| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
When Ryūji awoke from a bizarre dream, it was only five in the morning, and the sun had just risen.
After sleeping a night, he could still feel the anger burning within him, but it was no longer as intense as it was the day before. The flames were no longer searing hot, and only glowed as embers within his heart.
Maybe I was so angry that I actually woke myself up? Thinking about it he got even more peeved.
Scratching his head, he got out of his bed. After using the bathroom, he stood on the icy kitchen floor as he washed his hands in the kitchen sink... Lemme check out the kitchen cabinet.
He took out the high-class ham steak that Yasuko brought home the other day - he heard it was a gift from some customer. They had wanted to save it for a special occasion, which is why it was kept until now.
Might as well make a boxed lunch. I'm already awake anyway. Besides, if I don't keep myself busy with something, I won't be able to calm down... Taiga and Ami's duel no longer matters anymore, nor does the weather, the pool nor the summer vacation... So, let's make lunch. Luckily, there's still some minced meat left. Otherwise I can always use the chicken legs. As for vegetables, there are onions, tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms...
Ryūji mixed the ingredients with his hands as he prepared to make ham steak norimaki. After frying with oil and sprinkling on some salt and pepper, he added the sweet fried eggs as stuffing, along with rice and wrapped it up.
I'll have this for lunch! Ryūji was no longer concerned about anything. Just as he was about to open the refrigerator to get more ingredients, he heard the apartment door click open.
Yasuko stuck her head in and exclaimed in surprise, smiling at her son,
"Why is Ryū-chan up so early~?"
Smelling of booze, she bounced around happily.
"I couldn't sleep, so I decided to cook something for lunch."
Ryūji poured some barley tea into a glass and handed it to Yasuko, who finished it in one gulp.
"Ah! That tastes good~! Oh yes, have you and Taiga-chan made up with each other yet?"
Ryūji honestly shook his head while chopping some onions... There was no need to put up a front for someone who was drunk.
"Really? ...come to think of it, this is the first time Ryū-chan has ever quarreled with anyone..."
It was as his mother had said.
It was quite embarrassing as well, because up till now, Ryūji had never seriously yelled at or argued with anyone before. Usually he would only get involved in minor disputes, or simply smile back begrudgingly at something he did not agree with. That was all. But this was really the first time he allowed his negative emotions to take over. Asking himself how he felt, he would say This feels terrible!
Sigh... Yasuko sighed as well.
"Why did you two start fighting anyway? And you guys even managed to get a chance to go swimming together..."
Yasuko sat on the kitchen floor, but this time, Ryūji did not complain.
"I guess... It's because Taiga said that she didn't give a damn about me... That's why I got mad..."
"So that's why... But Ryū-chan should understand, right? Taiga-chan's always like that... Not saying what she really means..."
The sharp knife had turned the piece of onion lying on the chopping board into many tiny pieces, irritating Ryūji's eyes and nose. This is a really good piece of onion!
"Taiga-chan's... already... hinted very clearly to you... Taiga-chan... likes Ryū-chan a lot... She definitely doesn't... want you to go out... with other people..."
I'll chop another one!
"Though Ya-chan isn't sure if Taiga-chan wants to go out with you. But... Ryū-chan~ She doesn't really hate you... She's the sort of person that wouldn't share a dining table with people that she hates, even if she was starving... That's what Ya-chan thinks..."
Yasuko's icy hands gently touched Ryūji's legs.
As though trying to transfer her power into him, she patted them, as though comforting a small child.
Her hands slid down onto the floor. She smelled of alcohol... As usual, Yasuko had fallen asleep from drinking too much.
"...jeez... She hasn't even taken off her makeup yet..."
Ryūji washed the onion pieces off of his hands, carried his drunk mother back to her bedroom, and laid her down on her futon, which he hadn't had the chance to tidy up yet. A nostalgic memory then hit him.
Yasuko smells just like usual... That fragrant and sweet smell surprisingly suits her well.
He still remembered when they lived in a place messier than this town. Whenever Yasuko came to pick him up, she would bring light to the gloomy child-care center. Ryūji would happily dash towards her, no matter how tired he might have been. "Ryū-chan! I'm so sorry!" Being hugged by Yasuko, he would smell that same sweet fragrance. Although it was a cold winter's day, that neck he held onto would be full of sweet-scented sweat. Even though she wore high-heels and a mini-skirt, she still ran all the way down to pick him up.
Although I occasionally forget, she really is my mother. Acknowledging this fact, Ryūji thought that even when he reached her age and began living alone, her words would still rouse his spirits.
Right next to his boxed lunch, he prepared another for Taiga. I'm still annoyed by her and we are still fighting, but after hearing Yasuko say that, I guess I will make one for her too! After all, it's not often one can have such top-quality ham for lunch. He had already gone through the trouble of preparing such a grand meal anyway.
...you say I have a mother complex?
Well, what's wrong with having a mother complex?
The cloudy sky was slowly drizzling.
"Taiga! Hey, wait up!"
Ryūji dodged the puddles and caught up with the lavender-colored umbrella. Under the birch tree path, Ryūji stood before her and said,
"I won't ask you to walk with me! ...I just want to give you the boxed lunch I made for you! You haven't eaten anything since yesterday, right? Breakfast is in a separate box, so you can have that when you get to school."
Although Taiga's eyes emitted an unspeakably strong glare, she said nothing. He couldn't tell whether she was angry as she was looking at his feet, but her cold expression made it seem as if she was staring at a rock that had gotten in her way.
Only the bag containing the boxed food which Ryūji held out occupied the space between them.
He took another step forward, approaching Taiga closer, and stuffed the bag into her arms. Drops of rain fell onto the back of his hands.
"I hope the weather will improve..."
Taiga momentarily looked at Ryūji, who was trying to think of something to say. He wasn't sure if he had anything to say to her, as they were still bickering. But since he had gone through the trouble to prepare food for her, he had to find some excuse to explain the contradiction of his actions, while at the same time not wanting her forgiveness...
"If it does...then you'll swim for me in the duel right?"
After he said that, he tilted his head in bewilderment. Do I really want Taiga to take part? This...feels like... Since I've already said it...
Is it because I don't want to go with Kawashima to her mansion?
But wouldn't it have been easier if I had just refused Kawashima in the first place? Then the problem would be solved at once. She couldn't have forced me to go anyway.
Though having said that. I couldn't say it, and I didn't refuse her.
Why not? Why did I not refuse her, but instead want Taiga to beat her in a duel? Why was it anyway? Was it because everyone had dragged me in without my consent? Was it because no one gave me a chance to refuse? Was that why I used that as an excuse and said it was because everyone had disregarded how I felt and forced me into this situation?... The question is...what are my thoughts on this exactly?
Questioning himself, Ryūji swallowed the rest of what he was about to say.
The food bag on Ryūji's hand was snatched away.
Taiga's eyes remained cold, but she opened her mouth and said,
"The boxed food has nothing to do with this, so I'll accept it. But I will never forgive you! Never!"
Closing her lavender-colored umbrella, Taiga shot a glare at Ryūji, causing him to wince.
"The swimming duel has nothing to do with me!"
Even if it doesn't have anything to do with you, it's not possible to have a duel in such weather anyway... By the time he was able to open his eyes, he was shocked by the sight before him, causing him to drop his umbrella on the ground.
A silver glimmer had appeared between the cracks in the clouds.
The summer sunlight shone through the clouds and straight onto his skin. The blue sky opened up in both directions, causing the droplets on Taiga's brows to glitter brightly.
- * *
"Well~ Since you're always in the PE office and rarely appear in the main staff room, that's why~ I've been thinking~ It would be fun if we can spend time chatting together! Why don't you join us in having a drink occasionally~?"
"Oh, I'm not really that good at drinking!"
"Oh~ then what do you normally do at night~? And during holidays? Could it be you've been spending time with your girlfriend~?"
"I take protein supplements! And I work out!"
"I see~! Hmm, very good~ I guess I should go work out as well~ Maybe I'll take some yoga or pilates lessons!"
"The gym is great! The equipment is great!"
"Don't they have some hot yoga lessons as well~?"
"They have strength training too! To build the muscles! And reinforce the body!"
"Well...building muscles...? I don't really..."
"I'm quite satisfied with my build! Look! It's great, right? How about that? This back! This shoulder! These legs! How about that?"
"Th...they look reliable... Is that what you call muscular...?"
"Please say they're huge! Ha! Hmph!"
"Say they're firm! See? Ha!"
Koigakubo Yuri (29, single) shook her head and stood up. It's no good, I can't communicate with him at all. I must have pushed myself on him too hard. Haruta simply pointed at her and laughed,
"Haha! Yuri has left the stage! The poor lady..."
He sat with Ryūji under the long and elusive blue sky, and allowed the sun to warm their bodies up.
"By the way, where the hell are today's main characters anyway!?"
"Seeing as the weather's become nice as well..."
The dazzling mid-summer sun shone brightly above the heads of the students of Class 2-C, yet no one had immersed themselves in the swimming pool. Everyone stood in a single row beside the pool, while murmuring amongst themselves. "They're taking too long!" "Hey, how much did you bet? On who?" Even Muscle Kuro, their PE teacher, seemed to have noticed the students were holding some sort of activity, and quietly observed from aside while tanning.
Ryūji twitched his mouth as he sat with Haruta, Noto and Kitamura, and wiped the sweat on his forehead. Haruta jabbed his shoulder and asked,
"Hey, Takasu, is the Palmtop Tiger gonna come?"
"How should I know if she's coming or not..."
We had a pretty bad falling out yesterday, so she's probably not gonna come. Yet even if it was just to Noto, he could not tell anyone about this. The illegal betting within the class was being carried out in a frenzy, and by the time anyone had noticed, the odds between Ami and Taiga winning were now quite even. It was rumored someone had placed twenty bets on Taiga in one go, his reason being, "Because Takasu is very confident!" As it was Ryūji's fault that Taiga might forfeit the duel, there was no way he could tell them about that.
Hanging a whistle on her neck and sitting silently on the diving podium was Minori, who would be the neutral referee for this duel.
A roar suddenly came from one corner of the onlooking audience. "What's happening?", everyone wondered.
"Sorry about that! I had to tie my hair, so it took some time~!"
"WHOOOOOOOAAAAAAA!!!!!" The ground shook as everyone roared. Is the the sound of excitement? Ryūji stuck his head out to see what the commotion was about.
It was because Ami had appeared, jogging slowly.
With her hair tied in a beautiful braid, she arrived in her usual cute face and perfect figure, but this time...
"I will never forget what I have seen today for the rest of my life!"
...she was wearing an all black bikini.
A seductive looking cleavage, an area precariously supported by a small piece of triangular fabric, a seemingly well-endowed bust, an abdomen as beautiful as a sculpture's, and a tiny belly-button. Everything was exposed. Ami has graduated from being an angel, and has evolved into a devil... A devil with serious looks and figure.
"It's been raining all the time lately, so my swimsuit wouldn't dry. That's why... Oh, no! What's with everyone? I'll get embarrassed if everyone looks at me like that! Is this against the school rules? I'm a bit worried..."
Ami's cheeks blushed bright red as she pouted in a concerned looking face. Her swimsuit wouldn't dry? The last swimming lesson was two weeks ago...though now wasn't the time to pay attention to such detail... Like an idiot, Ryūji stared at Ami with his jaw agape, when someone suddenly said to him,
"That beautiful Ami-chan, she's gonna swim, right?"
"She's doing all of this for Takasu, right?"
"Why is it only Takasu!? Why, why, why, why, why!?"
"Why, why, why, why, why is it just Takasu!?"
"Ow, my ears!"
On his right was Haruta, and on his left was Noto. Surrounded by jealous glares everywhere, Ryūji cringed.
"Seriously, stop it you guys! Not even I know if there'll be a duel, okay? If Taiga doesn't come, wouldn't the duel be canceled?"
"Huh? The Palmtop Tiger's not coming? Why?"
"Don't ask me why...how should I know... She'd probably thinks it's too stupid or something! Since she never really did give a-"
"WHOOOOOOOAAAAAAA!!!" Another roar erupted on the other end, but this time, it sounded slightly different. "Now what?", Ryūji thought and turned around...
It was the roar of astonishment.
"Goodness me! I thought the Palmtop Tiger was dressed in full armour!"
"No matter how you look, she just looks like she's wearing a bullet-proof vest!"
The one that had appeared...was Taiga.
Her hair tied in two buns, she wore a bikini...yeah, right. She wore the same deep-blue swimsuit as last time, padded with phony breasts inside. But what amazed the crowd was the variety of floating equipment she carried on her tiny body. She wore a fully-blown floating ring on her waist, and her armpits and elbows were stuffed with floating boards, tiny beach balls and air bags. In any case, she had grabbed anything that would help her float and put it on. There was so much floating equipment that one could hardly see her skin.
"Hey, are you seriously planning to swim in that?!"
Ami yelled at Taiga, who proudly lifted her chin and said,
"Why not!? Don't tell me you're gonna ban 'foreign objects' at the last minute?"
"Isn't that obvious!? You've basically surrendered by not being able to swim!"
"Oh really? Then how about you take off that swimsuit of yours? A swimsuit is also a foreign object, isn't it? You planning to swim naked? Wow, amazing! As expected from an expert! But I'm afraid you'll get arrested by the police afterward."
"What absurdity is this!?"
"Oh? Could it be... You're afraid that you might lose? Well, I can understand how embarrassing it might be if you lost to someone who couldn't swim... Yeah, I do..."
"Ugh!" Ami was so peeved she could say nothing, but she quickly reverted to her casual smile,
"Hmph, you can say whatever you like! Since you can't possibly swim wearing all that. At least it'll be better than nearly drowning like last time."
"Thank you for your concern, but shouldn't you be the one who should take care? Swimming accidents can be pretty scary, you know? No one can predict what might happen!"
"Hmph!" Both of them turned their faces away and ended their intense pre-match trash-talking session.
Minori stood up and said,
"Now then! Let us commence the 25 meters return free-for-all style swimming contest! First, let's have the passionate and fired-up Ami-chan say something!"
"Okay! Anyway, I'll swim as best I can! That's all!"
Everyone applauded generously, some boys shamelessly shouted from the poolside, "Ami-chan is super cute!" "Come on, Ami-chan!" "I love you!" "I'm serious!"
Minori continued on, "Taiga, you say something as well!"
"Alright, in that case, I'll make myself absolutely clear. You! The guy with the intimidating eyes!"
Surprised at suddenly being singled out in public, Ryūji jumped up. The finger Taiga used to point with had little flecks of seaweed... Looking closely, even her lips had some as well... Looks like she did eat this morning's norimaki.
"Don't be so conceited! ...I didn't take part in this race for you, I'm only here because this stupid chihuahua..."
"Who you calling a stupid chihuahua!?"
"...has the balls to wear such a ridiculous-looking bikini! I just want to teach her a little lesson and make her look foolish!"
"What do you mean by a ridiculous-looking bikini!?"
"That ridiculous-looking bikini you're wearing! This is the first time I've ever seen an idiot wear a bikini at school!"
"You got a problem with that!? It's cute this way!"
"It looks stupid!"
"You're the least qualified to say that when you're wearing all that!"
Taiga no longer looked at Ryūji with contemptuous eyes, but Ryūji's were now intensely fixated on her. It wasn't because he was trying to tear Taiga's swimsuit into a bikini with his glare, but because he was surprised once again - not because of the countless floating equipment, but because of the fact that she actually appeared.
Ryūji never thought that Taiga would compete. Didn't she already say it? 'I'll never forgive you! The swimming duel has nothing to do with me!' Instead, she says she came because she couldn't stand Ami's bikini...
Besides Ryūji, the audience gave Taiga's speech an equally generous applause as Ami's. "My income depends on you!" "Continue with your legacy of being the strongest!" "Fight!" "Master!!!" Though the style of the applause was different, the intensity of it still sent the mid-summer swimming pool trembling.
"That's enough! Silence, you foolish imbeciles!"
Afterward, both did their warm-ups as instructed by Minori, and then made sure they had splashed their chests with water...
"Now then... TAKE YOUR MARK!"
Like an athletic swimmer, Ami stood skillfully on the starting platform and bent forwards. Taiga, on the other hand...
"Hey...is the Palmtop Tiger intending to dive into the water too!?"
"Wouldn't it be better if she started inside the pool instead?"
"Don't force yourself!"
...even the audience was feeling uncomfortable...but Taiga remained standing on her starting platform.
Ami took a glance at Taiga, and giggled as though seeing a fool.
Seeing Ami's giggle, Taiga simply ignored her and turned her head away.
With the whistle in her mouth, Minori raised one arm. Everyone went dead silent. Just when Ami was about to propel herself off with her legs, Taiga suddenly pointed to her abdomen and said,
"Hey, there's hair!"
BEEEEEP! A loud whistle was blown, and the match had begun. But Ami had raised her head due to being distracted by Taiga...
Everyone widened their eyes in surprise, including Ryūji and Ami.
As the whistle was being blown, Taiga threw all her floating rings towards Ami. Seeing all the floating equipment flying towards her, Ami lost her balance on the starting platform and missed her chance at a perfect start.
The tiger had revealed her fangs. Her glowing eyes burned bright as she raised her hand, revealing a wooden blade. It became clear to everyone at once that all the floating equipment she wore was merely used to conceal that blade. In her other hand was the last floating board, which she used to charge towards Ami.
Without any excessive noise, Taiga jumped high in the air to avoid getting hit back, and then gave her opponent a well-executed spin kick. Losing her balance, Ami fell head first into the pool, creating a huge splash. Taiga followed suit and jumped into the pool...
... And held onto Ami and struggled with her underwater... Had they begun beating on each other already?
"What's the situation?"
"Intense! This is way too intense!"
Amongst the yells and screams, Ryūji went numb... Aisaka Taiga, just who on earth are you... For you to do such a thing... Is that really allowed!?
Four pale white arms splashed on the surface, and then sank into the water again as they struggled with each other.
Taiga was first to resurface, grabbing her floating board. She revealed a twisted smile that even the devil himself would flee at the sight of.
Ami was next to come out, but her eyes revealed a sense of shock. This was because on the tip of Taiga's wooden blade, which was lifted high in the air...
"I told you already. You should never have worn such a ridiculous bikini! It comes off as easily as this... You, and that swimsuit, are both stupid beyond salvation!"
...was the upper half of Ami's bikini.
Ami's scream echoed across the heavens.
The roars of the men caused the ground to shake.
Ami covered her chest with her arms, but at the same time, tried desperately to retrieve her bikini. She was no longer concerned with maintaining her angel mask. But Taiga wasn't so stupid as to let her have it back.
"If you want it, come and get it!"
She swung her wooden blade, and the wet bikini flew in the air, landing mercilessly on the fence near their starting point.
"No way! No way! This is not happening!!!"
No matter how much she cried, the fact now was that with her arms covering her chest, Ami was unable to move at all.
Seizing this opportunity, Taiga quickly grabbed her floating board, and set off by kicking her legs at an incredible speed, far beyond the ability of any normal person.
"Awesome! The Palmtop Tiger's definitely gonna win at this rate!"
"That's too underhanded!"
"The one who'll rescue Ami-chan will be me!"
Seeing Taiga speed off, Ami's supporters could not simply remain silent. They all began to run towards the bikini in order to hand it over to Ami...
"Oh no you don't!"
"Though I feel bad for Ami-chan, I'm still going to have to stop you guys!"
Taiga's supporters too rushed towards the bikini from the other end. Both sides struggled as they attempted to win control of the bikini. When someone finally got their hands on it...
"Hey, hang on. I think I smell something!"
"Even if it's just for a moment, let me smell it!"
The boys forgot their original purpose, and began to fight each other over the bikini.
"It's time to join forces! Screw the bet! All we want is just to look at Ami-chan when she's like this, right!?"
"Yeeeaaah!!", roared some of the boys in agreement. They turned their eyes towards the pool and stared at Ami with her snow-white skin. Ami quickly ducked into the water and yelled loudly, "Give that back to me! You bastards!"
"Seriously, these perverts! Out of the way! Here, Ami-chan! Catch!"
"Good job, Maya-chan!"
Maya had dashed into the crowd of men and retrieved the bikini. Rushing towards Ami,
"Ami-chan! I'm on my way to help you!"
"I'm coming too!"
"Yeah right! Since the wager, the bikini, and Ami-chan's white skin all belong to me!"
"I'll be the one who'll trigger a special relationship event with her!"
The swarm of fools with their twisted thoughts all jumped into the pool with their own agendas. Minori blew her whistle hysterically and yelled,
"Hey! You guys there! Stop getting near the athlete! I'll arrest you for sexual harassment! Hey! Dammit! Listen to what people are saying!"
But nobody heeded her warnings.
"I've got Ami-chan's swimsuit!"
"Give it to me!"
"Ami-chan you alright? Are you hurt?"
"Kyaa! Stay away! Stay away! Stay away!!! I SAID STAY AWAY FROM ME! Which part of that do you goons not understand!?"
"Did I...just hear...a scary voice...?"
"Oh my~ I wonder what that was~!"
The girls looked at each other, and all of them stood up in indignation, "Unforgivable!"
"You guys behave yourselves!"
"You bunch of perverts!"
As the girls tried to drag the boys out of the pool and away from Ami, another group of boys had jumped into the pool. "Time to join the battle!" "This party is too fun to miss!" "You come along as well!" Even Haruta and Noto had jumped in, pushing Kitamura in as well.
Standing dumbstruck by the poolside, Ryūji unexpectedly made eye contact with the main character, who was situated outside the brawl for the bikini.
Even in such a predicament, Ami still managed to find the mood to smile to Ryūji,
"Hee hee, wanna look~?"
She slightly moved apart her arms that were covering her bust... She's actually still pretty much in control, isn't she?
Her black bikini flew behind her in the air like a strange-looking bird. "Hand it over!" "Don't let the guys grab it!" As if playing water volleyball, the girls elegantly passed the bikini back to Ami.
"Ami-chan! Here! Catch!"
"Great work! Thanks!"
The bikini had returned to Ami's hand. She quickly submerged into the water, and by the time she resurfaced, she had put back on the bikini. She wasted no time in anymore small talk, and set off to close Taiga's lead.
Everyone turned their attention towards Ami, except Ryūji, who was looking at Taiga. Is Taiga swimming properly? Is she moving smoothly and not drowning? Is she gonna get clumsy again? Could she be troubled by anything? Though he had such a fall out with her last night, he just couldn't help but be worried.
Ryūji exclaimed as though choking on something.
Taiga was indeed beating on the water, but a second after Ryūji looked at her, her tiny figure suddenly disappeared into the water.
No one noticed Ryūji standing up and diving determinedly into the pool, swimming as fast as he could.
I only saw Taiga's hands beating on the surface, she must be drowning! But she's got her floating board, so how...!? Just why!? Ryūji thought as he swam, knowing he could only get the answers to his questions by asking Taiga himself.
"Taiga!? You alright!? How'd you manage to drown!?"
Ryūji tried to hold her up, allowing her face to come above the surface, but Taiga kept swinging her limbs vigorously. Although she was drowning, she still attempted to push off Ryūji's hands. Her face twisted in pain, while tears welled up in her red eyes as she seemed like she wanted to say something...
"Let me go! Get lost!"
"How can I possibly let you go like this!?"
"You talk too much! I hate... ow ow ow ow ow!"
"M-My leg's cramped up!"
"Well, this is payback for using dirty tricks!"
As Ryūji attempted to signal to Minori to cancel the match as Taiga could no longer continue...
"Leave me alone! I can still swim! Gimme the floating board!"
Although her face was already contorting in pain, Taiga coughed a few times in order to adjust her breathing. She then pushed off Ryūji's hand and grabbed on the floating board, barely managing to kick the water with her cramped right foot.
"Y-You still want to continue!?"
Taiga's glittering eyes only looked forward,
Didn't you say it's got nothing to do with me? Haven't you already said this is just to make the 'stupid chihuahua' look foolish? If that's the case, then haven't you already made her look foolish enough? Taiga looked menacingly at Ryūji's speechless face,
"You happy now!?"
"Don't 'wha' me! Your master is working hard for you, so you ought to look happy for a bit! You stupid dim-witted dog!"
Continuing forward, Taiga no longer had any strength left to talk. Without hesitation, Ryūji grabbed Taiga's waist and said,
"Then go! It's fine if you want me to wag my tail or whatever!"
He thrust Taiga forward. Using the momentum, Taiga once again kicked the water and swam forward. However, an unexpected accident happened...
As everyone became embroiled in the battle for the bikini, they were now all inside the pool, engaged in a messy brawl. There were splashes everywhere created by people either jumping in or being pushed into the water.
While Taiga sped on ahead, Ryūji ended up being pressed into the water by the crowd.
Not knowing whether his head got hit by someone's elbow or knee, Ryūji felt himself losing strength... He knew he was sinking... The last thing he saw was Taiga making huge splashes and turning around towards him, looking at him with those huge round eyes of hers. Ryūji felt the shouting around him had become even more intense, as well as knowing that no one had noticed him.
"No way! Ryūji! Ryūji!!!"
Taiga's voice was becoming faint, while he was losing his breath... Or not, as he could now breathe again.
His motionless body had been forcefully lifted and placed on the floating board. That's how it seemed to him anyway.
"Somebody! Help! ... Anyone! ...Cough! ...Cough cough! Dammit---!"
The tiny hand that held onto him seemed reliable, but his arm was completely paralyzed and his vision blurry. Is this what they call a concussion? Although he knew of such a thing, it didn't really help to change anything. He could only rely on that hand clinging him onto the board. He couldn't even lift his head up.
Ryūji slid from the swinging board back into the water, and drank the icy pool water... As he was about to drown, a tiny hand grabbed him tightly on the neck, and warmly held onto his chin. From his skin touching the water, he could sense himself moving slowly forward.
Barely able to open his eyelids, the scene he saw was even more amazing than the swinging that he had felt, as the first thing he saw was...
Taiga was crying. Even so, she would not let go of her hand on Ryūji's neck. Even when she herself was close to sinking, she still clung desperately onto her floating board, wading towards the finishing point. Even when it came to this, she was still unwilling to surrender. Even though she was crying like a child, she wouldn't give up without a fight.
Yet behind them there was something that was moving at a very fast speed... much like a dolphin. Someone yelled, "Why is Takasu now racing together with the tiger!?" "Whoa! Overtaken!" "Takasu, you bastard!" "Come on! Ami-chan!"
No matter what anyone said, Ryūji, only semi-conscious, could not respond. He knew the dolphin had sped past them before his eyes. Under the hoarse, cheering voices, Ami had swum past the clumsy floating board duo with relative ease.
"Finish! Justice prevails!!!"
Ami seemed to have said something.
At the same time Ami said that, the tiny hand holding onto the board also lost its grip. The cheering had only begun when it stopped again. Someone said,
"...are Takasu and the tiger drowning?"
Or to be more precise... Taiga, whose leg was now more painful than before, had used her last ounce of strength to place Ryūji onto the floating board as she slowly sank into the water.
Ami yelled in dismay. SPLOOSH! Something large had dived into the water. It was very huge, and very firm...
Muscle Kuro was faced with a huge crisis as a PE teacher.
"Cough... cough cough cough!"
Being dragged to the surface, Taiga knelt in pain on the ground and coughed.
Beside her, Ryūji still remained in a state of semi-consciousness as he lay on the poolside, not even moving a finger. Voices could be heard from afar,
"Is Takasu alright?"
"He's still breathing!"
"Good, let's take him to the school clinic!"
No, I'm fine... My lungs have finally inhaled some fresh oxygen, so my blurry mind has become quite clear now. Ryūji attempted to move his elbow to motion to everyone not to worry about him...
"DON'T TOUCH HIM!!!"
Slightly opening his eyes, he saw something he did not expect - Taiga's hair was standing up, her eyes were bloodshot. She actually looked as threatening as a tiger as she crouched over Ryūji.
"You idiots, you idiots, you idiots, you idiots! ALL OF YOU ARE IDIOTS!!! Why didn't anyone notice? Why didn't anyone come help? Stay away you idiots! Idiots! IDIOTS!!! Get lost! I hate you! Back off, back off, BACK OFF, YOU MORONS!!!"
She had gone ballistic. Though her muscles could hardly compare to those of Muscle Kuro, who retreated backwards, the girl known as the tiger had gone ballistic. "ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!" Giving out an angry roar like a wild beast, she yelled while crying tearfully,
"RYUUJI IS MIIIIINE!!! NOBODY TOUCHES HIM!!!"
The students of Class 2-C were silent.
The mid-summer pool was devoid of any sound.
The sunlight shining from the blue sky was scorching hot.
Taiga finally noticed the meaning of what she had just exclaimed...
Let me just pretend for a little longer! Ryūji gave up on thinking and shut his eyes tightly, throwing away all thoughts.
But Ryūji just could not pretend to be completely unconscious, since he was smiling. I'm glad. That was how he really felt.
I feel really glad, hearing Taiga shout that. And then... yeah, I've always been glad all along...
Whether it was Taiga grabbing my hand and hiding me behind her back...
Or not wanting me to go to Ami's mansion...
Or saying she'll practice hard even when it's raining...
As well as getting mad when she saw Ami and I embrace each other.
Although I never realized this until now, it was more satisfying than anything else. I was very angry when Taiga said she didn't give a damn, and got into a fight with her as a result of that. But now, I can finally smile.
You said I ought to look happy for a bit, right? Well, Taiga, I am happy... All along, from the beginning until now, I've always been...
"T-Takasu seems to be up to no good!"
"Let's get outta here!!!"
- * *
"Man, that was hell!"
"H-Hey! ... You alright?"
Taiga had suddenly smacked her head onto the table. She only revealed two sharp eyes as she glared murderously at Ryūji,
"How can I be... alright!?"
Her deep voice carried a tinge of depression... Even the Palmtop Tiger had been battered badly by the two-week end of semester exams that had taken place right after the last swimming lesson, though the true reason was the psychological damage that she had suffered as a result of the event.
Both Taiga and Ryūji were now resting on their usual sofa seats in the non-smoking section of the family restaurant that they frequented. It was already noon when the end of semester ceremony had ended. There were hardly any customers, probably because it was a normal weekday.
Not concerned with the gazes around them, Taiga lifted her feet like a child and admonished Ryūji, who sat opposite her,
"This is all your fault, you stupid dog! I wouldn't have gotten into so much trouble if it weren't for you! Now pass the menu!"
Unable to respond, Ryūji could only obediently hand over the menu.
Maybe I did get Taiga involved in so much trouble. This was all because of that declaration. Everyone heard Taiga proclaim "Ryūji is mine!" This lead everyone to be absolutely convinced that Taiga and Ryūji were now officially a couple.
No matter how hard Taiga tried to deny or threaten her way out of it, she just could not get everyone to think otherwise. Even Kitamura and Minori said jokingly, "You two have a long way to go!" "So, you've finally admitted it, haven't you?"
"May I please take your order? Hee hee, it's only noon and you two are already so lovey-dovey!"
"Minorin! Stop that! Haven't I told you to stop mentioning that!? You're so mean!"
"Sorry! Sorry! I was just kidding! So don't cry!"
Minori had arrived at work early, and had already put on her orange waitress uniform, but was now cuddling Taiga's head with the tray she was carrying. She then looked at Ryūji and said,
"You were the one that made her cry!"
"Did I? Nyaha!"
"Don't 'nyaha' me! Get back to work!"
...just kidding. Ryūji and Minori's friendship had developed to the point where they could fool around in their conversations.
Ryūji looked at Minori's smiling face and thought about how dazzling she looked. He knew he couldn't look directly at her, but...there were voices in his heart telling him that he no longer just had a simple crush on Minori... No, it's still a crush, but...
The reason for those voices was the little fellow pouting before him, reluctantly allowing Minori to pat her head. Ryūji had been troubled ever since the incident at the swimming pool.
First, it concerned himself. Ryūji was really happy at Taiga's "Ryūji is mine" declaration. He was so happy that he could not hide it, because it was real. Yet there comes a blind spot with feeling, and that is... I like Taiga. If I didn't, I wouldn't have taken care of her. After all, I was the one that said "the dragon is the only beast that can stand equal to a tiger"...
But this feeling of liking people, it's not limited to romance between a man and a woman, is it? Like friendship or family, aren't there many types of feelings for liking people? So our feelings for each other must belong to one of those! So this is just me being fond of Taiga, and that is good. After thinking on his own, he made his own conclusions. So it's good this way... the question now is, what about Taiga?
How did Taiga feel when she yelled "Ryūji is mine"? Could it be...could it be... Ryūji continued to be entwined in thought, and ended up getting so worked up that his stomach roared on its own while he shook his legs non-stop.
"Hey! Didn't I say stop shaking your legs!? You impoverished dog!"
Some other customer shouted from afar, "Excuse me! Can you take our orders?" Minori quickly rushed over and left the two of them behind.
"What is wrong with you...?"
Taiga's voice sounded more and more unpleasant.
A bizarre atmosphere emitted from this magical space where the two of them resided alone.
"You were looking at me, right? Well? What now? You got a problem with me?"
"N-No! ... I wasn't looking at you!"
"You were looking at me, you pervert! Staring at me like that in broad daylight, God knows if you were having some unspeakable fantasies..."
"What the hell are you imagining!? Just how did you come to such conclusions anyway!?"
"Stop ignoring me!"
Ryūji's yells were mixed with his wavering as he stood up. At that moment, two familiar faces entered his field of vision. "Hey! Kept you waiting, huh?"
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Takasu-kun! Oh, might as well greet this little midget here too. Sorry to keep you waiting as well!"
Four people now sat together. Ami sat beside Ryūji, and inevitably, this meant that...
"What's wrong, Aisaka? Why are you gulping down your water so quickly? Don't they have drinks where you can get unlimited refills over there? It'd be better if you order that."
Kitamura sat beside Taiga, who quickly turned her head away and began gulping down her water, not daring to look over. Clink! The ice at the bottom of the glass fell on Taiga's face.
"Ah! Ah!! AH!!! Taiga! It's spilling!"
Water dripped from her chin like a child. Ryūji quickly took out his handy handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the table, making sure every surface where Taiga's elbows could come into contact with was completely dry. There!
Very good! Ryūji nodded approvingly to himself. Beside him, Ami began to pout and lean on Ryūji's arm,
"Takasu-kun, why did you call me out here? Ah, could it be about going to the mansion? If it's that, we can always find a day where we can spend all day planning our trip..."
"The one who called you out was me! You stupid chihuahua!"
Taiga turned her whole body 90 degrees to the right, while avoiding contact with Kitamura on her left. Although the left half of her face was swiftly dyed in a hue of cherry pink, she opened her mouth and said,
"What I'm saying is, I too will be going to your mansion. I... I lost the duel, so Ryūji has to go, right? But if that happened, there would be no one to take care of my daily necessities, and that would be troublesome for me! Although Ryūji's mom can take care of herself, she doesn't have time to look after me as well. So, while I'm very reluctant and wary, I'm still gonna come with you guys! So that's decided!"
"What!? Wait! Hearing you talk non-stop, Ami-chan's getting confused... What!? Why are you coming?"
This was actually Kitamura's request. He too wished Taiga could come along to Ami's mansion and have fun together, but it was going to take a lot of convincing for Ami to bring Taiga along.
According to Kitamura's reasoning, If I come, and Kushieda comes as well, wouldn't you too have wished we could all spend this great chance to have fun together as good friends? But Ryūji and Taiga were not aware of his real intent. Besides, for Taiga, this was a great chance to go traveling with Kitamura. Holding back her discomfort and suspicions, and after making a few concessions, she agreed to Kitamura's request on one condition - If Ami refused outright, then the deal's off.
Kitamura happily pushed his glasses up, and spread out his handmade calendar, which was drawn freehand on a sheet of looseleaf paper, on the table.
"Right! Let's decide on a time! Here, I've got a field trip with the Student Council, here's the field trip with the softball team, and here's the practice match..."
"Y-Yūsaku!? How can you just decide on your..."
"Hey, Kushieda! You free right now? We need to decide on a date for our trip!"
"Oh, lemme see, lemme see! Hmm... Here I've got club activities with Kitamura-kun, here as well, and here I've got work shifts, so sometime over here would be great!"
"I don't have anything special planned, besides sweeping some graves. Taiga, you're the same, right?"
"Nope. And I'm not going on any stupid family trips, not that I want to anyway."
"This means, sometime this week..."
"W-W-W-Wait a minute! What's with this spontaneous reaction? This is my family mansion! Why are you all deciding all this on your own!?"
Ami yelled while snatching Kitamura's calendar off the table. Taiga looked up at Ami, whose face was red and flustered, and said with her usual soft and deadpan voice,
"Is it too small?"
"Wha!? How can it be too small!? My parents make plenty of money, after all!"
"Ahh... So is it because you don't want people to see how run down the place is?"
"Of course not! That place is very spacious, beautiful, and it's got a great view! Much, much better than your apartment!"
"Then I've gotta come have a look!"
"You're fine with that, right? Let me have a look, I want to see as well."
Momentarily dumbstruck, Ami was unable to say anything,
She had an unpleasant expression on her face... Ami the Angel was now nowhere to be seen. Sitting roughly on the sofa, she tossed the calendar back on the table and said,
"Alright... I am confident of it after all, so you'd better not be intimidated by my uber gorgeous mansion... Besides, no matter how I try and stop you, you'd still find some way to come anyway, right?"
Taiga opened her lips slightly, and whispered, Alright!
Kitamura smiled widely, and muttered to himself, "Ami, looks like this summer will be quite fun!" It wasn't known whether Ami pretended not to hear that or if she really didn't hear a thing, as she said nothing.
While everyone went back to deciding on a date to go, Ami smiled and said,
"Ah... So that's why..."
Normally, one wouldn't recover their spirits so quickly after suffering such a set back. This showed that Ami was no normal person.
"Aisaka-san, could it be because you're uneasy with being separated from Takasu-kun? Isn't Ami-chan right? You're scared that Ami-chan would snatch him away. That's why you came up with such a move, right? After all, you did say 'Ryūji is mine'... Right~?"
Uwaah! Crap! Ryūji quickly looked at Taiga. Right now, Taiga had basically suffered a jump toss wrestling tackle, how could she come out unscathed!?
"You're right, let me first make this very clear!"
When Taiga lifted her head up, she looked unexpectedly calm. Lifting her chin and straightening herself up, she seemed like she was speaking not just to Ami, but to everyone else. She calmly said,
"That...how should I put it? What you just said... I can't deny..."
Ryūji's reaction was, What's with her!? What's she trying to say!?
"Yes! I admit it! A while ago when I saw the stupid chihuahua cuddled with Ryūji like how she's doing now... That really got me mad..."
Minori, who came over and heard Taiga make this confession, nearly dropped her empty tray. Kitamura merely pushed up his glasses. Ami, who started this conversation, held her breath.
Such a serious expression. Looks like Taiga's about to say something earth shattering.
"Ryūji is mine... Haven't I already said that? I can't ask everyone to pretend that never happened, because that's what I really think. It's true...but, well, that's because..."
Taiga closed her eyes silently and crossed her arms before her chest. Everyone remained speechless, while Ryūji felt like his heart was about to burst.
What now? Does she intend to settle everything right here right now? She doesn't really have to do that, does she? Shouldn't she find a more normal occasion, with just two people...
Taiga opened her eyes and looked straight into Ryūji, whose discomfort had reached its peak. Her obsidian eyes glittered beautifully under those attractive eyelids... And then, her rose-colored lips said without hesitation,
"That's because Ryūji is my dog."
"Because he's my dog, so he can go wherever he wants with whomever he wants for all I care - that was what I thought anyway. But that wasn't entirely true. As his master, if I ever saw my dog getting all excited with some strange hag I've never seen before, or fawning over someone else's waist, I would feel horrible!"
Ryūji nearly slid from the sofa. Was it sadness? Or relief? Or... Ah, forget it! Screw that!
"What's with that face? Just what were you expecting anyway?"
Hmph! Taiga looked coldly down towards Ryūji as she did to the rest of the world, her rosy lips which had turned people's lives upside down smiled evilly.
"What face!? I wasn't expecting anything..."
Ryūji got back on the sofa and went back to looking at the calender. Summer vacation begins tomorrow, so might as well forget all this useless stuff and have as much fun as we can!
Although I'll still have to spend most of the summer with her, I guess I can still keep the peaceful daily life I like this summer.
Something icy touched Ryūji's elbow. Ami's finger had touched him under the table.
Ami didn't turn her head, but looked forward and smiled. She whispered in a low voice, "Too bad I can't spend time with you alone... But, there might be a chance!" That cheek of hers remained collected and pure, not showing any trace of her devious nature. No one had noticed Ryūji looking surprised.
"Very well then! We'll leave on this day then!"
Everyone applauded and agreed with Kitamura's conclusion.
And so, the first semester of Takasu Ryūji's second year of high school had come to an end.
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Spin-off|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Chapter 7|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Epilogue|