"Motionless at 9:10"
The world stopped at 9:10.
Ultimately, probably an unimportant fact. The other nitty-gritty details of that day--what temperature it was, what wind speed, how many stars you could see from where--have been largely forgotten. He is the only one who still cares; can flip open the notebook dated JULY 2006 and see it in his own black, loopy writing. 22 degrees Celsius; 6 kph NW wind; a scattered hundred stars by his human eye but more, always more, with his telescope's.
It's only really special to him though, so when they probe, he just says the time in a whisper:
"9:10; that's when it all went grey."
Itsuki looked up. To his left. To his right. But while there were others in the room, no one seemed to respond and so he stood.
Black curls bobbed, up and down, as the secretary nodded. She clicked her pen, tapping it against the clipboard. She didn't look at him, but she asked again, voice just as indifferent as before:
"Uh, Koizumi Itsuki."
She nodded again, writing it in careful script. Without a word, she turned around and walked through the beaded curtain down the hall, and he sat down again. The chair wasn't comfortable--the pine back wasn't angled enough, wrenching him upright to sit in a 90 degree angle, but it was better than standing. No one noticed him as long as he was just sitting, but the minute he stood up, it'd be hard to ignore the foot and half difference in height from everyone else. It wouldn't be long before they realized he lied about his age. He was just tall enough that he could pass for fifteen at a glance, but he knew he didn't really look it and they'd check eventually. Not that fifteen was all that better--he'd been here for quite a while, and seen plenty come and go. No one looked under the age of twenty-five, never mind thirteen.
That was okay though. They couldn't tell him no, he knew that. He had seen her, and they couldn't take that away from him; didn't have the right.
He had been chosen.
It was another hour-long wait before the beads shifted again. A silver haired man, wrinkled and plump but regal like a king, even while wearing a cheap brown suit worn at the edges, came out, watching him closely, while the secretary watched from behind, arms tightly wrapped around her waist.
The man smiled and stepped closer, his eyes kind but curious, like a scientist eyeing a new find. "Koizumi Itsuki?"
Itsuki nodded, and the man stretched his lips in a show of a smile, eyes still calculating something Itsuki couldn't see.
"I see," he said slowly. He turned to the nurse, communicating somehow with a blink and a bit lip. When he turned back, he let the smile drop, and with a nod he stepped to the side and held the curtain back.
His turn? Finally?
"Well, come on."
Apparently so. Itsuki scrambled up, nearly tripping on his backpack in his rush, before he picked it up and quickly shuffled through
"I hope you haven't been waiting long," the man said as he got closer, and Itsuki tightened his grip on the bag.
In the waiting room, Itsuki sat for three hours and forty-seven minutes. He guessed a number closer to four then, and as time has gone by, it's stretched out to five, whenever he feels like complaining about poor efficiency. The specifics don't particularly matter though. In reality, Itsuki had been waiting for much longer than that. The world stopped at 9:10 on a rather cool July night in 2006. He entered the doors of the Organization on a relatively warm January morning in 2007.
Half a year. He could do the math to the minute if he wanted, but that was the essence of it. Half a year, he waited. But he contented himself by thinking that it wasn't really a lie, not in this case.
For something like this, you could never wait long enough.
Itsuki looked, not understanding. All he could see was white. White walls, white floor, white fluorescent lighting. Slowly his eyes adjusted however, and he made out against the far wall a glass table with matching chairs.
"I know, it's a bit horrifying, isn't it? We're bringing someone in to paint; try not to think about it in the meantime."
Not knowing what else to say, Itsuki nodded. His father had always taught him it was the best response and loathe as he was to accept advice from that source, it steered him right more often than not. He quickly walked in, sliding his bag off his shoulder into his hands.
"Feel free to leave it anywhere; it'll just be us for today."
"I'll just keep it near me, thank you." His whole life was tucked in that bag--or, at least the things worth taking from it that could fit (his telescope, unfortunately, remained in his closet). Clothes, books, journals--he wasn't about to risk someone snatching it. He carefully tucked it underneath the chair and sat down. It was just as stiff as the one in the waiting room, but he didn't mind nearly as much now. The excitement was building up now; he couldn't relax even if he tried.
The man--he still didn't have a name, Itsuki realized; it wasn't necessary, of course, but it just felt strange--sat down across from him, settling the clipboard down carefully. He flipped through the pages (white as well, and Itsuki wondered if that was just how they did things around here, paying tribute to the fact that they might as well have been ripped from the covers of a sci-fi novel) before looking up.
"Well," he said with a sigh, "how did you find us?"
Itsuki straightened up even more, suddenly self-conscious. "Well . . . the internet, mostly. Forums and chat rooms. Some magazines as well."
"Was it difficult?"
Suddenly feeling restless, his hands fell into his lap and clasped tight.
Lie two, though again, Itsuki rationalized it perfectly.
The Organization has always lived by one principle: the Organization does not exist, except for when it does. It is not spoken of, it is not written of, it is not acknowledged. except for when it is. During these precious few times when it is acknowledged, when it does exist, it isn't difficult to find. In fact, it's rather obnoxious about the whole thing, trumpeting its existence quite proudly to anyone who'll listen.
It was the searching during the time when it wasn't, when it didn't, that was difficult.
The internet became his best friend. He subscribed to more magazines than he could reasonably afford (which was a lot), bookmarked countless forums, all filled with lines and lines of nonsense but he trekked through it all. There were plenty of people in the world desperate to be special, he discovered; enough so that they were willing to claim an abduction or a haunting, just for someone, somewhere to believe them and consider them as something more than what they were.
All he needed was to find that one person who truly was; some person like him. The world stopped at 9:10 and while Itsuki didn't know much, he knew there were more. Not many; he knew that too, knew it as perfectly as his body knew to breathe. But there were more.
And if, by chance, he came across her too--well, that would only make it all the better.
It took half a year, and even then, it was entirely by accident. A blurb in a tabloid, under reports of baby-eating kappas and UFOs, of the sky turning grey; and then a follow-up, of a strange group in Shibuya that tried to take her away. It could have been nothing--had the tabloid not mysteriously gone under not a week later. Another week and Itsuki had it: address, name, and everything, not that at the time he knew it was a name. At the time, he thought it was simply a description, a thought only half-made:
"We did reach out, you see. To some extent, anyway. Obviously. we can't make ourselves very accessible, but it wasn't an entirely random process. Those who saw it, as far as we know, are largely Japanese, aside from a few transfer students studying here. Most, if not all, possess an intelligence level somewhat higher than the average person's, so many were members of the science community--a rather considerable network, so you can imagine it didn't take very long. We haven't had someone new come in for a very long time, and--"
The man paused, watching the boy with that same curiosity again, and closed his lips. He seemed unsure how to word it and Itsuki almost finished it for him, before he finally continued, "--not anyone quite as young as you."
He ended it there, lips quirking up slightly in the corners before he restrained himself, and suddenly Itsuki understood.
His hands clasped tighter, shaking with the pressure, but it kept his voice calm when he spoke.
"You don't believe me."
The man tilted his head up, opened his mouth, than quickly closed it again. He looked down at the clipboard, tapping a white pen against it, then said, still looking at it, "The description is accurate enough, but details of the group have . . . 'leaked' recently. It was quickly contained but--"
The man looked up again.
"I saw the tabloid article. I'm not going to lie. That's how I found you," Itsuki continued, "but I saw what I saw."
The man sighed, and laid the pen down. He leaned forward, leaning his arms on the table, and sighed again.
"Koizumi-san, even if you are, by chance, not lying, surely you understand. I can't in good conscience allow a child--"
"--You're twelve, if that. But, you must understand, I can't allow you to do this. Perhaps later, when you're older--"
"--It's not your decision to make."
His voice was cracking now from too little breath and nerves, his usual tricks not enough to keep it in, but he didn't stop, looking straight into the man's eyes. "It's Hers. She chose me; She wants me, and you can't take that away from me. You don't get to do that, you--"
The man raised a hand, but it was the change in his eyes that really silenced him. The scales had shifted, from curiosity to kindness, and even though this close in Itsuki could see it as mostly fake, there was just enough sincerity there for him to grab on to. He focused on breathing, his heart beating too fast a rhythm in his chest, and his father's routine came unbidden into his head.
One, two; in, out; there you go, that's a scout.
"I suppose that's true. But I wonder if you really understand."
Three, four; one more; now you're fit for what's out the door.
He released the breath then asked, voice level, "I understand everything that you do."
The platitude came in the voice all adults used for such things: "Knowing isn't the same as understanding." He leaned back, arms crossing his chest and eyes still understanding but stern. "This is not a game," he continued, "nor is it heroism. It is simply a job, one with stresses equivalent to that of a grown man's. You must wake whenever you are called and attend training. The hours are as such that you would be quite unable to continue attending your current school. I'm sure one of the others could take up the task, and the education will easily eclipse that which you would receive otherwise, but it will also be exceedingly more difficult. It will also have to be on that person's terms, so, you would be unable to continue living at home.
"Would that be acceptable?"
The man expected to hesitate. Itsuki could see it, in the slight relaxation of his body, the tightening around his eyes. But it wasn't out of rebellion that he said "Yes."
At the time, he genuinely believed it.
It only later became lie three.
Then, Itsuki remembered: beating pimples down, "Bean pole!", awkward hand holding with Kimiko, "Cooties!", his best friends Kyouya and Mitsuru moving away, and soccer games lost all thanks to him.
He remembered: an empty house when he came home at night and empty house when he left in the morning, holidays spent with his father, his mother, and their two hot cell phones,
Now, Itsuki remembers: letting pimples be, being picked first for gym, the warm touch of Kimiko's hand as it brushed against his, her smile and furious blush when she turned away, long-distance phone calls that drove up a bill he'd never see, and soccer games won all thanks to him.
He remembers: an empty house that was at least meant for more than one, and holidays spent with parents who still knew what to say to him when the phones lay cold and off at the dinner table.
Then, it had seemed a dream.
Now . . .
He isn't so sure if the dream wasn't what he'd been so desperate to escape before.
"They won't notice." The end is mumbled, betraying him, and he looked down quickly.
"Tell them it's a boarding school opportunity; they'll understand. My grades are high enough. They'll pay my way, so you don't have to worry about a place to stay either."
"Well, we've recently come in to quite a bit of money. I doubt it'd be a problem anyway."
The man said nothing more for a while, possibly trying to plan his next attack, and Itsuki allowed himself to look up. The man was watching him intently as ever, though this time he smiled, just sincerely enough to surprise him.
"You control your emotions well. That'll serve you to some extent, but it won't be enough. You'll need to learn to mask yourself in its true meaning: to not simply hide, but to slip into a different personality entirely. Naturally the easiest ones are those that are merely exaggerations of your own, but you may be called to something completely different, especially being in your position."
The words were casual, as if Itsuki's understanding of the matter was obvious, and though it killed him to ask he had to: "What do you mean?"
The man picked up a pen again, slipping it through his fingers back and forth. "Well, this is merely my own thought, of course, but: you and her. You're similarly aged; she's some months older, but that hardly--"
He couldn't stop the smile. He tried; he had just two seconds ago been commended for guarding himself and he'd do anything to prove it further but it bubbled up through the cracks when he wasn't looking and now he couldn't seem to take it off. "You've found Her?"
The pen stopped. "Yes."
"Where is She? Is She close by? Does She know? Or are you keeping Her--"
"Haruhi Suzumiya's current situation is on a need to know basis as of this moment."
"What? But She chose--"
"More people than just yourself, and in very different ways. You may in fact be one of her knights, Koizumi Itsuki, but as that knight, do not dare to sit with kings."
The man didn't stand. He didn't even seem to move. But the words might as well have been a slap and Itsuki backed down instantly. After a while, the man continued, sliding the pen again.
"You may yet get to meet her. As I said, you are of similar age; that could prove useful. But I make no promises in this; there is no way to assume that we will ever be ready to be so direct in our contact, nor that you would be deemed fit enough by that time, should it ever come."
"I will be. I can be. If you'll teach me."
The man laughed. "I teach no one, boy."
"If someone will teach me; I don't care who."
The pen stopped again, as the man clicked it and wrote something down that Itsuki couldn't see. Still not looking up, he asked, "Do you really care so much?"
The "Yes" was just as quick as before.
This was not a lie.
Haruhi Suzumiya was a girl. She had eyes and hair of onyx, tears dripping on her cotton dress, and a golden anklet broken and trailed over her feet. He knew reasonably that she didn't always look like that, but for years that was how always saw her. Even now, out of the corner of his eye he sometimes swears he sees it, as if she can change back and forth between that and her current self at will.
But she was more than that. What, he didn't know. He still doesn't, though he'll lie and say he does. But the world stopped at 9:10 for her and started again at 9:15 for her.
Any girl who could do that was worth more care than he could ever hope to give, and he hasn't yet seen anything that could make him change his mind
It was the only answer, murmured distractedly out of the corner of the man's mouth as he busily wrote. Finally, he stopped. Clicked the pen and slid it through the clip in such a way that Itsuki knew it was over. The man stood, bowed, thanked him for his time, and left.
He never did give his name.
He stood, unsure of himself. Did he leave? Or was he meant to stay? The man had never actually said that he'd been accepted. He'd implied it, certainly, and surely they wouldn't let him go with this knowledge if he wasn't, but he couldn't seem to shut the doubt out. He pulled up his bag, holding it tight, and sat down again. For how long, he wasn't certain. He just knew by the time the door opened again and a man, equally silver haired but older and leaner, came, his arms ached and he had a crick in his back he didn't feel like shaking loose.
He nodded. He knew he should probably speak too, in this instance, but the words collected into his throat and refused to go any farther, so it'd have to do.
The man straightened, all the poise and dignity of a butler flashing across his face.
"You may call me Arakawa. I will be taking on the task of being your mentor."
"I'm afraid I just don't know. To be completely honest, I don't even know why you're bothering."
"Do you think I enjoy it? You'd think by now that the record would be absolute."
Itsuki flips through the pages again and sees the details as clearly as they happened. It's funny; they never saw each other, in that first closed space three years ago, yet they all saw the same thing. First the sky, wiped clean of stars and lightened to an unearthly gray. Then, rising in the west, the shinjin looking like a botched child's drawing. And then the child, crying but making no noise, her hair draped around her like a security blanket. He remembers it still; can still feel the telescope in his grip, cold to the touch and the wind hitting across his face not that much warmer, as he searched for his targets. Can still remember the careful notes in the journal, a gift from his mother and the only thing that could get her attention those days.
He hands it back with a smile carefully honed from years of practice. "There's really nothing more to add. I'm sure if you told them that--"
"You know perfectly well they'll ask me to try again. Come on, what do you remember?"
"I really don't--"
"Just something? They want the perfect record."
He smiles though he wants to sigh. He knows she's right, but he really can't think of anything.
Except . . .
22 degrees Celsius. 6 kph NW wind. 656.2 -- 127.0.
They won't care about that. No one does, save for him. But there's something else, and at the very least, he suppose he'll give them that. He's tired, running on an hour of sleep spread over two days, and it's just not worth keeping it anymore.
He's given everything else; there's no reason to protect this, the least by far.
"9:10; that's when it all went grey."
Thanks to Rocke, as always, for being fantastic. It feels good to finally get this idea out, as it's been kicking around my head for going on a year now.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Until we meet again.