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a revelation in the light of day

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>>> New message from [[Kuroko Tetsuya]]...
Review? [Y/N]
[Y]
{Hello Akashi-kun. Kagami-kun told me about the messaging service that Teiko Starfleet uses. How is your health on board the ship? I hope you have been well.}

____

In the end, the universe is rarely how it had appeared to Akashi Seijūrō in the movies and documentaries that his mother showed him as a child. Of course, there have been moments where even he has been struck speechless, infinitesimally small compared to the greatest creations of the universe– the death of a star, so beautiful in its tragic demise, or the countless nebulae that the starfleet has passed through. Still, for the majority of his time as the senior commander of the Teiko Starfleet, Seijūrō has stared out the thick windows of the ship only to be met with dark nothingness. 

Even after the invention of near-light speed, the fleet spends most of its time navigating through the viscous sea of infinity. For anyone else, perhaps, years of space travel might have chipped away at their sanity, the unsettling pit from staring for hours and hours at the oppressive vastness of empty space growing too heavy for their souls. 

However, to twenty three-year old Seijūrō, intergalactic space-time travel was merely another goal to surpass, a task that he would surely, inevitably succeed at. Being promoted to the youngest senior commander in the history of Teiko's international starfleet and captain of the fleet’s flagship, the SS Rakuzan, two years ago was not so much a pleasant surprise as it was one of many eventual truths in his life. 

“Senior Commander Akashi,” his chief officer begins, “we’ll be entering descent soon. Shall I inform the crew to begin heading towards the designated locations for landing?” 

Without tearing his gaze from the emptiness outside the window, he replies, “Yes. Inform the rest of the bridge to prepare the necessities for descent. Ask Mibuchi to make an announcement over the intercom shortly.” The officer responds with a prompt salute before making his way down to the bridge. 

Seijūrō’s lips quirk up the slightest. His chief officer, along with the rest of the crew aboard the Rakuzan, operate like the well-oiled machine he had trained them unyieldingly into being. While not having exceeded his expectations, they had certainly rarely fallen short of them, and he could be perfectly content with that for the time being. 

As Mibuchi’s friendly voice crackles to life through the intercom system, Seijūrō stares at the window. Red eyes, red hair, and the red stars on his uniform stare back at him. It has been many months since he has been eye-to-eye with someone who wasn’t his reflection, and as he takes his seat, he thinks about someone who has never been afraid to look him in the eye.

It has been a while since he has seen the color blue.

____ 

Kuroko Tetsuya is 27 years old when the world shifts back into place. When a person (not just any person, but your ex-boyfriend, he chides himself) like Akashi Seijūrō is born, the world must accommodate such an individual who will surely, inevitably become larger than life. As a result, when he departed nine years ago on his first exploratory mission with Teiko Starfleet just out of the Teiko Starfleet Flight Academy, the world, having grown accustomed to his presence, could only hold her breath until his return. 

Of course, Teiko’s gravity had not changed, nor had her atmosphere or her ecosystems. And yet, for nearly a decade Tetusya has lived just slightly off-kilter, slightly weighed down, as if his body had been forced to compensate in some way for his aching heart. 

But that is no longer here nor there— after all, it has been nine years since he had left Akashi Seijūrō. And in that time, Tetsuya had left the TSFA to become a kindergarten teacher, much to the begrudged acceptance from his former flight partner Kagami Taiga, and moved into his own apartment in Seirin. 

It is a lovely apartment in its own right, although not nearly as tech-laden as some of the nicer complexes in the city. While Tetsuya does his best to keep it clean, dog fur seems to find its way into the most unexpected locations, and once a month he replaces some of his students’ drawings on the fridge with new marker-scribbled, slightly crumpled pieces of paper. He keeps a single stool pulled up to the counter to be able to watch and talk with Kagami when he comes over to help cook for the other male (“You’ll die by thirty if all you eat is hard-boiled eggs, Kuroko!”), as well as plenty of books shelved in various places around his living room. The couch, while having certainly been slept on by both Aomine and Kise on several instances, and occasionally at the same time, is still fairly unused. After all, his friends are all busy with their adult lives, being in the second half of their twenties. That is to be expected, he tells himself when the silence grows too suffocating. 

Still, they all make time to play basketball twice a month on one of the older, less frequented streetball courts, and for the past nine years they have continued to carefully avoid mentioning how the games never feel quite right to Tetsuya. 

For the most part, Tetsuya lives a peaceful, if simple, life. However, while he has never been talkative himself, he rather enjoys the thick, interwoven blanket of voices that settles over public spaces. But now as he brushes Nigou in the living room, his apartment seems far too quiet, save for the dog’s occasional panting. A little disconcerted, he turns on the television, and a hologram of a cheerful news reporter springs to life in the center of his living room.

“Just hours ago the entirety of the Teiko Starfleet landed back on Teiko, including its flagship, the S.S. Rakuzan. For just a few weeks, the crew of the S.S. Rakuzan and the rest of the Teiko Starfleet will be able to spend time with their loved ones before heading back out, this time to the Delta-X 3 galaxy. The starfleet has spent the past nine years accomplishing intergalactic travel and space exploration. Here with me today…” 

The wooden brush falls from his hands and lands on the carpet with a quiet thump. Nigou, having been peacefully subjected to one of his favorite pastimes, opens a lazy eye at his human, who stares in disbelief at the hologram.

“Akashi-kun is already back?” Tetsuya murmurs to himself. Finally, his brain helpfully supplies. His heart twists in his chest, beating once, twice. Each breath he takes feels too deep, too much, as he takes his phone out from his pocket. His fingers tremble over Akashi’s contact— he had never been able to delete it, no matter how much Kise encouraged him to. 

Should he send a message? Surely it would be too soon, would it not? 

Tetsuya stumbles out of his reverie when Nigou lets out a reproachful bark. “Alright, alright, Nigou,” he placates his pet with a weak smile and reaches to pick up the brush again. Akashi could wait for just a few more hours. After all, no matter how much he stubbornly refuses to admit it to the rest of their friends, Tetsuya has been waiting for much, much longer. 

____

>>> New message to [[Kuroko Tetsuya]]...
{Hello Kuroko, it has been a while. I see that you are still in contact with Kagami Taiga. My health has been excellent, thank you for inquiring. How is everyone else doing? Has your health been well, also?}

Send? [Y/N]
[Y]

____

To: Basket idiots

>> Not that I care, but did you all see that the Rakuzan has landed? 
Midorima-kun

>> Yes. 

>> that means akashi-cchi is back, right? it’s been a while~
Kise-kun

>> shut up kise
Aomine–kun 

>> Actually, I messaged him several years ago once.
Kagami-kun told me about the program that the starfleet uses.
>> We talked a little, but he never responded to my last message.

>> WHAAAT? kuroko-cchi, never text your ex!!!!!!!
Kise-kun

>> whyd u go and do dat tetsu 
>> actually @kagami whyd you tell tetsu abt it bakagami
Aomine-kun

>> I was drunk. 
>> Please don’t be upset at Kagami-kun, I asked him first.
>> And @Kise-kun, it’s fine. We are both adults now.

>>LOL tetsu durnk is so fucking funny
Aomine-kun

>> Drunk*, you idiot.
Midorima-kun

>> Yeah fuck you Aho
Kagami-kun

>> tetsu-kun, are you thinking of visiting him?
Momoi-san

____

Centuries ago, Seirin was a small portside town wedged neatly between two large waterways, home to a few artisans and merchants, and a temporary reprise for sailors. Even after the land had been terraformed and the city eventually bloomed into a bustling metropolis, it had not sprawled far past its birth constraints. Instead, the inhabitants of Seirin chose to build vertically— after all, the people of Teiko had always turned towards the sky. 

Today, gravity-defying skyscrapers strain for the clouds, connected in an interlocking web with shimmering walkways. The opulence of the upper city drips down towards the lower part of the metropolis, like fat dew drops collecting on canopy leaves before rolling down to the underbrush. The citizens of Seirin are a happy one, bustling about the golden city to various shops and offices and parks, unceasing in their movement and drive towards progress. In the heart of the metropolis especially, shops are packed wall to wall, with signs hanging on each of the dozens of floors to cast a patchwork shadow dance on the ground. 

It is in this liminal space, this strange-almost-alive intersection of futuristic technology and the primal desire for closeness, that Seijūrō finds himself in one of his favorite bookstores. Since he had last visited, the store had been remodeled several times over, shrunk and expanded in size with the ebbing flow of time, but he is grateful that it still stands as strong as it always had when he was a teenager. 

Seijūrō spends some time perusing the towering shelves in the tiny shop, pulling out countless books from their place to scan a few pages before putting some back, the rest placed in an automated cart by his side. The latest political commentaries, fantasy stories, analyses of art trends— nothing escapes the scan of his curious eyes. It is when he is a chapter and a half deep into renowned basketball player Aomine Daiki’s autobiography that—

“Akashi-kun?”

To say that time stopped would be a little too ordinary for someone like Seijūrō, but when his eyes snap up to stare face-to-face with Kuroko Tetsuya, even he is at a loss for words. 

He had, of course, known the effects of near-light speed travel: the phenomenon of relative velocity time dilation had meant that when he would return back to Teiko, he would not have aged as fast as those left on the planet. 

To confront its effects in this way, however— inches away from the only ghost of his past he could never truly dissipate—that was a different story. Kuroko is undoubtedly older than when Seijūrō had last seen him, leaving the flight academy (and him) with unshakeable steadfastness nine years ago. 

The now older man had grown a few centimeters taller, but still remained of average height. He had also lost the remainder of his baby fat, developing a more pronounced jawline and cheekbones. The greatest indicator of his age is neither that, nor the faintest hints of crow’s feet, but in his eyes. Somehow, in some way, they look a little deeper, a little more exhausted. Even then, however, they remain as clear as they always had, a reflection of a still pond. 

The more things change, Seijūrō thinks, the more things stay the same. 

Time stretches thin and then snaps back into place like a rubber band. He replies, stunned, “Kuroko?”

Anyone else might have missed the slightest tremor in Seijūrō’s voice, the way his tongue stumbled for an instant over the gentle wave of his syllables. Kuroko was not merely anyone else, but did not comment on it. Seijūrō did not know whether to be grateful for his grace or irritated at his silent magnanimity. He did not know much about Kuroko at all anymore. 

“It has been a while,” the older man says politely, and bows. “I saw on the news that the Rakuzan had landed a few days ago. Congratulations to Akashi-kun for a successful endeavor.” 

Ah. Of course. In the end, Kuroko had still been the one to leave Seijūrō choking on now-empty promises in the dark, empty academy dormitory. It would be almost unfair to accuse the other of having run away, he now knows, but still. Still. 

In the end, they were not even ex-lovers, estranged by the cruel fingers of the universe stretching and pulling the space-time fabric as they were. 

Acquaintances, perhaps, Seijūrō settles on, because otherwise he could only label themselves as strangers. 

Seijūrō schools a face of civility, but before he can make a strategic exit, Kuroko continues, marching onward without noticing or perhaps even caring of Seijūrō’s dilemma. 

“Would Akashi-kun be free to meet at a café sometime this week? It has been a while and I would enjoy catching up.” His eyes reveal nothing, but Seijūrō does not miss the slight twitch of his pinky finger, a nervous habit Kuroko had never been able to quite shake off.

The more things change, indeed. 

Encouraged, he shoots back with a slight quirk of the lips, “After nine years, Kuroko now drinks coffee?”

Nonplussed, Kuroko replies, “Of course, I will be drinking a vanilla shake, Akashi-kun.” 

For a moment, the two share a small, private smile. Seijūrō wonders if Kuroko is thinking of the past, trading secrets and hidden kisses in the corners of their childhood rooms and the academy hallways. 

He then remembers that he no longer knows what Kuroko is thinking, and the moment’s life ends abruptly, a string snapped in half, leaving only fraying ends aching to be reconnected. 

Still, he is grateful for the chance to have Kuroko back in his life, so he asks, “Would two days from now be okay? I am free in the morning, if that works.”

The other nods. “I will text you the details of the address, then. See you then, Akashi-kun.” With that, he bows again and turns to exit the store, leaving only an echo of the door chime in his wake.

It is only later when Seijūrō is laying in his bed that he realizes that Kuroko still has his number, and he hides a satisfied smile under the covers. 

____

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that the more certain we can pinpoint the position of a particle, the less certain we are of its momentum, and vice versa. Similarly, based on the theory of relativity, the phenomenon of time dilation reveals that the faster one travels through the three dimensions of space, the slower they travel through the fourth dimension, time. Push, and pull. The more we know, the less we know.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. 

Push, and pull. Everything is relative. Everything is the same. Everything has changed. Nothing is absolute in space except for its eternity. Push, and pull. 

In the end, Seijūrō had pushed, and pushed, and pushed. But the more certain we are of a particle’s momentum, the less we are about its position.

And one day Kuroko had told him that he would be leaving the Teiko Starfleet Flight Academy. And one day Seijūrō would realize that for all the times he had pushed, waiting to look back and see when Kuroko would meet him in the middle, he had never considered that the question of when was not as certain as he had believed it to be. And one day Kuroko would run into Seijūrō at the bookstore, twenty seven years of age to Seijūrō’s twenty three, even though they were both eighteen when their paths splintered off. 

Quantum physics had always been a particularly irksome subject for Seijūrō. 

____

The café must have been built while he was away, Seijūrō thinks as his eyes sweep over the unfamiliar cluster of tables and worn seats. Certainly more homely than a location he would choose, but not without merit, if the classical music drifting quietly across the cafe is any indication. 

The first time, he misses Kuroko’s presence, and the corners of his lips twitch downward ever so slightly when Seijūrō fails to find the other man at any of the wooden tables. However, nine years away has not changed Kuroko’s hidden mischievous streak, which is what makes Seijūrō glance a second time— better to try harder to seek him out than be humiliatingly jump-scared by Kuroko. 

He spots the blue-haired man eventually sitting at a corner table with a tall white cup in his hands. Kuroko hasn’t noticed him yet, preoccupied with his long-held habit of observing the various passerby through the window. 

Seijūrō takes a step in his direction. Don’t look back. Another step forward. 

“Kuroko.” 

Blinking once, Kuroko turns to stare up at Seijūrō. “Akashi-kun, you are early.” 

“You are too,” he points out, “I will order a drink first and then come sit down.”

“Akashi-kun is normally not of the type to tell me what he plans on doing,” Kuroko responds lightly, but his eyes betray a heavier melancholy to them. 

Quick to respond, Seijūrō fires back, “Neither is Kuroko, I have come to learn,” before heading to the cashier so he cannot see Kuroko’s reaction. 

When he sits down again with a plain espresso, Kuroko speaks first. “I should apologize to Akashi-kun. I have overstepped with my comment.” 

“No need for an apology, Kuroko,” Seijūrō dismisses as gently as he can, “And I was also at fault. It is nothing.” He takes a sip of his drink and briefly savors its richness—although he has never been one for intensely flavored dishes, space-prepared food always comes with an inexplicable dryness— before adding on, “How have you been these days?”

A waiter comes by to take their orders and refill their glasses with water. 

“I am doing fine. I started working at a local kindergarten close to my apartment several years ago, and I enjoy the work,” Kuroko says. He adds on after an awkward pause, “The rest of our friends are doing well, also. Aomine-kun enjoys his team as well as he can, and Midorima-kun has also recently moved in with Takao-kun.” 

“They must have been together for quite a while, then.”

He coughs. “They are not together yet.” 

Seijūrō and Kuroko share a wry smile together. Even after over a decade, the two have still been dancing around each other. Privately, Seijūrō plans on teasing Midorima when they meet up later this week. 

Kuroko takes a moment to sip from his milkshake, and Seijūrō takes a moment to scan over his face once more. There is no doubt— Kuroko looks older, perhaps even a little more beyond his age from the slight tightness behind his eyes. He looks twenty seven and as if the world had been a little heavier on his shoulders since Seijūrō had left. 

Seijūrō might even go as far to say that Kuroko looks a little lonelier than he once did. He stops himself from going down that path before his traitorous thoughts begin to dance along the line of hope. 

In contrast, Seijūrō still looks as if he is in his early twenties, because he is. Time dilation is such a nasty thing, he thinks with a hint of bitterness. 

Their meals both arrive, and Seijūrō thanks the waiter with a slight nod. The man seems to be a little grateful to slip away from their table, as if he too is somehow aware of the awkward, too-polite atmosphere. 

Right before the ensuing silence grows unbearable, Seijūrō asks with a more than a negligible degree of curiosity, “Do you enjoy working at the kindergarten? I know you had once told me about wanting to become a teacher.” 

The second half of the question—Do you enjoy being there more than you did being with me at the academy?— goes unsaid. 

Even in between bites of his sandwich, Kuroko is merciless. “Yes, I was very happy to change occupations, and I enjoy being with the kids.” After a moment, he continues, his words both an ache and a balm, “but of course I had also enjoyed being at the flight academy.”

Seijūrō is simultaneously surprised by his comment and not. Even after all this time, Kuroko has always been too observant for his own good, leaving no stone unturned under his watchful eyes. Still, in spite of being thrown slightly off-balance, or perhaps because of it, Seijūrō pushes, “Then why did you leave the flight academy?” 

Why did you leave me, he says in his head. He almost does not want to hear Kuroko’s answer, but a thousand different possibilities play in his mind regardless. 

Kuroko swallows. “I left because I was unhappy there,” he begins, speaking carefully. “I often did not agree with the teaching styles of the instructors, as well as the way the administration handled many issues.”

“Many people had reason to be unhappy with the chain of command,” Seijūrō points out flatly, “but you ran away.” 

“Yes, and no, Akashi-kun.” Kuroko stares down at his pale, knobbly fingers against the wooden table. “I admit to my own inaction. I was young, as you were, but I did not know how to fix things. I was happy at the academy, with you—” Seijūrō has a sharp intake of breath “—but I knew that I was not suited to work for the Teiko Starfleet.” 

“You were an excellent pilot,” Seijūrō says. “You exceeded my expectations on multiple occasions.” 

Kuroko admits,  “I was, and I had always reached for your approval and praise. But it was not what I wanted to do.” 

“I pushed you to apply for the position to begin with,” Seijūrō says haltingly. “I pushed you away from working in space exploration.” 

“You are putting words in my mouth,” Kuroko replies gently. Always so gentle, so kind, and yet so quick to kill. “When you were the only one out of our class selected to fly with the Rakuzan, I knew that I was holding you back.” 

Seijūrō squints his eyes in sudden anger. “So Kuroko is saying that it is my fault.”

“And yet here you are today, as the youngest senior commander of the Teiko Starfleet in history,” the other shoots back. “You were always meant for greater things than me. I was a good pilot, but I could not keep up with what you wished for us to do together.” 

“And you were willing to give it all up?”

“We all have things we are willing to give everything up for,” Tetsuya responds in the  needlessly vague tone he has always been prone to.  

“There is nothing I could have done to make you stay,” Seijūrō says almost helplessly. 

“I knew that I had to let you go. I could never have asked Akashi-kun to sacrifice his career for me.”

His throat stings. “You never told me of your plans,” Seijūrō spits with venom. I would have never asked you to do such a thing. 

“You never asked, Akashi-kun.” But it would have happened one day, regardless. Kuroko stares back with determination for a moment before eventually deflating. Seijūrō doesn’t know what the other saw in his eyes. “Neither of us are entirely to blame for what happened.” Neither of us are at fault. Both of us are at fault. “Like I said, I was wrong in my inaction—in running away.” 

“But,” he continues, “I would be grateful to have Akashi-kun back in my life. Even if just for a few weeks before you leave, I  would consider myself lucky if we could be friends.”

For a moment, Seijūrō does not know if he can face Kuroko and pretend that everything was fine, as if his very existence was not a remnant of the failures of his past. The hopeful look in Kuroko’s eyes, however, causes him to agree with a pleasant smile tacked onto his face. 

That is a lie, Seijūrō knows. In reality, no matter what, there is nothing that could keep him from looking back to Kuroko. For all the times that the other would talk about lights and shadows, Seijūrō thinks that he is the one unable to escape the gravitational pull of Kuroko Tetsuya, forever caught in his orbit. 

It has been so long since I have felt this way, he thinks. 

(“What is this feeling,” Seijūrō croaked to Midorima the night after Kuroko quit the flight academy and left him. “Why does it hurt so much.”

“It’s heartbreak, Akashi.” Midorima’s hand hovered above Seijūrō’s shoulder, as if unsure of what to do. “Love always hurts this much.”

Kuroko makes a move to stand. “I will pay for both of us, Akashi-kun.”

“There is no need,” Seijūrō argues, but Kuroko shakes his head. 

“It is no matter to me.” After grabbing some coins from a small wallet, he throws a crooked, bittersweet smile. “After all, I am the older one now.” 

Seijūrō can only watch helplessly as Kuroko makes his way to the cashier. Stand up, he commands his legs. Do something. Move forward. Why are you letting it end like this.

In the end, Seijūrō is the picture of self-control in every other aspect, perfection coming to him as easily as breathing in every other way except for when it comes to Kuroko Tetsuya. So he watches as Kuroko pays, giving a polite nod to the other when he heads out the door, unable to bring himself to chase after the older. 

He stays at the table until long after his coffee has grown cold. When he eventually exits the cafe, Seirin seems almost too bright, too overwhelming in its liveliness. But a being like Akashi Seijūrō still remains larger than life on Teiko, even if he has been away for nearly a decade, so where any other individual might have felt overwhelmed with the restlessness of the metropolis, Seijūrō only closes his eyes. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t look back. Move forward. 

The constant flow of people parts around him on the sidewalk. Seijūrō tilts his head up at the clouds and the towering buildings above him. After all his time in space, the sky has never seemed so far away as it did now. 

____

It should surprise no one that Seijūrō’s penthouse apartment, one his father had purchased while he was still in space, is part of one of the most expensive complexes in Seirin, towering above the rest of the city alongside the other skyscrapers. Having only been inhabited for the past several days, the apartment is clean in an almost clinical manner— no shelf left undusted, no chair out of place. With little interest in a residence that he would only be staying in for a month or so every few years, the furniture serves his needs and nothing more, and looks so unused it is as if they were hologramed straight from a catalog. 

Seijūrō moves with calculated ease even in this new environment, as he does at all moments in life, briskly brewing himself a pot of green tea. The pot itself is a stark spot of homeliness in the otherwise bleakly modern apartment, a housewarming gift from Momoi. 

As long, pale fingers press firmly over the top of the pot when he pours the tea into a small cup, Seijūrō feels as if he belongs here, behind the kitchen counter in this new-old apartment. And yet, inexplicably, he simultaneously feels as if he is walking out of his skin, joints and tendons moving gracefully in the way an android might. As if he is slightly not-human. As if he is not supposed to—or even meant to—be here, in this apartment, in Seirin, back on Teiko.

Unsettled by this unexpected feeling of not-belonging even late into the evening, Seijūrō falls into an uneasy sleep. 

A clear pool of water surrounds him. Crystal blue stretches out in all directions until the edge of the horizon, and perhaps even beyond it. 

A breeze from nowhere ruffles the hair on his nape like a kiss. When he looks down, for the first time in several years, Seijūrō is not wearing his Rakuzan uniform, nor a suit, but a plain white yukata. 

A speck of brown out of the corner of his eye catches his attention, and when he walks towards the origin, his wooden geta clack on the water, creating ripples in the otherwise still surface. Eventually, he reaches his destination— a shōgi board, the arrangement of the pieces telling him that he is in the middle of a game. There is no table in sight, so Seijūrō plays on the ground. 

He has not interrupted a game— he knows with the strange acknowledgement of the truths present in dreams, and yes, Seijūrō knows he is dreaming—but rather, it is his own game. He does not know who his opponent is, and yet their style of play is achingly familiar. 

Seijūrō scans the board before moving his rook two spaces forward. In the space the piece has left behind, Seijūrō stares at his reflection. With some shock, he realizes that he is older than he thought—perhaps not middle-aged just yet, but a little wise. As if time had treated him kindly. He quite likes it, the smile lines on the corners of his eyes, etched like the fine lines by a loving artist, the firmness in his bones. 

As if in a trance, Seijūrō places his palm on the ground, porcelain-white fingers splayed across the cool stillness of the water. When he presses the tips of his finger deeper, his reflection gives way, and he closes his eyes, sinking into the depths. 

In the water, someone—a stranger, no, a friend, or perhaps a lover?— runs a warm thumb over his cheek with a tenderness that he has not felt in years. Seijūrō forces his eyes open.

He is still in bed, and the red sun that Teiko orbits peeks through the clouds. He breathes in. Breathes out. His cheek still feels warm from the residual heat, but the rest of his body is cold. 

After some time, he sits up, the last remnants of his dream slipping through his fingertips like rushing creek water, and moves on with the rest of his day. 

____

>>> New message from [[Kuroko Tetsuya]]...
Review? [Y/N]
[Y]
{Our friends are doing as well as I can hope, but still rambunctious as usual. Seirin has continued to grow in size while you have been away these past few years. When will the Teiko Starfleet return from her exploration?}

____

Seijūrō moves his gold general with a calm finality, waiting patiently as Midorima squints at the board for several moments before finally pushing his glasses up with a huff. 

“I concede,” he admits. “It is your win again.”

“Well, it is hisshi,” Seijūrō replies mildly, smiling at Midorima’s lips twitching back into its perpetual frown.

“That much was evident, Akashi,” the other huffs. The two recollect their pieces to set up another game, Midorima’s apartment silent save for the wooden click of pieces. This time, Seijūrō makes the first move. 

“Have you seen any of the others?” Midorima asks. 

Seijūrō hums. “Kuroko, a few days ago, as I mentioned over the phone. Momoi, briefly.” After a pause, he moves his bishop. “You’ve improved greatly over these past few years, Midorima.”

“Of course,” the other sniffs, before admitting, “and you have improved, as well Akashi. Who did you practice with on the Rakuzan?”

Seijuro smiles. “Myself, mostly. There are very few opponents worth my time.” 

Midorima nods, having expected an answer along these lines. While contemplating his next move, he asks bluntly, “Not that I care about what the two of you get up to in your free time, but how was your meeting with Kuroko?” He moves his pawn forward. 

A new strategy from Midorima, but even the most careful of decoys are annoying at best to overcome. Nonetheless, Seijūrō responds with a hint of testiness in his voice, “Fine. I believed myself to have overcome the failures on my part towards the end of our relationship, but Kuroko continues to surprise me.” 

He captures one of Midorima’s pieces, carefully keeping his face devoid of any emotion. “He is much happier on Teiko as a kindergartener teacher, it appears.”

The other nods, his eyes scanning the board. “Kuroko enjoys his current job. The rest of us visit him as often as we can, but he is likely the closest with Kagami.” 

“Yes, that much was evident,” Seijūrō replies coolly, echoing Midorima’s previous words. “You are playing particularly aggressively today, Midorima.”

“You of all people should know that the greatest defense is a strong offense, Akashi,” he retorts. While waiting for Seijūrō to make his move, Midorima continues, “After all of these years, Kuroko has never stopped staring at the stars.” 

“It is enough to have Kuroko subtly blame me for having pushed him away from the flight academy in that oblique manner of his, but here you are, Midorima,” Seijūrō warns, his voice icy enough to freeze over the dunes of Tōō. 

Despite the younger’s harsh tone, Midorima only pushes his glasses up with his middle and index finger. “You are a fool to think that Kuroko could ever blame you for anything, much less what happened nine years ago.” 

Seijūrō raises a fine eyebrow, but makes no effort to shut him down. 

“Kuroko was not looking towards the stars because he regretted leaving the flight academy, or because he resented you for what happened between you two,” Midorima continues. “It was always for you.”

Seijūrō pauses, his pawn still held loosely between his thumb and index finger. “What do you mean?” 

“I mean,” he sniffs, as if exasperated, “Kuroko would always stare at the stars because he was looking for you. After all this time, he was still waiting for you to come back.” 

For once, Seijūrō is stunned silent. To think that…could it be? A traitorous glimmer of hope beats frantically, unceasingly in his chest. Midorima clicks his tongue at Seijūrō’s expression, adding, “You and Kuroko have always been incredibly dense, anyways.”

Seijūrō’s lips, which had fallen open in disbelief, twist into a playful smirk. “And how are you and Takao doing, again? Kuroko told me that you two recently moved in.” 

Midorima sputters. “As I’ve said multiple times, Takao and I are just good friends. We had concluded that it would be only logical to live together because our workplaces are near each other. It is a matter of efficiency, that’s all.” 

Seijūrō gives him a look that one might use to placate a small child. “Well, please give Takao both my congratulations and my condolences,” he replies, still smiling. After some consideration, he moves his general one space forward, adding, “A few years ago, you would have never talked back to me in that manner, Midorima.”

“It has been more than a few years for me, Akashi,” Midorima counters. “For you and the rest of the Teiko Starfleet, it has been only five years that you were in space. But for those on Teiko waiting for your return, it has been nearly a decade. It is only natural that I have grown and matured,” he concludes, capturing one of Seijūrō’s pieces.

“Yes, you and Kuroko both are quick to remind me of this fact,” Seijūrō chuckles, the ice having left his voice. Without hurry, he moves his general again, noting, “I believe that is checkmate for me, although I commend your efforts again this time around.” 

Midorima concedes another defeat with a grunt. Honestly, one of Seirin’s most sought-after surgeons and not an ounce of bedside manner, Seijūrō thinks with some fondness. 

As the two move to organize their pieces in Midorima’s shōgi box, Seijūrō hums and runs his thumb over the worn wood shōgi wedge in his hands. Having left most of his possessions back on the planet, he had generally played with a cheap set that the administration permitted him to bring alongside a few other belongings, its jagged pieces and board a far cry from Midorima’s high-quality set. More often than not, however, Seijūrō had been forced to settle for reading old play-throughs in his notebook or playing games in his head when the gravity localizer was down.

The clack of the pieces placed on the wooden board, the smoothness of the wedges resting in between his thumb and index finger—it would be several lifetimes before the feeling of playing would be lost on his body entirely, and yet the faintest shade of unfamiliarity persists in his bones.  

Once they have finished putting away the set, Seijūrō wonders outloud, “To think that we have already played two games. Has so much time passed already?”

“Yes,” Midorima says, “but still less than you might believe.”

____

All things in the end must die and wither away and return to the earth that birthed them; this is not a curse, nor is it something to be celebrated, but merely a fact of life, the work of entropy at play. Order to disorder, life into death— these are the incessant, unfailing paths of the universe. 

Once, on Tōō, Seijūrō had come across one of the planet’s rarest plants, a small, barely flowering sprout that made its home in the dunes. Seemingly impossible— an ecological miracle— and yet, the species had managed to withstand both the lack of water in the sand and the blistering heat from Tōō’s binary star system. 

The moment he had begun to collect a sample to take back onboard the Rakuzan for processing, however, it had withered before his eyes—the same adaptations allowing the plant to survive without water for weeks had made it impossibly fragile. 

Even that plant, too, despite miraculously surviving in the harshest of environments, fell victim to its own mortality. Could life still truly be life, Seijūrō had wondered, if constantly in fear of its own demise. 

In his eyes, living without complete control over every aspect of it was not so much life as it was a series of failures, and as such, completely unfathomable. To some, this philosophy was incomprehensible, the way humans cannot comprehend gods, but it simply was for Seijūrō. That is what it had meant to be alive for a being like Akashi Seijūrō.

To lack such control, to struggle constantly, to be anything less than perfect— how could any life be worthwhile?

(You’re wrong, Akashi-kun,” Kuroko would have said—always unyielding in his resolve, always unafraid to look him in the eye. “It is not because of our mortality that life is meaningless, but that we make meaning in spite of it. To struggle, even if only to bloom for a moment, is what gives meaning to the plant’s life.”

When Seijūrō had closed his eyes, he had thought about how Kuroko would have clasped Seijūrō’s hand with both of his own and said firmly, “It is not incomprehensible to fail, nor is it shameful, but it is what makes us human.” 

In the end, Kuroko had not been there, on Tōō’s blistering dunes. With him. And that was that.) 

But— but there is more to the story. It is true that the moment life begins, she sets off in her incessant march towards death; this is a truth of the universe. And yet, eventually, somehow: life begins again, reborn. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Move forward— there is no other way you can go. Look behind you, and realize what you were searching for has been right at your heels all along. Succeed just as naturally as your heart beats. Allow yourself to accept that you are human too. Struggle in the face of what you cannot control nor stop, and see that it is what makes life worthwhile. Remember what it feels like to love. Wake up. Wake up. Wake—

____

Teiko’s red sun casts a warm glow on the run-down basketball court Kagami Taiga and Kuroko Tetsuya are playing on, bathing everything in brilliant shades of ruby and gold. 

“Kagami-kun,” Tetsuya says suddenly, still dribbling the ball with his left hand. Kagami lets out a grunt of acknowledgement. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Kagami, who had previously been lowering his center of gravity in a defensive position, stands up straight. Scratching his cheek, he chuckles, “Is this some kind of new misdirection trick you’re trying on me, Kuroko?”

The other boy stares at him blankly. 

“Fuck, stop looking at me like that! It was just a joke.” Tetsuya lets out the tiniest of sighs, and Kagami knows from their years of friendship that Tetsuya is being serious. “Okay, what is it?” 

Tetsuya stares off into the distance for an instance before his eyes slide back to him. “Kagami-kun,” he begins slowly, “when we were both at the flight academy, what did you think of my relationship with Akashi-kun?”

Kagami sits down to wipe off some sweat, and motions for Tetusya to sit down as well. When he’s done, he stretches his arms across the wooden bench to stare up at the last wisps of the sunset. 

“Well,” he says eventually, “you guys were always together. Everyone would always say, like, ‘Oh it’s Kagami and Kuroko, the co-pilots’, ya’know? But I think people would sometimes forget that before we were put together as partners, it was ‘Akashi and Kuroko’, first.” 

“Did it ever bother you,” Tetsuya says, stilted, as if teetering on apologetic. “Being compared to Akashi-kun.” 

Kagami barks out a laugh. “Nah, it never did. I knew that even if I was your light, Akashi was the one you would always gravitate towards. And I was alright with that.” 

“To be honest,” he continues, “I’m not sure if you ever listened to the gossip, or if you just chose not to talk about it, but some assholes back at the TSFA would say that you and Akashi weren’t a good match, or whatever. Or that he’d always move on to better things.

But that was never true, was it, Kuroko?” He turns to face Tetsuya. “At the end of the day, he just wanted someone to meet him in the middle and stand their ground, right?”

A moment passes. Tetsuya replies mildly, “Kagami-kun has always been unexpectedly observant, at times.”

“Somehow this doesn’t feel like a compliment. And I resent that ‘unexpectedly,’ you little shit.” 

Tetsuya stares at the ball in his hands. “Yes, you’re right, Kagami-kun. Akashi-kun was never like the rumors. He was always so focused on his own success, anyways, that he never listened to any of the petty gossip.” 

“So why did you break up with him, if you knew he would have never wanted to hurt you?” Kagami asks bluntly. 

“Even the worst rumors begin with the smallest grain of truth,” Tetsuya replies, a little uncertainty coloring his voice. “I knew that one day, Akashi-kun would have left for greater things, and that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to keep up with his destined path.”

Kagami gently hits Tetsuya's head with a chopping motion. “You’re an idiot, Kuroko.” 

“Excuse me?”

“Well,” Kagami clears his throat, “if you know anything about him, don’t you think Akashi would have wanted to make that decision for himself?” 

“I would have never wanted to make Akashi-kun have to choose between me and his future, or to fight for—” Tetsuya argues.

“But you never gave him a chance to fight for you, to begin with.” Tetsuya has nothing to say to that, so Kagami continues, “Look, you’re obviously still in love with him, it’s been almost a decade and you’ve still been waiting for him this whole time—don’t give me that face, you know I’m right—and he’s probably still in love with you like the little freak he is. Sure, you were too young to have had to deal with all that shit then, but you’re older now. Have some more faith in yourself, Kuroko.” 

A small smile dances on Tetsuya’s lips. “Thanks, Kagami-kun. I’m glad that we’re friends.”

Kagami’s face bursts into flames. “Why the fuck are you getting so cheesy all of a sudden? It’s no big deal or whatever,” he sputters gruffly. “Those are just the vibes I got, ya feel? I just can’t stand you moping silently all the time.”

Tetsuya smiles a little wider. The more things change, the more things stay the same after all. 

After a few minutes of silence, Kagami asks, “So, are you gonna try and make it up with him? I think Teiko Starfleet’s gonna head back out to the next galaxy in a few days.” 

He gives a determined nod. “Yes. I will.” 

Kagami grins. “Now that’s the Kuroko that I know.” He gets up with a huff. “Let’s get back to our one-on-one. I can’t let our game end with that drive of yours you pulled on me earlier.” 

Tetsuya smiles and starts to dribble the ball. “Right.”

____

Tetsuya fell in love with the stars when he was six years old, sitting in his grandmother’s lap as she pointed out the different constellations to him. The night was warm, as they tended to be in Seirin during the summers, and despite the light from the city they had lived in a small, humble apartment far away enough to witness the tapestry of the universe woven across the sky. 

He was ten when he found a star on Teiko, a vibrant red like their sun, whose name was Akashi Seijūrō and whose smile made his stomach do funny little flips. And because he was always drawn to the light, he followed him to the ends of the world, and then beyond that, when they both joined the Teiko Starfleet Flight Academy at the young age of fourteen. 

He was grateful, truly, to have been able to bask in Akashi’s light, the fond smiles he gave when he was proud and the heat of his hands pulling him off the ground after grueling practice when Tetsuya was selected for the pilot program. It was because of Akashi that he got to be the closest he had ever been to the stars, just within the grasp of his fingertips. 

And when Akashi slipped his hand between Tetsuya’s and tangled their fingers together in the hallways of the academy, when he would pull him into his dorm room for a kiss that left them both laughing breathlessly– this too was when Tetsuya could reach the stars. 

But teenagers are needlessly cruel at times, and Tetsuya was so easily forgotten that he had more often than not been privy to conversations of which he was the subject. And although he had always been recklessly stubborn, the moments where Tetusya doubted he truly could say with absolute certainty that he belonged by Akashi’s side were no longer few and far between. 

At the age of eighteen, Akashi Seijūrō was the only one out of their class of two hundred to be selected to fly in Teiko Starfleet’s inaugural exploratory mission, swept away by the congratulations of his upperclassmen and meetings with the senior officers and even a firm nod of approval from his father. 

Tetsuya was happy for him, truly—there was no one who deserved it more than Akashi—but in the end, he realized that maybe, just maybe, he was never meant to reach the stars, after all. This realization did not come suddenly, as if he was swept away by a flash flood, or even with the destructive force of a hurricane, destroying everything in its path with reckless abandon. It was a simple stream, or perhaps even a trickle of water, running through the soil little by little until it had eroded away the sediment and Tetsuya had no choice but to look down and see that the gaping maw of the ground was too wide to overcome. 

At the end of the day, Tetusya was only eighteen with no idea how to fix things, or if it would have been possible to fix them in the first place, and he had been told one too many times that Akashi was bound for better things than a mediocre, too uninteresting  childhood friend, who could only spend the rest of his life playing catch-up. 

He had been terrified to leave the flight academy behind, but perhaps more than that he was afraid that one day Akashi would turn around to look behind him and stare at Tetsuya with disappointment in his eyes, or worse, that he would stop looking behind him at all, no longer willing to wait for someone unfit to capture the stars, someone too stubborn to not rise against the challenge but too weak to overcome it. 

So it was better to leave then, rather than to wait helplessly for the day that Akashi would realize that maybe the gossip was true after all. And when Tetsuya left, he tried to convince himself that the flames crawling up his esophagus and threatening to burn him alive and the aching in his heart he tried to claw out until his chest was scratched raw were better than the slow, cold death he would have faced otherwise. 

Better a supernova, better to be swallowed into the darkness a black hole’s event horizon, than to slowly watch the universe grow colder and colder. 

So Tetsuya could only move forward, and give a final bow to Akashi on his last night at the academy, and turn away from the boy he had loved for countless years knowing that if he looked back, he would have stayed. 

At least, this is what he has told himself the past nine years. But seeing his favorite star back on Teiko, in front of him, so much older and yet not old enough, and still so, so, handsome, has thrown him off the rhythmic pattern he stubbornly forced himself into. Worse yet, nearly a decade spent away from Akashi has not stopped his stomach from flipping in its funny little way the same as it did when he was ten years old.

So much time has passed; and yet, not at all. Tetsuya is older now, yes, and perhaps a little worn down from the years of guilt he fastidiously stored away in some corner of his brain. But now, he knows that even if Akashi will set out again on the Rakuzan for however many years, he will not let the other leave Teiko without telling him how he feels. He owes it to Akashi, and owes it to himself even moreso. Kagami had helped him realize that.

Tetsuya breathes in. When he closes his eyes, he sees Akashi in front of him all over again. Eleven years old with a book on astronomy he had taken from his father’s library, ready to read it aloud. Fifteen and wiping the sweat from under Tetsuya’s brow with a murmur that he had done well. Eighteen and heartbroken. 

Twenty three and looking at him with a little curiosity, a little wariness, as if he no longer knew what Tetsuya had been thinking. So caught up in his own thoughts that he was unable to see that the whole time, Tetsuya had been screaming I missed you I miss you I will miss you in his mind. 

Tetsuya had hurt Akashi, he knew— but he was willing to do anything, wait for another ten years, twenty, if it meant Akashi could forgive him, and learn to love him again. 

He breathes out. Opens his eyes. With determination coursing through his veins, Tetsuya heads out to reach for the stars one last time. 

____

Nestled at the end of a winding path leading out of the city and through the towering grasslands, the Teiko Starfleet International Space Exploration Center looms over the rest of the wilderness, far away enough from Seirin that the ships can take off and land without disturbing the citizens. Today, the crew of the Rakuzan and the rest of the Teiko Starfleet will be returning to space for the next several years in their next exploratory mission. 

Tragic, perhaps, for the family and loved ones of the crew, but Teiko is nothing if not a planet that moves forward. At the very least, this is what Seijūrō has told himself these past several years. 

He runs one hand through his hair; in his other, he holds a medium sized brown envelope. The heels of his shoes click against the pristine white floors of the space center, taking him to the outside of a rather nondescript door. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

“Akashi-kun!” 

Kuroko Tetsuya was a rather ordinary man, with below-average presence and a rather forgettable face. 

And yet, despite this, despite everything, Seijūrō would recognize his voice at the ends of the world; in the vast emptiness of the universe; in the quiet, cramped dimension of space reserved just for them under Seijūrō’s covers at night. 

Seijūrō whips around and finds himself face-to-face with the love of his life. “Kuroko?” he asks, a touch of bewilderment in his voice. “What are you doing here?” His eyes unconsciously track the drop of sweat rolling down the pale column of his neck and under the older’s cream-colored sweater. 

“Akashi-kun,” Tetsuya begins, “I know you’ll be boarding the Rakuzan soon, but please hear me out for a moment.”

“Well, Kuroko, actually—”

“I’m sorry, I need to get this out.” Tetsuya looks Seijūrō in the eye, his eyebrows furrowed in determination. He takes a deep breath in. This is your last chance, Tetsuya reminds himself. Move forward. 

“I need to apologize to Akashi-kun, first,” he says. “For everything, but most of all for the way I treated you nine years ago.” 

Seijūrō inhales sharply. After all these years, Tetsuya has never failed to exceed his expectations. 

“I was young, and insecure. Hearing what our classmates had to say about me, especially with regards to you, eventually led me to believe them. I convinced myself the gossip was true, and it was my fear of change that led me to leave you,” Tetsuya continues, his voice cracking at the end. He takes a deep breath. “I treated you poorly because I didn’t know how to solve the problem, and I believed that you would be better off without me. 

In truth, you, Akashi-kun, are the one star I don’t think I can ever stop chasing.” 

“Kuroko,” Seijūrō murmurs gently, “I was never informed about any of the things our peers said. If I had known about how you had felt—” 

“I made the decision to try and handle it on my own,” Tetsuya interrupts him again. “I was just too weak to resolve the issue, but too stubborn to ask you for help.” He forces a bitter smile. “In the end, I couldn’t do anything except break Akashi-kun’s heart.” 

“You’re wrong.” 

Tetsuya blinks in surprise. Seijūrō forges forward. “When we were both young, you were the one place I could find respite from the expectations that my father had for me.”

“Well, I suppose, but—”

“And when we were both in the academy, when our upperclassmen lashed out for placing lower than me in exams, you stepped in before I could even say anything, correct?”

Tetsuya nods with a bit of hesitation, as if unsure what Seijūrō is trying to say. “Yes, I was mistaken in thinking that Akashi-kun would ever need someone to step up for him.” 

Before Tetsuya can back up to maintain an appropriately polite distance, Seijūrō steps forward, one foot in front of another until they are separated by mere centimeters. In an instant, he clasps the older’s hands between his own. “Don’t you see, Kuroko? When you called me out for being wrong, when you looked me in the eyes and made me feel like the weight of the world wasn’t on my shoulders, when you were simply next to me—that was when I was the happiest. Not when I was promoted, not when I was chosen to fly with Teiko.” 

Tetsuya freezes, and Seijūrō strikes again, tearing down the carefully constructed walls that the other had hidden himself behind. 

“I never meant to make you feel like you were anything less than enough,” he breathes. Tetsuya’s eyes slip shut. “Having you by my side was all I ever wanted.” 

In the end, they meet in the middle. 

Seijūrō holds Tetsuya’s chin between his thumb and forefinger and gently, gently tips it up. He leans down and brushes his lips against Tetsuya’s, once, and then again.

There are no sparks, no more of the childish delight and fireworks that they shared a lifetime ago—this is true. In a way, however, it’s almost better: Seijūrō feels all at once as if his world has realigned in the best way possible, the ground spinning below his feet and yet more secure than ever. As if he has come home, and he knows that this, being here, is where he has belonged all along. 

The feeling of Tetsuya’s lips against his, the warmth of his body when Seijūrō’s hand slides down to the curve of his waist, the way Tetsuya sighs into his mouth—it had been so long since the last time he felt this. 

So much time, and yet, no time at all. 

When they part for air, Seijūrō can’t stop himself from smiling at the blush that has crept to the top of Tetsuya’s ears. The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Tetsuya reaches out and brushes his thumb over the curve of Seijūrō’s cheekbone, staring with so much love and tenderness and awe that it overflows, threatening to fill the hallway and choke him. 

For him, Tetsuya would gladly drown.  

“Akashi-kun,” he says instead. “If you are willing to wait for me while you’re onboard the Rakuzan, I have been thinking about rejoining the flight academy.” The words so I can be with you go unsaid, and yet Seijūrō understands. 

Kuroko was never staring at the stars because he regretted leaving the flight academy. It was because he was waiting for you to come back. All this time, he was looking for you, Midorima had said. 

And Seijūrō had realized then, or maybe that he had known all along, that Tetsuya would do anything for him— would travel to the ends of the world if Seijūrō had asked him to, would fly to the darkest corners of the galaxy if Seijūrō had wondered what they looked like. 

In the end, he would even leave Seijūrō if he believed he had to, because Kuroko Tetsuya was a man who loved hard enough until he drowned, and Seijūrō was the star he would never stop loving, and that was that. 

He shakes his head, still smiling. “I won’t be returning with the Rakuzan, actually.” 

Tetsuya blinks. “Pardon?”

“I came to the space center today because I was planning on handing Nijimura-senpai my resignation letter,” he clarifies, holding up the almost-forgotten brown envelope.  

“So Akashi-kun is saying that…”

Seijūrō hums and smiles the way he reserves only for Tetsuya. “Yes. I will be staying on Teiko for the time being, and maybe for the rest of my life.” At Tetsuya’s expression of blatant shock, he huffs out a laugh. 

“What made you decide to leave? The Akashi-kun I know isn’t one for quitting.” Tetsuya eventually gathers himself enough to croak out. 

Seijūrō reaches up to tuck a lock of blue hair behind Tetsuya’s ear. “We all have things we are willing to give up everything for,” he teases. When Tetsuya rolls his eyes at the reminder from their conversation weeks ago, Seijūrō laughs, and he feels lighter than ever. 

“What will you do now then?” Tetsuya asks, letting himself be pulled in close by Seijūrō’s insistent free hand. 

“I can think of a few things,” he replies blithely before tilting his head down once more. 

Tetsuya feels the curve of Seijūrō’s victorious smile, and when the other pushes insistently against his lips, he makes no effort to pull back and lets himself drown. 

____

Because here’s the thing: everything is cyclical. The waves of Kaijō’s crystalline oceans push and pull and crash against jagged shores. The flower of Tōō’s dunes grows, dies, and is reborn. People are the same—sometimes, they leave. 

But sometimes, they come back and stay. 

Push and pull. Breathe in, and breathe out. 

Time, too, is not subject to linearity. Her strings split and rush out at different speeds across the fabric of space, stretch and pull out, circle back in on themselves and tie into knots all across the vast, endless universe.

And yet, we move forward. March incessantly towards our own return to the ground that birthed us, tremble at the prospect of our deaths and failures. We look back and realize how far we have come. We fall, grow, and get up. This is what it means to live. This is what it means to love. Are they not the same? 

____

>>> New message to [[Kuroko Tetsuya]]...
{Yes, the Teiko Starfleet has only a few more months before she will return back to the planet. Our five year expedition is almost at an end. I miss you, Kuroko.}

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