| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
A solution? Of course he didn't have one.
Just like a person who hates spiders running into a huge spider web, like a person who hates snakes stepping on one, like a criminal running straight into a policeman, Ryuuji turned and ran. If the other party was really a spider, snake or a policeman, then he might have the choice of choosing the 'battle' command, but the problem was that the person blocking his way was his mother, so he couldn't exactly beat her with a stick (and he didn't have a stick handy in the first place). No, the damage caused by his words was far greater than any stick could have inflicted on his mother. His mother -- Yasuko slumped to the ground, her face deathly pale.
But Ryuuji ran off without turning back.
"Oh......!? Be careful!"
Taiga suddenly lost her balance, to which Ryuuji responded by swiftly grabbing her hand to steady her. A strong beam of light shot out from Taiga's round eyes for a moment there. Ryuuji pulled on the hand that he was holding as Taiga finally managed to stand up again in the soft snow, the two of them then continuing their escape. Their entwined hands were already inseparable.
The two of them didn't use umbrellas to shield themselves from the snow as they blindly stumbled through the snowing darkness, trying to get as far away as possible from their respective mothers. The two of them incessantly breathed out huge clouds of white mist as they panted, all their effort concentrated on running away from that place.
Yasuko's selfish protective tendencies blocked Ryuuji's way, making him feel that his existence would lose all meaning if he was unable to call out for Yasuko. On the other hand, Taiga's mother wanted to take her away from Ryuuji's side, also becoming an obstacle.
He had Taiga by his side.
Ryuuji adjusted his grip on Taiga's hand, not hiding the fact that his palm was full of sweat.
In that single moment, all this hand wanted, and all that wanted this hand, was Taiga's hand. Ryuuji wanted to run away with Taiga, and Taiga wanted to run away with Ryuuji as well. Even though they didn't know the true face of the enemy standing in front of Taiga, but it was certain that Taiga wanted to run away with Ryuuji before she was taken away.
Their mothers would probably chase after them in the car wouldn't they? Which was why they ran into the small alleyways that cars couldn't drive through, weaving through the housing district aimlessly. And then -- The problem was.
The problem was......
"We'll be crossing the bridge soon, be careful."
It'll be enough as long as Ryuuji chose to get the answer to his question.
"We'll go over to the neighboring town to take a bus there, we'll surely get caught if we continue to stay here, and we won't get far if we take the train."
It'd be enough if he were able to confirm Taiga's feelings. And then he wanted to tell Taiga all about the complicated and overflowing feelings he had for her. That would be enough.
To hear Taiga tell me how she really feels, and for myself to tell her about how I really see her. I want to ask, I want to say -- I only want to do that.
If something like this could be solved so easily, then the world would probably change color, and everything would have a new beginning. Ryuuji felt his heart beating wildly.
And then, why had things come to this?
Every breath that takes in air under zero degrees hurts the cells in a person's respiratory organs. From the other side of the white curtain, two rows of street lamps illuminated the pavement on the bridge, their light looking abnormally dull. The route crossed over the river that was completely black at night to the neighboring town, but it was completely dark at the other end of the bridge. Because it was an aimless escape, Ryuuji and Taiga had no idea where they would end up at.
Ryuuji walked towards the side of the road which had more cover, as there was only one way forward. Pulling Taiga along behind him, Ryuuji watched his surroundings carefully before crossing the dual-lane road. The two of them then got on to the bridge under the cover of a loud truck.
They'll need money to take the bus. The two of them only thought about such a simple thing after crossing roughly one-third of the bridge.
"Oh no! I didn't bring money!"
Ryuuji couldn't help but knit his eyebrows tightly together as he continued to walk. How could he have made such a mistake at this time. He only had spare change in his wallet, and his bank card was at home, while he had thrown his salary from Albus at Yasuko's feet.
"Don't worry! I should have quite a bit of money on me!"
Taiga took out her cat-shaped purse as she ran, letting go of Ryuuji's hand as she pulled open the zip of the wallet,
"See, there's one, two 10000-yen notes......"
"It's dangerous to do something like this while you're running, be careful of falling down."
"But I have to confirm the exact amout of cash I have on me! You're also not feeling completely at ease aren't you? There's also two, three, four 1000-yen notes......no spare change."
Taiga clumsily counted the number of notes that she had taken out from her purse. and then--
"Ah, I heard a rustling sound in my pocket, could it be money? Ah, those are only receipts."
At the very moment that Taiga pouted at the receipts, a strong gust of wind suddenly blew up from the river, crashing into the side of the two people standing on the bridge.
The wind blew away the exposed 24000 yen in an instant.
The two of them were speechless.
The notes danced in the strong wind as they flew higher and higher, swinging in unexpected directions with the wind, as though it was trying to get the attention of Ryuuji and Taiga. 'Ah, ah, ah.', 'Oh, oh, oh.' .......From a passerby's perspective, the two of them probably looked like weirdos trying to summon the spirit of a sea-dog that was lost in the sky. But Taiga and Ryuuji were extremely serious, as they tried with all their might to grab on to the notes that were dancing in the sky. But the notes merely changed its direction together with the wind, as though taunting them.
"Ah, ah, ah, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh......!"
"Oh, oh, oh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh......!"
The two of them followed the direction of the wind as they ran across the road, weaving through the traffic before rushing to the barrier, stretching out their hands.
24000 yen in cash floated through their outstretched fingers as the notes continued their journey towards the surface of the river.
The outstretched fingers of the two people standing on the bridge tried to follow the path of the notes, but the 24000 yen had already disappeared into the darkness. No matter how one cried out to it, no matter how one called out to it, the river continued to flow mercilessly.
The two of them looked at each other.
"Wh-wh-wh-wh-why do you have such a calm expression on your face......What do we do now!?"
Taiga grabbed onto the railing and leaned forward, trying to get a better look at the surface of the river. Beside her, Ryuuji was in the exact same position. He wasn't calm, but stunned. He didn't say anything because he couldn't believe what had just happened.
What just happened?
Don't tell me?
That's the 'divine intervention' that I've heard so much about? Retribution?
Snowflakes continued to float onto the surface of the river. Ryuuji stared at the river, not even able to move a single finger.
Is the sin of telling the mother who had sacrificed her life to give birth to him and to bring him up 'You were wrong' so heavy? But I was merely stating the truth, not giving birth to me would have been the correct choice. Did I just get punished for shouting out the truth? Do I deserve something like this?
Is my sin that heavy?
"What do we do now!? What do we do......!"
What do we do now, what do we do now, what do we do now? Taiga repeated these few words over and over as she hugged her head and plastered herself onto the railing like how she slept in class.
The two of them had nothing to say.
Beside the stunned Ryuuji, the shoulders under a snowy white coat also froze. Countless small snowflakes fell onto her shoulders, the muffler that Ryuuji had wrapped around her cheeks, and the long strands of hair on her back, one after another, unceasingly. Ryuuji's eiderdown coat, his back, and his face were also completely covered in snowflakes.
From the riverside walkway to the bridge.
Eight o'clock on the night of the sacred Valentine's Day.
Stepping on the thin layer of ice that had covered the ground, with snowflakes swirling around them, the two of them finally stopped.
Looking towards the other side of the bridge--It was only a normal housing district, with lights coming out of every house. In the unceasing snow, the other end of the bridge seemed like another world.
They couldn't take the buses or the trains without money. Due to the cold weather, Ryuuji couldn't stop shivering. Just standing there for a few minutes was enough to freeze his joints. But the Porsche may catch up to them which they rested, so they couldn't afford to stop now.
There isn't a place that would accept the two of us in this world.
Ryuuji looked at Taiga's slim backline, thinking about what Taiga was thinking about. Uneasiness, hopelessness, regret -- It was certain that she was cursing her own clumsiness, her slim fingers holding the head that was protected by Ryuuji's muffler so tightly that they shook. She probably wants nothing more than to rifle through her own hair right now.
"Ryuuji, what do we do?"
Ryuuji couldn't answer, as he merely stood in the snow, not even able to squeeze a simple question like 'What do you want to do?' out of his mouth.
Was it because that question implied that it was Taiga's fault? I'm merely doing what you want to do, it's not my fault, I'm a man who wants a woman to bear the responsibility-
-Is that not it?
Of course not, but the fear of not being able to ask 'What do you want to do?' did exist, but it was a fear of something else.
Ryuuji realized that he was merely pretending to be focusing on running away so as to be able to look away from this fear, as he tensed his back muscles.
Taiga held my hand and ran away together with me, so I can be 100% sure that she wants to be together with me. But the problem is......
To be honest, I'm really scared.
I know myself. When Taiga's mother appeared and told me that she was going to take Taiga away, I only wanted to run away. No matter what happens, no matter what I do, I can't bear to be separated from Taiga, I can't live on in a place without Taiga. Even if you ask me for the reason, I can only tell you that I'll think about it after all this is over. When I decided to abandon the Takasu-residence that was protected by my mother, my hand held Taiga's, and that is my true feeling.
But I don't know what Taiga is thinking, or rather, I don't even want to know.
The reason behind why I feel afraid, why I can't speak, why I can't bear to face this fear.
Because I have a feeling that this will reopen a wound.
Every time I wish that this feeling is wrong, something will happen.
"......Let's go. No matter what, we shouldn't be standing here."
Ryuuji forced out a sentence, and grabbed on to Taiga's slim fingers once again. 'Let's go.' He tried to pull Taiga along.
Taiga's body swayed in response to his pulling.
"Go......Where are we going to......"
Taiga's body swayed, and returned to her original position. Ryuuji felt that his bad feeling was swiftly becoming reality. Ryuuji could feel that before he even opened his mouth, the boundaries of reality was becoming clearer and clearer. Like the swaying of Taiga's body, and her previous words. The reason behind why Taiga abandoned her home, the reason behind why she was left to live by herself in the apartment block beside the Takasu residence, and why Taiga didn't want to stay with her mother, and why Taiga's mother wanted to separate Taiga and I.
The feeling was right.
The wound -- Was horrifying. Ryuuji couldn't help but shiver.
Taiga lifted her head, her hand still holding Ryuuji's,
"......We, don't have any money left."
She looked into Ryuuji's eyes.
"Seriously, we don't have any money left."
"......I know. Our money just floated out of your hands didn't they?"
Yes, yes, that's how it is. Ryuuji nodded towards Taiga, but wasn't able to laugh it off.
"Umm, I have something to tell you......Hmm......"
Taiga let go of Ryuuji's hand, as she brushed a strand of hair off her face and stuck her hands into her coat pockets.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a terrifying scene. Ryuuji instinctively looked away from Taiga's eyes, afraid of being stared at by Taiga's somber eyes.
"I have something to tell you."
How did things come to this? What happened to Taiga? Ryuuji was afraid of finding out the answers to these questions. Taiga had already become an indispensable part of my life, so what just what is coming to slice open our bodies and souls? Ryuuji's facial expression twisted subconsciously. Taiga repeated herself: I have to tell you something.
"I really don't have any money left. The money in my purse were the last bit of money I had, my bank account is empty. I haven't received any money this year, though there was a sizeable amount of money in my account, but since I drew money by the hundred thousands, it's already empty."
White flames shot out from Ryuuji's eyes, ears and nose.
Just as he expected.
Just as Ryuuji expected, it was that person's fault! Ryuuji tremebled with uncontrollable anger as he thought to himself: Just explode. It would be illogical and agonizing if you don't. Ryuuji couldn't help but ask,
"What is that old man trying to do!?"
Ryuuji gave a loud, primal roar, as though he had poison stuck in his throat. Taiga would probably have been contaminated by the poison spewing out of Ryuuji's mouth, but Ryuuji couldn't endure the agony of keeping that poison in his throat.
It's that old man again! He's here to torment Taiga again! He's using this method to make Taiga distressed again -- Damn it, he should just die.
"Don't let that fellow intervene in your life!"
Disappear! Taiga lowered her head slightly, as though accepting the curse that Ryuuji had thrown out. 'He didn't intervene.' Ryuuji heard her mumble.
"......I heard that he lost a court case. He had been fighting a court case for a long time already."
Snowflakes landed on Taiga's fringe.
"That's why father ran away with Yuu. He had to pay an astonishing amount of money, so much so that he would have to declare bankruptcy. His company, his home, his car, everything's gone. That apartment is no longer mine, I'm an illegal occupant."
On the snow-covered ground, there were marbles that looked like eyes, a piece of dry leaf that looked like a nose, and a twig that looked like a mouth. On the crayon-sketched oval shape, there were round eyes, a triangular nose, and a rectangular mouth -- There was no hint of life, no degree of warmth.
That was Taiga's face.
"Now that father has run away, what will happen next? Will he be arrested one day? I don't know. What industry did he work in? Did he even work? I don't even know that...... I never thought that there was anything wrong with not knowing any of those, so much so that I didn't even know that he had become like that. I only found out when mother came to get me during the school trip. I didn't know that mother was about to get married again either."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Ryuuji didn't even realize that it was his own voice that asked the question, thinking that it was an alarm from a parallel universe.
"I'm sorry for not telling you, I'm sorry."
And then? What do you intend to do about it?
"Mother wants to take me in, so I told her to buy the apartment that I'm staying in, and send money to me every month, just like what father used to do. I even said that if she was unwilling, then she could just leave me to my own devices. I may be clumsy, but I should be able to get a job, I'll find a way to survive, but mother was against it. Unlike me, mother wants to sever all ties with father, she doesn't want her own daughter to be 'Aisaka Rikurou's daughter', so she fought for my custody rights, and wants to bring me to a place where no one can find me. I suddenly feel that it may be better if Yuu was around--"
Ryuuji recalled the faces that Taiga had shown before today. The Taiga who attempted to mask everything with lies, but would still have occasionally looks of helplessness. He also recalled the words that Taiga had shouted in the unused classroom, and the feelings that he should be able to express.
The feelings that he wanted to express.
Ryuuji was defeated by reality, as he couldn't help but surrender.
He crouched down at Taiga's feet, holding his breath as he attempted to swallow that sobs that were coming out of his mouth, despite his feeble attempts at covering his face.
But crying wouldn't solve anything, nor would it make things better.
Something soft was placed on Ryuuji's head. It was the muffler that Ryuuji had wrapped around Taiga's cheeks, which now carried her body heat.
"The problem lies with me doesn't it."
Kneeling down in front of Ryuuji, Taiga reached out her hands and hugged him. Ryuuji's body gave an involuntary shudder at her soft murmurings, the long hair that came into contact with his nose feeling extremely cold. Above the two of them, snow continued to fall onto the river and the town.
"Things like this always happen."
Under the protection of Taiga's body heat and the muffler, tears continued to roll down Ryuuji's cheeks. If the problem lies with you, then I'm not normal either. Ryuuji couldn't speak. If the problem lies with Aisaka Taiga, the most important person to me, then I, Takasu Ryuuji would also be abnormal -- He couldn't say it, as sobs continued to rack his body. He couldn't speak, he didn't know what to do, he didn't even have a place to go back to anymore.
Ryuuji struggled to stand up as he stretched out both of his hands. He wanted to tell Taiga that no matter what, no matter where, he would never change, the reality of his existence would not change. Ryuuji hugged Taiga with all his strength.
"Why are you......"
Taiga hugged him back tightly,
"Willing to stay by my side......?"
You idiot! Ryuuji didn't shout it out, but instead lifted his face, burying his chin into Taiga's hair as he looked up into the snow-filled sky. His tear-stained face was already frozen.
"......You mean you don't know!? You really don't know!?"
There were no stars in the night sky. With no constellations to guide the way, Ryuuji didn't know where he was. He only knew that Taiga was in his arms, and he was together with her.
This was the only thing that was certain.
"Is there any other place where I should be besides here!?"
The gaze in his eyes was brighter than any star.
Huh? Taiga blinked in confusion. Even Ryuuji was so surprised at saying such a thing so nonchalantly that he let go of Taiga. He finally realized that the answers to all his questions were here.
Ryuuji took half a step back as he brushed the strands of hair on Taiga's face behind her ears, bending down to look at her pale face. 'Here?' Ryuuji nodded in response, placing his palm on Taiga's cheek. Although her soft cheeks were still frozen solid, but the warmth in them had returned.
Ryuuji nodded his head seriously once again, expressing his decision without hesitation,
"That's right, here."
Although he didn't know why, but he felt that this answer was definitely correct. I'm the one who made this decision. Ryuuji sucked a lungful of the freezing winter air into his body before slowly breathing out a sizable cloud of white mist. Layer after layer of snow had piled onto the thin layer of ice on the ground beside his feet. If Ryuuji had looked closer, he would have noticed that layers of snow had piled up on both the railing and Taiga's head.
To be honest, Ryuuji didn't understand why he didn't realize that he had already reached this decision.
If Taiga was unwilling, she'll kick me, explode, smash my head, run away with all her might. Even though she's a palmtop tiger, but a tiger's still a tiger. Even if Ryuuji had that thought, but he didn't want Taiga to run away, so he did a fake -- He hung the muffler that was on his head on his neck, moving towards the face that he held in his hands.
Why would humans do something like this? It didn't matter if it was a promise, to prove something, a contract, a practice, instinct, or if even if it had no meaning at all. To protect himself, to protect Taiga, to protect their relationship, to protect everything, Ryuuji stepped over the boundaries that his conscience had set for him. We are not father and daughter, or brother and sister, or just friends, nor are we landlord and customer. We're just classmates, but not just classmates, not neighbors, we don't have a master and servant relationship, or a family-like relationship, nor are we secretly in love with each other's best friends. Ryuuji knew that by doing that, he would destroy every dangerous connection there was, and also knew that by doing that, the grey areas in their relationship would be swept away, but he still wanted to make contact.
Ryuuji wanted to kiss Taiga.
Ryuuji slowly closed the distance between him and Taiga in time with the falling of the snowflakes. All these were irreversible actions, and they would never be the same ever again.
Their lips came into contact.
Taiga, who hadn't noticed Ryuuji moving towards here until their lips came into contact, trembled for a moment.
Never mind, it's only a momentary contact. Just like the actions of a cute puppy, Ryuuji moved his lips closer......And then he wrapped his right hand around the back of Taiga's head, pushing her towards himself.
He didn't want to break contact, but Ryuuji could also be trying to ensure that Taiga wouldn't run away.
Even though he was taking the initiative, Ryuuji was trembling. Other people also kiss -- Are they all like this? The soft feel of Taiga's lips was almost searingly hot, the experience almost too much for Ryuuji to bear. Ryuuji's mind was blank. The happiness that came from the contact flashed across his mind, his heartbeat also rising to an impossibly high number. Just as he had learnt in Biology, feelings are a type of electric current. The current shot into his brain, bursting into fireworks in Ryuuji's eyes.
It was almost unbelievable that humans were able to carry out such an amazing feat.
This action, was very--
"......You kissed me?"
Taiga sidestepped Ryuuji's right hand as she stepped a step back away from him, looking at Ryuuji with a feral intensity in her eyes, her hands covering her mouth as though hiding some valuable treasure as she shook her head in disbelief.
"......I kissed you."
I kissed Taiga.
"Kissed Kissed Kissed!"
I really kissed her.
Ryuuji shook uncontrollably as he nodded with inhuman frequency, covering his mouth with one hand at the same time. This was definitely not normal. Was it surprising because it was the first kiss for both of them? Will they get used to it in the future? Could anyone get used to this kind of thing? Ryuuji wasn't able to look at Taiga's face as his eyes darted around her. But his body and mind weren't fully synchronized, as his body tried to do something even more terrifying. Maybe it'll be better if we kissed again. No, maybe it'll be worse. Ryuuji stretched out his hand--
But his hand was stopped in it's tracks by another hand. Taiga's entire body was made of deadly poison, something that Ryuuji had already experienced when they first met, so she was untouchable, but now --- it was too late. Ryuuji had already tasted the poison. The poison that Ryuuji tasted would take over his body both sweetly and agonizingly.
Even Ryuuji couldn't control how far they would be able to go now that he had made the first step. He turned his body awkwardly, almost injuring his back. 'But I want to see where we can go.' 'Not now.' Ryuuji stepped away from Taiga. 'But I want to try to get to our goal.' 'Don't go, you idiot.' Two steps back. Ryuuji, who was now three steps away from Taiga, shook his head. He wasn't able to throw away everything and give into his desire.
Ryuuji swayed dangerously, like a drunk man, his back against the railing, as he held on tightly to it. Taiga's boots came into the perimeter of Ryuuji's swaying.
"Hey, wait! Go away go away go away! Don't come over!"
No! Don't come over! Ryuuji shouted, fearing that Taiga couldn't understand him. He climbed up the concrete railing, his eyes looking away from the flow of the river, as he mumbled with his body slanted sideways. Ryuuji bit down on his lip tightly, not able to forget the feeling he got from that moment of contact, and not knowing what to do about it.
Right, I have to think about out situation. The adults have taken away the only place which we could go back too, Taiga also stretched out her hand to grab onto my body, to close up the distance between us, to let out skin come into contact with each other. Even then, we will still be forcibly separated.
No, I don't want that. Never. Ryuuji grabbed his slightly wet hair with both hands. He could smell the river that was two inches below his position. What should I do? I have to protect our relationship, to prevent other people from taking it away from us. Ryuuji held his breath and closed his eyes as he leaned over the railing, trying to think of a solution. Are there any solutions? Where should we run to? Please, can anyone give the kid who only knows how to throw tantrums a drama-like development ---
--Taiga made her move.
At the same that Ryuuji heard a strange cry coming from a position slightly above his ears to his right, he was attacked. Losing his balance, Ryuuji couldn't help but grab on to the railing. But--
"You you you you you are such an id-id-idiot idiot idiot idiot--"
"Wh-Wh-What, Hey, ahhhhhhhh!"
Taiga grabbed Ryuuji's collar with one hand as her legs swung from right to left. Although her steps looked unstable, but her waist was as solid as a rock, the upper body that was hidden beneath her coat swinging expertly as she punched Ryuuji repeatedly.
"Idiot! Idiot! Idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot! Idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot!"
"Stop it......It's really......Painful......Ahhh......"
"You idiot! How stupid can you get!?"
"Don't hit me anymore, seriously, you......Gah!"
The hands that Ryuuji had put up to shield himself were swept away cleanly, staggering him. He had no idea why things would become like this. I really shouldn't have kissed her should I? Is she angry because of that kiss? But--
"I'm sorry for slapping you!"
Taiga's voice was a little hoarse, as though she was screaming with all her strength. Ryuuji thought of only one thing: That Taiga saw her destructive 'Breaking Palm!' and 'Fist Attack!' as merely 'slaps'. Those attacks were definitely not slaps.
"But my hands hurt when I hit you!"
"How does that work!? Gah......!"
Ryuuji tried to stretch out his right hand to block as he retorted, but was easily swept away by the back of Taiga's left hand.
"Why don't you try to jump into the river again! I'll definitely, definitely, definitely......"
Taiga seemed to have misunderstood something, as she locked both of her hands onto Ryuuji's collar. In her eyes --
"I'll definitely kill you......!"
A bestial glare.
Ryuuji couldn't move his eyes away from her scary gaze.
Blood rushed into Taiga's cold, pale face as she revealed her tiger fangs, Ryuuji already rooted to the ground by her gaze alone. The white mist that Taiga spat out rushed towards the tip of Ryuuji's nose cruelly,
"I also once thought about how good it would be if I hadn't been born into this world! I've thought about this......A lot of times! Sob......"
Taiga's rose-coloured cheeks were covered in tears, her voice trembling, her soft lips twisted painfully, as the snowy-white hands that had grabbed on to Ryuuji's collar shook uncontrollably.
"But I continued to live......Because......."
Ryuuji finally understood the reason behind Taiga's anger, but as his neck was being forcibly constricted, he wasn't able to calm Taiga down, or to resolve the misunderstanding.
Ryuuji felt that Taiga was really a stupid little fellow. She was just clumsy, she also liked to jump to conclusions, was extremely violent, refused to listen others, only knowing how to make use of her strength, and ---
"Because of you!"
And very direct.
Sob......Even though sobs racked her throat, Taiga's gaze didn't falter, as she stubbornly looked up at Ryuuji, her hands locking on to his collar, telling him about her deepest, truest feelings as she wept. Taiga was running towards Ryuuji as she wept, as she exposed the deepest recesses of her heart to him.
Placing her life on the line for her feelings.
"Because I like you!"
With the speed and velocity of a bullet, Taiga's voice shot into Ryuuji's heart. It set his heart on fire, shaking his very existence. Ryuuji felt as though his entire body was burning up.
"Are you trying to kill me......!?"
Ryuuji threw his true feelings back at Taiga.
"I really want to kill you! That's right, I've been angry at you for a long time now! What was that just now!? What did you just say to Ya-chan!?"
"That, that was......"
"Stop giving excuses, baldy!"
Taiga shook Ryuuji roughly, dulling his vision as though he was going to get a concussion.
"I won't allow you to to say those kind of things again! What do you mean by it'll be better if you weren't born? You better not say something like that ever again! I won't let you! You must live! It has nothing to do with who you like, or who you will be living with in the future! I will continue to be here, only for one reason, because I want to look at you, I want to look at Takasu Ryuuji! That is the only reason! It doesn't matter if I'm nothing to you, I just want to be near you......Just that! But, but you kissed me, so...... So! I want! To be by your side! I've decided to stay by your side! I've already decided! Already, already, already......! Do you get it now......!"
Taiga's fingers suddenly let go of Ryuuji's eiderdown jacket.
Taiga was almost dissolving in tears. Ryuuji wanted to embrace the girl that no amount of words could make her understand. But just as he stepped towards Taiga, 'Oh!?' He slipped on the soft snow as he cursed his luck.
"Hey! Do you get it!?"
At that very moment, in a movement that could only be explained as fate, Taiga was also rushing towards Ryuuji, either to grab on to him or to hit him. The two overly-energetic high school students smashed into each other. Losing his balance, Ryuuji mustered his remaining strength to shift his body to the left -- to the railing. His feet couldn't find purchase on the soft snow, while the hand that had grabbed onto the railing slipped of the thin layer of ice on it. To compound Ryuuji's misery, Taiga's attempt to steady herself ended up in a knuckle to the back of Ryuuji's neck.
Ryuuji's body went over the railing.
It's definitely divine punishment.
No, it's divine retribution.
The journey downwards seemed to be endless, and Ryuuji thinking that he saw a glimpse of the buddha on his way down. So there is such a thing as retribution in this world -- In the next second after Ryuuji's thought, he fell into the freezing river. Seeing a pillar of water shoot up as a result of his landing, Ryuuji's heart contracted painfully.
In total darkness, Ryuuji stopped breathing, the dead silence around him making him think, 'I'm going to die.' He didn't feel the cold, nor did he feel any pain, his senses were numbed by the cold.
Above him, Taiga screamed, her voice sounding like a slow-motion recording to Ryuuji's ears. It's the end...... Ryuuji's brain thought, but his limbs flailed instinctively, touching the riverbed almost instantly. It turned out that the river was so shallow that he could sit down and half his body would still be above the water.
"Achoo achoo achoo!"
Ryuuji jumped up.
Ryuuji coughed as he breathed painfully. I could die, I could really die. 'Achoooooooooooooooo!' --As Takasu Ryuuji died, he decided to take all the living things in this world together with him. He turned into a bomb that could destroy the world, his wild eyes staring into space, his lips curving into a unnerving smile, with his dark wings disintegrating, a beam of blinding light shot out of his heart, declaring that he will be reborn as a demon king in a thousand years' time -- Of course it wasn't like that.
"See...... You brought this upon yourself......"
Ryuuji couldn't help but think that Taiga, who was looking down at him from the bridge was the scariest thing in the world. His vision was blurred, but Taiga nodded her head repeatedly as though she understood everything.
"You're lucky that you didn't get hurt. But...... You should have experienced it by now shouldn't you? You're not allowed to try to kill yourself by jumping into the river anymore. It's not a nice way to die."
"I, I, I --"
"I know that you're trying to say 'I get it'. Very good, you finally get it......"
She rubbed her nose and wiped the tears off her face before saying, 'Can you get back up?' Now's not the time to say something like that! So Ryuuji told her what he really was thinking,
"I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-It's because y-y-y-y-y-y-you p-p-p-pushed me d-d-d-d-down!?"
"Huh? What are you talking about? I can't hear you properly."
"I-I-I-I-I wasn't trying to kill myself!"
"Hmm? Is that it?"
"Y-Y-You're the one who misunderstood, a-a-a-and h-h-h-h-h-hit me! W-W-W-Which is why I-I-I became l-l-l-like this......!"
"Oh, you should have said so earlier!"
I could have said so earlier? No one who has just been pushed into a river will accept that kind of attitude. Ryuuji was still standing in the river, as he looked up at Taiga, breathing deeply, thinking about what he wanted to say to her. The white snowflakes fell onto his wet and frozen body, compounding his misery, as Ryuuji couldn't feel his limbs anymore.
"Hey--Are you alright--?"
Taiga stuck out her body to get a better look at Ryuuji while she wiped off the tear stains on her face with the back of her hand.
"H, how can I be alright...... I-I-I-I-I-I-I'm freezingggggg!"
"That's such a pity......"
"It's all your fault!?"
"Yes, but because I didn't mean it......"
"What do you mean by 'I didn't mean it......'!? You, You, You...... Idiot! Clumsy girl! Slow! Violent girl! You're being too much!"
Ryuuji couldn't help but shout at Taiga to ease his anger. Even though he was almost freezing, his anger was like a hot stove inside him. Looking at Taiga, Ryuuji breathed out large clouds of white mist as he rubbed his numb hands against his cheeks, slowly easing some blood into his hands.
From Ryuuji's forcibly cooled-down brain, he was able to clearly see the distance between Taiga and him. One was on the bridge, while the other was in the river, they wouldn't be able to touch each other even if they stretched out their hands. The snowy-white face was at a place where he couldn't reach.
"Hadn't I already apologized?"
Even at this kind of time, Taiga still continued to throw tantrums, as she pouted unhappily. Within the mess of dancing snowflakes, Taiga's soft hair was caught in the wind.
Ryuuji couldn't endure the fact that he was unable to touch her hair, her face, her lips. He wanted to be by her side, he wanted to be even closer, he wanted to be with her forever, he wanted to continue living together with Taiga.
He won't allow anyone to take that away from him.
Because he didn't want that to be taken away, he'll have to fight. The main opposition were the adults. After defeating the adults, he'll also become an adult, and once he becomes an adult, it'll mean that--
--It'll mean that.
Ryuuji waved at Taiga to get her attention. Taiga tutted as she turned slightly to look at Ryuuji.
This wasn't about feelings. It was about getting recognition from adults that he had become an adult by going by their rules. Ryuuji wanted to break free of being the child that could only listen to what the adults told him to do. Aren't animals like this too? The beasts on the ground, the birds in the sky, the fish in the water, even the bugs on the tree, as long as they grow up, they will stick out their chest and assert, 'This is my territory.' and fight for it.
"I'm seventeen years old right now."
Taiga fell silent for a moment before nodding,
"Me too......Because we're classmates......"
"That's not the point."
The finger that pointed towards Taiga was trembling, and not because of the cold.
"And I'll be eighteen very soon."
The place that he wanted to bring Taiga to, the destination of their great escape, Ryuuji finally could represent it with a clear-cut number.
As long as they continue to escape detection for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it'll be Ryuuji's birthday. And then, I'll be able to shout: I will continue to live! Before that, I have to run away with Taiga, until I turn eighteen.
And so, Ryuuji breathed deeply before locking his eyes onto Taiga again,
Under the streetlights that illuminated the bridge, Taiga's white coat was blinding.
"From today onwards, I want to be with you every day, I want to be with you for the rest of my life."
In the direction that his trembling finger was pointing to, Ryuuji found the light that he had always been seeking. Ryuuji wanted to grab that shining star with his hands, and then glare at the rest of the world, not letting anyone else have it. He wanted to shout: This is mine!
"......Are you.......doing this to save me?"
Taiga's face changed, her voice as cold as the ice beneath her feet.
"Are you doing this because you pity me...... Because you sympathize with me? Is it kindness? Are you saying such things so that you can be happy at becoming a sacrifice, at being a good boy?"
If it's like that -- Ryuuji felt that Taiga was gnashing her teeth, and that was probably true as well. Taiga shot a bestial glare at Ryuuji, her small hands tightly clenched into fists, the blood in her veins burning at a higher temperature than molten lava. If it's really like this, I'll tear you apart. One wrong move would result in Ryuuji being torn apart. Taiga's body was trembling at the bestial instinct in her.
The eyes that no longer contained any semblance of reason, only revealed a bestial hunger for the truth.
Take all that back, or else -- Her gaze told Ryuuji.
But I won't admit defeat.
"Ahhhhh......Damn it......I'm f-f-f-f-f-f-freezinggggg......"
I'm putting in just as much effort as her, so I will not lose. Ryuuji looked back at Taiga as he opened his eyes and bit down on his frozen lips, straightening his back as much as could before stretching out both of his hands,
"I don't care about what you think! I only have one thing to say!"
Ryuuji shouted hoarsely,
"I like you! That's why I want to resist the people who want to take you away! No matter who the opposition is, I will fight!"
"......It's freezing! It's so cold so cold so cold that I'm going to freeze to death!"
"......Ryuuji, likes me?"
"Ah----------I'm really going to freeze to death!"
"You just told me that you like me. You said it, you said it, you said it...... You said it. I'm very sure you said it, I heard it."
Why are you still asking questions then? Ryuuji was already at his limit, the strength draining away his hands and knees. 'Ahhhhh......' Ryuuji lowered his head and bent down--
"......I like you."
Ryuuji felt as though he had nothing left to say, that he had already emptied everything that was hidden in his heart. In the end, it all boiled down to one simple sentence, something that he finally was able to say after going through so much.
"I can't endure every heart-breaking thing that has happened to you, and I don't want to have anymore sad memories. But if all the sadness and unbearable things were required for me to get her -- to get to your side, and for you to come to my side, then I will treasure everything. You will be my world."
You are the one who holds my world together.
Ryuuji felt as though he had given away the last of his body heat with the worlds. After speaking, Ryuuji saw something unbelievable, as Taiga disappeared from the back of the railing, and then--
"......Wai, wai,wait, stop, hey, arghhhh......!"
She jumped down.
She was aiming to jump past everything that was separating them into Ryuuji's arms. Taiga ignored Ryuuji's attempts to stop her, and shouted 'Get--Set!" before jumping off the bridge.
Her dress billowing out into the wintery air, covering Ryuuji's field of vision completely.
"I can't catch you! I can't! Arghhhhh!"
In the next moment, Ryuuji grabbed on to Taiga with all his remaining strength, using his shoulders, his back and his waist to support her weight. Ryuuji had thought that Taiga would scream.
"I'm already here."
Ryuuji stepped back unsteadily, causing large ripples on the surface of the river. She came, she really came. Ryuuji held on to Taiga tightly, but was still unable to completely keep his balance, as he almost fell down.
"Non-cancellable, non-refundable, and I'll never leave you. Regret isn't an option."
"You, are you a monkey!?"
Taiga wrapped her limbs around Ryuuji, giving him her entire weight, her chin on Ryuuji's shoulder, her entire body depending on Ryuuji's arms for support. She breathed out roughly, her teeth pressing against Ryuuji's neck as though she was going to bite down on his jugular. The warmth of her tongue made Ryuuji tingle.
"I don't care if you call me a monkey, you're not allowed to regret......!"
"......Of course. Who would regret something like that."
It has already been decided. And barely one second of silence later, Ryuuji really couldn't take Taiga's weight, and both of them fell backwards into the river, causing a large splash and loud screams.
It's all your fault, it's your fault for blaming me, you idiot, stupid, clumsy--! Amid the screams, there were also sounds of the two of them shouting abuse at each other.
A certain someone groaned as she stared at something intently before talking to herself,
"Just as I thought."
She instinctively hid herself in the darkness beside the streetlamps as she looked down at the river from the riverside walkway at 'those two' dangerous characters who were splashing around in the water in this kind of snow. She covered her mouth with her sleeve as she twisted her slim body around to take another look at those two people.
Ahh---It's freezing! I'm going to freeze to death! My leg's stuck! Kya! Help me pull it out! Taiga! Ryuuji! Gah! They were definitely the two people that many people had been looking for. But even though she had found them, she suddenly felt that she didn't want to be connected to the two of them in any way. The two of them look very energetic, so there shouldn't be any problems. Just as she prepared to walk home --
The legs that had planned to turn around didn't move in the end.
Clicking her tongue, she flipped open her cellphone and counted the number of rings as she walked. I'll go home if he doesn't pick up in five rings -- Definitely. She noticed that there was a small wet spot on her boots that was caused by a stray snowflake. Sigh. Just as she was about to switch faces, her childhood friend picked up the phone,
"Hello! I'm in front of the Takasu and Aisaka residences. No one answered when I pressed the doorbell, so I guess both of them aren't here. Where are you now?"
"......I'm beside the river. And...... I found them. They're below the bridge, in the river, the two of them look really scary!"
"What!? Are you serious!?"
"I have a bad feeling about this."
She patted the snow off her shoulder, as she thought about how she should have brought an umbrella while sticking her other hand into her pocket, leaning against the streetlamp.
Snowflakes continued to fall onto her cold figure.
"It can't be, that can it!? It's a little too scary to say it out loud, that...... the two, two of them, together...... committing suicide together?"
"No, it's even crazier then that."
She looked at the two of them again. The two crazy people were still splashing about in the water.
"Even crazier? It doesn't sound good. I'm coming over straight away!"
"Can Ami-chan go home already?"
Ami's voice sounded funny, as her nose was blocked. She had a little bit of the flu already, and had planned to sleep early today. Since it was snowing outside, Ami didn't feel like jogging today, and thus planned to massage her face after bathing.
--She hadn't wanted to care about what happened to those two.
"No! Go get the two crazy fellows back to normal. I'll be there immediately. Ah, and help me tell Kushieda!"
"Huh? I don't have her number."
"I'm serious...... Huh? He hung up on me."
It was an emergency.
Looks like it's really serious.
Anyone would be affected by the serious call that she had earlier received from her childhood friend. No wonder he spoke in that tone, that manner. It was because of her childhood friend's tone that Ami couldn't help but walk to her door and pull on her newly-bought boots, rushing out of her home without even bringing an umbrella.
"...... You have got to be joking with me."
Ami muttered to herself as she pressed on her cellphone with her frozen fingers to make a call. The other party picked up within a single ring.
Ami pretended to not care as she lowered her voice and spoke in as emotionless a tone as possible, 'I found them near the bridge. Yuusaku says he'll be here immediately.' 'No way? Seriously? I got it, I'm coming over now.' The other person also replied in four short sentences, sounding as though she was running.
Ami kept her cellphone in her pocket as she breathed out into the night sky. Alright, now what do I do? She could still hear the dying screams coming from the river. Even though those sounded like dying screams, but since they could shout so loudly, they shouldn't be in any danger. Looks like I should continue to pretend to not know them for the moment.
"......Fu......It's really cold......"
There wasn't anyone on the road as Ami walked over, only the soundless accumulation of snow on the ground, a deathly silence descending over the surroundings. Ami looked at the other side of the river, thinking that the other side should be this quiet too. The endless snowflakes seemed to be a silent curtain that separated the two sides of the river.
Even though it was only a small distance, but the two sides of the river felt as though they were as far away as the distance between stars. Looking at the loneliness that seemed to have been cut off from the world, Ami thought to herself, which side do I belong to? Do I belong to the side where two idiots are screaming and shouting at the top of their voices? Or do I belong to the side that is far away and blurred?
Just which side should I select?
"Ah!? It's Bakachi!"
"Oh!? You're right, it's Kawashima!"
No way...... Ami turned around slowly. She wasn't hearing things. Takasu Ryuuji and Aisaka Taiga stood in the knee-deep water, looking like river monsters with their soaked bodies as they splashed towards her while waving their hands frantically,
"Kawashima! Hey! Hey hey hey--hey!"
Ami suddenly looked confused, as though she was hearing things -- Is the snow fairy talking to Ami-chan? Ami gave that kind of expression before turning away. Because the two of them looked terrifying.
"Kya! Stupid Bakachi, how dare you pretend not to hear us!"
"Gahhhh you've got to be kidding me! We're dying here!"
Baddie--! Baddie--! Listening to their horrifying screams, Ami was still confused. There was only a pretty, kind and classy young woman here, where did the baddie come from.
"Ah---It's really freezing, we should go get a cup of coffee."
"Ahhhh! Are you really planning to just walk away!? Wait a minute, Bakachi! I told you to wait! Don't go! Don't walk away! Save us--!"
The palmtop tiger finally threw away her pride as she shouted for help. That arrogant tiger actually cried 'save us' to me...... Heh heh. Ami couldn't help but sneer. She should have done that from the beginning. Ami stopped and prepared to turn around --
"The pretty model Kawashima Ami-san! Ka,Wa,Shi,Ma,A,Mi,San! Are you preparing to leave your friends, who are freezing to death, in the lurch? Ryuuji, say something!"
"Brilliant, Taiga! Kawashima Anna's daughter A---Mi---Sa----N! Are you just going to leave us here like this!?"
"Hey hey hey wait a minute! Shut up, shut up! I'm telling the two of you to shut up!"
Ami hurried towards the two of them. This was a serious matter, I'm still planning to be in the entertainment industry for about sixty more years you know!? I can't have any weird rumors flying around here! Ami stumbled down the sloped river bank,
"What are the two of you trying to do! What are the two of you shouting about! How could the two of you shout my name! Are the two of you idiots!? Why can't the two of you shout 'help' like normal people!?"
"I knew she could hear us! Help us!"
The more Ami looked at the two of them, the scarier they looked. Soaked from head to toe, their faces were green, their lips black, and still splashing with all their strength towards her. Ami suddenly didn't have the strength to continue scolding them,
"Now that I think of it...... How did the two of you end up like this......?"
"How should I say this...... It's a long story, I can't really just explain it to you in a few sentences. Ah, Ahhhh~~ My boot came off......!"
"Ka-Kawashima, I'm begging you, lend me a hand! The riverbed's too soft, I can't walk properly!"
Ami stood on a block of concrete on the riverbank.
"Ah--That's such a pity, looks like my hand isn't long enough--"
Ami stuck out her arm and waved it about nonchalantly, not planning to help at all. 'How could you!' -- Hearing the angry mutterings of the palmtop tiger, Ami tutted,
"Of course I'm joking. Ah~ It's~ Freezing!"
Ami grabbed onto Takasu Ryuuji's hand and pulled him onto the river bank before the two of them grabbed onto Taiga's hands. Her hand was so cold that Ami couldn't stop shivering, this was really serious.
"Yuusaku and that fellow...... Kushieda Minori will be here in a while. And the two of you are ridiculously cold! You don't look normal at all!"
"It's r-r-r-r-r-r-r-really bad! S-S-S-S-S-S-Seriously b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bad."
"Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes it's r-r-r-r-really bad. We're t-t-t-t-t-t-t-too s-s-s-s-s-s-stupid."
"...... I'm surprised that the two of you are still alive, looks like your bodies are really strong."
Looks like now's not the time to ask for an explanation, Ami thought to herself as she took off her water-proof coat and draped it over the two of them. The cold air that seeped into her high-collared sweater made goosebumps break out on Ami's skin, but it was much better than those two. But --
"I think I'm going to get a cold."
Looking at the two of them who were shivering while leaning into each other, Ami almost said, I'm alone here. She forcibly swallowed her words at the last moment as she converted it into a sigh. It looks like the most pitiful person in the end is me. Even though I don't want to think about it like this, but--
"How could Ami-chan be so pitiful...... Just how naive and kind can I be......"
Ami also knew that she was unable to leave anyone who asked her for help in the lurch. She always ended up being the one who lost out. After getting a call from her childhood friend, she rushed out, found the missing people, and even lent them her coat, leaving her own self to shiver in the cold air. Ami also wished that someone would treat her like that.
She really wished that there would be something who would treat her like that.
I'm really stupid -- Ami rubbed her cheeks with her hands in place of biting her lips as she pouted and swallowed the words that she wanted to say before speaking in a sweet voice,
"It must be because God gave me unparalled beauty that I have to go through more hardships than normal people...... Sigh!"
"Ah--Bakachi's really warm......"
The feeling that nobody understood her was smashed in an instant as Ami was caught in a tight embrace from the dripping palmtop tiger, her hands even sneaking into her sweater.
Ami's entire body stiffened because of the cold.
"You're really warm, Bakachi's a lifesaver......"
Taking advantage of Ami's momentary lapse in concentration, Taiga went one step further as she stuck her hands into Ami's skin-tight T-shirt, rubbing her freezing hands against her hands and sucking away the warmth from Ami's skin, causing her to scream a certain sea creature's name (the sound word for a scream in Japanese is the same as tunicates, or sea squirts)
As though summoned by the inhuman, 'Hey, over there! Hey--!' Ami's childhood friend waved as he hurried over, sliding down the slippery slope.
"You just screamed 'Sea squirt' didn't you!?"
That's not the point! The three of them retorted at the same time. Following closely behind Kitamura Yuusaku was--
"I found you guys! Everyone! Wai, gah!"
Kushieda Minori. She had wanted to slide down the slope like Kitamura, but landed on her butt instead. Looking at how she struggled to stand up, the others had thought that she was going to say something important, but--
"Did Ami just shout 'sea squirt'!?"
No! The four of them retorted at the same time. 'Sorry, I must have heard wrongly!' Minori stuck out her tongue.
"Speaking of which, what happened to the two of you......"
Minori pointed at the two people who were soaked to the bone. Takasu Ryuuji and the tiger looked at each other as they continued to shake uncontrollably, not knowing where to begin.
"And, what's with you!?"
Realizing that Minori had suddenly pointed at her, Ami, who didn't have any makeup on, looked at her,
"Your dressing! Why are you only wearing a sweater!?"
"M-M-M-Minorin, B-b-b-b-bakachi's coat is here. She l-l-l-lent her coat to us. Right, B-b-b-b-b-bakachi?"
Ami didn't even have time to nod before---
"Ah--Ah--Ah--! I feel cold just by looking at you! Are you alright!?"
Kushieda Minori's hands reached towards Ami, rubbing her arms. Ami couldn't help but mutter 'Busybody!', but Minori merely ignored her.
"The two of you should take off your coats first. Here, give them to me."
"Let Takasu-kun wear Ami's coat, Taiga can wear mine. And then Ami, this is for you! You're freezing!"
Minori wrapped a square-patterned muffler around Ami's shivering shoulders. Ami instictively drew her neck back at the sudden warmth--
"I'll take that."
Ami's childhood friend, who was holding two soaked coats, took away the muffler that was wrapped around her shoulders,
"It's freezing, so the two of you should share this."
In exchange for the muffler, Ami's childhood friend took off his coat. 'Thanks!' Kushieda Minori took the coat and grabbed Ami's hand,
"Lean over! Hey, come over! Closer!"
Minori dragged Ami into the cover of Kitamura's coat. Under not-so-warm cover of the wool coat, Ami suddenly opened her mouth,
She coughed lightly to hide her sob, as she continued speaking as though nothing happened,
"......The two of you will probably die if you don't take a hot bath soon right?"
|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|