"Ryuuji, seconds, now!" Taiga demanded.
"Isn't this your 3rd bowl?!" The male high schooler asked.
"Yeah, so what?"
"So, when are you going to stop stealing my food?"
"Well, you made it for me, so it isn't stealing."
"That's not true, I made it for you and Yasuko-san."
Yasuko smiled happily through her chewing and said, "I'm glad I got off early today, I get to eat Ryu-chan's cooking!"
"Don't get too spoiled, Yasuko. He's only a dog servant, who knows when he's going to become a runaway?"
"Like I said, I'm not a dog! And if I was one, I wouldn't run away from you, I'd bite you and chase you off."
"Huh?!" she replied with failed sarcasm that seeped anger, "You would bite me? You already agreed to do anything for me, didn't you?"
"When did I do that?! In some alternate universe, maybe, but not this one!"
"Yeah, you did! After you found out that I liked-" Taiga suddenly paused, anger emptying her, "Alternate... Universe..."
"Do you not know what an alternate universe is?"
"Of course I do, dumbass! In fact, I wish I was in one right now where I didn't meet you!" The anger flew back to her face.
"Same here! Why would I ever want to be friends with someone who whacks me in the face at our first meeting?!"
"Hmph! It seemed like you enjoyed it though, you masochist!"
"If that's so, then you're a damn sadist!"
"What did you ju-?!"
Suddenly, Yasuko gave a huge yawn and fell back onto Ryuuji's carpet, "I'm going to... catch up on lost sleep... now..." She began snoring like a drag racing car.
"..." The two teenagers stared blankly.
Then, Taiga realized something, "Oh no, am I going to have to carry her back...?"
"Probably," said Ryuuji, "so, have fun... I guess."
Taiga looked up at him, "Yeah. We're going to have fun."
"Ow ow ow! Watch it, dog!"
"Whoah, whoah! Is that what you say to someone that's helping you carry your own mom down the stairs?!"
"No, but that's what I say that to my dog servant!"
"Again with tha- Uwaagh!" Yasuko suddenly stretched her arms out and almost sent Ryuuji tumbling down the staircase with a bruise on his face.
"Ryuuji! Don't let go of her!"
"A little hard to hold on when there's a woman's armpit in your face!"
"Wha-?! You pervert! Get away from Yasuko!"
"Hey, do you want me to help you or not?!"
"Then make up your mind!"
They reached the end of the stairs and half-tumbled out into the night.
"...Hahh…" Taiga breathed heavily.
"Why is your mom so damn heavy?" Ryuuji managed to say through his gasps of air.
Taiga scoffed and said, "It's probably all her chest. Those big… melons are weighing her down. Those huge things…"
She put her hands on her own. "Those ginormous bowling balls…! The ones that weren't passed down to me…!"
"BREASTS!" She yelled in Ryuuji's face, suddenly lurching over Yasuko.
Ryuuji pulled back and planted his hand on Taiga's crazed expression, pushing her back.
He let go and Taiga glared at him, her hair flying up, a red hand print stuck on her face.
"Ah, hehe…" Ryuuji chuckled nervously, "Uh, Taiga…?"
The next moment, Taiga was dragging her mom to their shabby apartment alone while Ryuuji was crumpled on the floor, scratch marks all over his face.
"She's definitely… a tiger…"
The next morning, Taiga and Ryuuji walked to school together a little awkwardly.
Minori, waiting at her usual spot for Taiga, suddenly spoke up, "Taigaaa!"
She came running at her friend with a flying tackle-hug and Ryuuji saw Taiga disappear under Minori.
"Moff-!" She yelled under the red haired girl.
"Taiga! Why didn't you tell me you were with Aisaka-san?!" she looked at Ryuuji and winked, turning back to Taiga, "You're finally growing up now, huh?" She ruffled Taiga's hair into a mess, then bounded over to Ryuuji.
She smiled and said, "It's really nice and all that your being that person for Taiga, but, uh," her face suddenly became dark with shadows, "if you hurt her in anyway, I'll kill you," she penetrated Ryuuji's earlobe with her whispers.
He shivered once and backed off, "Uh- I mean, yes ma'am!"
"Cool! Then everything's okay, right?" She replied, back to her normal tone.
Taiga, still stunned from Minori's hair treatment, snapped out of it and walked over to the two.
"Minori, make sure not to get too close to this guy, okay?"
"Eh? Why not?" She asked.
"He's a pervert. He likes smelling older women's armpits."
Immediately, Minori materialized before Ryuuji and put her nose on his. "What did you do to my angel…?" She asked in the same, menacing whisper from before.
Ryuuji backed up as suddenly as he could, waving his arms in the air.
"N-nothing! I didn't do anything!"
Her face melting back into the amused face she had before, Minori quickly returned to a more pleasant stature and said, "Good! As long as you understand, right?", the last word creeping out of her mouth like black smoke.
Ryuuji quickly nodded his head in response and Minori smiled.
"Well then, shall we go to school?" she asked. Ryuuji agreed while Taiga looked at the two strangely.
"You guys are weird..." Taiga said, and the group departed.
It was sunset when Taiga exited the school building.
The day had gone by quickly; she, Ryuuji, Minori, and Yuusaku had eaten lunch together like usual, and now they were all pretty much a big part of Taiga's life.
After that, she half-slept through classes until it was over, only to bitterly recall being chosen for after-school duty.
She had to clean up the classroom and worst of all, clean the board.
Her feet almost slipped trying to balance on one of the tables she'd pulled over to stand on just to reach the top of the board.
So Taiga continued down the path that led to the school gate as the golden-red sunset filled in through the air.
She breathed in, taking in the air, and closed her eyes.
The past month to her had been amazing, although she would never admit it herself.
Before, the only friend Taiga had was Minori, and now, she was suddenly surrounded by people she admired, loved, and didn't mind being around.
And she exhaled, letting the soft air out, feeling as though she were engulfed by a blanket of warmth.
Then as she passed the gates, her eyes still closed, she walked into something soft.
"Uff." Taiga made a noise.
"Hey." Ryuuji said nervously, placing his hand on Taiga's head, which was buried in his stomach. Taiga looked up, and to Ryuuji's surprise, she didn't seem angry.
"Ryuuji." She replied, "Why are you still here?"
"Ah, I had some free time, so I ended up waiting for you."
"You waited for me?"
"Yeah, what did I just say? I also figured we could talk about dinner tonight."
"But didn't you say you hated that?"
"Well, once in awhile is fine… I mean, the company is always…" Ryuuji's cheeks tinted pink and he avoided Taiga's eyes, "What I'm trying to say is that - before you guys, it's always just been me at home. My apartment is clean, but it's also empty, and sometimes… it gets a little too empty."
"..." Taiga leaned in a little, listening.
"And, uh, basically, I seem to enjoy having you guys around, so…" he paused, "I would be happy if you could join me for dinner tonight."
Taiga blushed and turned away for a moment, then flipped back around with a failed snobby expression, "Of course you enjoy having me around. Hmph, you're my dog!"
"Yeah yeah," Ryuuji said, fully aware that Taiga was embarrassed,"Dog or not, you won't miss out on one of my dinners."
"... That's true."
"Haha," Ryuuji laughed, "Come on, let's go."
And so the pair walked off into the sunset, dragon and tiger beginning to bond.
The path ahead was clear, but it was rough.
Farther down, a foreboding fork in the road split their paths.
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