CHAPTER 10: THE BOY SHE THOUGHT SHE KNEW
Darkness. Unlike her awakening at Artemis's house with her eyes buried in the white of Hood- Kikuo's- fur, as odd as that predicament was for her to wrap her head around, it wasn't bright and her brain didn't jump to the conclusion that she was blind. There was just darkness, as far as the eye could see. She wasn't tied or bound to anything- much like the stories the keeper of the orphanage would have described in these situations-, no, she had simply been placed; not a hair out of place. She felt slightly woozy, an after effect of Cross's spell she supposed. Would letting her have jumped an hour prior really have altered his plan so much? Mikan didn't know. She didn't know anything in her current state and it fazed her so very much that she lost the will to move her mouth and therefore she lost all hope of screaming for Natsume. She was about as useful as a pebble. Her hands set off to work, scurrying around the cold cement floor and walls for what ever she could find; a bobby pin, a key, preferably a light switch. But most of her efforts were in vain; her only finding a small silver pendant that clicked open with little force. Her mind ventured to think that maybe these were motion sensor lights; the kind that came on with a clap or two. So she tried to no avail. Feeling even more useless, Mikan sunk to her knees. She pondered crying but thought that even more useless, so she set her mind to work on a solution to get out of here; or at least to find a way to get the lights on.
"Abracadabra." She tried, feeling rather dumb with herself. "On."
"Lights, camera, action?" A voice offered from the shadows in the far corner of the room.
"Who's there!?" The lights flicked on and a man in a hooded cloak stood at the far end of the room, walking towards her slowly. Her eyebrows furrowed.
"Did you miss me, Mikan?" His voice was dark and deep and now that she really listened, it occurred to her that she knew this voice.
"I can't believe you," Mikan spat. "All along, you were part of this?"
"Beggars can't be choosers, Mikan dear." He pulled back his hood, the black tattoos covering his face a horrid reminder of her life in the Outworld.
"Why are you doing this Kouta? Were you following me the whole time? You went so low as to fool people for an orphan child just to keep tabs on me!?"
"I see you remember a lot more than your husband accounted for by this time," Kouta murmured thoughtfully as Mikan stood and stepped away from him. "I wonder what the poor boy's up to. Jinta should've taken care of him by now so most probably he's doing, well, nothing." Mikan's eyes widened.
"What do you have to do with Cross?"
"Best friends since birth. Much like your husband and that wretched witch friend of his."
"Do not speak ill of my family." Mikan demanded. "And Jinta can't have killed Natsume, he's not dumb enough to just let his life be taken from him. I believe that he will come for me." Kouta snickered and her eyes snapped into a memory.
"Mikan?" A small knock sounded at the attic door; a voice Mikan had recently grown used to hearing.
"Come in Kouta." She set her Howling Hollows book aside and watched with a patient smile as Kouta entered. "Is something wrong?" She asked as he eyed her story book warily. With a sudden snap of his eyes to hers, he shook his head with a smile.
"Not at all," He sat beside her. "You're very close to this book, aren't you Mikan?" She raised her eyebrow but nodded in return.
"It's more a part of me than anything."
"Shall I give you some wisdom then?" He didn't give her time to reply. "Every theory is correct unless proved wrong by the weight and righteousness of facts." He stood and held his arm out to her. "Dinner's ready." She blinked but took his arm.
"You were trying to get me back here the whole time, weren't you?"
"Again, I was just following orders-"
"How pitiful," Mikan snapped. "You have to take orders from your own friend. Think again about his title Kouta; what kind of friend only orders you around? No friend at all I'd like to think."
"And what kind of husband sends you away?" He countered. She bit the inside of her cheek and with barely any will, took a step forward to strike her hand clean across his face. Little did she know, he had back up that burst through the door in that instant.
"And just who are we saving?" Artemis asked as they started for the stairs on the tree trunk, heading down past Mrs. Clockwork. Natsume didn't have time to answer Artemis as Mrs. Clockwork cocked her eyebrow.
"And you lot are going where?" She asked, drying a carved, wooden square plate.
"Why, excuse my bluntness ma'am, but it is confidential. No harm will come to your son and I rather think we should be off." Mrs. Clockwork had no time to debate her king's words as he, Artemis and Kikuo disappeared down the tree.
"So I shall ask again; who are we saving?" Artemis murmured as she strode next to Natsume on their way to the palace.
"Well, I thought you knew."
"I shouldn't think I'd be asking if I knew, Natsume." They crossed through the main city as bystanders watched in awe and talked in hushed voices at the sight of the king, an earth mage and a witch together, conversing naturally as if they were of the same title and standing in the kingdom.
"I don't think I should tell you. Believe me, I would if I could- I mean I could but I just don't see it fit. You'll know when we get there but I fear you mightn't understand. Just trust me Artemis." With a huff, she twined her fingers through Kikuo's.
"Oh all right then. What are we after here?" Natsume, who had pushed open the doors to the palace, met his mother's eyes across the way.
"Natsume? Artemis? Oh- even Kikuo my dear! How ever did you manage to find your way back here?" But Juri was hushed ever so gently by her son.
"We can't very well explain right now mother," Natsume said hurriedly, starting down towards the armory. "But we'll sit down over a cup of tea and chat about it later. I promise." And with that the three of them made their way into the armory. It was a large square room with shining platinum and deep scarlet armour fitted on mannequins along all four walls. In the middle of the room were three mahogany desks, a simple black lamp on all of them, littered with scraps of metal and gold and brass bits. At the desk to the far right sat a young woman, her orange hair scraped back into a twisted bun, fixed with bobby pins and a pencil or two. She was working on a sword design when she heard Natsume's footfalls. Her head snapped up and a soft smile graced her lips; though her eyes wore only caution. "Henrietta, whistle for the guards would you? And find these two a sword, a dagger, what ever you can find. I'll go and grab my sword from upstairs and I'll be back." He turned on his heel as Henrietta nodded.
"But you have a sword already," Kikuo pointed to his father's sword which hung in its sheath. Natsume shrugged, heading for the doors again.
"Some of us need to win our battles with our own weapons. I will not rescue her with the weight of my father's sword but rather my own. Otherwise I will not see it fit to claim the win," Kikuo nodded slowly as if he only partially understood what Natsume was trying to get across. "Henrietta, I'm counting on you."
"As you wish," She tutted, raising her fingers to her mouth to whistle rather loudly. "Boys! Get in here!" When Natsume returned, sword in hand, he was met with the questioning gaze of not only Henrietta and the guards, but of Artemis and Kikuo as well.
"Your majesty," His second-in-command bowed and Natsume bit his tongue.
"I need your help Tora; will you and your men assist me?"
"We are at your service." He was rather glad Tora hadn't said 'we are at your disposal' for Natsume wasn't in the mood to be treated like the evil king at the moment. Or rather, ever.
"We are to head to the Eastern woods, where the edge of the wood meets the riverbank. There is a house there, a house that Cross and the council by all means have special access to. If you understand where to go, head out at once." Tora bowed his head and marched his men out of the palace, Natsume, Artemis and Kikuo following suit with their weapons shut tightly in their sheaths. Natsume peered over at Artemis who was watching him from the corner of her eye. He somewhat knew why she was staring. "I'll say thank you when she's returned in one piece." He smiled gently and Artemis poked her tongue out.
"I expect no less."
It was almost like old times as Natsume strode beside Artemis and Kikuo, in search of Mikan. Though it was disastrously different, he reminded himself. He feared to think of what they were doing to her, or rather why they had her at all.
"She'll be fine." Artemis whispered in his ear. If only Artemis really knew who they were saving. He wondered what she'd think. According to her previous words, she had warned Mikan to steer clear of him; what would she say if her ran to her and hugged her, kissing her like his life depended on it? He was wary of the thought and his eyebrows creased.
"Yeah, I hope so." They made their way to the edge of the Eastern forest and- just as he had said- there was the house. It was rather like a big two storey mansion to be precise; big, tall and black. But, as king, Natsume knew his way around the place and his best shot of finding Mikan would be the basement. "Head through the front door; do not kill, just knock them out if they do not surrender. Artemis, Kikuo, you follow me to the basement." With a nod, Natsume watched as his guards stormed in through the front doors and he followed with Artemis and Kikuo behind him, sneaking down the descending cement staircase that lead down to the basement. The door was ajar and inside stood four council members including Cross; Mikan in the far end of the room with her small face bright in anger.
"She- she hit me!" He heard Kouta snarl to Cross.
"That won't do now Mikan. I told you to behave." Artemis muffled a gasp behind him.
"We were here to save Mikan!? But I thought she was safely up in your attic Kikuo!"
"Did I fail to mention that Natsume took her?" Kikuo scratched the back of his head in apology. "Sorry dear." He nodded. Natsume, barely caring what Artemis was thinking about this situation, pushed the door open loudly, letting it slam against the concrete wall. Mikan's eyes met his and tears sprung to her chocolate orbs. She wiped at her eyes hastily as Natsume drew his sword.
"Sorry I'm late," He snapped, Cross's face shocked that he was still alive and breathing. He heard his guards loud footsteps clapping against the cement behind him. "Take them." Natsume commanded, he, Artemis and Kikuo moving aside to let the guards in. Cross blinked and seized Mikan in a rush.
"Touch me and she dies." He held his dagger to her throat and Mikan made a small, barely noticable nod in Artemis's direction. Natsume understood and nudged the pocket that held Artemis's wand. Their many years of friendship was paying of as Artemis mumbled an incantation under her breath and Cross became paralysed. He tried to move his lips but his efforts were in vain as they stayed glued shut. His nostrils flared.
"Now, I'm not planning any blood shed, courtesy of Mikan," Natsume nodded in her direction. "But I have a nice prison cell for each and every one of you." He clicked his fingers and every council member in the house disappeared. Natsume breathed a sigh and met Mikan's eyes. He barely had to open his mouth before she came running, her arms encircling him, her face pressed into his chest. He stroked his fingers through her hair and rested his forehead against the crown of her head. "I'm sorry." He murmured weakly. She shook her head in protest.
"You did everything you could," She gave a little sniffle. "I knew you'd come."
"So sorry to interrupt," Artemis cleared her throat, her hand on her hip. All the guards had already excused themselves from the scene. She waved her hand at Natsume and Mikan, waiting for them to explain. "Any reason for the loving vibes I'm getting?" Mikan looked up at Natsume worriedly, not sure of how she should explain.
"It's a long story," Said Natsume. "Let's get back to the palace first."
Juri had been invited, Mikan noticed, which made her all the more wary of what they were meant to say. How do you explain that you're really the king's wife and that they'd all know soon enough? Mikan shuffled closer to Natsume, at a loss for words. But he seemed to be calm enough. So he started to explain.
"A hundred years ago-," He began; and the whole story tumbled out. The three were a rather good audience, patient and never intrusive. Natsume flowed through the whole story and then everyone looked at Mikan as she hadn't said a peep.
"It's true," She said quietly, not sure if they wanted her opinion or her confirmation on the story. She fished for her wedding ring on the small silver chain and brought Natsume's wedding ring finger up to it; as if to prove it all the more. "We really are married."
"What a peculiar situation," Juri hummed. "I did feel like I knew you when I saw you this morning. I'm willing to bet that this was why."
"I had that feeling too," Artemis confessed, Kikuo nodding in agreement beside her.
"Me three." Mikan looked to Natsume and whispered something into his ear. He nodded and they rose to their feet.
"I'm afraid that's really all we know how to explain." Natsume said gently.
"And I'm afraid I need some sleep. Being held hostage is an awfully draining event." Mikan smiled light heartedly, nodding to each of them in turn.
"We understand," Juri looked over to Artemis and Kikuo. "Don't we dears?" Natsume had a feeling that she and her motherly instincts really knew why they were leaving. Artemis and Kikuo just nodded.
"Will we see you tomorrow?" Mikan asked hopefully. Artemis gave her a small smile and stood to hug her.
"Of course. You get some rest. I'm glad your safe Mikan." When Natsume and Mikan reached his room, Mikan flopped down on the bed as Natsume closed the door for some privacy.
"Kouta said they had killed you." She breathed as Natsume laid down beside her, his head hitting the pillows, his eyes trained on the roof of his four poster bed.
"Did you really believe that?" He murmured quietly.
"Not for a second," She said and then added hastily. "At least I didn't want to." He rolled onto his side and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. Her head fell in the crook of his neck, her body relaxing in his warmth.
"I can't lose you again Mikan," Natsume said in a hushed tone. "I can't wait until everyone else can remember that too."
"Mmm," She murmured in agreement. "I remember everything now; crystal clear."
"Everything?" He sounded a little surprised.
"Every second." She angled his face towards hers and pressed a longing kiss to his jaw. "And I never want to forget any of it again." He swept her hair back behind her ear.
"I won't let you." He parted her lips with his.
In the following week and a half, Mikan was well protected by Natsume and the kingdom and finally the day was to come. Tomorrow they'd know. For tomorrow was her 250th birthday.