Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and some aspects of the plot belong to Tachibana Higuchi. This rest of this story is mine.

Author's Note: Thank you to all of my readers. You guys are too good for me. Happy reading everyone! :D

-;-

Falling for her was the easiest thing he'd ever done.

-;-

-;-

Chapter Nine

Some people come into our lives and quickly go.
Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.
- Flavia Weedn

-;-

The crunch of his shoes against the sparse bits of snow on the ground sounded loud in his ears as he made his way to his mother. As he passed by Mikan's parents' tombstones, he caught a glimpse of the bright oranges and reds of her flowers. Of course she would choose obnoxious colours like that to give to her parents for Christmas, he mused with a snort.

Respectfully, he bowed his head down toward them before continuing his way through the cemetery.

When he stood in front of her tombstone, he exhaled the breath he didn't know he was holding.

"Merry Christmas, Mom."

He placed the bundle of flowers amidst the faint dusting of snow on her tombstone and knelt down in front of her, brushing his fingers against her name like he always did when he saw her. After a moment, he sat back on his legs and blinked at the flowers.

"I hope you like these flowers," he said slowly, fingering the dark pink roses amongst the purple daisies, white lilacs and plum blossoms. "They're different from the ones I usually get you. Polka Dots thought you might like variety." He paused thoughtfully, "She says it's Christmas time and you'd probably like to feel the Christmas spirit here. I saw the flowers she brought for her parents. She brought orange tulips among her flowers."

He chuckled lowly, clasping his hands together in his lap. "I'd like to think I have a little more taste. I got these for you. Tell me if you like them better. I've been giving you the same flowers for years." He inhaled slowly before saying, "Dad tells me I'm a lot like you. I've never liked change, so I figured you didn't like it much either…but change isn't always bad right?"

Natsume closed his eyes and thought back to her, feeling his heart swell with remembrance. "It's been twelve Christmases without you. I… we started hanging photos of you on the Christmas tree. That's another change that hasn't been so bad. She—"

He paused again and said quietly in his mind, Mikan gave me the idea. The Christmas tree she has in her room is full of her parents and her Grandpa. You should see it. It's nice.

"It feels like you're there with us," he continued aloud. "I think I like it much better like that. Dad likes to cook your favourites for Christmas dinners. I told you that last year and the year before, didn't I?"

I wish you were here.

"Sometimes I feel like I can do this without you." Most times I still can't believe you're gone.

He inhaled shakily. "A lot of things have happened in the last month. I can't wrap my mind around it. You're probably surprised too, huh?" He looked down at his hands and smirked. "She's a lot more trouble than she's worth. You've seen her around here, haven't you? She says she comes here once a week to visit her parents. You've probably heard her talking. She talks a lot with that obnoxious voice of hers. She wants us to be best friends. If you told me last month I'd become best friends with a girl like her, I would have laughed at you."

A soft wind burst against his neck like a gentle caress and it made a shiver speed down the length of his spine. He looked up at her tombstone. "Right now, I think I could be best friends with her. I think it would be really easy."

Gathering himself, he pressed his hands to his knees. "I know I don't really ask favours of you…I know how you feel about favours and promises, but I think you can help me with this one. It'll take some of your time, so bear with me, all right? It's not that I don't want you to look after me. I always want you to look after me," he said slowly, feeling the lump in his throat thinking about her. "But—"

Could you…look after her too? From where you are?

"She's a complete hazard to herself," he explained quickly. "I know her parents and her Grandpa are probably looking after her, but it just doesn't…doesn't seem like enough." He exhaled sharply before a laugh left him. "Just drop in whenever you have spare time, ok? You're probably going crazy up there, huh?" He grinned. "You're my hero."

I miss you.

"Merry Christmas, Mom."

He stood up and trailed his fingers along the top of her stone once more and smiled.

I love you.

-;-

The last few days were spent with either Aoi and Dad or the gang plus Imai…though Imai was quickly claiming a regular spot. She was sarcastic and blunt and always on Ruka's back. It was easy to taunt Ruka, but when Imai was at it, she took it to a whole other level.

She'd charmed his friends almost as quickly as Mikan had.

Almost.

He thought back to yesterday morning when they all drove to Tokyo airport to see her off. Natsume didn't understand why he had to tag along. He didn't care much for the blackmailer, but Mikan was adamant and as her best friend, you have to be there! She wanted her two best friends to get along, she said as an explanation.

He thought it might be easier to do what she wanted rather than have to listen to her logic.

The roads were busy.

It was afternoon and people seemed to be rushing back home to make it to Christmas dinner. He drove his car along with traffic and wondered vaguely what Mikan was doing. She said Shiki was going to spend Christmas with her. Her Uncle had taken the family to Hawaii the third day of Christmas break and had visited her briefly before taking off. He wondered whether he should make sure she was okay. She didn't exactly know this Shiki person very well…

He exhaled slowly.

That was really none of his business. She could call him if she was in trouble. She seemed to be calling him for the most inconsequential reasons as of late anyway.

As the city moved by, he rested his arm against the driver's window and waited impatiently for the cars ahead of him to move forward. He didn't think the roads would be so busy. If he did, he would have opted to walk instead. It seemed far faster than the road's progress.

Suddenly, from his peripherals, he caught sight of brown and turned his head so fast, he almost got whiplash. It wasn't her, but the girl behind her was. She had her hair down. It was probably the first time he ever saw her with her hair down. It was long enough to hit her elbows, fluttering swiftly in the wind. Why was she walking alone? Her head was ducked down against the wind and he scowled.

She was too far away to shout to, so he called her.

He watched as she checked her phone and picked up on the first ring. "Natsume?"

"Why are you walking by yourself in the middle of Tokyo without a jacket on?" he growled angrily, watching as she whipped her head back and forth to look for him. She pressed her back against the storefront and looked like she was scaling the walls.

"How do you know that?" she breathed into the phone. "That's so creepy, Natsume!"

"I'm in the middle of traffic," he explained sharply.

She seemed to see him because she dropped her arms, snapped the phone shut and started running down the sidewalk. Inwardly, his stomach dropped at how fast she was running. If she wasn't careful, she was going to face plant on the sidewalk again and he really didn't want to spend his Christmas bandaging her. If he was worried then, his worry quadrupled when she started to cross the street to get over to his car.

His heart almost stopped in his chest.

"Don't you ever do that ever again, do you hear me?" he growled at her the moment she flopped into the passenger seat. "What were thinking crossing five lanes of traffic when it's so fucking busy? Don't you ever use that brain of yours? Idiot! You could've been killed!"

She was buckling her seatbelt before her hands stopped and her wide eyes flashed up to his. "I'm so sorry, Natsume," she said quickly. "I forgot that your mom—"

He turned away from her apologetic gaze and eased the gas when traffic moved forward. "Just be careful," he said sharply. "You said you wouldn't be so reckless and not even a week goes by before you're running headlong into open traffic. You're so fucking stupid sometimes."

Her voice was quiet with apology. "I was really excited to see you."

It was six words, but they made a sharp heat start at the back of his neck. "Doesn't matter," he grumbled darkly. "You could have waited until I brought the car around before you ran over here. Why are you by yourself? I thought you were spending the day with Shiki."

"I—it didn't—" she stumbled over her words before she went silent.

It didn't take Natsume long to put the pieces together. "He couldn't make it," he muttered quietly, feeling a rush of anger at the conclusion. She had been looking forward to spending Christmas with at least a family friend with her family all gone. Natsume gripped the steering wheel tighter. "He couldn't make it," he repeated angrily. "Right?"

"He tried!" Mikan said quickly, turning in her seat to look at him. "He called me yesterday afternoon to tell me he had his first class tickets and all of his bags packed and that he'd come back to his hotel early after some dinner with one of his big stockholder clients or whatever but then…" She exhaled quickly. "There was a snow storm and he couldn't get home. He said he would try to get out in time, but I told him not to. It's…it's too dangerous, you know? I'd rather him be safe than risk his health—his life—just to spend some time with me for Christmas."

His heart softened at those words.

Of course she wouldn't want to lose anybody else.

"Besides," Mikan shrugged almost as if she was unaffected. "I know I'll end up seeing him sometime during the Christmas break. It doesn't have to be on Christmas day."

He let a moment of silence pass by before he dropped his anger entirely and replaced it with resignation. He couldn't stay mad at her for too long. "Where were you heading?"

"Dinner!" She said with a grin. "I'm going to treat myself to some Chinese or sushi for Christmas!"

At this, Natsume shook his head, turning away from traffic to head down to his neighbourhood. "You're an idiot if you think I'm going to let you spend Christmas by yourself." At her slack-jawed expression, he arched an eyebrow. "Fine, I'll ask to be polite. Do you really want to spend Christmas by yourself in that empty hotel room of yours or do you want to spend it with me…and my family?"

Her frown lifted into a grin. "I want to spend Christmas with you, of course."

Natsume turned away from her words and focused once again on the road. "Then get those thoughts of Chinese food out of your head. We're eating my mom's favourites tonight."

"Okay," she replied softly and he could hear the smile in her voice.

When he parked his car in the driveway and opened his door, he felt her warm hand stop his. Inwardly, he sighed. He looked back impatiently only to see a shy, thankful smile on her face. "Thanks again, Natsume."

He turned away. "Just don't eat my house down to fill that black hole in your stomach."

"You're such a great best friend."

"We could be best friends, just you and me. Us against the world."

Even though her tone was dry at best, Natsume smiled.

Maybe they could be.

…and the rest is still unwritten…


That last scene was the one that prompted this whole story in the first place. Weird, I know.

Natsume brought his mother flowers.

Flower meanings
Dark pink roses -
gratitude.
Purple daisies -
innocence, cheer, simplicity, faith.
White lilacs -
memories.
Plum blossoms -
beauty and longevity.

Yes, that's the end. If you were looking for romance, this story was not the place to find it. I like the thought of Natsume and Mikan starting off as friends. That's where they started in the manga, right? It's not always about romance and this story is about that. BUT if you are looking for some romance with this storyline, stay tuned for a oneshot sequel-ish thing. You guys might hate me though, so don't say I didn't warn you.

Thank you for following this story. I managed to finish this in a month like I hoped because of your encouragement, so thank you. :) You guys are kinda incredibly amazing, you know?

-MHR

Completed: June 28th, 2011