CHAPTER 5: IMAGES AND MEMORIES
Chapter 5: Images And Memories
She was still wearing their wedding ring. That was the first thing that he had noticed upon looking at her for the first time in a hundred years. It hung on a silver chain around her neck and he touched it gently, looking down at the matching one still on his finger.
"I've turned into a monster my love. I'm so sorry. You told me to keep myself safe and I destroyed everything I had instead. You've barely anything to come back to." He could imagine her waking up with a tender smile saying 'Nonsense, I still have you.' But she stayed asleep, stayed oblivious.
"Oh? So you're letting an Outworlder sleep on your bed," Natsume jumped at the voice and turned to find Jinta in the doorway, smirking. He then realised how close he'd been to her and remembered that no one else knew that she was his wife. "Why are you so interested in this girl? Cross could've taken care of her."
"Cross hasn't earned the right to defy my orders or invade my personal life. And nor have you. Leave." Jinta raised his hands in defence, his eyes dark and mischievous.
"Yes, your highness. Anything for you." As the door closed, Natsume saw the glint of silver at Jinta's waist. Was that his dagger? He raised himself from the bed and checked his locked chest where his dagger usually lay. It was still there, where he had put it minutes ago. He looked back over at Mikan as he slipped the dagger back into his belt, closing the chest in which his sword still lay. She probably wasn't safe here.
"I don't know where to hide you. And for two weeks at that! I guess we never really understood what we were getting ourselves into, huh Mikan?" At the mention of her name, Mikan stirred.
"Na-tsume." She whispered in her sleep and his eyes widened. She was starting to remember, earlier than he and Artemis had calculated for all those years ago. But the sooner she remembered, the sooner he could get her to fight alongside him again. She was a woman who knew her way around a sword. "Don't leave me." In her sleep she started to cry silently, tears streaming down her cheeks. His fists clenched at his side. He couldn't break this chance, he had to build her up to trust him again. Until she remembered everything. Even if he had to act like he hated her, it would be worth it soon. He walked up to her and shook her shoulders.
"Oi, brat, get up." Her eyes flickered open and he hesitated for a split second before taking his hands off of her shoulders.
"Where am I? More over, why am I still with you!?" She spat. She was so different from the Mikan he knew, but the exact same all together.
"Calm down. You're in my room."
"Your room!?" He nodded as if it were only natural. She sat up suddenly and in a moment of worry, reached for the wedding ring hanging around her neck. It seemed to help her calm down.
"Where did you get that ring?" He asked her nonchalantly and she studied him cautiously.
"I don't know. I've just always had it. Why do you care?" All her words were slicing through him like a knife.
"I was just asking, don't be rude to royalty." He snapped back.
"Well, news flash, you're not my king. I'm not from here. Take me back to my world! I'd rather suffer up there again than be here with you." So she had been suffering, just as he'd feared. He sat beside her on the bed and she scrambled back against the headboard. He looked down at his joined hands, hiding his ring from her eyes.
"Could you tell me about your life in the Outworld then? Say, as a favour for saving your life."
"You didn't need to save my life," She grumbled under her breath. "But fine. The 'Outworld' is not all it's cracked up to be you know?" She seemed to hesitate before she went on. "I just had the oddest feeling." She murmured.
"I felt like I knew you," She shook her head to clear the cobwebs. "Never mind. You wanted to know about what my life was like up there, right?" His heart clenched in his chest as she looked up at him with her blank brown eyes and he nodded. "Well, I was abandoned when I was a baby," She played with the hem of the sheets. "So I never really knew much about anything other than orphanages. I've been to two in total. The first one was really nice and there was this boy, Kouta, who always stood up for me. But I had to leave that one eventually and I went to one that was only for girls. They bullied me everyday," He could see the tears in her eyes and he had to ball his fists to stop himself from reaching out to comfort her. "They were so violent and they told me to kill myself. I'm surprised they didn't do it themselves when I slept to be honest. And then, I ended up here. In this world." She swept her hand around the room. "That's basically my life story. How about you? What is this world like?" He opened his mouth to tell her that she already knew but he thought better of it.
"You don't need to know."
"I don't get you!" She said suddenly, infuriated. "I told you my life story and yet you won't say a single thing about yours. Must be pretty nice to be king, getting everything you want, never having to do anything." She scoffed.
"I killed my father." He muttered without meaning too. He might have blown his last chance.
Kikuo paced up and down the floor of his and Shiro's bedroom.
"Well, are you going to explain to me what happened?" Mrs Clockwork asked her son as he took a deep breath.
"I-well, that's the thing mother, I'm not really sure what happened."
"How about that girl, Mikan was it? The king seemed very interested in her. Oh ma, do you suppose he fancies her?" Shiro piped up. Mrs Clockwork shook her head at her daughter.
"He doesn't even know the poor girl. Better not be talking about love though, I don't want you messing with that stuff. That goes for you too young man." Kikuo scratched the back of his head.
"Too late." He murmured under his breath. Shiro, with her enhanced hearing, leapt up and grabbed her brother by the shoulders.
"What do you mean too late!?" She squealed. He'd forgotten how much his dear sister loved her gossip.
"She's right young man. What do you mean too late?" Kikuo, realising he was cornered by his family, knew he had to say it.
"I-um. Artemis and I... umm. She um... kissed me?" It sounded more like a question to both him and the women before him. He would never get his mother's infuriated face out of his head. Ever.
"Maybe you should go mother dear," Shiro laughed, pushing her mother slowly out of their room. When she was alone with Kikuo, she turned back to face him and her face became serious. "Your love life aside, tell me everything that happened. Now." His sister could be scary when she wanted to be. But it was only when she cared.
"It all began with Mikan," He started, and they sat down together on Shiro's bed.
Artemis sat alone in her bedroom, thinking about how desperate Natsume had looked when he asked where Mikan was. She felt like she knew the reason for his worry and pain somewhere deep inside, but it was locked away, a memory she couldn't quite reach. She mixed the final witch potion to restore the last of her powers and threw it back, taking it all in one go. She watched from her window, wondering silently is she should go to Kikuo's house. She needed to clear up her feelings with him, needed to tell him how scared she had been. But then again, he might have needed a bit more time alone with his family. It was only fair that it was them over her.
"No, I can't waste any more time not telling him. Intrusive or not, you're going Artemis." She told herself determinedly, hopping off of her bed and grabbing her witch hat. She propped it into place and looked at herself in the mirror before she set off down the lane, taking a right once she reached the main city. She stopped herself once she caught the sight of Nabuki peering around the city and tipped her hat to the side, making her way casually down Tree Twirl lane. "Why isn't he searching the lanes?" She wondered aloud to herself as she knocked on the front door of the Clockwork residence. "Kikuo? Are you in there?" She was wondering for a moment if this was actually where he'd gone when she was startled out of her reverie by Mrs Clockwork herself.
"Oh no, not you little miss trouble," She scanned her eyes up and down Artemis.
"Trouble? I don't understand. Is Kikuo here Mrs Clockwork?" She tried looking past Mrs Clockwork but the old woman moved with her, her hand on her hip.
"I hear you kissed my son." Artemis's cheeks tinted pink. Well this was awkward.
"I might have, yes." She averted her eyes. She had really hoped she wouldn't find herself in this situation. But she should've known. Shiro would've kicked it out of him some way or another.
"And what are your intentions with my son?" Mrs Clockwork demanded and Artemis winced, but spoke strongly nonetheless.
"I love Kikuo. I might have been a coward and afraid to show it back then but- once he disappeared, I knew I'd made a horrible mistake. I love your son so much Mrs Clockwork, I want to spend the rest of my life with him. Even if you disapprove of me." The older woman watched Artemis and studied her closely.
"Then you may have him." Artemis looked up in shock. Mrs Clockwork, after all, was very protective of her children. "As long as you stay with him forever. You so much as leave and I'll kill you myself." She knew she wasn't joking.
"Thank you Mrs Clockwork. I really mean that."
"Run along then. He's upstairs." And with that, she let her pass and Artemis ran up the ladder, making her way up two more floors before she burst through his bedroom door. He was sat with Shiro on one of the beds and both of them looked up at her entrance. Shiro looked between the two and smiled cheekily.
"I'll leave you two be then." And with that, she stepped past Artemis and closed the door softly. In the silence, Kikuo stood and walked forward until he was a few steps in front of her.
"Artemis I -," She shook her head and closed the gap, her body pressing against his. She cupped his cheeks and kissed him softly and sweetly, all the pain of fifty years of missing him in one kiss, a kiss for all the tears she had cried.
"I love you Kikuo," She murmured against his lips, sweeping his white hair back behind his ear. "I always have and I always will." His arms came around her waist and he stared into her violet orbs.
"You know, when I was little, I dreamed of this day. The day where the girl I'd loved forever would say she loved me back. So, I love you Artemis, truly," She felt the tear drops spill from her eyes. "And I want you to be my wife."
Mikan stared at Natsume, her eyes wide. She was in the presence of a killer. She ran for the door but he reached it before her, his hands on her shoulders. She struggled out of his grip.
"Get off of me you murderer!" A vision, a still image, flicked through her mind when she stared into his sorrowful eyes. An image of her kissing him. She stepped back slowly. "W-what are these images?" She whispered shakily.
"Tell me what you saw," He said gently, trying not to scare her any more than he already had. Mikan shook her head, her eyes glued to the floor.
"It wasn't real. It can't have been." Another image, a death of someone she couldn't quite recognise. He was there with her, holding her close while she cried into his chest. She let out a scream. "I don't understand! I've never lived these moments! Why are you in all of them? Why do I look like I love you!?" She was starting to crack, tears streaming down her small face. He wasn't meant to tell her, for fear that she wouldn't believe him. But he couldn't help himself. He wanted his wife back.
"Because you're my wife." She looked petrified. Another vision, this time a moving memory.
"I want you to marry me Mikan." Her smile was brighter than any she remembered herself smiling and she threw her arms around his neck, knocking him back onto the grass in a meadow she couldn't quite remember.
"Of course I'll marry you Natsume. I love you so much." They looked so happy together, a foreign feeling to the Mikan in front of him now. She shook her head again in defiance.
"That isn't possible! I'm not from here-," She stopped short when another memory flooded through her.
"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." She swallowed audibly and he watched her patiently.
"I don't understand. What's happening!?" He took a small step towards her, relieved when she didn't move backwards, but he stayed there, not wanting to make her run away again.
"Tell me what you've seen Mikan," Her heart melted a little at the sound of her name rolling off of his tongue but she held herself together. How was this possible? She knew what her life was, it couldn't have been a lie... could it? No, what she had felt was all too real, there was just something she didn't know. And she was confused and scared to find out in all honesty. Could she really have been married to this boy before her? Could she really have been the queen of Howling Hollows? She took a breath to steady herself and decided that she had nothing to lose anything by telling him.
"I- I saw you kissing me," She whispered, fearing that the life she'd always known would shatter in front of her. "And then I saw us standing by a dead body. And lastly, I saw me comforting you when you said you were going to send me 'up there'. I don't understand this. Why is this happening to me?"
"Do you believe in these memories Mikan?" He asked and she paused to think about it.
"I- I don't know what I believe in any more," He took a step towards her, his arm slowly extending out to touch her shoulder. She took a step backwards and shook her head, her eyes never meeting his. "Please don't touch me." He felt like his heart had been pierced. Was sending her up there worth it after all? He'd toyed with fate and this is what he had got.
"I guess I deserve that," He murmured, grabbing desperately at his raven hair. "I just- I don't know how to make you believe. I don't know how to prove it to you. I don't know how to face up to my demons without you, that's why I've fallen so far. Even if you don't remember me or don't want to believe it," Her head turned up a little and she watched him quietly as he turned his head to the side. "I want you to know how sorry I am for becoming this- this monster that I am now. I never meant to hurt you. I hope you understand that." And with that, he left the room, distressed as he closed and locked the door behind him. "I'm sorry." Reality suddenly set in and she stood up tall, wiping at her tears.
"Wait, Natsume! You can't just leave me locked in here without telling me anything!" She heard his breathing hitch from the other side of the door.
"I'll be back in an hour. Then I'll tell you everything you need to know, whether you choose to believe it or not. Just- get some rest." She heard his footsteps echo down the stone hallway and she slid her back down the door, her head in her hands.
"I don't understand." She sobbed.