The first time, they dismiss as nothing. They know better than to jump to conclusions, but they file it away for contemplation and possible re-examination, if needed.
"Haru-chan!" Hani calls, from his perch on Mori's shoulders. Haruhi looks up from where she's kneeling on the ground, in the act of putting a book back into her bag. A notebook, a page almost torn out, is also on the ground.
When they reach her, Hani asks, "What happened?"
"Oh, nothing," Haruhi responds. "I didn't have it fastened correctly, that's all."
"Oh," Mori says.
She finishes putting everything back into her bag and stands. "There, it's taken care of."
She swipes her hands together, a quick motion, and then swings the bag over her shoulder. "So," she says, "I'm going to be late if I don't hurry. See you two later?"
Hani nods. So does Mori. Haruhi walks away, and they follow behind her, slowly.
Hani says, "She didn't look at us."
The second time, they aren't looking for evidence. They understand that Haruhi can take care of herself, and has been for a long time. That doesn't prevent them from understanding that they need to be watchful.
Hani turns cartwheels across the lawn in front of the rose garden. Mori follows behind, carrying Bun-Bun, who Hani declared was scared of turning cartwheels. Half a dozen girls around let out squeals and immediately offered to hold Bun-Bun, but Hani had solemnly given it to Mori, who had as solemnly taken it.
Hani flops down on the ground, legs spread out in a forty-five degree angle, and hands planted flat beside him on the ground. He looks up at the sky. The girls sit down beside him, gracefully tucking their skirts and legs to the side. One of them offers Hani a handful of chocolate nonpareils. Mori hands Hani his Bun-Bun and then moves away, toward the stand of trees, where he can see someone sitting down behind a tree, arms on knees, head bowed down.
It's Haruhi, he sees, as he gets closer, and she's crying. He doesn't approach, but turns and heads back to Hani.
He says, "I beg your pardon, ladies, I need him for a few minutes." He whispers in Hani's ear, ignoring the murmurs and squeals from the girls. Hani looks up at him, sharply, then looks at the stand of trees.
"What do we do?" asks Mori.
"We wait," says Hani.
The third time, they pretend they don't know, and catch up to Haruhi before she arrives at Ouran. They walk beside her, and Hani chatters so fast that Haruhi can barely get a word in, but she doesn't seem to mind. Mori doesn't join in, he just walks and watches.
The third time, they both see him and his friends catch sight of Haruhi, and then who she's with. They both see him and his friends veer away from their beeline toward Haruhi and head another way. They see all this and that the tense line of Haruhi's shoulders relaxes.
The third time, they look at each other and nod.
The fourth time, they lie in wait. This is easy for them. They only regret that Haruhi has to be by herself.
Haruhi pulls the strap of her bag closer over her shoulder, and swings it around to her front. She tries to move out of the way when he comes, but it's no use--he slams into her, and then his friends surround her and she just tries to make herself small.
They are strong and she's brave, but this is one thing that she's never had to learn and she regrets the lack of experience--how to fight. "Just leave me alone," she says.
"Why? Don't you like our company?" He has the audacity to laugh, and his friends join in, as raucous as a murder of crows. He reaches for her bag, and Haruhi backs away, looking behind her.
"Excuse me," she hears, before she looks back. The voice is unmistakable. "Hani-senpai," she breathes. Mori is right behind him, hands in his pockets.
Hani continues, "You must be new. What's your name?"
The bully turns, takes one look at Hani, and bursts into more laughter. "Kawano Yukio."
"Is that so? Would you mind leaving our friend alone?"
"This little one? Oh, we were just horse-playing, weren't we, little one?" Yukio tries to drape an arm over Haruhi's shoulders, but she ducks out and steps away, closer to Mori and Hani, coming to stand a little to the left side of Hani and right in front of Mori.
Mori says, "We don't believe you; just leave him alone, please."
Yukio steps forward, slowly. "Or what?"
Hani says, "Or you'll find yourselves nursing bruises and broken noses."
"Oh, ho, I'm not scared."
Mori says, "You should be."
Hani says, "Now, if you'll excuse us."
Mori puts a hand on Haruhi's shoulder and turns her. They leave, Hani walking backwards for a few paces, just to see if Yukio will follow. He doesn't.
A few minutes of walking go by, before Haruhi asks, "How did you know?"
Hani says, "We should ask--why didn't you tell us?"
Mori says, "Next time, tell us."
"I will." She stops walking, and so do the boys. She bows, a quick bob up and down, and says, "Thank you."
The fifth time, Haruhi only says one thing to Hani and Mori, when they start in--"Please go easy." They nod. Yukio and his friends fall easily under the swift kicks and chops of Hani and Mori. It's over in a few seconds.
The scrapes on Haruhi's hands and face, from when she hit the concrete, take longer to heal, but when Tamaki turns into a fluttering mess over it, she only says, "It's nothing, Tamaki-senpai," and turns the conversation by asking him why banana peels end up in his path so often.
Mori and Hani pretend to ignore the conversation, and that Kyouya is tapping a pen to his chin and looking them over like they're a spreadsheet that doesn't balance.
Kaoru and Hikaru put it together, but never say anything. When Kawano Yukio is suddenly suspended for cheating, well, they had nothing to do with it.
And life goes on.