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E6 - 6 This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.

This is Chapter 2 from Volume 10 of the Toradora! Light Novel series. The text is from Baka-tsuki.

Transcript

Only when his entire body was enveloped in hot water did Ryuuji's frozen muscles return to normal. Ryuuji wiped the water off his body with a towel as he sighed. This is only the beginning, they've only managed to avoid the more immediate dangers, it wasn't over yet.

'Are you done?' Kitamura's voice came from the other side of the bathroom door. 'Yeah.' Ryuuji wrapped the towel around his waist as he poked his head out of the door.

"Though most of your clothes are only half-dry, but at least your underwear and socks are dry. Your clothes, on the other hand......Hmm......are still......"

Kitamura touched the pair of jeans that Ryuuji had left on the washing machine with his palm before crossing his arms in front of his chest, looking as though the state of Ryuuji's jeans was completely unacceptable. 'This is dry.' Kitamura passed Ryuuji his underwear as he spoke, while waving a hairdryer in one hand,

"Perhaps I should dry it for a while longer."

"This is enough, I just need it to be wearable."

Thank you so much for helping. Ryuuji bowed in gratitude as he eased into a sumo wrestling stance, waving his right hand up and down in a karate move. Kitamura had used the hairdrier to help Ryuuji dry his clothes while he was bathing. Even though Kitamura also walked in the snow without a coat, even though he was feeling just as cold as Ryuuji, but he didn't rest. Ryuuji heard the sound of the hairdryer all the while when he was bathing.

After being dipped in the freezing river, it was expected that his clothes won't be easily dried, but the underwear that Ryuuji took from Kitamura was completely dry and warm.

"Ah......I finally feel comfortable. It was torture to have a completely wet piece of cloth stuck on my freezing butt."

Ryuuji nodded his head as he pulled up his underwear from under the towel. Looking at Ryuuji's actions, Kitamura spoke,

"You change the same way as the girls before swimming class."

After saying such a creepy thing, Kitamura had intended to laugh it off.

"What......Huh......?"

After thinking about it, Ryuuji couldn't help but stare at Kitamura, his eyes opening to their largest extent. Girls changing before swimming class? I really like that kind of play, it makes me -- Of course Ryuuji wasn't thinking about something like that, he merely found his best friend to be extremely scary for a moment there.

"......You've peeped at the girls changing before......?"

"You--What---Are you----Thinking!?"

Kitamura took off his spectacles that had fogged up to wipe them as he retorted while answering in a disturbing tone,

"There wasn't a changing room in my primary school, so the boys and girls changed in the classroom together."

"I, I see......You really scared me for a moment there. And speaking of which, could you stop looking at me like that. I'm not like you, you know, I get embarrassed when other people look at my exposed body."

"I'm not looking, I'm not looking."

Look -- I'm not looking. Kitamura stood directly in front of Ryuuji as he deliberately pushed up his spectacles while widening the pair of eyes behind the lens as far as they would go. 'You idiot! You're on the same level as Haruta!' Ryuuji shot back. After horsing around for a while,

"......I wonder if Aisaka has finished changing?"

"Her......hair's curly and long, so I shouldn't think that she'll be so fast."

The two of them seemed to be looking for the right moment to talk about the most important thing.

Even though they couldn't look through the ceiling, Ryuuji and Kitamura still looked up silently. Ami's father's brother and his family lived on the first floor, while the second floor was converted into four separate apartments. Ami lived in one of the apartments. Even though she lived in a separate apartment, but everyone would eat together on the first floor. According to Ami, her apartment was merely a room that was a little far away.

For the time being, there wasn't anyone on the first floor. After opening the door for the guys, Ami led the girls up to the second floor. Even though Ryuuji was concerned that it'll be obvious that someone had used the bathroom, but Ami merely answered, 'I'll just tell them that I was the one who used it. Help yourself to the toiletries."

Kitamura and Ryuuji stayed in the living room of the Kawashima residence discreetly. The two of them really wished that they were here to visit as Ami's friends, and not as such suspicious characters. The warm-colored light shot up the ceiling that curved upwards, bolsters, sweaters, magazines and other things were randomly placed on the sofa, indicating the places of every family member, making the living room look warm and comfortable. The living room was completely enveloped in a sense of class and beauty.

Personally, Ryuuji felt that for Ami, who had been forced to run away from her own home because of the stalker, this must be her sanctuary. But --

"......If Kawashima's uncle comes back to see us here, he'll surely think that we're thieves who're blatantly showering in his home......"

Stepping on the thick shower mat, Ryuuji looked around nervously at the neatly arranged towels, shavers, toothpaste and toothbrush -- Even though it was really comfortable here, but he was on the run, so he can't stay for long.

As though he was in a hurry, Ryuuji didn't care that the rest of his clothes were only half-dry as he pulled on the rest of his clothes. Right now, he didn't know what to expect.

"At least we won't have to worry about anything for tonight. Ami says that her uncle's out for the night shift tonight."

"Night shift. Are both her uncle and his wife doctors?"

An image of his mother going to work at night flashed into Ryuuji's mind. As though to banish that image, Ryuuji roughly pulled at his hair, trying to get it to dry in the shortest time possible.

"Her uncle works in the university hospital, his wife is a nurse in another hospital. Ami says that they won't be back before next morning, so we don't have to worry for the time being. But......The problem is in my home. 'That person' came to my home."

Kitamura took off his spectacles again, roughly wiping the fog off the lens with a corner of his shirt. Ryuuji's finger couldn't stop flipping the switch of the hairdryer on and off,

"......That person. Sounds like a conspiracy."

"Yes. I guess that person can be counted as the last boss?"

"The way that person appears is really scary too. A Porsche right?"

"Yes, it's a Porsche. And she's also pregnant."

Taiga's mother had come to Kitamura's home, and Kitamura had told her 'I think I know where she will be. I'll bring her back, so please wait here for me." After leaving his home, Kitamura immediately contacted Ami and Minori to help look for Ryuuji and Taiga.

Which is to say, Taiga's mother was still waiting at Kitamura's home. Kitamura's cellphone had already received countless calls from his home.

"If my mother mentions Ami, then they might find this place. But......I guess we can pretend that no one's at home if they really come."

Kitamura scrunched his eyes as he smiled at Ryuuji.

"......I'm really sorry."

Only now did Ryuuji truly realize that even though he shouted, 'I want to fight! I want to run away! I like Taiga! I, I, I!' like a real man, but as a result, he had troubled his friends so much that they had to help him.

Ryuuji rubbed his eyes and lowered his head as he thought about the present situation. Even though Taiga and Ryuuji had finally confirmed each other's feelings, but without the help and sacrifice of other people, their dream of being together would not come true. What did I shout when I saw Ami by the river? In the end, after being pulled ashore, I still had to borrow my friend's coat and hide in Ami's home.

No, if not for that accident -- If I hadn't dropped into the river, would things have turned out differently? I don't even have enough money on me to take the bus. If Taiga hadn't lost her money -- Where could we have ran to, how long could we have continued to run with 24000 yen? The most we could have done would be to hide in some cheap hotel for about a week. Our parents would also have called the police if we had really ran away. And there was one more unshakable fact -- It was our friends who worried about us, who ran about in the snow looking for us.

If it was only the two of us, then we wouldn't be able to get very far. That is why we had to get help, and that is why we have the luxury of a hot water bath.

Is it alright?

Is there only one way?

But I don't know what to do.

"It shouldn't be like this."

Then what do you want it to be? I'll give you a chance to say it. Even if the god of destiny asked me that, I would still be unable to answer.

"But, but, how do I say it? I'm serious......Taiga and I really didn't want things to become like this."

"Don't mind it."

Kitamura shook his head forcefully.

"Even I went through the phase of dying my hair golden......I'm not repaying you for helping me the other time. Of course, I do remember that you once helped me, but that's not my point. Takasu, I also have enough reason to participate in this 'battle'."

His best friend's words sounded in the brightly-lit, vanilla-smelling changing room. Ryuuji felt that this was what his best friend really felt. But even if it is Kitamura's true feelings, that doesn't mean that Taiga and I can get help from him and the others, or to drag them into this.

Ryuuji felt that there was something wrong, but no matter how he tried, he couldn't put his finger on it.

"But from what I've heard, Aisaka's going to be taken away by her mother isn't she? Aisaka had once said that she didn't want to be forced to leave this place, to disappear from our sight. Since it has come to this, then this isn't Aisaka's and your problem anymore. Aisaka is also my friend, so I can't just stand by and watch this happen."

Kitamura spoke without hesitating,

"And you're also my friend. I'm helping because I can't bear to see two of my friends who really like each other to be separated like this.

No exaggerated seriousness, no sign of unwillingness, without hesitation.

"Since Aisaka and you finally managed to clear things up, didn't the two of you?"

Ryuuji nodded honestly. Even though he might not understand everything that was in his own heart, but at this moment, he wanted to express how he truly felt.

".....I don't want to be separated from Taiga."

Ryuuji pulled off the hair that was stuck to his face, as he clumsily opened his mouth,

"Because I like her."

Ryuuji felt that his toes were freezing up again, so he bent down to pull on his socks. Because of his stiff body, Ryuuji had trouble maintaining his balance as he struggled to pull on his socks.

Kitamura should be able to understand.

Taiga's feelings towards Kitamura were all real. And Ryuuji had also wished that Taiga and Kitamura would get together --- the thought that 'it'll be better if they don't get together' was probably hidden in some dark corner of his heart; this was also true. My feelings towards Kushieda are also true. These are not mistakes, but proof of the time that we have lived through.

It is because we have lived through those times that we have come here. But our road here wasn't easy, we stumbled, we hurt ourselves, we ended up looking like rags. Even then, we still lived through it. Not just himself, Ryuuji felt that everyone who was alive in the world had been hurt because of the 'present time', but still managed to live through the past.

To get to this present time, for him to like Taiga.

"Since you've said it, then don't leave her."

Kitamura put on his spectacles once again as he replied in a clear and powerful voice,

"I will support the two of you."

We have the same reality. Kitamura is definitely on my side, but darkness and uneasiness still shrouds my heart. Is it really alright to drag my best friend into my own battle?

Right now, Ryuuji didn't know the answer.

"......But I'm thinking that......My way of going about this battle is wrong."

"Think about it. I will surely support you."

In the time that Ryuuji dried his hair with the hairdryer, Kitamura waited silently. Even though his hair was dry, Ryuuji's reflection in the mirror was abnormally tensed up, like a nervous hooligan -- no, a nervous small animal.

Ryuuji slipped into his wet sports shoes before locking the door to the first floor with the borrowed key as he walked up towards Ami's apartment. They knocked on the door before going in after hearing Ami say 'Come in, the door's not locked.'

"Ala, this has to be a rock. This is long past the acceptable level of hardness for food."

"What did you put in it? What's your motive? Who's the target?"

"That's strange......All I did was to melt the chocolate and let it solidify again."

"This is truly a miraculous chemical reaction. I should think that even the cocoa powder would be surprised at this reaction."

"This can already be counted as a weapon. You probably could assassinate two, three people with this."

"This is really strange, why did it become like this......"

The first thing Ryuuji and Kitamura saw when they walked in was that the three girls were expressing their opinions about the chocolate that was on the kotatsu. The chocolate in question was the one that Taiga had made. Ryuuji also saw three different teeth marks on the chocolate.

Minori turned towards Ryuuji and Kitamura as she wrinkled her eyebrows,

"This is really powerful. I had wanted to eat something sweet, but then I realized that no one would be able to bite into that thing after trying to eat it. It's really scary."

Ami opened her mouth immediately after Minori had finished speaking,

"Guh! Takasu-kun smells really bad! That river's really dirty!"

"Yes, the water looks really murky in the day. Ah ah, my 24000 yen......"

Taiga was wearing a cute-looking tracksuit that she had borrowed from Ami, as she looked at Ryuuji with a serious expression on her face,

"If we had worked harder just now, we would probably have found the 24000 yen."

"You......What are you talking about......And why are you the only who got to borrow nice-looking clothes.......!"

"Ala, that's because I don't think Ryuuji would be able to fit into these clothes."

"Thank you for your thoughtfulness! Where are your clothes!?"

Over there. Taiga had sunk in so deep under the kotatsu that even her shoulders were covered, as she stuck her chin towards a corner of the room. Her coat was hung up on the clothes rack, but her other wet clothes were kept in a plastic bag.

"Argh argh argh......"

Ryuuji was almost swept away by the waves of reality, as his mind was easily battered into submission by the relentless waves. Just what is this overwhelming sense of reality? No matter how he thought about it, no matter how he let himself go with the flow of the waves, the clothes in the plastic bag were disintegrating bit by bit.

"Don't just stand there, come into the kotatsu. Yuusaku too. The two of you should be able to squeeze into one side right?"

Ami pulled up one side of the blanket covering the kotatsu as she asked.

The curtain covering the window was a little short, leaving a bit of space between the hem and floor. Most of the furniture in the room was made of metal. A small television, a small heap of magazines, an iPod speaker, branded bags and other assorted items were randomly stewn across the metal frame, making Ami's room give the impression that she was only staying here temporarily.

"......Where do you sleep? I don't see a bed."

"I sleep in a futon. When the kotatsu's out, I keep the futon in the cupboard."

"You don't have a study table either."

"This is my study table."

Ami also sank her entire body into the kotatsu as she patted the tabletop with her palm.

No bed, no study table, I'm surprised that Ami's room is so normal......Ryuuji surveyed Ami's apartment as he mumbled. Ami nodded in response,

"Don't worry, my original room's really stylish......And this fellow just fell asleep."

Beside her, Taiga's head was under the kotatsu, as she slept happily in Minori's lap.

"She's really tired, so let's just leave her as she is."

Hearing Kitamura's words, Ami, who had already stretched out her hand to wake Taiga up, stopped her intended actions. The room fell silent for a while, as everyone listened to Taiga's soft snores, before Minori finally spoke,

"Umm, I didn't ask Taiga something while I was talking to her just now."

She lowered her voice as she played with the braid that hung down from her cap, staring at the orange skin that a certain someone had left on the kotatsu,

"That is, ugh...... Taiga's situation with her mother is really bad isn't it? She dislikes her mother's marriage partner, and also dislikes her mother...... Is that how it is?"

"Of course."

Ami looked at the side of Minori's face out of the corner of her eyes, as she answered for Taiga,

"We can see that from the fact that she went with her father after her parents divorced can't we? Under normal circumstances, even though both parties are responsible, but daughters usually go with their mothers -- Why is it that you seem to not be very well-informed about Taiga's situation even though you're her best friend?"

"I had quarreled with Taiga about that old man..... Taiga's father in the past. Even though we made up, but then we never talked about her family ever again."

Ryuuji suddenly thought of something. After saying that she wanted to be a good girl during Christmas, there were only presents for her father and his second wife, and none for her mother. At least Ryuuji hadn't seen anything addressed to her mother among the presents. Taiga didn't even know that her mother was pregnant. And also -- Right, when she was cruelly betrayed by her father during the school festival, when she was suspended for fighting with Kano Sumire, Taiga hadn't turned to her mother for help. That her mother would appear during the school trip also had nothing to do with Taiga.

Ryuuji didn't know if Taiga didn't want to turn to her mother for help at all, or was prevented from by some unknown reasons. In short, the chasm between Taiga and her mother looked to be more serious than he had originally thought.

"No matter what, Tiger ran away because she didn't want to be separated from Takasu-kun, right? Because if she goes with her mother, then she will have to be separated from Takasu-kun...... I'll say this while she's sleeping--"

Ami glanced at the back of Taiga's head as she deliberately lowered her voice. She seemed to be hesitatingly slightly, as she looked determinedly into space,

"Takasu-kun should already have made a decision, which is why things are like this now...... Honestly, I think what the two of you are planning to do is too unrealistic."

I want to run away together with Ryuuji, and then marry him. Once we're married, no one will be able to separate us anymore. Even if we're still children, they won't be able to separate us -- Ami seemed to be thinking of Taiga's words, as the ripples of emotion in her eyes showed. Ryuuji looked at Ami's expression as he thought: I'm the best example of that.

Ryuuji was able to exist in this world solely because Yasuko had done something extremely unrealistic in the past. Yasuko left her home after she got pregnant, gave birth to Ryuuji and then cut of all communications with her parents, bringing Ryuuji up by herself. Therefore, Ryuuji was able to use his very own existence as proof that even high-schoolers can successfully run away if they really put their heart into it. Which is why Ryuuji believed that he'll be able to do it.

Of course Ami didn't know about such things, as she continued,

"Even if the two of you successfully elope and get married, how can you be so sure that the two of you will be happy? Even though it's good that the Takasu-kun and Tiger have decided to live together, but how do I put it. To prepare to get married once you turn eighteen just because your parents want to separate the two of you? To get legal protection from the authorities? Do you seriously think that your parents would just give up? Just like that? Ah--Ah--This is enough, I don't even know what I'm trying to say anymore.

Anyway, would it really be alright for the two of you to just ignore and give up on your parents? And speaking of which, talking about what you'll do when you become an adult, and then hit back at your parents, thinking that this would solve all your problems..... Aren't those exactly the things that a kid would do? It'll be alright as long as eveything goes according to your wishes?"

Ryuuji didn't reply as he looked at the tip of his fingers. Ami was right.

The problem was that Ryuuji kept thinking about Yasuko's way of life. That was the example, and Ryuuji was planning to do the same thing. On the other hand, he also felt that he was a victim of Yasuko's selfish way of living.

Yasuko had regretted her decision, and that's why she wanted to make amends through Ryuuji. Ryuuji thought to himself, since it's like this, then what's wrong with me running away?

I had tried to go along with the opinions of the adults, hiding my own aspirations and dreams, thinking that it'll be alright as long as I go along with the script that the adults have set for me. But the adults around me only wish to control my actions on their own whims. Discovering that, I'm unable to meekly submit to their orders, even though I don't want to completely cut off all relations with them. But since I dislike being controlled by the people around me, can't I just run away? If I'm unable to take Taiga away from all this to a life that belongs only to the two of us, I will not be able to be in control of my own life, and I will not be able to become an adult.

This could possibly lead to the two of them dropping out of school, working to support themselves, and they may never see Yasuko ever again. Even though Ryuuji didn't want that to happen, but he had no intention of letting Yasuko support both him and Taiga.

"......If Takasu and Aisaka have already decided, then I'll do whatever I can to support them."

Kitamura left the overcrowded table to sit on Ami's exercise ball, stretching his back as he did so. His eyes met Ryuuji's, who had turned around, and Kitamura shrugged to hide his embarrassment,

"I was really happy when I heard that the two of you intend to overcome all obstacles to get married. Even though this is against the rules, and in the eyes of the world, it's too early, but what does that matter!"

As expected of Kitamura, even when lifting his hands straight up into the air while sitting on the exercise ball, he was still able to maintain his balance.

"Didn't Kushieda say that she will decide her own happiness? I completely agree with her. Takasu and Aisaka should decide their own happiness, and grab on to it with all your might! I'm just clumsy, but no matter how clumsy a person is, he'll still be able to eventually grasp his own happiness! It doesn't matter how messy the process was. What does it matter! The only thing that matters is that you're happy in the end!"

"Even though we're not doing a majority decision here, but--" Ami spoke as she lifted a single finger from each of her hands,

"One against, one for, Yuusaku and I have voted, you're last. What do you think?"

Minori stopped playing with the orange skin on the kotatsu as she lifted a hand towards Ami as though asking her to wait, while her other hand covered her lowered face.

"Kushieda......"

Ryuuji couldn't help but move to get a closer look at her, thinking: Is our situation so bad that even Minori can't bear to say what she really thinks? Ami pouted slightly, as she copied Ryuuji's motion to get a closer look at Minori's face. And then--

"......Hah!"

"Hahahaha!"

The two of them started laughing uncontrollably.

"......I,I'm sorry......It's a little too big......"

The orange that was in Minori's mouth had filled up the space between her teeth so tightly that she was unable to even chew it. Minori's face twisted in agony as orange juice flowed out of her mouth and down her chin. 'Wait, wait.' Minori said as she desperately tried to swallow the orange, looking like a snake trying to swallow a whole rat as she did so. After a while --

"Ahahah, I almost died there......Looks like my mouth was smaller than I thought it was......"

Toradora vol10 089.jpg After drinking some tea to soothe her rattled breathing, Minori told them what she had wanted to say,

"I--"

She glanced at the sleeping Taiga before continuing,

"I think that Taiga's mother's really unreasonable in trying to take her away like this, I won't accept it, and I don't want to be separated from Taiga. I also don't want Taiga or Takasu-kun to be sad. Or rather, I just don't think that this is the correct way. There's no such thing as the 'correct way' in this world, humans are not fit to decide whether their actions are right or wrong. I'm only choosing the way that I like the most, and that would make Taiga and Takasu-kun happy. I think they should run away for the time being."

"Is that how you think!?"

Ami tensely retorted in a loud voice,

"I'll also feel sad if Tiger's not around anymore! I also want to think of a solution! But! Do you guys really think that this will turn out the way you want it to be!?"

"I understand what Ami wants to say, but you may not know that Taiga's parents are ---"

Rubbish.

--She was probably going to say that. Ryuuji thought as he looked at the shape of Minori's lips. But it was probably the right choice to not label the parents of her best friend as 'rubbish'.

Without anyone noticing, Taiga had woken up, digging her petite shoulders out of the kotatsu, tidying the messy hair that had fallen all over her face and shoulders,

"......Minorin, I think you shouldn't continue that sentence."

Taiga said as she rubbed her head against Minori's shoulders playfully like she always did. Minori touched Taiga's forehead with her own as though she was trying to measure Taiga's temperature, biting her lips unwillingly before nodding lightly and whispering, 'I'm really sorry.'. Though Minori whispered in a very low voice, Ryuuji still heard it.

"I know that baka-chi's worried about us."

Taiga's face was red from the warmth of the kotatsu, the rims of her eyes also slightly red,

"Moth...... old woman...... that woman...... Mother's here to help me, I understand that. I should think that she wants to take up the responsibility as my mother. But I can't forget that mother left me behind after the divorce to be with another man. And now she has a child in her, that's her own choice, the child of the person she loves, and I'm the child that my mother abandoned...... No matter what, I'm unable to hope that my mother would love me as much as she loves her unborn child. Even though she's here to help me, but as long as I have even a bit of expectation for a certain thing, the opposite will happen. I'm used to such things, and I know that as long as it's something I want, I'll never be able to get it. From another perspective, that's also because of the environment I grew up in, but --"

In stark contrast to her heavy words, Taiga had a light smile on her face. And then she looked at Ami, Kitamura and Minori before looking into Ryuuji's eyes,

"...... I fell for a boy. He's very kind, he understands me, and I'm very happy when I'm together with him. It's like I've been poisoned, as I don't want to leave him. He's a little strange, but I like his voice, the way he speaks, the way he opens his mouth when he eats. I like his hands, his fingers, his lips...... But in truth, all these things aren't important at all--"

The hand that supported Ryuuji's face slipped off the kotatsu. 'Not important at all?' Minori retorted softly. 'Not important at all.' Taiga nodded in response. Kitamura merely remained silent, while Ami's eyebrows knotted together.

"I just want to keep looking at him, to remember him forever and ever. Honestly, my heart beats uncontrollably just by looking at him, but I can't resist the urge to keep looking at him. My mind goes blank when I'm close to him...... It became like this without me even noticing. I was unable to stop it, even though my heart told me to stop, to stop it, that I can't do this, but it was useless...... The main reason why I had to stop was because that boy liked another girl, and that girl also liked him. Even though all these were true, but those feelings were covered by the curtain of friendship and loyalty. And the real reason for me to look away was that I couldn't expect anything, because everything will be destroyed the moment I start to expect something. It already has nothing to do with whether Ryuuji likes me or not, or that I didn't want to be jealous of Minorin, because as long as I have a certain expection, in the moment that I reach out for something, everything will disappear, just like magic -- Even though it's a really stupid way of thinking, but I really believe it."

After saying everything in one breath, Taiga breathed lightly,

"I guess I still believe in that, but I'm unable to stop. I really want to grab hold on to Ryuuji, and maybe this is the reason why the Aisaka family got destroyed. It's all my fault."

"That's not it!"

"How can there be something like that!"

"That's impossible!"

"Are you stupid!?"

The four of them retorted at the same time, as Minori finished off with an eyeball poke. 'Ah...... I accidentally poked too hard...... I'm sorry...... What do I do now......' Taiga covered her eyelids as she plastered herself onto the kotatsu,

"......But this kind of thing is of no consequence to me anymore."

Taiga mumbled as she continued to cover her injured eyes,

"I want to fight back. If my wish to be with Ryuuji will lead to the destruction of the world, then I'll do anything to survive, even if I have to leave this world, I will not be defeated, I will not give up on Ryuuji. And, I won't give up on Minorin, Kitamura-kun......and baka-chi, because I like all of you, no matter how serious the consequences, no matter where I am, I will always remember the people I like."

Ryuuji looked at the whorl in Taiga's hair that was in front of his eyes, thinking of what to say. What could he say that could express his decision and feelings to Taiga and the others more strongly?

After thinking about it for a while, Ryuuji spoke half-jokingly,

"...... So...... Do you intend to cry out for love in the center of the world......?"

Takasu......

Takasu-kun......

Takasu-kun......

Why you little......

Was it because of the snow that he was feeling cold? Or because he had fallen into the river? Or because of the temperature in the room? The freezing silence in the room lasted for five whole seconds --

"Uwahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! That's really disgusting!!!!"

"......Is it really so bad that you're crying......"

Ami gave an extremely long scream before tearing up. Looking at her out of the corners of his eyes, Ryuuji had thought that she was merely pretending to cry as usual, but was glared at by Ami's red eyes,

"Oh no, I can't stop......Huu......Hah......"

"......Is it that bad......"

Now Ryuuji knew that the cold joke attack was the most effective one. Ami stood up as she said,

"Take this and go~~"

"Oh......!"

Ami took a set of keys out of the LV key bag that was hanging on the metal rack and threw it to Ryuuji, who barely caught it. As Ryuuji took a closer look, the set of yellow keys seemed vaguely familiar.

"......Are these the keys to your summer home?"

"Yes."

Ami sighed as she wiped away the tears on her face lightly,

"There's electricity, but no gas. You just have to flip the switch on the water storage container for water. But it'll be obvious that the two of you have been there."

Ryuuji looked at Taiga's face, as Taiga looked back at him hesitantly, the two of them unable to make up their minds---

"......We can't bother you like this--"

Ryuuji wanted to return the keys to Ami, but Ami hid her hands behind her back, refusing to take the keys,

"What do the two of you plan to do then? Now's not the time to be polite."

"Haven't the two of you already decided to elope? Then the two of you should run as far away as you can, no matter how clumsy or ugly your way of escape is! I'm not asking the two of you to live there for the rest of your lives anyway! The two of you still need a place to stay while you guys are working right! Even if the two of you aren't planning to stay there, just take the keys as an insurance policy!"

--If this gets out in the open, how will Ami be blamed for their escape?

After thinking about the possible consequences, Ryuuji was unable to keep the set of keys in his pocket, as he stopped moving like a robot whose batteries had ran out. After the police come to know that it was Ami who provided them with a place to hide, she'll probably receive the same punishment as the two of us...... or an even worse punishment, and she could also be seen as the person who encouraged them to run away.

Is Ami prepared for all that? The power of 'emotions' are always so surprising that it shakes you to the very core of your existance.

But is this really alright?

"What has that got to do with anything!"

Is it really alright?"

"Ah......'At least send a message back home. I'm worried.' From my mother. I think this is as far as we can get tonight. They'll probably come here soon. Are the two of you leaving directly?"

"......Even if we were to go to Ami's summer home, I don't think we'll be able to make the train. If I remember correctly, that line of trains stop very early in the evening. If we leave from here......"

"Ryuuji and I are penniless."

"I'll lend you some. Ah, but I think there really aren't any trains that you can take. Hang on, I'll check the timetable with my cellphone."

"......No, It's alright, you don't have to check it."

Ryuuji said to Ami, who had flipped open her cellphone before looking at Taiga,

"Taiga, lets go home first. I'll go get money. Try to come to school tomorrow. Can you beg your mother to at least let you go to school for one last time?"

"...... I'm not sure. Mother had said that the application for me to quit school can be sent through the mail, but...... maybe I'll be able to go to school if I tell her that I want to give it to my class teacher personally...... What do you intend to tell Ya-chan?"

Ryuuji couldn't answer. Would Yasuko be at home when he goes back? It seemed as though only Taiga's mother was at Kitamura's home, so Yasuko should have gone back alone after quarelling with Ryuuji. She could have gone to work.

"......I should think that she has gone for work. But--"

What if she's at home-- What should he do then? What hould he say? He can't possibly say nothing before disappearing from school the next day.

"You have to apologize for what you told her just now. And then tell Ya-chan about us, try to get her to understand. Ya-chan will surely be able to understand, she'll be on our side."

She won't understand, and she won't be on our side. Ryuuji thought, but didn't tell Taiga that. Yasuko's selfishness was the enemy that they had to face, and now had to run away from. Ryuuji had to fight to let everything go according to plan.

Right now, he could only struggle to move forward.

When the five of them walked out of the door, the snow had already stopped.

The snow that had piled up on the asphalt road was at most one or two centimetres, easily wiped off with the sole of a shoe or evaporated with a slight rise in temperature.

All five of them immediately noticed the Porsche that moved towards them from the cross junction before stopping in front of them. Taiga's mother stepped out of the car and towards Taiga without even turning off the engine,

"Juicycouture."

She grabbed the collar of the hooded t-shirt that Ami had lent Taiga, looking at the tag. Perhaps it was because of the fact that her eyes looked to be grey in the night that her gaze felt cold and unwavering.

"Who's Kawashima-san? Is that you?'

Her gaze settled on Ami's face after looking past Ryuuji, Kitamura, and Minori,

"This isn't cheap. I'll pay you."

"Huh? No, it's alright! Please don't mind it!"

Ami waved her hand in her usual good-girl style, but Taiga's mother still took out her wallet without slowing a beat, mirroring the dominating design of the Porsche.

"Would this be enough?"

"Ugh, actually I didn't buy it......My parents bought it for me---"

"Then please pass this to your parents."

Ami held 50000 yen on her hands. Ryuuji didn't know if the money was enough, but it looked like Taiga's mother wanted to buy the clothes that Taiga was wearing. She wanted to erase all traces of Taiga's existance.

Ryuuji couldn't help but think of a female fox clearing the area surrounding her foxhole of any traces of her children, slamming and kicking the ground to prevent any traces of her children from remaining.

"Let's go."

Taiga turned back uneasily.

She looked at Kitamura -- He was the person that Taiga looked up to. Taiga looked at his face.

She looked at Ami -- They fought and quarelled, but suddenly, they realised that they had become good friends. Taiga looked at her face.

She looked at Minori -- Her best friend.

And then, Taiga looked at her one and only sweetheart.

"Take -- Take care."

Ryuuji couldn't help but tremble lightly at Taiga's words.

Even though he knew that this was an act, that this was only a temporary separation, but Ryuuji still felt afraid. What would he do if this turned out to be an eternal separation? 'Oh.' Ryuuji waved as he frantically tried to stop himself from running over to Taiga.

But the car cut off his thought by giving off a loud bang as the door closed. He was unable to see the inside of the car as the windows were misted up, as Taiga left in her mother's car.

Minori also almost ran over to Taiga, but she felt the Ryuuji's breathing next to him, as the two of them desperately tried to resist that urge.

"It...... Should be alright......"

Kitamura mumbled.

"It will be alright. Because even though Tiger looks as though she's gone, she's actually still here."

Hearing Ami's words, Minori nodded in agreement.


  • *

In the hallway that was missing one pair of shoes, the curtains were closed shut as the apartment was shrouded in cold and darkness -- This was how the apartment looked like when Yasuko was at work. Stepping into the freezing darkness, Ryuuji looked around him slowly.

He noticed that something was wrong when he saw that Inko-chan's cage wasn't at its usual position.

He looked at his room, and also Yasuko's room, before confirming that the cage had indeed disappeared. Ryuuji forgot to even change out of his wet clothes as he walked around in his home. He felt that it was better to just ask instead of imagining things in his head, so he called Yasuko's store. When he had said that he was Yasuko's son, the other party asked him, 'How's your mother? When will she be resting until?" Ryuuji knew that Yasuko hadn't gone to work. It was only when he put down the phone, planning to go talk to the landlord that Ryuuji noticed the thing on the small table in the middle of the living room. An address was written on the squirrel-logo note paper of the bank that Ryuuji and Yasuko used.

The location of the nearest train station and a phone number was also written on the paper. The watch that Ryuuji had worn for the Christmas party was placed beside the piece of paper.

"......"

A strange sound came out of Ryuuji's throat.

Without even thinking about it, Ryuuji understood. He had been thinking about whether it was really alright for him to abandon Yasuko. Whether it was really how an adult should behave. But this was the only thing that he could do to resist the adults, so he had to abandon his family, and then, together with Taiga...... But...... In the end, he didn't even need to think about it.

Because I was the one who got abandoned in the end.

This time, Yasuko had returned to the home that she had ran away from, abandoning Ryuuji.

"Ah."

He had no thoughts about it, his mind completely blank. How can there be such a pair of stupid mother and son in the world?

We're really alike aren't we, we choose to run away whenever we're forced into a corner. It's like a competition whereby the person who runs away first wins. Ryuuji really had not expected that Yasuko would take Inko-chan with her and run off.

Looks like I lost.

Ryuuji knelt down onto the floor -- Or rather, there wasn't any reason to continue standing. By the time Ryuuji had come to his senses, he had already sat down on the tatami floor. Slowly, he was unable to discern the things that he was seeing, hearing, doing, and thinking, as he tried to breathe deeply. His breath wavered in the air, breaking up his breathing into small segments.

Do I have to start from here again?

He couldn't remember where he had heard that sentence from. 'Do I have to start from here again?' Kept repeating itself in his head. 'Do I have to start from here again?' Ryuuji even forgot to blink, or perhaps he couldn't even stand up. He was already exhausted, his body devoid of strength. Even so, do I have to start -- he felt as though his body was being shattered, bone by bone, as he was unable to even move a finger.

Do I have to destroy everything and start all over again?

How many times must I repeat this?

Tick, Tick -- Ryuuji finally noticed the soft ticking of his wristwatch. The second hand would tick everytime it moved -- '......Wah,ahhhh,ahhhhhhhhhh!"

The frightening aura was cut off as Ryuuji smashed into the door.

"Do I have to start from here again!?"

Ryuuji flipped over the small table in the living room as he sank to the ground, smashing his body into the wall, his fists pummeling the tatami mats. He clutched his head in agony; there weren't anything nearby for him to hit, so Ryuuji punched his own leg over and over again,

"Whyitsnotfunnyitsnotfunny! Stop, It! Do, I, Have, To, Start, From, Here, Again......Do I.....Still have to continue!?"

Ryuuji twisted his body as he screamed, grabbing on to himself. How many more nights like this must he go through, how many more times must he lose control and cry like this before he can reach his destination? When will this end?

"Taiga......Taiga! Taiga------!"

Ryuuji bawled like a baby as he cried out for Taiga. Come over! I'm begging you, come over to my side! Ryuuji repeatedly screamed out the the feelings that would never reach Taiga, before he collapsed onto the tatami.

--Is this the 'destruction' that Taiga had talked about?"

As long as you hope to obtain something, you'll lose the exact same thing; As long as you have expectations of something, everything will be destroyed. Is it like this? Even though I have been abandoned by my mother, but I don't have the right to feel hurt, because I was planning to abandon her in the first place.

That's right, in the end, this is what he had hoped for. Isn't this what I had wished for?

Ryuuji struggled to lift his contorted face as he looked at the wretched state of the silent living room. He wanted to see with his own eyes the consequences of his wish coming true. The legs of the small table had smashed into the door, pushing it out of place. Other than that--

"......Ah......Ah ah.......!"

He saw that the watch had smashed a hole through the door.

"......Taiga......!"

Ryuuji shouted out Taiga's name once again as he buried his head between his knees. This was the result of his own actions. Ryuuji cried uncontrollably. The place that the watch had smashed through was the exact place the Taiga had attacked when she first entered this home in spring. The hole had originally been covered up by a paper flower-petal cut out from the love letter that Taiga had written to Kitamura, giving the drab-looking door a refreshing look, something that Ryuuji really liked, which was why he always found an excuse to refrain from covering the door with something else. He never thought that that very spot would be smashed through by the watch.

Yet another piece of evidence of Taiga's existence had disappeared.

Could it be that the more I cry out her name, the further she'll be from me?

I don't want that. Ryuuji desperately tried to imagine him holding Taiga's small hand in his, the two of them running towards somewhere. As they ran, the ground behind them was breaking up, forcing them to keep running -- How is it that even in my imagination, the world is falling apart?

His throat devoid of moisture from all the screaming, Ryuuji started to cough.

If this is retribution, then it's really thorough, seriously......Ryuuji thought wearily.

Yasuko, who had abandoned her parents, now abandoned Ryuuji. Because if she didn't do that, Ryuuji would abandon her. Ryuuji's child would probably abandon him as well. If not, then Ryuuji will abandon his child. And then that child will also abandon his parents, his child or be abandoned. Since I grew up in this kind of environment, then maybe I should just accept my fate. Taiga was also abandoned by her parents, so she abandoned them, and will abandon her child, or be abandoned by her child. The bonds of kinship will always be cut like this, a vicious cycle.

Because we don't know how to bond across generations.

Ryuuji slowly realized. That being left behind wasn't the most sorrowful thing. It was what he could see that was sorrowful. Not just this moment's sadness, but also the sorrows of the past and the future, because Ryuuji could see that the sorrow would continue on into the future, that was the most sorrowful thing.

Ryuuji also saw the result of running away with Taiga, and the sorrow in it.

In the future where the two of them successfully elope, Taiga will be sad. And then she will surely doubt whether it was really what she had wanted. She will see that she hadn't given up on Ryuuji, but after giving up her bond with her parents, the only the that was left in Taiga's eyes was sorrow. So that was it. Ryuuji crying by himself. No one else saw him like this, as Ryuuji didn't even have the strength to wipe the tears that were running down his cheeks. Taiga had chosen to sacrifice her parents' love in order to protect her love for Takasu Ryuuji. I don't know if Taiga really intend to do this, but...... that is it. Where do I want to bring Taiga to? What do I want her to see? What do we want for the life that we will have after throwing everything else aside?

The destruction that Taiga speaks of does not exist! It's not a bad thing to have expectations! Ryuuji really wanted to say that, but he himself was like the death god who was ripping the world apart with his scythe. And the friends that gave everything for us could also become part of the world that will be destroyed. The friends who helped Ryuuji and Taiga run away, telling them 'We're willing to do anything for your happiness' were also locking themselves into the chain of sorrows.

I can't drag them into this, so I can't do that. I'm just an idiotic kid who doesn't know his limits. I'm just a kid who looks mature on the surface, do I really have the ability to take Taiga away and disappear? I'm also afraid of my own stupidity.

"......Am I......Wrong......"

Ryuuji wanted to ask Taiga that.

He felt as though he was at the bottom of a body of water -- So I've been in this kind of place all along. Have I always been sleeping in this darkness, where it's deeper than a frozen river, where light cannot reach? But it's very safe here. Rolling up into a ball to protect his head, Ryuuji had always been here. He felt as though he finally let out a long-awaited breath.

Taiga.

The voice that called out for her rose up together with the bubbles. The eyelids that seemed to be as hard as fish scales opened to chase after the bubbles, as the heavy head finally rose up. Pushing against the tatami to stand up, Ryuuji awoke from his slumber, his limbs grabbing hold of the ground in the depths of the water body as he twisted the body that he didn't even know the size of.

Opening the pair of eyes from which a blinding light shot out from, Ryuuji floated up carefully.

Parting the burdensome weight of the water, Ryuuji shook his tail as he chased the bubbles towards the surface of the water, slowly increasing the speed of his ascent.

(Up, Up, a little faster.)

In the living room, in front of the small table that he had flipped over, Ryuuji wiped the tears of his face as he slowly stood up. He moved his legs towards the washroom, splashing freezing water onto his face before wiping his face with a towel, taking off the clothes that were becoming smelly after that.

After changing into a dry set of clothes, Ryuuji stared at the face in the mirror with a look that could kill.

(--I have to float up to the surface as quickly as possible.)

Breaking out from the surface of the water body, a gigantic shadow stretched itself over the body of water creating huge waves that sliced into the land, creating countless new islands. And then Ryuuji kicked his limbs as he shot through the clouds, swallowing the lightning in the sky as he learnt how to fly.

There was something that he wanted to see in this world, so he started searching for it. RIght now, Ryuuji's imagination was running at full capacity.

(Eat. I should eat first. Where should I go? Where must I go? A marble room with a window on the ceiling, a kotatsu in the middle...... No, if I could see the night scenery from the top of the Tokyo Tower...... or would the night scenery at rainbow bridge be better? It definitely be very beautiful. Flying under the starry sky wouldn't be bad either. Or I could just fly to the Moon, Mars, or Jupiter...... No, Earth is still the best. I want to see a rainbow...... I'll be able to create a rainbow with the water from a huge waterfall. The sky is...... I like the evening sky.)

Huff -- Ryuuji lifted the small table off the ground to avoid scratching the tatami as he lightly placed it back to its original position. The cushions were also put back into their respective places, in the order of Ryuuji, Yasuko, and Taiga. And then the television's remote control was placed on the right in accordance with the angle of the table.

(The red evening sun. The grey clouds shining as though they are burning up. It was raining beneath that cloud. I'll place a really big table at......the sea......no, in the middle of a tropical grassland at evening time. There will be a waterfall and a rainbow on the horizon, while buffalos and deer saunter past.)

Ryuuji's hand wiped the small table forcefully.

(The tablecloth will be pure white.)

Opening a package, Ryuuji saw the tablecloth billowing in the warm air of the tropical grassland. The star-filled sky of the grassland stretched all the way to the horizon. The cries of animals and birds could be heard in the distance -- Ryuuji always kept a few pieces of the Takasu-stick in the television cabinet so that he could start cleaning anytime he wanted. He sliced a piece of the Takasu-stick along the underside of the television, that place always attracts lots of dust. Ryuuji smiled.

(We'll drink sweet fruit wine before the meal. Plum wine......that's too normal. Strawberry wine would be nice. I'll use small glass cups that will mirror the setting sun.)

Ryuuji squatted down beside the television cabinet, his eyes shining like an experienced hunter. His target was the plug that was behind the television. No matter how Ryuuji cleaned that area, dust would always gather at that area.

Heh heh heh --- Ryuuji revealed his teeth as he stabbed at that area with the thin end of the Takasu-stick. The first step was to wipe off the dust that could be seen, but the next step was key to success. Ryuuji pulled out the plug carefully, 'oh!' he couldn't help but cry out. The hidden bits of dust fell onto the ground, and Ryuuji quickly wiped them away with a piece of cloth.

(And then it'll be the soup and the appetizer......Hang on, you can't just care about yourself you know?"

Before everyone took their place at the table, the meal would not start.

Taiga will surely pout and complain about the mosquitoes and the smell of the animals, "That thing looks like animal poo! I can't take it anymore! Ryuuji! Turn back time and take care of it before I see it!' Beside her, Minori will say, 'They're animals, so it's normal for them to do their business out in the open.'...... She'll surely stand up and help Ryuuji. As for Ami -- 'Alala, Minori is, so, nice~~? The two of you look really suspicious you know?' She'll place her Chanel bag on her thighs as a sneaky expression shows up on her beautiful face. 'I made it! Sorry for coming late! I had student council work to do! Ah! '...... I can understand your sincerity from the way you rushed here, but Kitamura, please don't take off your clothes!? There are still empty places at the table. 'Kushieda~~ When you're eating poo later, don't anyhow shout curry~~curry~~alright!' Looks like Haruta wants to eat curry. Noto, on the other hand, looks a little nervous. Ah, I see. He's looking at Kashii and Kihara, who're sitting beside Ami and chatting. He should just go and talk to them.

"......Oh. Ugh, oh......owah......"

There were dust stuck between the metallic plates in the plug as well. It has been said that sparks from static electricity could ignite the dust that is around it, causing a fire. Ryuuji agilely controlled the Takasu-stick as he cleaned up the area behind the television cabinet thoroughly, not even letting go of small areas.

The warm wind of the grassland blew across the back of his head. Turning around, Ryuuji saw that an endless patch of grassland had appeared in the living room.

French cuisine? Italian cuisine? Chinese cuisine? Let's just have Japanese cuisine. They'll probably be very excited if I bring out a huge bowl of steamed yam. An entire row of steaming bowls giving off streams of hot air, cooking the food that was in them. There will be spaghetti with meatballs, and baked rice with a thick layer of cheese on top. There will also be delicious seafood soup. There will be a huge bowl overflowing with pudding. A towering cake with strawberries. There'll also be white rice, because there's also curry. Haruta will clap loudly to welcome the arrival of curry. Kano Sumire also appeared beside the gigantic table, as Kitamura stood up to help her carry a heavy looking luggage bag. After much persuasion by her students, Koigakubo sensei came all dressed-up. Inko-chan was also standing quietly beside the plates, and the landlord was also there. Of course Yasuko will also be there. Aisaka Rikurou also came in a pseudo imported-car. Yuu, which Ryuuji had not seen before, was also there. Taiga's mother, her second husband, and their healthy baby was also there. Yasuko's parents were also there. And Ryuuji's father also came, his stomach stuffed full of megazines, a shiny rolex watch on his wrist. The people whom Ryuuji had left in the past, and will meet in the future were all there.

Everyone crowded around Ryuuji's table.

Everyone was laughing happily. Because everyone was there, Ryuuji's beloved Taiga was able to laugh happily in the middle of his world. Because Taiga was able to laugh happily, Ryuuji was also able to laugh more happily than anyone else.

Every single person that Taiga liked was in this world, and they were all laughing happily. It must be like this. This is the tomorrow that I want to spend together with Taiga.

That was the thing that Ryuuji wished for.

"......Alright!"

After clearing the area around the plug, Ryuuji flipped the cloth over and wiped the television cabinet forcefully. After washing and drying the cloth in the washroom, Ryuuji started to wipe the basin, and then knelt down to wipe the floor before washing the cloth once again.

"Let's go!"

Ryuuji crouched on the small wodden hallway, his hands preparing to wipe the floor with the cloth. 'Get set--' He held his breath, 'Go!' and began to wipe the floor. After wiping all the way to the corner of the kitchen, Ryuuji used his hands to wipe the side of the walls carefully before turning around to wipe the hallway again.

That is what I wish for.

What's wrong with having dreams? Is it a sin to hope for something?

Everyone must be present. I won't give up. The 'destruction' will never, ever come. I want to let Taiga see the world that I saw when I was flying. But to do that, maybe--

"......Rice......"

Ryuuji picked up the grain of rice that his knee had squashed as he bit down on his lips. All the sorrow and agony must then be absorbed by Ryuuji himself. Now is not the time to step away.

To look forward without any hesitation in his eyes. If he was able to think of himself as the dragon that flew into the sky, then he would no longer need to be afraid of anything.

Light Novel
Main Series' Volumes

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