When I suddenly woke up and sat up, I found myself calling her name. I didn’t quite understand why, but it felt like she had called for help, like she had said, “Help me.” However, it was not Ayana who welcomed me as I awoke; it was our teacher.
“Ara, I’m Otonashi-san? Are you disappointed?”
“Um… It’s not like that.”
“Fufu, I’m just kidding. But it seems like you’re feeling better, right? Your complexion looks better than when you arrived.”
“I might have just been really tired. I’m completely fine now.”
I struck a muscle pose to show off, and the nurse chuckled. However, when I checked the clock, I was surprised—several hours had passed since I had come to the infirmary, and it was already lunchtime.
“I slept quite a bit.”
“Every time I glanced at you, your sleeping face was so cute. I found it soothing. And also, make sure to thank Otonashi-san properly, and show her your lively self soon for peace of mind. She’s been coming here during every break.”
Ayana… she definitely had a sudden health issue, and I seemed to have caused her a lot of worry. After thanking the teacher again, I tried to leave the infirmary.
But just as I reached for the door, it swung open with a loud noise.
We both exclaimed and stared at each other, frozen in place.
The one who opened the door was Ayana. Even though it had just become lunch break, it seemed she had come to check on my condition before having lunch.
With a thud, she came forward and hugged me tightly. I could sense the teacher grinning in the background, but I placed my hand on Ayana’s shoulder. That’s when I noticed something.
“Ayana… did something happen?”
I asked, and Ayana’s eyes widened in response.
From that reaction, it was clear that something had happened, and I could somewhat predict what she would say next. She would probably say, “It’s nothing.”
“Fufu, it’s nothing, you know? I just worried too much about Towa-kun.♪”
Her response was just as I had expected, so there wasn’t any real surprise. But even her smile at the end seemed like a facade to hide her true feelings.
(…Is this what Towa was talking about, Ayana’s hidden feelings…?)
Well, it didn’t matter. Regardless, I needed to have a proper conversation with Ayana.
I remembered everything from the dream, including what I had talked to Towa about. It was possible that it was all just a dream and my imagination, but at this point, it seemed unlikely, and I felt it with a strong sense.
“Both of you can have your lovey-dovey moments, but make sure to have a proper lunch, okay?”
We separated from the hug and left the infirmary. Once we were out in the school corridor, Ayana’s actions were not as intense, but our eyes met, as expected. Every time that happened, we both smiled involuntarily.
That’s right… I’ll protect this smile.
Not a forced smile, not a smile hiding something behind a mask, but a genuine smile that I would protect from now on. To do that, I needed to talk to Ayana.
“Hey, Ayana, can I have some of your time after school today?”
“Of course, Towa-kun. I’ll make as much time as you need for you♪”
“Haha, thanks, Ayana.”
I secured an after-school appointment with Ayana and returned to the classroom. When I got back to the classroom, several classmates approached me and asked how I was doing. I felt a bit apologetic for making them worry, but it reminded me of the joy of having so many people concerned for me.
Aisaka naturally came over, and Shu also greeted me. However, I couldn’t help but notice that Ayana gave Shu a slightly disapproving look, but I didn’t ask anything intentionally.
“Oh, Yukishiro-kun, you’re back. I heard you weren’t feeling well. I was worried, you know?”
“I’m completely fine now!”
“Alright, I got it. You don’t have to push yourself today. Just relax and focus on your classes.”
Oops, that was basically the same as telling me I could go to sleep… Why did I think that way? I scolded myself internally.
My interaction with the teacher amused my classmates, and the class returned to normal.
(…When I can focus on my thoughts like this, I can think about various things. It seems like I’ve merged even more with Towa’s soul than before.)
I had never felt uncomfortable living as Towa, but now, as Towa had told me in the dream, it seemed I was almost fully integrated into this world as Towa.
Maybe the encounter in the dream was the final push I needed. I had been a bit worried about whether I would revert to being Towa when I woke up, but that was just an unnecessary concern. It seemed that I had settled into Towa almost completely.
To move forward, to clarify my ambiguous relationship with Ayana, I needed to have a conversation with her.
At least, I hoped that Towa would hear my plea. I might not be able to reach him with my voice anymore, but I felt a warm feeling in my chest, and I smiled, feeling reassured.
The time until the end of the school day passed quickly. When I was organizing my things, Iori appeared in the classroom and took Shu away. Soon after, Ayana came to me with her bag in hand.
“Ayana, could you come to that park at around 4:30?”
“That park… Got it. And, it’s not a date, right?”
“Haha, sorry if you were hoping for that.”
“No, not at all. I’ll head there at the agreed time.”
I waved goodbye as Ayana left the classroom, and I let out a sigh. Now that I had made this appointment, there was no turning back. But I wasn’t planning on running away in the first place, and my determination to have a proper conversation with Ayana remained unwavering.
After a quick visit to the restroom, I went home directly from school. I placed my bag on the living room sofa, headed to the fridge, and grabbed a bottle of juice.
As my throat quenched its thirst, my body tingled with a refreshing sensation. I checked the clock and confirmed I had plenty of time. Then, I headed to the storage room.
“Heh… I thought it would be all dirty and dusty, but it’s quite clean. Maybe Mom cleans it regularly.”
I had expected a certain level of dirt and dust since it wasn’t a frequently used space, but it was cleaner than I thought.
I wasn’t supposed to know about the storage room’s existence or what was kept inside. However, due to my strong connection with Towa, I had come to understand these things.
“Ah, there it is.”
What I was looking for at the moment was a soccer ball.
“Hey there, old buddy. I’ve left you alone for quite a while, haven’t I?”
I had virtually no experience with soccer, as I had mentioned to Towa in the dream. Nevertheless, holding the ball in my hands made it feel like a trusted companion that had been with me for years.
“Alright, let’s go.”
With a final boost of determination, I left the house.
Carrying the soccer ball by my side as I walked, I was surprisingly calm during this time, and there was no sign of nervousness.
However, to say there was absolutely no nervousness might be a bit of an exaggeration. But anyway, I was going to do what I could do—clear Ayana’s troubled heart, put an end to our half-hearted relationship, and take the first step together to move forward, for both of us.
I headed to the park.
After a while, I arrived at the park. It was still early, not even five o’clock, and, for today at least, there were no other people around. There were only a few distant figures walking along the road outside the park.
I placed the soccer ball I had brought in a shaded area and took a deep breath to calm my nerves. I gazed at the park, reflecting on how it was where our story began—not just Towa’s, but mine as well.
One holiday, I was bored at home, so I left home to go to an arcade run by an old man I knew… and that’s how I met Ayana at this park I passed by.
[What are you doing here all alone? Your eyes are really red, are you crying ……?]
When I saw Ayana raise her head and say that, that’s when our time together began.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but there are things I understand now.
“From that moment, I think I’ve liked you, Ayana.”
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but there was something special about our meeting that day. I didn’t understand it back then, but now I do.
“From that time, we’ve been together for years. Ayana has always been there by my side.”
No matter what happened, Ayana was always there. She had been there in the past, and I hoped she would be there in the future. I needed her with me, and together, we would move forward.
“Just a bit longer.”
I only had to wait a little longer until our appointment. I took out my smartphone and made a call.
“Is that you, Towa?”
I had called Shu, even though I didn’t really have anything to talk to him about. But there was one thing I needed to tell him right now.
“Sorry, Shu. I need to cancel the promise I made back then then. I love Ayana.”
Without waiting for his response, I ended the call, and at that moment, Ayana appeared at the park entrance. When she spotted me, she ran over, a bright smile on her face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Towa-kun!”
Her cheerful greeting made me smile, and I couldn’t help but be touched by her presence.
“Thank you, Ayana, for coming.”
“I’ll come anywhere if Towa-kun calls for me!”
Ayana moved closer, her warm smile illuminated by the setting sun. The scene felt almost magical with the sun’s warm light surrounding us. However, I could see through her forced smile. I knew that something was bothering her.
I wanted to find out what was causing Ayana’s unease, so I need to talk to her. But what I was about to say might, in a way, invalidate everything she had done until now. I was afraid of how she would react to my words, but I had already made up my mind.
“I wanted to talk to you again, Ayana. About something important… about our future.”
“Our future… Something important? Is it, by any chance…?”
She blushed and fidgeted, making it clear that she understood where the conversation was heading.
Certainly, my choice of words could be misconstrued as a confession or something similar. I apologized to her for that, but I proceeded with the conversation.
“Lately, I’ve been really concerned about you, Ayana. I’ve been wondering about the reasons behind your smiles, especially the ones with a hint of sadness that you show from time to time, or the smiles that seem forced.”
Ayana’s expression noticeably changed. The cheerful smile she wore moments ago had vanished, replaced by a perplexed look. She kept her gaze fixed on me. I continued without averting my eyes, determined to speak my mind.
“Ayana, you might have been carrying something all this time, something that you shouldn’t have had to bear. The anger and sadness that you’ve been carrying might have been mine.”
Ayana’s eyes widened, and her reaction was clear confirmation. I had already known from my own memories and what I had heard from Shu, and this world’s revelations aligned. I had been right all along.
“It seems like I wasn’t wrong, right?”
To be honest, it would have been easier to reveal everything, but it wouldn’t change anything for them if they knew it was a video game world. Besides, it was my private memory, something that only I knew, and it just felt wrong to talk about another world.
After a while, Ayana took a deep breath and then raised her voice with intense emotion.
“It’s not something that I shouldn’t have to bear… that! Those people said such terrible things to you, Towa-kun! I can’t stand it… How could I let the person I love be treated like that!!”
Ayana rarely raised her voice like this. She only showed such raw emotions when something concerned me. When I had saved a little girl or helped Seina-san, she had worried about me too. This time, her emotions were even more intense.
“At first, Hatsune-san said terrible things to Towa-kun! Kotone-chan did the same when she met Towa-kun! Even my mother… And that accident happened because of Shu-kun’s carelessness, and he was laughing about it! There’s absolutely… absolutely no way I can forgive them!”
I apologize for the confusion. Here’s the corrected translation:
Ayana’s eyes were filled with intense anger, and she glared as if she were looking at someone other than me. She spoke rapidly, and her shoulders heaved as she caught her breath. Sweat dripped from her forehead, and her composure had completely disappeared.
The eyes that gazed at me contained not only the anger she mentioned earlier but also a plea, much like the eyes of a child about to cry.
“…I’m sorry, Ayana.”
She widened her eyes in surprise when I suddenly apologized. Given the current situation, Ayana must be wondering why I was apologizing. There was a clear reason behind it.
“I couldn’t notice it all this time. I didn’t realize it until you became like this… I’ve been basking in the happiness of having you by my side, but I haven’t truly seen you.”
This was a statement I could make because my soul had merged with Towa. I was Towa, and Towa was me. Therefore, Towa’s past was also my past.
Ayana shook her head, insisting it wasn’t true.
“N-No, that’s not true! Towa-kun has always been watching over me!”
No, it was evident that Towa hadn’t been paying attention, considering Ayana’s current state. I had been selfish, enjoying the happiness of having Ayana by my side and neglecting to see the darkness she carried within her.
“In the end, I was just like Shu. I’ve been depending on your kindness all along.”
“No, you’re wrong! Towa-kun isn’t anything like that guy!”
Ayana kept shaking her head, refusing to accept the words. The cheerful girl who was usually by my side had disappeared, replaced by the Ayana who vehemently denied everything I said.
(I feel terrible… I don’t want to see Ayana like this. Not like this…)
My heart ached, and I had a strong urge to embrace her, even stronger than before. But, I managed to hold myself back.
“No, it’s different… it’s different! Towa-kun is…”
Pressing her forehead against my chest, Ayana finally raised her head. It seemed she wouldn’t give me any opportunity to speak.
“Don’t worry… Towa-kun. It’s going to be fine! Please leave everything about those people to me. I will make sure they regret it… That’s why… that’s why!”
She had finally disclosed her intentions, even if she hadn’t provided a detailed explanation. She was planning to take action behind the scenes to make Shu and the others regret their actions. It was likely a plan similar to the scenarios in the game, something Ayana was orchestrating and executing.
“Finally, you’re talking to me, right?”
Maybe Ayana didn’t even understand what she was saying.
Ayana’s plan was likely to continue without ever telling me anything and handling everything on her own in secret.
But it’s not over yet.
Ayana will probably find a way to take action and persuade it. In the end, Ayana is a person with the power to do so, driven by her unwavering and heavy love for me. It’s embarrassing to say it myself, but it makes me happy.
“Because it’s Ayana, you were probably planning never to talk to me, to finish everything on your own, and carry the burden of that event by yourself, right?”
Ayana seemed visibly shocked by how much I understood her feelings. Without dismissing her feelings as mere deception, I continued to express myself.
“Ayana, there’s no need for you to do something like that.”
The moment I spoke those words, Ayana’s expression shifted from surprise to despair. Her biggest fear is my rejection. This reaction was her response to me denying her intentions.
While still gently stroking her head and maintaining eye contact, I began to recount the dream I had in the infirmary that day.
“Today, you know, I had a dream while I was asleep in the infirmary.”
“Yeah. It was about a future that would come to pass if I did nothing. It was an incredibly convenient dream, but I saw a future where you were suffering alone.”
Ayana seemed even more shocked. However, her reaction was different from what I expected. She didn’t seem to find the concept of the dream strange, and it appeared as though she had some inkling about it.
I couldn’t help but ask.
“Could it be that you also had this dream?”
Although it seemed impossible, I couldn’t resist asking. Ayana took a moment and then nodded in affirmation.
(Could there really be something like that? But considering how I felt about Ayana when I saw her after waking up, it doesn’t seem like a lie.)
Perhaps, this was another miracle that had touched Ayana’s heart. Nevertheless, it appeared that Ayana had a different perspective. I know it might be too strong to say this at this point, but Ayana was resolute.
“Even so, even if you had such a dream, it won’t change anything! I don’t mind how much I suffer! I just want to live for Towa-kun’s sake… even if I’m in pain, as long as Towa-kun is happy, that’s enough!”
Upon hearing her words, something inside me snapped. I had never expressed such anger towards her, and the intensity of my emotions was overwhelming.
“WHERE’S THE GOOD IN ANY OF THAT, AYANA!”
She was startled by my outburst, and I firmly gripped her shoulders, an expression on my face unlike any she had seen before.
As evidence, Ayana had been continuously looking at my face, and her visible fear was quite apparent.
I continued to speak as words flowed out of me, as if I were expelling all the frustration I had been feeling.
“What kind of world allows a man to endure seeing the girl he loves suffering? And to make matters worse, it’s because of his own actions! Imagine it from the opposite perspective, Ayana. How would you feel if I were working hard for your sake, only to get hurt in secret?!”
It seemed that Ayana could imagine it, and she lowered her head once more.
Isn’t that right? Ayana must feel the same way, right? Her attitude is the proof. She was trying to do the same thing to me.
Even after speaking so strongly, Ayana refused to leave my side. We had never engaged in such exchanges before, and Ayana probably didn’t know what to do, so she clung to me.
I smiled and gently caressed her head as I continued,
“I’m sorry for speaking so strongly, but I needed to say it. You know, Ayana, you can be incredibly stubborn when it comes to me. It’s frustrating, yet at the same time, I appreciate it.”
“Are you… mad?”
I held her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. She was still crying, but our recent conversation seemed to have softened her expression.
“Do you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you. I welcome being strongly cared for by the girl I love.”
I patted her head and then gently placed my hands on Ayana’s shoulders.
We gazed at each other once again.