Thick as Thieves
Disclaimer: The author respects the rights of Tachibana Higuchi, creator of Gakuen Alice.
Author's Note: Set after His Dark, Kind Soul and before Of Fortunes and Ferrets. This is the story that attempts to answer how Mikan and Natsume got to their bizarre status in Natsume Nullified and Open Season.
Speaking of Open Season, I will continue that story as soon as this one is complete.Ü
Chapter 1: The Friend Zone
Mikan and Natsume decided to be friends so that they could conclude a conversation. It happened shortly after yet another crisis rocked the Alice Academy. This time it concerned people from Natsume's past instead of hers and it involved Class B instead of the Dangerous Ability Class. They survived the event and so Mikan can remember the episode as an adventure instead of a tragedy.
When things were winding down and they were sure all their friends were safe, Mikan and Natsume went off together to talk. He said he had something important to tell her so they sneaked away from their friends and found an out of the way spot off the campus grounds.
It wasn't what she expected. Natsume told her his affections were wavering and that he had become caught up with someone else in the last few weeks. The girl would never return his feelings but just because he had met a dead end didn't mean he was ready to focus his attention back on Mikan. She understood how that felt. She had broken up with Ruka earlier in the year but their split didn't mean she was ready to embark on a new relationship with Natsume. It hurt a little to hear him talk about another girl but she listened and didn't blame him because in truth, she loved the girl too and she would be a hypocrite if she let this come between them.
Near the end, their exchange grew awkward and uneasy. They were about to reach an inevitable ending wherein despite the fact that they had both bared their hearts, there was no way they could conclude the dialogue with them as a couple. Therefore, they went the other way.
"So I guess we can just be… friends?" she asked tentatively.
Natsume looked as unsure as she was but he nodded. "Sure."
Mikan didn't bother to shake his hand because it seemed ridiculous considering their history. Yet, that didn't stop Natsume from reaching for her. He drew a hand through her hair, combing his fingers through it as though he was trying to commit to memory how that felt. Then he stepped back.
"See you around, no-star."
After that, things went back to normal. People that had been involved in the incident resumed their daily lives and the students returned to routine. However, there was a marked change that Mikan didn't expect and it became too apparent a week later.
"Are you and Natsume fighting?" Sumire asked pointedly. She glanced over her shoulder to note that once again Natsume and Ruka had set up their lunch at a different table.
"No, why do you ask?"
"He hasn't eaten with you for a week."
"That just means he hasn't eaten with you either," Mikan pointed out.
Sumire snorted. "Natsume eats with us when you're not around. It can't get any more obvious than that. What's up?"
"I don't know."
Mikan decided to find out so she cornered Natsume in the corridor after class. It was safe to say he let her corner him because nobody backed Natsume Hyuuga to a wall as easily as she did if he didn't want them to.
"Why won't you eat lunch with me?"
Natsume raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not the one not eating lunch with me?"
"Don't be a smartass."
"No-star, if you want me to eat lunch with you, you only have to ask."
She didn't know why he was being difficult. Maybe he was just teasing. Still, she supposed friends were allowed to make jokes like this once in a while. It escaped her notice that he completely evaded her question.
"Fine. Will you start eating lunch with us tomorrow?"
"Sure. As long as I don't have other plans, I'll be there."
Mikan didn't know what 'other plans' meant but that became clear once he walked into the lunch room the next day with not one but two high school girls. She stared after them, completely baffled at the turn of events.
"Rika Eldenworth," Wakako confirmed. "I heard Ruka has been crushing on her. I'm guessing Natsume talked her and her friend up. Ruka's pretty hopeless about things like that."
"So is Natsume," Mikan countered. "Natsume's pretty hopeless too."
Nonoko and Anna exchanged a look. "Actually, I think he's only hopeless when it comes to you. He can be pretty smooth when he doesn't care to be."
Thus, it was the second time that week that she accosted Natsume. They ended up in a classroom this time and he let her have her say before defending himself.
"Did I hurt anybody?"
"Did I break any rules?"
"Of course not, but—"
"Then I really don't see why you're so worked up."
"You said you'd have lunch with us!"
"If I didn't have plans," Natsume interjected. "So tell me, what did I do wrong?"
Friends didn't call each other to task just because they had other plans. There were no rules about not eating with other people either, especially if one of you was trying to help another friend out. So really, how was she supposed to tell him that she was hurt and that he had probably violated a universal code about setting up your friend's ex boyfriend with someone else? God, her head hurt.
"Are we cool?"
"Is this how it's going to be?" she asked at last.
"What do you mean?"
"Is this how you're going to treat me now?"
"This is how I am with everyone," Natsume said with a shrug. "Nobody else is giving me a hard time about it."
That's when she understood because he was absolutely right. This was all new to her because Natsume had always treated her differently. Things have changed and so now she was being subjected to the indifference and egotism everyone else was probably used to. Nobody else cared about how he was acting. All Sumire wanted to know that day at lunch was why Natsume wasn't eating with them.
"So are we done?"
"Wait, one more thing. Why aren't you eating lunch with me?"
His expression became a tight-lipped smile. He seemed to consider her for a moment then thought better of it and shook his head. "I just have other plans."
After a few months, Mikan was ready to conclude that Natsume Hyuuga was a temperamental jerk with an inordinate amount of arrogance and an astonishing capacity for getting on her nerves. Sometimes, she couldn't believe she ever managed to look past that. Now that he seemed to be laying on the sarcasm thick and making jokes round the clock, she couldn't imagine a time she ever stopped hating him. It was like they were ten years old again and teenage years weren't the ideal time to rediscover childhood antagonism.
"Are you sure it's not because you think he's hot?"
"No!" Mikan growled.
Wakako wiggled her eyebrows. "Oh, I don't know Mikan. Something tells me all this hostility that seems to be growing between the two of you could just be your hormones acting up."
"Oh, hell no!" Mikan exclaimed. "I'd rather be dragged by horses than go anywhere near that—that—"
"Hot piece of mancake?" Sumire supplied.
"What?" Mikan said tersely as she spun around to face Natsume, spitting daggers. "What could you possibly have to say to me?"
Natsume grinned, a little too broadly for her comfort. "I was just going to say that we got teamed up for that extra credit work for socio-civics."
She gaped. "You and me?"
"Yeah, we're partners."
"You have got to be kidding me."
Natsume snickered. "Well, don't sound too thrilled or anything. Anyway, we have to meet up with our beneficiary later."
"How do you know this?"
"I read the board."
"Shocker, right?" He flashed another smile that did nothing more than make her want to punch him. "Anyway, could you take care of it?"
"Let me guess," Mikan said dryly. "You have plans."
"Yeah, and I probably will for the rest of the week."
"Are you foisting the work on me?" Mikan demanded. Natsume chuckled then started walking away with a small wave over his shoulder. "Natsume!"
"Oh come on, you can't be that surprised."
That was exactly the problem. She wasn't surprised at all.
Later that day, Mikan found herself standing in front of the Alice Academy Hospital. It was a separate structure situated a little off campus. She was quite familiar with the building's layout, having visited Natsume there twice before. Just the thought of him now irritated her.
Mikan requested instructions at the front desk and she was immediately directed to a corner room on the fourth floor. She had to prepare herself because she knew that wing well.
Fourth Form Alice, this is where they all go.
From the room's window she could spy a single bed occupied by a patient that couldn't have been more than seventeen years old. He was sitting up in his chair and was industriously answering a Sudoku book. He looked up when she opened the door and smiled.
"Hey, you must be Mikan Sakura."
"Are you with Natsume Hyuuga?"
Life could be funny sometimes and Mikan was about to find out why. If she had answered that question differently, that is, if Natsume had been standing with her then, if they had been better friends than they were at the time or if they had never agreed to keep things platonic— maybe, just maybe, everything else that happened afterwards would have played out in another way. As it was by then decisions had been made, circumstances were set and Mikan was about to find out why she was never meant to arrive in that room as part of a pair.
"Well hello," the patient smiled. "My name is Yukito Fukada."
Additional Note: If you've been reading my stories in the last few years, please drop by my profile. I have a note for you there.