Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
Takashi woke up in the early hours of the morning. Staring at the ceiling, he sighed, a smile on his lips, familiar with the routine.
"Alright, I get it," he whispered.
He stepped onto the balcony, sensing the mild breeze on his skin. It was a perfect night, one that would have been perfect even if a typhoon had passed through Miyazaki.
Leaning on the balcony railing, Takashi recalled his kiss with Nao. In his mind, their lip contact warmed him like a winter stove.
"It doesn't seem real," he said, restraining a shout of excitement that would have woken everyone up.
That girl he had met a few days ago had turned his world upside down and kissed him, and he had kissed her back. Takashi was the happiest boy in the world just thinking about it.
"Although it's incredible that she could kiss me like that. Just a few days ago, she seemed too shy to even consider it," Takashi realized that Nao had changed. “Her fears are no longer holding her back, and she is getting along well with the whole team."
And as he thought about that, he realized that he had changed too, alongside her. His heart felt a warmer touch, surpassing that sharp sensation after the first match.
"So, this is what you meant by 'growing together,' Inari," he said to the air.
"Takashi watched the horizon for a few more seconds, his gaze absorbed by the mountains, before addressing his protector.
"I know you're there," he said, looking to his right.
Despite not noticing any movement, he knew Inari would be there, who had obviously awakened him.
"Hehe, I see someone had a busy night," Inari teased, playfully circling Takashi.
"Shut up. I'm still a little embarrassed," Takashi couldn't hide his dazed smile.
"You shouldn't be, but you should be proud. You've changed since entering Takachiho. You hesitate less, speak with more confidence and decisiveness, and you're ready to voice yourself."
"Really?" Takashi said, patting himself. "I feel like it's almost the same."
"You might not sense it, but the others do. And you've progressed remarkably fast."
"Do some people take more time?"
“Naturally. I wish I could aid them all, but my power has limits, though I shouldn't admit it."
"Eh? I see."
Takashi's gaze fixed on the mountains dominating the horizon, an imposing and serene backdrop.
"Do you know?" Inari continued, also looking towards the mountains. "Humans are wonderful beings, but not perfect. They often have problems, but there is something essential about them."
"What is it?"
"That they always solve them. That's why I knew you would, Takashi."
"Thank you," Takashi felt touched by the message. "And that's why you knew Nao would solve them too, right?"
"Nao will solve them."
Inari froze, eyes fixed on the mountains. "Oh, definitely not," Takashi resolved. "Hey, don't you dare freeze again."
"Alright, alright" Inari spun in the air. "Well, you know it's a work in progress for her. But you're helping her a lot, Takashi, and I hope you continue to do so."
Takashi yawned, hit by sudden drowsiness once more. "I'll do it. I'll go rest," he said.
"Have a good rest," Inari bid him farewell.
"It always ends up the same," Takashi mused. He would awake at night, chat with Inari briefly before her 'disconnects,' and then sleep again. "Could it be that I'm just dreaming?" He pondered, dizzy and full of questions, before everything darkened as he reached the futon.
"Alright! Two teams!" Shiraito declared the start of the fourth training session.
Takashi and his teammates were surprised by a new assistant coach, holding a stack of small cones. His eyes caught the assistant's beauty, which seemed even more radiant since he had kissed her the previous night, or perhaps his dazed mind was playing tricks on him.
Finally, their eyes locked. Takashi saw the same spark he had witnessed in Nao the day before, confirmed by a soft giggle under her breath.
"Taka!" Hiroshi hugged him, Jun laughing. "Let's go, love can wait."
Nervousness and a blush overwhelmed Takashi like a furious army. "Shut up!"
As they guided him to his side of the field, Jun and Hiroshi's smiles wouldn't fade. Overflowing with joy from Takashi's revelation the previous night, they felt Shiraito's reprimand for their celebratory shout in the early morning was completely worth it.
"Jun is right, though. Focus, Takashi."
"But we're missing one," Shiraito considered. "Nao, care to join?"
Instantly, panic struck the girl. "Huh? M-Me?”
"Of course. It'll be fun." Unaware, Takashi held her hand, provoking a blend of surprise and serenity, as nearby classmates smiled and blushed at the gesture, though neither he nor Nao paid it much heed. What he did know was he wanted her confidence to shine, and this was a perfect time for her to smile.
Nao softly chuckled at Takashi's surprised smile, which sparked happiness within her. Indeed, she had changed.
"Great, a new reinforcement!" Takashi smiled with pure joy.
"Hey, Nao!" Jun called as they positioned themselves. "Let's see if you can score a goal, you'll probably do better than Takashi."
Nao's gentle laughter prevailed over Takashi's frustrated embarrassment, her contagious warmth and joy eclipsing his irritation. "Shut up, Jun! You better score!" He mustered.
"Stay calm, Takashi. You can do it!"
His attempts to remain focused became futile the moment the whistle sounded, when laughter and enjoyment permeated the air. The teams executed their training effectively, earning frequent applause from Shiraito. Nao, naturally, wrestled with her limited physical and technical prowess, yet her beaming smile remained whenever she touched the ball.
Every sighting of Nao invoked an awestruck smile from Takashi, allowing the warmth of his body to transport him to a sense of total attachment. Whenever he saw her, he was truly happy.
Except during that late corner kick.
As preparations unfolded for the orange team's corner kick, Nao found herself under the watchful eye of the celebrated team charmer, Yoshida. Takashi's gaze remained fixed on her, yet his smile dimmed, giving way to a bitter emotion.
"Stay calm, Takashi. It's just a corner kick. Then... why do you feel this way?"
Images of kisses, hugs, and caresses between himself and Nao flashed through his mind like a whirlwind, not as memories but as protection against what he was witnessing. The emptiness in Takashi's abdomen intensified as Nao's back collided with Yoshida's chest. Nao turned around with a start.
"Ouch! Are you really that afraid I'll score?" she smiled.
"Of course," he replied playfully. "But don't worry, I don't like your type at all."
"Huh? How shameless. You don't like so intelligent and beautiful?" she retorted, flashing a sly smile.
Nao remained silent.
"Yeah, that's Yoshida for you." Takashi's annoyance was evident. He was familiar with the full-back's quirks, though he felt reassured by Yoshida's romantic inclinations.
The whistle ended their contemplations as the cross descended into the box, déjà vu for Takashi. He met the ball's trajectory with a header, guiding it into the net. His teammates cheered, and he was promptly enveloped in a celebratory embrace that brought him to the ground.
Amid his teammates' smiling gazes, Takashi discovered that the weight that had knocked him down was the gift from the fox.
"You did great, Takashi!" Nao beamed at him from an uncomfortably close proximity.
Takashi turned as red as a beet with Nao atop him in that posture, and in that instant, the girl recognized the situation. Both shared a blush as they regained their footing.
"T-Thank you... Ow!"
A sharp pain in Takashi's right thigh abruptly halted the tender scene and swiftly forced him to the ground.
Shiraito and his aides hurried to his side as his teammates watched with worry.
"The thigh?" an assistant inquired, and Takashi nodded. "To the infirmary. Up."
"Nakata, take Nao's vest and switch teams. Eight versus eight, let's go!"
"Damn it. I hope it's nothing." His teammates' concerned looks intensified his apprehensions about the potential injury. Jun and Hiroshi cast worried glances, while Kenjiro wore his customary solemn demeanor.
"Keep having that good luck with you."
"Huh?" Immersed in tension, Kenjiro's words from the previous day took on a new meaning for Takashi. A meaning that let his fears roam around him again.