Just as Kyon starts to get comfortable, he gets a visit from his friend Mikuru. Except this isn't his Mikuru; it's a Mikuru from eight days in the future! Time traveling shenanigans start all over again as Kyon, guided by the future Mikuru, attempts to stop a terrible future from becoming a reality.
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The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya
By Tanigawa, Nagaru
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 Tanigawa, Nagaru
All right reserved.
Haruhi Suzumiya was behaving herself.
Neither melancholy nor sighing, and in point of fact not even seeming bored, she had of late been strangely quiet—and that inexplicable calmness worried me.
I’m not, of course, talking about a physical quietness, much less an emotional one. For one thing, Haruhi doesn’t have the self-doubt it would take to alter her already formed personality, and even if she did, that would probably wind up turning into a different kind of pain in the ass for me, so I had no intention of attempting to remedy that situation—but in any case, it was like the color of her aura as it might show up in Kirlian photography had dimmed from red to a kind of orange.
Among her classmates, there was only one or maybe two at the outside who would have noticed the change. I can tell you with certainty who one of them was: me. She’d sat directly behind me ever since we started high school, and I see even more of her after school, so nobody’s in a better position to notice such changes. And while she may seem calmer at the moment, her gaze that challenges all of creation is still there, as well as her action potential, tireless until satisfied.
She’d only managed to get second place in the school-wide hyakunin isshu poetry memorization competition late last month, but this month she’d won the school marathon—incidentally, it was Nagato who won the hyakunin isshu; she placed second in the marathon. Excelling in fields both literary and martial with their one-two finishes, the SOS Brigade chief and the resident bookworm had the entire school (including me) wondering just what the brigade was up to.
If there was one thing I was sure I understood, based on my experiences thus far, it was that when Haruhi got like this, she was without a doubt formulating some sort of evil scheme. And once she’d hit upon it, her face would light up with a smile, as surely as the sun rises.
I can’t remember any instances of that not happening. Have there been any? Were there any sections in the history book within my mind where Haruhi had stayed calm and constant?
The worst storms are always portended by a fleeting calm. It has ever been thus.
It is early February, the final stage of winter’s coldest period.
The last year, with all its insanity, is now more than a month gone. If it felt as if time had passed especially quickly, it was probably due to January being full of activities surrounding New Year’s.
Here I’d like to turn back time for a moment. I had no idea what Haruhi may have been planning, but I had my own business to come to terms with. February might seem too early to be already looking back on the year, but I’ve decided to tell the story of something I had to do—no, something I wanted to do.
During the whole thing, I had a single notion running through my head.
Finish what’s been left undone, as quickly as you can.
Although it was during the winter break trip that I made up my mind to do this, I needed some time before I could put it into action.
This story starts on the second day of January, in front of the same train station we always use.
The winter vacation affair that had us stranded in the middle of a blizzard and trapped within a mysterious mansion ended on the second of January, with the return of the SOS Brigade from its “training camp” deep in the mountains.
“Whew, we’re home!”
Haruhi greeted our little suburb, narrowing her eyes at the setting sun.
“It’s always relaxing to be home. Snowy mountains are nice and all, but nothing beats the smell of home, even if it is a little musty.”
Having taken a different route, the Tamaru brothers, along with Mori and Arakawa, were no longer with us. Thus the only ones collecting their luggage at the small, homey train station were Haruhi and Tsuruya with their tireless superalloy constitutions, Asahina (to whom my sister clung possessively), and the expressionless-as-always Nagato, along with Koizumi (who wore a tired, resigned smile) and me, holding Shamisen the cat in a carrier. I had the feeling that it was still plenty of people.
“So, that’s all for today.” Haruhi’s face was content. “Everybody make sure to rest up. We’re hitting the neighborhood shrines and temples for hatsumoude tomorrow, got it? Meet here at nine AM. Oh, Tsuruya—do you have any plans?”
You have to admire the kind of vitality that lets someone make plans to go back out the day after returning home from a trip, especially for something like a New Year’s temple visit, but unfortunately, ordinary humans—take me, for example—aren’t powered by internal perpetual motion machines. Tsuruya seemed to have a capacity to match Haruhi as she replied, though.
“Sorry! I’m heading to Switzerland tomorrow! I’ll bring back souvenirs, so toss a little extra in the offering boxes for me, okay?” Tsuruya dug some small change out of her wallet and handed it to Asahina, continuing, “Here, a New Year’s present!” She gave some to my little sister too. “Bye-bye! See you next semester!”
She smiled and waved as she left the station. She seemed totally relaxed; it was enough to make me want to ask her parents just how they raised a daughter like that, just for my own future reference.
Haruhi kept waving until the older girl’s relentless smile disappeared behind an apartment building. “Well, then, shall we all head home? Take care, everybody! The club trip isn’t over until you make it home!”
If anything else happened, I doubted Koizumi or I would be able to handle it, but surely nothing weird would happen in the time it would take us to return to our homes from the train station.
I looked at Nagato. The affliction she’d suffered in the mys-tery house had vanished, and she’d returned to her normal, impossible-to-read state of expressionlessness—but just as I was noting this, her eyes moved slightly, and her gaze met mine. I don’t think the tiny nod I perceived from her was an illusion.
I then looked to Asahina. She’d been largely oblivious during the entire trip; her cluelessness had spilled over into uncertainty during the mystery house episode, but in retrospect that may have been for the best. She would have a much larger role to play starting now. I looked at her meaningfully, but unfortunately she missed my signals completely, instead playing happily with my sister as though they were the same age.
“Okay, see you all tomorrow! Make sure you grab your New Year’s money—there’re gonna be stalls lined up all around the shrines and temples.”
Once Haruhi had said her piece, I left her and Asahina and boarded the bus, dragging my sister and Shamisen (in his cat carrier) on board with me.
As I hauled my recalcitrant sister back to the bus seat, Asahina waved repeatedly with one hand, her other tightly clenched. I really didn’t feel like waving, although Haruhi or Koizumi probably would’ve yelled a loud “Bye-bye!”
A few minutes after we returned home and I’d gotten Shamisen and my sister out of my hair, I called the two brigade members of whom I’d just taken my leave.
Because there was something I’d deeply regretted leaving undone before the year’s end, and I wanted to fix that as soon as possible. I didn’t want to break out in a cold sweat because of my own laziness like that ever again, and while part of me wanted to go back and teach my self of late last year a lesson or two, I needed to go back a little further. Thanks to Nagato’s and Koizumi’s efforts, we’d managed to avoid the worst-case scenario at the mysterious lodge, but there was no guarantee we wouldn’t wind up in a similar situation again—in fact, it seemed unavoidable. I’d hesitated to take action during the trip, reasoning that it would cause trouble, but now that the club members had gone their separate ways, I would dither no further. I’d had plenty of time to make up my mind during the game-playing and mystery-solving at Tsuruya’s villa.
I had to go. I had to go with Nagato and Asahina back to that day.
Yes—back to the morning of December eighteenth.
Without taking any time to recover from the exhaustion of the winter trip, I first called Asahina. She sounded a bit surprised to be receiving a phone call from someone with whom she’d parted ways so recently.
“Oh, Kyon—what is it?”
“There’s somewhere I want you to go with me. Immediately, if possible.”
“December eighteenth of last year.”
She sounded confused and taken aback. “Wh-what do you mean—?”
“I want you to take Nagato and me back in time. The three of us have to go back two weeks.”
“What? No, my TP—I mean, I can’t just change time whenever I want to. It takes thorough investigation and the permission of a lot of people!”
I was willing to bet she’d have no trouble getting that permission. My mind filled with an image of Asahina the Elder, winking at me and blowing me a kiss.
“Asahina, please contact your superiors or whatever they are immediately. Tell them I want to return to the morning of December eighteenth with you and Nagato.”
Maybe thanks to my overconfident tone, Asahina’s little sounds of hesitation that leaked through the phone’s receiver fell silent. “W-wait just a moment.”
Oh, I waited. I was fascinated to know just how one communicated with the future, but all I could hear was the quiet sound of Asahina’s breathing. After no more than ten seconds of that background music—
“I don’t believe it…” Her voice sounded dazed. “I’ve received permission. But… why? Why so easily?”
It was because the future now rested on my shoulders—but I didn’t want to have a long conversation about it, so I just said, “Let’s meet at Nagato’s apartment. You can be there in half an hour, right?”
“Oh—wait. Let me have an hour. I want to confirm things again, and also I would rather just… meet in front of Nagato’s apartment building.”
I readily agreed, then after taking a moment to grin privately at Asahina’s surprise, I straightened and turned serious again. The time period I was proposing to revisit was not one that inspired a pleasant smile. I knew that better than anybody else.
The next person I planned to contact would probably have understood everything without my saying a word, but better safe than sorry. I picked up the phone again.
An hour later—
I’d arrived early, having gotten excited and sprinted over on my bike. I had been waiting at the entrance to Nagato’s luxurious apartment building for fifteen minutes, stomping my feet to stave off the cold. Finally a fluffy-looking silhouette approached. Either she hadn’t thought to change clothes or hadn’t had time—although to be fair, neither had I.
“Kyon.” Asahina looked at me, full of wonderment. “I just don’t understand it. Why was your request so easily granted? Not just that—I was ordered to go with you and Nagato. When I asked for details, it was totally classified. And… I was instructed to do everything you tell me to do. Why?”
“I’ll explain. In Nagato’s room,” I said, punching the code for Nagato’s room into the panel in the entryway, then pushing the buzzer. The response was quick.
I passed right through the now-unlocked door—whoops, couldn’t forget about Asahina. She still seemed pretty dumbfounded by all of this, and she took a moment to catch up with me. She had the same timid demeanor she always had when she came here. It was as though her nervous face were surrounded by question marks there in the elevator.
Nagato opening the door and letting us into her apartment didn’t do anything to change Asahina’s expression.
Nagato seemed unhurried. Despite being back at her house, she’d changed into her school uniform. The fact that it made me feel so at ease wasn’t because I have a school uniform fetish, but rather because I knew she would understand my situation.
Earlier, I’d lost consciousness as I watched a short-haired figure in a school uniform holding a knife. Given what we were about to do, it would probably be hard for my past self to see her in any other outfit. I doubt I would mistake Nagato for anybody else, but the uniform had really become her trademark.
She wordlessly indicated that we should sit in the living room as she went into the kitchen to prepare tea.
I took the opportunity to relate to Asahina the details of the adventure before last.
“I don’t believe it…” Asahina murmured, her eyes wide and round. “History was completely changed, and I didn’t notice a thing…”
Her shock was understandable. The only one with an accurate memory during those three days was me, and without Nagato’s hint and the other Haruhi’s unhesitating action, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.
“A global alteration of space-time and direct intervention from the future… for both of those things to happen at the same time, it’s…” Asahina’s voice quivered as her gaze swam around the spartan room. There were three cups of tea now on the table in the living room. Nagato had made it for us, but Asahina was so stunned as she listened to my explanation (and Nagato’s occasional “Yes”) that she hadn’t touched her cup, and it was growing cool.
Diagonally across from me, Nagato regarded Asahina, then looked questioningly at me before looking again at Asahina.
I had a pretty good idea of what Nagato wanted to say. What I’d explained to Asahina was that errors had accumulated in Nagato’s system, causing her to rewrite the world on December eighteenth, but that using her escape program I’d been able to successfully travel back in time, to the day of Tanabata four years earlier. There, I’d enlisted the aid of pre-buggy Nagato to make it back to December eighteenth, but there I’d had the misfortune to encounter Ryoko Asakura, who’d mortally wounded me—but just before I lost consciousness, I’d seen Nagato and Asahina, along with myself, presumably having traveled back from the future to set things right. Nagato might have some things to add to this incomprehensible explanation.
And that wasn’t even the whole story. I hadn’t said anything about the fact that the elder Asahina had waited for me there, four years in the past. I wasn’t at all certain it was something I should mention. It was obvious that the elder Asahina was keeping her younger counterpart deliberately in the dark about all this. The younger Asahina was still in regular contact with the future, so if it were that important for her to know something, I’d leave it to her superiors to clue her in. I didn’t know anything about their information exchange system, but I could make an educated guess based on things she’d said. “When I asked for details, it was totally classified,” she’d said earlier.
Asahina didn’t know. Knowledge was being deliberately kept from her.
I had no idea why that was. But it was obvious to me. It had occurred to me several times that she was awfully careless for a time traveler. The August where we nearly got stuck in an infinite time loop, and the strange house that suddenly appeared in the middle of a blizzard—at the very least, she could’ve given us some kind of futuristic warning so we could’ve avoided the trouble those two incidents had caused. Why hadn’t she?
I had an idea why.
Asahina the Elder had to know everything. Her former self—that is to say, the current Asahina—had to go through all these experiences. Anything that let us avoid them would change her own history. Perhaps she had no choice but to experience these things, just as Nagato could predict her own malfunction but in the end could do nothing to avoid it.
But it made me feel truly sorry for the current Asahina. She’d endured even more moments of shock throughout her SOS Brigade experiences than I had. I was even starting to be suspicious of her real purpose in this time period. If they just needed to surveil Haruhi, wouldn’t a simple spy camera have sufficed?
There had to be something else—something not even this Asahina knows, but that her older self does know…
A freeze-dried voice addressed me as I was deep in thought.
“I have a favor to ask of you.”
I was happy to listen to anything Nagato would ask of me.
“I want you not to say anything to my self in that time.”
Not even “Hey” or “Hi?” I wanted to know.
“If possible, no.”
In Nagato’s stoic eyes was visible a rare expressiveness. Her black pupils entreated me, and I would have sooner agreed to scoop the moon’s reflection out of a pond than I would have refused her.
“Okay. If you say so, I’ll try not to.”
The artlessly short head of hair nodded slowly.
It fell to Nagato to explain the fine details of the space-time manipulation, and Asahina would be the one to faithfully carry them out. I’m sorry, but I didn’t care how powerful Koizumi’s Agency was—they were no match for this alliance of alien and time traveler. Although I have no idea if they ever plan on fighting.
The three of us—Nagato, Asahina, and I—went to the entryway to put on our shoes, our shoulders bumping into one another’s as we jostled in the tight space. Last month, when I’d traveled back in time with Asahina the Elder, we’d forgotten our shoes. The lesson had not been wasted on me. Thanks to Nagato’s personality, the older Asahina’s high heels were still here, four years later, but we couldn’t very well return them to the current Asahina, so I said nothing.
“Um, what time on December eighteenth last year was it again?”
In response to the question, Nagato gave the answer down to the second, at which Asahina nodded.
“Okay, here we go. Kyon, close your eyes.”
Time shifted. No matter how many times I experienced it, it felt the same way—a dizziness that brings me to the edge of nausea. Though my eyes were closed, there was a light flashing, and an indescribably uncomfortable feeling of falling backward, of loss of spatial orientation. The equilibrium of both my body and mind was gone; it was like going around a roller coaster dozens of times in a row, and just when my sense of balance was on the verge of collapse—
The soles of my feet registered contact with the ground. Gravity reasserted its hold on my thankful body.
“We’re here,” Nagato said, almost whispering. I opened my eyes.
And was immediately shocked.
I saw myself standing directly in front of the school gates.
Recall, if you will: the last time I time-jumped to this particular December eighteenth, I’d come from the Tanabata of four years previous, having made the jump with Asahina the Elder at past-Nagato’s behest. From the cover of darkness I’d watched the present Nagato change the world, and then I’d stepped into the light.
And we’d just now landed smack in the middle of that scene.
The other me was now saying something to Nagato, who’d finished changing both the world and herself. I could also see the back of Asahina the Elder, who was wearing the jacket I’d lent her. This was dangerous—this was too close.
“Don’t worry,” my Nagato said in a monotone. “They cannot see us. I’ve erected a light-and-sound isolation field.”
I supposed that meant that from the perspective of past-me, older-Asahina, and glasses-Nagato, the three of us were silent, transparent beings. Maybe the reason Nagato hadn’t bitten us this time was because she was personally present.
Asahina blinked rapidly. “Um… who is that woman? She seems like an adult, but why is she here?”
We could only see Asahina the Elder from behind, after all. It wasn’t surprising that Asahina couldn’t recognize the woman, and to simply infer that the person was actually an older version of her required an even greater mental leap. Just as I was agonizing over whether to tell her, my thoughts were obliterated by what happened next. Though I knew it was coming, watching it from outside still gave me goose bumps.
A dark form bolted out of the shadows. Just after it swept past us, I realized it was Ryoko Asakura, lunging toward my other self, about to slam into him—no, she did slam into him. Hard, and holding a knife at her waist.
Asahina the Elder cried out as my useless other self was stabbed. Just as I remembered being.
It definitely looked painful. I hadn’t noticed it at the time, but Asakura was twisting the knife back and forth. She was murderous—she was really trying to kill me. Asakura the corrupted backup was guilty of attempted murder.
“I” collapsed to the ground.
“Wha… aah! Kyon!” Asahina called out, and started to run to my other self, but she soon collided with an invisible barrier. “Ow—” she cried, looking up. In the moment, she must have forgotten that I was still right beside her. All she could see was the collapsed “me” across the way. I felt both grateful and not.
“Nagato!” Asahina shouted.
In response, Nagato nodded softly. “Dissolving barrier… now.”
Asahina ran out as Nagato herself began to move—more swiftly than the night wind. Nagato was upon Asakura a moment later, grabbing Asakura’s upheld knife blade with her hand. Asakura’s cry, a mix of shock and hatred, reached my ears as I reached myself. Geez—I look terrible.
Asahina the Younger clung tearfully to “my” collapsed body. It was nice that she was worried about me and all, but if she kept shaking me like that, she was just going to make me die faster.
Luckily, she was kneeling and desperately calling out to me so fervently that she forgot all about the other woman. It was enough to make me want to thank her.
The silent Asahina the Elder looked up from where her gaze had been to regard me.
“So you came.”
I was still a bit late, though—not in terms of time, but mentally.
“… Wha…?” The voice was Nagato, exactly as I’d remembered her. It pained my heart to see her there—still wearing glasses, having fallen as she’d stumbled back, her expression one of shock. Her dark eyes moved from my other self’s collapsed form, to Asakura, to her school uniform–clad doppelganger, then finally to me.
I had promised Nagato. Which meant I could say nothing to this Nagato, the one who had just rewritten the world. There was only one thing I could do, one thing to say.
I picked up the needle gun that the Nagato from three years ago had made, then looked down at myself. I opened my mouth to say the line I remembered hearing. I was pretty sure I got it right, and even if I didn’t, I was sure a bit of deviation would be allowed. My other self’s barely open eyes finally closed completely, and his neck slumped sideways. It was a textbook loss of consciousness, good enough to make it look like I’d died—and if we didn’t stop my bleeding soon, I really would die.
Now it was really my turn—even though starting then, I didn’t know what was going to happen.
The first thing I looked at was my Nagato stopping Asakura.
The knife that Nagato held turned to sparkling dust. Asakura tried to jump back, but her feet held fast to the ground, as if stuck there. Nagato murmured in a quiet, rapid voice.
“No—Why? Isn’t this—” Asakura’s body began to shimmer. “Isn’t this what you wished for? Why… even now…”
Asakura fell silent with the question on her lips, as the dissolution of the knife was followed by that of her own body, which finally crumbled and scattered. At the same time—
Asahina the Younger had fallen prostrate over “my” body. With her closed eyes and her barely parted lips, she looked for all the world like she was sleeping. Asahina the Elder’s hand lay softly on the nape of my lovely upperclassman’s neck.
“I put her to sleep.”
The adult Asahina stroked her younger self’s head sadly.
“She mustn’t learn that I am here. I had to make sure that wouldn’t happen.”
My Asahina breathed softly as she slept, her head pillowed on my unconscious self’s slack arm.
“I have to stay a secret to her.”
Asahina’s sleeping face looked exactly like it had on that park bench at Tanabata three years ago. The reasoning was likewise the same—Asahina the Elder didn’t want to reveal herself to her past self. Catching a glimpse of her from behind was one thing, but if we’d gotten close, the older Asahina’s identity would’ve been obvious.
Nagato knelt on one knee, putting her hand to the spot on “my” torso where I’d been knifed. That’s obviously what saved me. In any case, the bleeding stopped, and “my” face looked a little less pallid. So it had been Nagato who’d healed my wound.
Nagato stood without ceremony, then held out her hand and spoke.
I silently handed her the gun. I hadn’t been able to do anything with it, anyway. I just couldn’t make myself do it. I didn’t want to pull the trigger on any Nagato, at any time.
Nagato took the gun unconcernedly, then aimed it at her collapsed, glasses-wearing other self and pulled the trigger.
There was no sound, and I saw nothing miraculous fire from the gun, but—
Nagato (glasses) blinked, then got slowly to her feet. She stood there, ramrod-straight, very much like the Nagato I knew so well—not the girl who had given me the application form for her club, tugged hesitantly on my sleeve, and smiled shyly and faintly.
As though to confirm my thoughts, that Nagato smoothly removed her glasses, then after glancing to me with her own eyes, locked her emotionless gaze on her other self.
The two Nagatos stared each other down. This incident included, I’d had several occasions to see my other self. My retinas had also been graced with the sight of both Asahina the Younger and Elder. But this was the first time I’d seen two of Nagato, and it was strangely moving. Magnificent, even.
“Request synchronization,” the gunshot Nagato repeated. The Nagato holding the pistol responded immediately.
Even I thought this was weird—to say nothing of the Nagato who now held her glasses in her hand. Her eyebrows moved a millimeter. “Why?”
“I do not wish to.”
I was stunned. Had Nagato ever so clearly expressed a preference? It wasn’t an excuse. She had definitively and unambiguously spoken words of emotional refusal.
The other Nagato fell silent, as though in deep thought.
The night wind ruffled her hair.
The Nagato who had come back from the future with me spoke.
“You will reset the world changes you effected.”
“Understood,” said the other Nagato, but then continued on to say, “I cannot detect the existence of the Data Overmind.”
“It is not here,” replied my Nagato indifferently. “I am still connected to the Data Overmind in my own space-time. I will effect the reversion of changes.”
“Understood,” said past-Nagato.
“After the reversion,” continued my Nagato, “take whatever actions you wish.”
The newly repaired other Nagato looked to me, her head cocked ever so slightly. I was certain of the invisible information her expression revealed. Nobody understands Nagato’s feelings the way I do.
This Nagato is that Nagato. The Nagato who appeared at the hospital that night—that is her. The one who made me so angry by claiming that her punishment was being debated.
I also understood why the Nagato who came from the future with me rejected synchronization. She doesn’t want to tell her current self what action to take, when the time comes.
Why, you ask? It goes without saying.
Thank you—the words I heard from Nagato then are the answer.
“Kyon—” said Asahina the Elder to me, hesitantly, as I stood there, stock still. “Please, take care of her… of me.”
She went to pick up her heavy-looking younger self, who was still deeply sleeping. I hurried over to lend a hand, and no sooner had she asked me for help than I’d gotten the lesser Asahina on my back, her warmth and softness just as I remembered it.
“A large-scale time-quake will soon occur.”
Asahina the Elder hugged her shoulders, her face anxious. “This is a larger and more complicated space-time modification than the one that just happened. I don’t think we’ll be able to keep our eyes open this time.”
If she said so, I believed it—but why would this be any different? I asked.
“The first change only changed the past and present. Now, in addition to that, we must take pains to restore time to its original flow. Think back. Where do you remember waking up?”
The evening of December twenty-first—I’d regained consciousness in the hospital.
“That’s right. So we have to arrange things for that to come about.”
My blazer still hanging over her shoulders, the barefoot older Asahina drew closer to me, looking somehow melancholy. She touched my shoulder, upon which Asahina the Younger still rested, then turned her head to regard Nagato. The Nagato who had come here with me now walked over to join us, the other remaining where she stood, and my collapsed other self still lying on the ground.
Asahina the Elder put her other hand on Nagato’s shoulder. “If you please, Nagato.”
Nagato nodded faintly, then looked at her other self, as if acknowledging that this would be their final parting. The other Nagato said nothing. I got the impression that she was lonely, which might have been my imagination, but I didn’t worry about it. I remembered what I’d said—what my other self, still lying on the ground, would soon say. “Relax and come visit me in the hospital. And don’t forget to tell your boss to drop dead.”
“Close your eyes, Kyon,” whispered Asahina the Elder. “We can’t have you getting time-sick.”
I took her advice and squeezed my eyes shut.
The next moment, I felt the world twist around me.
I’d experienced the weightless, spinning sensation many times, and while I felt like I was getting used to it, the magnitude of the spinning felt different this time. Previously, it had felt like an amusement park roller coaster, but this was like being inside a spaceship that was blasting randomly around and I’d forgotten to fasten my seat belt. But since gravity was not acting on my body, nor was I actually being spun around, this was simple dizziness. Though I wanted to see what was going on outside me, opening my eyes made the drunken feeling terrifyingly worse, so the only vision I had was the flashes of light that sparkled behind my closed eyes. I was very grateful for both the weight of Asahina the Younger on my back and her older counterpart’s hand on my shoulder.
—And then, there was a piercing, dangerous flash of light that penetrated my closed eyelids.
Unable to resist the desire to see, I opened my eyes, and I understood the source of the flashing red light. Only emergency vehicles are allowed to have red lights that revolve like that.
An ambulance was parked in front of the North High School entrance. Rubbernecking students looked on from a distance as emergency personnel carried someone out on a stretcher. Two forms walked alongside the stretcher as it moved, two forms whose names I’ll never forget as long as I live. Haruhi looked pale and scared, and Asahina’s face was streaked with tears as they followed the paramedics, with an unsmiling Koizumi trailing behind them.
The stretcher was immediately loaded into the ambulance, and Haruhi got in as well, after a short exchange with the paramedics.The flashing red lights and siren got bumped up a notch, and the ambulance started to move. Asahina covered her face as Koizumi had a serious conversation on his cell phone. Nagato was not there—but that was to be expected.
Some part of my body felt Asahina the Elder let out a sigh of relief.
“Now we can return to our own time, Kyon.”
The scene faded out. I guessed that was the end of this particular bonus scene. I closed my eyes. It had been worth seeing—a fragment of three days of which I had no memory. That’s right—Haruhi had claimed that it was the brigade chief’s duty to be concerned about her brigade members.
The dizzy feeling started up again. I was desperate for some motion sickness medication—next time, I’d be sure to bring some.
“I’ll aim for the time coordinates you came from. Be nice to me, won’t you? It will take a while before I wake up. Hee hee, you can even kiss me, if you want.”
Asahina the Elder’s lingering, mischievous voice felt very distant.
When I opened my eyes, I was standing in Nagato’s living room with Asahina on my back.
Nagato stood, facing me. “Sixty-two seconds have elapsed since we departed,” she said, looking up at me. “We have returned.”
To our own time.
I let out a deep breath and lowered Asahina to the floor. Her sleeping face was definitely a top candidate for Most Kissable, but I wasn’t so naive as to take the other Asahina’s words literally. Of course, were this not Nagato’s living room, and were Nagato not currently observing me, I might’ve given in to sketchy behavior. Wait, no—I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t!
Taking my teacup off the table, I downed the remaining tea in one gulp. It had turned lukewarm before we’d started time traveling, but it was still awfully tasty. It was perfect, like having barley tea right after a bath—it was even a match for the tea Asahina brewed in the clubroom.
I felt like I’d finally sorted out all the trouble from the previous year. There was nothing more that needed doing. We’d changed the world back to what it needed to be and had gotten back from the club trip that had overlapped into the new year. All that remained was the first temple visit of the year. Oh, sure—Haruhi would probably come up with something strange, but until then I figured I’d be able to relax a bit.
Incidentally, the angelic time traveler didn’t seem to be waking up. The method by which she’d been put to sleep was unclear, but her sleeping face looked as happy as Shamisen’s did when he had a full belly and was curled up somewhere warm, so I was loath to wake her. I asked Nagato to get a futon ready for her in the guest room, then carried her there and tucked her in.
“Nagato—do me a favor and take care of her until she wakes up, okay?”
Nagato was certainly getting her fill of sleeping guests, but she looked at me and nodded.
I would’ve loved to stay until Asahina awoke, but to be honest I was utterly weary myself. If I didn’t get home soon and ameliorate my exhaustion via a good bath and my own bed, there was no way I’d be able to be up tomorrow morning by nine, and I wanted to put an end to the evaporation of my wallet’s limited resources. Five people’s worth of New Year’s cash would’ve been a crushing blow.
It would’ve been nice to crawl into a futon next to Asahina, like I’d done back when I’d slept through three years after Tanabata, and while I’m completely confident that I would’ve fallen immediately asleep upon putting head to pillow, I couldn’t help but feel that nobody was asking for me to sleep there.
It was kind of nice that the time traveler was crashing at the alien’s place.
“See you tomorrow.”
Nagato saw me off with a gaze that put me at ease, her tranquil pupils fixing on me from behind her bangs.
“Good work today. Sorry we caused you so much trouble.”
Asahina had done her part, but Nagato (and her counterpart in this apartment, at Tanabata four years ago) had put in the most effort.
“It’s fine,” she said, her expression unchanging. “I was the cause.”
I watched the alien until the door closed. I had wondered if she would possibly smile, but unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—her pale face and small frame were as impassive as ever. And yet you can thank my keen eyes for noticing that there was a hint of something different.
I rode my bike slowly home after leaving the apartment building, and I fell asleep immediately after falling down on my bed.
Somehow I got the feeling that the dreams I had in my exhausted sleep were really great ones, but thirty seconds after I woke up, I’d forgotten them entirely. But the lingering feeling told me everything.
I’m sure it was about an alien and a time traveler enjoying a pleasant tea together.
And so it was that just as I’d lowered Asahina off my shoulders, I’d planned to cast off my worries and enjoy a relatively peaceful January.
But a single problem remained.
Her sleeping face had been so lovely that it entirely slipped my mind—that precisely because the sleeping Asahina was asleep, from her perspective she’d seen and heard almost nothing of what Nagato, Asahina the Elder, and I had done that December eighteenth. As far as she knew, I’d suddenly told her that space-time had been altered, and, half disbelieving, she’d taken us back in time, only to see my other self be immediately struck down and be immediately rendered unconscious herself—and when she woke, she’d already be back in her own time.
As far as I was concerned, she’d fulfilled her role perfectly well, by doing something only she could do, but Asahina herself evidently didn’t see it that way. Now that I thought about it, ever since the winter break had ended, she seemed to be constantly getting lost in thought.
This is all connected to the melancholy Sunday pseudo-date she’d asked me out on, where we’d barely saved the boy in glasses from a traffic accident. If I had to take a guess, I’d blame it on Asahina the Elder’s policy of secrecy. While it was true that anyone who would make Asahina cry deserved a thorough pummeling, I wondered if I hadn’t been more often the cause of her tears myself. Maybe I needed to get Haruhi to go to a boxing gym with me. A little bit of punching and getting punched might do me good, I thought.
In any case, the Sunday of tea shopping got me thinking about the future of the SOS Brigade, and it also succeeded in lifting Asahina’s spirits. To be honest, I’m not sure how much she figured out, but we reached enough of an understanding that detailed explanations weren’t necessary—at least, not to this Asahina.
Just as I don’t mention the name John Smith to Haruhi, I’ll never tell Asahina about the existence of her adult self. It’s a trump card, only for emergencies.
And should the time come—
Well, I don’t want that time to come.
As we enter February, our story returns to its beginning.
Toward the end of the school year, the mood around the school changes somehow—you start to see the seniors around less, for example. Most of them were now toiling in the depths of their college entrance exams, which makes the teachers’ room a tense place to be. Come the year after next, I’ll be a senior myself—that’ll be me. If this year’s senior class doesn’t rouse themselves to beating the municipal high school’s college acceptance rate, the principal is going to be pushing extra classes or mock exams that cancel the school anniversary, which will only serve to annoy me, since I’m still two years away from seniorhood.
Speaking of exams, it was about time for the diagnostic tests that the entering middle school students would take to get into special classes, of which my school had a couple. Koizumi’s Class 9 specialized in science and math. I don’t know whether it was the shadowy Agency backing him that got Koizumi into that class, or if it was just his own academic ability, but either way it was impressive for a transfer student to get in. I sure as hell didn’t have any interest in a class whose main dish would be extra helpings of math and science.
In any case, I turned my attention away from the hell of college entrance exams into which I’d inevitably descend, purposefully avoiding the calendar in an effort to extend my few remaining days of life as a freshman, and once I got back from that fateful December eighteenth, carefully maintained my state of relaxation.
After all, I sure can’t think of anything more dangerous than repairing space-time, and having successfully done so, surely I deserved some R&R. Nagato had returned to her usual self, Asahina’s smile was back, and while something was up with Haruhi, she’d start making noise about it soon enough.
So there really shouldn’t have been any problems at all, or at least I didn’t want to think about them. But there was one person in the clubroom who selfishly insisted on making mountains out of molehills—the only one who, like Haruhi, had been left out of the loop, the esper whose powers were useless when it came to changing space-time—one Itsuki Koizumi, who said:
“You’ve repeatedly visited two separate mornings of December eighteenth.”
Koizumi had enjoyed hearing about the time-travel incidents I’d been through ever since the episode at the snowy mountain mansion, pestering me to relate them to him like a kid begging his grandfather for another story. As an aspiring time traveler, he seemed to envy me. Taking the train back from Tsuruya’s villa, he’d gone on and on about “Might you not find some way to take me back with you?” and “It should be fine so long as your past self doesn’t see me,” but it went without saying that I paid him no heed.
I was still deeply embarrassed about the whole Nagato thing, and although it was all over and settled, I still tended to prevaricate about it, but in the face of Koizumi’s curiosity-borne persistence, and when just the two of us were in the clubroom, I finally told him the whole story.
And as I’d expected, he happily began his commentary.
“You see, it was the morning of December eighteenth when the malfunctioning Nagato changed the world into one where Suzumiya and I, and even Asahina, were all normal people. You spent three days in that world, then used Nagato’s escape program to travel three—no, four years into the past. There you met the still-functioning Nagato and returned to the morning of December eighteenth.”
That was all true. And incidentally, I’ve now been back to that morning yet again, I told him.
“I know. But think carefully now. Suppose we refer to the moment Nagato changed the world on the morning of December eighteenth as time x. When you returned to time x from Tanabata four years previous, it was no longer the same x.”
What was he talking about? There was no way there could be more than one version of the same time, I told him.
“There can—in fact, there must. The reasoning is simple. If the time x where Nagato changed the world disappeared, then neither Suzumiya’s disappearance nor her and my transformation into regular people would have happened. And were that the case, you would never have needed to travel into the past.”
He was talking about a time paradox. I had plenty of first-hand experiences with those, I said.
“But a necessary precondition for returning this world to its previous state was you traveling into the past. If you hadn’t, the world would have stayed changed. But you did go, and you did repair it. Otherwise, this timeline would not exist.”
I glanced over at the door, hoping desperately that someone would come and interrupt this conversation.
“Let me use a diagram to explain. It might make it easier to understand.”
Ever since the incident, Koizumi seemed to have gotten really into diagrams; he took an erasable pen and walked over to the whiteboard.
“Say this vertical line represents the flow of time from past to future.” He stopped the line in the middle of the board, drawing a dot and labeling it with an x.
“This is the first time x. This is where Nagato changed the world that surrounded her, and where the time as it exists in your memory was created.”
Koizumi resumed the movement of the pen, but he did not directly continue the line. Instead it curved to the right, eventually creating a circle that returned to point x. The diagram now looked like a morning glory sprout with one leaf plucked off.
“The circle is the history that you remember since December eighteenth. You used the escape program to travel back to the Tanabata four years earlier, then jumped back to the morning of December eighteenth. If Nagato had just been repaired at that moment, everything would have been fine, but that’s not how it went.”
Yeah, because Ryoko Asakura was there. But Asakura wasn’t the only one there. There was also another version of me from the future, along with Asahina and Nagato, and we managed to put things right. From my perspective now, it had happened a month ago.
“Indeed. You saved yourself. And that”—Koizumi’s pen started at x again, this time drawing a circle that looped to the left—“is this point, from which this world is now continuing. In Suzumiya’s memory as in mine, you fell down the stairs on December eighteenth and were unconscious until the twenty-first. And a month later, you would travel back from this timeline to go save yourself.”
Once he’d finished drawing the circle to the left of the line, Koizumi didn’t stop. He then continued on past the x, extending the line up until it reached the top edge of the board, then setting the pen down. Koizumi then took a half step back from the board and regarded me carefully.
I quickly grasped the nature of the diagram. It looked like an eight turned sideways—the symbol for infinity—with a line exactly bisecting the point between the two loops. Point x was where all the lines met.
Even I, who’d long proclaimed my cowardice in the face of math and science, gradually began to understand what Koizumi was trying to explain.
The loop on the right was the time in my memory. After a lot of hassle, I’d returned to point x and met glasses-Nagato just as she was changing the world, then gotten stabbed by Asakura.
On the other hand, the loop on the left was time of which I had no memory. I’d been stabbed, lost consciousness, been taken to the hospital where I was in a bed for three days until waking up—all within that loop.
And both of those loops had their start at x.
“Which means that there are two points x,” explained Koizumi. “There’s point x, where the world was changed, and… let’s call it x', where the change was undone,” he said, looking contemplatively at his diagram. “Without x, there can be no x'. So x was not erased. You can probably think of them as being superimposed. Yes… one written atop the other. Just as old data is covered up by new data written atop it, x, along with the changed world that followed from it, was overwritten by x', but it hasn’t disappeared completely. It’s still there.”
“I do not remotely understand,” I said with nonchalance even as I recalled Asahina the Elder’s words.
An even larger and more complex space-time-quake, she’d said.
“It’s something like looking at a multilevel circuit board from above. There are points where the circuits appear to cross each other in two dimensions, but when you factor in the third dimension, you see they’re on different levels. Things that appear to occupy the same space in two dimensions differ in depth.”
I rubbed my temples. Koizumi was explaining all this, but I wondered what a time traveler would say. Or an alien.
“There is another possibility. May I explain?”
Given the circumstances, I’d listen to whatever the hell he wanted to say.
“The memory that you lack but which we have—the three days between December eighteenth, when you fell down the stairs, and December twenty-first, when you awoke—that may never have existed.”
Did it matter one way or another? I’d been asleep either way, I said.
“Indeed, it’s precisely as you say. Do you remember what I said earlier? We can’t prove for certain that the entire universe wasn’t created five minutes ago. You being rushed via ambulance and being comatose for three days may never have actually happened. It’s possible that the time between your repair of December eighteenth and your awakening on December twenty-first didn’t exist. Which would mean that Suzumiya’s and my memory of those three days is completely fabricated, and we were made to hold them after the reconstruction on the night of the twenty-first.”
I’d agreed to listen, but this was just ridiculous—but no, I couldn’t claim that. It wasn’t impossible. It was possible to rewrite an entire year—when considering that, these three days were small by comparison.
“Also, this is changing the subject, but we can now state the identity of the ‘mystery girl’ that Suzumiya saw.”
Who was it? Who pushed me down the stairs?
Now he was just talking nonsense. Hadn’t Nagato been at the bottom of the stairs with everybody else at the time? They’d said I was at the tail end of the group, hadn’t they?
“Yes, that’s what we remember. Nagato didn’t directly shove you from behind. However, she was the one who created the history wherein you’d been knocked unconscious. Suzumiya must have subconsciously realized that fact. Of course, she doesn’t know Nagato was the culprit—in reality, the culprit wasn’t there. And yet somehow Suzumiya sensed the fact that someone was behind all this.”
Koizumi smiled brightly.
“That feeling of suspicion became the image of a girl pushing you. A phantom girl who never really existed.”
You could hardly use intuition to explain away all that. If Nagato could change the world, she could certainly alter a few memories. Yet Haruhi had realized that something was amiss—that someone was doing something. Or had done something.
“It’s just a theory. A hypothesis I created to answer your questions.” The pleasant bastard sat down in a folding chair and spread his arms wide. “Practically speaking, I don’t know the first thing about time construction and movement. But Asahina came from the future to accomplish something here. So this is my question: if you were in the position to travel into the past in order to avert a disaster, would you do it?”
I thought of Asahina the Elder on the night of Tanabata. Surrounded by a Haruhi and Koizumi who had gone to a different school, an Asahina who’d stayed in the calligraphy club, and a glasses-wearing Nagato, I’d pushed Enter on the computer and traveled back in time again. The version of myself, sitting on a bench at that park. The version of myself, helping a middle school–aged Haruhi draw pictures in the school courtyard.
If I had gone running up to my other self, what would’ve happened? If I’d told him everything that would happen—if I’d told him not to let Haruhi make a movie, not to cause Nagato constant trouble, if I’d spilled my guts to him.
All I could do was shrug my shoulders. “I have no idea.”
When an opportunity like that comes up, your body moves on its own before you can think. I didn’t really trust my brain, but my body knew what it should do. That had gotten me this far, and I figured I’d keep it up. Good luck, self.
“Still, though—I really don’t think there’ll be any more time travel. The whole reason for doing it is gone now.”
“That’s a shame. I had been hoping that you’d take me along next time.”
I didn’t care if his eyes looked as desperate as Shamisen’s when he’s hungry in the middle of the night. He could go ask Asahina. And not current Asahina, but Asahina the Elder. Not that I had any idea where or when she was. The only thing I could tell him was to make sure to bring motion sickness medication.
Koizumi shook his head resignedly and returned to the game of shogi he was playing against himself; my attention drifted back to the manga magazine I’d been reading, and silence returned to the room.
“Sorry to keep you waiting!”
Wham. The door slammed open, kicked, and the main ingredient in all this chaos entered. Haruhi the omnipotent smiled with pointless energy, a convenience store shopping bag in her hand, her skirt and hair fluttering attractively.
“The snack shop nearby didn’t have this stuff, so I had to go all the way back down the hill. Whew, it’s cold!”
Following soon after the brigade chief, who was now warming her hands by the electric heater in the corner of the room, came Nagato and Asahina.
Nagato silently closed the door.
“Um, what do we do with this?” asked Asahina, her head cocked at a puzzled angle.
“Isn’t it obvious? Don’t you know what today is, Mikuru? I mean—did you buy this stuff without realizing it?”
“It’s February third, but what…?”
“It’s Setsubun! Setsubun!”
Haruhi produced a small packet from within the convenience store shopping bag.
“Honestly, you’re just hopeless. Didn’t you celebrate it when you were a kid? Today’s Setsubun, and Setsubun equals bean-throwing and ehomaki-eating!”
It’s true that ehomaki, or the practice of eating a whole piece of futomaki in an auspicious direction while contemplating one’s hopes for the upcoming year, was, of course, an obscure local tradition, but our brigade chief was a fanatic about observing every obscure seasonal tradition she could. If you’d said we weren’t the “Save the world by overloading it with fun Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade,” but instead the “Save the world by celebrating every obscure seasonal event Brigade,” you wouldn’t have been wrong.
“What’s that, a Bernoulli curve?”
Haruhi spied the diagram Koizumi had written on the whiteboard, suspiciously scrutinizing the path I’d taken through time as though it were a kid she thought she knew.
“No, it’s not. What kind of calculation yielded this curve?” she asked.
“It’s just a scribble,” Koizumi said casually as he stood and used the eraser to clean the board. “I was just killing time. Pay it no mind.”
“Ah,” replied Haruhi mildly, having decided it wasn’t important. She tossed the convenience store bag to me. It landed in my hand with a rustle. There was a package of dried soybeans inside.
Today was Setsubun. And being Setsubun, there had to be bean-scattering—or so Haruhi had been thinking all through lunch, when she’d finally shouted in self-reproach: “I knew I was forgetting something! Setsubun!”
She’d probably realized it after seeing the sushi rolls in Taniguchi’s lunch box. “Aw, c’mon,” Taniguchi had said, bitter disappointment in his voice. “Is this it? No side dishes?”
“Just be happy somebody made you a lunch,” I shot back, though in my heart I could not sympathize with the parent who’d pack a lunch like that; I agreed with the son. They could’ve at least cut the roll up before packing it, so that it wouldn’t catch Haruhi’s eye.
“We can’t just celebrate foreign holidays. Local traditions have a right to get some respect, too. I mean otherwise it’s just a waste! You’re just missing out on the fun! People who lose track of their roots are just gonna wind up going down the wrong path!”
She was one to talk. Did she really think she was heading down the right path? From where I stood, it seemed like she was always just charging the wrong way down some random animal path, I said.
“What’re you talking about? I walk the path of righteousness. I do that which must be done. I bet you forgot it was Setsubun today, Kyon. That’s hard to forgive.”
Even though she herself had also forgotten (or perhaps because of that), as soon as homeroom ended, Haruhi threw herself into preparations. If you can call them that—all she needed were beans and sushi rolls. She went to get them herself. Since I had been lucky enough to get a lecture from Mr. Okabe under the pretenses of academic counseling, and Koizumi had cleaning duty, she brought Nagato and Asahina along to help her carry things, and after school the three of them set off on their merry way. They had just now returned, which brought us to the present moment.
As far as the sushi rolls went, we could just eat those while facing the proper direction, but beans had to be thrown at something.
“So where do you propose to do the scattering?” I asked, opening the package and popping a bean into my mouth. It would’ve gone well with some tea. “It’ll be a pain to clean up if we do it in the clubroom, not to mention a waste.”
“We can do it anywhere,” said Haruhi, eyes blazing. “Oh yeah, what about tossing them from the top floor hallway’s windows down into the courtyard? That way the birds can just eat the beans and we won’t have to do any cleaning up.” She then added, “We’ve already got our good-fortune girls, so we’ve gotta do this up right.” Apparently, no Setsubun is truly complete without good-fortune girls who dress up like shrine maidens and hand out good-luck charms.
The target of the SOS Brigade chief’s Type-1a-supernova-strength gaze was Asahina, who was assiduously reading the text printed on the bag of beans, and Nagato, who had already seated herself at the table, absorbed in a detective novel with a disturbing-sounding title.
If you were to hold a school-wide good-fortune-girl contest, the likely winner as well as the special judge’s prize awardee were both sitting right here, and even setting that aside, they were perfectly suited to this sort of evil-spirit banishment, given that Asahina could pretend, and Nagato would actually do the banishing.
Haruhi tolerated no complaint as she dragged Asahina up to a hallway on the top floor of the school, the rest of us trailing behind them, whereupon we complied with the order to begin scattering—the three girls doing the actual scattering, with Koizumi and me in charge of keeping their bean scoops, and there was no question that for once Haruhi’s direction was resulting in a good outcome for everyone involved.
At first, the students down in the courtyard had scattered like cockroaches fleeing insecticide, but soon groups of guys started to return to collect the beans that Asahina and Nagato had tossed down, milling about to and fro as they pursued the precious items. They were all of one mind in moving to dodge the shotgun blasts that resulted from Haruhi’s overenthusiastic throwing.
“Oh, shoot,” said Haruhi with genuine regret. “I should’ve had Mikuru dress like a shrine maiden—we could’ve made some money that way. Even a hundred yen a pop would’ve gotten us quite a bit, don’t you think?”
If she’d dressed up like that and walked around the school, I had no doubt that Asahina would’ve become even more popular than she already was. But if only to keep my worries from multiplying any further, it was best to restrict her costumes to clubroom only.
“Um, g-good luck! In th-there! Good luck… in!”
I watched Asahina’s eager bean-tossing and Nagato’s completely silent rendition of the same, the vision of them performing the ritual while wearing shrine maiden outfits very clear in my mind.
“Five hundred yen a pop,” I said gravely.
Incidentally, they were only shouting “Good luck in.” As to why—
“Ever since I read The Red Demon Who Cried, I’ve always thought that if I ever did see a real demon, I’d want to be nice to it. I just bawled my eyes out when I read that story. The second I saw his sign, I totally would’ve gone right over to the Red Demon’s house for tea and snacks.” She was totally on the demons’ side as she looked at me gravely. “Got that? If you ever run into the Blue Demon, you better be nice to him. Shutting the demons outside is prohibited! The SOS Brigade’s doors are open to all, even non-humans!”
Although I had the premonition that if this half-baked inclusiveness continued, we’d soon end up with so much “luck” that eventually something would pop like an invisible balloon, I had to agree with Haruhi on the matter of the Blue Demon.
That might’ve been because as an impressionable kid, I’d cried over the story myself, or perhaps it was because in addition to scattering beans, Nagato was wearing a cheap demon mask on the side of her head. Nagato had been listening as she read the fairy tale Haruhi had mentioned, and had for some reason taken an interest in the paper demon mask, picking it up quietly and scanning it, laser-like, before putting it on her head.
I wondered if Haruhi’s phrase “even non-humans” had somehow touched her heart.
After Asahina and Nagato’s free bean-throwing performance ended, we all returned to the clubroom to wolf down our ehomaki. We looked up this year’s lucky direction on the Internet, and Haruhi passed out the food.
“You can’t say a word until you’re done eating, got it? Okay, everybody stand up. Now, face that way, and—let’s eat!”
The strange scene—all five of us lined up and facing the same direction, our mouths full as we silently ate chilled sushi rolls—continued for several minutes. Haruhi and Nagato finished first, roughly simultaneously, while Asahina held hers daintily in both hands like a small woodland creature. I fervently prayed that we wouldn’t be having the same thing for dinner tonight.
The remaining beans were emptied into a bowl and ended up mostly in Haruhi’s and my stomachs, along with some tea that Asahina kindly brewed, giving me a new appreciation for how full a person could wind up on Setsubun.
Surely this would return Haruhi’s spirits to normal, but for some reason, the next day she was still subdued. As I said before, the fact that remembering Setsubun had improved her mood so thoroughly proved that she wasn’t seriously melancholy, but that only made me more worried about this subtle shift. It seemed I was the only one who’d noticed the change in Haruhi. It would’ve been one thing if minor characters like Taniguchi or Kunikida hadn’t noticed, but apparently even the self-proclaimed Haruhi expert Koizumi hadn’t detected it.
It was just weird.
While I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, I also couldn’t very well constantly pay attention to Haruhi’s movements—because something more obviously strange had happened.
And unlike Haruhi’s shift in mood, this one was a thing you could see with your own two eyes.
I’d just told Koizumi that I didn’t anticipate there being any further time-travel episodes for a while, and I stuck to that. I wanted to avoid anything involving going back in time and changing things there. That isn’t the kind of thing you should do over and over again—and definitely not when you don’t know why you’re doing it.
Whether or not my pathetic wish was heard, well—it wound up coming true anyway.
This time, it wasn’t me who traveled through time. I didn’t take a single step outside of my own present moment. And yet I still wound up getting sucked into another temporal disturbance.
The person in question appeared in the Literature Club’s mop closet.
It happened one evening, a few days after Setsubun.
When I got to the clubroom and opened the door, all that greeted me was the chilly air and an empty room. Asahina wasn’t there to greet me, nor was Nagato sitting silently at the corner of the table—and Haruhi was nowhere to be seen. Today was her day to talk to the guidance counselor, so right about now she was in the office with Mr. Okabe, freaking him out with her crazy ambitions. If someone had asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, I had the feeling she would’ve said something crazy like “dictator” or “galactic president” with a completely straight face. And lest that actually happen, I fervently hoped that Mr. Okabe would put forth the effort to gently guide her onto a more reasonable path. Her personality was such that more forceful persuasion would cause her to be even less flexible than elements in the chromium group.
I put my bag on the table and turned on the electric space heater to warm up the chilly, lonely room. It took a while for the ancient heater to start radiating heat.
The only other sources of warmth would’ve been the steam coming off Asahina’s kettle and the hot tea she brewed with it. I thought about how much I wanted to have some as I grabbed the nearest folding chair, when—
“What was that?”
It had come from the corner of the room. I reflexively looked in the direction of the sound, but the only thing there was the same tall steel object with which every classroom was furnished—namely, a broom closet. So far as I could trust my ears, the sound had come from within it.
I’d just convinced myself that it had just been the random shifting of a mop or broom, when—
The noise was softer this time.
“Cut it out,” I murmured to myself.
Have you ever felt anything like this? Say your family’s out, and you come home to an empty house, and even though you should be the only one there, you can’t help feeling that you’re not alone. You feel like there’s some kind of movement behind the curtains, like someone is hiding there, and you want to pull them back to check, but you’re scared of what you might find if you actually do, so you leave them alone—and it almost always turns out to be your imagination.
I was sure this was my imagination too. If it had happened when I was home alone instead of in the clubroom, I probably would’ve been too freaked out to open the door, but I was at school, and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. There was hardly anything to be nervous about.
I casually walked over to the broom closet, and with no particular expectations, I opened the door—and was immediately struck dumb.
Brooms, mops, and dustpans weren’t the only things in the closet. I was so surprised that the shock forced itself out of my mouth, becoming a question. “… What the hell are you doing in there?”
The person to whom the obvious question was directed answered.
“Oh… Kyon.” It was Asahina. An expression of relief flickered across her face. “So you waited for me? Oh, thank goodness. I was starting to worry about what I was going to do, but now I can relax. So, um… what should I do?”
“Huh?” She looked up at me, blinking in surprise. “Umm… This is the right time, today, right? I’m certain you said this was the place…”
As the girl who’d apparently happily shut herself in a janitorial closet looked up at me uncertainly, a terrible premonition welled up within me, like smoke pouring from a factory smokestack in a growth economy.
What was going on here? Was she playing hide-and-seek in the broom closet? Surely not. Couldn’t be.
The smoke of unease was beginning to well up in my chest, when—
There came a knock on the clubroom door; both Asahina and I looked in its direction, startled. Just as I was about to open my mouth to ask a question—
Asahina grabbed my uniform’s necktie, and I was pulled forward. She drew me farther into the broom closet, then reached out her hand and closed the steel door behind me.
What the hell was going on? What was all of this?
“Shhh, Kyon—be quiet. Don’t make a sound.”
Thanks to a sliver of light, I could just barely make out Asahina putting her index finger to her lips. Even if she hadn’t said anything, I would’ve been speechless. I mean—just thinking about it.
Usually a person wouldn’t be able to cram themselves into a broom closet. Even one occupant would exceed its capacity—but now there were two people inside, and not just any two people either. It was Asahina and me. Asahina, whose curves were generous enough to catch even Haruhi’s eye. Obviously, given the circumstances, we wouldn’t be able to avoid being pressed together, so pressed together we were. Even through the school uniform I could feel something soft and warm against the lower part of my chest.
Just as I was becoming lost in the sensation, I heard the sound of the clubroom door opening. Somehow, I didn’t care. Asahina clung to me like someone trying to keep warm in a frigid mountain shack, holding her breath. I didn’t know why, but she was. How was such happiness even possible?
Terrible premonition, my ass. The black smoke in my chest was transforming to crystal-clear ozone, beckoning me to a soothing paradise… No, words are unnecessary. I just wanted the moment to last forever.
But my intoxication was forcibly interrupted by the voice of the person who’d just entered the room.
“Huh? Nobody’s here… but the heater’s on. Oh, that’s Kyon’s bag. Maybe he went to the bathroom.”
I looked down at Asahina, who still gripped my necktie. She looked up at me.
Next, I craned my neck around in an effort to look behind me. The sole source of light in the closet was a thin slit in its door. While humans cannot rotate their heads 180 degrees, I was about to catch a glimpse of the room out of the corner of my eye.
“…!” I was too shocked to voice my surprise.
There was Asahina.
Yes, it was Asahina who warmed her hands in front of the heater, humming to herself before she moved out of my line of sight, then reappeared having taken her maid outfit off its hanger. She then smoothly removed her school uniform’s ribbon, hanging it neatly over the back of a folding chair, then undoing the buttons on her blouse as she began to remove it.
“…!” I continued with another stunned ellipsis.
Asahina laid her newly doffed top on the chair as well, then put her hands to the waist of her skirt—just as other hands touched my face.
Holding my face between her two hands, this Asahina forced my head to turn back around and face her. Even in the dark of the closet, I could tell she was blushing furiously. Her lips moved.
I didn’t have to do any lip-reading to know what she was trying to say, and realizing too late that I had already seen some untoward things, I hurriedly shut my mouth and reassessed the situation.
There were two Asahinas.
Now wait just a minute. If one of them had been Asahina the Elder, that much I could’ve understood. That sort of thing had happened several times, so her appearing again would hardly have been surprising.
But this was different. A perfectly matched set of identical Asahinas was now separated by a single flimsy steel door—one with her body pressed up against my own, and the other smack in the middle of changing into her maid uniform.
Both of them were the real Asahina. When it came to the ability to read Nagato’s expressions or judge Asahina’s authenticity, I prided myself on having a higher level of skill than anyone else. And if that skill could be trusted, then both of these girls were the genuine article. And two of the same person existing in the same space had to mean—
If I had to guess, it was probably the Asahina squeezed in the broom closet with me who was from a different time, one not far removed from the current time. The two of them were just too similar. Even identical twins would’ve been more different from each other.
But I was only able to consider it for a brief moment. Obviously, instinct precedes rational thought in such situations.
I mean, here in the closet Asahina was clinging to me, her eyes squeezed shut, and out there the sound Asahina’s clothing made as she removed it was stimulating my imagination, and it was only a matter of time before my mind’s defenses were completely overrun. Just as in the summer siege of Osaka Castle after the death of the great general Yukimura Sanada, there was nothing that could be done. It was just as impossible to tell me not to have any reaction in the face of this two-front psychological assault.
I felt lightheaded, as though some strange drug were working its way though my brain. Somebody, do something!
At this rate I was either going to wind up embracing Asahina the Nearer with all my might or jump out of the closet and scare to death the Asahina in the room mid–costume change.
The sound of the clubroom door opening again brought me back to myself.
Whoever it was seemed to be standing there without saying anything. The door didn’t close.
“Oh, Nagato,” I heard Asahina say in her clear voice. “Wait just a moment, and I’ll put the tea on.”
I craned my neck around again.
Through the door’s slit I only caught the hem of her maid outfit’s skirt as it whirled around. I was left to imagine the now-changed Asahina quickly lighting the portable burner.
I didn’t hear any more sound from Nagato. While she’s certainly capable of moving quietly, the door certainly cannot close without making noise, so I inferred that she was still standing at the room’s entrance.
“Um… is something the matter?” came Asahina’s uncertain voice. Again my imagination: Nagato held her bag in one hand, with the other holding the doorknob as she stared, I was certain, at the broom closet.
“We need to talk.” Nagato’s voice.
“Huh?” Asahina sounded surprised.
“Come with me.”
“Wha—?” said Asahina, her surprise growing. “G-go where? I… wha…?”
“Anywhere, as long as it is not this room.”
“B-but, what do you want to talk about…? Why can’t we do it here?”
“We cannot speak here,” said Nagato shortly.
“And… you really want to talk to me? Really?”
“Wha—? Wait, Nagato, don’t—you don’t have to drag me like that—!”
There were no further words. I heard Asahina’s tottering footsteps, followed by the sound of the door closing. The two girls disappeared down the hallway beyond the door.
I clattered out of the broom closet, its door slamming open; Asahina tumbled after me.
“Fwaa—!” On her knees, Asahina cried out in a voice that could’ve been either relief or total fatigue. “Gosh, what a shock!”
I doubted she was more shocked than I was. “Asahina,” I said. “Just what is going on here? When did you come from?”
Asahina lifted her head up from its lowered position to look at me, blinking as she replied. “Huh? You don’t know, Kyon?”
Know what, I wondered. Just what was it that I was supposed to know?
“I mean”—Asahina continued, her expression like a passenger aboard a sinking ocean liner who’d just gotten to a lifeboat only to discover that it had a hole in it—“you were the one who told me to go to this time, weren’t you?”
Now wait just a minute.
I racked my brain. I had said something like that. Definitely. It was on January second, when I’d needed to return to December eighteenth the previous year. We’d gone back, then returned to our time.
But that had wrapped things up, hadn’t it? At the very least, I had no memory of telling Asahina anything about a jump into the future. I hadn’t even considered the notion.
The future. This Asahina had come from the future.
“When did you come from?”
“Uh…” Asahina went blank for a moment, then looked down and checked her wristwatch. “Um… A week and a day, so… four fifteen PM, eight days from now.”
“For what reason?”
“I don’t know.”
She’d just up and admitted it.
“I really don’t know,” she continued. “I just did what you told me to do. And I want to ask you something: why are your requests always so quickly approved?”
Asahina pouted, looking a bit like Haruhi. It was cute, but this was no time to be thinking about things like that. I purposefully turned toward the clubroom door. “I told you to do this? The me of eight days from now did?”
“Yes. You seemed kind of nervous, and you told me that if I went, I’d understand why. And you said to say ‘Hi’ to the you of the past.”
What the hell had the eight-days-later-me been thinking?
I struggled to understand. What had he sent Asahina into the past to do? “Say ‘Hi’ to me?” That didn’t tell me anything.
No, wait—something else was strange. This Asahina said she’d come from eight days in the future. Meanwhile, the Asahina who was wearing her maid outfit—the Asahina of this time—had been dragged away by Nagato.
So… what? There were two Asahinas. One was here in the clubroom. Nagato had taken the other one somewhere else in the school and hopefully wasn’t giving her too hard of a time.
“She took me to the emergency stairs and said all kinds of strange things,” said Asahina, cocking her head to one side. “Like how to use number theory to prove the existence of God, asking me how to conceptually refute that… or something. Nagato did all the talking, and I didn’t understand a thing. What was that all about? Oh—” There Asahina cut herself off. “I see.”
Just as Asahina seemed to figure things out, the Color Timer in my head began to flash an alarmed shade of red. At this rate, we were headed for big trouble.
As I silently prayed for Nagato’s crazy-talk to drag on, I said, “Asahina, you didn’t meet your future self anytime in the past week, right?”
“Er, no…” She shook her head meekly, looking flustered. In that case, we’d have to hurry.
I couldn’t let this Asahina meet her counterpart.
Nagato had realized this. She’d sensed Asahina and me in the broom closet and had taken steps to buy us some time. The reason she’d dragged maid-Asahina out of the clubroom was to give this Asahina and me a chance to escape.
Haruhi and Koizumi would be here before long. SOS Brigade members were like salmon returning to spawn—they always came back to the same place. I should know; I was the same way. And if Haruhi were to see the fissioned Asahinas, it wasn’t hard for me to guess how likely it was that she’d buy the explanation that they were twins.
If I didn’t get Asahina out of here and fast, I had the feeling things could turn ugly very soon.
“Asahina, let’s go.”
I grabbed my own bag, opened the door slightly, and checked the hallway. Nobody was there. I beckoned Asahina to come over, which she did, looking tremulously out into the hallway. The countdown had already begun. There were two conditions. One: not letting the two versions of Asahina meet each other, and two: not letting Haruhi witness two Asahinas in one place. I thought about putting her in some kind of disguise, but a glance at the hanger rack in the clubroom revealed nothing but costumes that would’ve stuck out, so I gave up on that idea. Fortunately this Asahina was wearing her school uniform. Like the saying goes: the best way to hide in a forest is to be a leaf.
I took Asahina’s arm and hurried out of the room.
“You’re sure you came from eight days in the future, right?” I asked as we strolled briskly along.
“Yes, because you told me to go back eight days, to three forty-five PM.”
Asahina’s stride was longer than usual as we descended the steps two at a time. I prayed that Mr. Okabe’s lecturing of Haruhi would run long.
“So you know what’s going to happen for the next week?”
We reached the bottom floor, and I hesitated for a moment before picking a route that took us across the courtyard. If we had taken the covered pathways back to the main school building, there was the possibility of a direct encounter with Haruhi, and this path would get us to the shoe lockers more quickly.
Breathing a bit heavily, Asahina answered: “I guess so…”
“So was there some incident that made you have to travel into the past?”
“No, it wasn’t anything I could think of. You just dragged me over to that broom closet and pushed me in.”
So I’d pushed her in and ordered her to go to this time, today. That was strange, even for me. What the hell had I been thinking? I should’ve come with her. I would’ve saved myself the trouble of figuring all this out.
We’d just made it to the shoe lockers without meeting anyone we knew when I suddenly stopped short.
“Where should we go?” I asked.
We obviously had to get away from the school, but I had no idea where to hide Asahina after that.
So what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t very well do nothing and just have her return to eight days in the future, could I—? I asked.
“You can’t,” said Asahina, her upturned gaze sad. “I thought the same thing and asked about it, but they said no. The time when I’m allowed to go back is also classified, and I don’t know it myself.”
Which meant that this Asahina from eight days in the future had something she had to do today, or tomorrow, or soon. I’d just assume that much.
So the number one thing I wanted to know was what that was. Why had my eight-days-later self sent her back without so much as a single note?
As I hurled curses at my future self, Asahina trotted over to the second-year students’ shoe lockers, and just as I was changing from my school slippers into my sneakers—
“Asahina!” I hurriedly looked around for the time traveler’s form. She was reaching up to her own shoe locker, which was located on a high row.
“Yes?” she replied, looking over her shoulder as she reached up. “What is it?”
I couldn’t believe she was asking me that. “Those shoes belong to your past self! The one in this time!”
“Ah—r-right…” she said, closing the door to the locker. “If I put these on, then my other self would have a hard time getting home. And I don’t remember my shoes going missing, so…”
That wasn’t all. She would’ve put her own school shoes back in the locker, and then what would’ve happened? The other Asahina would come back, open the locker, and find shoes precisely identical to the ones she was already wearing already inside.
“R-right,” said Asahina, flustered. “But, um, how am I going to get home?”
She’d just have to wear her school slippers, I thought. It might be a little embarrassing, but there was no other way. She couldn’t very well borrow another student’s shoes. And at the moment, I was more worried about where she was going to go home, rather than how.
I returned to my own shoe locker, opening it as my heart banged away in my chest.
And there, nostalgically enough, I found a message from the future.
“… Good job, Asahina. You’re always prepared.”
There atop my dirty, worn-out sneakers sat a fancy little envelope.
A cold wind stabbed at Asahina and me as we walked down the street, away from the school.
There was a scattering of other students from North High around, and I wondered if the feeling I had that they were all glancing at Asahina’s strange state—carrying no school bag and wearing her school slippers—was just my imagination.
Asahina was to my right, her chestnut-brown hair swaying softly. Her expression was far from soft, though—it was as dark as the clouds before a snowstorm.
And there was no doubt my own face was hardly untroubled. After all, I’d been forced to flee the clubroom, and my skipping club activities (actually, it was a brigade, so brigade activities) without notice would put the Chief in a bad mood, and unless I thought of a funny enough excuse or a good enough reason, I’d become fodder for one of her special punishments.
Nevertheless, leaving Asahina alone was risky in several ways. Seeing her wander aimlessly under the freezing night sky would make anyone want to help her. But seeing as how there was no guarantee that such helpers would be persons of good repute, I would have to do it myself.
“I’m sorry,” she said in an adorably sad voice. “Causing you trouble again, I—”
“No, not at all,” I answered quickly before she could finish. “I’m the one who sent you here in the first place, right? Future me’s the one at fault here.”
He and Asahina the Elder both. For being our future selves, they sure weren’t very nice to us. Did people from the future just hate the past, or what?
I grabbed the envelope I’d shoved into my pocket.
On the note, which had no indication of recipient or sender, there was simply written: Please take care of the Mikuru Asahina beside you.
That was all. I’d seen the careful handwriting before. The previous spring, I’d visited the clubroom during lunch in response to a similar missive, where I met the curvaceous form of Asahina the Elder before she told me where her mole was, in addition to more important hints. She was definitely the sender.
But still—even if I was supposed to “take care” of this Asahina, what did that mean? What could I do? Hadn’t Asahina the Elder told me I could even kiss her, if I wanted to?
Incidentally, I’d already shown the letter to the Asahina who was right here. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. She could understand what “Please take care of Mikuru Asahina” meant. If this message had been meant for my eyes only, that part would’ve said “me” instead of “Mikuru Asahina.”
“What could this mean…?” murmured Asahina, as she held the letter, staring intently at it. She seemed not to realize that she was the one who would end up writing it.
She would probably gradually come to that realization, though. During the second visit to December eighteenth, she’d noticed a fourth person, someone besides me, Nagato, and Asakura. She’d been put immediately to sleep, but because she’d been put to sleep, she must have sensed the other woman’s presence.
And the previous month, when I’d saved that kid in glasses from being hit by a minivan near Haruhi’s house, and Asahina had been so depressed that I’d clumsily tried to cheer her up—surely she’d gotten some information from me then. I didn’t know how much she’d figured out by now, but Koizumi was right: the members of the SOS Brigade were gradually changing.
According to Koizumi, the rate at which Haruhi created closed space was decreasing.
Also according to Koizumi, Nagato’s alienness was lessening.
And Koizumi himself, he’d changed a bit too. Isn’t that right, Mister Lieutenant Brigade Chief?
From what I could tell, although it was gradual, Haruhi was starting to engage with the people around her more. She’d been a substitute vocalist during the school festival, and when you compared activities like her game battle against the computer club and the winter training camp with her isolated state at the beginning of the year, she was like a different person now, smiling, happy, and able to reach mutual understandings with complete strangers.
—If there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders, or espers, come join me!
—We’re going to search for aliens, time travelers, and espers, and have fun with them!
It was like she knew it had come true.
I wanted to think that all of these things were signs of her growth as a person.
As to my own growth, I had no idea.
A half hour later, it was into my own home that I wound up escorting Asahina.
“Oh, I see!” she said as she entered, taking off her shoes. “This is why you weren’t in the clubroom today.”
Her carefree voice had an admiring tone.
Since I couldn’t very well let her go back to her own home, and in lieu of any better options, I’d asked if there were any other people from her era that she could possibly stay with.
“There might well be, but I haven’t been informed of them,” she told me, her face looking like a greyhound’s right after a grueling dog race.
I’d had no choice but to invite her over. Asahina’s sorrow was deep, and the situation was completely mystifying. I had no idea what was going to happen, and I didn’t really want to know. And then, my sister, who had nothing to do with our current troubles, jumped out at Asahina.
“Hey, it’s Mikuru!”
My sister had been trying to drag Shamisen the cat out from under my bed, but no sooner did we open the door to my room than she slammed into Asahina, causing the beautiful object of every male North High student’s desire to stumble backward.
“S-sorry to disturb you!”
“Hey, wait—it’s just Kyon and Mikuru? Where’s Haruhi?”
My little sister looked up at Asahina with shining eyes before I grabbed the eleven-year-old fifth grader by her collar.
“Haruhi’s still at school. And I told you not to go into my room uninvited.”
I knew it was pointless no matter how many times I told her. Which meant finding hiding places for things I didn’t want found was a huge pain.
“But Shami wouldn’t come out!” My sister clung to Asahina’s skirt, giggling. “Where’s Yuki? And Koizumi? And Tsuruya? Aren’t they coming too?”
She tended to call everybody by the names she heard other people call them, which was obviously why she’d started calling me “Kyon.” An elementary school kid with no concept of respect for her elders—that was my little sister. All I wanted was for somebody to call me “big brother” once in a while. Was that so much to ask?
“Oh! Is this a date? Hey—”
I kicked her out of my room and shut the door before she got any further.
“Well then,” I said, sitting down and facing Asahina. “Can you give me an idea of what happens this week?”
“Hmm.” Asahina puzzled over it. “Eight days ago… which would be today, I went back to the clubroom and noticed that the heater was on, even though nobody was in the room.”
I’d seen that happen.
“And then when I was changing, Nagato came in, and then she took me over to the bottom of the emergency stairs.”
I’d seen the first half of that.
“When I came back to the clubroom, your bag was gone, and Koizumi was there.”
Which meant we’d escaped in the nick of time.
“About half an hour later, Suzumiya came.”
Her guidance counseling must have run long. I needn’t have worried about running into her, apparently.
“She seemed kind of angry.”
Maybe she’d gotten into some kind of argument during counseling. There weren’t exactly application forms for the kind of careers she probably had in mind. And if there were, I wanted one too.
“She just glared out the window with a scary look on her face and drank three cups of tea in a—oh!”
Asahina’s eyes went wide, as though she’d caught a glimpse of a ghost in the corner of the room.
“Suzumiya realized you weren’t there and…”
“… And she called you—”
The instant Asahina said those words, my phone rang.
When I really thought about it, what Asahina was talking about was prerecorded, but for me it was a live broadcast. I didn’t have time to listen to her dithering recollections. I still hadn’t come up with a good excuse for skipping out on the brigade meeting. I should’ve left my phone on vibrate. If I didn’t answer, it would only seem more suspicious to Haruhi. But before I answered, I had to ask something.
“Asahina, do you remember if I answered?”
“Um, yes, it seemed like you did.”
I guessed I’d better answer.
“Where are you?” Haruhi’s voice already sounded highly irritated. I answered truthfully.
“I’m at home in my room.”
“What, you’re ditching?”
“Something came up.” Here’s where I would have to start lying.
“What do you mean, ‘something came up’?”
“Uh…” Just then, my eyes lit upon Shamisen crawling out from under my bed. “Y’know, Shamisen got sick, so I took him to the vet.”
“Yeah, my sister’s the only other one at home right now. She called me.”
“Huh. What’s he sick with?”
“Uh… alopecia areata. Y’know, fur loss.”
Hearing my half-assed answer, for some reason Asahina clamped her hand over her mouth.
“Shamisen’s losing his fur?”
“Yeah. The vet said it was stress-related, so he’s resting at home now.”
“Do cats even have stress problems? And doesn’t Shamisen always ‘rest at home’?”
“Well, yeah, but my sister messes around with him too much, apparently. So my room’s been turned into a Shamisen preserve, and my sister’s not allowed to come in.”
“Huh.” Whether or not she bought it, Haruhi sniffed and fell silent before continuing. “Are you with anybody else now?”
I took the phone away from my ear and stared at the call-time display on the screen.
How did she know? Asahina hadn’t said a word and had even covered her mouth so as to avoid carelessly letting anything slip.
“No, nobody’s here.”
“Oh yeah? Something was weird about your voice, so I was sure somebody was there.”
Her intuition was as sharp as ever.
“It’s just Shamisen. You want to talk to him?”
“Not really. Just tell him I hope he gets better soon. Bye.”
She hung up surprisingly briskly.
I tossed my cell phone onto the bed and looked at the calico cat as it rubbed up against Asahina’s leg. I wondered where I should shave a circular patch of hair off the feline—if Haruhi decided to come visit him, God forbid, I’d be in trouble otherwise.
“So what did Haruhi do after that?”
Excerpted from The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya by Tanigawa, Nagaru Copyright © 2012 by Tanigawa, Nagaru. Excerpted by permission.
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