Note: This is set after Sneaker Magazine's preview of the 10th novel in the Haruhi Suzumiya series, to be published later this year. Below is a brief summary of the preview chapter; both the summary and the fic contain spoilers for the preview.
SPOILERS: In the preview chapter of The Astonishment of Haruhi Suzumiya, Nagato has fallen ill. Kyon suspects the Canopy Domain, tries to investigate and finds himself in a three-way standoff between Kuyoh Suou, Emiri Kimidori and Ryoko Asakura, who has returned to her previous role while Nagato is incapacitated. Afterwards, Kyon returns to Nagato's apartment where the SOS Brigade are taking care of her.
May Induce Side Effects
There was barely one hundredth of a second's gap between the moment the SOS Brigade moved out of earshot of Nagato's apartment and the moment that her two subordinates appeared in the living room. Asakura and Kimidori may have teleported into the room, but their argument seemed to continue undisturbed, only now in a hushed whisper rather than at full volume. Nagato didn't know why they bothered. She could still hear them through the door. She listened for a while as they fought furiously over who ought to stay and look after their senior, before closing her eyes with a sigh.
Illness was a concept that was well outside the range of emergency scenarios Nagato was prepared for, but she sensed that the remedies her human friends had proposed were the wisest: rest, relief from stress, and possibly orange juice. While it sounded like her subordinates were simply concerned for her wellbeing, she couldn't help think that they were more likely to deprive her of the things she needed. Except for the orange juice, of course, and there was still some probability that Asakura could absent-mindedly drink it all and have to go to get more. Transferring her authority to Kimidori was supposed to give her some respite from those duties, but it appeared that despite her best efforts, all she had done was to give herself more work.
"Report," she muttered to the empty bedroom. Instantly, she heard the door open and two pairs of feet walking in. They knelt down on either side of her; Nagato knew without opening her eyes that Asakura was on her right and Kimidori on her left.
"Canopy Domain data interface's attack was neutralized," said Kimidori. "Attempts to establish communications with foreign data interface were unsuccessful."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Asakura said, lightly, with none of Kimidori's formality. "Suou may have difficulty processing our communicative system, but her reaction to the human suggests that there was some transfer of ideas."
"Asakura also resisted my authority." Kimidori now had an edge to her voice. "She attempted actions outside the paramaters of our mission."
"I made giant leaps towards better communication with the foreign interface, where your limp-wristed nonsense got us nowhere."
"You threatened the life of the human!"
"Oh, please. I was never really going to hurt him. Mind you, I still don't see why life and death are so important to humans. I've died already and it was no big deal, and I would so love to see how Suzumiya would react to that human's death. But since my death was the result of my attempts to kill him, I was never going to try it again."
Nagato kept her eyes closed, but she could hear the change in Kimidori's expression, the careful composure starting to crack. "You might have let me in on the plan."
"You're just a substitute," Asakura spat, with no such fear of losing face. "You're a patch. You might be passable, but I was here first and you'll never come close to my capabilities."
"You were dredged up as an emergency measure," Kimidori replied, "And as soon as Nagato's better you'll be deactivated like the corruption you are."
"Stop." Nagato whispered, and struggled to prop herself up on her elbows. Asakura rushed to support her, and Nagato didn't have the energy to protest as Asakura held her up. Kimidori sat stiffly, her face as she watched them impossible to read. Nagato had to let out a soft cough before she could continue. "Kimidori-san is my primary backup now. While I am unable to operate at my usual capacity, she is the only one who has my authority to make decisions regarding Kyon, Suzumiya Haruhi, or the data interface of the Canopy Domain."
"Of course, Nagato-san," said Asakura, with an understanding smile. "I apologise for any trouble I caused today."
Kimidori just nodded, betraying no further emotion. There was going to be more trouble with those two, Nagato realised, with resignation. She could only hope that Kimidori and Asakura could keep their hostilities to a minimum until she was well again.
"My recovery is the objective of highest priority. I have heard your reports, and now I need to rest."
"Of course, Nagato-san. I hope you rest well."
She leaned forward deferentially and moved to get up; Asakura gently laid Nagato's head back down on the pillow.
"Nagato-san, Is there anything else I can do for you?" Asakura asked, sweetly. "Perhaps I should spend the night here in case you need my assistance."
Kimidori froze, then dropped back to her knees. "As Nagato-san's backup, I will be the one to supervise her recovery."
"I don't think so," said Asakura, who was gently stroking Nagato's hair. "Even if you are superior to me, you've only known Nagato a few months, whereas I took care of her for a whole three years. You couldn't possibly be able to care for her the way I will."
Did they have to start another fight already? Nagato tried to close her eyes and just focus on the sensation Asakura's soothing fingers on her aching head, but she couldn't shut out the sheer irritation of their rising voices.
"You can't both stay here," she said, without lifting her head. "The cause of my illness is unknown, as is the cure. We must also be alert to any further action that the Canopy Domain may take. Kimidori-san is in charge of our mission in my absence." She looked up at her second in command, who had the slightest look of pride. "I am depending on you to protect Kyon and Haruhi Suzumiya."
"It is my honour, Nagato-san."
"I would also be grateful if you were to find a way to aid my recovery."
"Of course." She bowed again and rose to leave. At the door, she paused, and with a slight edge to her voice, added "Shall I take Asakura-san with me to aid in my investigations?"
Nagato closed her eyes again. She had been trying to ignore the unfamiliar emotions that had been sitting quietly on her chest ever since she heard Asakura's voice through the wall, but she was now so tired that she could no longer block them out. She should banish Asakura, too; she could tell that keeping Asakura here was only going to create more trouble between her subordinates, but every moment that passed by with her old backup sitting next to her made it harder to send her away.
"Never mind, I'll go," said Asakura. "I don't want to bother you when you're not well."
The absence of Asakura's touch when she stood up was more than the weary Nagato could stand. The words were out there for the whole room to hear before she could restrain herself.
"Ryoko." She couldn't bear to open her eyes and see Kimidori's reaction. "Please stay."
There was a moment of tense silence, then she heard the bedroom door close. She knew without having to look that Ryoko was still there, and Kimidori was leaving. They both remained perfectly still, though, until they heard the front door close as well. Then Ryoko flung herself down on the futon next to her with a delighted laugh.
"Oh, Yuki," she said, with amusement. "You have changed."
"You are the same," Yuki murmured in reply as Ryoko slipped under the covers to lie right up against her. "Disobedient. Corrupt."
"Oh, it's true. I don't care much for following orders. That's not why I came back." She traced the outline of Yuki's face with her fingertips. "I would still prefer to provoke change. But you can trust me not to make another attempt on that boy's life, if only because I missed you too much."
When Yuki requested an additional backup, she hadn't asked for Ryoko. That would have been impractical. Ryoko was radical and disobedient, everything that Nagato didn't need in an emergency. And yet, with her head aching and her defenses down, she didn't have the energy to suppress the relief she felt when she realised that Ryoko had been assigned to the job. She may have been terrible in the field, but in other ways, she was the perfect subordinate. She cared for Yuki, and did her best to give her everything she needed – sometimes things she didn't know she needed. Yuki hadn't realised how much she loved it until Ryoko was replaced by Kimidori, who was the very picture of obedience, but without a trace of love.
Love, that was what Yuki had really missed; with the warmth of Ryoko's body snug against hers and her tired head filled with static, somehow the traitorous, irrational thought crept through. She was supposed to be impervious to disease and yet she was sick, with a disease of unknown creation and unknown cure, and she couldn't force herself to be responsible any longer. Ryoko's breath was tickling her face and the last of her dutiful self-control dissolved, leaving only the single-minded hunger for comfort. She turned on her side to cling to Ryoko, and tentatively brought their lips together.
Ryoko needed no further encouragement, kissing her back so forcefully that Yuki felt almost overwhelmed. She waited just a little longer than she should have before pushing Ryoko away and was panting slightly when she rolled on her back again, head cushioned comfortably on her pillow again.
"Interesting," said Yuki, closing her eyes. "This illness seems to diminish my lung capacity."
"Oh Yuki, you have missed me, haven't you?" said Ryoko, her voice low and amused.
Ryoko still had her hand in Yuki's hair and her mouth on her neck, but Yuki simply lay on her back and catalogued her feelings. Later, when she recovered, she would have to analyse them, but she wasn't prepared to attempt it under these conditions. Pleasure and comfort, those were straightforward. The sense of love for Ryoko, and longing to keep her, that would have to wait until she was sufficiently sound of mind to weigh up the consequences. Guilt was even trickier. It was only a slight sense of guilt she felt, but even that was far too difficult to unravel at this point in time. It would definitely have to wait. The only feeling she had to act upon now was the original problem – her illness.
"I need to sleep."
"Sleep?" Ryoko laughed, but to Nagato's relief, she didn't move away. "What a strange thing illness is, to make you want to sleep. You poor thing. It seems like a dreadful waste of time, sleeping, and so boring – I hope I never have to!"
Nagato thought, just for a moment, of telling Ryoko that sleep wasn't so bad at all. It was really quite nice. She might try doing it even after she recovered from this illness, just a little bit. But before she could get the words out, she was sinking back into her dark, dreamless relief. It wasn't worth the effort to keep awake a moment longer just to talk. Besides, Ryoko wouldn't understand.