I didn't see any of my family as I crept back to my room that night, but they were all there at breakfast in the morning.

On my walk uphill to school I encountered Taniguchi, who back to going on about his Kouyouen Academy girlfriend.

When we entered our classroom I saw that Haruhi Suzumiya was sitting in the rear window row seat and the seat in front of hers was empty so I sat there. "Morning, Haruhi."

"Morning, Kyon." Then she turned to the door, "Hey, Ryoko!"

"Good morning, Haruhi." Our once (and now continuing?) class representative walked up to us.

"Let's have lunch at the Brigade room so we can go over the plans for the Christmas party."

"Did you bring a lunch today, Haruhi?"

"No, my mom knows better than to even try these days."

"Well, I made one for Yuki, but then on the way here she said she had made one herself. So you can have that if you like."

"You're a real lifesaver, Ryoko. I don't know what we'd do without you. Oh, class is starting. Talk more at lunch."

At lunch I walked behind the two girls of unusual power as they first stopped by to get Itsuki Koizumi to tag along, then headed to the Literature Clubroom. We found Yuki Nagato already there. She was sitting in her corner and reading a book with a barely touched open bento beside her.

Yuki didn't look up from her book as Haruhi walked over.

Haruhi picked up Yuki's chopsticks and dipped a pinch of rice in the curry. "Ugh, totally tasteless rice and cold bargain brand curry. Just like my mom always makes. You're a terrible cook, Yuki."

Yuki put her book down in her lap and looked around. She blushed briefly at me then looked up at Haruhi.

Haruhi put Yuki's chopsticks back down and looked the smaller girl over. "There's something different here... Aha!" She lifted up Yuki's left hand to examine her ring. "This is new. Who's your fiancee, Yuki?"

"It's a secret." Yuki blushed again, then covered her left hand with her right hand.

"Hmmm." Haruhi turned and glanced briefly at Itsuki's hands then grabbed my left hand and ran her fingers along my ring finger. Finding nothing, she released me and turned back to Yuki. "Okay, you can live. For now. Strip, Yuki."

"What?" I shouted out.

"We're having a meeting." Haruhi turned back to me. "She needs to provide maid service, as always."

"We don't have time for her to change. We've got to eat lunch and discuss the plans, then hurry back to class."

"Fine!" Haruhi dropped into the seat next to Ryoko's. "Yuki, make us tea as you are. Chop! Chop!" She clapped her hands then turned to the bento that Ryoko put in front of her. She lifted the lid and inhaled. "That smells divine. At least I can always count on you, Ryoko."

After classes, Haruhi rushed to ensure that Yuki changed into her maid outfit, so didn't notice that Ryoko walked with me.

Itsuki was waiting outside the clubroom. "Something has changed?"

"The timeline shifted."

He turned from me to Ryoko. "I thought you were more careful than that?"

"It's Kyon's fault."

"At least I can always depend on you to always behave in a professional manner."

"Oh, only when needed." She leaned up to kiss him, hooked her arms over his shoulders and ground against him, as he lifted her up by her bottom. Then she disentangled herself from his grasp. "Let me go inside to check on things, before those two get suspicious."

"And leave me like this?"

"Oh, you poor thing. I'll drop by your place tonight so you can have your way with this body. And then we can go hunting Haruhi's ghosts together." She straighted out her skirt and opened the door.

Itsuki watched her closely until she closed the door behind herself, then turned to me. "I can see from your shocked expression, that my relationship with the alien is new."

"Very."

"I harbor no illusions that she might have any actual feelings for me. She does this for the data. As for myself, well she offers a warm and willing body who won't tell, won't swell, and offers no Earthly complications. Plus, as she said, she is very helpful in my work. Again this is a data gathering mission for her, but a public service for us Earthlings. Your love life is much more troublesome."

"You know about the ring?"

"There was considerable distortion at the time you put it on her. What is it?"

"It is a powerful alien artifact. Yuki is an alien, or at least an ex-alien."

"There has always been something unusual about her, but we will investigate this further."

"Don't take it off her finger."

"Or what?"

"The world will change."

"Again? I suppose we must trust your judgment on this."

"Your girlfriend could stop me, if she wanted to."

"Touche. Time's up, let's get to the meeting." He opened the door.

As I stepped inside I saw Yuki tending to the teapot in a scaled down version of the maid dress that Mikuru Asahina had worn in the old timeline. This dress was not just tighter to better match Yuki's slender frame, but also had short sleeves and a hem halfway up her thighs, but nowhere near as short as Mikuru's battle waitress dress had been. Her stockings came to almost exactly the same height as her hemline, giving just the barest flash of bare flesh between stocking and dress as she moved.

Yuki saw that I was looking at her body. She paused and blushed.

I put my feet back into motion and turned my gaze to the safer destination of Haruhi's face.

Haruhi frowned at me. "It looks like Taniguchi isn't the only one to get a Christmas sweetheart this year."

I took my seat and tried to maintain my poker face. "Oh?"

"Yuki's ring."

"Do you think they're a couple? I thought he said that she wasn't his type at the start of the year."

"Don't be absurd. I wouldn't let that creep near my Yuki."

"Well either somebody unknown has slipped past your tight blockade, or it isn't an engagement ring. Perhaps an aunt left it to her?"

"No." Haruhi smiled deviously at me. "I asked her directly today and she acknowledged that she was engaged. That rules out Taniguchi right there. Personally I'm intrigued that any loyal member of my brigade would hope to keep a secret from me, after I proved what a super sleuth I was back on that island. Ryoko."

"Yes, Haruhi?" Ryoko turned her ever pleasant smile towards our brigade commander.

Haruhi kept her gaze fixed on me as she talked to the other girl. "You live in the same apartment building as Yuki, so who have you seen visiting her?"

"She doesn't tell me everything. It's not like I'm her sister or something. You know Yuki, the only people who've ever visited her have been on brigade business."

"Ah ha!" Haruhi spun around and pointed at Ryoko. "Thanks."

"What?"

"You've told me everything. Now, as to the party preparations."

Haruhi had Ryoko take notes as she planned out the last detail. Then she looked at her watch. "I guess we'd best be going, and Ryoko?"

"Yes, Haruhi?"

"Could you take Yuki under your wing and teach her how to cook properly? Now that she's decided to cook for herself, I don't want her catching ill."

"Yes, I'm glad she's taken an interest in something other than reading. Perhaps I can help her select cookbooks at the library."

"Thanks. Well, come along you two boys, so Yuki can get changed." Haruhi led us outside the clubroom. Then after the door was closed behind us, she gestured for us to follow her as she walked off the school campus then down the hill to the station where I kept my bike. She took a seat on a park bench and motioned for us to sit on the bench across from her.

"What is it, Haruhi?" Itsuki asked.

She frowned at him. "There is a mole in my brigade. A spy for a conspiracy."

"What?" His confused look should have won him an Oscar.

"I should have seen it long ago. That painfully precise smile, that all so helpful attitude. Going along with everything I suggested. What are you going to do about it?" She pointed at him.

"Me?"

"It's your girlfriend after all."

"I have a girlfriend?"

"Oh, don't bother hiding it. It's been obvious all along. Just how far have you gone with Ryoko Asakura?"

He sighed and looked down at his feet. "All the way, but what makes you think she's a spy?"

"That alone would prove it. You're a pretty boy, but not that pretty, and she's not so bad looking to be that desperate. It's the way you've been trying to hide any hint of your relationship from me, even getting poor Kyon to cover for you all the time. Why should I care? It was her idea to hide this from me, yes?"

"Yes." He didn't look up.

"And today was the final straw. She's admitted time and again to cooking for Yuki, even this morning. And yet when I asked her to tell me who's visiting Yuki she oh so carefully left herself off the list."

"So, what are you going to do to Ryoko?" I asked.

"Absolutely nothing of course."

"Aren't you angry that she's spying on you?"

"What? Why no, Kyon. I'm overjoyed. This proves that you've been completely wrong all along and I've been right."

"Huh?"

"All the doubts you've tried to place in my way are now swept away. I must have been right all along about the importance of the SOS Brigade or it would not have been worth the time of such an excellent spy as our Miss Asakura to spy on me. So obviously I will do nothing to tip her off, but it now the mission of you two boys to spy on and seduce your girlfriends and report everything back to me."

"I have a girlfriend?" I asked.

"Oh please, Kyon. Drop the act. I've seen the way Yuki's been looking at you all year. Putting that ring on her finger only shows the feeling's mutual. That's very good quality gold. How did you afford it?"

"It was left to me by a great-aunt."

"And so you just couldn't wait to slip it on her finger. How's it feel, Kyon. Being taken advantage of by a spy like her?"

"What makes Yuki a spy?"

"The only person she knows in town is our mole and she's living in the same apartment building? That was their first mistake. It should have tipped me off months ago."

"I guess."

"So from now on, you two are reporting to me. I want not just detailed written reports, but I will get you two both audio and video recording devices so you can show me every moment of your encounters with this pair of Mata Haris."

"You want sex tapes, Haruhi?"

"Yes." There was only the faintest hint of a blush on her cheeks to soften the mania in Haruhi's eyes. "It's probably the only moment when their defenses will be down. So I'm counting on your performances. Don't disappoint me. Now get home to your families, before they get suspicious."