Haruhi knew. She knew I was John Smith.
This situation was beyond imagination. Now I know how Orpheus must have felt when, after all the effort he went through in journeying to the Underworld, he turned around mere steps from the surface and witnessed Eurydice whisked back to the depths. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
Of course, there were also a million other questions, those in the lead being how, when, and why.
"You don't deserve any answers, when you were the one keeping secrets from me this entire time." Haruhi indignantly replied, probably guessing what I was thinking, "but," she continued, "I've always been honest. I don't believe in keeping secrets, especially from the people you're supposed to care the most about."
She and I both knew that didn't make sense, because she had obviously been keeping the secret that she knew about my secret - could this get any more confusing - for at least a while now. There was something off about this, all of this, but I couldn't seem to focus on what it was
"Of course, I didn't always know that you were John Smith," she said. "I have to actually complement you on that one. I always said that it'd be a thousand light years too early to pull the wool over on my eyes, but you've been doing it since practically the day we met."
This wasn't helping to clarify anything, since I haven't been "John Smith" for that long. It was only months after I met Haruhi and the rest of the Brigade for the first time that I assumed that false name on that fateful Tanabata night.
"Judging from that look on your face, you really don't remember, do you? Well, just think about it. Before we formed the Brigade, we had a couple of conversations, mostly you annoying me."
The feeling was mutual, I assure you.
"But I remember the day, the time in the classroom when you actually said something intelligent: namely how I changed my hairstyle each day."
Well, of course I remember that - how could I forget all the ribbons and buns and sometimes ponytails that she would sport from day to day?
"That was when I asked you point blank. That was the first time that you decided to lie to me."
"Have I met you before? A long time ago?"
Those words suddenly blazed through my mind like a meteor flying across the night sky. She had known even from that day?
"When I first met John Smith, I was young, and it was dark. But I was far from stupid or naïve."
Haruhi, you've been both of those things plenty. But you've also been incredibly sharp at what must be the worst possible moments, like that one.
"So when someone in my class, someone that happened to be from North High, that looked like John Smith - well, as much as I could make out that night - and more importantly, sounded exactly like him, and had the exact same melancholy attitude. Well, Kyon, you tell me, what was I supposed to think?"
Right now I'm a little too busy cursing your near photographic memory to reply, Haruhi.
"So I asked. I didn't come right out and say you were John Smith, because that would take the fun out of it. But when you answered, you simply said "Nope". But the way you said it, the look on your face, you were resolute. There was no way you were lying, or that's what I thought at least."
You're right Haruhi, I wasn't lying. I had the perfect cover story. I didn't even know that I was John Smith, because from my point of view, we had only met a couple of days before. You know I'm really starting to loathe time travel.
"So I let it go, chalked it up to a strange coincidence. I mean, it had been years since that night. Maybe I remembered wrong, or maybe you were just enough like him to remind me of him without actually being him. After all, John Smith should have been long gone from North High by the time I actually showed up, not a freshman that just happened to be sitting in front of me."
I have to admit that I would have been just as incredulous. Unfortunately, actually living through this strange series of events, experiencing them first hand didn't leave much room for sceptical criticism unfortunately.
"It wasn't long after that that the SOS Brigade was formed: your idea, my initiative. I gathered up all of the elements I thought should be present in the greatest club: a silent but dependable figure in Yuki, the innocent appeal of Mikuru-chan, the mysterious aloofness of Koizumi-kun. And yet, all the while, you were there as well."
She looked at me, and I almost thought she was going to stop and do . . . well, I had no idea. Hug me, punch me, erase me from existence . There was something about her, something else there. She was angry, sure, but not nearly as angry as she was trying to appear to be. But what else? I've seen her act this way before, I know I have, but this wasn't the kind of sulking that she does, and it wasn't her melancholic mood either . . .
So what was left?
"At first I made the excuse to myself that since you had suggested the idea, it was only right to have you along. Then, even though you complained about everything and always ran counter to what I did for the most part, I made it into a challenge: I'd make you understand, make you have fun, whether you wanted to or not. And you did, even though you would never admit it. Sure, there were times when you were genuinely angry with me, but there were also a lot of times when even though you were grumbling, you were still enjoying yourself."
Haruhi was right of course, as usual: despite the somewhat rocky start, I wouldn't change all of this for the world.
"But things were changing. Slowly, subtly, but they were definitely changing. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there were moments after certain dates when you just wouldn't look at me, or any of the other members of the club, the same way you used to. At first I thought that it was just you getting used to everyone in the beginning, but then it started happening even after we'd known each other for a while."
If that's true, then she's the only one of the two of us that must have noticed, because to me she's always just been Haruhi.
"Like the day after our first Tanabata celebration in the club room: the day after you looked at me, just the way you looked at me sometimes after that, like things had changed in some major way. You didn't think I noticed, but I did, and I never could shake that nagging feeling, no matter how hard I tried."
And people say that I have a knack for seeing subtle emotional cues on people's faces. I wasn't even aware that I was doing any of this, but of course it made sense, since it was after the first Tanabata that I officially became John Smith. At the time I didn't even think about what she said when she first met me, but to think that she remembered.
But then, of course she remembered; to her it wasn't some stupid throwaway comment, it was a pivotal question.
"And then, after we started dating it became so overpowering. I couldn't shake the thought that you were John Smith every time I looked at you. I thought I was going crazy, but I needed to know. So when I broke up with you, I told you a description of him, and thought that if you were him, then it would be easy for you just to come clean and admit it. But nothing. And then you act like I'm not supposed to be hurt, like I'm not supposed to feel betrayed? And then you disappear. No one knew what had happened to you, not even your parents could give me a real answer! I mean, I don't even know why you're here now. Probably because the other three begged you to do something to keep me in the dark."
Someday, I'm going to have to ask Haruhi just how she makes these guesses. But while it is true that Asahina-san asked me to use "the trump card" this was a decision that I had to come to by myself, and I wouldn't be standing here if I hadn't.
"Haruhi, even though other people did ask, you have to believe me when I say that it was my decision to tell you. Hell, I've wanted to tell you for ages!"
Okay, maybe not the whole truth, but that's another matter entirely.
"Don't try and feed me that, Kyon. You've always been their leader more than I have. They've confided in you, trusted in you, been friends to you, more than they ever have to me!"
Well, I couldn't deny that, but it's not like Nagato, Koizumi, and Asahina-san could just wander up to you and say "Hey Haruhi, pleased to meet you; we're the alien, esper, and time traveller you're looking for, and we want to hang out with you for no reason in particular!"
Although knowing Haruhi in her early days, she might have actually bought that.
That's another alarm bell going off in the back of my mind. Haruhi has changed, yes, but not so much that she'd be the kind of keep this kind of thing to herself. She'd come right up to all of us and scream something like "Why the Hell have you kept this from your brigade chief for so long, all of you are getting the death penalty, for real!" And while I admit that that in itself would be a bad scene, it would be more, I don't know, Haruhi of her to do.
So why is she holding back?
"They always respected you more, listened to you more. Like that time on the island, when we thought that Koizumi's uncle was murdered. Yuki wouldn't so much as budge to open the door, even though I'm the one that ordered her to keep it closed. But the second you ask, she's right there, all too willing to comply."
"Haruhi, you know as well as I do it's only because my sister was also in there that Nagato eventually opened up that door."
"Then how about every other time? And the same goes with Mikuru-chan, and Koizumi. Some days I even think that they're scared of me or something! I'm just a normal high school girl! I might have some weird interests, but I've never hurt anyone or anything like that, so why?"
Something hit my mind like a ton of bricks. The answer was in that last bit, I knew it. But what was it?
"And then everything happened. After I broke up with you, Mikuru left, and Koizumi started acting like a crazy lovesick creep, and Yuki wouldn't talk to me or tell me what's going on. And then when you disappeared, that's when I realized. All of you were in on it! It's just some sort of cruel joke! Somehow you are John Smith, and this has all been something for the sick amusement of the four of you. I've been nothing but a game!"
She was starting to rant again, but I still couldn't shake something she'd said. Come on, if there's ever a time I needed to pass a test, even if it's not on paper, it's now, so think! If only I wasn't just a normal -
Wait. That's it! Those four simple words.
Normal high school girl.
This could be all or nothing, but I've had freaky luck with hunches in the past, so here goes nothing.
"Haruhi, I can understand why you're angry. And I'm not trying to patronize you when I say that you have a right to be as mad as you are. But that's not the whole story, is it?"
A small twitch across her face. Quickly subdued, but it was there.
"What do you know? If this isn't something to be angry over then I don't know what is. It's as simple as that."
She was trying to look as mad as possible, but there was something defensive in her body language now. Could I be right?
"Except that it's not that simple. You said it yourself Haruhi, you're far from stupid or naïve. So when you realized that I was John Smith, you also realized something else: that what I told you in that café on that day so long ago was the truth."
"I don't know what you're talking about . . ."
Haruhi, if we make it through this, please, please forgive me.
"Yes you do. The only time that I ever showed up earlier than anyone. And of course Nagato, Asahina-san, and Koizumi made up convenient excuses not to be there. When we sat down that day I explained to you exactly who the three of them were."
"I told you that Nagato was an alien, or rather a humanoid interface, that Asahina-san was from the future, and that Koizumi was an esper. Of course, you didn't buy a word of it."
But that was then, and this is now.
She was silent. She looked down at the floor, so I couldn't see her face, but no matter how much she didn't want to hear this, I had to keep going.
"Of course, back then you probably had every right to tell me I was full of it. After all, what proof did I have that I wasn't just trying to play a joke on you. But after you realized just who I was, you got to thinking. You thought back to that conversation, and wondered just what it would mean if I told you the truth that day."
"Stop it . . ." she barely whispered. It was unbelievably meek, but her hands were balled into fists.
"And yes, after that, you got angry, I don't doubt that you did. But then you thought about it more, and something else happened. You began to realize that if all these people, who were all you ever wished for were surrounding you. But they didn't tell you that, why? To tease you, to torment you? Surely these groups had better things to do."
"Stop it." This time was firmer, but there was also a shaking in her voice. Now her entire body was on edge.
"No, Haruhi. I can't stop, because you realized something in that instant, and you choose to run from it, but I won't let you run from it, because that's not you. Haruhi, that day you realized that if all these special people were surrounding you in secret, then you had to be more than just a normal if eccentric high school girl. No, Haruhi, you had to be -"
"STOP IT!" she screamed, with tears in her eyes.
It was at that time that everything seemed to slow down, as the wall and roof behind me exploded. I don't know if the Celestial that knocked down the wall so abruptly had always been here, and had merely been attracted to the school just now. I honestly think though, that it instantly manifested; a sort of defence mechanism of her psyche.
I didn't even have time to be shocked as it grabbed me in one of it's gargantuan plasmic hands.
As I was lifted from the clubroom I looked back to see Haruhi gaping in absolute shock. I guess that this was one time that I wouldn't be able to save the world. As the giant face - well I guess it's a face, at the moment it was the least of my concerns - loomed, some of the things on my mind were the silliest thoughts I've had, like how it was kind of warm and nice, although I'd probably be hurled or crushed in mere moments. Of course at the same time I'd have to apologize to that cave cricket and to Asakura, because I just found a new topper for the most terrifying event in my life, and it wasn't likely that the list was going to be expanded after this.
As the pressure started to come across my body I remember slowly losing consciousness, with my last thoughts being "I'm sorry Haruhi, I love you." which I'm not sure if I said aloud, not that I could have said it loud enough to matter.
And as the blackness came over me, I heard only one thing. I wasn't even sure that it was real or just my own wishful thinking, but I was sure that I heard Haruhi's voice calling out my name.
The rest was silence.
As I regained consciousness I tried my best to get a grasp of my surroundings. Looking at the greyscale sky I drew the conclusion that I was either still in closed space, or the afterlife was in sore need of a good re-decorator. The fact that I felt like I'd been hit by a ton of bricks was also hopefully another point in favour of my being alive. The most incontrovertible evidence though, was that my pillow was the lap of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Actually, maybe this is heaven after all.
She laughed a little when she said that, but looking at her face, she'd been crying even more, although she looked relieved now.
As much as I didn't really want to move, I made my way to my feet. There were a couple of obvious questions though: like what happened to the Celestial, for one? I looked towards the only person capable of providing answers. She was still sitting down, looking up at me with a strange awkwardness. Of course I'd like to think that I'm a gentleman, so I offered my hand to help her get to her feet.
As she grabbed my hand though, she blurted out, almost as if she had to say it that fast to get it out.
"I killed that thing, whatever it was."
As she grabbed my hand I almost fell over into her. I mean, I guess it shouldn't have been surprising, because Haruhi created them, so I suppose that she should be able to destroy them as easily, right?
"I don't know how I did it . . . I, just . . . seeing you there like that. It was going to kill you! I called out to you, but you were unconscious, so I did the only thing I could think of."
Considering that I don't see a rail-gun or any sort of magical girl gear around here, that narrows down the field quite a bit.
"I screamed for it to stop. Then, the strangest thing happened. It looked like it was in pain, and then . . . it turned into dust."
Haruhi gestured over near the ruined wall. I can't believe I didn't notice the huge pile of white sand that now buried the corner where Nagato usually sits.
"That's how you probably survived the fall," she said, shaken.
Looking outside, I noticed a huge pile of the same stuff. It was quite different from when Koizumi and his compatriots killed one of them, but I guess that isn't surprising.
"Kyon, what you were going to say. Before that thing grabbed you. You were right."
As I turned to Haruhi again, I could see that familiar, melancholy expression. This one was true to the original, and I guess I knew why. It looks like lady luck was on my side again, even if she didn't want to be.
It was how she looked, how she was acting. I'd seen Haruhi like that before, but not often. Only twice in fact. Once when we were on that island, and she thought that someone had actually been murdered. Then, although it wasn't to the same extent, it also came through when Nagato fell ill. It was rare, but unmistakable, the way she was acting could only mean one thing:
"You were scared."
She nodded. I wasn't going to make her say it. After all, of all the emotions and moods I've seen Haruhi Suzumiya in, her being frightened of anything was by far the rarest. There was only one thing I could honestly think to do in this situation, so I walked towards her and kissed her.
It didn't get us out of closed space this time, but then I wasn't expecting it to. I think it made both of us feel a lot better though, and as I held her close in a hug afterwards, she started explaining.
"When I thought about what you said that day, about just what everyone else is, I got really excited. I mean, here was everything I had wished for. Even if I was mad, I couldn't get over the fact that here they were, right here: an alien, a time traveller, an esper, and a slider."
"But then I began to think. I mean, if all of you guys were here, then why? Why me? What was so special about me? I didn't know the answer, but I had a feeling that if I found out, that everything would change."
Haruhi, you don't know the half of it.
"I think maybe though, I always sort of knew."
You know, until today I didn't know that a person could simply run out of the ability to be surprised. Is there a drink to restore the daily quotient of that or something? I may need it later.
"I know it seems stupid, but things were simpler back then, and I wanted to try and get that back."
"Haruhi, that's understandable, but if I've learnt anything from you, it's that people should move forward, and not dwell on what they had or didn't have in the past."
Of course, there was something else I needed to say as well.
"Haruhi, I can only speak for myself. But I think that me, Asahina-san, Nagato, and Koizumi owe you an apology. And not for what you think we do."
Now Haruhi was more curious than anything, which is good, because this was going to lead into one long story. As much as it was comfortable and sorely missed, I had to stop hugging her and usher her into a seat, taking one beside her.
"We've all had to keep a lot from you, but there's been a good reason for that."
That's what we've told ourselves at least.
"Don't get me wrong," she said. "I'm still psyched that all of you are here, even after all of this. I mean, an alien, a time traveller, an esper, and a slider all in my club!"
She was bubbling at that point, but there was that word again.
"Umm, why do you keep saying that there's a slider?"
"Well, that's what you are, isn't it? I figure that maybe you're from an alternate universe where people age a lot more slowly than here. So that's how you were there, unchanged, all years ago."
What I did next could have really gotten me into trouble, but believe it or not, I couldn't help but start to laugh. After everything that's gone on, maybe I just needed to laugh.
"Damnit, Kyon! What's so funny! Your Brigade chief's going to sock you if you don't explain, and I don't care if I knock a couple years off your life or teeth out of your mouth!" The anger was a nice try, but she seemed just as amused as I was. I guess we both needed this.
After I finally managed to catch my breathe, I explained, "Look, Haruhi. I may be John Smith, but I'm actually from here, as in this dimension, not this town. I'm 16 years old, same as you. The house and the family you've met are mine, always have been. But there's a good reason why I didn't change, and how I managed to be such a convincing liar. I hope you're ready for this, because it's quite a long story."
"Believe me, Kyon. I've got all the time in the world."
So I told her. Everything, from the smallest details to the largest and most unbelievable ones.
Well, except for the part about who she was. Baby steps, right? You don't give the climax of the story away at the beginning.
"You really chose the name John Smith on a whim?" It was her only question, as obvious as it was.
"Well, yeah. It's not like I thought it was all that important at the time."
At that point Haruhi gave me an exasperated look that would have made me proud if it hadn't of succeeded at making me feel really stupid. "Well, leave it to you to not think about such things, I guess."
"Well, Kyon. I certainly didn't know that all of you did this much, but -"
"But I still haven't gotten to the root of your concern."
"Well, Haruhi." I stopped, mulling over my words. This was by far the most important thing I might ever say to anyone. It might even be the most important thing anyone has ever been told in the history of mankind and the universe as a whole.
Time to take the plunge.
"All of these incidents, all of these adventures, they all have two common threads: the one you know is that they've all involved me. But what I haven't told you, is why they revolve around you."
"Revolve? Why would all of these things revolve around me?"
"Haruhi, do you know when people, especially parents, say to their children, or people they love, that they're the centre of the universe to them?"
"Of course, who hasn't heard of that kind of talk?"
"Well, Haruhi, when people say that to you, they really weren't aware of how literal they were being."
"I don't get what you're saying . . ." she looked genuinely confused.
"I guess there's no point in holding it back any longer: Haruhi you are, in all likelihood, the most important person in the universe. What you don't know, and what I'm about to tell you, is why."
"I can't claim to know all the details, I'm sure that there's some things that Koizumi, Nagato, and Asahina-san have withheld from me, and each of them have conflicting interpretations. For example, Nagato's bosses see you as some sort of data explosion, the "potential for auto-evolution" whatever that means. Likewise, Asahina-san's group knows you as the source of a series of temporal distortions and time quakes, as well as the reason they can't travel backwards in time past a certain date that happened only a couple of years ago."
"But why am I so important? What is it about me that has everyone interested in everything I do?"
"Well, no one knows the details for sure. But we know that the night that I helped you write that message in chalk on that Tanabata night represents something. That's why I had to go back, and why John Smith came into existence, so to speak. But each group thinks that even before that you were the source of the data explosion, the time quakes and temporal distortions, and the closed spaces and Celestials."
"Wait, closed spaces, Celestials? What are those?"
Well, Haruhi, you know how when people get upset they have different ways to deal with it?
"Well, some people brood, some people hit things, some people cry. You make closed spaces and the Celestials that destroy them."
"You mean that those giant blue things running around like Godzilla are my form of stress relief?"
"Well, yes and no. The thing is, if they were left unchecked, well, bad stuff would happen. That's why Koizumi and the rest of the espers stop them, and that's why some of them believe what they do."
"And what do they believe?"
Moment of truth.
"They think, Haruhi, that you're God."
She sat there, a look of utter disbelief across her face, trying to reply, but failing to find the words.
"Either that, or they see you as some sort of proxy to God, an inheritor of God's power, or a God in training, if you'd like."
"There's just no way."
"Haruhi, I don't know if any of those three groups are correct. Personally I haven't given it much thought. But I can tell you that you have unearthly levels of influence in areas that you don't even know. There's undeniable proof of that."
"What, that I have powers," she said, still in disbelief, "yeah, right, if I have powers then how come some of the insane things I've wished for on a random whim haven't come true?"
"No one knows for sure, but some think that because you only use your powers subconsciously, that you don't have full control, and that your rational mind somehow prohibits you from manifesting any overt signs of your powers. Still, I can name plenty of incidents."
"I'm not sure I want you to . . ."
She looked utterly shaken. Then again, I guess this was about the best that someone who's just been told they may have near omnipotent powers just under the surface would be taking it. Somehow I thought that she might be pleased, or smug about it, but I knew that for all her quirks that Haruhi was pretty rational when everything was said and done.
"Please just hang on a little longer," I said, leaning over and taking her hand in mine. A squeeze was enough to tell me that she was ready for me to continue.
"Haruhi, to put it bluntly, you can make the impossible possible. I've seen your powers at work with my own eyes. You've made animals transform into extinct versions of other animals, you've made huge amounts of data fit in a doodle, you've made the weather change and cherry trees bloom out of season. And you've also come close to starting the entire world, actually, the entire universe, over again."
"There's no way I could do that Kyon, don't be so dramatic."
"Haruhi, the dream you had, when I told you that you looked good in a ponytail. That wasn't a dream."
I saw the revelation in her eyes.
"But . . . That means that I could have. I could have really destroyed the world?"
She looked heartbroken. It wasn't easy for me to even nod in affirmation, at which point she broke down and started crying.
"Kyon, I, I didn't know. I didn't mean to put people in danger, if I'd have realized."
"Haruhi, it's not your fault." I assured her, taking kneeling down and hugging her while she remained seated. "Everyone who knew thought that it was for the best that you not know about your powers, for fear of what might happen if you did. But you know what, I never thought that it was fair to keep that from you, regardless of the consequences."
"In fact, there was even a time when I could have made the choice to give your powers to someone else."
She looked up in surprise. "Really? But, if I was, am, so dangerous, then why didn't you?"
"There was more than one reason. First off, even though you did unknowingly cause trouble from time to time, I didn't think it was fair for you to be stripped of your powers, and have them given to someone else. The bigger factor though, was that I would have had to leave the Brigade, which meant leaving all my friends, and you."
I continued on, although remembering the details was unpleasant to say the least.
"When Nagato was in trouble, they gave me the choice again. And for a while, I was seriously considering it, because of everything that Nagato had done for me, saving her life was the least I could do for her. But she herself told me to decline, and in talking with her and going through that situation, it was what made me realize that I loved you."
"Kyon . . . I . . ."
I gave her the most reassuring smile I could.
"It's a decision that, as recent events proved, I wouldn't change for the world."
"Thank you, Kyon." she whispered. But she looked into my eyes with concern on her face.
"Now that you've told me all of this, though, where can we go from here?"
That was a good question, one I didn't have an answer to. But I could guess.
"Well, now that you know, I guess that Nagato would say something around the lines of you "becoming self-aware". I don't know what exactly that entails, but, Haruhi, this means that you can go anywhere you want, do anything you want. The entire universe is yours to explore now."
I thought that she'd perk up at the thought of that, but instead her shoulders slumped.
"No." came the blunt response. Her face turning dead serious again.
"What do you mean no, Haruhi? Isn't this what you always wanted?"
Despite looking downtrodden she actually chuckled, "Kyon, as much as I love you, you can be so dense sometimes. Of course I want this, but not this way!"
I was the one who had questions now, but what I saw made me believe that I might not have enough time left to get them answered.
"Haruhi . . . Your eyes."
"What about my eyes?"
And it wasn't just them, her entire body was starting to take on a feint luminescence.
"No, no! I don't want this, I don't want to become whatever this is making me become!"
She was desperate. Did someone have a choice of whether or not they wanted to become a God-like being? From what I'm seeing now, and the ever increasing brightness, it looked doubtful. Now that Haruhi knew what she was, was her apotheosis guaranteed?
"Kyon, I can't stop it, I can't control it! You have to get out of here, I don't know what's going to happen."
Her entire body was a golden shining light now, and was beginning to rise through the air. In any other situation it would have been beautiful, but this time.
This only made me angry. And so, I did what might go on the record as the single most stupid thing I've ever done.
"Haruhi! You fight this thing! If you don't want to go, then you aren't going anywhere, cosmic force and glowing be damned! And that's an order from your boyfriend!"
That's right, I gave Haruhi Suzumiya an order.
I could hear her struggling against it, but while her rate of ascent had decreased, she was still taking off. That's when I decided to do the second single most stupid thing I've ever done.
Using whatever energy I could muster, I jumped onto the table, and then leapt towards Haruhi with all my might and grabbed her in a hybrid tackle hug.
"Haruhi, I'm sticking by you, even if it kills me, I'm not leaving you again!"
I could see that she still had a body past all the glowing and shining. I don't know how I managed, but I got face to face with her. I wasn't going to give her up without a fight.
"Kyon, I'm scared," I heard her whisper.
"I know Haruhi, so am I. But at least we're scared together. NOW FIGHT THIS THING!" I practically screamed before I was interrupted by her kissing me. I didn't want to lose sight of her, but closing my eyes just came naturally. All I remember was the glow seemed to permeate everything.
Until again, darkness closed in.
As I regained consciousness I made a mental note to avoid fainting in the future, it was getting really old.
"He's finally coming to."
Wait, those voices. I opened my eyes to see Koizumi hovering mere inches from my face.
"Do you seriously have to violate my personal space even when I'm unconscious?"
"My apologies, Kyon." he said, finally granting me some space by leaning back. "I was taking your vitals. We had to make sure you were okay."
The fact that I saw a teary eyed Asahina-san and a completely unphased Nagato were a good sign that I wasn't anywhere too strange. Staring up at the repaired ceiling and seeing the sunlight played across the room also bode well. Although, now that I was more awake, my chest felt strangely heavy.
Looking down, I breathed the biggest sigh of relief that anyone probably ever has, because I hadn't gained any unnecessary weight, the reason I felt so heavy was the fact that my girlfriend was laying on top of me, sleeping contentedly. Without hyperbole, I can say that this was the most beautiful sight I've ever experienced in my entire life.
I brushed her bangs out of her face. Something about doing that while she was sleeping was irresistible to me. As she came to, the first thing she noticed was that I was there with her. I think our mutual smile in that moment said more than either of us ever could.
Of course, it wasn't very long to realize that we were no longer alone in the clubroom, and as she looked around her face turned a shade of red.
"All of you are getting a penalty!" she screamed, flustered for perhaps the first time in her life. Well, so much for that glorious moment. At least with that I knew she was still our Haruhi.
Still my Haruhi.
I'm sure that people would be guessing that there'd be big changes around the SOS Brigade from this point onwards. Of course Haruhi has never been one to live up to expectations, so things have actually stayed almost the same. Of course now Haruhi knew that the people she hung around with were supernatural entities, but she'd taken to that like a duck to a really screwed up duck pond.
. . . No, I still can't come up with a better simile for that.
So, like I said, everything was pretty much back to normal. Haruhi took everything pretty much in stride. She seemed a tad disappointed when Koizumi had to explain - a couple of times - that he wasn't the type of esper that could read minds or predict lottery numbers, but she got over it pretty quickly. Of course, I knew what Koizumi could do when it comes to closed spaces, but he hasn't had a chance to demonstrate it to Haruhi since we came back.
"Suzumiya Haruhi no longer has the powers she was once in possession of."
Nagato, still ever the master of the blunt statement, told everyone in the clubroom that mere moments after Haruhi's initial outburst. I think everyone was shocked, but Haruhi was relieved. Of course, after that, she made everyone reintroduce themselves. I think that this time around she wanted everyone to be more honest, and I don't think that Koizumi, Asahina-san, or Nagato had much of a problem with that.
Of course, I relished the first time that Asahina-san got to use those two aggravating little words on Haruhi. Her reaction was priceless, but I knew if I didn't stifle my laughter that she might very well give me the death penalty. And when it came to Nagato . . . While I think that Haruhi understood more of the techno babble than I did, a lot of it still went over her head. I guess that puts Haruhi and I on even terms for once.
Truth be told, I was surprised that all five of us still gathered in the clubroom after school. I never really put much thought into what Koizumi, Nagato, or Asahina-san would be doing, or where they would be going, in the event that Haruhi ever simply lost her powers. I was worried that each of them might be forced to leave just as Haruhi was about to get to know more about them. Thankfully though, that wasn't the case.
Koizumi's reasoning was simple: since there were no longer closed spaces or Celestials, there wasn't any real need for him to remain with The Organization beyond a couple of loose associations, so he choose to stay here since he had made friends both in and out of the SOS Brigade in the last couple of years.
"I look forward to finally beating you at a game of Chess or Othello."
Well, Koizumi, I certainly hope that in the past your awful playing was part of your act, or we might be here for quite some time.
Nagato, well, that's a bit more of a complex case. She told the rest of us that she had managed to record some of the data from Haruhi's ascension, and that even though Haruhi didn't change in the end, that data has proven pivotal to her boss' search for the potential of auto-evolution. Of course when I asked what this had to do with her sticking around, she simply stated in her usual deadpan that she was rewarded for being the one to collect said data, and as her reward she choose to stay here. Although I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, I couldn't help but ask why.
"I find the human condition, intriguing."
Coming from you, Nagato, that might be the most rousing endorsement of humanity ever uttered.
Finally, there was Asahina-san. Of the three of them, I was most sure of her departure. After all, her family, her old friends, her old life, all of those were in the future. So when she said that she was staying I was a little taken aback.
"Well, you see, according to history, I stay in this time period predominantly until the end of high school."
Let me go on the record again as saying that time travel is far too confusing, and if I never do it again it'll be too soon. I'm just thankful that I won't have to give up Asahina-san's delightful tea or her charming company for at least a little while longer.
Of course, when I brought all of this up with Haruhi, I made sure that she understood that things might not be like this forever, and that we still all might have to part ways one day. Her response?
"The future is the future. So let's just enjoy what we've got right now!"
Of course, her and I were still going out. I think that if our relationship handled all of that, then stuff like mortgages and babies might be a walk in the park, although we'll find out when we get there. Maybe I'm getting a bit too ahead of myself.
Something still bothered me though.
It was the first Sunday since we'd come back, the first city wide mystery search. Of course it was time to split into the usual groups. But I think that in the entire history of the Brigade that this had never happened: Haruhi and I were finally on a team of two. As the other three walked away to try and find some anomalies - I guess there were still rogue data entities about here and there - I was left with Haruhi and the lingering question of exactly what the two of us were going to do. I mean, we've been on plenty of dates at this point.
"I know we have Kyon, but this isn't about going off somewhere to look for mysteries, or just goofing off and having a good time while the other three are gone," she said. She had stopped me from getting up from the booth to leave - if you're curious the punishment she inflicted those three was forcing each of them to take turns paying for a round at the café, (my wallet has never been more thankful) - but what then.
"Kyon, I know that since we've come back you've wanted to ask me. And while you've had plenty of chances, you haven't taken them." she looked at me thoughtfully.
Even without her godlike powers, Haruhi was still an inhumanly good reader of emotions, mine in particular. And as usual, she was right. There was something on my mind, but I hadn't decided just how to ask her, or even if I should. I mean, how do you ask someone a question like -
"You want to know why I didn't want to become a God, or at least a god-like being." She completed my thought for me.
I would have asked Haruhi when the question first arose, back in that closed space. But someone forcefully transcending to a higher plane of existence kind of puts a damper on 20 questions. And since then it's almost like I haven't wanted to ask.
"But why, Kyon? I know that you're curious, I can see it. That's why I arranged this."
Wait, you rigged this? How, and more to the point, why?
"Well, I asked Yuki to do it, and she agreed since it wasn't exactly much trouble for her to alter the dye on some toothpicks. And I wanted to talk to you about this here, because it kind of seemed appropriate. It's a mystery you want solved after all, isn't it?" she smiled.
Well, can't really argue with that. But that still leaves the actual question itself. My first uttering of it still echoing in my mind:
"Wasn't exploring the unknown exactly what you'd always wanted?"
"Not what I've always wanted, Kyon. It's still what I want" came the reply. How can you be so incredibly nonchalant about this?
"Okay, I get that. But wouldn't having the power to go anywhere, and maybe, for all any of us knew, do anything, wasn't it exactly the thing you needed to go off exploring?"
She cupped her chin and stayed silent for a minute or two. I couldn't really imagine how she might be trying to address this, but I'm hoping that it will be more understandable than one of Nagato's diatribes.
"I know this might sound really strange. But don't you remember what I said when I was ascending?"
She had said a few things, but one of the first she said upon realizing what was happening was, "Not like this."
So wait, why not?
"Kyon, you should know me well enough by now to know. But just in case you've gotten soft, let me remind you: I think that a person has to strive for what they want. I mean, I still feel kind of awkward that most of the different types of people I wanted to meet formed a club."
"So, wait. You're telling me that the reason you didn't want that power is -"
"Because it would have taken the challenge out of it!"
It was a good thing I was sitting down, because that little tidbit of information would have knocked me off my feet otherwise for sure.
"And that was enough of a reason to not want to go?" I finally managed to collect my thoughts enough to respond.
"Well, not entirely, but it was a big part of it. I didn't know all this time that what I was thinking and wishing for was actually happening. It was like being in the middle of a dream, you don't realize you're dreaming. And when I finally "woke up" the thing I felt the most of was actually guilt."
"Why, Haruhi? There might have been some dangerous situations, but you didn't know, couldn't have known."
She looked at me with regret. "Just because I couldn't have known doesn't mean that every one of you wasn't in danger. I actually already apologized to Yuki, Mikuru-chan, and Koizumi-kun. Even if it wasn't my fault directly, I just felt like it was the right thing to do, which is why I'm also apologizing to you."
"Haruhi, you don't need -"
"Yes, Kyon, I do. Of everyone, you were always in the most danger, and even came close to . . . dying, more than once! And all of this to keep things from going out of control. So, thank you Kyon." she grabbed my hands and held them tightly.
As I looked into her eyes, and saw that determination, that spark that people had always attributed to her divine nature, I think I realized something.
Somehow, someway, I think I knew that Haruhi would make the decision to stay.
For as long as I've known her, I knew that Haruhi could always be counted on one thing when given a choice: she would defy it, fight it, circumvent it. But one thing she'd never do is just unquestioningly accept it lying down.
So why should godhood have been any exception?
When Haruhi decides that something isn't right for her, nothing is going to stop her from making the decision that she thinks is right. I think that maybe I just knew that it was her choice, and that she was the one that had to make it for herself.
Still, having said that, I'm still incredibly happy that she choose to stay with her friends, and stay with me.
At that point I was dragged out of my internal monologue by the familiar strength that I've become so accustomed to. And with perfect timing Haruhi and I locked lips as I found myself awkwardly leaning over the table onto her side. As we separated she was smirking.
"Stop looking so glum, you'll give yourself grey hairs, and I'm not dating anyone that looks like an old geezer by the time they're 25. So smile! Brigade chief and girlfriend's orders!"
I may have tried to look somewhat defeated, but I knew that I was doing a bad job of it. I guess that these days Haruhi buffs my HP and MP more than she nerfs them.
"By the way, it'll be the death penalty if you ever use your authority as my boyfriend to order me around, although it was a special circumstance this time."
"Yeah, well what about flying tackle hugs?"
"Idiot." she smirked.
"Hey you never know," I said, returning to my side of the table so that I didn't fall out of the booth, "after all, it's an adventure, right?"
And beaming that million watt smile, her answer was 100%, totally Haruhi,
Author's Notes: I'll try not to drone on, but since these are my final thoughts on this story, I have a bit to say.
It has been quite the experience. When I first wrote this story, as a one shot born out of the boredom of Endless Eight and a summer job, I never expected it to go beyond that: a simple little one shot that might get one or two reviews, and then slip quietly into the archives of the site. Here now, over a year later, and over 100 reviews, I am still boggled by the response I've gotten from the community, and the amount of people who have enjoyed the work.
I owe thanks to many people, first and foremost being Arty d'Arc. Without her help and beta skills, this story would have been nowhere near what it stands as now in terms of quality, she knew when to tell me that I was on the wrong track, and did so in a manner that encouraged me to find the right one. My thanks extends to the members of The Shambala Summit, foremost among them BKE, JonBob0008, and superstarultra. Thank you all for accepting me, and for your help with the final chapter. My final thanks has to go to everyone out there who read the story. I hope that you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it, and I thank all of you who left reviews: your kind words have helped me move forward and keep writing even with all the challenges and difficulties posed by life in general.
I will be back in the future, hopefully with stories equally as entertaining as this one. So, until we meet again!
And of course, for sentiments sake: I, of course, do not own any of the characters of the Haruhi universe, please don't sue me (strangely flattering as it would be)