"I swear, if the Data Integration Thought Entity does anything to you, Nagato, I'll change the world again." I was almost shaking with anger. The Entity couldn't delete Nagato. I wasn't going to let them, not without a fight! "I'll have Haruhi make a world where you exist, and the Data Integration Thought Entity doesn't. I don't care if we have to overthrow the universe, we'll get you back!"

I gripped Nagato's hand tightly. It was so small, and so cold, it was like ice…no, that's not right. Like snow. Yuki.

I looked at her, "No matter what happens, I won't let the Entity delete you. You can tell that to your superiors."

But then something strange happened. Nagato's face, rather than the stoic look it normally displayed, had become sad. Her expression seemed to hold all the sadness in the world. And I saw a tear running from her left eye. I just gaped. Who was this girl?

"Thank you." And then something else, said so quietly it was almost inaudible: "I love you, Kyon."

I was bewildered. This world's Nagato never expressed emotions so openly (and never called me by name). In fact, this would be surprising coming from the version of Nagato in the other world, given what she was saying. And yet, for some reason it felt like the most natural thing in the world. As did my response.

"I love you too, Yuki," I said, embracing her. And as she looked up at me, I could see she was smiling through her tears. That shouldn't happen in this world, should it? But I was past caring. That look on her face, which was simultaneously the saddest and most beautiful sight I could remember seeing, pushed any other thoughts from my mind. At that moment I only wanted to hold her like this until the end of the world.

I don't know how long we embraced, but it was Yuki who broke it, stepping away suddenly. "I'm sorry, Kyon. It is beginning." Her face still had that tearful smile. But something was wrong. She was disintegrating, much as Asakura had when Nagato defeated her. But her body was turning to snow, and being blown away on the wind. I found myself frozen, unable to do anything. I could only watch as her body disappeared. Her last words, before disappearing entirely, haunted me. "I still love you, Kyon."

And then as she disappeared, I was suddenly unfrozen. I sank to my knees in despair, and sorrow, and rage. I was aware of screaming, and weeping, and of being totally consumed by my own misery.

No, no, no, no…

And then I woke up.

Yes, it was a dream.

Thank goodness it was only a dream.

Despite the freezing temperature in my room, I was covered in sweat, which only made it worse. I found myself shivering. It was December again, almost a year since Nagato remade the world. It was so cold. And as I lay there, unable to get back to sleep because of my discomfort, I thought about what just happened.

There's a huge knot in my stomach. I feel almost nauseous from the dream. It's become more common lately. I'm not normally the kind of person who reads a lot into dreams, but when one keeps forcing its way into my mind this persistently, even I have to take notice. And ever since that time in closed space with Haruhi, I've never been able to be quite sure when something is "just a dream".

Now where did that come from? Why did I dream the same thing, every night? It was such a strange dream, and an unlikely one. I mean, sure I cared about Nagato, but I could never think of her like that, could I? And I was pretty sure that Nagato cared about me, but surely not in the way she did in the dream. It was too unbelievable. Maybe that's just my disturbed mind playing tricks on me. But one part of the dream makes sense to me. The guilt.

It actually started for a perfectly selfish reason on my part. Haruhi had done something, a few months ago, which I can't remember now, that had made me especially angry. I had gone home fuming, annoyed at Haruhi and the incessant demands she made of everyone in the SOS Brigade. But I realized I couldn't complain, could I? The dreams started soon after. I'm sure it's connected.

Because I chose this world, with all its craziness. I chose a world with our insane Brigade Leader who has godlike powers that could destroy the universe, espers, time travelers, and the Data Integration Thought Entity. Unfortunately, I didn't quite think through the consequences beforehand. I know, surprising, right?

For one, I didn't quite think through whether, even if I was okay with Haruhi's crazy world, everyone else was. Was Miss Asahina okay with Haruhi's daily molestations? Was Koizumi okay with constantly having to deal with closed space (even if it had become less frequent recently)? Was it even good for Haruhi, to be surrounded by people who would bow to her every whim (although I occasionally stood up to her)? Wasn't that stunting her personality? An important part of growing up, for a normal human being, is realizing that the world doesn't revolve around you, that there are other people who matter as much as you do. But the problem was that in Haruhi's case, the world actually did revolve around her.

And as for Nagato, I think I already have her answer to that question. Of course she wasn't okay with Haruhi's world. If she was, she wouldn't have gone to all the trouble and risk of rewriting it, would she? But why did she leave the escape program, especially knowing what she did could lead to her being deleted if the Data Integration Thought Entity did come back?

After the change was reversed, the Entity was apparently considering that Nagato was too dangerous to be allowed to continue existing in this world. Internal errors, it had said. Those "errors", are, I believe, Nagato's emotions, but because the Entity made her with an incomplete personality, she couldn't express them in any normal way. So she concealed it behind the wall of her almost expressionless demeanor, until she finally couldn't deal with it any more, and decided to change the world. After repeating the same summer 15,000 times, and being told not to do anything about it because she should only observe, any normal human would have gone crazy. And at least Nagato had left a way to bring the world back to the way it was. Her bosses had no right to delete her, when they bore so much of the responsibility for everything that happened.

And I wasn't about to allow that to happen as long as there was something I could do to prevent it. Luckily, I had one huge trump card on the Entity: John Smith. If I told Haruhi that I had been the high school student who helped her write her Tanabata message, I could whip her into a complete frenzy, even cause her to remake the universe. The Entity doesn't want that to happen. So when I threatened to have Haruhi remake the universe if Nagato was deleted, the Entity backed off.

But that still didn't explain why Nagato left an escape program in the first place. If she was so determined to change the world, why allow it to be undone like that? And why leave that choice to me, and only me? I had to tell myself that it must have been because Nagato just wasn't sure of her decision, and for some reason she trusted my judgment about it. In that case, had that trust been justified? Or had I screwed up massively? But even that was avoiding the possibility that I was afraid of, and yet also sort of hoped for. It couldn't be that I was special to her somehow, could it? That she had left me a choice, purely for my sake?

I mean, it wasn't unreasonable to think that I might prefer Nagato's world, given how much I complained about Haruhi's world, and I had even considered giving up at one point and remaining in the altered world. Was it just a coincidence that the world Nagato created happened to be one that most reasonable people would think I preferred? But what did that say about Nagato, and how similar she was to that girl I met in the altered world?

And I really did feel bad for Nagato. After all, all she had really wanted was a normal life. Was that so unreasonable? And I can't forget how hurt the alternate version of Nagato looked when I told her that I would be returning to my own world. All I could do was to try to remind myself that that wasn't the real Nagato. Was she? I mean, she was so different from the Nagato I knew. And hadn't Nagato told me, in the message she left on the computer to activate the escape program, that she "wasn't herself"? But then again, I suppose that can have multiple meanings. The other version of Nagato didn't have most of the memories of the original, except for one. Sure, she still loved to read, but what else did they have in common? Also, there were some things about her I couldn't imagine being part of the Nagato I know. Besides being able to smile and to cry, the other world's Nagato seemed to have a crush on me, which didn't seem at all like the Nagato I know.

But then again, when you get right down to it, how much did I know about Nagato? It was almost impossible to know her. To most people, she seemed completely devoid of any human emotion. I was able to pick up on a few subtle expressions of her emotions, but even I found her mysterious most of the time. Who knew for sure what was behind that stoic expression? For some reason, I think about the time I told her she looked cuter without glasses, and how she had opted not to recreate the glasses. How, when Haruhi and I were trapped in closed space, she said that she desired my return. How, when I fell asleep in the clubroom after retrieving the space heater for Haruhi, Nagato placed her cardigan over me before going home.

But even if she had just left that escape program purely out of devotion to me, that didn't mean Nagato had fallen for me, did it? I don't know, once again, I just couldn't think of her in that way. Don't get me wrong, she's really cute (especially without glasses), but…she's Nagato. She was too otherworldly. I could think of her as my ally, my savior, even a great goddess intervening to protect the universe from the wrath of Haruh, but…my girlfriend? If anything, all of the former almost rules out the latter. I mean, it would be almost like I was desecrating something sacred. So if I was in denial about liking Nagato in that way, it was for a perfectly understandable reason.

And the thing that I was afraid of was that, if the Nagato in the other world was the Nagato I knew, or a part of her, then did that mean that the heartbroken look she gave me when I returned the Literary Club form…was that how the Nagato in this world felt, and she just couldn't express it? And what was worse was that, even if she could, there happens to be one major obstacle in the way: Her Obliviousness, Haruhi Suzumiya, Unknowing Creator, Ruler, and Potential Destroyer of the Universe.

Because, while Haruhi treats me like the Brigade Lackey (actually, I'm pretty sure that's my official title at this point), I know for a fact that she has a thing for me. And that nearly led to the universe getting destroyed, due to a misunderstanding with Miss Asahina. So, the chances are that if Haruhi saw me in any sort of relationship with Nagato, then we'd probably end up seeing impenetrable closed space, Celestials, and the proverbial End of the World as We Know It. The Nagato I know would never risk any of that, so whatever she felt, if it seemed like it was going to get Haruhi riled up, she would hide it. And that's all because I chose a world where Haruhi can rewrite the universe at will.

So if all of that's true, then I didn't just take away Nagato's chance to have a normal life, though a lot of people would think that was bad enough: I broke her heart as well.

And although I have no right to, I'm feeling sorry for myself. If that reason for Nagato leaving the escape program, that I find so hard to believe, is the real reason, then what did I give up, just because I thought Haruhi's world was more interesting? It's not often that you would find someone who would remake the world for you, and then give you a choice of what world you preferred. I don't know if that's happened to any human before. Did I throw that away all because I was addicted to the crazy adventures I had in this world?

So what am I supposed to do now? I can hardly talk to Nagato about it, can I? Would she even answer? And it seems presumptuous of me to assume that she left that escape program because she...felt a certain way about me, doesn't it? I would be embarrassed if I said all that to her, and then it turned out I was completely wrong. And if it was true, and the Nagato I knew was the scared, heartbroken girl from the other world, what was I supposed to say to her? How could I explain my actions? "Sorry, Nagato, but I thought your world was boring, and Haruhi's world was more exciting, so I rejected it all for the thrills"? If I said that, if she doesn't already hate me for what I did, that would surely seal the deal.

But that's me being selfish, again. If knowing what motivated me to change the world back to the way it was makes Nagato hate me, then I suppose I deserve it. Given the effect my decision had on her existence, she has a right to know the reason for it.

So I'll bring it up, as soon as possible. Tomorrow, if the circumstances are right. I realize with a start that tomorrow is the 17th of December. Just one day shy of a year since Nagato remade the world. On the one hand, it brings up a sort of superstitious dread, almost as if I'm tempting fate. I guess it's appropriate, in a way, though. And while I'm sort of afraid of the possible results of what I'm planning to do, it's also sort of a relief to know that whatever's been bothering me will be resolved, for better or worse, soon.

Author's Note: Well, here goes. Preparing to depart from canon is difficult, as it leads into the terra incognita of writing my own plot. All constructive reviews appreciated.