CHAPTER 4: WHEN THEY WERE STILL CLOSE
I completely lost you Natsume. To the world around us, to the darkness inside of you. When she left, you died inside. And then you broke. Something evil took over you after that. Something that I will kill if it's the last thing I do.
"Artemis? Are you home?" A young Natsume stood at her door, about a hundred years younger then when we last saw him. Time moves in a different way in Howling Hollows than it does in the Outworld. Five years up there is fifty years down here. Which meant that Natsume was about a hundred and fifty. Artemis, his best friend since birth, opened the door and smiled at him.
"Natsume! Come in! I'm afraid Mikan is asleep though. She crashed out on my bed about half an hour ago." Natsume's eyes filled with worry and he made his way down the hallway into Artemis's room where, indeed, his wife lay asleep on top of the bed. He sat beside her and stroked his fingers through her hair. "Should I be worried about her health?" Artemis asked, leaning against the door frame. Natsume looked down at Mikan, her breathing soft, her eyes shut lightly. He shook his head.
"I don't think so. We've always known she was a little on the frail side. She'll pull through, she always does." Mikan stirred under his hand and her eyes fluttered open.
"Natsume?" She whispered gently. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to pick you up. You fell asleep," Her arms were suddenly around his waist, her head buried in his chest.
"I missed you. Please don't go away again." It pained him to see her like this but as the prince of Howling Hollows, it was his duty to go up to the Outworld every now and again to make sure that they weren't going to be a threat to their world any time soon. He swept her hair behind her ear and smiled sadly at her.
"I know honey, I missed you too." He bent down to kiss her and she tugged impatiently on his collar, deepening their reunion kiss as much as she could. With a roll of her eyes, Artemis excused herself quietly as Natsume's fingers wove into her hair. He pulled away slowly and watched her, just took her in for everything that she was. She had never been a strong child, much less a strong adult, but she was getting worse and he knew it. He just couldn't bring himself to do what needed to be done. There was only one place where she could regain her health. Up there. But he wasn't ready to let her go yet, not right now. You see, once she was up there, he could guarantee her safety, but he couldn't determine her fate. It was out of his hands.
"Are you alright?" Her hand was cupping his cheek and he snapped back to reality. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch.
"Yeah, I'm just thinking." He murmured and she looked around the room, staring blankly out of the window.
"We should be going." She said, watching the sun as it threatened to dip behind the horizon. He pulled her gently to her feet and held her close as they walked through the house. "Artemis?" Mikan poked her head around the door of Artemis's study and found her sitting at her desk, a large old book open in front of her. She pushed her chair out and walked over to the couple.
"You're heading back home, right? To the palace?" Mikan nodded and gave the older girl a hug.
"Thank you for looking after me." She whispered into her ear. Artemis hugged her back and smiled.
"Any time darling." Natsume peered over the girls at the book Artemis had been reading. He caught six words that made his throat constrict. Sending A Subject To The Outworld. He caught Artemis's eye and she watched him sadly. "It was good seeing you Natsume," She let Mikan go and hugged him as well. "I know you don't want this," She murmured under her breath. "But it's what is right for Mikan. Remember that. You can't keep her in this situation for very much longer."
"I know," He nearly hissed. "Just give me a little more time to spend with her."
"What are you two whispering about over there?" Mikan chimed in, smiling at the two. Natsume let Artemis go and took Mikan's hand.
"Don't worry about it. It was nothing important." A blatant lie. That was all he could do to save a little more time. "We'll be seeing you at lunch tomorrow, won't we Artemis?"
"But of course."
With the sunset casting shadows over their bodies, Mikan and Natsume reached the palace through the main city.
"Prince Natsume, Princess Mikan, welcome back." The leader of the royal guards and Natsume's personal guard bowed to them when they reached the gate and Mikan laughed.
"Oh Cross, how many times have I told you? Just call me Mikan. The princess title isn't necessary." Natsume smiled fondly at his wife. He loved this side of her. The side that couldn't care less about being royal and respected, she just wanted to be treated like everyone else. She wanted equality. And it made him love her so much more. She didn't want the money and the fame, she just wanted him and the people around her to love and care for. Cross scratched the back of his head.
"Sorry, I will try to remember that from now on your high- I mean, Mikan-sama." Mikan blinked.
"Well, I guess 'sama' will have to do for now. See you later Cross." With a little wave, Mikan led Natsume into the palace. She walked him down the hall to the living room, not their bedroom where he'd assumed they were going to go and sleep. He was pretty tired, but she was a girl worth following he'd found. She pushed open the door and they found Natsume's father sitting on the couch, his mother in the kitchen. "We're home." Mikan chorused happily as Raymond looked up.
"Oh, hello dear, welcome home." Natsume had never really had the best relationship with his father, but his mother was a different story entirely.
"Natsume my dear boy! Welcome home to both you and Mikan my dear." Juri hugged Mikan and then Natsume and offered them a seat on the couch. Mikan, noticing her husband's distress, took the seat closest to his father.
"How have you been father, mother?" Mikan asked cheerily, squeezing Natsume's hand to let him know that she had it all under control. She smiled down at him and he squeezed her hand back as Juri returned to the kitchen.
"It's been very boring my dear girl. It's no fun without you two here." Natsume was suprised that his father had actually included him in this.
"Would you two like some tea?" Juri asked from the kitchen.
"No than you mother," Natsume replied for the both of them. "We'd best be off to bed now. Come along darling." He stood and extended his hand down to Mikan and she took it, nodding her goodbyes to Raymond and Juri.
When lunch was over the next day, Artemis pulled Natsume aside.
"We have to do it tonight. It's the only full moon for another hundred years." She explained. Natsume hesitated.
"You mean, in order for her to get better, she'll be gone for a hundred years?" Artemis nodded sadly.
"I'm afraid so."
"I'll do it." Both heads whipped around to the girl who stood in the doorway, tears springing to her eyes. "It's for the best right? And I'll come back. So I'll do it." She whimpered, swiping at her tears. Natsume felt his gut twist. He walked briskly over to her and caught her lips in his own, threading his fingers through her's. She flexed her fingers in his and wound an arm around his neck, pulling him closer. Artemis, though she wasn't one for romance at this age, couldn't help but start to cry silently. Mikan had saved him, completed him. She made him happier than Artemis had ever seen him, and she only wanted the best for him. She was just scared of what would happen when she was gone. Mikan pulled away and rested her forehead against his, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I'll be okay Natsume," She whispered. "I know you wouldn't put me in danger." He bit back the tears that wanted to escape. He wouldn't cry in front of her. He was stronger than that. He brushed his hand over her cheek.
"But there are some factors you need to know first. Come and sit down, Artemis and I will explain it to you." With a nod, Mikan let him guide her to their bed where the three sat, one on either side of Mikan. She kept her hand in Natsume's, for fear that she would break.
"The biggest thing that you need to know," Artemis began, watching at how brave Mikan was trying to be. "Is that you will be born anew. You won't remember any of us, and the only person here who will remember you is that caster of the spell, Natsume."
"Y-you won't remember me?" Mikan asked hesitantly. Artemis nodded and took a deep breath.
"Not until the night of your 250th birthday when the new moon is at it's highest point. Which means that, when you arrive back here in a hundred years on the full moon, you will have to survive two weeks here somehow. Most likely, people will want to kill you because they will assume that you are an Outworlder. And, technically, that's what you will be. But on the night of your 250th birthday, the spell will be removed and you will be restored to what you are today, the princess of Howling Hollows. And we'll all remember you again. You just have to wait it out and stay alive. Do you think you can do that?" Artemis asked her. Mikan looked at Natsume whose eyes were casted at the floor. She placed her hand under his chin and turned him so that he faced her. She held his face in both of her hands, studying him gently.
"What aren't you telling me Natsume?" He gave a hoarse laugh.
"You know me too well for your own good my love," He said gently. "It's just that- I can't determine your fate up there. You could be given the worst life possible and you'd have to suffer through it all alone. I can make sure that you can't be killed, but you'll still feel pain and sorrow. I can't promise you any more than that and I-,"
"I know," She whispered. "I never expected you to do any of this. It's what has to be done so I have to do it. I'll come back to you, I promise you that. Just keep yourself safe." She hugged him tightly and he rested his head in the crook of her neck.
"I'm going to miss you dearly Mikan," He murmured. This wasn't right. He was meant to be comforting her, not the other way around. She hushed him softly.
"I know my darling. I know."
What happened later that night had long since been forgotten to everyone besides Natsume. And it haunted him every night, making him think that maybe he'd made the wrong decision. No, she had to be reborn, otherwise, before long, she would've died here for good. But still, it ate away at him, shattered his steady hand. It effected him so much that he wanted nothing more than to block her out. To obtain the ultimate power of king. And so that he did. Twenty years after she had left, Natsume, dagger in hand, murdered his father, claiming to the world that he had been assassinated. And everyone believed him, their new king. Though his mother had her doubts, she followed behind her broken son, trying as hard as she could to never question his intentions.
His own decision had shattered him. The love he had no control over had brought out the monster in him.
But it wasn't her fault. No, he could never blame her. He could only fight for her and bring her back.
Even if it killed him.
He'd risk it all.