Chapter 2


It felt like he was slipping through endless time. Listless and let alone by reality, somehow avoiding the nostalgia and insomnia at the same time. It was impossible. This couldn't be absolute truth. His mind was tricking him, pulling him into an abyss that he didn't want to descend into. If he wasn't sleeping, then he was living unhappily, and if he wassleeping, then he was usually unhappy in his dreams or nightmares anyway. There was no escape… never had been.

So why did he feel as if he had locked himself away in his own private Pandora's Box? If someone opened it, what would arise? Was he what he had been before, or had he changed in some way? Natsume Hyuuga didn't want to change. Rather, he wanted others to change in his stead. He wanted the Alice Academy to be gone, not here, somewhere else… anywhere besides where he was. If it were possible for someone's mind to be totally and utterly engrossed in nothing… then that was what he was feeling at this moment.

Maybe he should just release every bit of power in my system. He can let it all go, extinguishing himself that way. It wouldn't be painful, would it? If he could stay in this nothingness forever… then he would…

"Natsume!"

The voice of someone he knows very well cuts through everything that he was feeling. Emotion is a terrible thing to some, and to others it is the best gift in the planet. As if imagination wasn't enough.

"Na-tsu-me!"

She's saying it slower now, but just as loud. Stupid girl. Stupid polka-dot-panties. He wishes now that he could reach through this blank slate and shush her somehow. Tell her to be quiet before he awakens and has to come back to the world he hates, no… more like loathes. The world he loathes. Yes, that sounds about right.

"If you don't wake up in the next twelve seconds, your penalty will be in the form of seventy thousand yen, extracted as soon as possible to be deposited in the bank of Hotaru Imai."

Another voice? This one most definitely didn't belong to polka-dot. No matter how hard she tried, Mikan-chan would never be able to think up words like 'extracted' or 'deposited'. That must have been the mad money genius, or whatever else people called her.

"Natsume…"

This time it wasn't either of the two girls. That was a guys' voice. Obviously concerned for someone, it must have been Ruka-pyon. Ruka… what was he doing here? Come to think of it, what were any of them doing here? He didn't have friends… so it wasn't as if they were obligated to visit him.

Obligations. So many obligations nowadays.


"Hey, what are you doing in here?" The tired voice of Narumi cut through everyone's words as they stood around Natsume's infirmary bed, their faces worried and strained. Mikan-chan looked up abruptly, causing her brown pigtails to sway gently against her head.

"We were checking on Natsume-kun… aren't we allowed to do that?"

Narumi knew he had to tread carefully here. Mikan seemed as though she were about to burst into tears, her eyes welling up with water. Her attempts to blink back the rising liquid looking so pitiful that Narumi was almost convinced that it really was alright for them to be in here, but the circumstances they found themselves in were just too dangerous. In this state, Natsume could destroy this place or even kill someone if his power was accidentally tapped into. They couldn't risk anyone getting hurt for something like that.

"No, I'm afraid it isn't Mikan-chan. I'm sure you're all very worried about Natsume-kun right now, but it's for the best…" Narumi walked one by one beside the young ones – and merely patting them on the head was enough to make both Hotaru and Ruka's eyes glaze over. Oh yes, he was good at what he did, but Mikan was not fooled for an instant. Her power rendered Narumi's own null and void, so it wasn't enough to just kiss her on the forehead to put her right to sleep. No, no… but there were other ways to persuade.

Without even missing a beat, Narumi grabbed her around the middle and hefted her up in a fireman's carry. This obviously didn't sit well for Mikan, since she began crying and shouting and kicking her legs at the same time.

One must do what one must do, after all, Narumi thought to himself, chuckling merrily and marching out of the infirmary with Hotaru and Ruka dazedly following after.


"Please answer the questions, Natsume."

A bored female voice began listing off questions once again, however, the younger boy in the opposite chair made no move to open his mouth. Instead he tapped his foot gently against the floor without even meaning to, a nervous habit that he had developed shortly after his little 'panic attack', as some were now calling it, even if it was not the same thing as an actual breakdown. Apparently it sounded better and kept the whole 'unfortunate happening' under wraps.

"Please, answer the questions, Nats-"

"Shut up, boring lady."

A sharp inhalation of air through teeth, as if the woman before him was trying to remain composed. "I don't-"

"Shut up, boring lady."

"You've been saying that for the last hour. How am I supposed to do my job if you insist on being a stubborn little-"

She was interrupted once again as Natsume leaned back in his chair, propping his legs up on the metal table that separated the two of them. He looked seriously tired and just a tad bit anxious as well, but the only thing that showed it was the way his eyes kept darting back and forth between the window and door – as if he were thinking on making a run for it. "Boring lady-san… boring-lady-sama… boring-san lady-sama… lady boring… bearer of boringness…"

"Alright!" Hayune, the nurse on duty, snapped. "I get it, already."

She stood from her chair and walked – stoic-faced – over to her desk and file cabinet, where she gingerly tucked her clipboard in between two stacks of books. Natsume cocked his head a little, trying to read the titles, and his lips pursed at each name. 'Mental psychology' was present in varying forms. How is it that they thought he was crazy? Did he do something wrong? He couldn't remember anything. Waking up in the infirmary was all his brain could conjure up and memories of the last few hours before that were just a blur.

"You're free to go. Please free to check up with me if you feel anything… umm…"

"Goodbye, boring lady," he muttered smugly, exiting and leaving a twitching and grumbling nurse behind – who he was absolutely sure had cursed him out under her breath at least five times in the last twenty seconds.

Nightmares were present in his dreams that night. Darkness was everywhere as usual, no light penetrating the thick and suffocating black. What was worse? Natsume could feel himself in the dream, knowing he was really there – or at least feeling as if he were. It was as if someone had poured oil all around him and he was now floundering in it, no hope of rising to the top, no hope of light…

But there was a light. Right there, as always, calling to him in his dreams. Telling him where to go, what to do, how to step, and how to swim his way out. No one could hurt him if he could grab her voice and hold it, letting her spread her light around him and in turn keeping the darkness away from the both of them. Nothing seemed so hard anymore when he could heart that voice. Calling his name over and over again. It was not as horrid as he had first thought to swim or walk or run in this frightening blank slate.

He wasn't alone.

"Natsume?"

Natsu woke up, shivering, his teeth chattering, cold sweat making his pajamas cling to him and his hair stick in odd angles. He desperately tried to control his heartbeat, his breathing, trying so hard not to curl up into a ball and wait for whatever frightful thing was out there to pass by him. Someone put their hand on his shoulder and he looked up to see Ruka, who was looking confused, happy, and yet… scared a little as well. "Ruka?" Natsume asked, making an effort to compose himself again. He really didn't like his best frien-… no… he couldn't say that. Admitting to himself that Ruka was a friend put the animal-loving-boy in danger.

"What are you doing here?" Ruka asked, just slightly unnerved. "Shouldn't they have kept you in the infirmary longer? You had… you were… you… collapsed…"

"What? No…"

"Yes!" Ruka interrupted. "Everyone was worried about you! Imai and Mikan-chan and… and everyone!"

Natsume looked a little irritated. "I'm fine. What are they-"

And he felt it again, slipping into his memory, his mind, his very being like water. As if it were just too easy to keep reminding him of the past. He couldn't help it. Natsume couldn't help it, because he wasn't there anymore. Ruka watched, horrified, as the other boy pulled his knees up to his chest, eyes wide, clenching his teeth as if he were trying to hold onto something important.

"Na-t…Natsume…? Wait! I'll get someone! I'll…"

But he wasn't there anymore. He couldn't hear Ruka's voice or Mikan's or anyone. All he could see was darkness.