CHAPTER 7: INNER DEMONS
Chapter 7: Inner Demons
Mikan hadn't planned on falling asleep like he'd asked her too. But she was so stressed out and so emotionally confused that she'd just stumbled over to his bed and pulled back the sheets, laying down as her eyes closed and she dropped into the darkness. She awoke an hour or so later to the door being unlocked and Natsume's eyes catching her's as he closed the door with his back. He seemed to lose his words at the sight of her waking up in their bed like she used to, so she took it upon herself and opened her mouth to start the conversation.
"Why?" She whispered, not moving from where she sat in the bed, her back pressed up against the headboard.
"May I sit with you?" He asked gently, gesturing towards the bed. Hesitantly, she nodded and he made his way over to sit beside her feet. "I want you to ask any questions you need answered. I am willing now to answer them all." She thought long and hard about it before spying the ring on his hand that was pressed down against the sheets. She trailed her hands up to her necklace and gripped it lightly.
"Is this... a wedding ring?" She asked quietly as Natsume looked at his own ring and nodded. "They're the same." She noted as she gingerly brushed her fingers over his ring. His heart pounded in his chest. It was the first time she'd willingly touched him in a hundred odd years. "Theoretically, if I were to believe everything you're saying," She murmured. "Would you tell me how long we've been married?" She hadn't moved her hand off his.
"A hundred and fifty years." He answered almost instantly and her eyes widened.
"A- a hundred and fifty... years?" She looked at him for a moment before taking her hand away from his, clutching the ring around her neck. "H-how is that possible? I'm only fourteen." She had tears in her eyes now but she didn't seem to notice. He took a breath to steady himself before answering.
"I can explain that. Can I ask you to listen closely for me?" She nodded. "A hundred years ago, you were very frail and it was starting to cause you exhaustion and you were slowly dying," He found himself choking on his words. "The only way that I could help you was by sending you to the Outworld. I was hesitant to do it, in fact I didn't want to do it at all, but you caught Artemis and I talking after lunch one day-," She held up her hand to stop him.
"Wait, Artemis?" He knew what she was asking. How did Artemis not remember her?
"Only I, as the caster of the spell, remember you."
"Will they ever remember me?" She sounded like she was starting to believe everything he was saying but she couldn't determine herself what she was believing and what she wasn't. Natsume nodded and for some strange reason, she felt relieved. Something deep inside of her told her that this would all make sense soon, like it was a wise version of herself trapped inside.
"In just under two weeks, on your birthday. The deal was that when you turned 250, the spell would be over and the memories trapped inside everyone, including you yourself, would be remembered. But until then, you have to let me protect you. They will try and kill you Mikan." The words didn't scare her for some reason. She'd expected them to, but they never did. He ran a hand through his already tousled hair and closed his eyes painfully. "Look, I don't expect you to believe anything I'm telling you, not a single word of it, but I need you to trust me. Do you trust me Mikan?"
"Have I knocked you out and run away yet?" She smiled gently. "I'll give you a chance. But only until my birthday, okay? If what you're saying doesn't occur on my birthday then I'll leave. I'll find some way to get out of here. Does that sound fair to you?"
"It's certainly more than I deserve." He sounded so relieved, she could plainly hear it in his voice. "Do you have any more questions for me?"
"For now, only one," She started slowly. "Did you really kill your father?" He'd been expecting her to ask this but it still stung. He hung his head.
"I have no excuses for that sin,"
"Try me." She said gently and it all started spilling out.
"When you left I just couldn't take it. I spent every day and every night haunted by the fact that maybe this wasn't even going to help you. I started ignoring the people that loved me and I did the only thing that I could. I shut myself down and took on every bit of written work I could find. One night, a few months after you had gone, it really hit me that I had to wait a hundred years for your return and I needed something more than work to keep me occupied. So I settled for power," He took a breath. "And I knew that the only way to get that was to kill him," His hands started to shake and he balled them into fists. "I can't even say sorry to him Mikan! I destroyed him with my own two hands and he was my father! Sure we never saw eye to eye but... I loved him, I really did, and I haven't told him that since I was a small child. It's just so frustrating! I don't know what I'm meant to do-," Her arms came around him and she pulled him into her shoulder as his eyes widened. She may not have known completely who he was or what was going on, but she felt for him anyway. "M-Mikan?" She hushed him gently.
"It's okay to let it out you know. I have absolutely no recollection of any of this but somewhere deep me inside I just wanted so badly to comfort you so, that's what my body naturally did. I understand your reasons and I should probably be very angry with you but, I want you to know that it's okay. Stop ripping yourself up about it and just accept that it was a mistake. Can you do that do you think?" Slowly, his arms came around her waist and he gripped onto her shirt.
"I miss you so much. I mean, I know you're here and all but I miss the you that loves me." The realistic side of her wanted to pull away but her heart knew that he wasn't lying. He cared for her dearly no matter what the real situation was. And the part of her that believed in love and hope didn't want to let him go.
"I'm sorry that I've done this to you. I think that, when I regain my memories, I'll be able to understand this better." She could only choose to believe him and apologize.
"So you believe me?" He whispered into her shoulder.
"As much as I can in this situation, yes. I might not know what's going on but I do believe that you care for me. Otherwise you wouldn't have tried this hard to convince me." He pulled away and stared down at his hands.
"It would be bad of me to ask for a kiss, wouldn't it?" Mikan nodded slowly but leaned forward to kiss his cheek. His mouth fell open a little bit as his heart registered the feel of her lips against his skin.
"For now, that's as much as I can do. I'm sorry. But for the me right now, it just wouldn't make sense." He nodded in agreement.
"No, I understand. It was rude of me to push you so far. But, Mikan...,"
"Thank you." And he smiled his first genuine smile in a long time. Mikan felt her heart beat a little faster than usual and she smiled back sadly. He was a broken boy in reality, one her heart felt ready to put back together.
They talked long into the night and she just felt so comfortable with him that she didn't think much of it. She didn't notice her heart growing fonder of him as the time progressed and she didn't realise that she was smiling at everything he said as they stood on the balcony in the moonlight. She just felt like it was something she'd been doing all her life. It was something she couldn't describe. Initially, she'd thought that because he was a king and because he had magically teleported her without her consent, that he was going to be mean and evil. But he was so much more. Maybe it was because he remembered her as his wife and he was so desperate for her to remember as much as she could that everything, all his darkest secrets, just tumbled out one after the other. She crossed her arms and leaned them against the marble railing of the balcony, resting her cheek on top of her forearm, her eyes watching him as he poured his soul out to her. In the midst of his talking, his eyes transferred to her's and he stopped short at that gorgeous smile he'd missed more than anything.
"Is something wrong?" She asked and he was shaken out of his reverie.
"Well, no, it's just that...," He trailed off, scratching the back of his head, his cheeks a little pink.
"Just what?" She challenged, intrigued by the colour rising to his cheeks. He cast his eyes out to the moon.
"That's pretty much the same stance you had when you called me out to the lake that night."
"That night?" She pressed and he watched her with a smile.
"The night I first kissed you." It was as if everything just froze momentarily and the scene flooded through her mind like an old movie.
"If there's one thing you'll ever find out about me, it's that I'm always right." He said amusedly.
"Hmm? Are you saying there are going to be more nights like tonight?" She teased as his hand came up to stroke her cheek gently.
"If you'd like that, I think I can find some time to spare for you." She rested her forehead against his.
"Mm," She murmured. "I think I'd like that a lot." Her eyes flickered to his lips briefly and then back up to his eyes and she bit her lip and smiled as he leaned in and pressed his lips against her's. She kissed him back tenderly and cupped his face with her hands.
"Mikan?" He waved a hand in front of her face and she jumped. "You were spacing out," He explained. "Are you okay?"
"You think you could find some time to spare for me? She said with a smile.
"You remember that?" He asked eagerly. It was obviously a very important memory to him.
"As of just now, yes," She looked up at him. "A question, if I may."
"Of course. Anything."
"How long had we known each other at that point?" He grinned and then laughed to himself. "What? Tell me!" She protested.
"It s nothing much really. But if you must know, that was the second time I d seen you."
"Ever?" She asked, her mouth agape.
"Ever." He confirmed. "You were very bold back then." Mikan thought about it.
"But, as I understand it, you," She poked a finger at his chest. "Kissed me."His eyes glistened at the sight of her defending herself.
"And it was the best decision I ever made. I mean, I got to see you every day for fifty years and every day, I loved you more than the last." He realised that he'd started rambling and stopped. He watched as she took a small step towards him.
"You really do love me, don t you?" She brushed her fingers across his cheek and his eyes fluttered closed as he leaned into her touch.
"More than anything."
"I feel so bad that I'm causing you so much pain." Natsume brought his hand up to cover her's and stepped forwards until his body touched her's. He never opened his eyes.
"I knew what I was getting myself into Mikan, so don t worry about that, okay? For now though, I need to know whether you re comforting me or if you want to kiss me. You're not as easy to read as you were back then." He d expected her to pull away and storm back inside.
"I think a part of me wants to know what the old me knew." She wrapped her arms around his neck and he opened his eyes in surprise.
"And that would be?" He murmured quietly.
"I believe you were the one who taught me how to dance, right?" She watched as he visibly deflated and she laughed. "I'm only teasing. Come here." She pulled his head forward gently and parted his lips with her own. She was acting purely on instinct here but everything in her body was screaming at her that she loved him. It may have been a bit rash on her behalf but it felt so right. Besides,it had only taken one look for her to fall in love in the past, so a day was more than enough, right? His arms came around her waist and she never wanted the bliss to end. She was one-hundred percent sure that this was what she wanted, that this was what was right. He broke away for air, only to kiss her again. And she responded willingly. He didn't stop kissing her for so long, for fear that she would snap back to how she'd been earlier in the day."I'm not going to disappear you know." She murmured against his lips. "It was my choice, my actions, and I chose them because I want this to work out somehow. Our memories match and that can't just be a scary coincidence. So I believe you Natsume. Fully."
"Do you really mean that?" She nodded and he kissed her once more, long and leisurely.
"I just wish I remembered more," She murmured and he tucked her hair behind her ear. "It's just so unfair on you that I wonder what I did to deserve you." Natsume blinked.
"Did that trigger any memories?" He asked. She shook her head.
"It's just, you said the majority of that sentence on our wedding night." His voice seemed to be the key to triggering certain memories because in that instant, she remembered.
They stood on the balcony, hand in hand, waving out at the people of Howling Hollows who had gathered in the town square, They had just been married and Juri insisted that the town needed to meet their new princess. The crowd cheered and yelled up their congratulations for a good twenty minutes before they left and Mikan let out a breath.
"I think I forgot to breathe." She laughed, turning in his grasp and wrapping her arms around his neck.
"So you were scared." He teased, his arms coming around her waist.
"I wasn't scared, per say, just worried."
"That they wouldn't accept you?"
"You know me too well." He pressed his forehead against her's.
"That s my job darling." She smiled and placed her lips atop his, kissing him sweetly as he walked them backwards towards the bed. She giggled as her fell back onto their bed and caught her on top of him, her hands brushing his hair back from his eyes.
"I wonder what I did to deserve you." She murmured thoughtfully as he rolled her over and put a hand on either side of her, trapping her under him.
"Are you really going to ask this now?" Natsume breathed and she cupped his face.
"Of course not." And with that she pulled him down for another kiss, her arms twining around his neck, her heart beating rapidly for the one she undeniably loved.
"I remember," She said quietly.
"Describe it to me." He bit his lip and smiled cheekily as she whacked his chest lightly.
"I'm sure you can figure it out," She yawned. "What time is it?" He looked at his watch.
"One in the morning."
"Wow, you've been pouring your heart out for a while then." She teased. "Which I appreciate, just so you know." He gestured to the bed when she yawned again.
"Would you find it weird to sleep in the same bed as me? I can sleep on the floor if you'd like." And he wasn't joking, his voice was sincere. Mikan, exasperated, gasped.
"It would be more than rude for me to rid you of your own bed," She made her way over to the bed in question. "It doesn't phase me, sleeping in the same bed as a boy I mean. I used to do it all the time with Shou," Mikan stopped just short of slipping under the sheets and sat down slowly. "Shou." She murmured. He sat beside her and took her hand, rubbing little circles into her palm for comfort. He'd hoped her family was the last thing she would remember. Not because he was trying to keep her for himself, but just because he knew how much her family meant to her. She turned to Natsume with worried eyes. "Did I- did I tell them I was leaving?" He wanted so desperately to reply with a 'Yes, and they understood.', but he would be lying if he did. So he turned his head to gaze out at the night sky beyond the balcony.
"You didn't want them to worry." He said silently.
"I'm such an idiot."
"No, you were protecting me." She turned his face towards her gently with her hand.
"Protecting you? What do you mean?"
"Your mother would have killed me if she knew that I had not only let you go to the Outworld alone but that I was the one who had suggested it! She'd have my head on a silver platter for putting you in so much danger Mikan, and you didn't want that, so you never told her or Shou."
"What about my father?" She knew she'd asked the wrong question when he took his hand away from her's and hopped under the sheets, facing away from her.
"We don't talk about him. Those are memories I hope you never get back. For your own sake. Now go to sleep." After everything that had happened, he was shutting her out. She did that one thing that she could think of. Hopping into the bed properly, Mikan wrapped her arms around his torso and kissed his shoulder.
"I'm sorry." She murmured against his bare shoulder.
"It's fine," He sighed. "Just- get some sleep, okay?"
"Mm." She agreed, never letting him go. Something inside her head told her that she wouldn't be with him for very much longer.