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only the cosmos between us

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Yoichi wakes up in a house he’s never been to before.

This is not the first time it's happened.

"Dammit, Ryo-san," he mumbles, throwing an arm over his face. "Still working on it, huh…"

For a moment, he lets himself lie there in this bed, on top of its worn, flannel sheets. He finds a baseball-shaped pillow and hugs it to his chest. He can see hints of another inhabitant around the bedroom. Clearly, the stack of shojo manga on the bedside table does not belong to him. He has a girlfriend here, huh.

Nice.

He hopes he at least knows who she is.

It's late in the morning, and the sunlight floods in through the giant window with its drapes thrown open. Through squinted eyes, Yoichi tries to make out the landscape outside. He's on the second floor of a building, that much is clear. Is this an apartment or house? There's no way he and his girlfriend could afford a whole house in Tokyo, could they? What do they do for work? In his own version of events, being a struggling artist meant that he was still bumming with his folks. Some adult he was.

He sits up, finally, curiosity piqued. He pads across the hardwood floors of the bedroom toward the door, which opens up to a staircase. Loaded girlfriend it is, then.

He pads down the crickets stairs to the living area. A low table is set out in front of the TV. Nothing too fancy, but not too shabby either. A pile of papers on the table catches his eye. 

He reaches down to pick up the top sheet.

Immediately, he recognizes his own touch in the pencil sketches. Some of the drawings lack definition, the work of a Yoichi who doodled religiously as a kid but never devoted any time to seriously honing the art. The others he can recognize as as the work of someone with a more technical eye for details. It's got proper shading and anatomy and perspectives and all the stuff he learned in art school.

A breeze rustles the pages in his hand. He turns to the source, only to discover when he peers far down the foyer that the front door has been open this whole time. 

What the fuck. Who leaves the front door open while their boyfriend is asleep inside the house?! 

Trust him to go for the crazy ones.

He walks toward the front door, intent on slamming it shut and setting the deadbolt like a normal fucking person. But before he even reaches the threshold, he's halted in his step.

Mountains. Endless, white-capped chains of them; some are rusted with ancient cedars, others so perfectly emerald green they look painted onto the horizon. Yoichi itches for his brush. His mind is spinning with how he'd capture the fuzzy texture of the lush forests down below and the clouds above, scattered across the sky like torn bread for the ducks.

He doesn't recognize where he is, but this isn't Tokyo.

He doesn't recognize the man jogging up the front path of the house toward him, but he isn't put off by the sight of him.

Not at all.

He's tall and lanky, and his smile makes the sun shy in shame as he waves at Yoichi.

"Yo-san! You're up!" The wooden front porch moans when his giant feet land on them. He opens his arms and envelopes Yoichi in them.

Oh?

The man is sun-baked with warmth and damp with clean sweat. Warm lips meet the crook of Yoichi's neck, coarse stubble rubbing the soft skin there. "It's so unlike you to sleep in. Was that final round last night too much?"

He could be talking about video games. He's probably not talking about video games.

A man, huh. Yoichi had always wondered if he might swing that way, too. 

Cool. Good to know.

He wiggles around to loosen the man's hold on him and stare up at his face. He stares for much longer than he'd meant to. The man makes an arresting sight. He's got a cosmos of freckles meandering across his apple cheeks, and his wide mouth curves with the smile of a boy who never stopped enjoying the simple things in life. His brown eyes harvest light from the broad sunlight of midday, forming sparkling spindles of gold around the dark center. The longer Yoichi studies them, the more convinced he is that he sees sunflowers.

"I'm sorry," Yoichi says. He means it.

The man blinks. "For what?"

"I should know who you are, shouldn't I?"

"Oh." The man's grin falters. His arms fall away from Yoichi's back. "That."

Yoichi repeats, "Sorry," dropping his gaze guiltily.

The man clears his throat to retrieve Yoichi's attention. "This Sawamura Eijun accepts your apology!" he declares, grin back in place on his face and hand outstretched for Yoichi to take.

Yoichi doesn't know him. But there has to be something that will stir his memory; something to explain the way Sawamura looks at him, all yearning and warmth.

He slaps Sawamura's hand in a high-five instead of shaking it. Sawamura looks like he's either biting back giggles or tears. Yoichi doesn't know who this man is, but desperately, desperately wants to.

Apparently, the Yoichi that lives with Sawamura knows how to cook. Or at least, he's competent enough to help dice peppers.

They make omurice. Yoichi's favorite food.

"No offense but you're taking this pretty well," Yoichi can't help but point out.

"Of course! We make omurice all the time," Sawamura tells him.

"No, I mean…" Yoichi slips him a look. "Me."

Sawamura doesn't meet his eye. "Well, this isn't the first time."

"There were others?" Maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise. Yoichi can see it written all over Sawamura's face when he talks to him. Hard as he may try to hide it, resignation darkens the bright countenance he's projecting.

"The first time it happened, I thought you'd taken a hit to the head and gotten amnesia," Sawamura replies, squirting a generous stream of ketchup onto the rice in the wok.

He's using Kagome, Yoichi's preferred brand. "Amnesia?"

"Well, yeah!" Sawamura waves a hand, the one holding the spatula, and sends a glob of ketchup flying through the air. It lands behind them, on the small breakfast table. "What else was I supposed to think when one morning you wake up and the person in your bed has no idea who you are, or why you're both naked?! I'm still not so sure, even now, after that pink-haired guy's explanations."

Sawamura is hurting. And Yoichi feels a pang in his chest just knowing that, and knowing that he's the cause of it. Yoichi reaches an uncertain hand for Sawamura, thinking he'd pat his back or shoulder. But neither of those seem right, so the only other option is to go for his hand. It's not as hard or weird as he'd have thought.

Sawamura's hand is large, warm, with long fingers that latch onto Yoichi's immediately.

"I thought I'd gone insane, the first time it happened," Yoichi says. "They looked and acted like the guys I spent every day of high school with, except they weren't."

Ryo-san and Haruichi were scientists working for a high-profile elite organization with a complicated acronym. When Yoichi had come to, they'd machine-gun-talked him through a litany of theories related to lateral travel through parallel universes. He had no idea what most of the words they said even meant, and even when he manage to grasp the gist of the situation, he couldn't believe it until they'd turned on the TV to show Miyuki playing the male lead in a primetime drama series.

He hadn't signed up for this. These are not the Kominatos he knew.

"You are still Kuramochi Yoichi, right?" Sawamura asks him, pushing the rice around the wok.

"Yup. The one and only."

"What are you like, in the place you came from?"

Yoichi shrugs. "I dunno. I draw."

Sawamura raises his eyebrows, curious. "You do?"

"Yeah, but I'm not very good," Yoichi admits. "Can't even scrape together enough money off of the gigs to get a place of my own."

"Am I—"

"Are you…?"

Sawamura bites his lip. "One of the previous versions of you said he knew me. That I was famous."

If Miyuki fucking Kazuya was out in front of cameras pretending to seduce housewives for what was probably an insane amount of money, then anything was possible.

"I don't think so. I've never seen you before," says Yoichi.

He would remember Sawamura if he had. He doubts he would ever forget him.

Sawamura is a PE teacher at the only middle school in town. His boyfriend Yoichi also worked at the same school, but as an art teacher. He also coached the baseball team, though "team" is a very generous word for the twelve kids that show up to throw the ball around.

For the first ten days, Yoichi is here, Sawamura holds back on mentioning that he'd played baseball all throughout middle and high school, too, and he'd been responsible for getting at least half the current team into the game. Sawamura is trying to protect him, probably, not wanting to force the details of another person's existence onto him. But in the second week of knowing each other, Sawamura begins to slip.

Yoichi finds out that Sawamura's first Yoichi had suffered a career-ending injury after only one year in the minor league and ended up in Nagano during a soul-searching trip. He met Sawamura here. That was all the reason he needed to stay.

The second Yoichi was the one who consented to participate in Ryo-san's study. He was a delinquent and bored of his everyday. "Beneath the pompadour and leather, he was a really good guy!" Sawamura insisted.

Yoichi doesn't ask which of the two Yoichis Sawamura had fallen in love with.

They both rise with the sun every morning. They go running before work, then pedal along winding mountain rounds the whole forty-five minutes to work. They sing at the top of their lungs, off-tune and cackling wildly.

In the evenings, after a whole day of work and club practice, they stay in and watch-slash-imitate pro-wrestling matches on TV when the weather's bad outside, or play catch in the backyard when the skies are clear.

Everyone always used to shake their head at Yoichi and ask him how he possibly had so much energy stored in that petite form of his. Sawamura can more than keep up with him, though. He's got a great arm, and Yoichi isn't surprised to find out that he used to be a pitcher.

The sun's last hurrah sets the sky on flames behind him as he winds back his arm. Bam. Yoichi's been on the receiving end of a fair number of Sawamura's curveballs, but this one lands square in the center of his glove.

"You know," says Sawamura, or maybe just the silhouette of him, "I don't know if I'm waiting for one of you to come back, or if I just want someone to stay."

Yoichi squints against the sun. He can't make out Sawamura's expression through the intense halo of light, but he doesn't need to see him to know every line of his face. The wind whips through his hair, setting his shadow in motion.

"I think I might be in love with you," thinks Yoichi.

The sun drops like a stone. Sawamura's eyes glow like hearth stones in the darkness, radiating energy. And that's how Yoichi realizes he's said that aloud.

"N-no! That's not what I mean!" he backpedals in a fit of panic. "I just—I meant. The other Yoichi. Or the other two. I think they must have been in love with you."

He doesn't know when Sawamura managed to close in on him, the giant fucking ninja, but he's definitely invading Yoichi's personal bubble now, looming. There's a half-smile playing on his lips.

"You think so?"

"It's just a hunch," Yoichi mumbles. "What do I know?"

Sawamura's eyes seem to sparkle as he takes another step forward. "A hunch, you say," he hums, leaning in. Yoichi's brain is flashing, HE'S GOING TO KISS YOU in huge neon letters. He thinks about dodging, but finds that he really, really doesn't want to.

Moot point, anyway, since all Sawamura does in the end is reclaim the ball from him. He walks back to position, whistling.

It reaffirms something he learned way back in high school: pitchers fucking suck.

The seasons have shifted from summer to fall when they finally kiss. The sun had long set, but both their bodies run hot so they are perfectly happy to continue sitting in the evening chill. They're on the stone steps outside the temple just up the mountain path from where their little house sits. A tanuki statue sits next to the altar, staring into the souls of the worshippers with its beady little eyes. It'd probably be a little unsettling that they were doing this right next to the tanuki, but Yoichi is too preoccupied for that.

It was Sawamura who spent all day wheedling Yoichi to teach him how to draw. It was Sawamura who got bored of drawing trees and mountains and insisted that the two of them should draw each other.

It was Sawamura who'd put down his pencil thirty minutes in, page still blank, and said, "I think I'd rather kiss you than draw you."

That was all the invitation Yoichi needed. It'd been countless days of wondering where the boundaries were in their relationship and whether they were dumb or doomed to cross them, and a tiny spark of any catalyst could have set him off.

He hooks one hand behind Sawamura's ear and takes the dive with his eyes closed. Their lips meet, and everything just fits into place. It amazes Yoichi how effortless and familiar this feels, as if at some point before in another life, they have done exactly this.

Who knows, maybe they have. Maybe they've sat right here, sneaking kisses in the dark like teenagers, watched only by a creepy tanuki and whatever god inhabited this shrine. Maybe he's had Sawamura pinned beneath him, one hand running wildly, hungrily through his hair, the other clutching to his shoulder like he never wants to let him go. His mouth is hot and demanding, and Yoichi's name is so goddamn sweet on his tongue.

Maybe they've poured everything they have into this one kiss just like this. 

When they part for breath, Yoichi thinks he feels something hitch in Sawamura's chest. It's too quiet, too subtle for a sob; but maybe it's what grief sounds like when it sits so deep in your bones, it hardly even makes a sound.

"I think I might be in love with you," Sawamura whispers.

He's saying this to the Yoichi right here, right now. He's not chickening out because Sawamura Eijun is bright and courageous and the only thing that gives Yoichi any hope in this fucking mess.

"That a hunch of yours?" Yoichi asks. He wants to kiss him again.

Sawamura reaches down to where Yoichi's hand is resting on his chest, curling their fingers together. He gives no response.

Ryo-san finds him the week after. This is scientist Ryo-san, of course. Technically, he is Ryo-sensei, but that gives Yoichi weird vibes because Ryo-sensei has even more of a warped personality than the Ryo-san he knows (and may have secretly crushed on all through high school). 

Every time they meet, Yoichi finds himself thrown off-kilter all over again that this is not his Ryo-san; not the one who used to put caterpillars down the back of his shirt when he wasn't paying attention, and held his absolute trust on the field, and believed in him more than anyone ever had. Ryo-sensei is deadly serious and has bigger things to worry about than Yoichi's feelings.

(It seems, though, that the Kominatos' brother complex has remained well and in tact.)

"Good news," Ryo says in lieu of a greeting as he walks through the front door. Sawamura insists it's perfectly safe around here and wants to let in the fresh air; but clearly, even out in the boonies, they're not safe from mad scientists strolling in from another dimension. Though, Yoichi vaguely remembers Ryo mentioning that he's not actually here when he shows up like this, that he's actually only a projection. (He hadn't laughed at Yoichi's Hatsune Miku joke.) "We're close to stabilizing the wormhole."

Sawamura laughs, most likely at the word "wormhole". When the room falls dead silent and he realizes Ryo-sensei may actually be able to murder him with just his eyes, Sawamura rears back, turning to Yoichi. "Is this a friend of yours?"

"No," Ryo says at the same time Yoichi mumbles, "Yeah." Ryo seems to have no compunction about the punch he just landed on Yoichi's left ventricle. "My name is Kominato Ryosuke. I'm a physicist on Project PARA.

"Didn't you say you've met before?" asks Yoichi.

"No." Sawamura shakes his head. "I met the other pink one. He was a lot nicer."

"Haruichi must have been following another version of Kuramochi-san," Ryo explains.

Sawamura's eyes widen. "You can follow him?"

"We're doing our best with the anchoring system," says Ryo. "That's why your lengths of stay have been getting longer."

"Okay," Yoichi says, waiting for the punch. He shifts toward Sawamura, putting a hand between his shoulder blades. He can feel the tension there, the unspoken question that's ringing through his mind, too: How long?

Ryo's eyes dart from Yoichi to Sawamura, then back. "We'll fix this. Don't get too comfortable."

That night after Ryo leaves, Sawamura pushes him down onto the bed they've just only started to call theirs and pins him down, presses into him, runs his hands all across his body like he needs to know he is still there—that they belong to each other, and not the whims of the universe. 

Yoichi swings his legs up and pulls Sawamura flush against him, twining their bodies together. There's nothing he can say that'll reassure Sawamura—that'll truly convince either of them—that things are going to be okay. All he can give Sawamura is his desperate mouth and his embarrassing noises. 

Sawamura strips him and kisses him and brands himself onto his skin like an encaustic, and Yoichi lets him. Every goddamn thing he has, he'll freely let Sawamura take. He remembers Miyuki telling him that pitchers are selfish creatures. And that suits Yoichi just fine. 

Just fucking take it all, he's screaming inside his head as Sawamura's hand reaches for the drawstring of his pants, and Yoichi shoves Sawamura's shirt up his chest. His desire for this man is so fierce, the room trembles with it. 

But outside, the mountains remain unmoved.

The last two times he's travelled, it had happened in his sleep.

This time, Yoichi is awake and standing in front of the desk where Sawamura grades his students' exams. Sawamura left a few moments ago for a high school reunion, and he's forgotten his phone. When Yoichi picks it up, intent on chasing after Sawamura with it, the screen lights up. It's the first time he's seeing the lock screen since Sawamura changed it from a picture of his ace jersey.

Sawamura really had to pick the ugliest photo of Yoichi sleeping, didn't he?

Yoichi smiles down at it, chest drawing tight. He doesn't change it, of course. He doesn't want to, and he hasn't the time.

(When Sawamura doubles back for his phone, he finds Kuramochi Yoichi standing at his work desk, holding up a bright yellow post-it note with faint confusion. 

"When did I ever write this?" he asks, handing him the note.

Scribbled and smudged: It's not a hunch, it's a fact. - Yoichi)