Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
She awoke with a start, feeling the warmth of the sun in her eyes, which jolted her body against the soft bed.
A few breaths and movements were enough for her to realize that she was weak and lacking strength, only able to shift her gaze across the white ceiling of the room. She felt an instant discomfort in all of her right side, every muscle inflicting pain on her.
"It seems you woke up."
An exclamation escaped her lips as she recognized a familiar voice by her side. Despite feeling the weight of her entire body, Nao managed to quickly sit up and see the person seated in a chair to her right, beside the bed.
It was while being upright that she confirmed it. That boy wearing a surprised expression was her Takashi, and she couldn't have been happier of seeing him.
"Oh? Yes, it's me. Are you okay?" His gentle smile brought warmth to the girl, perplexed by seeing her beloved.
"Yes! Are you okay? Did you get hurt badly?"
"Me?" Takashi pointed to himself with his index finger, and Nao noticed he was wearing his jacket. "Why?"
"What do you mean ‘why’? Because..."
Nao stopped. In her mind, a distant thought wandered, a premonition that surely couldn't be true. Or at least, she wished it wasn't.
"Huh?" Takashi's smile no longer felt as warm. "But it was you who got hit by my ball."
Everything suddenly froze, and her pupils dilated in terror. Her heart skipped a beat, and her nerves stood on edge.
"This... Nao, right? Are you sure you're okay?"
Their eyes locked. Confusion in his, anguish in hers.
"What day is it?" Nao asked.
"This... today is the first day of the Obon Festival."
Nao felt as though she was falling onto the bed, yet somehow managed to remain upright. Perhaps because it was her world that was crumbling.
"I went back to the first day of the festival? No..."
And she noticed, or at least she thought she noticed in Takashi's eyes, that he didn't remember her. Everything they had lived together had dissipated into the air forever.
It had all started over.
Tears welled up in her eyes, filled with absolute sadness, bewildering the boy. She wanted to cry. She wanted to hug Takashi. Her Takashi, the one who comforted and cradled her when everything was falling apart around her. She saw uncertainty and innocence in his gaze...
And she saw the biggest mischievous grin of all.
"That's my revenge for making me come out to the dining hall in my pajamas."
Nao took a few seconds to process what that meant. And when she did, she didn't know how to react.
Nao lunged at Takashi and began to hit his chest and arm, while he laughed innocently. She didn't have much strength after the long sleep, but her heart was racing from the scare.
"Don't! Scare! Me! Like that!"
After the final punch, Nao fell against his chest and didn't move. Takashi felt like he was starting to hyperventilate and sob, so he gently wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm sorry. Did I go too far?"
"Of course you did!" Her anger quickly turned into an alchemical mix of emotions, reflected in her frightened voice. "Don't ever play such a prank on me again!"
Nao's tears reflected all the pain she had carried all this time. Takashi had never felt so warm, so soft, and she had never wanted to hug him so much.
"It's just that I love laughing with you. It's just..."
When she looked up, she found Takashi with teary eyes, looking at her with inexplicable love. It was because his eyes had filled with emotion upon seeing his little, tender Nao, the one he had fallen deeply in love with, as he confessed while they were prisoners of Izanami.
Nao didn't take long to receive the tears that fell from the boy, unable to contain his emotions.
"I love laughing... with you," Takashi's face pressed against Nao's shoulder with force, while the hug tightened. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I don't even want to think about losing you again!"
Those tears caused Nao to break down on her own, but she was also glad to see them because it meant that Takashi was truly there, safe.
"Enough, silly. Don't cry," Nao tried to comfort him, stroking the back of his head.
"I should be saying that to you," he replied, eliciting a small chuckle from both of them.
Several more seconds passed, during which neither wanted to let go of the other, as if they were still afraid of losing each other once they stopped hugging. That's why the embrace was somewhat shaky and deeply felt, with a desire for it not to be the last and a request for it to be the first of many. Still holding each other, they leaned back slightly to connect their teary eyes.
What Nao could now truly see in Takashi's eyes was that same happiness. He had seen that, despite being separated three times, despite their mistakes and fears, and despite everything seeming impossible, everything was alright.
"Thank you for fighting against destiny for me. I love you, Nao."
The tender words didn't take long to make Nao dissolve into tears again, falling onto Takashi's chest with force.
"I love you too," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "I love you so much, Takashi."
"Okay, okay," Takashi struggled to keep it together, but still managed to gently stroke Nao's head with the little strength he had.
"Takashi, tell me it's all over, please."
The plea resonated in his soul like a great bell, touching every corner of his being while a phrase came to his mind.
"Humans are wonderful beings, but not perfect. They often have problems, but there is something essential about them: They always solve them. That's why I knew you would, Takashi."
Touched by the words of his protector and savior, Takashi decided to look out the window and see the beautiful blue sky before responding, with Nao still resting on his chest. As he gazed at the scarce white clouds, another phrase from Inari came across his mind.
"No evil lasts forever, as the saying goes."
"Yes. It's over, Nao."