“Damn it! What’s with his stamina, Kouki!”
Breathing heavily, Daigo carefully observed Bunnyman’s movements. There must be a gap. His stamina is not unlimited. He sharpened his senses to find a breakthrough.
As the participants swelled in numbers, with players from powerful schools challenging one after another, Bunnyman continued to keep the ball in his possession.
“We’ve only played one match today. We still have plenty of stamina left.”
“That’s not the issue.”
Like Daigo, Kuga also stepped back to regroup.
“Are you crying, Kouki?”
Without replying to Daigo’s question, Kouki touched his cheek. It’s definitely not sweat.
After the match, a sense of frustration swirled within Kouki’s heart. He clenched his fist in regret.
Defeated in the fourth round. He had no complaints about the match result. He gave it his all and lost. It was a fulfilling day. If he continued practicing like this, he might reach an even bigger stage someday. That’s what he thought. Just a vague thought.
“It feels nostalgic, doesn’t it, Kuga senpai?”
“For us, it’s a bitter memory. Wipe your tears. Why do you look so happy?”
Daigo, Kuga, and Kouki were all part of the same middle school and basketball club. Kouki was a year younger, but they were comrades who polished each other through fierce competition.
And on that day, experiencing the humiliation of defeat, Kouki inherited the feelings of his seniors.
In Kouki’s gaze, stood the man who became a barrier between them and their seniors.
“He is still our wall.”
“Don’t act so cool after losing so easily in the fourth round.”
“You can say that only for now!”
Toshirou Himura boldly rushed in, but Bunnyman easily dealt with him.
In a swift exchange, Kouki also charged forward, but he couldn’t maintain his balance and lost his posture.
“Can’t reach him, it was never supposed to reach! We made you lonely!”
“What’s with this high-tension, refreshing handsome guy? Scary.”
Kouki thought. That he, at least his current self, couldn’t match up.
Kouki realized it. It was because he accidentally saw Kokonoe’s notebook.
It was filled with detailed data on their opponents. The specifics of the regular players, their dominant hand, the type of players they were, their preferred tactics. It wasn’t something that could be gathered quickly.
Kokonoe had been diligently collecting this information. Probably even during their training camps. He researched, devised tactics, and improved their overall strength.
But he never shared it. It remained an unused trump card.
If you want to win, you should use it. If such a thing exists, it should be utilized. So why?
But that is a shameful mindset. If you want to win, why isn’t anyone else doing it?
Moreover, it’s not something a first-year newcomer should consider. Their efforts are overwhelmingly insufficient.
Ultimately, it was left to others. Anyone could have done the same thing. Yet no one did, not even propose it.
Why, then, should only Yukito Kokonoe have to do it? Irresponsibly burdening him with responsibility.
If someone had just mentioned it, Kokonoe would have presented the notebook.
He repeatedly questioned himself. Was he really serious about winning against the opponent?
His teammates, none of them were genuinely committed to winning, merely fantasizing about the future. At this very moment, they made the man who was always serious about winning feel lonely.
Until now, Kouki and the others had put in effort to become better. The acts of challenging stronger opponents, even going as far as defeating dojos, were part of that effort. It had an effect. They were steadily gaining strength. Including Toshiro, the basketball club was rapidly improving. But it wasn’t enough.
Efforts to win. Overcoming the opponent. What was necessary and how to achieve it.
They had remained vague and never pursued it further. Except for one person.
They had the opponent’s data. With that, they might have advanced past the fourth round.
However, in the end, only Yukito Kokonoe made that effort. It was an inevitable defeat.
Undoubtedly, it was nothing but the “spoiled spirit” Yukito Kokonoe had previously mentioned.
They couldn’t even mention something like the Inter-High. They couldn’t say they were serious, even if their life depended on it.
It was clear that their mentality hadn’t reached the same level as their skills.
Their passion, the quality of their efforts, the relentless pursuit and yearning for victory, everything was lacking.
Kouki remembered. He had also put in such efforts in the past. After losing in his second year of high school, he spent days practicing, imagining and preparing to win next time with his senpais.
During that intense period, Kouki was aware of his significant growth.
That’s why, in this moment when it was thrust upon him, and with his senpais who had spent the same amount of passion by his side, he felt joy, happiness, and reliance, while chastising his own inadequacy.
It’s frustrating. Remaining in defeat, content in such a place.
Participants who were satisfied with their attempts gradually began to decrease.
The spectators held their breath, eagerly watching to see the outcome.
Amidst this, Toshiro, who couldn’t give up, continued to challenge again and again.
Toshiro’s strength drained from his knees, and he fell down heavily.
Kamishiro quickly rushed to Toshiro, who was crouching down, holding his ankle in pain.
She took out tape from her bag and swiftly started wrapping it around the injured area.
“Don’t give up! Toshiro, there’s no way you can win!”
“I’ll win, Suzune. I definitely will. Just for now, just for today, I will win!”
“How are you going to do that with your foot like that!”
Seeing Toshiro struggling to stand, Kouki firmly made up his mind.
“Senpai, will you cooperate with us? I want to help the captain win.”
“I’m on board. Today, I’ll strip off that mask of his.”
“Don’t make me even more tired at the end of the game.”
Daigo smirked while Kuga let out a frustrated complaint.
(Someday, I’ll stand beside you, right next to you, and together we…)
Obtain the medal. It would become an irreplaceable part of his youth.
With unwavering determination, Kouki and the others dashed forward, cutting off their past regrets and lingering attachments.
Believing that glory awaited them at the end.
It’s only natural to exhaust oneself when the offense and defense continue for such a long time.
Even Bunnyman, Yukito Kokonoe, seems to be struggling, as if his physical strength has been reduced.
Nevertheless, he still refused to let go of the ball. His skills and determination are truly formidable.
Kouki and the others are keeping up just as well. It’s an intense battle of attrition.
The first-year students are reliable and promising. The future of the basketball club looks bright.
It was them, the upperclassmen, who held them back.
“…I knew it. I’ve been wrong from the beginning.”
I recruited Yukito Kokonoe to join the basketball team in order to show my performance to Suzune, but in retrospect, that was a mistake.
The purpose of the game was switched and without realizing it, I was causing Suzune to suffer.
For the sake of foolish me, they prepared this ridiculous grand stage.
They stood before me in the end, as my greatest enemy. It was all for the sake of my pride.
Memories rush through my mind. It was an exhilarating few months. I could feel myself growing every day.
Last summer we challenged with great anticipation and ended in defeat in the fourth round.
To say that I have no regrets would be a lie. I wish I had committed myself more seriously earlier, but the result I can be proud of. We, the pathetic upperclassmen, were changed by the first-year students.
I relied on everything, and in the end, I was expelled, and everything was perfectly orchestrated.
But I can’t let it all go to waste.
I was the one who made Yukito Kokonoe pull this farce, and I was the one who pushed Suzune into such a farcical situation.
I’ve challenged countless times, dragging my feet, only to be mercilessly crushed.
In the end, I couldn’t win a single time. The title of captain is weeping.
I confirm the feeling of the taping. It’s been about fifteen minutes since I fell, and it has blended in seamlessly without any discomfort.
I’ve long surpassed my physical limits. I probably won’t be able to stand up again.
The same goes for Yukito Kokone and Kouki. I apologize for dragging them into this mess.
The ending was approaching. This was my one and only chance. Failure was not an option.
I am the only one qualified to end this game.
For that reason, Suzune, Yukito Kokonoe, and Kouki are giving it their all, fighting tooth and nail.
I’m crawling on the ground, covered in wounds. But he’s the same.
I recall the past few months since Yukito Kokonoe joined the team. We were shown a distant height, a glimmer of hope.
Setting goals, moving forward with determination, we have grown. And now, we are condemned for our dependence, tasting despair, and collapsing on the ground like rags.
Every day felt like riding a roller coaster, with exhilarating ups and downs.
“…I have to thank Yukito Kokonoe for bringing me this far.”
I have to respond. To the days that have passed. And to Suzune.
If I listen carefully, I can hear voices. Voices that believe in and cheer for me, despite my pitiful state.
I rise from my heavy body and take a deep breath. To inspire myself, I weave my words.
“This isn’t just a game. It’s a battle. I’ll do whatever it takes to win. So…”
A strange sensation, as if I have become the protagonist of a story, standing at the center of the world.
I see, I am the protagonist of my own life. I realize this obvious fact only now.
Others don’t matter. Yet, I let the surrounding noise bother me and hurt Suzune.
Enduring the pain, protecting my injured leg, I awkwardly challenge the battle.
As I start running, the Bunny Man immediately tries to intercept me, but my feet get tangled, and I stumble.
My knees lose their strength with a thud. For a moment, the Bunny Man freezes in motion. A fleeting hesitation. Perhaps he briefly considered the possibility of my victory and reached out his hand to prevent my fall.
My junior who is kind no matter how far it goes. Impudent, stoic, reckless, yet strict.
With my taped foot, I step forward forcefully, putting all my strength into it.
With an explosive image in my mind, I throw my body forward.
“At least show us a good look for the last time, you idiot!”
Encouraged by Suzune’s voice, I reach out with all my might for the ball.
The Bunny Man wears a surprised expression. Come to think of it, Yukito Kokonoe always had an expressionless face.
And how about that! Take that! It’s not like I’m always being beaten by you!
I embrace the ball as if holding it tightly. I won’t let it go. Neither the ball nor Suzune.
With the momentum, I roll and dash towards the gallery.
“So, the foot injury was a fake, huh?” (Yuki)
“…I have to do something like this if I want to defeat you. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime showdown.”
I raise the ball high above, like a medal of honor.
The thunderous applause envelops me, as if it’s about to shatter.
“I love you, Suzune! I want to marry you!”
“M-Marriage?! We’re not even dating, isn’t that jumping ahead too much?!”
“I love you, Suzune! I don’t want to give you to anyone else, I don’t want to be apart from you. I want you by my side. I’ve hurt you. I foolishly cared about appearances and protected my meaningless pride. But I won’t repeat it ever again! I will make you happy, no matter what! I want you, Suzune!”
“…Idiot. I love you too, Toshiro! I’ve been waiting for you!”
They embrace each other. It’s a touching scene. The summer doesn’t end in sadness.
“You still have to study hard, you know.”
The hot-blooded senpai turns to us. I have already taken off the Bunnyman mask. It’s hot.
“I’m retiring from the basketball club. There’s nothing left for me to regret. So, Yukito Kokonoe, I’m counting on you from now on.”
“But I refuse.”
“Don’t refuse, it was such a good atmosphere!”
“I’m still a first-year.”
“That’s true, but…”
It wasn’t a conclusive ending, but with such a large gallery present for our public confession, cheers and applause of celebration resound from all around. We also prepared party hats and crackers.
“Kamishiro-san, when did you prepare all this?”
“Yuki took care of it in advance…”
Be prepared for anything.
“Mihou, I won! I won!”
“Congratulations! Your determination reached her, senpai!”
“Now it’s your turn. Defeat this guy in a grand manner!”
Even though we’re supposed to be teammates in the same club, I felt like I was left out.
Finally, I can take a breather. This ridiculous farce is finally over. I’m completely exhausted.
The relentless attacks from the refreshing handsome group, who seemed determined to crush me, were excessively obsessive.
These people must hate me, right? Someday, they’ll seek revenge. Definitely.
“Yukito Kokonoe, thanks for everything. Thank you for exiling me.”
“The one who did the exile is the villain, you know.”
“Haha, that’s right. Absolutely! You’re a bad guy.”
The hot blooded senpai laughs heartily. Beside him, Takamiya-senpai also laughs with joy. Applause continues to echo as if celebrating their new beginning.
Little did anyone know that this commotion would later become known as the “Miracle of Bunnyman,” spreading across the nation.
The rabbit, now an icon of love prayers, would be cherished for a long time.
The urban legend of the monster Bunnyman, a preacher of love, became more and more confusing.
“It’s great that they made it through!”
“They were quite forceful, though.”
Walking together with Yuki, eating ice cream we bought from the convenience store on our way back from the tournament.
The chocolate is beginning to melt in the heat, and I hastily stop it from spilling out of my mouth. It’s a peaceful, happy time as I struggle to finish the ice cream. My heart remains fluffy and dreamy.
“I wonder what will happen to those two.”
“I can’t take responsibility for what comes next.”
“Yeah… After all, it’s their story now.”
I can only intervene and assist up to this point. The two of them needed help.
It was like a deeply moving experience, as if becoming an extra in a movie. Witnessing a miracle.
The happy ending of two people who overcame difficulties and found each other. It’s romantic and aspirational.
Many of the people present at that moment must have felt the same way I did.
Even though I should have been down after losing the game, Yuki saw something different.
That fact is a little frustrating. I feel pathetic for not facing the same direction as Yuki.
I became the manager of the boys’ basketball club. Yuki accepted me, but it feels unsatisfying.
I didn’t notice that Himura-senpai was feeling anxious or that Takamiya-senpai was struggling.
I wanted to be of help to Yuki, to be useful, but I couldn’t accomplish anything.
“I hope they can be happy.”
“If it’s Hot blooded-senpai, he’ll be fine. He awakened, after all.”
Yuki brings happiness to those around them. It’s a stark contrast to me, who only inflicts pain.
I can only take from Yuki.
“I’m so powerless…”
I haven’t grown. The only thing that’s grown is my height. No matter how much time passes, I can’t consider others’ feelings.
“I think you’re doing well, though.”
“That’s not true. I haven’t done anything—”
Kindness tightens my chest. No, I’m still unable to give anything back!
I caress my wristwatch. Since the day we met until today, I’ve only received things.
Yuki helped me. Protected. Saved me. Forgave me. Above all, I received so much happiness. More than I can ever repay.
I’ve been selfishly enjoying that kindness all this time.
Yuki made me happy, but I can’t make Yuki happy.
Who will make Yuki happy? Where does Yuki’s happiness lie?
“Shiori, what do you want to do from now on?”
“What do you mean…”
What I want to do has always been clear. I want to support Yuki. That’s all.
“The basketball club will continue self-training until the Winter Cup. I’ll be attending the art club for a while. I have prepared training menus, and thinking about what they lack is also part of the practice. Besides, now that the issue with the hot-blooded senpai is resolved, I don’t have a next goal set yet.”
Yuki is busy. Attending the art club must be necessary for someone.
“You’ve probably noticed, but the boys’ basketball team doesn’t really need a manager. There’s nothing specific for you to do.”
“Yeah… I feel like I haven’t contributed anything.”
“No one is saying that. Your presence is only a positive influence in terms of motivation.”
Am I really making a contribution? Am I being helpful?
There are few members in the boys’ basketball team, and there are hardly any miscellaneous tasks. In the first place, it’s more common for a club not to have a manager. In that sense, the boys’ basketball team was unique. I have a place here because Yuki provided it.
“Shiori, join the girls’ basketball team. I’ve talked to the captain about it.”
“Huh? But I want to be with…”
“If that’s the case, you can stay registered as a manager. Just show up and support us during the matches. Shiori, why did you come to this school?”
“Well… to chase after Yuki… I didn’t want it to end like that.”
That’s the undeniable truth. I ran relentlessly without looking back, with only that goal in mind.
“Is that enough for you?”
“I’m not denying it. I told that to Hinagi too… You guys are too blind. Try to have a broader perspective and be greedy for happiness. Show the determination to obtain everything you desire. We have plenty of time. Aim for a 100% completion rate in the CGs.”
Blind… Even if I’m told that, I can’t help it. I was desperate to catch up to Yuki, only focusing on his back. I didn’t have the luxury to think about anything else. Impatience and anxiety were driving me.
“Shiori, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right here.”
I see, I don’t need to chase after Yuki’s back anymore. I understand it smoothly.
Yuki’s words slowly soak into my heart. One love has come to an end.
It was a painful love, always chasing after him. From now on…
“You should go to the place where you are needed and enjoy yourself. It’s okay to have as many things you want to do. I’m already short on time and panting, as it is.”
Because I only focused on Yuki, I didn’t notice the impatience of Himura-Senpai or the anxiety of Takamiya-Senpai. I still have a lot to learn. In that case, I should gain more experience.
That’s what Yuki always does!
I’ll become a more wonderful and charming person and make Yuki fall in love with me even more.
That’s my next goal.
“Yuki, I’ll make the girls’ basketball team win the championship!”
“You seem to have a lot of energy. You’re a high school student. Sing and celebrate your youth.”
Yuki was also looking at me properly. That made me happier than anything else.
“I have somewhere to stop by now. This is where we part ways.”
“I see. Then, see you at school!”
At the level crossing where we part ways, the alarm bell rings and the barrier comes down.
Unable to stand still while watching him leave, I shouted.
“—-Am I not good enough!”
Did my voice reach him? Yuki stops abruptly.
“—-I wonder if I can make Yuki happy!”
I love you. I love you so much. But above all, I want to give something back. Give form to these feelings.
As if hesitating, he turns around.
The train passes, blocking my line of sight.
Time passes, fleeting yet eternal, and my field of vision opens up.
Yuki was not on the other side of the tracks.