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In Kazuya's third year of high school, they win the Koushien summer tournament.

And life goes on.

Sure, they get the big banner down the side of the main school building and a shout-out at the ensuing school assembly.

But a month later, they wrap up their stuff and the third-years move into the retired baseball squad's dorms. They still train with the others, even though there's a new team forming under Kazuya's eyes. A great team, he's sure, with equally capable batteries.

And he studies for his entrance exams, gets a full ride for the engineering department in Meiji.

His graduation ceremony is hard. He avoids looking at Kuramochi when he sees his half-serious, half-sad expression leaving the spirit dorm, he accepts the whole team bowing in thanks to him, and Sawamura cries – which throws Kazuya off, but he doesn't let it show.

Sawamura has never had a pretty crying face but this one makes Kazuya ache inside.

Kazuya leaves the team to Sawamura's lead, goes to university in Tokyo, sulks on the second string for a while, then becomes back-up catcher and bats second in the line-up by his second year.

When he's done with his studies, he accepts an offer by the St. Louis Cardinals – Chris-senpai's former team, before he got traded to the Dodgers. Unfortunately, that meant they wouldn't play on the same team, but maybe some day.

So Kazuya moves overseas, works his ass off and becomes a professional baseball player, hall of fame, golden glove winning catcher in the US' Major League Baseball.

He cuts all ties to Japan. It doesn't happen intentionally, it just happens. And that's that.

Kazuya learns English fast, becomes famous fast, does everything at once. There's spring training, 162 games to play per season, weekends are booked with back-to-back double headers, he trains, he eats, he sleeps, rinse and repeat, 8 years in a row.

After signing a 4-year addition to his contract with the Cardinals at 30 years old, he gets injured three games into the season. Recovery takes longer than anticipated, he ends up sitting out one too many games for his liking, and in the end, he's a free agent with a huge contract non-fulfillment payment in his pocket.

For the first time in his life, Kazuya has no idea what to do, where to turn to. There's no one, nowhere.

And out of nowhere comes an unexpected call that shakes everything up.

He returns to what he used to call 'home'.

***

Kazuya puts his water bottle to the side, grabs his microphone to put it right where it should be and clears his throat. With a few clicks of his mouse, he starts the recording software, claps his hands to sync his face cam and sound, then lowers the volume of the music.

Hello and welcome everyone, to the morning show! Hello, new patreons, hello facebook, hello YouTube. How are you all? We have an exciting week coming up! That's right, last week before Koushien officially starts, meaning there's going to be one last Tigers game in their stadium before they vacate the premises. Are you excited? Because I am. That is a special place to me, as it is for every Japanese baseball player. Who do you have your eyes on?”

He scans the chat rooms, finds a lot of laughing emoticons and a few with stars in their eyes. The live chat moves too quick for his eyes, so he only catches glimpses – YESS – looking forward – awesome series – last game – Tigers vs. Giants – SO excited! - Seidou's new pitcher?

Wait, Seidou has a new pitcher?” Kazuya barely follows the few tidbits he gets in-between other comments, good morning greetings from all around the country. He smiles into the camera. “Ok, guys, I know we're live and all, but cut me some slack. What's this about?”

The Youtube chatroom calms down at this point and most answers are coherent. Kazuya sums it up, “So, let's see, Seidou apparently has a new first-year pitcher who throws idiosynchratic pitches? And you're excited about it. I see. Do I think he has potential? Well, yes, obviously. I don't need to tell you why. Do I think he'll be as successful as Sawamura? Depends.”

He grabs a drink, mostly to sort his thoughts. Sometimes, people expect too much from him too soon. “Why? Oh, you see, idiosynchratic pitches aren't all the same. You know, I wanted to show you another baseball history bit today, but ok, we can talk pitching. You see, it only means that the pitcher puts a certain type of spin on the ball. Not necessarily high velocity, although speaking for Sawamura, he got there later, but when we first met – and I'm talking about 16-year-old me and 15-year-old middle school Sawamura – back then, he didn't have the velo, but he had that spin. It's what he does with it. That's what brings me to this maniac --” he breaks off, laughing at the comments on the chat, “no, I did not mean Sawamura. I'm talking about this pitcher.”

Kazuya puts up a video of an MLB submarine-pitcher. “That looks crazy, right? So. Let's take a stroll down history road. Way back in the day, overhead pitching was not allowed in baseball, to give the batter a fair chance. The ball had to be thrown under the elbow, limiting its course and especially velocity. You could put some spin to it, sure, but not nearly as effective. Hits and runs dropped dramatically when overhead pitching became allowed and also the norm. It was a defining change in the game. Still, decades later, here's this guy, throwing underhanded pitches, while there's sidearm pitchers and there's your regular overhead pitchers. Now if a guy throws idiosynchratic, there's that. There's a million ways to work with that, Sawamura found his. I trust the coaching staff at Seidou to pull out this guy's – what's his name? Ah, Fukuyama? - Fukuyama-kun's potential and I'm looking forward to see if they make a Koushien appearance. I wish them all the best.”

A pause, to end the topic. “And now, if you're wondering – I'm recording another season recap podcast after this that will hit your regular streaming sites and YouTube tomorrow evening, there were a couple weird games and some series sweeps going on last weekend. Next podcast will be a voicemail episode, so drop me a short voicemail if you have a topic that should be talked about, and this evening, there's an amazing episode of Sequence coming your way. We got no-one else than Amahisa Kousei-san on air to talk about a 14-pitch at-bat.”

The chat goes nuts at that and Kazuya grins to himself, scanning the different reactions. Last game – will you cover it – will he pitch? - did Kuramochi – the Tigers – amazing last game – pitching relay –

Which brings me to today's last point, yes, these episodes will all be prepared for today and tomorrow, because a certain shortstop has indeed bullied me to come see his team's last game before Koushien. It's a bit of a breather for me before that particular madness starts and I'm very much looking forward to seeing some of my old teammates play. If I play this right, you might even get some behind the scenes footage. There will be a Vlog, I promise. We have a seat behind home plate, but that's my personal spleen and you know that.”

I sound excited? Well, I am. I hope we'll get to see an amazing game but with a team like the Hanshin Tigers, with pitchers like Amahisa-kun and Sawamura, with batters like 'Mochi and Mima-san, going up against the likes of the Yomiuri Giants, you bet that's going to be one hell of a game.”

Kazuya takes a drink, watches for a moment what people are talking about. Most know by this point, that he always finishes on a certain note. “And to wrap this up, you know how this works, I'll answer the first three questions you throw into the channel in three – two – one--”

And some people apparently did their homework, because there are a bunch of questions hitting the chat all at once. That gets a surprised laugh out of Kazuya. “Alright, alright, that was fast. You guys sure had those questions on copy-paste. Let's see.”

First question: Which team is your favorite and why?
“That one's easy. I'm a Tigers fan, out of personal affiliation, so no surprise there. Lots of talent, so fun to watch. Great bullpen. I don't think I need to say more than that and if you listen to the podcast you'll see I talk too much about these guys as it is.”

Second question: If you would go back to playing, would you want to play in American major League or in Japanese Professional Baseball?
Also easy. Both is highly competitive, neither is easier than the other. For variability's sake, I'd say Japan. Just because I enjoy being home and I already know MLB. But, really, even if I was still any good, you couldn't pay me enough money to go out there again.”

Third question: Personal – are you single? Also, no, really, are you?”


Kazuya laughs. “Ok, so. Yes, I'm single. No, I wouldn't say that if I was in a relationship. What point is there? My private life will stay private no matter what. So why would I lie to you? Yes, I really am single. No shame in that. Now, have a nice day and maybe I'll see a few of you later in the patreon chat during the podcast! Bye!”

***

It's almost like he's on autopilot.

Kazuya takes the train out to Kobe, changes trains to go to Koushien station. It's mid-afternoon, the sun is already low in the sky and the summer heat is beating down on him. He can't remember how he ever had the resilience to play games in this heat and already sweats under his Tigers' hat.

'Here, at least wear that so people don't recognize you on sight,' Kuramochi had grumbled at him a few days ago, upon handing him his ticket. 'I know you wanna come – no, shut up, I know you do – so just don't cause us a commotion, okay? Okay.'

Kuramochi is basically the only real life social contact that Kazuya still has these days, but he doesn't linger on the thought. Entrance control done, Kazuya heads for the stands and his seat right in the middle of the diamond.

Four years after leaving baseball, sitting up here instead of behind home plate is still throwing him off. Sitting down, Kazuya unpacks his cellphone and snaps a few shots, then posts the picture-perfect view of the impeccable diamond in bright sunlight and a selfie of himself, grinning into the camera, on social media. He's a klutz with hashtags, so he ends up with #ilovebaseball and #letsgo somewhere in there. Then he edits the post to include #tigers and #giants and #stillearly.

He came early, indeed, because nothing is more weird than filming a vlog among a huge mass of people shouting over themselves and him, so Kazuya clicks on his camera and winks as soon as it's recording.

Hi! As you see, the stands are still showing a few empty spots but we all know this will change within the next 20-ish minutes, so let's keep this quick.” He swings the camera across his line of sight, shows the field and the legendary Koushien scoreboard. “Such a beautiful field. This makes me feel nostalgic, guys. That bullpen there holds a lot of memories, believe it or not. Oh, look who's warming up there--” He zooms in, sees the main catcher of the Tigers, Okuyasu, warm up with Amahisa, who, according to his intel – read: Kuramochi – will start the game. “That also feels nostalgic. But, ok, we're chilling here for a bit, I'm gonna go get myself a drink and maybe a glance from the club room if a certain shortstop is available. Let's wish them good luck? Or at least try.” He grins, then stops recording.

Truth be told, his tongue ran away from him. He could always cut it out in post-production, but one look at the clock affirms his assumption that he's way earlier than 20 minutes. More like 35 minutes. He's got time. He could walk down if security lets him. Maybe Kuramochi could really pull some strings?

Kazuya pulls out his phone, swipes the few instagram notes about 5 likes on his post to the side, pulls up Kuramochi's LINE contact.

Oi, Mochi, I'm early. Can I come visit you?

He immediately notices Kuramochi going online, reading his message. Sure, I'll let you in. Come to the player's entrance, I'll meet you there.

Kazuya smirks. That's content more valuable than he could ever hope for coming his way. Bless his former vice-captain.

He has to admit there's a spring in his step when he walks down the stairs. Even more so when he recognizes an unmistakable tuft of dark hair behind a sturdy security guard.

Yo, Miyuki!”

Kazuya signals him to shut up, damnit, he doesn't need to be recognized here. “Why did you give me the hat if you shout my identity out to everyone, you idiot?” he quirks an eyebrow, only half-serious.

Kuramochi bumps his fist against Kazuya's shoulder and they grin at each other. “Sorry. Good to see you.”

Mind if I...” Kazuya pulls out his camera.

Kuramochi takes a look at the guard, who shrugs. “It's not banned, so why not. When did you get such a sell-out, though?”

Oh, you know that's good content.”

Everything for the views, yeah, yeah,” a dramatic sigh from Kuramochi follows the tease. “I'm so being taken advantage off.”

Kazuya shrugs. “You're just jealous because you still need to play ball to earn your money.”

Wait, you can live off of that?”

Yeah?” Kazuya can't help but sound smug as they head down the hallway side by side.

Huh.”

And with that, hello to the player's entrance, I'm sure you're all familiar with this guy,” Kazuya says into the camera with a wink and a jab into Kuramochi's ribs.

Kuramochi does a double take. “Did you record that already?”

Kazuya snickers, earning himself another punch in the shoulder. “Ok, I can cut it out.”

Oh, shush, I know you won't. Anyway. Hi,” Kuramochi waves at the lens, and it looks as awkward as he obviously feels.

They've reached the locker rooms and nothing, just nothing, could've prepared Kazuya for what happens.

He knows locker rooms, it's not like the atmosphere is anything new to him. It's just a matter of expectations versus reality.

When they enter, Kazuya's obligatory “Sorry for intruding,” gets immediately shouted down by Kuramochi's “Oi, oi, oi! Look who's here!”

There's some stares from the younger players, a few grins from the veterans, a nod by Mima and a very familiar gasp – followed by an also very familiar shout of, “ Miyuki Kazuya!” that makes Kazuya's heart skip. He heard that voice so many times, and of course he knew Sawamura is here, but to hear him makes all the difference.

The shout results in another round of gasps and disbelieving stares and 'what's he doing here' 'oh wow, isn't he a MLB hall of fame player?'.

Kazuya grins, although his insides are in a jumble. He feels out of place, even though he spent half his life in locker rooms and on baseball fields. “Hi! Sorry, didn't mean to cause a ruckus, so don't sweat it. I may be retired but I know what it's like, so – I'm just here to wish you all good luck out there.”

There's movement behind the rookies gaping at him, and Kazuya doesn't need to guess who's the cause of it. “Hey! Don't just ignore me!”

One of the rookies steps aside – Kotomari, if Kazuya's memory serves him right – and then the other person he was very much looking forward to say hello to is standing right in front of him. Kazuya can't help but compare baby-faced high school Sawamura to this one. Again, it's not like Kazuya hasn't seen the pictures, watched the games, but in person, Sawamura definitely has filled out his form, even though he's still just a couple centimeters shorter than Kazuya. But he doesn't wear a shirt and there's muscles and definition in all the right places, broad, strong shoulders and fire in those expressive eyes.

What are you smirking about, shitty four-eyes?”

Ah, good old high school insults, that what I came for, huh, Sawamoron?” Kazuya shoots back.

You knew what you were in for! And after all this time! You're seriously the worst at keeping in contact with your teammates,” and there's the cat eyes.

Kazuya looks at the tips of his shoes, but smirks. “Sorry?”

Don't 'sorry' me!” There's hands at his collar, shaking, and Kazuya just adjusts his glasses and laughs. “And why are you all listening anyway--” Sawamura shoos the rookies away and even though they scatter and keep themselves busy, their ears are still tuned in to them.

Kuramochi butts in at that point. “He's not wrong, you know. You'd probably still hole up in your apartment if you didn't have the same e-mail address since decades ago.”

Kazuya remembers Kuramochi's message, the one that pulled him out of his slump after returning to Japan. He's not wrong, and the shine in his eyes, the twist of his lips says he knows it.

Anyway, I've been listening to your podcast. Since when do you do that, what gives?” Sawamura wants to know as he takes a step back, and Kazuya takes the out for what it is.

Kuramochi's eyes stay on him and Sawamura shifts on his feet. Kazuya feels watched too closely, and he knows those two know him pretty well, so he better not let them see how--

Game starts in ten minutes, get ready!” The manager calls out from the entrance to the dugout. Slowly, the players gather their equipment, put on the last missing pieces of their uniforms, and file out of the locker room.

Sawamura finally pulls his compression shirt over his head, followed by a jersey with the number 11.

We're not done, you know!” Kuramochi points a finger at Kazuya.

I figured,” Kazuya tilts his head, accepting his fate. “Good luck!” he adds, again, more private – just between the three of them.

Sawamura lingers behind, and of course Kazuya notices. He's the last one in the locker room, and there's no escaping his gaze.

Miyuki,” he says, still as direct as ever. Still missing the suffix. Before Kazuya can make a quip, he announces, “let's get dinner after the game. No, I don't want to hear it, I know you don't have plans. You can record that podcast tomorrow. I really want to catch up with you. No excuses.”

Kazuya gulps and nods at Kuramochi, standing in the doorway. As Sawamura passes him, Kuramochi quirks an eyebrow at Kazuya and smirks.

Kazuya feels like he's being totally see-through for these two. He's at a loss, so he shrugs.

Sawamura even goes the extra mile to poke his head through the door again , just to add, “I know where your seat is. Don't even think about it.”

He can't help the laugh that escapes him.

***

After making his way back to said seat, armed with a bottle of water and his camera on his tripod, Kazuya takes a deep breath.

This evening sure takes unexpected turns.

When the game starts, he feels as in his element as ever. He sees the teams' strategies perfectly, he knows when someone shifts in, when Amahisa nods at the catcher, Tanaka, he knows and breathes and feels baseball like you only can in the stadium. Amahisa puts down a perfect start and the Tigers are up by 3 runs by the time Sawamura takes the mound in the 5 th .

Kazuya, despite knowing Sawamura's abilities, despite having seen what he is capable of, despite everything, is at the edge of his seat.

The inning is over in barely 13 minutes in which Sawamura throws a total of 12 pitches. He breezes through three batters, the first two go down three-for-three, the last puts up somewhat of a fight and fowls off two balls before grounding out to second base.

Kazuya's eyes are glued to the mound, to the trajectory of the balls flying towards home plate, and Sawamura's pitch mix makes his fingertips tingle.

Cutter, fastball, splitter. Cutter, fastball, change-up. Splitter, 2-seamer, close inside fastball – looking exactly like the splitter - into the dirt, swing and miss, and high outside fastball that must look like it's a million miles away. And last but not least, a fastball straight down the middle, a 'fuck you' to the batter if Kazuya has ever seen one. Nasty, glorious stuff.

The top of the 6 th seems endless. Sawamura doesn't have a designated pinch hitter since he's somewhat usable now as a batter – even though Kazuya remembers his famous “Oishaaa!” swing and misses with a fond smile – and with a guy on base, Sawamura bunts him over. Even gets to first base himself, and when Kuramochi goes up to hit a RBI to center field, the ball is rolling for the Tigers.

Watching the inning is every baseball fan's dream, perfect in-sync teamwork, hitting prowess, or bunting prowess in Sawamura's case, and yet Kazuya can't wait for the Giants' defense to be over. He craves to see more of Sawamura on the mound, it makes his nerves sing with the beauty that is this sport.

The bottom of the 6 th is just as brutal as the 5 th . Sawamura sends the batters up and down, three for three, wham, bam, thank you, Ma'am.

Kazuya's face hurts from smiling and his stomach is in twists.

They score another 2 runs in the 7 th , another run in the 8 th , and an almost humiliating 5 in the 9 th .

Between Amahisa and Sawamura, they pitched a total shut-out, no earned runs allowed adding to their statistics.

After that game, there sure are a lot of questions piling up in Kazuya's mind.

But before he can go pick up Sawamura from the locker room, he has to capture this energy. Checking his hair in the camera, Kazuya gives a breathless recap of the game to cut into his podcast later – or maybe using it as a teaser video? Maybe. - and the excitement making him so giddy is nothing short of catching. The people around him see him filming, grin and wave into the camera, ask him about his channel.

It's the best advertisement Kazuya could ask for.

By the time the ranks have cleared and the players have had time to shower, Kazuya packs up his stuff, returns the now empty bottle and heads for the locker rooms.

***

“So, where do you wanna go?”

Sawamura shrugs. “No idea. It's not like I planned this or anything.”

Wow, really?”

Yes, really,” a huff, chin high, but a glint in Sawamura's eyes. “Do you know how hard it is to get a hold of you?”

Kazuya shoots him a careful look. “Did you try to?” he asks, opening the exit door from the player's entrance for both of them.

Well, yeah. As soon as Kuramochi told me he fired off that e-mail to your old address on a blind guess that you hadn't changed it. I didn't have it and he teased me for weeks what I had to do to get it from him.”

Why didn't you just take it from his phone?” Kazuya smirks, a bit humbled by Sawamura's apparent efforts.

Sawamura stops in his tracks. “Oh, he hasn't changed at all. I prefer to have my limbs not twisted into a pretzel, thank you very much. I'm not 17 any more, you know.”

I see, I see, so that's where I stand, I get it,” Kazuya acts hurt, hand over his heart.

And there are the cat eyes. “Miyuki Kazuya, you--” words fail him, and Kazuya laughs.

Come on, I know a good restaurant a few blocks over. Seafood okay with you?”

Of course! Lead the way, oh great ex-captain!”

So noisy,” Kazuya rolls his eyes.

***

They get a corner table by the window and it would almost be romantic if it wasn't Sawamura sitting down across from him.

Now that he has all the time in the world, Kazuya allows himself to look. Beside the lean, muscular build under that not-quite tight enough shirt, Sawamura hasn't grown in height since they last met. He definitely lost the baby face though, even if there's no beard or stubble in sight. His eyes are as expressive as ever, as golden as ever, and Kazuya has the feeling that he hasn't changed one bit since his high school days, since they last saw each other.

Speaking of... “When did we even meet for the last time?”

Huh?” Sawamura asks, looking up from the menu. “I think... I think about 7 years ago? You visited Kuramochi once, but I was out in the bullpen, warming up, and I didn't know you were coming.”

Kazuya mulls it over and is interrupted by the waiter taking their order. He chooses wisely not to come back to the subject. That wasn't a time in his life where he could've answered to Sawamura the way he can now.

So,” Sawamura says, “Talk to me, famous catcher of the St. Louis Cardinals. What've you been up to? How's retirement?”

Kazuya lowers his head, pushes his glasses up his nose with his index finger. “Good, I guess. I do miss baseball, hence why I ended up doing the podcast.”

For a moment, Sawamura just stares.

It looks like he wants to read something between the lines and can't quite put his finger on it.

Kazuya distracts him. It's too soon for that in whatever this newfound thing between them is. “I never thought it would take off like that. I mean, there's a million sports channels on TV and on the internet, just not much Japanese content for international fans, and not much international content for Japanese-speaking fans. I guess I just found my niche.”

Don't forget you're an MLB star. You're an amazing player, not just one of the generic beer-drinking managers at home knowing it better than anybody. You've got enough dirt under your cleats to have people value your opinion.”

Surprised, Kazuya looks up to find honest appreciation shining in Sawamura's eyes. “Thanks. That um... reminds me. Would you want to do an episode of sequence?” Deflect . Also good plan, Kazuya is grateful for his quick thinking.

Yeah, of course! Can I pick the at-bat we're covering?”

Obviously,” Kazuya grins. “I mean, your pitch mix is nasty. It's like, for every adjustment the batter makes, you have two answers ready. I would love to show that off on the channel. Do you still use the numbers?”

Adding to the permanent grin on Sawamura's face is a tilt to the edge of his lips. “Kinda, yes. We switch it up, but most catchers get confused really soon. Sho-san – you know, Tanaka – we still use the numbers but switch the signs once the other teams react to them.”

Kazuya is speechless, and proud. To have shaped a player, an Ace like Sawamura, for his whole career. Incredible. He doesn't feel like he deserves that.

What?” Sawamura asks, his voice gentle, too quiet.

Nothing,” Kazuya shakes his head. “Just. I'm glad. And happy to see your career going so well.”

Sawamura taps his lips and for a moment, they just look at each other, considering. It's Sawamura who breaks the silence. “Okay, so I'm still not good with talking around the bush. Full disclosure.” A dramatic beat. “Are you jealous?”

That makes Kazuya throw his head back and laugh. “Of what? Or whom?”

Well, do you wish you'd still play or catch for me or... what?”

No, I don't want to play any more, not on any professional level. But yes, I miss catching and game-calling and all that. You're fun to watch, it makes me itch to play, too.”

Sawamura pulls his bottom lip into his mouth, bites down on it. Kazuya blinks.

I know you came off of an injury, and then there's like four dead years in your career.”

Kazuya stays silent, shrugs. It's true, and it's also more than that. Too soon.

No one quite knows what happened there.”

Long story short, my contract ran out, I was signed as a free agent, I was injured, I was on rehab, then put up on DFA and in the end, I just went back home to Japan.”

That's it?”

That's it,” Kazuya shrugs it off. It's the truth, even though some pretty personal details are left out.

At least, Sawamura gets the hint. “We have a few neighborhood games here in the park when we're not practicing, mostly in the off-season though. We can use the ballpark. I'd love, you know, if you want to-- you could come too. It's all friends and stuff.”

Wouldn't that be kind of unfair?”

You mean because we'd annihilate them as a battery?” And there's that cocky, nasty grin that makes Kazuya's insides boil in all the best ways.

Kazuya can't help but grin back. “Par of the course, isn't it?”

Food is served and they spend the meal in either comfortable silence or exchange tidbits about teammates, current and past, compare American Major League Baseball to Japanese Pro Baseball. Safe topics, nothing too personal.

Afterwards, Sawamura pats his belly. “Nothing like a good meal after a won game.”

Kazuya smiles, sated with good food and good company.

Hey, you wanna come over some time? No, wait.”

Kazuya chuckles. Still talking before thinking, classic Sawamura.

Gimme your e-mail address. And your cell phone number,” there's a phone pointed at him, then Sawamura unlocks it to wait for him to start dictating numbers. “So?”

You could at least buy me dinner first, you know,” Kazuya bats his lashes.

For a moment, Sawamura stares, then grins. “Waiter, check please!” he calls out, then grabs the check as soon as it's brought to their table. “On me.”

Once the waiter has left, Sawamura shoots him a dirty look. “Nasty personality, just like it always was.”

What, like you can't afford it?”

What, like you can't afford it?”

Kazuya smirks. “I'll get it next time.”

Speaking of,” Sawamura waves his phone, “numbers, addresses. Spill.”

Kazuya gives in, not sure if he's going to regret it. But Sawamura is bouncing off the walls with happiness.

What I meant to say earlier is,” he adds, still busy typing into his phone, then stops, “Wait. Is this the right kanji for your name?”

Checking it over, Kazuya nods. “How does an airhead like you remember kanji of anybody's name after 15 years?”

Screw you, Miyuki Kazuya, I was on a full ride for Japanese History at Waseda, just. So. You. Know.”

Okay, okay. So what do you do with a degree like that?”

Teach? I dunno. Never had to do anything but baseball with it. Oh hey, which subject did you study in college?”

Economic engineering,” Kazuya shrugs. “Turns out I have a knack for strategic planning.”

Never would've guessed,” Sawamura deadpans, sounding exactly like Kuramochi because sarcasm? Not Sawamura's thing. Seems like Kazuya has to get used to some changes.

Oh, shut up.”

Well, you buy me dinner first,” Sawamura grins like the Cheshire cat, like he didn't just throw Kazuya's words back in his face.

That smile is still as bright and cheerful and unwavering as it ever was. Kazuya hasn't felt as grounded and comfortable in... about fourteen years, yes.

***

He does regret handing his cell phone number to Sawamura by the next morning already.

That guy is entirely too social and too much of an early riser. There's a picture of a beautiful – in a generic way, though – sunrise waiting in his messages. 5.41 a.m.

S: Morning run. Look at that!

Some things never change.

Kazuya chuckles to himself and buries his face into his pillow to sleep another hour and a half. He dreams of Sawamura, though he can't remember what exactly afterwards. But expressive, golden eyes are burned into his memory.

When he sits down with his first cup of coffee, he gets another message.

S: Miyuki Kazuya! I SEE that you read that message! At least answer!

And an emoticon insulting him.

Kazuya chuckles to himself. Really. He types and sends without thinking twice.

M: You should know not to talk to me before breakfast.

To show some good will, he sends a picture of his mug.

S: I didn't know you were into anime?

S: Though I don't recognize the series, what is this?

Kazuya drinks, waits, hesitates. He did not think that through. 'It's not mine. It was left here by someone' he types, and deletes. True, but sounds stupid. 'Someone forgot it here.' No, that sounds like he's in a relationship.

S: Seriously. What show is that?

It's not his focus. He doesn't know that story and he doesn't need to know it now, Kazuya reminds himself.

M: No idea. I didn't buy it.

Sawamura seems to have his curiosity satisfied with that. At least he doesn't write back.