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

This is Chapter 4 from Volume 3 of the Toradora! Light Novel series. The text is from Baka-tsuki.

Transcript

"I'm really impressed by the students of this class! You're all so diligent, unlike the first-years, who fell asleep after their swimming lessons!"

Standing on the teaching podium, the teacher smiled and looked at the students of Class 2-C. The current atmosphere in the classroom gave no indication that the students had just returned from swimming lessons. Everyone was quietly listening to the lesson being taught with their eyes wide open. Yet the teacher did not realize that within this silence, a peculiar feeling was being transmitted amongst the students like an electric current.

Ryūji was among the students with their eyes wide open. He was unable to read anything in his textbook, as his unnerving anxiety affected his eyes' ability to focus. He only could think about what had happened during recess.

How did it come to this? Why must I be dragged into all of this?

Oh man... As he was chewing on the end of his pencil...

"...Huh?"

A tiny folded note was thrown onto his desk from behind. It seemed like it was originally intended to be thrown to the person sitting in front of Ryūji, but it bounced off the back of that person's chair and landed on Ryūji's desk instead. "Oh shit..." The person behind gasped softly. Just when the kindhearted Ryūji was about to poke the person in front and pass the note to him...

He noticed something written on the outside of the note: "To everyone in Class 2-C!"

Well, I'm a student of Class 2-C as well, so I suppose I can read this too. Using his textbook as a shield, he opened the B5 size note. His usually dangling triangular eyes now gave an even piercing glare as he read:

 The 1st Takasu Cup! Featuring Ami-chan VS the Palmtop Tiger. 500 yen per bet! 
 P.S. Please skip through the following people when passing this note: 
 Ami-chan, Tiger, Takasu and the judge, Kushieda.

"What the hell..."

He scanned the classroom with his glaring eyes. "Shit! Who's the idiot that leaked it...!?" "Whoa! Damn that jackass!" Everyone exclaimed as they embarrassingly avoided Ryūji's glance.

Why these people!

Ryūji bit his lips and thought, Aren't they going a bit too far? Since they think it's got nothing to do with them, they're treating this like a show now, aren't they!?

There were many signatures indicating their intention to participate in the bet. A line was drawn in the middle of the paper; the left side was labeled "Ami-chan", while the right side was labeled "Tiger." By writing one's name under the label, one would be placing their bet on that contestant.

So far, everyone had placed their bets on Ami, while the column under Taiga's name was completely blank. Everyone also wrote their opinions next to their names:

 What is there to bet about anyway?
 Of course Ami-chan is gonna win in swimming! The Tiger would just sink to the bottom!
 If it was a battle royale, then I would have bet on the Tiger.
 The Tiger has no chance! The winner has already been decided!
 By the way, now that it has come to this, Takasu-kun suddenly finds himself having to make an 
 important decision. Why?
 He's merely the sacrificial pawn in the political struggle between Ami-chan and the Tiger.
 So does this mean Ami-chan wasn't serious about him?
 Of course she wasn't! Even if Ami-chan were to win, she'll probably think of some way to get out of 
 the date at the mansion...
 I think the Tiger and Takasu are serious. As for Ami-chan, she'll ultimately end up with me.
 Are you an idiot!?
 Yeah right. Ami-chan is 'my' wife!
 You can daydream all you like!
 I'll be taking Ami-chan, thank you very much!
 I'm so~ hungry, is it lunchtime yet?
 I wanna join this battle for Ami-chan's heart, how do I sign up?
 To arl: Ami-chan is mine, so sorry folks.
 Are you trying to spell 'all'?
 To Haruta: You can't even spell 'all', just how stupid can you be?
 To Haruta: Are you only here because of cronyism?

Haruta... You really are an... No, that's not really important...

"What the hell... Just what on earth are they writing..."

These are all pissing me off. Ryūji's mouth remained shut as his dangerous glare, which he had genetically inherited from his father, glowered in vexation. While he never liked scaring people out of the blue, he didn't like being treated as a laughingstock by the whole class or being looked down upon either.

This was because the girls in particular had written the following:

 Though Takasu-kun looks scary, he's actually very indecisive. That's why he got used. (LOL)
 I agree. Takasu-kun = Hopeless guy. (LOL)
 No matter what you do to him, he'll just keep his mouth shut and accept it. (LOL)
 Seems like he's tied onto a tight leash by the Tiger. (LOL)

Unforgivable! This is too mean! I've never realized that the girls have always looked down on me. Not to mention that all those casually written "LOLs" at the end of their comments felt like daggers piercing through his heart.

"Screw this... I'll show you who's a useless bastard..."

Take this! Ryūji took out a thick felt-tip pen and wrote his name in a large font, under Taiga's column, of course. Moreover, he placed six bets on her. 3000 yen! How's that, huh?

They probably never knew that tigers and dragons are always together as a team, huh? Besides, Ryūji himself was an expert swimmer. As there was still time until the showdown, Ryūji believed that if he gave Taiga special training, coupled with her amazing potential, she just might improve dramatically when she swims against Ami.

"This way, I'll be the big winner in this bet..."

After muttering to himself, he had to do something else even more vexing - team up with Taiga. Ryūji expertly folded the note into a plane shape, and then turned to throw it diagonally behind him.

"Hey, Taiga!"

"Huh? What...is this?"

Gasp! Someone silently exclaimed. The Palmtop Tiger - Aisaka Taiga swiftly caught the paper plane that flew her way. After opening the note with her tiny white hands, she simply said,

"I see..."

Her cherry lips twisted sinisterly as she said that, and revealed a smile of a savage beast, while licking her lips with a blood-red looking tongue... Even her face was filled with blood, and her pale throat shivered due to the excitement.

"Well then, can someone answer this question? Ah, how admirable! Aisaka, can you answer this?"

Taiga stood up, her eyes were now filled with the predatory instincts of a carnivore, emitting a glower that was bereft of rationality. She savagely scanned every student.

"A-Aisaka? Please don't wobble around in the classroom... Er... You can wobble all you like, but shouldn't you try and answer the question as well?"

With her back towards the podium, Taiga moved along the desk aisles. One could almost discern a vision of a two-tonne tiger. Those murderous eyes were now filling the whole classroom with their intensity. "Eek!" "I'm sorry..." Pleas for mercy echoed around, though she smiled as she walked past Ryūji's desk. Their eyes met, confirming their companionship. However, in the next second, she tripped over a chair and almost fell had Ryūji not caught her by the skirt. She continued to smile and shrugged it off. As she walked towards the podium, she tripped again, and stood up again with the same grin... Even in this situation, she never forgets her clumsiness.

Although she was completely oblivious to the situation, even Ami could sense something strange about the atmosphere as she tilted her head and blinked,

"Huh? What happened? Why is she mad?"

Only one person remained silent... and that was Minori, who sat in the aisle beside the entrance.

"Snore...snore..."

If one looked carefully, they would've discovered that her eyes were actually closed, but she had drawn fake eyes onto her eyelids to give the illusion that she was awake.


"Taiga, I'll be supporting you all the way. You mustn't lose!"

"Of course I won't! I'll see to it that the stupid chihuahua gets torn apart like a rotten rag!"

Taiga quickly skimmed through a sports magazine that read "Aiming to be the Next Swimming Champion" on the cover. She looked up and at Ryūji with an annoyed expression on her face, who was holding his cooking chopsticks,

"Of course you'll help me! If I lose to that chihuahua, do you know what will happen to you?"

"Of course I do, spending the whole summer locked up in Kawashima's mansion, right? You gotta be kidding me! Who's gonna do all the laundry, clean the bathroom, prepare the meals, and all the chores? By the way, you ought to be helping out here! Go and mix that bowl of vinegar miso sauce."

Ryūji handed a glass bowl with the seasonings inside and a spoon to Taiga, while he meticulously wiped the small table with his rag.

"What is this for?"

"The Udo and seaweed."

"Ugh! I hate that!"

"But it's good for you! It can make breasts larger."

"Stop lying, you ugly ogre."

"U...ugly...ogre...!?"

After stinging Ryūji with that remark, Taiga began mixing the ingredients. Sitting on the floor like a child, she stuck her lips outwards and said in a frenzied voice,

"I'm sure you should know already, I..."

"Yeah, yeah...you're right..."

I've heard this topic too many times already. Ryūji continued his chores, as well as preventing Taiga from continuing,

"I know. You were going to say, 'You can go wherever you want and do whatever you please for all I care' anyway, right? I know already! You're pissed that Kitamura will be going as well, aren't you?"

However.

"That's not it... Of course Kitamura-kun going had something to do with it, but the main reason is because I don't want you to go to that woman's mansion."

"Eh..."

Ryūji glanced at the side of Taiga's face. She was getting moody with her cheeks puffed up while mixing the vinegar miso. A question emerged within Ryūji's heart,

Could it be...

Could it be that it's as Ami says, that Taiga...

"Who's going to take care of my meals when you're gone!? Of course, it'll be a different matter altogether if you're willing to come back from the mansion three times a day just for that."

"Ah! I get it. That's right, I see now."

Now why am I making such a weird face? Ryūji whispered to himself, while having no idea whether Taiga heard that or not.

"... Ryū~ji~?"

Wham! Taiga slammed the bowl of vinegar miso on the table, and pointed the spoon stained with the sauce towards the tip of Ryūji's nose, and called out his name slowly as she would to a child,

"Do you even understand your situation at all? You are a dog. My dog. Say it! Say there's nothing more meaningful in life than to serve me like an animal! Say that you never felt like you lived in the past sixteen years before you served me!"

"Wha!? Why on earth would I want to say that!?"

"Say it, you dumbass... When I ask you to do something, you do it as you're told!"

The depths of Taiga's eyes were as dark as a black hole as she gave a gloomy smile,

"You...saw my breasts, didn't you? ...and you touched them, didn't you? ...this humiliation is too mortifying! Every time I think about it, my heart feels like it's about to come out of my nose... For you to do that to me, you won't be able to repay that sin even if you were to serve me for the rest of eternity! Do you understand? I'm the one who's the victim here...get it!?"

Ryūji could say nothing. For Taiga to say that, what else could I say? ...no, wait...

"D-Didn't you see my nipples as well!? That's the same thing! And you said I saw yours? Who would have the time to notice such things when we were close to drowning!?"

"What was that? I saw your nipples!? You mean those ridiculously black and filthy raisins?"

"Filthy raisins!?"

Ryūji knelt down in despair at such an original insult. This was by far the most painful insult he had heard from her. "Pfft!" Taiga even pretended to spit in disgust, and then went back to mix the vinegar miso.

"Wah!"

She mixed too hard, causing the spoon to fly off and hit Ryūji directly on the forehead, who was still kneeling on the floor.

"Ow! ...why you...hopelessly klutzy idiot!"

Ryūji said in misery as the miso trickled down his face. At that moment, Yasuko, about to leave for work, entered the living room,

"Oh my~ Isn't dinner prepared yet?"

"Oh, just a moment. It's almost ready."

Ryūji wiped the miso off his face and returned to the kitchen like a submissive housewife who just got abused by her cruel mother-in-law.

As Ryūji was filling the miso soup into the bowls, he heard the two people behind him chatting.

"Wow~ Taiga-chan is mixing the vinegar miso already! You sure can be helpful, such a good girl~"

"R-Really?"

"Ya-chan loves udo the best~!"

Yasuko began to lean towards Taiga. The makeup on her youthful face carried an innocent smile as usual. She seemed cheerful for some reason as she stood in front of Taiga,

"Well, Ya-chan was thinking it's okay for Taiga-chan to see them!"

"Eh? See what?"

Ryūji was preparing to bring the tray filled with the miso soup and dishes towards the small table, and found Yasuko facing Taiga with her back towards him. He looked, not knowing what Yasuko was up to,

"Come. Have. A. Look! Since Taiga-chan looked like she wanted to see them yesterday~!"

He saw his own mother lift her shirt above her breasts.

"WHAT!?"

Barely managing to prevent the tray from falling on the floor, Ryūji could only see Yasuko's pale back, while Taiga stood petrified on the tatami.

Ryūji could only hear Taiga moan uselessly, like a kitten that had been brutally abandoned. No doubt dumbstruck by the amazing objects before her.


  • *


Speaking of which, neither Ryūji nor Taiga could afford the time to be awestruck by those enormous breasts.

Three days later and the second swimming lesson came along. The gloomy weather seemed ill suited for swimming, yet both Ryūji and Taiga were fired up,

"Alright, let's go Taiga!"

"Bring it on, Ryūji!"

Ryūji and Taiga appeared by the poolside; their eyes flashed in a white glow, emitting an ultra high temperature murderous intent...sorry, exuberance. The two of them held hands and puffed up their chests (one of them had seemingly fake breasts). The atmosphere quickly changed. The swimming pool was no longer a friendly place to hang about, but a solemn venue where one put their determination, honor and summer vacation on the line.

As Ryūji and Taiga entered the pool, they seemed to be surrounded by a smoke of venomous gas, causing people to naturally create a space in order to avoid them. No one dared to speak to them... Everyone stayed far away while whispering to one another, pretending to watch them casually.

Ryūji squinted his eyes and thought, I think I have an idea what's going on. Everyone must be thinking how on earth Taiga the land-lubber is going to compete with Ami. Still, Ryūji decided to ignore their gazes and said,

"Let's get started!"

"Alright!"

Taiga nodded vigorously and communicated telepathically with Ryūji via eye contact, Don't worry about them. Let them say whatever they like.

Judging by Taiga's stamina, she should be able to complete 25 meters in no time.

"Listen up, Taiga. Let's start from the simplest of stuff. Try kicking the wall and let yourself float up."

"Ryūji."

"Yes?"

"When you say kick the wall, does that mean I have to let go of my hands first?"

"That's right."

Taiga clutched desperately at the poolside as she glared at Ryūji's face. One could see shades of blue on her pale face.

"I'll drown if I let go."

"..."

"My feet can't touch the bottom."

Looks like we'll have to start from the most basic of basics! So her feet can't touch the bottom, huh... Ryūji pressed his forehead as he attempted to modify his training program. After a few seconds, he said,

"...alright, then let's start with holding breaths. Can you dip your head into the water?"

"Oh, ho, ho," Taiga laughed and replied,

"Seriously, don't treat me like a fool. Of course I can do something that simple! Watch!"

That's good then... As Ryūji breathed a sigh of relief...

"T-Taiga!? Y-You..."

"See?" Taiga beamed proudly as she indeed dipped her face into the water. She held her hands by the poolside, and slowly created bubbles as she sank into the water, with her nose was just above the water. Her wide eyes rolled around on top of the surface and blinked cutely,

"... Buhah! You see? I can do it, right?"

Hmph! She proudly puffed up her phony breasts. Ryūji once again pressed his forehead while thinking of a way to explain the situation to her. After a few seconds,

"You know...when I said dip your head into the water, it should be like this..."

Ryūji also held onto the poolside, and slowly dipped his face into the water and counted to three as he demonstrated to Taiga the proper way to do it.

"Buwah! See? It's different from how you did it? Hey, look over here!"

Taiga had turned her face away, to which Ryūji responded with a jab her to arm.

"Ow! That hurts!"

"Were you even looking at all!? Can you do what I just demonstrated?"

"Eeh!? Umm..."

Although Taiga still looked enthusiastic, her eyes wandered, not daring to look at Ryūji. You've got to be joking... Ryūji suddenly had a bad feeling about this,

"Could it be...you wouldn't even dare to dip your head into the water...?"

"...huh? You said something?"

Ryūji looked at Taiga as she turned her head and feigned ignorance while whistling lousily... His premonitions had come true. The problem at hand was no longer about teaching her how to swim, but rather getting her accustomed to the water first.

Ryūji no longer had the time to press his forehead to think. He knocked Taiga on her head, trying to get her motivated, but she didn't even respond with an aggressive "Stop knocking me about!"

"A-Anyway, let's just practice holding breaths! If you can't even master that, you can't do anything else."

Just as Ryūji was about to explain the importance of the basics, the people behind them began to murmur among themselves.

"Did you hear that? She had to start from holding breaths..."

"No matter how you look at it, that's too basic..."

"Isn't that the level of a first grader?"

"She should at least know how to do that..."

Taiga seemed to have heard the whispers of her classmates, which badly bruised her pride... She furrowed her brow, and her face turned a dark shade of red.

Ryūji was about to turn around to ask those people to mind their own businesses, but he was one step too late. "I-I can hold my breath. We don't need to practice that!" Taiga pouted as she puffed her reddened cheeks and said agitatedly.

"Let's skip this low-level practice."

"T-That wouldn't be right..."

"I said skip it!"

With a firm determination, Taiga made the first step forward. She let go of the poolside and grabbed onto Ryūji's arms. Keeping her face above the water, she tried her best to extend her body and kicked her legs, trying to stay afloat.

"Pull me forward! I want to first let my body get used to swimming!"

"I see! Are you sure about this?"

"Yes! Just do as I say!"

Taiga roared fiercely in a manner akin to an actual tiger about to finish off its prey. Ryūji had no choice but to turn around and slowly pull Taiga's body forward.

"Bleh! Bleh!"

Half of Taiga's face went into the water, forcing her to close her eyes tightly while vigorously kicking her legs. Ryūji was still feeling skeptical, Can you call this practice? As she was holding his hands, Taiga was not floating at all. If he didn't hold on to her arms to support her, she would simply sink deeper, with the splashes from her kicks slowly diminishing as she went down.

"Bleh... Ahahahaha! It's working! I can do this! Swimming is too easy!"

Taiga is treating this as swimming already? She was obviously struggling, yet she still pretended she was happy, lifting her chin above the water and smiling awkwardly.

Ryūji remembered when he first learned to ride a bicycle back in first grade. Back then he had just started to ride without training wheels, and he kept on losing his balance and falling down. Seeing this, Yasuko told him, "Ya-chan will hold onto the bike and walk along. All Ryū-chan needs to do is step on the pedals, okay~?" She then held onto the back of the bike. When Ryūji tried again, with Yasuko supporting him from behind, he finally managed to move forward without falling. Wow! This feels great! Ryūji accelerated, and the bike continued forward... It wasn't until moments later when he suddenly discovered that Yasuko was no longer walking behind him. He had already managed to ride on his own, while Yasuko was many meters behind him... She had tripped just after setting off with Ryūji, and was upside down on someone's fence.

Ryūji thought to himself, That's it. I'll do that! I'll gradually loosen my grip, and then eventually let go of Taiga's hands. She'll be going "Ehh? I can swim!" And I'll be praising her "Very good, Taiga!" I'll do just that once we cross that line...

"Blublublublub!?"

"Whoa!?"

Although Ryūji only loosened his grip slightly, Taiga had already sunk completely into the water.

"Hey, you alright?"

"...cough, cough! ...w-what just happened... Where is this place? Who am I? And you are..."

Incredible! She's lost her memories! Just when Ryūji held his breath for the worst,

"You let go of your hand, didn't you? Traitor!"

She stuck out her arm and smacked it hard onto the water, creating a huge splash towards Ryūji's face. Thank goodness! She's regained her memories.

"Hey, wait a minute! You're floating!"

"Huh? What!? No way!"

In other words, Taiga, who was in the center of the pool, wasn't holding onto anything. She wasn't holding onto Ryūji, and her legs weren't touching the bottom, all the while keeping her face above the water. Upon making this amazing discovery, they both exclaimed,

"Wow! Amazing! I can swim!"

"We can win this!"

Just as they were about to make a high five...

"...it doesn't take a genius to figure out why..."

Bubble bubble bubble bubble... Like Poseidon emerging from the water, Minori appeared right behind Taiga.

She was carrying Taiga with one arm.

"...is this the land-lubber Taiga that Takasu-kun has dropped into the water...? Or is it that land-lubber Taiga...?"

It seemed like Minori had been supporting Taiga from underwater a while ago.

"Eh, this land-lubber Taiga."

Minori shoved Taiga back towards Ryūji, she then bubbled back into the water like Poseidon and swam off.

Just when Ryūji was wondering where she was swimming off to...

"Kyaa!? W-What!?"

"I must stay neutral no matter what! ...since I've already helped Taiga, I must also help Ami-chan as well!"

"Minori-chan? What's with you? Are you trying to be Poseidon or something? Stop that, that tickles!"

Ami was playing with the beach ball with Maya and the others when Minori grabbed her from behind. Is she getting the wrong idea about helping? However...

"As expected from Minorin to be impartial. A role model for an athlete!"

If Taiga says so, then I'll treat it as such! Ryūji stared at the dazzling skin of Poseidon while nodding vigorously in agreement.

"In any case, let's return to the poolside!" Ryūji grabbed Taiga's arm and began walking across the pool. Unfortunately, the classmates started murmuring again,

"Oh dear... Looks like she won't make it..."

"There's just no way she can win like that..."

"Swimming was never the Tiger's talent anyway..."

"She cannot compare with Ami-chan the mermaid..."

Taiga bit her lips while digging her fingernails into Ryūji's shoulders,

"D-Damn it!"

"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!"

"How can they say that!? They said I won't make it, saying I've got no talent... Ughhh... I quit!"

"Stop being so bothered by what they say!"

"I don't need you to tell me that! But I just can't take this! It's too demeaning! I'm out! I don't want people to see me like this!"

"Dammit... It's because they've all bet on Kawashima's victory... They want us to feel bad and force us to stop practicing..."

Looking around, they found the classmates that they were once so familiar with now were their enemies. To make matters worse...

"Hey! Aisaka! How's your practice going on? Working hard with Takasu, I see?"

Kitamura was cheering them on merrily by the poolside. Taiga couldn't help but moan softly, revealing a strange face, not knowing how to respond. This was understandable. For Taiga, the harder she worked, the more Kitamura would misunderstand her relationship with Ryūji... Besides, to the casual observer, Taiga was the one who started this duel for Ryūji.

Running out of ideas, Ryūji could only sigh,

"You're hopeless. We'll have to find somewhere else better beside the school swimming pool to practice, and let everyone eat humble pie when the fated day arrives!"

"Come to think of it, isn't there a heated pool in front of the station?"

"Yeah, we can go there."

Drip! An icy cold raindrop fell on Taiga's nose. "Cold!" "It's raining already?" The classmates muttered as they began to leave the pool.

Today's swimming lesson had come to an end.


"Firstly... we have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle running along as the Olympic Torch Bearer... Suddenly, a suspicious shadow appears! Hey, that's George Orwell! Oh no! The Torch's been snatched away! Oh no you don't! yells Conan Doyle, and begins to throw himself at Orwell, but Orwell casually dodges the attack, while spreading out his injured wings from behind..."

"What the hell is with that literary figure battle royale commentary?"


"Well, it'll be necessary, won't it? As soon as I win, I will instantly hold a public premiere of the stupid chihuahua's monomane medley DVD. Think of it as extra entertainment I have prepared for her for that day!"

"So which one would she be? Conan Doyle or Orwell?"

"Both. She'll be playing both roles... since she's got limitless potential in that department."

"R-Really?"

"I'm the one who thought of giving her those roles, after all!"

Full of expectations. Taiga was feeling unusually enthusiastic as she walked on the rain-soaked pedestrian road while waving her umbrella around. Ryūji was captivated for a while at the scene, but ran to catch up with her when he regained his senses. He was no less fired up than Taiga. Although they just had swimming lessons in the afternoon, they were able to go straight to the heated pool after having dinner. This was because of the powerful dryer in Taiga's apartment, which dried their swimsuits in no time.

As the sun set, the rain fell even harder. Every time Taiga swung her lavender-colored umbrella, the raindrops would sprinkle on Ryūji. While skillfully deflecting the sprinkling water with his own umbrella, he said,

"You've got to start practicing dipping your head into the water... Next you'll have to learn how to float and kick your legs with the help of a floating board..."

Ryūji recalled the swimming basics that he had learned back in swimming school when he was young, and had earnestly thought out a training schedule for Taiga.

We've got time anyway. If we go to practice in the heated pool everyday, we'll be able to...

"Huh?"

Hearing Taiga's voice, Ryūji raised his head...and then went speechless.

"What? W-Wait a minute! ...you're joking, right!?"

The gate leading to the heated pool was locked. We came all this way in high spirits, only for it to be closed? When they looked towards the building, they were even more stunned.

Was it because of the rain? Or was it because of how late it was? All they saw were two bulldozers parked on both sides, and in between was a pile of debris covering the area where the pool was supposed to be.

"Huh...ehhhh!?"

Taiga screamed. Ryūji noticed something by his foot. Picking it up, he realized it was a sign, on it were words written with a marker pen... After reading it, he could only stand numbly.

 Thank you very much for your support. This heated pool is now closed. Please look forward 
 to the new library being built here next year.

A library?

"Why the hell do they have to turn it into a library!?"

Taiga's voice reverberated throughout the dark streets. Hearing her yells, Ryūji felt his plan crumbling like the ruin and decay before his eyes.

Taiga can't dip her head into the water.

Taiga can't practice in the school swimming pool.

Taiga can't swim.

Taiga could lose...

If Taiga loses, I'll have to spend the summer at Ami's mansion. In other words...

In a room inside the holiday mansion, Ryūji was sitting on a sofa when Ami came in carrying a plate of fruits and wearing only her swimsuit. She boldly sat beside Ryūji's lap,

"Hee hee hee~ Does it matter? We'll definitely have lots of fun! Come, have some fruit~!"

"Say, ah~! These pears are harvested from our own gardens~ They're~ ripe~ already~! Try one and see!"

This is bad! Stay away from me! ...although he thought that way, he did not feel comfortable pushing the swimsuit-clad Ami off like that. So Ryūji had no choice but to obediently open his mouth. At that moment, someone else came in...

"Takasu-kun! You've gotta play with me! It's boring when Taiga isn't here! C'mon, let's play softball! What position do you prefer? First base? Second? Or... third...?"

Minori, also wearing a swimsuit, stood by the door. She wore a baseball glove on one hand while waving at Ryūji with her other hand. This is pure bliss! Driven by his basic instincts and desire, Ryūji prepared to wobble towards Minori when...

"Hey, Takasu-kun! You've got to stay and eat some pears with Ami-chan!"

"No way! Takasu-kun needs to run back to second base with Minorin!"

"You need to enjoy some tropical fruits together with Ami-chan!"

"You've gotta fly like a bullet with Minorin!"

Ahh! I can't, I can't! Someone is waiting for me... in that dim and damp double-room plus kitchen apartment... Besides, who's gonna cook the meals!? No good, I haven't even turned on the rice cooker, she must be starving to death already! Ryūji wriggled out of Ami and Minori's arms and rushed back to his second floor apartment, and opened the door. But it was already too late!

Lying on the floor of his apartment were three mummified bodies: Inko-chan, Taiga, and Yasuko. Yasuko had even written a final message on the tatami with her fingers: "Mom's starving" What the hell!?

"Hey...you look gross..."

"What...?"

"Your face! From just now you were suddenly laughing and crying at the same time! That's just disgusting!"

Standing before the entrance to the heated pool, now a pile of debris, Ryūji was brought back to reality. That's right, that cannot be allowed to happen... No matter what happens, we've got to win this duel!

But the problem was...

"Oh man, what are we gonna do!? Does that mean we have to go back to the school swimming pool to practice!?"

"We've got no other choice, haven't we? We're gonna have to adjust our attitude and ignore other people's gazes..."

"How am I gonna do that!? Kitamura-kun will be watching..."

Ryūji could find no answer for Taiga's simple question.


  • *


For the next two weeks, the rain never stopped falling.

During this time, swimming lessons were cancelled. Unable to practice, Taiga remained a land-lubber, though she no longer had to worry about having to practice in the school swimming pool.

"Stop raining already~!"

"At this rate, Team Takasu won't be able to practice, would they?"

Although it was daytime, the sky was unusually dark. The lighting in the classroom glowed pale white. The students were supposed to be having a swimming lesson now, but were now confined in the classroom, spending their free session in boredom.

Murmurs filled the classroom as everyone gossiped about how the duel between Taiga and Ami might not even take place.

"I feel so depressed..."

"Don't worry too much about it."

Taiga lifted her head from reading a sports magazine swimming special that was used to aide her in her mental training. Ryūji sat beside her like a coach,

"Right now, we can only rely on mental strength!"

He took out the previous magazine issue and showed it to a depressed Taiga.

"We're just reading magazines here. I still can't swim!"

"Better than having nothing to do. Besides, haven't you been practicing kicking your legs at my place?"

What Ryūji meant by practicing kicking involved placing a cushion on the tatami, and then having Taiga lie horizontally on top of it so her legs could kick freely in the air. "Good, very good! Kick harder! Faster! Wow! There's a new burger store in Asakusa! Mmm, that looks delicious..." "Why on earth are you watching TV!?" "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" The pain from the kick that Ryūji received on his back was evidence that she now knew how to kick her legs.

"That kind of practice isn't enough!"

"Didn't you practice in the bathtub as well?"

"Well...yeah... Those training should have some results..."

Taiga beamed confidently from ear to ear. What Ryūji meant by practicing in the bathtub involved Taiga dipping her head into a tub filled with water, and holding her breath for as long as she could with her eyes open.

"I can now open my eyes freely inside the water."

"Amazing!"

"Heh, heh, heh. I can even hold my breath for up to three seconds now!"

"Hey, we can win this!"

Gimme five! The crowd (consisting of two people) attempted to spice up the atmosphere, and prepared to make a high five, but tripped as they missed each others palms.

"Man... This is boring... I really want to practice in a pool. Why did that heated pool close down!?"

"Yeah..."

The two came to their senses and sighed depressingly while looking at the ceiling. Someone whispered from afar, "Oh dear, wouldn't they be finished at this rate?" Hearing this, Taiga only twisted her lips and remained silent. She couldn't even be bothered to roar.

"Ha!"

"Whoa!? What the...? Oh, it's you."

Seeing some paper planes fly before their eyes, Ryūji quickly turned around, and saw Kitamura standing aside and smiling. Crash! A loud sound thundered beside him, and he realized that Taiga had fallen on the floor with her chair.

"What do you mean 'what the?' Well? How's the practicing? The duel with Ami is almost up."

"How's the practicing? ...we can't even practice in this weather, right, Taiga?"

Taiga blushed slightly and nodded lightly as she returned to her seat. As she attempted to adjust the position of her desk... "Whoa!" She ended being buried by the avalanche of sports magazines.

"I guess you're right. There's no way you can practice in this weather. I don't know if this would help, but think of it as a goodwill of mine."

"This...you mean those?"

Ryūji looked at the papers that just flew past him, and discovered those were tickets to the public swimming pool.

"My mom's an insurance agent, and those were supposed to be discount vouchers for her clients, but she got two extras, so you guys can have it! Actually, I've placed my bet on Aisaka winning this."

"Eh..."

Taiga widened her eyes and yelped, while looking surprisingly at Kitamura.

"When I saw that note that was being passed around and found Takasu very confidently wagered on Taiga winning, so I thought, Alright then, maybe I'll follow suit. Afterward, many people changed their minds and wagered on Aisaka. Takasu, you've got a huge responsibility on your shoulders now!"

Kitamura pushed his glasses and smiled genuinely. Taiga looked frenetic, and cleared her throat many times before saying,

"W-W-Wagered on... me? Does everyone think I can win?"

"Yeah."

Pop! As if having an allergic reaction, her face went even redder.

"How should I put this? Aisaka's the type that shows her potential when push comes to shove, so she'll definitely make a great turn-around. To use a superhero description, she'd be Kinnikuman, and I don't mean Kinnikuman II."

Is that supposed to be a compliment? Ryūji scratched his head in confusion, but...

"Ah...you mean the prince...the main character...?"

Taiga lowered her very red face and smiled. She looks really happy...

"Yup. And unexpectedly, Ami's the type that screws up when it comes to the big occasion, so I think the result is far from decided."

"Can't you use them...this way instead?"

Ryūji handed one ticket to Taiga, and handed the other to Kitamura. Before Kitamura could react, Taiga had already widened her eyes,

"NOOO!!!"

Yelling in a strange voice, she intercepted Ryūji's hand and snatched the ticket he was about to hand to Kitamura, clutching it tightly to her chest. Seeming as though she was about to erupt, Taiga's face was completely red as she glared fiercely at Ryūji. Seeing Taiga looking so embarrassed, Kitamura said,

"Well then, good luck! And hope it doesn't rain by then!"

There was no trace of unhappiness in Kitamura's smile, who raised one arm and waved farewell.

"Ahh...you idiot..."

Ryūji couldn't resist but gave Taiga's puffed up cheeks a soft playful punch. Taiga did not resist or complain, and allowed Ryūji's fist to stop on her face. She didn't even look at Ryūji as she remained silent.

Ryūji sighed and took away the swimming pool ticket she had been clutching tightly in her hands,

"You'll definitely lose it if it's left with you. The date on the ticket is for this weekend. It'll be great if the weather's fine... Man, I'm thirsty. I'm gonna go get something to drink, you want anything?"

Taiga simply shook her head.


"Wah!"

"Whoa..."

I've been through this before...

Two people, in breach of school rules, bumped into each other in front of the vending machines outside its permitted time of usage.

"Takasu-kun's skipping class~"

"You're in no position to talk."

Ami squatted alone by the wall and drank her milk tea. "Come sit over here!" After Ryūji had bought his iced coffee, she urged him to sit by her side.

"So you're all alone in this place? What an autistic girl you are."

"You too are in no position to talk~"

The two squatted shoulder by shoulder under the shadow of the wall. "Ah-choo!" Ryūji couldn't help but sneeze as he squatted down, causing Ami to giggle,

"Really. Are you tired?"

"Couldn't you tell? And just whose fault was it anyway?"

"Hmm? I wonder if you're referring to Ami-chan?"

"Of course. Seriously... Whenever you're up to some tricks, I'm the one that has to suffer."

"What tricks~? Ami-chan doesn't get it~"

"Why you... you can feign ignorance all you like! Keep on wearing that mask until your facial muscles go into spasms."

"Fu fu..." Ami's smiling face was in stand-by mode. She took off her innocent mask, and a pair of mischievous eyes appeared on her perfect looking face.

"You must be tired wearing that as well, huh?"

Spending time hiding in such a place during a rare free session... I think I can understand that. Ryūji couldn't resist lifting his can and tapped Ami's can. "Cheers." Ami's amber eyes blinked a few times in surprise,

"Eh?"

The next second, she squinted them, as though she had seen something interesting,

"How rare for Takasu-kun to be paying attention to Ami-chan. What is it, huh? Could it be that you got bullied by the Palmtop Tiger?"

"You talk too much... That happens often... Do you have any idea how many times I've been stung by Taiga's abuses ever since the day you tried to embrace me?"

Ami chuckled like a pigeon and said,

"Isn't that cute? A jealous tiger!"

"Cute my ass! Besides, she isn't jealous, she's just being pissed off by your provocations. If you were to do that to Kushieda, she'd be fuming as well."

"No, she won't. Are you an idiot? Do you really think if I tried to embrace Minori-chan like I did to you in front of that fellow, she'd treat Minori-chan with stinging insults as she does with you?"

"Don't call me an idiot... That's because you and Kushieda are girls! As well as friends..."

"Sigh... Alright, alright! You're the one who's right! 'I'm not jealous at all!' ...haha, you're really like her. 'Aren't you jealous?' 'No, I'm not!' ...both of you said the same things. Takasu-kun sure is funny!"

Ami softly tossed the can she had emptied, and it landed beautifully inside the dust bin. Not a single drop spilled out of the can, nor did it hit anything or bounce off the edge of the bin. Ryūji had no chance of showing off his specially prepared wet towel used for cleaning up the mess of clumsy people.

"This is not funny. Seriously, stop provoking Taiga with that attitude anymore. I'm the one that ends up getting the stick here! As for that mansion... I don't think you wanted to invite me at all. If you really win, have you ever thought of what to do next? I'm sure you'll just act as though nothing ever happened afterward! Since all you wanted was just to drive Taiga insane, that's why you used me..."

Ryūji stood up, prepared to toss his can.

"What if I say I'm not going to pretend nothing's ever happened?"

The unexpected answer caused Ryūji to turn to look at Ami.

Ami remained squatted by the wall and smiled at him with her angel mask,

"Sorry, but I'm seriously thinking of winning this. And I'm genuinely hoping to be able to spend the summer vacation with Takasu-kun once I win. Of course, I also hope to see Aisaka Taiga make a fool of herself, but I'm more concerned about what to do after I win... What's with that expression? You surprised?"

Ryūji couldn't say anything... He could no longer tell whether or not Ami was joking as usual. Seeing his reaction, Ami remained smiling, and stretched out her tender finger, pointing to herself and Ryūji,

"I think it's interesting. Don't you think...that we're a match for each other?"

"AAs if!"

"Haha, look who's mad."

"Why you! There's a limit to messing around with people. And if you're done with your drink, go back to class!"

"I'm gonna stay here for a while longer... Shouldn't Takasu-kun be going back instead?"

"I don't need you to tell me that!"

She doesn't intend to go back yet? Ami waved farewell to Ryūji as he walked off. Even though she had finished her drink, she remained squatting in the gap between the vending machines...

Who knows, maybe she's actually a rather gloomy person.


  • *


"I suddenly realized, tomorrow's the fated day already."

"..."

"The weather looks strange... Though it's not raining..."

"..."

"The weather forecast said tomorrow's a cloudy day, but..."

"Buwah! Ryūji did you see that!? Did you!?"

Nope, I was looking at the weather. Deciding not to tell her that, Ryūji simply gave Taiga a nod.

"Heh, heh, it's amazing, right? I must've held my breath for about ten seconds there!"

Taiga proudly puffed up her phony breasts. For some time, she had been holding tightly onto Ryūji while practicing holding her breaths by the poolside.

"Yeah, ten seconds already!"

Ryūji, on the other hand, sat by the side of the children's pool.

"Hey! There's a delinquent there!"

"No, Aa-chan! You mustn't go near those people!"

The housewife who brought her child trembled as she said that. This pool was supposed to be reserved for small kids and babies, so the water only reached Ryūji's kneecaps.

"Hey, Ryūji, do I look like I'm swimming?"

Taiga let go of her hands from the pool side and began crawling on the bottom of the pool like an alligator...

"Wah!?"

Her hands probably slipped as she submerged into the water, creating many bubbles. After splashing for a while, she finally stood up. As she choked on the water and yelled non-stop...

"Oh no! Aa-chan! You can't do that!"

Aa-chan had taken out an elephant-shaped sprinkler and sprayed water on top of Taiga's head.

"I'm so sorry about this! You mustn't do that, Aa-chan!"

"Wah..."

Aa-chan finally got carried away by his mother. Taiga remained silent and walked towards Ryūji with an ambiguous expression,

"Even I wouldn't use violence against the innocent antics of little kids..."

A concession of defeat by the Palmtop Tiger... Now that's rare.

"As high-school students are not supposed to be in a children's pool, we are in no position to complain."

"Was that the reason why that kid was so pissed...?"

In this rainless Sunday, the public swimming pool tickets Kitamura gave them were finally put to good use.

Ryūji and Taiga arrived here in high-spirits after a 20 minute bus ride. Yet the sun did not appear, and the sky remained gloomy while the temperature had hardly gone up at all, meaning the swimming pool water was icy cold. Maybe as a result of these factors, there weren't many people today. The four main pools were as quiet as they could get.

"Taiga, let's go to the big pool over there! It'd be great if only they had slides..."

"There's the 'wave pool' as well, since the water flows like a river... Hey, are those people crazy?"

Taiga left a tiny footprint on the ground while laughing at the junior high students "meditating" under the "waterfall pool." Just when Ryūji was about to tell her that Kitamura had done exactly the same thing, he discovered something nearby that could be put to good use.

"Here!"

"Whoa!? Hey! What the?"

Ryūji had lopped a floating ring over Taiga's head. He found it lying on the ground, no doubt dumped by someone after they were done using it.

"We can't help it, can we? If you don't want to drown, you'll need to grab onto this. You can't touch the bottom, right? Come on, we'll go to the 'wave pool'!"

"This... is too embarrassing..."

Sploosh! Ryūji stepped into the round-shaped pool with one foot and jumped in. Trying not to trip over the floating ring, Taiga carefully entered the pool right behind Ryūji.

"Wah! M...my feet can't reach the bottom!"

Grabbing onto the floating ring that Taiga was wearing and drifting along in the flowing water, Ryūji said,

"Anyway, it's already too late for us to start practicing on freestyle. We'll just have to rely on floating rings or boards tomorrow..."

"No way! Oh man...that's just too embarrassing! ...why'd it come to this!?"

"Well, we don't have a choice, do we? If you say you're quitting because you can't swim, you'll just fall straight into Kawashima's plans! Besides, no one ever said you have to swim freestyle anyway. The competition method merely said "Any style of swimming," so I guess floating boards are allowed."

"Any style... Ryūji, does that mean we are free to choose any method we want?"

"Hey, quit it with that sinister looking smile! First try kicking your legs. Since there's a current in this pool, you should be able to move forward comfortably."

"Mmm..."

Ryūji gently pushed the floating ring. He swam forwards in breaststroke with his head above the water, moving along with Taiga.

"Like this?"

Splash, splash, splash, splash! Huge splashes were created. Now able to float, Taiga's leg kicking became formidable. Although this pool has currents, isn't she moving a bit too fast? As Taiga continued to accelerate at breakneck speed, Ryūji could no longer catch up using his breaststroke, and had to start paddling his arms forward.

"Hey! Wait up!"

The splashes finally stopped. Gently using the momentum generated by the floating ring, Taiga floated while changing directions, and even looked at Ryūji, who was catching up, in disbelief,

"What now? Do I really swim that fast? Or is this normal for this 'wave pool'?"

"N-No, you really do swim fast, since I'm also in this 'wave pool...' Hey! Wait... I'm...out of breath..."

"Really? Then I'm going to start swimming seriously, and you're gonna have to seriously try catching up with me!"

Splash, splash, splash, splash! The powerful water kicking began once again, and Taiga's body quickly moved forward. No one can swim that fast in a floating ring!

"Are you kidding me!?"

She was so fast that Ryūji couldn't even catch up with just paddling his arms, and had to start swimming freestyle. All this time, he had been training her in something he was good at in order to get her to think highly of him, so there was no reason why he shouldn't have been able to catch up with someone in a floating ring.

"H-How is this possible..."

Taiga, giving it her all, swam forward along with the current. Gradually, the splashes she created grew smaller and smaller. Ryūji was also swimming at full speed, but just couldn't catch up with Taiga.

At this point, Taiga had stopped swimming, and simply looked back at Ryūji,

"You really are a useless dog! Does that mean I'm amazing? I may be able to win that..."

"Don't...get...complacent...! There's...a current...in here... after all...!"

Lifting his head above the water, Ryūji was already trying to catch his breath by the time he had caught up with Taiga and grabbed her floating ring.

"That's gross! Why're you panting like a pervert?"

"...I'm...out of breath...huff... Can't help it...puff... Oh boy..."

Ryūji now let himself drift along the current, while trying to get his breathing back to normal,

"Phew~ It's been ages since I swam with all my energy..."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, As Taiga was about to open her mouth to say that, she found herself yawning, the tears coming out of her eyes trickled down with the water on her face. Ryūji found himself feeling relaxed, and looked dumbstruck at Taiga's tears.

After kicking the water and drifting for a while, perhaps it was the sound of the water or the effects caused by floating on the water, their minds became gradually soothed. They remained silent for some time, and allowed themselves to drift along the water.

"I feel like...I can just sleep like this..."

Taiga yawned a second time. Ryūji too made a big yawn. Looking aside, they saw a frail old man lying on a floating bed and drifting forward. Beside him was a kid who seemed to be his grandson, who wore a duck-shaped floating ring, swimming beside his grandfather.

In other words, no one in this pool was moving forward on their own. Everyone allowed the current to take them along, at a relaxed pace...

"Ah~ Looks like we've come to the quietest pool..."

"I really feel like sleeping now..."

"Me too..."

That was to be expected. He had woken up at seven just to look out at the weather. As they made preparations while watching the weather forecast, by the time he decided to leave his apartment, it was already eight.

Afterward, Ryūji had to prepare Inko-chan's meals, and had to look at his hideous sleeping face. He also had to take care of Yasuko, who came home drunk, and sat and wept while half-sleeping, though she didn't wake up in the end. He also had to go back home because Taiga had left her hair clip in her apartment... By the time they got on the bus, it was already nine. And by the time Taiga had changed into her swimsuit, it was already ten before they finally entered the pool.

Ryūji had a feeling that even before arriving at the pool, they had wasted quite a lot of energy already.

"How's the weather tomorrow?"

"It looks like it'll rain, and the pool will be closed."

Both of them opened their mouths dreamily, and held onto the floating ring while lifting their heads and looking at the slightly gloomy sky. Like a sleepy kitten, Taiga found even lifting her head to be bothersome, and lazily rested her face on the floating ring,

"I feel like...this is better... I think...it's fine like this..."

Taiga obviously looked exhausted. Ryūji understood that feeling very well too...

"Don't say that. Kitamura's placed his bet on you, after all! You must've been happy when you heard that, right?"

In an attempt to get Taiga motivated, Ryūji had used his only "spark," hoping to ignite her eyes with flames of passion...

"Umm..."

"What's with the 'umm'!?"

Taiga laid her face on the floating ring. Her eyes lacked focus as they stared ahead at the water. A drop of water fell from an eyelash, glittered then and dropped onto her tender wrist. As Ryūji watched that drop, he twisted his lips as he said,

"We've gone through a lot of trouble to come here. Even Kitamura's cheering for us. Isn't that attitude a bit wrong?"

Taiga did not respond, but instead, closed her thin eyelids, her long hair floating on the surface of the water. Is she no longer concerned with winning anymore!?

Without realizing it, Ryūji felt angry. He remembered what Ami had said to him before, "Sorry, but I'm seriously thinking of winning this. And I'm genuinely hoping to be able to spend the summer vacation with Takasu-kun once I win."

Drifting together with Taiga, for the first time, the thought of her possibly losing appeared in Ryūji's head. In terms of determination, she had already lost! Besides the natural disadvantage of being a land-lubber, not wanting Kitamura to see her work so hard for Ryūji's sake was another reason for her indifference. Perhaps Taiga does want to win, but unexpectedly, she had fallen into a trap of weariness.

If this goes on, Taiga might really lose. If she loses, then I...

"It's raining?"

"No way..."

Taiga raised her head as an icy cold raindrop fell on her nose.


As it was lunchtime, they decided to have some soba in the snack shop beside the pool while waiting for the rain to stop.

"Looks like everyone's gone home instead of waiting for the rain to end," Taiga said. She had stopped eating while sitting under the umbrella, still wearing her swimsuit.

"That's their problem. Once the rain's over, let's go to the pool without any currents."

"Hmm. Your lips are all green."

"Well, your lips are stained with seaweed as well."

Not concerned with the seaweed on her mouth, Taiga furrowed her brow and stretched her arms. Looking at the rain outside of the umbrella, she frowned even more...

"It's raining cats and dogs!"

"Looks like it won't be ending soon..."

"It's getting colder as well..."

Taiga showed her arm to Ryūji, "Look, I have goosebumps already." Her white skin revealed many tiny spots, evidence of how ruthless the elements have been to her wet skin.

"It'll be over if you catch a cold. Let's go back once you're finished eating, okay?"

Ryūji's suggestion was made out of concern for Taiga's weary expression.

"Going home already?"

Taiga gave an enigmatic expression, looking innocent like a child, mixed with a sense of dissatisfaction. She looked at Ryūji and said,

"You're getting goosebumps too, aren't you? Besides, my lips are getting pale. We can't go on like this."

"You may be right...but we still haven't practiced enough! We only drifted for a while just now..."

Taiga opened her mouth and slurped in the soba, stuffing her cheeks full. Ryūji looked at her stubborn face and thought, From her hesitation, it seems like she's more inclined towards not going home.

"Not going home? But it's getting colder now. Are you sure you still want to continue? Though I myself hope you can continue..."

"Yup, we'll continue. Though it's cold... I'm feeling hesitant...about many things...but I still want to try my best."

She really is hard to read. Ryūji tilted his head and then realized, That's it! The spark of love from a while ago probably caught and started its magic within her...

"You're right. Since Kitamura gave us these tickets, they contain his support for us. It would be a pity to just waste them like that."

Taiga's eyes looked upwards,

"That's not the reason! No, it's not. I'm working hard because... The reason I decided to continue is because... Forget it! Since it's useless trying to tell anything to a stupid dog like you!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing!"

Taiga violently closed the box of soba she had just finished, and tossed the plastic chopsticks aside. Ryūji had no idea what she was so pissed off about. All he knew was that her mood had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Yet, Ryūji felt troubled by the mood swing that had come from nowhere. In face, Ryūji had found himself getting frustrated.

"I... I'm feeling unsure about this, do you understand? If I work hard for this sort of thing, Kitamura-kun's probably going to misunderstand our relationship again! But, but... I want to work hard, I want to! Because...because you..."

Ryūji and Taiga made eye contact. Under the umbrella in the gloomy sky, Taiga's eyes glared strongly.

Normally, Ryūji would accept this glare straight on. No matter what Taiga wanted to say, no matter what she was thinking, he was always thinking of how to get her to feel better again. The degree to which Ryūji spoiled and pampered Taiga was becoming almost pathetic. This was because Ryūji was already a hopelessly kind person to begin with. Sometimes he would treat Taiga, whom he shared a dining table with, as a sister or a comrade in battle, and he knew very well about Taiga's extreme clumsiness and inability to express herself properly.

Yet right now, he could not face that glare...

"It's got nothing to do with you!"

After saying this, Taiga, as she usually would, turned her face and glanced coldly at Ryūji out of the side of her eye. Ryūji was further infuriated for some reason.

Was it because it was getting cold? Or maybe he was tired? Could it have been because the soba tasted terrible? Or had those shameful comments on the betting note damaged his pride?

Or could the reason be something simpler? He would always treat Taiga nicely, yet every single time Taiga would say, "Ryūji has nothing to do with me!"

"Ah... I get it now! Then forget it! Let's stop training...since you never gave a damn anyway!"

Perhaps it was because all these emotions had been buried within his heart for so long.

Hearing Ryūji's stiff voice, the intensity in Taiga's eyes changed,

"What is that supposed to mean? Who says I don't give a damn? Didn't I say I want to practice? Didn't I say I don't want to go home and want to continue?"

"Don't force yourself already, since I don't have anything to do with you, right? Why not just cancel tomorrow's duel if that's the case? What's the point in working hard? Besides, you can prove to Kitamura you don't give a damn about me! I'll go tell Ami and ask her not to bring him along. Kushieda won't be coming as well, I'm sure you'll be happy about that? You don't need to worry about anything anymore, isn't that great? You can always go buy boxed lunch sets in the convenience store, or order take out from the Chinese restaurant outside the station during the summer!"

Taiga glared coldly at Ryūji, her eyes filled with anger,

"...say that again?"

"I meant exactly what I said! You don't need to practice, and you don't need to accept the duel! You happy now!? Kitamura won't be going to the mansion, and as long as your meals are sorted out, what else is there to worry about!? You have no right, as well as no reason to interfere with whomever I want to go anywhere with!"

"...yes, yes, you're right!"

A cold laugh emanated from behind Taiga's bloodless lips,

"So you've shown your true colors, haven't you!? If I had noticed it sooner, I wouldn't have to suffer so much like an idiot!"

"What's that supposed to mean!? Showing my colors?"

"You actually want to go, don't you? To Kawashima Ami's mansion? Don't make me laugh! You actually want to spend the summer with cute girls, don't you? Well, that's understandable, since your vacation would be ruined if you were to spend it with me! If you so wanted to go, couldn't you have said so in the first place!? Or could it be... I see! You've been using me, haven't you!? You feel bad having to say it yourself, so you decide to use me as an excuse, and put on an appearance of 'Oh, I actually don't want to go, but I had no choice!'...are you an idiot?"

"You..."

How the hell did it come to this!? Ryūji's mind was blinded with rage. Why did I check out the weather forecast with you every day? Why did I spend time training you to kick your legs? Why did I come here with you... And this little girl actually has the balls to say such stuff!? Have you gone blind!?

"I REALLY don't understand what the hell you're thinking!"

"That ought to be my line!"

Taiga roared back, but Ryūji did not understand what she meant. This only made him angrier, and he continued in rage,

"You've always been like this! Always! Saying you don't give a damn about me, but deep inside, you've already jumped to conclusions and assumed I'm the one who's in the wrong! Why must you always be like that!? So what if I embraced Kawashima!? Why must I put up with your abuses!?"

"Why must you mention that again!?"

Taiga went ballistic as she turned the table over and stood up. She picked up the umbrella and threw it at Ryūji. The rain continued to fall. There was no one else around. Only the wind broke the silence by the poolside.

"WHY!? Tell me why? Why is it that you just don't get it? I was never mad! Haven't I been saying that since the beginning!? I was only feeling pissed off..."

Thud! Taiga placed her fist on her chest. Her voice was getting hoarse.

"...by people who think they know everything about what I'm thinking! That's all! What the hell is this about me being pissed about Ryūji!? What the hell is this me wanting to say Ryūji belongs to me!? To hell with that! What do you understand anyway? Just who can understand how I see Ryūji anyway? How could anyone possibly ever understand!? I never even told anyone about this! I don't even understand it myself!"

Ryūji only heard half of Taiga's rants. He had fallen into the children's pool while dodging the umbrella Taiga had thrown at him.

"Cough, cough... What...did you just say!?"

"I said I'm quitting! You can go wherever you like for all I care!"

Ryūji watched from behind as Taiga ran back to the changing room, rubbing her eyes.

"Suit yourself! Moron!" Although he had said that, deep down, Ryūji still hoped, Taiga's going to trip clumsily, and then lose something important, and then come over to ask for my help. I can sigh and say, "You idiot!" And everything will return to normal...


Taiga never turned back. She took a taxi home by herself.

She didn't even come over for dinner, nor did Ryūji ask her to come over.

They seemed to have fallen out badly.

At eleven at night in the quiet Takasu residence, Ryūji faced the bird cage and said,

"I don't think I did anything wrong, did I?"

Like any other parrot, Inko-chan only chirped, and avoided contact with Ryūji's eyes...

Light Novel
Main Series' Volumes

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