Author: Durandall PM
In At a Glance, we explored an alternate universe based on a physical disability. This story tries to accomplish the same thematic goals, while centering on social issues instead. Kyon and Haruhi meet in high-school, but this time around, something is different...Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Friendship - Haruhi S. & Kyon - Chapters: 3 - Words: 31,235 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 54 - Follows: 13 - Published: 09-03-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8493574
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu fanfiction
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: The series begun with the light novel 'The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi'/'Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu' is the creation of Nagaru Tanigawa. No disrespect is intended with the creation of this work.
After Asahina-san and Nagato finished up and said their goodbyes to me, I waved to the pair of them, then slowly made my way back to my classroom. I was probably stalling for time, still trying to puzzle out who wanted to talk to me - and why.
When I finally pushed the door open and stepped in, I was a bit stunned to see our class representative there, her back to the door. She was holding a book before her, though I didn't see the title when she turned and snapped it shut, giving me a small smile.
"Aha!" Asakura Ryouko said brightly. "You came!"
"Er, yeah," I agreed, scratching my head. "I ... didn't think you were the one who sent me that note."
"Well, it was me! But ... to be honest..." She clasped both hands on the book before her, the title still covered. "Well, I do apologize, but I ended up determining a resolution to the issue that I had called you here to discuss already!"
...I had no real reason to be upset. It had cost me only a few minutes of my time, since it was a detour after I had left the club anyway. "Is that so?" I asked. "What ... was it that I could help you with? And if you resolved it yourself, why did you wait?"
"I asked you here," she said with a small shake of her head. "Isn't it only proper to meet with you and apologize for taking your time?" Her eyes sparkled as her smile widened.
I felt a chill up my spine, feeling inexplicably uncomfortable about the situation. She hadn't answered the first part of my question. "I wish I could have been more helpful to you, then," I said anyway.
"Oh, I've asked all of you that I possibly could already," she said resolutely. "Just continue to be a proper student and keep doing your best!" With that, she released a pleased giggle and traipsed past me to the door.
Bemused, I only watched her leave, scratching the back of my head curiously again. What was that all about?
Well ... there was nothing for it. That had felt like nothing so much as a confusing waste of time!
I set out behind her, closing the door after me- To my surprise, when I reached the hall there was no sign of Asakura Ryouko. Even more unexpectedly, Nagato was standing in the hallway facing the direction I supposed that the class representative must have gone. While she was difficult to read, I could detect subtle clues in her stance.
Her head was slightly bowed, her hands hanging not perfectly loosely, but her fingers curled the slightest bit in. Beyond that, there was an aura clinging to her - a sense of frustration, of anger held just in check.
"Nagato-san?" I asked cautiously.
As though confirming my suspicions, her fingers uncurled, the minuscule trace of anger left her stance. Her head turned, and her eyes met mine, suggesting the merest hint of regret there.
What was going on today?
"I'm headed home," I told her. "Something left to do, here?"
After a pause she answered, "No."
I wasn't sure what it was. As strange as things were, I didn't want to lurk any longer. It was late already. "Well - I'm headed home, so take care, Nagato-san!"
"Yes," she answered again, this time without hesitation.
Thinking that was the end of things, I gave one last nod and headed toward the shoe locker, keenly aware of Nagato's gaze on my back as I left.
Had I known in advance what awaited me at school the next day, I probably wouldn't have gone. Alas, I did not know, and thus in good spirits, thinking that things were fine and pleasant outside of some small oddities with Asakura Ryouko and Nagato, I went anyway.
Even the climb up the hill seemed less draining than usual. The students I walked with, or that passed me, seemed in equal spirits to mine, soaking up the sun's warmth. As dire as the trudge to school was, I felt we were all comrades - brothers- and sisters-in-arm.
Taniguchi was in the shoe lockers when I reached it, slapping me on the back a bit harder than I would have liked and cheering, "Morning!" before dashing to the classroom ahead of me.
Still not suspecting anything amiss, I opened my shoe locker.
The offering today was not a letter in a neatly folded envelope.
I closed my shoe locker and tried to take stock. I was still dreaming, maybe? I pinched myself, drawing an odd look from a classmate - Goto - as he finished tugging his second shoe on, shrugged, and then walked toward the stairs.
I didn't wake up. Nothing in particular had changed. I tried to convince myself that I was imagining things - I had not seen what I thought I had seen.
Even so, I moved to a position where I could shield the view into my shoe locker from anyone else. I cracked it open, trying to be casual, as though nothing were wrong.
It was what I thought I had seen previously.
What had I done to offend someone? Was it a prank intended for someone else? Did someone spread a rumor of me doing something unforgivable to Asahina-san? Why would someone have done it? I couldn't imagine anyone who had any reason to stuff a dead rat into my shoe locker.
At a loss for what I should do, I resolved to ignore it for the moment. Undoubtedly, it would start to decompose, but it seemed relatively freshly killed. I carefully pulled my shoes from around it, gingerly avoiding contact with the thing. At lunch, I could find a trash bag and more carefully - and discreetly - dispose of it.
As rattled as I was, and as shaken as I felt from the encounter, I stuffed my outdoor shoes into my school bag.
I trudged to the classroom, lost in thought as to why someone would do such a thing. By the time I reached the door, lost in my own thoughts, I had come to the conclusion that it had to have been an accident. It was meant for someone else. I tried to think of the cheer I'd had only minutes before, and put on a mask before stepping into the classroom.
Every student present was animated, the entire room buzzing with murmured conversation that cut off the second I stepped through the door. I was uncomfortably self-conscious - every eye suddenly went to me, and then just as quickly away. Not everyone had arrived yet; Suzumiya herself was absent.
But when my gaze went past her empty seat and found my own desk, as though to confirm what those gazes had suggested... At that point, I knew that the rat wasn't a mistake at all.
Now, I had never had the misfortune to share a class with a student that had passed away, but I knew the tradition the same as anyone else. To mark their passing, a white vase of flowers was placed on their desks.
I wasn't dead, though. Everyone was ignoring me too completely for that.
Perhaps things would have been better if I were...
But in this instance, the meaning was clear enough. Someone had wished I were dead, and said it as clearly as if they were to tell me, 'please die!'
I didn't realize I was frozen in the doorway, the entire class and myself equally uncomfortable in this frozen tableau until Kunikida came from behind me, patting me on the back and asking, "What's going..."
That was as far as he got before he processed the entire scene. It was enough to spur me into motion, though.
"A joke," I said uneasily, walking to my desk. I had no desire to keep such a thing- In one motion, I grabbed it and pulled the flowers from the vase, swiftly dashing the water out the window. I tossed the flower and vase into the rubbish bin at the back of the classroom, then dropped into my seat.
It was starting to become clear, what had actually happened. I didn't want to believe or admit it, though.
I tried to ignore the class rep drawing close to Kunikida and whispering something to him - something lost in the other whispers between the rest of the class, as they all set about murmuring.
Suzumiya arrived moments before Okabe-sensei, barely reaching her seat before we were called to stand, bow, and then be seated.
I couldn't focus on my lessons. I tried, but there were too many questions. What had gotten out? I knew, on some levels, but I wasn't ready to admit it. Did Suzumiya know? Was that the end of our association?
Was I out of the club?
I didn't have the courage to ask her before class ended, and as was her custom, she was out the door in a flash. Break was a miserable experience, leaving me to feel entirely alone as my classmates continued their rigorous effort to pretend I didn't exist.
I lacked the strength to challenge that ... I didn't have the power to stand and demand that I be recognized- Tell them that I was just like them...
Because through it all ... could I honestly say I was?
Suzumiya returned after break, arriving just in time to avoid being caught out by the teacher for being late.
As if things weren't bad enough, the teacher then announced a surprise quiz - in math, my worst subject. Class rep Asakura Ryouko was called to the front to pass our test forms out, and I realized who was really responsible then.
Each test was handed over individually ... except for mine.
That confirmed my suspicion. I'd rather have been assaulted with a knife than have to endure this...
As much as that hurt, I was comforted by Suzumiya, surprisingly enough. "Eh- What's the big deal, Asakura?" she asked sourly, passing her own sheet up to me. "Did you suddenly go blind?"
"My apologies, Suzumiya-san!" Asakura Ryouko said sweetly, smiling at the girl behind me. "I didn't mean to skip you!"
"What are you-"
"Less chatter," our teacher, Nakamura-sensei, interrupted. "Asakura-chan, be seated, and the test will begin."
So, there was that much at least. But was that because Suzumiya was indifferent? Or was it simply that she hadn't been told?
I did such a terrible job of focusing that I didn't even bother trying to hand my test in at the end.
Asakura Ryouko didn't even pause to check.
"You need to study harder," Suzumiya grumbled at me, running off again before I could reply at the next break.
Well, why not? If the teachers were at least indifferent, it would be alright, wouldn't it?
That thought in mind, when my best subject came around, I resolved myself to dedicate myself to my studies - to focus on them to the exclusion of all else. The other students wouldn't matter if I could still complete my classes.
It was a feeble hope, but desperation can make a man do mad things.
Suzumiya came into the room, skidding like a manga character and popping into her seat the exact moment that Aoyama-sensei stepped into the room, his mouth drawn into a sour grimace.
I was prepared to be diligent. I was prepared to study. I was prepared to answer almost any question that the thin old man could pose to the entire class.
And still ... I was not prepared for what happened.
His lesson began:
"Tadamichi-san," he said. For anyone else, this is just a name. For me, it's my name. For years, ever since my aunt gave me that nickname, and my little sister reminded everyone of it, I'd longed to be called by that in a respectful tone. Instead, I was called by that nickname I could barely tolerate - but accepted with swallowed pride.
I did not realize that I could like hearing the suddenly excessive formality of my proper name even less than my hated nickname until just that moment.
But that's a digression.
"Tadamichi-san, please stand." Despite my thoughts on my name at just that moment, I rose to my feet. "Now, can you tell the class about the lowest class of people in the system that the Tokugawa Shogunate established?"
"Yes, Aoyama-sense," I replied. This question was trivial. "The four divisions of society were gentry, farmers, artisans, and merchants. The lowest of these castes-"
He interrupted me with a rough, "We're looking below that, Tadamichi-san."
I was shaken. The very thing that had marked my family through the years and generations, and he had pointed it out first thing in the class.
"That... Burakumin, who reside in what we now call hisabetsu-buraku," I answered. At least by current standards, 'discriminated village' was the correct term, and the people who lived in them would naturally be called 'villagers'; these things scarcely deserved to be explained. "They- The lowest class formally recognized by the Tokugawa Shogunate was formed of outcast members of society. Special tax exemptions were offered because at the time taxes were in rice, and burakumin were not allowed to own-"
"What was the period name for 'burakumin'?" Aoyama-sensei asked, interrupting me again.
My mouth dried out. "That is... At the time, they were called 'eta'." I didn't know how my voice remained so steady. How I didn't rasp that, or falter... "The term meant 'abundance of filth'."
"The term's meaning has not changed," Aoyama-sensei said flatly. "What people comprised this group?"
"Those ... with occupations considered 'unclean'," I answered. I felt as though part of my brain had simply left, abandoning me to spout my knowledge unchecked. But then, if I had the wherewithal, what could I really have done differently? "Both physically unclean occupations such as the execution of convicts and leather-working, and spiritually unclean occupations such as slaughtering animals and grave-digging.
"H-however, in eighteen-sixty-nine, the feudal system ended, and in eighteen-seventy-one burakumin were officially given equal legal status." This last I added quickly, unable to keep a small hint of desperation from my voice. Never mind the commonly recognized judgment in only eighteen-fifty-one that a burakumin's life was 'worth only one seventh of a man's.'
There were tales of cruel samurai who would cut down people to test the sharpness of their swords. The practice - tsujigiri - commonly targeted poorer merchants ... or burakumin. A samurai killing a burakumin ... such a thing wasn't even a crime.
The rest of the class didn't respond, other than Suzumiya, who released a quiet, confused noise, looking between me and Aoyama-sensei as though she were trying to puzzle things out.
"Be seated, Tadamichi-san," Aoyama-sensei said in a bored tone.
I sat down stiffly, wishing for that long ago time - yesterday - when I was mildly disappointed with being the teacher's favorite student.
From there, the lesson became one I'd normally expect ... except for the fact that I couldn't focus on it.
When lunch came around, I couldn't muster the courage to turn and face Suzumiya before she ran off. Had she figured it out? Would someone corner her at lunch and tell her? Would she corner someone else and demand the explanation from them? And the kind Asahina-san, from her proper family? Or Nagato, who had helped me out before?
I didn't know how to deal with any of it. A simple glance showed me that Kunikida and Taniguchi, both of them a bit pale, were busily eating together, studiously pretending I didn't exist. Asakura Ryouko was chatting with a quartet of girls in a businesslike voice, though I couldn't make their discussion out.
I slowly rose from my seat, unable to eat just yet. Before anything else, there was still that rat to dispose of. I stumbled to the shoe locker, finding a trash bag on the way and taking care of it - throwing it into a waste bin when there weren't too many eyes on me.
My mind was on automatic, like a runaway car, unguided, unthinking.
How would I tell Suzumiya? Would I? Or would she discover it on her own, and I would simply be dismissed from the club that had never even fully formed? In a daze, I returned to the classroom.
With a heavy heart, I stopped at my desk, not even sitting down.
I stared at my bento in dismay, my eyes stinging. Of course, I hadn't brought it with me when I left the classroom. Some 'clever' classmate... No. They had stopped being my classmates. They were just students. Whoever it had been, someone had unwrapped my lunch and dropped the entire bento on the floor, spilling the contents out.
Some of the other students had doubts about the way I was being treated. I could see that neither Kunikida or Taniguchi were amused, even if they said nothing, and wouldn't meet my gaze. I could see some of the other students unsuccessfully hiding smirks, or just plain disgusted looks. A few were outwardly indifferent, busy ignoring me and everything else.
I picked up the cloth that had been left on my seat, and then the bento. For a moment, I considered cleaning up the mess. For another moment, I considered trying to say goodbye to Taniguchi and Kunikida. There was still an untidy pile of rice and vegetables on the floor, the day's special treat of daikon radish to one side - cut into the shape of a flower by my mother.
The imprint of someone's shoe was conspicuous where it had been crushed. It's strange what you observe when you're numb from shock, your mind overwhelmed and simply not knowing what to react to.
After re-wrapping my bento and reclaiming my bag, seemingly untampered with, I methodically cleaned my desk out, taking up the rest of my books.
No one said a word to me before I left the room.
When I went to the office to turn my books in and request my withdrawal forms, I found someone had already filled them out; the clerk who didn't meet my eyes needed only my books and my signature.
And so, that was my last day at Kitago.
Leaving the school grounds felt like passing through a magical barrier. I felt simultaneously free and unbelievably heavy - as though any step could send me hurtling like a UFO descending into the atmosphere. I was headed home. There was no particular reason to prefer home over any other place, but the point was that I was leaving.
Only half a block from the school, a patrol car rolled up beside me, a heavyset police officer with gray hair leaning out the window. "Young man," he called in a surprisingly kind voice, which arrested my forward motion. "What are you doing heading away from school?"
He wasn't a simple truancy officer, but I was still wearing my uniform, wasn't I? "I dropped out," I admitted shakily.
"Really?" he asked, looking more surprised than I would have expected, then turning to glance at his partner behind the wheel. "Ah- Well, you look troubled! Let us offer you a ride home, then. We can spare you being questioned by any truancy officers, right?"
"Sure," I agreed quietly, climbing into the back of the car. The officer's partner was a much younger-looking man, who nodded at me, but mostly was focused on the road. I gave them directions to my parents' home.
"So," the first officer said warmly, "this school didn't work out?"
"...I didn't fit in," I agreed, turning to stare out the window as the car lurched into motion.
"You certainly look troubled," he said, nodding. "You were still wearing your indoor shoes!"
I hadn't even realized, but quietly changed them.
"I bet you could transfer, easy," the driver said, guiding the car down the hill. "There's a lot of schools in this town - Kitago's a tough one, but it's brand new, isn't it?"
"The important thing is not to give up," the first officer contributed. "Whatever happens. So are you going to try for another school?"
"I don't know yet," I sighed.
"Hey, hey! You can't give up - you're just getting started! Sometimes you get thrown a curve, or knocked down - but that didn't stop your ancestors, did it? So no matter what happens, you keep fighting! Maybe the battle to stay at that school is lost ... but the war to get a proper education can still go on!"
I slowly turned to look at the officer. He was twisted halfway around, giving me a strangely intent look. Was he refering to my ancestors specifically? Or just people in general?
I didn't really feel it, but I nodded at him. "You're right," I said. I did have my paperwork. Turning 'dropping out' into 'transferring' would be a trial as well, though. I didn't know if I had the strength for it. But in honesty, I could say, "That is an option."
As though the matter were settled, the gray-haired man's face split in a grin, and he nodded, turning back to face forward.
The rest of the ride - normally a real treat - was in silence. They stopped before my house to let me out, both of the officers insisting, "Take care, young man! And good luck!"
I had to think that there was at least some kindness left in the world ... but would they still have been so kind if they knew why I had dropped out?
My mother looked up in surprise from folding her laundry in the living room when I came home. "You're home early, Kyon-kun!" she exclaimed. "Did something happen?"
I'll admit, as kind as the officers had been, the warmth of home was enough to let the final barriers collapse. Man or not, as the door closed behind me, I wept.
After my mother had given me some soup to make up for the missed lunch, I went to lay down and try to rest. The ordeals of the day still wore on me.
I hadn't gotten to say farewell to anyone, but could that be for the best? Suzumiya seemed not to fully grasp what was going on. I had no idea if Asahina-san or Nagato knew. The idea of any of them scorning me hurt ... and if they didn't, I could only hurt their reputations and standing if they continued to associate with me.
I spent some amount of time trying to convince myself that they were better served by my sudden absence rather than any goodbye.
Some time later, my mother knocked on my door and let herself in, announcing, "I've called my brother down, so he'll be in tonight or tomorrow. I need to wait by the phone. That aside, you can't shut yourself in all day, so put on some different clothes and go fetch your sister from school."
"Yes," I agreed, sitting up. She nodded and closed the door.
So, farewell to the Kitago uniform. I wasn't a student, so there was no reason to wear it, was there? In the meantime ... what should I do with myself? My family wasn't about to move again - like we had when I finished grade school.
We couldn't afford it. At the same time, how long would it be before everyone I could find work from knew? Naturally ... there were some jobs that my family's status wouldn't be a bar to getting. I did have my middle school diploma.
Such a thing was sometimes jokingly called proof of graduating a 'yakuza finishing school.'
Considering how hard my parents and I had worked to come as far as we had, the idea lacked appeal.
Then again ... something like sixty percent of yakuza were buraku, since little else would welcome them.
I was able to put those thoughts from my mind, thinking about my sister. What about her reputation? Her friends in her grade school? Was she having a day as poor as mine?
I had to hope not.
But if she was, then my mother was right, and I had to be there for her.
I dressed in my casual clothes, feeling strange to wear something other than my school uniform. The same shabby and worn clothing I'd managed to avoid wearing when I went to meet Suzumiya and the others, just two days ago.
I reached the gate of the school shortly after the bell rang. My sister's jubilant glee was too pronounced to make me think anything bad had happened to her. I just had to hope no one knew about me, and my presence hadn't somehow ruined things for her.
"Kyon-kun~!" she chirped, slamming into me like a clingy medicine ball. "Where's mom?"
"She's at home, waiting for a phone call from Uncle Keiichi," I answered. "Let's go meet her, alright, Imouto?"
"Okay!" my sister agreed. Turning to a classmate of hers she added, "See you tomorrow, Miyokichi!"
"Bye, Kyon-kun!" my sister's friend answered, waving to both of us pleasantly. "See you tomorrow, Nono-chan!"
Walking my sister home ... even if I was an unemployed high school dropout, that helped me feel a bit better about things.
Still undecided about how to proceed, I got up at the time I was supposed to the next day. For once, I woke up on time without any help from my sister ... ecxept, without any school to attend. My mother approved of me getting up early, naturally.
Before leaving for his unforgiving factory job, my father said nothing more than, "I trust your judgment, Son."
So the morning was spent puttering around the house, keeping myself busy with the tasks my father was frequently too busy to help with. At the end of things, it was mostly just killing time. Before it was time for lunch, I picked up the newspaper my father had left behind, half-heartedly looking at jobs.
My search was interrupted by a knock at the door. My mother answered it before I could, and I started slightly to see her brother - my uncle Keiichi - there, carrying a heavy-looking paper bag in one hand, and a travel bag in the other.
"Imouto," he greeted her, giving her a hug before kicking his shoes off and joining me at the table, setting the bags to one side. "Kyon-kun! Sorry about the delay - I ended up getting side-tracked on my way in, but I have some excellent news!"
"One thing at a time," my mother countered. "Let me make you some tea, Nii-san."
"Aha- Thanks, Imouto," Uncle Keiichi chuckled. Turning to me, his typically smiling face turned to solemn concern. "And how are you holding up, Kyon-kun?"
"I'm still alive," I allowed, folding the paper up. "Just trying to keep myself busy."
My uncle was a lawyer - he'd frequently been offered positions in the Burakumin Liberation League, but didn't wholly approve of their methods. I couldn't quite blame him, honestly. Kidnapping officials to admonish them was unpleasant in the extreme. When they were more reasonable, and pursuing proper legal action, they frequently hired him to advocate cases, however.
It was nice that he was showing his support, but I didn't want to be involved in such a lawsuit. Certainly, it wouldn't be fast.
"You want to keep going to school, right?" he prompted, grinning.
Well, of course I did. But Kitago was out of my reach.
"Okay- It's not the greatest school, but I checked around on my way in- That's why I was late. I happened to run into the principal of Hikami Gakuen at the prefectural office when I was doing some preliminary research. He recognized me from a case a few years back.
"And you know what? Just like our family, he's mura-no-mono, too!" my uncle proclaimed proudly. It was a bit strange to hear that term - the polite one, that we called ourselves - after the previous day. When not being politically correct, 'people of the village' was just fine.
But- Wait. "There's a school principal who's one of us?" I blurted out in surprise.
"He doesn't see any reason to hide it," Uncle Keiichi declared staunchly. "Again, the school's reputation isn't great. You'll need to work even harder to get into a very good university ... but that's not the point."
Latching on almost instantly, my mother joined in, "But this means Kyon-kun can go back to school? He can attend Hikami Gakuen instead of Kitago?"
"That's right! Hashimoto-sensei was just as appalled to hear what happened at Kitago as I was. He said he would do whatever it took- He said he would be willing to accept your attendance as early as Friday - the day after tomorrow." Hefting the paper bag he'd set aside, my uncle added, "I may have been too hasty, but when he gave me the specifications for the school uniform, I picked one up for you straight away!"
"That's wonderful! Thank you, Nii-san!" my mother gushed, dropping to her knees to give her brother a hug.
I was overwhelmed, myself! I knew about Hikami Gakuen - its reputation was actually rather poor. It was considered the delinquent capital of the city, among other things.
It was still a school. And I, for one, knew better than to judge so simply. For the second time in as many days, I felt my eyes sting. "T-thank you, Uncle Keiichi," I managed, scooting back from the table to bow in gratitude.
"H-hey!" he said, laughing in embarrassment. "Come on, now; we're family! I'd have to do this for you, if I wanted to keep calling myself that! And I know things might be tough for Nono-chan, too."
"But you've done so much!" my mother insisted. "Thank you again, Nii-san!"
I didn't need to think about it. Certainly, I wasn't going to tell my uncle he'd gotten a uniform I wouldn't be using. If a chance like this came along, I was going to take it, the same way a floundering man in the sea would use anything he could find for flotation.
"In the meantime," Uncle Keiichi continued, "the league is eager to get into this upset. Kyon-kun, I'm guessing you don't want to deal with the stress, so I'll be in town for a few more days in case any reporters or league representatives try and recruit you. I'll see if we can't get them to help with the proper legal course of matters."
"Thanks again, Nii-san!" my mother said happily. "Now- How about some lunch?"
"That'd be great!" my uncle said enthusiastically.
And even though I missed what I lost, I couldn't help but be more confident about things, too.
Hikami Gakuen was not as pretty and new a school as Kitago. It instead looked like something built almost immediately following World War II. Despite that, it wasn't a delinquent-filled war zone, as I'd feared. The grounds looked a bit shabby, but given the decades of students it had seen come and go, that was more than reasonable.
The name could be read as 'top of the day,' but I had heard that some students used the more derisive interpretation of 'above the gutter' with the implication that it wasn't above by much.
That didn't bother me.
My withdrawal paperwork from Kitago was taken without hesitation; Hikami Gakuen's entrance requirements were more relaxed than my previous school. If I had passed a more stringent test, I could evidently be given a pass. That suited me fine.
The new costume was a gakuran-style uniform, more militaristic than the relaxed suits worn at Kitago, but somehow comfortably familiar. It wasn't that different from my middle school uniform, really.
I did have to travel further to attend classes, almost an hour by train, but the dreaded hill was no longer part of the picture.
I didn't care for the attention on me being announced as a transfer student, but it wasn't as though I could just sneak in, was it? And so, wanting to make a good impression I made my introduction, spelling my name on the chalkboard and bowing to my new classmates.
They bowed back and greeted me, "Welcome," in a single voice - which wasn't unpleasant at all. My new classmates seemed much more strongly disciplined than my old ones.
So... Was my background known? I doubted it. Truthfully, I doubted most of the students at this school would even care that much - certainly not as much as those at Kitago did. The principal himself made no effort to hide his lineage. With that, I made up my mind to just settle in and do my best to get along.
I enjoyed some unexpected popularity from the other students once the lunch bell rang - questions about the circumstances of my transfer, naturally:
"Why did you leave your old school?"
"Isn't Kitago better than this place?"
"I heard there's some team of lawyers going after one of Kitago's history teachers for something! Have you heard anything about it?"
That last made me wonder what my uncle was up to, but I earnestly answered: "I just want to be a student. I left Kitago because of some unfortunate circumstances. They aren't worth discussing, really."
The class representative was a boy with the family name of Munemoto, slightly taller than me and wearing spectacles. He admonished my new classmates: "Alright- Let's give Tadamichi some space. We'll be sharing the class with him for the rest of the year, after all!"
Most of my classmates backed off at that, but among those who remained was a short pretty girl with her hair in a pair of pigtails. With a shy smile, eyes glinting, she asked, "Tadamichi-kun, do you have a girlfriend?"
I thought her name was Nozomu. Beside her was a stout boy who looked like he could cause some damage in a fight - not that I had any intention to get into one. His name was Gen'e. "Tadamichi, you interested in joining the baseball team?" he asked in a gruff voice, but with a friendly smile.
"Nothing like that," I answered both of them, shaking my head. "I'm really trying to focus on my studies more than anything- I have to catch up after my transfer! But I'd be happy to make friends out of my classmates."
"You know," Nozomu said thoughtfully, touching a fingertip to her lower lip, "there's another boy who transfered in today, too? Hey, hey! Why don't you come with me, so we can go meet him, too?"
Not really sure what to expect, I shrugged, agreeing, "Why not?"
Certainly, I didn't want to make a bad impression... Even if I did want to focus on my studies, Nozomu seemed like a friendly girl, and Gen'e was affable as well. I followed them from the classroom while class representative Munemoto shook his head.
Thinking nothing in particular, I was led to a classroom down the hall, where I encountered the other transfer student. He looked comfortable with the attention he was receiving, which I had to feel a little jealous of. Though I'm not given to admiring the looks of other men, I could recognize that most girls would find him handsome.
This wasn't my analysis from watching him, but my realization from seeing the girls surrounding him.
"Hello, new transfer student!" Nozomu declared, waving brightly. "You're the second student we've welcomed today - so I wanted to introduce you to the other!"
While I didn't know the circumstances of this introduction, the other boy quickly rose from his seat, bowing in introduction. I could only return it politely, all things considered.
"Koizumi Itsuki," he announced himself, smiling brightly.
I gave him my own name, of course, and his eyebrows rose. "Is that so... I've heard of you," he remarked, which made my relaxed expression slip a bit.
He continued, unperturbed, adding, "I hope we can get along and become friends- In fact, perhaps since we are both new here, and just as behind on lessons, we should form a study group?"
"Oh, my, that's diligent!" Nozomu remarked, eyebrows rising. "If either of you join the art club, you'll be able to spend time with me!"
"And, the baseball club can use more members," Gen'e contributed weakly, his rueful smile suggesting he knew his recruitment drive was a lost cause. "Well - if you care to join us just for practice, that would be fine, too!"
"My studies are a bit behind," I admitted, scratching the back of my head. Really ... while I could avoid him, I'd rather find out if this new presence intended trouble for me or not. I hoped it wasn't trouble, at least.
Nozomu pouted, and half of the girls surrounding Koizumi made unhappy noises.
"Well, could we meet in front of the offices after classes and discuss it further, then?" Koizumi posed, smiling.
"Sure," I agreed. "That works perfectly for me. Well- I should eat my lunch, and I'm guessing you'd like to do the same. Take care, Koizumi-san."
"You as well, Tadamichi-san."
I felt that logically, I should be more apprehensive about the fact that I might be 'outed' after such a short time at the new school, walking back to my own class. Nozomu chattered on about the art club, and her friends there, but my mind was on recent events.
Somehow, I realized I expected my reputation to follow me. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Being revealed so soon would actually be a relief in some ways, because I expected this school - at least most of it - would accept me. And having the truth out there, wouldn't that spare me building friendships, only to see them turn?
Those thoughts on my mind, I managed to smile and nod at Nozomu as she continued to chatter at me all through lunch. What would she really think? Well, I wouldn't worry too much.
If nothing else, by transferring schools, I could try and look at the positive! I'd finally lost the annoying 'Kyon' nickname!
...I'd take that back to have enjoyed the sense of acceptance and belonging I had with Asahina-san, Nagato ... and Suzumiya. But time flows like water - in one direction.
No matter how much we might sometimes wish otherwise.
After class let out, I was given a free pass on cleaning duties as part of my welcome. I thanked my classmates for letting me in on the fun of dodging that responsibility already, and then went to meet Koizumi as he'd requested.
"So, you wanted to meet me?" I asked cautiously as I approached. He was holding some papers in his hand, and I had the sense he was holding something back from me already. What were those papers, anyway?
"That's right!" he said, still giving me that same smile. "I was hoping to speak to you alone for a very simple matter, though."
"And what's that?"
"Two things, actually," he said. "Firstly, I wanted to expand on something I said earlier - I've heard of you, and I know why you left Kitago."
What I had thought was my calm broke instantly, and I felt my knees shake. I managed to keep my voice steady, even if I did have to put a hand on the wall to steady myself. "Is that so?" I asked.
"But the reason I'm telling you is that it means nothing negative to me," he added quickly, his smile fading slightly. "I admire your resolve, after all. Discrimination is unpleasant for any student. For myself, hoping I can trust you with information of equal importance to me ... school life in Tokyo was difficult due to the threat of my Korean ancestry being discovered."
There was an eye-opening remark. Buraku were not the only people with difficulties in Japan.
This did tell me what he really meant when he approached me. There was the question of how he had found out, but the circumstances of my departure were no great mystery. I could expect that Kitago would probably try their best to be quiet about it, naturally, but students talked, and so...
"Thank you for that trust," I allowed. "I understand what sharing that means." Glancing at the papers in his hand I asked, "What is the other thing, then?"
"I was serious about forming a study group," he answered, his smile seeming suddenly more natural, less forced. "There are others within the school, but the faculty has agreed to provide us with a room in the clubhouse. Given our various reasons, I was thinking that the official surface of the group would be 'a study group for transfer students', at least to start."
That seemed reasonable. The safest thing in the world, honestly. After all, how many other transfer students would there be? "And what will we really be doing?" I wondered.
"If not studying, I would hope we could be friends," he answered simply, shrugging. "Perhaps we could play board games, or cards?"
...I could think of worse ways to end my first day at a new school. "That sounds fine, actually," I agreed, finding my own smile.
"Then bring one of these back tomorrow," he said, handing over a club enrollment form. "And that should be that!"
Ah, yes. The new school schedule would have me attending class every other Saturday, as opposed to Kitago's schedule. "That sounds good to me," I agreed, taking the sheet and putting it carefully in my bag. "Well, I hope we can be friends, too. Take care, Koizumi-kun."
"And you as well, Tadamichi-kun!"
After that pleasant surprise, I had expected my life to settle into comfortable, predictable patterns once more. I filled out Koizumi's form, and the next day after class, we spent a while working on our homework together. Even if we were in different classes, the assignments were the same, after all.
When we finished, we played a few hands of cards while I waited for my train. While he was friendly enough, Koizumi wasn't very good. He was a good sport, though, and merely complimented me on my strategy and preparation, remarking he was trying to improve himself in those areas as well.
After that, considering how stressful my week had been, I was content to sleep through almost all of Sunday...
...or would have been. I couldn't entirely escape reminders of what had happened, and one of them was Nagato's book. I wasn't sure how to return it to her, though. I didn't know where she lived, and I had my own school to attend, so I could hardly lurk around Kitago to return it.
Not that I wanted to be near Kitago, and those unwelcoming faces.
It put me in a bit of a melancholy mood when I got to class early the next Monday. I knew I should be cheerful, but isn't it human nature to wish for more than you have? I was certainly feeling human.
Nozomu's cheerful smile or Munemoto's nod of acknowledgement weren't unwelcome, but...
Well. I thought I should be working harder to try and forget about those who I was unable to let go of.
I sat at attention with the rest of the class as my new homeroom teacher announced a new transfer student. While it was unusual, I didn't particularly mind; it would help draw attention away from me. And at the end of the day, that suited me well.
Or so I thought.
I had largely tuned out the introduction, my mind blank as I trawled through my memories. It was really as though I could hear Suzumiya's voice, it seemed so keen. I could imagine her saying something along the lines of hoping she got along with everyone and enjoying her time here-
Then I nearly fell out of my chair-
At the front of the class, beaming a bright devil-may-care smile, still wearing her Kitago uniform, our new transfer student was none other than Suzumiya herself!
I stared in disbelief, eyes widening. Why on earth would she be here? She caught my gaze instantly, and in blatant defiance of the laws of nature, her grin intensified. "Hi, Kyon!" she called happily, waving.
My heart stopped in my chest for a moment.
"Kyon?" Nozomu wondered from my side, turning to look at me curiously. "Is that your nickname?"
"No-" I started.
"Of course it is!" Suzumiya countered without hesitation, crossing her arms over her chest and nodding confidently. "All of Kyon's friends know that Kyon is Kyon!"
"I like it!" Nozomu exclaimed, grinning. "That's a very fitting nickname!" Realizing she was speaking in class, Nozomu popped to her feet and bowed to the teacher. "Sensei- Since Kyon-kun and Suzumiya-chan are friends, may I offer this seat for her?"
"That's fine, Nozomu-chan- Take the seat by Munemoto-kun. We'll do the lottery and reassign seating on Friday. In the meantime..." Our homeroom teacher paused thoughtfully, then nodded. "Kyon-kun, please take responsibility and show Suzumiya-san around the school, as you're already friends, and you've been here longer."
"U...understood, Sensei," I yelped.
"Now- Let us welcome your new classmate!"
I don't know if I was the loudest, but thinking of my own welcome just a few days previously, when we bowed and greeted her, I felt mine might have been the most sincere.
Still grinning, Suzumiya marched to the desk that Nozomu had eagerly vacated and dropped into her new seat next to mine. My mind burned with a thousand unanswered questions, but I didn't know where to start - and we were in class anyway! How would I get a chance to talk to Suzumiya and ask her what had happened? Wasn't she far too good for this school?
As it turned out ... I didn't have to ask many questions - which was just as well, since I still wasn't sure where to begin when home room ended, and she was swarmed by my new classmates.
"Ah, Suzumiya-chan! Why did you leave Kitago? Is it for the same reason as Kyon?"
That added the question of my nickname spreading faster than wildfire to the list, but that was a minor concern.
"I left Kitago because I got in trouble for punching the class rep," Suzumiya answered without hesitation.
What?! Suzumiya hit Asakura Ryouko?
Munemoto's eyes widened and he took a step back, alarmed. The rest of the class gasped; not what I would have expected from 'the delinquent capital of the city.'
"C...can I ask why?" Nozomu asked in surprise.
"Long story," Suzumiya said with a shrug. "They were going to let me slide, but by that point I didn't like the school anymore anyway. Stuffy, stupid, and way too intolerant! More importantly ... what I was looking for wasn't there." This last she said with an evasive glance, almost meeting my eyes, but not quite.
Ignoring the others for the moment, Suzumiya shook her head and turned to regard me. "I'm glad to see you here, Kyon! I was worried I'd be stuck in another class! It's too bad Yuki isn't with us, but isn't this lucky?"
"I don't know what to say!" I managed to eke out, before the next teacher arrived, and everyone quickly hurried to their desks.
What a day!
Instead of running off between classes to explore, Suzumiya waited patiently at her desk with the rest of the class, answering questions from our classmates. I could sense that she wished she wasn't being bothered, but she remained polite about her responses anyway.
"Are you into any sports?"
"Not enough to join a club."
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No one at Kitago, but I'm not looking!"
"What did the class rep at your old school do?"
"Not worth talking about anymore."
I was impressed at her patience, considering how I'd seen her respond to people before. She may have been a bit blunt, but it was clear that things had changed for her. Instead of snapping that she had no time for normal humans, she bore their questions with enough determination to maintain a polite facade.
Unfortunately, even by the time lunch had rolled around, I hadn't been able to think of the right questions to ask. At the same time, Suzumiya bounced to her feet the moment the bell rang and rounded on me. "Well?" she prompted. "You're going to show me around, so where's the cafeteria?" Of course, even as she said this, she was holding what looked like her own bento to me...
I did happen to know where the cafeteria was, even though I always brought a bento as well. "Er, it's this way, Suzumiya-san," I said with a helpless shrug. If she wanted to see it, I would show her the way.
For reasons that I couldn't fathom, Nozomu smirked and gave me a wink on the way out the door, Suzumiya dogging my heels. It didn't take us long to reach the crowd of students jockeying for position to get the good breads before they were gone. I worried for those poor students who might be standing in Suzumiya's way once she decided to charge in, but she merely raised her eyebrows.
"If this is as bad as it gets, the 'delinquent capital of the city' is a bit overrated," she remarked, shaking her head. "But I expected this, which is why I brought a bento today anyway!"
"But you wanted me to show you where the cafeteria was anyway?" I asked, looking at her sidelong.
"Well, I want you to show me the entire school, at some point," she corrected me. "But more than that, I want to talk with you!" Her smiling expression faded to a pensive look. "Is there a place we can have lunch, just the two of us? I've got a lot of questions, and there's quite a bit I want to say, too!"
I shouldn't have been surprised. "I know a place," I agreed. Suzumiya's smile returned, but this time it was closer to her 'ready to challenge the world' grin.
She paced at my side in perfect step, eyebrows rising as we walked to the detached club building. With some small sense of trepidation, I opened the door to the clubroom that Koizumi and I shared. Not entirely surprising, he was sitting at the table inside, finishing his own bento.
"Who's this?" he asked with a curious smile.
Well, I wasn't certain how to tell him to leave me and Suzumiya alone to talk, so answered, "I didn't expect to see you here, Koizumi-kun. This is Suzumiya Haruhi-san, from Kitago; she transfered in today. Suzumiya-san, this is Koizumi Itsuki-kun."
"We seem to be flooded with potential candidates for our study group," he remarked with a chuckle, rising from his seat and bowing.
"Any friend of Kyon's is a friend of mine," Suzumiya declared without pause, nodding.
"Hmm, if you two are friends, then I think I should give you some time to talk," the other boy said, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "Well- I hope to see you again soon, Suzumiya-san. Good luck in your recruiting attempt, Kyon-kun!"
With that, he chuckled again, gathering up his empty bento and stepping outside.
That was certainly thoughtful of him.
Suzumiya made a thoughtful noise as she set her lunch down, surveying the space we had. In terms of size, it seemed identical to the club room at Kitago. For furniture, there was a similar table, and a pair of much shorter bookshelves. The same standardized folding chairs were stacked against the wall, with the one Koizumi had been using set up at the table still. Since it was a single story building, the view was not particularly spectacular, though.
All of that was aside from the point.
"Did you really punch Asakura Ryouko?" I blurted out, unable to refine my questions.
Suzumiya's smile fell. "Well, yeah," she sighed. "You know, she was the one responsible for spreading those rumors about you."
I had thought as much. Unfortunately, that did suggest a miscommunication.
"It... Suzumiya-san," I said uneasily, still standing, "it wasn't a rumor. I don't ... want to mislead you. What was said about my family ... is how it is." Turning my gaze to the floor, I stared at my shoes. "I am mura-no-mono."
I felt a rush of shock pass through my system as Suzumiya replied, "Oh, I don't care. It was a rumor, even if it was true. Being passed around behind your back by cowards who were willing to pick on you, but ashamed to speak to your face - judging you for something that wasn't your choice?" She sighed, crossing her arms over her chest and tilting her head to one side, eyes closed. "Well... Listen to me, alright? I have to tell you everything that happened, I think."
"Okay, Suzumiya-san," I agreed shakily.
"You just suddenly vanished on me - and everyone was acting funny, too. Weird enough Aoyama wasted class time on being such a stodgy ass- At the time I didn't know why he was making you regurgitate that shameful piece of trivia ... but I guess he showed us that it's not trivia, it's a prejudice that old bastards like him and those other idiots still can't let go of!
"But I didn't know that- I just thought he was being weird. You looked really jumpy, but I thought I could talk to you about it at the club. Except when I got back from lunch, you were gone. Sure, I might think you had spilled your bento, but I couldn't think of reasons why you might leave the room - and I couldn't imagine you not cleaning up your lunch if you meant to come back."
"You remember what I eat every day?" I wondered.
"Well, your mom doesn't change what she cooks very often," Suzumiya returned softly, opening her eyes and looking away.
Wasn't that the truth!
Shaking her head, she continued, "I thought it was a temporary thing, but when class ended and you hadn't returned, I was sure something was up. Once you missed the club meeting, that seemed to confirm it! Of course, no one was telling me anything, but I poked around- Found that vase and flowers in the trash. You didn't look like a ghost to me, but I realized people must have been picking on you.
"The next day, you were still gone, and they didn't even call your name for attendance? They didn't announce you transferring out, they were just acting like you'd never been there! It wasn't like a well done conspiracy, or a complex cover-up - it was just people being jerks. So I cornered Asakura. As the class rep, wouldn't she know?
"So she got this smug look on her face, acting all superior and haughty, and - would you believe it - that stupid... She had a copy of Tokushu Buraku Chimei Soukan!"
I spluttered in surprise. Only a few years ago, that book had come to light- Even though there were laws to make identifying burakumin harder, that book was one of the tools that discriminators used to track and confirm burakumin identities.
"So she knew what she'd done - she was proud of it!" Suzumiya exclaimed, some shadow of the anger she must have shown Asakura Ryouko crossing her features. "Worse ... she acted like she'd done me some favor! So I didn't really think about it, I just remembered what you said, about... Well, with Mikuru-chan, and being accepted. And I was so mad ... I just punched her." She sighed, that shadow of anger vanishing. "She's a total bitch, though, so I can't regret it that much...
"After that I went to the office to try and find out what happened to you, but they wouldn't tell me. Then the teacher caught up with me, and they gave me some lecture about how because of my grades, they'd let me stay at school even after hitting Asakura, blah blah, proper behavior and so on - but I didn't care. I didn't want to stay at a school with discriminating bastards like Aoyama and intolerant idiots like Asakura! So I told them where they could stuff the apology they expected me to give her!
"Of course, if I thought the school was bad, then even my parents gave me trouble! I've never been so disappointed to be related to them in all my life- And we got into a fight about school, and..." She paused, and I winced, realizing that even if she wasn't going to say it, it was her association with me that had caused such strife.
"Well, I decided to run away," she said, spreading her hands in a shrug. "I'm old enough to live on my own!"
"What- Where will you stay? How on earth..."
I trailed off as she grinned and raised a fingertip, waggling it in the air. "Through it all, I've learned who I really want to keep as friends," she explained, eyes glowing with confidence. "Did you know, the second she found out that both of us left Kitago, Yuki quit, too? We'd traded addresses the day you vanished, just in case- Evidently her parents are loaded!
"And she mentioned they're from somewhere north of Tokyo, so they don't care- But she has a house, so she said I should move in with her."
"Nagato dropped out, too?" I exclaimed. This was too much! "And Asahina-san?"
"You know, that girl - she used her family's connections- I don't know who they are, but they must be pretty powerful! They were able to find out where you went ... so we decided to come here, as well!"
"How- But you were going to Kitago! You were able to be with your parents! How could you throw that all away?" I asked, aghast. I had never wanted Suzumiya to ruin her life like that!
"How could I stay?" she countered, the glow in eyes igniting as her voice filled with energy. "I was looking for aliens, time travelers, and espers - and I still want to find them! But how the hell can I be proud of the world I'm from when it's full of ignorant people who embrace discrimination for the dumbest of all reasons? How can I smile and play with them where there are important problems that need to be overcome?
"Maybe to a time traveler, there's no problem, because those things have all gone away- Well, that's great, but doesn't that mean that now, we have to work on fixing those issues? And to an alien, we're all different from them, so if aliens wouldn't care about someone's background, why should we? Espers are trickier - but they shouldn't care about much except the way people think.
"But," she continued in a softer tone, "I don't really think any of them would want to be around a place filled with idiots like Kitago. In any case ... while I still want to search, I can't afford to be blind to the fact that we can do a lot to help this world and the people in it be fun and interesting to the aliens and espers and so on. I realized ... what I was really hoping for when I told you about that trip to the baseball stadium.
"I realized even more that I think I know what you meant when you talked about acceptance and getting along. And I think I know why you're so polite, trying to put up barriers to protect yourself from some people- Well, that's enough of that! Kyon, from now on you can call me 'Haruhi'. I won't accept another 'san' from you, in any case!"
"I...is that so?" I managed, completely off balance by this girl. "But I'm-"
"That makes no difference to me," she countered intently, stepping closer to me and staring into my eyes. "You accepted... Well, if extraordinary beings won't appear for those who seem friendly but hide intolerant natures behind such masks, what does it say for people who seem aloof and unapproachable already? You're pretty amazing in that regard, because you had every reason to, but didn't judge! So I accept you, and more than those people we left behind - it's their loss if they're that stupid!" And then, shocking me so much I would have fallen over if she hadn't made it impossible, she stepped right up to me and hugged me tightly.
Her frame was strong enough to keep me from tipping over, but I reflexively put my own arms around her. For all of her energy and bravado, she felt small, almost fragile. Even if her grip was almost crushing, she was still a girl my own age.
It did not take long to realize I could get very used to this sensation. "If... After all you've done and shown me, how could I not accept you as well ... Haruhi?" I wondered.
She sighed in contentment, relaxing in my arms as I firmed my stance, putting strength back into my knees. After what she'd been through, wouldn't she be stressed, too? Running away from home, having an argument like that with her parents... Hadn't I wanted to maintain this aspect of my life at Kitago? If it had cost her so much, I was going to do my utmost to respect that!
And I'd be able to see Nagato and Asahina-san, too? Come to think of the girl I still owed a book to... Wasn't she also at this school?
"Also," Suzumiya, ah, no. That is, Haruhi. "Also," she said, "I took that library book from you. We'll have to return it before it's late."
The only way the situation could be more perfect was-
And at that moment, the door opened, Koizumi thoughtfully continuing from whatever he was saying in the hall mid-word, "-ould be right in- Oops!"
"Oh, my!" Asahina-san exclaimed, giggling.
Haruhi released me and straightened up, her face red as she faked a cough, unable to hide a smirk. "Well," she declared, "it's only fair that you get to say hello to Kyon as well, Mikuru-chan, Yuki- I suppose we might as well all have lunch together, shouldn't we?"
"So many new recruits!" Koizumi exclaimed.
"Hmm, sure, sure," Haruhi agreed with a grin. "Okay, and on that note, I say that we change the policy. 'Transfer students only' sounds too discriminatory!"
"Don't we need to put that to a vote?" I wondered. After everything I had been through that day, I must have been in mild shock, still.
"Mikuru-chan, Yuki?" Haruhi posed, prompting both of the girls peeking in through the doorway to nod faintly. They hadn't gotten their new Hikami Gakuen uniforms yet, either, my dazed mind noted. "Well - majority rule!"
"That is enough for us to officially be recognized as a club!" Koizumi agreed, gesturing the two girls in the hall inside the room.
"Great! Then there's still time for us to change the name of the club! How about 'SOS Brigade'?"
"Hey, hey, you can't just-"
"Majority rule!" she declared with a wide grin, eyes shining.
"...alright," I allowed, unable to resist smiling back.
Sometimes, we can have our dreams. And if Haruhi was willing to work so hard on making mine come true, the least I could do is return that favor. Wasn't that right?
Author's notes: I hope, despite the unpleasant topic, that this story can be enjoyed. I'd like to thank the Soulriders who helped me write this, and especially Sarsaparilla for giving me the inspiration to try writing this story in the first place.
Thank you for reading!