"And Merrily We Go Along"
In the midst of this world
We stroll along the roof of hell
Gawking at flowers.
Elliot was wrong.
Strange thought, probably, to have as the world died. But a person couldn't help what he thought and it was the only thing that passed through Kyon's mind. Elliot was wrong.
Because the world didn't end with a bang or a whimper. When the world finally ended, the sun went up, the sky burned red, and there wasn't a sound at all.
He should have kissed her. No one would have known. And even if they could have, no one would have blamed him. She was beautiful. Long legs. Soft hair. Big, bright brown eyes and a smile that could send armies to war. Any reasonable man would have jumped at the privilege of getting his lips around it.
But he hadn't. He never had been half as reasonable as he pretended. The moment came and she looked up, mouth still half open from calling him an idiot, and he let it pass by. His lips parted, his mind screaming--and he let it pass him by. She was the one that finally pulled them away into a shed, the floorboards creaking underneath their weight, much to her disappointment. Despite her firm belief that the shinjin were friendly though, he was a useless silent sack and she knew enough to get out of the way of falling buildings.
He wasn't sure how long it took; it felt interminable, but maybe that was just because he was awake. Haruhi always did have more sense; after an initial burst of anxious senergy she curled up near by and slept, not waking until long after a new world had cropped up in its place.
Figures, he thought. Only you would create an entirely new universe and sleep through it all.
He wasn't always sure how much Haruhi remembered of the old world.
She didn't act as if she remembered. When she had finally woken that day, she wasn't fazed by the color shift in the world around her. She had looked on with mild curiosity at the spaceships shooting across the sky, but it wasn't the shocked excitement she had felt with the shinjin. She had just turned around, smiled, and asked if he was ready to go.
And yet, sometimes she turned around quickly when they walked through the gardens, before turning back and muttering something about guys and long hair. She picked up books, turning them over and over with a faint amusement before setting them back on shelves. She made comments he couldn't really figure out, never naming names but always coming so very close. They had had an entire conversation on bitter tea once that had merely ended in her fuming, "I bet if I hadn't been the one making it, you would have swallowed it all in one gulp like the perv you are!" That was the closest he'd ever come to asking, but almost as if she had known, she had already stomped away to parts unknown before he could try.
She did remember him, obviously; he knew that much, though how that worked didn't seem to make sense. She had met him in high school but there wasn't anything like that here. In her mind, how did they meet? When? Why? He'd ask but he was pretty sure that would only end up with her in parts unknown again and Kyon tried to avoid that if he could. It wasn't a matter of cosmological safety, not anymore, but whatever physics told him, it was hard to remove the impression that he and Haruhi were the only real things left. He could feel the grass, taste the fruit, hear snatches of conversation from passersby but his mind rejected it all. It took weeks before he could eat and actually feel satisfied afterwards. It was psychological, completely, but enough to keep him firmly at Haruhi's side if he could help it.
Which only begged another question: why did he remember? It was the one probably most important, and yet the one he least wanted to answer. Not that he wasn't curious; he was, and he couldn't help but feel like a true conclusion there could close a lot of the other big questions as well. It was merely uncomfortable ground, littered with other little mines to trip before you could reach a solid end. Because yes, he did remember. That was a cold, easy fact in itself. He remembered the world, Nagato, Asahina, and Koizumi. He remembered his family, his school, his town. He remembered cool Golden Week vacations and sticky wooden seats in the middle of July.
He remembered it all and felt the guilt for it. Recognized that every step he took was one they'd never take again, and all because he wouldn't do what? Kiss Haruhi? It seemed like such a far away concern now. He could have saved the world, ignored it ever happened, and lived out his life in as ordinary a fashion as possible. Instead, here he was, in a world where the least ordinary thing imaginable was as typical as a pigeon at a park (both of which, ironically, he still had yet to see here). He'd often called Haruhi stubborn, but there was no doubt about it: any stubbornness she showed was purely to match his own.
He remembered it all and felt the guilt for it, and sometimes it drove Haruhi mad to watch him. "The world's no good if you mope around all the time!" she'd yell, quickly pulling him along to something amazing--it changed on her mood. A waterfall, maybe; or a fireworks show. Once she even tried to get him to hang glide, which really just resulted in her whooping from above and him trying to figure out if she had transplanted the real Grand Canyon here or just concocted something as close to it as was divinely possible.
He remembered it all and felt the guilt for it, but he preferred it over the alternative. Someone had to remember them, even if the world seemed to be doing just fine without them. Someone had to remember a world where the sky was blue (and gray, on occasion). Maybe things weren't quite so lush and green and maybe the air wasn't so clean and pure, but a whole lot of work had gone into messing that old world up.
Someone ought to remember that too.
Eventually, Kyon decided to draw a map.
This new world seemed to be mainly a large garden, at least where they were. How far it extended, Kyon couldn't be sure. He hoped to bring it up to Haruhi someday but he wasn't sure just how she'd react. Exploring was good; asking stupid questions that only highlighted the gap between their memories was not. He already had one bruise to thank for that, from a smack across the chest when he didn't remember her birthday (in truth, had never been told it, not in his version of events); he didn't particularly need another one. But as far as he could tell, there were only gardens, and he couldn't say he minded, though it called back annoying memories of what Koizumi had said the last time they spoke. It did make for a beautiful sight even if it wasn't quite normal, with fluorescent rose-like flowers he could fit his head into and ivy that moved with the sun mixed in with the usual array of blossoms and wildflowers. It was certainly better than the sky, a chilling red that turned his stomach every time he looked up, and he ended up spending much of his time in the forest under the trees. It got to the point that Haruhi had another hut built there, thinking that he preferred it to the lake (which he did, admittedly--it was hard enough looking up, never mind seeing it reflected in the water). All the huts were interspersed like this, put up quickly and randomly throughout the garden, which was a topic he wondered about often. He knew there was more to this world--aliens, time travelers, espers, sliders, and only Haruhi knew what else. He'd had more than one conversation with them all, and he'd seen them at work from time to time in the sky, on the rare occasions when he couldn't avoid it.
So why the garden?
This question, though the last of the bunch, was apparently the most powerful. It kept him wringing his hands for weeks, till finally he came into the bedroom, watched her carefully knot the ribbons into her hair, and just asked pointblank.
She stopped. Turned, eyebrows and mouth equal partners in showing their contempt. "Well, there's the city too, idiot. You don't think everyone just mucks around here all day, do you?"
So there was more. On a roll, he asked another: "So, that's where all the excitement is, huh?"
She didn't answer this time, but the sarcastic tilt in her gaze said it all. Duh. Taking advantage of the lull, she turned back to the mirror to work again, but he soon asked again:
"Then why are we here? I mean . . ." He fumbled for the right words, but found his mind less willing to take the lead this time. He could see her watching in the mirror, hands at her lap and seemingly much more interested in him than the still loose ribbon dangling from a pin, and he threw out whatever seemed best. "I mean, you want to be there, right?"
She looked down, but only for a moment, before quickly setting to work again. But her eyes were distracted, and her voice carried that unmistakable tone of loss when she finally spoke again.
"Well, this was what you wanted, wasn't it?"
Despite it all, they lived together.
For Kyon, it was simple: he had nowhere else to go. Haruhi had money, a job, a whole strange and mysterious life she spoke of often but he never understood, while he didn't have the slightest clue where to get even one of those things, much less all three. Besides, he was pretty sure he'd drive himself mad living by himself. He'd always craved solitude, but not like this, not in some dream a teenage girl had and never woke up from. Even the greatest hermits had their limits.
Why Haruhi put up with it though, he wasn't sure he'd ever understand. She didn't ask, didn't say, but he knew that she understood. She somehow knew that for whatever reason, they existed on two different sides of the same life, and he couldn't imagine how that felt. For him, it was just ignorance. He didn't know which bed was his, which day of the week meant dinner or dishes, which signals were clear "Get the hell out of here, I hate everyone" signs of a typical Haruhi mood. Annoying, yes. Potentially dangerous, yes. But painful? Not really. Haruhi though knew everything, and had to contend with a partner who didn't know his part of the steps, who wasn't even sure he wanted to dance to begin with.
That said, she didn't press. She sometimes forgot; sometimes tried to needle information that he didn't even have out of him, or shut him out for not understanding a joke or a reference about something that he'd never experienced. But she never even tried to define their relationship, to the point that Kyon wondered for a while if they even had one.
It wasn't until months after the birth of the world, as they watched the snow pile up to reach their window, her nose pressed up against the glass, that it came out, so quickly that it all jumbled up into one phrase:
She didn't even budge; just shot right back, "Kyon, I can't understand gibberish!"
"How did we meet?"
She leaned back, but didn't look away, eyes still following the flakes as they fell.
"I was just a kid," she said simply. "You travelled back in time to meet me; who knows why. You even fed me some stupid lie about being called John Smith."
"So I'm a time traveler?"
She shook her head. "Just that one time."
"Then what am I?"
She looked at him then, eyes glittering as a smile leaped onto her face. She shrugged, and answered cheerfully, like she was mentally laughing at a joke she knew he'd never get.
After that, the questions came easily. Answers weren't so simple; sometimes freely offered, sometimes like pulling teeth, but he learned to be strategic about it. If she was working on something, he let her be. He might be able to get some details through sheer distraction but more often than not she'd chase him out for his stupidity. However, picnicking in the field, surrounded by the wheat towering over them, she was always more honest and willing. Maybe because he could barely see her through the stalks. Maybe because really, she wanted him to know, but just too often let her frustration get the better of her.
So, he asked all the things that had been mucking up his head since he got here, just like when they first met, and she answered in her usual Haruhi way (just as she did then).
"Where are we?"
"Why's the sky red?"
"Are you kidding?! Read a science book; I don't know!"
"What do you do all day?"
"Whatever I want to do. That's the whole point!"
Sometimes, he didn't have to ask. Sometimes she just talked, naming places and events that he'll never really know even as he committed them to memory, like names in a well-loved book. The definitive history of earth as it was now, Haruhi Suzumiya style--short, to the point, and too wild to every really fit in his head--and yet, in some ways no wilder than before. Aliens, time travelers, espers, and even sliders all went about their business much as they did in another time and place, not that Haruhi talked about this much. She focused on the exploits, the adventures, the struggles with no casualties but plenty of big, bright, exciting explosions. And sometimes, they didn't talk at all. Just listened to the music of this world, quiet but still there, just over the sound of the wind.
On days like those, it wasn't hard to forget. Other days he carried them all in his head, a million different voices he'd never hear again thanks to him, but those days, they were quiet.
Like they wanted to listen too.
By the time he finally kissed her, it was late spring again.
They were at the lake (her idea, not his, but it was nightfall now--dark black skies, with more stars than he'd ever imagine possible, were all right by him) and she was just lying there, looking up and pointing out the constellations with this manic sort of glee that he just couldn't help it. He bent down and kissed her, not even thinking to wipe off the orange juice he just sipped, and he could feel her mouth quirk and her body jump as she struggled not to laugh.
"What?" he asked, leaning out slightly to give her space to speak.
"Idiot. You could have done that sooner."
"Then we wouldn't be in this mess!"
The statement hung in the air for a few moments before he sighed, not entirely surprised to say that he felt more confirmed than anything else. "I know."
He leaned back on his side on the grass, his arm brushing against hers until she flat out took it, pinching the flesh of his palm to see the fingers squirm.
"I can't change it," she says eventually, probing for a reaction. "It's done now."
She stilled, thinking it over, then continued with her scheme. After a few moments, she dropped it on her stomach, and with a great sigh of frustration yelled, "Well?! No second kiss?!"
She huffed, pinching his hand again.
"Jerk," she mumbled, twisting on her side carefully to put her back towards him but make sure his hand remained resting on her waist.
He smiled, and meant it when he said:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Until it begins again.
The original Haruhi Suzumiya series belongs to Nagaru Tanigawa and the Kadokawa Publishing Company. No infringement or monetary gain is intended by this story in any fashion.
The opening haiku is an untitled piece by Japanese poet Koyabashi Issa.
"The Hollow Men" is a poem by T.S. Elliot.
Many thanks to Rocke for betaing in the usual awesome ways.