Thursday, March 15, 2012

Toradora! Vol. 1 - Chapter 6

He overslept.

Though the ingredients for breakfast and the bentos had been prepared, he had forgotten to turn on the stove.

He forgot to feed Inko-chan and change his water as well.

Because he was in a hurry when leaving, he later discovered that his socks were mismatched...

"... J, just what the hell am I doing, really..."

Ryūji muttered to himself as he looked down towards his feet - the right sock was black while the left was deep blue.

It was only when he arrived at the shoe locker by the school entrance to change into his indoor shoes that he discovered this regrettable error. There was nothing he could do now, even though the error was glaringly obvious. The colors are so different, how on earth did I manage to mix them up?

But he had no time to think as it was getting late. The dean stood by the stairs ushering the students into their classrooms. Ryūji nodded obligingly, trying not to provoke him. Unfortunately, he did not expect himself to trip as he climbed the stairs, missing the last step and hitting his shin, causing him to squint his strict-looking eyes in pain. For some reason, the lower classmen all shuddered at the sight of that when passing through.

As he sighed and rubbed his shin, he thought of one thing - the reason he felt so low was probably because of what happened last night when he parted ways with Aisaka.

Ryūji was supposed to feel relieved at being liberated from the troublesome mornings and from having to go through the pain of making an extra bento; he was supposed to have gone back to that comfortable life from before --- but now he was a terrible mess --- I guess this temporarily messed up life won't go back to normal so easily! When he considered that he might have become used to living his life as a dog, he couldn't help but feel pathetic. Yet for some reason, he didn't feel as spirited as before without those yells every morning.

How's Aisaka doing? Ryūji limped slowly while thinking of useless stuff. Could she get up on her own without me calling her? Is she late? Did she bring her own bento? (Though he thought of that, he himself went to buy food from the convenience store.)

What's the point of thinking about these things?! He cast away those thoughts in self-pity, and opened the classroom door. As he was about to enter...


He exclaimed and backed off, closing the door along the way.

What on earth happened just now?

He returned alone to the corridor. Anyway, breathe deeply. Heave... ho... OK, I've calmed down. Lemme think. What did I just see a moment ago? What could have caused this to happen?

He couldn't think of an answer no matter how hard he tried, he had to go inside to confirm for himself. Taking a gulp, Ryūji once again put his hand on the door handle, and carefully slid the door open.

"... Do I make myself clear?"

Ryūji was stunned.

He felt a deep foreboding voice entering his ear with an intent to kill. Dissenters will be killed without mercy! Determined words that struck down everyone on sight.

"If I ever hear anyone saying something useless again... I'll. Definitely. Make. Him. Pay!"

Standing in the center of the classroom, with her back towards Ryūji was Aisaka Taiga - also known as the Palmtop Tiger.

Surrounding her were a bunch of her classmates struggling to keep their distance from her while hugging the walls, all nodding their heads vigorously.

What's going on here? Besides this question, Ryūji could think of nothing else to say, no matter how many times he repeated it... What's going on here??

"... I hope I've made myself clear. I do not like to repeat myself..."

The tiny tiger repeated. "Yessir...!" Everyone, both the guys and girls, replied feebly, shuddering in fear.

Upon closer inspection, the desks and chairs around Aisaka were all thrown over, the bags and their various contents were scattered everywhere. The whole classroom looked terrible, resembling a wreckage that just got devastated by a passing typhoon. Though Aisaka's voice was calm, her shoulders trembled exhaustingly, as though she had just yelled loudly. Could she have... No, I can't be wrong, this has to be Aisaka's work. But, why?

"Oh... Takasu..."

Someone's noticed me. Yes, I am indeed Takasu, but...

"...W, what happened? ... What is it?"

Why is everyone looking at me with such a weird expression? Though it's a good thing it's not one of contempt, but they look uncomfortable, or is it embarrassed? Anyway, they're all looking at me with such a strange expression.

And then Aisaka turned her head as well and silently exchanged glances with him, she didn't even say good morning. Instead, she lifted her chin ambiguously, and simply told the whole class "Dismissed."

Their trembling classmates who were huddled together began to return to their seats in groups of twos and threes. One of them came towards Ryūji.

"... T, Takasu... I, I'm terribly sorry. It's all because of our strange rumors..."

"Huh? Strange rumors?"

"I'm so sorry, we'll never imagine such weird things again!"

"... Wha? Imagine what? Just what are you trying to say?"

Even Noto, who normally got along well with him, said,

"... Hey Takasu,... Now I'm not thinking of anything funny here, I just genuinely think that you're an amazing fellow... and I guess I'm a bit envious as well! I'm so sorry, I'll never think of anything strange ever again!"

He said with a nervous expression on his face, as he was about to walk away, Ryūji grabbed him by the shoulder, and frantically inquired as to what he meant,

"J, just hold on a second! What the hell are you talking about? What on earth just happened? This is Aisaka's doing, right? What has she done this time?"

"No, well..."

"You explain this at once!"

Noto's expression looked quite embarrassed, his eyes were shifting everywhere. Noto was one of the few friends not intimidated by Ryūji's eyes, even when being questioned by him. Nevertheless, Ryūji could not let go of Noto's shoulders, he was not letting go until he got an answer... Noto understood this as well, so he responded vaguely, "Well, how should I say this?"

"It's like... we kind of eavesdropped... we were spreading gossip about you and the Palmtop Tiger..."


"Well... yeah, gossip about... you two dating each other... In the end, the Palmtop Tiger went ballistic because of this. She said 'I have no relationship whatsoever with Takasu-kun!' And then all hell began to break loose... That was just too scary, really... This was the first time I actually saw the Palmtop Tiger wreaking havoc. I'll never go against her will again. She then added 'No more nonsense! No more premature conclusions! If anyone dares to spread that gossip around again, I'll kill them! Each and every one of them!' Not even Kushieda could stop her... Right, Kushieda?"

Noto called out to Kushieda Minori, who just happened to pass by... Normally, she was supposed to be the only person who knew the Palmtop Tiger well, but now her face lacked it's usual sunshine-like smile.

"U...umm, Takasu-kun, I..."

Her solemn eyes seemed to be considering something as she looked at Ryūji's eyes... She looks as though she wants to say something. And then...

"... Minorin, don't spew any more useless nonsense, or I'll get mad, even at you---"

Aisaka promised forcefully behind her.

"Minorin, you must apologize to Takasu-kun as well... Tell him that you know that it was all a misunderstanding yesterday... You must apologize sincerely! This is all thanks to those classmates spreading these rumors... Because I want Minorin of all people to know that this is all a misunderstanding."

"... Taiga."

"Say it, Minorin!"

Aisaka's mouth turned into an inverted-V shape as she became more and more agitated like a child. Her eyes glared straight into Minori without flinching or looking at Ryūji, while her brows were locked in place.

Minorin remained speechless for quite some time, and simply received Aisaka's glare. In the end she was completely defeated, and said "All right" while turning to Ryūji once again,

"Takasu-kun, I'm sorry I misunderstood you yesterday."

"... W, well... t, there's not really... any need to apologize..."


Ryūji's crush now revealed a pair of troubled eyes. Even though she had apologized to Ryūji, she still showed a face of dissatisfaction,

"... It was Taiga that told me to say that. She wanted me to tell you that I know this is all just a misunderstanding. But... I can't believe Taiga would actually do something like this..."

"Or perhaps..." As she was about to continue, the delicately balanced mood was broken...

"Whoa?! What the hell's up with this mess?! I can't believe that the order of the classroom has been messed up this badly even though your class-rep was only a little late!"

Kitamura arrived with a show of pomposity. Minori swallowed what she was about to say and left Ryūji behind and gave a slap on the back of Aisaka's head, "Don't look so gloomy!" She said, going back to her usual cheery demeanor before returning to her desk.

Afterwards, under the instructions of the completely oblivious Kitamura, everyone began to tidy up the messed up desks and tables.

"C'mon! Hurry up folks! If Koigakubo sees this, she's gonna be so shocked that she could delay her wedding!"

Under Ryūji's gaze, he saw Aisaka walking towards Kitamura. Standing at a very close distance from him, she said something which only he could hear.

Kitamura instantly revealed a puzzled expression, before quickly reverting back to his happy-go-lucky smile and nodded to Aisaka.

Ryūji saw Aisaka's lips say - I have something to say to you. See you after school. - Or something like that.

She said things smoothly this time. She didn't stutter due to nervousness, she didn't even trip, nothing else happened. Aisaka had finally succeeded in calling Kitamura out, and without help from any dog.

* * *

So ended another day for the seemingly strange Class 2-C. In fact, Ryūji's eyes never left Kitamura and Aisaka.

When the hopeless single lady clad in her trendy red dress left the classroom after the class had sent her off at the end of lessons, the classroom became lively once again. There were people rushing off for club activities, people going to meetings, people waiting to go home together, people continuing their conversations from before the end of class - as well as people who exchanged glances and walked out of the classroom together.

Without realizing it, Ryūji had left his seat and walked quickly behind Aisaka and Kitamura who just left a while ago.

This doesn't feel right, but... After a few seconds of hesitation, But... Though he kept on having doubts, his feet still continued to move forward silently.

But, this is Aisaka's moment of truth! And it's not like I don't know how clumsy she is. Maybe she will trip, maybe she will fall down the stairs, maybe she will stutter at the crucial moment, or maybe she will even cry... Since Aisaka's clumsiness is simply spectacular, and only I know about that.

That's why, that's why I'm so worried... I have to keep an eye on her... so...



The feet that were originally following those two stopped dead in their tracks on the staircase.

Ryūji asked himself again,

So, so what? Though I am worried about that clumsy idiot, what else can I do? Help her? But, what for? 'Let us pretend all this never happened, let us go back to where we were before the love letter!' That was what she said herself.

If that's the case, I have to erase everything about Aisaka that only I know about from the bottom of my heart. No, instead of thinking about these sad moments, I'd better consider my own current situation! If this clumsy girl fails in confessing her feelings to a guy, how am I supposed to help? Am I supposed to go to her and say 'You all right? I'll protect you!' I mean, how lame can that be? It's not even funny.

Ryūji fretted his brow and squinted his fierce eyes, as though a dangerous beam was being fired... though he wasn't mad. I guess I'll head towards the entrance, but not because I want to block any annoying people from passing through, but... Though no one would really understand, that was not the real reason.

Sigh--- He breathed deeply.

"... I guess I'll go home!"

He forcefully changed directions with his feet and walked away from the two that had left, back towards the classroom. Without anybody noticing, this person seemed to have grown a few centimeters in the past few days.

Noto and Haruta, whom Ryūji recently got acquainted with, had invited Ryūji to go somewhere with them, but he turned them down and returned to his desk. Why am I feeling so restless? Why won't I hang out with my friends or go home? I really don't feel like going home now. So instead Ryūji decided he would go kill time in a book store.

As he made preparations to go home, Guess I'll head to the bathroom first! And so he walked alone down the corridor...

After walking past someone who had just wiped his hands dry, Ryūji found himself alone in the bathroom, which was eerily quiet, an abnormally strong fragrance of the detergents could be smelt.

As he washed his hands in the basin, Ryūji stared at the face in the mirror - it was the same, boring face. Though that was nothing new to him, in fact, he was getting a bit tired of that, so... Just as I thought...

Ryūji's thoughts weren't directed at his face, what he was thinking was instead...

"... Her expression sure looked scary..."

Is that Palmtop Tiger doing her best right now?

For the whole day, whether during lessons or recess, Ryūji was constantly glancing at Aisaka's face. As the end of school approached, every second Aisaka's expression would change considerably. By the end of the last period a while ago, there was no longer any expression on her face - It was neither red nor green, but pale white.

Ryūji thought, She's about to confess, so she ought to show a cute face. What a dense fellow.

Speaking of dense, he now recalled that commotion this morning, when she wrought havoc upon the classroom, and even frowned at her best friend Minori. It was because it was Minori that she made such a serious expression.

That means, she did it for me... It was all done for Ryūji.

She did it so that his crush Minori would stop misunderstanding him. It was for this sole purpose that she had created such a ruckus.

When you think about it, Aisaka never did the same thing for herself, that is, end Kitamura's misunderstanding of her - namely because Kitamura wasn't around when she went ballistic.

In other words, she did all this just for Ryūji, that was why she...

"...What a... what a..."

As he sighed, the words he wanted to say disappeared as well. Thick, stupid, clumsy way to do it... In the end, Ryūji couldn't say it.

Must she really resort to that kind of method for everything? There are probably other, more subtle ways to solve this. To use such a method where she has no gain whatsoever, she's really... gentle to the point of being pathetic. Ryūji genuinely believed that, Aisaka's actually a really gentle girl. Without realizing it, he had used such a laughable adjective to describe the Palmtop Tiger. But he couldn't help it, as it was true.

"Gentle..." Ryūji said softly. The one crying and lamenting about how she's no good at being gentle to people was actually the most gentle person of all. Those who never hung out with her would never know, but at least to Ryūji, this was definitely true.


A sudden yell caused Ryūji to turn his head in reflex.

A schoolmate who had just entered the bathroom simply stood still and yelled in horror. "What's wrong?" Asked the person behind him, before he too exclaimed, "Whoa! I, I'm sorry to disturb you!!!" They were both intimidated by the intense glare that Ryūji had suddenly shot at them. To other people, both Ryūji and the Palmtop Tiger were classified as dangerous - as usual.

They're probably gonna announce 'Takasu has occupied the bathroom, stay away from there, it's dangerous' or something like that. This would mean there won't be anyone coming in. Suits me just fine! Since he wasn't in the mood to see anybody, this was just fine for him.

Anyway, since nobody's gonna come in for some time, might as well ventilate this place! Ryūji thought, Since the humidity's causing this reek He began to walk towards the window to open it as his obsession for cleanliness got the better of him.

He unlocked the handle, pushed opened the window... and then he froze.

"Kitamura-kun! I, Kitamura-kun... Kitamura-kun... w... well... umm..."

... EHH!? Ryūji screamed at the bottom of his heart as he stood there petrified. He grabbed his head, Was it an illusion? No, it wasn't. This means...

He could hear Aisaka's voice very loudly and clearly.

This men's room was situated on the second floor, below it was the visitor bathroom, and right outside that was the school garden - A space sandwiched between the bathroom window and the row of trees ahead. Feeling incredulous, he slowly stuck his head out to peek, hoping he had heard wrong. Sadly, even that glimmer of hope was dashed.

Aisaka and Kitamura were standing right there in that ambiguous spot. Any person with the slightest bit of intelligence would know that whoever uses the bathroom would be able to hear what's being said there!

"Seriously... why does she... have to pick right outside the bathroom..."

... You idiot!

Ryūji grabbed his head and moaned, and then squatted under the window. Even though no one passes through there - the reason for that is because it sometimes stinks.

Without touching the ground with his backside, Ryūji was close to suffocating as he squatted with his head between his knees just like that under the opened window. Aisaka, you really are an idiot! More importantly, what's gonna happen if someone like me were to enter and open the window? Wouldn't they be completely seen?!

I don't believe this... So Ryūji decided to stay here for a while. If anyone comes in, I'll just glare at them with these fierce eyes. That was what he planned.

No matter what, I'd better close the window. I wouldn't want to eavesdrop on them. Just as Ryūji was about to stand up...

"Hold it a second!"

Hearing Kitamura's voice, he remained still.

"I think I know what you want to say, but I'd look like an idiot if I guessed wrongly, so before I hear you out, I'd like to make sure of something... OK, here goes, are you going out with Takasu?"

His heart skipped a beat. I can't stand and eavesdrop... or rather, squat and eavesdrop. Although that was what he told himself, when he heard his own name, he couldn't help but listen. This is bad, I gotta close the window, or get out of here at once...

"T, Takasu-kun..."

Even though that's what he had in mind...

But he couldn't move. Ryūji seemed to have been tied down by Aisaka's high-pitched nervous voice.

"Takasu-kun is, he's... he's, he's... he's..."

There were no words coming out after she repeatedly uttered the word "he's" many times.

Idiot! What are you doing?! What're you waiting for?! Hurry up and confess! Or what are you standing outside the bathroom for?! Ryūji screamed inside, while squatting there silently. But Aisaka just couldn't continue.

Under such intense silence, she couldn't even utter the word "he's" anymore. At this stage, a normal guy would usually freak out by such intensity and say something like "If that is all, I guess I'll be leaving!" And Kitamura... well, he's busier than your average guy. So if he leaves now, he'll never know about Aisaka's feelings.

Hurry up and say it! You have to! Ryūji clenched his fists tightly and gritted his teeth, he even forgot to breathe, and yet Aisaka remained silent. It seemed like this silence would go on and on.

Could it have been Mission Impossible since the beginning? She couldn't even call out to him in the classroom normally and now she wants to confess?! That's just too reckless! Is this the end? Ryūji closed his eyes in resignation.

It was at that moment...

"My relationship with Takasu-kun was all a misunderstanding by Minorin! T, the person I really like is..."

There came a breeze.

"... Kitamura-kun!"


Ryūji's legs lost their strength and he nearly ended up falling on his backside. He quickly held onto the wall.

Holding his breath and trying not to make any noise, he kept his mouth shut. Eventually, he even covered his mouth with his hands while exclaiming repeatedly in his heart, Way to go, girl!

Even though she couldn't even start a conversation with him, even though she was very nervous, Aisaka still managed to confess her feelings to Kitamura. I probably couldn't do the same; if right now I had to go and confess to Minori like how she did it, I don't think I could do it. Although I keep pushing Aisaka to do her best, if I really had to go and confess like she did... I couldn't do it. There's no way I could be as direct as her.

As the word "like" was uttered, Ryūji the outsider felt like he had been shot by a shining arrow filled with determination and pureness. The arrow carrying Aisaka's feelings no doubt had been fired into Kitamura's heart as well and into his body.

Yes, that's good. With this, feelings will go to where they should belong, and delivered to where they should go.

So this sense of dejection must just be my imagination.

"You like me...? The thing with Takasu was all a misunderstanding? Did Kushieda get it wrong? She misunderstood you and Takasu?"

"... Y, yes. I told her, but Minorin just wouldn't believe me..."

Kitamura thought for a while and remained still, in the end he finally understood and said,

"I see. Then I'm really sorry that I got it wrong. This is because Kushieda can be quite assertive with her thoughts... Yeah, I think I understand now."


Kitamura's voice was as calm as usual.

Aisaka's was as ambiguous as usual.

Ryūji sighed with his hands over his mouth to prevent any sound from coming out.

The silence quietly filled the men's bathroom, as he squatted and tried his best not to make a sound, Ryūji felt the silence vibrate around him.

Ryūji wanted to get rid of his incessant breathing and stand up, so he could close the window and go home...

"B, b, but! But!"

At that moment.

Aisaka's voice outside the window once again spoke loudly.

"But, I definitely don't hate Takasu-kun at all! Absolutely not! When I was with him, I didn't feel like my breathing had stopped! I always thought I would suffocate every time... but Takasu-kun... Ryūji would even prepare some tasty fried rice for me! Whenever I needed someone to be by my side, only Ryūji was there! He encouraged me even when it meant he had to lie! It's always been like this, that's... what I think! Even now! It feels painful, as though I'm being torn apart, me and Ryūji... no matter when... even now! Because Ryūji was at my side! It's because he was with me that I'm able to be here...!"

Ryūji instantly froze.

What are you doing?! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!

At that moment, Aisaka was proclaiming loudly to the point of tears,

"I definitely don't hate him. To me, Ryūji... he..."

This sounds completely like a... a...

"Is that so?"

Kitamura's voiced sounded cheerful.

"It's alright, I think I understand Aisaka's feelings. Anyway... you and Takasu really do get along quite well. Seeing you say that, I feel relieved."

"R, relieved...?"

"Yeah, and do you remember? It was exactly at this time last year that I confessed to you. I remember saying how I was smitten by your beauty and your directness in expressing your anger, I think."

Ryūji was so shocked by this revelation, which he had just heard for the first time, that he came close to tears. Aisaka remained quiet. The only one whose legs were trembling from all the shock was Ryūji, the only one who didn't know anything was Ryūji.

"Though I was rejected in the next second."

"... Yes, I remember! How could I... forget? It was a strange confession, only Kitamura-kun could have pulled it off. From that point on, every time when you came to our class to find Minorin to discuss club matters, I would always think, 'Ah... that was you...' I remember everything!"

"So you do remember! Since you never seemed to notice my existence, I had thought you had forgotten already! I confessed to you back then because I thought you were really beautiful, but when you started to hang out with Takasu, you looked even more captivating... because you would always have such very interesting expressions."

"I, interesting expressions? Me?"

"Yup, whenever you were with Takasu, you'd always make some really interesting faces, so I was relieved. Takasu really is a nice guy! And for him to be able to understand a girl like you, I really think that he's amazing."

Kitamura seemed to be smiling cheerfully. And then...


Realizing her blunder, Aisaka screamed.

"W, wait a minute... What was I saying? ... And Kitamura-kun, what are you saying?! I already said there's nothing between me and Ryūji, that... eh?! My face looks interesting?! No... Ehh?! No, wait! Wait! Did I just confess?! Did I really just confess?! But... no way! Ehhh?!"

"Oh no, how did it come to this?" The Palmtop Tiger kept on repeating as though she had lost her bearings. If it were anyone besides Kitamura, they probably wouldn't know how to handle this,

"Aisaka, it's all right."

"A, a, a, a, all right?! What do you mean all right?! I don't even know what on earth I just said! How can this be all right?!"

"I'm very grateful for your feelings, and I'm really happy. I'm sure we'll become good friends from now on."

"... F, friends...?"

Aisaka was so shaken that she became lost for words.

"Yes, good friends."

Good friends.

This wasn't exactly the relationship Aisaka was looking for. So Aisaka should respond by saying 'That's not it!' She has to... Ryūji thought.

She was supposed to, but,

"... Friends... Me and... Kitamura-kun...?"

She was expected to say it, but,

Aisaka never said it, she never said I like you, but I don't want to be your good friend, I want to be your girlfriend. In the end, Aisaka's whispers became harder to hear...

I rejected you after you confessed to me before, but while watching you afterwards, I grew to like you myself. Now I really do like you, and I would like us to go out together as a couple.

... She never properly repeated the most important part of it all.

The supposedly ultra self-centered Palmtop Tiger was now trapped by her own claws. "Umm," she uttered, backed down and was finished.

"Well then, I'll see you tomorrow!"

Kitamura said in his usual carefree style. The good news: his attitude was still the same as usual; the bad news: he had completely no idea what just happened.

Aisaka also picked herself up, calmed her frantic mind, and reverted to her deadpan style,

"See you tomorrow."

Ryūji lowered his head in dejection. He scratched his head and closed his eyes. From the sound of the footsteps, he could tell that the two of them had walked off in opposite directions. All that he could do was moan,

"... Such a dense girl..."

... Kitamura never really got your message, dammit!

That directness of yours that Kitamura talks about, how much of it does he actually know? Your tears, laughter, timidness, loneliness, your love for him... how many of these fragile feelings have you kept hidden?

No matter how painful or gentle these feelings are, you never really let him understand them! You never really let him understand you!

Getting up on his stiff, cold legs, Ryūji slowly walked out.

"Goodbye." Aisaka looked really calm when she said that, though she must have hidden some feelings which no one could understand when she left in solitude.

She must be crying in a voice no one can hear while walking with her back towards Kitamura, her tears must be falling down as she walked quaveringly without anyone seeing her... It has to be!

If that's the case - since only I know about this...

Question... What should Takasu Ryūji do now?

Answer... "Simple, really."

Though he said it with confidence, even he wasn't so sure. He wasn't answering with his head, but with his heart, skin, bones and flesh, with this body that had spent a lot of time together with Aisaka.

Let it move on its own then! If things don't go wrong, then this body will take me to where she is.


* * *

On the path towards home, under the rays of the usual sunset...

"... What do you want?"

Ryūji finally caught up with Aisaka and grabbed her on the shoulder... They were in a quiet residential alleyway with no one else in sight.

Aisaka turned and gave a puzzled expression, she then looked at Ryūji, who was still trying to catch his breath, and said,

"Stop it already... You're no longer my dog, there's no need to follow me anymore!"

She stated coldly, pushing Ryūji's hand off as she continued to walk forward. Ryūji spoke towards her back,

"Saying that even though you feel like crying. You're feeling depressed because your confession failed, right? Though his response was not quite exactly a rejection."


After leaping backwards quite a distance, Aisaka exclaimed,

"Y, you... saw?!"

"... Let me put this straight, I didn't mean to eavesdrop on you. It's your fault really, how can you be so stupid as to do your confession just outside the window of the men's room of all places? I just happened to hear the whole thing while going to the bathroom."

Under the rays of the sunset, Ryūji could still make out that Aisaka's face was becoming very red as she muttered, "R, really?!" Looks like she really didn't think that out.

"Well, what now? Shall we go buy ingredients for dinner tonight? Or do you want to go to last night's family restaurant to commemorate your failed confession? I can listen to you moan about it all night, and it's my treat, but just for today though!"

"... W... What, are you talking about?!"

Aisaka stood motionless while facing Ryūji, her eyes widened as though she had just seen something incredible.

"Come to think of it, there's a sale on pork meat today!"

"What pork meat?!"

"Or do you want to have beef tonight?"

"Not beef either! That's got nothing to do with it, none of it! ... What's wrong with you?! Why?! You're no longer..."

"Or do you want to cook yourself?"

"Enough! ... I said... enough! Stop it already! It's all..."

"I'll be by your side."

Aisaka was left speechless by that clear declaration, and fretted her brow painfully. Ryūji looked straight into Aisaka's eyes and continued to elaborate,

"I'll be by your side, I'll cook for you, you can come to my place to eat as usual, and I'll make bentos for you as well as picking you up every morning, so..."

"So what?! ... What the hell are you doing?!"

Aisaka yelled, her voice echoing across the alleyway,

"What on earth are you talking about?! We'll get misunderstood again! Minorin still doesn't believe us, you'll make her misunderstand you all over again, is that alright with you?"


The answer came out easier than expected,

"When that happens, then it'll be my turn to go ballistic! I'll make sure Kitamura's in the classroom and turn the classroom into a war zone just so he won't misunderstand you again."

"W... why..."

The tears began to trickle down her cheeks. See? Ryūji thought to himself, Aisaka is that sort of person, she would go to a place where no one could see her - except for me - and cry alone.

"Why, why... Why would you do such a thing?! Didn't I already say you're no longer my dog?! You don't have to do this anymore!"

"... I don't know either, but I just feel like doing it... Since you're crying, I can't leave you alone like that. Because I'll get worried, worried whether you're getting hungry... At least that's what my gentle side thinks."

"W... what the hell?!"

Despite her watery eyes, Aisaka still stared at Ryūji fiercely,

"Nobody's asking you to do this! I'm not a kid, so leave me alone! I don't need you worrying about me!"

Ryūji next said,

"... Ahh, so that's why!"

He finally understood.

Why he wanted to be by her side so much.

Why he was so worried about her, and why he couldn't leave her alone. This was all because...

"It's because I'm not a dog... that's why I'll stay by your side."

"... What?!"

"Actually, dogs can't really stay by your side!"

That was all.

I'm no dog, a dog could never do that.

A dog would come over if it was called, but a tiger would never call out to anyone. Since they never need anybody's help, that's why they're tigers... that's the sort of beast a tiger is.

And right here, right now, I am not a dog.

Even I feel like laughing at what I'm about to say, so go ahead and laugh! Despite this, Ryūji decided to go on, because at that moment he wanted to say it no matter what, he wanted to let Aisaka know...

"I'm a dragon, and you're a tiger... Since ancient times, the dragon has been the only beast that could stand equal to the tiger. That's why I have to become a dragon, so I can stay by your side."

In order to stand equally with the Palmtop Tiger, Takasu Ryūji had to become a dragon. He had decided to do this, even if it meant getting laughed at, even if it meant being treated like a fool... but,

"... Ai... saka...?"

He wasn't called an idiot and he wasn't laughed at either.

Standing before him was a girl who couldn't make any sound. She stood with her feet wide apart, her cheeks were soaked wet by tears as she raised her head to look at Ryūji.

She looked very angry, and very sad at the same time; she looked a bit fearful, yet also a bit troubled, as well as a bit surprised.

Her tiny body was filled with emotion, ready to explode at any moment. As she clenched her fists tightly...

"... Taiga..."

At the mention of her name, her body shook as though she was being struck... Aisaka Taiga's eyelids twitched.

"This is part of being equal, right? ... Since you call me Ryūji, then I'll call you Taiga."

Is that fine? Just as he had finished...

"... What are you trying to pull?!"

A shadow stretched from her legs, it felt as though it had suddenly expanded. Maybe I've seen wrongly, but...

"What is this conceited nonsense about? Why should I let you call me by my first name?! ... What the hell is this nonsense about being equal?! How shameful! Be aware of where you stand, you idiot Ryūji!"


The bomb had exploded. Ah, that's right...

"You probably have no idea what you're talking about! If you really did, how could you have said such insolent stuff? Besides, what the hell is this?! Ahh, I see now, could it be that you..."

After releasing a torrent of abuses, Aisaka suddenly stopped. Just like that, she was the scariest thing imaginable standing there just like that. Her eyes glared venomously towards her opponent while she glided and approached him from below, emitting an aura that would intimidate anyone into paralysis.

Those were the true colors of the Palmtop Tiger.

"... Don't tell me you've fallen in love with me!"

"... Don't be rid..."

"Hmph, I didn't think so! How could you of all people have the nerve to do something so suicidal?"

"... Ugh... ah..."

Aisaka smiled while staring at Ryūji - though Ryūji didn't dare look at her eyes, he still did his best to respond,

"Well, of course not!"

Yeah that's right. That is so very right. If she had meant my feelings towards Minori, then my feeling towards Aisaka were different, yes they were.

But there was one thing that was sure, Ryūji really wanted to take care of that Palmtop Tiger known as Taiga. Even if it has nothing to do with love, I just wanted to be by her side... I must be by her side, that's the sort of person I want to be. That's all. That's all, okay!? There's nothing wrong with that, right?!

"... Oh shoot, we need to move! To the supermarket, to buy some pork!"

Without hesitating, Ryūji raised his spirits and took off in great strides.

Daily life must go on as usual! There's still plenty of time, so let's stop here for now! Now that things have progressed this far, there's no point in thinking complicated thoughts. Our priority for now is dinner!

"If we can get some good pork for today, then we can make a hotpot! Ah, perhaps a simple barbecue pork would do as well... And why're you not following?!"

Noticing Taiga wasn't following, Ryūji was forced to do a steep U-turn while still walking in big strides and hurried back to her side. "Hurry up already!" He urged, though he didn't grab her by the hand, instead simply poking her elbow with the corner of his bag.

"Ryūji...I want to have a yogurt sundae."

"Huh?! What the hell, in the end you still wanted to go to a family restaurant? And I was so looking forward to preparing food tonight..."

"We can have pork afterwards... we can have pork with ginger... no, we should have braised pork, the soft and juicy ones!"

"Huh? Well, I'm fine with braised pork, but can you eat all of that? It's already five now, dinner in my house always starts at six since time immemorial... Hey, stop ignoring me! And why're you walking ahead of me?!"

"... Ryūji!"

Taiga, who had walked in front of Ryūji on her own, stopped suddenly and turned around, staring at Ryūji with her transparent eyes. "Ugh!" Ryūji found himself lost for words,

"... What? T... Taiga?!"

He answered frantically while quickly moving his gaze towards the evening sky. But...

"... Can you shut up for a bit?"

As the mean words entered Ryūji's ears, he wondered if he had heard wrong. "Ahhh~!" Taiga purposely sighed in front of Ryūji and said,

"You should realize how depressed I am right now! How can you not be worried? I'm counting on you for our strategy next time, I still haven't given up on Kitamura-kun, you know? And you, what was that you said? A dragon? Ah well, it doesn't make any difference whether you're a dragon or a dog, but since you said you'll be by my side, then you should work very hard towards my happiness!"

Where did those tears just now disappear to? The Palmtop Tiger was still the Palmtop Tiger and with just a few cruel words coupled with contemptuous eyes, Ryūji's heart was dealt a heavy blow.

Just how sharp were those claws and fangs? How far will this ferocious, man-eating, Palmtop Tiger be left unopposed?

And, what will become of him now that he has declared that he'll stay by her side?

"Maybe.......I was a little too hasty..."

Groaning on reflex, Ryūji stopped dead in his tracks. This might have been a mistake. Thinking so, he firmly shut both his eyes.

That's why, he couldn't see it.

He couldn't see the appearance of Taiga, slightly away from him, smiling with her face down, as she watched Ryūji.

"... He said, 'Taiga'..."

He couldn't see the expression on her face as her stifled, ticklish laughter turned into the chuckling of a dove.

Today, it still has not been seen by anyone in the world.
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Toradora! Vol. 1 - Chapter 5

"Hey, move your head over! You're blocking the TV!"

The head that was blocking half of the TV screen from Ryūji's vision replied without turning,

"Ah, shut up already! Can't you just shift over a bit?"

Speaking nonchalantly, Aisaka gave a very irksome reply.

"What?! I believe that's my TV!! Say that again and you can get the hell out! You live just beyond that window anyway!"



Ryūji's yell finally got Aisaka to turn her head around, her eyes glittered under her long eyelashes, reflecting a cold stare,

"I'm watching TV right now, so can you keep it down? Sigh~ A stupid dog never learns, does he?"

"Why!!! Why you..."

Annoying neighbor was the first thing that came to Ryūji's mind. As he stood up in front of the small table, about to poke the person who was occupying the TV screen and claiming to be Ryūji's master...

"Ryū~-chan... you mustn't fight now~"

Yasuko appeared before the opened fusuma and told him,

"Yesterday Ya-chan got scolded by the landlady. She said we were already noisy to begin with, but that it has been getting worse lately~"

"Well, it's mainly because of that girl... Hey! How come you aren't wearing anything?!"

Ryūji's voice got Aisaka to turn around in surprise, even Inko-chan glanced startlingly at Yasuko. As three pairs of eyes stared at her snow white skin, she herself didn't seem to mind...

"Of course~ not, silly. It's supposed to be worn this way~ and then I put this on top~"

Wearing a nearly translucent one-piece dress and twisting her waist, Yasuko was indeed carrying an elegant leopard-spotted jacket in her hand.

"... That dress looks cool!"

"Hee hee, it's cute isn't it? What else do you think, Taiga-chan?"

As Yasuko giggled and waved her skirt, Aisaka simply stared at her without changing her expression. As Ryūji held his breath...

"... There!"

Aisaka pointed her finger towards the centre of Yasuko's buttocks.

"Your panties are showing."

"Wah...! Really!"

Inko-chan quickly replied without hesitation,

"But it's better this way!"

What an idiot. Who on earth would really accept a suggestion from a bird?! As Ryūji fretted his brow, his mother suddenly cheered up. Oh god, she actually accepted that?!

Yasuko pulled up her skirt and spun around in a circle with her panties exposed.

"Then I'll be wearing this! I'm off to work!"

She smiled happily while jiggling her voluptuous breasts, and then quickly grabbed the bag of buns that she had bought using the pocket money she had saved up and waved her hand innocently,

"Well, Ryū-chan, Taiga-chan, Ya-chan is going now~"

"Yeah, take care. Don't drink too much, and remember to call with your cell phone if you bump into anyone strange!"

"O~kay~! Taiga-chan, don't go home too late now!"

"Sure, take care."

As the antique door creaked to a close, the Takasu residence was once again sealed off from the outside world.

What's important is, right now, to put it simply...

"Haaa, I'm gonna go get some tea."

"Get me some too, and dessert as well."

"Dessert? Do we have any? Is eating all that matters to you? At least bring something useful from time to time!"


"Will you stop ignoring me?!"

In case you hadn't noticed, Takasu Ryūji and Aisaka Taiga have now completely gotten used to each other's presence... as well as Ryūji's family. But this can't be helped, in any case, the two were now pretty much living together.

To make sure Aisaka didn't oversleep, each morning Ryūji would go over to her place to fetch her. Bringing along the bentos that he would prepare beforehand, he would also make a simple breakfast as she finished getting ready herself.

When walking to school, they would leave some distance between each other just before bumping into Minori, while continuing to maintain a suitable space between themselves until they reached school.

At school, they would often discuss various strategies in order to win Kitamura's heart, and then put them into action... Though they had all ended in failure so far.

After school, they would head to the supermarket for some shopping... In the beginning the cooking was done at Aisaka's place, but they quickly ran into a problem: it would be fine if it were just them having dinner, but Yasuko would be left out. If Ryūji only made Aisaka's share, then he would have to cook again when he went home, meaning he would have to cook twice, which would be bothersome. He could cook the whole lot at Aisaka's place and then bring his family's share home, but that was bothersome as well.

So it was decided that the cooking would be done at Takasu's place, and the three of them would eat together, which was what they were doing now. When you think about it, it was indeed exhausting trying to do things in both places. Though Aisaka's kitchen was sparkling clean, it was unexpectedly difficult to use. The knives were hardly sharp and there weren't enough plates, another reason for Ryūji to feel irritated.

Unexpectedly, Yasuko was quite open to accepting Aisaka, and Aisaka, for her part, wasn't overly curious about Yasuko's eccentricity, she simply came to have dinner. And when it was time for Yasuko to go to work, she and Ryūji would wave and see her off.

In the beginning, Aisaka would go home just after Yasuko had gone to work, but later she began watching TV, reading manga, taking naps, wondering how Kitamura and Kushieda were... And the time she spent in the Takasu residence slowly grew longer...

"... Ah!"

By the time Ryūji noticed, things had become like this.

Wiping the drool off his mouth, he frantically called out to the fellow on the other side of the small table,

"Hey, Aisaka! Get up!"

"... Hmm...?"

While lazily watching TV, they had unknowingly fallen asleep. Ryūji was wearing his tracksuit, while Aisaka was wearing a fluffy one-piece dress as they slept on the tatami... It was already 3am.

"No matter what, it's not that good to sleep at my place, is it? So hurry up and go sleep at your place!"

"... Umm..."

He wasn't even sure whether she had heard him, as she laid her face on the sitting mat, using it as a pillow. Aisaka stuck her hand inside her clothes and began scratching her tummy... Why you... Ryūji quickly yanked the mat from under her head.

"Ugh! ... Umm..."

As Aisaka's head knocked onto the tatami, she momentarily opened her eyes. She then moved a bit, as though getting used to the feel of the tatami, shifted into a comfortable position, and began to snore silently once again.

Ryūji squatted down next to her and leaned over to look at her sleeping face... Such an intimate relationship we're having! Maybe I've come to the age where I can hang out naturally with girls... No! That's not it! She's no ordinary girl, she's the Palmtop Tiger. But was this girl before his eyes really that Palmtop Tiger who roars so fiercely?

The pattern of the mat was imprinted on her pink cheek, while some warm milk still remained on the edge of her lips. Her long hair was just lying on the tatami like that, there was hardly any tension on that peaceful sleeping face.

"... Hey... Aisaka... Aisaka... wake up!"

Silence. Only the refrigerator motor could be heard in the silent two-room plus kitchen apartment. There was still some time before dawn, when Yasuko would return, and Inko-chan continued to sleep soundly under the cloth with that ugly face of his.

"Aisaka. Taiga!"

As Ryūji's body cast his long shadow on her face, he could see her pulse beating on her neck. Ryūji planned to approach Aisaka's ear and yell at her, so he leaned forward, but at that moment, his body stiffened. He smelled a strange fragrance, it was coming from Aisaka.

"If you don't wake up... I, I'm going to assault you!"

... Of course I'm not serious. It's not possible. I mean, why would I want to do anything to Aisaka? Besides, I already have someone I like (Minori...) So I never even thought of wanting to do anything to her... Seriously! ... Honest!

But she's too thick-skinned. Since she's not going to wake up, I have to give her a scare... Just to say something to startle her, that's all.

But she continued to remain motionless. He now noticed a small tatami thread on her snow white cheek... That might cause a scratch Ryūji thought. Nothing malicious... I'm just concerned... I'll just remove this for her... Ryūji gulped, and then slowly reached out his hand...


He was then sent flying to the other end of the room.

"... Hmm? What... are you doing?"

"... N, nothing..."

If it was a coincidence, then it came too coincidentally. As Aisaka rolled her body over, she had moved her arm as well. Her powerful fist then unintentionally gave Ryūji's chin an uppercut.

Aisaka woke up and scratched her head, she then frowned as she looked suspiciously at Ryūji, who had landed upside down,

"... Strange... just what are you so noisy for? It's the middle of the night. Last thing we want is the landlord to scold us again!"

"L, leave me alone!"

If Aisaka was awake just then, Ryūji would be dead by now. She's still scary even when she's sleeping...

Aisaka was indeed the Palmtop Tiger. The savage genes saturated her blood, she was the sort of aggressive high school girl who would bite at any opponent that came at her.

Though he was now quite familiar with her, Takasu Ryūji felt he still needed situations like this to confirm that fact.

* * *

Testimony 1

"This is Haruta Koji from Class 2-C reporting: I really saw it, it happened when I was grabbing a bite on my way home just after club activities had ended, in the supermarket near the station... Those two were definitely Takasu and the Palmtop Tiger! Takasu was carrying a shopping basket and was deciding on which fish to buy when the Palmtop Tiger stuffed a piece of meat into the basket. Takasu quickly yelled at her, 'I thought we're having steamed fish tonight!' And placed the meat back on the shelf. Then they bought some onions and radishes. As they came to the counter, Takasu said 'take 1000 yen from our common wallet', which was followed by the Palmtop Tiger obediently taking a wallet out. He said 'common wallet'! How can I put this? It just feels like they're a married couple."

Testimony 2

"This is Kihara Maya, also from Class 2-C, reporting: I saw it happen during the morning on the way to school... I usually ride a bike... You know that brand new posh apartment block? Every time I went past there, I would always wonder how great it would be to live there. It was then when I saw Takasu-kun coming out. I then thought, 'No way! He lives here?!' Then I saw Aisaka running after him and muttering 'I'm still sleepy! You should wake me up earlier!' I didn't believe my eyes! I couldn't help but keep watching, and saw Takasu-kun turning around yelling 'I've already called you many times!' ... Could this be... could they be... ?"

Testimony 3

"Um, this is Noto Hisamitsu from Class 2-C. I used to be classmates with Takasu during our first year, and we still hang out often. But lately, Takasu always seems to disappear whenever I want to walk home with him. I can't help but wonder just what has been going on. Just yesterday, since my favourite band had just released their new album, I thought about going to the record store with him, so I went to ask him during lunch... In the end... It's really strange, he told me 'Hang on a moment,' and then turned around and said, 'Aisaka, I can't go home with you today, is that okay? ... I'll be back at 8.' ... This made me curious. Back? To where? And what would he do there? Then, while we were at the record store, I asked him what that was all about, he simply replied, 'Don't worry about it' ... There's definitely something going on!"

Testimony 4

"This is Kushieda Minori of Class 2-C. I guess you can call me a good friend of Taiga, but lately... it seems like she's hiding something from me. Every morning, I meet her at the same spot before walking together to school, but, how should I put this... Takasu-kun also comes with her... He always appears just a bit behind her, walking as though he doesn't know anything. Does that mean they're 'an item'? Or are they 'sworn to never part'? But Taiga always claims 'We just happen to meet each other on the way,' or 'Really? I didn't even notice.' Umm, though I'm glad Taiga has gotten rid of her bad habit of oversleeping and being late for school every three days, but... I'm really bothered by the feeling that she's hiding something from me. The two of them also look kinda sneaky even at school, god knows just what they're scheming... Huh? Is this feeling called jealousy? Then what will become of the Soeur System? What will become of Rosa Chinensis and Rosa Gigantea? ... And what the hell am I talking about?! Ahhh, even I don't know what I'm saying anymore~!!!"

... Ryūji was still Ryūji. His fierce eyes would often lead to misunderstandings and rumours. But he was already used to, or to be more precise, in order not to get hurt, he learned to ignore what other people said as a defence mechanism.

... Aisaka was still Aisaka. She was the sort of girl that didn't even care about rumours. Basically, she was not interested in anyone besides herself (Minorin and Kitamura were exceptions).

Because these two were "celebrities" to begin with, they were completely unaware of the growing whispers around them.

In the ever restless classroom, their classmates whispered into each other's ears, passing glances at the two and nodding: "... I saw it myself, they both came out of the same building...", "I really saw them in the supermarket the other day...", "There they are whispering again...", "Ah! They've both disappeared!", "Palmtop Tiger called Takasu by his first name", "Takasu sure has guts as well, to be able to casually call her an idiot", "And emerge unscathed as well...", "Even their bentos are the same!"

Could Takasu Ryūji and Aisaka Taiga be...?

"Oh, damn it!"

The tiny Palmtop Tiger gasped, causing everyone else to shudder. What happened? Has she lost her prey? Though Aisaka's expression remained unchanged,

"Hey Ryūji! I forgot to tell you something..."

Aisaka walked directly over to Ryūji's desk by the window, ignoring the fact that their classmates sitting around him had begun to lean over and eavesdrop.

"What now?"


Aisaka's voice was getting softer... I can't hear! Said the paparazzi as they leaned even closer.

"... forgot to tell you..."

Ryūji grunted and lifted his face while listening to Aisaka's soft voice. She kept on whispering in a voice only Ryūji could hear, while the ears around them tried to receive any signals that came out from their position.

"... not coming home tonight..."

WHAT!? The guys sitting behind Ryūji froze stiff upon hearing that. What did she just say? They began to pass notes and transmit to everyone what they had just heard. She just said she's not coming home tonight! Everyone fell silent. Ignoring the glances around them, Ryūji replied,

"... staying the night?"

"... Yeah."

"Then... already prepared..."

"... Yeah."

No way! No friggin way! Is this for real!? The whispers swept throughout the classroom. Hey, hang on, could they be... he said staying the night... and said be prepared...

"So this means, the Palmtop Tiger is staying over at Takasu's place?"

Swallowing his saliva, the long haired Haruta whispered softly.

"He said be prepared... t, that means... going to bed? Oh boy... this feels wrong..."

Standing just behind Haruta, the four-eyed Noto replied softly as well.

Uwaa~! Some of the girls began to gasp softly. This could be the first officially known sexual experience of this class! ... Kihara Maya blushed and proclaimed, "I don't think this is even their first time!" Some of the guys muttered in agony, "Actually I always thought the Palmtop Tiger was kinda cute... And was hoping no one had claimed her..." Others also came in and added, "Me too. When I confessed to her last year, she said as a matter-of-factly that if that was the case, then all guys should go to hell..." More and more decided to voice their opinion.

The whole class turned uniformly towards Ryūji and Aisaka, watching them exchange each other's futures. Aisaka was looking towards the window, so no one could see her expression, while Ryūji fretted his brow, as though he was about to have a duel with someone... most likely Aisaka's father.

"Ku, Kushieda, looks like something big is about to happen to your good pal tonight!"

Kushieda remained silent.


No matter how many times the girls patted her shoulder or poked her with their elbows, she remained motionless, and simply stared at those two.

Though it's not really necessary, I might as well mention what was actually being said:

"Didn't your mom leave without eating anything yesterday? She wanted me to tell you 'I forgot to tell you, I'm not coming home tonight.' Since it was the bar landlord's birthday, so the birthday party is gonna last till morning,"

"Yasuko's going to stay at the bar? Could she be staying the night?"

"Yeah, that's what she said,"

"Then she must be already prepared with having to put up with that old man Inage whining away all night, he just got divorced last year,"

"She said that as well, something about ' Yeah, that Inage-san is so and so...' ... AHHH! Dammit! Stop using me as your family's personal messenger!"

"If you don't like it, then stop coming to my place to eat!"


"How many times do I have to tell you to stop ignoring me?!"

* * *

It was a very normal recess time in Class 2-C. Takasu Ryūji read his manga in his sunlight-drenched desk, while Aisaka Taiga quietly sipped her box of milk with a bored expression and an aura that seemed to say, "Leave me alone".

Yet a very courageous fellow came and patted Aisaka on her back,

"Hey, Taiga... Are you free now?"

It was none other than Kushieda Minori. So she's finally going to do it, huh? ... The whole class was now gazing at the back of the Palmtop Tiger.

"Why such a serious face... Hey! Minorin?!"

Wearing a serious expression unlike her normal ones in the past, Minori dragged Taiga by her collar and pulled her up from her seat. The tiny Aisaka exclaimed,

"I, I can move on my own without you pulling me! I'm gonna fall!"

"Just follow me!"

Apparently Minori was the only person in this world capable of doing such a thing to the Palmtop Tiger. If it were anyone else, they would have been bitten in less than three seconds. As everyone held their breath, Minori dragged Aisaka on the ground as though she were a piece of luggage and told to the person before her,

"... You. Come along as well!"

"... Huh? ... M, me!?"

The person she pointed at was none other than Takasu Ryūji. He felt a bit ecstatic at being called out... Though she simply called me "you"... His eyes squinted a bit at the thought, though no one else could really tell that he was frowning.

The school roof was filled with a tense atmosphere... though it couldn't be seen, but that's what it felt like anyway.

It was a fairly nice day. The clouds slowly floated above in an idyllic manner.

"M, Minorin...?"


After dragging Ryūji and Aisaka here, Kushieda Minori had her back towards them... Whoosh... In this unusual situation, the tracksuit jacket that she wore on top of her uniform for some reason, fluttered against the wind.

Ryūji suddenly suppressed his voice and whispered to Aisaka, who was standing 30cm below him,

"Hey... what's going on here?"

"How would I know? ... This is also my first time seeing Minorin look like that... maybe she's angry about something?"

Aisaka looked a bit melancholic and tilted her head uncomfortably, nevertheless she decided to step forward...

"U, umm... M, Minorin...?"

As she stretched out her hand, her voice stopped. The whole world seemed to stop as well. Turning around, Minori's eyes seemed to glitter for a while before she suddenly jumped in front of Aisaka.

"Wah?!" Aisaka yelled, shielding herself with her arms. What's going on? Minori quietly glided past Aisaka and then...



Minori slid to just a few meters in front of Ryūji and elegantly knelt down before him.

Amongst the flying dust and fluttering tracksuit jacket...

"I now entrust my Taiga to you! PLEEEAAASEEE----! Take good care of her!!!"

She yelled with a voice that pierced the skies.

"... Huh?! Wha...? EHHHHH?!"

Minori bowed down with her hands on the ground, touching her fingers with her forehead. Ryūji was completely awestruck by all this, as was Aisaka, who struggled to keep her jaw shut.

"Takasu-kun, this girl... Taiga, she's a very important friend of mine. She may have a really bad temper at times, but she's a very kind and gentle girl! ... Please! M, make her happy!!!"

Sob ... All Aisaka could see was Minori sobbing. A second has passed... ten seconds... thirty seconds....

The first one to come to his senses was Ryūji,

"Kushieda, h, hang on a minute... W, what are you talking about...?"

"Please stop saying that!"

Minori lifted her head and looked at Ryūji with a serious expression,

"Stop pretending you don't know anything, all right? Takasu-kun, that's enough already! I know everything now! I'll support you all the way!"

Minori exclaimed that with a clear and determined expression, while staring directly at Ryūji... Ryūji, for his part, was so mesmerized by her decency that he couldn't speak.

"... Do you think I never noticed? Don't you two always walk to school together every day? And I'm always in the way. I've been waaaaiting so long for you to tell me that you two are seeing each other... But! No matter how long I waited, you just wouldn't tell me! That's why!"

"N, No! T, that's not it! T, that's, Kushieda, you've got it all wrong..."

"I just wanna tell you guys to stop sneaking around already! Takasu-kun! Taiga! I already know that you two are seeing each other! I've always wanted to tell you this!"

Minori pointed at Ryūji with her finger while still kneeling, she then smiled cheerfully and bowed deeply again,

"That's right! It can't be wrong! Takasu-kun, you're Taiga's one and only! I definitely won't let anyone else get in your way! So please rest assured and continue dating, okay?!"

Even if you beg me, I... As though being hit by a huge force, Ryūji knelt down wearily, as though his soul was about to abandon him.

The shock left him speechless... even though he wanted to deny it. I have to deny this!

"No! Y, you got it all wrong, Minorin! We don't have that sort of relationship!!! Can you at least listen to us first? So please hurry and get up!"

Aisaka leapt in front of Ryūji and started to explain away. Ryūji was moved to the verge of tears... That's right, there's still Aisaka. She can help the hopeless me explain this misunderstanding. Ryūji fell on the concrete ground and transmitted this voiceless message.


"Ho ho ho, there's no need to be shy. Congratulations, you two!"

Minori patted her skirt elegantly like a gentleman and glanced silently past Aisaka's shoulder at Ryūji...

"... Takasu-kun, if you make Taiga cry, I'll never forgive you!"

She revealed a very solemn expression.

That doesn't matter! Hold on a minute! It's not what you think! It isn't!!! Ryūji yelled from the bottom of his heart, struggling to say something, to stretch out his hand, to explain to Minori who was now turning around and preparing to walk away... But his throat, his hand, and everything else was paralyzed by the shock, and he was unable to explain to her.

Before a motionless Ryūji, the last remaining hope that he could count on to explain everything - Aisaka - was also knocked out by the slash of a blade. The tiny lifeless body now fell backwards before his eyes, and remained still; blood sputtered out and dyed her body blood red.

"So that's how it is... Hmm, I was wondering whether you guys were going out together! Takasu, I was just about to see you so I came over... But I guess it doesn't matter anymore. Congratulations, both of you! Though I still can't believe that you never told me about this before."

This was because Kitamura was here as well...

He saw everything from the entrance of the staircase. And after hearing Minori's confession, he misunderstood everything as well as a result.

He approached the tiny corpse lying on the ground, and gave her the finishing blow,

"Aisaka, I leave Takasu in your care. Make sure you cherish each other. Come to think of it, you two sure are a great match!"

And so the two stunned bodies remained on the ground like that, no longer able to get up...

* * *

"Umm, may I please, take your order..."



"... E, excuse me, but if you aren't ordering anything..."

"... Some juice will do..."

"... Make that two. Same as hers..."

"... Drinks, is it? Well, the cups are over there, so please help yourself."

After finishing his designated lines, the waiter turned and left. Yet no one at the table got up to get any drinks.

It was around 10 in the evening, in a family restaurant beside the main road. Sitting at a non-smoking table by the window were two corpses...

Though it was still April, the large one was wearing a loose T-shirt, the hair clip that he used while washing his face remained on his head; the small one wore a red checkered blouse and green checkered skirt, on her head was a messy mop of long hair.

Both looked absolutely miserable and wrecked. Unable to say a word, they didn't even blink, they simply allowed time to pass slowly by.

"How... did it... turn out... like this..."

The first to speak was the larger corpse Ryūji. Placing his elbows on the table, he clutched his head and spoke softly,

"D... Did something go wrong? How did Kushieda Minori get the wrong idea..."

Ryūji finally saw a side of Minori he did not know: a very individualistic girl, unable to listen to other people. In other words, she was super egocentric. However, since she was Aisaka's best friend, it made sense that she had something in common with Aisaka.

"For Kushieda of all people... to misunderstand..."

And to have his crush of one year suddenly kneeling before him... Equally important, however, was that Aisaka also suffered the same blow as he did.


Aisaka shifted her blank gaze, looking upwards despondently while sitting very near the edge of the sofa. She'll slide down if she sits like that. Is this really the Palmtop Tiger? Is this really the Tiger of Class 2-C that can kick a guy miles away with just her gaze? The Tiger that roars with such ferocity? Ryūji began to feel genuinely sorry...

"A, Aisaka... pull yourself together..."

Ryūji stretched his arm across the table and shook Aisaka's tiny shoulder, but...


Aisaka's soul still had not returned.


Using up the remainder of his energy, Ryūji fell exhaustedly onto the table. Really... why did this happen?!

He should have already been used to feeling hurt.

Whether he was being misunderstood or giving the wrong impression, he should have been used to all this since kindergarten.

"... Ahh, that's it..."

Ryūji then realized why he was so shocked. It wasn't because he was misunderstood, it was because even after being misunderstood, what he received were cheerful smiles and serious words of encouragement instead... as a result, he was unable to properly explain himself and that was really why he was so frustrated.

I'm such an idiot! Ryūji cursed at himself. It's only to be expected... Even though she never really did fancy me, and I never really did do anything to win her heart. Just what was I expecting?! Perhaps I don't even have a right to feel dejected?

After remaining in that state for a few minutes, he raised his head, noticing something...


The sound of two glasses being placed on the table.

"... This is yours. I didn't know what you wanted, so, anyway... it's Peach West Indies, it's got plenty of vitamin C..."

Aisaka had silently gotten up from her seat, and had brought back two large glasses of red juice. After setting the glasses on the table, she slid back into her seat.

"... Aisaka..."

When did she start breathing again? Aisaka released a deep sigh in front of Ryūji. Sitting upright, she lifted her head and said,

"I'm sorry, it's because we're always sticking with each other... It's all because I always wanted to do it my way that it ended up like this... Always wanting Ryūji to get involved... For a hopeless master like me, I have no right to call you a stupid dog..."

Only her eyes maintained her usual sharpness. Although she said that, she seemed exhausted, and the glitter in her eyes lacked its usual luster.

A stone fell in the bottom of Ryūji's heart.

Aisaka feels the same. It's because we're always together that we got misunderstood and hurt! Whether it was Aisaka or me, we both got involved thoroughly. And because of that, always facing each other, always together...


"... Well... I don't really mind... us being... together..."

Ryūji wanted to say something, but decided to give up. Aisaka is also hurting inside! That's why... I can't just talk to her in a confident mood... This time Aisaka spoke,

"I've... decided."

Playing with the ice in the drink with her straw, she lifted her head and looked straight at Ryūji with a pair of determined eyes,

"Tomorrow, I'll just go and confess to Kitamura-kun. There'll be no room for foolish errors. I'm going to use the most straightforward... and normal way to confess."

Even though her eyes betrayed her insecurity, she still added, "I've decided."

The one gasping for air was actually Ryūji.

"... Aisaka... why... so sudden... No, right now you've hardly even had any progress with him..."

"That's right. There's no progress at all, not to mention..."

He misunderstood us, and I got you dragged in as well... She said that in a very soft voice,

"... Which is why, I want to put an end to this."

"An end? What do you mean..."

"Put an end to us 'being together all the time'."

She concluded.

After finishing, Aisaka's eyes turned clear, though her expression looked cold as though she had just fallen into a pool of water. Ryūji was speechless.

"You're free from today onwards! In this case, you can do whatever you like... I won't do anything. If you want to confess to Minorin or whatever, go ahead! ... No matter how my confession tomorrow ends up, you no longer have to listen to me."


"Your work as a dog ends today. From tomorrow onwards, we'll go back to our old selves... back to before the love letter!"

An emancipation declaration.

He no longer had to listen to her.

He was supposed to be happy for this moment!

Even then, Ryūji said nothing.

He could at least have said "Thanks for the company" or "Finally, a time to celebrate" or something like that. But he said nothing. Not even "Things will be lonely from now on"... absolutely nothing. Ryūji's brain could not come up with anything, all he could do was hold onto the icy glass... Even though his fingers were already beginning to get stung by the chill of the ice, even though his heart was now as cold as winter.

Yet for some reason Aisaka smiled... she smiled silently. Looking at Ryūji, she turned her eyes away from him abashedly and covered her mouth with her hands as she lowered her head,

"... It's very strange, why did we end up together like this? Even today, when we didn't even make any appointments! Two walking zombies who just naturally end up meeting here... Eating together every day... Constantly goofing off together or quarelling together..."

A small laugh emanated from her little hands, while her eyes squinted into crescent moon shapes. Aisaka was really laughing, the first time Ryūji had seen her laughing from the heart.

"I... don't want to go home, I don't want to go back to that place where it's just me alone, so I always barged into your place and even ate there, this is really... umm, very..."

Aisaka stopped what she was trying to say and shrugged silently. Just what is she up to? She shifted her gaze casually and then closed her eyes, as though carefully sealing away all that her eyes had seen, very gently, not making a single sound.

"It's... haha, how should I say this? But... umm, that's right, good thing I didn't starve to death. Um, I'm really clumsy, aren't I? You noticed that I live alone, right?"

Aisaka probably didn't see Ryūji nod.

"It's a cruel story. I didn't get along very well with my parents, and we were always arguing. One day I said 'I'm leaving this house', and they simply said 'Go ahead'. And then they gave me this apartment... Before I realized it, I was already thinking of moving out... But, I was too proud to take back what I said... And by the time I moved in, I discovered I couldn't do any housework... It's such a pain, really! There hasn't been one, not a single person who has come to see me... What's really stupid is that even when I knew my parents were those sort of people, I still insisted on moving out. Pretty dumb, huh? So go ahead and laugh! I won't get angry anymore."

Aisaka opened her eyes.

After saying all that in one go, Ryūji knew that her shoulders must have worn out already.

What the hell is this? Ryūji's made a grunt in the bottom of his throat.

I mean, what the hell is this?! This simple story that Aisaka told... isn't it one of those tragic stories of abandonment? Isn't this like a doll that got left alone in a castle after being abandoned by the king and his family?

But Aisaka was laughing, and it seemed like she was hoping Ryūji would laugh along as well. So...

"Heh... ha ha!"

That's why...

"Heh heh heh! Hahaha! Yeah, that's pretty dumb..."

"Told you so!"

Ryūji laughed, though his heart felt like it was being torn apart, he still tried his best to laugh happily and gently... Because no one had ever wished so strongly for him to laugh before.

It'll all end today. Everything will revert back to how they were before, from tomorrow onwards - Not even bothering to greet, back to being the Palmtop Tiger that no one dares to approach, back to having a terrifying classmate known as the Palmtop Tiger.

If that was the case, then he might as well laugh all he could now, and carefully observe Aisaka's last ever smile in this blandly decorated family restaurant.

Then, I might as well show her! I'm sure she'll laugh like hell after seeing that.

"Hahah, oh yeah, let me show you something interesting. You know who this is?"

That was an old photo he placed in his wallet.

"Huh? Ah... could this be... your dad?!"

"Bingo! You got it!"

"Pft! Wahahahahahaha!" A loud laughter that attracted the gazes of everyone around,

"Wha, what is this? You look just like him! Ahahaha! Man, that's so funny!"

"Look around his eyes... we're a match right? Me and this thug!"

"Enough already! Stop showing me that! Ahahahahahahaha!!!"

Twitching and holding back her tears, Aisaka lay on the table laughing, banging on it with her hands, kicking wildly with her legs. She continued to laugh even as her voice became hoarse. The perfectly inherited gangster face seemed to have triggered something within Aisaka. If the inherited feature for which he so despised could make her this happy, then perhaps it was something worth having after all.

"... I've never shown anyone this photo before."

"Ha, haha, man...! I don't think I've ever laughed this much before... How did you manage to get such genes?!"

"It's fun, right?"

"You bet! Ahh! That's right! As a token of gratitude for showing me your secret, let me also tell you something interesting as a reward... I'll tell you my secret."

"You know..." She said sneakily, covering her mouth to prevent her laughter from coming out; Aisaka's cheeks puffed crimson red while her eyes glittered like a prankster. She gestured Ryūji to come over as she whispered into his ear,

"... Those cookie crumbs were salty, weren't they?"


Her soft voice got Ryūji yelling. How? How did she know what they taste like...

"Heh heh! Actually when I retrieved the cookies, I gobbled one up out of frustration! You know what? They tasted horrible! But you didn't even let me stop you, and you ate them all in one go... and you even lied to me..."

She suddenly came out with such a revelation.

As Aisaka held her breath, even her smile became sad as she tried to look for words that she seemed to have lost. Sighing, she lowered her head and covered her expression,

"You... Ryūji, as a dog, you're a very stupid dog. But as a human... you're just about right! That's why... that's why I know, so let's end this... You're not a boring guy, our relationship, how should I say it... isn't a master and servant one, but one as equals..."

"You probably don't get what I'm saying anyway!" She added.

She suddenly stopped talking, when she raised her head again, Aisaka was back to her usual cold expression...

"I'm feeling hungry again." She said as she opened the menu, Ryūji did the same. They both ordered a hamburger steak dinner. "The steaks that you make definitely taste better!" They would then have their usual conversation, and then argue over who should head to the bar to get some drinks - of course it ended with Ryūji having to go. And then... their limited time together began to tick away by every minute and every second...

Time flows equally for everybody, with no pause whatsoever.

After paying the bill, the two walked along in the dark towards their apartments.

There's something magical about the night temperature in spring, the dreamy wind blows softly on the skin, causing it to itch. Ryūji could not bring himself to stop talking, and Aisaka was also unusually talkative.

For the duration of the twenty minute walk, Aisaka constantly rambled away... about how her mother was now living in some faraway city, how terrible her stepmother was, and how she was part of the reason Aisaka had chosen to move out.

Ryūji talked about living together with his mother, about how poor they were and how they were constantly ridiculed, as well as the creep that kept stalking Yasuko. He also mentioned about how he often got misunderstood thanks to his intimidating looks, he even spoke about the daily embarrassing stuff experienced through puberty.

Ryūji had never told anyone else about these personal woes, maybe it was because Aisaka too had told him about her personal problems... Am I right? Though he didn't ask that question as it was too intimate, but that was what he thought.

And then there were those happier days, and they lamented how time flew by too fast.

Still, no one can stop time from moving forward. It would flow slowly, and finally...

"... Ahhh, dammit!"

Under an electric pole in the street corner.

The unlucky pole had become the target for Aisaka to vent her frustration. Whack! Pong! The destructive attack went on and on. Looks like she's drunk!

"This is so unfair! ... Why must this world be so cruel to us little people?! Who can understand just how frustrated we are?!"

That tormented voice echoed throughout the residential area in the dark. Ryūji didn't stop her, and instead simply stood by Aisaka nodding approvingly,

"That's right! Damn right! Nobody knows that people with scary looks like me and Aisaka can also get depressed!"

"Ahh, this pisses me off... so pissed off! Pissed, pissed, I'm so friggin' pissed!!!"

She performed a series of kicks which a normal person wouldn't be able to pull off, then panted and turned her head suddenly,

"... Hey Ryūji! You feel troubled whenever you think of Minorin, right? Thinking about how there's no progress between you two, and what you should do to get together with her, right? You get all frustrated thinking of that, right?"

"Yeah, maybe!"

He only really started to begin thinking about that question after giving his answer. Come to think of it, I was always worrying about how to pass each day peacefully with Aisaka that I was too exhausted to even think about the torment in my heart...

"Then, does Ryūji ever... cry?"

"... Do you?"


Silence quickly engulfed them.

Aisaka lifted her head and stared into the night sky, moving away from the pole. She waved her messy hair, revealing her snow white face, which was clear and delicate.

"I've been thinking about all these things today... Whether I'll ever get close to him, or whether he already has a girlfriend... And, I think about other stuff... just like an idiot, thinking of many, many things... Probably no one will ever know... No one will ever understand me... No one..."

Her voice was now as soft as a mosquito, and although Ryūji couldn't hear properly, he felt as though the cloudy night sky had been silently engulfed by that lonely voice.

"... If everyone knew what kind of person you are, they would definitely be surprised!"

Ryūji also looked towards the sky, seeking for the moon while saying,

"Who would have guessed that even you would cry over such a thing? ... Only me, only I know."

"How shameless," Aisaka quipped. She sighed as her gaze wandered,

"... Ryūji, you're the same as me! No one understands you, except me, and I know quite a lot as well."

"What are you talking about?! ... Like what?"

"... Though Ryūji may look like that, he doesn't even dare talk to the girl he likes most; though he looks like that, he doesn't even know how to get angry with anyone; though he looks like that, he's definitely not the type to hurt anyone; though he looks like that, he's actually very good at cooking... And though his eyes look so scary that no one would dare approach him, he's actually a very considerate person... Am I right?"

"I never knew I was so hopeless."

"... You call that hopeless? ... I don't think so..."

Under the gentle spring breeze, Aisaka's hair now fluttered softly like a cloth. She held onto her hair with her fingers, while saying something softly with her lips:

You're actually a very gentle person.


Am I just a boring nice guy? He originally wanted to reply, but he couldn't say anything, because Aisaka's face seemed to be twisting in pain.

"... I, I'm just the exact opposite of you. I'm such a useless person, I'm not good at being gentle, and there are many things I don't know... Or I should say, there just aren't many things that I approve of! Anything that gets in my way, should, just, scram! All of them! All! Of! Them! ..."

Lifting the edge of her skirt, she stuck out her pure white legs and began kicking away...

"... I... AM... SO... PISSED...!!!"

She gave the icy cold electric pole a finishing blow. Ryūji was scared silly by this sudden burst of emotion and began to back away. Yikes! He muttered and thought, besides protecting this ferocious tiger, there was nothing else he could do.

"Dammit, dammit, dammit! What Palmtop Tiger?! Do they... seriously think... I wouldn't give a damn???!!! WHY?! Why doesn't anyone understand~???!!!"

The yellow moon appeared above them, as though summoned by the howls of the tiger.

The shadow of Aisaka abusing the electric pole lengthened on the cold tarmac road. Ryūji simply stood and watched, and then as he moved slightly closer to shorten the distance, his shadow too elongated.

Their shadows overlapped, though they did not actually come into contact with each other.

"Everyone... Every, single, one... pisses me off! ... That idiot Minorin! ... Why wouldn't she listen to me?! Same for Kitamura-kun! Why does everyone have to believe her?! Why won't anyone try to understand me?! Minorin, Kitamura-kun, everyone! ... All of them, even my parents, everyone, I... I'll never forgive them! Because, nobody, understands me! ... Nobody! Understands! Me!"

Aisaka wrapped the pole with her arms and kept knocking it with her knees until she could speak no more. She must've been tormented to the point of tears many times before, so much so that she must have choked on the tears swelling up in her throat and...

"Ugh, Uggghhh...!"

"Hey! Stop it, you idiot!"

She leaned backwards, preparing to use all she had to make a headbutt... Ryūji managed to stop her forehead with his palm in the nick of time. There's no way a forehead can beat an electric pole!

"But I'm just so pissed!"

She cried, this time with tears as well.

Aisaka had now become an innocent child who could not stop crying in the spring night. Oh boy! Ryūji decided he had made up his mind... sort of. Though he wasn't capable of doing something incredible, he could at least do something more useful than saying empty words like "I know how you feel". That's why...

"... Let me help you!"

He took a deep breath, and with all his strength as he puffed out his breath,


A person who was not used to kicking things had now joined in, he even did a few spinning kicks. Using techniques he had seen in K-1 tournaments, Ryūji's kicks shook the electric pole with his unreliable balance.

Ryūji and Aisaka probably looked despicable right now, attacking the pole together. This was because Ryūji had an enemy, and this enemy was like a rock getting in the way of his life, and Ryūji could clearly feel the threat it emanated. Aisaka too had an enemy... sort of. The same enemy that stands between her and her life truly exists. When Aisaka liked someone, or wished to be with someone, this enemy would appear and reveal its weight. Perhaps this enemy can be called "low self-esteem", or "fate", or "genetics", or "environment" or so on, it could even be called "self awareness during puberty" or "something one can't do alone". This enemy carries all sorts of names.

No matter what, it was impossible to try and defeat this enemy, and they had no idea how many times they would have to do battle with this shapeless enemy in the future. If they did not savagely kick the electric pole now, they probably wouldn't be able to vent their anger. They could have chosen to take it out on a wall or a bedsheet... but it seemed like this was the electric pole's unlucky day.

Ryūji decided to help based on that reason alone. No matter how stupid they were, or how foolish they were, or how bored they were, they had now transformed into savage beasts attacking ferociously while howling away in the spring night.

Aisaka's enemy looked especially bigger and heavier than Ryūji's... At least that's what Ryūji thought. Now I get it. You became a tiger in order to protect yourself from this unseen enemy. The pole now seemed to grow bigger, heavier, harder, and more difficult to strike down. Aisaka always hoped to have the power to fight against this enemy, that's why she had to become a tiger.

Amazing. Though Ryūji and Aisaka were still young, there was one thing they had in common. This was why Ryūji understood Aisaka so much. Whenever he saw her looking exhausted or starving to death, he just couldn't leave her alone.

No matter how annoyed, or how pissed he became, the truth was he just couldn't abandon her.

"Ryūji, move off!"

"Why'd you pick up that bat from the lawn... Whoa!"

Ryūji was startled by Aisaka suddenly lifting her head, and all thought vanished from his mind at the sight of her face.

There was a smile on her face, a very bitter smile. Glaring venomously, the Palmtop Tiger stared at her prey with a mood to kill...

"Take this!"

That sort of mood.

She walked some distance away to the end of the path, and then lifting up the edge of her skirt...

"Just you wait! Kitamura-kun! I'm going to confess to you right nooooowwww!!!"

The audience (Ryūji) gasped. After an explosive run, she did a flying kick with perfect timing: Her tiny body flew elegantly, and under the illumination of the moonlight, stretched out her right leg and aimed it towards the pole.


Ryūji couldn't help but close his eyes at the sight of such an exaggerated scene, and did not open them until he heard a loud thud of something landing on the ground. He then ran towards Aisaka, who had fallen beside the pole on her bottom.

"Idiot! Your leg..."

"... Ryūji, look!"


Aisaka pointed at the pole sticking up towards the sky. What about it? Ryūji turned to face Aisaka again, and saw her smiling triumphantly,

"Don't you think it's tilted now?"

"What?! That's not possible! How can it tilt just by someone kicking it..."

Ryūji glanced at the barbed wire beside the fence, and was quickly overcome by horror,

"... Damn, it's really tilted!"

"Told you!"

Yes! I win! Aisaka smiled to herself. Of course, it was possible that the pole was tilted to begin with; or maybe the barbed wire was crooked all along. Instead of Aisaka kicking the pole off balance, those two possibilities just sounded more plausible.

But Ryūji believed her...

He believed that the pole had indeed been bent by Aisaka the Palmtop Tiger.

Because she was smiling, after all.

"... Shoot, is that a cop?"

Maybe it was because they were too noisy, as they saw a silhouette riding a bicycle heading in their direction. It was indeed a uniformed policeman. Ryūji frantically turned to Aisaka,

"This is bad, let's get the hell outta here! Huh... what's wrong? You okay?!"

Ryūji looked at the fool who simply sat there without moving.

"It hurts..."

"No way!"

Aisaka still looked very pumped up from when she attacked the pole. Now she sat with the edges of her skirt spread out, rubbing her right knee with her tiny hand. She looked at Ryūji with a hopeless expression,

"I think, I may have injured myself during the kick... Ow!"

Her mouth formed an inverted V-shape. Oh dear! Ryūji scratched his head,

"Isn't that obvious?! Jeez... it seems to have swollen up..."

Ryūji knelt down in order to look more carefully and fretted his brow. Under the dimly lit streetlamp, he could clearly see on top of the tiny leg, a red lump on that white skin.

"... The pole must be very hard... Ow...!"

"Of course it is! Really..."

Ryūji sighed deeply. You're hopeless. He then knelt with his back towards her... I guess this is what they call chivalry. He seemed to be enjoying the feeling as well.

"Come, I'll carry you. Hey, wait... UMPH!"

He was looking forward to carrying her, but he forgot one thing: she was the Palmtop Tiger after all. Despite the pain in her leg, she still managed to leap up with a great force and land on Ryūji's back. She also held tightly onto Ryūji's neck, causing him to nearly suffocate.

"I... I can't... breathe..."

Ryūji frantically slapped on Aisaka's hand, which was pressed against his windpipe and artery, trying to tell her that his life was in danger.

"Oh no, Ryūji! Isn't that a cop? We'd better run!"

Didn't I already point that out a while ago?! ... Since his throat was being strangled and unable to talk, Ryūji had no choice but to start running.

Taking the long route into a quiet alley, Ryūji ran silently in the dark. They came to a small alley devoid of illumination. In the surreal silence, neither said a word. Sensing each other's warmth, they didn't even convey how scared they felt to each other.

Ryūji was indeed carrying Aisaka on his back.

Aisaka's chin softly rubbed against the rapidly beating pulse on Ryūji's neck.

Without speaking, she simply pointed ahead, towards a traffic light which was barely visible at the end of the alley...


Clang! A low smashing sound resonated; Aisaka gave a yelp.

"What? What happened?!"

Ryūji quickly stopped and turned to look at Aisaka on his back. Feeling her breathing very closely, they exchanged glances in the dark,

"T, there seems to be a road sign... and I bumped my forehead into it."

"Wha?! Why didn't you dodge it?!"

"It was too sudden! And I can't see anything in this darkness! Did you not see anything either?! ... Ouch, dammit..."

"Where'd it hit you? Over here?"

Ryūji stretched his hand and touched Aisaka's burning forehead - since it was pointless to look in such darkness.

"... Doesn't seems to be bleeding, and there's no lump... I think you'll be fine."

"How unlucky."

"This has got nothing to do with luck, you're just too stupid."

"What did you say?!" Ryūji quickly carried Aisaka, who was protesting and catching her breath, and started running again. Once they reached the main road, they wouldn't be far from home.

"... It's good that you weren't hurt."

As the sound of a police whistle blowing could be heard some distance away, the person riding on Ryūji's back probably couldn't hear his muttered words.

"You have to confess your feelings tomorrow. It'll be bad if you scratch your face... so it's ok!"

Aisaka said nothing.

It's good...

He felt Aisaka's soft cheek pressing on his neck... riding on his back without any injury. That's good... As long as she stays like this, it'll be fine.

After making sure the police bike wasn't pursuing them, they finally emerged from the small alley and returned to the dazzling light from the streetlamps of the main road. As they walked, they crossed paths with commuters returning home after the day's work, as well as some old ladies walking their dogs. Everyone was busy in their own way, and didn't bother to look at Ryūji and Aisaka. Whether it was commuters, blue collars, old ladies, or old geezers, everyone had their own enemy to fight against, and they probably all wanted to have a night where they could kick the crap out of an electric pole. Though the reason they didn't do that was because they were all grown up.

Suddenly, the image of all those people taking their frustration out on the electric pole popped into Ryūji’s head, and he couldn't help but laugh to himself, which Aisaka noticed and asked,

"What're you laughing at?"

Aisaka stuck out her head, her breath landing right on Ryūji's cheek.

"Nothing... just something useless."

"Eh?! What is it? Come on! Tell me!"


His neck was being strangled.

"W, why you..."

"Cause I'm curious! Just what're you laughing at?"

"... Like I said, it's nothing important, so don't worry about... I... I can't breathe!"

"If you don't want to say it, then I'll make sure you won't be able to for the rest of your life."

Seriously... how can people like this exist? Ryūji wondered while keeping his windpipe clear so he could argue with her. As a tyrannical tiger, she's forceful, violent, selfish and obnoxious. Just how many times have I suffered thanks to spending time with her? There's that time, and that time, and that...

Come to think of it... those pains seem to have mellowed as I think more about them. There's probably no emotion under that warm body of hers right now. Even as we approach that Bourgeoisie-style apartment block, she probably won't have any change in emotion like always...


The arms that held onto his neck suddenly loosened.

"You can drop me off here."

Aisaka said, tapping on Ryūji's shoulder.

In front of the apartment block entrance, Aisaka elegantly leapt off Ryūji's back. As his back became free of the burden, Ryūji felt the weight disappearing, but he also felt the warmth disappearing. As everything disappeared, Ryūji turned to look at Aisaka standing before the glass door.

He then felt his heart hurting as though it were being blocked... So it really hurts.

"This is it, Ryūji. And we're just in time, look!"

She lifted her tiny hand and showed him her watch. The two hands on the face of the watch pointed exactly at 11:59.

"Ahh, I'm so tired... At least we made it home peacefully. It all ends today, right now. After today, you'll no longer be my dog. There's thirty seconds left... Hey, do you have anything to say before then?"

"... Anything to say... what do you mean?"

"You do have some last words to say as my stupid dog, don't you, Ryūji?"

"... Well... to suddenly ask me to say something..."

Standing two meters before him, Aisaka smiled, at least she looked like she was smiling. She tilted her tiny neck, as though expecting Ryūji to speak. But what could I say... what could I say...

"... Ten seconds... Five seconds..."

He couldn't say anything.

A breeze blew between the two. Aisaka lowered her hand and said,


"Yeah... S, see you tomorrow! And good luck!"

That was all he said.

"Goodbye, Takasu-kun."
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