Chapter 281: Old Times
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"Man... Just when I thought this was a dream." The man in admiral uniform mumbled. "I can't seem to stop these from happening."

When the man looked back, Shikikan froze; not because he found him a stranger. Rather, he knows him very well.

"A dream... It perfectly explains everything. After all, why would I meet up with... myself?"

The spitting image of him, Shiro, placed his cap down the table. He then sat on it and sent a playful look at the shocked commandant.

"This must be a dream for you... but it is not necessarily one for me."

Suddenly, their surroundings changed. From the command room, they were sent into a very familiar place—the Azur Lane base. However, it was vastly indistinguishable from its former glory. All that was left are ruins.

The lively hangar and docks only have traces of collapsed metalworks. The previously lively base that has a mix of each cultures became nothing but wrought.

At this place, Shikikan could sense the depressing air clearly.

"This... is a nightmare."

Still in denial, he coped with whatever explanations that he has.

"So it was this annoying to deal with myself in the past... I can't blame myself though."

Shikikan did not notice his mumblings due to his extreme immersion towards his environment. Having seen it, he has a wild guess.

"It's showing me things that I don't want to happen the most."

Clap-!

Clap-!

His attention was caught by the clapping noises. Disrupted from his concentration, he realized the existence of "himself" on this dream.

"Still sharp as ever. As expected from me."

"Is that supposed to be a joke?" Shikikan asked.

"Not really."

He was slightly confused by their conversation, too much to the point that he never noticed his sharp mind inside a "dream".

"Everything's nothing but the truth." Shiro added, "In another timeline, one beyond the reach of current you, such tragedies happened. Ever heard of parallel timelines?"

"What..? The infinite worlds theory derived form quantum mechanics?"

"It is known as such as of now. Well, that is true."

Hearing such absurd remarks, Shikikan couldn't keep up his serious engagement towards this dream. In the end, he decided to play with him.

"In some worlds... Azur Lane was destroyed?"

"Hm. By some formidable enemies. You see... some oversized whales are enough to obliterate them."

Above the skies, a group of incomprehensible entities showed up. Each of them has the stature of a whale but made out of metal. Some of them has distinguishable features such as added armaments, letting Shikikan know of their importance to this "group".

"Can you imagine? Out of nowhere, they appear. Someone living their life with ease suddenly found himself thrust as a commander against this world-ending threat."

"That's the worst."

"I concur."

Their surroundings change to the usual peaceful base. The air around it was bright enough to form a sharp contrast to the world moments ago.

"I know you treat this meeting as a dream, though..."

Shiro made a resolute expression and stared at him in the eyes.

"I am planning to let everything stay that way."

To resolve everything himself and not pass this responsibility down was his final goal this time. Of course, he would let his other selves enjoy their lives.

"Somehow, this meeting reminded me of those times. I am grateful about that."

Snap-!

With a snap of his finger, Shiro closed the curtains to the short-but-meaningful encounter.

"Hah..!"

Shikikan jolted up from his seat, messing up the stacked papers on top of his desk. After a while, he calmed down. He wiped the sweat that built up on his forehead.

Heaving a sigh, he muttered:

"That one felt real."

*****

"Too bad, our own world still does not accept us."

"It doesn't matter much. This place might hold some precious memories, but being with you matters the most."

"Looks like you became 'more' clingy."

"I have waited thousands of years for this."

"True..."

The two donned a field around them as they strolled the new Sakura Empire headquarters. It made them invisible to the eyes of the inhabitants of their world.

"It is still in the early stages, yet I can already see that sight."

"It'll be a sight during spring. That was also the time when you confessed your love to me."

Akagi's smile slightly turned into a terrifying one in that split second.

"Enterprise... What do you plan with her?"

Instead of pursuing the fact that he rejected her once, she asked a crucial question instead.

'I'm almost done for.' He thought. "Enty... It depends on our conversation."

Currently, he could not carelessly reveal his identity as "Shiro" in his world. If someone whom the world itself deemed as "dead" shows up with an unrecognizable power, it would immediately succumb to its instincts and initiate self-defense. However, in the case of a broken world, there's no knowing what would happen if he does so.

Hence, he planned to gradually reveal himself. All of his prior moves was to prepare for the day he completely resolves this problem... and it would be soon.

"To be honest, I don't know what would be the outcome."

"...Because you have 'changed'?"

At first, Shiro was not used to concepts of "harem". It was only after his long years of living did he manage to gradually accept it. Albeit, he was in a monogamous relationship with Enterprise back then. Now that he has several lovers, he does not know how to proceed with it.

"You should not worry much, dear. I should be the one doing so. After all, your women will be increasing not long after."

"...I see. You are still the same as ever."

Even when they were in their home world, it was Akagi who gave him useful advices. It was something born from her experiences as a "leader" and her high emotional quotient that allowed her to sense the other women's thoughts about him. While she has that certain flaw in the early days—being too obsessive and possessive with him—that was all in the past. 

She learned how to understand the consequences behind her actions.

She realized that her previous actions harmed him in some ways.

"You are too."

At this moment, Akagi wore a bright smile, one unbefitting of a cold-blooded leader.

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