Practice has ended for the day, but the air still buzzes with private batting sessions. The grounds are empty but not, conversation scattered in the spaces between buildings. Out on the fields, cool night breeze curls lazily through the air, dancing around the space two boys have carved out for themselves, just for tonight. One stands rigid, spine and shoulders ramrod straight, his every word carefully controlled. The other stands before him, listening, head lowered but gaze raised, hopeful.
When Chris finishes, Tanba is still taking in the loose curls of his hair, the way it curtains his face, melding with the darkened night sky. A quiet ache clings to his ribcage, threaded into every breath he takes, and Tanba loses himself in years of "have had" and "have lost," from that first day after class, to that terrifying moment on the field, to now. He thinks about all the times he has framed in his memory--of the distance that grew between them, abruptly shortened in the now.
Somewhere in the distance, someone shouts. The sound is muted.
"When I fell in love with you," Tanba starts, finally breaking through the silence Chris left, "I thought you were perfect."
"And now you know I'm not," Chris says, without inflection, his expression unchanging, "so you don't."
"That's not what I meant," Tanba interjects, cursing his tongue even as he half-reaches out, and stops.
Chris' gaze flickers to his hand, and back.
"It was wrong of me," Tanba says, haltingly, "to think that you were. Noone is, and I shouldn't--none of us should have thought that of you. You were just," and here his voice wavers, crumbles at the edges as he looks at Chris and sees him as he's seen him for the last few months--too late to make a difference--"another boy, just like us."
Then, a murmur, "Just like me."
Now Chris looks away, closes his eyes. "I thought," he begins, so quiet Tanba can barely hear him, "I had to prove..." the end of his sentence falters, and he shakes his head.
"I know," he blurts out, takes with it all the breath in his lungs.
And it's true. He understands, and that knowledge makes him want to pull Chris close, wants them pressed up against each other the way they used to be, the way they haven't been in a very long time. His entire being feels like its shaking with the need, his fingers twitching at his sides.
Chris still isn't looking at him.
"You're still amazing, Chris," he whispers. "You don't have to be perfect to be amazing."
Now his expression twists, brows furrowed, mouth pressed tight.
Tanba swallows, tries again. "And I still love you."
Chris turns to him, eyes wide. "Really?"
And this time, he doesn't fight it.
(This is how it happens)
Reaching out with both hands, slowly, deliberately. Golden eyes on him, watching him watching him. Palms brushing tenuous over the sharp line of jawbones,
and Chris shudders, melting into Tanba's waiting hands. His own hands come up, trembling fingers curling tight around Tanba's wrists, hanging on.
Tanba sweeps his thumb over Chris' cheek, savouring the give of skin against skin. Heart stuttering in his chest, Tanba shifts closer, presses his lips to Chris' temple.
A soft, vulnerable sound escaping his throat, and Chris shifts in Tanba's grasp, chin lifting.
Tanba doesn't wait to be asked twice; he leans in.
They sit together in discomfiting silence, not looking at each other. Tanba counts the breaths that pass, twisting grass around his fingers. Next to him, Chris is an unmoving presence, and when Tanba sneaks a glance over, Chris is staring out into the horizon, eyes unseeing.
He stands, takes his time wiping his hands clean over his pants. This time, when he turns, Chris is looking straight at him.
Tanba clears his throat. "Are you free later? I've been having some trouble with my English homework, and I was wondering if you could help me out."
Chris blinks at him--and for a moment Tanba worries that he's forgotten, that it's been too long and they no longer share the same jokes, the same thoughts--
But then the corners of his mouth are inching upwards, eyelids hanging low, and he looks soft, so so soft, as he says, "I'd be happy to."
The relief seeps deep into his bones. He holds his hand out, swallows against the warmth that spreads in him when Chris' fingers fold over his palm. Tanba shoulders Chris' weight, and when the two of them are standing side by side, neither of them let go.
Chris is still smiling, and Tanba feels it mirrored in his own expression. He tugs Chris forward, waits for Chris to fall in step beside him, and then they walk through the night, back towards the dimly-lit dorms.