Disclaimer: Suzumiya Haruhi (be it the novel or anime) does not belong to me, and neither do the animes or games that I have referenced to in the fic. Please do not sue me; you'll get nothing anyways since I don't actually own much. A/N at the end of the story.

The Faltering of Suzumiya Haruhi

My life is pretty much that of a normal high school student's. Or rather it was until I had met Suzumiya Haruhi. Since then, my life had been changed completely, for better or for worse. I became embroiled in struggles between aliens of different factions or even different origins, conflicts amongst time travelers with different agendas, and even battles with espers against things out of this world. All these because I was dragged against my will into a dubious club with an even more questionable name – the "Spreading Excitement All Over the World with Suzumiya Haruhi Brigade", SOS Brigade for short. All these with the main perpetrator, Suzumiya Haruhi, unknowing of the truth behind it all. While it had at least been an interesting experience somewhat so far, I occasionally wish for a break from all those strains on my nerves. Yare yare, what is with this crazy world?

It was around this time that I started noticing the subtle change in attitude of the class towards a certain person. Ever since she stood in and helped out ENOZ, Haruhi's popularity had soared drastically (well, maybe not that much, but at least it increased!) for some time. However, as the saying goes, "what goes up must come down", and it wasn't long before Haruhi's eccentricity started clashing with her popularity once again, causing the latter to drop. Still, her popularity did stabilize at a level where Haruhi had gradually become comfortable with talking or interacting with the rest of our class. In fact, looking at how she was when she first joined the class, it would be impossible to imagine that this scowling girl who distanced herself from everyone in the class would eventually help our class girls to win the girls' intramural sports competition earlier this year. Of course, all this rambling is not without a point – what I was trying to say is that the trend I had been observing back then seemed to be changing the status quo once again. It seemed as though our classmates' attitudes towards her was cooling down quite a bit, to the point where some apparently were giving her the cold shoulder… Back then, I convinced myself that I was thinking too much, and that it was all in my imagination. That all changed one day.

That day, I sat in my seat watching Haruhi walk into the classroom, stopping to say hi to another classmate before walking over to the seat behind me and sitting down. It was then that I observed for the first time first-hand how cold the classmate's reply was. Meanwhile, looking at Haruhi herself, her expression may have appeared normal to others, however to me who has been sitting in front of her for almost a year it was quite easy to see that something was troubling her. In fact, she may not even be aware of it herself, given how that imperceptible tug of her eyebrows remained even when she was greeting me. I credit this increased perceptivity of mine to my daily interactions with Nagato. When you become observant enough to read Nagato's emotions accurately (and trust me, it is no mean feat), it becomes a piece of cake to notice little things in others' expressions that are telltale signs of many of their innermost or even subconscious thoughts.

Returning to the issue at hand, Haruhi being Haruhi, it was quite pointless asking her what it was about, as she would tell me if she wanted me to know about it, and if she didn't want to tell me, wild horses couldn't drag it out of her. The only thing I was hoping for was that I would have nothing whatsoever to do with this event – I did not want to be involved in things that are vastly out of my control again. Of course, this turned out to be merely wishful thinking on my part.

Meanwhile, as I sat in class mulling over this matter, I reached a new conclusion.

Perhaps this had something to do with the conversation I had a while ago with Taniguchi…

It was during lunch break then, a time I generally shared together with my two buddies Taniguchi and Kunikida. While having another of our daily random chats (that particular topic was about detectives from the future, if I recall rightly), Taniguchi suddenly paused in the middle of a discussion on how time detectives should have cool hand-held super-weapons, and started asking me a question while staring at his pickled fish.

"Hey Kyon… about Suzumiya…" Here, he hesitated, as though he wasn't sure what he wanted to say.

Hm? Her again? What about her?

"… Never mind. It's nothing."

At that time, I did not attach any importance to what Taniguchi said, especially as I had my mind occupied then with the upcoming end of term exams, and the grueling task I had ahead of myself by having Haruhi as my personal tutor.

Now, thinking back to it, I should really ask him what that was all about. Perhaps it's something that can shed some light on the situation right now.

With that thought in mind, I met up with Taniguchi and Kunikida as per normal during lunch break. After a few minutes of our usual mindless banter, I broached the topic at hand.

"Hey Taniguchi, you remember the other time you were starting to say something about Haruhi, then cut off abruptly? What were you going to say then?"

After looking at me for a few minutes with a face full of incomprehension, Taniguchi's expression suddenly cleared as though realization had suddenly dawned on him. However, that was but for a moment, and he hastily turned away, refusing to meet my eyes.

"W…What do you mean? I don't remember anything like that!"

My suspicions fully aroused, I continued to grill him, not letting up even a little bit.

"Oh? Are you sure? I seem to recall you saying in the same conversation that if you were the criminal, the futuristic detectives will be powerless before your Freeze-Time Gun…"

"OI! I said if I was the good guy, the criminals will be powerless before my Time-Freeze Gun… umph!" Realizing too late that he had fallen for my bait, Taniguchi clamped his hand over his mouth and stared at me with sullen eyes.

"Okay okay FINE! I remember that conversation, alright? But really it was nothing; I didn't mean anything, seriously!"

Well if it was nothing, why are you looking so hot and flustered? Look, why don't you just come out with the truth already?

"… Haa…" With a sigh, Taniguchi put on a serious expression, straightened his shoulders, looked me in the eye, and resumed our conversation of that time back then.

"Hey Kyon… about Suzumiya… do you think she'd do anything bad on purpose?"

Caught completely off my guard, I could only open and close my mouth like a goldfish out of the water, while trying to figure out what Taniguchi meant.

"W…What do you mean?"

"I mean, would she knowingly commit a crime?"

Look, I know she's eccentric and all, but Haruhi would not knowingly or willingly wish harm on anyone! She may be self-centered and all, but she still has some amount of self-restraint…

At this point, I started doubting myself. Does this abnormal existence known as Suzumiya Haruhi actually have things such as self-restraint? Images of Asahina-san being forced into many different outfits and those of Haruhi pushing the Computer Study Group President down on Asahina-san and snapping photos away happily flashed across my mind. Alright, first let me clarify what Taniguchi meant, before I come to my decision.

"Why don't you tell me about the incident that triggered such a question from you in the first place? I can't really say anything without knowing what you have in your mind."

Nodding, Taniguchi started narrating his whole story.

"You know the incident a while ago, when an artifact from the school museum was stolen… you do remember it, don't you?" At the look of confusion on my face, Taniguchi paused in the middle of his speech to confirm with me.

Wha…? I know of no such incident. Heck, I didn't even know the school had a museum!

Listening to my comment, Taniguchi shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "Hey, neither did I, until that theft incident."

"Well, it is reputed to be very boring, as most exhibitions are just detailed history of our school and all our past glories and achievements and stuff like that. That is also the reason for it being so low-key – there are no really worthy exhibitions. I went there once, and the only thing there worth looking at was the old report cards. Did you know that Okabe-sensei once studied at this very school, and his grades used to be as abysmal as Kyon's?" Kunikida, who had been silent for the whole of our conversation so far, suddenly piped up.

"Hey I resent that! If you want a comparison, at least use Taniguchi – his grades are much worse than mine!"

"Whatever was the reason for it having such a low profile is now irrelevant – it became famous overnight after the theft." Ignoring my righteous outburst, Taniguchi continued as though there had been no interruptions.

"Not surprising, given the uproar and chaos that erupted ensuing the theft. The authorities demanded a full and thorough search of everyone's possessions and even went as far as to threaten expulsion for anyone who was found to be involved one way or another with the theft." Kunikida seemed quite engrossed in recounting what happened back then. "Man, what a tense atmosphere that was back then. Everyone was pointing fingers at everyone else, and new tip-offs were made everyday. It felt like a complete localized witch hunt."

"And yet despite all that; despite the school's best efforts, the criminal is still at large." Taniguchi shook his head disapprovingly. "It's quite fortunate that none of the informants back then had any concrete or discriminating evidence, for the school would have jumped at the chance of finding any scapegoats, regardless of that person's innocence."

Hey wait a minute, why do I not remember any of this? When did such a thing happen?

"What happened to you? Were you this out of it? Come to think of it, you were quite distanced during that period of time, as though you had your mind full of something. Were you plotting something together with Suzumiya then?" Taniguchi never passes up a chance to take a dig at me about Haruhi.

Absolutely not! If anything, I was probably trying to discourage her from doing something stupid. What was that time period anyways? As a side note, I don't think of myself as an absent-minded person at all.

"It was a few weeks ago, in February, some time before our end of term exams. Man, are you really going senile, or are you just pretending?"

February… oh so that's how it was. Well back then I was somewhat distracted by the appearance of a second Asahina Mikuru and all the related troubles that came with that, so I guess I had completely ceased to pay attention to absolutely anything in school, except to make sure Haruhi never realized there was a second Asahina-san…

"Come to think of it, what was stolen that the school had to go to such pains to try to recover it?"

"Well, it was an artifact recently obtained from a nearby museum. I heard that it had cost the school a fortune to buy the artifact, which accounts for the frantic scramble to find it. Apparently, it belonged to an ancient Egyptian civilization or something, and was supposed to be part of the new "ancient civilizations" exhibit." The ever-knowledgeable Kunikida always has an answer, and even had details on the stolen item to boot.

Wait a minute… how does this have anything to do with Haruhi? Are you telling me you suspect her of stealing that artifact?

At my question, Kunikida and Taniguchi looked at each other awkwardly. Finally, after a noticeable pause, Kunikida started speaking slowly, as though he was choosing his words carefully so as not to offend me.

"It's not that we believe Suzumiya-san to be the thief, it's just that she's a very likely candidate. You know how she is with strange and curious things – it's quite possible that she took the artifact because she felt that it classified as strange and extraordinary."

"In fact, she had even been called in to the principal's office a few times to be questioned on that topic of whether she had taken the artifact." Here, Taniguchi cut in as though trying to defend himself and Kunikida.

"So? What was the conclusion reached?"

"Well… she claims that she did not commit the theft, and the authorities dropped the case against her due to insufficient evidence." At this point, Taniguchi shrugged his shoulders, as if to show the ambiguity of the situation.

The way you phrase it makes it sound like she's guilty… What kind of a friend are you?

"Hey hey, I'm just stating the facts here." Taniguchi put his hands up defensively. Putting on a serious tone, he continues, "Plus, I believed in her innocence from the start. I have known her since junior high, and as far as I know though she is eccentric she had never done anything that she had not owned up to. Even for those things that would get her into trouble, as long as it was her doing, she still admitted to them. Like the vandalization of the school field I told you guys about last time. Despite how I downplayed the consequences of that event, I'm sure the school was quite pissed off at having to clean up that big mess. I couldn't start to imagine how much trouble she really got into because of that."

Now that's more like it. Though actually I was the one who did most of the work on that field…

"But one has to consider the differences between junior high and now. Back in junior high, one knows not the consequences of what one has done, thus one would tend to be more willing to own up to one's misdeeds. Furthermore, the difference in the degree in the magnitude of the events of the past and this particular one is quite large – the school is unlikely to let Suzumiya-san off as lightly as in earlier cases if she is found to be the culprit in this case." Kunikida chose this moment to share his disturbing thoughts with us.

Not you too! Do you guys really have this little faith in Haruhi? And to think she considers you guys as Honorary Brigade Members… (otherwise known as the Filler Trio, together with Tsuruya-san)

"Personally, I believe in Suzumiya-san. If she said that she didn't do it, I'm willing to take her word for it. However…" Here, Kunikida paused and once again traded glances with Taniguchi.

What, are you guys being telepathic or something? Stop being so mysterious will you?

"certain people feel otherwise." Taniguchi finished Kunikida's sentence for him. "In fact, ever since she was proclaimed innocent by the school, there has been a rumor spreading around that she was in fact the one who stole it. The rumor had since evolved and gained force, and its most recent edition states that she is in reality a petty thief who is behind the recent surge in the disappearances of things in the school!"

Immediately, I was reminded of how melancholic Haruhi had looked back in those days – it was so pronounced that even I, who was kept spinning round and round doing endless timely errands, noticed through my haze of tiredness. That can be considered somewhat a miracle in itself, as I had been pretty much accorded the 'zombie' status the whole duration of those few days, only able to make mechanical responses to people. While back then I had passed it off as a prelude to our treasure hunt and the valentine chocolates, it was quite apparent that she did not quite recover fully from her blues, did she? After all, signs of her gloom had been prevalent (though in small doses that are all but unnoticeable) all this time. Anyways, back to the original topic…

"Rumors are just rumors, meant to spite and hurt. Don't tell me you believe every rumor that you come across."

However, at the same time as I was saying that, I realized that this could not be any old rumor. It had the effects of making many of my classmates alienate Haruhi, subconsciously or otherwise, and it had even worried Taniguchi so much that he went as far as to wanting to check with me to confirm that Haruhi isn't that kind of person. This particular rumor must be stopped before anything worse or more lasting happens.

"By the way, do you guys know who the rumors originated from? I'd like to talk to that person, to tell him to stop spreading these rumors. Who knows what will happen if Haruhi found out about him. If it's a member of the student's council, we might get involved in an all-out war…"

Here, Taniguchi and Kunikida gave each other knowing glances. What? Can't I try to help stand up for a friend? Isn't Haruhi your friend too?

"Well sure, she's just not as close a friend to us as to you." Taniguchi gave me a conspiratorial wink while he said that.

Like what is that supposed to mean?!

"Actually, we had expected that you may want to know who had been spreading these rumors about Suzumiya-san, so we have been asking around a little by ourselves. Apparently, it's not so much a "he", but a "she". Though we cannot guarantee the reliability of our research, most of our inquiries implicate Tanaka Hiroko of class 2-2 as the mastermind behind all these rumors. Coincidentally, she's the president of the Supernatural Study Group."

Great! Just that there's a slight problem on the reliability part. I do not want to run the risk of accusing a sempai, especially one who's in a leadership position, of doing something nasty that she did not do. Not to mention, I really have no inkling of who this person is.

"Tanaka Hiroko. Class 2-2. An A-, I'll say. On par with Asumi Nase, Ooumi Megumi and Nagato Yuki." Here, Taniguchi gave me a look that seemed to say "That was all an act, wasn't it?"

Well that was so useful. So I know she ranks A- in your list. Hey just a minute, since when did you start ranking year 2 girls as well?!

"You see, after seeing Asahina Mikuru and her class girls in that gorgeous maid costume, I realized my database was far from completion. So I went and gave every year 2 girl a rank as well!" Taniguchi puffed his chest out with pride as he said this. Hey now listen you, this is nothing to be proud of! "After all, expanding my base means I'm increasing my chances of getting a date! Am I a genius or what?"

Looking at the unconvinced looks on both my and Kunikida's face, Taniguchi cleared his throat and decided to return to the topic at hand. "In any case, this is the best we have to offer. Take it or leave it. Anyway, it's not like this information dropped from the sky alright, we worked hard for it too! Try trusting us once in a while, will you?"

Looking at Taniguchi's indignant face, I sighed and gave in. "Alright, I'll trust you guys for now. But do me a favor, will you, and don't say anything to Haruhi. I don't want her having a fit or something. Don't worry; I'll keep everything under control on my side."

With that, our conversation on this topic ended, and we drifted to other random topics. Meanwhile, I started drafting out my plans for approaching Tanaka-senpai.

Hm, I seem to have neglected to tell them that my back-up plan for the scenario that the data is unreliable is to assume one of their identities and run off. Hopefully I will be able to keep my record free of trouble then. I mean, it's their fault in the first place if the data is wrong…

To find out who this Tanaka Hiroko actually is, I decided to approach Tsuruya-san who was in the same level as her for help. After all, other than Asahina-san, the only other senpai I know would be Tsuruya-san. Asahina-san, kind and cute she may be, is nonetheless quite careless and clumsy, and she is quite liable to accidentally leak something out to Haruhi. This possibility deterred me quite a bit from approaching her for help.

On the other hand, the cheerful green-haired Tsuruya-san is in fact very resourceful, and I know from personal experience she knows how to keep a secret. I mean, how many people in the world would be willing to take in for a few days a "Michiru Asahina" who looks exactly like Mikuru Asahina and not ask any unnecessary questions? With that prior experience, I felt that my secret will be safe with her, at the very least safer than with Asahina-san.

However, as I did not know what clubs Tsuruya-san has joined, I had no way of approaching her in school unless by some chance meeting. After all, I was hoping to converse with her privately, but if I had went to her class to look for her I would have been likely to be overheard by Asahina-san, who would be curious about what I would have had to say to Tsuruya-san. The two were after all in the same class, and good friends to boot, so it was quite likely that one will not be far from the other in class. Thus, if I had went to search for Tsuruya-san when she was in class, everything would have probably winded up at Haruhi's ears too. It'll be safer if I inform as little people as possible. And that was how I ended up in front of Tsuruya-san's mansion at night once more.

After being showed by a maid into the living room, it was not long before the energetic senpai bounced into the room. "Ara Kyon-kun, why are you here at this time nyoro?"

"Well, I couldn't talk to you alone in school, so I figured that it would be best to come to your house at a time when you're sure to be home. You see, I need your help on a matter of utmost urgency and secrecy." I tried my best to look serious so that Tsuruya-san would know that I'm not joking around. "I need some information on a Tanaka Hiroko of class 2-2, just some details to tell me what kind of a person she is." This being a serious matter, and it being quite late into the night, I jumped straight into the details without bothering with any foreplay.

"That wouldn't be much of a problem, so I'll be happy to do it for you. But why the secrecy nyoro?"

That was fast! I had expected her to ask me more questions before agreeing.

"Well you see, at the moment I'm working on a case related to the SOS Brigade, and this person is quite a crucial part of this case. I'm trying to keep everything under wraps before the case is concluded, at which I intend to surprise everyone with my accomplishments. So I hope you can help me, and at the same time not tell anyone about what I'm doing." My earlier-prepared lies flowed out naturally, as though I had practiced countless times before coming here.

Man, I'm starting to become quite a glib liar! Though I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing…

"Even Haru-nyan?"

Especially her. I'm trying to resolve everything peacefully, and I don't need her butting in at an inappropriate moment. Furthermore, I'm hoping to resolve this issue before she realizes what her subconscious is trying to tell her. I don't want her to become all withdrawn again or something.

"Alright then. Don't worry about it; your secret is safe with me. I'll make sure the others do not learn of it nyoro. Oh, and about the information, I'll leave them in your shoebox tomorrow morning."

And indeed, the next morning, my locker once again became a mailbox for a girl's message to me. This was how I managed to obtain Tanaka-senpai's entire profile, together with photos and the like, courtesy of Tsuruya-san. I seriously wonder if there is anything in the world which that girl cannot do…

Despite my earlier misgivings about Taniguchi's ambiguous ranking, it was in fact pretty accurate according to Tanaka-senpai's profile. The photo supplied for identification purposes showed a bright girl with sharp eyes staring up at the viewer. Having auburn hair of shoulder length that was shown tied up in a ponytail; Tanaka-senpai was indeed quite, in Taniguchi's words, a "looker". According to the profile, she even had a bold and outspoken personality to boot.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear that there are many guys who are chasing after her.

And so, I spent the next few days preparing and refining what I was planning to say to Tanaka-senpai. In fact, I had also brainstormed several ways I could approach her, and rated them from the most practical to downright suicidal and shameless. I even prepared numerous excuses for the scenario that I am not able to run away fast enough, which would have revealed that I was not in fact Taniguchi from Class 1-5 upon my capture.

However, as the saying goes, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." As it turned out, all these efforts were for naught. Not more than a week after my conversation with Taniguchi and Kunikida, Tanaka-senpai approached me instead of having me look for her. Though I did not know it at that time, it was the start of another tough and arduous journey for me. What made it harder was that this time I had to travel the path alone. I no longer had the luxury of having safeguards to fall back on.

That particular morning, I had once again found a letter in my shoe locker. While shaking my head in resignation of the inevitability of my shoe locker being a substitute for a mailbox for strange letters from usually stranger characters, I idly wondered if it's some new fashion that was spreading around. I mean, even Tsuruya-san had caught up with it! Though that was partially my fault as I did not speak out when she told me her plans – I had thought that she was kidding.

At least now it's no longer restricted to time travelers. Come to think of it, all the senders of the letters left in my shoe locker up till now had been female… I wonder if this one would be any different?

With these thoughts in my head, my feet automatically took me to the default washroom. This is a habit I have formed since the time traveling fiasco a few months ago – this washroom will be where I read all messages I receive through my shoe locker, no matter who it is from. In fact, this was where I first opened the package from Tsuruya-san too.

The letter was enclosed in a blank envelope, which was not addressed to anybody in particular. Fearing that it could be yet another mission from the future, I tore open the envelope hastily. However, my sense of urgency soon turned to confusion. The letter within read,

"Meet me at the courtyard during break. Have something important to tell you. See you there ♥"

It was the ending that left me speechless, more than anything else.

Is this for real, or actually a prank by Taniguchi and Kunikida? Who can possibly be enamored with me, of all people? Or has the slider finally appeared and is making first contact with me?

These questions were running through my head as I reread the letter a few times. As the bell started ringing, I finally reached the conclusion that the only way for me to tell is to go to the specified meeting place and time. Upon forming that conclusion I dashed away to class, hoping that there will not be another attempt on my life.

Oh well, if that does happen, I hope Nagato will be around to help once again.

During lunch break, I was the second out of the class, the first being Haruhi and her customary dash to the cafeteria. Rushing to the courtyard took less than five minutes, but the person who was waiting for me there took me by surprise. It was none other than Tanaka Hiroko!

"Kyon-kun, is it?" Tanaka-senpai asked, as if she was unsure if I was an impostor.

My face must have had a glimmer of recognition, or perhaps I just looked just too shell-shocked, because the next words out of her mouth were "Is something wrong? Do you know I am or something? Surely from the letter you should have been able to tell that it's a girl who will waiting for you, so that look must be due to something else."

"Erm… well, I know that you are the President of the Supernatural Study Group, though I don't know you personally. And it's just that… I wasn't expecting an older girl, if you know what I mean." Pulling myself together, I decided to feed her a half-lie, as I was yet uncertain of her true intentions.

After all, if not for Tsuruya-san's information, I'd not know of her as anything more than that title, and I most certainly wasn't expecting this specific 'older girl'. Though I would not have known what she would have looked like either, it's not impossible that I've seen her during some promotional activity for her club or something. So, this is probably an answer that she will expect from me, and one which will not give away anything on my part.

"Hm, poor boy. You don't have to put up such an act in front of me. I know that the fact that you're associated with that Suzumiya woman and that you're trapped under her tyrannical rule leaves little room for such relationships to occur. That's probably the main reason behind your lack of experience in these matters." With a sympathetic look on her face, Tanaka-senpai proceeded to launch into a speech that left my jaw hanging.

And here comes yet another lunatic who is spewing nonsensical stuff related to Haruhi which I don't understand at all. When will this madness ever end…?

"I… beg your pardon?" Given the circumstances, I was surprised I could actually find my voice to speak.

"Just know that in my presence, you don't have to hold back anything – you can drop that pretence and say anything you want about that wretch. I swear I won't repeat it to her – I am on your side after all." Speaking in a conspiratorial tone as though I was just pretending to be confused, Tanaka-senpai gave me a wink as though telling me I could confide in her.

Unless I'm severely mistaken, apparently this girl has gotten into her head the idea that Haruhi is a despicable being who has me trapped in her power through some means or another. Now, while this may not be completely untrue, the fact is that I am actually staying in the SOS Brigade on my own free will. Not to mention she's getting somewhat more reasonable nowadays…

Suddenly, images of Haruhi barging into the Student Council room and openly declaring war on the Student Council popped into my head. Did that not happen but a short time ago?

scratch that.

"In any case, I'd say that for someone your caliber, if not for the fact that you're known as her right-hand man, girls would have been flocking to you and this kind of meetings would not have appeared been uncommon to you." Tanaka-senpai, having misunderstood my silence, tried to continue our conversation from where we left off.

Oh, so now I'm the main character in a harem anime? Gee thanks. This is the real world we're talking about!

Though if you think about it, with the exception of Koizumi, I am in fact surrounded by girls who rank around an A by Taniguchi's standards, though I have no intentions of delving into romantic relationships with any of them… probably. I mean, Nagato is a cold and (relatively) emotionless alien, Asahina-san is a time traveler who is forbidden to have any long-lasting relationships in this temporal plane or something (a complicated expression for "the present"), Tsuruya-san (whose 'official' rank I have yet to hear from Taniguchi, but who I'd wager will have at least the same rank as Nagato – just look at how eager Taniguchi was to introduce himself when he first met her, and his appreciative glance at her when she was in her costume during the school festival) is probably out of my league, especially the social status part, and Haruhi is… well she's Haruhi. Hm, looking at the gang of people I often hang out with, Koizumi better had be more masculine than his smiling face and his attitude suggests, or he will be in for a world of hurt, esper or not, vice-brigade captain or not. I have stated countless times that I am not interested in such things!

As one says, the best defense is a good offense. "Flattery will get you nowhere. Despite all that you have said, you still have not shown nor provided any concrete proof that I should trust you. What if you're just another of her tests of my loyalty to her?" I decided not to clear up her misconceptions about me just yet, and see where exactly she stands on this issue. Furthermore, I was hoping to weed out as much information from her as possible.

"Hm, true. I suppose that your time under that witch have made you much less open to trusting others, especially strangers. Not surprising, I'll say." Despite saying all that, Tanaka-senpai had a smug look on her face, as if she was expecting this to happen.

Is this a kindergarten fight or something? What's with all the name calling? Plus, saying you know that I wouldn't easily trust you will not lend you any bit of credibility at all!

Laughing at my reply, Tanaka-senpai answered me confidently, "Because Suzumiya Haruhi is all that, and worse. In fact, no words are capable of describing her vileness. She is truly a spawn of Satan, a demoness incarnate."

If any of my friends had told me that, I would have laughed it off as a joke, or just as some colorful descriptors that meant no harm. However, the hatred emitting from this girl when telling me this is so strong that one could literally see it forming a dark aura which envelopes her, causing me to recoil away from her. I was flabbergasted at the amount of hate that this girl possessed. Furthermore, her tone is so cold and serious that nobody but the most clueless idiots could mistake it for a joke. Before I could pull myself together to formulate a reply, Tanaka-senpai spoke once again.

"You asked for proof that I was on your side, did you not? For one who is so embroiled with events concerning Suzumiya such as you, you should have noticed that recently there have been more and more people who are starting to be disapproving of Suzumiya. Her former friends, as one may call them – though most were merely associates – are finally starting to see her true colors and starting to desert her, one by one. This is all due to our 'Anti-Suzumiya Haruhi Campaign', which of course has been held underground in secret."

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, right from the lion's mouth! I no longer needed to suspect the reliability of my sources – this girl had already admitted to my face that she's the culprit behind everything! It was all I could do to not lose my senses and my temper and start yelling at her – I had to know why she went through such troubles just to isolate Haruhi as a target and make her miserable.

"I have indeed realized that there have been increased rumors about Haruhi's supposed wrongdoings, causing some to shun away from her, but you expect me to believe that there's a whole movement behind all this? Are you sure you're not pulling my leg? I mean come on, what are your intentions, anyway? Why go to such troubles to torture a girl not many of you even know?"

"I would have expected that you'd be happier to know that there're like-minded people out there who would support you if you decide to rebel." With a pout on her face, Tanaka-senpai looked as though she was about to throw a tantrum.

Oh, so now I'm supposed to rebel? Am I to carry out a revolution too, with these so-called supporters' backings? Great, I can be the next Lenin!

"Oh well, I suppose I can't expect you to warm up to a stranger like me so quickly after all, despite my good intentions." Her face clearing up as quickly as one of Haruhi's mood changes, Tanaka-senpai looked ready to launch into another speech about the history between Haruhi and her, not giving me any time to ponder on what her 'good intentions' could possibly entail.

"You see, my first interactions with Suzumiya began nearly a year ago, when she joined our Supernatural Study group for a while. I was but a newly-elected president then, and I was pleased that there was such an enthusiastic first-year who wanted to join our club. While I was later irked by the fact that she stayed for no more than one session, I reassured myself by telling myself that Suzumiya is known for her eccentricity and that it is quite the norm. To add insult to injury however, the reason she gave for leaving was that we were 'boring'." Tanaka senpai gave me an incredulous look. "Can you imagine it? Us, who research the supernatural and the unexplained, boring?!"

While I admit that girl does have high expectations for 'interesting' things, I'd think that numerous sessions of cutting out fake UFO reports containing the same general details will be taxing for anyone.

"However, that was not the worst of it. Later, I learnt that Suzumiya had committed an unforgivable act." – Here, one could see the fire light up within the speaker's eyes – "She labeled the Supernatural Study group as 'a group of occult maniacs'! She, of a mentally unsound mind, calling us, observers of paranormal events, maniacs!" Every word was pronounced with such force and articulation that I was sprayed by spittle that was flying out of Tanaka-senpai's mouth, and my ear drums were drilled with each and every syllable, causing me to cringe at every word that she was stressing on.

Personally, I'll say that this performance is enough to prove you as a maniac… hey is that foam I see on your lips?

The hellish light in her eyes finally starting to subside, Tanaka-senpai continued in a calmer tone, "Still, that was not enough for me to start such a campaign there and then. Though our reputation did suffer somewhat, I had held the belief that it will be fine if we left her alone – that our paths would not ever cross again after this one-time occurrence."

So this wound has been festering since over a year ago, over an insignificant comment like that. I'm starting to notice more and more loose screws around here…

"However, I was proven wrong last month, when she stole the artifact that we, of the Supernatural Study Club, had worked so hard to obtain from the Museum of Ancient Civilizations! Do you know how many negotiations we went through and how much borrowed goodwill we were on to secure that agreement with the museum? We had to promise them that we'd look after it; that it will not be lost; that it will be used for educational purposes only… and she had the audacity to steal it from under our noses! Within a week of the opening of the exhibit, it was gone! Well that was the absolute last straw. To me, that was the declaration of war. Now do you see why I am waging such a campaign against Suzumiya?" Somewhere along the line, Tanaka-senpai's nostrils had flared up, and she looked very much like a dragon which found a knight poking its behind for the second time in the day just when it was about to sleep. In fact, she looked positively ready to breathe fire.

Sounds somewhat reasonable but for one thing. "Wasn't she cleared of the charge of stealing that artifact though?"

"Oh, that's only because she's too smart to be caught by the school. Given that the authorities work on an 'innocent until proven guilty' attitude, it's not surprising that they let her off the hook as soon as they could upon realizing that they had nothing they could pin on her. But I'm not one to be deceived so easily. I know that she's the culprit, so even if she cannot be punished by lawful means, I want to make sure that everyone in this school knows that too and treat her for what she really is – a common criminal." Unfazed by my comment, Tanaka-senpai proceeded to disregard my rebuttal completely. She seems to be very similar to someone I know in this respect, dismissing inconvenient facts as though they never existed.

"So, you are completely disregarding the authorities' verdict and taking this matter into your own hands, going so far as to even wage a personal war against Haruhi? And you have even managed to gather a coalition to aid you in your quest, which mainly involved spreading around rumors?"

"Putting it bluntly, yes. This is because as far as I'm concerned, we're doing the right thing."

Great. This sounds like a personal version of the Iraq War – and the brave War President is standing right before my eyes. O President Tanaka Bush, what will it take to convince you that Haruhi does not possess any WMDs (her ability to recreate the world from scratch aside) and that this war is in fact MAD?

By now, I had gotten about all the information I need from Tanaka-senpai. It was about time I shed my mask and clear those twisted misconceptions she has about me.

"Tanaka-senpai, there… there is so much I want to say about this, I don't know where to start."

"There there, take your time. No need to rush." Tanaka-senpai gave me a smirk that reeked of confidence, as though this was in her calculations too.

"Well, I think I could sum up all my feelings in one simple line."

Looking at Tanaka-senpai straight in the eyes, I noticed that her expression resembled that of a kitten's, one which would be staring at its owner with adoring and expectant eyes waiting for its owner to feed it food or to play with it. Well, not for long.

"I completely disapprove of what you have been doing so far."

I admit, I gained some perverse satisfaction from seeing the look on her face crumble, having her hopes dashed, realizing possibly for the first time that not everything in reality is what she thought it to be.

"B…but why?" Those were the only words that Tanaka-senpai seemed to be able to squeeze out in her current pitiful state.

"That is mainly because I disagree with your principle of fighting in the shadows. In my opinion, if you have something against Haruhi, you should voice it out to her and face her fair and square, not using dirty tricks like you are doing now."

Holding up my hand to pre-empt and cut off Tanaka-senpai's rebuttals, I continued promptly, "I know that your response to that is that Haruhi is the one who started it by stealing your artifact. Well as you should know, two wrongs don't make a right. Even if she had really done such a thing, you should just wait for the time when the authorities confront her and punish her, instead of taking matters into your own hands. That makes you at least as bad as her, if not worse. Furthermore, the fact that you're so willing to dismiss the official stand on such a serious issue just because it doesn't match with your own opinion reflects on the size of your ego and how important you deem yourself to be."

This is the first time I have ever managed to get out any of my planned speeches, right when it counts too! I have surprised even myself with my fluency and articulacy!

I had not raised my voice at all in the whole of my reply, but my tone was as serious and firm as I could make it to be. The firm and unyielding tone, coupled with the little eloquence I had absorbed from Koizumi after almost a year of listening to his philosophical rambles, produced an effect that could not have been better if I had scripted it myself. I could literally see every word piercing through Tanaka-senpai's heart like a spear, shaking her beliefs to the very core.

Time to deliver the final blow.

I took a deep breath and said the most important part of my speech. "Lastly, the main reason why I refuse to support you is not because of anything you have said or done, but because of the simple fact that" – I paused for dramatic effect –"Haruhi is my friend. I am in the SOS Brigade not because I am forced to, but out of my own free will. I'll never do anything to harm her, or any other of the Brigade members, in any way."

Apparently, this was the last straw for Tanaka-senpai, as her knees gave out under her and she sank into a rather unseemly position. I could see that while earlier there was a glazed look in her eyes that spoke more of her disbelief at my refusal to cooperate with her than her actual response to my words, now hurt and pain could be clearly discerned in her eyes, as though I had betrayed her trust in some way.

Hey just wait a minute here! You were the one who wanted me to betray Haruhi's trust! And now you're turning your puppy dog eyes on me as though I've betrayed yours? This is clearly some kind of double standard!

Abruptly however, the look of vulnerability disappeared from Tanaka-senpai's face, and her face hardened, as though she had come to an internal decision. After rejecting my extended hand and climbing up from the floor by herself, Tanaka-senpai dusted off her skirt and herself, and gave me a look that one would normally reserve for bugs.

"So, she got you completely under her spell, to the point where you would probably gladly lick her boots for her if she ordered you to." Shaking her head, Tanaka-senpai sighed. "A truly hopeless case."

Well now that is very rude and completely uncalled for! Just because things did not turn out the way you want them to does not mean… hey where are you going?!

Huffing in response to my query, Tanaka-senpai responded, "There is absolutely nothing I can do about a case as bleak as yours – you are so far in that I doubt any more attempts on my or anyone else's part will be successful at all. You are hereby classified as 'Untouchable'."

This reminds me of something Koizumi was talking to me about. What follows this should be something like Ecce, Homo. Insanus, right?

I was jolted out of my musings when I realized that Tanaka-senpai had already turned her attention away from me and walking briskly back towards the classrooms. Having finally met and talked to the culprit behind Haruhi's headaches, it was natural for me to want to not walk away from this encounter empty-handed. It was with this thought in mind that I ran in front of Tanaka-senpai and blocked her progress.

"Wait, I'm not done with you yet! There are still things I want to talk to you about."

"Well I'm done talking here. There's nothing more I can gain from talking to you." Tanaka-senpai stopped in her tracks barely long enough to answer me before she started walking off again.

Though that's true, I still can't let you go like this! Guess I'll have to pull out my last resort.

"That may be true. However, you have plenty to lose if you're just going to walk away like that." Looking at how Tanaka-senpai suddenly stopped her footsteps, it seemed like I have her attention. The ruse worked!

"You see, now that I know of your identity, I could report your unlawful doings to the authorities, and guess what would happen then. Oh of course you would deny it and it is a case of your word against my word, but imagine what a scandal like this can do to your precious Supernatural Study Group, especially following so closely the disappearance of the artifact that was under your charge. Who knows, it may even be forced to disband!" Seeing how Tanaka-senpai's back suddenly stiffened, I could see the impact of such an idea on her.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrring! Before I could push my vantage further, the bell signifying the end of the break sounded. Darn it! And just when I got her where I want her too!

Before I could open my mouth to suggest a compromise however, Tanaka-senpai turned to me and gave me a glare that would have chilled even the bravest of warriors. It didn't matter how much EXP I had gained up to that point, or how many items and accessories I was wearing, that glare would have left me frozen and paralyzed whether I was level 1 or 99 and whether I was equipped with a Ribbon or not. "If you do that, I would increase the ferocity and speed of the circulation of the rumors tenfold. By the time I'm through, Suzumiya Haruhi would wish she never came to this school!" The kitten had become a tiger, pissed that it didn't get what it wanted.

My face must have registered alarm despite my best attempt to remain emotionless because the next thing I knew, Tanaka-senpai was smiling coolly at me, as though she knew that the blow had struck home. As though taking pity on me, Tanaka-senpai issued me a half-hearted reassurance (or so it seemed to me). "Don't worry; I won't do that if you can be a good boy."

Don't toy around with me! I'm not going to be exploited by an underhanded person such as you! Don't you know that blackmailers all come to no good?

Pausing, she tilted her head as though she had thought of a good idea. "In fact, tell you what, why not we settle this once and for all one week from now, in the afternoon? I'll bring my champion and you bring yours, and we'll decide everything the old-fashioned way. If I lose, I promise not to bother you or your precious Suzumiya – or, as you call her, 'Haruhi' – again, but if I win, you must promise to never tell my doings to anyone else or to hinder my plans in any way. Deal?"

Immediately, my seething anger turned into a kind of cold fear. "Wait… violence? Now look here, I really don't do fights or any kind of…" Before I could finish my statement, I was rudely interrupted by Tanaka-senpai.

"That however will be the only kind of chance I'm giving you. So you either take it or get out of my way." Sticking out her hand, she continued, "Well then, are you willing to take on this challenge? If you are, then shake on it!"

Desperate to keep my options open, I did the only thing that I could do given the circumstances. I agreed to Tanaka-senpai's conditions by shaking her hand.

"So, it's settled then? The meeting place will be the red mailbox just around the corner down the hill from the school. You should know where it is right; it's the only one of its kind in the vicinity. Afternoon, at three, don't be late!" While shaking my hand, Tanaka-senpai provided the details for the meeting as smoothly as though she was inviting me to a date instead of a fight. Her eyes were somewhat unfocused, as though she was looking at something far away, and she had a faint smile on her face. Perhaps she's thinking how she would have an easy win and thereafter have me out of her hair forever?

Head reeling from the events that had transpired over the last hour or so, I totted into class as though I was drunk, mumbling an apology to my English teacher for being late and falling into my seat in a daze. In my dreamlike state, I vaguely noted Haruhi looking at me with an indescribable look; though at that time I put it off to her wondering at my being late for class.

English is one of the most boring lessons in our syllabus, right up there with History. Thus, when you have two consecutive lessons of English and History double periods side by side, it is a perfect recipe for drifting off in class. In addition, the fact that I have been given much to think about by Tanaka-senpai meant that I was never really focused on lessons to begin with. Throughout the two lessons following the break I was unfocused and away in a world of my own, weighing my options and pondering my next course of action. Yet, for some reason the teachers who never seemed to notice Haruhi snoozing in class all pinpointed my inattentiveness so accurately that it was as though their attention was always drawn towards me by something. And everyone knows what teachers like to do with inattentive pupils – that's right, they make them answer questions either verbally or on the blackboard. Given that the students obviously were not paying attention to the lesson, they usually have zero chance of getting the questions correct.

Thus, a few hours and numerous embarrassments later, I had reached a few conclusions about this matter. Firstly, this is my problem, thus I am going to be the one to resolve it. Because of this, calling on Nagato, Koizumi, or even Asahina-san for help is completely out of the question. Actually, that was pretty much the only resolution I made in all of the time I had spent thinking on this issue in class. At that time, I was naïve enough to think that I could handle it all on my own. Still, when you think about it, perhaps things were already out of my control at this point? Was I already going down an unchangeable fate…?

Three days later, I was still listless in all my lessons and always spacing out in all my conversations, as I had yet to decide on what battle strategies I should employ, if any. The decision of whether I should forfeit my match (as one would call it) on grounds of my health was made up for me long ago – this is just another of the many things I have to do to maintain the status quo and live my present life happily.

That day, I was lunching with Taniguchi and Kunikida again, and as usual Haruhi was at the cafeteria stuffing herself. Once again, I was deep in my thoughts like in the last two days, devoting only one ear to the conversation between my two best friends. In truth, what happened was that I heard their words, and I saw their actions, but my brain was so deeply immersed in a discussion with itself that it processed neither. Thus, it was only later that I managed to fully recollect their conversation and make sense of the entire thing.

"Well this is a surprise Taniguchi-kun, are you on a diet?" Kunikida is often so formal that even his insults are polite – one can rarely discern between them and concern if one has not known him for long.

Now then, let me go through everything once again from the beginning. From what I can tell Tanaka-senpai is one who usually keeps her word. Thus, I can probably expect her to come fully prepared next week. However, what extent of preparation would constitute fully prepared?

Taniguchi, who happened to be holding a chocolate cornet, scowled in reply. "Be quiet. I read somewhere that leaving curry overnight makes it taste better, but when I tried that with my leftovers from last night, I found mould growing on it! That threw off my plans totally. I barely had time to stop by a bakery on the way to school, and this was the first thing I could lay my hands on."

She asked for me to bring a "champion". Probably means that she already had someone in mind when she suggested it. That would place me in a disadvantage, wouldn't it? I mean, I don't know much people here outside of people that I became associated through the SOS Brigade one way or another, and I can't go to most of them if I want to keep this from Haruhi.

"So that was why Taniguchi-kun was almost late this morning. And this was what was in the bag you were carrying when you were rushing in." A look of realization came upon Kunikida's face, as though he had just attained enlightenment. "But why did you not just choose to eat at the school cafeteria?"

Quite possibly the only people I know and can really trust would be the original SOS Brigade members, except for Haruhi herself. This is because only the three of them know the true danger of leaking such information out to Haruhi – Tanaka-senpai may befall a fate she does not truly deserve.

His face turning blank, Taniguchi stared off into space as he answered, "Because I don't like the food there." Changing the topic abruptly, he started on a seemingly-random subject. "Hey, which end of the chocolate cornet do you think is the head?"

When she first mentioned "champion", my thoughts had immediately raced to Nagato. She would be able to thrash whoever Tanaka-senpai picks as her champion with both hands tied behind her back! However, this does not bode well as it may involve risking blowing her cover wide open.

"Ah?" Somewhat caught off guard, Kunikida tilted his head as though he was thinking about it. "Well… I would say that the smaller end would be the head. After all, when we leave things to stand by themselves, it would always be more stable to have a larger base, so as to lower your centre of gravity. Using this logic, the larger end should be the bottom, whereas the smaller the head, given that the head is usually on top." Kunikida gave an answer complete with scientific reasoning to back it up. In the process of giving his answer, Kunikida had either decided not to pursue Taniguchi's earlier weird response, or had just forgotten about it.

Koizumi may be an esper, but as his powers are limited to the Closed Spaces he may not be able to help me that much physically. In addition, he always seems somewhat tired during what little I see of him nowadays. However, as he is a member of the extremely powerful Organization he should able to at least do something with the vast funds and power of the Organization. Yet, I don't want to ask for help from this person unless I'm really left with no choice. Furthermore, I'm afraid that the Organization may overreact and see Tanaka-senpai as a threat to Haruhi's mental stability and thus someone to be completely eliminated.

"Oh? But don't you think the chocolate cornet is somewhat similar to an ice-cream cone? After all, you can hold both by the smaller end lick the yummy stuff out from the top, be it chocolate or ice-cream. And when you look at an ice-cream cone, you most certainly do not see the pointed end as the head, but the base that you hold. Then won't it be the same for a chocolate cornet too, having the smaller end as the bottom and the larger end the head?" Hearing Taniguchi's well thought out reply, one would not be able to guess that this was a topic that he had thrown out randomly just to draw attention away from himself. Perhaps this was a topic that he was really interested in, and not merely a ruse?

Asahina-san, though a time traveler, has no futuristic weapons or attacks at all. That and the fact that she is not a fighter either makes her somewhat useless during a fight. Furthermore, it would be unforgivable to put her into a dangerous position in the first place! Although it may be true that her scared and cute look would want to make anyone want to protect her to the death, thus being useful in that the opponent may not have the heart to hit her, if Tanaka-senpai had chosen a female as her champion it is likely that this plan may backfire and the female turn on Asahina-san with twice the usual ferocity due to jealousy of the latter's good looks. Also, I could not be sure that Asahina-san may accidentally leak information out to Haruhi, even if she knows how dangerous that may be. I know better than anybody else how clumsy and absent-minded she can be.

"Well, that argument is not without its merits," Kunikida conceded. "Why don't we see what Kyon has to say about this?" At this, he turned to me. "Kyon?"

Aside from all the reasons not to ask any of the SOS Brigade members for help, there is also the fact that I want to accomplish this alone. I want to be useful too! I mean, Nagato is the Goddess I look to every time something outside of the ordinary occur, Koizumi is in charge of battling the giants in the Closed Spaces so that our lives can continue as per normal and not be forced into a new world, and Asahina-san is always doing her best to complete orders given by her older self. Meanwhile, what am I doing in all of this? Nothing! I want to show that I can accomplish something by myself too!

"Alright. So, let us hear what your opinions on it Kyon." Now, Taniguchi had also turned to me, waiting for my reply.

Yet, even while saying that, I can't really do anything, can I? I can only try to think of some strategies to last me through the thing. However, I don't play strategy games often, so I'm quite lacking in those areas as well. In fact, the best thing I can come up with is to try and rationalize with Tanaka-senpai and her friends once they show up, and hope to avoid a fight altogether. I can think of no better ideas given my non-existent fighting abilities. Perhaps Koizumi would be better at these kind of strategy-making? Then again, seeing how he loses to me all the time at board games, maybe I would be better off not asking him. I don't want to lose as badly as he usually does to me!

Finally, impatient at my non-responsiveness, Taniguchi pushed me. "Oi Kyon! Give us an answer here!" This finally shook me out of my thoughts, back into the real world.

"Wha… what? What's going on?" As though just awoken, I looked around in confusion, just realizing that I was the centre of attention amongst my friends. "What did you guys say?"

Just as a side note, the trail of thoughts I was on this entire time is the one that I have been repeatedly going over ever since the meeting with Tanaka-senpai. I have consistently been asking myself if I have been pursuing the correct path, and I have always been squeezing my brains for a viable strategy, though nevertheless coming up with naught.

Meanwhile, Kunikida was repeating the question about the chocolate cornet for me. When he was talking, I noticed Taniguchi looking at me with a devilish grin in his eyes. After Kunikida finished, Taniguchi jumped in and did not give me a chance to answer the question.

"Hey Kyon, I thought you were interested in Suzumiya, why are you abandoning her now?" Taniguchi shook his head at me, clucking as though I was committing a grave mistake. "So, who's the lucky girl this time?"

"What are you talking about? Firstly, I have no such interest in her, and secondly, what do you mean by abandoning her?" Honestly confused by this out of the blue question, I was desperately trying to understand what Taniguchi was talking about.

"Well, you see, lately you have been very distracted, be it in class or outside of class. You are prone to lose yourself in your thoughts so hopelessly that you ignore your surroundings completely, such as just now during our conversation. Obviously you must be in love with someone else, and you're puzzling your head over how to break it to Suzumiya!" Taniguchi proclaimed with a flourish of his hand, as though he is a famous detective making a series of startling deductions.

Oi, don't make me out to be some flirtatious guy – I'm not who you are trying to be, alright?!

The sound of laughter reached my ears. When I looked back, I found Kunikida chuckling at Taniguchi's and my antics. Seeing that I had noticed him, he stopped his laughter and offered his opinion on the matter, "Well, Taniguchi is probably reaching conclusions way too early. However, it is true that Kyon has been very preoccupied these past few days, and it doesn't help his case that Suzumiya-san seems to be brooding over something as well. Given that the two of you started at around the same time, it's probably related, won't you say?"

Haruhi is? Well I for one have not noticed anything out of the ordinary at all. Even if I have had my head in the clouds often in the past few days, I would have noticed anything different with the person sitting right behind me! Are you sure you are not mistaken Kunikida?

"Well, whatever you say Kyon. I'm still sticking to my original theory of you cheating on Suzumiya." Saying this with a certain sense of glee, Taniguchi reached for his chocolate cornet and started to tear off the narrower end to dip into the chocolate at the other end.

Seeing Taniguchi's actions, I was struck by a sudden bolt of inspiration. "You know, back to the question you guys were asking me, I think that the larger part of the cornet is the bottom. You know why? That's because it has a hole which gives out thick brown stuff."

It was a while before the true meaning of my statement sunk in, whereupon Kunikida went, "Eww, gross! Kyon, where did that come from?!" Taniguchi's actions however are much more pronounced. He slammed the chocolate cornet on the table, yelling "Stupid Kyon! How do you expect me to be able to eat that after hearing you say that!" Laughing, I ran to escape from my friend's clutches.

Eventually, the day of the confrontation arrived. Despite the amount of time I had spent thinking about it, be it during class time or outside of class, the only plan I had managed to develop by then was to just go to the site and hope that I could reason with Tanaka-senpai and whoever she brought.

When I woke up in the morning, my stomach felt as though it was full of butterflies. Though I did not feel like eating at all, I managed to shove down most of my breakfast nonetheless, as I did not want my parents to worry about me unnecessarily.

By the time I had climbed up the arduous slope to school, the butterflies had turned to fire ants, biting me every now and then. While it is not to say that I was having a stomachache from food poisoning or something, it suffices to say that I was in fact feeling quite sick.

Together with the sense of sickness came a sense of urgency – that I had no concrete plans even by the actual day itself was the main reason why I was on the verge of panic. I spent all the time in school that day trying to think of any last-minute plans that I could employ. My attitude in classes changed from trying to keep the pretense of listening to outright ignoring the class and everything in it. Fortunately though, on that day the teachers either did not notice or chose not to notice my daydreaming.

Even so, by the last period a cold desperation had settled in. I had finally come to realize that I was not going to be able to come up with any new plans, and barring any miracles or streaks of inspiration I am just going to the meeting alone helplessly like a lamb to the slaughter.

The last period ended uneventfully, and as I was picking my bag to get ready for leaving I was rudely knocked out of my thoughts by a sudden impact to the back of my head, leaving me feeling dizzy and extremely disorientated. It was only a while later that I noticed the reason for my sudden disorientation – I was staring up at the ceiling while my body was balancing precariously on a chair which was standing on two legs. My head, on the other hand, was lying on the front of someone's desk, which accounted for the impact I felt. I was also finding it hard to breathe given that a hand was gripping my collar so tightly that blood circulation to my brain was slowly being cut off. The owner of that hand now came into view, eyeing me with an intense glare. That person of course is none other than the source of all my troubles, Haruhi.

"Oi Kyon! Don't be late for the Brigade meeting today! Today's meeting is especially important, and I've noticed you being very absent-minded during the past few sessions, always having the same preoccupied look you have during lessons nowadays. What has gotten into you?! Don't you dare bring that kind of attitude to the meeting today! I will no longer tolerate such tardiness from you!" Haruhi was getting into one of her rants once again.

As a side-note, despite my inner turmoil I had felt it best to keep up as much a semblance of normalcy as possible, thus instead of using Shamisen as excuses to skip Brigade sessions as I did the last time, I had gone faithfully to all the sessions this past week. Thankfully, Haruhi was busy the past weekend and thus we were left to our own devices instead of having to search around the neighborhood for strange events again. Of course, though I did not absent myself from any of the recent sessions, I could not help myself from pondering about the upcoming confrontation that I was going to participate in, thus for the past sessions I have kept to myself mostly, refusing even to play board games with Koizumi, hiding myself under the cover of books which I borrowed from Nagato. Of course, this appeared to have been futile in the light of Haruhi's sharp instinct.

As I struggled to remove myself from Haruhi's grip and to get into a safer and more comfortable position, I wondered how I will be going to tell her that I was not going for the session that day. Needless to say, one of the reasons I was desperate to get out of that uncomfortable situation is because I did not want to be breaking such news to Haruhi when in such a vulnerable position.

Finally managing to get back onto my feet, I brushed myself down and looked at Haruhi in the eye, trying to muster as much seriousness as I could obtain out of myself – I had to show her how much of a life and death situation it is that I was in.

"Look Haruhi – I have an appointment today with someone. I can't make it to the Brigade meeting today, I'm sorry."

"EHHHHHHHHHHH?!" Haruhi's screech almost deafened me, stopping my words in their tracks. "Why did you not inform me of such a thing earlier? Why are you only telling me about this now? Why did you make an appointment with someone during the time you knew to be the time reserved for Brigade activities? Why, Kyon, WHY?!" It was as though I had unwittingly opened a flood gate, the consequences of which involved me being drowned by Haruhi's bombardment of questions and furious screams.

"Look, it was important alright, so it's not like I have much of a choice in that matter. And as for not telling you, it just slipped my mind somehow, it's not like it was on purpose!" Snapping back at Haruhi, I was trying to make myself heard and argue my case.

"Oh really? Tell me what this appointment is all about. Who are you meeting? Where are you going? What are you going to be doing? You had better not be going off to play at a time like this! Or is it a date? Is that why you've been so distracted lately, huh is it?!" Haruhi cut me off again, not letting down on her barrage.

Faced with the immense pressure from Haruhi, I could feel my calm exterior slowly cracking and melting away, giving rise to a kind of primal panic. I could not possibly tell the whole truth to her, and yet there was nothing I could say to justify my actions to her either.

You idiot! Don't you know I'm doing this for YOUR sake?!

"In any case, it's not something I can miss!" Not trusting myself to speak anymore than that lest I reveal something I should not, I picked up my bag and sprinted out of the classroom, Haruhi's shouts trailing after me.


Not daring to look back, I made my way out of the school in record time, not even slowing when going down the slope despite the risk of slipping and severely injuring myself given the speed I was moving at. In fact, had I really slipped and fallen, there would probably have been nothing left of me but a long bloody smear on the ground that would have looked like something that a tank had repeatedly run over and over again. This would have been due to both my high initial velocity and the fact that I was moving down a hill – I would have been experiencing large gravitational forces too. In any case, I did not take any of these into considerations, and only dared to take a peek behind me upon reaching the end of the hill.

The path behind me was completely empty and void of human life. After confirming that Haruhi had not chased me all the way out here – perhaps she decided that I was just an unimportant lowly-ranked Brigade member and continued the meeting without me? – I continued at a more leisurely pace towards the meeting place.

Turning at the corner at the bottom of the hill, I started making my way to the red mailbox hidden in the middle of the houses there. The path to the mailbox is almost like a maze – one wrong turn and you'll be wondering where you are. In fact, had I not been passing by this mailbox everyday on the way to school, I would probably not have known where to find it either.

While making my way to the mailbox, I idly wondered why Tanaka-senpai chose such a weird meeting place.

Admittedly though, given what she was proposing, it probably wouldn't do to meet in a populous place such as the mall for instance, but nonetheless why at this mailbox? Does it have some kind of significance or something? On my part, I'm just sorta glad that it's not at that bench at the park again. Every time someone asks to meet me there, or just every time I happen to meet someone there, something unnatural would follow almost right after. It's as though that bench is marked with "Danger! Weird things happening." or something. Anyways, this should imply that nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen this time… right?

With these thoughts in mind, I finally reached the meeting place agreed upon, or rather stated by Tanaka-senpai. As I was approaching the mailbox, I realized that Tanaka-senpai was already waiting there for me, and probably had been for some time. Before I could do anything to announce my arrival however, she had spotted me and a smirk found its way up her face.

"Well well, our hero finally arrives. And alone to boot, so it seems."

As I finally reached Tanaka-senpai, I noticed that there was a group of people who was blocked from my view earlier by the mailbox. At a preliminary glance, they were all donning looks of anticipation, as though they were looking forward to the fight.

Are they really looking forward to my loss that badly?

As my gaze shifted between different members of that group, a particular male stood out. As I centered my attention onto him, Tanaka-senpai started speaking.

"As you can see, the 'Anti-Suzumiya Haruhi Campaign' in fact has quite a few supporters. We manage to keep a low profile by having only a few core members and each time having a different member start a new rumor instead of just re-using the same old people. That is how we have remained undetected till now." Tanaka-senpai made this brief introduction with pride, as though she was introducing her greatest accomplishment to date.

You know, if your group's movements are so low-profile, why are people like Taniguchi and Kunikida able to trace you so easily? And stop sounding so goddamn proud, this isn't something to be proud of!

"Well, to be honest though, as I had single-handedly started this movement, at the earlier stages most of the groundwork was laid by me, thus making it somewhat dangerous as I may be easily traced back to. Though once I had managed to find like-minded comrades, that problem has seen been resolved."

So Taniguchi and Kunikida had probably started their investigations really early, or they got really lucky. Guess I should be thankful to them. And meanwhile, you are proud of this movement because it's a result of your own two hands' efforts. Sigh, I wish you would put your efforts to something more constructive than this.

"At any rate, this is our side's champion, Teshigawara Kanaye." Here, Tanaka-senpai gestured to the male who had stood out. "He is quite a fervent supporter of our cause, and has shown his loyalty and usefulness in many ways up till today. One word of warning – he's a karate black belt who has numerous championship titles under his belt already."

Observing Teshigawara Kanaye – what a mouthful! – one would realize that he is in fact strikingly handsome. With muscles that are well defined from training karate and practicing it, and with a face that looks like it is chiseled out of marble, it would be easy to imagine how girls are used to swooning over him and falling head over heels for him. What marred his good looks however is the smug look eternally sketched on his face that says that he knows the reaction he causes in girls and that he enjoys using it to his advantage. Presently though, his features are being completely distorted by the look of hate that he was giving me.

Now what have I done to earn such hatred from him? I simply can't imagine…

"Well Kyon-kun, who's your champion? Is he not here yet, or did you simply fail to find a suitable candidate?" Tanaka-senpai asked me with a child-like curiosity that reeks of insincerity.

Well, it's more of the latter than anything else… look can we talk about this instead of fighting? Can we act civilized like the students we are supposed to be?

"Well then, so you are your own champion! Seeing that the two champions have both arrived already, let's start the match!" Ignoring my pleas, Tanaka-senpai raised her hand up into the air, and brought it down as though she was the referee who was announcing the start of a fight.

"Hey wait just a minute… OOF!" About to approach Tanaka-senpai to once more try and persuade her to listen to reason instead of applying brute force, my efforts were cut short by a fist to my stomach that took all the breath out of me. Eyes bulging out, I fell to the ground clutching my stomach, trying desperately to force some air into my now-empty lungs. By the time I had recovered enough to look around for Tanaka-senpai, I realized that she had already rejoined her group of comrades, who had put a distance between themselves and me.

While I was wondering whether the distance is to make sure that they do not disturb the fight between Kanaye and myself, or just to ensure that themselves don't get hurt, Tanaka-senpai spoke up. "If only you had just seen things my way Kyon, we would not have needed to resort to this. As it is, we will let the outcome of this fight decide who is right, and who is wrong!"

You do realize that I have near zero chance of winning, right? I wonder if you would have been more open to negotiations if I had brought along Jackie Chan or Jet Li or someone else along those lines.

Before I could stop to gather my thoughts however, a sharp kick to my side sent me tumbling across the pavement, eliciting groans of pain from me. It also served to remind me of the situation that I was in.

Crawling to my feet, I watched Kanaye approach me with a kind of desperation I had not felt in ages. After all, this was the first time in a long while since I had faced anything like this on my own. In fact, was this the first of its kind?

If this doesn't work, I am so screwed.

Holding both my hands up like a traffic policeman, I embarked upon my last option. "Just a moment, Kanaye-san. As you can plainly see, I'm not a fighter at all, so I pose no threat to you whatsoever. Can we not stop this pointless endeavor and instead discuss this like the educated people we are?"

Kanaye's answer was short and simple. "No." At that, he threw a right hook that was too fast for my naked eye to see. However, I managed to dodge that by a simple stroke of luck – I fell over something when trying to back away from Kanaye, thus his fist ended up hitting nothing but air. While my butt did hurt from the impromptu landing, I guess it's much better than being socked in the jaw.

Whoa! This guy means business! I had actually felt the air from that blow, it was that close. If I don't put some distance between him and myself, I would be a goner in no time!

I started scrambling away on my ass and with my legs and feet desperately. While I suppose to the casual observer it may have been a comical sight, to me back then it was anything but funny. In my blind panic, I shouted out the first thing that came to my mind in hopes of distracting or confusing Kanaye or something along those lines.

"Why?! There's no reason for you to hate me this much. What have I ever done to you to warrant such a response? As far as I know, today is the first time I have ever laid my eyes on you, but if I had ever offended you in the past or something, I'm sorry alright!"

Advancing on me slowly, Kanaye cracked his knuckles menacingly, replying, "No, you're right. I've never seen you before in my life either. However, beating you up serves to accomplish three main things." Here, he stopped and started ticking the list of things off his fingers. "First and foremost, it is to further our goals in bringing down Suzumiya Haruhi. Secondly, it is because of your status as one of Suzumiya's friends. Thus, hurting you should in some way or another hurt Suzumiya. Lastly, you just happen to be yet another unlucky soul whom I'm venting my frustration and anger at Suzumiya on. While the movement helps to siphon some of that frustration and anger off into constructive energy aimed at actually hurting Suzumiya, it's far from enough to contain all of my rage and fury. You're just another of my human punching bags, so to speak." Kanaye gave me a ferocious grin while saying the last proclamation.

So basically the main reason I'm going to be beaten up because this muscle-head here has some kind of deep-seated grudge against Haruhi? Man just like how "all roads lead to Rome"; all my misfortunes can be traced to a common source: her.

"So what exactly did she do to earn such an everlasting hatred from you?" While one may think that by now I would be just throwing out random words to try and forestall Kanaye's advance, the truth was that I was actually curious about what it was that Haruhi did to Kanaye. After all, though I know of her as someone who is not afraid to voice her opinion and do things her way, and though these characteristics would indeed make her offend lots of people, and easily too at that; they are not enough for someone to develop a loathing of this degree. Obviously something else had occurred between these two. But what?

It was then when I noticed a fiery light beginning to burn in Kanaye's eyes. An aura of odium that is much darker and many times more intense than that of Tanaka-senpai's had started gathering around him. As I watched these events unfold, I could only wonder in awe, are the people in this 'movement' all nutcases, every single one of them?

As Kanaye opened his mouth, the voice coming out sounded much more guttural and to an extent, evil. It was as though his hatred had thoroughly transformed him into a completely different person.

"What did she do you say? Well let me tell you something runt, back in junior high I was the most eligible bachelor in the school, and girls everywhere were falling head over heels for me!" Hearing this, I was somewhat startled. Wow, that was an extremely accurate first impression I had of him!

"I was in the top of my prime! No girls could resist my good looks. I spent a lot of time jumping around from girl to girl. However, this Suzumiya Haruhi was different. She was indifferent to my charms. While that in itself is not so troubling – I don't mind having a girl play hard to get once in a while after all – it is what happened after that is the problem. As she did not take the initiative, I decided to be the one to go on the offensive for a change. She did not reject me when I asked her out – that was expected, after all. However, what was unanticipated and appalling was that she had the gall to dump me FIVE MINUTES after we started going out! She, a girl like the rest, dumped me, ME, of all people! I was the one who dumped a girl, not the one being dumped! And in FIVE MINUTES! What kind of sick joke was that? She was just plain looking down on me!" By now, foam had started to gather around Kanaye's lips, and he was exuding such a miasma of hatred and anger that it would choke anyone who was near him. He certainly outshone Tanaka-senpai in every way in the 'crazy' department – be it his reason, words, foaming, aura, etc.

Upon hearing his reason, I immediately quelled the sudden impulse that rose in me to laugh and giggle hysterically. There was no telling what would have happened to me if I was even a second too late in doing so – he looked positively murderous. In fact, I could swear that positive he had fangs protruding out of his lips, and saliva was dripping down them in a slow stream.

Eh, no no, that's not the case here. The reason is actually just because she's Haruhi, nothing more than not. Well, not that someone like you would understand what that means… In any case can't you come up with a better reason? This one sounds so lame…

Without warning, Kanaye crouched down like a hungry wolf about to strike, and ran full tilt at me. Before I could even grasp what is going on around me, I felt Kanaye hit me with a rugby tackle. It was as though a tank had barreled full speed into me, taking all my breath out once again. It didn't end there however. Kanaye did not slow his speed at all – rather it was as though he started gaining momentum. Seconds later, my back was rammed full force into the red mailbox. The impact was so great that I could literally feel all the bones in my body rattling. For some reason though, it sounded much more painful than it actually was, despite the fact that it was in fact extremely painful.

Kanaye towered over me as my limp body slumped down into an undignified heap on the ground, all my breath knocked out of me. Looking down on my unmoving body, Kanaye deemed it safe to continue his exposition.

"You know, that is not the only grudge I have against this SOS-Brigade thing that Suzumiya had set up. The other day, I tried asking Asahina Mikuru out too. However, she rejected me by saying that she is too busy with 'club activities' nowadays to consider this sort of stuff. Can you imagine it? Me, rejected again! At first, I had thought she really had some serious club activities to attend to. Later, I found out that ever since Suzumiya had dragged her into that brigade thing she had quit her Calligraphy Club, and had never joined any other club since. So basically it all amounts to Suzumiya being the sole cause of my only two rejections!"

The mention of Asahina-san as his new target was just the incentive my groggy mind needed to start returning to the world of the living. As my sight started to clear up, Kanaye's profile started swimming into view.

Suddenly shifting into a thinking stance, Kanaye started musing on an idea that he apparently just thought up. "You know what? After we ensure the fall of Suzumiya, I'm sure that brigade thing would dissolve too. After all, by then nobody would want to associate with Suzumiya anymore. Then, there would be no more reason why Mikuru-chan would reject me anymore! If that happens, I could potentially cut my rejection rate down by one."

Hearing all of those self-assured words out of Kanaye's mouth struck a nerve in me. You? Date Asahina-san? Not in a million years! I felt an intolerable anger rising in me, and I gave in to its powerful urges. Lashing out with as much strength as I could muster, I caught Kanaye by surprise with an uppercut. Taking the opportunity of him having his guard down, I pummeled his abdomen repeatedly as hard as I could. Finally, I ended with a haymaker that sent Kanaye flying a short distance away. Panting, I looked at my fists in amazement. I had never fought or learnt boxing before, yet I had managed to send a karate master flying. Guess I just needed the right motivation.

A small sound from Kanaye made me look up in his direction. To my amazement, he stood up and started brushing himself off casually like nothing had happened. After dusting himself off, he used the back of his hand to wipe off a small streak of blood that had leaked out from the corner of his mouth, and offered me his evaluation of my attack.

"Not bad… for an amateur!" With that, Kanaye was lunging at me once again. The fact that I was slightly more prepared this time round did not count for much. For every strike I blocked, ten others went through. There was absolutely no chance for retaliation this time, and soon, my entire body was covered with bruises from head to toe. Kanaye's last kick sent me sprawling onto the floor, hurting all over.

As I tried to get up, I sensed Kanaye walking over to me, and moments later I was up. In the air. To be more specific, Kanaye was holding me by my tie a few feet above the ground. I reached weakly for the hand that was slowly choking me to death, but before I could reach it Kanaye had tossed me aside with a "Humph", contempt dripping from his voice and tone. Feeling the coppery taste of blood in my mouth, I coughed and spat out a combination of saliva and blood.

My cheeks must have split open or something. Hopefully it's not any kind of internal wounds or anything.

Digging deep into my reserves of strength, which were quickly fading away as it was, I slowly pulled myself to my feet, glaring at Kanaye the whole time. Before either he or I could make a move however, we were interrupted unexpectedly by someone who jumped in between the two of us to stop our duel.

To the surprise of both Kanaye and me, that person turned out to be Tanaka-senpai. Panting, she held out both hands, signifying that she wanted us to pause. Then, turning to me, she put on an overly bright and somewhat fake smile.

"W…well now, Kyon-kun, now that you have seen what our champion can do, are you ready to call it quits? I mean, given that you have absolutely no fighting background, you have already done superbly to stand up to Kanaye-san like that. However, as you can see your blows mean nothing to him at all. Admit your defeat now, and you can still walk off with all your bones intact, with nothing more than mere flesh wounds." Despite her confident words, I could still see that Tanaka-senpai was deeply shaken by something. Perhaps she didn't expect her 'champion' to be such a beast?

"And let the SOS Brigade fall under the hands of people the likes of you people? Fat chance. As long as my body can still move, I'm not yielding even one inch to you guys." That being said, I let my actions speak for themselves by pulling my beat-up body slowly past Tanaka-senpai.

As I moved past her, she turned around and started shouting at me, with a hint of tears in her eyes. "WHY?! Why is a mere member like you doing so much for the club? You aren't the president or the vice-president, you aren't in any leadership positions, and in fact from my research you are THE LOWEST RANKED member in the club! WHY is such a lowly member like you willing to go so far?"

From the way her voice is almost breaking, I'll say she's near hysterics. But for what? It's not like I'm a very close friend or anything…

My contemplations aside, I gave her an answer straight from my heart. "Because that is what everyone else would do. Every single member of the SOS Brigade would fight tooth and nail for the survival of our club, in their own respective ways. There is not one that would be willing to see the club crumble and fall. You see, it doesn't matter which club member you are at loggerheads against. As long as you are up against a club member, you are up against the club. And as long as you are up against the club, all club members would do our utmost in trying to stop you, myself included. Of course, this case is a little special in that you're up against our boss, so I'm trying to keep things under wraps and not affect her emotional stability, but the spirit is still there. I am not going to yield to you."

Furthermore, this is also an extension of a decision I had made last December, when deciding to change the world back to normal. I had made that decision knowing that there would be consequences such as these, so now I have to face up to them.

After hearing my piece, Kanaye who had been quiet until now finally could hold his annoyance back no longer. "Stop all your babbling about club loyalty and whatnot, when it comes down to it you're nothing more than a mere puppet of that bitch Suzumiya! One that I would enjoy beating the crap out of!"

"You take that back!" Growling, I rushed Kanaye as best as my worn out body would allow. It was, of course, to no avail, and I was soon on the ground with Kanaye straddled on top of me, punching me as hard as he could. Nevertheless, I felt as though I should at least try to win the verbal fight, even if I could not win the physical one.

"Haruhi is less of a bitch than you are! In fact, you are such an asshole that if I was Haruhi, I would have dumped you in less than five SECONDS, much less minutes!" Yelling at Kanaye while trying to push him off, I tried to kick him from behind with my legs. "Get off me you stupid pimp!"

"WHAT did you say?!" Apparently, my words had touched on a raw nerve, because the next thing I felt was a full force fist on my face. This was followed by hundreds of others, Kanaye raining down countless blows on my face and torso in a fit of rage. After he got bored of using me as a punching bag, he lifted me up, and kicked my midsection with such strength that I was lifted bodily up into the air. There, he laced his hands together and slammed down on my back with such force that my descent was abruptly fast forwarded and I found myself kissing the dirt on the pavement.

Powerless to stop Kanaye, I took the latest series of attacks head on. My body, already past its limits to begin with, finally gave up on me after this last beating. Thus, after hitting the floor, I could only lie there unable to do anything but listen to Kanaye's approach, my last vigor spent.

That was when Tanaka-senpai made a second surprise appearance, once again putting herself in between myself and Kanaye. "Look Kyon, now can you give up? Your body can barely move, much less defend itself. There's no way in the world you can possibly win this fight anymore, so just give up and take it easy on yourself. The fight is already decided anyways, no matter what you do. It's not like your fellow club members would not understand about your loss to a fighting champ."

While my answer remains unchanged, to be honest given my current state had I actually changed my mind it's not like I could respond and tell you about it.

Receiving no response from me, Tanaka-senpai turned her attention to Kanaye instead. "You too Kanaye-san, you've done more than enough. I brought you here today to win a fight, not to make you a murderer. At the rate this is going, you're really going to either kill Kyon-kun or at least disable him for life! Stop it already; our objective has already been achieved."

"Sorry senpai, no can do." While saying that, Kanaye brushed past Tanaka-senpai. "I'm far from being done with this fellow. I'm going to beat up every single one of that Suzumiya's friends, start with this son of a bitch. Then, I will go on to every single one of them nutcases in the brigade thing that Suzumiya set up, just as part of my revenge against her. Finally, I'm going to beat her black and blue as well. The only reason I did not do that in the past is because she's a girl, but I think that I have tolerated far more than enough already. It's time I go on the offensive! Every ONE of Suzumiya and her friends will fall!" While ranting, Kanaye continued his approach towards me.

Kanaye's words triggered a memory I have not revisited for quite some time. It was of Nagato pulling my sleeve with her fingers, using so little force that one would probably have thought that one had imagined it. The look on her face then was of such loneliness and helplessness – I have never seen such a vulnerable and fragile Nagato before. Furthermore, the smile she showed later was one men would die for. At that single instant, I had felt that this smile was something I was willing to protect at all costs – even at the expense of my own life.

This particular feeling of protectiveness was the one that was welling up in my chest now, though it was not limited to Nagato alone. It encompassed all of the SOS Brigade members, basically everyone who Kanaye was threatening to beat up. In fact, there was another feeling that was rising alongside the feeling of protectiveness, and it was only later that I recognized it for what it was: fury.

In the heat of the moment, I had completely forgotten and neglected the fact that Koizumi is an esper who has the power of the Organization behind him; that Nagato is an alien who probably cannot be defeated by anyone else other than one of similar caliber; that Asahina-san is a time traveler who though may not be sufficiently capable to defend herself physically, has nonetheless Tsuruya-san who would be more than happy to look out for her; and that lastly Haruhi who aside from excelling in any and everything (which probably includes self-defense) also has the omnipotent power of what Koizumi had labeled as "a god" lying dormant inside her. I only knew one thing with perfect clarity.

That bastard Kanaye is going to hurt my closest friends

Seeing that I was already pissed off at him, my mind irrationally dumped all the blame for Haruhi's melancholy on him as well. After all, even if he was not the only one who spread those rumors, he nonetheless did actively contribute to the process. It is after all easier to have a definite source to vent one's anger and frustrations on, as compared to merely lashing out at random things in general. Pinpointing him as the main culprit behind all of Haruhi's trouble was what sent me over the edge, so to speak.

Do you know that when you are exposed to extremely cold temperatures, the affected part of you actually feels hot? Likewise, if you happen to experience warmth that exceeds one's imagination, you will in fact feel cold. These are of course assuming that you don't immediately die from the intense temperatures. The best exemplification of this is when you splash your face with cold water – if you leave it alone your face would feel somewhat warm after a while. This phenomenon is very similar to what I was experiencing at that point in time.

While one normally associates heat and warmth with anger and fury, what I was feeling was in fact sub-zero degree coldness. A chill that could rival that of a stormy winter night's pervaded my entire being. My mind, despite its ravings and swearing just moments ago, became surprisingly empty and void of emotions just then. Simply, in a nutshell, I was pissed to the extent that I became calm, contradictory as it might sound. There was only a single conviction left behind in my mind:

"You will not harm my friends in any way whatsoever."

These words were not spoken with the intention of intimidating Kanaye – in fact my voice was so low that they were barely audible even to my own ears. I did not know, nor do I have any real interest in knowing, whether Kanaye or even Tanaka-senpai had heard them. These words, forceful as they were, were nonetheless merely a representation of my state of mind at that moment.

It was only when I started moving towards Kanaye that I noticed that I had unknowingly climbed up again. Also, my mind registered the absence of any complaints from my body, and the look of unease that flickered across Kanaye's face. These observations were duly noted and recorded without any interest or feelings – I was merely filing them away for future reference. Looking back, this was probably the closest I could ever get to experiencing Nagato's 'usual' state of mind. Then, however, I was in no mood to empathize with anyone – I had a clear mission to complete.

Closing the distance between Kanaye and myself in a blink of an eye, I caught Kanaye unaware as he had not expected me to even be able to stand up, much less move so fluidly. This proved to be his undoing, as I unleashed a barrage of devastating blows onto his solar plexus. If my earlier attacks had been fists of fury, fuelled by the fire in my heart, these were fists of determination, strengthened by the steely resolve that I had put around my heart. Where earlier I had experienced a jumble of emotions while attacking; now my mind was void of all things but the single desire of wanting to protect my friends. This clearing of my mind appeared to have worked miracles, as where my attacks were ineffective before, now they knocked the wind completely out of Kanaye. Ending with a hammer blow to the chin, I watched evenly while Kanaye fell on his back, unmoving.

Positioning my right elbow above his torso, I steadied my aim with my left hand. If one had seen me now, one would have thought that I was imitating the transformation pose of the Flame Tribe Gransazers. After checking my aiming one last time, I allowed gravity to claim me, falling towards Kanaye with my elbow still aimed at his torso. Basically, I was letting gravity be the hammer of my elbow the nail, driving it straight to the coffin that is Kanaye's body. Had I performed this technique on Kanaye's throat, he would be undoubtedly done for, his windpipe crushed. As it was though, his body just spasmed once in response to my blow, and he dropped unconscious, a much less gruesome fate then that of the previous scenario.

Unsatisfied to whether he had really fainted or was just pretending, I performed a modified version of the Ten Thousand Years of Pain on him, using the tips of my shoes to do the dirty work as I was unwilling to use my hands. It was only after Kanaye remained motionless and soundless throughout the whole ordeal, his body not moving even after landing in a disgraceful heap that I concluded that he was not pretending – he was really out cold.

Slowly, my normal state of mind returned, and I became painfully aware of the condition that my body was in. Turning to Tanaka-senpai, I noticed that her jaw was wide open, a dumbfounded look etched on her face. Clearing my throat to catch her attention, I referred back to the agreement that we made at what seemed at eons ago. "So, I won right? You guys will be disbanding and no longer be going after Haruhi anymore, will you?"

Before Tanaka-senpai could answer though, a voice cut in from the side. "Not so fast!" Looking for the owner of the voice, I realized that it was one of the 'Anti-Haruhi' members that Tanaka-senpai had brought with her.

"What makes you think you're going to be let off this easily? You have only fought with one of us, after all." As though on a cue, the rest of the male members in the group started moving towards me in a circle. Most of them were cracking their knuckles threateningly. "I'd like to see how well you fare against all of us combined!"

What kind of sick joke is this? I only barely managed to win Kanaye, and now this? At this rate, I'll really be lucky to be walking out with even my life.

Before a new fight would begin however, Tanaka-senpai stepped in and stopped her members' advance. "A deal is a deal, no matter how unsatisfactory the result may have become. Kyon won this fight fair and square, and I'm going to honor the agreement I had made with him. Back off! Or do you all want us to all be labeled scoundrels who could not even keep their words?"

It was quite apparent that had her followers disobeyed her and went ahead to attack me, there would have been absolutely nothing Tanaka-senpai could have done to stop them at all. However, it seemed as though her word still holds power and respect amongst her followers, as begrudgingly they spread out and moved away. That was the last sight I managed to see before my body shut down completely, drained of the adrenaline and willpower that was sustaining it up till now, engulfing me in a sea of darkness.

When I next opened my eyes, the first things I saw after my vision cleared was that of a white ceiling. Inspecting my immediate surroundings, I noticed that I was in a white bed, and was covered with clean white sheets. My right arm was exposed, and a tube had been inserted into a vein along there. This tube was carrying some kind of fluid, and was connected to something that I had the misfortune of seeing before – the IV drip.

Oh man, this again…

Suddenly, a voice interrupted my observations of my surroundings. "I see you're finally awake nyoron."

I only know of one person who speaks in such a peculiar manner. Which is to say the speaker is most definitely…

"Yahoo! Welcome back to the land of living!" Tsuruya-san waved energetically at me as she came into my line of sight.

You don't seem too perturbed by the fact that I'm lying in a ward in a hospital.

"Oh that's because the doctors said that you're megas fine and will be up and around in no time. Since you're actually fine and all, there's no reason for me to treat you like an invalid, is there nyoro?" Tsuruya-san dismissed my complaints with a wave of her hand.

"Well, that's good to hear. But isn't your liveliness somewhat out of place in a hospital? Not to mention won't it disturb the other patients?" Despite my words, I was secretly very relieved and happy to see Tsuruya-san being so cheerful when greeting me – it meant that the doctors' reports must have been really positive.

"What other patients? There's nobody in this room but you nyoro." Tsuruya-san looked at me with an expression that asked "Are you still in dreamland?".

Looking around more closely, I realized that she's right. I was in fact in a single-bed ward again, and it looked every bit as impressive as the last one I was in.

Huh. So my family must have been quite rich after all, being able to afford this.

"You are in a hospital that is run by the Tsuruya family, so you're staying here for free on my behalf. I can't possibly ask friends like Kyon-kun to pay nyoron."

Turns out I'm disappointed once again. O Fate why do you tempt me so!

"How long have I been unconscious?" I idly wondered if like last time, I had been in a coma for three days again.

"Slightly less than a day or so."

Ah well, can't expect Tsuruya-san to be so cheerful if I had been unconscious for three days after all.

"Actually, though you were unconscious when you were brought in, the main reason for your not regaining consciousness until so late is due to the anesthetics that were injected into you while you underwent the operation." Tsuruya-san went on to explain for why I had spent the last 24 hours or so sleeping.

Seeing my look of alarm, Tsuruya-san quickly moved to reassure me, "Don't worry nyoro, it was nothing big. It is more of an excuse to allow you to rest here until you get better. The doctors themselves said that you could actually have gone on without the operation."

I'll take your word for it then. "So, how did you manage to get me here in the first place?" This is one point that I was extremely curious about, as I was under the impression that the Anti-Haruhiists, as I termed them, would have not passed up on the opportunity to waste me while I was comatose.

"Well, to be honest I wasn't the one who brought first you to a hospital nyoro. It was that Tanaka Hiroko girl that you had me research on nyoron. From what I heard, she was the one who carried an unconscious you from somewhere into a public hospital. It was only when you arrived there that I learnt of your condition through my sources, and transferred you here nyoro. Guess you actually have more of her to thank than me for saving you nyoron." Tsuruya-san was pensive as she recollected this, as though there was something troubling her about this.

Well, what a surprise. So she managed to keep all the others at bay? Hopefully she wasn't hurt while helping me, must remember to thank her the next time I see her.

"How about school?"

"Well, considering what you have told me the last time you met me about your new secret case, I assumed that this incident had something to do with that nyoro, and thus have made special arrangements to make sure your cover isn't blown." Tsuruya-san seemed to be exuding a sense of pride while saying all this, making me wonder if she was proud of the cover story she had spun for me or something.

You assumed correctly, but actually given that this incident is in fact the conclusion of my case so to speak it is no longer so important to keep everything under wraps. As long as Haruhi doesn't hear or know about it, it's fine. Still, I appreciate the effort that you have put in. So, what is this cover story that you have spun?

"You see nyoro, I arranged for you to take part in an international story-telling competition, held in the United States. The excuse given to both your parents and your homeroom teacher for such a late notice was that you were only informed of your eligibility the day before the competition, and had to fly off right there and then or you would be late. Thus nyoro, you relayed the details to me and left me to settle the administrative work with the school. It worked out pretty well, if I say so myself nyoron." Tsuruya-senpai gave me a detailed account of how she managed to pull wool over everyone's eyes while keeping a smug smile on her face.

I gotta admit, her creativity and resourcefulness is both top notch! So this is the potential of the heir to the Tsuruya family.

"To be truthful, I had said that the competition would take from a few days, depending on how far you proceed in the competition. This is because at that time I was unsure of when you would be well again. Now that you have made a speedy recovery nyoro, you can just go back the day after or even tomorrow and tell everyone you didn't make it very far. Then all would be well nyoron!"

Amazing, she has even thought out of a contingency plan for the scenario where I am actually hurt more than it appears to be! I have nothing but words of praise and gratitude for this girl.

"Thanks for all your hard work so far and sorry to have troubled you so much Tsuruya-san. I promise to repay this debt in some way or another in the future. I swear upon my pride as a man that I will!"

"Kyon-kun, don't worry about it nyoron. Just look after Mikuru-chan and don't do anything funny to her, alright? I'll leave it to you then nyoro" Tsuruya-san waved aside my words of gratitude, and gave me this cryptic request while having an enigmatic smile on her face.

And what is that supposed to mean?

"Well then, I wish you all the best for your mission for Haru-nyan! Ja nyeron!" With that, the senpai with a boundless source of energy bounced out of the room, leaving the atmosphere considerably brighter than it originally was.

While I had wanted to get out of the hospital as early as possible, it appeared that I was required to stay overnight for observations. While this time they did not try to remake me into a cyborg, it was nonetheless trying for me as I did not want to stay in a hospital for longer than I can help it.

During the time I was hospitalized, I had called home once to tell my parents that I would be returning the next day, pretending that I was still overseas.

Fortunately for me, my house's telephone does not have Caller ID or anything like that. Otherwise, my parents would most certainly be shocked at how my number is not only not an overseas number but even one that is from our very prefecture!

During my conversation with my parents, I told them that there would be no need to fetch me from the airport as I would be making my own way back. As part of my plan, I pretended to refuse to give them my plane number just to make sure that they would not be able to come fetch me from the airport even if they wanted to. After all, I did not want them to take a day off from work just for that. It was a situation that, even if I had really been returning from an overseas competition, I would also have handled in the same way. In any case, I was discharged the next day in the afternoon, whereupon I returned home.

As I reached home in the afternoon, there was nobody there but Shamisen, my parents still at work and my sister still in school. I set to work arranging my room to give the impression that I was in the midst unpacking, having borrowed a small hand-held luggage bag from Tsuruya-san. The official stand on why I did not buy souvenirs at all was because I had neglected to bring along enough money in my rush to the airport, thus I was not able to buy anything at all in the States.

At night, when my parents came home, I had to withstand their scolding for my not informing them of my application to the 'competition' earlier, and for not bringing along enough money to buy souvenirs. Oh, and they were disappointed in me not going past even the preliminaries in my competition as well.

Before I went to sleep that night, I silently congratulated myself on a job well done. Man, I was really too naïve then. Had I known what would be in stall for me the next day, I doubt I would have been able to sleep so soundly that night, if at all.

The next day began like any other, with me waking up at the usual time. Things were no different from normal days until I reached the classroom, where the first anomaly occurred. Haruhi did not say anything to me, despite my greetings to her. Even after I explained ruefully the reason for not buying back any souvenirs and apologizing to her for that and for rushing off without advance warning, the only response from her was a mere "Hm". At that time, I had thought that she was merely throwing a tantrum at not getting any gifts, but boy was I ever wrong. Had I noticed the signs earlier, I may have been able to stop it from happening, but was I already too late then?

In any case, the day passed by uneventfully, with me having lunch with Taniguchi and Kunikida as usual, Taniguchi complaining about the lack of presents while Kunikida tried to calm him down. Eventually, lessons ended and I found myself on the way to the SOS clubroom.

While walking there, I bumped into Tanaka-senpai. Staring at each other, there was a period of awkward silence between us, which was broken when we started speaking simultaneously.

"Ah…" "Hey er…"

Stopping at the same time, we looked at each other and burst out laughing. The awkward atmosphere lifted, I motioned for Tanaka-senpai to go ahead first.

"So Kyon-kun, are you back to full health already?" Upon receiving affirmation from me, she continued, "Sorry about the other day. While I had every intention of teaching you a lesson, I most certainly did not expect or want Kanaye-san to go to such an extent." At the look of enquiry on my face, she answered my unspoken question. "About Kanaye-san, you don't have to worry about him anymore. Apparently, he was actually involved in fights outside of my knowledge, and as of the day he fought with you he was actually pending judgment from the school board with respect to his status in the school. That judgment was made known yesterday, and he was expelled from the school for violence in public. The last I heard of him, he was transferred away to a school in another prefecture. You probably won't ever hear from him again."

While it's neither what I'm asking about nor what I'm expecting to hear, it is nonetheless a relief. This way, Kanaye won't be coming after my blood in school anymore. Hopefully, like you say, I won't ever meet him again.

"So, Kanaye won't be bothering me anymore. Then, how about you and the other erm… anti-Haruhi people? Are you guys still going to go after Haruhi?" This was the other major issue that I wanted to ask Tanaka-senpai.

"Of course not! I gave you my word that if you won, I'll stop bothering Suzumiya-san, and I intend to keep it." Tanaka-senpai's reply was shrill and indignant, as though she was hurt that I would expect her to go back on her word. "As for the movement, I had already completely dissolved it. I had forbidden the members to continue anymore underground activities against Suzumiya-san, and I had threatened to reveal the whole truth of the movement to the relevant authorities should they wish to disregard my orders."

She really must have changed. It's the first time I noticed her adding an honorific to Haruhi's name.

"But would that not put you in a lot of trouble as well? More so than the rest, in fact, given that you were the one who organized the movement."

"Well, that indeed is true. However, it was the only thing I have over them left. And I'm willing to undergo that punishment if it is the only thing I can do to stop them in their tracks and bring them to justice. After all, I can treat it as an atonement of some kind." While her expression seemed somewhat sad, her mouth was set in a resolute line, as though this was a decision she had reached and would forge ahead with regardless of the circumstances. It was probably this expression that convinced the other 'Anti-Haruhiists' of the authenticity of her threat.

"Well, it seems like I owe you a great debt of thanks. Firstly, for carrying me to the nearest hospital after I collapsed, and secondly, for driving off the other members of your movement – I'm sure it had been an uphill battle for you; lastly, for honoring your word to such a degree that you would put yourself at risk to help one you once hated so much. You have my eternal gratitude." After saying that, I bowed deeply to Tanaka-senpai, just to show my sincerity at wanting to thank her.

"Ah, it's ok, it's ok." Hurriedly, Tanaka-senpai tried to get me to stop bowing and look at her straight in the face. When that was accomplished, she continued with a broad smile, "This is mainly because I am touched by your efforts to protect Suzumiya-san and the rest of your friends. I hope to be privileged enough to become one of your friends one day, despite all that I've done so far." Here, she stopped and smiled at me. Before I could give any response, she had already continued with her speech. "I am also deeply impressed by your loyalty to the SOS Brigade. If this is the loyalty you have to all your clubs, I would like to have you in the Supernatural Study Group – it would be good to have a loyal member there. In any case, I cordially invite you to join one of our sessions to see for yourself if you would be interested in our club. After all, one can be in more than one club, right? Don't worry, I promise I'll try to make it not as boring as Suzumiya-san had made it out to be."

While I can't promise you anything with regards to joining your club – Haruhi demands that all SOS Brigade members devote all their time and energy to her club and hers alone; thus, we are technically not allowed to have a second club outside of this one – I think I can promise you that I'll at least come down one day and see your club for myself.

"Anyways, what about the hatred you had towards Haruhi? Are you going to completely put that aside now?" Though I had Tanaka-senpai's assurance that she would not do anything else to Haruhi, I could not rest easy until I ensure that the root of the problem had been addressed.

"Kukukuku, I'm glad you asked." A glint appeared in Tanaka-senpai's eyes, and suddenly she I was reminded of the time when she was ranting in front of me – the same maniacal light was in her eyes, and the same twisted smile was on her face. "I've decided that I would bring our personal feud to the academic arena. I would most certainly not lose to her in any way in any examinations! Well, I am a year ahead of her, so I would be setting the precedence in the examinations. Then when it becomes her turn to take this particular examination, I'll watch her performance closely and see if she had done better than me! Also, I'll be coordinating the movements of my club closely, so as to make sure that my club does not lose out to hers!" Taking a moment to catch her breath, Tanaka-senpai's zest started to wane, and slowly her complexion turned back to normal. "At any rate, I now see her as my rival of sorts. As for the artifact theft, I suppose I'll just accept what the school says. So don't worry about it, I won't be bothering her on that anymore, and I'll be dueling fair and square now."

Eh heheh… well at least she's channeling her energies into something much more constructive and useful this time round. Though I'm not sure if Haruhi would even notice this one-sided rivalry…

"By the way Kyon-kun, that story about you joining an overseas competition is just a cover-up for the time you were in the hospital, right? Once again, sorry about that." Seeing the forlorn look on Tanaka-senpai's face, it is apparent that she was starting to regret deeply about her past actions.

"I said that it's alright already, didn't I? Stop berating yourself over this already."

Her face brightening up, Tanaka-senpai replied with a smile, "Thanks Kyon-kun. Anyway, that was not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to tell you that nobody on my side will talk about that incident at all, so rest assured that your secret is safe with me. Nothing will be leaked out from here."

Ah thanks. That will be a huge relief.

"You were on your way to your club activities weren't you? Then I shan't delay you any further. We won't want you to get into trouble with Suzumiya-san because of me, do we?" And with a wink, Tanaka-senpai was off.

Not a bad person to have for a friend, if you overlook the slightly-crazed split personality, or whatever one would call it.

With these thoughts in mind, I proceeded to the clubroom without a second thought. Oh man, had I known what this meeting would have brought in the near future, I would have forgone the meeting with Tanaka-senpai completely.

After reaching the clubroom, I opened the door to find the other four SOS brigade members already gathered inside. Guess I'm the latest this time, huh? Closing the door, I opened my mouth to greet everyone. "Hi every…"

"Kyon." Before I could finish my greeting, the self-proclaimed SOS Brigade leader spoke up. Her body was turned away from me, and her tone was serious.

"Hai?" An extremely normal response to when addressed to out of nowhere.

"You're late." Her grim voice and the profile of her back with her arms folded over her chest blended quite well with the background to create an intimidating atmosphere. It was as though nobody else existed and nothing else mattered.

"Well you see, I ran into a friend on the way here…"

"A friend? Is that what it was? Never mind, it's of little consequence. This is after all just the icing on the cake compared to the rest of the crimes you have committed against the SOS Brigade."

"Ha?" That was pretty much the point where everything started going downhill. Of course, things may already have been in progress a long time ago, but it was only here that I noticed it.

"You are hereby charged and found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the Commander of the SOS Brigade. Evidence is as follows: I have personally seen you with a girl with auburn hair just before your disappearance for the past three days." Involuntarily, I stiffened. Tanaka-senpai? When did Haruhi… no way. Was that the reason for Tanaka-senpai's ambiguous smile back then – that she saw Haruhi looking out at us from the classroom window? Did Tanaka-senpai forget about that incident now that everything is over? What a blunder.

"I have adequate reason to believe that this person you met with has some unknown reason for hating me, and in fact has been going behind my back against me for quite some time now." At the mention of this, I could do nothing but stare in wonder at the back of Haruhi, whose instinct is so sharp it doesn't matter how well you cover your tracks – you would still be found.

"Furthermore, the day before you had your 'competition', you claimed to have an appointment and did not go to the SOS Brigade meeting despite me telling you how important it was. Your appointment was with that girl, was it not?! The fact that your absence from school coincides so closely with this appointment means it's closely related. You were most certainly not gone for a competition, but were enacting a plan to overthrow me!"

Well, her sharp instinct has faltered at only the part that I'm against her, but aside from this fact everything else is on the dot.

"Furthermore, the fact that you had met that girl once more today just before arriving here sealed your fate – it leaves no more doubts as to the question of your loyalty. You must have been planning to carry out your plan today haven't you?! I shudder to think about what would have happened had I not pre-empted your terrible plots. I'm terribly disappointed in you Kyon – I did not expect you of all people to betray me. The punishment for betrayal would usually be being thrown into the torture chambers for three days and three nights and subjected to all kinds of pain and torment there before a gruesome death by electric chair. However, I shall lighten this sentence seeing that you were in fact the first member of this club and thus ranked the most senior. Instead, you are hereby banished from the SOS Brigade!"

Throughout her long speech, Haruhi remained with her back turned to me, never turning around once. However, I could tell from her resolute voice that this was an extremely serious matter, not a prank or joke of any sort. During her speech, I could concentrate on nothing but her back profile. After she made the final judgment, there was a stunned silence. It was only then that it was as though a spell was lifted and I took the chance to look at the other SOS Brigade members.

A look of clear dismay and shock was apparent on Asahina-san's face – she looked as though she was on the verge of tears. At first glance, Nagato would appear as emotionless as usual. However, I noticed that Nagato was still on the same page of the book that she was when I came in. for Nagato to have stopped reading her book, this is a sign that she was extremely shaken up. Even Koizumi had taken down his smiling face. Though his look then was similar to the serious look he often puts on, this one was different in that his mouth was slightly agape, the only sign of his surprise. It was as though he had worn his Chichiri mask for so long that he had completely forgotten how to display normal emotions.

So in fact this was a bolt out of the blue for everyone, eh?

"But that wasn't…" I opened my mouth with the intention of defending myself. Before I could get further than that however, I was shot down by Haruhi.

"Silence. No further excuses will be accepted. You are to disappear from this room now."

"Look, can't you…" I made yet another futile try at making Haruhi listen to reason. Obviously, I was cut off again.

"Are you deaf? I told you to scram!"

"I was just…" As they say, third time's the charm. However, such rules and expressions just do not apply to Haruhi. As expected, she interrupted me again.

"Stop testing my patience Kyon. If you want me to personally come over to you and throw you out by force, I promise you it won't be pretty." This time, Haruhi's words were so cold and threatening that even the bravest would not dare to go against them.

Sighing, I gave up. It was not so much that I was intimidated by the threat of force – what can be worse than the beating that I just only received recently? – but was more of how those words and the tone Haruhi had used were a testament of her will. Turning around, I exited the clubroom that I had gotten used to coming everyday after school and headed off. To where? At that time I didn't consciously think about it – anywhere but there would sound right. Only later would I realize that my feet were taking me on the familiar path home.

Why did this happen? It most certainly isn't like the normal times when Haruhi got mad. This is the first time I had ever seen her expel a Brigade member. The magnitude of this is… shocking, to say the least. And not giving me a chance to explain myself to boot… Can it be? Haruhi had finally gotten bored of me, and thus is removing me from her life? Is she going to replace me with someone that is more interesting, or more unnatural? Is this her way of telling me to stay out of her life from now on?

While I was deep in my thoughts, someone suddenly appeared out of nowhere to block my path. Caught by surprise, I looked up to see an unexpected face.

"Nagato? What are you doing here? Don't tell me Haruhi kicked you out as well?" My question was but in jest – there's no way Haruhi would kick an actual alien out of the SOS Brigade, unlike how she booted me, a normal human.

"Suzumiya Haruhi's decision just now was completely unpredictable due to the fact that the Integrated Data Sentient Entity had withheld information of your activities the past week or so. Due to the sealing off of that information from me I was unable to make accurate predictions of Suzumiya Haruhi's behavior, thus I was unable to make appropriate decisions to maintain the status quo. I will now attempt to rectify this error by…" Before Nagato could finish, I put both of my hands onto her shoulders. This effectively stopped her in her tracks.

This is the first time I have ever seen Nagato this flustered before. Though that is rather subjective… after all if the one speaking right now is some random normal person, I would probably have thought him or her quite calm. However, this will be the closest one can get to seeing Nagato 'flustered' – I've never seen her talk so much on her own initiative before.

"Don't worry about it Nagato, it wasn't your fault in any way. Rather, we can say that this is what Haruhi wants. Your job after all is, as far as I understand, to observe her right? Then don't worry about me – I have now ceased to be part of her life any longer. I'll leave Haruhi to you then, I'm depending on you." With a smile on my face and pain in my heart, I rejected Nagato's unfinished offer to help.

Though there was no visible change in Nagato's appearance, I could feel her shoulders sag a little under my hands at my words. "Understood. Then I will not intervene in this matter."

"You have my thanks. Well then… see you around then." Lifting my hands, I walked off without a second look. I cannot afford to get emotional here. I may very well break down if I do.

"Wait. Book." Saying that, Nagato gave me a book.

"Huh? What is this for?" Confused, I opened the book and took a look. It appeared to be a library book.

"Please help me return it."

"Oh, ok. If you say so." Putting it into my bag, I puzzled over why Nagato would make such an odd request now. Maybe it's just her idea of a last request. Oh well, might as well do it straight away, seeing that I've nothing to do now anyways.

With that, we parted ways. On my way out of the school, I bumped into someone who was hurrying inside. While struggling for balance, I saw a flash of graying hair, an expression that looks hurried, and a familiar face before they all disappeared with the person hurrying away from me.

Ah? Is that Arakawa-san? Well if it's not, it is his doppelganger or something. Either way, now that I'm no longer a member of the SOS Brigade, these kinds of matters no longer concern me. Let Koizumi handle everything by himself!

With that thought in mind, I left the school, turning my back on the world that I had been a part of until only a few moments earlier. I was so resolute in my decision that when I passed a taxi parked outside the school, I did not spare it a second glance to confirm whether anyone was waiting inside, or even if it had looked familiar at all in the slightest.

Having already decided on stopping at the library before going home, I made my way there as quickly as I could. Upon reaching there, I stopped outside of the range of the detectors on the glass sliding doors, looking at the entrance with a slight sense of apprehension.

So, is anything weird going to happen the moment I step into there? Like Nagato suddenly popping out of nowhere and spamming me with some undecipherable techno-babble or something. I mean, why else would that fellow ask me to do something she could easily accomplish by herself?

Taking a deep breath, I advanced towards the sliding doors, and at their opening due to sensing my approach, entered the building where I had first entered almost a year ago with Nagato, during the first city-wide search for aliens, espers and time travelers organized by Haruhi. What were we doing there you ask? Well, I was introducing our resident bookworm to the magic of a library. Though honestly, I was looking for somewhere to sit and rest – that purpose was defeated once I realized that all the seats were taken up. Oh well, at least Nagato discovered the delights of being in a library. So much so that in the end I had to practically drag her away from there when we were supposed to meet back with the others.

Returning to the correct time frame, I was sorely disappointed as there was no Nagato appearing in front of me – heck, there was barely anyone there at all.

Probably due to the time – don't think adults would be here during working hours. Meanwhile, not many students would be here now either. Usually they would be having their club activities at this time… alright let's not go down that track.

Stopping myself before I could continue on such a dangerous line of thought, I proceeded to the counter to return the book, intent on dashing off home as soon as my responsibilities were fulfilled. However, yet another surprise awaited me there.

"Your library book is overdue. Please pay 160 Yen for the overdue fine." The receptionist, after scanning my book, notified me with a polite smile on her face that I had to fork out money from my wallet again.

Wha…? This is why Nagato had me return the book? Was she expecting me to pay the fine or something? …Fine. I'll just treat it as a last favor I'm doing to her – for old times' sake, as one would say. This meager sum of money is pretty much all I can offer anyway as compensation of all her help and services during my time in the SOS Brigade… sad really, considering how much she had done.

Sighing, I took out my wallet and forked out the required sum. With that, my duties at the library were over, and my ties with the SOS Brigade were completely and officially cut. At least, that was what I thought then. Anyways, with that out of the way, I headed home.

Even after making that small side trip, I reached home much earlier than I normally would have. Back at home, I finally had time to gather my thoughts. Plopping myself down on the sofa, I started thinking about all the past events that have happened so far.

So, I have been kicked out of the SOS Brigade – a scenario which I have never considered possible before today, and thus one which I'm completely unprepared for. Are there any ways of undoing this action?

I suppose I can, after Haruhi calms down, tell her what actually happened these past few days. Or, if she refuses to listen to me, tell one of the other three and let them relay my message for me – I'm confident that they would be willing to do a former comrade a small favor like that. I'm sure that if we manage to clear this misunderstanding up, it should be no problem for me to return to the SOS Brigade. I mean come on; I had shed blood and tears for the Brigade, literally!

What am I thinking? There was no evidence of this whatsoever, aside from the fact that I was admitted into a hospital, and by Tanaka-senpai to boot. Furthermore, the most that Tsuruya-san could testify to about my injuries would be that they were non life-threatening. This does not help my case at all; knowing Haruhi she would no doubt close in on these areas and come up with another theory that would portray me as the bad guy again and yet make plenty of sense to her, even if it may not to those around her. If that happens, I would have made both Tsuruya-san and the person I asked to relay my message, be it Nagato, Koizumi or Asahina-san suffer the wrath and suspicions of Haruhi unnecessarily. They would be dragged into something that is completely not their business, just for trying to help me out. That would be unacceptable.

Furthermore, one conclusion that I had come to earlier is that Haruhi doesn't want me in her life anymore. If that is truly the case, then there is no point in my trying to get back in at all – I will most certainly fail terribly, and may involve innocent people. When that girl reaches a decision, she never turns back on it, no matter what happens.

This would mean that my options are completely sealed off – I am truly no longer a member of the SOS Brigade.

My thoughts breaking off here, a lone tear slid down my cheek. I was not so much sad that my efforts for the Brigade had not only been not recognized but instead been misunderstood as an attempt to destroy the Brigade; rather having gotten used to the familiarity of being in the SOS Brigade, I could not imagine life without it and its members. Yet, I was utterly powerless to do anything about it.

I must not let sadness overwhelm me. That I'm no longer in the SOS Brigade is already an unchangeable fact – there's nothing I can do about it. I have to direct my thoughts to the future, and hopefully to more positive areas.

With that in mind, I wiped the tear off my cheek, wiped my nose, and set about thinking about future plans.

Future plans… alright, let's start with after school activities. Due to my involvement with the SOS Brigade, I am currently in no other clubs. So now that I have been kicked out of the SOS Brigade, I shall need to find another club or activity to keep me back in school or something. Coming back this early when nobody else is at home is plain boring.

Hm… perhaps I should take up Tanaka-senpai on her offer to join the Supernatural Study Group? At the very least, I could go and take a look and see if it catches my fancy. It is something to do after lessons after all.

Oh I know! Taniguchi was talking about doing odd jobs last time, and given that he is not in a club either as far as I know, and he's not studying during his free time – or his grades would not be worse than mine – he must be still be involved in things like odd jobs now. I think I'll call him and ask him about it.

For the entire duration where I was contemplating, my body had not been stationary. Rather, I was switching between sitting on the chair at the table to lying on the sofa in the living room to throwing myself down on my bed. This was mostly automatic action on my body's part – I was in deep thought when this was going on. When my thought processes ended at the part where I decided to call Taniguchi, I noticed that I was on the sofa, right next to the phone. What good luck!

Thus, I stretched for the phone next to me, picked it up and dialed Taniguchi's mobile number. After all, if my hunch was correct, he would not be home anyway.

After a few rings, Taniguchi picked up. In response to my queries about his activities after school, he responded sheepishly, "Yeah, you're right. I've been busy at a part-time job after school these days. In fact, I'm currently taking a break in the middle of one such job right now. Why, are you interested? But aren't you very busy with SOS Brigade stuff? Where will you find the free time to do such things?"

"Never you mind. I'm just wondering about what kind of part-time jobs you do." I wasn't ready to announce to the whole world about my being kicked out of the SOS Brigade just yet. Furthermore, I would have had to endure countless questions and teasing from Taniguchi if I had told him about it before getting I wanted out of him first.

"Well, at the moment I'm working in a cosplay café. Not really something I'm all that interested in, but the pay is good, the working time is decent, and my duties aren't all that heavy, so I'm ok with it."

"Cosplay café? Now that is the first time I have ever heard of such a thing. You sure you're not making it up? Who are you cosplaying as anyways?" I really could not tell whether Taniguchi was pulling my leg or not.

"Oh come on! It's true I tell you. You can come down here and see for yourself if you want. In any case I'm cosplaying a character from the relatively new anime Lucky Star. Given his relatively minor role, he's quite popular amongst many fans. He is often referred to as Sebastian, though his real name is Minoru Shirashi. Why he's called Sebastian instead is… kind of a long and complicated story which I myself don't understand."

Wow. Sounds like someone I can empathize with. Just like how nobody calls me by my given name but all of them call me Kyon instead. Sigh.

"Why were you accorded this role in the first place?" I was somewhat curious at how they allocate such roles.

"The people there said I sounded like him. Not that I know what they mean – I never did watch the anime. I only got descriptions of the character I am supposed to cosplay, and some clips to show me how he acts. I suppose I do sound like him to a certain extent…"

"Hm. So basically you dress up like the guy and parade around the café?" I was still considering whether I should try this part-time job.

"In a nutshell, pretty much. Oh, and you're also part waiter, so you're supposed to serve orders to the customers."

"Doesn't really sound like my cup of tea. Given my luck, I'll probably end up cosplaying a stuffed doll or something." After all, it's not like I'm that into animes or stuff.

"Well, your choice. Oh shoot, I've gotta go now, my break is over. Talk to you next time about other kind of jobs." With that, Taniguchi hang up.

Sighing, I set down the phone. Suddenly, I heard a rustle in the bushes outside my window. Standing up, I walked to my open window and looked out. There was nothing out of the ordinary as far as I could see. Probably a squirrel or something. Closing my window to prevent it from coming in and messing up the house, I returned to lying down on the sofa and resumed my train of thoughts.

Looks like I didn't get much if any useful information out of him, except that I don't particularly want to work in a cosplay café. After all, I'm not working so much for the pay, but to have something to do after school. I'm not like those kinds of people who work save up for college or university.

Now that I think about it, everything was in such a rush that I didn't even think of using my trump card. Perhaps it's the time to use it now? I mean, if I don't use it now I'll probably never get to use it ever again. What else would matter if I'm not relevant in Haruhi's world? Still… this isn't the kind of emergency I had envisioned for the usage of the trump card. I had thought of using it to save Nagato if her boss wipes her out or something along those lines – won't it be too selfish to use it now for myself?

Alright, in that case I shall leave the issue of the trump card aside. As far as I'm concerned, I am completely irrelevant in Haruhi's life as of now. The trump card will be lying dormant for the use by Koizumi, Nagato, or even Asahina-san if or when they really need it. Actually, I could let my new counterpart in the Brigade, whoever that unlucky soul may be, use it too, if he or she needs it. Either way, the trump card and I will be the last resort for the Brigade members – that will be the only connection left between that crazy world of Haruhi's and me.


Ding-dong. The sound of my electronic doorbell interrupted my flow of thoughts. Is it just me, or does the bell sound a little garbled, as though its battery is starting to run low? Did someone prank my house when nobody was in, pressing the bell so many times that its battery is so quickly depleted? … Oh never mind, this is of no importance. Putting that aside, who can it be at this time of the day? A door-to-door salesman?

Walking to the front door, I opened it to see an unanticipated sight. All four members of the SOS Brigade were standing outside my door.

"Haru…" Out of habit, I started calling all of them by their names. Before I could even finish the first one however, I remembered that I was now no longer in the SOS Brigade, and thus I was no longer on such close terms with the Brigade members. Painfully, I swallowed the rest of my words, and chose my next words carefully.

"The SOS Brigade. What brings you here to my humble neighborhood?"

A stifling silence ensued. During this time, I observed that Nagato, Koizumi and Asahina-san were all looking at Haruhi expectantly, as though they were expecting her to speak. Haruhi, meanwhile, was looking down, her hair covering part of her face such that I was unable to discern her actual expression. Her hands, which were at her sides, were balled and trembling.

Is she pissed off at something again? Is that why she's here, to enact revenge or something?

Unable to stand the silence any longer, I broke it on my own accord. "If you are here because you have reversed your decision on my punishment not being that of execution, I must respectfully decline as I have no intention of dying just yet. Furthermore…"

I was cut off by an outburst from Haruhi, who looked like she could not hold it in any longer. "I'm sorry! I was wrong to suspect you!" At the same time, she bent her body forward by a near perfect 90 degrees, such that it was in quite a steep bow.

That… was completely unforeseen.

"It was my mistake for not trusting in you and for not letting you defend yourself before coming to a conclusion! I was too hasty to pronounce you guilty and judge you before researching the case sufficiently! I should have waited longer for fresh evidence to arrive first! I should not have worked on the assumption that you were guilty to begin with! Thus, I have failed as the Commander of the SOS Brigade! Thus, as the Commander of the SOS Brigade, I hereby apologize to you and submit myself to any kind of punishment you may think up for me!" Her head still bowed, Haruhi started shouting out apologies to me. Her tone softening, she continued, "It doesn't matter what you want me to do, I only beg for your forgiveness."

I was stunned completely speechless by this scene before me. It was not just about how Haruhi had apparently underwent a complete change in heart in the matter of a few hours and how she had been so willing to admit her mistake to me. When have I ever seen Haruhi asking for forgiveness for any of her actions before?

Probably misinterpreting my silence as that of wondering whether to forgive her instead as that of confusion over what was happening, Haruhi seemed to get desperate. "If you want, I'm willing to kneel before you if that's what it takes for you to forgive me!"

Before my dazed brain could ask my body to make an appropriate response, Haruhi had already gone down on one knee, seemingly ready to go all the way to kowtow at my feet for my forgiveness. That was what shocked me into action, prompting me to drop down to her level and hold her by her shoulders to make her notice me.

"It's okay, it's okay, I don't need you to do such a thing, I would never dare to want such an act from you, you don't really need to go so far to ask for my forgiveness, it's not like you don't know I don't often hold a grudge anyways…" Though my body had mostly woken up and had moved to respond to the new situation, my brain was still in a stupor, and despite my best efforts all that came out of my mouth was a jumble of words and ideas. My words were something that was meant to be reassuring, but they came across as muddled and confused. Taking in a deep breath to calm myself, I tried putting forward my ideas one at a time instead. "Why don't you get up from this position, come into the house, and let's talk about everything inside?"

Seeing Haruhi slowly get up from her kneeling position on my doorstep, I let out a sigh of relief. Haruhi and kneeling just don't belong together. Come to think of it, I hope none of my neighbors had seen this, or I'd have a lot of explanations to come up with.

After everyone had come in, I closed the door behind us and went straight to Haruhi, intent on finding out what was going on. "So, let's continue where we left off. Now look here Haruhi, I'm willing to let bygones be bygones and all, but don't you think kneeling down is a little too much?" To be honest, I wasn't chiding her because I had really thought that she had gone overboard, but just to tease her a little bit. Truthfully, I was extremely happy that she was still willing to speak to me back then, never mind about the asking for forgiveness part.

Haruhi's face, which had originally shown a hint of relief at my mention of my willingness to put everything behind us, had changed to show an expression of determination. "That is because I am the SOS Brigade Commander. You know that the Commander's power and decision is absolute right? That's because the Commander must always make the right choice every single time. The whole Brigade's survival depends on it. That is why mistakes are not allowed, and if they do happen, the Commander must do everything within her power to correct it. It doesn't matter how far she must go – it must be corrected and rectified. That is the responsibility that comes with the position of being the Commander."

All that she's short of now is the famous phrase, "With great power comes great responsibility." Nonetheless, this Haruhi is a far cry from the Haruhi almost a year ago, who would have given up the SOS Brigade for greener pastures if she had the chance. This Haruhi would no longer abandon the SOS Brigade that she had created out of her own hands, and would in fact do her utmost to protect it and everyone in it. And for that, I'm happy.

"You're not joking right? Did you just make this up on the spot right?" Nevertheless, I felt that some teasing was in order.

"Of course not! Don't you know by now that I'm always serious?" Haruhi's indignant reply was like music to my ears.

"Well, alright, whatever you say. So, I take it that I'm back in the SOS Brigade now?" On hindsight, this should have been the very first question that I should have asked. Even before granting forgiveness, in fact. Following that, I should have asked Haruhi about her change of mind and what brought about it. However, back then my mind was in such a state of ecstasy that my priorities had been jumbled up and all but thrown out of the window. Understandable, really, when you realize that I had never expected in my wildest dreams for Haruhi to change her mind on anything at all.

"Hm…" A mischievous grin spread across Haruhi's face. "You know Kyon, you had already agreed to 'let bygones be bygones', to quote your words. Yet, before that I had not yet agreed to let you rejoin the SOS Brigade. So in actual fact you had given me what I wanted before asking for what you wanted, so I'm already under no obligation to heed your wishes. Let this be a lesson to you, one must not let any opportunities pass by, and milk each one to its fullest. Otherwise, one will never be successful! In fact, I think I shall make you treat everyone to drinks at the café for the next three sessions as your re-entry fee. You will of course be re-instated as a mere rank-less member, as earlier you had not asked me to raise your ranks when I had offered to. Be glad that I'm even letting you re-join the SOS Brigade!"

What?! Are you saying that I should have taken advantage of you when you were at your most vulnerable? That I should have even went as far as to blackmail you? I don't believe it, how black is your heart? Though I don't mind being just a lowly member again, can't you at least go easy on my wallet?

"Nope!" was the cheery reply. "Any more complaints and I'm going to increase the number of times to four!"

Sigh. Looks like I may still need to take up that part-time job after all.

With that, I was once again a member of the SOS Brigade. It appeared to be some unspoken rule that we would never speak of this episode ever again. While the memory of being kicked out of the SOS Brigade for half a day would never fade or die off, I would never dare remind Haruhi of her time of weakness in fear of her imposing yet some other unreasonable punishment on me. It was a subject better left untouched.

With a rueful smile on my face, I watched Haruhi bounce back towards the rest of the members cheerfully, re-energized probably by the thought of making me treat everyone for our next few outings. Stopping next to my sofa, she announced at the top of her voice, "Alright everyone! We're going to have an impromptu SOS Brigade meeting at Kyon's house right now!" After making the announcement, she promptly threw herself down onto my sofa, and waited for us to grab our own seats. There was quite a commotion as everyone played a weird version of musical chairs, trying to find as comfortable a seat as possible while not appearing to be the last to settle down – that person would probably suffer Haruhi's wrath and be awarded a penalty. Come to think of it, more often than not that person is usually me.

Eventually, Nagato and Asahina-san managed to bring chairs over from the dining room to sit on, while Koizumi and I, being unable to find anything to sit on, decided to just sit on the floor for the duration of the meeting. Nagato, having deemed the situation to have stabilized sufficiently and treating it as a normal SOS Brigade meeting, had opened her thick hard-covered book and, god bless her, resumed her reading as though this was in the clubroom. At the familiar sight of Nagato reading, Asahina-san's fingers twitched, as though she was itching to serve us tea. And with that, the impromptu SOS Brigade meeting began.

In the end, not long after the meeting started, Haruhi remembered that she had to tutor the little boy genius that day, and so rushed off early. That left us with just the other SOS Brigade members and me, and tons of questions for both sides to answer. Unfortunately for me, my queries had to wait as the others were eagerly awaiting enlightenment of the events that led up to Haruhi's decision to expel me from the Brigade.

Or rather, only Asahina-san and Koizumi are waiting for my narrative. Nagato is still sitting on her chair reading her book – she had not moved an inch since sitting onto that chair, except to flip the pages of her book. Is it because now that her restrictions have been lifted she already knows what had happened to me, and thus has no interest in my tale? In that case Nagato, can't you help me out a little here and tell them about what happened together with me?

Before Nagato can respond however, Koizumi butted in, saying, "But still, when it comes to storytelling you are still the best candidate. Did you not just join in a storytelling competition recently anyways?"

Ahaha… that is a long story. You'll hear about it soon enough. Well then, seeing that Nagato will not be moved from her book, I guess I shall have to bear with this alone. Then, without further ado, shall I begin?

And so, I gave my two avid listeners a full blow-by-blow account of the events that led up to today, starting from my initial suspicions due to Taniguchi's words until the fight a few days ago. After recounting my antics during the fight, I told them about how I was hospitalized for a few days as a result of my battle wounds. Upon being told that, Asahina-san's face paled considerably, and she looked at me with an expression that was close to tears. Immediately, I was reminded of the glimpse of Asahina-san I had seen during the events that led up to my other hospitalization.

If this is what it takes for Asahina-san to care about me, I would gladly take a hundred – no a thousand! – more beatings like that!

Before I could profess my feelings to Asahina-san however, that bastard Koizumi interrupted. "I see. So that is why the Organization did not have any information on your activities at all – it was because of the Tsuruya family."

"…Come again? What does that mean?" My anger was forgotten, or rather overridden, by my curiosity at Koizumi's cryptic words.

"You should know by now that the Organization is keeping tabs on you, and that while part of the job of tracking and following your movements is within my jurisdiction, this responsibility does not lie with me alone. We have agents looking after you and making sure nothing happens to you, and also observing most of your movements outside of your home. Thus, for the Organization to be unknowing of your activities thus far, and even to be fooled into believing that you had actually gone overseas for a story telling competition, I'll say only the Tsuruya family is capable of achieving that, what with their power, resources, and ties to high-ranking people in the Organization." Koizumi had his eternal smile on while he was making his analysis, as though he was undisturbed by the fact that he had failed in his job.

"That reminds me. Nagato had also said something about not knowing about my situation due to something or other being sealed up, if I recall correctly." Koizumi's words stirred a not so recent memory in me, and the words were out of my mouth before I even realized what I was saying.

"Oh?" A look of surprise flashed across Koizumi's face. "Is that so? That is completely unexpected – my curiosity is piqued. What an interesting development." Turning to Nagato, he smiled politely and extended an invitation for her to take the stage, "Perhaps Nagato-san would like to further enlighten us on this matter?"

"…" The bespectacled bookworm continued to read her book silently, as though nothing else outside of that secluded world of hers mattered. To a mere bystander, it would appear as though Nagato had completely absolved herself from our conversation, and was in fact either actively or unknowingly ignoring Koizumi. However, to us SOS Brigade members who have been with her for almost a year, it was quite obvious that Nagato was just thinking, probably about how much she should tell us.

Well, it wouldn't hurt to confirm that theory though. Given how minimal Nagato's emotions are, it is quite easy to misread them.

"A…ano, Nagato-san?" This time, Asahina-san took the initiative on what I was thinking. Then again, it was quite possible that Asahina-san, someone who was usually clumsy and clueless, had actually not considered any of the thoughts that were running through my mind and had in fact believed that Nagato had not heard our request.

"…Understood." Finally looking up from her book, Nagato first directed her gaze to Asahina-san, then to Koizumi. Finally, she shifted her stare to me, where it finally settled down.

Eh? Is it more comforting to look at me while speaking or something? Why am I being singled out? Or is it because this affects me directly, unlike the rest?

Following that, Nagato gave a more detailed version of what she had told me when she stopped me earlier that day. Later, I would come to wonder whether the reason she only gave me a watered down version before was because back then she had not managed to gather her thoughts fully yet, or whether it was simply because she did not feel the need to give such a detailed explanation then. Either way, the amount of information that was given out in these two separate expositions differ by such a magnitude that one may fit the Grand Canyon into it. However, these kinds of thoughts were not anywhere near my mind when Nagato was speaking – I was concentrated solely on trying to understand her words.

"As mentioned before, the Integrated Data Sentient Entity had sealed off my knowledge of your activities. To phrase it more accurately however, what it had done was to seal off the outlets from which I obtain such knowledge from. Examples of these outlets include analyzing the data trails around your physical body, reading information off stray packets of data floating around everywhere, and connecting directly to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity to download information.

This list of methods is by no means exhaustive, but just the few major ways I usually obtain such information from. However, what the Integrated Data Sentient Entity had done was to hack into my system and add an additional line of programming that disabled my ability to decipher information regarding your activities completely. This new line of code caused me to overlook such things and pass them off as irrelevant data. This intentional error in my system was rectified only earlier today, at the time when Suzumiya Haruhi expelled you from the clubroom. To the best of my knowledge, the bug was first activated when your train of thought first centered on taking an active approach to this issue, and had remained in my system undetected until it was deleted a few hours ago. In fact, during this duration, I was even fed false information when connected directly to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity.

This information corresponded to all the false fronts you were putting up to avoid detection, such as your overseas trip for a competition during your period of recovery. In fact, for that particular situation I was told that my duty was to remain here to observe Suzumiya Haruhi, and that the responsibility of observing and protecting you will fall to another Interactive Humanoid Interface which is currently residing overseas and in the area of your supposed destination.

The aim of this endeavor was to impair my judgment, which it eventually succeeded in doing. This is because I was provided with incomplete and even untrue information, which led to my incorrect assessment that everything was green and normal. If I had been given the correct information, I would most certainly have classified the situation as abnormal and a threat to the current status quo, and thus almost definitely would have intervened to eliminate the danger it presented to the status quo.

According to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity, the reason behind artificially implanting those recent restrictions into me is that they were meant to be a follow-up punishment to my going astray three months ago. While the factions within the Integrated Data Sentient Entity had been of different opinions over whether this is the most appropriate punishment for me, all were unanimous in agreeing that some form of penalty must be accorded to me. As a prolonged presence of these restrictions would have a negative effect on my overall performance, it was decided that they were to be implemented only during this time period. Thus, this was the final compromise that the various factions have come up with."

Listening to Nagato's lengthy and wordy explanation, I predictably became lost halfway through her exposition, unable to grasp head or tails of the whole thing.

Ah… how nostalgic. It most certainly has been a while since Nagato has last thrown such a complicated and difficult explanation at me, filled with terminologies that to me appear more alien than Nagato herself.

"So that's how it is…" With his permanent smile sketched on his face, Koizumi looked as though he had attained a certain sense of enlightenment. Looking at Asahina-san, it seemed as though she had no problems understanding the main concepts behind Nagato's explanation either.

So it's only me who's still in a muddle? Argh, you guys sure know how to make someone feel inferior.

"So to sum everything up, what happened was that due to her higher ups' interference, Nagato-san was also unable to assess and perceive the situation clearly, and thus was unable to lend a helping hand. And this was passed off by her superiors as part of her punishment for her going astray a while back. Am I correct?" Koizumi as usual had understood enough of Nagato's speech to summarize the main points into words that even a layman like me could understand.

Slowly moving her head to look at Koizumi, Nagato nodded to show affirmation before turning back to me.

Well then why didn't you just say so earlier? Are you intentionally making life difficult for me?

"What I find curious however is the timing of this punishment; how the timing is so impeccable that it seems completely unlikely to be a coincidence." Turning to me, Koizumi regarded me with a strange smile. "It is almost as though the Integrated Data Sentient Entity's real target is you, to isolate you and deprive you of any possible help from Nagato-san. The punishment of Nagato-san sounds suspiciously like a mere excuse. Have you ever offended the Integrated Data Sentient Entity somehow in the past?"

Well… you can put it that way.

Looking at Nagato's face, I recalled the words I had her relay to her boss back then; words that I had blurted out in a fit of anger. However, those were words that were from the bottom of my heart, and I would not take them back no matter what happened, for they are the embodiment of my true feelings.

However, what Koizumi said makes sense. Perhaps this Integrated Data Sentient Entity had analyzed this situation, and had thought of using this situation as a warning to me or something. In fact, it may have even thought of using Haruhi to eliminate my looming threat – by having me outside of the SOS Brigade my influence and danger is reduced considerably; probably it becomes a negligible extent.

Come to think of it, this method also serves to reduce the likelihood of me using my trump card. After all, if the Integrated Data Sentient Entity had done anything to me directly, my most obvious retaliation would be to use my trump card to carry out my threats. However, if the attack had come through a proxy, especially in this case having come from Haruhi herself, I would be unable to retaliate and only be able to accept my fate quietly. In that way, it would be able to eliminate an eminent threat without dirtying its hands, so to speak. As expected of a being of higher evolution – a beautiful plan indeed.

"Well, at any rate this most certainly clears up some of Nagato-san's actions after your expulsion from the SOS Brigade." Koizumi cheerfully remarked on something that seemed somewhat unrelated to what we were discussing. Having received no response from me, this fellow appeared to remain undaunted and started on a new train of discussion, disrupting my own path of thoughts.

Care to elaborate on that?

"Well… actually I had a few theories that I wanted to raise regarding these issues – what I believe is that there were in fact some other factors at work for the wool to be pulled over the Organization's eyes so smoothly, and that these same factors are what, to a certain extent, caused the Integrated Data Sentient Entity to act as it did." With a troubled smile on his face, Koizumi gave an exaggerated sigh to show his dilemma.

Can it already! I want to know what happened after I left, most importantly why Haruhi changed her mind all of a sudden. In fact, weren't you the one who started this in the first place, by mentioning Nagato's actions after I left? You expect me to just sit here listening to you rambling on about some cock and bull theory after raising my curiosity like that? I'm fine without ever hearing about your theories!

"We'll see about that." That was all Koizumi was willing to say in response to my reply. "In any case though, seeing that you're presently more interested in knowing what had caused Suzumiya-san's reversal of her decision than hearing about my theories, I suppose they would be wasted on you now. We'll discuss them later then. For now I guess I'll just give you my side of this little story."

And with that, Koizumi launched into a narrative of his perspective of the past events.

"Actually, to sidetrack a little, there is first something I want to add to your story. You remember the day of the fight, when you escaped from Suzumiya-san from the classroom? I was actually right outside your classroom at that time, as I had an errand nearby then. I was indeed surprised to hear Suzumiya-san shouting at the top of her lungs, and you rushing out of the classroom soon after. However, this is where you were mistaken.

Rather than not following you, Suzumiya-san had actually rushed out seconds after you did. Curious about what was going on, I hurried after Suzumiya-san, trailing her until she reached the school gate, where she slowed down. Instead of chasing after you to drag you back by force, it appeared as though she had decided to follow you discreetly instead. And so, she shadowed you on your way down the hill. And I, seeing no reason to reveal myself, shadowed her. However, given that the hill was quite empty, and thus easy to spot people following you from quite a distance away, she had to stay quite far away from you to prevent you from seeing her, and me away from her for the same reason. Thus, I was a considerable distance away from you, so much so that I was in fact unable to see you with my own eyes. However, back then I was confident that Suzumiya-san would not lose your trail. That proved to be my undoing.

When Suzumiya-san was about halfway down the hill, she started sprinting down at her top speed instead of proceeding cautiously as she had been doing for the past few minutes. Now, using hindsight, I see that it was when you turned the corner at the foot of the hill, and she did not want to lose sight of you. However, that attempt apparently ended up in failure. You see, after Suzumiya-san turned the corner she stopped so suddenly that I who was so close on her heels had trouble stopping in time and hiding myself from her. In fact, I had almost bumped into her when she stopped.

After stopping, Suzumiya-san had looked around like a bloodhound looking for a scent, and finally picked one direction to head in, and charged into the maze of houses. Back then, I was still positive that Suzumiya-san would manage to find you somehow, but after following her around for half an hour or so and ending up back at the entrance, I was forced to conclude that she had lost all trace of you. The next day, upon being notified that you had apparently flown overseas for a competition, I was led to believe that you had just rushed home to get ready for flying overseas, and thus put the matter out of my mind until more recently.

Moving into the main part of my story, earlier today Suzumiya-san had been brooding from the moment she stepped into the clubroom. Her mood darkened considerably after looking out of the window and spotting something, now identified as your conversation with this Tanaka Hiroko-san. However, though everyone present had noticed how foul her mood was, none of us expected such a drastic thing to happen. Skipping the details of how you were thrown out of the SOS Brigade, I'll just cover what happened after you left the clubroom.

Not more than a few moments after you left the clubroom, Nagato-san here stood up as though she had realized something – I realize that it is indeed difficult to discern her expressions correctly, but I hope that by now I have known her long enough to be able to tell the simpler expressions. At any rate, Nagato-san did stand up, and ask Suzumiya-san for permission to leave. At Suzumiya-san's prompting, Nagato-san provided the reason as having an overdue library book to return, and even showed the book in question to Suzumiya-san. I wouldn't say that Suzumiya-san seemed very satisfied with the reason Nagato-san provided, but in any case she did not raise any more complaints. It could be because Suzumiya-san was trying to be more lenient to the rest of the SOS Brigade members to help tide everyone over your loss. Of course, by now it is quite obvious that this little episode was because she just realized of what had truly happened the past few days and was attempting to catch up to you to offer her help in correcting the situation."

No wonder when I went to return the book, the librarian said it was overdue and made me pay a fine. It was on purpose after all! Although I don't really know whether Nagato meant for me to pay the fine… guess it doesn't really matter by now.

Cutting into Koizumi's tale, I turned to Nagato and said, "Oh yes by the way Nagato, the book has been returned already. Don't worry about the fine; I've paid it for you."

Not looking up from her reading, Nagato replied, "Sorry to have troubled you." At the end, there was a soft and barely audible "Thanks."

"Ah, it was no problem at all." Turning back to Koizumi, I apologized for my interruption. "Sorry about that; please, do continue."

Not fazed even the slightest, Koizumi answered, "Don't worry about it. In fact, given that the flow of the tale had already been interrupted, let me sidetrack a little more. It's a little something I observed about Suzumiya-san's behavior after you left.

The truth is, after you had left Suzumiya-san had become somewhat sullen, giving only monosyllabic responses to questions and comments directed at her. In fact, it was mainly due to this that both Asahina-san and I were unable to obtain any information about you out of her – any mention of you was met with a shout of 'Don't remind me of that traitor!' from Suzumiya-san, thus effectively ending the conversation. Neither of us was willing to risk enraging Suzumiya-san further in her current volatile state by pushing the issue further lest we have to face her unbridled fury as well, thus we remained in the dark about what happened between the two of you for quite a long period of time. I have to say though, Suzumiya-san was the one most affected by your departure – I have never seen her in a grumpier mood than today, and according to reports from my colleagues, the number of Closed Spaces increased at least tenfold the moment you left the clubroom. If not for the fact that my presence was required at the clubroom, I would have had to join my comrades in fighting the Avatars too.

Back to our story, after Nagato-san had left the clubroom, Suzumiya-san became more and more restless. She alternated between typing furiously at the computer and playing around with Asahina-san's hair. This flurry of activities did not last long, and soon, looking fed up at something, she left the clubroom as though to search for something. When I asked her, her reply was that it was 'to get some fresh air', to quote her very words. It looked as though she was having an emotional struggle within herself, and if I was to guess, it was probably due to your leaving the Brigade. After all, when have we ever seen Suzumiya-san walk out of the clubroom during a SOS Brigade session, especially for a reason as mundane and banal as 'to get some fresh air'? It was quite obvious that she was quite unsettled about her own decision.

At any rate, the atmosphere in the clubroom lifted as soon as Suzumiya-san left; we were now free to speak our mind without fear of her listening in on our conversation. Nonetheless, there was still an uneasy silence in the clubroom – neither Asahina-san nor I had wanted to be the first one to break the topic on your departure.

The silence was broken by Nagato-san opening the door to enter the clubroom, and closing it after coming in. Not expecting her to be back so early, we, pardon me, I – I could not speak for Asahina-san, since I know not what she was thinking then – was stunned at her return. Gliding silently to her seat, Nagato-san picked up a new book and started reading again. Just as I was about to ask her where she had been and what she had been doing, there was a knock on the clubroom's door.

My suspicions were instantly aroused. Everyone knows by now that Suzumiya-san does not usually knock on doors before entering; she is more liable to barge straight in. At the very least, she does not observe this custom when with her friends, which would be namely us. Thus, this ruled out completely the possibility of it being Suzumiya-san returning. However, aside from here there is nobody else that was being expected at the SOS Brigade clubroom – a truly suspicious event indeed."

Stop making it out to be a mystery already – aren't you already satisfied with writing a mystery story and even planning two mystery games the past year? Or are you planning to go down the career of making everything a mystery? In any case I'm thinking I have a pretty good idea of who it was that knocked on that door…

"Haha. Well, it's one of the few hobbies I have that I happen to like. Well in any case, what happened is that one look at Nagato-san and I knew that whoever outside was not dangerous or abnormal at least, or Nagato-san would not still be sitting there calmly reading her book. At first, I had thought that yet another client had come to the SOS Brigade with a new case; perhaps it was something that Suzumiya-san had wished for so as to get her mind off the current turn of events.

It was only when I went to open the door that I realized how wrong I was. It was Arakawa-san who was at the doorway, and there was an urgent look on his face. I immediately realized that there must have been some extremely unsettling developments for him to show up at the school looking disheveled and all out of breath; one of the basic rules in the Organization is that its agents should not meet each other outside of agreed meeting places lest they blow each other's covers. Thus, though I was curious about what information and news that he had brought with him that had him into such a state, my primary concern then was actually to get us to a more isolated position – I did not want Suzumiya-san to come back in the middle of our discussion and thus accidentally finding out my real identity.

It was with this thought in mind that I led Arakawa-san to the most desolate place I know of in the school – the little enclosed space just next to the door leading to the roof. From what I know of that place, it is an old storage place of the Art Club, mostly abandoned and unused now. Old works of art such as statues and old canvases are piled up there, making the place somewhat small and narrow, though still spacious enough to accommodate up to three or four people with ease, if they're willing to stand during their conversation. This is just to tell you just in case you would ever need a place for a private discussion… oh? Why are you banging your head against the wall? Is something wrong?"

Figures that the spot Haruhi dragged me to randomly to talk about the formation of the SOS Brigade would be the most secluded area in the school. "Not at all. It is of no significance. Please ignore me and just continue."

"Well… if you say so. At any rate, I led Arakawa-san there, ignoring his protests of how urgent his news are; he gave up on resisting after a while. Upon reaching the little enclave without any interference, I gave a sigh of relief and finally turned my attention to the packages that he was carrying. After being told that we had reached our destination, the first thing Arakawa-san did was to take out the packages and hand them over to me. Looking at the serious expression on his face, it was easy to tell that the two packages he held contained items of utmost importance.

The two packages differed in size; one was small enough to fit into a palm while the other was about the size of a shoe or so. I set down the larger package and opened the smaller package first. After carefully removing the bag it was sealed in, the package was revealed to contain a tape of some sort. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a videotape, though I had no idea of its contents.

Looking to Arakawa-san for clarification, I asked, 'So, what is this tape? I presume it's not just some family video or something, for you to have rushed it over in such an urgent manner?' His response, 'A tape from Camera T8W3T7.' came as a complete surprise to me. Looking at the confused look on your face, I guess I should explain.

Camera T8W3T7 is the code name we gave to a spy camera that we had installed. I see you are ready to protest, probably about the legitimacy of us using such devices. Let me assure you that such devices are used purely for the purpose of monitoring and surveillance, and that once their purposes are served they are dismantled and removed immediately. Furthermore, the tapes and information we obtain from the tapes are strictly confidential, and are destroyed once they become irrelevant to us. This way, we can ensure that the intrusions of the privacy of the individuals we are monitoring are kept to a minimum. Despite how shadowy our motives may appear to be, I assure you that all the same we still have a set of ethics that we abide by.

Back to Camera T8W3T7, what was troubling was that it was already classified as 'inactive' by then. In fact, it was labeled as obsolete since at least a fortnight ago and it should have already stopped functioning by last week. What is more, the deadline for its removal and uninstallation was actually today. However, it appears that this information was either miscommunicated or lost in transition to the people in charge of changing the tapes for the camera, as they had continued re-supplying the camera with fresh tapes daily despite that the camera had already been considered non-functional. There is another group of people who check the tapes daily for anything out of the ordinary; if something unusual or suspicious had been recorded, these people will inform their superiors immediately. However, if everything was normal, they will only send new tapes once per month to the main office.

As the two different groups of people operate separately, they often do not change and review the tapes at the same time. Thus, it is not unusual for a tape that had been put aside to already have been reviewed, despite there being no apparent change in the tape's position. This is further complicated by the fact that old tapes are only cleared once a month. That is why the people who were changing the tapes did not suspect anything amiss – they thought that the tapes that they had put aside had been reviewed already, though not ready for clearing yet. This is also the main reason why the main office did not realize that the camera was still operational despite there being no tape-reviewers, as the newest batch of tapes had not been sent to it yet. Admittedly, it was an oversight on our part.

Another reason why I was concerned was because Camera T8W3T7 was in fact in charge of monitoring you. From the startled look that you're giving me, I can tell that you have lots of questions for me on this. Let me first finish my elaborations, and if you still feel unsatisfied, feel free to ask me about anything later.

Camera T8W3T7 was initially set up in conjunction with our goal of putting your daily activities under surveillance. This was quite some time ago, when we still did not know much of your identity beyond what one can learn from birth records, medical certificates, and the like; we did not know what kind of person you are beyond mere words on paper. Thus, back then it was used to monitor your activities. Later, when it was verified that you are a perfectly normal homo sapiens, and that there was no longer need for us to watch you to determine whether you are friend or foe, the function of Camera T8W3T7 was changed to monitoring your activities such that we could guarantee your safety. Think about it; after all, we can not possibly spare so much manpower to have someone looking after your every movement and babysitting you every second; thus the camera was our second-best option. If anything bad had happened to you, we would have known latest by the end of the day – though given our other sources it would be likely that we would have known it much earlier. However, the main usefulness in having a camera would be that we would know exactly how you came about having that bad thing happen to you – whether it was just plain bad luck, or whether someone had something to do with it. We would then be able to respond accordingly depending on the situation.

However, this Camera T8W3T7 had been considered obsolete, for one main reason. That is because Camera T8W3T7 is, to put it bluntly, not worth its costs of operation. That is due to the fact that its location is quite isolated, and not much, if anything, happens there at all. While this had previously been the reason for its installation and its continual operation – we had first thought that you may have been more prone to letting your guard down in areas with less people; later we were of the opinion that such a place is an extremely likely place for you to be ambushed or attacked – a recent re-evaluation of the situation suggested otherwise. One factor we took into consideration during the re-evaluation was the fact that in general, footage of you was limited to a maximum of a few seconds. However, the main factor that swayed our decision was how this place was in a residential area – it would have been quite unlikely that anyone would attack in such a densely populated region, where the slightest mistake or sound of scuffles would alert a resident nearby to investigate or inform the authorities. Thus, Camera T8W3T7 was effectively scrapped."

As expected of Koizumi. The more you do not want me to question you, the more you make your answers longer and more complicated. Yet, I can still see so many things wrong here that I don't know where to start. Still, never mind that for now; putting aside all my burning questions that arose from your startling revelations, I'm most curious of what it was that this particular camera had managed to record. Can it be…?

"From the look of realization dawning on your face, you must have figured out what the contents of the tape were. Indeed you are correct; the tape contains the whole scene of your fight, from the very beginning to the ending, without missing out any details at all. As for the position of Camera T8W3T7, it was in the red mailbox that was in the vicinity. Ironic, really, how according to you that particular mailbox was the very landmark you and Tanaka Hiroko used to identify your meeting place. While that probably was nothing more than a pure coincidence, it may however have a role to play in the theory I will be presenting to you later. But that is an issue for later; for now let us return to our tale.

After hearing from Arakawa-san where the tape had come from, the mystery of what was in the other parcel was instantly solved; it was without mistake a video camera to play the tape that I was holding in my hand. Of course, then I still had no idea what contents the tape might hold, just that it was something that should not have existed at all. While listening to Arakawa-san provide the rough details of the misunderstanding that led to the existence of the tape, I opened the package containing the video camera, slotted the tape into the correct position, and played it there and then.

Watching the replay of your fight, I was stunned. To be honest, while I had expected there to be some kind of a misunderstanding between you and Suzumiya-san, I had no idea that it was one of such an enormous magnitude. I was also simply in awe of you at that point in time – I had no idea how you had managed to find the strength to stand up to fight again and again, until you had finally defeated Teshigawara Kanaye. I am not sure if even I myself could have done the same thing if given your circumstances. Furthermore, I was slightly concerned about your feelings towards Suzumiya-san. After all, it must have been extremely hard on you to have gone through so much purely for the sake of Suzumiya-san, only to be labeled a traitor by her. It was a misunderstanding that must be cleared up as soon as possible, and even so it may still have created an unbridgeable gulf between you and Suzumiya-san.

After watching the contents of the tape, it became clear why Arakawa-san was so rushed and hurried in bringing it over; it was something that must be brought to light as early as possible. We had to try to reduce the consequences of this mistake as much as we could; thus I decided to present this tape in its unedited form to Suzumiya-san. By watching this video of your fight, it would be obvious that she had committed a grave mistake. From there, once she had acknowledged her mistake, we could then work towards rectifying it. I strongly believed that strong-willed as she may be, on matters as serious as these she would be able to discern correctly what would be the right thing to do.

With these thoughts in my mind, I brought the tape with me to the clubroom. After entering the clubroom, I realized that Suzumiya-san had already returned from her quest for unpolluted air. However, her mood appeared unchanged, and she looked as edgy as ever. In fact, in my opinion, she looked as though the walk had not only not served its purpose of calming her down, but had instead worsened her temper compared to before. Looking up at the sound of my entering the clubroom, she did not spare me a second glance before returning to working at the computer.

Walking up to Suzumiya-san's side, I coughed rather self-consciously to get her attention. When she finally looked up at me, I spoke to her using as serious a tone as I could master. 'Suzumiya-san, there is something that I have just obtained, and I think you should see this.' Following that, I handed her the tape in my hands. Her reaction was obvious: 'What the hell am I supposed to do with a tape like that? We don't have a VCR here – though we really should get one, it can come in handy sometimes – but the point is we don't have one now!'

Obviously, I had already made preparations for such an occasion. Before returning to the clubroom, I had made a slight detour to the Viewing Room to ensure that it was not occupied and to book it on behalf of the SOS Brigade. I informed Suzumiya-san as much, and the four of us proceeded to the Viewing Room together, though Nagato-san seemed somewhat reluctant to leave her book behind.

It was the same Viewing Room as the one we had watched our first movie production together – I'm sure you remember that unforgettable experience, both the making and watching of that movie. The main reason behind us using the same Viewing Room as before is not so much coincidence as merely because the school only has one such Viewing Room. However, this sequence of events could not have been better than if I had scripted it myself. You see, being in such a nostalgic place would obviously bring back memories of the times and effort the five of us had spent and put into making the movie; by direct association one would then recall all the rest of the times the five of us had spent together as the SOS Brigade. This is especially so since one of us – namely you – was not with us this time, as compared to the last. Thus, all I had to do was let Suzumiya-san's memories do the work for me, and the video was to be the final blow to make her admit her mistake.

After everyone had entered the Viewing Room and seated themselves, I turned off the lights, prepared the projector, and played the tape on the big screen, as though I was showing a movie of some sorts. The atmosphere though, is vastly different from that of watching a movie; the mood is not that of anticipation, rather it is more somber and serious. Throughout the duration of the video, Asahina-san here was extremely vocal in expressing her emotions, often unable to hold back her squeals and screams – ah I'm sorry Asahina-san, I didn't bring it up to embarrass you; rather I wanted to make a comparison of you and Suzumiya-san at that time. You see, Suzumiya-san was much more reserved than Asahina-san, and was merely watching the entirety of your fight with a stony silence.

When the tape ended, Suzumiya-san turned to me and asked me where I had obtained the tape from. Though I was unable to tell her the whole truth, I did tell her that the tape came from a camera in a nearby red mailbox. I then told her that the camera was put there by the nearby post office as there had been a recent surge in prank anonymous letters and also in the theft of letters from mailboxes, especially in this area. The camera was installed in hopes of catching these thieves and pranksters and revealing them for who they are. The only reason why your fight was recorded was mere chance that the fight happened to be nearby – this in fact is true by the way; we did not expect Camera T8W3T7 to record such footage when we first installed it – and that the camera was working at that time.

I ended by telling Suzumiya-san that I had gotten a hold of this tape through a relative who worked in the nearby post office. This particular relative was the one who passed the tape to me as he had hoped that I would be able to identify the people who were fighting in the video, given that they were apparently all from my school. It is after all illegal to fight in public, or something along those lines. And this was supposedly how the tape came into my possession.

Oh yes, as a side note, seeing that you're the only one who had not seen the tape as of yet, I had taken the liberty of bringing the tape and the video camera that I originally watched it on with me here. If you feel that reliving that particular experience is too painful for you, then I won't force you to watch it; but I had though that you may want to watch yourself in action from a third person's perspective, which is why I had brought the tape with me. Perhaps we can play it later?"

Sure, why not. I am interested to see how I looked – whether I had looked like a wimp or whether I had actually looked cool. Back then those thoughts were the furthest from my head when I was actually in the situation, but now that everything is over I don't mind watching myself in action, to put it in your words.

"Then it's settled. We'll watch it together after I finish my narrative. I am quite interested in your comments about yourself and the way you acted during the fight.

Back on track, Suzumiya-san's instincts are sharp enough for her to realize that there was something wrong with my account, though she was unable to pinpoint exactly what. Thus, the only thing she could do was to voice her suspicions out on the whole, 'Are you sure you're telling me the truth Koizumi? This video is not some fake creation of yours or someone's is it? Don't lie to me Koizumi – you should know the consequences of doing that by now.'

I had no appropriate response to that statement; I could neither tell her the truth nor did I particularly want to be kicked out of the Brigade or suffer any other consequences Suzumiya-san had in mind. I could only say the first thing that came to mind, 'Well, I'm sure you recognize the voices in this tape; those at least are not faked. Furthermore, can voices be faked in the first place? That aside, I'm sure you have heard the emotions that were present in the voices – do they sound artificial to you? To me, it seemed as real as either Suzumiya-san or myself. As for the tape itself, all I can say for it is that it is fluid as a normal tape would be instead of choppy as an edited tape would look like. '

Suzumiya-san was still unsatisfied, and replied as such, 'But I have seen the two of them plotting and scheming with my own two eyes! As compared to something that is secondary; something that is a record of a reputed event that I was not present at and which I have no other confirmation that it exists, I'd rather believe in something that I have seen and witnessed; something that I was present at and which I know happened. First hand experience is much more reliable than a tape which origins are still uncertain and cannot be trusted.'

Still trying to convince Suzumiya-san of my reasoning, I decided to point out certain fallacies in her arguments. 'But you see, only seeing the two of them conversing together is not equivalent to catching them scheming or plotting. After all, you have not heard what it was that had transpired between the two of them. In fact, your experiences even fit with the events shown by the video quite well to give an alternative possibility; instead of plotting to overthrow you, your most senior member was in fact defending your honor, and even fighting for the very survival of the SOS Brigade. As for the reliability of the video, while I admit that what I have provided you so far does not in any sense guarantee that the tape is not edited or faked, does giving you my word that the tape is real count for anything? I am after all the Vice Commander of the SOS Brigade; I won't do anything that would mislead the Commander or to bring about the Brigade's downfall.'

My arguments however appeared to have failed to move Suzumiya-san. 'But this is a special situation! You may have been deceived by the devious enemies of the SOS Brigade! You may in fact be merely a pawn in their grand scheme of things, and Kyon may be one of those who are pulling the strings…'

By now, I had started despairing about ever making Suzumiya-san see light on this issue. Thus, I decided to adopt a more drastic approach, attempting the only other thing possible in my situation; I attacked Suzumiya-san's sense of responsibility and guilt. 'Suzumiya-san!' I cut in before she could finish my sentence. The change in my tone and voice made her stiffen her back involuntarily, as this was after all the first time I had spoken back to her in such a manner.

Before she could recover, I had already forged ahead. While it was to an extent a gamble that I was taking, what I was about to say is not merely empty words meant to strike out at Suzumiya-san; they were in fact heartfelt words that I truly believed in. 'Can you please stop being in this state of self-denial? You know as well as I do that what you're giving me are not reasons, but merely excuses, of why you should not face your mistake. Think about it; given that this is, aside from you, the most senior member of the SOS Brigade we're talking about here, he would have had plenty of opportunities and chances in the past to betray the Brigade or attempt to destroy it from the inside. But he did not do anything up till now. Why? Is it more likely that this is because of him wanting to hide his true intentions until now, when the Brigade is already much more stable and difficult to demolish as compared to when it was a merely fledging club which was on the verge of survival, or that this is due to him actually looking out for the Brigade and that this time he only happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Please, Suzumiya-san, spacing out or being inattentive during Brigade meetings does not automatically make him guilty or suspicious; it just means that he had many things on his mind. From what we have learnt from the tape, this is obviously so – he must have been wondering how he was going to handle that particular situation.'

Suzumiya-san had been stunned speechless by my words. Looking at how shaken up she appeared to be, I softened my tone. 'Also, consider this. So far you have only been looking at this from your own perspective. I'm sure that from your point of view, you're extremely hurt at being betrayed, and this is reasonable given how much time and effort you have invested into this SOS Brigade. However, try looking at this from the other person's point of view. While you may have felt upset by his supposed betrayal, what does he feel? He had just gone to extreme lengths to defend your name, the club you set up, and even went so far as to get into a fight for your sake. And yet you dismissed him from the club so simply, and using his actions to say something that was the completely opposite of his original intentions. If it was me, I'd have thought it some kind of bad joke.'

Seeing that Suzumiya-san was starting to follow my words closely and accepting my arguments instead of rejecting them outright, I felt a certain sense of accomplishment. Deciding to wrap it up, I summed up the general situation for her. 'Either way, I feel that you should at least clear this misunderstanding up as soon as possible. The issue at hand, however, is whether you want him back in the Brigade. If you don't, then after patching up this issue, you should give him an official reason for evicting him from the Brigade, such as him being too unenthusiastic and not doing enough as a member to help the Brigade prosper and grow. However, if you want him to remain in the Brigade, the problem may be thornier. After all, he may still be holding a grudge towards your kicking him out of the Brigade for the opposite of what he was trying to do, and thus may be unwilling to listen to you. In such an event, you will have to be mentally prepared to be willing to make up with him such that he is willing to forgive you.' Outlining all the options out for Suzumiya-san, I stopped short of telling her what to do. After all, she is the Brigade Commander, and that was her decision to make.

After pondering on my words for a while, Suzumiya-san perked up, with a new sign of resolution on her face. 'You're right! As Brigade Commander, it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to correct the mistake I made in judging my subordinates. I shall go off now to Kyon's house and attempt to rectify my mistake.'

Grabbing her bag from the Commander's seat, Suzumiya-san had not taken more than a few steps towards the exit of the clubroom before she realized that the rest of us had followed suit by packing our own things and tailing her to the door. Turning, she asked us what was going on. Speaking up for all three of us, I told her that, 'As members of the SOS Brigade, we would like to see for ourselves that the Commander keeps her promises, especially those to members like ourselves.' 'Of course I would! Who do you think I am?' was Suzumiya-san's indignant reply to me before she turned and continued outside, not sparing us a further glance. Taking it as a sign of approval, we followed her out of the clubroom. With us in tow, Suzumiya-san made her way out of the school and onto the road, where she hailed a cab to bring her to your house. Seeing her do that, the three of us quickly squeezed inside the cab with her to go along with the ride."

"Now just wait a moment here! How did you guys even know that I would be heading home? What if I had another club outside of the SOS Brigade that you guys did not know of? Or what if I had decided to look for a new club to join straight away and thus was back in school?" Unable to control myself, I blurted out my question and interrupted Koizumi once again.

Please don't tell me that you were expecting me to have no life outside of the SOS Brigade – though it is true, it is nonetheless still a fact that hurts!

"Well, let me try to first answer for the first scenario. In my case, given that I had researched on you and your background, I already knew that you have no activities or clubs outside of the SOS Brigade. Thus, I was expecting you to have gone home straight away, now that you were dismissed from the SOS Brigade, as you had no further activities in school. Of course, Suzumiya-san did not know as much as I did, so I can only assume that with a change in her perspective of you – or should I say reverting back to her old opinion of you? – she believed that you would have followed her orders that one should not have any other club activities outside of the SOS Brigade. If you happened to have defied her orders… well I'm sure you already know the consequences of what can happen if she thinks that you're against her.

For the second scenario, I should say that given your emotional state after just being dismissed from the SOS Brigade, we were not expecting you to go off looking for new clubs so soon. After all, you would probably give yourself at least a few days to recover. Even after that, given your personality, you would still probably join your friends in going home early instead of joining another club. In any case, I speculate that as far as Suzumiya-san was concerned, she believed that as it was her fault to begin with, if you had really done as you proposed for your second scenario, she would take it upon herself to wait for your return, taking it as an apt punishment for her mistake. Of course, after your return she may not be as forthcoming in admitting her mistake anymore, as she may believe that she had already compensated for her mistake by waiting so long.

Leaving those theoretical situations behind, let us return to the actual events. After reaching your house, we followed Suzumiya-san as she marched up to your doorstep and pressed the doorbell. However, that was when a new complication arose. Despite Suzumiya-san's incessant ringing of the doorbell, nobody came to open the door. It was obvious that nobody was home at that moment in time. I proposed to Suzumiya-san that this could be due to the fact that we took a taxi to reach your house in the shortest time possible, whereas you probably took a cheaper and more leisurely route home. Of course, on hindsight it was probably due to the side trip you made to the library; you would definitely be home already otherwise.

While we were debating whether to wait for you on your doorstep or to go to a nearby café or something similar, Suzumiya-san yelled out of frustration, 'When is that baka Kyon going to come back?!' To everyone's surprise, Nagato-san graced this question with a reply of '3 minutes and 24.1 seconds' in her quiet and unassuming voice. It was during the period of silence that followed Nagato-san's reply that we heard faint footsteps approaching. A quick peep around the corner confirmed that it was indeed you returning home. That was what saved Nagato-san from Suzumiya-san's questioning – Suzumiya-san had probably thought that Nagato-san had just noticed your arrival earlier than the rest of us; she probably did not consider the possibility that it was an actual act of divination by Nagato-san.

Acting promptly, Suzumiya-san dragged both Nagato-san and Asahina-san forcibly into the bushes right outside your gate. Left with no choice, I followed them into hiding reluctantly. Under the cover of these shrubs, Suzumiya-san gave us a few explicit orders before you came within hearing range. Apparently, the main point was to hide ourselves and observe your actions while at home without you knowing it. Unless I'm mistaken, what Suzumiya-san wanted was to know how well you were handling your dismissal from the SOS Brigade.

Thus, we remained hidden outside, observing what we can of your movements from your windows. I think what really struck Suzumiya-san was how somber and sad you appeared to be, and how close to tears you were. She probably did not realize until then how hard you took your dismissal from the Brigade. After seeing you wander about the house aimlessly as though in deep thought, we saw you reaching for the phone and dialing a number. As the bushes we were in were right underneath your window, we crowded around under the open window and listened in on your conversation.

Though you had tried to sound as normal as possible during your conversation, we could still discern the hurt and confusion hidden inside your words. It was as though your tone was the final straw for Suzumiya-san; one could practically see her deflating like an airbag. It was at this time that Asahina-san, who was slightly further away from the window than us, tried to get to a better position to enable herself to hear better. However, this resulted in her tripping over some roots on the ground and landing face-first in some noisy bushes. This caused you, who just finished talking on the phone, to come over to the window and look out. It was all we could do to hold our breath and not move such that we were not spotted by you. It was only after you closed the window and went back inside that we gave a collective sigh of relief.

After this slight scare, Suzumiya-san seemed to be deliberating with herself for quite a while over something. A little while later, she seemed to have reached a conclusion, for she looked up and told us that she was not going to delay talking to you any longer. Thus, we moved out of the undergrowth, brushed ourselves down, and watched while Suzumiya-san rang your doorbell. And the rest, as they say, is history."

Finally, your narration ends. Apparently, as long as you speak, you have to ramble. It doesn't matter whether you are discussing philosophical issues or you are merely recounting something; you will always be long-winded. And this time, you were even acting out some parts of your tale! Though I admit it helps me to visualize the situation at that point in time, I really wonder when you started having acting as a hobby. Was it during the school festival?

There was a period of silence where I was allowed to take in and digest completely what Koizumi had said. After I had let my brain process all that it possibly could at that moment in time, I turned to Koizumi and nodded, signaling that I was ready to continue. "Well then, where's the video?"

With a flourish of his hands, Koizumi produced a tape and a video camera from seemingly nowhere. After putting them into my hands, he took a quick bow, as though everyone was applauding him instead of staring at him wondering whether he was stupid or not. Then again, he might have mistaken our expressions as looks of awe and shock.

Hey esper boy, when did you change your profession to become a magician? In any case, I think you talk way too much if you want to be a true magician.

Turning my attention to the items in my hand, I slotted the tape into the video camera, and prepared to watch its contents. Before I could hit the 'Play' button however, a quivering voice came from the side.

"A…ano, would you mind if I moved somewhere else?" The source of such cuteness was from none other than Asahina-san. "I… I really don't want to watch Kyon-kun getting hurt a second time."

Was the fight really that violent and gruesome? I don't seem to recall it being that bad… though my memory of this incident is rather blurred.

"By all means Asahina-san. Don't worry; we'll turn the volume down when watching the tape." I was quick to give my assent – after all, why make her go through painful experiences once more? However, her request only fuelled my curiosity on how I had looked like to an onlooker during the fight, and after turning back to the video camera I quickly made it play the contents of the tape.

As the tape rolled in the video camera, I watched the images of myself moving about on the tiny screen of the video camera. Watching the scenes of me trying to convince Tanaka-senpai even after the fight started to allow one more chance for a peaceful resolution, I admired the extent of my naivety back then. Wincing at how the whole screen shook and rattled before turning black for a few seconds after the collision of me with the mailbox – in the tape, one could only see the back of my head looming larger and larger before the impact – I shuddered as though I was reliving that experience.

So that was the rattling I heard and mistook for the sound of my bones. It's a miracle that the camera did not become misaligned after the impact, and that the camera even continued taping as though nothing happened.

Continuing to watch the remainder of the fight, I marveled at how close I happened to be to the mailbox when I got into my second wind – the time when my state of mind became a blank state with a single conviction. In fact, it was so aptly placed that I could actually hear the words of conviction that came from my mouth before I attacked.

A little further and viewers would be wondering what exactly it was that caused me to stand there spacing out in the middle of a fight like an idiot.

Watching until after I blacked out, I realized that there were still people there who wanted the beat the crap out of my unconscious body. True to my suspicions, it was Tanaka-senpai that stopped them, with harsh words and a strong will. Eventually, she managed to get all of them under control, and left with me on her back.

Have to give it to her for her determination and will. Not to mention how she was able to carry me on her back – I must have weighed a ton!

After I finished watching the video, I had numerous queries floating around my head, courtesy of the fact that I wasn't paying so much attention to my surroundings during the fight, and that I wasn't allowed the time to fully develop my thoughts then. The most pressing one on my mind at the moment however was: You mean Taniguchi wasn't the one who was dumped in 5 minutes?

Alright, so perhaps that should not be the most important question right now.

"I wonder… is there any way to explain how in the world I had managed to beat that oversized gorilla? I mean from the video it was clear that I was outclassed in every way. Yet somehow I had managed to win." Talking more to myself than anything else, I had posed my question to nobody in particular, and was not expecting any form of reply. However, I did not notice that I was facing Nagato when I posed that question, and she took it as though it meant that the question was directed at her.

Pausing in her reading, the bespectacled alien looked up from her book, looked at me for a while as though processing my question, and proceeded to give a reply that was not expected or required of her to begin with.

"That is due to the difference in the extent of data manipulation that the two of you showed. That is the best way of phrasing the phenomenon, and though this explanation will be lacking in some areas, it will be the best I can do given the limited data transmission abilities I possess.

To understand what I had just said, one has to first realize that all humans possess the ability to manipulate data, though in varying degrees of proficiency. This was one of the observations made by the Integrated Data Sentient Entity when it set upon the task of studying the human race; humans have the ability to manipulate limited kinds of data, though most if not all do it unconsciously and do not have full control over what they are trying to do. In fact, Interactive Humanoid Interfaces such as myself and Emiri Kimidori were modeled almost completely after humans. The reason for this is because the Integrated Data Sentient Entity felt that interfaces that were closer to humans in terms of structure would be better equipped to understand humans; thus they would be in a better position to act as a communication bridge if or when the time arises. Furthermore, if we are more adept at comprehending humans, the data related to the Integrated Data Sentient Entity through us will have a lower chance of inaccuracy.

The main difference between humans and Interactive Humanoid Interfaces would be the difference in our abilities to manipulate data; while humans had only a limited ability to do so, we are gifted with the knowledge and skill to manipulate all kinds of data around us, able to perform even the most complicated operations in this area, and able to use this talent freely to our hearts' content. While it would be untrue to say that there are no other differences, this disparity would be the most major one.

This is also one of the chief areas where Suzumiya Haruhi is different from normal humans. Where normal humans are only able to manipulate already present data, and still are considered not proficient in doing so, Suzumiya Haruhi is able to take this to a higher level by creating new data out of nowhere. This is a feat that even the Integrated Data Sentient Entity is not capable of achieving; while the Integrated Data Sentient Entity is able to manipulate and process available data to create almost anything imaginable, what is still an impossibility for it is to create raw data out of nothing. This is the major reason why Suzumiya Haruhi has been classified as an Absolute Data Entity – due to her power to create data out of nothing. Furthermore, her data manipulation abilities are at least as good as that of Interactive Humanoid Interfaces, if not better. However, due to her not knowing the presence of such abilities inside her and thus unable to control them, they are only activated subconsciously and in random bursts. The most obvious manifestations of these would be the abnormal data changes that occurred during the filming of our movie. We have yet to observe yet another data flare as large-scale as that of three and a half years ago, though.

Returning back to the given context, what happened was that you tapped into your latent data manipulation abilities. On his part, Teshigawara Kanaye had modified the biological composition of his body through physical trainings, culminating in a body that would be more resistant and resilient against corporeal attacks than a normal one would be. This, and his own inherent data manipulation abilities which activated subconsciously due to his deep-rooted belief that he would not be so easily harmed by you, negated most of the damage that you dealt to him in your first attack. However, it became irrelevant when your data manipulation abilities awakened – they modified the data of your body such that you would become stronger physically for a short period of time; strong enough to continue fighting even in the disastrous state you were in, and strong enough to be able to deal serious damage to Teshigawara Kanaye. Meanwhile, they also overrode their counterparts in Teshigawara Kanaye, pulling down the protective barrier of data that Teshigawara Kanaye had covered himself in as a form of subconscious defense. This is because the extent of data manipulation abilities you had awakened was much larger than that which Teshigawara Kanaye's subconscious was using. This was what allowed you to defeat Teshigawara Kanaye, despite the unfavorable situation you were in."

Obviously, I understood little to none of what Nagato had just said. Turning to Koizumi for help, I noticed that even he seemed a little lost.

Could it be? Finally, even Koizumi doesn't understand what Nagato is saying! Still, I would have expected him to at least pretend to know what is going on…

"I get the general concept of what you are saying, Nagato-san, but I'm finding it hard to believe that every human has data manipulation abilities such as those possessed by yourself. Can you give more examples of how people use these abilities? Perhaps then I may be able to tell what these abilities actually are and how people get to use them." As though anticipating my thoughts, Koizumi asked Nagato not to express herself in simpler terms, but to continue with yet another explanation.

You mean he really understood most of that?

"Affirmative. As mentioned earlier, these abilities only surface subconsciously – no human we have observed as of yet have been fully able to utilize these abilities to their maximum potential, not even Suzumiya Haruhi. While her abilities are much more developed and powerful than normal humans', her usage of these powers are in fact similar to how normal humans use theirs – randomly and subconsciously.

As I have already given an instance of how Suzumiya Haruhi displays her powers, I will now give examples of how normal people sometimes utilize this ability. The most common example would be the humans who are considered to be good in gambling – such as a game of dice – but never play outside of the rules of the game. These humans are in fact subconsciously using their data manipulation abilities to give themselves better odds at winning the game."

Wait a moment. Aren't those people just plain lucky?

"That would be inaccurate. Terming these humans 'lucky' would be a misnomer, as the reason for their winning the game is due to their subconscious use of their data manipulation abilities. The events in this world are rarely random, as the usage of the word 'luck' suggests; almost everything is determined by the interaction of different humans' data manipulation abilities. Similarly, for games of chance where theoretically everyone should have equal chance of winning, the truth is that those with stronger data manipulation abilities or those who can unleash more of these latent powers in fact have a higher probability of winning – they use these powers to improve the odds of them winning. It is only when humans whose level of data manipulation are the same compete that there is truly equal chance of winning for everyone. This however rarely happens in reality."

Finishing her long and incomprehensible explanation, Nagato returned to her book. Before her head moved down however, a short sentence escaped from her, as though in afterthought. "The closest term in human vocabulary to describe this phenomenon would be one's 'will'."

What in the world? It makes absolutely no sense at all! How does one's will have anything to do with humans' innate data manipulation abilities, whatever those may be in the first place? Really, I don't get it.

"Ah, so that's it. I've been suspecting that this should already be something that has been coined, despite the lack of scientific proof given the current state of technology. After all, these bizarre kinds of circumstances should have been discovered one way or another. Now that Nagato-san has told us that it is a matter of 'will', everything makes sense!" Koizumi, on the other hand, seems genuinely enlightened by Nagato's last comment.

Turning to me excitedly, Koizumi started to tell me what had actually made sense to him. "You see, what Nagato-san has just done was to explain the concept of 'will' in today's world. What science has been unable to do so far is to explain what exactly constitutes one's will. Nagato's explanation at least accounts for part of it, and also explains how one's will affects things around us. You see, as our will determines the amount of data manipulation our subconscious draws out, the stronger our will is, the more likely what we are trying to do will succeed. Thus, in a nutshell, the reason why you beat Kanaye-san would be that your will to win was stronger than his, and your body responded to reflect this."

Ah? You mean stuff like mind over matter? What, did I become a Cevar or something? I didn't realize that forcing mind over matter would cause such a drastic change…

"Can we change to another topic? I'm starting to feel a little dizzy from information overload here." Desperate to stop the aching in my brain, I stopped Koizumi from discussing the issue any further with me.

His face originally dimming from disappointment, Koizumi suddenly brightened up again as though he had thought of something else. "Well, then shall we move on to my theory; the one I told you earlier which provides an explanation for all the events that have transpired so far?"

What? Oh that… well why not. I might as well have all the brain-wrecking stuff in one single session.

"Actually, my theory is very simple. I believe that this sequence of events only happened because they were desired by Suzumiya-san. You see, though you are the most senior member in the SOS Brigade, you rank lower than me, who joined the latest. Furthermore, you have consistently scoffed at many of the events we have participated in, and usually show a lack of energy when participating in these events. These are facts that Suzumiya-san remembers unconsciously, and which causes her to wonder whether you really wanted to be in the Brigade or not. After all, when you think about it, you were coerced into the Brigade, not out of your free will. In the case of the three of us, we had all agreed at least verbally to join the club, whereas you had not even given your spoken consent. Thus, it leads Suzumiya-san to question herself, at least at a deeper level, whether you are in the Brigade by choice or just because you were forced there by her.

If it was the former choice, which happens to be her conscious belief, then there would be no problem at all. This is why she had not voiced such concerns to you at all in the past. However, her subconscious was still uneasy, and thus she came up with this elaborate plan with the sole purpose of testing where your loyalty lays – a test you passed with flying colors, I may add. In fact, this 'data manipulation' characteristic of humans may have just been created by her for this sole purpose, or she may just have tapped into something that already existed – there is no way of us knowing anything about this."

Impossible! What about her kicking me out of the Brigade? You mean that was part of the plan too? I can't possibly imagine her planning for herself to apologize to me.

"Quite possibly. After all, she had probably wanted to see your reaction to being kicked out of the Brigade. When you think about if, if your loyalty to the Brigade is not that much, you would not be that affected by being kicked out either. Thus, it may have served as yet another test for you. Of course, there is still the possibility that due to her innate uneasiness, she jumped at the first chance to prove her subconscious correct that indeed, you are not in the Brigade of your own choice. It was only later, with the evidence I provided, that she realized how gravely mistaken she was, thus the generous apology, in hopes of rectifying the situation before it becomes irreparable.

When you think about it, this theory also serves to explain why I had managed to bring reliable evidence to Suzumiya-san so quickly. It explains for why the placing of the camera, the timing of the discovery of the tape, and the location of your fight are all so convenient that everything fits just nice like a well-written script. If any of these factors had been different, it's likely that we wouldn't be at your house now, and that you would still be looking for new odd jobs to do."

That thought… has some merit. However, this also brings up a lot of new questions. You mean I had no choice in this matter to begin with? That all my actions up till now had been a part of Haruhi's carefully written script? That my achievements in the fight were merely a pre-determined outcome?

"Well now, I'm certainly not downplaying the role you have been playing so far. While these questions have no definite answer, in my opinion, for a script to be successful an actor must be first willing to play that role. It is because you are willing to sacrifice for the Brigade that this scenario was possible to begin with. It is because you already have strong feelings for all the members of the Brigade that you could use it for motivation in your fight. Basically, no matter how well-written a script is, if you can not perform up to expectations then everything will be for naught. That, at least, is my opinion on this matter." Looking at Koizumi's smiling mask, nobody would be able to tell whether those were his real thoughts or whether he was just reassuring me.

With that, our discussion came to an end, once we realized how late it was getting. As I was seeing them off, the only coherent thought in my head was: I am never bringing this episode up again to anyone under any circumstances ever. Period.

I still had many questions swirling around my head; it was only later after I got into bed and laid there for quite some time, unable to sleep, that I was able to formulate them into coherent thoughts.

Given that according to Tanaka-senpai, she had her sights on Haruhi ever since almost the beginning of the school year, did Haruhi start to have doubts about me since almost the beginning of the SOS Brigade, or did she just happen to use something that was present for the use of her script? Also, seeing how melancholic she was during the Michuru Asahina incident, had she already started suspecting my loyalty then, or was it a more recent thing? After all, I had no time back then to check her expressions and emotions that clearly.

Lastly, Tanaka-senpai had confessed pretty much all she had done to me already. The fact that she had not mentioned anything about the stolen artifact means that it probably wasn't just a ploy by the Supernatural Study Group or by her to make Haruhi look bad. In that case, who really took that artifact?


Author's Notes:

Ah, I have finally finished. This has been on my back for what… 5 months? (According to Window's record I created this word file first on 02 April 2007.) Finally I can put it down… if but for a while. Like I said in the summary, this is meant to be a one-shot, but who knows, if I feel like it, I may write a second chapter. After all, when I first envisioned the one-shot, my target was around 10k words. Then it grew to 20k words, and now I have this 40k monster here. While it may not be very long to some, it's very long to me. Given how my last few writing attempts coughafewyearsbackcough were all chapters of about 1k in length or so. Man, it's the first time Microsoft Word lags so much on my com when I open it .

Anyways, if you haven't already noticed by now, the whole story is narrated by Kyon, just like what happens in the novels. Still, I did want a kind of format for his thoughts and his narration, so for my style of writing his thoughts are italicized (though obviously at times can still be heard/understood by other people for some reason) whereas his narration is normal font. Oh, and the huge spacings that occur in the story are to separate events that happen over different time periods or over different places.

If you notice any spelling errors or some OOCness on some of the characters, please bear with me. It's hard to be very consistent for a long fic (and I'm sure some of the writers amongst you would agree with me), and I'm doing this without a beta (since I want to try doing something completely by myself). I've tried to explain all loose ends in the story itself, but if there are still any that you find, feel free to point it out to me. Though I'll probably say something like "Haruhi wanted it that way!" or something XD.

Oh yes, on the topic of OOCness, I'm sure many of you would feel that Haruhi, given her personality, would never ever apologize to anyone for her actions, especially not Kyon. The only answer I have to that is, from what I can tell, the reasons Haruhi usually gives for not apologizing or anything is because eventually, the results turn out alright. Thus, what counts for her are the results. However, in this case, the result is not good; it is very bad. So what she is trying to do here is to undo her mistakes so as to achieve a desirable result. It is also why Haruhi was so 'complete' in her apology – she was afraid of Kyon being pissed off at her. Thus she wanted to show her sincerity and try to bring relationship back to normal levels. That is why I made her apologize like that. I did try to immediately bring her back to something she would do/say though, if it makes any of you feel better.

Also, some of you may have noticed how Koizumi seemed a bit weird and awkward when talking. This is because I noticed how the novel has never (as far as I could find – I could very well be wrong though) had Koizumi refer to Kyon by name. Thus, I had to have Koizumi go "you" all the time. Troublesome I tell you .

Oh and if you feel that the number of words seems disproportionate… you're probably right. The only explanation I can offer you is that Nagato and Koizumi both talk very long – basically I tried to separate Kyon's perspective from Koizumi's perspective in having the latter elaborate on much more mundane details (he is supposedly long-winded if I'm not wrong), whereas Nagato's is just plain complicated, though for me that turned out to be long too.

Well, Asahina did not appear much here did she? If I ever write a second chapter, I'll make sure to have her take a bigger part XD.

Well now, that's all from me. (Quite long already I should say. Man I'm as long-winded as Koizumi!) Drop a review if you don't mind! I welcome all praises, criticisms, etc. Just don't flame mindlessly – I'm fine with criticisms. Thanks!