A/N: Hello guys! Just want to let you know that I may not be updating as often as I do before because I'm getting quite busy... but I'll still try to write chapters and upload them ASAP. I won't discontinue this story as I had the ending already planned in mind and I don't want to forget it too. :D I hope you still continue supporting! Thank you!
"Ruka, what is this all about?"
It's already 10 in the morning in Alice Academy, and the two friends found themselves sitting up on the branch of their favorite Sakura tree near the school gates, both having ended on ditching their morning classes after having that conversation with Narumi just a while ago. Sitting on a position overlooking the outside view of the academy, they could clearly see the busy streets and moving cars that can never be perceived from the inside, which made them one of the very few students who could do so since only a handful of people can actually climb the tree and observe the outside world without being told to come back down, so whenever Natsume and Ruka wanted to lounge at that tree, they have to climb up in secret. They stay at the uppermost branch so no one can really get a glimpse of them with the naked eye, so the two boys consider it as their most peaceful place in the whole school.
Additionally, with Shiki Masachika's strong barrier enclosing the academy, people outside cannot see anyone from inside the academy at all, so whatever Natsume and Ruka are doing up in the tree will be thoroughly unknown. Because of this, they consider this tree the most 'private place' in the academy (aside from their dorm rooms). This is where they talk about their problems and maybe even shed tears if it cannot be helped—and adding the scenery of the outside world surely makes them yearn very much to leave this dreadful prison in the form of a 'school'.
With the two boys regaining their comfortable position on the branch, silence then passed as the cool breeze brushed through their skin, and the sound of people and car engines filling their ears instead. It's been half an hour since they last talked to Narumi-sensei regarding his recent mission and Natsume's desire to rejoin the Dangerous Ability, which he recalled being turned down; but what made him more shocked is Ruka's suggestion to him shortly after.
Natsume glanced at his friend, whose eyes are intensely engrossed on the sight of moving cars, looking at it so intensely that he hadn't even fluttered an eyelid. What's going on? Why did Ruka suddenly said something like escaping from the academy, and then in a moment they ended up cutting classes and now they're sitting in this Sakura tree, suddenly not uttering a single word? What does he have in mind?
"Ruka…" Natsume started, thinking how he should approach Ruka's odd behavior he has been wondering about since this morning. "What is this all about? You're acting strange since this morning. First, you said something earlier about suddenly wanting to join the DA, and now you're saying suddenly that you want to escape…"
Natsume quieted when Ruka emitted a grunting sound, and he finally talked. "I'm… sorry, Natsume. About joining the DA, I'm sorry if I unexpectedly said something like that without informing you." Ruka looked at Natsume but he motioned that he explains instead. Ruka cleared his throat and continued. "It's just… everything I said back there is true. I don't want to stay here and do nothing while you risk your life again doing those missions like before. I always know that ever since you were in the DA, those missions have been slowly killing you… and it has been my deepest regret that I turned a blind eye from it and I didn't do anything to save you. And it was even the very reason why I came with you to this school—to always be with you and protect you from people who despise us—but I wasn't able to fulfill that promise. I was a coward, Natsume… I was afraid of Persona, of what he's doing to you… and I hate myself for it!"
Ruka's eyes were suddenly filled with tears as he sobbed quietly, trying to avoid Natsume's gaze, but Natsume held on to his shoulder much to Ruka's surprise, and he felt his friend's arms wrapping around him. For Ruka to say something like this… he realized he had left him by himself for too long, and made him feel ultimately remorseful with the recent tragic events. "Don't hate yourself, Ruka." Natsume empathizes. "You, along with Mikan and Aoi, are the only reasons why I kept on living. I did everything of those missions and obeyed all of Persona's orders because of the three of you… because I want to protect you. You should not blame yourself for the things I decided to do on my own. Your mere presence and being my friend are all I could ask for."
Ruka cannot help but shed more tears as he clutched tightly on Natsume's uniform. "Natsume…" He sobbed, and as much as he didn't want his friend to see him looking weak, he never felt so much comfort that he feels it's okay to deluge his tears all over Natsume. This might be the first time the two of them ever shared a solemn moment like this ever since they met, as Natsume always hides his emotions from everyone including Ruka and he always dissociate himself from other people, while Ruka never wanted to show any sign of weakness to Natsume too. But this time, Ruka felt something real. Natsume had spent his life in the academy suffering all throughout, so now that he was given a second chance, he ultimately deserves a better life now—and it's definitely not living like a normal student in this academy just as what Narumi and all the teachers want him to be—it's being with Mikan. Ruka closed his eyes and started imagining the future… The two people he loved finally reuniting, seeing both of their cheerful, bright smiling faces by the beach, happiness overflowing their hearts as they embrace each other as if there's no tomorrow. Oh, how overwhelmingly pleasant could that be. It must be the perfect dream that Ruka could ever imagine happening to both the two people dearest to his heart. But will it only just be a dream? Could it ever happen?
Ruka wiped his tears and looked back at Natsume, who seemed to be also thinking about something else. While staring at Natsume's bemused face, Ruka remembered something he was supposed to tell him back in class before Narumi entered the scene. He then shifted his eyes back at the busy streets outside the gate, cleared his throat for a moment, and muttered. "Natsume, I… I saw Ibaragi early this morning."
As expected, Natsume's eyes widened in utter shock. He quickly turned his head to Ruka, whose face suddenly looked serious just moments after he had cried, surprising Natsume even more. "Ibaragi… Nobara?" He clarified, and as Ruka nodded he cannot believe he'll actually be hearing that name again for so long. He hasn't seen her ever since he came back from time travel—nor even before he died back then—as he recalls that Nobara was poisoned by Persona's alice and was in the brink of death, and the only way that could save her is to have his alice taken away from her body, which can only be done by… Mikan's Stealing Alice. Natsume breathed as he thought of the possibility—could it be, by any chance, that Mikan was able to cure Nobara at that time? How could she have done it while being locked in the Labyrith Mansion, and being chased by the Fukitai at the same time? Natsume needs to hear the rest of what Ruka has to say. "Why? How is she now?"
"I know what you're thinking," Ruka replied, "I also thought she was dying before. But she looks like she's in good shape when I saw her, although she seemed desperate."
Ruka paused and thought for a while how he's going to explain this. "Apparently, Ibaragi was with Narumi-sensei in his last mission." This left Natsume ultimately dumbfounded. "She came to me when I was on my way to the classroom, and then she was looking for you. She informed me something about Sakura… Something Narumi-sensei didn't tell us."
Natsume had his mouth hung open in disbelief, and he cannot believe there's something else he hasn't known yet… and also the fact that Nobara was with Narumi during the last mission? So she is still in the Dangerous Ability class even if Persona is not there anymore? Like him, she should also be relieved by the principal from the DA and she should not be doing missions since there is no need to anymore. But why is she allowed while he is not? What is she planning?
"What did she say about Mikan?" Natsume mumbled quietly that is barely caught by Ruka, but nonetheless he knows he's going to ask about it. Natsume cannot help but feel alarmed—for Nobara to suddenly appear out of nowhere and be desperate, looking for him, and for telling Ruka something about Mikan—he fears this is something he doesn't want to hear… but surely he still hopes he's wrong.
Ruka let out a deep sigh and looked at Natsume. "Ibaragi said that the AAO still has another aim aside from getting revenge on Sakura's mother. She still wasn't sure about the details, but it seemed that the AAO is not just our main enemy here. There's someone else who have been affiliating with them and they are actually offering to help the AAO to look for Sakura's mother if they also do them a favor in return. It seems that favor has something to do with looking for children with alices that are not enrolled in the academy yet. But it's too elusive to grasp, even I cannot understand what she meant—"
Natsume held his head as if it's aching, as he is trying to deeply evaluate all of Ruka's sentences. Great, he can't imagine he'll be hearing yet another revelation now that he's still been trying to think of how to overcome the last one with Narumi and even with Shiki. "Wait, Ruka." He cut off his friend for a moment as he assessed his understanding, "You're saying that aside from the AAO, there is someone else that is targeting Mikan? And that someone is looking for children with alices outside the academy? Who?"
"Yes," Ruka instantly asserted. "Ibaragi doesn't know the exact details of their identities yet. I also don't know how that someone is related to Sakura's situation—as Ibaragi told me—since she said they are looking for alices for unknown reasons, but Sakura doesn't have an alice anymore, right? But I wasn't able to comprehend anything more after that because she looked like she was in a hurry and left me soon as she said those things. But I can feel her desperation, Natsume. She was trembling so bad. It seemed really serious and she really wanted you to know."
Natsume is left speechless as his gaze set upon the busy streets again, and had sunk deep in his thoughts. Ruka just stared at him in concern and he knows that Natsume might be formulating his next plans in his mind right now, and since there is a possibility that Mikan may soon be involved in this ridiculous state of affairs, he's probably feeling impulsive. It may seem that after that conversation with Narumi, he has been preparing to ultimately live the normal student they want him to be… for the sake of the people who sacrificed their own lives just to save him. But now, after hearing this new revelation it had convinced him to ultimately disregard that decision and about what Narumi said about them protecting Mikan enough and asking Natsume to not involve himself anymore. He just can't do it. He surely cannot stay here and do nothing while he knows there are more enemies lurking outside the academy, putting Mikan's life at risk anytime.
Ruka, on the other hand, closed his eyes and curled his eyebrows in anguish, while his hands balled into fists as he wanted to say it again to Natsume. Finally taking a deep breath, Ruka leniently turned his head towards his friend and asked again, "Do you want to escape from the academy, Natsume?"
Natsume glanced at Ruka in astonishment, as he didn't think that he'll be hearing that question from him again. He thought he had misheard it the first time, but here he is, saying the exact same words. "Ruka, why…?"
"When I heard all those things that Ibaragi said… I cannot help but think we have to do something about it quick. If you had just seen her, Natsume, she was very distressed about the matter and I'm afraid it could be something more apprehensive compared to that with the former ESP… And I don't want that to happen. That's why I also wanted to join the Dangerous Ability with you to be able to take part of fighting them. But when Narumi-sensei told us we cannot join, or even only yourself, it suddenly just entered my mind that nothing good will come if we stay here and do nothing while we know Sakura could anytime be at risk. I know they're protecting her as much as they could, but I also know that you're the one she'll be needing the most, Natsume. You're the only one who could protect her and make her happy because you two are destined to be together. Sorry, Natsume, I know it's out of this world for me to suggest something like that… but I just cannot help to keep silent when I know there's something outrageous is going on. Now I know what you feel whenever you were doing those missions, Natsume…"
Ruka suddenly covered his face with his quivering hands, and quieted for a while as he thought he might be spurting nonsense. He turned away from Natsume, worried that the latter might be thinking he's acting strangely odd, and saying things like 'escaping from the academy' is probably one of the worst and dumbest things he could actually suggest during this most critical time.
A few minutes of silence engulfed the two, while only the faint sound of wind is gushing through the leaves of the Sakura tree, with a few of its pink blooms are already showing themselves as the tree prepares for the spring. As a petal flew over and landed on Natsume's hand, he gripped on it tight while thinking of Mikan's name, utterly resembling this tree and believed that this is a sign for him to indeed go find her. He also felt Mikan's alice stone fragment warming on his pocket trousers, and finally projected a smirk as he looked at Ruka. "It looks like you've been reading my mind, Ruka."
Ruka, astonished, also shifted his gaze back to Natsume.
"Ever since I woke up and learned the truth about what happened when I was gone, the first thing I thought of was to get out from the academy and find her. I absolutely hated it when I learned they made her leave. It took a lot of guts for me not to holler on those teachers or even set fire on them. I was really angry, but I realized it will not do me any good, so I spent my time in the hospital thinking of what I should do to find her again. But all those plans are getting nowhere especially since they do not want me to take part on their missions anymore, thus finally shutting me inside this academy forever—and I absolutely cannot take that." He glimpsed at Ruka with a smile, surprising Ruka even more, "I haven't said this before, but… Ruka, thank you for being my best friend."
Ruka's eyes glistened as he stared deeply over Natsume's face which had suddenly lightened up compared to his anxious expression before. After hearing his response, he is delighted that his friend completely understands what he's pointing out, but at the same time he never thought that Natsume would be thinking the same thing as he is. "Natsume, are you saying—"
"I'm accepting your offer," Natsume smiled again, and suddenly got up and stood over the branch while clinging onto the tree trunk to balance his weight. He looked over the vastness of the outside view of the city, and momentarily scanned every block and every street he could see. Ruka can't help but stare fervently at his best friend, thinking that if this idea somehow becomes successful, he can finally imagine Natsume reaching Mikan and the two of them being together. But still, even if he's the one who suggested it, he is also not sure about how it could exactly be accomplished. Ruka knows it's thoroughly impossible to escape from here, and absolutely no students were able to do so successfully, even if more than half of the population have already tried. But seeing Natsume looking very determined like this, he seemed to be ultimately resolved. He must have already a plan in mind.
"I know it's impossible, and there's a 99% chance this won't be successful, but it's definitely worth a try." Natsume sneered. Ruka can sense a feeling of sheer excitement overwhelming his friend. "I don't even care now if I get caught—it's their fault since they won't let me rejoin the DA anyway. Although I do understand where Naru's coming from, I still know for one that I cannot be able to live normally like they want me to. It's just hopeless. I have been risking my life every day for 3 years in this academy so it just can't be taken so easily from me. It is already written on my destiny." Natsume paused for a while as he sat down again and his crimson eyes met Ruka's hazel. "And you're right, Ruka. Escaping from the academy is the only way to get to her, even if I got only 1% chance of succeeding. It's better to do something than do nothing."
At this point, Ruka's face flushed, and staring at Natsume has made him realize that the sensation around his friend is actually gleaming in reflection of the sunlight. This must have been another first for him—for Natsume to look radiant and smiling so vividly is definitely something Ruka hasn't seen before. Since when did Natsume look like this? All these years darkness has completely surrounded him, but now it's like the light is finally in his favor. He surely had changed ever since he met Mikan—she had constructively kept his own fire burning and that's ultimately what Natsume is living for now.
The boy suddenly tousled Ruka's hair, surprising the latter. "Don't look at me like that, Ruka." He snickered. "You just gave me your consent to actually be with Mikan, so don't blame me."
Ruka flushed even more, and he lightly punched Natsume jokingly. "What are you saying! You still have to fulfill your promise to her. If you don't, I will not hesitate to take Sakura from you."
The two boys started teasing each other until they ended up laughing, reminiscing the times of how they're like since they were younger, which they never thought would actually happen again after all that they have been through. How they wish that time would stop—if only they could go back to being little children that do not have any problems in life and are just living normally like the others. If Natsume could ever successfully escape from the academy, Ruka promised to himself that he would support both Natsume and Mikan with all his life, and he will graduate for their sake and surely meet them again in the near future. He will never be weak anymore, and will do everything he can to show his utmost determination in protecting the people he loved.
After a few moments, Natsume suddenly got up again and started stepping down from the tree. Ruka called onto him, "Natsume, where are you going?"
"I'll start working out on our escape plan."
"Then I'll come with y—"
"No, Ruka." Natsume remarked as he gestured Ruka to come down with him. "You should get back to class now. You cannot be involved with my rebellious affairs anymore; I can't risk you to get punished because of me. You'll have to get good results on that upcoming exam too so you could retain your Three-Stars in middle school."
Ruka just fell speechless as he watched Natsume climb down from the tree. He can't believe it—Natsume is still actually thinking of Ruka's well-being even if he himself is about to do something that is utterly unforgiveable even from the new principals. If he ever got caught escaping, no matter how special Natsume is since he just got back from the dead, surely they will not tolerate breaking the rules… But Natsume seemed not to care about that at all. Even if Ruka is the one who formulated this, Natsume intends to do it by himself so he won't be involving anyone else. How does he plan to do it, then? Does he actually think he could be able to make it without getting caught?
"I have to be involved, Natsume!" Ruka exclaimed, "I will help you escape. You won't change my mind."
Natsume just threw a contempt look at his friend, who he realizes is beginning to become as persistent as him. He knows if Ruka says something like this, he will definitely do it, and if he argues more Ruka will just pout at him and will do anything to convince him to be involved. Natsume just sighed and started walking away.
"Go ahead, Ruka." Natsume bid goodbye. "Go back to class. I'll just see you tomorrow early morning, same place."
Tomorrow? Is he planning on escaping tomorrow?
"Wait, Natsume!" Ruka realized he is too submerged in his thoughts and hurriedly climbed back down as well. "What are you planning?"
"Don't worry, I'll let you know." Natsume tilted his head over his shoulder and took a quick glimpse at Ruka as he waved. "See you."
And before Ruka knew it, Natsume had disappeared to the woods, leaving him completely alone by the Sakura tree.
It is already lunch time, and Ruka just got back in time before afternoon class starts. As he walked inside the classroom, he found himself in the middle of curious eyes looking at him, who are all probably probing over what could have happened with him and Natsume since they had left the class early in the morning and never came back.
"Ruka-kun!" Sumire was heard from the far edge of the room between the crowd, and hurriedly ran over Ruka. "Where have you been? Where's Natsume-kun?"
Ruka isn't really much prepared to be suddenly interrogated by his classmates, as he never thought they would be concerned by their sudden disappearance from the room after Narumi-sensei left. He stuttered for a bit, thinking of what kind of lame excuse he should tell this nosey girl, who is then thoroughly joined by Inchou, Koko, Mochiage, and the others.
"U-Um, Natsume isn't feeling well," Ruka had some difficulty delivering that white lie out, but he composed himself instantly and went on with the excuse. "I had to bring him to the clinic this morning that's why we left early."
"Oh no! Is Natsume-kun alright?" Sumire suddenly yelped in distress, ultimately believing Ruka's most convenient lie, and is attempting to march outside the classroom with the aim to go to the clinic when Ruka stopped him.
"Stay here!" Before he knew it, Ruka had grabbed Sumire's arm and held on to it tight. Sumire and even the others are startled with his sudden action, and Ruka realized he had made himself look dubious. "I-I mean, he's fine now. Natsume is back in his room, he just need to rest and he'll be okay."
"Oh," Sumire just gasped in surprise, and while she finds Ruka a bit weird today, she cannot help but blush and imagines Ruka is actually hugging her. "Ohh, Ruka-kun! W-Well, if you say so! I'll stay here with you!" She then proceeds to grab his arm as well and laid her head on his shoulder while rubbing it.
"That's good to hear," Inchou just smiled with a sweat drop on his head, "Maybe he's still feeling a little lightheaded because he's still fresh from the time travel. I hope Natsume-kun will get better at the time of the final exam."
Ruka just gazed at Inchou and nodded hesitantly, all the while thinking that if ever his escape plan succeeds, Natsume will not be around at that time anymore. But even if they had decided about it, Ruka still pondered over the fact how on earth would Natsume plan to escape—who even intended to do it by himself—and for actually taking it seriously means that he probably already has something in mind. Ruka somehow felt anxious just by thinking how the academy would react if they discovered Natsume is planning something like this after all what happened in the past month and just after he went missing from being supposedly 'dead'. He also cannot help but think if the escape had become unsuccessful, Natsume might undergo a kind of punishment for breaking rules (although it may not be as harsh as the former ESP's method of retribution)—but surely since Natsume had already experienced the worst of punishments at the hands of the former ESP and Persona, that's probably why he agreed to such plan and seemed much more resilient now.
As the school bell rang indicating the start of the afternoon classes, Ruka just sat quietly all throughout the day as he drowned on his thoughts, constantly looking out the window and just eventually waiting for the afternoon to end. His heart started beating faster with absolute uneasiness, thinking that once tomorrow approaches… what would become of his best friend?
A/N: I think my writing is a little crappy here, and also sorry for the short chapter... I still hope you like it and pls leave a review!