“Eijun! Come say hello to our summer guest!”
Sawamura Eijun is five years old the day he meets Miyuki Kazuya for the first time.
“Nice to meet you,” the other boy says.
He’s standing beside Eijun’s mother in the front hall. Sunlight streams in behind him and catches in his dark brown hair, which falls into eyes obscured by huge glasses.
“Hello!” Eijun smiles hugely, a tooth missing from his lower gum. “Nice to meet you too!”
“Kazuya-kun’s parents are busy this summer so a friend of your father’s contacted us to ask if he could stay with us.”
Eijun cocks his head to the side as his mother explains that Kazuya-kun is staying with them and why, though he’s far more interested in studying the other boy than listening to the details of what she’s saying. He understands the big picture, and that’s the most important thing.
“Do you like baseball?” he asks.
And Kazuya grins.
They spend the summer dragging all the kids in Eijun’s small town into their mutual obsession, or getting into trouble—or getting Wakana into trouble. They steal apples from a nearby farm, watch the fireflies play in the air at night.
They sleep together by the open garden doors under a net protecting them from the bloodthirsty insects of the summer, and more often than not they watch the sun set or rise, too busy talking or playing to sleep.
When the rainy season starts they jump in puddles, and contract colds. Wakana laughs at them and nags them to not be so stupid, and they retaliate by spending the rest of the gray days occupying her parents’ home because they can’t play baseball.
And once the sun returns, Eijun’s mother packs a picnic basket and takes them to a high school game in the city.
Eijun can’t take his eyes off the pitcher.
“The ball always returns to him and look at the precision! It’s like he’s playing darts!”
But Kazuya only has eyes for the catcher.
“Think about all the ways you could trick a batter!” He says, constellations in his own eyes. “He’s like a coach on the field! That’s definitely the coolest!”
“No way! The pitcher is way cooler!” Eijun argues back.
But now he’s looking at the catcher too. He almost hadn’t noticed him, hidden as he is in the shadow of the batter.
“Now now, you two!” Eijun’s mother laughs and ruffles their hair to make them quiet down. Around them the audience is sniggering at the two boys, but they barely notice. “Don’t you see that those two couldn’t exist without each other? Pitching is the sum of their unit.”
The two boys gape up at her and then back at the battery on the field. The catcher has stepped up to the mound to communicate with the pitcher, mouths hidden behind their mitts. Without warning the battery breaks out in loud laughter, and a wind sweeps over the stadium, the audience smiling along with the two teenagers, clutching at each others’ shoulders.
And once the catcher returns to his spot behind the plate, the pitcher throws the fastest pitches of the day, white arrows that stun the batter and win them the match.
Eijun and Kazuya share a smile.
And for the rest of the summer they practice as a battery, goal set as a unit. For a while they forget that they are to be separated come fall.
Sometimes it’s so difficult to concentrate.
Eijun is running in circles around the field trying and failing to keep his mind on baseball—for once. Twice. Every afternoon at the end of the month.
His classmates, his team, his friends, have left him to it, but he runs diligently anyway because it’s his duty as former captain. Because it’s the only thing he can do as former ace of this small town team so far into the countryside he knows on too many levels that all his promises are just that.
Empty vessels full of emotion, if not a prophesy that can be fulfilled.
As the sun begins to set he counts ten more laps and then sprints off to the changing rooms, not bothering to shower.
His parents wrinkle their noses as he comes running through the door and his grandfather yells something about remembering to stay clean and not spreading this stench through the house.
But he ignores them all, ducking a sweeping hand from Eitoku and hurries up the stairs, sock-covered feet thundering on the ancient wooden floors, as they’ve done so many times it’s become a thing of normalcy in the Sawamura household.
And it’s there. As promised by his mother. The envelope laid out, white breaking the monotony of a clean wooden desk, the only thing of interest to him now.
Without ceremony he tears it open, so he almost ruins the letter inside, but he’s already pulled the pages out by the time this threat registers and it’s easy, so easy, to push aside, to ignore. Instead he can pay attention to the words scribbled there, the impeccable kanji, and the sharp turns on the hiragana.
There is no greeting, not really. No “To Eijun” or “dear Eijun” or even “idiot” as these sometimes start.
Instead Kazuya begins straight away, nagging as usual.
“You slapped the opposing team?! And the umpires? I know you’re stupid but this is the most self-destructive thing you’ve done yet. The high schools are going to find out about this and then what are you going to do?”
Eijun scowls at the pages. It’s not entirely unexpected, if he’s honest with himself, but it’s been a week since the match and Kazuya, not for the first time, speaks with Wakana’s voice. Strict and unrepenting in his criticism. And it stings.
“Shut up,” he mutters. “You weren’t there.”
“And don’t scowl at the page. You know I’m right.
“Not that I can’t see where you’re coming from, Eijun. Insulting a losing team, no matter how badly they lost or how big their dreams are is no way to act. But neither is resorting to violence. We speak our minds through our actions on the field, remember?”
It’s like a pat on the back, a soothing balm on his conscience. And Eijun feels the sting of nostalgia, longing for a friend he hasn’t seen in person for many, many years. He misses him.
He misses playing baseball with him.
And it’s frustrating to watch him grow. To see him sprint so far ahead of Eijun, running along on a road they’d promised to walk together all those years ago.
Miyuki Kazuya is a catcher in Tokyo, on one of the bigger high school teams there. In spite of the distance and differences in experiences they’ve managed to keep in touch. They’ve stayed each others’ closest friends and confidantes, and Kazuya is as much family at this point as Wakana is.
“Well,” the last line in the letter reads some pages later. “You never know what kind of luck might turn up on your doorstep.”
“Eijun!” His mother calls, and he turns around to see her in the door. “There’s somebody here to see you.”
It's not always easy.
There are times he wants to throw a letter in the fire and never write to Kazuya again. He can be brutally honest one moment and secretive the next. He can be a pain in the ass, impossible to deal with or just downright infuriating. Somehow he manages to find pleasure in pissing Eijun off, in getting under his skin, even when they're hundreds of miles apart.
At other times he wants to storm off to Tokyo, school and chores be damned. It happens once in elementary school, when Kazuya's mother leaves him behind with his dad without an explanation. The letter he gets that day contains just two words, in trembling hiragana:
His parents refuse to let him go, of course. He kicks and screams, and cries. He argues with his mother until his throat is raw, until his cheeks hurt from being slapped by his grandfather. He's grounded for several weeks, and still he doesn't really calm down.
Not until the time he manages to steal his mother's phone book and call his friend.
Kazuya's laughing voice sprints down the line at him and it's such a relief that Eijun ends up meeting him half way, following along and getting into an argument with his friend. Only when they're about to end the call does Kazuya remind him of why he called in the first place.
"Oh, and Eijun—" he can almost see the sad twist of a smile, bright and heartbreaking "—thank you for being here."
It hurts. His heart twists in his chest, so painfully he winces, mouth twisting unhappily. Because, the thing is... Eijun can't really be there for Kazuya.
He can’t be there when he needs it the most, when he needs somebody to take away the quiet in his home with laughter and conversation. Kazuya doesn’t outright tell him that his life at home becomes so much more intolerable after his parents’ divorce, but Eijun can see it. He can see it in the missing pages, describing jokes and adventures that were so common before. He can see it in the lacking mentions of either parent.
Eijun can tell because instead Kazuya would rather describe something just as horrifying; Kazuya would rather open up about his troubles with his middle school bullies than put his loneliness down on paper.
And in this Eijun can’t be there for him either.
All he can do is read the words—the descriptions of endless beatings, the mentions of impossible practice matches and the hints of Kazuya sitting alone in a bathroom in a lonely home, cleaning his wounds—with trembling hands, and fight the urge to furiously rip the page.
Eijun knows about bullies. He knows what it means to be smaller than the other kids at school. But he’s never been as tiny as Kazuya and he’s always known how to stand up for himself.
Kazuya can do that with his words, words that can hurt like a whip, but on a middle school baseball field, when the adults turn their backs, the pen falls short of the sword. Especially when the one wielding the sword is an upperclassman with several months, years, of growth on Kazuya.
“I’d beat them to a pulp in a heartbeat,” Eijun says, enraged one evening, on the rare occasion they’re talking on the phone.
Kazuya’s laughter sprints down the line at him. “And risk harming your wrists? What a sorry pitcher you are!”
“Hey!” Eijun complains. “Friendship over baseball.”
The laughter has died, and his friend is perfectly serious now. “Friendship and baseball. And baseball if I can’t have friendship.”
“Hey! What am I to you?!”
He gets another laugh for that. “Don’t you get it, Eijun? We can always beat them on the field! That’s where we’re supposed to fight the real battles.”
Eijun pouts and shifts in the windowsill. Outside he can see the fields, hidden under thick layers of snow. Moonlight dances across the landscape, a place right out of an old story, a myth, an adventure.
“Why do you keep provoking them then?”
A laugh. “Why do you keep provoking your grandfather?”
This, too, is an old argument, and Eijun squawks, jumping straight into Kazuya’s trap with both feet. Too eager to defend himself. To defend his grandfather.
He thinks things get easier when Kazuya enters high school. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably difficult watching your idol get hurt. But at least Kazuya seems to be doing better. The kanji tremble across the page, exhausted lines that speak of harsh practice sessions far into the night, and impossible classes at an elite school. But the letters never waver in their frequency, and there’s a cheerfulness to them that Eijun hasn’t seen in a long time. Free spirit and irksome amusement, that makes him smile through his irritation.
So he can be selfish again, with his own baseball.
He can complain and whine, and pester his friend for advice.
He can cry over the page when they lose.
And he can slam his palm into the table before the word “scout” has fully left the mouth of Takashima Rei from Seidou High School Baseball Team.
The woman blinks, eyes going wide with astonishment.
“I said I’ll go!” He says, leaning closer, to his parents' horror. “You’re offering me a place on the team, right?”
He remembers her now, the lady who tried to scout Kazuya in his first year of middle school, the lady who’d given him a path to walk on. A clear direction. The first to acknowledge him.
“Yes,” she says, glancing at his parents, who are not as surprised. “But wouldn’t you at least like to come see our school first? Don’t you want to know what you’re saying yes to?”
Eijun grins. He knows exactly what he’s saying yes to.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll say no to a chance to see his childhood friend for the first time in almost a decade.
“Can I go?”
His parents share a knowing smile. “I don’t see how we could stop you even if we wanted to.”
Miyuki sniggers on the mound. “You looked so stiff, I thought a good home run would loosen you up a little.”
In the next second the middle school kid who had stood up to Azuma grabs their starting catcher by the collar of his shirt and lifts him clean off the ground to shake him. “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, KAZUYA?! Are you on his side, is that it?!”
And Miyuki laughs, positively cackles. “Not entirely.”
“Not entirely?!” The brat looks like he’s about to blow a fuse.
“Care to enlighten me as to what’s going on here?” Kataoka says as he steps up behind Takashima. She’s looking a little too smug for this not to have gone entirely as planned.
“We’re testing a potential pitcher against Azuma-kun,” is what she says.
On the mound the middle school brat has let go of Miyuki’s collar and is explaining that, yes, he had thrown the pitch into the ground because he thought Azuma would hit it otherwise. On the mound Miyuki Kazuya grins like he’s won the lottery.
He laughs loudly and pats the middle schooler on the shoulder. “I knew you had it in you, Eijun.”
The pitcher squawks and pushes him off, arguing back like he isn’t phased by Miyuki’s praise and Kataoka raises an eyebrow at Takashima.
“His name is Sawamura Eijun,” she says. “And he happens to be a childhood friend of Miyuki-kun’s. He’s got quite the interesting pitch.”
As Miyuki talks Sawamura into trusting him again, as he whispers conspiratorially in his ear, and wins him over with the ease of a catcher who’s known his pitcher for many many years, Takashima explains everything she’d heard from Miyuki on the day he'd come to suggest she take a trip into the heart of an old samurai prefecture. And Kataoka smirks.
It takes them eleven pitches to out Azuma, but they do it with a long series of tricky pitches that forces Azuma’s hits into foul territory. And as Sawamura gets warmed up properly, as he learns to trust an old friend, like a pitcher trusts a catcher, his talent shines through.
A southpaw pitcher with an idiosyncratic pitch that knows his catcher in and out, and a catcher with a sharper mind and sharper skills than most pros, will be a fearsome battery in no time. No matter how unpolished the pitcher is. And with two years to help them shine, these two could go further than any battery Seidou has seen in years.
Kataoka laughs, loud and booming.
So the battery on the mound, the battery that had been fist bumping to celebrate their victory, both jump and turn to him.
“That was quite a performance, brat.”
The pitcher squawks and stands straighter. “Thank you, sir!”
Miyuki looks dubiously at his friend and then sniggers, pointing something out to Sawamura in a whisper. The pitcher raises his hackles and hisses back a reply.
“What do you think?” Kataoka asks as he steps up to them.
“His pitches lack speed and power,” comes the immediate reply, and Sawamura squawks so Miyuki grins. “But that’s to be expected from a middle schooler.”
“I’m just telling the truth, don’t take it personally,” Miyuki teases, nudging Sawamura in the side.
“I’ll take it personally when it comes from you!”
Oh yes. These two definitely work on their own wavelength. It’s good, but it will demand endless amounts of patience. “What else?”
The chance to poke at Sawamura’s temper is obviously too great for Miyuki not to immediately grasp. “His form is too easy to read. It needs to be built up from scratch.”
Sawamura nearly chokes on his protest and Miyuki doubles over with laughter.
“Aaaah! Yes! Please excuse me!” Sawamura flounders, going slightly pale under the summer tan. His eyes flicker away from Kataoka’s face even as he turns to him.
“Have you made a decision on whether or not you want to attend this school?”
The pitcher blinks. And then nods solemnly. “Even if there are people here I don’t agree with, I’d decided to attend this school before I even visited.”
Beside the pitcher the catcher has grown strangely still, eyes not leaving Sawamura's face. It's one thing to be chosen because of an old promise, but being chosen in spite of how badly you behave on and off the field is something new to Miyuki Kazuya. And it's going to tie the two together even more.
Kataoka turns on his heel and bellows for the team to get into motion, to start up practice again now that the show is over. He spends the rest of the day going through drills the pitcher needs to spend his off-season on.
A pitcher with an idiosyncratic pitch, a tight bond with their main catcher, and an endless off-season ahead of him, is a goldmine in potential that Seidou’s coach has no intentions of passing by.
There’s a note taped to Kazuya’s door.
It’s folded neatly in half, mouth facing the floor, corners sharp and meticulous. It’s not the first either.
He’s found similar notes in his shoes, in his glove, in his locker at school. They pop up at strange intervals and are not all that frequent.
But it’s late and he’s had a long day of practice with a first year pitcher whose pitches are powerful, and anything but accurate. And while he’s becoming used to the randomness of idiosyncratic pitches the power added to Furuya’s brand of random pitches makes it so much more tiring.
At least with Eijun there’s an element of potential in the randomness.
(But Eijun is his childhood friend and so he’s biased).
Kazuya rips the folded note from the door and opens it. Three words.
“It’s ‘you’re an asshole, senpai,’” he corrects as he opens the door, knowing exactly what he’ll see.
Eijun is lying on his top bunk, reading one of his books on baseball theory. He lifts his head to glower down at Kazuya, golden eyes leveled just over the edge of the bed so he looks like an angry mole.
“You’ve yet to do anything senpai-like.”
“That’s true,” Kazuya drawls. “I let you harass me, read my books until they look like they’re ten years old, steal my—“
“You don’t ever help me with my pitching!” Eijun interrupts, sitting up abruptly to point down at Kazuya who’s sauntered across the room to lounge in his desk chair. “How come you’re always practicing with that Furuya?! I’m on the first string too, you know!”
There’s something strangely pleasing about Eijun’s jealousy, and Kazuya has caught himself more than once poking at it, stoking the flames, just to see what his friend would do next. It’s a strange new feeling to be so thoroughly competed over by pitchers, and he can see the way it forces Eijun to grow at rapid speeds. “Chris-senpai is the senior catcher—“
The pleasant warmth shivers from his limbs and his mouth twists into a frown.
He pulls off his cap, leaving it on the reading lamp and steps up onto the edge of the lower bunk to sulk more efficiently at Eijun. “I’m your friend, aren’t I? You’re supposed to defend my abilities.”
His "friend" rolls his eyes and sits back. “That’s exactly my point! We’re friends! You’re supposed to help me with my pitching, even if we’re not assigned to each other.”
Kazuya laughs and reaches out to flick at Eijun’s fringe. “What do you think I am? I only have so much energy and Furuya isn’t exactly easy to handle. Plus, I have to leave time for Nori and Tanba—our actual ace.”
It’s endearing the way he can sulk. Eijun pushes out his lower lip and turns his face partially away, avoiding Kazuya’s smile. It’s warm and charming, especially because he’s never had somebody who so genuinely wants to play baseball with him within easy reach—him, Kazuya, not Miyuki Kazuya the talented catcher, but just Kazuya, a friend, a teammate (a partner).
“So how about this, first year,” he says, grinning when Eijun’s head whips back around so he can look at him, taking the bait. “You’ve chased me this far. Hurry up and chase me the final steps. Before summer, if possible.”
Eijun pushes away the hand pointing at him in challenge. “I was planning to anyway!”
Kazuya laughs. “Good. Now get out of my bed!”
“Why should I?!”
He considers him for a moment. It would be so easy to poke at his temper, to start a new argument, but he’s feeling indulgent and selfish. “I thought you might want to play some catch.”
Eijun’s eyes widen, glowing bright like sunshine, and he smiles, huge and blinding, irritation completely discarded. “About time!”
“Nothing rough though!” Kazuya says, watching him jump from the top bunk.
“I’ll be the one to decide that!” Eijun says as he lands, elegant and smooth, spinning on the soles of his feet to grin at Kazuya.
Kazuya takes a deep breath and gets to his feet.
“Time-out, please,” he tells the umpire.
The sound of the whistle follows him across the field towards the pitcher on the mound. Kazuya squints at him under the strict spring sun; Eijun is bent over his glove, left shoulder moving strangely, and … it can’t be.
“What in the world are you doing?” Kazuya demands, pulling off his helmet.
Only to get a glove shoved in the face, palm forward.
Kazuya blinks. “Wha—?”
Eijun moves the glove a little so Kazuya can see his bright smile, and it’s such a relief that he’s fine even in this situation. “I thought of a great one! Look!”
He waves a pen in his free hand and then the glove is back so it’s obscuring Kazuya’s entire field of vision.
There’s a note stuck to the leather, which is supposed to be meant for baseballs only, and on that note is a lose sketch of a t-shirt with the words: “Keep swinging, my catcher likes the breeze.”
Kazuya stares at it for a solid second, before he splutters a laugh. He grabs Eijun around the wrist and pulls him closer so he can throw an arm around his shoulders and laugh. Laugh so his stomach cramps and he has to lean on his pitcher, laugh so a hush falls over the stadium. Laugh so he forgets the heart in his throat and the very real threat of the batter waiting in his box.
“You’re years too young to be saying that, Ei-chan,” he croons into Eijun’s ear, poking his pitcher in the side.
Eijun goes tomato red in the face and squawks in indignation, much to Kazuya’s amusement. “How can you insult me like this in the middle of a game?” He complains, voice rising to a whine.
“I’m not the one who decided to shake his head at my calls,” Kazuya retorts in equal complaint.
Eijun huffs. “You looked like you were about to faint from the pressure.”
The image of his pitcher, wildly shaking his head, eyes wide and pale with fear because the batter had kept hitting his pitches into foul territory like only Azuma had done it before, enters Kazuya’s mind and he wants to laugh.
“I don’t want to hear that from you!”
Of course, it can't be easy. It's certainly not always easy for Kazuya. They're still limited to the only weapon Kazuya could provide Eijun in the short term: the inside pitch. It works because his pitcher usually doesn't back down from a fight. Because he's not afraid of the batter. But this one keeps overpowering him, and the more Eijun starts worrying, the less spite there is in his idiosyncratic pitch, and the closer the ball gets to the diamond.
Eijun steps out from under his arm and nudges him with his shoulder. “Come on, Kazuya,” he says, smile back in place. Teasing. Knowing. Help me. “You’re not relaxing at all. Here, I’ll help you breathe.”
A breathy laugh rushes past Kazuya’s lips, silent and unbidden. Because this boy is something else.
“See, there you go,” Eijun says. “Now a deep one. One, two and—“
He takes a deep breath, and Kazuya follows obediently. He could bully and tease Eijun, but something about the way his pitcher—his pitcher—is asking him to play along, to let him take control for a moment, and trusts Kazuya to not be a pain, to let him regain his courage, is enough to make Kazuya feel weak in the knees.
Because this is Eijun.
Because Eijun was his first pitcher.
Because Eijun is the first pitcher to ask him to do breathing exercises with him on the mound.
And to the catcher there’s something achingly beautiful about that.
So he takes a deep breath with his pitcher, and he grins when the sun returns. And they take another. And another. And some of the tension leaves his shoulders.
They share a grin.
And when Kazuya returns to the shadow of the batter, he’s relieved to find that there’s a lot more spirit behind Eijun’s pitches, a lot more break in his idiosyncratic pitch.
"One more out."
"One more out."
"One more out."
Kazuya can't think.
It's the bottom of the ninth, two outs. They're one point ahead. Nationals is so close.
And he can't think.
Shirakawa walks up to the plate, looking grim and determined. The last obstacle.
This is what they've been fighting for. This is what they've broken their backs for and cried blood over. This is what they have to do to ensure they get to play baseball with their senpai again, what they have to do to prolong the summer.
And it's just—
"One more out."
"One more out."
"One more out."
He can actually taste the pressure in the air, thick and intangible. Painting everything red.
His heart is in his throat, and his thoughts are being drowned out by the crowds.
Vaguely he knows that there's something terribly wrong.
Shirakwa leans over the plate, bat obscuring Kazuya's view of the pitcher on the mound. Just like how Carlos had done it...
It's just three pitches and then they'll be off.
He knows Eijun can do this.
They've all worked too hard for this. So much went wrong. They've been so unlucky. But it's just one more out. And he wants to share this victory with everyone.
For the first time.
He calls for an inside pitch.
"One more out."
"One more out."
"One more out."
It's slightly off but it landed in the zone and Shirakawa didn't hit it.
"One more out."
Two more pitches.
He can't see the sun.
He should be able to see it so clearly, but the pitch was almost wild, this time, going straight off course.
Eijun has been doing fine all game. There have been very few hiccups and only two walks. Impressive and beyond expectation considering their opponent. Considering his level of experience as a pitcher.
"One more out."
"One more out."
But something is wrong now.
Kazuya can see it in the terrible twist of Eijun's mouth. In the way he glances at the Inashiro dugout, at Mei. His eyes, wide with unease, aren't focusing on Kazuya at all. His shoulders are tense, and his mouth twists into a nightmarish grimace that should show determination.
He's panicking. Everything around him is culminating in this moment, and he's running away. He's terrified of the batter. The pressure is becoming so heavy that it's breaking him.
As soon as the words leave his mouth a hush falls over the stadium. The crowd is still yelling but Kazuya can't hear them. Why had he forgotten he could take time-outs? Why had he let himself become impatient?
He signals to Kuramochi and the others to stay where they are, and takes a deep breath as he pulls off his helmet.
"You look like you're about to faint under the pressure."
It's meant to be teasing, but the closer he gets the less he means it that way.
Eijun's eyes grow wide, and he scrambles. "I'm sorry! I meant for it to be more accurate!"
Kazuya blinks and pauses, taken aback by the vehement apology. "What's with you? You've never apologised to me before..."
He can feel the jittery panic of his pitcher so clearly here and knows he should've acted sooner. "In fact. I'm the one who should apologise to you."
Big eyes, catty and confused, blink at him. Once. Twice. Several times. And Kazuya wants to laugh.
"I didn't know you thought I was infallible, Eijun," he teases, stepping into his personal space, a catty smirk stretching his lips. "Thank you."
Heat rushes Eijun's face. "It's not a compliment!" He snaps. "And anyway! Shouldn't you be scolding me, or something?"
Jumpy and easily distracted, he glances at Shirakawa behind Kazuya and then at Mei. And the tension returns, fear simmering in the air, piercing Kazuya's skin with a thousand needles.
"That depends," Kazuya hums, purposefully keeping his tone light.
Brown eyes flicker back to him. "On what?"
It's still there. The jitter in his movements, the nervousness. And Kazuya knows something is still awfully wrong. Eijun is still hanging on by some kind of thread, but it's stopped unwinding. Which means Kazuya has to tug, he has to pull his pitcher, his friend, out of the hole. Back onto secure land.
But if he tugs the wrong way the thread will break...
“On why you're running away."
Kazuya narrows his eyes at the look of shock on Eijun’s face. His mouth falls open and his complexion grows paler still, under the summer tan, eyes shimmering with open vulnerability.
And then he lets out a strangled cry of frustration. “I am not running away! How dare you, Miyuki Kazuya! I would never run away. Do you think I’m a coward?!”
Enraged he grabs Kazuya by the shoulders and shakes him. It’s awkward because of the guard and the sneer on his face falters.
“I’m not running away,” he says. “How could I? How can I when the upperclassmen’s summer is on the line? How can I run away when koushien is right there? If —“
He cuts himself off, hands sliding down Kazuya’s armor, settling where he’s supposed to be able to feel a heart beating but can’t. The other falls away, into nothing.
And for a moment Kazuya can barely breathe. He’s heard other catchers talk of being incapable of breaking through the pitcher’s unbreakable will, the wall that separates them, but this is different. Eijun’s sudden vulnerability is pulling him in, a black hole of insecurities that he’s only ever noticed the edge of. Skirting around it, poking at it, and generally leaving it be.
But perhaps Seidou has only let those insecurities grow…
Perhaps he’s turned away too quickly, when he should have been boosting Eijun's confidence as a pitcher. Instead of being selfish and greedy for what is only on the surface, for the attention he can get by innocently pulling on the easy strings, ignoring the cause.
His fingers dig into Eijun’s bicep, the motion of support so natural he hadn't even realised he'd done it until he doesn't want to let go anymore.
“Why do we try to get to Koushien so badly? Why are they fighting so hard when we’re so close to winning? I don’t…”
He cuts himself off again and Kazuya thinks he finally understands. “You’re thinking too much.”
Eijun’s head whips up, eyebrows knitting over flashing eyes.
And Kazuya smirks.
He doesn’t hesitate when he lifts his hand to cup the back of Eijun’s neck, finders brushing away the soft strands of hair sticking to warm skin. And he softens, breath whistling past his lips, at the look of openhearted surprise on Eijun’s face, at the lack of resistance when he gently pulls him in and presses their foreheads together in an innocent gesture of comfort. “Stop thinking about the goal,” he says. “Focus on me, on my mitt. And trust me. You’re not pitching alone anymore.”
A smile tugs at Eijun’s lips, half un-certain, as if he’s not sure what’s dragging him forwards now. Kazuya smiles, eyes crinkling, and feels a thrill run up his spine when Eijun naturally returns it.
His hand slips from the back of Eijun’s neck, fingers tracing his throat, feather soft, and he glances at Mei in the shadow. “Look at him,” he says, lifting his mitt to cover his mouth. “He hates losing. Especially to me, though I guess with that sneer he doesn’t like losing very much to a first year southpaw either.”
Eijun follows his gaze to take in the seething ace pitcher.
His shoulder under Kazuya’s hand remains relaxed, body no longer tense. The stress, the fear, has left his body, and the trust he holds in Kazuya, revealed by this simple reaction, rekindles the catcher’s own confidence.
“Man, what a king he is,” Kazuya says, voice light and mischievous. “Talk about sulking like a big baby.”
Eijun splutters a laugh.
It’s completely unintentional, and the heat rises to his cheeks. But when he looks at Mei again, another laugh bubbles out of him. Kazuya grins. His heart feels heavy in his chest, straining painfully against his ribcage, because Eijun never laughs. Not like this; silly, and bubbly and innocently amused. But it’s freeing when he does, especially on the mound. In this situation.
When he’d looked so lost only a minute ago.
It’s not just about trust anymore. It’s about communicating with a pitcher, who understands him and thinks the same way he does; a pitcher who loves to mess with the batters, who loves baseball, and has fun playing it with Kazuya. It’s a thrill he never wants to lose. And so he talks.
“Imagine ruining his day,” Kazuya says, nudging his pitcher conspiratorially in the side. “He’s going to throw the tantrum of the century.”
Eijun actually chokes on his laughter this time. He lifts his mitt to hide it as loud cheer escapes him. His eyes are closed and his smile lights up his face, beautiful like sunshine.
“Alright,” he says, when he calms down a little. He turns bright golden eyes on Kazuya, smile brilliant. Cheer back. His shoulders are relaxed and he looks confident again; the fear is gone. “You better be right about this, Kazuya.”
And nothing can hold them back now.
Kazuya laughs. “Trust me a little, would you?”
“How could I?! You got me into trouble with the coach so many times!”
“Don’t blame that on me,” Kazuya teases. “That was all your stupidity.”
“Who are you calling an idiot?!”
Kazuya laughs again. He laughs so hard his stomach cramps and he has to hold on to his pitcher for support. They can do this. They just have to take their time. Like they've always had to. They've come this far, separated and together, knowing that if they hone their abilities and use their heads they'll eventually get to have fun here, on the field, as one battery.
So when he straightens, and places his hand in front of his mouth again, he knows exactly what to say to get Eijun through the monster at the plate. It won’t be an easy match, but they can do it. Patience is key.
“If you need a timeout,” he adds when he’s done, words a challenge, “just shake your head.”
Eijun scowls at him and Kazuya grins. Because it means his pitcher trusts him to get him through it without making him feel insecure again.
“Let’s do this,” he says, and slams his mitt into Eijun’s chest. Hiding his heart from the world. “Partner.”
Happiness flushes the other boy’s face, lights up his eyes. And he smiles. Brilliant and beautiful. “Yes!”
That moment of bright sunshine stays with Kazuya for months afterwards. It's a victory. But it's something much more precious, a pleasure hidden close to his heart. Where nobody else can touch it.
Sometimes, when he cannot sleep, alone at night, he reexamines the memory. The privacy which exists only when everybody around him sleeps soundly, their minds far away, is exactly what he needs to give it the attention it deserves, to realize what he was probably always meant to realize.
At other times he'll reproduce it in the middle of the field or cafeteria, saying what he knows will make his pitcher's face light up, just in the right way. Most times he doesn't mean to. At other times he does. He’s greedy and selfish, now—might always have been just that. And before he knows it it becomes as much an impulse, something he cannot control, as bullying or teasing Eijun has always been.
And sometimes the image assaults him, unbidden, where he has no control.
For a moment, as he realises that Seikou's giant of a pitcher has every intention of tackling him to the plate, that moment of sunshine is all he can see. As pain blossoms unbearably in his side and wind rushes through his hair, the beautiful image of Eijun smiling brilliantly at him, cheeks flushed with pleasure and laughter in his ears, contorts horrifically into the reality of a paralysed pitcher on the mound, cracks carving deep and violent panic shining through.
His world narrows to that one image and the knowledge that he's seen his pitcher almost broken on the mound one time before.
Kazuya won't allow that now. He won't abandon Eijun alone on the mound, wont let him have this trauma when they’ve finally gotten this far. When they’re finally playing together, finally syncing as a battery.
Once, long ago, in a different time he'd sat alone in a window sill one winter night, listening to Eijun talking about his family. It’s snowing outside and EIjun is happily telling him about how he’d climbed the roof and pushed snow off of it so it had buried Wakana.
“But of course, grandpa didn’t like it all that much,” Eijun says, and Kazuya can actually hear him wincing as he shifts in his seat.
“What happened?” He asks, breathless and apprehensive; he knows he won’t like the answer.
He thinks about the old man who likes to discipline his only grandson.
He thinks about the beatings from his classmates.
He thinks about the pain in distance, about how passive it makes him. All he can do is listen. He can never interfere.
“Let’s just put it like this.” Eijun’s laugh dies with another wince. “I’m glad it’s snowing outside.”
It’s a hint that few could understand, a subtlety Eijun uses because he doesn’t want to admit that this is getting to him. That this was a breach in trust. But Kazuya understands, Kazuya understands because they both hate the rain and the snow. Wet weather means no baseball. And if Eijun is happy it’s snowing then that means he wouldn’t have been able to play baseball even if it weren’t.
It happens once or twice that Eitoku goes too far with his beatings, old-fashioned views on physical punishment and discipline difficult to wash away, and that one winter it had almost torn apart their chance of ever forming a battery. A pitcher’s shoulder and wrists are his lifeblood. There is nothing more important. And to Kazuya, whose sole purpose as a catcher it is to safeguard the welfare of his pitcher—to Kazuya, whose dream it has been to play in the big leagues with Eijun as his battery partner for as long as he’s been playing baseball—this act of violence was unforgivable.
More than the bullying.
More than the beatings from his own teammates.
This one phone conversation had instilled in Kazuya a hatred of violence that he’d never been capable of shaking.
The memories return now, as he lands, blinding pain exploding in his side, body tumbling completely out of his control. And in its wake the hatred returns, black and destructive. His sport. His pitcher. His shoulder. He'll allow nothing to rip them from his grasp. Especially not a naive first year from a minor team, who has no respect for baseball.
It numbs him, the darkness, as he rises on one hand, arm trembling from the strain, and he catches Seikou’s pitcher’s eye. The first year freezes with terror.
And it’s with vindictive pleasure bleeding into his veins that Kazuya thrusts his hand into the air.
“Are you okay, Kazuya?”
Eijun is jogging towards him a couple of minutes later, not quite sure where to put his hands, if he’s allowed to touch or not.
And Kazuya grimaces at the insecurity, the open vulnerability. “Are you kidding? I’m hurting all over,” he complains, whines. Theatric. Because if he doesn't, if he allows himself to think about the repercussions of his fall the hatred will taint his vision permanently red, and he won't be able to lead his team—his pitcher—back onto a secure path. “Be a good pitcher and carry your battery partner back, would you?”
“As if you haven’t traumatized him enough,” Kuramochi snaps and nudges him none-so-gently in the side so every bruise he's received screams in protest. “What a captain.”
And while he’s being herded off towards the dugout Eijun follows, still not convinced that he’s fine. Still fiddling and treading on his toes, and Kazuya knows he has to do something to help his pitcher regain his footing.
The home run does the trick perfectly, and it has the added bonus of paying Seikou’s pitcher back for his stunt.
For once he'd hit a perfect home run, and as he thrusts his fist into the air, he catches sight of Eijun in the dug-out, finds him as easily as if he'd been the only one there, and the smile on his pitcher's face is as powerful as the midday sun, blasting all hatred out of his mind and heart.
Kazuya leans heavily against Eijun half an hour later as they settle into their seats on the bus. The rest of their team members are chatting excitedly about the final, looking forwards to the rematch against Yakushi.
“You’re not really fine, are you?”
Kazuya glances up under his eyelashes at his partner and a smirk tugs at his lips. “I thought it was my job to nag.”
Eijun huffs. “Some of us only nag when it’s truly necessary.”
It doesn’t escape him that he’s keeping his tone low, voice smooth so the rest of the team won’t overhear them. At his heart, Eijun has always been sweet and considerate, always thinking of others before himself. Even now, his goal of becoming ace has little to do with himself, and everything to do with the people he abandoned to play with Kazuya. And because he knows Kazuya, because he knows how private he is, Eijun keeps his voice quiet in this confrontation, though his gaze trembles with concern.
“You know, I’d almost make the mistake of assuming you were implying something,” Kazuya drawls, “but I know you’re too stupid for that—“
“Hey! I’m trying to be considerate here! Take me seriously, would you?”
Eijun sulks and pouts and leans back in his seat so his shoulder shifts under Kazuya. New pangs of pain explode under his skin and he can't stop himself from wincing, breath whistling past his teeth as he gasps inaudibly.
Eijun’s eyes grow wide with fear and panic, but before he can say anything Kazuya shakes his head. He turns to meet his gaze directly. Don’t say anything. Please don’t make a big deal out of it.
I need you to trust me on this.
And his friend, his oldest friend, his first pitcher, reads him as only he has ever been capable of doing. He reads him and he bites his lip, lowering his eyes with doubt. And then he nods.
They stay silent for the rest of the trip home, and when Kazuya resumes their usual ritual of arguing over whether or not Eijun should act the Kouhai and take his bag, he only complains once before taking it.
“I suppose since you hit such a beautiful home run for once I can take it for you!” He quips at Kazuya and picks up his bag together with his own.
“Hey now,” Kazuya complains loudly, following him from the bus towards the dorm. “There’s no reason to be this cheeky. It ruins the effect of you acting obediently.”
“I’m not being obedient!” Eijun bites back loudly.
"Yeah, you are," Kazuya returns, sniggering and then wincing as new pangs of pain shoot through his side.
Whatever injury is remaining, it's not in his shoulder. But that doesn't mean it's a good thing he's still feeling it.
"Come on, cap!" Eijun says and nudges him along gently but urgently. In a quieter voice he adds "I think Kuramochi-senpai knows, so in return for getting you out of firing range please be honest with me."
Kazuya opens his mouth to protest, but whatever bullying words he'd planned wither in his throat at the sincerity in Eijun's eyes.
"Aw," he croons, nudging Eijun back and leaning on him momentarily. "I feel honoured, having an escort back to my room."
"Walk on your own!" Eijun protests, gently pushing at him with his free hand against Kazuya’s shoulder. "I'm already carrying your gear. It's heavy and I don't need your weight, too!"
Kazuya hums under his breath. It’s so odd, having somebody to rely on, somebody who sees through your stunts and your lies, and still respects your decisions. It’s not new, but it’s the first time since Eijun had showed up at Seidou that there’s been a reason for Kazuya to attempt to lick his wounds in private. The contrast between now and his middle school days are stark, obvious in their effect and he feels warm, as if he’s been covered by an old blanket. Or is wearing a comfortable sweater, the type he’s had forever.
The difference between Eijun’s actions and his words doesn’t escape him either.
“Ei-chan,” he whines as soon as the door closes to his room, leaning so heavily on Eijun that the pitcher flails and squawks in protest. “It hurts all over, carry me.”
“Gyah! Your chair is right there!” Eijun snaps, dropping both bags without ceremony. “There’s no reason to use me as furniture!”
“Oi,” Kazuya complains, drawing out the sound and not giving in. “That’s my precious catching gear in there. You don’t want your catcher getting hurt so he can’t catch for you anymore, do you?”
“You’re already hurt!”
Kazuya winces at the screech, but before he can start protesting at how loud Eijun can be, he starts nagging again. “I swear, what am I going to do with you?” he complains as he fumbles to get a hold of Kazuya. “I’m not going to let you ignore this, like you usually do either. Or downplay it for that matter.”
The arm under his, which had been newly maneuvered so Eijun can help him to the bed, pushes uselessly against Kazuya’s sudden stillness.
Slowly, he pulls away, wincing.
It would be so much easier to say no if Eijun’s eyes weren’t huge and frightened.
He’s used to pain. He’s used to licking his wounds on his own. But seeing how much this has affected his friend, his pitcher, his partner, is so much more unbearable.
Kazuya’s fingers dig into Eijun’s shoulder, and he forces himself not to look away. “You promised not to say anything.”
Eijun’s eyes grow impossibly wider at the accusation in Kazuya’s tone and he fumbles. “I— you’re—“
He stops himself and glances away, long eyelashes fluttering over suntanned cheeks, freckles splattered like a network of stars.
"Tomorrow is the final," Kazuya says, imploringly. Begging. "You know what happens to a team when the captain breaks down. It's—"
Eijun whips around to face him, and the expression he wears shuts Kazuya up so fast, air whistling past his lips in a silent intake of breath. "I know. I saw. But you're not falling apart, Kazuya. You tumbled through the air and when you landed—"
His voice dies on his tongue, cut off suddenly by the emptiness in his vocabulary, a lack of words that can describe what took place at the plate. He shakes his head, as if to shake the emotion, but it trickles down his cheeks instead, unbidden. And Kazuya—
Kazuya knows Eijun is a crybaby.
But Eijun never cries for himself unless he's angry. Eijun cries for others. For senpai who suffer injuries, for equals whom he’s overtaken, for his female friends when they get hurt. For characters in old novels. Because his heart is too big, because he's so full of beautiful emotions that they overflow. But now he's crying for Kazuya. Now he cries because Kazuya got hurt, because he fears for Kazuya. For his future and for theirs.
And while Kazuya has had the suspicion that Eijun has cried for him before this is the first time he’s seen it. This is the first time he’s ever seen anybody be that concerned for him.
Ignoring the pain in his side he moves closer again, nose resting against a shoulder still dressed in white. Eijun’s fingers dig into his back and drags him closer still, as Kazuya’s arms settle around his side.
It’s warm. Like hugging the sun.
And Kazuya thinks he never wants to let go.
“If anything goes wrong tomorrow,” he says, “you can tell the coach immediately. But until then… please trust me.”
There’s a sniff, and he bites his lip as Eijun pulls him closer, painfully. But he manages to stifle the pain well enough, and his pitcher never needs to know.
(It’s not like he minds anyway).
“Kazuya,” Eijun says finally. It’s muffled and should have been difficult to hear, but this close Kazuya has no problems picking up the words. “It’s not just about me trusting you. It’s about you trusting me.”
These are words he doesn’t expect. This is a demand he’s never heard from Eijun, never even considered. And so he opens his mouth to protest—for a catcher to not trust his pitcher, for a pitcher to believe he doesn’t trust him, and it’s Eijun of all people—
But his pitcher cuts him off. “No.”
He pulls away, gently, carefully, so as not to harm Kazuya, and glowers at him, petulant and defiant. “Do you think I don’t notice these things? The way you have Furuya pitch, what you’ve said to him all this time. You don’t trust him.”
“What are you—“
“Who tells their pitcher not to think on the mound?”
“That’s because he can’t relax when—“
Even as he irritably goes on, his hands are guiding Kazuya so he can rest his arm over Eijun’s shoulder.
“I know we’re both first years and that we have far to go, and I know you’ve never actually worked with a pitcher that’s trusted you and wanted to work with you before. But we’re friends, we’re supposed to be partners. And we’ve always had a shared goal beyond Seidou, right?”
This is most likely what they call a wake up call, Kazuya thinks. Having every flaw, weakness, insecurity in his character so blatantly, factually pointed out to him, used to reason with him, is as bad as a punch in the stomach. It erupts seemingly out of nowhere, and yet he knows that it’s been coming for a long time. And especially coming from Eijun he cannot sidestep it or deny it; his pitcher simply knows him too well.
But there’s one thing Eijun is wrong about…
“Furuya aside,” Kazuya says, smiling fondly up at his pitcher now that he’s sitting down. He’s staring stubbornly at Kazuya, golden eyes flashing like the sun, and there’s no discomfort, no insecurities left. “I’ve trusted you for a while.”
“No! I mean, how can you even—“ Eijun blinks. “Excuse me, what?”
And Kazuya laughs. “Were you expecting me to say no?” He teases.
Eijun splutters, cheeks going pink. “What else was I supposed to expect when it’s you I’m talking to?!”
“Hey now,” Kazuya says, half complaining, half teasing. He feels lightheaded. This isn’t the first time Eijun has flushed around him, but this is one of the first time it’s due to praise rather than criticism. It’s adorable. “Perhaps you’re the one who needs to trust me a little more.”
“On the field is enough,” Eijun declares callously as he flops down on the bed besides Kazuya. His blush subsides easily now that he’s managed a retort and Kazuya feels, selfishly, like he’s had a toy stolen from him.
Kazuya frowns and complains, dragging social protocol into the argument as Eijun protests. They bicker back and forth, nudging each other as they go, and it’s warm and familiar. And while the pain doesn’t go away, for a moment he can forget how dangerous it is, how significant, how dangerous, it can be for his future. For their future.
“Since when?” Eijun asks when they’ve calmed down, yelling murdered by Zono in the next room over.
“Since when have you trusted me on the mound?”
Kazuya glances at him, at eager curiosity that could never be hidden behind a hesitant, boyish smile, and he knows, even if he wants to run away, he can’t. So he reaches up and ruffles Eijun’s hair, smiles, and says.
“Since you asked me to.”
He lets Eijun pull his hand away, fingers brushing, and straying. Staying. Until it’s settled in his hand, restlessness and greed hidden under his skin.
“What do you mean?”
“Getting senile in your old age, eh, Eijun?”
“I don’t want to hear that from you!”
Kazuya chuckles, the laugh almost a purr in his throat. “During the Nanamori match, remember?”
It’d been a close call, that one. And if Eijun hadn’t come through, finally pitching reliably to the outside when it had caused him so much trouble in the former matches, if Eijun hadn’t demanded Kazuya’s trust in that moment, they would not have been able to overcome a batter that had so thoroughly hit every last one of his inside pitches.
“What?” He asks, when Eijun just stares at him, eyes wide.
“You told me to, didn’t you?”
“Well… yes— I mean, no! But…” He hesitates, smile trembling across his lips. Touched. “I didn’t know it’d been that long.”
Kazuya sighs and leans against his pitcher, hand twisting so his thumb can trace the inside of the other boy’s wrist, a subtle caress. “Well. I’d like to say it was easy. You didn’t do a very good job until then, and you were a complete mess during the spring and summer tournaments, but—“
“Hey!” Eijun squawks indignantly. “That was uncalled for!”
Kazuya sniggers. “What? It’s the truth!”
“Careful now. Perhaps I should tell Kuramochi about your rotten language.”
Eijun gasps. “You wouldn’t!”
And Kazuya laughs, leaning in to catch a golden gaze with no intentions of letting go. “I would.”
How could he not protect this? How could he not take that blow at the plate, and try to hide the injury that followed, when his pitcher is making all those faces at him now because of it. He could no more have remained standing, could no more have stepped aside for Seikou’s pitcher and break the trust of his own pitcher, than he could have wiped the brilliant smile off Eijun’s face.
Of course, he knows now that this is about more than protecting the mound, about more than following his duty as a catcher. It’s about defending the mound and the team, as a combination. And if he can trust his pitcher tomorrow, and he’s going to, then they can get through this.
Kazuya hides a smile with a complaint, as they argue, and twists his wrist again so that their fingers link. And as Eijun’s hold on his own hand tightens, as he raises his voice, he thinks that he doesn’t have to hide anything anymore.
Not when he has such a strong pitcher, friend, partner, at his side to help him make the right choices.
‘Did you know the first novel to ever be written is Japanese?’
Kazuya sighs and pockets the note. This is the third today, and he’s starting to wonder how Eijun manages to set them up.
He glances at the empty flower vase by the door of the classroom and decides that there are no flowers to be found in the courtyard on this side of fall. Perhaps if he’s fast he can corner the pitcher as he leaves his room before practice.
From the moment he’d joined Seidou baseball team until their first off-season the notes had never really stopped appearing. Even during the training camps from hell they had remained more or less frequent, and when they'd been separated over New Years Eijun had decided to send pictures of them instead. Their topics would range from anything to nothing, a thought on a novel, a new idea for practice, or a fact. More often than not they'd be numerous and downright ridiculous, irritating and obnoxious, much like Eijun himself.
‘Did you know Yamanashi would have remained free of Oda Nobunaga’s reign if their general hadn’t died of a common cold? Isn’t that amazing, Kazuya? Such a mighty warrior and what did him in was just a cold! Perhaps we should keep an eye on the coach.’
‘I’ve officially lost my phone, Senpai. You’re going to have to talk to me in person from now on. Or we could start writing letters again.’
“What’s with the sudden use of proper language?” Kazuya demands, waving the piece of paper in front of Eijun’s face when he slides the door to the empty changing room open.
Eijun jumps at his unexpected appearance and Kazuya sniggers.
“I thought you usually threw those out, as coldhearted as you are,” he retorts, side-eyeing Kazuya.
He would probably be offended if he couldn’t see the quirk at the edge of Eijun’s lips. The little brat has gotten better at his poker faces. Not that they usually last long.
Eijun imitates the tragic look of affront on Kazuya’s face. “Yes. No respect for our ancient tradition at all. Sometime I wonder if I really am just entertainment for you.”
As it so often happens these days Eijun manages to completely disarm Kazuya completely. He pulls back in surprise, teasing words and predictable exchanges forgotten with a single comment. He’d expected something, banter back and forth, as usual, but the casual mention of the notes as ‘ancient tradition’ speaks of just why Eijun continues writing to Kazuya on paper.
He forgets too often that what Eijun does, and how Eijun feels, concerning their relationship is different from almost everybody else.
Kazuya has friends, of course he does. He considers his team his family, he considers his co-captains his closest friends. And he trust them. For the first time in his life there are people around him who respect and admire him, who include him because they want his company. It makes him feel at ease, makes him feel light and playful and safe. It makes baseball fun and thrilling and absolutely addicting, but…
But Eijun is different. Eijun will always be different. Because he cares. Because he got angry when others hurt Kazuya, because Eijun cried with frustration at not being able to help, because Eijun laughs at his jokes and takes his bait, and because Eijun doesn’t care about Kazuya’s shitty personality, doesn’t judge him.
Because they grew up together, apart.
And the fact that caring for, and maintaining, and protecting that relationship, is so natural to Eijun means the world to Kazuya.
“You do know it’s much easier to communicate by phone these days, right?” is what he says, and throws an arm around Eijun’s shoulders.
The pitcher, who had been pulling shoes out of his bag by his locker, promptly drops both bag and shoes with a squawk of indignation at the extra weight leaning heavily on him.
“Kazuya!” He exclaims and twists slightly to glower at him, humor gone. “First of all, didn’t you just complain about my note? The note that says I don’t have a phone right now?!”
“Oh, yeah,” Kazuya says, trying to ignore how close Eijun suddenly is, skin no longer quite as dark, but still sun kissed. Faint freckles touch the bridge of his nose and his lips push up in a near-pout. “I was wondering about that. How exactly did you break it?”
“I didn’t— stop assuming things!” Eijun hisses, finger digging into Kazuya’s school uniform, poking him in the ribs. It’s difficult not to squirm. “Kuramochi-senpai stole it!”
Kazuya blinks at his pitcher, so close, mind reeling.
Eijun’s never been good at replying to texts. That’s why they’d kept the letters frequent even after they’d both had cellphones, or stuck with phone calls when they both had the time. The infrequent use of his phone had only gotten worse when he’d started attending Seidou, and while that could be chalked up to longer, harsher practice sessions and more demanding classes, they both know better.
The hilarity of the situation is not lost on Kazuya and he chortles, fingers digging into Eijun’s dress shirt, forehead thumping on his pitcher’s shoulder and he laughs.
“Aotsuki is going to murder the both of you when she finds out.”
Eijun bristles. “It’s not my fault! Don’t you dare tell her!”
Kazuya sniggers and twists his face just a little, nose brushing Eijun’s neck. “Maybe,” he teases, because it’s easier to bully him than push a boundary so close to breaking.
He isn’t disappointed.
Not that he ever is, Kazuya thinks as he smiles mischievously, adoringly, up at his pitcher whose cheeks are pink again.
The notes continue, and now that Kazuya knows what they mean to Eijun, he begins to return them.
It’s not exactly a conversation. It probably won’t ever be, but more often than not he finds that it can be used as a tool to (get attention) bully Eijun.
“Who do you think you are?!” Eijun snaps, slamming Kazuya’s door open before his alarm clock has even dragged him out of sleep.
It’s not unusual behavior, not really. Not after this long, but it still makes Kazuya snigger into his pillow.
Eijun has spent the last couple of months waking Kazuya before breakfast, in the hopes of early morning practice sessions. Kazuya indulges in them on occasion, often enough that his pitcher keeps coming back—an excuse, a ploy, so he’ll get to see Eijun at first light—but more often than not he turns around in bed and grins sheepishly, boyishly down at his pitcher and tells him to go practice with the net or go back to sleep (“It’s barely five!” “Liar! It’s ten minutes past!”).
The night before he’d sat outside on his own, sleep eluding him as it occasionally does. It had been one of the few nights when he’d been alone: Eijun usually has a sixth sense for when Kazuya has problems sleeping, just as Kazuya has one for Eijun’s sporadic bouts of insomnia. Quiet he has plenty of in those moments of privacy in the chill darkness, but alone there is no warm shoulder beside his, no nose in his hair or fingers digging into his jersey pockets for simple intimacy, and it gives his mind too much freedom to wander so that sleep eludes him too effectively.
On his way back he’d made a snap decision to place a post-it note on Eijun’s door, laughing to himself, thoughts of the pitcher chasing away unnecessary worries and the constant near-burnout keeping the Seidou regularss on their toes.
Don’t wake me tomorrow. I’m not going to play catch with you.
And, of course, it meant Eijun had come running as soon as he’d gotten up.
“Don’t laugh! I’ll just make Okumura catch for me instead.”
Kazuya holds his breath, waiting, and is rewarded with a sleepy “shut up, senpai” from the bunk below his own.
Kazuya wonders how he manages not to burst a lung, laughing as he is.
In the end he lets Eijun drag him off for early warm-ups and stretches (“No more! The coach has you on a set regimen!”).
It’s a comfortable set of exercises this early in the morning, easy and etched into his bones, habits he’ll never shake. He doesn’t need to think about what he’s doing, and it leaves his mind free to wander.
Eijun is quiet throughout these exercises, as he often is, and it’s only the ones he needs help for where he actually interacts with Kazuya.
“You’re doing it wrong,” he complains, snap in his voice though it’s missing his usual volume.
“I don’t want to hear that from you,” Kazuya says, as he puts pressure on Eijun’s tibia so he’s forced to bend his knee and they’re suddenly closer than necessary. “You’re the idiot here, not me. I know exactly how to—“
Eijun squawks in indignation and glowers at him. “I’m not an idiot! And I’m the one who has to do these twice every single day, so I think I would have understood it by now!”
Kazuya sniggers and adjusts his footing so he’s more comfortable, palm sliding up a little to rest on Eijun’s knee. He can feel the the muscle shifting beneath him, tensing as Eijun pulls up and—
“See?” His pitcher demands impatiently and grasps Kazuya’s hand. There are scratches under his palms, eternal blisters and rough skin, a sign that he’s been spending more time with his bat than usual.
He pushes Kazuya’s hand down his leg again, to just above his ankle and Kazuya is roughly pulled out of his own musings at the motion, looking up, nose nearly brushing Eijun’s cheek in the process, foreheads almost colliding.
His glasses slide down his nose and he’s powerless to correct them.
Kazuya feels Eijun’s breath ghosting across his skin, an indiscernible detail, almost lost on him for the big golden eyes widening, caught in Kazuya’s own gaze. Beatiful like the sun, like the ace on the mound, like perfect pitches. Red blooms across Eijun’s cheeks and down his throat and Kazuya’s gaze is dragged along tanning skin, already darkening under the reemergence of the spring sun, and down along a sharpening jaw.
To Eijun’s lips.
Somebody draws in an unsteady breath, but Kazuya doesn’t know who it is.
He can still feel Eijun’s hand on his, fingers sliding across his palm in an unintended caress as he relaxes.
There are things Kazuya wants that he tries not to think about. Things he's wanted for months or years that he thought he’d never get to have. Things he thought were out of his grasp forever.
They’ve been friends always. Been partners a lifetime ago, and now again. It’s a sacred relationship, the one between the pitcher and the catcher, and he would never dare to push at the balance that exists, the trust and commitment.
He loves playing baseball with Eijun, after all. It’s so much fun, so much more challenging, and there are always surprises, always new ways for his pitcher to grow beyond his expectations and amaze him. How could he ever risk upsetting what they have with selfish feelings and desires? With his own greed?
But here he is, here they are, here Eijun is, hesitating and glancing down at Kazuya’s lips before looking back up again, embarrassed, uncertain.
And suddenly there is hope fluttering in Kazuya’s stomach.
“I—“ Eijun begins, grasping for their old status quo. “You’re supposed to—“
He lets out an exasperated sigh and lets go of Kazuya’s hand. And then, as only Eijun has ever been capable of changing the game, he uses his free hand to push himself up a little more, almost kneeling in front of Kazuya, and kisses him on the corner of his mouth, quick as a peck, as a dream.
And then he pulls back, accusation in his eyes. “Now it’s your turn!”
Kazuya blinks at him in astonishment.
And then he grins, mischief and hope making him feel freer than he has in a while. “We’ll see,” he croons, and Eijun squawks.
Eijun has to hold back a snicker when Narumiya Mei kicks the plate on his way back from his at-bat.
The sun hangs, heavy and unforgiving, above his head. The summer tournament is still at stake, their revenge is still not certain, but it’s hilarious, really.
He’d been worried last night, had paced his room until Kuramochi had kicked him out. Then he’d paced the outdoors hallway until Kazuya had found him and dragged him off for a game of late-night catch to talk things out.
What if he’d break again?
What if they’d overpower his pitches?
They might be faster now, have more life. But he isn’t the only one that’s improved since last summer. He’s seen the videos after all.
The ace number is still fresh on his back, or so it feels even if he’s had it for months. Almost a year now. He feels like a child again, at the prospect of meeting giants, people of talent with years of experience on him.
But Kazuya had sat down, guarding his plate as usual. He’d slammed his fist into his mitt and thrust out his arms in the universal “I’ll catch anything you throw at me so relax” sign, and Eijun had taken a deep breath, and pitched as usual.
And Narumiya Mei—Carlos, and Shirakawa—had been powerless to hit his pitches.
They’d been well prepared for that, and Eijun hadn’t seen the other pitcher start to lose his composure until Kazuya had started playing with him.
The Numbers are such an advanced system, a style that Eijun could only have come up with together with his catcher, his best friend, his partner. And he’s proud of it. It makes him feel powerful and confident, and it makes him fall even more in love with his sport with every difficult pitch, every whoosh of a batter swinging against his will and hitting air.
It’s empowering to see his catcher unable to keep his grin at bay in the shadow of a batter. It’s exhilarating to see the way Haruichi grows more loose with the knowledge of imminent victory, the way Kuramochi seems to run faster.
This battery—Eijun and Kazuya—has grown invincible. What they couldn’t do last year they are pulling off with ease this year. Eijun is an asset to his team, the type of ace he never thought he would become.
Not that he doesn’t break a sweat. Not that there aren’t hiccups on the way. But it doesn’t matter.
Not when Narumiya loses his shit at the home run Eijun hits off his change-up.
Not when Kazuya cackles a laugh as Eijun makes it back and holds his hand up for a high five.
He grabs Eijun’s hand on his way past to his catching gear a moment later, squeezes and lets go. A quiet, unnoticeable sign of appreciation. And Eijun follows without really thinking much of it.
“I had an interview with a scout yesterday,” Kazuya says in an undertone. “From one of the pro teams.”
Eijun looks up in surprise. “That’s early,” he says, quickly averting his eyes. He feels light, like he’s not standing on secure ground. It’s inevitable, their separation, and he’s happy for Kazuya. He tells himself he is.
“It’s a good team. Right here in Tokyo.”
“Is that so?”
Why is he mentioning this now anyway? He’s trying not to let it get to him, and irritation runs like electricity down his spine.
Kazuya hums, and finally Eijun looks up into mischievous amber eyes.
“They said their primary pitcher will be retiring in a couple of years,” his catcher says, fingers playing at the collar of Eijun’s shirt, brushing a strand of hair out of the way. “So they’ll be looking for a pitcher to groom before he steps down. Not just a catcher.”
Victory, Eijun reflects, has never tasted quite as sweet.
Even if it’s only the semi-finals and they’ll meet Inashiro at Nationals again (it almost feels like a practice match). Revenge has been dished out in appropriate measures without dirty tricks or injuries. They’ve taken back what was theirs, and they’ve dealt Inashiro a blow for what they did to their upperclassmen.
It’s made infinitely better as Kazuya sprints laughingly down the pitching line at him, that Eijun gets to meet him in the middle in a bone crushing hug for the entire stadium to see.
He laughs as he opens his bag after their shower. His jersey has mysteriously vanished, replaced by a new one with a little extra detail on the back, and the ace number missing. Inside its folds he finds a message from Kazuya.
Well played, idiot.
Chris-senpai and Jun-san and Tetsu-san are all there to greet them at the gates, way before the journalists and fans, and they’re all in their turn engulfed in hugs, had their hair ruffled and told not to get too cocky. They still have to defeat Ichidai tomorrow.
It makes the experience all the better, this unsaid thank you. The fact that their senpai came to see them play in spite of the potential loss they might have faced. In spite of the potential repetition of pain. Especially when they have their own games to play for their own teams.
Summer will be long and full of baseball.
The two team busses are close by each other and Eijun calls out to Mei on his way, waving at the other, more sour pitcher to get his attention.
“Thanks for a great game!” He yells cheerfully when Narumiya shoots him a cool look. “Lets do it again soon!”
And before Narumiya can reply Eijun turns his back on him so he can see the letters on his back.
Keep swinging. My catcher likes the breeze.
His team guffaws.
Narumiya screeches in outrage.
And Eijun nudges Kazuya in the side as he sits down on the bus.
“What do you mean ‘idiot’?” He demands.
Kazuya sniggers. “That’s what you get for doubting yourself?”
“Hah? Like you hadn’t thought about it too! Potential catastrophe.”
The humor leaves Kazuya’s expression as quickly as it had arrived and the look he grants Eijun is so heavy he forgets to breathe. “I never doubted you for a second.”
And before Eijun can properly react to Kazuya’s words his catcher has thrown an arm around his shoulder and roughly pulled him closer to ruffle his hair, laughing when Eijun protests.
“So have you thought about it?” hes catcher asks.
Eijun batters his hands away and sits up. He glowers at Kazuya when the catcher grins in victory. There’s only one answer he can give, really. “We’ll have to see,” he declares instead, huffing. “I did want to study lit at a good uni while I had the chance.”
“Hey. Is that all I’m worth?” Kazuya laments. His hold on Eijun changes to something more intimate, something closer. Warmer.
“How can I possibly know when you never play catch with me,” Eijun sings, and laughs at the baleful look from Kazuya. So close, hair still damp and eyes alive, bright with the fever that only belongs to victory.
Kazuya smirks and leans in close, nose trailing a fine line under Eijun’s jaw, breath trickling down his neck, a caress. “You have a shitty personality, you know that?”
It’s difficult not to laugh. “Where do you think I got it from? With all these years of exposure to your shitty personality!”