- Epilogue -
"They've entered the building."
Koizumi and I turned away from our card game to join the head of security by the camera monitors. We saw that Haruhi, Nagato, and Miss Asahina were indeed standing just inside the bank's entrance, surveying the floor. (Yeah, Koizumi just happens to have a bank executive for a second cousin.) They were all dressed in winter coats and wide-brimmed hats. Nagato had on a long-haired wig, and Haruhi a pair of sunglasses. Hardly inconspicuous, but it was their game, so I suppose I had to let them play it however Haruhi wanted.
There was no line, so they headed right for the open teller, en masse. Yeah, real top secret there, Haruhi. Three people doing a bank transaction together, nope, nothing unusual about that.
We couldn't hear what Haruhi said to the teller (audio surveillance at a bank is a big no-no, apparently), but if the three of them had correctly decoded the letter which we'd split into three parts and mailed to each of them, then she was telling him they were making a withdrawal from the Overload account. As she said it, she pushed the sunglasses down her nose and looked over the lenses in what she probably thought was a cool pose. If I were subjected to torture, I'd probably have to admit that she was right.
The teller went into a back room and came back with a medium-sized package. I cherished the look of disappointment on Haruhi and Miss Asahina's faces; they probably thought the package contained their White Day presents. They were in for a surprise.
I expected them to open the package the second they got to a private place. Instead, Haruhi furiously tore it open right at the counter.
I would have face palmed if I weren't watching for the girls' reaction to the package's contents. "She's the worst spy in the world."
Koizumi chuckled. "You're taking this much too seriously. This is merely a treasure hunt game, and Miss Suzumiya is conscious of that fact."
"The game would be more fun if she'd pretend it were real, not a parody movie."
Haruhi fell back half a step, but her expression was frustratingly unreadable through the sunglasses. Nagato was rock steady, as if she could tell what was inside the package without it being opened. Miss Asahina's reaction was more satisfying; she blinked prettily, and her mouth opened into an adorable "o".
Sitting atop the shredded packaging was a laptop computer. My laptop, if you must know, but we could just as well have used Koizumi's.
"Not true," he had insisted when we discussed the plan days earlier. "She needs to figure out the laptop's password if she is to access the data pointing the way to the treasure."
"So we'll tape a clue written in backwards letters onto the laptop," I returned.
"A fine idea, but now that the matter has come up I would like to prove my point: Miss Suzumiya can guess your laptop's password without any clues."
"How's she even going to know it's my laptop?" Neither Koizumi nor I were the sort to wallpaper our laptops with stickers. "Whatever. Go ahead. When she can't guess it, we can just have another spy drop by with the clue and tell her he delivered it at great peril."
"Another fine idea."
I got the sense Koizumi knew that his smiling endorsement of my suggestions annoyed the hell out of me. But I was getting payback now: After booting up my laptop, Haruhi took off her sunglasses, stared blankly at the password screen, and proceeded to push a bunch of random keys. For a second I felt afraid that her supernatural intuition would allow her to randomly type out the correct password, but she gave an exasperated huff and handed the laptop over to Nagato to figure out. She blinked at the screen for a second, then started typing away.
"If Nagato solves it for her, that still makes you wrong," I said to Koizumi.
"I don't believe she will. Look at what she's typing."
I squinted at the video monitor. Oh, good grief. She's guessing passwords systematically. "aaaaaaa", "aaaaaaA", "aaaaaab"... She's going to lock the thing up that way!
Apparently Haruhi had the same thought, because she seized the computer from Nagato with a cry of alarm. She handed it to Miss Asahina for her to try, looking at Nagato as though baffled by her lack of password sense. I was a little puzzled at it myself. Maybe Nagato was so perfect at entering passwords that she'd never encountered password attempt limits before?
Miss Asahina looked at the screen, hesitantly holding a single index finger out over the keyboard while Haruhi frowned, deep in thought.
I nodded. "Time to send in the clue."
Suddenly, Haruhi's face lit up and she made an exclamation of some sort. She pushed Miss Asahina out of the way and typed something in.
"Oh, no way," I gaped. She'd logged in. I'm going to have to seriously rethink how I come up with my passwords. Given how snoopy she is, it's just dumb luck Haruhi hasn't broken into my laptop before.
As soon as the operating system loaded up, a program popped up with the message "Good morning agents Nagato, Asahina, and Suzumiya." (I'd pointed out to Koizumi that due to school, the girls wouldn't reach this part of the hunt until afternoon, but he said the "good morning" greeting was traditional or something.) The Computer Research Society had coded it up for us. I'm sure Koizumi had people who could have done it, but I'd rather not use them unless necessary; even Haruhi is bound to get suspicious of all Koizumi's affluent relatives at some point. And the Computer Society were happy to help when we explained things to them. As far as they were concerned, anything that made Nagato happy – and distracted Haruhi from harassing them – was worth subjecting their talents to our orders for a few hours.
Other customers were coming into the bank, so after a few moments of uncomfortable squirming, the teller mustered the fortitude to politely shoo the girls away from the counter. Thus, we could no longer watch them through the security cameras, and would miss out on their tackling the program's mapping puzzle.
Not that I minded. I had no doubt they'd solve it. Haruhi could probably tackle it single-handed, and if not, Nagato was there to do her rapid data processing thing.
Koizumi handed my coat to me. "Shall we head to the reception area?"
A limo took us, and the White Day parcel, to the "reception area" - the park where we had shot some of the footage for the SOS Brigade's film. I figured Haruhi could do the least damage in an open area, though Koizumi didn't think that a concern.
When we got out, Koizumi handed the parcel to me. There were three boxes, bound together with string.
"You take them," I said. If someone was going to get drop-kicked by Haruhi, I was resolved that it wasn't going to be me.
"I'm afraid it's not that simple. Miss Suzumiya has a tendency to latch on to simple associations. If I'm holding the boxes when the girls arrive, she is likely to conclude that I am chiefly responsible for their White Day presents."
"All the more reason why I shouldn't hold it. The last thing I want is to give her the idea that I really wrote that letter in her shoe locker. Besides, you look like the villain from a spy movie a lot more than I do."
He scratched the side of his face with one finger. "Did you not tell me that the whole point of making so much chocolate, and designing such an elaborate hunt for it, was to demonstrate to Miss Suzumiya your enthusiasm for the SOS Brigade, and thereby prevent her from kicking you out?"
"I'm having second thoughts." I looked at the massive parcel with trepidation. Did I really want to sign my name to a big gesture like this? Sure, any reasonable person could see there was nothing romantic about it. When a White Day gift is a response to a non-romantic Valentine's Day gift, then the White Day gift is obviously non-romantic too. But Haruhi wasn't a reasonable person. "Can't you hold it, and then just tell her later about how helpful I was with brainstorming ideas and -"
"Don't move!" a voice cracked into the quiet of the near-deserted park. I whipped my head around to see Haruhi, flanked by Nagato and Miss Asahina, who were each leveling one of the prop guns we'd used for the movie. "Put down the doomsday device, very slowly."
Mind explaining how you're supposed to both follow that order and not move? But Koizumi set the boxes down as she ordered.
"Now, turn around! And... Hop on one foot while sticking a finger up your nose!"
"Well done, SOS agents," Koizumi said. "But the game is not over yet, for there is one element you've -"
"Can we stop the roleplay now?" I sighed. "Please?"
"Hmmph." Haruhi folded her arms. "Poophead. You've got no heart, you know that?"
Sorry, but I'm a little old now to enjoy playing "pretend".
Miss Asahina sagged with relief, letting her pistol point to the ground. Nagato just kept hers steadily trained on me and Koizumi, apparently not having picked up the cues. I waved her down with a gesture.
Instead, she fired off two pellets. One hit Koizumi in the chest, I think where his heart is (I'm not good at anatomy), and one hit me right in the forehead, making me blink.
"No heart. Poophead," Nagato said in a monotone, while Haruhi and Miss Asahina burst out laughing.
I'm glad you're all so easily amused.
When they recovered from their laughter, the girls approached to collect their prize.
"Huh," Haruhi remarked. "Why did you put them in such big boxes?" Koizumi nudged me at that. I ignored him.
The girls opened up their gifts. Miss Asahina gave an adorable little gasp. Nagato blinked. Haruhi just... stared. She looked like she'd found a wad of someone else's cash inside her shoe.
"You'd better enjoy them," I grumbled. "It took us all day to do the homemade ones, and now I'm broke to boot."
"Uh?" Miss Asahina croaked out, looking at me with horror.
Dammit. I forgot for a moment that her and Nagato are here too. "Well, uh... that's an exaggeration, of course," I said, forcing a grin and scratching the back of my head. "I just really hope you're all happy with them."
"We both do," Koizumi added. "While I admit that Kyon was the one pushing the project forward every step of the way, we both put all we had into making your White Day the best we could. It is the least you three deserve."
"Hmm." Haruhi seemed like she was trying out her mouth after getting out of dental surgery. "Well, it was a pretty exciting mission you put together."
"Hey, wait a second." I frowned. "How did you solve the mapping puzzle and get over here so quickly?"
"We didn't," Miss Asahina smiled. "Miss Nagato spotted your limo, and we followed you here."
On foot? Wait, the traffic was pretty heavy, wasn't it. I was too busy thinking about the end of the hunt to pay much attention to it. "Isn't that cheating?"
"I don't think so," Koizumi remarked. "It seems like the sort of thing real spies would do."
Seems like a waste of the mapping puzzle, though. Oh well, maybe they'll solve it later, for the fun of it. It's not like I designed that part, anyway.
"These don't look too bad, for something Kyon worked on." Haruhi still sounded like she was struggling for words. She picked one of the chocolates up to examine it. "I half-expected them to be crumbling in the -"
She froze, looking down into the box. Out of curiosity, I leaned over to look inside.
For a moment, my mind went completely inert. There was no obvious reason why it would reduce her to silence, but the chocolate she'd picked up had exposed one in the layer below it, and that chocolate was the one which said "Chief".
That has to be a coincidence, right?
Tuesday morning. The day after White Day. I hadn't slept too well, and the walk up the hill only made me feel more sluggish. But I had to face Haruhi, so I did my best to stay upright and keep moving towards class at a steady pace.
She was seated at her desk, and she looked okay. I wouldn't go so far as to call it her usual self, but she wasn't troubled like she had been before.
"Yo," I said, taking my seat. "Am I still in danger of being kicked out of the SOS Brigade?"
"Huh?" Her eyes widened at me. "Is that why you did so much for White Day?"
"Well, of course. You said it was an SOS Brigade project. So I had to put some effort into it if I wanted to stay in the Brigade, right? You said you were thinking of kicking me out."
"Hmm. I see." She smiled, not her usual smile, but a bemused smile like someone finding humor in their own mistake. Or maybe in my mistake. "And that's why you wrote 'chief' on that one chocolate, huh. Yeah, you're safe for now. But don't rest on your laurels! An SOS Brigade member should be putting out that kind of effort every day. I know that you can do a lot better than you've been doing."
"Yeah, sure." So long as I wasn't getting kicked out of the group, I wasn't going to worry about the rest for now. "So listen. I think I understand now why you told me not to say anything to other people about my Valentine's Day present. Do you think you could keep quiet about what you got for White Day?"
"It's really important. Especially right after we got those letters... people would misunderstand."
"I said I'll keep quiet about it. Don't you ever listen?"
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black... "One other thing..."
"Boy, you're talkative today." She rested the side of her face in her hand, looking bored. "Did it not occur to you that I might have something I wanted to talk about, too?"
"I just need to ask you this before it's too late. I've listened to you ramble on about one ridiculous thing after another plenty of times."
"Uuuugh," she sighed.
I took that as approval to go ahead. "So apparently Taniguchi wants to date one of your friends..."
"I was hoping you could tell me. She got him some obligation chocolate for Valentine's Day, if that helps."
"No, I mean, who's Taniguchi?"
Good grief. "Tall guy, sits right over there. He went to your middle school. You agreed to a date with him, then broke up with him five minutes later." I think. Taniguchi never actually confirmed that.
"Doesn't ring a bell."
"I usually have lunch with him."
She raised an eyebrow. "You think I pay attention to who you have lunch with?"
This was getting exasperating. "He was on the SOS Brigade's baseball team. He played one of Nagato's mind-controlled henchmen in our film."
"I don't memorize the names and faces of every participant in the SOS Brigade's projects." She turned her head to the window. "Anyway, never mind. He wants to date one of my friends. What is it you want from me?"
"Forget it." If she couldn't even remember who Taniguchi was, she couldn't put in a good word for him, especially since she wouldn't even know which of her friends he was interested in. Sorry, Taniguchi. I gave it my best shot. "What is it you wanted to talk about?"
"...There's no time for that now," she grumbled. "Class is about to start."
I turned my head and saw that Mr. Okabe had indeed come in. It made me feel a little bad that I hadn't given Haruhi a chance to say whatever she wanted to say when she first brought it up. Oh well. She could always tell me later. I could look forward to being stabbed in the back with a pencil today.
I'd thought of asking her about the way she reacted when she saw the chocolate with "chief" written on it. But if my worst fears were true – that she'd been disappointed it didn't say "partner" – she would be in a much worse mood right now. That being the case, I could live without knowing the answer.
Besides, there was always going to be a little bit of Haruhi that remained a mystery.