It was the day before the dances. Haruhi had decided not to train the previous day as it was, to quote her, 'too late in the evening to teach idiots' (this comment being aimed at me, of course). She also wanted to properly prepare for the lesson, seeing as she would be the instructor. At the time, no one even knew if she was any good at it, but seeing as this was Haruhi, she would do it anyways even if she did indeed suck at it just as long as she had her set mind on it, but then again, I don't think there's anything this girl can't do. Her and her stupid god powers. No one can be that good at everything otherwise, can they?
She had sent me early to the clubroom to clear out enough space to practice. I had told her there wasn't enough space, but she had denied my idea of moving somewhere more spacious, like even outside, on the grounds that she didn't want other people to see how bad I probably was and humiliate the SOS-Brigade. I agreed with her of course, since arguing against her hardly ever works and she was actually right. I certainly didn't want people to see me sauntering about moving my hips and hands like a retarded dancing bear, which was bound to be the result of my attempts at dancing.
I didn't have to wait long for the others to start filing into the room one at a time after I had pushed aside the tables and chairs. First came Nagato; she stared about the room emptily, almost like looking for something. I soon realized there was no place for her to sit down and read as she usually did in the clubroom.
"Sorry about this, but you know how Haruhi gets," I apologized lamely.
Nagato nodded curtly.
"So, what do you think about all this dancing business?"
Nagato took a book out of her bag and held it up so I could read its title.
"'The basics of ball room dancing'… you actually went out and got a book on dancing?"
"Huh," was all I could say on that.
"It is an interesting social tradition," Nagato said flatly, opening the book and skimming through its index. "Consisting of patterns, sequences and alignments, forming networks like data. It's all very… systematic."
I raised my eyebrow at this. Nagato was not the kind to voice her opinions on much unless directly asked, and even then she would refrain from getting too personal. Or maybe it just didn't sound personal because of her cold, almost lifeless sounding vocabulary and tone.
"I see." I didn't really know what to say, except that I was glad to hear her voice some interest on anything more social than quietly reading to herself or working with computers occasionally. Maybe I can make it through this unwanted experience by focusing on what it means to her.
The next to arrive was Asahina-san.
"H-hello everyone," the cutie with an impeccable smile said as she entered the room.
She walked up to us, giving her lower lip a nervous little bite.
"Unsure of this whole thing as well?" I asked her, trying to start some innocent conversation to pass the time and distract me from my own uneasy thoughts concerning this dancing thing.
"Huh? No… No it's just that… I have no idea what constitutes a traditional dance or outfit in this time period," Asahina-san said, looking surprisingly serious.
Incredible. Even Asahina-san seems eager about this. Is it something genetic that simply makes girls like dancing or am I simply buying into centuries' worth of social stereotyping?
"I really do wonder what I should wear for such an occasion. I'm well acquainted with what is seen as fashionable in this current society, as per my orders to fit in, b-but the fact that this is a traditional dance for people of this time…" Asahina-san fidgeted with the hem of her uniform's skirt. "Uuuh, I have no idea how any of it should be done."
"…Don't worry, I'm sure… Haruhi will help you. She seems very enthusiastic about doing this thing right." Even if she has ridiculous time demands for us. How am I supposed to learn anything within a day?
"Good afternoon," Koizumi said as politely as ever as he entered the room.
Ah, a fellow compatriot at last. He's a guy like me (well, close enough), so he should be just as chromosomally challenged as I am when it comes to dancing.
"I haven't attended a ball in such a long time. I fear I have become incredibly rusty."
This statement however was followed by Koizumi taking what looked like the perfect stance and move about in an elegant and well thought-out pattern across the room to us. When he reached us he took a low bow.
What a showoff.
"A-amazing Koizumi-kun!" Asahina-san said in an impressed voice as she gave a short clap of her hands. "Could you show me how it is done? I'm just not sure how any of this is supposed to work."
"Why, it would be my pleasure."
Damn it, Koizumi! What happened to solidarity, the brotherhood of men? And now you intend on hogging Asahina-san to yourself as well? All of this is just outrageous!
Let me detract that last statement as I'm sure I'm going to have to use it again shortly.
"So everyone's here then? Good."
I turned around to find Haruhi standing in the open doorway, holding a rather large cardboard box in her arms. It was actually so big it nearly covered her face. Haruhi compensated for this by alternating the side from which she would peep at us from behind the box. Her head kept darting to the left and right side and occasionally went to the top as well.
"Kyon! Take this box from me!"
As I took the unexpectedly heavy box, I was forced to ask the only logical question: "What's in it?"
"Everything we need to turn a dunce like you into a master ballerina."
"Wait, this thing is ballroom dancing… or is it?" Knowing Haruhi, she may have indeed signed us up for something even crazier.
"Ever heard of a hyperbole?"
Yes, I think, but with you, it's always hard to say where the figurative language ends and your delusions about life begin. With you spouting such nonsense like you usually do about the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, ancient treasure and even older conspiracies, it's exceptionally hard to tell what you yourself think is real or not. Which is probably the reason reality is so messed up.
"Right, you get the stuff out and prepared while I finalize my plans."
It's odd how Haruhi can make something as simple and relatively as innocent as preparing for dancing sound incredibly nefarious.
I peeked into the box and found a small pile of CDs, an old, big, boxy CD-player, some pamphlets and guide books and… Oh for the love of all that is holy!
"What the hell is this?"
Haruhi turned around, eyebrow raised as she frowned. "What is? And what's with the rude tone?"
"I thought you were joking about that ballerina thing…"
"Oh, so you noticed it, did you?" Haruhi smirked like a shark approaching its next meal.
"It's kind of hard not to…"
"Wha… what is it?" Asahina-san said, now immensely intrigued as she tiptoed closer to me so she could peer into the box. I lifted the box over my head and held it there. "Kyon-kun, please let me see!"
"No," I said sternly, "At least not until I know what Haruhi intends to do with it."
Asahina-san bounced up and down in front of me, persistently trying to get a peek inside the box. Let's just say her bouncing right there in front of me like that with – ahem – other bouncing bits wasn't helping my already agitated state of mind and leave it at that.
"Please, Kyon-kun, I really want to see it now!"
Haruhi had sat down on her table, one leg crossed over the other with her elbow resting on the top leg as she propped her chin in the palm of her hand. She smiled at us in an amused manner, not unlike a cat might when it plays with mice.
"What do you think I want to do with it?" Haruhi was obviously enjoying tormenting me too much to stop yet.
"Haven't got the faintest idea, hence why I asked."
"Well, let's see, it's not that hard to figure out, is it? Just apply some simple logic. It's a piece of clothing, so obviously it's meant to be worn."
"Somehow I guessed that, but by whom and to what purpose?"
"Please, please, please." Asahina-san sounded even more eager than before, her pleading interspersed between her bounces. I was having a hard time trying not to follow her movements for the sake of public decency.
"My, aren't you nervous? Certainly you don't think I would make you wear it?" Haruhi took her propping hand away, sat up straight and indicated at her chest in an innocent maneuver.
"Yes, that is exactly what I think you might want me to do."
"Please, please, please!"
Haruhi giggled at us. "Oh don't be silly. It's far too small for you. To be honest, I think we would all be far more creeped out by you wearing that thing than amused." She gave a fake shudder. "UUuUuuH…"
"Then what… you want one of them to wear it?" I gave Asahina-san, who had stopped bouncing for now and instead wore a cute frown on her face, and Nagato, who had started reading her dancing book in the corner of the room, a quick glance.
Now this was an entirely different development, something that shouldn't be discarded so easily.
"No, perv, I didn't actually intend on anyone wearing it today. I just grabbed the box from the dance club people and brought it here. We're just going to practice some ballroom dancing, there's no need for fancy training costumes. Besides, it's apparent to everyone that it would be far too distracting for you if anyone wore it, and frankly, we can't really waste any time since the thing's tomorrow, especially if you really are as bad as you say you are."
That's surprisingly logical of you Haruhi (possible theft aside). And apparently you are a bit too well acquainted with my thought processes. Although I'm not too hard to figure out, since I'm a pretty simple guy after all. I only wish some of the people around me were as simple as I am sometimes, especially one ribbon wearing girl in particular.
"Well, are you going to set everything up or not? Time's a' wasting," Haruhi said, waving her legs impatiently back and forth on the edge of the table. "C'mon, c'mon."
"Right…" I set the box down and took out the CD-player. It took a while for me to find a free socket to plug it into. After I had found one, leaving the player on the floor next to its power source, I found Asahina-san peering into the box as I turned around.
"Ah, isn't that cute. But I have to agree with Suzumiya-san, this would not have…" Asahina-san took a moment to carefully consider her following words, "uhm, fit you very well, Kyon-kun. Sorry."
I too would have to agree that the pink leotard and tutu would indeed not have suited me well. Just the very thought of wearing them makes me shiver in all the wrong places.
"Right. Let's get down to business." Haruhi said, that predatory smile once again slipping though a little through her excited expression.
She jumped off from her perch and strode over to the CD-player, digging into her uniform, hand snaking through her collar at something around her chest.
Just…just what do you think you're doing?
"Oh calm down before you die of raised blood pressure. Your head might explode."
Haruhi produced from some hidden spot on her personage a CD-case she had for some reason decided to not carry around with the others. I for one had no intention of exploring the idiosyncratic reasoning behind this bizarre idea of CD-case placement. The mere logistics of how it had been placed somewhere above her midriff and somehow remained hidden from plain sight already boggled the mind enough as it was.
"Don't think too much about it," Haruhi said, as if reading my thoughts. She opened the case and placed the CD inside the player. "I can tell you now, that the CD wasn't there, close to my heart, because I have some sort of sentimental attachment or something to it, but since I grabbed all this stuff from the Dance Club, I wanted to make sure I would have at least one CD to use if one of the idiots came chasing after me."
So she literally had grabbed all the stuff. One of these days, I should really try and have a proper discussion concerning basic ethical behavior. And if that proves to be too much of a challenge for Haruhi, I could always try such topics as common manners and the idea of private property. But this was neither the time nor the place for that now.
"Hmm, let's see, let's see here…" Haruhi muttered under her breath as she squatted in front of the player, putting the CD in place and searching for the correct buttons.
The Ride of the Valkyries nearly deafened us all.
"Whoops! Sorry!" She quickly stopped the music and turned around, actually looking a bit embarrassed. "Wrong song… heh… you can't really waltz to that, can you? Although…" She turned back to the CD-player much like a mad scientist would when he receives a frighteningly alluring idea.
"Perhaps it would be best to start out with some simple moves before we progress to the music, since we have novices among us," Koizumi suggested.
"Fine…" Haruhi got up and gave us all a long look. She made a bizarrely absent expression, almost as if her mind had left her body.
"I only just realized we aren't evenly matched. One of the girls will have to sit out."
Only now? Some instructor you are. I thought you spent the last night planning this thing.
"Well, I guess there's nothing to do but what's proved to be tried and true."
Haruhi pulled out the oft used straws. She also took out a pen and gave an extra mark to one of the three straws that already had marks for the usual group of three. I quite often wonder if it's truly random chance determining our groupings or if it's all just Haruhi's powers at work.
"Everyone pick one."
And so we did.
The first drawing of the straws didn't exactly go according to plan (or maybe it did go according to someone's). Me and Koizumi got the same color, which in normal situations would have meant that the two of us would be paired up. All the girls would have been assigned to their own group as well. Nagato was the one to draw the one with the extra mark on it. But since this didn't work with the spirit of the draw, Haruhi demanded a redraw.
But this time, it would only be her and Asahina-san participating with only two of the straws, marked with opposing colors of course. Nagato was to be the first one to sit out the practices, since she had been the one to draw the extra lot. So now Haruhi only had two of them in her hand.
"Red for Kyon, blue for Koizumi," She said, offering the straws to Asahina-san.
Please pick red, please pick red, please pick red, please, please, please. I even crossed my fingers as I chanted this in my head.
But of course, this must have jinxed it.
"Blue… well, I-I think this might be better, since we will both be paired with someone who knows how to dance," Asahina-san said, looking at me, sounding rather apologetic.
Yeah, I guess, although it's not much of a comfort for me at the moment, since I'll be getting the impatient dragon for an instructor while next to me Koizumi will be getting unfairly close to a princess.
"Koizumi, you can dance as well?" Haruhi asked, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"Why, yes, but I fear I might be a bit rusty," Koizumi repeated his earlier lies with a slight smile.
"If I'd known that, then the pairings would have been obvious from the start. Of course, we still would have picked someone to sit out, but whatever. Well, let's get started." Haruhi clapped her hands together enthusiastically.
Within twenty minutes, there would be an entirely different tone in her voice and presence to her demeanor.
"Auh! Damn it, Kyon! Are you trying to crush every single bone in my feet?!" Haruhi shouted for the umpteenth time in that ridiculously short period of time for training. The calming sounds of classical music were horribly out of place as background music to such angry tones.
"Sorry," I hastily muttered my usual response. In fact, all I had to do was keep muttering it every ten seconds and no one would notice anything. Heck, it might even help out with the monotonous counting I'm doing in my head to help with the pacing.
She pushed me back a bit. "Look, it's not that hard." She pointed at the twirling pair of Asahina-san and Koizumi, both enjoying this practice a bit too much if you ask me. "See?"
That's not the problem. I know what I'm supposed to do, well, mostly. It's the execution that's faulty. I have no idea why it isn't working.
"Wow, Koizumi-kun, you're amazing!" I could hear Asahina-san's voice, now bittersweet to hear. After the initial glance at the dancing dynamic duo, looking in their direction just made me feel horrible, so I tried to refrain from doing it again.
"Thank you. You're not bad yourself," Koizumi answered. I could feel my irritation with the whole situation mounting. It was like a volcano building pressure inside my guts. Why does he get to do this with Asahina-san when I'm stuck with a belligerent Haruhi shouting at me?
"Eh? Th-thank you." For some reason, a blushing image of Asahina-san in the arms of Koizumi wafted through my mind and made me even angrier. I was surprised to notice that my fists were tightly clenched and actually had to force them open before I lost all circulation in my fingers.
"Now dance like you mean it!" Haruhi shouted impatiently, scowling at me in an infuriating manner.
Fine! I've had just about enough of this as it is!
I forcefully grabbed Haruhi to twirl her about like I should have from the very beginning, so incredibly frustrated with my situation that I felt like being so full of pent up energy that it might allow me to finally succeed. But in my angry haste, I failed to account for a lot of things. For starters, I still didn't know what I was doing and taking Haruhi by surprise like that meant she wasn't ready at all. So as I spun her about lopsidedly, we lost balance and ended up falling over each other into the clothes rack with all the costumes we had collected. We fumbled about for a moment, both of us trying to dig our way out of the mess I had accidentally thrown us into.
"A-are you two o-okay?" Asahina-san asked timidly, having made it over to the wreckage, hands held together with apprehensive worry for us.
"Just what the hell did you think you were doing?" Haruhi shouted angrily as she struggled to get some long piece of clothing from around her neck.
"I… nothing. I must have tripped or something." I was too ashamed to admit what I had really intended. I wasn't entirely sure what had come over me anyway.
"Kyon, you are without a doubt the most clumsy, ungainly, awkward, graceless…" Haruhi's scowl suddenly went blank.
"I ran out of words to describe just how much of a klutz you are," she said with a surprised voice, blinking in shock.
Oh, joy. There aren't enough words to describe how badly I fail at this. Nice…
Soon however, we were back at it again. There wasn't any significant improvement of course. In fact, saying that there was any improvement at all would have been a blatant lie. While Haruhi and I kept attempting to figure out how to dance in tandem, Koizumi and Asahina-san eventually parted, since they had actually transformed into something like experts in the time we kept bumping into each other.
I had thought that this would have been a chance for a break for us as well, but Haruhi was persistent in continuing. So with time to spare, Koizumi took his turn with Nagato, once again dancing with a girl in perfect harmony. It really didn't come as that much of a surprise that Nagato was good at dancing, since she had finished reading the book about it in the short time it had taken for it to be her turn.
Soon Koizumi and Nagato ended their rehearsal together, because there really wasn't any room left for improvement. Only Haruhi and I continued twisting about in the clubroom while the others shared snacks and partook in light conversation while we desperately tried to dance and get out of this infuriating situation.
After a long while, we finally took a break. We were both mentally and physically exhausted by the ordeal. Haruhi actually just lied down limply on the ground and ordered Asahina-san to wait on her like a slave, giving her sips of tea and feeding her patiently.
I slumped down between Nagato and Koizumi on the chairs they had set up along the wall.
"Koizumi, do something about that oaf, will ya?" Haruhi hollered from the floor and then went back to being served by the attentive Asahina-san.
"Huoh…" was all I could manage.
"Very well, Suzumiya-san. I think I might have a thing or two to point out to him," Koizumi said, smiling warmly before he turned to me and whispered, "If you are not too tired, might I suggest taking a stroll?"
I looked at the prone Haruhi on the ground, who still had the energy to bark orders at Asahina-san, and gladly welcomed the excuse to get away from her for a while.
We walked out of the building and into the pleasantly cool afternoon outside. Koizumi lead me to a nearby bench after he noticed how sluggishly I followed him around. I practically threw myself at the thing. I felt sore all over my body thanks to Haruhi's 'teaching'.
"So, how do you think it is going?" he asked politely, sitting down next to me.
"What do you expect? Horribly of course. I just can't get it for some bizarre reason."
"True, there are many technical faults in your routine, but… I do not believe that is the main cause of the trouble you two seem to be having. I have been watching you two and I believe I have found the most prominent detractor from success."
"Oh really. Please, do enlighten me, as you're sure to do."
"The problem lies practically just as much with Suzumiya-san in this area. She is taking far too a dominating role. It is you who is supposed to lead, not her. But such behavior goes against the very foundation of her nature, doesn't it? She does not follow, she always leads."
"That she does…"
So the problem was that Haruhi was being the same domineering person she always was. Why am I not really all that surprised…? Sigh…
"So what should I do?" I asked.
"Well, there is not much you can do except force her to follow your lead."
"Oh, is that all?" This all sounds so incredibly inane. I should probably try to control my sarcasm a bit, but I'm just too tired to bother.
"Of course, since this is Suzumiya-san we are talking about, something as simple as merely pointing the fact out to her might prove more difficult than it would with a normal person."
"So once again, what should I do? I just want to get out of this as fast as I can."
"Hmm…" Koizumi silently thought about this for a long time. Then he got up and strode in front of me, looking very serious and somber indeed. He placed a hand on my shoulder. The feeling I was getting from him was that I was in a very grave situation, almost as if he were here to tell me of a deceased relative.
"I leave it up to you, since I can't think of anything," he said, smirking playfully.
Koizumi left me after that flippant remark, saying that there was nothing left for him to do, since he had given me all the help he could and there was apparently no room for improvement with the two other girls. I stayed back for a while on the bench, enjoying all the time I could before I would have to face my personal demon again. When I did return to the clubroom, I found Haruhi waiting alone in the room, working her way through various CD covers.
"Where are the others?"
"Gave them permission to leave, since they were ready." Haruhi glanced at me standing in the doorway. "I see Koizumi left as well. Good."
I replayed Koizumi's words to me in my head and tried to think of some way to bring up the subject with Haruhi without having her blowing up in my face. The very act of casting some doubt on her dancing skills would surely incur her wrath.
Since I couldn't think of anything, I tried something completely different.
"Maybe we should just give up on this whole affair."
"No. I've worked too hard on this."
"What do you mean? We've barely been doing this for five hours." I wasn't quite sure myself if I was being literal or sarcastic. On one hand it was true that five hours wasn't such a long time for something like learning a new skill set, but the way we were going about it, it felt like ages of torture.
"I won't accept this! I will make you dance even if it kills me!"
I actually believe that may be the case. We might easily be here until we're both old and senile. But for some reason, Haruhi seemed to be taking this whole thing as a personal challenge, and I know well enough by now, she can never back away from a challenge.
But if I wanted us to succeed in this, and thus allow my escape, I would somehow have to wrest control away from Haruhi. It would be a dance of a completely different sort, probably even harder to do than the actual dance I was supposed to do.
But before I could develop my ideas in any significant way, Haruhi put in a new CD, the next song beginning to play as she hurriedly grabbed me.
"Dance, Kyon! And do it right!"
And so the painful practice continued. Knees collided, shins were struck, toes were trodden on and butts were fallen on occasionally when balance was completely lost. In fact, it was the falling over that seemed to cause the most trouble for us, especially the last time it happened between us.
I'm not entirely sure what happened, but somehow our legs got tangled up as Haruhi tried to force me to go faster and she ended up falling backwards. But because of her firm grip on me and my shaky sense of balance in such unfamiliar poses as the ones I was trying to achieve, I ended up going over along with her. Luckily I didn't fall completely on top her. Instead, my unlucky left hand ended up taking most of the damage as it collided with the floor, far too close to Haruhi's face as I tried to prevent myself from falling on her with my full weight. We were so close our faces were almost touching.
And speaking of touching, one of my hands was doing so with reckless abandon and doing it to something it really shouldn't have. I had no idea how it had gotten where it was, but when one is about to fall on a girl, one doesn't really pay too much attention to such things when they are happening, although they do deeply wish mere seconds later that they had. But the fewer specifics supplied about what it was that I was actually touching the better, especially on how it felt. Perhaps it would allow me to repress such shamefulness later if I didn't focus too much on it now.
Haruhi gulped loudly, looking at me with an unfamiliar look in her eyes. The look was definitely one of shock, but there was something else there I wasn't able identify because I had never before seen it in her eyes. "Kyon, what… what do you think you're doing?" Haruhi's voice was oddly hollow sounding compared to her usual intensity.
"N-nothing," I stammered, quite shocked to find myself on top of Haruhi as well, touching what I was touching.
Suddenly something hard, presumably Haruhi's knee, collided with my groin at a dangerous speed. I quickly rolled off her, holding onto my injured parts for dear life as tears came streaming out of my eyes. Instinctively I wrapped myself into the fetal position.
"I – I wasn't go-going t-t-to do eh-anything," I whimpered in a high voice. "S-seriously."
"I… I know," Haruhi said urgently, looking all flustered and red as she sat up. "I wasn't thinking you'd do – I mean, I didn't mean to. It just happened. It was an accident, sorry… do you… need ice?"
"That… would be nice…"
Haruhi hastily left the room in search of ice. I remained on the floor, gently rocking the pain away. Eventually the pain did subside and I doubt there was any permanent damage. A guy doesn't go through life, or elementary school at least, without receiving a kick or some sort of other punishment to the crotch, so this was nothing new. Although something like this hadn't happened to me in a long time.
I got up and carefully walked over to a chair so I could sit on it, doing it all with a spread-leg approach. When I was confident that I had fully recovered, I took a look at my watch. I had no idea how long Haruhi had been gone, but it certainly felt like a long time. And on top of that, it was starting to get really late.
When Haruhi did show up, she looked a bit nervous, holding one of her arms by the elbow, and making sure to look at the walls of the clubroom and everything else in it but me.
"Sorry, I…" Haruhi pursed her lips and gave them a quick wiggle before she continued, "couldn't find any ice."
"That's… that's okay. I've made a full recovery, I think."
Haruhi's darting eyes suddenly affixed on me, all signs of past apprehension gone suddenly, looking as serious as a surgeon on his way to the ER. "Can you still, you know?"
Just what exactly are you asking me? Answering a question like that seems highly inappropriate.
"Continue practicing, of course."
Oh. For a moment there, I thought you were asking me something completely different. But now that I know… I wonder if I should straight out lie and get out of this exemplary exercise in futility. But there's something about that determined look in Haruhi's eyes that just makes me want to try my best as well.
"So you're really okay to continue?" Haruhi asked.
"Yeah. I guess I am."
"Just get your ass over here," Haruhi said, angry irritation I didn't want to toy with rearing its ugly head in her voice.
I got up and walked over to Haruhi, but as I approached, she once again started examining her surroundings. She had a little frown on her face that didn't really tell me anything about what she was thinking about.
"Well?" I asked her as I held my arms ready in the proper dancing position or at least what I thought it was.
Haruhi bit her lower lip and took a short, hesitant step away from me. Then she crossed her arms before she glanced at me from the corners of her eyes.
"What?" Why is she suddenly giving me the cold shoulder? "I thought you wanted to teach me how to dance?"
"Yeah, I thought I did, but apparently it's just not working out. I mean, we've been here for so long and then – well, it's just not working. I'm tired of this."
"What are you talking about? Just moments ago, you were ready to go again."
"Yeah, well… that was before you… before I realized how…"
"Before what?" Seriously, you aren't making any sense. You'll have to be a bit more specific or at least finish a sentence if you want anyone to follow.
"Never mind. I changed my mind," she said gloomily.
It was amazing. Barely a minute ago, she'd been rearing to go, but as soon as I had approached to actually do the dancing she wanted to do, she had suddenly become so unwilling to even look at me.
"This is starting to get kind of creepy anyway, with the two of us stuck here like this after hours."
"How so? It's not like there's anyone to see us." Thankfully. My horrible dancing would probably be the butt of everyone's jokes for a while, especially if someone like Taniguchi heard about it.
"That's exactly why it's creepy, being here alone, with you, with no one to see. Strange things always happen in situations like this between a guy and a – never mind. Let's… let's just call it a night and hope a miracle happens overnight."
Wow. Maybe I can just get out of this just like that. But this all seems so freaking weird. Leaving this unfinished like this would probably make me worry for some reason, not to mention I still don't know how to dance. If she really does intend to leave this all like this, how am I supposed to dance tomorrow if she still intends on us taking part in the ball?
She seems to be at a loss here, like a fish out of water or more like a general without an army. She's so – not in control at the moment.
Is this my… chance? This seems so incredibly convenient, almost as if this whole situation has been manipulated by a hidden mastermind from the background. Almost like we've been intentionally left here alone, with weakened defenses, in a situation where anything could happen. Why do I feel like I'm walking right into a trap or something?
"Well, I guess I'll pack up the player and CD's. I'd like to listen to them at home some more…" Haruhi said glumly as she turned around.
I felt weird, that was the best I could do to describe it. Yeah, I know, it sucks, but I just can't explain it any better than that. It was like something was being demanded of me, that I step up and do the impossible, now that all odds seemed against me. It felt out of place for me, but somehow incredibly… right?
I didn't know what was wrong with me. For some reason, I felt compelled to act in this situation that has thrust us into a position where anything could happen, just as Haruhi had said, maybe even intended on some level. But then she'd gotten cold feet, or maybe… that was a part of the magic, the magic that seemed to force me to act as I did. She had wanted to do this so badly, how could I disappoint her now? She had been so eager to dance before, but now looked like someone who had heard that a ban had been placed on all holidays. It was oddly unbearable.
I had to do something!
I grabbed Haruhi by the waist and spun her around, taking advantage of her shock to position myself properly. Before, I'd been too inexperienced and angry to make this work, but now it was all somehow different on every level. I took hold of her right hand with my left, my right one firmly against her back. She stared at me with wide, big eyes, unbelieving of what she was seeing. Her mouth was slightly agape as she inhaled in surprise. I took a step back with one foot and led her around, for the first time managing to lead her as I was supposed to, as she was so stunned by my sudden, commanding actions that she simply followed along, giving away to my hands, almost like she was melting away.
And just like that, we danced.
Everyone around us watched in silence as I lead Haruhi around the dance floor, surprising everyone (including myself) with how well it seemed to be going. Certainly I wouldn't be winning any awards, but it seemed that everyone else had been just as dubious of their skills as I had been. The long wait before the dance started hadn't been because of some sort of scheduling mistake, but no one really felt inclined to dance, being either too afraid to do so with doubtful skills or simply too nervous to dance with someone special to them.
Our slow dance in our little circle seemed to break the ice and soon we were joined by other twirling couples. I spotted Koizumi bowing to Asahina-san in the distance, with her blushing a little as she coyly held her hand in front of her mouth before she accepted his hand and was led into the throng, the two of them dancing more gracefully than any of the people around them as they slowly made their way towards us in the middle of it all, nimbly dodging other couples, making it seem like a real extravagant and beautiful dance number of professionals.
Haruhi smiled with such warmth in her eyes that I felt like I was in the center of a brilliant star, all previous qualms and illusions melting away until nothing but this moment between us existed. I felt like I was in a story book, in the presence of some wondrous spirit of nature that sought to show me the magic of the world, hidden just under the surface.
The four of us danced silently, each one staring deeply into their partners' eyes. It really did feel like the four of us were all alone in the warm magical presence of the music, and when it did end, we were roused from our dream-like reverie by the clapping of the other dancers. Shocked at first to hear the applause after our spell, I at first thought that the applause was aimed at us, but I quickly banished such egotistic ideas as I noticed the conductor taking deep bows, with everyone's eyes focused on the band.
"Um, Kyon-kun? Su-Suzumiya-san?" Asahina-san asked timidly, stepping closer. "You wouldn't happen to mind if we – that is –"
"Sure, Mikuru-chan, let's switch," Haruhi stepped away from me and towards Koizumi. "If you'll do me the honor?"
"It would be my pleasure," Koizumi said with warm smile.
"Oh, we better hurry, the next song is about to start," Asahina-san said as she grabbed onto me before I'd even got a chance to say anything.
The following dance with Asahina-san was practically just as magical as the one with Haruhi, although Asahina-san did say something occasionally, mainly complimenting my newfound dance skills occasionally whenever she gathered the nerve to look directly in my eyes. I too responded in kind, complimenting her, because I had a hard time thinking of anything else to say as I smelled the intoxicating scent of her hair and felt her beautiful body pressed so close to mine.
Occasionally I would happen to get a glance of Haruhi and Koizumi dancing. She wore an energetic smile and was actually having a conversation with him as they twirled about. For a brief moment, I wondered how she had managed to maintain her silence as the two of us had danced.
The night continued like that for a long while, with me and Koizumi switching partners, occasional banter and small talk being made with our partners in the midst of the dancing, until eventually we grew tired and were forced to leave the dance floor and rest for a bit. The broad glass doors I had mistaken for windows had been opened, revealing a large balcony set with tables and chairs and complimentary drinks.
It was only then that I spotted the last member of our Brigade. To my great shame, I had completely forgotten about her in the midst of all the dancing. Nagato was standing on the edge of the giant room, like a lifeless doll, watching the spinning of the other dancers with her vacant eyes.
"You guys go on ahead of me, there's something I have to do," I said as I broke off from our merry group.
"Huh? What are you…oh…" Haruhi noticed where I was heading and immediately her aggressively questioning tone turned into a soft and guilty sounding one.
"Kyon!" she however managed to shout after me. I stopped and gave her a look before she continued, "You better show Yuki a good time, or I'll kick your ass!"
She then led the two others, who both looked a little shameful, out towards one of the open doorways with a table near it on the balcony. I grinned after her, finding it funny to think I would even dream of intending to do anything else.
"Hey, Nagato, you wanna dance? You said you thought it was interesting, right?" I asked as I arrived next to the silent girl.
Nagato turned her head levelly to look at me with those unforgettable black hole-like eyes of hers, drawing me in inescapably, and gave the briefest of nods. I offered her my hand, and with incredible elegance, Nagato lowered her own hand on it with the grace of a seasoned veteran.
I led the quiet girl onto the dance floor to partake in some of the last dances of the evening. The music being played was of a slower tempo than before, allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere than earlier. Dancing with Haruhi and Asahina-san had had a certain intensity to it that was thankfully gone now with Nagato. I was allowed to relax in the slow and easy music.
"You weren't feeling lonely, were you?" I asked as we started our dance, swaying and spinning gently along with the music.
Nagato looked me dead in the eyes, and said quietly in that lovely monotone whisper of hers, "…No."
"Good." I gave her a smile. She just continued staring up at me with that old poker face of hers, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
"I was propositioned to partake in the traditional dance practice by three other males but I refused. This was something I wished to experience with you."
"Really?" I was shocked to find that Nagato had actually waited for me instead of just going to dance, especially since even she had seemed eager, in her own little way, to dance.
"The book on dancing recommended doing it with someone of importance to you."
"Oh, wow… well, thanks."
"No, thank you."
I looked into those obsidian eyes of hers, which gleamed with a soft golden glow, losing myself completely in their dark reflections, seeing myself amidst the empty pupils, in the center of the lonely look. If I could, I wish I could stay like this forever with her. Even if she said otherwise, I often got a feeling of loneliness from Nagato that I just wanted to chase away with all my might, not that the goddess needed the help of such a lowly mortal as me. If anything, that sense of solitude seemed to only strengthen her far beyond anything a mere human could take. There certainly was no need for pity.
"Hey you two! Are you coming or not? The music stopped playing ages ago!" Haruhi shouted at us from a little table that had been set up near the great windows of the hall, open to allow the cool evening air into the hall from the balconies.
"Huh? What?" I had totally zoned out as I had been dancing with Nagato, staring into her beautiful eyes. I had no idea how long we had remained like that, on the now completely empty dance floor, with the band packing up to leave, but I felt like it still hadn't been long enough.
"C'mon and join us out here, it's a beautiful night!"
I gave Nagato a low bow, to which she responded with a perfectly measured curtsy. I took her hand and led her off the dance floor and to the others who were waiting for us. I pulled back a chair for Nagato and made sure she sat down in it before I took my own seat. All the while, Haruhi smiled at us and nodded approvingly at me as I sat down next to her, in the last remaining seat.
"Good job, Kyon. Now I won't have to punish you for forgetting Yuki-chan."
Hey, you forgot about her as well! Not that that's any sort of acceptable excuse or anything, but don't try to make me into the villain here. I don't deserve treatment like that.
"She seems to really have enjoyed it," Haruhi said, turning her warm focus to Nagato who was listening in on Koizumi's and Asahina-san's conversation, occasionally giving a quick reply if directly asked something.
They all looked so happy, and in my book, that meant the whole evening had been a magnificent success, no matter how much I may have been trying to weasel my way out of it originally. Now that it was practically over, I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything in the world.
"Good work," Haruhi said, placing her gloved hand on mine, which was resting on the table, gave it a little comforting tap, and then dispensed a tender smile my way. "And all you had to do was just dance."