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Is it that easy for you? It isn't, for me

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Act One

                When Sawamura’s finally able to muster up the nerves – or overcome his own sheer disbelief at what’s happening to him – Miyuki turns him down.

                Miyuki flat out rejects him

                He laughs, actually.

                But other than that, it all passes in an unremarkable slew of events. Sawamura shuffles into his shared dorm with Kuramochi, mumbles something to the shortstop when he threatens to drop kick him for staying out so late, and plonks himself straight into bed, where he stays, in an igloo made out of his blankets, till the next morning.

                Kuramochi doesn’t tackle him for not answering properly, and he doesn’t pry when he hears the silent, muffled sniffles that punctuate the night.

                The next morning, Sawamura Eijun, with slightly bloodshot eyes ringed with dark circles, is still the loudest thing on the field and Kuramochi Youichi is secretly proud of how resilient he is.

***

                It’s a few days before a confused, concerned Haruichi takes him aside and whispers, “Are you sure you’re alright, Eijun-kun? Maybe you ought to pitch with Ono-senpai for a while, or – “

                Sawamura tells him that he’s fine, that there’s no need to make this awkward, that just because he’d inexplicably managed to develop feelings for “the lousiest human being on the planet” doesn’t entitle that person to like him back.

                That he’s not going to let this become a hindrance to the team.

                He pats Haruichi once on the shoulder and jogs back to the field, leaving him with a strange mix of awe and helplessness, because he’s supposed to have been reassuring Sawamura, and not the other way around.

***

                It’s almost like nothing’s ever happened.

***

                Except.

***

                “Go hang out in your own room,” Kuramochi grumbles, shooting the most scornful look he can muster over his shoulder before turning his face back to his game.

                The volume’s turned down low, so when Miyuki replies in a quiet undertone that’d have otherwise been drowned out by the sounds of the expert annihilation Kuramochi deftly executes on screen, every syllable is audible.

                “Too crowded in there for my liking.”

                Kuramochi smothers an annoyed growl behind his teeth.

                “Miyuki.”

                “Hm.”

                “You can’t get any reading done if you haven’t even opened your book yet.”

                There’s a pause that’s a second too long, and then the screen proclaims “Fatality!” just as Kuramochi throws a nonchalant glance back to where Miyuki’s turned the chair at Kuramochi’s desk round, facing the bunk beds –

                Where Sawamura’s nodded off during his second attempt at finishing Crime and Punishment.

                Miyuki doesn’t manage to open the book or feign studiousness by time Kuramochi’s looked.

***

                On the diamond, it’s different. But perhaps not really. Perhaps not to the naked eye, not to the people who are accustomed to seeing this pattern play out a thousand times before.

                But when Miyuki leers in Sawamura’s direction after inviting Furuya to practice pitching in the most syrupy, cloying of tones, and Sawamura predictably erupts into a medley of gibberish insults and complaints of unfairness, Kuramochi thinks that Miyuki is cruel.

***

                The next time Miyuki strolls by his dorm because his own is “too overcrowded” Kuramochi slams the door into Miyuki’s face.

                Sawamura, oblivious to the world, snoozes peacefully into his pillow.

                Even though they’re indoors, it’s not difficult to miss the distant metallic echoes of stitched leather making contact with baseball bats. If he’s not wrong, it sounds like the entire first string might have taken to some extra practice tonight.

                Too overcrowded, my ass.

***

                Sawamura’s confession is like an open secret – it happens like rainfall overnight, drizzle that seeps into the ground and disappears before you can see it, hear it, and by the time you wake the next morning there’s barely anything to suggest it’d even happened save for a faint cool touch to the air, and the vague lingering scent of damp earth.

                Not everyone sees it, not everyone cares, but Kuramochi spends a few nights in deep conflict when he catches a stifled sniff in the middle of the night, or has to feign obliviousness at tear-stained faces and snot-thick voices.

                He isn’t the only one.

                The first-years notice, almost all of them do. Haruichi faithfully sits beside Sawamura at breakfast and at lunch and at dinner and even turns down an offer from his older brother to share dessert one time. Kanemaru doesn’t yell as much when Sawamura trails off in the middle of reciting kanji, or loses thread of an equation that manages to go from being geometry to algebra when he’s tutoring him.

                When Miyuki cheekily calls for the kaibutsu-kun to practice his amazing pitches, within earshot of a certain southpaw on the verge of practically wind-milling his arm off, Furuya actually rolls his eyes, and even though he’s warming up, says, polite and firm, “Please stop that.”

                And Sawamura, like silent rain that falls and disappears, unseen tears into the night, never lets show that anything’s happened – doesn’t tell anyone about the obviously broken heart he’s so carefully hiding, nursing in secret, and he’s so good at it that Kuramochi has to reluctantly give him credit for subtlety, a trait he’d never have expected from a person with the delicacy of a firetruck.

                But you can’t help but notice, can you? You can’t help but be drawn to Sawamura Eijun, who claims that he can control the sun, but doesn’t realise he is one in his own right.

                And when the clouds drift over, and pull a film of overcast grey over warmth and light and energy that touches everything – people notice.

***

                Some people pretend not to.

                Some people coo at other pitchers, and offer them massages, and praise them.

                Some people – one person – takes vindictive pleasure in their power to obscure the sun at will.

                Some people – one person, wearing a smirk and a mask and layers of deceit around his heart – comes back to the resident shortstop and southpaw pitcher’s dorm with curious frequency.

                And then.

***

                “I…I just really…I just really want to thank you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t be anywhere near useful on the mound, I wouldn’t amount to anything in baseball. I misunderstood and said and did awful things but you were so patient and you made me…worth something and I…I promise I’m going to keep improving and keep working hard so that one day, I can do you proud, Chris-senpai.”

                There’d been laughter, at first, a few groans of mingling dread and exasperation, a couple of yells demanding Sawamura get off that table right this second – but of course he wouldn’t listen, of course he’d tune everything else out, of course he’d silence everyone, and Kuramochi thinks it’s funny, really, that such ineloquent words can capture the poignancy of this moment so perfectly, this last meal that the retiring third-years are going to be sharing with the remaining members of the team.

                Sawamura stands on his makeshift stage, stealing the spotlight without trying to, mouth turned down and held tight in both embarrassment and bravado, but his eyes never waver, even with the glimmer of tears he’s so practiced at holding in, and then Chris-senpai, closest to the table Sawamura’s abusing, starts to laugh

                And Sawamura breathes a sigh of relief, and grins like he can’t help himself, grins like he’s about to laugh too, like he’s about to cry, and says, “Please make a battery with me in the future, Chris-senpai!” and is gracelessly knocked off the table by an Isashuiki Jun whose eyes look suspiciously watery, and then the southpaw disappears as more people gather round him, Ryou-san’s thin-lipped smile as he lightly points out how Sawamura’d neglected to mention any of his other senpais, Tetsu-san thumping him so hard on the back he almost goes face-down on the floor with a “Spoken like a true man”, and Chris-senpai, smiling, smiling, smiling, teeth showing, eyes sparkling, misty, ruffling his hair fondly, and they keep coming, people thronging, flocking round Sawamura like moths to a blazing burning flame –

                Moths to the sun.

***

                “So you want to make a battery with Chris-senpai in the future, huh, Bakamura?” Miyuki says around white teeth and lips stretched indecently wide. There’s a glint to his eye, a glint that Haruicchi, suddenly tense and wary, decides he doesn’t (trust) like, “You’re getting pretty ahead of yourself, aren’t you?”

                A plethora of options occur to the younger of the Kominato brothers, among them calling out their new captain for continuously trampling all over his players’ (player’s, pitcher’s, southpaw’s) morale, or simply grabbing Eijun-kun by the hand and dragging him away from someone Haruichi’s long pegged as a toxic person to become attached to.

                But Haruichi forgets that this is Eijun-kun, and Eijun-kun’s never needed his help, because fiery eyes snap and smoulder like open flames and Eijun-kun says, “Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. But he’s the one that’s let me come to the point where I can dream to be better.”

                A hand curls up to a chest that’s spent nights trembling and quivering under the weight of broken dreams and irreparable regrets, nationals snatched from under their noses, yips taking away the sole joy of his life (a certain catcher discarding his heart like trash)…but it’s okay, because Eijun-kun always comes out stronger.

                “If there’s anyone I can make the perfect battery with, it’s him.”

                And it’d have been so easy to miss, so easy to get swallowed into the shadows that the sun inevitably throws, so easy to be blinded by the type of raw determination and life Sawamura Eijun emanates, a living, breathing, beating pulse that keeps Seido going, that a lesser perceptive person than Haruichi might have missed that subtle shift in one Miyuki Kazuya’s expression.

***

                Furuya understands, better than anyone really, that it isn’t easy for some people to open up to others. It isn’t just his freak talent at overpowering people with his pitches – Furuya’s mother has always said he takes after his granddad in his taciturn, reserved ways. Man of few words, she’d call him fondly, muss up his hair.

                The difference, the new Seido ace thinks, winding up his shoulder to ready himself for a stretch of practice, is that that hasn’t really stopped him from being honest.

                Yes, maybe he’s selfish. Maybe he’s stubborn. Maybe he isn’t the easiest person in the world to get along with. But Furuya can say that he’s always been true to himself, and always made his desires very clear.

                The same cannot be said for the person a few metres away from him, absent hands fumbling with gloves, eyes somewhere else.

                Furuya sighs, resigned, and slightly irked.

                “Miyuki-senpai.”

                There’s just the tiniest show of surprise, the littlest sign that he’d been far away from the bull-pen – or maybe not so far away, maybe he’d just been next-door, beyond the wire-mesh, with a southpaw pitcher and his strange form – but Furuya is more insightful than some people give him credit for.

Furuya’s noticed that the first-year catcher rumoured to be a genius in his own right from his middle-school days is intently interested in Sawamura. Furuya’s noticed that there’d been a shine of something like wonder and maybe excitement in Sawamura’s eye the first time he’d pitched to him, complete with unorthodox form and delayed release – and the kid had caught it flawlessly. Furuya’s noticed that Sawamura and Koushuu are being paired up more and more often these days in practice.

And not always by the coach.

He stays poker-faced as his captain laughs something about patience being the virtue of an ace, sinking into a crouch, but just before he gears up to get started, he mutters,

                “You’re a lot more wishy-washy than expected, Senpai.”

***

                It becomes a recurring thing, and not just when other catchers are involved.

                “Senpai, senpai, look it’s the Millennium Falcon, omg!”

                “Oh? Really, now? I was wondering, huh, that’s a weirdly shaped sand-dune,” Kuramochi drawls with enough sarcasm to smother a lesser human being, but Sawamura completely ignores him – he just wriggles closer to the shortstop where they’re sitting, side by side in front of their dorm’s TV, the fingers of one hand permanently hooked into his senior’s sleeve, tugging whenever he’s excited or tense or nervous or surprised and then there’s this one point where he screams, actually lets out a squeaky little squeal and almost launches himself on Kuramochi –

                “Omg, omg, omg, it’s Chewwie!!!”

                “Aren’t you supposed to be excited about Han Solo?”

                “Yes, yes but – Chewwie!”

                And Kuramochi has to laugh, because Sawamura is literally vibrating with anticipation, glued to the TV with rapt attention as he basically holds his breath one moment and lets it all out on the cusp of a gasp or a scream or a cheer the next, eyes sparkling with his delight, not just watching but living the film that they’d been too engrossed in baseball to go watch in theatre and had to bend a few copyright laws to stream and Sawamura’d begged him to accompany him because it’s no fun watching alone! and it’s so evidently clear why this guy is rising to fame as Seido’s mood-maker, because his enthusiasm is so genuine, so complete, that it’s infectious and Kuramochi’s a little ashamed of how little resistance he’d put up.

                So naturally, Kuramochi shoves at him, puts him in a half-hearted headlock, calls him a nerd, and doesn’t really object when Sawamura refuses to be dislodged and all but coos at BB-8 like he’s the cutest thing on the planet –

                “How can you even hear the dialogue if you’re making so much noise?”

                Kuramochi allows himself a tiny smirk – he’d expected the catcher – who’d incidentally wandered in here twenty minutes ago to check what all the noise was about – to cave earlier.

                Sawamura doesn’t even turn around. “No one invited you, Miyuku Kazuya, go away.”

                Kuramochi does turn around, and he isn’t even surprised to find that the trajectory of Miyuki’s focus is not the TV.

                “Hey, now…I sense some discrimination happening here,” there it is, that jaunty little beat of playful humour that’s like the default setting for Miyuki Kazuya’s voice – except Kuramochi knows him better than that, has heard the different modulations it goes through whenever his back is at a wall and he’s fighting his way through with words, and he knows that that voice right now is strained, steel under fluff and wool, “How come Kuramochi’s getting preferential treatment over me?”

                Ha. I didn’t think you’d actually say it.

                Sawamura doesn’t miss a beat. “Obviously because I like him better than you,” and goes straight back to spitting inventive expletives at every appearance of Kylo Ren.

                And Kuramochi, though he’ll never admit this even on pain of death to the idiot latched to his side like a needy little puppy, preens and doesn’t bother to hide it from a catcher sitting on the bunk that used to be Masuko-senpai’s, his expression unreadable.

                Later, after Sawamura’s yelled at the screen and bawled himself hoarse and Kuramochi has to literally tuck him into bed and invoke the powers of Google to console Sawamura that maybe the plot isn’t as bleak as he thinks, he strolls outside and isn’t surprised to find Miyuki, arms crossed and vacant eyes staring into the night.

                “You two are pretty close.”

                Kuramochi’s kind of tired, because it isn’t really easy to rotate your attention amid a really riveting movie, a hyperactive fanboy and an emotionally constipated catcher who’s probably worse at tackling his feelings than the Skywalker family, and he thinks he’s entitled to be a little grumpy, entitled to be a little short-tempered and impatient, and this time he doesn’t bother to make a lame excuse.

                “So what if we are?”

                Out of the corner of his eye, Kuramochi sees Miyuki’s brows drawn close, the edge of his mouth drawn down, and, well.

                “I didn’t think you’d be the type to mollycoddle loud-ass crybabies, Mochi-kun. How adorable.”

                And Kuramochi loses it.

                He’s tried, he’s tried so hard to be neutral, so hard to stay out of it. But the Sawamura that’d blubbered like a pathetic toddler because of the plight of fictional characters is just one part, one facet of a Sawamura that’s also capable of embracing a load of hurt and hiding it, choosing to keep it to himself, private and personal, and soldiering through each day pretending as though nothing had happened. That Sawamura’s made the choice of not confiding in him – not confiding in anyone – about what had happened, even though it isn’t exactly difficult for Kuramochi to infer. And yes, perhaps the risk of heartbreak is part of the terms and conditions of having feelings for someone, and Kuramochi’d reasoned that there’s no law in the universe that bade Miyuki reciprocate Sawamura’s feelings just because he had them –

                But he’s had enough of Miyuki Kazuya’s half-assed games of cat-and-mouse. It’s one thing to plain out turn down a person’s feelings, but it’s something else to still toe the line at the periphery where their hope ends and resignation begins. It’s another to know that someone’s made themselves vulnerable to you, exposed themselves to you, and using it to strike where you know it hurts.

                Kuramochi doesn’t know whether Miyuki’s conflicted over his feelings, or he’s just toying with Sawamura using the newfound power he has over him, but the shortstop has long decided that while Miyuki might be a force to reckon with on the field, he’s the kind of person that could make another self-destruct without batting an eyelid, if they chose to.

                And when it comes to the southpaw pitcher snoring headily away in their dorm, the guy that’d turned up as a rowdy, disruptive brat with a big mouth and become something of a comrade for him, something of a brother-in-arms, Kuramochi isn’t willing to take that chance.

                Tucking his hands into his pockets, pivoting on his heel to go back to his dorm, Kuramochi says, “Who I choose to mollycoddle is none of your business, Miyuki,” and leaves.

***

                The next morning there are dark bruise-like shadows beneath Miyuki’s eyes that have Nori concerned and Zono borderline panicking, and Kuramochi feigns ignorance as he tunes out the way the catcher’s eyes follow him as he slides himself neatly into place beside Sawamura for breakfast.

Act Two

                When Sawamura’s finally able to muster up the nerves – or overcome his own sheer disbelief at what’s happening to him – Miyuki turns him down.

                Miyuki flat out rejects him

                He laughs, actually.

                It’s not intentional – it’s not even a thought-out response. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, an automatic reflex from someone who doesn’t deal well with surprises, and between one stunted heartbeat and the next he hears himself let out a startled chortle and the same tongue-in-cheek answer he’s doled out to everyone that has ever confessed to him in the past, turning them round, pushing them away.

                Sure, it’s a lot more awkward considering this is coming from a teammate – coming from Bakamura, of all people, the one guy that’s been particularly vocal about how repugnant and horrible he finds him –

But Miyuki’s never stopped to think about these things before. Miyuki knows the difference between being alone and being lonely – Miyuki knows that isolation is a choice, and that loneliness is when you share yourself with someone else and when they’re gone,

He knows what loneliness did to his father

that it leaves you empty and incomplete and leaves you grappling for something to hold on to.

He doesn’t want to do that to himself

He can be hard-hearted, he can be callous and unemotional and snide and he expects to be all of these things whenever he bats aside someone’s feelings like this without a second thought.

                What he doesn’t expect is Sawamura to take a long hard look at him, eyes indecipherable, the line of his mouth tight and clenched, and just…turn, and leave him standing there, standing where he’d come in to find Sawamura tossing restless pitches into the net.

                The next morning, Sawamura Eijun is still the loudest thing on the field and Miyuki Kazuya can’t stop himself from replaying his confession round and round in his head, because it’s almost like he’s imagined the whole thing, and it plagues him in a way he’d never have anticipated.

                And so he watches. Listens. Tries to understand.

                And doesn’t realise that the more he does, the deeper he crosses the territory where being alone is a choice for him.

                “Now if only someone could bat as well as they shoot their mouth off,” he says.

                “I don’t have time to pick up after a brat when I have the responsibility of training the next ace,” he says.

                “At this rate the only way you can play with Chris-senpai is if you become the water-boy for his team,” he says.

                It’s too late before he realizes that he’s repeatedly, desperately, trying to re-establish the control he’d once had in his relationship with that loud-mouthed, overly brazen, impulsive little child, the control that he’d just cleanly knocked out of his hand with one clumsy confession that’d somehow toppled over the barriers he’d erected between himself and the idea of letting someone else in.

                And now that he’s seen what’s on the other side…

                Oh. Oh, please no.

***

                He obeys his gut instincts and runs away.

                But then he stops, looks behind him, and sees he isn’t being chased.

                It makes him wonder if (he’s not worth chasing) he’s been toyed with, and it shouldn’t sting.

                It does.

***

                There’s a point where practice gets cancelled because of an unexpected downpour, peppered with distant flashes of lightning and the low, more or less innocuous rumbles of thunder.

                Contrary to what one would expect, it doesn’t dampen Sawamura’s spirit.

                “Harucchi, let’s run in the rain!”

                “W-wait, wait, Eijun-kun are uniforms are going to get wet!”

                “Live a little, Harucchi! We used to do this back at Nagano all the time!”

                The drum-beats of rain hitting the dugout roof muffle Sawamura’s voice but there’s no missing the shrill-sharp glee in his gasp as he charges headfirst straight into the deluge, pulling a flailing Haruichi with him.

                “C-cold!”

                “Hahahaha this is nothing, Harucchi! You should try swimming in the river back home in early spring, now that’s cold!”

                Miyuki stands in the dug-out, helpless to look away. Miyuki stands in the dugout, chilled down to the bone even though he’s dry and carefully sheltered from the needle-points of rain angling into the field, dredging careless mucky puddles that’ll be a nightmare to deal with the next day.

                Miyuki feels the void yawn wider around him and (don’t) he squints through his glasses, the body heat his skin gives off as it cools after the team’s mad dash for cover steaming them up, (don’t do it) and he can’t stop himself, doesn’t let himself think as he raises both hands to cup round his mouth in a makeshift microphone, (stop chasing him)

                And hollers, “Oy, Bakamura! Are you trying to test out whether idiots can catch colds out there?”

                He’s too far away.

                Sawamura screams something back about city boys not understanding and promptly forgets all about Miyuki, grabbing Haruichi by both hands and swinging them round, round, until giddy streams of breathless laughter puncture through the sizzle of rain hissing over the dugout roof, on the ground, all around them, and it makes some of team grip their heads in despair, it makes Kanemaru threaten to call Ryou-san and snitch that Sawamura’s abusing his little brother, it makes Furuya look just a little bit left out, stuck between intrigued and petulant, it makes most of them laugh, fond and warm, because that’s what Sawamura does – he brings light and heat wherever he goes.

                A lilting voice rises up through the downpour as Haruichi manages to wrench himself free and dash back toward the dugout, beet-red (laughing, grinning) and there’s a strange twisting, aching, (sweet) painful sensation pooling into Miyuki’s stomach when the figure perched atop the drenched mound

“Singin’ in the rain

Just singing in the rain”

does a little jig,

“What a glorious feelin’

I’m happy again”

“Somebody record this, this is gold,” Kuramochi manages to wheeze in between cackles of laughter, and Miyuki’s immediate thought is that’s a good idea but not for the same reasons, oh no, not for that

“I’m laughing at the clouds

So dark up above me”

“I hate to admit this,” says a shell-shocked Zono from somewhere behind him, somewhere just behind his shoulder, “but the kid’s got a good voice,” and if there’s ever been an understatement, here it is,

“The sun’s in my heart”

yes, because it burns and warms him from the inside out, and Miyuki is horrified because it thrills him, because he can get hooked on it if he’s not careful (late it’s too late)

“And I’m ready for LOVE”

Something snaps, something breaks, something changes forever and Miyuki’s pulse is a flutter beat skimming through his veins and he’s never been so scared (so exhilarated so alive) in his life.

***

                One day, as he daydreams in class about unspeakable things he keeps locked inside the privacy of his mind, Miyuki realizes he’s the farthest thing in Sawamura’s solar system.

                He thinks about how Sawamura and Haruichi practically always sit side by side in the dugout, how Haruichi’s the first to murmur words of encouragement when Sawamura’s nervous or down, how Haruichi’s the first person Sawamura’d pick to sit beside on the bus.

                He thinks about how Furuya and Sawamura are always bickering, always, but they’re also the ones that’d shown exemplary teamwork to get the cat that’d got itself stuck in a tree close to Practice Field B down and then adopted it – how Sawamura’d somehow convinced Furuya to name the little guy BB8.

                He thinks about Kanemaru, and Nabe, and Nori, and about how Sawamura’d jettisoned ahead and all but bulldozed their senpais over when a few of them had come to visit during college break, how he’d managed to wrangle something resembling a fond smile out of Ryou-san, some blustery sentimental prattling from Jun-san (how he’d smiled sadly wishing Chris-senpai’d been there too) and refused to leave them alone until they took their leave, part yelling at him to shut up for the love of baseball, part waving energetically back at him.

                He thinks about Kuramochi, and.

                “Senpai, let’s try this game!”

                “GO MOCHI-SENPAI, SHOW THEM THE MIGHT OF THE CHEETAH GOD!”

                “Can we go for this movie, Senpai? Please? Please?

                Miyuki jokes, plastering a smile on his face, that shit-eating grin that no one trusts, “Now if only you’d ask me that sweetly, maybe I’d be nicer to you too, Bakamura.”

                It stops the wheedling, the wheedling that Miyuki’d been unable to continue watching yet unable to walk away from and there’s nervous dread (anticipation?) thrumming inside him as Sawamura turns those fiery bright eyes to fix on him and he almost misses how Kuramochi studies him with an expression that’s far too knowing.

                “Is that so?” says Sawamura, and then he’s grinning, his eyes are aflame, and Miyuki catches his breath because it’s the same fierce, primal expression Sawamura wears on the mound right before he’s about to throw his sharpest, best pitch, and it gets Miyuki’s blood roaring against his eardrums, “Then…why don’t you eat this natto for me, Senpai ~”

                Belatedly, Miyuki curses his lack of foresight, and tries to hide the hot flush creeping up his skin by deftly plucking out the natto on Sawamura’s tray with his chopsticks, letting out a shaky, “More for me then” that even he doesn’t find convincing.

                Sawamura laughs in innocent delight, Kuramochi grins like the devil.

                Miyuki spends the rest of dinner trying to calm his erratic heartrate.

***

                He’s unleashed a monster.

                “Can I practice a little more, Senpai~?”

                “Can Furuya and I go to see BB8 now, Senpai?”

                “Is that candy, Miyuki-senpai? Leave some for me!”

                Miyuki’s running out of ways to pretend he’s choosing to say yes, rather than being unable to say no.

***

                He forgets, for a blissful little while, that if Sawamura is the sun, then he’s probably Pluto.

                He forgets that Sawamura’s goal in life is to make a battery with Chris-senpai. He forgets that Chris-senpai keeps close track of how Sawamura’s doing, his growth, even though he’s across the oceans in the US training to go pro. He forgets that even on the field right here at Seido, Sawamura’s becoming a permanent battery with Koushuu, because the coach thinks they complement each other well (perfectly) and can grow into a solid combo (better than he’d been, better and bigger) by next year.

                He wants to laugh (he wants to cry). How fitting that he doesn’t even count as a planet in this solar system.

***

                “Wow. Your taste is surprisingly cultured.”

                If Kuramochi notices his awkwardness – or the hurry to leave that he’s trying so hard to tamp down – he doesn’t show it. He spares a glance in the direction of the book Miyuki’s holding, and snorts.

                “That’s not mine,” the shortstop shrugs, and thrusts a thumb over his shoulder, in the direction of an empty bunk. “That’s part of Bakamura’s repertoire.”

                “Classic Japanese Literature?” Miyuki says with a laugh; he doesn’t know if he’s making small talk anymore, something he’s been trying (failing) to do since coming here and finding the person he’d hoped to see isn’t here, or whether this little bite of information has really snagged his curiosity. He knows very little about what spurs him on these days. “I thought shoujo manga was more his thing.”

                The tinny music of whatever game Kuramochi’s playing – Miyuki hasn’t really been paying attention – abruptly stops, and Miyuki notices that he’d paused it.

                And the look he’s giving the catcher, just half his face visible over his shoulder, is somehow significant in its weight.

                “He hasn’t read one of those for a while now.”

                Miyuki blinks. “What?”

                Kuramochi turns a little bit more, shifting his body so that he can scrutinize Miyuki, which he does unabashed – Miyuki suddenly feels as though he’s been analysed, picked apart, and he’s not sure he wants to know the verdict.

                Finally, Kuramochi speaks. “Yeah…he said he needed a change of pace from that genre,” the shortstop pauses again, and there’s something deliberate about what he says next, like he’s mulled over the words, debated whether or not to speak them exhaustively. “He…hasn’t actually touched one since before Ryou-san and the rest retired.”

                Miyuki isn’t an idiot. Miyuki knows how to read between the lines. Miyuki understands what Kuramochi is implying –

                Believing it is a whole new ball-game.

                “That’s…that was months ago,” Miyuki hears himself say, a little faintly, a little feebly. “They retired months ago.”

                Kuramochi’s expression is almost stern. “Exactly.”

                “Do…” Miyuki’s eyes widen, jaw goes slack – he can all but feel the mechanisms inside his head stutter in a bid to keep him functioning, “do you know about – “

                Kuramochi scoffs, “Of course.”

                Miyuki blinks, too stunned to feel much else, “He told you?”

                There’s a pause, in which Kuramochi’s expression, so far impassive and carefully neutral, flickers. Miyuki feels like that’s important somehow, comprehending that undercurrent, but before he gets to dwell on it the shortstop says, “He didn’t. But it wasn’t exactly difficult to guess.”

                At Miyuki’s quizzical look, Kuramochi dithers a bit more, and then adds wryly (reluctantly) “He cried himself to sleep for a week afterwards...and you were suddenly twice as mean to him than normal. It wasn’t all that hard to put two and two together.”

                The guilt that Miyuki’s been successfully keeping at bay overflows at that moment, tumbling over the floodgates and capsizing him, and it’s a tumultuous, overwhelming (horrible, hurtful) feeling, but –

                “He cried…?”

                “Don’t tell me that makes you happy?” snaps Kuramochi, and the ire he’d seen that night, when he’d lingered around this dorm room feeling like an outcast, feeling unwanted and unwelcome as Sawamura ignored him in favour of showering his attention on a movie and Kuramochi, resurfaces, “Are you a freaking sadist or what, Miyuki?”

                He wants to deny it, wants to deny that he’s a sadist, wants to say that he’s not a twisted enough person to be pleased that he made someone cry but oh, that would make him a liar, wouldn’t it, since he also cannot deny the relief that courses through his entire being and lights him up, makes him feel buoyant and weightless, at the idea that being turned down by him had made Sawamura cry (he’s not unaffected, he didn’t stop caring, he didn’t) – but that feeling doesn’t last for long.

                “Why are you telling me this now?” Miyuki inquires, more tentative than cautious – he’s not sure he wants to know. He’s not sure if he wants to be told that Sawamura’s gotten over it, because in the immediate aftermath of his respite he’s remembered that all of this had happened a long time ago (eight months, that’s almost a year, so much time too much time), and can someone really so consistently act as though they hadn’t harboured feelings for a person all this time, if they hadn’t (no, no, please, no) actually moved past it?

                “Because,” Kuramochi begins, and then stops again, considering him, and it feels like he’s trying to do something against his better judgement, like he’s hunting for just one reason to make himself clam up and take it all back. Miyuki holds his breath, and Kuramochi, after what feels like an agonizing infinity of seconds, relents, “you’re finally taking his feelings seriously. Rather than. You know, being an asshole to him.”

                Some of his surprise must have shown on his face, because Kuramochi adds, sardonic, “You’re not as secretive as you think, Miyuki-senpai ~

                The resemblance of that to Sawamura’s cheeky cajoling is so uncanny it makes Miyuki jerk – Kuramochi (damn you, you stupid observant bastard) notices and allows a tiny smirk.  

                Swallowing round a dry, dry throat, Miyuki manages, “I thought you…had something going on with him.”

                Kuramochi lets out a bark of laughter. “I hope it drove you crazy, because you totally deserve it. But,” he says, smirking a little wider at the way Miyuki’s features harden, “no. Sawamura’s my bro. Or more like a really precious puppy. That also works.”

                There’s a pause for a while, before Miyuki takes a deep breath. There’s too much happening, too much to absorb, too much to process, and it’s jammed his brain, made his smoothly running cognitive machine crash, and for the first time in quite possibly his life, Miyuki is playing a situation entirely by ear and it terrifies him.

                “You obviously think…this…” Miyuki says eloquently, failing to find a word for something that’s lacked definition all this time, and valiantly ignoring Kuramochi rolling his eyes, “is a bad idea.”

                “Obviously,” Kuramochi quips back, immediately.

                “Then why did you bring it up?”

                Miyuki starts a little when Kuramochi sighs heavily through his nose, dropping his controller and getting to his feet so he can look the catcher – his captain – square in the eye. There’s a firm, no-nonsense glint to the short-stop’s eye, and Miyuki thinks that at times like this he can imagine Kuramochi’s days as a delinquent pretty well.

                “Because we’re running out of time,” is what he says, and it’s so unexpected it makes the air whoosh out of Miyuki’s lungs in surprise, “we’re third-years and sooner or later, we’re going to have to retire. And while I don’t think anyone deserves to be stuck to you in a relationship outside of baseball…Sawamura deserves better than to live with that kind of regret for the rest of his life.”

Act Three - Grand Finale

                Night’s already fallen and trickled into the spaces between windows and doors and seeped along the ground, dyeing everything black, by the time Miyuki hurries toward the indoor field.

                He’s trying not to break into a run.

                There are words playing in his head, on loop, repeat button slammed so hard it’s broken.

                “He doesn’t look like someone that regrets it…”

                And there it is, that tell-tale catch of baseball against net, a stifled whump that cannot compare to the rush of satisfaction that comes with the resounding smack of the ball finding home in a catcher’s mitt, and then he is running, thoughtlessly, wants to run even faster if it means he can reach just a second sooner and –

                “Are you freaking kidding me, Miyuki?”

                Messy hair plastered with sweat to the nape of his neck, beaded to his forehead, plain red tee sticking to his back, arm bending backward to a ridiculously improbable angle before releasing a glorious pitch Miyuki itches to catch and –

                “This is the same guy that almost ran himself to death trying to improve in baseball.”

                “Sawamura,” he hears himself pant, his voice a hush, and if he hadn’t spoken in between Sawamura’s pitches the southpaw might not even have heard him.

                But he does hear him, he almost jumps an inch off the ground and whips about with a manic look in his face. “Miyuki Kazuya! What the heck are you doing sneaking up on me like that?!”

                “This is the same guy sent all our seniors – ALL of them – handmade Christmas cards even though he can’t draw to save his life!”

                “I…” Miyuki begins, with no idea what to say next.

                “Do you really think Sawamura Eijun of all people is the type to do anything half-heartedly?”

                “…like you.”

***

                When Miyuki Kazuya finally manages to muster up his courage – finally manages to sort through his own feelings and accept them – and confesses to Sawamura Eijun, the southpaw stares hard at him, and then asks, in a quiet (scared) voice if he’s being made fun of.

                Miyuki swears he isn’t. Miyuki almost laughs because for months now, he’s been wanting to know the same thing.

                Miyuki doesn’t laugh this time, because he’s already made that mistake once.

                This time, he takes a deep breath, and quick-marches straight to where Sawamura stands frozen, startling him into dropping his ball.

                This time, he initiates the touch he’s been waiting for Sawamura to initiate for months, and drags a squirming, protesting southpaw straight into his arms.

                This time, he alternates between whispering apologies and “I like you”s until Sawamura finally stills and relaxes in his hold, and keeps going long after he starts to reciprocate the touch.

                And it feels like he’s holding the sun, like he’s going to be charred to ash, scorched to nothing, and it’s glorious.

***

                “I haven’t forgiven you,” Sawamura tells him quietly.

                “I know,” Miyuki whispers back, “I’ll keep trying.”

                “You kept me waiting for ages, you shitty bastard,” Sawamura tells him – he noses closer to Miyuki’s neck as he does, tucking his face into the space of his nape.

                “I know,” Miyuki whispers back again, slightly distracted by the heat he can feel rolling off of Sawamura’s skin to the bared expanse of his, “I’m sorry.”

                There’s a pause, in which Miyuki just holds Sawamura in silence, just revels in getting to know the feel of him fit against himself, two halves of a whole, revels in the sensation of feeling complete, and the fear of the loneliness that’d inevitably consume him if he ever loses this.

                He thinks of his father and for once, he can empathise.

                “Harucchi told me not to trust you off the field,” Sawamura says suddenly, as though he’d just remembered it.

                Miyuki chuckles, self-deprecating, humourless. “I don’t blame him.”

                When Sawamura shifts inside his hold after this, trying to peel himself away, Miyuki’s arms tighten round him involuntarily.

                “Ouch! You’re going to break my ribs.”

                “Sorry,” is Miyuki’s murmured apology; his arms loosen, but only a little. They twitch around Sawamura, anxious.

                “Why did you turn me down?”

                “I…did it without really thinking about it.”

                “That’s really horrible, Miyuki Kazuya,” Sawamura tells him with candid open eyes looking straight into his soul, and Miyuki cannot stress enough on the extent of his stupidity, because Sawamura Eijun can be faulted for many things, but not dishonesty. Never dishonesty.

                “I know,” he murmurs again, clinging to Sawamura, clinging with a subconscious fear that he pushes down down down, refusing to acknowledge it and

                “Maybe I should do it you too, so you learn your – oof!” Sawamura’s mouth collides with Miyuki’s shoulder as he reels him straight back in, holds him tight, crushes him, because

                “No,” he says hoarsely. “No,” he repeats, desperate. “Please don’t. Please.”

                He only relaxes when there’s a hum near his ear, and hands gently running through his hair, rubbing into his scalp, and Miyuki thinks he can go boneless at those light innocent touches, eyes drifting shut as he lets trepid fingers slip into the untamed mop on Sawamura’s head too.

                “I won’t. One of us has to be the adult here, Miyuki Kazuya.”

Curtain