Word Count: 3368

Notes: I have no idea where Mikan and Koko's dynamic comes from. I don't even know.

The Loveliest

First he fell. But he wants to stay.

Today, Koko feels happy.

That is not to say that Koko has never felt happiness in a while; on the contrary, his days have been lighthearted recently, filled with an odd tenderness and plagued with smiles that he doesn't have to force himself to wear. There are different kinds of happiness for different days, and today, it's a beautiful kind of happy. Not the bubbly, ecstatic kind, or the euphoric adrenaline-rush kind. It's a warm kind of happy. The kind that is content with life while being full of it, that wouldn't fade even if something goes wrong. A pure kind of happy. A Mikan kind of happy.

Koko thinks he should let himself be happy more often.

"So how long is this gonna take again?" Mikan asks as she goes out of her way to follow the pebble she's been kicking.

"What, are you sick of me already Mikan?"

"No, it's not that." She looks up at him with a grin. "I actually like having you around."

They are walking together near the Northern Forest, where the world is much quieter and there are fewer distractions to catch their attention. Koko thinks he should be used to this by now. He always ends up here one way or another whenever he takes his morning walks. He sees the same trees, the same path, the same rocks near the side of the road. He checked the weather today; there wouldn't be any rain. Today shouldn't be any different. Except,

Except Mikan is walking alongside him and everything is just a little bit sunnier because of that.

"It won't be long," Koko says. "It's only until I get myself adjusted. Besides, I don't really want to have to face your boyfriend's wrath."

Mikan's face turns an interesting shade of red. She glares at Koko half-heartedly. "He's not my boyfriend!"

Koko chuckles. Mikan is cute when she gets riled up. No wonder Natsume keeps teasing her. "You keep telling yourself that, Mikan. You don't know how jealous he gets."

"Well, he doesn't seem to have a problem with you," Mikan says, crossing her arms. Koko arches an eyebrow at that. "Anyway, I just need to be around you in case something goes wrong, right?"

"I think that's how it works, yeah."

"Alright, so what do you wanna do? We can't just keep walking forever like this."

Koko brushes his thumb against the ring on his finger. It's nice out here. Everything is quiet. No distractions, no stray thoughts or unfamiliar emotions floating through his head. It's easier to feel the palpitations in his heart when he's alone with Mikan like this. Easier to make himself believe this is real.

(That they are just as real as Natsume's feelings for her, even when they are not as intense as his. And yet...)

He's always known that Mikan would choose Natsume. There was never any contest in his mind. Mikan was always his, will always be his, and Koko has come to terms with this as a universal fact. It's destiny, it's fate, it's something he doesn't know, but it's written and it's true and he would be a fool – a traitor – to take it all away.

He's not selfish enough to take it all away. He doesn't want to – wouldn't want to even if he could. He's not selfish enough to create cracks and splinters, because Mikan deserves so much more and Natsume deserves so much more. His admiration is a lost hope he's happy to give up on.

But he's selfish enough to hold on to moments like these, to feel the tenderness Natsume feels, to break reality and have this all for himself, even for a little while. Even for just an illusion.

It's fine. Koko can be content with what he has, because this is honestly more than what he thought he could have. He knows this isn't going to last.

"Well," Koko says, grinning. He stops Mikan on her tracks and bows down in front of her, offering his hand. "What doth milady have in mind?"

Mikan giggles. "Well, I am rather famished," she says in the most ladylike voice she could muster, hand dramatically reaching up to her forehead. She takes Koko's hand in hers and gestures for him to stand up. "Shall we take a stroll down Central, dear sir?"

Koko bites down a laugh. This is what he likes about Mikan. She's always quick to ride his silly antics, always quick to play along. He points his hand swiftly upward. "Then we shall partake in the eating of fluffs! I shall purchase only the fluffiest for milady."

"Thou hast pleaseth me. Lead the way, Sir Koko!"

"Thine wish is my command, Mikan-hime."

Her smile is bright, and Koko thinks this is enough.

"And Tsubasa-senpai just left everything in glue and pink glitter!" Mikan says in the middle of lunch, laughing like she just told the funniest story in the world, and just being generally, positively delightful.

It's kind of wonderful, really.

The thing is, Koko doesn't even blush or get too awkward around Mikan, even after Sumire managed to weasel a reluctant confession from him. He just kind of smiles wider and more sincerely, and it doesn't really make much of a difference from his usual smile, so he doesn't make his crush much of a problem. Mikan will never know, especially because she has Natsume to think about.

"I bet Misaki-senpai was furious when she found out," Koko says. Mikan beams at him.

"She was! She chased him around, but Tsubasa-senpai booby-trapped the whole room so she ended up in glitter and confetti and she was so mad -" Mikan cuts herself off with more laughter.

"That must have taken a lot of effort."

"Yeah, it was fun helping with that. At least Misaki-senpai loosened up a bit and smiled, so it worked out in the end!"

She smiles at him, bright and happy and she's just so Mikan that Koko just kind of wants to keep her in a little box in his heart and never let her go.

It's different liking Mikan. Koko's had crushes before on many other girls, but they weren't literal balls of sunshine like Mikan is. He doesn't feel weird, or panicky, or self-conscious. Not really. Everything just feels... nice. Natural. Like everything just falls into place. It's like breathing the next breath; automatic, instinctive, so innately ingrained in himself, his body, that it feels wrong not to do it. It just makes sense to like her. How could you not?

Liking Mikan should probably feel more problematic than it really is, especially considering how the nature of Natsume's emotions are constantly reminding him at the back of his head. But it's not like Koko is expecting his own happy ending. He's not. He knows how this fairytale ends, and he's no prince charming.

He'll take what he can get.

"Are you going to the prom with Natsume?" he asks, and he knows that this should hurt him badly. It doesn't. "Or did he forget to ask you out again because he hates these kinds of dances?"

Mikan shrugs, twirling her fork in her plate of spaghetti. "He didn't ask me yet. But we've been going to dances together since forever so I think he's just kind of expecting me to remind him when to wear the suit he doesn't want to wear."

Koko snorts, reaching for his glass of iced tea. "Of course."

"Who are you taking?"

"Me? No one." He tries not to feel anything about how Sumire ditched him for someone she like likes. He's mostly successful. "Going with a date is seriously overrated. Sumire's got somebody else, and I don't really have my eye on anyone."

Except you, but of course he keeps that to himself. Mikan nods at him.

"But you'll save me a dance, right?"

Koko blinks at her. "Um, sure. If you want."

"Of course I do!" Mikan stares at him like it's not even a question at this point. It's kind of endearing. "Koko, I practically see your face these days more often than I see Hotaru's, and okay, that's probably because she has her extra curricular activities and I'm stuck being a normal loser who still struggles with maths, but yeah. You get the point. You're my friend; why wouldn't I dance with you?"

Koko's heart flips. This crush thing is getting ridiculous, honestly.

"Sure, Mikan," he says. "I hope you've been practicing though. I don't want you to step on any of my toes."

Mikan just sticks her tongue out. "You're one to talk. Who was it that wrecked the center piece two years ago because they stumbled?"

Oh, that was one embarrassing episode Koko didn't need to remember. He shoves Mikan lightly in the shoulder, but the frown in his lips wouldn't stay long. Not that it would even if he wanted it to. "Shut up," he says lamely. "Are you going to eat your meatballs?"

"Don't change the subject, Koko," Mikan says, but she pushes her plate anyway so Koko can eat her meatballs. "Just because you're a klutz-"

"I'm not taking this from you."

"Oh ha ha. At least I'm an adorable klutz."

Koko grins at her. "That you are. Criminally adorable and painfully clumsy." He shakes his head and sighs. "What a deadly combination."

Mikan rolls her eyes, and they spend the rest of their afternoon mock-fighting over the most mundane of things. It's really a lot more boring than their usual adventures, but Koko doesn't know a better way to spend his Saturday afternoon. He's with Mikan, and he's at peace. No stray thoughts, no fire casters to look out for, or friends to comfort in their time of need.

Sometimes he thinks Mikan might possibly be made of rainbows and cotton and warm coffee in the middle of winter, because if anybody could ever be made of anything ridiculously happy, it would be Mikan Sakura.

"You're not gonna fight, are you?"

"Of course not. This is Natsume we're talking about."

Sumire sighs, and mutters something under her breath. "Chicken."

Koko frowns. He sits up on his bed and tries to glare at Sumire, but she's not even looking at him, her eyes trained on the book in front of her. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I. He's sure that she's been reading the first page for the past twenty minutes, because that's how Sumire is when something is on her mind.

"I'd rather crow than be fried, thanks," he says flatly. Sumire closes the book in her hands and gives him a level stare. Koko keeps his guard up. She's an expert at this.

"So you're not gonna try at all."

"You're making it sound like I should. Do you really want me burned to a crisp, Permy?"

Sumire shakes her head, and Koko can practically feel her think he's being an idiot. Uh, again. "You say that, but you're spending an awful lot of time with Mikan lately."

Koko sits up straighter. "Well, I have to. I can't control my Alice that well anymore, so Serina-sensei asked her to keep an eye out for me just in case. Nullification Alice, remember?"

"Idiot. That's not what I'm trying to say at all."

"Then what?"

"Morning walks along the forest? Lunch dates?" Sumire gives him a serious look, and it doesn't help the mood at all. These are the kind of conversations Koko wishes Mind Reading would be useful in, but it's not, because Sumire is honest enough and too much of a good friend. "People are talking, and I just feel that it is my duty as your best friend to tell you that some people – and yes, that includes Natsume, don't look at me like that – some people think that you might be taking Serina-sensei's advice a little too seriously."

There is a part of Koko that expected this somewhat, but hearing it from someone else just made everything more real. It's not like he didn't expect this (he's not that much of an idiot) and it's not like he's doing anything wrong, just questionable. He sighs. "Is this the part where you tell me to back off in case I get burned? Because I'm really not hoping for anything here."

The look on Sumire's face changes at that, and it disturbs Koko to feel a little of the sadness she feels. Because this isn't a sad affair, not really. It's unrequited love, sure. It's lonely and unreciprocated and tiring, but that doesn't mean it has to be sad.

She says something Koko didn't expect. Her demeanor completely changes, and in a quiet voice she says, "She would want you to be happy."

"Well, I want her to be happy too. But we can't both get what we want."

"No, you don't…" She gives a frustrated sigh. "Look. If you break Mikan's heart, I won't forgive you. Or, well, I'll spend weeks trying not to."

"Don't be ridiculous." He can't tell for sure, but is she feeling pity for him? "Someone's going to end up heartbroken in the end, so why not me? I'm prepared for it, so it won't hurt. I don't want that to be either of them. They deserve each other."

He's Natsume's friend, not an asshole. It's not really that hard of a decision.

"You deserve to be happy too."

Koko sighs, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. "Yeah well sometimes... sometimes two people fall in love together and the whole world and their mother knows that they are made for each other." He gestures with his hand, trying to put into words the thoughts he's been having since, well, since he realized he liked Mikan, actually. "And no force in the world, no disaster, no heaven or hell can ever break what they have. And I just think that it would be too cruel to take that away from someone, because not everyone will get to have that chance to meet their soul mate. So when it happens, we should let it happen."


"Sometimes people fall in love and they know things won't end up in their favor, and that's okay." Koko looks at Sumire in the eyes. He spent mornings in the forest mulling over this. There's nothing she can say to sway him. "Because there are other people out there they haven't met, or haven't ever given a chance, and maybe they're not going to be my soul mate, not in the way Mikan is Natsume's, but that's okay. There are bigger things out there so. I think it's okay."

"You can't say that." She bites her lip. "You can't possibly believe that."

Koko shrugs. He actually seriously does. "I like what I have with Mikan. I don't mind not having more. I can sit around and think about what could have been or what tomorrow will be like, but this is today, and I'm content with it."

They are silent for a while. It's a bit disconcerting, because even with the ring Koko can feel wisps of Sumire's conflicting emotions. But at least now he can distinguish his own, and he knows in himself that he believes in every word he said. It's going to be okay. He's doing the right thing, and he's not sad, he shouldn't be. It's going to be okay.

Sumire sighs again, resigned and defeated. "I shouldn't have let you read philosophy," she mutters. Koko barks out a laugh.

"Trust me Permy, I've never touched Iinchou's books before. I don't need them."

But Sumire just looks at him, like he might be depressed, or crazy, or both, and Koko starts to doubt whether he has all the answers at all.

He thinks he's going crazy when, eventually, he asks Mikan about it.

He doesn't tell her everything that's going on – no, he knows better than to do that – but he thinks it's important anyway to know how Mikan might feel about this. He thinks over this decision for days before finally gathering up his courage to ask if he can talk to Mikan in private.


"Koko, you can drop the princess title now."

"Aw, but I like calling you princess."

Mikan rolls her eyes, but she gives Koko a lopsided grin anyway. "What do you want, Koko?"

"I just." Koko breathes in and tries to find the words. He can still hear other people's thoughts bleeding into him, but they are softer now. He can ignore them, those background noise buzzing in his head and ears. "Listen, are you free? This afternoon? There's something I want to, uh, talk about. It's not really important, so we can just talk some other time but, I just... I want to know what you think about. Things."

Mikan raises an eyebrow. "Smooth," she comments.

"You know I'm the epitome of suaveness," Koko says, winking. Mikan bursts out laughing at this, and Koko grins in response. It's easier to joke around like this.

"You're ridiculous," she says, her voice muffled by her hand as she tries to stifle her laughter. "Oh my god, is that even a word? Suaveness?"

Koko shrugs. "I don't know, but it should be."

Mikan rolls her eyes again at Koko, like she can't believe someone like him could possibly exist. She smiles again, laughter still caught in her throat. "I don't have anything to do later. We can walk along the forest again, if you'd like?"

"Yeah. I'd like that. You sure you don't mind?"

"Koko, you're my best friend." She looks at him like he's being silly. "Of course I don't mind."

Koko furrows his eyebrows. Well, this is something he didn't quite expect. "But I thought Hotaru was your best friend?"

"Well yes." She gives him a pointed look. "And so are you. Koko, you don't have to go to singing contests with me as a kid to be my best friend. Or, I don't know, talk about boys with me and listen to me ramble until two in the morning. It's just... lately we've been hanging out a lot. And I like being with you. When Hotaru's not here, you're here. You're always here." She shrugs. "I can be honest with you."

Koko stares at her and thinks he must have done something to gain the gods' favor. He feels ridiculously, stupidly happy.

He gives her a grateful look and traps her in a tight hug. She smells like tangerines and little balls of happiness, if happiness ever had a scent. His heart skips a beat and he notices Natsume staring at them from the other end of the hall. He expects to feel jealousy, or curiosity, to seep through his emotions like ink, because Natsume's emotions are intense like his fire. But Mikan hugs him back, and he feels nothing.

"Wow, this must be really important to you," Mikan says once she pulls back.

"Yeah, yeah," Koko mumbles. He looks back, but Natsume's gone. It's not the first time he thinks he might be toeing the line too much, but Natsume has yet to do anything. He doesn't want to feel threatened. He's not trying to destroy this significant thing Mikan has with him.

He thinks maybe he's doing this all wrong, and he can't bear to think of Sumire wagging her fingers and saying I told you so.

"Koko? Are you okay?" There's a warm hand touching his, and it brings him back from his thoughts. His mind is blissfully quiet. "Was it noisy again?"

Koko shakes his head. "No, sorry. I was just thinking."

Mikan gives an audible gasp. "Kokoro Yome! Are you finally growing as a human being? Is evolution finally catching up to you?"

"Shut up, Sakura."

He grins and Mikan grins back and everything feels so easy. Koko silently hopes Mikan would agree with his philosophy, because it's so much simpler to fall back to what he's always been doing, what he's always known, rather than to consider another perspective (possibly one that Permy might even agree to).

Natsume can have her, Koko thinks. Just let me have this for a while longer.