Chapter 9: Seasons End
Natsume had known for a long time that one day he would wake up and want nothing more than to be with Mikan. He promised himself that when that happened he would go find her and spend the day with her. He'd be nice. He'd be obliging. He'd be thankful for his lot in life. What Mikan didn't know was that the day had come and gone. It had come and gone several times with increasing frequency and it alarmed him at some point. He tried to fight the impulse but it had been a losing battle. The last time he denied it, it set this entire season into motion.
Natsume's gaze fell upon a picture of the two of them on his tack board. She had put it there when he wasn't looking and he never felt like taking it down. He stared at it for a while then a smile curved on his lips. The feeling in his chest grew. It made him think of tomorrow, when the day would be the same but better somehow. While the idea still chilled him to the bone, it also made him confident in a way nothing else ever did.
That's when he knew that he wanted to feel like this every day.
When Mikan entered the dining hall, she felt several eyes on her. She ignored the looks thrown in her direction then carried her tray to the table their gang typically occupied. Only the girls were there and they were also watching her with curiosity. Without a word, Mikan started eating then frowned slightly because the eggs were a little bland. She reached across the table for the salt shaker then yelped when a hand clamped around her wrist.
"Where were you?" Yuu asked sternly. He released her but continued to stare in disapproval. "You had a court date."
"I didn't miss it," Mikan said cheerfully.
"You were watching?"
"Every moment," she confirmed then beamed at everyone else at the table. "Thanks for sticking up for us. You guys are the best."
"Is that all you have to say?" Wakako asked in disbelief.
"No." Mikan looked at them pointedly. "I was also going to say that it's a great idea to have everyone leave us alone until we manage to settle our differences."
"My words are always being used against me," Yuu said with a frown. Mikan smothered a laugh. "Well, have you settled it then?"
"We've come to an understanding," she said vaguely. "You don't have to worry about us. We won't be giving you any more trouble."
"At the risk of sounding like a middle-school girl," Nonoko said slowly. "Are you and Natsume finally officially dating?"
Mikan pursed her lips. That was the thing. Natsume and she hadn't discussed that part. She was perfectly happy keeping everyone guessing because at least she already knew where they stood. However, she was also aware that people would continue discussing them until they finally made things official. She didn't want to admit it without him, though. She needed Natsume beside her when she said this. It was for her comfort.
"Oh my god," Sumire cried after her prolonged silence. "If you don't give us an answer right now I am going to have Yuu haul you back to Student Court."
"I should probably do that anyway just for missing your last hearing," Yuu commented. "Then I'll have you and Natsume tell us the truth under oath."
"Wouldn't that be an abuse of your authority?"
"No one would blame me," he said dryly. "So how about it?"
Mikan opened her lips but before she could respond her phone beeped. She glanced at it distractedly. It was a text message from Natsume.
Quad. Ten minutes.
She frowned at her phone but before she could even feel indignant at his high-handedness a second message came in.
Mikan went to her feet. "I need to go." Without further explanation, she left her breakfast unfinished then hurried out.
Yuu shook his head. "Where do you think she's going?"
As though in answer, all their phones instantly went off. They all checked their screens in surprise. Anna's eyebrows rose. "Did you all just get a message from Koko?"
Sumire grinned. "Quad in ten minutes?"
Nonoko nodded. "What are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Mochu, Koko and Kitsuneme were standing behind a plant box that poorly concealed their presence from Natsume. He didn't seem to care that they were there though, because he was sitting peacefully on one of the wooden benches looking like a boy completely at peace with the world. It was disconcerting. The fact that he was holding a bouquet of flowers added to the mystery.
"What do you think he's doing?"
"If he's not trying to piss Mikan off, he's about to do the exact opposite," Mochu said in despair.
"Today?" Kitsuneme said as he peered behind a fern. "He's going to do it today? He's got the worst timing in the history—"
"Of betting pools," Ruka finished for him. He joined them behind the plant box and laughed. "Actually, if you look at it in another way, his timing is flawless."
Koko wiped a hand over his face. "This is so unfair."
All the bets in their betting pool had lapsed and due to Yuu's court order, they hadn't been allowed to collect new ones. Therefore, if what they were thinking was about to happen, they would be left with a huge pot of rabbits and no wagers. It was going to be a nightmare to sort out.
"What are we going to do?" Mochu muttered.
"Should we stop him?" Kitsuneme asked. The moment he said that out loud they knew it wasn't an option. They sighed in defeat. Regardless of how they felt about the situation, they wouldn't stand in the way of something that had been a long-time coming.
Ruka smiled at their restraint. "It's good to know your hearts are still in the right place. I'll go talk to him, just to see what's going on."
He left their hiding place then walked over to his best friend. Natsume was sitting with one foot propped over the other leg. He cradled the bouquet gingerly in his hands. He was staring at an antique pocket watch, a gift from an old friend, as though it held the answers to Life. The only tell-tale sign that he was anxious was the way he intermittently popped it open. He spotted Ruka then hurriedly tucked the watch inside his coat.
"That pocket watch always gives you away," Ruka said with a grin as he settled next to Natsume. "Is there an occasion?"
"Shut up, Nogi."
"Come on, talk to me," he continued with some glee. He squinted at the plant box not far off then noted that Yuu and the others had just arrived. "I need to report back to your very avid audience, which seems to be doubling in number."
Natsume flushed. "Cripes, did Koko invite everyone?"
"He probably thought this was a family thing."
He snorted. "Or an emergency. How's the betting pool?"
"It's off, which sounds just about right to me," Ruka said softly. "We've waited a long time. Everyone's wondering what you're doing right now."
"I wish I knew myself."
"Let me talk you through it," he said gamely. "You're sitting on a bench, holding a huge bouquet, easy prey for your fan girls. You're carrying your pocket watch, which means this is important to you. All things considered, you're in a good mood. What's up?"
"Care to guess?"
"I'd say you're about to make someone very happy."
There was a smile in his voice. "Get out of here, Nogi."
Natsume came to his feet and Ruka followed. "Because she's coming."
At that, Ruka spied Mikan running up to them. A huge smile spread across his face. "No way."
"Leave," Natsume said briskly. "Now."
"But I want to see this."
"Then go join them in the bushes," he said irritably but there was no real ire in his tone. Ruka hurried off then joined the rest of the gang. Even from a distance, Natsume saw him pass a paper bill to Hotaru. He rolled his eyes. They were certainly a betting couple.
Mikan finally reached him. She glanced at the flowers then her gaze shot up to meet his gaze. There was a pause. A lump formed in Natsume's throat.
"You're late," he told her but those words were softened somewhat because he shoved the bouquet into her arms. Mikan looked bewildered but instead of addressing the gift, she gestured to the plastic bag slung over her arm.
"I stopped by the vending machine," she said. "You weren't in the dining hall so I figured you probably haven't eaten yet so I got us something."
"I was busy buying flowers," he said meaningfully.
"Oh yeah, I could see that," Mikan grinned. "Thanks. So do you want juice or coffee?"
"Are we always going to be bad at this?" Natsume asked wearily.
By then, several people were watching them. They were keeping their distance but some of them were blatantly staring. They were about to become a spectacle so he wondered how long they needed to keep up this random conversation on breakfast and flowers.
"Don't you want your sandwich?" Mikan wanted to know.
Unless the sandwich was some kind of metaphor for a long-term, committed relationship with the girl he had loved for more than half his life, the answer to that question would be a definite no.
"Enough," he said shortly. He took the bouquet and the snacks from the vending machine then laid it on the bench. Then he reached out and held Mikan's hands.
"Natsume, everyone's looking at us."
"Don't remind me."
"I think Koko and the others are hiding behind the plant box."
"They were much more punctual than you."
"What are you doing?"
"Making an announcement," he said seriously. Inside his jacket he could practically hear the pocket watch ticking in time with his heart. "Hold still."
Before Mikan could say another word, Natsume bent down and placed a chaste kiss on the corner of her lips. He lingered to let the world look their fill. A camera flashed. There was an excited shriek. Mikan swore she saw a bright light burst behind her eyes or it could just be that her heart started doing hyperactive somersaults.
Natsume straightened then exhaled loudly. Another camera went off to capture the soft look on his face— an expression they may never see in another ten years. Mikan looked astonished then she finally snapped out of it and laughed.
"You did and in front of everyone!"
"How about we go get a proper breakfast?" he asked as he bent down to pick up the flowers and the snacks again.
"Wait, I want to remember this moment."
"I'm taking it back if you don't start moving off the quad."
"That's just it! You can't take it back!" Mikan laughed then clapped her hands. "Oh my gosh! You can't take it back."
"I never will," Natsume told her. Mikan's heart soared then she immediately rose on her toes for a swift kiss. When she drew back, he took her hand again. "Will you be my girlfriend?"
It was little wonder why Yuu Tobita was peeved. Two days after the 'winning moment' at the quad, he had arrived at the courthouse for Natsume and Mikan's second hearing. This private session was held to address their failure to respond to their court summons. He was ready to drop the case but they needed to go through the formalities. Unfortunately, he changed his mind when he saw what had happened to his beloved courtroom.
It had become a garden.
"Decorate the entire courthouse with sakura blossoms?" Natsume said incredulously as he stood in front of the judge's stand. "Come on Yuu, don't you think that's a little out of character?"
"A little," Yuu said dryly. "But I read in one forum that you're likely to pull romantic stunts when you get into a new relationship."
"You read forums?"
"It was a popular thread."
Natsume grinned. He was doing that a lot lately. "Forums? Threads? It all sounds more like fan fiction to me."
"Fan fiction, fan service, fan guesswork— take your pick."
"If you ask nicely, I can help clear the courthouse even if I maintain that this isn't my doing— oh wait, Mikan's here."
Mikan froze when she entered the room. Her jaw dropped open then her gaze flew to her boyfriend. The look she gave Natsume made Yuu feel incredibly redundant in the room. Before the two of them could speak, he hit the sounding block with his mallet.
"Twelve hours of detention for missing your court date, motion carried," Yuu said. Mikan was about to protest but he pointed the gavel at her. "Two more hours if you contradict."
"Five more hours if you finish that sentence."
"Fifteen hours," Yuu said throwing out the number arbitrarily, "Just for being an annoyingly difficult couple in the last seven years."
Natsume snickered. "You're enjoying this."
"Yes, I am," he said perfunctorily. "Now will you please get these sakura blossoms out of my courthouse?"
"Sure, not a problem," Natsume said obligingly. He took Mikan by the arm then led her to the double doors while she continued to complain about the verdict.
Yuu glanced around the room. Somehow, it no longer surprised him that this entire fiasco culminated into his courthouse being redecorated. After all these years, it was just the sort of random thing he had come to expect from Natsume and Mikan. Now that they were a couple, things were bound to get even crazier. They had always been dynamic separately but together they were a force. They would balance each other out and he knew they would discover more things about themselves because they had finally opened up to each other.
It would be a new story.
Natsume and Mikan were nearly at the door when Yuu called out to them. "Hey guys, one more thing."
They turned in unison. "What?"
– THE END –
This concludes 'Open Season'. Thank you for your indulgence. Ü
All my best,