For a few moments, all I could do was stare. I recovered as quickly as I could, and said "What are you talking about? My name's never been John Smith," but I knew I'd already given too much away.
"Yes you are," she said, even more certain now. "You are. You're the same John Smith I met all those years ago. It took me so long to realise, but it really is you."
I suppose, if I really tried, I could have found a way to deny it. But I was tired. For the first time ever, I had to do this covering up face-to-face with Haruhi, and without a single other, wiser person to help me. And frankly, there was absolutely nothing I could say that would fool her now. So instead, I just sighed.
"How long have you known?"
For a moment, she looked triumphant, that cocky, satisfied look she always got when she knew she'd won, before she hugged her knees to her chest and her smile turned more coy. "I don't think I knew, exactly, not until just now. But I started wondering a long time ago. I always felt like I'd met you before, somewhere. It took me a while to remember the name 'John Smith', and even when I did I thought no, that couldn't be you. John Smith would have left North High by the time I got there. Except one day I thought, no, John did say that he knew time travellers, and aliens and espers too. So maybe he really could be Kyon."
It didn't really answer my question, but it was enough to make me think twice. She had known that I was John Smith for a long time now, it seemed. Long enough to think it through, and confident enough to ask me about it. And yet, the world hasn't ended. If anything, she was calmer than ever before.
Yet even though I hadn't noticed Haruhi's new sense of maturity in her everyday life, between the way she held wild parties every night and at the same time barely spoke to me, it was apparent to me just from looking at her. She was excited, I could see it in her eyes, she was just bursting to ask me all the hundreds of questions in her head, but she didn't. She just sat there, restraining herself, until I was ready to talk.
"What now?" Stupid question. I just didn't know what to do.
"Well," said Haruhi, carefully, "You could tell me how you got those wings and then maybe we can find a way to fix it."
Realistically, given all Haruhi had seen and all she'd figured out so far, there can't have been much more to lose by telling her that everything happened because she willed it. But I clung desperately to the hope that if I held out and didn't give away that one, vital piece of knowledge, there would still somehow be a way to turn all of this back.
"Don't you want to know about John Smith? How I travelled through time? Or about the alien, time traveller and esper I said I was friends with? And there are so many more things I could tell you." I was genuinely warming to my topic now. "There are so many things you still don't know about, Haruhi. You wouldn't believe the adventures I've had. And you'll probably kill me when you find out what I missed out on."
"I bet I will," said Haruhi, with a grin, "But we can do all that now. Together." She took my hand. "Just as soon as we figure out what's happened to you and how we can fix it."
I'm supposed to keep a secret. That's always been my job, in a way, and I've been doing it for four years. Seven if you count my adventure back in time as John Smith. Keeping Haruhi blind to the truth about her own life had been the main purpose of my existence – no matter how reluctant I was to take responsibility for it – ever since I met her. I'd kept up constant vigilance to protect her, my friends, the entire world, and somewhere along the line I'd fooled myself into thinking I could keep it up forever. It's amazing that it only took a few hours for that network of safety we'd built up to come crumbling down again.
Sorry, Itsuki. You're going to want to kill me later.
"It happened because of you."
Haruhi didn't seem terribly impressed by this answer, but she sat there patiently, waiting for me to go on.
"You have an incredible power, Haruhi. Anything you want becomes reality. You can change the world just by wanting to. I know it sounds impossible, but it's really true."
Her brow was creasing into a frown now. "I don't understand."
"Okay, remember..." I struggled for an example of something that she would actually remember. "Remember way back when we first started the SOS Brigade, and how you wanted a mysterious transfer student to be a member of the club? And a couple of days later Itsuki just turned up? It wasn't a coincidence that he decided to transfer between schools that week. He came because you wanted it. You want things, and they just... happen."
"That's ridiculous," she said, looking at her feet. "I can't do anything like that. I'd know if I could do that sort of thing. I'm not that kind of special person, though."
All this time, and she still thinks she's not special.
"Okay, how about this one? When we were filming your Mikuru-chan movie for our first culture club, you wanted to shoot a scene in front of cherry blossoms, but it was the wrong season for it. And yet when we went down there, the cherry trees were in full bloom. How do you explain that?"
She looked startled. "It was a freak occurrence."
"Sure, but why? And why was it exactly when you wanted it?"
"But this can't be true." She was frowning at me as though it were my fault. Trust me, Haruhi, if I had any choice in the matter I would have chosen anything but to give you godlike powers.
"Why can't it be true? I suddenly sprouted wings overnight. Is that really any less strange than you being able to make the world whatever you want it to be?"
"Yes," she said, "Because I can't."
"But you can."
"But that doesn't make sense! If it's true, well, why don't I get everything I want? Why is my life so ordinary? If I were special I would feel like it, wouldn't it? I mean, come on, why haven't I ever met a time traveller?"
She blinked at me, struggling for a moment, and I could see her features slacken with surprise when she realised. "You were telling the truth. All that time ago, that day in the cafe, you were telling the truth about them."
"And the three of them would have been furious with me if they knew," I smiled at her. "Lucky for me that you didn't believe it, or they would have killed me."
"I don't get it. If I make these things happen... if I get everything I want... it doesn't make sense. I don't get everything I want."
"I don't know how it works. You probably need to talk to Itsuki to understand this sort of thing, he's better at it than me. It's something to do with your belief in the laws of physics being too strong for you to believe that the things you want are actually real... So you make them real, but you don't know about it. It's kind of complicated, I'm really not the guy who knows about this stuff..."
She was shaking her head. "I don't mean that. I mean, I get what Itsuki means. And it's fantastic that time travellers and aliens really have existed all this time. It's the best!" She didn't seem that excited about it, though. I didn't understand. I thought she'd be tearing around the house with glee by now. This was what she'd always wanted.
"But if it's what I've always wanted, and I always get the things I want, it doesn't make sense because I'm not... well, I never found out about it, but that's one thing, but why don't I..." She twisted a finger in the hem of her skirt. "Why aren't I happy, then?"
I just stared at her. What was I supposed to say to that? You have unrealistic standards that the world can never live up to? But it was more than that, I realised it, and still I didn't know how I could possibly respond.
"I need to go," she said, standing up suddenly. "Sorry, I just need to... I need to get out for a while."
"You should stay here. Have a sleep or something."
I didn't want to sleep. I wanted to force her to sit back down next to me and listen, and not let her go until I could talk some sense into her, or call Itsuki and get him to fix it, or at least make sure that she wasn't going to go out and do something stupid. But before she'd even left the room, I felt myself growing drowsy, and by the time she was out the door I was sprawled on the floor, too tired to move. The last thing I thought before I drifted away to sleep was that she might not believe that she had any special powers, but she was alrady putting them to scarily effective use.