lunchtime.

"You appear to have a shadow, Kyon. Over there, behind that wall. She's been watching you for nearly all of lunch now." A tinge of mischievousness lingered at the end of the sentence, like a cunning con tricking a youth into deceit. Itsuki Koizumi, with his shaggy but groomed brown hair and prim uniform, crossed his arms and shot the boy sitting across from him a knowing, cocky look. "You should say hello, or at least acknowledge her existence. Or perhaps she doesn't want you to see her, being a secret admirer. I don't think she noticed that I saw her."

It was at times like then when Kyon really wondered why he even bothered to sit with the insufferable bastard. If he were to be asked during the first two years of high school whether or not he ate lunch with the smiling pretty-boy, he would've socked the poor inquirer in the face. But, as high school dwindled to its end and friends slowly faded away, it had come to Kyon's realization that he didn't have any friends outside of the SOS Brigade and the oddities related to them. Taniguchi and Kunikida, the bastards, had fallen out of touch with him after a while. Suzumiya's doings were too weird, they had often used as an excuse.

He was pretty much stuck with the esper, since eating lunch with Haruhi Suzumiya every day would be too much for Kyon's soul to take. He'd put a bullet through his head faster than one could say "shiptease."

Although, he didn't know if Koizumi was any better than a bullet to the head.

Kyon leaned forward with a pained look on his face, resting all four of his chair's legs on the tile floor of the cafeteria. His eyebrow twitched. "That's just creepy," he announced with a hand to his temple. "At the very least she could say hi rather than stalk me." His mind drifted to thoughts of unrequited confessions spilling clumsily from a beautiful damsel's mouth, but as lovely as the image seemed, he couldn't bring himself to care. He wasn't interested in romance, unless it was with the lovely Asahina (who still visited the SOS Brigade every meeting, as Haruhi couldn't stand to let such a cutie escape). He had eyes only for her.

"Only for her, you say? Are you sure you're just not used to talking with anyone else besides us four? It does seem to be all you do nowadays." Koizumi poked at his rice with neat chopsticks. He never ate much food, and there was easily half of his meal always left over by the time lunch ended. "I'm sure all of us are touched, but it should be nice to break away from all the 'weirdos' once in a while, yes?" On the word 'weirdos,' Koizumi brought both of his hands up in a flourishing shrug. If he had been less composed, the chopsticks would've easily gone flying out of his hand into some poor schoolgirl's eye.

"I'm perfectly fine with talking to other people, thank you very much," Kyon growled through clenched teeth.

"Perhaps you're simply not interested in girls anymore."

Kyon's eyes turned toxic. "One of these days, you're going to push it too far and I'm going to climb over the table and punch you in front of the entire student body." The boy enjoyed teasing him far too much.

"Oh?" A giggle escaped from Koizumi's soft lips. He had a peculiar way of, when he was poking Kyon's buttons to a cruel extent, staring at the other through his eyelashes with a half-lidded, brazen gaze. It only made Kyon want to smack him more. "Do you honestly think you could take me?" He crossed his arms once again and, tucking his chopsticks against his palm, leaned forward as if genuinely curious.

He had a point, Kyon thought meekly. Kyon was a good few inches shorter than he, not to mention flabbier in some areas (although he would never admit that out loud). Being an esper and fighting gigantic, cerulean monsters probably burned off some of those calories from food that he never fucking ate.

How was he even still alive and still in such good shape? He should be a stick.

It was annoying.

Everything about the kid annoyed Kyon. Why did he even hang out with him?

Oh, right. Because he had no friends. What a loser.

"I bet Haruhi would get on you in an instant if you threw a punch back," Kyon defended, although he instantly regretted his words.

"Oh yes, Miss Suzumiya is a powerful ally to have." More gay little giggles dribbled from Koizumi's throat. "I couldn't win against her, nor would I try. Pity she has to fight your battles for you."

"Just beat it if this is all you're gonna talk about." He couldn't bring himself to get angry. The more he hung around with Koizumi, the more level-headed he seemed to become. People often told him that he had started to smile more and picked up on a more polite form of speech. He had subconsciously started mimicking Koizumi's mannerisms. And, even when Koizumi was in the most annoying of moods, Kyon couldn't stay frustrated even for a minute.

That was even more annoying. He had been turned into a freak.

Fingers drummed against the table. "I can leave, if you want." His smile slid into smugness. "I, unlike you, have friends."

"You're an asshole."

"I suppose I am." Even so, Koizumi made no move to stand. His shoulders remained relaxed and his overdramatic gestures quieted. He gently set the chopsticks into his bento. "But you don't really want me to leave, do you?"

A sigh escaped the boy's lips. "Well, you're part of the Brigade."

"That's not what I meant, and you know it."

"And the Brigade has sort of stolen my life away." He didn't feel uncomfortable around Koizumi much anymore. Their relationship had grown into something resembling awkwardly built friendship – not like one jeering boys would usually share. Everybody in the SOS Brigade felt comfortable with one another, now that their time as a high school club was drawing to a close. He trusted each and every one of them.

He leaned back in his chair once again. "So no, I don't want you to leave." His eyebrows creased. "Is that what you wanted to hear, you freak?"

"There's a word for that. I believe it's called tsundere."

"Shut your damn mouth."

Koizumi's giggles blossomed into heartier, bellowing laughs. Kyon's head raised a bit to watch the other with interest. Koizumi still refused to drop his mask, so moments where he seemed completely genuine were rare. He felt something stir in the pit of his stomach – something akin to victory, like when Nagato seemed more human or Asahina trusted him with information.

"You're cute, you know."

Kyon's nonchalant expression dropped and twisted into one befuddled and confused. His mouth dropped and opened slightly, and his hands stopped their mindless fidgeting. He blinked once or twice in shock and puzzlement.

"Excuse me?"

Koizumi paused, and soon his own face mirrored Kyon's to near perfection. His smile drooped and his body stiffened and his eyes sparked with panic. His cheeks, too, flushed into a light shade of red. It was exceptionally humorous for Kyon to watch – funny enough, in fact, to stifle his confusion for a second and let a hoarse chuckle slip through parted lips.

"Pardon the expression," Koizumi murmured, trying desperately to gather together his façade. He dropped his gaze down to his lunch and blinked rapidly, flustered and already sweating. "Excuse me for a moment, please."

Kyon tilted his head to the side and lowered his eyebrow. "The hell do you mean?" he demanded with a crackling voice. Oh fuck, he hadn't meant for it to crack like that.

"Oh, I was just talking about your traits! Your tsundere ones, yes!" Koizumi shot a wavering beam at him, complete with twitching eyebrows and lips.

It seemed he had not meant for the compliment to slip through. Kyon's eyes narrowed critically, scrutinizing the other.

Why was he so flustered about it? It seemed like a normal, Koizumi-esque statement. It had caught him off guard, but if Koizumi had rolled with the punches, he would've brushed it off with "you're going too far."

Something was off.

"'Cute' isn't the way I'd describe myself," Kyon murmured under his breath. "Or that other damn word that I refuse to repeat." He brought a hand up to his forehead. He pretended to lower his gaze, but he still snuck looks at Koizumi from in between his fingers.

"Yes, well, I suppose it's all in the eyes of the beholder." The esper's laugh resembled more of a pained, dying cackle than anything else.

"What's got you so riled up?" Kyon truly was curious – seeing Koizumi in such a vulnerable state was a once in a lifetime experience. Such a little thing like a joke—

Oh.

Unless it wasn't an actual joke.

Well then. That's awkward.

Koizumi ran his fingers through his bangs and twisted them into tight curls. "I was confessing my love to you, just as your secret admirer would if you were to ever acknowledge her existence. I'm training you." His grin was lopsided and the way his voice thinned in the middle of his sentence reeked of lies.

Kyon blinked. "Training?" he repeated, tone growing slightly more cautious. He slowly sat up straight and let his hand fall to the table, leaving himself unguarded.

Another nervous giggle. "Indeed. Is it working?"

"Hell no! You're freaking me out. Besides," Kyon rolled his eyes, "I'm not interested in her, anyway. Whoever she is. Maybe I should just tell her that I'm not going to fall in love with anyone, not as long as Asahina—"

He was interrupted by Koizumi's sudden movement. Before Kyon could even blink, his loose tie had been grasped and yanked forward awkwardly, forcing him painfully into the edge of the table. He found himself staring right into Koizumi's sly but shy eyes, large and unwavering as they drowned out the world. They were the same color as his own – hazel, but with flecks of gold and mystery sprinkled atop the iris. They weren't as lovely as Nagato's eyes, or as dark and gleaming as Haruhi's, but they still held boundless traces of beauty and secrecy. Perhaps all eyes did. Their noses brushed against one another's, and Kyon could feel warm breath tickle his lips, sending tingles spiraling up and down his spine and launching him into a cold sweat. When he blinked, he could feel his eyelashes catch Koizumi's in their stringy arms. He was so close – too close – close enough that if one of them were to breathe in deeply, their chests and lips would briefly touch—

With a snicker that could rival a demon's, Koizumi leaned back into his chair and released Kyon from his hold. He was blushing lightly and was still a bit flustered, as told by the way he rubbed his sweaty palms on his pant leg. But his smile was more authentic than it had been in ages. Kyon, on the other hand, slapped a hand to his mouth and shot Koizumi a look that could slay a god.

"What the fuck—"

"Now she won't have any interest in you whatsoever. You're quite welcome."

And for some reason, the intense feeling welling inside of Kyon's heart was definitely not anger.