CHAPTER 11: AND THEN THE KINGDOM WAS RESTORED
Mikan awoke with a start, shaking Natsume out of his sleep. He stirred groggily and gave a little moan of protest.
"Do you think everyone will have remembered by now?" She asked, half scared, half excited. He sat up, scratching the back of his head, and pulled her back down for a cuddle.
"Don't ask such serious things so early in the morning Mikan." He muttered through his sleepy state. Mikan pushed against his chest but he made no attempt to let her go. "Give it 'till my mother bursts through the door. Then they'll have remembered." Mikan sunk into his arms. She didn't have to wait long for her answer as Juri entered the room, beaming brightly. Mikan struggled in his grasp again.
"Oh please tell me you remember Juri," Mikan huffed and gave up her useless attempts to be set free of his arms.
"Everything. Natsume, I think you have a little explaining to do as well." Natsume groaned and Juri raised an eyebrow. "Not to me, I understand the circumstances but have you thought about what the town will think? What about what Lillian and Shou will think, hmm?" Natsume gave in and sat up again, taking his arms away from Mikan's waist so that she could sit up. Juri peered at the town from the balcony. Everyone had gathered, their voices rising up to the open balcony doors.
"Just let us get dressed first mother; fancy me walking out in my pajamas." Mikan gave a giggle at this and both mother and son watched her.
"Please do tell them we'll explain momentarily," She smiled, feeling as though her life was complete again. Juri nodded and turned to yell out at the crowd.
"You will get your answers very shortly. Be patient please." And with this, she left the room, leaving Natsume and Mikan to get dressed. Once they looked fairly decent, they walked onto the balcony hand in hand and looked down at the folk of Howling Hollows. She caught her mother and brother looking up at her in what looked like awe and concern, but not anger she realized. And so began the whole explaining fiasco again.
"Citizens of Holwling Hollows, I believe you may have gained some memories a short while ago. Memories that my wife and I need to clear up and explain," He squeezed her hand gently. "You see, what you lost was every memory of my wife when we decided to cast a spell a hundred years back. Even her own family forgot she ever existed," Lillian shifted uncomfortably at this but listened nonetheless. Natsume gestured for Mikan to do her share of the explanation.
"As you may or may not know, I was very frail back then and the only way to cure my frail figure was for me to be reborn again in the Outworld. And so that was what we did. So many sacrifices were made for my well being and I have to apologise to you all for riding you of your memories of me. But you must understand that it was the only choice we had."
"Why is it that we remember today?" Someone yelled up from the crowd.
"Because today," Natsume began. "Is Mikan's 250th birthday." A few cheers arose at this and Mikan peered down at her brother. He had grown up without her but he was still the same sneaky little boy she'd left behind; she could tell from a glance.
"I hope that, from here on out, we can all return to our normal lives and value one another like our lives depend on it," Mikan smiled gently down at the crowd. "And may I please request that my mother and little brother be let into the palace immediately." The townspeople whispered quietly amongst themselves for a moment before, seemingly happy with their answers, they disappeared back to their houses and went about their lives as normal. Their princess was back, that was all they cared about. Shou was in their room in a flash, his arms going around Mikan the moment he was close enough. He cradled her close and she kissed his forehead. "You've grown so much Shou," She whispered through her tears as her mother found her way into the room and Natsume stepped back to give them some space as Lillian hugged her daughter like her life depended on it. "Oh mother." Mikan sobbed quietly.
"Look at you my darling," Lillian held her back at an arms length. She looked exactly the same as she had when she had left but different all together. Mature. "I should very well be angry at you for not telling me about this when you decided but- I'm just glad you're back home and safe."
"I think subconsciously, I really really missed you sis," Shou smiled through the few tears pricking in his eyes and Mikan ruffled his hair.
"I know Shou, I did too," She watched him lovingly. "By golly though, when did you learn such big words?" This made Lillian laugh somewhat and she turned to Natsume.
"I should probably be hanging you right about now," Lillian glanced quickly at her daughter who raised her eyebrows in a mix of alarm and protest. "But you kept her safe, yes?" Natsume nodded.
"As much as I possibly could ma'am," Lillian shook her head with a long release of breath.
"You children are worth fighting for I suppose. Just don't you ever do anything like that again without my permission, you hear me?" Both Natsume and Mikan nodded hurriedly, sharing a secret smile with each other. "So my little girl is turning two-hundred and fifty, huh? Come on then, you live in a bloody palace; someone tell me there's a banquet downstairs." Natsume chuckled.
"Whatever you wish ma'am."
"And you, how many times must I tell you? Call me Lillian; ma'am is just not the term a son-in-law should be using by this stage."
"Then, whatever you wish, Lillian."
"That's more like it."
There was in fact a banquet being prepared downstairs as Natsume led his wife by the hand down the staircase and into the large dining hall. Mikan's mouth fell in somewhat of an 'o' shape and she peered around the room. The hall was big enough for everyone in the town to fit into but, as they had gone back to their houses, there stood only Juri, the guards, Artemis, Kikuo, Shiro, Mrs. Clockwork, Leo and Henrietta. Her eyes met with Artemis's and she gently let go of Natsume and swept her into a hug.
"I knew you'd find your way back here," Artemis murmured into her hair, hugging the younger girl close to her.
"And fancy that I fell right through your roof," Mikan giggled, holding Artemis at an arms length. "Thank you." She smiled and moved to hug the next person who just so happened to be Kikuo. "And you Kikuo, I don't think I ever thanked you for staying with me all those years." He breathed a laugh into her shoulder.
"You needn't have, Mikan. It was worth it. And besides, returning me here is more than I could have ever asked for." He sent a grin towards Artemis. "So really, I should be thanking you." Mikan hugged everyone in the room, including every guard, and came to a stop in front of Juri. She beamed quietly.
"Mother," She watched patiently as Juri held her arms out.
"Come here dear," And that was all she needed to throw her arms around the older woman and hold her close. She held herself there for a minute before pulling back slowly as Natsume tapped her shoulder.
"May I cut in?" He asked with a crooked smile and she turned, the whole hall watching as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him right there and then. Nobody protested or blushed or made fun of them like they used to for being affectionate; hell, even Shou just stood there with a smile for his sister, never once pretending to gag to annoy her. She sunk into his embrace and rested her head in the crook of his neck.
"I need to thank you most of all," Natsume hadn't really expected that, his eyes widening. "For always fighting for me and staying strong."
"But my father-," He whispered. Mikan hushed him and shook her head into his shoulder.
"We'll get through it together," She hummed quietly. "Because no matter what you do or have done, you are never going to lose me." The hall was still silent and Shou pulled something out of his pocket; a small party popper that he'd been carrying around for God knows why. As he'd done so long ago, he broke the silence and Mikan nearly jumped sky high at the bang and the sneaky smile on her brother's face. Lillian looked at him disapprovingly.
"What? I'm hungry." Mikan let out a giggle and peered over Natsume's shoulder at Shou, mouthing 'thank you' for breaking the settled silence. Lillian whacked his arm and shook her head, muttering something about children under her breath. Juri took this opportunity to announce the feast.
"What are we waiting for then? Let the banquet begin!" A lot of hungry cheers arose at this and Mikan smiled, pressing her forehead against her husband's.
"Let's eat." She grinned.
All was well in Howling Hollows; their princess was back, those who had betrayed the kingdom had been imprisoned for the rest of their time, and everyone was happy. Natsume, in particular, was very happy. After all, he had regained his wife, his friendships, his mother. He had changed for the better. And it was all thanks to the bubbly brunette running towards him now, three weeks after the feast.
"Hi honey. How did your lessons go?" He asked as she threw her arms around his neck and pressed a finger to his lips.
"Oh never mind my lessons, I have something I need to tell you," He watched her and raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to elaborate. "Guess who's going to be a father." She grinned.
Oh, he was certainly very very happy she was back.