He’s never liked being called ‘Kazuya.’
Nori understands that. After the single time he had met Miyuki’s father, halfway through a case of beer after another fourteen hour work day, the old man had told him as much. It’s the name she had picked, and since she is gone, neither of them use it in earnest anymore. It is to Miyuki what middle names are for Americans: useless appendages on one’s identification, a means to separate the elder Miyuki from the younger.
It spills everywhere into their relationship. There are the occasional confessions from the girls at Seidou, who are taken with the baseball captain for reasons Nori doesn’t have to strain to understand. “Kazuya-kun, please accept my feelings,” they say. “You flatter me,” Miyuki always replies. “But my heart is taken.” Only Nori notices how he stiffens at the sound of his given name. Nori knows Miyuki is referring to him as his love and not baseball. At least, he hopes.
Then there are the heated moments alone, when the feeling of Miyuki’s lips trailing across Nori’s collarbone is just as exhilarating as the rush of stepping onto the mound in the ninth. Breathless, taut, electric. But the taste of Miyuki’s surname on his lips instead of the soft sigh of ‘Kazuya’ is bitter in Nori’s mouth.
It’s been six months since Miyuki accepted Nori’s stuttered confession with a soft smile and a kiss. Two months since Nori had given his virginity to his boyfriend and accepted Miyuki’s in turn. Two days until high school ends, and not once has Nori dared to call him ‘Kazuya.’
They sit in silence, shoulders jutted together as they occupy the shaded bench next to the vending machine. Nori fiddles with his overly-hot school jacket, while Miyuki only wears the bare minimum shirtsleeves of his uniform.
Finally, Miyuki says, “I’m going to miss days like these.”
Nori screws his eyes shut and sighs. It isn’t like he doesn’t know what’s coming. Miyuki is a breath away from the pros and will be drafted in October; Nori is going to college on a recommendation for a small-time school that will likely bring him a decent education before fame and glory in the baseball world. Sure, Nori isn’t leaving Tokyo, but the draft can take Miyuki anywhere.
There won’t be any ‘I’ll go with you’s or ‘come with me’s because, even if Miyuki does feel that way, they both know he’s too emotionally constipated to say as much.
“Yeah,” is all Nori manages to say. He hopes that word is enough to let Miyuki know that he understands. After all, Miyuki is frighteningly perceptive when he chooses to be.
Miyuki drums his fingers on his thigh — the tell-tale signal that he wants to say something he isn’t sure will upset Nori. Of course, he would do it today. It would save their last day of school for friends and less putrid goodbyes. “Out with it,” Nori finally says with a heavy sigh.
Caught off guard, Miyuki’s hand twitches as he accidentally elbows Nori. “Sorry,” he grumbles as his nervous tattoo intensifies.
“I know what you’re going to say. It’s . . .” Nori wants to tell him that it’s all right, but he doesn’t because he doesn’t want to. It’ll never be all right, because he doesn’t want this awkward end to their barely-born relationship. “It’s the way it is. We both know that.”
“Nori.” Miyuki hangs his head. “I — I don’t know what I’m supposed to say right now.”
Something cracks in Miyuki’s voice, and it lances through Nori. He reaches out and curls his hand around Miyuki’s anxious wrist and stills it. Their eyes meet, and Nori’s chest constricts painfully when he sees the look on Miyuki’s face. Every trace of that relentless confidence, that mocking laughter, is gone; in its wake are wide eyes and a worried bottom lip.
“My parents want me to go home until the semester starts.”
Miyuki looks away, out over the courtyard and gives the barest nod. “I expected you would.”
“I need to work a summer job, to save up for expenses since I’m staying on-campus.” Nori resents the babble spilling out of his mouth. It’s a waste of the precious little time they have left, but he can’t stop. “But I’m allowed to stay here for the weekend after graduation if I want. I would love to spend it with you.”
With that, Nori stands and gives Miyuki a weak smile. “Lunch is over. I’ll see you after school.”
His knees barely support him as Nori makes his way back to his own classroom, not daring to look back at Miyuki.
As he slumps down into his seat, his phone vibrates in his jacket pocket. Nori makes sure the teacher isn’t in the room yet before checking it. He has one new message.
From: Shirasu Kenjirou
Message: You okay?
Nori glances towards the other side of the classroom to where his best friend is sitting and raises a brow. Shirasu gives him a tight smile before thumbing another message.
From: Shirasu Kenjirou
Message: Let me know if therapeutic junk food is in order. My treat.
From: Kawakami Norifumi
Message: Around six. We’re talking some more after school.
Shirasu throws him a quick thumbs-up before the teacher walks into the room for yet another pointless lesson Nori can’t pay attention to for the life of him.
All around him, Nori’s classmates eagerly shunt towards the exits for the last time. However, he merely trickles to the dorms to pick up the last of his belongings his parents haven’t already collected. Just enough for one weekend at Miyuki’s house.
One last weekend.
Nori’s hand quakes as he picks up his suitcase and leaves the Seidou dormitories behind. It’s surreal to see the once buoyant rooms largely empty, save for the spirit dorms housing the remaining baseball players not going home for the week off between trimesters. Some of them wave as he walks by, but a long, loud bellow makes him smile.
“Nori-senpai!” shouts Sawamura as he leaps onto Nori’s back. “Don’t you dare leave without saying goodbye to your favorite kouhai!”
Chuckling, Nori shrugs off Sawamura’s bulk and teases, “Speaking of, where is Haru-chan today?”
Sawamura pouts. “He went home. Ryou-san has the week off.”
“And Furuya-kun?” Sawamura scowls as his eyes drift in the general direction of the practice fields. Their gazes meet, and together, they both say, “Running.”
As he searches his actual-favorite kouhai’s face for what will be the last time in a long while, Nori huffs before tugging Sawamura in for a hug. “I’ll miss you, Eijun-kun. You made me a better pitcher, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”
Tears prick Nori’s eyes as he pulls back to see Sawamura’s bottom lip quivering. Rather than give into an embarrassing show of emotion, Nori claps Sawamura on the shoulder and leaves off with, “Go get ‘em, Ace. I want to hear all about it when you take these guys to Koushien.”
Sawamura nods emphatically and gives Nori a snotty smile.
As he leaves Sawamura behind him, Nori calls over his shoulder, “And just call me Nori. I think we’re going to stay good enough friends to drop the formalities.”
He hears a loud sniffle as he walks away, knowing that he believes what he had said with all his heart. He’ll never forget Sawamura Eijun and his influence.
But now it’s time to face the other looming specter of the day: trying to make it through an entire weekend with Miyuki Kazuya without crying.
However, even as he commands himself to head to the train station, his feet carry him to the practice fields for one last visit. His fingers rattle along the fence of the bullpen as he quietly wonders how many pitches he’s thrown in there. How many of them Miyuki has caught. That they’ll never be a battery again.
Something settles hard and prickly in his throat.
“I thought you’d end up here,” says an achingly familiar voice behind him. Arms wrap around his waist, and Miyuki rests his chin on Nori’s shoulder. “I’ll never have to worry about those two idiots again.”
Nori scoffs. “You haven’t had to worry about them for months. They’ve been Okumura’s problem for a while now.”
Miyuki hums against his ear before sighing. Nori knows the feeling. He asks, “Do you think they can do it? Finally win it all, like we could never do?”
“I don’t doubt them for a minute,” Miyuki replies without hesitation. “Toujou’s a great captain.”
“He learned from the best,” Nori answers before turning to nuzzle into Miyuki’s neck. “They grow up so fast.”
Miyuki chortles into Nori’s hair. “Like the fifty little brothers you never wanted.”
“Mmm.” Nori looks up and says, “We should get going.”
Brow raised, Miyuki smirks. “Why the rush?”
Nori’s face flames as he whispers, “I haven’t had my hands on you in days.”
Eyes widening at this bold statement from Nori, Miyuki’s surprise quickly morphs into a smirk. “I’m just irresistible,” he murmurs as he draws Nori close to his chest.
Their lips brush together, and Nori’s eyes flutter closed. If he tries really hard, maybe Miyuki’s kisses will taste honeyed and not bittersweet.
After a quick greeting to Miyuki’s father in his shop, they spill through the front door of Miyuki’s house in a tangle of limbs, hands and lips anywhere and everywhere. Neither of them notice when they both nearly crash to the floor while toeing off their shoes.
Nori’s breath rushes out of his chest when Miyuki picks him up by the bottom and carries them both to the small bedroom at the back of the hall. His knees hit the back of the bed and he falls backward, with Nori piling on top. A puff of dust coughs up out of the bedspread, making Nori sneeze into Miyuki’s shoulder.
He misses the contact immediately when Miyuki slides out from beneath him and slouches at the edge of the mattress. “Sorry. I should’ve planned this out better.”
The paper it would take to write the books’ worth of things Nori doesn’t know about Miyuki would demolish an entire forest, but he thinks he understands what’s happening here. The same air of neglect coated the entire house. “It’s okay.” Nori wraps his arms around Miyuki’s waist from behind and kisses his cheek. “We’ll grab a bat later and dust it off over the railing.”
When Miyuki turns to look at him, there is something Nori doesn’t recognize in his eyes. They never look away from each other as Miyuki stands and rips the bedspread from underneath Nori and tosses it on the floor, sending Nori reeling backwards.
Miyuki’s lips assault the sensitive flesh of his neck, and Nori gasps from the feeling. The sound elicits a hum from Miyuki that greatly resembles a growl. Their groins grind together, and Nori cants his hips up into the contact, whimpering because no matter how much of Miyuki he gets, it won’t be enough. It will never be enough.
But he’s not going to think about that. Not now, and not for the next couple of days.
Hands slink beneath Nori’s untucked shirt and rake the taut lines of his stomach with blunted nails. Nori’s lungs feel bereft of air, and he pants as he reaches down to unfasten Miyuki’s belt and trousers with shaking fingers before working his own open.
Shucking their school uniforms for the last time is a graceless affair, but Nori relishes the chance to take in the sight of Miyuki’s hard chest and well-muscled arms. His throat feels dry and his skin more alive than ever.
“Nori,” Miyuki says softly as he threads their fingers together. He holds their joined hands against his breast, and Nori can feel his heart beating wildly. “Before we —” His cheeks burn as he speaks, but he keeps his eyes trained on Nori. “I want to, um . . . could you —”
Blinking at Miyuki’s odd bout of speechlessness, Nori sits up and kisses their clasped hands. “It’s okay.” A soft smile spreads across his face. “Whatever it is, it’s okay.”
“That’s really embarrassing,” Miyuki grumbles as he finally looks away, but the task is completed. The awkward moment is past, and Miyuki looks much like he’s asking for a kidney.
He doesn’t know why, but Nori feels a strong urge to do something he hasn’t done when they are alone for as long as they’ve been together. He’s thought it, dreamt is, burned with it. But always silently.
Extricating his hands from Miyuki’s unsteady grasp, Nori smooths them over Miyuki’s jaw and quietly utters, “Kazuya. I love you.”
Miyuki’s breath hitches at the sound of his given name, but as the rest spills out of Nori’s mouth, his eyes widen as he bites his bottom lip. It takes a moment before Nori realizes what’s happening.
He is about to cry.
“I just didn’t want to have never said that,” Nori babbles, carding his fingers through Miyuki’s hair. “So whatever you want to ask, it’s all right.”
Hungry lips descend on Nori’s, and it’s all the response Nori needs. Miyuki’s words have never been for telling the truth; since they met as first years, Nori has always known the boy in front of him as a man of action and drive.
And he has never felt so loved.
Nori yelps when Miyuki reels back, sending them into a sprawl on the bed with Nori’s weight pressing Miyuki into the mattress. Groaning, Miyuki arches into Nori and curls his arms around the pillow behind his head. The rough scrape of their bodies makes Nori’s skin buzz, and he can’t stop himself from rolling his hips to draw out even more sensation.
The sound of Miyuki’s pleasure gives Nori chills because he knows that he’s the only one who has ever heard it. It lights a hunger in Nori’s gut, and with more viciousness than he would ever believe himself capable of, he puts hand and mouth on every inch of Miyuki’s body he can get to.
However, it’s when Nori hooks his fingers on the waistband of Miyuki’s underwear that he hears a whimper from Miyuki and he freezes. “Do you want me to stop?”
Miyuki’s head thrashes a negative on the pillow, his eyes screwed shut. “No.” His breaths short and ragged, Miyuki puts a hand over one of Nori’s and urges him on. “Don’t stop.”
They’ve had sex perhaps a half dozen times since their first awkward and slightly painful coupling, but in those times, Nori can’t ever recall seeing Miyuki come undone. They took their mutual pleasure, of course, but he has never witnessed raw, writhing need from his boyfriend and it makes Nori’s heart pound. Blood roars in his ears as he reverently slips off Miyuki’s briefs and sinks his mouth over the flushed cock beneath.
Indecent cries pour into the room, and Nori’s own groin throbs in anticipation. He isn’t nearly as good at this as Miyuki is, but knowing he could draw out such sounds makes him want to learn.
A niggling voice at the edge of his mind reminds him that this will be their last hurrah, and there won’t be any more he can learn from Miyuki’s usually unyielding body. Nothing more for Nori, at least.
No, he says to himself as he shuts down that thought right away. Neither of them know what the future holds, but he’s not giving up that easily
It’s with renewed sense of purpose that Nori takes Miyuki’s entire length into his mouth and down his throat.
Even as he breathes through his nose, Nori feels like gagging, but he holds there as long as he can while he soaks in Miyuki’s incoherent babble of bliss. Miyuki Kazuya, the man who always has something to say, whose tongue is razor sharp and seldom idle, can barely string together proper words and Nori made it happen.
Nori stops when he sees Miyuki flop an arm wildly at the nightstand. He watches until he notices what Miyuki is after, and with a blush, Nori reaches over for him and pulls out what they need to go further.
But as Nori tugs off his own underwear, Miyuki bites his bottom lip as he holds the lube out for Nori to take. Frowning, Nori takes it. He can prepare himself, but it just feels better when Miyuki does it for him. But maybe Miyuki is too tired or strung out to do it, and that’s fine. Shrugging, he drizzles some on his fingers and reaches around to get started.
“I —” When Nori turns his attention on Miyuki again, the latter glances away, his cheeks burning. “Nori, I want you to . . . don’t make me say it out loud.”
Nori stares in shock. In the two months since they started having sex, they’ve done it a total of seven times. Always, it has been Nori to take in Miyuki, even when they were both a little scared of the act. But it has always been okay because Nori trusts Miyuki more now than ever and never asks for their roles to be reversed.
He knows about Miyuki’s mother. About the long, empty childhood filled with one half of dinner for two sitting in the fridge until the wee hours of the morning. About how often Miyuki allows himself to make friends.
And now, in the last throes of their closeness, Miyuki is offering himself to Nori in the most intimate and trusting way possible, and Nori’s chest aches at the thought. “Kazuya,” he breathes before his lips descend on Miyuki’s.
Never parting their eager mouths, Nori works Miyuki open, kissing away the pained grunts and hisses until they dissolve into moans and ready hips. He makes quick work of putting on the condom before positioning himself over Miyuki.
Panting, Nori rests his forehead against Miyuki’s and murmurs, “It’s going to hurt the first time, but I’m going to do my best to make it better. Do you trust me to do that?”
Nori isn’t sure why it’s so important for Miyuki to vocally reaffirm this trust between them, but for once, he wants something out of Miyuki that he doesn’t readily give and wants to be sure it is there for him to take.
The ghost of a yes glances across Nori’s lips, and he feels tears prickle in his eyes. It’s an awful time to cry, he is aware, but he can’t help it because nothing could be more perfect than this. Not standing on the mound as an ace or at Koushien with the world watching what he and his teammates can do. How can anything compare to the trust of Miyuki Kazuya?
Miyuki’s teeth sink into his bottom lip as Nori pushes in, glasses askew. Nori pauses and, with his clean hand, tugs them free and places them on the nightstand. Without them, Miyuki looks strangely vulnerable and far younger than the burdens he has carried in his life must make him feel.
He thumbs a bead of sweat from Miyuki’s temple before carding his fingers through silky strands and bringing their mouths together once more. When he is fully immersed inside of Miyuki, Nori wraps his arms around Miyuki’s torso and buries his face in his neck.
Nori doesn’t know enough words to describe this feeling. He feels fuller than he’s ever been, despite not being on the receiving end. All he knows is that the heart he can feel hammering beneath him belongs to him, if only for a while. Miyuki will surely move on and find someone else; pro baseball players certainly attract their fair share of attention.
But that doesn’t matter now, Nori thinks as he feels the irregular thrash of Miyuki’s heartbeat even and slow, a sure sign that the pain is starting to wane. The only relevant thing is that Nori loves Miyuki and he’s fairly certain he is not the only one. He can feel it in Miyuki’s pulse and in his sighs. In his few sincere words and in how he writhes to grasp onto more of Nori.
He starts to move in a slow, easy rhythm, listening for any signs of distress, but when Miyuki begins to impatiently rock against Nori’s hip, the sedate pace roared into quick, steady thrusts. The room is blanketed in Miyuki’s cries. They are a litany of pleasure and frustration that Nori can barely make out, but it fuels him on nonetheless.
When he’s sure Miyuki can handle the sensation, Nori wraps his hand around Miyuki’s cock and pumps in time with his own movements. Profanities spill out of Miyuki’s mouth, and within moments, he comes into Nori’s fist. The feeling of Miyuki’s body convulsing around him rips an orgasm out of Nori is short order.
It’s all too easy to remember that emptiness when they’re finished and that wholeness of being connected is gone, so Nori doesn’t pull out or away. Instead, he eases his weight onto Miyuki and hums in contentment and exhaustion.
Miyuki’s fingers course though Nori’s hair, and Nori smiles against that hard chest.
Nori’s head raises in surprise. He is vaguely familiar with post-coital pillow talk, a practice he and Miyuki have never engages in, but this is not something he has ever expected to hear. “What?”
With a chuckle, Miyuki pinches Nori’s cheek and says, “Thank you for being patient with me. I know I’m a pain in the ass —” He snorts at his own joke. “— but you make me feel like I’m worth it.”
“You’ve always been worth it,” Nori replies before flicking Miyuki’s forehead. “I’m just lucky enough to see the best of you.”
Miyuki scoffs. “And the worst. Don’t forget all the whiny bullshit you put up with after we retired from the team. It was worse when I got hurt because it felt so pointless not being able to play every day.”
“Oh, I think we did all right dealing with that,” Nori muses, thinking back on stolen moments under trees and inside mop closets between classes. Or that rather mortifying incident in the second floor bathroom well after school, when Kuramochi had walked in to the sight of Nori sitting on the sink with his trousers down to his ankles while Miyuki gave him head. That was about when they decided to tell a few of their classmates that they were dating.
As if recalling the same thing, Miyuki kisses Nori’s forehead and agrees, “Yeah, we did, didn’t we?”
Their weekend ends with a lazy walk to the train station, a kiss goodbye, and far too quickly for Nori’s liking. As the train trundled on to Saitama and away from Miyuki, Nori’s phone chimes with the arrival of a new text.
From: Shirasu Kenjirou
Message: How are you holding up?
From: Kawakami Norifumi
Message: I think I’m okay, actually. We talked about things and decided to go our separate ways. We’ll still see each other now and then, but just as friends.
From: Shirasu Kenjirou
Message: I’m proud of you guys for doing the right thing. Anyway, you know where to find me if you want to talk. Or if you’ll finally take me up on my offer to put your iPod out of its misery and put some good music on there.
From: Kawakami Norifumi
Message: I refuse to acknowledge that statement from someone who thinks The Beatles were the best band in history. But hey, thanks, Kenjirou.
Nori snaps his phone closed with a smile and a modicum of relief. He hadn’t lied to Shirasu; he and Miyuki had, indeed, set boundaries and parameters for their futures like he had mentioned. His relationship with Miyuki is, in a word, over, but Nori has no intentions of giving up forever until Miyuki is drafted somewhere Nori can’t reach.
Five months, twenty-two weekends, and eleven round trip train tickets later, Miyuki is drafted by a team in Miyagi. As Nori hears this through the tinny speakers of his laptop from the draft livestream, his heart sinks. What could have been an hour by train in any one of several teams in the Kantou region is now a five hour ride unless he wants to spring ten-thousand for a ticket for the shinkansen.
Miyuki calls him after the draft ends, and Nori cringes when the first words out of his mouth are, “I’m sorry, Nori.”
“No,” Nori gasps through the bulge of emotion jamming his throat. “Don’t you dare say you’re sorry, Kazuya. The Eagles are a team that’s just getting their feet off the ground. Who better to pick them up and carry them than you?”
There’s a chuckle on the other end of the line. “I guess I went faster than I thought I would in the draft.”
“Only Narumiya went faster,” Nori remarks. “Though that’s not a surprise. He’s a flashy guy. Though I expect Harada-san’s team was probably hoping he would drop in the rankings so they could have a great battery for the next ten years.”
“Of course, there’s no telling how a year with Itsuki changed the way he pitches.” Nori’s heart is pounding, and he can feel his breath speeding up as nonsense spills out of his mouth. “It’ll be interesting to see where our kouhai end up next year. Maybe one of them will —”
A jagged sob hiccups from Nori, and neither of them say a word for five long, awkward minutes while Miyuki listens to him cry. It gives him enough time to realize his mistake. He had taken this time set aside to adjust to the idea of parting ways and wasted it on the slimmest hope that Miyuki might end up drafted nearby, or that their demanding schedules would even allow anything more involved than lunch or coffee twice a week.
Nori lies on his bed, letting the phone lay on his face as he hugs his knees. “Oh, god,” he croaks to himself as he stares at the blank wall of his college dorm in front of him.
He envies the evenness in Miyuki’s voice as he finally speaks. “Nori, what we had was good, and I’m so glad we got that chance. It’s a shame it didn’t work out, but you gave me more than you’ll ever know. I just hope I was able to be at least half as good to you as you deserve.”
“Kazuya, I —” Nori doesn’t even realize he’s sitting up until Miyuki finishes talking and he’s already standing. “You were more than that to me, and I’ll never forget it.”
“I’m glad.” He hears Miyuki draw a heavy breath, while his own is caught in his lungs. “I love you, Nori. I never said it, but I do. You were enough, were always enough. You were more than enough, so never forget that.”
Jaw slack, Nori takes far too long to realize Miyuki is expecting some sort of answer before he yelps, “I won’t. I love you, too.”
“Goodbye, Nori. If you’re ever in Miyagi, look me up.”
“Always.” Lower lip quivering, Nori manages to say with an even voice, “Goodbye, Kazuya.”
Nori holds his thumb over the End Call button for a long while before the dial tone beats him to it. His hands shake as he hits speed-dial one on his phone.
“You okay?” Shirasu’s voice says without preamble. Of course, he knows.
Shaking his head at an empty room, Nori squeaks, “No.”
There’s a hum, and Nori can almost see Shirasu’s frown of concern. “Well, I’m already on my way. Just you, me, and KFC tonight. Ben and Jerry’s, too, if the convenience store isn’t out again.”
Nori doesn’t answer because he knows he doesn’t have to. No, he may not be all right at the moment, but he will be. Miyuki believes in him, and so does his best friend, who knows exactly what he needs right now.
This is not the end of his book, but the beginning of a new chapter and he’s his own author. He can be the hero of the story if he wants, and he’ll be damned if the writer is going to steal a happy ending away from him.
But if one thing will follow him from page to page, Nori is certain it’s that he’ll always love Kazuya.