A/N: Here we go, then. Last chapter. I don't really know what to say, but I'll put in another author's note at the end of this.
Alone. Alone, in the dark. Lost. Taiga had never thought she'd become homeless on purpose. Walking the streets, sleeping in the streets. She had been moving around a bit that week, trying to make sure she couldn't be found or traced. Becoming homeless on purpose was a weird thing to do in order to make the people you love happy, but she was possessed by the idea that she was only trouble, so that was what she had resorted to.
That night, though, she had arrived at a town in which an old friend lived. No one knew that she had a friend who lived there, so no one would come looking. So she went to her friend's house, hoping she'd be home, and she knocked on the door. After a few moments, the door opened.
"Hello? Wait, Taiga?" The girl with the curly brown hair frowned a bit as she saw her. "What are you doing here?"
"Hey, Yuna." Taiga said and snickered awkwardly. "Uhm… I kinda… need a place to stay for the night. It's complicated."
"I haven't seen you in two years!" Yuna exclaimed, hugging the tiny girl that stood on her doorstep. "Come on in!"
"Thanks," Taiga smiled and entered the house. The first thing Taiga did was take a shower, considering she hadn't done that for a couple of days. She came out of the bathroom wearing one of Yuna's shirts, a pair of pajama pants, and a red scarf.
"What are you still wearing that scarf for?" Yuna asked from where she sat on her bed, watching TV. "Isn't it a bit warm?"
"Oh, this?" Taiga put her hand on the scarf and hesitated for a moment. "I don't know, I just… think it's comfy." She mumbled, her eyes cast down at the floor.
"Huh, okay." Yuna shrugged. "Come on, sit with me. We have to catch up." Yuna grinned, patting the spot next to her. Taiga jumped up and cuddled close to her old friend, taking comfort in the closeness of another person. "Hey, that's a nice necklace." Yuna suddenly said, noticing the jewelry around Taiga's neck.
"Ah, thanks," Taiga said, seeming a bit surprised. She put her hand around the necklace and smiled at Yuna. "It's my dragon."
In that same town, a big group of people rushed out of a train that had just arrived at the station. They all seemed to be in quite the hurry.
"Kawashima?" Noto asked once they left the train. "Where is that café?"
"It's not far. We should be able to be there in a couple of minutes."
"Wouldn't it be closed by now?" Maya asked, and Ami nodded hurriedly as she walked ahead.
"It would, but I had my friend stay there for us. Means I'm gonna owe her, but that's just life."
"Should we split up?" Haruta asked, seeming quite excited about the entire situation. He felt like they were in an action movie or a thriller.
"There's no need to split up when we know where we're going, idiot." Noto groaned.
"Let us hurry!" Minori shouted with a fist pumping into the air, and Kitamura seemed to agree with her opinion. They all jogged towards the café with Ami in the lead.
The white dress made Taiga look like an angel. She stood there on that stage, all the rage and sadness inside of her having leaked out, and Ryuuji could see it so well. She was alone up there. All alone, by herself, with no one to hold onto.
"Again..." Ryuuji thought as he started walking towards the stage. "I left her alone again."
"So you have a boyfriend, huh?" Yuna grinned at Taiga, looking slightly devilish. Seemed like she was taking a bit of pleasure in the fact that Taiga was experiencing new things. "Is it that Kitty guy you told me about on the phone that one time?"
"Kitty?" Taiga asked, confused. "Oh, wait, Kitamura?"
"Yes, that's it."
"No, it's not him… it's, uhm… it's his best friend, uh… his name's Ryuuji. We're in a complicated situation, though, so I'm here now." Taiga sighed.
"Did you have a fight or something? If that's the case, I feel sorry for him. You probably kicked his ass, huh?"
"No!" Taiga suddenly exclaimed, but then she calmed down after seeing how shocked Yuna looked. "Ryuuji is… the kindest person I know. He wouldn't say anything bad about anyone, and he wouldn't hurt a fly. I've seen him violent once in my entire life, and that was… he was protecting me…" She looked down at her lap before looking back up with a sheepish smile on her face. "I mean, I used to kick his ass all the time, but that was before all of this."
"I see," Yuna smiled. "So, have you… you know." Again, she was grinning like crazy at Taiga. She could see that Taiga turned a bit flustered, so she figured she'd hit a nerve there.
"Y-Yeah… we do it all the time, actually…" She mumbled with blown up cheeks.
"Haaaa…" Yuna breathed out, looking like she'd seen a ghost. "I didn't think you'd be that open about it, you… you… vixen!" She laughed.
"What? Oh, dear, no!" Taiga stuttered. "I was talking about kissing!"
"Okay, so you haven't actually slept with him yet?" Yuna giggled.
"No… to be honest, I… I don't think I'd mind it, but… We used to be very oblivious to that kind of stuff, you know… and I guess we've become more aware of it, but… nothing yet."
"That's hormones for you, right there." Yuna said, as if she could totally relate to how Taiga felt. "We all go through it."
"I guess." Taiga sighed. It was good, getting to talk about her relationship with Ryuuji as if nothing was wrong. As if everything was just perfect and everyone was happy. She hoped that it one day might be like that again. When Yasuko was healthy and Taiga no longer could cause any trouble.
He'd bumped into something. He wasn't sure what, but he'd definitely bumped into something. He turned his head in one direction. And then in another direction. Had he bumped into a ghost? Was this a haunted school? Bullshit. A haunted school, that would be some serious bullshit.
"The most dangerous people in school are already butting heads!" Someone exclaimed. Most dangerous? Did everyone know about this ghost? Was it that dangerous?
"The delinquent Takasu and the Palmtop Tiger are in a fight!" He looked down a little. Oh. Not a ghost. Just a really tiny person. This tiny person was completely frozen.
"Oh, s-sorry! I didn't mean to! Wait, Palmtop Tiger?" The boy frowned, a big question mark written across his face. But then he saw the annoyed face of the little girl and he started to understand. "Oh, I get it! Palmtop Ti-"
"Yeah, this is definitely the one." Ryuuji said as he held up the tiger that Ami's friend had handed to him. He swallowed a lump in his throat and didn't stop looking at the tiger figurine.
"So, that means Taiga really was here, huh?" Minori muttered, actually looking a bit surprised that they were on their way to finding her. She'd been gone for over a week, and it was really starting to bother Minori that she didn't have her best friend. She didn't really let on to it, but being without Taiga made her sad on a deeper level than anyone had come to think of. Ryuuji could probably relate, she thought. But everyone knew that Ryuuji was broken up about it.
"We'll definitely find her at this rate!" Ami beamed.
"Man, I wish I could join in on this hunt… I can only imagine how cute all of it would be…" Ami's friend, Ruruka, sighed. "But of course my friend managed to forget her phone charger at my place last week, so I gotta go and bring it to her now. Good luck, yeah?" She smiled at Ryuuji and the others.
"Wait." Ryuuji said as Ruruka was about to leave. He went up to her and held out his hand. "Thank you. Really. Thank you so very, very much."
Ruruka smiled shyly and shook Ryuuji's hand. "No problem." She said, and then she left thinking how great it would be to have someone who cared as much as that boy did.
"Alright, should we start searching?" Julian asked, having been so quiet that everyone had pretty much forgotten that he was there.
"Uh, yeah." Ryuuji said, actually looking a bit surprised. "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea."
"Should we split up?" Haruta asked again, pumping a fist into the air with a lot of energy.
"Actually, yeah, we should." Yukuri retorted.
"Oh… really?" Haruta asked, and when no one objected, he grinned widely. "Cool."
"Kitamura-kun!" Minori exclaimed, and Kitamura nodded.
"Yup, we'll be one team!" Kitamura replied, putting his thumb up.
"Okay, me and Ami, obviously." Yukuri said with a flattering smile. Ami didn't object.
"Kiraii!" Torya shot in, pulling an invisible gun out of her pocket.
"Miraii!" Tamura replied and did the same.
After that, Noto and Haruta teamed up. So did Nanako and Maya.
"It's you and me, then, Ryuuji." Julian said and walked up to Ryuuji.
"Yup, looks like it. We should get going." Ryuuji said, and everyone moved in each their direction. The game, one would say, was on.
The cave was dark. It was so very dark and Ryuuji was starting to regret the horror-show he'd put on to impress Minori. He was alone and actually sort of terrified and part of him was sure he'd never get out of there alive.
"Ryuuji?" A voice called from the dark. A voice he recognized. So tiny and fragile. Searching. "Where are you? I can't see…" He heard the voice coming closer to him, stumbling through the dark. "Where are you?" He felt something bump against him. Just like the first time they met.
"Here." Ryuuji said, surprised over his own voice. He felt Taiga's wrist in his hand, his other hand interlacing with Taiga's. She was close enough for him to see her features, but just barely. "I'm… I'm right here." He said as he saw Taiga's eyes staring up at him.
That's right, he thought in that moment. I'm right here.
"Summer vacation is going to be so good, though." Yuna sighed. "The entire time during graduation today, the only thing I could think of was relaxing for several weeks."
"Yeah, relaxing is going to be good." Taiga said, though the truth was she probably wouldn't have the best summer vacation in the world. Gone from her friends and the boy she loved… yeah, it didn't really sound like the ideal way to spend summer. There was a knock at the front door.
"I'll be right back," Yuna said as she bounced up from the bed and disappeared out of the room. Taiga could hear the door open and talking going on in the hallway. "Ah, Ruruka!" Taiga could hear Yuna say. "Thanks, I'd be dead without this."
"Oh, I know you would." The girl at the door giggled.
"Hey, wanna come in for a second? Old friend of mine is here."
"Oh, I'd love to, but I have to get home." Ruruka said.
"Well, then… Taiga!" Yuna shouted. "Get out here and say hello to my friend!" Taiga giggled softly to herself at Yuna's carelessness and stood from the bed to greet this Ruruka person.
"Hello. My name's Taiga." Taiga said as she entered the hallway and saw the girl at the door. "Oh… it's you." She uttered, surprised.
"T-Taiga…" Ruruka gasped. Yuna looked more than just a little confused.
"You know each other?" She asked, looking back and forth between the two.
"Not exactly." Taiga shook her head. "I just… I visited the café she works at earlier."
"This is such a weird coincidence!" Ruruka exclaimed, smiling widely. "But it's perfect that I found you! They're all looking for you!"
Taiga froze completely. "W-What?" She stuttered, swallowing nervously. "Who's looking for me?"
"All your friends. Your boyfriend, too, uh… Ryuuji, was that his name? You see, I called my friend Ami to tell her about the cute girl who dropped off something romantic at the café, and oddly enough, she knew you. What a weird day full of coincidences!" Ruruka smiled even wider now, almost laughing.
"Taiga? What is she talking about?" Yuna asked, looking quite confused. Before she knew it, Taiga had rushed past Ruruka and out into the streets. She was barefoot, and it was dark outside, and Yuna was more than just a little worried. "Taiga, where are you going?!" She shouted, and after putting on some shoes in a hurry, her and Ruruka rushed after whilst Ruruka dialed Ami's number on her phone.
No, Taiga thought as she ran, the tears welling up in her eyes. This wasn't supposed to happen. Please, please, no.
"Let's hope this place isn't too big." Julian commented as him and Ryuuji walked through the streets, looking for signs of Taiga.
"Yeah. At least we're all searching, so we might get lucky." Ryuuji mumbled, shrugging his shoulders a little. He had to have hope, he knew that much. They'd been walking for a little while, but not very long, when Ryuuji's phone rang. "Hello?"
"Ryuuji!" Ami shouted from the other side. "I'm about to text you a number. Call it, okay?!"
"Just do it!" Ami growled and then she hung up. Seconds later, a message came in, and Ryuuji called the number that was displayed on the screen.
"Where are you?" The voice on the other side asked. It was a girl, and she sounded exhausted, as if she was running. It was Ruruka.
"Uh… I'm at the Poropon Photo Shop."
"Is it on your left or your right?"
"Then run, and take your next right!" Ruruka shouted, and without asking, Ryuuji did as he was told. Julian looked a bit confused, but followed suit and started running behind Ryuuji. Ryuuji was constantly given directions, and it really seemed like Ruruka had the entire town mapped out in her head.
Chase him. I have to chase him. I don't want to lose him, I don't want to. Don't want to. He's going to be with Minorin now but I can't… lose him.
"Ryuuji!" The girl screamed, bare feet painful against the cold pavement. The tears were flowing down her eyes without stopping. "Ryuu-" She fell to her knees, devastated. "-ji…"
"I'm right here."
She had to run. She had to run so Ryuuji didn't catch her because she was afraid she wouldn't be able to let go this time. She was afraid that he would catch her and her emotions would go out of control and she would refuse to ever leave his side again and she'd cause trouble again, she'd cause trouble for Ryuuji and Yasuko and she didn't want that, she didn't want it at all.
I'll win this race. I'll win this race and I'll get to you and I'll never, ever let go of you again. I'll never leave you alone again. Because I left you alone, I left you alone, I did it again, I did it again and it's unforgivable. Wait for me, Taiga. I'll definitely catch you.
"Got it! Come on, Julian!" Ryuuji shouted.
"Right on your tail, bro!" Julian replied as loud as he could. He was realizing now that his metabolism wasn't the best in the world.
"Now keep going up that street, and then the corner on your right!" Ruruka shouted. They were falling behind, but she could still see what direction Taiga was headed. If only the timing was right.
"I'm a dragon. You're a tiger."
"Takasu-kun… Ryuuji… Ryuuji made me delicious fried rice! When I wanted someone by my side, he was the only one there! I always want to be with him! I feel that way all the time! Even now, it hurts…as if I'm being torn apart… always! Always! Because Ryuuji was there, I… I really don't hate him."
"You go on, Ryuuji!" Julian wheezed, coming to a slowing halt. "I'm god damn exhausted."
"Since ancient times, the dragon has been the only beast to equal the tiger."
The red scarf clung tightly to Taiga's neck. A symbol of their love, perhaps. She wasn't sure, but she never wanted to let that scarf go. Even now, when running as fast as she could, she refused to let it fall of, and kept tightening it as much as she could.
The red string of fate is believed to be a red string tied around the little fingers of those who are destined to be together, and they are connected on the middle. Connected, forever, no matter what.
"I'll catch you," Ryuuji said under his wheezing breath. "I'll definitely catch you."
Again. I left her alone again.
I thought no one ever loved me. Maybe that was an excuse for running away.
I'm a dragon. You're a tiger.
Ryuuji is mine! Nobody touches him!
That way, I'll stay by your side forever.
Everything I want always ends up breaking. But my feelings were rewarded.
Ryuuji rounded the corner, and he could see Taiga stop suddenly a few meters away from him. His eyes were open. He could see clearly again.
"Ryuuji…" Taiga whimpered, looking shocked out of her own mind.
"Taiga…" Ryuuji breathed, slowly stepping towards her.
"Don't!" Taiga shouted, taking a step back. She was trying to keep a stern face, but not crying wasn't' exactly easy for her at the time. "Don't come any closer!"
"Taiga… come back." Ryuuji said with a sad tone to his voice, but Taiga refused to budge.
"Why did you look for me?" Taiga mumbled, shaking her head. "Why couldn't you just let me do this?"
"Why?! I can't just leave you alone like this!"
"It's for the best!" Taiga screamed, and everything was silent. Ruruka and Yuna had stopped further down the street after seeing Ryuuji standing there with Taiga. Ryuuji had even forgotten to hang up the phone, so Ruruka did it instead. "With me there… with me there, I'm just… a burden."
"You're not a burden! I told you before, didn't I? That night when you had that dream? Tell me you remember, Taiga!"
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because the situation is different now. Yacchan… is sick. My presence only makes everything worse. You need the money to… to…"
"We can't do this without you Taiga!" Ryuuji shouted. "Don't you get it? You're family! You keep convincing yourself that you're this alien deity that ruins everything, but it's not like that!"
"You're family! You're part of our family and we cannot do it without you! You need to understand that we are not better off without you!"
"How can you know that?!" Taiga yelled.
"Because I've seen Yasuko this past week! I've seen her suffer. The cancer is no match for how much she misses you. For how much I miss you. My mom will die of longing before that damn cancer kills her."
"I can't… I can't, I can't be a burden, I…"
"No one thinks of you as one." A voice said behind Ryuuji. Minori stepped forwards and gave Taiga a sad smile. They were all there. Ruruka had called Ami again with directions, and she'd gathered everyone. They were all there to take Taiga back home.
"What are you all… doing here…?" Taiga mumbled, and then she fell to her knees, sobbing. Minori put a hand on Ryuuji's shoulder and gave him a nudge forwards. He slowly walked towards Taiga and kneeled before her. Her eyes were cast down.
"You left this…" Ryuuji smiled softly and held up the tiger in his hand.
"I… I kept the dragon… I'm sorry. I just couldn't let go." Taiga cried, forcing her eyes to stay on the ground beneath her. Her feet hurt. Her heart hurt.
"I'm a dragon." Ryuuji started, grabbing one of Taiga's hands to place the tiger in her palm. "You're a tiger. Since ancient times, the dragon has been the only beast to equal the tiger. That's why…"
"Ryuuji…" Taiga sobbed, her face turning upwards now. Her free hand went up to clutch at Ryuuji's shoulder.
"That's why… I ask you to marry me." Ryuuji continued. "I promised you that I would do it romantically, and… I hope this is good enough. If we're engaged, then… I can never leave you alone again."
"You shouldn't have stopped me… idiot…" Taiga mumbled, looking into Ryuuji's eyes.
"And I didn't." Ryuuji smiled. "We did. All of us."
"I will." Taiga said.
"I'll marry you. And I'll come back… I knew it…" Taiga mumbled. "I knew that if you caught me I wouldn't be able to let go."
"Yeah," Ryuuji whispered, and then he embraced her. "Come home with me."
There is something in this world that no one has ever seen before. It is gentle and sweet. Maybe if it could be seen, everyone would fight over it. That is why the world hid it, so that no one could get their hands on it so easily. However, someday, someone will find it. The person who deserves it the most will definitely find it.
Ryuuji let those words from the TV resonate a bit in his head. "If that's the case…" He mumbled, eyes cast down. "If it's true that I'm one of the people who found it, how come it doesn't mean at least enough for you to get off my damn lap so I can make dinner?!"
"Shut up, I need a cushion." Taiga mumbled, completely caught up in the plot of whatever was going on in the movie on TV. "So… when does Yacchan come home?" Taiga asked, finally turning her attention to Ryuuji. He shrugged.
"I don't know. Shouldn't be too long, I guess. I hope she's careful, though, I mean…" He looked outside the window with an exasperated look on his face.
"It really is a white Christmas this year, isn't it?" Taiga sighed, seeing the snow fall outside. "I get cold just looking at it. You'd better heat me up when we go to sleep tonight."
"Jeez…" Ryuuji sighed, turning completely red just by the thought of it.
"We're adult, Ryuuji, we should be able to talk about it without getting this embarrassed." Taiga said, making sure Ryuuji didn't see that she was actually blushing like crazy too.
"We're still only eighteen, Taiga!" Ryuuji groaned.
"Yeah… feels good though, doesn't it?" Taiga grinned.
"Oh, shut u- hold on." Ryuuji said as he noticed his phone was calling. "Hello?"
Taiga looked at him intently as he took in whatever information that came in over the phone. At first he looked completely terrified, which made a knot appear in Taiga's stomach. It couldn't be… and then Ryuuji's face relaxed, and a wash of relief seemed to come over him.
It was that night that Taiga and Ryuuji got a call from the hospital telling them that Takasu Yasuko was in remission, and over the years they'd come to realize that her cancer was never going to come back. She had fought the cancer growing inside of her, and she had won. In their own way, Ryuuji and Taiga had done the same.
And it happened on a Christmas night that their fight ended and their life fully began. Every story has a beginning, but the story of Taiga and Ryuuji will never end. Not really. It'll live on through whatever children they might raise, and their children again, people will know of the dragon and the tiger who never gave up and managed to live happily together, for the rest of their lives.
That's just the way it is.
A/N: The end... I guess? Wow, this is hard. First of all I just want to thank all of you. Thank you for sticking with me and thank you for being patient with this story for such a long time. And also thank you to all the new readers, proving to me that people can always find this and read it even after it's finished. It's been a long ride. Three years, I think? I started this story when I couldn't write to save my own life, and I feel like this fanfic is a proof of my artistic growth. Somewhat, at least. I've mentioned previously that I'm open to write more stories from the same universe as this fic, and I stand by that. I'm not ready to completely let go yet, so yeah. I don't know what else to say at the time being. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's been a great 3 years. I hope to see you again, and I hope you were pleased with the way this story ended.