The Eternity of Haruhi Suzumiya
"Are they both secured?"
"Yes, though I don't know if it will hold if she starts to struggle."
"Any further sedation may affect the successful outcome of the experiment. If your people in the future can maintain the gateway, then all should go as planned."
"Don't worry they know what to do, have you managed to stabilise the connection with this Entity of yours?"
"Affirmative, the link has been steady for some time. Now all we require is the metaphysical bond with Suzumiya's psyche."
"Never fear, my Organisation is more than ready. Despite your doubts about our abilities."
"We don't have time for doubts, only success or failure."
"Then shall we begin?"
"Where in the Hell am I?" I yelled, throwing curses in every direction. Yanking at the leather straps that bound me as I screamed, "let me go!"
I arched my back, turning my head left and right, trying to figure out where I was. With all the crazy things going on, it wouldn't have surprised me to find me myself in an asylum. But no, I was back in the damn literature club room, only this time there was something very wrong with it. The faded white walls were rippling in and out like waves. Making the furniture contort in the style of a drunk surrealist painting.
Twisting to see behind me I glimpsed a great machine, gritting my teeth through the pain to try and get a better look. I could just about make out Koizumi and Miss Asahina, both lying on beds like my own. Though much to my chagrin, I noticed neither had straps holding them down. All arranged around a central pillar, like the petals of a flower.
In the centre of the pillar, Haruhi was restrained in an upright position. Attached to hundreds of electrodes, whose wires coiled around her sleeping body. Bathed in a column of yellow light, shinning down through the ever-shifting ceiling. The great machine crackled with red lightning and hummed with tremendous power.
I renewed my attempt to escape, pulling with all my might at the straps and making the air blue with insults. One restraint started to give a little, but a cold hand appeared and pulled it tight.
"Please don't struggle Kyon," said a maternal voice and I shrank back in horror. For standing over me was a broken mass of machinery where a face should be. One camera hung broken, while the other focused on me with a cracked lens. Motors and gears moved around what had once been its mouth, in an attempt at a smile as she patted my arm. Only the mass of long blue hair told me the nightmare in front of me was my class president, Ryoko Asakura. Who ignored my complaints while she attached electrodes to my forehead.
"Get these things off me!" I cried, trying to pull my head free.
"There there," said Asakura tenderly as she placed the last electrode. "Don't worry, it'll be over soon."
I didn't care how soon and started struggling again, trying in vain to get free of the god damn machine.
"Kyon," said the artificial voice of Nagato, from the far side of the pillar. "The process will be much easier if you are in a relaxed state, so please lay still." Nagato ignored my protests, instead enquiring, "Ryoko, is everything ready?"
I glared at Asakura, but she smiled back and replied, "he's as ready as he'll ever be." I tried to follow her as she went over to the main part of the machine and started fiddling with the controls. The roar of power in the room became deafening and the world filled with even more bolts of red lightning. Then when it felt like my brain couldn't take any more, everything seemed to turn inside out.
The darkness was so sudden, so absolute that I wasn't sure if I was asleep or awake, alive or dead. My brain told me I was standing up, even though the ground felt vague and insubstantial. I looked about, trying to find well, anything to see.
"How curious," came a smooth male voice behind me.
Spinning around, I saw Koizumi looking at his own hands with interest. Not giving him a chance, I charged towards Koizumi ready to beat him to a pulp. But as I braced for impact, I shot through him as he cried out in alarm. I struggled to keep my footing as I span around ready to attack again. But Koizumi was just standing there looking at himself with fascination. His body reforming from a thousand sparkling motes, drifting slowly back into formation.
I looked down, feeling unnerved at my lack of substance, my hands passing through each other with ease. I peered at Koizumi, surprised at how different he seemed. Gone were the dark eyes, replaced by a bright sparkle that matched his clean-shaven cheeks. The black suit had vanished in favour of the standard blue blazer of the North High winter uniform. Now cutting a dashing figure as he stood there and gave me a friendly smile.
"I understand how angry you must feel right now," said Koizumi. "But please bear with us Kyon. Once we have or for that matter, have not found what we seek here. We will endure whatever punishment you or Miss Suzumiya see fit."
Despite his openness, I was still angry. But if I couldn't punch Koizumi's lights out there was no point ranting and raving about it. I decided to bottle it up until I got out of here, then I and Haruhi would deal with these lunatics.
In the stillness, there was soft female gasp to my left, making both Koizumi and I turn in surprise. There, sparkling in the darkness, was a teenage girl with long auburn hair. Attempting to pat her uniform-clad waistline with some amusement. Not only looking cute, but very familiar as well.
"Even with all my adventures in time, I never imagined I'd be young again," she said with a giggle.
"Miss Asahina," I asked, though part of me already knew it was her. She looked around at us and smiled, a shy blush forming on her cheeks.
"Hi Kyon," she said with an awkward wave. "Yes, it's me."
"How did," I started, before realising something. "Wait, didn't I see you like that over the summer?"
"Yeah that was me too, only that's classif..." started this young version of Miss Asahina. Then she gave a resigned sigh and continued, "I don't suppose secrecy matters now."
"So Haruhi was right, you are a time traveller," I said.
"Yes, replied Asahina with another sigh. "Miss Suzumiya is usually right or when she's wrong she makes it right. Though it is curious that I look like this in here, perhaps subconsciously she still sees me as a girl. Which might explain why I had such problems teaching her or at the very least getting her to behave."
"Subconsciously," I asked. "So, is this place Haruhi's mind or something?"
"It is a multi-dimensional construct of our joint memories," came the quiet voice of Nagato. "Though Suzumiya's mind functions as the largest and most vital part."
I turned to see a pair of large amber eyes looking up at me through a pair of large glasses. The robot Nagato outside this place was gone. Replaced by the again, oddly familiar sight of a short girl in uniform.
Feeling a little awkward as a blush started to form on her cheeks, I looked about for anything that wasn't the four of us. "So, if these are our memories," I said pointing into the infinite void. "Why is it so empty in here?"
"This is just the lobby programme," explained Nagato. "I wanted to make sure the system was stable before we went any further, I will now attempt to load the memory data." Raising her hand Nagato added, "be aware, this may feel rather unsettling."
Something glittered, then suddenly became two streams of light that hurtled towards us. Despite feeling like we caught between two express trains, there was no sound or wind, only light. At the same time, my brain felt like it was being hit with the coldest of cold showers. A sensation that was both disturbing, but also rather invigorating.
Nagato moved her hands like an orchestral conductor and in response, the light began to slow. Forming long corridors of rectangular frames that stretched off as far as the eye could see. Coming to a standstill, I saw that the panes were actually pictures. Creating an art gallery around us of a size that was impossible for the human mind to comprehend. In each frame, enacted small scenes that looped endlessly in the dark void.
Koizumi looked impressed as he pondered the images around us. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "so, these are all memories of our previous selves."
"Indeed," confirmed Nagato. "But the data suffers from severe fragmentation and has taken all the Entity's power to recreate. I have assembled the strongest memories from each iteration, but it is not a conclusive image of each one."
"How my iterations are there," asked Asahina in awe.
"The actual number of times Suzumiya has reset the universe is unknown," stated Nagato. "What I have managed to compile here is only a small fraction of the information that was actually usable."
I gazed at the endless frames, each showing a different world as they vanished into the distance. My breath whistled out of me as I asked, "So what are you looking for here. Because these answers you keep talking about must be important, to go through all this."
"We need to learn if there any kind of patterns or constants," said Nagato. "Some sign of what makes Suzumiya dissatisfied with one world and want to create another."
There was an awkward pause as we stood looking at each other, wondering which one us was at fault. No doubt they suspected me since I was the closest to Haruhi, but whether there was any proof was a different thing.
"Shall we begin," suggested Koizumi, leaving the two girls to nod in reply. I stood there for a moment and watched them walk off in different directions without a word. Then with a shrug, I too wandered off amongst the endless rows of forgotten memories.
Casually, I strolled between the frames watching images of us enacting day to day scenes. Nagato had asked for constants and at a glance, it was clear that many of these moments featured only the five of us. The quintet of Haruhi, Koizumi, Nagato, Asahina and myself. Sometimes we were talking in the club room, but often we were being led about on yet another wild adventure. Filming a movie, playing on the beach or skiing in the mountains. Nothing too unusual for a bunch of high school kids, but I wasn't sure if I was qualified to gauge that. We seemed to be having fun, making me feel a little nostalgic at the tiny sparks of remembrance in my own memory.
But as I wandered, I started to see an increased variance in the locations and company we kept. For example, one showed Haruhi and me in the distinctive dark uniforms of Kouyou
Academy. Chatting to a girl I'd known in middle school, along with other students that I only vaguely recalled. There was no sign of Koizumi, Asahina or Nagato in this world, but I assumed they must have been around somewhere.
I saw other people that I felt I should know, faces that hung on the edge of memory. Some were ordinary students my age, while others were wildly eccentric. Like a green haired girl who wanted nothing more, than to dance about the club room. Singing a cute little ditty about her love for smoked cheese. It made me feel a little sad to not remember their names, to not recall these experiences. Making me wonder what they had done to deserve such a fate, wiped from existence for a crime that no one remembered.
In some cases, the trigger was clear as I watched a fragment of a grim story unfold in front of me. In this moment I stood with arms stretched before Haruhi in a protective stance. Opposing us was Asakura, holding a large kitchen knife as tears streamed down her cheeks. With shaking hands, Asakura pleaded in a quavering voice, before suddenly rushing forward. I felt the phantom of something stabbing my own stomach and I doubled up in pain. Grimacing, I looked back up at the frame, only to see that it had reset itself to tell its tragic story over and over again.
Leaving that past behind, I walked past others telling stories of happiness and tears. It was unnerving to see how many featured me kissing Haruhi, giving me the phantom sensation of her lips on mine. I tried to escape my discomfort and headed towards Asahina as she stood gazing at a frame in front of her.
This one showed a long beach, where a dying red sun glowed huge on the horizon and turned the sea a blood red. Horrible lobster-like creatures scuttled in the surf as dark-winged birds soared overhead. Another Asahina and I stood on the beach, watching this grim scene as the red light marred her cute features. Everything was still, until one of the creatures snapped its claws at her ankles. She jumped with fright and lost her footing in the soft sand. Falling in a mass of petticoats and exposing her underwear to everyone watching.
I blushed and looked away, meeting Asahina eyes as she did likewise. "Just my luck to have you see that," she said with awkward amusement.
"Well I guess I've seen them before, if that's any consolation," I said with a vague shrug.
But Asahina wasn't listening, her eyes now transfixed by the story unfolding in the picture in front of us. The me on the beach reached down with a smile and pulled the fallen Asahina to her feet. As she stood up, Asahina fell against my chest and looked up at me breathlessly. Our eyes met and we kissed, silhouetted against the crimson sun.
I glanced at the Asahina next to me, wondering what she might expect of me. But she was still enraptured by the scene, her hands clasped in front of a chest as a sigh escaped her lips. Then a crash of trees made me look back at the pane, where the loving couple gazed about in fear.
I heard both the Asahina next to me and the one in the picture say in unison. "Don't be afraid, we're too far in the future, she'll never find us here."
But there was another crash, as the line of trees at the edge of the beach exploded outwards. Clutching each other in terror the couple watched as Haruhi stormed out of the darkness. The expression on her face one of utmost fury as she growled, "Mikuru!"
The scene faded into darkness and began again, the dying sun never setting. Asahina looked at me with tears in the corners of her eyes, as the pair in the frame kissed once more.
"I can feel her fear Kyon," Asahina said. "In the bottom of my heart, all that terror the other me was experiencing is still there. But I can also feel all that love, echoing from these worlds like the faint recollection of a dream."
"I'm not sure if these feelings are best left forgotten," continued Asahina. "But I must understand why Suzumiya even lets us even experience them if she hates it so much. Is it free will, is it a game or just some kind of cruel punishment?"
I couldn't answer her, but Asahina was expecting one. She went back to watching the scene play out over and over, gazing at us kissing again with tears on her cheeks. Unable to watch anymore, I took one last look at Haruhi's rage-filled eyes and walked away.
Passing a cheery Christmas party and an unhappy graduation, I walked along until I saw Nagato. Who gazed silently at a frame that hung huge in front of her, showing the bright lights of a summer festival. Wearing beautiful yukatas, Haruhi and Asakura, watched a couple in the distance.
Nagato waved her fingers in front of the frame and the image zoomed in on the couple. Allowing me to see that it was myself and Nagato, looking very pretty in her own yukata. Fireworks boomed around us drowning out all other sounds. But the Nagato next to me gestured again and the image focused in on the face of my previous self. With rapt attention, Nagato watched his lips move, then smiled a little and looked away.
Only then noticing me standing next to her, Nagato started and quickly waved a hand at the frame. The scene spun until it alighted on Haruhi's face, gazing upon this romantic moment. She smiled at something Asakura said, but there wasn't any happiness there. Nagato studied the pain evident in Haruhi's eyes, before letting the frame resume its original cycle.
"Nagato, I'm…" I started as she walked away, thinking I should say something.
She raised a hand but didn't face me. "It's fine Kyon," Nagato said. "This is all ancient history, there's nothing we can do to alter that. The only thing we can do is try to learn something from it and maybe then we'll understand why this all occurred."
"And have you learnt anything," I asked.
There was a pause and Nagato sighed as she said, "nothing that I didn't already know."
She walked off among the frames, lost in her own thoughts. Feeling that she wanted to be alone, I left Nagato and wandered aimlessly through the gallery. Various club events unfolded around me, games, projects and experiments. Whatever had crossed Haruhi's mind and caught her attention in that moment. It surprised me to see us engaging in actual Literature Club activities for a change. Like reading homemade poems to each other and preparing for the upcoming festival. But I left that behind as my meandering exploration led me to Koizumi. Who was studying a frame with a great degree of interest.
This one showed another Koizumi, chatting to a tomboy looking girl with a long ponytail. She denied his affections at first, but the bright blush on her cheeks gave her feelings away. I was about to ask who the girl was, but a sinking feeling in my gut told me I already knew her identity. Because it was me, a female version of myself that I had once glimpsed in the bathroom mirror.
"I see you're having a fun time finding these answers of yours," I snapped.
Koizumi laughed as the other him kissed me… I mean the girl version of me, on the cheek. "Are you sure you don't want to try and relive the past?" he said with a wink.
I glared at him as I tried to ignore the sensation touching my cheek. "Don't make me try and punch you again," I said. "I'm sure there's a picture here somewhere of me beating the daylights out of you, I bet that will much more fun to relive."
"It wouldn't surprise me if there was," said Koizumi. "Miss Suzumiya has quite the imagination when it comes to reinventing the world."
"Well, she is a god isn't she," I asked. "Or have you changed your mind on that?"
Koizumi smiled and watched Haruhi in the background of the frame, her eyes filled with malice. "Whether she's a god or not is no doubt a semantic issue now," he said. "I mean she has godlike powers, that cannot be doubted. But as for whether that makes her god, I'm not sure."
"So, you've lost faith then?" I remarked.
"I'm certainly having to reconsider what I call faith," said Koizumi. "Because it blinded me to a simple fact, one you pointed out to me earlier and should have been so obvious to me. I had become so wrapped up in her divinity, convinced that Miss Suzumiya had some divine wisdom to bestow upon me, that I missed the real truth."
"What truth is that," I asked.
"That, as far as she's concerned. Miss Suzumiya is just an ordinary high school girl," answered Koizumi. "With all her deepest desires and darkest fears being those of a normal human, not some supreme being. That she will never be able to satisfy my questions because she herself doesn't know the answers."
He gave a despondent shrug and I said, "so where will you find these answers, or don't you believe they exist now?"
"Like many truths," said Koizumi. "I will have to uncover them within me or just keep wandering these halls until I find the right inspiration."
"Good luck with that," I said. "I don't think I or the others have found anything here and I'm not sure there are any, only more questions."
"There are answers to be found," said Koizumi. "Maybe not the big ones I'd hoped for, but they have brought me some peace."
"Like what," I asked.
Koizumi took a deep breath and said as he gestured to another frame. "Well, I had always presumed that our failures had been caused by troubles of the heart. Namely, your failure to pursue Miss Suzumiya and that everything here could have been avoided. If only she had given me the chance."
I looked at the frame where Koizumi and Haruhi kissed on the roof of the school, the wind tussling their hair. The image riled me a little and I glared at it irritably, making Koizumi chuckle. "But as you can see that is not the case," He added, gazing at the frame. "Also, I have seen a great many worlds where you and Miss Suzumiya have found each other's hearts. So I can't blame you there either."
"Then what does make her want to wipe the world clean and start again?" I said.
"That's the big question isn't it," said Koizumi. "While I am certain that your relationship with Miss Suzumiya is a major part of all this, it is not the only factor at play. But as for what that is, is something we don't know, and I fear may never be known."
We both looked up to see Nagato and Asahina walking towards us, grim expressions on their faces. "Have you had any luck," asked Koizumi without much enthusiasm.
"Nothing conclusive," said Nagato. Seeming almost angry with herself for our lack of results.
"I feel like we're only going to find nostalgia, pain and frustration here," added Asahina. "Any answers seem to be forever out of reach, even though I'm sure they're out there."
"How much time do we have left," asked Koizumi.
"Not long," said Nagato. "Suzumiya will soon wake and it would be unlikely that we will get another opportunity at this."
"So, what should we do," asked Asahina. "Keep looking in the hope we stumble on something?"
"No, there is far too much data," said Nagato. "I underestimated how many iterations there would be and we do not have time to study it all."
"Well what's the earliest of these iterations," I said, feeling like I should be involved. "Is there any way of telling which one came first?"
"I can attempt to rank them based on the rate of decay," said Nagato. "Hypothetically the older the data, the more it will have deteriorated over time."
Nagato waved her hands again, closing her eyes as she conducted a silent concerto. The frames began to swirl around us, again forming into two lines that hurtled past. After what felt like an age, the frames vanished behind us leaving a single picture. It showed the club room, looking ordinary if fractured and distorted. Like a broken mirror with pieces constantly flickering and changing.
We waited, but nothing happened. So I asked, "is there anything we can do to fix it?"
"I can," answered Nagato, "but it won't be pleasant."
She raised her fingers to the frame and sudden pain exploded in my head. Asahina whimpered and I glimpsed Koizumi's smile turning into a grimace. In the distance I could hear Haruhi crying out in agony, murmuring in fear from some nightmare.
The image in front of us started to heal, then expanded until it surrounded us. Leaving us standing within the familiar locale of the club room, blinking at the evening sun streaming in through the window.
At first, everything was still and we started looking at each other for an explanation. Then laughter echoed in from the hallway, the cruel sound of students mocking someone. Which grew louder as the door burst open and a girl stormed in.
Dragging a huge branch of bamboo, she scowled at the laughter before closing the door with a violent slam. She hauled the bamboo over to the window and placed it upright, taking a moment to straighten out the leaves. Standing back to admire her handy work, the girl smiled finally as she stroked a leaf with a tender touch.
Though she was scrawnier and her face marred by a few spots of acne. The unmistakable light in her eyes as she flashed that million-gigawatt smile, immediately told me it was Haruhi. Who was completely unaware of our presence as we watched her gazing out the window at the darkening sky.
But her smile faded as she saw two boys walking across the courtyard on their way home. They both looked up at Haruhi and sniggered, whispering a private joke that was very much at her expense. Making her spin around in anger and survey the room with her arms tightly folded.
"I'll show them," Haruhi declared to the empty room. "I'm going to make this place the greatest club in the universe, with the coolest members and the best adventures."
Haruhi started to march up and down the empty room, intensely deep in thought. "We'll investigate mysteries, play music, make movies, spend the whole summer having fun. Then those jerks at the Computer Club will beg me to be part of the action."
"But first I'm going to need club members," pondered Haruhi flinging herself into the seat at the head of the table. "And not just anyone, only the best, only the most perfect, but where can I..."
Haruhi stopped mid-sentence and an amused smile crossed her lips. Giving the branch of bamboo a thoughtful look, Haruhi took out a pen and several coloured pieces of paper. Before hunching over an orange one and beginning to write, talking as she went.
"Right, what does every great club need," pondered Haruhi aloud. "I know, one of those clumsy girls, always getting into embarrassing situations. Like one of those maids you get on TV shows, all moe and cute."
As Haruhi continued to write with considerable enthusiasm, we all looked at Asahina. Whose eyes were wide with fear as she listened to her own description being spoken aloud. But that was nothing compared to her astonishment when Haruhi tied the note to the branch of bamboo. For the club room was suddenly filled with motes of light, swirling until they coalesced into a human figure. One that was recognisable as Mikuru Asahina, even if it was only a ghost made of sparkling stars.
Haruhi didn't seem to notice the spectre as she stared into space, tapping the pen against her chin. Meanwhile, the Asahina next to me had gone deathly pale. Watching as her starlit other self, fussed about the room in a maid's dress. Gingerly she reached out to touch her past self, only for her fingers to pass through the heedless memory.
I wondered whether I should comfort Asahina in some way, but then Haruhi spoke again making us all look up. "We also need a bookworm," she said as she scribbled on the paper. "Someone shy and reserved, quiet but super smart. That seems unapproachable, but is so cute when you get to know them."
We all glanced at Nagato, but she was watching Haruhi with an intense gaze. Not even blinking as Haruhi turned and attached the piece of lavender paper to the bamboo stem. Only moving when the particles of light began to dance, drifting into the corner by the window. Forming a familiar girl who sat without a sound as she flicked through a thick novel.
Compared to the Asahina's phantom, who still fluttered about the room in a clumsy attempt to make tea. Nagato's was almost motionless apart from the constant turn of the pages. Regardless, the eyes of the Nagato with me were wide open, analysing every iota of her predecessor.
I looked at Koizumi as Haruhi began to speak again and he gave a grim smile back. "Then, of course, we need a mysterious transfer student," she declared happily. "Handsome and debonair, with some secret past only waiting to be discovered."
Koizumi gave his usual philosophical shrug, but it was clear how much this troubled him. He watched as his past self appeared, an enigmatic smile on his lips as he began to shuffle some playing cards. The three of them were quiet and introspective, they had found an answer, but I doubt it had brought them any peace. Making me wonder whether this was akin to seeing the moment of your birth or even as disturbing as the moment of your own conception.
Haruhi was as ever, oblivious to the turmoil she caused. Smiling as she looked at the decorated bamboo, admiring her handiwork. At first, I thought that was it for this memory and was about to ask the others what the plan was. When suddenly Haruhi giggled as an idea struck her, making her pick up the pen and begin writing again.
She scribbled with furious speed, hunching herself over the paper in a furtive way, as if scared the empty room might see. Haruhi's smile seemed almost embarrassed as her cheeks began to flush. Flipping the paper over to add more writing to the other side in her fervour.
"You know Nagato," said Asahina in a nervous voice. "Maybe we should leave, I'm not sure what else we can learn from this place."
But Nagato gave no response, continuing to study Haruhi, with only a momentary glance in my direction. Her expression unchanging, even when Haruhi finished and clicked her pen with a dramatic flourish. Tying the card to the bamboo with surprising delicacy, Haruhi then relaxed. Gazing out of the window at two stars shining brightly in the evening sky.
A strange sensation of nausea overcame me, like I was very thin and insubstantial. I saw the tiny spots of light begin to dance again and sinking feeling filled my heart, when a new figure emerged. At first, it was only an outline, but as it crossed the room more detail appeared, until there was no question of who it was.
"Incredible," said Koizumi, while Asahina whimpered. Nagato watching the figure with eyes so wide, that they almost looked scared.
I didn't want to look, thinking that if I didn't, I could pretend that it wasn't real. That the whole thing was a mistake, a lie, some cruel trick to finally fling me into madness. But there was no escape, no denial, no chance of error. Haruhi had wished for not only Asahina, Koizumi and Nagato, but me as well.
Now I couldn't take my eyes off my phantom doppelganger as he walked over to the window where Haruhi sat. She was still staring out at the stars, oblivious to her creations as he or was it I, leant against the sill. He gave her a tender smile at her and for a moment her smile seemed to broaden. But when Haruhi turned to look, all the starlit club members blew away, leaving her alone in the club room.
"Tomorrow I'll find some real club members," Haruhi said to the empty room. Before adding with a little less confidence, "I'm sure of it."
With those words, the memory ended and the whole image faded into darkness.
I stood open-mouthed as I looked at the void around me for resolution, but there wasn't any.
"What the hell was that!" I demanded of Nagato. But as always, her only answer was infuriating silence as she avoided my glare.
"Kyon, please don't get angry," pleaded Asahina.
"Seriously," I snapped. "You expect me to be calm after finding out that I was cooked up by Haruhi's screwed up imagination?"
"Do you think I'm happy about it, we're in the same boat too," squeaked Asahina. Before adding in a quieter tone, "I mean, I guess I suspected that we might be, but to see it happen, was well…"
She trailed off and Koizumi stepped forward. "This isn't the time for arguments and incriminations," he stated. "We need to focus on working together to figure all this out."
"Oh, here it comes," I sneered. "Of course, you knew it all along and no doubt have a big speech prepared."
Koizumi's eyes narrowed for a moment and his jaw tensed. But he only sighed and said, "like Miss Asahina, I had considered that we were creations of Miss Suzumiya. But I had always considered you separate from her machinations, even if I could never figure out quite how. Though looking back, it does explain how she was able to change you from a boy to a girl and back again."
"I also noticed several smaller changes to you Kyon," added Asahina. "Your personality often differed between worlds, however why Miss Suzumiya would do so is yet another mystery."
"Well, I think I've got a pissed off personality today," I snapped. "But right now, I'd rather get this mess sorted out, does anyone have any idea how?"
Koizumi looked at the silent Nagato and shrugged as he said, "Your guess is as good as mine."
"Is there nothing here that might explain all this," I asked the darkness. "Nothing earlier that might tell us why this all happened?"
I looked at Nagato until she eventually answered. "You must understand Kyon, that any further investigation will be entirely within Suzumiya's mind. It may not seem it, but I am having to fight her to uncover these memories. Any further attempts may cause lasting damage to her psyche and even the universe itself."
"I don't care," I snarled. "Just show me whatever you've got."
"Very well," replied Nagato and raised her hands to the void.
Haruhi's scream echoed through the darkness and my heart pulled tight. My resolve began to falter as an image materialised like a mirror shattering in reverse. Asahina and Koizumi's faces were etched with fear as a place almost a dark as the void it replaced, formed around us.
A frozen moment that took me a moment to recognise, even though I'd been there many times before. It was the sport's field at North High, shrouded deep in the twilight of Tanabata. Lit only by the moon and stars high above, two shining brightly on either side of the Milky Way. The angle of the scene was strange, as it only seemed to cover a cone of existence spreading out from a central point. Here there was a line painter, leaving long looping lines on the grass and pulled by a pair of disembodied hands.
As I studied them, I realised they were a girl's hands, delicate and slender, despite the stains of white paint. A strange piece of yellow ribbon hung in the air, but meant that this could only be one person. We were seeing this moment from Haruhi's own point of view and this could only be her ritual message to the heavens.
In the distance, the school building was dark and foreboding as it loomed over us. All apart from a single room, shining bright like a lighthouse in the gloom. A place I knew as the home of Literature Club and the SOS Brigade.
On the field, Nagato studied the stars, while Asahina walked the lines, trying to trace the message. Koizumi stood in the distance, investigating something in a way that made me walk over for a closer look. At first, I thought I saw myself as a middle schooler, then it flickered and became me as high school student. As I approached the figure jumped again, never settling on one form. Becoming Koizumi, then Asahina, then Nagato and even Haruhi herself. It shifted back to me, jumping between ages and outfits in rapid succession.
For a second I thought I saw another figure and Koizumi's puzzled noise seemed to agree with me. We both looked closer, watching the faces flick past trying to get another glimpse. It flashed past again, but it was too fast and my head was starting to spin from the constant motion.
"Nagato," I called without taking my eyes away. "Is there any way of slowing this down?"
She walked over and gazed at the shifting figure. The flicking beginning to slow and gaining us a clearer view of each variation. All the frozen faces watching and smiling at the lines being drawn upon the field. The mysterious figure appeared again, making Koizumi and I cry out, before it was lost again.
"Go back, go back," I said quickly, waving a hand.
Nagato obeyed and the order started to reverse. At the same moment, there was a heart-rending cry that seemed to come from all around us. Haruhi's wail made me grit my teeth, as finally, the strange figure came into view. But to my dismay, there was nothing to see.
It was only a silhouette, a black void in the dark blue of the night time world. I moved around it, peering closely, trying to find any clue to its identity, but there was nothing. Despite that, something about the figure made me feel angry, making my face twist into a snarl. Even though it had no form, everything about it was loathsome, making me want to rip to shreds just for existing.
"Who the hell is this?" I demanded of the others. "Show me their face."
"I am unable to," said Nagato. "There is no visual data regarding that creature."
"What do mean, there's no data?" I said with an incredulous snarl.
"She means that Miss Suzumiya does not remember," stated Koizumi. "All the memories of that, that thing, have been erased and buried beneath the faces of the four of us."
"I don't believe that," I snapped. "Somewhere someone knows!"
"No Kyon," Asahina said. "In this place, if Miss Suzumiya doesn't remember or has chosen to forget. Then it's gone for good and all that's left is that frightful shadow."
"To hell with you," I cried in frustration. "We're staying here until I find out what that thing is."
I lunged at the shadow, but my fist only passed through it. Haruhi gave an agonising scream and the shadow vanished. Disappearing beneath our alternating figures, flickering so fast that they blurred together. The whole world around us shattered, leaving only the faint light from the club room. Which held on for a moment longer before fading into the darkness. We were left, confused in the void, searching about for a solution and finding only our own clueless faces.
"Is there nothing else," I demanded. "No other memories from that time, say something even earlier."
"No, we are pushing the limits of Suzumiya's mind as it is," replied Nagato. "Anything else has been forgotten, either through the passage of time or on purpose."
"What about later then," I said with a groan of exasperation. "What happened after all that with ghosts and wishes?"
"I'm not sure Miss Suzumiya can take much more," said Asahina.
"After everything she's put us through, I'm sure she can hang on one more minute," I snapped. Before rounding on Nagato and demanding, "show me what happened next."
Nagato seemed to consider the issue for a moment, then nodded. Touching the void another image appeared, only this one was considerably more normal. It simply showed my usual classroom at North High, where I was relaxing in my usual spot by the window. Behind me, Haruhi sported a mischievous smile, ready to launch on another adventure. But there was something off about the image and it took me a moment to realise what it was. The whole thing was a painting, not the clear photograph of a memory.
"Is there anything more to this moment Miss Nagato," asked Koizumi. His face etched with a puzzled expression that matched my own.
Nagato started to work and the painting zoomed out a little, revealing a drawing board. She tried again but there seemed to be some resistance as Haruhi screamed, "No!"
Haruhi's screams and pleas for mercy were deafening, but Nagato kept on pushing. The cries of torment wanted me to make it stop despite my rage, but at the same time, I needed to know the truth. With a particularly loud wail, the whole image snapped back to reveal a darkened room. A small apartment lit only by a desk lamp and the lights of the city outside.
The painting of the classroom lay amongst a sea of other drawings, that portrayed us on various escapades. Their bright colours contrasting with the grim apartment, that swam in empty cans and takeout boxes. The darkness not quite hiding the dusty shelves filled with manga, movies and games.
Alone by the window knelt a woman, probably in her thirties. She gazed out at the sky where two stars shone brightly. Grasping crumpled pieces of coloured paper in her hands, as if in prayer. I didn't need to see her tear-streaked eyes to know that it was Haruhi, even with the added years my heart knew it was her. She was pleading to the stars, begging Vega and Altair to grant her wish.
In the distance, I could still hear the real Haruhi crying and my heart sank, the anger I held from before crumbling. I looked at a large painting above the drawing board, a striking image of myself with a warm smile and sighed. I reached out to touch the adult Haruhi, but as I did so everything began to disintegrate.
I looked in panic at the others, but they were beginning to distort and flicker. The dark room ripped apart and I found myself spiralling into the void. A distant light formed below me and I raised my hands to shield my eyes as it raced upwards. Growing and growing, it engulfed me and then suddenly, I was staring straight into Haruhi's face.
Her eyes were wild as sweat beaded down her forehead. Panting, she yanked the cluster of electronics from my head, making a crackle of pain arc through my brain. I could feel Haruhi pulling at the straps the held my arms and legs, followed by the sweet relief as they came undone. But the fog in my mind meant my limbs would barely move and it took some mental fortitude just to force my head upright.
"Come on Kyon, we have to get out of here," cried Haruhi as she undid the last strap. She wasn't going to wait for me to get my bearings and I found myself being roughly hauled to my feet. Half carrying, half dragging, Haruhi lifted me off the bed and charged for the door. I tried to make her stop, but Haruhi was having none of it and we burst into the corridor. Until my dead weight became too much for her and we crashed to the floor in an untidy pile.
I lay face down, half on top of Haruhi, trying to force my limbs to obey. She pulled herself out and threw me onto my back, both of us winded from the fall. She pulled herself up and looked at me dead in the eyes, so close that I couldn't look away.
"Kyon, I need you to get it together," said Haruhi desperately. "Please, we have to get away from this place."
There was the bang of a door opening and we both looked towards it. A chill ran through me as a dark shadowy figure emerged and slunk slowly towards us. It was the same shadow that I'd seen in Haruhi's mind and now it was bearing down on us. The corridor's shadows growing until they became more of the nightmarish figures.
Haruhi grasped my cheeks and pulled my face to hers. "Please Kyon," she begged. "I need you."
For the first time in my life and quite possibly lives, I saw that Haruhi was absolutely terrified. Her panic filled eyes jumping between me and the approaching shadow. It was then a strange sensation surged through me like her fear was somehow giving me energy. My blood suddenly felt like it was pumping harder, filling my limbs with power. With a new found determination I pushed myself to my feet and pulled Haruhi to hers.
Looking back, the shadowy figures gained macabre smiles, as they edged towards us. The door beside us starting to shake, buckling as something thumped against it. Before exploding open to reveal more nightmares, filling the world with darkness.
Not waiting for Haruhi to react, I grabbed her wrist and tore off down the corridor. As more shadows emerging from other classrooms behind us, slowly bearing down on us like a dark wave. I readied myself to hit the stairs at high speed, but as I turned the corner I saw something was seriously wrong.
It was just another corridor, stretching out in front of me. Not waiting to ponder the problem, I raced off down it, still pulling Haruhi behind me. But the hall kept going, endless club rooms on one side, windows on the other. The view showing an endless grey fog, which swallowed everything in the outside world. But we kept on going, the shadow always chasing us, the corridor leading on forever.
Because what it was, was clearly a nightmare. Haruhi's incredible power turning the world into a terrifying dream. Running would not get us out of this, but then neither would be being captured. Somewhere inside of me, I knew that the shadow would pull Haruhi into a depth of despair, that she'd never wake from.
Staggering to halt, I doubled over as a stitch raced up my legs. But Haruhi raced on, pulling me with her in a series of stumbles that eventually forced her to stop.
"Come on Kyon," pleaded Haruhi. "This is no time for messing around."
She pulled at my arm incessantly, though I would not budge. "Where are we going, exactly," I said trying to catch my breath. "Because we seem to have been running for ages."
Haruhi looked about with wide eyes, as if only now realising something was amiss. "I don't know," she stammered. "We've just got to get out of here."
As she tugged at my arm, I realised that Haruhi was now in a blind panic. We'd never escape if all she was thinking about was running, without any plan we'd be trapped in this place forever. I yanked hard on her arm and pulled Haruhi to face me, her eyes looking straight into mine. The sudden close contact between us seemed to snap Haruhi from her madness, even if I lost my train of thought too.
Taking a deep breath, I said, "we need to think of our way out of this and work out our route home. Can you picture the stairs down Haruhi, can you remember where they are?"
Haruhi blinked and took a step back, looking at me incredulously. "Of course I can, they're right there," She said pointing down the corridor.
Lo and behold, as I looked past her, I saw the hallway now had an ending. I breathed a sigh of relief and started to walk quickly towards the miraculous stairwell. Haruhi skipped ahead and gave me another incredulous look as if the stairs had always been there. She mounted them and I quickly followed, thankful to be finally making progress.
But I spoke too soon, for as we rounded the third turn of the stairs a noise made us look up. Above us, the shadow had caught up, breaking like a wave over the lip of the first flight. Haruhi started running and I didn't wait to argue, jumping down the flights after her. But by the time we rounded the seventh turn, it was clear Haruhi's panic had overtaken her again.
I risked a glance over the rail and almost fainted from the sight. The staircase now plunged down into the infinite or towered upwards to an impossible height. With the shadows still coming down, I looked about for an exit. But all the corridors leading off the stairs had vanished, leaving only the descent. Haruhi was making serious headway over me now, leaping down the stairs and I would lose her if I didn't try to catch up.
Yelling after Haruhi, I tried to take the stairs like she did. But my ankles weren't up to it and soon I was limping breathlessly after her. I called to Haruhi to stop, but she refused and kept on running at full pelt.
It seemed futile, but still, I shouted, "How long till we get to the foyer?"
But it didn't see any immediate change so I, just had to keep on going and hoping for a miracle. I was descending blindly now, focusing only on trying to catch Haruhi and keeping ahead of the shadow. Doubled over, I didn't see Haruhi until I almost crashed into her, snatching a glimpse of her as I stumbled past. My legs confused at the ground suddenly being flat and I hammered into the wall.
"What the hell took you so long," Haruhi demanded as she stood there with hands on hips. "We're here dummy."
I looked up, swaying slightly as I saw the dim light glowing through a great curved wall of glass. It shone on the rows of lockers that occupied the main entrance and was blissfully welcome. Automatically I staggered towards my locker, realising only then that I was already wearing my outdoor shoes. But my moment of reprieve was broken, as I felt the air around me darken. Making me turn to look and see only a huge shadowy wall rising over me.
I instinctively raised my hands to protect myself, but they only sank into the darkness. The abomination pulling me in and my mind became engulfed by its terrifying thoughts. A predatory hunger to consume and corrupt, a desire to destroy anything pure in the world. Everything fell into despair and I struggled to break free, my hands searching desperately for aid.
In a blinding white flash, I saw Haruhi silhouetted in the light that burst through the now open main doors. The shadow recoiled and I felt its grip on me weaken. Forcing my fingers free of the nightmare's embrace and I felt a warm hand grab hold.
With a feral cry of determination, Haruhi pulled me to freedom and we both ran for the door. Bursting into the bright sunlight and a beautiful touch of a light breeze. I felt the monster's filth being cleansed from me, by the serenity of the outside world. The feeling bringing a tear to my eye as I tried to get my breath back.
"Don't you dare do that again," came a cry and I suddenly felt fists hitting my arm. Haruhi was pummelling me with rage as she said, "I thought I'd lost you to that thing."
I caught her fist and she stopped. I smiled at the tears in corners of her eyes and said, "don't worry I won't."
Haruhi looked at my hand engulfing hers with surprise, before snatching it back. "Good," she said with indignation. "You're too good a minion to be lost to a low-level monster like that."
I sighed and looked back at the school. At the windows, I could see the shadow raging, but clearly afraid to come into the sunlight. If that thing was low level, I did not want to see what the final boss looked like.
I looked towards the club room and wondered what had happened to the others. Whether they had been consumed, escaped or were even still plugged into that machine. But there was nothing I could do for them because there was no way in hell I was going back. My priority right now was getting Haruhi back home safe and sound. A desire so strong that I had to wonder whether it was really mine at all.
But now wasn't the time to ponder such things, we needed to get out of here. So with a shrug, I started to walk towards the gate with Haruhi quickly falling into step. The fog was only faint now, but I still felt uneasy. All signs of the battle that had raged here mere hours ago had vanished, but so had everyone else in this world. There were no cars on the roads, nor people walking the pavements. The skies were not only clear of planes but also birds and any sounds of life.
But the most unsettling silence was from Haruhi. Her normal constant declarations, replaced with thoughtful melancholy that seemed to overshadow everything. Maybe once her spirits lifted, things might return to normal, but I had no idea how to do that. I had my own problems to think about, more troubles than I thought possible. But still it felt that the most important thing here was Haruhi, but what could I, a mere creation do to help her?
We kept walking in silence until we reached Haruhi's house, in a time that seemed like nothing at all. But I could no longer tell if that was because of the atmosphere or simply from Haruhi wishing it that way.
Her house was quiet and I hoped it was only because Haruhi's parents were at work, but I knew it was something deeper. The state of the world was making everything feel vague and insubstantial. Though I wasn't sure if Haruhi felt it too, she was still clearly uneasy as I was welcomed inside.
Despite me refusing, Haruhi insisted on making me something to eat. But I couldn't tell you whether it was lunch or dinner, the strange atmosphere blocking any sense of time. I checked my phone, but it was dead and the clock on a shelf by the television had no hands. The living room felt normal, but when I looked closely at the photos dotted about, the details seemed to swim. The vague shapes suggested images of Haruhi and her parents, but I couldn't tell you what they actually portrayed.
Haruhi looked at me a little funny as she returned from the kitchen, probably wondering why I was being so nosy. We ate in near silence, the only sounds being the click of chopsticks and my own appreciative noises. Haruhi's cooking was delicious as always, but I already knew that or did I?
As I noticed Haruhi watching me eat intently, I realised that for her this was the first time I'd tasted her cooking. The memories of previous iterations floating to the surface of my mind, recalling many different dishes and occasions. Sometimes sitting at Haruhi's house, other times in the club room, but every morsel delicious. As I thought back to those impossible memories I had a second realisation, my mind was fixed.
Well maybe fixed was the wrong word, since I was still recalling things no normal person should. But rather than my memories being random, exploding into my consciousness before vanishing. I could now recall them by focusing or at the least feel them riding on my emotions. Whether Nagato had intended to or not, our experience in the machine had at least brought some order to my mind.
I tried to focus on the table, on the food trying to see the other times I had sat here. Dishes flickering in and out, as other versions of Haruhi moved about. Occasionally I'd see Koizumi, Asahina and Nagato, but it was hard work keeping these memories in focus. Rapidly I felt myself getting tired and a headache started to form.
"Is everything okay," asked Haruhi, snapping me back to the present.
I looked at her and smiled. "I'm fine, just spacing out," I said. "It's been a long day." The troubled look reappeared on her face and I asked, "Haruhi, about earlier…"
"It's late, so I'm just going to go take a shower, then head to bed," cut in Haruhi. "Do you mind clearing up?"
Haruhi's expression said that she didn't want to talk about it and that in itself was worrying. But I felt this was the wrong time to push her and simply said, "sure thing," Before adding, "It was delicious by the way."
Her smile was half-hearted as a light blush tinged her cheeks. But Haruhi only nodded in thanks as mounted the stairs, her mind already lost in thought. I sighed, then carried the dishes over to the sink and began to wash up. Looking out of the window into the night-shrouded garden, puzzled at how quickly the day had gone. Had Haruhi wanted it to be and so it had happened or maybe I'd just lost track of time.
Trying to decide what in my crazy world was caused by Haruhi and what was just normal weirdness. I soon realised was going to be a one-way ticket to the madhouse, if they even existed here. So, it would probably be best to let things slide and deal with the more immediate problems of dirty bowls. But my life wasn't that easy unfortunately, as I then saw three faces appear at the kitchen window.
I frowned at them, insisting on finishing the dishes before I headed over to the patio door and gently slid it open. The robot, teacher and weary teenager that greeted me genially. At least proving that some things had returned to normal. Even if that was a somewhat subjective term, considering how different they had been inside the machine. As I thought about their previous selves, phantom images started to form, but I shook them away.
"I see you're experiencing the same phenomena we are," said Koizumi with his usual knowing smile.
"At least something positive came out of that mess," I said, glancing towards the stairs. "For all the good it does us."
"I am glad you are well," said Nagato. "You were disconnected rather suddenly and I was concerned about any side effects."
"I'm fine," I replied. "It's Haruhi I'm worried about."
"How is she," asked Asahina. "You two left in such a hurry and then those things appeared." Drifting off as her face blanched at the memory.
"Very quiet and unsettled," I said grimly and their expressions showed equal concern. "To be honest, I think right now it would be best if you three weren't here. The last thing she needs is to get shaken up again and you making those shadows come back."
"Indeed," said Koizumi. "Though need I remind you, that you were the one that pushed Miss Suzumiya into recalling those memories."
The truth was like a punch straight to my guts and looked with remorse back towards the stairs. "I know," I said. "Which is why it's my job to help Haruhi through all this."
"Kyon, you don't have to shoulder all this yourself," said Asahina. "Finding out all that about yourself, about where you came from, that must have been a tremendous shock."
"I'll be fine," I snapped. "You guys worry about keeping the world from falling apart, I'll deal with Haruhi."
"They are one and the same," pointed out Nagato. "Miss Suzumiya is the cause and this world is the consequence,"
"I know, I know," I said dismissively. "I mean you're the ones with superpowers, you deal with any crazy things that happen. I'll focus on getting Haruhi back to normal or as close to normal as she ever gets."
"Very well," said Asahina before anyone else could differ. "I think Miss Suzumiya looks to you to keep her grounded, that may even be why she created you in the first place."
"I don't want to think about why I was created," I snapped. "Let's just…"
I heard a door upstairs open and close, making me immediately cut off my sentence. Looking towards the stairs I saw Haruhi slowly descend, towelling her hair as she went. She eyed me curiously and said, "Is everything okay?"
I looked towards the partially open door and saw that the others had vanished. Sliding the glass closed I said, "nothing, just thought I heard something outside."
Haruhi walked over and peered into the dark garden. Standing so close to me that I could smell the sweet scent of her shampoo. Only to shrug and say, "it was probably a cat or something."
"Probably," I agreed, but I pulled the long curtains shut to be sure.
"I'm sure everything will be fine now," Haruhi said in a voice that didn't sound a hundred percent convinced. Especially when she suddenly wrinkled her nose and stepped back. Exclaiming, "actually the only dangerous thing around here is you, jeez you stink!"
I pulled at my collar with embarrassment, acutely aware of how sweaty I was. All the running I'd done at school, not to mention the strain of a world gone mad, had done a number on my uniform.
"Do mind if I use your shower then," I asked. Suddenly feeling very dirty and disgusting.
"Yes, yes, please do" exclaimed Haruhi, giving me a push towards the stairs.
Truth be told, if I'd been at home I wouldn't have fussed about my unclean state. But seeing Haruhi grin again as she bodily shoved me in the direction of the bathroom, made it worth it. Not truly happy until she had hurled me in and slammed the door.
With a shrug, I undressed, climbed in and I was amazed at how good it felt. I had too many worries for them to be washed away, but it did make them feel better. I just stood there for a while enjoying the beat of the water on my head and shoulders.
I wondered how many times I had taken a shower here, how often Haruhi and I had been close enough for it to happen. While I had better control over these prior memories, it wasn't like taking a photo album off a shelf. I could pull them into my mind, but they soon fluttered off like butterflies, leaving only a feeling behind.
I tried to focus on a memory of this bathroom, of this shower and suddenly felt a sensation that I wasn't alone. Flickering through the falling water I saw a crown of slick dark brown hair and I looked down. Meeting Haruhi's eyes gazing back up at me, wearing her billion-gigawatt smile, and nothing else.
"What in the hell are you looking at?" demanded a voice from outside the shower.
I let out a yelp of surprise and automatically covered myself. Spinning around, I saw another Haruhi through the steam and blinked a few times to make sure that she was real. Dismayed to see that she was, I yelled, "well, what the hell are doing in here?"
"Don't be such a prude Kyon, it's not like you're the first guy I've seen naked," said Haruhi nonchalantly. "I have a father you know."
Though she was trying to blasé about the situation, Haruhi wasn't looking directly at me. Instead, she gazed resolutely down the bathroom towards the sink. Though the growing blush on her cheeks stated that she had already seen enough. I found my eyes tracing their way down her pyjama clad body, recalling the girl I had seen in the shower only a moment ago. Quickly I shook the thought away before it had time to grow and I was glad when Haruhi turned away.
With a sigh, she threw a towel over the top of the shower door and placed some clothes upon the sink. "You can sleep in some of my Dad's pyjamas, they should fit," Haruhi said over her shoulder. "Now hurry up, you've been in there for ages."
I let out a deep breath as Haruhi left the bathroom and leaving me feeling a little relieved. I hadn't realised I had been here that long, but my mind had been wandering so much I'd clearly lost track of time. I was going to have to be careful with exactly what memories I dredged up if I was going to keep a clear head around Haruhi.
Towelling off, I looked with dismay at the pyjamas Haruhi had left for me. The horrendous pattern meaning that Mr Suzumiya either had an eccentric taste or that Haruhi had chosen them especially. But I didn't feel brave enough to face her in only my underwear and I couldn't really sleep in my uniform. So with reluctance, I threw on the pyjamas and tried to look dignified, despite them being far too big for me.
Entering Haruhi's bedroom, it surprised me how normal it was. The posters on the walls, the desk, the bookcase and the pastel colours. Accompanied the feeling that someone had hurriedly tidied up, to make the place feel like any teenage girl's room.
Haruhi was busy straightening out a futon by her bed, settling the question of where I would be sleeping. Once she'd finished, Haruhi caught sight of me and completely failed to hold back her laughter.
"Oh my god, Kyon, I'm so sorry," Haruhi managed between wheezes. "I saw that ridiculous pair and just had to give them to you."
I frowned at her. "and there's me thinking you liked these things," I snapped sarcastically.
"They make you look very adult," replied Haruhi while attempting to sound formal.
"Well at least someone here is being one then," I said with a sour expression.
"Wow they really have, you've gone and turned you into a grumpy old man," replied Haruhi. "Jeez Kyon, I'm only messing around."
She turned dramatically and slid into bed, taking some time trying to get comfortable. I watched Haruhi until she glared at me, pulling the covers up to her armpits and then folding her arms on top.
"You can stand there sulking all night if you want," Haruhi added grumpily. "But can you at least turn the light off."
"Fine," I said with a sigh and clicked the light cord. "At least you won't be able to see these things in the dark."
I heard Haruhi scoff in the darkness, before she said, "you're such a child."
I lay on the futon and pulled the covers over me. "First I am an adult, then I'm a child," I grumbled half to myself. "Decide which one of those you want me to be?"
But I found my words trailing off as I realised how literal that was for Haruhi, she really had decided who I was. But what was it that she truly wanted me to be; a rival, a companion, a lover. Today I had seen that I'd been all three and more, yet Haruhi still was not happy.
The only sound in the darkened bedroom was Haruhi's breathing, which was still too strong for her to be asleep. In the still of the night, I stared at nothing, losing myself in thought. Gazing at a thousand glowing stickers that had been stuck to the ceiling above me. A myriad of stars, planets and UFOs, spread out like a luminous night sky.
Two large stars glowed brighter than the rest in the centre of the ceiling and I wondered what they meant to her. Was the Haruhi lying on the bed next to me, looking at them and wishing the same things that he former selves had done? Did she even know about those parts of her past or were they lost to history with only these two stars remaining?
"Haruhi," I asked her in a poor attempt to sound casual. "If you could wish for anything what would it be?"
There was a long pause, but the startled noise Haruhi made told me she thinking of an answer. "I don't know," started Haruhi vaguely. "Just to have fun I guess."
I waited for her to elaborate, but it did not seem to be forthcoming. So, I pushed a little harder and asked, "what about the future, do you have dreams about what you want to do after school?"
"No, not really," replied Haruhi, though her voice sounded uncertain and evasive. "I mean who cares about that boring adult stuff, wouldn't you rather be out enjoying our youth while we still can?"
"Well yeah, I suppose so," I said uncertainly. "But we've all got to grow up sometime."
"Oh, I know that," said Haruhi sourly. "But we can deal with that later, we should be living in the now, Kyon."
But that now had lasted well, not even Nagato knew how long. Centuries, millennia, all those worlds stretching off into what seemed like infinity. How long had we been trapped here and was there any chance of freedom?
"That's all very well, but there's stuff I want to do after school," I said, determined to push on. "Seeing the world, hopefully getting an interesting job, maybe even have a family."
I thought I heard Haruhi make a noise at the end of my sentence. "What's brought all this on," she stammered. "You've never seemed interested in the future before?"
My words caught in my throat for a moment, sensing that my answer had to be handled delicately. "I guess how precious life can be, has been playing on my mind a bit," I said cautiously. "Especially after all the scary stuff that happened back at school."
The bed creaked as Haruhi turned over and her arm flopped out over me. I watched her delicate fingers in the silence until I heard Haruhi murmur, "yeah, back at school."
It was clear what had happened was bothering her, but I had no idea what she had experienced inside that machine. Knowing what to say to her was difficult, with the constant fear of making it worse looming over me. Along with the nagging reminder that I forced those memories to the surface, when I was the one to claim to be on her side. But I needed to know the truth or at least get an idea of the depth of the problems that haunted her.
"Haruhi," I asked tentatively, but there was no response. So, with foreboding haunting my heart I said, "did you see anything while we were in that thing. You know after you were knocked out?"
I wasn't sure if Haruhi would answer, but eventually, I heard, "Not much, only a really horrible dream."
I think it was meant to sound resigned, but Haruhi's voice cracked a little as she spoke. Cautiously I asked, "what kind of dream."
"It was so weird," Haruhi started, but her voice caught. "I was trapped in this huge dark room, surrounded by thousands of girls, all of whom looked just like me. Some were wearing different outfits and stuff, but every one was standing there staring at me."
"Just staring at you," I asked.
"Well it almost felt like they were glaring at me," answered Haruhi. "So, I ran, pushing through them all and trying to find you, but I couldn't. I was running for ages, sometimes alone, other times surrounded by different crowds of identical people. But all them just staring at me silently, like they were accusing me of something."
Her voice was starting to shake with the fear of the memory and she took a moment to steady it. "But I knew you were close, Kyon," Haruhi continued. "It was like I could feel you everywhere, but couldn't see you. I felt so lonely, even with those huge crowds around me, so I wished and wished for you to appear."
I could hear the pleading in Haruhi's voice and it pulled at my heart. Her hand gripped into a fist, before relaxing as she said with a touch of joy, "and then you did."
But that happiness guttered out as Haruhi whispered, "but it wasn't you. It was like a toy, a puppet that began to dance this ghastly jig. Along with others that looked like Koizumi, that Nagato thing and Miss Asahina."
"So, I grabbed the puppet of you and tried to run away," said Haruhi frantically. "But I got caught up in its strings and suddenly it pulled me away, spinning like I was in a tornado. Coming to of all places the school field in the middle of the night. I shook the puppet, hoping it would somehow become you. But instead, it transformed into a horrible monster. A shadow with a horrible smile, just like the ones that chased us at North High."
Haruhi was becoming breathless from her recounting and I was verging on asking her to stop. But she was in full flow as she started to thrash about on the bed, re-enacting it physically, as well as verbally. "I fought against the monster, trying to get away. But it just smiled cruelly as it tried to engulf me and rip away everything that was me. I thought I could see a light in the distance and I was sure that if I could get there I would be safe."
"Seeing that light made me feel stronger and I managed to break free for a moment," continued Haruhi. "But I was still caught up in the puppet's strings. Which pulled me back and I prepared myself to fight again. Only instead of a monster, there was another me, looking, unbearably sad. I reached out to her, but she suddenly started to age. Rapidly becoming a middle-aged woman and then an impossibly ancient hag."
"Then the crone suddenly launched herself at me, clawing my face as I fought with everything I had." cried Haruhi. "Right then all I could think about was escaping, getting away from that nightmare. Returning to a normal life, a normal world and I wished with every fibre of my being. Then as I screwed up my eyes, I was suddenly awake, entangled in that machine."
"I know it was only a dream," Haruhi added finally. "But it all felt so vivid and real that I feel like I'm actually going crazy."
I waited, but that was all Haruhi wanted to say, her breathing now coming in laboured gasps. I reached up and gently stroked her outstretched hand. Caressing her fingers and feeling the warmth that ran through them. Trying to think of something to say to comfort her and ease her heart.
There was creak and suddenly Haruhi's face appeared above me in a mass of hanging hair. I felt something wet hit my cheek and I realised there were tears in her red-rimmed eyes. She must have realised it too and quickly rubbed her eyes, though it did little to hide her obvious distress.
"You do believe me Kyon," Haruhi said. "I'm not going crazy am I, it was something to do with that weird machine."
I reached up and stroked away a new tear from her face. "No, you're not," I said gently. "I experienced something similar in that thing." I didn't elaborate on my own journey though. I just couldn't find the strength to tell Haruhi the truth of what I and the others had undergone.
"What do you think they wanted," Haruhi asked. "Why did they stick us in that contraption?"
"Answers," I replied. "But I'm not sure they found any or at least not the ones they were looking for."
"I just wish I understood why they're all so interested in me," said Haruhi. "I'm no one special."
I considered whether her knowing the truth would really set her free or doom us all to some new layer of hell. Certainly, she was in no fit state for the facts right now and I had no idea if there was any way to explain it all to her.
"I think I know why," I said with a smile, tenderly brushing Haruhi's hair behind her ear. "But it is too late for such talk and we're both too tired. I'd say sweet dreams, but I think we've had enough of those for today."
Haruhi's expression grew troubled, but I forced myself to turn away and signal that it was time to sleep. I was so focused on ignoring Haruhi, that I hadn't realised she had moved until I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned back to see Haruhi sliding under the covers next to me, her face bowed as she tried to hide her expression.
"Kyon is it okay if I…." Haruhi started as she cuddled up beside me.
"Yeah, it's fine," I stammered. Trying to keep my mind clear as she rested her head on my shoulder and slid an arm across my chest. I put my own arm around her, it wasn't like I was going to refuse her, regardless of the situation between us.
"You are real, aren't you Kyon," Haruhi asked. Her voice muffled by the material of the hideous pyjamas.
"Well I'm here, aren't I," I answered and gently stroked her hair. "Let's just get some sleep, you never know, we might have a normal school day tomorrow for a change.
Haruhi pulled close and murmured, "that would be nice." But soon I felt her breathing slow as she sank into what was hopefully a peaceful sleep. I stared up at the two glowing stars on the ceiling and wondered what it meant to be real.
Somehow, I had been born from the wish of this eccentric school girl, but did that mean I wasn't real. In this topsy-turvy world that Haruhi had created, the division between fact and fiction felt rather arbitrary. All I knew now was that Haruhi had created me for a reason, I just had to figure what that reason was.
But a niggling doubt conflicted with my desire to just hold Haruhi like this and keep her safe. Was this world really what was best for her, was this fantasy actually making her happy. If so, why did she always reset the world, why was Haruhi never satisfied with how her story played out?
I looked down at Haruhi as her body slowly rose and fell. Wondering what on Earth I should do, with the goddess asleep in my arms?
"I wish every day was just filled with fun and happiness, is that so wrong?"