Kyon: Big Damn Hero

Gearing Up Arc I

Chapter Nineteen: Homecoming

Disclaimer: The novel series of Suzumiya Haruhi that began with 'The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi' is the creation of Nagaru Tanigawa. No disrespect is intended by the posting of this fanfiction, as I do not own the characters or settings involved. I'm merely dabbling with another set of paints. TVtropes(dot)org is part of the public domain, I think? I actually couldn't find a 'legal' section on the site! Additional characters are borrowed from Higurashi, which is the creation of Ryukishi07.

Notes: Count the tropes! Save, collect, trade for swell prizes!

"Fragment: Clan Annals (unverified)"

"Entry for 5.11.2011:
The laughter stopped, today; I ponder revenge. Would he be okay with that?
-- Tsu-Oyabun # 108"

"[Undecipherable]" -- Recovered From Primary T.E.S.A. Archive

After returning home late Saturday evening, Kyon helped his parents unload the car, dragged his own bags to his room, and promptly collapsed into bed, only waking briefly when summoned to Yuki's apartment. When the actual morning rolled around on that, his first day of not being grounded, he took his uncle's advice to heart and jumped on his bicycle.

He knew he probably should have called her first ... but he wasn't relying on her to just 'know', as he expected she could. Undoubtedly, she wouldn't actually be surprised ... but he expected that wasn't as important as actually showing some initiative.

After locking his bike up and dialing her room on the intercom, he heard her quiet answer, breathing across the connection softly, but saying nothing. "Um, Nagato, it's me," he said, feeling suddenly a bit nervous. Surely he hadn't managed to somehow catch her unaware? "I thought I'd stop by and visit, if you wouldn't mind."

She said nothing, but the security door to the building automatically opened, and he stepped in. After taking the elevator to her apartment, he was unsurprised to see the door swing open just as he reached it. He entered in silence, nodding at her as he kicked off his shoes and then joined her at the table.

After studying him for a minute, she poured each of them a cup of tea. "How are you doing?" he asked, trying to be conversational. "I'm thankful you went out of your way for me, but I'm sorry to rely on you so heavily again."

"I am fine," she replied, as she always did.

He gave her a bemused smile and sipped at his tea cautiously. She watched, but did not touch her own. "Are you sure?" he asked. "I mean ... I guess I just wondered why you didn't show up, since you were watching me, except when you showed me Hanyuu-san."

She lowered her gaze to her teacup. "I was uncertain as to the appropriateness of my physical presence," she finally said. "While I possessed the ability to manifest myself without difficulty, I would then leave Hanyuu ... alone. She does not wish to take a corporeal form when unnecessary, and my own materialization was not required."

He blinked at that several times, running one of his hands through his hair. "Are you saying," he asked cautiously, "that you ... stayed intangible to keep Hanyuu company? Because you thought turning solid when she couldn't as easily would make her lonely?"

After considering it gravely for a minute, Yuki gave a solemn nod. "Yes," she agreed.

For a long while, he couldn't find anything to say. Not for the first time, he appreciated the fact that with Yuki, there wasn't often a need for many words. "That's very compassionate of you," he finally managed, giving her the most encouraging smile he could muster. What could two girls who existed like ghosts do?

When he stopped to think about it, though, Hanyuu probably was very lonely. He knew she could talk to Rika, but Rika -- at least around him -- was very cautious about interacting with Hanyuu. And no wonder at that; an 'invisible friend' would be beyond odd for a woman his aunt's age. A friend like Yuki was probably nothing short of a miracle for the 'god' of Hinamizawa.

"I'm touched that you were so thoughtful for her," he added, shaking his head. He put his hands on the edge of the table, staring into her nearly unfathomable eyes as she watched him curiously. "What did you two do together?"

It was undoubtedly something very difficult to explain to a mere mortal like himself. Something that beings who called themselves 'gods'.... Well, he may not understand, but Yuki had gone out of her way for the other being. It was the least he could do to listen to whatever it was she had done.

She rarely seemed to struggle for words, just words that worked for him. Yet, at that question, she seemed as much at a loss as the very first time she had spoken to him at length, trying to explain what she was, a year ago. Her lips shaped words, slowly, but she did not utter them. Eventually, and for some reason her face was slightly pink when she explained it, she said, "We ... enjoyed ... the view."

He felt something very odd from her at the moment. Not that she was concealing something from him, because she would tell him outright if there was something that she did not want him to know. But he felt certain that she had vastly simplified things for his understanding.

Her eyes flicked to her teacup briefly. "At this stage of familiarity," she asked, her eyes turning to his, "is it appropriate to repeat a previous request?"

"Is there something I forgot to do?" he asked, frowning. He suspected he still owed her a trip to the library, and the day was early enough that if she wanted that, it wouldn't be a problem. Then again, he could never pay back the times she had saved his life adequately, the way he saw things.

She shook her head. "During the previous week, only minimal time was spent in corporeal form," she explained. "It would be beneficial, but not required, to establish physical stimulus to recalibrate senses to the correct wavelength."

"Physical ... stimulus," he said slowly, squinting at her.

"As we have undertaken previously," she added, blinking once, her eyes warm, even though her expression hadn't changed at all. That tiny hint of a blush was still there, though....

"You ... want me to kiss you again? That would ... make you feel better?"

He thought he caught a hint of shyness from her, but she gave her typical minuscule nod in response.

"Well," he said, scratching his chin with one finger while his eyes looked away from her, his face heating up. "That's ... not something I'm much good at saying 'no' to ... but let's make sure we don't get carried away."

"Understood," she agreed, as he recognized her satisfied not-quite-a-smile expression, and she moved toward him.

Even though they had been reporting to the club room for lunches, Haruhi canceled the tradition the first day of school after Golden Week. Not that Kyon minded, terribly; his mother's mood had generally improved to the point where he had real food in his bento, so he wasn't starving. Of course, he didn't mind that Haruhi just 'happened' to leave him an extra bento, either.

After class he knocked on the door, waiting for Mikuru's traditional call to enter. "J...just a minute!" Kanae's voice came from within. He raised an eyebrow curiously, as she immediately followed with a giggle. "Hee, Suzumiya-san, that tickles!"

Right, he thought to himself. Kanae had been given the dubious title of 'Mascot Trainee', and evidently Haruhi meant to see it through.

Further giggles and not-quite-struggling noises came from within, and Kyon tried his best not to think about it, leaning against the wall next to the door. Not the door itself, since that had not worked well for him -- or had worked too well, depending on how he thought about it -- when he'd accidentally gotten a very unique angle on Mikuru's shapely legs last December.

He realized with a grimace that he was badly failing at not thinking about the sounds on the other side of the door.

Was Mikuru in that room, he wondered?

Salvation came in the form of Koizumi, ambling around the corner of the stairwell with a bright smile. "Hello!" he said cheerfully. "I trust you had a pleasant vacation, Kyon-kun?"

"It was good," he allowed. "How about you?"

Koizumi seemed mildly surprised Kyon returned the courtesy of asking. "It was quite relaxing, outside of a few incidents," he agreed. "It was nice to see my family again."

"Oh, yeah?" Had closed space reappeared? He didn't think Haruhi seemed bothered enough to create any ... at least, during the time they had spent together. "Work came up during the week?"

"Hmm, no ... but there is something I would like to discuss with you at some point. Mori-san will be there, and it would be ... helpful, I imagine, if Tsuruya-san were there, as well. Do you suppose that could be arranged?"

"Oh, right," he realized. The two week 'trial period' for his 'handling' of Haruhi in the eyes of the Organization had ended, and they were supposed to negotiate some form of merger with Tsuruya's family. "Yeah, we can ask Tsuruya-kun. Might not be today if she's busy, but soon, I'm sure."

"That would be wonderful," Koizumi said, still cheerful. "Hmm, usually, we have Suzumiya-san watched for her own safety, as you should recall."


"And yourself as well; you are an important person in the scheme of things, after all."

"Sure," he agreed, nodding, not particularly liking where the discussion was heading.

"We do have an admitted blind spot in your rural village," the esper continued. "And we briefly lost track of Suzumiya when she went somewhere.... Well, with Tsuruya-san, so there was no reason to wonder for her safety, but as you may imagine, this was disconcerting to us, to say the least."

"Seriously?" Kyon asked, dropping his voice and giving Koizumi a skeptical stare. "They bothered you on your vacation just to tell you that they didn't know where Haruhi was?"

"They wanted detailed information as to her emotional state, so they could be sure she was safe."

Outside of an unreasonably long walk in unspeakable weather, he couldn't think of any situation where she was in danger in Hinamizawa ... and the rest of the time, she should have been with Tsuruya. "Is there a point to this?" he asked, somewhat irritably.

"Let me just say that based on our blind spot, I would be vastly reassured if you had met with Suzumiya-san over the vacation. And if you haven't, then I'm ... greatly concerned."

"Then set your mind at ease," Kyon said dourly. "Tsuruya-kun came to visit some business associates, who happened to live in the area." Haruhi was right, though ... 'creepy stalker' indeed. He could absolutely agree with her on that count.

"Oh, oh good," Koizumi said, seeming to become, if anything, even more cheerful, though genuinely relaxed. "In that case, sorry to trouble you!"

Kyon looked away down the hall, waiting for confirmation that it was safe to enter the club room. "Ta-dah!" Haruhi cheered from behind the door. "Hmm, hmm, that really does work! Mikuru-chan's done quite a good job, don't you think?"

"Totally agree, nyoro~!" Tsuruya opined, before bursting into laughter.

"Yay!" Kanae called. "Sempai, you can come in!"

"Glad to hear it," he muttered to the esper, opening the door and stepping through, only to freeze. There was no sign of Mikuru, but Tsuruya was sitting in one of the seats, still laughing. Yuki was in her usual seat, but broke from her book long enough to make eye contact. Haruhi stood a few feet away, studying his reaction with a self-satisfied smirk. Of course, near where Mikuru usually made tea in her lovely maid costume, was Kanae.

It took Kyon a minute to place the outfit -- it was blue, composed of a pair of shorts with semi-flared legs, making it look like a skirt, a top with long sleeves and a kerchief-like bit of pink cloth sewn over the left shoulder. It also included a blue, somewhat naval-looking cap. "It's a stewardess's uniform," Haruhi explained.

"I think the correct term is 'flight attendant', Haruhi," he managed.

"My, that looks quite good on you," Koizumi added. "Very nice, Kanae-san."

"What? Stewardess, flight attendant -- doesn't matter!" Haruhi snapped, still smiling. "It's moe!"

"What do you think, Sempai?" Kanae asked, twirling around.

"Haruhi was right," Kyon answered, wondering what would happen next. "I have to say that I agree with her suggestion that uniforms suit you." Kanae was nothing short of adorable in the outfit.

Kanae clapped her hands together in delight as Mikuru walked into the room. "Hello, everyone~!" the older girl said cheerfully. "I'll get changed and make some ... tea...." He glanced over to see what had caused Mikuru's expression to suddenly go blank. Kanae followed her gaze as well, and shortly everyone was staring at the gleaming brand-new looking coffee machine sitting right behind the tea set.

"Oh, would you like some coffee?" Kanae asked, smiling happily at the other girl. "I can't make tea, but I know how to make coffee!"

"Ah," Mikuru said, shaking her head and managing a cautious smile. "No coffee for me, thanks.... Oh, but how does it fit?"

"Perfect! Asahina-san, you're an amazing tailor! I wouldn't mind wearing this every day for the club!"

Well, Kyon had adjusted to Mikuru frequently wearing the maid outfit. Kanae dressing up as a stewardess.... Yeah, he was pretty sure he could cope with that. He'd miss his maid Mikuru, though....

"You don't have to every day," Haruhi said confidently, dropping one hand to Kanae's shoulder and giving it a friendly pat. "I told Kyon once that I'd wear costumes, too, but I never really got around to it. Well! Now we can trade mascot duty around, and as long as someone does it, it doesn't matter who."

That seemed reasonable to Kyon ... or at least, fairer, at any rate.... "Is there a shift rotation, or will you draw lots?" Kyon joked, smirking. Not that he needed a refresher of what Mikuru looked like to compare with Kanae, or anything like that.

"If there aren't volunteers, I'll assign the duty," Haruhi explained. "And what did you mean 'you'? It's 'we'; you aren't exempt!"

"Um, as nice as that costume is, I don't think it'll fit either myself or Koizumi," Kyon remarked, frowning. "And I'd probably kill half the brigade if I'm in charge of making tea."

"I'll let Mikuru-chan decide what your costumes will be," Haruhi said, smirking. "You may get a pass on making tea, but not dressing up."

He blinked at Haruhi, then turned to gauge Mikuru's reaction. For whatever reason, she seemed strangely ... disappointed with Haruhi's decree, right up until the last part, where she suddenly brightened, her eyes distant, her mouth hanging the slightest bit open.

"Asahina-san?" he asked her. "That's alright with you?"

"That's fine!" Mikuru said suddenly, grinning, not meeting his eyes, her cheeks pinkening. For some reason, she drew the back of her sleeve across her mouth, as though she'd been drooling a little. "Um, I need to make ... some things...."

"That's a mega cute outfit!" Tsuruya agreed with a giggle, hugging Kanae tightly and twirling around with the smaller girl. "But it's from an anime Mikuru-chan and I saw!"

"Really?" Haruhi asked, surprised, looking at it more closely.

"Yes," Mikuru admitted, her blush deepening. "Sorry! It was from ... what was it called ... 'Planetes'? It was the outfit the flight attendants had for zero gravity, but I thought they were very cute!"

"Neat!" Kanae enthused, grabbing the sides of her pleated shorts and spreading them like a skirt once Tsuruya set her down. "I have a space stewardess costume!"

Yuki looked up from her book and studied the outfit briefly before giving a tiny nod and turning her attention back to the book. Kyon checked the title, 'The Golden Compass'.

"Even better," Haruhi agreed, grinning.

"Ah, Kanae-chan, you look better than I expected in that outfit!" Mikuru assured her understudy. "Now, let me show you how to make tea; I don't know if I'm terribly good, but I can teach you what I know!"

"Anyway," Haruhi said, moving to sit behind the computer, as Mikuru set down her bag and began whispering instructions to Kanae, "further costume ideas can be submitted to myself or Mikuru. Say, where did that coffee machine come from, anyway?"

"I brought it," Koizumi said, ducking his head. "Mori-san said she owed it to us."

"Oh? Huh, I guess that explains it, then."

All in all ... that seemed reasonable to Kyon, so he shrugged, glancing at Koizumi when the esper brought out another of his board games. He nodded, not even recognizing the box until the esper set it down. Stratego? Well, at least it wasn't Othello or chess again. Actually, he admitted to himself, it was nice to be back in the club.

Still thinking of what she'd discussed with Tsuruya, and to a lesser extent Mikuru, Haruhi let Kyon enjoy his first day back in the club by playing games with Koizumi. Of course, she had the responsibility of making sure his grades were still good, so that meant that she could really only afford to let him slack off one day -- then it was studying, if not full time, until she was satisfied he'd do well.

Once club was finished, she shooed Kyon and Koizumi out the door so Kanae could change. Actually, they were going to leave on their own, but by following Kyon out she could make sure he didn't leave without her. Koizumi looked mildly surprised to see her in the hall with Kyon, then shrugged his shoulders. "I must be a third wheel," he observed, grinning. "I'll leave you two, then."

"What's that about?" she asked Kyon warily, as the esper strolled down the hall.

He rolled his eyes and didn't move. "Creepy stalker stuff," he answered, shrugging. "I've got to plan a meeting about that later with Tsuruya-kun."

"I almost miss the lazy, 'I'm not doing anything' Kyon," she teased.

He raised an eyebrow at that. "If anything," he remarked, "I miss being able to be that lazier self. But I had an unpleasant wakeup to that this winter."

"You don't need to turn everything serious," she grumbled, annoyed that he couldn't be more positive. "Come on! Where's your sense of fun?"

"Hmm," he mused, looking thoughtful. "Want to see a movie ... let's see ... how about Wednesday night?"

"'re...." He was checking his phone, so she had enough time to get control over her facial features, and keep him from realizing she was staring at him in something approaching shock. "Are you asking me out on a date?" she asked.

He blinked, seeming to only just realize how his request could have been interpreted. "Not ... exactly," he said cautiously, pocketing his phone and nervously scratching the back of his neck. "Um, you remember Miyoko-chan, right?"

"Miyokichi?" she asked. Naturally, she had in fact committed his single foray into 'dating' to memory, since she'd lucked out and he drew that assignment. It was the best way to find out about him while ... pretending not to be tsundere. Damn, she really had to stop doing that. "The one who likes scary movies?"

"Yeah," he agreed, offering an apologetic smile. "She wants to go by 'Miyoko' now, instead of that nickname. Anyway, she'd asked me to take her to see a movie, and, you know, it's hard to say no.... I thought, if I was going to be taking her out to see the movie anyway, maybe you'd want to come along?"

In a way, while she wished he had asked her out on a date, Rika's reminders let her reflect that this was actually a good thing. Friends would see a movie together, too, it didn't have to be romantic ... and, if she remembered the girl's taste in movies, it probably wouldn't be. She doubted it would make her grab Kyon's arm, even if a younger girl would.

Then too, she realized, by inviting her along, she wouldn't have the chance to get jealous about him seeing a movie with another girl.... Not that she should, if it weren't a date anyway....

"Horror movies aren't really my thing," she complained, frowning. Then her eyes widened at the realization of potential. "We have to go," she gasped, unable to keep from grinning. "We'll bring Mikuru-chan with us -- oh, that's going to be priceless!" She could just imagine Mikuru's reaction to violence on the big screen; the older girl was going to cower and wail so cutely!

Of course, she couldn't just torture Mikuru; she'd let the older girl sit next to Kyon. He should enjoy such a scene too, after all.

Kyon gave her a flat, doubtful look. But she saw that almost hidden, hopeful gleam in his eyes. "Haruhi," he started to protest, "while that may be fun for you--"

"What," she challenged him, "you don't like the idea of Mikuru-chan sitting next to you in a dark theater, hanging onto your arm when the villain jumps out? Asking you to hold her hand, maybe walk her home after, since she's so scared?"

"That actually would be-- No! I mean, that's not--"

"It's settled," she decided, as the door opened. Kanae had changed back into her uniform, and Mikuru was just hanging her costume on the rack.

"What's this?" Kanae asked, looking between the two and smiling. "Planning new club activities?"

"That reminds me," Haruhi mused, frowning. "Kanae-chan hasn't had a chance to participate in any real club activities. We need to fix that."

"Did you have something in mind?" Mikuru asked, while Tsuruya nudged Kanae and reminded the girl she had forgotten her schoolbag.

"I didn't," Kyon said, shaking his head. "I'm happy with playing board games."

"Mikuru-chan," Haruhi said, grinning at the upperclassman, "Kyon's going to take us to see a movie on Wednesday night!"

"O...oh," Mikuru allowed, surprised, before she gave a cautious smile. "That sounds like fun!"

"A movie, eh?" Tsuruya mused, closing the door, since Yuki had left earlier. The group moved together toward the shoe lockers. "Who gets to go?"

"Ah, well, just the three of us and one of Kyon's sister's friends," Haruhi said. "It's not really a club activity, just something as friends. Kyon mentioned he was going to be doing some work for you this week, anyway, so Mikuru-chan and I are going to borrow him a bit, too."

"Aw, I want to go see a movie," Kanae pouted. Then she brightened. "Sempai, will you take me out to see one later, too?"

"I don't think you want to see the movie we're going to watch," he said, sighing. "So, I don't know. Haruhi, what do you think?"

"What, you have to check with me for permission to take someone else to see a movie?" Haruhi asked him, rolling her eyes, but remembering to keep her smile friendly. "Unless it's going to interfere with brigade business, it's not my problem."

"Er, okay," he said, frowning. "In that case, Kanae-chan, I guess it's possible."

"Ooh, ooh," Tsuruya chimed in, waving one hand excitedly. "The Trope-tan movie premieres is this months! Kyon-kun, let's go to see that! We can bring Imouto-kun -- I'll takes care of the tickets!"

"Trope-tan's getting a movie!?" Kanae asked incredulously, gaping at Tsuruya. "How did I not know about that!? We have to see it!"

Tsuruya and Kanae together beamed powerful smiles at Kyon. "Ple~ase?" From the tallest and shortest girls in the brigade, he was struck from all angles.

Haruhi really couldn't fault him for folding like a cheap suit under that onslaught. "Sure," he said, grinning weakly. "Um, when is it?"

"The twenty seventh," Tsuruya said, going to her shoe locker and changing. "I'll takes care of the details!"

"That sounds good," he agreed, shrugging. He still looked distracted, even after changing his shoes.

"Figuring out what movie to take Yuki-chan to?" she teased him.

"Well, it only seemed fair," he mumbled, looking away. "But I'm not sure if she's interested in any movies, really."

"If movies aren't her thing, figure something else out," she advised. The work of strengthening the bonds of friendship didn't seem to be too difficult to deal with, at least so far. She decided to remain cautiously optimistic, instead of becoming overconfident that it would always be so simple. Still, things seemed to be starting off just fine. "Hey, want to walk home together?"

"To the station at least," he agreed, smirking. Naturally, unless she wanted to follow him home and study.... As tempting as that was, she needed to go to her own home and make dinner, or else she'd have to suffer with Kyon's mother's cooking. And possible attitude. Haruhi wasn't anything approaching a coward, but something about Kyon's mother just bothered her after their last meeting. "Actually, we could head to the theater and pick up the tickets together, if you'd like."

Hard not to perk up at that ... she'd still make it home in time for dinner after that detour. "Good thinking," she approved.

"Anyway," Tsuruya remarked, once they were walking across the campus, toward the main gate, "what's this about doing works for me, Kyon-kun?"

"I'm supposed to arrange a meeting between us and Mori-san," he explained. "Koizumi wanted it to be tonight, but I told him I couldn't guarantee that."

"Yeah, I do have other duties," Tsuruya mused. She cocked her head to one side, considering, then nodded. "Wednesday night, or Thursday night," she decided. "You're seeing your movie on Wednesday?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "So, is Thursday alright, then? I get the impression that Koizumi's organization is fine with any time, right now."

"Yep! Thursday it is, then! We can uses my house; it's plenty secure! Say around ... six o'clock? We'll have dinner!"

"That sounds good," Kyon decided. "I can put that out of my mind, for now; I'm sure it can wait until then."

'Uncle' Watanabe had been true to his word. After Jun was released from the hospital, he was free to do what he wished. He had suspected, somehow, that he would be followed by police officers or detectives, waiting for him to do something detestable so they could fall on him. Perhaps, they would already have known about the deal that the yakuza enforcer had set up for them.

But the days had gone by, and still nothing happened. Sure, his family life had become unpleasant in the extreme, his father grumbling about him being a failure, his mother always giving him angrily disapproving looks. His career was probably damaged, too; his parents had agreed to 'voluntarily' remove him from the school, but he would keep no credit from the first part of the term.

That meant that even though he was short only a month of classes, he couldn't transfer anywhere this term. That problem aside, even though 'officially' nothing had been done, he strongly suspected that any school in the area he applied to would find personal reasons not to allow him to enroll. That meant, ultimately, that he had completely lost out on his chances of a second year of high school.

He would have to go to a school either hours away by train, or so remote he had to board somewhere, if he was to have any chance....

...except, really, he didn't care anymore. Unless there was a school he didn't know about, one where he could find his tenshi, none of them really mattered. His other options, if he didn't care about school, were either the most simple of entry-level jobs -- manual labor, effectively -- or working in crime. And after Watanabe and Ryuguu's offer, crime was sounding better by the day.

When the first Monday of Golden Week came around, Watanabe had returned, meeting Jun outside of view from his parents. Watanabe drove a nondescript green van, and Ryuguu was sitting in the back, looking depressed when Jun climbed in. Jun didn't really care, but tried to make small talk anyway; Ryuguu was despondent over the fact that some distant estranged aunt didn't want anything to do with him.

Well, that wasn't Jun's problem, particularly. But the realization that he had nowhere else to go did galvanize the other boy into taking Watanabe's training more seriously, once he'd gotten them out to a secluded point in the woods where they could practice unobserved. Jun's first shot left his hand numb, and not been nearly as loud as he'd thought it should be.

Watanabe rolled his eyes when Jun complained; it was nothing like a movie, and it was not at all like using a camera. Ryuguu calmly told Jun to 'suck it up', since his dominant hand was broken, and the other boy was having a much harder time of it. Even though he couldn't grip with his right hand, Ryuguu could still use it to steady his aim when he fired left-handed.

The rest of the 'vacation' passed in the same manner, Watanabe advising from the sidelines and having long, growled discussions with his cell-phone that involved a lot of swearing. From Jun's perspective, it wasn't really much of a vacation, since there was no school to return to.

By the end of the week, Watanabe pronounced them 'done', and they sat in the back of the van, sharing sips from a very small bottle of sake. Then Jun and Ryuguu were told to keep their firearms hidden until they were called into action. In the meantime, he and Ryuguu had both been given jobs working for a movie theater that Watanabe's 'friends' owned.

It was here that Jun felt his tenshi's beatific smile shine upon him once more. He was emptying one of the trash cans in the front of the theater when he heard it. "...of you, Kyon."

He looked up sharply at that nickname, jolted. He was not about to forget it; not any time soon. Staying crouched behind the can, he peeked around the edge to see Kyon speaking over his shoulder to the girl who Jun had tried to shame in revenge.

"You've been in a good mood lately," Kyon judged, his focus taken by the girl.

Jun chewed his lip for a moment, then ducked behind the trash can again. The gun was hidden at home ... if he'd had it with him....

"What?" Haruhi grumbled at him. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"No, just an observation. Anyway, do you want to hold onto the tickets for me?"

"Yeah, I'll keep them, but spare me 'just an observation'. You don't think there's something wrong with it, so is there something right with it?"

"Well...." The rest of the conversation was lost to distance, and he cautiously peeked around the trash can. Both of them were gone, so he very quickly made his way into the ticketing booth, where an older employee sat, flipping through a worn magazine.

"Do you remember what movie the guy and girl who were just here bought tickets for?" he asked. The older man looked back at Jun skeptically, then glanced at the empty space in front of the theater. No one else was in line.

"'Saw'," the man answered. "Friends of yours?"

"Yeah," Jun said, nodding. "I'm looking to meet up with them at some point. Maybe make it a surprise. Do you know what showing they were going for?"

"Seven twenty showing, Wednesday," the man offered, glancing at the schedule. Then he gave the boy an ugly smile. "That's not a family movie, so I hope you're ready to see a lot of blood."

"Oh, I am," Jun assured him, suddenly happy to do the menial job of cleaning out the trash cans. 'Uncle' Watanabe would be so pleased.... Surely such a wonderful coincidence was a gift from his tenshi?

Mikuru hadn't yet devised the ideal situation to present Kyon the coat she had made for him. It was done, and she thought it would fit him.... Haruhi's changes had been more work to implement, but thanks to Yuki's 'training' she was adept at everything she needed to adjust the clothing. It had been a little bit colder in Hinamizawa, but back in Nishinomiya, the winter uniforms were starting to become uncomfortably warm; was she going to need to wait until fall to present it to him?

That thought in mind, she was slow getting to the club room, so Kanae volunteered for mascot duty before she arrived, meaning she didn't have to put on her maid uniform. That was kind of nice, if late in coming.... Now dressing up for the club was an option, not a rule. Even though she didn't have to anymore, she found herself missing the chance to dress up for Kyon. Then again, she might occasionally get to see Kyon in costumes, as well.

That was something she wouldn't complain about.

So while Kanae was doing up the last few buttons, before she put the cap on, Mikuru turned to her notebook and contemplated designs. There had to be some good occasion to give him the coat ... it would be a waste if she needed to keep it for months until it was actually colder. She straightened up, realizing something.

With a great show of focus and concentration, Kanae was occupied with following her instructions on making tea, staring at the kettle very intently. Kyon had come in after Kanae finished changing, ignoring Koizumi for the moment as Haruhi berated him for wasting valuable club time needing to study. Mikuru might have worried, if it weren't for the gentle teasing tone of Haruhi's voice, or the way she leaned very close to nudge him with an elbow. Or the way he gave a good-natured roll of his eyes and grumbled about slave-drivers with a soft smile.

Still, since everything seemed to be going so smoothly, she asked, "Kyon-kun, when is your birthday? That seems like something I should have known by now."

Haruhi started slightly at the question, then gave him a curious glance. "She's got a point," she allowed. "You know, in a week the SOS Brigade will be one year old -- that's something that should have come up already!"

"Oh?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Well, you seemed to think something was more important last time I brought it up," he chided Haruhi. She glared at him while he turned to Mikuru and explained, "It's June 19th, Asahina-san."

"Wait a minute," Tsuruya and Haruhi said together, giving him an odd look.

After they exchanged a glance, Haruhi asked, "You're going to be eighteen next month?"

"Eh, no," he clarified, frowning. "I'm sixteen right now; my parents count my age from the beginning of the school year, so of course, I do, too."

"Curious!" Tsuruya remarked.

"Done!" Kanae cheered, finished preparing tea. She set the cups on the tray and hummed as she walked slowly around the room, passing the hot drinks out.

"Well," Haruhi said after a moment of thought, "that's a bit odd."

"Is it really?" Koizumi asked, raising an eyebrow. "It does make sense from the standpoint of keeping it from interfering with studies. It's only a three-month change, anyway. I would presume, then, that your family celebrates your birthday at the beginning of the school year, as well?"

"That's when I get birthday presents," he agreed.

"So, you are a Gemini!" Koizumi added. "But your parents would rather treat you like an Aries?"

"I don't really follow that stuff anymore, so you've lost me," Kyon noted, turning his attention back to his homework, pausing only long enough to thank Kanae when she set a teacup near his papers.

"Hmm, he does have a lot of Gemini qualities," Haruhi pondered. "Here. Likes talking, novelty and the unusual, variety in life, multiple projects all going on at once, and reading."

Yuki looked up from her book thoughtfully. "Interesting," she contributed.

"That really doesn't sound like me," Kyon protested, frowning.

"Dislikes," Haruhi continued, "feeling tied down, learning from a school, being in a rut, mental inaction, and being alone."

"That's about half right," he allowed, rolling his eyes. "But as far as my family is concerned, my birthday has already passed for this year." He shrugged. "Which doesn't bother me too badly."

"So," Mikuru temporized, frowning, "I already missed it, then?"

"Er," Kyon said slowly, seeming to realize something, "uh, not really, just as far as my family goes."

"That's actually a good thing," Haruhi remarked. "Now it won't interfere with club activities!"

"Our brigade chief; always finding the cloud's silver lining," Kyon replied dryly.

Haruhi agreed, "Someone's got to!"

Now it seemed likely Haruhi already had plans for Kyon's birthday. Maybe she could give it to him on the sly...? But Haruhi had been interested in the coat, too; she'd undoubtedly get upset if she didn't get to see Kyon wear it soon after he got it. She sighed quietly, turning to her design book. Why did it all have to be so complicated?

Oh well, Mikuru thought. At least she was going to go see a movie with Kyon ... and Haruhi. That was better than nothing.

Miyoko was excited about getting to see one of the most talked-about movies on her horror mailing list. It had gotten rave reviews, and she was so looking forward to it, she'd had to set her account to vacation to avoid spoilers. Even if the mails were labeled, she was afraid she couldn't help but peek.

So when her friend's big-brother, that ever dependable Kyon, agreed to go see the movie with her, she had intended to pay for the tickets to thank him. Unexpectedly, he'd already taken care of that, and even brought two other girls with him to see the movie. That was okay, though; if it were two girls, they were probably friends. If it was just one other girl, than she'd feel very awkward for interfering with what might have been a date if she hadn't been there.

Though she'd never met either of the girls before, they were both strikingly beautiful. The one with longer hair kept telling Miyoko she was very pretty, and would grow into a real beauty herself. The other one gave her a very strange look for a long minute before telling Kyon, "You know, suddenly I can see why you chose what you did when you wrote about that incident."

Kyon himself said nothing on the subject, instead offering, "Should I get something from the concession stand while you get seats? Haruhi's holding the tickets."

"Oh, get us a soda," Haruhi ordered. "Actually, make that two -- and I want some popcorn! A really big one we can all share!"

"L...let me," Miyoko insisted, her face reddening. "Kyon already paid for the tickets, so it's only fair."

"Sure, sure," Haruhi agreed. "Mikuru-chan and I will get seats."

"I'll help Miyoko-chan carry everything," Kyon decided, nodding at the older girls as Haruhi handed him a pair of tickets, then walked into the theater.

The concession stand line was long, but they'd arrived early enough that they shouldn't miss any of the movie. "Um, I wanted to thank you again, Kyon, for taking me to out," Miyoko said, giggling. "Um, I suppose this part goes without saying, but it would probably be best if my parents didn't know that we went to see this...."

He raised an eyebrow at that. "Your parents don't know that you have an interest in this type of movie?" he asked.

"Ah, no, they know," she said, feeling a little embarrassed. For all she was given credit for looking older than her age, she was still only twelve.... "I got 'The Ring' and 'The Grudge' for Santa Day this year! But, um, they always tell me that I can't go out, especially at night, with boys that are older than me.... Haha, but I know I can trust you!"

Kyon chuckled at that, smirking. "If I had it to do over again, I'd want you as a sister instead of Imouto," he assured her. "A polite, considerate, well-behaved girl? Who wouldn't want you as a sister!"

"Ah! Don't say such things about your own sister!" Miyoko protested, unable to keep from giggling herself. "Nono-chan's.... She means well; she's just excitable! Don't tell her I said this, but at her age, I think she's starting to get a little uncertain because of her size. All of our other friends are growing up, but she still looks like she's two grades lower."

"She's going to look like an elementary student when she's in high school, at this rate," Kyon agreed, sighing. "She never eats her vegetables."

"Is that really it?" Miyoko asked with another giggle. "Really?"

"It can't help," Kyon said, shrugging. "I don't usually think about it, though; really, Imouto is probably going to get a big growth spurt soon." He paused, suddenly looking a bit melancholic. "You know, it's strange ... I'm so used to her being the way she has for the last few years, I might actually miss her being small?"

"That's not strange at all!" she countered. "That's perfectly normal! In fact ... to be honest ... I always wished I had a sibling, too. I'm envious of Kyon and Nono-chan."

"But, you have cousins too, don't you?"

"Well...." She thought about it a minute. "I'm the oldest of the cousins, except for an older cousin who was, um, my first love." Her face reddened, and she grinned anyway. "Ah, but he ran off with some girl years ago. Nowadays when my family does cousin-gatherings, I have to watch over the younger cousins. What a chore! And one of my uncles even gave me that nickname I don't like anymore!"

Kyon gave her a very odd look, just as the line finally moved forward. "Eventually, that will probably pay off," he said, shaking his head. Turning to the attendant he added, "Um, your largest popcorn and two large colas, please."

"And chocolate mints," Miyoko added, reaching for her change-purse before Kyon could take out his wallet.

"Sorry we're so slow tonight," the attendant behind the counter replied, giving them their orders as Miyoko handed over the money. "Two of our guys just vanished; we're usually much better about it. Please enjoy your date!"

"Ah, heh," Miyoko managed, trying not to blush. "Thanks."

Kyon gave a good-natured smirk, carrying the drink tray while she hugged the ludicrously over-sized popcorn tub to herself.

"Hey, Kyon?" she asked, while he handed the tickets over and they were admitted to the dim theater.

"What is it?" he replied, glancing back at her.

"It's not that I would mind, because I wouldn't," she said quickly, not quite meeting his eyes, "but I know you've got to like someone your own age.... Is one of those two big sisters in there your girlfriend?"

He looked very nervous and said, "Um, maybe some day, but right now we're all just friends."

That was good, she thought. She'd probably never be able to ask him for help like this if he was dating someone; any girlfriend of Kyon's would probably get jealous....

She was distracted from her musings by spotting a trio of large, unruly looking men, evidently bothering Kyon's friends. Mikuru looked terrified, trying to cower in her seat, while Haruhi looked about ready to start swinging punches. "Look," one of the thuggish men said, grinning, "if you say you're not here on a date, what's wrong with us trying to pick up on your friend? You can say no, but she hasn't said a thing!"

"I said back off, or you're going to regret it!" Haruhi snapped. There were no attendants in sight, which seemed unusual, until Miyoko remembered the comment from the employee behind the concession stand.

"P...please don't fight!" Mikuru blurted out. "W...we just want to watch the movie!" She immediately hid her face behind her hands.

"So, your friend seems to not want trouble," the thug continued, just before Kyon loudly cleared his throat behind the man.

The thug looked very irritated, catching the way Haruhi smiled smugly at spotting Kyon. "So," the man began, turning slowly, his companions grinning menacingly behind him, "you must be the 'other friends' that--" He cut off with a sudden choking noise, seeing something about Kyon.

"Ah!" he blurted out, eyes wide. The other two men with him looked equally horrified. "Aniki! Sorry, sorry! I didn't know that these were yours! I apologize! I apologize! I am so, so very sorry! Please, enjoy your evening!"

"He's had a bit to drink," one of the other two added hastily, "we'll get him out of your way immediately, Aniki!"

All three men bowed together, backing their way out of the theater. Miyoko blinked, trying to think of what had happened. Why had those brutish, scary looking men called Kyon 'big brother'?

"Remember what 'ninkyo dantai' means," Kyon warned the men as they retreated. "I don't think this is behavior the family head would be pleased to hear about!"

Suddenly, Miyoko understood. Kyon had just mentioned cousins! Obviously, he was related to those men, and knew how to tell them to behave. He must have made such a strong impression that they called him 'Aniki' for 'big brother', even though he was their junior. He shook his head after handing Haruhi one of the drinks, then adjusted a pin on the collar of his shirt.

"Sorry about that," he said, grimacing.

"Smooth," Haruhi remarked, glancing at the retreating figures. "I kind of wanted to see some of your legendary smack down skills. But, I guess if you've already earned their respect, you can hardly do it again."

Kyon looked away, scratching the back of his head. "Um.... Anyway, where are we sitting?"

Haruhi and Mikuru were sitting two seats apart. "Oh, Miyoko, you take this seat, and Mikuru and I will sit on either side of Kyon!"

"But," Miyoko protested, "I wanted to sit next to Kyon-nii!" If those men could call Kyon like a big brother, so could she. And what if she got really scared or excited at some point, and wanted to hold onto his hand? It had happened last time, after all, and Kyon had said he wasn't dating either of them.... Plus, she had asked him to the movie first!

Haruhi scowled, and Mikuru giggled, recovered once the men had bowed their way out of the theater. "That's fine," Mikuru said, patting the seat next to her. "Miyoko-chan, sit here, next to Mikuru-nee! Kyon-kun can sit between you and Suzumiya-san!"

"That won't do," Haruhi disagreed, grumbling as she sipped at her soda. "Alright, fine! Miyoko-chan, sit here, and Kyon, you're between Mikuru-chan and Miyoko-chan; I'll sit on the other side of Mikuru-chan."

They shuffled around and sat as instructed, Miyoko handing Kyon the tub of popcorn so she could properly smooth her skirt down once she was seated.

"For a movie that's running several weeks, there sure aren't a lot of people here," Kyon mused, glancing around. "I'm sure if there were more people, those guys would never have bothered you."

Mikuru leaned forward to peer around the popcorn bucket and asked, "Miyoko-chan, what kind of movie is it that you wanted to see? Suzumiya-san wouldn't tell me!"

Miyoko thought it was very strange that she would come to see such a movie without knowing. Ready to explain her favorite genre in detail, she began, "Oh, it's--"

"A surprise," Haruhi interrupted her, grinning. "Anyway, Mikuru-chan, Kyon saved you once tonight already; if you're in danger, I'm sure he can again!"

"Sorry, Asahina-san," Kyon said, shrugging helplessly. "You know how she is...."

The first previews came on, flicking brightly as the house lights dimmed. "Oh, it's starting!" Miyoko exclaimed excitedly. "I hear that it's already got several sequels in America; I can hardly wait for them to come over, too!"

"Don't forget to turn your phones off," Mikuru remembered aloud.

After finishing his homework, alone in the studio apartment that he'd been given by the Organization, Koizumi leaned back in his chair and stared blankly at the wall before him, his eyes unfocused. Sometimes ... especially lately ... he wasn't sure what to make of Kyon. In the past, despite Kyon's obvious closeness to Haruhi, Koizumi had been able to rely on his own status as the brigade's second-in-command. But ever since the reveal to Haruhi, to save Yuki's life....

Ever since then, Haruhi had firmly set him to one side, giving the largely meaningless role to Kyon, and then making it significantly more important. Not that he could judge the changes were bad, per se, but....

He certainly did feel marginal as a member of the group, at best, and the fact that Kyon didn't seem to see any need to turn to him for help.... That was not improving his personal standing in the Organization, and that made things more difficult for Mori, as well. For all that their trust had been rewarded, so far, Koizumi couldn't help but feel like he was slowly drifting away from the rest of the brigade.

As if to underscore that thought, his phone suddenly rang. He noticed Kyon's number in the caller ID, and smiled, having no trouble putting it into his voice when he answered, "Koizumi, here; how may I help you, Kyon-kun?"

"Koizumi," Kyon said, sounding as if he was somewhere very far away, in extremely high winds, "you have one hour and twenty minutes to prepare."

"I'm not sure I understand?" Koizumi asked cautiously. "Is the meeting between yourself, Mori-san, and Tsuruya-san to happen at that time, instead of tomorrow?"

An amused chuckle came across the line. "I'll leave that to you," Kyon answered. "In the meantime, I must tell you three things. I know you'll record this well. Are you ready?"

"Yes, of course," he replied, grabbing a spare sheet of paper and a pencil. He was still sitting at his desk, after all. What was this about, anyway? Wasn't Kyon supposed to be seeing a movie with Haruhi and Mikuru?

"Firstly, Mori-san needs to be told that it was a predetermined event."

Koizumi wrote down what he said, guessing it had to do with time travel, but not sure what it meant. "Okay."

"Secondly, follow your own judgment; have an ambulance and doctors ready, but don't forget that Haruhi is your leader."

"That sounds quite worrisome," he objected, still scribbling down the instructions. "Can you give me any more details?"

"Thirdly," Kyon continued, as though Koizumi hadn't said anything, "tell me these words when you see me in person next: 'You can easily overlook "the quiet ones" when you make an assumption about the situation'." He paused for a moment, then added, "Then you'll want to give me that piece of paper."

"I see...." Well, it was better than being left completely in the dark, he supposed. Now he know he wasn't dealing with just Kyon, but an iteration of him from the future. "Is there anything else you can tell me?"

"'It's always darkest before the sunrise'," Kyon quoted. "Good luck, Koizumi." Then the phone disconnected.

He frowned at it thoughtfully. What did that mean, then? Still, best get to work.... Though, that second part really did bother him.

Miyoko hadn't had so much fun in a long time! Seeing a movie with a small group of people was much better than going to see it with just one friend. It was much gorier than she'd expected, so she ended up spending a lot of time holding Kyon's hand nervously, but he seemed distracted for the most-part. Probably because within the first ten minutes, Mikuru had physically leaped completely out of her seat and landed in Kyon's lap in one fluid, almost practiced looking motion, pressing her face into his chest to try and block out the sound and noise.

Haruhi had probably held out the longest, but eventually took over Mikuru's abandoned seat and grabbed onto Kyon's other arm. Well, Miyoko didn't think it was that bad.... Kyon certainly seemed not to mind, anyway, other than to grimace occasionally, shake his head at some parts, or murmur something soothing to Mikuru.

After the credits rolled, they left the theater, Mikuru shivering and stumbling as her knees shook, clinging to Kyon for support. Haruhi looked a bit pale herself, holding Kyon's other hand while Miyoko walked a bit to one side, thinking about what they had seen.

"P...people don't.... People don't really do that, right?" Mikuru managed, voice quavering.

"Of course not!" Haruhi snapped. "Well, actually, maybe in America they do. But not here! That kind of thing is fake!"

"Right!" Miyoko agreed. "That's why I like the genre so much! By seeing all the bad, you can take everything that happens in your life! It'll never even come close to what you see in movies!"

"I have to admit," Kyon said, shaking his head, "I don't think I've ever seen a movie with that much blood in it. I doubt I'll be resting easily tonight."

"Maybe Hong Kong blood opera is more your style?" Miyoko mused thoughtfully. "You told me once you liked Hard Boiled when we were talking about movies, once!"

"Well, yeah, but that's about the far end of my violence tolerance," Kyon chuckled, ducking his head slightly. "Though, you're right; it's something we should keep in perspective."

"Still, it's good preparation," Miyoko added. "I mean, some day, I think I'll want to be a nurse, or maybe a doctor! But if you can't stand the sight of blood, it's no good, right? These movies are practice for me!"

"I realize how this may sound, coming from me," Haruhi remarked, holding Kyon's other hand -- the one Mikuru wasn't clinging to, "but you are a very strange girl, Miyoko-chan."

"Ah...." She pouted, feeling her face heat up. "S...sorry...."

"No, no," Haruhi protested releasing Kyon's hand and patting Miyoko's head. "That's good! It's a sign of strength and individuality! I approve! If you were older, I might even let you join the SOS Brigade! Though, I have to admit, I don't think I would have seen this kind of movie on my own."

"I absolutely wouldn't have," Mikuru whimpered. "That was.... That was...." She swallowed and looked away, not meeting anyone's eyes. "W...well, it was okay, because Kyon-kun was there ... but I don't like that kind of thing at all!"

"Sorry," Kyon sighed. "I should have talked Haruhi out of it...."

"Bah," Haruhi grumbled, sniffing imperiously. "I still say that Mikuru-chan's cute reactions were worth it. And, Mikuru-chan, are you complaining? I seem to remember someone getting to spend a lot of time in Kyon's lap!"

Mikuru's face reddened and she still didn't meet anyone's eyes, though she leaned even closer to Kyon, hugging his arm to her chest. "That part was fine," she mumbled.

"That wouldn't have happened if you'd gone to see a sappy romance movie with him, right?"

"That's true...."

"There you go, then! Miyoko-chan might not know this, but part of the horror genre is so that girls turn to boys for courage when it gets scary! It's a sign of refinement on your part that you reacted like you did."

"I just don't want to see that much blood," Mikuru complained.

"Sorry again, Asahina-san," Kyon apologized. "I won't take you to see such a movie again."

"W...well ... maybe ... once in a while ... it would be okay," Mikuru managed, her face red.

"Aha," Miyoko giggled. "I think that Mikuru-nee likes Kyon-nii, hmm?"

"W...well!" Mikuru protested, releasing Kyon's arm and waving her hands frantically. "This, um, you see--"

"See?" Haruhi said knowingly, smirking. "Totally moe!"

"Don't worry about it," Kyon said, shaking his head and glancing at the girls sidelong, an amused smirk coming to his lips. "Really, the important thing is--"

And at that moment, a pair of figures leaped from a nearby alley, one of them shouting, "Die!" as a loud, strangely tinny 'bang' sounded, and Kyon's eyes widened, a sudden spatter of warm, dark crimson splashing across the girls. Miyoko stared in horror and started to scream, but before she could even begin, several more loud shots rang out in succession.

The two figures wheeled and began running away, while Kyon's expression shifted to confusion, then anger, finally settling on incredulous as he sank to his knees. Miyoko's scream found its way out of her throat, while Mikuru panicked, grabbing him tightly and sobbing, "Don't die, Kyon-kun! Don't die!"

Haruhi's eyes narrowed, and her face paled, strangely empty of worry. The trio of thugs that had harassed them in the theater suddenly reappeared, one kneeling at Kyon's side, the others charging after the retreating attackers, screaming, "For Aniki!"

A somewhat beaten green minivan down the street suddenly whirred to life. Of the two retreating figures, one lagged slightly to look back over his shoulder and was tackled by the thugs, crashing to the pavement heavily with a loud groan.

The other attacker didn't turn to look back until he was climbing into the van. He shot back a gloating, triumphant look, adjusting his glasses before the door closed. "Oh, no you don't," Haruhi grated out, her voice angrier than her expression betrayed. One of her eyes closed and she reached toward the van, as though she could grab it, dozens of meters distant, with one hand.

The van surged into motion, one of the two thugs reaching it a moment too late as it leaped down the street -- and suddenly halted. The tire spun frantically, sending up streams of smoke and squealing loudly against the street, but in point of fact, as Miyoko watched, the van was slowly sliding backward, as though, somehow, Haruhi was dragging it back. The thug who was about to reach it hesitated, then cautiously stepped away as the van skidded first to one side, and then the other, as the driver frantically tried to steer left or right.

The sound of the wheels screeching fruitlessly across the ground didn't cease, even as the van's windows cracked, and the sides of the vehicle began to buckle ominously inward.

"M...Mikuru-nee," Miyoko began shakily, turning to the older girl.... But Mikuru was unconscious, curled on the ground at Kyon's side. Where she hoped Kyon was alright, still clinging to awareness, he was quiet, as though asleep ... surrounded by a grim crimson aura on the pavement.

Miyoko wondered if watching horror movies had prepared her for the 'worst possibilities' at all, as sirens began to sound.