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Yamapi groans as he reads the details of the final project for the Body Reconstruction program.

He only partook in the program because medical students were required to complete three. His first choices were Nanoscopic Surgery and Technology Embedment, with the first already finished and the second coming to a close. Since graduates only choose one of two directions, Yamapi only took Body Reconstruction because it requires similar skills as Nanoscopic Surgery.

Needless to say, he has never liked the program much. It wasn't as exciting as Nanoscopic Surgery, which focuses on how the human body works in nanoscopic scales. Neither was it as fascinating as Technology Embedment, which features fusing automatons into human bodies.

The process of rebuilding a body is surprisingly boring. After a genetic scan, it mostly consists of measuring and waiting as the replica grows to match the original. When the duplicated body parts come close enough to fit, a surgery is done to implant the missing body part into the person missing it, and then the whole process requires more waiting as the patient relearns the use of the part.

Yamapi supposes it's nice to have the technology to regrow any missing body part missing (with the exception of the brain), especially to those who lost their fingers or limbs by accident, but it just wasn't his kind of work.

He still has to graduate though, which means he has to complete the final project. The project itself is rather straightforward -- the University collect volunteers who cannot afford to pay for a reconstruction, and the students pick one they want to work on. The project has to be completed within six months, and if the subject regains complete use of his or her body, it would mean a passing grade.

That shouldn't be much of a problem. While Yamapi isn't the most diligent student, he does pay attention to his studies, and he understands the process sufficiently.

The problem was the fine print underneath the sign up instructions. It explains that in order to let students in the program understand the full course of rehabilitation, each student would have to be partnered with a student in the Physiatry program. It also adds that students have a week to search for partners themselves, and if they fail to do so, partners would be assigned.

Yamapi groans again. He hates searching for partners, especially for projects as important as this. He always feels insecure when his scores are dependent on the performance of other people, and there's always the risk that your partner gives up halfway through. And he doesn't know anyone in the Physiatry program. No doubt most of them would be kind souls with insane levels of tolerance and patience, but Yamapi generally isn't interested in boring people, and rehabilitation is nothing if not boring.

He sighs. Waiting for partner assignment sounds dangerous, but it seems like he doesn't have a choice. Who knows, it might even be fun, getting to know a new friend -- never say Yamapi isn't optimistic.

. . . . . . . . . .

Yamapi stood under a tree, looking around for a yellow cap. It would belong to a guy named Masuda Takahisa, his partner for the final project. They received each other's contact information when partners were assigned, but today is the day they would first meet and decide on what they'd work on.

Yamapi had sent a picture of himself when they'd come up with a date to meet, so that Masuda wouldn't have to ask around for a Yamashita Tomohisa. Masuda sent one of himself in reply, and added that he would be wearing a yellow cap that should be easy to spot.

From the photos, Masuda seems to be an average guy with a round face and a generous smile. From that smile alone, Yamapi thinks they should get along, as long as Masuda's capable of doing his part of the project.

Just a short distance away, Yamapi spots a yellow cap moving towards him. What he hadn't expected was the orange t-shirt and green pants.

Definitely a cheerful guy, then.

"Masuda-kun?" Yamapi calls out, waving his arm to gain attention.

The guy looks up with a large smile, "Ah, Yamashita-kun, right? Sorry I'm a bit late."

"Not at all," Yamapi says, glad that for once in his life, he wasn't the late one. First meetings are always awkward when you arrive late. "You're, uh," realizing that pointing out the bright colors might sound rude so Yamapi restrains himself from babbling that out, "taller than I thought you'd be. You know, from the photos."

"Oh," Masuda nods, "people tell me that a lot. I'm glad I'm not short! I can't help being kind of fat, though. I love food! And eating. They go together, so it's really only one thing."

"You're not fat," Yamapi says, and it's true. Masuda may be slightly plump (and even that's exaggerating because it's normal to have some fat on you despite what some people think), but Yamapi can see there are muscles under that bright orange shirt. From a physician's point of view, the young man looks fit and healthy.

"Thank you," Masuda smiles at him, and Yamapi has to blink a little because it's the first time he has seen a smile that wide and sincere. "I hope we get along. Should we get started?"

Yamapi pulls out his personal computer from his bag -- his beloved foldable thirteen inch touchscreen.

"Here," Yamapi points at the screen, "I downloaded the files already. Do you have any preferences?"

"Ah, asking so suddenly?" Masuda exclaims. "To me, faces are simpler, but I have more experience in legs. I've heard it's the opposite for surgeons, though. What about Yamashita-kun?"

Yamapi shrugs. Attaching a leg or a nose actually takes the same amount of skill and time, so both would look good on his resume. He isn't sure how the professors intend to judge their completed work, but the University professors are known for being fair.

"Having working limbs sound more important than a complete face," Yamapi says. "Why don't we go for the middle and work on fingers or an arm?"

"Eh, so you haven't had a face change?" Masuda asks. He quickly adds, "I mean, I was just curious, because people talk about facial surgery all the time and I thought, since you have the access to all the equipment, just maybe...but it looks natural! Honest!"

Yamapi lets out a smile -- with his natural face, as Masuda puts it. "Huh, so I seem like the type to get face lifts?"

"But..." Masuda seems to ponder something for a while before blurting, "But you're so perfect!"

Yamapi blanks out at Masuda's outburst. It's not that he's unaware of his looks, because not only has he looked at mirrors and photos of himself but he also notices the people he attracts, and yet he's never had anyone told him he's perfect before. No one's perfect. Perfect is not really a definition and at such a time and age when money can buy you almost any face you want, the word perfect is just too strong.

Then he notices the blush on Masuda's cheeks and Yamapi's eyes widen in surprise. Oh. Apparently, his charms extend to Masuda-kun.

"Let's go with arms and start from there, should we?" Yamapi says lightly, attempting to play it cool lest it becomes awkward.

"Ah, um, sure, okay!" Masuda stutters.

Yamapi gestures to the screen, moving it so that Masuda can view it as well. Masuda seems uncertain as he leans over, ducking his head.

Unable to stop himself, Yamapi grins at the sight. They're University students, approaching their final projects and ready for graduation, yet Masuda's actions are so undeniably boyish -- youthful and innocent -- that, Yamapi decides, it's almost cute.

While Masuda scans the list of choices, Yamapi watches as Masuda's yellow cap bobs every time the guy so much as stirs. In a sudden act of playfulness, Yamapi plucks the cap off and twirls it in his hand. When Masuda yelps in protest and reaches to grab it back, Yamapi puts the hat on himself, chuckling in amusement at the bewildered look on Masuda's face.

Pleased to meet you, Masuda-kun, Yamapi thinks to himself, all the while dodging Masuda's attempts at his hat (and carefully balancing his touchscreen).

. . . . . . . . . .

"Say, what's it like getting used to a new arm?"

Yamapi plops down to the chair next to Masuda, rousing the guy from his sleep. Startled, Masuda shoots up, frantically looking around until he sees Yamapi.

"Oh, Yamashita-kun? Ah!" Masuda exclaims, "I'm late, aren't I? Oh god, I'm so sorry, why didn't you just call me?"

Masuda has messed up the date in his hazed state. They had planned a lunch meeting, but it was tomorrow, not right now. Yamapi had been bored -- his friends were busy with their own work -- and needing a lunch partner, he thought he might as well use the chance to get to know his new partner. Since they'd shared their lab addresses and Masuda had given him an extended invitation, Yamapi had chosen to come in.

He can't help but find it slightly comical. Masuda seems easily rattled, or maybe Yamapi just naturally confuses the guy, but it is fun and Yamapi sees no reason to point out Masuda's mistake immediately.

"I think you drooled on your arm," Yamapi points out instead.

Masuda glances at his arm, then proceeds to blush (again) and look horrified while clearing his desk to find a tissue. While forcefully rubbing at his arm, Masuda looks up at Yamapi.

"You should have called," he pouts, close to a whine. "I'm not leaving a very good impression, am I?"

Yamapi takes the chance to look around. Masuda's lab is a simple one unlike his own, with dirty petri dishes and unfinished experimental chips laying everywhere, Masuda's lab is clean and orderly, with marked files on the shelves and unfinished ones with proper labels on the desks.

He blames the difference on their majors. Physiatrists work with complete bodies, their experiments are with actual people and their reactions while relearning their bodies. Yamapi has to work with body parts all the time, there should be litter all around his lab.

Yamapi looks back to Masuda, who is biting his lip and looking worried. He decides to come clean, "I haven't seen you work yet so I shouldn't judge," Yamapi says. "And actually, we're meeting tomorrow. I just walked past the building and thought I'd swing by and check out your lab."

"You scared me," Masuda accuses, but he looks more relieved than angry.

Yamapi raises both his hands in apology, "Sorry. It is lunch time, though. Would you like to grab lunch together?"

At the notion of lunch, Masuda flashes a bright smile at Yamapi, radiant as sunshine. It reminds Yamapi of the beach, bright and refreshing, and Yamapi wonders if anything gets the boy down. He doesn't bother to suspect whether the smile is fake, because no artificial smile could be that infectious.

When they bite into lunch, Yamapi relaxes along with the taste of food, just as he always does. Masuda, on the other hand, looks entirely ecstatic as he tears into his lunch.

Yamapi always did like people who properly appreciated their food.

"So, what's it like getting used to a new arm?" he asks again, now that they could have a full conversation.

"Eh, you're seriously asking that?" Masuda says with a mouth full of food, but the words are clear and Yamapi doesn't spot any unwanted food sneaking out.

Now isn't the time to be envious of people who can talk with their mouths full and make it sound as if they aren't. "I'm curious." he explains, "I mean, that's what we're working on, right? And you must have had some experience. All I've done is watch arms grow in tubes."

"It's not really much," Masuda shrugs, "I've only helped before, I've never felt it myself. They say it's odd though, feels different."

That was to be expected. Duplicated limbs are always different from their original, regardless of how well the regrowing process goes. Your limbs grow with you, your muscles adjust to how you use them and your body changes along with everyday decisions you make, what food you eat, what actions you do. No lab could reproduce all that.

"And of course, as expected, a lot of people complain that their fingers don't listen. I wonder if fingers sense how you're going to use them?" Masuda adds offhandedly.

Yamapi doesn't know what to say to that, so he bites into his food instead.

They fall into silence after that, not exactly awkward but not quite comfortable either. Yamapi tries to think of something to say, tempted to break the silence, but Masuda seems content with eating so Yamapi leaves it at that. Fortunately, they finish eating at around the same time.

After they clean up, Yamapi brings out the outlines he wrote the day before, and they start discussing how they should work together. Masuda wants to watch the rebuilding process at least more than once. Yamapi wouldn't mind watching the rehab, though he doesn't find it necessary. Together they come up with a schedule -- two months for Yamapi to rebuild a complete arm, two to three months for their patient to regain its use, and a whole month left for them to put it all on paper.

"Looks about perfect," Yamapi exclaims with a pat on the table, and Masuda nods in agreement.

They're both gathering their things and ready to go when Masuda suddenly says, "I'd be volunteering at the shelter tonight, and they have a few people in reconstruct." With a welcoming smile, Masuda asks, "Would you like to come?"

Yamapi thinks about accepting, because from what he's already seen Masuda's a wholesomely genuine person and he enjoys getting to know him. But he remembers his own plans for the night, a party his friends had invited him to. These things should not be compared, but his own plans seems petty even to him.

"I'm busy tonight," he says vaguely, not giving details.

"Ah, of course," Masuda replies easily, but the disappointment on the guy's face is obvious.

Yamapi wants to explain that he's not rejecting the offer, he just couldn't attend tonight, but he's already said no and he wonders if there's a way to take back a rejection because he can't think of any. Not without saying what he'd be doing at night, and he doesn't want to lie, but he doesn't want Masuda to think he's the partying type either (even though he is, not always but still rather often).

"Are we still meeting tomorrow?" Masuda asks, cocking his head to the left.

Yamapi looks at Masuda, trying to read the guy's body language. Masuda looks like he wouldn't object to another lunch together, but it could just be that Masuda doesn't want to appear rude.

He wonders whether it would hurt if he flirts, just a little. Masuda had looked like he wouldn't mind the other day, blushing and commenting on Yamapi's looks. But thoughts of parties and drinks and flirting in the dance pool come up and when Yamapi puts all that against Masuda's smile, he feels as though there's something vile in his throat.

"Only if you want to," he finally says truthfully.

"Should we meet here, then?" Masuda grins, and Yamapi feels the atmosphere lighten up.

They argue on whether Yamapi should pick Masuda up again tomorrow until unthinkingly, they've walked back to where Masuda's lab is. Yamapi jokes that he brought Masuda back to where he found him, and under the bright sunlight, Masuda laughs.

. . . . . . . . . .

Waking up to an intergalactic call was not something Yamapi counted on when he went to sleep. Eyes blurry from tiredness, he forces himself up, wincing to see the words on the monitor indicating that the call was made by Nishikido Ryo from somewhere in a Gamma galaxy.

Figures that Ryo wouldn't even bother to check what time it was in the sector Yamapi lives.

It wouldn't do to hang up, either, because when Ryo wants to contact someone, he's the type that keeps calling until he gets through. Yamapi accepts the call with a sigh and lies back into the soft futon mourning his lost sleep.

"It's not working anymore," Ryo's assertive voice comes through.

That wakes Yamapi up instantly. Ryo could only be talking about one thing by that, and Yamapi dreads the full meaning of his words.

Ryo is a voyager. People born on spaceships, people who view their spaceship as home, who are more used to small, confined spaces and the vast darkness of space than to fields of extended space and open sky. Yamapi doesn't claim to understand how voyagers can continue traveling for so long, but he respects the pride they have of their inhabitation, and Ryo accepts him in return.

When Ryo was a child, his parents had thought planting an experimental radiative chip in his brain was a good idea. It was promised that the chip could control electronic devices by thought alone, but while it does work sometimes, it also gives the user a severe migraine. It was also, regrettably, irremovable.

By adjustment, the chips were rendered harmless and useless in most experiment samples. However, most people weren't voyagers and didn't live in huge electronic devices their whole lives. The modification had lowered the amount of pain, but Ryo still felt it from time to time.

As a single case, Ryo was ignored by the physicians, and had been resigned to live with the headaches until he came to Aurora. Yamapi met Ryo by chance, and Ryo's story piqued Yamapi's interest immediately. At that time he was studying Technology Embedment, and for his final project, he modified the chip in Ryo's brain to lessen its effects. It led Yamapi to discover how much he enjoyed the subject and subsequently, helped him decide what he wanted to do in the future.

Yamapi had known it wouldn't work forever, though, and had warned Ryo about it. The chip had been with Ryo too long and had worked its way into Ryo's system. Since Ryo's body recognizes it as part of itself, the chip could fix itself -- and thus returning to its previous injurious state.

But he didn't think it'd be this soon. It had only been two years since Ryo had left the planet. With Yamapi's calculations, it should have been ten years until Ryo's body caught on the change.

"Where are you?" Yamapi asks nervously, wondering if redoing the modification would work.

Even completing the program, he's still a student, without the proper experience to deal with this.

"Nowhere near Aurora, if that's what you're asking," Ryo replies, sarcasm dripping from his tone. "I just thought you should know."

Yamapi thinks of his current project, the one with Masuda, and he wonders if he could pull time from that to analyzing on Ryo's chip. Because of the project, he had neglected looking into it, despite telling Ryo that he would spend time researching.

"I've been busy on another project," Yamapi says honestly, full on ready to blame himself for ignoring his friend, "I-I'm sorry, Ryo."

"It's not your responsibility anyway," Ryo says. "Don't concern yourself over this, it's not worth it."

Yamapi recognizes Ryo's subtle plea for help. Ryo hates relying on other people, a common trait in a voyager, and even calling Yamapi must have pained him. Even if Ryo hadn't bothered to check that it was three in the morning for Yamapi.

"How far are you, then? If you can come by, we can try working on it."

There's a pause until Ryo answers, "Ten months, maybe."

Yamapi takes in a deep breath. The Body Reconstruction project would be finished by then, he should be able to come up with something. And even if he doesn't, the same method he used before might work again.

"Will I see you then?" Yamapi asks.

"Maybe," Ryo says, and Yamapi promptly hears a beep announcing the end of the call.

Yamapi stares at the clock for a while longer before throwing himself back onto bed. Even after having his perfect night's sleep being disturbed, Yamapi had always been good at falling asleep immediately, and it doesn't take long before he falls back into slumber even with Ryo's call weighing on his mind.

. . . . . . . . . .

On his third attempt to calculate the exact mixture he needs, Yamapi nearly screams in annoyance. It should have only taken seconds, that was how simple it should be but the numbers were jumbled in Yamapi's brain and what is it with this blazing weather, anyway?

"Are you alright, Yamashita-kun?" Masuda asks from beside him, "Am I bothering you?"

Yamapi looks to his right, where Masuda sits watching. As promised, Yamapi invited Masuda to watch him work in the lab. Unfortunately, everything irritates him today -- his work, his projects, the computer in the lab, the unfinished arm in the tube, the weather. The cloned arm should be nearly identical to the one it's based on, but the bones weren't growing to the right length, and what was the point? No one really has symmetrical arms anyway.

"It's fine," Yamapi snaps, then looks up quickly when he realizes with whom he's speaking to. Masuda looks devastated, eyes wide and lips trembling as he shrinks into his chair. Yamapi instantly feels terrible. It just proves how bad a host he was.

"Sorry, I'm just...distracted today," Yamapi apologizes.

Masuda shouldn't have been on the receiving end of his wayward temper, no matter how bad his mood is. When Masuda doesn't reply immediately, Yamapi begins to panic. Everything was already going wrong this day, and he manages to offend his partner on his project as well?

After a nerve-wrecking pause, Masuda finally says, "How about taking a break?"

Yamapi eyes the half-grown arm in the tube, waiting for the right nutrients to prompt its growth. Not only do the procedures need to be done on schedule, but Masuda is here today only because he wants to understand how it works. He takes a quick glance at the stack of research papers he collected for Ryo's case, begging for attention.

"Can't," Yamapi says with a sigh, "this needs to be done today. And you're here to watch me work, not loiter around."

"If you say so," Masuda looks up at him, and Yamapi lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding when he sees Masuda's trademark smile. "I don't really mind. How about I go get us something, then? Food? Drinks?"

Yamapi wonders if Masuda is looking for an excuse to leave for a while, but decides that its not worth pondering over. At any rate, refreshments would be a nice diversion to this mucky day.

"There's a vending machine down the hall on the right."

Masuda bounces up straight away, hair bouncing with him. Yamapi isn't sure why he's suddenly noticing this, but Masuda's hair looks really soft, like it hasn't been exposed to excessive chemical solutions. Fluffy and silky and light even under the artificial lighting, Yamapi thinks with a hysteric chortle.

"What would you like?" Masuda asks.

"Anything not caffeinated," Yamapi replies. Caffeine would only make him more twitchy, and he doesn't want to get any more wounded up than he already is.

"Coming right up!" Masuda pipes, sounding like he's recovered completely from being affected by Yamapi's sour mood. Not that he expects to drag Masuda down, but any normal person would have been at least displeased.

The door closes with a click. Yamapi finds himself looking at the closed door, a clean white compared to the rest of the room.

Distracted was the right word. Yamapi could barely concentrate, and he feels terrible already but the more he thinks about the measurements the more irritated he gets until he's sweating with restlessness. Yamapi hates feeling less than adept, it feels like he's failing himself somehow, especially when he knows he's capable of doing a decent job.

In the midst of musing, he fails to notice that Masuda is back until something cold is pressed against his palm, earning an undignified yelp from him.

"Oops, I didn't mean to scare you," Masuda says, "But you looked so serious and I didn't know what to say!"

Yamapi takes hold of the bottle, not bothering to retort that saying anything would have made more sense than just pressing the drink into his hands.

He twists the bottle open, noting that Masuda got him some kind of juice or something that was equally as healthy. The guy probably chose it to play safe, since some people don't drink sofa and others dislike the bitter taste of tea, but he sees the same bottle in Masuda's grip. Maybe he was thinking too much and the guy simply likes this type of drinks.

They drink in silence, Yamapi gulping it down and Masuda quietly sipping. Yamapi gladly notes that this time, the silence is comfortable instead of tense.

"I should get back to work, huh," Yamapi says after a while, genuinely regretting that he has to leave this comfort.

It takes a while before Masuda answers. "Yamashita-kun is hard working, ne," Masuda says, "And I'm very lucky to have Yamashita-kun as my partner. But working too bad isn't very good either."

Yamapi doesn't know what to say to that, and so he keeps his silence as he calls up the related data from the computers to run through once more. Masuda is right though, taking a break -- even one as short as the one he had -- does help, because now the corresponding solutions are clear in his mind, right in sight when they were out of reach before.

He thinks of thanking Masuda, but every sentence he thinks of sounds corny and unreal. He settles on something simpler.

"You don't have to be silent while I work, you know," Yamapi says. "It might help if you talk, actually."

"Eh, but I don't know what to say!" Masuda replies.

Yamapi shrugs. He just wants Masuda to relax and not feel inclined to keep quiet.

He's measuring the width and length of the bones in the arm, readying data and estimated numbers to feed into the simulator to emulate the arm's growth when Masuda speaks up suddenly.

"Hey, did you know where they found the technology for regeneration?"

"Isn't this cloning?" Yamapi replies absentmindedly. But then he thinks it over a little and realize what Masuda was referring to. "Oh, wait, I know what you're talking about. Some animal or something on Earth I think?"

Why is Masuda bringing this up, anyway? No one really talks about where old technologies come from, and regeneration has been around for a while. Few people are interested in Earth animals, since it's difficult to even get visuals, and there's hardly a point in watching a world you're too far from. Except for voyagers, maybe.

Yamapi chalks it up to another eccentric point of Masuda's personality. The more he knows about the guy, the weirder he gets. On first view, Masuda's fairly normal, cheerful and full of life like most people their age. But his lab space is the cleanest Yamapi's ever seen, and Masuda volunteers at the Shelter but doesn't like street strays. He wears bright clothes that are politely eye-catching and not-so-politely eye-burning, but claims to pay attention to fashion and comes up with pretty amazing outfits out of nowhere.

It's the small things that make Yamapi notice how odd Masuda is, tiny points that make up Masuda's character.

"Geckos!" Masuda pipes up, unaware of Yamapi's inner monologue. "They're lizards! With four legs. They can climb on walls and regrow their tails."

As Masuda launches into a detailed description of what geckos are, Yamapi listens while he works, politely nodding along as Masuda goes on to talk about gecko behavior and habitats. And it might be because of Masuda's idle chatter, certainly not because of the content, but Yamapi manages to stay in a pleasant mood and the weather barely bothers him anymore.

"Hey," Yamapi begins, and Masuda immediately looks at him with full attention. "Sorry for being so irritated today. I'm not normally like this, I swear," and as a playful continuation, he raises his hand for an animated salute.

"Everyone has bad days," Masuda says, "It's alright. I still had fun! Yamashita-kun's lab is amazing."

"You mean messy?" Yamapi laughs. He knows what his lab is like, and there's no point in avoiding it. But the smile fades as he recalls other issues they might encounter. "Just, all this is giving a bad feeling about it. Feels like we're failing before we began, you know?"

Masuda seems unfazed by Yamapi's ominous words. "I don't think so. And even if we fail, we can try again next term."

"We?" Yamapi asks.

"Ah, we probably wouldn't be working together if that happens, right?" Masuda exclaims innocently.

If indeed they do fail this time (which will not happen, not if Yamapi could help it), there's no guarantee that the final project for next term would be group projects once again. And even if the project would be in groups, they would only work together if Masuda wanted to work together again. And if Yamapi wanted to in reverse, but Yamapi prefers to think that he wouldn't have the chance to reject Masuda.

"Yeah," he says in reply, simple and concise.

. . . . . . . . . .

He hates it when he's right. Especially when it involves something as maddening as his final project.

"What is wrong with this guy? We get him a new arm, and he refuses to use it?" Yamapi spits out, enraged.

Masuda looks like he's about to cry. "I'm sorry, Yamashita-kun, I'll work harder so please, it's all my fault but I-"

'It's not your fault!' Yamapi shouts, causing Masuda to shut up abruptly. "What kind of-I can't even think of words to describe this, who the hell doesn't appreciate a new arm? 'No point in using it as long as it's there,' the fuck? Ever think about the work we poured into this? Our marks?"

The arm needs to be fully functional for them to receive full marks. Not that all their scores would suffer -- the arm was at least fully attached, and according to Masuda, only the joints were still stiff.

"Yamashita-kun," Masuda says, calmly and with a steady voice this time, "it is my fault, partially anyway, and so I'll work harder to convince Akaki-san to cooperate. I don't know how yet, but please, don't be mad."

Yamapi's anger deflates. Who could stay angry when those earnest eyes are looking at you?

Akaki is their patient. Yamapi has seen Masuda work with him, and the man seemed alright at first, but seemed to lose interest when Masuda went on to help him recover joint capabilities. Then the man kept saying 'he's busy' or 'he's not in a hurry to have all his arm's functions back', and no amount of explaining that they needed him to get their full marks had worked to convince him.

Yamapi tries not to think about how his work could have influenced this. He had accomplished all the processes properly and the arm was nearly identical with the other the patient had. The patient's body wasn't rejecting the arm, either, so he must have done his work accurately. Even if -- he had to admit to himself -- he had been distracted.

He had to, because if any of it was his fault, then there's no way he could face Masuda, and he should stop thinking about this right now.

"If it's partially your fault, then it's mine too." Yamapi says, "So, urgh, do you have any clue how to start convincing the stubborn old man, anyway?"

"Therapy?" Masuda provides, "Or general counselling."

Yamapi chuckles at the thought of getting the man into a counseling session. They might be on the right track though -- working from a psychological viewpoint might work better than speculating from nowhere.

"I know someone studying psychology. You think we should ask?" Yamapi says.

"Eh? You think we should? Um, do you think we should bother other people with this?"

"Wouldn't hurt," Yamapi shrugs, "And we're friends. Kind of. I know his friend, anyway. It'd be fine."

Masuda's still deciding by muttering to himself when Yamapi pulls out his phone. He grins when Masuda tries to stop to him, waves his hand to sooth the guy, and before Masuda can do anything the call goes through.

"Ah, Koyama? I'd like to speak to Tegoshi-kun."

Koyama's voice sounds frantic when he replies. "Is everything alright? He's not in trouble, is he?"

This makes Yamapi wonder what usually happens with Tegoshi. He hears Tegoshi's voice in the background, complaining to Koyama that he doesn't get in trouble. Often. "No, I just need his help with something." At Koyama's disbelieving shriek, he quickly adds, "He's studying psychology, right? It has to do with that."

"Ah," Koyama exclaims, sounding relieved. "You're lucky you called right now, I just picked up Tegoshi from campus. I'll hand the phone over, then. Tegoshi?"

The voice goes from Koyama's to Tegoshi's, "Hi, Yamashita-kun! You need my help?"

Yamapi negotiates with Tegoshi until the other agrees to help Yamapi and Masuda, with the condition that Yamapi treats him to lunch the following week. Then Tegoshi somehow convinces Koyama to walk with Tegoshi back to campus to meet Yamapi, and by the way Koyama listens to Tegoshi, Yamapi thinks he just might be the perfect person for this task of convincing the patient to cooperate. If Yamapi can survive dealing with Tegoshi first.

After the phone call, Yamapi turns to Masuda, who was listening to a one-sided conversation with enthusiasm.

"They're coming," Yamapi states.

"Eeeeeh?" Masuda lets out, almost resembling Koyama's shriek. Only less loud and less sharp.

. . . . . . . . . .

When Yamapi enters Masuda's lab, he doesn't expect to see Tegoshi in the room as well, gesturing at something while talking earnestly. Masuda looks comfortable just listening and nodding at intervals.

The talk the other day had gone well. And Yamapi recognizes the look on Masuda's face -- the boy was taken by Tegoshi, no doubt. Yamapi had seen Masuda look at him the same way when they first met.

"What's he doing here?" Yamapi grits out, motioning towards Tegoshi's direction, not even bothering to pretend he doesn't find Tegoshi's presence straining.

"Don't worry," Tegoshi announces, "I'll be leaving soon, I'm just waiting for Koyama."

Is the guy incapable of walking without Koyama around? And what's with that glint in Tegoshi's eyes? Yamapi knows about Koyama coming to campus to pick up Tegoshi, it started back when Tegoshi just arrived at the city and didn't know the way, but there's no way Tegoshi still doesn't know the directions. It wasn't really like Tegoshi would be stuck anywhere without guidance.

Sure, he's never been bothered by this before, and he sees Tegoshi fairly often. But it's never directly affected him before, Yamapi argues to himself. And he owes Tegoshi lunch. Does it never end?

"We've come up with a plan to slowly lure Akaki-san into using his arms," Masuda says, "Tegoshi said it's easier to get them to do what you want without them realizing with people like Akaki-san."

Perhaps sensing Yamapi's cheerless mood, Masuda begins to move towards Yamapi. Instinctively, Yamapi backs away, only to see Masuda drop his arm with a disappointed look on his face.

He thinks of saying something, like he isn't rejecting Masuda (again), or maybe that he doesn't actually mind body contact. At the corner of his eye, Yamapi notices Tegoshi watching with an amused expression, and he thinks of saying something about that instead, like how Tegoshi should wipe that unfitting smirk off before it gets glued to his face.

As if on cue, a phone ring cuts in. Tegoshi rushes to pick it up, then smiles sweetly into the receiver. "Kei-chan! Yes, everything went perfectly. Yamashita-kun's here, too! I'll be right out. It's fine!"

Once Tegoshi hangs up, he turns around and says in a completely different voice, "You probably heard, but Kei-chan's here, so I'm leaving!"

Yamapi wonders if Tegoshi has had alien implants, because no human should be that chipper all day long. Combined with Masuda's consistent lighthearted smile, Yamapi might just have to start wearing sunglasses in their presence. Or avoid seeing them together, because it's goddamn uncomfortable.

He looks towards Masuda, but can't even begin to guess what Masuda's thinking. In most ways, Masuda is a huge mystery Yamapi just can't seem to resolve. Right now, while Masuda is pleasantly bidding Tegoshi farewell, he also seems to be fidgeting from the way he's tugging at his sleeves. Or is he thinking of ways to persuade Tegoshi to stay longer? It wouldn't work, Yamapi wants to say -- Tegoshi has a lot of other friends, Koyama just being one of them. Were they friends? Sometimes, they looked more like master and butler.

"See you then, Massu! Yamashita-kun!" Tegoshi waves energetically as he walks away.

Yamapi freezes, fixated on what Tegoshi called Masuda. They've known each other for two months and Masuda still called him Yamashita-kun, yet Masuda and Tegoshi were already using nicknames with each other?

"Massu?" Yamapi questions, somewhat sharper than he intended.

"Oh!" Masuda smiles, "Um, my friends call me that. Tegoshi heard them and decided to call me that, too."

"It's a cute nickname."

"You're welcome to use it if you want," Masuda says good-naturedly. "Only if you want to, though," he adds, suddenly uncertain.

Were they friends? Or is this a step towards friendship? If that was so, he should be happy about this, but the word 'friends' leaves a bitter aftertaste Yamapi can't explain away.

"Massu, huh?" Yamapi murmurs to himself.

Masuda appears to not have heard, or has no reply to it, for which Yamapi is grateful. In his whirlpool of confusion, he did not think of returning the favor, though he has been called Yamapi instead of Yamashita for so long that he mostly refers to himself by the nickname.

On his desk, Masuda lays out his schedule, with the highlights Yamapi asked for the other day. Yamapi pulls over a chair from the desk beside him, a habit he'd developed since the day he first came to this lab. Luckily, Masuda's lab partner seems to be rarely around. When Yamapi asked, Masuda explained that his partner prefers working in the library, which suits Yamapi just fine.

To be truthful, Yamapi isn't interested in physical rehab. That's what he told Masuda, but the main reason he's paying attention is because he wanted to make sure the other doesn't slack off. He feels guilty thinking about it now, after realizing that while Masuda may seem easygoing, he's determined where it counts. He can't leave now though, not with the small lie, and not when Masuda's so happily explaining the work he does.

Yamapi also hadn't thought that the problem would come from their patient -- he doesn't get to work with live subjects often, and Ryo had been more like a friend than an experiment subject.

Out of the blue, Masuda starts, "Hey, did you know," the phrases familiar by now, "I had a small crush on you when we first met?"

Yamapi's breath hitches. He had known, of course he had known. Who could have overlooked what was so blatantly obvious, but he hadn't thought that Masuda would ever confess to it. Unless it meant Masuda was completely over it and never expected Yamapi to reciprocate.

But then, what did he expect? Neither of them had ever made a move. Yamapi couldn't say he's attracted to Masuda, though the boy does have a certain charm. A harmless boy-next-door vibe, maybe, with a smile and the scent of cookies.

"Ah," he replies curtly, unsure of what he should say.

There's nothing to say. Perhaps it's because Yamapi is used to people who look at him and approach him, only to leave. Though Masuda's saying this now, Yamapi can't recall Masuda ever really stuttering after their first three meetings or so. If that was how long Masuda's crush had lasted, Yamapi isn't in a place to say anything. If after talking to Yamapi, Masuda had decided that Yamapi isn't appealing enough, then, well.

Anyway, it isn't like Yamapi wants anything out of this, so honestly, things are better this way.

"This is embarrassing," Masuda pouts, looking at the ceiling.

When they wrap up for the day, Yamapi wonders if he should have mentioned Tegoshi. After all, Masuda was the one who talked about crushes. It wouldn't have made a difference, though. Except maybe bring out a blushing Masuda, which would be amusing until Yamapi remembers that it's about Tegoshi.

"Dinner?" Yamapi asks, partly because he doesn't want to eat dinner alone, and partly because he keeps thinking about things related to Masuda and maybe Masuda's presence would help.

For a while, Masuda appears to be thinking. Then he looks at Yamapi and shakes his head. "Sorry, I have plans tonight."

Plans. The word sounds so general that it's difficult not to think it sounds like an excuse. If it was an excuse, then asking further would only seem pathetic, though Yamapi continues to feel rejected. A feeling he seemed to have given Masuda a lot, Yamapi thinks, so perhaps this is karma catching up on him.

Masuda then says he'd be tidying up his workspace before leaving, and Yamapi says goodbye, noticing his cue to depart.

. . . . . . . . . .

Walking alone on campus, Yamapi wonders if he should just eat in the cafeteria. Eating alone at a restaurant would be embarrassing, and food at the cafeterias cheaper anyway.

While going through the menu and debating on what he should order for dinner, Yamapi doesn't notice the floating vehicle above him giving out. Detachedly, he's thinking of going to the pub tonight and getting a few drinks in him before going home, when he hears the deafening screech of a brake being pushed past its limit.

When Yamapi sees the vehicle dropping altitude, he distantly thinks he probably should run, except the car's too close, barely a meter away and if the vehicle's safety system isn't reacting fast enough (it should have, they were designed to stop before anything with a human temperature, so perhaps it's malfunctioning), then human speed wouldn't be either.

Shit, I can't die here, and he thinks he should be seeing his life pass before his eyes by now if that's what always happens when someone's about to die, but instead only his previous conversation with Masuda comes to mind when he feels the crash, he hears something like bones breaking and, oh god.

The preservation device in his body all Aurora citizens are planted with at birth sets to work. I can't-Yamapi violently yells, but his thought process halts completely as his body shuts down, the device directing all blood and air to the brain as it closes off anything that could cause further damage, including open flesh and his own panicking mind. If Yamapi is still thinking, he would see that the safety nets in the city were also intervening, grabbing onto the berserk vehicle and protecting his body.

But Yamapi could no more think than he could move as the campus around him continues to pulse with the sound of students screaming and the driver in hysterics.

. . . . . . . . . .

Groggily, he senses light reaching towards him. He tries raising his hand to grab onto the rays of light, but soon he realizes that he can't feel his own body. The world plunges into darkness once more.

 

. . . . . . . . . .

Painfully slowly, Yamapi feels everything stir to life. He struggles to open his eyes, squinting as the mist around him dissolves gradually, and eventually settles into an image of a white ceiling. His ears take in noise, footsteps and someone calling his name, Tomohisa, not Yamashita or Yamapi.

He tries to remember what happened. The last thing he remembers was talking to -- wait no, that wasn't what happened. He was walking and there was a crash and, oh, the doctors must be bringing him back.

"Tomohisa!" a female voice cries.

It takes a while before the owner of the voice's identity comes to mind. It's a person he hasn't met in a long, long time. Not entirely surprisingly, he croaks, "Mom?"

His mother lives with his sister at the outskirts of the city. For her to be here...well, of course. They aren't especially close, but she's his mother. It'd be odd if she weren't here.

"Don't-" she hiccups a little, the product of trying to talk and snuffle her tears at the same time, "-worry, you''' be-" another hic, "-perfectly fine. The doctors say, they said," another small pause, and finally she pulls herself together enough to finish her sentence, "you'd be back to normal completely, exactly like before the accident..."

Hearing this, Yamapi tries to feel his body and assess the damage, but all he feels is the dull ache of being under medical treatment.

The doctor must have realized what he was doing when she says, "Don't you worry, Yamashita-san. We're just bringing you out of preversation mode now. You're heading for a full recovery."

As a medical student himself, the doctor's words were empty, pretty, comforting. Words that tell Yamapi nothing new. When he struggles to sit up, Yamapi's muscles complain loudly, refusing to listen to his command. When that doesn't work, he forces himself to calm down, breathes deeply and rinses his throat so he could talk.

"What's-" the wheezing voice wasn't what he's used to hearing, but it is his own voice, not a burnt voice or a temporary voice before rebuilding, for which he's grateful for, "-the damage? Just tell me."

"Well, Yamashita-san..." the doctor begins, searching for words.

Yamapi sighs mentally. If this is how all patients feel when their doctors aren't telling them everything in one go, then doctors should rethink what patients really want. "I'm a medical student with practicing licenses in Nanoscopic Surgery and Technology Embedment. Just tell me."

The doctor looks momentarily surprised before she recomposes herself. "Well..." she starts, obviously still wondering how blunt she should be, "Luckily, your organs are perfectly fine, the product of preservation. And, well...not so luckily, there's a scar on your face, and...um, we had to sever your left leg."

He should probably have something to say. Yamapi thinks there should be thought running through his mind, but his brain's a complete blank as it accepts that he's missing a left leg.

On the other hand, Yamapi's mother cries out yet again. At Yamapi's mother's distraught expression, the doctor quickly adds, "But your mother already paid for all expenses, so we'll be regenerating it as soon as possible!"

"That..." his mother stutters, "...that means you'd have a new leg very soon. They can even fix your face using the same technique -- oh, Tomohisa, you were always such a beautiful kid..."

"Someone own a mirror?" Yamapi asks.

The doctor looks weary as she holds a mirror over Yamapi's face. His mother almost attempts to stop the mirror from coming into Yamapi's view, but she loses her strength at the last moment.

Yamapi looks into the mirror.

After his mother's outburst, he thought it'd be worse. In comparison to the sunken image of a face in his imagination, the burnt skin stretching from his left ear to the tips of his lips is...acceptable. Although his education is telling him that skin is relatively easy to replace, another part of him is somehow more interested in his change in appearance.

Like his mother said, people has always been saying he's beautiful, pretty, words that only describe his appearance and not him. What would they say now? The part of him that's marveling in this turn of events -- the somewhat crazy and unstable part, Yamapi thinks -- wants to ask.

The mirror is taken away. A beep from the machine on Yamapi's side indicates that the initial procedures for recovery from preservation are done.

"We're giving you full control of your body now, Yamashita-san," the doctor says. "Please don't be surprised and move too suddenly or you could hurt youself."

Yamapi fully understands. He's been taught the same words, his instructors tell them to practice saying it in front of dummies. But when he suddenly feels his body, in a way completely different to the medical haze he was in, his instincts have him moving every muscle in his body at the same time. He senses his legs -- no wait his leg, because the other one isn't there, and his body knows this, is reacting to it in the way it would have if he hadn't been unconscious for the past few days.

The bed he's lying on reacts to his violent movements and clasps him down. His mother makes a grab for his hands, the warmth soothing against the unbalance he's feeling.

"We'll be leaving you alone for now," the doctor says flatly, "You can leave tomorrow, any equipment you might need can be rented on the second floor. We'll contact you when we're ready to replace your skin and leg."

After he calms down, the bed loosens it clutches and allows him to sit up with the help from his mother. He stares at his missing leg, vaguely mourning its loss, more concerned and confused over the coincidence of this happening now.

When he already dislikes the regeneration process. Now it's happening to him and hell, three months? No way is he taking that long to get up and walk.

"You should contact your friends," his mother says, "They were worried, too. Someone...I couldn't catch most of what he said because there was loud music playing in the background, but I think he wants you to call him. And there was another...ah, I forgot the name, but he has a sweet voice, and he wants to visit after you wake up."

. . . . . . . . . .

"You're insane!" Masuda argues loudly.

Yamapi grins. That's what makes the idea so enthralling. This way, everything would be in his control. No more leaving things up to other people, namely ones whose family name is something like Akaki.

"That's why it'll work. Just promise me you'll help me through it."

Masuda glares at him, but the worry in his eyes lessens its effect. "Are you sure you didn't hit your head? You can't perform surgery on yourself."

"Sure I can, I won't be the first. I'll need to call in an anaesthesiologist since I can't do that myself, but you've seen me do the surgery. Since it's all through computer lens, it's exactly the same as operating on someone else."

"But it's your leg!" Masuda screeches, "What if something goes wrong? What if - I don't really know but what if?"

"You trusted me when I was doing it on someone else," Yamapi points out.

"That's because it was someone else!"

"And like I said, it won't be any different." Yamapi says, "You can continue working with that Akaki guy all you like. Just promise you'll help me get through this, too."

Masuda sinks into his chair and quiets down, a position Yamapi recognizes as his thinking pose. Yamapi doesn't try to rush Masuda, because anyone who's ever spent a minimal amount of time with Masuda would quickly realize that Masuda hates being rushed. The best thing to do now is to allow Masuda to think things through in his own pace.

"If only I walked you out that day," Masuda whispers.

Yamapi shrugs, because there's nothing to say when people begin to blame themselves. Masuda started apologizing the moment Yamapi phoned him for the first time after the accident, and no amount of soothing had stopped the young man. Now, Yamapi is resigned to keeping silent and hoping that Masuda will get over this phase before Yamapi has to do something dramatic.

"Then help me," he says.

Masuda bites his lower lip, and from the way he doesn't reply, Yamapi knows he's already convinced the guy. Masuda's silence is only to postpone the inevitable. Yamapi wonders when he started trying to decipher Masuda's every move. Masuda is like a puzzle -- every time he unravels a piece, there are more parts that continues to confuse him.

"How did you manage to convince your mother, anyway?" Masuda asks, "I could hear her yelling in the background when you called me."

Yamapi laughs, "I didn't. I just managed to convince her that I'm enough of an adult for her to go home and let me handle everything myself."

"That's not fair," Masuda pouts. "Now she's gonna blame me too, if things go wrong."

"That wouldn't happen," Yamapi says decisively, "You said so yourself. Regeneration is usually just a test of determinedness. I'm definitely going to walk within a month, and you are helping me. Right?"

Masuda looks away, obviously avoiding looking into Yamapi's eyes. Nevertheless, Yamapi puts on his best pleading face, knowing Masuda can't avoid him forever. In the mean time, he also fiddles with the panels on his floating chair's controller, going slightly up and down and around to catch Masuda's attention.

Sure enough, Yamapi finally catches Masuda's eyes, and he knows he's won from the resigned look on Masuda.

"Right," Masuda says. "But you have to promise me something in return."

At his wish finally granted, Yamapi doesn't hesitate to agree, "Anything."

"Listen to my requests when it concerns my expertise. And let me help you, whenever I think you need it, not just when you think you need me."

Masuda says this with a tentative smile, but Yamapi could hear the authoritative voice behind the harmless words. This is a side of Masuda he doesn't get to meet often, the side that reveals his dedication towards his work, the side that has full knowledge of what he's doing and isn't afraid to show it.

"Of course," Yamapi nods. He's not stupid enough to refuse professional advice.

"Then let me massage your leg right now," Masuda says.

Yamapi blinks. He didn't think Masuda would make a request this soon. Not that he has anything against massages, and he has no reason to turn down a free (probably, Masuda wouldn't charge him, would he?) massage.

When Yamapi doesn't reply immediately, Masuda whines, "You promised!"

Yamapi smiles, "I'm not turning you down. Just surprised, that's all. Where?"

"Your leg?" Masuda answers questioningly.

Masuda clearly misunderstood his question. It's Yamapi's fault for not stating the question clearer, but Yamapi feels like laughing all the same.

"I mean, where should we do this? By the way, is this to help blood circulation?" he asks, making a wild guess.

"Yeah," Masuda answers, "it also helps you...get used to, um, your leg. That...isn't, uh, there right now, but sometimes - not always! - a body doesn't get that. And I think we can do it here? Your chair can bend down to turn into a bed, right?"

"Do it?" Yamapi says teasingly.

It was just a few days ago, but after being tranquilized after the accident and waking up, the last time he saw Masuda feels like forever ago. He briefly thinks about Masuda's crush on Tegoshi and wonders if that went anywhere, but there's no way to bring it up without sounding overly nosy.

Predictably, Masuda blushes. At the very least, he can still make Masuda flutter with words. It's a small victory comparing to the first time he met Masuda, but it's a victory nonetheless.

"I didn't mean it that way!" Masuda sputters.

Yamapi's grin turns into full blown laughter when Masuda begins moving his arms to emphasize his point. He misses this, he thinks -- just laughing and not having to worry about his career, his experiments and now the new addition of worrying about his body.

He's alive. He should focus on that.

And Yamapi's glad to be alive. People don't often die from vehicle-related accidents on Aurora, both because of the possibility of a vehicle failing being fairly small and because of the preservation devices implanted in all citizens and the safety nets along all roads. But it's still possible, if a body is crushed beyond recognition that even preservation isn't enough to save it.

Plus Yamapi has the means to fix the situation himself. It's an opportunity, if Yamapi looks at it from an extremely optimistic viewpoint.

After all, Yamapi had been curious about what it would be like getting a new arm. The irony is not lost on him, and Yamapi wonders if somewhere someone is laughing at him.

"Yamashita-kun?" Masuda prods.

"Yeah," Yamapi says, checking the panel on the handle until he finds the button to change the wheelchair to a temporary bed.

He still unwillingly flinches at the sight of the remains of his leg, a stump barely healed even after receiving the best treatments available at the hospital. Even knowing he's already growing a copy of his leg in the lab doesn't stop the shudder going through him.

Firm hands reach him, and Masuda places one hand on what's left of his leg and another on his chest. The hand of his chest surprises him, but the steadiness of it and the warmth seeping through the fabric quickly calms Yamapi down.

Then Masuda begins to press his fingers against the stump, evenly massaging the area. Without actively trying, Yamapi relaxes into the touch.

He brain mostly shuts down after he gets used to Masuda's touch, but fleetingly he thinks, so this is what it feels like to have Masuda as your physiatrist. It's a good feeling, he decides, like the sun sharing its warmth to support life. Masuda's presence already gives off that feeling, and the way he works only highlights it.

"Hey," Masuda says, jerking Yamapi from his slumber. "What about your face? You can't perform that surgery yourself."

Does this mean Masuda cares about him? Or does this mean Masuda cares how he looks? Yamapi knows he shouldn't think this way, but it's hard not to when he's already uncomfortable with his body.

"I'm thinking of keeping it this way," he says, thinking that this way, at least no one else would be attracted by his face only to walk away a few days later.

Of course, Masuda is right in front of him, with eyes widened in surprise.

"Why?" Masuda asks, his hands never faltering even as he speaks.

Yamapi lets his mind wander briefly before answering, "Don't know why I should. What do you think? You're the one who said I was perfect when we met."

"Huh?" Masuda blurts, "I did?"

So Masuda doesn't even remember that. Yamapi really shouldn't feel disappointed at things he has no control over, but he keeps thinking there's something he should continue grasping for, he just needs to figure out what it is himself.

"You definitely wouldn't think that now, would you?" Yamapi asks, though he's not sure what it is he wants to get out of the question.

"No!" Masuda screeches, then without taking a break quickly adds, "I mean, you're still perfect!"

Yamapi raises the tips of his lips into a smirk. Of all the time he's known Masuda, the other is never good with comforting people with words. Masuda's better with gestures and actions.

"Guess I'm just tired of looking pretty," Yamapi says.

Masuda doesn't have a response for that. Yamapi isn't looking for conversation anyway. The whole topic is making him uncomfortable, and so he's glad when the room fades into silence and Masuda's hands move onto his lower back.

Make that very glad, because he didn't know his muscles had tightened so much, but Masuda's gentle hands were kneading them to relax to a point he didn't know he could reach. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he allows himself to sink into it, letting everything around him dissolve into the fizzling background.

. . . . . . . . . .

By the time Yamapi gets home, the stars in the sky reveal just how late into the night it is.

He had spent most of the night standing in his lab, looking at what would be his leg if things turn out all right. He's always been confident with himself, he doesn't remember having failed in anything he tried hard enough in, but maybe that's also him being overly confident. Seeing the leg floating in the tube, Yamapi had begun to wonder why he hadn't trusted someone with more experience, someone with an actual license to do this.

It's not too late to back out, but it'd feel like cheating if he did. And Yamapi can see the perfect score for the project, it's just a breadth away, at the end of his education at the University. He just needs to convince himself like he convinced his mother...well, to leave him alone.

If he fails, they can always cut it off again to attach another one. This shouldn't make him feel better, but it helps, so Yamapi supposes it doesn't matter.

Yamapi prepares for a bath. With the rented wheelchair accompanying him, his missing leg doesn't hinder him much. By command, the chair can reach any height and move in any direction at a speed of his choice. It's so convenient that if they weren't prohibited and ridiculously expensive, Yamapi might consider buying one for daily use.

But he has to get off the chair for a bath, and that's when things get tiresome. His body's in a healthy state, and he has enough strength in his arms, but once he's in the tub, everything becomes a hassle. Reaching for the usual places he puts things prove to be impossible, something he learned the hard way, half wet and a distance away from the wheelchair.

He's about the run the water when his phone rings.

"Hey," he answers instinctively, nonchalantly checking the caller's name.

"Oi, Pi," a familiar voice says, "Bar night. Coming?"

Sometimes Yamapi really wonders how much time his friends spend not thinking. Or drinking, judging from the drunken slur coming through the speaker.

"Injured, remember?" Yamapi replies gruellingly. He switches on the camera, knowing that a holographic image would appear on the other end of the call.

Sure enough, he hears a shriek, and then some well wishes for him to get well and some broken plans for his recovery party that mostly consists of garbles and loud music in the background before the call ends.

Hesitantly, Yamapi raises his left arm to touch his cheek. Touching faintly, he can just barely feel through the scar tissues; it's like peeking at the scenery through a veil. The wound is nearly completely healed, but the scar is glaringly red compared to the rest of his face, and it's what most people see when they look at him, like his image starts with his scar.

He won't be partying anytime soon, that's for sure. Yamapi hasn't been in the mood for partying since he started he started this final project, maybe even before this, so it doesn't feel like much of a loss.

An hour later, when he flops down onto his bed ready to turn in for the night, it's completely out of the blue that he randomly remembers, Massu. Not the person, because he meets Masuda often enough that he correspondingly thinks about the guy rather often as well, but the nickname the other had said he could use.

He isn't sure he's completely awake when he sends Masuda -- Massu -- a mail with a simple message.

Good night.

. . . . . . . . . .

"Just get it off me," Yamapi commands, too exhausted to be polite.

Thankfully, both the hired anaesthesiologist and Massu hurry to push the equipments away from Yamapi. There's hardly any blood, with this being nanoscopic surgery, but Massu's carefully wiping everything clean anyway, making Yamapi wonder how many times he's been in a surgery room.

For the moment, he feels nothing. The pain and soreness will come later, after the anaesthesia wears off.

The surgery is complete, and Yamapi feels the urge to wipe his hands and walk away like he normally does after every other surgery. Except he's feeling the after effects of going through surgery -- at least it wasn't someone else handling his body -- and except for a dull ache, he can't feel the lower half of his body at all at the moment. Logic tells him he's finished with the surgery, but Yamapi's not feeling either of his legs, and it gives him the feeling that he has neither of his legs, that nothing is finished.

"Are you alright?" Massu asks softly, as if wary of spooking Yamapi.

"More or less," Yamapi says, "for now. I won't be feeling very well later, though."

Massu nods understandingly, and Yamapi wants to reach out to touch the guy's shoulders or back but instead he feels his own body giving out and suddenly, Massu's arms are supporting him while he's been lowered to a laying position.

"Urgh," Yamapi lets out, disgusted with himself.

"Uh, I don't think we should move you," Massu says. "So, Yamashita-kun, can you sleep here? Just relax, let me take care of the rest. It's, um, my job, you know. Recovering your body functions, that is. You'd have to work hard too, but I'll be there, so just go to sleep now, okay?"

Yamapi listens to Massu's voice, thinks it feels like a wave washing over him. Yamapi likes his own voice, though it's kind of difficult to hate your own voice when you have to listen to it every time you speak. But Massu's voice is entirely different, a steady gentle tone that's soft and cheery yet firm and occasionally, bouncy.

Their individual work don't really collide, but ever since the accident Massu visits his lab so frequently that Yamapi's gotten used to Massu's voice encouraging him, giving him energy to work on.

There's always some exercise or massage included in each visit, since Yamapi wants a speedy recovery and the best way to do that is to maintain all the strength in his muscles. But with the way Massu fussed over him, Yamapi wonders how people who didn't have their own personal physiatrist coped, because Yamapi couldn't have done half as much without Massu.

"Yeah," Yamapi says.

And before he knows it he's waking up, so he must have fallen asleep at some point. Warily, Yamapi sits up in a hurry to check whether there's anyone around. He can't have slept long if he doesn't even remember falling asleep.

With eyes half closed, Yamapi sees Massu sitting at the side of the surgery bed.

"Oh, you're awake," Massu says. "There are painkillers on the table. You said those were the right ones?"

He isn't in pain yet, but the stings are coming through. Yamapi gratefully grabs the painkillers and swallows them, noting that yes, they were the right ones. Sitting up, he also sees Massu's hands on his left leg, but instead of the massages he's used to seeing, Massu is drawing circles lightly with his thumbs.

"Can you feel me?" Massu asks.

Taken out of context, those words could mean...a lot of things. Things which Yamapi shouldn't be thinking of at all. He focuses on Massu's question, paying extra attention to his legs and he's probably just imagining it, but just barely, Yamapi thinks he does feel something.

"Not sure," he grunts, not willing to bring his own hopes up, let alone Massu's, in case he's wrong. "Aren't you going home?"

Massu continues to brush his fingers against Yamapi's leg. "What about you?"

It's Yamapi's turn to feel confused. "What about me?" he asks in return.

"Can you go home? Or do you need to stay here?" Massu says, "If you're staying, I can keep watch."

"You don't have to," Yamapi points out, "I can go home if I want. Don't think I'd have the energy for that, though. I'll go home tomorrow. You can go home and take a rest."

Massu quiets down. Probably deep in thought, if experience has taught Yamapi anything. Then, Massu's face brightens as he says animatedly, "I know, I can take you home! Just give me your address."

Yamapi shakes his head, "It's alright, just go home and rest. I'll be fine."

Massu doesn't give up. Privately, Yamapi thinks he never expected Massu to give up, even if that would be the rational thing to do. And maybe, though Yamapi would never admit it, he doesn't want Massu to give up, mostly because he does want to get into his own bed and sleep for the next twenty hours.

"You're not really injured anymore, just tired, right?" Massu says, "Let's get you home. It'd be more comfortable, and, ah, that makes me happy too."

"I can't move," Yamapi groans, not saying no but not saying yes either.

"Um, let me carry you, okay?" Massu asks.

Despite the question, Massu doesn't wait for Yamapi to reply. Yamapi nearly jumps out of his skin when he notices an arm snaking under his back, and he distantly sees another arm under his legs. And before he can warn Massu exactly how much he weights, or before he can utter anything in protest, Massu lifts him up and Yamapi should probably be embarrassed -- dear god, bridal style? -- but mostly, he's just exhausted and it's comfortable with someone taking care of him.

Yamapi closes his eyes. "You didn't give me a chance to say no."

Massu giggles, and Yamapi feels the vibrations going through him. He can imagine just how Massu looks right then, playful yet confident and reliable.

Massu lays Yamapi down onto his wheelchair, gently adjusting Yamapi's position. Yamapi then feels fabric covering his legs, must be a blanket, so Massu must have found it somewhere or had it with him all along.

Yamapi lets Massu work his way around him. Obediently, he tells Massu his address, wondering why he hasn't invited the other to his home before. He feels the chair moving, and he might be too trusting, but this is Masuda, someone Yamapi had already promised to trust. Someone he does trust, with rehab and with, well, whatever this is.

He dozes off once again, occasionally coming awake when they stop, or when Massu rests his hand on Yamapi's shoulder. Massu seems to realize that he woke Yamapi, because the hand quickly withdraws, and despite wanting to, Yamapi doesn't know how to ask for the comforting warmth to return.

Suddenly, like no time has passed, Massu's softly patting his forearm. "Hey, you're home."

Yamapi doesn't react, but he didn't have to. Massu wraps his fingers around Yamapi's arms and raises Yamapi's arm to touch the door. The door scans Yamapi's hand, his entire body as well though it couldn't be seen, and swings open soundlessly.

Somehow, Massu must have found his bedroom because Yamapi's being carried (again) and lowered onto the bed. He recognizes the familiar mattress, and the moment Massu lets him down Yamapi relaxes into it.

Remotely, he hears Massu's voice. "I'm leaving then, alright, Yamashita-kun?"

"Stay," Yamapi says without thinking, absently reaching out his arm to touch the empty area beside him.

"I really shouldn't," Massu says, and Massu's voice sounds different, almost choky, and it's enough to alert Yamapi. But before Yamapi can react, sit up and maybe say something, he hears the door close, leaving the ceiling as the only scenery.

. . . . . . . . . .

"We'll take a break later," Massu says, "But right now, come on, you can do this."

"Has anyone ever told you you're scary?" Yamapi retorts, "Because really, you are. That smile of yours is just a facade to fool everyone, isn't it?"

If anything, Massu seems to be smiling wider. Yamapi fakes a shudder, earning another laugh from Massu.

But the expectant look doesn't fade from Massu's expression. Yamapi grits his teeth as he grips the iron bars before him, lowering himself so that both his feet reach the floor. Finally standing up, he tries to balance himself without using his arms, testing each leg cautiously.

"You're still favouring your right leg," Massu says from the side, "You're the one that built it, you know it can take your weight."

When Yamapi doesn't move, Massu moves over and rests a hand on his right leg. Massu's intentions are clear -- he wants Yamapi to stop putting any weight on his right foot, even if he's still unused to his left one and Yamapi's quite sure he wouldn't be able to balance himself.

Massu had better catch him if he falls. It wouldn't be the first time.

His hand firmly on the rails, Yamapi slowly raises his right leg, a millimeter at a time. If Massu's growing impatient, the other definitely doesn't show it, his comforting palm now resting on Yamapi's lower back.

Yamapi grins in accomplishment when he's finally standing on one foot. He's still using some of his arm strength, but mostly just for balance, and his left foot is definitely carrying him just fine.

"See?" Massu says, "Oh, and don't move. For ten minutes."

Massu's the professional here, and it's kind of scary for Yamapi to realize that Massu's taking control of the situation. And yet it's reassuring as well, Yamapi thinks, because they've been working together for nearly five months and even if in the grand scheme of things, it's not that long an amount of time, it feels like forever.

He can even grudgingly admit that he likes Massu's company.

"Slave driver," Yamapi accuses without venom.

Massu laughs in reply. "Let's try walking later, too."

Yamapi merely groans in reply. Neither of them are the chatty type, and they settle into silence as Yamapi feels his muscles straining. It doesn't hurt, though, so he doesn't stop, knowing that standing for ten minutes shouldn't be a problem.

Walking might be, but with Massu guiding him, Yamapi thinks he can manage it.

It's an odd feeling, relying on someone else like this. It's not like he absolutely needs Massu's help, even without Massu he would push himself to recovery, but Massu seems to sense when Yamapi's able to continue without going over his limit and when Yamapi should rest. It's probably why most people rely on a physiatrist to help them recover, to shorten the recovery time.

But Yamapi isn't paying Massu. He suddenly realizes it, and wonders why he hadn't thought of this before. Should he? They're partners, and Yamapi does want to use this for the project. But then there's Akaki-san, who is recovering, albeit at a slower pace, according to Massu.

And exchanging money feels dirty somehow. Massu hasn't mentioned it, and while Massu acts perfectly professional, their interaction makes it seems like they're friends. Bringing in money would be...wrong, like buying friendship.

Yamapi would just to repay Massu some other way since it feels like he's in debt. He has no idea how, he rarely owes other people. Maybe he could even use this to his advantage, as an excuse to meet Massu after they hand in their report.

When ten minutes pass, Massu lets him go and guides him onto the wheelchair. After Yamapi takes a rest, they'd attempt walking together.

"Water?" Massu asks, handing Yamapi a water bottle. "And we should order food, I'm hungry."

"Hey, I was the one working," Yamapi complains, "you're just always hungry."

Massu laughs naturally, and their eyes meet. Yamapi may be imagining things, but he sees Massu's eyes wander, and wonder what Massu sees when he looks at him. An injured person? A scarred person? Or does he see nothing at all?

Later, when Massu's hands are at Yamapi's side while he's carefully moving his center of gravity from one foot to another, not quite moving forward yet, Yamapi can't help but ask, "You're not feeling sorry for me, are you?"

Massu looks genuinely surprised, leading Yamapi to believe anything he says. "Why would I?"

Yamapi refrains from saying anything, deciding that he's said enough stupid things for the day. Luckily, Massu doesn't seem bothered as they wordlessly move on.

. . . . . . . . . .

Taking small steps, Yamapi steps out the door. He's still carrying a cane, but he's walking, three weeks after reconstruction. It has to be some sort of record.

He's also returned the rental wheelchair. It'd cost him a fortune, but it was necessary, and too convenient for its own good. If Yamapi hadn't been determined to walk, he could have spend his life on that chair, and just the thought of that is terrifying. Just having one on campus would prove extremely handy -- just think, no more walks from the lab to the cafeteria.

The money hadn't been a problem, of course. Both the vehicle owner from the crash and his insurance helped with it, leaving enough behind for Yamapi to consider buying a car. Just, not yet. Maybe when he forgets about the lights he saw before the crash.

As Yamapi trots forward, he thinks of how he's finally gotten used to walking alone, even if it's been less than three months since the accident. Only two months were spent without a left leg, but Yamapi feels somehow vulnerable.

Or maybe it's because Massu was with him all that time.

He can't remember when he begun thinking of Massu as reliable. Massu has a nice smile, and seems energetic, but his sometimes childish actions mean he doesn't give a solid first impression.

But Massu is trustworthy, this Yamapi can say without faltering. Yamapi can still feel Massu's reassuring hands supporting him, and really, it's scary how fast humans can get used to something.

He's already compared Massu's smile with the sun before, and Yamapi thinks the comparison is accurate. Compassionate and generous, Massu gives off a gentle and heartfelt aura that reaches everyone around him.

And maybe, to people who's never met either of them, it'd sound like Yamapi's praising Massu too much, but it's what Yamapi truly thinks wholeheartedly.

That's when it hits Yamapi suddenly. In horror, he realizes that he wants to experience it again.

Not losing a leg (which should go without saying, but you never know with some people), but having Massu support him and encourage him. He thinks about the people Massu helped before and would work with later on, and he's bitterly jealous because all those people have experienced Massu's warmth and Yamapi's only one of a thousand.

And because Yamapi's on a honest streak, he thinks about Massu's fingers and those arms supporting his weight. He wants to kill anyone Massu will touch ever again because Yamapi can still feel the warm strength within those muscles and the stern stubbornness under that smile, and he wants to touch it, wants Massu within his grasp and under him, above him, everywhere.

Oh god.

Yamapi doesn't try explaining it to himself. What would be the point? He thought of all those thoughts himself. And there's no reason to lie to himself, denial has never been his strong point.

He needs to sit down. Preferably somewhere nice and quiet, but the sidewalk would have to do.

A stranger meets him at the eye and flinches away abruptly. Yamapi reminds himself that it's not even that hideous a scar; people are just unused to seeing marks of injury when medics can fix everything.

So, what are his options? On the surface, this changes nothing. But Yamapi knows this changes everything, because viewing someone as friend or liking them...a lot, there's a world of differences between the two. And Yamapi thinks, maybe this is a recent development, but possibly, it's always been there, and that's exactly why he's had trouble identifying Massu as a friend.

Since he's in a dilemma, a people-related one, Yamapi decides to call Koyama. He needs advice on this.

"Yamapi!" Koyama replies enthusiastically. "How are you?"

"I may have a problem," Yamapi says, "and I need a lunch partner. You free?"

A pause. "Since you're calling me, it can't be health problems. People problems, or other problems?" Koyama says, "Because for most problems, Shige's probably the person to ask. He's busy though -- hey Shige, what are you busy with? Um, he said some technical thing I couldn't catch. I don't mind having lunch together though!"

Shige's full name is Kato Shigeaki, and he's a close friend of Koyama's. Shige is a technologist, working with machines and spaceships or something to that effect, and people say he's brilliant at programming. Yamapi wouldn't know -- he's always preferred working with biological beings, and other things usually slip off his radar.

"People problems," Yamapi sighs into the phone, "I'm not even sure I want to talk about it yet. Are you on campus or are you at work?"

"At work," Koyama says, "but I was going there anyway. You know how close the Station is to the University. Just warning you, um...I'm not sure how to say this, but Tegoshi would probably be there as well. He says you're probably unhappy with him?"

Tegoshi. Who, the last time Yamapi saw him, had been flirting with Massu. Chatting happily, anyway, but Tegoshi's voice makes everything he says sounds like flirting. Yamapi never asked Massu about Tegoshi, he couldn't, and now the idea terrifies him. What if they are together, in that way, and Massu just never mentioned it?

Yamapi stops the destructive trend of thought before it goes somewhere. If he guides the conversation where he wants it to go, he could use this as a chance to find out.

Naturally, Yamapi can't even bring himself to mention Massu. Luckily, Koyama doesn't pry, because with Tegoshi there, it's just too awkward. They bring up pointless topics one after another, economics and old age and cross-planet travels, and Yamapi even manages to remember why he liked Tegoshi.

Until, for no reason at all, Tegoshi asks, "Massu is a bit confusing, isn't he?" with a sweet smile, his slanted smile revealing his devilish side.

"Not really," Yamapi bites out, attempts to glare even if he's more resigned than malicious.

"You needn't worry, though," Tegoshi says, "If that's what you wanted to talk about. I told Koyama, but he says you won't believe him."

Yamapi never thought of Tegoshi as sharp, but he takes note to never underestimate people who excel at psychology. Although he isn't sure who and what it is he's supposed to believe.

They were finishing eating anyway. Yamapi cleans up his tray and stands up, Koyama soon following. Tegoshi gets Koyama to clean up his tray for him, which doesn't make sense but Yamapi guesses Tegoshi likes being pampered and Koyama doesn't mind doing it. He bids them farewell with a smile and thinks perhaps he should contact his friends more.

Yamapi picks up his cane, then lays it back down. He can manage walking back without it, it'll just take longer and he'll have to more careful. He'll manage.

. . . . . . . . . .

They're writing their final report together, including every detail of Yamapi's recovery -- a full one -- and all the notes they took in the process.

Yamapi never asked what happened with their first patient, though he guesses that it probably went alright. Massu doesn't say much about it, and they unanimously decided that since the professors agreed, they might as well make Yamapi their official case. It's a better story, by any rate.

Halfway through comparing their reports and figuring out the best way to fit them together, Yamapi comes to a decision.

"I'm reconstructing my face," Yamapi declares.

"Oh," Massu replies, surprised. He puts down the keyboard, looking up at Yamapi, "I thought you didn't want it?"

"I guess I'm just superficial, like everyone else," Yamapi replies. "I thought I'd be alright with it but I'm not, not really, and I hate the pity looks and I hate it even more when people won't look at me and I feel petty but I just," he looks at Massu, searching for words.

And maybe you'd look at me once more this way, Yamapi doesn't say.

Massu isn't a superficial person. Even when the guy obviously has preferences for looks, Yamapi knows that Massu gets close with anyone who's willing to open themselves to him. How Massu never attempted to get closer to Yamapi or Tegoshi just proves that Massu searches for more than looks in his companions.

But, they are friends, or what people would call friends. Call Yamapi shallow, but he can't help but think that maybe, Massu would consider him once more if he regains his looks. That maybe, he could at the very least, bring Massu to blush again with more than teasing words.

"-It's okay," Massu pats Yamapi's shoulders lightly. "It's Yamashita-kun's decision, so it's okay."

"It's not!" Yamapi emphasizes, needing Massu to understand. "I don't want people to like me because of how I look and it's just a scar, I know it is, but I want people to like me too and this is where it gets me!"

"I like Yamashita-kun either way," Massu says. "Scarless because that's how I got to know Yamashita-kun, or with the scar because that's how we became close."

"Don't say things you don't mean," Yamapi says bitterly, because Massu may be a kind and friendly soul, but his crush had been so cruelly brief. So it may be that they have an achingly pleasant friendship, but it's obvious that Massu doesn't like him any more than that.

"Eh, but I really do like Yamashita-kun!" Massu jumps up from his seat, as if to verify his case.

"Prove it, then," Yamapi challenges, eyes glinting.

Massu seems to be visibly pondering what to do. Yamapi waits, thinking that right then, he's willing to accept anything Massu does.

He's still surprised when Massu reaches out a hand and touches his face. Yamapi feels Massu's palm caressing his left cheek, almost cradling his scar. Even through the scar tissues Yamapi feels it and his senses skyrocket.

Throat dry, Yamapi tries swallowing, but the lump in his throat doesn't go away. And then Massu's moving closer, for one startling moment Yamapi's panics, is he going to kiss me, and he can't think at all, can't move; he's petrified at the spot.

Massu directs a smile in his direction, but before Yamapi can relax as he usually does when Massu smiles, Massu moves even closer, until Massu's lips are ridiculously close and oh god, Massu is kissing his scar.

Without realizing it, Yamapi's holding his breath, terrified of scaring Massu away. Do friends do this? No, they don't, common sense tells Yamapi this. Massu's kissing his scar, kissing his cheek. So what if Yamapi has a scar there, it's still his face, and Massu's kissing him on his cheek.

Then, Massu pulls away, but they're still close enough to kiss and all Yamapi can focus on is Massu's lips, Massu's tongue unconsciously licking his lips and Massu's lips glistening under the illumination.

Yamapi lets out a groan, before he pulls Massu into a kiss. He's ready to back off any moment, jump away and think of a good excuse (that starts with the ever mature 'you kissed me first!'), but Massu wraps his arms around his neck and they're both giving everything they have into the kiss.

When they finally pull away, Yamapi sees the brightest smile he's ever seen on Massu.

"Nnngh," Yamapi manages, somehow losing the ability to speak.

Massu seems to be having the same problem, but his smile expresses everything Yamapi wants to know, and he's returning the smile with the same fervour.

"Does this mean...?" Yamapi tries asking.

"I like you!" Massu blurts, blushing and nodding at the same time.

Yamapi bursts into laughter. Massu pouts, but it's hard to bring Yamapi down when he realizes that, hell, Tegoshi might be right after all. They should talk, about what they do want maybe, but for now Yamapi's happy just enjoying being with Massu.

"I think I figured that out," Yamapi laughs, "But still, you sure never acted like it. I thought you had a crush on Tegoshi!"

"Eh?" Massu exclaims loudly. "Really? Why?"

"You're kind of obvious when you crush on someone," Yamapi says.

Massu has the decency to blush. "People tell me that a lot. Usually everyone knows even before I say anything so, uh, I thought it'd be the same when I...um, when I...eh, really, really like someone?"

"You definitely weren't," Yamapi says.

"But you didn't say anything either!" Massu complains, "And I even told you I had a crush on you, but you acted like you didn't care."

They look at each other, and both seem to realize how purposeless their exchange is when they grin at the same time. Their work lies on the desk, ignored but not forgotten. They can get back to it later.

"I'm still getting my face back," Yamapi says.

"Hmmm?" Massu replies in confusion, "Why?"

"You totally like my face," Yamapi says, "Admit it. And I like making you blush."

Massu yelps in protest. And Yamapi thinks, this is perfection, whatever perfection is.

Funny where it comes from. A project he never found interesting, something he only decided on so that he could graduate. Yamapi still wants to work in Technology Embedment; he already has ideas he wants to test out for Ryo's chip, that much hasn't changed. But, laughing with Massu and discussing everything and nothing with the other -- Yamapi doesn't want those to change either.

His leg, his face, his looks, anything could happen to those. As long as Massu's around, Yamapi thinks he'll be fine.