Tamamori is a selfish person.
He had never once wishes for anyone else’s happiness aside from his own.
Saving Minakami was just so he could maintain his own dream; of living a quiet life. Drinking over coffee with Kawase at his favourite cafe, discussing books with Minakami. Then visiting the bathhouse and relaxing his shoulders.
And yet, here he is.
In the world fifteen years in the past, just to create a better future for Professor.
It’s no simple matter; this isn’t like repeating mere three days to change the future. Coming back to a timeline fifteen years in the past means there’s no way he’s ever going back to his present time.
It just wouldn’t make sense for him to find his own seven-year-old self, touch him, make him turn into water and replace him. He can replace his three-day-younger self and no one would notice. But it’s just impossible to replace his fifteen-year-younger self. On top of it, there’s no way he could fit in the lifestyle of a kid.
When he broke the bottle containing the rainwater, he had prepared himself. He counted the things he would have to throw away before stepping on that puddle. His grandma, Minakami, Kawase. The current lifestyle that he had always dreamt of.
Everything that he had—all in exchange for one man he had only met a month ago.
Tamamori never knew he was capable of this level of selflessness.
He had finally achieved the quiet lifestyle he wanted; with shopkeeper dead—Minakami most likely wouldn’t commit suicide anymore. His stable life is already at hand.
Yet seeing Professor in such a helpless state; tumbling down the stairs and falling to the floor in the main hall, two dead bodies within arm’s reach and he wasn’t even aware. The two maids who raised him had died and their blood pooling on the expensive marble floor.
And Professor sat there on the floor; arguing with him, unaware of the two corpses in front of him.
It was a terrifying sight.
How this man with so much talent and money and a loving family by his side, ended up being so hopeless and alone and abandoned.
It all happened because this Professor met that man fifteen years ago. Professor had admired him, chased after him, and ended up getting close to Tamamori.
And thanks to that, everything resulted in this.
The time visualisation apparatus feels heavy in his hands; so he holds it tighter before raising his head to look at Professor sitting in front of him. White hair, white eyepatch, white coat.
Tamamori wants to be the light for Professor.
And it seems that he had succeeded, in a way.
Despite how his white hair is most likely from all the stress he’s having, this Professor still looks like he’s doing a lot better than that Professor. He isn’t dreaming of horror fantasy while chasing after some fantastical old man who tells a horror story to a random kid he met.
He blinks a few times, “yeah.”
“Are you ready? You only need to focus on the place you want to go.”
The place he wants to go.
He fiddles with the enoki-like rod that sticks out from the hat-like machine. “Say, when you came to save me from jumping, does that mean you have succeeded in changing the future?”
“That’s right, but it will not change the world it originates from. When I saved you, the timeline branches out. To a world where you are alive, and to a world where you stay dead.”
His throat is dry, so he swallows before continuing, “then, the world where I did jump, it’ll stay that way? You’re saying that he isn’t—I mean, I wasn’t … saved?”
“You can say that way, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are saved in another world. We can just jump there to a world where everything goes well.”
“Is that so.”
He closes his eyes and puts the machine on his head.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!!”
“... What’s the difference… between Minakami-kun and me?”
His original world…
… He didn’t want that kind of world.
The trails of light fill his surroundings, it wraps around each other and some become larger, while others stay as tiny speck of light that dots on the vast blue. They accumulate more and more, gradually becoming the Milky Way.
These lights must have been what Professor had called “timelines”.
With all these timelines in front of him, he understands clearly just how lonely he is. It’s so easy for him to just pick one. A world where there’s no need for Professor to stain his hand with blood, a world where his friends are alive. A better timeline.
He had rewritten the past so that Professor wouldn’t meet him. It was all for Professor’s sake. Throwing away everything, just to make Professor’s world better.
And this time, wouldn’t it be his turn to get a better world for himself?
Tamamori’s heart feels heavy.
He wants to be the light for Professor. Giving him a bright future where it won’t be ruined by meeting him. And he had succeeded. He can see it from that Professor’s smile.
But then what about the Professor from his world?
The Professor from the world it originates from?
If he had successfully saved other Professors from ruining their lives by meeting him. What about the Professor who did end up meeting him?
No matter how he tries to change the past, it will only branch out to a world of another Professor who is doing okay.
More and more Professors will be saved.
But not this Professor.
Changing the past will never save him.
The Professor who sits in the hall of his mansion, with a cane that rolled into the pool of his maids’ blood.
Without his maids by his side, his eyesight ruined because of Tamamori, he’ll never see the world ever again.
Sitting alone in that huge mansion.
He turns to look at all the flecks of white; the lights.
How many worlds are out there?
One by one, the lights envelop familiar landscapes. He scans each one of them, and peeks into those worlds.
The Professor who becomes a toy maker and opens his own factory.
The Professor who becomes a good friend to Hanazawa and continues making war weapons.
The Professor who never met him and invented the time travel machine.
The Professor successfully invented the counter-earthquake weapon, and invites him and all his friends for a party.
The Professor who smiles.
The Professor who smiles.
The Professor who smiles.
The Professor who—
The Professor who sits alone with tears on his cheek, the cane out of reach, and two dead bodies dyeing the floor crimson.
That’s where he is.
It’s his Professor.
He’s glad he took the leap to the past to fix things. He managed to see that his action did make a change and difference. Without his action, then the Professor who looks so genuinely happy doing his research on time travel machines for Japan Book Complementation Society probably won’t be born.
He loves that Professor’s smile.
At the very least, he managed to save this Professor and be the light for him.
He went back in time only to make a better place for Professor.
But now that he’s seen so many different worlds out there, with all these Professors in all different timelines. No matter how many times he does the reloops, there is one Professor who wouldn’t be saved by him fixing his past mistake.
If he had just picked one timeline where he is happy, then what would happen to the Professor he left behind?
“I’m really happy right now. … Just being able to be by your side.”
“Will you tell me a story?”
“I’d like to hear your story told in your own voice.”
Professor told him to focus on the place he wants to go.
And so, he does.
He focuses his mind on the Professor that jumped together with him multiple times, on the Professor that stained his hand with the blood of the man who should have been a hero figure for him, the Professor who is already happy just being able to be by his side, the Professor who was glad they met each other.
Something is pushing against his back. He slips past the varying timelines as his consciousness begins to drift off the Milky Way.
He wakes up to the bustling of the crowd.
He blinks his eyes open and sees a familiar sight. It’s the same spot he fell on when he went back to 1907. He dusts his clothes and turns to the sky; it is clear and no sign of rain.
This is probably the world he left behind, Tamamori shouldn’t have existed anymore in this timeline; and that explains why he just falls from the sky instead of merging consciousness with his self like what Professor said.
He quickly leaves the bridge, ignoring the stares given at him by the people around him. There’s only one place he needs to be now; one person he needs to see.
He runs, the shoes he’s wearing slightly hurts and maybe it’s a good idea to loosen it up a little, but he’ll do that later.
When he finally reaches the place, the gate to the mansion is as massive as before, yet when he enters, the garden inside looks nothing like what he had known.
The wild grass really needs a cut, and the flowers are dying.
Tamamori steps on those patchy grass and pushes the door, but it’s locked.
He gets around it and reaches the backyard; only to see two tombstones he had never seen before standing there.
He brushes against the two tombstones, the mounds are being messily covered by soil.
Did he bury them by himself?
Tamamori kneels down and puts his hands together. He thanks them for always protecting Professor all this time, he thanks them for always staying by his side, and at last, he promises them to do it in their stead from now on.
After finishing his prayers, he turns back to the mansion and tries the back door.
It is unlocked and so he enters.
The building does not radiate the same luxurious atmosphere like he first entered it anymore. It is dark; and it reeks.
He follows the long hallway and to the main hall, and all memories of that day come back to him again. Even though the pooling blood is gone now, he can still smell it. There probably are still some of them dried off in hard to reach spots.
The railing on the stairs feels cold against his palm, he goes upstairs and rides in the elevator. When it stops, he approaches the room at the end of the hall. He stands in front of the grand door and takes a deep breath.
He knocks it thrice.
And the sound of hurried footsteps comes closer, the door flies open.
Professor said that he could still manage a bath when Sazan-san wanted to help. It seems like he was lying. Look at how unkempt this man is.
His hands reach for Professor and wrap around him.
Everything feels wrong about this world. This isn’t the quiet lifestyle he dreamt of. This place looks like a haunted mansion, Professor is alone in this dark place and he can’t even see the world anymore.
But the warmth of this Professor’s body, the pulse—
—yeah, this feels right.
This is his Professor.
“Sorry,” he closes his eyes, his voice cracks, “that I left you.”
There isn’t a response, he can only hear the sound of Professor’s heart beating. Loud and quick.
“I want to be your light; so I went back to fix the mistake I made in the past. But then I realised that no matter how I fix it, it will never change what you had gone through.”
There’s no way for him to fix this Professor’s past. The only thing he can do is stay by his side, and do better for the present and the future. The past can’t be changed.
Professor puts his arms around him; he holds him tight. Like how he had held him when he was about to jump. It was a desperate hold, so that he wouldn’t go and leave him somewhere. It’s that same kind of desperate hold.
When he was in the past and white-haired Professor stopped him from jumping, the same warmth and pulse was there. Yet the strength of the grip was different. It wasn’t as desperate as this.
Tamamori thinks to the near future ahead of them, and imagines a future they are about to shape themselves. They can clean this mansion and make it brighter again. Give it the same kind of gleam it had. They can start from there. Then he can get an eye transplant and let Professor see the world again. But that’s for the future them to think about.
For the time being, this is enough.
“Do you want to listen to my story? I have a new story to tell you.”