Building Bridges


The Game


On the second Friday of the semester, Fushimi's course in graphics programming assigned a term project.

Well, it was predictable. He frowned at the information sheet he'd brought up again on his laptop, leaning back against the chair in the dorm and feeling vaguely irritated that it seemed to have caught him off-guard. The outline they'd been given at the start of the course had a grade percentage breakdown with the lowest allowable portion given to exams and left the rest for practical work. Of course there was going to be a major project.

Honestly, it was better that way. Exams were useless.

Still, he was going to need to come up with something to actually build, because the guidelines were not terribly specific. A graphical application on the platform of his choice using one of several specified engines, with the first stage - due in the next week - being a proposal that would outline the scope of the work. And he'd have to present the finished product to the class in the end, which was tiresome.

Fushimi's personal projects were ideas that came to him and seemed interesting; actually forcing himself to sit down and think of one was not that appealing. And for it to be subject to his professor's approval...

What a pain...

He was still turning the whole annoying prospect over in his head when Misaki came back to the dorm. "Hey," he grumbled, sounding a bit resentful. "You could try responding to texts, you know - I thought you got sick again or something."

"You just saw me an hour ago," Fushimi reminded him, without pause. "Besides, I'm trying to work on a term project - I can't be expected to entertain you every time you're on shift."

"Nobody asked you to!" Misaki shot back, irritably. "Anyway, it doesn't look like you're working all that hard. You're just sitting there staring at the screen."

Fushimi clicked his tongue. "I'm trying to think of an idea," he muttered back. "Why don't you shut up for once?"

"Shut up yourself!" Despite the heat in his tone, though, obviously Misaki's curiosity overrode his irritation; he came up beside the desk, frowning. "An idea for what?"

As if you could understand it properly. Misaki and technology didn't seem to mix well. He could use his various devices, but he had next to no interest in how they worked. Fushimi clicked his tongue again. "An application," he responded shortly. "It's not your concern, so - "

"What, you mean like a phone app?" Misaki's brow furrowed up. "I've got a few of those games on mine - you know, the ones where you level up and fight bosses? Or something like that." He pulled a face. "It's kind of boring, though... Oh! Hey!" Abruptly, his eyes lit up. "You should make one where you can challenge other players instead! That'd be way more fun!"

Fushimi eyed him dubiously. It wasn't like a cell phone game was outside the realm of possibility for the assignment, but... "I don't remember asking for your input."

"Hah? What's your problem with it? It's a great idea!" Misaki scowled at him.

"Define 'great'," Fushimi drawled back automatically. Inwardly, the notion was kind of appealing. Simple repeatable grinding for levels, with a basic competitive mode where you can select opponents. It was workable. The graphics didn't have to be complex - basic designs would work. The course was in programming, after all, not art. "While you're at it, define 'idea'. Competitive games aren't a new thing."

"I know that!" Misaki grumbled, looking more than a little put-out. "It's still a good idea. Anyway, you could do something different, like... um... like..." His eyes darted around the room, then abruptly brightened. "Like skateboarding!"

"What?" Fushimi frowned back. "That's a stupid idea."

Misaki scowl deepened. "The fuck? Don't just reject it without even thinking about it!" He braced his hands on his hips, glaring back stubbornly. "It's an awesome idea! The whole gameplay could be doing tricks on the skateboard - the harder the trick, the more points you get!" He suddenly grinned, looking proud of himself, and raised a hand to confidently prod his own chest with his thumb. "I could demonstrate everything for you! It'd be fun!"

Working on a game... with Misaki... It was certainly an appealing prospect - more interesting than schoolwork usually was. If he could film for reference - maybe use a motion capture software to get the fluidity of the moves... Also, Misaki could help to test it out for him at various stages. It was going to require two people to play.

Two people.

"You're an idiot," he mumbled, staring forward at the laptop screen without really seeing it.

"Heh. But you're thinking about it now, right?" Misaki leaned against the desk, sounding pleased. "Well, leave it to me to come up with the gameplay ideas! You can make anything work as long as I think of it, right?"

Fushimi shifted his gaze, looking up into Misaki's bright, enthusiastic eyes. The idea of the game had already started to form in his head - and with that last statement, he could feel the stirring of excitement within him as well. "Don't be stupid," he responded airily, but allowed the corners of his mouth to edge up just the same.

If you think of it... I can figure out how to make it work.

Yata was pretty sure his cell phone was mocking him.

Well... okay, so maybe it wasn't the cell phone. Why hasn't he said anything yet? Asshole.

The last text message in the conversation was still the same, despite how many times he'd re-opened it over the past hour.

You: so wat did ur teachr say abt the game? 1

No response.

Fucking bastard... Yata glared at the phone, wishing he could somehow push his frustration through the connection and hit Saruhiko with it. There's no way he doesn't know by now. He shut off the screen and let out an agitated huff, slouching back against the bar counter.

"Problems, Yata-chan?"

He didn't bother to turn to look at Kusanagi before answering. "Nah, it's nothing."

"Boyfriend not answering your texts?" Bandou asked him, with what looked like completely sincere sympathy. "Hate it when that happens - I mean, with girlfriends, for me," he hastily clarified.

"Wh-What... did you... ?" Yata's fingers clenched on the phone in his hands; he leaned forward on his stool and glowered across the room to where his friend was sitting on the couch, trying to will down the heat rising on his face. "He's not my fucking boyfriend!"

"You know, it's better not to respond right away," Chitose remarked casually, from where he sitting on the stool next to Yata and picking away at a shared platter of food between himself and Dewa. "Makes you seem desperate. You should leave him hanging for a bit next time he sends you something."

"Shut up! I'm not desperate!" He just wanted to know whether or not they were going to be able to make the game they'd come up with together - that was totally normal, right? "And he's not my boyfriend, goddamnit! We're just - " For a second he had to pause there; he hadn't actually referred to Saruhiko as a friend yet, and it felt a little bit awkward to do it now. It was definitely different from his other friendships, that was for sure. " - friends."

Seriously, they'd spent most of the weekend chatting, either in person or through text, and they were going to build an actual goddamn game together - at least, they were if Saruhiko's teacher approved the idea - so they had to be friends now.

"Right, right." Dewa raised an eyebrow at him. "'Friends'."

"Normal friends, you asshole!"

"Yata-chan." Kusanagi's voice picked up a warning note. "If you're going to get riled up, do it outside."

"I'm not riled up." He slumped back against the bar again, scowling to himself as he raised his phone to quickly check the screen. Nothing. Fucking goddamnit - what's the hold up?

As much as he hated to admit it... he was kind of anxious. What if that teacher didn't like the idea?

No fucking way. It's an awesome idea! But still...

The phone buzzed in his hand just as he was lowering it again; Yata straightened in his seat and brought it back up, quickly checking the latest text message.

Fushimi Saruhiko: You have until Saturday to decide which moves I'm recording.

"All right!" He threw a fist in the air enthusiastically, grinning down at the message, and then moved to type back.

You: no prblm i can go for hrs just tr yme 2

"The hell was that about?" Bandou sounded a little baffled.

"Let's see..." Chitose abruptly leaned in to look over Yata's shoulder.

The movement caught him by surprise; it took him about two or three seconds to jerk aside and hide his phone's screen. "The fuck are you doing?"

His older friend was eyeing him back speculatively. "Huh. Well, then..."

What's with that reaction? Yata scowled back, feeling a bit defensive about it. "What?"

"What'd you see?" Bandou urged.

"'I can go for hours'." Chitose spread his hands, a knowing little smirk on his face as he dropped that piece of info. "And something about recording."

Beside him, Dewa covered his mouth to muffle a snicker.

"Th-That's not..." Fuck. In his hand, his cellphone buzzed, but Yata resisted the urge to check it, trying to focus on somehow cooling the hot flush climbing up his face again. A glance across the room revealed Bandou staring at him with an open mouth; behind the bar, even Kusanagi was eyeing them with some interest from where he was wiping off a glass. "D-Don't get the wrong idea! It's skateboarding, okay? He's filming some of my moves for - "

"'Moves'," Chitose repeated, with a certain sly emphasis, and Dewa dropped his head, shoulders shaking.

"Stop twisting my words, goddamnit!"

"Yata-chan," Kusanagi said, warningly.

"He fucking started it!" Yata made a sharp 'ch', slouching back against the bar counter with a scowl. "I'm helping Saru make a game for his term project, and it's gonna be about skateboarding, so he's recording me. That's it, you assholes."

"Just giving you a hard time." Chitose waved a hand in half-assed apology. "My bad."

"You make it pretty easy, though," Dewa murmured, without looking at him.

Yata narrowed his eyes, ready to reply to that one, when his phone buzzed at him a second time. "Whatever," he muttered instead, bringing it up and unlocking the screen to read the new messages.

Fushimi Saruhiko: I'll be holding you to that, so don't complain.

Fushimi Saruhiko: By the way, being the model won't give you any advantage when it comes to gameplay.

That raised his spirits again; Yata could feel the grin building even as he moved to type back.

You: ya but ill still kick ur ass so b rdy for it 3

Somehow, even with all the bullshit teasing from his friends, today just felt good.

"I thought you'd have an actual camera set up or something." Misaki dropped his skateboard carelessly onto the ground, propping one foot up onto it with an easy confidence and turning to offer a raised eyebrow. "Is that gonna be good enough?"

"Shouldn't you focus on showing off all those fancy moves you've been bragging about?" Fushimi drawled back, raising his gaze from the image on his phone's camera mode. "Let me worry about capturing it."

"Heh." Misaki smirked at him, rolling the skateboard under his foot almost idly. He was wearing tighter-fitting clothing than usual, at Fushimi's request - it would make the arm and leg motions easier to capture once he was playing around with the footage. "In that case, I'm ready to go any time."

"I'll need to get the angle right first." Fushimi stepped back off of the pavement, backing up a ways. The worn-out ramp at this particular public skate park wasn't exactly high class, but apparently not many people came to this place - and it had stairs and railings and walls, which evidently were going to be used as props.

Honestly, he'd never cared enough to look into what kind of tricks you could do on a skateboard before, so this was all new.

"Okay." He held up the phone once he'd gotten a reasonable distance back, watching Misaki's image as he adjusted it just so, and hit record. "Do it."

"Huh? 'Do it'..." Misaki blinked, looking a little taken aback. "Like, anything I want?"

Fushimi let the corners of his mouth edge up. I shouldn't have to tell you, right? "Impress me."

"Oh... Oh!" That seemed to appeal to him; that cocky smirk was back, full force. "Watch carefully then, Saru!"

He kicked off and picked up speed; Fushimi moved his phone to follow. The footage would be shaky, but that couldn't be helped - he wasn't going to spend money on a camera and tripod he'd never use again outside of this project. He could smooth it out after he'd built the character model.

As long as he's as good as he seems to think he is.

Even as he thought it, Misaki dropped into a crouch and then pushed down his back foot and kicked his skateboard up, lifting his legs as it spun underneath him, and landing with what looked like effortless agility. He rolled forward a short ways before raising his head with a smile so bright it could've outshone the sun. "Saruhiko! You caught that, right?"

Something about that smile made his chest tighten. Fushimi pinched his fingers on the camera and zoomed in without pausing the recording, catching a close-up of Misaki's face. Under his black beanie, tufts of chestnut-colored hair stuck out awkward angles - it was such an ordinary thing, but somehow Fushimi's gaze was drawn down along to where they skirted the bottom curve of his ear and curled against the side of his neck. "Of course I did," he answered, blandly. "You weren't going that fast."

"That a challenge or something?" Misaki braced his hands on his hips, grinning back. His eyes were expectant; in the zoomed-in picture, they seemed to be an unusually dark shade of amber, and still somehow brimming over with energy. "Anyway, how was that? Pretty cool, huh?"

Fushimi swallowed against the tightness that seemed to be spreading up from his chest towards his throat. "Nice to have proof you can do one trick properly."

"Heh heh. I'll take that as a compliment." He stepped back with one foot, bracing himself on the pavement again, and looked up with a smirk, eyes bright and eager. "Ready for the next one?"

Fushimi hit the stop button with his finger, unobtrusively. "Not yet. You'll need to repeat that one a few more times."

"Huh?" Misaki looked startled. "Why?"

"Different angles." He was already walking to the next spot, following the image of Misaki on his phone to make sure he would capture it correctly. "I haven't decided about the camera angle in the game yet. We'll see how the footage turns out."

Misaki sighed, shoulders slumping a little. "Seriously? How many times am I going to have to repeat each one?"

Fushimi raised his eyebrows instead of answering. "You were the one who said you could go for hours, remember?"

"Of course I can go for hours! Don't underestimate me!" Misaki's expression set stubbornly. "Repeating the same one over and over is kind of a pain... but whatever, I'm up for it!"

"If you say so." He raised the phone again, positioning it. "Try to keep the repeats as close as possible to the first one."

He got a sour look for that. "Yeah, right."

"Oh, one more thing..." Fushimi didn't bother to stop the lazy smile creeping onto his lips; something about quipping back and forth with Misaki always raised his mood. "I'm going to need footage for the misses and the wipe-outs, so..."

"So, what? Wait..." Misaki stared at him, eyebrows coming together in an expression of disbelief. "You want me to fall on purpose?"

Fushimi shrugged, not altering his expression. "It doesn't have to be on purpose, necessarily..."

Misaki's face twisted into a scowl. "I don't have accidents, okay? And falling on purpose is gonna look fake as hell."

"I could throw something at you," Fushimi offered, purposefully drawling the words out.

"Don't be a dick."

"Mm-hm." Honestly, he made it too easy. "Let's just get on with this, so we don't run out of daylight."

"Yeah, yeah," Misaki grumbled, but he obligingly rolled back into place, looking back up with determined eyes. "Say when."

Fushimi hit the record button again. "Whenever."

He didn't get a chance to go over the footage until the following Monday, as it turned out. Once they lost the light on Saturday, Misaki had insisted on going for dinner at his favorite hangout from high school - which wasn't entirely unpleasant. They'd stayed late, chatting over their empty bowls as other people ate and left, and went straight to bed on returning to the dorm. Sunday - after the security team meeting - had been primarily spent capturing the remaining footage, and then finishing off the rest of the weekend's homework while Misaki swore at his game console behind him.

It wasn't bad, really, that kind of casual atmosphere.

Peace and quiet was a welcome change, though, at the moment. Misaki would still be at work for the next couple of hours, so it worked out perfectly.

I'll look the videos over first before doing any motion capture. This was going to be the first time he used that software, so having a solid idea of what he needed from each one would probably be useful. Fushimi opened the first file in his list, leaning back in his chair to watch.

Immediately, his own voice came through clearly, "Do it."

"Huh? 'Do it'..." Misaki's on-screen image was staring at a point above the camera, looking startled.

The first one, huh? They'd started to fall into a pattern after that, so there wouldn't be as much talking and filler. Fushimi noted the time on the video when Misaki actually kicked off to do the trick, absently. I wonder if I should clip this...

The smaller image of his roommate rolled to a stop and looked up at the camera, smiling brightly, and suddenly the thought was less appealing.

"Saruhiko!" Misaki's voice called out, thin and from a distance, and Fushimi felt a fluttering in his stomach. The screen zoomed in, and then that smile and those eyes were front and center on his screen, almost life-sized.

He wasn't entirely sure why he'd continued to record - or why he'd zoomed in - but even now, outside of the moment, watching the scene made it difficult to breathe. It was ridiculous, but somehow he couldn't shake the impression that all the warmth and color of the sun was caught and spun around Misaki even as he grinned like an idiot.

The video ended abruptly.

Stupid... But still...

Fushimi clicked his tongue, frowned at the screen for a short while, and then leaned forward in his seat and moved to copy the file to a separate folder on his phone.

"Hah - it actually does the trick!" Yata maneuvered his fingers over the buttons on his phone's screen furiously, watching the blank moving figure respond to the motion. "That's so cool!"

"That's the whole point," Saruhiko reminded him. His voice was bland, but he'd been eyeing Yata from under his lashes since he'd transferred the partly-finished game to the phone and instructed him to try it out. "How are the controls?"

"Pretty good!" He missed his cue for a trick and swore, narrowing his eyes at the screen as the figure wavered embarrassingly. "It's kind of hard, though - like, you have to get the timing exactly right, and it's really fussy." The stage - or whatever - finished, and he was returned to the startup screen. That was mostly blank, too - just the one button that would launch the single piece of gameplay that had been completed. Yata took the opportunity to shoot a wry smile up at his roommate. "Kind of like someone I know."

Saruhiko raised an eyebrow at him. "Aren't you just blaming me for your lack of skill?"

"You were the one who asked about the controls!" Yata let out an irritated huff of breath, frowning back down at the screen again. He pressed the button to start up the stage again. "Too bad you can't make it look cooler. The rest of it seems awesome, but the visuals are really boring."

He got that typical, irritated-sounding tongue click back. "I'm not an artist," Saruhiko muttered.

"Well, like I said, it's still pretty cool." Yata successfully executed a trick on time. "Yes! Nailed it! Anyway, the leveling stage is great so far - I could play the hell out of this, no matter what it looks like. Fuck!" The next move didn't quite match up. "I can't believe you got this much done in just a couple of weeks - this is amazing!"

"It's not even halfway done, and I haven't done my quality checks yet." The response came back in a dry, bland sort of tone, but somehow Yata got the impression that Saruhiko was pleased with his response. "If you notice anything wrong, let me know."

"Right, I'll do tha - eh?" Just as he executed the second successful trick, a message popped up on the screen. "What's this?"

There was some shuffling as Saruhiko got up from his desk chair. "Let me see." He sat down on the bed right next to Yata, reaching over to tilt the cell phone towards him even as he leaned in for a better look.

The sudden, unexpected closeness had Yata's skin prickling up. He could feel the warmth from Saruhiko's shoulder next to his, and even though it was totally normal and casual and everything, for some reason his stomach was fluttering up like crazy. Saruhiko's fingers brushed against his on the phone, long and slender and slightly cool to the touch, and it... really didn't help.

The fuck is wrong with me? He swallowed hard, and tried to ignore it.

Beside him, Saruhiko clicked his tongue, oblivious to Yata's inner struggle. "That's not supposed to be there," he muttered.

"H-Huh." His palm felt clammy against the phone's surface.

"What were you doing when this came up?"

"Huh? Oh. Uh..." What the hell had he been doing? Yata's already flustered brain scrambled back for the memory. "I dunno, just - just playing like normal. I think I did a trick or something."

"You think?" Saruhiko repeated, all cool an unimpressed.

That tone touched a nerve; Yata jerked his head around to scowl. "Look, just because you - "

The rest of that sentence died a painful, awkward death. Saruhiko's face was so close to his that their noses had nearly brushed when he'd turned; it was almost possible to feel, rather than just hear, the sharp intake of breath he made. His eyes widened a bit behind his glasses, and Yata was vaguely aware that they were a darker shade of blue than normal under the shadow cast by the bunk above them. He was more focused on the fact that it was suddenly very hard to breathe, and his heartbeat seemed like a dull roar, drowning out every attempt to think properly.

Saruhiko's fingers twitched over his, but he didn't move. Didn't say anything, either. For what felt like a really long moment, they just sat there, breathing shallowly and staring at each other from inches away.

It's kind of like that time... The thought snuck into his head before he could stop it; Yata felt an uncomfortable heat rising on his face as unwanted memories bubbled up to the surface of his mind. Saruhiko's flushed face, heated gaze, lips swollen from kissing...

The way it had felt to kiss him...

At the pit of his stomach, a little spark of excitement stirred. Yata's eyelids felt heavy; in front of him, he could see Saruhiko returning a sort of wary, hooded gaze. I kind of... maybe... want to...

His cell phone abruptly buzzed in his hand, and the familiar ringtone he'd assigned to Kamamoto started to go off.

Fuck! Yata jolted back, even as Saruhiko's hand jerked away from his phone as if it had burned him. "S-Sorry!" His voice came out sounding strained and awkward, but that couldn't be helped. That was weird... He glanced up and met his roommate's gaze briefly, catching the echo of his own confusion in the expression before he hastily turned his head, too embarrassed to keep up eye contact. "I just - I'm gonna answer it. Okay?"

He was already pressing the button when Saruhiko's weight lifted from the bed beside him; the disgruntled mumble of "Go ahead" was background noise as he brought his phone up to his ear.

Just what the hell was that right now, anyway?

On the screen in Fushimi's hand, the character model executed the trick successfully, causing the cumulated points to flash across the screen. That's working, then. Good. He just had to have Misaki try the stage out later to make sure it was completely idiot-proof.

Only the combat part left.

Well, that and one other thing... Fushimi watched the character model float in front of the generic black background, blank and colorless, like a ghost. Misaki was right - it was boring to look at. He could feel the frown forming on his face even as he continued to stare at it.

Really, this was just a school project, and he shouldn't have cared as long as it was functional. But...

"Too bad you can't make it look cooler."

"Can't help that, can I?" Fushimi muttered under his breath, feeling mildly irritated. He lowered the phone, eyeing the remains of his tray of food. The cafeteria was starting to get crowded; he could hear the dull clatter of voices and movement around him. I should eat quickly and get out of here.

Unfortunately, even as he set the phone down and reached for his chopsticks, someone came up on his right. "Fushimi?"

He recognized the voice as Hidaka's even before he looked up at the sheepishly smiling face that went with it. "What?"

"Sorry to interrupt you when you're busy and all, but... well..." He shrugged apologetically, tossing a glance around at the crowded room. "It's kind of full everywhere else. Mind if we sit with you?"

'We'... Moving his gaze past Hidaka, he spotted Akiyama, Enomoto, and Doumyouji. What a pain... Fushimi clicked his tongue. "It's not like you have a choice. Do what you want."

"Right. Well. Thanks, anyway." Hidaka offered an awkward little smile, sliding into the seat beside him.

"Sorry for imposing," Akiyama added politely, taking the seat on his other side.

Doumyouji flopped in on the other side of the table, letting out an audible whoosh of a breath. "Man, I'm starving!"

"That's why you have food," Enomoto reminded him, cheerfully.

"Uh, yeah, thanks for that. I got it."

Noisy. Fushimi suppressed a sigh, picking up his phone again to check on how the application handled idling. The screen continued to show the various options without any error. At least this is good so far.

"What are you working on?" Hidaka said suddenly - a sharp glance to the side showed him looking from the phone to Fushimi expectantly. "Some kind of mobile app?"

What do you care? For whatever reason, he didn't feel like responding with that, though. "A game," he answered instead, shortly. "It's just a term project."

"Really? A game?" That seemed to catch Hidaka's attention, if the way his eyes brightened up was any indication. "That's pretty cool! Can I see it?"

It was a simple enough inquiry - harmless, really - but something inside Fushimi stirred restlessly in response. He'd originally thought he had Hidaka figured out - the way he talked about 'the team' and 'getting along' was exactly like those 'helpful' sorts back in middle and high school; the ones who thought of themselves as mediators and tried to 'fix' anyone who didn't fit neatly into their mental image of society. It was a self-righteous sort of crusade, and annoying as hell to deal with. In the time they'd known each other, too, it was the same as he remembered from before: five weeks of earnest, awkward greetings and invitations to this or that stupid social thing that didn't have any purpose other than irritating small talk.

Except... That was what he did with Misaki, most of the time: talking about small things that didn't matter. But somehow, it was fun.

And the way Hidaka looked at him now, there seemed to be a sincere curiosity and interest.

Not like Misaki's interest - bright and burning, lighting up his world. But...

A small, pleasant twinge started at the pit of Fushimi's stomach; he instinctively pushed it down, eyeing Hidaka with a certain amount of wariness. "It's not finished," he responded flatly, pulling his phone back towards him. "Anyway, it doesn't have graphics or finished character models. There's no point in showing it to anyone."

Hidaka looked disappointed. "Huh, really? I'll bet it's still pretty good, though - you're smart, right, Fushimi?" He offered a small, almost hopeful-looking smile. "I'd really like to see what kind of game you made."

The simple honesty in that statement was kind of disconcerting. Fushimi let his frown deepen, feeling the strange restless feeling stir up again. It's not like he's interested in you, something at the back of his head whispered. It was a familiar voice, but one that had been silenced more and more with Misaki around.

Even now, it didn't seem to have the power it once had.

"Ah," Akiyama's voice interjected diffidently, before he could think up response. When Fushimi turned to look at him, his gaze was serious. "I've done some 3D character design and graphics before, for a friend's game. If you're interested?"

The offer was so unexpected that Fushimi could only stare blankly at him for a moment, skin prickling. He was aware that the conversation at the table seemed to have stilled, all eyes focussed on him, and somehow the discomfort that came with that kind of thing didn't seem to be sinking in as it normally did.

Character design and graphics... That was the one thing that Misaki had been disappointed about, wasn't it? The thing that would make the game perfect, in the end.

Still... "Why?" he asked sharply.

Akiyama blinked at him, clearly not expecting the question. "I'm sorry?"

"Why would you do that?" Fushimi drew his voice out, trying to keep the furious rush within him from showing on his face or in his tone. "It's not like we're friends." There is no way anyone would help for no reason at all.

"Oh. Well..." Akiyama shrugged, just slightly, and smiled. "To be honest, I'd like to see the finished project myself. I'm a little curious."

That can't be all. But, if anything, his experience with Akiyama had showed him to be completely fair and honest. He didn't dodge around questions or offer half-baked explanations; everything he said gave the impression of being carefully thought out, even if it was just 'I don't know'.

And, to have proper character models and graphics... to see Misaki's reaction when he showed him...

Fushimi clamped down firmly on the anticipation that was starting to uncurl within him. "I can't pay you or anything."

"That's all right." Akiyama waved that aside, still with that unassuming little smile. "A copy of the finished game would be enough."

He narrowed his eyes at that. "I didn't ask you for it, so don't expect me to do you any favors in return."

"Um... yeah. That's okay." The smile turned a bit awkward. "I won't."

The rigid sense of self-imposed restriction eased a little inside of him. Fushimi turned his gaze down to his phone again, feeling strangely self-conscious after his unreasonable terms had been casually accepted. "I'll need a place to send you the models," he mumbled, unlocking the screen.

There was a marked moment of silence at the table.

"Right. Of course," Akiyama said hastily, just as Fushimi was on the verge of lifting his head and demanding to know what they were all staring at. "I'll write down my email address for you - just give me a moment."

"That's great, right, Fushimi?" Hidaka blurted, and the overly enthusiastic tone of voice had Fushimi lifting his gaze again. "And, hey, you know, I could beta test it for you!" His stare was an earnest as ever. "It'd be like exclusive access or something."

Fushimi stared back at him, perplexed. "What - ?"

"Me too! I can beta test!" Doumyouji leaned forward in his seat, eagerly. "I want exclusive access, too!"

"You're only saying that because you don't want Hidaka to get ahead of you," Enomoto accused lightly, but looked up with a shrug and a half-smile. "Sign me up to beta test as well."

"Same here," Akiyama added, and held out the paper with his contact information printed neatly on it. "I'll have some free time to start work on the designs this weekend, if you can send me the models and some kind of description of what you're looking for before then. I should be able to send you a prototype by Monday, at least, and you can tell me what you think."

Looking around the table at the stares all directed his way, Fushimi found it hard to keep from lowering his gaze. Something squeezed almost painfully in his chest, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant. He took the paper from Akiyama's hand, staring at it almost fixedly. "... Thanks."

"Don't worry about it, Fushimi."

The conversation started to flow away from him naturally after that, but even as he sat there and ate the remains of his dinner in silence, it didn't feel uncomfortable or annoying.

"Less than three weeks left in the semester..." Akagi stretched his neck with one hand, smiling a bit ruefully. "It seems like it's been no time at all since we started."

"Speak for yourself." Bandou sighed. "Spring's just been one long drag... bring on the summer break, already!"

"What kind of spirit is that?" Yata demanded, twisting his head from where he was walking front of them, away from the trades building. "Mikoto-san's welding instruction is amazing!"

Bandou frowned back at him, unimpressed. "It's not about whether or not it's amazing - this is school we're talking about, remember?"

Yata scowled back, turning his head forward again with a derisive 'ch'. "I don't see how you can call yourself his apprentice, talking like that."

Kamamoto glanced over at him a bit dubiously. "Yata-san, that's a little harsh."

"It's the truth!"

"You're taking it too seriously," Fujishima observed, quietly.

"You're not taking it seriously enough!" Yata thumped a fist on his chest, straightening out. "We have to maintain Mikoto-san's reputation, and that means no complaining about the instruction!"

Eric shot him a glance from the other side of Fujishima. "Noisy dog," he commented, almost under his breath.

"Hah? What was that?" Yata glared back. "Say it to my face!"

"Anyway!" Akagi quickly jumped back into the conversation, before Eric could respond. "There's a deal at the theater this weekend - anyone want to take in a movie Saturday afternoon?"

"I'm in," Bandou agreed, with a shrug.

Fujishima nodded. "Sounds good."

"I'm free that day, too," Kamamoto put in.

Saturday... Yata frowned. "Sorry, I can't."

"Big plans with your boyfriend or something?" Chitose snuck up on Kamamoto's other side, eyeing him knowingly. "Well, I understand." He spread his arms, looking smug. "I'm not free on Saturday either, as a matter of fact."

The top of Yata's mouth twitched up; his hands balled into fists. "He's not" - the incident from their first test of the game tried to float back up to the surface of his thoughts; he ruthlessly pushed it back down - "my boyfriend!"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Chitose brushed that protest aside, and raised an eyebrow. "He's the reason you can't make it, though, right?"

Yata scowled at him. It was the truth, but he didn't really want to admit it now. "I said I'd help test the game; it's not like you can play the combat portion with just one - "

"Sounds like a yes," Dewa murmured, cutting him off.

"Well, it's not like it's a big deal," Akagi added, with a cheerful grin and a shrug. "And you're coming to the bar afterwards, right?"

Fuck... A little strangled noise escaped his mouth as he searched for a good way to answer that.

"Sounds like a no," Eric commented, just loud enough to be heard.

"Sh-Sh-Shut up! I promised I'd make dinner that night! I fucking promised, okay?" Yata could feel that irritating rush of heat flooding over his neck and up to his cheeks, and clenched both of his hands into fists. "Anyway, that guy doesn't eat properly if I don't watch out for him! If I left him alone, he'd probably have something stupid like an energy bar - or just forget to eat." The thought pulled another scowl onto his face. "That stupid bastard... He still won't even try a goddamn vegetable, either... D'you know how hard it is to build a good diet with no fucking vegetables?"

A marked silence answered him. Yata glanced around at his friends, confused and a little irritated to find them all staring back at him. "What?"

Akagi shrugged awkwardly. Bandou scratched his cheek. Fujishima looked away. Eric tucked his hands into his pockets.

"Yata-san..." When he jerked his gaze back in that direction, Kamamoto's expression was almost pitying. "Why not just let it drop for now?"

Beyond him, Chitose was shaking his head, sadly. Dewa rolled his eyes.

Bunch of assholes, all of them... "Ch! Whatever!" Yata marched ahead without waiting to see if they'd catch up. "Let's go to the bar!"

"Yeah, yeah..."

As the subject changed back to safer topics, it was easy enough to let the strange behavior slip out of his mind. It wasn't like that kind of bullshit was important, anyway.

"So, this is gonna be the final version, right?"

Fushimi disconnected Misaki's phone from his computer, turning his chair to meet his roommate's expectant gaze from where he was perched on the lower bunk. "Unless you have something to complain about, it is," he responded, ignoring the anticipation that felt ready to rise up from the center of his chest in physical form as he held out the device. "I'll still be fixing all the bugs you find, too."

Misaki grinned back at him, reaching out eagerly to take his phone back. "What's there to complain about? I've seen all the basic stuff, and it's awesome!" He turned his gaze back on the screen, swiping a finger to unlock it and starting up the application immediately after. "Battle mode's just gonna be what we talked about, right? I can't wait to - " The rest of whatever he was going to say was lost in a sudden swift intake of breath; he stared at the screen, eyes widening.

Fushimi had surreptitiously stood while he was talking, and hovered a short ways from Misaki's left side, where he could see both the screen and his roommate's reaction. The finished graphics Akiyama had sent him the night before - which he'd stayed up until almost sunrise integrating into the code - were plainly visible on the title screen. The buttons, background, character models (well, one model, but the colors would vary in battle mode) - everything was revised.

He'd seen it on his own phone already, finishing up the final debugging as the room started to grow light, but Misaki's phone was a different model, so it was good to see that the computer had emulated it successfully and everything was where it should be. More importantly, though...

Misaki raised his eyes from the phone, staring up at Fushimi with a mixture of shock and awe. "You... I thought..."

"It wasn't cool enough without proper graphics, right?" He had to struggle a bit to keep his voice low and unconcerned. "I got someone to do them for me, so hopefully that satisfies your sense of aesthetics."

The smile spreading across Misaki's face just about stopped his breath. "I don't know what the fuck you just said, but this is - this is - " He had to swallow hard before finishing that sentence, and his eyes were suspiciously shiny. "This is awesome, Saruhiko!"

Something about that look had his throat feeling tight and a bit painful. Fushimi took in a breath, searching for equilibrium. Misaki's expression was so brilliant right then that he couldn't decide if he wanted to freeze the moment and keep looking at it forever, or look away to try and still the uncomfortable fluttering at the pit of his stomach. "Don't cry," he managed to respond, a bit lamely.

"I'm not fucking crying!" Misaki sniffed loudly, blinking a few times in rapid succession before turning his eyes back to the game, with a kind of wonder. "Did the characters change, too? Can I just - you know - check out one of the training stages a bit before we battle?"

This reaction was even better than he'd hoped for. Fushimi shut his eyes briefly, allowing himself a small but fully satisfied smile. Misaki's reactions are always the best. He could feel the familiar, comfortable warmth settling in his chest against the fierce pounding of his heart, and let himself bask in it for a moment. "Go ahead if you think you need the extra practice."

"Yeah, you wish!" When he opened his eyes again, Misaki was smirking down at his phone as he started up the stage. "I'm so gonna kick your - wow! Awesome!" He beamed at the screen, eyes almost sparkling with admiration as he watched the redesigned figure maneuver through the graphically enhanced background. "This looks so damn cool!"

Fushimi sat down beside him, watching over his shoulder as he executed the tricks, boisterously cheering with each one he cleared and swearing at the misses. From that vantage point, his profile was easy to watch; Fushimi could take in the display of vivid expressions and enthusiasm across his face openly.

Honestly, he wouldn't have minded much if they didn't end up battling at all.

On the last day of the semester, grades for the term project were given out.

'You should look at your audience more, and raise your voice when presenting,' Fushimi's evaluation sheet noted. 'The work on this project was exceptional. A stronger presentation would sell it better.'

Full marks.

It was natural - his grades were always good, even when he didn't try - but somehow, looking at it now brought a little sense of accomplishment. As he tucked the paper into his bag and started the walk towards the cafeteria - no TA work that day, and Misaki's shift would have started already - Fushimi closed his eyes briefly and let his thoughts drift.

The hours of recording, with sweat dripping down Misaki's forehead over his still-energetic grin... Akiyama's patient replies to his fussiness over the graphics... staying up until the sun started to rise integrating them... Misaki's shining eyes and enthusiastic response... working on his laptop in the security team's base after the meeting while most of the team's members played the game on their cell phones...

His game. His, and Misaki's.

It felt like longer than a semester.

Well, it's over. The summer break started tomorrow, so everything would go back to normal shortly. The thought wasn't unpleasant, though. He and Misaki could continue to play, after all - he had some ideas for expansion, too, and Misaki was always tossing out 'we should do this' and 'that would be so cool'. He could make it happen.

In his pocket, his phone buzzed; when he lifted it out, there was a new text message.

Yata Misaki: did u get ur grade? ho wwas it? 4

Fushimi allowed himself a smile and a short hum, and put the phone back into his pocket without answering. I'll see you soon enough anyway.

Right at that moment, the future felt bright and endless.

Yata texting translations for those who can't read through the typos:

1 So what did your teacher say about the game?
2 No problem, I can go for hours - just try me!
3 Yeah, but I'll still kick your ass, so be ready for it.
4 Did you get your grade? How was it?