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

This is Chapter 7 from Volume 5 of the Toradora! Light Novel series. The text is from Baka-tsuki.

Transcript

Amongst the people gathered at the starting point in the athletic track field, there were already forty to fifty boys as well as a dozen or so girls.

It was near evening, and an icy autumn wind blew past the field. There were a lot of spectators standing by the side of the track field, clapping their hands and waiting for the race to begin. At the finishing point where the spotlights gathered was Taiga, who sat on a chair wearing a red cardigan, while protected by the members of the student council and executive committee. They glanced solemnly at the participants, as though telling everyone no one is to come near this treasure.

On the other hand, the participants had already begun their struggle even at the starting line. Since it was impossible that they could all stand evenly at the line, they each fought for their own advantageous position.

"Stop pushing!"

"Back off! I'm from the Athletic Team! People with short legs like you should stay out of our way!"

"What'd you say!? I was about to tell you to get lost!"

"Hey! Stop pushing the girls!"

"If you girls don't want to fall down and cry because you got yourselves all dirty, then you should all stand aside!"

"And why're you girls even here? Stop getting in our way!"

"Wha!? How dare you!?"

"Take that!"

They shoved at each other with their arms, legs and shoulders as the struggle became rather ugly.

"Whoa...!?"

"N, no way... even Takasu-kun is taking part!?"

Like how Moses would part the Red Sea, a path suddenly opened up within the wall of people upon the arrival of one person, who thus walked casually towards the starting point - That person was none other than Takasu Ryūji. His eyes moved around intensely, his gaze could only be described as "deranged". He licked his lips while scanning the crowd around him with an intimidating glare.

The sight of people backing off just by looking at his gaze - Normally this would cause Ryūji to feel hurt inside, yet it had become useful on this occasion, as he really wanted to win the "First Fuku".

He wanted to reach Taiga's side before anyone else. After his mind had been stunned, killed and gone blank once, he was now more determined than ever. Right now, he was mightily pissed.

He wanted to beat the crap out of that man who called Taiga his "little Princess", turn him into a pulp and discard him. He wanted to yell at him together with Taiga, "We don't need you!" "Scum like you don't deserve to be king!" "I will put that shiny crown on Taiga's head with my own hands, I don't need your filthy hands to do it!" I want to support Taiga's very fragile back with my own hands, and give her the drive needed to move forward for the next ten years, or even the next hundred years. That king can go and rot as the trash that he is. I also need to abandon that foolish me, and let him watch me reborn. We don't need you anymore.

For this aim, I will do anything... Or I'll never forgive my foolish self or face Taiga anymore.

"There's something we'd like you guys to know! First of all-- be careful not to get yourselves hurt! We have safety cushions placed at the finishing point!"

Standing at the starting line, Kitamura pointed to the finishing line, where there were indeed safety cushions.

"Thanks!"

The cushions were made up of the softly built and formidable looking Sumo Team members. Even in such weather, they wore nothing but their fundoshi briefs outdoors, revealing their snowy white skin, and slapped their armpits. They all bent forward, squatting with their shiny legs, standing knee by knee with their arms stretched out, as though declaring to everyone: Let us be the ones to embrace the Lucky Guy! "Eww... no way..." So thought a girl and withdrew as a result. "Whoa! Isn't that quite sexy?" So thought another girl and got turned on because of it.

Who cares!? Whether it's the Sumo Team or the Rugby Team, the one to be embraced by them will be me! So thought Ryūji, whose thinking could easily be misunderstood.

"Now to explain the route, so listen carefully!"

"Route? We can see it from here! Aren't we supposed to run around the track?"

Hearing someone said that, Kitamura's glasses flashed and said, "Wrong!" And then raised his hand to make a signal.

"Whoa!"

"Amazing! Surely this costs a lot?"

Visual markers suddenly began flashing under the feet of the contestants, these dizzying lights would lead them towards the finishing point.

"Truly amazing... but something's strange?"

"Why aren't the lights running along the track? And some of them are even disappearing into the campus!"

"So you've finally noticed!"

Kitamura cheerfully said,

"The Lucky Guy Race runs along the visual markers. It starts off as a straight line, and then it will enter the old school building, from the stairway entrance all the way back to the track field, which would lead to yet another straight line back to the finishing line! Do your best and run towards the end!"

Upon hearing Kitamura's explanation, the participants began moaning, "Whaaat--!?"

"W, w, wait a minute! Running into the old school building? Are you student council dumbasses telling us to run along a narrow stretch surrounded by only fences!? There's so many of us!"

"And we have to run past the stairway entrance as well, isn't that place extremely narrow!?"

"Just concentrate on the straight line section then! Everyone ready?"

Kitamura said matter-of-factly, letting everyone know it was useless to protest. You can quit if you got a problem with it-- right?

Ryūji was already standing by when everyone else was murmuring, and staring at the route ahead-- That's right! If you got a problem with it, then quit already! In fact, everyone else should quit!

The route isn't that long, the challenge lies with the timing in entering the old school building, as that stretch's basically a narrow tunnel, and the path within will be the key to winning the race. I'll have to enter the building first in order to stop other contestants from blocking my way. As for the final straight dash to the finishing line, I'll leave it to fate. Before that, I must lead by a huge distance, I used to be a sports team member before, after all-- Badminton Team during my third year of junior high! I won't lose when it comes to speed! Ryūji bit his lips, and aimed his glaring attack towards his potential rivals -- the Athletic Team, who can't possibly be beaten in a normal running race. Stay out of my way! Ryūji began to exert pressure on other contestants with his ferocious eyes.

"On your marks! Get Set---!"

Staring forward, Ryūji didn't notice people whispering something behind him. He used his butt to casually impede those runners who were crouched in a starting pose, while the tips of his shoes were close to crossing the starting line--

"GO!"

BANG--! The gun had been fired.


Quite literally, Ryūji sped forward like a bullet. He had thrown everything he's got.

"Whoa!?"

But he never thought someone would ambush him, tugging the back of his shirt. Losing his balance, Ryūji fell, hearing people yelling, "We'll start by taking out Takasu!" "As long as we join forces, we won't lose!"

"Y, you bastards..."

Ryūji fell to the ground. "Thanks!" Someone said and stepped over his butt, and dust went into his eyes as he was about to get up again.

"W... why you...!"

You guys wanna play dirty? Bring it on!

"As if I would lose!"

Ryūji quickly got up, clutching a lump of dirt in his hand, and threw it at the despicable bastard attempting to overtake him - aimed right in his eyes, of course. "ARGH!?" "My eyes!!!" Ryūji quickly dashed forward as they stumbled and covered their faces with their hand, grabbing the person in front of him as he ran along--

"Nothing personal!"

"Yaaah!"

The person that got grabbed crashed into someone else, and they fell down together. Ryūji couldn't resist smiling. Right now he was completely relishing his villainous role. You got a problem with that? I can even brainwash you! After all, I am Takasu the Delinquent, a born villain, but still living on strongly.

"Whoa!! Takasu's back from the dead!"

"Scary----! His face's scary!"

"EEEK!"

"AHHH---!" Even the audience was screaming. The illumination caused by the visual markers shining upwards merely enhanced the inauspiciousness, uncomfortableness, and dangerousness of Ryūji's serious face in the evening sky. A person turned around to look at his face, and was immediately petrified out of fear -- That's three people taken care of.

"I know you, I remember you're called..."

"Aiyeee! I, I'm sorry---!!!"

Ryūji quietly whispered behind some stranger, causing him to tumble out of fear. That's four down! But there's still some way to go, since there're still many people ahead. The Athletic Team's just too fast, there's no way I could've caught up with them since the beginning. That screw up in the beginning was too costly, way too costly!

"You bastards-----!!!"

"KYAA! A ghost--!"

At first he thought he had taken out a fifth victim, but turned out the one who tripped was just a junior high schoolgirl spectator. "Damn!" Ryūji clicked his tongue, and squinted his eyes as they scanned the track. The front batch of runners had already run into the school building and vanished from sight.

Dammit dammit dammit! I'll never catch up if they run in there! Not even dirty tricks would work anymore! What should I do!? Though he was out of ideas, Ryūji still maintained his position and ran pass the narrow turn into a seemingly dimly-lit cave - the school building with the fence on one side.

"WHOA!?"

"Tch, missed!"

Taiga's spin-kick flashed before his eyes -- or so he thought, but the speed of the ambush was slower than he expected. Mimicking Keanu Reeves from the Matrix, he dodged the unidentified object in the nick of time.

Falling down with the momentum, he discovered upon standing up that the object was someone's hand - sticking out from behind the fence.

"What the hell you doing!?"

"Sorry, but we ain't letting you pass! Besides the Basketball Team members, everyone else will have to get buried in the darkness!"

"You idiot! You just blew our cover!"

When did these people come in anyway? A group of strange men masking their faces with towels stood behind the fences, and using the darkness as cover, they ambushed the Campus King contestants, causing them to trip. Upon closer inspection, he noticed there were quite a few people who had tripped or were stepped upon in front of him.

"The hell is this!? I'm gonna have to report this to the teachers!"

"Go ahead! But we're definitely not letting you pass! Whoa! Someone else's coming!"

"Get them! It's the five-a-side soccer members!"

"ARGH!" The people that closely followed behind Ryūji had turned into food for these fence-creatures. I can't believe there's people like them! But I can't waste my time here, I gotta think of some way to move forward -- And so Ryūji started running again.

"OW!"

"Oops! Sorry!"

He stepped onto someone's butt, but he didn't have time to stop. On one side was the cemented-wall of the crummy-old four-storey complex, on the other side was a fence full of weird people, and whenever he slowed down...

"Delinquent Takasu! I hear you really ain't that scary!"

"You're right, cause you guys are much scarier!"

The hands on the other side of the fence followed Ryūji along and stuck out wherever there were gaps, grabbing Ryūji's hair and clothes, while underneath him--

"YAHH!!!"

The fallen victims had turned into obstacles, constantly tripping Ryūji, forcing him to tread carefully in order to avoid stepping on them. Behind him were screams of new victims being taken, while ahead were students who were tripped by the obstacles and piling up together. This was like a living hell, a cockroach trap used to ensnare human beings.

Damn! This is too annoying!

Ryūji made a double jump and leapt into the two-metre high fence, standing wobbly at its tip.

"He's still got that trick up his sleeve!?"

"D, don't talk to me right now!"

Compared to those who were stunned speechless as they looked up at him, Ryūji was even more scared standing at the top of the fence. "Eek!" Ryūji yelped silently as tears filled his eyes, he felt his vision darkening, but he still decided to walk past this narrow fence, which was only a few centimetres wide. Don't look down, I can't fall-- Ryūji kept on telling himself that.

"Damn, can't believe he's using this trick! Pull him down--- OW! My hands!"

Ryūji had already forgotten himself, and mercilessly stepped on the hands that were preparing to grab him -- Crush them along with all the fear! I have to become first! That's all I can think of, I have to be the first to reach Taiga's side. For that stretch of road, that was all Ryūji was thinking of.

In the dark race track, there were more and more people that tripped and fell and were lumped together, this coupled with more runners rushing forward meant that the path was completely blocked. Now's my chance-- Ryūji gave his all and adjusted his unsteady footsteps.

"Hey! Isn't that Delinquent Takasu!? No way!? Does he need to go this far!?"

"Yeah I do!"

"But why!?"

"It's too complicated! And it's none of your business!"

Ryūji finally overtook the stunned crowd that looked up at him. Now he was first, and with his amazing concentration, he ran across the top of the fence, and towards the beacon of light towards the end of the old school building corridor, which would lead all the way to the finishing point. Jumping off the fence, he landed on the ground.

He now emerged from the darkness earlier than anyone, ahead was a steep curve. In one breath, Ryūji jumped down four steps at a time---


At this moment.

"...!"

Aisaka Taiga stood up from her chair.

A rose-like colour appeared on her doll-like face.

Her moist eyes had widened while only looking at one male student.

The person that was in first position, running towards her, was none other than---

"Ryū..."


At this moment.

"Hey! No way!? Takasu-kun, it's Takasu-kun!!!"

"That's right! He's first! Amazing! Come on! You can do this!"

Amongst the audience standing up, Kihara Maya and Kashii Nanako yelled and applauded louder than anyone else. Just behind them and wearing a long coat, Kawashima Ami gasped silently,

"Eh--?"

She was crossing her arms with a blank expression, but her eyes glittered with an incredible sparkle.


At this moment.

"Eh!?"

Some of the audience noticed something wasn't right, and couldn't help but widen their eyes. This unbelievable sight had gotten everyone murmuring,

"T, that's fast...!"


Ryūji believed he had returned to the track field earlier than anyone else, so too did the audience, but at this moment--

A shadow turned from the corner at the right side of Ryūji and quietly overtook him. That person leaped off the stairs before him, landing on the ground with one leg, and standing from a position lower than Ryūji, turned around and said silently with squinted eyes,

"What a slowpoke."

"Ku..."

Kushieda Minori!?

Her untied hair fluttered with the wind. After coldly taunting Ryūji, she quickly turned and dashed off in a speed not even a boy could catch up with, as though dancing lightly along the straight track, she didn't turn her head around as she sped forward, throwing Ryūji far behind. The visual markers on the ground shone as though they were shining for Minori, leading her towards the finishing point.

I can't lose-- Ryūji's heart pumped more energy.

Definitely, definitely, definitely can't lose! Not to you!

"When you met Taiga's dad, did you open your eyes and look carefully?" -- That was what Minori had asked Ryūji back then.

Of course I had them opened.

But I overlooked it.

"Dammit, dammit dammit dammit! Bastard---!"

I'm the one who's mistaken, for doubting Minori's heart. If I had thought about it carefully, I would've understood, right? When that bastard took Taiga out for dinner every night, didn't that cause her to grow pimples under her chin and nearly upset her stomach? When there was roadwork, and that bastard asked me to come out to fetch Taiga, didn't I realize it was because he wasn't willing to park his car by the side and personally walk her home? By sending her so much money, shouldn't I have realized that he was only doing it so she wouldn't badger him? The reason he didn't eat anything homemade, and didn't let Taiga cook was because he didn't want to do any cleaning up, wasn't it? When he broke his promise with Taiga, he didn't even bother to apologize in person, and just simply sent me a message. That bastard had avoided anything that was bothersome since the beginning, that idiot, scumbag, pighead--- The hints were all there!

And Ryūji's eyes had overlooked them all. He was only thinking of himself, and was unable to see the full picture. The one being terrible was Ryūji himself -- How can I be such an idiot? How can I be such a stupid dog? Not only did I hurt Taiga, I even doubted Minori, and I can't even catch her. If I lose to her, then I'm really a useless scumbag! So I can't lose! Absolutely not!

Running ahead, Minori was as serious as ever, and slowly accelerated along the straight track. Ryūji could hear the people catching up behind him mumble as they caught their breaths,

"That girl's fast! Dammit! We completely didn't consider their threat!"

"Isn't she the captain of the girls' Softball Team?"

"She was really fast. In order not to get ambushed, she was hiding all this time!"

Ryūji and the others were running with their all in trying to catch up with Minori's light figure. Though the finishing point was right ahead, Minori's stamina had started to wane, and Ryūji's distance with her was getting closer and closer, but so was the group right behind Ryūji. Suddenly, he saw someone slowly approaching the track from the side with the corner of his eye, before he could see properly and react to it...

"Eh!? WHOA WHOA!? EEK---!"

Minori suddenly cried out. The strange people who approached the track had secretly dragged some athletic hurdles out and placed them right in front of Minori in the centre of the track. As these things can easily be surpassed by the Athletic Team members, the culprits have got to be from the Athletic Team. As it happened too suddenly, Minori, who had wanted to leap over the hurdles, quickly lost her balance and crashed onto the hurdle, falling hardly onto the ground and creating a lot of dust. Running right behind her, Ryūji nearly...

"YAAAHHH! LOOKOUT---!!!"

He tried to avoid Minori, who had tripped, but accidentally fell out of the track and landed on his face. He felt a burning sensation as his face fell on the ground. Minori didn't look at him, and quickly leapt up like a grasshopper. Ryūji also rolled forward and continued running at once. If I fall, then I'll just stand up again and again, just like that girl-- But as they were falling, one, two, and three people now overtook them. Minori had now fallen into fourth position, while Ryūji was in fifth. He didn't think of anything else, but simply to run with all he's got. I can't give up yet! I can't stop now! But the finishing line's right there, and those guys are about to get there!

Is this really the end?

"Kushieda-senpai---! Take this---!"

Someone from the audience threw a white object towards Minori, which she grabbed naturally with her hand. It turned out to be a softball. She ran while holding the ball in her hand, and looked at the back of the group of frontrunners.

"ALRIIIIGHT!"

She suddenly stopped.

Stepping firmly on the ground with her feet, she bent her slender back, and concentrated all her energy to swing her right arm - the softball flew off like an arrow across the shining track, spinning as it shot towards its target.

"EH!?"

"OW OW OW!"

After meticulous calculation, the ball first knocked the head of the guy on first position, and then rebounded to smack the guy on second position. The two of them knelt on the ground by this sudden impact. "She's really ruthless!" Ryūji widened his eyes, and saw Minori turn around and yell at him,

"Nausicaa! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nausica%C3%A4_of_the_Valley_of_the_Wind_(manga) ) We're counting on you! Go! Do it for Taiga! Hurry!"

Who the hell's Nausicaa!? Though she was partly joking, Minori said it with a serious tone and gaze. She looked straight into Ryūji, and then in the next second leapt forward, grabbing the leg of the guy in third position.

"SUICIDE ATTACK!"

"ARGH!? The hell is this---!!!???"

They both fell screaming. Ryūji understood her intentions at once -- Go! Overtake me!

You must reach Taiga's side earlier than anyone else!

"Kushieda..."


The applause was so great it shook the ground.


There was screaming, mumblings and moanings.


"Amazing--!" As well as an ecstatic crowd that rushed onto the track.


At this moment.


Taiga still stood and watched the entire process.

The person who everyone thought would end up in first position suddenly stopped just before he was about to trip, and walked a few steps back towards two people who had tripped and lay on the track, and yanked out the girl in her PE uniform underneath.

They looked at each other.

They didn't say anything, and simply began dashing.

It was unclear who started it first, but they were holding hands. Throwing off the group that nearly caught up with them in the nick of them, they ran past the finishing line together, both finishing in first place.

Taiga slowly sat back on her chair.

Her arms and legs did not tremble as she opened her eyes wide to look carefully at both of their faces. She sat firmly with her feet to suppress the upheaval in her heart, and simply said, "I'm fine." The thunderous applause and cheers had numbed her mind. "That's not fair!" "As if others are fairer!" The debates that raged on around were quickly drowned out by the sound of cheering. Being in the centre of all this - Taiga did not intend to stand up. She simply closed her eyes and sat on her throne.

The crown was placed on her head.

The two finishers both carried the crown together while holding each other's hand, looking intensely at Taiga's expression.

"I'm fine..." She kept repeating these words, which were subtly filled with pride-- Don't worry about me, didn't you see me standing on my own?

I can live well on my own even if I am alone.


  • *

"INCREDIBLE---! INCREDIBLE---! INCREDIBLE---! We're too incredible!!!"

In front of a fiery bonfire, an executive committee member... Haruta the director was screaming like a madman, he seemed really ecstatic... The Inter-Class Competition, the Campus Queen Competition, and the Lucky Guy Race were all won by Class 2-C, making them the champions of the whole school.

Following the euphoria of the Lucky Guy race, the awards ceremony took place right at the track field, with Haruta proudly hoisting the awards above his head. With a bonfire burning in the centre, giving light to all students who participated in this "one day only" student festival, the bonfire night had officially started, and countless flames sparkled and danced under the night sky.

Wearing a long overcoat, Ami too stood by Haruta's side, holding a cheap-looking cup and said,

"Oh my, I'm so very~ happy! Oh no, I got tears coming out...!"

Her twitching iron mask also comes with a tear-generating mechanism. Her Class 2-C classmates surrounded her and said, "Good work, Ami-chan~!" "Aww, don't cry, Ami-chan!" "We're moved as well~!" "We all worked hard~!" "I never thought that idiot Haruta would work this hard!" They were all good people, and some girls even began crying.. Within this moving scene, Haruta nodded happily,

"I have an idea. I'd like to give the MVP award to... Yuri-chan!"

"EH...!?"

Haruta's finger pointed towards the Single Lady (aged 30), who stood some distance away from the students. Taken aback, her shoulders shuddered. The classmates who all turned their heads around, with looks that seemed to understand something, they nodded to each other, their eyes filled with a pure glitter as they said,

"Now that you mention it... you're right..."

"It was Yuri-chan that suggested us holding a pro-wrestling show."

"We all worked hard indeed, but it's all thanks to Yuri-chan giving us this chance in the first place that we were able to work this hard."

"I agree! Yuri-chan's the MVP!"

"Yuri-chan! Thank you!"

"Yuri-chan... what's wrong?"

Suddenly becoming the center of attention, the Single Lady (aged 30) looked a bit abashed, she was unable to stand properly, and her hair looked ruffled under the bonfire light. She knelt on one knee and began to rub her forehead,

"Um... And I thought you would all hate me because of my narrow-mindedness... I'm supposed to be an adult already, and yet what I did was so childish..."

She dared not face her students eyes, yet Ami stretched out her hand and said,

"Sensei, please pull yourself together... There's something I wanted to ask you, why do you always wear clothes that match your skin-tone?"

"T, that's because I'm over 30..."

"Wow~! That's an age to be popular~!"

Tears started to flow out of the Single Lady's (aged 30) eyes -- tears that contained all sorts of emotions that were mixed up like soup. She thought, I'm already over 30, how popular can I be? -- And drooped her shoulders, revealing wrinkles and dark rings around her eyes. But Ami continued,

"Sensei, I don't think this colour suits you. Your skin has a transparent feel, so you should wear something pink~ And since you still have a good figure, you should emphasize the curves in your body, those are your weapons! Besides, nobody in this day and age dresses so modestly anymore, even if they're over 30. Since sensei is still single, you should enjoy the romance and trendiness even more so. <3"

"K, Kawashima-san..."

"When I saw sensei leave school a while back, I saw you holding an Hermes Garden Party series bag, right~? Is that the new version? It looks great on you... Kya!?"

The Single Lady (aged 30) was hugging the angel in an overcoat, repeating the same words over and over: "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you..."

It was a joyful scene-- everyone in Class 2-C surrounded the two and applauded them cheerfully. Haruta placed his hand over the Single Lady's (aged 30) shoulder, as well as casually clinging over Ami's shoulder and said,

"Yuri-chan, you should join in with the celebrations!"

"Eh? Can I come? But you won't be able to do anything mischievous then!"

"It's fine! Absolutely no problem! We were planning to hold a celebratory party in the family restaurant anyway!"

"But I'll just drag up your average age, won't that be a problem!?"

"Who cares about such details!?"

The two-metre tall bonfire burned intensely within the noisy students, their shadows flickered under its light. The faces of the other classes' students were also dyed in orange. They sat and looked at the bonfire with joyous, tired and mischievous faces, cherishing this soon to end student festival in their own ways. There were boys having lots of fun with girls from other schools, students from the same class were gathered together in their own activities, and even couples huddled tightly with each other. Under a tent nearby, the executive committee members were holding their own celebratory party with teary eyes, while the student council members sat shoulder by shoulder on the tables, keeping watch over this final event.

The once-a-year, one-day-only commotion was soon coming to an end.

"You'll be going to the party as well, right, Campus Queen?"

"Hmm... if you go I'll have nothing to eat... but I can come as well, Mr Lucky Guy."

"Hey, OW!"

Outside the circle of students surrounding the Single Lady (aged 30), Ryūji yelled while jumping away, because the princess was crudely pinching the glorious battlescar on his face, which was pasted with a plaster.

"You're hurt? How pathetic! How about I take you to Miyake Clinic tomorrow?"

"Miyake... isn't that a vet!?"

"Hahaha, so you found out" -- Taiga laughed like a devil. Wearing a Swarovski crystal crown on her head, it suited her dress and angel wings. Anybody would find her cute like this. It seemed her personality had nothing to do with her appearance, they could in fact be opposites of each other.

Just who was I getting hurt for anyway... Ryūji couldn't help but glance at Taiga.

"Hmph!" She squinted her eyes haughtily, revealing a mischievous smile.

That's right, she's smiling. When she knew the father she was waiting on was running way again, upon reading the phone message herself, Taiga merely gave a smile more annoying than usual. "Show it to me" Even when I showed the phone message to her... "Whoa!?" I thought she was gonna toss my phone away, that got me nervous like hell. In the end Taiga merely smiled as she did now, "Just kidding" and still held on to his phone. She was just teasing Ryūji, laughing at his nervous look. Taiga was now bathed in the illumination of the flames, her mini dress glittered elegantly.

She completely doesn't understand how worried I was-- Besides sighing, there was nothing else Ryūji could do.

"You... I didn't know you were this strong. And I thought you would go hysterical."

"I never thought of that person as anyone to begin with. It's fine. To be honest, I don't really care, since nothing has changed. By the way, how dare you openly hold hands warmly with Minorin in front of my own eyes? When did you guys make up anyway?"

"Eh... well..."

Make up... I don't think I have done so yet. At this moment Minori was standing quite some distance away from them, happily chatting with other people. Ryūji took a quick glance at her before moving his eyes off and scratched his head-- Now that I think about it, I did hold hands with her amidst all that chaos... with this hand... Upon thinking about it, he started to shiver, and his face felt like burning.

That's right, we held hands.

"Oh... ohhh"

"What's with all the chanting of 'Ohs'? You a fan of the Fukuoka Hawks? Stop grinning like an idiot already and hurry up and go apologize! You dim-witted trash dog! You've promised me that, haven't you!?"

(Referring to Oh Sadaharu, the former coach of the Fukuoka Hawks and Japan national baseball team. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadaharu_Oh, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukuoka_SoftBank_Hawks )

Taiga shoved Ryūji on the back, not giving him any chance to retort. "Ow ow ow ow!" Ryūji moaned and swung to dodge her. At this moment...

"Huh?"

"Music..."

The speakers started playing some off-tune waltz, the rhythms formed by the various notes sounded as though they're dancing under the bonfire illuminated night sky.

Speaking of which-- Ryūji began to smile, and accidentally provoked his face injury. I remember one of the Lucky Guy prize includes that... right? They should have it, right?

"I'll apologize to Kushieda, but first..."

Taiga's eyes glowed, reflecting a flame that was sparkling hot, like a flaming ruby. "If you don't mind..." Ryūji managed to muster words that he wasn't used to speaking. Licking his lips, he stretched his hands towards Taiga... It isn't bad to do this once in a while, right?

"Would you like to..."

"MI---NO---RI---N---!!!"

But Taiga ignored Ryūji, and brutally interrupted him, suddenly calling out to her best friend. Her yell was like a tiger roaring, and Minori quickly turned around,

"What what what!? What happened what happened what happened!?"

And quickly rushed towards Taiga's side, rubbing her neck, her forehead, as though wanting to rub everywhere from Taiga's hair to her neck.

"Minorin Minorin Minorin! I like you I like you I like you I like you I like you---!"

"OKOKOKOKOK! I know I know I know! Oh--- Taiga's so cute! You look great in a crown! The cutest princess in the whole world! So cute so cute so cute!"

"That's because Minori was the one who placed it on me~ That's why I'm happy~!"

"Not just me, Takasu-kun also came first, you know?"

"I didn't hear that! I didn't see that! I don't know!"

Taiga turned into an animal as usual and huddled with Minori, who had bandaids all over her face, rubbing her face and sniffing at Minori's neck, naturally relaxing her whole body.

What is she doing... Seeing Taiga's behaviour, Ryūji could only smile silently.

"Hahaha... it tickles!"

Minori only smiled. Even when looking at Ryūji's eyes, noticing Ryūji's gaze, she merely shrugged her shoulders, but she was still gentle as always.

The relaxed Taiga suddenly lifted her head, crudely removing herself from Minori's embrace, and stood alone while gazing forward, along the direction where she was looking...

"Kawashima-san, would you like to dance with me?"

"No, no, no, please dance with me."

"I've always admired you... Your Highness's elegance has completely captured my heart."

With the waltz playing in the background, Ami was surrounded by a lot of boys, regardless of which year, which class, and even which school they came from, they all expressed their adoration for her. As for Ami, she wrinkled her forehead, looking at all the hands stretched towards her while looking troubled. In fact, she was actually happily assessing everybody.

"Oh, well... What should I do~~! What a mess, I really don't know how to handle such a situation~!"

Ami twitched and made an expression of helplessness with her pretentious iron mask. The burning bonfire was too hot for anybody to approach, yet this scene was way too cold... especially those who knew Ami's true nature.

"If you're at such a loss, than you should dance with me, Bakachi---!"

"EHHH...!?"

Like a mischievous kitten, Taiga lightly leapt up, and proceeded to bite Ami after badgering her a bit.

"Kya! Stop it, Aisaka-san! Let go, that hurts... I mean it..."

"Come! Hey, I said I want to dance with you!"

"I already said that hurts! You stupid midget!"

Before Ami revealed her true colours, Taiga was constantly grabbing Ami's shoulder from behind her. Eventually, the scene featured Ami fleeing Taiga, Taiga chasing Ami, Ami continuing to flee...

"Take this!"

"Ugh!"

A sudden wrestling hook! As though a continuation of the pro-wrestling show, Taiga had pushed Ami down and pressed her onto the ground, the crowd began shouting, "Start counting!" "One! Two!" It seemed like a complete waste for the cute dress and angel wings specially prepared for Taiga to be worn by a fierce tiger.

Should I stop her? Or just leave them alone? Just thinking about this was enough to give Ryūji a headache. Ami will be fine, since she's strong. Ryūji helplessly looked at the two of them...

"Takasu-kun... I'm sorry."

Someone lightly tapped Ryūji's shoulder.

It was then that he noticed Minori standing beside him.

Minori's face was dyed crimson by the flames, her eyes looking at Ami bickering with Taiga. With a bit of hesitation, Ryūji still lowered his head and said,

"I should be the one apologizing... I was the one who didn't know anything either. I'm sorry, for saying such mean things to you... I'm really sorry."

Minori widened her eyes anxiously, and shook her head furiously,

"No! It's not that... Takasu-kun..."

She closed her eyes, and after some time, managed to compose herself and said,

"It's my fault for not telling Takasu-kun anything beforehand... I purposely didn't tell you, and used it as an excuse to show that I know more about it than you do, and then blame you for not knowing anything... I didn't tell you about what you should know, it's not fair for you."

She stopped as she said up to here. The waltz continued to play, but still no one danced. The students were either sitting or standing and speaking with each other, all squinting their eyes because of the dazzling flames. As for Taiga, she had accidentally let Ami escape, and was catching her breath while looking disgruntled. During this moment, a bespectacled boy came before her out of nowhere,

"Aisaka, I'm not the Lucky Guy, but could I have the honour of asking you for a dance?"

Taiga's eyes widened in surprise. The bonfire now crackled loudly, the flickering flames reflected on her moist eyes, moving left and right.

"Well... aren't the rules set by the student council?"

Kitamura smiled, and without hesitation reached his hand out towards a stiff Taiga,

"That depends on Aisaka's decision."

Taiga looked at the the hand Kitamura handed out.

"So is it a yes or a no? Aisaka Taiga, will you dance with me?"

Ryūji stood far off looking at Taiga. Though her face looked blurry under the illumination of the flames, but he didn't need to guess to know that it was burning red. Maybe I could even hear her heart beating wildly, right?

The crowd began to point at Taiga and Kitamura and gasped, "The four-eyed student council member is inviting the Palmtop Tiger!" "Stop that, that's asking for trouble!" While some whistled and decided to watch the show develop, Kitamura was unmoved, and kept his hand stretched, awaiting Taiga's reply.

"W... wouldn't that get in the way of your work... with the student council?"

"It's fine. I'd like to dance with my friend on such a night."

Taiga's face smiled warmly, her huge wet eyes merely looked at Kitamura, hesitation reflected in her wavering gaze. She closed her eyes and opened them again, not caring about the onlookers.

"Kitamura-kun..."

Taiga called out the name of her crush,

"Thank, thank you... I mean it."

Hearing Taiga's words, Kitamura squinted his eyes behind his glasses, as though smiling,

"Why are you thanking me? Sounds a bit strange, since there's not much to thank between friends."

"Really?"

"Isn't it? ... So what is your answer?"

"Heh heh... Then how should we dance?"

"We hold our hands and look into each other's eyes, and keep turning until we're tired of it. I think."

Taiga laughed, and shyly looked towards the sky before holding onto Kitamura's outstretched hand. "Oh! They've held hands! How passionate!" Someone decided to risk his life to drive up the atmosphere, while others clapped their hands due to the euphoria of the school festival.

But Taiga didn't mind.

She didn't mind and smiled.

I'm fine on my own..."

But you still called me out, and stretched your hand towards me, so I'm really grateful for that... Taiga thought, but did not say it out loud to Kitamura or anyone else. She only moved her elegant dress and began to spin and dance.


Minori then revealed a startling truth-- about a year ago from now, Taiga's father had also appeared in the same manner.

She stood beside Ryūji, looking at the students merrily enjoying themselves around the bonfire and said,

"I knew the reason why Taiga is living alone now, so when I learned about it, I was really happy for her. Yet when the day came for finding a place to live together, Taiga's dad suddenly said he had work to do and went abroad. Taiga had picked a place to meet and was waiting for him all this time, and she only found out when the real estate company informed her about it, that her dad never bought any apartment, and had to cancel selling the original apartment... Maybe he found the planning, or perhaps the process of planning to be fun? Taiga sure had fun, but he had never intended to carry the plan out..."

"I see..."

Ryūji finally understood.

He understood why Taiga never answered her father's phone calls. He understood why she kicked him in the balls upon seeing him-- It's all my fault for causing Taiga to waver, scaring her with my weak side, yet I never planned to hear Taiga explain herself properly.

"That person..."

Perhaps mindful of Ryūji's mood, Minori began to address Taiga's father as "that person". She wanted to tell Ryūji that the fault is not with him, but with that person,

"Whenever that person gets into a fight with his second wife, he would feel like living with Taiga. Yet when he made up with his wife, he would cast Taiga aside. When I found out about this, I even called his office to yell at him, and you know what he said? He said, 'The bonds between family can never be broken, but bonds between lovers can, so it must be maintained at all costs.' ... Bastard!"

"He's basically treating Taiga as a plaything to amuse himself with, isn't he?"

"Yeah... that's it, you're absolutely right."

Minori began to stutter as the night flames reflected in her eyes,

"So during that time... when we were talking about this, it would have been better if I had told you about it properly. But... but... I didn't want to tell you..."

There was loneliness in her eyes-- But Ryūji decided not to tell her about it.

"Taiga didn't say anything about it, so only Takasu-kun knew. When I thought about it... how should I say, I somehow got stubborn. I didn't want to lose to you, or maybe... I didn't want to share with you the experience that Taiga and I went through in overcoming this. Then it would feel like I'd have the upper hand... I don't know why I felt that way, thinking, 'Because you didn't know about it, that's why you made the mistake, and so I'm better off in understanding Taiga than you are.' ... It's all my fault, for hurting Taiga again."

"It wasn't you that hurt her... Do you know why Taiga never told you anything?"

"I guess it's because she knew if she told me about her dad, I'd get mad about it, so she kept quiet. Taiga still didn't want anybody to think of her dad as a bad person, so ever since that incident a year ago, she never mentioned anything about her family to me."

"So that's why..."

The mystery has finally been cleared.

All this time Ryūji had never understood, with Taiga's daily life in such a mess, why Minori never came to help out with the chores if she is so good at it.

The reason was because Taiga had refused Minori's help.

If Taiga had asked for her help, Minori would surely blame it all on her dad... No matter how she would complain about him, she still didn't want other people to say bad things about him. Who knows, she's probably still feeling the same way, when she says she doesn't care, she's actually asking everyone to stop blaming him.

Minori raised her arms and shrugged her shoulders,

"I cherish Taiga a lot, so when she's not telling me something, I really feel hurt... So I find myself feeling jealous, even when it's towards Takasu-kun."

Under the changing waltz tune, there was a slight sense of self-hatred in Minori's voice. What should I do to comfort her? Just as Ryūji was thinking what to say...

"What am I? Some lacy decoration!?"

"Huh...!?"

Minori suddenly lifted her serious face and met Ryūji's eyes. Was she joking? Or was she serious? Her glittering eyes only reflected beauty. In any case, there was only one thing Ryūji could reply with,

"I, I think... it would be great... if you're not."

Minori also smiled gently towards Ryūji,

"Yeah..."

Ryūji then noticed that their distance had somehow become even closer since their time by the seaside during summer vacation. He only needed to stretch out his hand to bring her into his embrace.

However...

"Hey... I can converse normally again."

"Huh? What?"

Minori's words were as sudden as always, as well as enigmatic,

"Oh, nothing, it's nothing, really. I, I don't really mind... I, I'm fine..."

Cough! Cough! Minori suddenly began coughing. Ryūji tried to pat her back, but she quickly stood straight, as though being shocked by electricity, followed by intense shivering. She then began laughing loudly, even when no one was tickling her,

"A--HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

"How is that fine? You're hardly fine!"

When Minori suddenly jumped around and laughed like a maniac, Ryūji at first thought she was avoiding him, but then she crossed her hands and shoved them towards Ryūji. Just what's going on in that mind of hers?

"Can someone please tell me...!?"

Ryūji didn't bother to dodge Minori's attack and silently prayed to the heavens.

"Alright---! We've captured Takasu and Kushieda!"

"Huh!?"

"Wah!"

A few seconds of being motionless had got Ryūji trapped in misfortune. The two people that suddenly appeared behind them were none other than Kitamura and Taiga, who were still dancing romantically a while ago. Their hands, which were holding each other a while ago, were now used to grab hold of Ryūji and Minori tightly as they struggled to break free.

"Hey---! You gave us a fright! What on earth you guys doing!?"

"Hahaha! It's the last event of the school festival, after all, so we're going to dance together, of course!"

Kitamura and Taiga loosened their tightly clasped hands and grabbed hold of Ryūji and Minori on their own, forcing the four of them into a circle. Kitamura then dragged everyone beside the bonfire where everyone can see.

"Hahaha! This is embarrassing---! That's hardly dancing at all!"

Minori laughed merrily. On the other hand, Ryūji was cursing at Taiga,

"A, a, and I managed to get the mood right after so long! Why must you come and ruin it!?"

"Come on, let's create happy memories together... By the way, I too took a lot of effort, a. lot. of. effort. to get to dance alone with Kitamura-kun~~!"

Twist! Taiga grabbed Ryūji's fingers and twisted hard.

"OWWWW..."

Though Ryūji wailed softly, he was feeling more relieved, since seeing Taiga recover her spirits was more important than anything. Even her squeezing fingers... are still so strong... It's as though they're saying, "You're not allowed to be happy all by yourself!" And trying their best to crush Ryūji's fist.

"That hurts... Aren't you going too far!? You'll really crush it at this rate!"

"If your fingers are already breaking at such weak strength, then they ought to have been broken in the first place!"

"Quit fooling around, as if that's possible." Meanwhile, Kitamura and Minori had let them continue with their fierce argument while they got more and more excited.

"Right--! Let's go grab Ami!"

"OK--! Amin, wait for us!"

Revealing the eyes of a hunter, they took aim at their pitiful prey. The flames of the bonfire looked as though they were shooting through the night sky as it crackled loudly. Ami was standing before it, oblivious to what was about to happen.

"Kawashima-san, you're really beautiful."

"Are you sure you haven't got a boyfriend? You're kidding, right?"

"That must be because everyone thinks you're unreachable, right?"

"Eh~~? T, that's not true~~! I'm really not that popular!"

"Oh, come on, you can be quite dense, you know?"

"That's right, and that's why you're cute that way."

"No way!? And how can you say I'm dense!? Oh man~~ why does everyone call me dense!?"

She seemed rather pleased with herself.

Wearing her happiness on her face, she pleasantly handled everyone's flirting. She was currently surrounded by boys from other classes, they all had good looks, and all looked at least 500 times more intelligent than Haruta.

Kitamura, Minori, Ryūji and Taiga quietly crept behind Ami, slowly raising their arms, which were formed into a large circle.

"I really don't know why~ just why~ everyone thinks I'm dense~~? It's strange~~"

Just when Ami was chuckling joyfully,

"GOTCHA! We got Ami! YAY---!"

"KYAAA!? Wha? What's going on!?"

The four of them had successfully captured Ami. Scaring away the surrounding boys, they dragged the surrounded Ami back in front of the bonfire.

"Heh heh heh! Ami you sure look happy!"

"Have you forgotten about us?"

"That's how I was caught just now..."

"What's with that chuckling of 'hohoho' just now? How gross!"

Ami continued to struggle with her arms and legs, attempting to escape from the four people surrounding her.

"Let go, like I said let go! I don't want this! It's such a fine night, I don't want to spend it with people like you!"

Yet her struggles were futile. Ami's hands were held onto by Ryūji and Minori, forcing her to become part of the large circle. Even if she squatted she would quickly be yanked up again.

"Oh, come on, aren't we supposed to be childhood friends?"

"As if we are~~! Who wants to be childhood friends with an exhibitionist like you~~!?"

"Isn't Bakachi the exhibitionist around here? Just where'd you get that perverted dominatrix costume for the Campus Queen competition anyway?"

"Wha~!? I did that to drive up the atmosphere for you, you ungrateful midget tiger!"

"Wow! Even a pretty girl's fingers are this smooth~~!"

"Kyaa~~! Minori-chan, stop fiddling between my fingers~~!"

"Stop struggling and join us in our game of 'best friends'!"

"Eww~~! Takasu-kun's fingers are wet~~!"

"What's there to scream about...!? That's the way my body is built!"


And so the five of them spun around the bonfire and laughed merrily, yelled and shouted. In the end, they all revealed smiles on their faces. "A bunch of brats!" Under the laughter of the surrounding students, the flames gave warmth to the five of them.

This night was special.

At this moment, everyone had momentarily put aside the secrets within their hearts, for memories of this night will always hold a special place in their hearts, and they would spin and dance until the very end.

After the event of the night had ended, Class 2-C held their celebratory party, even their homeroom teacher was invited, and everyone turned up at the family restaurant to enjoy themselves. They then formed circles and began spinning and chatting merrily.

Whenever I laugh I would feel pain, but as long as I endure it for this night, so maybe, perhaps, definitely... I think it'll be fine.

Light Novel
Main Series' Volumes

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