Chapter 17:

Hand of God

Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light


Shiraito and his assistant led Takashi to the infirmary, Nao trailing behind. A cool compress on his thigh brought relief.

"It seems like it was just a cramp the assistant explained, stowing the spray. "Just stay here for a while, and you'll be ready for the game."

"Thank goodness," Takashi sighed, releasing the built-up tension.

"Nao, can you apply the spray later?"

She answered without hesitation. "Sure, leave it to me."

"Alright, then we'll go back to training," Shiraito said. "Just keep the prepared corner play in mind!"

After discussing the planned strategy for an advantage, Shiraito and his colleague departed, leaving Takashi and Nao alone. Or rather, 'Evil Nao,' so to speak, as she acted quite the opposite as usual. She behaved serious and responsible in front of the coaching staff, but alone, she seemed self-conscious and with a flushed face.

"D-Does it hurt a lot?" she asked, raising her gaze.

"Oh, just a little. I'm much better now, though I was a bit scared earlier."

"I see..." Takashi's smile elicited a matching one from Nao. For a few seconds, their shared beams filled the quiet room. "Hey... could you turn around, please?"

"Huh?" Takashi turned his body, almost facing away from Nao. "Like this?"

Nao chuckled, her gentle voice soothing any anxiety. "No, silly. Lie down on your stomach."

"On my stomach?"

Despite his doubts, Takashi obeyed. He lay flat on the bed, his painful thigh exposed.

"Close your eyes."

"Is she going to make me meditate again?" Takashi dismissed the idea as he felt a gentle touch on his thigh, prompting a surprised exclamation.

"I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"

"No, not at all.” "Quite the opposite."

Nao's gentle touch on his skin sent a tingling anticipation, so comforting that it triggered an abrupt reaction. With care, she slid her hands over Takashi's tense thigh, applying the right pressure and warmth.

"Whenever Haruki comes back sore from his games, he asks me to massage his aching muscles. Apparently, it helps him feel better."

Takashi felt a strange envy for Nao's brother, intensifying the pleasure and calm he derived from the massage. He felt like he was in paradise.

"Turn over and lift your leg," she requested after Takashi had thoroughly enjoyed the massage for a few minutes. He complied eagerly, yielding to the delightful sensation. The thigh still ached, albeit less, and his heart leaped with youthful energy as a young rabbit.

The massage continued for a few more minutes, during which Nao worked gently and silently. Her skillful motions soothed Takashi like a balm, transporting him to a realm of relief and comfort. Each stroke of her hands appeared to dissolve the worries and tensions harbored in his body.

"Keep having that good luck with you." That phrase had stuck in his mind since he left the field, causing him to briefly open his eyes. "Of course. Kenjiro doesn't believe I truly deserved that goal. He thinks he did all the work, and I just pushed it in. Truthfully... I still haven't improved my game."

And today the same thing will happen to you.

You won't score a goal.

You will fail.

You know it.

Takashi furrowed his brow every time he heard his negative thoughts. He simply wished he could shut his mind off and not worry about anything.

"Enough, please," he urged himself. Shortly after, Takashi cursed inwardly when Nao released his thigh. He yearned to continue enjoying the caress, but that was before he felt pressure and warmth on his lips.

Takashi began to open his eyes but refrained. To his delight, he sensed what was happening, and he gently pressed his lips to Nao's. Following a slow kiss, they both opened their eyes, and Takashi observed the moisture in Nao's.

"Silly... I thought you were seriously hurt when I fell on you. I thought I had hurt you when you were getting better." Nao appeared composed, yet beneath lay a subtle distress that unsettled Takashi.

"You're the silly one. Sit down for a moment."

Takashi sat up and gently drew the puzzled Nao toward him, settling her onto the examination table.

"I appreciate your care, but I'm fine, you didn't hurt me. And your massage felt really good, my thigh doesn't hurt as much now. Thank you."

"Really? I'm glad."

Takashi got truly happy when he sensed Nao’s smile, and thought how much he wanted to embrace her until all her fears were gone.

"And... I haven't properly thanked you for what you're doing for me. It's challenging to feel this way when things don't go well." Takashi felt a surge of frustration in his eyes, recollecting numerous instances where he hadn't made the right choices. "But that's behind us now."

"Why?" Nao asked, intrigued.

"Because in Maracanã," he answered without any sense.

"Eh?" she managed, eyes wide open, tilting her head and withdrawing from the embrace.

Takashi seemed Inari-like frozen for a few seconds, gazing at her with unchanged expression.

"Sorry, I got stuck," he apologized, nervously rubbing his neck. "But it's true. Hiroshi reminded me about a Brazilian player who struggled to score goals. Fans got frustrated, but he eventually netted a crucial goal, leading his team to victory."

"Really? Who was that?"

Takashi lost himself again, captivated by Nao's beauty.

"I forgot, hehe," he said, mimicking his prior gesture.

"You silly," Nao giggled, amused by Takashi's absent-mindedness.

Happier now, Nao nestled against his soft shoulder, no longer concerned about serious injuries. Amid the tender moment, Takashi had lingering concerns. The first seemed resolved as Nao smiled beside him. The second, however, drove him to her for solace.

"Was I lucky yesterday?"

"Lucky?" she responded, slightly puzzled by the question, but comprehension quickly followed. "Due of your goal?"

"Yes. Do you think I can do well again?"

Nao hesitated in her response, pondering the words she planned to use.

"The truth is, I'm unsure, but I believe in you. You're going to give it your all in the final matches, and that effort will be seen in what you do." Takashi smiled gently as Nao paused. "And I'll be there to support you."

Takashi moved away slightly from Nao's head, pulling her closer to meet her eyes. "How beautiful she is," he thought, studying her intently, her ponytail accentuating her allure. She wasn't embarassed, but her cheeks still had a blush that made Takashi want to kiss her over and over again.

"Will you cheer for me again?" The query brought a smile to Nao's face, causing her gaze to lower.

"Even if the whole stadium is packed?" Nao met Takashi's gaze.

"If it makes you happy, yes."

"It's not necessary. Just having you there will inspire me like never before."

"Then I'll be there, no matter what."

After exchanging knowing giggles, they closed their eyes and let their foreheads gently touch, leaning on each other. An ethereal serenity enveloped them, allowing only the sounds of their relaxed breathing and joyful hearts.

"My thigh doesn't hurt anymore." Takashi wondered if it had truly hurt or if nerves played a role. Regardless, it no longer mattered. Takashi smiled, content without further queries. He credited himself a bit for knowing that in Nao, he would find the comfort he needed once again. Besides her, Kenjiro didn't seem as intimidating, nor the match an impossible epic. Everything became simpler. If Nao said Takashi could do it, who was he to set barriers?

He opened his eyes, meeting Nao's serene presence just inches away. Fully captivated, Takashi sighed and closed his eyes once more, relishing the moment.

"When I return home, I will become a faithful devotee of Inari," he thought.