So, I'm finally back with chapter 2! Before we begin, I just want take the time to thank all of you wonderful people who added this story to you favorites/alerts list. And I want to give a special thank you to those of you who reviewed :D You made me so happy! There were, however, some of you who did so anonymously, so I couldn't reply to your wonderful words. So I'd like to do so now :)

Shattered Doll: Thank you so much! I'm glad you're enjoying this so far. And now you don't have to wait any more!

Suigintou: Oh, wow, thank you! Saying that my story is 'unique' is really one of the best compliments you could have given me :) I've always felt that half the fun of a story is discovering that it's something new, so that it's not completely boring or unpredictable, you know?

l: Well, I don't know if you consider ten days 'soon,' but I have finally brought you another chapter ;)

cali bernardez: First of all, I want to thank you for giving this story a chance despite your first impression :) And it's true that the GA cast fits these roles perfectly! It's almost scary :P Anyway, you don't have to apologize at all for giving me such helpful criticism. The truth is that I know you're right; I've always been horrible at summaries, probably because I like to keep them short. But since you think it's an issue, I will seriously try to think of a better one. Hmmm, do you have any ideas?

So, now that everyone has been answered, let's get on with the chapter! Just to warn you, though, it's quite a bit longer than the first ^_^

Disclaimer: I do not own Gakuen Alice or any of its characters.


Tobita Yuu had just finished properly dressing for dinner. He was only taking a moment to shine his glasses on his robes when a maid came bursting into his room, out of breath and looking extremely haggard. He gaped at her in frightened shock, taking in her rat's nest for hair and bugging eyes.

"Lord Natsume requires your presence in his bedroom immediately!" she exclaimed with a shrill cry, on edge about something obviously very serious.

Tobita wasted no time in heeding to her words, ignoring the swish of his cloak as he raced down the halls of their King's dead mansion. It seemed to him that the closer he ran to the bedroom, the more maids he saw in a similarly roughened state as the first. And before he had even made it inside the room, he received an explanation in the form of a horrified, decidedly female cry that carried down the hall.

"No! No, you're lying. Take it back." The previously bold voice suddenly disappeared, and while stationed just outside the door, Tobita heard it change into a broken whisper. "Please? Please, take it back."

"Tobita," a deep voice called from inside, sounding calm yet strained nonetheless. He recognized it as their King and jumped at the sudden summons. Nothing escaped Lord Natsume, especially in the Underworld. "Come inside."

Fidgeting nervously at having come across such a scene, the God of Dreams hesitantly opened the doors, peeking inside cautiously before fully stepping in. The sight before him was not one he was prepared for; a pretty young girl sat sprawled on his master's bed, clutching the sheets in terror as tears streamed down her cheeks endlessly. Natsume stood at the foot of the bed, his lips pursed as he watched this foreign woman cry. He did not spare a glance to Tobita when he entered, even when addressing him directly.

"Show her an illusion," he ordered stoically. "Something nice, soothing." After a moment of thought, he added, "Make it a meadow, brimming with...life." His face twisted at the word, and Tobita imagined a flash of pain passing through his eyes.

With a squeak, the god hastened to do as he was told. Approaching the bed, he clapped his hands together, using all of his might to transfer his powers into the mind of this young girl. As the God of Dreams, he had initially always thought he could do no more than effect others as they dozed. But Natsume had taught him to harness that power and create mighty illusions, even to someone awake and alert. It could be used as a deadly weapon if one wished it so, but Tobita had always been a peaceful god, content with using his powers for good rather than evil.

Instantaneously with his powers, the crying stopped, and the girl's whimpering fell silent. Natsume gave it a moment, unsure of whether he should approach her and possibly risk harming her, but eventually walked around the bed to her side. Her eyes had glazed over, and she stared off into the distance unconsciously, watching a reality that had never existed in the first place. More confident of himself now, he reached out a hand to her tiny frame, tugging her head to lay it against his chest. Tobita watched with red cheeks as the King pressed his lips to her ear intimately, his eyes hard with concern.

"Mikan," he spoke to her with a gentleness his subordinate had never known him to possess. It was a strangely private moment, even if the ruler paid no mind to him standing in the room, and he turned to give them their moment of solitude. "Mikan, listen to me. There is nothing you can do now. Once you enter the Underworld, there is no way to leave without my permission." He closed his eyes for a moment, bracing himself for the cruel, selfish words he had to say next. "And I refuse to let you go. Resign yourself to your fate, Mikan. You are my wife-to-be, and you will forever be my kingdom's Queen."

The girl slumped against the mattress, using his chest for support as her posture sagged in defeat. Her eyes were still clouded over, but the words had obviously penetrated the vision she was trapped in. Natsume wrapped his strong arms around her torso, keeping her steady while he fixed Tobita's back with a leveled glare.

"Release her," he commanded, and the bespectacled boy jumped as he complied with his wishes.

Unlike when she had first awakened slowly and peacefully, Mikan felt herself being forcefully jerked out of her daydream. It had been a most wonderful experience to wake to a field of fresh grass and hundreds of flowers. The meadow had smelled of life itself, comforting her terrified emotions and soothing her into a state of unguarded bliss. And then that awful voice had resonated through the skies, and she felt as if each word slapped her in the face, reminding her of her true reality. Oddly enough, however, she found that she could not truly appreciate the horrifying message in those words. For some reason, her mind remained elated in that fresh field, though she couldn't shake the feeling that the emotion was being forced upon her, that it was not how she truly felt. It was only when she awakened that the fear and fury of reality properly settled in. She was disgusted to learn that she was cuddled in the jerk's arms.

"Let go of me!" she screeched, violently pushing him away as her eyes moistened from a fresh batch of tears. Natsume watched her indifferently, his lips a thin line of contempt. Still shaken up, Mikan could do nothing more than plead to her captor, "Why are you doing this?"

Because I love you.

The answer was right on his tongue, so close to slipping out that it almost burned. But he choked them back. There would come a day when he would say them to her, but not when she was so torn up and rash like this. She was not ready to hear them yet.

"Get cleaned up," he ordered instead, ignoring her question and heading for the door. "A maid will bring you a change of clothes, something fitting of your new status. You will be having dinner with me this evening."

And pretending he couldn't hear her frightened whimpering from behind him, he swiftly departed for the dining hall.

.. ღ ..

Mikan watched him go, this man who had so cruelly ripped her away from this world. His back was broad, and at any other time, she would have found it a comforting trait. But not on her kidnapper. Instead, it only made her feel that much smaller, and she felt herself trembling as he left her behind.

Only hours ago she had been safe, free, unaware of what was coming next. Her mother often spoke of the Fates when she was young – the three sisters who controlled the lives of every being in existence. With that abundant innocence she'd possessed as a child, she'd always claimed that as a Fate, she would do nothing but lead people to good fortune and plentiful cheer; at the time that had meant groves of unicorns and colorful rainbows, but she truly did wish for everyone to encounter nothing but happiness. But this cruel fate of hers, which had most likely been decided from birth, was the farthest from good fortune she could imagine.

And it was all Natsume's fault.

She wallowed in her self-pity, too distraught to even bother holding her head high and making the most of this situation. In only half a day, she had been stripped from the wonderful life she knew, dragged to the fiery pits of the dreaded Underworld, and forced into a marriage with her alleged kidnapper, whose life consisted of dealing with grief-stricken souls and banishing them to the depths of Tartarus. Even her pathetically boring existence was welcome now, as long as she knew that she was secure and unconstrained.

Tobita watched this young girl – Mikan, his master had called her – with a helpless feeling gnawing at his core. She looked so pitiful and alone that he wished he could reach out and wrench away all of her troubles, maybe provide her an escape with his liberating illusions. But she sat so withdrawn that he was afraid to approach her in any way, even without any intent to harm. He didn't want to frighten the girl.

Finally, the god decided that it might be best if he left her to her own devices. Lord Natsume had not explicitly ordered him to stay and watch over her, and it was quite possibly in both their self interests if they did not interact any more than necessary. He was sure that, right now, he would be nothing more than a cruel reminder of this world she now lived in, so he turned to leave her in peace. However, he'd only just made it to the door himself when a shy voice stopped him in his tracks.

"Why do you stay here?" Mikan asked quietly, her voice low and expectant. He turned in shock, only to find that she was still situated on the bed, watching him gravely as she awaited his answer. Tobita scratched the back of his neck, rather stunned by the expression on such a pretty face and unsure of how to answer.

"Because Lord Natsume is good to me," he finally decided, speaking carefully so as not to offend her in anyway. At her shocked response, he went on to explain, "He's never been a purposely cruel person, even if he rules over the Underworld. Lord Natsume helped me to discover the true extent of my powers when everyone else only saw me as worthless." Setting his lips in a grim line, he added, "And my domain is shrouded in darkness. Dreams flourish best when it's night, after all, and I am allowed to stay here freely so I can fully harness my powers." His voice softened as he smiled at her sincerely. "It was out of the goodness of his heart."

Mikan still looked unconvinced, and she bit her lip as she wiped at the dirty streaks of dried tears on her face. The trembling had ceased, but he could still see the fear shrouding her eyes, as well as her guarded posture. She was not yet ready to trust his master, no matter how kindly he might treat her. It was to be expected considering the circumstances that had brought them together, but Tobita wished sincerely that Lord Natsume might succeed in the end, so both could find happiness with each other.

A group of maids bustled into the room soon after, tripping over their own feet to serve Natsume's honored guest – who could quite possibly be their future Queen. They nervously pulled her away from the bed, bound by a tight schedule and afraid of sending her off to dinner late. Natsume behaved indifferently to many things in life, but incurring his wrath was a frightening promise of death.

They pulled her into the large, walk-in closet, ignoring her faint protests as they rushed to straighten out her evening gown for supper. Tobita had already departed to give them their privacy, so Mikan fought back helplessly by herself, at a loss of how to react to such a royal treatment. No one in her life had ever hastened to do anything for her, even if she held the title of demigoddess, and though she desired nothing more than to kick them all out, she was also unsure of whether such an act would be offensive to the workers.

But finally, when one of the maids pulled down her skirt without so much as a warning, she gave a loud squeak and pushed them all away.

"I can dress myself!" she argued, a horrid flush blossoming on her cheeks. The maids simply eyed her disapprovingly, and the one who had undressed her clucked her tongue at the sight of her undergarments.

"Polka dots simply won't do," she tutted, much to Mikan's humiliation. "Lord Natsume's tastes are much more exquisite than that. In order to please him–"

"I don't want to please him!" she shrieked in horror, snatching the evening gown and wrapping it around her exposed legs. Her face had undoubtedly changed color to match her red cheeks, and she felt her knees go weak from the sheer embarrassing thought.

The maid gaped at her as if she'd just sprouted a different language. "How else will you consummate your marriage?"

With another frightened squeak, Mikan just forced them out of the closet, ignoring their questions and concerns in favor of a moment of isolation. After shutting the doors and blocking out all the noise, she stood breathing heavily in the changing room, listening to the maids scuffling around outside as she attempted to calm her heart. She'd only just met the jerk! There would be no marriage, and absolutely no consummation of any sort. Had he gone around telling others of their supposed wedding night to come?

The evening gown slipped from her legs, and she automatically picked it up, fingering the fine, black fabric. It was a soft dress that felt absolutely wonderful against her skin, and it reminded her of those silk bedsheets she had sat on mere moments ago. Gingerly holding it out in front of her, she found that it was actually a very beautiful garment, adorned with small jewels around the collar and very much a modern design. Considering the ancient history of the Underworld, she could only assume he had gone out of his way to purchase a dress more familiar to her recent tastes.

As much as Mikan wanted to toss the dress to the ground, stomp on it repeatedly, and show that jerk just how she felt towards him and his gift, her feminine side won out in the end. The garment was too gorgeous for her to resist, and she'd never dressed in anything so fine. Still slightly hesitant, she slipped out of her previous clothes and cautiously adorned the dress. After carefully flattening out any creases or folds, she peered at herself in the mirror.

It's...nice, she reluctantly admitted, though inside she was dancing with glee at how breathtaking it was. Having never worn anything so formal before, she had no idea how flattering it could be for one's figure – even a stick figure body like hers. She flushed, however, when she realized it was her exact size and measurements. How did that pervert know?

"Mikan-sama!" the maids outside suddenly hollered, banging on the doors. They sounded extremely flustered, and she got her answer as to why when they continued. "You're almost later for supper! Please, let us finish dressing you."

She scowled deeply, her eyebrows set with a stubborn determination. "I'm not going to dinner with that jerk!" she yelled back, crossing her arms defiantly.

She heard loud gasps from outside. "How can you say such a thing?" one of them demanded, and she winced when she heard the outrage in her voice. "You should be honored that young master has invited you to dine with him. It has been centuries since he has deemed any woman worthy of being his honored guest, as well as showered her with attention so privileged."

"He kidnapped me," she shot back incredulously. Surely they couldn't be suggesting that she overlook all of his crimes? In the mortal realm, such acts would be charged with horrendous penalties, no matter who the perpetrator. It shouldn't matter that this Natsume was their king, for she was unwillingly at his mercy. He could be planning all sorts of torture for her!

Someone sniffed disapprovingly. "If you were being as difficult as you are now, I can understand why," she heard them mutter before another maid shushed her quickly, and her jaw dropped. Why wouldn't anyone sympathize with her?

Finally, a worker who sounded much kinder than the others spoke up, attempting to reason with her. "Mikan-sama, we understand that you're very upset right now, but please let us do our work. Lord Natsume expects only the best out of us, and if you arrive late, we just wouldn't be able to bear his disappointment."

When she said it in such a way, Mikan couldn't help but feel like the bad guy in this situation. Which was completely unfair! She had done nothing wrong, yet those words tugged at her tender heart strings. If any of these girls were punished or even let go because of her stubbornness, even if she didn't think the world of them right now, she would only feel horribly guilty for probably the rest of her life for not preventing it. She always had been more keen on other's feelings, no matter how much her brother would worry and advise her against it.

"Fine..." Taking a deep, reassuring breath, Mikan finally opened the closet door and stepped out, acting as if she were walking on a land mine. The maids paused in their antics to gape at her, in awe not only because of her surrender to their pleas, but over how much a simple dress could change a person. But they came to their senses only moments later, and she had to endure agonizing minutes of extreme prepping.

As she repeatedly refused their suggestions of more racy undergarments but relented to letting her hair down in return, Mikan could only hope that at the least she wouldn't be expected to remain civil during this dinner.

.. ღ ..

Natsume fidgeted in his seat, slouching as he placed his elbow on the arm rest and his cheek against his fist. Mikan was dangerously close to being late, and he glared out at the dining table as he continued to wait for her impending entrance.

"What a scary face," Ruka commented with a smile as he wandered in. Natsume grunted as he gestured to the chair on his left side, and his best friend took that as a hint that it was his chair for the evening. There were only three places set up despite the table's enormous length, and the ruler of Death had already taken his place at the end. The right was obviously reserved for his bride.

There was suddenly a commotion by the double doors behind them, and they watched in surprise as they burst open. A gaggle of maids came stumbling in, tugging along someone in the middle impatiently. At the sight of their King, they abruptly paused and bowed so low their noses could touch their knees. But Natsume's eyes were only for Mikan.

She had let her hair down. That was the only thought running through his mind as he took in her appearance, and he was rather smug when he realized his previous assumption had been correct; she did look gorgeous. The locks had become wavy from the tight ponytails, and they curled at the ends to give a more sophisticated look. He barely spared a glance at her body, though. Yes, he was quite content to learn his taste in dresses suited her so well, but he hadn't taken her for such crude purposes as to leer at her non-existent figure. Instead, he found himself entranced by how her cheeks flushed an attractive pink when she caught his eyes with her own.

"You may leave," he ordered the maids flippantly, his gaze planted on Mikan. They hastened to bow and retreat on his command, ignoring the way the demigoddess reached out for them helplessly to not abandon her there. One of them paused just before she exited, sending Natsume an apologetic look.

"My apologies, Lord Natsume. We could not talk her out of her polka dotted undergarments, but I hope that does not spoil the wedding night for you." And then she retreated, shutting the doors behind her.

Mikan could have just died. As it was, she caught the glint of amusement in Natsume's eyes and wished nothing more than for the ground to open up and swallow her whole, right then and there – anything to get her out of this mortifying situation. And the entire debacle was only made that much worse when someone coughed awkwardly, and she realized they were not alone in the room. Instead, a handsome blond looked back in his chair and sent her a sheepish smile, his cheeks bright red in embarrassment for her sake.

"Don't just stand there like an idiot," Natsume spoke up lazily, ignoring the tense atmosphere. He gestured to the open chair on his right. "Take your seat so we can start our dinner."

She sent him a horrible glare and stomped to the indicated seat, sniffing haughtily as she tucked herself in. Then, ignoring his irritated glance, she turned her attention to the man she had never seen before, who looked a lot more pleasant than her captor. Sticking out a hand, she said, "I'm Mikan. It's nice to meet you."

"I'm Ruka," he offered in return with a sincere smile. He took her hand into his own and, instead of shaking it like she had expected, he kissed the back of her palm like the true gentleman he was. Mikan seemed to lose her breath for a moment, much to his amusement, but he dropped it instantly when he caught sight of Natsume's scowl. "It's, um, nice to meet you, too," he ended his greeting hastily.

Mikan, who seemed to have realized the god's intervention, huffed in his direction. What right did he have to think he could control her? Oh, right; his delusional right as the "husband."

Dinner was served not soon after. It seemed they had simply been waiting for her entrance to begin. Only the three of them sat at the overly large table, and it would have seemed a rather lonely arrangement had Mikan not been more preoccupied with the awkward air about them. Ruka seemed determined to keep his gaze on the table, and Natsume was no help in the socializing department. So she took matters into her own hands.

"So, Ruka," she began slowly, and both men gave her their attention, "am I right to think that you're the same ferryman everyone tells me about when they mention the Underworld?" She eyed him carefully, wondering if she could eventually win him over to her side. She would need his help, after all, to cross the deadly river only he had mastered.

He chuckled, nodding his head. "Yes, that's me. Though I can't imagine why anyone would be bothering to mention me. My part in the Underworld is very small. It's mostly Natsume here that people focus on."

"That's not true." Mikan was shocked to hear Natsume pitch into the conversation, his words a menacing growl. Not to mention, he seemed to finally have cracked through his aloof mask in order to send Ruka a disapproving glance for his self-demeaning words. "You do plenty."

It was a small gesture, but Mikan carefully took notice of how Ruka flushed happily at his words. It was surprising, to say the least, that her captor would even go out of his way to compliment another. From what she had observed so far, he obviously didn't spare much thought to other's feelings. But the two were obviously very close, having spent centuries together. The reminder made her stomach drop; the chances of winning him over were pathetically low, then, because he seemed the type to remain admirably loyal to his friend.

Servants stalked into the dining room soon, rolling out carts of steaming food. Mikan's mouth watered at just the sight of it; she hadn't eaten since that afternoon, after all, and normally she would have stuffed her face twice since then. The aroma was delicious, and her stomach gave an unladylike growl. It was just lucky no one else heard it over the sounds of glass tinkling as the servants arranged the dishes and cutlery.

A maid, however, squashed her mood in just one instant.

"Oh!" she cried out excitedly, peering closely at Mikan's dress. Her pink locks bounced as she turned her attention to Natsume next. "Isn't this the wedding dress I altered, my lord?"

Mikan froze in her seat, her expression one of complete horror. She was seriously beginning to hate the maids around here. The worker seemed to have realized her mistake, at least, when she took notice of her ruler's suddenly stony expression.

"No, that is a different dress that simply looks similar," he corrected her. He muttered it out of the corner of his mouth, as if he didn't want his betrothed to hear the words that had her stomach clenching uncomfortably. But as she was sitting only two feet to his right, that was an impossible wish.

The pink-haired woman blushed at her mistake and quickly retreated to the kitchen. Mikan watched her go, her appetite long gone. Instead, her mouth felt like cotton, and even swallowing seemed a difficult task. Her heart hammered loudly in her ears.

"Wedding dress?" she squeaked, looking down at her clothing in terror. He had her practically dressed in the attire that would destroy her freedom and bind her to him forever?

"No," he snapped in return, though it wasn't annoyance that was fully directed at her, but rather the situation itself. "Didn't I just say it's not?"

"But there is a wedding dress?" she checked for clarification. She wasn't even sure why she bothered to ask when she really didn't want to hear the answer. She was just digging her own grave by doing so, as well as feeling exceedingly sick, but it slipped out before she could stop herself. Apparently, she was a masochist. And if that wasn't bad enough, she asked just about the most irrelevant question next. "And it's black?"

"This is the Underworld, the land of the dead," Natsume explained stiffly. "Did you expect a white dress? It is only fitting that the dress would be black."

Ruka loudly clattered his spoon against his bowl of soup, slurping loudly to act as if he couldn't hear their discussion. His ears had turned red from getting caught in the middle of this, and he was sincerely regretting agreeing to this dinner with his friend. He should have known it would turn out this way, considering Natsume had taken the girl without any warning.

In an attempt to control the atmosphere, the God of Death reached for a dish at the middle of the table, proceeding with his dinner as if nothing had happened. But his bride sat frozen in her seat, trying to process everything she had just heard with a stupid look that clearly said she had checked out for the moment. In fact, her eyes had glazed over, and she wasn't even blinking. Natsume shot her a look of contempt and dumped some food on her plate.

"Eat," he ordered, hiding his concern behind his deceivingly biting words. She was looking too pale for his liking. "You haven't even fully adjusted to the change in atmosphere down here. You need to eat to build up your strength."

She was still for a few more moments, and then, very slowly, her arm mechanically reached over and grabbed her spoon. She was clearly still spaced out from the shock, however, because she absentmindedly scooped some into her spoon and pressed it against her mouth. Suddenly, a random memory stirred in her head, almost as if her body realized the mistake she was about to make in her daze, and she remembered her brother's words of caution from a long time ago.

Never eat food from the Underworld, he had warned sternly, or else you'll be trapped down there forever.

Immediately, she dropped her spoon as if it had scalded her, smacking her lips furiously in an attempt to spit off any food that might have smeared itself on her mouth. Both Ruka and Natsume looked over in alarm at her sudden mood swing, but she paid them no mind as she vigorously wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand.

"What's wrong?" Ruka asked, his voice dripping with concern. They had both suspended their dinner for the moment.

Mikan pointed a finger accusingly at her kidnapper. "This is Underworld food!" she shrieked, her eyes wide with dread at what she had almost done.

He raised an indifferent eyebrow. "And?"

"Don't think I don't know what happens when you eat food from here," she ranted, her cheeks flaming from her anger. She abruptly stood up, ignoring the chair as it scraped against her floor. "You're bound to stay here forever. You jerk! You were going to trap me down here, weren't you?"

Natsume smirked. "You already are," he pointed out casually, and she felt a fresh wave of anger wash over her. "I was just finalizing it. Now sit down and eat your dinner."

"No!" she shot back. He sent her a bored look, so she furiously carried on. "Unless it's food from the mortal world, I won't eat it."

"We don't have any food from the mortal world," Natsume replied, a hint of impatience edging into his voice.

"Then I'll starve," she remarked gravely. Her stomach churned in protest to the declaration, but she stood strong and steady. She may have been a glutton, but she knew how to tough things out when it was important.

Natsume scowled dangerously. "Stop speaking nonsense and just -"

"It's not nonsense," she argued hotly, getting more riled up by the second.

Ruka attempted to intervene, realizing that things seemed to be escalating out of hand. "Um...Natsume? Maybe you should just -"

"And you just expect everyone to drop their dinner to go hunt down mortal food for you?" Natsume hissed, ignoring his more rational best friend.

"No, I expected you to already have some," she answered snidely. "Did you really expect me to eat anything from your world?"

"As my wife-to-be, you are expected to."

Her eyes narrowed into slits. "I am not going to be your wife," she breathed.

He simply smirked, a cocky grin that spoke volumes on his confidence over the matter. It was too much for Mikan to handle. After all the frustration and fear and anger she had felt because of him, that arrogant smirk was the last thing she wanted to see. She made her own choices, damn it, and she would not be forced into this marriage!

"You're such a jerk!" she screamed. All of her emotions just snapped, and she pulled back her hand.

Smack!

She slapped him across the cheek with all the strength she could muster, almost unaware of what she was doing in her craze. His head whipped to the side from the force, but in his shock, he gave no other reaction. Even Ruka seemed at a loss for words.

After a pregnant pause, she hauled herself out the doors, leaving the two men sitting in stunned silence.

.. ღ ..

Mikan threw open the doors to the bedroom she had occupied previously. Panting from both the rush and the running she had done, she collapsed on the bed, lying on her stomach with her arms spread to her sides. Clutching the sheets tightly, she attempted to steady her drumming heart, still slightly shook up. Her body drooped, and she finally felt herself settle into a lulled state.

She'd just slapped her captor. Sure, it had felt exhilarating and oddly satisfying at the time, but the true extent of what she had just done was beginning to settle in. This was his domain, and she was trapped here as long as he wished it. Who was to say that he wouldn't exact revenge for her outburst? He probably was not used to others lashing out at him, considering his royal status, and he would most likely not take it lightly. And she had no way to flee, she realized with dismay, which meant she would have no way to escape should he try to return the favor.

A sob rose to the back of her throat, and though she tried her best to stifle it, the tears gushed out anyway. Suddenly, the extent of the day just settled on her body, crushing her with the overwhelming emotions. She cried out loudly, wetting the bedsheets as she thought of how unfair this was. She wanted to go home, to see her family, to be free. She didn't want to be trapped down here, engaged to an uncaring god who scared her. The minutes ticked by as she let herself cry out all the tears she could muster. Soon, her sobs dissolved into pathetic sniffles, and she managed to push herself up into a sitting position.

The doors to the room burst open abruptly, and she watched with fear coiling in her stomach as Natsume strode in, his face controlled. He did not spare her a glance as he wandered past the bed, where she sat staring at him, yet that somehow made him more frightening. But he even said absolutely nothing about her deliberate assault on his cheek, and she suddenly came to the realization that he was purposely ignoring her. In fact, she was aghast to understand that he had probably finished his dinner first, not even bothering to hunt her down and putting his own comfort first. She glared at his back heatedly, irritated by his cold demeanor.

"What do you want?" she snapped, crossing her arms and letting out a huff. It was absolutely ridiculous to feel cheated, especially since she had wanted nothing more than for him to pay her no interest all along. But she did.

"This is my room," he answered breezily, heading towards a cabinet nestled against the wall that was most likely his wardrobe.

She hadn't thought of that, and she felt herself blush sheepishly. "Oh." Avoiding his gaze, she slid off the bed and bit her lip uncertainly. "Um, then, where do I stay?"

He paused at her words, and she noticed with confusion that he had raised both his eyebrows questioningly. Turning back to his closet, he gave an apathetic shrug. "You stay here, of course."

"You mean, with you?" she burst out. "No!"

"Where else are you planning to stay?" he asked, amused by her insistence to be difficult. And then, giving no thought whatsoever to their tension, he stripped off his shirt. Mikan was irked to notice that his body was physically perfect, but she pushed that thought aside in favor of yelping in shock.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, inching away from him in disgust.

He rolled his eyes. "It gets hot at night, so I sleep without a shirt." He tossed it into his closet, shutting the doors afterwards and stalking to the bed lazily. The closer he came, the farther Mikan stepped from the bed, until she found her back pressed against a wall on the opposite end of the room.

"What are you planning to do over there?" he asked with humor in his eyes. He paused just before climbing onto the mattress, and instead took a step towards her.

"There's no way I'm sleeping with you," she snapped back, wrapping her arms around herself protectively.

He smirked devilishly, taking another step towards her. She came to the horrible realization that she couldn't back up any more, though she still tried to blend into the wall behind her. Natsume's smirk widened, reaching his eyes now and giving him the look of a troublemaker. Purposely slow, he came closer and closer, until he was standing toe-to-toe with her.

"Stop being so difficult," he murmured. And before she could react, he abruptly grabbed her around the waist and threw her over his shoulder.

"Hey! Let me go." She fussed and pounded his back, but he ignored her as he carried her to what was now their bed. Acting as if he wasn't carrying a ridiculously heavy load with just one arm, he crawled onto the mattress and set her down on her side. Before she could bounce off and make her escape, however, he grabbed onto her wrist so tightly that, no matter how much she struggled, she couldn't fight it.

He laid down on his side with her wrist still in his grip, and then jerked her down. With a cry of surprise, she collapsed on his chest, and he took advantage of the position by wrapping his arm around her waist and effectively locking her in place.

"Just go to sleep, idiot," he muttered, but he was obviously amused by the entire debacle. The only light in the windowless room came from a fireplace, and with a wave of his hand, Natsume quelled the flames using his powers of fire control. The room went pitch black, and for the first time, Natsume settled in to sleep with his betrothed nestled in his arms.

.. ღ ..

It was dark. One second she'd been struggling against this infuriating man, and the next, she was surrounded by nothing but black. She gulped heavily, trying to stop her heart from beating in her ears. No such luck.

Natsume had already seemed to easily fall into a restful state, and she didn't want to clue him into her sudden weakness. Perhaps he had already heard her heartbeat against his chest, since she was pressed against him so tightly, but she still hoped fruitlessly. She just focused on breathing steadily.

The darkness surrounded her, choking her violently and hitching her throat. Everywhere she looked, she saw nothing but the color of death. Even her hand was impossible to see in this blinding room, and that was more frightening than anything. Suddenly, it was hard to breathe in, and no matter how hard she tried, her lungs seemed to be shriveling up, begging her for air.

Panic set in almost immediately. Her body screamed at her for the slightest ray of light, but there was none. She didn't dare move, she was so frightened, and the frozen terror was all too familiar.

"Mikan," Natsume's voice suddenly broke through the darkness, and it sounded concerned. It was the only break from the pitch black, and she desperately clung to it. "Mikan, are you...shaking?"

She swallowed several times to unhitch her throat, but her voice still came out sounding choked and oh, so small. "I-I'm afraid of the dark," she admitted.

There was a heavy silence, and then he breathed out deeply in aggravation. "For gods' sake..."

Suddenly, the fireplace ignited again, and he dropped his hand from the air. At the reappearance of the orange light, she felt her body unfreeze, enough for her to peek up at him. He gazed down at her, his crimson eyes ablaze.

"You should have said so, idiot," he grumbled, sounding extremely put out by her lack of hindsight. Even so, his hand absentmindedly settled on her back, and he began to soothingly run it up and down, up and down, up and down...

Mikan closed her eyes, letting him calm her into a sense of security. She finally relaxed against him, no longer so rigid. Her body was still in an uncomfortable position, of course; she was splayed sideways on the bed, her front half crouched on his bare chest with his arm resting on her. Oh, and she was still wearing the dress.

But rather than gripping her waist tightly to prevent escape, Natsume was consoling her with tender strokes. She could have easily broken away from him now to escape, but she didn't even try. She liked being where she was for the time being, even if it was next to her captor. It was the safest she had felt since arriving in this world of death. Falling under the spell of his gentle comfort, Mikan finally drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

The fireplace burned for her the entire night.


We finally see a tender moment between the two :) Oh, and just so you know, I can't stand weepy heroines with no backbones or independence. So don't expect Mikan to stay so mopey throughout all this. But considering the situation, she's allowed a free pass this once :P

Next chapter: A tour of the Underworld, meeting Sumire, a brother's desperate search, and...what's this? Could Mikan be seeing a non-monster side to Natsume? o.O Find out next time on Forbidden!

Surprisingly, I don't have anything else to say. So, I'll see you all next chapter, or when you drop me a line on the way out :D