Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi were the Shinto deities of the sun and moon, respectively. The cycle between both celestial bodies marked how humans perceived time, taking turns to shed light in their own way for humanity. Yet, in Takachiho, this cycle seemed to pause, time halting as Takashi moved towards the opposing goal.
"Let's go!" Takashi tried not to let fear and pressure distract him. He swiftly dribbled forward, neither controlling too long nor too short. Everything was perfect. He glanced quickly to both sides.
Jun and Hiroshi shouted in sequence, flanking him. The defenders were bare spots in his peripheral vision. It was a half-goal opportunity.
The goalkeeper hurriedly rushed out to narrow the angle, striving to cover the goal's expanse. His regretful expression reflected the challenging situation he faced.
"Pass it, Takashi!"
He had to make the pass.
"Should I give it to Jun so he can be the hero again? Or to Hiroshi so he can score a valid goal?" Takashi contemplated. The goalkeeper was a few steps out. Decision time.
At that moment, Takashi's mind was flooded with voices.
"Idiot! Loser!" Drunken bar patrons' insults echoed from earlier plays.
"Just get up," the defender had mocked him.
"Huh? I don't want Takashi on my team. He's yours!" The echoes of two elementary school classmates' taunts reverberated.
"What? Of course not, he's yours!"
Each step triggered another memory.
Anxiety rushed in, followed by failure, until Takashi sensed his fears tailing him.
He exploded in fury.
"No. This is MY play."
Takashi's left foot anchored the ball, close to the goalkeeper, who'd stretched to cover the goal. Channeling power into his right leg, he adjusted his posture and shot. The ball sped past the sprawled goalkeeper. Players and onlookers tracked the ball's trajectory as it neared the goal. Closer and closer...
To Takashi, the world seemed to collapse as he sank to the ground, a mix of the sudden leg movement and disbelief. His gaze trailed the now-distant ball.
"No!" Shiraito bellowed. "For God's sake!" The coach spun, gazing skyward, then kicked a water bottle, splitting the cap and spilling the liquid.
In the stands, celebrations, laughter, and sporadic mocking erupted. Inside the field, however, there was silence. No one moved, except the goalkeeper who slowly went to retrieve the ball, without haste.
Takashi's glance briefly met Jun's intense stare to his left for solace, but his incredulity gradually morphed into resentment. He quickly turned to Hiroshi, caught off guard by Takashi's gaze, and swiftly averted his eyes and moved back on the field, praying for another chance. Takashi looked back. Shiraito was holding his head in his hands. Some teammates looked away, others didn't. He could read them all.
Fury. Disappointment. Anger. Indifference. Disillusionment. Nothing more.
Takashi retreated a few steps as Takachiho's goalkeeper sent a long clearance. Unaware of his surroundings, he barely registered the advancing play through the disoriented defenders. A left-sided cross found Takachiho's center forward, who buried it into the net. Goal. 0-1.
"No..." Takashi's voice faded amidst the jubilant crowd. He returned to his side of the field, engulfed by eerie silence. Every eye was on him, yet his mind was foggy with heat, fatigue, and nerves. He felt the weight of cold stares. Waiting for a team regroup during the kickoff, the referee ended the match before the ball reached a teammate.
Takachiho had won, evident in the wild celebration of their fans. Tsuno had lost, evident in the long faces of the players. With one match left, Takachiho led the table with 7 points and an easy match ahead. Nobeoka had 6 points and a good goal difference. Tsuno, with 4 points and a loss, saw their championship hopes greatly diminish.
Nao sat silently on the bench, theoretically happy for her brother, but true happiness eluded her. Observing Takashi's silent withdrawal towards the locker room tore at her heart.
"I messed up... I ruined everything," reverberated in Takashi's mind ceaselessly. His breath grew labored, nerves taut, and an increasing anguish enveloped him.
That feeling surged back with intensity. The calm stream had transformed into a turbulent river, strewn with stones. His rapid breaths failed to quell it; if anything, they stoke the turmoil. His arms and legs brimmed with tension, threatening to topple him on the spot. Suddenly, football was not as beautiful as always.
Somehow, he managed to reach the locker room. Head bowed, he endured the scornful gazes of numerous players until he reached his spot. He unlocked his locker, retrieved a water bottle, took a sip before replacing it.
"You should've passed it," A voice broke the silence.
Takashi looked to his left, where Jun stood, resolute, seemingly unperturbed. A surge of heat consumed Takashi.
"What?" Takashi retorted, his tone tinged with aggression.
Jun's face hardened, then turned towards him. "It was obvious you had to make the pass! It was three against the goalkeeper!"
His eruption reverberated through the locker room, catching the attention of several teammates. Others looked away, unwilling to being drawn in.
"I thought it was the best option," Takashi asserted, his gaze fixed ahead.
"Well, you thought wrong. You wanted to be the star, and it cost us the game."
A pang stabbed Takashi's chest, something snapping within him. Memories surged as he clenched his fists, not in sorrow, but in anger. Perhaps similar to his teammate, who appeared unusually furious with him—a strange departure from his usual demeanor.
"Why didn't you do it, then?" Takashi's voice dropped.
"Huh?" Jun confronted him. "Are you seriously saying that to me?"
"Of course. I might have had the clearest opportunity, but you missed four or five shots. All off target. Can't I say anything then?"
Jun was caught off guard, recoiling before charging forward in fury. "Maybe if you put in more effort, you'd have more opportunities!"
"He's an idiot," Takashi mused, ignoring all the support Jun had provided. It no longer mattered.
"It must be easy for you to speak when everything goes your way. You put in minimal effort, and when it falters, you blame your teammates."
"Mind your words."
As words flew, both edged a step closer, surprising the entire locker room.
"Enough, you two!" Hiroshi intervened, stepping forward in a peacemaker role.
"It's not in your best interest," Jun cautioned, their height difference imposing as they stood face-to-face.
"Always underestimating me, huh? Like everyone else."
Feeling the faintest chest contact, Takashi pushed Jun back, catching him off guard. Jun tumbled to the floor while being taken aback, and both now became truly angry.
"I hate you!" Takashi bellowed.
Hiroshi stepped in, raising his hands not to push, but to prevent Jun from charging at Takashi like a bull. Several teammates, including Kenjiro, intervened, preventing another clash.
"That's enough!" Shiraito's shout snapped Takashi back to reality. His anger subsided, but was replaced by anguish. Yoshida, Sasaki, Ito, Shiraito, and the rest. They all looked at him the same way. They despised him, he believed. They wanted him to fail, he believed.
"Why are they supporting Jun? Why?" Panic welled up inside Takashi. He couldn't find air, feeling dizzy, as if his legs were about to give way, his face on the verge of tears. "Why?" Without thinking, he seized his backpack and dashed toward the exit.
"Run! Keep blaming others for your failure!" Jun yelled, completely beside himself as the others restrained him.
Takashi burst through the door, narrowly avoiding Nao's surprised entrance. He brushed past her, but she still caught the detail.
"He's crying," she realized. Nao turned toward the locker room, only finding tense faces. She knew what to do.
Though she pursued him, Takashi was too swift. Outside the stadium, Nao lost him but spotted his southbound trajectory. Without hesitation, she began to follow him, as she knew exactly where he was heading to.