Strangely enough, it was Ibe's voice that brought him back. Like it was coming to him through deep water, he heard the gangster cussing at the top of his lungs about how he was going to murder the son of a bitch who had stolen his car. Though it seemed no one else was taking this threat very seriously. (He did sort of bring it on himself for never locking his doors, they were quick to remind him.)
For some reason Tetsuya couldn't immediately understand, Ibe's ranting—which he would usually have found somewhat comical—filled him with an inexplicable sense of anxiety. He blinked open his eyes, only to have them focus on the light fixture in the ceiling in the young master's room. Though he must have seen it a million times, for some reason it looked all weird, like when you return to some place after a long holiday and have to readjust—
But wasn't that exactly what had happened? Even though he could only remember bits and pieces, here and there, of his strange trip back in time with the young master, he did remember that it had all seemed so impossibly real. Could it really have been just a dream all along?
And if that were the case, where exactly was he?
"Oh, hey, you're finally awake! Welcome back to the land of the living."
It was Kasanoda, who got up from where he had been absently reading a comic book to sit by Tetsuya's side. He was a sight for sore eyes—and sore everything else, as Tetsuya soon discovered when he tried unsuccessfully to sit up.
Kasanoda's smile quickly turned to concern. "Whoa, there. Don't stress yourself out."
"What am I doing in bed?" Tetsuya was surprised by his own voice, which sounded tired and creaky, like a long-unused faucet. "What am I doing in your bed? What happened?"
"You must've come down with something from your walk home in the rain. You've been out cold with a fever all day." Kasanoda grinned sheepishly. "And you're always giving me a bad time about remembering an umbrella."
For some reason, the mention of the umbrella made Tetsuya's head hurt. He raised a hand to his head only to find a cold compress there already.
"How long . . ."
"Since last night. At least, that's what they tell me. I really wanted to be here to make sure you were all right, but Dad made me go to class. Said he'd have the guys keep me updated if you came out of it while I was away." At Tetsuya's blank look, he blinked. "You . . . you passed out, man. During Hey!Hey!Hey!, in the living room. You really don't remember?"
Tetsuya shook his head.
"I was having this dream," he said, as much to himself as the young master, "and you were there, Waka, and Morinozuka, and this singing cross-dresser. . . . And we were riding an elephant with a tanuki . . . Huh. That's funny."
When he trailed off, the vacant look on his face prompted the young master to ask: "What is?"
Tetsuya blinked up at him. "It feels like there's this crucial part of the whole thing that I just can't for the life of me remember. That's what's so weird. I mean, when I was having the dream, it seemed so realistic, like I wasn't dreaming at all, like we were really doing . . . well, whatever it was. It's just. . . ."
That was it—the terrible, sinking feeling in his stomach. The unplaceable something that made his chest ache and made him want to dig into his brain with his own hands like he'd just lost his house key in the mud. "I feel like there's something I wanted to tell you—something really important—but now I can't remember what it is."
"If it's that important, I'm sure it will come back to you."
Kasanoda said so easily enough, but for some reason, that only made it harder for Tetsuya.
"Oh, that reminds me. Hey, Tetsuya? Did you have another fight with your father or something?"
Then it hit him. That was it. That was what had happened in his dream. Except, that particular part had happened before the slip back in time, and all the misadventures that had followed. It all came rushing back then: how he had watched his father die, how the blood had stuck to his skin as he tried to wash it off in the rain. . . .
However realistic it was, the rest must have been a pleasant hallucination he invented to ease his conscience, but now he could run from reality no longer. He had to face what he'd done.
He sat up so fast all the blood rushed to his head. Kasanoda steadied him by his shoulder. How could he tell the young master what he had done? For the matter, what if Kasanoda already knew? Wasn't that why he had asked about the fight? He must have heard about the Sendou boss's death and figured it out for himself.
"I'm sorry, Waka—"
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Ever since that day you found me on the street, I've tried so hard to make something of myself that you could be proud of, something that would prove you were right to take me in, but I'm afraid I've let you down. No, no need to sugar-coat it. I've failed you this time. Big time." The way Kasanoda was staring at him like he'd lost his mind wasn't helping any, but it had to be said. "I've betrayed the trust you've put in me, and for that I can't expect to ever be forgiven. But I'm ready to own up to what I did. I'm going to pay for it one way or another, and if you give me the chance, I'm going to try to make it up to you. For as long as I live."
"What are you talking about so seriously?" Kasanoda said, giving him a strange look. "Whatever happened between you two, it didn't sound on the phone like it was anything that bad—"
"On the phone?"
"Yeah. Your dad called a little while back. I guess he was feeling bad for something that happened. He sounded really worried when he heard you'd come down with a fever, anyway. I think he was afraid you'd catch your death of cold because of him or something. I don't know what happened between you two, but whatever it was, you should call him back when you're feeling a little more up to it. Let him know you're okay, at least."
Then Tetsuya couldn't hold it back anymore. Either his body was more worn out than he realized, or everything that had happened in what he still found it hard to believe was just his dream caught up to him all at once. Either way, he couldn't stop the tears from pouring out if he tried. He lay back against the pillow and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, though he knew he couldn't keep the young master from noticing.
"Then it didn't happen," he choked out. "There's still time—I didn't do it—"
The young master looked more concerned than ever. "What are you talking about? Hey, calm down, Tetsuya. You don't want your fever to go up again."
He remembered the ice pack in the towel and pressed it to Tetsuya's forehead again. His touch was so gentle, Tetsuya couldn't help but ask, "Why are you so nice to me, Waka? It's not like I've done anything to deserve it."
"Of course you do."
"Yeah, right. . . ."
Kasanoda seemed taken aback. "Well, yeah, you do. Every day. You're always there when I've had a rough day and need someone to unload on, always smiling even when I'm acting like such a dick. . . ." He let out a breath, his eyes locked bashfully on his own knees. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, I love you, man."
Tetsuya wiped his cheek. "Really?"
"I-in a totally manly way, of course."
"Of course," Tetsuya chuckled. "Not that it wouldn't be alright if it were in a not-so-platonic way, too, though, right?"
Kasanoda just laughed. "Hey, don't be weird. You had me scared enough as it was there for a while, what with all that nonsense you were talking in your sleep—"
"Yeah. Something about Ise, I think," the young master said as though to himself. "I never knew you wanted to go so bad. If you want, I could arrange for the gang to go there over spring break. I'm sure at least Ibe would—"
"No, that's okay! I mean," Tetsuya revised when Kasanoda knitted his brows, "it's nice of you to offer and all, but I think I'd much rather stay here. In the twenty-first century."
"Uh . . . okay."
By the unsure, lopsided half-smile on his face, the young master really must have thought Tetsuya had lost it now. But Tetsuya didn't care.
"Waka?" one of Kasanoda's men's voices could be heard from the other side of the door. "You expecting company?"
"Yah, Bossa Nova-cchi, we're here!" came a voice Tetsuya vaguely recognized.
Then another: "Pardon the intrusion!"
They exchanged glances, the young master shooting him a guilty look. "Er, sorry in advance for this. I might've kinda-sorta mentioned something about you being sick at school, and, well . . ."
The door flew open before he could explain any further, and Suou Tamaki swooped in with the Hitachiin twins and Fujioka following close behind. Tetsuya hadn't seen much of them since that day he'd barged in on the young master's private meeting with the host club, but he knew enough for the sight of Fujioka to bring back a brief pang of jealousy. It was even worse now that he could see she was a girl. Like the proverbial scales had fallen from his eyes, he wondered why it hadn't been more obvious before.
Strange, then, how he was actually glad to see her face, like running into an old friend you never expected to see again.
"So, this is the patient? How you feeling, champ?" Suou asked Tetsuya, to which the louder of the twins added, "Sorry for barging in like this, but when he told us what happened, we just had to come pay our respects."
"You mean dug in your heels and had to be dragged here, don't you? And don't phrase it that way, he's not dying. You'd think for the so-called upper crust of society you'd have a little more tact."
The twins bristled under Fujioka's criticism (and Suou was adamant he hadn't dug anything in; it had been his idea to come in the first place), but she was all smiles for Tetsuya as she set a parcel down on the bedside table, completely oblivious to how Oharu-ish she sounded.
Or perhaps, he corrected himself, that was just her being plain old Haruhi-ish.
"I made some kimchi soup when I heard. It's not much, just something I whipped together in the home ec kitchen, but I'm told it's just about the best thing you can eat when you have a fever. I hope you don't mind."
"N-not at all." Tetsuya felt a tad flustered by the generosity. Maybe he was wise to view her as a rival after all. "Thanks. That was a really thoughtful thing for you to do. I mean, for someone you only met, like, once."
"Hey, any friend of Casanova's."
"And after all, it's got 'feel better' right in the name," said Suou. "Get it? Kimchi? Kimochi-ii?"
"Ugh! That's bad, even for you, milord," said Hikaru, and even Fujioka had to shake her head at her upperclassman.
He opened his mouth to defend himself, but at the same moment Kaoru sneezed into his sleeve. It was so strong and body-wracking, even Kasanoda and Tetsuya had to wince in empathy just hearing it.
"Uh-oh," said Hikaru. "Hope you're not coming down with anything. Got any more of that soup, Haruhi?"
"It's not that. . . ." But Kaoru did grab the back of his neck as a sudden chill ran down his spine. "This is gonna sound weird, but I just got the creepiest feeling ever, like I was in two places at once. Didn't you feel it, too, Hikaru?"
"Well, come to think of it. . . ."
And somewhere, in a star system far away, space aliens cursed the inadequacies of their technology, which for being so advanced was nevertheless no match for a couple of devious, not-so-handicapped twins, dressed for Edo Japan, and flying a hijacked yellow Vespa—which miraculously never seemed to run out of fuel.