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

This is Chapter 6 from Volume 1 of the Toradora! Light Novel series. The original text is from Baka-tsuki, but the edited version present on this Wiki is from Live Journal.

Transcript

I overslept.

When I did wake up, I was still in a half-asleep daze. I made myself breakfast and prepared my lunch, but forgot to turn on the stove. By the time I realized this, there wasn’t time for me to cook it all properly so I had to shove it all back into the fridge. I also nearly forgot to feed Inko-chan and change his water.

I was in such a hurry that I realized my socks were mismatched when I arrived at the school shoe lockers to change into my indoor shoes.

"Just what the hell am I doing?" I muttered to myself as I looked at my feet. My right sock was black while my left was a deep blue. There was nothing I could do about it now. The colours were so different, how did I manage this?

I didn’t have time to think about the mix up, it was getting late. The school dean was standing by the stairs, ushering the students towards the classrooms. I gave him a nod out of politeness as I passed.

I began climbing up the stairs but my foot missed the first step. My shin hit concrete and I grimaced in pain. The lower year students who caught sight of me shuddered or froze. Considering my appearance, I must’ve looked as if I was about to explode.

I sighed, rubbed my shin, and continued up the steps carefully. A thought entered my mine: I was probably a mess this morning because of Aisaka and me parting ways last night.

But why? Shouldn’t I be relieved that I don’t have to deal with Aisaka first thing in the morning? That I don’t have to go through the pain of making an extra lunch? Shouldn’t I be living the comfortable life I had before meeting her instead of this dazed mess? I guess I can’t just suddenly go back to my normal life.

How pathetic, it almost sounds as if I had gotten used to being around Aisaka. And yet somehow not hearing her loud yells made this morning seem less than it usually is.

I wonder how Aisaka’s doing? I limped slowly through the hallways. She must’ve been in a worse mess than I was. Did she even get up without me to wake her? She’s probably late. And probably didn’t make herself a lunch.

I shouldn’t count that against her though, considering how I didn’t even cook my lunch properly and had to pick something up from a convenience store.

Why am I even thinking about this?! I shoved the self-pitying thoughts from my mind and opened the door to class 2-C.

Without stepping inside the classroom, I quickly closed the door. What’s going on in there? What did I just see? Why was it happening?

All these questions and the only thing I could do to answer them was open the door again. I sighed, put my hand on the door, and carefully slid the door open.

"Do I make myself clear?" A cold voice stunned me. It was the tone of someone who would kill without mercy anyone who dissented. The words were filled with a determination that would strike anyone down.

"If I ever hear anyone saying such crap again, I—will—make—him—pay." Standing in the centre of the class with her back to me was Aisaka Taiga: the Palmtop Tiger.

The other classmates were struggling to keep their distance from her, hugging the walls while nodding vigorously.

What’s going on here? A simple question. One that kept on repeating itself in my head. What’s going on here?

"I hope I made myself clear." The tiny tiger continued in a steady voice laced with subtle promises of pain and violence for those who disobey. "I do not like repeating myself."

"Y-yes…!" Everyone, both the guys and girls, replied feebly, shuddering in fear.

I blinked and let my eyes take in the rest class, not just Aisaka holding the classmates hostage with her glare and voice alone. The desks and chairs around Aisaka were tipped over, school bags and their contents were scattered all over the floor. It looked as if a typhoon passed through and left this wreckage behind. Aisaka’s voice was calm, but her shoulders were trembling as if she had recently yelled loudly. I could easily imagine that whatever she said to the class she didn’t say with the cold and steady voice she spoke with now. And I could easily imagine that the mess all over the floor was more of her work.

But, why?

"Oh… Takasu…" Takasu? Oh, yes, that’s me. Somebody finally noticed me standing in the doorway with a dumbstruck expression on my face.

"What… what happened…?" I asked. Everyone but Aisaka gave me a weird and earnest look. It wasn’t a look of contempt or anything like that, but they were uncomfortable—or are they embarrassed? Whatever the look was, they were giving it to me and I had no idea why.

Aisaka finally turned her head to look at me but she didn’t say a word. Not even a ‘good morning’. Instead, she turned back to the other classmates. Lifting her chin and looking down her nose at them, she let out a simple command. "Dismissed."

The trembling, huddled classmates began to return to their seats in groups of twos and threes. One of them came towards me with unsure steps.

"T—Takasu… I’m sorry. It’s all because of the rumours…"

"Huh?" Finally, an answer. Though I can’t make much sense of it. "Rumours?"

"I'm so sorry. We won’t let our imaginations come up with such things again!"

"What did you imagine…?"

Even Noto, who normally got along fine with me, was acting weird. "Hey, Takasu," he said in an uncomfortable voice. "I never meant to presume strange things about you. I genuinely think you’re an amazing guy that I’m almost envious. And I don’t mean anything funny by that."

Clearly nervous, Noto turned away but I grabbed him by the shoulder and stopped him before he could get away. "Hold on a second! What the hell are you guys talking about? What happened here?" I glanced towards Aisaka and lowered my voice slightly. "Aisaka made this mess, right? What did she do?"

"Nothing… well…"

"Tell me right now!"

Noto’s expression changed from nervous to embarrassed. Noto was one of the few friends I had that wasn’t intimidated by my eyes, even as I held him by the shoulders and questioned him. His eyes shifted quickly towards Aisaka: it was her that he was afraid of. I still wasn’t going to let go of him until I had an answer though. It seemed Noto knew this as well and continued talking.

"Well, how should I say this? We kind of…" He paused as if taking his time to gather the right words. "Been eavesdropping and spread some gossip about you and the Palmtop Tiger."

"Gossip?"

"Yeah… Gossip about you two… dating each other." Finally, a solid answer. "The Palmtop Tiger had enough and went ballistic on us. ‘I have no relationship with him whatsoever!’ she said then things got a little scary…" At this point, my hand on Noto’s shoulder gripped him to stop him from trembling instead of holding him in place. "I’ve never seen the Palmtop Tiger wreak havoc like that. I’ll never do anything to piss her off ever again. She threatened to kill anyone who dared to gossip about the two of you again. Not even Kushieda could stop her. Right, Kushieda?"

Noto called out to Kushieda as she passed by. Normally, she was the only person who knew the Palmtop Tiger well, but now her face lacked its usual sunshine-like smile.

"Um… Takasu-kun." I could see that she was considering what to say herself.

"Minorin!" Aisaka cut in abruptly before Kushieda could say anything more. "Don’t spew any more nonsense or I’ll get mad, even at you! Minorin, apologize to Takasu-kun too. Tell him that yesterday was all a misunderstanding. I want you to, of all people, to know that it was a mistake."

"Taiga…"

"Say it, Minorin!" Aisaka’s mouth bent into an inverted-V. She was becoming more and more agitated like a child being denied her favourite treat. Ignoring me completely, she glared at Kushieda who looked at her and stood speechless for some time.

"Alright," Kushieda said in a defeated tone and turned back to me. "Takasu-kun, I’m sorry I misunderstood you yesterday."

"There’s really no reason to apologize." I stammered but I was glad that Kushieda doesn’t have the wrong idea about Taiga and I anymore.

"Even though she made me say it…" Kushieda continued. Maybe I didn’t have a reason to be glad after all. Was she really going to silently dissent against Aisaka? "She says it was all just a misunderstanding, but I can’t believe Taiga did something like this… Or perhaps—"

"Whoa?! What’s up with this mess?!" And just like that, the delicate and oppressive mood in the classroom was broken. My chance to hear what Kushieda was going to say disappeared in a flash as Kitamura announced his arrival in a pompous tone. "The class-rep is late for a few minutes and the class gets messed up this badly?"

Kushieda swallowed whatever it was she was about to say and made her way back to Aisaka. She playfully slapped the back of Aisaka’s head. "Don’t look so gloomy!" She easily slipped into her usual cheery demeanor before returning to her desk.

Now that the oblivious and out-of-the-loop Kitamura was here, everyone began tidying the messed up desks and chairs.

"C’mon! Hurry up folks!" Kitamura urged the class on. "If Koigakubo sees this, she’ll be so shocked she might forget about finding a guy and getting married!"

As the class cleaned up, I spotted Aisaka walk up to Kitamura and say something to him. Kitamura’s face held a puzzled expression for a moment before reverting back to his usually happy-go-lucky smile and gave Aisaka a nod.

I didn’t hear a word. I only saw Aisaka’s lips move. But I had an idea of what she said: I have something to say to you. See you after school.

She didn’t stutter with nervousness, she didn’t trip and fall flat on her face, nothing unusual happened. Aisaka spoke to Kitamura without any trouble.

Aisaka finally succeeded in calling Kitamura out. And she did it without any help from her dog.

°°°°°


Another day ended in the strange class that is 2-C. I couldn’t keep my eyes off Kitamura and Aisaka the whole day.

When the trendy red dress wearing, hopelessly single teacher finally finished her lesson and left the classroom, the classroom brightened up once again. Some people rushed off for club activities, some went off to meetings, some waited to go home with others, some picked up conversations interrupted by lessons, and then there were some who exchanged glances and left the classroom together.

Without even realizing what I was doing, I quickly left my seat and followed after Aisaka and Kitamura.

This doesn’t feel right. My steps slowed as the hesitant thoughts popped into my head. But… But what? My feet continued stepping forward.

This is Aisaka’s moment of truth. But she’s so clumsy: she trips, she falls down stairs, maybe she’ll suddenly start stuttering again at the most crucial of moments. Or maybe she’ll even cry… Aisaka is spectacularly clumsy and awkward, and I’m the only one that knows it.

That’s why I’m so worried. I have to keep an eye her so…

My feet came to a complete stop. So what? Again I asked myself why.

I’m worried about the clumsy idiot but what could I do? Help her? She’s the one that said to pretend nothing happened between the two of us. She’s the one that wanted to go back to before me finding the love letter. She’s the one that wants this.

This is what she wants and so I have to erase everything I know about Aisaka from my heart and mind. I shouldn’t even be thinking about that, I should instead worry about myself. If that clumsy girls messes up her confession, how could I help? Am I supposed to pull out some cheesy line like ‘Are you all right? I’ll protect you!’ That’s just lame. It’s not even funny.

I fretted my brows as I stood uselessly in the middle of the hallway. Maybe I’ll follow them and make sure nobody interrupts them. But if anybody bumps into me, they wouldn’t have any idea of what was really going on. I’d just cause more trouble.

Letting out a sigh, I turned on my feet forcefully. "I guess I’ll go home."

°°°°°


I returned to the classroom to get my stuff. Noto and Haruta asked me if I wanted to hang out but I turned them down. I was feeling restless. I didn’t want to head straight home but I didn’t want to hang out with my friends either. Maybe I’ll kill some time at a book store instead.

I should stop by the washroom first. I grabbed my things off of my desk and headed into the hallway. As I entered the washroom, I passed by another guy who had just wiped his hands dry. Being in the washroom alone, it felt eerily quiet and somehow the smell of the cleaning detergent became stronger.

After doing my business, I washed my hands in the sink without any rush. I looked into the mirror on the wall and saw the face that I always had. For some reason, the thought of me always being the same bothered me. Shoving that feeling aside, I played back the day in my mind.

She had a scary expression on her face by the end of the day. Whether it was during a lesson or recess, I kept on glancing at Aisaka. As the end of class approached, the expression on her face kept on changing, always into something I couldn’t read. Finally, when class ended, there wasn’t any expression on her face at all. It wasn’t red with frustration or green with anxiety. It was just a pale white.

Is the Palmtop Tiger doing her best now? She’s about to confess, hopefully she wiped that white, expressionless look off her face and put on a cute smile or something. I get the feeling that dense girl won’t though.

Speaking of dense, I remembered further back into the day how Aisaka wreaked havoc in the class, yelled at Kushieda, and even gave her such a nasty frown. It was because of Kushieda that Aisaka had that frown on her face.

She did it for me. It was all done for me. She did it so that Kushieda wouldn’t misunderstand me. Aisaka made that whole ruckus to convince Kushieda that she was wrong.

When you think about it though, Aisaka didn’t do the same for herself. She didn’t try to set things straight with Kitamura. She made sure Kitamura wasn’t there when she went ballistic.

She did it all just for me. I sighed. What an incredibly thick-headed and stupid way to do things. Does she always have to resort to yelling and screaming for everything? There were other ways of clearing the mess. To make herself look like an insane manic was so… selfless and strangely gentle to the point of being pathetic. I paused, realizing what I just said. Selfless? Gentle? The Palmtop Tiger? It’s laughable.

But it’s also true.

"Gentle." I said softly. The one who cried and lamented about how she wasn’t any good at being a gentle person actually really was. Anybody who doesn’t hang out with her like I do would never know it. But I knew it was definitely true.

"Whoa!"

I jerked my head to look at a guy who entered the washroom and yelled out in horror.

"What’s wrong?" Another guy came up behind him and he yelled too, "Whoa! Sorry for disturbing you!"

It seem the two, who were now long gone, were intimidated by my eyes. To a lot of other people in the school, the Palmtop Tiger and I were dangerous and should simply be a voided. Those two are probably going to tell everyone to keep away from this washroom: that I’ve staked it out. Fine with me, I’m not in the mood to see anybody right now.

I wrinkled my nose. The smell in the washroom was starting to get to me, especially since the humidity was pretty high. Somebody should’ve opened the window to let the place ventilate. It might as well be me. My obsession for cleanliness got the better of me, I unlocked the window and pulled it open.

°°°°°


"Kitamura-kun! I… Kitamura-kun… well… umm…"

Eh!? I froze as I let out a mental scream in my head. Am I hearing things? No, I really did hear those words.

I heard Aisaka’s voice loud and clear.

This men’s room was on the second floor. Below it was a visitor’s bathroom. Just outside was a school garden: a space sandwiched between the bathroom window and a row of trees. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I needed to see. I slowly stuck my head through the window and peeked down, hoping that my ears heard something else entirely.

Aisaka and Kitamura were standing in the garden below. Any one with the slightest bit of intelligence would know that whoever uses the washroom would be able to hear what’s going on down there.

"Seriously, why did she pick a spot outside the washroom?" I muttered. That idiot. I grabbed my head with both hands and squatted against the wall beneath the window as if I was cowering in fear. Sure, compared to the other washrooms in the school building, not a lot of people use this washroom because it tends to stink, but I’m not the only one to have used this washroom in the last five minutes. If I was somebody else and heard what’s going on now, the entire school might know about it by tomorrow morning.

And that’s why I have to stay here for now. If anyone comes in, I’ll have to scare them off with a glare from my fierce eyes. I should close the window though; I don’t want to intentionally eavesdrop on them.

"Hold on a second." I was just about to stand but froze still. I eventually realized that it was Kitamura talking to Aisaka, not to me, but my hands didn’t move to close the window. "I think I know what you’re going to say, but I’d look like an idiot if I guessed wrong. So I want to ask you something first: are you and Takasu going out?"

My heart skipped a bit. I really shouldn’t stand—squat—here and eavesdrop.

"T—Takasu-kun…"

I gotta close that window.

"Takasu-kun is… he’s… he’s…"

A silence followed. Idiot! What are you waiting for? Hurry up and tell him! At this point, most normal guys would be freaked out and come up with an excuse to get away as quickly as possible. Kitamura’s a busy guy, you have to tell him now because you’ll never get another chance like this!

I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth. I held my breath so I could hear whatever sound Aisaka made next but she made none at all. Could this have been impossible from the beginning? This is her perfect chance but it feels more like it’s the end of things. I closed my eyes in resignation.

"Me going out with Takasu-kun was Minorin misunderstanding things. Th—the person I really like is…"

The short pause was filled with the sound of a breeze picking up.

"Kitamura-kun!"

She finally did it! It felt as if my legs were about to give out from squatting for so long that I had to put a hand against the wall to keep myself from falling. Way to go, Aisaka!

She couldn't start a conversation with Kitamura, she was always nervous around him, but she finally managed to confess her feelings to him. I probably couldn't do the same, if it was Kushieda and me down there, I couldn't have done it. I'm well aware I'm a hypocrite.

I suddenly felt very tired, as if the words Aisaka spoke brought back all the grief and effort I put into helping her. The support I gave her, the advice, the help, it was all taken from me and Aisaka gave it to Kitamura. Her feelings have finally gone to where they're supposed to be.

So this tiredness, this exhaustion, this dejection must be my imagination.

"You like me?" Kitamura asked. "You and Takasu was just something Kushieda got wrong?"

"Y—yes." Aisaka explained again. "I told her but she wouldn't believe me."

Kitamura kept quiet for a moment as if he was in thought. "I see," he said in his usual calm voice. "I'm sorry I got it wrong. I guess Kushieda can be really convincing."

I put a hand over my mouth as I let out a quiet sigh. The silence in the washroom was overbearing. I really need to close that window. And go home.

"B—but!" Aisaka spoke up loudly again. "But I definitely don't hate Takasu-kun! When I was with him, my breath didn't catch in my throat. Around Takasu-kun, I never got the feeling that I was suffocating… Ryuuji even cooked for me! Whenever I wanted someone by my side, he was there. He encouraged me, even when it meant he had to lie. It feels a little painful now because he was always by my side, urging me to be here, in front of you…"

No! No! No! What are you doing?! What the hell are you doing?!

"I definitely don't hate him." Was that I sobbed I just heard?! Is she crying as she's saying all of this?! "To me… Ryuuji… he…"

Her words now, it all sounds completely like a—

"Is that so?" Kitamura asked cheerfully. "It's all right, I think I understand your feelings now. Anyway, you and Takasu get along really well and I feel relieved hearing you say all of that."

"R—relieved…?"

"Yeah," he continued. "Do you remember last year when I confessed to you? I remember saying that I was struck by your beauty and loved how you weren't afraid to be direct and express your anger." The revelation hit me so hard I felt tears welling up. Aisaka didn't make a sound, I wondered if I was the only one trembling from this bomb shell. "And you rejected me in a second."

"I remember. How could I… forget?" Aisaka answered. "It was the sort of confession that only someone like you could have pulled off. From that point on, whenever you came to my class to talk club stuff with Minorin, I always remembered what you said to me."

"It sort of felt as if you didn't notice my existence after that, so I thought you forgot about it." There wasn't a hint of malice in Kitamura's words. He was just explaining things as he felt them in his usual cheerful, friendly voice. "Back then, I said you were beautiful. But when you stated to hang out with Takasu, you looked even more captivating… You always had this look, an interesting expression, on your face."

"I—interesting expression? Me?"

"Yup." His voice, somehow, became even more cheerful. He was really happy for some reason. "Whenever you were with Takasu, you had a look on your face as if things were fine and it relieved me. Takasu's a really nice guy and for him to understand a girl like you is simply amazing."

"What… W—what did I just say?!" Aisaka let out a scream. Now she gets it. Now she realizes that she messed up. "W—wait a minute! What was I saying?! And Kitamura-kun, what are you saying?! There's nothing between Ryuuji and me but why do you keep on talking about us—Eh?! My face looked interesting? No, wait! Wait! I just confessed right?! I just told you that—but—what?! How did it come to this?"

She was breaking down, stumbling and falling step after step. The Palmtop Tiger kept on repeating her confused, jumbled words like a poor senile old woman who forgot her way home.

"Aisaka, it's all right." Only Kitamura knew how to handle this.

"A—all right?! What do you mean all right?! I don't even know what I just said anymore! This can't be all right!"

"I'm very grateful for your feelings and I'm really happy. I'm sure we'll be good friends."

"F—friends…?" Aisaka was so shaken up her ability to speak dropped even further.

"Yes, good friends."

Good friends. That isn't what Aisaka wanted though. She has to tell him. Aisaka has to tell him that she's in love with him. "Friends… Me and… Kitamura-kun…?"

She didn't utter another word. 'I want to be you girlfriend', 'I rejected you before but I grew to like you', 'I want to go out with you'. These were the words she needed—should've—said, but she didn't. Aisaka only let out a pitiful, "Umm…"

"Well, I've got some student council stuff to take care of," Kitamura said, all cheerful and carefree. "I'll see you tomorrow."

The good news was that Kitamura didn't react badly at all to Aisaka; but the bad news was that he practically didn't react at all.

"See you tomorrow," Aisaka said in a deadpan, emotionless voice.

I lowered my head in dejection. Scratching my head, I closed my eyes and listened to the two of them walk off in opposite directions. I let out a moan. "Such a dense girl." After all of that, she didn't push her feelings onto him to the point where he couldn't take it in any other way.

That directness of hers that Kitamura talked about, how much of it does he actually know? Her tears, laughter, timidity, loneliness, her love for him… How much of her fragile feelings haven't reached him? No matter what these feelings were, gentle or painful, she never let him understand them. She never let him understand her!

My knees ached as I stood up and I left the washroom.

When we parted last night, Aisaka looked calm but she must have hid some feelings. The sort of feelings she thinks no one can understand and so bears their pain in solitude. Right now, those same feelings were probably crying out within her as she walked away with her back to Kitamura. There were probably tears falling down her cheeks as she walked home with unsteady, trembling legs. And no one would see her. Or any of her tears, her feelings.

I'm the only one that knows.

What should I do?

The answer is simply, really.

I had such a confident answer, but I wasn't really sure. Was I answering with my head or my heart? With the skin, flesh, and bones of my body that had spent so much time with Aisaka?

I'll let it move on its own. This body of mine will go where it needs to be. If it's with her, then it will definitely be by her side.

°°°°°


The light of sunset fell on the usual path towards home.

"What do you want?" Aisaka asked as she turned around. I had caught up with her in a quiet residential alleyway with no one else in sight and rested a hand her shoulder. She gave me a puzzled look as I tried to catch my breath. "Stop it already. You're not my dog, there's no need for you to follow me."

Her voice was cold as she pushed my hand off her shoulder and continued forward.

"You're acting tough even though you feel like crying." I said to her back. She stopped dead in her tracks. "You're really depressed because your confession didn't do anything, right? Even though he didn't reject you."

She turned around quickly and closed the distance between us with a single, quick leap. I thought she was going to crash into me but she managed to stop short of my face.

"Y—you… saw?!"

"Not intentionally! I didn't mean to eavesdrop. But having that sort of conversation outside the window of a guy's washroom was just stupid. It was just a coincidence that I was using the washroom at the time."

Even though the light was dimming as the sun lowered over the horizon, I could still see that Aisaka's face was turning very, very red.

"R—really…?" she muttered and realized her mistake for the first time. She really didn't think things through.

"Well, what now?" I asked. "Wanna go buy some ingredients for dinner tonight? Or would you rather go to the same family restaurant as last night? I'll listen to you moan about your failed confession and it'll be my treat, just for tonight though."

"W—what…" Aisaka stood motionless in front of me, her eyes wide in shock, embarrassment, confusion, so many things. "What are you talking about?"

"Actually, the supermarket has pork on sale today."

"What pork?!"

"Or would you prefer beef tonight?"

"Not beef either!" Now she was frustrated. "That's got nothing to do with any of this! Enough with the beef or pork or whatever! What's wrong with you?! Why?! You're no longer—"

"Are you planning on cooking yourself?"

"Shut up!" she raised her voice, she was yelling now. "I said enough! Stop it already! It's all—"

"I'll stay by your side."

Aisaka was struck speechless from my clear declaration. Her brows slowly fretted in a painful frown.

"I'll stay by your side," I elaborated, staring her in the eyes. "I'll cook for you, you can come to place to eat as usual, I'll make you bento box lunches, and wake you up in the morning. So—"

"So what?!" Her yell echoed loudly down the alleyway. "What the hell are you doing? Those rumours about us will start back up again! I know Minorin doesn't believe us. Would going through all of that be okay with you?"

"Yeah." The answer came out easier than I expected. "If it happens again it'll be my turn to go ballistic and trash the classroom. I'll make sure Kitamura will be there too."

"W—why…?" Tears began to trickle down Aisaka's puffy, red face. Just as I thought: she's the sort of person who'll cry when nobody's around—except me. "Why, why would you that? I said you weren't my dog. You don't have to do this anymore!"

"I don't know either." I might as well be honest. "But I just feel like it. Since you're crying, I can't leave you alone. I get worried whether you're hungry… I suppose that's what my gentle side thinks."

"W—what the hell?" I guess I was being ambiguous. I can't say I knew where I was going with this. Aisaka glared at me through tearful eyes. "Nobody's asking you to do this. I'm not a kid so leave me alone. I don't need you worrying about me!"

A sudden thought struck me. "Ah… That's why…" I finally understood why I wanted to be by her side so much. Why I worried about her and couldn't leave her alone. "You're right, I'm not your dog. That's why I'll stay by your side."

"What?!" She really ought to give me more time to explain things about acting all dumbfounded.

"A dog couldn't stay by your side."

It was simple. I'm not a dog. A dog couldn't do such a thing. A dog would come if called, but a tiger would never call out to anyone. Tigers never need anybody's help, they're that sort of beast.

I supposed this would sound laughable to a lot of people, but at this point I don’t care. Let them laugh at me! At this moment, all I wanted to do was to let Aisaka know.

"I'm a dragon!" I finally declared triumphantly. "And you are a tiger. Since mythic times, the dragon has been the only beast to stand equal with a tiger. That's why I'll be stay by your side."

All of this really did sound silly but I had already decided upon this. Let them laugh at me. Let them call me a fool. In fact, I was Aisaka to do just that.

But she didn't say anything.

"Ai… saka?"

She didn't laugh. She didn't call me a fool. Standing before me was a girl who didn't make a sound. Her cheeks were soaked with tears as she raised her head to look at me. She looked angry, but sad. She also looked fearful, troubled, and surprised. I imagined her tiny body filled with emotions, and ready to explode at any moment. She had her fists clenched tightly at her sides.

"Taiga…?" I dared to call out her first name. Aisaka Taiga's body began trembling and her brow twitched. I seriously hoped I hadn't crossed the line. "This is part of being equal, right? Since you call me Ryuuji, I'll call you Taiga…?"

A silence that felt like eternity filled the alleyway before a bomb exploded.

"What are you trying to pull?" Aisaka said in a low voice. At that very instant, it seemed as if the sun disappeared over the horizon. I felt a chill go up my spine as the alleyway was flooded with shadows, cloaking Aisaka in an evil darkness. "What is this conceited nonsense you just said? Why should I let you call me by my first name?! Equal?! Ridiculous! Be aware that you stand beneath me, idiot Ryuuji."

"Eh…" Maybe I shouldn't have said all of that stuff.

"You probably don't even have any idea what you're talking about! How could you have said such insolent things? Really, what the hell was all of that—Oh! Ah, I see now. Could it be…?"

She followed her torrent of abuses by taking a step towards me, closing the gap between us to nearly nothing. She was the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life, a girl who would not hold back to verbally flail me to ribbons. Her eyes glared venomously as she slithered closer and lifted her chin, looking up at me from below. The vicious grin on her face petrified me stiff as stone.

"Could it be you've fallen in love with me?"

"D—don't be ridic—"

"Hmph! I didn't think so! You of all people wouldn't have the nerve to do something so suicidal."

Her grin softened into a smile as she continued to look up at me though I didn't dare look her straight in the eyes. "Uh…No, I wouldn't…"

Yeah, that's right. It's Kushieda I have feelings for. What I feel for Aisaka is entirely different.

I just wanted to take care of her: the Palmtop Tiger known as Taiga. A guy doesn't have to be in love with a girl just because he wants to spend time with her or worries about her, right? That's the sort of person I am.

"Er… Oh!" I suddenly remembered. "We should get going. The pork on sale at the supermarket could run out at any minute!"

The thought of getting a bargain on groceries quickly picked up my spirits and I took a few steps forward. Life goes on as usual. There's plenty of time for things in life like love or whatever, but a sale on pork doesn't last forever. There's no point in worrying about complicated things when there's dinner to be made!

"We can use the pork to make a hot pot dish. Maybe a simply barbecuing the pork will be easier though." I looked over my shoulder. "Eh? Where are you going?"

Taiga had taken a turn and was walking in some other direction that didn't lead to the supermarket. I made turned around myself and ran after her.

"Where are you going?" I nudged her elbow with the corner of my school bag.

"Ryuuji… I want a yogurt sundae." She was walking towards the family restaurant we had gone to last night.

"What? You want to go to the restaurant? I was looking forward to cooking tonight."

"We can have pork afterwards. Pork with ginger. No, actually, braised pork that's soft and juicy!"

"I'm fine with braised pork but that might take a while. It's already five o'clock and I usually try to have dinner ready at my house by six. Hey! Stop ignoring me! Why are you walking so far ahead of me?"

"Ryuuji." Taiga stopped suddenly and turned around and looked at me. I found myself at a lost for words.

"What, T—Taiga?" I tried to casually look up into the sky.

"Just shut up for a bit."

I frowned slightly as her mean words entered my ears. I wondered if I heard wrong.

Taiga let out a melodramatic sigh. "You should realize how depressed I am right now! How can you not be worried about me? I'm counting on you to come up with another plan: I haven't given up on Kitamura-kun, you know? What was that you said back there? You being a dragon? Dragon, dog, doesn't make a difference. But if you're going to be by my side then you better work hard for me either way!"

Where did those tears disappear to? Taiga was still the Palmtop Tiger, armed with vicious words and contempt-filled eyes. It really felt as if I was reeling back from a blow. How sharp are her claws and how quickly will she savage her prey with them? This palm-sized beast is obnoxious no matter where she goes!

What does it mean for me, the dragon who declared to stand by her?

"Aren't you being a little… rash trying to go back so quickly?" I asked. Honestly, I was awestruck. I wonder if I miscalculated. Maybe I'm not so good at judging people.

A few steps ahead of me, Taiga lowered her head and smiled. "I'm not called 'Taiga' for no reason!"

I glanced at Taiga who was looking at me while giggling like a dove.

Right now I'm still all she's got.

°°°°°

Light Novel
Main Series' Volumes

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