CHAPTER 9: LOVELY DISASTERS
When Mikan awoke the next morning she completely blanked out for a moment, forgetting where she was. But as she rolled over and hit a warm body, she remembered. Everything came flooding back. Artemis, Hood, Natsume, everything. He was asleep, that she could tell from observation, and she took this time to think about everything that was going on, all the choices she had made. There was a voice in the back of her head screaming one thing: Was kissing Natsume a good thing? In which she concluded that it was indeed a good thing. With every memory she regained, she grew more and more in love with him. She knew that that kiss was no mistake. Ignoring her questions, she instead focused on studying him. His soft raven hair fell over his eyes which were closed peacefully in sleep, his mouth slightly agape and his breathing even and shallow. Her eyes trailed down his neck to the blades in his shoulders and the smooth skin that was partially revealed from under his tee-shirt. Her hands found their way up his back and stroked gently over his shoulder as he stirred. He gave a low moan and rolled over to face her, his eyes opening slowly. He registered her calm smiling face and reached his hand out to thread his fingers through her hair, his forehead pressing lightly against her's.
"How did you sleep?" He murmured, still half asleep himself.
"Fine thanks to you." He smiled and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her closer so that their bodies were flush against each other.
"I'm not dreaming, am I?" She watched him quietly and cupped his cheek with her left hand, shaking her head.
"Not at all. I'm right here." He seemed conflicted, as if he wanted to believe her but was afraid to. She caught his lips with her own and pressed all her feelings into that one kiss. "Do you believe me now?" She broke away and his eyes widened slightly as he nodded.
"I'm rather glad I doubted you for a moment there. I should do that more often." And he was back.
"You're so full of yourself, you know that?" He gave a shrug, jostling her body as he went. He opened his mouth to speak when a knock sounded at the bedroom door.
"May I come in?" A woman's voice asked gently from the other side of the door. Mikan began to scramble around, embarrassed and flustered. Natsume's eyes crinkled in delight at her distress.
"I'm hardly decent mother." He called back, much to her relief. "You're pretty cute when you're fidgeting." He whispered, watching her eyes flicker around the room.
"Now is not the time Natsume! What do you suppose I do?" She exclaimed quietly.
"Why do anything at all? Knowing her, she won't question you. Though she isn't aware of it, deep down she knows that you're her daughter-in-law after all." Mikan blinked.
"At least let me pretend I'm asleep." She grumbled. He brushed her hair back behind her ear and trailed kisses down her throat as she shivered.
"Whatever you wish." He pressed up off of the bed and she pulled the duvet up to her chin. With a few quick strides, Natsume opened the door as Mikan peeked out from the small opening between her fingers. The lady was moderately tall, her eyes the same burning red as Natsume's. She had long night black hair and pale yellow robes with red dragons embedded in the silk. Her eyes met momentarily with Mikan's and she stayed completely still in an effort to keep up her act of a sleeping nobody. She pondered for a moment if maybe her act was already in vain.
"My dear boy, I trust you haven't forgotten your meeting with the royal guards this morning?" Natsume's eyes flickered between her and Mikan. "Shall I attend to her when she awakens?" He shook his head immediately.
"You will leave her be mother. She is not to be disturbed. As for I, well, I shall be down momentarily." Juri nodded and started to bow when Natsume caught her shoulder, his eyes soft. "That will no longer be necessary. You have your thanks to give to this girl," Under the blankets, Mikan's eyes widened. "She's changed me." Her heart clenched with love and began to beat a tenfold faster.
"You're awake aren't you dear?" Mikan peeked shyly out from under the duvet.
"H-hello your majesty."
"Juri should be fine dear," Juri smiled fondly at the young girl. "Thank you for saving my son." Mikan smiled up at her mother-in-law.
"It was nothing really."
"No, I am forever grateful to you. Now you my boy, get dressed- and hang on to this one. She's a lovely young lady." Natsume nodded and began to close the door.
"I'll be down soon." His eyes followed across the room to where Mikan sat smiling to herself. He made his way over to her and held her close, his arms dangling loosely around her waist, his nose in the crook of her neck, hugging her from behind. "Will you be okay if I leave you here for an hour or so?"
"Would I have to stay in this room?" She asked, turning her head to face him, her lips brushing gently across his cheek as she turned. His eyes met her's.
"Sadly, I will have to answer yes. I can't risk losing you again."
"I think I can live with that. Do you have any books for me to read? Any swords for me to play with?" He let out a laugh that shook right through her frame and pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder.
"You won't be touching my sword thank you very much. But I suppose I could find you something to read. What would you like? A fairytale? A romance?" She let out a giggle at that.
"You're telling me that you have romance novels?" She teased and his mouth curved up in amusement.
"They'll be from the palace library if you must know."
"Then I'll take anything you recommend." She smiled. He let her go and returned with a thick fairytale book a few minutes later.
"It was your favourite," He flicked it open to the back of the book where the list of people who had issued it remained in faded ink. A big majority of the list, she noticed, was her own name written in a neat cursive handwriting. Sakura Mikan. "I thought you might like to read it again. Maybe it will bring back some memories while you're at it." He made his way over to his closet and pulled out his dark blue meeting robes, lifting his tee-shirt over his head as Mikan blushed and buried her face in the fairytale book. It had a brown leather bound cover with gold italics on the front saying An Old Folktale Book and the pages were a dull white with faded black ink and even more so faded pictures in delicate swirling frames. Mikan, as curious as ever, slowly brought the book down from her face and took in the sight of his back muscles flexing as he slipped the robes over his shoulders and pushed his arms through the arm holes. He turned back to her and grinned devilishly. "Like what you see?" He asked teasingly as her face turned a shade of light scarlet.
"Oh shut up." He headed for the door as she found her voice. "N-Natsume?" He turned to look at her, his eyes questioning as she once again hid her face behind the book, obscuring her view somewhat.
"Yeah?" Her eyes were barely visible as he held onto the door.
"I love you." His heart constricted painfully but it brought him so much bliss. She wouldn't have said it- actually, she hadn't planned on saying it- she just had a bad feeling about the day in front of her. Anything could happen here. He made his way back across the room and lowered the book from her face, kissing her gently.
"I love you too." And with that, he left the room, the door slowly shutting and the lock clicking over. Mikan pressed a hand against her heart and took a deep breath. She had said it. It was out there now. There was no going back.
Cross, his memories fully intact, made his way into the palace. He was greeted by curious looks that recognised him faintly as their king's old guard as he steered himself down to where the head guard's room was. Jinta had left it unlocked for him and if anyone found him and asked him what he was doing, they wouldn't be breathing for much longer. That he could guarantee. He slipped into Jinta's room and unhooked the key he had left hanging from above his desk, pocketing it quickly as he left the room and closed the door quietly. His plan was simple. For starters, he knew all too well that Natsume and his brother were in the meeting room situated at the far end of the palace. Queen Juri at this time, if her schedule had remained the same, would be having tea and reading in her bedroom which was down the hall from the meeting room, meaning that this section of the palace was clear and easy to manoeuvre about. He made his way up the stone staircase to the top floor and fished the key out from his pocket, inserting it into the lock on king Natsume's door. The princess was in here, he could feel her Outworlder vibes clearly.
"Natsume? Is that you?" He heard her voice float out from under the door and the bed squeak in protest as she hopped off of it. He turned the doorknob and entered the room, closing the door behind him so that she had no escape. She was exactly as he remembered. Her long brown locks and chocolate shaded eyes, a pale violet sun dress hanging from her petite frame. Her hands found the bed frame. "Who are you?" She asked. Cross grinned an easy smile and pulled out his dagger, running his finger along the silver length of it.
"How rude you are princess." Her eyes widened at the sound of her title rolling off of his tongue bitterly. "I would hardly think you've forgotten me."
"I'm sorry but I have no idea who you are or what you mean by 'princess'." He pointed the dagger at her lazily.
"Don't lie to me Mikan-sama." Her body went rigid as she remembered the man in front of her. Natsume's guard who had been nothing but a gentleman to her for years on end, who had admired her in every way. Cross Withers. Every fiber in her body screamed that something was tragically wrong with this situation and he was blocking her only exit with a vicious grin and a razor sharp dagger. "Now, if you want to live, I suggest you come with me," Mikan made no attempt to move. "Didn't you hear me princess!? I will kill you. Come on, just be my hostage for a while. I'll treat you kindly." He ran the tip of the dagger along the door behind him and Mikan shivered.
"What do you want with me?" She said in nothing more than a strained whisper.
"To lure the king to me. You're my best bet to get the throne for myself."
"And why is that?"
"Don't play dumb with me! My memories were never taken! It seems that your husband can fail in multiple aspects of a potentially flawless plan. His first mistake was making me his guard. The second was marrying you." Mikan bit back a sour curse and backed slowly out onto the balcony. "You can't jump from there princess, you'll die." And surely enough, the balcony was a good five stories high above the ground below. Mikan, afraid of nothing in this moment, grabbed for the marble railing as Cross raised his finger. "I didn't think I'd have to resort to this." He murmured and a spark shot out of his ring finger, causing Mikan to collapse into a forced slumber. He walked over to her, pocketing his dagger before he hoisted her over his shoulder and made his way over to a clear wall at the opposite side of the room from the bed, spraying a big 'X' across the wall in red spray paint before he dropped the can carelessly and teleported out of the room. "Try keeping your throne now Natsume."
The door to his room was wide open when he returned, a panicked look stuck on his features. He ran into the room and looked around. She wasn't in there. She was gone. With a frustrated grunt, Natsume noticed the big 'X' in red on the far wall and turned to storm out of his room where he was met with a blade.
"Jinta!?" The cold silver was deadly still at the hollow of his throat.
"One move and I'll end you."
"I don't understand. What's gotten into you?" Natsume asked darkly. Jinta was especially skilled with a blade, this he knew from experience, and with his weapon devoid form he was defenceless against his strikes, should he choose to take that route.
"Following my brother comes before following you."
"You don't have a brother." Jinta licked his teeth with a wicked grin.
"Whoops, I guess Takumi wasn't my last name after all. Something more along the lines of Withers would be correct."
"You bastard. Where has he taken her? What does he want with her?" Jinta pressed on the blade gently, a small graze of red appearing along Natsume's throat.
"Who? Oh, you mean your wife?" Natsume's eyes widened and burned darkly. "I guess there were a few things we forgot to mention to you. Well, now that everything's cleared up, I can kill you with no regrets. So long king-," With a horrid crack and the sound of metal hitting bone, Jinta's body went slack and he slowly slipped off of the blade that had impaled him. Blood oozed from his dead corpse and pooled on the ground slowly as Natsume met the eyes of his saviour. Juri.
"M-mother?" With a heaved sighed, Juri inspected the sword with a frown.
"I really shouldn't have dirtied your father's sword." She murmured thoughtfully, pulling a cloth out of her dress pockets to clean off the blood. When Natsume didn't move, she handed him the sword and he took it cautiously. "Take it and go. You can explain yourself later." He kissed her cheek, something he hadn't done in God knows how long, and took off down the hall. He knew with an utmost certainty where Cross would be, but with his leaders and their chiefs most definitely there to support him, Natsume was going to need some support of his own. And he only knew of two people that couldn't be anything more than the best. He ran through the main city and sprinted down Tree Twirl lane, stopping at Kikuo's house where the door was open. He didn't bother knocking and climbed up the ladder.
"Your majesty!?" He turned at the sound of Mrs. Clockwork on the second floor in the kitchen and nodded towards her.
"Please, don't mind me. I need to speak to your son." With a confused look, Mrs. Clockwork watched as her king hurried up the next ladder and out of sight.
"By golly." She murmured to herself and turned back to her cooking. Natsume reached Kikuo and Shiro's bedroom where the two in question along with Artemis sat discussing something that he couldn't have cared less about in the current moment.
"Natsume?" Artemis was the first one to notice the ragged breathing king in the doorway and she stood up in worry, taking him by the shoulders. "What's wrong?"
"I need your help. Both your's and Kikuo's. Please."
"O-of course. Anything your majesty." Kikuo spoke up from the corner of the room. Artemis turned on her fiance and glared at him somewhat.
"Why should I help you after all you've done?" She slowly took her hands off of his shoulders and took a step back.
"Artemis, please!" She registered the genuine look in his eyes and her mouth opened slightly. "I wouldn't ask this of you in any other situation. And you know that! I've changed, I really have. And I need you to help rescue the girl who knocked some sense back into me. Please Artemis, I love her." He was getting frustrated now. He needed this favour. Artemis looked back at Kikuo before she turned to Natsume.
"We can't just fall back into our old pattern Natsume, you know that."
"I know but I'm willing to try. I can never be forgiven for the things I've done to you and the things that only you know about, those sins will remain forever, but I need you to trust me Artemis. Just like you used to."
"And what do I get out of this, huh? Money, a house? What are you willing to bribe me with this time?"
"The truth." He murmured. "The truth about everything."
"I'll do it if you will Artemis. Look at him, he's your best friend, that never changed to you did it?" Kikuo asked her gently and Artemis shook her head slowly.
"I always prayed that you'd find yourself again. And I don't want to screw up this chance to let you redeem yourself," She gave him a tight hug. "I missed you Natsume." He hugged her back and took in a pained breath.
"Will you help me?" He asked quietly as she nodded into the crook of his shoulder.
"Of course I will you idiot."
"Then let's go save her."