So there I was, standing before Nagato, right after she had changed the world. No longer with any powers, nor any memories (except for one) of the world as it had been just a few minutes before, Nagato was looking lost and confused. Miss Asahina (the older version) was standing nearby. It was freezing, and I was aware that I couldn't feel my toes. A weird thing to be worried about when I'm about to make the most important decision of my life. And right now I'm suffering from indecision. I'm arguing with myself. In my mind, there's another version of myself, lecturing and interrogating me in an obnoxiously schoolmasterish manner.
"Now listen up, because this is an important question," my other self says, "weren't you tired of Haruhi's world? Admit it, you can't stand Haruhi, and the trouble she's always getting you into. What sane person would prefer that world? It wasn't any fun at all, was it?" I think about it for a second. Finally, I answer. Of course it was fun. Who wouldn't want to hang out with aliens, time travelers, and espers? Don't ask questions with answers that are so obvious!
I was about to try to convince Nagato to change the world back. I'm hoping that maybe the old Nagato is in there somewhere, even though rationally I know that this is just the shy, bookish girl I met two days ago. Failing that, I'll use the correction program that the past version of Nagato gave me. The real Nagato, in my mind. The great goddess who saves the day when things get really serious, like when the world was threatened by a giant cave cricket from another dimension. The one who saved me from Asakura when the latter tried to kill me to watch Haruhi's reaction.
Of course, it changes things a little to know that it was Nagato herself who decided to remake the world. When I had thought it was some unknown enemy, it was easy to charge headlong into trying to find out how to restore the world to the way it was. But finding out that it was Nagato...
And suddenly the other me spoke up again in my mind. "Hey, you, I'm not finished yet! You've still got another important question to answer!" What is it now? "Maybe you're nuts enough to be okay with Haruhi's world, but what about everybody else? Do you think Miss Asahina enjoyed being molested by Haruhi on a daily basis? That Koizumi enjoyed having to deal with closed space every night when Haruhi had nightmares? Speaking of whom, do you really think it's healthy for somebody to be surrounded by people who cater to her every whim? If you keeping bending to everything she wants, she's going to grow up to be a spoiled child in an adult's body, who also happens to have godlike power. Is that really what you want? And with Nagato, I think you already have your answer. Would she have remade the world if she was okay with it?" he says, his logic annoyingly obvious. But, she left an escape program too. Why would she do that if she didn't want the world changed back?
My other self says, "Maybe she left that escape program for a different reason." Like what? "Think about it, you idiot!" Hey! "She recreates the entire world, perhaps because she really is tired of Haruhi's world. But the world she creates also happens to be a world that most people would think you would be okay with, given how much you complain about Haruhi's world. But still, just in case you're not happy with this world she created, Nagato leaves you, and only you, a choice of whether to stay in that world or not, regardless of what she might want. Don't you think you're missing something important?" I know what you're getting at, but I'm not buying it. "Think about how the version of Nagato in this world acted. How she didn't call the men in white coats after your outburst when you first met her. How she smiled when you said you were coming back to the Literary Club. How she almost cried when you returned the application form." The image of Nagato barely holding back tears, weakly grabbing the literary club form, rose unbidden to my mind, and I felt an unexpected surge of guilt.
But she wasn't the real Nagato, was she? She's too different from the Nagato I know. She seemed so lost, and afraid, and shy, while the Nagato I knew was always calm, always had all the answers, and was certainly withdrawn but definitely not shy. She couldn't be the same person I knew before. "And how do you know that?" my other self retorts. "How much do you know about Nagato, really? What is she hiding behind that stoic expression she always has? Maybe the Nagato in this world is how Nagato really is, but she either can't express it, because that's not something she was made to do, or she won't because she's afraid it would cause the universe to unravel if Haruhi found out."
For some reason, I start thinking of scenes from the past.
Nagato has just reconstructed the classroom after defeating Asakura. Running a pale, delicate-looking hand over her face, she realizes something. "I forgot to recreate the glasses," she says. I reply, "Actually, I think you look cuter without glasses."
The next day, we meet outside her apartment building, with Haruhi. Nagato still hasn't recreated the glasses.
Haruhi and I are trapped in closed space. Nagato has sent a cryptic message, via Koizumi: Turn on the computer. Nagato says that the Data Integration Thought Entity wants Haruhi to return, or else it will lose the chance for auto-evolution. She also says that she, as an individual, wants me to return.
It's cold. I just got done carrying a space heater all the way up the hill to our school, my daily Sisyphusean labor made all the more difficult by the extra weight. I fall asleep in the clubroom. I wake up later, with Haruhi standing over me. Haruhi, who sent me to get the space heater, is laying her coat on my back. But there's already a cardigan there. The same one Nagato wore, although she has already gone home.
Nagato is having her own internal struggle, of sorts. She is done with Haruhi's world, ready to get rid of it and lead a normal life. She doesn't care if she doesn't have her powers, or most of her memories in that world. There's only one memory she wants to keep. She's ready to change my memories, along with everyone else's. But something stops her from doing that. She can't bring herself to change me in that way. And instead, she decides to leave me with my memories of Haruhi's crazy world. And what's more, she leaves me with a way out.
Part of her asks why she would take that risk. If the world is changed back, and the Data Integration Thought Entity finds out what she did, she'll be punished. "Because…" she responds, "I want Kyon to have that choice." Why, the other part of her mind asks, is that so important. "Because I love Kyon."
WAIT! That last scene couldn't have happened, could it? And yet it explained so much. And I know the other ones happened. I'm struggling with this, trying to find some hole in the argument. Could I really have been that oblivious?
I'm an idiot. "Nah, don't be so hard on yourself," the other me says. "I mean, let's face it, it's hard to imagine you and Nagato, seeing as she's an interface. Or at least, she was. Maybe that's part of the reason she wanted to become human." Well, this just made my choice a hell of a lot harder. "Why?" my other self asks. "What would be so bad about living in this world, other than not getting to see any more weird stuff? Even completely disregarding how Nagato feels about it, do you really want to give up what could be a good life for some thrills? There's someone in this world who loves you, who, although she doesn't know it anymore, created this world so that she and you could be happy in it, but also loved you enough to let you choose which world you wanted, even if that choice would leave her heartbroken. Would you give that up just for some fun and excitement in the short run?" He makes a good point. If someone like Nagato loved you enough to do that, how could you not love her back? It wasn't really something I had given a lot of thought to before, just given how otherworldly Nagato was, but of course I cared about her. And if the price of making her happy was that I didn't have my life endangered every other month, and that I might possibly find someone I could happily spend the rest of my life with, was that so much to ask?
"Kyon," said Miss Asahina, "you've been standing there for five minutes. Are you all right?" Yeah, I'm fine. Poor Nagato's shivering, though. But I finally knew what my decision was.
"Miss Asahina," I said, "I'm sorry." And then I raised up the gun that Nagato gave me for administering the correction program, and dashed it into pieces on the ground.
I was falling again, and the world was fading to black.
Why was I in the literary clubroom again? I realized, suddenly, that Haruhi, Nagato, Koizumi, and Asahina were all there. Nagato's head was bowed, Koizumi had a very Koizumi-ish look, Asahina looked confused, and Haruhi looked annoyed. The computer screen, however, was blank. No message from Nagato was there. "John!" Haruhi said, "Why did you press the shift key? I thought you wanted to go back to your world." "Huh?" I said. "Don't tell me you confused the shift key with the enter key, John." Wait a minute, I did press the enter key. But then again, I ended up choosing this world. "No," I replied, "I didn't. I just decided, at the last minute, that I like this world better."
Haruhi started off on a rant about how boring I'd have to be to choose a world like this, when I could live in a world with aliens, time travelers, and espers. I tuned her out, and turned to Nagato, who was looking at me again. I see tears running down her face. I'm so sorry, Nagato. I shouldn't have put you through that. But I figured it out in the end, didn't I? "Nagato," I said, "I think I made a mistake. Could I have the form back?"
And through her tears, she smiled at me. That alone was worth a thousand crazy adventures. And who knows, our lives are still ahead of us. Maybe we'll have some adventures of our own.