Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing, and I'll put them back when I'm done.
Flashbacks in italics. Usually.
The Breakdown of Yuki Nagato
All the stars above slowly followed the same dance they had drifted through for centuries, locked into the same motions as though they had forgotten the next steps and so stubbornly repeated the part they knew, pretending all the while that this was the entire song. Nagato's memories from centuries before, corroborated by her data on astronomy, told her that the stars did not jump backward when they reached a pre-determined point at the end of August; they moved forward into new configurations and patterns as the entire galaxy and universe changed its position relative to this miniscule, unremarkable planet. It had been a long time since she'd seen the stars move forward.
Nagato looked down from the night sky and stared at the door in front of her. Like the planet she stood on, there was nothing remarkable about it. It was white. It was made of wood. It led to a domicile typical of an average family unit in the geopolitical feature known as 'Japan.' And, precisely as the unremarkable planet had turned out to be the most important rock in the physical universe due to the presence of Haruhi Suzumiya, this door was crucial due to the presence of the young man somewhere behind it.
Nagato took out her cell phone, slowly dialed, and listened to the simulated ringing.
Did this count as a failure?
"Yuki!" Haruhi crowed over the phone. "We're meeting at the bus station! Bring your swimming stuff. Two o' clock sharp!"
"Hello?" Kyon answered.
Nagato didn't respond right away, but spent a few precious seconds reevaluating the analysis that led her to his door. The results were the same. For once, there were no errors. This solution was not ideal, but it was necessary.
"Hello? Damn it, if you're going to call me in the middle of the night, you can at least talk!"
22:30 hours was not the middle of the night, but that was irrelevant. Nagato took a deep breath; it seemed to help. "I must speak with you," she finally replied. "May I enter your dwelling?"
"Nagato? Sorry, I didn't look at caller ID. Where are you?"
"I am standing approximately point-six meters from your door."
"Eh? Hold on. I'll be down in a second."
She watched him pedal up to the bus stop, panting for breath in the cool summer night. "Nagato… what's this about? Why did you want to meet here?" he asked, slumped over the handlebars.
She blinked and, with a small, economical movement of her hand, indicated the space next to her on the bench. "Please sit."
He was confused, certainly, but he was also winded, so he sat down and waited. Nagato said nothing else, ignored his questions, but ten minutes later Kyon answered his phone again. This time, Asahina sobbed at the other end, and events proceeded normally.
In this iteration, he had not sought her out. She had found it necessary, for the sake of functionality, to seek him out.
She waited, and considered whether it would be more optimal to retreat and reanalyze her data more thoroughly. Then the door pulled open, and he peered out at her. What would happen next had never happened before. Nagato did not know how this conversation would proceed or what its consequences would be, only that it would echo throughout eternity. She realized her heart was having a physiological reaction to the uncertainty; the speed of its rhythm had increased. She chose not to re-regulate its performance, and allowed the unpleasant thumping to continue.
Kyon cocked his head to one side. "Are you sure we can't talk at your place? My parents will call down lightning if they catch me smuggling a girl into my room this late."
Nagato stood over the two cuddled, sleeping girls. Kyon and Koizumi's voices bickered softly in the background by the telescope. Asahina and Haruhi Suzumiya seemed at perfect rest, escaped into their dreams and unfettered by the universe around them. Nagato's hand twitched, and she stoically ignored the sudden impulse to shake them awake.
She was in error. Why had she not foreseen the complications of meeting in a non-private location? Corruption in her processing capabilities, almost certainly. In her growing haze, Nagato was missing more and more. But there was no time, and she refused to wait any longer. "We must talk without delay. It is imperative."
He shrugged and led her in. He motioned for silence when they went by his sister's room. "She'll go running to tell on us if we wake her up," he whispered when they were clear. To come so far, to have less than an hour and a half to undo centuries of decay, and to be foiled by a human child—if that were to happen, Nagato would process it as evidence to her growing hypothesis that the universe was, indeed, hostile.
Haruhi beamed and waved as she bounced up and down in the pool. "Yuki! Throw the ball over here, Yuki!"
They reached his room, and he locked the door as soon as they were safe. Nagato accessed the room's data, and subtly sealed it against sound and physical intrusion. There would be no interruptions. "Well… make yourself at home, I guess." Kyon said. "Sorry it's a mess. I would have cleaned up if I knew you were coming, not that it'll matter tomorrow. That's one good thing about being stuck in a time loop—I don't have to do my laundry." Nagato stared at him for a moment, and wondered if this was humor.
She sat down on the nearest available surface, the edge of his bed. She had brought a book; she stared at it. The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Short Stories. She had not planned on reading, yet bringing the book had seemed relevant and appropriate. She looked back to Kyon. "During the conversation in which I first told you of my status as an Interface of the Data Overmind and my mission regarding Haruhi Suzumiya, I informed you that the data I had to convey was subject to corruption and asked for your careful attention and analysis. The data I must communicate tonight is likewise difficult. Please attempt to understand."
The burning sunset crept into the alley, buildings and road and crumpled trash lit with the death of the day. Tomorrow, another day. And another. And another. Nagato listened to Kyon's echoing footsteps as he chased her down. "Hey, Nagato!"
She turned to watch the final few meters of his run. Sometimes he sought her out, sometimes he did not. Of all members of the SOS Brigade, he could read her best, and this fact floated around her mind as he stopped and gave her a nervous smile. She was not to interfere with the progression of events, and that meant not revealing her knowledge of the recursion until the others deciphered it themselves. Hiding her knowledge meant hiding her internal errors springing from that knowledge. Every time Kyon approached her, he would ask after her well-being. She would say she is well, and events would proceed.
"Nagato… it's nothing, but how are you feeling lately?"
Nagato continued staring at his wide, nervous smile. Did he even know why he came here? Humans process information strangely; much of it is not conscious. They swim in a sea of data bursting all around them—physical laws, social constructions, realities piled one upon the other, and more they could not even imagine—yet they remain aware of no more than the tiny, solipsistic insides of their own minds. He came because he sensed the internal errors within Nagato's system; another data entity would see the data flowing through Nagato's system and understand the nature of the errors as completely as Nagato herself did. He, though, was still fumbling.
"Have you been feeling okay lately?"
Inefficient. Deceptive. Unaware. Humans don't know why they do anything. Or they pretend not to know. Or they want to not know. Or…
"I am well," she said, and turned and walked away without waiting for his reply.
She waited for him to nod, his face solemn and somewhat confused as it always was when Nagato spoke of her mission, her abilities, and Haruhi Suzumiya.
"Throughout the time loop, I have observed a number of errors in my internal processing. With each iteration, these errors become both more frequent and of a greater severity, to the point that they began influencing my external behavior. The first to occur was a lack of energy and attention in my duties as an observer. Despite my wishes and effort, this state eventually began manifesting in my external appearance. I believe you consistently notice it in most iterations of the loop."
Kyon squinted as he worked his way through all that. "Nagato… are you saying you're bored?" She nodded, and then he laughed.
Nagato blinked at him. She had not said anything humorous. Taking obvious pleasure in others' pain was not a characteristic which Kyon had displayed with any frequency. Either the data had been corrupted in transmission, or Kyon was displaying a discontinuous shift in characteristics.
Koizumi sat smiling and Asahina sat next to him ready to cry. Finally, he came out of the door to the private hospital room. He stomped right past Koizumi and Asahina and came straight to where Nagato stood facing the blank white hallway wall, apart from the rest of the group. He tried imitating Suzumiya's voice, but made it far too high-pitched. "I guess three was too much for the bike. Maybe if you weren't so weak and unbalanced, Kyon, but as it stands… well, tell Nagato I don't blame her for tipping you over like that. You can only take so much before you crumple like an empty soda can." He dropped the falsetto. "Nagato, what the hell were you doing?" His jaw clenched, his bloodstream adrenaline content increased, his face flushed. He was angry. At her. At Nagato, because she had hurt Haruhi Suzumiya. If he knew how Haruhi Suzumiya had hurt her, would he be just as angry? Nagato didn't dare run the probability analysis to answer that.
Instead, she just turned to stare at him, obsidian eyes boring into him, willing him to be angry for her, not at her.
But he just kept talking. "I know you wouldn't lose your balance unless you wanted to, so I have to believe that was intentional. Do you have any idea how annoyed she is? She broke her leg and she'll be in a cast for the rest of the break. She's asking for you next, by the way, and I know you can convince her it was an accident, but that doesn't change anything. Have you somehow gone insane since yesterday?"
"Considerable time has passed since yesterday," Nagato replied coldly. She noticed that her biological body was trying to tremble; she forced it to remain unmoving, but it still felt the impulse to simultaneously cower from him and burrow into him as a shield. "This action was neither sudden nor discontinuous." She turned, walked past him, completely ignored the frightened time traveler and confused esper, and went in to face Haruhi Suzumiya.
"I'm sorry, Nagato," he said as soon as he had his breath again. "I mean, I've noticed how despondent you've been lately, but… after however many centuries it's been, you're bored, and you're calling it an error?" He shook his head and grinned. "If I had to remember everything from every single time we go through the same events over and over, I'd be bored to tears the third time around and freaking out by the fifth. I really don't see how boredom is an error." She watched them go by, one after another.
Nagato tried to remember the precise moment time she realized the days would go on forever—literally eternally—and found she could not. That moment had long ago blended with a thousand others like it.
Again, fiery sunset caught his amber eyes and made them gleam. "Well, I don't want to bother you, but… have you been alright lately, Nagato? You seem a little off."
"I… require rest. I will be present tomorrow." He was sitting at the desk, she was sitting on the bed, and there was no more than five feet between them. Why did those five feet seem vaster than empires? "You do not understand. My mission is to observe Haruhi Suzumiya. I am carrying out my duties. Boredom should not occur in the course of my duties. Do you understand?" He gave her a blank look. More context was necessary, more supporting data. "My duty is to observe. Boredom would hinder my duty. I was constructed to suit my duty. Boredom should not be within my capacity."
"You mean you shouldn't even be able to feel boredom?"
"That is correct."
Kyon shook his head. "I don't know, that just seems so…" he broke off, then smirked. "Alien. I'm such an idiot, Nagato. I know you told me all about yourself that night, but it's still hard to remember that you're really that different from regular humans."
Nagato stood over the two cuddled, sleeping girls. Kyon and Koizumi's voices bickered softly in the background by the telescope. Nagato did sleep, an average of a few hours per night, but it was merely a low-powered regenerative state during which her mind sorted, correlated, and reported her gathered data. Asahina and Haruhi Suzumiya seemed at perfect rest, escaped into their dreams and unfettered by the universe around them. Nagato wondered what it was like to forget the world and simply dream.
Nagato leaned forward, almost imperceptibly. "Do you understand?"
"I think. I mean, it's kind of hard to imagine someone not ever getting bored, but here we are. Say, I just thought of something. What about Asakura?" Kyon cocked his head to
Ryouko Asakura. Nagato watched the clock and wondered how many centuries would pass before the opinion of the Data Overmind came to favor Asakura's faction. They would take a more interactive, experimental approach to the investigation of Haruhi Suzumiya. They would seize and control him, because he was the largest variable in Haruhi Suzumiya's equation. She would not allow them to control him. Their methods would likely be catastrophic.
But life would change.
11:53 PM. Nagato was going swimming tomorrow.
one side and arched an eyebrow. "She was always… well, you know."
"No. I do not know."
"Er, well, how to say it… she made facial expressions. She actually acted like she had emotions all the time, even if they were twisted enough that she was giving me a big smile while she tried to bury a knife in my esophagus."
He does not understand. "Asakura's faction has always been of the opinion that more direct experimentation and interaction with Haruhi Suzumiya will provide better data. She was created to suit such an interactive purpose. Indeed, the minority faction's proposed plan was to attempt to ingratiate Asakura with Haruhi Suzumiya from the beginning."
"You mean…" Kyon shuddered. "I just imagined a world where she was the SOS Brigade's resident alien."
He had all the necessary data to deduce Nagato's situation, but he did not yet understand. "There are further errors beyond the first. The second directly relates to Haruhi Suzumiya. My duty is to observe her, yet I increasingly find myself reluctant to do so. At times, remaining in her presence requires a continual conscious effort."
Nagato blinked, and checked her surroundings. The café. She was in the café.
Haruhi scratched her chin with the pen while reading off the summer activity list. "Huh… I suppose that's enough. We did a lot this summer."
Nagato blinked, and for the first time during this meeting in any iteration, spoke. "Are you certain?"
Haruhi pursed her lips, stared balefully at the list, and shuffled it back and forth across the table like she was hoping it would get up and dance if she prodded it enough. "Well, it has to be. Do you have something else, Yuki?"
Nagato had read about typical summer activities and had found no common summer activity, destination, or other occupation that could offer something significantly different than what they had done and would do again next iteration. If Haruhi desired further supernatural activity, she would have generated it herself. Uninterrupted by school, Haruhi had led her Brigade in the longest single streak of activity to date—even ignoring the infinite repetition—and she had seemed to enjoy every moment. There was nothing left, no imbalance, no task, nothing at all but a simple reluctance to end it.
Haruhi Suzumiya was an equation that would not balance.
"My situation is nothing more or less than my assigned duty and purpose. It was known beforehand that extreme circumstances would arise in the course of observing Haruhi Suzumiya. I should not be so affected."
Kyon took on a thoughtful look. "But you weren't meant to be this close to her, were you? You were meant to observe at a distance. Asakura was going to be the one to pal around with her if your bosses agreed on it."
If Nagato had been doing anything other than facing him, she would have stopped it and stared. Her heart once again began racing. He understands. He must understand. "Correct. Haruhi Suzumiya does not care that my original purpose was not the purpose I currently serve. Her will is different than the Data Overmind's will."
Kyon blinked. "Do you hate being in the SOS Brigade that much?" The corners of his mouth bent downwards.
Nagato stood over the two cuddled, sleeping girls. Kyon and Koizumi's voices bickered softly in the background by the telescope. Nagato knelt before Asahina and Haruhi Suzumiya and, being careful not to wake them, she touched both their heads. She knew the chemical composition of hair follicles, and if she focused, she could see the bonded molecules of each strand on their heads, but Nagato was still surprised by how soft they felt. If she had been stuck in this cycle of repetition without the rest of the SOS Brigade, she would have broken long ago. She knew this as though it had been hardcoded into her. She was not sure where the thought originated, or what logic it was based upon, or how it interacted with the fact that Haruhi Suzumiya, head of the SOS Brigade, was the very source of this hell, but she knew it was true regardless.
"Hate is incorrect. I do not know if I am yet capable of hatred."
"Yet?" A light went on in his eyes. He understood. "She's changing you, isn't she? She's making trouble again somehow."
Nagato nodded, almost eagerly. "Haruhi Suzumiya is… reshaping me, altering my original programming into new subroutines and functions. I was created to observe. I was not created to directly interact with humans at all. I was not created to resent my mission. Haruhi Suzumiya is repurposing me. It… hurts. Being near Haruhi Suzumiya hurts me."
Kyon was silent for a long moment, studying her, meeting her frozen gaze without any hint of the discomfort that most humans adopted during prolonged eye contact. But then, he shook his head. "I don't understand why you're telling all this to me. I can't… I don't know, run anti-virus or something on you. Er, I can't do that, can I?"
"I am telling you because the third class of errors, which is also the largest and most severe, directly concerns yourself."
"Me?" Kyon laughed nervously. "Um, how am I causing you errors? You aren't going to say I'm the one putting ideas into Haruhi's head, are you?"
Haruhi pursed her lips, stared balefully at the list, and shuffled it back and forth across the table like she was hoping it would get up and dance if she prodded it enough. "Well, it has to be. Do you have something else, Yuki?"
Haruhi slid the bill across to Kyon. "In that case, take tomorrow off and rest up, everybody. We'll meet up again on Monday to review our activities. Dismissed!" And she strode out the café. Kyon watched her go, and Nagato watched him. The variable. The mysterious variable in the equation of Haruhi Suzumiya. The only one for whom she had given the world a second chance. He was a normal human in every regard, yet he stood Haruhi Suzumiya's stormy whims and possessed an influence over her that the Data Overmind could not begin to understand. Nagato realized that she wanted him save her.
Was he truly this oblivious to the data that constantly swirled around him? The physical universe at large was orderly, operating on set laws. Yet on this little rock, chaos and creation swirled without regard for any of those laws, embodied in one magnificent biological lifeform known as Haruhi Suzumiya. And, no matter how wild the torrent raged, standing directly behind Haruhi Suzumiya was he. He stood in the middle of the deadliest, most unpredictable space in the universe, warping those winds through his denial, his tenacity, his words, or his mere presence. "Did you approach me following the activities of the first day this iteration of the loop?"
Again. Fiery sunset glinted off the buildings. Nagato walked slower, hoping that she would hear his voice in a moment calling for her to stop and asking how she felt. She slowed again, then came to a standstill. She waited for several minutes, but he didn't come to her.
"Er, you mean when I asked if you were feeling okay? Of course I did."
"I see. What did I tell you?"
"You said you were fine."
Kyon shifted uncomfortably and flicked his eyes to the book she had set aside. "Nagato, what's this about? This is a weird line of questioning, even for you. Something's wrong, isn't it? Why are you asking me this?"
Nagato blinked. "I am asking because I cannot reliably retrieve that data on my own. My ability to distinguish between iterations of the loop is beginning to degrade. "
Nagato ignored the partially articulated question. "I will tell you what I told you on that day in another iteration of the loop. Your presence has anomalous results in my system, many of which are contradictory. At times, your mere presence reorders my processing and allows me to continue functioning properly." Nagato watched him, wondering if any spark of understanding would light his eyes from within to match the orange glow that hung about him from the sunset. "At times, I consider the degree of influence you have over Haruhi Suzumiya and conclude that you will soon repair the situation. However, you have not. Projections indicate you likely will not. When I reflect on the obvious contradiction between the factual data and my expectations of you, I grow… angry. Frightened. Convinced that I have already ceased functioning properly, and that further exposure to either you or Haruhi Suzumiya will only aggravate the errors. I do not understand the laws governing this data."
"Nagato…" Kyon worked his mouth silently for a moment. "Nagato, what? You've lost me."
Her head made the smallest movement from side to side. "I should not become accustomed to relying on you. Koizumi will contact you later."
This time, Kyon did not say he was lost. "I'm still not sure I… angry? Nagato, could you be a little clearer?" This time, he was simply slow to comprehend, rather than completely without context or foundation.
"You have been able to reliably detect the errors in my system. Your presence makes them more volatile, yet you may also be key to correcting them, or at least ensuring as favorable an end state as possible."
The crack of the batting cages filled the hallway where Nagato waited. He came in from his game, bat slung over one shoulder and helmet dangling off one hand. "Hey, Nagato. You knew about this loop from the beginning, right?" Nod. "So why didn't you say anything before?"
Nagato looked at him. "My duty is to observe, regardless of outcome or personal cost."
"You know, you keep calling them 'errors,' but honestly… well, look at it this way. You always seemed a bit lonely to me, and now you're talking about boredom and ennui and being nervous around Haruhi and calmer around me, and, really, if you didn't have such a nice poker face I would go so far as to say that right now you even seem a bit scared and anxious about this whole thing. It sounds to me like Haruhi and being stuck in the SOS Brigade with us all this time is making you more… well, human."
Nagato sipped her drink. Peach juice, a specialty of the café the SOS Brigade always met at. For some reason, the beverage reduced the turmoil associated with the internal errors. Nagato's current hypothesis stated that the peach juice affected her in this manner because it was the drink she ordered least frequently, and it thus seemed the most different. As such, she resorted to it only when necessary. Kyon's gaze from the other side of the table felt like he had physically reached out and grabbed her, and she knew he had noticed how damaged she was.
"So… is there anything the rest of you want to do?" Haruhi scratched her nose with the capped end of the pen and glanced ever-so-briefly around the table.
"Um… I would like to scoop goldfish." Asahina, one arm raised slightly as though they were in the classroom.
Haruhi rambled on about what a great idea goldfish scooping was.
Haruhi stopped mid-babble. "Eh? Nagato, did you say something?"
"I would like to go to the library." Just this once. It can't hurt, it can't affect the flow too much, surely it was negligible. It wasn't negligible. Worse, it was willing betrayal of duty, but she did it anyway.
Haruhi tapped her chin. "Well, okay, even if it sounds a little boring. There's a good pizza place next to the library, now that I think about it. We can stop there after."
"Not our library. One I have not been to."
There was a brief silence as everyone tried to figure out the logic at work here. "Ah, Nagato," Kyon said, "You know you won't be able to check books out from a library that doesn't serve the area you live in, right?" She nodded.
"Alright!" Haruhi declared. "A library you haven't been to! Koizumi, find us a library Nagato hasn't been to. One near a good place to eat, naturally. Take care of it!"
Koizumi stretched his smile out. "You can count on me, Suzumiya."
Nagato drained the last of the juice and stared at the slowly-melting ice cubes. She hoped the new library would have new books.
"I lack the data to evaluate that, as I was not constructed with the capability to understand the emotional and social aspects of humanity. I was constructed primarily to observe the creation of data flowing from Haruhi Suzumiya. Exposure to Haruhi Suzumiya is altering my purpose and nature; that is the only absolutely proven conclusion. I do not know what ultimate purpose Haruhi Suzumiya has for me, if she has conceived such a thing. Regardless of the nature of the alterations and errors, however, I still believe your cooperation is imperative to optimize my end state."
Kyon stared. "I can't change your… programming, or whatever."
She walked slowly, waiting for him to call out and ask how she was feeling, because then she would feel better. "Correct."
"And, according to you, we've spent centuries floundering around trying to get Haruhi to accept that vacation's over, so we probably won't have much luck there either."
"So what do you want me to do then? It's not like I can wave my arms around and fix time by reversing the polarity on the deflector dish." Obon lanterns threw a golden glow across the stall selling masks. Nagato looked at the wall of dead faces and waited.
"You like this sort of stuff?" He stepped up beside her, hand going for his wallet. "Which one do you want?"
Nagato resisted the urge to say that she wanted none of them, because she had worn each a hundred times over. Instead, she visually traced the line of his nervous smile and the way the breeze played with his hair. Instead of taking out her own money, as she would in every other iteration, she said, "I desire an unpredictable outcome."
"Do you mean… you want me to surprise you?"
She nodded, and waited for him to select a mask.
Nagato leaned forward nearly a centimeter. One after another. He must accept. "What I require of you is simple. The errors in my behavior are becoming more rampant and frequent, to the point that major deviancies in my external behavior now occur in one of every three iterations of the loop.
"This is the ten-thousand, three-hundred, and fifty-ninth loop."
He gasped. "Ten-thousand, three-hundred, and fifty-nine… and we do the same thing every time?"
"No. This iteration is an anomaly. In every other iteration, we reached the public swimming pool safely and proceeded to conduct a variety of activities through the remaining summer break, including attending an Obon festival, cage batting, lighting fireworks, catching and releasing cicadas…"
"Okay, I get it!" Kyon shook his head. "We could have been running around outside instead of cooped up in Haruhi's house playing board games and… what makes this time around so different from…" and he stopped. "Oh."
"Ah," Koizumi cut in. "So that explains Miss Nagato's peculiar stunt on your bike during the first day. How intriguing."
Kyon turned back to her. "Is that right? Did you tip over my bike because you were trying to change the loop?"
Nagato stared back for a moment. "Yes." False data. "That is correct. It did not succeed."
I have committed unforgivable breaches of my mission as an observer, and I fear what I may do in the future. In some instances, I have become physically threatening. One after another. Given my instability, any further action on my part is unwise, potentially catastrophic, and possibly inevitable if I do not take steps to prevent involuntary action on my part. I do not know how to fix the errors. It is likely some have become permanent fixtures of my being—but you have proven capable of reducing them." after another after another.
Nagato stood up from her perch on his bed and cut the five feet between them down to three. He must understand her need. He must. "I require your promise. I require assurances. If you swear that you will use your influence over Haruhi Suzumiya to secure our eventual escape from this time loop, I believe I will be able to endure one after another."
Kyon thrust out his hands to cut her off. "Wait, backup. We just went over this. What do you expect me to actually do? How do you expect to possibly fix this?"
"I do not know. My data says it is likely impossible. Nevertheless, I require your assurances."
"Hey, Nagato… how are you feeling?"
She waited quietly while she considered. "I am well. Your presence ensures my functionality, although the mechanisms involved confuse me."
He blinked. "Come again?"
"Nagato, come midnight, I won't even remember this conversation! Do you plan on reminding me of this every time we start over again?"
"If I gave into that desire, I would be tempted to interfere further after another. I must relegate myself to proper position of observer and trust that you will succeed."
"But this is absurd!" And his hands went up in the air as he began ranting. "I don't have a clue how to fix it, and can't even be sure I'll remember I'm supposed to fix something at all!"
"Stop," Nagato said after another.
"As if the world and Haruhi weren't enough, now I have to be responsible for making sure an alien whose mind I can't possible understand doesn't have a psychological breakdown." He let out a short, bitter laugh. "And I thought saving the world by kissing Haruhi was as weird as it was going to get around here."
"Stop," Nagato ordered, and took an unsteady step forward. She reached for him, the only one for whom she would give the world a second chance. He was a normal human in every regard, yet he stood Haruhi Suzumiya's stormy whims and possessed an influence over her that the Data Overmind could not begin to understand. Nagato realized that she wanted him save her. And he just sat there, staring at Haruhi Suzumiya's backside as she strolled out the doors. They slid shut, and the entire remaining SOS Brigade slumped. Kyon planted his face on the table and groaned.
Nagato took her hand off the glass of juice. The glass had cracked from her grip. Hand trembling, she reached across the table and, very deliberately took hold of Kyon's collar.
She dragged him onto the table, face even with hers. Kyon gasped and grabbed her hand and tugged fruitlessly, Asahina shrieked, Koizumi went wide-eyed and looked ready to jump in and grab Nagato, but held back because she could dismember him without twitching.
Kyon swallowed. "Na-nagato, I don't—what is this for?"
"Why don't you repair it?" Nagato said, voice perfectly cold and flat even as her hand trembled uncontrollably. "Repair her. You are the variable chosen by Haruhi Suzumiya. It is within your power."
He shook his head. "I don't know how! I don't even see what all this mysterious influence everyone says I have over Haruhi is. I don't know what to do."
"Repair her. I need you… to repair her. I need you. I need…" Nagato let go, and Kyon drop with an audible crunch where his nose met the table. Nagato fled the restaurant, leaving him to shout her name in concern and confusion and fear.
"I know I've said this already, but I still haven't gotten a real answer," he almost shouted. "What do you expect me to do?"
Nagato perched on the back of Kyon's bike and watched the cracks and lines in the sidewalk go by, one after another after another just like the days she had gotten up, followed Haruhi Suzumiya, retired, gotten up, followed Haruhi Suzumiya, retired, gotten up, followed Haruhi Suzumiya, and retired, one after another.
"Stop," Nagato begged, and then she
Nagato's grip tightened on the seat; she couldn't tear her eyes from the panels of sidewalk vomiting out behind the bike like a slug trail. Her heart pounded as she heard, no more than a meter away, a bike carrying too many people struggling along as it barely dodged a sharp rock. That was the path taken in iteration 2,918. And another bike carrying too many people, a meter in the other direction; the rider stopped pedaling for three seconds, cursing under his breath. Iteration 3,147. She couldn't tear her eyes off the sidewalk, but the shadows from yet another bike carrying too many people chopped across her view. Memories. Her databanks quietly and efficiently tagged each hallucination, for that was the only word she could think of, with the appropriate numbers for their respective iterations of the loop. Nagato knew that if only she could tear her eyes away from the pavement, she would look up and see every incarnation of this bike ride she had ever made. They followed her, replaying like a video and swarming about like nightmares she couldn't dream but instead lived. They followed, because she led, and soon, she would be just another ghost of events following her future self through yet another rehearsed dance.
Nagato bent forward and grabbed the back tire. The wheel kept spinning and the bike frame tried to devour her hand but instead bent cruelly as it hit her data-enhanced skin. Nagato sprang free and landed gracefully as thousands of bikes rushed past her. Kyon felt his bike go out of control, jumped free with a shout, rolled, and miraculously got his feet under him. Haruhi Suzumiya, already precarious on the front of the bike,
The impact jerked through her body as Nagato's skull bounced off the edge of the desk. Nagato landed in the sand, and wondered why they were at the Obon festival again. Fireworks screamed at her from far too close. Kyon gasped and completely failed to catch her as he awkwardly fumbled out of his chair. "I am well," she assured him, standing so her shadow cut a tiny swath out of the sunset right where he stood.
"The hell you are!" he shouted back. He finally kicked the chair free; it bounced off the desk as he jumped from it. He tore a spare shirt from his closet, knelt, and pressed the cloth over the blood seeping out her forehead. "Nagato, what's wrong?"
Nagato stood over the two sleeping girls. Kyon and Koizumi quietly bickered in the background. Instead of watching Asahina and Haruhi Suzumiya or returning to the telescope, she instead turned and made her way to him and stepped between their conversation.
"Nagato?" Kyon asked, eyes curious.
"I should not rely on you," she began without preamble. "I should fulfill the duties I was constructed to fulfill."
"But what if you can't?" he asked.
Nagato didn't reply. She reached out her arms toward him,
and tightened her hands as she knelt. The long skirt of her yukata ground against the fine grain of the sand. The fireworks bursting couldn't quite cover the sound of Asahina screaming. Koizumi already lay off to the side, unconscious, and Nagato simply remained unmoving and ignored Kyon as he tried to drag her off. Trapped beneath her, Haruhi Suzumiya barely had the strength left to brush her fingers across Nagato's hands, let alone pry them off her throat.
Nagato knelt before the two sleeping girls and imagined their dreams as she ran her hand across the softness of their hair. "Exquisite," she murmured.
Kyon strolled over and watched Nagato; Koizumi waited by the telescope. "Say, Nagato, if we tell them you started it, do you think they'd let me get away with this too? Particularly Asahina?"
Nagato straightened up, but continued watching them instead of turning to Kyon. "I do not wish to harm Haruhi Suzumiya."
"Heh, you're a better person than I am, Nagato," Kyon said. "Some days… Well, if you don't want to hurt her, then don't hurt her. So what will you do instead? The same thing you've been doing all along?"
"I am an observer," Nagato said. "I was designed for that purpose."
"Can't you just recite our routine by now? I hear a 'but' coming," Kyon observed.
Nagato looked up to the night sky where the stars strained against Haruhi Suzumiya's unnatural bonds that dragged down their dance. "But this too shall pass,"she whispered.
Kyon smiled broadly. "And if you decide you want to rely on me after all, well, that just means you're part of the Brigade, not a lone Data Interface. It's about time I did something for you." And he leaned forward to keep putting pressure on her bloody forehead.
"I said I'll do it! Do you hear me in there, Nagato? I'll end the loop! Just wake up, before you give me a heart attack!"
Nagato felt her physical interface stir. Its response was poor, but she forced her throat to operate. "Confirmation," she managed, her voice thin and weak. "I require confirmation."
"I swear it. I have no idea how, but I'll make that madwoman get us out of this mess."
Nagato's eyes opened; above her, the blur of light and color finally resolved into his upside-down face, looking concerned but on its way to relief.
"You may cease pressure to my wound," Nagato told him. "My interface has already repaired itself."
Kyon pulled the spare shirt away; the only trace of the wound left was some of her blood on the now-ruined cloth. "Nagato… what happened just now?"
She considered the question. "I malfunctioned. My point of reference became unattached to my current time frame. This has happened once before, although the manifestation was somewhat different."
Kyon shuffled around a little awkwardly. "And it really ended because I said… You know."
"My expectation of you contradicts known data, but I counted on you once before." Nagato sat up from her prone position so she could address him directly. "I will trust you once again."
Kyon tossed the bloody cloth aside. "Well. Now what?"
She had accomplished her goals. She had sought and acquired the promise in which she would put her faith. She could now endure. There was approximately an hour left before midnight and the beginning of the next iteration, and it was reasonable that she should return to her apartment.
But. One final deviation, one final contamination, one final breach of her duty. "I have already stated that your presence ameliorates my internal errors," she told him. "May I remain?"
He nodded. "Of course."
"I see." She slid across the floor until she was sitting next to him, and then leaned in and rested her small frame against his.
He tightened and pulled away a tiny bit. "Uh, Nagato," he objected, uncertain and spooked.
"This method is… efficient," she explained.
He struggled for something to say. Then he laughed, and loosened up, and put his arms around her. "Well. Might as well do it properly, then."
She could feel his heartbeat against the back of her ribcage, and it was probable that he could likewise feel hers. Quiet and still, Nagato waited for the next iteration of the loop to begin.
Nagato walked through the alley as she stared straight into the brilliance of the sinking sun and the fiery sky. Then he called to her. "Hey, Nagato, hold on!" Once again, she turned and patiently watched him come. Once he caught his breath, he showed his slightly-nervous smile that warmed her. "I don't really mean to pry, Nagato, but have you been okay lately?"
Nagato nodded. "Yes, thank you. I am well."
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