All it takes is one bad game.
It’s as though everything’s been slowed and muffled, the surrounding air blanketed with an invisible covering of cotton wool; Kazuya doesn’t even register when he’s brought himself to his feet, doesn’t recall when he’s pulled the catcher’s mitt off, doesn’t remember when he’s reached up and slid the helmet away from his head. He can see Sakurazawa gathering in his peripheral vision, their faces exploding with jubilance, mouths stretched open in victorious yells that are as muted to him as if all the noise in the world’s just faded to nothing. Seidō is silent, so silent and completely still, and there’s no sound other than the hazy blur of Kazuya’s helmet falling from his fingertips and tumbling into the dust, like some kind of forgotten relic.
He hears hardly anything, and sees hardly anything; all of his attention’s caught by the hunched figure on the mound, partially obscured by the bright morning sunlight, seeming completely motionless except for the mild tremor in the sagging droop of his shoulders. Almost like a saint on a pedestal, on that slightly elevated mass of earth, soaked with pale rays of vivid brilliance.
Even in loss, Sawamura Eijun is as warm and stunning as the sun. And Kazuya’s chest all but tightens with a peculiar ache to see him there, with such a haunting, quiet humility in defeat and an unmistakable dimming of the usual summery glow underneath his skin, like a candle’s flame on the verge of dying out.
Kazuya knows perfectly well how, for the most part, he’s alone outside of baseball. And it’s something that he’s more than fine with.
It’s hard not to notice how girls call his name with enthusiastic adoration before, after, and while he’s playing on the field, but don’t really tend to approach him otherwise. Or how classmates will give him quick, leisurely sentiments of moral support for his games, but don’t really make a habit of striking a conversation with him at any other time.
Everyone seems to say he has a twisted personality, and in some perverse way, Kazuya’s happily accepted that, really. After all, he’s full of abnormally quick ideas, near-feral smirks and untamed cheer; he’s aware of how pretty rationally sharp and painfully witty he is; and he can’t exactly help but be flattered, knowing that people are so clearly affected by his general character and mood that they feel the need to make scathing remarks on it.
It’s not a compliment! they tend to say when he thanks them, and he’ll always give them one of his trademark shit-eating grins in response. It isn’t uncommon for his teammates to jokingly wonder aloud whether he actually has any friends – and that question doesn’t particularly bother him, because he’ll always have his baseball, and he’s never really alone, and he’s true enough to himself that he wouldn’t change his own quirks for anything in the world.
All in all, Kazuya’s more than happy to crouch in the catcher’s box, tucked down and away from most forms of blatant scrutiny, a foundation of support in the face of enemy lines. At the end of the day, catching is practically ingrained into his body and his heart – his life’s joy – and he dreams a young boy’s dream of doing this forever, squatted low and small in the dark splash of the batter’s shadow, doing everything in his power to make his ace pitchers shine.
He isn’t too sure when he’d started to feel that Sawamura actually shines in a different way in his eyes, in a manner that has nothing to do with skill or power or charisma. That boy has every bit of room in the world to improve, after all, just like any other athlete; and in the end, he’s also a baseball idiot, loud and raucous and full of boundless energy and inexhaustible enthusiasm.
Though the faint stinging in Kazuya’s chest isn’t too noticeable anyway, even it’s still there regardless. Or at least, he hadn’t thought it to be a big deal right up until he runs into Sawamura late in the evening after the game they’d lost, standing all alone with his body slumped bonelessly against the wall outside the dorms, his murky shape miserably folded into itself underneath the shadows of the cold roof.
‘I seriously screwed up,’ Sawamura mumbles in a quivering voice, without turning to meet Kazuya’s eyes; his breathing is unsteady, and his face, normally gleaming with liveliness, is barely visible at all in the nighttime dark.
Kazuya answers, simple and straightforward, ‘You played a bad game.’
Not a criticism; not an insult. But not an attempt at reassurance either. Just brutal, blunt honesty, delivered in the same no-nonsense way Kazuya’s always been known for doing – particularly in situations where the most crucial thing to focus on is learning from every mistake and continuing to move forward.
‘No need to point out the obvious,’ Sawamura bites out.
The bitter jab rings almost like a confession, tired and ashamed, which isn’t exactly surprising. After all, Sawamura had been the final relief pitcher on the mound in what could easily be considered a really close game, and all it’d taken was one slightly flawed opening pitch for him to slowly and gradually self-destruct from nerves and insecurity in all his pitches afterward. For someone who’s always one hundred percent heart and feelings and emotions, it’s no wonder that he blames himself. It’s no wonder that he honestly believes he’d let his teammates down.
It’s getting dangerously close to becoming a repeat of the previous incident with the dead ball and the yips, and Kazuya definitely isn’t keen on seeing that vivid light come close to flickering out again.
‘Even then, you stayed and fought until the very end,’ he murmurs under his breath. ‘I’ve told you before how much I respect that. You haven’t broken my trust. You haven’t broken anyone’s trust.’
‘You don’t speak for everyone, senpai,’ Sawamura replies sharply, his tone rising in pitch, every color of pain clear as day in the timbre of his words. But then he unexpectedly deflates, whispering: ‘I’m a disappointment to them.’
This is it, Kazuya thinks; this is the reason why Sawamura always seems to be so full of sunlight. From what he’s seen, Sawamura’s attachments run deep, and his hurts sting all the way down to the very core of his being. His every waking moment’s dedicated to his passions, and his every thought and action always comes straight from the soul.
Simply put, Sawamura has a heart of gold.
But Kazuya knows that there’s no real point in trying to express any of that right now, considering Sawamura isn’t in the right state of mind to hear it, so he clamps his teeth shut. Stays silent.
‘I do try,’ Sawamura continues after a pause, breaking the temporary quiet. ‘I’ll always keep trying. But it’s almost as if … I mean, like, Furuya never—’
‘Stop comparing yourself to Furuya,’ Kazuya immediately cuts across him, exasperated. ‘You’re as different from him as it gets.’
A fleeting hurt flashes across what little he can see of those amber-lit eyes in the dark, and he suddenly understands, too late, that Sawamura’s completely misinterpreted his words. Sawamura ducks his head, fingertips fiddling with the hem of his shirt, and seeing this, Kazuya lets out a long sigh.
‘Idiot. That’s not what I meant.’
Which maybe isn’t the best thing to say, he abruptly realizes; admittedly, he probably could’ve left out the idiot part instead of pretty much giving Sawamura another kick while he’s down. But his mouth’s working unusually faster than his mind today – an occasional symptom of spending any length of time with Sawamura, who tends to embody that trait completely – and he has to wonder if this is why people complain about him being emotionally stunted, if this is why people often ask if he has any real friends.
Sawamura momentarily presses his lips into a thin line, before he says tonelessly: ‘Huh. Twisted as usual, senpai.’
Kazuya’s mouth opens out of reflex and he nearly gives his usual sunny response of thank you, but somehow, fortunately, he manages to stop himself.
Just as he’s musing over how unexpected it is that he’s actually developed an impulse for it, and how twisted that really does make him, Sawamura pushes himself off the wall and starts walking away without another word. Kazuya lets him go, keen eyes following his barely-lit outline and his stirring movement in the shadows until he’s completely disappeared from sight.
That night, Kazuya dreams of stitched leather creaking between curved fingertips, quick gushes of cold air, and dust settling in the aftermath; his eyelids are left with the imprint of a striking silhouette, its lean left arm extended, an enthrallingly unusual form half-concealed by a white-hot glow.
It only takes two days for Sawamura to start behaving somewhat normally again.
And just like that, it’s almost as if the baseball club comes back to life after a long sleep, too. He gives a pretty loud public apology, yelling at the top of his lungs while bowing repeatedly and enthusiastically to the entire team; it isn’t long before nearly everyone’s snarling at him to shut up, setting off even more of an uproar to the practice session than before – although the solid relief in every single one of their faces is more than evident. The days right afterward are marked with Sawamura throwing himself into his training with all the vigor of someone who’s bottled up his excess energy for too long, and the resulting kicks to the behind that he gets from all his teammates makes it even clearer to Kazuya of how reassured they are to have him back, even if none of them are likely to ever admit it.
In other words: a return to the usual, the familiar. A return to how everything should be.
‘Miyuki-senpai! Please catch for me!’ Sawamura bounds up to Kazuya eagerly after his run, brimming with the kind of gusto that’s a still a little too pent-up, his gold eyes gleaming fiery and heartfelt.
‘I can’t today,’ answers Kazuya with a raised eyebrow, jerking his thumb backward over his shoulder in Furuya’s direction. ‘I’m scheduled to practice with our resident monster for the whole day. I’m pretty sure the net’s free, though.’
He gets predictable fits of noisy whining and sulking in response, which he rolls his eyes at, even though the muscles at the corners of his own mouth are tugging upward anyway.
Looking at Sawamura still reminds him of the sun, somehow, overwhelmingly raw and full of life and bright enough to unexpectedly warm him from the inside out; he suddenly can’t help but picture rays of light slipping right through the gaps between his own fingers, out of reach, when he notices Sawamura pitching determinedly into the net later – but in any case, Kazuya tells himself, that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, he’s the primary catcher and the cornerstone of support for this team, and as long as the sun keeps shining, there’s nothing more that he should want.
Everything considered, he has to wonder – especially with how edgy he’s quickly become – whether the constant unfamiliar stirring and unrest is a sign that he should take a break from Sawamura from a little while.
He knows, at the very least, that it has nothing to do with guilt; not when he’d meant every word that’d left his mouth during that awkward nighttime conversation right after the game, and not when he’s more or less always lived his life in a way that basically makes no room for regrets. But there’s a chance that maybe he’s getting a little unnecessarily distracted when he shouldn’t be, and it’s enough to spur him to put all of his concentration into regathering his focus; into responsibly arranging for Kariba and Ono to catch for Sawamura during upcoming practices; into keeping all necessary conversations with Sawamura short and to the point; into arriving at practice right before it starts, and leaving right after it ends while dodging all the regular casual social gatherings; and into staying mostly in his classroom or dorm room outside of his baseball schedule to work on play strategies.
Which is how he ends up with Sawamura indirectly confronting him a week later – hardly an unexpected thing, considering it’s just the kind of person Sawamura generally is, driven by a need to keep things uncomplicated for the sake of understanding the full picture. And not exactly an avoidable thing either, particularly not with Sawamura plonking himself onto the seat right next to Kazuya during lunch, boring holes into Kazuya’s face with a stare that’s so guiltless and earnest that it manages to get Kazuya squirming even more.
‘Seeeeenpaaaaaiiiii,’ Sawamura whines immediately through a mouthful of rice. ‘Aren’t you ever gonna catch for me again? It’s been more than a week since the game.’
‘Not today. Nori went straight for me first thing this morning and asked,’ he replies, allowing his own lips to curve just barely. Unexpectedly, Sawamura returns the gesture, eyes glimmering with his half-smile; and there it is again, out of the blue. That prickling sensation, searing inside Kazuya’s chest.
‘That really sucks,’ says Sawamura acceptingly, much to Kazuya’s surprise; he’d almost been sure that Sawamura would kick up a fuss. ‘We’re awesome together, senpai! Our battery needs to be back in action!’
Kazuya lets out a single indulgent snort with no real jab or unpleasantness behind it. How typical, honestly, that Sawamura can harbor feelings that are so complex while being able to express them in a fashion that’s so simple. Needless to say, there’s nothing more true to Sawamura than that, through and through.
‘But …’ Sawamura suddenly continues, and somehow his voice is much lower in volume now; a look of mild uncertainty crosses the slant of his mouth. ‘You’re definitely not avoiding me, right?’
And for once in his life, quick-thinking Miyuki Kazuya can’t find anything to say. Not when he has no intention of being dishonest about this, but can basically already see how much harm it’d likely do to be upfront, all the same. So he simply lets his gaze drop, and he can see from his peripheral vision how the smile slowly slips away from Sawamura’s face, and only then does it strike Kazuya just how much he can miss that fragment of sunlight once it’s already gone.
It’s like a balance of the universe, he muses. Let the pitcher shine, and let the catcher support him from within the batter’s shadow. After all, a worthy catcher’s meant to be impartial, especially when there’s more than one pitcher to partner with in the team; there should be no singular attachment, no preferential treatment. Which is a challenge when he’s getting too intoxicated on that dazzling, incandescent light – a luminous world of smoldering emotions he doesn’t fully understand, a naked plane of all-consuming fervor and tender devotion and everything in between. In all respects, it’s definitely better to leave that unspoiled illumination exactly as it is, unceasing in its grandeur and out of range of direct contact: sixty feet and six inches of distance.
So, yeah. He has been avoiding Sawamura.
He gets up, pushing his seat back with a soft clatter, and playfully rolls his eyes. ‘C’mon, don’t try to think too hard,’ he teases, airy and joking. ‘You’ll end up hurting yourself.’
The warmth of their proximity instantly slides away and cold air envelops him, chilling his skin, when he picks up his tray and proceeds to walk off. He almost expects to hear the usual indignant spluttering and his name being irritably called in full, but the only thing he gets is silence.
In light of everything, it’s hardly surprising that he ends up watching Kariba and Ono dutifully catch Sawamura’s pitches over the next few days without a word of complaint.
He doesn’t have anything to say, anyway. That foreign restlessness, that sliver of uncertainty, is still swirling kind of persistently in the pit of his gut; at this rate, he isn’t sure if he’s crossed a line and gone too far, if he’s managed to cross the threshold of too much. But for now, he’s more than starkly aware of the quiver in his bones and the burning in his chest – too delicate and sensitive to actually delve into, too dangerous to even approach.
Sawamura’s progress looks promising, at least, the tense insecurity from that last game nearly gone from the lines of his arms and shoulders. Progress, development, growth: that’s all that should matter.
Three times does Sawamura look up and accidentally meet his eyes, and each time, Kazuya says nothing and lets his own gaze swerve away.
‘Excuse me, Captain?’
Out of all the people that Kazuya can imagine actively seeking him out right before his bedtime, he wouldn’t really have expected the younger Kominato brother to top that list, gazing at him earnestly as he’s getting a drink from the vending machine. In addition to the late hour and most of the dorm residents already being in bed, Kominato doesn’t exactly approach him all too often as it is; but Kazuya retrieves his can and straightens up either way, greeting his underclassman with a good-natured grin.
‘Yo,’ he answers, opening the drink and taking a small sip. ‘What’s up?’
Kominato shifts uneasily where he’s standing, from foot to foot. ‘Not much. I just—’ and then an interesting look starts blooming across his face; a flush rivalling the shade of his hair swells over his cheekbones. Kazuya barely has any time to be amused by it before Kominato sucks in a breath, seeming to internally throw all caution to the wind, and says resolutely: ‘Please talk to Eijun-kun, Miyuki-senpai.’
That takes Kazuya by surprise. He’d thought he’d be faced with an actual baseball-related question, not this – although in hindsight, he probably should’ve seen this coming. He pauses mid-drink, pulling the can away from his mouth.
‘Did he put you up to this?’ he asks curiously, raising a pointed eyebrow.
‘No. I came to you on my own,’ replies Kominato modestly, pale hair swaying across his eyes as he shakes his head. ‘But judging by your question, I’m guessing Eijun-kun is right to think that you’ve been avoiding him.’
Well, damn. Alright, he’s caught red-handed on that one.
‘I don’t want to overstep my boundaries,’ Kominato continues, his gaze and voice low and humble. ‘It’s just … I feel like Eijun-kun hasn’t gone back to normal since that game, no matter how he’s been acting. He’s a bit of an idiot, but I can at least tell that he’s not the type who’d want to worry anyone. The other day he basically mentioned in passing that the two of you had a talk right after the game and that it didn’t go down very well. And everyone’s noticed that you haven’t been catching for him.’
Kazuya almost considers saying that the talk in question hadn’t essentially triggered anything as much as the actual game preceding it had, and that there are no hard feelings contributing to this current tension, anyway; but one look at Kominato’s face is enough to make it clear that that’s not the point, so he stills his tongue. In all honesty, he does know that his own restlessness is likely stemming from somewhere much deeper than the surface: from a connection with Sawamura that’d been built through months and months of trusting partnership, from his and Sawamura’s unconditional faith and belief in one another, from growing together, and from a secret appreciation for that warm, bright light – all of which shouldn’t make him restless in any way. And he’s definitely fully aware of that fact, more than he wants to admit.
‘… Hey, c’mon. The way you say it, you make it sound like everything leads back to me,’ he points out casually.
‘Not entirely,’ Kominato breathes. ‘Everything leads back to baseball and you. You’re the reason he came to Seidō. As far as he’s concerned, right now, where there’s baseball, there’s you.’
That stops Kazuya in his tracks, leaving him mildly puzzled. Sure, they’ve formed a trusting battery and a meaningful partnership in the time that they’ve known each other, but since when has he and baseball been nearly synonymous to Sawamura? Especially when Sawamura was the one who’d come to Seidō with a huge dream and an even bigger mouth, cheerfully proclaiming his one true goal of becoming the ace. His boyish ego may have quelled a little since then, but it’s not like Sawamura’s ambitions are any different: as far as Kazuya knows, he’s still singularly-focused on his own development despite the partnership that they’d entered into with each other. So what could possibly have changed?
Kazuya can’t help but feel like he’s missing a piece of information somewhere.
The name comes soft and quiet, sliding across his thoughts in interruption. When he looks back up, Kominato’s eyeing him pointedly, looking achingly sincere in his compassion and patience.
‘It’s … kind of starting to feel like how I’d imagine it’d feel if the sun were shining only half as bright, or something like that, y’know?’ he murmurs under his breath. ‘Anyway. I really hope you don’t plan on waiting too long.’
Kominato bows low and polite, turns on his heel, and is soon quickly gone with Kazuya left only to stare after him in his wake.
And he’ll never understand exactly how fate really works, because when he absentmindedly strolls out to the field nearly half an hour later, Sawamura’s actually there, rolling his tire out by hand to get ready to have a run; the late evening is cloudy, and there are barely any stars visible to light the surroundings, but what little moonshine’s trickling into the area is enough that Kazuya can glimpse him fairly easily from a distance. Although at this point, even if the night had been tinted completely black, Kazuya’s sure that he’d still have seen him anyway – Sawamura’s presence has always been like a beacon, drawing all eyes to him, gleaming as luminously and as vibrantly as the sun.
He knows that he’s been spotted even though Sawamura never so much as turns to look in his direction, because by the time he manages to get close, Sawamura’s chosen to abandon the tire entirely, letting his grip loosen enough for the rope to fall to the ground.
‘Do you know why I came to Seidō?’ slips out softly from Sawamura’s mouth.
He’s still not looking at Kazuya, so he probably can’t even see it, but Kazuya flashes him a lopsided smirk anyway.
‘I think you may have told me this story before,’ he replies smoothly. ‘But I just saw Kominato a little while ago. He said it was because of me.’
‘Yeah, it was,’ Sawamura confirms, dipping his head, and lean pitcher’s fingertips absentmindedly pick at a loose thread on the hem of his sleeve. ‘I didn’t want to accept the offer, but then you caught my pitch. I’ve never forgotten that sound. I can still hear it now.’
His eyes close briefly, as if to recall it; the sight alone manages to tug at something deep in Kazuya’s gut. How intriguing and unexpected, really, for such a small thing that happened so long ago to be kept by Sawamura as such a closely-guarded memory even now. In the fleeting silence, Kazuya thinks he can hear it again, too – that strikingly quick gush of air, that resounding smack of the ball, firm and solid inside his mitt.
Keen gold eyes turn to look at him at last, steady and open and unshakable, making Kazuya’s breath catch in his lungs.
‘Why have you been avoiding me?’ Sawamura asks.
Hardly a question that Kazuya’s ready to answer, and truth be told, it isn’t for a complete lack of answers. As of now, he’s sure it’s more or less going to be an answer that’d leave him unshielded and vulnerable when he’s usually considered immovable in his presence; it’s an answer that’d be hard to put into words when he’s usually witty and sharp. But there’s no strength of presence or wit or sharpness required here, he knows. Not when Sawamura’s clearly just asking for honesty, stripped bare.
All of a sudden, he can’t help recalling all the random voices he’s heard saying you have such a twisted personality – you’re emotionally impaired, words he’s heard a thousand times before. And for once, his reflex doesn’t immediately kick in to say a gleeful thank you, even mentally.
‘… Look. It’s not that I—’
‘No, don’t do that,’ Sawamura snaps, obviously losing his patience. ‘I played a bad game, and suddenly you start dodging me at, like, every single turn. What was I supposed to think? I don’t need excuses. Please don’t screw with me.’
For heaven’s sake, I wasn’t trying to, Kazuya almost says, his own frustration quickly surfacing; but then again, another part of him can’t particularly help but be reminded of his own personal quirks. He knows that things don’t often come out of his own mouth in a similar way to how other people would express them. And now that he’s thinking about it, maybe the first part of what he’d tried to say did sound a little like he was trying to make an excuse.
Sawamura bites his lip and curls his hand into tight fists, looking for all the world like his temper’s only hanging by a thread. ‘You don’t get it, do you.’
Kazuya lets out a loud, long sigh. ‘Get what, Sawamura?’
‘That you’re just like the sun.’
And everything suddenly grinds to a halt, like all the noise around him has been muted, like the earth’s stopped spinning, frozen in place. His heart stutters, skips a beat. He stares speechlessly at Sawamura, mouth dry; unfazed, Sawamura just stares back at him point blank without a single trace of trepidation.
‘Call me cheesy, corny, whatever the hell you like,’ he continues, and there’s a tremor in his voice now, like he’s fighting furiously against an unstoppable rise of emotions. ‘But I’m not kidding – I look at you and I see the sun. For real, you’re sometimes literally all I see when I’m pitching. Maybe ‘cause, like, you’re bright and out of reach, or whatever? I’ve been chasing you like mad since I got here, but somehow, I’m always a few steps behind.’
Kazuya eyes him in curious wonder, completely floored; in a less tense atmosphere, he would’ve laughed, full of mirth and disbelief. How does a sun see someone crouching in the shadows as another sun?
‘It’s stupid how brilliant you actually are, because you’re such a prick,’ Sawamura presses on, raving without shame. ‘It straight-up gives me stomachaches just thinking about it. But you called me your partner when you first met me, and when I think back to that moment now, my heart still literally skips a beat, y’know? Also, yeah, I know how people see me – as, like, this loud and overactive baseball idiot who embarrasses himself, and can sometimes be incompetent at the worst times. And maybe I am whatever they say I am; but you’ve played as my partner since I met you, even in spite of that. You didn’t stop believing in me. I’m not sure you really understand exactly what that means to me.’
And this, Kazuya realizes, is it. This is the piece that he’s been missing, the mysterious gap of information that’d confused him during his conversation with Kominato. And he knows how he’s managed to miss it, having been too absorbed in what his own eyes saw to be able to see what Sawamura’s eyes saw; but either way, that doesn’t matter at all now.
He takes a step toward Sawamura, who instantly tenses in surprise; but all it takes is for him to tenderly wrap an arm right around Sawamura’s shoulders and draw him close for Sawamura to gradually loosen his muscles and go slack, fingertips brushing hesitantly against the slight curve of Kazuya’s hips. It’s frighteningly warm, intimate, and nothing like the carefree, teasing way Kazuya’s often slung a casual arm over Sawamura’s shoulders in the past. Judging by the way Sawamura’s breath hitches, he knows it, too.
‘You’re totally ridiculous, you know that,’ Kazuya murmurs into his hair; Sawamura’s unexpectedly lax and gentle against him, a deceptive softness that contradicts his usual upbeat energy, a comforting fit that belies the awkward long limbs and bony joints of his teenage growth. ‘You make all this talk about me being like the sun, and you haven’t even seen yourself.’
Sawamura’s light breathing, uneven, is hot against the shell of his ear. ‘You’re an idiot,’ he snaps; however, there’s no real bite in it, and Kazuya can’t help but smile. ‘What the hell are you talking about when I was the one who messed up a whole game for everyone? But that doesn’t matter, anyway. I talked to you. I got through it.’
Kazuya blinks at that, caught off-guard; he withdraws slightly, unwrapping his arm and sliding it back to grasp at Sawamura’s shoulder instead, before looking him straight in the eye. ‘I thought I’d made it worse for you with that conversation.’
‘I’d just played a bad game. I was really upset,’ Sawamura admits reluctantly, looking somewhat grumpy and petulant, a light flush staining the tips of his ears. ‘I wasn’t thinking straight. Anyway, it’s not like you actually said anything of use! And your attitude still sucks.’
Though the unspoken words are loud enough for Kazuya to hear: for him to have simply been there at the time, armed with his genuine trust for Sawamura – a trust that’s always been completely and unconditionally returned – was all that Sawamura had needed, in the end.
And he has no doubts, after everything, that Sawamura would move heaven and earth to do the same for him, too.
‘You’d have all the qualities of a fine ace if you didn’t have that big mouth.’
‘And you’d have all the damn qualities of a decent person if you had a personality transplant,’ Sawamura shoots back crossly, without missing a beat.
Kazuya gives a small chuckle in response, which earns him a light thump in the ribs and a completely unimpressed look. But Sawamura doesn’t withdraw his touch, slowly moving to curve his fingers and laying the back of his knuckles against Kazuya’s chest: a consoling weight, a comforting solace.
‘It’s the truth, what I said before,’ he murmurs quietly. ‘I’ve been running after you since I first came to this school, like, no joke. Just wanted to be your equal. Still do.’
‘Moron. You were never behind me,’ murmurs Kazuya, his tight grip on Sawamura’s shoulder softening. ‘Tell me what else you want. I want to hear you say it.’
Sawamura pauses momentarily in thought.
‘… I wanna keep playing baseball. I wanna get better. I wanna keep pitching, and hell, I want you to catch my pitches,’ Sawamura’s face colors a little more, ‘for as long as possible! I … um, I wanna keep on being your partner, and be totally worthy of you in every way, you know? I wanna stand together with you. I want—’ his breath catches in his throat, and a sliver of vulnerability slides across his eyes. ‘I want you.’
And there it is again, that sensation in Kazuya’s chest, prickling at his sternum and squeezing at his heart tissue. Terrifyingly enough, he knows exactly what it is now, and in no way is it petty preferential treatment, like he’d once thought it might’ve been; but either way, there’s no need to put a name to it at all, especially not when it’s obvious that they both know.
Kazuya leans in, his other hand reaching up to curl around the one that Sawamura’s laid against him, and presses his lips gently to the corner of Sawamura’s mouth. It’s feather-light, and can barely be called a kiss at all, but it’s slow and sweet, holding the weight of everything between them and carrying the promise of more to come. Sawamura breathes, and looks up at Kazuya unusually demurely through soft eyelashes; it’s strange, how Kazuya’s heart may have never pulsed faster than in the wake of that gaze. A somewhat novel sensation for sure, but he knows he’ll get used to it. All things considered, there’s nothing that he wants more.
Sawamura lets out a slow sigh and takes a step back, extracting himself completely; the cool night air swirls across Kazuya’s skin, and he already misses the heady warmth and the shared body heat, mingling faintly between them.
‘I’ll be a responsible kouhai and walk you back to your room,’ Sawamura declares firmly, and Kazuya can barely help the flood of relief that fills his gut to see the trademark lively energy coming back in full force. ‘And on the way there, you’re going to tell me everything that you want. Because you’re a dumb jerk who dodges his feelings, and you owe me that much.’
Kazuya laughs lightly and reaches out for Sawamura’s hand, lacing their fingers together. ‘I can do that. Will there be a Stage Two: Proper Kiss for me at the end of it?’ he teases, tapping the forefinger of his free hand to the center of his mouth.
Sawamura narrows his eyes incredulously and gives a little disbelieving shake of his head, never breaking their gaze. ‘You’re getting a real kick out of this, huh? But I guess you wouldn’t be you if you didn’t,’ he exhales, and peers at Kazuya through half-lidded eyes. ‘Yeah. Yeah, there will be.’
Kazuya’s answering grin is far too wide and self-satisfied for his own good; they don’t even manage to get halfway across the field before Sawamura ends up jostling him in annoyance.
When the team arrives for practice the next morning, the two of them are already there, content together under the soft rising sun, cheerfully playing catch.
It’s only a few weeks later that the Seidō baseball club finds themselves back on the diamond – surrounded on all sides by cheerful clamoring in the stands, the crisp smell of earth, the rich timbre of brass band instruments and the vibrant daylight warming their backs. As far as Kazuya’s concerned, the edge of the field’s always held a unique thrill of anticipation, even when the rest of the team’s just calmly conversing among themselves or doing light stretches next to him; from some distance away, Mei shoots him a challenging smirk from within a sea of white uniforms. Exhilarated, he more than graciously returns the gesture.
‘Hey, you ready?’
There’s a light tugging on his sleeve; Kazuya turns to look beside him, grinning.
‘Damn straight,’ he replies evenly, pleasure in his voice, and Sawamura beams at him. ‘Are you?’
‘‘Course I am,’ declares Sawamura loudly, pumping a fist. ‘I’m definitely gonna make it up to the team after last time. I’m never gonna disappoint anyone again. I’m not gonna lose to anyone. I’m not gonna lose to myself!’
How typical, Kazuya thinks, as Sawamura launches into a noisy stream of self-motivating war cries; it’ll be the first game since that loss against Sakurazawa, and this silly boy is somehow thrilled and motivated rather than tense. He’s so animated in his yells that his face goes pink, and even though a smattering of teammates are adding to the rowdiness by turning around occasionally to shout at him to shut up, there’s nothing but a soft ease weaving through Kazuya’s bones. As usual, Sawamura doesn’t seem to be letting the others’ rebuffs get him down, either, what with his face looking livelier than ever and the sunlight glimmering in his grin from every angle. A faint breeze swirls across the line of Kazuya’s jaw, and he takes in a deep breath – even after the countless games he’s played over the years, all of this never fails to feel incredible.
‘Oh yeah. Before I forget!’
Kazuya doesn’t even have time to react before Sawamura grasps his hand, taking him by surprise; the steady hold is tight and secure, and without any shy hesitancy, Sawamura presses his lips firmly to the back of Kazuya’s fingers. Kazuya blinks for a moment, pausing to mentally absorb exactly what’s just happened – before amusement catches up to him and he can’t help but to laugh out loud. He laughs so hard, so wholeheartedly, and with so much helpless hilarity, that it doesn’t take long at all for tears to start beading at the corners of his eyes.
‘What the hell was that?!’
‘I – you—’ Sawamura huffs indignantly, his face flushing even more. ‘It was for luck! So your hand can catch my throws!’
‘You’re pretty cocky, aren’t you,’ Kazuya gasps breathlessly, tucking his fingers underneath his goggles to wipe at the edges of his eyes. ‘I’ve been catching your pitches all this time anyway, right? And you should be kissing my mitt, in that case.’
Sawamura grumbles something irritably under his breath and lets go, but Kazuya reaches out with glee, catching hold of his hand again. And just as expected, Sawamura stops suddenly, looking up at him in surprise.
There’s always something so oddly right about cradling Sawamura’s fingers in his palm, like he and Sawamura are two separate pieces that seamlessly fit. He slowly raises Sawamura’s hand to his mouth, brushing his thumb mildly over the slender knuckles, before planting a tender, near-subtle kiss on each fingertip: one by one.
‘For luck, then,’ he murmurs quietly with a toothy smirk, his breath hot against the roughened skin. ‘So your hand can throw directly to mine.’
Sawamura stares at him soundlessly, mystified. He's breathless and wide-eyed, a myriad of emotions flitting across his awestruck face; but at the same time, it’s obvious that the painfully lame cheesiness of this conversation isn’t lost on him, judging by how the edges of his eyes start crinkling with amusement in no time. Then he smiles, and it’s that warm, easy smile, full of sunshine, vivid enough to light up every corner of Kazuya’s heart.
‘Gross,’ an unimpressed voice rumbles near them. Kazuya glances over, letting go of the hand in his; Kuramochi, Kominato and Norifumi still have their backs to the two of them, but their heads are turned, side-eyeing them with varying degrees of knowing embarrassment. Kominato’s smiling delicately with a completely red face and Nori’s head is lowered in modest shyness, while Kuramochi has his eyebrows raised matter-of-factly, staring point blank at Kazuya and Sawamura as if he’s seriously questioning both their tastes.
Kazuya rolls his eyes good-humoredly and leans over to give the somewhat flustered Sawamura a light peck on the side of his mouth, purely to spite Kuramochi, before bending down to pick up his catcher’s helmet from the ground and proceeding to slide it on.
‘Well then,’ he says merrily, giving Sawamura’s upper back a single warm pat; an announcement booms over the loudspeakers – seems like his timing is impeccable. ‘Looks like we’re starting soon. I’ll be counting on you, partner.’
The word feels even more electrifying on the tip of his tongue now than it used to – absolute equals, perfect matches, partners until the end: as intense and raw and thrilling as the baseball they play. Sawamura simply beams at him, brilliant as the sun, his gaze on Kazuya as hot and heartfelt as if he’s seeing the sun, too.
‘You got it.’
It’s beyond perfect, everything, all of it. Kazuya knows, then and there, that everything is going to be just fine.
Monthly Baseball Kingdom publishes a full-page article on Seidō’s victory a week later, commending the exceptional teamwork from pitcher Sawamura Eijun and catcher Miyuki Kazuya: the battery that’d fearlessly taken to the field, and shone.