[I hate them. I’ve always hated them, from the bottom of my heart.]
Those words repeated in my head. While Ayana smiled when she said that, her words expressed a negativity far removed from her smile.
Originally, this world revolved around the heroines growing apart. Given that there was roughly a year of leeway before the story began, there hadn’t been any events at this stage that resembled the narrative.
However, because I lived as Towa and had glimpsed through his memories, one underlying premise concerning a specific character had already been shattered.
Yes, it was Ayana, the main heroine.
Needless to say, her presence held great significance in my mind, and I had liked her from the time I played the game. Now, I truly loved Ayana, both as Towa and as my original self. Having already engaged in a relationship… well, in that regard, it was something I had from the beginning, but when you love someone and they love you back, it takes on a special meaning in itself.
(That’s right… at this point, everything has already fallen apart.)
The fact that Ayana and I were in a relationship meant that Ayana didn’t have special feelings for Shu. In other words, she wasn’t in love with him, and this deviation from the routes I knew was significant.
When Shu and Ayana’s relationship progressed, the story’s curtain would rise, and from there, all the gears would start to misalign. That pivotal moment – when Shu witnessed Towa and Ayana in a relationship, leading to his despair – would mark the ending.
(Let’s temporarily separate the existence called “me.” First, Towa was originally in a relationship with Ayana. At that point, it’s inconceivable that Ayana would accept Shu’s confession… after all, Ayana loves Towa so deeply.)
At this point, it was clear that I couldn’t follow the original route. While in games with a “netorare” theme, characters are often portrayed as complete scoundrels, I couldn’t fathom Ayana taking such actions, especially considering I had observed her from the sidelines. She may have a vulnerability tied to her affection, but she was a kind-hearted girl through and through.
My mother had mentioned that Ayana was clearly carrying something heavy, but I couldn’t bring myself to think that it was something wicked.
(…Maybe I should dig a little deeper.)
Just as I had that thought, I arrived at school.
I usually go to school with Shu and Ayana, but today I woke up a bit later than usual, so I asked them to go ahead without me.
In reality, I had been pondering the same thing as before last night, so I probably went to bed well past 2 AM.
I had received a message from Ayana, worried if something had happened. I replied that I had overslept, and in response, she sent a cute yet slightly bewildered stamp. It was enough to brighten up my morning.
As I changed my shoes using a geta box, I spotted Iori and Mari changing the printouts on the school bulletin board located just in front of the entrance.
While I found it strange that Mari, who wasn’t involved with the student council, was working alongside student council president Iori, I stared at them for a moment. But those two knew each other, and there was nothing particularly odd about it, so I quietly accepted it.
While observing them, the two turned to face me at that moment.
Mari flashed an overflowing smile and waved her hand, while Iori, though still offering a modest smile, waved her hand as well.
“…I wonder if I’ll be told something if I wave back casually.”
I ended up thinking that, so I headed over to them.
“Good morning, Yukishiro-kun.”
“Good morning, Yukishiro-senpai!”
Iori’s voice was quiet, but Mari’s was quite loud. It resonated somewhat throughout the morning hallway, but since the hallways in the morning were generally noisy, her voice didn’t particularly stand out.
“The president aside, what are you doing, Mari?”
“Well, you see, Iori was originally changing the printouts by herself, but when I showed up while coming to school, I decided to help her.”
“I told you that you didn’t have to.”
“Well, is it really a problem? Besides, I don’t think Iori senpai has any reason to complain about it.”
This looked like a showdown among women over Shu. But still, it was a strange and heartwarming sight when I didn’t think about the original story.
Mari had little free time due to her club activities, while Iori, who didn’t belong to any club, could maximize her time with Shu. In my memories, the two of them were depicted as eventually falling to the approaching menace, so people might wonder in which direction the story was heading, but watching them was genuinely enjoyable.
(At this point, I’m just a game fan, aren’t I?)
I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Meanwhile, things were developing around me.
“In that case, I’ll help too. My club activities are canceled today!”
“Ara, is that so? Then, please.”
No matter how much they argued, in the end, they agreed like this. They were love rivals but seemed to have good chemistry.
While it might appear that Mari, a younger student, was being roped into Iori’s plan, it was an agreeable relationship. Their apparent dispute, at least on the surface, showed a fun and peculiar interaction.
“What is it?”
As I halted my conversation with Mari and turned to Iori, she addressed me.
“I want to see you and Otonashi-san together with me at some point. If you don’t mind, would you help us out after school?”
Does that mean she is asking for Shu’s help too? I wondered why other members of the student council weren’t helping, but they were probably busy with other tasks.
“It’s not a matter of not having enough hands. I just wanted to spend time together with you and Shu-kun. I asked you to join because I was curious.”
It seemed like it wasn’t a matter of lacking manpower; Iori was simply curious.
Mari looked a bit overwhelmed by Iori’s words, which aligned with her desires, but she was determined to help today.
I had no issue with helping out, but I couldn’t agree without first discussing it with Ayana since her name came up.
“I’ll ask Ayana if she can join. If she has other plans, though, it might not be possible.”
“Thank you. I’m looking forward to it.”
You’re looking forward to it. Does that mean it’s already decided that we’re going…?
“But that means I might finally have a chance to talk to Ayana-senpai at length!”
Seeing Mari smile with delight, I couldn’t help but think that I definitely wanted to invite Ayana.
With no immediate commitment made, I said my goodbyes to them and headed to the classroom.
As I entered the classroom, Ayana and Shu, who had been talking near the entrance, called out to me.
I’ve been in touch with Ayana, so I think she knows that I overslept. Yet, when Ayana directly spoke to me, she quietly examined my entire body, as if she wanted to confirm that there really was nothing.
“It’s unusual, isn’t it? Towa oversleeping.”
“Well, I stayed up pretty late. Staying up all night isn’t really my thing.”
Saying this, I made my way to my seat, and the two of them naturally followed.
Inwardly, I couldn’t help but smile at the situation. I then shared the recent conversation I had with the Student Council President and Marika.
“I met the Student Council President and Mari at the entrance earlier…”
I explained about the request from the Student Council President for help after school and Mari’s interest in talking with Ayana. Both Towa and Ayana seemed okay with it.
“I don’t mind. I’d like to see just how close Towa has gotten with Iori-Senpai and Mari♪.”
“W-what makes you say that…”
The exchange between Ayana and Shu …… is nothing more than an act of childhood familiarity.
It reminds me of the happy couple in the game just by looking at them, and it’s so amicable that I don’t think a tragedy will happen like in the game.
However, it is a certain truth that I am having a relationship with Ayana, and I am betraying Shu in that regard.
[I want you to root for me with Ayana.]
Memories of the words he once said to me in the hospital room come flooding back.
I’m not going to give her to you, and Ayana is my only girl… These mixed feelings are turning black, but the relationship I have with Ayana makes me feel superior to Shu and calms me down. …… This is a really troubling feeling.
“Hmm… What is it?”
It seems like I was lost in thought again.
I suddenly realize that Shu is nowhere to be seen, and Ayana is gazing at me with a worried expression.
“He went to the restroom.”
“Did you really not see anything?”
“I told you, I didn’t see anything.”
I assure her, and Ayana places her hand gently on my forehead, scrutinizing me closely, as if she’s making sure I’m okay.
I can’t help but smile at her watchful eyes. I hold her hand to reassure her once again that I’m fine.
“I’m telling you, everything’s okay. Just like I told you when I woke up.”
“But… You sent that random joke last night, didn’t you?”
“Let’s not talk about that…”
It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. I couldn’t explain that I’d just felt a little concerned about Ayana and sent the message on a whim. Of course, I know that the message was horribly nonsensical and lacked any sense of decorum. I’m still repenting for that.
“Fufu… Well, it was quite unexpected coming from the usual Towa-kun, so I was surprised. But I was happy that you cared about me.”
“Yes. I was actually thinking about you too. After what happened yesterday evening…”
“It’s just… I don’t know how to put it, but it feels like we’re connected, doesn’t it?”
It was a somewhat embarrassing statement. Despite the distance between us, our feelings seem to be connected. It’s because I felt that way last night that the words just slipped out naturally.
Ayana looks at me in surprise and then smiles with her hand on her lips.
That soft gaze makes me feel like I’m enveloped in her kindness. It’s as if I’m being told, just like before, not to overthink things. That’s the feeling I get.
“That’s right. We are connected… I thought the same thing yesterday, too.”
In that moment when I saw Ayana’s smile, all the sounds around me seemed to fade away. If I were to describe it romantically, I’d say that I was once again enchanted by her smile, an enchantment that had happened countless times before.
I was captivated… yes, truly captivated.
It’s not that I genuinely believed there was no one else in the world except for Ayana at that moment, but I reached out towards her.
Ayana smiled even deeper when she saw my outstretched hand and softly called my name.
However, I heard two voices.
I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted to rub my eyes because, in front of me, it looked like there were two Ayanas.
In addition to the Ayana who was gazing at me with a smile, there was another Ayana who had such a fleeting smile that she seemed like she would disappear at any moment. The second Ayana disappeared immediately, and by the time the sound returned, there was only one Ayana in front of me.
“What’s the matter?”
“…No, it’s nothing.”
Again, it happened… it was a sensation similar to when I saw that woman in the black hooded coat.
Back then and now, every time I experienced such inexplicable phenomena, Ayana’s expression had likely changed enough to make her appear strange.
(I know very well that it’s not normal. I understand it. But seeing such a bizarre scene suddenly like this… It’s hard to keep it off my face.)
Each time, I couldn’t help but worry Ayana, but I didn’t know how to explain it with words. Perhaps… no, Ayana might genuinely listen and believe me.
If that’s the case, maybe I should just tell her.
“It’s getting noisy~. Take your seats~.”
“Ah… I’ll talk to you later, Towa-kun.”
Our homeroom teacher arrived, and Ayana returned to her seat. Shu also returned a bit later, and since the bell hadn’t rung yet, nothing was said. Soon after, the morning assembly began.
“We’ll have a whole-school morning assembly over the weekend, so be prepared for that. As for the rest…”
While listening to the teacher’s words, I glanced at the notebook.
Not just the setting of this world but also all the strange phenomena that happened around me, I had recorded everything in that notebook.
“…All right, this should do.”
What I had just recorded was what I had seen a moment ago.
The smiling Ayana and the fleeting-smile Ayana… It could be a misunderstanding, and even worse, there was a possibility that something might be wrong with me.
Until lunch break, the time passed quickly. Ayana approached me with concern during the break, but I reassured her each time, and in the end, she agreed to relax.
“Still, I can’t believe Towa and Ayana will help out.”
“I’m sorry. It seems like we might be interfering with your time, Senpai.”
“No, that’s not it… I mean—”
“Ah, it comes with rice~?”
Ayana removed a grain of rice from Shu’s mouth.
Shu blushed visibly and gazed blankly at Ayana, but she just smiled slightly, not doing anything more.
This scene alone, if taken out of context, would resemble a scene from a game that I knew well. Shu exchanged an earnest smile, and Ayana’s knowing smile was enough to make him blush. However, I couldn’t help but sense a hint of acting somewhere, perhaps just me overthinking it.
As if they wanted to charm the other person by presenting their best selves. Maybe I was thinking too much.
“Towa-kun? Why are you staring so intently like that?”
“Eh? Oh, no, sorry, just thinking…”
“Fufu, could it be… you’re captivated by me?”
She said it while smiling. Her smiling expression was the same one she had directed at Shu, but I responded honestly without feeling embarrassed like Shu did.
“It’s not so much being captivated as me being completely enchanted by Ayana.”
It was a bit cheesy… Uwaa, it makes my skin crawl!
I regretted saying it as soon as I said it, but it seemed to have some effect. Ayana widened her eyes for a moment but then blushed and looked down.
Her reaction was adorable, but it didn’t seem to be very amusing to Shu.
“I thought the same thing, Ayana! You’re always cute, Ayana!”
“Ah, yes thank you.”
Shu’s heartfelt words didn’t seem to resonate with Ayana the way he had hoped.
What I just felt – Shu’s faithful depiction of himself in the game and Ayana’s contrasting, somewhat detached demeanor – I had wondered about it before in relation to Shu, but I decided to record it in my notebook again.
Afterward, we spent time together with the three of us even after finishing lunch.
However, Ayana’s friend happened to pass by and pulled her away, taking her with them. This left Shu and me alone with no conversation.
“What is it?”
Even without much talking, it didn’t feel awkward, and the silence was not uncomfortable. It was almost like reading quietly, playing games, or going to each other’s homes to do so.
Shu looked at me and continued to speak while staring at me.
“Towa… Are you rooting for Ayana and me?”
I fell silent for a moment.
In response to Shu’s words, there were various things I wanted to say, and feelings of superiority and anger mixed in my chest, stimulating me. But, strangely, that heat quickly subsided, and I found myself smoothly speaking the words that I seemed to have prepared in advance.
“Well, maybe. If you dawdle, I might steal her away, you know?”
“N-No way! Absolutely not!”
“Absolutely not? Who do you think you are, saying that?”
After that, the bell rang, and Shu returned to his seat to prepare for the next class. I took out the notebook and began making notes.
While doing so, I found myself thinking as I read the written content.
(Where is my will, ultimately…?)
I should just take action myself, make a decision, but I was just hesitating. When I first awakened in this world, I was determined to bring Shu and Ayana together without influencing the game’s storyline.
But in the end, I soon felt something was amiss, and I allowed myself to be carried away by the circumstances, yearning for Ayana… enjoying sweet moments hidden from Shu.
(I want to be with Ayana, protect her… That’s because I already have the memories of Towa, and I felt this from the time I spent with Ayana. I can’t leave her to Shu; I don’t want to leave her to him.)
Maybe it would have been so much easier if I were just a player who played the game without thinking about the consequences.
Avoiding this, not allowing that… even if I thought about it, in the end, it was my actions that would lead to a result, and it would depend on how I acted, impacting Ayana and Shu. They had their own will, they weren’t programmed entities; they were living humans.
I wonder who said, Don’t sigh, the more you sigh, the more happiness escapes.
Anyway, now that I think about it, it’s only been about a week since I clearly awoke as Towa. Considering that, I’ve managed to stay calm after organizing the facts revealed and the information crammed into my head during this short time. I really should commend myself.
Of course, I’m not entirely calm about all the events, but it seems that my soul has become deeply ingrained in Towa’s body.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let my guard down, as a huge yawn escaped from me.
During this time, it was the classical literature class, and a female teacher was in charge. I, who had just yawned so openly, was caught by the teacher.
“Yukishiro-kun? Are you that bored?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Be more careful next time, okay? I’ll cut you some slack this time since you usually have a good attitude in class. But remember, I’ll be strict next time, so be prepared.”
After the teacher’s words and the chuckles from the people around me, I scratched my head.
I glanced around, and both Ayana and Shu, who were seated apart, and Aisaka were all laughing. It’s truly embarrassing… this is what they mean when they say you wish the ground would swallow you up.