Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Tachibana Higuchi. The rest is mine.

Author's Note: This is for my readers and the beginnings of May Madness. :) Check my profile!


-;-

In the Eyes of the Beholder

-;-

You're late for class once more.

It really shouldn't strike you as much of a surprise any longer, but you could have sworn you set your alarm clock early and yet for the third time this week, your legs are streaking down the deserted halls and your breaths are coming out in hoarse pants. Your throat is on fire.

You almost miss your classroom door in your haste to plant your heel into the ground.

Meekly, you twist the doorknob and peek inside, only to breathe out a sigh of relief.

The teacher hasn't arrived yet and you're safe. For today.

On the way over to your seat, you receive a bright grin from Koko and a high five from Sumire. Hotaru merely shakes her head at you and you squeeze her shoulders in a tight hug before the door opens once more and you scuttle to your seat at the back of the class.

Ruka smiles at you. "Good morning, Mikan."

Before you can say anything, Jin-Jin's booming voice reverberates around the room. "Class, welcome Natsume Hyuuga. He'll be joining us for the rest of the year."

Whispers drift around you like clouds and briefly, you wonder what's going on before you lift your head up, look to the front of the class and glimpse a boy with black hair, the shabby school uniform and a pair of sunglasses that cover almost half of his face.

-;-

He sits at the other end of the room by the wall and you look at him for all of six seconds before your eyes drift to the window where the sky is a murky blue-grey and where Jin-Jin's voice is but a low groan in your ear. You think it might do you some good to pay attention in class—God knows grandpa will have a coronary if you get sent to detention again this week—but you find your eyes glazing over and your eyelids drooping when you try to decipher the equal and exponent signs and whatever else Jin-Jin writes on the board.

Why are there letters up there anyway? Isn't this math class?

You jump up from your seat and almost have to drag your friends outside when the bell rings for lunch.

You've never really liked Math.

It isn't until you're halfway done your lunch that you realize what your friends are talking about.

"Well he has to be a freak, doesn't he?" Sumire says nonchalantly, as she tosses her food around her plate with her fork. You bite your lip and wonder what she's talking about before she looks up to your eyes and shrugs. "I mean, what's up with the sunglasses? I'm surprised Jinno didn't tell him to take the damn things off. Aren't they banned from school? I mean, you can't wear hats so…"

"He's probably so ugly, Jinno let him keep them," Wakako laughs snidely as she picks at her nails. "Maybe we should thank him!"

"Maybe he's blind," Koko pipes in, leaning in conspiratorially. "My grandpa used to wear the same things, except he had a little string on both ends so that he could hang his glasses around his neck. You've seen blind people on TV. They wear sunglasses everywhere so people know they're blind."

"Don't they usually have canes? Like, the white ones?" Sumire frowns.

You feel uneasy. "Blind?" you whisper to Hotaru. "That's horrible! He's our age though… how can he be blind when he's only ten!"

Hotaru rolls her eyes at you and addresses the whole table. "Some people are born blind, stupid. He's not blind. He didn't need any help to get to his desk and he couldn't possibly have gotten there on his own without knowing the layout of the classroom beforehand. Use your brains, idiots."

You breathe out a sigh of relief and slowly move your gaze around the cafeteria to try to pinpoint the new kid. He's new, you think, and you feel horrible thinking he doesn't have anybody to be friends with. Why didn't you come up to him after class and introduce yourself? Why didn't you come and welcome him?

Oh, Mom and Dad would be so upset if they knew…

You feel a hand on your arm and look up to find Ruka's gentle blue eyes on you. "He's not here, Mikan. I saw him go outside earlier."

You frown. "By himself?"

He shuffles in his seat and nods slightly, "By himself."

The feeling of unease increases in your belly and you vow to yourself to become friends the next time you see him.

-;-

The next day you have Math class, you come on time to see that the doors haven't even been unlocked yet. Your friends flock to your side to congratulate you on being early for once. You smile because you're pretty proud of yourself too.

It isn't until Mochu shouts out indignantly that you glimpse the new kid standing on his own. He's leaning up against the walls outside with his hands stuffed lazily in his jeans and his head turned away from the rest of his peers. Briefly, you wonder why he doesn't look interested in the goings on of his classmates. His hair is still black and his sunglasses are still large and dark on his face.

You make your way over to him before a thought strikes you.

What was his name again?

Before you can do anything, the teacher comes down the hall, pauses in surprise when he sees you on time, and unlocks the door. You think you catch the new kid staring at you when you turn to him, but he is already walking past you and into the door and you wonder whether he wants to be friends with you too.

Your legs bounce from underneath your desk as you wait for the lunch bell to ring. As always, you don't pay attention in class and Jin-Jin calls you out on it. You sink sullenly in your seat as the class has a laugh at your expense, but your mood doesn't remain down for long before you're thinking about ways to approach the new kid again.

Ruka-pyon says his name is Natsume Hyuuga.

You hope you can be good friends with him.

From the whispers around the room, nobody else seems to want to.

-;-

He's the first one out the door when the bell rings and you clumsily throw your things into your bag before hurrying on after him. From behind you, you think you hear Hotaru say, "And there goes the Saint."

Who's Saint, you wonder. You're pretty certain you know all of the people in your class and none of them is remotely close to Saint. You make a note to ask Hotaru the next time you see her.

With your heart pounding in your chest, you call out after him, "Hey Natsume, wait!"

He stiffens slightly and turns just a smidge.

You slow briefly, trying to catch your breath and after a second, you throw out a hand and grin. "Hi, I'm Mikan Sakura from your Math class! I was wondering if you needed somebody to show you around the school! You're new, right? If you need help with anything, I'd be happy t—"

"I don't need any help," he says in a low, gruff voice. He turns back around and continues on his way and you wonder, did I say something wrong? Why did he sound so angry? Maybe he's just having a bad day.

You'll try again tomorrow, you think, as you watch him throw the doors open and step outside by himself.

He's probably just shy.

-;-

He doesn't go to school for the next two days and an entire weekend passes before you see him again. You can't be certain it's him until his head of black hair turns and you see the sunglasses still prominent on his face. You break out into a run until you're standing right beside him.

He turns, with his jaw clenched, in your direction before a frown takes over the bottom half of his face. He looks like he wants to say something, but his jaw tightens and he turns his face forward and ignores you.

You frown. "Hey, Natsume?"

He doesn't answer.

After a while, you say, "Hey, what's your problem? When somebody greets you, it's polite to at least greet them back! That's what grandpa says and grandpa never lies so maybe you should learn some manners and just…just…" You exhale sharply and press your lips together before apologizing. "I shouldn't have said all of that. I'm sorry. Could we start over? Please? I feel like I made us start off badly."

After a beat, he stops in his tracks and turns to look at you.

You can't tell what he's thinking, because his eyes are covered by his sunglasses and his jaw is still clenched. Briefly, you see the other students milling past you on their way to the school. You swallow when he says, "Why are you even talking to me?"

You blink up at him. "What do you mean?"

His jaw tightens again and another moment of silence passes. Your confusion multiplies.

He turns back, "Forget it. Leave me alone."

You blink before starting after him. His legs are so long; it takes you two steps to match one of his. "I want to be your friend!"

He stops abruptly and you almost slam into his shoulder with surprise. He catches you by the arms and pushes you a foot away before turning his head. His neck is turning pink and his hands are quickly stuffed into his jeans before you remember the feel of his hands on your arms. He's very warm, you think, despite how cold he acts.

You step up to him again and put your hands on your hips. "I want to be your friend," you repeat. "Is that okay?"

He looks at you sharply before he storms off and you're left standing on your own, confused as always.

-;-

"Stop trying, Mikan," Sumire says airily, one day at lunch. "Your efforts are cute as always but Hyuuga is just a jerk. He doesn't know what he's missing out on. He doesn't want to be friends with anyone so just leave it at that and stop sulking over it. The more you hang out with him, the more depressed you become. It's not healthy."

"He's not a jerk," you say quietly as you mope over your latest rejection. "He's just shy."

"Shy people don't randomly knock their chairs over during class and stalk out of the room," Hotaru mutters dryly. "Nice try."

Koko almost falls onto the table in his haste to grab the last chair available. Mochu and Kitsuneme groan. "You won't…believe…Hyuuga is skipping class!" He's panting and sweating.

"Don't pretend like you don't skip," Sumire snorts, tossing a grape at his head. "Being truant isn't illegal."

"He smokes!" Mochu says excitedly. "That's so cool!"

You wrinkle your nose. "He smokes? Grandpa says people that smoke are bad people. He said they'll try to get you to smoke and smoking is bad so that's why I shouldn't be friends with them. Are you sure Natsume smokes?"

"Yeah, he had a lighter and everything!"

"Did you see him smoking?" Sumire raises an eyebrow.

"Well…"

Everyone collectively rolls their eyes and you breathe a sigh of relief.

You're sure that even if he did smoke, you'd still want to try to be his friend anyway. Hotaru says it's because you've never had so much trouble befriending somebody before. Sumire says it's because you can't stand the idea of somebody not liking you. Wakako says you're competitive and you like being popular. Is it? You don't think so. Why would that matter? Ruka says you feel sorry for him, having no friends. You don't think that's the truth either.

You don't like the idea of him being alone, you think. Because with the way he talks and acts, you think he might just like somebody to talk to.

-;-

You're walking home when you hear raised voices.

Grandpa always says to avoid getting into fights and not to stick your nose into somebody else's business, so you duck your head down and pick up your pace. You pull your hat a little further down your head. You're almost half way through the park before you hear it—his voice—and you turn so sharply, your hat flies off your head. You step forward to pick it up before you hear his voice again, more raised voices, and your heart tells you to come to him.

You ignore Grandpa's voice—telling you to avoid it—and run.

There are four boys from your class standing in front of him. Natsume is merely sitting on one of the park benches with his arms resting on the back of the wooden backing. He looks insolent, and cool, but it's going to get him into trouble. You stop behind one of the park trees and watch. You can't exactly hear what's happening.

The voice inside your head that sounds like Grandpa tells you not to be nosy and come home.

Your heart tells you to inch your way closer. You want to learn more about Natsume.

You hear his voice, "Then why aren't you doing anything about it?"

There's quiet before one voice says, quietly angry, "Why aren't you afraid? There are four of us and one of you. We could beat the shit out of you. Just do as you're told and we'll spare you."

"I don't listen to people I don't respect," he says simply. You've never heard him speak so much in your life. And without any prompting. The surprise makes you slightly indignant, but at the moment, you're too in awe.

"How high and mighty of you."

"You think you're so much better than us? You won't think so soon enough. My father said the best way to gain someone's respect is to beat the shit out of them."

"Your father is a stupid son of a bitch."

Your jaw drops.

One boy lunges at him.

You can't stifle your scream fast enough and before you know it, four heads are looking in your direction, including Natsume's. Though you can't see his eyes from underneath his sunglasses, you can feel the silent anger emanating from him. Your heart flies into your throat when you see two boys jogging toward you.

You listen to Grandpa and you run.

You've always been a fast runner and the fear in your veins makes you run faster than you've ever run before. Your hearing has intensified. You can hear the boys thrashing about behind you as they try to catch up. You're much too fast. You're one of the fastest girls in your year. Should you run home? Your feet answer when they merely circle the park and head back toward Natsume. You can't see him, but you hope he's still there.

Please be there, please be there. Oh, please please please.

A sound makes you stop in your tracks, or rather the lack of a sound. All you hear is quiet.

It's a dangerous sound. You can taste the fear on your tongue.

You strain to hear something…anything, but there's nothing.

Your fear intensifies.

And then somebody grabs your arm.

With a yelp, you throw your arm out to defend yourself, but your fist is caught and he holds it softly, firmly. "Calm down, Pigtails. It's just me."

Your legs almost collapse with relief and you slowly lower yourself to the ground. "Where are the others?" you whisper.

You catch a glimpse of a boyish grin on his face. "They're gone." Instinctively, you glance down at his hands and you can vaguely make out the dark smears of colour on his knuckles.

You close your eyes and swallow the dark lump in your throat. "Oh my God, did you fight them all? What are you thinking, Natsume? What are you doing out here by yourself? It's dangerous! And you skipped class today! I don't understand you. You're so reckless!"

"Dangerous is sticking your nose into somebody else's business," he scolds coolly, standing up. You're surprised when he offers you a hand to your feet but the emotion is brief because he starts to reprimand you again. "You shouldn't be out here by yourself either, Little Girl. You don't have any regard for your own safety, do you? Stupid. What would you have done if I wasn't here to save you?"

You gape at him, disbelieving. "I wouldn't have been in this situation if you weren't in the middle of it, goading four punks to beat the crap out of you!"

Under his sunglasses, he tosses you a look that you just know is condescending. "Nobody asked you to be a busybody and stalk me."

You cross your arms and scowl at him. "I was not stalking you. I was at school. Where you weren't. Besides, it's not my fault you were flaunting your business in the public park. It's like you were waiting to be overheard and followed."

"You were stalking me. You just admitted it."

"I—I followed you! Once! Stalking makes it seem like…like I've been following you since the moment I saw you! I'm not like that, I promise!"

He laughs.

Laughs.

You close your mouth hurriedly once you realize you become slack-jawed at his entirely novel reaction. Have you ever heard him laugh before? Scratch that. Have you ever heard him talk this much, this pleasantly before? And you saw him grin! Instead of calling him out on his completely bizarre behavior like the voice in the back of your head wants you to, you replay the sound of his laughter in your head and decide you like it. You like seeing him happy. You like seeing him unguarded. You wish the other kids at school could see him now…maybe then they would understand why you were so adamant on being friends with him.

"Where's your house?" Natsume's voice drifts into your conscience.

You glance up at him suspiciously, but before you can say anything, he breathes out sharply and puts up his hands in an innocent gesture. "I just want to walk you home." You wish he wasn't wearing sunglasses, so you could see what he was thinking. How could he see when it was so dark outside, you wonder. He clears his throat and a scowl replaces the pleasant look on his face. "Wipe that look off your face. We're not suddenly going to be friends because of this," he declares roughly, "—I'm just making sure you're home so that you don't end up following me some more, creepy stalker girl."

Your face heats up and you feel your heart increase with anger. "I told you, that's not what I was doi—"

You bicker with him all the way home and you don't even realize you're in front of your door and he's not standing beside you anymore. You look around you curiously and see him standing by the mailbox at the end of your drive with a lazy smirk on his lips. He looks cool standing there with his sunglasses and his dark hair and his long-sleeved shirt hanging loosely over his lanky body.

The question is out of your lips before you can stop it.

"Will I see you at school tomorrow?" your voice is hopeful.

He frowns slightly and straightens, stuffing his hands in his jeans moodily. He regards you quietly and you shift under his gaze and repeat your question to make him stop looking at you like that. Because even though you can't see his eyes, the intensity of his gaze makes your skin crawl with heat like the blush on your cheeks. You thank the darkness that hides it from him. You'd hear his arrogance once more otherwise; you'd bet your life on that.

After a moment, he says quietly, "Don't bother with me. Let's pretend this never happened."

He turns, ready to leave, but your next words stop him. "Why don't you want to be friends?" Your voice is painfully vulnerable, but you can't take them back. He doesn't reply, but he doesn't leave and you persist because that's what you're known for. You really can't stop without knowing. "Not just me, but anyone. I want to be your friend. Did I do something wrong? Did I say something mean to you? Is there…is there something wrong with me—"

"Don't be ridiculous," he interrupts harshly, his voice so sharp that it seems to echo in the darkness. He mumbles something to himself that you can't hear. You wait a beat to see if he will continue, but he remains stonily silent.

"Then what is it?" your voice is pleading. "Why don't you want to be friends with any of us?"

You think he sounds bitter when he says, "You're the only one that wants to be friends with me."

Am I not good enough?

As if in tune with your thoughts, he sighs and runs a hand through his hair. His voice is begrudging and barely penitent. "You're not going to cry are you? I didn't mean it like that." He turns so that he's fully facing you. You can see the frown still on his face. "I'll…" he pauses, then says quickly, "I'll see you tomorrow. In class." There's another pause, in time for you to grin, before he turns abruptly and starts striding away. "Good night," he tosses over his shoulder.

"Good night," you say softly, before entering your home.

Grandpa stands in front of you with a very stern expression on his face and you giggle nervously before he begins scolding you for staying out so late on a school night.

-;-

The next morning, you come to class early.

He said he was going to be in class today, you remember. Will he…will he want to talk to you today? Hotaru merely lifts an eyebrow when you settle down beside her to say hello and you feel like she can read you like a book when she says, "Don't get too excited before you're sorely disappointed."

You frown slightly. "Huh?"

"You're ready for a breakthrough today, aren't you?" she says nonchalantly, flipping through her new book with vague interest. "He's stubborn. I can tell. You seem excited for something that may not happen."

You grin when she explains. "It may not happen, but there's still a chance that it will! I have faith!"

Hotaru looks at you from the corner of her eyes before the corner of her lips lift up, the smallest of fractions. "Well here's your new best friend now."

You look up just in time to see Natsume head down the aisle to his desk. A smile automatically lights up your face and you all but shout, "Good morning, Natsume!"

His neck stiffens before he slowly turns his head to look at you. His sunglasses are on his face, as per usual, but he gives you a nod of acknowledgement that makes a thrill go down your spine. You ignore the immediate scowl that appears on his face when everyone seems to look at him curiously.

You feel a small victory with Natsume's acknowledgement and a few moments later, Hotaru says quietly, "Congratulations. Miracles do happen after all. I still say that was a pathetic breakthrough, but that's just me."

You hug her by the shoulders and laugh delightedly anyway.

-;-

They whisper about the two of you but you never stick around long enough to figure out exactly what they say. You spend most of your lunches with him now, when he decides to go to school, that is. And when you think about it, he comes to school more frequently than he used to. You've asked him to spend some lunches with the old gang, but he doesn't entertain the idea much and if you had to choose between them, Natsume is the more interesting of the two.

He's different. You've never met somebody like him before.

You think you could spend all day talking to him if he let you.

He's fascinating.

On one of the days he decides not to come to school, you sit down with the old gang and they all grin and welcome you again. Even Hotaru seems to let you hug her for far longer than usual. But it doesn't take long for them to ask questions that make your curiosity fester within you like a seed.

"You've been real friendly with Hyuuga these past few days, haven't you, Mikan?" Sumire says it as if it's not even a question. "Have you seen what exactly it is that he's hiding with those sunglasses of his?"

You chew slowly, savoring the rice balls that Grandpa packed for your lunch, then reply with wonder. "Hmm…no, I haven't. That's right…I guess I haven't seen Natsume-kun without his sunglasses on. I never really thought about it," you say truthfully. Now that you think about it, you wonder once again what you'd be able to see from his eyes.

You think he'd have beautiful eyes.

"You've been spending your lunches with him sitting under that old Sakura tree for two weeks now and you never wondered to ask him why he wears sunglasses all the time?" Mochu and Kitsuneme say in almost the same words.

You blink in surprise and see that everybody's eyes are on her. "I forgot," you say slowly.

"Of course you would," Hotaru mutters. "It's you."

"I guess I could ask him why," you muse. "He skips so much class; I have to talk to him about that anyway."

-;-

"Hey Natsume?"

He grunts from his prone position on the grass, his face tilted heavenward with a manga on his face. You twirl a blade of grass between your fingers before saying softly, "Why do you wear sunglasses everywhere?"

A long moment passes and it looks like he isn't going to answer. But he slowly drags the manga down his face to reveal the aforementioned sunglasses and a tiny scowl to match.

"Why do you ask?" His voice is low and indecipherable. "You've never asked about it before."

You shrug. "I didn't really notice until Sumire asked me the other day and it got me thinking. I've never seen your eyes before," you say honestly.

You hear him snort and mutter, "Fucking Shouda." Out loud, he says, "How could you not notice? I fucking wear sunglasses at night. You can't tell me you don't think that's weird."

You tilt your head slightly and shrug, "I never really thought about it. You distract me enough when you piss me off. I don't have time to wonder about the way you look." You drop the piece of grass and face him, leaning forward cross-legged when you see a scowl on his face. "But now I'm curious. Why do you wear them?"

"It's really none of your business," he turns his head away.

You can see him hesitating so you move a little closer to him and ask, "What are you thinking?" You touch his arm softly and wince when he visibly stiffens at your touch. He doesn't respond and you're sorry you even asked. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry," you say, guilt making your eyes wet. "I just want to know you, Natsume, you. I don't care about anything else."

He looks at you quietly and after a long moment, he sighs.

It's quiet, barely a breath, but you feel the world move.

His jaw is set in a frown but he ushers you closer until you're sitting cross-legged right in front of him. "Go ahead," his voice is soft. You can see the outline of his eyes through the sunglasses as his eyelids close and he sits there patiently, waiting. You don't realize your hands are shaking until they come into your line of vision.

With a soft exhale, you take hold of his sunglasses and gently slide them off.

He clenches his jaw and breathes out slowly before his eyelids flutter open.

You hear a gasp and it takes you far longer than it should to realize the sound came from you.

His eyes are red, dark red.

"They're beautiful," your voice sounds so honest in your ears.

He closes his eyes, his jaw relaxed and his face all smoothed skin. He's so handsome, you think. He looks at you carefully, softly, like he's seeing you for the first time too. You think it's true, in a way. He's only ever seen you with a dark tinted surface over his eyes. You imagine he sees the world much brighter now.

"Why are you so afraid to show everybody your face?" you ask softly, tracing the bone of his cheek to his jaw. "Why did you hide those eyes? They're beautiful."

He closes his eyes and slides the sunglasses back on. "Nobody's ever said that about my eyes before," he responds truthfully. "Nobody but you. Just you."


I teared up reading the latest Gakuen Alice chapters. No lie. So here's to new beginnings, happy endings and summer :)
Question: Would you prefer your significant other wear glasses or no glasses?