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  1. [In the Griffin base.]
  2. [In the command room.]
  3. [The girl before me seemed to have crashed for a moment due to being over-excited.]
  4. [I took the opportunity to pinch her cat ears.]
  5.  
  6. Mk23: …! Darling, you’re bullying me again!
  7.  
  8. [The girl covered her ears and looked at me, looking a little frustrated and red in the face.]
  9.  
  10. Commander: Nope, this time, I’m telling you the truth.
  11. In any case, the mission is to put on a fashion show in wedding dresses, so go back and practice your catwalk.
  12.  
  13. [The girl looked a little hesitant.]
  14. [When I confirmed the contents of the mission, she did not rejoice like I had expected.]
  15.  
  16. Mk23: So, so, Darling, you’l...
  17.  
  18. Commander: I’ll be going, of course. I’ll check in on you every day.
  19.  
  20. Mk23: Ahhhh, you’re the best, Darling!
  21. Then I’ll go back and start practicing right away!
  22.  
  23. [The girl skipped her way out of the office.]
  24.  
  25. Commander: Did I bully her too much…
  26. On second thought, never mind. Besides, she looks quite motivated.
  27.  
  28. [Half an hour later.]
  29. [Inside the doll dorms.]
  30. [Mk23 sat on her bed, kicking her legs happily, but a look of uneasiness soon appeared on her face.]
  31. [Mk23 held her chin in her hands and stared at the floor as she muttered to herself.]
  32.  
  33. Mk23: Missions to wear wedding dresses don’t exactly grow on trees, but…  but I’m not the only one taking part!
  34. If everyone else puts on a wedding dress in front of Darling, they’ll definitely steal him away!
  35.  
  36. [Mk23’s brows knitted tighter and tighter.]
  37.  
  38. Mk23: I’ve been careless! There’s never been a crisis as big as this before!
  39.  
  40. [Mk23 muttered to herself and jumped off the bed, pacing back and forth inside her room.]
  41. [Suddenly, she clapped her hands together and her expression grew stern.]
  42.  
  43. Mk23: It’s decided! I’ll put Secret Operation: Darling Defense into action!
  44. I mustn’t let Darling fall into anyone else’s silk-wrapped clutches!
  45. That’s it, then! I’ll go check the namelist with Kalina-san and work on countermeasures for each and every one of them...
  46.  
  47. [Several days later.]
  48. [At the fashion show’s makeup room.]
  49. [Before the rehearsals, Mk23 muttered to herself as she looked into the mirror inside the dressing room.]
  50.  
  51. Mk23: According to my previous investigations in the dressing room, nobody used this chance to get close to Darling...
  52.  
  53. [Rewind a little bit into the past.]
  54. [During the makeup tests.]
  55.  
  56. Doll Holding Red Flowers: Ah… I’m sorry! I was thinking about Nee-san and I didn’t notice you were here…
  57. I already got Nee-san’s recommendations on how to make myself up, but it really was very hard after all, I don’t know if the pictures will turn out well…
  58. Huh? ThE Commander? If you mean today, I haven’t seen him yet...
  59.  
  60. Doll With Long Red Hair: Like I was saying, I don’t want makeup that’s too outlandish...
  61. Oh? So it’s you, kitty. Are you all made up? Sweet-looking makeup really does suit a face like yours better after all.
  62. The Commander isn’t here yet, I think. Honestly, he asks me to come help out and then he flees on his own… what? The Commander promised he’d come to check in on us every day? Hm, then maybe we’ll see him later, no?
  63.  
  64. [Back to the present.]
  65. [In the makeup room.]
  66. [Mk23 took out her tactical tablet and carefully studied the notes she had made on it.]
  67.  
  68. Mk23: During the past two days in the photography studio, everyone seemed to be focusing on the publicity photos. Nobody did anything outrageous like taking pictures with Darling in their wedding dresses...
  69.  
  70. [Rewind a little bit into the past.]
  71. [At the photo studio.]
  72.  
  73. Doll Wearing Dark Green Ribbon: What about Sir? I haven’t really thought about that.
  74. You need to take pictures properly, without any stray thoughts in your heart. If you’re distracted, you’ll never be able to reach perfection—
  75. Tch, she’s run off? Not listening to lectures just won’t do.
  76.  
  77. Doll Wearing A Crystal Tiara: They’re still not satisfied even after taking pictures that way, and now my expression’s become all weird… what on earth do I need to do…
  78. Uwah, you want me to face the Commander in this state? No, I can’t, he’ll laugh at me for sure, right!
  79. Rather, I’m glad the Commander wasn’t in the studio...
  80.  
  81. [Back to the present.]
  82. [In the makeup room.]
  83. [Mk23 drooped her ears and stared at her image in the mirror. She did her best to widen her eyes, the better to keep the tears welling up in their corners from spilling out.
  84.  
  85. Mk23: It’s true that nobody’s had wicked intentions towards Darling over the past few days, but...
  86. But it’s been so long since the mission started, so why haven’t I seen Darling even once?
  87. Why… why… why do I feel like I’ve experienced this sort of thing before, Darling promised me something, but he vanished in the end…
  88.  
  89. [Mk23 was now the only one in the makeup room.]
  90. [She used her fingers to carefully dab at the corners of her eyes, so the tears would only touch her fingertips and not her carefully made-up face.]
  91. [Mk23 looked up to the clock hanging on the wall.]
  92.  
  93. Mk23: Ah, it’s almost time for my rehearsals.
  94. Let’s just do it for now… even though there’s something really important that I want to do with Darling...
  95. Darling, you dummy, you big dummy...
  96.  
  97. [Just as Mk23 was thinking that, the door to the makeup room opened.]
  98. [Surprised, Mk23 looked back and saw Gepard enter, looking totally despondent.\
  99.  
  100. M1 Gepard: Ah, so you were here too, Mk23.
  101.  
  102. [Gepard greeted Mk23 tiredly.]
  103.  
  104. Mk23: You don’t look well… is something the matter? Are you feeling alright?
  105.  
  106. M1 Gepard: No… I just… I just feel so tired...
  107. I thought that taking pictures in a wedding dress and walking down a fashion runway would be an easy mission…
  108. But for some reason, it feels just like how I did overtime every day in the base.
  109.  
  110. Mk23: I do understand the way you feel, to some extent...
  111.  
  112. M1 Gepard: Mm… but now I’m thinking, am I being too unreasonable?
  113.  
  114. [Mk23 dragged Gepard over to a place where she could sit down and helped tidy up Gepard’s brain, before cheering herself up and flashing her a radiant smile.]
  115.  
  116. Mk23: It looks to me like you won’t be able to carry on unless you say what’s on your digimind.
  117. I’ve still got a while before I need to go for my rehearsal. Let me be your audience, then.
  118.  
  119. [Ten minutes later.]
  120.  
  121. M1 Gepard: Uuu, in any case, it’s all the Commander’s fault!
  122. I ended up like this because of the Commander’s definition of “easy work”...
  123.  
  124. Mk23: Heh… yes yes, it’s all Darling’s fault, that big liar.
  125.  
  126. [Gepard lowered her head and said nothing, but after about 10 minutes of conversation, Mk23 noticed that Gepard’s expression had visibly relaxed.]
  127.  
  128. Mk23: Come to think about it, you look su—per good in that wedding dress.
  129.  
  130. M1 Gepard: Huh?
  131.  
  132. [Mk23 turned Gepard around, and had her face herself in the mirror.]
  133.  
  134. Mk23: Don’t you think you look pretty, Gepard?
  135.  
  136. M1 Gepard: I…
  137.  
  138. Mk23: Trying on makeup is very annoying. Finding the best angle for photography is also very annoying. And the less said about walking the runway so that it fits the designer’s mood, the better.
  139. But if you think about it, the fact is that we tactical dolls now have a rare chance to show off our charm beyond fighting and killing on the battlefield.
  140. Gepard, you’ve been thinking of the whole thing as a “burden” all this while, right? Why don’t you try thinking of it as a “reward” for once?
  141. Think of it as being all for your sake, and cheer up a little.
  142.  
  143. [Mk23 tilted her head, and as she looked at Gepard — who was entranced by her image in the mirror — her train of thought suddenly left for parts unknown.]
  144.  
  145. Mk23: What on earth am I saying, I really am a dummy…
  146. At first I thought that it didn’t matter how hard things got as long as I managed to let Darling see me like this, but now…
  147. “Be happy for yourself?” Why is it that I’m trying to comfort other people, but in the end it’s like...
  148.  
  149. [……]
  150.  
  151. [However, it was only natural that these two dolls, who had their hearts full at this time, did not notice that there had been someone standing for a long time outside, beyond the unlatched door to the makeup room. Nobody noticed when he had come, and he departed without a sound.]
  152.  
  153. [One day later.]
  154. [At the runway.]
  155. [It was Mk23’s final rehearsal.]
  156. [Mk23 was the polar opposite of the self-pitying wretch staring at her reflection in the makeup room. As she stood on stage, Mk23 was all smiles, and her confident performance won applause from all the designers present at the scene to give directions.]
  157.  
  158. Designer: Thank you very much, miss. Keep this up and you’ll be fine for sure during the real thing!
  159.  
  160. [Mk23 thanked the designer and then went backstage.]
  161.  
  162. Mk23: Just smile, just smile.
  163. There’s no reason for Darling not to be there when it’s time for the real show!
  164. When that happens… when that happens Darling will see the most beautiful side of me—
  165.  
  166. [As Mk23 muttered to herself, she suddenly felt someone tweak her cat ears.]
  167.  
  168. Mk23: Ueeehhhh!
  169.  
  170. ???: Here, your “reward” — You did very well just now, Mk23.
  171.  
  172. [Mk23 stood in place, her face red. The Commander had appeared out of nowhere to stand before her.]
  173.  
  174. Mk23: Darling… you’re bullying me again, Darling!
  175. Hmph, when the show officially starts, I’ll do even better than this!
  176.  
  177. Commander: I know. I’m sure you will.
  178.  
  179. [Mk23 looked at the Commander with a somewhat blank expression in her eyes, but then she shook her head and headed to the makeup room, holding her skirts up as she did.]
  180. [As she did, she called out to the Commander.]
  181.  
  182. Mk23: Dar—ling♪
  183.  
  184. Commander: I’m listening.
  185.  
  186. Mk23: Once all the performances are over, you need to remember to make some time to keep me company, okay?
  187. Think of that as a downpayment on seeing the best side of me♪
  188.  
  189. Commander: Alright, I will.
  190.  
  191. [The girl ran all the way down the corridor and vanished at its end.]
  192. [She did not ask why I had not showed up for the date he had made with her, only made another promise with me again, as usual.]
  193.  
  194. Commander: ...I’d better stop bullying her.
  195. Who knows what she’s turned me into inside her heart...
  196.  
  197. [After the mission ended.]
  198. [At the photography studio.]
  199. [The girl was dressed in sheer white silk, and the sweet smile on her face moved the heart more than the bouquet she held.]
  200. [That girl now stood in front of me, shining like a signpost leading to a wonderful life.]
  201.  
  202. Mk23: Good, you didn’t stand me up, or vanish, Darling. You properly showed your face in front of me.
  203.  
  204. Commander: Ahem… well yes, I’m here to “make payment.”
  205. So what do you want to do, Mk23?
  206.  
  207. Mk23: I asked the designer, and I don’t need to return the dress so soon after the show, so…
  208. Right at the end, I’d like to take a picture with you, Darling.
  209.  
  210. Commander: A wedding photo…? Don’t tell me you’re planning to make fun of me.
  211.  
  212. Mk23: Hmph, do you think I’m as wicked as you? You really are terrible, Darling.
  213.  
  214. [Even as she said this, the girl still tugged on my clothes and dragged me in front of a wedding photo backdrop, taking her place at the clearly indication position on the floor.]
  215. [There was a camera not far from the backdrop. The shutter was linked to a remote switch, which was at the girl’s feet.]
  216. [As I looked around, the girl suddenly grabbed my hand.]
  217.  
  218. Mk23: When I saw other people take wedding photos… they were all holding hands.
  219.  
  220. [I turned to look at the side of her face. She was looking straight ahead, but the red flush in her cheeks was becoming more and more obvious.]
  221. [I had promised not to tease her again, but now…]
  222.  
  223. Commander: *wags hand* Owwwww! Mk23, your grip is really strong, let go, let go.
  224.  
  225. [But I did not expect the girl to not let go.]
  226. [When I looked at her, I suddenly realised that her tail, which had been full of life and rhythmically swaying around until just now, had drooped dejectedly to the ground.]
  227. [The girl bit her lip and said nothing. However… she still held my hand, though without much force.]
  228.  
  229. Commander: …
  230. [I was thinking that right now, I must have an unsightly, bitter smile on my face. After all, I was a bastard who was making fun of a girl’s sincere intentions.]
  231.  
  232. Commander: You’re right, Mk23. Your Darling really is a terrible person.
  233.  
  234. [Saying so, I took a step forward diagonally and bent down to pick up the shutter switch, before returning to my original position.]
  235. [After that… I gripped the girl’s hand tightly, using the same inescapable strength she had used on me.]
  236.  
  237. Mk23: Dar… Darling?
  238.  
  239. Commander: What’s wrong?
  240. Of course you’d need to hold hands for a wedding photo.
  241.  
  242. [I did not need to verify it with my eyes. The swishing in the air was enough for me to be sure that right now, the girl’s tail was like a radar that had been powered on again, standing high and proud and swishing from side to side.]
  243.  
  244. Commander: Fortunately humans are all cunning creatures.
  245. If I had a tail too, you’d have seen right through me.
  246.  
  247. Mk23: A tail? Seen through? What are you saying, I don’t understand...
  248.  
  249. Commander: It’s nothing.
  250. It’s just your “reward” for showing me “the best side of yourself”.
  251.  
  252. [Kachak]
  253.  
  254. [……]
  255.  
  256. [Of course, there were a lot of things I could not say, including the fact that I had actually gone to check on them, and the momentary tremor in my heart after I had pushed the shutter switch.]
  257. [I should have taken back what I had said about “the best side of her.”]
  258. [Because in that moment, the smile I saw on the girl’s face when I had unconsciously looked in her direction was the most beautiful part of her I had ever seen.]
  259. [And now, had I — as someone who could make her smile like that — become someone who would no longer make that girl sad and worried?]
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