Disclaimer: The author rightfully respects the genius of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice
Author's Note: I got several requests to do a counterpart of Like a Fan Girl for Mikan. This isn't exactly parallel to that but there are similar themes. Again, allow me to experiment with the story's tone and characters. Ü
Set after Poetry Appreciation. Reference with Natsume Nullified. The gang is seventeen years old and Mikan is a three-star student.
Chapter 1: Calling the Hunt
To understand how Mikan and Natsume arrived in this situation, it is important to know the dynamics of their relationship following the Alice Academy prom. The two of them went together as friends and though that was highly questionable, that was the story they were sticking to and nobody was allowed to argue.
Their relationship did move forward after that night. Thanks to a little prodding from their friends, Koko's story in Mr. Narumi's class, a couple of hints from Youichi's own lovelife and patches of homework here and there, Mikan and Natsume found themselves in a growing albeit perplexing relationship. Thank goodness they were getting somewhere. Unfortunately, their top speed rivaled that of a glacier. This slow progress frustrated their friends but luckily, they were able to draw some amusement from it.
"Okay everyone, all our bets just lapsed so it's time to restart the pool." Koko grinned as he stood on top of a chair to make his announcements. He pulled out a sheet of paper then took the pen tucked behind his ear. "The pot was at forty-two thousand five hundred sixty-two rabbits. We have a payout of one hundred seventy-six rabbits to Sumire for calling in the movie date on a Tuesday, two hundred thirty-two to Mochu for the random date gift after second period and three hundred fifty-six to Hotaru for guessing correctly that Hyuuga never shows up."
He made some quick calculations then noted down a figure with his pen. "So the pool today opens at forty-one thousand seven hundred ninety-eight rabbits." He beamed proudly. "Major bets first. When do you think Natsume and Mikan will get together?"
The standard awed silence followed his deductions. Really, if Koko did as well in math as he did when he was taking down bets, he'd be a special star student.
Sumire counted out her winnings then mused, "Two Tuesdays from now, at the park, with a bouquet of flowers."
"In three weeks," Nonoko piped up, "At Central Town, under the stars."
"At their Sakura tree," Kitsuneme said. "Two o'clock, without once letting go of his manga."
"You've been making the same bet for a month now," Koko told his friend while the others also began pulling out their money.
"One of these times, it's bound to come true. Put me down for twenty rabbits."
"Anyone betting on the near future?" Koko prodded. "Say, in two days?" There was scattered laughter at how preposterous that sounded. "Okay, moving on… minor bets now."
"They'll study together, in Natsume's room, for the test next Monday." Anna grinned.
"She'll call him a pervert four times," Wakako guessed, "Twice during PE tomorrow."
"Interesting, interesting," Koko wrote down their bets and money continued to pass around the table. "But those are all safe bets. Any daredevils?"
Hotaru spoke up, "Fall out, before lunch time, no date earlier than Friday, two hundred rabbits." A couple of people clapped at her bold wager.
"That's a pretty logical guess," Ruka started nodding, "considering Natsume stood her up last night. Put me down for one seventy-five, Koko, for an unexpected turn of events this week."
Koko chuckled, "High-risk gamblers. You two make such a great couple."
"I can't believe you're condoning this Ruka," Yuu groaned. "I still think this betting pool is intruding on their relationship."
"Nobody's forcing you to participate," Mochu pointed out. "And anyway, Natsume already knows about the stakes. He asked me once to put down a wager for him but I told him Hotaru would kill me if I had insider information."
Ruka shook his head while the others laughed. "Sometimes, I really don't know what's going on his head. Any luck with Mikan?"
Hotaru shrugged. "I told her to surprise me."
They've been doing that quite often lately. Mikan and Natsume's relationship today was characterized by squabbles (which were normal for them) and tender moments (which were becoming more frequent) that they didn't bother to hide anymore. What made it so annoying was that despite how open they were, they were also careful not to label anything they did as a couple.
A trip to Central Town, unknown to the rest of the gang, would normally be called a date. But no, they said they were just hanging out, and if Natsume happened to invite her within earshot of his friends, he just conveniently forgot to invite anyone else. If Mikan saved Natsume a seat during a school assembly, it would naturally be next to her. And if she somehow forgot to save one for Mochu or Kitsuneme, well, who expected her to save the entire row anyway? If Natsume happened to show up for the said assembly, which was unusual for him, why not take the free seat next to Mikan? It's only natural, right? Of course it was.
Now, free period was typically spent hanging out with the gang. But if on random days they chose to go off together to study somewhere else, or skip out on campus because Mikan wanted to go to the gift shop or because Natsume wanted to check out a comic book, and they just happened to accompany each other to Central Town, well, that was nothing uncommon for good friends. Incidentally, the betting pool was launched the first time they did this.
Natsume and Mikan left everyone guessing what their relationship really was and didn't seem to care that the school was talking. They would show up together at the movie house and money would pass hands. A carnival would come to the Academy and people would start betting on how many prizes he'd win for her or how many rides they'd go on before an argument broke out. Sometimes they even shared food. The surprise winnings Nonoko received when Natsume suddenly gave Mikan his cherry cheesecake while she dumped her shepherd's pie on his tray were unparalleled to this day.
"Are you guys in a relationship?" Yuu finally asked during free period when Natsume moved down one chair to make room for Mikan next to him at the table.
"Well, are you?" Koko persisted.
They exchanged a look. Then Natsume glanced at his watch before asking mildly, "Want to go somewhere else?"
"Sure. Bye guys." Mikan scooped up her books while Natsume grabbed her backpack and his jacket. They left and the gang wore identical looks of bewilderment.
Dating or not dating? Exclusive or not exclusive? Another game between them or just two, very confused people?
The doors to the dining hall were thrown open.
"Do not walk away."
"I'm walking away."
"Do not walk away, Natsume!"
"What does it matter? You're following me around anyway," Natsume told Mikan as he slid into an empty seat next to Ruka. Koko quickly got down from the chair.
"Why do you always act like a jerk?" Mikan huffed. She stood next to her pseudo-boyfriend and plunked her hands on her hips.
It was obvious they were about to have one of their worse arguments and Koko suddenly wished he had finished taking down bets. But then, nobody could've guessed accurately what happened that morning.
See, because of their odd circumstance, there were a number of statements Natsume and Mikan could no longer utter during a dispute. Often, they played things smart but that day Natsume happened to utter three of them in succession.
He said taboo statement number one while pouring himself some orange juice. "I don't see why you're so angry. It wasn't a real date."
Mikan's jaw dropped in offense. "You asked me to go with you! If you weren't planning on showing up, you shouldn't have asked."
"You were free to go home. Really, who sits on a park bench for two hours?"
"I was waiting for you."
"You should know me better than that," came Natsume's response and Yuu groaned at statement number two. In a relationship or not, everyone knew the two of them were entitled to certain expectations that weren't permissible to anyone else.
Mikan stamped her foot. "What is the matter with you? Just apologize already."
Then came taboo statement number three. "Why? It's not like you're my girlfriend."
That was the sound of hands slapping foreheads in rapid succession as Mochu, Koko and Kitsuneme all had the same reaction to Natsume's declaration. That would be the stupidest thing he could've said and he seemed to realize it too. For a moment, it looked like he wanted to take it back but he just didn't know how. Mikan's eyes narrowed into slits.
"Not your— you— arrgh! Fine then, I want to start seeing other people!" It felt weird saying that to a guy that wasn't her boyfriend. If Natsume looked sorry just a moment ago, he looked absolutely irate now.
"Wait!" Sumire cried, shooting to her feet. She caught Mikan just as she turned on her heel. "Do not walk away Sakura. It'll all go downhill from there."
"Tell me!" Mikan moaned. "Tell me what I see in him, Sumire."
"He's smart, good-looking and he has a good heart."
"So does Yuu."
"He's been looking out for us since we were ten," Mochu said at her elbow.
"Then you marry him."
"Ok, I got it!" Sumire snapped her fingers. She grasped Mikan by the shoulders to give her a little shake. "He took you to the prom, hon— inpink!"
Mikan paused then exhaled loudly. "All right, let's fix this." She marched back to Natsume who actually gave her his full attention.
"Change your mind?" he drawled out. If Ruka had been close enough, he'd have elbowed his friend at the ribs. Natsume couldn't seem to stop goading Mikan. "It's probably safer, you know. You're not made for dating around."
"Maybe," she sniffed. "But you should know that my presence happens to protect you too."
Natsume really shouldn't have laughed. "From what?"
"If it weren't for me, your fan girls would be running after you everyday."
He chuckled. "I doubt they would pose a threat."
"Why don't we test that?" Hotaru suddenly called out and heads snapped to her in surprise. She looked thoroughly entertained and was obviously not keen on helping.
"Yeah, let's," Mikan nodded to her best friend. "Let's see which of us is in greater danger if we're seeing other people."
"That is not fixing this," Koko yelped.
"That's stupid." Natsume frowned. "In the first place, no one would go out with you."
"Let's give it a shot then," Mikan said heatedly. "Say, for a week, we won't be around each other and we'll hang out with other people for a change.
Natsume's jaw clicked. "If that's what you want."
"But during that time, you have to promise that you will not— absolutely not— attack, set fire to, hit, kick, stab or maim anyone who goes to Central Town with me."
"And you won't get anyone from the gang, the class or the whole school to do it either."
"And if anything bad happens to them at any time with or without witnesses, you'll take responsibility for it."
This time his answer took longer. "All right," Natsume growled. "But you should hope your dates turn out to be decent human beings because I won't be there if they try anything funny."
"Oh, I know better than to rely on you Natsume," Mikan said through gritted teeth. "I already know you're going to be busy this week."
"What do you mean?"
For the first time since he met her, Natsume saw a wicked smile flash across Mikan Sakura's face. He must have really pissed her off this time because before anyone could stop her, Mikan turned to address the whole room.
"Hey everybody! Natsume Hyuuga's open to dating!"
She might as well have fired a cannon.
Natsume's face was hard to describe. The room fell silent then suddenly an exuberant, deafening shriek ripped across the room followed by an explosion of activity. Natsume had half a second to think. Then a curse, loud and murderous, escaped from his lips. He jumped to his feet, barrelled over their table then sprinted to the door. The rest of the gang was awestruck as an avalanche of girls rushed after him. Class B turned back to Mikan with a mixture of horror and astonishment. She sniffed then simply pulled out a chair, sat down, and started buttering her toast.
Hotaru Imai was a proud woman that day.
Social animals such as wolves, lions and chimpanzees recognize an individual in their community that occupies the highest rank. Others in the group hold this animal in great esteem and would often submit to and follow its demands. It is the first to eat, the first to mate and other members may be exiled if they defy such rules. This animal is referred to as the alpha male and in the social community of the Alice Academy, this pompous title belonged to Natsume Hyuuga.
Now, the idea of the alpha male being forced to run, hide and cower because of an all-female manhunt was ludicrous. But somehow that's exactly what happened after the alleged alpha female called for open fire, forcing Natsume to run like a prey.
He had to give her some credit. Her revenge was ingenious because she did it without looking like the bad guy. It was almost generous to the other girls because she gave them one last shot with him. Last chance to try to win him over. Last chance to let him know how they feel. Girls were falling all over themselves trying to reach him so that they can give him gifts and letters because when he and Mikan get together, it just wouldn't be allowed anymore. So they were going to get to him and he would just have to run for his life.
In any case, because her little ploy was so sadistically perfect and uncharacteristically Mikan, he wasn't about to make it easy for her. He was still trying to figure out how to turn things around. He could still remember the look she had given him at the dining hall and a small smile crept on his face. He doubted if Mikan knew just how hot she looked whenever she was furious with him.
"You look cheerful for someone in hiding."
He glanced over his shoulder. "Did you bring food?"
"Cripes Natsume," Ruka muttered as he tossed him a sandwich. "How long are you two going to keep this up?"
"She's the one who wanted to see other people," he muttered as he relaxed his position and unwrapped the sandwich. "Let's see how long she lasts playing the field."
"You could cave first."
"No way in hell."
"Damn, you're stubborn," Ruka breathed. "Aren't you worried that she's going to find someone kinder than you in the middle of this?"
"Nobody would dare to ask her out," he said with scorn. He bit his sandwich a little fiercely. "Just let anyone try and they'll find their feet against the backside of their heads."
"So let me get this straight," Ruka looked baffled, "when this game is over, you're going to hunt them down after all?"
"For dating her."
"After you told her she wasn't your girlfriend."
"What's your point?"
"Natsume! You have to get together already."
"Relax Ruka. We're fine. Now stop blowing my cover." He finished wolfing down his sandwich and peered over the large leaf concealing him.
"Cowering behind potted plants," Ruka laughed. "She gets points for reducing you to this."
"If you're going to stay, crouch down. You're a dead giveaway."
Ruka sighed then went to his knees. "Look, I get it. You and Mikan just hit another rough patch. It's just that, normally, people actually get together before they cool off."
"Is that what this is called?" Natsume looked amused. Having embraced bachelorhood thus far, he could never get these terms straight.
"I told you, not exactly, because you guys aren't official, but for the life of me, I don't know why. Anyway, what are you looking at?" Ruka followed his line of vision and gaped. "You're shadowing Mikan."
"No, I'm not," he said briskly. "I'm just… watching."
Ruka threw up his hands. "Sometimes, I think you do this to piss me off."
Natsume pulled his attention away from Mikan. "Do you know that the closest any boy outside of Class B gets to Mikan is three meters? It's funny. Look."
With a heavy breath, Ruka decided to humor Natsume. Mikan was sitting with Nonoko and Yuu and there were several boys nearby. Some were sending her furtive glances and a couple actually got up and headed for her but at a certain point, they seemed to fall away one by one. It was as though there was an invisible force stopping them.
"You've fenced her off," Ruka said in incredulity. "Nobody would even go near her! You have to take responsibility Natsume. Just marry her already."
Natsume snickered. "I tried to tell her, no one would go out with her but she wanted to play this game." What he had meant to say was that no one would dare. It was just unfortunate that she had heard his comment as an insult.
"But what if somebody did?" Ruka persisted. "All it takes is one person brave enough to stand up to you and the rest will follow. It's herd mentality. She's not hideous, you know. Say— that guy over there."
"That's a kid."
"He looks about six years old," he conceded. They watched as the little boy sidled around the other bystanders to approach Mikan's table and stop at her elbow, breaking the three-meter rule. "But yeah, someone like him. A kid wouldn't notice the force field you have around Mikan. Too bad he'd never think of— holy crap!"
They came to their feet at the same time. Their faces were wreathed in comical disbelief as they watched the little boy bow his head and suddenly thrust a letter envelope at Mikan. She looked as shocked as they were and that was before the kid spoke.
"Mikan Sakura! Please accept my feelings."