Chapter 6
Unlike the fine weather yesterday, the morning sky was covered with dark clouds.
The weather report even said there could be a blizzard in the morning. Although there's no wind right now, it has already begun to snow on the skiing track.
"Is your hand still alright, Takasu?"
Hearing Kitamura asking, Ryuuji turned his head and waved his gloved right hand,
"It's fine, it's just a little numb."
Ryuuji's hand was scalded this morning --- by that one-in-a-million clumsy idiot. It was during breakfast in the restaurant, when Ryuuji saw Taiga who had just got up and was about to fill her bowl with miso soup. He approached her from behind and asked softly, "So how'd it go?" As the girls were still generally ignoring the boys, Ryuuji had to tread carefully and not try to openly converse with Taiga, which led to him getting scalded as a result.
"Ow!" Taiga had purposely spilled the bowl full of miso soup onto Ryuuji's hand, but Ryuuji was only trying to ask how Taiga's play acting went the previous night.
"... I've more or less accepted this fate. I must remind myself never to approach Taiga when she's holding something dangerous in her hands."
"It was an accident, let her off this time."
"Taiga said something similar... something like 'Oh! What a coincidence! It was an accident! Such a pity!' ... Everything except an apology, that is."
"Probably had something to do with what happened last night."
Just let it go. Kitamura motioned as he waved his hand. Of course. Ryuuji responded by raising his eyebrow.
Students were given freedom to do whatever they want to in the morning.
And so there were students cheerfully playing around everywhere. Some tripped, some were leisurely building snowmen. Noto and Haruta had brought their skis and rode the ski lift towards heights that suited their skiing abilities.
"No need to tag along with me, just do your own skiing."
"But my plan today was to teach you how to do a V-shape deceleration."
Though Kitamura offered so, Ryuuji still turned him down. Ryuuji knew Kitamura would not be able to ski all he wanted if he was taking care of him. Besides, with Kitamura being an easily fired-up instructor, Ryuuji wanted to stay away from his madness.
"I haven't got any talent anyway, and it seemed like Taiga's over there with her sled, I think I'll go spend time with her."
Ryuuji raised his hand and parted ways with Kitamura, who was headed to the ski lift, and walked down towards the gently-sloped ski track.
Whether Taiga was alone or not was secondary, for Ryuuji wanted some time alone to do some thinking. His mind was still quite chaotic till now, and was not suited for him to go skiing with his friends.
Ryuuji trudged forward in the snow with his boots. The temperature was lower than yesterday's, and he could feel his face ripping apart. He planned to walk towards the wooden hut beside the hill, being careful not to trip.
Ryuuji no longer cared about asking about Minori's true feelings, he didn't even care what "true feelings" actually meant. There seemed to be a hole in his heart, with something constantly falling above him. It was already painful enough for him to lose the most important part, so there was simply no room for him to do any forgiving.
Ryuuji sighed and rubbed his eyes. He hardly had any sleep last night. After his friends had fell asleep, he was constantly thinking about Minori, and her fight with Ami. He knew it was meaningless to keep thinking, and he knew that no matter what he thought, Minori was not going to change her feelings.
It's just that in that fight, he had a slight feeling that Ami was trying to goad Minori into saying something she had determined not to say, something which Ryuuji did not know about.
Come to think of it, Ami too was hiding something.
Breathing white steam from his mouth, Ryuuji began to think, Minori, Ami, Taiga and Kitamura all have something they didn't say. This "something" is usually something they desire the other side to know. If everyone is able to be honest and understanding with each other, then they could make the cogs spin once again without any deception.
The problem was it could not be said. They are afraid of the awkwardness it would cause, afraid that once everything is placed under the sun, this awkwardness would lead to a critical separation between themselves. As they became worried and scared this would happen, they decided to hide whatever they wanted to say deep within their hearts, thinking, "Surely they would understand even if I don't say it? Surely they would know? Surely they would realize?" And so they would begin to second-guess what each other is thinking.
Yet they would still hope for each other to say what they wanted to say, they would even feel depressed while being in each other's company simply because it was not said. By withholding one's thoughts, both sides would become hurt by it. Ryuuji also had things he didn't say, and there were a lot of them. Besides those concerning Minori... though Ryuuji didn't mention it, there was something else that was bothering him.
Looking around at the students in their shiny costumes within the skiing track, Ryuuji found Taiga. She was sharing her sled with Minori, both happily laughing away.
There's no reason to get in their way. And so Ryuuji turned to leave...
"Hmm... what are you doing here?"
"My legs are feeling a bit sore, so I'm just resting here."
... And saw Ami.
She was kneeling in a pile of soft snow without anyone around her, building her own miniature snow mountain broodingly. Ryuuji was a bit surprised Ami would respond in her normal tone, as before whenever she saw him, she would always coldly address him with "You idiot".
After what happened last night, Ryuuji felt awkward when approaching Ami, "... Did you trip?"
Ami's ski and skiing pole were stuck in the snow.
"Yeah, and I'm tired. I forgot to bring my wallet, so I couldn't even buy coffee even if I walk to the wooden hut."
"... And so you're here alone building your snow mountain...?"
"This is no mountain, it's an igloo."
How can that possibly be an igloo... Seeing Ami use her gloved hands to pile a fragile looking hill, even an amateur like Ryuuji could tell there was no way she was building an igloo.
"... Rather than piling the snow up to make a hill, shouldn't you be making snowballs like you would when making a snowman?"
"This is fine."
Ami still squatted and built her snow mountain. Her gloved hands continue to pile up the snow, padding one layer atop another --- At this rate, she'll never be able to pile an igloo big enough to fit herself in.
Looking at Ami's cheek which reflected the glow on the mountain, Ryuuji could tell she was still feeling miffed by her argument with Minori last night, which was why she was here alone piling snow and killing time, as though trying to sort out her feelings.
"Let me help you."
Ryuuji sat opposite of her and began to pile snow himself. He didn't want to console Ami, neither did he want to ask about the fight last night, he didn't even forget that Ami still hates an idiot like him.
It's just that Ryuuji was human too, and even she couldn't build the igloo she wanted. He couldn't bring himself to leave Ami piling white snow meaninglessly on her own here. Besides, if he was really getting in her way, she would have said so already.
"... Hey, you should make the snow firm first."
"Just do it. If you're gonna pile them up, it'll be a waste if it all falls to pieces."
Ami stopped what she was doing, Ryuuji went and pat the mountain to stop the snow from falling. But he didn't expect...
Ami to drop her face into the mountain all of a sudden, like a drunk partygoer dropping her face onto the cake.
"What are you doing!? That's cold! Could this be some kind of secret facial cosmetic therapy?"
After a few seconds.
Ami finally lifted her head, her brows and eyelashes were covered in snow, with her face and neck red from the cold, "There's something I must... confess to you. I..."
"Yeah, I know, I know. I expect you to have something to confess, and a lot as well. Why don't you start by apologizing for calling me an idiot?"
"Not that, no... it..."
Placing her chin on the near collapsing mountain, she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply with her nose, she then said in one breath,
"It may be my fault that Minori-chan rejected you."
Ryuuji didn't say anything, and only opened his jaw as he looked at Ami with an expression that read, What'd you say?
"A while ago... when you were not aware of it, I taunted Minori-chan... I didn't know why I said that, but what's was said couldn't be taken back. I was thinking maybe Minori-chan was mindful of what I said, and so rejected you."
Ami had said that, but Ryuuji was unable to react right away, since he simply could not understand what she meant.
"Um... then... could you tell me what you said to her?"
"Are you mad? Heh, I guess anyone would be."
"You didn't give me the details, so I wouldn't know how to respond."
"... I can't tell you."
Again, something that "could not be said".
"And I got into a fight with Minori-chan last night. Even though I regret having said those things, yet every time I see her face, I get pissed off. There're many reasons for me getting angry, but the main reason was... she never once faced me directly. No matter how fierce we argued, I just couldn't figure out what her true thoughts were."
Lowering her brows, Ami raised her arms, and swooped them to destroy her mountain. She then sighed,
"Takasu-kun, you're too stupid. That's why I hate you."
"You're still at that..."
"... But I also hate myself for being stupid as well."
Ami sat wearily on the pile of snow she just destroyed, messing and mixing the snow up with her hands, and then looked into the gray skies,
The snow began to get bigger. Ami's hair was covered in beads of melted snow. Ryuuji simply looked at her, not knowing what to say.
"I've heard Taiga's doing her best to live independently, while Minori-chan has flatly rejected you... Both have let go of you, should I take this chance and grab your hand? In this case, it would suit my plan just fine, because I've always liked Takasu-kun, and wanted to go out with you... If I said that, what would you do? Though none of that is true."
Before he could even comprehend...
"... Ehhh!? You fell over before you were startled?"
PLOP! Ryuuji quickly rubbed his face, trying to calm his heart from beating rapidly. The snow on his gloves was so cold he felt his nose could fall off.
Ami didn't smile, and simply stared at Ryuuji,
"I told you I was kidding. Believe me, there is no plan... I never thought of anything like 'It would be great if things were to become like this', honest... But... Sigh, it's also true that I got myself too involved."
Even when it's got nothing to do with me... The snow dissolved on her lips together with the words she was about to say, as well as the soft smile that she made,
"... Bound by guilt, even I am suffering by my own undoing. Because I made too many mistakes, that's why it's ended up like this."
"Like this... you mean Kushieda rejecting me? You don't need to feel responsible for this. I don't know what happened between you and Kushieda, but I won't allow anyone to shove the responsibility of me getting dumped to someone else."
"... You're right."
Ami breathed in with her nose, and slowly got up smiling, with her trademark Ami-like smile, she said to Ryuuji,
"Okay, we're no longer friends."
Ami took off her gloves and placed them under her armpits, hooking her first finger and thumb of both hands together and pointing them towards Ryuuji,
"We're severing ties between ourselves."
She said rhythmically as she separated her hands,
"... Why are you severing ties with me?"
"Because I hate idiots... so we're done, period."
Because you hate idiots? As there were two idiots, Ami didn't specify which idiot she was severing ties with as she turned to leave.
What the hell is this?
Didn't I say you should say things properly?
Ryuuji looked at Ami's back, not knowing what to say, and could only stand there helplessly.
"Bakachiiiiii----- Look ouuuuuut----!!!"
"We didn't mean it, we didn't meeeaaan iiiiit-----!"
"EHHHHH---!!!???" A sled carrying Taiga and Minori came crashing towards Ami.
They had tried to stop the sled with their feet, but it was going too fast for them to do so. As Ryuuji looked on speechlessly, Taiga was tossed off the sled onto the snow, Minori followed as well after losing her balance.
The sled then continued to slide towards the skiing track entrance after running over Ami.
"... I told you to look out..."
Taiga looked apologetically nervous as she pulled Ami, who was buried in the snow, as well as patting off the snow on her.
"W... why you!? How many times must you crash your sled before you finally give up!? You're too dumb to learn riding this anyway! Why don't you just walk instead!?"
"That's--- why--- we're apologizing! Anyway, we're headed to the wooden hut there, I can treat you to some ice cream."
"No friggin way! That's too damn cold, idiot!"
A ballistic Ami began kicking Taiga's butt, but as her skiing suit was very thick, Ami's attacks didn't seem to have much effect on Taiga.
"Sorry Amin! W, we couldn't stop the sled... so forgive me! Really!"
As Minori came to apologize to Ami as well...
"Don't give me this 'forgive me' crap!"
Ami glared at Minori and yelled,
"You did that on purpose, didn't you!? That was totally on purpose! I can feel your malicious intent!"
"Ehh!? Of course not, absolutely! I really couldn't stop it!"
"You were doing it on purpose! You're still mad at what happened yesterday, aren't you!? Come to think of it, you came to interfere because you saw me talking to Takasu-kun, right!? I knew it!"
Ami's face and eyes become reddened, and veins popped up in her forehead like a comic character, even her nose appeared red as she threw a snowball towards Minori.
The snowball fell right on Minori's face, causing her to wobble,
"Whaaaaa!? Yesterday!? You mean our argument last night!? I thought we were through with that already, and now you want to bring it up again!?"
Whoa... Taiga and Ryuuji exchanged glances... You should stop them.... No, YOU stop them! They both communicated with their eyes, but as they were pretending not to know what transpired last night, it was hard for them to interfere.
"You sure know how to talk! You've been ignoring my presence all along, how dare you say you're through with that!?"
"I just didn't have anything better to say! Just because I didn't say something interesting doesn't mean I'm ignoring you!"
"Seeing your pretentious attitude just pisses me off, you brawny birdbrain!"
"Who's being pretentious here!? Stop pushing your luck just because I'm restraining myself!"
Whap! Minori shoved Ami on the shoulder.
"Ugh! Why you...!"
Ami tried to push back, but her hand was caught by Minori, who proceeded to slap her in the face. The two girls continued to glare at each other... Physically, Ami was no match for Minori.
"You hit my face!"
"So? It's not like you'd survive on that alone!"
Their voices echoed throughout the mountain. Ami stomped her feet and shouted,
"I HATE YOU! I've always hated you! You drive me insane everytime I see you!"
"Oh really! Then what!? I couldn't really care less about being hated by you!"
Minori was just as spiteful with her words. The atmosphere between them was getting more terrifying--- "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!" "As if I care! Stop talking to me!" "Suits me just fine!" "By the way, why don't you piss off back to your old school!?" "What business is it of yours anyway!? You poor girl, why don't you work your ass off for the rest of your life!?" "What'd you say!? Then why don't you live the rest of your model life selling your face and wearing all those makeups and fake masks!" "How dare you!?" In a few sentences, their row had involved stuff that should never have been spoken, and they were shoving each other with more and more force as they provoked each other, "You want a piece of me!?" "Don't go crying back to your mama afterwards!" Whoa..." Taiga looked worryingly towards the two of them,
"We can't stand by and not do anything. I'm going to fight on Minorin's side! Go Ryuuji, you'll be fighting on Bakachi's side!"
"Okay... WAIT A MINUTE! This isn't right! We should be stopping them, you idiot!"
"This scene looks kinda scary, I only see these in my dreams!"
"Actually your fight with Big Brother was even scarier! You two were nosebleeding all over the place!"
"What's going on?" The schoolmates in their shiny skiing suits were beginning to gather upon hearing the commotion. Ryuuji and Taiga prepared to move to stop them.
At this moment, only Taiga saw the hair clip on Minori's hair fly off by Ami's hand, falling on a pile of newly fallen snow on the side. Ami and Minori's fight was getting increasingly heated and no one else noticed it.
Taiga quickly rushed towards the hair clip. That hair clip is very important, I can't let it get lost! Taiga thought as she tread through the thick snow and prepared to stretch her arm to grab it...
When the snow below her suddenly collapsed, she lost her balance, and didn't even have time to scream as she fell.
Maya, Nanako and Kitamura came rushing towards the fighting girls.
"Stop! Just what on earth are you doing!?"
"It's all her fault! All her fault! All her fault! I didn't do anything!"
"You started all this!"
The two girls were finally separated as even the Single Lady (aged 30) arrived. Restrained by Kitamura, Ami's eyes were still red as she continued to shout, while Minori's breathing became rapid as she stared furiously at Ami with gritted teeth. A group of students that gathered because of the commotion began whispering amongst themselves upon seeing a rare fight between Minori and Ami.
Ryuuji was quite shocked as well, How did it come to this?
"Anyway, I think you should take Kushieda back to your room and calm her down... Taiga?"
That's strange." Ryuuji looked around him, and discovered Taiga, who was just standing beside him a while ago, was gone.
"... Taiga's missing!"
Hearing Ryuuji's voice, Minori stopped staring at Ami and turned and looked surprisingly at Ryuuji.
"She was just here with me a while ago, trying to stop you girls from fighting..."
Minori looked around, her vision stopping at one spot, Ryuuji also discovered the same clue at the same time.
It was a trail of unnatural footprints headed towards the new pile of snow. Minori shoved off Ryuuji's hand on her shoulder and followed the footprints, with Ryuuji following behind.
"These footprints... could these be... Taiga's?"
"N... no way...!?"
They noticed the pile of snow was slightly protruding upwards, and just further ahead was the cliff, where the original pile of new snow had collapsed. They tried to move further forward, but were held back by a sudden gust of strong wind.
They had no idea how deep the cliff went, all they could see on the slope edge filled with conifers was tracks of someone who had fallen off.
... "Is it true that the Palmtop Tiger from Class C has gone missing?"
... "The missing Class C student is that Palmtop Tiger!?"
The group of second year students was in a clamour while being gathered in the wooden hall reserved for group visitors. Outside the blurry windows was the blizzard as reported in the weather forecast. One could hear the blizzard knocking against the windows.
"Takasu, I just asked Koigakubo-sensei. The slope where Aisaka fell into is a conifer forest, further down would be a road that is off limits during a blizzard. The skiing track staff have already begun searching along that road leading to the slope, if they still couldn't find her, they might have to contact the police... Takasu!"
Ryuuji got startled by the clapping noise in front of him, and finally lifted his head. He then noticed that Kitamura was staring at him,
"Get a hold of yourself! Don't worry, we'll find her!"
That was all Ryuuji could manage to say. Sitting on a sturdy chair sculpted to resemble a tree trunk, his mind still felt numb as though it were all a dream. His eyes were fixed on his scalded wound on his right hand while thinking, That idiot.
That stupid Taiga, she's finally allowed her clumsiness to put herself in danger.
He has seen her fallen off stairs, tripped over, bumped into things, food falling off while eating, that was all relatively normal. She was even nearly run over by a car not long ago. This right hand too left traces of her clumsiness. It was a miracle that she managed not to get seriously injured despite all these accidents. And yet that day had finally arrived.
While blaming Taiga for her clumsiness on one hand, on the other hand he blamed himself for not noticing that she had walked away from him, even though he was just beside her. It was like that during the Christmas Ball as well. As he thought more and more, Ryuuji hoped this time would be the same as last time.
The last time Taiga was safely at home. When he noticed she had disappeared, he only needed to run and he would naturally find her there.
But this time...
Ryuuji was even afraid to look out the window. What if they couldn't find her in this weather? Ryuuji quickly stopped that thought. No, it definitely won't happen. Taiga may be clumsy, but she has extraordinary reflexes, as well as a surprisingly healthy body, she'll definitely make it through. There's got to be a way, there has to be.
Ryuuji clasped his palms and prayed while closing his eyes stiffly. He didn't even notice that Noto and Haruta, who sat opposite himself, were looking worryingly at him.
There's gotta be a way... Yet within the corner of this hope, the thought of "what if" kept creeping in. If I could turn back the clock, back to that moment, then I definitely won't keep my eyes off Taiga, and be able to grab her hand.
Even if people were to misunderstand that we have a father-daughter relationship, even if this obstructs Taiga's independence or her romantic relationship, I'll never leave Taiga alone no matter what. It doesn't matter what people would say about our relationship, even if it means having to cut off these ears so as not to hear them, or getting rid of my brain so as not to think about them.
I will never let go of that idiot's hands, even if she'll end up stepping on my legs from behind.
If I had thought about this earlier, if I had known Taiga would encounter something like this, then I definitely wouldn't let go of her.
No matter how gross people make of it, I should not have left her behind.
Despite this, what are these hands, and these legs still doing here?
"What a big storm..."
Hearing a voice behind him, Ryuuji turned around.
Minori sat on a chair behind Ryuuji and looked out of the window. She bit her lips as she put on her cap, wore her gloves and zipped up her skiing suit. Ryuuji furrowed his brows as he had a bad feeling about this,
"Kushieda... what are you doing?"
"The blizzard's so huge, she has to be found quickly. So I'm going."
She stood up once she finished speaking, Ryuuji quickly stopped her,
"Are you crazy!? What'll we do if you go missing too!?"
"I can't just sit here and wait! It's alright, I'll be right back! As soon as I have a look at that place!"
Without waiting for Ryuuji's reply, she threw off Ryuuji's hand and started walking off. "Stop!" Kitamura noticed Minori's movements as well and walked in front of her to stop her. But Minori refused to listen and shoved off Kitamura's hand as she headed down the stairs towards the first floor entrance and stepped outside. Ryuuji tried grabbing her shoulder many times, and became agitated as she kept shoving his hand off,
".... Dammit... then I'm coming as well!"
"Then so am I! Noto! Haruta! Please inform the sensei about this!"
"What!? You can't do that!" Hearing Kitamura was going as well, Noto and the rest quickly stood up. But if they could not stop Minori, then they couldn't let her go alone like that.
"What should we do!?" Noto and the rest rushed to inform their teacher. Ami stayed behind, her pale face was lowered as she sat all alone not saying anything while her expression remained blank.
As more and more visitors made their way back due to the blizzard, Ryuuji and Kitamura caught up with Minori, who was treading on her boots.
Her goggles were already covered with snow, while her feet had sank into the soft layer of snow many times. Ryuuji finally managed to grab Minori's hand, and Kitamura too grabbed her other hand and said,
"Don't rush, Kushieda! If you really want to look for Aisaka, then you should calm down and look around you!"
Hearing Kitamura's commanding voice, Minori finally turned her head around, looking worried while nodding and catching her breath.
As the three of them were about to be blown off by another gust of strong wind, they quickly held each other's hands and marched forward. The place where Minori had fought with Ami was not far from the wooden hut beside the gentle slope of the skiing track.
"There's traces of someone falling down here!"
Minori approached the bulging edge of the cliff and pointed to the part where new snow had fallen.
"Hey! Don't get too close! It's dangerous!"
"But Taiga's down there! TAIGA----!!! ANSWER ME---!!!"
Minori stretched out her upper body, trying to get a better look below, Ryuuji grabbed hold of her sleeve, and planting his feet firmly on the ground to prevent her from falling down. The snow beside the tip of Minori's feet had already begun to crumble due to their weight. Ryuuji could feel cold sweat running down his back, and he could hardly close his jaws due to nervousness.
Ryuuji held on to Minori while looking down at the densely forested snowy slope below. They could hardly see the bottom--- If it weren't for this blizzard, they might be able to find some tracks of where Taiga slid down.
Something was flashing.
The flashing object was farther off from where they were searching, it was concealed just below a small dune, hidden in a hard to see corner below. That object continued to flicker like a lone star within a white night sky, shining a weak orange glow.
The weak light was soon blocked by more snow falling from above, but Ryuuji could clearly see it.
Taiga fell because she was trying to retrieve this. If I can find that, then I'll be able to find Taiga.
"What!? Did you see something!? Is Taiga down there!? Have you found her!?"
"I think so! We should hurry up and call for... no, it might be gone soon... Damn! Kushieda, you go get the other adults! Kitamura, you stay here, if I can't climb back up, then either pull me up or get help!"
Minori had wanted to say something, but quickly changed her mind and nodded,
"... Okay, I'll go get someone!"
And ran back towards the thick blizzard. Using Kitamura as a beacon, Ryuuji began to slowly slide down the slope.
As the slope was getting too steep for him to use his feet alone, Ryuuji began to grab onto the trees after sliding a few steps down, pulling his feet out whenever they got too deep into the snow. His target was the faint light emitted by the small hair clip.
Don't disappear! Please don't let it disappear! Ryuuji nearly spoke out his thoughts as he continued to slide downwards. Just a little closer... He huffed while clinging onto the snow, wiping the frost off his goggles.
He had slid for about twenty metres. They probably can't see this place from the road down there. He arrived beside a lush evergreen tree, picked up the hair clip and looked around,
And just beside the hair clip, Taiga was half buried under a pile of soft snow, cuddling her body inside a hole under the tree. Careful not to trip, Ryuuji slowly made his way towards the tree hole, firmly planting his feet into the snow as he moved forward, and picked up her tiny body.
"Taiga! Taiga! Taiga!"
He pulled Taiga's soft body out onto the snow, and saw her head lie backwards effortlessly. He held her tightly while feeling her neck... It's still warm, and she still has pulse. But having fallen from so high, she must have hit her head. Upon seeing some red fluid flow down her forehead, his breathing became harder, No way... This was the first time he ever felt his heart shiver all the way up to his spine.
Taiga whimpered weakly, Ryuuji noticed her moving her eyebrows and twitching her face. She's still alive, thank goodness. Taking a deep breath, Ryuuji looked up towards the steep slope... There's no time to think or hesitate now. And so he decided to carry Taiga's 40kg heavy body up the slope. But whenever he placed his foot on the slope, the snow beneath will collapse because of their weight, meaning it was impossible to make any firm footing. It seemed he had no choice but to hold onto Taiga and wait for help to arrive.
Faced with a sense of despair and helplessness, Ryuuji made a groan from deep within his throat. At this moment, Taiga suddenly grabbed her arm onto Ryuuji's body,
"I fell... Oww..."
And mumbled to herself as though sleepwalking. Looks like she's still fine, from the way she manages to hold onto me.
Ryuuji once again sank his knees into the snow, and slowly crawled forward, holding onto tree branches while climbing upwards. He wanted to speak to Taiga, but there was no way he could, because right now he must grit his teeth to prevent Taiga from falling off.
Taiga's hand now touched Ryuuji's face, and her gloveless hand felt the goggles on his eyes. She'll probably mistake them for glasses.
Taiga had indeed guessed wrongly.
But it didn't matter, as it was not the right moment to yell "It's me!" In any case, I must hurry.
"I thought it was Ryuuji... who had come to save me... I thought it had to be Ryuuji... I'm sorry... So sorry."
The voice he heard was strangely relieved, yet it still felt incoherent like sleep talking, which actually sounded quite terrifying. Taiga continued to use her slightly higher pitched voice than usual and spoke incoherently beside Ryuuji's ear,
"Kitamura-kun, looks like... your powers didn't work..."
Ryuuji's foot slid a little, he tried his hardest not to yell. Had Taiga not held on tightly onto Ryuuji, they would both have fallen into the valley.
"... I'm so sorry, Patron God of Broken Hearts, but my prayers didn't seem to work... I had wished that my love for Ryuuji, would all disappear... But it didn't come true... I wanted to become strong... But it was useless..."
Ryuuji quickly used his right hand to hold onto Taiga, who had nearly slipped off.
He gritted his teeth with all his strength and held onto her tightly, and looked upwards.
Kitamura saw us and is yelling at us. We're almost there.
"... But, I still... love Ryuuji... Even though I wished for him to get together with Minorin... In the end, it's still painful, so painful... I can't take it anymore..."
"I'm so useless... I tried to work hard on my own... I said I would... and yet I could only wait for someone to save me... I'm so weak... Too weak... It's pathetic..."
Taiga's tears kept flowing out of her tightly shut eyes, her hands had lost their strength as well. Ryuuji was now supporting her weight with just one hand. He furiously tried to hold onto Taiga while climbing upwards, but his foot slid, and he lost his balance.
As the two of them were about to fall off...
A firm hand appeared before him, it was a group of grownups dressed in luminescent skiing suits. In no time they had dragged both Ryuuji and Taiga upwards. They're probably the skiing track staff, or even the police.
"Are you guys okay? Are you hurt anywhere?"
"I'm fine! But Taiga! She's bleeding...!"
Not caring who it was, Ryuuji yelled loudly towards the person who helped placed a blanket over him. The grownup in the luminescent suit nodded understandingly and picked Taiga up before walking away.
Ryuuji couldn't sit upwards, and could only lie on the snow while catching his breath, as though he had just been thrown down by a strong force.
All he could see before him was whiteness - That was the blizzard, though another blizzard was also ravaging within his mind.
He knew Minori was running towards him, so was Kitamura, and he had now finally realized what that "something" which they were unwilling to say was, as well as realizing his own foolishness.
It was like a tying a string into a dead knot, which has finally been forcefully pulled apart. As the force was too strong, the string was close to being broken. And if it were to break, not even Ryuuji would know how it will all end.
"... Kitamura, I have a favour to ask you."
Ryuuji requested to his best friend, who was carrying him on one shoulder and looking worryingly at him. He restrained his stomach with all his strength, not letting Kitamura hear his voice quivering.
"Can you tell everyone that it was you that had rescued Taiga, please don't ask why. If Taiga asked, please tell her that she had been unconscious all the time and had said nothing. I beg you... Please!"
Holding onto Ryuuji, Kitamura silently said,
"There's something Aisaka had instructed me not to tell anyone else..."
Ryuuji couldn't see Kitamura's expression behind his goggles.
"... When I came across her during the New Year, she looked rather depressed, and was praying seriously at me... the Patron God of Broken Hearts. Could it be it has something to do with that?"
Ryuuji didn't answer, neither could he answer. He didn't know what sound he'd make if he did.
"It has something to do with it, right? ... I see... Christmas night... and then the New Year... I see."
"It wasn't anybody's fault, and it certainly wasn't yours either..." Kitamura nodded and said, though his voice had faded into the blizzard.
In the end Taiga was hardly injured. The heavens had indeed blessed Taiga with a strong body to complement her clumsiness.
"She had a cut on her forehead, but overall she's fine." That was what the teacher told them during dinner time. After creating such a huge commotion, Taiga would certainly be embarrassed and would feel like dying.
Sighs of relief by the students could be heard around, some nosy person even raised his hand and asked, "Then will she be joining us in our activities tomorrow?"
Yet the answer from the Single Lady (aged 30) was unexpected,
"Aisaka-san will be staying in hospital tonight, and she will be fetched home by her mother tomorrow. It will be too exhausting for her to travel around in a coach."
Ryuuji nearly dropped his chopsticks.
Mother... You mean her real mother? She didn't even come to school when Taiga was suspended, and now she's coming all this way to the middle of nowhere just to fetch Taiga? And it's not like Taiga's seriously injured!
"Isn't that great, Taka-chan? Taiga's fine~!"
"... Er, yeah..."
Ryuuji smiled casually back at Haruta, whose eyes were now fixed at the pocket on Ryuuji's chest,
"Huh? That hair clip is now back with Taka-chan!"
After picking it up on the snow and placing it in his pocket, he had completely forgotten about it. The idiot Haruta whispered besides Ryuuji's ear and said,
"By the way~ that hair clip, that's the Christmas present you were planning to send to 'that person', right? When you were prepared to throw it away, I saw some Christmas wrappings on it, now I know why..."
Ryuuji's mind was still stuck in that blizzard.
He shrugged his shoulders to confirm Haruta's thoughts, completely not noticing his surroundings, because there was too much for him to think about.
Which was why he failed to notice "that person" was just sitting not far from him, and like a radar, was filtering out all the background noise and focusing only on Ryuuji's voice. And when she heard their conversation, she immediately understood at once.
She finally realized how her unintentional actions had caused so much damage.
Minori silently stood up, and slowly crept out of the restaurant without anyone noticing, running past the chilly corridor, she came to the empty resting room.
She fell onto the sofa which Ryuuji had sat before, and buried her face within her knees and wept. She did not know the source of her sadness, she just knew she hated her hands very much, those small, feminine hands which simply were not big enough to hide her tearful face.
Using those hands to cover her face, Minori cuddled herself and wept silently.
The blizzard should end tomorrow.
Yet the sound of the storm banging on the window was still terrifying enough to scare a child, and even the glass was shaking nonstop.
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