Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
Two free-spirited teenagers ran along the paths of Takachiho, full moon indicating it was eight o'clock at night. The lingering summer heat could still be felt from the nearby sunset, but the passion in their hearts was even stronger.
"Come on, they must be... close?" Takashi paused atop a hidden hill among the trees. At their feet, they could see the entire festival, as well as the river that ran through the town and the surrounding mountains, in a lively atmosphere created by the illuminated lanterns.
“Wow, what a view,” Nao seemed new to the location.
"You're right, it's very beautiful. Though I'm unsure where the guys are.” Takashi glanced at the eager Nao. “I promised to stay with her, so I'll remain. I'll find them later."
They slowly sat on warm grass, taking in the enchanting view with contentment. The scene seemed like a fantasy come alive.
"Quite a day, huh?" Takashi smiled.
Nao nodded. "I had a wonderful time. The festival was a blast. Although... I'm sorry if I seemed nervous at times."
Takashi recalled Inari's words, smiling this time. "Huh? Really, it's fine. We all have our problems, and there's nothing wrong with that...”
“What did I just say?"
Takashi glanced at Nao, noticing her saddened expression even though she kept her smile.
"No, silly! You’ve said too much!"
"So, it's quite noticeable, huh?" she said looking ahead.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it that way!”
"It's okay, I know. You're so kind, Takashi. But..."
Nao carefully thought about what she was about to say, murmuring a couple of times. "Sometimes, I feel lost. Like… I don’t fit everywhere else."
"Well... Hiroshi has the same thought as you. He still hasn't found that special something that makes him happy, and there's nothing wrong with that. Everything will come in due time."
"I know, but it feels bad. And that's why I feel like a burden, and that others won't accept me, and..."
Takashi recognized his own soul in Nao, sensing her baseless and unfounded fears. But he himself knew that it was much easier to see that those fears were false when they happened to someone else.
"You're not a burden. I used to think the same at times, but you showed me that it's not true. I'm really glad I met you."
Nao blushed, putting her distress aside. "Thank you, Takashi."
Takashi felt something inside him. “Empathy,” he thought as he recalled how Nao always tried to get a smile out of him, just before all the day's emotions surged. Trust, admiration, joy, empathy, understanding, affection, sincerity... then, Takashi could express what he felt.
"Nao, you're very beautiful."
The comment seemed to stun her for a moment, and she raised her head, revealing rosy cheeks and eyes radiant like twin suns.
"You are. You're incredibly smart, always finding ways to help others. Your cheer and joy make me want to laugh endlessly. Your understanding and support make me feel like I've known you forever.”
Nao flinched, unnoticed by Takashi's concentration.
“Perhaps you get nervous or uneasy in crowds, but it doesn't matter. You taught me that fears don't hold us back and bad things pass, and that's why your uneasiness will fade. And to that phrase, I want to add that the beautiful things stay. Beautiful things like you. Thank you for all you've done for me, Nao. I'm so grateful we met.”
As he finished, a grand fireworks display burst in the sky, drawing their attention upward.
"Wow, it's already starting!” Takashi rose, giving Nao time to process his words.
"Was what I said okay? Was it too abrupt?" Feeling uneasy, he looked away and began to wonder.
Nao stood beside him, and Takashi managed a sidelong glance at her. Fireworks adorned the city's night sky with vibrant hues above the waterfront. Amidst this beauty, Takashi was unaware of Nao's attempt to draw nearer. Her eyes closed, her expression tentative before backing down. She looked down briefly, then back at Takashi.
Nao is eager.
Takashi realized that her eagerness was genuine. Unsure how he discerned this, he was glad to witness her joy.
"Aren't they beautiful?" Turning towards her, Takashi found Nao's precious face completely flushed, the blush of her skin accentuated by the lights in the sky. Her eyes held profound emotions, though they soon resolved into a determined gaze.
Takashi finally received his answer, but it came in the form of a forward movement of Nao's lips towards him, coinciding with a grand firework's burst. It was a passionate kiss, fueled by Nao's nervousness, though it couldn't outshine Takashi's. His face turned into a blazing ember, and his eyes were wide like an owl's.
Nao withdrew, her hand on Takashi's chest. They mirrored each other's expressions: nervous yet brimming with emotion.
"Those words...” Nao silently muttered. “They made me so happy, Takashi. And... I didn't want to keep anything to myself anymore."
Nao's shy yet coquettish expression, as she made an effort to look into Takashi's eyes, melted his heart completely and made him desire to say and do so many things at once, none seeming enough to describe everything he felt.
"Wow... that was a long shot," he replied, a radiant beam on his face.
"Sorry, I couldn't help it!" Nao rushed her words while looking at the ground. "It's just that... my heart races around you, I feel like you're special and I..."
Takashi held her hands, lowering them, drawing her nearer. She eased as their eyes met once more.
"...I like you, Takashi."
Takashi playfully mirrored her actions, responding with a tender kiss. Nervous, since it was his first... well, now his second kiss, but nothing made him more excited than calming Nao and making her enjoy it as much as he was.
"I like you too, Nao," meeting her gaze anew.
He leaned in for another kiss. They parted, exchanging hopeful glances, and kissed again. And again, and again, each time getting closer until they embraced. Takashi sensed Nao's warmth like never before; she nestled onto his shoulder, feeling a profound connection.
"Takashi..." she whispered in a voice as soft as a caress in the wind.
"I can feel your heartbeat in my chest. It's very beautiful. Just like you."
Nao was hypnotized by the sweetness of that comment, surrendering her whole self to his enveloping embrace.
"Nao..." Takashi's eyes welled with intertwined emotions as he glanced at the ground behind her. "Thank you for everything you've done for me. I'm so grateful life brought us together."
Takashi heard Nao hyperventilating after his words. He tried to meet her gaze, but her hold tightened.
"No! Don't look at me..." Her distress was palpable. "And it's not true. I have to thank you, Takashi. For everything you've done for me. Every word, every gesture..." Nao clung tighter. "You'll never know how much you've helped me."
Takashi sensed something peculiar in her words, but he chalked it up to nervousness. “That means... she finally managed to overcome her fears. She doesn't feel as alone or trapped anymore. Oh, Nao...”
"I'm glad to hear that," Takashi said, ready to unwind in the embrace, but a thought intervened. As if a love sorceress had cast a spell, the words reached Nao's ears.
"I care about you."
Amidst Takashi's day-long contemplations, one notion stood out: that ‘liking’ and ‘caring’ were vastly different. Liking someone could be superficial, but caring... it implied much more.
Caring meant rejoicing in the other person's happiness as if it were one's own. It meant yearning for their presence ceaselessly, refusing to let go. Both words were very distinct, and Takashi finally understood it. He cared about Nao. He wasn't fully aware of how he had formed such a strong connection with her in the little time they knew each other, but it was as real as the grass being green. Takashi cared about Nao.
"I care about you too, Takashi," her words touched his heart. They turned to observe the fireworks, locked in an embrace, their hearts in sync. “Very much.”
"Well, we've arrived," Nao said as they reached the inn's door.
"Yes. Want to take my jacket again?" Takashi inquired, courteous.
"No, I'm fine. But..."
Nao's face turned tomato again, and she glanced downward.
"I would love a hug."
Takashi was taken aback, not expecting the sudden request.
Takashi relaxed into the embrace, warmth lingering in his cheeks. A beautiful fullness enveloped him, akin to the lavender scent he adored.
"Thank you," Nao remained in his arms.
"No, thank you. Thank you for being my little..." Takashi hesitated, reevaluating the descriptor, "No, my great beautiful light."
Nao shifted to meet Takashi's gaze, their embrace unbroken. Their smiles conveyed a language unique to them, revealing their nervousness and boundless affection.
"I'm glad to be that. Now you only need one more step to achieve it. You can be champions. Give it your all tomorrow, okay?"
"I promise. Though, you'll be cheering for Takachiho, right? Your brother plays there."
Nao chuckled. "You're right. I guess my heart will be divided tomorrow."
"Then I hope my part wins."
Both shared a brief laugh before parting. Takashi grinned, heading back into the inn.
Nao hadn't moved from her spot. When she was with Takashi, Nao didn't feel pressured or tense. Her hands didn't tremble behind her back, her feet didn’t tap without rest but joyfully played, and her chest was relaxed except for her racing heart, but not out of fear, but out of love.
"You're very beautiful too."
Takashi beamed as she replied, "Thank you," and stepped into the inn, feeling like the world's happiest man.
Walking the inn's halls, however, the memories of the day bombarded him.
"I like you, Takashi."
"You're very beautiful too."
"I care about you too, Takashi."
The room's door swung open.
"There you are, Takashi! How did it..."
Jun's words halted as Takashi reached his futon and lay down, face flushed, leaving Jun stunned.
"Takashi?" Hiroshi inquired.
"Goal," Takashi sighed at the ceiling, as his perplexed friends tilted their heads.