In all honesty, Carlos doesn’t understand what Miyuki’s doing in university. From what he knows, Miyuki had half a dozen offers—at least, judging by the way he had scouts and journalists alike trailing after him like lost puppies after any game he so much as breathed in. But he’s there at tryouts, he’s there at the invitational ceremony, and he’s there on the first day of practice.
If he were Shirakawa, he would’ve probably popped a vein decrying the wasted opportunity to go pro, and then sneered at Miyuki for taking up extra space in the team, and then grumbled in any instance they would’ve had to work together. Miyuki chokes around the mouthful of water he’s gulping down when Carlos brings it up after training one day.
“It’s a good thing you’re not Shirakawa, then,” Miyuki snorts, though his eyes are amused, and not in the slightest bit offended. Carlos likes that about him. “My pitchers already have it out for me. I’d be seriously outgunned if the shortstop hated me too.”
Carlos neglects to mention that under the thin veneer of distaste, Shirakawa regards Miyuki with a hefty-bordering-on-unhealthy amount of respect. “Good thing,” he agrees mildly.
“How is that guy anyway?”
“Oh, you know,” Carlos smirks. “Still working at kicking everyone else’s ass.”
“And succeeding,” he confirms, because Shirakawa’s always been very good at that.
Miyuki grins, all teeth and intent. “We’ll play Keio in a month, you know. I assume he’ll be starting.”
“Then you better be ready, hm?”
Miyuki breaks off into laughter again, and Carlos finds himself tracing the subtle lines around Miyuki’s eyes. Ten years or so and those lines will carve themselves deeper in his temple, mark their territory around the dip of his brow, and maybe then laughing will make Miyuki look softer, not edged and sharp and devastatingly handsome, but Carlos doesn’t think Miyuki would appreciate being told so.
And then Carlos has to stop and wonder about why he’s even considering Miyuki’s hypothetical laugh lines. And the bob of his throat as he polishes off the rest of his water.
“Good practice today,” Miyuki hums, as he swings his bag on his shoulder. They have two games on the weekend, and though they’ve been told to take a rest day, Carlos can’t imagine any of the first years skipping out on more training. “See you tomorrow.”
Carlos doesn’t know what prompts him to do it, but he stands as well, maybe a little too hastily. He’s always taken chances this way. “We’re going the same direction, right?” It’s not entirely a lie. Miyuki’s dorm is situated at the end of the engineering block, and Carlos only has to make a slight detour. “I’ll walk with you.”
If Miyuki’s surprised he doesn’t show it, just nods, brief and easy as he waits for Carlos to grab his things. They walk back, a friendly shoulder-width apart, bumping occasionally as they weave through the students meandering towards campus. Carlos’ hands are in his pockets when they cross into the residential area, anticipatory. He lingers effortlessly at the entranceway, testing the waters. Oddly, he isn’t nervous, but there’s an expectation in his chest, as if he’s standing at first base, ready to run at any given signal.
Miyuki’s smile is equal parts curious and considering when he waves him in.
Falling in bed with Miyuki the first time is a simple decision. He’s easy on the eyes, he’s willing, they’re both still running high on endorphins after practice; there’s no reason why they should stop themselves from blowing off steam. What Carlos finds unexpected, is just how simple it is for them to keep it up.
Like in between classes, when all Carlos wants to do is shake off the Econ formulas and theories banging around his head, he’ll text Miyuki, and they’ll take turns giving each other hurried blowjobs in Miyuki’s apartment before rushing off to their next lectures. Or after grueling practice matches, like against Keio, when Carlos spies the beginnings of frustration in the line of Miyuki’s shoulders when their pitcher flubs another call. He’ll follow Miyuki back, and spend time mouthing at Miyuki’s neck, his chest, the inside of his thigh, his cock, working him so pliant and relaxed that the furrow slips off his brow finally when he comes. Or late Saturday night, ditching a party that he finds boring within the first two hours, and showing up at Miyuki’s instead, slightly tipsy but keyed-up and restless, and letting Miyuki smoothen him out with his clever hands and wandering mouth.
They negotiate their encounters with little difficulty. Miyuki doesn’t talk much, even though Carlos counts it as a small win when he coaxes noises out of him, with two fingers up his ass and the other hand working at Miyuki’s nipple with enough pressure to border on pain. But after, Miyuki will grin at him, sated and cheeky as he staggers out of bed, offering to whip up something quick in the kitchen to share. Carlos’ eyes will follow Miyuki out the room, tracing the line of bruises he just applied down the side of one thigh, before he scrambles suit, setting the table for two and putting on an MLB game on his laptop for them to argue over. Which mostly leads to Miyuki watching longingly as Verlander pitches a fastball so deadly that the opposing batter doesn’t even know how to react, and then in a spurt of devious inspiration, scheming up increasingly questionable methods to edge their own pitchers on in the next game.
Carlos huffs, wry and amused, because there are lovers of the game, and then there is Miyuki, and apart from sleep and sex (if even that), Carlos doesn’t think there’ll ever be a time where Miyuki isn’t playing three-dimensional baseball in his head. He doesn’t mind, appreciates that even; after all, it was this drive and genius that attracted them all to Miyuki in the first place, left all of them strangely wanting when Inashiro failed to entice him into her arms.
(When Mei failed to entice him.)
He understands then, that this is no more than a warped extension of Miyuki’s baseball, finding other ways to relax and kill time and focus his intent, all to play better the next time he steps on the field. Easy isn’t a word he’d use for it, but Carlos tries to make it work.
So he relaxes into his seat, lets Miyuki talk over the game, and if his eyes drift from the Houston Astros’ play to Miyuki’s jaw, no one has to be any the wiser.
Practice continues the same as it did before. Miyuki is a shit to most everyone, save Ryousuke, who nobody dares to be a shit to, and most everyone rolls their eyes at him and tolerates it, because talent is never laughed at or unheeded at Waseda. Manaka’s pitches grow trickier and faster, their batting line-up continues to progress in an outstandingly ridiculous fashion, and Carlos falls into the habit of watching for Miyuki’s smirk at home plate when he calls for a nasty inside-ball.
So, not entirely the same as it was before. And Carlos makes the mistake of telling Shirakawa.
Who takes the news in such a peculiarly un-Shirakawa-like fashion that anxiety bubbles in Carlos’ chest. He almost retracts his words, fumbling for a way he can wave this off as a joke. He hadn’t stopped to consider how people who know them both would react, even while being uneasily aware that the Venn diagram containing the subset of people who know them both consists entirely of the label: ex-teammates.
One name in particular jumps out at him, with warning bells and signal flares bright enough to hurt his eyes, but Carlos doesn’t want to cross that bridge.
He assumed Shirakawa was a safer bet. Perhaps he assumed wrong.
“Okay,” Shirakawa nods, after several moments of awkward silence, in which he neither disdainfully questions Carlos’ taste in bed-warmers or cusses Miyuki out for once again making his existence known. For the first time ever, Carlos doesn’t know what he’s thinking. Most worrying, since Shirakawa has never had any problems making it clear to everyone exactly what he’s thinking.
“Okay,” he repeats uncertainly, for lack of anything better to say. “Wait, is it actually okay?”
Shirakawa looks at him incredulously. “Are you asking me?”
Carlos throws his hands up. “I guess?”
Shirakawa frowns at his glass, taking a careful sip, as if he’s far too sober for this conversation. Which Carlos presumes they both are. “You don’t need permission from me,” is what he settles on eventually.
“I know,” Carlos shrugs uncomfortably. “I’m just. I want you to know, I mean. I want—”
“Reassurance that you’re not doing something spectacularly wrong?” Shirakawa shakes his head here, amused, and the weird tension in the air breaks a little. “I can’t give you that. It’s Miyuki we’re talking about, or have you forgotten?”
Carlos snorts, but relief swamps him. Shirakawa trash-talking the catcher is something he’s used to, though he feels the need to defend Miyuki. A little. “He’s not that bad.”
“Sure,” Shirakawa says mildly.
“It’s been uncomplicated so far.”
Shirakawa rolls his eyes. “Uncomplicated is not a word I’d ever associate with fucking Miyuki Kazuya.”
Carlos stares at his beer. He’s unsure if Shirakawa means fucking Miyuki Kazuya as in the act or fucking Miyuki Kazuya as in the goddamn person. He decides he’s had too much to drink, and will probably wake up with a remarkable hangover tomorrow.
When mid-terms roll around, Carlos ditches the post-sex MLB games for online tutorials and last-minute cramming. Miyuki sniggers and calls him a nerd, but his meals become a little more elaborate, beef stew and miso soup and pickled vegetables, and they eat and study for a couple of hours, or in Miyuki’s case, eat and divvy his attention between mechanical diagrams and baseball reruns.
“Engineering?” Carlos questions disbelievingly once. Engineering coursework and baseball hardly go hand in hand.
Miyuki shrugs. “My dad,” is all he says, and Carlos pulls away instantly from the topic.
It’s not his fault he becomes absent-minded when school threatens to push everything un-Econ related out of his brain for lack of space. Carlos leaves his graphing calculator behind once, and discovers it missing twenty minutes before a written test comprising twenty percent of his grade. He panics, dialing Miyuki frantically as he prepares to run the length of campus back to the apartment in record speed.
But Miyuki stops him part explanation. In the background, Carlos hears him excusing himself hurriedly from a conversation. “You’ll never make it back on time for your test. Stay there. I’ll go get it.”
“What, are—are you sure?”
“Yes,” Miyuki insists, “where are you at? I’ll get it to you.”
That’s kinda sweet, Carlos thinks dumbly, as he fidgets outside the Econ building, and sure enough, he spots Miyuki seventeen minutes later, huffing and panting as he rounds the corner. He shoves the calculator into Carlos’ hands. “Good luck,” Miyuki says, out of breath and red in the cheeks like he just ran a marathon. Which is entirely what he did; Carlos doesn’t know how a campus can be so big sometimes, and it’s just. Really sweet.
Then again, forgetting his 105 lecture notes two days before an open-book exam. Carlos texts Miyuki, wondering apprehensively if he’s coming off as some lovelorn idiot leaving behind things on purpose for an excuse to show up. But at the door, Miyuki laughs easily and lets him in, making a snarky comment about his going memory, maybe he’s been hit by one too many dead balls, and Carlos forgoes studying for a good hour in favour of pressing Miyuki up against the wall and licking into him.
It’s his jacket he leaves this time. Normally Carlos wouldn’t care, but it’s his nicer leather jacket, the one he wears to go out, and they’re having a networking event for Business and Economics majors, and he kind of wants to look good.
Miyuki doesn’t question his appearance at the apartment again, but he does give him a careful once over when Carlos shrugs on the jacket. Carlos has his hair slicked back, dark jeans hugging his thighs; it occurs to him that this is probably the first time he’s dressed up in front of Miyuki. He hovers at the door, aware of Miyuki’s gaze on him.
“Like what you see?” he asks, feigning casualness. His skin itches for Miyuki’s touch, and he tips his head, exposing his neck like an invitation. It feels almost like he’s drawing a line for Miyuki to cross.
There’s a flash of something in Miyuki’s eyes. Carlos can’t place it, because Miyuki shifts back slightly as if uncertain, and for an awful moment, he imagines he’s said something wrong. But it’s gone in a second, replaced by a trademark grin, and then Miyuki surges forward, applying himself to leaving a lascivious bruise just under Carlos’ jacket collar.
The Waseda-Hosei game attracts multitudes. Fans, scouts, coaches, half the student population, teams from out-of-city, journalists, the works; the atmosphere is galvanizing, and Carlos can barely hear himself over the din of their crowd. Hosei’s got themselves a hell of a fresh crop this year, with Sanada at the helm and Mima at cleanup. Their third and fourth years are intimidating just to look at, and they’ve got a long line of coaches and managers watching severely from both the dugout and the stands.
“Scary,” Miyuki comments, though he looks anything but scared. Shoulders square, gait smooth, he’s at ease before a game always, regardless of who they play. Carlos tries to memorize how Miyuki looks whenever he first steps out on the diamond, with the sun blinding behind him, but it hits him differently each time, like light catching off a multi-faced piece of crystal. Today he looks piercing and dangerous, and Carlos feels it in his bones, the confidence not just to win but to rule.
(This is what Seidou had, and Carlos thinks he understands now why Mei reached so hard for him.)
The first two innings roll by painfully slow, with both teams treading water cautiously, pushing for weaknesses in non-existent cracks. Miyuki is switched in by the third, and Carlos pulse beats an anticipating staccato. He waits for a turn in the tide, waits for the beautiful slice of a grin behind the catcher’s mask, waits for a call no one else knows is coming.
It comes like lightning, three sublime changeups in a row, inside-outside-inside, and the flow of the game vicissitudes just like that.
The batters follow like thunder; Carlos hits harder, runs as if his feet don’t touch the ground. In the deciding ninth, when Ryousuke sends a ball strategically to the deep right, Carlos takes off like a shot, moves from first base to second to third, keeps going with caution to the wind, leaping the last six feet and sliding brutally to fourth, a mere second faster than Hosei’s throw back home. Baseball tastes like dirt in his mouth and bruised ribs and a furious burn in his legs, but Carlos delights in it, roars right back at the stadium with the crowd chanting his name.
Fist in the air, he turns back to the dugout and meets Miyuki’s gaze. The catcher’s frozen to the spot, an unfamiliar expression set in his face. He looks as if he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. His lips are parted, and his eyes are lidded with want. Carlos slowly puts together the intent Miyuki’s body is telegraphing, and suddenly, yearns to close the distance. Thinks, You spend too much time with your mouth not on me.
Post-match passes in a haze with him barely being able to concentrate. They shake hands with Hosei, and Carlos watches as Sanada grips Miyuki tight. Miyuki’s old teammates await him at the stands: Sawamura, of course, loud and so obviously bursting with affection, and the younger Seidou catcher from their last Koushien. He stands a careful space away, angled slightly behind Sawamura, but Carlos recognizes the longing in his solemn regard.
Adrenaline and desire make a heady cocktail, spurs him into blind action. He jerks forward, pulling at Miyuki, fingers tight around the wrist. Carlos wants them to know, wants Sanada, Sawamura, and the catcher with the pale-wheat hair to know just who holds Miyuki now, who has his attention.
Petty, Shirakawa would say disapprovingly, this isn’t like you, but Carlos is past caring. He doesn’t need to look to know they’re staring.
Miyuki considers him closely, before turning to the two and bidding them a quiet goodbye. “I’ll catch up with you all later,” he says gently, almost apologetically, and allows himself to be led away. Miyuki sits silent beside him in the bus all the way back to campus, a hair’s breadth between them. Only at the fork where their routes diverge does he speak.
“Yeah.” There would’ve only ever been one answer to that question.
It’s Miyuki who throws himself at him the moment the door is closed, kisses harder than he’s ever done before. He shoves Carlos none too gently against the wall, grappling at his clothes.
“Get this off,” he orders hoarsely, and Carlos’ hands shake in his haste to obey. “God, Carlos, you—” He breaks off, working open Carlos’ belt and pulling his pants down. Carlos has to struggle to keep up; his movements clumsy and uncoordinated compared to Miyuki’s singular focus. “Do you even know how you look? Out there, running like a fucking god, you, I could barely stop myself, I could barely—”
Carlos groans helplessly. This is new, the raw desire he hears in Miyuki’s voice, and he’s half hard just from Miyuki speaking like that, just from the hunger in Miyuki’s eyes, trained solely on him. “Go on then,” he rasps. “Do something about it.”
Miyuki does, taking his cock in hand and sucking at the tip, before plunging forward and swallowing him down. He jerks at the sensation around his length, warm and wet and insistent, and Carlos curls forward, his entire body reduced to a tingling nerve. He can’t stop himself from reaching down, grabbing at Miyuki’s hair roughly and guiding him forwards, backwards, the rhythm hypnotic and heady. Miyuki gags a little at first, throat struggling and working frantically, and Carlos spots a smear of wetness collecting at the corner of Miyuki’s eyes. But he doesn’t protest the handling, adjusting eventually and relaxing, hands finding purchase at Carlos’ thighs.
It’s intoxicating, this power he suddenly holds. “I’m not gonna last,” he gasps out, belatedly realizing he’s moments away from coming. “Miyuki.”
Miyuki pulls off, spit shiny at the corner of his lips, and Carlos feels his cock throb even harder. He wants to burn that look into his already over-heated brain. “I don’t need you to last,” he points out, amused. “I don’t see how that’s a merit in this situation.”
Even like that, on his knees sucking Carlos off, Miyuki manages to sound cocky. “Brat,” Carlos says fondly.
“Yeah,” Miyuki agrees, taking his cock in his mouth again, scraping lightly with his teeth and sucking all the harder as if to prove a point.
Carlos wasn’t lying; he comes down Miyuki’s throat without warning, trembling as the orgasm is wrenched through him. Miyuki swallows, moaning, and it’s gratifying to see the desperate buck of his hips. He releases Carlos’ thighs, where his fingers have dug imprints in them, and reaches down for his own neglected cock, hard and already leaking.
“No,” Carlos says, slapping his hand away, because as much as he wants to see Miyuki getting himself off, it doesn’t feel like enough today. There’s something different brewing between them, burning and fervid and charging the air. “Not like that. Let me take you to bed.”
Miyuki freezes, and Carlos sees the bob of his throat. His hands twitch by his sides. “What?”
Carlos wraps a hand around his elbow, tight and grounding. “I said, let me take you to bed.”
He’s close enough to hear the little exhale Miyuki gives. There’s a second of indecision, before Miyuki bends toward him willingly like a weathervane in the wind. “Yeah, I—alright.”
Carlos pulls him up, nudges him toward the bed. “On your knees,” he says. He hardly recognizes his own voice, low and commanding, and with the way Miyuki jerks and obeys, he must sense it too. “Bring your arms forward. I’m going to tie your hands together.”
“Oh,” Miyuki chokes out. He stretches out, ass in the air, shoulders pressed to the bed. The sight is almost scalding, the continuous line from the tips of Miyuki’s restless fingers to his dark eyes watching Carlos to the dip of his back to the swell of his ass to his quivering thighs to his splayed knees to his curled feet. “Okay, yeah, please.”
Carlos winds his discarded belt carefully around Miyuki’s wrists. He grabs a pillow and pushes it under Miyuki’s chest, making sure to alleviate the strain from Miyuki’s shoulders. All the while, he keeps a hand wandering across Miyuki’s body, as if a singular point of contact is needed at all times.
Miyuki shifts impatiently against his feather-light touches. “Carlos,” he grits out. “Carlos, c’mon.”
“Hush, babe,” he says, smiling a little when Miyuki jolts at the pet name. “I got you. Tell me if it gets too much.”
Miyuki pauses. “Concentricity.”
Carlos snorts, because of course Miyuki would choose an engineering term for his safe word. He settles himself between Miyuki’s knees, running his hands from the curve of his ass down to his thighs. “Who’s the nerd now?”
Miyuki’s laugh is high and breathy, and it trails into a yelp when Carlos finally bends down, licking a long stripe from perineum to hole. “Ah, fuck, Carlos, fuck—”
Carlos flattens his tongue, rewarding Miyuki with broad, generous strokes. Miyuki bucks back, hole fluttering, breathless sounds falling from his lips. His muscles are tight with tension, and Carlos remembers to smooth his hands down his sides, an anchor amidst all the stimulation. “Alright?”
“What, yes, don’t stop now, please—”
He parts Miyuki’s ass with his fingers, gives barely a warning before pushing his tongue in. Miyuki moans, loud and overwhelmed, and he trembles, as if his body can’t resolve to reject or welcome the intrusion. Carlos decides for him, holding Miyuki steady and pulling his hips back, fucking him deeper still. He swirls his tongue, feels the clench of Miyuki’s hole, tight and intimate.
“I wanna,” Miyuki says, and it occurs to Carlos that Miyuki hasn’t managed to form a coherent sentence for a while now. He can’t help feeling a little smug, reducing Miyuki—of all people, Miyuki, who has an answer to every question—to monosyllabic words and gasping noises. He’s straining against the belt, he can’t get the friction he needs in this position, can’t touch himself, can’t do anything but take whatever Carlos gives. “Carlos, I want—”
“Yeah, I got you,” he rumbles. “I got you, Kazuya.” He moves his thumb, thrusts it in together with his tongue, all the way up to his knuckle. He presses and curls his finger with every push in, searching out the cracks in Miyuki’s walls.
Miyuki releases a whine, broken and needy, the sensation almost too much to take. “Carlos, I can’t, c’mon, touch me, please, please touch me, let me come, ahh.”
It’s enough for Carlos, and he reaches down, grabs Miyuki’s cock with his other hand, so hard that it must be aching. It doesn’t take much; Carlos swipes his palm across the head of his cock, and then strokes once, twice, and Miyuki is shuddering, coming messily in his hand, sob buried in the back of his throat.
Miyuki flops forward, chest heaving, and Carlos blankets his body, reaching over for his bound hands. He unfastens the belt, tossing it haphazardly to the floor, before inspecting Miyuki’s wrists, rubbing gently at the faint marks. Satisfied, he collapses on his side, chest to Miyuki’s back. He’s feeling it now, expects Miyuki is too, the weariness from the match earlier and all the extra activity. He doesn’t want to make the trek back to his own apartment.
Miyuki surprises him when he mumbles, sounding close to sleep, “Stay the night. It’s late.”
Carlos worries his lip. He’s almost glad Miyuki’s back is to him, doesn’t want to see the expression Miyuki is making, though to be apprehensive now after all that they’ve done seems painfully backward. “Yeah?” He wants to be sure.
Miyuki shifts, presses back against him. His edges seem softer, somehow, like a fingerprint smudge on a camera lens, and Carlos cradles that image carefully in his head. He dares to rest a hand on Miyuki's hip. “Yeah,” Miyuki says.
“Mei’s in town,” Shirakawa tells him.
Carlos pauses in the middle of reheating the food Miyuki sent him back with on the weekend. He cups the phone between his ear and shoulder, doesn’t say anything back. Absently, he thinks about how good the fried rice still tastes after days of sitting in the fridge.
“I heard you.”
“Okay,” Shirakawa says haltingly. “We were thinking of going to Kawauchi this Friday. It’s near Waseda.”
“Yeah, I’ve been before.” With Miyuki, he doesn’t add, after practice when they’d both been starving and Miyuki decided he was too lazy to cook, because that isn’t in any way relevant to this conversation.
“Well, see you then.”
“If you say you don’t think you should come, I’m gonna come over to your training field and break your bat. I’ll know which one’s yours.”
That finally loosens him into laughter, because he can’t get out of the habit of wrapping green and yellow tape around the base of his bats, even though it makes them easy targets for Shirakawa’s ire. “I wasn’t going to say that.”
Carlos sighs. “I was going to say, maybe I should meet him before. Then he can decide if he wants me there on Friday.”
“You don’t answer to him,” Shirakawa points out, and Carlos feels a sudden surge of affection for them both; Shirakawa, for being stubbornly loyal, and Mei, for being someone Carlos would blindly follow even after all this time. “You don’t even have to tell him.”
Carlos doesn’t try to explain that there’s no way he can sit through food and round after round of drinks with Mei and not let it somehow slip out. They’re friends, and Carlos finds it hard keeping things from friends, especially those whom he stood together with at the top of the world. “I’ll let you know by Thursday,” he blurts out, and hurriedly hangs up before Shirakawa can argue.
I’ve got something to tell you sounds too ominous, and Hey, let’s meet sounds too flippant, and Carlos’ thumb hovers over the send button with enough indecision to make him late for class. When evening comes and he can’t put this off any longer, he hesitantly settles on Want me to show you around Waseda?
Maybe Miyuki’s already done that, brought Mei to their training field and played catch with him, and for some reason Carlos finds it hard to even harbour that train of thought, because in his mind it’s always been Mei and Kazuya the golden duo, two giant ships circling on a stormy night, they match and complement and are meant for each other and what can Carlos give a catcher anyway?
But Mei’s reply is almost instantaneous. Just a bunch of incohesive emojis, star-party hat-happy face-panda, and a Yayyyyyy at the end.
Surprisingly, Mei demands to be taken to the Economics building first. Carlos leads him to their student lounge, gleaming new from the renovations done last summer, and the classrooms the first years mostly use. Mei looks around imperiously before giving an approving nod, as if he were here to inspect if things were up to standard for an old teammate of his. There it is again, the rush of fondness, which leads to Carlos caving in and buying Mei a caramel pudding from the cafeteria after incessant badgering.
Dessert secured, Mei bypasses Waseda’s libraries and heads straight for the diamond. Carlos is glad they’re here late Thursday, when only a few stragglers are about swinging their bats.
“You should’ve brought me here when you had practice,” Mei complains, when he realizes the field’s mostly empty.
“And let you steal all our secrets?” Carlos laughs. “I think not.”
“Pfft,” Mei says, as he flops down on a bleacher. “We’re not even competing against each other.”
“You never know,” Carlos says carefully. In the batting cages, Atsushi adjusts his ax grip, swings forward in a beautiful arc, and Carlos hears the whip sound in his head. He craves suddenly for his own bat to hold, a comforting thing to brace himself upon. “Some of us here might still go pro.”
Mei hums. “You talking about Kazuya?”
“Why didn’t the two of you ever get together?” The question’s barely out of his teeth and Carlos already wants to take it back, panic like a needle to his arm. But it crystallizes between them now with edges sharp enough to cut them both.
There’s something wistful in the way Mei rests his chin on his hand, gazing out at the field. “If I could’ve separated myself from baseball, maybe he wouldn’t have had to pick between the two,” he says quietly, words sounding as if they’re being grated out of him, tinged with a little blood and a little pain. “Maybe he could’ve chosen both.”
Carlos stares down at his hands, the callouses hard and dry from hours of gripping his bat. On bad days, his right ankle aches from a battered ACL from over two years ago. The game’s given them so much, but taken just as profoundly in return, residing so unfettered in them that there’s little space for anything else.
“But I couldn’t,” Mei says. “So we made our choices.”
In the ensuing stillness Carlos watches the sky, the muted stars winking behind a low haze. He wants to know where that leaves him, if Miyuki’s already made his choice. He wants reassurance, like Shirakawa said before, that he isn’t doing something spectacularly wrong. Most of all, he wants not to be a hapless first year student, unsure and lost about most everything, pulled apart by school, the game he loves, and the boy he somehow managed to fall for despite warning signs coming at him in all directions.
“University seems fun,” Mei says eventually, dredging Carlos from his spiralling thoughts. “I wish I get to experience it.”
“It’s more glamorous than you think,” Carlos says wryly, and in a moment of weakness, admits, “it feels like I’m getting beaten, here.”
“Now where’s your fighting spirit, hm?” Mei huffs, jabbing Carlos insistently at his side. “You know where you wanna go, all you need to do is run.” His smile is assuring and confident, the same one he wears when he steps onto the mound, and Carlos wants to believe him. “Just like getting to home.”
Friday leaves him feeling lighter than he has in awhile, with Mei and Kouji going at it, goading each other on with plum sours while arguing pro-team stats, and Shirakawa getting pulled into the bottomless pit inevitably to take sides. The squabbling reaches such a volume that the Izakaya patrons turn and give them nasty glares, which then turn into bashful stares as they realize it’s The Narumiya Mei.
He takes pictures with all of them, of course.
Carlos avoids the diamond on Saturday, goes for a run instead, and finishes up at the gym enjoying admiring glances as he deadlifts three hundred and thirty-five pounds, because why the hell not, he’s allowed to walk around without a shirt every so often. He somehow manages to find the time to go for a movie with his project mates, some terrible action flick that he loses the plot of halfway through but enjoys supremely nonetheless.
And then he gets a weird text from Mei, on the train home.
omg omg Carlos i think i did a thing, i hope i didn’t but i think i did
Followed by more unintelligible emojis, crying face-skull-exploding face-turd.
Carlos doesn’t have the time to ask for clarification, because when he gets back to his apartment, Miyuki’s waiting outside. His expression is unreadable, but his eyes are hard behind his glasses, and that’s how Carlos knows something’s wrong. He stands when Carlos approaches, slowly as if physically in pain, and Carlos has to stop himself from reaching out.
He unlocks the door, because this shouldn’t happen outside, probably. Miyuki steps in, lingering stiffly at the entranceway. “Why did you tell Mei we’re together?”
I didn’t, Carlos almost protests, but he knows that’s not entirely true. He offered up his story like a 9-hole pitching target, and Mei reacted like the brilliant pitcher he is, and aimed his guess in exactly the right spot.
“We’re not,” Miyuki continues, sounding angry and distressed in a way Carlos has never heard before. “You don’t even know anything about me.”
Carlos raises a hand to Miyuki’s shoulder. He wants to say, I know despite how much you claim to hate engineering, you enjoy working through diagrams and math problems because nothing makes you happier than overcoming a challenge. I know how you look asking for a slider, and I know how you react when you get a good one. I know how you look when I touch you just right. I know a part of you sees university as a waste of time, but the other part finds this curious enough to be deserving of your attention. I know you tie your laces left over right. I know how kind you can be when you guide your pitchers. I know you massage my ankle when you think I’m sleeping. I know how cruel you can be with your words. Do I know you well enough to be together?
But Miyuki jerks back, away from him. It hurts severely. “Bye, Carlos,” and then he’s gone.
The next time Carlos sees Shirakawa it’s at a bar near Keio, one of those hipster-drinks-in-mason-jars-with-jazz-music kind of places that he seems to adore. There’s a trivia game going on, and Shirakawa scores their table the final round after answering the bonus question, which MLB team does Shohei Ohtani play for.
They get more drinks in even fancier mason jars as reward. Carlos flicks at the little paper umbrella floating atop his. “That’s kinda cheating.”
Shirakawa raises an eyebrow, gesturing pointedly at their spoils. “Are you complaining?”
“Do you win every time you come here?”
“They had a Harry Potter quiz once. I trounced everybody.”
“Congratulations,” Carlos says dryly, “on depriving other broke students of free beer.”
“We’re in Keio,” Shirakawa scoffs. “There’re no broke students.”
Carlos wants to laugh. He finds it hard to make the sound.
They haven’t been friends for years for nothing. Shirakawa frowns, but he doesn’t comment. Waits patiently as he always does for Carlos to speak. “I think we broke up.”
Shirakawa pauses, puts down his drink. “Was there something to break up?”
“Sorry,” Shirakawa says immediately. “I didn’t mean—sorry, Carlos.”
“No, turns out you were right. It’s complicated.”
Shirakawa nods. He doesn’t say I told you so, and he doesn’t say anything about Miyuki, which Carlos is pathetically thankful for. Instead, he reaches over for the last of the yam fries and piles them onto Carlos’ plate. He’s not being subtle at all—eat your greasy foods so you don’t wake up with a hangover tomorrow because you sure look like you’re working towards one—but Carlos takes a fry anyway and stabs it morosely into the aioli.
“Sometimes he looked at me like. I mean. I thought, you can’t look at a person like that and not mean anything by it. You can’t fuck someone for over six months and not mean anything by it.”
Shirakawa blinks. “Six months?”
Carlos taps his salt-speckled fingers on the table, counting backwards. The first time, barely two weeks into the semester, through the Big6 League, through winter break, where they didn’t see other much but texted, frequently, through the start of term again, up to here, a month before finals. “Yeah, I guess.”
“That. Doesn’t sound like it didn’t mean anything.”
Carlos shrugs. It’s not like he can do much about it now, parse through Miyuki’s actions and assign meaning to them when he’s gone without so much as an explanation, other than You don’t know anything about me. He’s glad they’re getting complimentary drinks, because his glass is empty again.
Shirakawa kicks his shin under the table mercilessly, and orders onion rings when Carlos asks for a refill. Their server grimaces in sympathy. Carlos observes their entire silent interaction through bleary eyes and can’t help but feel like he’s being ganged up upon. “You’ll regret this tomorrow, idiot.”
“What?” Carlos says unintelligently, because he doesn’t have to be hungover to regret, really; these days he’s just regretful over everything.
Shirakawa sighs, and when the onion rings arrive, tips them all kindly onto Carlos’ plate.
A treasured if not a little painful memory:
The sun prying through the cheap Daiso blinds, knocking them both unceremoniously awake. The birds hanging out around Miyuki’s apartment were always the noisiest at half-past seven, the bastards. Carlos was still sore from the night before, still tired, so he grabbed the pillow closest to him and tried to smother himself.
“Eurgh,” he said.
Miyuki laughed, and pressed his lips to Carlos’ bare shoulder. Left them there like they belonged there. Carlos held still, willing the moment to last. He couldn’t see Miyuki with the pillow over his eyes.
“I’m glad I’m here.”
Carlos was glad for the pillow then, because it muffled his intake of breath. Here, as in with Carlos? Here as in university? Here as in what?
And then Miyuki rolled over and got up.
The earth continues to spin. Practice goes on like clockwork, because Waseda won’t stop for the broken heart of one man. Carlos runs until he can’t feel his legs, just the fire in his lungs, and only slows down when a manager pulls him aside, worry underlying her tone when she admonishes him. Miyuki rebuffed all the pitchers’ requests to catch today, and Carlos spots his lone figure in the cages, swinging the bat wildly at nothing at all, no finesse, no precision.
Door knocking knuckles aligned grip, Carlos notes absently. If he keeps swinging like that he might strain his abdominals, he might—
“Carlos?” Akira presses. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” Carlos says. “I’m all good. Just felt like running.”
“In circles?” Akira asks lightly, and she means it as a little joke obviously, because Carlos has been blazing around the track since two in the afternoon, and by now it must look ridiculous to everybody else, except for the coach, who’s standing by the sidelines looking torn between approval and concern.
He forces a smile though it probably comes off more as a wince, and tells her he’s heading back. He doesn’t look to see if Miyuki watches his retreat. He’s got assignments to do and finals to study for.
And anyway, things are always better after a hot shower. And some food. He’s midway through recreating Miyuki’s stew when his phone rings.
It’s Kuramochi, of all people.
“What’s up, man,” Kuramochi goes, and launches into a detailed account of how Meiji’s going to kick Waseda’s ass six ways to Sunday in their next game. Carlos relaxes, the steady stream of chatter a nice counterpoint to his culinary endeavour. He’s always been exceptionally fond of Kuramochi, even though they’ve only ever met on the field as rivals. Carlos can appreciate an unbelievable runner when he sees one.
“I didn’t know you could cook,” Kuramochi pipes up, when the bubbling of the pot gets to the point where it can be heard over the phone because Carlos is too busy deconstructing Meiji’s attack strategy to turn the stove down. Baseball makes all of them a little clumsy in real life.
“A recipe from a… friend. I think.”
“Hmm,” Kuramochi says, “Miyuki?”
Carlos turns the stove off now. “Yeah.”
Kuramochi sighs, and it arrives over the phone staticky and distorted. “I know he fucked up.”
Carlos cradles the phone between his ear and shoulder, and sets the table for one. There’s no good way to say it, so, “Yeah.”
“I’m vicariously furious for you, and I don’t even know the entire story! And I shouldn’t be making excuses for him. But.”
Carlos exhales wryly, because Kuramochi sounds so annoyed and agitated that he can’t help but empathize. “But he’s actually a great guy behind all that?”
“Uh, no,” Kuramochi snorts. “Miyuki’s a piece of shit.” He says that in the same way he might say, But I love that guy anyway.
Unbidden, laughter forces its way out, scraping alongside the walls of his throat as it goes, rendering the taste slightly bitter. “Maybe a little.”
“Maybe a lot. But he’s just—he uses baseball to approach everything in life. And then he found out that that doesn’t quite work for relationships. And now he doesn’t know what to do.”
“He said this wasn’t one,” Carlos can’t help interjecting. “A relationship.” The more he thinks about it the sorer he gets, like flicking at a wound that hasn’t even scabbed over yet and getting blood all over his fingernail for the trouble.
“Well,” Kuramochi says, “if you got a look at the guy now, you’d probably realize he was just talking out of his ass. He’s fucking miserable.”
Oddly, that doesn’t make him feel better, because apparently liking someone really means you want what’s best for them. Carlos takes a tentative bite of his stew. Not bad, but it doesn’t taste quite like he remembers, two months ago in the cold of the evening huddled together with Miyuki watching Jacob deGrom pitch his wildest fastballs. He probably forgot the paprika.
“He’ll come find you. It’ll take some time for him to figure it out because Miyuki’s dense like that, but he’ll come.”
“Is this where you tell me to give him a second chance?”
“No,” Kuramochi scoffs. “This is where I tell you to give him a hard time from me.”
Carlos’ laugh is lighter this time, open airways easing the sound out. “Fucking deal.”
Miyuki does show up, two weeks later. He chooses the dreariest possible day, grey skies complete with a melancholic drizzle, and Carlos thinks he looks a little wretched, crouched on his doorstep with his head in his hands. He must’ve waited for awhile. His clothes look wet, and so does his face.
“Coward,” Carlos says, without much heat.
“Yeah,” Miyuki croaks. “Yeah.”
He startles when Carlos places a hand on his shoulder, like he expected a blow. “Let’s go inside,” Carlos murmurs, because he doesn’t like Miyuki looking like that, lost and helpless and distraught. “C’mon.”
Carlos hands Miyuki a towel to dry off, and tosses him a Waseda jumper lying around. Miyuki’s a size smaller than he is, and Carlos tries not to stare at the maroon sleeves hanging just below Miyuki’s wrists. So he busies himself with brewing a pot of tea, adding half a spoonful more leaves because he knows Miyuki likes it darker. He hears Miyuki’s phone chime with a notification, but Miyuki doesn’t make a move to acknowledge it. Instead, he sits himself gingerly at the table, waiting until Carlos comes back with two mugs.
“You gonna tell me why you ran?”
“I was afraid,” Miyuki’s grip on his mug is knuckle-white. “That you’d see me, and realize too late that I’m not that much. I’m a good catcher, a decent batter, and what else?
“A bit of an ass,” Carlos provides, because he has a promise to keep to Kuramochi.
“A bit,” Miyuki’s smile looks like it’s made out of glass. “I didn’t know what else I could offer that would make you stay. So I ran before you could do the running.”
“Why would you think that,” Carlos says, a little incredulous. Mei’s words come back to him, and he figures he gets it now, really gets it, how Miyuki views himself and his interactions with everything outside of the diamond, almost like he’s staring at a piece of gauze left on a leaking wound for too long that he can’t decide if he should leave it and suffer knowing the pain will come later or rip it off and suffer anyway. Carlos just wants him to let the wound breathe.
“I didn’t need anything else from you,” he tries to explain, fumbling for the right words. “I didn’t need you to separate yourself from baseball and be someone else to be with me. I was fine with the emotionally-stunted shitstorm of a boyfriend you were.”
“I didn’t know that,” Miyuki confesses, looking away. “I couldn’t figure out what you could’ve possibly wanted from me.”
Carlos frowns. “That’s easy. I wanted to hold hands, and argue about nonsensical things. Talk about school, talk about the future. Work out together, improve on our RBI stats. Go out for meals. Maybe see a movie once in a while. I wanted to spend time with you. Y’know. Things people who like each other usually do.”
Miyuki’s voice breaks when he speaks. “Wanted?” he asks, so small and fragile and so, so unlike Miyuki that Carlos’ gut clenches tight.
“Want,” he amends softly.
Miyuki jerks his head up. The same something flashes in his eyes, and Carlos sees it now for what it is, uncertainty and longing, and it slides silverfish quick down Miyuki's cheek.
“Shit,” Carlos hisses. “Kazuya, don’t.” He reaches out, hand curling tight around Miyuki’s bicep, pulling him close. Miyuki falls gracelessly, glasses bumping askew against Carlos’ chest.
“Sorry,” Miyuki mumbles. He swipes a little at his nose, but stays still against Carlos, ear to heart. His hair tickles Carlos' chin, but it feels like he belongs there. “I’m sorry, Carlos.” He takes a breath, two. "Do I get another chance?"
Carlos thumbs the dip of Miyuki’s shoulder. Miyuki can probably hear his pulse, and he knows it’s steady when he says, “Yes.”
Shirakawa is ten points behind the lead team in a trivia game when Carlos shows up. He looks livid.
“Who even cares about the inside of a wind turbine,” he gripes, gesturing sourly at the hipster chalkboard detailing his failing score.
“The environment,” Carlos says primly. “And this guy. He’ll hard carry your ignorant ass back to the top.”
“Oh my god,” Shirakawa says in disgust when he sees Miyuki, who isn’t helping things with the shit-eating grin on his face. There’s a moment where Carlos thinks Shirakawa will dump the rest of his highball on Miyuki’s shoes.
But then Shirakawa smirks, and makes room.