[The Haruhi Suzumiya characters and situations are the creation of Nagaru Tanigawa. Other than that, he's blameless for the following.]

Taniguchi and Kunikida are dead. Or at least they would be shortly. I had them gagged, hog tied, and suspended over the edge of the North High School roof by one rope each. A little cutting with my combat knife, and my long nightmare would be over, as they would plummet to their dooms through the cool night air.

As I contemplated my future life of freedom on the open road, my mind slipped back to the day it had all began, my first day of high school.

"I'm surprised you came to North High, Sasaki."

The girl sitting in front of me turned around in her seat to respond. "It's very strange. I'm sure I sent my letter to that other school, but I suppose I must have written down North High on the envelope by accident. I must have been thinking about how relieved you had sounded over the phone to have finally been accepted anywhere."

"Perhaps you wanted to be with Kyon?" Kunikida had walked over from his seat. He was my other acquittance from middle school, who had also wound up in the same freshman high school class as myself and Sasaki.

I waved this off. "Naw, Sasaki's far too sensible to go chasing after a loser like me."

"It is pleasant to have at least two familiar faces at a new school, but I hope we'll all make many more new friends here." Sasaki stopped and suddenly turned towards the classroom door.

I felt it too, some sort of foreboding, like a sudden drop of barometric pressure and a slight chill in the air, a warning of unexpected thunderstorms. I also turned towards the door.

The girl who stood there should have been beautiful, but her features were darkened with a scowl. Was it directed at me? No, a little bit forwards of me.

"Do you know her?" I asked Sasaki.

"Not that I recall." Sasaki frowned for a moment then stopped and turned forwards as the strange girl took the one empty seat in the classroom, the seat directly behind mine. I could feel her glaring at my back, but didn't dare turn around to catch her eye.

The teacher entered and had us all introduce ourselves.

Sasaki's introduction was sensible, perhaps a bit too much so. She pointed out that we were all in the same situation, and that getting along was the best route for each of us, and for the class as a whole.

I myself said that I looked forwards to working with the other students.

The strange girl behind me said that her name was Haruhi Suzumiya and announced that she had no interest in normal human beings, but that if there were any aliens, time travelers or espers in the classroom, that they should contact her.

Sasaki's head twitched, as if she had started to turn around, and then thought better of it.

"Same old Suzumiya." The boy whose name was Taniguchi said.

The flustered teacher ignored that comment and simply asked for the student at the head of the next row to introduce herself.

The rest of home period consisted mostly of organizational matters. Only Ryouko Asakura volunteered to be class representative and she seemed pleasant (and good looking) enough that nobody objected.

Suzumiya fled the classroom as soon as the lunch bell sounded. Sasaki turned around and put her bento on my desk and Kunikida joined us. We three talked about the things we had done over spring vacation and then just as we were putting our bentos away, that Taniguchi fellow walked over.

"Don't mind Suzumiya. She's just crazy, that's all. Speak of the devil."

Sasaki frowned for only a brief instant before turning back in her seat.

Nobody had to tell me, who it was who was standing in the doorway. I could feel the tension again, like the build up of static charge, just before you're hit by lightning.

And so began the pattern for my high school life. I didn't have to look or hear anything, to tell the moments when Sasaki and Suzumiya were both in the classroom. I could feel it in the air. Any thought of being able to sleep through classes was dashed. I was too afraid of being caught in the crossfire.

In spite of her hopes, Sasaki never really did expand her limited circle of friends. She was the only student that Asakura snubbed, even to the point of always skipping Sasaki and handing me two of whatever. Sasaki didn't seem to mind this and I couldn't take it up alone, not when the popular girls seemed to be in Asakura's corner.

The student Asakura did take a special interest in was Suzumiya, to very limited effect. Suzumiya ignored us common human students to the point where she'd start changing into her gym clothes, even while the boys were still there. It was left to Asakura to toss us out into the hallway.

I was sitting by the track in the schoolyard and watching the girls run when Taniguchi sat down next to me. I ignored him for the moment and saw that Sasaki turned in a completely average time, with no special effort on her part. Suzumiya zoomed past her to set a new school record and Asakura had a solid second place finish.

"How serious are you with Sasaki?" Taniguchi asked.

"She's a good friend, that's all." I replied, without turning to him.

"Well, I'm calling dibs on Asakura. She's in the top three of the freshmen class. Real A+ material, and I think I have a chance with her. You can try Suzumiya, if you like. I've never seen her outright refuse a guy, but she's dumped everybody. One relationship only lasted five minutes, or so I've been told. So consider the challenge."

Kunikida joined us. "No, Sasaki is the best match for Kyon. She's a lonely genius, and he's the only one who can tolerate her all the time. Look at it like a public service, Kyon. Just think how far she could go in life with your support."

Taniguchi turned to him. "Are you sure that Sasaki is really a girl? She's always using masculine pronunciation."

I frowned at this. "She's physically one hundred percent female. I've seen her in a swimming suit."

"So it's her head that's messed up."

"Do you want a fight, Taniguchi?" I finally turned to him.

"Naw. I'm just saying that if you don't see her as somebody you'd want to date, then why not look elsewhere?"

The sports teams all begged Suzumiya to join, but she turned them all down. She did seem to briefly join all the other clubs on campus and then drop out of them all.

In the meantime Sasaki and I avoided all clubs and spent our extra time studying together. We'd walk down to the station and then I'd give her a ride on my bicycle to my house. My sister called her Sasaki-sister and my Mom seemed impressed enough with my efforts that I could avoid cram school for the moment.

When we returned to class on the Monday after the Golden Week vacation, I was chatting with Sasaki before first period when that familiar tension again filled the air. Sasaki turned forwards and faced her desk.

I had about enough of this and so I waited for Miss 'Cold Palace' to settle into her chair behind me, and then I turned to face her. "I've figured out your pattern, Suzumiya."

"Oh?" Suzumiya's expression was hard to read. Was that contempt or interest?

I pressed forward. "You change your hair ties to match the day of the week. Zero for Monday up to four for Friday, right?"

"Is that all you have to say to me, Kyon is it?"

"My family name is actually -"

She cut me off with a wave of her hand. "Then you missed the most important point, because I also change the color of the ties to match the Chinese names of the days."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. So what is your beef with Sasaki?"

"She's a weirdo." Suzumiya frowned in Sasaki's direction, then turned to look out the window.

I was about to respond rather forcefully to that, when the teacher walked in, so I had to just turn around. As I did, I noticed that both Sasaki and Kunikida were also turning forwards, as if they had been following our brief exchange.

After classes I was just leaving, when Suzumiya grabbed my arm.

"Yes?" I asked.

"Where do you and Sasaki go everyday after school?"

"Well, where do you run off to between classes all the time?"

"I search the school for mysteries."

"So, have you found any aliens, time travelers or espers?"

"Not yet, but some of the students are a bit odd."

And how would you judge that? "We go to my house."

"Oh?"

"Just to study, some of us take school seriously."

"Pity it doesn't show up in your grades." She released me and turned away.

How did she? Oh, it was Asakura's fault. By forcing me to forward Sasaki's test papers, I had been forced to shuffle through and reveal mine each time, to the prying eyes behind me.

The next day I could feel the tension as I entered the classroom. What I saw there stopped me for an instant. I put my bookbag on the hook and leaned over Suzumiya's desk to whisper at her. "Why did you cut your hair to exactly the same length as Sasaki?"

She responded in her normal tone of voice. "It's not the same. I've got a yellow ribbon with two bows in it."

I took my seat as the teacher entered, and didn't have a chance to bring it up again with Suzumiya between classes, as she made her usual dash for the door.

At lunch it was Sasaki who provided the voice of reason, as usual. "I don't see how girls like Asakura find the time to look after long hair."

"Shouldn't you want to look your most attractive?" Kunikida asked.

"To what point? Our focus now needs to be on our studies. If we need to judge our fellow students at all, it should be on academics, or common interests. There will be plenty of time for biological factors later, and anyway I would have no interest in a man who would judge me primarily by appearance."

"Isn't Kyon the person you have the most in common with?" Kunikida asked.

"Kyon, should I limit myself to whatever college you wind up in?"

"Please don't." I looked down at my bento, to break contact with Sasaki's eyes.

"And I certainly can't ask you to wait for me for four years or longer, but I do hope we will keep in touch." There was something in Sasaki's tone that told me I had no chance with her, but I knew that already, somehow.

"Shall we pinkie swear on it?" I raised my pinkie to her. If she needed the cover of an apparent boyfriend to keep unwanted attention away from her then I would provide it. I'm loyal to my friends like that.

Sasaki placed her hand over mine, to gently fold down my pinkie. "I don't believe in such things and if you can't, then I wouldn't want it to weigh on you."

The next period teacher sent Asakura to get a handout that had been left to wait for after another class's printouts had completed. Asakura said she'd appreciate some help carrying them all and skipped over Taniguchi's raised hand, to ask me to come with her.

On the way back, with her hands free and all the handouts in my arms, she turned to me and said. "I'm glad that Suzumiya has finally started to speak to at least one student in our class. I hope you don't mind that I'll rely on you from now on, to deal with the two problem students in our class."

You and Suzumiya are the only ones who have a problem with Sasaki, I thought, but couldn't find the strength to assert my objections past Asakura's lovely smile.

Back in the classroom, she had me follow her around as source of handouts, until finally there were only three left. I dropped one on my desk and put my left hand over my shoulder with one as I pushed the last one forwards with my right hand.

Sasaki took the handout, but Suzumiya didn't, so I had to turn around to put it on her desk. I saw that she was sleeping. I suppose the teachers didn't want to hassle with her, and they certainly couldn't object to her excellent grades.

After classes I was getting ready to leave, and saw that Suzumiya was still asleep so I nudged her.

"What?"

"Schools over. Time for you to try out the next club."

Suzumiya stifled a yawn. "I've tried them all. They're all boring. You didn't miss anything by not even trying."

"So why are you so sleepy?"

"I've been checking out rumors of hauntings."

"At night, all by yourself? What do your parents think?"

"They think I'm sleeping." She shrugged, as if it were no big deal.

"Why not hook up with the mystery club or the paranormal club and go with them, to have safety in numbers?"

"Neither group does anything. At most they just sit around and read stories. It's boring."

I saw that Sasaki was waiting by the door so I cut the conversation short. "If you don't like the clubs we have here, then you can just go make your own."

Suzumiya turned away to the window and I thought that was that.

The next Monday we had a reseating lottery and I got the next to last seat by the window, with Sasaki just ahead of me. My joy was short lived as Suzumiya got the seat behind me again. It was some sort of fated Satan sandwich, and I was the meat to be grilled in the electric tension.

When the lunch bell rang, I heard Suzumiya get out of her seat and I assumed that she would be doing her usual rounds, so I reached for my bento. My hand never got to my bag. Instead my arm was almost yanked out of its socket, as Suzumiya dragged me from the classroom. She towed me down the hall and I just got to my feet in time to be led up the stairs, all the way to the locked roof exit.

"That's a great idea!" For once her scowl was replaced with a smile that almost lit up the gloomy stairwell in its brilliance. It wasn't a lovely smile, like the kind that Asakura always wore, just dazzling, with more than a hint of mischievousness to it.

"What?"

"We'll form our own club!" She clinched her fist in victory.

"We?"

"Look up the rules for forming a club while I go find a room for it!" She dashed off before I could object.

I made my way carefully down the dark stairway, past all the junk that was piled up there and returned to class 1-5.

"What was that all about?" Sasaki asked as I took my seat.

"She's decided to form her own club."

"She won't succeed."

"Oh?" I pulled out my bento.

"I already looked into turning our impromptu study group into a club. We could most likely find five members from this class to join on a part-time basis, but there are no empty club rooms." Sasaki put her bento next to mine.

"Why would you do that?" I risked a glance up at Sasaki's eyes. Did she want to be alone with me?

"To pad your resume with 'Study Club President', to make up for your future marginal grades and test results."

"See, Kyon? She understands you better than anybody else in the world."

I sighed, and with my hopes dashed, made a joke of them. "Yeah, yeah, Kunikida. We heard you the first dozen times. If you shut up about it now, we'll name our first son after you. If that's okay with you, 'Dear'?"

"I was thinking of adopting a third world child instead." Sasaki smiled at the joke. But her eyes said that she simply wasn't interested in me, that way.

"So where are all these student club rules?"

"In the back of the student handbook."

"Thanks, 'Dear'." I said with perhaps too much bitterness, but Sasaki did not object. She just seemed a little sad as she turned her attention to her lunch.

Suzumiya returned at the very end of the lunch period with the same mischievous smile, which faded to be replaced with the usual electrical tension as her eyes settled on Sasaki's empty bento, sitting on my desk.

I stood and grabbed my bag at the end of classes, and then Suzumiya grabbed my arm and started dragging me out of the classroom.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"Our new clubroom!"

I turned to Sasaki. "Did you hear that 'Dear'? She thinks she knows better than you. Sit tight, this won't take long."

"I'll come along to save you the trip back, Kyon." Sasaki's use of my nickname indicated that the 'Dear' jokes had run their time in the headlights and were now over. It didn't matter to me that Sasaki didn't see me as possible boyfriend material. She didn't seem to be looking for a boyfriend after all.

We three went downstairs and over to the old building and then back up to the top floor there.

"See, Kyon? Isn't it great?" Suzumiya waved her hand at one door.

Sasaki looked up at the sign, then turned to me. "Kyon, this is the Literature Club room."

Both girls were talking at me, to have their argument. I couldn't recall one moment when they had talked to each other, except perhaps Sasaki's unreplied greeting one day.

"But look, Kyon. There's nobody here!" Suzumiya opened the door to the room. There were two bookcases, a table, some chairs and a petite figure reading a book by the window.

"Hi, Nagato."

The girl named Nagato did not respond to Sasaki's greeting, but simply flipped the page of the book she was reading.

"Who is she?" I asked Sasaki.

"She's the only member of the Literature Club, so it's as good as gone anyway." Suzumiya replied. "Kyon, how many members do we need for our new club?"

"Five."

"So with you and Nagato, we only need two others."

Sasaki raised a hand to her chin. "Perhaps she has a point, if we both join the Literature Club, we'd only need two other members and if we get Kunikida to sign up, we can make you president, Kyon."

"What? I'm going to be Chief!" There it was, the first time Suzumiya had ever responded directly to Sasaki.

"You get good grades already, Suzumiya. Kyon needs the resume padding, or he'll never get into a decent college."

Feeling no longer needed, I slipped out of the sandwich and sat on a chair in front of the bookcases.

"But I'm the one who came up with the idea for a new club. You're just a tag-along." Suzumiya pointed at Sasaki.

"What new club?"

"The new club I've decided on."

"Oh, what's the name?" Sasaki asked Suzumiya.

"I haven't decided on that yet."

"That doesn't sound like much of an idea then." Sasaki's voice dripped with a level of scorn I'd never heard her use before. I doubt Suzumiya or anybody else would notice, as they didn't know Sasaki as well as I did.

Nagato closed her book, walked over to the bookshelf and exchanged it for another one.

I decided to strike up a conversation, rather than just stare at her, or return to be part of the argument between the two girls from my class. "Nagato, how many of these books have you read?"

She stopped and looked at me through her huge glasses. "Most."

"Have you tried the city library?"

"Library?" Nagato tasted the word, like a tiny nibble from an unfamiliar dish.

"Leave the book, grab your bag, and follow me."

She put the book back on the shelf, walked over to her seat and grabbed her school bag.

I walked between the two girls from my class, who were still arguing.

"Kyon, where are you going?" They asked in unison, then glared at each other.

"The Literature Club's first field trip. Only students interested in joining need follow us."

I walked directly out the door and down the stairs, pausing only after the school gate to count that all four girls were following me.

Four?

"Who are you?" I asked the pale skinned girl with black eyes and long black hair.

"That's Kuyou Suou." Suzumiya replied. "She's the other strange girl from Nagato's class. She doesn't say much."

I was starting to suspect that Suzumiya considered 'strange' to be a synonym for 'shy', so she herself could never be considered 'strange'.

Down at the train station, I looked up the map and announced that we only needed to go three stations. We all bought tickets, except perhaps for Suou, who was one moment outside the gates and the next moment inside them. I hadn't seen her jump the gate, she sort of appeared there. In fact she didn't seem to show any sort of effort to move. She just drifted along like a cloud.

At the library Nagato did her own cloud-like drifting towards the shelves full of books. Sasaki looked up at the signs and walked off with a definite sense of direction, while Suzumiya dashed off to find research materials for her new club. Suou drifted along after me and just stood there when I sat to catch up on a manga. Nobody seemed to mind her just standing there. It wasn't that she was invisible, people would move ever so slightly so as to not bump into her, but otherwise they paid her no attention at all.

After a few minutes I was officially freaked out, and went to collect the girls.

Nagato had three science fiction books, and Suzumiya had two books on topics so off the fringe they might as well be fiction, while Sasaki had picked up a book on literary criticism. Suou had touched nothing.

I helped Nagato fill out an application for a library card while Suou looked on quizzically. I considered helping Suou also, but as she hadn't picked up a book this wasn't needed and the two other girls were getting impatient.

Nagato and Suzumiya had nearby homes in different directions from the library, and so we parted company with them there and rode the train over to the station by my and Sasaki's house. Suou continued to drift along with us.

Finally I dropped Sasaki off at her house. I drove half a block and then turned back to see Suou hovering there at the same distance as always. Apparently she had no problem keeping up with my bicycle.

"What can I do for you, Miss Suou?"

"You ... interesting." The voice sounded right in my ears, as if I was hearing her on headphones. It was a very strange effect and the first time I had heard her speak. Did she even speak? Had her lips moved at all? This was a strange girl.

"Look, I'm going home now. You need to go back to your home, understand?"

"What is home?" She turned her head towards me, or was it more that an image of her had been projected in one pose and then suddenly replaced with a slightly different image with her head at another angle, like a video running in frame skip.

I was getting more and more freaked out. I tried to put my request in the simplest terms possible. "The place where you come from, where you rest between school days. I'll see you tomorrow after classes in the clubroom. Do you understand?"

She seemed to make the slightest nodding motion and then she vanished.

Had I blinked, and she'd suddenly darted out of sight? I hadn't heard any motion, but then she seemed to always move without making a sound anyway.

I checked twice more on my way home, but saw nobody following me.

When I got home, my gradeschool sister greeted me. "Kyon! Why are you so late and where's Sasaki-sister?"

"Sorry, but we expanded our study group into an official school club, I think."

"So she's not coming back here?"

"Perhaps on weekends?"

"No fair!"

-HJC