Kyon: Big Damn Hero

Thwarted Lull Arc I

Chapter Twenty Nine: Night at the Movies

Disclaimer: The novel series of Suzumiya Haruhi that began with 'The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi' is the creation of Nagaru Tanigawa. No disrespect is intended by the posting of this fanfiction, as I do not own the characters or settings involved. I'm merely dabbling with another set of paints. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License (and it's possible that this fic technically is, too; seems fair to me). Additional characters are borrowed from Higurashi, which is the creation of Ryukishi07.

Notes: Count the tropes! Save, collect, trade for swell prizes!

"File K:3419.8.19/2011.5.20"

"Selfishness in small degrees may be okay, but breaking the [CLASSIFIED] is right out. So how is it possible that someone could use [CLASSIFIED], cross their own temporal path, and interfere so incautiously? Wouldn't any T.E.S.A. official or [CLASSIFIED] monitor for it in advance? Unless ... somehow ... such a thing were pre-determined? But if rules like that can be, well, not broken, but bent..."

"[CLASSIFIED]" - Peraea Mons T.E.S.A. Dataplume

Idly munching on the bento Haruhi had left for him - there were worse last meals, after all - Kyon nodded dubiously and otherwise pretended to pay attention to the nattering on of his friends.

"...all I'm really trying to say," Taniguchi said, concluding a very long-winded speech, "is that, no offense to you or her, you're both very new at this! At least, in a lasting sense. As one who has endured, crafting a meaningful relationship that has withstood the test of time beyond the legendary two week mark - did I mention that I met her father? Well, Kyon, I am one you can turn to who is knowledgeable in these things!"

"Two week mark?" Kyon mused, sharing a look with Kunikida. "That does sound legendary..." For Taniguchi, at least.

"Agreed," Kunikida remarked, nodding back with a wry smirk.

"We're pioneers!" Taniguchi agreed, nodding quickly. "And on that note, how are things going between you and Suzumiya? Or are you still eternally stuck at 'friends'?"

"Being friends isn't so bad," Kyon countered, frowning.

"Ah, poor Kyon," Taniguchi said in a consoling tone. "Well, that's fine! If you're in Suzumiya's 'friend' zone, you've got other options!"

"Is sanity among them?" Kunikida asked, picking at his lunch.

"Don't be silly! I'm talking about Asahina-san, or either of the younger 'A-minuses' - Nagato and that first year, Michikyuu Kanae. Ran into her a while back ... she's kind of cute, in that pettanko, lolicon way, you know? Not to my tastes, but Kyon has a thing for 'strange girls,' so..."

"Did you just insult my kohai?" Kyon asked his taller classmate, wondering if he should practice his intimidating smile.

Taniguchi didn't even look up, still shoveling vegetables from his lunch into his mouth. "No, of course not," he said between mouthfuls. "Face it, her attributes are absolutely appealing to some types! I'm not judging you if you're one of them, I'm just trying to remind you that you've got options! Pretty decent ones, too."

"I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to say with that," Kyon answered tiredly, picking at the meal Haruhi had given him, "but I think I should point out to you that I liked you a lot more when you obsessed over your own relationships."

"But I've mastered that!" Taniguchi protested, scraping at the bottom of his empty bento with a grimace. "I'm more interested in further challenges!"

"Good luck with that," Kunikida decided, finished with his meal and packing away his containers. "Let me know how it works out for you!"

"Really," Kyon noted, glancing at Kunikida as someone ran up to the classroom door loudly, "you've got a better candidate right here, eh?"

"Hey!" the shorter boy protested, shooting Kyon a sharp look. "Simply because I'm more reserved-" He cut off with a sigh and gestured to Kyon. "Nevermind ... but there's someone at the door for you. Perhaps Taniguchi is looking to solve your girl problems, when really your troubles are with boys...?"

Still debating how to respond to Kunikida, Kyon rose from his seat and made his way to the doorway, where Koizumi stood anxiously, obviously struggling to restrain his emotions. He seemed to be warring between a barely restrained rage and ... something else. "What's going on, Koizumi?" he asked dourly as he stepped into the hallway. As it was, the girls in his classroom had all instantly noted the esper's arrival, and were staring at him with varying degrees of intensity.

Man, why did he have the bad luck to be stuck with such a pretty-boy for a friend? Though, maybe if Tsuruya's father had liked Koizumi instead...

Strangely, that idea made Kyon want to punch an esper. He decided he was best off not thinking about it.

"I'm struggling with ... multiple factors," Koizumi finally said, smiling more widely than usual, and leaning far too close to Kyon for his personal comfort. "Naturally, these factors share an origin point."

Scanning to make sure the hallway was clear of eavesdroppers and witnesses, the boys spotted several. "This isn't the best place to talk," he replied, leaning away.

"Coffee, then, my treat," Koizumi said brightly, leading the way just below a run. Within a minute, the pair were outside, seated at the same table that long ago... "So!" the esper said, suddenly cheerful and friendly, leaning nearly halfway across the table towards Kyon. He paused to sip at his coffee, then beamed a smile Kyon could only label 'far too friendly' at the other token male member of the SOS Brigade. "What did you do?"

"Why does this all come across as my fault?" Kyon protested, leaning away from Koizumi and testing his coffee. Once again, left in the hands of the esper, it had far too much sugar.

"I see no one else to blame," Koizumi said, somewhat darkly, before shaking his head. "Sorry ... she's ... struggling with a lot of emotions right now, and many of them are..." Pausing, the esper stared blankly skyward for almost a minute, before shaking his head. "The stairwell?" he mumbled.

"Even though I probably actually don't want to know," Kyon began, prepared to bolt, should he need to, "how is Haruhi handling things?"

Collecting himself, Koizumi steepled his hands before him and set them on the table. "That wording tells me that you know more than you have shared with me," he remarked. "I'm in a difficult state at the moment. Suzumiya-san is intensely conflicted, as well."

"Alright, look, this isn't easy for me to talk about, even if it's important to you and the Organization - but it involves Tsuruya-kun, so it's inevitable you'll find out anyway," Kyon allowed, sighing, then pitching his voice low. "Um... Where to begin... So, by being carelessly competent, I accidentally seem to have demonstrated my value to the Tsuruya branch of the Yamaguchi-gumi. Specifically, I seem to have impressed Tsuruya-kun's father, Tsuruya-sama, and... His well-meaning suggestion combined with my mother's conviction that I am unable to make meaningful decisions on my own - so, on their idea, without really much chance to disagree, Tsuruya-kun and myself ended up getting engaged."

Koizumi stared, his mouth dropping open slightly. "'re joking," he said flatly. "This is a prank?"

Kyon shook his head, pushing his coffee cup away from himself.

"W...well," the esper began, his knuckles whitening, unfamiliar stress filling his voice. "This is a fascinating development! What do you intend to do about it?"

Tapping one finger against the table before him, Kyon sighed. "Face my death like a man, I suppose," he allowed. "I was hoping somehow that Tsuruya-kun would be able to convince Haruhi to be calm about it... You know, maybe explain that it's just an engagement, so there's time to figure a way out of it..." He shrugged. "Anyway, how do you plan to spend the last day of your life?"

"When that day comes, I'd like to be surrounded by my family and be told that they were proud of me," Koizumi answered, nearly in a growl. "Please be serious about this, Kyon-kun!"

"I'm as serious as the situation warrants," Kyon countered. "Events beyond my control caused a situation that takes the choice from my hands. This kind of thing happens all the time in the real world. It may not be the way I'd have chosen, but at some point, Haruhi needs to learn that she can't always get her way."

"We'll return to this point to discuss things later," Koizumi decided. "However, for the moment, are you saying that after all that's happened that you do not want to or intend to pursue a romantic relationship with Suzumiya-san?"

"That's frank," Kyon allowed, raising an eyebrow and studying the esper's features. Koizumi looked unusually tense ... though, Kyon couldn't really hold that against him, all things considered. "And I never said any of those things."

"I think that an honest-"

"Hold up, let's pause this part for a second, too," Kyon countered. "I know, I know ... fate of the world, esper's responsibility, all that nonsense I've heard before. Can you stretch your mighty esper brain to consider things from my perspective for just a moment?"

Koizumi pressed his lips together in a hard, flat line, and sat back to watch Kyon warily, inclining his head the slightest distance.

"Let's imagine that there's this girl you kind of, sort of, maybe a little bit like." The esper nodded doubtfully. "Now, surround her with a gang of people who can read her feelings, and have one of them constantly breathing down your neck. This guy can talk to you, and knows her feelings. Despite the fact that he's just starting to be a friend to you, he's actually almost a total stranger with her - but he acts like he's an older brother, or an ex-boyfriend, and while meaning well, does have this unfortunate tendency to show off an aloof smile and act smugly superior.

"Strangely, this makes it really, really hard to be friends with this person ... even when you try very hard. Koizumi, I can't be your friend if you're so busy being an agent of your organization, or an esper jerked around by Haruhi's feelings... If you can't ever find a moment to be you, who am I trying to be friends with, exactly?

"Because, if you look at the guy in my situation, what he could really use right at the moment is a friend who was interested in helping him out, not some fire-breathing psychic who just wants to give him grief for other people's decisions. Tell me that what bonding we had in the hospital was meaningful, and not just another of your masks? I appreciated that honesty."

Done with his tirade, Kyon stared at the esper, arms crossed over his chest.

Koizumi looked away and took a series of deep breaths. "It is doubly difficult for me to see things from your perspective, knowing what I do," the esper muttered. "But ... I cannot deny that your own perspective is critical to you. In that case, let me apologize, and add that ... I am being influenced to no small degree by the severity of Suzumiya-san's emotional state. While I understand you don't want details, let's say that in some cases it goes beyond merely 'awareness' of her emotional state."

"So ... now we can talk like it's just two guys?" Kyon hazarded.

Rubbing at his temples, Koizumi gave a sharp nod. "You have a plan, then?" he asked cautiously.

Well, the 'plan' as such was just to be honest. He'd seen and been through too much to try and hide it from Haruhi. Everything got to her eventually, anyway... Love letters that he was supposed to be delivering on behalf of a middle school acquaintance, rescuing some random kid from being flattened by a van... One way or another, Haruhi always found out. So, being up front and non-evasive was probably his best bet.

"Yeah, I have a plan," Kyon agreed.

"You said also that this would be a good chance for Suzumiya-san to learn she can't always have what she wants?" the esper asked doubtfully.

Shifting his shoulders, Kyon sighed. "Well ... probably in the end she will get her way - the point is, she has to deal with the fact that the choice was made before she had any input - just like Tsuruya-kun and I. I mean ... if she believes that this is it, and has to acknowledge the way things are for now at least..." And, being honest, he and Tsuruya had already as much as agreed that eventually they would break their engagement for Haruhi anyway.

"Then, how can I help with your plan? And if I cannot help, what may I be trusted with knowing?" Koizumi pressed. "I apologize if this seems to be overstepping the bounds of friendship, but if I know you, then there is some reason why you're allowing Suzumiya-san to become so upset without trying to resolve the matter."

Kyon sighed again, rubbing at his forehead. "Alright," he allowed. "So ... I can't really do much to go against my parents without causing more trouble, right now. If I actively oppose the current situation, it's a good bet that I'll get grounded, and my mom will probably say I'm not allowed to attend the club and I have to go back to cram school. We can count out any activities before winter break, at the very least. I'm not sure how things go for Tsuruya-kun, but I get the impression if she tries to go against her father, well ... that comes down on me, too, and if not, then things may become difficult for the Organization."

"So, really," the esper said slowly, one hand rising to stroke his chin thoughtfully, "you are saying that events are beyond your control ... and your plan is that you intend to show Suzumiya-san that these things happen?"

Nodding, Kyon stretched his arms over his head, then set his hands on the table. "That's about the size of it," he agreed. "Maybe it'll be an obstacle to be overcome, but in any case, it must be faced."

"From your perspective, I can see how things must appear to you," Koizumi finally acknowledged. "However, while trying to be your friend and seeing things from your point of view, I also am still ... unfortunately aware of the turmoil that Suzumiya-san is experiencing at this moment. I said I would trust your judgment in Suzumiya-san related matters, and I still do, but I feel more confident in you when I am certain you have all of the information.

"In that regard, if it's not too much to ask, can you show Suzumiya-san this important lesson you wish her to understand while also doing some small thing to reassure her? I haven't been subjected to turmoil this severe since ... the day that closed space vanished."

Running a hand through his hair, Kyon nodded. "I wouldn't be much of a friend to either of you if I didn't do that," he admitted with a sigh. "Well! In that case, off to be returned to my ancestors. At least I know their names, now." Rising from the bench, he gave Koizumi a grave nod. "Will you be alright?"

"I think so," Koizumi said, covering his eyes with one hand. "Just struggling with a ... difficult emotion right now. I think I'll sit here and recover myself a bit more. Good luck, Kyon-kun."

Nodding dubiously, Kyon returned to the school building, making it back to the classroom in time to pack up his bento. He didn't have enough time to look for Haruhi, though, as it was close to class starting again. She returned moments before the chime, giving him an unreadable look before taking her seat. When she was bored, he might find an opportunity to watch her, but today there was going to be no way to observe her subtly.

And, naturally, she ran away the second the next break came around.

He had started to become extremely nervous when class finally ended, and it was time to go to the club. This time, she didn't run ahead, instead glancing around as though to check for interference. She didn't even give him time to grab his bag, though. The second he rose from his seat and turned to face her, she shot one hand out and seized his necktie, hauling him after her at a breakneck pace through the school.

One day, he vowed to himself, one day, he was going to turn the tables on her.

...probably not long after he managed to stun the older Mikuru.

Seeing as that day was a long way off, he followed, rather than risk being strangled, coming to a precarious stop in Haruhi's new favorite spot, the empty stairwell that was used as an overflow storage area for the art room. "Hi," he wheezed, when she stared at him, tight-lipped. "What's the occasion?"

She released his necktie as though it were on fire, and he loosened it, glad for the chance to breathe. Haruhi's face was slightly red, and her eyes wouldn't meet his. "," she mumbled. "Um..."

He straightened his uniform out, guessing that she had to know what was going on, but unwilling to gamble on it. "You talked with Tsuruya-kun?" he tried.

Nodding stiffly, she said, "Yes."

Well. She was taking this with remarkable aplomb. Since she wasn't flying into a rage ... yet...

"Um," he managed, looking away without moving. What next?

"Anyway," Haruhi said shaking her head, "I've had a lot to deal with today, and I guess you've actually got a bit more to go... So, ultimately, um... Well..." She stomped one foot, finally fixing him with a sharp scowl. "Like Monday," she managed to spit out. "That."

He blinked at her. What had happened on Monday...?

There was that time travel thing, and then a veritable storm of mind-fuzzing kissing, and... But, that would mean... Surely she didn't... Well, actually, from Haruhi that made a certain sense.

Fighting back the urge to roll his eyes, he gave Haruhi a weak smile. "Why?" he asked her. Did she have some strange desire to be 'the other woman', probably just for an odd excuse like 'to see what it's like'? He doubted it... But he was also confident that he needed to be careful, at least enough to find out what her motive was.

Her face reddened and she scowled, looking away. "I know what's going through your head," she grumbled. "This is nothing about trying to hurt someone else's feelings, or trying to mess up ... things. You know what my feelings are on romance between other people! What I do care about is if ... you still..." That was as far as she could get, her eyes starting to shine, her hands faintly trembling.

Suddenly, Kyon felt a stab of guilt. And to compound matters, he admitted to himself that he was about to do something terrible - cheat on Tsuruya. The yawning abyss of his personal hell was nearby, he could feel it.

"Well... I guess I can't say much for myself in this matter," he sighed. "Not much positive, anyway ... but... No, look ... my feelings haven't changed at all. What's going on ... it was my parents, and Tsuruya-kun's father."

Haruhi managed a stiff nod, but didn't relax at all. Stifling a sigh internally, and making himself admit that it was actually kind of fun having the upper hand... He reached out and cautiously drew his fingertips across her cheek, turning her face towards him before he took that final step, into the chasm.

Hopefully, Tsuruya would understand enough to forgive him some day.

Her plan was relatively simple. Wait until Haruhi cooled down, then go over details again. Maybe give Haruhi some encouragement, since she was dealing with a lot of stress, but, as they said, old tricks are the best tricks.

She wasn't an expert, but she simply asked herself what she would do in Haruhi's shoes. And Tsuruya told herself that she would smile, put up a strong front, grab the first chance she could find to be alone with Kyon, and then (to borrow a phrase from her English tutor) snog the daylights out of him!

Haruhi and Kyon weren't in the clubroom when Tsuruya dropped Kanae off, though Yuki and Mikuru were. They even managed to catch Mikuru changing, which was amusing to Tsuruya and Kanae, but not nearly so much to the time traveler. That in mind, Tsuruya resisted the urge to snap a few pictures of her and instead dashed off to look for the missing pair.

They weren't in their classroom, either, and Tsuruya's next best guess was betrayed by Koizumi, though she strongly doubted he meant to be obvious. She found him standing just outside the stairwell leading up to the roof.

The area was almost deserted, the occasional passing student just shooting a brief glance down the hall and then vanishing. But Koizumi had dropped his bag and had one hand pressed to his chest. His eyes were distant, he had the faintest hints of a blush across his face, and his expression was shifted from his normal cheerless grin to something that managed to simultaneously combine awe and terror.

She couldn't help herself; she snapped a picture of him.

That got his attention, rousing him from his stunned daze. "Ah, er," he managed on seeing her. Amazingly, his blush faded almost instantly, and his features instantly switched back to his typical mask. "Um, Tsuruya-san, what brings you to this completely empty corner of the school?"

"Looking for Haru-nyan!" she chirped back at him. After a moment of time to reflect on it, she realized she knew exactly what was going on, and just barely restrained an amused gasp. She couldn't keep down the smile or giggle, though. Obviously, Haruhi had found Kyon and done the expected ... and Koizumi was significantly 'aware' of it.

"'ll probably find her in the club room," he suggested, smiling weakly. "I t...think we should go there now!"

Perhaps it was a tiny bit of jealousy that Haruhi was a flight and some distance up, of all things, making out with Tsuruya's fiance. She could admit it stung a little... So she elbowed Koizumi companionably. "You alright?" she pressed. "Your knees are shaking, and your face is a little red, nyoro~!"

"Side-effect of my esper powers," he said, stooping to collect his bag. "It's only in my head, but..." She had a good guess that Haruhi was either out of earshot, or incredibly distracted. Possibly both. In either case, Koizumi managed one step down the hall, away from the stairwell, before he froze, his eyes crossed as he gasped.

Sighing, and deciding Haruhi needed her 'moment' a little longer, Tsuruya took the wobbly esper's elbow in one hand. "Come on," she ordered, leading him like a dazed, lost puppy. "Nurse's office, or club rooms?"

"Club room," he wheezed, his gaze still glassy.

So, another detour to drop off the nearly catatonic esper before she could double-back. Her hopes were denied ... instead of being able to jog up the stairs and give Kyon a good-natured heart attack, catching him in the act and then reassuring him that it was okay (as long as she got hers, too), she reached the stairwell just in time to see the pair descending.

For his part, Kyon looked simultaneously smug and resigned, which was a look that she was hard pressed to think anyone aside from him could really pull off. Haruhi's hair was mussed, her eyes were distant, and she seemed to have borrowed Kanae's luminescent blush. Yeah, either of those were worthy of a picture - both were worth several.

Kyon snapped out of his daze first, looking guiltily around, as though to scan for witnesses before he was unable to meet her eyes. Well ... she was a little touched to see he felt guilty about it - enough to soothe that tiny jealous burn, anyway. "Er," he managed.

"Uh," Haruhi agreed, blinking away her confusion and nonchalantly trying to smooth her hair back into place.

A few more pictures later, Tsuruya finally pocketed her phone again, quirking an eyebrow at the couple before her. "Well?" she prompted, when neither said anything else.

Bowing his head, Kyon heaved a sigh and raised one hand to his temple. "Let's say that this was my fault," he mumbled, looking even more guilty. It was kind of cute, in a way... But there was no way she was going to risk getting caught kissing him in the halls, tempting though that might be.

"Then I'm disappointed in Haru-nyan," she judged, unable to keep the smile from her face. "Really ... dragging you heres and making you do all the work?"

Haruhi winced, staring at the floor while her blush deepened. Kyon didn't react at all, probably telling himself he hadn't heard the comment.

"Aaaaanyway, Kyon-kun," she drawled, waving a hand before his face to draw his attention, "I'll just says ... I don't see that any rules were broken, hum? You takes good care of Nagato-chi and Mikuru-chan tonight, too, okies?"

"Er, right," he managed, snapping to attention and nodding, though he still looked completely baffled. "Absolutely."

"I have to talk to Tsu-chan, so you can go home and get ready," Haruhi added, somewhat more recovered. "But she's right! If you don't show those two a good time, it's a penalty!"

"Right, right," Kyon mumbled, bowing to the pair and then trudging towards his classroom. "Death penalty if I fail... I know where I'm going to end up!"

Tsuruya watched him walk slowly away, wondering at that last remark. Haruhi also watched him, her cheeks still glowing. "So," Tsuruya asked with a giggle, pitching her voice low enough that Kyon wouldn't hear, "was it good?"

"He's really good," Haruhi agreed, nodding. "Like ... amazing. I, er, kind of ... lost track of time. I only meant to grab him for a minute, and then, um..." She shrugged uncomfortably.

"No problem," Tsuruya chuckled. "Oh, um... But I didn't talk to Mikuru-chan. I thoughts about what you said, about how there's a gap between you and her...?" She gave an apologetic shrug of her own. "I think you should be the one to bridge that gap, really."

"Ugh," Haruhi sighed, covering her eyes with one hand. After a moment, she straightened up, dropping her hand to her side. "You're right," she agreed. "I do have to take care of that myself; thanks, Tsu-chan."

"Hehe, were you just deficient in Vitamin K?" she asked her friend with a wink.

"...yeah," Haruhi agreed, shooting Tsuruya a half-hearted glower. "This is so embarrassing!"

She was at her limit, so, leaning heavily on Haruhi, Tsuruya finally gave in, exploding with laughter. The entire situation was too silly!

"What!?" Haruhi protested, not pushing Tsuruya away. "What's so funny about this?"

Once she had calmed down, Tsuruya managed to explain, "You're cute when you get flustered, remember?"

Haruhi pouted. "I am going to get an equal share of seeing you flustered in turn," she warned. "Once I figure out how..." She clicked her tongue and sniffed pointedly.

Tsuruya chuckled in response ... but she could only think of two things that Haruhi could arrange that would really fluster her. And with Kyon sent home, only one was viable. "We'll see," she allowed. "C'mon, let's go talks to Mikuru-chan~!"

"Right," Haruhi agreed.

Really, Mikuru had thought she had gotten used to dressing up as a maid for the club. She hadn't realized she actually liked it until she found Kanae taking over her role. What she had once expected would be an escape, somehow, left her missing the opportunity.

That thought in mind, she had rushed to the club room to change before the slider could... After all, hadn't Haruhi mentioned that Kyon really liked seeing her in a maid outfit?

...not that that was her entire reason, or what motivated her to keep changing when Tsuruya and Kanae burst into the room. Still, it wouldn't hurt to do something nice for Kyon, especially since he was supposed to be taking her and Yuki out to see a movie that night anyway. Once she finished changing and started heating water for tea, she and Kanae managed some small talk, mostly centered around the slider's slowly climbing history grade.

Though, she seemed reluctantly consigned to only barely getting a passing mark... "It's better than not trying at all," Mikuru said, just Tsuruya stopped back by the clubroom again, this time snickering as she pushed Koizumi in and then ran away.

The esper dazedly made his way to the table, looking strangely distracted. "Ah ... Koizumi-san?" she asked cautiously. "Are you alright?"

"I'm ... wrestling with some issues," he said, shaking his head as he took a seat. "I expect that very shortly the problem will go away."

"Oh!" Kanae said, perking up slightly. "Is this about esper business, then?"

"Yes," Koizumi reluctantly agreed, nodding.

"Oh, my," Mikuru said, frowning as she glanced around. "Um ... should I call Kyon-kun about it?"

"No!" Koizumi barked, almost shouting

At the same time Yuki raised her gaze from her book and said, much more calmly, "No."

"Huh?" Kanae asked, looking between the two. "What's going on?"

Swallowing, Koizumi lowered himself from where he had started to leap out of his seat and gestured the quiet girl to go on. "Data is being transmitted through relevant memetic channels," Yuki offered, blinking.

"What kind of 'data transmission' could Sempai have with Suzumiya-san?" Kanae asked, puzzled. "You mean, like, a conversation?"

Yuki blinked then turned her attention back to her manga wordlessly, blushing incredibly faintly.

The slider pouted, then turned an imploring gaze to Koizumi.

", is the tea ready?" the esper asked with a nervous chuckle. "Some nerve settling tea would be ju..." His remark was punctuated with an eye-crossing pause, before he quickly shook his head and cleared his throat. "J...just the thing," he managed, his voice shaking in an unfamiliar manner.

"Y...yes," Mikuru agreed, pouring him a cup of tea and setting it within his reach. "But, um ... are you alright? You seem really ... stressed."

"It's nothing," he insisted, gulping his tea and scalding his mouth. "Ah! Er... Nothing at all!"

"Nothing?" Mikuru asked doubtfully. "I don't really understand how an exchange between Kyon-kun and Suzumiya-san would make you..." She trailed off with a blink, thinking about things. She didn't really know the specifics of Koizumi's powers. He could do things in closed space, access that closed space, and ... had a link of some sort to Haruhi's emotional state? Kyon had mentioned that once...

"Oh, oh dear," she fretted. "Did Kyon-kun upset Suzumiya-san?"

Koizumi muttered something that sounded an awful lot like, "Thank the gods, they're finally done," before shaking his head and sitting up straight. "Let's discuss something else," he suggested. "Yes, so ... ah ... our beach trip this weekend - won't that be fun?"

Kanae eyed Koizumi suspiciously, but finally shrugged and turned a curious gaze to Mikuru. At that moment, the door slammed open, Haruhi beaming an excited smile to everyone inside. Tsuruya was behind her, glowing with her own radiant amusement. "Hello~!" Haruhi called cheerfully.

"A...ah ... um ... hello?" Mikuru tried cautiously, managing a smile. What had happened? Where was Kyon?

"Hello Suzumiya-san, Tsuruya-san," Kanae greeted cheerfully. "No Sempai today?"

"I sent Kyon home to get ready for tonight," Haruhi said, waving a hand dismissively.

"I guess I don't feel bad about not getting to dress up, then..."

Mikuru couldn't help but sigh at that, a little disappointed. That meant there wasn't much of a reason for her to dress up, either.

"What's that face for?" Haruhi demanded, striding to Mikuru's side and clapping one hand on her shoulder.

Mikuru didn't quite squeak in alarm, though she did jump a little. "N...nothing!" she protested quickly. "Um, I'm sure Kyon-kun will be just fine!"

"And you'll get to see him tonight for your movie," Haruhi added. "You and Yuki-chan..."

"I'm jealous," Kanae mumbled, offering a tiny, guilty smile. "I want to see a movie with Sempai."

"I got us tickets to the Trope-tan movies, though!" Tsuruya pointed out, taking a seat next to the slider and putting one arm around her shoulders. "Remember? Next Friday!"

"Yeah!" Kanae agreed excitedly, nodding energetically. "I haven't forgotten that at all! Er, but..." She shook her head. "'s probably nothing..."

"What's that, then?" Haruhi asked, turning to look at her curiously. "Something on your mind, Kanae-chan?"

"I was thinking of maybe talking to Sempai a little bit about, um ... my enemies ... and how we're supposed to plan for that. I... I've been trying to avoid it, but that's a really bad idea if they might be showing up soon..."

"That's a good point," Haruhi agreed, frowning. "Okay, well, hm... Ah! I have it - Tsu-chan, can we use your place as a base of operations?"

"That's what my places is!" the heiress agreed, snickering.

"Okay! Mikuru-chan, Yuki-chan, come over to Tsu-chan's place after the movie with Kyon. We'll go over what information we have and then we can work on that this weekend when we're not at the beach. Until then, hum, Mikuru-chan, Yuki-chan, you two should just go ahead and get ready. There's no sense letting this distract you from what should be a nice evening, right? I really do expect both of you to enjoy yourself ... this is my apology to Mikuru-chan for what happened last time!"

Yuki blinked, looking up from her manga wordlessly.

"And to you for not being involved last time," Haruhi acknowledged, nodding at the shorter girl. Yuki nodded slightly in response and turned her attention back once more.

"Enjoy myself?" Mikuru asked, dismayed. Well, if Kyon was there, then she'd enjoy that much, at least. But how was she supposed to try and have fun when she knew they were planning to deal with some sort of horrendous extra-planar invasion? As frequently happened when she thought about Kanae's enemies, she found a curious and probably intentional blind spot in her memories. More deeply concealed than merely 'classified', that information had been redacted.

She supposed that was some small comfort... That meant it was a matter for history, and that ... probably ... they survived. But that didn't seem like much of a consolation, really, so she didn't mention it. Anyway, with the weight of all that looming, and the knowledge that she was supposed to try and 'pursue' Kyon - earnestly, despite the fact that she knew it could never happen...

"Yuki-chan, you know what I mean, right?" Haruhi asked.

Yuki nodded without looking up.

"Hmm... Okay. Anyway, there's something else we need to discuss tonight, Mikuru-chan, but that can wait. Just focus on having a good time! Soak up tons of energy for this weekend, like me! That may mean seizing an opportunity when you see it - so if you find an opportunity, strike! Strike until you can strike no more!" Haruhi looked out the window, tapping her lower lip thoughtfully. "Hmm... You might just be able to stun him like-" She cut herself off with a cough and a shake of her head. "Anyway! Mikuru-chan, Yuki-chan, you can go ahead and head out when you like - our official club meeting can convene at Tsuruya's place tonight!"

"Y...yes," Mikuru agreed, frowning. Almost no one had even enjoyed the tea she made!

"Oh, and Mikuru-chan, you might need a secret weapon, so..." She trailed off thoughtfully for some reason before brightening, though she had an eerily predatory smile. "You should put your hair up in a ponytail when you go out with Kyon tonight! It's at least plus five versus Kyon!"

"O...okay," Mikuru managed to agree, moments before Haruhi gave a nod of approval, and stormed out of the room with Tsuruya, Kanae, and Koizumi. Yuki quietly flipped to the next page of her manga.

The time traveler sighed, prepared to remove her outfit once the door shut.


She froze, looking at Yuki with mild surprise. Though her expression had hardly changed, Yuki fished her phone from her pocket and snapped a picture of Mikuru. "" she noised. "What's that for?"

Yuki punched some keys, sending the picture to Mikuru's own phone. "For him."

" want me to send him a picture of me?" she asked, confused.

Though it was subtle, Yuki's gaze felt vaguely puzzled to the time traveler.

"You know, you can ask for clarification," Mikuru offered at a sudden insight. "I mean, you don't have to try and struggle to guess everything on your own. We ask to make sure that what we say is what we mean all the time in conversation ... in classes on communication, it's called 'perception checking'."

"Verbal error-correction-checking to adjust and correct issues in a naturally lossy medium," Yuki observed, ducking her head slightly, looking the tiniest bit pensive.

"Well ... that sounds a bit analytical, but I suppose that's exactly what it is," Mikuru agreed, pulling off the apron for her maid costume.

"You ... want him ... to see you in that outfit," Yuki finally managed, which was not really a question at all.

"Y...yes," Mikuru agreed, pulling off the frock and hanging it before pulling on her uniform skirt and top. Once she was finished doing up her skirt, she gave Yuki a cautious smile. "You were trying to help me?"

Yuki nodded.

"Aw... Well, thank you, Yuki-chan, but, um... I don't know if he would really like... I mean, I could send him a picture, I suppose. I was just... Ah, it's not important! We'll see him tonight, won't we?"

Yuki nodded again.

"So, um ... hum. I didn't bring a change of clothes with me. Did you want to go our separate ways and then meet up, or would you like me to come with you to prepare?" she asked. Would Yuki want her help getting ready for the movie...?

After rising to her feet and hesitating, going through her internal struggle, Yuki said, "Assistance would be ... appreciated."

Mikuru couldn't help but smile at her friend, barely resisting the impulse to hug her again. Plenty of time for that after deciding which outfit to wear.

After retrieving his schoolbag, Kyon trudged home, trying to sort things out. Did Tsuruya know that he had kissed Haruhi? Did she really mean that was okay?

As nice as it was to think that, it seemed much more likely that Tsuruya didn't know what had really happened.

For the time being, he felt oblivious to the other students walking along with him and on the train. He was partially ecstatic, since Haruhi did know, but was (somehow) holding things together. On the other hand, he had also proved himself a bigamist, by cheating on Tsuruya, and that was weighing on him heavily. So he was torn between extremes, lost in a daze until he reached his sister's school.

He shook his distraction off outside of the gates, glancing up the street and spotting a well-dressed member of the Tsuruya branch giving him a subtle nod as their eyes met. A few minutes later, his sister and Miyoko left the school together, both perking up on seeing him (though, they both looked cheerful anyway).

Between the two of them, only his sister tried to use her body as a projectile, and he caught her easily. "Kyon-kun~!" she cheered. "You're not going to move into Tsuru-nee-san's house right away, are you?" Behind her, Miyoko nodded earnestly, giving him an expectant look.

"Of course not," he replied, setting her down and ruffling her hair. "That'd be years and years away... Man, is that what you've been talking about today?"

Miyoko nodded. "When can I meet this girl?" she asked cautiously. "She wasn't one of the girls with you when we went to see that movie..."

"I never get to see movies with Kyon-kun," his sister grumbled.

"Maybe you can ask Tsuruya if she can get you tickets to see the Trope-tan movie with us," he suggested, not realizing what a mistake this was until his sister exploded with excitement at the prospect.

Some minutes later, while his now hyper-actively charged sister tried to explain the entire Trope-tan series to Miyoko, who was struggling to follow her, his phone rang. At a glance, they were only a few blocks from home... Was it Haruhi, wanting to talk to him about the 'situation'? Tsuruya, wanting to confront him about him being a bigamist?

Maybe Koizumi, struggling to be a friend, trying to offer advice. Mikuru or Yuki, wanting to see if he was on for the movie he'd been told he had to take them to, still?

Or maybe, just because he wasn't expecting it, Kanae?

Except, when he absently pulled his PDA from his pocket and hit 'talk' without checking the caller ID, it wasn't any of them. "Hello?" he greeted cautiously.

"Ah! I've finally reached you!" Sasaki said across the connection, sounding oddly relieved. "I thought I'd try, since I ran into your friends yesterday while shopping."

He was so stunned that he didn't say anything right away.

"Well, nevermind that for now - um, Kyon, things are somewhat difficult at the moment, and I feel that it's very important that we speak. Are you free this evening?"

"No," he managed. He didn't really think about it, just saying, "I'm going to see a movie tonight with a girl from my school, sorry." Actually, it was two girls, he realized belatedly.

The silence became uncomfortable as Miyoko and his sister stared at him expectantly.

"A...ah, I see!" Sasaki said, her voice now strangely stressed. "With, ah, what was that name ... Miyokichi?"

"What? No! I'm not that kind of person!" he protested. How did this keep happening? "Why does it always seem- Look, Miyoko-chan is like a little sister to me!"

"Ah?" the girl in question managed, looking confused. "What's going on?"

"Sorry," he said with a sigh. "No, no, tonight I'm going to the theater with Asahina-san and Nagato."

"Oh!" Sasaki exclaimed, now oddly relieved. "Oh, well... That... Yes, of course! That makes much more sense. Of course if it was- Sorry, that was- Ah, rather, nevermind! On to somewhat more pressing matters, then?"

"Okay," he allowed. "I'm really busy these days, but I can at least hear you out."

"Yes, right. I'd really like to meet with you to discuss this in person, could we arrange that? You say you're busy, but knowing you, it's because someone else already imposed on your calendar and made arrangements."

He sighed wordlessly. He could read people, but Sasaki knew him.

"Aha, just as I suspected! In that case, I'd like to impose arrangements of my own on you, if possible! Namely to meet in person so we can discuss things. It really does seem to be increasing in urgency."

His PDA obligingly flipped to his day planner. 'Skynet' (it changed its name automatically shortly after Haruhi had renamed it 'Kyon's PDA') seemed to understand things that people around him said and filled in his schedule appropriately. Irritatingly enough, Sasaki was right, though, and every event had been initiated by someone else. While he found the planner useful, he hadn't actually put anything into it himself.

"Well, this weekend is no good for me," he told her, bringing the phone back to his ear. "I've got plans. And next Friday I'll be going out with some other friends."

"Well, how about Monday night?" she pressed. "I'd really rather this be sooner than later..."

"Actually, I wanted to take my parents out to dinner to talk with them about something important on Monday," he lied, while Skynet obligingly made a new entry.

"I'm going too!" his sister demanded waving her arms to get his attention. He nodded at her, as Sasaki sighed across the line.

"So busy?" she protested. "You've really changed quite a bit, then... It's not that you're avoiding me, is it?"

Kyon had tried not to think about that. Or the fact that a whole year had gone by where he thought about Sasaki frequently, but never tried to talk to her. Really, he was deep enough on the path to his special hell as it was. He could claim that it was because she upset Haruhi, but he couldn't say that to Sasaki. That and the fact that he would be lying to himself...

"See, it's... I ended up getting a part-time job - I'm heavily involved in a very traditional, family-run business now, so that takes up quite a bit of time," he offered. That was actually close to true.

"Hmm... Well, I don't expect you to be the sort who would break their school rules concerning part-time work," she mused. "So, one of your friends must have asked you for help. Is it so bad that you can't speak with me when I ask you for the same?"

He winced at that. He'd just seen her earlier that week, from his perspective. From hers, that was over a month ago, though. How could he call her a friend, and not listen to her request? "I never said I wouldn't meet with you," he grumbled. Hell ... if he had a chance to speak to some of Sasaki's allies without endangering any of his friends, maybe they might have some insight into Kanae's situation.

Though, he would need to be very careful not to let them know any details about Kanae, if he could help it. Or would they mysteriously have already connected with Kanae's enemies? Come to think of it, if that were a possibility, and they could be expected soon, putting off such a meeting longer than needed... "So, ah ... how about next weekend?" he offered.

"Ah, I've got something then, myself ... what about Monday a week after next? The thirtieth?"

"Yeah, okay," he agreed. "Where? And what time?"

"Let's say ... six o'clock, at that cafe? If that's not too much trouble. I'll treat you!"

"It's no trouble. I guess, uh ... sorry for being so distant, things have just been really, really hectic lately."

Sasaki actually giggled at that. "Believe me, I've ended up quite busy lately, too! Now- Ah, oh... Well, I'm afraid I must go - see you at our meeting, unless we run into one-another first! And be careful!"

She disconnected before he could reply, so he shrugged, checking his calendar. There was his meeting with Sasaki on the thirtieth...

"Well?" Miyoko and his sister asked in tandem, just as they rounded the corner to the street leading to his home.

"It's someone from Kyon's middle school," his sister determined.

"And why did this person know about me?" Miyoko added worriedly.

"How did you know that?" he asked his sister, frowning. "And for the other part, that's a good question, Miyoko-chan. I'm not sure - I'll ask Sasaki when I see her." Skynet obligingly made a note on his to-do list. Such a useful device... He didn't look forward to its inevitable betrayal.

"I don't know who that person is, but make sure you're close to Haru-nee-san when you talk to them," his sister warned.

"That's a strange thing to say," he remarked, pocketing his PDA and frowning at his sister. Somehow, the idea of bringing Haruhi along to meet with Sasaki sounded spectacularly bad. "What gives you that idea?"

His little sister gave him a faintly aloof smile. "Where are you going this weekend?" she asked him. "I saw you with a checklist of things to pack!"

So much for keeping her from finding out... Sighing, he shook his head. "You already invited yourself along for Monday," he noted. "So if I tell you, that means you can't go. Understand?"

"Okay!" she cheered. "So, don't tell me! That means I can go!"

He blinked at her. "That's not what-"

"Come on, Miyoko, let's go call Haru-nyan and tell her that Kyon said we could go, as long as it's a surprise!"

"Okay!" Miyoko agreed, grinning as she and his sister charged the remaining distance to the house.

It would be trivial to chase them down and stop them, but he couldn't see that actually accomplishing anything. If he told her, she'd just insist on tagging along anyway... And he supposed it wasn't that bad having his sister along on a beach trip. She'd missed the entire island adventure, after all. Miyoko being along shouldn't be a problem, either...

He watched the pair of girls dash through the doorway into the house and shook his head, bemused. At least she wasn't going to be tagging along for tonight's movie with Mikuru and Yuki.

By the time he opened the door, his sister and Miyoko were already transcribing a list of supplies - his sister was naming them off one at a time, and Miyoko was hurriedly writing them with her neat handwriting. His mother confronted him before he could really take the situation in, asking, "Where exactly are you taking your sister this weekend?"

Well, Tsuruya's name was a talisman that cut through any of his mother's complaints, so: "Tsuruya-kun and I are going to the beach with the rest of the club. Imouto asked if she could come along, so..." He shrugged.

His mother arched one eyebrow higher, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "There will be chaperones?" she asked.

"Yeah, and Imouto just joined their ranks," he jibed, grinning. "It's not like it's a private beach." Or ... was it? Well, it wouldn't matter if it was...

"Just because you're engaged, don't overstep your bounds," his mother warned him sternly, frowning slightly. "She's a very nice young woman, and it wouldn't do for you to ruin things! In fact, come to think of it, perhaps we should find a protocol and etiquette teacher for you?"

"Auntie Rika trained me well enough," he countered, surprised at how much the comment seemed to nettle his mother. She winced and bristled, fixing him with a wary gaze.

Why wouldn't his mother get along with Rika? Well ... that was a mystery to solve later.

"Anyway, speaking of the aunts, I have some money saved up from babysitting." This was technically true - all told, the sitting ended up paying quite well thanks to the per-cousin fee, once he had totaled up the damages. At this point, that sum had been greatly amended by his regular paychecks, as well.

"And?" she asked doubtfully. "You didn't spend your savings, did you?"

"Of course not," he said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Give me some credit. I've been saving every week!"

She beamed a surprised smile at him. "You've been saving all of your allowance? Good! I'm glad you show that much responsibility!"

"Well, actually, I wanted to take you and Dad - and Imouto - out for dinner ... and maybe talk about how things are going lately," he offered.

"Oh, that's very thoughtful of you, Kyon!" his mother exclaimed, looking genuinely surprised. She immediately seemed to realize something and fixed him with a suspicious stare. "What is this supposed to be an apology for? What have you done?"

"Got engaged recently and felt that I really needed to have better communication with my parents?" Kyon suggested, giving his mother a somewhat baffled look, trying to keep the reproach from his gaze. "Do I really give such a bad impression?"

Mollified, she shook her head, looking away. "Not usually..." she admitted. "Alright. Just leave a note for your father so he knows where and when."

"No problem," he agreed.

After moving their bags of beach equipment to Tsuruya's place in advance to save some time, Mikuru and Yuki spent some time getting ready at Yuki's place before retreating to Mikuru's so she could change herself. After that, the pair retreated went to the train station near the theater where they were supposed to meet Kyon. Mikuru couldn't help be a tiny bit apprehensive, since the last time...

Well, with Yuki nearby, surely Kyon wouldn't get injured again... Though, hopefully, he wouldn't even be attacked in the first place!

Surprisingly, Kyon was already waiting for them when they arrived. He was distracted by his new cell phone, though, so the girls had the jump on him - so to speak. He was dressed relatively nicely, in jeans and a white t-shirt, with an unbuttoned blue long-sleeved shirt over that.

Mikuru smiled and motioned Yuki to silence - not that she really needed to put any effort into being quiet. While he was distracted, she crept up behind him, poking him in the back of the neck with one fingertip. "Surprise!" she exclaimed.

He gave a startled jump, fumbling his PDA before recovering and expertly snatching it from the air with a rueful smile. "You sure surprised me," he agreed, before turning and falling completely silent, his mouth hanging slightly open.

It was obvious he was stunned, but she hoped it was because he approved of her outfit, not because he thought poorly of her. Her dress was a nice little one-piece - not too ostentatious - in a red shade that complimented her hair. The lower hem was a bit shorter than her school uniform skirt, but longer than the embarrassing waitress outfit she had worn for Haruhi's movie. Normally she wouldn't have gone for something with such a revealing neckline, either, but the clerk when she tried it on had insisted it was so flattering... Well, it wasn't quite as bad as the bunny-girl costume.

" look very nice," he managed, looking like he suddenly felt very self conscious. "Um ... I should have dressed better..."

She ducked her head and blushed, satisfied for the moment. He didn't disapprove... Still, since she was stuck with her own constraints as a time traveler, the best she could really do was maybe push him a little towards Yuki. She thought Yuki's outfit was cute, too! "Thank you," she said. "Um, what do you think of Yuki-chan?"

He glanced around, actually looking across Yuki before his eyes snapped back to her and widened. Mikuru had used a little make-up for herself, but not much ... she had put some on Yuki, too, but she had needed even less. A hint of blush and some eyeshadow. Yuki was wearing a green blouse with elbow-length sleeves, and a brown-jumper with a knee-length skirt. It had taken Mikuru forever to convince Yuki to wear them, but she also had a pair of hair clips, patterned with green leaves and tiny flowers the same light color as her hair.

Kyon worked his jaw for a long minute, then finally said, "I was not expecting you out of your uniform, Nagato. look amazing, actually." He started, seeming to realize that he might have slighted Mikuru, and quickly added, "Both of you do, in fact."

Mikuru couldn't help but giggle ... and if she weren't looking for it, she wouldn't have seen the small tension in Yuki's face fade at Kyon's comment. "I am glad you approve," Yuki answered.

Kyon quirked one eyebrow higher. "I think it suits you, but ... do you like that outfit?" he asked.

At that, Mikuru giggled again. As she had expected, Kyon really could see into the heart of Yuki. Though, being honest with herself ... if she hadn't spent so much time being afraid of Yuki, she might have been able to notice earlier.

Yuki bowed her head, brow furrowed in concentration. "I ... might," she allowed, looking up and meeting Kyon's eyes. "It is different."

Kyon smiled at her. "Well, I'm glad you're branching out, even though the image of you in your uniform is iconic to me. Just like Asahina-san in her maid outfit."

Mikuru felt her face warm up. So he did like her in that outfit! "What movie did you choose?" she asked, clasping her hands together and leaning towards Kyon curiously.

"Ah, well, since I didn't really think to get tickets in advance, I'm afraid I had to get tickets to a foreign film... Evidently it was somewhat popular in America, though," he said apologetically.

"O...oh," Mikuru managed, dismayed. "Like the last one?" Well, Kyon would be there, but she wasn't sure she was up for another movie like that! How did Miyoko enjoy such things?

"No, no," he said quickly, shaking his head. "I checked with the clerk! And, um ... evidently Skynet gets internet service, so I double-checked on-line. It seems to be a romantic comedy ... mostly."

"What's it called?"

"'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'," he said in English, before switching back to Japanese. "I'm confident enough in my English to think I can follow it, but just in case, it is subtitled."

"Oh, my English is good enough to understand," Mikuru said, giggling. "And I'm sure Yuki-chan, as well!"

Yuki nodded, looking vaguely bemused.

"Something bothering you?" Kyon asked, motioning the pair to follow as he headed towards the theater, through the evening crowds in the district.

"There is no clear link between a wanderer who engages a planet in battle and the concept of romance, though comedy may be inferred through futility," Yuki observed. "I do not completely understand."

"I think it's meant to be ironic, but sometimes movies might have nonsensical titles or tag-lines just to try and draw people in ... it's the same with book titles, right?"

"I see," Yuki mused, seeming placated by that observation.

Ultimately, once the movie began, other than a few cultural oddities that didn't translate well, Mikuru found the story fairly engaging. The special effects reminded her in some ways of the augmented reality context tags that she used herself, and she ended up needing to disable her own until the film finished, since they were overlapping in a confusing way. It had some very strange fights, and some things that totally puzzled her... But it was quite fun, in the end.

They chatted about it a bit on the way to the train, but even though everything had gone well, Mikuru was still nervous until they reached the station. Then she finally let herself relax, asking Yuki if she had enjoyed the movie as well. In her typical manner, Yuki commented, "Unique."

After reaching the train station near Tsuruya's place, they walked along, Mikuru uncomfortably sure that they were being followed. She couldn't pinpoint it, but... "What's wrong?" Kyon asked, noting her discomfort.

"I ... think we're being followed," she managed, wincing. "M...maybe it's nothing..."

"There are three of Tsuruya-kun's men behind us," Kyon offered, not even looking back. "They're supposed to be keeping an eye on you, making sure you're safe."

"Oh!" she managed, surprised. "I didn't know that!"

"Sorry," he replied, glancing at her sheepishly. "Tsuruya-kun or I probably should have mentioned that..."

"Ah, w...well, I am glad to have friends that look after me," Mikuru managed. She wanted to shift the conversation, to ask him about what Sasaki had said - that someone who looked like her but older was with Kyon at one point. But ... they had reached Tsuruya's place, and he was going to go back home after seeing them through the gate.

She stopped at the threshold of the entrance when Yuki tugged at her hand, before she could say goodbye to Kyon. "Thank you," Yuki said, turning to face Kyon. She could tell that Yuki really meant it, and wasn't just being polite. Kyon could, too. But why had Yuki taken her hand to delay her? Before she could ask, Yuki slipped through the gate into the estate, closing it behind her, leaving Mikuru alone with Kyon.

Well, she could open the gate easily enough, but she still didn't know why Yuki had done that... It was quite intentional, but she had a hard time thinking the shorter girl was trying to play a prank or had just been inconsiderate. Was it Yuki's unspoken message that she should spend some time alone with Kyon? She didn't really have an objection to that, but...

", I had a very nice time tonight, as well," she said, smiling at Kyon, one hand absently patting down her ponytail nervously. She usually wore her hair differently ... why had Haruhi insisted on the style? She felt vaguely certain that it was linked to another unanswered question.

Kyon seemed too distracted to respond immediately. Well, they were alone ... and Haruhi said she did have to try... She fought back the temptation to do something she shouldn't and leaned closer to Kyon with her hands clasped behind her back. He looked a little flushed when she did that for some reason... "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Er, fine, yeah," he managed, seeming to struggle to tear his gaze from her as he chuckled nervously and scratched the back of his head. "S...sorry. Um, I'm more than fine - and glad you had a good time. A guy like me should consider himself incredibly fortunate to get to treat two visions of beauty such as yourself and Nagato to a movie! know ... I always thought you were cute..."

"Ah," she managed. He looked faintly flustered for some reason ... so unreasonably adorable! She felt a little stab of jealousy... Haruhi was going to end up with him, though, unless she somehow lost interest. She didn't see that happening any time soon, though. And that aside, it wasn't like she could break the rules and-

And yet... " can call me Mikuru-chan," she said quietly, giving him a hopeful smile. Of course, she'd told him that a year ago, but he'd remained very formal and polite, even though she called him by his nickname. "Please?"

"Ah ... well ... at least this once," he agreed, giving her a wink. "Thanks for a wonderful time tonight ... Mikuru-chan."

Oh ... that did it. He'd gone and completely blown past her threshold for withstanding cuteness. Something inside her gave way, and she realized she was doing something she really, really shouldn't. Why had she told him to call her that?!

"Oh, no, no!" she whimpered, grabbing him and pulling herself to him, frantically pressing her lips against his. "We mustn't!" she protested, between her clumsy attempts to try and kiss him, pushing him to stumble back against the wall of the entry gate. "It's forbidden!" she cried, locking her arms around his body as she tried to pull him to her as tightly as she could. "We can't!" she gasped before diving in once more, one leg rising, the inside of her knee brushing the outside of his leg as he hugged her back. "Please, Kyon-kun..."

Then all coherent thought was thrown completely out as he - after a few moments of her showering him with her tokens of affection - appeared to also succumb to the same temptation and with increasing enthusiasm kissed her back. Well, it was her first kiss, but she supposed he must have had some practice at it.

When her senses finally returned, she was panting for breath. His arms were around her, and she was pressing herself against him so heavily that she had even lifted one leg slightly behind her, like a vintage film actress.

"I know you said we shouldn't, but I've wanted to do that for so long," he confessed, slightly short of breath, looking simultaneously pleased and guilty, his eyes almost glowing in the dim evening light. "I'm sorry ... Mikuru-chan, but ... I don't know if I'll ever be able to resist you."

She had already stretched the rules this far already, so why not? "Oh, who cares, Kyon-kun?" she breathed, pulling his head down for another round, enjoying the moment and ignoring everything else.