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forget-me-not (and other things left unspoken)

Chapter Text

//

Miyuki Kazuya sprains his shoulder in the summer of his third year of high school. For a regular catcher, this is as good as the end.

For Miyuki, who has never quite been regular, this is only the beginning.

//

05/12

It’s a pocket watch.

Or, well, that’s what Miyuki’s limited knowledge regarding any time-telling device beyond his obnoxious and highly dysfunctional alarm clock is telling him.

So. It’s a pocket watch.

And Miyuki Kazuya is hardly old-fashioned enough to willingly carry a pocket watch around. But, he bends over and swipes it from the tiled floor of the Seidou spirit dorm's communal washroom anyway. For sentimentality, maybe.

“Huh,” he says dully.

The watch is considerably small, maybe half the size of the palm of his hand. It’s light, too, and Miyuki finds himself commending modern technology for making chunks of metal lighter than a baseball (always a baseball, because there’s nothing else he wants to compare things to). The watch is a bright, gleaming silver—the only reason why he noticed it amidst the steam from his bath and without his glasses on—though when he unclasps the cover of it to reveal the face, he’s surprised to find that the arms are stuttering. Maybe it’s not as new as it looks.

He doesn’t know anything about pocket watches. He doesn’t know why the watch has a weird, rounded handle atop what looks like a stout, a silver stem, protruding from the top of the watch. He doesn’t know enough to deal with this with any amount of care or precision, but Miyuki Kazuya is secretly a go-getter. He has no qualms with learning hands-on.

Miyuki’s cellphone reads 7:38 PM.

The time on the watch is wrong. It’s four hours late and, being the ever-giving citizen of the community that he most definitely is, Miyuki decides he’ll try to fix it before whoever lost it comes bounding back into the washroom to retrieve their misplaced item.

It’s pretty self-explanatory, he figures. All he has to do is twist the handle, the knob at the top, counter-clockwise to move the arms backward sequentially.

The arms are stuttering again, unwilling to move. Miyuki frowns, feeling mildly defeated as he continues to turn the knob, with much futility. He’s probably trying a little too aggressively because he’s pretty sure if the arms would reflect it, that he’s set the time back more than just four hours.

“Huh,” he echoes faintly, once more for good measure. Miyuki shrugs his shoulders, clasping the watch shut and idly pressing on the silver knob with his thumb.

The faint noise of footsteps grows louder from outside the washroom doors.

There is a click. It comes from the watch.

He blinks.

When he opens his eyes again, there’s nothing but all black, all white, and then the realization that he’s falling hits him too suddenly for him to notice that there’s a giant film reel unraveling beneath the soles of his shoes, filled with snippets of his day. As soon as he’s settled onto his feet again, his shoes pressing against bright blue skies and what he thinks might be the Seidou baseball pitch, he notices something flashing right before his very eyes.

In front of him, there’s a time written out into the air. It’s bright red and before he can comment on it, the numbers start blurring into nothing like a slot machine before it settles into something more definite. A more definite time.

3:08:12 PM.

Miyuki stumbles back.

He blinks.

Everything goes black. Once more. Just for good measure.

05/12 (1)

“Oi, Miyuki!” Kuramochi calls out, as soon as light and color rush back into Miyuki’s sea of vision. “Miyuki?”

He’s dizzy and disoriented. He has no idea how he ended up on the pathway to the baseball field from the dorms, already dressed in his uniform, but he’s a little too sick to make any jokes about it. The grip he has on the strap of his gym bag is making his fingers ache and Miyuki presses the back of his free hand against his forehead to check for a fever.

Nothing. If anything, it’s cold from the sweat.

“Hey, asshole!” And this time, he gets a light kick to the back of his legs. “How many times do I have to yell your name before you stop pretending you can’t hear m—whoa. You look like shit.”

Miyuki grimaces. He fixes a nondescript smile onto his face. “Haha, you’re as eloquent as always.”

There’s, to Kuramochi’s credit, an actual expression of genuine concern written into his features. He’s frowning, scowling, as he presses his own hand to Miyuki’s forehead. For a second, he even looks contemplative, pursing his lips as he retracts his hand.

“You don’t have a temperature, but you look like you’re about to hurl.”

Weakly, he pushes at Kuramochi’s shoulder, a feeble attempt at playing things off. It’ll probably fall flat, but maybe Kuramochi’s feeling generous enough to play along today. “I’m fine,” Miyuki mumbles, and then, brighter, “Were you worried about little old me?”

That’s more than enough to get Kuramochi back to normal again, jostling past Miyuki with a comically disgusted expression on his face.

“Don’t be so shy, Kuramochi!” Miyuki shouts after him. “Hahaha!”

“Go to hell!”

At the last second, there’s a lurch in Miyuki’s stomach as he remembers, in a flash, where he was just three minutes ago. He checks the time on his phone and feels even more disoriented when it reads 3:11 PM. Last time he checked, it was almost twenty minutes to eight, and dark out.

Right now, the sun is glaringly hell-bent on shining right in Miyuki’s face.

It’s nothing, he figures. Maybe just a daydream gone horribly wrong. Maybe the milk he had at lunch was spoiled?

It’s nothing. He’s still feeling a little dizzy, a little out-of-it, but there’s really nothing that baseball practice can’t fix. Adrenaline is a perfect remedy to the worst of situations—or so Miyuki is convinced.

This is what he tells himself as practice starts, practice continues. It’s nothing. He really should start sleeping more, at appropriate times. He should stop sneaking half of his meals onto Maezono’s plate when he isn’t looking. Maintain a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t promote weird flash visions and extended daydreams that leave him reeling even when Furuya’s monster pitches are threatening his life with promised brevity.

It’s nothing.

And, to his credit, Miyuki does hold out. For the entirety of practice, even as Furuya and Sawamura continue to neglect every single one of his suggestions (not intentionally, but the headache he has really isn’t in any capacity to discriminate), Miyuki holds out. Sure, he misses one ball and even makes a show of diving out to try and catch it after zoning out, but that happens once, and it’s not going to happen ever again.

As captain, it’s his responsibility not to dwell on the fact that he literally just went back in time (okay, no—don’t think about it), and focus on improving the team.

And—oh. Suddenly, his head is throbbing again.

As soon as practice ends, and he’s no longer in constant motion or forced to be in constant vigilance of his pitchers, the shakiness comes back, too, like an insufferable winter blanket.

He staggers to the front of the team, Maezono and Kuramochi on either side of him, and parts his lips to close their practice. But his throat is dry, and all he can manage is a cough.

“Have more confidence, captain!” Sawamura yells from the back. Miyuki resents Sawamura’s comment and the way Maezono is looking at him suspiciously.

Kuramochi shoots Miyuki an incriminating glance. “Alright, good work, everyone!” he shouts, hands on his hips as he addresses the team head-on. “Practice is over! Get washed up and make sure to fill your three bowl quota at dinner. That means you, Furuya! Hyahaha!”

After feigning ignorance, Furuya wilts. Miyuki can empathize.

The rest of the team responds appropriately and then practice is officially over, members already dispersing to gather their belongings and move on with the rest of their day. Come to think of it, Miyuki has homework he has to finish too, though he’s not sure how much he’ll manage when he still feels like a screw is loose somewhere in his body.

“What planet are you on?” Kuramochi sidles up next to him, narrowing his eyes ever-so-slightly. And then, a little softer: “You sure you’re okay? You were zoning out a lot during practice.”

It’s a futile effort trying to avoid being subject to how perceptive Kuramochi is. Miyuki’s acknowledged that much over and over again.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t try.

A wince escapes him and he lets out one shaky breath. “Yeah, probably sick,” Miyuki reasons with a frown.

There’s concern on Kuramochi’s face again, but he doesn’t say anything immediately. He jams his hands into his pockets and sets his gaze forward, deliberately walking half-a-step slower so Miyuki can keep up.

“You’re full of shit,” Kuramochi replies. “You haven’t been sick since first year. Got something on your mind?”

Miyuki smiles feebly. He really should stop trying to lie to Kuramochi’s face.

“Just a headache,” Miyuki tries again.

This time, Kuramochi lets it go. He shrugs his shoulders, obviously dissatisfied with the answer but doubly too keenly aware of how worthless it is trying to get Miyuki to talk.

“I’ll drop by tomorrow with the assignments if you go all out with your act,” offers Kuramochi. And then he grins. “But if sensei asks, I’m going to say you’re skipping.”

“Wow. Chillingly evil of you.”

“Hyaha! You know being sick doesn’t excuse you from your three bowls, right?”

In spite of everything, Miyuki acknowledges the tiny little sliver of mirth tugging at the corners of his lips. He laughs.

*

The original plan was to leave the Cursed Pocket Watch in the washroom where he found it, but Miyuki’s terrible with commitment, so the original plan wastes away into nothing as he spends a third hour scrutinizing the device in his room.

His roommates are asleep. Of course they are. It’s three in the morning. Miyuki should be asleep, but instead, he’s wide awake, scrutinizing the glowing screen of his laptop.

Leaning forward, he squints behind the lenses of his glasses, eyes glossing over while reading about the anatomy of a clock. The search history on his laptop consists of learning about pocket watches and questioning the legality and likelihood of successful time travel.

The watch honestly does look harmless enough. The winding crown, what he’d called the stem, sounds like a dial when he turns it but he doesn’t want to try again to confirm his suspicions, out of fear that he might accidentally land himself in the prehistoric era. What’s weird about the watch (aside from the fact that it might be cursed) is that it clicks.

Miyuki remembers the noise it had made just seconds before everything had faded to black. He’d idly pressed down against the crown, maybe just to grip the object tighter in his hands, and then. And then.

Well.

And then the lingering tendrils of composure in Miyuki’s mind suddenly unraveled, and he found himself caught in the midst of a too-wild-too-real daydream?

He grimaces. There are times when pragmatism backfires spectacularly on him and this, this is one of those times.

Normal pocket watches probably don’t click to foreshadow heightened daydreams. Normal pocket watches probably aren’t capable of sending him four and a half hours back in time.

Miyuki squints. This isn’t a normal pocket watch. That much, he can deduce for himself.

It’s three in the morning and he has better things to do (like his math homework) than stay up contemplating things he’d never once expected to face while growing up. Puberty? No cinch. First crush? A little rough, but manageable. Being named captain of the team? Okay, kind of a pain, but admittedly worthwhile.

Potentially discovering time travel at the age of eighteen?

There is a grim look on Miyuki’s face and he is suddenly nostalgic for the stressful kindergarten days following his dramatic sandbox break-up with his first ever girlfriend.

With much futility, he continues his research.

Google Search: IS TIME TRAVEL REAL?

Google Search: how the fuck did i go back in time? did I even? Answers

Google Search: creepy silver clock clicked and i time traveled??

Google Search: will the government hunt me down for time traveling

Miyuki hums, thoughtful.

Google Search: symptoms for insanity

05/13

He isn’t sure when he fell asleep, but he’d probably guess it was an unholy time well past five in the morning.

When Miyuki rises from his bed, groggy, lethargic, and totally unassuming, he finds himself in sheer awe of the extent of his negligence as soon as his gaze lands on his alarm clock.

9:13 AM.

It’s a Tuesday and, more importantly, not a national holiday. Which really goes to say that there’s no reason that Miyuki should still be in bed and not in class at 9:13, well, 9:14 now, in the morning. But knowing that he should not be here and should be there doesn’t actually do much for magically turning back time and/or teleporting him to class.

Eight alarms, and he’s slept through every single one of them. Absolutely incredible. To think his own body would neglect a carefully hard-wired circadian rhythm like this. To think he’d lose track of time—

Time.

He hates how quickly his eyes falls on the furthest bottom desk drawer he’s stowed the watch away in. He hates it, because he isn’t even positive if yesterday was just a fever dream, the hacked-up culmination of too many sleepless nights hunched over baseball plays. He hates it, because he doesn’t know what the consequences are of doing something as unrealistic as time traveling.

Miyuki covers his face with his hands, suppressing a low groan. Why his roommates didn’t wake him up is beyond him (actually, he knows why—and to their defense, they probably tried) but he tries to reason out his next terrible decision. He’s not lying to himself when he says he can’t tell if yesterday’s leap in time was fiction or not.

And, well, there’s really only one way to confirm or debunk his suspicions, and that’s to run a second trial.

Yeah.

Miyuki’s legs are moving on their own at this point, marching him straight to his desk. He pulls open the drawer and lifts the pocket watch, balancing it on one open palm. He shouldn’t do this, probably. Probably.

He inhales sharply and turns the winding crown counter-clockwise three-and-a-half hours. The time on the watch reads 5:45 AM and Miyuki finds himself entirely underwhelmed for what he hopes is just him humoring a wild daydream.

He snaps the watch shut. Presses the knob down.

“Well,” Miyuki starts, and he closes his eyes and doesn’t get the chance to finish his thought.

05/13 (1)

This is the run-down of Miyuki Kazuya’s morning(s):

He wakes up just a couple minutes past nine in the morning, remarkably late for his first and part of his second class. The striking protagonist finds himself battling the complexity of the time-space continuum before employing the use of what he foolishly convinces himself is a time-turning device.

Miyuki is, apparently, not as foolish as he was hoping. Because his second chance at morning goes a little something like landing in his bed at 5:45 AM, before Okumura and Kimura even have the chance to stir in their beds. He’s washed up and ready to go for class earlier than he’s ever been and.

And.

Well.

It’s only his second time falling and sprinting through the empty canvas that so many colloquially refer to as time. To be honest, Miyuki’s second experience isn’t too different from his first. He’s just as dizzy, just as disoriented, and just as completely terrified, and totally winded as he was when he landed himself on the way to baseball practice just yesterday.

So, despite manipulating the clock and playing God for a couple of hours to get to class on time, Miyuki, to cool his head and categorize his thoughts, is the first one in the building aside from his teachers and promptly climbs the stairs to the rooftop to skip his first class. Willingly.

And before he knows it, he’s skipped his second period too.

In between mulling his thoughts and counting down the minutes until the government comes crashing through the door to arrest him for tinkering with science or something, Miyuki bides his wasted hours as peacefully as possible, combatting texts from Kuramochi asking where he is with wry responses and annoying emojis when Kuramochi starts complaining about their math class.

*

From: Miyuki Kazuya
To: kuramochi

@ the rooftop. u joining me?

Delivered 11:08 AM

 

From: kuramochi

Are you even sick you moron

Received 11:09 AM

 

From: Miyuki Kazuya
To: kuramochi

lol no but why would i subject myself to math class
sounds like cruel and unusual punishment to me

Delivered 11:12 AM

 

From: kuramochi

Nothing is as cruel and unusual as having to be your only friend

Received 11:16 AM

 

From: Miyuki Kazuya
To: kuramochi

lol thank you ^^

Delivered 11:17 AM

 

From: kuramochi

Zono’s going to kill you for skipping breakfast and lunch

Received 11:18 AM

 

From: Miyuki Kazuya
To: kuramochi

sounds like a personal problem.

Delivered 11:18 AM

 

From: kuramochi

ㅗㅗㅗㅗㅗ

Received 11:19 AM

*

Exactly twelve minutes after the lunch bell rings, the door to the rooftop rattles open. Unsurprisingly, it’s Kuramochi, the plastic wrapper of a pack of salad bread gripped between his teeth, one hand holding two more packs of bread and the other just barely balancing his backpack and a plastic folder.

“Yo,” Miyuki greets from where he’s sitting, legs stretched out before him. He barely manages to catch the two melon breads tossed his way.

“Bfefaffs,” Kuramochi begins, only to cut himself off. He scowls, grabbing his own impromptu lunch from his teeth with his freed hand. “Breakfast and lunch,” he amends. As a second thought, Kuramochi waves the folder. “And your homework.”

“You my mom or something?”

“No. Just the unfortunate tribute.” He heaves a sigh before unceremoniously seating himself beside Miyuki. “So what’s up? Why’d you decide to leave me to rot in class this time?”

This time?” Miyuki echoes, trying his best to look affronted as Kuramochi busies himself with tearing open the packaging for his bread. “You make it sound like this is a recurring thing.”

“You bailing on me? Well.”

“No elaboration, please. You’ll break my frail heart.”

“You have a heart!”

As deserved retaliation, Miyuki leans over to steal a generous bite of Kuramochi’s bread. He doesn’t like salad, but the satisfaction remains even after Kuramochi’s got his arm locked around Miyuki’s neck in a hardly threatening manner.

During their first year together at Seidou, Kuramochi had hated being referred to as Miyuki’s only friend (or vice versa). It was understandable, considering the start to their friendship had been nothing but dysfunctional, partly due to Miyuki’s stunningly loose grip on proper social etiquette. Even looking back, Miyuki isn’t really sure how he didn’t earn a punch or two to the face instead of a begrudging friend.

It’s been two years since then, and though neither of them would admit it out loud, Miyuki’s comfortable with acknowledging to himself that Kuramochi is, undoubtedly, his best friend—

“Wipe that gross look off your face. It’s creeping me out,” Kuramochi says, releasing Miyuki from his grasp and sinking down, slouching against the wall behind them as an afterthought. “Nabe-chan was looking for you before lunch. He has notes to give you.”

“Gross look?” Miyuki repeats, ignoring Kuramochi’s extended statement for now. He feigns offense. “This is just my face.”

“Do something about it.”

“I’m flattered.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” Kuramochi kicks Miyuki’s shoe with his own. “Don’t ignore me.”

“I’ll see him at practice,” replies Miyuki. He closes his eyes briefly, resting the back of his head against cement boundary of the rooftop. Just inches above, the mesh fence erected atop the edges clatters as the wind blows harsher, if only for a second. “Hey.”

“Yeah?”

“What would you do if you could go back in time to whenever you wanted?” The question hits a little too close to home, but he’s psyching himself out. There’s no normal, unsuspecting person on the planet right now who’d automatically see through Miyuki’s cleverly cloaked desire to hear someone humor his self-proclaimed delusions.

To his surprise, Kuramochi doesn’t hesitate.

“I’d go back to meet Matsui Kazuo when he’s eighteen and play a game with him.” Kuramochi grins. “Hyaha! I’d get to see him on the same level as me!”

“You really only think about baseball. Amazing.”

“Oi, don’t act like you’re any better.” Without warning, Kuramochi jabs Miyuki’s side with his elbow, startling him upright. “I’d meet someone else too. Another baseball player.”

“Who?”

“More importantly, why are you asking?” Kuramochi narrows his eyes slightly, honing his gaze in on the side of Miyuki’s face. “You’ve been weird since yesterday, you know.”

Like Miyuki couldn’t possibly know how off he’s been. There’s a weak smile on Miyuki’s lips, lasting only seconds before he laughs.

“Can’t take this to heart when it’s coming from you.”

Kuramochi can probably tell Miyuki doesn’t answer. It’s been three years and it’s been too long for him not to be able to notice the way Miyuki’s lips tighten right before Kuramochi tugs him over for another headlock. He doesn’t say anything though, and that’s enough for now. They ease back into roughhousing, wrestling until Miyuki’s just about to surrender—right as the bell rings again, signaling the end of their lunch period.

“Look at the time. You have to go,” Miyuki muses as Kuramochi frees him from his grasp. He watches as Kuramochi straightens his back, rising up to his feet and brushing himself off while Miyuki stays put.

We have to go,” he corrects, extending an arm and grabbing Miyuki by the wrist to pull him up. “You can’t go to practice unless you go to class, captain.”

“No big loss. You and Maezono can handle yourselves just fine.”

“Someday, I’m going to punch you for real. No holding back.”

Miyuki laughs again, and Kuramochi’s expression doesn’t budge but their shoulders bump as they walk down the stairs and back to their classroom and he thinks, very fleetingly, that this might be enough.

“I told the teacher you were skipping,” Kuramochi announces as soon as they’re meters from the door to their homeroom. “Said you hated her lectures.”

Very purposefully, Miyuki sticks his foot out in front of Kuramochi’s, relishing the way he stumbles just seconds after.

“Oops,” he says, though the wide grin on his face says otherwise. “Sorry.”

“…Oi, Miyuki…”

They run the remaining meters to their class, Miyuki in front and Kuramochi quick on his heels. They’re being a little too loud and they’ll probably get in trouble for that sometime in the next ten minutes, but it’s enough to get Miyuki’s mind off of the watch in his right pocket and he can’t ask for more than that.

(Shirasu, ever reliable, catches a glimpse of the merry scene while walking to his own class with Nori beside him. He sighs, with feeling. “Ugh.”)

05/17

The fact is that he shouldn’t.

He should probably turn the watch in. To who, he isn’t sure, but Miyuki’s almost positive that he shouldn’t have it. He shouldn’t have it because then he wouldn’t be entertaining thoughts of using it a third, fourth, fifth time—

He shouldn’t.

And a part of him thinks he won’t. He’s been considering it, but there’s no pressing need and the consequences—the murky, indefinable consequences—are still nagging at the back of his mind. Miyuki hates not knowing things. Full details. Important facts. Consequences.

He shouldn’t. He knows he shouldn’t. So. What comes after should be simple. If Miyuki knows that he shouldn’t, then he absolutely—

“HYAHAHA!” The laughter echoes from outside of the nearly empty classroom.

School is over for the day and soon, he’ll have to pack up and get ready to go to baseball practice. Before he can do that, however, Kuramochi comes bounding into their class with a wide grin on his face, laughing to the point of almost-tears welling up at the corners of his eyes.

“SHIRASU—” he starts, and he skids to a stop, hand on Miyuki’s shoulder to steady himself. “Shirasu got a confession just now, holy shit, you missed it! He was, hyaha, he was—he was so serious when he said ‘I want to devote my time to a relationship with baseball.’ Oh man, you should have seen it—oi! Miyuki!”

Kuramochi calling his name reels him back into reality and Miyuki flinches before easing his shoulders. “What?” He looks up at Kuramochi, fully aware now that he missed the entire story when Kuramochi’s mystified gaze meets his. “Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”

“You’ve been crazy out-of-it these days. Are you going to let this show at practice too or what?” He flicks the side of Miyuki’s head. “What’s going on?”

He’s got to stop being obvious about whatever’s distracting him. Sooner or later, there’ll be a confrontation, and Miyuki isn’t too sure if he can trust himself with one. There’s a drag to his movements as he turns his head, about to put together some bullshit response about homework, when his eyes fall on a small, red gift bag nestled underneath Kuramochi’s arms with his uniform jacket.

Mirth bubbles at the base of Miyuki’s chest (and beneath it, maybe something clenching a little too tight for his comfort) and suddenly, his mood skyrockets at the prospect of ruining Kuramochi’s day.

“Did you get confessed to?” Miyuki grins, resting his cheek against the palm of his hand. All while looking at Kuramochi, and then at the red bag, with a knowing tug of the lips.

“What?” Kuramochi balks. In a split second, he’s hyperaware of what Miyuki’s talking about, and turns a shade of indignant red that matches the gift bag like none other. “Shut up, you moron! We’re going to be late for practice!”

Slowly, Miyuki rises from his seat, gathering up his belongings into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. “Amazing. Kuramochi Youichi gets a confession—”

“Can you! Stop!” Kuramochi is relentless as he kicks at the back of Miyuki’s knees. “Asshole! The only one who got confessed to was Shirasu!”

Shirasu, in the doorway, ever reliable, clears his throat. “We’re late for practice,” he says, level as always. “And please don’t talk about my private matters to Miyuki, of all people.”

“Hyahaha! Shirasu, you stud!” Kuramochi quickly abandons Miyuki’s side to swing an arm around Shirasu’s shoulders. “Hey, wasn’t that the girl who Maezono thought was cute?”

Kuramochi’s right. He shouldn’t let himself get so swept away. There’s no room in his responsibilities as captain for him to get distracted by meaningless things.

Miyuki sighs, squeezing his fingers around the strap of his bag.

“Oi, captain! Pick up the pace!” Kuramochi shouts from the hallway.

“Yes, sir~” Miyuki calls back, and the lilt to his tone is far from forced.

05/18

Maezono’s still making his case for upping the daily training regimen to four bowls of rice per meal instead of three by the time he, Miyuki, and Kuramochi make their way within the vicinity of the dugout. Miyuki is keen on believing that even three bowls is a lot, sometimes even too much (and he’s pretty sure Kuramochi’s going to agree too, because there has never been a meal without at least an ounce of suffering between the two of them), but he’s diplomatic in his captain-approach (haha) and decides to humor Maezono for now.

“Miyuki can’t even finish three bowls,” Kuramochi comments, because Kuramochi has many hobbies, and one of them is tossing Miyuki under the bus. “We can’t make the whole team eat four bowls when the captain can’t even eat three. They’d all be mutinous! Hyahaha!”

“Haha,” Miyuki echoes, dryly. “No need to up it to four bowls. If you want a fourth, though, you can have one of mine. Take it as a gift from a captain to his favorite vice-captain, Maezono!”

“Is this supposed to be an honor?” Maezono asks.

“Hey, hey…”

“Who’d want to be Miyuki’s favorite?” There’s a wild smile on Kuramochi’s face and he looks on the verge of laughing again before the telltale stampede of footsteps grows louder and—

“KURAMOCHI-SENPAI!” Sawamura shouts. It’s a greeting, Miyuki thinks, but he also might be giving Sawamura too much credit this time around.

Oi, Sawamura…” There’s already a twitch to Kuramochi’s left eye as he tries, in vain, to silence Sawamura with just a look.

“How’s it feel being a year older, senpai?! Did you wake up with more wisdom? Ah! Maybe you woke up with a year of maturity! AH! MAYBE YOU’LL STOP WRESTLING M—mmmfff!” Kuramochi wraps an arm around his beloved roommate’s neck in a headlock, one hand pressed against the bottom half of Sawamura’s face, abruptly cutting off the ardent, dulcent tones of Sawamura’s eager greeting.“Mmmff! Gfhfffmgfng!”

“Shut up!” Kuramochi scowls. “Why are you being so loud and shouting at your senior already, you moron! Bakamura!”

For all the pretenses that Kuramochi puts up, it’s pretty obvious to Miyuki and the rest of Seidou, probably, how fond he is of Sawamura. It’s kind of funny and a moot point to bring up in any conversation because of how obtuse Kuramochi is to the fact but—

…Huh. A year older?

“Did you have a nice birthday, Kuramochi-senpai?” Haruichi inquires from behind Sawamura. He looks genuinely interested in knowing, bless his soul.

All the while, Miyuki finds himself wondering how everyone knew this glaring fact but him.

“Huh?” The downright evil expression on Kuramochi’s face sobers into something more approachable as his gaze flickers in Haruichi’s direction. “Nah, I didn’t really do much. I had to study anyway. Thanks for the cake, though. Sorry this idiot here made you drop it on the floor.”

Haruichi turns a faint pink, probably from the verbally expressed gratitude. “Furuya-kun was supposed to come with us, but he fell asleep…”

“Hyaha! Leave it to that guy for falling asleep at eight on a school night!”

The dugout’s filled with laughter, momentarily, in the ten minutes before practice starts for the day.

Miyuki excuses himself from the conversation to fetch his extra mitt from his room just as Sawamura licks the palm of Kuramochi’s hand and Kuramochi offers a free-of-charge demonstration of a wrestling move called the Carnival Pretzel.

Any other day and the helpless, distant, yelps of Sawamura screaming uncle would be enough distraction as is, but Miyuki can’t help but circling the date May 17th in his mind thirty times, in red. It’s not his fault. Kuramochi doesn’t talk about his birthday and Miyuki doesn’t talk about his. They don’t have the type of friendship where they hold each other accountable for things that might lull them into believing that they really are each other’s only friends.

Still, something tugs at the more conscientious part of Miyuki’s heart, and he can’t help but think he should have prepared something, too. It’s not so much instinct as it is a deliberate shift of his arm that has him reaching into the pocket of his gym bag to procure the silver pocket watch.

It’s been a while since he’s last used it—mostly out of fear of the consequences, because he’s seen plenty of sci-fi movies that’ll tell him that aliens or, even worse, his dad, will find out about his time-traveling and either abduct him or ground him from baseball. Now’s probably not the time to be making jokes to himself while contemplating a serious decision but…

He sighs, vaguely reminding himself of the video game Kuramochi mentioned weeks ago in passing.

Miyuki glances up at the sky, maybe seeking holy introspection, and then down at the ground, maybe wondering if the Devil himself might crawl from the ninth circle of hell to confirm with Miyuki if this is really the right thing to do.

“World’s worst and best friend, for once in my life,” Miyuki says aloud to himself. And with that, he winds the clock back to exactly forty-eight hours prior. Plenty of time to get a gift. Plenty of time to regret getting the gift, probably.

Oh well.

He clasps the watch shut and closes his eyes.

Click.

 

05/17 (1)

It’s nothing special. That’s what he’ll say. Sure, he bought it at full-price, it being a game Kuramochi’s been talking nonstop about for the past few weeks, but it’s been out for a couple of months now so Miyuki can, if he executes this seamlessly, pretend he got it for cheap, maybe even half-price. It’s not cheap. Not even close to half-price but he buys it anyway. For. For good reason.

Right. This is fine. There’s nothing weird about Miyuki getting a gift for his friend, his best friend, technically speaking. This doesn’t have to be weird—so long as he doesn’t make it weird. And Miyuki? Miyuki’s an expert at keeping any stray thoughts and weird clenches of his heart in check.

….

Right. Just. Never mind the fact that it’s already the end of the day and he’s done nothing, made no moves to pull the plastic bag that the present is in out of his backpack. The gift, in itself, is very impersonal, and deliberately so. Miyuki’s kept it in the original plastic bagging, and he’s even neglected writing a card so it wouldn’t be too weird. Except, well, it’s still weird.

It’s still weird, and he isn’t really sure why.

To think that he went so far as to use the watch for Kuramochi goes to show that, in the very least, Miyuki isn’t using it for selfish purposes. Sort of. It’s just—if he thinks about it… if he really thinks about it, he has absolutely no idea why he went so far as to use the watch just for Kuramochi.

There really isn’t any room for regret. It’s much too late for something as trivial as that. Miyuki can withstand a couple minutes of intense scrutiny and suspicion from Kuramochi if it means getting this stupid video game out of his bag and off his hands.

So, he heaves a sigh as he rises from his seat. Class is over and he’s supposed to drop by the faculty office, but it can wait another day. Miyuki plucks the plastic bag from his open backpack and stretches it above his head while wandering out of the classroom. There are students still littering the halls, even lingering at their desks, probably sharing homework answers or relaying last-minute gossip before heading home for the day. Kuramochi typically spends the small sliver of time he has between the end of class and baseball practice migrating from classroom to classroom, usually to bother Shirasu and Nori before it’s time to get his head back in the game.

Today, Kuramochi is nowhere to be found. And Miyuki thinks to himself, idly, that of course Kuramochi’s paranormal sixth sense has him out of Miyuki’s reach the one time he’s actually looking for him. Typical.

He’s about to give up by the time he gets to the very end of the hall. There’s a neglected staircase at this end that descends and exits out of the back of the school. Not many people use it when the one on the opposite side leads to the front. This section of the hallway is already significantly quieter as a whole, and Miyuki’s about to turn around and give up for the hour when he hears the faint murmur of people talking by the stairwell.

Wordless, he meanders in and just barely makes out the cadence of Kuramochi’s voice, just a floor below. Miyuki grins, considers tiptoeing down the steps to surprise him, when the entrance of a second voice renders him frozen. He’s quiet as he seats himself at the top of the stairs, and his heart is beating a little quicker than usual for reasons he can’t bother trying to comprehend.

“I…” The second voice belongs to someone Miyuki recognizes too, a girl from their homeroom class with a remarkable knack for English. He recognizes her voice because the teacher is relentless in calling on her during recitations, and the tiny little wavers, the ups and downs, are all he can identify her by. “Um… I’m sorry for calling you out here so suddenly!”

“Huh?” Kuramochi is as graceless as always, and Miyuki can picture the unsuspectingly awkward expression on his face from where he’s sitting. “It’s not a problem.”

There’s a rustling noise, the sound of paper crinkling against itself.

“I, um, happy birthday! I wanted to wish you a happy birthday, Youichi-kun!”

Miyuki presses his palm against his mouth, tries to suppress a wry laugh at hearing Kuramochi’s first name.

“I know you probably…. You probably don’t like me the way I like you! But, um! Even if you can’t accept my feelings, I wanted to give you a birthday gift…”

The long pause that follows gives Miyuki plenty of time to mull this over. For one, he comes to the brilliant conclusion that he absolutely shouldn’t be here. Confidentiality, privacy, the works, just to name a couple of reasons; that, and he isn’t sure if he wants to hear the rest of this anyway.

The lurch in his stomach is traitorous. He definitely doesn’t want to hear the rest, but his shoes feel like lead weights and he’s straining to hear better.

“Ah, shoot…” Kuramochi mumbles, and he sounds sheepish, apologetic, guilty. “I… actually have someone I like, or, uh, something like that.”

Miyuki blinks. This is the first time he’s heard of it or had any indication of Kuramochi having a crush on someone.

“I’m sorry,” Kuramochi continues. “I really wish I had something better to say to you. Just… Thank you. I appreciate it.” Another pause, this time, shorter. “You deserve a lot better than a guy like me, trust me.”

Faint sniffling. Miyuki winces.

“It’s fine, really,” she says mildly. “I wasn’t expecting anything, but please don’t put yourself down, Youichi-kun. I would really like to be friends, if that’s okay with you.”

Miyuki doesn’t get to hear Kuramochi respond. He makes his exit before then, feeling uncharacteristically severe as he walks back to the now nearly-empty classroom. He seats himself at his desk once more and tosses the gift back into his backpack.

It doesn’t make sense to him that his first thought goes back to the pocket watch concealed in the folds of his uniform pants. It doesn’t make sense to him that the first thought he has is I can go back to before I saw that. It doesn’t make sense for a couple of reasons: one, going back in time to just thirty minutes prior wouldn’t wipe his memory clean of what he just saw and; two, there’s no reason why seeing that scene should bother him as much as it does.

Fifteen minutes later, Kuramochi bounds into the room with an unperturbed grin on his face.

Miyuki looks back, feigns ignorance. “I heard you laughing a mile away. What happened?” He offers a grin. It’s as convincing as he can manage.

“SHIRASU—” Kuramochi starts, just like he did the first time around. His hand lands on Miyuki’s shoulder again too, just as warm, and the way he’s laughing, wiping away stray tears, makes this entire experience all the more sufferable. “Shirasu got a confession just now, holy shit, you missed it! It was—”

Truth be told, he doesn’t listen this time either. He can’t bring himself to focus on anything but the way Kuramochi’s face brightens as he’s regaling his tale. But Miyuki plays along. Follows his lines. Follows the signals.

He’s always been good at that.

05/20

The pocket watch is sitting in the very back corner of the bottom drawer of his desk. Untouched. And that’s how it’s been for the past two days.

Something about time travel still grates on Miyuki’s nerves in the worst possible way. It might be how feasible the concept actually is (it isn’t feasible at all) or it might be the sheer thought of how massive the consequences for getting caught with a device like that might be. Then again, considering Miyuki Kazuya and all that he is, it’s likelier to be a healthy combination of the two.

He’s not an expert, that’s for sure. He isn’t quite positive who can be an expert on things like time travel without also being the laughingstocks of the science community or something but he has seen ridiculous science fiction movies back when Ryou-san went on his alien horror kick. So. Miyuki knows he can’t use this watch too often, too frequently, or, if at all possible, at all. There are legal consequences, probably. Those are bad enough, but he doesn’t want to consider how much tampering with a timeline might do to the future, years from now.

Miyuki clamps his eyes shut and flops back over onto his bed.

There’s no good reason for him to be awake right now. He hasn’t committed enough terrible crimes to be startled awake in the middle of the night by nightmares of getting caught listening to things he shouldn’t be listening to.

Right. Like the confession.

He isn’t sure if he can reasonably let himself go back in time when he’s putting himself at risk of seeing things he doesn’t need to, doesn’t have any right to see. Almost immediately at the thought, he hears the confession, hears Kuramochi’s “I actually have someone I like.”

It doesn’t do anything to shut his thoughts up, but he buries his face into his pillow anyway.

Responsibilities. As if he didn’t have enough.

The past few days have been normal, to say the least. Since the 17th, Miyuki hasn’t gone out of his way to ask questions about things he shouldn’t know about, and Kuramochi hasn’t made any attempt at mentioning the events of his birthday.

For the most part, everything is normal. This is how Miyuki prefers it, feigning total ignorance to his surroundings, to the swarm of thoughts in his mind, and, most importantly, to the video game still snug at the very bottom of his backpack.

He could return the gift. He could return it, get a full refund, and then he could move on in life, get a grip on reality again. Sure, he’s lost the receipt, but the packaging is unharmed and Miyuki has enough confidence in his charm offensive to feel unperturbed about that. It’s the least of his worries, after all, the primary concern about this entire situation being that he doesn’t want to return the game.

A mildly significant, very impossibly stubborn sliver (it might be more than a sliver) of the more logical part of his mind keeps reminding him that it’s not weird for normal people to give normal gifts to their normal friends.

He’s been reciting the exchange in his mind. Hi, hey, happy late birthday, here you go, see you later.

Simple as that. Or, well, it would be if the less significant but even more impossibly stubborn three-fourths of his mind keeps emphasizing: I wouldn’t do this any other year, so why now?

The commitment he has to figuring out this inconsequential issue is commendable. Not only does Miyuki manage to neglect his history assignment and studying for his upcoming exam to weigh his pros and cons, but he also manages to lull himself back to sleep in the process.

So, when he wakes again to the irritated whistling of his alarm, it is, to his utmost horror, that he tumbles out of bed and sprints to his desk to retrieve the watch because it’s well past eight in the morning and he’s almost certain he’s missed the former half of his exam.

“Just this once,” he says through gritted teeth, as he turns the winding crown of the pocket watch with newfound fervor. “Ugh.”

Too many responsibilities. Some of them have to be sacrificed.

Miyuki sighs. With feeling.

05/20 (1)

Somehow, he still manages to be thirty seconds late. Maybe it’s the hustle and bustle of trying to collect his thoughts last minute, or, probably, the intense last-minute cramming session initiated while sprinting to his classroom.

Either way, when Miyuki sprints into his class with an unforgivably sheepish smile on his face, the teacher is less than amused and Kuramochi is the total opposite, stifling laughs behind his hand at Miyuki’s misery-to-come.

“Sorry,” Miyuki offers. “Haha, I went to the wrong classroom.”

The unconvincing lie falls short when the teacher points him to his desk and hands back an exam sheet.

“Idiot,” Kuramochi coughs out.

He feels very little remorse while kicking the leg of Kuramochi’s chair.

“Asshole,” amends Kuramochi promptly, under his breath so only Miyuki can hear.

Miyuki hums cheerfully.

(Kuramochi is more than pissed when Miyuki ends up scoring six points higher.)

05/22

There’s time on Sunday mornings, if he leaves early enough, to go back home to help his dad at work for a short while. It’s mundane, tedious, and Miyuki leaves usually feeling more unfulfilled than intended, but it’s something of a responsibility he pins to himself. When baseball isn’t the only priority, dad is. Dad has to be, because there’s really no one else at this point.

Because sometimes dad forgets to eat proper meals, even at this age. He’s a workaholic, and maybe that’s where Miyuki gets his drive for success from. Genetics was never his favorite topic in middle school science classes, but he knows enough to figure that he had to have gotten something from his father.

If he’s being honest with himself, there’s little to reap from a relationship that doesn’t amount to much. Miyuki and his father—they only have each other—but when it all boils down to the very bare minimum, he can’t say with confidence that that’s enough. This is what happens when you grow up burning too-small fingertips on the edge of a stove too-high for short legs. This is what happens when you practice in the mirror, what to say when the teacher asks why your parents can’t come in for a mid-semester meeting.

This is what happens, Miyuki figures, when you grow up all too quickly for your own body.

He looks up at the ceiling, or, the closest thing he gets to a ceiling which just so happens to be the bottom of the bunk on top of his. It’s not too late if he runs. 6:28 AM is a perfectly fine time for him to rush home for an hour or two, maybe just to make breakfast, to pop in a wave so his dad knows he’s alive and kicking.

Even so, he could turn back time if he really, really wanted to. He could turn back as early as four in the morning just to spend those extra hours with his dad in silence.

There are certain aspects of life that people are taught to value through their relationships with others, and Miyuki comes to acknowledge that at this point and after this many years, there’s very little at stake for him. Truth be told, there’s very little to lose, and that little bit usually amounts to just baseball and baseball alone.

It’s a perfect excuse to live recklessly, to live without abandon. It’s a perfect excuse to justify neglecting himself, locking himself up, closing himself off—

But if Miyuki were to convince himself of that white lie, he’d be doing so many people, including himself, an egregious injustice.

Seidou, alone, has taught him too many things about teamwork, about friendship, about relying on others, about forgoing tendencies of exaggerated independence, about humbling one’s self just to share a moment of silence with someone else instead of alone.

He thinks of the old seniors, the morals that they had instilled into his cocky, haughty first-year self all of those years ago. He thinks about the team now, about the second-years and watching them grow (or, maybe in Sawamura’s case, regress); he thinks about the first-years too, and how he’s looking forward to coming back someday to monitor them.

He thinks about the third-years, about Maezono, Shirasu, Nori, Nabe, and—

All it takes is the clear-cut sound of an obnoxious laugh that Miyuki’s memorized to make him wrinkle his nose. Miyuki pulls the sheets over his face, tries not to linger too long on what Kuramochi has taught him about trust, about humbleness, and about reliance.

There’s a lot to lose, suddenly. There’s a lot more to lose than Miyuki’s ever been willing to admit.

This Sunday will be empty too, save for impromptu practice. Maybe he’ll visit his dad next weekend. Maybe a week will be all it takes for Miyuki to figure out what he wants to use the pocket watch for.

After all, there’s a lot at stake. After all, there’re a lot of people he could use it for.

He shuts his eyes, lets his shoulders sag against his mattress.

How burdensome. But he’s always done better under pressure.

05/25

It’s just a practice game, but Coach doesn’t really expect anything less than their absolute best in and out of tournaments, regardless of whether a game is official or not. Truth be told, it’s probably not just a Seidou thing. Yakushi is working just as hard as they are—though Miyuki’s captain’s bias would like to believe Seidou’s working at least an increment harder.

Eighth inning.

Kuramochi manages to make it to first after the second pitch and Toujou’s at bat now.

It’s clear from the dugout when Kuramochi plans on stealing a base, just based on his body language—the way he shifts, pivots, and suddenly becomes wholly, totally absorbed in the task at hand. It shows in his expression, and while it’s hard to see from where Miyuki’s standing in the dugout, he can already picture the sheer concentration written into Kuramochi’s features.

There’s never any doubt when Kuramochi tries to steal. He’s the most dependable guy Miyuki knows when it comes to this sort of stuff.

So it’s as big of a shock to him as it is to anyone else when the steal isn’t seamless.

Everything happens all-too-quickly, but Miyuki sees it piece-by-piece. He feels something heavy fall on his shoulder, something even heavier fall in his stomach when he watches Yakushi’s shortstop, surprisingly enough, fumble with a toss from home; as he watches the ball fly from the shortstop to a second baseman who is just out of reach. The second baseman stumbles back until he trips and the collision, the following mess of limbs on the dirt of the diamond by second base, is something Miyuki has the worst feeling about.

The good news is, Kuramochi’s safe. He’s on second.

The bad news is, he’s grimacing as he stands back up again, waving off the apologetic Yakushi player—Matsuda, was it?—flippantly. Miyuki looks back at Kataoka, but he’s already signaling for a time-out. There’s no such thing as being too safe when it comes to minor accidents like this, after all. Especially with the West Tokyo qualifying games right around the corner, Seidou can’t afford to lose someone like Kuramochi.

(It’s always about baseball, first.)

Kanemaru ends up getting sent out to make sure Kuramochi’s okay, and Miyuki writes off the uneasy feeling in his stomach as overthinking things. He should have volunteered, gone out there himself to shut down any stupid excuses Kuramochi’s probably already using, but he stays put. He stays unmoving.

He can’t let his composure slip.

From the distance, it’s hard to see absolutely clearly but Kanemaru and Kuramochi’s interactions last minutes. Kuramochi waves Kanemaru off, just like he did Matsuda, and Kanemaru comes jogging back just moments after.

“What did he say?” Kataoka asks.

“He said he’s fine,” Kanemaru replies, and he’s sheepish, concerned as he rubs the back of his neck. “He said it’s the last inning anyway, so even if it did hurt, he wouldn’t come off the field.”

Miyuki clicks his tongue. Typical.

Kataoka seems satisfied for now—or, the closest thing to satisfaction that one can manage after watching a player get caught in a nasty fall. The time-out ends moments after and Haruichi gets called up to bat.

“What about you?” Miyuki finds himself saying out loud, craning his head to look Kanemaru right in the eyes. “You think he’s okay?”

Kanemaru balks a little bit, gaze flickering from side-to-side before settling on the neck of Miyuki’s undershirt. “He was gritting his teeth,” he admits quickly, “but I think Kuramochi-senpai will be fine.”

“I see.”

“He seemed okay,” Kanemaru amends, though it’s clear he isn’t too positive himself. “He said he’d score a run.”

Miyuki doesn’t bother saying anything. It’s his turn to bat after Haruichi, so he makes his way out of the dugout as soon as Haruichi manages to hit the first pitch. The bases are loaded by the time Miyuki gets his fingers wrapped around the bat and his knees bent at home.

Even as he’s batting, the uncomfortable bubble of concern doesn’t disappear or ebb away. Even after the ball goes flying and his feet start moving on their own, Miyuki has to will himself not to look back to make sure Kuramochi isn’t limping his way around.

And he isn’t. They score another run. Miyuki manages to get out but it’s not a huge loss, because he has enough faith in Toujou and Haruichi to do their share of work.

In the dugout, Kuramochi doesn’t act any differently than he typically would. This is enough reason for Miyuki to stop worrying, but his mind keeps going back to the gym bag he’s stowed at the very back corner of the dugout. His mind keeps going back to the silver pocket watch he’s tossed into the side pocket.

There’s no compelling reason for him to do anything when there’s no clear signal that something is amiss. But something does feel amiss, right to the very core of his bones. Every single time he looks over in Kuramochi’s direction, his gaze falls to the ankle that he swears he saw Yakushi’s second baseman land on.

He doesn’t do anything.

He doesn’t do anything even after the game’s been won, even after they’ve said their farewells and their thank-yous to Yakushi. He doesn’t do a single thing even as the members of Seidou slowly gather their belongings from the dugout, filing out one-by-one.

He almost makes it the whole day without doing anything stupid, but Miyuki just so happens to glance back for a cursory check to make sure no one’s left anything behind. He just so happens to glance back as Kuramochi, the last person in the dugout, limps out carefully, neck bent and knuckles turning white from the grip he has on his gym bag.

Miyuki faces forward. He pretends he didn’t see anything. “Kuramochi!” he calls out, without turning back around. “Taking your time?”

It’s instinct now and he hates it, how his hand slides from his shoulder to the side pocket of his own gym bag. Miyuki reaches in, feels the familiar sensation of smooth silver. He clenches his hand around the pocket watch and pulls it out, hides it in his fist as he shifts his head to look back at Kuramochi. He’s given Kuramochi enough time to fake a smile, he figures.

Even Kuramochi’s default expressions have more than just apathy to them. The one he’s wearing now looks vaguely unimpressed as he walks toward Miyuki, no limp to be seen.

“What are you in such a rush for? Forget your history homework again?” he asks, and he sneers, looking smugger by the second.

“Babysitting,” Miyuki chimes back with a smile. “Taking care of my vice-captains.”

“Hyaha! Like you’re in any capacity to take care of someone!”

The normalcy isn’t something Miyuki is sure he enjoys, but he doesn’t comment on Kuramochi’s ankle, on the fact that they’re walking half-a-step slower than usual. He doesn’t let himself linger too long on those kinds of dreary thoughts, because by the time they split at the dorms and Miyuki corners himself in his empty dormitory room, there’s a finger on the winding crown.

A couple days have passed since he last used the watch. This isn’t for selfish reasons. This isn’t for anything to further his personal agenda. Miyuki repeats these concepts in his mind like a mantra as he turns the winding crown back to the very start of their practice game.

His mind is blank as the hour hand settles comfortably in its designated spot.

Deep breath.

All he can think now is: “I want to fix this.”

He can fix this.

05/25 (1)

It’s the seventh inning, and Miyuki is dreading the eighth. Dread is a particularly strong word, and Miyuki has always minded the weight put into words, but it’s the only one appropriate enough to describe how absolutely at a loss he feels because he’s here, physically, tangibly—he’s here, just moments before Kuramochi is going to go up to bat, get to first, try to steal second, and then?

And then what? What’s supposed to happen after that? What is Miyuki supposed to be doing right this second to prevent whatever happens in the eighth inning from becoming a reality for the second time?

Honestly, he has no idea. Rushing back to this time seemed to be most appropriate course of action and Miyuki doesn’t regret the split-second decision. He just regrets not thinking it through. He regrets coming back to the past with no plan for the future.

He calls for a time-out. Walks up to Sawamura to tell him things he probably doesn’t have to say aloud. Don’t worry about so-and-so. Watch out for this person’s batting. Make sure to stay calm.

For a brief moment, Miyuki convinces himself that delaying the collision and buying time might make it fade into nonexistence altogether.

Killing time doesn’t do anything. He watches Kuramochi limp again after the game from a nasty run-in with Yakushi’s shortstop in the eighth inning.

Unthinking, subconsciously, Miyuki’s jaw clenches. It only makes sense for him to be frustrated when his plans waste away into nothing, when he has to look failure in the eye for the second time (the first time, as a captain; the second time, as a friend).

One long exhale escapes his diaphragm and the click of the clock is all he remembers hearing after that.

05/25 (2)

It’s the eighth inning now. Yakushi and Seidou switch sides and Miyuki hesitates, hand hovering before finding purchase in the fabric covering Kuramochi’s left shoulder.

Kuramochi turns around, puzzlement on his face. His fingers are curled around the end of a bat and the other hand clutching the brim of a batter’s helmet. “What?” he demands, but he doesn’t shake Miyuki’s shoulder off. Then, there’s a grin on Kuramochi’s lips and it’s wide, bright, and enough to have Miyuki measuring his breaths. “I’m going to rack one up.”

Miyuki falters—he falters, because there’s this tiny glimmer of confidence, of hope that warms Miyuki’s stomach. By the time he comes to his senses, tries to convince his throat, his voice box, his lips, that he has to say something and he knows better than to let this happen again, it’s too late.

Miyuki falters, and that’s all the time Kuramochi needs to walk out of his grip and toward home.

He digs the clock out of his bag in the corner of the dugout as soon as the crowd melts into pitying gasps upon sighting the collision. The rest of Seidou is distracted by their own concern, some spilling out of the dugout to call out to Kuramochi.

There’s no time to waste anymore, contrary to popular belief.

As Miyuki clamps his eyes shut, thumb pressing against the winding crown, he has to admit. There are things he’s willing to endure as many times as it takes, but watching Kuramochi limp behind the entire team isn’t one of them.

The clock clicks.

05/25 (3)

This time, Miyuki stops Kuramochi with more purpose, right as they’re switching sides and getting ready to go into the eighth inning.

Kuramochi looks at him with the same puzzlement from the third rewind. “What?” he asks, and before his steady gaze can split into a smile, Miyuki finds his resolve in the remnants of his frayed nerves.

“Be careful when you’re on base,” he says simply, and he tries to play it off as a casual observation. Miyuki’s fingers are tight around Kuramochi’s forearm—they have to get to the dugout soon to switch gears. “The shortstop seems kind of off today, so be careful when you’re stealing.”

“If he’s off, shouldn’t I take advantage of that?” Kuramochi’s suspicious now, and Miyuki can tell by the glint in his eyes.

“Just be careful,” Miyuki repeats. “Captain’s orders.”

The suspicion is still there, maybe mixed with a twinge of concern that Kuramochi doesn’t voice, much to Miyuki’s relief. He gets a shrug in response as soon as he releases Kuramochi from his grip. There’s a swell of hope that Miyuki wants to ignore, doesn’t want to give in to, but he has the slightest feeling that this time might be okay.

And it is better in the events leading up. Kuramochi doesn’t steal second like he did the times before. He tries for third though, and it seems reasonable enough, given the circumstances.

In the end, Kuramochi still hurts his ankle. It’s a lesser sprain, something from a minor twist, a fated misstep just feet away from a smaller collision at third. Comparatively speaking, this is nothing—this is fine. Kuramochi’s going to recover in a couple of days and everything will be fine.

But.

There’s this unresolved desire to fix things, to make things right that haunts Miyuki the second the game ends. He thinks he’s come to terms with the fact that there are certain moments in time that simply cannot be prevented, but it’s a crippling sort of realization that has Miyuki wondering why he was so invested in this in the first place.

When he makes it back to his dorm room after the game is done and over with, Miyuki notices that the pocket watch is more tattered and scratched up than he remembers it being when he first found it, gleaming in the middle of the washroom. Upon further examination, one of the hands on the clock stutters every few seconds—it’s nothing major, just a faint little tremble of the arm. Miyuki squints. On second thought, the winding crown is more resilient to turning than usual too.

He closes his fingers over the watch before depositing in the bottom drawer of his desk.

The guilt that Miyuki feels for failing to stop something that was never in his control in the first place is unreasonable on many accounts, but also incorrigible. He can’t help it. He can’t help the sick feeling in his stomach as he tries to focus on statistics logged in Nabe’s notebook.

This feeling—this knowledge, this awareness of the fact that he could see someone important to him lose something important to them and still be unable to give them what they most want no matter how many turns of the clock, well, it makes him feel a new brand of burdened.

How exhausting, he thinks. How absolutely exhausting that there’s so much to lose that can’t be restored.

06/01

It’s unintentional. He doesn’t go out of his way to avoid Kuramochi, at least, not consciously, but it happens anyway. And while Miyuki isn’t surprised considering his tendencies to avoid issues until they stop being issues, it’s not intentional.

The accident’s nearly forgotten in everyone’s memories by now and the faint limp that Kuramochi had been wearing is getting smaller as days go by, but it’s complicated.

Miyuki is wearing responsibility that doesn’t belong to him and it’s a heavy armor, something that makes it hard for him to drag his feet into Kuramochi’s life like it’s effortless, like it’s easy, like he used to. At least, not so soon.

It’s nothing personal. For the most part, Miyuki just wants to collect his thoughts. He wants to taste distance so he has no qualms with inflicting it upon himself in the future—just in case something like this ever happens again. It’s nothing personal, because Miyuki can hold grudges but there’s nothing to hold against Kuramochi no matter how hard he looks.

So to say he’s surprised when Kuramochi walks into the empty dining hall hours after practice has ended would be a lie. Miyuki is far from surprised. He knows Kuramochi well enough to have been anticipating some sort of confrontation, intended to bring him to his senses.

He still braces himself, though. Takes his time looking up from his notebook, where he’s been making futile circles and tiny little scribbles in the margins that Nabe is definitely going to give him a look for.

The door slides shut behind Kuramochi and he crosses his arms, leans against it.

Miyuki doesn’t say anything when he locks eyes with Kuramochi. Not immediately, at least, and even when he tries to say a cheeky hello, Kuramochi beats him to it.

“Why have you been so fucking weird these days?”

Leave it to Kuramochi to put things so eloquently, Miyuki thinks. He almost laughs at how gruff Kuramochi is with matters like these. It’s probably why they get along so well. Miyuki’s never been good about opening up to people on his own accord, after all.

“You’ve been on a whole different planet or something because otherwise you’re an idiot for thinking I wouldn’t notice.” Kuramochi scowls. “Why are you avoiding me?”

“I’m not avoiding you,” Miyuki says, on auto-pilot. He lifts up the notebook he’s been trying to use as a distraction, waving it in the air lazily. “I have my own responsibilities as captain, if you didn’t know. They’re enough to keep me busy, especially when we have our first game coming up.”

Kuramochi pushes himself up off of the door, letting his arms drop from his chest and shoving his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants. He walks two steps forward, until he’s just feet away from where Miyuki’s sitting.

“Our first game isn’t until July and you’re full of shit.” It’s with infuriating ease that Kuramochi snatches the notebook from Miyuki’s pliant hands, flipping through it with varying levels of interest. “This isn’t even Akikawa’s stats.”

“Give it back—”

“Nope.” Kuramochi hides it behind his back. “Oi, Miyuki. You really going to try and play this off?”

Exchanges like this exhaust him sometimes. It’s already annoying enough that there are people, one too many people, in his life that can see through him when he has almost everyone else fooled. It’s more gratingly obnoxious when they actually call him out on it, to his face.

There are times when he’s grateful, but there are other times, like now, when he can’t figure out what he’d say even if he wanted to talk. After all, what’s the most eloquent way of asking, “Why couldn’t I help you the way I wanted to?”

“It’s nothing,” Miyuki enunciates. He stops trying for the notebook, letting his hand fall back onto the surface of the table. “Don’t you have better things to do right now?”

“Don’t you?” Kuramochi retorts, and he looks aggravated now. “I could care less if you weren’t being so blatant about avoiding me. That’s like a damn distress signal, you know? Like you’re asking me to drag you out to ask what I did wrong this time.”

“You’re assuming.” The atmosphere is getting heavier by the second so Miyuki throws on a terse smile, eases the edges, smoothes over the tiny little jagged ridges in his execution. “Nothing’s wrong, so drop it. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into this season and I have a lot of thinking to do on my own.”

Kuramochi scoffs, but he doesn’t push it.

“There are a lot of things I still don’t get about you, and maybe I am crossing some boundaries, but as your friend and as a vice-captain, I’m not going to let you drag yourself down.” There’s a pause and it weighs, tangible, on Miyuki’s shoulders. “I’m not going to let you drag the team down,” Kuramochi adds, though it’s hushed, an afterthought.

And before Miyuki has the chance to ask why Kuramochi came all this way just to say those stupid, stupid things, (and maybe to ask, “How’s your ankle? Are you okay?”), the door slides open, slides shut, and all at once, Miyuki’s alone again.

A laugh almost slips out. He should have asked for the notebook back.

06/02

They don’t speak at practice. It kills him, in a little, nearly imperceptible way and Miyuki tries to ignore that feeling. He ignores that feeling in favor of tending to pitchers who never listen to him. He ignores that feeling in favor of glancing over onto the diamond every few seconds to confirm once, twice, and maybe upwards of ten times that Kuramochi isn’t limping after he finishes his sprints.

He isn’t. He’s okay.

Furuya’s pitch lands in the edge of his mitt. His wrist complains in neglect—his own fault for not paying enough attention.

“Nice pitch,” Miyuki calls out.

He’s okay.

Miyuki tosses the ball back.

He’s okay.

06/05

Kuramochi is silent when he seats himself next to Miyuki at breakfast. Maezono is talking indistinctly about something Miyuki can’t confidently say he’s been listening to, and while Nori and Shirasu engross themselves in conversation, Kuramochi quietly, wordlessly, and without even looking at Miyuki, plops a couple of slices of tamagoyaki onto Miyuki’s tray.

“Hey now.” Miyuki finds himself saying out loud, and there’s mirth in his tone, a tiny, amused lilt. “I’m not your trash can.”

All he gets is a shrug. “It’s too sweet,” Kuramochi reasons, and then he mumbles a thanks to no one in particular for the meal before beginning to eat.

In the background, there’s chatter, the punctuated shouts of Sawamura, the regular hubbub of a weekend morning. Still, it feels deafeningly quiet when Miyuki is sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Kuramochi, everything from a couple of days ago and prior still unresolved at the tip of his tongue.

“Is this a peace offering or something?” Miyuki jokes.

“Yeah.” The response is immediate. Kuramochi still isn’t looking at him. “About the other day…”

“Haha, what’s this? Are you actually apologizing to me right now?” He’s teasing now, and he doesn’t expect anything considering how thick the tension still is between them.

But he should know better by now. Kuramochi always goes above and beyond.

“Yeah.” Kuramochi sets his chopsticks down next to his tray. “I am. Sorry.”

Miyuki stills. He tries to piece together a coherent sentence, something to express that he doesn’t understand and that he doesn’t deserve this. “What?”

This time, Kuramochi turns his head, gaze jumping from Miyuki’s shoulder to his face. “I’m sorry,” he reiterates, and he looks childishly sullen for a second before rubbing the back of his neck, almost sheepish. “I got ahead of myself and I didn’t mean to.”

The implications aren’t clear and Miyuki can’t clearly decipher what that’s supposed to mean.

“But you’re still a dumbass, so don’t even think for a second that I won’t kick your ass if you act any stupider than you already are.”

“Ah,” Miyuki says. “And here I was, thinking you were getting soft. Haha!”

It’s stubborn, but the tension ebbs away bit-by-bit. There are questions on the forefront of Miyuki’s mind and he’d like to know, more than anything, what Kuramochi was getting ahead of himself for and why it involves Miyuki in any way, shape, or form, but he doesn’t bother voicing his concerns.

For now, he’s fine with this. He’s fine with this slipshod attempt at newfound normalcy. He’s fine with ambiguous apologies and steps forward, pushes forward initiated by Kuramochi. He’s fine with all of this because he’s more and more aware by the day that he wouldn’t even know where to begin if he had to walk up to Kuramochi with an apology.

Maybe Miyuki is luckier than he thinks.

He grins when Kuramochi elbows him in the side.

Maybe there’s a lot more to lose than he thought.

06/13

“Oi, Miyuki,” Kuramochi begins, leaning back in his seat at the table and reaching across from behind Shirasu to tap Miyuki on the shoulder. “You have time after practice? Need to talk.”

In the hustle and bustle of the dining hall, it’s hard to have any private conversation that isn’t punctuated by Sawamura yelling or someone yelling at Sawamura to stop yelling. It’s typically why Miyuki would prefer not to eat lunch at the dormitory, but Maezono’s been on his case about skimping on his regimen.

“Yeah, sure.” Then, Miyuki smiles. “Are you confessing to me or something?”

Kuramochi stares at him. And it might be a mild shade of disgust on his face, but it doesn’t harsh the grin on Miyuki’s.

“Don’t make me throw up,” Kuramochi warns.

“Don’t be so shy,” Miyuki suggests, and poor Shirasu is caught in between the crossfire as Kuramochi directs yet another face of sheer disgust in Miyuki’s general direction. “Haha, if you’re not careful, your face is going to get stuck like that!” Shirasu sighs, and from across the table, Nori has the decency to look sympathetic. “That’d be unfortunate,” muses Miyuki.

“Who are you calling unfortunate, asshole?!”

And like clockwork, they meld into their typical lunchtime routine of bickering and bickering with no end in sight.

After lunch ends and everybody disperses, classes resume again and within minutes of English class starting, Miyuki has the pleasure of watching Kuramochi’s head repeatedly bob up and down right in front of him. It’s an interesting sight, enough to keep Miyuki awake and feigning alertness whenever the teacher happens to glance his way, but it takes every fiber of his being not to burst out in laughter when Kuramochi finally slumps over onto his desk.

He doesn’t snore, thank God, but his breathing is level, slow, and it almost lulls Miyuki to sleep. There are some papers scattered on Kuramochi’s desk, likely his attempts at notes before being consumed by his own exhaustion. Some of the papers are on the verge of slipping and Miyuki is careful to pick one of them up when they manage to flutter onto the ground.

It’s nearly full of combined notes from history class and mathematics. At the bottom fourth of the page, there’s a date scrawled in the right-hand corner and a couple of cursory English sentences copied from the board.

None of that catches Miyuki’s attention.

What catches his eye is something nondescript, something barely legible and shoddily erased like a last-minute afterthought in the very bottom corner of Kuramochi’s paper.

It’s enough to make Miyuki’s mouth go dry. He’s not stupid. He can piece two and two together, and there has never been a reason for Kuramochi to call Miyuki out to speak to him in private, but—

He hopes he’s being full of himself when he reads it.

I like you.
I like you!
I like you?

Written like a lesson plan, like something to be practiced. Like something Kuramochi’s given too much thought to.

Miyuki reaches over his desk to wedge the paper under Kuramochi’s arm. He rises quietly, exits the classroom under the pretense of going to the bathroom.

Once he’s in the empty hall, he turns the corner into the stairwell where he once heard a confession that wasn’t his. The pocket watch weighs heavier than usual on the palm of his hand. It’s scratched up, still, vaguely worn-out, possibly from duress. It’s harder than usual to twist the winding crown, too, but Miyuki doesn’t think much of it as he turns the time back to the start of lunchtime.

This time, he supposes he’s being selfish. He supposes he’s using this watch to escape from things he doesn’t want to confront.

He doesn’t want things to go wrong. He doesn’t want to lose a friendship he’s built from the ground up, bare hands, with Kuramochi since their first year to something like this. To something like denial bubbling up at the base of Miyuki’s throat like bile.

Truth be told, he can’t tell if he’s being wholly selfish or if he’s being too selfless now.

It doesn’t matter. There are things he can’t bring himself to indulge in.

His presses his thumb on the winding crown. There’s a click. He’s used to it now.

Used to sacrifice, among other things.

06/13 (1)

“Oi, Miyuki,” Kuramochi begins, and Miyuki almost stiffens in his seat at the table. “You have time after practice today?” he continues. “I need to talk to you about something.”

“I have to review a game after practice,” Miyuki manages to say aloud, and he wonders if he sounds as graceless as he feels. He doesn’t bother looking at Kuramochi for too long, returning his attention to a third bowl of rice he’d never once found this interesting before.

“It’ll only be a couple of minutes. I’ll review the game with you after.”

Shirasu and Nori aren’t paying much attention to the conversation, but Miyuki realizes that he didn’t thinks this through. Even if they were in a totally different location, it wouldn’t make any sense for Miyuki to turn Kuramochi down. It’s only a couple minutes. Miyuki has never put that much value in his time before.

“Haha, yeah, sure,” Miyuki responds, and there’s a lilt to his tone, heavily manufactured but practiced enough times to sound natural. “If you insist~ I’ve never seen you so eager to talk to me.”

He doesn’t have to look at Kuramochi to know he’s probably comically irritated now.

Miyuki grins as Shirasu and Nori both look on with mild interest but, for the most part, too much familiarity. He gets up from his seat, pushes his tray forward.

“Done already?” Nori inquires.

“Bathroom,” Miyuki offers as an explanation, though his mind’s already rerouted from the conversation at hand to the watch sitting in the pocket of his uniform pants.

He excuses himself.

One more time.

06/13 (2)

He makes an effort to be generally unavailable during lunch, busying himself with initiating conversations that don’t need to be started—doing anything it takes, really, to make sure that there’s no room, no time for Kuramochi to reach out to him.

The warning bell rings and Miyuki gets up first, busies himself with poking fun at Sawamura one last time before heading to class ahead of Kuramochi and the other third-years.

Maybe he’s being childish, avoidant, petty. Maybe he just doesn’t trust himself.

It might be all of the above, but Miyuki doesn’t concern himself with those kinds of doubts and concerns. There’s no time to linger on things that are technically out of control (and he forces himself to pay no mind to the inaudible tick of the watch in his pocket, telling him not to contradict himself).

He doesn’t know why he’s so convinced that he can make things right. He doesn’t know why he’s so convinced that he knows what’s right from wrong.

There’s hardly anyone in the classroom by the time Miyuki makes it to his desk. He folds his arms across the surface and rests one side of his face atop his sleeve, peering out of the window and forcing his eyes to a close when he hears the telltale hyahaha! from down the hall.

“Oi, Miyuki!” Kuramochi calls out as soon as he enters the room. He walks towards his desk, right in front of Miyuki’s own, bending over to check if Miyuki has really fallen asleep. “Huh,” he mumbles, and Miyuki forces himself not to open his eyes.

Kuramochi doesn’t say anything afterward, seating himself as quietly as possible—even cursing when his chair legs creak against the old floor—and remaining put for the entire first half of class.

At one point, the teacher calls on Miyuki for a recitation. He almost lifts his head, almost breaks his cover for the sake of avoiding another detention he should really spare himself the trouble of enduring but he doesn’t have to.

Kuramochi answers in his stead. Says, “I’ll read it,” and dives right into willingly reciting English sentences and translating them roughly into Japanese. He stumbles a lot, a couple of students stifling harmless giggles. It’s understandable that there are blunders, considering this is far from Kuramochi’s favorite subject. But even after the teacher’s moved on, Miyuki isn’t jostled awake. He doesn’t hear the “you owe me one” that he’d been quietly expecting.

He hates it, if he’s being totally honest. He hates how differently he’s reading things, all of a sudden. Now, there are implications. There are hidden meanings behind Kuramochi’s actions that Miyuki’s diving into, trying to unearth silently.

Things are complicated. Miyuki is making things complicated. He’s too stubborn to face the things, the little monsters that he’s kept under wraps and diminished the existence of through denial and denial alone.

It’s been too long. He’s worked too hard. There are too many things at stake.

Class ends before Miyuki knows it, and the students busy themselves with rearranging the books on their desks, chatting about the newest volume of their favorite shoujo manga in the five, ten minutes they have before their next teacher comes in.

He straightens his back, stretches his arms out in front of him so his fingers knock against the back of Kuramochi’s head.

“Good morning,” Miyuki greets.

“Have a nice nap?” Kuramochi replies, and he turns his body ninety degrees so it’s less of a strain looking Miyuki in the eye. “Did you stay up reviewing games again?” There’s a hint of a threat in Kuramochi’s tone that Miyuki would recognize anywhere.

“You sure you aren’t worrying about me?” The grin on his face comes easier than expected and Miyuki isn’t sure if he likes that yet. “How was class?”

“Shut up—” Kuramochi grits his teeth and kicks at the proximal leg of Miyuki’s desk. “Boring. When has it been anything but boring?” There’s a lull in conversation. “Oi, Miyuki.”

He feels it again, the lurch in his stomach. How many times has he replayed these couple of hours to avoid this exact moment?

“Guess what,” Miyuki cuts in, and he forces his grin to stretch until his cheeks start hurting. “Don’t get too jealous, but someone confessed to me today.”

There’s an expression, unreadable, unrecognizable on Kuramochi’s face. It’s unsettling but it’s gone in less than a second, replaced with something along the lines of sheer, exasperated disbelief written out.

He almost wants to correct himself. Almost wants to take it back, say that Kuramochi should know better than to think Miyuki, of all people, would accept just anyone’s confession. He doesn’t even know who or what his supposed fanclub entails; he’s never cared enough.

And then he stops himself. Asks himself why he wants Kuramochi to see right through him.

Miyuki clenches his hand into a fist, to keep himself from gritting his teeth.

“What kind of poor, unfortunate person got stuck with you?”

“Ouch.” Feign offense. Act natural. “You’re being too kind, here.”

Kuramochi lets out a drawn-out sigh, slumping in his seat and letting his head fall back. “To think Miyuki Kazuya of all assholes on this planet got confessed to. Hyahaha! There must be something wrong with the water at Seidou these days!”

“Sounds like someone’s jealous,” Miyuki says aloud, to no one in particular, and the way Kuramochi immediately looks at him with exaggerated disgust almost quells the knot in Miyuki’s solar plexus.

“You going on a date today then?”

“After practice, maybe. Why, did you need something?”

Time slows, or that’s what it feels like when Kuramochi looks at Miyuki, like he’s mystified, like he’s unsure of where to go from here. Kuramochi is quiet, he falters, lips parted in suspense.

“Nah,” he says, after seconds pass. “We can talk about it tomorrow.”

“Talk about what?” Miyuki continues, because while he knows he doesn’t want to hear it spoken into life, he’s too stupid, too self-deprecating not to play with fire.

“Nothing important.” Kuramochi offers a shrug, lets his gaze flit from Miyuki’s face to the wall in front of him, columns of desks away.

“Tomorrow might be busy too.” Everything’s automatic now. All of the excuses Miyuki’s making up are spilling past his lips, a nervous response, maybe, a defensive mechanism. He could be busy for the rest of the week if he had to be.

“Yeah?” There’s no sign of disappointment evident in Kuramochi’s body language as he slouches further in his seat, letting his arm hang loosely over the back of his chair. “Today before practice, then. It’ll only take a couple of minutes.”

So that’s how it’s going to be. Miyuki almost laughs, maybe because he can’t wrap his mind around what good this stupid pocket watch adding weight to every step he takes in the mornings is if he can’t even prevent things that are bound to be colossal mistakes.

“Sure,” Miyuki says, and he feels defeated already.

Before class resumes, he excuses himself to go to the bathroom. He’s too hell-bent on one last time to even pay attention to how resilient the winding crown has grown to turning.

Miyuki closes his eyes, squeezes them shut in a futile attempt at evading an incoming headache.

The watch clicks. Everything goes black.

06/13 (3)

It’s like Kuramochi’s ankle sprain from weeks ago. Miyuki can’t avoid it, can’t prevent it no matter how many times he forces the winding crown of the pocket watch to twist and twist.

He realizes belatedly, because by the time the analogy hits him, he’s already agreed to talk with Kuramochi after practice and it’s too late to take it back now. Even so, Miyuki tries not to dwell on it. Kuramochi hasn’t made any notions of reminding Miyuki about the promise and as practice comes to a steady close, Miyuki almost, almost tricks himself into thinking that today, luck is on his side.

It isn’t.

Right as Miyuki’s about to slip away, escape into his dorm room to contemplate how to make sure things never progress from where they are right now, in this very instant—right as Miyuki’s about to lapse into avoiding facing the protagonist of his biggest dilemma, he hears the bright, buoyant cadence of Kuramochi’s laughter from behind him subside to nothing.

“Oi, Miyuki,” he calls out, like it’s nothing. Miyuki turns around, agonizingly slowly, tries not to give away the dread he’s feeling. Kuramochi doesn’t notice. That, or he doesn’t comment. “I’ll meet you by the vending machines in ten.”

“Yeah,” Miyuki replies, and the word slips past his lips automatically. He doesn’t have the opportunity to ask if they might be able to meet another day, because he isn’t feeling well, hasn’t been feeling well since he woke up this morning (for the first, second, third, fourth time). It’s in defeat that he watches Kuramochi’s back grow smaller and smaller, until Miyuki can’t even hear the scuffle of his shoes anymore.

He’s bracing himself for something terrible when he doesn’t have to. He knows that. It’s all about the mindset, and he tries to remind himself that nothing has to end badly if he doesn’t let it end badly, all while thoughtlessly tossing his bag, his belongings into the very corner of his room.

There’s no need for a pocket watch that can turn back time in situations like these. Maybe that’s the life lesson he’s supposed to gain out of this. He can fix things on his own accord in real-time.

Miyuki exhales sharply and the breath is long, extended, like he’s trying to empty his lungs and make them as small as possible. He can feel the workings of a headache as he fishes the pocket watch out of his gym bag to stow it in the bottom drawer of his desk.

He doesn’t need it right now. He can’t need it right now.

By the time Miyuki makes it to the vending machines, he’s three minutes late and Kuramochi’s already there, crouching over by one of the dispensers.

He counts to three in his head. Counts to three a second time. And then a third time.

“What’s so important that you had to meet me here?” Miyuki hears himself saying aloud. There’s a grin on his face. He commends himself for the act.

Kuramochi looks up from the machine, fishes two bottles out of it before straightening his back. He looks highly unamused as he tosses a bottle of Miyuki’s favorite brand of canned coffee toward him. Kuramochi’s fingers are curled around the neck of a bottle of Pocari Sweat.

“Oho! What’s gotten into you? Treating me to coffee too?” This is fine. Things are under control. “You trying t—”

“Miyuki,” Kuramochi interjects, and Miyuki finds it chilling, almost terrifying that Kuramochi looks one-hundred percent at peace as he looks straight at Miyuki. It’s not completely dark out yet, but Miyuki wishes it was. He isn’t sure why it has to be so hard looking at Kuramochi’s face right now.

It’s quiet. Just the faint whirring of the vending machines and the sound of the wind, a couple people shouting incoherently. Suddenly, it’s too quiet, and Miyuki hears the thundering in his head, or maybe it’s his ribcage, echo tenfold.

“What would you say if I said I liked you?”

The smile slips from Miyuki’s face almost immediately and he wills it back on. Mechanical. Corners of his lips quirk up, eyes curve into crescents—he laughs. “Haha, what are you even sayin—”

“I like you.”

He hates this feeling. Hates how it feels like morning laps around the field, like too many pairs of shoes stampeding over the ground. He hates how his heart is racing against his will, how it’s thumping traitorously against his bones, shaking them until even Miyuki has to remind himself to breathe.

It’s hardly telling. His expression is practiced. He’s used to this, used to keeping his lips shut about anything beyond the superficial.

But it’s quiet now. It’s quiet, too quiet, and Miyuki finds that he’s at a loss for words.

(A part of him is happy, relieved, because that part of him is grossly selfish and maybe that part of him has wanted Kuramochi’s undivided attention on Miyuki and Miyuki alone for a while now. That part of him is something Miyuki wants to put out. It’s a fickle flame, stubborn to a fault, but he wants to put it out. He doesn’t want to acknowledge that this could be something good, this could be something Miyuki wanted, wants, will want even tomorrow when this is all said and done—

He doesn’t want to acknowledge anything like that. Not when things could turn out terribly. Not when this, whatever this is, could spiral up, blow up into a mess out of Miyuki’s control.

Not when their friendship is on the line.)

There’s a lot at stake here. Koshien is coming up—it’s a goal he’s had, they’ve had since first year. Distractions are unacceptable and Miyuki doesn’t even let himself consider that he’s using baseball as an excuse. There’s more than that at stake, though. There’s so much Miyuki can’t pinpoint, can’t properly categorize into different kinds of risk, and maybe that’s the worst part.

He presents an ultimatum to himself. Pick the uncertain or be selfish (be selfless) for the sake of this friendship.

Miyuki’s always been good at making decisions.

“I don’t need you to like me back,” Kuramochi continues, and the truth is written into his features, into how unyielding his eyes are, how those eyes don’t curve into a teasing laugh (and Miyuki resents that, just a tiny bit; he wishes this was a joke) to take everything back. “I just wanted to get it off of my chest because I don’t want to waste my time. I hate keeping secrets. From you, between us—I don’t know. You can ignore this, for all I care.”

He could ignore this, that’s true. He could absolutely ignore this, say his apologies, move on in life and pretend this never happened but,

“Sorry,” Miyuki says before anything else processes in his mind. “I don’t feel that way about you.”

“Yeah.” There’s no defeat in Kuramochi’s tone. No disappointment whatsoever. He looks resigned, like he’d been expecting this. “I figured.”

“I’m flattered though. Thanks for telling me.”

Quiet again. There are words that Miyuki’s jacked up sense of obligation is pushing off the tip of his tongue. He doesn’t want to say them. He hates them. But his expression sobers and Miyuki figures it’s something he needs to say if he wants to be absolutely certain that Kuramochi doesn’t come back to this place, to these feelings.

“Is this going to affect your performance on the field?”

The serenity that had been emanating off of Kuramochi’s entire body dissipates almost immediately. He’s tense, shoulders tight as he narrows his eyes, knuckles white as he grips the bottle of sports drink in his hand. Kuramochi doesn’t say anything immediately, as though he isn’t quite sure that what he heard was a reality. Moments, and then the bottle falls to the ground and Kuramochi’s closing the distance between them, fingers curling into fists around the lapels of Miyuki’s shirt.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he demands, and he sounds rightfully furious, jaw clenched and teeth gritted. His voice is low, almost wavering. There’s a brand of hurt in Kuramochi’s eyes that Miyuki doesn’t think he’s ever seen before. He isn’t sure if he’d ever like to see it again. “Of course this is a joke to you, asshole.”

Kuramochi releases Miyuki almost immediately and steps back, bends down to pick up the discarded bottle before turning without saying anything. His shoulders are still rigid and his nape is a faint, angry red.

Even at this distance, Kuramochi’s back seems smaller, like he’s taking steps further and further away when he’s hardly moving at all. This is ironic. How absolutely fucked up that trial after trial of trying to prevent everything and finally deciding to face it would culminate in this.

It didn’t have to happen like this. He knows that much, though he wishes he didn’t.

Miyuki doesn’t say anything.

“I don’t get you sometimes,” Kuramochi mutters. Another pause, like he might make an addendum—but there’s nothing, and then Kuramochi’s walking away.

The unopened can of coffee in Miyuki’s hand feels heavier than it did moments ago. He leans against the vending machine, lets his head fall back against it. He isn’t surprised by how things ended up but that hardly means anything about whether the outcome was ideal.

The throbbing at his temple is back as Miyuki sinks to the ground, rests his forearms atop his knees. A heavy sigh escapes him and Miyuki can’t help but wonder if time was ever on his side in the first place.

06/14

In his dream, he’s just as cruel.

When Miyuki startles himself awake at three in the morning, he’s agitated by the last remaining imprint of the cinematic nightmare he’d been enduring for God knows how long.

It’s darker in his dream.

The setting is blue, dark blue. The color of dusk. They’re by the vending machines again, the haunting lull of something broken lingering in the fog. Truth be told, it’s unbearable.

Kuramochi enters, stage left, and they lock eyes for too long. The hurt in Kuramochi’s expression is something even Miyuki can’t pretend he didn’t see and then—

“You should try walking a mile in my shoes,” Kuramochi says, and he almost sounds like he’s joking. He even cracks a smile, wry, resigned, defeated. “Maybe run, actually. Then you’ll see what it’s like trying to keep up with you.”

In his bed, Miyuki inhales. Sharply. His head hurts like hell. There’s hair matted to his forehead by sweat.

He exhales.

Three in the morning is a terrible time for a jog but he’s too self-deprecating not to humor terrible ideas.

06/25

It’s been a couple of weeks and Miyuki wills himself for the nth time not to keep track. What good will keeping track do? What good will ticking weeks, days, off one-by-one in the corner of his history notes really do for him in the long run?

Nothing, and Miyuki is nothing if not a pragmatist.

They’ve spoken a couple of times in between then and now. Though the conversations could hardly pass for substantial—and Miyuki thinks it’s almost laughable how quickly the dynamic’s changed. Sometimes, it spooks him, how something tethered so close to the very center of his chest is yanking at him now, trying to tear itself free from him.

Maybe it shouldn’t spook him. Maybe he shouldn’t be surprised.

Even in their classroom, while they sit feet, maybe even inches apart, there’s only silence. In the classroom, there’s no reason for Miyuki to ask about game statistics and outlooks for the upcoming qualifiers when they have time in the short thirty-second bursts available to them during practice. The need for conversation falls to a deafening low and, well—

It’s suffocating.

“Miyuki-kun! You and Kuramochi-kun haven’t been bickering at all these days!” a girl who sits three rows away points out. She balances herself on the edge of the desk next to Kuramochi’s, bending over to try and peek a glance at Kuramochi’s face. No response. Kuramochi doesn’t budge, gaze still glued to the window. He stifles a yawn, but that’s about it. “Did you guys get into a lover’s spat or something? It’s eerily quiet these days without hearing your arguments!”

She means well, so Miyuki grins. He laughs, too. “Well…”

The legs of Kuramochi’s chair groan as he pushes it back, rising from his seat wordlessly and making his way toward the front door of the classroom by the teacher’s lectern. When the door slides shut behind Kuramochi’s retreating figure, it’s louder than it should be.

“Oh no, did I make him mad?”

Miyuki’s grin defaults into a fainter smile, years of fine-tuned construction culminating in seconds to cover up the dull thud behind his eyes. “Nah, it was probably me.”

06/26

Sawamura calls him out on it. That’s the tipping point, the exact moment Miyuki realizes that this really has gone on for far too long. For once in his entire high school career, it’s Sawamura’s sheer lack of filter that brings him to his senses and this, this is something Miyuki simply can’t stand for.

How the mighty have fallen.

Because if Sawamura is demanding that Miyuki and Kuramochi reconcile because “the team can’t function without reliable leaders!!!” then that only means everyone else has already noticed that something was wrong ages ago. It doesn’t bother him that they know—it bothers him that they’ve known and haven’t brought it up, save for Shirasu and Nori’s critical glances during lunchtime and in between classes. The entire team knows Miyuki is responsible enough and mature enough to solve these issues on his own.

So why hasn’t he?

He can’t avoid talking to Kuramochi forever. He hates this anyway, tiptoeing around broken glass; getting hung up on words that never make it past the threshold of his lips. They’ve had too many of these awkward lulls in their relationship since Miyuki found the stupid cursed pocket watch. They’ve had too many strains despite how much more acutely aware Miyuki is of how important this friendship really is to him.

It’s always like this with Miyuki, a constant push-and-pull that he engages in all by himself. There’s no fun to playing on a seesaw alone, but he’s always managed alone; it’s hard doing anything else after years of growing accustomed to it.

When he manages to kick Sawamura and first-year Kimura out of their shared dormitory room with Kuramochi, Miyuki feels that telltale thrum of regret pounding at the very core of his chest. This might not be a good idea, staking out in Kuramochi’s room, waiting to corner him after he gets back from whatever he’s doing—and, knowing him, it’s probably extra batting practice to watch metaphorical frustrations in the form of baseballs go flying or something.

This is probably definitively not a good idea, but Miyuki’s shit out of luck and he’s too tired, too lazy, and already too committed to the cause to back out now.

So he waits. He waits, sitting on the floor and leaning against the frame of the bunk that Sawamura shares with Kuramochi. Miyuki waits, and he isn’t even sure how long because eventually, he falls asleep, and when he’s just barely lapsing back into consciousness, the room isn’t empty anymore.

“Oi, Sawamura! I thought I told you to turn the lights ou—”

Miyuki stirs in his sleep. There are footsteps approaching him now, a hand on his shoulder shaking him awake, gently, but firmly. When he opens his eyes, he’s suddenly keenly aware of how this isn’t just another extended daydream.

The real Kuramochi Youichi, in the flesh, is looking at Miyuki critically. Miyuki is kind of embarrassed, truth be told. Groggy, but embarrassed, because falling asleep waiting for Kuramochi to get back wasn’t part of the plan, and he feels disoriented when he’s straightening his back, trying to find the words he’d been rehearsing in his mind just minutes, hours ago.

“What do you want?” Kuramochi demands, but he doesn’t wait for an answer, walking past Miyuki instead straight to his desk.

He’s not sure, suddenly, what he’s supposed to say to start this off. He doesn’t know how heartfelt apologies are supposed to go, and how he’s supposed to put into words how genuinely sorry he actually is. Miyuki has never been good with confrontations like this—ones that require him to reveal the heart he’s sewn inside his sleeve.

Kuramochi has always been better at this kind of stuff, better at acting on volatile emotions and getting them up and out of the way.

But Kuramochi isn’t saying anything. All Miyuki can see of him is his back.

“Not going to spit it out?” There’s a bite to Kuramochi’s tone and it wears at Miyuki faster than expected. “Quit wasting my time.”

“I’m sorry,” Miyuki blurts out. He swallows the lump in his throat, squeezes his eyes shut for a second just to collect the thoughts swarming about in his mind. “For being an asshole, I mean. And for saying the things I said—and for acting like I didn’t care about you outside of baseball.” Just talking about what’s actually on his mind is making him feel jittery in his own skin. “I do, kind of. Sort of. I care about you, unfortunately.”

At this point, he’s speaking, but he’s barely aware of what he’s saying. He knows he’s avoiding talking about the confession, about Kuramochi’s feelings, about Miyuki’s buried ones. There’s nothing more to say about that, not now.

“Looking back, I really was a jerk. Haha, not that you didn’t know—”

“Shut up,” Kuramochi interrupts. There’s no noticeable irritation in his tone, though. It’s mild now. “I’m not going to accept your apology.”

Miyuki laughs. “Yeah, I should have figured.”

“I don’t need one, moron,” Kuramochi continues, and just as Miyuki’s about to admit defeat for the night, Kuramochi turns around. There’s exasperation on his face. “We’re good.”

We’re good.

It’s quiet again, and Miyuki feels like he’s being swallowed whole by relief, and relief alone. There are things they should be talking about, talking through until the little kinks in their dynamic smooth over officially. But those things are taboo, forbidden in Miyuki’s mind. Anything that involves giving as much as he gets tends to be that way.

He should bring it up while he can. Tell Kuramochi that he isn’t pretending the confession never happened, that—

“Phew,” Miyuki sighs out, and he grins. “What a relief! Good thing you’re a softie, huh?”

Kuramochi glowers. “Get out of my room. You’re annoying!”

“Haha, I won’t overstay my welcome,” insists Miyuki, and he gets up from where he’s sitting, brushing himself off before making his way toward the door.

Right as he’s about to place his hand on the doorknob, Kuramochi speaks up. “Is that it?” he asks, and Miyuki doesn’t turn around to acknowledge him, doesn’t budge. “You came all this way to apologize?”

Kuramochi is perceptive. Exceedingly perceptive. Because Miyuki did not come all this way just to apologize.

If it were easier, it would have gone like this: Miyuki would apologize, would spill everything on his mind out to Kuramochi in one go. They’d bicker. They’d banter. Things would melt into normalcy again. He’d stay. He wouldn’t leave the room. He’d reach out, tangle his fingers with Kuramochi’s, ask him, as genuinely as he can, “Were you serious? Did you mean it?” Ask him, as genuinely as he can, “Would you wait?” Ask him, as genuinely as he can, “Please wait.”

A mile in Miyuki’s shoes would be torturous—even Miyuki has to admit this much.

“Were you looking for something else?” Miyuki inquires, sounding annoyingly smug. He cranes his head to look at Kuramochi expectantly, teasingly, and the English handbook that gets hurled his way is something he should have seen coming. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

“Moron,” Kuramochi calls out in response, just as the door closes behind Miyuki.

He lingers there, just for a couple of seconds. If only a couple of seconds was all it took for Miyuki to muster up the ounce of honesty he’s lacking.

Maybe he’ll pray about it. Ask a God he’s never believed in for some holy introspection on how to smooth out complications without getting burned or burning others in the process. It wouldn’t be too hard. Miyuki’s used to one-sided conversations, after all.

07/07

Kuramochi sprints into practice at the last minute, out of breath and sweating more than he ever does during normal sprints. He grimaces as soon as he slows to a stop by Maezono and Miyuki, looking thoroughly put out as he brushes himself off.

“Sorry,” he says as a greeting, hunched over to catch his breath. Maezono smacks him on the shoulder encouragingly before moving to hunt down the younger Kominato for batting practice, and Kuramochi almost hacks out a lung in the process.

“It isn’t like you to be late,” Miyuki comments wryly, and the lenses of his glasses glint wickedly in the harsh sunlight. “What kept you?”

Kuramochi scowls at Miyuki’s shit-eating grin. “I was looking for something,” he grumbles, straightening his back and stretching his arms above his head. “Lost something a while back. I’ve been meaning to look for it but I almost forgot about it until today.”

“So it wasn’t a confession?”

“Do I look like Shirasu to you? Hyaha!”

From meters away, Shirasu, ever reliable, lets out a long-suffering sigh. Nori pats him on the back, supportive as always. The true pinnacle of friendship.

Miyuki’s grin eases into a smile. “Find it?” he asks instead.

“No,” Kuramochi replies with a small frown. “It’ll turn up eventually. It has to.” And then, after a beat of silence, “Where’s Bakamura? Can we make him run laps today for stealing my towel?”

Sawamura, with his dog-like hearing, bellows from the other side of the pitch louder-than-necessary in disbelief. “KURAMOCHI-SENPAI, IT ABSOLUTELY WON’T DO TO BE SELFISH! DON’T MIND, DON’T MIND! WHAT’S A TOWEL TO—”

“Shut up!” Kuramochi shouts back, but he’s already on his way to teach Sawamura a physical lesson on discipline for neglecting the acceptable decibel range for a normal boy to speak.

Tomorrow, they’ll play their first qualifying game against Akikawa. Their first game of the summer in the West Tokyo bracket. Despite the social state of their team (Furuya feigns blissful ignorance, just meters from where Sawamura and Kuramochi are bickering), Miyuki doesn’t think he has any resting qualms as captain.

He watches as Kuramochi kicks Sawamura’s butt, merciless.

Yeah. No worries at all.

07/08

Today, they play Akikawa.

It’ll be their first game in the region of West Tokyo. Their first step toward qualifying for koshien.

Miyuki takes a deep breath, readjusts the tie of his uniform. It’s routine now, how he finishes getting ready for class and then swoops by the bottom drawer of his desk before heading out. He fishes out the pocket watch from the very back corner and examines it in the palm of his hands.

The scratches grow more prominent by the day. It looks exhausted, and Miyuki can’t pin down why. The arms get harder and harder to turn back and readjust by the day.

But that’s fine. There’s no need for manipulating time and trying to take control of things he doesn’t need to be in control of. Miyuki has no heart, no desire to use the watch to go to nationals, because he has enough confidence in Seidou’s talents and Seidou’s talents alone.

He’d never willingly captain a team he has no faith in.

Miyuki Kazuya has always been of little faith, but whatever amount he has left goes to Seidou.

Today, they play Akikawa.

And they will win.

*

After the game, Kataoka talks to them about how this is only the beginning, and how their end is determined by their efforts and their passion alone.

There are five more games after this one, and they are all games that Miyuki plans on winning.

Kuramochi brims with energy next to him and when he glances over, their eyes meet, and the look they share tells Miyuki that the sentiment is the same for the both of them.

“You played well today,” Kataoka says. “Next game, work to play better.”

“The winner is Seidou High School!”

07/16

Summer vacation is just four days from beginning, and Seidou’s third regional game is only one away.

There’s a certain dissonant calm that covers the entirety of the dormitory building when games are underway. It’s a chaotic mix between anticipating and dreading the six games that are part of the grueling but punctuated regional schedule for West Tokyo.

Tomorrow, they’ll play Osaka Kiryu, and while the team has already endured long, tedious debriefing meetings, Miyuki figures there are still bases to be covered and, unfortunately, last-minute studying for final exams to be done.

By the time he makes it to Kuramochi’s room and lets himself in uninvited, he is unsurprised to find that Kuramochi has neglected the textbooks scattered around him in favor of sprawling out, stomach-down, to play a video game Miyuki’s pretty sure Kuramochi has already beaten thirty times now.

“What happened to studying?” Miyuki drawls out, looking rightfully amused as he toes his shoes off and walks to the center of the room where Kuramochi is currently too engrossed to respond. He seats himself, cross-legged, amidst the textbook warzone.

“Taking a break,” Kuramochi mumbles back, and the fighting noises from the television screen are all that fill the room for a few brief moments. “You actually studying?”

Miyuki hums, noncommittal to the conversation. He flips through a stray textbook, clearing out the area around him with his free arm before stretching out his legs. Mindlessly, he rests his head against the dip of Kuramochi’s back, holding the textbook on Japanese history in the air, just inches from his eyes.

“Going to be too tired to study after the game tomorrow.” Miyuki stifles a yawn. “Shouldn’t you be studying?”

“Ah, shit!” Kuramochi hisses, and the video game noise of a character dying earns a snicker from Miyuki. “God damn it.”

There’s a certain calm to these sorts of thoughtless interactions that put Miyuki’s mind at peace. Peace has been considerably difficult to find these past few weeks, amidst confrontations and sleepless nights spent contemplating things too complicated, too far-gone for Miyuki to even begin to wrap his mind around.

When it’s quiet, simple, easy, like this, it’s less difficult for Miyuki to come to terms with the fact that they really are just high school students in the grand scheme of things. He overthinks things to death, sometimes—rattles his mind until there’s nothing left to dwell upon but old mistakes, old bridges he’s yet to burn.

“Ugh,” groans Kuramochi, tossing his controller to the floor and burying his face in his hands. “I can’t study anymore. I know everything about everything that my mind’s going to explode. Quiz me.”

“Say the following sentence in English—”

“Anything except English.”

Miyuki laughs as Kuramochi grabs his controller again. He likes it when things are easier, when he doesn’t have to worry about double-barriers to keep himself distant or how best to take control of things that don’t need to be controlled.

There’s a tight feeling at his solar plexus, the ache of muted nostalgia. Their season is coming to a close regardless of whether they go to koshien or not.

Sooner or later, this chapter will end.

Kuramochi groans again when the sad jingle of character death sounds from the television for a second time. Miyuki stifles another snicker, tries not to linger on wondering how much he’ll miss this.

07/22

The impact is strong, as strong as the collision looks. It happens quickly, too, as do all accidents in baseball, in sports in general.

The runner on third from Yakushi sprints for home, Miyuki’s shouting for the ball, and then it happens. A hard slide turns into a tackle, Miyuki happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the ball barely makes it into the catcher’s mitt by the time he finds himself keeled on the ground, mitt hugged to his chest.

“Out!” the umpire shouts, and Miyuki is relieved—as relieved as he can get considering he’d almost lost the ball. There’s an ache in his shoulder from where the runner’s knee slammed against it, but it wears off within seconds when the adrenaline starts coursing through his veins again.

He turns, right as Kataoka’s about to lift his hands for a time-out to double-check. Miyuki holds up one hand, signals an okay and brushes the accident off again when the umpire turns his head to ask if Miyuki wants to get checked up.

Directly down the field, he can see Kuramochi watching, concern on his features, just like everyone else on the bases, outfield, infield—

He signals another okay. This is the semi-finals and there’s no chance in hell that Miyuki’s going to, even for a second, let Seidou slip away from their goal.

They’ll win this game fair and square, rely on their talents, and do what every senior before them was deprived the opportunity of doing.

Sanada steps up to bat, squeezes his fingers around the grip.

“You sure you’re going to be okay?” Sanada asks, and there’s a trademark, borderline wicked smile on his lips. Miyuki knows better than to read into it by now. This is a pitcher who turns into a completely different being on the diamond, after all. “Shoulder injuries are killer for catchers, you know?”

“Worry about your own team,” Miyuki replies, and his expression is steeled, but he feels the bursts of energy in his body, in every single one of his joints as he repositions himself, holds his mitt out and looks Furuya in the eye. Right here.

Strike one.

“What’d I say?” and this time, Miyuki grins back.

Two games and they’ll be West Tokyo’s representative team for nationals.

Just two more games.

07/23

With their fifth game under their belt, Miyuki thinks he has leeway to be optimistic. He’d like to be, at least, considering the rest of Seidou is on the edge of their seats, wracked by their own nerves. Tomorrow’s their final qualifying game for koshien and as the captain, he should be invoking some sense of continuous morale into his players, but he has to remind himself that he’s a different sort of captain than Tetsu—and his team knows that.

They’re sitting in the dining room, hours past dinner’s ended. Maezono had insisted on a last-minute meeting to discuss the team and, also likelier than not, to supervise Miyuki eating the additional three bowls of rice he skipped out on while sleeping through breakfast. They’ve talked through the other team’s stats thirty times over, discussed the viability of their own pitchers, and, with Kuramochi’s added input, had an in-depth conversation about Maezono’s batting record.

“Hyahaha! We’ll be fine as long as you hit the ball!”

Maezono balks as Kuramochi whacks him on the back good-naturedly. To be fair, Maezono has improved a considerable amount since when their senpai first retired almost a year ago, but some jokes never die.

“If we’re done, then I’m going to get some batting practice in before sleeping. You guys better sleep early too! Tomorrow’s a big day!”

Kuramochi snickers at the mention of batting practice. “Good night!”

With that, Maezono leaves first, door shutting noisily behind him. There’s a lull of silence and while Miyuki would like to pretend everything’s okay, he knows himself that things still haven’t been 100% smoothed over since they talked through their argument. He doesn’t blame Kuramochi. If given the option and considering the events of the last couple of weeks, Miyuki probably wouldn’t want to spend alone time with himself either.

Miyuki feigns being occupied by the notebooks Nabe’s handed off to him. Wordlessly, Kuramochi moves to leave second, stifling a yawn behind his hand.

“Hey,” Miyuki starts without even thinking, hardly looking up from his notes. He doesn’t have to look up to know he’s grabbed Kuramochi’s attention but he does, after a beat of hesitation. Casually, he stretches his shoulder, grimaces ever-so-slightly from the strain.

“Eh?” The corners of Kuramochi’s eyes are wet with yawn-induced tears. He wipes them away with one finger. “What?”

“What do you want out of our game tomorrow?”

“I want to win, obviously.” The answer is clear-cut and there’s no hesitation to be found in any single syllable of it. Kuramochi’s almost frowning, like he doesn’t understand how Miyuki could expect anything different. “Why?”

“Do you think we can win nationals?”

This time, contemplation. Kuramochi purses his lips, looks both disgruntled at Miyuki’s sudden barrage of questions and pensive about the nature of the question. He shrugs. “Yeah.” Another yawn. “I can’t really see us doing anything else.”

Miyuki doesn’t respond. He sinks back in his seat instead, folding his hands atop his stomach. There’s something burdensome and uplifting at the same time about the sheer confidence Kuramochi has in this team. Miyuki should have it too—and to some degree, he does. But he’s always been prone to worry. He’s always been prone to lingering on the worst possible outcome, ever since the last time Seidou was one game away from nationals.

“Why are you so worried?” Kuramochi asks, and his tone is far from teasing. He sounds genuinely perplexed, genuinely concerned that the captain’s outlooks aren’t great. “You never do any good for yourself by overthinking things, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.” Miyuki closes his eyes. “Can’t help it.”

“God, you’re such a pain.” The exasperation brings a tiny hint of a smile onto Miyuki’s face. “Don’t stay up until four in the morning reading stats or I’m going to kill you in the morning, captain.”

The shuffling of Kuramochi’s slippers is all Miyuki focuses on until it stops, right as the door slides open.

“Miyuki.” And then, quieter: “I can picture you winning,” says Kuramochi, without bothering to follow-up with a correction, with an us not you. He’s walking away again, the door rattling just as noisily as when Maezono left.

For a second, Miyuki doesn’t react at all. He feels numbed, too conflicted on how he feels about the underlying I want you to win that felt thunderous as soon as Kuramochi spoke.

He opens his eyes. It’s just him and the lingering phantom sting of his shoulder.

His chest squeezes.

07/25

It’s their sixth and last game before koshien.

It’s potentially the last game of Miyuki’s season at Seidou.

Inashiro is still as strong as ever and Miyuki notes, with a certain fascination, that Mei’s learning curve has no fathomable ceiling. This is how he wanted it though, a game against a strong opponent to really test Seidou’s ability—to prove Seidou’s growth.

There’s no telling how this one’s going to end, even when they’re already five innings in, 1-1, with no intention of budging on either team.

Objectively speaking, both teams have improved since last year. Inashiro’s rearing up a second pitcher, unexpectedly talented, though Miyuki has to admit Mei still has the advantage. The catcher of Inashiro looks to have aged ten years, unsurprising considering the battery he’s trapped in, but his catches are almost seamless now—to the point that even Miyuki has to acknowledge them.

He’s been operating on little sleep and pure adrenaline since they stepped onto the field. There’s a dull ache in his shoulders as he catches Furuya’s pitches, one by one, watching as Inashiro’s batters get struck out.

They get ready to switch sides for the sixth inning. From where Miyuki’s squatting, he can see Kuramochi and Haruichi in the distance, walking toward the dugout and discussing something with vaguely grim expressions. There’s no time to ask now, though, and Miyuki doesn’t bother with dwelling on the subject. He busies himself with stepping out of the catcher’s equipment when he’s back in the dugout.

It’s hot out. Miyuki’s sweating more than usual, and it’s surprising even him. Furuya seems to have noticed or something too, because his gaze lands on the side of Miyuki’s face at one point and doesn’t tear away for a good, long while.

Kuramochi is at bat now, first to go. He barely manages to graze Mei’s pitch with the bat, but he sprints to first regardless and makes it by a hair. Kuramochi is running slower than usual today, and maybe the heat really is bad or something for the both of them to be feeling it—but when Miyuki glances around, no one else in the dugout seems to be bothered by it. Not even Furuya, whose two years in Tokyo haven’t done much to help him with the summers.

Haruichi bats two fouls before finally hitting the ball toward third. They’re in a good place right now, one batter on first, another on second, no outs, and Toujou up next.

Unfortunately, Mei is as stubborn and resilient as always, and Toujou’s feeble hit is a fly ball that earns Seidou one out. Still, it’s a hit, and that’s enough to have Mei fuming for the next couple of pitches, Miyuki’s sure. One out aside, Kuramochi’s managed to steal third and Haruichi is, no doubt, ready to run for second.

Miyuki reaches out, pats Toujou on the shoulder as they go opposite ways from the dugout. He readjusts the grip on his bat before positioning himself carefully at home.

It’s instinct, second nature, how his gaze flickers from home, from Mei, to Kuramochi, at third base. And maybe it’s divine timing, that Miyuki manages a glance right as Kuramochi is hunched over, palms flat on both knees with a vivid grimace on his face.

He can’t let himself get distracted now. Miyuki steels his gaze forward, toward the pitcher’s mound once more, and tries not to linger on things that are out of his control right now.

On the third pitch, Miyuki bats it straight to first and earns Seidou its second out and second run, because Kuramochi makes it home. Haruichi makes it to second base and Miyuki isn’t sure if they can do any better than this in the inning, considering their circumstances, but he’s relieved as it is that the score isn’t tied anymore.

Miyuki is about to call out to Kuramochi from first, jog his way over so they can walk back to the dugout together, but the name doesn’t make it off the tip of his tongue when he notices the faint limp in Kuramochi’s step as he walks from home.

He isn’t the only one to notice, either, because suddenly, the team members still waiting their turns to bat swarm at the entrance of Seidou’s dugout, concern dripping from their faces.

By the time Miyuki makes it back, Kuramochi is already seated in the second row of benches with an ice pack pressed to his ankle.

“What happened?” Miyuki asks, as a greeting.

Kuramochi doesn’t look up from his ankle. “I think I twisted it earlier a couple of innings ago while I was trying to avoid colliding with the second baseman.” Then, after noticing Miyuki’s silence: “It’s not a big deal. Just a light sprain like last time. It won’t hold me back.”

Already, his mind is going to the pocket watch he’s stowed away into the side compartment of his gym bag. This is their last game together, potentially, and Miyuki—maybe he’s being selfish—doesn’t want it to be like this.

“You sure?”

“I’m going to ice it and it should be fine until the end of the game,” Kuramochi replies. He glances up and looks at Miyuki with a glower. “Like I’d let you convince me out of our last qualifying game.”

Miyuki doesn’t respond, doesn’t even bother trying to throw on a smile or the like. He feels like he’s burning up as is, like there’s an actual flame licking at his shoulder or something. The heat isn’t doing much to quell his headache and now his mind’s swarmed with thoughts on how to fix this, how to reverse this, how to minimize Kuramochi’s injury because Miyuki has learned his lesson enough not to bank on preventing it in its entirety.

It takes another inning for Miyuki to make his decision.

In the seventh inning, Carlos ends up scoring a run, bringing the game back to a tie. Seidou is back at bat, top of the eighth, and they start with Furuya in the line-up.

He is acutely aware of the vow he’d made as captain on the day of their first game against Akikawa. The watch is supposed to be untouched, unused. Seidou is going to make it to koshien on talent and talent alone—but Miyuki is faltering, because suddenly, he’s being forced to come to terms with the fact that he isn’t the only person on the team who can put up a convincing poker face.

There are doubts welling up in Miyuki’s body regarding Kuramochi’s injury, how serious it actually is. If they lost, there’d be no concerns about it; but if they won, there’d be game after game of continued pressure on an already agitated ankle and Miyuki, Miyuki doesn’t know if he’s ready to watch someone make a sacrifice they don’t even know is coming their way.

His fingers ghost over to the side compartment of his gym bag, unzipping the pocket and reaching in just as the crack of Furuya’s bat against Mei’s pitch resounds in the stadium.

The watch feels more scratched, more bent out of shape than it did this morning, alone. Miyuki pulls it out of his bag and, gaze critical, tries to turn the winding crown. It’s stiff, unyielding, and right as he’s about to force it—

“Don’t.” And that’s all Kuramochi says: don’t.

And for some reason, that’s enough for Miyuki to loosen his grip on the object. His shoulder is aching from trying to turn the winding crown alone, how pitiful, and Miyuki is wordless as he slips the watch back into the bag.

Kuramochi doesn’t turn to look at him from where they are sitting, just feet apart, and isolated in the corner of the dugout.

Don’t.

Miyuki doesn’t say anything in response. He doesn’t do anything, just wipes the sweat dripping down the side of his face and lets the silence grow and grow.

Don’t.

Bottom of the eighth. One batter on third, one batter on first. Two outs.

Don’t.

*

All too quickly, the game ends.

*

It’s just them by the vending machines, and Miyuki is nostalgic for all of the wrong reasons. Everyone else has retired for the day, adrenaline still pumping from their game against Inashiro.

No one’s in the right state of mind to lurk by the vending machines or push themselves toward extra pitching or batting practice in the cage nearby. No one but Kuramochi and Miyuki, evidently.

There is a Pocari Sweat in Kuramochi’s hands and Miyuki’s favorite brand of canned coffee in his own. They don’t speak for a little while, sitting knee-to-knee on the bench pressed against the wall of the building parallel to the machines.

Evening is already here, bleeding into night time and though it’s summer, it’s getting darker by the minute. Cooler, too. Miyuki is grateful for the drop in temperature. He’s hyperaware of how badly his shoulder is aching now that the adrenaline’s worn off, and the heat only makes it worse.

“So you’re the one who found my watch,” Kuramochi begins, and he idly turns the bottle of sports drink in his hands. There’s nothing telling in the way he’s speaking, the way he’s acting. He’s playing it off like it’s normal, like he didn’t stop Miyuki from going back into time just hours ago. Kuramochi lets out a sigh. “Thank god. I thought someone selfish would find it.”

“I’m not really sure I understand,” Miyuki responds. “You’re talking pretty casually. Does that make any sense? How you’re treating this entire situation?”

“Your shoulder,” continues Kuramochi, ignoring Miyuki’s questions effortlessly. “When’d you realize it was bad?”

“Top of the ninth.”

“Man, you’re stupider than I thought. It was probably from that collision during our fifth game against Yakushi. I had my suspicions but I didn’t say anything until, get this, Furuya comes up to me, bottom of the eighth, and says ‘Senpai, shouldn’t you say something?’”

“You expect me to believe that?”

“Nah, but I don’t need you to.” Kuramochi’s shoulders sag and he drops his head, stares at the ground. “I knew I was expecting too much from you to take care of yourself, moron.”

A part of him really hates how natural this conversation is. There should be questions being answered, things being explained, but Kuramochi doesn’t say anything outside of the vague little snippets he’s offering to Miyuki.

He considers responding, considers outlining the exact thought process Miyuki had after the fifth game, after his shoulder started to ache and he wrote it off as nothing important.

Koshien, Seidou—some sort of legacy Miyuki’s nursed in the very inward-most crevice of his heart since he got here, nearly three years ago now.

“Hyahaha! What was I expecting from Miyuki Kazuya of all people?” And then suddenly, Kuramochi lifts his head again, shoulders still sunken in as he looks at the side of Miyuki’s face. “Oi, Miyuki.” Tension Miyuki could cut with a knife.

“What now?”

Kuramochi sets the plastic bottle in his hands on the bench next to him, wrings his hands together once, twice. “What would you say if I said I was from the future?”

Miyuki turns the watch over in his hands, smoothes his fingers over the tattered surface of it.

As it turns out, Kuramochi isn’t looking for a response.

“I came from the future to see you play at koshien. Sounds ridiculous, huh? Hyaha! It sounds stupid, even to me.” He’s looking away again, staring at the flickering lights inside the vending machine instead of gauging Miyuki’s face for any indication of a response. “It’s probably easier for you to believe, considering you’ve used the watch but…”

“To see me?” Miyuki finally, finally verbalizes. “What does that even mean?”

“Where I’m from, people don’t care about sports that much anymore. It’s polluted as shit, so many buildings, all crammed into space we don’t even have in Tokyo right now. There’s no room for diamonds, let alone anything else. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s my home so I can’t hate it, but it sucked not being able to play baseball on a huge field with a real team.

“Where I’m from, you don’t exist anymore. Not in the flesh, at least—sorry, I don’t know how else to put it. But you’re still a legacy. Professional baseball right out of graduating university and one of Japan’s best catchers. To think one of Japanese baseball’s darlings would be an idiot like you.”

Miyuki’s throat feels dry. He’s barely processing Kuramochi’s words, and even then, it’s hard to accept them at face-value. There’s no reason for him to doubt what Kuramochi’s telling him, considering the circumstances that led them here, but Miyuki doesn’t want to believe him. He doesn’t want to believe the fact that his best friend traveled right to this very city in this very time deliberately just to find him.

And to think they’d come this far. This almost sounds like a preface for a goodbye.

There’s a hand on Miyuki’s now, Kuramochi’s, gently plucking the watch from Miyuki’s palm. Kuramochi squeezes the object in his own hand, clasps both of his hands together and lets them hover between his knees.

“When I first met you, I couldn’t fucking stand you, and I thought I’d go back home right away because what a waste. One of my favorite baseball players is an asshole.” Kuramochi scoffs, but there’s a faint, lingering grin on his face. “Hyaha! I almost punched the living daylights out of you when we first met!”

“Yeah,” Miyuki musters, “you should have.”

“I don’t know why I stayed,” and it sounds like Kuramochi is apologizing. “Pro leagues aren’t big where I’m from, but people like me still want to see the games. There are old interviews with you talking about how monumental your last game as a third-year at koshien was and I don’t know. Maybe I thought seeing it would clear my thoughts. Give me some direction too, or something. Didn’t do a lot for myself back home. School sucks, and no one cares enough about anything. All anyone gives a shit about in the future is getting somewhere outside of their reach, getting away.”

Kuramochi unfurls his hands, stares at the tattered pocket watch with a muted sort of fondness.

“I want to go back to before you pulled your ankle in our game against Inashiro,” Miyuki states. “You can’t keep aggravating it. We have to win koshien together.”

“Can’t,” Kuramochi replies easily. “There’s one rewind left on this thing. The arms are just jammed, but I can fix that. I don’t know how far it can manage, but we’re going to our game against Yakushi, and you’re going to make sure you don’t get distracted.” He nods his head at Miyuki’s shoulder. “Ah, man. Came all this way to see you play at koshien only to let it all go to waste.”

There’s a lump in Miyuki’s throat that he can’t swallow. “What do you mean?”

He doesn’t get a quick response this time. Kuramochi rises from the bench, stretching his arms above his head and turning his back to Miyuki.

“I’m going to disappear after the clock dies out,” says Kuramochi, and his voice is quieter, more restrained. “We’re not supposed to tell people from the past about where we come from—what we can do. We’re not supposed to tell people from the past anything about us, the real us, I mean.”

The watch still gleams when Kuramochi tosses it up in the air, swiping it as soon as gravity begins pulling it down. He puts it in the pocket of his pants, lets his hand linger there.

“It’s kind of complicated. There are a lot of rules, a lot of risks that come with time traveling. If the clock runs out of juice before I can go back home, then I’m stuck here. But if I fuck up before I use the clock, if I tell someone like you about why I’m here, who I am, then I disappear. From here, from home. I’m gone, and it sucks, because you guys will still remember me.” Kuramochi kicks at the dirt with the toe of his shoe. “If I go back home with the clock still functional, then it’s easier. I get wiped from everyone’s memories here and it’s seamless, the transition back home.”

“Then go back home,” Miyuki hears himself saying aloud. “Go back home. Why would you want to risk disappearing for a baseball team? I know you can’t possibly be that stupid, right?”

“Like I said,” and Kuramochi sounds unaffected by Miyuki’s words, sounds too set on a decision. “I came from the future to see you play at koshien. But I don’t care about giving it up if it means you’ll still play, and you’ll still win without sacrificing anything.”

“Are you listening to yourself talk right now?”

“You can’t fix my ankle. It’s been hurting on-and-off since our scrimmage against Yakushi and even if we did go back, there’d be no point. I wouldn’t be here and it’d be a waste of effort, a waste of time. That was all my fault anyway. I was too careless, got too anxious thinking about how we’d play teams like them. Seidou has to make it to koshien. You have to make it to koshien. All the old videos talk about how that’s where you started to peak.

“I’m going to fix the clock so we can turn it back one last time. I’ll meet you in our classroom after school ends tomorrow. Maybe they’ll send me back home instead of wiping me. I’m still kind of young.”

Home should be just down the hall from him, Miyuki thinks bitterly. Home shouldn’t be however many years from now in a too-small town, for a boy who deserves the field at the nationals stadium.

“Aren’t there consequences for people like me too?” Miyuki inquires. And he hopes his voice isn’t wavering, isn’t shaking as much as his hands are. He can’t pull a temper tantrum now when Kuramochi’s already made his decision—a decision Miyuki could never interfere with, all things considered. “For going back and changing things around, I mean. Maybe the time police will come after me for being selfish.”

“Can’t really do anything when I’m the one being selfish for you,” Kuramochi retorts, shrugging his shoulders. It’s still just his back, and Miyuki wants to reach out, turn him around by the shoulder just to see it written on Kuramochi’s face. He wants to see that this is what Kuramochi wants to do.

“You really think this is going to fix anything?”

“Everything, actually.” He kicks at the ground again. Kuramochi starts walking away, half-a-step at a time. “I want you to win, Miyuki. There are people in the future who have your ugly face on a poster taped to their walls, you know?”

“You have a poster of me?” Miyuki calls out.

Kuramochi freezes. “Shut up, moron!” And then he’s leaving again. “Get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He waves his hand in the air, doesn’t face Miyuki to the last minute.

It’s agonizing, watching Kuramochi walk away without knowing how to put into words every single frenzied thought in Miyuki’s mind. He has no way of asking Kuramochi to stay, to wait, to please just let Miyuki be selfish by himself.

In seconds, Miyuki is alone again.

“Tch,” Miyuki scoffs, and the smile on his face is bittersweet as he looks down at his open hands, trying to visualize everything he should have said out loud passing in between his fingertips. “Look who’s the asshole now.”

07/26

“You don’t have to go,” Miyuki finds himself saying aloud, and he hates himself for it, just a bit, because how is he supposed to pretend this doesn’t mean anything to him when he’s fighting just to keep his hands by his side—to keep himself from reaching out. “You could stay, you know. Rent a room somewhere, make a living telling fortunes for people by doing your time skipping thing.”

He knows better.

“Nah,” and the syllable rolls off evenly, quietly, off the tip of Kuramochi’s tongue. He turns his back, doesn’t look Miyuki in the eye, doesn’t give Miyuki the opportunity to gauge his expression, doesn’t let Miyuki tease him about how serious he probably looks. Nothing. No openings. No room for negotiation. “I can’t.”

The lingering and you know that feels heavy on Miyuki’s shoulders.

He could drop an entire box of pins and count each little clatter on the floor. He’s always been comfortable with silence, but this, this is suffocating. It’s stupid, how things have turned out. It’s stupid, and completely, wholly, out of his control.

A laugh slips past his lips: it’s a bit hoarse, a bit rough around the edges, but the best he can manage.

“Yeah, what was I thinking?” He’s grinning, or maybe he’s gritting his teeth. “You don’t have to explain. I don’t want you to hurt yourself trying to give me the scientific explanation.”

Kuramochi doesn’t say anything, and Miyuki stills again, lets his chair fall back onto four legs.

Laugh, he thinks to himself. Just give me a laugh.

Something, anything, he pleads silently.

He hates not knowing.

“Damn,” Kuramochi finally mutters, and he lets out a long sigh. “You’re so annoying.”

“Haha!” It’s like clockwork. He doesn’t have to think about it. He shouldn’t think about it. “Thank you.”

“It’s not a compliment, dumbass!” There’s that sense of normalcy he’s been seeking—and yeah, Kuramochi still won’t turn around, but it’s little victories that he’s come to treasure now. “God, you piss me off sometimes but—”

“But what?”

It’s like clockwork. Everything’s like clockwork—all of those days he rewound, replayed, until he felt satisfied with the semblance of control he thought he had on his life. Everything to do with leading Kuramochi straight back to him; all of it was like clockwork.

But this. This isn’t like clockwork. The way Kuramochi’s shoulders are shaking, trembling, ever so slightly as he turns around, slow and steady.

It’s dark in the classroom. Past five in the afternoon, and the lighting’s always been terrible here. Bad lighting doesn’t make things invisible, though, and Miyuki finds himself wishing it did when he catches the sheen at the corner of Kuramochi’s eyes.

No, he thinks. Don’t make this real.

“But what?” he presses, in spite of himself, in spite of everything. “Getting all sappy on me, Kuramochi? I’m flattered, but that’s kinda gross!”

“You piss me off,” Kuramochi repeats, and this time, the words are softer, just barely, “but I think I might miss you. That’s messed up, isn’t it?”

Miyuki lets out another laugh. It’s dry, scratching at his throat as it slips past his lips. He looks at the surface of his desk, maybe because he doesn’t trust himself to look Kuramochi in the eye.

“So you fixed it?” he asks instead, and he wonders if his voice is giving away everything he’s trying so desperately to conceal beneath his practiced cadence.

“Yeah.” There’s a rustling noise and Kuramochi’s procuring something small, round, silver from the depths of his pocket. Miyuki doesn’t look for it—he isn’t sure if he wants to see it. He focuses on Kuramochi’s shoes swinging from the ground to hovering in the air as he seats himself on the desk in front of Miyuki. “One rewind left.”

“Great,” Miyuki forces out. He grins, he grins, but nothing’s reaching his eyes. “Always been reliable.”

The ticking sound rings loud in his ears. Those are seconds he’s wasting, half-minute increments slipping through his fingertips. When he blinks, this will all be gone. He isn’t sure what will remain, and there’s this creeping suspicion that knowing won’t help him in the long-run.

“Miyuki,” and the name, his name, falls from Kuramochi’s mouth like an apology. He hates it. “Go to koshien.”

“That’s a given.”

More seconds. More seconds Miyuki is regretting ever giving up to time. He looks up, sees the way Kuramochi’s grinning as he looks out the window, and he realizes for the nth time today alone that this really is how their goodbye is going to play out. All of the things he’s been categorizing in his mind, shuffling away to focus on goals he thought he could make his and his alone—there’s no time, not anymore, to lay them all out on the table.

He’s always been bad at being vulnerable. Nothing’s changed.

“Hyahaha!” Kuramochi hops off the desk, folds his arms behind his head. “You better win koshien while you’re at it, if you know what’s good for you.”

“Making threats when you’re leaving so soon?” Miyuki mirrors the smile on Kuramochi’s face. “We’ll manage without you.”

There’s that lull again, the lingering tendrils of silence tangling between them. Kuramochi’s expression softens, and he’s taking steps from his desk to the back of the classroom now—to the door. One, two, and then he stops right by Miyuki.

Kuramochi doesn’t say anything. He lifts his hand and lets it rest on Miyuki’s head, patronizing, before it slips to his shoulder. He squeezes it, and Miyuki grits his teeth, steels his expression, faces forward because he can’t let his thoughts betray him now.

Another measured silence, like they’re trying their best to elongate time that is no longer theirs.

The faint clink of the watch weighs heavy in the room. Kuramochi releases his grip on Miyuki and takes another step forward.

He could say it now: You really think we can go to koshien without you?

He could say it now: Isn’t this kind of selfish, Kuramochi?

He could say it now: Don’t you have anything more to say?

He could say a lot of things, but Kuramochi beats him to the punch.

“Good luck, captain.”

“Hey, K—”

Miyuki doesn’t have the chance to reply.

He doesn’t have the time to.

(So this is what it feels like to lose things you never knew you had.)

07/25 (1)

They qualify for koshien, but there’s too much that happens in between: one, Kuramochi disappears from Tokyo, as assured and there’s no explanation for where he’s gone except for a presumed family emergency that took him back home immediately and forced him to drop out of everything. Kataoka is understanding, for the most part, but they’re in a jam and no one has time to do much except send distressed follow-up emails and texts. Nakata ends up subbing in for the last two games before koshien. Two, Miyuki, true to his word, doesn’t let himself get distracted during their fifth game against Yakushi. The collision still happens, but the equipment gets the brunt of the impact and Miyuki is unscathed. Three, they win. Again Yakushi, against Inashiro. They win—and they qualify for koshien as West Tokyo’s representative team.

Four, Miyuki goes back to his dormitory room after their fifth game against Yakushi and unwittingly opens the bottom drawer of his desk to find a familiar, tattered pocket watch with more gleam than he remembers.

It doesn’t make sense to him, how it got there. He hadn’t thought twice about the pocket watch coming back into his life but now, when he sits through it and puts two and two together, it makes perfect sense.

Kuramochi dialed back to a time that Miyuki had the pocket watch, secluded from anyone else’s, including Kuramochi’s, eyes. It only makes sense that in this time, the watch is still under Miyuki’s care and—

Still functional.

Maybe it’s reckless, selfish, how Miyuki curls up in his bed with the device flat against his palm. He can’t help but turn the winding crown back, gently, meticulously, counting each twenty-four-hour rewind in his head like a tally.

“You idiot,” he mutters to himself, right as his thumb lingers against the tip of the winding crown. “You never got to see me play at nationals.”

There’s a click and Miyuki has never felt so glad to hear it.

Everything goes black.

The sensation of falling hits Miyuki like a tidal wave.

He breathes in, breathes out, and simply waits.

(00/00: REVIEW)

Everything flickers into high-definition behind Miyuki’s eyelids. Where there should be black, there are clear-cut scenes that Miyuki recalls from year one, year two—

They meet when they’re both first-years, freshly enrolled in Seidou High School with bright hopes for the future.

Correction: the only thing bright about Kuramochi Youichi, circa year one, that Miyuki can distinctly recall are the glaringly yellow tips of his hair, dyed obnoxiously or grown-out for too long without a care.

Kuramochi Youichi is only two hours into his first school day and there are already rumors floating about. He’s new, brand new, to Tokyo, to Seidou, and no one knows anything about him except that he doesn’t have a school uniform yet, and the teachers’ office doesn’t know much about his origins except that he was caught playing baseball with a couple of delinquents just two days ago and got a miracle scout from none other than Takashima Rei in the process.

There are a lot of rumors. He’s the son of a seedy underground yakuza boss, mysterious culprit behind six unidentified murders in the Chiba prefecture—where he’s supposedly from. He’s only enrolled in Seidou, a new recruit of the baseball club, because he’s avoiding juvenile detention.

None of them are true, naturally. Miyuki knows this right off the bat when he walks into class 1-B and finds Kuramochi in the corner of the classroom with sheer discomfort on his face.

“You know, if you don’t want to stick out, I suggest a new hairstyle,” Miyuki suggests, and the scowl he gets from a bewildered Kuramochi is something he remembers to this day.

Two days into their first year, the rumors die out and Kuramochi is regarded as normal as everyone else. Miyuki has the joy of running into him again after Seidou’s first baseball practice and he’s even more amused to find that the blonde tips have been trimmed off, and Kuramochi is as unyielding to Miyuki’s teasing as ever.

Looking back, he isn’t sure why Kuramochi never punched him. Then again, maybe Miyuki should be grateful.

In their second year together, they manage to get grouped into the same homeroom again. By then, the bad blood has mostly settled and they’re too comfortable with each other for their own good. Baseball is baseball. They carry an early loss on their shoulders like a boulder on their back and together, they decide they’ll go to nationals and win it all for Seidou, past and future.

Year two is when they ease into a form of natural existence with one another. Suddenly, they’re inseparable, always aware of what the other is doing. It’s joking, how people say “Well who else would want to be friends with them?” and Miyuki never corrects them, never says—you’d be lucky to have him.

In year three, too many things happen maybe because they’re meant to, and maybe because of Miyuki’s own mistakes.

When he considers their first and second year together as friends, Miyuki isn’t sure when he convinced himself that it’d ever be okay to let fear drive him from too many important things.

He thinks, while he’s free-falling in a sea of black, that he’d like to take it all back.

New beginnings.

Light and color bleed into Miyuki’s field of vision. When he opens his eyes, he’s already smiling.

05/12 (1)

It’s a pocket watch.

He knows it’s a pocket watch. And more importantly, he knows whose pocket watch it is. He knows what this pocket watch is capable of, what terrible things it could do if it ever fell into the wrong hands.

Miyuki hums a Seidou fight song under his breath, crouching down on the tiled floor of the washroom to gingerly pick the object up from the ground. It’s a bright silver, gleaming in all aspects—a big change from the tattered, exhausted state that Miyuki last saw it in (months from now, but that’s not his story to tell anymore).

He’s not sure how long it’ll take for Kuramochi to realize he’s lost it. He’ll wait it out, bide his time here, waiting, until someone comes by and calls him out for being suspicious, hanging out in a bathroom of all places.

Feigning ignorance isn’t going to be difficult. There’s a pressure on his shoulders, the lingering reminder of what happens if Kuramochi is forced to reveal his nature. He can’t shake the remnants of their conversation, right in the middle of their sixth qualifying game—

Miyuki bites the inside of his cheek and tries not to think about the futures he’s given up.

The sound of footsteps comes sooner than expected, slowing to a stop right outside of the washroom entrance. He can almost make out the sound of Kuramochi’s breathing, harsh, raspy, probably from sprinting all the way from his room to here in record time.

The door creaks open and Kuramochi peeks in, one eye closed in a grimace. He grips the side of the entryway with one hand to right himself, gaze flickering from one wall toward the other before stopping and landing on Miyuki.

Kuramochi blinks, unsuspecting.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, and he’s still a bit out-of-breath as he takes one step inside. “Creep. Why are you hanging out in here?”

Miyuki shrugs. “I just got done washing up,” he says. He runs a thumb over the smoothed surface of the pocket watch’s cover. “Looking for this?” He holds it up, between his thumb and his index finger.

“Wha—” The alarm in Kuramochi’s eyes is washed away by sheer relief. He takes another step forward, unthinking, as he reaches his hand out. “Holy shit. Did you find it here?”

“Yeah.” Miyuki tosses it into Kuramochi’s cupped hands. “Figured someone would come by looking for it eventually. What are you doing with such an old-fashioned watch, though?” He grins. “Secretly an old-timer at heart?”

“Shut up.” Kuramochi closes the fingers of one hand over the watch before dropping it into the left pocket of his pants. There’s a moment’s hesitation, just a second-long falter in Kuramochi’s gaze, like he’s trying to figure out how best to approach verbalizing his gratitude. “Thanks. For finding it, I mean. I thought I lost it on the field, but I’m glad I checked here first.”

“Must be important,” Miyuki muses thoughtfully. He looks up at Kuramochi from where he’s crouching. “I guess you’re indebted to me!”

“Haaaah?” Kuramochi stares back, looking on the verge of scowling as Miyuki smiles up at him, sunny as always.

“Let’s see, maybe we can start with the history assignment…”

Kuramochi’s eye twitches. “Do your own damn homework, you moron!” he snaps, and Miyuki has to laugh at how quickly he responds. “Stop being so insufferable!”

Miyuki beams. “You’re too kind.” He hoists himself up into a standing position, straightening his back as he makes his way toward the door, clapping a hand on Kuramochi’s shoulder on the way. “We can talk through the details later.”

“You annoying—”

“You’re welcome,” Miyuki chimes in, cheerful even as Kuramochi fumes comically.

“I’m not doing your history homework for you. That was due three days ago, idiot!”

“I’ll figure something out~”

The noise Kuramochi makes is a careful mix between an agonized cry and an aggravated groan. Miyuki only laughs.

05/17 (2)

It’s nothing special. That’s what he’ll say. He bought it at full-price, it being a game Kuramochi’s been talking nonstop about for the past few weeks, but it’s been out for a couple of months now so Miyuki can, if he executes this seamlessly, pretend he got it for cheap, maybe even half-price. It’s not cheap. Not even close to half-price but he buys it anyway and even thinks to toss it into a semi-nice gift bag instead of keeping it wrapped in plastic.

“Yo,” Miyuki greets, as coolly as he can manage as he slips into homeroom and slows to a stop in front of Kuramochi’s desk.

“Morning,” Kuramochi replies, voice garbled through a yawn. He blinks when Miyuki sets the bright red bag in front of him. “What’s this?”

He grins. “I got you a gift.”

Kuramochi’s cheeks are burning faintly and Miyuki wonders why he didn’t do this sooner.

Ah, right. This is soon enough.

“What the hell? Are you kidding—”

“Happy birthday.”

“Are you sick?”

“Nah. Just being a good friend!”

“… You’re definitely sick. Or what is this? Is this like a pile of shit or something…”

06/13 (4)

They’re by the vending machines, and this scene, this exact atmosphere is something Miyuki is too familiar with.

The can of coffee in his hands is warm to the touch. Kuramochi lets out a sigh, exhausted, exasperated all at once, as he lets his gaze flicker from the sky, to the rooftop, and then to Miyuki’s face.

“What would you say if I said I liked you?” he asks, but it sounds more definite than a question—more absolute, confident. Kuramochi is superficially unyielding, unafraid, as he looks Miyuki right in the eye.

His gaze is imploring though, wavering, like he isn’t sure if he wants to hear whatever Miyuki wants to say and this is probably the first time Miyuki has ever grouped the word vulnerable with a spitfire like Kuramochi.

“What?” Miyuki replies.

“I like you,” Kuramochi repeats, and he looks ready to dive into explaining that he doesn’t need reciprocation, doesn’t even need acknowledgement. But Miyuki cares less now (after too many times of enduring this, of watching Kuramochi endure this) about what Kuramochi needs and more about what he wants. They want.

Two steps until the distance is closed, can of coffee forgotten, dropped to the ground. What a waste. But there’s no time to think about that, when his hand’s already cupping Kuramochi’s cheek, jaw, pulling him closer until their lips meet, and that’s that.

There’s little time to mull over what Miyuki wants and doesn’t want to lose. He knows that now, better than anyone else. These little moments, these little opportunities he gets to have all to himself are special, important, and Miyuki would be an idiot to let them go for the nth time in this lifetime alone.

He pulls away, drinks in the sight of how absolutely floored Kuramochi is.

“Me too,” says Miyuki, and he grins in spite of himself, dizzy with relief, with joy when Kuramochi stumbles back and his back hits the vending machine, Miyuki falling after him. Chest pressed to chest, two hands laced between them. “I like you, too.”

Kuramochi pulls Miyuki down by the lapels of his shirt, stop him just centimeters before collision. There’s a smile on Kuramochi’s lips, something small but something warm, as he mutters, “Moron,” and christens their second kiss.

So this is what it means to cling onto the things most important to him. This is what it means to recognize that there has always been more to lose, more to gain than just baseball.

Miyuki laughs as soon as they part for air.

Reckless and stupid, but good. All good.

07/26 (1)

He doesn’t forget what Kuramochi told him eons, lifetimes, timelines ago. All of that space between then and now has been discarded, but Miyuki remembers everything Kuramochi told him about time travel, about consequences, about rules—about disappearing.

So he doesn’t bring it up. Doesn’t mention that Kuramochi might leave him soon. Doesn’t talk about his plans to go pro after high school. He doesn’t bring up time travel, the pocket watch, or anything that might indicate that Miyuki knows.

It’s a one-sided secret, but Miyuki doesn’t want to make the same mistakes anymore.

They’re sitting in the same classroom that Kuramochi said his first, forgotten goodbye in. It’s empty, classes over for the day and the both of them killing time until Maezono finishes a brief meeting with a teacher about his future so they can go over game statistics before practice.

Miyuki stifles a yawn, rests his cheek against the palm of his hands as his elbow sits on the surface of his desk. Kuramochi busies himself with the faint beeping of a gaming console. He closes it after a while, probably after he dies in-game, and tosses it into his backpack.

“What are you doing after graduation?” Miyuki asks aloud.

Kuramochi stiffens visibly for a second before relaxing, shoulders dipping up and down in a shrug. “I might have to move back home before the year ends—hopefully after the season, though.” He doesn’t elaborate, and Miyuki doesn’t ask him to. “Probably work? Who knows?”

“No university?”

“Hyahaha! You really think I’d survive university when I barely survived high school?”

“Baseball in the university leagues aren’t as tough,” Miyuki reasons with a wry smile.

“Yeah, whatever. We’ll see.” Kuramochi’s sitting on the edge of his desk, hands pressed against the surface on either side of him. “What about you?”

“University. You know the one Chris-senpai’s attending right now? Trying my luck for that one. And then… Well, I’m aiming for pro, some day.”

There’s a tiny wave of excitement in Kuramochi’s eyes before they steel back into normalcy. “Poor Chris-senpai gets stuck with you again! Hyaha!”

Quiet fills the room again. Sunlight filters in through dusty window panes and Miyuki squeezes his eyes shut for a second.

He’d like to ask if Kuramochi plans on leaving, on going back home right after nationals. He’d like to ask if there are things he can do to make sure that the future that Kuramochi lives in is a Tokyo that Kuramochi deserves. There’s no way of getting the answers he really wants to the questions he really has, so ambiguity is the only thing he can manage at this point.

“Hey,” he starts, and he doesn’t bother looking away from the view he has of outside from where he’s sitting. “You’ll tell me when you leave, right?”

The steady weight of understanding passes between them, wordless as always.

Kuramochi shrugs, doesn’t look at Miyuki. “Yeah,” he says, and that’s more than enough.

08/22

“Thank you,” Kataoka starts, and even with his sunglasses obscuring his eyes, the way his shoulders are tight, shaking, only goes to show that this is Seidou’s reality now. “Thank you for your hard work and dedication these past few months. You’ve made me proud as your coach and you’ve made Seidou proud.

“Congratulations on being koshien champions.”

Miyuki can’t remember the last time he cried like this.

*

(Rewind:

The last inning, the last out. Miyuki grabs the ball, hurls it across the diamond, past the pitcher—right where Kuramochi leaps up to catch it. The base is tagged and it’s three outs. The game’s over.

That’s it. The game is over.

They’ve won by one run.

What happens afterwards is a mess; they’re swarming across the field as soon as the announcer’s voice registers that this is the end. Limbs are on limbs, people are crying, and Miyuki can hardly make sense of his surroundings until he hears that crystal-clear hyahaha! reverberating against his ear drums. Kuramochi’s arms are around him and he hugs back, tightly, doesn’t think twice about letting go.

“We did it!” Kuramochi hollers. There are tears streaking his dirtied face, and his eyes are wide, bright, even brighter than Miyuki’s ever seen them. “We won!”

Miyuki’s grin is hurting his cheeks but he laughs anyway, in spite of how much he’s shaking. His fingers find purchase in the fabric of Kuramochi’s uniform, the rigid edges of Kuramochi’s number six. He buries his face into Kuramochi’s shoulder.

“We won,” he echoes.

The rest of the team pile upon them. Sawamura’s shouting his unintelligible thanks to his mother, his father, and to Boss.

“The winners of the National High School Baseball Championship… Seidou High School!”

They’ve won.)

08/24

The lull after koshien is immediate. It's like the dry strength in every joint, every limb leaves everyone all at once, until they're just tremors in the grand scheme of the universe's vibrations again.

They won. That's a good thing. What comes after, Miyuki's not so sure about.

Amidst cameras and journalists compelling them to tell the tale of blood, sweat, and tears again and again, there's hardly any time to breathe. And when he finds those precious hours are his once more, he doesn't have to look too far to find the person he's searching for.

Kuramochi always finds him first anyway.

This time, Miyuki's the one holding up a bottle of Pocari Sweat in his free hand, grinning guilelessly while he tosses it to Kuramochi's open palms.

"Payback," he explains, as they walk from their dormitory building back to the pitch. Their shoulders barely bump as they amble side-by-side and neither comment.

"Payback?" Kuramochi echoes. "Payback for what? Did you mess with my stuff or something?"

The criminally suspicious look Kuramochi gives him warrants a hearty laugh and Miyuki uses that to cover up the lurch in his stomach as he remembers old memories that only he has.

"Rude. I can't even treat my vice-captain well?"

"You? Hyaha! You sick or something?"

Kuramochi laughs with his whole body; any other day and Miyuki would have called it obnoxious. But today, he's grateful for the way their shoulders press together even closer without any unanswered, one-sided prayers shot up to halfhearted gods from Miyuki's end.

The sun's still high in the sky, searing yellows just barely trickling into evening's orange. They find themselves at the gently slope right outside of the diamond, their diamond, sharing no words at all as they plop down in silence.

"So," Miyuki begins as they both fall onto their backs in laughable unison. "We won koshien."

"Yeah," and there's still tendrils of disbelief flitting in between the tones of Kuramochi's voice. The grin on his face is wide though, elated. "We did. Still doesn't feel real."

"It's real. How could you forget Furuya kissing Haruichi on the bus in celebration?"

Kuramochi grimaces. "Got to write home to Ryou-san about that one." He whistles, appreciative. "Didn't know Furuya had it in him."

"They've grown so much," Miyuki muses, as thoughtfully as someone of his personality can manage. "Can't imagine how far they'll go next year."

Next year rolls off the tip of his tongue like a lead weight.

"Hey, Miyu—”

"Kind of weird how quickly time passes by, isn't it?" The lilt in Miyuki's voice is intended to be telling, but Kuramochi doesn't comment on it. "We still have the rest of the year, I guess."

There's something thick, heavy, impassive that sits between them, like a wall waiting to be climbed. Kuramochi doesn't say anything, doesn't offer any explanatory lecture on where he's going to be next year, tomorrow (not here, far away, somewhere where Miyuki won't be able to find him—even if Kuramochi wanted him to).

He doesn't really have to. Miyuki already knows, after all.

So they remain there in silence, backs pressed against the grass. Kuramochi's arms fold behind his head and Miyuki rests his atop his stomach.

It's serene. It’s nice. It's a shame they won't get to do this again.

He’s going to miss this.

"Maybe," Kuramochi finally says, and he lets his eyes close for a second, chest heaving ever-so-slightly with measured breaths. He pushes himself up, rests the weight of his torso on his elbows and turns to face Miyuki. "What are you thinking about now?”

Miyuki grins, doesn't bother to address the furrow in Kuramochi's brows.

"Curious? Wondering if I'm thinking about you?"

Kuramochi scowls. "Moron!" he grumbles. There's a flicker of something that passes over his face, softens his expression into something sober, something apologetic. "Don't worry about me, okay?"

So this is how they're going to send each other off. Tiptoeing around words that they don't want to put value in. Miyuki lets out a small sigh, hoisting himself up until he's sitting upright.

"Ah, man. So high and mighty of you. I have better things to do than worry about you, don't you think?" The smile on his face feels natural, and maybe he's grateful that the clenching of his heart isn't enough to obscure the better side of him. "I'll try not to."

"We'll see each other again someday," Kuramochi continues.

If this entire situation had been any different, Kuramochi's words would have been too vague to understand. It's funny how fate works, though, leading Miyuki down twisting and winding paths to land here, after trial and error, to neatly package every single thought he's had all of the time in the world to contemplate to hand over to Kuramochi.

He knows everything he needs to know, and Kuramochi is too perceptive himself not to know Miyuki's figured it all out.

"Will I know it's you? What if you dye your hair that god-awful blonde you had when we first met?" Miyuki teases. "Maybe I won't want to know you."

"Shut up!" There's a comical twitch to Kuramochi's eye as he scowls at Miyuki. "Quit asking stupid questions."

Quit asking questions you don't want to know the answer to.

Kuramochi shifts again, straightening his back and pulling his legs up until they're close enough to hug. He lets his arms rest atop his knee, every gesture lazy, a stark contrast to the energy that usually follows him like a shadow. He seems smaller like this; in a way, he seems less imposing, less like something impossible to conquer and more like someone who's too tired to put their walls up again.

There aren't any walls today. No guarded glances, no heavy shoulders. He's looking at Miyuki in a way that says, There's nothing to climb. I'll let you in.

It's been a long time, Miyuki reasons. Three years away from home and those three years will be all Kuramochi gets.

"You'll recognize me when you see me."

“Haha! Being mysterious doesn’t suit you.”

“Shut up,” Kuramochi grumbles again, though there’s hardly any malice in his tone as he cranes his head, gaze focusing on Miyuki. “Hey.”

Things are hardly ever quiet between them—not in this physical, tangible sense. They’re used to being surrounded by white noise, background clamor always filling their ears so they don’t get the luxury of just this: a natural silence, shared by just the two of them.

Miyuki half-expects Sawamura to come bounding in from stage left.

He doesn’t want to humor Kuramochi with a response. He doesn’t want to ask ‘what?’ because he’s got a terrible gut feeling that Kuramochi’s trying to muster up the courage to say goodbye.

Miyuki has always been competitive and he uses that as his handicap, his excuse for not letting Kuramochi say it first.

“So,” Miyuki says instead, and he commends himself for trying his hardest to maintain a convincing smile. Neither of them should have to leave this place with heavy hearts. They’ve been through too much these past couple of months to let their guards down now.

“So?” Kuramochi echoes, his gaze curious. He’s yielding today, maybe because he knows what Miyuki’s doing, and maybe because he’s too tired to keep pushing, too. “Spit it out.”

Let’s not say goodbye.

“You going to kiss me or what?”

It doesn’t happen like clockwork.

Kuramochi’s a mess of unfettered nerves and his shaking hand sends tremors beneath Miyuki’s skin as soon as Kuramochi’s fingers clasp around the fabric of Miyuki’s shirt and reel him in—as soon as Miyuki feels the secondhand warmth of an incredibly real person’s flesh right atop the center of his ribcage, right through his t-shirt. There’s a moment’s worth of hesitation as Kuramochi’s lips hover, unsure, above Miyuki’s, and this is all the time Miyuki needs to swallow up the space between them because this kiss has been long-waited, and they don’t have every hour in the world at their disposal anymore.

They don’t get the sparks, the fireworks, the jolt of electricity up and down their spines. They get a mess of chapped lips, the acidic taste of sports drink, and Miyuki’s glasses bumping awkwardly against Kuramochi’s forehead. They get something amateur, something basic, something fundamental.

They get something very, wholly them. And Miyuki realizes he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He pulls away with a grin. “You suck at this,” Miyuki comments.

Kuramochi grits his teeth, pulls Miyuki back in until their lips meet again. This time, parted. And to Miyuki’s contentment, he has to admit this one’s light-years better—especially when he feels the way the corners of Kuramochi’s lips tug upwards into a smile.

He’s biased, but he thinks they deserve another beginning.

(Let’s not say goodbye, he thinks again. This isn’t a goodbye.)

*

Kuramochi doesn’t explain anything. Miyuki doesn’t ask.

Even as they’re walking side-by-side, in near silence, back to their dormitory for what Miyuki thinks, with resounding finality, might be their last hours together, there are no questions and there are no answers.

“Oi, Miyuki.”

“Hm?”

Kuramochi shoves his hands into the pockets of his pants. He kicks idly at a stray pebble on their path.

“I’m moving tomorrow.”

“Ah,” Miyuki hums, contemplative. “Is that so?”

“Yeah.” The lack of conviction in Kuramochi’s voice is more than enough. “It’s sudden, but my parents are moving out of the country so I have to follow them. I already said goodbye to everyone else.”

A laugh bubbles from Miyuki’s throat in spite of himself. “Saved the best for last, huh?”

“Tch, don’t give yourself too much credit, moron.”

It’s quiet again. He’s starting to get used to it now. Maybe he’ll miss this too, tomorrow. Maybe he’ll miss it without knowing why. The thought is kind of funny to him. When Kuramochi disappeared the first time, it was because he was plucked away from their timeline for breaking the rules. Maybe it’ll be different this time around if he’s leaving on his own accord. Maybe tomorrow, when everyone wakes up, the name Kuramochi Youichi will be a foreign thought and no one will be able to put a face or a name to a shortstop with a distinctive laugh.

There are a lot of maybes that Miyuki could clarify, but he doesn’t.

He finds that he doesn’t want to.

“Miyuki,” Kuramochi calls out once more as they approach his dorm. Sawamura’s probably camping out in another second year’s dorm—the excitement of koshien hasn’t worn off for everyone yet.

“Yeah?”

The click of a lock fills the punctuated space between their voices. Kuramochi doesn’t open his door. He turns his body, presses his back against the surface and grins. “Work hard, captain.”

Miyuki mirrors his smile without thinking twice. “Worry about yourself.” He pauses. “Ah, actually. I have to give you something before you leave. Wait here?”

“What?” Instinctively, Kuramochi narrows his eyes—probably out of suspicion. The moment’s doubt fades as quickly as it comes, however, and Kuramochi shrugs. “Sure. Don’t take too long.”

“Yes, sir~” Miyuki sing-songs.

It’s hard thinking about tomorrow. It’s hard even fathoming what he’ll remember and what he might not. This, Miyuki figures, is a terribly realistic lesson—something too hands-on for his own interests—on living in the now. He supposes he has spent too much of his formative years focusing on trailblazing his path to his future.

His dorm is empty, too, by the time he enters. It’ll be full again when he wakes up. When he wakes up, there won’t be any time to think about what could have, should have been.

Miyuki consoles himself with those few reminders as he rummages through his closet to pull out the top of his uniform. There’s a faint, lingering smile on his lips as his fingers curl around the second button before tugging it off decisively.

The button feels heavier than it is, encased in his fist. Maybe it’s the meaning that he’s tried to pack into it. Sentimentality, these cheesy little gestures, have never been Miyuki’s forte, but there are always exceptions. And as he marches out his dorm and back down the hall to where Kuramochi’s crouched by his half-open door, examining a worn-out silver pocket watch, he thinks that making exceptions is not always a bad thing.

“Took you long enough,” Kuramochi greets harmlessly. He curls his fingers around his watch and rests his fist against his knee, still unmoving from his position nearer to the ground. He looks up at Miyuki. “What is it?”

All at once, Miyuki feels that swell of uncertainty—and he has to ask himself if this is really how he wants to be remembered. But he locks eyes with Kuramochi then, takes in the sight of how stupidly unsuspecting he is, and even Miyuki feels his heart squeeze.

He purses his lips resolutely before bending his back ever-so-slightly and grabbing Kuramochi’s hand. Silently, he unfolds Kuramochi’s finger and doesn’t let his gaze linger too long on the pocket-watch, still sitting innocently atop Kuramochi’s palm.

“People usually make a big deal about this during the end of the year, I guess. You’ve never gotten one of these, have you?” Miyuki inquires calmly. He sets the button right next to the watch and folds Kuramochi’s fingers to a close again. He doesn’t let go of the hand this time as he crouches down, knee bumping Kuramochi’s. There’s a near-sullen expression on Miyuki’s face. “Second button,” he says, by way of explanation. “I’m giving you mine.”

Kuramochi doesn’t speak immediately. There’s an awestruck expression weaved into his features before it ebbs away into something more resolved. He seats himself on the ground, cross-legged, pulling Miyuki down until he’s in the same position, knees still touching. Kuramochi covers his eyes with one hand, looking appropriately miserable before dragging his palm down his face and revealing an uncharacteristic flush bright against his cheeks.

“Ah, shit.” The sound of Kuramochi fumbling with his free hand to procure something from his pockets is all Miyuki can focus on. He extends his hand and drops something onto Miyuki’s open palm, all while steadily avoiding eye contact. “Mine, too.”

They probably look stupid to any bystander now, two young men sitting by each other in the middle of the hallway, partaking in a sad excuse for hand-holding. They probably look stupid—and even stupider when Miyuki lets out a loud laugh and Kuramochi tries, with much futility, to tear his hand away from Miyuki’s out of sheer embarrassment.

“Shut up, dumbass!” Kuramochi hisses. “I was going to give it to you earlier, but you were being annoyingly weird! Anyway, it’s less embarrassing because you did it first.”

Miyuki grins. “To think you had a shy side to you.”

“I swear—”

“I’ll accept it,” Miyuki interjects. The grin on his lips downgrades into a faint smile. “Your second button.”

“Well, that makes one of us, because I don’t want your—”

“Kuramochi,” Miyuki interrupts again. He’s doing this for Kuramochi’s sake, really. The nice shade of red overtaking his cheeks is kind of cute, but Miyuki figures it’s not intentional.

“What?”

“Youichi.”

“—what the hell? Why are you calling me by my first name?” Kuramochi furrows his brows, and then, after some contemplation: “Ka-zu-ya.”

In the fluorescent lighting of their dormitory hallway, Kuramochi looks and feels as real as anyone else. It’s bittersweet that he’s not allowed to belong here, with Seidou, with Miyuki.

It’s bittersweet, but who is Miyuki to dictate that?

“Wherever you’re going—” (However many years from now.)

“…Hey.” Kuramochi’s expression sobers into something steeled.

“I don’t mean to be selfish, but—” (However many worlds away.)

“Oi, Miyuki—”

“Youichi.”

The laugh that slips past his lips is shakier than intended, and a part of Miyuki hates himself for it. He doesn’t want to look back and regret this moment. He doesn’t want to look back and think: I could have done it better.

“… Kazuya?”

Miyuki smiles. He forces it. “Will you wait for me?”

There are no seconds lost as Kuramochi scowls, using his free hand to steady himself as he leans forward, no hesitation this time as he presses his lips to Miyuki’s. And Miyuki thinks this is harder than it’s supposed to be.

When Kuramochi pulls away, he does so with a promise.

“Don’t doubt me.”

*

Kuramochi doesn’t explain anything. Miyuki doesn’t need to ask.

 

 

 

 

(08/25)

Something’s missing.

He can’t put his finger on what, but he knows something’s missing by how empty the field feels, how quiet the classroom is, how listlessly his days go by—

Something’s missing. And Miyuki knows it’s something important, something he really wishes he hadn’t forgotten. It’s a pity, really, that no matter how many times he tries to summon that something to memory, he draws a blank every single time without fail.

They’ve been practicing for college try-outs these days, the third-years. Their former upperclassmen have been making their cases for why their schools are the best schools to apply to since koshien was over and done with, and in between that chaos and the actual chaos of applying to schools, Miyuki’s surprised he’s even had the peace of mind to notice that something’s missing.

On the pitch, the new team is playing. He can hear Sawamura shouting from where he’s crouched by the outermost boundary, followed by the clean crack of who he thinks might be Toujou hitting Furuya’s pitch.

The shortstop, a first-year he can’t quite put a name to, fumbles with the ball.

Miyuki hums, contemplative. There’s a ghost of a smile on his lips, something even he can’t explain anymore, as he watches Haruichi pat the shortstop on the back reassuringly.

Something’s—

“Miyuki?” There are footsteps behind him, slowing to a halt. When he turns around to identify the greeting, he’s hardly surprised to find it’s Nori with Shirasu and even Maezono in tow. “Huh. Zono said you’ve been watching them play these days.” Nori blinks, shifting his gaze toward the diamond.

“Zono, you’ve been worrying about little old me?”

Maezono looks vaguely uncomfortable and parts his lips, affronted, to respond, but closes them promptly after. He wisely chooses to look out to the field instead of addressing the shit-eating grin on Miyuki’s face.

“Can’t let go of your team?” Shirasu asks mildly.

“Don’t you mean our team, Shirasu-chan?” The honorific rolls off his tongue and the mild disgust on Shirasu’s face makes the second-hand embarrassment worth it. “Nothing like that,” Miyuki says a beat later. He quiets, watching as the first-year shortstop manages to catch the next ball that rolls his way. His toss to Haruichi is almost seamless. “Just killing time.”

He doesn’t have any time to spend frivolously, if he’s being honest. Not anymore.

“You sound like you have a lot of free time, Miyuki. I’m kind of jealous.” Nori laughs quietly, sheepishly as always. “Ah, you think they’re shaping up?”

“They’ll shape up,” Maezono cuts in, and he sounds so serious, so confident, that Miyuki can’t help but laugh. He shoots a look in Miyuki’s direction. “They’re confident! They’re spirited! They have the passion and determination!”

Miyuki can’t shake the feeling of a face he’s forgotten that should be here with them, right now, but he maintains the grin on his face regardless.

“Yep. Not too worried about them.” His former vice-captain’s sentiments are a little too fired up for Miyuki’s tastes but it’s not like he disagrees. He can feel three sets of eyes on him as he rises up from where he’s crouching, brushing himself off with ease. “Not worried at all, actually. Haha!”

There’s very little reason for him to be worried these days.

The expression on his face softens into one of calm as he rolls his shoulder before grabbing his gym bag from the grass.

Something’s missing, that much is true—but there’s a certain peace that’s lifted a huge burden he didn’t even know belonged to him off of his shoulders. There’s longing too, an odd little twist of wistfulness that follows him every single time he walks by places he thinks should mean more to him (the vending machines, his homeroom classroom, the hill outside the diamond), but the peace is overwhelmingly strong.

He’ll miss whatever, whoever it is. For now, Miyuki is certain that’s enough.

“You guys staying? There isn’t much reason to keep watching, is there?” Miyuki calls out, not bothering to turn back around to face them.

The shuffling of bags follows.

“Yes, captain,” Shirasu says first, and Miyuki nearly flinches.

“Haha, hey now, I don’t think that title still holds…”

“Nonsense, Miyuki!” Maezono practically thunders, sounding, for maybe the third time in Miyuki’s entire high school baseball career, surprisingly protective of Miyuki’s honor, of all things. “To our year, you are the captain.”

“Hm. This isn’t going to get any less embarrassing as time goes by, huh…”

“I thought you had a lot of time to kill?” Nori grins.

There’s that telltale throb of his chest again, making Miyuki wonder when he got so flippant about the hours he’s been wasting.

He lets out a long, drawn-out sigh. “Got me there,” he admits.

*

“MIYUKI-SENPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAI!”

Why Sawamura’s on the third-years’ floor is a mystery to Miyuki, but he doesn’t comment on that when he notices that, to no one’s surprise, Sawamura has also dragged along his usual two victims without mercy.

“Eeeeh. To think you’d spot me from that far away.”

“Of course! Nothing gets past these eyes!” Sawamura is delightfully unaware of how capably high his volume can get as he jabs a finger (impolite as always) in Miyuki’s general direction.

“Eijun-kun, don’t point…” Haruichi, bless his soul, trails off.

“With the retirement game coming up—MIYUKI KAZUYA!”

Even Furuya startles awake this time, much to his own chagrin.

Miyuki grimaces. “What? Why are you yelling again? And stop using my full name.”

Sawamura’s finger drops from Miyuki’s face to the middle of his tie, or, where Miyuki’s tie should be if he didn’t lose it somewhere amidst Okumura’s laundry. Right where there should be a button attached to his uniform.

Ah.

“YOUR.” Sawamura does not have much of a knack for putting coherent sentences together. Some things never change, even with age. “YOUR SECOND BUTTON! IT’S MISSING!”

This time, the students passing by them in the hallway look rightfully interested, suddenly engrossed in wondering why Miyuki Kazuya’s second button is missing, of all people’s. Miyuki has never once been one-hundred percent totally averse to being the center of attention, but he’s finding it harder and harder not to wish for someone to jump in and cover Sawamura’s mouth.

“It probably fell off or something,” Miyuki says easily, and he fixes his expression into something wickeder. “Why are you so invested in my personal life anyway?”

The dig would probably have offended a couple of other people on Seidou, but Sawamura is unaffected and still staring, starry-eyed, at the missing second button.

“Who did you confess to!”

“Eijun-kun, he just said it probably fell off,” Haruichi supplies. Furuya’s dozing off again, using the top of Haruichi’s head as a pillow. “Maybe you should replace it, senpai?”

He probably could, if he really wanted to. The cafeteria lady wouldn’t mind if he asked politely, and he’s pretty sure he could find a spare button if he tried but. But.

Miyuki purses his lips, glancing down at his shirt pensively.

“Maybe,” he says with a half-hearted shrug. “I’m not in any rush.”

Maybe he doesn’t want to.

Maybe he likes it the way it is.

//

Later, he finds a spare button in the very bottom drawer of his desk. He isn’t quite sure how it got there or why the drawer looks so empty, but it doesn’t bother him much in the end.

He’s relieved.

He’s glad he found it.

 

 

 

 

(I don’t pay attention to the
world Ending.
It has ended for me
many Times
and began again in the morning.)

Chapter Text

Miyuki Kazuya is only a second year when the Yomiuri Giants express their interest in him. They’re one of many teams to lay their eyes on the star catcher shining even in the depths of nearly forgotten university-league baseball.

He doesn’t let himself overthink it. The plan is to graduate first, and then dive into the professional leagues headfirst. He’s excited—that much is true. He’s ecstatic just thinking about a future surrounded by talented baseball players that will constantly push him to be at his absolute best.

However.

First, he has to pass his biomechanics class, and that’s looking to be more and more of a pipe dream as the term comes to a close.

The miserable feeling he has in his gut as he goes back to his dorm room to study for his final exam is something that Miyuki would like to, but simply cannot, equate to the bad onigiri he bought from the convenience store in a rush. There’s nothing worse than trying to prepare for an exam that is likely going to be hell on earth, or maybe worse.

Miyuki engages himself in one-sided prayer a couple of times as he meanders to the dormitory and only finds himself slowing to a stop when he spots a stranger staring, puzzled, at the campus map.

There’s no real reason for him to help, but out of the sheer kindness in his heart, he reaches out anyway. He's been there before, lost and without any sense of decent direction.

“Where are you headed?” Miyuki calls out, walking right up to the stranger with ease. “This campus is too big for its own good, huh? But I don’t know if having a staring contest with the map is going to change that.”

“Science building,” the young man replies, jaw clenching ever-so-slightly at Miyuki’s dig. The guy hardly tears his gaze from the map in front of him. Maybe he’s trying to prove a point or something. Eventually, though, he lifts his head, turns his face, and it’s right then and there that the dreadful feeling in Miyuki’s stomach shifts imperceptibly to what he thinks might be anticipation. “Is it far from here?”

“Nope, but it’s in the opposite direction,” explains Miyuki. He points beyond the building he just came out of. “It’s kind of complicated but it’s behind that building. Are you new here, by any chance?”

“Kind of. Just transferred in for my second year.”

“Oh, same here. What a coincidence, haha. You from Tokyo?”

“Chiba,” the stranger says. “Brand new to Tokyo, but just moved permanently the other day.”

“Huh. I heard Chiba’s a pretty nice place to live. What brought you to Tokyo?”

There’s a brief lull in conversation, like the guy needs some time to think this through before spilling his whole life story to Miyuki, or something. It’s reasonable enough, and Miyuki’s about to rescind his question even though, for some weird reason, he can’t shake how badly he wants to know the answer.

“There’s nothing for me in Chiba anymore, so I came for a change of pace.”

“Aha, I see. You’ll find there’s nothing that exciting here either. The only thing this school’s known for is the science department and baseball.” Miyuki grins.

The stranger seems oddly subdued, conversation clipped, even as he sneaks a glance at Miyuki’s face. It’s odd, how despite this being a person Miyuki is positive he’s never seen before, there’s this weird, unsinkable feeling that he knows more than he actually does about them.

“Baseball, huh…” the guy trails off.

“Oh, right. I’m Miyuki, Miyuki Kazuya. What’s your name?”

In the distance, the bell tower sounds noisily, filling Miyuki’s eardrums with obnoxious clanging. The stranger’s lips are moving and Miyuki can’t make out what he just said.

“Sorry, could you say that again?”

There’s a familiar glint in the young man’s eyes as his lips stretch into a grin that warms Miyuki’s entire chest, all at once.

“Kuramochi Youichi,” he says.

The name invites a rush of something Miyuki can’t quite define over him until he almost, almost, loses strength in his knees and buckles over.

There are flashes of memories he doesn’t quite remember experiencing for himself running through his mind like a film.

And then, all at once, Miyuki laughs.

“Have we met before?” he chokes out, in between tiny, punctuate gasps for air and the remaining tendrils of his laughter.

Kuramochi is uncharacteristically quiet as he lets his hands drop from the map and fall easily into the pockets of his pants.

“Yeah,” Kuramochi says, and then, a beat later: “Did you wait long?”

How surreal, Miyuki thinks, that all of these memories he didn’t even know were his could rush back in just instants and fill him with an insurmountable amount of joy.

“Felt like ages,” Miyuki replies shakily. “Too, too long.”

 

 

 

 

 

(i knew you
before
i met you.
i’ve known you my whole life.)