Disclaimer: Tanigawa Nagaru wrote the light novels. I'm only a fan.

-o-

She should have made a joke, she should have just acted as she always had in the past: as the cheerful, hyperactive girl they all knew her as. But at that last moment, Kyon had looked tired, more tired than any teenager in any high school deserved to ever be.

"You're Tsuruya," he said, and that almost-not-a-smile cut short her laughter before it even had a chance to escape. "But what's your role?"

At that moment, Tsuruya thought of her childhood--thought of the time she had tried to put together a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, all by herself--all by herself, she'd insisted--and her father and mother had looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes and laughed, very quietly, and she'd suddenly realized that neither of them thought she could do it.

They were right.

In the end, she couldn't finish it. There were nine hundred and ninety-nine little cardboard pieces, all fit together perfectly, and a single jigsaw-shaped space where the very last piece should have gone. Except, of course, there was no last piece.

She double-checked the box the puzzle had come in, crawled on her hands and knees looking underneath the furniture in case she had kicked it there accidentally--

Nothing.

And then her father swept into the room, smiling, and he reached into his coat pocket (always wearing that stupid coat even indoors you bastard you bastard) and pulled out the missing piece and completed the puzzle, right there, and all she could do was watch.

He laughed, and she laughed, and she never forgave him, because she understood that the entire thing had been a lesson: her father would always be there, whether she noticed him or not. He'd always be there, just out of sight, pulling the strings, and there was nothing she would ever be able to do about it.

She wondered, sometimes, what if he had never completed it for her? She might have searched that room forever, looking for a piece that wasn't there, and he would have stood there just outside the room and laughed and laughed and laughed.

From then on, she laughed, too.

But unlike you, she thought, unlike you, I don't have to set anyone up to take the fall. I don't have to make any punchlines,because people like you make enough for everybody.

And looking down at Kyon slumped against the wall like a dead body, she felt like pointing and laughing forever and ever and ever and ever (Isn't it hilarious, what the world has done to us? Isn't it hilarious).

But he wouldn't understand, so just this once she swallowed the laughter rising in her throat.

"I don't have a role." she told him, the smile still on her face but her voice cool, and he must have been expecting her to laugh because he suddenly looked up from where he sat, eyes open and only barely comprehending. "I'm just Tsuruya.

"I'm just Tsuruya. That's all."

He was very quiet for a long, long time.

"I see," he said, finally. "I'm glad."

And then he picked up his bookbag and left.

He didn't even say goodbye.

-o-

The next day, something came to school that walked and talked and acted exactly like Kyon. It apologized to Tsuruya for bothering her, marched dutifully to the clubroom as soon as school ended, and followed Haruhi's instructions to the letter.

Tsuruya laughed so hard she cried.

-o-

A/N: When you lean on the sliding scale of idealism vs. cynicism and apply it to a happy-go-lucky anime, things get...a lot less happy-go-lucky. :(