Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Tachibana Higuchi. The plot is mine.
Author's Note: I edited this. I had such a bad problem with parallelism, I'm surprised nobody pointed it out. This will be three chapters, I think. Yeah.
Shaken, Not Stirred
Happy birthday, sweets. :)
YOU THOUGHT I FORGOT DIDN'T YOU?
I know Ruka means well.
When does Ruka not mean well? He's kind and patient. Hell, I know him better than a lot of people. We've been friends for almost two years now and we've always gotten along freakishly well. It makes me laugh every time I think about it, but we have even tried the whole dating thing. Our friends always teased us about being the Golden couple and we just figured why not?
It lasted all but two weeks.
It just made things completely weird and other than the odd peck on the cheek, I never felt comfortable about the idea of actually kissing him. One day we just looked at each other, laughed and said, "What the hell are we doing?"
Ruka and I are better off as friends.
It's natural. It's what we know and to be honest, I kind of hated how things were when we were 'dating'. Thank God we didn't tell many people about it.
Don't get me wrong, I like Ruka. I really do.
But to be honest, Ruka has never been much of my type.
As cliché as it may sound, I liked the tall, dark and handsome.
This is not to be mistaken for 'tall and creepy' like the Hair-Sniffer from Charlie's Angels or Mr. Serio. There is a fine line, my friends, a fine line indeed. To make it a little clearer, I really can't get enough of the 'strong and silent' type.
The shaken, not stirred.
I want somebody that will look at me and is able to say more than he could ever say with just one look. I want somebody I can depend on. As cliché as it may sound, I want somebody that looks like he doesn't need anybody in the world… but despite that, he wants me by his side.
Maybe I'm just being an idiot.
Maybe my standards are too high.
Maybe I'll meet a guy just like that someday and realize my hopes were all for not. Maybe he will end up acting like a brother would. I don't want to think about that possibility.
"You look like you're going to vomit."
I smile up at Ruka, too brightly. "…Maybe because you're setting me up with somebody I don't know?" I shake my head. "I can't believe we're doing this. This is the kind of horrifying thing that happens in bad movies, Ruka-pyon."
He snorts, looking at me like I've grown an extra head. "I'm not setting you up with someone. We're all just… going out as friends. Yeah."
"Okay. Because that's exactly what happens when you invite some kid you think I might like while I set you up with the girl of your dreams. When I meet with this guy, you're going to end up ditching me to sweep Hotaru to some amusement park or something and leave me to my own devices. Am I getting this right so far?"
It's very satisfying seeing Ruka blush to the tips of his ears. The adorable thing about Ruka is that, despite being one of the best looking boys in Alice Academy and constantly being told so, he's still modest and gets embarrassed all too easily.
He opens his mouth to protest before he purses his lips. Scowling, he elbows me playfully, "Shut up, Mikan." He runs a hand through his hair uneasily and breathes out a broken breath. "Just… if somebody asks, we're not going on blind dates. It's kind of weird."
"You're the one who suggested it."
Because he was.
He practically tackled me over last week at volleyball practice to ask me if it was true. Did you really befriend the new girl? Hotaru Imai. To be honest, she looked like a really cool girl. She had transferred to Alice Academy two months ago and it had taken me three weeks to realize she sat two rows away from me in Math and five weeks to work up the courage to talk to her.
Because Hotaru Imai is a piece of work.
The first time I talked to her, she stared me down for two minutes–with the prettiest violet eyes I've ever seen–before she looked back to her tray and continued eating like I wasn't even there.
She's quiet. Better yet, she just doesn't like talking. But that isn't it either. Hotaru Imai has this kind of no-nonsense aura that makes you think she just doesn't want to waste the time to talk to you. It's a little intimidating, but more entertaining than anything. I think that's why I like her so much. She's just… so cool…maybe in a blunt kind of way.
I remember thinking she was mean, but after the fourth day of trying to make conversation with her at lunch, she put her chopsticks down forcefully, looked up with one of her blank expressions and narrowed her eyes. "Why are you talking to me? Do I look like I'm interested in talking about the mutant chicken at Alice University?"
I'd pouted and proceeded to spill juice down my shirt.
We've been friends ever since.
She is blunt, critical and incredibly choosy.
But despite her difficult behavior, Hotaru Imai is beautiful. I'm pretty certain she knows it, too. It's hard not to. She has beautiful cheekbones that emphasize her soft, pale skin, not to mention she's tall and slim. She has a heart-shaped face and her dark hair only serves to accentuate just how porcelain she looks. If she could force a smile on her face, she would have all of the boys on their knees in an instant.
But Hotaru has smiled a total of two times since I've met her and both times happen to involve me making a complete fool of myself.
And it doesn't surprise me much that while I sit talking with Sumire in Psychology, Ruka has been enchanted by the stoic Imai in Chemistry. When he found out I was one of the very few who were friends with Hotaru Imai—who am I kidding, I'm Hotaru's only friend—he'd hinted none too subtly that I should tell her to hang out with us so that we could get to know her better!
I may not be smart but I'm not stupid.
As we approach Tokyo Square—the meeting spot—I immediately pick out Hotaru. She's sitting stiffly on one of the stone benches in front of the fountain with her hands folded in her lap and she's frowning. I think she might be glaring at the little kids running around the base of the fountain.
"Do you see her?" I hiss and nudge Ruka in the arm.
"Of course I can see her," he inhales sharply. "What do you think I am, blind? I'm trying not to start hyperventilating."
I pat him on the back and slow down when he slows down.
I can tell when he needs a good pep talk. "Don't worry about this, Ruka-pyon. You can do it. I already told you what she likes. What were they again?"
He opens and closes his fists like he's trying to grab something. I know he only does this when he's nervous. "Crab roe, photography and technology. Her parents own Imai-Tech and she has a robot called Amanatsu."
"Good. Here's a treat: she doesn't like it when you call her Hotaru when you first meet—God knows, she Horse-shoed my eye when I did—" Ruka makes a noise in question but I wave him off. "—She travels a lot. She went to China and Korea in the past two years and she likes mature guys. Apparently she dated some college guy named Hayate before he started being clingy and smack-talked one of the inventions in her room and before ya know it, he got kicked to the curb—"
"Mikan, stop!" Ruka puts his hands up to cover his ears. "You're starting to make me panic. I don't think I—nope… I can't do it. Nope, I just can't."
"This was a bad idea. I knew it. I just knew it—"
I pull him down and put my hands on his cheeks so that he's looking straight at my eyes. His eyes are wild. "Repeat after me: My name is Ruka Nogi. I am strong, handsome and girls want me."
His cheeks move under my hands and he rolls his eyes. "I'm not going to say—"
"Say it, Ruka-pyon!"
"…My name is Ruka Nogi. I am strong, handsome and girls… girls—really Mikan? Wha—fine, fine. I am strong, handsome and girls… want me."
"Good," I nod. "Now say: Hotaru Imai is a girl—" I ignore the dirty look he sends me. "—therefore, Hotaru Imai wants me."
Begrudgingly, "Hotaru Imai is a girl, therefore Hotaru Imai wants me."
"Now say, Mikan Sakura is the greatest—"
He snorts and I release his head with a smirk. "Feel better?"
He pouts slightly before grinning. "Trust you to make me feel better by making me feel like an idiot first."
I look at him with wide eyes. "You're welcome. Now go get her, Tiger!"
He grins again and starts a hasty half-walk half-jog toward her.
I decide to give him a moment for himself and walk around Tokyo Square. I love it. What's not to love, really? It's beautiful during the day, but even more beautiful during the night. When night falls, all of the pigeons are gone and the fountain and the gardens are bathed in lights. Christmas is coming soon and my favorite thing is walking to Tokyo Square to find it filled with greens, reds and blues.
I tilt my face back, close my eyes and breathe in the crisp October air.
When I open my eyes, I see him.
My first instinct is to swear but my brain and my mouth have apparently short circuited because when my brain says curse, my mouth says, "Nnngh."
One of his hands is in his jeans pockets and he's standing over one of the stone benches overlooking the fountain. I think his friends are with him. They're laughing, and he's smirking with his black bangs in his face, and I don't know what it is that's got me staring… but I am. From where I'm standing, he's not a model. For heaven's sake, I can barely even see his face.
But I feel a… pull towards him, like if given the chance, something miraculous could happen to us.
Ugh, I want to vomit in my own mouth.
This is pathetic.
My brain is telling me to turn away before the boy catches me staring but my eyes won't move. I pinch myself to get me going and when I turn to look at Ruka and Hotaru, I'm momentarily distracted.
I snort when I see Ruka blushing, rocking on the heels of his feet and smiling that shy smile of his. I walk over to grin at him teasingly but he doesn't even see me.
"HI HOTARU." I throw my arms around her shoulders.
She grumbles something under her breath and tries to push me off to no avail. There is an edge of annoyance in her voice, "Get off of me, stupid." I grin over one of her shoulders and raise my eyebrows at Ruka. She likes me better. He merely rolls his eyes, but I can see that his blush has faded and he's looking around the square.
I kiss Hotaru quickly on the cheek—because I know it will bug the crap out of her—and then let her go, still smiling. "So. What's up you two?"
"Mikan," Ruka grins with a sharp gleam to his eyes, "—come meet your…friend for the day."
I'm surprised he doesn't say 'date' but he's already heading in the direction of The Guy and I have a feeling something bad is going to happen. You know that sinking feeling you have in your stomach, like your stomach is shrinking and being sucked slowly down to your feet? That's the feeling I have. And it's making me sort of light-headed.
"When he leaves like that, he expects you to follow him," Hotaru says primly, brushing her skirt of imaginary dust and then clasping her hands together in her lap. "Nogi was just telling me this wasn't a date."
I jerk my eyes away from Ruka's disappearing figure and look at her. I blink, "He said that to you? Really?"
She looks at me from the corner of her eyes and shrugs. "He's an idiot," she mutters. "He greeted me and then shouts that this isn't a date."
I raise my eyebrows. "Wow. Oh, Ruka-pyon… you are so smooth."
Hotaru snorts. "Tell me this isn't a blind date."
"It's not…" She looks at me as if I'm an idiot, "… for you. You know Ruka-pyon! I, on the other hand, am being set up with one of Ruka's friends and—there he goes. See that? He has that impatient jerk in his arm again." I grin at Hotaru and pat her on the shoulder. "Try not to break his heart, hm? You might like him."
She shrugs nonchalantly and I smile before heading in Ruka's direction.
He's talking to The Guy.
My stomach does that thing again.
"Mikan, meet your… friend!" Ruka says exaggeratedly, throwing his arm over my shoulder and grinning when I walk up. I look up at The Guy almost expectantly, but he's looking away and it's only then that I realize I'm looking at the wrong person. "Koko, this is Mikan. Mikan, this is Koko. He's one of my closest friends. He goes to Z Academy on the other side of Tokyo. Koko, Mikan goes to Alice Academy with me."
A boy with dark blonde hair, almost brown, stands up from the stone bench and looks down on me, slightly, with a wide, boyish grin that reminds me of the Cheshire cat. He looks friendly and he's definitely cute. He tucks one of his hands in his pocket and with the other, he extends with a smile. "Hi, Mikan. You're cute."
I'm already reaching out to shake his hand and his statement makes my smile freeze on my face.
He takes my hand and his grin widens. "Was that rude? It's true, though."
Ruka laughs from behind me. "Koko doesn't have a filter. He says whatever comes to mind." My eyes are wide and staring at the boy before me who still has my hand in his. "It tends to get him in trouble. He's really no harm, though."
I open my mouth wondering what the heck I am getting myself into. "Uhm, thank you?"
Ruka pats me on the shoulder and claps his hands together like his life's mission is complete. "Okay! Well, this has been fun, but my… friend is waiting over there and I kind of want to impress her so," he looks at Koko and me and purses his lips, "I really don't know what you guys are going to do and to be honest, I don't really care. Hotaru Imai is on a… hangout with me and I have to go. Koko, Mikan likes sweets. Mikan…" He shrugs, "Koko's Koko. He likes anything. Thanks again, guys, and have fun!"
He's off like a shot.
I blink and wonder what the heck just happened.
I think it's only a few seconds later that I realize I'm standing here with a guy I don't know with The Guy I want to know and two other guys that look like they want to know me.
I try to smile. "So… hi."
Koko grins and suddenly looks at the two boys behind him. "Oh, I should probably introduce you to my friends, shouldn't I?" Koko is still standing by my side and holding my hand. "Mikan, this is Kitsuneme and Kaname." The two blondes sitting on the bench smile and one even waves a little. Then Koko tugs on my hand to shift me to The Guy. "And this is Natsume."
I think it's the way he says it—and this is Natsume—that makes my heart speed up. It's like he's left the best for last and after hearing his name, the boy who's turned away looking at the fountain turns his head to look at me and to quote Usher, Oh My God.
His eyes are dark red and look clouded in a way that makes me think he's looking at me with an intensity I've never seen before…
His voice snaps me out of my thoughts. "…Who are you?"
Whoever you want me to be.
I think I should be offended. I mean, Ruka was here not even two minutes ago introducing me to his friends and the whole time, he was so out of it, he hadn't even noticed. It's so flattering to know that while I'm busy ogling your hair and jaw, you're busy not caring… but I'm too flummoxed to process it all properly.
I smile at him shyly. "Hi, I'm Mikan Sakura."
He looks at me for a second, blinks once, and then settles a burning gaze on me. I want to shift where I'm standing but I realize, vaguely, that Koko is still holding onto my hand and I don't want to look like an idiot. Even more.
But then he turns away, looks at Koko and says a sentence that makes me still, "Is this the girl you wanted us to help you bail from?"
In a flash, Koko's hand is out of mine and he's grinning while pushing Natsume away. "He's just kidding," Koko laughs, patting Natsume on the chest and swinging an arm around his shoulder and pulling him down by the neck. He probably thinks he's being quiet, but I can hear Koko muttering, "Okay, rain check. You guys can boot it, the date's still on. Mikan isn't what I expected from Ru—"
I think I blush and I look at the two boys sitting on the bench with a shy grin.
The one named Kaname smiles kindly. "You seem like a nice girl, Mikan. Please pretend you didn't hear what Natsume said earlier."
"No tact at all," Kitsuneme agrees, shaking his head. He looks me over and nods. "When Ruka asked us to go on a date with a friend from his school, we thought she was going to be one of the cases he dumped on us because he was too nice to say no." Kitsuneme tilts his head slightly and smiles, "But you're prettier than those other girls. I wouldn't mind going on a date with you." He turns to talk to Kaname, "Maybe we shouldn't have rigged it so that Koko got the shorter stick."
I don't know whether I should be flattered or not. I shake my head wryly, "Gee thanks," I mutter. "It's nice to find out you guys wanted to get rid of me." I smile to show them I'm kidding and Kitsuneme grins back widely.
I glance over my shoulder to see Natsume scowling and Koko leaning his head down to speak to him. When I look back at Ksquared, Kaname smiles charmingly, stands up and offers his elbow to me. Uncertainly, I look over at Koko and bite my lip.
"Don't worry. While they're arguing, I'll take you to get some ice cream," Kaname offers with a charming smile.
"I want some too!"
Four boys and one me… it's going to be a long day.
The day is not a complete disaster, which is somewhat surprising.
We end up eating ice cream at a store not too far from the square and Kitsuneme calls Koko on his phone to tell him where we are. The minute Natsume steps into the store, I freeze and he looks at me once before telling the three boys he won't be sticking around.
He doesn't even say goodbye to me when he leaves and though I end up spending the day with three good looking blondes, wandering around Tokyo before catching a movie, I can't help but think about the boy with the night colored hair and eyes as dark as liquid lava.
Oddly, it disappoints me that he didn't want to stick around.
I knew I should have dressed a little more girly.
I remember Ruka calling me the day after to apologize for ditching me with his friends. He proceeded to tell me he ended up spilling a drink on Hotaru and spending the day apologizing, paying for her dry cleaning and buying her a sundress.
He sounded so distraught on the phone, I couldn't help but laugh.
Thirteen days have passed since then and I'd be lying if I said I thought about Natsume for all of those thirteen days. But since exams are coming up, teachers have stopped giving homework to give us time to study. Between studying—or trying to—volleyball and Sumire and Hotaru, I'll see something red and see his eyes or catch a scowl and think about him.
It's stupid. I know.
"Mikan, heads up!"
I almost don't catch the volleyball that's heading straight to my face.
I know before I hear Serina-sensei's irate voice that I'm in for another lecture. "Sakura! Come here. Now."
I throw the ball back into the warm-up exercise and trudge over to the coach, Serina. She's strict and unforgiving and doesn't forget a thing. I remember one game where I was distracted by something in the sidelines—probably some kid with a bag of peanuts, who knows—and missed a set and she grilled me about it for months.
I can feel the blood drain from my face when she sets her hands on her hips.
"What was that?" Before I can answer, she holds up a hand to stop me. "Don't even bother giving me some poor excuse, Sakura. You're hitter. Opposite hitter. You can't just screw up easy sets like that!" Before I can say anything in my defense, she's looking at her clipboard with a frown on her face. She looks up after a moment to raise her eyebrow. "What are you doing still standing there? Get back into the exercise, Sakura. I don't call you co-captain for nothing. Get back on the court and show me why you want to be on this goddamn team!"
She makes me feel like an idiot.
I get back onto the court and shake out my legs as I watch the other girls volley amongst each other. Luna sidles up to me and raises her brow. Nonchalantly, she asks, "Coach being a boar again?"
I shrug. "It's Serina. When she's married to him, can you really blame her?"
The both of us smirk before she settles into her position and I settle into my line-up. She's the libero, so she leads all of the exercises. We get along surprisingly well, but I suppose we have to: we're co-captains of the senior girl's volleyball team. It surprises people to hear that we're both juniors.
When I reach the front of the line, she hits a sharp shot to our setter and I catch the set with an easy flick of my wrist. The sound of elastic against the gym floor is satisfying, and loud.
I smirk at Coach, who merely looks back at her clipboard.
Sumire is picking her nails in the stands when I walk over. The game is about to start soon and my muscles are elastic enough that I don't want to overplay before the game even starts. Her voice is bored, "I really don't know why I go to your games," she doesn't look up. "It's not like you don't dominate every time."
"It's because you're such a good friend," I say dryly, greeting Hotaru with a nudge in the arm. "If you want, you can skip out for the first set and get me a sandwich instead. I'm starving."
Sumire looks up with a twist to her lips. "Didn't you eat already, you pig?"
Defensive, "I had to cram for the science final today!"
She sends me an I'm-not-stupid look. "I saw you eating, you boar…"
I purse my lips at her and frown. "I didn't say I didn't eat. I'm saying I'm still hungry."
I groan and turn to get ready for the first set of the match when Hotaru's voice stops me. I think I almost cry in thanks. "I'm hungry too," she says from over the top of her novel.
Which basically means she's going to buy me food!
I return to the court in a happier mood.
"I think I pulled a muscle in my ass."
I look over at Luna who rubs her butt and frowns. "Probably would've been smart to stretch."
"You think?" I snort, watching as the other team serves over. We're halfway through the first set, I'm sweating in places that make me cringe and Hotaru still hasn't returned with food.
I'm not in a good mood at all.
I smack the ball angrily over the net and am only mildly surprised the receiver on the other side is able to keep it up in the air. "Maybe you should think about that and stop macking on Kuonji from underneath the soccer bleachers, Fat Lip."
Luna curses when the ball bumps off the corner of her arm and I save it from going out with another smack of my hand. The ball lands in and I can vaguely hear Sumire's half-hearted whoop. "If you'd stop talking about my boyfriend, I could concentrate better, Streak."
I grin at her when we come in for high fives. "Yeah, because you know I'd pass up the chance to make fun of you for dating Coach's husband's little brother."
She pinches me roughly and shushes me, looking around like some sort of criminal. "Nobody knows that, okay? Shut up before Serina hears you! She'll make my life a living hell!"
I roll my eyes and get back into position. "Yeah, because you didn't make out with him in public. I swear, when you found out Kuonji was Persona's brother, I would've thought that'd turn you off."
She ignores me and when we win the first set, she smacks me in the arm mock angrily. "He's cute though, Persona relation or not."
"I still think it's freaky."
"Your thighs are freaky."
I look down and glimpse thighs with extremely short volleyball shorts.
"Shut up, jerk."
Coach ushers us in to mock us on our performances and it's another busy huddle with loud voices, giggles and jabs as we all try to fit into the circle. Serina is explaining something to the setter and I don't know what possesses me to look up, but I do.
And I look right into red eyes, a lean body and the smile that alights on my face almost makes my cheeks hurt.
Until I see the incredibly beautiful girl tucked into his side.
Of course, he's taken.