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Silk Spun In Variations

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Awake in the sigh that heaves his chest, like wings unrolling to take flight, like air slipping out of the spaces between his fingers. Just a graze of his skin against a watercolor fantasy, sweet and absurd; but the bite of inspiration flares bold and spiced at the fringes of his mouth, and he pulls in a slow breath, murmurs, ‘Hey, Miyuki-senpai, do you believe—’

 

 

var. I – poco animato (a piacere)

He thinks he may still be a diamond in the rough: pitches wild and coarse and misshapen, untidy missed swings, and the heat of blaring energy to his name. The other team’s catcher glimpses it, maybe, gaze fixed and steady like he sees Eijun, sees right through Eijun, sees right into the gaps of the bones of Eijun’s ribs. A little too fluid for Eijun’s comfort – pupils dark and slim and keen, making his wrists clench, making his toes squirm.

‘What happened to my team.’ A sag of pendulous limbs and a lost half-smirk; mellow eyes curve moonlike, greyed amusement shaking in the edges.

‘They went off for lunch while you were in the bathroom,’ says Eijun thinly, lashes dripping across his frame of vision – a squint of territorial caution. He eyeballs the catcher with a fragment of suspicion and a knot of braided lips, and mutters under a breath: ‘This is what we lost to?’

He finds hushed surprise in answer; and then a quick, smothered scoff, trouble tucked behind the corners of a frosted grin and slinking between white slashes of teeth. As sharp as a scratch of thorns, and irritatingly magnetic: a bladed gaze guarded by slick gold-tinted glass.

‘What spunk. You sure are rude,’ the catcher drawls, smooth and narrow, a voice of woven spider silk. He folds himself over to lift the mitt from the bag at his feet, and slopes an eyebrow. ‘Wanna try pitching to me?’

A face Eijun’s seen during high school games, but a name he’s never really learned. He discovers later that it’s Miyuki Kazuya; that he’s a slice of a year older at twenty-one; that he’s a sports sciences major at Waseda. A terrible smile and too-intelligent eyes and crooked wit, and Eijun doesn’t think that he’s particularly likeable at all.

But Eijun likes the thunder that crashes in Miyuki’s glove when his fastball hits it.

The catchers that cross his path don’t particularly wax lyrical about his malleable joints, about his raw and uncut pitches, about the irregular ways in which the pitches break. But then again, Eijun finds them to be hymns that Miyuki doesn’t need to sing. Miyuki only looks at him and always-new surprise stitches itself into the line of that mouth; intrigue glimmers in the moisture of those eyes.

‘Don’t you want to go to lunch with your team,’ Eijun hesitates, cleats sinking light and unsure: the ball, then the heel, a pulsing beat against the dirt. It’s thrice, now, that Miyuki’s missed a team lunch in their departure.

‘It’s fine,’ says Miyuki, ringing lukewarm and purposeful and a thin tendril of curious, with the back-and-forth flap of an easy hand and the lenient tilt of a sinuous hip. ‘I get to see those guys every day, anyway, and we don’t play practice games against you lot often. Come on, pitch me another one.’

Eijun complies; every pitch is a welcome pleasure, a flame dripping through every vein. Quivering anticipation is a tremolo over his skin, following the bow of his knees, the flitting of weight across his thighs, the coiling of muscles at his shoulder blades. He’ll always let certainty wind around his pitching fingers like a curl of mist, and then, and then – his eyes catch and snag on Miyuki’s fleetingly just before they slide away, looking aside, just so he’ll hear it on its own. That firm, resounding smack; its unearthly after-echo.

His heart doesn’t throb any slower after each pitch, its drumbeats a mirror reflection of the song of his throws.

‘… It feels like I’m sinning by sneaking around behind Chris-senpai’s back and throwing to you, these last few times,’ Eijun complains.

‘How is it sneaking around. We’re right in the open,’ Miyuki deadpans, rolling dry lips against his tongue, leaving them glistening wet, star-flecked. ‘And Chris-san is sensible. Honestly, you could take a few notes.’

‘Wow, that’s rich, coming from the guy who got left behind by his team while in the bathroom! I don’t want to hear that from you, of all people.’

Miyuki fixes a lingering look on him that’s both soft and sharp; a taste of something that’s a little breathless, a little dangerous, like a droplet of blood in a bed of snow. A little striking. Eijun’s snipped inhales and shallow exhales snag in his lungs, his pulse thrumming hot and quick at his wrists, warm palms going damp beneath those eyes. He tells himself it’s not thrill.

Miyuki’s eyes are always touched by snow, are always wintry glass; overflowing with thought, kissed by dim and faint clouding from maybe having ripened so early, matured so fast. Sometimes dry, and often shielded, more intelligence than sentiment quaking at the seams. It’s only when Eijun sees Miyuki and Chris talking together after another practice game and discovers that they’ve actually been acquainted since their middle school days, however, that he catches his first glimpse of a shift between the seasons. Soft-eyed respect and partiality, one catcher to another; and Miyuki’s but a little boy, quiet keenness plump and iridescent at his cheekbones, dreams as wide as the rolling sky swelling in the clear brown-gold of his irises.

‘Ohh,’ Eijun croons at him with interest, circle-mouthed. ‘So you can have a face like that too.’

Miyuki grins at him, threads affectionate fingers through his hair, ruffles the dark and wayward tufts. The base of his palm drifts hot over the curve of Eijun’s nape; a wisp of breathy laughter slides out from between his teeth.

Eijun noisily complains at this, protests a storm at the elbow that Miyuki twines nonchalantly around his and at the heated sighs against his ear, but it’s possibly not so terrible, rinsing himself in the mild and puzzling warmth of it. It still tastes of Miyuki, even if it doesn’t have the usual unsweetened coolness of Miyuki’s half-truths, the faces that he seems to slip into the front to keep others sleeping behind secret doors.

He wonders why he mightn’t really mind that much if the two of them stayed pressed against each other’s bodies as they are now, wonders what’ll happen if time crawls to a stop, wonders if gold-mottled spiders could weave roseate webs around them if they remained perfectly still together, just like this.

Fall gives way to winter, to icier morning jogs and stooped, hushed students and the heavyweight air of exams. But if it’s an opportunity and excuse to get warmer, then Eijun will take it; to run longer, to swing harder, to keep pitching, pitching, pitching until heat kindles in tender muscles and new calluses pepper rough hands – a soothing tempo, a constant beat, a steady rhythm.

College baseball still rings somewhat boylike to him, its pulsing music awake and unremitting, stirring beneath hardened skin. Symphonies of romance on the diamond stage, in rubber soles rasping against the dirt and the steel-crisp contact of metal to leather and feather-thin breaths, hot and alive, catching on the teeth of still-young men. Choruses of laughter and sunlit cheer settling on the earth, settling on their shoulders, settling in Eijun’s bones. Euphoria, just the way he likes it.

‘I think it’s not too different from when I was in high school,’ Eijun says, hooking a stare on Miyuki through low, dark lashes.

Miyuki glances sideways at him, and pulls in a trimmed and meaningful sniff; their elbows brush, warm and coarse. ‘The level’s a lot higher, actually,’ he monotones, throwing an arm around Eijun’s shoulders, heavy and comfortable and easy. ‘But I suppose it’s good that you’re enough of an idiot not to notice. Must mean that you just rose up naturally.’

A sharp, slanted swing of his pelvis, and Eijun thumps Miyuki’s hipbone, fiercely enough for a faint smudge of pain to chill his own. ‘How rude,’ he prickles, scowling. ‘And I had Chris-senpai back then, too, you know. He caught for me for a year and guided me the rest of the way through. So of course I would.’

He gets that winter smile in response, quiet and sealed, crowned by a cotton-light fall of snow behind the sheen of silver eyeglasses.

‘Why are you even here,’ Eijun bristles, voice tangled in his chest. ‘You have your own campus to go to, don’t you. I’m starting to forget that you’re not a student here.’

Miyuki tilts his mouth at that, his face opaque crystal. Still an eye-catching expression for his natural lines and angles; the thought itches annoyingly down in Eijun’s gut, dark and deep. ‘Are you actually complaining when a rival catcher is interested enough in your weird pitches to keep coming back for you.’

‘You’re a jerk,’ answers Eijun flatly, thoroughly unmoved. ‘And why don’t you come out to lunch with me sometime, then? Make up for all the lost lunches from when your team left without you. It’s not good to have your meals late, Miyuki Kazuya!’

It’s maybe a touch curious that Miyuki quiets at that invitation, that he grazes the back of his neck with his fingernails, that the soft, wet line of his mouth just barely stumbles. Miyuki’s always looking at him, staring, seeing with that quiet calm; this time, it’s Eijun who doesn’t swerve his gaze, and funnily enough, his belly may just be all the warmer for it.

It’s okay, because scarlet spider silk hovers in the corner of his sight, and he knows, somehow, that the answer’s a yes.

The leftover chicken sandwiches are cool in his pocket when they leave the café, swaying solid and weighty against his hip; Eijun tugs haphazardly at the love-worn edges of his old scarf, wrenches his jacket collar into a tighter fold around his neck, moves to exhale warmth onto his fingertips. ‘Isn’t going pro everybody’s dream, though?’ he says, and long, quiet breaths slide through parted lips in threads, unrolling into hanging smears of mist.

‘A dream for most little boys, maybe.’ A curl of long, spidery fingers around a corrugated coffee cup and the steaming scent of a languid afternoon, bold and full and earthy. ‘But not everybody’s the same. It’s not everybody’s ambition. It’s not necessarily everybody’s dream, either.’

Eijun’s eyes drift ahead in their forward march, and even in the cold grey of winter, shimmering colors still curtain his eyelashes, and his heart still sees the sun.

‘Well, it’s mine! After I graduate, I’m going to try out.’

Half-moon fingernails drop and flutter against Eijun’s wrist, firm and stone-smooth, leaking trails of sparkling heat. ‘You make it sound so easy. It’ll be a long and hard road just getting there, and it’ll be a long and hard road once you get there, too.’

‘Are you a wet sock or something.’ Eijun puffs through hard teeth; straightens an even harder breastbone. ‘I’m always up for a little challenge. It’d be amazing, right. Standing on the pro stage.’

More than ten of his twenty years spent in a flowering romance with his sport, and he knows how far he’s already walked, how far the tethers of his body will let him go, how much farther he can still push without coming apart at the seams. The ache is sleepless, the daydreams trembling; he slips a summer grin.

And Miyuki’s looking at him. Looking with that strange curious heat that he always keeps for Eijun, looking on steady and settled like he may never really look away. That mouth coils, too, slow and vaguely sweet – nothing more than a shadow of a smile – but it’s enough, and honey bleeds inside Eijun’s ribcage, starts to swallow his heart whole.

He supposes that he may just like Miyuki Kazuya a little more than he’d originally thought.

‘Yeah, it would,’ Miyuki answers. A liquid gaze and a hand slipping past Eijun’s, fingertips gliding against fingertips; a feather-light and air-thin secret, settling palm to palm, skin to skin. Knuckles nudge demurely between knuckles, fingers not quite knitting together, but sufficient for the fire-burn to stretch to the apex of Eijun’s throat, to the very tips of his ears. ‘I’ll meet you there.’

The words breathe warm in the afternoon cold, and Eijun folds his mouth around that promise. He tastes spun sugar, gossamer-soft.

He blames winter nearly fading away for being hot all over, a gangling mess of sweat-dampened palms and steaming breaths and smoldering collarbones; but it’s really only whenever Miyuki looks at him, he knows – quiet and supple and focused, a hint of more than usual, a silk-soft regard that curls Eijun’s stomach. Sometimes it’s strange, Eijun thinks, that Miyuki looks at him at all. A catcher worth his salt and a natural king on the diamond; Miyuki’s unexpectedly inspiring and exasperatingly good at what he does, sometimes too good, standing on a glimmering plane just barely in reach of Eijun’s fingers.

‘If both of us do end up in the pros,’ Eijun says, ‘would you still catch for me, or.’

A casual shrug, cool and flat, a voice of stagnant water. ‘Wouldn’t hurt. Like I’ve always said, your pitches are interesting.’

‘I know you’ve said that,’ Eijun answers, frustration taut in his belly, a quavering at his fingernails. ‘Is that all, though? How about me.’

Brisk, prickly teasing always slides off him like rivulets over stone. His body shivers with energy, his booming voice loud and his spirit unapologetic, and he’s never astonished that people think he’s stupid, never really disturbed by the urges they all have to say it carelessly. And that sounds vaguely stupid to him, even then. The words are already out of his mouth, too late to cage in with his teeth; faint heat smokes from beneath his collar, and his gaze sinks, slow and sore, fraying a little at the hems.

But Miyuki breathes, pauses graciously, waits mercifully – then takes a careful step in, fingers trailing against Eijun’s wrist, counting his pulses; pulling in close, so close, counting his lashes. Eyes clearing in bridled surprise, cloud fading from behind glass.

‘… God,’ he hums, a note of tender reprimand, a chord of buried doting. ‘You really are something, Sawamura.’

It’s enough to slip the milky veil from his eyes, to see, suddenly, how he and Miyuki actually fit – puzzle pieces setting together, the way baseball’s always been lovingly set into them both: maybe they’ve always been walking down this path. Like the raised thumb lightly tracing the parting of Eijun’s lips has been a long, long time coming. Like the mouth that eventually, finally replaces it, closing over Eijun’s own, is the first morning dew in a desert. A clumsy, tentative peck that lands too far off to the side first go; a soft, stupid laugh that’s oddly endearing, and then another try, modest and unsteady and alive. A flower-bloom, Miyuki opening discreetly in Eijun’s hands; and Eijun warming in the full of Miyuki’s mouth, kissing back, wings unfurling, dry throat and tight lungs unraveling themselves to breathe, to let the air in.

His heart beats calm and even; blood pulses through tangled webs of veins, as slippery as spider thread – a choice he’s woven.

After their pitching session, Miyuki catches him in a daydream. Warm weight envelops his shoulders right where he’s sitting, the shade of the dugout generously dark, the afternoon air stroking swirls into his cheekbones. Eijun leisurely sags his arm against Miyuki’s torso, supple and solid at half his back; it’s almost strange, how easily the sensation of touch between them has grown to fit into his everyday pages over the space of nearly a year – a measure of normal.

Ropes of silk snare splinters of recollections, and he answers the unvoiced question: ‘I was just thinking about before I came here. Back when I was in high school, and even before then.’

A single nose-bump against the back of Eijun’s ear, breath trickling hot over the ridge of its shell; but Eijun knows Miyuki’s listening, quiet and intent.

‘I think—’ he starts, and then stops; he’s not really cut out for words, maybe, isn’t as eloquent as Miyuki and other people are, hasn't much lyric or poetry within him, only a fiery constitution and an equally fiery voice. ‘Ah, I’m just happy, I guess! That I chose things and ended up with this. I’m glad I’ve played baseball all this time, you know? That’s a lot of years’ worth of people to call teammates. I’m so happy I met Chris-senpai. And I’m really glad that I’m more or less set for the years after this.’

‘Don’t forget that maybe you and I will be playing on the same team one day, too,’ murmurs Miyuki, thumb tracing mellow whorls over Eijun’s arm.

The creaking of a shrouded door is a whisper at his ears, that same door that’s already just a bare breath’s width ajar; novel and indulgent, like crisp air streaming into his lungs, like cool water dripping through the fine hairs down his nape. There’s usually nearly no draught with Miyuki, as far as Eijun knows – as if the entire stretch of his skin is firmly shut, as if close to nothing seeps from his pores. Little by little, though, the tightness is slackening, maybe. Blossoming open, silent and slow.

Eijun responds by turning to press sloppy lips to Miyuki’s jaw, before getting onto his feet in one quick movement, and then thrusting an open hand sideways in offering.

‘C’mon, Miyuki Kazuya,’ he grins, and the word partner hangs from the dry rims of his mouth, stirring thick and unruly between them. ‘I’m beat! Let’s put on a movie after we wash up?’

The answer he gets is a far-too-theatric eyeroll, but roughened fingers soon rise to wrap around his own, lazy and warm. Of course.

Baseball occupies the largest space in his heart – always has, always will – but maybe Miyuki’s taken up residence in the dark corners beside it, together with it, and he supposes that it’s not particularly a bad thing at all.

His phone chimes to the message: Do you wanna come and play catch?

Give me an hour, Eijun replies, without thumbing his furtive grin into the crisp buttons. I’ll be there.

He makes his way over with his glove and his heart cradled in his hands, expecting to play some good baseball. More precisely, not expecting to end up in Miyuki’s darkened dorm room with his fingers twisting in Miyuki’s hair, not expecting to have Miyuki’s tattered breaths against the curve of his neck, or the fingertips sliding over the inside of his naked thighs, or the teeth grazing his shoulder.

Adagio, slow and stately, sixty-six beats per minute. Languid, hushed, blood-hot.

But they still go outside to play catch afterwards, mussed hair and tender mouths and sleepy limbs; ‘I can’t believe what kind of baseball nerds we are,’ Eijun grumbles, knowing that he’s just had the time of his life, knowing that he’s also having it now, too. Miyuki only curls himself over and laughs.

'So I suppose the enemy catcher likes hanging out here, huh,' Chris says, tiny pale streak of a smile and the voice of a quiet field in spring.

He’ll always live for this: his lifeblood pulsing in unbroken beats – the breathing rhythm of his song, the tempo of Sawamura Eijun. All of it flickering through diamond-shaped days full of runs in star-dappled twilights and games in fire-bright sunshine and the cold, crisp wind in his hair. And the drum pounds, trembling in the deep, for the people of his heart, too: everyone, his family, his friends. His brothers-in-arms on the field, his batteries, his partnerships. Even his opponents.

Eijun glances across at Miyuki, brows pinched and ruching, but he’s white-hot all the way to his fingers and toes, embers kindling in the hidden murk of his chest cavity. ‘This guy just never stays away.’

‘Well, that works out, doesn’t it. I plan to play baseball for a long, long time, so since you’re doing the same, I may as well stick around you,’ Miyuki shrugs, nonchalant. And then the mist of his face thins and dissipates, and he gives Chris a tilted smile that reaches the corners of his eyes. ‘What do you say, Chris-san? He seems like an interesting guy. Can I catch his pitch?’

 

 

var. II – libero, con calore

He thinks he must be a diamond in the rough: a feral knot of little chunky fingers and crooked, straying pitches, piles of shuddering bones pushing wide-swaying limbs. A future ace sculpted from gold-tinted dreams, sun-flared willpower burning new mornings into his skies. The team’s catcher seems to take it all in stride, though, eyeing Eijun with a slick liquid interest that twists his fingers, locks his teeth, squeezes his knees.

‘Yo, new kid. Anyone ever tell you your pitches look really weird?’ A drawl of bared teeth and singsong honesty, boyish interest swinging behind licked lips.

‘How rude! You haven’t seen anything,’ Eijun thunders, pride swelling like dawn light in his chest, unfolding wings bristling themselves awake. ‘And who are you calling kid? Your pants look too big for you!’

Dark plastic squares frame a stunned, gaping look. Nearly a gift for Eijun in the way the summer air thickens with his own satisfaction to see it, leaving each pushed breath as heavy as flame. But it’s slowly followed by a slack, oblique smile that crinkles at watery eyes; a gaze both grating and pulling, seasoned but young, a sparkling curiosity behind sheets of silver glass.

‘I meant that in a good way, you know. They’re unique. Huh, I like you.’ A prickly tongue rolling between full, rose-stained cheeks, and a slippery chuckle, breathy and thin. Small fingers catch on the waistband of too-loose trousers, wriggling them upwards, and he says: ‘Hey, Coach! He seems like an interesting guy. Can I catch his pitch?’

Eijun learns later that his name is Miyuki Kazuya; that he’s a tender fragment of a year older, just shy of twelve; that he goes to the school just one suburb over. Not easy to like, and not easy to ignore – Eijun’s blood ripples at that pearl-toothed grin, at the deep-set hooks of that stare, and at the childlike confidence slithering a little too close to home.

Miyuki Kazuya catches his pitches, though, in ways that Wakana and his other schoolmates never really could.

And he’s never blamed them for it, never will, but suddenly, everything’s steady. Like his pitches are water, coursing into Miyuki’s glove in liquid paths, following strings as fine as gossamer silk. Like Miyuki speaks the language of numbers, beset with the nature to read, to calculate, to design. Like Eijun’s throws have never been shapeless, or gross, or confused.

‘Feels good, huh,’ says Miyuki, a sliver of knowing creeping within a terrible mouthful of teeth, trilling across a raised chin.

Muscles dangle supple and drowsy, even when Eijun’s heart sits sleepless and yearning, knuckles crawling with the smoking after-ghost of every pitch, fingertips itching to throw more. No strain in the crook of his elbows, no knots in the rise of his shoulders – only an unfurling of dew-flecked spider limbs, young and pliable and free. He’s shifted nothing, swerved nowhere, and this rude boy still knows how to catch for him.

‘Shut up,’ is the only thing Eijun says, impatience clamping his breastbone, because hell if he’ll let himself get teased.

Miyuki looks at him and grins, looks at him keenly like he sees a pitcher, and Eijun dips his body into the gaze as if it’s sunlight.

Eleven weeks and the coach folds the little league club in two to form the teams for a casual practice game; eleven weeks with Miyuki, and Eijun wraps his fingers around victory. Just a regular fastball straight down the middle, the way he’s always thrown it, but with all the scorching vigor and no shackles at his limbs. Bright daylight at his back and a quick rhythm pounding at his throat, and he wins for the first time – a summer sun rising where it’s never risen before.

Winning feels dangerous, like he can get used to it; cleats firm in the dirt, heart ballooning in his ribcage, warm spirit flaring to life in his knees.

‘It feels – more than good,’ Eijun answers finally, toes curling hot inside cotton socks, tongue flower-soft in his mouth.

Miyuki says nothing, all twists of rolling breath and a smile of nighttime silence, a dusting of winter stars hanging in the lashes of a boy so young. He stares at Eijun like his look won’t slip away; Eijun squares his shoulders and straightens his spine right where he’s standing beside him, their elbows scraping, and he grins and lets him stare.

Their eyes meet, heady and even, when Eijun turns and gazes back.

‘Have you heard of Seidō,’ Eijun asks around a thick, saucy mouthful of burger.

Miyuki stops, little oil-smeared fingers and a greasy potato fry dangling halfway to wide-parted lips. ‘Isn’t high school a little too far away for you to think about. You’re not even in middle school yet.’

I know,’ answers Eijun, throat scratching rough emphasis. But it’s a familiar taste of Miyuki; for the four months Eijun’s known him he’s always been a little damp at the corners – a shadow of careful steps and pebble-cool restraint and slices of hidden thinking. ‘I just saw something about them on a magazine stand the other day, so I don’t know much about them. But if they’re a baseball school, we can play some good baseball, right?’

It’s a child’s wishful falling star flickering beneath rosy eyelids, he knows; a knitting of his own spider-cords. Shining on the mound forever, a field of kaleidoscopes in his eyes, warm half-light on his cheekbones and brass-colored melodies catching at his ears. He’s walking through that dream already, maybe, and sees his tread on every coming stepping stone – one foot, then the next, then the next, an echo of a heartbeat.

Miyuki sighs, impatient but soft, like another steadily quickening pulse. ‘You sure aim big.’

‘Let’s go there, Miyuki Kazuya,’ breathes Eijun, sunshine overflowing from the gaps of his ribs, scarlet filling the edges of his eyes. He wriggles forward in the too-spacious booth seat, thighs tight and quaking beneath the table, nerve endings twining all over from the stir of the thought alone. ‘You’ll have to go there first, but you can wait for me for a year and then I’ll follow you! How’s that sound?’

And Miyuki answers, ‘You’re hopeless,’ but constellations glimmer wet at his curved mouth.

Sleek gold-tinged glass is maybe a little too slick for a twelve-year-old boy, but Eijun still hums: ‘Those would look cool on you.’

Miyuki may as well be a lighthouse for the sturdy way he beams, a sudden grin armed with milky teeth. ‘You think so, huh?’

The winding tone crawls instantly at Eijun’s skin, pricking his collarbones and the back of his neck, and reflex is quick to take over, leaving him crumpled and scowling. ‘You’re so – God, I take it back,’ he bites out, and moves to squeeze his way out of the sports shop.

Miyuki’s wearing those goggles when he turns up to the club practice session two weeks later, however, the usual big dark frames tucked somewhere unseen. Far too pleased, twinkling yellow and handsome and awful, the amber over those eyes a mirror image of the sun and of the gold-freckled spider perched at the edge of Eijun’s dreams.

Seven months of swirling dust at his feet, and pitching fingers flushed pink from the windswept graze of fastballs, and that lingering strip of gold at the catcher’s box – and the phone rings for him, a dawn bell. Blood pumps a swing beat in star-hot ears and growing bones heave; he runs, runs back up the long mountain of stairs, runs to his room where Miyuki’s been playing video games with him, runs before what he’s doing even traces the fringes of his mind.

‘Coach wants me to start in next week’s game!’ he cheers a fanfare, fists curling, elbows shuddering.

Suddenly he’s sunrise, he’s a promise, a challenger with his team buried in his heart, hoisted upon his back, held in the cup of his hands. It’s nothing more glamorous than an off-season game against the neighboring local little league club, but he doesn’t mind. He has baseball, he has his teammates, and he has Miyuki – who always looks at him with restless interest in the wet film of those eyes, always sits at the cusp of Eijun's thoughts nowadays, always offers enough of himself for Eijun to meet him in the middle, to twine their two pieces of scarlet spider string together.

Miyuki looks up from the flickering television screen, gives Eijun only a bare wisp of a smile and an appreciative head tilt, and that’s okay.

Because in the end, when they’ve won, Miyuki’s running too, anyway. Casting his catcher’s helmet and mitt into the dust, running from the catcher’s box, running across the diamond, running to Eijun. And Eijun steps away from the sanctuary of his little rise of earth, laughter chiming from his lungs like the sunny song of a music box – and he sprints, too. The world’s not turning when they come together halfway, throwing stubby arms around each other; and Miyuki’s boyish delight is a warm serenade in Eijun’s ears, the scent of dirt and sweat and euphoria hooking fingers into his heartstrings.

Vivace, quick and bright, one hundred and forty-four beats per minute; winning still feels dangerous, but it kisses him hot and summery, and he’ll gamble his waking spirit to it any day.

Swelling chests pressed together and Miyuki’s hips firm against his, and he thinks of writing red silk around the two of them now, the way he chooses and writes everything else in his life. Maybe he, and possibly Miyuki too, can live in the arms of sunlight forever, playing baseball.

Bones stretching heavy and tender, field-warmed muscles filling out, corners turning more pointed: they’re flowering, outgrowing the safe armor of being little boys – and the combined mess of limbs in Eijun’s shrinking futon is clumsy, a web of hard knobbed knees and stiff jagged elbows and sharp, stubborn angles. But everything softens into a lullaby in the dark. Even Miyuki’s shoulder, a lump of rigid circle beneath the cushion of Eijun’s cheek. Even the blunt chin and steep jaw cutting into the bed of Eijun’s hair.

‘Maybe we can play pro one day, when we’re all grown up,’ Eijun murmurs into Miyuki’s collarbone, still-small fingers tangled with the hem of Miyuki’s shirt.

The clipped sniff that answers him is smothered, light and hot and quiet, a scratchy garland at the crown of Eijun’s head. ‘First Seidō, and now the pros,’ Miyuki deadpans, pulling their shared blanket higher around his ribs. ‘Your ambition is something else.’

‘I’m playing baseball until I die, so I just want to make the most of it!’ Eijun protests, annoyance bleeding through the slits between clenched teeth. ‘What’s wrong with that. You can come with me or you don’t have to.’

‘Keep your voice down, or your mother’s gonna come in and tell us off,’ says Miyuki dryly. ‘Honestly, you’re such a handful.’

Nearly thirteen and who knows if pastel-shaded dreams ever leave silent breaths upon Miyuki’s eyelids, or whether only sums and logic color his irises; he talks beyond his years sometimes, shapes words that don’t usually come from the mouths of children. A ripened blossom alongside a scraggly bud, and the fluttering in Eijun’s palms wilts, dulled and dim.

Then tousled strings carefully loosen, privately coming undone; cool fingers float, a moonrise, calluses skating a line at Eijun’s elbow.

‘One thing at a time.’ A sedate prayer, an exhale coated by a crystalline promise. ‘Gotta work hard for a few years if we want to get into Seidō, right? Whatever comes after that, we’ll think about later on. You have to show everybody what you’ve got, future ace.’

Together, equals. The sun’s back suddenly, fitting into the dark corners of Eijun’s chest, filling up his mouth, pulling it wide. ‘And here I was about to ban you from staying over ever again,’ he jokes, humming in contentment at the warm hand curling over his hip, tucking himself closer into the curve of Miyuki’s neck, a mellow grin and full eyelashes quivering at the line of Miyuki’s throat. ‘It’s a deal.’

A chapped smile blooms against Eijun’s temple, supple and slow.

He lays a bold hand fully flat against the fence skirting the bullpen, swinging around and in – his steps light and flitting, a velvet wing-beat. Then a quick, moist press of lips to Miyuki’s cheekbone, and Eijun says: ‘Hey, ‘morning.’

The other boy’s usual snowfall fractures in a sudden flourish of crimson, jawline taut, quiet breaths leaking out shallow, eyelids shivering like a ruffling of feathers. A thin hand rising and fingernails momentarily scraping his cheek, and he asks, ‘What was that?’

‘Oh,’ answers Eijun, surprised. Alien youth stains Miyuki’s face, the early aging slowly draining from wide, wet eyes, leaving only damp-palmed, sinless curiosity behind. It kind of suits him; somewhat endearing, quite stupid and maybe vaguely lovely. ‘Were you – wanting a proper one? Like … here?’

Two questioning taps of a forefinger to the center of Eijun's mouth, and the dull, grating look that Miyuki throws him nearly tickles his gut to easy laughter. Waking hands drift up on either side, anyway; mellow and careful, as natural to him as all his pitches, warm fingers framing the curving angles of Miyuki’s face. And Eijun pulls in, shutting away his breath, all leisurely, cheery puckered lips – but an open palm instantly smothers his face, knuckles tense and outspread, pushing his nose flat.

‘Seriously, you … good grief, leave that one for when we’re grown up,’ Miyuki says, throat flushed and teeth clumsy and gaze unsteady, the stumble of a growing boy made too aware of his own gangling limbs. He drags his hand away and levels his shoulders, announcing, ‘Five years. Wait five years and you can do that.’

Eijun thinks he gets it, and he steps back, sugar dust rolling on his tongue. ‘That’s pretty specific. I’m glad you’re giving us more things to do together in five years, though,’ he trills, all rounded mouth and a lingering stare of interest. His ankles quake like he’s standing on the edge of the world, muscle tissue falling slack like the mist of every thought is clearing. ‘… So are you planning to kiss me back?’

The mangled noise Miyuki gives him is a satisfying degree of incredulous; a perfectly misshapen groan of disbelief. ‘I can’t believe you,’ Miyuki breathes, but the promise and shy want wedged between the words shine bright – even when they tiptoe belly-deep in his voice, shielded by a brave song, a brave face. A not-so-secret yes, clear as morning.

It's five years that they’ll have in their hands, and all the years after that; all the time in the world together is theirs for the taking, anyway. A future teeming with the smell of the earth on the diamond, the ghosts of cheers and game calls catching at their ears, the hot rush for victory pounding in their limbs. A future caressed by secret evenings spent seated against each other’s bodies, by fingers twining together in the space between them, by hushed laughter shaking their chests.

‘You did say when you met me that you liked me,’ Eijun chirps merrily, solid truth and offering fashioned into a sunflower grin, nothing hidden behind poetry.

Miyuki gives him a flat, dead stare and no answer with it, but the creases at the corners of his eyes and the glimmering of his lips say God, you really are something, Sawamura; a leisurely arm snakes sideways around Eijun’s waist and Miyuki’s gaze slides forward, looking where Eijun knows he always will, looking where they always will.

 

 

var. III – l'istesso tempo

He thinks he isn’t a diamond in the rough anymore; hasn't been for a while now, not when he’s built from years of breathless runs in sunrise half-light, from unkind training camps that numb his nerve endings, from euphoric victories, from painful losses. And winding, irregular pitches have bridged the yawning cleft between amateur and pro leagues, a weapon that’s carried him here, loud and blinding. The team’s catcher is within arm’s reach; tall and sinuous and smooth, with a dusky moonshine gaze behind a sheet of gold – just as Eijun’s always imagined.

‘Is it everything you’ve ever dreamed of, so far.’ Intent seeps from a murmur of silk, as if unread words are buried between crinkling pages. It makes Eijun stop, makes him knit his mouth.

‘… From what I’ve seen, yeah,’ he answers, contemplation perching on the edge of his chin. Crisp grass crunching beneath rubber outsoles, the raw, spiced scent of the diamond’s dust, the twirling air licking circles at his jaw: it’s all the same, and it’s all different, too. ‘But I’ve literally only just stepped here. It’s – this is kinda surreal, to be honest.’

Miyuki Kazuya smiles a lopsided smile, just a little curl on one side; a surface layer shrouding more layers beneath, quiet harmonies slipping in and out below the melody line.

‘I’ve been to your games. Seen you play on TV, read your articles in the magazines,’ Eijun admits slowly, caution scraping against his teeth. ‘I want to know what it’s like to throw to you.’

He glimpses a flutter in the pupils of those eyes, like ripples on still water, like something’s moved to intrigue. ‘For a moment there, I almost thought you were going to say that I was your hero.’

‘I’m a pitcher!’ answers Eijun, barbed and hot, bubbling annoyance puffing out his chest. ‘You know what you’re doing; any smart pitcher would look at you. For heaven’s sake, what an ego.’

That makes Miyuki chuckle, a tune both fluid and chafing, inviting reluctant appreciation, inviting soft dislike.

Eijun learns then that he has character; that he takes the shape of both rude boyish cheek and controlled adult wisdom for being a shard of a year older, at twenty-four; that there’s maybe more human in him than the fearsome catching machine from the magazines. He also learns later that day that Miyuki clicks into a seamless fit with his unconventional pitches, and Eijun knows then that he’s followed the right butterfly, swerved to the right footpath.

Allegro, fast and lively, one hundred and twenty beats per minute. He’s swept from his feet in a gale of wind: travel, the Asia Series, press conferences, near-daily games during baseball season. Familiar rhythms set to a different time signature – rattling camera buttons and the crowd’s roaring heatstorm and the striking chord of his pitch in Miyuki’s glove; a shadow of the pace of the blood-beats at his wrist. A quickening in the tempo he’s used to, faster than he knows how to swing his bat, faster than his pitch has ever been.

His bones droop heavy, the inside of his head lined with cotton wool, his limbs turned to flimsy velveteen. And Miyuki’s calm is whetted steel; a step on each cobblestone from day to day in thoughtful, mellow cadences, spine pin-straight and eager feet set apart and intelligent, measured pitch-calls singing in the silence.

‘Are you alive,’ upside-down Miyuki says, a glass-cool hint of feline pleasure, hips bent forward, face hovering over Eijun’s.

Eijun can sink into the earth forever now and maybe pass into legend, wilted limbs stretched loose on either side of him, a youth in the shape of a star. A groan of soft muscles and lazy eyelids falling halfway; he coaxes his breaths to even pulses, leaves the obvious answer low in his chest.

‘You look worn out,’ Miyuki tries again, almost carefully, each syllable as calculated as the quiet ticking of a clock. ‘Things not what you expected?’

Sprawled on his back in a bright splash of sun, weighted and drowsy with rough sprinkles of dirt beneath his palms, but Eijun’s reflexes twitch and fight and he quickly sits up, twisting his body to look Miyuki in the eye. ‘What’s with the weird fascination,’ he grinds out. ‘I can take anything that’s thrown at me, you know.’

‘God. You really are something.’ A small teaspoon of amusement swaying on a slick, lax tongue. ‘Sawamura.’

It rings an echo of the keen attention that Miyuki pours into his catching, sound and knowing; a look that tumbles in the deep of Eijun’s belly, that underlines the heartbeat tapping at the roof of his mouth. He shakes his head, shakes the unexpected shyness away from the back of his neck.

'... I want baseball to keep being something I love,' he says firmly, a rigid pressure clenching like resolve inside his ribcage, spicy and stubborn. 'Not a chore, and not just some job. I know I'm being put through my paces, but I'm still enjoying every beat of it. So you don't have to worry, Miyuki Kazuya! I'll manage.'

Fingers curl into a fist, and he lets himself fall back down with a meaningful thump, returning himself to the leftover sunlight; warm and simple. Miyuki tosses him a little barely-there coil of a smile that glistens all the way to his eyes, though – and maybe, Eijun thinks, it’s not always so easy to tell the difference between the two.

He’s used to the sidelong gazes after four months, low-lidded and blood-deep, an offering of chilly moonlight beneath a dusk of eyelashes. A chiaroscuro with the way Eijun’s ribs hold flaring embers, sparkling like gold-flecked spiders in all the dark corners.

His body taps a rhythm of licking fire; winning in the pro league doesn’t change much from his amateur days – still the heat of a blazing sun swelling over his heart, the racing upbeats and downbeats of fearsome plays, the rumble of thunderous voices sailing over the wind. It’s maybe a touch hotter, a touch more summery, but nearly a perfect double. The same thrumming delight, the same slumping relief, the same unclenching of his lungs to let a tangled breath free.

Eijun’s eyes slide across and he lets Miyuki fix that twilight gaze on him, too, mouthing to himself that his heart’s pounding only from the victory.

And defeat runs the same; one slip, one misstep, and they’re lost from the tournament.

Five months in and Eijun tastes his first professional loss. Still a slowing of his pulse from the frost in his throat, still the silent cold of tearless teammates falling in the dark. It’s maybe a touch cooler, a touch more wintry, but nearly a perfect double. The same stooping disbelief, the same pause in the earth’s spin, the same taut pull of heart tissue and clamping of teeth.

Wet heat behind his eyes and a snow-cold ache, like there are thorns in his bones and like pebbles sleep heavy in the murk of his belly.

Miyuki steps up to his side, though, and doesn’t turn to him, doesn’t say anything. Callused knuckles sweep coarse against Eijun’s and stay, a moth-soft touch, breathlessly still, the only fragment of warmth in a rain of ashes.

Easy and steady, a muffled ticking of rolling time, the echo of a metronome: swing and click, swing and click, a slow song fit for a slow dance. His dawns and dusks pass with one step, then another; one foot, then the next. He thinks of snowflakes falling, gentle and drowsy, a reflection of drifting spider silk.

His body fits into Miyuki’s couch like it’s shaped to sink into the cushions there, cradled by the fading murmur of their half-forgotten television show, the tension of his sinews dripping away through the cracks of roughened skin.

‘Are things what you’d thought they’d be,’ says Miyuki, straight-tongued and clear-eyed, a private gaze of beats and measures.

Eijun gives a hazy sigh, curved fingernails picking at an unraveling thread on his sleeve. ‘Losing always sucks. Doesn’t feel all that different from losing when I was still playing amateur, to be honest,’ he says, and those bygone days throb like a silhouette of love in his chest, full and tender and silent. ‘But making the best of our off-season should be fun, shouldn’t it? I just – I wanna keep on pitching, you know. Getting fierce guys out.’

Miyuki slants his head against the couch, and freckles of light tip into his pupils like stars. ‘Huh. Early on, you looked a little overwhelmed with the pace of everything, but you’ve managed to grab it by the horns pretty quick, haven’t you? Sheesh, how persistent.’

‘Well, I love playing,’ Eijun answers, vaguely jutting out a skewed bottom lip, ‘so I guess it’s easy for me to keep enjoying it? But that’s the same for you, right?’

A taut half-breath swipes against the back of his ear, dusted with scraps of amusement; but Miyuki’s hand closes soft and warm over Eijun’s in the thin space between them, and Eijun’s heart tightens just that little bit more.

‘… You seem like an interesting guy.’ The crooked grin glittering at the corner of the fence is wily and leonine, itching like wayward feathers at Eijun’s teeth. ‘Can I catch your pitch?’

There’s maybe an overabundance of drama in the answering roll of Eijun’s eyes, but midday sunlight leaks pale and rich into the bullpen and drapes silk-sheer over his skin, and he can’t funnel real bite into anything. ‘Why does that sound like a pick-up line,’ he answers in good humor, bright golden summer in his mouth. ‘And good afternoon to you too.’

‘Yeah, I—’ says Miyuki, suddenly a little uneven at the edges, fingernails gliding in a single scratch over his wrist; and Eijun thinks it’s actually not that bad when he’s like this, when his quiet nighttime gives over into tender morning. Miyuki steps over, continuing: ‘—Anyway, looks like you’ve been handling the last few months pretty well. Practice is gonna start getting pretty rough again soon, I hope you realize.’

‘Yeah? Bring it.’

The off-season doesn’t last forever, is close to laying itself down to rest, and sleeping knees and elbows stir themselves awake, quivering with heat. Eijun drags dampened lips back into a grin – a heavy, burning mouthful of little fangs.

Miyuki is a guy of continuous rhythms, of easy grace and clever calm, in movement and in speech and in his obvious unbroken thoughts in the dark. ‘Typical of you to be so gung-ho about everything,’ he says, lashes low, loose fingers slipping into the gaps between Eijun’s and fitting just right into the narrow spaces, hardened skin against hardened skin.

The melody pressing at Eijun’s lungs is a prayer for mercy; is a thumb caressing his cheek; is a whisper from his body’s threads, reciting casual poetry about how he can't be misreading this.

He passes a light squeeze to Miyuki’s palm, and the faint bend of Miyuki’s mouth steals away his breath.

Victory still thumps with rhapsody that dances over his breastbone, a hot-fisted grip of pomp and circumstance around his pitching knuckles and pulled vocal cords. It’s an off-season practice game and nothing larger than life, but the small triumph still tickles chiffon-light at his fingertips – like the ghost of his last ruthless pitch, like its residual curl of smoke. A win after a loss shines even more honey-gold, dyed with the same sunshine after the rain.

He laughs and laughs, loud and stupid and free, and Miyuki’s face burgeons with watercolors at every corner, too, a flourish of the first frost-painted flowers before spring.

‘You and your infectious cheer, I swear,’ he says, breathless and striking. ‘You’re insufferable.’

Eijun beams when Miyuki leans over to kiss any leftover misgivings away, sloppy and rumpled and secretly perfect, coaxing a pliable mouth and an aching heart open – and he swears that Miyuki’s heart is beating in time with his when he kisses back, soft chests nearly flush together, their braided fingers shivering in unison.

The south had smelled different to the city, a fragrance of damp heat and petrichor and warm grass. Two languid days in Naha has Eijun going home with salt-scented skin tinted bronze, easy footsteps as weightless as silk, jaw cool with fading sweat. The peppering of fans that line the pale walls when he and Miyuki touch down back at Haneda is surprisingly plumper than usual; a rumbling orchestral score of the laughing pleasure of teenage girls, the bulky cameras flashing cold silver, the bright and eager chatter of young boys.

‘… Maybe I’ll give Kuramochi a visit,’ says Miyuki, angling an exasperatingly handsome grin and lazy raised fingers to a girl nearby who’s all birdsong – stars like glitter in her eyes, and his name spilling from her lips like a mantra. ‘See how his ankle’s doing, and then show him a few of the pictures that we took at the beach.’

‘Are you literally just trying to make him jealous,’ Eijun deadpans with blunted distaste, curved knuckles hoisting the strap of his travel bag higher upon the rigid angle of his shoulder. ‘When he’s all better, he’s gonna kick you in the butt the very first day he’s back at practice, you know. How long has he been going on and on about wanting to go on a trip now, like a month? You don’t have to rub it in his face.’

‘It’ll give him inspiration.’ A tilt of a measured eyebrow, charming and terrible. ‘Inspiration speeds recovery.’

‘You’re the worst. What are my parents gonna say if they meet you, I swear,’ Eijun grinds through tight teeth, and the arches of his feet quake, hurrying to reach the fringes of the crowd. ‘You’re lucky I’d still go places with you, jerk. C’mon, I’m pretty hungry, let’s get some breakfast.’

Fingertips move to ruffle his hair wild and Miyuki slings a messy arm around him – half a drop of cheeky bravado, and an ocean of skinship and warmth – and it’s all that folds around Eijun in the level din of the airport around them.

He shakes up a cyclonic fuss of wide-chested indignation, but can’t help leaning over the table to leave a stupid peck on Miyuki’s chin as they slide into the private restaurant booth anyway.

‘What’s there to want after the pro league.’ A lax arm soft and clumsy around the faint dips of his waist, a muted sigh hot in the slips of his hair. ‘What else are you aiming for.’

‘Are you testing me or something? Why do you keep asking me all these questions.’ And protruding granite juts rigid against his lower back, making his thighs clench, but Eijun’s mouth still pulls into a wet grin. ‘That’s easy, isn’t it? To keep everything as it is now. To stay happy with the way things are. To just – always play baseball.’

Tongue and lips and teeth skating down the shell of his ear, and breath catches fire in the deep dark of Eijun’s lungs.

‘… Would you want to be there with me,’ he says, voice stumbling over unusual modesty, fingertips keen and curious beneath the hem of Miyuki’s shirt.

‘Always is a long time, partner,’ Miyuki points out evenly, purpose dripping cool and slow from the open slash of his mouth, a seamless match to the nighttime shadow and grey half-light seeping in from Eijun’s windows. ‘But how can I say no to playing baseball until I die.’

Eijun knows what he sees. A design of blood and bones that are molded from gears and numbers, flavored with pored-over scorebooks and silent regard; Miyuki has a taste of steel and reason, not the type to say love or even like, not the type to say forever. And that makes his answer all the more annoyingly, breathlessly perfect, and it nearly brings Eijun to his knees.

He’s far from being a child anymore. He’s all grown up, pressed firm against the kitchen countertop with Miyuki’s bare hips sliding in a perfect fit against his own, twining pressure in his belly and between his legs and behind his breastbone – enmeshed with a quiet refrain of tight moans slipping from his parted lips, warm against the flush of Miyuki’s jaw. He’s no longer a little boy, but he dreams; dreams as endlessly as the open, revolving sky, whispers always-new dreams to silent galaxies, wakes up to a living dream every dawn.

When he dreams of happiness, he dreams of what he has. Baseball, teammates, family, friends, Miyuki. He dreams of this.

And the diamond, too, will always be a home to him. The earth will turn like the cogs of a music box, and time will slip by, and he’ll still want to stand here – bathed in summer and every season after, feet planted sound and simple in the dirt, beads of daylight resting in his eyelashes. Red gossamer threads always sail in the corner of his reveries, through it all; a crimson streak that perhaps comes from another world, that perhaps is in every world, that flutters like the lifeblood in every vein.

‘… Is everything what you hoped for,’ Miyuki asks, low and meaningful, and the sentiment trickles like honey over Eijun’s skin.

Eijun cocks a deliberate brow, one that smolders with half-lidded eyes like a challenge. ‘I’m stuck with you and we’re gonna have to work hard for the upcoming season and all the seasons after that. What do you think?’ he monotones, dry with a bare breath of affection. ‘How about you?’

Miyuki flicks over that infuriating half-grin that’s sloped on one side, fingers wrapping warm and dimly fond around Eijun’s palm; the smiling crinkle at his eyes sings the answer that Eijun catches loud and clear, and Eijun knows that it’s the only song he really needs to hear.

 

 

tema - dolce

Hey, Miyuki-senpai, do you believe

‘—in parallel worlds?’ says Eijun.

A rustling murmur of hips against grass, curtained by the rising perfume of salted earth and yesterday morning’s rain, and Miyuki tumbles over, rolling onto his side on the crisp bed of dirt. ‘What is this,’ he monotones, elbow laid carelessly on the ground, cheek cradled soft in a curved palm. ‘Are you reading some strange books again. More of those aged literatures?’

‘I – they’re not strange!’ Eijun replies hotly, a sharp and dissonant chord in all shades of irritable; but the crinkled, yellowing paper and the fragrant leather skin sinks with the weight of hazy mystery inside his jacket pocket – stars and suns and music chiming within the locked heart of forbidden fruit, tremoring like the enclosed wires of a piano. ‘But the concept’s pretty interesting, isn’t it? The theory exists in a lot of cultures, I think. In science, in mythology, in religion. They have neat symbols and stuff, like—’

Like spiders, spinners of beginnings, of ends, of stories, of universes. Abstract, otherworldly spiders of morning-gold speckles and blood-red silk, of faded ink on coarse pages – illustrations that sleep beneath the curious strokes of rough fingertips, iridescent and strange and quite pretty. He doesn’t always understand all the poetry of it, but the canticles ring to the tips of his ears: melodies strummed from thin webs stretched across space and time, bridging black holes, fault lines of silver light in the void beyond the dark.

‘—I don’t mean to interrupt,’ says Miyuki squarely, swiping a wet tongue over his teeth. ‘But I’m curious to know where this is going.’

Quiet attention hangs and settles like snow in those eyes and Eijun’s a little demure, suddenly, heat draping over the hollow of his throat in what he knows must be a wash of rose red, his cheekbones taut, his mouth dry.

‘… It’s just fun to think about what it might be like, I suppose,’ he answers, parted lips crooked and clumsy, a faint outline of a throb swelling against his ribs: a soft clench and unclenching, a subtle rise and fall, a push and pull of something that’s as tender as doting. ‘I mean, if there are different variations of us … and baseball’s still just as fun and important to them – to us, you know? And if those versions of us are playing together, too! Like it’s fate, or destiny.’

‘No such thing as fate or destiny.’ It’s curt and ruler-straight, a sheer backdrop of cool stone and a screen of needle-sharp reason, the same order and method crafted in tactical pitch-calls, the same equations spun from silent hours carefully spent with scorebooks. ‘Where people end up is a result of choices, not some celestial arrangement. You and I even met because of our choice to play baseball, not because of some miracle of the universe. If your hypothetical worlds exist, and we’re playing together in them, it’s because that’s what we chose. That’s what we wanted.’

Eijun thinks of hearing a song, of futures lovingly written the way music is written, arias in the key signature of tenacity, choruses made full with the harmony of other voices. The film of paper’s pulled away from his eyes and is replaced, all too suddenly, by a long stretch of open galaxies; he breathes wonder, low and muted, swirling and kindled against the roof of his mouth.

‘… What are these worlds like for you?’ says Miyuki with a melodic note of sedate interest, wiry fingers looping through tufts of grass, slipping towards Eijun’s own. ‘Why don’t you tell me how they exist, as you imagine them?’

A touch of wise, and a touch of bladed metal, a pinprick at the layers under Eijun’s skin. But the words aren’t unkind, and that smarts just a little more, maybe, cracked and hushed and wintry. He wilts in the corners, halfway to a sigh. ‘You think I’m just being stupid.’

‘I didn’t say that. I’m saying that if these worlds don’t exist anywhere else, they exist, at least, in your thoughts,’ Miyuki answers, firm voice and tight chest and skewing frown; but he softens at the edges, little by little, slanted mouth loose and heavy eyes graceful, a whisper of fibers going slack at the hems. ‘I mean, you spared a moment to think about them. You brought them up with me. If anything, that’s enough to say that they’re alive in some form, right?’

The epiphany sings sweetly enough, gold-lit and merciful, even when it glides from between Miyuki’s teeth. And Eijun already knows, maybe. That in some shadow-painted nook of his mind, he’s vaguely flirted with the idea of divine providence, riding on a multicolored dream of being a fixed point in the universe – in all the universes: a champion with a calling, a purpose. Miyuki sees a lot of things in black and white and grey, but he sees it all clearly, keen-eyed and waking.

‘Yeah, okay,’ says Eijun, and is dimly ignited by the quiet concentration Miyuki rests on him, a look that runs slow fingertips over the line of his wrist, a focus that quickens his pulse. He hasn’t really thought about these scenarios much at all, to be frank and honest; but even if they’re only blurs of mist, he’s felt their shapes and contours sitting deep in his belly in some way – a shrouded block of instinctual daydreams, a tucked-away sheaf of unopened diary pages. ‘Can you imagine if we only met and started playing together from college? Or if we met a lot further back and played together in a little league club. Or if we met only as pros—’

‘—And I suppose all of these involve making choices that lead to being happy?’ says Miyuki, lowered eyelids stained by a strip of sun and by a dash of subdued intrigue. ‘What’s happiness, though?’

It’s nearly a funny thing to ask, especially when Eijun knows that Miyuki doesn’t really need to, a question that illuminates those tan-mottled irises like half a dare and half a sentiment. ‘Well, baseball’s fun and makes us pretty happy, right?’

He’s reminded of twisting branches when he thinks of his body and his bones, in the way the bent lines and pointed angles split and unfold in places – a set of variations on a theme; but his baseball will always spring from the tips of each bough like blossoms, will always close each section like a quivering ostinato, will always kiss the cushions of his thumbs like every pitch. And then, there’s also Miyuki.

‘Hey … I don’t know if you know this, but I wanted you to catch for me. That’s why I came to Seidō.’ A cheap and tacky ballad, maple sugar to his ears, but it is what it is. ‘I wanted to keep throwing to you, ever since that first time, you know?’

Maybe Miyuki hears it right now, too – the bleary phantom of his own thrumming laughter two years back; a voice of chiming bells framed by a colorful grin, warbling to Rei that Eijun seems like an interesting guy, asking generously if he can catch Eijun’s pitch. Eijun’s end, and also his beginning. ‘I think you might’ve told me, once.’ A feathered sigh that curves together with the corners of his eyes; an exhale that tongues hot at the underside of Eijun’s jaw. Lean catcher’s fingers slide across the palm that Eijun’s laid on the grass, knuckles skating over knuckles, skin warm against skin. ‘… I won’t forget anytime soon.’

It’s a different kind of thrill from standing on the diamond, even though his entire field of vision is still sprinkled with constellations, every pale spark threaded to the next: heavy-lidded looks meeting in the middle of a shining battery, between partners. Miyuki’s gaze bright and watery and full of promise, always then and even now, lacing together with Eijun’s own the way their fingers would. Two trembling stars walking night and day, twisting themselves and each other in silk string.

A hand tugs slowly at the cotton of Eijun’s shirt, an earnest request, and Eijun leans over; the droplets of light in Miyuki’s pupils flicker like jewels when Eijun draws in, a picture that’s admittedly quite perfect, and each of his curling lashes sweep long and fluid, a spray of dark plumes. A quiet heartbeat winding around Eijun’s in songful counterpoint, and Miyuki softly pulls in, too, breath slipping out in hot tendrils, trailing over the edge of Eijun’s chin.

‘… But they’re over there flirting again, Kuramochi-senpai, I don’t want to—’ a quiet voice protests, as delicate as petals and as prickly as thorns. ‘—Uh, Eijun-kun! Lunch is all ready in the dining hall, are you and Miyuki-senpai coming, or?’

A dry press of lips across one side of Eijun’s mouth, languid and new and rather lovely, and he knows he’s hooked and caught in Miyuki without regret, knows he’s purposely swerving much too late. He briefly returns the sentiment, touch lingering with faint affection and chaste apology, fingers winding in the wisps of hair at the back of Miyuki’s neck. ‘I … ah, yeah, Harucchi! We’ll go over in a minute!’ he answers in a loud voice, turning his head just a fraction – and then he withers all the way down to his toes with a low, dismal groan, tucking his face into the crook of Miyuki’s throat, a drooping sag tracing every muscle. ‘Come on. For something that feels like it’s been a long while coming, of course someone just has to come and interrupt the first time ‘round. Lame.’

‘I’m not too surprised, to be honest. What a way to spoil the mood. Can’t be helped, I guess,’ Miyuki murmurs, brows knitting at a moment soured, voice shaded with a subtle timbre of disappointment; it’s enough to make Eijun’s pulse race suddenly, a ruffle of wings taking flight. ‘I think my dormmates might be planning to stay out and do some late practice tonight, though, so if you want – you can come over to my room later? We can make up for it.’ A breathed promise, flowering beneath his tongue, steady and alive.

‘Yeah, sure,’ Eijun answers colorfully, and the boldness of it smolders warm and mulled at his lips, at the hollows of his cheeks, at the shells of his ears. ‘Just you and me sounds really good. Although all of those guys wouldn’t be those guys if they weren’t always hanging around to bless us with their presence at inconvenient times, huh?’

One, two, three beats per measure: a waltz in the shape of a full circle, and he gets it. Baseball, his teammates, his batteries. His family, his friends, his own self. Every tiny piece of it as much a part of him now as breathing, walking, sleeping; instincts as deep-set as building shelter, as fights for survival, as spinning webs – ropes of unbroken blood-pumps in simple triple time. And Miyuki’s there, too, a stupidly welcome rarity in the vicinity of all of it, making a discreet home in the folds of Eijun’s heart tissue, together with everything else. Precisely as he’ll always have it.

A coil of fingers around the sharp-cut triangle of Miyuki’s elbow and a moist, sloppy peck to Miyuki’s cheek, and Eijun straightens up, chest magnificently puffed, the back of his mouth sweet and warm. ‘Alright, Miyuki-senpai, let’s go! Hey, you wanna sit with me for lunch?’

Because there’ll always be a young child in him, teeming with exuberant noise and quaking energy and all the promises of the universe. Painfully boyish, maybe; but he receives a firm, supple hand rising to squeeze his wrist, a wayward sliver of breath drifting across the stray threads of his hair, a pliant mouth bending against his earlobe. Andante, easy and calm, seventy-two beats per minute: temperate and perfect. ‘God, you really are something,’ Miyuki answers, a tender cadence of heat. ‘Sawamura.’

Maybe, in other lives, in other timelines, in other worlds, he’ll still choose this. And if he doesn’t, for whatever reason, then he supposes that’s okay. Because here and now, at least, this version of him has made some pretty faultless choices; he wakes more contented mornings, sleeps fuller nights than his thoughts and fancies even allow.

He casts Miyuki a sidelong look, angled lips quirking at the edges in a precursor to a half-smile – and Miyuki rolls whimsical eyes of quiet patience at him, face glimmering from corner to corner with silver light.

Sawamura Eijun: a star pitcher of Seidō High School’s baseball team with still many steps and long roads to walk. Yes, he certainly does like the sound of that.