Chapter 1: The Beginning of Haruhi Suzumiya
It's surprising the things people take for granted in every day life. Take for instance the introduction to a movie. We've been conditioned to accept a slow pan of the landscape accompanied with some quiet introspective music, a random person we can hear but not see starts talking about how they got here or mention some random quote that will eventually become plot significant. The cherry blossoms that fall despite it being the wrong season, the small gust of wind that tousles a stranger's hair but only enough to create a sense of movement, they too are mainstays of fiction. And sure, they may be contrived at times, but we can all appreciate in some small way these humble beginnings. One way or another, we get used to the usual scenery.
There could be thousands of worlds inhabited by aliens—I know one such alien that's a couple doors down from my homeroom so it's not as impossible a thought anymore. Hell, there could be a myriad of different realities I was incapable of sensing yet always just within my grasp but, in the end, I am just a simple human being, watching the world pass me by on the rooftop.
Why was I on the rooftop watching strangers walk up and down the hill that led to my school? Well, it's a pretty simple reason. I just…felt like it.
Okay, so it might not be the most exciting of beginnings. No giant mecha declaring war against Earth has crash-landed right in front of my house. No running away from the police for a crime I most certainly did not commit as I desperately try to find evidence of my innocence. No world-ending catastrophe I must prevent. Still, it was a significant change in my lunchtime routine. Ordinarily, I'd eat with Kunikida and Taniguchi in the classroom or, if the weather was nice, find a spot beneath the tree by the sports field. It's not as though many people go to the rooftop as there are normally teachers supervising the area but that day there were none, and the door was unlocked. I turned the doorknob with ease and stepped out into the warm sunlight and light, gentle breeze.
That's how it all began. With the wind lightly blowing through my hair, the cherry blossom petals floating by, the people in the town and the houses below all in perfect harmony. But my focus wasn't on how perfect this situation was or how cliché it may seem to any passers-by. My focus was on a certain Brigade leader I knew, quietly eating a bento with the world reflected in her eyes. Funny. I don't remember her ever bringing a lunch box before today.
I stepped forward, and Haruhi's head swerved towards me. If I had been attempting to sneak up on her (which I sadly was not) then I would have failed miserably.
"Oh, Kyon!" She looked at my own lunch bag, clutched in my right hand. "Having lunch?"
I shrugged as I sat down next to her, even though I knew perfectly well that the answer was "Yes". I took out my bento from the bag and I couldn't help but compare my lunch with hers. Out of the two of us, mine was meager and boring in presentation. Could this peasant of a lunch really be in the presence of such a godly bento?
Haruhi shrugged too and ate her food. In the silence that ensued, I took it as a sign for me to eat too.
You'd think that a guy and a girl, regardless of their relationship, would have something to say while they're eating lunch on the rooftop on what could've been a very romantic setting for a TV drama, but Haruhi was anything but typical and she was perfectly content in munching loudly right next to me. And sure, I had plenty of conversation starters I could have used but time and experience had taught me that they rarely had the designated effect on Haruhi. In the end, we both said nothing. We just stared at the horizon before us and quietly ate our food.
A few birds fly above our heads heading north. The clouds, like cotton candy at the summer festival that kids would drool over. The sky was an incredibly vivid hue of blue and I couldn't help but be transfixed by the things that lay in a world above mine. Times like this that you truly comprehend the beauty around you. For people like me, those times were well and truly few and far in between.
A couple minutes later when Haruhi's bento box was empty did she (decide to) speak again.
"Hey, Kyon. Have you ever wondered why we're (since she's more casual) here?"
"What, did your parents not give you the talk? When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much…"
"You know that's not what I meant!" Haruhi angrily huffed. "I mean, how did humans come to be on Earth? Perhaps it was the dinosaurs, or maybe aliens?"
"What, nothing about some god creating us? I thought we just evolved from apes."
Haruhi scoffed haughtily. "Scientists say it was evolution and theists say it's because we were made from God but there are so many gaps in both theories. They are just theories that we take to be true because there has yet to be any conclusive evidence to prove either. We will never know for certain."
I hate to say this but Haruhi did kind of have a point. Though I am currently on Team Evolution, it was technically just a theory and until someone proves otherwise, it shall remain a theory. Knowing Haruhi though, the real answer was probably a mixture of the two. A combination of Darwin's theory of evolution mixed in with the interference of a higher being that could, to us mere mortals, might appear like a god. It's not like the time travellers have the answer. They have difficulty going back any earlier than four years ago so to time travel billions and billions of years seemed a bit of a stretch.
I took a bite from my food. The trademark of my mother: good presentation, bland flavor. In the time it took Haruhi to finish her lunch, I ate maybe a third of mine. This conversation was far more interesting than sub par food. "Maybe there is no true answer. Maybe it's both. For all we know, God could have bestowed the power of evolution and that's how humans came to be."
"Yeah, but…don't you ever think there's more to humanity? Can one person really, truly create a universe?"
At this point in time, my head was trying to wrap around the concept of Haruhi unraveling theism and decided that it's best I did not think about the implications. After all, when you start to question the existence of God when you are God yourself…
"Adults have difficulty grasping the concept of a higher cosmic being, let alone trying to figure out if it exists or not. I doubt a bunch of high school students like us will ever find the answer."
…it can lead to some unintended consequences.
Haruhi stared me for a second too long before sighing. "Perhaps you're right."
On the inside I was quietly celebrating my small victory against Haruhi but if I knew better I shouldn't have been so happy and smug about it. When it came to Haruhi, there was always a calm before the storm. Just because she always acts like she's running on solar-powered batteries doesn't mean that she can't be normal and for the past few months, Haruhi had been just that. Normal. Those moments of normalcy with Haruhi, I took them for granted. Like the usual scenery, it became commonplace, a fixture in my life that I never truly appreciated. But this was the longest calm before the storm. Any second now, my world would erupt from the cracks that I had ignored for so long.
Even now, knowing all the signs, there was no way for me to know what storm would be unleashed that day, what fate I had sealed just with a change of my routine.
Haruhi stared at the horizon while I continued to eat in silence, which lasted for about half an hour until the bell rang by which we head on to class. Nothing exciting or memorable happened that day in the classroom. As always, Haruhi dazed off and looked outside but I think perhaps for the first time, she was actually looking. I even caught myself doing it from time to time today, which was a rarity. The trees looked so green and the air felt so inviting and the city never looked so perfect. There was a mystical new essence to this world we inhabited that wasn't there yesterday and it had Haruhi and I hooked. I briefly entertained the idea that today's beauty was an artificial construct made by Haruhi's desires, that she wanted a perfect, beautiful day but I dismissed it. For reasons I wasn't quite sure of, I didn't want to ruin the magic.
After school, I head to the clubroom and played chess with Koizumi for old times' sake. Nothing interesting happened. Haruhi sat at her desk surfing the Internet, her red 'Brigade Chief' armband loud and proud. Asahina-san was making tea and smiling to herself. Nagato was reading the original Russian Transcript of War and Peace. I eventually went home, did a bit of homework, and watched a bit of TV. Just after dinner, Koizumi called me on my phone. I managed to pick it up before my sister could scream into my ear that the phone was ringing. Another small victory I shouldn't have been so happy about.
"Oh thank God, it's you!" Koizumi breathed in a rare fit of panic.
Well. That's one way to say hello.
"Y-yes, yes, I know, that was impolite but..." He took several quick breaths, each succeeding breath longer than the last. "J-just come to Nagato-san's apartment. We need you here. It's urgent."
I couldn't even ask why he's at Nagato's place or why he sounds so panicked before he hung up on me. Already I was worried, not so much because Koizumi urgently requested my presence but because for the life of me, I could not ever recall him sounding so frightened. The man on the phone was nothing like the wannabe model with the plastic smile that I've known these last two years.
I quickly got my shoes on, made an excuse to my parents about why I was going to a girl's house in the middle of a school night, grabbed my bike and headed straight for Nagato's place. Conveniently, the apartment manager had expected my arrival so he buzzed me in. Nagato's door was completely unlocked. In the journey I had almost forgotten the terror in Koizumi's voice that shook me before but I was harshly reminded when I entered the room.
Nagato and Koizumi were there, as was Asahina-san. When I entered the room and they stared at me, I felt a chill. The warm, perfect smile of Asahina-san was gone. Koizumi, normally so confident and self-assured, looked even more afraid than he sounded on the phone as he paced around the room. Even Nagato was visibly frowning.
Normally it was Haruhi's job to be the morale booster but perhaps I could fill the role. "Hey. How's everyone doing?"
No one responded. They all just despondently looked at the floor.
"Is there something I should know?"
Silence was Nagato's reply.
I turned to Asahina-san but she was trying to calm her shaking hands. I even looked at Koizumi, knowing how much he loved to hear his own voice, but even he was unnaturally silent.
Looks like it's up to Nagato to save the day.
She nodded. "Two hours, 47 minutes and 12 seconds ago, the Integrated Data Sentient Entity declared that all humanoid interfaces created by the Sky Canopy Dominion are to be classified as hostile. Any hostile interface must be destroyed on sight."
I'm pretty sure my face went pale. "W-why do you need to take such extreme measures?"
Koizumi glumly chimed in, "Because they declared war."
"The Agency and the rival espers, the Data Overmind and the Sky Canopy Dominion, the time travelers of Asahina-san's future and the time travelers of Fujiwara's future. They've all declared war against each other."
"W-what the hell?" I spluttered out. Six factions declared war on each other. On a Tuesday? What happened today?
"I apologise for not telling you this sooner." Koizumi let out a strained smile. "To be honest, these discussions have been going on for quite some time now. I've been trying to campaign for a compromise within the Agency but I have been unsuccessful. I'm sure the debate between the time travelers and the interfaces have been similarly unsuccessful considering the outcome."
As always I have to be the last one to know things.
"It's not that I did not want to tell you. It's just that I—" Koizumi turned to the girls, "—we did not think the talks would end so badly. War is the last thing we want."
"Classified information, classified information, classified information," Asahina-san rambled nervously to herself.
"So…so when you say 'war', you mean—"
"I mean combat. I mean fighting to the death. I mean bloodshed. The term 'war' is quite a convenient way of describing the events that have occurred."
"It's…" Nagato began.
I turned to Nagato. "What is it?"
"…It is hard to fight against my orders. " Nagato quietly said.
I had to put my foot down—apparently literally, if the shock on everybody's faces meant anything. I felt a little bit guilty for frightening them but it got their attention. I decided to roll with it. "Everybody, start from the beginning. So the espers, aliens, and time travelers are fighting each other. What else?"
Koizumi seemed reluctant to share—for once, might I add. Fortunately, I still had Nagato. "The factions supporting Sasaki have been growing more and more dissatisfied since her powers have been transferred back into Haruhi. They oppose the decision partly because they claim Sasaki is the legitimate inheritor of Haruhi's powers but also because their power has decreased drastically ever since the exchange. The Sky Canopy Dominion has established connection with the rival esper and time traveler factions that support Sasaki. The Integrated Data Sentient Entity did not expect the Sky Canopy Dominion to join forces with outside forces."
The Data Overmind may not be a time traveler but it still had some impressive knowledge at its behest. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. "So what are you going to do about it?"
Nagato shook her head. She had no clue.
She was still quivering in fear. I don't think I'll get much out of her tonight.
"The short answer, Kyon: we don't know." Koizumi said. "The long answer: the Organisation asked me to come up with a plan because they assumed my closeness to Haruhi will perhaps provide me with inspiration on what to do. Unfortunately, said inspiration has not come to me, nor has inspiration hit Asahina-san and Nagato-san, and so we brought you here."
"Why?" I asked blindly.
Koizumi looked at me as though he was regarding me seriously for the first time in his life. "We need your help."
At first, I looked at him with the utmost disdain, thinking he was joking. It took me one more second to realize Koizumi was in fact not joking at all. I was unsure of what kind of face I made, probably a mix of incredulousness and horror.
After a few vaguely coherent sentences, I stopped to take a breath. I always had a sneaking suspicion something as absurd as an all-out war for a goddess was possible. Haruhi made literally anything possible. But even in the realms of Haruhi's wildest dreams, never would she want a war. The whole point of the SOS Brigade was to be friends with the supernatural. She would ultimately want peace, perhaps maybe with a couple of hijinks to keep the thrill of the supernatural alive. It was one of the few good traits about Haruhi. She held no malice for anyone.
And to think a war started all because she was a god. Well…if the Crusades have taught me anything, this isn't the first or last war to occur because of a difference in faith.
This was the part of the story where the protagonist is given his sacred mission to serve and protect whatever he must, well, serve and protect. He's given reasons why, often provoked to act by a father figure or a teacher figure or his friends. For a long time, I was the stoic side character, the forgettable face in the crowd, and now I have suddenly been promoted to protagonist status. Truth be told, I'd rather preferred being the side character. I don't have to worry about conflicts too often, I don't have to worry about juggling school with my other responsibilities, and most importantly, I don't have to worry about making speeches.
But I guess every protagonist starts somewhere. This just so happened to be mine.
"You have to prevent the fighting."
Everyone turned to look at me, all with a mixture of inquisitiveness and worry.
I sighed out loud. "Look, I'm just a normal human being, you all know that but as far as Sasaki is concerned, she is too. If the hostilities between the aliens get any worse, they may bring the conflict out into our world, the real world." I gesture to the park outside Nagato's window. "The human world. And there's no need for humans to get involved in this war, right?"
Koizumi placed his hand on his chin as he always does when he's seriously thinking. "Hmm, there is a possibility that the ensuing infighting might cause one faction to decide to just tell Haruhi of her power. And I'm not sure Haruhi-san is…" He shook his head with a nervous laugh and a far too tight smile. "It's nothing. Forgive me."
I couldn't help but feel slightly offended by the way Koizumi spoke, as though Haruhi couldn't take care of herself. She had shown over these last few months that she was capable of maturity. I never subscribed myself to the theory that the universe would implode if Haruhi learned of her powers. I had faith in her. It's stupid to think she was that selfish.
"More importantly, this just proves the point that I was making to the Organisation." Koizumi continued. "If we wish to take action against this new threat, we need an unbiased leader who is capable of combining our three individual factions under one banner. Someone who is close to Suzumiya-san."
It's not a bad idea actually. As long as they know what they're doing, that's probably as good an idea as you can get.
Asahina-san nodded, the first glimmer of a smile blooming on her face like the first light of dawn. "That…sounds like a good plan."
Nagato moved her head up and down a fraction of a centimeter. "I approve."
"If everyone's in agreement, I think it is settled then. We shall find someone to lead us through this crisis." Koizumi announced.
We all agreed. This was a good plan. I don't think such a powerful person should exist that controls the three factions but I think in desperate times, it could work. I just had to have faith that one of us knew the right person for the job.
"Then if I may, I nominate Kyon for the job."
Apparently, Koizumi thought it was me.
"Huh?" was all I was dumbly able to vocalize.
Asahina-san jumped up and down her seat a little in delight. "Oh, that's a brilliant idea. Kyon could make a very good leader."
"N-now, hold on." I try and make up an excuse for why I'd make a horrible leader in the face of war but 'Neon Genesis Evangelion' was not a sufficient argument in and of itself, no matter how much the series was eerily going to resemble my future.
Nagato blinked rapidly three times. I recently taught her to use that signal whenever the Data Overmind had just talked to her. Said Data Overmind clearly had something to say.
"The Integrated Data Entity approves."
Well. There go my hopes and dreams for world peace.
"So we are all in agreement then? It should not be too difficult for me to campaign to the Organisation our desires for Kyon to take charge in this matter. In that case, I think we can leave."
Koizumi and Asahina-san rose from their seat to leave but with a firm "Hey!" and the wave of my hands they slowly sat down again.
"What's wrong, Kyon-kun?"
"Don't look at me as though I'M the crazy one. You're literally asking me to be the mediator and leader of three completely separate factions in the midst of what is essentially a war. I can't do this!"
"B-Because this is crazy! I'm just a high school student and an average one at that. I'm not good at sports and I'm not good with academics. All I am is a random normal guy who is forced to stick around Haruhi, that's it. You can't expect me to suddenly become a leader and be GOOD at it."
"You should not worry. With the espers' support, we shall provide any assistance you may need. Training and tutoring can be provided and there shall of course be others in your aid. None of us expect you to do this alone." Koizumi chuckled to himself before adding, "I nearly forget about your impressive board game skills. That suggests a mind for strategy, right?"
That doesn't really settle the unearthly sickness in my stomach.
Asahina-san moved up from her seat and placed a gentle, comforting hand on my shoulder. "I-I'm not sure if this might help but I think you can do this, Kyon-kun."
That makes one of us. But if it's from Asahina-san's lips, I'm rather inclined to believe it.
I turned to Nagato, who had been patiently waiting to speak. "Nagato-san?"
Her tone was unexpressive. "You should do it."
Warm words of encouragement from Nagato there.
Oh, why was I even contemplating this? I never had a proper leadership role in my life. The closest was when I got nominated to be 'it' in a game of tag some ten years ago. Suddenly everything I faced before seemed far easier to go through. Celestials threatening to attack me? Bring it on. Aliens want to kill me? I can handle them. Public speaking? Sure, I'll give it a crack but this? THIS?! This felt far beyond anything I ever faced.
Perhaps this was an ironic twist of fate. Most of my time in the Brigade, I had been the helper, a pawn to plans made by others that were far bigger than I could have ever imagined. Now the tables had turned and those very people who I followed like a sheep now looked to me for guidance and for a brief moment, I wanted to repay that debt. I wanted to repay all my friends (yes, I'm including Koizumi in this list) for their help in basically keeping me alive and well and maintaining, well…peace.
I allowed that thought to linger and the cracks showed on my face. Koizumi smiled knowingly with that annoying smile of his. "Made a decision?"
You know, this could count as peer pressure, and that could have a harmful effect on my present and future behaviour.
"Kyon-kun," Asahina-san squeezed my shoulder slightly. "Do you want to do this?"
I could've said no, even though by now that was a lie. I could have given the whole truth, which was "I don't know" but even that; I was incapable of saying it. Instead, I said something else that locked my fate with something far worse and far more impressive than I ever thought possible.
I said "Maybe".
"Maybe" was just as good as me saying "Hell yes".
After a debriefing of what may come, including but not limited to a video call scheduled for 5pm tomorrow, we all said our goodbyes and left. Out of the four of us, I had arrived at Nagato's apartment with the happiest of moods but left the most drained. I knew exactly what I had signed up to and it filled me with a boiling sense of dread.
After a tiring trip back home, I immediately headed straight for my bedroom and fished out my phone from my pocket. I felt the need to call or text someone to talk about all the stuff that had just occurred. I contemplated texting Sasaki but after hearing the stories of her new boyfriend, I decided against it, not wishing to incur the wrath of a potentially possessive guy. Talking to Tsuruya felt even more tiring than normal. Kunikida and Taniguchi were definitely out. So that really only left Haruhi to talk to.
I decided to call her. The phone rang three times before I heard a distinctive click. "Hello?"
Ah, that familiar annoyed voice I had practically memorized by heart. "It's me." I said.
"Kyon…?" I could hear her rub the sand out of her eyes. Sorry for disturbing your sleep, Haruhi.
"Just wanted to chat. Is it…OK?"
"W-why are you calling your Brigade chief for such a trivial matter?"
I'm wondering the same. Why DID I call you?
Haruhi sighed. "Well, since I am a kind and benevolent Brigade chief, I shall make an exception. What is it?"
"I'm, er, in a bit of a pickle."
There was silence on the line. "Are you in jail?" She asked bluntly.
"Why do you think I'm in jail? Also, if I were in jail, wouldn't I call from an unknown number instead of my cell phone? Also, I haven't memorized your phone number by heart."
"Well you should!" Haruhi screeched into the phone. "Anyway, if you're not in jail but you're in trouble, what is it? Do you need help?"
"If I did need help, you don't sound like you're all that willing to come help me."
"Kyon!" She screeched into the phone.
"Yeah, sorry, sorry." I sighed. "Look, it is trivial but um…well, to put it bluntly, one thing led to another and now some friends of mine want me to be the leader of this new…thing."
Haruhi paused again. "What 'thing'?"
"I don't know." I answered truthfully. "It's just a lot of work. I wouldn't normally do it but they really do need me and I just can't say no. For once, everybody is looking up to me for help and it's…" I cut myself off.
I didn't want to admit to Haruhi of all people that I was frightened. It had nothing to do with my pride but I was ashamed that out of everything I had ever experienced, this was what I was most frightened of. Perhaps before I had adrenaline to keep me going and a unit of reliable allies by my side to help me out of whatever conundrum I got myself into but now, I don't have any of that. I had to rely on my own wits, waiting and praying that something in the future doesn't happen. It's scary not knowing what to expect.
In hindsight, Haruhi probably understood that feeling better than anyone I knew. Still, I did not clarify myself.
"Is this going to affect your attendance in the Brigade?"
"Why? I thought I was merely the resident mook of the Brigade. The peasant, if you will."
"Even the greatest leaders in the world are useless without a capable army on their side. Because of your low standing, you need to get more points, Kyon! I can't have you skipping out because you have other duties to do."
What, like saving the world? Keeping world order? Making sure aliens and time travelers and espers don't kill each other? "But of course. Important things like sleep and family must yield before you."
"Don't be ridiculous, Kyon. Sleep and family is just as important as your brigade duties."
I suppose that's a bit of a step up. "I don't think it's going to affect my brigade duties, don't worry. And if it does, I'll let you know in advance."
"That's good…" Haruhi sighed. I could swear she sounded quite relieved that I was staying.
"So I guess I'm doing it then."
"I guess you are."
There was silence on the line and all I could hear was her faint breathing. I only realized until now I had been pacing my room. I turn off the lights and toss away my shirt. I'm too drained to change into pyjamas. I'm also self-conscious of the possibility that Haruhi could hear me change my clothes through the phone.
"Is that all?" Haruhi asked quietly.
Damn her unnatural perceptiveness. "No." I admit. "This is all a bit new for me."
"I'm not surprised."
"I'd be surprised if you were surprised."
I imagined around this time Haruhi was putting on her thinking face. "Come to think of it, the closest you've ever came to a leader role in the brigade was when you edited the film last year with me. Not that you did much."
"I literally spent that entire time lugging around stuff for you. And at least the film got edited and finished. Oh, and I put the disclaimer through. That was me participating."
"But you haven't shown initiative, Kyon. In fact, you haven't shown any inkling that you even want to be a leader! So maybe if you want to do a good job for whatever it is you're doing, maybe you should practice with the Brigade?"
"What are you saying?"
There was another short pause on the line. "…I'll make a Brigade meeting and for now you shall be 'temporary acting leader'."
I blinked. "What does that mean for me?"
"It means you are going to run the Brigade. I, of course, have the complete authority to overrule anything you make but otherwise the Brigade is now in your hands. Whatever you decree shall be done."
"H-Hey, that might be a bit too much, Haruhi." Managing one unorganized motley group was already a headache but two is just absurd. I scratched my head as I thought of an alternative. "How about this? You run the Brigade as normal and maybe you can let me be in charge of the city searches."
"Absolutely not. You will abuse your power and group up with Mikuru-chan all the time."
Haruhi said that as though she had never abused her power before. Of course, I knew otherwise.
"Fine. Not the city searches." I said. "Perhaps you can put me in charge as 'temporary acting leader' in certain Brigade activities for experience. Not much but something to wet my toes, so to speak."
Haruhi hummed as she considered this. When the humming stopped, she spoke once more. "…You're scared, aren't you?"
It would be an understatement to say I did not expect her to say that. I knew Haruhi was perceptive but even now, I underestimate just how intelligent she could be when she was paying attention. It was a cruel irony that Haruhi was an expert at discovering the most minor detail in this normal world but when it came to the supernatural, she was utterly blind. Still, I had to hand it to her. Much as I hate to admit it, she was right. I was scared.
"No wonder you're so on edge tonight." She mumbled softly. Louder, she added, "Well don't be scared. As your great Brigade leader, I shall put you under my wing. I will personally impart my wise advice upon you."
I couldn't help but smile. "You don't have to do that, Haruhi."
"I want to. Being a leader is not easy for everybody. It's not for the faint of heart."
"I know but..." I shook my head. "No, don't bother. I probably won't be any good." I guess I count as one of those who are 'faint of heart' then because I don't think I have the guts for a role like this. Some people were just born to lead and others were just born to follow and I was of the latter category. Taking charge just seemed too daunting. Too frightening, I guess you could say.
"Look, I know you have your reservations but just…give it a try." Haruhi said in a rare, sympathetic tone. "This might be new for you but it sounds like it's really important. People are counting on you now and you don't want to disappoint them. So…don't give it up until you try. If you want to be a great leader, I can help you out."
"Really?" I asked hopefully.
"Yeah." Haruhi said. "I don't think you need my help though, Kyon. If you work hard, you can do well and in time, you will do fine. The more you do it, the better you become. You don't have to be perfect, you just have to make use of the people you are in charge of." She put her hand to the receiver and mumbled under her breath but in the absolute silence of my bedroom in night I could hear her last words. "…You might be as good as me."
I put my own hand to my mouth to stop my laugh coming through the receiver. In the next room I think I could hear my sister stir. I heard the sound of two doors opening and one closing. The running of the taps from the bathroom was faint but audible.
To keep up the pretense of being asleep I sat down on the bed. My parents are sure to be on my case for the excessive phone bill this month but I couldn't honestly care less. "Were you ever scared? You know, being a leader?"
The sound of paper filled my ears for the next thirty seconds, no doubt Haruhi trying to find something. I deduced it was a photo album of some kind, as I could hear the distinctive flip of paper and plastic, a classic staple of all cheap photo albums. I knew it was cheap because my grandparents had a lot of cheap photo albums in their house and would always bring one out whenever my family visited them on Golden Week.
At around the 15th flip, Haruhi stopped. In my head, I imagined her tracing a finger over a photograph. Her voice was reflective, melancholic. "When I was eight, I hated group assignments. My primary school was one of those that tried to promote 'friendship' and 'teamwork' but honestly, we were all too self-absorbed to even think about working together as a team. All of my classmates were stupid so when group assignments came in, I did all the work. And though I didn't like it, I did it, and I got good grades, which were all I really cared about at that time."
"What? You didn't believe in Santa back then?"
"Of course I did. I just didn't care about his existence until now." Haruhi said, as though I should have already known this intimate detail of her childhood. "Anyway, it was all good until we had to do speeches."
"Oh." I remarked. I never much liked speeches as a kid either. I had a feeling I knew where this story would go.
"So, obviously it's another group assignment and again, I've done all the work. Since it was my first speech, I researched how to do speeches, wrote out palm cards and I rehearsed. I even got my parents to listen to me so they could give me help. This was my first speech and I was going to make it perfect. Of course, everyone had to contribute to the speech so I already wrote up everybody's parts and I knew everybody was going to suck so I just had to make sure I did my part great. And I did…in practice, at least. In front of the classroom, however, on the day of the presentation, I froze. One of the girls in my group had to try cue for me but I was too scared. I messed up so many words, my pacing was terrible, and in the end I just barely scraped a pass grade."
"Ouch, that must have been rough." All of a sudden, I felt like I should interject with my own personal childhood story of some disastrous mistake I made but there were too many to count and honestly, I was too engrossed in Haruhi's story to even speak outside of the occasional one word remarks.
"I was horrified. I didn't want that to happen again. I told my parents over and over again I want to make sure I didn't freeze up on the spot again. Eventually, they took me to a drama club for kids. I was still a bit nervous and fumbled my lines a bit but over time, I came to like the spotlight. In the spotlight, the world is all blacked out and all the light is on you. People look up at you, all enthralled and entranced, and you are just letting out all those words you kept bottled up. I didn't get nervous the next speech nor the speech after that."
I guess that's where Haruhi's theatrics came from: the theatre. Of course, it's one of those things that seemed so obvious when you knew the answer even though you were utterly clueless before. How did I not see this?
"Perhaps you won't do the exact same thing like me but from my experience, it takes time and practice. If I could go from completely useless to confident then you can too. And with time, you might make a great leader that will make everyone proud."
I couldn't help but smile. Hearing Haruhi say such warm, nice things about me? I liked it. Made me feel…I don't know. Special? "You have that much faith in me?"
"Absolutely." She said with complete confidence in my abilities. "You are, after all, part of the SOS Brigade."
I chuckled. Her words held more meaning than she intended. I was a part of the SOS Brigade. I was a part of a group that consisted of one cute time traveler, one stoic alien, one annoying but well meaning esper, and of course its leader, the goddess incarnate. I, the normal human with absolutely no special abilities, was a part of that group. In a way that made me special, to be privy to this knowledge and to experience this world so many had dreamed of witnessing. Of course, I was still useless, and no better than a soundboard to vent ideas to, but I had a role. I was still a member of the Brigade.
I suddenly realized in that moment that I had forgotten about the stress I felt moments earlier. I could breathe easier. Haruhi's words comforted me, in their own strange, warped way. Maybe it wasn't a mistake after all to call her.
"…Thanks." I said simply. "For everything you said."
She sharply inhaled, causing a small crackle of static on my old, hand-me-down phone. I waited for her reply and when she did speak her voice was uncharacteristically quiet. Her voice was but a whisper, as if she did not want anyone other than me to hear it. "You're welcome."
I let out a small smile, safe in the knowledge that Haruhi would never see it.
Haruhi and I chatted for a bit longer, mostly about recent assignments and TV shows we had recently watched. Though it was partly due to my addition to the conversation, I was acutely aware that Haruhi was purposely avoiding any topics relating to my new leadership role and what it meant. I think it was the first time I've heard Haruhi be careful with her choice of words. In all honesty, the extra effort Haruhi was putting into the conversation was unnecessary, but that did not mean I didn't appreciate what she was trying to do because I did. It was a small gesture that only I understood and that made this moment all the more precious.
I glanced at the clock and realized how late it was, which I remarked upon out loud. We quickly exchanged goodbyes and then we hung up. I laid my head on the pillow and I stared at the ceiling, contemplating just what was going to occur, my body tired but my mind racing. No matter where I took my thoughts it all lead down the same road, I couldn't help but liken my situation to that of some ridiculous book or manga.
I used to believe in Santa and all things supernatural. For so long I searched for any signs of the supernatural, just like Haruhi did, until I stopped one day. Then a few years later, the espers, aliens, and time travelers I had stopped searching for came to me. Perhaps this was a sign that I was destined for greatness or something. Maybe I did have some crazy power inside of me all along. Maybe I am a slider; maybe I've got some magic abilities of my own. But no, that was just me being delusional. I was normal and for the first time in a long while, I wished I wasn't. For almost two years now, I had been coasting, stumbling my way out of a situation whenever possible. Haruhi was at the center of it all and I was willing to let her keep that spotlight. She was the protagonist of her monstrosity of a story and I was merely a side character. I was content with that. I was happy with that. But now popularity dictates that I must get a spinoff series of my own. And of all the plots that could have been chosen for me…I shudder to think of the ones that were rejected.
I stayed up late that night, wondering why I even agreed, wondering why I didn't fight back, wondering what I was doing this for. My ceiling did not enlighten me one bit, nor did the darkness behind my eyelids. In my dreams, I had a vivid dream of Haruhi, bathed in golden light, floating in the air just above my outstretched arms, as I stood ready to catch her. When I woke up that Wednesday morning, seven minutes before my alarm clock was supposed to go off, I had this strange gut feeling that my dream was a premonition of something to come but I shrugged it off as just an incredibly vivid dream.
Of course, you can probably guess by now but I should have listened to that gut feeling. I wouldn't know until it was too late just how right and just how wrong that premonition really was.