Author's notes: This idea started out so simple and obvious that I didn't think anyone would be interested in reading it. Then, despite my having consciously abandoned it, the idea kept growing in complexity. For a time I considered incorporating it into a larger fic, and I went through several endings that wouldn't have been quite right for the characters before settling on this one. Hopefully this baby boy has come out of its growing pains to emerge as a full grown man of a story.
For some behind-the-scenes info and photos on the making of this story, check out "Letter Found in Kyon's Shoe Locker" on DeviantArt – but not until you've read the story itself, as there are spoilers.
The characters and milieu of this fan fiction work are property of Nagaru Tanigawa, Kyoto Animation, and Funimation, with the exception of Takuma, who is my creation (read "Haruhi's Boyfriend" for his background).
- Chapter 1 -
School was over, and I'd survived an exceptionally tedious SOS Brigade meeting (Haruhi made us pore over photos of supposed poltergeist activity and identify which ones were probably fake and which might be worth investigating), so I was walking down the hall towards my shoe locker so that I could finally head home. My numbed mind wasn't ready to process the sight of Haruhi sprinting past me at a speed that would have won any track meet I'd ever seen.
Even so, I got the immediate impression that something was not right. Not even Haruhi would go running around without a purpose in mind, and there was no purpose I knew of that would explain her hyperactivity. Besides, going by the way she recklessly shot down the hall, disappearing around the corner within two seconds of my laying eyes on her, her state of mind seemed to be not excitement, but panic. These weren't points that I needed to analyze or deduce. They were obvious enough that even my wearied mind saw them immediately.
That was why I increased my own pace from a worn-out lurching to a hurried stride. If this were a race, at her speed Haruhi would have lapped me multiple times before it was over, but if her objective was nearby I just might arrive in time to witness what was going on.
I cut around the corner just in time to see the locker room door slam shut. Striding to it in four seconds, I pulled it open and spotted Haruhi. To my dismay, she was opening someone's locker.
"Hey," I called, increasing my speed again, to a half-jog.
She didn't seem to hear me. Her eyes were fixed, like those of a hunter upon a deer, on the inside of my shoe locker as she rooted around. In a moment, she had laid hands upon an envelope.
Given the nature of some of the messages people have left in my shoe locker since I first came to North High, I think you'll understand why my alarm increased tenfold at this point.
"Hey!" My heart was pounding as I streaked towards my shoe locker. "Haruhi!"
She gripped the envelope in her hands and began to tear it up. One torn piece, then two, fell at her feet. Her whole being seemed directed towards the destruction of this message. That's the only explanation I can think of for how I managed to reach her and snatch away the remaining piece.
"Hey!" She seemed startled by my presence. "Give that back!"
Only Haruhi could talk as though a message left in my shoe locker were her personal property. I put it in the pocket of my blazer and firmly planted a foot on the two pieces lying on the floor. "It was in my locker," I told her. "That means it's for me."
"Either give it back to me or destroy it. That's an order from your brigade chief!"
The fact that you're so eager to destroy it only makes me all the more determined to see what it says.
"I'm not fooling around, Kyon! Give it to me!"
Her hand shot out and took hold of the envelope in my pocket. I seized her wrist to prevent her from pulling it out, but the momentum of her grab was enough to yank me off balance, and together we tumbled to the floor, struggling for possession of the mysterious letter.
Wrestling like this was becoming something of a frequent activity for Haruhi and me. Koizumi said it was our way of getting release from our assorted stress. I can't speak for Haruhi, but obviously such pop psychology was nonsense as applied to me, because Haruhi was always the aggressor in these struggles. Even in Haruhi's case, a more practical explanation would more than suffice, because she always had something she was fighting for. And she always got it.
But this time was different. This time, what we were fighting over could well be a message from the elder Miss Asahina with instructions that must be followed to preserve the entire future. Or any number of things of similar gravity. The point was, this time I had something to really fight for, and that was enough to give me strength I didn't know I had. I'd be damned if I was going to let time and space collapse into so much rubble. Even if Haruhi Suzumiya was my opponent, I intended to struggle, to the last breath if need be, and win.
...Oh, hell. You all know how this ends. It ends with me on my stomach, breathing the filth of the locker room floor, one arm locked behind my back, and Haruhi squatting on top of me as she tears the message into confetti.
Laying there, I struggled to decide which was more humiliating: That with the fate of the world potentially at stake, I had been physically overpowered by a girl a head shorter than me, or that during our little wrestling match I had developed an erection. I could only pray that Haruhi hadn't noticed it.
Haruhi tossed the last of the letter to the floor. "Trust me, Kyon, this is for your own good."
My bruises beg to differ.
She got off of me and walked off, leaving me in the dirt without a word. And without my dignity.
There was only one thing for me to do: Get up on my hands and knees and pick up the shredded pieces of the letter, in the hopes that I might be able to piece them together. I'm sure I made a pretty pathetic sight, groveling about on the locker room floor, picking up shredded scraps of paper one by one, but whatever was written on that letter was potentially too important. Besides, no one was there to witness my shame. Thank heaven for small favors.
Actually, there was one person to witness it. As I was nearing the end of my task, I heard a voice remark, "Seriously?"
I froze. There was Haruhi, standing at the entrance of the locker room, arms folded. Don't ask me why she came back. Your guess is as good as mine. Her hair and clothes were disheveled from our struggle, but she still looked like an empress surveying a poorly set banquet table. More to the point, she wouldn't spare a second thought to confiscating the bits of letter that I'd gathered, stuffing my feet into my own shoe locker, and leaving me there overnight as punishment for my obstinacy.
Instead, she snorted with disdain. "Fine. If you're willing to grovel in the dirt for that stupid letter, then go ahead and read it. You're going to be so confused when you do. I can't wait to see the look on your stupid face tomorrow morning."
She flicked some of the strands of hair out of her face, then turned and left.
Well, that was weird. She talked like she already knew exactly what the letter says. But how could she know that without getting her hands on it? And if she did get her hands on it, why didn't she tear it up then, before it got delivered to my shoe locker?
I didn't let that little enigma delay me. I gathered up the rest of the pieces of the letter, or at least all the pieces that I could spot, and stuffed them in my pocket.
Then I changed into my shoes and headed home, keeping a hand in my pocket all the while to keep the pieces from flying out. It was a long walk, speculations of who wrote the letter and what it said dogging me all the way. I'd never realized before what a blessing it was to be able to read the notes left in my shoe locker right there, or at least in the bathroom. Instant gratification is a mercy that should never be taken for granted.
When I got home, I carefully laid out the pieces of note on my desk. An involuntary sigh sent a half dozen of them blowing across the room, costing me a few more minutes of delay as I cursed myself out and hunted them down all over my floor. Then I took out the transparent tape and got to work.
I'm actually reasonably fond of jigsaw puzzles, enough to wish Koizumi might bring one in now and then. But any jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't lock together on their own, and scatter like snowflakes in a storm at any stray breath, is a pretty crummy jigsaw puzzle in my book. Certainly a pain in the ass to assemble. Haruhi had torn it up but good.
Still, there was one thing I had to be immediately thankful for: Whoever wrote the letter had only written on one side of each page. I can only imagine how long it would have taken me to piece it together if I had to repeatedly check both sides of every scrap. As it was, I just set aside all the pieces that were blank, lay the remaining pieces writing-side-up, and from there it was the same principle as a regular puzzle.
As I did this, I found that as much as Haruhi had torn the letter up, there were still some pieces with complete words intact. For example, one piece had "okay?" with "up!" on the line below it. Another had "I expect". More suggestively, one piece had "all" on one line and "love" on the line below.
But the biggest clue so far, and the most mystifying one, was the handwriting. I had no trouble recognizing it; I'd seen it more than enough times on armbands and banners to know it better than my own. It was Haruhi's.
Easy enough to guess that she'd written me something and had second thoughts about it, but I still wanted to know what exactly it was. I kept on piecing together a word here, a word there, while stringing together edge pieces and pieces which shared the left margin line. It was slow going, and it was frustratingly long before I managed to assemble an actual sentence. By attaching a right edge piece with one line that seemed to complete the word "about" and another line with a "like" that seemed to naturally precede "a book", I got two complete sentences in one go. They were: "I'm pretty sure you feel the same way about me. You try to hide it, but I can read you like a book."
Somewhat concerning, given that by this point I'd spotted three instances of the word "love". But I pressed on.
I took a break for dinner, but other than that I worked straight through, late into the night. My eyes felt like raisins, and I didn't get a bit of homework done, but the mystery of what Haruhi might have written had a grip on me. And I wasn't going to face her tomorrow morning and tell her I couldn't undo her note-shredding.
Once I found the opening sentences of the note, my progress sped up, as it was usually pretty easy to guess which word came next in each sentence, so I could look for the right characters as well as the right shape. Even so, it was impossible to say what this note was getting at without being able to read the whole thing. The truth is, even when I was finished assembling the entire note, I couldn't say I was particularly enlightened. In fact...
I should have trusted Haruhi. She'd told me the perfect truth: Tearing up the letter had been for my own good.
Thanks to my not-quite-perfect alignment of the pieces, the reassembled note was all warped into hills and valleys, with some pieces overlapping others, but I'm pretty sure it read:
Hey Kyon. I don't know what possessed me to write this. I'll probably think better of it and tear this up before you can read it. Even if you do read it, I'm sure I'll deny writing it. You probably wouldn't believe I wrote it, anyway; there are at least fifty people who would write this as a prank on us. But I just have to get this off my chest, and I can't bring myself to say it to your face.
I think I'm in love with you. I'm not sure that's exactly what it is, because it's a lot different than I'd heard it would be, but at the same time, it's too similar to love to call it anything else. Someone needs to come up with a new word for this feeling. See, I'm happy when you're around, usually, but if there's something that's making me sad or angry, I don't become happy just from seeing you. I can be sad or angry when I'm with you. And I'm not sad when you're not around – even when I'm not with you, I'm much happier than I was before I met you.
Another thing that's different. For a while now, we've been playing this game where I act jealous and suspicious, like when you and Mikuru went on that secret outing, but the truth is, I know you'd never cheat on me. You've got a wandering eye but a faithful heart.
Do you get the idea? It's like I've got all the good stuff that comes with being in love and none of the bad stuff. So it's not a problem.
I'm pretty sure you feel the same way about me. You try to hide it, but I can read you like a book. Don't worry – I won't tell anyone, and you don't have to tell me, though I wouldn't mind if you did. Maybe you'd find it easier to do by letter, too.
There is something I need you to do for me, though. It's something you should have no problem with doing even if you think I didn't write this letter. When you make your White Day presents, use icing to write "partner" on mine. It won't mean anything to anyone else, but when I see you wrote it I'll know that I'm special to you the way you're special to me. That's important to me, okay?
And don't do anything to screw this up! Joking aside, I'm a one-man woman and I expect you to be a one-woman man. Also, don't embarrass me by saying lovey-dovey stuff in front of anyone else. Anything like that, you can say to me in private. And keep on being supportive and understanding, like you have been.
Seriously, don't screw this up. Like I said, I don't know what it is that's between us, but it's better than true love. It's unique, and exciting, and it makes me feel like you and I could take on all the world's problems and blast them into space dust. I'm not letting it go. I'm trusting you to not let it go either.
I just stared at the letter for a while. Yeah, I was confused.
There's no way Haruhi would have written this. I knew her well, so I knew she wasn't in love with me.
Don't misunderstand. Her changing her mind about destroying the world when I kissed her, her keeping her photos of us dating, and any number of other things suggested that Haruhi had some sort of romantic inclination towards me. But I don't buy into love at first sight and all that other crap. There's a whole spectrum of romantic feelings you can have, and the difference between the feelings Haruhi had shown for me and the feelings that would make a girl give a boy a letter professing her love is as big as the difference between a faded yellow and a fiery red. If her feelings for me had become that strong, there are a thousand things she'd have done differently. She wouldn't have broken up with me and started dating Takuma. She wouldn't have made a joke out of my secret meeting with Miss Asahina. She would have thanked me at least once for the countless tasks I'd undertaken on her behalf.
On top of that, if she were in love with me (a pretty messed up prospect, given our relationship), she would have written a love letter before. She certainly wouldn't have given it to me now, of all times. Just a few days ago she got pissed at me because I'd failed to properly investigate her helping out that bespectacled kid with his studies, and so far as I could tell she was still pissed. Actually, pissed isn't the right word. She was disillusioned, which was worse. I just couldn't see her feeling the urge to confess love to me right now.
But. The letter was unmistakably in Haruhi's handwriting. The tone was also distinctly Haruhi-esqe. And if Haruhi wrote it, that would certainly explain the contradiction of her knowing what it said and not having immediately destroyed it. I couldn't think of another explanation for that.
So, what the hell?
I continued to muddle over that question all evening, and hadn't found any answer by the following morning.
Was this her bad idea of a joke that she realized was a bad idea of a joke at the last minute? If so, what was supposed to be funny about it? The only thing it directed me to do was write "partner" (crap, that's not a reference to the things we said to each other in that private detectives universe, is it?) on one of her White Day presents, and that would hardly make me look like a fool. Heck, she could have just told me to do that straight up, as an order from my brigade chief. She didn't need to pretend to be in love with me to get me to do that. Doing things for Haruhi that make me look stupid could be my job description, except I'm not getting paid.
Haruhi was looking out the window when I got to class that morning. I got the sense that she was doing so to avoid looking at me. She didn't say anything when I took my seat.
I wanted to know what the deal with that letter was. I was dying to know. But I also felt like I'd rather die than know. Yeah, it definitely would have been better if I'd just left it in pieces on the locker room floor. But what was done was done, and now the agony of not knowing was worse than any agony that knowing could dish out, or so I thought.
So I steeled my nerve, turned around in my seat, and said to the girl behind me, "So..." And struggled to come up with anything to say beyond that.
"I didn't write it."
I'd certainly like to believe that, but then who did? And how did you know about it?
"Takuma approached me as I left the clubroom." She still wasn't looking at me. "He told me he put a love letter in your shoe locker and signed it with my name. Then I think he laughed and said you were probably reading it even as he spoke. I didn't hear him too well because I was already running towards the locker room."
Takuma? The drummer of our short-lived band who looks like a perverted chimpanzee and thinks like one too? He wrote this?
"I guess this was his revenge for my dumping him. Totally despicable. We'll have to come up with something to teach him a lesson."
Nope, not buying it. At a stretch, I could imagine Takuma pulling off such a good counterfeit of Haruhi's handwriting. There are also some far-fetched explanations for how he might know about my secret outing with Miss Asahina, and Haruhi's reaction to it.
But one thing really made it impossible that Takuma had written the letter: The author of the letter had confessed her love, but she hadn't surrendered her dignity. If Takuma had forged this in an act of revenge, it would have been full of romantic desperation, whimpering sentimentality, and promises to perform degrading sexual acts for my benefit.
In fact, in that respect this was a better love letter than any I could have imagined. TV shows, video games, and the few love letters I'd seen in real life (none of which were written to me, until this one) had all given me the impression that love letters were full of flattery and needy statements like "I'll die without your love", which were either dishonest or just embarrassing, and put a heck of a lot of emotional pressure on the recipient. This letter expressed the writer's feelings honestly, without exaggerations. It said one or two nice things about me, but it wasn't groveling for my affections. In fact, it assumed them, which was damn presumptuous, but if I didn't like this person the way the letter thought I did, then no love letter coming from them could be a good one anyway.
The point was, if Takuma were trying to embarrass Haruhi, he wouldn't write a letter like this.
I'm not saying Haruhi was lying. I didn't believe she wrote the letter to begin with. What I'm saying is, if it wasn't Haruhi who wrote it, it had to be someone who wasn't out to embarrass Haruhi, who was a damn good forger, who knew Haruhi inside and out, and probably had knowledge of what went on at SOS Brigade meetings...
...I'm an idiot.
How did I not see this sooner? Like, the instant I read the letter?
"What is it?" Haruhi was looking at me with interest.
"Nothing." I turned back to face the front of the class.
"No, you just figured something out. Come on, share it."
No use playing dumb. Haruhi's too perceptive. Have to misdirect her. "I thought of a way we could get back at Takuma, but it's a stupid idea."
"It probably is. So what is it?"
What, just so you can deride me? "I'm not saying."
"As usual," she grumbled.
I hung in there until lunch break. It was hard to concentrate on the lectures, as I was feeling increasingly angry over the letter. Someone had set me and Haruhi up like fools, and I had a pretty good suspicion of who.