| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
Seriously, he was not cute.
With that said, you couldn't call him brave, rugged or intelligent either.
He was making a horribly pathetic face. He looked malnourished, pitiful, and just plain sad.
Undoubtedly, he was a dog.
When he noticed what was going on, he was alone. Even walking around made him breathless, and as he was lonely, there was really no helping it. He had no choice. All he could do was lay down.
He laid himself down before the "girl", and while prostrating himself, he pleaded to her. "Won’t you please, please be with me", he said. "I can’t live as a single dog, so won’t you please marry me", he said.
"Can’t be helped", she said before stepping on his dog head with her shoes and breathing a heavy sigh through her nose. Her lips were curled and she made a complicated expression that was a blend of compassion and contempt. She told him, "If you’re willing to go so far as to say that, then it looks like you’re ready, I suppose."
And thus, the dog and the "girl" were bound together.
Their new home was the Takasu residence. It had appeared out of nowhere. However, he had trouble describing what had happened. The two-story rented house had completely transformed, and now looked like a stereotypical triangular-roofed doghouse...
"Ryū-cha~n, come here... Look, a lot of children were just born. This one’s white, and this one’s spotted, and this one’s light brown, just look, a lot of puppies were born~. Taiga-chan, she had a lot of children for us~."
It looks like Yacchan has become the grandmother of all these puppies...
He finally opened his eyes.
Even for a while after he opened his eyes, it felt as if his heart was being squeezed tightly.
Having just been released from his first experience of near-paralysis, Ryūji Takasu still couldn’t even wipe the cold sweat from his brow. Breathing heavily several times, he finally made his escape by rolling out of bed. Like a dog, he started crawling on his hands and knees over the clean but aged tatami mats. Then, while in a prostrating pose with his forehead against the ground, he began forcing the air from his lungs...
"Was, it, a, dreeeeam...~?"
...until finally, his cry wouldn’t come out anymore. Still feeling tense, he remained immobile. His T-shirt was drenched with cold sweat, and his entire body was still trembling because of the remnants of that bad dream. He ran his stiff fingers through his hair that dripped of his wet sweat as if he had just gotten out of the shower, and then firmly yanked at the wet mass.
What a dream. Or rather, nightmare.
His dog self, having failed at life, had prostrated himself before Taiga and convinced her to be with him. She had even ended up having puppies. He wondered if there was any future more miserable than something like that. If there was, he wanted to know, he really wanted to hear it, or anything that would dampen the shock of that dream even just a little. Seeing such a dark outcome was just that shocking for him. The dogs, the prostrating, Taiga and the doghouse, and then on top of all that, they were seriously poor - at least that was the impression he'd gotten. Grandma Yasuko and Taiga, who had been holding the puppies in their arms, had both been wearing primitive animal skin dresses. Taiga’s had a fitting tiger pattern.
Quite surprisingly, it was four in the morning. The midsummer dawn was getting brighter outside his window. He could even hear the cries of the cicadas.
Taking a breath, he felt exhausted. As he went over things in his mind, he thought of something particular.
It was after they had eaten dinner last night. It was really hot, and there was nothing on TV, and on top of having nothing to do, the air conditioner was broken. Since they felt like watching a scary movie, he and Taiga had gone to rent a DVD.
True Stories: The Terrifying Archipelago of Japan. That was the title of the movie. For some reason, they ended up choosing it, but it turned out to be so cheap-looking that they wondered if it could've been a gag movie. Other than obvious CG, the rope suspending the mannequin disguised as a corpse had been completely visible... On top of that, a man who was likely a staff member could even be seen pulling that very rope. Not to mention, that same man appeared in the next part as the actor being chased around by a generic stalker woman who had long single-length hair, wearing something like a trenchcoat.
To have watched that terribly crappy three-part mini-series to the end, even while criticizing everything about it, he could only attribute such an act to the power of boredom.
It was the third story that had probably done it. The Terrifying Archipelago: Kansai Story ~ I Gave Birth to a Dog-baby!... The only thing that was even a bit scary that was the dreadful screaming voice of the unfamiliar no-name actress. "Iyaaaah, spots are popping up on my baby~~!" She was cradling a dalmatian puppy and trying valiantly to fake a Kansai accent.
They had laughed at the movie heartily, saying to one another "Ahh, what a waste of money!" and "What a waste of time!" until finally, Taiga started feeling tired and went back home to her apartment next door.
The fact that such a horrible movie had caused him to have a nightmare made him feel pathetic. Was he really looking to get such a return on the rental charge, he wondered. If it was this sort of "terror", he would've rather avoided it, even if it cost him money.
"Se~riously... it was the most horrible, that sort of..."
He didn’t even need to try isolating which part he was referring to as "most horrible". The whole thing was the most horrible thing ever in every sense of the word. Involuntarily sighing for the umpteenth time, he rubbed at his forehead that was drenched and chilled with cold sweat.
Wanting to at least breathe in some fresh morning air in hopes of flushing out this horrible feeling, Ryūji opened the window that was opposite his bed. But the unexpectedly muggy air made him involuntarily stick out his tongue in disgust.
In a sense, something even more dreadful than his dream had appeared outside his window.
About at the same height, he was looking towards the second floor of the neighboring deluxe apartment that was separated by a fence. Through the open window of Taiga Aisaka’s bedroom, the one wearing a messy camisole and glaring back at Ryūji was none other than Taiga herself.
As she was standing over there, he wondered what in the world had happened to her, since she had a lightning-shaped crease on her forehead, and her upper lip was quivering and curled upwards with overflowing disgust. Her hair was ruffled up into a horrible mess, looking like she had suffered the after-effects of a cartoon bomb. With an expression overflowing with contempt, like a tiger that had tried to swallow a poisonous snake in one gulp but ended up choking on it, she seemed to be asking "Just how long have you been there like that" as she was suddenly glaring at Ryūji. She was glaring at the window of the Takasu residence.
He was hesitant to greet her with even a simple "Good morning" as her entire body seemed to be emitting dreadful and negative spark-like waves.
With a chill, he felt as if cold blood was rising from the depths of his stomach. Then,
"I had a horrible dream. A really, extremely... horrible dream... You were the dog, and the dog was the husband, and the children were dogs, and I had a tiger pattern... Anyway, it was the most horrible dream ever..."
Gulping, he couldn’t think of a response.
It was beyond mere coincidence, that these acquainted neighbors had the same nightmare on the same night, and at the same time. With their synchronization rates maxed, will this rented house and the deluxe apartment end up fusing into one?
Maybe this was a dream as well. Wondering that, Ryūji slowly closed the window and, pretending that he hadn’t seen or heard anything, slipped under the covers of his bed.
He didn’t want to think about anything anymore...
"Keikokumu," Taiga Aisaka muttered.
"...Keiko dot com? Is that some sort of pornographic site... Ack!"
"Idiot, that’s not it. I said, warn, ing, dream."
Just because he had misheard her, this girl had aimed at his eyes and thrown a piece of chopped spring onion with her chopsticks.
"I’m talking about that seriously horrible nightmare from this morning. I was just wondering if it could be a warning dream. Maybe our subconscious minds showed us that sort of thing because we’re just about to go on that trip tomorrow."
"...What are you talking about?"
Glancing at Ryūji, who was wiping soumen sauce from his face as he replied to her, she slurped her soumen noodles. While looking at her mouth, Ryūji nibbled at a piece of Japanese ginger. His eyes were overly bloodthirsty and gave off an almost unearthly glow, as they glinted like the blade of a Japanese sword. But it wasn’t like he had eaten some sort of illegal substance that made him see psychedelic hallucinations. It was just that the negative feelings of that dream continued to linger.
The sun was already glaring down outside the window, and even though the light didn’t reach directly inside, it was still muggy in the 2DK residence at 11 am.
Even though it was summer vacation, there was no such thing in the Takasu residence as being too late for breakfast.
While muttering, "You have no common sense" pompously from across the table, Taiga greedily tried to grab all the soumen noodles,
The noodles fell from her chopsticks. Deftly picking up a more appropriate amount of soumen noodles, Ryūji silently placed them in Taiga’s sauce for her. Of course, without showing even a shred of gratitude, she slurped up the white noodles with her pursed rosy lips and in an instant, they were gone. After she had swallowed them,
"...In other words, it’s just like it sounds; that dream is a warning. Like, this is what will happen if you don’t do something to prevent it."
"I see... So you’re saying it has nothing to do with the fact that we watched that weird movie before going to sleep. Then, just what’s the connection between the dream and the trip to Kawashima’s place?"
"Haaa~~h..." She gave a long sigh. Taiga put down her chopsticks like she was simply dumbstruck. While tilting up her chin and looking down on Ryūji, she pompously placed her chin in the palm of her hands.
"Today, your lack of sense has been annoying. It’s really gotten on my nerves. I’ve even lost my appetite thanks to you, so you can just clear the table."
"...If you’re going to eat two whole bundles of noodles by yourself... then at least take care of your own dishes."
"I’m so full I can’t move."
"You’ll become a cow you know."
"Better than an incompetent dog."
Rather than coming up with a retort, simply withdrawing seemed like it would be a bit faster and less of a drain all around. While thinking up ways to curse her, like "Go ahead and become a cow, then I’ll milk you", Ryūji started piling up the empty dishes. The life of a dairy farmer with a tiger-patterned cow sounded much better than living out his days as a dog slave.
"Well, back to the topic. So that dream, in other words, our dream where you didn’t even get a chance to confess to Minorin and I didn’t get a chance to be with Kitamura, that right there is already a sad enough future. You don’t want it to turn out like this, right. It’s dreadful, isn’t it. If so, then you have to try harder! is basically what it’s telling us. You think that sort of thing would be unpleasant too, right?"
"Yeah... I’m pretty sure we’ve established that we don’t want that to happen."
Staring with his dully shining eyes at Taiga, who wasn’t lifting a finger to help him clean up, Ryūji muttered negatively.
"...You’re rather cheeky considering you bent down on your own... But whatever, that’s right. And so basically, it’s a warning that if we don’t take full advantage of this upcoming trip, which is our big chance, then that’s the future that awaits us. That’s what I got from it anyway."
Talking for a while like that, Taiga folded the cushion she had been sitting on and, using it as a pillow, laid down on the tatami mat floor. While still sprawled on the ground, she raised one white leg straight up into the air like she was doing synchronized swimming before firmly pressing the sole of her foot against the wall.
He was furrowing his brow thinking "What bad manners", but regarding the actual topic at hand, Ryūji had no room to argue. It’s just, he wished she wouldn’t add that questionable overtone, like calling the dream a warning.
The big chance that Taiga mentioned, or in other words the upcoming trip, was of course the three day, two night stay at Ami’s summer house that started tomorrow.
At the end of the first term, they had argued harshly over who was going, involving the rest of the class and eventually ended up in a swimming competition. It was eventually decided that it would be a trip for five people: Kitamura, Minori, Ami, and then Ryūji and Taiga. For Ryūji and Taiga, who were both generally unfamiliar with family trips because of various reasons, it was the one major event of their otherwise dull and tedious summer. Not to say that they weren’t being honest with each other right now, but they were very excited, so much so that they had been counting down the days left until the actual trip. They were even planning to go shopping for the trip at the station building later today.
The main reason they were both so excited was, of course, the fact that it was an overnight trip with their respective crushes... They were both counting on the possibility that a good atmosphere might come up. In Ryūji’s case, of course, that meant when he was together with Minori Kushieda.
Without pausing in his work, Ryūji let his face slacken happily.
"You don't really need to mention incomprehensible stuff like premonitions. A chance like this is rare. I don’t really get to talk with Kushieda at school, so if possible, I’m hoping that at least this time I’ll be fortunate enough to get closer to her, even if it's just a little."
"And there it is. Right there."
Still sprawled out, Taiga looked at Ryūji with her terrifyingly bright eyes.
"It’s because you’re like that. That’s why we ended up seeing something as horrible as that warning dream."
Flipping up her long hair that gently flowed down past her waist, Taiga rested her chin in her hands while on the cushion, looking upwards. From gaps in her long bangs, her round, somewhat moist brow and her nose that traced a delicate line could be seen. Her thin lips brought to mind a rose bud, and her drowsy eyes that stared up at Ryūji were like mischievously flickering gems. Although her long eyelashes drooped over them, they still gave off a flickering light,
"Geez, you’re a naturally stupid dog through and through. Your dashi is way too intense, you know. It’s only suitable for extreme maniacs."
If not for her personality, the girl in front of him would be a perfect beauty.
"...Just what are you staring at? Shall I wrap this up?"
Rather than speak empty words, this girl actually follows through with what she says.
Just like her name sounded, Taiga Aisaka was a girl with the ferociousness and recklessness of a tiger. She was known as the Palmtop Tiger. Despite being 140 cm tall with a small build unbefitting of a second-year high school student, her power, her temperament, and her ferocity made all the people around her keep their distance out of fear.
With that said, while sitting Japanese-style beside her, Ryūji at least looked like he matched the Palmtop Tiger. His viciously glinting sanpaku eyes were filled with a near insanity that, if he were a normal delinquent, seemed enough to kill around five people at a time just by glaring at them. But it was just hereditary. That was all his face was, an appearance.
Methodical, awkward, and a soft person who was not very strong and easily did chores as naturally as breathing, that was just the kind of man Ryūji Takasu was. Ryūji privately thought that it was incredible for someone like him to pass his time like this with a girl like her.
But of course, he wasn’t going to let Taiga know about those sort of flimsy thoughts.
"Is that all right? I’ll kindly spell things out for you since you’re such a dullard, so listen closely, okay?"
Coming up from below, she forcefully jabbed Ryūji’s chin with her delicate finger and continued to apply pressure. As she stared at him, her eyes shimmered with a contempt that bordered on outrage.
"You’ve been saying things like, ‘if possible’ and ‘even just a little’ and ‘fortunate enough’, right?"
"T, that’s right! What about it? And don’t jab people in the chin."
"You’re always like that. ‘If possible~’, ‘if it’s okay’, ‘it would be nice if things went well’, ‘ufufu’ ~writhe~, and so on. This whole time, you’ve... No, both of us have been like that, just hanging back and waiting for some sort of lucky break, and so we’ve always ended up failing. Isn’t that the pattern that’s developed? If we let it continue, then our whole lives will follow that pattern. Unless we finally notice what’s going on, the dog will be you and the wife will be me, and then at our doghouse wedding reception, Minorin and Kitamura will probably be like 'We were supporting those two the whole time~~!!' as they make a heartfelt toast."
He didn’t remember the "Ufufu'" or the writhing part, but... Her idea that they were falling into a pattern seemed reasonable enough. There just might be one. He couldn’t deny that. Looking at Ryūji’s face, Taiga firmly nodded once,
"Right? And that’s why we had that warning dream. Everything will be absolutely decided in one shot right now, so if you don’t break this pattern of failure, a dog-filled future is really lying in wait, is what it was saying. This long-awaited once in a lifetime chance, if we let it get away then we may never get another opportunity."
"...So in other words, on this trip, we’re going to be working together again, hoping that something good might..."
"There you go again! That’s still following the pessimism. That whole way of thinking is. Rather than that, we’re going to really go all out this time. We absolutely, absolutely do not want things to end up like that nightmare. So don’t you think we should focus all our energy, having one of us helping the other? It would be better than our mutual destruction, right?"
As his chin was pressed upwards by her finger, he couldn’t really nod, but she was probably right. It seemed like even Taiga could say something surprisingly clever every once in...
"All right then, so you’ll forget about your own situation this time around and just work on getting me and Kitamura-kun together, so work hard okay? Our futures are on the line here, I’m leaving it up to you."
She spoke ridiculously fast. Like in a written contract, it was the fine print that a corrupt lending institution might hide somewhere on the document. Having completely outpaced Ryūji with her totally decisive words, Taiga laid back down on the cushion.
"Haa, I’m thirsty. Hey you, go get me some barley tea. And put ice in it."
Immediately thinking "Hey wait a second", Ryūji continued to sit Japanese-style, harshly glaring down at Taiga's face as she sprawled herself out on the floor.
"...You, stop playing around. I heard you completely you know. Why did you automatically start talking like we’ve already decided? Based on what you were just saying, you could just as easily support me instead, right?"
"Don’t ignore me!"
"You’re so... noisy!"
He yanked the cushion from beneath Taiga’s head.
"I’m not joking! After you spouted on and on, in the end, that was all you really wanted to say, wasn’t it?! How selfish can you get?!"
"What the heck're you doin’, you baldie?!"
"I’m not going bald!"
"I’m just putting my own affairs first! What’s wrong with that?!"
"Y, you’re so hard to deal with..."
"Give me back my pillow!"
"This is my cushion!"
They struggled wordlessly over the cushion for a while. While the two remained sitting, they tugged with all their strength as if whoever possessed it would be declared the victor.
However, upon hearing the sound of the cushion starting to tear somewhere, Ryūji instinctively let go (Call it an Ooka judgment). So naturally, Taiga flopped cleanly backwards,
The back of her head hit the dining table hard. Bam! As the horrible sound resounded, she balled up, and, embracing her successfully retrieved cushion, she silently held her head.
"H, hey... Are you okay?"
Judging by the sound, that impact was no laughing matter. It would be really bad if she became any more of an idiot. When Ryūji inched closer and called out to her back,
Without saying anything, Taiga’s flowerish face twisted hatefully with pain and, looking like a yaksha, she started beating on Ryūji with the cushion. Trying to avoid the cushion that was being wildly swung about, Ryūji ran around pitifully,
"Cut it out, stop being so violent! You’ll get dust everywhere!"
It happened when he evaded the Palmtop Tiger’s all-out cushion attack. Suddenly, the sliding door at Ryūji’s back opened, but Taiga didn’t stop. At the same time, being thoroughly surprised, his ugly pet Inko-chan tripled in ugliness and shouted.
However, the cushion attack didn’t pause at all,
"Fuguh!...Eguh...gu, gu, gu..."
Bam! Her strike had connected cleanly - with the face of Ryūji’s mother, the 30-something year old lolita-faced Yasuko who had stuck her head out past the opened sliding door. The cushion had hit the Takasu residence’s central member, who had just now fallen asleep after having returned home at 8am, exhausted.
"S, s, s, sor, sor...~"
Expectedly, Taiga tossed aside the cushion and hurried over to Yasuko, who was holding her face, looking like she was about to cry. However, it seemed that Yasuko, who was shockingly wearing Ryūji’s middle school gym shorts and a zebra-patterned camisole, wasn’t able to handle such a surprise and suddenly collapsed right where she stood.
Looking at his mother’s face, Ryūji was at a loss for words. Sensing that something was wrong, Taiga leapt back. They suddenly figured it out. Just moments ago, the "Oi!" that Inko-chan had shouted, when written in kanji, was actually "Old!".
Yasuko had aged all of a sudden. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was lack of sleep, or maybe it was because she had fallen asleep drunk without removing any of her makeup, but her ordinarily plucky, feminine, and perfectly youthful skin was now wrinkled, having become tragically aged-looking.
"Wh, what’s with that aged appearance... What the heck happened?! Hurry, go take some vitamins or something! Or apply something to your face, quick!"
"Fueeeh~... It’s because you two were noisy, so I couldn’t sleep~... If Yacchan can’t sleep, she ends up getting older~..."
Seeing his mother shedding heavy tears, Ryūji couldn’t say anything else.
The son and the freeloader kept apologizing profusely. To make sure she could sleep peacefully, they quickly left the house.
"...Here we go. Are you ready?!"
"Come at me anytime!"
They were at a park that was on the other side of Taiga’s apartment.
Lined with the greenery of Japanese Zelkovas along the perimeter, the central area was generally dedicated to the park plaza. Owners who brought along their dogs were walking and chatting, while children who came en masse from a nearby daycare center to play were sitting in the shade of the trees going "I‘m hot~" or "I’m tired~" and so on. The sound of a truck nearby was like an explosion, and although there was a breeze, it wasn’t all that different from the hot blast of a hair dryer.
It was the middle of a midsummer day that felt hot enough to broil a person’s eyeballs. Ryūji and Taiga were both holding badminton rackets that they had borrowed from the landlady and were now facing off inside of a makeshift court they had drawn haphazardly with their fingernails. Perspiration heavy on their foreheads, their faces were feverishly reddened.
They were looking at one another with serious intent. When they stopped by her apartment, Taiga had opted against the flowing one-piece dresses she was always wearing and had changed into a t-shirt and shorts. She had even tied up her long hair and there was a flickering flame burning in her eyes.
"First one to three points wins. Win or lose, this is final, got it? The loser will... Well, you know, right?"
"Like I said, I accept already."
This wasn’t just ordinary badminton. This was a game to decide the future. The loser would have to spend the whole trip supporting the winner.
With a strong scent of grass in the air, Ryūji casually toyed with the birdie, but secretly, he was chuckling to himself. He felt a bit sorry, but even if Taiga did have the reflexes of a wild animal (with the exception of swimming), it looked like he was going to be taking this match. Despite how he might look, the truth was that Ryūji had been a member of the badminton club during middle school.
With just a rectangle divided in the middle for a makeshift court and no net, this match was going to be harsh. Once they drew the lines, that was pretty much it. Having decided the first serve with a game of rock-paper-scissors, they were going to play as quickly as possible so they could finish before they succumbed to heatstroke.
If they were going to call that nightmare a warning, then they really had to focus their energy, he supposed. They definitely didn’t want things to turn out like that. Honestly, he didn’t think any help from Taiga would really be help at all, but if he ended up having to support Taiga it would be a horrible drag. At the very least, he didn’t want to be bothered. All of this was for the trip that he had been so looking forward to, all for a shining future together with Minori.
"Here I go!"
Tossing the birdie lightly into the air, Ryūji didn’t hold back and swung the racket with all his might from the very start. With a nice "thwap" sound, the shuttle was headed straight for an impact with the ground.
Or at least he was thinking that when,
Taiga had dashed forward like a beast, and while gouging out both grass and dirt, her racket just barely tapped the birdie upwards. Thinking "No way will I make it in time", the one who was scrambling now was Ryūji, who ran towards the birdie that was coming down just over the center line before he desperately dove for it without thinking.
With his last second save, the shuttle popped upwards in an arch and started coming back down, but Taiga just laughed with a "Fu". Taiga caught the slowly falling birdie with the center of her racket that she had raised overhead,
She struck a victory pose. On the other hand, Ryūji was speechless. What the heck had just shot by him? A rocket?
"Come on now, what are you spacing out for! That’s one point for me!"
Taiga was slicing the air with her racket and laughing, while the birdie laid behind Ryūji - or rather, it had been embedded. It was stuck in the soft ground.
"H, hey... Are you an experienced player?!"
He sensed that it wasn’t exactly the problem here, but he just had to ask. Taiga calmly replied.
"Not really, I guess? But I attended a private girls’ school for elementary and middle school, and I was in the tennis club the who~~le nine years. That might have something to do with it."
...It was an extremely fast, eye-opening swing. It was powerful enough that if she were holding a butcher’s knife instead of a racket, she could've sliced straight through a herd of stampeding buffalo. With a calm face, Taiga was saying things like "Ah, it’s hot, let’s get this over with" while fanning herself, but he was thinking "Wait a minute!". While Ryūji picked up the shuttle, he couldn’t help but reveal a nervously puzzled expression. What the heck? Doesn’t this mean that he actually doesn’t have the advantage at all? Even though this was a battle he couldn’t afford to lose.
"Well then, looks like I’m serving next."
Wiping at his sweat-laden brow, he passed the shuttle over to Taiga while trying to look unconcerned. Playing with it for a while, Taiga lightly bounced the shuttle in the palm of her hand, and then,
"...Here it comes!"
She launched it high into the pure blue midsummer sky. Twisting her slender arm greatly, she used her whole body for leverage and raised her racket up high, while Ryūji held his breath and glanced side to side trying to make sure he could get to it no matter where it might land...
Going all out, she had swung and missed.
Taiga’s racket cleanly sliced the air, the shuttle dropped sadly to the ground at her feet, and as for Ryūji,
"Oh yeah, that’s one point, one point for me! Tied game, tied game!"
He had abandoned all maturity.
"No, no way, that doesn’t count! Doesn’t count!"
"Nope, can’t do that. That’s not allowed, you know?! Klutz~, klutz~!"
Frantically running over next to Taiga, he deftly used his racket to try and retrieve the fallen shuttle. However, he was grabbed by the back of his neck,
"Stop right there you, just what are you trying to pull?! That’s sneaky, sneaky sneaky sneaky~!"
"How’s that?! You’re the one who dropped it! That’s not allowed! So it’s my serve!"
The two of them argued harshly for a while on the lawn. Jabbing each other with their rackets, Taiga beat on Ryūji with her fist as she tried to get back the birdie that was in his hand while Ryūji used his height advantage to guard by holding the shuttle with his fingertips, keeping his hand up high. Pressing back with his rear end, he was kind of wriggling about and moving around trying to keep away it from Taiga.
Gathering around to watch the two of them, a group of housewives, who seemed to have a lot of time on their hands while walking their dogs, were laughing heartily. "Look how active they are despite this heat~" "Just looking at that boy, you can tell he’s gone bad~" "Still, they’re so energetic~" "Don’t you think they’re going to collapse with heatstroke if they keep that up?"...All the dogs who were heartlessly brought along had their mouths open slovenly, panting "Ehe~he~he~", making it seem as if they were laughing.
However the two couldn’t spare any attention on such trivial details.
"Come on, give it back! We’re redoing that last one!"
The now irritated Taiga had tossed aside her racket and, cracking her knuckles, took a sudden step forward. However,
The tossed racket had flown further than expected, landing with a "plop!" precisely on the head of a large dog within the group. Ryūji turned at the sound thinking "Oh crap". Taiga turned around as well, and the owner let out a loud cry.
"Ara, ara! Are you okay Chiko-chan?!"
Not completely visible from where they stood, Chiko-chan, who didn’t really seem all that okay as he looked up and stared at Taiga, was a huge, muscular, and dependable husky who probably warranted a "Beware of Dog" sign and had a double-coat fluffed out for midsummer.
He was staring at Taiga with an appearance just like that of Prajnaparamita. Wrinkling his nose, Chiko stepped forward. His eyes were saying "You're responsible, aren’t you? If you apologize, I’ll be nice and forgive you."
Taiga gave a quick glance at Chiko. And then, turning instead to the owner who was standing behind him, she apologetically bowed her head slightly with seemingly sincere remorse.
Then looking back at Chiko with one eyebrow raised, she snorted with a "Hmph" while haughtily turning her face upwards. "I’ll apologize to the owner, but I’m not going to lower my head to a dog", was what she was silently saying.
It happened at that moment.
"No, no, don’t worry about it! Chiko might have this sort of charming face, but comple~tely different from how he looks, he can take care of himself and takes pride in his strength. My friends even call him Yokozuna Chiko... Ah~!"
Breaking free from his master’s grip, Chiko dashed straight towards Taiga. The group of dog owners were screaming "Kyah~!", and even Ryūji instinctively began to hastily retreat at the sight of that Prajnaparamita face.
However, Taiga stood her ground, looking straight forward,
"You wanna go?!"
As they collided, she successfully caught the attack from the large-bodied Chiko.
At the grassy park plaza in midsummer, a high school girl whose height didn’t really change that much whether she was sitting or standing was fiercely grappling with a Husky dog. Their strengths were matched, almost completely even. Chiko’s hindlegs trembled while Taiga’s shoes pressed into the ground. Just when it looked like a prolonged war had begun..., "...Tch!" "Woof!"... The girl and the dog, separating for the time being, quickly distanced themselves.
"Grr~", Chiko growled deeply. With his tail raised high and his body held low, he stared up at Taiga with his light blue eyes. Taiga responded with a growl of her own, focusing her harsh cattish eyes on him and keeping both her arms loosely at the ready. With their eyes already devoid of reason, this was a fight between fellow beasts.
As if etching a circle, these two beasts went round and around while keeping a constant distance until, making the first move, Chiko lunged forward. Standing on his hindlegs and readying the large claws on his forelegs,
He struck at Taiga’s stomach. Staggering back and staring at Chiko,
"Now you’ve done it!"
Taiga countered with a slap to Chiko’s nose.
"What the heck is she doing to that dog?!... I, I’m seriously sorry...!"
The uneasy one was Ryūji. Wondering how Taiga could do that to someone else’s pet, he bowed his head hastily at the owner, but he didn’t have the courage to actually try and get between those two beasts.
"N, no no... I’m the one who’s really sorry. I wonder if she’s okay, that little girl."
The owner, a middle-aged woman, was saying when, taking a glance at Ryūji’s face, she blushed and said "Ara, how handsome". The other owners around were whispering "But aren’t his eyes kind of strange?" "That woman, her tastes are strange after all" and things like that. Please don't say that. It’s like you’re putting my face in the same category as Chiko’s.
In every sense of the phrase, the onlookers held their breath as they focused on the scene. The battle between Taiga and Chiko remained just about even. Smacking each other repeatedly, staring each other down, they were acknowledging that they were enemies,
They once again started grappling intensely.
Completely forgetting that Ryūji was there, Taiga fought with the heavily breathing dog like she was in a trance.
Thinking things over,
"...Hey Taiga. That point earlier didn’t count after all, so I guess I'll serve."
Ryūji mumbled. Taiga looked up quickly,
"Eh?! Eh?! What was that just now?! I couldn’t hear it over this stupid dog’s loud breathing!"
It was fine by him if she didn’t hear.
Going back to their makeshift court by himself with the birdie in hand, Ryūji just tapped the shuttle. It landed on Taiga’s side. He went over and picked it up. Again, he hit it. It landed on Taiga’s side. He walked over and picked it up. Then he hit it once more.
"...Okay, we’re done. I got three points first, so it’s my win. Looks like you’ll be helping me on the trip."
"W, wha?! Wait you, deciding on your own like that, just what are you saying?! What a ridiculous... Geez, get off of me, I don’t got time to play around with you!"
Getting back some of her rationality, Taiga tried to push Chiko away. However, while Chiko remained fully entangled with Taiga, he had the features of Prajnaparamita (or something similar) and didn’t show any signs of budging. It seemed like he was thinking that if he were to lose this battle of strength, then the pride he held so dear as yokozuna would be forfeited as well.
"Geez, come on already!... Ah, fine fine, I get it already, I give up, I give up! It was my fault! I’m apologizing, sorry! Okay, now get off! Get back!"
Despite Taiga saying all that and trying to back away, her actions appeared to have no effect on Chiko. Rather Taiga’s face was quickly becoming red, and sweat was starting to pour off of her.
"You know... I, it’s hot...hot! His fur is hot! Seriously hot, I’m going to die!"
Being so close to Chiko like that, she must have felt like she was wearing a fur coat while the sun continued to bake her.
Trying to wrench herself free from Chiko, Taiga twisted her body and shifted backwards. Matching her, Chiko stepped once with his hindlegs to close the distance. So then Taiga moved diagonally backwards. Chiko also followed with another wonderful one-step.
Looking at the desperate Taiga (and Chiko), Ryūji felt kind of bad, but in his eyes they looked just like they were dancing the salsa or something.
"What are those two doing... Don’t you think they look quite coordinated?"
Perhaps moved by the scene, Chiko’s owner slowly took out her cell phone and started capturing this weird dance between her dog and the neighborhood high school girl. Of course, she was taking a video.
"Get him off! Get this guy off of me! Ahh, his breath is hot too!"
It’s the middle of summer. The sunlight that was mercilessly shining down and heating Chiko’s fur coat was also burning up Taiga who was tightly entangled with him. With the tempo of the steps increasing, they started moving with an even more energetic rhythm. However, Taiga’s eyes were on the verge of tears, and as sweat continued to pour off her and she became unsteady on her feet, Chiko started taking the leading steps,
"Gah~, I get it already! I understand! You guys win, all right! Ryūji, you’re a dog too so get him off of me! Talk to him for me!"
So as she was turning, she ended up asking Ryūji for help.
"...So it’s really fine that I won?"
One second, two seconds, she remained silent as she tried to come to a decision...She finally sighed reluctantly,
"F... fine, that’s just fine!"
Thanks to Ryūji and the owner’s frantic efforts, Chiko reluctantly forgave Taiga, who had given up the match. And so, Ryūji had claimed victory.
To be honest, even though he might have won that match, Ryūji wasn’t expecting much actual help from Taiga, who seemed to be a girl favored by the God of Clumsiness. He had even less hope of her actually putting in the effort.
"...I’ve thought of a rea~lly good plan."
Taking refuge from the heat at Sudoba’s, Taiga, with her T-shirt covered in paw prints, was drinking an iced milk tea as she looked up. "Welcome to Sudobucks" As the female college student worker’s voice resounded, a faint voice whispered within the shop. By the way, this place is Sudou Coffee Bar. There isn’t a "bucks" anywhere in the name.
Whisper, whisper, whisper, Taiga was speaking discreetly, and in the middle of swallowing some iced coffee, Ryūji’s sanpaku eyes widened considerably.
"Seriously? I see, something like that... Well, you know, it’s just, just how are we supposed to..."
"We’ll do it."
Taiga pointed at both herself and Ryūji with her slender finger. Then she started speaking again.
"The way you did that match was totally sneaky, so I don’t really want to cheer you on, and I don’t think you suit Minorin, but anything’s better than that nightmare, so I’ll help you out for real, this time at least... Well, rather than seeing that unbearable dream forever, wouldn’t it be better to go for an honorable end? If you can die honorably and grow even just a little, then we shouldn’t have to worry about that miserable future from our dream."
"...Wouldn’t that mean I’d be dead?"
"Don’t speak so egotistically. The you right now only has the potential to stack the explosives, hurt your back, be sent to the hospital, and moan while staring at the ceiling."
As she looked back at Ryūji who was sitting across from her, her large cattish eyes shook disdainfully with more intensity than the midsummer sun.
The day after the midday badminton confrontation, 6 am.
Checking the contents of the freezer in the dimly lit kitchen, Ryūji nodded reassuringly to himself.
He confirmed that there were five containers of cooked rice in stock and each one was wrapped together with the appropriate utensils. The side dishes weren’t great, but he had set aside a variety of stuff either frozen or sealed.
"There are some things I want to tell you before I leave on this trip. It’s rather complicated stuff, but listen to what I’m telling you. All right, I’ve already taken care of all the necessary cooking, okay? So please, please don’t mess with any open flames."
"The Caspian Sea Yogurt should be fine to eat now. There’s a small jar that I’m trying to keep sterile for later, so don’t touch that. Make sure you remember to stir the nukadoko every day. You can put a plastic bag over your hand, so keep the thought of ‘Thanks for everything’ in mind and do it with utmost care. By the way, the cucumbers should be ready to be eaten around tonight and the eggplants should be fine by tomorrow.
"Even if Inko-chan doesn’t drink all his water, you have to change it at least in the morning and at night. Same thing with his food, change it at least twice a day. You also need to change the newspaper lining the bottom of the cage everyday. Talk to him a little, and cover him with the cloth before you leave for work so he’ll have less to worry about."
"The business with the bill collectors should be taken care of for now, so they shouldn’t come. At least, I think they shouldn’t... I wonder if they might. Well, just be kind of prepared."
In front of the rambling adviser, rather, her son who was giving her advice, the mother was swaggering all about without saying anything.
"Hey, did you really listen to all that? Did you understand it all? Try repeating it back to me."
As usual, they were in the dark 2DK residence untouched by the morning sun. The mother Yasuko’s breath was still heavily tinged with the smell of alcohol. That was to be expected as she had just gotten home an hour ago, and then she had been lifted from her attempts at sleep and brought all the way to the kitchen.
Yasuko, who was still staggering, could only open her eyes about two millimeters. But, well, there are even people in the world who study while they sleep after all. The playback ended up as drooling moans, but at least she had replied whenever he said something, so he decided it was probably okay. Two years ago, he had left the house for four days and three nights to go on a middle school field trip. The laundry had piled up, take-out food containers had been stinking up the sink, and the organic waste still remaining had actually started fermenting, but both Yasuko and Inko-chan had survived at least.
"Well, I’m going."
Possibly noticing just now that her son was carrying a bag and wearing a t-shirt and shorts, Yasuko suspiciously creased her brow and tilted her head.
"Ryū-tan... Where ya goin’...?"
"A trip. I’m pretty sure I told you before."
Mumbling in a way that made it difficult to tell whether she understood or not, Yasuko nodded several times, mumbled something like "Trgh~", and then trudged back to her futon. Thinking "Oh well, maybe it’ll be okay", Ryūji turned,
"Inko-chan... I’m going, okay?"
Walking over to the birdcage that was next to the window, he gently lifted the cloth covering the cage.
Even on this morning when Ryūji was leaving, Inko-chan’s shocking face was at max intensity.
Why won’t his beak stay shut? Why is there foam-like stuff on his extruding tongue? Why are his eyes all white and also slightly off? Why does he keep having convulsions? Those questions remain unanswered even now.
Still, even if he did look grotesque, there was no doubt he was their dear pet, so looking at him lovingly, Ryūji changed the water and food,
"Well... Off I go!"
Getting up, Ryūji took the bag that he had carefully packed with everything he might need and slung it over his shoulder.
When he opened the creaking door of the entrance hall, the still refreshingly nice summer morning breeze cooled Ryūji’s eyelids. He hadn’t been able to tell from inside the house, but the weather was good.
High up in the sky, the cumulonimbus clouds were already starting to look agitated, signaling that today was going to be hot.
By the time that happened, they’d probably be at the villa already. His mouth twisted in excitement just thinking about it.
Well then, it’s going to be three days and two nights. He wondered what kind of fun things were waiting. What would he talk about with Minori and how much closer would they be able to become? And it had been a while since he had met with Kitamura too. When he thought about Ami and Taiga starting a fight, he suddenly got a worrisome premonition, but this was summer vacation after all. On this short unsupervised trip, there would probably be lots of exciting things to do surely.
He descended the stairs while keeping his steps light in fear of bothering the landlady, and then he began the short walk underneath the early morning sky towards the neighboring apartment.
Thinking "Since it’s her, she’s probably still not done preparing", he had left the house early, but,
Taiga had looked up as she spotted Ryūji while standing on the stairs near the marble entrance.
"Hey, what’s this I see? How unusual, so you actually came out early?"
"...It just happened that way I guess."
Considering it "just happened", Taiga was wearing a brand-new mint green dress, her hair was well-groomed with only the sides done in braids, and she had applied light-colored lipstick. Faced with her freshness that was like a blooming rose on this summer morning, he looked away feeling somewhat embarrassed. Nevertheless, he raised his left hand in greeting, and she returned the gesture.
Even if she had said she was going to fully support him, this was still a trip with the guy she liked. He and Taiga were definitely the same, having both been snapped awake by their excitement. Ryūji began to feel an urge to smile, so to hide it, he started walking off ahead of her.
The meeting time was fifteen minutes from now. They’d make it even if they took their time walking, but they just happened to feel like rushing.
And so, having finally made their way somewhat ahead of time to the ticket gate of the station where everyone was supposed to meet, what greeted the two was,
"...Wait, that’s... Minorin...isn’t it? Huh?"
The place wasn’t packed, but by no means was it empty either as travelers and their accompanying families and business men on business trips traversed back and forth, and in the middle of it all, that person was standing there.
Ryūji and Taiga were looking at a beaming girl with a flexible build, none other than Minori Kushieda. Right when Minori noticed them, she moved carefully into a wide stance, bent her knees, and tilted her upper body forward, and then she started slowly turning like she was drawing a circle with her face. And then following her while performing the same turn, a familiar face with glasses appeared from behind her.
"Hey! Good job on not being late, you two!"
Faced with the two who continued their back-to-back circular motion, Ryūji and Taiga just stood there speechless. While the people around were blatantly staring at the odd youths, a couple of businessmen in their thirties were commenting "That’s from Zoo" "Those are Zoo movements" as they smiled nostalgically.
The pair of softball club captains, Minori and Kitamura, continued to switch places as they moved like a propeller,
"Hahaha, we’re standing out too much! Too much, Kitamura-ku~~n!"
"And after we went and practiced this too."
The two split up left and right while smiling and laughing happily, patting each other on the back and complimenting themselves on a job well done.
"Nice dance!", "Nice Zoo!" ...It looked like it wasn’t just Ryūji and Taiga who were feeling fervent anticipation for the trip.
"...It seems you guys are energetic even early in the morning, huh... And what exactly is ‘Zoo’?"
"Don’t worry about it, don’t worry. I was excited and arrived early, and Kitamura-kun happened to be here early too."
"There was a mirror over there, so for some reason we ended up practicing that sort of a greeting."
"How ridiculous, seriously... Hey, Glasses, it’s been a while."
"Hey hey, Sanpaku Eyes!"
To be honest, even while he was saying stuff like that as he bumped sides with Kitamura, Ryūji was thoroughly fixated on Minori Kushieda’s smile.
Stopping her strange dance, Minori shined like a child of the sun amidst the morning light. While messing with Taiga’s hair and being sniffed at by Taiga, she shined more brightly than anyone else.
Dressed simply in knee-length shorts and a short-sleeved hoodie, she was incredibly cute. Perhaps exposed to more sun than the last time he’d seen her, just Minori’s cheeks and the tip of her nose were blushed red like a child’s and her eyes were drawn to slits as she laughed. Her appearance was almost too much to bear, at least for Ryūji. The way she had her sack slung over one shoulder was cute, her thin ankles above her sneakers were cute, and as she smiled and laughed with supreme joy, her face was too radiant for him to even look at directly.
"Hm? What’s the matter Takasu-kun! It’s our long-awaited trip, so don’t hold back and speak up!"
After Minori heartily smacked him on the back, he went from being stuck in a daze to being struck by nerves and trembling. Meeting again after such a long time, the time apart had simply added to his nervousness.
On the other hand, if he took a look at Taiga who was beside him,
"But you know, Aisaka, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? We haven’t seen each other since the closing ceremony."
"Ah, eh, uh..."
As she was spoken to by Kitamura, who was also smiling, she stood there like a wooden stick. Perhaps it was supposed to be part of an "I’m not like I usually am" appeal or maybe it was just her being nervous, but she was playing with her braids while seeming unable to even return a greeting. Also, she was looking around like she was paranoid and repeatedly opening and closing her mouth. Maybe she just couldn’t find the right words.
"By the way, is Kawashima still not here?"
It wasn’t like he was intending to help her, but breaking the silence, Ryūji spoke to Kitamura.
"Looks like it. She hasn’t sent an e-mail, but it’s still a bit before the designated meeting time."
"Is that so... Hmph, if that’s the case... Everyone, gather up!"
Minori called Taiga, Ryūji, and Kitamura over in front of the mirror. "Eh?!" "No!" Ryūji and Taiga’s voices were overtaken and swallowed up by Minori’s "Now now, come on", so then...
Appearing at the gate a few minutes late,
"Huh, where is everyone... Hm?... Hmm?!"
Ami Kawashima minutely shifted her sunglasses that covered nearly half of her petite face. Her lips that resembled petals were cutely agape, and she appeared to be speechless.
"You’re two minutes late, Ami."
"...I’m not doing this by choice. It’s because Minorin told me to do it."
All standing in a line ordered by height starting from Ryūji followed by Kitamura, then Minori, and finally Taiga, each of them extended their arms and wiggled them at their different heights. From Ami’s perspective, it would have seemed as though Ryūji had eight arms.
"...I wonder where. I wonder just where is everyone..."
"Ami, we’re right here!"
"Amin, where are you going?!"
"Don’t run away, you stupid Chihuahua!"
"...I wonder where, wonder where..."
Acting like she had no idea who they were, she quickly fled. The four of them chased after her, waving their arms spectacularly, and went to chase her down.
Considering they only spent five minutes practicing, it was a wonderful likeness of Asura - or at least, that’s how Minori chose to remember it afterward.
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Spin-off|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Chapter 7|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Epilogue|