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JAL flight 773 touches down at Narita International Airport at 6:02 PM on December 31st, after 13 and a half hours in the air.  Its passengers are sluggish, begrudging, and uncurling their crammed and contorted postures in a painful return to a reality with more than one square metre per person.  They rise in a halfhearted cacophony of ‘go aheads’ and ‘excuse mes’ as each traveler remasses their belongings, dons their coats, and gets the hell out.  


When the bulk of the rush is off the plane, Miyuki joins the remaining stragglers in a more leisurely exit fit for someone with no place to be on New Year’s Eve.  He loops his gym bag over his shoulder, and drags his once-used suitcase down from the overhead. Amidst the tourists and homecomers, he doesn’t look like someone who's been away for twelve years.  It’s fitting.  He’s always came and gone without much. 


Miyuki hustles head-down through the terminal.  It would be convenient if he had grown used to the life of B-list fame afforded to someone behind a catcher’s mask for most of his career, but in truth Miyuki had never quite acclimated.  He ignores the hushed whispers, or more adamant demands of ‘Miyuki Kazuya’ or ‘Miyuki-san,’ and pulls his mask up higher over his nose, and his baseball cap down lower.   Fortunately, he left most of his belongings in his Chicago apartment, so he bypasses the baggage claim with the full intent to pass out on the train.  


It’s 6:15 PM.  He passes a few more gawkers in the passenger greeting area.  There’s a kid that calls out to him a few times amidst the friends, families, and loved ones greeting travelers after a long trip.  His name being repeated gets the attention of a few others, too.  And Miyuki knows they’re looking for confirmation.  He makes an exception.  A stop, and squats down to eye-level with the girl, a finger to where his lips would be if they weren’t still covered.  


“Don’t tell anyone.”  He grins so he sounds confident, rather than ungodly maladroit with handling children.  “Do you play baseball?”  


It’s the kid’s father that responds, one hand resting softly on her shoulder.  “She’s a catcher.”  He says, with a voice as low as it is familiar.


“Catcha!” Echoes the child, punching a tiny fist into her tiny palm in demonstration.


The man chuckles.  “But we’re still working on the catching part.”


Miyuki gapes up at the man from his squat.


“Chris!?”   He’s on his feet immediately, wrapping Chris in the kind of hug that only years of absence can foster.


“It’s been a while, Kazuya.”  Chris squeezes him back, welcome and warm and forgiving, before nudging his kid forward.


“This is Emi.  It’s the first time you’re meeting, right?”


“Nice to meetcha, Emi.”  Miyuki forces with an over-emphasized wave.


“You told me you had a baby.”  He nudges Chris with his elbow.  “Not a fully grown kid.”


“Usually they become kids after a while.”  Chris smiles subtle and teling.  And Miyuki realizes that it’s really been that long since he and Chris last caught up.  There’s a pang of guilt there; a dull throb somewhere at the back of his throat that says he should have called more; texted at all; sent a damn Christmas card, or made some semblance of effort to keep in touch. Of course, Chris would never agree with him.  


“What are you doing here?”  Miyuki asks.  There’s no way Chirs would know about his flight, and no one that could have told him.  Admittedly, it would be nice after all this time to hear him answer with a “for you.”  Regrettably, Miyuki isn’t naive enough to expect it.  


“Eijun should be landing soon.”  Chris explains.  “He missed the charter with the rest of the team so had to take a later flight.  Do you want a ride home?”  


“I’m okay, thanks.  I’ll leave you two to swoon over each other in peace.”  Miyuki declines.  It would be nice to catch up, but he knows both Chris and Sawamura well enough to know that being around them when they haven’t seen each other in a stint is not something Miyuki, single, alone, and jaded, wants to witness.  


“Youichi’s living in Tokyo now.”  Chris answers, matter-of-factly changing the subject to the last one in the world Miyuki wants to confront.  He and Youichi broke up about a year after graduation.  Well, it’s less that they broke up and more that Youichi broke up with him.  Or maybe it’s less that Youichi broke up with him and more that Miyuki fixated so hard on his new team that he failed miserably at texting, calling, or caring for his then-boyfriend who made every effort to reach out.  


“That so.”  Miyuki answers non-affirmingly.  He genuinely considers rethinking his whole move-back-to-Tokyo plan for fear of seeing Youichi.  


Regardless of how much Chris knows about the situation, he seems to pick up on Miyuki’s discomfort and rests a hand around his shoulders.  “I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.  Do you still have his number?” 


Okay, nevermind, Chris is insane.  The very suggestion makes Miyuki snort.  “Yeah, right.  I think he’d probably strangle me on sight.”  Although, that’s probably more intimacy than Youichi would offer him now.  


“Give it some thought.”  Chris persists, probably fully aware that Miyuki has zero intention of messaging anyone from Seido, let alone the ex-boyfriend who very likely hates his ass.  


Miyuki won’t even entertain the thought, so he changes the subject and readjusts his bag.  “I should get going.”  


Chris sees him off by wrapping Miyuki into another hug he isn’t prepared for.  It’s more hugs then he’s had in probably the last year or so.  “Keep in touch, Kazuya.”  


“Cross my heart.” He promises, already turning to leave, before pausing and squatting back down to Emi’s level.  “See ya later, Catcha.”  He grins, and hands his hat over to the now-beaming child.  


“You’ll spoil her.”  Chris tries to scold him, but the warmth in his tone betrays any effect.  


It’s 6:30 PM.  The unanticipated encounter gives Miyuki a perk further of adrenaline; enough to offset his sleep deprivation, if only slightly.  It’s enough that he gets to his Shinegawa transfer without falling asleep on the stranger next to him. 


The familiarity of Shinegawa filters in through the train’s fogged up windows.  It’s been so long since he’s been here, but the train, the station, and surroundings are all the same as ever.  He’s nostalgic for it, even if he was only traveling through here on trips home for three short years of highschool. 


He debarks with a long sigh that leaves him in a visible puff.  It’s cold here after dark, and Muyuki’s never been good with the cold, despite never living anywhere particularly warm.  He pulls his jacket tighter around him, regretting the heat-loss from his now hatless head.  Thankfully, it’s not a long walk to the Ikegami line, another train, and then a comfortable sleep at his dad’s place.  


It’s 7:30PM.  Miyuki quickly realizes the flaw in his plan, when he rolls up on a closed platform, and a notice that the train service has been interrupted until tomorrow.  Sorry for the inconvenience. 


“Yeah, great.”  He says to himself.  At least he has Chris, and Chris’ car to bail him out.  He’s about to send Chris the SOS when a message comes in from the man himself--a selfie (poorly taken) of him, Sawamura, and Emi at the airport.  Sawamura and Emi grin with the same goofy, over-expressive vigor, while it’s unclear if Chris is smiling, or thinking about what he’s going to have for dinner.  Miyuki deletes his message and sends a different one instead. 


To:  Chris-senpai:  Get home safe


Happy New Year, Chris.  


So plan B is no longer an option, so Plan C is a hotel room in Shingeawa, and a trip home tomorrow.  He picks one from the skyline outside the station--the Mitsui Garden Hotel.  Miyuki’s never been too picky when it comes to anything but teammates.  So as long as the place has a futon, he doesn’t really mind the rest.  


It takes longer than it should--partially because of the iced-over sidewalk, and partially because Miyuki didn’t bring any mitts and has to stop every minute or two to switch the hand in his pocket with the one dragging his bag.  


It’s 7:45 PM.  Tokyo isn’t nearly as cold as Chicago, but it’s lingering around zero, and Miyuki’s not nearly dressed enough for it.  He’s about to give up on his left hand when he passes an open bar; an unassuming blackdoor which opens into a narrow, but homey bar with a single lounge-style booth and five bar stools in front of a deep walnut bartop.  


He takes the one that’s open, pushing his bag under the stool shrugging his coat off onto the lip of the seat. The heat and some kind of booze will surely warm him up, particularly when he’s working on an empty stomach.  There’s one couple at the end of the bar, but the rest of the people here are men, alone and drinking at nearly 8PM on New Years Eve.  They don’t pay Miyuki any mind when he joins them; just another lonely soul on a cold night.  


In the U.S., Muyuki didn’t drink often.  It’s bad for an athlete and worse for a loner.  But now that he’s retired, and has a picture of Chris and his beautiful family, and a memory of his first and only romantic relationship, burning an envious hole in his memory, he decides to start.  


“Gin and tonic please.”  He orders when the bartender greets him.  It’s not a drink he’s had before, but he knows the name and knows that he won’t make an ass of himself drinking it.    


“You’re fucking joking.”  The man beside him glares at him almost immediately after Miyuki orders.  Miyuki recognizes him instantly.  It would be impossible not to.  And honestly, it’s a damned good thing he’s not holding a drink yet, because he would have shattered the glass in his hand.  


It’s 8:02PM.  Youichi hasn’t grown much since highschool, at least not taller.  Like Miyuki, he’s filled out with the musculature of adulthood, and lost some of the adolescent weight from his cheeks.  But he’s unmistakable; and his eyes are as sharp and striking as ever.  Miyuki averts his gaze like even looking for too long will burn him alive.  


He’s speechless.  Maybe that’s typical because that’s what ruined things for him in the first place.  He can’t even turn away and pretend that this whole disaster isn’t crumbling down on top of him like a pitcher in the rain with no relief.  It’s a waking nightmare.  New Year’s Eve is for lovers--new couples or old romantics.  It’s not for Miyuki to face ten years worth of regret. 


But nonetheless, regret faces him now.  Ten years aged and more beautiful than memory could ever do justice.  Youichi’s fingers drum against his whiskey glass, half-full and watered down by a nearly-melted ice cube at the center.  They peek out of leather, fingerless gloves that Miyuki would have definitely mocked mercilessly in the past.  Youichi would have cussed him out for it, too; called him a bastard and maybe stretched his collar out beyond repair.  But he would have said it with affection, and with a grin on his lips that Miyuki will never see again unless it’s at his expense.    


The glare Youichi directs at Miyuki is punishing.  Fit for an ex-boyfriend who skipped town and never called.   “Good to see you’re still single on New Year’s Eve.” 


Miyuki’s stomach churns, his head spins, and he laughs like a bastard because it’s the only recourse he has.  The only thing he can think of slips out before he can stop it.  It’s fine, though, because it’s not like he can fuck things up any further.   "Your hands would probably be warmer if you'd sprung for the full mitten." 


Youichi pushes his drink aside with a scoff, pushes his barstool back and slams some bills on the counter.  "Fuck you."  he mouths in Miyuki’s direction, zipping up his distressed and battered leather jacket and draping a dark red scarf around his shoulders.  It looks good, Miyuki thinks.  He mentally kicks himself for the wrong thought  at the wrong time. But he can’t help but watch him, even here and now when Youichi’s pissed as hell with a good reason for it.  He doesn’t call him a bastard, he doesn’t grab Miyuki by the collar, he doesn’t grin while he does it.  The entire circumstance lacks Youichi’s charismatic ferocity that Miyuki’s been missing for over a decade.  


It’s not like Miyuki had expected Youichi to be happy to see him again.  Far from it.  It’s just that Miyuki had never expected to see him at all.  Tokyo’s a big place.  What are the odds?  For what it’s worth, he could let it happen now.  Youichi’s coat is zipped as high as a former-yanki will permit it, and he’s making the move to disappear for good.  That’s karma, Kazuya.  


Miyuki has never been particularly emotional, particularly in his youth when everything that was either fun or not worth doing.  He doesn’t cry at movies, or at christmas-time commercials.  He doesn’t cry at weddings, or reunions, or at goodbyes.  Youichi used to give him shit for it too.  No one likes an asshole who can’t empathize with others.  Miyuki had grown from it too; had learned from Youichi too, who understood more about others than any adolescent had any business knowing.  


And maybe it’s infectious, because Miyuki’s instincts simmer to the point of goosebumps.  Youichi, who, in no measure of dramatics, is the only man Miyuki has ever truly loved, is within arms reach and about to walk away for good.  He’s hot-headed and angry and clearly over whatever it is that they had in high school.  


In that moment, Miyuki acts on impulse; acts on an emotion in which he isn’t versed enough to articulate.  He swivels off his seat and catches Youichi’s wrist in his bare, cold hand, his grip insistent, although he’s pleading.  


“Let me buy you a drink.”   


For what it’s worth, Youichi at least considers it.  In probable shock his narrowed eyes flit between his wrist and Miyuki’s face; gauging just how much Miyuki has lost his fucking mind.  


A good reaction would have been a ‘yes,’ which would certainly be too much to hope for.  A bad one would have been some sort of outburst--a long coming earful.  What Miyuki gets is neither; is something quiet and seething.  What he gets is Youichi’s genuine, quiet rage, which doesn’t waste so much as rasing his voice on him.  “I have nothing to say to you.” He scoffs, not quite looking Miyuki in the eye.  He twists his wrist to break Miyuki’s hold, but Miyuki only tightens it, surprising both of them. 


Even if it’s too late to rekindle any connection they nurtured in highschool; if Youichi’s wounds are too deep to ever really overcome that pit in their rapport; it doesn’t change the hundreds of things Miyuki should have told him.  The least he can do is tell him now.  “Then just listen.”  He insists, a parallel gravity in his hushed voice to Youichi’s fury.  “I want to apologize.”  


Youichi lofts a brow and curls his lip.  He looks like he’s about to either spit or laugh, maybe both.  “Oh yeah? Sorry but I don’t got till next year, even if it’s tomorrow.”  


“Then just give me an hour.”  He lets go of Youichi’s wrist and gestures back towards the bar.  


With a click of his tongue, Youichi unzips his coat in one quick tug, but leaves his scarf around his neck.  He sits back down and orders a refill on his whiskey.  “One drink, and as soon as I’m sick of your shit, I’m leaving.”  


He’ll take it.  The idea of Youichi staying, even for just moments, sends a wave of relief Miyuki wasn’t aware he could feel outside of sports.  “Thank you.”  He says softly, taking his seat again.  But since none of this rush of desperation was exactly planned, Miyuki has no idea what to say.  He’s never been too good with words, especially when he’s the one in the wrong.  At Seido, Youichi would have picked up his slack and said what Miyuki was thinking before Miyuki could even decide for himself.  


Miyuki sighs.  “I’m--”  Youichi cuts him off sharply.  “If the first thing out of your damned mouth isn’t ‘sorry,’ I’m leaving.”  


“I’m sorry.”  Miyuki relents, and Youichi actually looks at him for the first time tonight.  Miyuki feels his eyes soften, focus on Youichi, who hasn’t had enough.  


“For?”  Youichi pushes, tapping his glass. 


Miyuki snorts a pathetic laugh.  There was no way that this would be easy, but Youichi seems to be enjoying making it hard.  Miyuki drains his tonic in one sip before answering.  “For not putting enough effort into us, for ignoring you, for being a bad boyfriend.”


Youichi eyes him for a long while, evaluating his answer and his sincerity, then raising his hand to the bartender.  “This guy’ll need another.”  


So Miyuki gets another, and Youichi mercifully waits until it’s in front of Miyuki to continue.  “And for being an all-around useless dickbag?”  Normally, Youichi would have said it with a smirk; with honey on his tongue to sweeten his words.  But now he’s all salt and sour and whiskey on ice. 


Miyuki owes him this much.  “And for being an all-around useless dickbag.”  He concedes.  “Anything else I should add?” 


It’s 8:45 PM.  For the first time in twelve years, Miyuki sees Youichi crack a smile.  It’s subtle, only touching one lone corner of his lip, but it’s there and it’s worth the world. “That’s enough.”  Youichi relents.  “I’ve moved on.”  


“Does that mean you forgive me?”  


“Not even close, but it means you can try to make it up to me.” 


They finish their drinks not long after, idly discussing the past few years as if they hadn’t been completely uninvolved.  An hour passes. And another.  It’s rude to stay when they’re not ordering anymore so they risk the cold night air.  


It’s 11:15 PM.  Miyuki has never walked anyone home before, and at this point, Youichi probably isn’t the person to ask.  So they mill about the streets surrounding the bar, neither really indicating where he’s going.  Mikyuki shivers.  He’s not dressed for this. 


“You really have nothing better to do tonight?”  He’s in disbelief.  He had been sure that Youichi would have been happily paired up to really rub salt in Miyuki’s self-inflicted wound.  


Youichi elbows him in the ribs.  It’s soft, tentative; lacking the vigor of the past.  “This is the worst thing imaginable I can think of doing.” But the honey’s back.  It’s muted but it’s there.  “What about you.  Aren’t you famous?”  


Miyuki barks a laugh in a visible puff of hot air.  “I can think of a lot worse things to be doing--” May as well ask.  


“Want me to walk you to wherever you’re going?”  


“‘Don’t want you knowing where I live just yet.” 




“You can take me to my street.”  


It’s 11:48 PM, Miyuki’s past frozen and Youichi likely isn’t much better.  He breathes into his hands, but even his breath has gone cold.  


“Bet you wish you had my gloves now.”  Youcihi teases dryly, inviting Miyuki to be the little shit that he is.


“How’re your fingers doing?”  Miyuki retorts, because Youichi’s hands have been shoved under his armpits for the past few blocks.  


“Shut up, bastard.”  Youichi’s revenge is pressing those cold fingers to the back of Miyuki’s neck.  Miyuki shivers, and Youichi pulls back when he realizes what he’s done.  Miyuki wonders if he’s imagining the rose that dusts the man’s cheeks. As if to cover for it, Youichi lectures him.  “You can’t dress so lightly just because you moved from someplace cold.”  


A warm weight drapes over Miyuki’s skin and over his shoulders.  It’s red as devotion.  Youichi relents and zips his coat up to his neck to compensate for the scarf he’s just handed over.  


“I’ll be fine--” Miyuki protests, making no effort to take the thing off.  


“I want it back.”  Youichi ignores him. 


It’s 12:02 AM.  Youichi stops him on his street and pulls out his cell, checking something on the screen. 


“Oh,”  He says, unenthused.  “It’s new years.”  


“It is.”  Miyuki agrees.  He’s not entirely sure what to do with the information because taking Youichi by the cheeks and kissing him senseless is surely not the right answer.  “This you?”  


“It’s me.”  Youichi confirms.  But he makes no moves to leave quite yet, lips pursed in thought.  Miyuki wonders if he’s thinking the same thing.  


“Thanks for letting me come--”  Miyuki blurts out simply for the sake of having something to say.  


Youichi tugs on the ends of his scarf so it tightens uncomfortably around his neck.  “Give this back to me next time.”  


There’s no kiss.  No promise of seeing each other again.  But there’s an ethereal ‘next time.’ And that’s enough to keep Miyuki warm.