Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Tachibana Higuchi. The rest is mine.
Author's Note: I just wanted to say Happy Birthday to Mikan and Happy New Years to everybody the only way I know how. With a story. :) This is a new kind of writing style for me, so tell me if you like it, hate it or how I could have done better. I'll love you for it, really. It's long, so beware.
You remember the first time you see him.
The crowd parts down the middle for him, as if it makes way for your green gaze. The lights even seem to be shining extra bright overhead, highlighting his lean figure in a perfect black tuxedo and the soft glow of his skin.
There's something about him that draws you, but you can't quite put your finger on it. The soft music from the orchestra lulls softly at the back of your mind and the chatter from around you seems to dull as you continue to watch. Vaguely, Wakako's voice is still registering shadows around your mind but nothing holds your attention now that you've seen him.
You don't realize you're unconsciously twirling the glass of champagne softly in your hand until the liquid spills minutely, soaking into your gloves, and startles you from your reverie. Before you can tear your eyes away from him, though, he lifts his head up.
You almost drop your champagne glass entirely.
You've never thought to call a man 'beautiful' before, but 'hot' is too vulgar and 'handsome' doesn't quite have the right sentiment to it. He's beautiful, with his dark eyes, dark hair and knife point bone structure. You realize you've been appraising his stature for far longer than appropriate, but now that you've seen his face, everything comes together in the furious pitter patter of your heart.
Somebody claims his attention and he leans his head down, very slightly, to listen.
Your heart is still going a mile a minute, though he is no longer facing you, and you don't realize you're trying to catch your breath until Wakako asks if you're all right.
Who is he, you wonder.
The possibility someone like him could fly under the radar is slim, very slim, especially in your society. You think about waiting for somebody to point him out. You don't like the thought of degrading yourself enough to inquire about him, but you can't hold your curiosity at bay and before you can stop yourself, you're nodding your head in his direction, "Know the new kid?"
Wakako hisses appreciatively when she glimpses your muse. "No, but I'll find out. Damn, he's hot."
Before long, you discover his name: Natsume Hyuuga.
You're right about one thing: he's new in your society. His parents had owned a large plot of land in the countryside and it wasn't long ago that he'd discovered a wealth of oil just underneath the surface. His mother had died long ago and his father is unwell. Natsume Hyuuga is an amateur entrepreneur quickly making his mark on society. His discovery of oil only helped with his business plans.
Even though he isn't from a family of old money, if anything, that makes him more desirable.
You also find out he's single.
You try to hide your smile by downing the rest of your champagne with the grace ingrained in you since childhood and the ease of a woman that knows exactly what she wants.
The next time you see him, it is at your father's country club and the sight of him sends a thrill of excitement up your spine. Following the Winter Charity Ball, you'd made several inquiries about Natsume Hyuuga and the more you find out about him, the more you want him and you've never been denied anything you've ever wanted.
That was quite a few weeks ago, though, so seeing him now, so suddenly, is a welcome treat in your eyes. His black slacks hang off his hips in a way that makes you swallow thickly and the button up he wears isn't exactly buttoned all the way up. He looks delectable and you down your drink quickly before quickly brushing your skirt off and walking up to him.
He has two companions with him, one is a brunette and the other is a blond, but your eyes are only for him. He doesn't even see you until the brunette clears his throat none too subtly and nods in your direction. You're grateful to him when Natsume turns around and fixes you with startling maroon eyes. You didn't get a good look at his eye color that night, many weeks ago. He was at the other end of the room at the time. But now that you see them, you can't help but swallow and become shy.
"Hello," your voice is but a whisper.
You almost double take when he scowls at you. "Yes. Was there something I could help you with?" His tone is impatient and oh so masculine.
The blond coughs in a way that sounds more like a snort.
"Yes, hello. My name is Sumire Shouda. This is my father's country club, you see, and I've never seen you gentlemen before. I would greatly appreciate an introduction." You smile your most charming smile and watch for any signs of attraction or seduction. Natsume shows nothing. You try again. "I would hate to miss an opportunity to meet with father's friends."
Natsume frowns, "I'm not friends with your fa—"
"His name is Natsume Hyuuga," his companion steps in. He's the one with the brown hair. "He's quite the charmer, as you can tell. This here is Ruka Nogi. And I," he pauses slightly, sporting a wide, friendly grin, "—am Kokoro Yome. Everybody calls me Koko, though."
"It's a pleasure to meet you three," you smile once again at Natsume. He's not looking at you, though. Instead, his whole body is turned so that only his profile is apparent—and what a wonderful profile it is—and you watch him for a minute, quietly, before attempting to see what has caught his attention.
You see nothing but the outdoor pool, lounge chairs and a handful of trees with barely ripe oranges.
The blond, Ruka, smiles a pitying smile your way that makes a tight knot twist in your stomach.
You storm away from the trio before you can make a fool out of yourself again.
You should have known it was too good to be true, when two days later, he approaches you cautiously with an apology in the form of a flute of champagne.
It's Tonouchi Akira's fifth wedding and he's invited the world, it seems. Many have placed bets on the length of this new marriage. You think they'll last less than five months before Tono's caught a new girl and divorces the old one. You whisper this conspiratorially with your friends before Wakako freezes and his voice says calmly, "I don't know about that… Shizune Yamanouchi has quite a hold on him. If we're placing bets, I think they'll last for years."
You turn around with fire in your eyes and melt at the warm simmer of ashes in his. His eyes are so beautiful and once again, he looks dashing in a black tuxedo and his hair in an effortless mess. You sip your champagne and turn determinedly away from him.
Your friends desert you with giggles when he sighs and says, "I was in a bad mood at your father's country club."
"That's a pathetic apology," you sniff, turning slightly to see his reaction.
His lips thin. "It wasn't an apology."
"Then I'd like an apology if you wish to speak to me further," you bait. You like it when boys chase you, and you wish fervently that Natsume takes the bait. Your heart sinks desperately when he shrugs and takes a step to turn.
Your hand is on his elbow in a flash and his cell phone slips from his pocket. In a flash, he's caught the cell phone charm and the phone hangs safely above the ground. He tucks it back into his jacket, not before you see the small tangerine hanging off the end. You look up at him curiously and your temper spikes just a smidge at the smirk on his face. If he wasn't so handsome…You just want him to talk to you. Is that so much to ask? You wait a second longer to take your hand away from him and put on your most dazzling smile. "I forgive you, Natsume."
He opens his mouth but you cut him off before he can so much as begin to say otherwise. "So you think Tono and Shizune will last forever, do you? Tono is an infamous playboy. I don't think they advertise that back in Japan. Shizune is his fifth wife and honestly, she's a nobody. He's going to get bored of her before the honeymoon is over."
You watch as his eyes narrow, very slightly. "I never told you I was from Japan."
"You're in our world now, Natsume. People talk," you save yourself. Frankly, you don't want him to think you're an easy girl. You don't want him to know you're interested. Not so soon.
But the look on his face makes you think he already knows.
"Well, Ms. Shouda—" you blanch at the way he says your name "—you haven't met Ms. Yamanouchi, have you? Do you make it a habit to judge people before you get to know them?"
You bite your lip before snarking, "Who says I haven't met her? Aren't you judging me? You don't even know me."
"Judging and assuming are two very different families," he says smoothly. "And I've made assumptions on very eye-opening observations. Would you like me to detail your degrading whispers and that 'nobody' comment from earlier to present my case?"
"No, thank you," you say through gritted teeth. Natsume Hyuuga is an asshole, you decide, but you still want him. Your anger is temporary, you know, because you think with his brains and looks and your charm and beauty, you would be good together. Perfect, even. You still want him.
He blinks and it isn't until he says in a quiet, dark voice, "What did you just say?" that you realize you said everything out loud.
Without shame, but a small blush on your cheeks, you lift your chin up in determination. "You heard me."
It is probably the most liberating thing you've ever said in your life. You feel like a weight has been lifted from your chest and shoulders and your heart has the biggest smile on it. You feel warm.
Until he looks into your eyes and shakes his head. "I don't like you."
Your heart drops, but you're determined. "You haven't even given me a chance! I'm just asking for a chance. Have you judged me already, Natsume? Didn't you just say that you should get to know someone before you judge them? Because the girl you think you know isn't actually who I am. I can prove that to you. Just give me a chance."
He looks at you, almost desperately, or as desperately as he's ever looked before, and shakes his head again. "You don't understand," he says lowly, red eyes firm, "I promise you now that no matter how many chances you have, or how much time I spend with you, I will not fall in love with you."
Your thoughts are moving a mile a minute and you can only force out three words, "Tell me why."
Natsume's eyes seem to glaze over and soften for a moment, before he straightens and says, "I can't."
This time, he's the one that storms away.
You watch, confused, until he disappears into the throng of elites.
You tell your father about him.
If you're being honest, you tell him because you secretly hope your father will offer Natsume some kind of assistance in his desire to make his already prosperous business really flourish. You want to spend time with him. You want to prove to him that you can be whatever he wants you to be.
You like him so so much.
A few weeks later, you walk into your father's building and see Natsume talking to the receptionist. The familiar thrill you get when he sees you makes your heart want to jump out of your chest.
He frowns when he sees you.
"Hello, Natsume," you say as you preen in one of your best dresses. The blue dress you're wearing brings out your eyes, you know, and you hope that he gets lost in them the same way you are with his. Needless to say, he barely tosses you a glance before he makes his way to the elevator and jabs at the 47th floor.
It's your father's floor.
"You don't have to be rude, you know," your tone is offhand.
"I don't know what you're playing at," Natsume's voice is firm, "—but stop. I'm not interested and in the end, I'm not the one who will get hurt. That'll be you. So save yourself some heartache and stop stalking me."
"I have no idea what you're talking about and I'd appreciate it if you stopped assuming the world revolved around you. Now, let's start over. How are you doing today? You're looking especially—"
He jabs the stop button on the elevator and it jars to a halt, making you wobble on your three inch heels. You catch, rebalance and compose yourself in time for him to whirl around with fierce red eyes that make you shiver and swallow. He's so—
He inhales once before fixing you with his eyes. "Will you stop being stupid?"
"You know, you're very rude—"
"Haven't I made myself clear?" Natsume runs a hand through his hair. He looks lost and tormented, and you'd be lying if you didn't think he looked especially beautiful. "What can I say to get you to stop making a fool of yourself?"
"Give me a chance. I just want a chance," you say quickly, truthfully.
He looks heavenward, as if asking for some divine assistance, and doesn't get it. "I've already told you—" he closes his eyes and they flash coldly when he opens them once more. "You wanted the truth, didn't you? That night, you asked for it and I told you I couldn't. You wanted it so bad? Well here it is." His jaw clenches. "You're a nice enough girl, Shouda. You're not completely stupid and you're persistent and in time, maybe I could have liked you. That's all. I could have liked you. I could have liked you enough to marry you, which I know is what you want, but only if I hadn't met her."
His eyes soften and the anger almost completely melts until his eyes are smooth red, like cooling lava. "Maybe it would have been better if I met you first. If I'd met you first, everything would be less complicated. But I didn't. I met her first and she'll always be the only one. I can't settle for anybody but her. She's stubborn and kind and strange, but beautiful. She's naïve and stupid and patient and determined. She's everything and she's timeless and she has to be mine. She is mine and I've left her waiting. The faster things settle here, the faster I can go back to her. I love her. Why do you look so scandalized? This is what you wanted, isn't it? The reason I could never love you. It's her. I have her. And I don't want anything else."
There's quiet before you choke out. "Who is she?"
The malevolence is back in his voice when he scoffs, "She's somebody you'd label a 'nobody'."
The words sting more than you thought they would and you are barely aware you're shaking. "Tell me why you're saying all of this!"
"You wanted this," his voice is a cool calm.
"This is cruel."
"Would you rather I let you pine after me? Would you rather let me use you? I'm letting you know, here and now, why I am seeing your father and it's up to you whether or not you want to be who you want to be. There's a decision you have to make, and you know it as clearly as I do. A word of advice, Shouda… don't kid yourself. I'm not who you thought I'd be. You would have discovered it in time but I'm saving you a little effort. So just—"
The phone in the elevator rings, but neither you nor he are startled.
He closes his eyes, turns swiftly and answers in a smooth voice. "Hello…yes, I've got another lady here with me but the elevator was acting up so I stopped it for a moment. I'll try it again…yes…thank you… Of course. Goodbye, then."
You watch as he starts the elevator again and the rest of the ride up is quiet.
You're still shaking.
The ding of the elevator prompts the both of you off and you watch with numb eyes as your father greets him at the door. He lifts his head and your father tilts his head slightly, as if to ask, are you all right? You nod and force a smile on your face before waiting for him to close the door. The soft click has you running to the elevator, jabbing desperately at the button and wishing Natsume hadn't been so cruel.
Because despite all of that, you still like him.
But you won't tell your father about his harsh words or his rejection. Because the look in his eyes and the frustration in his voice have you wanting to help him in any way you can, even if it means he'll be with her. Whoever she is. The girl that has taken him away from you.
And somewhere deep inside you, a dark part of you laughs and says you never had him in the first place, and you never will.
A few months pass and you continue to smile adoringly at Natsume at family dinners and the frequent times you see him at father's office, country club or at the multiple soirees held for charity and the elite. You can't help it. He's charming and intelligent, persistent and strong.
You've discovered so much about him.
He used to smoke, but quit for six years. He is twenty three years old. He played a handful of sports in school and has a strange fixation for oranges.
The more you're around him, the more you fall, just like you knew you would.
And he's continued to be indifferent to your feelings, just like he said he would.
He looks at you in a different light, you think, but you can't quite say what. You know he doesn't like you. You know now that he will never like you, but being around him is enough and you take each moment and cling on until your hands are hurting along with your heart.
He comes to you while you're on the balcony of some rich man's house. The party is still going strong inside, so you wonder why he is out here. He has got a mansion of people to entertain. He has realized what he came to America to realize and in a week, he will be back in Japan, where he's dreamed about being since the day he stepped foot on American soil. You toss back the champagne glass, wishing it was something harder.
You rest your elbows against the balcony edge and watch him underneath your eyelashes, fake but beautiful on you. He is wearing a tuxedo again and his slightly slicked back hair from earlier is how it usually is. You like it better when it isn't full of products. He is beautiful the way he is. In his hand is a flute of champagne that he dangles around for show. In the time you've spent with him, you've found that he never consumes alcohol in front of people, if ever.
That's another thing you like about him.
You try to smile. "Hello, Natsume."
He inclines his head just slightly before moving to stand beside you. He stares at the darkness with quiet, serene eyes that make your heart warm.
"Thank you, Shouda," he says at last in a voice so low you barely hear him.
You sigh. "What for?"
He gives you a pointed look. "Do we really have to get into this? You know what you've done and I'm grateful for it."
"Rude until the end, aren't you?" You sigh, turning around to face the sky. "I'd like you to detail this. Maybe I wouldn't feel so crappy once you've finished."
He is quiet for a long moment, and you begin to think he won't reply, as always, but he does.
"I was wrong about you. I thought you would tell your father about what I'd said and knowing that, your father wouldn't agree to a partnership with my company. Being in league with the Shouda corporation sped up the foundation I needed here and in a week, I'll be able to leave this place. I thought you were selfish, Shouda, so I'm thankful that you didn't try to make things difficult for me. You could have denied me this and made me stay for years. For what you did, I'm grateful."
You inhale sharply. "I'd like to take credit, but I doubt Daddy would have been able to deny you once you'd made your case. The same night you met him, he told me you were one of the most talented and intelligent entrepreneurs he had ever met." You laugh when you have another thought. "He also said I chose well and that he wouldn't mind having you as a son-in-law."
Natume stiffens by your side. "Don't worry," you laugh softly, "—I've made it clear to him that I've moved on and he seems to like Kokoro Yome. He's your friend, I'm aware. I'm not trying to stay close to you or anything—"
"He likes you," Natsume's voice is offhand. "Really likes you. The day he met you, actually. Be gentle with him, will you? He's… important to me too."
"Like you were gentle to me?"
He sighs softly and turns. "I was trying to make a point and it worked."
You hum your agreement and a moment passes before you ask softly, "May I meet her? Just… one day, I'd like to meet her."
Natsume exhales sharply. "I'd really rather you didn't."
The grin of rejection comes easily, but you're still undeterred. "Will you invite me to your wedding, at least?"
He groans softly and takes a minute to reply, "Yes."
Later, much later, you find him getting ready to leave and say softly, genuinely, "Thank you, Natsume."
Weeks after Natsume flies home, you cannot stand it any longer and pack four bags and book a weeklong trip to Tokyo, Japan. He has an office there, a large office, you know and you think it's about time you pay him a little visit. He has replied to none of your letters and has answered none of your calls and though you know he has no obligation to you, you can't stop the indignation.
After all you have done for him and all of the heartache you suffered, would it kill him to send some sort of correspondence in return?
You land in Japan and you order your bags be left in the closest five star hotel in the heart of the city before you make a beeline to Natsume's office like a woman on a mission…
…only to be told he had gone to Tokyo General Hospital for the afternoon.
In a panic, your cab streaks across town and you all but jump out of the car and run to reception to ask for one Natsume Hyuuga. The receptionist humors you and checks and rechecks more than four times before she finally tells you, "Miss, I'm one hundred percent certain Natsume Hyuuga has not been admitted to this hospital." Then she smiles a heartfelt, genuine smile. "But you might be able to find him with one of our doctors. She's out having her lunch right now. Mr. Hyuuga might be with her."
You swallow thickly and whisper, "Please…could you please tell me her name?"
At least now you understand why he was so fixated on oranges and tangerines. They reminded him of her. You wonder what can possibly be so great about this girl that somebody like Natsume could find her irresistible. Despite the many women who had all but thrown themselves at him, Natsume had never looked twice.
You have to meet her.
You have to.
It isn't until you're safely in your cab and you've rounded the corner that you see him, Natsume, with a girl with brown hair sitting out on the terrace of a cute little café by the hospital. Your stomach twists and turns and you breathe in and out, loud enough for the cab driver to ask if you're okay and that, Miss, I really, really can't have you puking in my car…
You mull over your thoughts in your hotel for the next two days, wondering what you should do, what you expect to happen, and how you should prepare yourself to see this woman. Another day passes before you have the chance to talk to her.
She has a day off, the hospital tells you, and you wheedle a number to call.
As your cell phone rings, you hold your breath when the other end clicks and a soft voice says, "Hello, Mikan Sakura speaking!"
You try to speak, but your voice won't come out. It takes half a dozen more tries and a couple 'hellos' on her part to get you to say, "Hi, Ms. Sakura. I'm a friend of Natsume's from California. Would you mind, terribly, if we had coffee at, say, Grind today at three?"
"Natsume's friend? Hi! I'm actually having a late lunch with Natsume today! Why don't you join us? I'm sure he would love to see you!"
"No!" You're almost horrified. "No, I know Natsume well enough to know he would like that time with you to himself. When would be a good time to have coffee?"
"How does four sound?"
"Lovely, see you then."
You pace your hotel floor for what seems like hours until exactly 4 o'clock. You should make it to the coffee shop by 4:10pm at the latest and for the next ten minutes, you drum your fingers on your knees and crane your neck to look out at the streets of Tokyo. Vaguely, you think, it's a beautiful city.
When you see her, she is nothing like you expected her to be.
She isn't beautiful. Not really. She looks about your age, maybe younger. Her jeans hang on her hips in a casual way and the shirt she wears is something you believe many call a 'sweater'. It is grey and hangs off of her body loosely. It isn't exactly hideous, nor does it flatter her body shape much. You wouldn't be caught dead in her attire, but on her, she looks dainty and sweet.
She is incredibly pale, but not in a sickly way. She is not striking by any means, but there is something about her messy, brown plait lying perfectly on her shoulder and the spark in her eyes that give her a lovely glow. She isn't beautiful, but she is pretty and sweet. Cute.
Nothing that can compare to Natsume.
You immediately find her unworthy.
She blinks curiously at you when you take a seat and gruffly, you say, "What is it?"
"N-Nothing. I'm sorry if I was staring. Natsume never told me he had such a beautiful friend." It's your turn to blink and you do so in surprise. With a small smile, Mikan holds out her hand. It is small and dainty like the rest of her. "Please, let me start over. I'm Mikan Sakura. Pleased to meet you."
You look at her hand for two seconds before taking it softly. "My name is Sumire Shouda. Thank you for meeting me with such short notice. I just…" You rehearsed this so many times, but you find that you can't be anything but truthful when you look into her eyes. "I need to know…do you love him?"
She blinks, eyes wide. Then, to your amazement, a dark, endearing blush steals across her cheeks. "I uh…" She takes a big gulp of her tea before she fumbles with her napkin. Her frustration appears in her words, "Who would love a guy like him? He's so arrogant and he's a huge jerk—"
"I love him."
Mikan stills with surprise and she opens and closes her mouth before she looks down into her cup. "You love him?" she asks quietly.
You nod, but before she can say anything else, you say primly, "But he loves you. You're the one that makes him happy. I can't let you have him, you know, unless you really do love him."
It's bullshit and you know it. He can have whomever he wants and you have no say whatsoever, but you watch in silence as Mikan slowly lifts up her head with heartfelt tears in her eyes. "Please," she says softly, "I do. I love him."
You nod with satisfaction and take a sip of your drink. From over the rim, you watch her. You watch as she wipes her tears away and composes herself with a grim expression on her face. She looks much better with a smile, you think.
Her head jerks up and tilts slightly, and you think you might have said that out loud. Again. "Well, it was nice meeting you, Ms. Sakura." You get to your feet.
She looks confused and stands with you. After you gather your scarf and coat, you turn to her. "Take care of him, will you? He's… kind of important to me."
"But you love him," Mikan says softly, sadly, "You told me. You love him. What happens now?"
You shrug, even though it's one of the hardest things you've ever done in your life. "Now, we pretend this never happened and you two get your happily ever after. You love each other. I'm not stupid. I saw it in your eyes the moment I asked you. I'll get over it. I'll get over him. It was… it was nice meeting you, Ms. Sakura."
"Mikan," she says. "Please, call me Mikan. Why…why are you doing this, Sumire? Why are you giving up?"
She's crying. You don't understand why. Shouldn't she be happy that you're stepping back? Shouldn't she be happy that Natsume loves her? Why does she cry? You step back and shake your head wryly. "Sometimes, when you truly love someone, you'll do whatever it takes to make them happy. According to those fat philosophers anyway. Why are you crying?"
She pushes the heel of her hand into her eyes like a child trying to stop the tears and you find it hard to swallow when she looks to be in so much pain. You still don't understand this woman. Her voice is hoarse and quiet when she says, "Because you're such a beautiful person, Sumire."
And you know she doesn't just mean on the outside.
Quietly, in the cab, you wonder if she's a little insane.
The phone call from Natsume the day after takes you by surprise, though you know you really shouldn't be. He had said he didn't want you to meet her and you did so against his wishes. You prepare yourself for a firm rebuking that doesn't come.
"Mikan said you went to see her yesterday."
"Hello to you too, Natsume," you smile at his voice, pressing the cell phone in between your ear and shoulder. You continue to pack your clothes. "Yes, I did."
There is a pause before Natsume murmurs, "Did you get what you came for?"
"Not exactly, since I came for you. She's lovely, by the way. Very sweet." You tuck another dress into your suitcase before leaning your back against the bed. "I didn't like her when I first saw her, but I don't know. There's just something about her that—"
"—You just can't hate," Natsume finishes with a soft laugh that you've never heard before. The sound makes you smile so hard your face feels like it might split in half.
You laugh with him. "Exactly." You listen to him breathe for a moment before you tell him, again, unabashedly. "I still love you, Natsume."
He sighs with exasperation. "I know. But you'll get over it. I'm not that great."
You sniffle softly and another soft, patient moment passes before you admit quietly, "I think the reason she won me over was the fact that she said I was a beautiful person. I've always been mean so…You made me that person, you know. You knocked some sense into my head or something, but I got it from you. You're a beautiful person, Natsume."
Without hesitation, he says, "It's her. She's my beautiful person."
You think you see it. You think you see how good they are together and funny thing is, you haven't even seen them together for more than ten seconds. It must be something, their love, and you think, tacitly, that you would give anything to find a love as beautiful as theirs.