It wasn't until around halfway through the school year that Kazuya realized his view from his dorm room window sucked.
His desk, where he spent the majority of his waking hours in the room—which was already limited as it was, since he virtually spent his entire day in class or on the baseball field—was situated at the far end of the room. The head of his bed faced the window. His room was small, as it was one of the rare doubles in the dormitory. However, it wasn't small enough that he could look out his window from anywhere in the room. In fact, he had to climb up on his bed and practically press his face against the window to see the view.
Kazuya didn't fall asleep easily. He went through phases. Sometimes he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Other times, he looked up at the blank ceiling for hours on end until he grew so weary he finally slipped away. As it was, it wasn't until halfway through the school year, at a time when he should have been getting every hour of sleep he could manage in preparation for the upcoming tournament, that he realized how limited the view from his window was.
He had just been about to take off his glasses and lie down for the night, when he realized with a spiking sensation of dread that he'd forgotten to do an assignment due in class the next day. Normally, Kazuya would've shrugged it off, but his test scores had been flagging lately due to the pressure of the daily baseball practices. Finally, after several long minutes, he forced himself up into a sitting position. Thankfully, his backpack was stranded on the floor right beside the bed. Reaching over, he zipped open his backpack and began to pull out workbooks with an almost vengeful spirit – when all of a sudden, he must've gotten overexcited, for one book flew out of his hand. It hit the window with a slightly worrying thumping sound before sliding down the crack between the wall and the bed.
Kazuya hesitated. Would it be faster to duck under the bed to grab it, or to lean over into the gap to try and scoop it up with his fingers?
In the end, his desire to stay in the relative warmth of the bed won out. Dragging himself to the bed's head, he looked down into the dark gap. Luckily, the book had gotten trapped halfway down. Reaching down, he easily retrieved it. When he looked up however, he found his face, glasses and all, pressing almost directly against the glass of the window.
He would've moved away immediately, if the cool sensation radiating off the glass hadn't felt pleasant. And as he kneeled there, a thought drifted into his head. It wasn't a sudden realization. Nor was it gradual. It was somewhere in between, as his eyes and vision adjusted to the dim lighting of the outside, and his breath came out as white fog against the window pane.
Most of the view was obstructed by the drooping branches of molting trees. The scant little Kazuya could see beyond that was the dull pavement of the highway and the rusting backs of metal signs. It could've been due to the fact that it was nighttime, and that there were hardly any passing cars to brighten up the view. But it made Kazuya wonder why they'd even bothered putting a window there.
Suddenly, for some incomprehensible reason, he was reminded of the story of the frog and the well. A long time ago, in a memory like the flame of a distant candlelight seen across the harbor, Kazuya had once been read to in bed. Despite his relatively young age, it felt as though it had been a very long time ago. The story had been that a frog born in a well, thought that all it could see from its vantage point was the entirety of the world. Of course, the moral was that what it'd seen was only a very small, negligible part of the real world.
In a vague, detached sort of way, Kazuya thought he could relate. Except in his case, instead of a small circular-shaped piece of sky, what he got was a couple of raggedy tree branches and grey pavement. He had to wonder – had the frog ever wandered from its well and realized the truth, how would it have reacted? Would it have been scared? Or would it have wanted to know more about the rest of the outside world?
With a shrug, Kazuya looked down from the window. Turning around, he flipped open his math workbook. What did the view from his window matter? He'd never thought too much about such things anyways. And if he ever once had, he'd long since stopped caring.
Several nights later, Kazuya woke up to a terrible thirst in his throat.
For a few minutes, he blinked hazily up at the ceiling, wondering whether he was awake or dreaming and hoping the thirst would go away. It wasn't the first time it had happened. Occasionally, and almost always at night, his throat would choke up and become unbearably dry. It was a strange kind of thirst. Even drinking water didn't quench it. The only thing that seemed to make it go away was by simply waiting for it to pass, which it always did. It came and went without warning, like the ebb of a wave.
Kazuya knew that if he waited there in the darkness he would eventually fall asleep. Then when he woke up, it would be morning, and it would be gone. But at that moment, he felt so thirsty he couldn't bear to keep still any longer. Swinging his stuff legs over the side of the bed, he got up.
Fumbling in the dark for his keys and a jacket, he slipped into his slippers and opened the door. The cool evening breeze swept against his face, and he suddenly realized that his face was wet. He must've been sweating, though he hadn't felt too warm in his bed. Maybe that was why he was this thirsty?
Kazuya stepped out of his room, and the door swung shut with a click.
It was late enough that there was no one out in the courtyard. Even those who'd stayed out to practice their swings had turned in for the night. Kazuya stood still for a second, his hand on the balcony, looking out at the empty ground below. It was quiet. All the cicadas had died out with the end of the summer. But they died out gradually, so he almost never noticed when exactly the crying ceased. It always came as a sudden realization one dark autumn evening, which seemed strange since they were so loud in the summer that when he noticed the sound, it made it doubly hard to fall asleep.
Finally however, a parched reminder from his throat pushed Kazuya into motion. Running his hand along the cold metal railing, he stepped down the stairway and down into the courtyard. Once there, he shoved his hands into his pockets and headed straight for the vending machine. The sound of his rubber slippers slapping down on the pavement ringing in his ears, he began to ruminate in his head on what to get.
However, all that flew out of his mind once Kazuya turned the corner to the back of the dorm building. There was someone sleeping on the hard bench beside the machines, making a somewhat innocuous snoring sound.
Kazuya raised a slippered foot and shoved it against the figure's side. "Oi, get up."
The figure shifted and moaned something that sounded suspiciously like 'Just one more pitch, Chris-senpai' but didn't wake up.
Deciding he should first do something about the thirst, Kazuya lowered his foot. Turning, he pressed a button the vending machine and with a clatter, an oolong tea dropped down into the dispenser. Picking up the can, Kazuya snapped open the tab. Arcing his head back, he downed the entire can in what must've been record time. But as expected, his throat remained resolutely dry.
"Get your own tire!" the sleeping boy suddenly cried out, before slumping back down on the bench. The snoring sound continued.
Kazuya crushed the can in his hand and tossed it into the nearest waste bin. Then, feeling grumpy, he bent over in front of the figure and pinched the other boy's nose with his fingers. Several seconds passed, and then with a gurgling sound, the boy's mouth fell open.
He was just starting to nastily wonder whether he should cover up the mouth too. However, before he could make up his mind, the boy's eyes flew open. The glow of the nearby vending machine light dully illuminated his face and messy brown hair. For several seconds, they stared back at each other.
Finally, the other boy veered back, pulling his nose free from Kazuya's grasp.
"Miyuki Kazuya!" Sawamura sputtered, his hands jumping protectively to his nose. "You were trying to kill me just now, weren't you?!"
"I was just removing this bug from your nose," said Kazuya innocently, pretending to flick something out into the open air. "What're you doing sleeping outside anyways?"
The scowl faded from Sawamura's face, though he continued to peer suspiciously at Kazuya. He pointed upwards. "I came out to look at the sky." Kazuya craned his head back to follow his finger. After several seconds, he lowered his gaze back down on the first-year.
"You came to look at…the sky," Kazuya repeated slowly. "What if you'd caught a cold?"
"I didn't mean to fall asleep," said Sawamura sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's just that Tokyo's so different from my home. Back in Nagano, I mean. You can barely see the stars here."
"Just look," said Sawamura earnestly, stretching his finger up again. "It's clear tonight. You can see more than usual…though that's not saying much."
More out of incredulity than actual interest, Kazuya humored the other boy for several seconds. Then, trying not to roll his eyes, he lowered his head. Reaching out, he gripped Sawamura's upper arm, pulling him up.
"Alright Shakespeare," he said firmly. "Go get some sleep inside. We can't have you catching a cold with the fall tournament coming up."
"Aha!" Sawamura grinned from ear to ear. "So you are acknowledging me as a valuable member of the bullpen!"
"Of course," said Kazuya. Then he added with a smirk, "Who else could we use to distract the opposing team?"
"What…what's that supposed to mean?!"
After Sawamura stomped back to his room, Kazuya was left alone in the courtyard again. A bemused smile forming on his lips, he returned to his own room on the second floor. Just as he reached for his doorknob, he realized to his surprise that he had somehow managed to forget about his achingly dry throat.
The next time Kazuya woke up feeling thirsty in the middle of the night, he went down to the vending machines again. However, no one was there. For a short while, he stood there, the cool breeze circulating around his ankles, feeling somewhat let down for some reason. He didn't know what he'd been expecting. He drank two cans of oolong tea and still went to sleep thirsty – though he woke up at some point later in the night with an urgent need to relieve himself.
The next day, while they were practicing in the bullpen, Kazuya casually asked Sawamura whether he'd been going out to look at the sky again. But the other boy shook his head no.
"It's been cloudy the past few days," Sawamura said, crossing his arms. "So what's the point?"
Kazuya raised an eyebrow. "Why don't you just look at the sky from your room then?" It came out sounding more petulant than he'd planned, and he winced internally.
Sawamura shrugged. "Well, I can't see anything from my room window." He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Why do you care? I won't fall asleep outside again!"
"Sure, sure," said Kazuya, lowering his catcher's mask back over his face.
For some reason, however, something about what Sawamura had said bothered him.
When night fell, Kazuya started keeping an eye out for the condition of the sky. It was cloudy for the rest of the week. But one evening, after a particularly trying practice, when he could barely keep his eyes open, he noticed that the sky was clear. He was so exhausted however, that he fell in bed without a second thought.
The following day after class, Sawamura showed up at the bullpen with a runny nose. After his fifth sneeze in the span of five minutes, Kazuya stood up from the other side of the bullpen and ordered him to the infirmary.
Kazuya opened his eyes several nights later to the familiar, terrible thirst in his throat. Outside, the sky was clear, and when he saw the now familiar figure of the southpaw lounging by the vending machines, he didn't bat an eye.
Without saying anything, he stepped up to the vending machine and pressed the button for an oolong tea.
"What're you doing here again?" Sawamura's voice rang out accusingly. Without answering, Kazuya bent over to pick up the can. He pulled back on the tab, opening it, and took a light sip. Only then did he turn around, languidly swishing the liquid around in the can with his hand.
"That's what I should be asking you. You don't learn, do you? Even after catching that cold last week."
Sawamura frowned. "Yeah, well…don't tell me you came out here because you were worried for me?"
Kazuya smirked into his can. "Don't flatter yourself, I was just thirsty." But to both his and Sawamura's surprise, he sat down beside the other boy on the bench. "And…the stars look…nice tonight."
"…oh really?" Sawamura said, sounding skeptical.
"Mhm," said Kazuya noncommittally, and quickly glanced up to make sure the stars were actually visible that night. And sure enough they were – a few scattered dots of white, gleaming in a distant sort of way against the black of the sky.
After several long seconds, he felt the other boy's gaze sliding off of him. Then, slowly, carefully, his own eyes edged down until he was no longer looking up, but at Sawamura instead.
As he looked up at the sky, Sawamura's face was etched with boyish fascination and a touch of what could've been wistfulness.
Something about that made it difficult for Kazuya to look away. It was only after Sawamura lowered his head, that he quickly returned his attention to his unfinished can of tea, pretending he'd been drinking it all along.
When Kazuya returned to his room, the scratching thirst in his throat had been tempered just enough to let him fall asleep.
What had started out as coincidence, and then a one-sided encounter, started to become a regular occurrence. It always started with his buying an oolong tea. Buying the oolong tea gave Kazuya a reason to be there. And without fail, Sawamura was always there. Sometimes, they talked about baseball, or school, or pointless things that he forgot about in the morning. Other times, they sat there silently, Sawamura looking up at the sky, and Kazuya looking at Sawamura.
He couldn't help it. At first, he told himself it was because sitting with Sawamura on the bench somehow let Kazuya forget his thirst, even if momentarily. But afterwards, when he found himself heading down to the vending machines on every clear evening regardless of whether he was thirsty or not, he had to admit to himself that it was something else.
Maybe it was because Sawamura was like a cicada. Constantly noisy, and constantly present on that hard bench every cloudless night. Unlike the real cicadas however, he didn't fade away at the end of summer. Though undoubtedly, there were those on the team who may have jokingly wished he did.
Kazuya had never hated the sound of the cicadas however.
"Oi, Sawamura. Why do you like looking up at the sky so much, anyways?" Kazuya asked one day. Sawamura paused, his face turning pensive, though his eyes remained fixed on whatever lay above.
"It reminds me of home, I guess," he finally said. "And it keeps me grounded."
"Yeah," Sawamura glanced at Kazuya. Even in the dark, his face looked rather pink. "I'm at this amazing school for baseball, surrounded by all these amazing people. It's uh…a little hard sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I'll forget who I am. But when I come out here, I can kinda see the same sky that I see at home on my grandpa's farm, and then, well…I remember."
"That you're a country hick?" Kazuya suggested with a snicker, and then dodged sideways as Sawamura irritably jabbed at him.
"You know what I mean!" he said huffily, though he sounded uncertain.
"Born and raised in Tokyo," said Kazuya, stretching his arms back.
"But you still like the night sky, huh? Since you're always coming out here." Sawamura brightened. "You should come out to the country one day! You can see way more from there than here."
Kazuya shrugged. "I've seen photos online."
"Ha!" Sawamura wagged a finger disapprovingly. "It's different outside, you know. There're things you can see, that you wouldn't be able to see from a photo. I mean, isn't it different just looking up at the sky from here, than from your window?"
"Yeah. Here, I've got to put up with an idiot talking my ear off," said Kazuya, but he said it softly.
Sawamura opened his mouth to retort something back, but as he looked at Kazuya's face, he must've changed his mind, for he changed the topic instead.
"You're always drinking oolong tea." Sawamura gestured toward the half-empty can in Kazuya's hand. "Doesn't that make it hard to fall asleep?"
Kazuya shook the can, the liquid sloshing against the walls. "Why would it?"
"It has caffeine, doesn't it?"
"I could drink black coffee and still be fine. Caffeine doesn't affect me."
"Oh wow." Sawamura sounded envious. "I can't drink anything with caffeine in it at all. I drank decaf during lunch once and I was wired all night. Couldn't get a wink of sleep."
"It's something you have to build a tolerance to," said Kazuya.
"Nah," said Sawamura, shaking his head. "My whole family's that way. It's in my genes or something. We're all easily affected by that kinda stuff. Substances, I mean."
Kazuya felt himself sweat. "Substances?"
"It's true. My dad swears I got drunk off of cold medicine when I was a baby!" Sawamura's face fell. "I bet I won't be able to drink alcohol at all."
"He probably just doesn't want you to get into that kinda stuff until you're of age."
"No, my dad doesn't lie," said Sawamura, wearing such a serious expression that it gave Kazuya pause.
But, taking another sip, he simply said, "Is that so?"
"Wait, I just realized," said Sawamura, a curious look flashing across his face. "If you live in Tokyo…why do you live in the dorm?"
"It's easier," Kazuya answered with a shrug. It wasn't strictly a lie. It was easier.
"The Leader and Spitz-senpai don't dorm though," Sawamura pointed out. Kazuya looked down at his can; the first-year could be annoyingly perceptive at times.
"I live farther away than them," he said. Again, not strictly a lie.
Sawamura sighed and leaned back against the bench. "One day I'll get you to tell me the real reason."
"One day," Kazuya echoed. He downed the rest of his tea.
It happened just before the start of the fall tournament.
It was a clear evening again. It was clearer than it'd been in a long time, as even on the past clear days, the sky had seemed a little hazy. That night however, it was crystal clear. Kazuya thought that if he'd had good enough vision, he could've made out the very cracks of the craters on the moon.
He wasn't thirsty. He hadn't woken up thirsty for a while. However, as had somehow become the custom, he made his way to the vending machines. Sawamura was there, of course. But to his surprise, for the first time, there was someone else there too: a tall figure with a somewhat foreign complexion, and speaking in a low, gentle voice. It was Chris.
Sawamura was talking animatedly to the older boy, who nodded every now and then. Sawamura then pointed up at the sky and they looked up, their faces illuminated by the glow of the vending machine.
For some reason, at that, Kazuya immediately turned and returned to his room. There was a heavy feeling in his chest, as something constricted tightly. His throat felt drier than he'd ever felt it before, as if he had downed a can of sand.
What was wrong with him? He didn't know. Kazuya threw himself down on his bed and looked up at the ceiling.
He felt small in his bed, even though, being of average height, he'd never had an issue with its size before. His room was too large. Everything was too large. There was a faded stain on the ceiling. He'd never noticed it before. Suddenly, he realized that there was a multitude of cracks scattered throughout the white paint. It was as though the ceiling he'd known had been stripped away, revealing another one behind it that he'd never realized had even existed before.
While his window was closed, he thought he could feel a cold breeze coming off of it, blowing through the narrow space between his shirt and his bare chest.
I'm a frog in a well, he thought to himself. A frog in a well with a terrible view.
He closed his eyes. It was all too much. And yet even then, it took a long time to fall asleep.
The next morning, Kazuya woke up feeling as though a sledgehammer had slammed into his head. When he got to his classes, after one look at his face, even Kuramochi spared him the usual lip, giving Kazuya a wide berth. And by the time he finally arrived at the bullpen for practice, he felt he would implode at a single touch.
Of course, Sawamura was the only idiot on the team who didn't know to avoid Kazuya, edging his way in front of Furuya at the bullpen.
"You can't throw in the strike zone at all today," said Kazuya coldly, throwing the ball back. "If you were pitching, it'd have been a called game." That was if they were playing against the Yomiuri Giants, but Kazuya didn't mention that. Sawamura turned bright scarlet and began to sputter something. Kazuya tried to hold himself back for a second. He really did. But he didn't have the energy to stop the rest of the words from spilling out of his mouth. It was as though it wasn't his mouth anymore. "It's little wonder Furuya was made ace, and not you."
At that, Sawamura's face turned white. He became very quiet and very still. The only things that moved were his eyes, which inched away from Kazuya's. The other batteries in the bullpen, noticing the lull in their practice, stopped. Chris—who'd been dropping by every now and then to help the team—looked concernedly at the southpaw.
Kazuya had thought that by erasing Sawamura's grin from his face, it would somehow ease the twisting feeling in his chest. But it had only made it worse.
Understandably, Sawamura started avoiding Kazuya after that.
If Kazuya walked down the hallway to the cafeteria and Sawamura happened to be walking there at the same time, he scurried the other way and then went to the school store instead. At the bullpen, Sawamura stopped badgering Kazuya to catch his pitches. Instead, he hung on to Chris' every step, a persistent shadow. And on clear evenings, he no longer hung around at the bench beside the vending machines. Or maybe he did, but Kazuya only checked on the first one. After that, he didn't go outside at night, even when his throat ached with thirst.
What had started out as coincidence had become something so natural that it felt strange not to sit on the bench with Sawamura and look up at the sky. Kazuya wished he'd never gone outside that first evening. He'd thought that the thirst was unbearable back then, but he knew now that it was nothing compared to how parched his throat had become. A lifetime's supply of oolong tea wouldn't have been enough to quench it.
While he'd known this from the beginning, he was only starting to realize it now.
The fall tournament began.
Despite Kazuya's trepidation, Sawamura was pitching well. In fact, he was pitching better than anyone—and likely he himself—had ever expected.
On the evening of their third win in the tournament, Kazuya woke up feeling as though he was choking on sand. After several painful seconds of looking up at the ceiling—a ceiling he'd had to reacquaint himself with—he sluggishly forced his protesting body out of bed. He slipped into his slippers. He opened the door. Dully, he looked up at the sky. It was cloudy.
Slowly, he went down the stairs, his hands thrust inside his pockets. He dragged his feet toward the vending machines.
When he got there, however, there was someone else already there.
Kazuya would've turned away despite the pain in his throat, but the other boy saw him before he could. For several seconds, they stood there, the glow of the vending machines radiating unnaturally against their faces.
Then, making a passable imitation of a deer caught in headlights, Sawamura shuffled around, visibly nervous. Wearily, stiffly, Kazuya waited for the other boy to leave first.
But to his surprise, Sawamura looked down at his feet and mumbled something.
"What?" Kazuya said.
Biting his lip, Sawamura flushed. "...I said, I'm sorry. For whatever I did. I've been trying hard now to pitch better."
Kazuya stared. That'd been the last thing he'd expected. Wondering whether he hadn't heard wrong, he asked, "...Why're you apologizing?"
"I-I don't know." Sawamura lifted his head, an earnest expression on his face. "But I don't want it to be this way. I…miss talking with you, Miyuki-senpai. So I'm sorry."
He could feel a lump rising in his throat. He tried to clear it, without success. "Are you stupid? Why're you apologizing?"
"One of us had to," said Sawamura.
Kazuya didn't know what to say to that. But there was a strange feeling surging through his body, urging him onward. He took several steps forward, the sound of his footsteps ringing in his ears.
Step. Step. Step.
He was in front of Sawamura now. He reached out with a hand, and gripped the other boy by the shoulder. Sawamura looked up at Kazuya with wide, unblinking eyes.
He leaned forward. Then, lowering his head, he rested his face on the other boy's shoulder. It was warm.
They didn't speak, and after a short while, he reared back. Sawamura looked solemnly up at Kazuya. In the dim lighting, he let his gaze wander over Sawamura's face. He could make out details of the southpaw's face that he'd never noticed before. There was a small brown mole near the lobe of his ear. There was a shimmery white scar about the size of his pinky near his brow. His eyes were a light, clear shade of brown, like tea.
Greedily, Kazuya took it all in. He didn't even want to blink, unwilling to miss even a single detail. He wanted to know more. He wanted to see more. He wanted to feel more. Even while knowing it was impossible, he wanted to know everything about the other boy who stood before him. And he wanted Sawamura to know everything about himself.
Ask me again why I live in a dorm, he wanted to say. And then tell me how you got that scar. Tell me why your dad never lies.
But he couldn't say all that. Not yet, anyways.
While he had yet to buy his usual can of tea, the thirst in his throat had receded into a light throbbing. It pulsated in the background. It would always be there, Kazuya knew. No matter Sawamura's proximity. But it was a part of who he was. And given time, he thought he could come to accept it.
"You shouldn't have apologized to me," Kazuya finally said. "I didn't deserve it."
The corners of Sawamura's mouth quirked up. "Who'd I watch the stars with then?"
"There are others," he said. Then again, "There are others."
Sawamura cocked his head to the side. "But I want to watch them with you."
Kazuya blinked. His fingers curled into his palms tightly. Squeezing.
The way Sawamura had said it was so matter-of-fact, so earnest, that he couldn't help but feel that, for once, he was being the idiot.
Which he probably was, in fact.
The sight of Sawamura sitting on the bench, looking up at the sky with a smile lingering on his face…it was a view Kazuya could never have seen from the window of his room.
What was this sensation? It was like looking down into a giant pit, a pit so dark he couldn't even venture to guess at where the bottom lay. A strange, almost frightening feeling. But at the same time, exhilarating.
"I don't really care about the stars much," he managed to admit out loud.
Leaning in closer, Sawamura looked slyly up at Kazuya. "I figured as much."