Quick, rough cut to prove I'm not dead. College apparently is work--who knew? Things should be dying down after this week though, so let's hope for a return to only slightly annoyingly long update waits. But you know the drill. Be kind, rewind, and feel free to critique as needed.
Hazuki didn't know what a bomb was. At least, I hoped she didn't. I mean, that'd be pretty depressing, if a girl her age knew something like that, but more importantly, it would make her reaction to my statement even more frightening.
"Bomb, bom bom bom BOMB!"
The tune of the song sounded faintly familiar, but I couldn't place it. It was my fault, really. Like she would have any idea what I meant by my poorly made metaphor. Thankfully, the bike ride was short, and we quickly came upon a frighteningly serious-looking Koizumi leaning against a tree. What was even worse though was his outfit. With a wrinkled, quickly thrown-on tee over slacks that looked just a bit too short, he looked like he had just run out of bed and put on the first thing that was convenient.
His hair though was, as always, perfect. Bastard.
He finally saw us coming. Quickly, he pulled out that smile of his once, but I think even he knew the damage was done. He didn't take nearly as much care as he usually did making sure the attachment was seamless, and I couldn't help but think that the edges would curl over any minute now, revealing the truth underneath.
"I thank you for coming over here so promptly. I had worried that Miss Asahina wouldn't be able to convey the message properly."
Well, not exactly, but you don't have to say it like that! "She did just fine. What's up?"
He began to speak, but stopped, as he spotted Hazuki scurrying quickly behind my leg. She poked her head out, smiling shyly, and he waved, causing a short stream of giggles. Weird. Unless . . .
It suddenly hit me like a wayward train. Oh, great—she's got a crush, on Koizumi of all people. Fate just loves twisting the knife into the wound, doesn't it? And judging by the way he's glancing at her . . . and the way he's smiling at me . . .
Damn it all, he knows! And the bastard's proud of it!
Well, there's no way I can let this go on: "Hazuki, go play on the swings or something."
Thankfully, she was still young enough to consider that a better deal, as she quickly shot off towards the nearest one.
"She's a sweet girl," Koizumi commented with that sadistic little smirk of his.
"You going to actually tell me what's wrong?"
He faltered, as if remembering suddenly that he had been the one to call me out here. "Well," he gritted, "at the moment, nothing is wrong necessarily."
Uh-huh. "I really don't think you called me out here just for a walk."
"How I wish I could say that were true; but you're right. I didn't."
He stepped closer, then motioned his head toward the park gates. Two lamps, an iron arch, and some running kids—nothing exciting, as far as I could tell, but I had no doubt he was going to say more and he didn't disappoint.
"A few hours ago, closed space opened up in that general vicinity. It was very small—perhaps a few meters at worst—and very short. At best, I would say it took only roughly five minutes for it to dissipate."
This was the part where I could say, 'Ha, I was right! She was upset, you lying little leech of a human being!' But, I figured it'd be best to take the high road, so instead, I just said, "Well, that's good, right? I mean, she's not supposed to be making them at all, but at least she handled it maturely."
I was right though. Just putting it out there.
"Well, yes, that would certainly be a good thing, were it not for two other unfortunate issues."
Should have known it wouldn't be that easy.
"And those are?"
"I may have lied earlier, when I said there had been no incidents of closed space."
He tilted his head, confused. What was he trying to pull?
"You just told me that there was closed space."
His eyes widened in mock-realization, and he bowed his head slightly. "Sorry; I should have been more specific. This exact incident, in the park, was after our phone call."
. . . Oh. "Nightmare?"
"Then when was the earlier one?"
"We aren't entirely sure. It lasted less than a minute. Most of us actually had interpreted it a fluke fluctuation—especially as not all of us had sensed it."
Wait, not all? "So it might not have even happened?"
"Perhaps, though we're confident it did. It's far too coincidental, considering the similarities with this second one. It was even sensed by the same select people—"
". . . Namely, myself."
Because that instills me with such confidence. "Only you?"
"How did you even catch it in time? Five minutes isn't that much longer."
The smile deepened. "While I stand by my previous judgment on Miss Suzumiya's feelings on this matter, I'll admit that we did take some precautions."
It took a second for his meaning to cut through the usual pretension, but once it did, it landed with a tremendous bang.
"You thought I'd screw something up, didn't you?"
"You must admit that you are two very reactive people."
I didn't know how I was supposed to respond to that so I pointedly did not. Unfortunately, he was looking at me with a sharp expression I knew to ignore, so instead I turned to check up on Hazuki. All was well—conventional swinging, perhaps because her legs were too short for any really force, had quickly been forgotten, as she instead lay with her stomach flat on the seat, as some other kid spun her around.
Content, I got the conversation back on track: "You mentioned two problems."
"And the second one is?"
"I'm still trying to decide how to word it, though I fear there is no way to do so and keep you from getting angry."
Why would I get angry? I started to turn towards him—
—but he wasn't looking at me. Rather, he was looking at the very place I would have paid him a trillion yen every day for the rest of his life not to look, with a grim expression I would have paid him a trillion more to not have.
"I haven't even—"
"—I'm observant. No."
"You could at least me explain."
I could. I even probably should. Now, want to? Yeah, right, Koizumi.
Unfortunately, he took my silence as a sign that he had been allowed to do so.
"As I mentioned," he said quickly, as if afraid I'd bolt at the next word, "we had taken some precautions. Many of us were stationed in the area, so we could be quick to respond in the case of a situation. However, it was again like the earlier incident. Only I sensed it, and it was unfortunately not on my watch. While I alerted them quickly and we were able to confirm it using our technology, I unfortunately did not make it in time; I'd be very curious to see how the results would have changed if I had been, but alas . . ."
Despite myself, I asked, "Results?"
He paused, which is how I knew whatever he had to say next was the key element he had been nervous to share. "In addition to being unable to sense it, the other Espers also found themselves unable to enter."
You'll have to forgive me, but I'm going to have to take a break here. I'm sure this conversation with Koizumi is very important, but right now, there is only person I want to get in touch with.
Dear Fate (please don't balk at the name—I've never been a religious man),
Lately, I know we've come to be very close. Well, "close" in that you seem to have taken a personal interest in steering the ship that is my life any way you see fit, with very little regard for my own preferences in a destination. But, whatever. My point here is that I must be frank. Maybe I've complained before, without due cause. I mean, just take this whole thing with Hazuki for one example. It really wasn't all that bad, once I just shut up and went with it. Maybe there's even a lesson in that, something about learning to roll with the changes or some similarly cliched idea.
That said, I really think that now you're just out to get me.
Was it not enough? A year of dealing with Haruhi Suzumiya, with two more guaranteed to occur. This was even assuming that she did not use her incredibly unfair powers of divine might to get me into the same university as Her Braininess, which would then mean six more years at the minimum. However, let's not assume miracles that perhaps even she won't be able to achieve, so let's go with the three. Three years of playing God's babysitter; three years of chasing after every potential world-ending trauma to nip it in the bud; three years of playing masquerade just to keep her quiet.
Three. Years. It was an admittedly short sentence, but given just what I had to do, I think even Prometheus would say he got the better deal.
So, explain to me, please: just why in the world did Koizumi have to say what he said next? Words so horrible I shudder to even think it, but will do so for your sake, fate, despite what you've done?
"While there are certainly many arguments and no one has reached a consensus yet, I would have to say, given the timing of this . . . I think it's very reasonable that the closed space might have been created by someone else. And, I would say, that while of course one can't be certain . . . that the most likely person to have created it is . . .
"Well, in utter honesty, I think that person is Hazuki."
Just . . . why?
"No," was all I could think to say.
"I don't think you should be so quick to judge."
"I can be as quick as I want: no."
He smiled, a sort of sympathy softening the lines to make it a bit more genuine than I was used to. "Believe me when I say I wish that it wasn't possible. However, will you at least let me explain my reasoning?"
"There isn't a reasoning in this world that can explain it."
"Then there is no harm in my trying, is there?"
Damn it. He had me there. But no, no he didn't, because he was right—there wasn't any harm in trying because there was no way. Even if—and this was an 'if' so big, it could easily block the sun from view, if not hold the entirety of the Milky Way galaxy inside itself—Hazuki did have Haruhi's powers, there was no way Koizumi could prove it.
There just couldn't be.
"I'll admit that my largest piece of evidence is something you'd no doubt contest—"
"—it's not evidence if it's contestable."
"It isn't contestable; not really. I'm simply sure you'd try regardless." His smile turned sly again, the falseness slithering back over to give it a sickening sheen. "But really, it's simply a matter of timing. Hazuki appeared today. In that one day, two bouts of closed space have occurred. Both are completely erratic and ill-formed, much like Miss Suzumiya's when she first began creating them. Both are also apparently unable to be detected by any current Esper—other than myself, of course."
"And what does that prove?"
"In and of itself? Nothing, admittedly. It may just be simple coincidence. However, I am by far the youngest gifted with the ability to enter closed space. It isn't such a stretch to think that in Hazuki's time, I am the only one still capable of performing the task within the group. Perhaps she is just awakening now, and sensing this, she selected me. Or perhaps it was just coincidence yet again. Perhaps her subconscious has already selected me in her time, and thus I am the only one able to sense them in this time. There is no true way to determine the whys or hows of the matter, but it does at least show you that it cannot possibly be Haruhi's doing."
I wasn't about to admit as much though, and I didn't have the heart to take it out on Koizumi again. As he revealed this last tidbit, his shoulders had the battered air of an Atlas who, after finally shirking off the earth on the day of reckoning, had been only entrusted with another one. For all Koizumi's mystery, he'd always made it pretty clear he didn't enjoy making the closed space rounds. While he might be a smarmy bastard, I'm not one to kick a man when he's down.
That said, I didn't intend to roll over and let him kick me either.
"You're wrong," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"Do you have any proof, or are you just hoping?"
"I know. And it's not like you have any proof either."
He smirked, but it was a tired expression, like he just couldn't drag up the energy for it. "Fair enough. I suppose it doesn't matter, at least, for now. She seems like a remarkably easy-going girl. I just hope she doesn't stay too long."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He put up a hand, apologetically waving me off. "I don't mind her being here, necessarily. But you do have to admit, while you're doing your best, you're not her father. Or, not yet, at least. Eventually, she is going to miss her time period and her parents, and that might be a bit more difficult to deal with than a temper tantrum."
As much as I hated to admit it (so I won't, not openly anyway), it was a good point. It wasn't like it wasn't obvious enough already. Try as I might, I really was just a poor copy of . . . well, myself, but still. It stands to reason that Hazuki wouldn't be able to deal with that much longer. She was just a little kid, after all. But Miss Asahina made it seem like it could be any time now that the timer would tick down to zero and she'd be safe and sound in her own time. Surely she could last till then? And then I can prove that whatever is going on around here, it has nothing to do with Hazuki, and all the world to do with—
"Shall we go? I suppose Miss Suzumiya is waiting for us."
Great. Just when I had almost forgotten.
It wasn't hard to get Hazuki away from the swings, once she saw Koizumi was coming with us. Chalk up another reason to try and nip this crush in the bud; it was only adding fuel to Koizumi's impossible, burning-with-no-oxygen fire and I certainly didn't need his knowing smirk whenever she tried to get his attention. Luckily, it was pretty easy to distract her with other things, as we boarded the subway to Haruhi-knows-where.
It was even easier once we got there.
"This is asking for trouble," I murmured, prompting a laugh out of Koizumi.
"Are you not a fan of amusement parks?"
For indeed, our fearless leader had chosen just that. Of course, she hadn't felt the need to consult me in any way on this. After texting me its latitude and longitude (and how she figured it out, I'll never know), I was forced to pinpoint it on a map. Even then, it only led me to the train station. I had to follow her riddle-like instructions to get here, and for what?
Trouble. Nothing but trouble. In fact, it was an equation only second to 1+1 in simplicity. Sugar rush + adrenaline high + hundreds of screaming kids = death of my sanity. All I had to do was look at Haruhi's manic grin as we approached to know that.
"About time, Kyon! I was getting sick of waiting!" she yelled, just loud enough for Miss Asahina to cower a little behind her. Nagato for her part was as controlled as ever.
Which is my fault, of course. "Why didn't you just go in?"
"Well, then I'd have to pay, idiot!"
What a novel concept.
"It's your cousin that we're taking out," she continued, taking a sweater from her bag ( both white to match the dress) and explaining slowly as if it were a natural part of life, "so of course you're paying, right?"
She buttoned it half way, then dropped her arms to cross around her chest: a total Q.E.D. move. Yeah, right. I fail to see how that logic even pretends to work. And this is your plan to begin with! But, actually telling that to Haruhi would have about as much effect as telling the earth to stop moving, and by this point the damage was done. Hazuki was looking through the gate of the park with eyes so wide they could swallow her head, so it wasn't like I could turn back now. And all in all, things could be worse. An amusement park was at least safe.
I felt a tug at my wrist. Well, more like a full-on yank, but luckily Hazuki isn't strong enough to do much damage. If it was Haruhi, no doubt my arm would have gone flying. Her voice was a lot more gentle though, as she asked, "Are we going, P2?"
Like I have a choice.
"Eh?" came a confused screech. "P2?!"
But fortunately Haruhi didn't have the opportunity to question further, as Hazuki pulled me forward into the ticket booth, leaving the Brigade scrambling to follow. No one could ever say the kid didn't have her advantages to her.
"I've never been to a musement park before!"
"An amusement," I automatically corrected, as I paid the attendant and stepped out with her. No wonder though; I knew enough about Hazuki by this point to know that it was going to be a mass effort to keep track of her. All I had to do was take a wrong step and I'd lose her.
"Hey, you still have your . . . ticket home, right?"
"I got it!"
Now if only she actually understands what "it" is. At this rate, I think she'd say anything to make sure she got to stay. A brief check in her pockets though confirmed she was right though, and she smiled madly as I stood back up.
"Guess you did."
Now if it can only stay that way.
"Why don't I take care of her, Kyon?"
That bright, cheerful voice was so like an angel in my time of despair, I hardly doubt I need to clarify that it belonged to Mikuru Asahina, who had finally caught up to me.
"You look a little tired, and I'll have more fun with Hazuki anyway. I don't like a lot of the bigger rides."
"Something tells me those are the ones she's going to want to go on," I started to say, but Hazuki was already beaming and jumping to grab Miss Asahina's hand.. She only hesitated for a moment, looking back and searching my face for some sort of go-ahead, so I gave her a quick nod and she pulled Miss Asahina to parts unknown.
Wait a minute.
"Don't worry. I'll keep them from getting into trouble," Koizumi said, and before I was able to say anything back, he had run off after them. Damn it, that is the opposite of making me feel better! I already had my daughter crushing after you; I really don't need you having a shot of a romantic afternoon all alone with Miss Asahina! One roller coaster ride and she was going to be putty in his hands!
The curt reply shook me out of my downward spiral, as I saw Nagato glide towards the trio in seconds. Finally, my heart could rest easily. Whatever crisis came about, I knew wholeheartedly that she could take care of it.
But . . . if they're all with Hazuki, then that means . . .
I turned back, just as Haruhi stepped out of the ticket booth, last but most certainly not least, and looked around frantically for the other members of the Brigade.
"Hey, Kyon, where did everybody go?"
I looked back at the direction the others had gone in, but there wasn't so much as a trace of them.
Damn it—they did it again.
Or rather, Koizumi did it again. Miss Asahina may have started it but I knew better than to think it was her idea. He just knew enough by now to know what I wouldn't be able to say no to her. Damn it, damn it, damn it! Now what do I do?"
"Kyon! Did you hear me?"
"Yeah, I heard you. They went off somewhere with Hazuki. We'll probably see them eventually."
". . . Oh."
The response was so incredibly un-Haruhi like I had to look at her. Somewhere in the trip from outside the gates to in she had swapped out her yellow ribbon for a yellow beret, one of the baggier ones that hung loose on her head. It was a strange sight, and I almost began to question her on it when I saw the ribbon in her hand, hanging limply in two pieces. She must have tried to fix it and torn it somehow. Now she just fingered it, sliding it between her thumb and index, as her eyes screwed up in frustration. "This is totally not what I had planned! They better have a good explanation for this later!"
Now that's more like it; keep with that, please.
She sighed, exasperated, and tucked the ribbon into her sweater pocket.
"Well," she said, straightening her bag and wrapping her hand tightly around the strap, "you'll have to make up for it a hundred times over." She walked past, making it clear she expected me to follow.
How did I know that was coming? With a sigh to match hers, I did the only thing I could do, jogging until I was alongside her again.
"I don't really like amusement parks, you know."
It was more a personal remark than a complaint, but for some reason I said it out loud, which quickly elicited a scoff.
"Don't be stupid. Everyone likes amusement parks, Kyon."
Because obviously everyone likes what you like, Haruhi. But really it's true. I never had, even when I was a kid. Too loud, too crowded, and not nearly enough to do.
After a while, she spoke again, clenching the bag strap even tighter. "Then why did you even bother to come, idiot?"
Because I didn't know?
"You could have left if you wanted to."
Oh, please. "Like Hazuki would have let me." Like you would have let me.
She weighed this for a moment, before responding with something so odd, it broached total non-sequitur: "You two are pretty close for cousins."
"Not really. My aunt would be pretty pissed if I upset her though."
The punch hit my arm dead center, an instant torpedo. "Ow!"
"That's what you get for being an asshole! She really likes you!"
"I like her too!"
"Then say that!" she said, punching me again but with a little less force this time. With a scowl, her hands retreated crossing against her chest as she suddenly stopped. A group behind us grumbled, but moved around us as I moved back to stay with her.
"Honestly, I don't understand what the big deal is," she continued. "People should say what they really mean. There's nothing wrong with liking your cousin, idiot!"
Then how about you say what you really mean? And what's with all the physical abuse? I feel like the last hen in the pecking order!
She pulled at her bag and continued walking, but my legs couldn't quite get going. Something told me that whatever this was about, it wasn't Hazuki; and worse yet, I couldn't help but feel like I knew exactly what that something was.
Way to go, Koizumi. In your never-ending attempts to screw with me, you were starting to call so much attention to yourself that even Haruhi was picking up on it. Because while I'm not a betting man, I'd be willing to put down all those trillions I'd wanted to give Koizumi earlier that this was about the Brigade's "coincidentally" leaving us alone not once, but twice. And at this rate, mysterious short-form closed spaces were going to be the least of Koizumi's worries. At least I had some ammo now though, to back me up on the "Haruhi is in prime closed-space making mood" proposition.
So then . . . why wasn't I happy about it? As she walked away from me, I could tell she was annoyed. Haruhi always seemed to wear her feelings like a shawl, pulling it around her so tight that she had to adjust her entire body to suit it. Right now her hands were tightly clenched, and her back was stiff and tall. She looked like a cat ready to pounce, every muscle tightly posed for quick action. They were obvious signs, all of them, that I was right, and that this mess was one of Koizumi's own making.
So why was I just as annoyed?
Wait a minute, why am I even asking this? Of course I have a right to be annoyed. Koizumi was messing with me too! It makes perfect sense!
But then, why is he not the one I feel really angry at?
She paused after a while, realizing I hadn't followed, and turned back with a glare. "Well? Are you coming or not?"
Whatever. I'll figure it out later.
I always have to anyway.
Ho-hum. I feel like the problem with this chapter is that most of the meat's in the first half, but then it felt too short to cut it off there. Even now it feels slight. However, set-up is set-up, I suppose. Perhaps when I have time to really sit and look at how it fits into future chapters I can make some adjustments.
Until we meet again!