Kazuya found his first streaming microphone somewhere in a box and set it up on the desk beside his own, newer recording equipment. He also set up a second facecam to record Sawamura's reactions.
It's weird, all of this. It's not like he has any second thoughts on inviting Sawamura to record an episode with him – if anything, that is going to be good content. They always got along well, play off each other's quirks and frankly, Kazuya is glad. Glad to have Kuramochi in his life again, pestering him with little tidbits over the day, providing insider information whenever Kazuya needs some, and now Sawamura is there too. With stupid selfies from training and pre-game nervous messages.
It's like those fourteen years in-between never happened.
It feels good to not manage this huge thing that the channel became over the last months alone, to have some help and intel.
When Sawamura arrives, he takes one look around Kazuya's apartment – not too small, but just one room, comfy without being too extravagant. The location in Shinjuku really is the best part about this apartment and Kazuya loves it, which probably shows.
“Nice,” Sawamura whistles as he plops down on the second chair, taking in the microphone stands and two monitors and all the equipment. “You really stacked up on this.”
“There's nothing worse than bad sound quality,” Kazuya shrugs. “People will roast you for that.”
“I can imagine. So how do I do this?”
Kazuya pulls out a sheet with some pointers, a few questions, a rough sequence of the interview. “This is how I usually do it. Some questions up front, to get the viewers accustomed to who you are, what you do, who you play with, then we dig into the video. Feel free to get as technical as you want with it, hand grips, spin types, whatever you want to explain about your pitching.”
Sawamura nods, tight-lipped and focused.
“Don't worry, there's really no way to mess up here,” Kazuya adds on a more solemn note. “We're just talking.”
The look he gets from Sawamura for that is cryptic. Touched and a bit soft, and Kazuya knows he guessed right. Nerves. He claps Sawamura's shoulder on his way to the kitchen, grabs two bottles of water for them.
While he sets up the software, starts the recording and the two cameras, Sawamura seems to calm down and find his place in all of this.
When he's done, Kazuya looks at Sawamura with a raised eyebrow. He nods, and Kazuya smiles when he nods back.
“Laaadies and Gentlemen, welcome to another episode of 'Sequence' – the show where we dissect what exactly is going on during an at-bat, both from the batters as well as the catchers' and the pitchers' sides. Like I said on the morning show, we have a special guest today, who is, in fact, also the first pitcher who we've had on this show. Say hello to Sawamura Eijun-kun!”
“That sounded weird as hell, Miyuki,” Sawamura almost mumbles, but the mic picks it up just fine. He adds, louder, “But hello there, everyone!”
“What sounded weird?”
“I don't think you've ever called me 'Sawamura Eijun-kun',” and he looks almost bashful saying that.
“And you've never called me senpai.”
“Because you never deserved it.”
“You'd rather I call you Bakamura?”
A flustered protest. “… no? That's an insult!”
That makes Kazuya chuckle. “Yeah? It was also our favorite nickname for you in high school. But okay, at least everyone knows we go way back, now. So, Eijun--”
“Yes?” Kazuya shoots him an innocent smile
“Eijun?” How he missed the cat eyes.
“You didn't want to be called by your whole name. Now what? Ei-chan?”
That earns him a pout. “Ok, whatever, Eijun is fine with me.”
“As I've said – So, Eijun, give us a bit of a background here. This show is watched by quite a few young kids looking to pitch, so why don't we start with the basics. Where did you start playing baseball?”
Finally, he takes a deep breath and recovers from Kazuya riling him up. As fun as it is, maybe Kazuya should tone it down. It would be better for the show, and for whatever his gut is doing, because he feels jittery inside.
“You know, I grew up way out in the boonies, in Nagano. I'm a country kid and my middle school team was very enthusiastic, but we sure weren't winning anything. We had morale though, and we fought each game to the end, but to this day, I have no idea how Takashima-san even found me out there.”
“For reference, Takashima Rei-san was Seidou's player scout back in our days. She really had to convince you to come to Seidou, too, right?”
There's a smile on Sawamura's face, almost like he's lost in thought. “Yeah. She basically went – 'oh, you don't want to leave your team, that's okay, by the way, when do you want to visit us for a training session?'”
And Kazuya can't help but grin. “Oh, she did? Definitely sounds like her. I never knew!”
“I never told you?” Sawamura splutters.
“Well, I only met that cheeky 15-year-old middle schooler when he was already mouthing off to our captain and clean-up.”
And there's some color to Sawamura's cheeks. Cute . “True. I didn't know who you were, either, I only found out later in a baseball magazine that my friend bought me.”
Kazuya hides his permanent grin behind the microphone. “For all of you out there, in true Sawamura fashion, this guy was barely ten minutes on the field before he butted heads with none other than Azuma-san, and challenged him to settle their fight with an at-bat.”
“Obviously, you were all over that.”
Kazuya acts offended. “Excuse you, 'obviously'?”
“Nasty personality, is all I'm saying.”
“Well, thank you. I had a lot of fun striking out a third-year, already drafted to become a pro, with an OPS above and beyond other high schoolers, with a wet-nosed kid from middle school on the mound.”
For a second, Sawamura studies him, before he deliberately says, “I came to Seidou because of that. Because of you. Did I ever tell you?”
Which makes Kazuya pause, too. He shakes his head.
“Didn't want to inflate your ego any more,” Sawamura brushes it off.
“Wow. It seems I rubbed off on you.”
“Sure have.” A quiet chuckle.
Kazuya really needs to change the topic. “Another question we get asked a lot on here, what is your mindset during pitching? Do you shake off pitches your catcher is calling for?”
Sawamura taps his chin with his index finger, thinking. “First off, I came from an un-trained, self-taught team with no idea what to do. I have a difficult pitching setup as my fastball naturally moves and was hard to control, especially for a catcher that wasn't trained professionally.”
“Your straights were flying everywhere at first.”
“Yeah, that wasn't pretty. So when I started, I always aimed for the glove, my single focus was neither getting the batter out or anything, all I wanted to do was get the ball into the catcher's mitt. I didn't manage that until high school, until I met you.”
“Right. Until we figured it out.”
“Big thanks to you, it takes a talented catcher to handle a pitcher as inconsistent as I was.”
That shuts up Kazuya. He can count on one hand how often Sawamura managed that.
“Holy shit, where did that too-full-of-himself guy go?” Kazuya blurts out. He's usually not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but maybe Sawamura rubs off on him, too.
The guy is absolutely nonplussed, though. “Take a compliment, will you,” he says.
“Can we stick to the insults?”
Sawamura grins at him, shakes his head. “Ok, so anyway. It was my second year, I think, and your third? Yes, that has to be it, because Wolf-boy was there, too.”
“Okumura Koshuu. Our Wolf-boy, catcher, first year when you were a second year.”
Sawamura nods. “My battery partner during my third year, and he was the first one questioning what the two of us – as a battery – were doing.”
“First time we had to explain it to anyone, right? It just happened so naturally.” He can't help the proud smile spreading on his lips. They hurt already, anyway, he's smiling so much today.
“Exactly. And then I started thinking about pitch mixes and game calling and pitch calling. Though I think I've only ever shaken off one of your calls.”
“I only remember that one time, too.” Kazuya says, after thinking about it for a moment.
“That inside pitch. Yes.”
“Long story short, for everyone – for a while, I had you pitch to the outside only. Your control became a lot better during that time, since you were too afraid to pitch inside.”
Sawamura shakes his head. “Don't sugarcoat it. I had the yips.”
With a tilt of his head, Kazuya acknowledges that. “And I will forever remember that day where you shook off my call and we both knew exactly what we had to do.”
Between them grinning at each other, time seems to stop for a moment.
“Best feeling in the world,” Sawamura sounds fond.
Kazuya nods. “It only went downhill from there.”
“What, because I questioned your game calling? Please. The better I got and the more Okumura wanted to know, the more I fell off of my now rather standard goal to just pitch to your mitt. I wanted to know why I pitched, if I could miss, where I could miss, and when I'd rather bury the ball in the dirt than miss. I think I only got it, then, what it means to create that work of art together, between a pitcher and a catcher.”
“You still remember that?”
Kazuya can not, after all that has happened, think or talk about what he said back then, because he doesn't want to open that particular can of worms. There's a lot of emotions involved, and he can't deal with all of those right now. “Ok, so, let's get to this at-bat. Full disclosure, I haven't seen it before. Tell us a bit about it, first. Some context, what's happening, who are you playing?”
“So I picked this because I felt so locked in that day. Every pitch went according to plan. It's from last year's season, we're playing the BayStars, and Tanaka is behind the plate, our back-up catcher. This isn't a secret, so to make this short, while Okuyasu is our cunning master strategist – seriously, you should talk to him some time, I'm sure you'll be great friends – Tanaka likes to call for everything I have, up and down the menu list. Once, he had me throw a change-up to the upper outside corner and not only did it make perfect sense, we also struck out the batter.”
Kazuya feels that on a whole different level and has to laugh out loud. “Oh, that hitter sure was pissed.”
“To say the least. So, the game we're watching is currently in the bottom of the 6th inning, I have pitched since the beginning and this is the fourth rotation of the batting order facing me. They have already seen my stuff. We're watching Carlos, the lead-off.”
“Carlos is tough.”
“Hard to strike out, makes contact with everything, really scary. They had a runner on second that I had walked unintentionally before that, so, with a runner in scoring position, Carlos is even scarier here.”
“Yup, get it.”
“So, how do we start?”
Kazuya taps the mouse to start the video. “Ah, there's your pitching form. Foot up high and that hand is snapping down like a whip. Always loved watching that.”
For a moment, they're just watching the clip. Kazuya rewinds it when Sawamura nudges his elbow and teases, eyes sparkling, “You're just glad you never played against me on the pro level.”
“What, because I know all your stuff and your pitching form and because I would smash every pitch into the seats?”
Sawamura tsks, “So cocky.”
“'Confident' is the word you're looking for.”
“Nah, that's just your nasty personality. Like I said.”
“Oh, second pitch. Wait, what was the first?” And how is he rewinding that clip for the third time without having taken note of the first pitch? Kazuya blinks.
“First one was a cutter breaking towards the inside for him. He expected that to be a ball, but as you know, I battle in the zone. So we're 1-0. Next one I throw is a heater.”
“Fastball – straight down the middle, seriously?”
Sawamura shrugs, looks at his hands with a tiny smirk. “At that point in the game, they get quite fast.”
“You know, I call those fuck-you-fastballs. Straight down the middle, you ain't touching that. Daring.”
“I learned from the best,” a wink and a smile, and Kazuya has to look away. “He let it go, too.”
“I think he expected something breaking.”
“Thought so, too, since most of my stuff is breaking. So we have his focus down and middle to inside. Next, chase pitch, edge of the plate. 2-seamer, almost like a sinker or a curve. There it is, calculated down in the dirt and blocked.”
“Aand again, right down the middle. You're 1 ball, 2 strikes, how do you get him out now?”
Kazuya does, and is in awe. “Oh. Oooh. High outside fastball? Swing and miss. Oh, that is just beautiful.”
“Right?” Sawamura is smug and it suits him.
“Nasty as fuck though,” Kazuya chuckles.
“Like I said, I learned from the best.” They exchange a knowing look.
“After all these balls low in the zone and on the edge, the one in the dirt, that must've felt like miles away,” Kazuya clicks his tongue, then adds as an afterthought, “Good job.”
“It felt good, throwing that. Even the heater down the middle. I knew what I was doing.”
“I love watching these. And look here, they made an overlay of your three low pitches – it's still fascinating to me. Up until the plate, they all look the same, then each breaks in a different direction. Nasty."
“Is it opposite day, because I feel weird telling you these things?”
Sawamura throws his head back with a spontaneous laugh. “I could get used to this, you know, you praising me.”
“Oh, fuck off. Who was talking about inflated egos earlier?” Kazuya throws back.
“Like I wasn't right?”
“Excuse you, I'm a humble person, aren't I?”
And that smirk is entirely unfair. “Mmh-hm. Sure.”
This rapid fire back-and-forth banter is not only keeping Kazuya on his toes, it's also the most fun he's had in months, and still, “I think this is a good point to end this episode of 'Sequence' – thank you so much for joining us, I hope you had as much fun walking down memory lane as we had and as always, feel free to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. I'll see you next time, maybe with Eijun here? Let me know if you want to listen to that loudmouth again.”
Kazuya is still laughing by the time he shuts down his computer. Across the room from him, Sawamura – Eijun, he tells himself, and how did they just stumble into first-name-basis? - is still fuming.
“What, don't tell me you didn't have fun?” Kazuya snickers.
“You are a menace, Miyuki Kazuya.”
“You know I am, Ei~jun,” Kazuya bats his eyelashes.
Flustered and with the expression of a pufferfish, Eijun looks ten kinds of adorable, Kazuya finds himself thinking. His hair is messy in a boyish, not quite intentional way, and his cheeks are bright red. And Kazuya did that, which makes him all the more happy.
“I'm not going to deem that with a response!”
Kazuya just raises an eyebrow.
“Nothing,” Kazuya smirks. Still, it's a response. He wallows in all the cannon fodder he got from that one recording. Eijun went to Seidou – for him. Who would've thought. Of course he guessed as much, but to hear it, outright, is music to his ears.
Looking at him now, sitting stiff and still at Kazuya's desk on one of his dinner table chairs, that glint of righteous anger in his eyes, makes Kazuya feel things he doesn't want to name. There hasn't been a person in his apartment for a while, they mostly did 'Sequence' episodes and podcasts with guests by adding them via Skype, which picks up better sound and nobody has to travel. Since Eijun lives close by, Kazuya made an exception. He knows it's because he has a soft spot for Eijun and it's kind of obvious why. He's easy to tease, easy to rile up, and so fun to have around.
“Don't 'nothing' me like some caricature of a nagging wife!” Eijun huffs, then adds, “Though you've always been quite the nagger.”
“Hey now,” Kazuya objects. With a look at his cell phone, he defuses the situation. “Do you want to order some dinner? It's gotten a bit late on us.”
Eijun deflates immediately. “Yeah, I wouldn't mind. Do you have something specific in mind?”
They pick up a menu of a take-out restaurant in the neighborhood, order by phone, then go pick up their food in the still-hot summer evening. Walking side by side down the road in silence doesn't seem weird. Catching glimpses of Eijun beside him, a smirk on his lips, doesn't seem weird. Nothing about this highly unusual situation feels weird, which also should feel weird.
But Kazuya is comfortable, like this.
The food containers are still steaming when they arrive at home. Since Kazuya hasn't been to that particular restaurant for the first time, the owner even adds a bottle of sake on the house. Thankfully only a small one, because as a professional athlete, Eijun doesn't drink.
Kazuya sure doesn't jeopardize his work ethics, so he takes one for the team.
Afterwards, with their bellies full of delicious curry, they sit in front of the open door to the small balcony of Kazuya's apartment.
“So you live here alone?” Eijun asks.
“Yeah. Always have.”
There's an awkward look in Eijun's eyes when he says, “Ah, right. I forgot that you even said it on the podcast lately, that you're single.”
Kazuya shrugs. “And I meant what I said, there's no shame in being single. Since when do you listen to the podcast?”
Eijun hums, lowers his head. “For a while now. Kuramochi mentioned it to me first and then it became a habit. After training, hearing your voice is kind of... calming, you know.” His eyes have a spark to them in the evening light. The sunset dipping him in warm colors, almost like an aura, makes his personality, warm, open, shining like the sun, so much more palpable. Kazuya doesn't know what to say, so he enjoys the companionable silence between them, watches an airplane draw its white condensation trail across the deep red sky, and steals glances every once in a while. To think that there would be quiet moments with someone like Sawamura Eijun, he would've laughed at anyone having made that suggestion in high school.
For a moment, Kazuya wonders, and allows himself to speak before he thinks, “Isn't it funny how we haven't seen each other in, like, fourteen years, yet it feels like yesterday that we played together?”
Eijun huffs, amused and surprised. “True. I was thinking about it, too. You know how when you start dating someone, and you go through all the hoops, like 'what are you doing for a living', 'what are your hobbies', and so on... we know that.”
“Wait, are we starting to date? That's news to me,” Kazuya shoots back, feigning shock.
With a tilt of his head, Eijun just gives him a sour look. Grinning back at him, Kazuya makes sure he knows it's all in good fun. And yet, he knows that Eijun didn't want to have this serious moment made fun of.
He also promptly ignores Kazuya and continues, “We've been there, done that. I know you, and you know me, so it's like nothing happened. Also, for the record, you're still mean and a know-it-all.”
“Gee, thanks.” Kazuya smiles to himself, although he sees glimpses of the new Sawamura Eijun now. 17-year-old Sawamura would've been in his face about that comment, wouldn't have brushed it off like that.
“It's a compliment, actually. You haven't changed at all.” Again, it seems out of character for Eijun to state observations so calmly.
Kazuya waits, breathes, reminds himself that he shouldn't filter what he says. Not the time or the person to be wary of what you say. “You have. What happened?”
Eijun hums again, eyes flickering from side to side, avoiding Kazuya.
“You don't need to tell me if you don't want to,” he clarifies, doesn't know if he even wants to know.
“I'm just thinking where to begin. You still know Wakana, right?”
“Your middle school girlfriend?”
“Shut up,” Eijun punches his shoulder, and they both laugh for old times' sake. “She never was. Never will be, and she's married to Kuramochi anyway. She was always like, my sister. I did marry a mutual friend of ours, though. Her name was Hikaru-chan. That didn't go so well.”
“Oh?” Kazuya is surprised. “I never knew you were married.”
“We kept it private. Most of my teammates knew and that was enough, she came to see a few games. Obviously she was into baseball – kind of a requirement to be friends with Wakana and me in the first place, right? But, um.”
Kazuya tries to help. “You got divorced?”
“Six years ago. I've had my ups and downs since then, but yes, people have been telling me that I've changed since then. Hikaru cheated on me. Too much time on the road, too much training and games and she didn't want to move in with me, near the ballpark.”
“She still lived in Nagano?”
“Yeah. That's why it was easy to keep it private.”
Kazuya gulps. “Hard to keep a relationship going over such a distance, though.”
Eijun nods, staring into the distance. “She used to tell me that it was my fault, I should've visited more often, called more often, but I'm starting to question that,” he looks solemn and a bit broken.
Then again, who isn't, after a long relationship, Kazuya thinks. Wouldn't he know. “After six years, you're starting to question that? She cheated on you.”
Eijun shrugs, seeming too nonchalant but also believably so. “I'm over keeping grudges. We all have our baggage to lug around, don't we.” And doesn't that sum up his character spot-on?
If that's Eijun's way to ask about his past relationships... “Yeah, don't we all. That's a story for another day, though,” Kazuya leans back on his hands, watches Eijun closely. He doesn't want to barge into this head-first. With anyone but Eijun, it would be easier. With Eijun, Kazuya wonders if he should just tell the story, even though they haven't seen each other for so long.
Eijun just shrugs and takes it at face value, bless him. “I'll hold you to that. Do you want another drink?”
“No, thank you, but if you're heading for the kitchen, a glass of water would be great.”
Eijun stands up, taps down the few feet towards the kitchen, barefoot on tatami mats, a soft thud with every step.
What is this? Kazuya's brain asks. What is Eijun doing here? And why is this so easy? He has no idea. He doesn't have friends. He doesn't have friends over . He eats dinner alone because he prefers his peace and quiet. Because he's one of those rude people who take notes during dinner. When an excellent idea for a podcast topic or for an outline of an upcoming interview strikes, he has to write it down before he forgets.
People call him cold, distant, detached.
Yet, Eijun is here. “There you go,” he says, handing him the requested glass of water.
With Eijun returns that sunny, rarely budging smile. “This reminds me of when you had Furuya and me get drinks at the vending machine during our gaming evenings.”
Kazuya chuckles, taken by surprise. “Good times. So easy, back when we both were innocent teenagers without baggage to lug around.” It's a peace offering.
Eijun's smile turns wistful when he nods, then huffs. “Dude. I was so in love with you.”
Eijun looks up, meets his eyes.
Then, Kazuya's heart starts to beat again.
“What?” he manages, swallows around the lump in his throat.
The smile becomes a shit-eating grin. “I said, I was so in love with you.”
Kazuya's brain struggles to process the information. Sawamura Eijun. In love. With him. A guy. In high school. Why?
“To answer your question, before you hurt yourself--” Eijun starts, and Kazuya can't help it.
“Oh, look who's talking,” he snarks.
Eijun shushes him – the nerve of this guy, really. “So, to answer your question. Yes, in love, in very gay love with your stupid face, also, no, I didn't realize it until way later. Like, way later. But that's a story for another day, too.”
“But... you were married to a woman? Was she--?”
“A beard? No. I'm bisexual. Pansexual, if you want. I don't care, I fall in love with people. And I did love her a lot,” Eijun tilts his head. “Or else I wouldn't have minded her cheating while I'm away, now would I?”
Kazuya hums in agreement. “So, why did you never tell me?”
“I told you just now!” Eijun huffs, going cat-eyed. “And like I said, I only realized it years later. You were already the starting catcher of the Cardinals then.”
“Would you have confessed to me in high school, if you knew?”
With a head tilt, Eijun hums, considering. “Dunno. Don't think I would've dared to. You were getting confessions left, right and center anyway, right?”
“Never from a guy, though,” Kazuya points out.
“Would that have changed anything?”
Kazuya can't help but shoot him a lopsided grin. “Oh, definitely. Because I've always been gay.”
And Eijun... stares.
And Kazuya grins. Sweet, sweet payback. The truth, too.
“You're shitting me.”
“You're really gay? Seidou's pretty boy catcher is gay?”
“As gay as a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow.”
Eijun is gasping, grabbing Kazuya's shoulder. “So I could've confessed to you and we could've been dating? Well, knowing you, you wouldn't have kept in contact anyway as soon as you were in St. Louis, but still! I really missed an option there! Then again, I didn't know. What if I knew? I may have confessed, but maybe I'd've been too afraid of ruining our battery.”
Kazuya shakes his head. “You didn't confess, you didn't know, so--”
“Don't you get it, Miyuki Kazuya? There's a parallel universe out there somewhere were you and me are dating since high school!”
“What?” And Kazuya can't help but laugh, and the absurdity of the whole situation hits him like a freight train. “It doesn't matter! You went on to marry a girl and divorce her again, I went on to make stupid mistakes and date guys that never intended to come out, so as far as bad decisions go, we don't have any wiggle room either way?”
Eijun nods. “Ok, but. Mi--” he interrupts himself, grabs both of Kazuya's shoulders and faces him head-on. “I'm serious about this. Kazuya .”
Hearing his own first name from Eijun is... well. He gets why Eijun was so taken by surprise during the recording earlier. There's a tingle in the pit of his stomach.
“Yep. Go on.”
“Kazuya, would you have accepted my confession?”
Kazuya taps his chin, suppresses the smile that threatens to spread his lips. Eijun is too cute like this, eyes narrowed, a toe tapping onto the floor with nerves. “There's also a parallel universe out there where I'm a raging heterosexual.”
Eijun quirks an eyebrow. “Also one where we never went to Seidou in the first place and are going through the whole 'what are your hobbies', 'why are you still single' and 'what do you do for a living' shebang as we speak.”
“There surely is one where teenage-me accepts teenage-you's confession.”
“That's a non-answer if I've ever heard one,” Eijun puffs up his cheeks.
Kazuya looks at him, trying to find what Eijun is waiting to hear. He has no idea. So he goes with the flow, taps his index finger under Eijun's chin. “If you want to hear that we would've lived happily ever after, I'll have to bust your bubble there, Eijun. I was a mess of internalized insecurities. Still am, actually, just more reflected about it. I was selfish and I would've probably left you behind to go to the States in at least 80 % of those other parallel universes, and I'd be miserable in the other 20 %.”
With a sigh, Eijun retreats. “You're probably right.”
“One more question, before I change the subject because this starts to become uncomfortable. Why the hell were you in love with me?” Kazuya can't help but ask.
“Why, you ask? Miyuki Kazuya. You really have to ask? Or are you fishing for compliments?” Eijun huffs and puffs and, “You were an exceptional baseball player. You were cool and respected and good-looking. Well, until the day you tried to hit a soccer ball. But up until then, everyone thought you were charismatic, captain, main catcher, clean-up, a great batter in pinch situations, do I need to inflate your ego any more?”
“There's something else you could inflate, you know-” Kazuya jokes, because talk about getting a joke handed to you on a silver platter.
“Oh, suck my dick!” Eijun shoots back.
The outburst, as sudden as it is, makes Kazuya laugh, “At least buy me dinner first!”