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When Miyuki Kazuya walked through the gates of the Seido baseball dorm, it was an arrival three years in the making.
It was late afternoon by the time his train had reached the station, and as he walked to the campus the sky faded to a vibrant orange. It cast a timeless air over everything—the empty practice fields, the deserted halls, the pinpricks of light from dorm windows. The air still had the crispness of early spring. Kazuya pulled his scarf up over his chin to ward off the chill, then shouldered his bags and made his way to the dorm.
He paused outside, retrieving from his pocket a small scrap of paper. It was worn by now, and creased with repeated foldings, but in the dim yellow light of a lamppost he could still make out the faded lettering:
The room was easy to find—the third room from the stairwell on the second floor. The nameplate outside hadn’t been replaced yet: it still read Azuma, Kominato, Sawamura. The lights were on, and shadows dancing around the edges of the blinds indicated that the room was occupied.
There was a thunder of running footsteps, and then the door slammed open with a bang.
Standing on the threshold, a brown-haired boy looked slightly out of breath. His hair was sticking up on one side of his head like the world’s worst cowlick, and he wore a threadbare T-shirt and sweatpants. His build was athletic—tanned, tall, on the slim side, with broad shoulders. Reflexively, Kazuya noted the muscle definition in his upper body—probably had a decent throwing arm, good endurance.
He had a split second to process this before all hell broke loose.
“We got one!” the boy said gleefully. “Ryo-senpai, we got one!”
Kazuya edged backwards as the boy leaned towards him—scrutinizing Kazuya up and down with the widest, brownest pair of puppy-dog eyes he’d seen in his life.
“I’m Sawamura Eijun!” the brown-eyed boy chirped, still uncomfortably in Kazuya’s personal space. “You’re the first-year, right?”
“Sa-wa-mu-ra!” came an irate call from within the dorm room. “Shut up already!”
“Aw, man, you’re so short!” Sawamura continued heedlessly, seeming inordinately pleased at the observation. “I wonder if that’s what I looked like last year?”
That was patently untrue. Kazuya was no giant, but he was only an inch or two shorter than Sawamura as they stood toe-to-toe outside the dorm. He opened his mouth to point that out—with as much snark as he could muster—when Sawamura yelped abruptly and spun around.
A slightly smaller boy appeared beside Sawamura, grabbing his ear and yanking down hard. This newcomer had a distinctly razor-edged smile, and wore his fair hair combed away from his eyes. Process of elimination, as well as a passing familiarity with Seido’s first-string players, told Kazuya that this was second baseman Kominato Ryosuke.
“Sawamura,” said Kominato with false levity. “If you keep yelling, I’ll smother you in your sleep.”
The younger boy yelped and tried to struggle out of the grip, with little success. “Ah! I’m sorry, I swear I’ll be quiet!”
With one last reprimanding tweak of the ear, Kominato let him go.
The instant he was free, Sawamura wriggled out the door and ducked behind Kazuya to use as a shield. The brown-haired boy pushed Kazuya forward a few steps, like a human sacrifice to appease a wrathful god.
In the doorway, Kominato looked Kazuya up and down. “You’re the first year?”
He nodded. “Miyuki Kazuya.”
“Hm. What position do you play?”
Sawamura was still hiding behind him, peeking out over his shoulder every couple of seconds. Kazuya considered his options. After a moment of turning the idea over in his head, he decided what the hell. He rocked back on his heels, stepping on the second-year’s toes.
There was a satisfying yelp, and some cursing. Sawamura let go of Kazuya’s shoulders, and the first year straightened.
“I’m a catcher,” he informed Kominato with a blithe grin. “You’re second baseman, right?”
“Yeah.” The third-year raised an eyebrow. “Well, come in, I guess. The free bunk is on the left, so unfortunately you’ll be sharing a closet with Sawamura.”
As though summoned by his name, Sawamura appeared beside them once again, scowling. He was ruffled like a cat doused in water, muttering and hissing and glowering like Kazuya was the devil incarnate.
“How could you?” demanded Sawamura loudly, crossing his arms over his chest in a huff. “I’m your upperclassman, y’know! You’ll go nowhere in life if you don’t learn to respect your seniors!”
Ah, Kazuya realized after a moment. He’s an idiot.
“Take your own advice, moron,” Kominato told the brown-haired boy, rubbing the bridge of his nose in a way that told of long-tested patience. "You could try listening to your seniors for a change."
“I have nothing but respect for you!” Sawamura shot back, sticking out his chin. “And Spitz-senpai, and Tetsu-senpai, and Chris-senpai, and Tanba-san, and Masuko-senpai, and the General, and Takashima-san, and—”
Kazuya snickered. “Are you for real?”
“Unfortunately, he is,” Kominato answered, still with that razor-sharp smile. “Sawamura. If you’re not going to shut up, I’ll tell Kuramochi you’ve been texting your girlfriend again.”
Sawamura paled. “You wouldn’t.”
Kazuya had the distinct impression that Kominato Ryosuke absolutely would make good on his threats—although why this one seemed more effective than the previous one about smothering, he wasn’t entirely sure. Evidently Sawamura realized the same, because he quieted somewhat.
“Now,” said the third year calmly. “Either study for once in your life, or get some goddamn sleep. Okay?”
“I was gonna do that anyway,” Sawamura grumbled sulkily. He offered one last glare at Kazuya before retreating to his bunk, where he made a big show of fussing over the lacing on a battered leather mitt.
Kazuya snorted and went to unpack his things. He hadn’t brought much-- mostly just clothes and toiletries, since books, food, and practice gear were all supplied by the school. Getting settled in only took about fifteen minutes. It would’ve been shorter, except that Sawamura was watching him like a hawk the entire time. Any time Kazuya stepped within a foot of what was apparently his side of the closet, the second year would start griping about ‘messing up my organization’. As far as Kazuya could tell, Sawamura’s things weren’t so much ‘organized’ as ‘left haphazardly wherever’.
How petty can you get? he wondered to himself idly.
Once he’d changed out of his travel clothes into something more comfortable, he sat back on his bunk, pulling out his cell. A new message popped up on the screen. Kazuya scanned it—belated congratulations on his scholarship from a middle school teammate, pretty standard. After dashing off a quick ‘Thanks’, he thumbed down to the bottom of the contact list and tapped the entry that read Dad.
From: Kazuya (19:53) --- Just arrived.
He waited a moment, but there wasn’t a response. Kazuya hadn’t really expected one, anyway. At this time on a Friday, Dad would still be in the factory. With a click of a button, Kazuya turned off his phone and stretched tiredly. “What time does practice start tomorrow?”
“Line-up starts at seven,” answered Kominato from across the room. “But you really don’t want to be late, so consider showing up early.”
He snorted. “Why would I be late on the first day of practice?”
There was a prolonged silence, during which Kazuya felt the weight of a joke he didn’t quite get.
At last, Kominato said dryly, “You’d have to ask Sawamura about that. After all, he was the one who—”
“Ryo-senpai!” yelped Sawamura. “Not this again—”
“—showed up halfway through lineup last year,” the third-year continued mercilessly. “And skulked around outside until Coach called him out on it. And then he didn’t even apologize for it, and got banned from practice for the first month of spring training.”
Kazuya couldn’t help it—he cackled. “Seriously?”
“My roommates didn’t wake me up!” wailed Sawamura disconsolately. “Why would you guys leave when you knew I was going to oversleep?”
“It’s not my job to get you to practice on time,” Kominato hummed. “Although, honestly, I figured Azuma-senpai would’ve woken you up after I left. Too bad you pissed him off that first day.”
“That guy was being a jerk! If he hadn’t been so obnoxious, I wouldn’t’ve had to prove him wrong, and everything would’ve been fine.”
“I’m just glad I’m not in the same room with the two of you anymore,” muttered the older boy under his breath. “That was hell on earth.”
The conversation threaded off into other topics, about events Kazuya hadn’t been there for and mentions of people he’d never met. In the end, he mostly stopped paying attention. Slipping off his glasses and folding them neatly to the side of his bunk, he leaned back and let the quiet back-and-forth lull him into relaxation.
(Just in case, though, Kazuya surreptitiously set a second alarm before going to sleep.)
It was early the next day, and only a few students had wandered bleary-eyed into the dining hall so far. The cantina staff were used to long hours—students frequently came in before dawn to eat before practice, or stumbled in near midnight to get a bite to eat after still more training. Now, just after sunrise, two second-years sat together and shared stories of woe.
“And he’s an obnoxious little shit, and he won’t listen to me at all,” complained Eijun, poking at his rice without really eating much of it. “Both of my roommates are rotten to the core. What did I ever do to deserve this?”
“I think the question is, what didn’t you do?” Kuramochi responded unsympathetically, reaching over to flick him sharply on the forehead. “You deserve hell and worse, Sawamura.”
His friend cast him an unhappy look. “You only say that because you haven’t met Miyuki Kazuya.”
“He’s a goddamn first year. If you actually acted like an upperclassman, maybe people would treat you like one.”
“He does this annoying smirking thing,” Eijun grumbled, thinking back to the previous night. “You look at him and you just know he’s making fun of you inside his head. Trust me, if you’d seen him you’d hate him too.”
“You think you’ve got it bad?” grumbled Kuramochi, chomping viciously on an egg roll. “You’ll never guess who Masuko and I got.”
“Kominato Haruichi. Ryo-san's little brother.”
Eijun shuddered. An image appeared in his mind of another Ryo-senpai in the miniature: rosy-haired and tiny, but with a deceptive smile hiding a terrifying demonic personality. “There’re two of them?”
“Haven’t you heard him talking about his kid brother?” Kuramochi asked, raising an eyebrow. “Apparently talent runs in the family. They look a lot alike too—the kid’s not as rotten as Ryo-san, though—he nearly fainted when I brought out the fake blood.”
“Dorm tradition, you wouldn’t get it.” The boy shrugged. “—but then I remember he’s Ryo-san's brother, and if I so much as touch a hair on that dumb pink head, I’m liable to get lynched by my own fielding partner.”
“Oh. Oh. Man.”
“Right? I’m gonna be on tenterhooks for the next week at least. Apparently Ryo-san is the only one allowed to screw with his brother.”
The two lapsed into a shared discontented silence for the next few minutes. Eijun glowered at his food as though it, and not Miyuki Kazuya, was the one making his life miserable. Kuramochi just munched morosely, imagining the myriad ways his teammate might exact revenge if word got out about the fake blood incident. (Far, far too many options came to mind.)
At last, Sawamura downed the rest of his last bowl of rice and threw down his chopsticks with an air of determination.
"What're you up to now?" Kuramochi asked warily, eying his friend.
"Like hell am I gonna let Miyuki Kazuya get under my skin," the pitcher declared, looking fierce. He snatched up his breakfast dishes and deposited them at the washing station, then gathered his training gear. "I'm going for a run-- see you at training!"
"Oi!" Kuramochi protested. "It's only the first day, don't you think you should-- oi, Sawamura!"
The other boy was already out the door.
When Kazuya woke in the morning, pale dawn light was streaming in through the windows. The air outside his blankets was tinged with cold. Somewhat futilely, he yanked the covers up over his shoulders for a few more moments of warmth. Despite years of early-hours baseball practice, Kazuya really wasn’t a morning person.
Kominato was already up, and getting dressed. He nodded at Kazuya when the first year fumbled on his glasses and blinked blearily over the side of the bunk.
“You’ll want to go to breakfast soon,” Kominato informed him matter-of-factly, as he stumbled down from the top bunk. “If you try to eat your three bowls all at once on the first day, you’ll be absolutely miserable.”
The third year only raised an eyebrow. “You’ll see.”
He frowned, perplexed. “If you say so.”
Kazuya set about getting dressed for practice. Something was niggling at the corner of his mind, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally, he pushed the feeling away and checked his phone for new texts. There were none, but when he checked the messages under Dad, there was a small checkmark and the word ‘received’ beside the text he’d sent last night.
At last, when he returned from the communal restrooms and started packing his training gear, he realized it.
It was way too quiet.
“Where’s Sawamura?” he asked curiously, glancing around the room. “Not still sleeping?”
Kominato quirked a slight smile. “Hardly.”
“Breakfast, then?” Kazuya asked, wondering what his chances were of slipping past without being noticed by the loudmouthed second-year. He’d have to figure out a diversion if he wanted to eat in peace.
“No, he’ll be out and about,” said Kominato, a little vaguely. “You’ll probably see him. That idiot runs like clockwork.”
Kazuya waited, but it seemed no more answers were forthcoming. With a shrug, he shouldered his bag and headed out—because, apparently, there was some sort of time-consuming trial to be managed at breakfast, and he’d heard enough of Sawamura’s cautionary tale last night to want to err on the side of punctuality.
He was nearly to the dining hall when he saw what Kominato had meant.
Around the fenced perimeter of one of the massive training fields (Kazuya’s middle school coach would’ve been apoplectic with jealousy if he’d seen the kind of facilities Seido had), a small figure in muddy training clothes was running like the hounds of hell were at his back. From a line around his waist, he towed a battered tire through the dust.
Taken aback, Kazuya actually stopped in his tracks to watch.
On and on, Sawamura ran. His pace never faltered, not even as the sun rose higher over the field and sweat spattered the ground in his wake.
“I wonder who that is,” murmured a quiet voice from beside Kazuya.
He turned, hiding his surprise.
Nearby, a petite boy wearing a tracksuit had paused to watch like he had, and was continuing to survey Sawamura’s trek with interest. It was hard to gauge his build under the long-sleeved jacket, but something else about the boy’s appearance caught Kazuya’s attention: familiar delicate features, and long rosy-fair hair that hid his eyes.
Smiling, the boy ducked a nod. “Oh, sorry. I’m Kominato Haruichi. First-year.”
“Huh,” Kazuya said amusedly, putting the pieces together. “You look a lot like your brother.”
Haruichi flushed pink—proving succinctly that although his appearance matched Ryosuke’s, his personality decidedly did not. “You know my brother?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Kazuya said with a shrug, turning back to glance at Sawamura. “I met him last night. He’s one of my roommates.”
“Oh—you’re a first-year, too?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Miyuki Kazuya.”
Haruichi blinked, and then let out a small laugh. “I’ve heard of you! You played catcher in middle school, right? You’re supposed to be really good?”
“I guess,” he said, because really, what was he supposed to say to that? “What about you?”
“Um, I’m a fielder. I played second baseman in middle school.”
Kazuya raised an eyebrow, giving the younger Kominato an appraising look. A little brother playing the same position as his older brother—applying to the same school, for that matter. Well, if he’d been accepted by Seido, he had to have some of Ryosuke’s talent; but it would be interesting to see how far a copycat routine could take him. But he kept his musings to himself, and only answered with a silent nod.
“I’m surprised, though,” continued Haruichi, with a nod to the field where Sawamura still sprinted. “I didn’t realize the work ethic was so strong at Seido. I was watching from my window, and this guy’s been at it for almost an hour.”
That was surprising. Kazuya had taken Sawamura for a big talker without much substance—and to be fair, that assessment still seemed accurate. But running laps around the field at dawn, all alone? That took more than talk and overconfidence. It took a certain kind of grit that Kazuya wasn’t really sure he had himself—not to that extent.
“He’s going to be worn out before practice even starts,” Kazuya noted critically. “I should’ve expected as much. It takes a special kind of idiot to do that kind of training.”
Haruichi regarded him, a little startled.
“My other roommate,” he said by way of explanation. “His name’s Sawamura.”
The other boy’s nose scrunched up, and then his mouth opened into a small o shape. “Of course! My brother mentioned him last year, over the holidays. He’s a pitcher for the second-string, isn’t he?”
Kazuya shrugged. “I didn’t ask.”
It was somehow unsurprising to hear that Sawamura played pitcher. With a personality as overbearing as his, there was no way he’d settle for a less flashy position. It was Kazuya’s job to handle pitchers, and experience had taught him that most of them were of a particular mien: straightforward, honest to a fault, and desperate to be the center of attention.
That’s why there are catchers; to do the scheming and plotting in the background.
But it didn’t matter in the end. Kazuya definitely didn’t intend to spend much time in the second-string; much less get friendly with his idiot roommate. After another few moments, he turned and continued on to breakfast. Kominato followed wordlessly behind.