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you're a mouthful

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"see you," says narumiya mei, and akira believes him. not that he will see akira, probably, but certainly that akira will see him. there's summer koshien on the television, for one, the place that's slipped out of akira's reach forever, the thread of narumiya's voice saying you lost to the best team in the country a refrain that replays each time akira watches him set foot on the mound. the television screen is too small to contain him, that overwhelming pressure that flattened sakurazawa's careful, meticulous offense. akira remembers the feeling, halfway through a prep exam, glasses sliding off his nose, yoshimi and masaaki arguing about applied physics theory on either side of him.

it must be hot at koshien, everyone says so; it was hot enough in the semi-finals. akira watches narumiya scuff his feet, sun bright on his white cap, his pale shock of hair. the camera's not close enough to catch the the cold blue glint of his eyes but akira can imagine it, remembers exactly how it looks paired with that jut of the chin. the best team in the country, he thinks. narumiya winds up, a vicious fastball to the very corner of the plate, the sound of it hitting the catcher's mitt loud in the suddenly quiet room.

"good pitch," yoshimi says, voice hushed.

akira takes a breath, turns a page. "yeah," he says. "yeah."

*

he's not surprised when narumiya goes pro straight out of high school. akira keeps track of his career casually, between rounds of being swamped with university, the rocky arc of narumiya's third year culminating in the draft announcement. akira's in the middle of writing what feels like the longest paper of his life but he still finds time to text you owe me an ice cream to yoshimi when he sees it in the newspaper.

*

akira goes to a signing on a whim the next year, despite yoshimi's needling. it's not that far from his apartment, his grades are good, it's fine. surreal, maybe, to stand in line, to see the line and how big it actually is, narumiya all smiles at the table. akira's got a game ball from that summer for him to sign, which is maybe a little strange but he's too smart to try to justify it.

narumiya's laughing about something with his teammate when akira gets to the front of the line, takes the ball without looking, scribbles his signature large between the seams.

"thanks," akira says," and naurmiya pauses, turns to look at him with a sharper eye than anyone could expect from the half-nonsense conversation he'd just been having.

"hey," he says, "you're the knuckleball guy aren't you?"

"oh," akira says, the world tilting two degrees to the left, three skipped beats before his heart shudders back to life, "yes."

"hang around a bit," narumiya says, pressing the ball back into akira's hands. "i want to ask you something."

"all right," akira says, already being shuffled off to the right to make way for the next person in line. narumiya flashes him a smile and the afterimage lingers on the backs of akira's eyelids like a flashbulb.

"see you," narumiya says, and akira believes him.