Disclaimer: I don't own Gakuen Alice.
Claimer:
This fan fiction is mine.

This story takes place six years after the anime. I don't read the manga, and I don't really know who Hayate Matsudaira is. I've written him as I've read from the GA wikia and chapter fifty-nine, and I apologize in advance if he comes across as out of character.


A State of Disequilibrium

In which it's the Last Dance, and Hotaru Imai finally confesses her feelings – without the actual confession.
Oh, but it's gonna be legendary.


It was a beautiful Friday of the month, the night that the Academy had chosen to conclude the week-long Alice Festival. A series of brilliant, colorful lights adorned most of the school grounds, brightening up what would have otherwise been a dark evening. Small flags were fastened from one area to another, highlighting the festive atmosphere. In the very heart of the place was a big, glorious bonfire, its flames as though dancing in the rhythm of the music that played from the speakers around. A makeshift of a stage stood several meters away from it, proud and grand and elegantly embellished for the event. On either side of it were students from all branches of the school, laughing happily as they fell in line for the buffet.

In the midst of all this was Hotaru Imai, looking absolutely bored despite all the merrymaking around herself. The sixteen-year-old stood beside one of fancy dinner tables adjacent to the stage, keeping a polite expression of detachment on her face as she received another bouquet of flowers. They were red carnations, and very beautiful; but the young woman was hardly impressed, and instead placed the bouquet on a table that had been cleared for her purposes.

A small frown tugged at the corner of her lips when she realized how the table was once again crowded with gifts and flowers. This was already the third, but it was obvious that she would need another, seeing as –

"Hotaru!" a cheerful voice called out, effectively disrupting her thoughts. The young lady looked up to find it was only Mikan, her smile as brilliant as the flames of the bonfire nearby. She was clad in a pink, spaghetti strap dress that reached her knees, looking very pretty despite her obvious struggle with the heels.

"Mikan," Hotaru greeted, her voice soft and quiet, an odd contrast to her best friend's.

"What are you still doing here? You're supposed to be grabbing dinner with the rest of us!" Mikan exclaimed. She glared at the line of young men who were standing before her best friend, looking about ready to lash out on them, if only Hotaru wasn't quick enough to intervene.

"We were just about to finish," Hotaru said sternly. She watched as the young men helplessly tossed the gifts onto the pile upon her words, looking dismayed that a certain Mikan Sakura had deprived them of their time with the Hotaru Imai. Watching the guys retreat, Hotaru pulled out small controller from her purse. In no time at all, one of her inventions was already collecting the gifts and the flowers. With a few more clicks, the young lady ensured that all of it would be dumped in no place else but her laboratory.

"All done," she told Mikan, earning a smile from her friend.

"It's about time they gave you a break, Hotaru! It's nearly eight o'clock and you haven't even had dinner yet!" Mikan gave her an appreciative look, beaming with pride. "Although, I guess I can't blame them. You look really great tonight, Hotaru."

Hotaru only shrugged. She was clad in a white, strapless flowing dress that fell just a little above her knees, its black ribbon wrapped around her waist. A pair of black high heels were on her feet, making her much taller than she already was. "Let's just go," she said, her friend falling into step with her as they made their way to the line for the buffet.

"It's true, you know," Mikan insisted with a giggle. "No wonder those guys are still hoping you'll actually choose them to be your Last Dance tonight."

Hotaru felt herself tense up upon the words, although her outward expression did not show it. Instead she kept her stare ahead, her steps not faltering even as she lost herself in her musings.

It had been about eleven years since she became conscious of her genius for invention, exactly six years since she transferred to Alice Academy, and five years since she attained her position as one of the Top Star students in the school. With Mikan, Yuu, and the many friends she unwittingly made along the way, she achieved mastery of her alice, using it not only for her gains, but also for the things that proved helpful to her friends.

She was a genius beyond her age, and at sixteen, she had already created many inventions that sold for millions to the companies that took interest in them. She was young, and already she held the world tightly between her fingers. With her alice of invention and the remarkable indifference with which she regarded the renown and wealth that she had achieved, she grew to be one of the most established names in all of the Academy.

Hotaru had been prepared for it all, and had gracefully welcomed everything without hesitation. Somehow, deep down, she'd always known she would be somebody, a distinguished person from all others. While she had never openly expressed it, she knew she had been preparing for this all her life.

She was Hotaru Imai, and she would be damned if she wouldn't be the best at what she did.

What she hadn't been prepared for was the number of the fans and admirers that she would attract. The beginning of middle school had almost marked the end of her peace, with the flock of young men that confessed their feelings to her. It was a good thing she had been careful enough to trust her instincts and draw the basic precautions prior.

Still, she could only hold up her admirers for too long, considering that their number had drastically increased when she reached the age of sixteen – the marrying age in the country. Businessmen – sometimes young tycoons, sometimes even those even older than her own brother – became a normal sight in the Academy, all having gone through the school's strict security for her sake. Some offered partnership, and some offered marriage, while those who were graceful enough to receive the refusal offered to adopt her instead.

It was crazy,and almost too incredibly stupid to believe. It took barely four weeks after her sixteenth birthday for the young lady to realize that she had had enough. And so one week ago, in a moment of temper that had gone unrestrained due to both frustration and exasperation, Hotaru Imai made a brief, earth-shattering declaration that would rival the milestones of the millennium in its magnitude.

"The Last Dance," she snapped, giving an intent, cold glare at the bunch of idiots who had been disrupting her work and harassing her for the last four weeks. "The person I choose to be my last dance is the person I choose to be with."

Everyone only gaped at her in stunned silence. With a small frown, she held up another invention – an intimidating bazooka that she was itching to fire at someone, just to calm herself down. "Now will you leave me alone?"

Everyone nervously nodded, and she smirked. "Good."

Hotaru frowned at the memory, cursing herself for her moment of stupidity. She had been reckless, and she had permitted her emotions to rule over her rational thoughts. What she had done was the most cliché trick in probably all of mankind, and the fact that she had resorted to something like it aggravated her to no end.

If that wasn't enough, what she had done only seemed to placed her in a more difficult position. News had traveled faster than she could have anticipated, and a great number of the businessmen that had been wooing her for the longest time expressed that they would withdraw their business propositions if she turned them down.

Indeed, what she had done was a very, very bad business decision that easily cost her millions in less than one day.

Regardless, she couldn't deny that thinking things through over the weekend left her quite certain that what she had brought upon herself wasn't entirely foolish at all. In fact, it could possibly even be the greatest decision she had ever made, if she played her cards right.

After realizing her stupid blunder, she had locked herself up in her laboratory, where she contemplated her next course of action. Following her mechanical routine, she had made a benefit-cost analysis to determine her position, and had even been slightly surprised when she ended up with a clear-cut victory for herself. No matter how she looked at it, all the gains in this little game would accrue to no one else but her.

For one, she would finally rid herself of her crazy admirers. Their number was astounding, but while she would definitely suffer losses in absolute terms, the fact that many of the sensible ones had already expressed that they would respect her decision in tonight's Last Dance and still put forward their business proposal for her would prove to be more advantageous to her in the long run.

Of course, the problem of actually choosing someone as her Last Dance still remained, like an axe over her neck, ready for the kill if she even messed up oh so slightly.

Almost instinctively, Hotaru turned her gaze to the far left, where she had spotted both Ruka Nogi and Hayate Matsudaira just minutes before. Against her will, she had found herself glancing in their direction ever since she arrived, all too aware of the rumors that she would pick either of the two – an unsurprising conclusion, considering that they had been the firsts to openly admit their feelings and intention to pursue her.

"Over here!" Hotaru heard someone call out, and she shifted her gaze just in time to see a dashing Yuu Tobita waving at her and Mikan. The young man was at the end of the line for the food, impressively holding off the girls standing nearby. "You guys are late!"

"Sorry!" Mikan said, waving back to the blond as they approached him. The dutiful Yuu had grown up to be one of the most charming young men in all of the Academy, and he was fast attracting the dangerous interest of the girls in school.

"You're still alive," Hotaru greeted.

Yuu laughed nervously. "Barely," he said. "You?"

Hotaru smirked, her gaze landing on the two young men at the far end of the celebration once more. There was a long pause before she finally turned back to the selection of food in front of her. "I'm starving."

x~x~x

"It sucks, huh."

The sixteen-year-old Ruka Nogi felt as though he dropped his heart when someone spoke from behind him. Startled, he glanced over his shoulder, furrowing his eyebrows when he saw that it was none other than Hayate Matsudaira himself. "You're here," he muttered, the words escaping his lips before he could even think about it.

The older alice seemed tempted to stick his tongue out at him, but decided against it the last second. "Why hello to you, too, Ruka," he said instead, taking his place beside the blue-eyed alice. "I'm here to be Hotaru's Last Dance, of course."

Ruka felt himself grimace, his first meeting with Hayate still clear in his memory. Hayate had always been a strange one – or, as Hotaru had always put it, "a complete moron". Still, his persistence was commendable , and it wasn't rarely that Ruka found himself wondering if he could find some way to be as carefree and as expressive as the other alice.

"It's a wonder why they're still not kicking you out of college," Ruka told him, well aware of how Hayate was in Alice Academy almost every other day. Most people had dismissed the young man's constant declaration of love for Hotaru as an infatuation, but the wind alice wielder proved them all wrong when he refused to let up, even after graduating from the Academy. Hayate made it a point to randomly show up and pester Hotaru for a date. Despite himself, even Ruka was impressed.

Hayate laughed it off. "Not with the Academy's backing, I don't think so," he said, and grinned up at Ruka. "So what are you doing here?"

Ruka flushed red in embarrassment, and he started sputtering. "Y-You – t-that's – " he started, grasping at straws for the words while Hayate laughed at his discomfiture. Ruka glared at him. "I'm here to be Hotaru's Last Dance," he said earnestly, congratulating himself when he didn't stutter.

Hayate scoffed in what seemed to be amusement, before looking over to where Hotaru was seated. "I haven't even gotten to talk to Hotaru yet. I wish she weren't as popular as she is," he sighed hopelessly, and glanced back at his archrival. "Don't you?"

Ruka frowned, shoving a hand into his pocket thoughtfully. "I do," he agreed, the feeling of disappointment tugging at his chest again. He hadn't been able to approach Hotaru with his own gift the entire evening, as she was too occupied by her other admirers to do anything else. Ruka had only been too glad when he saw Mikan pull Hotaru away to have dinner with her and Yuu. He had been getting quite concerned, and would have pulled her away himself if Mikan hadn't been there first.

Hayate laughed. "You look so nervous, Ruka. Don't you know we're the two people everyone expects Hotaru to be choosing between?"

"That's what they say," Ruka said, after a thoughtful pause. "They're not Hotaru. You know how she is."

"We don't know how she is," Hayate pointed out.

"Exactly," Ruka said. "With Hotaru, the only thing that you know is that you don't know."

Hayate smiled pensively, glancing over to Hotaru again. "Sorry, Ruka, but to be frank, I'm still hoping she'll choose me to be her Last Dance. I truly like her more than I can tell you."

Ruka eyed the older alice. "And I like her more than you can tell me."

The two of them shared a good-natured laughter, both sounding tense. They knew that tonight's announcement would mean the happiness of one, and the heartbreak of the other.

"You met her first," Hayate said after a pause. "You have a good advantage."

"You told her your feelings first," Ruka responded, trying to make light of the situation. "Repeatedly, too, ever since you two met."

Hayate chuckled. "Hey, your confession was pretty neat, too," he teased, recalling how hilarious it had been when Ruka finally gathered up enough courage to say what he felt.

Ruka groaned, remembering his confession all too clearly. On that fateful day over a year ago, he found himself confessing his feelings for a certain violet-eyed genius who had been making his life miserable for the past six years.

"I'm in love with Hotaru Imai and I plan to win her heart!" Ruka declared bravely, although the color of his cheeks seemed to disagree. He didn't even know how it happened: how and when he stopped minding all the blackmails, and when he started looking at Hotaru Imai instead of Mikan Sakura. But he knew enough to know that what he felt needed to be told, that it was enough to make him do this – despite how terrified he was of expressing himself.

Around him, half of the school population stood in stunned silence. The fan girls, most particularly, seemed like they had just witnessed the collapse of their own empire.

Several moments later, Ruka was sprawled on the floor, having been mercilessly blasted by Hotaru's Idiot Gun.

"Idiot," Hotaru murmured before she finished with a dramatic exit.

"She didn't have to hit me in front of so many people," Ruka laughed, and it wasn't long until Hayate was laughing with him.

"That was a classic Hotaru Imai," Hayate agreed.

Ruka shook his head with a smile, his gaze drifting back to Hotaru. The beautiful young woman was still having dinner with her friends, looking as cold and composed as she had always been. Her expression was blank, without the faintest trace of worry – a direct contrast to the anxiety that was rapidly building up at the pit of his stomach.

"She's already decided," the blond whispered, a weak smile forming his lips at the realization.

Hayate blinked, following his gaze. "What?"

Ruka nodded, feeling a sudden coldness creep over his heart. He couldn't tell for sure how – but somehow he knew that Hotaru had already decided, long before tonight – probably long before she had told everyone about tonight's Last Dance. "She's already decided who her Last Dance will be."

A vague look of concern graced Hayate's features. "I guess that's to be expected of Hotaru, huh," he muttered. He shook his head, taking a deep breath before turning to face Ruka. "Ruka," he called out, prompting the younger man to look at him. Without another word, he offered his hand, a friendly smile falling on his lips. "May the better – best – man win."

Ruka chuckled, unable to keep himself from returning the smile. "Indeed," he said, and accepted Hayate's handshake. "May the best man win."

He had a feeling he had just made a friend out of Hayate Matsudaira.

x~x~x

" – and the day after you said that, everyone was already asking me who your Last Dance would be," Mikan said, a thoughtful expression gracing her face as she spoke. "They kept saying that you must have already decided long before you said you'd make this announcement, and that I should be the first to know, as your best friend."

Hotaru quietly chewed on her food, listening to what Mikan was saying without comment.

Contrary to what almost everyone seemed to think, choosing someone as her Last Dance was far trickier than anyone could possibly imagine. Hotaru had never told anyone of it before, but she found all of it to be completely stupid, especially with the accompanying myth of ending up together with the person you chose to be your Last Dance. It was embarrassing enough to watch other girls go through such foolishness every single year ever since she started in the Academy, but that she herself would have to go through the same thing was, in two words, truly mortifying.

Hotaru Imai simply did not take part in something so silly.

She'd been clever enough to skip the whole thing for the last six years through unorthodox schemes (including but not limited to blackmailing particular people), but this year there seemed to be no way of getting around it. Not when she had given her word in front of practically the entire school population and all her admirers, and not when she'd already made bets that she would announce a Last Dance tonight.

(Yes, bets. There was simply no way she'd pass up Koko's bet, that sneaky bastard.)

At this point, there was just too much at stake for her to withdraw.

Hotaru raised her eyes to the stage, where the thirty-three-year-old Narumi had taken his place. Class B's homeroom teacher from six years ago stood smiling under the spotlight, dressed in a dark tuxedo. His hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, accentuating the pretty face that hadn't seemed to age with time.

"Good evening, everyone," Narumi greeted, his voice gentle and friendly. "Welcome to the Last Dance."

The young woman frowned, still unable to begin to understand why anyone could find the Last Dance so romantic. What could be so dreamy about anyone throwing away one's pride for a three-minute dance? Never mind that more than half of the girls' picks were almost always induced by impulsive hormones, because at the end of the day, choosing one's Last Dance was an embarrassment that would be etched in the minds of everyone for probably forever.

Hotaru had thought long and hard about what she was going to do tonight, and in the process she had realized just how proud she truly was. All these years she had kept to herself not only because she was busy besting herself, but above anything else it was because she knew she had too much potential to engage herself in the trivial things that other people wasted their lives on. She'd always thought highly of herself, if only clandestinely, and somehow she knew that the things everyone expected of her and her genius were completely different from what they expected from anyone else.

Perhaps she'd always been expected a little too much of, so that in the end, she was left a little too cold and a little too heartless; possessing a little too much pride which, while ill befitting her age, also well suiting the person she had grown up to be.

Hotaru smirked, marveling at her own pride. That was it – her pride – the one thing that seemed to keep her from figuring out the mystery of the Last Dance. Somehow, a genius like herself couldn't even begin to understand how anyone could be so foolish enough to throw away one's pride for several minutes of self-gratification.

" – but you will choose tonight, won't you, Hotaru?" Mikan asked, interrupting Hotaru's musings. "You will choose someone and not call me to be your Last Dance, won't you?"

Hotaru stared intently at her friend's teasing, curious face. "I've given my word, Mikan," she said, watching as Mikan's eyes widen ever so slightly in excitement. "I won't call you to be my Last Dance," she assured, knowing for certain that she'd already gone too far and risked too much to stop now.

Besides, this was probably the easiest way for Hotaru Imai to confess her own feelings without looking like some lovesick fool.

Without waiting for Mikan's response, Hotaru turned back to her food, inwardly muttering an oath. Confession. The mere word was enough to send a chill down her spine in distaste. A word like confession was simply not in the vocabulary of the Hotaru Imai – the manipulative, cold-blooded bitch who earned both her peers' respect and envy with her genius and the ruthless manner with which she conducted her business.

Most people often speculated that Hotaru was quiet and aloof because of the significant time she'd spent away from people. Most of her childhood had been consumed by studying, which was only worsened when the Academy gave her a laboratory of her own when she was ten years old. She never spent time with people, and she never learned from them. She sought knowledge by isolating herself, and somehow, somewhere along the way, she ended up incapable of expressing what she felt.

It was a beautiful conjecture – almost romantic, even – something that made people think that Hotaru needed someone outgoing and loud, one who would show her how it would be like to be carefree and calm and at peace. Someone who was an utter opposite of herself – someone whose view of the world was not as grim as hers.

As far as Hotaru was concerned, all of it was absolutely bullshit.

It wasn't the question of whether she could express herself, as others thought it was, because Hotaru knew for a fact that she could. The greater question, the one that almost everyone completely overlooked, was whether she would – especially given her massive pride.

Hotaru had spent her entire life holding herself in high esteem, and the idea of swallowing her pride in front of everyone else for a damning Last Dance request did not appeal to her in the slightest. It was something she had sworn she would never subject herself to. Somehow, she had always had the sense that it would only leave her feeling vulnerable and weak and stupid – and Hotaru Imai was not vulnerable, not weak, and definitely not stupid.

It was for this reason that what her frustration had provoked her to say over a week ago ultimately spelled victory for herself: It gave her an inadvertent opportunity to attend tonight's event and choose her Last Dance – the one suitor amongst the many, whom she could actually stand.

It had taken her a while, but Hotaru finally admitted that there was at least one young man who, despite being the bother that all of her suitors were, was one she could most tolerate. One who knew when to shut up, who understood her silence, and who knew better than to impress her with gifts and roses. One who knew better than to impress her with anything, for that matter.

One who knew how to express himself simply and clearly – neither the first nor the last to admit his feelings for her, but certainly the one who seemed to have had the most trouble speaking up, while choking on his own words and pride and ego.

Hotaru inwardly smirked, thanking her stroke of genius for sparing her the awkwardness of it all. Last week's incident may have caused her a fleeting setback in its inherent foolishness, but in the end, all gains were still hers and no one else's. In participating in tonight's Last Dance, she would not only rid herself of her annoying admirers, but she would also be able to accept someone's feelings and admit her own – without having to explicitly say so. Her life would be at peace again, and her pride would remain perfectly intact.

It would be a confession without the actual confession.

Damn, but it was genius.

x~x~x

It was roughly twenty minutes after the Dance officially started that Hotaru was finally called to the stage. Narumi himself knew the sheer gravity of tonight's Last Dance, and had earlier announced that every girl would be simply called as her name was drawn. All of it was absolutely random – a scheme that effectively kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

"Good evening, Hotaru," Narumi greeted as she finally took her place beside him. Her teacher's eyes seemed to smile with delight, and Hotaru found herself giving a faint smile in return. "It's your turn to choose your Last Dance."

Hotaru nodded. She had long figured out that her cheerful teacher had always known more than he let on, and now, looking at his playful smile, she wondered if he already knew what her answer would be.

Narumi turned to the rest of the Academy, who had gone quiet as soon as the inventor's name had been called. "It's your first time to partake in this event, isn't it, Hotaru?" he asked her, obviously taunting the spectators. "Over the last six years, you've chosen to skip out on choosing a Last Dance for yourself."

Hotaru's lips curled up in dark amusement. Her teacher could be quite sadistic when he liked to be. "It's as you say, Narumi-sensei."

Narumi gave a quiet chuckle. "I'm sure everyone here tonight is very curious to know who your Last Dance will be," he started. "I believe I am, too, considering how you've made a prior announcement to tonight." He gave her a fond smile. "Would you perhaps be kind enough to repeat that to everyone here tonight?"

Hotaru gave a slight nod, all the while taking on an empty expression. "The person I choose to be my Last Dance is the person I choose to be with," she said, and had a vague feeling that a dance had started the very moment that she stepped on stage.

Narumi's smile seemed to widen as the crowd murmured amongst themselves in response to Hotaru's words. "I guess we shouldn't keep everyone waiting long, then," he said. He held up the microphone to her, and gave a slow nod. "Please tell us who you choose to be your Last Dance, Hotaru."

The young inventor gave a perfunctory blink as she looked over to the quiet audience, noting the apprehension that characterized their stance. Even the Last Dance music was momentarily stopped, rendering all of Alice Academy cold and quiet. Everyone was literally on the edge of their seats, motionless, and tense, like the moment had stolen their ability to breathe.

Hotaru Imai deadpanned into the microphone, her steady, solemn voice shattering the stillness of the evening.

"My Last Dance will be Natsume Hyuuga."

x~x~x

Seated far back, away from everyone's stunned gazes, Natsume Hyuuga only cracked a smirk. "About the damn time, Imai."

the beginning.


I hope I've proven that it's completely possible to make NatsumeHotaru happen, without resorting to AU and simply sticking to canon. :)

Dedicated to: Ria Lee, A.J. Lewis, Marse Speaks, Mei Vir D. Ripper, Shubhs, Frantic Emotions, Devine Inspiration, science and fiction, amai youkaiko, Sugar Coated Tragedy, Little Cute Girl, xIshaxx, peps-chan, this pen is red, Meteor light, XxblackwingsxX, Miharu Endou, Death's Servant, Prose Vanity, polkadots24, Ridley Silverlake, The Tortured Poet, and Mishie Eru.

The most curious thing about this pairing is that no one seems to want to write the beginning of their story. All NatsumeHotaru fics I've read so far take their getting together as a given. Which is bad, if you ask me, because it's how they get together that's the challenge – something that needs to be conquered, before the odds of them being together can even be entertained, by nonbelievers in particular. I had originally intended to jump in and write a story where Natsume and Hotaru are already together, but I felt that it wouldn't be believable without a concrete foundation. So instead I wrote this fic to establish how they end up together. I truly adore Natsume and Hotaru together, and am hoping that people will write more about them.

I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am of myself for writing this. NatsumeHotaru is a complete shift from the accepted paradigm in the fandom, and while I'm honored that Disequilibrium is said to be the legendary story to set it off, I had my own doubts not in going against the norm (because it's truly liberating), but in my ability to show and make people consider the likelihood of Natsume and Hotaru being together. I truly hope I didn't disappoint, despite the lack of their interaction in this story.

Constructive criticisms are always appreciated, so don't hesitate to leave a review. Happy Christmas, everyone. :)

Hilaire
12.25.11