| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
Twenty-three o'clock, twelve minutes.
Today would be over in forty-eight minutes.
Breathing out a stream of white mist, Takasu Ryuuji looked up at the night sky from his open window. Tonight, nothing could be seen as both the moon and stars were hidden on the other side of the clouds. Ryuuji felt even more depressed, even thinking about how nice it would be if this kind of night could go on forever.
It was a particularly cold night. The sub-zero wind felt as though it was piercing right into his skin, the bone-freezing chill rising straight up from his stomach. The body that was only wearing a pair of shorts under the hoodie was shivering as his teeth clattered incessantly. His dry lips were completely frozen, giving them an extremely hard exterior. His fingers and toes were already numb, and his heart---his heart had been frozen since long ago.
Ever since that night on Christmas Eve.
Ryuuji's heart had been pacing around aimlessly in the zero-degree darkness ever since that night.
"......How nice it would be......if morning never came......"
In the darkened room, Ryuuji bent down, sighing as he sat down, leaning his back on the windowsill. He brushed away some strands of hair, his arms around one knee. To protect his ears that were frozen and hurting from the wind, he put on the hood of his hoodie, closing his eyes slightly, subconsciously holding his breath while biting down on his chattering teeth.
It had been a week since the start of the new year.
The new school term would start tomorrow.
The start of a new school term also meant that he would have to come face to face with 'her'. Whenever he thought of that prospect, Ryuuji's heart would start beating erratically as though it was broken. He also felt as though no matter how much oxygen he breathed in, it wouldn't be enough. Everyday, every night, every moment, without warning, 'her' figure and voice would suddenly awaken in his mind. The memories of spring, summer and autumn, and then the happenings of that night, would be cruelly replayed over and over again in high definition.
"......What kind of expression should I face her with......"
The pair of blank eyes turned up towards the sky. Just how should he face the 'her' in reality when he wouldn't even bring himself to face his memories. As Ryuuji held his head in his hands and bit down hard on his dry and cracked lips, the taste of blood on his tongue. He was deep in thought, with his eyes fully open but focusing on nothing in particular, the ridiculously huge bags under his eyes were made even more prominent. Ryuuji's face that made him looked like a cornered criminal was solely caused by his inability to fall asleep during the past few days. He could imagine the police coming to his apartment uninvited and without taking off their shoes. He would then be arrested amid a host of shouting from the police as a result of his neighbours' contact with the police. 'The kitchen's very suspicious!' 'Ah! I found it! It's white powder!'......No, that's only sugar.
It's stupid isn't it.
Ryuuji let out a humourless laugh, but continued to think. Even if it was a misunderstanding, he probably would not need to go to school tomorrow if he was arrested --- he was half-serious about it.
Just as his finger was gathering all the dust on the windowsill of its own accord,
The light suddenly came on in a window in the opposite condominium. A small figure darted across the room that had suddenly become as bright as day.
Needless to say, the figure was the owner of the apartment that Ryuuji hadn't seen much recently, Aisaka Taiga.
Taiga's petite body was clothed in blue pajamas and a white sweater as she walked around in the spacious bedroom that was as big as the Takasu residence.
She then seemed to notice Ryuuji's eyes on her as she turned towards him in response, their eyes meeting for an instance.
Ryuuji stood up, lifting up a single hand in greeting. And in the next moment.
I'm so unlucky.
I just had to be spotted by this fellow.
Taiga then thought to herself: Alright I'll just ignore him and pretend I never saw anything, something that was clearly written on her face. Even though she had obviously noticed Ryuuji, Taiga acted as though he was part of the atmosphere as she hid herself in Ryuuji's blind-spot and brusquely drew the curtains together.
What did I do? Being the nice person that he was, Ryuuji couldn't help but to check the morality of his actions for the past few months, ultimately unable to come up with any explanations for Taiga's behaviour.
"What is she trying to do......suddenly ignoring me like that......"
"Taiga! You saw me right, why are you ignoring me!?"
Pulling back his hood, Ryuuji shouted loudly.
To Ryuuji, who always thought of himself as a sensible guy, this was a rare occurrence. He completely ignored the fact that he would wake up his neighbours, mainly because of Taiga's actions. She knew about the whole thing, but chose to ignore Ryuuji, who was in the middle of a mental crisis.
And it wasn't just about that. Ryuuji also couldn't understand Taiga's recent attitude towards him.
"Hey! Open the window! I have something to tell you!"
But there was no answer even though she must have heard him.
"Taiga!......Damn it, you're seriously ignoring me aren't you......If you really want to do this! Then prepare for the consequences!"
A cursed aura emanated from every part of Ryuuji's body as he glared at the opposite window. The constant build-up of negative feelings had awakened Ryuuji's dark side, as his dark expression seemed to have demonic properties. Destroy this planet together with the milky way! Ryuuji walked towards the doorway with that kind of expression, bringing back a broom. He stuck his body out of the window with the broom in hand.
"Taiga! Taiga! Come out! I know you can hear me! Taiga!"
Bang bang bang bang bang bang! The wooden broom handle knocked repeatedly against Taiga's bedroom window as though it wanted to break the glass. This was in fact, a banned move as it had once resulted in the window being broken and the broom thrust into Taiga's face. But Ryuuji had decided to use his ultimate move tonight.
A noise that was louder than any alarm clock sounded out in the night.
"......What are you trying to do!"
Even Taiga was unable to ignore that. The curtains parted with a vengeance for the long-awaited reunion. '......Ah!' Ryuuji couldn't help but step back at Taiga's horrific expression. Her beautiful features that rivaled those of french dolls was now twisted demonically. Along with the open window, Taiga's rage was also on full throttle as she grabbed the broom, pulling it to her with astonishing speed and strength.
"You better not think too highly of yourself."
Ryuuji's balance was easily broken as his body was dragged in the direction of the pulling force, then falling off--
Stars shined brightly in front of his eyes. 'Five points!' By the time he realized that the voice was his, Ryuuji was already lying down on the floor of his room. Though he was lucky not to have fallen into the gap between the two windows, the impact of his fall was still enough to stun him for a few minutes.
Bang! The window was closed. Whoosh! The sound of drawing curtains. Those were the only things that was going through Ryuuji's head at that moment.
And then, he was the only one left in the silence of the night.
Too much, this was, too much.
Tears flowed out from the eyes that had been hit by the broom, mucus flowing down towards his mouth.
Lying on the floor, covering his face, Ryuuji was unable to discern whether he was laughing or crying. On the other hand, tsk, pig. Taiga's voice, sounding like she was about to vomit, came across sharply. Pig, I'm a pig. Ryuuji brought out his inner pig as he slowly stood up, moved over to squat beside the window, biting down on the curtains.
"Heh heh heh......!"
He stared at the opposite window. No wonder she was the Palmtop Tiger, cruel and beautiful, tearing his already mauled heart in to shreds in an instant.
"You're extremely irritating!? Don't you get bored of--"
"Heh heh heh!"
Taiga, who had opened her window again, screamed at the sight of the smiling and crying Ryuuji and fell backwards. Ryuuji was shocked at seeing her fall as he couldn't help but stick his hand out towards her.
"......Ah, you're really a product that's full of defects! I can barely believe that God's pranks can lead to such cruel results......it's so scary! It's impossible for mere human intellect to map out Ryuuji's face!"
Hearing Taiga's words, Ryuuji's hands grasped weakly at thin air.
"That......that's the first time in my life I've heard such hurtful words...! No, what's worse is that you actually swept my face with a broom! Do you even know the history behind this broom!? It's a broom that has been retired from the sweeping of the bathroom to be in charge of sweeping the doorway and the corridor!"
"Alright alright, that's it for tonight, go back to sleep, you pig! Tsk, so noisy......looks like the gene that accounts for dog-like barking has surfaced......"
"What did you say!? This disturbance started because you ignored me! Argh......How, how dare you treat me like air!? You know how sad I am now don't you!? But you still, still-"
"What am I supposed to know."
Taiga gave a surprising answer as she continued to stick her chin out arrogantly, looking down on Ryuuji's face. She made a noise with her nose, her big eyes looking as though she was seeing a pile of cat dung on the side of the road.
"I'm too busy to play around with you."
"What, What are you talking about!? How could you be busy when it's obvious that you're always so free and bored!"
"Whatever makes you happy, I'm not obliged to explain everything to you. Your pea-sized brain is unable to process the logic behind my actions!"
In the next moment,
"Ah, it's time."
An alarm sounded from Taiga's cellphone. Upon hearing this jarring sound, Ryuuji's tension eased away, even though he didn't know what the alarm was for.
"That's about it, bye. It's going to be a new school term tomorrow, so shouldn't you be in bed sleeping? You should have a load of other things to do besides whining to me right."
Such indifference. Ryuuji couldn't help but stare at Taiga as she hurriedly closed the window and prepared to walk away.
In response to Ryuuji's voice, Taiga wrinkled her cute features in irritation. Since we're both humans, why should I give you any special treatment? Which was why she merely threw out a single word.
Ryuuji was hurt once again.
So the result was just something like this?
"......So to you, this is just something that you don't even want to hear about......"
Even though Taiga had cried upon hearing about what had happened on Christmas Eve--Ryuuji bit his lip as he stared blankly at Taiga. Were the tears from that day fake? Ryuuji wanted to ask her about that.
"You're lying aren't you--"
"Minorin rejecting you--You have to be lying"
......It was three days after the Christmas Eve party, in the hospital where Ryuuji was sent to after coming down with flu. After he was able to speak normally, Ryuuji told Taiga everything that had happened on that night. Everything that had happened after Taiga had sent him away.
After hearing about the entire incident, Taiga started to cry under the face-mask that all visitors were required to wear.
"Why did it become like this? That's not true isn't it--"
With her pair of tiny hands covering her eyes, Taiga cried, sitting on the chair beside the hospital bed. Ryuuji's fierce eyes also started to moisten. The two of them didn't speak, creating a teary atmosphere.
However, Ryuuji felt a little better after seeing Taiga's tears. Though he was still depressed, he was thankful that there was someone who was willing to cry along with him. Here was someone who understood his pain, and was willing to face his problems together with him.
"Just because you've been rejected by Minorin doesn't mean you have to throw a tantrum right?"
Wrinkling her eyebrows, Taiga dug into her nose after digging through her ear.
"And haven't I already said that I have something important to do. Ah~......I could be late from listening to your useless rants."
As she was speaking, Taiga grabbed the 'thing' that was on the window-side table and brought it to the window, tearing off its cover boldy. Ryuuji was left speechless,
"That---That's. Your. Something important......!"
Trembling with rage, Ryuuji thought, so that's the reason why Taiga has been ignoring me?
"Tsk, you're really irritating, so I don't have a choice but to eat here. Hmph, I'm eating."
Slurp!--- a plastic cup of noodles.
"Ah~That's delicious......What were you saying again?"
Ryuuji's heart was shattered by the sight of Taiga slurping her cup noodles while talking in a blissful tone.
"......Never mind, it's nothing."
"Is that so."
"......Keep eating like this and you'll go to school with a stuffed face tomorrow!"
Ryuuji cursed Taiga to become fat, to which she merely replied with a arrogant sniff of her nose.
"That's alright. I'm already mentally prepared for that fate. And didn't you already know about this?"
She stuck out her flat chest, while hugging her cup noodles......but didn't notice that the soup was spilling onto her white sweater.
Ah---What kind of situation is this? The rented apartment complex and its neighbouring condominium. Ryuuji's room was a mere 2 metres away from Taiga's room. On the same floor with the same view, one with a window facing north, one with a window facing south.
Ryuuji leaned over his window, staring at Taiga's happily slurping face. Those stuffed cheeks, really......makes me angrier.......no, Ryuuji didn't think that, as he just felt a little bit weak.
"......That's your dinner?"
Ryuuji asked softly.
"Nope. I ate a meat bun and corn bread at nine. This is supper."
"......that's the worse menu ever. You bought all of this from the convenience store didn't you?"
Taiga put on a 'I don't know you expression' and turned away with the chopsticks in her mouth in reply. She didn't give a definite answer, which proved that Ryuuji was right.
"......Just what are you trying to do.......You don't come to my house......and just eat junk food......and you don't even eat your vegetables......"
"What are you doing? You're hungry and feel like eating cup noodles too aren't you?"
"No! ......I'm really getting angry here! I'm angry!"
Ryuuji ran his hand through his hair in frustration as he let loose a shout in the night sky. His originally dangerous-looking gangster face was now twisting in unimaginable ways.
"I've been wanting to ask you! Why don't you come to my house anymore!? And why did you ignore me just now!? Just what is happening!?"
Ryuuji could feel the dark energy emanating out from his body. Ugh......at the opposite window, Taiga gave a look reserved for disgusting things. She didn't speak aloud, but her rose-red lips were obviously muttering something. He knew all of that, but could do nothing about his anger.
"Just what is happening with you! Didn't I just tell you not to throw tantrums?"
"I'm not throwing a tantrum! I. Am. Angry with you!"
In the presence of the most dangerous creature on the planet, the Palmtop Tiger, Ryuuji shouted loudly, utilizing the full potential of his facial features.
"You, you actually said that I was irritating!? You actually said that! Are you that bothered by speaking to me!? Is the hurt 'me' so irritating!? Weren't you very sympathetic towards me at the beginning! What is this! Though I'm not asking for your sympathy or comfort, but why can't you talk to me like you usually do?"
Taiga was obviously trying to keep her distance from him. But he wanted to know the reason. He wanted to shout, why?
When he was in hospital, Taiga was surprisingly enthusiastic in taking care of Ryuuji. But after Ryuuji was discharged from the hospital, Taiga stopped coming over to the Takasu residence. She gave all kinds of excuses to avoid coming over for breakfast and dinner. Even during her usually-free lunchtime period, she would be out of her condominium. During the few times that Ryuuji had seen her, Taiga would always be eating cup noodles and the like. Even though there were a lot of delicious foods over at the Takasu residence. Even though he had told her to make herself at home. Even though he had made Taiga's share of the food everyday though she didn't want it. Even Yasuko was saying, 'What has happened to Taiga-chan lately~She hasn't come for a while~', and was not as energetic as before.
Even though Taiga's place at the table was still decorated with her special cushion.
"The 'me' who just got rejected by Kushieda, and is depressed, is annoying to you isn't it! Ah that's right, you're annoyed aren't you! Well, sorry for being so annoying!"
Ryuuji shouted at the top of his voice with an expression befitting of a demon who just crawled out from the depths of hell. He understood that what he was doing was ugly and uncalled for. But the feelings that were pushed to the bottom of his heart would not stop coming out once there was an outlet for release. He continued shouting, waving his hands like a maniac,
"Enough! I've had enough! Since you've already abandoned me! That's right! Why don't you just say it out loud! Why don't you just throw away our friendship like how you throw away a piece of rubbish! I obstruct and annoy you! I understand, I get it, so why don't you just say it out loud, I want to hear you say......ah!"
"Shut up, you stupid insect."
Just before Ryuuji completed his rant, a single chopstick flew through the air like a flying dagger, hitting Ryuuji between the eyes. Though there was no penetration the impact of the hit wasn't light, leaving Ryuuji in a daze.
"You stupid insect. You insect. Calling you a dog was a compliment, so don't think too highly of yourself."
Taiga tried to break the remaining chopstick in her hand into two even halves, but failed and ended up with two bits with their length in a 70-30 ratio. Thereafter, she violently devoured the remaining food in the cup. After swallowing the last of her supper, the large eyes which she used to stare at Ryuuji revealed a faint trace of pity behind the ridicule in them.
"So you won't understand unless I tell you everything?"
"I'm doing all this for you. The heavens are in disarray, and so the Taiga who's more noble than God and more compassionate than the Buddha has stepped onto stage. And you're still asking me why? Ryuuji's really a pighead, an extremely stupid pighead! I've known this for a long time."
"......You think I'm that bad?"
"But even I didn't think you would be so stupid, you're like a king among the pigheads."
"......you deliberately avoid me, you don't come over for meals, and you ignore me when you see me......that's all for my sake?"
"Yes......To be more precise, it's for you and Minorin's sake."
Taiga sighed, and looked at Ryuuji in the eyes. And then, 'listen up', she began talking,
"I've been thinking ever since you were hospitalized and I saw your constipated sleeping face."
Taiga's snow-white cheeks turned downwards. She placed a hand over her heart, and then shook her head violently.
"Ah, your face was really terrifying, I've never seen anything like that......Hahahaha!"
Taiga started laughing uncontrollably.
Bang! Ryuuji subconsciously slammed the window shut. That was just a joke! Open up! Taiga's voice carried over the glass barrier that was the window. No choice but to open up.
"......Right now, I'm at my limit! I'll die if you pull another one on me......!"
"Alright, I get it. I've seriously......yes, seriously thought about this. And then I realized from the bottom of my heart that, it was so stupid."
As if she was laughing at her own foolishness, Taiga gave a lopsided grin and shrugged. She closed her eyes as if she was announcing that the joke stops here, I'll be serious from now on.
"What have I been doing all this time? I'm the biggest idiot."
The reopened eyes reflected the darkness of the night. As she ran her hand through her long and silky hair, Taiga leaned onto the windowsill, looking up at the starless night sky.
And then she breathed out a cloud of white mist, her voice resounding in the quietness of the night.
"I said I was supporting you and Minorin, but I was eating at your house everyday at the same time. Minorin couldn't have not gotten the wrong impression from that. Even if I had told her that she's getting the wrong idea, it wouldn't have achieved anything. This is common sense. I always......always do things without thinking of the consequences, always eating off you. I'm such an idiot."
As she smoothed the fringe that was being messed up by the wind, Taiga smiled. As their eyes met, Ryuuji felt a little confused.
"So you're saying that, you think"
Ryuuji turned away, preparing to continue his sentence. The cold wind on his skin felt like little knives.
"......that the reason Kushieda rejected me was because she misunderstood our relationship?"
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Taiga nod in acknowledgment, and Ryuuji looked down at his feet, nodding in response.
"......Because Kushieda misunderstood, you're going to stop coming over to my house?"
Another nod. And then a statement,
"I'm never going to your house ever again."
Silence fell between the two of them. The sub-zero night felt as though it was literally frozen, frozen in an endless darkness. But even though he was silent, Ryuuji did not agree with all of Taiga's words. Or should he say, he totally disagreed with her. Ryuuji licked his parched lips,
"You say you're not coming over to my house anymore."
He looked into her eyes again, as though he was going to see into the depths of her heart, and held his gaze.
"And then you'd get Minorin and I together, are you serious about that? Don't you think that the sole reason for Minorin rejecting me was because she didn't like me?"
"I don't think so."
Taiga's answer was confident.
"I think that Minorin likes you. It's obvious. There's no other reason to explain your rejection other than the fact that Minorin was concerned about me......Why do you think Minorin rejected you? Did you really think that she 'didn't like you'?"
The question was right on. Ryuuji held his breath and scratched his head as he pressed his face onto the window ledge. He didn't know whether to speak or not, while forcing his voice out at the same time,
"......About that, I really, don't understand. I don't understand. But I don't think that.....Kushieda doesn't like me at all......which is why I can't accept the fact that she rejected me without even listening to my confession."
He closed his eyes, drawing out 'her' features in his mind......the features of Kushieda Minori.
"I'm saying that, actually I think Kushieda might......like me......just a little bit......but I'm probably reading too much into it......"
"Ta-Ka-Su-Ku-N! Hi YO Man!"
The Minori in Ryuuji's memories laughed cheerfully. Her light footsteps sounding like dance steps in the wind. A pair of deep, honest eyes looked straight at Ryuuji. Though it sometimes wavered, sometimes saw right through him, sometimes revealed a trace of stubbornness, but the direction of her gaze never did move away from Ryuuji.
"......But I've been rejected so easily, or rather......she didn't even let me tell her about my feelings. I've been rejected outright. But every time I think about this, I find that I'm unable to accept this kind of ending. My mind is in a mess right now......I'm unable to let go."
Ryuuji knew that the temperature of her fingertips was fiery hot. He would never forget the fire on her fingertips, nor her voice that he had heard at that time. And the soft wavering that was hidden within her slightly quavering voice.
Through their daily conversations, hadn't Minori revealed the secrets in her heart to him, bit by bit?
Ryuuji was unable to let go of her gaze, her voice, her expressions, her everything. Everything about her seemed to signal a hidden meaning beneath the surface. Which was why Ryuuji had thought that perhaps she had liked him? Had he gotten a 'possibility of future development'?
"I......I don't understand......I really, don't understand any of that. Was it my imagination? Everything that had happened between us, was I merely reading too much into our interactions? Something like this......I don't believe it. I don't believe that it is something like this.
Taiga said softly.
I don't think you've misunderstood Minorin either. So -- She continued to say.
Ryuuji lifted his gaze to Taiga's face in the opposing window. Taiga also looked at him. In this starless night, only Taiga's eyes shone with light. There was no wavering, no uncertainty, her gaze staring straight ahead, and then,
"Stop running away."
Taiga's voice echoed loudly in his ears.
"Even if you've been rejected, you still like Minorin don't you? You still believe that Minorin probably likes you, don't you? Then don't run away! What you have to do now is continue liking Minorin, so that she'll give you a totally different answer when she sees that I'm not coming over to eat at your house anymore. That's why you shouldn't give up on yourself!"
"No buts......except, I'm a little afraid of facing Minorin too."
As if to hide the hoarseness in her voice, Taiga cleared her throat loudly.
"You still don't understand?......Who called you to the place where Minorin rejected you?"
Ah, Ryuuji thought about the part about that night which he didn't want to recall the most.
Yes, Minori was called to the venue by the angel Taiga, and there, she rejected Ryuuji.
"And then it became like this......Minorin hasn't met me even once after that incident. She's been busy with club activities, and went back to her grandmother's place for the new year, and I haven't heard her talk about what happened on Christmas eve......I can't play dumb, since I'm the one who made her see you."
Taiga bit her lower lip slightly as she spoke. Her fingertips roughly rubbed her forehead, as she breathed out white mist like a small animal. Her tone of voice was mixed with an undeniable trace of regret.
"......If I hadn't been so excited because of Christmas and pushed Minorin to go, things would have been different......Don't you think so?"
"No I don't."
He answered truthfully. The result was disastrous, but the person who wished to confess his feelings, the person who decided to confess his feelings, the person who ran through the dark streets to get back to school, was Ryuuji himself.
"But I think so."
I'm sorry, she said. It wasn't like her.
She didn't know that having to see her do this, being apologized to, and having the "responsibility" of being dumped robbed from him, made Ryuuji's heart beat even faster. She didn't know that it only made his already shattered pride shatter even more. If she'd been here with him in the corner of this dark, cramped room, he could have smacked her head for this.
But where things were at now, he couldn't even do that.
"......But, I won't run away! And you!"
Taiga shouted and suddenly pointed at Ryuuji as if aiming straight for his heart.
"--You mustn't run away. Not from this. I know it's painful......but if you run away, it will really all be over."
Ryuuji's heart stopped as if it had really been shot, really over......the impact of those words took away his breath for a moment.
"Answer me, you insect."
"......Who're you calling an insect......"
"Are you ready to stop running away and face up?"
Ryuuji somehow managed to nod his head. There were many things that were eating at him concerning Taiga, but... whether he ran away or not, he probably still couldn't get over what happened yet.
Seeing Ryuuji nod in response, the edges of Taiga's mouth twitched as if she was preparing to make an important decision.
"From now on, I don't need you to wake me up in the morning. I won't eat your bentos, and I won't eat dinner with you. I'll solve these problems myself, and I'll also do the household chores myself. Minorin feels that Ryuuji's an indispensable existence to me. That's why I want to prove to her that I'm able to live perfectly well by myself. And then, you can just wait for Minori to give you another answer!"
After saying all these in one breath, Taiga slapped her cheeks with both of her hands. Awed by her aura, Ryuuji felt like he couldn't look directly at her.
He thought. Taiga is indeed a stronger person than he is.
He wanted to kick himself for throwing a tantrum because he thought Taiga had abandoned him. He wanted to knock himself down to the ground because he was feeling lonely right now. Pull yourself together, Ryuuji said to himself, nodding his head vigourously.
Even though he didn't think being separated from Taiga would help him with Minori, that was not the point. Ryuuji didn't want to look even more pathetic in front of Taiga when she made the decision to become more mature, more independent. He didn't want a growing Taiga to outrun him and leave him behind.
Ryuuji didn't want to be the weakling that couldn't recover from a small setback.
Ryuuji didn't want to end the one-sided feelings that he had held for so long.
"......I understand. Good luck! But......please try not to start a fire."
Hearing that, Taiga confidently thrust out her chest,
"Yes, don't worry. I won't even touch the stove. I've decided to eat takeout food for the rest of my life!"
She said that kind of embarrassing thing with a totally straight face. Ryuuji had no choice but to sigh in disappointment.
"Just how long would you last on that kind of lifestyle......"
"What are you talking about! I'll last! Forever!"
Even though Taiga's face and nose were red from the biting wind, her lips curved up in a fearless grin.
"I'll be alright, so just go and do what you're supposed to do! Listen up, first you have to confirm Minorin's true feelings......I'll find an opportunity for you to do that."
"Yes, the perfect opportunity."
Nodding in response to Taiga's statement, Ryuuji prepared to close the window after saying goodnight to Taiga--four fingers were smashed by the window, and a bloodcurdling scream sounded in the silent night.
Stop running away.
And then confirm Minori's true feelings.
Though Ryuuji had made a decision, dawn was a long time away, and the world was still shrouded in darkness, with the light of hope nowhere to be found.
He didn't understand the meaning behind Taiga's 'opportunity'.
In the midst of the darkness, Ryuuji stared blankly at the ceiling. Unable to sleep as he hugged the heavy blanket.
Tomorrow would be the start of the new school term. The time of re-acquaintance......If he started to think of how nice it would be if morning never arrived, Ryuuji would probably go into denial again--
Ryuuji's body twitched.
"......Inko-chan, you're really energetic today......"
As per normal, the Takasu residence was cold and dark in the early morning. Even though it was indoors, the exhalation of breath came out in streams of white mist. The hand that refilled Inko-chan's water and food was also numb with the cold.
On such a gloomy morning, Inko-chan was excitedly flapping his wings and shouting as though something good had happened.
"Good morning------! Good morning------!"
The parrot struggled to stretch its peeling feet, it's white eyeballs rolling back into it's head as it's mouth dropped open as though broken.
"Good morning! Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!"
"Hey wait a minute, Inko-chan! Shut up! Ah!"
The parrot flew out of its cage despite Ryuuji's best efforts to stop it. Inko-chan streaked past his knees and started to run around on the tatami mat. As though it was mocking it's owner which had come to chase after it, the parrot made countless sudden turns, its sudden movement making it hard for human eyes to capture.
Ryuuji's eyebrows knotted together in frustration at the disturbance. Suddenly, he was struck by a flash of illumination. Such speed, and such gracefulness in the turning, the artful footwork seemed familiar---
"......Zidane......! It's Zidane's Marseille Roulette......!"
Ryuuji's mouth fell open in astonishment. Never in his wildest dreams had he thought that the fat parrot which he had had since his sixth year of primary school was one of the 'Galaticos'. What a surprise.
--Ryuuji decided to stop fooling around with himself. Even as he thought about how nice it would be if morning wouldn't come, it still came in the end.
Ryuuji was now trying to decide his next course of action.
On the other side of the room, Inko-chan, who seemed to be channeling the spirit of Zidane, was on its second round around its owner when it suddenly changed course and hopped into Yasuko's room!
After a few seconds, inhuman cries and the sound of a blanket being trampled on was heard.
"Ahhhhhhhh----You woke me up------
A pajama-clad figure climbed out of the darkened room, infecting the living room with the stench of alcohol. Ryuuji furrowed his eyebrows at the sight of her messy appearance.
His mother, Yasuko, whose hair was now in the shape of a chicken coop, had Takasu Zidane by the neck.
"Ah, you'll kill it!"
"It's all its fault!!! It stepped on Ya-chan's face---"
And then the Zidane that was in her hand,
Ah! Kya! Both mother and son let out anguished wails. In the gloomy morning, the crazy Zidane got its just deserts as it vomited out a green and sticky substance. But Yasuko had no intention of letting go of its neck as she swung Zidane from side to side, which,
Like a fountain, Inko-chan projectile-vomitted onto Yasuko's chin.
"......Ahhhhhhh!!! Ya-chan can't take it anymore!"
Stuffing the vomiting Zidane into its cage, Yasuko walked towards the toilet. Ripping the door open, Yasuko walked in......and an abominable sound came out from the toilet soon after. Ryuuji couldn't even stuff his ears to keep out that unholy noise as his hands were full with Zidane--No, Inko-chan who was covered in vomit.
Sighing, Ryuuji tried to pretend that no sounds were coming out of the bathroom as he wiped Inko-chan clean with a wet towel. Ah, there's a spot that won't come off......on closer inspection, its a natural feather pattern which just happened to look like the face of a corpse.
Putting Inko-chan back into its cage, Ryuuji eyes glowed blue as he muttered, I don't want to be a human anymore......not.
"Are you alright after vomiting so much? Inko-chan, do you need to go to the vet?......Well then, since its the opening ceremony at school today, I can skip school and take you there......"
His feelings of wanting to skip school was extremely obvious. Don't run away! -- Taiga's voice from the night before rang out in his head, but that's not running away. It's because Inko-chan's not feeling well. But that kind of excuse won't work.
"Good morning......Good morning......Good Morning......!"
As if it planned to regain its lost calories, Inko-chan began to wolf down its feed. Its eyes bulging as it ate at an inhuman speed, Inko-chan no longer cared about Ryuuji's existence. It was obvious that Inko-chan was a perfectly healthy avian sample. Ryuuji suddenly thought of a possibility,
Inko-chan, don't tell me that you--
"......were trying to cheer me up......?"
--Never mind. Forget it.
Tearing his eyes from the blank face of the fat parrot, Ryuuji sighed and got up to wash the cup that Yasuko had used when she came back in the morning.
Looking at the clock, he realized that he had spent quite a bit of time resolving the vomiting Zidane incident.
"Ah--Ah......I really don't want to go."
--No running away!--
Yes I got it. I'll go. And its not like I have the guts to skip the first day of school.
Taking down his uniform from it's perch, Ryuuji brushed it with a brush out of habit. He pulled a grey v-neck sweater over his school shirt, and then wore his school jacked over it without buttoning the buttons. Wrapping the wool muffler that Taiga liked very much around his neck, Ryuuji's preparations were complete. Though it was winter, Ryuuji didn't like to wear winter coats, since nothing would change that face. He had prepared his school bag the night before, so all that was left was to step out of the door.
"......I really, don't want to go......"
No, must go. Ryuuji shook his head furiously, trying to get rid of that cloud of depression.
"I'm leaving......", Ryuuji said to Yasuko, who was rinsing her mouth in the bathroom.
"Be careful~......, bye bye Ryu-chan~"
Yasuko, who still seemed to be drunk even after vomiting, stood in front of her son, her mouth dripping with water,
"Did you remember to bring that along, it's on the table in my room~"
"Hmm? Ah, Ryu-chan's been rather blur lately~ How could you have forgotten that~! It's the Okinawa thing~!"
Under the overpowering smell of alcohol, Ryuuji remembered. Gotta run back and take it.
"Oh no, I completely forgot about it."
The thing that was in Yasuko's room was the parental consent form required for the school trip to Okinawa. Though Ryuuji had been reminded to bring it on the first day of school, he had had too much to think about recently and thus forgot about it. It was embarrassing that even the perpetually drunk Yasuko could remember it.
"Okinawa Okinawa! That's so nice! Ya-chan wants to go too~!"
"......Right, I'll be leaving."
"Hmm......you don't seem to be very energetic~?"
Stuffing the document into his bag while slipping into his shiny school shoes, Ryuuji opened the door. The north wind of the cold winter immediately blew into the house, forcing Ryuuji to close his eyes involuntarily.
Ryu-chan, are you alright~? Though he heard Ya-chan's voice, but Ryuuji didn't feel like replying. Even though it was so cold, the rays of the morning sun was still blindingly bright.
Now's not the time to think about Okinawa--
Walking along the road, Ryuuji looked at Taiga's condo out of the corner of his eyes. The shiny marble staircase paved the way to the glass doors which served at the entrance. The evergreen trees planted at the side were green as usual despite the cold winter.
But today, Ryuuji didn't intend to walk towards that tree-lined road, instead walking towards the road that led to school. Though he wasn't sure if the lazy Taiga would be able to get out of bed, Ryuuji chose to respect her decision.
Is she even awake at this time......Though he didn't know what she was doing right now, but Ryuuji was happy to know of Taiga's determination. He felt lonely, and also a tad abandoned, but Ryuuji was happy that Taiga was trying to think of him in her decisions.
Breathing out white mist, Ryuuji thought about how he had always been assaulted by Taiga's schoolbag, scolded, strangled, poked in the eyes, was on the receiving end of her early-morning tantrums no matter if he was early or late, got thrown to the ground, had to listen to Taiga's ranting about Kitamura-kun, about Minorin, about baka-chi as he walked down this road together with Taiga......and, and then, Taiga finally stood up by herself. And even said, 'this is for you and Minorin'.
Maybe Taiga has really grown up.
While on the other side, Ryuuji was still like this. Had such a huge gap opened up between them just because he got rejected and had fell sick. Right now, Ryuuji even felt that his legs might give way any moment. Though he had already made his decision to face up to reality, he was still being indecisive about it as he repeated 'what to do what to do what to do what to do what to do' over and over in his head--
He mimicked Taiga's actions the night before and slapped his cheeks with his hands.
Though he felt like running away, hadn't he already decided not to? He just had to take control and hide the embarrassment right? That's all he needs to do. And that'll be better than rolling over without a fight.
Ryuuji finally lifted his head just as a gust of wind assaulted his forehead. He looked to the front. What if I meet Kushieda on the way to school? But it was too late for such worries.
The only thing he could do now was to continue walking, for at least it'll stop the situation from worsening. Anyway, it wasn't like he had been rejected by his girlfriend. What Ryuuji should do now is to work towards his desired ending.
In retrospect, his feelings were one-sided from the start.
At the junction, the traffic light coincidentally changed to green just as he prepared to cross the road, slightly lifting Ryuuji's spirits at this small stroke of luck. Ryuuji had decided to greet Minori the moment he reached school. He had decided to use his loudest voice to shout 'Good Morning!' to her. Though he wasn't sure if he could carry on the conversation from there, but on the first day of school, he must greet her with a smiling face.
That was the only thing he could do, to look forward with hope--
"Yo! Good morning, Takasu-kun!:
"Ah, it's really cold today--! Where's Taiga? Why isn't she with you?"
Ryuuji was now the second reincarnation of the second Takasu generation. As confusing as that sounds, it was that kind of situation. After crossing the road, Ryuuji did a beautiful Marseille Roulette, avoiding her with his skillful footwork, turning around her like a tornado. And then he shouted out soundlessly, I'm the biggest idiot in the universe!!!
It was stupid to just walk by the usual route that he always took to school together with Taiga and Minori. If Taiga hadn't gotten out of bed, wouldn't it be obvious that 'she' would be waiting here? Wouldn't it be normal for Kushieda Minori to be at this junction?
"Wa, Wait up! Takasu-kun!"
Ryuuji pretended to be too engrossed in adjusting his muffler to respond, when in truth his body would not let him stop or turn around. He could only walk away at an inhuman pace.
What kind of 'Greet her~!' is this, what kind of 'I must greet her with a smiling face~' is this. Idiot, idiot, idiot. You should just die. As he was too busy scolding himself, Ryuuji didn't notice Minori's expression, nor her schoolbag slipping from her fingers. He also didn't notice the way she clutched the hem of her skirt tightly. He couldn't even breathe the air within a metre of her body.
"Hey--! Takasu-kun, you......"
For some reason, Takasu's body stiffened for a moment. But he still continued to swiftly make himself scarce from the scene. Ryuuji used his rock-hard back to block the line of vision of Minori as he slipped away like a column of smoke. Maybe Inko-chan's 'Zidane' incident in the morning was a prophecy of this situation?......Ryuuji could only think of such lame things, unable to accept that he was being such a jerk.
"Don't run--------away from me!"
--Even if you say that. Even Taiga's voice from the night before that was resounding in Ryuuji's head only spurred him on to run even faster.
"Stupid Ryuuji------! Don't run away--!"
I'm not stupid......For some reason, Taiga's voice didn't seem to be coming from inside his head. Just as Ryuuji thought of that.
"Ah, Good, Good Morning Minorin......Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"
A high-pitched wail pierced the morning air. And then, Ah---! Minori also started shouting as a certain small-sized idiot fell down in the middle of the road. Not that there was anything wrong with falling down, but that idiot just had to fall down in the blind spot of the truck that had just turned into the junction. Ryuuji and Minori throw down their schoolbags and ran to that idiot at the same time, triggering a slow-motion scene.
Looking like a kitten about to be crushed under the giant wheels of a truck, Taiga was motionless as she stared at the approaching vehicle. Ryuuji jumped in front of the slow moving truck, mashing himself onto the windscreen, scaring the driver into stepping on his service brake, while Minori took the chance to drag Taiga to the side of the road.
It's dangerous to jump out like this, young man---! The driver shouted before driving away in a cloud of black exhaust.
Ryuuji felt as though his heart was going to explode as his whole body was shivering.
"......I, I almost died......"
Ryuuji couldn't help but shout, and at the same time,
"What were you thinking! How could you......!"
Minori's voice also sounded. Sitting at the side of the road with the front of her coat dirtied, but was unable to get up, Taiga slowly looked at Ryuuji, then at Minori. And then softly muttered,
"It's not a joke you know! You almost got crushed by a truck!?"
"Why did you have to run out so suddenly! Come on, stand up! Are you hurt?"
Grabbing hold of Minori's hand, Taiga finally stood up. She patted the dust of her skirt with a pitiful expression on her face.
"Come on, put your coat on right! And your muffler too! You're a mess......ah!"
Ryuuji suddenly realized that there was a scratch on one of the hands that was buttoning her light gray duffel coat and re-wrapping the fuchsia pink muffler that she finally bought for herself. He grabbed that hand without thinking.
"Seriously! Tissue Tissue!"
I have a tissue. Just as Ryuuji prepared to say that, he suddenly stopped breathing.
He finally realized the magnitude of what he just did because Minori was watching him hold Taiga's hand. Both of Ryuuji's hands started to tremble, and also saw the slight trembling in Taiga's eyes. Minori took out a piece of tissue from her pocket and used it to wipe the cut on Taiga's hand.
Minori seemed to have cut short her hair.
The ends of her hair that danced around the side of her cheeks gave her a more boyish look than before.
Beneath her fringe, Minori's dark eyes shined brightly.
And then--that was the limit.
Turning around suddenly, Ryuuji left Taiga and Minori by themselves and walked away. Though it was an extremely unnatural thing to do, but he was already unable to stay in that place anymore. Ryuuji didn't even bother to pat the dust of his fallen schoolbag as he ran away from Minori for the second time.
Pretending not to see or hear anything, Ryuuji ran off.
However, Taiga didn't shout out anything this time. As she adjusted the position of her schoolbag and looked behind her, Minori had her back to her and looked to be picking up her schoolbag. And then Taiga stood up on the pavement and clutched her head and shouted soundlessly---ahhhhhh, I screwed up, I failed, and other phrases to that effect. Ryuuji silently agreed with her. You didn't grow up at all, for mature adults would never jump onto the road like that to be crushed.
But at the same time, Ryuuji also wanted to assume the same position and shout, idiot idiot idiot, I'm such an idiot! to the heavens.
Ah, how about burning down the school......Ryuuji thought as he ran away from the scene.
|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|