Disclaimer: The author rightfully respects the genius of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice
Author's Note: I get a kick out of writing about Natsume being nice without trying too hard. Lately, I've also been fascinated with Ruka and Hotaru. Thus, this story. Consider this another day in the life and times of the Alice Academy.
Set after Graded Recitation and follows the same thread. The humor would make more sense if you've read Ten Years to Date. Ü The poem used was first published on FictionPress.
Natsume was frowning at his book. The dark look on his face told everyone that he was deeply annoyed with what he was reading. At his elbow was a blank sheet of paper, waiting for his erudite mind to compose something scholarly. At the moment, however, he seemed too irritated by what he was reading to jot anything down.
"Go ask him."
"You ask him."
"You're the one who wants to know," Mikan pointed out to Sumire. "I don't really care if he burns his book to a crisp. It wouldn't be the first time."
Sumire's eyes narrowed. "For your information, I am not the only one at this table wondering what's going on in that gorgeous head of his."
Mikan sniffed. "Then get one of them to ask."
Sumire looked smug. "All in favor of Mikan asking Natsume why he's burning a hole through his book with his eyes, say, 'aye'."
A chorus went through the group.
"I can't ask him!" Mikan argued. "He'll snap."
"The boy has a soft spot for you!" Sumire said emphatically. "When are you going to get that through your thick skull—"
"You know what, just forget it!" Ruka said loudly, interrupting their conversation. He was talking on his cellphone as he strode over to their table. He dumped his things next to Natsume then continued crossly, "You're right, it doesn't matter— to you. But when it starts mattering to you Imai, you know where to find me."
"Imai," Nonoko observed his use of the last name. "It's another spat."
"Arguing with Hotaru, again?" Mochu asked when Ruka hung up and tossed his phone aside.
"She could just be so unreasonable," he muttered. "Is it bad to want to see my girlfriend at least twice a week? You'd think having lunch with me was such a chore."
"I'm sure she doesn't think that. Hotaru's just busy all the time," Mikan said consolingly.
"You knew that going in, Ruka," Yuu reminded him. "You told us you could handle it."
"I can, on most days," he said. "It's just hard to remember sometimes. I don't know. I'm going to call her again." He grabbed his phone then left the room while dialing.
"Poor Ruka," Anna sighed. "Hotaru's not an easy girlfriend, is she?"
"That would be an understatement," Wakako said. "But it's not like he doesn't know. He just needs to be reminded she's worth it."
"What were we talking about before he came in?" Koko asked.
"Sumire was coercing Mikan to talk to Natsume."
Sumire shrugged. "Forget that. Look."
They all turned to see that Natsume's expression had cleared. He wrote swiftly on his paper then looked up to find everyone watching him. He smirked.
"Kitsu, go get some straws."
"As I mentioned at the beginning of the class, this oral report will comprise a major part of your recitation grade. So far, all of you have been doing quite well," Narumi spoke with an ironic smile. "That being said, Mochu, what are you doing?"
Mochu stood in front of the class, papers in hand. He looked completely relaxed, as though nothing was amiss. "You called for Natsume Hyuuga, sir."
"Yes, I did."
"Well, I'm here to deliver a report on behalf of Natsume Hyuuga."
Narumi blinked. It's going to be another interesting morning. "You know that's not allowed. Students need to complete their own class work."
"Well, he kind of did," Mochu reasoned. "I'm here to deliver a report completely penned, summarized and interpreted by Natsume Hyuuga."
The class started to snicker and Narumi grew confused. "You mean to tell me that you're willing to go through a graded recitation in lieu of Natsume?"
"Oh no," Mochu said quickly. "I'm just doing the summary part. Koko will be going through the graded recitation."
"Why?" Narumi dared to ask.
"Because he drew the shorter straw."
The class cracked up and Narumi sighed. He swiveled around and spotted the Black Cat who was reading another manga and was paying no attention to the class he had just smoothly disrupted. "Hyuuga, a minute, if you please. Are you seriously doing this?"
"You know, this might bring down your class standing."
Natsume looked up. "What's my current class standing?"
"Ninety-nine point seven," Narumi said dryly after looking at his grade sheet.
"I'll take a hit."
Then he returned his attention to his comic book and Narumi had no other option but to turn back to Mochu. "What makes you think I'll permit this?"
Mochu glanced around then lifted the paper to speak emphatically in a very loud stage-whisper, "Because he'll walk out, sir."
"Very well then," Narumi conceded, owing to his own morbid curiosity to find out where this would go. "Carry on, if you must."
"Great," Mochu beamed. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, Natsume's assigned piece is also by our controversial writer from last week, N. Romeo. It's a love poem, which pretty much explains why Natsume isn't the one standing here, hehe. Anyway, it talks about a rocky relationship and sacrifices and patience, I think. See, it's really short so there's no point summarizing it." He grinned. "Now, Kokoroyumi will provide a brief interpretation and will be ready to answer all of your questions!"
He walked back to his seat and passed the papers to Koko who made his way to the front with a toothy grin. Natsume looked unperturbed by the effortless hand-off and Narumi merely rolled his eyes at their antics.
Koko cleared his throat and used his academic voice. "As we can observe from N. Romeo's writing style, our dear author prefers open-ended stories over those with defined endings. The author prefers to talk about the courtship rather than the relationship; the journey rather than the destination."
"Koko, I'd like hear the point rather than the gibberish," Narumi said sternly.
"Right," he went on cheerfully. "The characters are obviously, almost certainly, in love but like last week's unfortunate couple, they lock away their hearts. We watch a series of mishaps, good triumphing over evil, love conquering all, the sun hiding behind the darkest cloud and yet they take one step away from their happily ever after. Why? Because they're stubborn as mules. Their hearts are made of stone. Their heads are full of lead—"
"Are we talking about the same piece?"
Koko laughed heartily. "I'm not really sure. So let's see what Natsume has to say instead." He turned to the second page then read out loud, "When read, the piece conveys a significance that a written report could never achieve."
"Go on," Narumi prodded.
Koko looked up, the scholarly look gone. In fact, his face grew utterly blank. He swallowed. "That's all it says." When Narumi looked incredulous, he flipped the page over to show the class. "There's nothing else. See?"
"Why am I not surprised?" Narumi looked to the back of the room. "Hyuuga, your report seems to be missing a couple of hundred lines."
"You said I can pass a single sentence," Natsume responded calmly.
"That was four years ago!" Narumi said in exasperation. "You need to stop holding me to that at some point."
"And what kind of a sentence is that?" Narumi demanded. "You just told me in a refined way that, 'You're not doing this stupid project'."
"You got it."
Narumi was starting to think he should've opted for Natsume walking out. In any case, when the pause stretched, Natsume closed his manga and laid it on the table. His bland expression was extremely irritating.
"Do you want to hear it read out loud?"
Narumi was startled then gleeful. "You'll read to the class?"
"No, not me," Natsume said shortly. He jabbed a thumb to his right. "Ruka will."
"I will?" Ruka said blankly. He narrowed his eyes at his best friend. "Dude, you need to start doing your own homework."
"It's on page fifty-six, Ruka," he answered.
"Come on, Nogi," Hotaru smirked. "We're waiting."
"You heard Imai."
"Go on Ruka," Mikan spoke encouragingly. "We'd love to hear you read." Then there were more calls for him to start reciting to the class, which Mr. Narumi didn't stop. After all, there was no point trying to convince Natsume to read the piece.
"Class bully," Ruka grumbled to his friend. He flipped through his book then found the piece. He stood up. "The whole thing?"
"For the full effect," Natsume snickered.
Ruka drew a breath. He coughed once then read, "I choose to love you today…" He stopped suddenly. His eyes swept over the page then he glanced at Natsume who said nothing. He had a feeling he knew what this was about. He started again.
I choose to love you today, because you are imperfect
And you are difficult to love
I see your faults, know them and accept them
For that is all that I could do today
I choose to love you today, because you are neglectful
And you fail to notice my efforts
I know you are occupied and I stand here and watch
For to wait is what I can do today
Ruka paused. He didn't look up from the page. He shifted his book to his other hand then continued slowly, speaking with care.
I choose to love you today, because you are unworthy
And there are others who care better for me
But I hear words you haven't spoken and so I stay
For patience is what you need today
This time he glanced up. When he was certain his girlfriend wasn't looking back at him, he shifted his ironic, almost accusing, gaze to Natsume before finishing.
I choose to love you today, because I too,
am imperfect, neglectful and unworthy
But you choose to love me
And that's all that I would ever ask of you
Ruka closed his book. His face was red by the time he reached the last line. He looked at Natsume again. "When read… by me… yeah, I get it. Dork." He sat down.
"I don't," Kitsuneme said.
"Doesn't matter," Narumi beamed. "I do! A-plus!"
"What?!" Mikan yelped. "Not again."
"It's beautiful," Narumi gushed. "Excellent work, Hyuuga. And I think I'll give Kokoroyumi and Mochiage a couple of points for helping out."
"What about Ruka?" Anna called.
"Oh, yes. He deserves some incentive too."
"No, I'm good," Ruka muttered, sinking in his chair. Hotaru didn't comment either and she was facing the front of the room so it was hard to tell what she was thinking. But then, that was nothing new.
The lunch bell rang and people immediately gathered their things. Hotaru reached the door first and to Ruka's disappointment, she didn't glance back. Narumi began calling out reminders.
"Okay guys, that pretty much wraps up this half of the semester. We'll be talking about term projects next week." He made notes in his class book. "Papers should be in my pigeonhole by midnight, angst-ridden blog entries cannot be submitted as self-discovery essays and if anyone tries to pull what Natsume did here this morning, they'll be getting detention."
Kitsuneme snorted as people started filing out of the room. "It's not like anyone else can."
"Yes, I suppose, Natsume is the only one who could bully someone into an oral report."
To Narumi's surprise, Yuu answered in a disgruntled tone. "It's your fault, sir."
"You assigned Natsume poetry," Wakako said as though they all understood and it was the teacher being slow on the uptake. "And it's a love poem. What were you thinking?"
"Well, pardon me," Narumi said dryly. "I had no idea I had a restriction like that."
"Why do you let Natsume get away with it?" Mikan wondered.
Narumi smiled as he ushered them out the door. "Well, I like to think he has some higher purpose for the things he does. It almost always works out that way anyway, because deep down, stone-heart Natsume is just a big softy."
"I heard that."
"As you were meant to, my boy."
"It's funny Hotaru didn't try to shoot Natsume or something," Nonoko commented as their group stepped out to the corridor to head for the dining hall.
"That's mutual respect right there," Kitsuneme quipped.
"Ruka," came Hotaru's voice and they all turned at once. If she was uncomfortable with the attention, it didn't show. She ignored the different looks on her friends' faces and looked directly at her boyfriend. "Lunch?"
Ruka smiled. "Yeah."
Mikan practically jumped in delight while Mochu and Koko exchanged a high-five. Ruka hit Natsume lightly at the back of the head when he passed by to join his girlfriend. The two of them walked off. That was all the information they were going to get on that front because Ruka and Hotaru liked keeping things low-key. In any case, it didn't look like they would be joining the gang at the table.
The rest of them slowly followed. Natsume hung back from the group, watching Ruka and Hotaru talking. He rolled his eyes then decided he did okay. In fact, that plan turned out better than he expected.
"Capital work, Hyuuga," Narumi remarked as though he read his thoughts. Natsume didn't realize that the teacher hadn't left either.
He shrugged. "So you said."
"As always, thank you for making a mockery out of my class."
The teacher sighed heavily, "But you know, this might be difficult to explain in the grade sheet. You really do need to stop handing in one-line essays."
Natsume snickered before going after his friends. "Then stop giving me A's."