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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.

Chapter Text

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--”

Miyuki Kazuya!”

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.

No, really.”

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?”

Of course.”

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?”

Watch.”

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."

Thank you!”

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.”

Miyuki Kazuya!”

Bye!”

***

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.

What?!”

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.”

Kazuya... stares.

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.”

Nope.”

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.

Ok, Eijun.”

Real talk.”

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!”

Chapter Text

When Eijun has bid him goodbye for the evening, Kazuya is left standing in his genkan, staring at his entrance door.

He blinks, and sorts his thoughts. Or tries to.

He's used to Eijun being a whirlwind of emotions, thoughts and random outbursts. Always has been, always will, no matter how much he matured over the past years. The guy wears his heart on his tongue. Again, always has been, always will. It's refreshing, and yet.

Dude. I was so in love with you.

Kazuya stares. The words are spiraling in his mind.

His phone vibrates in his pocket.

S: Crap, I forgot my cap. I'm already on the train. I'll pick it up next time!

And sure as hell, there's a Tigers hat sitting on his coat rack. Kazuya picks it up, puts it on his head sideways and sends a selfie to Eijun, before he can think about which 'next time' Eijun is referring to.

M: Or I'll keep it.

S: Wear it to the first Koushien game next weekend! I'll get us tickets!

M: Mochi is going to kill you if you don't get him tickets, too.

S: He can get them himself, he has a home bonus anyway ;-) So it's a date?

Ok, so that was a dumb message, he knows this stuff. Kazuya hesitates, then evades the question and its implication.

M: Tell me when, I'll be there.

Damn it.

Why does he feel so beside himself? It's not the alcohol, he barely had a cup of sake because he rarely drinks, so his alcohol tolerance is shit. His stomach feels weird, and not the tingly-suspended kind of weird.

This can't all be because of Eijun's confession, now can it? That'd be hilarious and also stupid, to get worked up over something that didn't happen way back in the day.

Kazuya hovers with his thumb over Eijun's contact in his phone book, then scrolls down his contact list. Calling that person is out of question, though. Why would he? And why is he even thinking about doing that?

But he needs to talk to someone.

Huffing, Kazuya goes to get himself a cold bottle of water from the fridge, then sits down in his surprisingly quiet and empty living room.

His phone blinks at him with a notification on one of his videos, a new comment, which Kazuya distracts himself with. Then he's back in his contact list, this time, way higher.

C.

Chris Yuu Takigawa.

Kazuya checks the time. He still struggles with time zones, and suddenly, he also gets why Eijun stopped calling, then texting him when he was in St. Louis.

He has no idea what time it is for Chris, so he sends a message to a number he hasn't used in two years.

M: Chris-senpai, if the time is good for you, can you call me back, please?

There's no answer at first – of course, and Kazuya racks his brain trying to figure this out.

His thoughts are interrupted by a message from Eijun, of all people, who sends a selfie of himself wearing a Cardinals hat.

S: I'll wear this, then.

M: You know I don't play there anymore, right?

S: D'uh. Still, don't I look good in red?

M: So pretty.

Kazuya apparently stunned Eijun into silence with that, which is way too unusual and even more amusing.

It's then that his phone rings. “Hi, Chris,” Kazuya greets the caller with a fake American accent.

Chris laughs. “Hi, Miyuki,” he answers, that warm timbre of his voice as calming as ever. Kazuya is glad that he dared to ask for a call. And that he chose the right person to ask for a chat on the phone. “What's up? You rarely send me a message.”

I just wanted to know how you're doing, what the team's up to and stuff, catch up a bit,” Kazuya shrugs. It's more than the fact that Chris had signed with the Cardinals soon after Kazuya left, and they both know it. He picks at a piece of fluff on his pants.

You do realize that I was traded to the A's, right?”

Uhm.”

You didn't?” Another warm laugh, sincerely amused and no trace of offense taken.

Kazuya is, admittedly, flustered. “What did I miss, how did I miss that?”

Relax, it's only been since, what, two weeks? I've barely settled in the clubhouse.”

Kazuya bristles. “Still! I'm a sports journalist! Well, of sorts.”

Yes, in Japan. You don't cover MLB, do you?”

Occasionally. The big events, post-season and all that, and I often do breakdowns on funny game situations. So you're in Oklahoma now? How is it?”

Good, I'm still the backup catcher, but the team is good. Our Cardinals are good too, from what I hear. Not much change in the two weeks since I left,” there's a smile to his voice, but it's tight. “How are you doing? Anything new in your life?”

Not really, no. Sawamura was here today, if that counts as news,” Kazuya chuckles.

Oh, he didn't tell me that! But we haven't talked in about, what, three weeks, give or take.”

You talk?” That took him by surprise.

Yeah, we talk. Mostly before his games, when he's too riled up to sleep. Evening for me, night for him, works perfectly.”

Huh.”

What do you mean?”

I knew he kept in contact, though I...” Kazuya loses his train of thought. So maybe that wasn't why Eijun wasn't calling him when he was in the US. So maybe. Maybe what? He feels off, knowing that. “I underestimated how reliable he was about that.”

I know he talks to most of our old Seidou team, especially the ones that are still playing. You didn't know?”

Kazuya shrugs, then realizes Chris can't see him and feels like an idiot. “No, but then again, we only spent this evening together after fourteen years of radio silence.”

So how did that happen?” Chris sounds amused.

You know how he is, he just plants himself into your life and pretends he's always been there,” Kazuya jokes, and gets a laugh out of Chris. “No, seriously, we recorded an episode for the channel together. Should be up by the day after tomorrow. Watch out.”

Will do. Now, Miyuki, what are you really calling for?”

Kazuya gulps. Of course. “Have you heard, or, do you know... how's Tyler?”

Chris hesitates. “He's good.”

And just that flat statement is suspiciously too little. “Really? Not more to that?”

Do you really want to know?” Chris is careful, testing the waters.

Examining the mess in his head is bad enough, but concerning this point, Kazuya's mind is very clear. “I'm over this, I'd just really like to hear how he is.”

Without calling him directly,” Chris adds.

... yeah.”

He would talk to you, you know.”

Kazuya closes and rubs his eyes under his glasses before readjusting them. “Probably, but he wouldn't be too happy, would he?”

I only said he'd talk to you, not that he's waiting for you to call.”

Kazuya lets the pause drag on, with no idea what to say. What he ends up with is, “So?”

Like I said, he's good. If you look closer, though, and you know him... well, he's been sleeping around and everybody knows it. Take that how you want.”

That's not like him. But he's an adult, and six years or not, he's not Kazuya's responsibility. Never has been, really.

Thank you, Chris.”

You're welcome.”

Also, before you hang up, I meant to ask... do you wanna do a podcast interview for the channel sometime?” he asks on a whim.

What would it entail?” Cautious.

So Kazuya talks about the podcast, what it's about, and promises to send a link to one of the episodes to Chris.

Hey, Miyuki,” Chris ends the call with, “You know, you can always call, right? Even when it isn't about your show or your ex-boyfriend.”

Kazuya rubs his eyes again. “I do, and I will. Thanks.”

Hanging up feels weird. Like Chris now knows more than one secret of his.

Checking his notifications, Kazuya finds one more message from Eijun.

S: To have THE pretty boy catcher call me pretty, what a time to be alive.

M: Good night, Sawamura.

S: :(

M: :-P

S: Good night, Miyuki.

Kazuya hesitates. There's a distance he never meant to create. A rift he never wanted to open again. While he tries to find words to gloss over it, make a joke and move on, Eijun is faster than him.

S: You suck, Miyuki Kazuya! You know how that sounds? Like we're back in high school, like I'm your kouhai, and no, I don't want that, I refuse!

M: Sorry?

S: You better be.

Once again, Kazuya doesn't quite know what to say, but this conversation is not over, not yet. There's some hurt left between Eijun's words.

S: Here's the thing. I know we go way back, but I'm not your kouhai any more. I'll gladly be your friend, though, if you want me to.

The words 'and you better treat me like that' hang behind that last sentence and Kazuya hears them loud and clear. 'Friends' is a bit much, and Kazuya doesn't know how to feel about it, but it's not like he has anyone he could compare his relationship with Eijun to. Friends or acquaintances – it's semantics, at this point.

M: I'd like that, Eijun.

S: Good night, Kazuya.

M: Sleep well.

Damn, that guy grew up indeed,” Kazuya mumbles to himself. Self-assertive, direct, knows what he wants. Lessons only life will teach you. He likes it.

***

Two days later, a shifty-eyed Eijun is waiting for Kazuya at the side entrance of the Tiger's stadium. He's easy to spot with his red Cardinals cap.

Kazuya grins in lieu of saying hello. “You afraid of being recognized or what?”

Eijun nods, frowning.

Your face will scare them away, anyway,” Kazuya cackles, then throws an arm around Eijun's shoulders. “Let's go! Seidou is playing Ugumori, that's going to be fun.”

You're in a good mood,” Eijun states, shooting Kazuya an irritated look from the corner of his eyes.

Why wouldn't I be?”

Eijun stops in his tracks, stares at Kazuya. “Because you're usually either grumpy or sarcastic, so give me some time for getting used to you being straightforward.”

To Kazuya's utter surprise, there's an arm wrapping itself around his waist.

Let's go,” Eijun repeats, quiet.

Eijun's arm is warm, his fingers tender and careful where he curls them into his shirt. His shoulder fits perfectly under Kazuya's.

Just objective observations.

***

“Laaadies and Gentlemen, hello and welcome to the morning show, where we talk baseball, we talk Seidou, we talk Koushien! Are you excited?”

Kazuya lets the intro music play for a bit. He just finished cutting the latest episode of 'Sequence' which is now rendering on his second computer, while he streams from his main one. He almost pulled an all-nighter, but three hours of sleep work for him. He even managed to get a cup of coffee ready, showing off his new merchandise for the camera.

See that? Yes, exactly, we got new merch! Check it out in the box below, there's a link and a code for free shipping on the first 50 orders.”

He wiggles his eyebrows at the camera and sets up the live chats so that he can cross-read all of them. Facebook, periscope, YouTube, as always in this order.

How has Koushien been for you, so far? Obviously I'm biased, I'm rooting for Seidou all the way. Coach Kataoka is still training these boys well and it shows. Loved it. I had to glue Eijun to his seat beside me. Yes, we went to see both the Seidou game against Ugumori and the Seiko vs. Teito game. Good times.”

He takes a sip of his cup of coffee, just to wet his throat. The chat is confused.

Eijun? - Eijun who? - There's no player who's name is... - first name! - maybe his first name?

Kazuya watches the mayhem unfold, grinning to himself and hiding his grin behind his mug.

Sawamura, then? - who else? - they've been hanging out? - wait, THAT Sawamura, from the Tigers? - we need Sawamura on the pod!

Yes, I'm talking about Sawamura Eijun.”

Scanning the first responses makes Kazuya laugh. “Yeah, not gonna lie, I'm a bit deaf on the right side. That guy is noisy as hell, but what else is new. Not like I didn't know what I was in for.”

They're on a first-name basis?

So, short recap of the games. Seidou – Ugumori ends 5 to 3, close game, no runs up until the 6th inning when Seidou's line-up exploded and started raking. A few pitching mistakes gave them opportunities for 3 runs and the bases were loaded by the third out, so there was a lot more possible there. Ugumori followed it up in the bottom of the 7th with one run and 2 more in the 8th, but after the top of the 9th with 2 more runs for Seidou after a huge fumble by the left outfielder and a missed throw back home, they were toast. Seikou and Teito left with 12 to 3 runs, pretty clear, consistent batting by Seikou, they were just shoving runs inning after inning, and the game was called in the 7th. Teito clearly had some issues with their pitching staff, also an injury among the main players and they started their back-up catcher without an explanation. We can only guess at this point, but I've heard through the grapevine that their catcher, Morose, came down with an infection over night. Like, high fever, in bed. Obviously no way he would get to play like that, and, unfortunately for him, won't play in Koushien this tournament.”

There are a few questions about stats, about changes in OPS, nitty-gritty baseball stuff that Kazuya loves and thrives in, and by the time they're at his three questions, Kazuya is grinning.

Guys, we're at the end of the morning show, you know what that means! Three questions, 3 – 2 – 1 – go!”

And within a few seconds, as always, here they are.

Kazuya smiles. “Okay, question 1: will you watch more Koushien games with Sawamura? Yes, I will, we have tickets for the semifinal in three days, Seidou vs. Seiko. Expect me to fuck up the who's who in the game recap, those names are just way too similar.”

Question 2: How do you feel watching Koushien? Mostly, nostalgic. Eijun and I talked a lot about our own experience in this tournament, we lost and we won one together, as you all know, and Eijun told me he still has that bottle of dirt from the bullpen. The Koushien we lost – the spring tournament at the end of his first year, my second at Seidou – he was stuck warming up in the bullpen while we couldn't earn a single run against Komadai Fujimaki. That was bitter. Later, he told me he kept the dirt – not from the mound, as you would, but since he didn't get to pitch – from the bullpen to remember that frustration.”

Question 3: What's the deal with Sawamura? Bring him on the show!”

Kazuya has to collect himself after laughing at that. “I'm in the process of uploading a special episode of 'Sequence' and that's all I'm going to say about that. As for what the deal with him is, there is no deal - I think he called it 'friends' and even though 'friend' is a strong word for me, I for once agree with the idiot.”

With that, have a good day and enjoy the upcoming Koushien games!”

***

“Do you have some left-overs in the fridge?” Eijun asks out of nowhere when they head towards the train station after the game.

Yeah, 'course.”

Good, because I'm starving,” he announces, and so much for eating out or spending the evening at Eijun's place. Kazuya is irked as much as he is amused, but he doesn't mind.

Eijun is chipper. After a game that they both spent at the edges of their seats, after Seidou winning the semifinal, he has every right to, and it does wonders for Kazuya's mood.

At home, Eijun doesn't even give him time to warm up said left-overs, he eats the tofu chop suey straight from the container, humming and moaning all the way. “Ugh, this is good, Kazuya. If you're still looking for an alternative career, try applying for head chef at a restaurant. You'd probably be really good at ordering people around, too, like some kind of kitchen demon.”

Kazuya swallows his mouthful of just-crispy carrots, then says, with emphasis on every syllable, “Suck. My. Dick.”

Without missing a beat, golden eyes with way too much mirth in them meet his. “At least buy me dinner first.” A toothy grin. “Then we can talk.”

Well, technically-”

Technically, this was your dinner from yesterday and not specifically for me, so, no. Doesn't count.”

Kazuya smirks and shakes his head, talked down by Sawamura Eijun, that he'll see the day. He snorts.

Put out, Miyuki Kazuya,” Eijun dares to add. “I'm not that easy.”

This time, Kazuya doesn't miss a beat when he grabs the rice ladle without breaking eye contact. The gesture is as much teasing as it is a vague threat. He doesn't say a single word.

Eijun's non-reaction is a reaction in and of itself. The corner of his lip is twitching with a smile, and Kazuya swears, he won't give in to the little voice at the back of his head that wants to kiss that cocky expression off Eijun's face.

He doesn't need theses thoughts, so he shoves them down, down, down.

By the time they're done eating and sit on the couch to watch Koushien re-runs and recaps – Kazuya with his notepad and pen right beside his hand in case he needs to jot down something for the next podcast recording tomorrow – Kazuya's phone has exploded.

Not literally, just figuratively. Blown up with hundreds of notifications. Kazuya put it into 'do not disturb' mode, but the display is still flashing with each message.

What's going on?” Eijun asks with a nod towards the phone, flopping down on the sofa with a fresh bottle of iced tea for each of them in his hand. “Someone trying to call you?”

Kazuya laughs. “Uhm, no, I uploaded the episode of 'Sequence' that we did together. It went live about two hours ago and people are going nuts,” he swipes another comment notification off his phone. He's going to read – and moderate – them later.

Eijun leans over, tries to sneak a peek of his screen. “Well, what are they saying?”

For a moment, Kazuya considers it, then decides that they'd better do this properly. “Let me get my laptop.”

Both of them reading comments was probably been the best idea Kazuya could've had. Eijun provides good answers to pitch-mix and game calling related questions, they both tease the few haters and there's a lot of positive feedback on their work together.

The most liked comment on top – with a whooping 1.059 likes – says, “We need Sawamura back on the show. You two are so fun together.” and among the answers to that are lots of suggestions – for podcast topics, people who want Eijun's opinion on what's going on in the league at the moment, people who want Eijun as a regular co-host of the podcast and just - so much material right there.

To that most-liked comment, Kazuya replies, 'Let me ask him first, ok?'

Yes,” Eijun says, unblinking.

Yes what?”

I'll do it.”

Kazuya stares. Sees bright, golden eyes, locked with his – sees determination and seriousness and something akin to admiration. Sees freckles and stubble and dimples when Eijun grins, sees the fun with which Eijun lives, breathes, talks baseball.

Just tell me when and what, I'll be there. It was a lot of fun and I could talk about baseball and the team and the good old times all day with you. People seem to enjoy it, so why not?” he shrugs, smiling to himself.

Thank you,” Kazuya gets out, touched. “I mean... you know, that means a lot for me and for the channel. I make a living off this so having you as a magnet for people to come back, that could make a big difference. In clicks and views and ad revenue.”

Eijun nods, looking nonplussed. “Yeah? I know.”

Really, thank you.”

You can pay me in left-overs. Or, you know...” he wiggles his eyebrows and Kazuya laughs.

Nah, that takes more than a podcast EP. Buy me dinner first,” Kazuya throws back.

Eijun laughs, too, and Kazuya doesn't know what to do with himself. So much good energy, here, now. He feels so at home and at peace and he knows it's all Eijun's doing and he has no idea what's happening.

It's scary.

They talk all evening. In the end, when bedtime rolls around and Eijun is too tired to go home, Kazuya just throws his extra futon on the floor beside his bed and orders him to sleep in it.

***

Kazuya blinks his eyes open. The sun is already up, shining through the blinds of his bedroom window.

There's a snuffling sound from the floor, and Kazuya remembers. Still dizzy with sleep, his hand goes to his bedside table on autopilot, grabbing his glasses and putting them on his nose.

Eijun, in all his bedhead glory, arms everywhere – one hand pushing against Kazuya's bedside table – and topless in his futon. Trained chest, a hint of abs to be seen. Attractive, objectively. Right here, in Kazuya's apartment.

He looks at the clock and his heart stutters to a grinding halt.

He overslept.

The morning show is scheduled to start in fifteen minutes, he hasn't gotten dressed or cleaned up, there's no coffee, he hasn't had breakfast, and most of all, a shirtless Pro League pitcher is in his streaming room.

Eijun,” he calls, his voice still raspy, his head still fuzzy and adjusting.

No reaction.

Kazuya gets up, stretches, then shakes Eijun's shoulder. “Eijun!”

Wha--”

Get up, I need to stream in... thirteen minutes or so.”

Then just... stream?”

This is the room I'm streaming from. You need to at least get to the kitchen.”

Eijun moans, rubs his eyes, and damn Kazuya needs to eat a bite because his stomach feels funny. “Okay, okay. Wait. What are you streaming?”

The morning show.”

Their eyes meet and it seems like the same idea hit both of them at once.

Can I just--”

-- co-host the morning show as a surprise? Yeah, why not. But you need to get up and get dressed, please!”

Calm down, we still got, what, 10 minutes? You go get ready, I'll do coffee, I go get ready, you do breakfast. That order,” Eijun shrugs, already heading for the kitchen when he looks back to add with a wink, “I oversleep all the time.”

I see,” Kazuya quirks an eyebrow, not surprised at all, but follows the plan.

Ten minutes later, the greenscreen is down and they have bowls of oatmeal in front of them as well as mugs full of hot, steaming coffee. The intro music of the 'Baseball & Stuff' Morning Show is filling the room. Kazuya's hair isn't brushed, so he hid it under an old Seidou hat, Eijun's isn't, either, but as usual, he hasn't bothered doing anything about it at all, strands falling into his eyes and cowlicks sticking up everywhere. For lack of a change of clothes, Eijun wears one of Kazuya's shirts, and no one will ever know. Kazuya might have been broader around the shoulders when he was still playing, but the fact that he lost some of his stockiness when he retired comes in handy to fit Eijun's leaner frame.

Kazuya is also fully aware what the boyfriend shirt trope is and he also can't quite deny that yes, Eijun in his shirt makes him feel things.

It's a good thing that they are going live the same minute so he doesn't get too much time thinking about this.

Goooood morning, ladies and gentlemen – welcome to the 'Baseball & Stuff' morning show! To my left is none other than Japanese Pro League player, starting pitcher for the Hanshin Tigers, Seidou alumni, resident idiot--”

Hey!”

-- and the guy your mom wants you to introduce as her future son-in-law: Sawamura Eijun-kun.”

Okay, I admit, you made the curve there,” Eijun points his spoon at Kazuya. “Good save, well played.”

Thanks. So, Eijun, how are you this fine morning?”

Eijun grabs his cup of coffee, sees the 'Baseball & Stuff' logo on its side and goes starry-eyed. “Say, can I keep this?”

Kazuya blinks at him. “Yeah, if you want it, 'course.”

Thanks!” He bounces right back. “Also, thanks for asking, I'm good. After you introduced me so exuberantly, like, as if there's anyone following you and watching these videos who doesn't know who I am--” Eijun remarks, smug.

Ts, so cocky,” Kazuya rebuffs him.

They scan the – very amused and confused – live chats.

Eijun laughs. “Oh wow, that sure is quite something, keeping track of what you guys are saying. What am I doing here?” he recites, looking over at Kazuya.

Kazuya smirks. “You can tell them the truth,” he winks, tries to have some fun with it and hopes Eijun gets the hint. Judged by the glint in Eijun's eyes, no more words are needed.

This feeling – Kazuya knows it, and yet he can't put his finger on what's going on in his head.

So Kazuya and I spent a wild night in Kazuya's apartment--” Eijun jokes, breaks off in the middle of reading responses. “You guys are too fast! Miyuki Kazuya, how do you do this?”

Practice. No, the truth is, we met up for last night's Seidou game and Eijun decided to stay the night, no strings attached--”

People want to know if you'd like to revoke your status as a single guy from two weeks ago.”

I did say 'no strings attached', didn't I?”

Eijun turns towards him, hand flat against his chest, over his heart. “Now I'm hurt. Do I mean nothing to you?”

It's getting really hard not to grin at Eijun's blatant irony. To play the part, Kazuya pats Eijun's knee with his hand. “I'm sorry, babe, it's not you, it's me. It was fun while it lasted, though.”

Still wanna be friends?”

Yeah, let's do that.”

Friendship – Kazuya has a love-hate relationship with that word. He never had friends, not in middle school, but if you squint, there were some friend-ish people in high school: people he admired like Chris-senpai, people that gave him shit if he deserved it like Kuramochi, people that were drawn to him and spent a lot of time in his periphery, like Furuya, like Okumura, like the noisy guy bickering at the live chats beside him.

But to some people, friends mean a lot more. People you can talk to about everything, about whatever is going on with your life. He wouldn't necessarily say that he can talk about anything and everything with Eijun but given time, he could – because Eijun with his strong sense of responsibility and family, Eijun who is bold and daring and also bisexual, hello , he'd get it. All the shit Kazuya has gone through, Eijun would understand.

What do you think, Kazuya? You were so busy lecturing the catcher during the game.”

Huh, what?” Kazuya blinks at him.

Bottom of the 3rd, that last strike-out. It took like ten pitches and you were all over that.”

Of course! That was what poor game-calling will lead to, 50 pitches per inning to get three outs. If he'd had called that low inside fastball, which is not Nakamura's hot zone at all, especially not going after a slider, they would've gotten them three for three.”

Nakamura-kun does see pitches well, he only swings at strikes. Can't even get him to chase, it seems. I totally agree, but it was fun seeing you going off on that pitch sequence,” Eijun grins.

And that's just it, right? Sure, they could talk about everything in life, but for both of them, baseball is everything, and to be able to talk about what they love – it's all Kazuya cares about.

Because it was so unnecessary! They walk Nakamura-kun on a full count, struggle with the next batter, too, and then the main pitcher has to swap in, get on the mound with runners on first and third and get the third out because their starter was already past 70 pitches. Like. Really, Seiko? Your batting is good, but work on your bullpen.”

Eijun nods, shrugs. “True, but maybe also just nerves. Remember my first Koushien?”

I got that video in my favorites, wait a sec,” Kazuya turns to his laptop and – despite Eijun's protesting which ends with Eijun grabbing his elbow, leaning over him, trying to control what his hand is doing and failing – starts the video of Eijun walking up to the mound, shouting his usual disclaimer, then promptly landing flat on his nose.

Kazuya can't help himself, he laughs with his head thrown back while Eijun pouts. “That was so embarrassing. Not to mention we lost the tournament.”

Not because of you, though.”

Yep, that was all on you and Furuya. And the other batters.”

Oh, suck my dick!” Kazuya exclaims on a laugh.

Then buy me dinner first,” Eijun shoots back, eyes glowing.

Anyway, you're gonna get roasted for this in the comments, you know that, right?”

Eijun turns a bit pale. “Just a joke, guys! Honestly. We all know baseball is more complicated than that, right?” A nervous laugh.

Kazuya scans the chat, “Oh, the roasting has already begun.”

Looks like this is going to be my last appearance here,” Eijun states, his voice flat, hiding behind his mug of coffee.

Kazuya's eyes are still glued to the screen and for a few moments, it's quiet between them as he follows the discussion. “So, to summarize and paraphrase, they all love you and want you on here more often and also, we're an old married couple and are bickering like one.”

Eijun throws his head back for his trademark booming laughter. “We're friends, people. Friends!”

Maybe this is a point in his life where Kazuya should accept his fate instead of mulling it over again and again. It's pointless, anyway.

So yes, they are, and yes, Kazuya's heart is jumping with joy and he's glad that Eijun shouted it out into the world so he doesn't have to. “Also, I love... this too much to cut you that early, so I guess we'll have you here more often.”

Count me in!” And there's that million-watt smile directed right at Kazuya.

Kazuya can barely take it, it's that blinding.

Chapter Text

Kazuya yawns.

A quick look down to the lower right-hand corner of his monitor reveals the whooping time of 11:34 p.m.

He still needs to get dinner. Because he forgot to eat, again.

Kazuya rubs his eyes, checks the last ten seconds of the video he's currently cutting – just a 2-minute breakdown, just matching clips to his voice-over, no big deal. He can do that in five minutes, then grab a bite.

What day is it? Saturday. Because Eijun didn't have training scheduled today, according to his off-season plan. And tomorrow is Sunday, the Koushien final, at 10 a.m. - so he basically has 11 hours to finish cutting and rendering this video, start the upload over night, set it to go online by lunch tomorrow, also get something to eat and a cup of coffee won't be a bad idea either, then prep the EP of 'Sequence' with Chris, at least find and watch the at-bat he already told Kazuya he would like to talk about. Take a few notes on the questions he'd like to ask. He can get those things done in like, an hour? And then head to bed to leave bright and early the next day, since Eijun will pick him up at 8:30.

Fuck.

His chest is too tight. Kazuya has to breathe, and it feels overwhelming.

He heads to the bathroom first, splashes some water in his face. Avoiding the look into the mirror, he uses the toilet.

Goes back to his desk, finishes the cut, starts the rendering, then heads to the kitchen to find some left-over rice that he can crack an egg onto. Not the best diet, he's aware, but needs must. In those 10 minutes in the kitchen, he re-sets the rice cooker for breakfast, takes his bowl over to the desk and searches for Chris' game.

Eighth inning, eighth inning, no, that's the sixth, no, bottom of the ninth... finds the inning, finds the batter. It's a 12-pitch at-bat. So that's why Chris picked it.

Only after the third time of re-watching it and skipping through it, Kazuya notices that he has taken absolutely nothing from the scene. Not what happened, not which pitches were thrown, nothing. And that he forgot his coffee.

He doesn't want to stand up. Can't.

The rendering of the other video still takes two minutes and a few seconds.

Kazuya re-sets the at-bat, takes his note pad, writes down the sequence. Curve-ball? No, that was a – what did Chris call for? He skips back, blinks, blinks again. Shakes his head, watches again.

Blinks. His eyes are burning, the clock says 12:16 p.m.

Damnit, he needs to get this done because tomorrow will only be him, Eijun, Koushien, the final, and an afternoon of no phone, no internet, no anything – and fuck, does he look forward to it. He wants to enjoy that. And no morning show, since it's Sunday, though he wants to do an Instagram post from the stadium.

Kazuya's limbs feel so heavy. Coffee is not an option, it would require getting up. With a sigh, he stacks his bowl on the one from lunch, beside his keyboard, then rests his head on his hand.

Get yourself together,” Kazuya groans, rubs his eyes under his glasses, then pushes them back into place.

The channel has been exploding since about two weeks ago. Since Koushien happened, since Eijun happened. He polarizes – though most people on YouTube love him, a few vocal haters have been popping up, which require Kazuya to think about well-worded statements, deleting comments or ignoring them, don't feed the troll, yada-yada.

He closes his eyes for a moment, can't think. Doesn't think. Warm smiles and golden eyes pop into his mind and for a moment, he lingers in that comfort.

***

Something's wet on his cheek. Also, hard.

Hard and wet.

Kazuya snuffles, jerks up, dizzy. There's spit on his cheek, and a puddle of drool on the desk in front of him. Ew.

Looks like he fell asleep on his desk. Again. At least it's still dark outside.

His ear hurts from the frame of his glasses digging into it, and he wipes the spit from his cheek with his sleeve.

Dragging himself up and to the bathroom takes forever. His bathroom clock says 4.54 a.m.

Kazuya brushes his teeth, does his morning routine.

Then checks the computers, starts the overdue upload for the breakdown video, checks a few comments, then decides that going back to bed at half past 5 isn't worth the hour of sleep he'd get, so he goes to shower.

Without anything to do, he lies down on the couch afterwards, tapping away on his phone, answering a few messages from Kuramochi, who asks if he's going to be at the final, from Chris and from that one British guy that always goes off at him whenever he makes a video on the Dragons. Salty fanboys suck. Kazuya tries to be nice, as always, and stops the discussion in two sentences, essentially telling the guy to fuck off.

It's too early for this shit.

He drops his cell phone onto his chest and stares at the ceiling. Takes off his glasses, rubs his cool hand, over his burning eyes. The relief is welcome but short-termed.

If Eijun were here, he'd give him hell for working so much and sleeping too little. Kazuya huffs to himself, mutters, “Well, good thing he isn't here.”

His thoughts drift in circles. To Eijun, to his dad, always working, never eating, to his mom, who wasn't there when his dad... all of it. Back to Eijun.

In the end, to escape that cycle, Kazuya picks up his phone and shoots off a message to Eijun.

M: Assuming you're on your morning run anyway and didn't eat yet – if you feel like being early, I'll provide breakfast.

The answer comes barely five minutes later in the form of an emoji with stars in its eyes and the other a gif of a guy slurping ramen.

Kazuya can't help but grin.

***

It's early afternoon, the sun is high in the sky, and Seidou won.

For the first time since they brought the win home themselves, Seidou wins Summer Koushien.

Eijun is jumping in his seat at the final pitch, is on his feet by the time the ball hits the first basemen's mitt and screaming at the umpire's fist pump to signal the out.

Kazuyaaaaa~” he screams and jumps into Kazuya's arms, and yes, he's also on his feet because Eijun's celebrating is contagious. There are arms around his neck and a jittery, trembling grown man squeals in delight right into his ear and Kazuya... doesn't mind.

Ok, maybe he minds a little bit and his ear rings but it's Eijun, so he can't stay mad. He can feel the tension and the joy as much as if they were still down there, as a battery, 18,44 m apart.

Kazuya still remembers that day, the sun as bright as today, sweat running down his back – and front, under his protector – a baby-faced Sawamura with the 1 on his back, shaking a call for a cutter. He remembers racking his brain and not wanting to call a time-out because he didn't want to ruin his pitcher's rhythm. He knew not to call for an inside fastball, their bread and butter, because the batters knew that too. He knew not to call for a change-up because that particular batter had seen it twice before and they couldn't risk a walk-off home run with two runners in scoring position.

He called for the new and improved splitter, which they hadn't used before in the game. No time like the present, Kazuya had thought, and Eijun had grinned at him and proceeded to plant that splitter right in the lower outside corner, right into the pocket of Kazuya's mitt with a satisfying, resounding smack of leather against leather.

Kazuya remembers that split second of processing, the realization that the batter had swung and missed, that this was the third out, that they had won. And by that time, he had already thrown his face protector off, was running towards the mound, had picked Eijun up by the waist and had twirled him around, just to get this overwhelming energy out.

Eijun had laughed and cried and by the time his feet had hit solid ground again, his arms were still locked around Kazuya and his face was buried in the nook of Kazuya's neck and he was stammering a small, grateful “Thank you,” that was meant for Kazuya's ears only.

His heart aches with the memory in all the best ways.

And 15 years later, here they are again. Just, in the stands.

Do you think they'd let us into the locker room?” Eijun asks, hands at Kazuya's shoulders, shaking him.

Dunno, let's ask.” Kazuya turns, throws his arm around Eijun's shoulders as they head towards the stairs.

Just like that day, his cheeks hurt from grinning.

***

Kataoka sees them over the head of the security guard.

Boss!” Eijun calls out with a salute.

Kazuya rubs his forehead. This guy, for fuck's sake.

Coach Kataoka,” Kazuya addresses him with a low bow, which Eijun follows suit.

It's good to see you two again,” Kataoka says with a nod. The hair above his ears is already gray, almost white, and the salt-and-pepper look works well for him. The shades are still in place, Kazuya notes amused, hiding deeper lines beside eyes that are as serious as ever.

This one, Miyuki Kazuya and also Sawamura Eijun, would really like to extend our congratulations to you, for winning the tournament,” Eijun announces.

That habit of his, to break into archaic Japanese in these situations, never ceases to amaze and amuse Kazuya. He can barely contain the smile that threatens to cheapen this moment.

Congratulations, Coach, you trained a very talented and hard-working team,” Kazuya adds.

There is – and Kazuya can't believe that he'll see the day – a smile on Kataoka's face. “Thank you, that means a lot coming from you.”

It was a joy to watch, and we were here in the stadium for every game,” Eijun nods. “It really made me miss Seidou and the old days, I have to admit.”

Kazuya agrees, “Watching Koushien always makes me feel nostalgic, this time more than ever.”

You know,” Kataoka looks from Eijun to Kazuya and back, and Kazuya can't sort out the look in his eyes. “Since I heard you were back in Japan, Miyuki-kun, I meant to get in touch with you, but you were gone for the longest time, and I forgot. I planned to do a reunion, an alumni game of the last team that won Koushien for Seidou, against the current team. They don't know yet. Would you two be in for something like that?”

Of course,” they both answer in unison.

It doesn't hit Kazuya what that means until late afternoon, in Eijun's apartment, sitting on the couch with him and just talking.

Being a battery again, with Eijun. He gets jittery from excitement just thinking about that.

He hasn't caught for a fully trained professional pitcher in four years, not since his injury. Which is not a problem any more and will get him through a game no problem, but. It gets him nervous in a good and a bad way.

What did the Boss mean, by the way?” Eijun stops his train of thought. “You were gone for the longest time? Is he referring to that time right after you came back?”

Kazuya shrugs. “Probably, yeah.”

Because I remember hearing that you're back, but you were nowhere to be seen, even the magazines were quiet and I know they must've been searching for you,” Eijun plays with the hem of his shirt. “Which, to me, can only mean that you didn't want to be found. Which, knowing you, means a pretty personal reason so I don't want to dig, but if you want to talk about it... I'm here.”

There's a pause.

Not an entirely unwelcome one. Eijun is looking at him, golden eyes wide and sincere, no judgement anywhere, just curiosity. And while the bigger picture surely is a story for another day, this part is the easiest to tell.

My dad was sick,” Kazuya meets Eijun's eyes. “And I haven't told anyone because he didn't want anyone to know and I needed a break from all the shit that was going sideways at that time in my life.”

Eijun leaves that can of worms alone, bless him. “That was after your injury, right?”

Yes, after rehab, too. I was a fully functioning catcher, one and a half years into his new 4-year-contract. And then I get a call from a hospital in Tokyo at 4 a.m.”

Shit.”

It is what it is,” Kazuya sighs. “Or, I guess, it was what it was. A work accident. He lost his hand in a machine he had used for thirty years, probably because he was too tired to take all the safety measures. That man worked himself into an early grave and he knew it and I knew it, but fuck, he was an adult, he had to make that choice for himself. It went downhill from there. There was a blood infection and the mental part just wrecked him. I came back to nurse him, be there for him. And please don't tell me about what a hero I am. I felt guilty enough for leaving him alone in the first place. I cooked and cleaned and he just...”

The memory makes his blood boil and his insides curl up with shame at the same time.

Deep breaths.

Eijun isn't pushing, he's just listening. And Kazuya hasn't told anyone about this.

All day, it was a slew of accusations. Like I didn't know that I had put my career above him. Like I didn't know I was only taking care of him to not feel guilty about leaving him behind. In lieu of coping with his own injury and what it meant for him – that the workshop would need to be closed, that he couldn't work any more – he lashed out at me. I was so angry and just took it, because I felt I needed to.”

Eijun lowers his eyes, swallows. “How long did you take care of him?”

Eight months. He became so bitter, with life and the universe and everything. It was... I was not in a good place myself. There was a blood cloth in his legs, which happens often after surgeries but usually right afterwards. I didn't even think about it any more and didn't quite know what was happening. I rushed him to the hospital, but the the blood cloth had dislodged from the vein and got stuck in his lungs. An embolism. He never recovered and died within the following week.”

Eijun looks like he doesn't quite know what to do with his hands, and in the end – after a tentative, awkward touch to his knee and to his shoulder – he just rests them in his lap. “I'm so sorry, Kazuya.”

Kazuya huffs. “It was salvation, release, sweet freedom for me. Also tons of more guilt for feeling like that and then there was all of the stuff to do with the house and his inheritance and by the time I could look back, I was--” Alone, scared, ruined, a mental case. But mostly alone.

Yeah,” Eijun says. “Not that I know what it means to lose your dad, I can't imagine. I know you lost your mom early on, but suddenly having no one. I can't imagine what you felt like. But you don't need to tell me, I understand.”

Kazuya looks at him, really looks at him. And accepts the hug Eijun is dying to give him since five minutes ago. “Thanks,” he says into the mop of brown hair. Eijun fits into his arms in a way, he notices. Like, some people give awkward hugs, especially when sitting down like they are now, and they don't know what to do with their hands and head and it's all clunky and you sigh in relief once they let got, but Eijun. He knows what he's doing.

Kazuya does sigh with relief, his chin still on Eijun's shoulder. Pulling back and wrapping this story up is harder than it should be.

So, first I was out for three months because of the injury, then off to rehab, missed a whole season. Then there was the episode with my dad and once I got back on my feet I was basically retired from MLB. Not that I minded, there was no way I would get back. I'm retired for good. It's not like I needed the money, but I was bored, so I started the channel and my YouTube career.”

That's really admirable – plus, you're free now! And honestly, doing the podcast and the morning show is so much fun, I get why you're doing it,” Eijun smiles, tilts his head to the side, looks ten times as adorable as a grown man his age should have any right to.

Kazuya shrugs. “I don't want to be ungrateful because I love what I do now. But it's stress, too. I have to upload something – preferably a video longer than 10 minutes – at least twice a week, even better if it's every other day.”

And you are doing the work all by yourself, right? There's no one here that cuts and uploads your videos for you?”

It's just me.”

Eijun seems lost in though, then visually shakes himself. “You know, if you ever need help--”

I can handle it,” Kazuya blocks him off, maybe too harsh.

It makes Eijun's head pop up, a frown on his face. “I'm serious. Tell me what I can do and I will help, I don't want to see you go down with a burn-out like those other YouTube stars.”

And Kazuya knows, because he knows Sawamura Eijun, that he won't get away with rebuffing this offer, too. So, “Okay,” is what he says, and he accepts and means it.

For a moment, Eijun locks eyes with him, and it seems like he wants to look right into his soul. Kazuya faces him. Sees the worry, the loyalty, the honesty.

Okay,” Eijun echoes.

That evening, when Kazuya packs up to leave, his heart is heavy.

Now that we have our stadium back,” Eijun says when he hugs Kazuya goodbye. “I won't have as much time. Regular training is starting for the post-season.” He leans back, his hands on Kazuya's shoulders. “You're always welcome in the stadium and in the locker rooms, you know that, right? I'd be so happy if you'd watch our games live.”

I will,” Kazuya promises, “and I look forward to it.”

Eijun nods, like an RPG game character, all determined and tight-lipped.

Goodnight, Kazuya,” he says, after grabbing his Tigers hat and putting it on Kazuya's head. Well, technically it's Eijun's, but Kazuya kind of took possession of it and that's that.

Goodnight, Eijun.”

***

Post-Koushien is a few days where his workload shifts. The teams have not quite started their post-season yet, the play-off games begin a week later and Kazuya is busy with prepping these instead of doing podcast episodes. Between training sessions, they squeeze a radio episode out where Eijun and him try to predict the post-season, talk inside tidbits and make bets on who will hit the most home-runs.

Well, I know the guy who will hit the least homers, and that, my friend, is you,” Kazuya had cackled.

Obligatory, but with as much heat as always, Eijun had retorted, “Well, I know a guy who can suck my dick!”

So you're buying dinner tonight? Sweet!”

Eijun had bought dinner. Take-out, which Kazuya had then declared to not count. Eijun had given him a dirty look but it didn't seem like he'd minded.

There had been an evening where Eijun had invited Kazuya over to his apartment, after the first game. They had switched to Kazuya's apartment and made a podcast episode out of it, bouncing ideas back and forth, talking baseball all night.

Kazuya feels so comfortable, so complete in these episodes. There are no awkward silences of reading the chat, no 'uhm's and 'wait's when he files through stats to find what he's looking for. Now Eijun is filling those gaps with chatter and his opinion, and boy does he have opinions.

The channel has grown in five digits within the past week and Kazuya is overwhelmed. At least the new people are nice in the comments.

The Tigers lose in the second round of the post-season tournament and Eijun's off-season has officially begun.

It all shifts, again.

Eijun is over a lot more, and, granted, he's in a lot more morning shows and podcast episodes and giving his two cents to breakdowns when Kazuya plans them. He's helping out, even though he has no idea how to cut a video, he does try when Kazuya explains it to him. Rendering and uploading is the easier part, and Eijun claims it as his thing within the first three days.

At least let me feel useful here,” he said. “Or let me do research! Like for the 'Sequence' episode with 'Mochi-senpai. I can help out!”

Kazuya can't shake the feeling that Eijun knows how overworked he is.

It's hard to hide, so even Eijun would get it. And Kazuya... well, he denied it long enough.

It was actually the week before Eijun's team lost that he caught Kazuya red-handed, so to speak. Once again, he'd fallen asleep on his desk, on his keyboard even, and Kazuya had ended his script with 24 pages of the letter E. Which was the one thing that broke off Eijun's scolding tirade that he immediately went off on, about self-care, and taking a break and sleeping enough and 'damnit, didn't you listen to Chris-senpai, overworking yourself is neither good on the field nor in any other job' . When Eijun noticed the script on the screen, he had laughed for about ten minutes, to the point where Kazuya had silently left the room to shower in shame.

Seriously, though,” Eijun had said, turning around when he heard Kazuya return, then hesitated, eyes going down Kazuya's unclad – safe for some underwear – body. “Woah.”

What? You like what you see?” Kazuya teased him, shaking his hips.

Only a raised eyebrow in return. “Seriously, though, get some help with the channel. Hire a producer, a cutter, someone to moderate the comments for you. Do you really think I don't see how you work yourself into a burn-out?”

And Kazuya had just stood there, scolded like a school boy, in his underwear, and had absolutely nothing to say in his defense because Eijun was right.

So they're trying this now. And even though they spend basically every day together, things are fine between them. It's like falling back into old habits, like they're living in the dorms again. It leaves room for a lot of talking in-between work, for going shopping together, for Eijun sitting in the kitchen, watching Kazuya cook. It's oddly domestic and Kazuya doesn't mind in the least.

Him, the guy who doesn't have friends, doesn't have friends over, who enjoys his time alone, doesn't mind Eijun around in the least.

They talk about baseball, mostly, but also about Eijun's parents and grandfather out there in the boonies, and Kazuya learns that they already know him inside and out and can't wait to meet him, they talk about Kazuya's father and Eijun's ex-wife.

Good thing you didn't have kids,” Kazuya states, off-handedly, while throwing some cut-up veggies in the wok.

Yeah, that's the thing that... how do I put this,” Eijun sits on the kitchen counter beside him, wiggles his bare toes, looks at them in thought. He looks ten years younger than he is, like this. “She wanted kids, I didn't, we never saw each other for a prolonged time anyway and when she told me she was pregnant, I did the math and knew the baby couldn't be mine.”

Kazuya freezes, blinks. “ Wow ,” he intones, after collecting himself. “That's a lot.”

Yeah. I guess it's easier with guys?”

Burning his tongue while tasting the food, Kazuya curses under his breath. “What do you mean?”

Kids? Because that rarely is part of a gay relationship?”

You'd be surprised how many guys do want kids. Wait. Have you ever had a boyfriend?”

Eijun hesitates. “Kinda. Sorta?”

Kazuya just looks at him, waits.

We were exclusive. A friends-with-benefits-arrangement, we had a good thing going. Turns out when it became more for me, it didn't for him. So.”

Ouch. Sorry, Eijun.”

Yeah, I'm not so lucky when it comes to relationships,” Eijun sighs.

Kazuya hums and works in silence for a while, adds udon noodles and seasoning, smells garlic and wallows in the comforting sizzle of the pan.

Can I ask you something?” His tone is almost too quiet for the Sawamura Eijun.

'course,” Kazuya shrugs with a look over his shoulder, then turns back towards the stove.

How did you know you were gay? What does that feel like, to just... know, right from the start?”

Kazuya mulls it over. “I guess I was in elementary school? Or first year of middle school. The boys on my team started talking about girls and who was cute and who wasn't and I just stood there and didn't get it. Like, I thought the first baseman of our team was good-looking, but I kept that to myself. The bullying started soon after that so I made sure I didn't let them know about me preferring boys. That would've only given them more ammo.”

Kazuya pauses, tastes the noodles, nods to himself, but reaches for the soy sauce again, drizzles a bit into the wok and stirs with the cooking sticks. “It feels like you never quite belong and you always look for signs in other people that they might... be like you. And there's always the disappointment soon after. In my last year of middle school, there was a boy in my class. He was rather shy and I thought, fuck it, he wouldn't tell my bullies, would he? And I almost asked him out. I caught him alone after school, tried to lead up to my question and when he realized what I was getting at he got so scared, he ran right off. I couldn't even finish my sentence.”

That, at least, makes Eijun laugh. “You're scaring the cute ones off, that's too good.”

Now look what I'm stuck with,” Kazuya points the cooking sticks at him. Eijun puffs up his cheeks and looks adorable doing so. “Anyway. Told you mine, now tell me yours.”

What?”

Coming-out story. Or, when you realized.”

Eijun bumps his heels against the kitchen cabinet, looks at the ceiling. “I was... 27 when I got divorced, right? And there was this guy on my team, I won't tell you who because you know him.”

I know a lot of guys on your team,” Kazuya deadpans.

Exactly! So, it could be anyone, it doesn't matter. I tell the guys I'm getting a divorce and to keep it under wraps and they are ok with it. And this one dude hangs back, changes and showers extra slow, which wasn't unusual for him, but he also signals me to wait after the others are gone. He says, he thinks he knows what I need and if I've got plans for tonight. I don't. And we end up in a gay bar.”

You had your sexual awakening at 27 in a gay bar? At least tell me you went home with somebody.”

Somehow, the notion of Eijun going home to have sex with a guy... makes Kazuya's protective streak flare up, though that might be because of their past kohei-senpai relationship. Or something.

Eijun seems embarrassed, huffs and scratches his neck. “It's not like I didn't know, it's that I didn't realize . It's completely irrational, but you have this picture in your head, of a drag queen, an okama , all those stereotypes of gay men. And you are this buff baseball player and you know how locker room talk is. It's not like I wasn't participating in that, but I like women, and it was a safe topic so, you know. I never questioned that.”

Kazuya gives the wok another shake, turns down the heat and then faces Eijun, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel. “I see. Then what did the trick?”

He didn't want to say where we were going at first, and when we were there, I went into full-on defensive mode. Like, 'are you kidding me, that is not my place, why do you dare to bring me here. I'm not gay.' And he just stood there and – ok, this is weird because you'd be so much more surprised if you knew who he was. But I can't, I really can't tell you. So anyway. This was completely out of character for him. He took my tirade, and said, 'It's just a bar. If you're not into men, what's there to be afraid of? Have a beer with me, and then we can go home.' To which I agreed and then... I realized that gay men were just men like everyone else and I got hit on and was flustered and my teammate played my boyfriend and it was all good.”

No gay freak-out?” Kazuya smirks. Knowing Eijun...

He hesitates. “Well, yeah. A bit. At first, I was shaken. In hindsight, it all made sense. That I took note of attractive men in my periphery. That I really like well-rounded butts, no matter what's on the other side.”

That makes Kazuya laugh from his heart. “I can picture it. Back in high school, 'Oh, this senpai has a great ass, I'd tap that,' which is what you thought when you first saw me?”

No, in fact I thought, 'Wow, this guy seems like a total asshole, pitching to him will be fun,'” Eijun deadpans.

Thanks, and I get it, you're an ass-guy. Not boobs.”

Boobs are awesome, you don't know what you're missing,” Eijun blows him a raspberry but grins.

What are you, five?” Kazuya grins back.

Eijun huffs amused, ignores him and picks his next words deliberately. “So, in hindsight, I realized that back at Seidou, I was way too focused on you. I followed you, my goal was to be recognized by you, I fought my rival for your attention and to be part of a battery with you. Sure, that's just regular baseball stuff. But then it was like scales fell from my eyes. Sure, baseball is my big love, but damn was I in love with you, and that you were part of baseball only made it harder to see. But also, like it was a perfect match-up, you and me. The way you smiled at a perfect pitch, the way you praised me after a good game, it was so much more than baseball. It meant so much more to me. And you were pretty, so yeah, that was working in your favor. And that's how I realized 10 years afterwards that I had a crush on you.”

Kazuya's heart is hammering too fast, too hard in his throat, and he can barely look Eijun in the eye. Sure, Eijun's feelings are all long gone. But he remembers those big smiles shining at him from the mound, the pride, the joy, the feeling of working together like a well-oiled engine, without words, because they worked as one. That connection he never quite found again, not even with Tyler.

Thing is, Kazuya also remembers Eijun's look of determination softening when he called out “nice pitch!” towards the mound. He remembers praising Eijun because he obviously did well, but also praising him because it was fun to see Eijun blush and stammer and hide a bit closer in Kazuya's elbow when he had his arm around him. His expressive eyes, the boyish charm. Yes, he noticed, couldn't not notice.

And looking at Eijun now, broad, tall – still not as tall as Kazuya – hair shorter, face slimmer, every bit a man Kazuya would chase after if it wasn't Sawamura Eijun, his high school battery partner.

Which brings one interesting question to the front of his mind: why? Why wouldn't he?

Because it's Eijun.

Eijun, who only ever treated him like an equal. Because Eijun's unbreakable optimism and his good nature are what make Kazuya's life so much better right now, and Eijun has been over him years ago. It's rarely a good idea to warm up old feelings.

Kazuya can appreciate what he has. And that is an amazing best friend.

Chapter Text

Where's Sawamura?” Kuramochi asks, upon entering Kazuya's apartment.

Not here, why?” Kazuya answers as he closes the door behind him.

Kuramochi, with that trademark mischievous grin still in place, shrugs. “I thought he'd record the episode with us? Since he's here all the time, anyway.”

He has a busy social life,” Kazuya shrugs back. “I have no idea how he does it.”

Green eyes narrow and an eyebrow goes up. “Are you pissed at him?”

Kazuya huffs. Pissed? “No. I mean, he's allowed to have a life, doesn't he? He does so much for the channel while keeping up that insane schedule of his. It's ok. We can just start without him, he told me he'd be gone for the afternoon.” If anything, it's a mix between disappointment and knowing that this episode would be a lot more fun with Eijun here.

Ah, wait,” Kuramochi perks up. “He babysat the kids for a couple hours, yesterday. I was too busy telling him all he needed to know but now that we're talking about it, I remember he said... I think he has a date today.”

In the middle of preparing tea, Kazuya freezes. Looks at his hand, stiff in mid-air, looks at Kuramochi, looks back at the tea pot, and his stomach flips. “I see.” And his heart skips a beat. “He didn't tell me that.”

I'm sure he will,” Kuramochi waves him off, eyes on his cell phone. “I know the girl, she's not his type anyway.”

Kazuya doesn't need any further information, but his stomach is in knots. Without further ado, he guides Kuramochi to the living room, to the place beside himself at the desk that is now equipped with a second, permanently installed microphone and over-ear headphones. Eijun's place. Eijun's laptop, shut, on the desktop, waiting for him.

Kuramochi looks at him from the corner of his eye, weary, as Kazuya goes to work.

Do I sense trouble in paradise?” he asks eventually.

What?” Kazuya is busy untangling the cable of his headphones.

I said, trouble in paradise? With Sawamura?”

Um, no? What do you mean?”

Are you playing--” Kuramochi breaks off, then smooths his hair back with one hand. The gesture is all impatience and disbelief.

Kazuya knows Kuramochi is perceptive, but he is not prepared for what he has to say to him.

I'm not assuming anything, but that guy only ever talks about you. In all the best ways, which is weird.”

Why is it weird?”

A huff. “Because you're your annoying self and he's his idiotic self and something here is going on and don't think I didn't notice that you're only answering with more questions.”

Oh, am I doing that?” Kazuya smirks.

No, not at all,” Kuramochi rolls his eyes. “And I'm Jesus and you totally aren't jealous that he's on a date.”

Why would I be jealous?”

You tell me what that reaction was, then.”

I was just surprised, is all.”

Mm-hm.”

Don't 'mm-hm' me. It's not like we're together or anything.”

Kuramochi doesn't comment on that, but with the nonplussed look he is giving Kazuya, eyes following his every move, it doesn't feel like a win to have the last word.

Instead of worrying about it, Kazuya busies himself. Setting up the computers, starting the recording, he claps, and nods to signal that he's ready, which Kuramochi mirrors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another episode of our post-slash-off-season show called 'blast from the past' where we meet past and present teammates from back in our days of high school. Today, for the first time on 'Baseball & Stuff', we have the Tiger's starting shortstop, lead-off batter, last year's MVP with an incredible OPS+, the guy who hits almost anything and is on first before you blink – Kuramochi Yoichi.”

Hi!” A wink and a wave for the camera. “Thanks for having me.”

I'm glad you're here. Full disclosure: Eijun won't be here for this one because he occasionally has a life beside baseball or something, don't ask me, I have no clue what that is, but be prepared in case he waltzes in here.”

With a lopsided smirk, Kuramochi turns to face him. “And he will be pissed that we started without him, despite having told us we can.”

Kazuya chuckles and tilts his head, “Well, that's on him for having a life. Who has that?”

You're just jealous,” Kuramochi points at him. “Also, hello, I do? Happily married with two kids, thank you very much.”

And congrats on that. Such a smooth introduction and cut to the topic, wasn't it,” Kazuya grins back, not giving in to the irking feeling that Kuramochi's jab leaves.

Yeah, it's like, you should become a talkshow host or something,” Kuramochi throws back, and just like with Eijun, it's easy with him. He doesn't miss a beat.

I'll look into that when the show gets boring. So, 'Mochi, for anyone not knowing us and where we came from: you and I were team captains on the Seidou team that won Koushien in our third year.”

Jep, I was your vice captain, together with Maezono.”

What's he doing nowadays, though? Never went pro, did he?”

No, he studied and took over the family business, whatever, I don't remember. But for everyone listening – and also, maybe the dude himself – Zono was the five-hole in our batting line-up, right after Miyuki here. Everyone tended to underestimate him, but he was reliable, he could hit homers, and since Miyuki got intentionally walked a lot, that gave us some opportunities.”

Yeah. Remember when he hit that walk-off home run during our semifinal against Ichidaisan? That was brutal.”

Amahisa still talks about it, and you know the guy is not that fazed with much of anything.”

A grand slam and 4 runs batted in in the 8th will do that to you,” Kazuya can't help but grin. “I remember Eijun was so torn, he almost told the guy afterwards that it wasn't his fault or his pitching, and he just felt so bad for Amahisa. I had to hold him back.”

Kuramochi laughs that cackling laugh of his. “Oh, I remember that, too. Your words, and I cite, 'Are you really going to rub salt into his wound after we won? Too soon, Sawamoron.'”

Kazuya bursts out laughing, too, has to turn his head away from his microphone because yes, he remembers. He also remembers Eijun looking back and forth between the Ichidaisan dugout and him, not sure what to do. “He told me later that he didn't listen to me, and sent Amahisa a message on LINE. But like you said, if Amahisa is one thing, it's resilient. I guess that's what started their friendship.”

Yeah, they really rub our catchers the wrong way if they team up against them. They're a handful. Sawamura especially was used to getting shit from you if he was – well you know how he can be. I remember him running after Tanaka in his first year, going 'please catch for me, senpai!' and when Tanaka always agreed, it was so funny to see him all irritated that he had not run against a wall but rather right through it with too much run-up,” he chuckles.

Hey now, you make it sound like I was so mean to him.”

Like you weren't? The guy was trailing after you all of high school with puppy dog eyes. Then again, for the longest time you were our main and starting catcher. Sure, Miyauchi and then Ono did their part, and that we lost Chris for most of his high school career was bitter. But even considering that, he was too laser-focused on you.”

True,” Kazuya nods, lost in thought, then decides to not follow that topic for now. He quickly checks his notes. “So, Mochi-kun here has been with the Tigers for close to 9 years now, basically since your start into the pro league after college.”

Exactly. I went to college at Waseda, then the Tigers drafted me straight out of college. Best team I could've chosen.”

You also played most of your career with Sawamura on your team, right?”

Kuramochi nods with a long-suffering sigh. “He follows me like some kind of evil spirit.”

That makes Kazuya throw his head back with laughter. “Now you're being mean.”

What? First I'm his roommate at Seidou, then I get one peaceful year at college without the idiot, and then he's right there at Waseda in my second year. After I graduated, one year of peace, and then the Tigers - of all teams! - draft him.”

Yeah, yeah, you totally hate him, I get it,” dripping sarcasm from Kazuya, because--

Nobody can hate him. Forever optimistic and always smiling, it's his curse.”

Kazuya smiles to himself. “Well, there have been a few haters in the comments since Eijun became my regular co-host.”

What? How? Sorry, I don't read the comments all that often.”

They say he's too loud, too self-centered, too opinionated.”

Kuramochi looks at the camera. “Guys, you should've known him at 16, bursting into the first training session at Seidou with this guy -” he points at Kazuya, “- way too late because they both overslept, then declared he's here to become the ace after Miyuki used him as a decoy to sneak into line. It was an outrage.”

The smile just won't budge, and Kazuya doesn't mind. It's a funny memory. “All starry-eyed and an ego from here to there, but look how he took that ace number by his second year.”

That's when the front door opens and Eijun comes in, looking grumpy and windswept, and toes off his shoes.

Speak of the devil,” Kuramochi deadpans.

Huh? Mochi-senpai?” Eijun bursts into the living room like only he can. He has a pair of leather shoes in hand, wears nice tight jeans and a yellow button-down. Polished, grown up. Sexy. How he can pull off the yellow, Kazuya has no idea, but it works for him.

A look at the clock tells Kazuya he's early. Like, really early. That date didn't go so well, it seems, and a tiny part of Kazuya can breathe again as Eijun throws his shoes into the genkan.

You started without me?” Oh, the indignation in Eijun's eyes.

Well, if you go on a date,” Kazuya throws back, and their eyes meet.

Something weird happens. When Kazuya allows himself to look at Eijun, really look at him, he can see hurt and disappointment, but also shame and sadness. And Kazuya has the overwhelming urge to hug and comfort him because something apparently went really wrong today. Teasing Eijun for it sure hit a sore spot. He feels bad.

Now usually, Kazuya would get that ugly feeling to disappear by hammering it home, with more teasing, laughing it off, but he tends to be mean and cruel when he deflects difficult situations like this one. Or so he's been told.

And with Eijun, who's probably the best friend he's ever had in years, he can't do that. It already cost him a relationship in the past, he doesn't want to lose a friend just because he falls back into old, nasty habits. So screw his usual defense mechanisms.

They can and will cut this, anyway.

Kazuya lowers his eyes, twiddles his thumbs. “Sorry. Mochi told me about your date. I guess it didn't go so well?”

Eijun looks at the monitors, the recording software, the microphones, the empty seat in the middle of the desk. Ponders. In the end, he takes the chair, slumps down on it, then reaches over to Kazuya, pauses the recording. And while he's over here, looking tired and worn and not like himself, smelling like aftershave and coffee, Kazuya has a hard time keeping his hands to himself--

In that moment, Eijun sighs and slumps against Kazuya's shoulder. “Dating sucks .”

I know, that's why I don't,” Kazuya supplies helpfully. He raises his arm, doesn't quite know if he should, if it would be weird, but they're friends, right? Eijun said so. That's what friends do, comfort each other. Kuramochi looks at him funny, but Kazuya wraps his arm around Eijun's shoulders, squeezes.

Another long-suffering sigh. “I'm too old for this. Or maybe not old enough. How do retired people do this to themselves again? I mean. Is it my age? All the people our age and in the dating pool right now are either divorced, desperate to find someone to have kids with, or they are straight out of the closet and way too eager or worse – all of that. I'm tired of it.”

So, who was it this time?” Kuramochi asks. “A woman, right?”

Yeah. 34 years old, one kid, divorced. It was so awkward, we didn't have any connection. Early on, she had figured out who I was and I can't help but think... Which is unfair because I know that's not what everybody is like, but if they know beforehand who you are, you just feel used, you know? Plus, most people our age are happily married like you, Mochi-senpai. And me... It's like I never quite fit what they are looking for. Man, I feel like some kind of left-over,” he sighs into Kazuya's shoulder when he finishes ranting.

I'm sorry,” Kazuya's voice breaks into a whisper by accident.

Eijun sits up, and Kazuya lets his arm fall. “It's ok. Just. Nothing to talk about on the podcast.”

I would've cut it anyway,” Kazuya shrugs. “And don't worry, you'll find your match.”

There's that weird moment again when Kazuya's eyes meet Eijun's, but he doesn't say anything.

Kuramochi saves him with a cackle, “Hyaha, didn't you forget something? Left-overs taste even better the day after?”

About that. I'm kind of a left-over too,” Kazuya chuckles. “Don't feel bad about it.”

They both look at him, and Kazuya realizes that they will want to know his story now that he kind-of implied coming out of a long relationship, too.

Spill the beans,” Kuramochi says.

Uhm,” Kazuya stutters.

Wait, does he know?” Kuramochi and Eijun ask at the same time, and Kazuya looks from one to the other and is not sure he heard that right.

That's when they both look at each other, and Eijun says, “That he's gay, yes. I didn't know you knew.”

I figured.”

How?”

Oh please, the way his relationships are so secret, it's not even mentioned because not even the magazines dare to speculate? That guy is extra careful and has something to hide. And locker room talk, you know. He was just like you,” Kuramochi points at Eijun.

What do you mean?” Eijun is puzzled and confused and very adorable.

That everybody on the team knew about you and Mei before either one of you hinted at it.”

Kazuya's jaw hits the floor. “What. Tell me. You and Mei? The Mei?”

Eijun scratches the back of his head. “Uh, yeah. That guy I told you about, my bisexual revelation? That was Mei. We kind of had a thing after he dragged me to that gay bar.”

I'm sorry, I can't picture it,” Kazuya shakes his head, baffled. And he's not kidding, his brain bluescreens thinking about Mei and Eijun in bed.

Imagine those two like fire and ice,” Kuramochi explains, then hesitates, “or more like fire and fire. They were constantly at each others' throats during training sessions, I can only imagine the hatefucking going on.”

Kazuya huffs. “I'm-- speechless.”

Well, mistakes were made,” Eijun shrugs.

How did you fall in love with Mei?” Kazuya confronts him, honestly surprised. The guy was an arrogant asshole on the best of days. For innocent, direct, outspoken, upstanding Eijun to fall for a guy like that?

Then again, Eijun also was in love with him, and he's an arrogant asshole on the best of days. Seems like Eijun has a type.

What, you were in love with him?” Kuramochi asks. Oops, Kazuya thinks. Now they each revealed something, at least. “I though you two were just fucking around, friends with benefits and stuff.”

Yeah, until we weren't. Or, we were and I thought... just, what good sex makes you think.” Eijun is flustered and his feathers are ruffled, which is cute, Kazuya thinks - mostly to distract himself from thinking about Eijun having sex with Mei Narumiya. “It was a fluke. I got over him pretty fast.”

Kuramochi nods. “Yeah, I noticed. Thank fuck. Before or after he got traded?”

Before. And still!” Eijun points at Kazuya. “This is not about me, and you have avoided this long enough. Spill it, Miyuki Kazuya!”

Laughing, Kazuya gathers his thoughts. He doesn't want to talk about it, if he's honest with himself, because it would mean facing a few uncomfortable truths. Sure, water under the bridge, but it still hurts. Not the fresh-sharp, but a dull kind of ache. Kazuya looks at Kuramochi, finds a frown and impatience, and Eijun looks like if he stalls any more, he'll poke him until he crumbles. Nonetheless, these two will grill him until he gives in, so he might as well surrender right here. It's not worth it to fight the inevitable.

He takes a breath, and another, then says, “Like certain people here who somehow had a thing going with Narumiya fucking Mei , well, I may also have made a mistake. I dated my main pitcher back in St. Louis for six years.”

Two faces stare at him open-mouthed. Neither says anything.

That I'd see the day that I get you two to shut up,” Kazuya smirks.

Tyler Cartwright?” Eijun practically shouts.

Uhm, yeah.”

Damn, that guy is unbelievably hot!”

Kazuya splutters. “That's your take-away?”

Eijun fumbles for words. “Yes! Damn, Kazuya, you player! Isn't he like, way above your league?” he whistles in appreciation.

Not knowing what to feel, Kazuya stares at him. He can't even muster the indignation to feel offended. It's not that Eijun's wrong, it's that he doesn't know the guy, doesn't know what has been going on, and though it's true that Tyler is hot, it's also beside the point.

So what went wrong?” Kuramochi asks.

Kazuya takes a deep breath before he explains, “We never saw eye to eye when it came to if and when and ever to come out of the closet. We would've been the first openly gay players and couple in all of MLB. And a battery within the same team. That's a lot of pressure, a shitstorm waiting to happen. I always told him, I'm not opposed to the idea, I just would want to do it as low-key as possible, as nonchalant as possible, because it shouldn't be worth a big press conference announcement. Other players don't announce at a press conference that they're in a relationship or that they'll marry their girl. It shouldn't be a big deal, like it is for everybody else. However...”

Eijun's eyes are misty. His tone is so sad, it almost breaks Kazuya's heart. “He wouldn't have come out for you?”

He always said that we could still do it when we were retired, save ourselves the hassle and the boulevard press and the teasing. I'd always have been his dirty secret and I didn't want that.”

I get it,” Eijun says, and Kuramochi nods.

So, six years for nothing, and while our team knew what was going on and they all were fine with it, they were not fine with their main battery heartbroken and in pieces.”

Did you break up fighting? Do you still talk to him?”

Kazuya shakes his head. “It got ugly, in the end, and while we did everything we could, the rest of our season went to shit. We didn't make the post-season, so I hoped things would settle over the off-season. You know the rest - I got hurt three games into the next season, anyway. So, that was the end of it. Rehab was a breath of fresh air for me, after the glum atmosphere of the clubhouse during spring training.”

They both nod.

I busied myself with rehab, then the thing with my dad happened, and before I knew it, I moved back to Tokyo and started a YouTube channel about baseball, because what else would I talk about,” Kazuya huffs in amusement. “It's always been my life. And Tyler wasn't part of my life from then on any more, we didn't stay in contact. It was better for me, I had enough to do with getting my life back on track.”

You did the right thing,” Eijun says, pointing at the monitors. “Have you read the comments on the latest podcast?”

No, should I?”

Yes, you should.”

Kuramochi blinks at him in surprise, while Eijun clicks through some pages on the screen. “You don't read your comments any more? ”

Rarely. On special episodes, I do, but Eijun moderates them. I couldn't take all this shit they said about Eijun, and he's easier on the delete-button.”

Though my blood pressure is not amused, you know. So many trolls lately. However, they start to get tired, I think. The latest podcast was very well received.”

Kazuya eyes him, picks his words carefully. “But you know what we talked about, you tell me if it gets too much.”

Yeah, yeah.”

I mean it.”

I know. And I told you, I'm good with the trolls. I don't feed them, I delete them, and don't you think I can handle the guys calling me an idiot? Please, I've been called an idiot all my life. Anyway, comments, here, read them.”

And Kazuya reads and smiles, and grins, when he reads the raving reviews for his and Eijun's energy, synergy, their thorough preparation for episodes, how they work so well together, that it was THE best choice for the channel to have Eijun as a fixed co-host.

A few exceptions make his cheeks hot.

'You two are like an old married couple.'

'Am I the only one still wondering if Sawamura has finally let Miyuki suck his dick?'

'Asking the relevant questions: those two are dating, right?'

'If Sawamura wasn't married, I'd wonder.'

'I'm straight and I wouldn't throw Miyuki out of bed. Like, I have eyes, ok.'

'Next voicemail episode, people. Call in, ask them.'

That last one sits on top at a bit over 2000 thumbs-up votes.

Thanks for the heads-up,” Kazuya chuckles.

One more,” Eijun points at a comment a bit down the page.

'We need a name for this (b)romance! You guys, any ideas?' - 'MiSawa?' - 'MiSawa it is!'

Kazuya facepalms.

Kuramochi cackles.

And Eijun grins, though he's a bit redder in the face than usual. It suits him.

***

They're at the grocery store a week later, picking up some food for the weekend.

But I want hot pot!” Eijun pouts like a little kid.

You'll get your hot pot on Sunday, we don't have time for that today,” Kazuya says for the third time.

But, c'mon!”

With a glare, Kazuya shuts him up. “I swear, you're like a toddler. What's so bad about coconut milk curry? With cauliflower and edamame, and cilantro, and it's quick and easy and I need comfort food, ok?”

Well, hot pot is my comfort food,” Eijun crosses his arms.

And you'll get it, the day after tomorrow.”

Eijun grumbles, “Aw, suck my dick.”

At this point in their friendship, it has merely become a phrase, but still. “I am literally buying you dinner right now.”

No, that's technically for lunch, so it doesn't count.”

Okay, then let me pack something for dinner,” Kazuya shrugs, grabs a pre-packaged portion of Natto from the fridge shelf.

Ew, Natto?” Eijun shudders with disgust. “Doesn't count! You know I hate Natto!”

You never said you had to like it, I only had to buy you dinner,” Kazuya grins.

With a groan, Eijun stomps off, muttering something about an 'evil tanuki'.

Kazuya just grins. Ten seconds later, they're chatting about the game this afternoon, Eijun is laughing and bumping Kazuya's shoulder, and the package of Natto becomes Kazuya's late night snack that evening.

It's almost midnight and Eijun comments every bean Kazuya eats. “See, that's why you don't get dates, Miyuki Kazuya! That stuff stinks, nobody would kiss you if you ate something like it!”

Kazuya makes kissy faces at him and Eijun shoves him away with a hand on his cheek. “Disgusting!”

Yet you're still here.”

Just 'cause I pity you.”

What, because I'm old and lonely?”

But you can cook, so that's a plus. Gotta choose your friends wisely.”

Kazuya shakes his head. “I hate you so much right now.”

Suck my dick.”

Bought you dinner.”

I've got a headache, goodnight, darling,” Eijun throws him a kiss and Kazuya wonders.

Wonders when this became his new normal, when Eijun cut out this perfectly sized niche for himself in Kazuya's life and how on fucking earth Kazuya can't imagine that niche without him any more.

Eijun flips him off on the way to the bathroom, but he's still smiling, his golden eyes shining like the sun.

When he's gone, Kazuya removes his glasses, rubs his eyes. He must be tired, or did he have too much coffee? Because he has no idea why his heart is racing.

***

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome! To the new episode of the 'Baseball & Stuff' podcast, where we discuss baseball, more baseball, and occasionally Sawamura Eijun says something intelligent.”

Miyuki Kazuya!”

So today, we're bringing you an update of who's ahead on the homerun bet, some news from the Dragon's training camp, and also... should we say it yet?” Kazuya looks at Eijun, who is bouncing on his seat like a little kid.

He jumps on Kazuya's prompt without further ado. “Dude, I cannot keep that to myself until the end of the podcast.”

You wanna do the honors?”

Eijun beams. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we got a very special invitation to a very special event today, so we're finally allowed to talk about it: for the conclusion of the Seidou High School spring training camp, there will be an alumni meet-up. Planning has not been finalized on who will play who, but in honor of the recent Koushien win of Seidou High, the current and past national title winning teams will meet for a set of games.”

That will be great. I haven't met so many of the guys in so long,” Kazuya smiles to himself. “Plus, Coach Kataoka – for anyone who's wondering, yes, he already was our coach, back in the day – said that our senpai will be there too, you know, Tetsu-san's class,” Kazuya shares and has to grin at Eijun's blatant enthusiasm. “Have you heard anything from Chris-senpai yet?”

I have!” Eijun nods. “He's going to fly in!”

That's why you're so beside yourself,” Kazuya laughs.

Like you're not excited! Takigawa Chris Yuu, Yuki Tetsuya, Isashiki Jun, Kominato Ryousuke, do I need to say more? And we get to play again! You get to catch for me again, Miyuki Kazuya!”

You better not hit me,” Kazuya deadpans.

Eijun goes cat-eyed. “Maybe I will.”

Maybe I will call outside fastballs only.”

Maybe you can suck my dick,” Eijun sticks out his tongue.

Dinner, yada-yada. You know the drill,” Kazuya shrugs, grins. “Back on topic. The event will be open to the public, with seats in the stands given on a first come, first serve basis for a donation to the school's funds. So if you want to meet us or see us, we'll be there. So will, as far as I talked to them, Kuramochi and Zono.”

Satoru and Harucchi too,” Eijun nods. “My phone has blown up since the invitations came this morning. I mean, I talk to a lot of people, even the ones that never played pro ball, you know.”

Kazuya clicks his tongue, shakes his head. “Social butterfly.”

Not everyone can be a Grinch like you,” Eijun shoots back without malice. “So anyway, I'm used to lots of messages, but it's insane how people have been going off on me. Nori-senpai even texted me! I haven't heard from him in years!”

Yeah, he quit after high school, right? Such a shame, he was our reliever, a talented sidearm pitcher. For anyone who doesn't know Kawakami Norifumi.”

I'm so looking forward to that,” Eijun bounces, again. Kazuya can only shake his head in amusement.

Suddenly, Eijun sits very still and grins at him, ear to ear. “What,” Kazuya says, tone flat.

Which bears the question, if we play against the current Seidou team, then between two former captains, who will be the captain of the alumni team?”

Well, I'll be captain, of course,” Kazuya blinks. “Naturally. I lead the team that won Koushien. You went home in the semifinal in your year.”

Eijun huffs, red-faced. “But I could be your vice-captain!”

We'll see about that...” Kazuya nudges his knee under the table, and winks when their eyes meet. “Kuramochi sure won't give his title up easily.”

He can be the second vice-captain!”

For a moment, Kazuya wonders if he should unwrap this story, but it's funny, really. And it would fuck with Eijun's ego. That does it.

So, have I ever told you that you became captain on a bad joke that did not go as intended?”

What,” Eijun screeches. “You're kidding!”

In this case, I'm not.”

Then who should've been captain instead of me, huh? Name one guy in my year that would've been able to--”

Kanemaru.”

Ok, fair point, I'll give you that, but--”

He was the only one who had your over-eager ass in check. And he could keep you from running at 4 a.m. or 10 p.m. and get you to listen to him, which, yeah, that was the bar I was working with.”

Eijun's inner turmoil is a storm in his golden eyes and and unhappy wrinkles beside the dimples on his cheeks. The irritation in his face makes Kazuya giddy.

Then what happened?”

I'm trying to tell the story, if you let me,” Kazuya winks.

Eijun huffs, gestures for Kazuya to continue.

So, of course I had been thinking about who should be captain after I retired, basically all year. And while there were certain individuals who were hard-working, outspoken and great players, like Tojo, and others who were loud and impressive enough to handle you, you were louder and more outspoken and way more hard-working than any of them. And I knew you could lead a team and had proven that previously – to anyone wondering, don't bother googling that, it never hit television. What didn't work in your favor was the fact that you were the ace and one of two main pitchers, so that meant you weren't on the field at all times. Not that that ever bothered you in the dugout.”

So?” Eijun huffs again, still irritated. “That mean I wouldn't be able to handle the pressure? I handled it just fine, I daresay!”

Seriously, as someone who got named captain, clean-up and main catcher, I should know what I'm talking about, that's no offense, Eijun,” Kazuya points out.

That placates the hot-head beside him.

For our listeners, imagine the scene. The whole team was gathered in the indoor training area, all 60 to 80 players of all ages lined up, and in my mind, I knew that Kanemaru would be a great captain. I was convinced that he would be the right choice, and that I'd name him. But of course I couldn't stand the tense atmosphere and how everyone is one step away from crying because the third years, my year, was graduating, and I made a joke. I said, 'And therefore, please follow the lead of your next captain, who will of course be, Sawamura Eijun.' And I expected people to go like 'yeah right, you're kidding, this idiot?'”

Eijun goes right back to being offended, crossing his arms and glaring daggers. “Hey!”

What happened instead was that everyone nodded, Kuramochi congratulated you, two people talked to me at once, telling me that was a great choice and you'd be more than able to handle the team. I was so stunned, I remember muttering a 'But...' and then the Coach clapped me on the shoulder and looked pleased. Pleased. Can you imagine? Kataoka looking pleased?”

I was there,” Eijun deadpans.

You can stop being mad at me now. It was the best bad joke I ever made. Not that I think Kanemaru wouldn't have been a great captain for the team, but I do think that you were an amazing leader for the next generation of players.”

Eijun looks weary, like he does whenever Kazuya hands out compliments. “That so.”

You brought them to the Koushien semifinals. Best of 4.”

Still. We didn't win.”

Kazuya takes in his sad eyes, sees that Eijun doesn't feel like he's being taken seriously - and for the first time Kazuya realizes that Eijun's final year of high school ended abruptly – in the semifinals. With a loss. While his own high school career ended with a national title, in a win after going all the way through the tournamend, with them celebrating on the mound, Eijun in his arms.

I'm sorry,” Kazuya says, his tone serious.

And Eijun almost gives himself whiplash with his reaction because he lifts his head with a surprised, wide-eyed look. “Thank you. I know, it sounds ungrateful, because you can't win every year, but I would've loved to defend that title we worked so hard for, together, and we were so close in that game.”

I know, I was there,” Kazuya admits.

Eijun blinks. “You were there? I thought you were in your college team's training camp at the time?”

I was, but I wasn't. Because I wasn't the main catcher yet, and had a small injury that kept me from playing for a week, anyway, I had time to watch the Koushien finals. I would've loved to surprise you, but after that devastating game, I thought you and the guys wouldn't have wanted to see me.”

Eijun looks at him for the longest time. “You...” he huffs. “I dunno. Can we change the topic? I'm getting emotional and whatever there's left on the topic, I don't want to say on public record.”

Sure,” Kazuya smiles, nudges his knee again under the table.

From the corner of his eye, he sees Eijun look a bit forlorn, like he's thinking too hard about something. His knee nudges back, stays leaning against Kazuya's.

Don't hurt yourself.”

Hey!”

Kazuya grins. Now they're back on track.

***

Baseball & Stuff @real_miyukazu

Quick update: #SeidouAlumni meet-up will be held at #MeijiJinguStadium due to overwhelming interest by the public. What did you guys do to the poor secretaries at #Seidou ? ;)

Chapter Text

Kazuya feels weird, alone in his apartment.

Over the past... when was Koushien? July. August. Ever since he ran into Eijun before that. 5 months, give or take. It's December, it's cold outside, he hates going shopping and it's the weekend before Christmas.

And Eijun isn't here.

Over the past 5 months, Kazuya got way too used to having him around.

Kazuya sighs, opens a window, and thinks back to the time when he got this apartment. After he moved out of his room at his dad's house, after the funeral, before the house got sold. He had needed some space that was truly his own, his asylum. His cave. His fortress of solitude. This flat was an absolute lucky hit, he loved that it wasn't a tiny, narrow room with no windows. Instead it's one big, square room with more than a kitchen nook in a separate room and the tiny bathroom to the side. It's open, multi-functional, yet tiny enough to not be too expensive. Not that he didn't have the money; the apartment surely was pricier than most salarymen could afford in downtown Tokyo.

When he set foot in here with the keys in hand, it felt like freedom. Freedom and a new start, and like this was his place, his responsibility and his refuge. It was perfect. Still is.

At first, he never invited people over. Even in case he got asked out or spent the evening with someone – business partner, date or other – that always happened in public, at the other party's place – anywhere, but not here.

This was Kazuya's. And he didn't want to share it.

Here he has his laundry mountain of unfolded clothes that sometimes lies around for a day or two. There is his technical stuff, his streaming setup, his futon that folds into a couch for the daytime. There is a traditional Japanese closet in the wall with too much space left in it. Kazuya likes it neat and tidy in here and even back in the US, he and Tyler had never shared an apartment, because Kazuya couldn't stand his mess, among other reasons.

Yet, when he looks around his apartment now, there are traces of Eijun everywhere.

There's his coffee cup that he didn't put into the sink before he left for the weekend, visiting his family. There's a change of clothes, jeans and a pullover, on the empty shelf in Kazuya's closet that Eijun claimed as his. There's a t-shirt that is not Kazuya's, hanging out of the laundry bag. There's a spare tooth brush with bent bristles in his toothbrush cup, because of course Sawamura Eijun wrecks his toothbrushes by brushing too hard. Kazuya can't help but smile.

Traces of Eijun also mean that his absence is glaringly obvious.

The thing is, when Kazuya moved in here, he felt comfortable in his space, didn't want any intruders – and he never felt alone.

It's Friday afternoon and Eijun left two hours ago and Kazuya feels lonely.

What in the world has his life become? He looks at his phone, which shows absolutely no missed calls, messages, tweets or anything.

He has tons of shit to do, cutting and prepping the two pre-recorded podcasts for the holidays so they can enjoy their break. Which means listening to at least two hours – realistically, more like two and a half hours – of himself bickering back and forth with Eijun.

Kazuya picks up his phone again.

He can't message Eijun, that would be either pathetic or suspicious, plus Eijun is still on the train and knowing him, asleep.

He texts Kuramochi, asks what he should get Eijun for Christmas, to have an excuse to text. The answer arrives within seconds.

K: You bored bc your wife is in Nagano for the weekend?

Kazuya doesn't answer him.

Instead, he cleans the apartment for an hour, fixes himself something healthy to eat, and by the time another two hours have passed, he dares texting Eijun.

M: Arrived well?

S: Just got picked up from the train station by my mom. She says Hi.

M: Best wishes to her, don't get too spoiled.

S: No guarantee on that. She is my mom.

S: She says you should come with me next time.

S: And you're officially invited for New Year's.

M: I don't have much choice, do I?

S: Can't have you sulking at home because I'm not there.

Kazuya doesn't know what to say. Mostly because the word 'home' isn't set in this sentence in relation to Nagano.

He looks around his apartment and knows that 'home' also doesn't refer to Tokyo as a whole, as their city, either.

And he feels a bit mushy inside.

M: I'm not sulking. It's way easier to get everything clean if you're not here.

S: Mmm-hm. Whatever makes you sleep at night, darling.

M: Talk to you later, sweetheart.

Okay, so Ejun got him smiling. Kazuya feels ready to tackle those five hours of cutting, rendering, uploading ahead of him.

***

“Hot pot!” is Eijun's only argument.

But I could do Mexican Chili?”

Hot pot!” Eijun chants. “Hot pot, hot pot!”

Mousse au chocolat?”

As dessert, ok. But hot pot first!”

Kazuya sighs. He feels like leading a toddler through the grocery store and it doesn't help that it's the day before Christmas eve.

Ok. You get your hot pot.”

Yay!”

***

Christmas eve is spent – with hot pot – at Kazuya's place.

While other people go on dates, they avoid that issue altogether.

After their meal, they sit on Kazuya's couch-slash-bed, legs sprawled out, too full to move.

What do people even do on Christmas Eve?” Eijun burps.

Wow, that's romantic,” Kazuya deadpans. “Wanna watch 'Die Hard'?”

Eijun looks at him with empty eyes and a puzzled expression.

It's a movie. Set on Christmas. Americans watch it every year. Bruce Willis? Nope? Ok, let's see which streaming service has it.”

So they watch 'Die Hard', Kazuya can recite it by heart, though only in English. He enjoys the Japanese voice-over while Eijun is way too invested in the whole thing.

They exchange presents after the movie, once they can move again, and Eijun gets a baseball from the A's that Kazuya got Chris and his team to sign. His eyes go big and almost teary when he realizes what his gift is, and he throws himself into Kazuya's arms with a chant of “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Kazuya gets a new tie (“Your other one is a disgrace!”), a new bottle of aftershave (“I noticed yours was running out and I like the fragrance, it suits you.”) and a game for his switch (“So you have something not-baseball-related to do, you freak.”).

He calls him an idiot, although a thoughtful one, three times, but in the end pulls Eijun into a one-armed hug, his other hand full of gifts and his heart beating too loud, too fast. Kazuya feels impossibly happy.

***

Eijun told him – via text – to pack a Yukata.

Kazuya told him he didn't own one.

Then rent one!” was Eijun's answer, via voice message for extra exclamation.

So Kazuya rented one.

It took them four hours on the train, then a nervous first meeting with Eijun's parents, his grandfather's threat to “better treat my boy right, you hear me!” complete with a raised walking cane, only to be corrected by Eijun that Kazuya was not his boyfriend.

Kazuya mouthed at Eijun, “So, do they... um.”

Yeah, they know, I came out to them a while ago,” Eijun answers, confident and for everyone to hear.

What that must feel like, Kazuya wonders. He will never know. It's not like he's jealous, there's only a vague emptiness in his chest. With a nudge of his elbow and an understanding smile, Eijun brings him right back to the present.

In the evening, they get dressed for the festival. Eijun wears his Yukata with all the charm of a country bumpkin who has worn this garment every time some festivity came up, and ran around playing catch with his friends afterwards without changing. It's kind of cute.

Kazuya, though, feels stiff and out of place, after not having worn traditional Japanese clothing for at least fifteen years. He tugs here, smooths out some wrinkles there and still isn't quite satisfied.

Stop fuzzing, you look dapper as fuck,” Eijun scolds him over his shoulder. Their eyes meet in the mirror as Eijun plants his hands on Kazuya's shoulders, tugs once at his collar and at the belt around his waist. “Also, expect my mom to want to take pictures of us.”

Wordlessly, Eijun turns him around and ties his hair up for him. Kazuya lets him, then does the same for him. Eijun never stops looking at him.

After a short round through the small town's street festival, eating grilled squid and yakitori, Kazuya kind-of gets the charm of the countryside. Eijun stopped every two steps to talk to a neighbor, the mother of a middle school friend or someone's grandfather, and although Kazuya knows none of them, he already feels welcome and accepted here – by proxy, as Eijun's friend.

A thin layer of snow crunches under their wooden shoes, as they walk up to the small shrine, and Eijun asks, “So what are some American traditions for New Year's eve?”

Americans watch the ball drop, the one in New York, on Times Square. It's a huge TV event being broadcast on national television. And when the ball drops and it's midnight, you kiss your partner for good luck. Also you drink lots of alcohol.”

Eijun stops in the middle of the stairs. “Do I count as your partner? You know, because I'm your co-host on the podcast and stuff?”

Well, technically...” Kazuya drifts off, realizes what Eijun is really saying, blinks. “Want me to kiss you?” he asks directly.

Shrugging as well, Eijun tries hard not to sound too eager. Tries and fails. “Why not? I mean, we could both use some good luck, right?”

But it's not midnight yet, is it?” Kazuya checks his phone. “One minute past midnight, actually. We're running late.”

Does it still count?”

Eijun stands one step above him on the stairs, which brings them on eye level and Kazuya for once doesn't question himself. It's been a while since he wondered first what Eijun's lips would taste like and maybe he should finally do what he wants to do in this moment. Live a little. And if Eijun offers, why shouldn't Kazuya take him up on it?

His hand is in the short hair at the back of Eijun's head, threading through soft strands, before he can second-guess himself. Eijun smiles when their lips meet for a short peck that lingers for just a millisecond too long.

But the smile is still there when Kazuya pulls back. “Happy New Year, Eijun,” and why does he sound so hoarse saying this? Because Eijun tastes like sweet green tea and yakitori.

Happy New Year, Kazuya.”

When he rings the bell at the shrine, Kazuya decides to wish for three things. Three is a good number, not too greedy. He wishes for good luck, because that's always a reasonable thing to wish for. He wishes for his channel to stay successful so that he can continue making a living from it.

And when he thinks about his third, last wish, he takes a deep breath. He looks over at Eijun, who stands there, hands folded, eyes closed, praying.

Kazuya wishes for Eijun. Just, Eijun.

***

With spring training camp in the near future, Eijun's training schedule starts to pick up sometime mid-January. And with the fully stacked facilities back open, Eijun extends his trainer's invitation to Kazuya, to come practice his batting with them in preparation for the Seidou alumni game.

Kazuya doesn't quite know how to feel about it, but one Saturday afternoon in February, where most team members have finished their daily training session and Eijun just finished up, he comes into the Tigers' clubhouse.

Come on in,” Kuramochi greets him with an arm thrown around Kazuya's shoulders, his shirt completely soaked in sweat and reeking ten feet against a stiff breeze.

Ew,” Kazuya snorts and shakes Kuramochi's arm off.

Yeah, yeah, I know, Sawamura smells like flowers after working out and you too, princess,” Kuramochi throws right back. “If you're looking for the idiot, he's around the batting cages somewhere.”

And where are those?”

Uh, right,” Kuramochi concedes, turning serious. “I'll show you when you've changed.”

So Kazuya changes, although he can't muster the effort to put in contacts for a bit of batting from a machine, and pulls out his bat and gloves from his bag. Kuramochi leads him down the hallway from the locker room where the telltale whirr-buzz-fwomp-clang of the pitching machine can be heard.

It brings back memories. Two other players that Kazuya doesn't recognize without their team numbers on their backs are eyeing him from two occupied machines, but don't say much after greeting him.

How fast do you want it? And which pitch?” Kuramochi asks.

Kazuya grins at him, rests his bat on his shoulder as he walks up to the batters' box. “Surprise me!” he says, with a wink, as he takes a few warm-up swings.

Ok, here goes.”

The first one is a slow curve, which Kazuya misses, much to Kuramochi's chagrin. “Hyaha! You better hit that when it comes off a Seidou first-year pitcher!”

Kazuya doesn't react, but the second time he sees it, he whacks that curve out of the park.

I'm gonna go fastball and about 140 km/h, that good?”

Kazuya nods, gets his bat ready. With the precision only the machine can manage, the pitch comes straight down the middle.

With a few practice swings giving him back his feel for the bat, for his range, the weight of the bat hitting the force of the ball, it all connects in Kazuya's brain. The ball goes flying into what would be left field and it feels good.

He breathes, hits another one.

Clang.

Then he sees him from the corner of his eyes and looks over as he wipes his forehead.

Eijun is standing in the door frame, eyes wide and staring straight ahead, right at Kazuya, his mouth open. Star-struck, is the only word that comes to Kazuya's mind. It feels like a dejá-vu, though Kazuya can't put his finger on it.

Hi,” he says, a bit breathless, while brushing a few strands of hair away from his eyes. When Eijun doesn't react, Kazuya deactivates the machine and steps off, closes the distance between them. “Done with your weights?” Since Saturday would usually be a game day, it's Eijun's day for weight and endurance training, a no-pitching day.

Yeah,” Eijun nods, gulps, Adam's apple bopping up and down. “Uhm.”

What is it,” Kazuya grins. “That impressed by me hitting a few balls off of a machine?”
With a tilt of his head, Eijun answers, still seeming lost in thought, “It's kind of unfair how your batting stance looks so effortless and elegant, even after four years of not having played.”

Kazuya had expected a lot, but not a direct compliment. “Look at you being all eloquent and stuff,” he teases.

Oh, suck my dick,” Eijun shoots right back and ah, yes, Kazuya is in his comfort zone. “I can be eloquent if I want to!”

One, you, me, dinner, then dick-sucking. Two, very eloquent there, sweetie.”

For fuck's sake, get a room, you two,” Kuramochi grouches. “I'm right here, you know! Stop the flirting and go play some ball.”

Kazuya snorts at the obviously unintentional pun and Eijun breaks out into a bellowing laugh.

Oh, screw both of you!” Kuramochi walks off, righteous anger steaming off of him, as he takes his place in one of the other cages.

You wanna hit some more? Or, you know, I haven't pitched today, we could use the bullpen, if you want to see my stuff and not embarrass yourself completely.”

Don't have my gear with me,” Kazuya shakes his head, smiling. “And I really need some batting practice. We can't all bunt our way through a game.”

Eijun shoots him a look with a raised eyebrow.

“Plus, you could use some batting practice, too,” Kazuya pokes Eijun's side. It's too funny to see him squirm around.

My pitching makes up for the runs I don't score,” Eijun declares, with a straight face, and it makes Kazuya laugh. “Now go hit some, Mister-” he imitates a female stadium announcer, “'Batting 4th, catcher, captain, Miyuki-kun.'”

Kazuya holds his belly from laughing so hard at Eijun's bad acting. In retaliation, Eijun pulls Kazuya's cap into his eyes.

Kuramochi side-eyes them with a glare that is less like shooting daggers and more like confusion and pity.

***

Mid-March, the day has come.

The day before, they take the chance and do a podcast episode with both of the Kominato brothers, since both are usually out of town, the older on business trips (“What does he do for a living?” - “I don't wanna know, Kazuya.”), the younger still playing baseball. Since Haruichi and Furuya play for the Fighters in Sapporo, they don't come to Tokyo often, and the Seidou alumni game has opened up some interesting opportunities.

With their sharp minds, the brothers will be a hit on the ever-growing channel, Kazuya is sure of that. They mostly talk life after baseball – Ryousuke having played in college, but retired in favor of building his own business (“What do you do for a living?” - “You don't want to know, Miyuki.”). Kominato, the younger, has plans to settle up in Hokkaido, after meeting his current girlfriend up there, “and then we'll see. Believe it or not, I like working with children, so maybe elementary or kindergarten teacher? - That is currently on my mind.”

When they look to Eijun, he seems lost in thought, but jerks up. “No plans, whatsoever. I'm gonna pitch until they don't want me on the mound any more.”

Of course you do,” Kazuya had laughed, so hard, because that was such an Eijun thing to say.

That's gonna make for a highlight, sure.

After the brothers hang around for a chat and tea, they leave sometime mid-afternoon, Haruichi with a careful glance between them. He seems to hesitate, and in the end, pulls himself together to say, “I'm glad to see you two doing this together. I'm really happy for you.”

Thanks,” Eijun beams.

Kazuya bites his tongue, because he has no idea what Haruichi is implying.

Then, Kazuya and Eijun sit down for cutting, rendering, uploading, and tending to the comments – liking nice comments is easy enough, but as always, critique needs to be answered and haters need to be deleted.

It takes them until dinner to clear everything off their to-do-list and Eijun is busy rendering the latest podcast episode while Kazuya cooks dinner.

When it's all said and done, videos uploaded and set to premiere for a certain time tomorrow, they sit at the low table in the living room, bellies full, plates empty.

Thanks for the meal,” Eijun burps and doesn't even bother to apologize.

'welcome,” Kazuya mumbles, too stuffed to muster any more energy. He barely manages to shuffle backwards and sit beside Eijun, who has his back against the couch.

It's silent for the longest time, but after all the buzz throughout the day, the silence is much needed and so relaxing. Eijun's elbow touches his and it's comforting, the warmth, the way they just do these things, how they work seamlessly around each other.

Kazuya only ever lived with his dad and stayed over at Tyler's often, and both were a pain in the ass to deal with. Stuff lying around, demanding food or complaining about Kazuya's cooking, not doing their part of the household chores, and in his dad's case, always working. Tyler never had that excuse, they mostly saw each other at practice and had the same schedule, but still, Kazuya was the one to do the dishes, take care of the laundry, and remember to buy groceries.

Beside him, Eijun rolls to his feet without saying a word, takes their empty plates and leaves for the kitchen. Kazuya hears the click of the water heater first, then the sink filling with water and the clatter of dishes and cutlery, and Eijun's humming.

Because he's always humming when he does the dishes.

Kazuya smiles. When he can find the energy, he, too, gets up, grabs a towel, and dries the dishes Eijun puts in the dish rack.

The kitchen is clean in record time, and they settle on the couch.

Eijun is still quiet, which is not only out of character, but he's also frowning too much.

Kazuya is having none of it. Flipping Eijun's forehead with his index finger, he points at the perpetual frown and simply says, “Talk to me.”

A deep sigh, a long moment before golden eyes find his. “I... I want out.”

Kazuya blinks. “You want to come out? Do you have a boyfriend?” Now that would've been news to him. He doesn't quite know how to feel about Eijun coming out in public. If there's a boyfriend--

The thought doesn't sit right with him.

What? No. I mean. I do want out of baseball and I know I can't pitch until I'm sixty. D'uh.”

Gotcha,” Kazuya chuckles, elated. “Though I'd totally support you coming out with your boyfriend.”

Eijun shoots him a strange look. “In case you've missed the part where I'm here seven days a week, producing videos with you and training for my career as a professional athlete, when would I even have time for a boyfriend?”

Kazuya shrugs, “You tell me.”

Shaking his head, Eijun ignores him and continues, “So anyway, I need a plan. I do have a degree in Japanese History, but I don't think I'd be cut out for teaching. Just a job at a museum seems reasonable but that has 'stuffy and boring' slapped all over the job description.”

I wonder why you even think about it. You don't need to find a job,” Kazuya meets his eyes. “In case you've missed the part where you're here seven days a week, producing videos with me for a very successful channel that I make good money off of, I don't know what more you want to do with your life. You're an amazing co-host, you're entertaining and the silly part to my stoic, sarcastic persona, yet you know when to be serious. Doing podcasts with you has been nothing like it was before. You saw it in the comments, people love you. It's more of a conversation than a monologue, and when we bounce ideas back and forth the episode is more consistent and I...”

Kazuya takes a deep breath. He doesn't usually gush like that to somebody about them, but Eijun, for all his ego, still tends to underestimate what he does to people. His energy, his enthusiasm, his authenticity. His worth.

I wouldn't wanna do a single episode without you again.”

Eijun looks at him with big eyes and honest surprise and slowly, his lips spread into a small smile. “Okay,” is all he says, almost shy.

So whenever you decide to retire, all of this is right here. And me, if you'll have me.”

Eijun's smile turns a bit enigmatic. “Of course. Even if I want to come out? Because in all honesty, it comes to mind more and more often. I hate hiding who I am.”

Especially if you want to come out. But doesn't your contract end in two years? What then? I'd think about coming out after you have your new--”

No,” Eijun interrupts him. “You know what? Screw them. I can handle being out and an active player, if the team signing me can't handle it, they can shove it.”

It's Kazuya's turn to shoot him a proud smile. Maybe he's a bad influence on Eijun, at least he does hear notes of his own stubborn mind in there, but he agrees with his whole heart.

Chapter Text

For Seidou, it's both a celebration and farewell game to the graduating third-years. It's a test for the new team forming before the new first-years join in the spring. Kazuya remembers that time all too well, when he was already captain without a clue in the world of how to properly be a captain. At least Tetsu was still around, then. Seidou's batters sure have improved since winning Koushien and a few are set to debut in the pro or college leagues. Nobody expects a team of salarymen, business people, handymen with a few professional athletes thrown in to wipe the floor with a handful of fully and well trained teenagers.

This is not going to be a walk in the park, but it's going to be a lot of fun.

They head out to the game together, and when he sees the Seidou uniforms from afar, Kazuya instantly feels at home.

Feels so nostalgic,” Eijun says, whistling.

They are greeted by the headmaster and Coach Kataoka, the younger players bow before them, and before the game, they have some time to reminiscence and think about positions, and it's a ruckus.

The Kominato brothers play rock-paper-scissors for who starts at second base. The game is a relay of batteries, with a few fan-favorites in mind. Kazuya isn't too bothered by the fact that he won't catch the whole game – it's refreshing, and there might be a time and a place for him to catch full games again - but an alumni game, where everyone should rightfully get his time in the spotlight, is not it.

Anyway, he hasn't played in years. Yui helps him with his gear while Eijun is still busy rallying everyone around him. Chris couldn't make it and apologized last minute, or else Eijun would be over the moon, but beside the Kominatos, Nori, Yui, Furuya, Kuramochi, there are also Zono, Shirasu and Asou from Kazuya's year. Eijun's classmates have less active players – Kanemaru, Tojo and Takatsu are present, but neither has ever played on a professional level. That's just how life goes. Beside Yui, Okumura is there, as is Seto. Between all of them, they have a wide variety of characters and positions to choose from, and everyone will get to play to their abilities.

They start at the bottom, the current Seidou team is on offense first.

Kazuya gets up, feels stiff in his catchers gear when he reaches for his face mask. When he leaves the dugout, Eijun turns to enter it – he won't play until the 7 th , closing the game. And when he sees Kazuya, his eyes wander up and down his body, take in Kazuya's Cardinals uniform, his red catcher's gear, the red cap, and probably the grin on his face. He just stares.

Without an idea what's going on in Eijun's head, Kazuya lets him look his fill and waits.

It's been a while since I've seen you in person like this,” Eijun eventually admits, chin tucked in towards his chest, words only meant for Kazuya's ears. “You look... wow. Brings back memories. Though the colors don't fit.”

Kazuya chuckles. “I could say the same thing,” he throws back, taps his mitt against Eijun's shoulder. He wears his Tigers uniform, pinstripes and black letters with yellow lining.

Have fun catching for Nori-senpai,” Eijun grins back at him, taps his shoulder when he walks by and slaps his ass as an afterthought.

Kazuya shoots him a dirty look over his shoulder and gets ignored.

Playing baseball again is beyond what Kazuya has imagined.

Nori still throws an amazing sinker, also a useable slider, and the kids don't have much experience with sidearm pitchers. They barely get a few foul balls off of him. However, Kazuya and Nori walk the third batter on four balls, and the brat even tries to steal second base. The closed mitt is a clear sign for Nori, and before Kazuya can blink, the ball is in his mitt and then in Ryousuke's at second base.

The dugout and the crowd cheers, a specific voice booming over everyone. “That's right, don't run on Miyuki Kazuya!”

Kazuya chuckles. Eijun's English pronunciation is horrible, but it's a saying that has followed his whole career in St. Louis. Don't run on Miyuki Kazuya. Sometime during his second season, the stolen base attempts became fewer and fewer, going down to an all-time low in his eighth year there. Don't run on Miyuki Kazuya, it's pointless.

For Eijun to know that saying, it shouldn't surprise Kazuya, but it does. And it makes him grin.

The brass band plays Kuramochi's at-bat song when he steps up to the plate in the bottom of the 1 st , and as expected, he hits the first pitch for a double down the left foul line. Ryousuke still has a feeling for the bat and fouls off a couple pitches, and ultimately hits a grounder between second and shortstop, which is just a second too quickly fielded for him to reach first. Kuramochi steals third while Zono's in the batters' box – of course he does – but Zono strikes out.

Kazuya walks up to the plate, hears the melody of his old song by the brass band, and the energy of the stadium thrums through his veins. Of course, the guys in the dugout sing along, Eijun louder than anyone else.

This is what he lives and breathes and what he missed. He positions his feet, taps home plate with the tip of his bat. Nods at the pitcher, a second year who throws mostly fastballs and curveballs. The first pitch comes down right into Kazuya's hot zone, and without hesitation, he slams it out of the park.

As he drops his bat into the grass and watches the ball go down behind the score board, Kazuya hears it loud and clear over the cheers of the crowd, “The cap cannon! There it is!”

On his way around the bases, he shouts towards their dugout, chin held high, “Noisy as ever!”

They're leading and the second inning is easy enough to deal with, though Nori states some twinging pain in his elbow afterwards – it's the old injury that put him out of their Koushien run back in the day, so they decide to sub him out earlier than planned, before the 3 rd inning.

Their offense in the second is made up of Kanemaru, Tojo and Asou, and they bat in another run.

In the third inning, Kazuya heads out there with Furuya. The kids are scared by his gloomy presence and his intense fastballs, and if he didn't walk one batter, there would be no one on base. His slider, even if they can see it coming, is practically unhittable, and the sheer power of his 165 km/h pitches is overwhelming. For the next innings, Yui catches for Furuya, before Eijun walks up to the mound in the 6 th – with Okumura on his tail.

Old habits die hard, but it's both amusing and heart-warming to see Eijun turning his back on the catcher and the dugouts, shouting, “Balls will come flying your way, so to everyone on the field - thank you for defending!”

The score is in their favor, but barely anyone cares. It's the personalities that make this game interesting, not who wins.

Kazuya has always been impressed by Eijun and Okumura as a battery. He can see why they both loathed each other at first, but worked so well on the field. Okumura's game calling is pretty similar to his own, and he knows Eijun can work with that, although he sees Eijun shaking a few calls.

The kids even bat a run in, and Eijun is furious about it. Apparently, there's a clean-up who expected his change-up. Kazuya grins.

Eijun, of course, bunts with absolute perfection in his at-bat. And gets on base, though he does in the end get tagged out at home plate, much to his chagrin and Kazuya's amusement.

Don't,” is all Eijun says when he returns to the dugout and finds Kazuya grinning at him.

I didn't say anything,” he smirks.

You didn't need to,” Eijun grumbles. “Anyway, we're up next.”

Yup,” Kazuya nods. “Can you feel it? Everyone has been waiting for it, the crowd is hyped.”

Yeah, the pressure is there, but we can handle that. I have a request.”

Shoot.”

I want to try something. We have three innings. Make sure we don't throw a change up in the 7th.”

And if he doesn't want anyone to see his change-up, the 'something' Eijun wants to try is something that wrecks the hitters' timing.

Does that plan include the fact that you go three-for-three each inning?” Kazuya asks, because it means to make sure nobody sees Eijun pitch twice.

Yes.”

Cocky.”

No, with you at the plate, it's not cocky, it's realistic,” Eijun answers, looking straight ahead at the diamond, dry as you please.

Kazuya doesn't know what to reply to that, because he knows what Eijun is saying. This innate trust, this mental connection that they've always had when it comes to baseball, it's something Kazuya has never felt with anyone, not even Tyler. Eijun helps him put on his gear, and when it's time for their defense, they walk towards the mound side by side. He's not nervous, and neither is Eijun, he can feel it.

The stadium is almost quiet for a short moment, before the realization kicks in and the speakers announce the change at the catcher's position. Then, when it has sunken in, the crowd goes wild.

So, how do I sign for your special pitch?” Kazuya asks behind his mitt.

Don't worry. You won't need to,” Eijun answers, and his lopsided grin is nasty.

Kazuya loves it and can't help but mirror it. “Okay,” he says, heart beating in his throat. “I trust you.” And with that, he rests his mitt against Eijun's chest, right above his heart. Eijun does the same to him, his glove hitting Kazuya's chest protector.

Admittedly, without a scouting report, Kazuya has no idea what the batter's preferences are or what they can do to get them out.

What he does know is that Eijun throws a 4- and a 2-seam-fastball, a cutter, his improved cutter, a splitter, an improved splitter, a change-up and the occasional curveball. His pitch mix is insane and gives them lots of room to work with.

Kazuya crouches down, gives his first sign – fastball, 4-seam – and sets up right down the middle.

Eijun's face splits with a surprised grin and they both know why. They can see Azuma there.

He winds up, his leg rising up high, his form beautiful, his hand comes out late as usual, and with a satisfying smack, Kazuya has a baseball in his mitt. Fuck-you fastball, straight down the middle, you ain't hitting that.

There are chills running down Kazuya's back and his grin freezes. Damn, this guy. Eijun grins right back, shuffles a bit on his feet, kicks at the dirt. Kazuya calls out,“Nice pitch!”

He calls for a splitter next, and then for a 2-seam, high and outside. A swing and miss. Three strikes, next batter.

Cutter in the dirt, swing and miss. 4-seam, low outside, swing and miss. 4-seam, high inside, strike, batter didn't move, next.

With every perfectly delivered call, Kazuya gets more and more in the zone. He sees Eijun on the mound, and the world vanishes around him.

The batter beside him doesn't matter.

Kazuya signs for a heater middle-inside, cutter low and away, cutter high and away. Each one smack – smack – smack right where his mitt is positioned. There's power and precision behind Eijun's throws, and Kazuya's nerves sing with it. His heart is beating to the rhythm of Eijun's pitches, his eyes are focused on the golden ones looking right at him from the mound. Eijun is still pitching to contact, throwing strikes or chase pitches that make batters swing on instinct, and he's so good at it that Kazuya is almost breathless.

They change to offense and Kazuya is still so locked in that he hits a 3-0 heater into the right outfield for an easy double RBI. When Eijun hits a line drive down to first base and the first baseman fumbles the ball because someone as intense and driven like Sawamura Eijun is running at him at full speed, Kazuya makes it home easily. As does Eijun, with a little help from Kanemaru. He redeems himself by stealing home, of all things, while Kanemaru teases the pitcher to pick him off at first.

The 8 th inning is even more fun, because Eijun lifts his ban on the change-up.

Kazuya makes him throw three cutters to the first batter, one of them a ball, then they strike him out on a low fastball. The next one gets three fastballs, down in the dirt for a ball, low outside for a ball, swing and miss, a change-up for a strike and a fastball high outside for another swing and miss. They work like a well-oiled machine and Kazuya can't stop, won't stop smiling. They fit, so perfect, without effort. It should be scary, but Kazuya is everything but scared. Not with Eijun up there, throwing four 2-seamers in a row that couldn't move more different and they're done again, three for three.

Catching for him is so much fun. Oh, how Kazuya has missed playing baseball like this.

Until the last inning, they sit beside each other, knees touching, in the dugout, and don't speak. But there's a smile on Eijun's face and Kazuya can barely tear his eyes away.

They walk out for the 9 th inning together, and Kazuya doesn't hear the crowd, doesn't see anyone but Eijun.

Change-up, splitter fouled off, cutter, cutter, out. Each smack, each time he returns the ball, Kazuya's heart swells with affection. Talk about a perfect match.

Splitter, splitter called ball, 2-seam, change-up. Next. Kazuya's stomach is in knots, not from nervousness, but because he feels like he has a million things he needs to tell Eijun and doesn't know where to begin. His heart is in his throat. Again.

There's that one sentence Eijun had said, ages ago. 'Dude, I was so in love with you.'

The last batter. Cutter, 4-seam fouled off, 4-seam strike. Now Kazuya really can't wait what Eijun has up his sleeve. When their eyes lock, Eijun nods, just slight enough for Kazuya to know that whatever it is – it's coming.

Eijun raises his leg into that beautiful posture, raises his glove over his head, swings it down as a wall, and the ball comes out of his hand spinning in a high, beautiful arc. The batter takes one look at it and swings all the way through, with power and confidence.

But the ball is slow, so slow. It looks like the batter even has time to swing a second time, long after he missed, because the ball takes all the time in the world to hit the pocket of Kazuya's mitt.

When he realizes what just happened, Kazuya falls onto his knees, doubles over from laughter. Only Eijun would--

Strike, batter out. Game set!” Kataoka, as the umpire, announces the score, and they won, not that anyone cares.

Kazuya jumps to his feet, runs towards the mound, calls out, “Did you just--”

Oh, I did,” Eijun grins.

And then their bodies just meet naturally in a bone-crushing hug. Their team gathers around them, congratulations are thrown around, someone empties a bucket of Gatorade over their heads, and even though they're soaking wet, Kazuya can't pull away.

'I was so in love with you.'

It makes Kazuya wonder if that feeling isn't mutual, at this point in time. He feels so out of it, his heart is racing, his skin is tingling where he holds Eijun in his arms. Eijun doesn't let go either, and Kazuya smells sweat and his own laundry detergent – when had Eijun washed his uniform at his place? - and Eijun's unique fragrance underneath.

In the end, he does pull away far enough to shout over the noise, “Did you just throw a fucking Eephus?”

I prefer to call it a rainbow pitch, but yeah,” Eijun laughs.

An Eephus, rainbow, blooper, Bugs Bunny curve, whatever, it was a fluke, a glorious, glorious fluke.

You never cease to amaze me, Eijun,” Kazuya chuckles, lips grazing over the shell of his ear. Just loud enough for Eijun to hear.

They won a little, meaningless alumni game and Kazuya is on an adrenaline rush, like they won the world series, dizzy with the sport he's missed for so long, but even more dizzy because of the talented, beautiful man in his arms, having not only created art with him today but basically having made a declaration of love with every pitch.

Kazuya is breathless, happy, laughing, crying, ecstatic.

Eijun is beaming with joy and laughter and as always, they're so in sync, it feels like second nature. Kazuya knows what he has to do. Maybe not here and now, though. The look he gives Eijun says it all, and the look he gets in return, heavy-lidded, sparkling eyes, with so much mirth and adoration shining in them, makes him hope.

***

Afterwards, everyone takes a shower and heads over to the school grounds for a dinner buffet and lots of socializing.

Eijun has cleaned up just fine, hair tousled in what is his usual look, but in a way that is a bit more refined, and he wears a nice button-down and tight jeans.

How has Kazuya never noticed.

How has he never noticed how Eijun is the perfect height, just a few centimeters shorter than him.

How has he never appreciated the slope of his back, his slim waist where the jeans hug his hips just right.

How has he never noticed that ass.

There are a million things Kazuya wants to do right now - instead of standing here with a glass of lemon iced tea, talking to Kuramochi and Kominato the younger – undressing Eijun with his teeth being one of them.

Meanwhile, Eijun is bouncing off the walls, is charming everyone as he works the room and Kazuya always knows where he is, because he'd recognize that laugh anywhere.

Since when is this, you know, going on?” Haruichi asks out of nowhere, when their conversation about the game has calmed down, gesturing between Kazuya and Eijun.

Kazuya chuckles. “Since we met again at the Tigers' last game before Koushien last year. You know how he is, he kind of decided he's my best friend now and just planted himself into my life.”

Well, he has a point there,” Kuramochi slurps from his drink for dramatic effects. “It's not like you had friends before he pummeled you. Face it, you're a hermit, Miyuki.”

I have my reasons.”

Besides being an introverted, anti-social martyr? We get it, you lost people more than once and in more ways than one--”

You make it sound like I have some kind of bonding trauma,” Kazuya shakes his head. “Dude, hate to break it to you, but my problem was that I was basically working day and night for the channel. And I had fun doing it, but it's not like there's much social life left if you don't want the YouTube algorithm to hate you. Since Eijun helps me out, I'd say I've been at least 75 % more stable and not two hater messages away from a burn-out. Which I only noticed afterwards, too.”

That's good,” Haruichi interferes. “I've heard that quite often, how you can run yourself into the ground so easily.”

Kuramochi's look is weary, eyes narrowed. “Since when are you dating, then?”

Kazuya almost spits out his tea. That perceptive asshole. “We aren't.”

Ah, now that is what Haruichi was asking in the first place, you know. Just clarifying,” Kuramochi chirps amused.

You aren't?” Haruichi sounds honestly surprised.

We aren't.”

Haruichi opens his mouth, closes it, looks in Eijun's direction, breaks off whatever he wanted to say again. “He... do you--? Ah, forget it. That's not my place.”

Blinking at Haruichi, Kazuya can't even guess what was about to be said.

Why is he avoiding you right now, though?” Kuramochi asks.

He sees me every day,” Kazuya shrugs. Despite what happened throughout the game today, they would've gone home together, anyway. They have a post-game podcast planned for tomorrow, also Eijun wants to eat Okonomiyaki for lunch – which Kazuya promised him and has already bought all the necessary ingredients for – and Eijun spends more time at Kazuya's apartment than in his own anyway.

It's still a distraction from the question, because Eijun is avoiding Kazuya, just like Kazuya is avoiding Eijun right now.

And if Kazuya's feeling is right, then Eijun has the same problem he has – if he looks at Eijun too long, he's way to tempted to throw him over his shoulder and hightail it out of here. He catches him, every once in a while, staring at Kazuya from across the room, and when their eyes meet, Eijun smirks at him. Like there's a secret between them that only they know and honestly, while the anticipation is killing him, Kazuya wallows in this feeling. The tension is thick between them, and his heart races when Eijun is near and this dance, around each other, is giving him goosebumps.

The younger Kominato and Kuramochi look at each other, but they don't question it.

***

When they leave, later that evening, Kazuya feels high from a game well played, good food and meeting old friends, updating numbers. Eijun finds him, red-cheeked and happy and beautiful, with Kazuya's jacket in his hand and a bright smile on his lips.

You wanna go home?” Eijun offers, bites his bottom lip. His plush, soft bottom lip.

Home.

Wordlessly, Kazuya nods, not trusting his voice. Eijun is killing him. Such a tease.

They walk a bit closer than usual, their hands brushing every few steps. They head to Kazuya's car in silence.

How are you feeling?” Kazuya asks when they're at the door, dropping their bags of used uniforms and towels and gear in the genkan. The space is both comforting and familiar, and also way too small for two grown men with huge bags.

Like we have some things to talk about,” Eijun answers, mirth in his eyes again, smirking.

Oh, do we?” Kazuya teases. He can play that game too.

They stand too close after toeing out of their shoes, and somehow, Kazuya both digs his grave and needs to maintain that last bit of distance, so his hands find Eijun's hips. He shouldn't have, he can't let go, but it's the last factor that keeps Eijun from leaning into his chest and Kazuya can't.

He can't deal with the heated look, with Eijun lifting his hand to run his fingertips over the undercut hair at the side of his head, over his ear and down to his nape. “That haircut is so unfair,” he mumbles under his breath. “Makes you look so damn hot.”

A rush to Kazuya's gut. He can't even find the words to tease Eijun about his never-changing mop of unruly hair to deflect, because he feels like he's under a spell. He's also painfully hard in his pants and Eijun is right. Fucking. There.

Eijun's hand is at his neck, pulling him down, pulling him under, and Kazuya can't believe this is happening. His right hand slides to the dip of Eijun's spine, pulls him closer, their bodies aligning. His breathing is already heavy when their foreheads meet and he asks, “Seriously, though. What do I really need to do to get to suck your dick? And don't say dinner because I will throw you on that bed and fuck the living daylights outta you.”

Eijun swallows, grins, leans in. “Just... ask nicely, I guess?”

For a moment, Kazuya hesitates, studies Eijun's face.

This is a non-issue. He doesn't need to win Eijun over, he has him right in his palm. At his beck and call. And while realizations like this usually give him a rush of power and the temptation to abuse it in whatever way, not so this time.

He lets his fingertips run around the waistband of Eijun's jeans, right along the top edge where his button-down is stuffed into his jeans, tracing tender skin and hard muscles underneath. When he's at the front button, he hooks his index finger in, but doesn't pop the button.

Eijun gasps in his arms, shuffles closer. Kazuya leans down, and asks, voice hoarse and breaking at the second word, lips running over the shell of Eijun's ear, “May I suck your dick, Eijun?”

Yes,” Eijun's answer is breathless, and he groans when Kazuya's fingers slip the button of his jeans free, groans again when he opens the zipper, fingertips grazing his hard cock underneath.

Kazuya goes down without another word, pulls Eijun's jeans and underwear down with him, grabs his ass on the way and swallows him down in one go.

Eijun's eyes roll back in his head and his knees are wobbly.

It makes Kazuya feel more than a little smug. To be so in control of a situation is exhilarating, it gives him a rush of power and arousal right to where it matters. Above him, Eijun is beautiful, the way he tries to hold himself upright, his hands combing through Kazuya's hair, his grip tighter every time Kazuya swallows him down and bops back up.

And of course he's as loud as ever.

Kazuya, oh, fuck,” he gasps, “this ain't gonna take long, I swear, so good. God, how long I've waited for this, see your lips stretched around my dick.” A chuckle, the soft touch of fingertips grazing the edge of his lips.

Kazuya looks up at him and Eijun shuts up, his lips going slack as Kazuya grabs his balls, rolls them in his palm. He might be rusty and he already feels the stretch in his jaw, but it's not difficult to make this good for Eijun. Pulling off, he strokes Eijun a few times, goes back down on him, before he circles the head with his tongue.

Off,” Eijun whispers the warning, but Kazuya hums, winks at him. Only a few more bops up and down, and strong pitchers' fingers claw into his shoulder, into his neck as Eijun comes in his mouth.

Kazuya gets up, leaves Eijun standing in the genkan with his pants down, and goes to the bathroom to spit into the washing basin. When he returns, Eijun hasn't moved an inch, and his eyes are glassy.

With a lopsided, proud grin, Kazuya goes to his knees again to pull up Eijun's pants for him, buttons them and takes his hand. Pulling him to the living room, where the couch is still in bed-mode, they both stumble head-first into the cushions.

Fuck,” Eijun says. “That was... necessary.”

That's your take-away?” Kazuya raises an eyebrow, but he can't stay serious and chuckles.

Yeah, I mean, after the past months... wait. Talk to me. What happened today?”

We won a game?” Kazuya knows what Eijun wants to hear, though. “Also, I realized that you're way more to me than my best friend. I mean, I had an idea already, but what can I say. Denial is not only a river in Egypt.”

Say it, say it, say it,” Eijun pokes his belly, going cat-eyed and Kazuya can't help but jiggle. It tickles and maybe Kazuya is still on a high, giddy with affection for this guy in his bed.

Kazuya ponders about it for a moment. Eijun likes shojo manga, and he's a romantic at heart, so what do these guys do when they declare their love? A wall-slam is kind of impossible on the bed.

Kazuya. Don't get lost in your head. Just say it,” Eijun scolds him with a playful slap towards his ass. “I know it, but I want to hear it. Please.”

Ducking his head, Kazuya rubs his forehead. “And there I thought I could give a proper speech and maybe a nice shojo-esque wall slam to woo my love interest.”

I accepted that you're a lost case, don't worry.”

Hey! I can be romantic!”

Eijun quirks an eyebrow at him.

What, just because I need a baseball game to realize that I have maybe been in love with you for months?”

The smile on Eijun's face spreads slowly, and a blush creeps onto his cheeks. “See, that's why you're a lost case. Face it, Miyuki Kazuya, you might be an MLB star and Seidou's pretty boy catcher, but when it comes to love, figures you need a baseball game to figure it out. You're just as much a baseball dweeb as I am.”

Kazuya blinks at him, not sure what to say. “Was that a compliment? I don't know if I should feel offended or not.”

Definitely not a compliment.”

Thanks.”

Your personality is as nasty as ever.”

You love it.”

Suck my dick,” Eijun huffs amused.

Been there, done that,” Kazuya deadpans. At that, they both break down laughing. Eijun rolls onto his back and Kazuya rolls into his side, hiding his face in his shoulder.

You're the worst, and I love you,” Eijun eventually admits, when they have quieted down and are just looking at each other like lovesick teenagers.

You're amazing, and I love you,” Kazuya chuckles, pushes up onto his elbow to lean over Eijun. “And how haven't I even kissed you yet, that's a scandal.”

Eijun's smirk is teasing him, telling him he's been waiting for this all along, and Kazuya kisses that smug expression right off his face. Their lips lock, and as with everything else, they find their rhythm and their perfect fit within seconds. It's slow and delicate and hungry all at once, and when Eijun pulls back, he only mumbles, “You kissed me on New Year's,” before resuming right where they left off.

Maybe you're right and I am a lost case,” Kazuya throws in, and after a row of kisses down Eijun's jaw, he whispers into his ear, “I should've known then and fucked you right there on the stairs to the shrine. In the snow.”

You could've done that since that first time I admitted that I was in love with you, you know.”

Kazuya stares, is too baffled to say anything.

Eijun bites his lip. “I don't think I've ever not been in love with you.”

You were married, to someone else.”

Yeah. I was. And I did love her, but... you know, we came together in my third year at college. Shortly after you left for St. Louis. And I think Mochi-senpai knew all along that there was something going on, because when I announced our engagement and the wedding a year later, he put me aside and was all serious, like, 'are you sure?' and I go, 'of course!' and he goes all shifty and says 'I'm just saying, just because we both lost a friend and I don't, um' and Wakana, who was already Mochi's girlfriend at the time, saves his ass by throwing in 'are you sure this marriage is not just a rebound because Miyuki-kun left?' And I remember being so confused, I just said 'What? No, why would it?' But they both never said another word about it.”

Kuramochi, that guy, I swear.”

Nothing gets by him.”

We should find us some better friends,” Kazuya jokes.

Hell no, he's the best friend I've ever had,” Eijun answers, then looks at Kazuya again. “Oh, you were joking.”

Jup. Though I'm quite offended that he's your best friend and not me.”

This time, Eijun looks at him carefully before he says, words chosen wisely and with purpose, “I came to Seidou for you. I chased you for years. My only goal was for you to acknowledge me as a player. Your opinion and your praise meant and still means the world to me. When I realized how lonely you were and how overworked because you're proud and an idiot who doesn't ask friends for help, my heart broke for you and I fell in love with you all over again. For months I've been flirting and giving you every reason to hit on me. Miyuki Kazuya, you're so much more to me than my best friend.”

Kazuya's heart feels too big for his chest, and he steals another kiss before he answers. “That's why I wanted to give the big speech.”

Well, sorry if I scratched your ego.”

Nah, don't worry. I have other problems right now,” and with that, Kazuya makes his intentions very clear by rolling his hips against Eijun's leg, lets him feel how hard his cock still is.

I should let you wait for half a year, you know,” Eijun grumbles, but his tone is playful.

Talk about a nasty personality,” Kazuya nibbles at his collar bone.

With a sigh and his head arching back, Eijun states, “You're rubbing off on me.”

I'm about to, if you don't mind.”

That's when Eijun rolls both of them over, straddles Kazuya's hips and takes matters into his own hands, determination shining in his wonderful eyes. “Oh, I mind.”

Chapter Text

Ladies and Gentlemen, hello and welcome to the 'Baseball & stuff' podcast! Today is a very special episode and I'm sure you've probably seen the highlights already, but we will be talking about the Seidou alumni game a lot today. Thanks for being here and joining us on the ride! Cue the theme song!”

It is nice to have their own little intro routine, it's a bit of normalcy in the wake of what happened after the game. Eijun shimmies in his seat, hips tilting side to side to the beat. It's cute, and it feels right to not have to push that thought to the back of his head when it hits him. It makes Kazuya smile. “To my left, is none other than the amazing Sawamura Eijun-kun--”

And to my right, none other than the ever humble Miyuki Kazuya, no suffix!” Eijun picks it up right there. Kazuya ignores the blatant disrespect. “I've been looking forward to recording this episode for so long now, it feels unreal that the game finally happened. I'm still processing.”

Definitely,” Kazuya grins, and knows that Eijun is processing in more ways than one. “So, to everybody's surprise, Seidou won.”

Ha!”

I had to.”

Of course. What Kazuya is saying is that the Seidou alumni team won with a score of 9 to 2, and it wasn't as clear as the score makes it sound. There were quite a few ups and downs, and there were lots of player changes especially on our team, since everybody should get their chance to play.”

They break down the game and take the listeners through the first innings, talking smack and trivia about former and current teammates.

And then -” Eijun whoops, “there comes the 7th and I finally get to pitch. To you. So exciting! How was it for you?”

Kazuya looks at him for the longest time and he doesn't quite know if he should do what he wants to do in his heart. Because this thing between them is so fresh and new, and yet it had been in the making for so long. Sometimes, love hits you hard and fast and it goes away just as quick. This thing with Eijun is everything but. It's comfort and companionship, a mellow kind of dedication that they both live instead of spew big words about.

Eijun looks at him with his chin in his hand, eyes glittering, lips twitching, and Kazuya knows they're thinking the same thing.

They're not live right now, so they can always cut from the episode whatever they don't want to have out in the open.

Under the table, Eijun's foot nudges his, and Kazuya can't help but smile. It's a peace offering. We don't need to.

Catching for you was exciting, just like back in the day,” he answers, in the end, avoiding the topic. “What was it like pitching to me?”

“Ah, it's like riding a bicycle,” Eijun smirks. “If that bicycle has been in your shed for years and when you get it out, it may be a bit rusty but after you oil the chain it runs almost as nice as a new one. And you realize you still love it more than you could ever appreciate another.”

Kazuya laughs out loud. “Wow, and here I was thinking so hard of how to get that in there. Nice one, Eijun.”

Eijun just grins, spins from side to side on his chair. Like a little kid. Adorable.

Also, you're a dork,” Kazuya adds, “And we need to play baseball again more often.”

It's not quite fair to the competition, though. We messed up their game big time.”

Because you shut them out and three up, three down they went. I will do a breakdown on that, promise,” Kazuya points at the camera, “Because that pitching sequence was filthy.”

Then let's do a 'Sequence' episode for it together?” Eijun suggests.

Kazuya nods, “But to make it short, not only did we utilize all corners of the zone, you threw five – no, six! - different pitch types, there were outs made entirely out of 2-seamers, and in the end, you threw an Eephus. Which just. Blew my mind. ”

That surprised you, huh? I knew there were not many tactics left to achieve that,” Eijun is smug and cocky and Kazuya loves every second of it.

Still, he doesn't want to gloss over what happened.

Kazuya's smile falters. “Seriously, though, Eijun, you threw three breathtaking innings. As a catcher, to have a pitcher across from you who trusts your call, delivers spot-on, doesn't shake once, and is so in sync with you it's scary - having that is a privilege and 'fun' is a word way too small to describe what happened yesterday. I have never once regretted retiring from baseball as an active player, but I regret not having played with you in Japanese Pro Baseball. It was an honor.”

The 'I love you' in there is implied, but the way Eijun looks at him with a blush on his cheeks and wide, sparkling eyes, Kazuya knows that Eijun gets it. Kazuya has to smile at himself, because of course he would declare his love via baseball.

But I agree with you,” Kazuya adds as an afterthought, to spare Eijun an answer, “it would be more than unfair to the competition to have to bat off a battery like us. Where pitcher and catcher are partners, not only on the field.”

You told me that first day at Seidou, against Azuma-senpai. Partners.” Eijun's smile turns small and proud and Kazuya feels it, the tenderness of a new love, but also the strength of their bond, their pride of their history together.

Partners.”

For a moment, they're stuck staring at each other. “But enough about us, I'll give you a moment to drop that comment you were about to write anyway – and then we'll talk about the current team of Seidou High, the one that won Koushien and wasn't as easy to strike out as Eijun made it look.”

***

“You know, I can cut that part out,” Kazuya offers.

Or,” Eijun quirks an eyebrow, “You let me talk to Nagisa-san, our PR manager, if we can air it like that. I mean, we weren't even that obvious.”

Still, we don't need to announce our relationship the day after we got together.”

Sure, but. It's on our terms. Before anyone writes gossip articles about us and forces us to make a public statement. And if you're worried about how long we're gonna last...”

Nah, I'm not worried about that, it already feels like we've been together for a long time,” Kazuya admits, waves him off, and it's the honest truth. “And I'm in this for the long haul. I'm not a love-'em-leave-'em kinda guy. Plus, it's you. And I have a feeling this was always meant to be, we're just single-minded baseball idiots who took their sweet time realizing it.”

Eijun laughs at that, light and loud and so much like him. The sound makes Kazuya's stomach tingle and his heart sing. “True. You're not gonna get rid of me anytime soon, you know.”

Good,” Kazuya says.

I spent way too long chasing you. And just for the record, you were the one who was so busy with everything baseball that you didn't notice my desperate flirting for years.”

Were you flirting with me at Seidou?”

Maybe? In my own, awkward, 16-year-old-virgin way?”

Kazuya blinks, then snorts. “Yeah, right.”

Think about all the times you could've kissed me and I would've probably let you,” Eijun stands up, grabbing his cell phone. “Also, could you please copy the quotes out of the recording? I'm pretty sure they'll want to hear it the way it was originally stated before we get the go-ahead.”

Sure, go call your PR manager.”

Eijun waves, gets up and goes to make the call from the kitchen.

On his way out, he slides his hand along Kazuya's neck, leans down to kiss him. It's just a short peck, and Eijun bumps his nose affectionately against Kazuya's afterwards.

Kazuya catches himself at the thought that it should've been like this, could've been like this for years. In some kind of parallel universe, it maybe was, and while he was pretty miserable in this timeline, he's more than happy with where things are right now.

Think about all the times you could've kissed me and I would've probably let you.

Fastball, outside, a shake from Eijun, a disbelieving look in return: sure? Fastball, inside, smack, and Eijun's pearly laughter afterwards.

Koushien, lost, Kazuya's hopes broken, Eijun at his side in the dugout, silent, just being there, shoulder against shoulder, tears in their eyes.

Koushien, won, Eijun in his arms, tears of joy on their faces, speechless, just staring at each other, walking away arm in arm.

Kazuya's graduation day, Eijun standing before him, lost for words, stumbling over phrases, eventually a low, low bow and the very ancient and formal declaration of it having been an honor to play baseball with Kazuya. Kazuya pulling Eijun up by his shoulders and hugging a surprised, stiff young boy.

And if Kazuya is honest with himself, the thought crossed his mind there, to give Eijun the second button of his jacket. Because Eijun was into romantic gestures and this would mean something to him. While baseball was and always will be Kazuya's first love, if he had something, someone he fell in love with in high school, it would be Eijun and his way of playing baseball. Fierce, competitive, direct, no-nonsense Eijun.

He didn't do it, too scared of being rejected. As soon as the thought had crossed his mind, he had already repressed it. And that right there should've been the first red flag that him and Sawamura Eijun? Might be a thing.

But of course, Kazuya left, dated Tyler, got injured, got bitter and got fired, more or less. Of course, Eijun stayed, dated Hikaru, and also got bitter and then divorced.

They've made their experiences. Kazuya can be sure that they both learned from them. And he knows, knows it like he knows that Eijun also knows, that they're made for each other.

Which is some stupidly romantic bullshit, he's aware, but then again - it's Eijun.

***

Two days later, Eijun is held up in training, when Kazuya gets a message from Chris.

C: So when is the podcast episode coming out? I'm so sorry I missed the game and I'm very much looking forward to hearing your report.

Kazuya feels the edges of his lips twitch. Ah, whatever, he thinks and hits the call button.

Hi, Miyuki,” Chris' serious voice greets him.

Uploading as we speak,” Kazuya says in lieu of a greeting.

Awesome. Really, I was not understating this, I'm really looking forward to it. How was it? Did you win?”

Yeah, we won, and it was... I guess an epiphany, in more ways than one.”

There's a knowing smile in Chris' words, “Catching for Sawamura?”

Kazuya huffs, amused. “Yeah.”

Care to elaborate?”

Kazuya shuffles on his feet, “I kind of don't know where to start. It's been a lot to take in. He's grown so much since high school, obviously, and yet he's still the quirky kid on the mound and it was so much fun. I missed baseball, and catching.”

Chris chuckles on the other end of the line, and Kazuya hears cutlery clattering in the background.

Oh hey, is it a bad time?”

No,” Chris says, “Just finished cooking, still needs to simmer for a few minutes and I'm just setting the table.”

That reminds me, I need to start dinner soon. Eijun will be home in about half an hour.”

Another laugh. “Does he live with you already?”

Kazuya rubs his eyes. Busted. “Practically, yes, for a while now. He's here almost every day anyway.”

... so am I going to have to ask or are you going to tell me or are we just dancing around the elephant in the room until we find some metaphor that somehow implies that you and Sawamura are dating?”

Um,” Kazuya says. “Yes.”

Okay,” Chris laughs. “Glad we got that out of the way. No, he didn't tell me. But he called me yesterday, to 'just talk' and it was 'Kazuya this, Kazuya that' – even more so than usual, mind you – and well, I figured that if you two manage to live in each other's pockets for months and not sort this out, it would take you a game of baseball.”

You know us too well,” Kazuya ducks his head, and he can't hide the embarrassment behind a chuckle. “Did you know all this time?”

That he was in love with you? Yeah. He told me.”

Kazuya gulps at that. “Oh wow. Well, he told me too, that he was in love with me in high school.”

No, not that,” Chris says. “That he fell in love with you again when he met you in the locker room that day.”

There are no words in Kazuya's mind to say. His mind is blank, and his tongue feels fuzzy.

You're welcome for the cannon fodder,” Chris' smirk is obvious.

Thanks, I guess.”

No idea how you didn't notice.”

In hindsight, he wasn't very subtle at all, was he.”

Sawamura doesn't do subtle,” Chris says.

They both can't help the hysterical laughing fit. Kazuya wipes tears from his eyes.

When they've quieted down and Kazuya opens his mouth to thank Chris and end the call, Chris' voice is quiet, serious, when he asks, “So, are you going to call him?”

Who? Eijun? Why--”

Tyler.”

Kazuya blinks. “Why would I?”

Closure? For both of you?”

A pause. “You know something.”

I heard some whispers through the grapevine.”

Do I want to know?”

Chris chuckles. “Yes. I'm sure you would want to know. Though it's not my place to tell you.”

At least tell me if it's something good, Chris.”

It is. You won't regret calling him.”

They exchange a few more meaningless phrases and when Kazuya hangs up, his stomach feels suspended.

He should.

He wants to.

He knows he should.

But his fingers are trembling over the call button beside Tyler's number.

He's curious alright. And he's in a relationship now. After four years, there surely aren't any hard feelings left. Right?

Kazuya hits the button, somehow.

It rings. Kazuya's heart is beating too hard, too fast. He should not be this nervous about talking to his ex-boyfriend.

Hello?”

And it's like second nature to switch to English. “Hi, Tyler. It's Kazuya.”

Yeah, I can read, dude. How have you been?” There's warmth in his voice, genuine interest. Distance, though, the healthy kind.

Fine, thank you,” Kazuya answers. “How have the Popes been treating you? Everything alright?”

Absolutely. Some new additions to our roster keeping me busy. Some rookie pitchers, too, man – you'd have a field day with them.” Fondness.

Kazuya chuckles, which seems to break the last of the ice between them.

So,” Tyler cuts the red tape, though he sounds amused, still. “Are you calling me to tell me about your new boyfriend, rub it in some?”

What?” Kazuya is admittedly taken by surprise. “I, um. Did Chris... tell you anything?”

Chris?” Now Tyler is confused. “Oh, Takigawa? Nah, we aren't like that. Haven't talked much since he's in Oklahoma. Why?”

For a moment, Kazuya has no idea where this dialogue went sideways and he has no idea where to begin.

Tyler, bless him, gets it. “Wait, so you do have a new boyfriend?”

Um. Yes, but I'm not calling to rub that in your face.”

Congrats, then. And are you sure? That doesn't sound like you.”

Oh screw you, too, Tyler. You wanna hear how good he is in bed?”

No, thank you,” a chuckle.

The way he gives head, I'm telling you...”

Kazuya! Stop it, you won't get me jealous.”

Now why would I want that?” Kazuya grins into the speaker.

I have a new boyfriend, too, alright. He's not in the industry, he's great, and we're looking to adopt.”

So that's what Chris was talking about. The news makes Kazuya smile, genuinely happy for things working out in Tyler's life. “That's great news, I'm so happy for you. How are you... you know.” They've argued about this for so long and so often, he can't put it to words.

We're keeping it on the down low. We're not married, so if in doubt, I'm the uncle or something. We aren't keen on the big media circus and we'll find our time to do it, but. Priorities.”

Kazuya smiles to himself. His and Eijun's priorities are... not that. They don't want kids, and they know it. It's reassuring to have that minefield out of the way. “I get that. Again, I'm happy for you. Say hi to him for me.”

Tyler outright laughs at that. “Oh, he won't want to hear from you. But thanks, I appreciate the sentiment.”

Kazuya can't help it, he needs to ask. “How did you know about me?”

I'm watching your videos, you know. Also, thanks for the subtitles, I wouldn't get shit otherwise, and it's great for non-Japanese speakers.”

Give yourself some credit, you understand a lot of Japanese. But sometimes it's a bit hard to translate Eijun's outbursts,” Kazuya can't help but laugh again.

Nah, not nearly as much, I mean, I picked up a few things here and there over the six years I spent with you, but--” Tyler breaks off. “Ah, who am I telling this. Thing is, you know, you and Sawamura, on that podcast. It was so obvious.”

We weren't even dating up until a few days ago?”

Then, my friend, you have tomatoes on your eyes, because that guy was flirting with you from day one. Then again, it's you, so I'm not surprised.”

Now you sound just like him.”

Seems you have a type.”

Seems like, and still. I guess I just called to say – thank you. I don't think I would've seen what he is to me if I wouldn't have been with you.”

There's a moment of silence on the line, before Tyler says. “Yeah, same. The alumni game, did he pitch to you?”

Yes.”

Ah, then I get it.”

Silent smiles on both ends of the line, Kazuya is sure. If one person would get what it meant to be a battery and be in love with each other, it's him.

***

Kazuya wakes up to a message from Kuramochi.

K: You seriously just came out like that?

He can't find his glasses and Eijun lies on his other arm and Kazuya surely won't wake him. It takes him five minutes to type a reply with only one thumb.

M: Obviously.

K: Check your twitter.

Kazuya's twitter is mostly baseball news and when he tweets, it's announcements for new videos or thoughts on recent games, but when he opens it, his inbox is flooded. Like. He knows the numbers of his inbox after a controversal breakdown, but these numbers are unknown of. He opens his mentions and is blown away by the wave of support.

@real_miyukazu Miyuki-san, thank you for being open about this. The world needs people like Sawamura-san and you. #lgbtq #pride

I knew it! Congratulations @real_miyukazu!! :D

All the best to both of you @real_miyukazu @acejun.sawamura you're a beautiful couple. Don't listen to the haters. #MiSawaPride

this is unreal I can't believe it and I'm so happy and asldfnaskln @real_miyukazu

@real_miyukazu Since when are you dating, please make a segment about your coming-out in the next podcast! Pleeeease!

It's 5 in the morning and @real_miyukazu already made my day. #MiSawaPride

I told you there's gay guys (ahem @real_miyukazu) in baseball @miyukis_3

@bb.nerd @real_miyukazu please clarify if the latest episode really means you're dating @acejun.sawamura

to see the day where I can finally tweet #misawapride at @real_miyukazu

@real_miyukazu OH *claps* HAPPY *claps* #MISAWA DAY! \o/

Eijun stirs in his arms, blinking into the light of Kazuya's cell phone screen.

Huh? What is it?”

Good morning,” Kazuya kisses his forehead as he frees his numb arm. “Apparently, twitter and the LGBT community have a field day with the latest podcast.”

Eijun blinks, looking too adorable for a 33 year old man of his size. “What do the haters say?”

Don't care. I'll have to look, haven't read any so far. Which is good, I guess?” He scrolls through the search results, and of course there are haters. He sighs. “That it's a publicity stunt... that it just means we're best friends and partners on the pod... that everybody is reading way too much into what we said. Especially the English speaking folk is pretty rude.”

Eijun grabs his own phone, thumbs through the menu, huffs when he sees his notifications. “Holy moly, that blew up.”

Yup.”

Kazuya goes back to his dashboard, looks through the other news. Hits refresh on his dashboard, and a new set of tweets appears.

@acejun.sawamura :

I'm not a man of big words and you'll hear it from my team's PR anyway: Yes, I'm in a relationship with @real_miyukazu and it's not gonna change the baseball I play or the things I do. #yeshomo #dealwithit #misawapride

@acejun.sawamura :

I like that hashtag, people. #misawapride

'MiSawa', huh,” Kazuya grins.

Eijun shrugs. “Also, can we agree on subtly teasing the haters from now on? Lots of lovey dovey couple selfies in front of stadiums and stuff?”

I thought that was the whole point of doing this,” Kazuya grins.

Eijun mirrors it, and Kazuya has a flashback to every game ever, of them standing on the mound, cackling as they discuss and agree on the most disgusting way to get a batter out. As they decide to throw new pitches to a team that hadn't even known that it was in Eijun's repertoire.

Shit, Kazuya loves this guy.

And the comparison between Tyler and Eijun is inevitable. In his mind, he can almost recite the fights they had about this. “Ah, this is so refreshing, you know,” he ends up saying.

Come again?” Eijun is confused.

How different this is, compared to back in St. Louis. Everybody knew but no one would talk about it.”

You would've come out, but he wouldn't, right? You told me that once.”

Kazuya huffs. “Before you set your mind on anything, I'm glad it happened the way it happened. Because otherwise, I wouldn't have found my way back here and... well. I guess I still owe you the full story.”

Eijun frowns, even more confused. “But, you told me?”

I told you the long story short. It's not a lie, but essential parts are missing.”

Okay? Can I get us coffee before we get into this?”

Please,” Kazuya nods and finds himself wondering if he should propose then and there. Bless Eijun's way of thinking. They do fit like two pieces of a puzzle.

A few minutes later, Eijun is back with two steaming mugs in hand. “There you go.”

Thanks,” Kazuya slurps – it's black and bitter and still too hot to drink, just the way he loves it. “So, picture this. With a few months left on my contract, almost 10 years at the Cardinals and six years into dating Tyler. We're talking about the future, of course we do. Kids were off the table, though mostly because we just didn't talk about kids. There would be no way to adopt kids if you're not married or registered in any way as a couple, and that would be way too easy for the media to find out, or so we thought. So we had to come out first, right? And the whole team knew about us, anyway, you can't hide shit like that from them.”

Oh, I know,” Eijun sighs, slurps his own coffee.

So we argue about it, more and more frequently, first only at home, and one day after I sign my contract extension, in the clubhouse. People hear us, our head trainer hears us. They say they'd support us, I'm kind of indifferent to the whole media part of things, I just want to live a normal life, don't want to hide any more. He gets defensive, knows it will be a shitshow, doesn't want to. People talk to him, try to help, tell him it's going to be dealt with and he eventually storms off with a 'fuck this shit' attitude. We play a game the next day, issues still unresolved, and I get hit by a wild pitch.”

Your shoulder injury?”

Well, it kind of set things off. At that point it was just a bruised shoulder, because it hit right under my shoulder guard. But you know how these things go, I assure everyone I'm fine and Tyler said sorry and that's about it. We're professionals about this, and shit happens. And I kind of assume a relieving posture. The next game, I throw out a runner at second base when he tries to steal and it just... rips. The sound told me all I needed to know.”

Eijun shudders visibly at the description. “You know. I watched that scene about a million times, and it always breaks my heart to see you crumble in a heap like that.”

Kazuya shakes his head. The memory alone makes him sick to his stomach. “I was gone with pain. And Tyler just stood on the mount for what seemed like forever. I was waiting for him, to come comfort me. To do something. I needed him. Instead, the trainer was there and the ump and the first baseman. He later told me he didn't want to seem overly eager as to not feed any rumors.”

What?!” Eijun spits. “You aren't serious?”

Kazuya nods. “I broke up with him right then and there in the hospital.”

Thank god, you don't deserve to be treated like that! No one does! You were fucking hurt and he... fuck.” He rubs his hand over his eyes, shaking with rage. “I can't believe this.”

It wasn't just this, it was a series of arguments, the coming-out postponed forever and while I loved him, I was just... so tired of it all. And when I need him, he was not there. It piled up and piled up and when he told me, my reaction was basically how you reacted just now. We even trained together after my recovery, but the atmosphere in the bullpen – you can't imagine. Tense and every word he or I said led to some kind of pissing contest, it was horrible. And then my dad got sick. So I took the out for what it was and ran.”

What an undeserving way to go for a veteran like you,” Eijun shakes his head. “I'm sorry.”

Like I said. I used to be bitter about it. I wallowed in self-pity and I was not in a good place, mentally. I found my outlet, and I found my way back to the things I love. It's better this way.”

Without another word, Eijun takes his hand and squeezes it with a tiny smile.

Also, you're the first and only one to know this story.”

I'll take it into the grave, if you want me to.”

Kazuya kisses him, a silent thank-you. “I called him yesterday. Chris told me I should.”

Eijun blinks at him, takes a moment to get up to speed. “Tyler?”

“Yeah,” Kazuya snorts as a smile works its way onto his lips. “Turns out he knew about us. I got lectured that you were flirting with me all along and how I didn't notice. From Chris, too.”

“I'm telling you, you're a lost case,” Eijun pokes his ribs and steals a kiss. “But I knew what I was in for. So what did he say?”

“He found someone who's not in the industry. They're keeping their relationship on the down-low and they are looking to adopt a child.”

“Good for them. Not the life I'd want to live.”

Kazuya nods. “Same. I'm glad he found someone who makes him happy. For the record, he's also happy for us.”

For a moment, Eijun studies him, carefully. “Are you ok?”

Kazuya pulls him into his chest, kisses the top of his head, smells his own shampoo in Eijun's hair and smiles again. “I couldn't be more okay. Don't worry. He has everything he ever wanted, I have everything I ever wanted.”

“... I take it back, sometimes you almost get me to believe that you're not a lost case.”

“You know, I remembered,” Kazuya teases, “I almost gave you that second button of my jacket, at graduation.”

That leaves Eijun speechless for a few long moments. “You're kidding.”

Kazuya shakes his head, but smiles.

“Why didn't you?”

“I was 18, I was a big-shot heading towards the States, and the fear of rejection was real.”

“Wait,” Eijun pushes himself up, taps Kazuya's chest with his index finger. “You. Had a thing for me in high school.”

“Maybe.”

“Don't 'maybe' me, Miyuki Kazuya!” Ah, the cat eyes.

“Ok, yes, I did. And maybe I only realized it this past week.”

“Lost case, I'm telling you.”

Kazuya hides his smile in Eijun's chest as he rolls him over onto his back, trails a line of kisses towards his chin, pours his feelings into a long, deep kiss, strokes Eijun's upper arm, entangles their feet under the douvet.

He's not so lost now.

Chapter Text

What a game,” Kazuya laughs as they drop their gear in the genkan. “That last change-up you threw in the 8th was so well-timed and placed.”

I know, I know,” Eijun grins, stuffs his shoes into the shoe rack. They need a bigger one. They meant to buy one ever since Eijun moved in, yet, they somehow haven't made it in over a year to get a new shoe rack.

Kazuya makes a mental note to take Eijun to an interior store the next weekend, like he does every time he notices.

Thank god for the off-season and friendly games. At least I get a reason to play with you again.”

Mmhm,” Eijun agrees, hands already at Kazuya's belt, pulling him forward, down the hallway, towards the bed, lips searching for his as he stumbles backwards.

Not gonna lie,” Kazuya grins, kisses Eijun, short, teasing nips, “I like the effect it has on you.”

Oh please, like you're any different. And have you seen yourself in catcher's gear? You look like--” Eijun breaks off, hands flying everywhere. “Broad and sturdy and in control and – do you have any idea how hard it is not to pop a boner seeing you like that?”

That, Kazuya knows. It makes him hard to watch Eijun pitch, for whatever reason. He grabs Eijun's slim hips with both hands, steers him backwards and pushes him down on the bed, whispers into his ear, “You bet I know how hard it is. Have you seen your ass in your pitching motion? Fuck. Driving me crazy, every time.”

Eijun's ribcage lifts and drops with heavy breaths. “One day, I want to suck you with all your gear still on.”

Ok, then I want to fuck you standing up and bent over, with your uniform still on, and I just get to pull down your pants. And the cap needs to stay on.”

Kazuya's hands fumble with the button of Eijun's pants, pulling them down while he's still talking, pushing the loose shirt that hides Eijun's glorious muscles up.

That's oddly specific,” Eijun taps his chin, tone playful.

Kazuya shifts to kneel in-between Eijun's legs, pulls his belt free and pants down, covers Eijun's body with his own. “And you're oddly unspecific about your kinks.”

We just both admitted to wanting to fuck each other in our baseball uniforms,” Eijun laughs, gasps when Kazuya aligns their dicks, wraps his hand around them and strokes. The friction, so much-needed, is wringing a groan out of both of them.

Isn't that kind of basic for baseball dweebs like us?” Kazuya sighs, buries his face in the nook of Eijun's neck, kisses his pulse point.

Eijun shudders under his touch, fingers clawing into Kazuya's shirt, nails scratching over his back. “Maybe. So, you wanna top or do I get to?”

Don't know about you but I don't think I have the patience,” Kazuya's pace has gotten frantic, fast, and he feels the heat coiling in his lower belly already. “Blame yourself for looking so hot on the mound. Haven't seen that for too long. Now where were we?”

Eijun laughs, bright, pearly, grins as he grabs Kazuya's ass with one hand, covers Kazuya's hand on their cocks with the other. “Of course it's my fault, now, when you just look too damn hot in your sports glasses. And have I talked about your batting stance? Damn.”

Kazuya seals their lips, kisses Eijun open-mouthed and with little licks in-between, is out of words but full of love for Sawamura Eijun and his stupid bangs, his beautiful golden eyes, for the smirk on his lips and the fire in his heart. “You haven't.”

When I saw you in the batting cages in the clubhouse--” he's interrupted by another moan.

You looked a bit shell-shocked there,” Kazuya remembers, breathless.

Eijun pulls his head down, kisses him, mumbles in-between kisses, “It reminded me – of my second year at Seidou – finding you in the indoor training area with everyone else, at batting practice. In hindsight, that was the moment it clicked for me.”

Kazuya can't focus, his heart is too full, his pulse racing as he buries his face in Eijun's neck.

He feels Eijun tense up, mutter a curse under his breath. “Kazuya--”

An extra squeeze, a small twist on the upstroke, and they're there, together, riding the wave, hands and arms slung around each other, rocking together with the aftershocks.

Afterwards, they find their breath and when their eyes lock, Kazuya chuckles. “Got it out of your system?”

Yeah, you too?” Eijun pokes his side and Kazuya squirms off him, ticklish, and Eijun knows that.

It's been a thing, ever since Eijun retired and they only play for fun at a small ballpark in the neighborhood or at the Tiger's stadium. Somehow, playing baseball together is a turn-on for them, and they usually end up in bed as soon as they are home.

They get dressed – not that there's much to re-dress – and put away their gear and dirty clothes, when Eijun says, “Oh, hey, we have a new voice mail.”

Hit it,” Kazuya motions from the kitchen.

You have 1 new message.” The voice of the answering machine says, monotone. “Message 1, received: today, 16:33. – Hello, Miyuki-kun, Sawamura-kun, this is Coach Kataoka from Seidou speaking. Since my Co-Trainer will retire by the end of the year, I am currently looking for training staff with a specific skill set for the bullpen and pitching, as well as scouting. If you two are interested in the positions, please call me back.”

They stare at each other from across the hallway.

It's a perfect opportunity. And we can still do YouTube,” Kazuya throws his thoughts out there, no filters needed with Eijun.

And it's Seidou and we get to work together.”

Their eyes meet again as Eijun hits the replay button.

So the circle closes,” he says after the message, the edges of his lips twitching.

I like that, actually,” Kazuya grins, steps closer to wrap his arms around Eijun's middle. “Go to Seidou with me again, Eijun?”

Eijun's smile is as wide as ever. “I'd go to the end of the world for you, you know.”

You're a sap.”

Suck my dick.”

Later.”

***

THE END