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Full Metal Panic! - Volume 12 - Chapter Ep


Epilogue 
 
 
Virginia, the outskirts of the City of Portsmouth 
 
Near two old graves, a third fresh one had appeared recently. 
The inscription on the tombstone read: 
 
Here lies Leonard Testarossa 
Who wished for a just, righteous world 
 
There was nothing in the grave, of course. His body was turned to dust by that nuclear explosion in the West Pacific. 
He probably wouldn’t have wanted to be interred next to his mother, but she had to do it. She wanted them to talk, if they ever met in the other world. It was a bit lonely for him to be near her alone, and so she put the tombstone between their parent’s graves. That should be fine. 
She didn’t know what would happen several decades later - she would probably be resting there, too, and the time would finally come for the entire family to be together. The reconciliation would probably be difficult, but... she could only believe that it would come. 
“Isn’t this a good end?” murmured Tessa. 
The tombstone was silent. Only the sound of wind and the chirping of birds disturbed the serene silence of that place. 
She stood up, and returned to her companions. The three people left this place. One of them was Mardukas, his forehead now sporting a scar, that somehow seemed to make him less cold, but even more grim. The other was Admiral Jerome Borda, former 
chief of operations of Mithril. It was unknown if he was alive or dead after the attack on the headquarters. He had been recovering from his injuries for over half a year. It looked like during all that time, the preparations for the reconstruction of the organization continued. 
“Is it fine now?” said Borda. 
His left eye was now covered by an eye patch, and he used a cane to walk. 
“Yes, uncle. Sorry to make you come all the way here.” 
Tessa and her crew had made an emergency landing on the ocean after running away from the nuclear explosion over Merida Island. There, they were picked up by the USS Pasadena. Needless to say, Captain Sailor was amazed to see both the cute maid and the “Duke” among the survivors, and even allowed (perhaps because of the utter shock) the tiger on board his submarine. The tiger was now in the Hawaii zoo. 
They were treated very well aboard Captain Sailor’s vessel, but after docking in Hawaii, they had been taken into custody by the Navy intelligence. She had thought that severe questioning was about to begin, but admiral Borda came to pick her up just in time. She didn’t know what connections he had used, but the entire crew was freed. To her surprise, she heard that Seals and Courtney, previously charged with appropriation of military vehicles and AS, were also acquitted. 
“A report just came in. The military decided to lower their level to DEFCON four. For the time being at least, I’m pretty sure the crisis is averted.” 
“Really...” 
“But I’ll remember those three hours after the explosion forever. It was a ballistic missile launch after all... and those five 
minutes after we realized it was heading towards some unpopulated island were a goddamn nightmare. 
The West was about to retaliate, and both Hunter and Lemon outdid themselves - they tried to spread the information that the nuclear base was under control as fast as possible between the intelligence agencies across the world. In the end, they had averted World War III. This world couldn’t be called peaceful, but it returned to its normal functioning. Both good and bad things would happen in any living society, after all. 
“It was not unpopulated,” Mardukas corrected him. 
“Yes... I’m sorry.” 
“No, it’s all right.” 
“So, what happened to that girl, Kaname Chidori?” 
“...she left the hospital. She wanted to go back to Tokyo once again.” 
After her escape from the island, Kaname Chidori slept for two weeks. No one knew the reason. Her fever had subsided, and her condition seemed close to normal, but it seemed like she didn’t want to wake up. 
Tessa had tried to wake her up by using “resonance” once, but nothing happened. She thought that the girl was rejecting her attempts, but that didn’t seem right. In fact, she didn’t feel that “whispering” voice even once from the time of that battle on Merida. Sometimes, she thought she had echoes or déjà vu sensations, and would be quite cautious about it for a long time; but it seemed that they all would never hear that voice again. She hadn’t yet decided whether it was a good or bad thing. 
After some time, for some unknown reason, Kaname had opened her eyes. At first, she was in a terrible state of confusion, but gradually understood the situation - and it was clear that she had returned to her normal self. Tessa was quite amazed to hear 
what had happened inside the TAROS... but then came the most difficult part. Tessa, clenching her fists and trying to retain her composure, had informed her of what happened on Merida - that Merida Island was hit by a nuclear missile, and that there was no time to take refuge... and that Sousuke was left behind. Kaname listened silently until the very end, and only said “I’m sorry”. They hadn’t talked much after that. Tessa, calming down, only made a promise with her to meet again soon, and left that place. 
“It must be hard...” 
“Yes...” 
Those were their last words to each other, and she didn’t know her real feelings yet. Tessa didn’t cry once. The next week, probably, or the one after, her sorrow would break through because of some trivial matter, and she would start blaming herself. This had repeated itself many times already. 
The three people were returning to the car, walking on a path through the forest. It was still cold, but spring was just around the corner. 
“What are you planning to do from now on?” 
“Personally, I wanted to return to England for once. I have some money saved, it should last me for a while. I’ll play chess and read some old military books, as usual.” 
“Well... it’s not like you have a ship to return to. Are you going to meet your wife?” 
“My former wife, sir. I don’t plan to start over, but eating out together would be nice... I don’t know myself, to tell you the truth,” Mardukas shrugged. 
“What about you, Teletha?” 
“Who knows,” she smiled faintly. 
She thought she might visit the bereaved families of the subordinates she had lost, or just go travelling. Nora was probably 
feeling bitter about Sachs’ death, and she didn’t know if she would really meet her, but at least paying her respects should be enough. If it was about travelling, she would ask Melissa to join her... ah, but there’s Weber-san. She’d probably be interfering. 
Like everybody else, she thought he had died a heroic death, but when she heard he had suddenly appeared on the battlefield in Afghanistan, she felt uncomfortable. Before the operation, she had been thinking about a lot of things... and afterwards, her first reaction to him was anger, only afterwards she felt relieved. Tessa wouldn’t tell him what an idiot he was, but she heard that he got enough from his other comrades. It seemed that he was expecting a hero’s welcome, and was now sulking. 
“What about you, uncle? Planning to go on with rebuilding Mithril?” 
“Don’t know. We were severely weakened by Amalgam, of course, but not completely destroyed. Also, there’s some intelligence that Amit had a hand in all of this. Don’t know if I should be hostile with him, or continue working together.” 
“Really...” 
“There’s the problem of financing, eh. Now that the Mallorys are gone, we can’t live like before. If we find financial backers... ” Borda glanced at Tessa “what do you say? Would you consider building a TDD-2?” 
“No, thank you, I’ve had quite enough.” 
“Hmm, it’s good to hear that.” 
Of course, it was a joke. Seeing Tessa like this, without any interest in any kind of weaponry, Borda gave a relieved smile. 
They went out of the forest and to a red Cherokee that was parked on the shoulder of the road. Noticing them, Michael Lemon climbed back into the driver’s seat. He had been fired from the French intelligence, and was now working under Borda. 
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Lemon-san!” 
“Not at all! You’re always welcome! If you asked, I’d find tea, or lunch, or dinner... er, well, food...” 
Seeing the furious glances of Mardukas and Borda, he stopped, and cleared his throat: 
“...ah, but, that aside - there’s news from Wraith! Please, have a look. You’ll be quite surprised.” 
He held out a tablet PC. On it was displayed a top secret file from the American Navy. Even Borda with his connections couldn’t get access to such high-class recent intelligence reports so fast. 
“Where’s this from?” 
“She says she got it from the GRU.” 
“Hmm, hmmmm...” 
“It’s thanks for Afghanistan... though I’m sure they’re being sarcastic in their own way...” 
Seeing Borda’s troubled face, Tessa took the tablet and started looking through the file. There were thirty infra-red pictures of Merida Island taken by a satellite with intervals of 90 minutes between them. The earth was scorched, the landscape was practically razed by the monstrous explosion. As the heat subdued, and the mushroom cloud cleared, she saw that the island had become nothing more than a lump of half-molten rock. She saw a straight piece of coastline, probably the remains of the underground base.  
In the second file, she noticed that the radiation emission was not as high as expected - the MIRV warheads were designed to be relatively “clean”. After the first hour the radiation subdued considerably, and after fifteen hours was only one percent of the initial amount.  
The third file was a video from a Navy helicopter sent to recon the place of impact twenty-four hours after the blast. It was filmed almost like a home video, sometimes showing the crew inside the helicopter in their NBC suits. The Geiger counter showed radiation levels well within tolerance limits, and landing did not seem unreasonable. The helicopter flew over the island, surveying impact craters, and they noticed what appeared to be a large pile of rubble, half-submerged in sea water. This was definitely the ruins of the base itself - somewhere close to the dry dock and corridor zero. 
She gasped, seeing the following frames. There was a man-made object, a human-like figure painted in black and red, lying stretched out on the beach. 
It was the Laevatein. 
The machine had been badly damaged, but there was no mistaking its unique form. Upon discovering the machine, the crew of the helicopter started arguing fervently, somebody saying that it must be a visual mistake, and that it’s impossible. The camera was out of focus, as the surroundings of the machine seemed to be blurred for some reason - but that blur suddenly disappeared. It zoomed on the machine’s chest. The resolution wasn’t the best, and she couldn’t be sure, but she could see someone in a black AS pilot suit slowly climbing out of the cockpit and looking at the recon helicopter. The video file ended, and the screen went black. 
Tessa didn’t know the details, but as the cockpit was destroyed, there was no way to active the Lambda Driver. It shouldn’t have been possible. Could they have attempted to link Al’s core unit directly into the system? This would not only have protected them from the initial explosion, but running the Lambda Driver intermittently later would have protected them from the radiation. 
“It looks like they recovered both the pilot and the machine, and took them to the Okinawa base.” 
He was alive. 
The tablet almost fell from Tessa’s hands, and Lemon quickly took it away. 
“He was then transferred from the Navy intelligence to the CIA. This was, of course, quite troublesome, but then Congressman Spear of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence stepped it and snatched him away--...” 
“Amit’s work, then... he knows that Spear too well,” remarked Borda. 
“Is he... in confinement?” it took all of Tessa’s willpower to murmur these words. 
She thought she wouldn’t cry this week, but she was mistaken. Life continued to surprise her. 
“That seems to be the case. They seem to be planning to transfer him from Kadena base to California. I’m not sure if he’s now in any state to talk, but knowing them, they will begin cross-examination as soon as he recovers.” 
“Have to save him...” 
“And it looks like Mao and the others are on the spot.” 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
Okinawa, Nakagami district, Chatan 
 
“...damn, and I thought I was finished with guns and shooting... but I guess it can’t be helped. It’s partly my fault, isn’t it,” Mao was muttering. 
She was sitting on the passenger’s seat, checking the magazines and scope for her SMG, then finally pulled on the bolt. 
“If you had been a second faster, there wouldn’t be any problem now... all that because the reunion with a certain idiot moved you too much,” muttered Wraith, in the driver’s seat. 
“Eh?! Now it’s my fault? You just said it was my fault, didn’t you?! I was barely recovered, but rushed to save you all, and this is what I get?” protested Kurz from the back seat. The inside of the car was quite crammed, and the muzzle of his rifle kept hitting the window and the ceiling. 
“Recovery, eh... well, think about me then. I’ve still got stitches all over my belly, my spleen... everything’s still holding on god knows how. My ear’s not healed, so stop shouting!” groaned Clouseau who sat next to him.  
He was covered in bandages, and was holding a carbine. 
They, the A-team, had stopped their Humvee on the shoulder of national highway 58 that led to the US base in Okinawa, waiting for the deployment of B-team. Clouseau continued grumbling. 
“Raiding an American base... we’re goddamn crazy. Same as terrorists. We could die here. I should’ve been lying on the hospital bed next to Wu.” 
“It’ll be fine. I’ve been to this base before. I know the layout.” 
“That’s not the problem here...” 
“E-eh... I wish we had at least one AS...” 
“Stop - it only makes this worse.” 
A transmission was incoming from Yang. 
“This is Bravo leader. We’re in position. We’ll start the distraction on time. Rest is up to you.” 
“Alpha leader, roger that,” acknowledged Mao and cut the line. 
In five minutes they would begin their assault. 
They sat in what seemed like an endless silence. Kurz was getting bored and restless, and finally said: 
“Right, but what do we do if he’s a cripple, or dying from radiation poisoning?” 
“Oh shut up.” 
“No, we should be prepared for that, right? I mean, it was a nuclear explosion!” 
“Well if I had information like that, I would have showed it to you, wouldn’t I. The readings were quite positive,” intervened Wraith. “And when they found you under Yamsk 11, you were pretty bad yourself, Weber.” 
“Gah... I really thought I was dead myself.” 
“Spoiled brat,” muttered Mao humourlessly, “You weren’t really dying, so stop pretending. I’d feel relieved if the idiot was finally gone.” 
“Ah, come on, nee-san. Should I tell them..?” 
“What?” 
“Well, when everyone was asleep on the plane back from Afghanistan, she came to me, crying, and her voice was soooo sweet--...” 
“Die!! Just die!! Drop dead!! You’re the worst! You think it’s normal to tell them that?! Huh?!!” 
“Eh... but what’s wrong...” 
“Everything..! just... aah, forget it! I’m through with being civil, when this ends--...” 
Suddenly, they heard an explosion on the territory of the base - far away, on the northwest side. Sirens immediately followed. There was still five minutes until the planned time, and besides, B-Team was on the other side. Something was happening inside the base. 
“So... what now?” asked Wraith. 
“Let’s wait a little. There don’t seem to be any gunshots, and it was pretty small-scale.” 
“What about B-Team?” 
“On standby until further orders.” 
Then they saw a lone truck driving away from the scene of the explosion, to the east, then passing the base perimeter, and heading right towards them at full speed.  
“Hey, wait a...” 
The truck passed them at full speed, and as the light fell for an instant on the vehicle, they saw that in the driver’s seat was none other than Sousuke Sagara. 
“Sousuke..?!” 
Fifty meters on the truck screeched to a halt, then changed gear, reversed and stopped near them. 
“What are you doing here?” 
That familiar, sullen face, the same mouth with its edges always turned down. 
Sousuke kept the engine running. For some reason, he wore the uniform of a Second Lieutenant of the USAF. It seemed like a lot happened before he finally escaped. 
The four people, staring at him as if he was an apparition, hurriedly got out of the car. 
“Well... we were here to get you out...” 
“I see. Hm.” 
Seeing Kurz, who was trying to get out of the back seat, Sousuke frowned. 
“Oh. So you’re alive.” 
“What, is that all you can say?!” 
“You’re as spoiled as usual.” 
“...and you’re awful...” 
 
 
 
Chaos reigned in the base behind them, but it was only a matter of time before they were discovered. 
“There’s no time. I’ve got some things to do, so I’ll be taking the car,” said Sousuke curtly, and started getting into the driver’s seat of the Humvee. 
“W-...what?” 
<Thank you. Please let the sergeant go,> said a synthetic voice from the truck’s dashboard. 
“...Al?” 
They saw that the AI’s core unit was in the rear of the truck, along with a power supply and some other machinery.  
“It would’ve been easy for me to escape alone, but to take this guy along I had to go through a lot of trouble.” 
<I am grateful.> 
“...you seem to be completely healthy. I’m even disappointed a little.” 
“I had been questioned, but unfortunately, I’m safe and sound.” 
Amazing, outrageous perseverance. It made them, who for several weeks thought they would never see him again, look like a bunch of dolts. 
“Where’s Kaname?” 
“In Tokyo. She didn’t know what she was going to do from now on, but she said she wanted to return at least once...” 
“I see.” 
“She refused an escort. Said she didn’t hear any whispers anymore,” grimaced Wraith. 
“Right... I’ll leave Al to you.” 
He got into the driver’s seat of the Humvee and turned on the engine. Looked like he was leaving them the hard part - escaping with the truck. 
“Sousuke.” 
“What?” 
“Do you remember what we talked about? What are you planning to do from now on?” 
Sousuke paused, and was lost in thought for a moment. 
The sirens of the base vehicles seemed to be approaching already. They must have realized that the blast was just a diversion. Sousuke nodded toward the lights of the patrol cars, then shrugged. 
“As you see, I want to throw away my weapons, but that’s kind of hard at the moment.” 
“Yeah... right...” 
“Anyway, the graduation ceremony comes first. Well then, I’ll see you later.” 
The Humvee’s engine roared, and it accelerated along the highway. Sousuke was gone in a cloud of dust that his car lifted on the shoulder of the road. 
“And... he just left. Sheesh...” 
“I should’ve remained in the hospital...” 
“Er... graduation ceremony?” 
They were all standing there, absent-mindedly looking in the direction where the Humvee disappeared to. Then Mao came to her senses and slapped her forehead: 
“...oh damn! We’re the ones that have to escape now!” 
The military police cars were drawing nearer. The four of them scrambled to get into the truck, and tried to get away, taking the opposite direction at the next T-junction. Al inquired to Mao and Wraith, who had to sit in the back of the truck: 
<So, what are the plans for my new body?> 
“There are none! There’s no budget, there’s no organization!” 
<Then when we run away, would you please install me in a car? I would prefer a Trans-Am.> 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
Tokyo, Choufu City 
 
The door of the cab closed behind Kaname, and it drove away. The chirping of sparrows greeted the morning sun. A housewife was taking out trash. A salaryman passed her, hurrying to work. An elderly man was taking his dog for a morning walk. 
The apartment building before her, and the neighborhood itself, hadn’t changed in a year. She was finally back. 
She thought she would feel a surge of emotions, but there was nothing, though she would have preferred to feel happiness, or at least cry. 
She took out the duplicate key that Wraith got her, entered the building, and went up to the fourth floor. For a moment, she couldn’t remember the number of her apartment. She didn’t meet anyone on her way, and finally came to the familiar door with the nameplate “Chidori” still on it. She opened the door, and a completely dark corridor greeted her. She pressed the switch on the wall, but nothing happened - ah, there was the breaker. She stood on her toes and pushed up the lever on the panel above the shoe shelf. 
The doorbell rang by itself once, and the refrigerator and fan started up. The lamps flickered and turned on. 
“I’m home...” 
She said it by reflex, knowing that there was no one else. Her father and little sister had to be in New York now. It looked like someone had come to clean her room occasionally. 
She took off her shoes and went into the living room. It hadn’t changed either - just too tidy, and didn’t have the feeling that someone lived in it. There were no letters on the floor, no 
skirts and shirts lying around, no reference book on top of the TV. Perhaps the police had come up to investigate, and cleaned it up later. 
The fridge was, naturally, empty. The bedroom was also the same, except tidied up, even her poster of James Brown remained untouched. She returned to the living room and tried the phone, which surprisingly wasn’t cut. She tried calling New York, but heard the greeting of an answering machine. It should have been around seven PM there, but no one seemed to be home. 
“Hello... err... this is Kaname. I’m home in Tokyo right now, I’m just calling to say I’m fine. I’ll call you later.” 
She remembered that illusion of the TARTAROS - that peaceful morning with the family. Her mother was gone. She chose that herself. But something could be done about this. She would throw away her rejection of her father, and jealousy towards her sister, and be a better child. She wouldn’t be able to recreate that peaceful ideal, but she could do at least something. 
“I’m sorry I made you worry. And I... well, I don’t blame you any more, Dad.” 
She put down the receiver. For some reason, this took all of her remaining energy. She fell down on the sofa, and started thinking. What should she do from now on? Sousuke was gone, Tessa had told her that. She was so resolute when speaking with her, and Kaname, too, listened to her explanation without letting her emotions show. It was as if she had a gaping hole in her heart, but the emotions wouldn’t come out. Even now, thinking about the fact that Sousuke had survived everything, including the fight with the Belial, but had to die in such a way, didn’t strike home. 
She was the same after losing her mother, but this time it was different, and she didn’t understand how. She only constantly felt as if it was a lie. Was this what rejecting reality felt like? 
However, that feeling was flat, emotionless, and very quiet, as if she was thinking about something very ordinary. 
She remembered Leonard. 
Poor man. I couldn’t even answer him, in the end. At least, he followed me until the end, and when I could finally appreciate it, my relationship with him was beyond repair. Fowler and Sabina were the same. And Kalinin... They all had their hopes - and I am the one who rejected them. Living on bearing this burden will be hard. 
And Sofia... Tessa had said that the girl disappeared. That was a lie. She’s still here, in a corner of my mind. Sometimes she appears and looks at me. But I don’t feel any jealousy or envy from her, no - it feels like she’s smiling at something humorous. Telling me to show her how I’ll stick by my words, and this world that I chose. She’s telling me to make her agree. To fall in love, and let her take over for a while. She thinks she has the right to that. I’m not going to tell her that she’s wrong - it’s her wish, after all, and I’m not that cold. And, well, I can’t really refuse it, since I owe her a little. Well, I’ll just have to stick with her for the rest of my life. 
Hmm, now what. My head starts turning when I think too much about this... let’s end this here. I’ll lie on the sofa, watch TV, wait for an answer on the phone, then maybe go to the store to buy some food. 
That seemed to be as good a plan as any, but something wasn’t exactly right. Ah, but of course... Kaname rose from her half-daydream. It was Friday - an ordinary weekday. The time was 9:14AM. 
“School...” 
Though, properly speaking, she had dropped out of school, but she would at least show her face there, talk to people and apologies to them - that would be better. What about her uniform? 
She opened the closet and found her Jindai High uniform hanging on the rack, still packed in the plastic from the dry-cleaner’s. 
 
♦ ♦ ♦ 
 
“Oh... 
Kaname, in her green and white uniform, stood in front of the empty gate of the school, and looked at a large sign above it. The sign read: “Heisei 10, Tokyo Metropolitan Jindai High School Graduation Ceremony.” She knew, of course, that it was about the time for those events, but she couldn’t have imagined that it was today. She thought that she should be happy that she made it in time, but what should she do now? The familiar tune of “Aogeba Totoshi” was coming from the gym. So they chose this for the graduation? It certainly set a grave, solemn mood of turning over a page of the students’ youth. And at this moment she would show up - someone who had been kidnapped from there after a fight of military robots, involved in the conspiracy of a terrorist organization, started and stopped the changing of the world... it somehow seemed exceptionally inappropriate. 
The students started flowing out of the gym and heading towards the school building. Some girls were happily hugging each other, and most boys, tired from the ceremony, were stretching and yawning. There were a lot of familiar faces in that happy crowd. 
“Hey... isn’t that Chidori?” someone shouted. 
Oh, she was noticed. 
“Chidori-san?! There, there she is!” 
“What, are you serious?” 
“Chidori?! Really?!” 
“Wait, who..?” 
“Chidori-san!! There!” 
“Woaah, waaah!” 
The uproar grew and grew, and Kaname didn’t know what to do, she was rooted to the spot. The feeling was as though the crowd might be about to throw stones at her, but didn’t. 
“Kana-chaaaan!” 
The students were in chaos, and inside that crowd, she saw Kyouko Tokiwa, frantically trying to get through to her. 
“Kyouko..?” 
“Kana-chan!!” 
Tokiwa was running towards her as fast as she could. 
She was smiling. 
Without a trace of doubt, or hesitation, she was smiling, and running to embrace Kaname. 
She didn’t understand - a year had passed, and all of those things happened. 
Why are you running towards this weak, crying me? Stop, Kyouko, or I-- 
After that, emotions flooded her, like a torrent exploding from within her heart, and as she hugged Kyouko, she began crying. She fell to her knees there and continued weeping, even when all of her classmates from 3-4 came and surrounded them. 
The teachers also came running and, while they were as shocked as her fellow students, they still managed to quell the turmoil and lead the crowd into the neighboring courtyard. All of them - her teacher, Kagurazaka, Shiori, Shinji Kazama, Kotarou Onodera, and all of her friends and classmates gathered, some of them smiling, others trying to hold back tears. She was glad no one really changed. 
She was also glad she had chosen to continue in this world. Right, Sofia? 
Kaname didn’t remember much of what she did and said to her friends in the next few minutes, until someone finally said: 
“Where’s Sagara-kun?” 
The crowd went quiet. 
“Sousuke...” 
She didn’t know how to explain it. He was the one who had promised to bring her back, and that he did - fighting, by himself. 
How can I... 
“Hey, but - isn’t that Sagara?” someone said. 
The students started turning one by one towards the gate. A Honda Super Cub was lying there, and the man who just got off the bike was walking towards them. 
It really was Sousuke. 
The crowd was in upheaval once again, some people genuinely happy, others simply astonished. Kaname, however, felt as if she was almost expecting this. 
Ah, so it was a lie. The guy I love has one redeeming trait, and that’s his stubbornness. 
“Well, how’s that?! I held my promise! I brought her back!” he shouted. 
He was breathing heavily, covered with sweat - she didn’t know what he did to get there on time. But he, too, had taken the trouble to change into the uniform of a Jindai High student. It was just like him, sticking to principles. 
“Sagara..?” 
“Sagara-kun!!” 
“Hey, it’s Sagara!” 
His classmates surrounded him as he came closer. 
“Sorry I’m late. I was held at the Okinawa base until this morning.” 
“You’re not listening...” 
“No, I did check that the graduation ceremony was today.” 
“I said, you’re not listening!” 
Exchanging words with Shinji, Koutarou and the others, Sousuke pushed through the crowd and finally appeared in front of Kaname. 
“I thought you would be here, Chidori.” 
“Sousuke...” 
His manner was casual, almost cocky. After staring death in the eye, after all that happened, he came here, and was smiling in that way... why? 
“Lots of things happened. There’s a lot I want to tell you... not now. I heard from Wraith that you didn’t accept an escort.” 
“But...” 
She didn’t hear the “whispers” anymore. Many organizations might exist in the world, but now she was worthless to them. 
“That is naїve. You need someone to guard you,” he held out his right hand. 
She took it hesitantly, and allowed herself to be led. He stepped forward, then said: 
“I will be your guard. Always.” 
“Wh... you...” 
She felt her cheeks flush, and her heart start beating faster than ever. 
How should I answer him..? 
“Do you remember our promise, from Mexico?” 
“Huh..?” 
The promise they made over the radio... that they would kiss, when they met again, no matter what place they were in. Those were Kaname’s words. 
“As you can see, this is our reunion.” 
“Eh... b-but, but...” 
“You don’t like me?” 
“I didn’t mean that, but look around..!” 
A crowd of three dozen people was surrounding them in the school courtyard, and from the windows of both buildings even more students looked at them. All of them were watching... so many people... 
“A-ah... it’s not like I’m against it, but... here? I mean... everyone is watching... this is a bit...right..?” 
And then Sousuke answered, as usual: 
“No problem.” 
He gently embraced her, and their lips met. Resistance was futile. 
She didn’t know how long it lasted - her head spun, and she was only vaguely aware of what was around her. The remainders of her common sense kept telling her that several hundred people were staring - then they too threw up the white flag, before the overwhelming realization that this was what she wished for. 
She just closed her eyes and surrendered to him. She realized she loved him now more than ever. 
“Don’t care anymore..!” 
Before the astonished audience, she put her arms around his head, and following her heart, clumsily, but passionately, continued kissing him. The two were completely absorbed in each other among the jeers of a crowd of students. 
It was embarrassing. Extremely embarrassing. Her face burned with shame - but she didn’t care. 
Look if you want to. I’ve wished for this for a long, long time. He, too. That’s all, got any complaints? 
 
 
 
 
Their lips finally separated, but they still embraced each other, her face close to his. 
“...don’t let me go, please...” 
“I won’t.” 
“Always... always stand by me...” 
“Of course,” Sousuke, his face sullen as usual, nodded seriously. “I won’t need weapons while you are beside me.” 
 
 
The End 
 


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