Miss Asahina's voice was the first one I heard as consciousness slowly returned.
"Kyon! You're back!"
Slowly, my vision focused and I saw her tear-streaked face beaming down at me. Koizumi and Nagato came to stand next to her. I had arrived in the clubroom, lying in the same spot I had been in when I had abruptly departed into closed space. I started to push myself up off the table and, even though I really didn't need it, Koizumi helped me down .
When I was finally standing and confident that I would remain so, I asked, "How long was I gone for?"
Nagato was the first to answer. "Nineteen minutes."
Not even a half hour. Was that really all? I walked to the window, suddenly anxious.
"Did it work?"
"Well," Koizumi replied. "It's hard to say. We certainly can't rule out the theory that the world has been affected slightly. If I had to guess though, I think the world as we know it is safe for another day."
I stared out through the glass. It was dark, lit only by the street lamps outside. There was nothing bizarrely out of place: no dinosaurs, no UFO landing pads, no purple trees. I wasn't really worried, to be honest. Haruhi was more stable than they sometimes gave her credit for, and it wasn't like any of those things had been her motivation for the closed space anyway. I mostly felt guilty that back with her, what would happen to the world afterward really hadn't been on my mind.
Koizumi came close and spoke very quietly in my ear, sounding oddly grave. "Kyon, Asahina told us what happened in the past."
"While I'm almost glad that my theory was incorrect, I'm afraid I still feel at fault for some of your misfortune. I had my suspicions about Derrick's loyalties within the Organization, and I should not have introduced you to him."
I looked him over. His serious attitude of the past few days was really starting to weird me out. "Don't worry about it. It actually helped, believe it or not."
He hesitated, then smiled. I should have known his serious face wouldn't last. "So, about what happened now, in closed space?"
"You're too close." Sorry, Koizumi. Not on your life.
I waved slightly, and walked away, spotting my bag underneath the table. "I better go."
This was only partially true. I really did have to leave. My mother was probably worried out of her mind by now. But, I mostly really wanted to check out something outside first, despite it being entirely irrational.
"Oh, that's right!" Miss Asahina squeaked. "Will your mother be all right, Kyon?"
"If you like, I can have the Organization take care of it," Koizumi answered for me. "It'll even help to clear up any questions about your recovery."
Damn. I really did have to take his help. Then again, did I really mind, or was even that just a part of the waiting game?
I guess I had a lot to learn. "Go ahead. Thanks."
Apparently not expecting it, he stared for a second before nodding and turning abruptly, phone already out and ready. I grabbed my bag and started towards the door, but Nagato went first and so I paused to properly say goodbye to Miss Asahina.
"Be safe." Miss Asahina offered awkwardly. She was cutely holding her arm around her back, and I couldn't help but think of her older self for some reason. She also seemed like she had something else to say, but I was in a rush. Perhaps some other time.
I was surprised to find, however, that I didn't really mind if she never told me at all.
I waved, and went into the hallway, rushing after Nagato.
She stopped, but did not turn around.
"Back when Miss Asahina and I came back, she said something about you getting into trouble. Is it something I can fix?"
It was a moment before she spoke. "Negative. There is no problem."
"I am not allowed to heal by reconstructing data unless it is a mortal injury. In your case, it was not directly mortal, but it contributed to your over-all ability to survive as well as your ability to return the Data Integration Thought Entity's opportunity for autonomous evolution. No problem."
That made a surprising amount of sense, although to be fair, I was growing quite adept at Nagato speech. "Well, thank you, anyway."
She walked away. Whether there was a "you're welcome" meant by that was unclear, but I had other things to worry about right now.
When I finally made it to the courtyard, I hadn't actually been expecting anything. It was a silly whim, a foolhardy hope that had popped up when I had glanced out the window. I really hadn't expected it to be true or anything.
I'm telling you this so you can see why I was surprised to find Haruhi lying underneath the tree.
Walking up behind her, I said, "Hey" and sat down beside her, grinning for absolutely no reason at all. She turned to me and grinned back.
"Isn't it a bit late, Haruhi?"
"Don't be stupid. I woke up here, same as you, and decided to wait around for a bit."
"Nobody, idiot. What are you trying to imply?"
I smirked, then remembered. There was something important I had to say. "Haruhi, about what happened. I don't think you should mention it to the others."
"Why not? Obviously we have to find out how it works! We've been sent there twice, and this time I was even given some kind of reign. Obviously we are being told by a higher power that it's our destiny; you see it all the time in epic stories!" She was excited now, her one of a kind smile shining like a spotlight in the darkness.
"Don't tell me you're planning another city walk." Oh well. I knew there was no way to make her forget about what happened, and Koizumi would certainly agree. As long as he didn't realize how much she knew about it, it would be all right.
"Very good work, Kyon! Keep this up and you just might rise up through the ranks! I hadn't even thought of that!"
I sighed, but only half-heartedly. "Can we at least wait until after the big English test?"
"If you're actually planning on studying for once—"
"—No, I was just casually bringing it up for no reason."
"Then I'll just have to help you."
I blinked as she smacked me in the shoulder. Just a short while ago, she'd been quiet and still. Was what I said really enough to garner such confidence? No, there had to be more to it than that. She was looking at me with a slightly evaluating eye.
Was she trying to help me?
"I guess I can handle that." I stood up, brushing the seat of my pants. "Right now, though, I think we should get going."
I reached out a hand. "Come on, I'll walk you home."
Haruhi hesitated for a second and no longer. She smirked and, grabbing it, pulled herself up. She didn't let go until we made it to her stop.
But then, I can't honestly say I minded in the slightest.
I'm standing on the edge of me.
Standing on the edge of me.
I'm standing on the edge of everything I've never been before.
And I've been standing on the edge of me;
Standing on the edge.
--"On Fire", from Switchfoot
For the lawyers of the world, I do not own the preceding song and am not making any profit on its usage. For the more annoying people of the world (although I don't think any readers that have been so kind as to review are among this group), I am quite aware that the intended themes of this song are religious. However, that is the beauty of music and literature: there's the correct way, obviously, but one can also interpret it on a personal level.
I'd also like to take this time to thank both the usual and unusal suspects. I would like to thank the anonymous readers who never review, because at least you're reading which means a lot. I would like to thank all the reviewers for taking the time to be just that and offering bits of constructive critisism and nitpicks with the praise. I especially want to thank Alchemy Otaku. There were a lot of repeat reviews, but while I'm not exactly a brilliant mathematician, I believe she has reviewed most often by doing so for every chapter after chapter three. Therefore, she wins in this contest with no prize and no real stakes. Yay, her.
I would like to thank Nagaru Tanigawa for creating these characters and this universe, and Kyoto Animation for doing a brilliant job animating it.
And, as always, I want to thank Audley, who has helped with this story far more than I think she even realizes. She doesn't just beta; she uses her own incredible writing ability to help develop what doesn't want to be developed, word what doesn't want to be worded, and reword what I have screwed up because of my own idiocy. No power in the 'verse can stop her, to quote Firefly, and for that I say thank you, thank you, and thank you again.
Now, for her note, which is silly and unnecessary because she need not be so hard on herself but she asks be put in regardless:
If you want to blame anyone for the extreme tardiness of these last three chapters, blame me. If you're the kind of person who gets really ticked off about laziness and late chapters, feel free to send me a message explaining exactly how ticked off you are and why it is totally irresponsible of me to take so long just to beta a few short chapters. I welcome your abuse. I won't even rebut it with my pre-prepared argument that I keep ready in case of such an emergency.
Seriously though, I am sorry it took so long. I've apologized to Esbee numerous times, and now I apologize to you, dear readers, for it is my fault you have been denied from this lovely fic for so long. I know how frustrating it is waiting for a story you really like to update.
Perhaps I blow things out of proportion. Perhaps not. I hope you will accept my apology nonetheless and keep reading Esbee's fics regardless.
Audley the Lowly and Lazy Beta
Yes, send her messages. Messages proclaiming her belated glory. Many thanks, yet again.
Until we meet again, guys.