Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Tachibana Higuchi. The rest is mine. :)
Dedication: Heartbroken Confession, for this horribly late story. When you challenge/prompted me last Christmas, I doubt you expected this. Like it?
Prompts: "I'm trying very hard to be witty right now, but I'm beginning to think slugging you in the face will suffice." SumireKoko, a Crack!Pairing, Socks!

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When the Clock Strikes Twelve

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There is too much, just too much, and somehow it's just not enough.

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Chapter One: He Was a Fool to Believe She'd Love Him

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i.

Sumire can feel his eyes on her, but she hopes that, if she ignores him long enough, he'll get tired and wander away.

Boys are always like that. As long as a girl seems disinterested enough, the guy feels it's pointless and leaves.

Sumire is fourteen.

She knows these things.

That boy is twelve, a mere preteen.

He doesn't know squat.

"Just tell him you're not interested, Sumire. He's never going to get the picture. He's only in elementary school!" Wakako admonishes. When Sumire looks up to glare, she sees Wakako blowing dust out of her cuticles and looking at the table across from them.

She tells herself not to look at him, though, because the last thing she wants him to think is she's trying to sneak glances. Sumire may be regarded as a flirt but contrary to popular belief, she doesn't go after everything with a Y chromosome.

Especially younger boys.

"Red aleeeert," Wakako drawls under her breath.

Before Sumire can think of doing anything, he's standing in front of her with a small, clever smile on his face. Brown eyes glimmer with mischief when Sumire glares at him. "What do you wan—"

"I think you're pretty."

Sumire's jaw almost drops. "I don't care if you think I'm—"

"—PRETTY UGLY!"

The boy chortles and runs away.

Sumire doesn't know what's just happened.

-;-

ii.

"Sumire."

She's ignoring him.

"Shoudaaaa."

But he's not giving up.

"Forest Monster!"

She doesn't think he's very creative either.

"Seaweed head!"

Sumire smirks at just how well she's dealing with this stubborn little bo—

"Permi-fried seaweed-face hulk-of-a-cucumber slash California roll!"

"What do you want?!" Sumire whirls around to face the insistent, Cheshire grin she's gotten used to for the past three weeks. Three. Three weeks! He was supposed to get up and leave after the first few days! Why was he still here? Why was he still hanging around when it was so obvious she didn't want him nearby?

The boy only narrows his eyes in his I fascinate you, don't I kind of fashion and grins, "I want you to make me a sandwich."

Sumire's eyes twitch. "Do I look like your mother? Look here, you little punk. You don't belong here. Why don't you just scurry over that fence like the way you came and get back to school. I'm sure all of your elementary school teachers are looking frantically for you."

"I'm not little," his grin turns haughty, "—and the teachers are definitely not looking for me. Why don't you make me a sandwich?"

"Why don't you get lost?"

He leans forward and his grin is slightly mocking. "Why don't you get lost?"

Sumire glares at him. "You might have forgotten three important details.` First of all, this is the middle school branch, so no little elementary boys are allowed running around here. Second, I'm your senior, you little punk. You're supposed to listen to what I say." It's always good to be mature and tell them who's boss, Sumire thinks. "Lastly, I was here first. Finders keepers, losers weepers."

She expects his grin to falter, but his eyes merely brighten before a voice behind her says, "Very mature, Shouda."

Sumire fights the blush and whips around in her seat in time to see Natsume raise an eyebrow and Ruka grin. It's Natsume and Ruka. Sure, they're thirteen and consequently one year younger than she is but by God, if they aren't the cutest boys in the middle school branch. Natsume, hands down, is the hottest, which is surprising because there were some pretty good looking middle school boys around before spring came along and they moved up to middle school.

She vows to kill Koko when they're alone. He made her look like a fool in front of Natsume and Ruka, that stupid, little troublemake—

"Hey Natsume! Ruka!" Koko chirps, standing up to punch Natsume in the shoulder.

Oh God, he just punched Natsume in the shoulder, what the hell does that mean?

Natsume's tone is low and sososo cool. "Koko. You're skipping class again?"

Koko merely snorts when Ruka says, "Like you should be surprised. You're the one who taught him how."

Natsume merely shrugs and his eyes dart over to Sumire. "What are you doing with the hag?"

"You mean Sumire?"

Sumire feels the heat of her blush reaching the roots of her hair. She wants to yell at Natsume and tell him she's cool, that she doesn't make it a point to hang out with little kids but the words feel like they're stuck in her throat. Finally, she all but croaks, "Hey look, I'm not actually hanging out with this kid. He's always just around when I am and following me—"

"Sumire's my friend."

Sumire's mouth snaps shut and instead of seeing the friendly grin that's always been on Koko's face, she watches Natsume look at her dubiously and Ruka smile before the former shrugs and they both depart after mindless chatter.

She sits silently, looking at her notebook before she sighs and looks back up at him. "Look, just… thank you, I guess."

Koko shrugs. "I meant what I said. You're my friend."

Sumire merely rolls her eyes, but doesn't comment. He doesn't seem to be put out, though, because he asks, "You're grateful for what I said, aren't you?"

She looks at him suspiciously, "…Yes. What of it?"

She knows she should've kept her mouth shut when his grin brightens and he says cheekily, "So how about making me that sandwich?"

-;-

iii.

"Hey, are you coming to the movies with us?"

Sumire looks up to see Wakako, Mikan and Anna standing around her. Wakako has one hand on her hip and the other propping up the handbag at her elbow. Her lips are pouted expectantly, but her eyes aren't looking at Sumire. Instead, they have found a trio of boys who are busy tossing a soccer ball between them. "Well?"

Mikan looks like her mind is off somewhere else again, as it always is. Her brown hair is pulled into a messy plait that rests on the curve of her shoulder and there's a faraway look in her eyes, like she's living in her own world, where there are no rules and everybody's happy. She's been like that for a while, ever since her father died and all. Her eyes, still big and innocent, are glazed and there's a tiny, distant smile on her lips, like she's remembering something long forgotten.

And then there's Anna, with pink hair predictably in its crimped disarray and uniform skirt and shirt, pressed and worn with perfection. She's the only one paying Sumire any attention. Her head is cocked curiously to the side and she has this quirky, endearing smile on her lips. "Sumire, you ok?" she says, reaching up a bit to put on a hand on her shoulder. "You're looking a bit…pensive, like you're in the midst of a great epiphany."

Sumire clears her throat and shrugs off the arm. "I'm fine. And I can't do the movies today," she says, while tucking her legs under her. "Koko's being ridiculous and he wants—"

"Koko, again?" Wakako spits acerbically.

Sumire starts, slightly surprised and Anna looks equally shocked.

Mikan's come out of her reverie long enough to say, "Hey, I think Koko's nice. We used to love him back in elementary school."

"Yeah. Emphasis on elementary school," Wakako says snootily. "We're older now. We know more than we did before. We're less naïve, wiser."

"I don't feel any different," Mikan chimes thoughtfully, sitting down on the grass and plucking the blades with her fingers. "And Koko's going to be in middle school in a few months. Why does it matter that he's in elementary school? We were in elementary school once."

"Yeah, yeah," Wakako waves her off dismissively. "That's the point. We were all in elementary school once and we know how they treated us. It's tradition; the normal cycle of things."

"So what you're saying is," Anna starts off with an edge of amusement, "—is that we're supposed to act like we're better than him just because we're in middle school? Really, Wakako. What are we, five?"

Before Wakako can cut in with a sharp remark, Sumire rolls her eyes and stands up, flipping back her dark green hair. "Look, it's not like missing one night out with you guys is going to be the end of the world. I'm sure you won't miss me that much."

"That's not true!" Mikan protests.

She really is such a sweetheart sometimes, Sumire thinks quietly. Out loud, she says, "I owe him this. You wouldn't understand but Koko… he's not that bad, actually." Seeing Wakako's pointed look, Sumire rethinks it and smirks. "Okay, fine. He's annoying and immature and incredibly stupid most of the time, but he's kinda sweet."

"Yeah," Wakako snorts. "Sure. You seem to have forgotten but that idiot totally called you ugly the first time you met."

"He tripped me the first time we met," Anna throws in with a laugh. "But that's just the way he is. That's Koko. He does silly things and makes us laugh. You can always count on Koko for a good time."

Sumire, begrudgingly, agrees. "Anyway, it's not like this is anything special anyway. We're friends, barely even that. He annoys me. I tolerate it. We get along just to get along."

"He likes you. You know that. I know that. So it's time to stop kidding yourself," Wakako says coldly, "—you know what? Whatever. I really don't care. You can do whatever the heck you want, but when things don't work out and he turns to you asking for the one thing that you can't give him, don't come back to me, because I'm just going to say those four words you've never liked hearing."

And with one last expression of disdain, Wakako turns and leaves.

"You know she doesn't mean that," Anna says quickly.

"No, I'm pretty sure she does. Wakako never says anything unless she means it. You know that."

Mikan shrugs and fiddles with the end of her braid. "Maybe she just really wanted you to come to the movies with us… you know how Wakako is. You're her best friend. She'll pretend to have a fun time watching movies when she's really thinking it over and before you know it, she'll either apologize or say something and it'll be like this never even happened."

Sumire turns away from them and looks back at the three boys who are now bumping the soccer ball to each other on their knees. "Yeah, well. We'll see."

She feels a hand on her shoulder before Mikan says softly. "Well, don't think about it too much. Have fun with Koko. We'll call you."

Sumire doesn't say anything, even when Anna kisses her lightly on the top of her head and the both of them leave.

-;-

iv.

Sumire is lying flat on her back when Koko finally tires of the half-pipe and with a clatter of wheels and the crunch of gravel, he stands beside her with his skateboard under one arm and another smatter of scrapes, barely apparent from the moonlight.

"You're quiet," Koko tells her, dropping the skateboard down and sitting on it with his feet on either side. "You're usually not this quiet."

Sumire snorts. "Because for once, I'm not arguing with you about something completely inane."

"But I've given you plenty of opportunities to," Koko says lightly, resting his elbows on his kneecaps and his chin within his hands. "What's up, Seaweed-head? I can tell when something's wrong and well, this time, for some reason, I can't seem to cheer you up."

Sumire blinks for a second, turning his sentence over in her head before she sighs and looks at him from the corner of her eyes. It's late, not quite eleven, but far past her bedtime but Sumire can't seem to muster up the energy to care. Her brother has probably covered for her and her parents have never cared enough to pry.

"It's nothing. I guess…My best friend doesn't like you."

Koko doesn't hesitate when he says, "Yeah well, I can't say I'm surprised. Wakako doesn't like a lot of people. She's like… the evil demon from the sewers, ready to snatch unsuspecting children from the streets to serve as her loyal concubi—"

"Koko."

"Yeah, okay. Sorry." After a moment of silence, Koko moves his skateboard over to lie right beside her and she shifts over to make a little more room. When she realizes what she's just done, the action kind of surprises her. "Well, at least your other friends seem to like me. I mean, even Hotaru doesn't seem to want to bite my head off."

He sounds rather cheerful and Sumire can't help but shake her head. "Yeah. Well, to be honest, I don't much care for Hotaru's opinion of me. She's only my friend because of Mikan and well… everybody loves Mikan, even if she always has her head in the clouds."

Koko chuckles a bit. Then he sobers up. "I don't really get what Wakako's so uptight about. I mean, I'm in middle school, aren't I? What's the big deal now?"

She turns away from him and opts to try to pinpoint the tiny stars in the sky. "Koko, I'm going to be heading to high school next year and then, there's the gap again."

She can feel the heat of his stare on her ears, or perhaps it's the shame she feels, but she doesn't turn around to meet his gaze. She's never been very good at confrontation and there is just something about Koko that makes her feel… responsible, ashamed, sad. And she doesn't quite know why, but she knows she doesn't like it.

All three emotions hit her like a freight train when he asks, "Why does it matter?"

-;-

v.

"Hells yes! High school, here we come!"

Sumire, for obvious reasons, feels like the extraordinarily large warmth in her chest is going to burst right out of her. It's the middle school ceremony right before their month of break and she can't be more excited. Wakako's been building up this day since the year after they first got into middle school and Sumire is just as excited as Wakako to start their new high school lives.

There's this feeling of extreme anticipation in which she can't help but want to shout from the rooftops that she's older, wiser and will be among the oldest in Alice Academy.

"Sumi, I'm so glad you're with me like this!" Wakako gushes, basking in the loud ringing of applause as they stand in their gowns and caps in front of the proud parents and friends. Usami and Shouda shouldn't be standing next to each other, especially when Tobita and Suzuki and a handful of other names should be in between, but Wakako being Wakako and well, Sumire being Sumire, they'd gotten the others to make room and the two of them are being photographed together, much like it always is.

"Yeah, we're finally done, eh?" Sumire is smiling, waving at the crowd and gripping the edge of her cap, ready to make it fly.

"You bet! Best friends forever, Sumi! Elementary, to middle and now, to high school!"

They giggle like schoolgirls because, of course, they are, but right when Sumire lets the cap loose and it's spinning in circles in the air, she catches a glimpse of her brother and Mikan and Anna and Hotaru and Ruka.

And Koko.

And he's clapping vigorously, occasionally putting both hands around his mouth to shout something that's drowned and swimming with the other cries of celebration and congratulations and for some reason, and Sumire hates him for it, her heart sinks just the slightest.

And she'll pretend she doesn't know, for the life of her, why she feels this way when minutes—no—seconds before, she was ecstatic. But truth of the matter is, Sumire knows exactly why she dreads when she sees him next.

There are too many expectations.

There are too many things riding against them.

There is too much, just too much, and somehow it's just not enough.

-;-

vi.

It's cold outside, but Sumire finds herself still hesitating to grab the doorknob and walk in.

Couples are walking in and lonely boys file out and it takes her another four minutes to tell herself she's being ridiculous, it's just Koko, and to yank the door open.

She walks into a warm cloud of coffee and warmth.

The minute she sees him, sitting in the corner booth with Natsume, Ruka and Mikan, Sumire smiles and wonders why she was so reluctant a few minutes before. These are her friends and she should never feel as if she were a hunted animal. It just didn't make sense.

"Glad you could make it," Mikan smiles charmingly before pushing the little café menu into Sumire's hands and taking a bite of her too sugary chocolate cake. Sumire watches as she nudges Natsume with her elbow and offers him a bit of the cake, saying, "Want some, emo boy?"

But he merely looks at her with disdain and returns, "I'd rather poke my eye out with a skewer."

"Be nice, Natsume," Ruka's voice is amused.

"Yeah! Why are you always so mean to me!?" Mikan huffs, scooping another bite of cake into her mouth. Before he answers, she turns to Ruka and gestures to her slice. "Do you want some Ruka-pyon? It's really good."

Before Ruka can answer, Natsume says roughly, "No, he doesn't, Polka Dots. Nobody wants to have your disgusting disease."

Sumire merely shakes her head and ignores the jealous reminder that Natsume ends up liking girls like Mikan—Mikan—but more than that, she ignores the envy that reminds her, they are lucky to be, well, it didn't matter.

Koko rests an elbow on the table and cocks his head to the side, slightly, as if asking her, hey, are you okay? You seem a bit off. But Sumire merely shakes her head and orders a latte and a slice of pie.

It doesn't take long for Ruka to take off, saying something about hanging out with Nobara while her parents are out of town, which earns a punch and a mocking comment from Natsume and an, atta boy, Ruka, from Koko.

Then, before she knows it, Mikan announces the time and says her Grandpa wants her home at nine-thirty and Natsume immediately says he'll walk her home because obviously you're stupid enough to get lost even if you've been living in the neighborhood for seven years.

It's just the two of them, like it's been for a while now and it isn't long before they're arguing again, much about the same thing.

It's always about the same thing.

"You really don't get it, do you?" she says rhetorically, folding her arms against the cold as they walk to the park. "You've got two years left and I'm done middle school—"

"Yeah, I think I noticed that when I saw you walking across the stage today during final ceremonies. God, Sumire, could you get some other material here? You're killing me! Do I look like I care whether you're two years older than me or not?"

"You might not care about it, but I do. C'mon, Koko. You knew I was never interested the day you sought me out and started mooning after me. I've told you time and time again that all we'd ever be was friends and you knew that coming in! Why are you freaking out now because—"

She's sixteen and he's fourteen, but he's already so much taller.

She barely even registers the fact that his hands are holding her by the shoulders or that he has this serious—so out of place!—expression on his face. "I'm not freaking out, but I'm so sick and tired of you saying you're not 'interested' and hearing this," he rolls his eyes heavenward as if the word he's seeking is painted straight out of the clouds and then, "—I'm sick of hearing this stupid excuse about age and gaps. I mean, what the heck does that even mean, the stupid gap?"

Sumire shakes herself and, once again, there's that feeling of shame swelling within her belly. And she hates him, again, for doing this. "I'm not some Mikan and you are definitely no Natsume," her voice is hard, "—and there are standards to meet, expectations to follow through and there's no… there's no room for you, Koko. I'm sorry, but it's not enough."

Koko is silent for a moment.

His hands slip from her shoulders until they're down by his sides. And then he merely looks at her, not quite sad but definitely not happy. It's more of a resigned, I-still-have-faith-in-you-but-you're-really-too-much sort of look that makes Sumire want to hang her head and apologize.

"I really can't believe this." His abrupt comment surprises her. "I thought you were different from Usami. Do you actually care so much about how people will see you? I'm not saying I'm more important; I'd never say that. And I know you've been friends with Wakako since elementary school but seriously, Sumire? I would've thought you'd have grown voice box and started speaking for yourself after all of these years."

"It's different," she hisses. "You're in middle school, you wouldn't understand. You never could understand. I'm going into high school now."

"Is that your excuse for everything?" Koko laughs, even though it's bitter and resentful. "Because it sure sounds like it." His tone is biting and mocking when he says, "I can't be friends with Koko, I'm in middle school now. No, this isn't a date, he's in elementary school for God's sake! I can't possibly date Koko, he's younger than me by two years! I don't need an excuse for being completely stupid, I'm in high school!"

"If you're done being patronizing," she hisses between her teeth, "—you can go home. I can't deal with this right now. I'm—"

"Let me guess," Koko cuts in, smirking bitterly. "You're in high school?"

"Tired," Sumire says blandly, "—and thanks for being so immature. That's just another reason why I could never take you seriously. You are just in middle school, after all."

Koko blinks at her, disbelieving, before he shakes his head ruefully. "Right," he says, tucking his hands in his pockets. "Right. I'm immature." She watches as he looks at her; his brown eyes are surrounded by thick black eyelashes and he has that wounded expression on his face before he chuckles and looks away from her. "Right, well."

He walks up to her with such an intimidating aura, that at first, Sumire recoils, as if believing he'd slap her. His expression is quizzical, and then finally, understanding, until his expression looks like one she's never seen before.

It is complete and utter defeat with more than just an edge of fury.

He takes her hand firmly and immediately puts a carefully wrapped gift in her hand. Without looking her in the eye, he says, voice tight,

"Congratulations on graduating. You're in high school now."


WHAT'D YOU THINK OF THE CRACKPAIRING? :D RukaNobara anyone? No takers? Yeah, same.