For Phireye, whom I always think of when writing this arc.
Again, I'd like to emphasize that the Luna of this particular arc is an original character I made up. She's different from and has no connection whatsoever to the Luna in the manga.
Madness Arc : Part 4.
"Don't you care what happens to your partner?"
There was the piercing coldness, and then the pain from the sudden contact between flesh and water. Luna instinctively gasped, the water entering her nose and sending a sharp sensation to her head. Seized by the intuitive desire to survive, she thrashed about and tried to come up to the surface, her hazy vision catching sight of her classmate throwing the radio on the water before she went under again.
Damn it, she thought, the shock from what had just happened paralyzing her limbs. She made a conscious effort to calm herself down so she wouldn't go against the force of the water, but only succeeded at panicking more when she realized that she couldn't do it. She couldn't just remain unmoving when all the warning bells in her head was telling her to move and go against what Physics taught her. There was something terrifying about not struggling and just hopelessly being still, even when she knew that doing otherwise just might cost her her life.
She felt the current toss her around like a rag doll, and in some detached part of her mind wondered if the water had always been this cruel, or perhaps an alice of the water was manipulating it. Someone help me, she thought, feeling herself choke. She opened her mouth, unable to hold her breath any further, and felt her mind spin as cold water filled her lungs. She glanced up to where the light was entering through the surface, for a moment feeling oddly relaxed as she started to sink to the bottom.
It wasn't long until the darkness finally engulfed her, and she closed her eyes.
I don't want to die.
x ~ x ~ x
The young woman was trembling, her long, wet hair clinging to her skin. "I – I don't… I don't really know what happened," she muttered, drawing her legs close to her chest as she leaned into the embrace of a close friend from her class. "I was going to climb back up after grabbing the parcel, but Luna – " she coughed, clutching on her chest " – Luna pushed me instead of pulling me up."
The rest of the class was silent as the president had another coughing fit. Around her, the rest of the first aid team meticulously checked on her and began asking questions about how she was feeling. The P.E. teacher herself was distraught, unsure of what she had heard from her student. "Luna fell with you."
Kana nodded. "I reached up for her instinctively, and before I realized it, she was already falling, too." She pulled the towel tighter around her. "I guess she didn't really expect me to grab her with me."
"Why would she do that to you?"
Everyone's eyes were immediately on Narumi as soon as they heard his voice. The transfer student very rarely spoke, but when he finally did everyone knew they had to listen. Right now, the blond looked as impassively as he had always had, his pretty face not showing any trace of worry for his partner, whom half of the first aid team was still looking for.
"Doesn't he care what happens to his partner?"
Narumi paid his classmates no mind, fixing his critical gaze at the class president instead. Their teacher had found out that he had left the hospital much earlier than the discharge time that had been set for him, and the woman's condition to overlook it was if he would stay there and not join the others in looking for Luna.
Much to everyone's surprise, the young man had chosen not to argue. He had simply shrugged instead, mumbling a casual 'all right' under his breath as he watched the others make their way to look for his partner. Together with the rest of the class, he stayed behind and checked on the class president. Kana had been found slumped on the riverbank, her forehead bleeding from a concussion. A long gash ran across her left arm, her feet bare after she lost her running shoes in the water.
"I'm not sure," Kana answered, with an uncharacteristic downcast gaze. "We've barely even spoken, and I don't know what she would have against me to do something like that." She pulled her legs close to her chest, an expression of anger creasing her forehead. "She never should have done anything like that," she added, earning a string of whispers from the students around her.
"I can't believe Luna would do that…"
"I know! But the radio and what Kana said…"
The teacher shushed her students. "Now, now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. We'll wait for Luna to arrive so we can hear her side of the story," she called out, shaking her head. "I'm sure there's a good explanation for all of this – "
"Good explanation? I could have died because of what she did!" Kana cut off shrilly, silencing everyone around them. "How could you say that you're still giving her a chance to explain? That's ridiculous!"
Their teacher didn't seem to appreciate the outburst. "Let's not argue about this, Kana."
Narumi watched the exchange silently, offering no comment. It was only until he heard the rapid footsteps approaching that he lifted his gaze, and even then his expression remained blank and uncaring.
"We found Luna," Misaki managed to say between gasps, cradling the young woman in his arms.
Upon these words, members of Class A ran to where the unconscious alice was, their worried signs and panicked whispers shattering the quiet that Kana's anger had created. Looking equally concerned, their teacher walked to where Luna was and ordered for everyone not to crowd around her. She checked her student's pulse, nodding grimly before telling Misaki to perform CPR.
Narumi was quiet as he watched Misaki do as he was told. With an almost frightening expression of boredom on his face, the blond turned on his heel to make his way back to his dormitory, just in time to see the hatred that overtook the features of the president as she glared at Luna.
Narumi knew he had seen enough.
x ~ x ~ x
Two days later, Alice Academy Medical Wing.
"I told you, I'm all right."
The brown-haired young man heaved a sigh, putting down the bowl of hot soup that he was holding. "I know, but you're not eating," he said, giving a slight shake of his head. "I wish you'd stop being stubborn."
Luna smiled at her friend. "I'm fine, Misaki. Really. It's just that I've been eating soup ever since I woke up," she told him reassuringly. Misaki had been her consistent visitor ever since she had woken up, and she was truly thankful for his concern. The young man had always been protective of her as her partner, and she was glad to know that he would still be there for her, even when they had been assigned new people to work with now.
It had taken her only a couple of hours to regain consciousness after being hauled out of the river, but their teacher and Misaki himself had both insisted that she should be confined in the hospital. This, of course, meant that she would miss some of her classes, although her teacher had been kind enough to write a letter to the rest of the faculty about what had happened.
Misaki heaved a resigned sigh. "All right. It's just that you'll be discharged in a couple of hours, and I don't want you randomly collapsing down the hallway because you didn't eat enough. You know I can't pick you up around that time because of class." His frowned deepened. "I should probably just ditch – "
"No way," she interrupted with a laugh. The last thing that she would ask of her friend was to cut classes for her. "It's fine, Misaki. Stop worrying about me. I can manage by myself. It's not as if I have any serious injury."
"You still have to go to the Student Representatives' office to discuss what happened two days ago," Misaki reminded her. "How are you going to tell them that it was her who pulled you down and not the other way around?"
She felt her lips twist into a playful grin. "I didn't stay here for two days doing nothing. Of course I've thought of something," she told him, leaning back against the soft pillows behind her. "Kana really made sure everything would look like it was my fault, but I think I can do something about it."
Misaki parted his lips as if to ask her to elaborate on her little plan, but it was then that the room to her door open. Without any warning and in that bored, haughty fashion that he always carried himself with, Narumi stepped inside the room, arching an eyebrow when his eyes met Misaki's.
"What are you doing here?" Narumi asked, shoving his right hand inside his pocket.
Misaki frowned, clearly disliking the blond's tone. That, and Luna knew how upset Misaki was by Narumi's lack of appearance for the last two days that she had been confined in the hospital. "I was checking on Luna and keeping her company."
Narumi didn't seem impressed by the answer. Instead he walked over to the basket of fruits on the bedside table, picking up a fresh red apple and taking a bite. "I'm here now. You can leave," he said, without even a glance at the person he was speaking to.
Luna watched Misaki stop himself before saying anything that he would regret afterwards, and reached for his arm. "It's all right, Misaki," she told him. She hoped it wouldn't sound like she was dismissing her friend, but the last thing she wanted to deal with right now was the two young men shooting each other death glares. "Classes will be starting again soon, anyway. You should be heading back now."
For a long moment, Misaki simply sat there, giving her a careful stare. "Are you sure you'll be fine?" he asked her, looking most unwilling to leave her with Narumi.
She flashed him a small, genuine smile. "Uh-huh."
Upon these words, the young man begrudgingly stand up from his seat and pick up his things, muttering something like 'call me if you need anything' under his breath. He adjusted the covers around her small form before finally acknowledging Narumi for the last time, throwing the blond a sharp look before taking his leave. "I'll see you tomorrow."
As soon as Misaki was gone, Luna let out the breath she didn't realize she had been holding. "You didn't have to be so rude," she said, turning her head in Narumi's direction. The blond was still chewing on his apple, all the while looking at her blankly. "Misaki is my friend, and he has been looking after me since two days ago."
"I don't like him," he told her bluntly.
She blinked, surprised by his straightforwardness and the hostility in his tone. "I… " she trailed off, unsure what to say. She had always known that Narumi didn't like Misaki for some reason, but she didn't think he'd tell her about it so bluntly.
Then again, he is Narumi, she thought, narrowing her eyes. "He's my friend, Narumi. You don't have the right to be rude to him, especially after what he's done for me in the last two days." You couldn't even drop by and at least check how I've been doing, she almost added, but stopped herself just in time. It wasn't as if she expected Narumi to act like a partner to her after their conversation two days ago. She was more than certain that he still doubted her and all the things that she had been doing for him.
And even if he did believe her, she knew that the last thing he would do was actually start caring about her. Narumi just wasn't that sort of person. The young man was too reserved, too unwilling to show anyone what he truly felt, except perhaps for the occasional arrogance and dislike for people in general.
Narumi only shrugged, tossing the half-finished apple into the trash bin before reaching for the napkin and wiping his hands with them. "I was out on another mission," he told her instead, as if not hearing anything that she had said.
She furrowed her eyebrows, slightly taken aback. "You just got out of the hospital two days ago," she said, the incredulity in her tone unmistakable. "Some of your wounds probably haven't even fully healed yet, and – "
"Not jumping into the water to save you actually helped," Narumi cut off, taking a seat on the couch beside her bed. "The healing alice was able to close much of it before we left during the evening of that day."
The young woman swallowed, unsure how to take all of this. Everyone had been telling her how Narumi hadn't even seemed to care about the fact that she had almost drowned, and how he didn't even join everyone else in trying to look for her. And she had believed them, all the while thinking that Narumi did all of it because he still had his doubts about her, and that he truly didn't care.
It was only now that she suddenly remembered his own condition, and the fact that he was a member of the Dangerous Ability. "B-But Misaki was here the entire time," she said, the first thing that came to mind. Whether she admitted it or not, it was a fact that she had been silently sulking about Narumi's apparent disregard for her. Misaki was a very good friend, but she had been completely disappointed by how it was him who were doing the things that Narumi was supposed to be doing as her partner.
She inwardly frowned, wondering why it all seemed to make her look like a clingy girlfriend.
"He's not a part of the team for that particular assignment. Of course he'll be here," Narumi practically scoffed, leaning back against his seat dismissively. "So are you going to the Student's Representatives' office this afternoon?"
The young woman frowned at the sudden change of topic, but decided not to pursue it any further. She knew Narumi enough to realize that he was going to refuse all her attempts at including Misaki in their conversations. "I will," she said. "They want to hear my side of the story."
"Is that still what they're telling you?"
She looked up from her bed, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion. "What do you mean?"
Narumi shrugged. "Listening to your side of the story is nothing but formality, to make it appear like they're giving you and the class president a fair chance to tell your version of the story," he said. "They've already made up their mind that the president is innocent, and that you're guilty." He flashed her a lazy smirk. "You took so long to wake up, Miss Miyazawa actually convinced them that everything was your fault."
She found herself silenced by his words, and she turned her head to look at the cherry blossom tree outside her window. "I didn't do anything that she's accusing me of," she said quietly, unsurprised to know that Kana made it look like she was at fault.
"How are you going to tell them that?" Narumi asked, sounding unimpressed. "Didn't you say you thought of something?"
She smiled, returning her gaze to him. "I just made that up, silly. Misaki wouldn't have left if I told him I'm still stumped." She stifled a laugh at Narumi's incredulous look. It was so faint anyone else would have missed it, but she noticed it, and for some reason even she wasn't sure of, she was glad that her partner was at least showing her more expressions now. Somehow it calmed her, reminded her that Narumi was still nothing but a teenager like herself. "You should do that more often."
Narumi seemed distracted by this. "What?"
"Show more emotions," she told him, grinning widely despite her situation. She drew a breath, lifting her chin to fix her gaze at the ceiling. "You're good looking, you know. But when you show emotions – it makes you look even better."
There was a long pause. "You're still sick."
She giggled at this, pushing against the bed so she could sit up and look into his eyes. "I'm fine, Narumi," she assured him, unperturbed by the frown that had overtaken his features. Somehow she'd known that compliments were not one of the things that her partner usually dealt with. "I can handle Kana by myself."
"You just told me you haven't even thought up of anything to prove her claims wrong," Narumi pointed out, looking almost pissed off by her stubbornness.
"I'm feeling better, Narumi, but I'm not really in the mood to argue with her," she said. "Anyway, they'll probably just ask me to clean the library for a couple of weeks or something." She rubbed her temples, unwilling to talk about the class president any further. "It's nothing I can't handle."
Narumi was quiet after hearing this, his blank expression easily returning to his face. "So you're just going to let her get away with what she did?"
She heaved a sigh. "She really made sure I'd get blamed for what she did. Turning on the radio to mislead people into hearing a one-sided conversation…" She shook her head. "She even jumped into the water just to make her story believable." She glanced over to Narumi. "I'm going to tell the Representatives what really happened, but it's fine whether they believe me or not. I already appreciate the fact that they're still willing to listen to both of us."
Narumi stared back at her frankly. "You're an idiot."
She only laughed, taking no offense. "Probably," she said, before letting herself fall back into the pillows once more.
A long moment of silence fell upon the room for a long moment after that, neither alice uttering a single word. It was roughly half an hour later when the young woman finally decided to break it, her voice sounding so quiet from under the sheets. "Will you come with me to the meeting, Narumi?" she asked, crumpling the covers in her cold hands.
x ~ x ~ x
" – and the only thing that I could think of was that I had to grab onto something – " Kana stated in between her soft sobbing, uncharacteristically clenching a handkerchief in her hands " – so I grabbed Luna, and the next thing I knew was that we were falling together into the river." Her shoulders shook, her cheeks puffy and red from all her tears.
Luna listened to all of this in silence, one hand gripping Narumi's sleeves tensely. She had known that Kana would lie to everyone about what happened, but she had never expected that the girl would lie so brazenly right before her very eyes. Kana took on the role of the bullied so well, her tears spilling down her cheeks without end as she told the story that was all make-believe.
Luna swallowed, letting her gaze sweep the expressions of the people in the room. Aside from the two of them, Narumi and Kana's friend, the only ones in the meeting were the three Representatives who were supposed to decide on what punishment would be given, and to whom. So far the three looked sympathetic to the president, one of them even shooting Luna a sharp glare every now and then.
Not that Luna could blame them. She knew that all evidences were supporting Kana's statements, and she didn't even have any single thing that could prove otherwise. She only had her words, which wasn't much, especially without evidence to back her up.
"It was a good thing that I know how to swim, and I was able to go with the current and finally make my way to the riverbank," Kana said, wiping her tears away. "I could have died because of what Luna did – "
"You're lying," Luna interrupted, the words escaping her lips before she could stop herself. She bit her lip as soon as she found all eyes drawn to her, and she gripped Narumi's sleeves tighter if only to keep her own tears from falling. "It was Kana who pulled me down so I'd fall into the river – " she quickly explained, her heart pounding in her chest as she continued mouthing the words. Her hands were trembling and she could feel her shoulders shake, but she would be damned if she let the president make her seem like a liar when she was not. "She pretended that she was slipping, and when I was about to help her up, she pulled me down and – "
"Liar!" Kana shrieked, spring to her feet as her tears continued to fall. "How dare you lie about what happened! Everyone heard the radio transmission!"
Luna steadied herself, staring up at the president as she tried to sort out her thoughts. "Y-You were the one who turned on the radio so everyone would hear what you were saying," she said, feeling as if she was choking on her own words. "You knew that the game would only end if one of us proved unable to continue, so – " She caught her breath, her chest rising and falling rapidly as the stubborn tears started falling down her cheeks. "It was me who would died there because of what you did."
Before Kana would react, one of the female Representative stepped forward, holding up a hand. The young woman looked unimpressed by the exchange of accusations, giving a slight shake of her head as she looked from the president to Luna. "This is enough," she told them. "Before we called both of you here, the Student Representatives have already conducted an investigation of our own."
"And?" Kana prompted.
"Everything that we have backs up your claims, Kana," the male Representative said, giving slight nod in the direction of the president. "The fact that you had the parcel in your pocket when we found you also convinces us that you were the one who climbed down to pick it up. A lot of people also heard the radio transmission just before you fell, when you were asking Luna to help you up."
The student looked over to Luna stood, giving a somber nod. "As you know, there were no witnesses to what happened two days ago. This means the only information that we have are severely limited to the statement from the teacher and your classmates, and your word against Kana's. We have listened to your version of the story, but as it is, we have no way of confirming it, and you've provided us no proof to dispute her claims."
"B-But… but I'm innocent!" Luna exclaimed, her tears ceasing as it suddenly dawned on her that Kana was going to get away with almost killing her. If that wasn't enough, this would also mean that she would look like she was the one who tried to kill the president but pushing her into the water! Luna turned her head in the direction of the president, panicked and incredulous as she made out the small smirk on Kana's lips. "It wasn't me! Please believe me!"
The Representative looked vaguely apologetic as he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Luna, but unless you have something to corroborate your claims and counter Kana's, our decision will not change." He glanced down to the papers on his desk. "Because of what you did, we will – "
"It seems that the Student Representatives are much more uncreative than I'd imagined."
The people inside the office were suddenly silent when they heard Narumi speak, surprise evident in their eyes. The young man stood indifferently next to his partner, the bored expression on his face as if mocking the intensity of what was being decided on inside the office.
"Is there anything you want to say, Narumi?" one of the female Representatives asked irritably.
Narumi shrugged, pulling away from Luna as he straightened up. "As a matter of fact, I do." A small smirk twisted the corners of his lips, seeming to enjoy the obvious infuriation of the three students he was talking to. "I'm surprised you can say there were no witnesses to what happened two days ago."
There was a brief pause. "What?" the female Representative demanded, confusion plastered all over her face. Inside the room, the other students had the same reaction, looking at the blond askance. Luna herself remained where she was seated, staring up at her partner with bewilderment in her eyes.
What exactly was Narumi thinking?
The blond tilted his head to one side, looking as if he was speaking to a group of dumb children who couldn't even begin to understand what he was talking about. "This problem exists because it's Luna's word against the president's – something that can be resolved if you have a witness who can tell you what happened."
"You're just like Luna," Kana spat fiercely, before any of the Representatives could react. "You're just saying that to make them think I'm lying – "
"This witness," the male Representative started. "You mean you have a witness?" The look on his face reflected an internal conflict: He was skeptic of everything that Narumi was telling him, but as a Student Representative he was also supposed to be objective and hear it out.
Narumi nodded. "Of course. She is, in fact, inside this room with us."
A heavy silence ruled over the room once more. It was almost an entire minute later until a female Representative decided to break it, speaking up timidly. "Who… who is it?"
A humorless smile made its way to Narumi's lips. "The class president, of course."
x ~ x ~ x
"That's stupid!" Kana shrieked as soon as she found her voice. She stared up at the blond furiously, her cheeks flaring crimson in anger. "Of course I'm a witness to what happened! I was there! That's why I've been telling you that Luna pushed me and – !"
"Yes, and your version of the story is very different from hers," Narumi said coldly. Without waiting for the president to respond, he looked over to the Representatives. "Is it correct for me to assume that you know what my alice is?"
All three Representatives nodded hesitantly, as if confused by the question. "That's right," one of them said. "But what does that have to do with anything?"
"Neither the class president nor my partner is a reliable witness to give their side of their story," Narumi started. "They both have a motive to lie, or to change the details of what really happened so it would work to their advantage." He smirked. "Unless, of course, they are asked to tell everything truthfully."
The Representatives were quiet where they stood, as if contemplating his proposition. Beside him, Luna simply stared in shock, as if she was only then realizing what he was trying to do. "Well?" he prompted, starting to get impatient. These people were wasting his time.
The male Representative adjusted his glasses. "Are you certain that will work?"
"More than certain," he said.
One of the girls interrupted, unmindful of the quizzical glares from Kana. "How are we sure that there's no trick here?"
Narumi shrugged. "I'll give the command right here and now, and we can all listen to Miss Kana tell the story – "
"I don't understand," the president seethed, speaking through clenched teeth as she glared at her new classmate. "What is Narumi's alice, and how does this make things easier for you guys to decide on?" she demanded, clearly having no idea what Narumi's alice was able to do.
"Take a seat, Kana," the male Representative shushed, wasting no time to explain before switching his gaze to the blond. "Your proposal seems reasonable, Narumi. I don't see what we have to lose if we give it a try and ask both girls to tell the story again, this time with your alice."
A ghost of a smile graced Narumi's lips. "Shall I?"
The young man behind the desk nodded. "Please do."
Without missing a heartbeat, Narumi turned his head in the direction of the class president, a feeling of dark amusement seeming to sweep over him as he made out a hint of panic and fright in her eyes. He gave her a bland smile, just as he removed a ring around his finger – a gilt alice inhibiter that Luna herself had given to him on his first day in Alice Academy.
"My alice, Miss Miyazawa, is one that makes an honest person out of even the most terrible liar there is," he told her. "Now why don't you tell us what really happened two days ago?
x ~ x ~ x
"That," Luna declared, letting herself fall on the couch without taking her eyes off Narumi, "was absolutely crazy." She extended her legs till she reached the other end, feeling herself loosen up as soon as her back touched the soft cushion. The latter part of the afternoon had been truly exhausting.
The two of them were finally back to her room after the meeting with the Student Representatives. The whole thing had been wrapped up quite nicely, and the young woman knew that she owed everything to Narumi. She never would have gotten out of that mess without his help.
Narumi shrugged, watching as his partner closed her eyes and lay her head against the armrest. "You should go to bed," he told her. "You need all the rest you can get so you can attend classes again."
The young woman squinted up at Narumi, giving him a weak smile. "Says the person who loves ditching," she breathes, the words coming out in a soft whisper. "You should go back to your room, Narumi. I know you're tired, too."
Narumi only arched an eyebrow. "Are you sleeping there?" he asked, a hint of approval in his tone as he stared at his partner. Luna didn't look like she had any plans of getting up anymore, and worse: She looked like she had already fallen asleep on him.
Not without frowning, the young man leaned over to his classmate and picked her up, careful not to make any sudden movement so as not to wake her up. They were halfway to her bed when she started muttering, as if not feeling the soft cushion against her back roused her from her sleep. "N-Narumi…" she called out, crumpling his shirt in her hands.
"What is it?" he asked, settling her down on her bed before gently removing her arms from around his neck.
The young woman was smiling as she buried her face in the pillows. "I'm glad… you're my partner…" She closed her eyes, her shoulders relaxing. "…thank you."
The young man was momentarily silent as he considered the words, his face devoid of emotion as he stared at the sleeping figure of his partner. It wasn't long until he decided he was wasting his time, and he leaned over to her. "But of course," he said, pulling the covers over Luna's small form as soon as her breathing steadied. He tucked some strands of her hair behind her ears, staring at the peaceful look that graced her features in her sleep.
"What kind of partner would I be if I left you all alone?"
(to be continued)
Well that turned out much longer than I imagined it would be. Review if you liked it. :)