Wrapped up tightly in the blankets, Haruhi nestled herself closely against my side. I could feel her deep, even breath, hot against my neck. With a content sigh, I eased back against the front of the couch, careful not to disturb her.

It really is amazing how quickly circumstances change. A week ago, the thought of being so close to Haruhi would have made me scoff. And terrified me more than a little. But then I had woken up to a world where the Haruhi I knew, the hot-blooded woman who had seemingly consumed my life whole, didn't exist. Now, having righted the world, the weight of her body against mine brought me only comfort.

I guess I should explain how I managed to get into this situation in the first place. It started with my return to school on Christmas eve, having finally been discharged from the hospital. My mother and sister had decided to visit relatives for the holidays, a fate I was able to avoid only due to my recent injuries. After the school day was done, I'd retired to the SOS Brigade clubroom, where we'd thrown a small party in celebration of the holiday season. From there, well...

"What do you mean you didn't believe in Santa Claus!" Haruhi screamed, aghast. I cringed away from her and cursed myself for mentioning it.

"Ah... Well, I mean, my mom was never really subtle about it, you know? It's hard to believe in Santa when your presents from him are in the same wrapping paper as the ones from your parents," I said, scratching my head sheepishly. "So I guess I just realized it when I was younger than most. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw that it just didn't make sense."

Personally, I thought that was pretty good reasoning—I'd always been proud that I was able to recognize the truth before most kids my age. Haruhi, however, seemed to disagree.

"Santa isn't about making sense, idiot!"

"That doesn't even make sense," I replied. Haruhi threw her hands up in the air and collapsed back into her seat looking disgusted with me. Seeking support, I glanced at the others. Koizumi, as usual, had an unreadable smile on his face as he watched us, his arms and legs crossed elegantly. Asahina, dressed in her criminally-alluring Santa outfit was staring at Haruhi, a wistful look in her doe-like eyes. In the corner, Nagato ignored us and continued reading silently.

Seeing my look, Koizumi, ever the diplomat, added his input. "While it's true that from a logical standpoint the idea of Santa Claus is... rather nonsensical, I think perhaps what Suzumiya is trying to say is that its not about whether or not he exists, it's about believing in something," he said with a nod, a green velvet Christmas hat bobbing along with his head.

Haruhi smiled at him approvingly. I glared at him; he was an ass kisser and that hat looked ridiculous.

"Exactly," she exclaimed, "Exactly! Two hundred points, Itsuki! Of course there isn't a fat old man who travels the world squeezing himself down chimneys, that's just ridiculous," At this point I had to fight to hide my surprise, amazed that Haruhi would deny the existence of anything even remotely supernatural. "But that doesn't mean that it isn't fun to believe! If you don't have something to believe in, what's the point?"

I opened my mouth to respond, but honestly couldn't think of anything to say and closed it again. That was probably the most profound thing I'd ever heard from Haruhi's mouth, which was usually spouting nonsense of some form or another.

For a while, everyone was quiet, thinking about her words. Then:

"Umm... Suzumiya is right, Kyon," Asahina said shyly, a delicate hand brushing my shoulder. "Staying up late Christmas eve to try and catch a glimpse of him... writing letters to the North Pole...," she trailed off, looking wistful again. "Being able to just believe, simply because you want it to be true... I feel like that's something really important."

I turned to look at her, a little bothered by her sentimentality. I had always known that Asahina was innocent of course, even child-like, and honestly thought it added to her charm... but I hadn't expected her to sound so, well, sad. She was staring at Haruhi again, her eyes shining with what I thought was maybe... regret? I couldn't be sure. Maybe she was envious of the way Haruhi was able to simply let herself believe? A belief so strong that the SOS Brigade itself had come together in response...

Haruhi didn't notice Asahina's words nor her staring, which I was thankful for because the topic was honestly starting to make me feel uncomfortable. Instead, she was busy staring out the window at the gray sky as if willing it to snow. I made a note to keep my jacket handy—if Haruhi wanted it to snow, chances were that it would snow.

Again, the SOS Brigade lapsed into silence. I mulled over their words, wondering if I was maybe missing something by being so skeptical, perhaps some secret to the happy and fulfilling life that our Brigade Chief chased. After only a few minutes though, Haruhi seemed to be roused by the sound of Nagato turning the page in her latest book. The golden-eyed beauty leapt to her feet so quickly that her chair rolled across the room and bounced off the wall with a thud.

"Attention SOS Brigade," she shouted with a dazzling smile, eyes shining, "Tonight we have a mission! Tonight, we're going to catch Santa Claus, in the act!"

I have to admit that I was confused at first—hadn't she admitted not ten minutes ago that Santa didn't exist?—but after a moment's thought I realized that maybe what Asahina had said was true, and maybe Haruhi recognized that too. And besides, I honestly couldn't bring myself to argue with her when she had such a happy look on her face. Not that I would ever admit it, but she really was gorgeous sometimes.

An hour later the clubroom was nearly empty. Haruhi, shortly after her declaration, informed us that we would be meeting at my house that night, then took off at full speed to "prepare." Asahina and Nagato had followed shortly after, leaving Koizumi and I to clean up after ourselves. I worked in silence, trying to avoid meeting his eyes, knowing that acknowledging him would inevitably start a long and rambling philosophical conversation for which I had no patience. My efforts were of course in vain.

"Why is it, I wonder, that Suzumiya takes such interest in someone so skeptical?" he said.

Sighing, I gave up pretending he didn't exist and turned to face him. As usual, a smile stretched across his face, but it was clear to see it wasn't genuine. "What kind of question is that?" I wondered aloud.

"Don't get me wrong," he replied, "I consider you a close friend, but it continually baffles me as to why Suzumiya chose you. Myself, Nagato, even Asahina, we were all drawn to her because of her desire for the supernatural. But instead of embracing it as she does, you resist anything contrary to your world view, even when it stares you in the face. Your attitude embodies everything that one would expect her to despise. And yet, the bond between the two of you is stronger than any she has with the rest of us. She trusts you above all others, seeks your approval, even concerns herself over your mental welfare as she has today."

For a moment I didn't respond to his words and the two of us folded the threadbare table cloth. After tucking it into the cupboard, I stopped and looked at him while he put the leftover food into the small fridge. He looked troubled.

"If I knew the answer to that, then our lives would be a lot easier. Despite what you think, I really don't understand her at all," I told him in a soft voice, as though someone was trying to listen in on our conversation.

Koizumi sounded somewhat melancholy when he replied, "They do say that those you love the most are those you understand the least."

Something in his voice made me think back to the other Koizumi, the smitten boy who followed a barely-interested Haruhi all across town to help me, a person who had drawn her further out of her shell in six minutes than he had in six months. That boys words, "I do like her, after all," resounded in my head and I suddenly realized that Nagato hadn't invented his feelings for her.

"You're jealous," I stated, perhaps uncharitably. His smile became more strained, his mask slipping.

"Is it so obvious?" he wondered. I sighed, puzzling over how I could explain my intuition without explaining my entire journey, something I wasn't convinced I was ready for. After a moment he solved the problem for me. "Yes, there are times where I cannot help but be envious of your bondwith her. She is, after all, a very charming person."

I decided not to push any further. While Koizumi was a great friend, I couldn't help but feel wary of him; the constantly present mask made it difficult to place my full trust in him, and as such talking about Haruhi with him tended to make me feel uncomfortable.

By the time we finished cleaning up, his masked smile had returned in full force. Any doubts he may have had were completely hidden once again. As he slipped out of the room he turned to me and said, "It appears as though something has come up with the Agency. I'll have to ask you to let Suzumiya know that I wont be able to make it tonight."

And then he was gone. I couldn't help but feel as though those words had more meaning than I was able to recognize.

By the time we were all supposed to meet at my place that night, I started to understand. Nagato had phoned me during the walk home and said there were matters that demanded her attention. I tried to find out if something serious was happening, something she might need my help to deal with, but she was characteristically reticent.

"It is nothing you should concern yourself over," she'd replied in her usual monotone, "Enjoy your night with Suzumiya." I suppose that should have been another clue, but I'd missed it entirely at the time.

Then, a few hours later while I was preparing the living room for the SOS Brigade's invasion, there was a knock on the door. Though she was still hours early, I wasn't upset to find Asahina on the front porch.

"Good evening, Kyon," she greeted, her soft smile soothing my soul. I invited her in, asking if she wanted anything, but she shook her head with a cute blush and remained where she was.

"Uhm, I'm sorry it's such short notice, but I wanted to let you know that I can't join you tonight. Sorry," she said, eyes downcast. I tried to question her further, but when pressed she simply mumbled, "Classified Information," and fidgeted uncomfortably. After a few minutes of light interrogation, which gained me no information at all, she took her leave. I wonder if she realizes how frustrating it can be to talk to her, to try to get close to her?

Closing the door behind me as I stepped back into the house, it suddenly hit me that I'd been set up. Tonight, on Christmas eve, it would be only Haruhi and I, alone in my house, waiting for Santa Claus. I wasn't sure exactly how to feel about the fact that my friends were conspiring against me in such a fashion, and I was more than a little upset to realize how long it took me to notice. More importantly, they'd even managed to leave the responsibility of informing our volatile Chief that it would only be the two of us to me.

Some friends.

Predictably, Haruhi was less than pleased. She arrived at my door around nine o'clock, wrapped in a heavy jacket and scarf. Outside, the snow had started to fall steadily. I let her in and led her into the kitchen where I had some snacks ready.

"So, where is everyone else? Don't tell me I'm the first one here," she said, peeking around the corner into the living room.

Just what was that supposed to mean? Is the idea of being alone with me so repulsive?

"Actually..." I started, but came up short, not really sure how to explain to her what was going on. Haruhi locked her golden-brown eyes on mine and narrowed them sharply, demanding an answer.

"What's going on, Kyon?"

Her voice was harsh, and I cringed a little before explaining. "It seems they had things to take care of... It's just us for tonight," I said, well aware that Haruhi would never accept such a lame excuse.

"All three of them," she said. It wasn't a question.

"Yeah, all three of them. None of them would say what the big deal was."

Let it never be said that Haruhi Suzumiya is a stupid girl: she immediately picked up on the fact that they were plotting something, just as I had. I was expecting her to blow up and start ranting about insubordination or some such, but she kept her cool admirably. She did, however, decide that revenge was in order.

"This is unacceptable. Unacceptable! To not even inform their Chief... Kyon, you're going to help me plan out the penalties!"

Having been on the receiving end of Haruhi's penalties before, you would think I would sympathize with the other Brigade members—at least with Asahina. However, after this latest stunt, my sympathy was all used up. "What are you thinking?"

Haruhi shot me a grin and her eyes sparkled with mirth. "Mikuru, of course, will need a new costume. Something embarrassing. And she'll have to wear it on a city-wide search, not just in the clubroom!"

Well, that was an idea I could get behind. Sure, I'd feel a little guilty that Asahina was embarrassed, but she was ridiculously cute when she blushed and I would never complain about seeing the time-traveling beauty in one of the costumes Haruhi picked out for her.

"Yuki... hmm, that's a toughie. Something to do with her books, maybe?" Haruhi was thinking out loud now, her index finger on her chin while she stared at the kitchen ceiling. I felt a little apprehensive about pushing Nagato too hard after all she had done for us, but I couldn't help feeling a little resentful for her actions a week ago, error or no. Besides, I had made it perfectly clear at the hospital what she and the others meant to me and to Haruhi, so I was sure she'd understand.

"Maybe we should volunteer her to read to kids at the library or something," I suggested without really thinking about it. Haruhi gave me an odd look and slowly raised an eyebrow.

"What?" I questioned, feeling self-conscious. "Is it a bad idea?"

"No!" Haruhi replied, a wicked smile slowly spreading across her face. "It's perfect. Quiet little Yuki reading to needy brats, can you imagine? Who knew you were so evil?"

I smiled back at her, relaxing. I had to admit, I was getting pretty wrapped up in this. "Well what about Koizumi—I'm pretty sure he's the ringleader, here."

A twinkling laugh escaped her; not a chuckle, but a genuine laugh. "Of course he's the ringleader, Kyon. Can you imagine Mikuru trying to pull one over on anyone? Or Yuki, taking the initiative to do something like this? Itsuki, though, he lives and breathes lies; this is totally his M.O."

Now, I'm not so proud as to deny I was shocked by her insight. Haruhi must have seen it on my face, too, because she looked at me as though I'd sprouted a second head from my shoulders. "Don't tell me you don't see it, Kyon. He practically oozes with deceit! No one is that agreeable, no one!"

Well of course I'd noticed it. There was a good reason I routinely felt like socking him in the face, even if I had yet to do it. But I hadn't realized Haruhi had seen it too.

"It's impossible to miss. He always agrees with me, no matter what. Even when you change my mind about something he nods along with whatever idea pops into my head!"

This was a side of Haruhi I hadn't seen before. I mean, she was a close friend—my best friend, even (and that was pretty tough to admit)—but I hadn't realized that she understood our group dynamic as well as she did: it was a bit humbling. Still, I had to question why she put up with him if she noticed his attitude. Her answer was pretty predictable.

"Well, it's interesting isn't it? I mean, who just blindly follows someone like that?"

I nodded, perfectly understanding her reasoning. To Haruhi, Koizumi's blind sycophancy wasn't normal, and therefore she was curious.

"Besides, it's not as though he's malicious about it or anything," she said with a decisive nod, as though that closed the subject entirely. "More importantly, he needs a penalty too! Demotion, at the least!"

Surprisingly, I felt a stab of feral pleasure at the thought of Koizumi losing his (mostly useless) title of Deputy Chief. Huh, I guess I was jealous after all.

After thinking about what else could serve as his punishment, we settled on forcing him to play the part of the Easter Bunny in the SOS Brigade's apparently upcoming Easter celebrations. Of course, that also led us back to the discussion that had put me in this situation in the first place. As we migrated to the living room where the Christmas tree was, Haruhi peppered me with questions about the beliefs of my youth.

"So if you didn't believe in Santa, does that mean you didn't believe in the Easter Bunny either? What about the Tooth Fairy? Superman!"

I questioned what connection Superman had to the likes of the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, and Haruhi looked disgusted with me (again). "What are you, retarded? How can you go through life not believing in things?" she said, her voice slowly trailing off. After a moment of silence, she spoke again, her voice so soft it was nearly a whisper, "If what's in front of you is all that there is... what's the point?"

And with that she sat herself on the floor in front of the couch, pulling her knees to her chest. I stood beside her for a long time, saying nothing, while the two of us stared at the twinkling lights on the tree. I thought back to the day Haruhi had explained to me why she was so desperate to find something supernatural, when her parents had taken her to a baseball game and she'd realized just how insignificant her life was in the scope of the world. I suppose it made sense that belief in those things was so important to her: it kept her going.

I'm honestly not sure how much time passed before either of us moved, but suddenly I shivered. The cold winter night, which had brought the snow Haruhi so obviously desired, had finally managed to invade my home. I was dressed in a long sleeved t-shirt and sweat pants, and yet it was really starting to bother me; I can only image how Haruhi must have felt in her red hooded sweatshirt, her short, white skirt and thin-looking stockings. I whispered to her that I would be back, though I'm not sure if she heard me. If she did, she didn't acknowledge it.

I moved down the hall to my room, her words resonating in my mind: "If what's in front of you is all that there is... what's the point?" For me, those words didn't mean much. After all, what was in front of me was the girl who could mold the world to her every whim, a boy esper, an alien observer, and a time-traveler. But, for Haruhi, who wasn't aware of their true identities, the world must have seemed pretty normal.

As I pulled the comforter off of my bed, my eyes wandered to the bookshelf in the corner. The bottom shelf, where all my childhood books still rested, was packed full of science fiction, fantasy, and fairy tales. To say I'd never experienced belief the way Haruhi did would be a lie—I had simply given up on those things long before high school. I suppose it was ironic that the one who had given up on ever meeting aliens, time travelers and espers was the one to whom they would reveal themselves.

It was with those thoughts in mind that I moved back to the living room, to Haruhi, comforter in hand. I flicked off the light as I entered, startling her out of her trance. She looked up at me as I moved to her side, and my heart skipped a beat.

In the light of the Christmas tree, Haruhi's golden-brown eyes sparkled like gemstones. A beautiful smile was on her face, so carefree and content that it literally stole my breath away. Looking back, I would pinpoint this exact moment as the first time I realized that I was in love with Haruhi Suzumiya.

I draped the blanket over her shoulders with a smile, sitting down next to her. I was closer to her than was strictly necessary, closer to her than I would have normally have sat, but I couldn't bring myself to care. Based on her content sigh as she wrapped my blanket around herself, Haruhi had no objections either. For a moment we simply sat together, shoulders touching.

"I wasn't always so... skeptical of everything," I murmured, my voice soft and quiet as though afraid my words would break the moment. "When I was young, I was exactly like you. Every night I dreamt of one day meeting an alien, or of waking up to find myself in another dimension."

Haruhi, her head pillowed on her arms and supported by her knees, turned to look at me but didn't say anything.

"I lied, earlier. In the clubroom. I didn't just figure out Santa wasn't real because of how my mom wrapped my presents. I was at my aunt's place, with my cousins. I think I was maybe eight. My uncle came out on Christmas eve dressed in a costume, handing us presents. But he wasn't a very good actor, and I recognized him right away. I was inconsolable for weeks," I said, losing myself in the memory. The pain had long since faded, thankfully.

Haruhi's voice was equally soft. "Kyon..."

I had to continue, though, to let her in now before I lost my nerve. "I guess after that I just... stopped letting myself believe in things like that. I didn't want it to hurt anymore when I found out they weren't out there," I told her, meeting her eyes for just a second before my confidence gave out and I looked away. "Stupid, right?" I said then, trying to blow it all off.

"Kyon," she repeated, louder now, "It's not. It's not stupid at all." My eyes were still fixed on the floor, so the brush of her hand against mine startled me. I felt heat spread from her fingers all through my body, and my eyes snapped to hers in an instant. They were shining, not with tears or anything so dramatic, but simply with reflected light. Still, I felt myself drawn in.

Acting purely on impulse, spurned on by the same insanity that had led to me speaking to Haruhi in the first place, I leaned forward and brought my lips to hers. She gasped softly, but didn't pull away, and after a moment began to hesitantly return the kiss. Her hesitance bothered me, so unlike the Haruhi I was familiar with, and I put a hand on her shoulder. That seemed to spur her forward, and a moment later I found myself pressed back against the couch with her in my lap. She ran her tongue lightly across my bottom lip, seeking entrance, and I was only too happy to comply. My hands fell to her hips, pulling her closer.

For a few minutes we kissed, her fingers entwined in my hair and her tongue battling mine. Then, slowly, she pulled away and rested her forehead against mine, still straddling me. "How do you think I feel?" she asked breathlessly, confusing me. Before I could even try to respond, she continued, "I lead the Brigade on all these searches, and we never find a thing. Nothing! And every time we come back empty handed, I feel as if I've failed. But you know? It's okay, because I have the Brigade with me. When I'm ready to just give up, you guys are there with me, and I'm able to keep believing. So don't try to tell me it's stupid, because your Chief knows exactly how that feels!"

I nodded, smiling, and that seemed to placate her. After a second of consideration, I shifted my lips to hers again. My hand migrated to her side, pulling her closer, and she responded eagerly. Having kissed her twice before, now, I wasn't surprised by the softness of her lips, nor their lightly-citrus flavour. I was, however, less prepared to feel her bite down lightly on my bottom lip. If her goal had been for me to open my mouth in response, it worked, and shortly thereafter her tongue was again busy attempting to dominate my own. I'd like to think I put up a good fight.

A minute—or was it five?—later, we separated, and she slid off of me. Finally, my surprise caught up with me, and I looked at her, askance. She caught my eye, blushing just the tiniest bit, and huffed. "I told you before, my body still has its urges."

Not offended at all—I think I'd finally gotten used to her—I said, "You know I'm not an alien, or a time-traveler, or an esper, right?"

She rolled her eyes as if I were stupid. "I'm sure you've heard that I'll give anyone a chance, so don't blow it," she said. I must know her better than I'd let myself think, because I caught the unspoken words there, and accepted that with a quiet laugh.

Instead of pressing further, I wrapped my arms around her and like that, she fell asleep. I sat, breathing deeply and starting to feel a little shocked by how the night had turned out. But in the end, Haruhi was right. After all, despite my complaints, since I met her, my belief had been rekindled; I'd met time-travelers, espers, aliens, even traveled to a world completely different from my own.

Wrapped up tightly in the blankets, Haruhi nestled herself closely against my side. I could feel her deep, even breath, hot against my neck. With a content sigh, I eased back against the front of the couch, careful not to disturb her. Looking down on her sleeping face, I wondered just where things would go from here on: Haruhi was not one for regular romance, but she also wasn't someone who was willing to give up what was hers. I was sure when morning came, the soft side of her that I had seen tonight would be hidden away again, but I was okay with that. After all, I hadn't fallen for a girl who whispered sweet nothings in my ear like I'd always expected I would: I had fallen for a brash, obnoxious, inconsiderate girl who had come out of no where and given my life meaning.

I was right, as usual. Morning came around and I woke up with Haruhi still in my arms. She was awake, staring at me with an odd expression on her face. When she realized that I was awake too, however, she moved away quickly and glared at me. I expected a lecture on improper contact between Brigade members, but that wasn't the case at all.

"Kyon! How the hell could you let me fall asleep? We were supposed to catch Santa, stupid, not fall asleep on your uncomfortable floor!"

Normally I might have taken offense to being called stupid, and especially to being blamed for her falling asleep, but right then I was just happy she wasn't hitting me.

"Now we have to wait a whole year to try again. A whole year!" she shouted at me, face a little flushed. I smiled contently at her and she stopped short, looking confused. I guess that wasn't the reaction she'd expected from me?

"Well then," I said, "Next year we'll try again."

Haruhi seemed to understand what I was saying, if the widening of her eyes was any indication. Still, she didn't speak out against the idea.

"Right, we'll meet up here in 363 days to continue the operation!" she announced, before glancing at the time on her cellphone. She tried to hide a wince, and I checked the time myself: 11:42 AM. Man, what time did we fall asleep?

"You should probably be getting home, right?" I asked, wondering not for the first time what her home life was like. Well, she'd never complained, so it couldn't be bad—Haruhi wasn't the kind of girl to keep quiet if she was unhappy. "Your parents are probably worried by now," I said.

"Yeah..." she mumbled as she gathered her stuff and headed for the front door. "Listen, Kyon..."

For a second I was worried that she was going to invite me over for Christmas. I was in love with her, sure, but it felt a little soon for that, and frankly I didn't think intruding on their Christmas was the best way to meet her parents. Plus, even if our relationship had changed in some way that neither of us could articulate, I didn't want her to start changing who she was. So instead I put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I'll have everyone ready to meet at the café at noon tomorrow."

Her golden eyes met mine and there seemed to be understanding in them. She nodded and thanked me, before saying she had to get going. I opened the door for her while she put on her shoes, and as she passed me on the way out she grabbed the side of my face, pulled my head down, and kissed me quickly. Then she was gone, before I could say a word, before I could even kiss her back.

As I stumbled back into the house, feeling a little shocked that she was being so open about everything, I couldn't help the wide grin that spread across my face.

Author's Notes: This is my first crack at a Haruhi Suzumiya work, and honestly the first piece of vaguely-publishable fiction that I've produced in years. It's primary function is as a sort of dumping ground for some ideas I had that I didn't want invading a future project that I'm planning. As things stand now, this is a oneshot. Whether this will change over time or not, I can't say, but I wouldn't count on it.

Some people might say that I've copped out by not having Kyon and Haruhi talk about their relationship, like, at all. But in all honesty I feel that this kind of thing suits them better. Can you imagine Haruhi sitting down to talk about her feelings for a boy who is, by all accounts, perfectly normal? Or Kyon asking her out when he spends so much time convincing himself that she annoys the shit out of him? For them, I feel like stumbling into their own feelings is the way to go, and if I ever do decide to continue this, it adds a bit of tension in that neither is really sure what they have or what they want. Since tension pretty much defines their relationship, well, perfect.

As you might expect, constructive criticism is appreciated. Flames will be ignored, because, really? Similarly, useless commentary on how much you love/hate the work does nothing for me—I'm looking for actual criticism. Tell me why you love or hate it. If you have any comments on my writing style, please include them: I'm kind of struggling with whether I really like it or not—it feels bland.

Legal Disclaimer: The characters, settings, and referenced events in this work of fiction are the intellectual property of their creator. I derive no profit from this work, and upon the request of the rightful copyright holders, will gladly remove it from all public forums.