted on me. I had to endure your presence for two days after you won't wake up due to fever. I wasted time and effort to help you recover and this is what I get?" he spat at her venomously.
He raised himself up as he saw her expression calmed down, remembering what had happened. Her eyes were still wide as she clutched the sheets on her body. "B-but I… I…"
"So would you have preferred that I left you alone in your wet clothes to die of pneumonia?" he sneered at her stupidity. "As if I would touch someone as ugly as you." He then turned towards the door to leave. "I brought your bag that was in your damaged car. And your clothes had already dried up and are on the table. So if you're through with your dramatics, fix yourself and get the hell out of my house." He then slammed the door so hard that the side table had rattled on the impact.
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Filled with guilt, she went down the stairs to face the man who had saved her life, yet she had accused as a pervert. She fidgeted as she raised her head towards him. He was dressed in a loose white shirt and ripped jeans, and was currently putting on a pair of boots. She couldn't help but notice that despite the obviously cheap clothes, he still looked absolutely handsome.
"What?" he asked with a cold tone, not even bothering to look at her.
Mikan blushed as she realized she was caught staring. "I-I'm sorry," she whispered, her head down.
He didn't say a word, instead continued whatever he was doing, absolutely ignoring her.
Desperate to make amends, she looked around, hoping to get an idea on how to be of help. She then noticed the empty plate on the table. By the looks of it, he hadn't eaten yet.
"Uhm…" she tried to force a cheerful tone. "If you want, I can cook a meal for you. I'm quite a good cook."
"Don't bother," he replied quickly, then stood up to leave.
But she rushed to stop him, reaching for his arm. "Please… I want to make it up to you. I'm really a good cook. If you can just show me the kitchen, I can make something with whatever…"
"I said don't bother," he interrupted and brushed off her hand coldly. "Breakfast will arrive any minute from now."
'Huh?' She couldn't help but wonder what he meant by that. Did it mean that he has a cook here? Or did he make an order for delivery?
A knock was then heard and since she was determined to do something for him, Mikan rushed to open it. A young woman with permed green hair was on the door, smiling sweetly as she held a tray of food.
"Natsume-kun! I've made some chicken --" she stopped when she realized that the person who opened the door was not the person she wanted to see. Her expression immediately hardened at the sight of her. "Who the heck are you?!"
Before Mikan could say something, another woman with blond hair and pushed permy from the door.
"Natsume-kun, I brought-" Just like the first woman, her eyes widened at the sight of her, then narrowed as her lips twitched angrily. "Who are you bitch?!" she yelled in outrage. "What the hell did you do to my Natsume-kun?!"
Mikan was at loss and stunned at the sight of two angry women to whom she had done nothing except open the door. The blond-haired girl was about to reach for her hair when she felt someone grabbed her arms pulling her from the door.
The girls' faces immediately turned from feisty to sugary sweet as they presented their offerings to the handsome crimson-eyed man.
"Natsume-kun, we've brought your breakfast," they said in unison.
The dark-haired Adonis called Natsume reached for the containers, then slammed the door on their faces.
Mikan was shocked at that ill display of manners. She hadn't met such a rude person as him. "You really have a habit of slamming doors to people's faces, don't you?" she asked, her eyes wide in wonder.
"Only to idiotic women," he retorted, carrying the containers towards the table.
A heavy sigh escaped her lips. He may be an inconsiderate brute, but she needed his help. "I need to call someone to pick me up since my car got damaged. Do you know where I can use a phone? My mobile seemed to be broken after it got trampled on the rain."
Natsume shrugged as he sat down and opened the food container. "The phone lines got damaged during the typhoon. It would be a week before it can be fixed."
"Don't you have a cell phone?" she asked desperately, her eyes trailing at the food. The jerk didn't even invite her for breakfast!
"We don't see a need for that as the signal here is weak," he answered before taking a bite of what seemed to be a chicken curry.
Mikan could feel her world crumpling down. "Oh god! So how do I go back to Tokyo?" she wailed.
"City girls..." Natsume muttered in disgust. "There's a bus that leaves towards the train station. But due to the damage of the storm, the next schedule was moved to five days from now."
Mikan felt herself weaken. It seemed that there was a problem with the bridge which was connected to the main road. She had no choice but to stay in this godforsaken place until she could find a way to leave. Gulping down her pride, she lifted her head, her expression desperate. "C-can I stay here for the mean time?"
His response was immediate.
"What?!" she exclaimed, unable to believe how inconsiderate this man was. "But I have nowhere to go! Please, I'll do anything! I'll cook, I'll help you with…" she stopped as she realized she didn't have any clue about him. "What do you do anyway?"
Natsume just threw her a bored look. "I doubt you have any idea about farming anyway."
"Farming?" she gaped, then thought for a moment. "You're a farmer?" Well, looking at his get-up, it seemed like he was about to go to the fields. 'It's only about planting seeds, right? So it won't be that hard.'
He snorted as if reading her mind. "This is a farm and it not a place for Tokyo girls like you."
Now Mikan was insulted. "Hey, just because I came from Tokyo doesn't mean I can't do anything," she said, placing her hands on her hips.
"Just leave, will you?" he snapped, running out of patience. "Just find some random house where you can stay."
Since the moment she had gained consciousness, she had met only three people from this village, and none of them had been pleasant. But compared to the two witches, Mikan thought that this Natsume guy was more harmless. She just have to manage with his bad temper, or better yet, just ignore him for five days. Besides, her pride was wounded when he said that she couldn't do anything just because she grew up in the city. And if there was something Mikan Sakura was known for, it was her persistence and stubbornness. Now way would she allow herself to lose to this guy.
Gathering up her courage, she looked straight at him. "Look, let's make a deal. I'll follow whatever you want and if I managed to complete it, you'll let me stay here until I can find a way to get home."
She was met with silence as his crimson eyes stared at her. "Anything I want, Polkadots?" he asked, a malicious smirk appearing on his lips.
Knowing that what she had said was quite vague, she glared back at him, blushing as she remembered that he had seen her underwear. "Anything related to this farming or ranching or whatever you have here. And my name is not Polkadots! It's-"
"Yukihara," he answered, then shrugged at her surprised look. "I saw your ID." Then his brow lifted, but an amused smirk was playing on his lips.
Mikan was relieved that he didn't recognize her as the actress Mikan Sakura. After all, only a few knew of her real name which is Mikan Yukihara. At the same time, she couldn't help but feel her stomach flutter at the sight of his upturned lip, making him downright sexy. She wondered how he would look like with a genuine smile on his face.
"All right. How about I give you something very simple?" he stood up, then walked towards a storeroom and came back with a pail. He handed out the object to her along with an order. "Go to Mr. Bear and get some milk, Polka."
"I said I'm not... oh..." she stopped as she looked at the pail in confusion. "I'll just ask Mr. Bear for milk? That's it?"
The smirk on Natsume's face widened. "Mr. Bear is a cow."
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"That bastard!" Mikan cursed as she settled herself on a small stool at the side of the brown colored cow. He just gave her the directions towards the barn then left her on her own. Grrr! And he didn't offered her any food at all. She had to muster her pride and ask for food like some beggar. Damn, she had never felt so helpless before but she had no other choice. She had thought of knocking on the doors of the other houses to seek help, but she quickly discarded that idea as that bastard's smirking face came to her mind. She had started the deal, so she would finish it and make sure she proved him wrong. She had only until that afternoon to be able to complete her task. But she almost got lost on locating the barn. Thankfully, there was a nice, though weird dressed blond guy who had helped her locate her destination.
"You poor thing. Why would he give you some miserable name like Mr. Bear? You don't look like a bear to me and you're not even a Mr.," she tried to console the cow who was busy eating her hay.
'Hmm... how do I do this?' she wondered. She had only seen the process of cow milking on movies but had no idea on how to do it properly. She winced as she stared at the plump udder. She gulped as she raised her hand to touch the teat, and let out a silent squeal as she felt the smooth surface. 'Eww…' Without giving it further thought and following what she had seen on screen before, she squeezed the teat and pulled it. But nothing came out. Instead, Mr. Bear turned her head towards her, her solid black eyes twitching. The next moment, Mikan came flying off the barnyard.
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It had been her fifth attempt and all she got were bruises all over her body. She was tired but she would never give up. Just thinking of that bastard's arrogant smirk was enough to make her stand up again and go back to that she-devil cow. And for the first time, she agreed with him. That cow deserved to be named Mr. Bear!
She sneaked in slowly, making sure that Mr. Bear was unconscious of her movements. Just then, she heard childish giggles from behind her and saw two girls around the age of ten that looked almost identical to each other except for their hair and eye color.
"Mr. Bear likes to scare away newbies," the cute girl with curly pink hair giggled. She then smiled at her cheerfully. "My name is Anna Umenomiya."
"I'm Nonoko Ogasawara," the other girl with straight bluish hair introduced herself.
"We're twin cousins!" they said proudly in unison.
"Eh?" Mikan just looked at them in confusion.
They giggled again and explained. "We were born the same day, so we're like twins."
Mikan smiled at the cute girls, happy to meet some new friends. "I'm Mikan," she introduced herself. Her eyes then trailed to something they were holding in their hands. "What are you two holding?"
Nonoko held up a glass which contains the blackest liquid she had ever seen. "It's beetle juice."
"B-beetle j-juice?" Mikan sputtered.
"She said she's going to discover the best tasting juice ever. So she's trying to mix things up and see what they would taste like," Anna explained, her innocent wide eyes had a hopeful glint in them as she stared at Mikan. "Do you want to try it?"
Mikan felt a bit of nausea as she stared at the juice but hold on to it. 'Over my dead body.' Instead she gave out a choked laugh, then diverted the question on the container Anna was holding. "How about that?" she asked.
"Earthworms. I'm making a worm cake," Anna said proudly. She then took a container and handed it to Mikan. "I've made a lot, so I'm giving you a piece."
Unable to refuse, she accepted it reluctantly. Hopefully, Anna won't ask for her to taste it in front of her. And as if God had finally listened to her pleas, the blonde haired man entered and called the children. "Anna-chan, Nonoko-chan, your mothers are looking for you."
The man named Anjo Narumi was actually Natsume's right hand in the farm. He was also the same person who helped her locate the barnyard hours ago. And since he seemed like a nice guy, she poured out her dilemna to him. She wasn't disappointed as he decided to teach her how to milk the cow. As he showed her the process, they began to talk about that guy, whose name she finally learned to be Natsume Hyuuga.
"Natsume-kun... he's actually a good person," Narumi said while gently squeezing the teat.
"Huh?" Mikan looked at him in confusion, unable to believe him. 'How can that rude guy be considered good?'
Narumi just laughed at her reaction and before she knew it, she found herself listening to the jerk's life story.
"Natsume's father, Ishi-san, owns this huge expanse of land," Narumi began. "They had come from generations of proud farmers. One time when Ishi-san went to the city to visit a friend, he met Kaoru-san, Natsume's mother. She's a city girl, yet she fell in love with him and chased him even here. She was a beautiful woman and Natsume got his looks from her. Eventually, Ishi-san returned her feelings and they got married. But after eight years of marriage and living in this farm, she had gotten extremely bored with the simple life and missed her former city life. She tried to persuade Ishi-san to move to the city or even to the town but Ishi-san refused since he couldn't leave the farm. One day, she just disappeared. Ishi-san struggled alone in taking care of their two children, but never stopped looking for her."
Mikan's eyes were wide as she listened to the story. What kind of woman was she to just leave her family like that?
"Eventually, he found her," Narumi continued. "But she remarried to a rich man in the city who can give her the luxuries that she was denied in the farm. Ishi-san was so frustrated that he drowned himself with alcohol. Slowly, his health deteriorated and he died when Natsume was only fourteen.
"Natsume was forced to grow up to adulthood as he coped with their family's mounting debts, managing this farm, and taking care of his younger sister. He had never forgiven his mother even when she came back to beg for their forgiveness. He worked hard to get through their financial problems, that's why he's so stingy. But it seemed Aoi-chan inherited something from their mother - her love for the city life. She begged Natsume-kun for a chance to enroll in Gakuen Alice after she received a scholarship. Natsume refused. In the end, Aoi-chan ran away leaving him all alone. Four years later, Aoi-chan came back with a baby. It seemed that her boyfriend had gotten her pregnant but refused to take responsibility. Aoi-chan cried as she begged for Natsume's forgiveness but Natsume turned his back on her, the same way as she had turned her back on him."
"But why?" Mikan couldn't help but ask. "Even if he felt betrayed, he shouldn't..."
Narumi turned his head to her, willing her to understand Natsume's situation. "Natsume never got to finish school. He dedicated himself full time working in the fields in order to keep the farm and to be able to provide a future to Aoi-chan. He probably felt that all of his efforts were wasted. He lost trust on people and tried to keep himself away from company."
Mikan turned her head away, feeling her heart ache upon hearing what had happened to his life. No wonder he was bitter. He felt his own family had betrayed him and left him all alone. "Where is she now?" she asked, referring to Aoi.
"She lives here in one of the houses for the tenants with her son Youichi. He's already three years old. Never once had Natsume-kun visited them since she arrived. That's how unforgiving Natsume-kun is."
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Despite her haggard and dirty appearance, Mikan had a huge grin on her face as she held the pail filled with Mr. Bear's milk. After Narumi finished teaching her, she asked him take home the milk that he was able to squeezed out from Mr. Bear. She wanted to fill the pail on her own, so that Natsume won't be able to accuse her of cheating.
"So I won, eh?" she asked, feeling proud of herself at having accomplished the task.
Natsume scowled at her, but since he had given out his word, he had no choice. "Fine. But you stay away from my business or I'll kick you out." He then pointed at a sack by the kitchen. "I got some wild ducks' eggs and some harvest. Make sure that you make something edible."
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
She watched with anticipation as he chewed on the vegetable stew she made. He didn't make a comment, but just continued eating, then stretched out his empty bowl towards her, obviously asking for more. She secretly smiled as she knew he obviously liked her cooking. Of course, cooking had been a passion of hers and she had confidence that anything she would cook would taste great.
After they had finished eating, Mikan cleared up the table. Even though she was a celebrity, she had grown up as a normal girl, so she was quite used in helping with the household chores. And she decided that while she stayed in this house, she would make sure that she would help out in her own way so that she won't hear any complaint from him. But after hearing Natsume's story, she developed this desire to do something for him. And before she leaves for Tokyo, she hoped that she could see a sincere smile on his face.
Natsume walked past her, planning to go up to his room when he noticed a small package which seemed to be food on the counter. He opened it and it looked like a golden crust muffin. Thinking that it was a dessert she had made, he took one and took a bite.
'It has a weird taste,' he thought but honestly, the taste wasn't bad at all.
"Why are you eating that?"
He turned towards Mikan who looked like she was torn between laughing and vomiting. He lifted his brow in question.
"That's Anna-chan's worm cake..."
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Days passed and unbelievably, Mikan found herself enjoying the simple life in the farm. She and Natsume bickered a lot but it had gotten past the point where a silent friendship formed between them. Natsume seemed not to have minded when she missed the bus and decided to stay another week. She swore she saw relief on his face when she had made that decision, but it was probably due to the fact that he liked, no, loved her cooking. He wouldn't say anything, but seeing him finish several servings was enough to tell her what he thought of her food. Days just continued to pass by and before they knew it, it had already been more than a month since she arrived in the farm.
Between that period, she would continue milking Mr. Bear despite her usual tantrums. It seemed that she was only on her best behaviour when Ruka Nogi, the veterinarian and Natsumen's best friend was around. She would play with Anna and Nonoko and help out with the other women in the farm. She also managed to meet Natsume's sister Aoi, who had immediately recognized her as Mikan Sakura even without the make-up and the glamorous clothes. She explained the situation and Aoi promised to keep it a secret. Eventually, they became friends and Aoi helped her out in familiarizing herself with the tasks in the farm. She also met Aoi's son Youichi, whom to her horror and amusement, had the exact replica of his uncle's personality. She found him so cute the first time she met him, with his unruly silver hair and green eyes, but the first word that came out of his mouth when he saw her was 'hag.'
Through Aoi, she managed to understand Natsume more, and that led her to notice the simple things that he had done for her, like keeping the water inside the bathroom full knowing that she liked to take a bath in the morning and afternoon, or leaving most of his share of the eggs to her.
They don't interact much, except when they bicker, but the small things they do for each other slowly dissolved the gap between them. Every lunch time, Mikan would wander towards the fields carrying a basket full of food for Natsume and his men while they were busy with the crops. Natsume would also accompany her towards the lake to wash their clothes or would help her out in carrying the water to be used for washing the dishes.
So far the people in the farm were nice to her, disregarding the gossips of her staying alone in a bachelor's house, or the jealousy of other single women who had designs over Natsume, particularly Sumire and Luna. She ignored all of that as she was more focused on making Natsume happy, to ease the loneliness out of him. Until she couldn't bear it anymore, and gave him an earful of scolding, then dragged him towards Aoi's house. She picked up Youichi and dropped him on Natsume's arms. Natsume's eyes were wide with confusion and amazement as he stared at the green orbs of his nephew, who in turn never turned his eyes away from the man he had never seen before, yet felt a close affinity with. She felt the moisture in her eye as she saw Natsume's face softened, then pulled the boy into his embrace. She watched as Aoi sobbed, then Natsume finally opened his arms to his sister and enveloped her into a hug.
Mikan couldn't help but smile as she slowly sneaked out, leaving the Hyuuga family into their private reunion. She walked towards the woods leading to the lake. When she reached the clear waters of the lake, she leaned against a Sakura tree and drew her knees up so she could wrap her arms around them. Looking at the calm waters, it made her think that she had finally fulfilled her mission here. She had managed to do something good that she knew she could finally leave this place with a smile on her face. But why did her heart feel so heavy when she though of that?
She didn't have to ask because she already knew the answer.
For just a period of more than a month, her view of him changed from a rude, arrogant jerk to someone… very important to her. She had been attracted to him the first time she lifted her head to meet his cold crimson eyes. But their close companionship had changed that into something deeper. She liked him… a lot. She knew if she would stay longer, it would develop into something more. And everything would get complicated. He is a farmer. She is a famous actress. They were two worlds apart. But if given the chance, she was willing to meet him halfway. But would he?
Mikan closed her eyes, wishing time would just stop. But reality was already kicking in and she knew she had to go back. Hotaru might already be frantic with worry, though she could not imagine her worried expression. The media must already be making some wild stories regarding her disappearance. Not that she cared. She wanted this break, and she found peace in this place.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard footsteps coming her way.
"So you're here."
Her hazel eyes opened as she turned her head to find Natsume standing beside her. Quietly, he sat beside her and shared her view of the lake.
She sneaked a glance at him, and her heart did summersaults as she saw a content smile on his face. "F-for what?" she stammered in confusion.
She felt her heart stop when his dark crimson eyes trapped her hazel ones in a searching gaze, like he was looking into something in her eyes. At that point, she knew the last barrier between them had crumpled down. She could feel the blood rushing on her face at the intensity of his gaze, then felt his hand reached towards her face and gently tucked her auburn hair behind her ear. The slight touch of his fingers brought shivers on her. As Natsume cupped her cheek and slowly lowered his face to hers, she knew she had to make a decision. She closed her eyes and felt the slight brush of his warm lips over hers, as if asking her permission. In response, she lifted her hands and wrapped them around his neck in acceptance. It was sweet yet passionate and she fitted perfectly in his arms like she was meant to be there.
When he finally lifted his lips from hers, they gazed at each other for a moment before he touched his forehead against hers.
"Will you leave?"
That question was filled with mixed emotions - hope, fear, and desperation.
She lifted her hand touch his cheek in a caress, her eyes never leaving his. "Not if you don't want me to."
Natsume pulled her into an embrace, settling her against his chest while he leaned back against the Sakura tree. "Don't leave," he whispered against her hair.
Mikan snuggled close to him, trying to forget her troubles -- her lifestyle, her career… would she be really willing to give it all up for the sake of Natsume? Will she be able to live her whole life in this farm? What if everything just disappeared? What if her feelings turned out to be weak and she would turn out to be another Kaoru Hyuuga? Most of all, would he accept her? Even if she was not what she pretend to be? That she was not an ordinary girl, but someone of higher status than him?
She buried her face against his chest, feeling his warmth radiating over her. Her eyes began to feel heavy and her consciousness began to slide away together with the whispered words against her hair.
"I love you…"
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
They were officially together for a week and everything was going smoothly between them, of course to the dismay of Natsume's fangirls. Nothing really changed as they still had their constant bickering, although some of their gestures had obviously became more affectionate. If Mikan thought that a week ago she only liked him, she couldn't say the same now as she knew she was deeply in love with him. And he loved her. For who she really was, not Mikan Sakura, the actress, but as Mikan Yukihara, her true self.
Natsume was holding her hand as they walked back towards the house after his day on the fields when they caught a sight of several villagers gawking at a gleaming black limousine that had stopped at the side of the road.
A tall woman with short raven hair stepped out of the car, a couple of bodyguards behind her, and was walking towards them. Mikan felt her heart stop as she recognized the sophisticated woman with cat-like grace and expressionless lavender eyes.
"N-natsume," she whispered in panic, trying to make him avoid the confrontation. "P-please go ahead."
Natsume's eyes darted from her to the approaching woman, and his brows furrowed in confusion. "Polka, what's going on?" he asked. Before he could get an answer, the woman stopped before them, her eyes focused on Mikan.
"Let's go back Mikan," Hotaru said with a deadpanned voice.
Sensing Mikan's anxiety, Natsume pulled her behind him and glared at the woman who seemed set to take Mikan away from him.
The gesture did not come unnoticed and Hotaru lifted her brow at him. "You're Natsume Hyuuga, I assume?" she asked in a cold tone.
"How did you know?" Natsume steadied his gaze at her.
A confident smirk emerged from the lavender-eyed woman. "I had my sources," she replied with a lazy drawl. "Natsume Hyuuga, 25 years old. Father deceased, mother remarried. Living alone, while your sister Aoi and her son live in a separate house." Her gaze became deathly lethal as she saw the surprise in his eyes. "I know every detail of your life including the size of this farm you own, and every single yen of debt you owed."
Natsume stiffened, his eyes narrowed into a glare. "Who the heck are you?"
"Hotaru Imai," she shrugged. She didn't have to explain it as her name was almost a household brand for different electronic products. "Now that you know my name, let go of Mikan Sakura or I'll destroy you."
"Hotaru!" Mikan cried as she tried to interfere. "You're misunderstanding things!"
"What?" Hotaru's cold gaze turned to her. "Are you going to tell me that you're going to throw everything for someone like him? That's bullshit Mikan and you know it. It is sheer stupidity that I want to crack my baka gun and shoot you in order to wake you up. You're a famous actress and earning millions compared to him and you want to give that up? Face reality. It is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea," she snapped sending a disgusted look at Natsume.
Mikan was about to open her mouth to defend Natsume, when she felt him let go of her hand.
"N-natsume?" her voice sounded scared as she turned to face him.
"Mikan Sakura? The actress?" His crimson eyes dulled and became guarded. "Is it true?"
Mikan felt like shivering at the coldness of his tone. She nodded and tried to explain but Natsume cut her off.
"So was it fun?" he bit out dangerously. "A famous actress using her talent to pretend play farm girl, huh?"
"It wasn't like that!" Mikan cried.
"Is that why you decided to remain after you could have left? So you could have your break then play with other people's lives? And what about Mikan Yukihara? Is she some dummy person you've created so that you can go around with people recognizing you?" he snarled. "You city women are all the same! Pretentious and full of deceit!"
Tears were now falling freely from Mikan cheeks as she shook her head and tried to reach out towards the man she loved.
She wasn't able to continue as his voice stopped her. "Get out."
"I said get out of my property and go back to where you came from!" he said ominously, turning his back on her, then walked towards the house without a backward glance.
Mikan fell on her knees as she continued to sob, knowing fully that no matter what she would do, it would be impossible to gain back Natsume's trust and forgiveness.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Mikan gave a brilliant smile at the reporters as her guards escorted her towards her dressing room. Reo Mouri's concert had been a success, and since she had starred on his promotional video, she was one of the invited guests on his concert. She sang two songs in a duet with him which had earned a loud round of applause and cheers from the audience.
But as she reached her dressing room, that smile was immediately wiped out from her lips.
As Hotaru promised, she had miraculously worked things out. Using blackmail, she threatened to expose Persona's relationship with a certain Kounji. How she managed to get hold of that information was beyond her. She managed to retrieve Mikan's contract, and had officially installed herself as Mikan's new manager.
Everything was going well, except that the loneliness in her heart still remained.
It had been four months since she left the farm, and since then, she had never heard a word about Natsume. For four months, she had waited, hoping that he'd change his mind. If he really wanted to see her, he would know where to find her, but it seemed he didn't even want to make an effort. It just showed how unimportant she was to him. She wanted to cry, but she knew it was useless. She wanted to give their relationship a chance. She loved him so much despite the short time they had spent with each other. Only with him was she able to experience how it was to be just herself, just Mikan Yukihara, not the actress Mikan Sakura, to live a simple life, to just be with the one she loved. But it was too late and unforgiving as Natsume was, she knew it was almost impossible for him to take her back. She tried to hold back her tears, as she had already wasted a lot of them for the past months. Besides, her make-up would be ruined although she was grateful for the waterproof mascara.
She was dabbing her eyes with her towel trying to remove the traces of moisture on her eyes when she heard the door open.
"I'm ready Hotaru. Just give me a moment," she said, busying herself on retouching her make-up.
With one last satisfied look at the mirror, she stood up and turned, only to freeze at the spot as she beheld the person in front of her.
Dressed in a formal polo and tie, his shaggy raven hair, now trimmed and falling less messily over his intense crimson eyes. He was holding a huge bouquet on his arm.
They just stood there staring at each other, not one of them willing to break the contact.
Since she was unable to make herself move or even utter a word, Natsume made the first move. Clearing his throat, he finally broke the silence.
"It has been so quiet lately at the farm," he started quite unsurely.
Mikan looked at him, with longing in her eyes. Her heart was beating so fast at just the sight of him again. She wanted to speak but the words died on her throat.
Seeing her silence, Natsume spoke again. "Mr. Bear missed her punching bag, so she opted for the next available person. Me."
It was a lame joke, but Mikan didn't know if she should laugh or cry at the sight of him. She always knew Natsume had a knack for avoiding emotional confrontations. Hope had already filled her when he finally appeared in front of her. But really, he was still struggling with his speech when there were only three words she wanted to hear from him.
"After having a taste of your meals, the other food seemed a bit bland in comparison."
Desperation was beginning to become evident on Natsume's tone as Mikan continued her silence.
"Anna and Nonoko threatened to send me worm cake and beatle juice everyday until you return.".
A deep sigh escaped his lips as he stared at the bouquet he was holding, and continued his monologue.
"Aoi and Youichi miss you."
He then lifted his dark crimson eyes to meet hers.
"I miss you."
Tears were now pouring down Mikan's face.
"I know I said I don't want to leave the farm, but I think the farm can still run with Narumi in charge," Natsume looked away, seemingly uncomfortable and continued his rumble. "I can sell a portion of the farm, then buy a lot near here and build a modest house for us. I can just turn the lawn into a garden and plant some fruit trees and vegetables so I won't get bored while you're at work. I can make it work so that my produce from the farm would be sold directly to the supermarket instead of having to go through the dealers."
"Natsume," Mikan interrupted, a bright smile on her lips. "Are you asking me to marry you?"
A red tint colored his cheeks as he gave her a glare. "Please don't ruin my momentum, Polka." He then let out a deep breath and took something from his pocket -- a small velvet box and opened it.
The diamond sparkled, but he had to wince when he saw that the diamond set on her earrings were a lot larger than his ring.
"I know it's small, but I'm still trying to budget everything…"
He wasn't able to finish explaining when Mikan jumped on him and crashed her lips on his. He let the bouquet fall on the floor and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to him, as he savored her sweet lips, filling his four months of hunger for her.
As he lifted his lips from hers, he rested his forehead against hers and whispered, "You know I can't move into your world. I don't belong there. But I can't force you to move into mine either," he uttered softly.
She reached up and cupped his cheeks with both hands. "Then I'll just meet you halfway."
A huge smile crossed his lips as he hugged her tighter. "I love you," he whispered. "I love you, you idiotic Polkadots."
"I love you too," she whispered back, then gave him a light punch on the shoulder. "And cut the idiot and the polkadots, will you?"
He grinned as he rubbed his nose on hers. "I love you Mikan."
"Yeah, enough with that sickening mushiness and get back to work."
They pulled apart to see the raven haired girl with an annoyed expression on her face. She rolled her eyes at their blushing face and was about to leave when she suddenly stopped and turned to her friend.
"And just you know Mikan, I had to blackmail that idiot into coming here," she snickered then threw an envelope to her. "His nude pictures."
"Don't open it!" Natsume shouted as he tried to intercept and catch it but missed.
The envelope fell on the floor and the picture came into view.
It was the two of them in a sleeping position while in each other's arms resting against the Sakura tree.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
Hotaru closed the door and leaned against it. She still wasn't convinced that it was the best thing to do. For her, money was everything and the thought of that poor farmer with her friend was completely against her principles. But she couldn't help remember Mikan's words when she saw her one time looking sadly at the ocean on one of her beach photo shoots.
"You said before that it's like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea," Mikan whispered, her hazel eyes strained over the endless blue waters. "The deep blue sea might be calming and pretty, but being in the middle of it, being in the middle of the spot light without nothing to hold on can be empty, lonely and frustrating. In the end, you'll get drowned in the emptiness."
A tear rolled down her cheek as she closed her eyes.
"The devil had always been considered the enemy, causing chaos and destruction. But the devil had once been an angel. Being with the devil doesn't mean that I'll be rotten forever. It's either I let the devil influence me or some way, influence him to turn him back to the angel he originally was." Mikan opened her eyes annd turned her teary gaze to her. Hotaru finally saw in her eyes what she had missed to notice all those months - misery. Mikan had hidden her emotions quite well and appeared to be cheerful in front of other people and on the camera, but this was her true state. She was miserable. "You might consider Natsume a devil, but that devil was the one who had shown me what love is."
At that time, she just stared at Mikan with her usual blank face and scoffed. "I don't know if should applaud your analogy or you're just simply naïve."
But those words had struck on her, and before she knew it, she found herself back towards the farm to blackmail the devil. Hotaru sighed and straightened. In the end, it would still be Mikan's choice anyway. She just had to make sure to load her baka gun in case she would throw herself on her arms crying over that devil.
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
The reporters were surprised to see her come out with her hand entwined with a handsome yet unfamiliar man.
"Mikan-chan, is this your new boyfriend?"
"He's gorgeous. As expected of you."
"Is he your next leading man?"
"Is he a new model?"
Grinning, Mikan leaned closer to Natsume and linked her arm on his, then she lifted her left arm to reveal the small yet sparkling engagement ring on her finger.
"This is Natsume Hyuuga, my fiance."
She winked at him, then faced the camera, a proud smile on her face.
"And he's a farmer."
- the end -
۞ ۞ ۞ ۞ ۞
So what do you think? Too cliche? Too cheesy? Well, I'm a sucker for good endings so I couldn't help it. haha.
Thank you to all who had supported and voted for it. It actually won the 'Best of the Best Award' and the 'Most Endearing Natsume Hyuuga.' Woohoo! And to think I almost didn't make it to the deadline. haha. The second challenge is starting (a Hotaru x Ruka challenge) so if any of you is interested, you can visit Hilaire's profile to check for the details.
For those who had voted, I can't list your names since I don't know who you are but I have taken note of those who had reviewed when it was posted in Hilaire's GAFFC account. So anyway, thanks to the voters and to the reviewers:
piggycat350, heya-gurl, agay, haruh, pillu
chiiara.o88, kurichan15, Sweet Pix 95, kazukarin
marshmallow-chan35, reader26, lovepikachu12
i love thunder, chayoni, chrisca123456789, Xxdarkness-angelxX
bAritUde no kOkorO: yeah, it was hard to put everything together in 8,000 words. I have actually exceeded it, so I deleted some parts of the story and made it into a narration. But I don't think I'm going to make this into a multi-chaptered one. I'll just edit it a bit but it will remain as a one-shot.
Lady Crimson Mist: hehe, it was total cliche and rushed. Even I have to admit that. But the idea just came to me suddenly that I decided to write it down. Actually, when you reviewed it, the submission of entries had already ended, but not the voting. Anyway, it still won. haha.