Jinsei Reset Button

Chapter 5: Think Ahead and Deal With It
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Chapter 5: Think Ahead and Deal With It

Part 1

I think, came Maki-chan’s voice, you’ve worn yourself out.

Not true, I said. Just, a lot’s happened.

This sort of life was terrible. How many thousands of years have I lived up until now?

Really, though, how many was it? How many hundred, thousands, millions of years?

How long have I been wasting all the time I had?

After all those ages and ages of meddling with time, the conclusion that I had arrived at was to destroy myself so that perfection could be attained.

Why had the life reset button come to me, of all people?

It was your strong wish, said Maki-chan. I wanted to help you grant that wish.

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Also not true, I retorted. I never was able to become perfect like my brother.

I had made a wish, that much was clear, but that wish had been far out of my reach. It was a wish that I never would have been able to deal with.

Well, whatever.

I’ve found my answer now, at least.

Not so fast, came Maki-chan’s voice, again. It’s not game over yet, you know.

That new game with the bonus stage, where I was invincible?

No, that sort of life was terrible. That was the worst of the worst.

Was Maki-chan aware of that too―did she want to warn me―or was she really just that innocent and naive?

This isn’t a New Game, it’s a Continue, she said,

in that incredibly innocent voice.

I got the impression that someone had scolded me.

Pushing that thought aside, I tried to swat away the noise that was flitting around in front of my face. I raised my right hand to a backhand position, at about eye level, and swept it from left to right. There was an effort to put power into the motion, but I saw absolutely no evidence of my having moved. In fact, there wasn’t even the slightest feeling, even, that my hand had moved.

Wait―'I raised my hand,’ could I even say that I had raised my hand? Was I standing? Was I was lying down? Maybe even upside down?

Could I even feel any sensations?

“…..to-kun, Yuuto-kun…..”

I heard a voice. I could hear sounds. I could realise that I was perceiving sound. What I’m getting at is, because I was able to hear sounds, I realised that I was now….uh, I’m not sure what I’m trying to say.

“…..Ah….this is terrible…..this life…..”

Those words that I spoke were the very words that had been circling incessantly in my brain for the longest time now.

So, I could hear, and I could speak.

―Did that mean that I was alive?

“Yuuto! I’m listening! Yuuto!”

“Don’t worry, nothing’s wrong, Mrs. Hashidate. He’s just come to, and he might have some trouble sorting out his memories, but it’ll be temporary. He’ll be back to normal before you know it.”

“I can’t thank you enough, doctor! He’ll be fine, won’t he?”

“Miraculously, he didn’t suffer any major external wounds. Just some minor bruising on his arms and a slight concussion. I would suggest getting some tests done on his head, to be safe.”

Who were they talking about? The voice sounded like my mom’s, but then again, it didn’t quite sound like her, as far as I could tell.

When that guy said “nothing’s wrong,” was he referring to me? I could hear, and speak, too, and this guy who was apparently a doctor had said “nothing’s wrong,” and, uhh, and then. But anyway, I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t move my arms.

Eventually, I came to the hazy realization that I was lying on my back, but I was aware of the fact that my brain couldn’t handle any exertion past that.

Here I was, alive.

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, it was as if the noose of anxiety had been cut loose, and I fell again into a deep sleep.

When my eyes fluttered open, I found myself assaulted on all sides by morning. I swiveled my head to take a good look at my surroundings. It appeared that I was in a hospital room, the small space lit up by the morning sun filtering through the curtains.

I heard a knock at the door. Whoever it was, they opened the door without waiting for my answer, and all color immediaetly fled from the world. The person standing in the doorway was a girl, wearing a white lab coat.

"Dr. Maki-chan's here!"

"I figured at much..."

"Not feeling too well, are you. Shall I give you an injection to make you feel better?"

"My instincts are telling me to save myself, so no thanks, I'll pass."

Maki-chan stood by the bed, looking down at me.

"You did something stupid, yeah?"

She said it like an accusation.

"Did you save me?"

"Of course not," she cooed. "Why would I ever do something like that?"

Now she was wearing a bright smile.

"Yuuto, you fell right smack in the middle of the train tracks~ You lay yourself down so fast it gave me the shock of a lifetime, and the train zoomed right over your body~ But you're fine. The only injuries that you've sustained are on your arms and head from actually falling onto the tracks. Since you hit your head, they've run you through tests, but you're right as rain. Nothing wrong with you now."

"Nothing wrong..."

"Yep. Your little leap into the abyss has no consequences now. You tried so hard, too."

"What about the reset button...?"

"It's still here. You can still use it. Only if you want to, though."

"Hey, Maki-chan, why did you decide to give me the reset button?"

I asked the same question as I'd asked in the dream from earlier―though whether that was really a dream or not, I couldn't say.

"Well, because you had a strong wish."

It was the same answer I'd gotten earlier. But unlike last time, she continued.

"My kind are able to exist because of the strong desires that humans harbor."

"What do you mean by that?"

"The wishes of people, the strongest wishes, are what brought me into being and continue to give me the power to live."

"...So, like a god or something?"

"If that's what you think, then perhaps."

So Maki-chan was a god...

I felt conflicted. If Maki-chan really were a god, then what was the meaning behind all the head-bowing I had done at shrines, with my palms pressed together? Had I been barking up the wrong tree all this time? Were those gods that we revered all really just incomprehensible, cosplaying girls?

"So, then...suppose I wish for everything you've done for me to be wiped away. Could you grant that wish?"

"I've already granted you a wish, haven't I?"

"Yeah, but..."

"It was because you had a strong wish that I granted it. Even if you wish for something else because your previous wish didn't go well, the new wish has little chance of surpassing the first one in strength."

"I get what you mean, but..."

"Your voice is listless, Yuuto. Weak as water. Your thoughts and wishes, too, are all weak. Are you even breathing?"

"Didn't you just tell me earlier that I was alive and well?"

"Haven't you heard of something people call 'the living dead'?"

"That sounds really cool, actually."

"It's not, though. You wouldn't know if you were dead or alive. Maybe you would call it being half-dead, half-alive?"

"What, like Schr?dinger's cat?"

"More like a picture taken at the exact, decisive instant when Schr?dinger swung a hammer down at the skull of his pet cat. I think he won the Pulitzer Prize later that year."

"Don't just make stuff up."

"Beings that are half-dead and half-alive are about as cool as the lie I just told."

What was Maki-chan even here for? Was she here to laugh at me for trying to die, failing, and ending up in the hospital?

I looked up at her face, which was looking down at me from my bedside, and sure enough, her mouth was curved in a smile. But it wasn't a sneer; rather, it was a calm smile. One that said "Go on, do what you want," like I was being flung out of the nest.

"Your breakfast will be here soon. I hope you'll be able to eat it."

For the first time since I'd woken up, I noticed how hungry I was.

Next thing I knew, color had returned to the world, and Maki-chan was gone.

That afternoon, Shuu and Natsuki came to visit me. Having only eaten the bland hospital breakfast earlier, I was glad to receive an assortment of cakes and snacks from them. Apparently it was Natsuki’s idea.

“I was surprised at first,” began Natsuki.

“We heard that you went and fell onto the train tracks.”

“They said that you were mostly unhurt, so I assumed that you had managed to slip to the wall and squeeze by, but it turned out you stayed right under the train.”

“I don’t remember that happening at all.”

“Do you have memory loss? Are you okay? I might’ve told you something weird earlier…”

“I think I’ll be fine…”

Natsuki looked at me, worry showing clearly in her eyes. She remembered the last conversation we’d had, which meant there hadn’t been a reset of the world yet.

“How long have I been here?”

“No idea, man. I didn’t ask.”

“I met with your mom, but she mostly just told us to let you rest. Which we plan to do, of course. She also called me late last night, telling me that you had gone out and weren’t back yet. I couldn’t believe that you of all people would stay out all night and fall onto the tracks just in time for the first train to arrive.”

“Yuuto, you weren’t…trying to leave this world behind, were you?”

“…I don’t really remember.”

I shook my head. It was half-lie, half-truth. M memories of last night’s events were still indistinct, but I knew that the moment I leapt in front of the train, I thought to myself that the world would be perfect if I were no longer in it.

Despite that, I was still alive.

Natsuki, perhaps mistaking the shaking of my head as an indication that it hurt, asked,

“Would it be better if we left for now?”

“No, it’s okay. Actually I’d like for you to stay, Natsuki. And you, of course, Shuu.”

Natsuki broke into a smile, the first smile she’d had since she arrived at the hospital. It was a smile that made me feel at peace all the way to the depths of my soul.

“I’m glad that you at least remembered us.”

“Of course I would.”

“We heard from your mother that your memories might be sort of mixed up, so I discussed it for a while with Natsuki.”

Natsuki and Shuu exchanged glances.

“We were worried that you’d forgotten us, so we wanted to make sure that you remembered our names.”

So that’s what it was. At first I’d been puzzled as to why they had been acting so stiffly, but really, the fact was that I, who never loitered around outside late at night, had stayed out until morning and gotten myself nearly run over by a train. Of course they’d all be worried.

“Have I cleared your suspicions, then?”

“Mhm.”

“Yeah, I’m glad you’re okay.”

After that, the three of us dedicated ourselves to eating our way through the cakes and snacks.

This moment was something that I could truly call happiness. The three of us, noisy and lively, feeling like we would stick together forever, transcending any worries about who stuck to whom, who liked whom, who hated whom.

I was, in a way, totally satisfied with the current situation.

“Just here to check up on you.”

I braced myself for the arrival of Dr. Maki-chan…nevermind, it was a normal doctor. Just like her, he wore a white coat, but unlike her, he actually gave off a feeling of authority.

After a couple of questions about how I was feeling, he examined my arms and head. There seemed to be no serious problems.

I lay down face-up in bed and closed my eyes.

What should I do now, I wondered. Even if I were to reset once more and return to the platform where I had jumped in front of the train, unless I made some decisive changes, the outcome would remain the same. This I knew from the resets that I had done thus far.

The world would become perfect if I were to disappear, but I couldn’t even manage that much.

I heard the door to my room opening, and opened my eyes. Like I'd anticipated, the world had gone monochrome.

"Why the hell are you a nurse now?!"

Instead of a doctor's outfit, Maki-chan walked in dressed as a nurse.

"I thought it'd be nice to switch it up once in a while. Does it look good? Which one's better, the doctor outfit or the nurse one?"

"I couldn't care less. I'm not into that stuff!"

I raised my voice a bit. I mean, here I was, with all sorts of things to worry about, and she comes sauntering in like it's all a big game. She was just putting me in these monochrome worlds to get a kick out of bothering me, I thought, and heaved out a sigh with each breath I took.

"I just wanted to wear it for a bit...you don't have to give me that look."

She pouted for a few seconds before realizing that yes, she had gone too far, and turned to me imploringly with puppy-dog eyes.

I knew, too, that it was immature to pout about things and stay mad, so I blurted, by way of apology, "Sorry. For yelling at you."

The second I finished talking, Maki-chan's clouded expression brightened, like a switch had been flipped. "I'm sorry too, Yuuto. I didn't know that you liked the doctor outfit better than the nurse one. I'll be sure to wear the doctor one next time!"

She was totally on the wrong track, but it would be a pain to correct her, so I let it slide.

"Your friends came by to visit, right?"

"Yeah, they did. They're both good friends. I'd like to be with them forever, like how it is now."

Oh. Like how it was now. In which case Natsuki would continue to like Shuu, and would continue to be unable to tell him her feelings, and her illness would continue to get worse. And I would just stand there, unable to do a thing.

That was the reality I faced at that moment. In this not-yet-reset world, not one of my problems had been resolved. Without the button, I could do nothing, and if I were to slip up, I couldn't steer back onto the right path without resetting.

But I would do my best, to, uh...I would...huh? What would I even do my best to do?

"Maki-chan, since you're a god, can't you cure Natsuki's illness?"

"Does she wish for it to happen? Even if that were the case, I've never met Natsuki-chan before, so I don't think I have any obligation to grant her wishes. Anyway, this world that the two of us are talking in is a world that no one else can see or enter."

I couldn't imagine what was going on in Maki-chan's head for her to flippantly give me such a cruel answer.

As a god, she wouldn't be expected to have any feelings in the first place, but she'd sat in here, laughing and pouting, hadn't she? How could she be so coldhearted towards Natsuki's plightnow ?

".....Hey, Maki-chan, there are many people in this world who wish for things, right? Do you just stand there and worldlessly watch those people?"

"Well, I'm nothing but a stroke of luck."

"You mean like, only people who win the lottery of life will gain happiness?"

"Something like that."

Did that even count as a god? No, wait, she never even made the claim that she herself was a god. But someone who was born from the emotions of humans, someone whose purpose is to fulfill wishes―what else could that be, other than a god?

Even assuming that she weren't a god―say, for example, that she were a devil instead, then still, she's at least granted one of my wishes, which made her, in my opinion, better than any of the gods to whom I tossed money into the boxes at shrines but who had not once done a single thing for me. If Maki-chan were to meet Natsuki, would she grant her wish? Should Natsuki offer some money at a shrine and ask Maki-chan for a favor? Should she pray and everything? Ring the shrine bell?** Where did Maki-chan reside, normally? Where was her shrine? Oh, maybe I could bring Natsuki into the monochrome world...well, probably not, so maybe I should set Natsuki and Maki-chan up with each other, and have Natsuki make a wish. Ugh...I couldn't even estimate how likely it was for that to succeed. My brain simply refused to work...!

"Yuuto, does your head hurt?"

Somehow, during course my internal struggle, my hands had reached up to cradle my head between them.

"The doctor said that everything looked fine, right...? In my hippocampus, that is."

"That's only what it looks like. But if you look closely, with your heart, then you can see that your hippocampus is damaged."

"But the MRI scans showed..."

"I'm just warning you here. Your hippocampus is on the verge of breaking. You can still use the reset button, but if you keep resetting any more than you have, you'll never be able to remember or recall anything every again, and just become a soulless husk of a person, a doll."

"A soulless husk...a doll.....?"

"Yuuto, how much of the past can you remember right now?"

".....Even that's hard to tell right now. It's not like I've forgotten things, just that when I try to recall something, my head starts to hurt. I'll be able to figure my memories out when that gets better. I'm taking meds, so it'll be fine, right?"

The innocent air that Maki-chan exuded earlier had now all but disappeared, and her expression darkened considerably.

"Your brain has even forgotten the fact that it has forgotten the past. It thinks that those events could never have happened in the first place."

The cards that she held in her hands were all what seemed to be my memories, fragments of my past that I had absolutely no recollection of. My memories of Natsuki from when we were kids were all surely gone as well.

".....Well, it's no big deal," I muttered, without a hint of putting up any kind of strong front.

"Yuuto..."

"It doesn't matter. If I can't remember them, it's like they never happened in the first place. Any memory, once truly forgotten, won't even leave a trace to remember. After all, I don't even remember that I've forgotten them..."

It didn't matter, right?

That was enough discussion about my tossing aside the past; wasn't there a future that I needed to save instead? Because of that, although the idea that everything I've done in the past is correct is admittedly patently untrue, isn't it true that they weren't all mistakes, either?

Anyway, I could accept that there were things that I simply could not achieve.

Would you like the golden axe or the silver axe? What is the happiness that you wish to acquire most? ―I guess they're pretty different questions, after all. Nevertheless, the happiness that my brother would surely acquire with such deftness was something that I had trouble grasping for. That was all it was.

Nurse Maki-chan was smiling. A white-clad angel**. Or would you have to call her a white-clad god instead?

Or maybe she was a devil, dressed in white?

No, none of those worked. Maki-chan was just Maki-chan, nothing more and nothing less.

Maki-chan was exactly what she was, and I couldn't imagine her as anything beyond that.

The purest existence, an embodiment of purity itself.

Maybe what I'd meant by "perfect and tidy" had been this girl, the epitome of purity.

If that were true, then that would, perhaps, make her the cruelest being of all.

I finally returned to school in late September.

“Hashidate Yuuto will resume his attendance at school, starting today.”

My classmates acknowledged the teacher’s announcement with nods. I waved at them uncharacteristically, still kind of out of it.

“We have one other announcement. Sugita Natsuki-san?”

“Yes.”

Natsuki stood from her seat.

“It’s slightly ironic that I’m leaving the day Yuuto comes back, but I’d like to let you all know that starting this afternoon, I will be staying at the hospital as an inpatient.”

Upon hearing what she had to say, the classroom descended into chaos.

“I’m sorry for not saying anything about it before. I’ve been ill for a long time, and my doctor has informed me that it’s now time for me to be hospitalised. So I’ll do that for a while. It might be for a long time, but I’ll be sure to come back.”

I was jerked back to reality. Yes, this was really happening.

The cause of Natsuki’s illness remained unknown, and her 3-month fate remained sealed. Counting forward three months from mid-July…that meant that she had but one month left to live.

What would she do in the hospital for that one remaining month? Had they found a way to cure her yet? If so, she might make it.

The class, oblivious to her situation, took the announcement lightly, saying, “M'kay, do your best,” and laughing through their farewells. Only I knew the truth. She looked healthy at first glance, but I knew she didn’t have long to live.

Recalling what I’d said to Maki-chan, I wondered if this final month would continue like how it was now.

Natsuki left school early, before noon.

When school ended, Shuu came up to me, saying,

“Are you going to go see Natsuki?”

“…..Yeah.”

Shuu stood in the bus headed towards the hospital, gazing outside in silence. I, too, watched the scenery rush by. We were never too fond of spoken conversation anyway, normally linked by some unspoken thread of communication. But today, even that felt…faint.

We asked the receptionist for Natsuki’s room number, and headed for the inpatient ward of the department of internal medicine. Natsuki had a private room.

She brightly greeted us with a full smile.

“That’s funny,” remarked Shuu. “Are you hiding anything from us, Natsuki? Your sudden hospitalisation is one thing, but having a private room when you’re acting like there aren’t any serious issues? Now that’s unusual.”

“Oh, come one, who cares…”

The light dismissal that she chirped in response only served to unsettle him further.

“There’s no doubt you’re ill, but what I want to know is, why didn’t you tell me about it? Aren’t we friends?”

“…..Friends. That’s right, we’re friends, yes.”

The tone of Natsuki’s voice dropped a notch.

“So since we’re friends and all, wouldn’t you think to confide in me?”

“Well, Yuuto knew.”

The conversation was suddenly jerked in my direction, and I fumbled for a reply.

“What’s the meaning of this?”

“Ah, well, you see…..that time that I went to the hospital, I bumped into her here, so that’s how I came to know about it.”

It didn’t seem like a good idea to disclose the details of her illness.

“So I was the only one who didn’t know. So, what were you diagnosed with?”

“We don’t really know.”

“Give me a break! What have you guys been doing behind my back this whole time?”

No, that’s not what’s happening, really.

My knowledge of Natsuki’s illness was purely accidental, and she would have kept it from everyone if she could have. I think she tried especially hard to keep Shuu from finding out.

Point was, Natsuki was going to die, right? In a month?

Was that something so easily confided to others, even close friends?

Furthermore, Shuu was special to Natsuki.

“You don’t know anything, so don’t go around saying whatever you want.”

“Yeah, well the reason I don’t know anything is because you never bothered to tell me.”

“Like I would tell you these things! Get out of my room!”

“Fine, I will!”

Shuu really did end up leaving the room. I looked over at Natsuki, who looked so lonely, having been left behind and now stuck in the bed.

“Natsuki, I’m sorry,”

“Why are you apologizing?”

I couldn’t answer that. I knew that if only I were gone, then the world would be perfect, but I couldn’t tell her that.

I didn’t want our friendship to become strained like this. I just wanted the three of us to stay friends. Natsuki, Shuu, and I were all at our limits.

The more I thought about it, the less it made sense in my head.

We sat in silence for over ten minutes. Someone knocked at the door, and Natsuki let them in. It was Dr. Kakitagawa.

“Today, I brought someone I wanted to introduce to Sugita-san.”

A tall man appeared from behind the doctor. He wore a black jacket and black necktie, and his hair was slicked back in a professional manner, revealing a sharp gaze―

“Meet Hashidate Taishi.”

“Taishi!”

“You look well, Yuuto. I didn’t know you would be here.”

“Hashidate-kun here is going to be my assistant starting today. He’ll be contributing to finding the cure for Sugita-san’s disease, as well.”

My brother was here! If anyone could cure Natsuki, it would be him.

Despite the fact that we hadn’t met in years, I still saw the boldness written in his face, and to me, that meant hope.

I left for the roof with my brother.

The last time I had come here was that time with Dr. Kakitagawa.

It was hot up on the roof, but I felt incredibly free.

“Taishi, you’ll be able to cure her, right?”

“How much did Dr. Kakitagawa tell you?”

I explained what I knew about Natsuki’s illness, about how she had a tumor that would affect her digestive and respiratory systems, the existence of other people with the same illness, and how a cure hadn’t been found yet, as well as I could.

“The first death from the disease occurred yesterday.”

“Death? You mean…..?”

“The number of patients has been increasing. There are no clear symptoms, so diagnosis often comes too late. The one who died yesterday was a 30-year-old salaryman. Being completely healthy otherwise, it never occurred to him to visit the hospital. He coughed up blood in his home, was brought here by the ambulance, and was pronounced dead upon arrival. It was only after they administered an autopsy that signs of illness were found. There will be more patients in the near future. It’s a shame that it’s fatal.”

“No…Dr. Kakitagawa said that he’d find a cure…..”

“The research is still ongoing, and we have an understanding of the disease, to a certain extent. A cure has yet to be found. We can slow the progression of the disease by treating its symptoms, but that’s all we have for now.”

“B-but, you’re here to help find a cure, right?”

“Yes, I am. But seeing as I’m not even certified as a doctor, treatment is outside of my jurisdiction. The most I can do here is assist with testing patients. Here, Yuuto, I’ll do as much as I can to examine Sugita Natsuki and the others for clues. Then I’ll write up a report, and analyze the data. That’s my role here.”

“O-okay. Got it.”

Like I mentioned earlier, my brother was a college student, and only a second-year, at that. The fact that Dr. Kakitagawa had asked for his help despite that showed the trust that he had in my brother’s skills. Just by knowing that, you could tell that my brother was incredible.

Everything would be okay. Everything would turn out fine, because Taishi was here now.

A sense of relief spread through my body.

The last thing I asked before we parted was a question that I’d wanted to ask for a long time but had never gotten the chance to do so.

“Hey, Taishi.”

“What?”

“Why did you choose to go to university?”

He gave me that bold smirk of his, and answered.

“I wanted to create a perfect world.”

Oh, wonderful. My brother was the same as always, perfect and tidy.

Later that day, Taishi drove me home in his car. I hadn’t known, but at some point he’d acquired a license and his own car. It was a blue sports car, secondhand, bought cheap from one of his upperclassmen from college. Taishi was, I thought as he handled the sports car with ease, really cool in the simplest of ways.

Part 2

Natsuki’s tests continued. She had her blood drawn and was on an antibacterial IV drip practically every day.

“All this, even though I feel perfectly healthy. I wonder if I should make a break for it.”

“Don’t say stupid stuff like that.”

Seeing as I didn’t have any club activities, I visited Natsuki in her hospital room most every day. Though she seemed healthy enough, I still couldn’t help but notice that she was getting thinner every day. No, even that wasn’t quite true―it was more like I forced myself to notice.

Ever since that day, Shuu hadn’t visited Natsuki even once.

“My muscles are practically dissolving from me sleeping around all day. On the bright side, it’s kind of like a diet, but still, I can feel myself going blobby. Look, my calves are all squishy now.”

“Don’t stick your bare legs out from under the covers at me.”

“Aw, feeling shy, now? You shouldn’t be thinking lewd thoughts about the legs of a hospital patient.”

“N-no, I was…”

“Actually thinking lewd thoughts?”

“Oh. Kinda…”

“Well, good.”

Having boarded this awkward train of conversation, I found it difficult to segue onto the next topic. This was all Natsuki’s fault.

She suddenly blurted, “You know, I’m getting weaker by the day.”

“For some reason, it doesn’t really show on the outside, but the doctors told me that my strength will suddenly decrease.”

“Well, I mean, you’ve got a tumor. They can’t perform surgery on it?”

“I asked that, too…they said they can’t. It’s not like a normal tumor, it’s more like there are these tiny little ones dotted around everywhere, so it’s not like you can just go in and remove it.”

“Even so, they could at least…!”

“It was my choice. If I’m going to die, I’d rather go without having scars.”

“Don’t say things like that.”

“…I guess you’re right.”

Her reason to leave her body unscarred was probably something to do with Shuu. You could say that it was beyond cruel for her to tell that to me, the one who had once confessed to her, but on the other hand, I was the only one to whom she could speak frankly about her illness.

I took in her words silently, slowly digesting them, with no intention of telling anyone else. These very words might give me an upset stomach later, but if this was my role, then so be it.

I saw the door to the room open just a crack. A little girl peeked in, eyeing us curiously.

“Come in, Serina-chan.”

At Natsuki’s invitation, the child opened the door, revealing a pajama-clad girl who looked to be in about third grade.

“Is he your boyfriend?” the girl asked.

“Nope~”

That hurt. It was the truth, though.

“Is she a patient, too?” I asked.

“Yeah…she has the same illness. She’s one of the kids who I saved during the station fire incident a while ago.”

“Yep! Natsuki-chan is Serina’s hero! She was super cool!! She went all Pshhhh!!!!! with the white smoky stuff!”

“Smoky stuff? Oh, with the fire extinguisher.”

“She was super super into it!”

“Yeah, well, I kind of got overexcited.”

The fire back then had been threatening to spiral out of control, so no wonder Natsuki had gone above and beyond.

In doing so, she had become this child’s hero.

“Wouldn’t have expected anything less,” I chucked to myself. Natsuki heard me, though.

“What?”

“Didn’t you want to become a superhero? I guess you are one now.”

“N-no, wait, I never said that, I’m not a little boy.”

“Oh, yes you did.”

“Natsuki-chan’s my hero!”

Faced with Serina’s boundless enthusiasm, Natsuki couldn’t help but to smile warmly and nod her assent.

October arrived, and Natsuki’s strength rapidly decreased. The number of strange machines present in her room slowly grew. There were generally 2 IVs attached to Natsuki at any given time.

To tell the truth, I was terrified.

Before she was hospitalised, she had been the picture of health, and I always assumed that as long as she stayed in the hospital, she would make a complete recovery.

Now, that thought seemed nothing more than a fanciful delusion, as Natsuki’s condition grew worse by the day.

There were more and more people staying in the ward suffering from the same disease.

It seemed like they were collecting all the people with Natsuki’s disease in this hospital, for some reason.

The second person who’d died was an elderly person, 82 years old, and the third victim―not a person, per se― had been a pet poodle.

Having arrived at this stage of outbreak, the people in charge decided to give an official announcement about this mysterious disease, by way of Associate Professor Kakitagawa holding a press conference. Natsuki and I watched it on broadcast relay from her hospital room.

“We are currently in discussion with the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare on this subject. Furthermore, we have, at this time, isolated the virus that causes the disease. This virus’s infectious capacity is relatively low, and we have established that it is incapable of airborne transmission. There are some cases we have found where transmission was made by direct contact, but these cases are in the minority. There are currently 24 cases in this hospital. Two have passed away. Risk of infection seems unrelated to age or gender. We are collaborating with the police in an attempt to identify the origin of the disease, but as of now, our top priority is finding a cure.”

“Dr. Kakitagawa, I’ve heard that you are a biotechnology major who is currently working at Kouga University. Is there any possibility of your biotechnology research becoming involved?”

“If we can utilize biotechnology to pick out a large number of targets, then I’m sure we can work more easily with the tools we have. The chances seem slim, but we are still exploring this possiblity.”

“You mentioned that there are quite a few people who are infected. What is the means by which the disease is transmitted?”

“It’s unmistakable that this disease has a very low infectious capacity. By altering the environment and temperature, we can manipulate its infectious capacity in an upward direction. It is a great shame to have to say this, but this is all of the information we have so far.”

The Dr. Kakitagawa on the television screen had, indeed, the air of a doctor on the side of justice, one who was fighting with all his power against an incurable disease. That was partially due to his statement that there was little risk of contagion, as well as the fact that the purpose of the broadcast had been to try and lessen panic. The doctor was good at this kind of thing.

Natsuki sat unmoving, her eyes still glued to the screen. She didn’t say a word.

Just then, I heard a noise from the hall. Upon opening the door, a familiar set of pajamas. It was girl from before, collapsed face-down on the floor.

“Serina-chan!”

“Natsuki, call the nurse!”

“Got it!”

When I scooped the little girl up into my arms, repositioning her to make it easier for her to breathe, I noticed blood on my palm. There was blood was smeared all over my hands.

The little girl coughed violently in my arms, and I rubbed her back soothingly. She coughed up a large amount of blood, mixed with phlegm and stomach acid.

Serina continued coughing up blood.

There was now red spilling everywhere around me on the bed.

“No-!!”

Natsuki’s shriek wrenched me back to reality. The girl still lay in my arms, blood all around her mouth.

A doctor and nurse burst into the room, whisking us away.

The sensation of blood on my hand refused to disappear.

I sat in a folding chair in Natsuki’s hospital room. Natsuki had flung herself into the bed face-down, sobbing. I had no words with which to comfort her. It took everything I had in me just to keep myself together.

Natsuki continued crying on the bed, her voice muffled by the pillow. It didn’t look like she was going to stop anytime soon.

Just imagining Natsuki in that awful state made my heart clench. Was this it? Was this how it would go? Would her final moments be full of coughing up blood and writhing in pain? Why did this have to happen?

“…I want to die,” mumbled Natsuki, her voice thick with tears. “I’d rather overdose on a whole bunch of pills than die like that.”

“Don’t say things like that. Dr. Kakitagawa and Taishi are going to find you a cure, no matter what.”

“And what if I die before they find one? I’m scared. I just want to get it over with.”

No. That was all wrong. I knew it was wrong, but what could I say to Natsuki at a time like this?

“I see. Say, Natsuki, Do you remember what happened in elementary school? When we played with that second-grader in the park?”

“…..Yeah.”

She answered with her face still buried in the bed, not even turning her face to speak.

“You delivered a full-on body slam to that guy to protect me and Takeru, the second-grader. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. I wanted to become like you. That’s the strong Natsuki who I know can keep on living.”

“Yuuto, sorry, but…you won’t like what I’m about to say,” Natsuki interrupted. I leaned forward in my chair, hoping to catch each muffled word that left her mouth.

“Don’t you remember what happened after that?”

“Huh?”

“That second-grader, Takeru, was abused later, by his real father. The person who had come to pick him up was his father’s elder brother, his uncle, who had come to rescue Takeru from his father. But we got in the uncle’s way…in the end, Takeru was taken away by his father.”

“That’s can’t be right.”

I had no memory of such a thing, no recollection of that development ever happening.

“One week after that, Takeru was handed over to a child consultation center to be taken care of, and it was quite the scandal…”

“…I had no idea.”

I really had no idea. I couldn’t remember a thing.

Why couldn’t I?

“I don’t want to bring up bad memories like that. I’ve always questioned myself, deep in my heart―why couldn’t I save Takeru-kun that day? Back then, I had no way of finding out what happened afterwards, and so I’ve never been able to uncover the exact details of the events that happened later…”

I sat silent, simply listening to her.

“Bringing up this topic after all this time is so painful. Just being here with you and thinking back to that time is painful.”

No!

I just…perfection…no!

I no longer cared about myself. All that I wanted was for Natsuki to live in happiness.

That was all I needed.

But as I was right now, I wasn’t good for anything.

I couldn’t even comfort her properly…

I persuaded Shuu to visit Natsuki’s hospital room a few days later. However, when we got there, we were met with a “No Visitors Allowed” sign taped to her door. We sat in the visitors’ waiting room, playing on our cellphones to pass the time. The “No Visitors Allowed” sign gave me a bad premonition, but I couldn’t bring myself to put my suspicions to words.

After about an hour had passed, the nurse approached us.

“Her condition’s stable, so the doctor will let you two speak with her, but only breifly.”

When I stepped into the room, the first thing I noticed was that the number of machines had once again risen since yesterday, and so had the number of tubes attached to Natsuki.

Natsuki lay face-up in her bed, breathing softly.

“She’s doing fine right now. You can just sit by her badside,” said the nurse, kindly.

Natsuki’s eyes were only half-open. She was staring at the ceiling, but her gaze flickered to us as we drew closer. She moved her lips, and then rasped out her words with a long sigh.

“It’s painful…why do I feel so bitter…”

Those were the exact words she had once told me. The words she had flung at me, after the thousands of loops that I created stopped her from getting closer to Shuu.

I clenched my fist. Unable to bear looking straight at her face, I directed my gaze to the air above her.

What was I doing? Nothing had changed. I’d done nothing but stand around idly and watch.

I should have at least been able save Natsuki from this pain.

“Shuu.”

I barely managed to squeeze the words from my throat.

“I know that Natsuki confessed to you. And I know that you answered that you wanted the three of us to stay together. So, Shuu―”

“What?”

“I want you to respond to Natsuki’s feelings.”

“But I want the three of us…”

“No! This is different! I’m a good-for-nothing! You’re the one she wants, Shuu. Do you intend to just watch her struggle with her feelings for you as she…gets taken away? She’s important to you, right? I know that she is. So, Shuu…I want you to accept her feelings.”

“…Are you okay with that, Yuuto?”

“I want you to do it. Please.”

Shuu gently took Natsuki’s hand, the one that didn’t have an IV drip in it. Her hand squeezed back.

“Shuu…I guess I still have feelings for you.”

He answered, his gaze never straying from Natsuki’s face.

“…So do I. I can finally admit it―I like you. A lot.”

It’s fine, I’m fine with all this, I convinced myself.

I left the room, trying my best not to make a sound.

Natsuki and Shuu loved each other, and I was nothing but a pest. We were still friends, but we couldn’t keep walking the same path that we had taken before.

I didn’t mind at all. This was yet another answer that I had been searching for all this time.

In the end, on the day Shuu and I visited Natsuki, I only showed up to her room at the very beginning, and spent the remainder of the time sitting alone in the visitors’ waiting room. I wanted to let them have some time to themselves.

I had no knowledge of what they said or did during that time. Those minutes, spent hidden from my eyes, were set aside for Natsuki to enjoy what little time she had left as happily as she could.

I sat on the sofa in the visitors’ waiting room and fiddled with my cellphone.

What was this?

Why did I feel so bitter, dammit?

I thought that all I needed was for Natsuki to be happy. For Shuu to be happy.

Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.

I could feel tears threatening to spill.

It hurt. I felt so hurt. My head, my eyes, my throat, heart, stomach, legs, my fingertips, they all hurt. Hurt so much that I just wanted to lay right down on the sofa and let myself slip into unconsciousness.

I held my knees to my chest, and felt the wetness of my tears seep through the cloth.

My tears wouldn’t stop. I ran the back of my hand over my eyes to wipe them, again and again, yet they wouldn’t stop.

I clamped my hand over my mouth.

The ringing in my ears persisted. The sound prevented me from thinking clearly.

I felt like my emotions would all come spilling out―I wanted to scream, even if people looked at me like I was crazy. I wanted to scream and barrel through the halls of the hospital.

I want someone to look at me.

Please, look at me, I wanted to cry out.

I wanted someone to understand―to see how, no matter how many times I reset, perfection was still out of reach; how I couldn’t even manage to find my own happiness―I wanted someone to understand my pain.

Listen to me.

Look at me.

Understand me.

This was nothing but my own selfishness, a tantrum thrown by the little boy inside my head.

I was bitter, after all. No matter what I did, I still felt bitter.

Help me. Someone, save me from this fate.

I just wanted to be happy.

I liked myself.

I liked Natsuki―loved her.

I liked Shuu. I liked them both.

Their happiness was supposed to be my salvation.

Natsuki was happy, Shuu was happy. That had been my one and only wish, but…

The tears overflowed, and still would not stop.

Finally, the time came.

It was around noon, on a Monday.

Shuu and I had both been in class as usual when the head teacher ran down the hall and burst in through the door.

“I’ve just received news from her mother that Sugita Natsuki has passed away.”

Shuu and I both stood up before the teacher finished his sentence. We picked up our bags with our wallets inside and practically flew from the room. We both knew, without saying anything, that we were headed for the hospital.

The bus ride was excruciatingly slow. I could see that Shuu was trembling. I had never seen him so agitated in my life.

We lurched into the hospital room, only to find that the bed was empty.

“Yuuto! I’m going to head to my place.”

“Okay. Here, take this.”

I threw my wallet to him. Our wallets combined would likely hold enough cash for him to take a taxi. Shuu accepted the wallet and nodded, then ran out.

It occurred to me as I watched him leave that it would cost just as much for both of us to sit in the same taxi as it would if he took the taxi alone. Even at times like this, I managed to be an idiot.

I really was an idiot.

I stared blankly at the now-unoccupied bed. The sheets were fresh, so there was no trace of anyone having been there at all.

Had Natsuki passed away without feeling any pain? Or had she gone violently, coughing up blood?

I prayed that it was the former.

“Uu…gh….Natsu…ki…uwaaa…Na…tsuki…”

I hugged my knees tighty to my chest, stifling my sobs. Then I bent down and rested my head against the bed, and took to pummelling the mattress with my fists.

How could I let this happen? Why did Natsuki have to die?

Why?!

“…Yuuto-kun,” I heard a voice behind me say. I replied without even turning around.

“…Dr. Kakitagawa…You said you would save Natsuki…”

“I’m sorry.”

“Taishi and you…both…”

“Do you really think you have nothing to do with this?”

“…Excuse me?”

I raised my tear-streaked face at the doctor’s vexing question.

“Do you really have nothing to do with Hashidate-kun’s actions?”

“What do you mean?”

“…There’s something I need to talk to you about. The timing’s unfortunate, but please wipe your tears and come to the roof with me.”

I nodded, listlessly.

There was a slight wind up on the roof. The clear autumn sky stretched far above me.

The doctor walked up to the railing that enclosed the roof, and leaned on it.

“Mind if I smoke?”

I didn’t have the strength to answer.

“The death of a patient always really makes me want to smoke.”

He pursed his lips and tilted his head up, blowing smoke into the air. For someone who said that there was something he needed to talk to me about, he sure didn’t look like he was in a hurry to say anything.

My patience was starting to wear thin. Natsuki was dead, and he just wanted to stand around like it was none of his business?

“What did you want to talk about? If you’ve got nothing to say, I’d like to go home.”

His face suddenly took on a expression of deep thought, and he let out a sigh before speaking in a quiet, but clearly audible voice.

“The one who made the virus…was me.”

“What?!”

I didn’t understand.

“Wh-what do you…”

“The virus that has claimed victim after victim was made in my own laboratory.”

He calmly snuffed his cigarrette in his portable ashtray.

All the blood suddenly rushed to my head, and I lunged at Dr. Kakitagawa.

“Wh-why did you infect Natsuki with it, then? Why?!” I demanded, glaring at him.

“I’m really sorry. Apologizing won’t solve the problem, I know…But I knew that I would have to take responsibility sooner or later. Actually, though, there’s something that I must ask of you.”

“What do you want?”

“Please stop Hashidate Taishi―please stop your brother.”

“Huh?”

What was he talking about?

“Why him?”

“He tricked me. No, he tricked everyone. I had intended to wash my hands of the matter, to destroy the entire experiment. But then, he…he got…”

As he spoke, I could see his will cracking, like a dam at its bursting point. His voice trembled.

“That virus was made completely by accident…”

I stood in silence, waiting to hear what he would say next.

From what I could tell, at first, it was just an experiment to create a virus with low infectious capacity. It was just something for his thesis, totally useless and meant to be discarded afterwards, but then Danan Pharmaceutical, one of the major American pharmaceutical companies, requested to do co-research with Dr. Kakitagawa’s lab. The grant money made it hard for his struggling lab to refuse the offer.

At first, research went smoothly. However, it turned out that Danan’s goal was to create a virus with a low infectious capacity but a high fatality rate―over 90%. They wanted to use it as a bioweapon, for the purpose of assassinations. The most worrisome part was its low infectious capacity―in order for it to infect someone, the temperature needed to be raised to rather high levels, and test showed that the slightest error in the environment prevented the virus from spreading, even though direct contact.

At around that time, my brother started showing up at Dr. Kakitagawa’s lab.

Fired up at the prospect of taking such a kind, ideal student under his wing, the doctor trusted him immediately.

“On the first day of school, someone at school died. That night, I planned to get the virus and all of the data associated with it out of the school and dispose of it somewhere safe. I didn’t want to dig myself any deeper.”

“So then, what does Taishi have to do with…”

“I can’t drive, so I asked him to help me transport it, but…he betrayed me, and made off with the virus.”

“Hold on for a second. Taishi would never do anything like that.”

“You may think that, but he’s the only one who could have done it, as far as I know. He took it and ran off, somehow slipping through my fingers.”

Dr. Kakitagawa lost his composure by then. He pulled out another cigarette, despite having just finished one, and tried to light it. The wind must have picked up quite a bit, because his lighter kept going out. Eventually, he managed to light his cigarette, the trembling of his hands making the flame flicker just the slightest bit.

If Taishi were betrayed and cornered like this, he still wouldn’t lose him composure, I thought to myself.

“Do you remember the fire that broke out at the station while people were inside?”

Of course I remembered. I was there.

“…That was his doing. He created that situation in order to infect the people inside. He forced the station to become an airtight container, and using explosives, caused a fire in order to raise the temperature inside. Those were the optimal conditions for the virus to spread. Then he let the virus loose inside.”

“No, you can’t be―”

“Every single person with the illness had also been trapped in the concourse that day.”

“Eh…?”

It made sense. Natsuki and Serina-chan had both been there.

But that didn’t necessarily mean that…

“We gathered all of the victims in this hospital. Of course, when it was discovered that the cause was this virus, the police and counter-terrorism division were sent to try and find the origin of the outbreak. I didn’t want to cause a panic at the press conference, so I didn’t reveal everything, but it’s clear to me that eventually your brother and I will be exposed as the creators. It’s unheard of, unthinkable even, for a Japanese university undergraduate to commit such acts of bioterrorism on his own. Naturally, I won’t be spared.”

But…

“But that day, Taishi knew that I was going to be at the station. He would never think to spread the virus there. If he really were involved in that terrorist attack, then he would have stopped me from going to the station.”

“…You don’t know your brother very well, then.”

Huh…?

What was he trying to say?

I didn’t know my brother very well?

What the hell do you think you know about him, then?!

I wanted to lunge at him, to scream in his face, but I managed to hold back.

“Hashidate Taishi―your brother―is a deviant.”

He turned to face me, his eyes unfocused. “Please. Stop him. He has more up his sleeve. He still has that virus. There’s nothing more that I can do…”

Stop him, he said?

Dr. Kakitagawa slumped down into a sitting position, as if his very will were crumbling. I looked down, deep in thought.

It made no sense.

No sense at all.

What would Taishi have to gain from spreading this disease?

There was no motive.

But if everything the doctor said was true, then Natsuki contracted the disease that day at the station. If only I hadn’t asked her to meet me at the station―no, that wasn’t enough. Unless I did something to thwart the incident as a whole, the course of history would simply return to what was happening now.

Think. Think hard.

“But, if I reset again…on the other hand, Natsuki…”

I muttered to myself, my head hanging.

Dr. Kakitagawa looked up at me pleadingly.

Underneath that clear, sunny sky, strong winds battered the rooftop.

My mind was about to break, in accordance with all of the resets I had done. Would it really just stop working?

Beyond that was nothingness.

Days filled with blank space flew by, falling apart one by one as my life unfolded in my head.

Not remembering anything, not recalling anything―just passively existing, a hollow human-shaped container.

It was frightening, but Natsuki was―

Natsuki was dead.

In all of my memories, Natsuki was smiling. That smile was for me, as a friend. Even though I wanted to be so much more.

I wanted her to keep smiling. If I could help Natsuki and Shuu live out their lives in happiness, then my own life was a small price to pay.

I had already died that day, at the station platform.

If I had to give my life to save Natsuki, then so be it.

I clenched my hands and drew in a deep breath, then turned to face the sky as I shouted.

“Maki-chan!”

Did she hear me? Was she even there?

“I don’t care if I guve up every single brain cell I have! I want to reset one more time!”

It didn’t matter if my brain stopped working after that one reset. I would rebuild my life one last time with every drop of strength I could muster.

It didn’t matter anymore.

I took out the reset button, and held it above my head.

Maki-chan, thank you for the advice. Thank you for giving me the reset button.

I’ll use the strength that you lent me, the strength of my wish, to save my beloved friends.

I opened my eyes, gazing straight at the sky. One finger pressed down on the button.

―Reset.

The world wavered. This time, it pitched wildly back and forth, and my vision multiplied, layers sliding over each other.

“This is the last game, you know,” said Maki-chan. Her voice reverberated through the air.

The Novel will be updated first on Freeᴡebn(ᴏ)vel. cᴏm . Come back and continue reading tomorrow, everyone!😉

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