This story was just something I thought up while trying to come up with a new chapter for something else. It just happens like that. This is the second version of this story, since I had enough concern about the first version to warrant this new version. Compared to this, the last version was a free-flowing rough draft of sorts.

There are things I've kept and things I've changed. We'll see how it goes from here.


Stand Up, Stand Out, Stand Strong (Comebacker's Mix)

[Post-Disappearance]


Today was a good day.

All four of the remaining members of the SOS Brigade, myself included, sat outside of the principal's office after school. Our benevolent dictator was inside of the office, being laid into verbally for about the last half-hour. I could imagine the looks she was giving the old man right now.

She stepped out after what seemed like an eternity and looked over at all of us.

"You guys really need to get cleaned up, you know."

Well, she was right. All of us were covered in ink, paint, eggshells, vinegar, and whatever else had been thrown at us in the schoolyard, but despite all of that, we were in high spirits.

I laughed at her comment. "Speak for yourself."

She was soaked from head to toe in vinegar, and looked like she had been the canvas for an abstract painting or something.

Actually, it rather suited her.

"Naturally," she said, flicking her dark hair back. "You could compare me to a Jackson Pollock painting, couldn't you?"

Well, I didn't know who that was, but I guess that made sense. What about your punishment, though?

"I'll have to clean the gymnasium for a few weeks after school. The principal said that it wasn't entirely my fault, but I still had to give him some compensation for the trouble."

"And our punishments?" Itsuki Koizumi cut in, ever so courteously. "I'm sure that we'll have some work to look forward to as well."

"Nope. You guys are off the hook."

I would have been relieved if it was another time, but the principal saw all of us there, mixing it up with those delinquents. How could he just let the four us go and punish Haruhi?

"Anyways, don't worry about it. This kind of job is nothing, so I'll be fine. You guys just wait for me in the clubroom until I'm finished."

I started to protest. "Haruhi, you can't be-"

She put her face right in front of mine.

"That's an order, Kyon. I'll give you a really harsh punishment if you disobey me, understand?"

I was ready to try again when Koizumi put his hand on my shoulder and answered in my place.

"We understand, Haruhi. We'll wait for you in the clubroom."

"Good. I'll be back in a flash!"

I sighed as she took off down the hallway. She was being stubborn as usual.

"Does she really think that we'll let it go like that?" I said to myself aloud.

"You two are quite alike, you know." Koizumi remarked.

"Don't just jump to conclusions like that."

"Well, it's true."

Whatever.

"Let's just go back to the clubroom for now."

"'For now'? Haruhi will be quite upset if you try to help her in any way."

"The stipulation was that Kyon not disobey the command or he would face a severe reprimand. However, the clause does not state what will happen to anyone who is not Kyon if they were to attempt the same procedure at a given point in time, or if the action was carried out by multiple persons with Kyon being included in said party."

We all looked over at Yuki Nagato, who brushed back a strand of wet hair from her face. As usual, she had little, if any expression to show us.

What she said sounded really complicated, but even an idiot like me could figure out what she meant from looking at the situation.

"Um…we should hurry back, before we catch cold." As usual, our lovable talisman Mikuru Asahina was constantly thinking of our health. Actually, her clothes had been ruined, which meant she would probably have to wear one of those cosplay outfits Haruhi picked for her…ah, a lovely thought, indeed.

Yes, today was really a good day.

Maybe I should tell you how it all started, though.


"Haruhi! Tell us what happened!"

"I said I wouldn't, and that's final! As the commander-"

"I don't give a damn about that! Tell us what happened to you! Tell us who did this!"

I was doing something I wouldn't normally be doing on any other day.

I was yelling at Haruhi Suzumiya, self-appointed Supreme Commander of the SOS Brigade at North High.

If I did something like that on a normal day, I'd be tortured in ways too horrible to imagine before being subjected to a series of horrible punishment games…most of which would probably involve me paying forthings.

However, that day wasn't a normal day. I was extremely pissed off.

How would you feel if someone that you knew walked into your clubroom covered in ink, their uniform cut nearly to shreds, their shoes full of holes, and bruised from head to toe?

Well, I don't know about you, but I'd want to see some blood. Yes, this girl had treated me like a punching bag, a personal wallet, a slave, an extortion device, whatever you can think of, but…she would never let something like this go if it were to happen to me, or Yuki, or Itsuki, or Mikuru…she'd do whatever it took to get revenge, come hell or high water.

That's why I was yelling at her: because she wasn't letting us treat her the same way, and was trying to act like nothing happened. Yes, I may be lazy (and somewhat spineless, I will admit), but do you think I could let something like this go?

Hell no!

"We're not getting anywhere like this, Kyon. Maybe we should all just calm down."

I had planned to tell Koizumi to stay out of this whole thing, but he was right. We, or more accurately I had to calm down and try to sort this out. I took a seat and looked towards Haruhi as she did the same.

I was still seething from just looking at her state. And if I didn't know any better, I would have thought that she had been crying recently.

"…"

Nagato was silent as usual, but these days it was easier to read her. Her book had already been placed on the table in front of her, and she was staring intently at Haruhi, like the rest of us were. I could tell immediately that she was none too pleased with this, either.

"Wah! I'll get you cleaned up quickly; we can't have that ink dry!"

Mikuru's sweet voice broke the silence that had filled the room. Other than that, the steady dripping of ink onto the linoleum floor was all that rang through my ears.

And it was pissing me off.

I didn't know exactly why I was so incredibly angry, but I was. I couldn't help feeling this way.

"Haruhi…we all would like to know what exactly happened today. We want to know who did this so that we can help you."

"You want to help me now, huh?"

Koizumi hesitated for a moment. "You mean…this is isn't the first…?"

"Nope. But it's definitely the worst. Having ink dumped all over you is really troublesome, you know? It gets everywhere and it's really hard to get out of your clothes."

Mikuru came back with a wet towel and started on Haruhi's hair.

"Don't be too rough, Mikuru."

"O-Of course!"

"...treating this like a game…"

She turned her head towards me. "What was that, Kyon?"

"I said to stop treating this like some sort of game."

"But isn't that all it is, a prank? Lighten up."

"Lighten up? You expect me to somehow feel better after hearing you say that?"

"It would be nice if you did."

I was beyond angry after hearing that, so I got up and started to walk out.

"You're leaving? Well, just sleep on it and you'll feel better, Kyon."

I doubted that, and I wasn't leaving anyways…just getting some air.

"I suppose it's a little stuffy in here. Itsuki, open some windows."

"Thine will be done," he said with a smile.

I couldn't tell with Koizumi, as usual…but if I had to guess, he was about as worried as I was.

Nagato looked up for a moment, then went back to her book. Looked like she wasn't going to get involved yet.

"Kyon! Won't you have your tea first?"

"No thank you, Mikuru. I'll be back later."

Actually, I took a lot longer than I thought I would, since I took a nap outside. By the time I came back, the clubroom was pretty much dark.

"Ah, well…"

I opened the door, and…

"Hm? Who's there?"

I almost couldn't believe it. Haruhi was the only person there in the clubroom, and it looked like she had been sleeping. She hadn't changed out of her clothes, either, despite them being ruined.

"Oh…it's you, Kyon."

"Yeah, it's me. You're usually gone with everyone else. I just came back to get my stuff."

"Oh, that's fine…I'm going to be here a bit longer."

I sighed as I looked at her staring outside, and took a seat opposite of her.

"Tell me what's wrong."

"I don't feel like talking about it. This is my problem and mine alone."

"You're being bullied; you need to talk about it."

"It's not bullying, it's just…some people venting their frustration. I don't mind it, if it will help everyone else."

"Help everyone else? What are you talking about?""Just some delinquents causing trouble. No big deal."

"No big deal? Look at what they did to you, Haruhi. If it was just 'a few delinquents', you would have taken care of it already. But you said that this has been going on for a while now."

"So what?"

So what? Is that all you have to say?

"Yeah, that's it. Can we stop talking about this?"

No way.

"Well, I don't want to hear it anymore. Especially from you."

"Yeah, right. I at least know when I've been beaten and I know when to ask for help, or better yet, run away. Call me a sensible coward if you want. Just stop being so foolish, Haruhi. You can't do this alone; it's obvious."

"I can do it myself, and I will do this myself. I don't care if you like it or not, Kyon."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" I could feel my anger rising quickly.

"I should be asking you that."

"You're worrying everyone here by doing this. You need to stop!"

"I'm not going to do that. I'm the leader here, so I'm in charge, and whatever I say goes. If I say to stay out of it, you'll stay out of it, got it?"

No, I don't get it! It doesn't make sense! It's completely stupid!

"Then think of it like that all you want! I'm going to keep doing this!"

"Doing what? Going out and getting yourself hurt for no reason? Being unreasonable and bull-headed? What is it, Haruhi?" I kept going as I stood up.

"Be quiet…"

"Not considering anyone else's feelings…"

"Be quiet…"

"Putting yourself in danger for no good reason…"

"Shut your mouth…!" Haruhi stood up quickly to face me.

"Trying to take on everything yourself and not trusting anyone else…!"

"I said to shut up!"

"You're just throwing away your friends, your comrades just like that, and you call yourself a leader?"

As I said that, I felt the right side of my face start to hurt like hell, and I saw her face twisted into an expression of shock as her fist hung in the air.

"I…Kyon…"

She clutched one side of her head, looking as if she were in pain.

"I didn't…mean…"

She then turned away and ran out of the room as fast as she could. I tried to chase after her, but…

"Haruhi! Please, come back! Haruhi!"

My face still stung, but I really could have cared less about that then.

"Shit…"

I concluded that I went too far when I said those words. I was angry, and wasn't really thinking, as usual.

There wasn't anything to do for the time being but go home…and maybe sleep on this whole thing, like Haruhi suggested earlier.


My sister made a huge fuss about my face when I got home, so I told her a lie about running into a wall at school. She made fun of me for a good while before insisting that she take care of my injuries for a while. I let her do so before Mom came home, and I gave her the same story.

I didn't care about them finding out I had been beaten up by a girl, but I really wanted to keep this between myself and the Brigade.

Shamisen didn't recognize me, apparently, and went to sleep with my sister that night. Yeah, my face was pretty bad.

I was in school the day after next, and it was business as usual, except Haruhi and I stayed away from each other for the most part. It was an easy task, actually.

After school, my feet took me in the direction of the usual hangout, the Literature Club room where Yuki Nagato read in silence, also unofficially known as the clubhouse for Haruhi Suzumiya's SOS Brigade.

It seemed as if at least three quarters of my fellow club members were happy to see me…or in the case of Yuki Nagato, calmly indifferent.

The lone exception excused herself to run an errand of sorts.

"Koizumi."

I gave him a serious look, and it seemed he could already tell what I was thinking.

"We haven't done anything since two days ago. If there's anything she's doing, I don't know of it."

"Thanks." I immediately took off after Haruhi, catching up to her in one of the halls.

"Wait up!"

She immediately slowed down and stopped, but kept her face pointed away from mine.

"Do you want me to tell you what you want to hear?" she said miserably.

"I want you to tell me what you're thinking."

"I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"Because…"

"Because what?"

She took a deep breath before finally looking at me. "Because I'm scared. I've been scared this whole time."

"…I see. I can understand, at least a little."

"…How could you?"

"Well," I folded my arms as I went over my thought process. "You told me a while back that I should sleep on this whole thing, and after our…well, conversation, I guess, I started to put things into perspective. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've figured out why you did what you did."

"So you know."

"I guess I do. I've started hearing more and more about this whole series of incidents as I investigated it…"

It seemed like a huge task at first, but the pieces came together fairly easily. The whole thing started with a few students going off and pulling pranks around the school, and then escalated into something bigger. The administration and the Student Council effectively tried to contain the problem by covering it up, so that the school's reputation wouldn't be damaged and they could take care of the problem with very little mess to clean up afterwards. Unfortunately, the plan backfired and everything got worse. Haruhi, naturally wanting to outdo the Student Council in whatever needed to be done, took this problem onto her shoulders, and that is why everything is like this at the moment.

The next issue was that Haruhi was seen in the same light as the delinquents and didn't have any real authority on the matter as the administration refused to back her up, despite the fact that she was actually doing well with the misbehaving students.

"Most of these 'delinquents' are actually just regular students protesting the unfair measures taken by the school's administration. Class schedules, lunches, club funding and other things…they're messing it up and giving the students a bad deal when it's all said and done," she explained.

This was just a physical appearance of that frustration.

Then there was Haruhi herself. Usually, she'd be a lot rougher in tone and meanings with people who caused her trouble, but this situation was getting increasingly delicate. So what she resolved to do was simply talk (or yell, even) everyone down from this situation.

"This isn't really like all of the other times, though…it's hard when people you know get so angry all of the time. Not even I could fight an entire school like this."

The bad part was that her success rate was dropping steadily as the days went on, and rumours flew around that she was doing this and that and the other thing for the school's sake. That's when the hounding really started.

And that's also the reason the rest of us were in the dark, right?

"I didn't want to drag you guys into this. I mean, if something happened and you all got hurt in any way…I wouldn't be able to forgive myself."

I understood her reasoning, but…

"Haruhi, listen. I said many things the last time we talked that were harsh, but there are a few of those things that I'm going to stand by. You really were being foolish and quite selfish when you did what you did, and you made all of us worry."

"I know. But…"

"But what?"

"…"

"Haruhi?"

"If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies."

She stared straight into my eyes as she said that, and then started on her way again.

I stood where I was and gave her my response.

"Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice."

She stopped again with her back to me, and didn't move a muscle until she decided to speak once more.

"I'm sorry for hurting you, Kyon. I didn't mean to, but I was just so scared and frustrated…and I was angry, not at you, but at this reflection of myself that I was sick of seeing. I felt like I had to lash out at something, but when I realized that you were the one I hit, I didn't know what to say or do. All I could do was just run away. I really wish I could take all of that back."

"I don't really mind that anymore. I'm just worried about you. All of us are. Yuki, Itsuki, Mikuru…all of us, the people who care about you."

"…Thank you, Kyon."

This time she left for good, and I didn't bother chasing her any further.

The quotation I used…I wasn't sure if she recognized it, but it was one I just happened to know. I guess all of that time watching Harrison Ford movies didn't go to waste after all.

I just really hoped that my words reached her.


Koizumi broke the silence of the clubroom with a smart-ass question.

"Our leader is running a bit late, don't you think?

Gee, you think so?

"Ah…what should we do?" Mikuru asked nervously.

I looked over at Nagato, and she nodded in her delicate way as she put her book down. Koizumi loosened his tie a bit and stood up. I took off my jacket as I led them out of the clubroom.

It had been nearly two hours since I last talked to Haruhi, and I was hoping that she wasn't caught up in something again. I guess it was about time to find out, wasn't it?

"Mikuru, please stay here. We'll be back soon."

However, my upperclassman shook her head strongly at the suggestion.

"I can't do that, Kyon. I…want to see Haruhi safe, too."

Remembering what I had told Haruhi before, I apologized before we all headed out.

The four of us took off through the school halls, looking for some kind of suspicious activity that Haruhi would surely have some hand in. We heard loud chattering near one of the windows overlooking the front of the school.

There were a lot of people near the gates, but one in particular stood out, with those yellow ribbons in her hair.

"Shit…!"

I cursed loudly as I took off towards the front entrance, not caring about what happened next. This was my only objective now. I didn't know what made me feel so strongly, but I hope I figure it out one day soon.

We made it to where that insane girl was, and pushed our way through the crowd to where she stood. She was drenched from head to toe, and smelled weird. Almost like…

"A product of the oxidation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria."

Nagato said something really complicated, but then summed it up for me.

"Vinegar."

I almost wish that she hadn't. I was ready to turn on every single one of those people staring at us.

"Haruhi…?"

From what she had said to me before, she was pretty much on the verge of breaking down…this didn't look good at all.

"Kyon…you…"

"Eh?"

I suddenly felt my head being pulled right up close to hers.

"Haruhi?"

"What took you so long? Where's your battle outfit?"

What? What was she talking about?

"Kyon, you slowpoke. Your message reached me!"

"It did?"

"Yeah…now I know."

What do you mean by 'now you know'? What exactly is it that you know now?

"'Let him who desires peace prepare for war.' I understand now, Kyon. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in, for what you think is right. I can't go changing all of a sudden just because something down the line happens, or because I'm scared. I just have to keep going no matter what. I have to keep fighting."

It then became clear as she gave me that one of a kind grin.

The Haruhi Suzumiya that I knew, that I had always known…it looked like she was back.

"Kyon…are you ready to die with me, as well?"

My mind flashed back to that time in the other world, the one where everything was normal and the Brigade never existed, and the point where I had to make that one choice that would decide everything.

It was that choice that brought me to this moment, and I wasn't about to go back on it, not now…not ever.

Even if I did die for real!

"Yeah, I am."

She jumped onto my back and draped her arms around my neck. I could feel the vinegar from her soaking through my shirt, but somehow, I didn't mind one bit, not even the fact that she had already gotten it in my hair.

Koizumi gave me a smile of approval…well, that's what I assumed. I couldn't actually read it otherwise.

"We're all ready to die for you as well, Commander."

Nagato gave us another one of her delicate nods, indicating that she was in this too.

"I-I'll fight, too!"

Mikuru, looking like a deer caught in headlights, bravely stood alongside the rest of us.

"We are the one and only SOS Brigade of North High! My name is Haruhi Suzumiya, Supreme Commander! All of you standing here need to know one thing. No matter what, we're going to clean up the mess in this school, anyway that we have to. We will not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire...and we've been given the tools, so we've come to finish the job!"

"Charge!" Haruhi kicked me, as a jockey would do to their racehorse. I followed her commands, as did Koizumi, Nagato, and Mikuru. As I took off towards the first volley of unknown objects, I screamed like the lunatic I was at that moment.

Later on, Koizumi would refer to this as the 'Charge of the SOS Brigade.' After being shown the story he based that on by Nagato, it was obvious why.

I could honestly say that there wasn't a more fitting description.


It was after school on the same day.

As I mentioned before, we were absolutely massacred by the other students, but even so, we managed to take quite a few of them down before the principal showed up on the scene.

Haruhi took the blame for all of us from the Brigade, with Koizumi preventing me from protesting. She was assigned major cleaning duty as a punishment, and today she was in the gymnasium.

Naturally, we decided to join her.

Of course, while we had found spare tracksuits to wear, Haruhi still had not bothered to change out of her uniform. She looked like some sort of distorted Picasso.

"Half a league, half a league, half a league onward…oi, what are you guys doing here?"

"We've come to help you out."

"I told you not to come by, right?"

"Stop being stubborn."

"Haruhi…you're sometimes…you're too greedy sometimes!"

The surprising comment came from Mikuru Asahina, and even though it didn't make sense in the context of the situation, we all understood what she meant.

She paused as if thinking for a moment, then tossed the broom she was holding at me.

"What's this for?"

"Well, you wanted to work so badly, so work!"

"What about you?"

"I had prepared for this already, you know." I finally took note of the armband she was wearing.

'Superlative Supervisor'.

Hey…what was this…

She handed the remaining three of us brooms, and lay there in the center of the gym.

You can't do that, you know.

"You agreed to help me, right?"

Don't you understand what the word 'help' means?

"Of course. I'm doing my job, don't worry."

She was totally impossible, that Haruhi.

"When you're all done, report back to the clubroom so we can go to the café together. Kyon and I will split the bill for all of us."

My wallet…my poor wallet.

"You'd better be grateful. The next time I'll really come down hard on you for being so impudent."

"Yeah, yeah…I'll keep that in mind."

There was at least one thing that this normal guy could take from everything that had happened so far.

No matter what you thought of her, or what you saw in her, or what you felt towards her, Haruhi Suzumiya was really a special person. I may have considered her heartless in the past, but after getting to know her, it turned out that she was really someone who transformed the very world she lived in – and this was without using her hidden powers, as well. It was how she did things, I realized, that made ordinary stuff seem like magic at times.

"Kyon, quit slacking. If we get this done quickly, we can get to the café sooner."

I took a good look at her for a moment, and she eventually turned her head away.

"Quit it!"

Huh. I could have sworn that I saw her blush just then, but the light here is a bit strong anyways. I'm just seeing things, and I didn't really have to check just then. The old Haruhi was back, safe and sound.

She had taken me through so many crazy situations that my whole position on life and myself had changed completely. Sometimes I couldn't stand her, sometimes I was worried for her, sometimes I was happy for her, and sometimes, I was even angry for her sake.

In other words, my existence with her had been total chaos.

And you know what?

I've never been happier.

"You dawdlers! Here, I'll show you how it's done! Yuki, broom!"

I sighed to myself with satisfaction as she raced up and down the hardwood floor.

Like I said before, today was a good day.


Extra notes:

If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.

Moshe Dayan, Israeli general & politician (1915 - 1981)

Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice.

Harrison Ford, American actor (1946-)

"We will not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire...and we've been given the tools, so we've come to finish the job!"

We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire...Give us the tools and we will finish the job.

Sir Winston Churchill, quoted from a BBC radio broadcast, Feb 9, 1941; British politician (1874 - 1965)

"Later on, Koizumi would refer to this as the 'Charge of the SOS Brigade.' After being shown the story he based that on by Nagato, it was obvious why."

"Half a league, half a league, half a league onward…"

references to the poem 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson; British poet (1809–1892)

"You could compare me to a Jackson Pollock painting, couldn't you?"

reference to American abstract painter Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Let him who desires peace prepare for war.

from 'De Rei Militari' (Latin "Concerning Military Matters") (approx. 375 AD); Flavius Vegetius Renatus