"I wanna see you soon, Tachibana-san!" Fujimoto Takatora looked nothing like his fear-striking alias on the battlefield at the moment. Tears and snot mixed freely on his face as The Assault Destroyer clasped the small, calloused hands of Tachibana Hotaru. He was unmindful of the airport crowd that streamed past them, some doing double-takes at the scene he was making. "B-But I know I can't wish that. You'll only come home if Papa-san doesn't get better so… so…"

The petite sixteen-year-old offered him a warm smile in return. "No matter how long it takes, we will meet each other again… and duel!"

"You're overreacting, idiot." Tossing her dark hair in boredom, Ichi Akabane looked unimpressed as usual. "You can just message her online or something. In fact, you can even do it in half a day or so."

"B-But…"

Tachibana nodded gratefully as she pressed a few keys on her mobile phone. "Absolutely! Here, let's all exchange numbers and Twitter handles—"

"Nope," the raven-haired woman was quick to retreat from the group, her ponytail bobbing along. "Any act of friendship grosses me out."

"Sorry, Tachibana-san!" The towering white-haired doctor pressed his hands together in apology. "I have her info if you want. I'm just not sure if it's updated though because she always changes her account details whenever she learns that I peeked through the personnel records for them."

"A-Ah, no, it's okay!" She beamed as she watched the nurse's diminutive figure disappear into the crowd. "Tachibana is really glad that she came to see me off, though."

Her phone's Bluetooth notification beeped.

"That's mine." Hosokawa Haruka informed her somberly, glancing up from his own device. "And that's my Nii-san's," he added when another beep sounded. "And that's his vital statistics. And his likes and dislikes. And his candid photos from my private offline collection," he identified as a series of beeps rapidly sounded off. "Make sure to remember Nii-san with all that— he will be very happy if he knows you won't forget him."

A sweatdrop formed on her head. "Y-You know, Haruka-san, Tachibana wouldn't have forgotten Haruki-san even if you didn't go through the trouble of sending all these. He is, after all..." She beamed at him. "... an important comrade of mine."

To her puzzlement, the male's brows furrowed in a displeased fashion. "A comrade? Just a comrade? Are you sure you can't see him as anything else?"

"E-Eh?"

"Maybe I should send you some more provocative pictures of him to make sure…"

"Now, now, Haruka." A grinning figure emerged from the back to tap the man's shoulder. "Stop pimping your elder brother and leave him with some amount of dignity after this."

"Midori-san!" Hotaru raised a palm to greet him. "Thank you for seeing Tachibana off as well."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world." He grinned at her fondly as he handed her a gift-wrapped box. "Our farewell gift."

"T-Thank you." Her eyebrow cocked up suspiciously. "This wouldn't happen to be something that'll set off the TSA alarm when Tachibana gets to America, right?"

"You are wary of me. Good girl," he nodded approvingly at her. "But no, I'm afraid it's just a little token of gratitude from Hoshihiro— ah, you're unwrapping it already right in front of your gift-givers! Your eagerness warms my heart like so, young lady."

"If Tachibana will be caught by the airport cops, Tachibana wants to know as early as now how she can explain it to Mother— oh!" Her verdant eyes shook when she saw the familiar white naval hat that everyone in the Team Hoshihiro wore during TCG battles.

"We all think the world of you, Tachibana-san," explained Fujimoto as the girl ran her fingers appreciatively over the peaked cap fabric. "And we would have gladly stolen you away from your team if only you were less attached to them."

"But then again, that almost-naive loyalty of yours is what makes the person you are now," added Haruka quietly.

"And we'll always think of you as our honorary member, the best one we never had." With the trademark gentleness of his ward's most beloved pediatrician, Midori placed the cap carefully on her crown. "Safe travels, Tachibana-kun. We wish your father a speedy recovery."

She blinked, then grinned warmly at everyone. "Thank you, Hoshihiro!"

"Oh, by the way…" Midori stepped closer to her and crouched down till his lips aligned with her right ear. "Won't you be asking for my contact details, Tachibana-kun?"

"H-Huh?" Her hand shot up to cover her ear protectively.

"If you don't write to me, I'll get a bit lonely," he continued huskily, enjoying her reaction to his ministrations.

Her sigh of exasperation rang out clearly. "You don't even know how to text, Midori-san."

Touche. "Oh well, I'll have to settle for this then." And before she could react, he pulled the brim of her cap down until it covered the entire half of her face.

Then with the smooth soundless movement minimally expected of an airsoft elite, he bent down and planted a light kiss on the visor, just right above the small tip of her nose.

"W-What, what?" Hearing the collective gasps around her, Hotaru pulled up the cap from her eyes in panic, but only saw the doctor's grinning face. To her embarrassment, she felt heat rush to her cheeks. "W-What did you guys do now? Midori-san?"

Instead of responding, he gave her a slight nudge towards the gates. "You'll be late for your flight."

"F-Fujimoto-san!" Hotaru shifted her eyes towards her biggest ally among the group. The latter still seemed surprised, but he had recovered enough to nod at her reassuringly.

"Tricking Tachibana even till the very last moment. Really, you guys." She offered them a final wave before heading for the concourse.

"You're declaring a war against me and Nii-san, huh," muttered Haruka, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Midori let out a laugh. "What a hot-tempered otouto! This old man was merely giving his favorite protégé a proper send-off."

"You're the reason predators in the society continue to exist. Scum."'

"It's been awhile since I've last felt this truly despised outside the battlefield. Good times."

Meanwhile, Fujimoto sadly glanced back at the crowd where he was sure Ichi was, certainly watching like a silent hawk. You definitely saw it, too, didn't you, Ichi?

It was the briefest of moments, but he swore he saw it sometime before that farewell prank kiss.

Reluctance.

It was an alien notion to think of in terms of the Midori-san he knew who had painstakingly maintained the barrier between utility and attachment in all of his relationships for years. He was someone who could let go even of a soul he had once saved from darkness.

That you made him feel that way even for a moment… The kind-hearted doctor shook his head in awe. You're even more amazing than I thought, Tachibana-san.


Dear Goemon

A/N: My first try in the fandom, but heck, I have to give in to my shipping heart just this once.

I pray the OOCs wouldn't be too distracting.


"Look, Papa! The statue's so big!" A young girl in pigtails eagerly pointed to the postcard stuck on the corkboard. "Is it Kami-sama?"

"Young lady, that is the Statue of Liberty in America." Somewhere in the middle of looking at the travel postcards Midori Nagamasa had conveniently placed across his desk, the child barely noticed the vaccine injection that he had quietly made. He didn't even have to summon Fujimon to take on his usual role and distract his little patient.

"Why do you have Liberty-san's picture, Sensei?" asked the girl, eyes widening in curiosity.

He glanced up quickly at her to smile before resuming his scribbles on his doctor's pad. "My friend sent it to me. She lives there right now."

"Do you miss her?"

Before he could respond, the child's father guffawed. "Of course not, Baby! Sensei has many pretty nurses and mommy friends who come to his office! Ne, Sensei?" He winked at him conspiratorially, as if they were close buddies.

Garbage.

He paused from writing long enough to smile brightly at him. "Indeed. Let's especially not forget your lovely wife who visits me from time to time, begging me desperately for a Sildenafil prescription."

It was then that Ichi, with her too conveniently impeccable timing, entered the room with an airmail envelope.

"Sensei, a letter came in for you." She eyed the colorful postcards littering the board in quiet disdain before meeting his gaze.

"Thank you, Ichi. You can place it on my desk."

"Yes, Midori-sensei." She immediately did as told.

"Do I still have patients waiting outside?"

"None. Your next appointment is after lunch."

"Perfect." He smiled pleasantly at her. "I will be taking my lunch break."

Whether conversing with the nurses or taunting a target in a no-freeze arena, Ichi knew that the good doctor wore basically the same genial expression on his face. She wouldn't have felt offended at such fact if only her devoted attention to him did not reveal a grand exception to this rule— and that was his young penpal from America. The fondness he had solely for her was undeniable.

"Please excuse me." She bowed at him and his patients before heading to the door. She's been away for a year, but he hasn't lost his interest in her yet. With much more force than usual, she flipped the "The Doctor is In" sign on the door and reveled in its surprising loud thud.

What sorcery does she hold over him, really?

.

.

.

Dear Goemon-san…

Nearly all her letters started in a similar fashion, save for her very first mail. He could still vividly recall his pleasant surprise when Fujimon handed him the postcard of the NYC skyscape a month after Tachibana Hotaru had left the country.

Granted that it bore merely a generic stream of pleasantries, he was glad that she still chose to indulge an old fogey like him and wrote to him after all.

So as his way of expressing his gratitude, he wrote her back using the return address of her dormitory, along with a little care package.

Her reply came in sooner than expected, delivered to him by his trusty Fujimon. And this time, instead of a polite "Dear Midori-san", what he got was this:

Dear Goemon-san,

Thank you for your package. However, a female student has no use for a wall calendar of half-naked AV idols who can't hold guns properly to save their lives. Tachibana has promptly shredded it and tossed it in with this week's trash.

Hope you and Team Hoshihiro are well.

Signed,

Tachibana

He had spent that afternoon in a strangely good mood that even his patients had taken notice of it. That very evening, he wrote her back.

Dear Tachibana-kun,

I am relieved to hear that you still recall the proper gun grip. I also agree with your assessments and have forwarded your concern to the entertainment group handling these irresponsible campaign models. As a medical professional working in the pediatrics field, I agree that the children of Japan deserve better gun education than this.

Do you still get an opportunity to play survival games there? It pains me to imagine a bunch of unworthy creatures of mediocrity becoming on the receiving end of your glorious bloodlust.

My team is doing well. We have won a million yen for the nth time, so I have elected to fill my bed with bills that I can roll around on when I am feeling rather uninspired. It would have filled the hole in my heart if only I've been bestowed with one in the first place.

Hope you are adjusting well to your new life in the States.

Signed,

Your Fellow Advocate for the Proper Demonstration of Gun Holding Among Sexy Idols

P.S.

Why am I suddenly christened Goemon-san?

It didn't take a month to hear back from her again. Turning over the postcard showing the landmark 19th-century Brooklyn Bridge, he read her hastily scribbled note.

Dear Goemon-san,

Thank you for enlightening Tachibana as to why an invitation from an entertainment group to watch the next year's shoot of their "Guns x Babes 2018 Artbook Collection" came in the mail.

Tachibana must also confess to asking Matsuoka-san about your home address so Tachibana can provide that information instead for their "Guns x Boys 2017" calendar + artbook bundle offer.

Between spending time with Dad, a part-time job, and schooling, Tachibana is hardly able to find time to play survival games. Tachibana does watch war game clips online during the commute, and that helped tide things over for the time being. Nonetheless, thank you for asking.

Signed,

Tachibana

P.S. Tachibana talked to Fujimoto-san about it, and he agreed that it is best to minimize references to you as much as possible.

That gave him an idea as to why she did it, which was confirmed by Fujimon when he asked the next afternoon.

"She has to use an alias so the hospital staff won't gossip about a fully adult physician exchanging non-academic notes with a high school student overseas… or so Tachibana-san says."

A child twelve years his junior knew more than him regarding the conventional boundaries he was expected to set. But more importantly, he appreciated that she, with her naive blazing sense of justice, resorted to this silly act in kind consideration of his request that she write him, too.

That night, he wrote her back.

Dear Tachibana-kun,

I look forward to receiving that literature you so thoughtfully ordered for me. I can't wait to peruse through them and see how well they can challenge my current limits of taste and preferences. You alone can be so considerate to such extent of my circumstances— whether it be this or everything else.

Thank you. I am honored to accept the name of the gun you first bought (under my auspice, of course. I have excellent taste, don't you think?)

I have enclosed videotapes of my Matsune and his friends playing in the outdoor field. I can send you more if you want— I have an enviable network I can tap on anytime to do my bidding.

Signed,

A Future Fan of the Guns x Boys Franchise

A week after he received the artbook and wall calendar, he heard back from his benefactress.

At the back of a lit-up New York City nightscape postcard, she had written:

Dear Goemon-san,

Please don't send Tachibana any more photos or videos of everyone back home. It's difficult as it is. Tachibana will only miss everyone more.

Signed,

Tachibana

Despite himself, he felt anxious at the almost-curt length of the message. Excusing himself from the rest of his shift, he hurried to the postal office the same day to send a priority mail to her.

Dear Tachibana-kun,

When not on the battlefield, I endeavor to go against the little, excited voice in my head and refrain from causing anyone pain. If I caused you such with my previous mail, you have my utmost apology. I went too far with that one, I believe.

Write me back?

Signed,

Your Foolish Old Man Penpal from Japan

He quietly waited with bated breath for her response. It came in two weeks after, via a postcard showing a beautiful fountain and statue amidst the greenery. However, it was inside a bigger envelope, which had a slightly longer letter with it.

Dear Goemon-san,

This is the Angel of the Waters. It is situated in the Bethesda Terrace in the Central Park. A city guide said that an angel was said to have blessed the water and healed the sick, like it did for the cholera-stricken city many centuries ago.

Tachibana learned that Bethsheda's word origin can either mean a place of shame or a place of grace. It reminds Tachibana of you. You are both an angel of healing in the hospital and an angel of shaming in the battlefield. Tachibana accepts both faces because they both belong to a good friend. If you go over the line at either end, Tachibana will fight to bring you back.

What Tachibana is trying to say is… thank you, apology accepted, and Tachibana looks forward to receiving a new mail from Goemon-san.

Signed,

Tachibana

Only then could he let out a huge sigh of relief. For what, he did not endeavor to determine. All that mattered to him was that their flimsy connection— whatever it was— had not been severed.

He went on to pen his response, in what inevitably would be one of the many more letters they would exchange over the year and the months beyond.

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TO BE CONCLUDED