- Epilogue -

Ishigaki called the local museum first thing the next morning, before I awoke. Naturally they were skeptical about a pair of 11th century samurai swords being found on a lakeside campgrounds by a handful of teenagers, but she was persistent enough that they ultimately sent over someone who had nothing better to do. I had to give her credit for that, though I suspect she was motivated a bit by desperation. After the terror she experienced the night before, she was pretty eager to have someone take the swords off our hands.

Anyway, once the man from the museum got to the campsite and we showed him the swords, he quickly changed his tune. We all happily gave Ishigaki the credit, and Koizumi was canny enough to call the press right after she called the museum, getting a couple reporters at the site and ensuring that she would keep the credit. Haruhi loved the publicity, so she told the reporters everything they wanted to know about Ishigaki and quite a few things that they didn't. Nagato, in contrast, seemed a bit baffled when they questioned her about how she had helped secure the cave for Ishigaki to climb in. I'm sure she understood the concept of the press, but as an alien trained to just observe, it was probably a bit weird to have people wanting to observe her.

With that taken care of, we packed up our things, headed back to the bus stop, and took the next bus.

This time, I was one of the first to board the bus, so I had more of a selection. There were seats available next to Koizumi, Miss Asahina, and an old woman. I took a seat by myself.

I didn't know who would sit next to me, whether it would be Taniguchi, or Nagato, or Ishigaki. I didn't care, either. If I ended up sitting by myself, that was fine by me. I had no expectations.

But I certainly wasn't expect Haruhi to plop down in the seat next to me. She was wearing baggy pants and a t-shirt with a many-colored design. It wasn't the best look for her.

"Shouldn't you be making sure Ishigaki doesn't have to sit with Taniguchi?" I asked her.

"She said she can handle it. It's the end of the trip, after all."

"I see." Which still didn't explain why she'd chosen to sit next to me. This whole trip, she'd been distancing herself from me whenever the opportunity presented itself. Why was I her chosen companion now? Especially when there was still an available seat next to the adorable Miss Asahina?

"Okay," she said, wearing a steady frown. "What's going on between you and Koizumi?"

I turned my eyes away from her face, towards the front of the bus. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm not stupid. You two weren't talking to each other all morning, even though you were working together on the packing. And you've been giving him weird looks since last night. What's going on?"

Haruhi was as observant as the protagonist in a romance novel. Why couldn't she be more like a normal person, just totally oblivious to the odd blips in other people's interactions?

"We just had an argument," I told her. "It'll blow over in a few days. Don't worry about it." I figured I could learn how to fake an easygoing attitude around Koizumi by the end of the week.

"Yeah? What's the argument about?"

"Nothing. Just a debate on a philosophical point. It wouldn't interest you."

Haruhi's voice took on a dark tone. "So while you and Koizumi were wandering around in the dark looking for a samurai sword which you thought had been stolen by some moon-howling lunatic, you had a philosophical debate?"

"Uh... no. It was after we found the sword, when we were on our way back."

Haruhi's question was a crude, half-witted attempt at finding a contradiction, but it caught me off-guard, I admit. I risked a glance in her direction and found her glaring at me.

"Why do you always have to hide things from me? You know I'm going to find out eventually, so why can't you just tell me the truth to begin with? Do you feel like you can't talk to me about anything? Is that it?" she demanded in a rush.

"Going to find out eventually"? Sure. Except for all the stuff you've never found out about.

"Look, it's a guy thing," I said to her.

"If it inhibits the performance of my SOS Brigade members in the field, then it's my business!"

"I didn't say it isn't your business... just that -"

"Are you going to tell me what the problem is between you two or no?"

I feigned a shrug. "It really isn't worth talking about."

She whipped her head away from me. "I get it. It's the same old thing with you. I tell you everything, and you won't tell me anything. If that's the way you're going to be, then go trade seats with Tsuruya again."

That wasn't a bad idea. Miss Asahina was always pleasant company. She already knew what the deal with Koizumi was, and even if she hadn't, she wouldn't get into a stupid argument with me about it. Hell, she wouldn't even question me when I brushed it off as just a trivial argument. She'd either believe me, or not say anything because she'd trust that I have a good reason for not wanting to talk about it. Much easier than dealing with Haruhi, in every respect.

"Why are you still sitting there? Move!"

I propped one leg up on the other and crossed my arms. "You move. You're the one who has a problem with me being next to you."

"H-huh?" For a second there, Haruhi looked surprised. "What are you talking about? You're the one with the problem! You won't answer my question!"

"Sometimes people won't talk about the things you want them to talk about." Or in this case, can't talk about them. Because I know if I told you Koizumi has esper powers, you wouldn't believe me any more than you did the first time I told you. "You'll just have to get used to that."

"Not from you! Now, talk or move! That's an order!"

I didn't budge. "I was here first."

"Ugh, how old are you? Fine." She kicked her foot up against the back of the seat in front of her. Taniguchi, who happened to be sitting there, yelled a protest. "If you won't talk about what's going on with you and Koizumi, you'll have to tell me more about your parents. Or I promise you won't like the penalty you'll be getting for this."

I guess it's fair to ask why I wouldn't just move. After all, I wasn't enjoying Haruhi's company. There are times when I like arguing with her, but at the moment I wasn't in the mood. And while I was egged on a little by her pushiness, I'm not so petty as to stay there just to spite her.

What it came down to, really, was not wanting to just repeat exactly what happened on Friday's bus ride. Something about that sort of repetition makes me sick to my stomach. When I replay an RPG, you know, I never make the exact same dialogue choices as I did in my previous playthrough. Even though, really, I'm happy with my life and the way things are, and I don't want them to change, I don't find going through the same exact cycle over and over appealing, either.

At the end of each adventure, I want to be able to come back to the same home, the same family, the same friends, the same SOS Brigade. But I also want each adventure to be a little bit different, too. You can make it from the same genre, and use the same old characters, that's fine by me, but make it a different story each time. I'd feel stupid if I just kept making the same exact mistakes and suffering the same consequences over and over.

I spent the rest of the afternoon getting my homework into something resembling good order, then had a restless sleep after I tried in vain to come up with a plan of what to do about Koizumi.

The next day was Monday. I wearily climbed the hill to school, endured Haruhi poking me in the back and asking about a new costume idea for Miss Asahina, and sat through classes while only half paying attention. Come lunchtime I sat with Kunikada and, at his urging, gave an account of our camping trip.

"It sounds like you had a lot of fun," Kunikada said, smiling, his voice not free of envy.

"I don't think you heard me right." I poked at the remains of my lunch box. "I said the paths were all overgrown, and one of the samurai swords went missing, making us think we were being stalked by some psycho for the next few hours. Did I mention that it turns out Ishigaki already has a boyfriend? If I'd known that in advance, I would have invited you instead of Taniguchi. And now I'd be feeling sorry for giving you such a terrible time."

"I heard all that. But the cave exploration, the hot springs, and the fashion show sound like they were really great."

"Fashion show rehearsal," I corrected him. "Believe me, they weren't as great as they sound."

Technically, that wasn't a lie, since they were much better than I made them sound. Anyway, I had no desire to make Kunikada feel sick with envy.

Unlike some people I know. "Kyon, buddy, what are you talking about?" Taniguchi said as he pulled up a chair to my desk. "That was the trip of a lifetime! Great-looking girls in crazy outfits, late night adventures... what more could you ask -"

"Taniguchi!" Kunikada gasped. "What happened to you?"

Incongruously, Taniguchi's foolish grin was plastered across a swollen lip. "Oh, this?" he responded, touching his blackened eye. The contact made him wince, but the grin still didn't disappear. "Yeah, as soon as I went to dig my lunch box out of my bag, Ishigaki's boyfriend pulled me aside and had a few words with me. I guess he wasn't too happy when Ishigaki told him what happened between her and me on the camping trip."

"Huh? What happened between her and you?"

"Nothing," I said, before Taniguchi could tell him some wishful fantasy. "Ishigaki already has a boyfriend, so she wasn't interested."

"Ha! Yeah, she wasn't biting, but I wouldn't say she wasn't interested. Oooh, man," he added as he sat down. "Bending at the waist really kills."


"Believe me, man, you don't want to know the details."

"Hmm," Kunikada said in his bland way. "You seem awfully happy for someone who just took an ugly beating."

"What, don't you get it? This is perfect!" He slapped a hand down on my desk in his excitement. "For him to get this mad, when I didn't even lay a hand on her, he must -"

"Didn't lay a hand on her?" I cut in. "I saw you put your arm around her when Miss Asahina was being abducted."

"Man, don't be so literal! You know what I mean!" The brief scowl on his face again gave way to the foolish grin. "As I was saying, he must think she has a crush on me from the way she talked about our trip."

"Or maybe she told him how much you annoyed her with your unwanted advances, and he decided to make sure it doesn't happen again."

He seemed not to hear me. "More importantly, once Ishigaki sees me like this, I'll score major sympathy points, and she'll break up with her boyfriend in total outrage." He positioned his hands as though gripping an imaginary hockey stick and took a swing. "Taniguchi shoots – he scores!"

I shook my head. "Or maybe she'll tell you to leave her alone so her boyfriend doesn't rearrange your spine again."

"What's with you, Kyon, buddy?" He gave me a friendly slap on the back. "Still upset about that little spat you and Suzumiya had on the bus ride home? Trust me, you two will get past that in no time."

Kunikada's eyelids went up with interest. "Kyon didn't mention that."

It figures. Haruhi was yelling at me loud enough that even the ever-oblivious Taniguchi couldn't have failed to overhear. "Me arguing with Haruhi is nothing unusual, or important. The problem here is Taniguchi doesn't know when he's been beaten and is setting himself up to get beaten again."

"Pfff, you don't get it," Taniguchi said. "What's a beating or two, if it gets you a girlfriend? You've gone through worse than that for Suzumiya."

What was the use? No matter what I said, Taniguchi wasn't going to get it through his head that Ishigaki would never be his girlfriend. She was loyal to her boyfriend, and the more Taniguchi harassed her, the less she would like him. But that idiot was determined to see hope where none existed.

It was enough to make me think maybe Haruhi was right. Love is a form of mental illness.

I scarcely paid attention at all during afternoon classes. When the time rolled around, I wandered down to the SOS Brigade clubroom. I knocked on the door, and got no answer. I slowly pushed the door open. For the first time in a long while, I was afraid of what I might find inside.

Only Nagato was there. She looked pretty engrossed in her book.

"Yo." I took a seat at the table, letting my bag slide off my shoulders.

She flipped a page in her book.

"Listen." I shifted in my seat. "I meant to say to you before... I saw it when Yanami, you know, kissed you."

"I know."

Of course she knew. Her information-detecting superalien senses probably picked up on my presence before I even got close enough to see them. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that the way you handled him was great. Most girls wouldn't have handled themselves as well when a guy, you know, comes on to her. Miss Asahina or Ishigaki probably would have just frozen up and let him get away with it, and Haruhi or Tsuruya would have shoved his face in and called him a pervert. Which would humiliate him, and that can get ugly."

"It was not Tetsuya Yanami's fault."

"Ah... what do you mean?"

She flipped another page. "As I told Tetsuya Yanami, I hoped myself to be capable of sensations corresponding to contemporary definitions for love. Therefore, once Yui Ishigaki had left us alone, I initiated an experiment to incite such sensations. I synthesized and emitted a pheromone which prompted Tetsuya Yanami to become amorous."

I didn't like the sound of that. "You mean... like a love potion?"

"No. The pheromone would have no effect if the target male were not already attracted to his companion." She looked away from her book, towards me, but with her eyelids lowered such that she had a better view of the floor. "However, I calculated a 0.000014% chance that Tetsuya Yanami would have tried to kiss me without the influence of the pheromone."

"...I see." So, Yanami was telling the truth after all when he said he didn't have the stones to make a move on Nagato. I wish I could feel happy about that. "Listen, Nagato, you can't go around using your abilities to manipulate people."

"I know." Her gaze lowered further. "I realized this when you spoke to Koizumi about his esper ability."

Ah. So that was why she was telling me this now, and not right after it happened. She saw how angry I was at Koizumi's mind control abilities, and drew a parallel to what she'd done to Yanami. Still, there was one clear difference between her and Koizumi.

"Nagato. It's okay." I leaned over and put a hand on her shoulder. "You just made a mistake. You weren't trying to do Yanami any harm. I mean, he's your friend, right? You just wanted to see what it would be like to kiss him. That's perfectly normal. You went about it the wrong way, but you didn't mean anything wrong."

She looked up at me. The look in her eyes then made me feel better than I had since I learned that espers can control people's minds. "...Thank you."

If Nagato was willing to tell me about stuff like this, maybe I was pretty good at conversing with her after all.

The door to the clubroom burst open. "Sorry I'm late!" Miss Asahina gasped. "There was this – Oh!" She stared at us, and for a split-second I felt nervous, fearing she was going to make a big deal of the fact that I had my hand on Nagato's shoulder. "Miss Suzumiya isn't here yet?"

"Cleaning duty," I answered. I removed my hand from Nagato's shoulder anyway.

"Oh, that's a relief," she sighed, shoulders slumping. "My superiors took so long questioning me, I thought Miss Suzumiya would pull my hair again."

"They were questioning you?"

"Well, it's only natural," she said as she retrieved her maid costume. "Even in the future, alien abductions are extremely rare. And in this era..."

"Whoa, hold up." I shook my head. "You weren't actually abducted by aliens. It was Goro Mishima. Didn't anyone explain that to you?"

"Oh, no. Mister Mishima didn't abduct me until afterwards. The aliens took me first."

I was really at a loss here. I glanced over at Nagato, but for once, she looked as unenlightened as me.

"Oh... I see," Miss Asahina said. "At least, I think I see. Mister Mishima told you that he faked the alien abduction, didn't he?" She nodded to herself. "Actually, there were aliens. You saw them yourselves. Those little lights."

As she was talking, Koizumi came into the clubroom. Miss Asahina faltered at his appearance, but he seated himself and gestured for her to continue, smiling.

"Um. Mister Mishima did use his power on me then. That's why I started walking away from you all. I think he wanted to get me away from the aliens... or maybe the aliens saw he was there and were trying to get me away from him? Anyway, they took us both into this place where it was light all around."

"Did they hurt you?" I said. While I was still trying to process how Miss Asahina could have been abducted by both Goro Mishima and real aliens, I also felt some revived concern about her being in the hands of strange aliens.

"Oh, no. They were really friendly. Mostly they were just curious. They asked me about classified information, and classified information, and my friends. Oh, and about how I classified information."

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it when Miss Asahina says "Classified information." As in, not at all.

"I'm sorry. During my debriefing my superiors decided to seal off most of what happened when I was with the aliens. I'm not sure what I'm allowed to tell you, but not very much."

"Can you tell us what they did to Goro Mishima?" Koizumi asked.

"They just asked him questions, too. He told them about classified information, classified information, and why he classified information. I'm not sure he was being totally honest with them, because he told them classified information, which doesn't seem to make sense, because classified information."

This is like listening to a music track skipping. "So if you were abducted by the aliens, why were you with Goro Mishima when we found you?"

"Well, when they were done looking at us and asking us questions, they let us go, and asked us where we'd like to be dropped off. Mister Mishima used his esper power on me, so I told them I didn't want to be left alone, and I'd feel safer if they dropped me off with him. So they took us both to his tent."

"Just like that, huh." I gave Koizumi a look.

He ignored it. "Most interesting. Creatures which look like tiny lights and are friendly and curious. That is just how Miss Suzumiya speculated the aliens would be, is it not?"

The question seemed to be directed at me, but I said nothing, so Miss Asahina spoke up instead: "Hmm? When was this?"

"While she and Miss Tsuruya were trying to solve the 'mystery scenario' which I used to explain your abduction."

"Oh. Hmm." She put a finger to her chin. "But even if Miss Suzumiya summoned the aliens, what's so interesting about that? We already knew her powers were active, didn't we?"

"Consider the circumstances when the aliens were first spotted." Uh oh. I don't like where he's going with this. "Miss Suzumiya summoned everyone to the spot where they were – and Kyon was there, keeping a watch on them. Logically, we can conclude she was alone with Kyon when the aliens first arrived."

Miss Asahina's face went rosy red. "K-K-Kyon! You didn't -"

"Of course not!" I cut her off, not even wanting to know what the rest of her question was. "We were just chatting!"

Koizumi smiled. "Her kimono was rumpled and had several twigs stuck to it when she summoned us."

"That was from lying on the ground and crashing through the woods looking for you guys. And wipe that damn grin off your face. We're not your friends."

His face fell. "I... suppose I jumped to the wrong conclusion. I hadn't expected you to show up to the meeting today, so I -"

"I had to come, to make sure you don't use your mind control powers on Miss Asahina or Haruhi."

"Yes, of course..." He nodded.

"Then what happened to make Miss Suzumiya summon aliens?" Miss Asahina put in.

Koizumi folded his arms and leaned back. "I doubt Kyon is willing to give us a precise answer to that, but it must somehow tie into what the main purpose of this trip has been from the beginning. As I said when we were planning the trip, Miss Suzumiya wanted to restart her relationship with Kyon, to take it to the next level. Joking aside, I have no notion of what that next level might be, but apparently they reached it Saturday evening. There is no other explanation for why, after all these years, Miss Suzumiya finally made aliens appear before her. Until Saturday evening, she lacked the faith that such a thing could happen."

"Wrong guess," I said. "All I did with Haruhi was chat about the fashion show rehearsal. Our relationship hasn't gone forward."

In fact, thanks to Koizumi, it's gone backward. I can't tell her what really happened between him and me, because she wouldn't believe it. So now she thinks we're back to me not being willing to tell her anything. Not that I care; it's just that things are exactly the opposite of what he's suggesting.

I waved a hand. "You can tell your bosses that Haruhi summoning aliens was just a leftover from something putting her in a good mood earlier."

"Perhaps." He looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "But you tend to underestimate your effect on Miss Suzumiya. I suspect you said something to give her hope."

What, hope that we can chat about Miss Asahina's outfits, or hope that my parents are more boring than hers?

Yeah, well, I have a different theory: This trip having anything to do with Haruhi's relationship with me is a load of crap, based on nothing but the coincidence of Lake Tenapa being the site of our first date. Haruhi organized this trip because she wanted to spend time with her friends, and to meet her friends' friends. She wanted to have her first encounter with extraterrestrial life, and to share that special moment with all of us.

And I let you ruin that for her, with your stupid "mystery scenario".

"Excuse me," Miss Asahina said. "Could you two step outside for a minute? Miss Suzumiya will be here any minute, and I still haven't changed."

Koizumi stood up and offered her a bow. "How thoughtless of us. We shall maintain watch at the door."

We stepped outside. Koizumi leaned against the wall on one side of the door, so I took the opposite side. I folded my arms and waited. Mainly for Miss Asahina to let us in or Haruhi to show up, but I also had a strong suspicion that Koizumi was going to use this opportunity to talk to me more about his newly revealed esper ability.

He followed my expectations. "I understand your position. But I hope you will at least try to understand mine. Imagine if you woke up one day to find you had, through no wish of your own, the power to influence people's minds. Even if you never used the power, you would have no way of proving to anyone that you hadn't forced them or their friends to do things they didn't really want to do. Wouldn't you want to avoid coming under a suspicion that could never be completely cleared away, a suspicion that could cost you any friend you might ever have? And if you ever used your power, or told people about it, wouldn't that suspicion rear its head sooner or later?"

That was clever. He phrased the argument hypothetically, so that anyone who might overhear us would think we were discussing a made-up scenario. The argument itself wasn't so clever, though. "You just contradicted yourself. Earlier you said the Agency wouldn't let espers tell people about their powers."

"That is true, but not a contradiction. Perhaps our esper wished to tell his friends eventually, once they had gotten to know each other well enough. Certainly he felt it would be better for them to hear it from him than from the enemy esper who visited their camp. But again, the Agency forbid him from doing so."

"If I were in 'his' position," I returned, "I would have told them to go to hell."

He smiled to himself. "I suppose you would have. It is one of the traits which makes you likable. However, I cannot follow your path. Our theoretical esper may not agree with every decision his superiors make, but he must believe the work the Agency does greatly benefits the country, even the world. That is why he has sworn his loyalty to them. He cannot in good conscience turn against them without grave reasons."

"To keep the Agency's secrets, you led us on a wild goose chase, knowing the whole time that Goro Mishima was holding Miss Asahina. Her life could have been in danger. I'd call that a grave reason."

Koizumi raised a warning eyebrow at my breaking from hypothetical speak, but no one was in the hall at the moment, so I didn't give a damn. "I think you are too quick to assume the worst of our esper. Perhaps he led his friends away from Goro Mishima because he feared they would become victims of his power, lacking the ability to fight back."

"Did he?"

"That is for you to decide. Anything I say on the matter can be interpreted by you as either truth or lie."

"You won't give me a straight answer about that love letter, either, will you?"

"It is my word against Mishima's. For all you know, both of us could be lying. Perhaps Miss Suzumiya really did write that letter, and we were just being opportunistic."

Koizumi and Mishima being opportunistic, I could believe. Haruhi having written the letter, no. Even if it was possible, she'd told me she didn't write it.

"Still..." He looked down. "There are things I feel you must know, even if I can't expect you to believe me. First of all, you must be concerned about the possibility that our esper has used the power to manipulate minds before, on his friends. There are perhaps even specific incidents where it seems likely that that's just what he did."

I said nothing.

"I am telling you now," he continued, "...that he never did. I know you do not believe me now, but I hope that one day you will, and it is better said sooner rather than later.

"Second, what I told you about it not being true mind control was true. I don't know why Mishima was able to make our time traveler do what she did. I have a theory, but I am absolutely certain you won't like it."

Why are you still talking? Like you said, I have no reason to believe any of this.

"I am telling you this because I don't want you to rely on abilities that I don't actually have to save the SOS Brigade."

"I wasn't planning on relying on you to save the SOS Brigade at all."

"I understand. That is my fault. And that is why I am forced to admit..."

He turned to face me, with a heavy, serious look that seemed misplaced on him.

"...that I have been wrong all along."

I glanced at him. "About what?"

"About trust." He held his hands out to his sides. "All this time, you have wanted trust between us, and I have always said that you cannot trust any of us in the SOS Brigade. My position was certainly not without logic. Everyone in the group but you has a background veiled in secrecy, and an ulterior motive for getting close to Miss Suzumiya. As her friend, you have a responsibility to not allow us to take advantage of her if you can prevent it. But at the same time, there must be some level of trust between us. Otherwise, our enemies will exploit our distrust."

"Well, it's too late for that now."

"Is that truly how you feel? The impression I'm getting is that you would like to give me a second chance. At any rate, I think you should. Do you remember in the Moonlighting universe when you, Miss Nagato, and I were discussing how she betrayed Miss Suzumiya by taking her powers?"

"That's different. Nagato told us the truth about what she did without one of her enemies showing us."

"That is not what I was getting at. On that occasion, I explained to Miss Nagato that I would not recommend to my associates that she be removed from the SOS Brigade, because the Data Integration Thought Entity would supply a replacement, and I prefer the devil I know over any of those I don't. Do you wish me to be replaced, Kyon? Do you prefer the devil you don't know?"

I sniffed. "As if I have any say in the matter."

"You do. You need only voice your preference to Miss Suzumiya. You see, you've already met the devil you don't know."


Koizumi nodded.

"I thought you said you couldn't reveal your associates' secrets."

"I have rethought that position. I do not do so lightly, but there is too much at stake, and I am confident that I can trust you not to share the information with anyone else."

So Chisuga was an esper. I couldn't just take Koizumi's word about that, but it explained a few things, like his disappearance. What if, rather than randomly falling asleep in the woods like he claimed, Chisuga had been knocked out by Mishima or one of his associates, so Mishima wouldn't have to take on two espers by himself?

"The Agency has been anticipating a move from Goro Mishima, and two espers are needed to effectively defend against him. Mishima is something of a savant, the only known esper who can exert power over two minds at once. That was why I could not stop him from taking Miss Asahina; I was too occupied with keeping him from taking control of Miss Suzumiya. Who, incidentally, is immune to such manipulation so far as we know - she is the one who gave us our powers in the first place, after all." He shrugged. "But I thought it wise to take no chances. Presented with the dilemma of saving a time traveler or saving a girl whose power can destroy the world... Well, I think you'll agree that I had little choice.

"Even so, I believe the main reason the Agency had Chisuga accompany me on the trip was because they are considering replacing me. Miss Suzumiya already likes him. If you like him as well, you need only give her the word."

Some choice.

"I admit that I have not measured up as an appealing comrade. You have done many things to prove your loyalty to Miss Suzumiya and the SOS Brigade. I, on the other hand, have only disclaimed that you should not trust me. And I expect if you are to ever trust me again, that must change."

"I'd just as soon that we never again get into a situation where anyone has a chance to prove their loyalty, thanks."

That drew a smile from him. "A worthy sentiment. However, it is out of both our hands. I shall be keeping an eye out for just such an opportunity to prove that I am loyal to the SOS Brigade. And if it comes, I will take it." He gave me a solemn look. "That is my promise to you."

Yeah, I'm not holding my breath on that one.

Miss Asahina let us back in, looking her usual divine self in her maid outfit. She seemed to have recovered just fine from Mishima's mind control. I still wasn't sure how truthful the guy was, but I had to admit, he'd clearly told the truth about that. Maybe I'd give him a call later and check some of Koizumi's statements with him, like whether he had tried to simultaneously control Haruhi and Miss Asahina, and the deal with Chisuga. Maybe tell him what I know about the aliens, see if that throws him off. I don't think he actually lied about that part. I was starting to suspect that the abduction was initially fake, but Haruhi turned his fake aliens into real aliens.

Haruhi finally showed up. "Kyon! Why are you just sitting there instead of writing up a journal entry about our camping adventure for the website?"

Maybe because you never asked me to?

"I shouldn't have to ask you to do something like that; it's obvious. We helped someone discover a pair of ancient samurai swords! That makes this the most productive SOS Brigade expedition ever!"

Never mind the fact that finding ancient artifacts is completely unrelated to the purpose of the expedition. But I took a seat at the computer and opened up the journal editing software so I could stare at a blank page while Haruhi addressed the Brigade.

"Alright, everyone, the fashion show is today, so we've got barely an hour to iron out the problems from the rehearsal!"

I hadn't really taken notice of it while talking to her in class, but she seemed like her normal self again, not the extra cheerful version who didn't mind giving me the occasional compliment. Maybe Koizumi telling her the aliens weren't real, compounded with our argument on the bus, had brought her back down to Earth - or, since this was Haruhi we were talking about, back to an orbit around Mars or Jupiter. Which was good, I guess.

Still, I remembered that sparkle in her eyes when she thought Miss Asahina had been abducted by aliens. I wanted to see that sparkle again. I wanted to brush aside Koizumi's phony explanations, and tell her flat out that Koizumi was nothing but a two-headed liar. I wanted to show her that the aliens, espers, and time travelers she'd been looking for were right within reach, ready for her to stretch out her hand and grasp.

But not yet. I was ready for it, and Haruhi was ready for it – otherwise, she wouldn't have made aliens appear right in front of her in the first place – but the world wasn't ready for it. Even if I didn't trust Koizumi, his theory that positive feelings made Haruhi's powers stronger held pretty true. And if anything would give Haruhi positive feelings, it was discovering that aliens, espers, and time travelers really exist. Who knew what that could lead to, especially with espers right at hand who would probably think nothing of making her use that power to do whatever they wanted. When it came to bombs, Haruhi might be relatively benign, but not if she fell into the wrong hands.

I guess it was our job to prevent that. Me, Nagato, and Miss Asahina.


Author's notes: Thanks to everyone who stuck with the fic to the end! To see how Koizumi proved his loyalty, as well as how Kyon and Haruhi's relationship went a step further, read the light novel The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya (and preferably The Dissociation of Haruhi Suzumiya too, since The Surprise is a continuation of that one). Then stay tuned for my next fic, "The Pact", as I head into post-Surprise territory. I'm also working on a Haruhi Suzumiya poem, so that may go up before "The Pact", but "The Pact" shouldn't take long to do; I haven't started actually typing it yet, but the plot is all sketched out and I've been itching to do it for a long while now.