After Shipping

[A/N: With New Game!! complete, here’s a collection short after the fact scenes. Spoilers for the finale! The timelines for these stories might not be entirely concurrent. ]

Aoba was smiling as she sat at the computer.

“Peco’s selling well, it seems,” Hifumi said, and Aoba jumped.

“Gah! You’ve gotten way too good at sneaking up on me,” Aoba said, putting a hand over her heart.

“Or maybe you’re just getting too used to my presence,” Hifumi countered, and smiled at Aoba as she swivelled the chair around to face her fiance.

“Shouldn’t it work the other way, that I get better at noticing you?” Aoba asked with a wry smile. “But yeah, it seems like the game is going to be a success.” Her smiled waned a little, and she turned back towards the screen. “But…”

Hifumi draped herself over the back of the chair and embraced Aoba. “But you’re still worried it’s all because of Kou-chan?”

“Ah, hah. Am I that easy to read?” Aoba asked, leaning back gently, and glancing over her shoulder.

“To me, certainly. Though I’d be surprised if anyone hadn’t noticed by now,” Hifumi said with a hint of teasing. Aoba let out a slight ‘urk’ sound. “Everyone in the office recognises your efforts, though. I’m sure it will get through to the fans as well. At least some of them.” Hifumi’s tone turned gentle. “But I wonder if maybe Kou-chan also felt that.”

“Yagami-san? You think so?” Aoba asked, and gently grabbed onto Hifumi’s sleeve.

“This was a tough project in many ways, both for you and for her,” Hifumi said, and started stroking Aoba’s hair. “I think she was worried she was overshadowing your efforts. Holding you back. Especially since the key art thing.” Aoba tensed a little at the memory. She kept telling herself she had made her peace with it, and that was probably true, but there was still a slight sting attached to it.

“Does that mean it’s my f-” Aoba started to ask, but Hifumi cut her off.

“Ssh ssh ssh, absolutely not. You mustn’t think that way. She would just scold you for it, and so will I,” Hifumi said sternly. “I’m sure there was a lot more at play than just that one thing. I know Kou-chan pretty well, after all.” She sounded a little proud of that.

Aoba tilted her head back a little. “I was surprised you didn’t have more to say about her leaving, actually. You’ve known Yagami-san and Toyama-san the longest of the rest of us,” she said.

Hifumi blushed. “You know I’m not good with words… and don’t like to meddle… besides, you and Rin-chan said basically all that needed to be said,” she said a little hesitantly. Maybe she should have made some speech of her own, but she wouldn’t have known what to say. Once Kou’s mind was set, that was it. She was going for it. “She’ll be back,” Hifumi added out loud. If there was one regret it was maybe that she hadn’t really declared how much she had valued Kou’s guidance and friendship. Maybe she should send her a mail later.

“Yeah… she promised,” Aoba said wistfully, and lightly kissed Hifumi’s hand.

Hifumi smiled. “Speaking of promises, remember what we talked about?” she asked. Hifumi would remind her if she didn’t, but she’d also need to reprimand her. Her little bad girl.

“Huh?” Aoba was confused for a moment, before she realised what Hifumi meant. “Oh! That we’d discuss the wedding once the game was complete.” That was definitely a better topic. Aoba smiled, and hugged Hifumi’s arm.

“Yes!” Hifumi sounded very cheerful. “I was thinking this Spring. We should at least wait past your birthday, so you’re allowed to drink at your own wedding.” The tinge of humour in her voice didn’t go unnoticed.

“Ugh, right… I guess thinking ahead like that is what makes you Leader,” Aoba teased back a little.

Hifumi rolled her eyes. “You can’t fluster me with that any more, I’m too used to it,” she said, and tickled Aoba’s neck a little. “More seriously, a late March or early April wedding sounds nice, with the cherry blossoms in full bloom.” Hifumi lost herself in the fantasy a little.

“That does sound nice. Especially with us meeting during that time of year too,” Aoba smiled warmly at the memory of her first meeting with Hifumi. She wasn’t sure if it counted as love at first sight, but there had certainly been something about this shy woman that made Aoba want to bother her. She was cute when she looked uncomfortable. A shame that was getting increasingly harder to do. “Will I be wearing the tuxedo?” she asked.

Hifumi shook her head. “We can both wear dresses, silly. In fact, I insist upon seeing you in a dress.” She sounded quite determined.

Aoba giggled. “I’m okay with that,” she said. While she probably wouldn’t stack up to Hifumi, she had still hoped to wear one. A little. It was a little embarrassing to stand like that in front of people, but… also a little exciting.

“Though…” Hifumi pondered. “For cosplay purposes, I could put on a tux, and princess-carry you for a couple of quick photos. I’d treasure them forever.” That seemed like an increasingly good idea the more she thought about it.

“Huh?! H-hang on, you wouldn’t actually do that, right?” Aoba asked, but Hifumi was just humming happily. “Hifumi…?”

“I can’t believe you also wanted to just to go France,” Nene said grumpily. She had been mortified when Umiko had asked Yamato, and she still hadn’t quite let go of it.

“It would be a great opportunity,” Umiko said as a matter of fact. The weather wasn’t really good for walking around much today, so she had agreed to go with Nene to karaoke, so long as they stopped by a cat cafe afterwards.

“And you would have gone without even asking me?” Nene asked. She was clearly sulking, with arms folded, and hadn’t even picked a song yet.

“Well… Yagami-san didn’t ask Toyama-san for permission either,” Umiko replied, a little defensively. Sure she had been a little drunk at the time, but it’s not like she wouldn’t have wanted it otherwise. It really would have been a great opportunity. Though she was aware there wasn’t really anyone who could fill her role at Eagle Jump yet.

“And we saw how that turned out,” Nene grumbled. “Are you saying you want me to clutch onto your shirt and cry?” Now she was pouting too. She really could be a handful.

“That would be an interesting sight,” Umiko admitted with a slight smile. Nene could be clingy sometimes anyway, but not exactly in that way.

“I really can’t believe you,” Nene said. “I bet you just wanted to make a shooter or military game anyway.” Maybe she was being unreasonable, but she thought she had a right to be upset.

“Well, no…” Umiko said, blushing a little bit. While she wouldn’t say it was one of her reasons, it might have been something that had crossed her mind in the process. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I won’t just up and leave you,” she said sincerely.

“Really?” Nene asked, glancing sideways at Umiko.

“I swear,” Umiko said. She could already tell Nene was unwinding. The girl was very easy to read.

“Well then…” Nene’s frown slowly turned into a clever smile. “Seal it with a kiss,” she said, looking up at Umiko.

“Pardon? Here?” Umiko got a little flustered, causing Nene’s smile to become a grin.

“Absolutely. It’s just us two here, right?” Nene said slyly.

“Yes, but… someone could come in,” Umiko tried to argue. Even though she knew that was a weak excuse.

“We haven’t ordered anything yet, and we still have plenty of time left,” Nene said, feeling pretty confident she had this.

“Ngh…” It wasn’t like Umiko wasn’t tempted, but she didn’t like doing stuff in public. Though it was true that it was very unlikely they’d get interrupted here, and no one would see. “Alright,” she said, and Nene brightened up immediately. “On one condition. Wear the suit next time you come over.” She had been meaning to bring this up, so why not make it a little bargain.

“Eh? Suit?” Nene was bewildered.

Umiko nodded. “The one you wore at the job interview.” She could see recollection strike Nene, and she smiled.

“W-what? You remember that?” Nene had to ask. She felt rather embarrassed at that memory being brought back up. It had felt really awkward.

“Of course,” Umiko said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “You were so cute. The memory is burned into my mind.” She was smiling quite sincerely.

“Uh… but… that…” Nene had some issues with this, but Umiko was giving her the ‘well?’ look, and maybe it wasn’t so bad if Umiko really thought she looked cute in it. “Fine… I’ll do it,” she said. With a slight blush she leaned closer, and pushed herself upwards a little.

Umiko leaned down to meet her, and their lips locked together. That had been a good bargain after all. Maybe it even counted as a win-win.

Nene put her arms around Umiko, who responded in kind. Their kiss went on for a little while. They’d had some practice, and were pretty good at it by now. Slowly they broke apart.

“Satisfied?” Umiko asked while catching her breath.

“Mm… for now,” Nene said, and giggled. For some reason she never got tired of this. She finally looked at the screen for selecting songs. Something a little upbeat would be nice.

“Sometimes I ask myself if you’re worth how troublesome you are,” Umiko said, and Nene had a hard time gauging how serious she was.

“Have you found an answer?” Nene asked, hoping Umiko was just teasing her.

“I say yes,” Umiko answered, and Nene couldn’t help feeling a little relieved. Sometimes she genuinely worried Umiko would get tired of her. Then Umiko added: “For now.”

Nene quickly turned to look at Umiko, and was greeted with a wry smile. “Hey, that’s mean!” she protested.

Umiko chuckled a little. “The song’s starting. Better hurry up and sing,” she teased.

Maybe Nene was the one who had to ask herself whether it was worth it. Ah, who was she kidding? She was too in love to give up on this. “Just you watch, I’ll blow you away!” Nene said as she hopped to her feet.

You already have, Umiko thought as she sat back to listen.

“You should come to France,” Kou suddenly said.

“What? I can’t do that!” Rin said, rather flustered. “I don’t have a job waiting, nor am I so irresponsible as to just abandon Eagle Jump.”

Kou lifted the phone away a little to sigh, before saying: “I meant to come visit.”

There’s a pause. “Oh. O-of course, that’s what you meant. Of course. Well… I don’t know…” Rin pondered it.

“Come on,” Kou said. “I know you have vacation days saved up. I could show you around, and we could… er… be together.” Surely that counted as a good idea.

“… I’ll think about it,” Rin finally answered. Of course she wanted to go, but she was worried about it being too hard to leave again. Maybe she should give herself a little more time to build up strength first. Besides… “I still haven’t completely forgiven you for not talking it over with me, you know.” Knowing that was just what Kou was like hadn’t really made it any easier.

“Yeah, I know…” Kou said solemnly. Even though they had made a vow to make it work, and she was fairly certain they could pull it off, the guilt would take a little longer to go away. She had gotten so wrapped up in herself again. Convinced herself she wasn’t needed, wasn’t appreciated, without actually stopping to ask. But she had to be better than to wallow in her regrets. She had a way forward again, and she had to walk it.

“Kou-chan…” Rin said, barely louder than a whisper. She would support Kou, so she could come back without regrets. Time flew quickly, so they’d surely be back together before they knew it. That didn’t mean she was going to cut her all the slack in the world, though. “So are you getting settled in properly?” she asked.

“I suppose so,” Kou replied. “The company’s helped me out, and the place I’ve gotten seems nice. European architecture is a bit weird though. I’m glad I got a normal-looking toilet. I read some horror stories online.” The benefits of online research were balanced by the risks of finding stuff you didn’t ever want to know.

“How is the area? Have you found a grocery store? Learned how the public transit works?” Rin might have recorded her worries in a little notebook as they popped into her mind.

Kou looked out the window. It wasn’t like she had a great view, but it was okay. “My place is outside of the city centre, so it’s fairly open out here, with a fair amount of greenery. The houses look weird, but the area is nice.” Movies and TV didn’t truly show off how strange Europe could be. “And I had the subway system explained to me. Wrote down the stops I have to go to. The company helped set me up with a transit pass.” Plus Rin kept texting her stuff to remember to do, which had helped her keep track of things.

“That sounds good,” Rin said. Some amount of relief washed through her.

“For groceries I have only found this huge supermarket,” Kou said. It was honestly a bit intimidating. “Not seen any convenience stores yet, so until I find one the supermarket is my only choice. I also don’t really get Euros yet, so I’m not entirely sure how cheap or expensive things are. At least they still have cup noodles, even if I don’t recognise any of the brands.” She wouldn’t say they were as good as those back home either, but they were fine, and more importantly simple.

“Kou-chan, you have to eat proper food,” Rin chided. Even if she wasn’t sure what counted as ‘proper food’ in France, surely it had to be better than just cup noodles. Surely they still had rice, fish, meat, and other normal stuff.

“Yeah yeah, I will,” Kou said. At least she would sometimes. Probably. No need to add that part to Rin. “Oh, and get this! I don’t think they’re any better at English in this country than in Japan.”

“Wait, really?” Rin-chan said, rather surprised.

“Yup! I’m decent at English, so I thought I’d be okay, but I’ve met several people who don’t speak it at all,”  Kou explained. Since it would probably be a while until she spoke any French, that was a small problem, but she had gotten language tapes and stuff. “Which got a little awkward when I tried to visit a cafe, and none of the servers spoke English.” She had to giggle at it in hindsight, even if it had been really awkward at the time.

“That’s really weird,” Rin said. Of course she knew the different European countries had different languages, but part of her had believed that all of them understood English. “Now I’m a little more worried… you’re sure you’ll be fine?”

“Yeah, I’ll adapt,” Kou said. At least she hoped that was the case.

“Have you done laundry? Had a shower? Cleaned the place? Arranged your underwear in drawers?” Rin was now going over her list and asking.

“Yes, I’ve been a good girl, mother,” Kou said sweetly. Maybe she hadn’t done all of those things, but it was much easier to nod along than to admit it.

It went quiet on the other end of the line. As Kou was about to ask if she was still there, Rin said in a very serious tone: “I didn’t know you were into kinky stuff like that, Kou-chan.”

“Huh? W-wait, what do you mean?!”

“Phew! Even I can do a stew well,” Hajime said, falling over onto her back.

“Yeah, it was okay,” Yun said. Hajime had invited her over for dinner, to pay her back for getting to join Yun’s family for the hot pot. And maybe sort of to celebrate the launch of the game. They didn’t really need that much of a reason, right?

Hajime pushed herself up on her elbows, and looked at Yun. “You seemed to quite eagerly help yourself to seconds,” she teased.

Yun blushed lightly, and looked away. “Maybe it was a little better than okay,” she admitted, which prompted a chuckle from Hajime.

“See, I know you better than you think,” Hajime said, and cracked a grin. “Anyway, congratulations on another game well shipped!” She lay back down and looked at the ceiling.

“Same to you,” Yun said. “You’re the one who had a bigger responsibility this time. How was that?” she asked, having seen seen quite clearly how fired up Hajime had been at times.

“Gratifying. Terrifying. Exhilarating. Tiring.” Hajime had several feelings on it, especially now that it was over. “But all in all I enjoyed it. I’m hoping for even more input on the next project!” Though it had been a lot of work. “Well… maybe not too much…” she admitted. It wasn’t good to run yourself into the ground, after all.

“Hah. Maybe Hazuki-san’s learned better than to listen to any more of your ideas,” Yun said with a smirk.

“Hey!” Hajime lifted her head enough to scowl at Yun. “How about you?” Her expression softened, and she slowly sat back up. “You’ve seemed a lot more driven this time.”

“Are you saying I’m normally lazy?” Yun asked with a huff.

“Come on, you know that’s not what I meant,” Hajime said, and sighed. Sometimes Yun could be a little difficult.

“Well… I suppose I had a few revelations. I’d like to be more active. Pursue my goals harder,” Yun admitted after a little pause. Letting herself get caught in negativity wasn’t going to get her anywhere.

“So you’re going for character designer next time?” Hajime asked, grinning slightly.

“I’m going to try,” Yun said. Even if she thought it was hopeless, it was well past time to go for it.

Hajime was taken off guard by the honest answer, and was momentarily lost for words. “Well, maybe Aoba-chan will become AD next time. That’d up your odds,” she teased.

“Nah, surely it’ll be Hifumi who becomes AD now. Though I’d probably have tough competition either way,” Yun said. If she was more driven herself now, she still wasn’t sure if she measured up to Momo in the determination department.

“Poor Hifumi,” Hajime said with a note of sympathy. She got up and started clearing the table. Might as well get that done sooner rather than later. Yun got up and helped. “Hey, something that’s been on my mind,” Hajime said as she was filling the sink with water. “Did you ever find out who Umiko-san was going out with?”

“Huh, you haven’t noticed?” Yun was a little surprised. She knew Hajime could be a little dense, but she had thought this was surely too obvious. “She’s dating Sakura-san.” Since before Nene got hired, but it was probably best to not fuel any gossip surrounding that.

“Aoba-chan’s friend?” Hajime blinked, and Yun nodded in response. “Geez, everyone in the office is pairing up,” Hajime said as she started on the dishes. “First Yagami-san and Toyama-san.” Though Kou was rather dense about it. “Then Aoba-chan and Hifumi.” Even Hajime couldn’t help but notice the interest between those two. “Then Momo-chan and Naru-chan came along.” Granted those two seemed to be have been together well before they  joined Eagle Jump. “And now Umiko-san and Sakura-san.” That one was more unexpected to Hajime. Those two seemed like complete… opposites.

Hajime paused, not quite done, but something had come to mind. “Hey, Yun… how come we’ve never…” Not exactly a new thought, but one she had never gotten around to acting on.

“Hm? Never what?” Yun asked as she put the leftovers in the fridge.

“You know… gotten together,” Hajime said a little awkwardly.

Yun would have dropped what she was holding, if she hadn’t just placed it down. “Huh?” She closed the fridge door. “Erm… well…” There wasn’t really a good answer to that. It certainly wasn’t that she didn’t feel anything, it was just that it had never picked up. “You didn’t seem that into the idea when Aoba asked about us.”

“Eh? Come on, that’s not fair. She caught me off guard,” Hajime protested. “Besides, you didn’t exactly show any more enthusiasm yourself,” she countered with.

“Er… that’s…” Yun fumbled for an answer. “I don’t know…” she ended up saying.

Hajime dried her hands, and took a deep breath. “Yun, listen.” She turned towards her. “I like you. Have done for a long time,” she said bluntly. Yun started blushing. “I’ve just… hey, let’s go on a date!”

Yun blinked. “Right now?” she had to ask.

“Um, I was thinking like next week, but sure, if you want,” Hajime said brightly. She was blushing too, but doing her best to ignore the heat in her cheeks. “Somewhere it can be just the two of us.”

Yun looked around, then at Hajime. “It’s just the two of us right here…” she said, and smiled.

“Dinner is served,” Naru declared, and Momo hurried over.

“No meat?” Momo asked as she looked at the table. She had sort of known as she hadn’t smelled any cooking, but she had kept hoping.

“We still can’t afford meat every day,” Naru said as she fetched some condiments she had forgotten. “But I promise we’ll get some for the weekend!”

Momo was satisfied enough with that. At least she had something to look forward to. She sat down, said a quick: “Let’s eat,” and started helping herself. She was starving.

Naru cracked open the bottle of sparkling (non-alcoholic) cider they had been saving. “We’ve had our first game launch! Feels good, right?” She grinned widely at Momo.

“Mhm,” Momo chewed and swallowed her mouthful. “Very satisfying. Even though we came in late,” she said. They hadn’t gotten to contribute that much this time, but their work was still in the game. Next time they’d do more. Better.

“Haha, I’m glad to see you’re so into this,” Naru said cheerfully. “It feels a little unreal to me. Though I had to learn a few hard lessons…” It had been a bit humiliating, but she understood better now. She’d do a lot better on the next project. “Speaking of, are you friends with Suzukaze-san now?” she asked before she took her first bite.

“Eh? What, no. We’re still rivals,” Momo said firmly.

“Rivals can still be friends,” Naru commented. She definitely thought the two of them seemed to be getting along better.

“Well… I… I guess I understand her better now. Her feelings, and position,” Momo said. She had seen Aoba as a bitter rival when she first started. But now it was perhaps not so much bitter, just rivalry. Did that count as friendship? “I am still not going to lose to her, though.” She was determined about that.

“Eheh, that is very you,” Naru said. Certain things didn’t change, it seemed. Well, that was fine too. If Momo changed too much, that’d be weird.

It went quiet for a moment before Momo asked: “Have you properly made up with Sakura-san now?”

“Um, yeah… I had misjudged her,” Naru said, squirming a little. That had been another hard lesson, one that she possibly felt even worse about than all the mistakes she made on her code. “Thanks, by the way. If you hadn’t talked to her, I might not have come to my senses on my own.” She really had thought everything was over.

“That was an accident,” Momo said, blushing. Even if it had worked out, she had done what Naru had asked her not to. “But you’re welcome.”

Naru giggled, and they went back to eating in silence. When they were done eating, Naru found herself gazing at Momo’s chest.

“Have you gotten bigger again?” she asked with a sly smile.

Momo went pink, and gave Naru a stern look. “How dare! My bras still fit perfectly, I’ll have you know!” she declared boldly. Such nerve.

“Ahahaha, I’m just teasing,” Naru said, and grinned wide. The reaction she had gotten was totally worth it.

“It’s not funny,” Momo grumbled. Embarrassing is what it was. Naru could be such a meanie.

Naru got up. “I’ll make it up to you,” she said cheerfully, and headed towards the fridge. “While I couldn’t afford meat, I was able to get us some treats for dessert.” Momo perked up. Naru plucked something out of the fridge. “I got us a couple of pudding cups!” she said triumphantly, holding one in each hand. “They were on sale. I have one with blueberry sauce, and one with strawberry sauce. Which do you want?”

Momo thought it over. Both of them sounded good, and she was certainly in the mood for something sweet. But there was something that tempted her more. “Naru,” she said simply.

“Yes?” Naru answered.

“I want Naru for dessert,” Momo said, and got up. She licked her lips.

“W-what?” Naru blinked in surprise as Momo started walking closer. “B-but I haven’t showered yet,” she said. They had been at work all day, and she had started cooking while Momo showered.

“I don’t care,” Momo said, still walking at a steady pace.

“We haven’t cleared the table yet,” Naru said, swallowing hard. It was a little warm in here all of a sudden, and her mouth felt dry.

“I don’t care,” Momo repeated, coming around to Naru’s side of the kitchen counter. She stopped, and faced her with twinkling eyes.

“The pudding will get warm…” Naru said, though it didn’t sound like much of a protest. More of a statement.

“I.” Momo grabbed her top. “Don’t.” She lifted it up. “Care.” And threw it away, exposing herself for Naru’s pleasure.

Naru stared for a minute, then put the pudding down on the counter. Oh well, she thought. I tried. Then she jumped Momo.

~Wulf

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Posted on September 29, 2017, in Fiction, Sorta reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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