* 67 *

Once we found the to-be scene of the accident and made our preparations, we appeared to be about five minutes from the power outage.
I think we were able to prepare with so much time to spare thanks to Hiiragi immediately knowing what I was trying to tell her.

We stood together under a streetlight and waited for the power outage.
Hiiragi timidly tapped my shoulder and asked: "Have you ever saved someone like this before?"
"No. This is my first time," I said. "So I wouldn't say I'm doing such a good thing here. I should have been someone who could save innumerable people's lives, but I'm only now choosing to save two people I wanted saved. But isn't everyone like that, more or less? I don't think I should feel especially guilty."

"...I see. When you put it that way, you might be right. It's my first time using my memories to save anyone too," she said. "Ever since the second time started, I never once thought to use my memories to do anything. You can see how it turned out, but really, I just wished I could copy my past life -"
"So did I," I admitted with guilt. "Never had any other intention."
"...I see," Hiiragi smiled, her head low.

Her smile was with lips tightly shut, and the corners of her mouth only slightly raised, but it was oddly reminiscent of my own.
It was a smile of precaution. An expression commonly worn by cowards who feared even happiness.

My heart was filled with guilt to see her like that.
"I'm really sorry for getting you involved in this," I said. "I know I have no right to ask you to help. After all - it's all my fault in the first place. If I'd driven more carefully in my first life, this wouldn't have happened. If I hadn't made such a stupid blunder, all the people around me would just be able to live happily."

Hiiragi raised an index finger. "Hey, can you tell me one thing?"
"What?", I asked.
Hiiragi spoke faintly. "Maybe what we're about to do, might not be a very good thing to do. Maybe we made an awful mistake competing for the ones we treasured most. Maybe it was your blunder that sent people's lives in a worse direction the second time. Maybe there's no going back from everything that's changed in the past decade. ...But still, there's no reason I can't be happy, is there?"
I faltered slightly with surprise. "Err... Um, maybe not, I suppose."

"I'm glad I could talk to you like this again," Hiiragi said, then narrowed her eyes. "Hey, do you think we should be rejoicing right now? Sure, we've been together all this time, but isn't this the first time we've really recognized each other? Can we call this a reunion in our second lives?"
I knew my mouth was loosening. "You're right, you're right. Okay, well, let's celebrate our reunion."
This was really the kind of conversation that suited us, I thought.

Hiiragi awkwardly put out her hands. I gently embraced her, but of course, that was just as awkward. "Oh no, I'm getting nervous," Hiiragi laughed in self-derision.
But it was our first time embracing or being embraced in ten years. It was to be expected.

"...I hope you don't get too mad," Hiiragi said, burying her face in my chest. "In high school, I looked down on you as someone in a similar situation, to keep some stability in my mind. When times were tough, I'd promptly look over at you and think "I've still got it better than him," comforting me. ...That's awful, isn't it?"
"I thought you did," I awkwardly smiled. "Because I did that too."

Hiiragi was silent for a while.
"In that case," she said, looking up, "I think we can look at it this way. By you looking down upon me, and me looking down upon you, we were able to weather those years. Even when you weren't around, when I was feeling lonely or empty, I imagined you beside me. And if you were doing the same thing... In a sense, even when we lost sight of each other, we always supported each other. I think we can look at it that way. In a very contrary way."
"...It certainly is contrary," I chuckled, nodding.

I met eyes with her. Perhaps because of the years of bad times that had piled up, we instinctively looked away.
But a line like this, I had to say looking her in the eye. Again, I looked firmly at her.

"Well, we have less than a minute left until the outage. It's almost time for us to save the people we mistakenly loved - but did indeed love."
Hiiragi replied with a decisive "Right."

"But, um, can you wait for a second? Before the lights go out and everything goes dark, I want to check one last thing. ...I know I have no right to do this to you, either. Because I went chasing the wrong person from the start, too. But you and I aren't people with much integrity, so never mind who has what right."
"Check what?"
Before I could finish saying it, she stretched up to kiss me on the cheek.
"I'm sorry," Hiiragi said. "That's it."

Indeed, that was all the checking that needed to be done.
In just a moment, I actually understood many things.

I had always been rather focused on superficial things. It was a fault that affected my memory in my second life and even my way of thinking.
It led me to ignore feelings that I couldn't put into words. Even the fact that I'd done this was hard for me to express.

I realized that I didn't remember anything about things I'd wanted to remember forever. I lost sight of what was important and what wasn't.
I shouldn't have cared about memories from my first life that didn't even feel real. I should have considered them no more than "one set of possibilities that could happen."

"So this is how close we were," she said, her eyes downcast.
Almost the same moment Hiiragi stepped away and turned around to face me, the lights all went out.

True darkness, to which we were utterly indifferent, covered the town.
Just like that day ten years ago.

Chapter 68

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