Flight Lieutenant Rudel awoke amidst mountains of rubble. She groaned and stood up, dismounting her tattered Striker Unit and letting them fall to the ground. *GaShan!
Assessing her surroundings; the damage was enormous.
However... the operation to recapture Slussen seemed to have finished in success.
Witches equipped with ground model Striker Units could be seen throughout the town. With the destruction of the Ziggurat, the ground units had safely entered the battlefield. Feeling a little proud, Rudel slowly set off.
Before long, she was discovered by the witches of Stuka Squadron; who had been searching for her without pause.
“Flight Lieutenant! Flight Lieutenant Rudel survived!”
On the verge of tears, they came rushing over. Not one of them had a Striker equipped. Almost all of them had been completely destroyed in that battle.
“So what's happening, Adelheid?”
Rather than giving the impression of a frozen rose, Adelheid's beautiful face was now covered in mud and soot. Apparently at a loss for what to say, the adjutant replied;
“We were searching for you.”
“After you were swallowed up by that explosion, we didn't know where you were... we were worried!” With the exception of Adelheid, everyone else seemed likely to break down crying.
“Wipe those shameful expressions off your faces. So far, I've been shot down fifteen times, and each time I pulled through. Is dying such an easy thing I wonder? So, what are our losses?”
The ever capable adjutant reeled of the current situation to her superior officer;
“Yourself included, we Stuka have lost five aircraft, four wounded. 1st Squadron have lost six Messersharf, eight wounded. All injured are currently receiving medical treatment. The independent Volunteer Air Squadron have lost all of their Striker Units. However, there are no confirmed injuries.”
“Hmm, those lot sure have good luck,” Rudel commented in a cheerful voice.
“However... Oberleutnant Anabuki's whereabouts are still unknown. Everyone available is currently searching for her. We too should search for her immediately...”
“I guess we should. But before that, someone get me a hot coffee.”
Tomoko opened her eyes to a shaft of light shining down through a crevice in the rubble.
It was the pale light of the moon.
After being enveloped in the blast, it seemed that she had become pinned under the debris. For one thing, her Ki-44 was trapped. Consequently, she couldn't move her lower body in the slightest.
Naturally, Tomoko tried calling out via her radio, but the throat microphone was completely non-functional.
Checking herself over, Tomoko had a thought; if it weren't for the Ki-44... her own legs might have been crushed under the rubble.
Tomoko thanked Itokawa from the bottom of her heart.
Even when we're apart, he's protecting me...
But even if she slid herself out of the Ki-44, her upper body was still being held firmly in place by the wreckage. So it seemed that freeing herself was not going to be possible. However, even in that situation Tomoko did not lose hope. She truly felt as if the Ki-44 connected Itokawa to herself.
Tomoko sent a little of her magic through the Ki-44. *Buuuuuun...
Faintly, one of the engines came to life.
Still, after all this, the Ki-44 lives on!
The right leg had been utterly destroyed... but the left leg's engine was still somewhat functional. Tomoko's heart overflowed with relief.
Amidst the bitter cold, Tomoko kept the Ki-44 idling.
Shrouding herself in a magic shield offered protection from the cold.
It wasn't clear to Tomoko how long she waited like that, but eventually...
“It's this way. Over here.” From beyond the rubble, the sounds of someone yelling could be heard.
The moment she heard that voice, Tomoko's eyes overflowed with tears.
“Is it really this way? Truthfully, are you sure?” Haruka sounded like she was holding back her tears.
“If you're wrong, we won't forgive you 'k~”
“Don't worry. I can hear it.”
“The sound of the Ki-44's engine.”
“But I can't hear a thing~”
“It's obvious to me... because I developed that Striker Unit. And if the engines running, that means Tomoko is also safe.”
Tomoko could hear rubble being shifted.
Before long Itokawa's face came into view, against the moonlight and the aurora.
“See, here she is.”
Seeing that smiling face, something warm flared up in Tomoko's heart. Even amidst the bitter cold, she felt as if that warmth would continue to protect her forever.
Three days later...
The citizens of Slussen had been filtering back into their home town, and it had turned into a rowdy festival of sorts.
With the sheer number of buildings that had been destroyed, rubble and debris littered the town... but everyone was simply glad that their homes had been liberated from the enemy.
Due to the success of the operation to push back the Neuroi's advance, reporters from all over the world were converging upon the area, enthusiastically collecting statements to be published.
Of course, at the centre of all this were the key figures in the liberation of Slussen; the Mechanized Air infantry. Tomoko was perpetually getting caught up in storms of reporters, and had very little time to rest.
That day too, upon entering the hotel lobby she was enveloped in a vicious offensive. After responding to however-many enquiries, the impromptu press conference came to a close. With a sigh Tomoko collapsed into a chair. At that point, Haruka turned up to inform everyone of their schedules from now on.
“Every~one~, listen u~p. This is a notification from Squadron Leader Häkkinen...”
“A party? It'll be with the governments big brass I guess~” Katherine presumed in a worn out voice.
“Don't be like that, this is part of our job too.”
“Haruka, you, recently you've really changed, haven't you.”
“Eh? Is, is, that so?”
“Yep. I'd say; it's like you've become more assertive...”
Haruka gazed up towards the ceiling, and gave a small nod.
“How do I put it... I, think I've become more adult. Mmm, in various ways.”
“More adult is it~”
While listening to Haruka and Katherine's conversation, Tomoko's face was turning a light pink.
“Tomoko, Let's go then~”
“With Haruka behaving like an adult, and you becoming so ladylike, everyday seems so hectic~”
Beurling suddenly pulled Tomoko back as she was about to leave.
“Huh? What's wrong?”
“Your party is that way isn't it?”
Beurling pointed back inside, where Itokawa was standing waving at her.
Itokawa and Tomoko stood at the window on the topmost floor of the hotel, overlooking the people going about their business in the freshly illuminated town below. Tomoko was wearing the black dress that Itokawa had given her.
Holding a glass of wine in one hand, Tomoko said; “I feel, a little bad about this.”
“What do you mean?”
“It's just, I have this comfortable room and... despite there being so many people who have lost their homes.”
“Isn't it just for tonight? It's unreasonable to say such things about having a room prepared. I think you of all people have the right to spend a night like this. You have absolutely nothing to be sorry about.”
Itokawa stood wrapped his arms around Tomoko's body from behind.
“M, mm.” Tomoko nodded, her face bright red.
Itokawa brought his lips to her neck.
Making her body twist, Itokawa put a bit more of his strength into the embrace, and suddenly lifted her up off the floor.
Like that, he carried Tomoko to the bed, and turned off the lights.
In the pitch dark room, Itokawa removed Tomoko's dress.
“You're stunning, Tomoko.”
Tomoko covered her face with both hands. She had reached the summit of embarrassment, and her head was swimming. Itokawa slowly began to ease Tomoko's body with his touch, and his tongue.
How much time passed like that? It felt like an unfolding dream, so she couldn't properly comprehend. It felt like a few hours, while also half an hour. It might even have been less time than that.
Hearing the sound of rustling clothes, Tomoko realised that Itokawa was removing his clothes.
Gently, he enveloped her body with his own...
In that moment, Tomoko's hand reached Itokawa's chest.
Tomoko noticed how overemphasised his pectorals were.
“Ito, Itokawa. Your chest, it's quite large isn't it?”
“Hm? I think they're rather small, aren't they?”
Tomoko hastily ran her hand down Itokawa's body.
The things she expected to find, weren't there. Even with Tomoko's meagre sex experience, she knew it wasn't possible for such things to be missing...
It felt like all the blood had drained from her head.
“What is it?”
“Umm, well, you don't have a...”
“A..? Oh! Well why would I?”
What did he just say?
"Um, So, that means...”
“I'm a woman, isn't that obvious?”
“A woman? I thought...”
“Aah. Certainly, I do speak in a masculine fashion. Well, that can't be helped; engineering is an industry dominated by men. I'm not completely comfortable with it, but I really do resemble a guy sometimes. In any case I've always liked women so... I guess it has it's advantages.”
“That's, that's...” Tomoko was trembling.
“Oi oi, What's wrong? You knew I was a woman since we first met right? ”
“I... didn't know.”
“Wh? But you were with that Haruka girl to begin with; 'Because Pilot Officer Tomoko is my lover, please don't hit on her' she said. But, I fell in love with you at first sight, so I didn't hold back.”
Tomoko's entire body was shaking now.
“What's wrong? Are you scared? Well, seems we should continue then.”
Tomoko reached up and firmly grasped Itokawa's face with both hands.
With a voice like that of a demon, and an expression like she were shooting down consecutive Laros-kai Tomoko said;
“We will not, continue.”
Meanwhile at the party, the Independent Volunteer Squadron's witches were trying to deal with their excess of free time.
While gazing at the bubbles floating in her champagne, Katherine said; “Jeez, the higher-ups sure are boring~. Rather than a medal, I'd prefer a cash reward. Then I could open a plantation next to my fathers ranch over in Texas. Then you could work for me, Beurling.”
“I'll pass.” Beurling replied while stuffing her mouth with food they had been served.
“I guess Flying Officer Tomoko is having a fun time right now...” Elma muttered with an absent-minded expression.
“What's that? Flying Officer Elma wants a lover too~”
“Th, that's not what I meant, but...”
Katherine turned to Ursula and viciously messed her hair as she silently ate her food.
“What about you? Do you want a lover too?”
“Don't need one,” she replied bluntly.
Well, finding a lover or something in this kind of environment is difficult, even if you're a lucky gal like Tomoko.
As she said that, Haruka's glass slipped out of her hand.
Beurling prodded Katherine with her elbow.
“Ahh, Sorry... But, you'll find a fantastic person yourself before long.”
“...It's fine. When this war is over, I'll become a nun.”
“Don't be like that, it's depressing~”
At that point, the conversation was suddenly punctuated by the main entrance of the hall slamming open.
“Oi, speak of the devil, it's Tomoko.”
Clad in her black evening dress, Tomoko came storming in with large strides and headed straight for the Independent Volunteer Squadron's table.
With nothing more than a deeply furrowed brow, she shakily grabbed a bottle of wine from the tabletop, and downed it in one.
Everyone stared on at the spectacle, utterly dumbfounded.
“Wh, what happened! Tomoko?”
Tomoko slammed the bottle down onto the table.
“Listen up!” she yelled.
Reflexively, everyone snapped to attention.
“Training! Right now! All members, equip your Striker Units and head for the airfield!”
“B, but... Our Strikers are totally destroyed.” *Hugh-!
Katherine was flattened against the floor by the full force of Tomoko's wrath.
“Wh, what are you doing~!”
“Are you disobeying a superior officer? Well?”
“I, I'm Sorry OK!”
“Come on, we'll use 1st Squadron's Messersharf or something.”
“The airfield's an insane distance from here so...”
When Flying Officer Elma timidly said that, she was struck hard in the solar plexus.
“HiKu! S, sorrrry...”
“Run then. You have two good legs don't you; use them!”
Smoothly unsheathing her service-sword, Tomoko stabbed it into the floor with both hands *Don!
“Get going. Hurry up with the preparations for training.”
In utter confusion, the witches of the Independent Volunteer Squadron immediately broke into a run.
Then Tomoko noticed Haruka staring up at her with an awestruck expression.
“Aaah, the old Tomoko is back... aaaah...”
Tomoko's eyes narrowed.
“You, prepare yourself. Because I'm going to work you so hard you'll wish you hadn't been born.”
“Y, yes! That's...”
“Get going. Wingman.”
Haruka's face shone brilliantly, and tears of happiness welled up in her eyes.
Military Officers of various countries, The town's most influential people, and the highest members of the Suomi government all stared on mutely as Tomoko stormed out with almost palpable rage.
“To me, it's the sky! And nothing but the sky! That's right! Takeko!”
“Ah... Flying Officer Tomoko, I'm coming with you!”
Overwhelmed with excitement, Haruka ran after Tomoko's receding back.
While sprinting down the stairway two steps at a time, Tomoko felt some kind of hot sensation welling up inside her. The cause was simply that she would be flying soon. With nothing more than that, her heart had been set.
What the heck, I...When I was in love my heart was pounding wasn't it... Like I thought; it's still too soon for me.
If I continue to fly... continue until I've had enough...at that time, I'll try love.
Surely, even that long won't be too late.
To one side was Beurling's profile.
“I don't know what the hell we're doing, but it seems fun,” she yelled.
“If I try to be honest about my feelings...”
“The sky is best for me.”
And so, the witches of the Independent Volunteer Air Squadron ran through the streets of Slussen by the light of the Aurora.
Their eyes set in the direction of the airfield.
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