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Miyuki stares at the shogi pieces. He reaches out and after a moment’s pause, he moves a pawn. One square forward.

“Good move,” Tetsuya says, in a thoughtful voice.

It’s really not, Miyuki thinks, fighting to keep his expression blank. He waits, and tries not to wince, when Tetsuya makes his next move.

Less than three turns later, and—

“Ah, you moved your kaku,” Tetsuya says. He sounds pleased, and Miyuki really has no idea why. Tetsuya’s already given up a number of pieces to him, and they’re only fifteen minutes into a game.

“Oi, you,” says a loud voice, brash and impatient. A toe nudges Miyuki’s back, digging right into the tender flesh under his ribs, and he twists around with no small reluctance.

Isashiki...Jin? Jun? The center fielder with the scraggly beard. The nudging doesn’t stop. This guy had turned up when Tetsuya did, and Miyuki originally assumed that he too, wanted a game (and resigned himself to two matches tonight), but he hasn’t done anything other than stretch out on the carpet of Miyuki’s dorm floor, looking bored.

“Yes, me?” Miyuki asks, as Tetsuya studies the board.

Jun grunts. “Give me a massage later, yeah?”

Miyuki pauses. Blinks. "What—"

There’s the click of a shogi piece being set on the board. “Your move,” Tetsuya says with a distinct air of success.

 

 

 

 

 

If Miyuki casts his mind back, and searches hard enough, he can probably pinpoint the moment it all started.

 

 

 

 

 

Think back a little, and it might have been this moment: summer heat absolutely stinking, dirt swiped in ugly tracks across his face, and sweat trickling down between the hollow of his spine and a stiff new uniform.

Coach Kataoka dismisses them, and Miyuki loses the ramrod posture. He breathes out a sigh of relief, ignoring the flurry of movement around him.

The training here at Seidou is gruelling, a whole league above the practice matches he’d played in middle school. Today was the first time Coach Kataoka had let him catch too. He’d been in the cage right next to Takigawa Chris, and couldn’t help stealing glances. He almost fumbled an easy pitch. Almost.

Still, it’s only the fourth day, and he’s already exhausted to the bone and tired of feeling ill after every overlarge meal. He doesn’t think he can finish another three bowls of rice if his life depended on it. His other batchmate, Maezono hasn’t caught onto the fact that Miyuki’s been subtle sliding over part of his rice with every other meal, but he’d rather not risk the option more than he has to. All he wants to do is get back to the dorm, sleep for a few days and maybe wake up on Sunday—the one day they don’t have some sort of regimented training.

“So,” he hears, and ah, yes, perfect timing; Kuramochi’s voice rudely breaks him out of his thoughts. He has his arms crossed, a scrutinising look in his eye. “You’re not just some cocky asshole. You can actually play?”

Miyuki winces. “I don’t really think that should be a surprise,” he points out, as he picks up his towel from the dugout and starts heading back to the main hall. He did get scouted after all. Handpicked.

Kuramochi follows after him, scratching his head. His hair is laced with sweat, glittering under the full force of the afternoon sun. “Maybe, yeah,” he says, still glancing at Miyuki with something almost resembling curiosity. “Didn’t know you were a catcher. Still an asshole though.”

The response comes like automatic to Miyuki’s tongue. “Thank you!” he chimes, and sees Kuramochi’s eyes narrow.

“You weirdo,” he says, gruffly. He scratches the back of his head again. “So, did ya wanna practice again tonight? Couple of us were thinking about it. Just catch or something.”

The question registers and Miyuki nearly missteps, barely catching himself. He coughs to hide it.

“What?” Kuramochi asks, sounding defensive. “Too good for catch?”

Miyuki frowns instead. “You want to practice again?” He gestures at himself: in all his sweat and dirt-streaked glory. “You've gotta be kidding.”

“Huh? But you’re always practicing late,” Kuramochi says. He mimes holding a bat, and swings at an imaginary ball. “Saw you with the pitching machines yesterday. You gotta do it like this though. You were shit, your batting form is all—hey, the hell are you going?”

“Ah, I think I’ll pass tonight,” Miyuki says loudly, speaking over him. He laughs. “Tired, exhausted, all of that. You know,” and then he’s spinning on his heel and making a beeline for the baths.

He doesn’t turn around to check Kuramochi’s expression; if it’s a little confused with Miyuki’s hasty escape, well, then that makes the two of them.

 

 

 

 

 

Silence.

“You’re a little brave, aren’t you,” Ryousuke says, peering down at their game. “Winning against your upperclassman like this.”

Miyuki laughs, and if it’s tinged with a little nervousness he tries not to let it show. Tetsuya and Jun, they were easy enough to read. When Ryousuke turned up in tow outside the front of his dorm room, he’d been a little worried that he might want a match. Ryousuke seems the type to know how to play a tight game. Or at least, he wouldn’t be the type to enjoy losing (the way Tetsuya seems to, anyway.)

But all Ryousuke has done so far is watch the match between them with mild interest, sharp gaze unfaltering and keen—doing nothing more than to poke Tetsuya in the right direction on occasion.

Hasn’t managed to stop Tetsuya from losing though. Pity.

“We should bring some games in here,” Ryousuke says, glancing around as Tetsuya lays out their pieces again. His searching falls upon the power outlet near the desk, eyes slanting with interest.

It’s right about then that Miyuki decides it’s probably a good time to start worrying about the future of the peace and quiet of his dorm room.

 

 

 

 

 

Think back a little further and it might have been this moment: cracked white paint on the bleachers, an old uniform stretched too tight across his growing shoulders, and a worn catcher’s glove in his lap.

“You’re good,” Narumiya announces. He sits down with enough force to shake the seat, and kicks out his legs. “And I’m not just saying that.”

Miyuki laughs. “Thank you!” he says, pasting on the most obnoxious grin he can. He gets the punch to the arm that he expects—ow, Narumiya puts more force into it than strictly warranted—and ends up rubbing the sore spot, gingerly.

“Serves you right,” Narumiya says, sniffing. “I was being nice.”

“You call that nice?” Miyuki pulls up his sleeve, and inspects his arm. Nothing yet, but mark his words: “I'm going to bruise, y’know.”

“Don't be a wimp, you get worse stuff just playing baseball.”

Miyuki rolls his sleeve back down—it's true, playing catcher comes with its fair share of bumps and bruises.

Across the pitch, the rest of their teams are packing up from their game. Fetching the battered mats they used as bases, the ones that slip and send you shooting out across the damp grass if you landed on them wrong. His uniform has grass stains all across his knees and elbows—he plucks the fabric and frowns.

So,” Narumiya says, drawing out the word. If he's trying to be subtle, it's working as well as a bull trying to creep through in a china shop. “What are you gonna do over Golden Week?” That's not the question Narumiya wants to ask, not from the way he keeps side-eyeing Miyuki.

“Staying home,” Miyuki replies, just to see him scowl.

“That's boring,” Narumiya announces, locking his arms together over his chest. Then rushes to add, “So have you thought about—”

“Nope.”

“You didn't even let me finish—”

Miyuki grins, despite himself. “You're just too predictable, Mei.”

Narumiya makes an unhappy noise, somewhere between a growl and a huff. “Whatever, Kazuya,” he says, and he’s back to sounding imperious and oozing self-confidence. “I hope you're looking forward to losing to me from now on.”

“I won today—” Miyuki begins, and Narumiya turns up his nose.

“A fluke!”

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a knock at the door, seven and a half minutes into the game—Miyuki has been counting, because six minutes and three seconds of that time has been Tetsuya pondering his second move of the night—when the next newcomer arrives.

Kuramochi steps into his dorm room wearing a distinctly hunted expression. He treads carefully, as if wary, but his face fades into a scowl the moment he sets eyes on Miyuki. A bright grin and a little wave is all it takes to set Kuramochi off: in half a second, he’s opening his mouth, no doubt ready to fire off a rude retort—

“Ah. Kuramochi,” Ryousuke says, and Kuramochi’s mouth snaps shut. “You’re late. I was half expecting you’d be too scared to turn up.”

Kuramochi bristles. “Who’s scared—” he starts, then seems to think better of it. He deflates a little. “Uh, no. I mean, I wasn’t. I am late, but I wasn’t gonna, y’know, back out or anything.”

“Ha!” Jun says, muffled as he fiddles with the cables behind the desk. “Least this one has guts, Ryou-san.”

“Come here and sit down then.” Ryousuke pats the floor leisurely, and holds out a PlayStation 2 controller. There’s growing alarm on Kuramochi’s face now. “Best out of three?”

Well isn’t this just fascinating. Miyuki can’t help the grin that spreads across his face as he takes in the sight of Kuramochi stiffly walking over to sit with Ryousuke. He fumbles the controller, and Miyuki does his very best not to cackle—which is to say, he doesn’t try at all.

The look Kuramochi sends him is absolutely filthy.

“Let’s have a game too, Miyuki-kun,” Ryousuke suggests, without looking away from the screen. “After I beat Kuramochi.”

Miyuki wisely shuts up.

“Oi, Tetsu!” Jun suddenly says. His head pops up from behind the desk, and he scowls at the shogi board, pieces still untouched. “It’s been ten fuckin’ minutes, man, hurry up. This guy still owes me tonight’s massage.”

 

 

 

 

 

Go back a little further. Just a little, back to the junior league baseball field that he always found too small and cramped—just a shadow of the baseball fields he watches on TV, and dreams about during his classes.

It’s hot where he is, crouched down at home plate. His baseball cap is welcome shade, but it does nothing to shield him from the heat radiating off the ground.

“Play ball!” he hears the coach call, and he blinks the sweat from his eyes and narrows his focus down on the pitcher in the middle of the field. The bandaid across his cheek itches. He doesn’t need to look at the batter; he recognises him from the last match, the one who angles just a little too far to the left.

A quick signal, and then the pitcher is throwing—

When the match ends, Miyuki yanks off his catcher’s mask. He lets out a deep breath, trying not to let his frustration show too much. A small fumble, and it cost them the game.

Next time, he tells himself brusquely, as he scrubs at his face. Next time, he’ll do better.

Across the field, one of his teammates looks to him. He starts in Miyuki’s direction, opening his mouth as if to say something, but then stops as though he’s thought better of it. His gaze slides from the bandaid on Miyuki’s cheek, to the catcher’s mask still gripped tight in his hand, and he turns away, back to the rest of his teammates still chattering after the match.

Miyuki blinks, but in the end, just shrugs to himself. He knows what he did wrong. What he needs to do better. He can work on it later, when everyone else is gone.

The teams bow in neat little lines, and their coaches retreat to chat under the shade of the dugout. Packing away the equipment is quick and efficient, and one by one, people leave. They drift into cars, walk past Miyuki in twos or threes, with hands clasped together and talking lightly.

Miyuki waves goodbye, then turns back to the field.

 

 

 

 

 

“Tetsu-kun.”

A shadow looms over the shogi board, and Miyuki glances up to see Masuko frowning at the pieces in play. Tetsuya too, pauses, hand in mid-reach towards one of his keima pieces. “Yes, Masuko?” he asks, politely.

“You should promote your hisha,” comes the deep rumble of Masuko’s voice. He points at the shogi piece sitting just outside the line of Miyuki’s camp.

Tetsuya blinks, and seems to ponder the decision for a few moments. Then he shifts his hisha forward, and flips it with a neat click. The move isn’t anything special, it’s just logical, but Miyuki still raises an eyebrow as he turns to study the board. He hadn’t figured Masuko to be a shogi player, but everyone is full of surprises it seems. Even off the baseball field.

“Hey, Masuko-senpai!” Kuramochi calls. His eyes are fixed on the TV screen, thumbs moving too fast for Miyuki to keep track of the buttons he’s pressing. “Did you get more pudding? Can I have one? I’ll grab it from our room, the vending machine’s too far—”

Masuko huffs through his nose, just as Miyuki sets one of his pawns down in the next square forward. “You still haven’t paid me back for the last pudding, Kuramochi-kun—” he says, reproachfully.

“Tomorrow! I swear—oh crap, I’m gonna miss the turnoff, crap—”

A moment later, Jun roars. “That’s right, who’s king of the track!”

Click-click-click.

Miyuki’s attention snaps back to the board, and he stares as Tetsuya removes his last ginsho piece off the board. Somehow, between Masuko joining them earlier that night with several pudding cups tucked into the bend of his elbow, to now, when the empty plastic containers are littered around the dorm—the tide of the game has turned in Tetsuya’s favour.

“I’ve finished my turn,” he says, serenely.

 

 

 

 

 

The baseball glove is stiff to the touch, pale stitches spread out evenly along the ridges of leather. It smells expensive, new. Miyuki fits his hand into it, and wriggles his fingers—the inside moulds to the shape of his grip, with plenty of room to grow.

It's also entirely the wrong glove.

He says as much, loudly, points out that he wants to play catcher, catchers use bigger gloves, wider ones! and his father snorts very softly.

Thank you,” Miyuki says, enunciating the words carefully. Then announces, “I'm going to exchange it tomorrow.” He places the baseball glove back on the table, careful not to set it down on any chocolate crumbs.

“I'm working all day tomorrow,” his father says, as he takes a drink. His plate of cake is finished already, spoon resting on the side. “How about the weekend?”

Miyuki shakes his head. “Nope, I wanna play after school on Thursday. I'll go with my friend tomorrow.”

“Who, Toku-san?”

“No, a friend.”

“Fine, fine.” His father waves his hand, and pushes back his chair. “The receipt is in the plastic bag on the kitchen bench. Don't be late coming home.”

Miyuki barely pays enough attention to register the words; there's a weird kind of thrumming in his stomach already. A real catcher's glove! He'll pick one out tomorrow, one that will last ages. A black one maybe, with softer stitching.

His father slouches off, probably to the TV, and Miyuki hops off his chair. He takes their plates, scrapes off the icing into the bin—eurgh, they'll be eating chocolate cake for the next few days, the idea makes him queasy already—and goes to hunt down the receipt.

He's gonna be a catcher.

 

 

 

 

 

Tetsuya glances up and pauses. The room stills.

“What?” Miyuki asks. He twists around to check where Tetsuya has fixed his gaze. “That wasn't even a hard—” and then anything he might have been planning to say withers in his mouth. His tongue feels thick and dry.

Chris stands at the door, one hand resting on the wooden frame—the telltale strip of a bandage peeks out from behind the collar of his shirt. He looks curious, if a little blank, at what he sees: Tetsuya and Miyuki playing shogi in the corner, while Masuko and Kuramochi have paused their video game on the other side of the room.

It's Ryousuke who breaks the silence, setting down his hand of cards on the desk. “You're back from rehab?” he asks.

“No,” Chris replies. He stops. “Well, yes for tonight. Coach Kataoka asked if he could speak with Tetsu and Jun. Upstairs in the office.”

“Now?” Tetsuya blinks.

“He said it was important,” Chris amends, sounding apologetic.

“I see,” Tetsuya replies, but he's standing up regardless, dusting off his knees. “I hope it won't take long.”

Jun throws heavy glances between them, squinting. The moment Tetsuya rises, he heaves himself up off the floor and ambles out the door too, making disgruntled noises. “But I haven't done anything,” Miyuki hears him mutter under his breath. “I don't think. Fuck, did I do something?”

Chris moves to let them pass, then lingers for a moment, unsure. Ryousuke offers, “Did you want to play a round?” as he shuffles the pack of cards from his and Jun’s abandoned game.

“No, but thank you,” Chris says after a moment. He glances around the room one more time. His gaze slides past Miyuki with the barest pause, like oil slick across a glass pane—the barest twist to his lips, it's gone too fast to tell—then Chris turns and disappears back down the walkway.

“Is he alright?” Kuramochi ventures, a few seconds later.

“His high school baseball career is as good as over,” Ryousuke says lightly, packing the cards back into the box. “What do you think?”

Kuramochi flushes, and Miyuki doesn't respond—he's still staring at the space that Chris had occupied moments ago.

“He's doing better, though,” Ryousuke adds, breezily. He stands up, and comes to sit on the other side of the shogi board. “Now,” he says, clearly changing the topic. He smiles, sly and small. “I hope you're tired of winning, Miyuki-kun.”

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking back that far, Miyuki wonders sometimes. It’s never as clear cut as it seems, the point at which it started—was it the first time he picked up a bat and swung it, almost unbalancing himself in the process? Or the first time he watched a match, jaw slack and wide-eyed as he followed the arc of the tiny ball on the grainy TV screen?

Though perhaps, it isn’t so far back as he thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Miyuki unbuckles his leg guards, tugging fruitlessly at the straps wrapped around his calves. They’re stiff, nylon still smooth and unfrayed under his fingers—tell-tale of just how rarely this particular set of catcher’s gear gets used. It’s the smallest set after all, the only one that fits him. Though he should probably get his own soon, if he’s going to stay on first string.

One clasp comes loose, and he grunts with the effort.

The practice match finished a while ago, and most of the players have moved to cooling down before the last of the afternoon sun disappears over the horizon. Azuma is still in the dugout, where he’d dropped onto the benches with a groan and subsequent growl to anyone who got too close. So Miyuki had wandered to the fixed seats just nearby, instead, before tackling his gear.

It’s funny though, the way things turned out. He muses to himself, as he starts working on the next clasp. Azuma hasn’t exactly warmed up to him—saying that he warms up to anyone is a bit of a stretch, really—but there hasn’t been any more trouble since that first incident. He’s either lost interest or—well. He’s probably just lost Azuma’s interest.

Like most of them, actually. Miyuki might have been called a genius catcher amongst his cohort, but the title is overshadowed somewhat, out in the field with the second and third year players. Ah well. No matter. He’s never really been one for the limelight, anyway.

Though speaking of overshadowed—something abruptly blocks out the sun, and he glances up, half-hoping that it isn’t Azuma coming to snarl at him for one too many cheeky suggestions on field today.

It’s not. One of the second years comes to a stop in front of him (the one with the cropped dark hair, and impressive swing), and watches with a curious expression. Miyuki stares right back, still hunched over his gear, and he’s slow to react. Out of surprise, maybe.

“Was there something—” Miyuki begins, perplexed when the impromptu staring match continues, just as the guy asks, in a measured tone,

“Do you know how to play shogi?”

“Yes?”

The second year nods at him, satisfied. “We should play a game,” he says, bowing slightly. “Tetsuya Yuuki. Pleased to meet you.”

 

 

---

 

 

Fast forward just one year, and Miyuki finds himself blinking. He shifts his hisha piece two squares to the left. “Checkmate?” he asks, as he slowly withdraws.

“Ah.” Tetsuya frowns. One hand comes up to rest on his chin.

There’s a moment of silence between them, and Miyuki resists the urge to glance around, as if he suspects someone might be watching. But Sawamura and Furuya are out fetching drinks for the third years; the Kominatos have their heads bent over one of Miyuki’s baseball books, murmuring to themselves. Kuramochi’s hooked up his PlayStation 2 to the TV in the room again, and he and Jun are too engrossed with mashing buttons to notice their quiet game.

“Checkmate,” Tetsuya agrees eventually, with a faint smile that snaps Miyuki out of his thoughts. He tilts his head forward. “Congratulations, Miyuki.”

“Thank you,” Miyuki says, just as Kuramochi yells, “What, you won again?” without looking away from the TV. “Give the guy a break, it’s his last night!”

“Another game?” Tetsuya asks.