Ben Jackson’s first order to Wild Tiger after Kotetsu had signed the contract was to write a letter.
“A letter?” Kotetsu repeated, nonplussed.
“Yes.” Ben, for some reasons, refused to meet his eyes. “It’s a policy for all sponsored heroes. This is a dangerous job you’re taking and no one can guarantee your safety. Should the worst happen, at least you will have left words for the people you love.”
It took Kotetsu the entirety of ten seconds to make sense of his new boss’s explanation. “You mean like a death letter?”
Ben visibly grimaced. “If you want to call it that.”
Kotetsu disobeyed this order for as long as seven days; in return, Ben refused to honour their contract before the letter arrived on his desk. The company, he managed to explain in the middle of one of Kotetsu’s tirades, would keep the letter for him and, in the unfortunate—and hopefully unlikely—event of his death, would then give it to his family. It could serve as a measure of comfort, however paltry. At any rate, the company would never allow him to compete unless he wrote the letter.
Only three months after his wife’s funeral, Kotetsu avoided all matters connected to death with the diligence and superstition of a man haunted by the grim reaper himself. Kaede was barely four; as her only surviving parent, he could not afford to let himself be taken away from her, like his wife had been.
But he could not afford to ignore the money promised by a lucrative career either. Seven days was his limit and no company would wait forever.
That night, he kissed the top of Kaede’s head, basked in the quiet, even sound of her breathing, and then sat down with a pen and a piece of paper.
”Most beautiful, most beloved, most precious daughter,” he began.
Karina would never admit it to anyone, but her letter unfolded much like the long, meandrous path of her life. She used countless wild, roundabout turns of phrase to avoid coming to the point, preferring instead to dwell on the stupidity of her new catchphrase and costume. Only after her tears had spoken, near the end of the letter, that her pen would spill the words which had so long crowded her heart and yet so far remained stubbornly silent, stemmed by youth’s arrogance.
“…I’m sorry I’ve been a troublesome daughter. I know I can be difficult, but I love you both with all my heart.”
One teardrop fell and stained the last word, courting ink to defile paper. Karina made no move to wipe it away.
Her parents deserved to see it, this painful, honest piece of the unspoken.
Antonio’s letter was addressed to a dead woman.
She was not his wife and no one but Kotetsu knew that she was dead. She was, however, the first person he had saved using his power as a NEXT, fifteen years ago. He had been a few seconds too late and the young woman with long black hair and a pair of warm brown eyes had died later on the operation table—but for a moment, just for a moment, she had looked at him in the eye and smiled, gratitude quivering on her lips.
Now every time he rescued a civilian, Antonio would write down the experience as best as he could, and then add the new letter into the growing pile of envelopes crowding his desk. His boss would sigh at the mess but say nothing, at least until he decided to give them a home in a box with Antonio’s name on it.
And every time he failed, Antonio could look at the seven-hundred-and-twenty-four (and growing) envelopes to know that failures, no matter what, would never undo successes.
Two days after his visit to the prison, Ivan rewrote his letter.
The last one was replete with apologies and regrets, written by a quivering hand and guided by cowering wits. But today, as they sat facing each other, Edward had laughed at his retelling about the underwear incident involving Tiger, Sky High, and Fire Emblem—and the sound had so warmed his heart that Ivan knew they would be alright.
This time he penned, “I regret nothing.”
This time he sealed the envelope with a smile.
Pao-Lin inked her letter on rice paper. Three characters formed the centrepiece, black on translucent white.
She was never particularly good at this art, but neither was she good at giving up. Countless paper fell victim to her untiring practice as she spent day after day bent over the paper-strewn floor, a pen, and then a brush in hand. She refused to feel satisfied until she could hold her brush steady, poised above the smooth, fragile sheet.
Then, after the incident with the Mayor’s baby, she retrieved her letter from the office and added a drawing of a big, bright sunflower at the end.
It was not perfect, and neither was her calligraphy—but love, she reasoned, should not be perfect.
Being his own master, Nathan did not have to write a letter—but he did.
It was addressed to himself, to that foolish, imprudent future self of his who was capable of so great an ignominy so as to get himself killed. He railed against carelessness and stupidity, so hard that his pen tore at unsuspecting paper; he recited life’s lost pleasures, the carnal caresses and emotional bliss; he wept at the loss of such brightly, beautifully burning life.
But in the end he wrote: “If you still, still manage to get yourself killed despite everything, then make sure it is for a worthy cause.”
Nathan knew the value of his own life, and it was not so high that it must stand above all else.
Keith’s letter was addressed to every citizen of Sternbild City.
It was a long, impressive piece of epistle, suffused with so much passion and sincerity that it exhausted him upon completion. His aim was neither fame nor publicity. In his mind, it was not him who took care of the city; it was the city which took care of him—once an ill-fitted boy, now an ill-fitted man who nevertheless had a place amidst the city's warm, blinking lights. Keith knew that he was Sternbild’s child through and through. Sky High was a gift, for him from the city, and this letter was but a little sign of gratitude in return.
“…for making me who I am, a man whose existence was not entirely futile: thank you, and once again, thank you!”
He would never know, but the day it was read and his heartfelt words rang through every speaker and echoed in every street, a flood of tears would drown the bereaved city.
By some ridiculous twist of fate, Kotetsu found out that his partner had not written any letter.
Barnaby was, to put simply, not amused. The campaign Kotetsu had begun in order to make him write what he irreverently called ‘the death letter’ was not only annoying to the last degree but also a blatant breach of privacy.
“It’s very important.” Kotetsu never tired in his endeavour, be it during a mission or in the gym or—like now—in the office. “Listen to your elders, kid. It’s like a death poem of the samurais. It gave meaning to their death, and so it gave meaning to their existence. We as heroes should honour that spirit!”
“I’m not even Japanese,” Barnaby deigned to mutter. It earned him an exasperated flutter of hands above the flimsy partition separating their cubicles, followed by the man’s face itself.
“That’s not the point! Look, there must be someone who’s like family to you.”
“I suppose you’re talking about Mr. Maverick.”
“He won’t do,” Kotetsu said decisively. “He can easily read your letter whenever he wants. There must be someone else.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not particularly fond of socialising,” Barnaby intoned dryly.
“Hmm, that’s true.” Kotetsu tapped the side of his chin in a slow, contemplative rhythm. “And anyway, your social skill totally sucks.”
“Says the person who scowled at me for ten minutes while I was entertaining fans and he had none.”
“Hah! Only because they like your pretty face!”
“Physical excellence is a manner of achievement.”
“But never the most important!”
“Whatever,” Barnaby snapped, irritated at himself for being drawn into the childish argument. “You want me to write a ‘death letter’? Sure, I’ll write one and address it to you. Happy?”
Kotetsu blinked. “Huh? Me? No way.”
A sudden, thoroughly unreasonable bloom of resentment made him grit his teeth and clench his fist. Barnaby rose abruptly to his feet, suddenly all too eager to put some distance between him and his infuriating partner. “Fine, it isn’t as if you have to–”
“Don’t pull that crap with me, Bunny.” The hard edge in Kotetsu’s voice brought his escape plan to a complete halt, as did the firm grip around his wrist. He stood nailed to the spot, absurdly panicked but unable to flee.
“Look,” Kotetsu tried again, softer this time, his grip loosening a fraction, “it’s not that I’m not flattered or anything, but I know that the only way I’m going to allow you to die is over my dead body first, so…” He shrugged and let the action speak for his silence.
For what felt like a very long time, Barnaby was at a loss for words. It was Kotetsu, however, who suffered a flush as embarrassment hit him full-force in the face.
“Oh, come on!” His laugh was a nervous, uncertain echo, and he punched the side of Barnaby’s arm lightly to diffuse the moment of awkwardness. “What’s with that look? We’re partners and that's that. Now let’s just come up with a new name because you still have to write that damned letter.”
“No.” Barnaby finally found his voice—a thin, pitiful sound, but growing stronger with each new syllable. “It’s still going to be you.”
Kotetsu frowned. “Hey, didn’t you listen to what I–”
“I don’t care,” Barnaby said stubbornly. “It’s just a letter. If it goes to waste, then so what?”
As quickly as it had appeared, the frown smoothed down to a semblance of contriteness, awkward and self-conscious. Kotetsu sighed, and then surrendered a feeble smile. “It’s just I’ll be super-curious about what you write if it’s addressed to me.”
Barnaby shrugged. “Then maybe you will have to stay alive so you can read it.”
A slow smirk graced Kotetsu’s face. “That’s unfair, Bunny-chan,” he declared.
“Your rules, old man.”
“I do believe.”
He signed it with the caricature of a rabbit and a smile.