Kazuya's first physical therapy appointment made him wonder if maybe it would have hurt less to just keep playing injured.
The stretches weren't too bad. Lying with his spine on the foam roll actually felt kind of good, at least along his shoulders. Finding out how far he could rotate his lower body wasn't the best time he'd ever had, but Maki-san, the steely-eyed trainer he'd been assigned, had watched carefully and then moved his knees herself, stopping them just before the point of pain on each side, and ordered him not to stretch a single centimeter further without her say-so. A little daunted by her resemblance to an annoyed Rei-san, he'd promised, and promptly had more foam blocks shoved under his knees to make sure. He couldn't help wondering, a little self-consciously, if she had a lot of troublesome athletic patients. He was trying to be good, now the fall tournament was over, really!
It was a little hard, though, when she was working over the muscles of his uninjured side, hands just as merciless as her eyes.
"Take a deep breath." She drove a thumb into a knot just under his ribs. It felt like she'd driven in a spike.
"Yes, you've definitely been straining these muscles to compensate." She looked disapproving as she pinched something tense at his waist between thumb and first knuckle and twisted slowly.
"NoticING... that," he finished on a gasp, eyes watering.
"Definitely do supported side stretches on the left every day," she directed, running a heavy palm down his hip and flank, unerringly following the line of greatest pain. He gritted his teeth and made a wordless sound he hoped she took for agreement.
When she finally let him go, he curled up on his side on the bench, panting for breath and a little light-headed. His whole body felt shaky.
"Rest for a little while, and then drink more water," Maki-san ordered, patted him briskly on the shoulder, and strode off. Presumably to her next victim. Kazuya stayed right where he was as the sounds of the gym filtered back in and started making sense again, the slow clanks of the weight machine Animal-san had his current client working on, the steady thump of someone else on a treadmill.
Eventually, when he was sure his voice would be suitably mild and ironic, he remarked, "Ow." It still came out more heartfelt than he'd intended.
"Are you doing all right?"
Kazuya was pretty sure his body tried to start, but all he managed was a twitch before carefully craning his head back to look up at Chris, who was standing over him with a small, wry smile and a water bottle.
He wasn't sure whether to kiss Rei-san or curse her for carting him off to Chris' father's gym for his physical therapy. He thought there might be discounts involved. Either way, there was Chris involved, and he was very aware of how pathetic it was to want to show off via physical therapy, thank you, he just... couldn't quite stifle the impulse. He'd never been able to completely stifle that particular impulse, around Chris.
Which was why he pushed himself upright with a smile, and if the smile had a bit of gritted teeth as his ribs twinged viciously no one had to know but him. "Yeah, I'm fine! Thanks." He took the water Chris offered with his left hand, so he wouldn't wince when he lifted it, only to nearly drop it when his even his good arm wobbled alarmingly.
"Easy." Chris slid a fast hand under the bottle, the other settling on Kazuya's shoulder. "You aren't going to bounce instantly back from your first round of therapy," he said quietly, and there was a dark enough shade of knowledge in his voice that Kazuya lowered his eyes and just nodded. A second try got the bottle to his mouth without mishap, and he was counting that as a win.
"Sore?" Chris asked with a knowing tilt to the corner of his mouth that made Kazuya wonder if he'd worked with Maki-san too.
"A little," he admitted. "Mostly not where I'm injured!" He chalked up another small win when Chris laughed quietly.
"Chiyo-san is very good with soft-tissue injuries, but she's pretty strict." He slung a leg over the bench and slid down beside Kazuya. "Here?" He settled one broad hand against Kazuya's lower back, on the left, and just that little pressure woke a few sparks of protest from roundly abused muscles. Kazuya tried not to wince.
"Yeah. In absolute terms, I'm glad she caught it; I certainly don't want a compensation injury. Still." He grinned, tilted, and repeated with proper insouciance this time, "Ow." Though actually, the warmth of Chris' hand through his thin T-shirt was kind of soothing. He chased that thought to the back of his head where it belonged and took another drink.
Chris was frowning thoughtfully when he looked again. "Yes. I can feel how these shake when you lift something. It's probably just the hypertonic release, on this side, but... here." He slid off the bench to crouch in front of Kazuya, and Kazuya froze, eyes widening helplessly as Chris' hands nudged up the hem of his shirt and curved around his lower ribs on each side, warm and sure and oh he really needed to stop thinking about that right now. He barely heard it when Chris said, "Lift both arms for a second."
His brain only kicked in again when Chris glanced up at him, brows drawing down in concern. "Miyuki? Are you all right?" The light pressure of his hands let up quickly. "Does even that hurt?"
Kazuya shook himself and forced a bright laugh, even if his ribs did protest it. "No, it's fine, sorry, just spaced out a little, there! Maki-san really wrings a person out."
Chris' expression relaxed back into a faint, commiserating smile and his hands settled firmly again. Kazuya tried very hard not to let his breath hitch. "She does. Lift your arms for a moment."
Kazuya did, watching as Chris' eyes turned a little distant, as if listening for something. "I'm not nearly the kind of expert she is," he said, finally, "but it doesn't feel like anything's strained on the left, yet, and you're not pulling unevenly as long as you're not lifting any weight. You'll probably be sore all day, but the tremors should fade soon." His hands slid away from Kazuya's ribs, gentle, and Kazuya swallowed back the tiny sound of protest that wanted to escape. Chris stood and smiled down at him, sympathy giving way to an amused glint in his eyes. "So it's probably about time to stand up and start moving around again."
Kazuya groaned theatrically, but did as Chris said and let himself be chivvied over to the treadmills, relieved to have escaped without giving himself away. He could take Chris' sympathy over the pain of rehab, and Chris' wicked humor too. But he thought the quiet, gentle way he knew Chris would let him down over his forlorn little crush would probably break him where nothing else could. So he paced along at an easy walk and tried to forget the feel of large, warm hands against his skin.
Chris closed his literature notes and leaned back in his desk chair, stretching until his spine popped. He let his lightly clasped hands fall behind his head and stared up at the ceiling thoughtfully. Literature was usually one of his best subjects, but he was distracted tonight. The memory of Miyuki's expression this afternoon kept popping up and nudging his thoughts for attention.
Rather, now that he was thinking about it, the way Miyuki himself had ever since he arrived at Seidou.
Now that he was thinking about it, a whole collection of little moments was coming to mind, spread out over the last year and a half: Miyuki grinning, Miyuki intent, Miyuki quiet and watchful, Miyuki bright and excited. Each time, Miyuki coming to him. It was a commonality that made his analytical sense itch, because when he looked back on it, the only people he'd observed Miyuki going to regularly were his pitchers.
And this afternoon... Miyuki hadn't looked spaced out. He'd looked flustered for just a breath, before he'd buried it under a grin. Chris' memory, now he consulted it, suggested that when Miyuki grinned like that it was usually to misdirect attention. But he was reasonably sure Miyuki hadn't been trying to cover up discomfort. Just possibly, in light of Miyuki's gravitation toward him and considering how flushed Miyuki's face had been, possibly quite the reverse.
Chris tilted his chair back on two legs and frowned a little to himself. If he was right... well that was the catch, wasn't it? If. And given Miyuki's deflection, he obviously wasn't about to make things easy by confessing.
The very idea of any love-confession Miyuki Kazuya might come up with made Chris laugh out loud, open and rueful, because if there was anyone more emotionally elusive on Seidou's team... Ryousuke, maybe. The very idea.
And, really, tracking back through his interactions with Miyuki over the past few months was far from conclusive. Miyuki had come to him several times, but mostly to ask for help pulling Sawamura into shape. It was always possible that Miyuki's willingness to go to Chris was simply an extension of the care he took of his pitchers. For values of "care" that did often look like "merciless hounding" Chris allowed with a smile at his ceiling; he'd been able to appreciate that more in the last few months. Ever since Sawamura...
Chris straightened abruptly, letting his chair fall upright as the connection drew itself in his mind, sure and solid, from Sawamura back to Miyuki.
Miyuki often came to him about Sawamura, which had made sense to Chris at the start because of course the second-string catcher would work with a second-string pitcher, and goodness knew someone had had to drill Sawamura in the basics. And later it had been fairly obvious that Miyuki had cast Chris as the good guy, the one who would help Sawamura after Miyuki had wound him up sufficiently. But maybe that hadn't only been about Sawamura.
He remembered, now. It had happened while Sawamura was still throwing tantrums over his basic training menu. And the time Chris was thinking about, he hadn't just complained that Miyuki was too busy with Furuya to work with him.
I don't know why that bastard's making me work with you when you won't even catch for me!
It had been, at the time, a typically self-centered complaint and Chris had ignored it. Sawamura had made similar complaints often enough, and when Chris thought about them at all he thought Sawamura had been complaining about the coach making him work with Chris. But even at his petulant worst, Sawamura had never called the coach names. It was Miyuki that Sawamura said things like that about. Miyuki, who had never treated Chris like second-string or like he was retired. Who had, from what Sawamura had said, been the one to suggest Sawamura work with Chris when Chris was giving even his own yearmates the cold shoulder and shutting down his kouhai with quiet viciousness. Viciousness that hadn't stopped until Sawamura had run right over top of it, the only one both bull-headed and good-hearted enough to ignore it.
The one Miyuki had, apparently, aimed at him.
Chris' smile spread slowly wider and wider as he contemplated that, until he just had to chuckle. It was such a typically Miyuki maneuver. He was so rarely straightforward about anything except the game itself.
And if that was the case then all those moments when Miyuki had tracked him down to ask for his advice, for his help, for his presence at a game, took on a different aspect. It was Miyuki's actions Chris needed to be looking at, not his words. And Miyuki's actions sought him out, reached out for him, hung near him even when Chris had been relentlessly turning away.
Chris sobered at that, remembering how harshly he had turned Miyuki in particular away at times. Small wonder that Miyuki only approached him with a cast-iron excuse in hand, lately. Which meant Miyuki might behave... unpredictably if Chris tried to talk to him about this. No catcher Chris knew liked being caught unprepared, and Miyuki moreso than most. Chris picked up his pencil and turned it through his fingers as he thought, tapping the end against his notes. Perhaps what he needed to do was answer Miyuki's actions with actions, until Miyuki understood that he was welcome.
And then he paused, pencil suspended in mid-air.
I do welcome him, don't I? he thought, a little wondering. That hadn't been a question in his mind at all, as he thought about this. Only how to be sure, and how to let Miyuki be sure. Chris laughed softly to himself; however covert it might have been, Miyuki's campaign for his attention had worked very well indeed.
Well, then, perhaps it was time he followed Miyuki's example and acted on that.
Kazuya thought he was maybe getting used to this whole physical therapy thing. It didn't feel like quite such a failure just to walk in the doors any more, at any rate.
And he could feel guilty that a lot of the reason for that was getting to talk with Chris at PT, or he could concentrate on enjoying getting to talk with Chris, and between the two he knew he was going to indulge in the latter for as long as he could. If that was a little pathetic, well so be it. There was a significant part of him that rolled over and basked in Chris' attention every time he came over to check on Kazuya, and Kazuya felt he had come to terms with that. It wasn't even about the feeling he couldn't win against Chris, now, it was that... well, he wasn't sure if winning was what he even wanted right now. Maybe it would be again some day. He was pretty sure it would, actually. But right now, when it was just the two of them...
"Did Chiyo-san let you increase the angle of your stretches, today?"
Kazuya looked up, completely unable to help how bright his grin was as Chris came and leaned against the weights beside his mat, looking quietly pleased. "Yeah, she did. She said if I don't do anything stupid in the meantime she may let me try to lift some weight next week."
Chris chuckled and held a hand down to him. "She thinks it's possible you won't do something stupid; that's quite a concession. Congratulations."
Kazuya reached up and let himself wrap his fingers around the corded strength of Chris' forearm, and let Chris pull him easily up, and did not let his hand linger on Chris'. Much. Noticeably. He hoped. "I've been good!" he proclaimed. "I haven't tried to practice at all." Despite how completely unnatural that felt.
Chris clapped him gently on the shoulder, eyes steady on him. "I know."
That understanding always made Kazuya's jaw tighten, made him fight to keep his gaze level, because Chris had done this for a year. Having tasted just a few weeks of it, thinking about that made Kazuya feel something uncomfortably close to tears and just as close to awe. The hand on his shoulder tightened just a little, gave him a tiny shake, and Chris' quiet smile turned grave, acknowledging, for a breath. And then it was just a smile and Kazuya could breathe again.
"Is one of the coaches picking you up, or are you on your own today?"
"Nope, I was allowed out all on my own," Kazuya grinned.
"I'm sure Takishima-san needed the break," Chris paused just long enough to be noticeable before continuing, perfectly straight-faced, "from so much driving." A tiny smile curled his lips when Kazuya clutched his chest in exaggerated injury. "Not Ochiai-san either, though?"
Kazuya snorted softly, remembering the looks Ochiai-san had been giving him lately—sometimes thoughtful, sometimes exasperated, sometimes almost wistful in a way that made Kazuya wonder what kind of teams the man had had before them. The exasperation was a lot easier to understand, of course; Ochiai had obviously been thinking of Kazuya as one of his own kind, before they'd actually talked. Well, it wasn't like Ochiai-san was the first to mistake his strategic sense for actual cool-headedness, and if he was staying on at Seidou as the voice of experience it was probably best that he learn now just how much Kazuya favored aggressive tactics. "He's pretty busy still, seeing what everyone can do," was all he said, though.
Chris' eyes still narrowed thoughtfully at that, but he let it pass, which Kazuya was grateful for; he knew perfectly well he wouldn't be able to hold out if Chris questioned him. He'd gotten so used to just talking with Chris, here, and... it felt really good. Just to talk. "I'll see you back to school, then. Let's go get changed."
"Sure thing!" Kazuya grinned, firmly quashing a completely ridiculous rush of happiness at the thought of walking back to the dorm with Chris. Of riding the train back, with Chris. He made for the gym's changing rooms, determined to stick his head under some cold water and hopefully stop being so absurd.
It really didn't help that Chris followed along to change back into street clothes himself. As if it weren't enough to be kind and talented and stoic, Chris was also nearly the platonic ideal of a catcher, all broad shoulders and powerful arms and heavily muscled thighs, big and solid enough to give anyone thinking of charging the plate pause and flexible enough to make any catch and fire the ball straight back, and Kazuya really needed to stop looking, before he embarrassed himself. Honestly, he'd made it through nearly two years of communal baths and living one thin wall away from Chris, and it was only now he was having trouble controlling himself. This was ridiculous. He towelled off briskly and hauled on his jeans, studiously keeping his eyes on his hands. It was harder than it should have been
He'd gotten used to having Chris near, these last few weeks. Maybe more used than he should have let himself. Before this, before he'd actually talked much with Chris, it had been easier. Not easy, not when the one he'd counted on competing with and honing himself against had vanished just as Kazuya had thought he'd caught up. But he'd been used to distance, really, he'd known how to deal with that. Having Chris smile, having him come over to see how Kazuya was doing, having him sit and talk after they'd both finished their exercises... that was actually a lot harder. Kazuya stuffed his feet into his sneakers, trying to ignore the warm feeling in his chest that came from just thinking about this.
"Ready to go?"
Kazuya looked up with an all-purpose grin to meet Chris' small, easy smile and grabbed his sweatshirt to knot around his waist. "Sure thing, Chris-senpai." He added the way the v-neck of Chris' light sweater framed his throat and collarbones firmly to the list of things he was not going to think about and followed Chris out through the lobby.
The light was moving towards evening, starting to be cut off by the taller buildings and become an indirect glow. The flow of people was ebbing out toward that low point after the homeward rush and before people emerged again for food and entertainment. It felt a little strange to walk through that familiar flow of people, now; living in the sports dorms had put him out of step with the city's rhythm. He felt a little separate from it, as if he and Chris were moving inside some kind of bubble, apart from the thinning crowd.
And maybe Chris felt it too. Maybe that was why he walked close, shoulders brushing now and then. This part of town was Chris' own, as Kazuya was reminded when Chris steered them into the small arcade between two buildings, a glassed walkway overhead and tall bushes nearly hiding a couple vending machines.
"Here. I think I want a drink after today's session."
"Yeah, sure. Don't blame you." Kazuya followed the light press of Chris' arm against his and leaned against the wall out of reach of the slightly overgrown shrubs while Chris fed coins to the drinks machine, settling deeper into not thinking about anything.
So he started a little when Chris tossed him a bottle. "Oh. Thanks."
Chris gave him a wry smile. "I do remember that I'm your senpai, past evidence to the contrary aside."
Kazuya's attempts to not think collapsed in a rush of memory: Chris silent and stiff-shouldered, Chris turning away, Chris's eyes resting on him only briefly, dark and flat. And he'd been holding on so hard to not-thinking-about-all-this that he wasn't ready, and flinched. "Does this mean I get to make you buy dinner at the station?" he joked, trying to cover it.
Chris, unfortunately, had a catcher's perception and attention to detail, and he stepped over to rest a hand on Kazuya's shoulder. "Yes," he agreed, quietly, "among other things. I know that will probably take a while for you to believe, after the last year and a half."
"Of course it won't, Chris-senpai," Kazuya said, lower than he quite meant to, eyes on the bottle in his hands. "I mean, it's you."
He could feel the weight of Chris' eyes on him, nearly tangible, thoughtful when he darted a glance up before looking back at his drink. When Chris spoke, his voice was soft, just between the two of them, as if the slowing traffic beyond the bushes and vending machines didn't exist at all. As if the rest of the city didn't exist. "Will you trust me, then?"
That startled Kazuya into looking all the way up, startled the words out of him before he managed to bite them off. "I've always—" Chris waited for him, when he broke off, not pressing but... inviting. With his quiet, with the ease of his whole stance, with his grave attention to Kazuya. Inviting him to go on. It shook him like no words of encouragement could have, and he swallowed hard.
"Let me ask something simpler, then," Chris said, finally, as gentle with Kazuya as he was with the first-years. "Will you trust me now?"
Kazuya laughed, because he couldn't help it, voiceless and unsteady. He'd never had anyone make it simpler for him, never had anyone make allowances, never needed it, and he'd always taken a hard pride in that. But this was Chris, and that bit of generosity and care made something in him yearn forward helplessly. "Yes, Chris-senpai," he answered, half rueful, inviting Chris to share the irony of it all with a tilted smile.
Chris just smiled back, eyes warm. "Good."
And then Chris leaned down and kissed him.
Kazuya's thoughts just stopped, ploughing into a wall of blank white, because... there was no plan for this. No contingency. No response at the ready, because this was never going to happen. But it was definitely Chris leaning over him, Chris' fingers gently nudging his chin up so Chris' mouth could fit against his more firmly. And... that was his voice, wasn't it, making those breathless little sounds, and his fingers curled in the soft knit of Chris' sweater. When Chris let him go, he could only lean back against the bricks and stare up at him, at a thorough loss for words.
"Trust that I see you, now, and that I'm paying attention," Chris told him, quiet and certain.
"I..." Kazuya wasn't actually sure what to say about that, and wound up falling back on a husky, "Yes, Chris-senpai."
Chris brushed another, lighter kiss over his lips and pressed a softer one to his forehead. "Come along, then, and I'll take you back to campus."
Kazuya just nodded and walked silently beside him, back out onto the sidewalk and toward the station, trying to sort out the rather dazed tangle of his thoughts.
It took him until they were on the train to even remember his drink.
Chris let the quiet between he and Miyuki linger as they walked from the station back to campus. He'd ambushed Miyuki a bit, and while Miyuki reacted superbly well under pressure, a counter-attack wasn't exactly the kind of response Chris wanted from him. So he let Miyuki think things over silently until they reached the school-buildings. In the shadow of the south wing he finally laid a hand on Miyuki's shoulder, halting them, and murmured, "Will you be all right on your own, the rest of the way?"
Miyuki blinked and shook himself a little. "Yeah, of course."
Chris' mouth quirked at that obviously reflex answer. He still didn't want to push Miyuki, though, not tonight, so he contented himself with a soft, "Good." He smiled, gentle and encouraging, and added, "Remember that you can come to me without needing an excuse anymore, all right?"
Miyuki nodded, but Chris still had a hand on his shoulder and could feel the faint tension that threaded through him. He shook his head ruefully; he should have known Miyuki would still be uncertain. "Miyuki. Come here." Miyuki stiffened more, eyes going rather wide as Chris pulled him close, gathered him in and held him.
"Senpai?" There was a lost note lurking in Miyuki's voice, and it roused an unexpected protectiveness in Chris. He let the feeling guide him, let his arms tighten until Miyuki was settled firmly against him, hands coming up in fits and starts to close on Chris' back.
"Will you mind if I start coming to find you, too?" he murmured, against Miyuki's hair.
Some of Miyuki's tension eased, the deeper tension Chris thought. "No," Miyuki said, very quietly against his shoulder. "No, I... I won't mind." Chris smiled as Miyuki's body relaxed against his, little by little.
This time he gave Miyuki more time to respond to him, sliding his fingers into the softness of Miyuki's hair and tipping his head gently back until Chris could kiss him, slow and sure. And this time Miyuki answered him, hesitant but not hiding anything as he opened his mouth under Chris', pressing closer. He was flushed when Chris finally drew back, and Chris had to restrain a suggestion that they retire to Miyuki's room right now. He rested his forehead against Miyuki's and repeated, voice lower this time, "Come and see me on your own account, Kauzya. You are very welcome."
Miyuki wet his lips, and the curl of heat that sent through Chris made him remind himself sternly that he was going to give Miyuki time to get used to this. The softness in Miyuki's reply spoke of lingering uncertainty, for all his willingness. "I will, Chris-senpai."
Chris nodded, satisfied, and held him closer in the shadow of the tall class-room building, smiling a little wryly when Miyuki's forehead came to rest against his shoulder, hiding Miyuki's expression. "You don't have to trust easily," he murmured against Miyuki's ear, holding him fast when Miyuki tensed again. "Only believe what your own senses tell you. That isn't too hard, is it?"
An unvoiced laugh shook Miyuki, but his arms tightened around Chris. "I'll try," he whispered.
A rush of tenderness wound through Chris' chest, warm and light. "Then I have no doubt you will." He had Miyuki's stubbornness to thank for this very moment, after all. "I'll demonstrate that for you as often as you need."
Miyuki finally lifted his head and smiled up at Chris, crooked and ironic as ever, but with a slow, cautious happiness behind it. "Okay."
Chris kissed him one more time, chasing away the tilt to his mouth, and smiled down at him. "Good."
They would be well; he was sure of it, now. Their shared time, these last few weeks, was already witness to how far both of them would go to keep from losing, when it was important. The lean, quiet strength of Miyuki in his arms, the slow, shy relaxation of Miyuki's body against his... this was important.
So this, he wouldn't lose.