Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
Takashi awoke, gazing at the illuminated room's plain ceiling. He had woken up from a dream, or so it seemed, because he felt completely refreshed and full of energy.
And suddenly, a sock lay on his face.
He removed the sock and immediately spotted his roommate rummaging through his clothes.
"Damn it, Jun! Be a little tidier!"
"Sorry," Jun replied, unfazed, focused on his search, while Takashi grumbled.
Recalling his prior claim that Jun had a human side, the just-roused Takashi mused. "Well, of course he's human. No deity could be this disorderly." He grabbed a white sock, ready to toss it at Jun."
A white animal.
Him and a white animal.
Takashi froze, sock in hand, for several seconds. "Was it all just a dream?" He was convinced it wasn't. It was too clear to have been a dream. "To help Nao... Did it really happen?" Takashi felt like he had contemplated that phrase a thousand times while he slept.
“Get up, Takashi, training time,” Jun announced, catching the sock to his face. “Ouch!”
"Great job! That's it for today. Remember, we've got the first game of the schedule," Shiraito wrapped up the training session, his concern evident. He doubted whether the team could avoid the mistakes from the previous match. Including Takashi, who practiced shooting until exhaustion, showing slight improvement.
"Come on! One more cross, Hiroshi."
"Sure," Hiroshi replied from the corner, his tone indifferent.
As Hiroshi prepared to deliver the cross, Ito, engrossed in goalkeeping practice, observed something behind him."
"Oh, isn't that the same girl from yesterday?"
Takashi's gaze warmed as he looked at her. Nao had returned, just as she had promised.
"I trust you," Takashi remembered Inari's words and froze.
"Nao... I... Ah!”
Hiroshi's cross struck Takashi's face, knocking him to the ground. "Another fantastic first impression," he mused.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Nao asked as they made their way to the new location she wished to show him.
"Yes, it was just a knock. But now I get how you felt yesterday," Takashi chuckled.
"I can imagine," Nao mimicked him.
The day was sunny and ideal, with no traces of the previous day's storm. The summer heat caressed their skin, amplifying the warmth they shared.
“Oh, we're here."
After a brief walk, they arrived at the southern edge of Takachiho, revealing a stunning canyon. A vigorous river coursed through the natural chasm, adorned with graceful waterfalls cascading from the walls
"Wow!" Takashi marveled the impressive natural fault.
“These are the Takachiho Waterfalls. You've likely heard of them before, as they attract many tourists," Nao explained.
"They're very beautiful."
"So... I thought we could relax here for a while. You know, before your match."
Nao's attitude still carried traces of anxiety in Takashi's presence. "I need you to help her," Inari had told him. "Don't worry, I will."
"Sounds good. Thank you, Nao," he smiled at her. "So, how are you feeling?"
Takashi was taken aback by her reply. "It's too obvious, you fool." Nonetheless, Nao didn't hesitate to reply.
"I'm feeling great. The day is beautiful, and it's not raining.”
“You're right,” Takashi smiled, reminiscing about the coach's scolding to him, Jun, and Hiroshi. The day before, Shiraito had cautioned them due to the… “Unexpected storm…” he thought before shaking his head. "Enough, Takashi. Don't doubt everything."
"Besides, I had a great time with you yesterday. So, I feel very happy."
Nao's ability to find joy in simple things fascinated Takashi. No matter the circumstance, she managed to uncover something to brighten her spirits. Maybe he was marveled because it allowed him to see her beautiful smile for a longer time.
"And what about you?" Nao asked as they settled on the grass, approximately five meters from the waterfall.
Despite his contentment in her company, Takashi's thoughts still swirled. "I hope I don't fail again today. I can't disappoint anyone," he repeated to himself.
“Feeling anxious about the match?"
Nao could discern it once more. Takashi wondered if his expression always reflected that concern.
“Yeah,” he agreed with a sorrowful grin. “It's just... I still have this fear of disappointing everyone. I'm tired of feeling like a weight on others. I just want to be better and change."
Takashi looked up and noticed Nao's concern, her attentive ear a comfort. "Oh, sorry, I don't want you to feel sad because of me," he apologized, smiling and showing the palms of his hands.
"It's not that, silly," she replied with a tender smile before looking away.
Takashi redirected his gaze to the waterfalls, where water cascaded from the river coursing through Takachiho—the Gokase River.
"What do you see?" Nao asked, surprising Takashi.
"Huh? Come on, be more creative," Nao patted his shoulder encouragingly.
"Alright... I see a small waterfall, taking water from the river and forcefully bringing it down to its feet."
"Very good... then I'll teach you a technique."
"Huh? A technique?"
Nao nodded. "Just watch me," she said before sitting with her legs crossed, straightening her back. "Do the same."
Takashi followed her, also noticing an improvement in his posture.
"Alright. Now close your eyes."
Takashi observed Nao's lovely brown eyes close, prompting him to follow suit.
“Good. Inhale deeply a few times."
Takashi synchronized his breath with Nao's gentle rhythm. He drew in a resolute breath through his nostrils, filling his lungs, and then exhaled through the same channel. He replicated the process, deliberately slowing with each iteration.
"What are you thinking, Takashi? You don't need to tell me."
"I don't want to fail. I don't want my friends to be angry with me because of the game. I don't want to be useless. I don't want to be humiliated. I don't want Nao to think I'm useless." Many thoughts haunted Takashi like a swarm of angry wasps.
“Now, envision yourself sitting beside a gentle stream,” Nao suggested, her voice tender. Observe the water's flow, and as it moves, picture your negative thoughts. Imagine them as stones carried away by the current. Picture those stones reaching the waterfall and cascading down, vanishing from your mind."
He observed the stones as they floated downstream, eventually disappearing over the waterfall's edge.
He witnessed his clumsiness, his fear of abandonment, and various other thoughts being swept away. Over time, he noticed his attention shifting more towards the waterfall than his inner musings. A smirk graced Takashi's lips as he persisted in the exercise.
"Fear. Anguish. Anxiety. They all come back," he verbalized, almost involuntarily.
"It's okay for them to come back, it's natural. You might even fall into the stream, and you'll have to return to the shore and dry off. But remember one thing: you don't know how many thoughts you'll have or how strong they can become, but there's one thing that's certain—the stream will always carry them all away."
Those words embraced Takashi's spirit, precisely when he needed it. His heart lightened and relaxed.
"It's easy to notice when other people pressure you. You feel anger or frustration towards them, and you fight for yourself to move forward, whether you're right or not," Nao continued, and Takashi opened his eyes. “However, when you're the one putting pressure on yourself, it's harder to realize. You can't distinguish your emotions, and your objective judgment becomes clouded. And often, it's impossible to realize that you're putting too much pressure on yourself. That's the struggle that requires the most willpower. And for that, you need to understand that you shouldn't be so hard on yourself," she concluded with an affectionate smile.
Takashi experienced a kindling warmth within. Once more, he yearned to envelop her in a very tight embrace. "She knows so much about this. I wonder how..."
"But she suffers from strong shyness and vulnerability," Inari had told him.
"Of course. It's obvious that she herself is upset about her own problems. And yet, she wants to help me find happiness."
“Alright. Let's stand,” Nao directed.
They both rose, gazing at the waterfalls ahead, the summer's warmth intensifying the verdant surroundings.
We'll repeat the exercise standing. Breathe..."
They reprised the exercise once more, Nao occasionally checking on Takashi's progress.
"Wow! What are you doing?"
Takashi abruptly opened his eyes, recognizing his balance on just his left leg, having his right knee flexed.
"Oh, sorry," he chuckled. “It's an exercise Shiraito introduced to improve balance. It came naturally to me. Can you do it?"
"Huh?" Nao was alarmed.
"Don't worry, I understand it's not for everyone," Takashi smiled, teasingly.
"Yes, I can! Watch me..."
But no. Nao's less athletic physique led her left leg to waver within moments. She extended her arms, awkwardly attempting to balance.
"So, you really can't do it," Takashi chuckled.
"Of course... ah!"
Her left leg faltered, and Nao began to stumble. Yet, like a skilled goalkeeper, Takashi swiftly lunged forward, preventing her fall. An ensuing hush enveloped them as Nao found herself nestled on his chest, cradled by his embrace.
"I told you that you couldn't," he smiled, even though she couldn't see it.
"Shut up, silly," Nao's tone was as sweet as honey, enough to induce a sugar rush in anyone.
Yet, neither made a move. Both blushed, engulfed in embarrassment, but neither moved. Takashi contemplated his fortune—he'd yearned for her touch the previous day, and now, an embrace just moments past. But he also thought about something else.
"Everything passes," he said simply.
"I want to help her find happiness too," he decided.
"It’s a pretty common football-world phrase, and I feel like that statement had some truth. There's no hardship that lasts forever because that's how life is. So even when I feel down, even when it's hard for me to admit it, deep down, I know those feelings will fade away. That hope is the most beautiful feeling of all, I believe."
As he spoke, Nao nestled closer to him, embracing the comforting warmth he transferred. Her blush deepened, and her eyes shimmered with a hint of moisture.
"Imagine having so much hope that you can't contain it in your heart. It feels like it's overflowing from your chest, splashing everyone around you with joy. It must be beautiful, right?"
While he continued, Nao found serene solace resting against his chest. Overcoming her anxiety, she embraced him warmly, akin to a nurturing volcano. Amid nature's embrace, they stood as it time had suspended, framed by the waterfall's graceful descent.
"Yes, very beautiful," she softly whispered.
They remained embraced for a while longer, without worries or haste. With the sound of the waterfall in the background, a beautiful lavender aroma, the birds singing, and their hearts at ease. Especially the latter, as Nao noticed Takashi's heartbeat slowing down, making her happy.
"That's why I know you'll succeed in soccer, Takashi. Because no bad streak lasts forever," Nao closed her eyes, completely calm.
"And that's why I know you'll be better, Nao," Takashi mused. His pledge to Inari barred him from vocalizing it, yet he wished he could. The fox deity didn't tell him what would happen if he broke the promise, but it was better not to find out Takashi's lips curved into a smile, his gaze drifting toward the waterfall. The waterfall that, as Nao had told him, would wash everything away.
"That's a beautiful way to think about it," he said and closed his eyes too.
Later, Tsuno would face Kadogawa, and Takashi would have a tough test. But he didn't care. He wasn't nervous like the day before, but rather calm and happy. Because he had hope, and for him, hope was the most beautiful feeling. Only, perhaps, comparable to a newfound feeling since he arrived in Takachiho.
No, actually, since he hit a certain person with a ball.