If a new recruit comes in (and there is an average turnabout of secretarial and management employees, as if this was a normal company, and some times somebody with esper powers would come in, finally finding this place or finally deciding to join the forces) the first question they ask upon meeting Itsuki Koizumi is, invariably, this one:
what is Haruhi Suzumiya really like?
And before replying Itsuki always smiles and perhaps slightly swings the mug of coffee if he is holding one, and the smile is hollow and he always replies this:
`Haruhi Suzumiya is a very charming person.´
He remembers saying the exact thing once, to Kyon, and he meant it, but these days it's more of a shield, more of a warning. It means: stay off, Suzumiya is my business and no one else's. His tone doesn't invite further conversation.
It is a mistake getting territorial about a teenage girl and if his bosses found out the extent of his alliance to something other than their precious Cause they would most probably relieve Itsuki of his current assignment, perhaps they would fire him altogether. But his thoughts, for now, are his own. And so is his heart, he hopes. His face might be an instrument of work, but he at least can claim to retain some control of what goes inside.
When he was little his mother always teased him because he didn't know how to tell a convincing lie. Itsuki wonders if she would be proud of what he does now. Probably not. It's probably a good idea that she knows nothing about his job. It's probably better than, as far as she knows, Itsuki is just another college drop-out loser working at an office.
Yes, he drinks coffee in his free time now. It's an acquired taste. But he drinks enough tea at “work” as it is.
`It was weird that you weren't called in last night,´ Mr Arakawa tells him.
Upon passing by the office this afternoon Itsuki learns a closed space popped up to the east of town last night but he wasn't told to come and help the team.
`Well, maybe they thought you deserved a break,´ Arakawa suggests kindly, sensing Itsuki's annoyance at being left out of the loop. `After all that's happened lately.´
But things are always happening and that's no excuse, Itsuki thinks. Maybe he is becoming paranoid.
`Was it a big one?´
The other man shakes his head.
`A very small one. Matter of minutes. It must have been a bad dream of the girl.´
Arakawa is one of the few people Itsuki doesn't mind talking about Suzumiya with a degree of familiarity, because Arakawa knows her and, more importantly, because he is fond of her. As a person not as a subject of investigation. Not as a god. Not as a freak.
`It's the change of weather,´ Itsuki explains. `Suzumiya is very sensitive to the seasons. A slight drop and rise in temperature and her sleeping patterns are shot to hell for a couple of nights.´
`Is that so? How peculiar. Well, you are the expert.´
That is meant to be some sort of joke but Itsuki does not smile.
He is the expert.
He knows more about Haruhi Suzumiya than any teenage girl would want a man or a boy to know about her. He knows things even he feels a bit guilty about knowing.
Mr Arakawa asks him whether he'd like him to get another cup of coffee for him.
He outranks Mr Arakawa, which is weird if you think about it. Rank itself is a weird concept, if he stops to wonder where he would be now if he had never been chosen by Haruhi Suzumiya. He would probably be cramming an all-nighter before a college exam. He was going to study law or economics. Maybe law and economics. Instead he has become a high school student that thinks about his colleagues in terms of ranks. He has seen the progressive militarization of spirit in the Agency these past three years. It's natural, a natural reaction against the knowledge that they are the weakest faction in this war: they cannot compete with the structure and the power of whoever is in charge of Nagato's side, and they don't have the amount of intel Asahina's bosses have, their possibility of going back in time and mending something they don't like. So instead they use ranks. And productivity reports at the end of each month. They are half salarymen, half spies.
Some times Itsuki wishes for something like an ethics committee inside the organization. Because he has to make up rules on the spot. After New Year's they have a reunion on the subject. What are the protocols when civilians are involved? Itsuki frowns and sneers at the use of the word “civilian”. He knows they mean people like Tsuruya or Kyon's little sister. He sneers because he remembers that he used the same word once, when he raises the issue of how to protect the well-being of the only member in the SOS Brigade without powers. He wonders if his bosses remember. At some point Itsuki fooled himself into believing he could protect these innocent. Into believing he was a good enough person to prioritize the lives of the eccentric girl, of the boy she liked.
`This is not yet a war, as far as I know,´ he says now.
His bosses look up from their reports and stare at him.
He is relied upon but not well-liked inside these walls. He thinks he deserves that. He wonders what would Suzumiya say if she saw him like this. Would she like this other personality? Would she be shocked? Disappointed? Itsuki thinks that at least Kyon would like him a bit better.
This is not a war, despite what he has often said about conflicting factions. He wants to believe this because he wants a life for Haruhi Suzumiya where the biggest threat is arriving late to one of their club dates and having to pay the bill that day.
But the truth is he feels trapped in a cheap remake of a Terminator movie. Although, more fittingly, that should be he view of Asahina Mikuru. Maybe he should tell her some time, ask if she feels like that, trapped, absurd, unbelievable.
The thing you have to know is this: before – before all this mess, before being sent back to high school, before becoming a spy in the brigade, before Haruhi Suzumiya in the flesh, before the boy Kyon – Itsuki was one of the observers, one of the people who made the decisions.
There were agents already placed in North High when Suzumiya started class, but none of them had powers. There are people working for the Agency who don't have powers, just like there are people with esper powers who never became part of the Agency for whatever reason. These insiders were supposed to report on Suzumiya's activities at school but never come into contact with her directly – or at least not excessive contact; there's an agent in Suzumiya's class, it comes in handy, she was the first one to ring the alarm about the subject's peculiar behaviour as a freshman. Itsuki still remembers fondly the report that told the story of Haruhi undressing in front of her male classmates. Itsuki wishes he had seen that.
When it became clear that the new environment was causing the subject to be too unstable (there were work calls almost every day, closed spaces every other day, at any time, whether Haruhi Suzumiya was asleep or awake) Itsuki was among the first to suggest that a closer watch on the subject was the safest route to take. They needed an agent on site with the capacity for drastic measures. By this time of course they had become aware of the presence of Mikuru Asahina and Yuki Nagato on the first row of the spectacle; if this was a war, the other sides had been quicker.
Of those considered to be higher ups in the organization – there was yet no talk of ranks, no militarized vocabulary, no doubt in Itsuki's heart – only Itsuki looked young enough to pass for a high school student. He had been one not so long ago.
`Maybe you should go, pass as a teacher,´ he told Mr Arakawa in the break room when he first got wind of his bosses' idea of transferring him to North High.
Arakawa let out a dry laugh: `I doubt there will much opportunity for a teenage girl like Miss Suzumiya to hang out with her middle-age teacher.´
`Hang out with her, uh? Is that what I'm expected to do?´
`I don't know. What do you think you would be expected to do?´
They were talking about it as if Itsuki had already accepted the mission. That word was definitely out of the question, mission, it made Itsuki feel lame. He was no Ethan Hunt.
`I wonder. I've been told I'd have relative autonomy. Since I would be the first line of action, I would be expected to make quick decisions for myself.´
`Is that a good thing or a bad thing?´
`It depends on the kind of person you are.´
`And what kind of person are you?´
Itsuki looked away. That's what he wanted to know himself.
In the end he had to admit that maybe he was curious. Maybe the appeal of file upon file labelled “Suzumiya, Haruhi” was too much to refuse the chance to meet the girl herself. Maybe he really wanted to be a hero.
Yes, he was intrigued. For whatever reason in the end he said yes.
Of course the brilliant plan of spying and contingency and preserving the world quiet by any means necessary had two gigantic flaws: the stupid girl, and the stupid boy.
If he was honest Itsuki would admit there was only one real flaw in the plan: himself.
The flaw was the he stopped thinking about them in those terms: the girl, the boy.
Outwardly, of course, he would never assume to call her anything other than Miss Suzumiya – and yes, perhaps one of the first signs that worried him was how jealous he had become of the boy's capacity to make the transition to Haruhi, it was always “Haruhi this” and “Haruhi that” and Itsuki should have known better than to hold a grudge against a high schooler for that but it made his blood boil for a while. It was all trial and error in those first days in the group but he soon perceived that Suzumiya liked his politeness, his unwillingness to confront her. In front of his bosses it was never Suzumiya of course; it was “the subject”, as was in his reports, or, at worst, it was her complete name and family name. In his mind, though, Itsuki could afford the luxury of thinking about her as Haruhi. Not all the time, of course. Only some times. Only lapses, moments of weaknesses. When he was alone at home some times he would say it out loud around the house: Haruhi, Haruhi, just to see how it felt like.
Now The Boy was another thing: proximity to Haruhi Suzumiya had its dangers, but that was to be expected, he had been almost counting on it, but getting attached to an innocent bystander had not been within the realm of his calculations. The Boy had a nickname and Itsuki was a bit alarmed of how easily and cheerfully he had embraced it. Maybe because he got the feeling the boy didn't like it. It was entertaining, teasing the boy. He knew the real name behind that half-endearing, half-truly-unfortunate Kyon. His real name. A name that somehow suited him and didn't at the same time. A father's son's name. Made Itsuki wonder what kind of family the boy had. That was a dangerous train of thought, almost as dangerous as thinking about him as Kyon, dangerous as thinking about him as ordinary Kyon, ordinary wonderful easily-teased jumpy lazy resourceful Kyon. And now there was a struggle to remember to use Kyon's proper actual name in his reports, to put it in, type the correct answer to present his superiors. Itsuki checked and re-checked all his reports now, passing them through the word processor and looking for a wayward, incriminating “Kyon”.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday... School hours are the easy part. The mask fits well. Itsuki enjoys being around his classmates, though he gets the feeling that for some reason the boys in his class don't like him very much. That's fine. There's always the girls. Itsuki has always been more comfortable around girls. From the age of ten he cannot remember one single close male friend. There's a rumour that the girls in his class are going to set up an Itsuki Koizumi Fan Club but so far nothing has been done. Itsuki is not oblivious, he knows the effect he can have on girls if he wants to. But these are just kids. He is not here to mess with them.
That is not his mission.
He spends more time being Itsuki Koizumi, a semi-fictional construct, than not until it fits him better than his old self.
He once read that CIA agents who work undercover for an extended period of time often have trouble readjusting to their true identity, and in most of the cases they need the help of a professional psychologist to get them back to their old lives. Itsuki wonders if he should suggest to his bosses in the Agency that they hire a therapist. But he can't of course. If he came up with that idea his bosses would know there is something wrong with him.
There is something wrong with him.
`Didn't we play chess yesterday?´
`Don't feel like playing something so boring today.´
`A card game? Poker?´
`You can't bluff.´
`Neither can you.´
That gets Kyon's attention.
Suzuimya and Asahina are not in the club room; Suzumiya said they had to go to the next building and ask for art supplies from the drawing club. She didn't exactly say what the SOS Brigade needed art supplies but that didn't shock anyone. Miss Asahina, in her maid uniform, even seemed amiably willing when Suzumiya grabbed her and dragged her out of the room.
They need to find a way to kill some time before the girls return. And Kyon has proven he is not the kind of person content to sit with a book in silence like Nagato. Truth be told, Itsuki isn't either.
`Why do you always seem so happy to play against me when every time you lose?´ the boys asks him.
`Why do you always seems so miserable to play with me when you always win?´
`See it this other way,´ Itsuki amends. `Maybe for some people there is joy in losing.´
`You really are a moron.´
`And you really are a very direct person. I hope that never changes. In fact I hope I'm there to witness your directness for a long time yet.´
Kyon turns around and walks away.
`What a creep,´ the boy mutters.
This is not ideal but Itsuki likes it well enough. He knows he took the wrong approach with Kyon from day one but by the time he realized his character was set in stone and it was too late. The boy will probably never consider him his friend but that's not a requirement for this job. He hopes he would learn to trust him, but maybe that's dangerous. Itsuki himself is not sure if he should.
In fact Itsuki doesn't feel like playing any games today.
He doesn't feel like losing to Kyon.
He chooses to go home early instead.
When he leaves the room (coat and scarf on, bag in one hand) he literally bumps into Suzumiya by the door. There's a moment of confusion for both as she loses balance and Itsuki quickly snakes one arm around her waist so she won't fall. And well, what do you know, even Haruhi Suzumiya has a refreshingly predictable reaction of teenage embarrassment upon being held by a boy. Brief and one-sided and practical as the holding is. Itsuki takes perhaps one second more than he should in letting her go. This is one of those time when he decides he can afford the luxury of calling her Haruhi if only in his head. One of those times when he wonders how Haruhi would react if she knew what he thought about her. The end of the world, probably. No, he should leave this kind of stuff to Kyon. It's not only dangerous but dumb, Haruhi is a high school student and Itsuki is a spy in her world.
He gently disentangles himself from her once he is sure she has found her footing.
`Miss Suzumiya,´ he says, because he needs this to come back to his senses. `Did you find what you needed from the art club?´
`Eh? Ah, yes, of course. I wouldn't fail that mission. Mikuru is carrying the boxes up here, but she is falling behind, arg... where is she?´
Out of the many things Itsuki knows about Haruhi Suzumiya this is one of them: she does not like carrying weights.
It makes him smile.
`Are you leaving? It's early,´ she tells him.
He is the expert so he can tell the precise moment the chief of the SOS Brigade begins to get annoyed because of course, who is Itsuki to decide when a member of the club is allowed to go home without permission.
Very politely he bows to her.
`I apologize,´ he says. `May I leave the club activities early today? My family is visiting me and I have to go home and change before we go out for dinner.´
He lies. But he does it very well. Suzumiya wouldn't be able to tell the difference, anyway, she is not that good at telling when people
`Of course, Number Three,´ so this week he is number three, uh? He wonder who made number two. Not Kyon, that's a given, because Suzumiya's approach to young love would be considered torture in most cultures. And yet Itsuki is not going to be let off the hook so easily: `But you should have consulted with me. Everyone must check with me in this kind of matters. I am a reasonable leader of course, but rules are rules.´
Rules are rules, Itsuki thinks. Ah, Suzumiya, my other bosses couldn't have put it better.
He apologizes again.
`My bad. Next Sunday let me treat you all to something.´
She seems to beam at the idea and the noise of Asahina ascending the stairs, struggling and panting, carrying a heavy-looking box marked just “paint” marks the perfect chance for Itsuki to slip away. No more lies for today. Tomorrow, Friday, it will all start again.
He doesn't even offer Asahina help with her load.
Another chink in that perfectly-cultivated aura of gentleman. He doesn't care.
Like a young Haruhi Suzumiya drawing undecipherable signs on the playground of her middle school, some times Itsuki wants to leave some proof of existence behind.