The narrowed, burning eyes, combined with hands-on-hips posture and outthrust chin, served to notify all those familiar with this display of the displeasure of Haruhi Suzumiya.
"Dammit Kyon!" the young supernova snapped. "We were finally onto something solid back there! Why the hell would you go and phone the police of all people? You know they just cover up anything interesting!"
"First off," her primary cohort grated, matching her glare with a slightly less frenetic one, "that's a decidedly American attitude to adopt. Not all authority figures are intent on obscuring the truth from their citizens. In this country we try and affect a more open attitude towards our government."
"Paranoia knows no national boundaries!" his group leader asserted with typical disregard of rationality.
"And secondly, the building was on fire!"
"Then why didn't you call the fire department?"
"Because the burning building we were in was the fire department!"
Haruhi snorted, flicking her shining brown hair over her shoulder. "I still think you should have shown more common sense."
The taller student grimaced down his nose at her. "And by common sense, you mean…"
"WHAT I WANTED YOU TO DO!" Haruhi yelled.
"And how am I supposed to know what that is? I'm not a mind reader!"
Those shining golden-brown orbs crackled with some incomprehensible cosmic teenage power. A finger jutted forth to hang before his twitching nose.
"ON NOTICE! AS OF NOW!"
Without further explanation, Haruhi whipped around, crossed her arms and glared fixedly out the window.
Her drafted minion gave up with a sigh, and moved back to his seat at the table. He passed Yuki Nagato, who typically was involved in reading some obscure literature, oblivious to her surroundings. This was a front he had learned to disregard in respects to her. Seated across from him now, Itsuki Koizumi beamed an innocent, cheerful smile at the world. The look on his handsome face seemed to say, "Hello, everybody! I've got no hidden agenda to speak of, and I think it's just great! That's right, go ahead and turn your back on me, there's a good sweet trusting soul!" This façade too shattered against the wall of Kyon's past experiences with the kitsune in a school uniform.
Timidly hiding behind Koizumi, the enchanting Mikuru Asahina cast baby deer eyes in his direction, worry and sympathy exuding from her in warm waves of bounteous human goodness. These outpourings Kyon accepted into his heart without reservation. He smiled back at her, letting the charming maiden know that not only was he all right, but he appreciated her earnest concern for his well-being and wished to inform her that should any dangerous situation arise he would sacrifice said personal fortune to ensure that she would come to no harm.
The gentle, hopeful look she sent back melted away all lingering disturbances from dealing with Haruhi's latest crazy scheme.
At that moment, the demented genius in question sniffed suddenly.
Mikuru went stiff, wide frightened eyes snapping over to the girl standing at the window, and Kyon knew what was going on in her head. The beauteous maiden was thinking…
"What is she going to do next?"
Did Miss Asahina just speak?
He proceeded to watch her closely, but no further vocalizations came from the paralyzed high school junior. Like a deer caught in the headlights, she continued to stare at her uncomprehending torturer and team leader, waiting for the next injury to be inflicted on her luscious maidenly form.
After a while, her erstwhile admirer decided nothing untoward was about to occur. At the same time, when no further sign of movement came from Haruhi, Asahina also seemed to come to the conclusion that "She isn't going to do anything to me after all. Thank God."
"But what if she just hasn't decided what to do yet? What then? I hope Kyon will save me again, there he is, watching me right now, like he always does. He certainly does stare at me a lot, though. I wonder if he's…"
He tore his eyes away from her, breathing heavily, and the voice abruptly cut off.
Sitting in their club activity room, the average every-day high school male balled his hands into fists, body temperature vacillating between feverish heat and chills. One sentence was clamoring out all other thoughts in his head.
"I'm not a mind-reader!"
Dammit all! Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammitdammit dammit!
Why did I have to put that thought into her head?
It was quite obvious what was happening here. At least, obvious to someone who had been subjected to an onslaught of bizarre Lovecraftian experiences ever since being thrust into the domain of Haruhi Suzumiya.
He had expressed the idea of him being psychic. And Haruhi, in her omnipotent and unconscious avuncular deity fashion, had proceeded to make him so.
What the hell was he supposed to do now?
As was so often the case when something peculiar or potentially life-threatening occurred to Kyon, he automatically turned in search of salvation to the stoic silver-haired silicon sweetmeat silently studying symbols at his side.
He blinked, and shook his head. Kyon then regarded Yuki once more.
"System error occurred at memory 1011000010111. The memory could not be read. Please follow the link below for further diagnosis of the issue."
"Access violation at wireless network monitor. Please restart your computer."
Excuse me? Nagato?
"404 error. File not found."
Little help here?
"The website is not responding. It may be a connection issue, or the website might be experiencing problems with their server. You can try back later to see if they respond. To diagnose connection issues, follow the links below."
"Unauthorized entry. The system is shutting you down. Please save all work in progress and log off. Any unsaved changes will be lost. Termination of your server to commence in 3…2…1…"
Kyon's neck muscles jerked his head straight forward. Trembling, dripping with sweat, he waited in helpless anticipation for some raging data-entity termination program to appear and bite him in half.
When nothing materialized, he allowed himself to relax.
After a few seconds of grateful empty-headed reflex breathing, he caught sight of Mikuru in slight-agitation mode again.
"What is she going to do? Oh God! What is she going to do to me today?"
Haruhi reached behind her and picked up a pencil off the desk, tapping it thoughtfully against her chin. Mikuru gave a start.
"Why did she pick up that pencil? WHAT IS SHE GOING TO DO WITH THAT PENCIL? Wait! There's a black bag hanging on the clothes rack! What is it doing there? Why did I not see it there before? WHAT IS SHE GOING TO DO WITH THAT HIDEOUS BLACK BAG?"
Suzumiya bit down on the eraser, humming softly to herself.
"NO TEETH! NO TEETH THIS TIME! I CAN'T TAKE IT! I CAN'T TAKE MUCH MORE OF THIS!"
Frantically Kyon looked away from the delirious cacophony of pleading mania. He gave himself a few moments to collect his thoughts, trying to figure out a way to resolve this newly-arisen potential universe-ending point of contention.
During that time, he found himself staring into Koizumi's beaming features.
Kyon frowned suspiciously.
"I could use sulfuric acid."
The frown turned into a grimace.
"TRAGIC LAB ACCIDENT ANNIHILATES STUDENT BODY! LONE SURVIVOR TELLS HIS TALE."
A thundercloud was forming on Kyon's brow.
"Or something less messy. Like a gas leak. I just loosen the bolt, plug in one of those aromatic scent distributors to mask the smell, make up some excuse to leave the room for a while, and walk away. After a few hours I come back to find my friends in what appears to be peaceful slumber. It is only when I try to rouse them that the chilling truth is revealed. With a heavy heart, I stumble forth into the outside world to regale them with my tale of woe."
Fists clenched now under the table for a different reason.
"Perhaps one at a time would be more fun. I could offer to escort Miss Asahina home. We could take a walk through the park. Just two friends nonchalantly strolling beneath the blooms. Or ask Yuki for some help with my video game console. That darn Omega Weapon, why won't it just lie down and die? As for Kyon… who needs an excuse? 'Hey buddy, how about you and I go somewhere private to chat?' He never even asks what for. Too easy. And this way I could get to spend some time alone with Haruhi. Firm, tasty, worshipful Haruhi. Get those ribbons out of your hair, my lovely goddess. Use them to bind you to the bedposts."
"I knew it," Kyon swore.
Koizumi blinked sweetly. "Knew what?"
The other boy continued to smile in good-natured innocence, and Kyon shoved his hands into his pockets, glowering darkly.
Stewing in a confirmed broth of long-held suspicions, the group's de-facto voice of reason found himself considering something potentially reality-ending.
There was nowhere else to turn to. Apparently all his usual avenues of paranormal assistance had been cut off. What was he expected to do now? Walk through his life eavesdropping on the secret innermost workings of every random person passing him in the street? Listening to a girl say she loves him, when she's thinking about cheating on him and dumping him for another woman? Feeling all the disappointment and reproach from his parents when their son fails to pass the bar exam for the fifth time in a row, condemning them to watching their retirement savings trickle away in order to support this freeloader that has dashed all the hopes they ever had for his future? What sort of a Pyrrhic victory was this, being given the ability to read minds only to learn it took all the joy from your life?
That being said, he glanced off to the side, letting his senses (natural and otherwise) take in the silhouette of what for all intents and purposes appeared to be a healthy and attractive brown-haired teenage girl.
Funny, Kyon thought glumly. I don't seem to be picking up on her thoughts. Guess that was too much to hope for. You get the thing that most people can only dream of, and it doesn't affect the one person on earth for whom you really wish you had a better understanding!
Kyon felt a scream building up inside. He had to get Haruhi to reverse this! But how, without explaining to her why it had happened in the first place? Doing so might actually cause the universe to collapse, as Koizumi and Yuki feared. But it was just so unfair! Why was he being asked to carry this burden alone, the solitary Tzaddikim encumbered with bearing the sins of the world on his shoulders in order to make up for the rest having foibles? What had he ever done to deserve this punishment of Midas?
No! It wasn't going to end this way for him! Dammit all! It just wasn't right!
At that moment, Haruhi spoke.
Sitting rigid in her chair, Asahina shrieked at the top of her lungs, bulging eyes staring straight ahead without recognition or sanity.
"EMERGENCY TIME JUMP!"
She brought one fist crashing down on the face of her wristwatch, and disappeared from sight.
Kyon, Koizumi, and Nagato just stared.
Frowning, Haruhi Suzumiya turned around.
"No," Mikuru whimpered. "No, please, just listen, you don't know what she's like!"
The council members shook their heads, voicing their disagreement.
"It's not that simple!" the curvaceous time-traveler pleaded. "She… she gets these ideas! Or not really ideas, they're more like… unfounded suppositions! And sometimes she gets them about me! And whenever she does, that's…!"
They took a vote, and denied her plea.
"That's when she brings out the costumes!"
A decree was made, and two armed enforcers emerged to take one of her arms apiece.
"That's not even the worst of it!" Mikuru babbled frantically as they dragged her away. "She does things to me! Sick, vicious, unholy things! Whenever she gets that smile, you know! You know who she's going to take it out on! Not Yuki! Never Yuki! It's always me! DO YOU HEAR ME? ME!"
They brought her into the time transfer chamber. Her clothes were swiftly replaced to appear exactly like the ones she had been wearing upon arrival.
The girl's voice became more ragged and desperate. "And they all go along with it! They don't see all the things she does to me! Or if they do, they don't care! What if they're all in on it? Maybe they're watching from some secret room whenever she's having her way with me, pointing and laughing and making fun of me!
She was placed into the temporal helix, a pantheon of silent judging figures looking down. Technology swept smoothly to life at their mental goad.
Mikuru was laughing uncontrollably now. "I just realized! Maybe YOU'RE all in on it too! That's it, isn't it? I'll bet you get a good long laugh watching me get tortured day after day, being demeaned and abused! How come I don't get to watch too, huh? Maybe I'd like to see! Come on! Let's all watch Mikuru get humiliated! I think it's funny too! Bring all your friends! IT'LL BE FUN! JUST YOU WAIT AND SEE! WAIT AND SEE WHAT SHE'S GOING TO DO TO ME NEXT!"
And with that, they sent her back.
Haruhi spun about, and all present prepared to watch the universe go down in flames.
Before the indecipherable goddess could complete half her revolution, Asahina popped back into existence right where she had been.
Suzumiya glared reproachfully.
"What's the matter with you?"
The busty redhead only sat there. She spoke not a word.
Growing bored, their leader sighed. "Well, whatever. Just go ahead and strip. I want to see how you look in this new outfit."
She walked by her living dress-up doll to the clothes hanger. Kyon stared at the object of his erectio… I mean, affection. There were no mental signals coming his way now. She was a total blank.
As Haruhi passed, Mikuru's eye twitched spasmodically.
And she keeled over to the floor.
"Thanks for your help, Miss Tsuruya."
"No problem," the laughing long-haired enigma hopped up and down in exultation. "I'm always glad to lend a hand to you guys, megas."
Between her and Kyon, there was a flatbed cart. Mikuru Asahina lay curled up in a ball on it, twitching and jerking occasionally. Her lips were moving, but no sound came out.
Tsuruya giggled to herself, and slapped Kyon on the arm affectionately. "Just leave everything to me, nyoro. I'll see that she gets home safely. We will not fail our allies in the SOS Brigade!"
The rather harried-looking young man raised a hand and bowed in gratitude. "All right then. Well, I'll see you later. Take care."
"Take care, megas!"
Kyon turned away.
"Oh yeah! Work that cute little butt, you sexy skyscraper, you! I'd like to butter those tight buns up, with me as the spread! Ride you hard and bring you home wet! SNAP! Crack that whip, nyoro!"
The boy flinched, pausing in mid-stride.
He heard Tsuruya giggle merrily, and then roll her friend down the hall, the wheels squeaking and singing in repetitive paeans.
Kyon made his way back inside.
Only Haruhi remained. The other members had been dismissed at her orders. She was busily typing away on the computer. Crossing to her side, Kyon saw she was writing a fan fiction. The title was Time Out of Mind.
Drawing up beside her, Kyon crossed his arms and stared out the window.
"Yeah, what?" She did not look up at him.
"I was just thinking…" Here he hesitated, pondering how best to handle this. One wrong turn of phrase and it was game over for the rest of existence. "Since I can't read your mind to know what you want, maybe you and I should get together and discuss how you feel I can help you with the path you have envisioned for the SOS Brigade. Get us both on the same page."
Haruhi didn't speak for a few moments, eyes scanning the symbols on the screen before her. Then she leaned back, and cast a penetrating glance up in his direction.
Kyon steeled himself for the worst again.
The gorgeous iconoclast winked at him. "I don't really want you to read my mind, Kyon. If you got inside my head, it would be so freaky. Nobody wants to have to share space with someone in their noodle. That's where all the private stuff goes on. And I'm not ready to share that sort of thing with you. At least not yet. My plans for the SOS Brigade are more far-reaching than you can know. Instead of trying to predict what other people are going to do, you should really focus more on what I'm telling you to do right now. Because I know what's needed for you. Whether you like it or not."
He sighed grudgingly. "Yes, ma'am."
Returning to her online world, Haruhi gave a dismissive wave. "You can saddle up and head on home, now. It's been a long day. When everybody gets together tomorrow, I'll be sure to clue you in on what direction we'll be heading. After that, it'll be your job to keep up."
"Okay." Stepping back from the brink, Kyon dutifully retrieved his backpack. "Later."
He heard her grunt distractedly, and on that note, he left the room.
Walking home from school, the hapless mortal pondered. I don't feel any different, he mused. Did it work? Am I back to being just regular old me? Will I need to dread every waking moment for all my remaining days?
The rangy philosopher turned about, to see Tsuruya dashing towards him. He paused to give her time to catch up. The salubrious siren did so, radiating cheer and talking a mile a minute.
"Oh my gosh, can you believe us running into each other like this? I called home and got a car to take Mikuru away. I told them to stop by a drugstore and pick up some Zoloft, I think she could use it. Or at the very least she needs a boyfriend. Sometimes the traditional means far outstrip the old, don't you think, nyoro?"
Kyon stared intently, listening to the snaggle-toothed chatterbox sing her song. Listening to her voice.
Only one voice. There was only one.
Tsuruya halted, staring into his wondering face. "You all right? You look a little dazed, megas." She grinned and gave him a wink.
Tsuruya's lips did not move.
And he heard nothing.
Not a single thought came into his head.
Kyon closed his eyes with a sigh.
Tsuruya clapped her hands and stepped up closer. "You just thought of something, didn't you? I could see it in your face. I've got a pretty good sense for other people's heads, you know, nyoro? Like today, I thought to myself, 'Hey, I think Kyon looked like he could use some company after school and Brigade duties were done.' That's why I was coming towards your house. I've never been there, but I know where it is. That's nothing special, though, I just asked Taniguchi, he tells me anything I want to know. And anything I don't want to know, if you get my drift. So I'm walking along, and I just saw you, and I thought, 'Serendipitous!' Do you know what that word means, Kyon? Well, of course you do, you're a smart guy and all, and I just thought…"
Kyon reached down, cupped her heart-shaped face in his hands, and kissed her.
Without worry or care he supped on the tender lips, running his tongue against the protruding hound's-tooth in eager examination.
The grateful teenager released the girl, removing his hands from her body.
Tsuruya blinked up at him, mouth open in a silent 'O' of surprise. Kyon watched for signs of impending recrimination.
She reached up and began to twirl a strand of her long hair thoughtfully. Then Tsuruya's mouth split in a devilish grin. She lunged forward laughing, sliding her hands into the pockets of his jacket and pressing her warm frame close to his.
"Hey! I've got an idea. You wanna hear it?"
"I think I already know."