Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Tachibana Higuchi. The rest is mine. :)
Dedication: Heartbroken Confession.
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

-;-

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

-;-

-;-

Chapter Two: And She Was a Fool to Believe He'd Wait

-;-

vii.

"Are you okay?"

Sumire looks up slowly and nods her head twice before continuing to stare out at the sea of people milling by the food court. Her mind is full of questions but she can't seem to pinpoint one in particular and work out her ideas. They're all zipping around inside her head and she can practically hear the pinging in her head as they crash into walls and ricochet into corners.

There's a pain between her eyes that she just can't alleviate.

Mikan sits down beside her with two shopping bags on the floor and a concerned frown on her lips. "You got into a fight with Koko yesterday."

That brings her out of her thoughts. She lifts her eyes just the slightest and shrugs. "We fight all the time. I'm surprised he went crying to you about it."

"He didn't come crying," Mikan defends, stirring her fruit smoothie. "I said you got into a fight with him, I didn't say he told me you got into a fight with him. With the both of you, it's so easy to see. I went by Natsume's dorm and Koko was just lying on the couch with this blank look in his eyes and everyone knows he likes you and he's only ever gotten like that when you and him fight. Besides," she pauses nonchalantly, taking a light sip of her drink, "—you look exactly the way he did."

"I do not," Sumire huffs indignantly, restraining herself from pounding the table top and shrieking, so there!

Mikan leans closer and peers at her with her large brown eyes and Sumire can't help but want to melt into her seat, away from the probing stare. "Well, your eyes are better, at least. When I came up, you were glassy-eyed and frowning and drumming your fingers on the table. And I know you only do that when you're really bothered about something. So if it's not about Koko, then what's wrong?"

She opens her mouth to tell an easy lie, but her thoughts are too jumbled to come up with anything even the least bit passable. Instead, she grumbles, "We fight all the time and we'll forgive each other later. That's just the way things go with us."

Mikan nods and sips her drink thoughtfully. Her eyes slide back to Sumire and she asks softly, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really."

"But a little, really?"

Sumire glares at her, but Mikan only smiles that charming, too-bright smile of hers and Sumire figures, what the hell? She's never going to tell Wakako because her best friend would probably laugh and say good riddance. Hotaru? The girl wouldn't even care. And Anna was definitely more of a talker than a listener. Mikan, even though she never really seemed to stay on Earth, is the only person she could ever talk to about this.

So she clears her throat and starts, "Koko likes me, as in like-likes me and I've always told him that we'd never work out. Yesterday he asked me out again and I sort of just snapped at him but this time, instead of just taking it, he snapped back and now I don't know what to do. He's furious with me."

Mikan waits a second and blinks. "That's all?"

"What do you mean that's all? Isn't that enough?"

Mikan looks at her thoughtfully and purses her lips. "Well, do you think he's right to be mad at you?" Sumire merely looks at her blankly and Mikan shrugs and says, "Okay, I'm saying… if you were in his exact situation, would you be feeling the same way he is? There's a saying to this. Before you judge someone, walk a minute in their shoes… mile in their shoes? I don't remember but Sumire walk."

She thinks it over in her head, thinks about liking, possibly loving a boy older than her by two years and feeling the sharp stunt of rejection when the only excuse the boy has for her is, you're two years younger than me, and suddenly, Sumire feels a heavy weight on her chest, so much heavier than it's ever been before. It's a gnawing brick of lead being held up by the small thread-like arteries and veins and she feels like they're too thin, too weak to possibly be able to hold something so heavy.

The pain between her eyes grows stronger and Sumire realizes, horrified beyond belief, that she might even cry. She's never felt like crying before. She remembers crying years ago when she became just too tired to keep on trying to be whatever her mother wanted her to be. Now, she isn't tired of her mother.

She's tired of herself.

She feels like such a horrible person.

The things she said, God, the things she said…

"Judging by the look on your face, you feel bad about it," Mikan speaks up, bringing her briefly from her thoughts. "So why don't you go look for him? Pull up your socks and talk to him. You know Koko will always listen to you. But don't you think he respects himself enough not to apologize for you for once? Even though it's hard, sometimes apologizing is the way to go."

Sumire wants to stab herself in the eye. "You know I don't apologize. I never apologize."

"Now's not the time for pride, Sumire," Mikan admonishes lightly, putting her hand on top of Sumire's and patting it firmly. "Just remember, sometimes the hardest and the right thing are the same."

Sumire sighs, bites her tongue to stop herself from saying something ridiculous like thank you and grabs her purse from its spot on the floor. "I'll see you later," she tells the brunette.

Mikan just laughs with that wide smile still on her face and yells, "You'd better go talk to him!"

In her head, as she waves a hand over her shoulder, Sumire thinks maybe she will.

-;-

viii.

They haven't spoken for a week now.

Seven whole days.

It's funny, the longest time they've ever really gone without speaking is two days, unless one counted the eight days Koko had gone away with his family on a break to China. Even then, they'd kept in touch via emails and instant messengers. It's weird, Sumire admits, not having to hear his grinning voice in her ear, the low and high tones in his voice that both annoys and comforts her.

She wonders, what would have changed if she actually went to talk to him that day Mikan had advised her to. Would they be talking now, as if that day she'd practically yelled at him and told him they were no longer friends hadn't happened?

She guesses yes, because he would've known the significance of the gesture. She apologizes for no one, after all, and some people may call her a coward or a fool for it and Sumire wouldn't be able to say otherwise, but this is her. This is the way she is and Sumire can't just change that.

But another part, a big, gnawing presence in her head asks her, would you actually embrace the idea or would you both just glide back into the same cycle of things? She could just picture it in her head, seeing Koko with his Cheshire grin and brown eyes and having the same reaction. She knows it's bad and she knows it's wrong but she's so used to caring about what Wakako and what everyone else says that she can't picture everybody giving her an easy time about it all.

Maybe Mikan.

Always Mikan, but she wonders, wishes, wants to not care about what everyone thinks.

But the pathetic thing is, she does. She does so bad and she just wishes things were different.

"Sumi." There's a snap. "Sumire! You there? God, what is up with you these days?" There is another patter of snaps before Sumire blinks and sees Wakako's frowning face come to view. "Okay, what's wrong? You've been an ice cube of boring for the past like… five days. I was going to wait until you just came out and told me, but it doesn't look like you're going to. I'm your best friend, Sumi. Tell me about it."

Sumire just looks at her blankly and shakes her head until her brain feels like it's going to implode. "It's nothing. Just something silly. Look, I'm not feeling very well, I'm just going to get somebody to pick me up and we'll do the beach thing some other day, ok?"

Wakako frowns. "Okaaaaay, bail much? Look, tell it to me straight. Is this about Koko?"

Sumire looks at her best friend carefully and takes in the smooth black hair and brilliant green eyes and then the frustration lining every muscle in her body. "Yeah, it does."

"Don't 'yeah it does' me. I'm your best friend. I may not care for him very much but talk to me about it. You're freaking me out with this zombie shit," Wakako half wails.

With much (a lot) of deliberation, Sumire sits back down on the beach towel Wakako's thrown on the ground and slumps down in her jeans and T-shirt, eyeing the water without really seeing it. She doesn't know where to start, so she just talks and she doesn't quite know what's she's saying but Wakako is half nodding, half humming and in the back of her head, Sumire wonders if she's actually listening.

"Maybe you should have talked to him. I know you guys are friends and all, and losing a friend like that just sucks. I mean, if we fought and I left it at that when you knew I was wrong, would you really leave it like that? I know I wouldn't."

"I thought you didn't like Koko," Sumire answers, her voice bordering on incredulous. "And now you're telling me to talk to him when, the last time I brought him up, you practically snarled and spat down my throat?"

"Whoa, way to be graphic," Wakako snorts, lying down on her back and looking at the sun with her sunglasses. "Don't get me wrong, Su, I can't stand the guy but if you're worried about me commenting on your friendship, then don't. If you started going out with him, now that's where I draw the line. We don't date younger boys, remember? It's against the code."

Sumire contemplates this and leans on her elbows, ignoring the looks of the boys walking along the beach.

"You…you aren't interested in Koko like that right? I mean, do you like him?"

Sumire, in all honestly, has no idea.

-;-

ix.

The break starts and ends almost within the blink of an eye and before she knows it, she's wearing the distasteful high school uniform of browns, yellows and blacks and can't help but agree with Wakako when she says, we look like bumble bees!

And Sumire thinks, if she tilts her head a bit behind her, she can see Koko at the end of the line at the Opening Ceremonies, but after the initial glance, she doesn't look at him anymore because all of them are being ushered into their respective buildings and Koko is a mere brown spot amongst the black, blond and rainbow-haired students.

She goes through her classes like an android on autopilot and trusts Wakako enough to know she'll answer and cover for her with ease. Sumire's always been popular and Wakako knows nonchalance like the back of her hand. So when she says, "Hey Sumi, you told me to remind you to see sensei about that program being offered in Textiles, right?" Sumire immediately knows her best friend is giving her a way out of the idle chatter and beginning of the year gossip that the school girls always have.

"Right, thanks, 'kako."

Sumire waves at the other girls, smiles the smile she's practiced for weeks in the mirror and goes on a walk because her head is pounding and she just doesn't care about what they have to say right now.

She's surprised beyond belief when she sees Koko—Koko—at the table she first met him at, surrounded by smiling girls and Natsume, Ruka, Mikan, Anna and Hotaru. Of course, he's standing on his skateboard, his tie worn loosely around his neck and his blazer thrown somewhere on the ground, Sumire bets, and his white shirt already wrinkly and loose. He says something with a grin and the table erupts with laughter and Sumire can't help but think, he's doing so well without her and she's a wreck.

How ironic.

As if he can feel her and read her mind, his head snaps up and his smile freezes on his face. She feels her heart drop slightly to her feet when his smile comes back, strained and he waves half-heartedly in her direction.

"Sumire!" Mikan yelps, running over to her with Anna on her heels. "You know, for the high school uniform being such a weird color, you really do make it look good."

"You think?" Sumire tries to laugh, doing a little twirl and glancing in Koko's direction to see if he's looking.

He is looking at her and Sumire wonders about the huge leap that immediately comes to her heart. He looks away quickly in order to say something to Natsume that makes him grin and the girls to make a show of tittering.

"Anyway," Anna says, smiling and nudging her in the ribs, "Let's go over to the boys. You're not doing anything, are you Sumire?"

"No, I was just walking," she admits, letting Mikan drag her over by the hand until they're standing by the table. Koko keeps looking at her and with her tongue feeling heavy like metal, it's a wonder how she manages to get out the one word, "Hey."

This time, when Koko smiles, it's carefree and much like how he used to smile to her. "Hey, Sumire."

Sumire, not Permy.

She doesn't know if she's pleased or annoyed with the change.

She opens her mouth to say something, but one of the middle school girls she doesn't know beats her to the punch and says, "Koko, tell them what you told me about the middle school principal! It was so funny."

Mikan half howls an agreement and Koko sighs good-naturedly before starting a tale about creeping into the school to prepare a prank for the Opening ceremonies, only to be caught by the rather big-breasted middle school principal who proceeded to lecture him on the way to the office, only to end up having a heated debate with him about whether soup from China or Korea was better. She'd even forgotten all about him trying to ruin the school ceremonies.

Sumire merely shook her head, thinking, leave it to Koko to befriend the enemy.

They all have a good laugh before Anna says she has to go before she misses Misaki-sensei and Ruka and Hotaru, who had gotten much closer after he broke up with Nobara, went along with her along with two of the other middle school girls. Sumire thinks she's stayed her fill and should be leaving too.

Only she doesn't really want to.

She's forgotten what it feels like to be in his presence and it's calming and light and Sumire hasn't felt this way since… well, since their fight all those weeks ago. So she sits and listens to the other girls speaking to Natsume and Koko, even though Natsume just grunts and the girls then whirl around to talk to Koko but Sumire finds she doesn't even mind.

It's nice just to hear his voice.

"You okay?" Mikan says to her quietly, when Koko earns another chorus of laughter from his 'people'.

"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Sumire answers, not looking her in the face. Instead, she leans on her elbows and looks at the sky and wonders about things that she really has no business wondering about.

"You're sort of quiet and I don't know. I know you didn't talk to him and I didn't want to say anything about it but Sumire, you're going to regret it if it ends like it does. And it will end at this rate." Her voice is low and earnest, but Sumire just doesn't want to listen because as low as it is, she doesn't doubt that somebody will still hear.

"I'm fine with the way things are right now."

Mikan merely opens her mouth, indignant, before she closes it, glares at her and gets to her feet. "Fine, good luck with that." And the bell rings. Sumire watches as Mikan kisses Natsume lightly on the temple before she runs off toward the middle school building with the others following behind.

"For a stupid girl, she's right you know," Natsume tells her lightly.

Sumire wants the both of them to shut up, because they're perfect and they would never understand.

-;-

x.

Their encounters are much the same for the next two months before her birthday and she's convinced her parents to let her have free reign of the house for the night to have a party. Her parents refused after the first two tries, but after telling them they are allowed to check up on the place every two hours and that her brother would be home (which isn't exactly all lie), her parents concede and Sumire invites everybody that matters, and then some.

The party is booming by the time Koko, Natsume and Mikan walk into the room and by then, Sumire is hot, a bit sweaty and not entirely herself. She hasn't had anything to drink, but the adrenaline in the room is through the roof and Sumire thinks, what the hell? She's seventeen and she's going to be happy this year, dammit!

So without preamble, she grabs Mikan's wrist and gets her to dance amongst the group that's half jumping to the music on full blast, half dancing without really knowing what they're doing. All Sumire hears is Mikan's laughing voice in her ear and the race of her heart pounding in her ears.

From the corner of her eyes, she glimpses Natsume sitting bored on the couch, dangling a cup of punch in his hands and keeping his eyes on Mikan. Sumire takes pity on him and drops the girl off by the couch where she giggles and snuggles up to him. He raises an eyebrow at her, and Sumire merely shrugs and flounces into the kitchen to get something that isn't spiked.

She doesn't expect to see Koko lounging in the kitchen flirting with a girl who's dangling her feet off the counter.

"Oh Sumire, happy birthday, sweetie!" The girl, she realizes, is a gossipmonger that she couldn't not invite due to social reasons. Sumire wants to glare at her, but opts to smile. "Thanks, Miki. Glad you could make it."

Koko doesn't continue to speak to the girl and Sumire thinks it's because she's in the room and Koko doesn't want to 'work his magic' with her stifling presence in the kitchen. Yeah? Well, he's out of luck because Sumire has just realized just how hungry she is too.

After saying a few more words to Koko and another happy birthday to her, the girl saunters out of the room and Sumire thinks it's about time she take her head out of the refrigerator. She hums under her breath with an apple and some fruit juice in the carton.

"You're seventeen," Koko says simply, not condescending or enthusiastic. "How do you feel?"

She scrutinizes him, taking a bite out of the apple to give herself some time to think, and as if knowing the reason to her actions, Koko sits on the counter and waits patiently. His brown eyes are still brown, half smiling. He looks older and she would bet anything that he is far taller than she is now.

When she's finished chewing, Sumire tries for honesty. "I don't feel any different, to tell you the truth."

"Really?" Koko actually looks surprised. "Really. Huh. Great."

Sumire raises an eyebrow. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

"Would you rather the truth or a lie," Koko says cheekily, causing her to growl. He eyes her with a smirk and when she answers with the former, he replies, "I thought you were going to say the same thing you used to say to me all the time. That you were older, wiser, better, in high school, the works."

Sumire feels the indignation rise in her but she squashes it with a sigh. She's going to be happy this year. She promised herself. And frankly, she admits she's a little tired of being angry and sad about Koko. So she chuckles humorlessly and takes another bite of her apple. "So what have you been up to. We haven't talked in a while."

"Yeah, I've been skateboarding, hanging out with Natsume and Ruka—can you believe Ruka actually might have a thing for Imai? Meanwhile she's been seeing some kid who's eighteen. His name's Hayate or something and whoa, mind blown. I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone whenever Ruka shows those moon eyes in her direction."

Sumire laughs and he smiles before continuing, "I joined the soccer team. Natsume got me into it this summer and we've been playing everyday when we have the time. My parents have let up on the whole business thing so that's good, I guess. I had lots of time to practice with the ball and board." He pauses, and then peeks up from his eyelashes shyly. "I'm far better than the last time you watched me."

"You sure about that?" Sumire snorts. "Well, I guess I can't be surprised. The last time I watched you skate, you sucked. You had bruises all over your arms and legs and were on your back more than you were on the board."

"Har har. You weren't too perfect either. I remember you ate your lip chap at lunch onc—"

"That only happened once!"

"Twice at least." Koko replies immediately, as if already anticipating her reaction. "And you liked it. You even wore those really weird pants that showed your bellybutton and—"

"Okay, okaaay," Sumire wails, trying not to throw the apple core at his head. "I'm trying very hard to be witty right now, but I'm beginning to think slugging you in the face will suffice. You're such a stinker."

"But you missed me," Koko says confidently.

Sumire looks at him for a moment, taking in his messy brown hair and eyes, familiar grin and relaxed demeanor and admits it to herself. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."

He smiles at that, and Sumire feels her own lips tugging upwards with his.

-;-

xi.

She graduates in a few weeks, but she's not as excited as she thinks she should be. Wakako and she have always made a big deal about the next big milestone, but Sumire thinks she'll really miss this place. The teachers aren't too bad, the people, though most of them annoying, she'll kind of miss and her friends, well, that's a given. She hopes they won't stray too far once they all go their separate ways.

"How do you feel?" Mikan asks her, excited. She's wearing a very becoming summer dress with her long brown hair in a sloppy ponytail and Sumire thinks, at the back of her mind, if Mikan looks this pretty now sans make-up and not trying, she could look beautiful with.

Sumire shrugs and looks herself in the mirror.

Her long, dark green hair is down and curled and she's wearing a dress of her own in black. "I'm not that excited to graduate," she says honestly. "I think I'll miss you guys."

"We'll miss you too, you know," Mikan says softly, putting her hands on Sumire's shoulders and grinning at her through the mirror. "But you're all grown up and you've made it this far and I'm just so proud of you! Now let's go and celebrate! This might be the last time we have a big celebration with all of us!"

Sumire's smile turns into a smirk when Hotaru comes in with a tall, tall college boy and says, "You have two seconds to get out of this room before I leave you to catch your own ride."

The group arrives to the banquet hall in some plaza rented by the school and Sumire marvels briefly over the formal arrangements and the glimmering lights. Music is already playing and couples are already dancing and Sumire walks over to the side, pushing down the feeling of being a loner while Mikan coerces Natsume to dance, Wakako dances with some college boy she met two weeks before and even Imai dances with her boyfriend of ten months and almost jumps out of her skin when she feels a tap on her shoulder.

She tries to fight down the disappointment when she sees one of her classmates, Kaoru Nendo, instead of who she wants it to be. The disappointment hits her like a ton of bricks and she wonders, why do I even want it to be Koko? They're friends and she's fine with that.

Except most of her wasn't.

"Sumire, would you like to dance?"

She smiles and agrees, pretending all the while that he's somebody else.

"You looked comfortable with the creep," she hears Koko from the side and whirls around to find his unreadable eyes on her.

"Who? Nendo or Hoshino?"

"…You danced with Nendo, too?"

Sumire laughs and can't help but beam at him, sighing good-naturedly before holding out her hand. He looks at it blankly before looking into her eyes, back to her hand and back at her eyes before a pink tint appears on his cheeks. "Oh, me. Right."

She laughs again and they dance.

He is warm and so tall and it feels so right. She wonders how he knows how to dance, but right when she's about to comment on his ability, he misses a step and stomps on her toe and before she can cry out in pain, he mutters, "Shit. Sorry."

She looks up at him and he's looking at her sheepishly, half blushing, half grinning and her heart warms just at the sight of him. Her tongue feels thick in her mouth and Sumire wants to scream at herself because God, she feels the warmth pooling into her cheeks and that isn't supposed to happen.

"That's okay."

They dance through that first song, glide into the second and before they know it, they've lost count. All she knows is, she's glad something is going right.

-;-

xii.

The scene at graduation is much the same as it was for middle school with the family and friends in an uproar and Wakako at her side. Their grins are both wide enough to split their faces in two but they don't say a word to each other.

There are no words to explain the warm feeling blooming in both of their chests and the feeling of accomplishment gnawing at their bones. All Sumire is aware of is the ear-splitting celebratory shouts and the mass of faceless people in the crowd, cheering on her graduating class. It's enough to make her heart rattle in her chest.

After giving her parents a hug, her brother a kiss and taking pictures with her classmates, she walks up to Mikan and the old gang and smiles widely. She lifts up her arms and twirls around once, "Well? What do you think?"

"I can't believe they thought you were smart enough to graduate," Natsume piped in blandly, earning a sharp elbow in the gut and a chastising, Natsume. He merely shrugs and half smiles at her and Sumire rolls her eyes before pulling the obnoxious kid into a hug. "Miss you too, Natsume."

One hand pats her on the back but Natsume only replies with, "Whatever. Congrats."

"I say we celebrate!" Mikan exclaims, clapping her hands together and looking around at the group. "Where to? Dinner? Grandpa extended my curfew so I'm allowed to stay up 'til eleven thirty."

"Dinner sounds great. Just let me change out of these clothes and I'll be out in a second."

"You guys go on ahead. Just tell me where we're going and I'll drive Permy there when she's done." Sumire looks at Koko surprised, but everybody else has already nodded and decided on a place and she waits until they're all gone before she cocks an eyebrow at him. "You don't mind?"

He shakes his head and half smiles at her. "Nah, I never mind."

They're walking to the school when Koko tells her to wait a second and Sumire turns to look at him, only to see that he's not even a step away and is looking at her with intense brown eyes. He reaches with one of his hands and Sumire stiffens when he plucks the necklace that's hidden in her graduation gown.

A smile touches his lips and Koko fingers the pendant, tracing the words Sumire's memorized by now and then plucks another gift from his pocket, much like the carefully wrapped gift she'd gotten from him a few years ago.

His smile is kind when he takes her hand and places the gift in her palm. "Congratulations, you're done."

She opens the gift almost giddily and smiles when she pulls an almost identical necklace from out of the box. Her smile falters but she looks up at him and thanks him nonetheless, pulling him into a tight hug that makes her want to cry and never let him go. "Thanks, Koko. I'm just going to change and I'll be right out."

He smiles and nods and she ducks into the school almost wailing when she's on the other side of the doors.

Because his first necklace says, "I love you."

But the second says, "We'll always be friends."

And Sumire just wants to cry and scream because she has nobody to blame but herself for this.

She was a fool to believe he'd wait for her.


When I said there was a crack pairing last chapter, I meant the RukaNobara, not the SumireKoko.
Thanks for reading. :)