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"Look, we could just do our own thing. Meet here before the debriefing."

Kitaguchi station bustled with weekend traffic. The sky was clear, the breeze was cool, and the trees rustled a gentle invitation to relax and ignore this farcical investigation Suzumiya still enforced. Debriefing: an absurd euphemism which amounted to Haruhi airing bored exasperation at their failures, over lunches Kyon would pay for in penance for spontaneously-invented transgressions. Always a day well spent--for a god or a masochist. Kyon was neither.

Koizumi tapped a thoughtful finger to his chin, but Kyon knew the bastard had already made up his mind to be as difficult as possible. "I think that would be shirking my responsibilities as vice-chief, don't you?"

"No." Kyon should have known better than to hope for mercy. "I don't think you can have responsibilities in a club that doesn't do anything."

Koizumi gave a hum as though he hadn't heard a word of it. "Separation might prove too risky, I fear, but if you would indulge me in attending to other matters of interest, perhaps we may detour to my own residence?"

A trio of pretty girls brushed past Kyon on the pavement, engaged in such respectably inane pursuits as shopping, chatting, slacking on composition homework and pointedly not investigating internet rumours of paranormal activity. Kyon didn't care to speculate on how he had so recently offended Haruhi as to end up paired with Koizumi on this Saturday assignment. He didn't care to speculate on what constituted a 'matter of interest' in Koizumi's eyes. "Let me guess," he sighed. "You live alone under mysterious circumstances in some empty luxury flat."

The fundamental laws governing the universe had yet to change, today: Koizumi only smiled.

As it happened, Koizumi's flat was modest compared with Nagato's, and furnished, and looked more or less like space a completely ordinary human being might comfortably inhabit--which was not the case, of course, but Kyon still found the illusion minutely reassuring. There was a small living area with a tasteful rug and television, a healthy potted plant and an electric fan by the window. There were no framed photographs, but no bizarre instruments of science fiction, either. The air smelled faintly of fabric softener. At least it didn't seem like anything sinister transpired in these quiet, pleasantly upholstered surroundings.

If Koizumi lived with anyone, Kyon couldn't tell by the look of the place. Koizumi didn't mention it. Kyon didn't ask.

Kyon's hands felt unaccountably restless, but his summer uniform had no long sleeves with which to fidget. He tried to keep one eye on the door without seeming overtly suspicious, but Koizumi was humming without care in his kitchenette, barely acknowledging Kyon's presence, let alone his discomfort. Kyon turned his thoughts instead to weighing whether or not he should actually drink anything offered to him. Having his mortality threatened so often of late called such matters easily to mind, and if these were to be the final few moments of his young life, surely he would rather take with him the unadulterated memory of Asahina's tea service than whatever dubious concoction Koizumi managed to present. For all Kyon knew, it could be drugged. Disarmingly bland residence aside, there was a different sort of character to Koizumi's smile today, an indefinite thing that could just as well have been the light shifting on his face. As ever, the expression gave away nothing but itself.

Kyon was not at all reassured when, out of nowhere, as though they had been having a conversation all the while, Koizumi said, "Actually, I'm being very irresponsible, you know."

And what was that tone? Self-deprecating? Another breezy joke of an explanation? Koizumi didn't seem like the irresponsible type, but then, he did seem like the type to cheerfully acknowledge his shortcomings. Anyway, this situation was awkward enough without any more of his enigmatic remarks. Kyon scowled. "What does that even mean?"

"Hmm." Koizumi smiled at his hands, and stirred the tea.

For some reason, memories of Asahina's mischievous grin floated to the surface of Kyon's thoughts--classified information!--where he indulged in a moment's appreciation before snapping back to present matters and his necessary pointed glare. That sort of thing was only cute when she did it. "It's a little late for secrets, isn't it?" Esper boy. Haven't you already admitted enough ridiculous secrets for a lifetime?

It could have been his imagination, but Koizumi looked unusually contemplative. Maybe. Hell, who could tell? The ensuing span of silence was so oppressive Kyon considered giving up and marching out the door, but while his brain scrabbled after a plausible excuse, Koizumi finally deigned to answer. "Do you think so?"

Or, to not answer.

Koizumi poured the tea, but when he approached he only set the tray aside on the counter, never offering a cup to Kyon. Instead, Koizumi laid a careful hand on Kyon's forearm, and before Kyon could pull it away, he said, "I'll show you something."

Well, that was familiar, but weren't these circumstances unfortunate enough without impending dimensional anomalies?

All the same, Kyon allowed Koizumi to lead him a few paces from the kitchen to the living room. Despite his earlier impressions, the rooms were starting to feel rather small. Increasingly, uncomfortably claustraphobic. Even the subdued, inoffensive decor was beginning to feel like a reminder of the secrets which might lurk beneath the surface of everything Kyon took for granted. Like something just a little bit too harmless to be natural.

Like a perfect extension of Koizumi himself.

Koizumi hadn't turned on the lights, and it was probably Kyon's imagination again, but the half-light slanting through the blinds seemed suddenly greyish. Asakura, Celestials, Haruhi's dreams flickered through his thoughts like a gritty celluloid documentary of his near-death experiences, but it was strange that now he felt more resigned than afraid. Or, it was more like an absurd consciousness of scale expanding in his mind, reality telescoping backward until he was just one person in fifty thousand, a hundred million, seven billion, infinitesimal. Alone, on the top floor of a large building in a larger city, and if Koizumi pulled a knife, would anyone hear him scream?

This wasn't closed space, not yet; he could still hear the faint hiss of traffic through the cracked-open window. The distant bark of a dog. Sounds of a city still moving below.

Koizumi said, "could you please close your eyes? Just for a moment."

Haruhi might have given him a complex, or maybe he was just growing jaded; it wasn't like Kyon actually wanted to die. Did Nagato know where Koizumi lived?

But Kyon was listening to the steady click-hum of the nearby fan when he realised his eyes had shut without his voicing even a doubt. Such a perfect echo of the first time that he braced for the quake of giant footsteps, the crash of nearby buildings collapsing into rubble--but there was only the fan, those precarious city sounds, the blood thrumming in his ears. Except, Koizumi wasn't holding his hand. Could something go wrong in this process? Could he get lost somewhere between the fragments of space and time and never find his way back to the real world, such as it was?

Did Koizumi truly deserve his trust?

Seconds passed, and passed, and passed, the smallest drops of time dilating into subjective centuries, but Koizumi didn't tell him to open his eyes, and so Kyon kept them tightly shut until the moment he felt the very real weight of warm hands through the fabric of his shirt, tugging at his already-loosened tie. Which seemed insultingly half-hearted for an asphyxiation attempt, but then, Koizumi was a nonchalant sort of guy.

"Koizumi? You're freaking me out."

The room was tinged faintly gold with diffuse sunlight, and the clock on the far wall was ticking: normal space, then. To push the hands away, he'd have to touch them. He couldn't step back without tripping onto the couch.

Koizumi's smile clearly meant to seem contrite, but he was looking at his hands, not meeting Kyon's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said, sounding strangely sincere. "I was going to kiss you, but after all it didn't seem fair."

Kyon missed Asakura. He missed good old-fashioned attempts on his life. But gaping in horrified disbelief did little to galvanise Koizumi into any consciousness of shame, and so Kyon said the first thing that came to mind, the only thing he could think to say: "This is what you call irresponsible?"

It was there again, that peculiar edge to Koizumi's answering smile. Had it really been so long that Kyon could pick out the minute differences in those stupid fake expressions? What a depressing thought. But he must have been pulling a strange face of his own, because Koizumi began to chuckle, softly. He said, "Kyon-kun."

What kind of answer was that?

He said, "I've grown fond of saying it. Before, we would refer to you as the Chosen."

Suddenly Kyon had a premonition of where this conversation was headed, and he really, really didn't want to hear it out. He reached out to slap Koizumi's hands away, but Koizumi immediately dropped them of his own accord, and he wasn't laughing, not anymore. Koizumi's face had flattened into a sort of blankness which seemed ominous, somehow. For the first time, Kyon thought he preferred the stupid smile.

But when Koizumi spoke again, his voice was quiet, thoughtful, as though he were only speculating on matters completely theoretical, unrelated to himself. "Perhaps," he said, "you will expect I am manipulating you for leverage over Suzumiya-san."

Frankly, that wasn't the part Kyon was worried about right now.

"Or that perhaps this is only happening in the first place because she was bored and daydreamt my motivations--one of those sorts of girls."

"Shut up."

"Or not. But then, if she were to find out, the consequences--"

"Shut up," Kyon snapped, louder. "Anyway, nothing is 'happening'."

Koizumi shrugged in some parody of self-consciousness, and he began to chuckle again, but it was a very hollow sound. "Still, you grasp the conundrum."

Despite himself, Kyon remembered Asahina's look of wild panic whenever Haruhi caught her laughing just a fraction too loudly, standing just a little bit too close. Smiling too softly. Looking too long. But it seemed somehow very wrong to think of gentle Asahina-san, or her wide-eyed flushing face, her sweetly moued lips--

"No," said Kyon, decisively. "I don't see any 'conundrum' because I don't see--"

Obviously he was unprepared for it, and so he hesitated; he thought it might have been that Koizumi always projected such a harmless image, telegraphed himself so well, that even though Kyon had never believed that facade for a moment it was still what he had come to count on, to expect. Or whatever he expected, it wasn't Koizumi's palm on the back of his neck pulling him forward, not Koizumi's tongue sweeping over his dry lips, darting into his mouth.

When Kyon shoved him back Koizumi only took a single step, recovering quickly, still too close. Kyon was left with no avenue of retreat, and he still didn't know what to do with his hands, so he kept them balled in loose fists at his side, just in case he needed to punch someone. "Don't fuck around," he managed, through teeth. His lower lip was tingling, warm.

"No," Koizumi agreed, nonsensically.

Kyon expected a dismissive Koizumi smile, an invitation to violence, but Koizumi was staring at some point below Kyon's eye level, maybe his jaw, the base of his throat. Koizumi didn't speak again. He didn't move.

The flat wasn't that hot, not really, but there was a new sheen of sweat on Koizumi's brow which was unaccountably distracting. It made blood flush Kyon's face sympathetically. Worse, this Koizumi bore an expression Kyon couldn't even begin to put name to, something that set Kyon's pulse stuttering in ways impending death had not; the very fact of its existence was more alien than any of the countless paranormalities Kyon had encountered in the entire span of their acquaintance. Kyon had seen Koizumi laugh, lie, bleed, bend the very fabric of space-time and convert himself molecule by molecule from matter into energy, but he had never seen such terrible, reckless openness on his face.

Koizumi wanted him.

Koizumi's jaw was tight, his lips thin and white, teeth clenched in his closed mouth. Koizumi's eyes were wide and feverishly bright.

Koizumi, Kyon realised, with a sudden sharp and undeniable clarity, was also afraid of him.

Kyon's throat felt small and dry. He didn't dare unclench his fists, lest they betray the sudden anxiety spiralling through his nerves in a sickening vertigo. He wanted nothing less than to break their sudden silence, but there was a knot in his abdomen that wrenched more unbearably by the second, and he had no idea when it had grown there, nor how to make it go away. "Koizumi--"

Koizumi did not kiss with any urgency, nothing fierce or bruising or harsh. His lips and tongue moved slowly, warm and trembling, but somehow there was nothing gentle about him, either. He did not pause even for a moment. He moved like water moves through the tiniest fissure in a dam; like something desperately, torturously restrained.

Kyon thought of closed space, and Haruhi's fierce grip on the progression of his world. He thought of chess in the clubroom and the soft gold light on Koizumi's closing eyelids, the blur of lashes pale and thick enough to be feminine, of Koizumi's unexpectedly calloused fingers on his neck not daring to grip too tightly. And somewhere in the back of Kyon's brain he was no longer surprised by anyything, though of all the absurd impossibilities he had come to accept as facts of his daily existence this one should surely push him closest to the boundaries of sanity.

Kyon sank back onto the couch, head swimming and light, and Koizumi dropped to his knees in pursuit without ever breaking contact. Kyon stretched his legs and pulled forward so that Koizumi's torso pressed between them, gratifyingly warm against his groin, and he felt a brief twinge of shame at his own lack of modesty but Koizumi didn't seem to mind at all. Koizumi barely seemed conscious of anything anymore but for Kyon's lips on his, taking in everthing he could as though by right of permission Kyon could withdraw at any moment. His arms rested to either side as though he didn't dare to use his hands, but he moved with Kyon's movements, fell into Kyon's pace so receptively he almost seemed vulnerable. So completely, incomprehensibly yielding.

Kyon couldn't begin to fathom it, but with the continuing friction of Koizumi's body against his erection he rapidly ceased to care. When Kyon drew back just enough to break apart their mouths, Koizumi didn't lean forward. Had he even remembered to breathe? He was panting, soft and quick, sweating freely and looking far more disheveled than Kyon could ever remember, and against all reason Kyon felt this breathlessness too, and so he didn't protest when Koizumi dropped his face against Kyon's collarbone.

Kyon tried to count to ten, but the numbers got away from him. The hot breath on his neck sent a shudder down his spine. The heat at his centre made him feel dizzy. He touched Koizumi's face so that he leaned back, and finally, their eyes met.

Kyon could ask, he knew then, and the rest of his thoughts scattered completely. He could ask, and Koizumi would do anything at all.

"Koizumi," Kyon managed, choking on each syllable, but a vague shape of sound was all that was necessary. Koizumi seemed to understand.

After all it was easy, so very easy to let Koizumi undo the fastenings of his trousers, to push back his underwear and press his lips to the head of Kyon's cock. The sensation was perhaps not so earth-shattering as his adolescent fantasies had suspected, but it was still good, very good, sliding in slick and hot against the roof of his mouth. Koizumi held back his pants with one hand and gripped his shaft in the other while his tongue worked, massaging and sucking him messily. Saliva dripped over his fingers. The sight of it was perverse. Kyon's cock twitched in Koizumi's mouth, and Koizumi's barely-audible groan vibrated through him, something he could somehow feel all the way to the base of his spine. Koizumi pulled back to readjust himself, and his eyes were closed but his lips, now swollen and impossibly red, stretched into a smile.

Kyon suspected he might actually speak, so he shut his own eyes and pulled Koizumi's face forward again, shoved back into his wet mouth and held his face there with fingers lightly gripping hair, cupping his temples. Koizumi let him do it. Koizumi bobbed his head obediently and Kyon fell back into the cushions, lost, into the silence and relentless heat and the dizzy thrill of guiding it with his own hands.

It took longer than he might have expected. Jerking himself in the morning was a quick and efficient affair, as much a routine as showering and pulling on his uniform. This was different, still somewhat outside his pace, a frustratingly slow-building tension that was also better, far better. Still toward the end he grew impatient. His hips began to move almost against his will, but Koizumi allowed that also, seemed to understand the urgency and sucked him hard and fast and then just gave in and let Kyon fuck his mouth, thrusting and pulling at once, pushing to the back of his throat, until Kyon's pleasure overtook him and he shoved forward the last time and came.

When he came back to himself moments later, Koizumi was still coughing quietly, surreptitiously clearing his throat. In the slow expansion of hazy half-consciousness Kyon felt another twinge of shame, but Koizumi said nothing, eyes still tightly shut, and then Kyon realised for the first time that Koizumi was pulling frantically at his own erection. Before Kyon could even wonder what he should do, whether he was expected to do anything at all, Koizumi spilled over his own hand. Koizumi slumped forward as though deflated, as though he had finally exhausted everything within him and couldn't bear to stay upright. He rested his cheek on Kyon's thigh and he breathed.

Eventually, Kyon's heartbeat slowed back to a resting rate, and eventually, the full-body trembling feeling passed too. Blood no longer roared in his ears, but the sound of the ticking clock rushed in to replace it, surrounding him, blatant, mocking. All hormonal relaxation had evaporated from Kyon's limbs, leaving an acute, raw feeling of exposed nerves. Awareness of every millimeter of touching skin between them thrummed through his mind in counterpoint to the relentless progression of time. But Kyon didn't dare to move, lest he provoke a conversation.

Koizumi, in some unprecedented act of mercy, spared him. He was the first to move, straightening clothing, fastening buttons. He pushed himself up and smiled his old, impenetrable closed-eyes smile, which also saved Kyon the need to avoid eye contact. He murmured, "Excuse me."

He left.

So Kyon put his pants back into order and straightened his own clothes, because it seemed like the reasonable thing to do, and every second of distraction staved off reflection, panic. Had he been asked half an hour ago he might have insisted he'd been somehow entrapped ('seduced' seemed too ridiculous to say), yet the spectre of personal guilt loomed in his periphery, gaining substance with each passing moment. Sounds of running water drifted out from the hall and Kyon wanted to wake up from a dream. To close his eyes and forget this place. To disappear entirely. But all of those thoughts felt vaguely disjointed from context now, as though the space between him and reality had fragmented in some microscopic way so that everything looked normal but never quite fit together as it should.

Footsteps, soft creaking floorboards. Koizumi's shadow fell over him and Kyon opened his eyes again.

"You are free to go whenever you like."

Koizumi's hair was wet, dripping at his shoulders, and darkened a shade it made him seem pale. Koizumi was gripping a hand towel so tightly his knuckles were white, and his words, though as ever soft and tediously polite, sounded more like a request than an offer. But perhaps it was only Kyon's imagination which assigned him these nuances; surely this was the same smile as ever, the same confluence of ordinary muscle activity on the same bland face, and only by Kyon's paranoia did it seem just a little bit too sharp, too brittle.

So Kyon wondered how they would report to Haruhi. When he opened his mouth to reply, to fumble for some practical grasp of anything at all, Koizumi's entire body seemed to tense up at once, and he faltered.

No, even without moving there was a sloshing feeling in Kyon's gut which he could not ignore, as though he had drunk several litres of water on an empty stomach. He could pull from it no meaningful rationalisations, and all that was left was to sink into the awful gravity of his suspicion that someone--someone had made the sort of mistake which could not actually be corrected. That he could not understand what, if anything, had cracked, but he did know the broken fragments never quite lined up again.

Kyon was not blessed with any sudden insights, despite unspoken prayers. In the end, in all his eloquence, Kyon said, "Yeah."

Kyon was careful not to look at Koizumi on his way to the door, but the one time it happened accidentally, Koizumi wasn't looking at him, either.