A/N: This is set five years after the events of the final chapter of TTOL. Miyuki is in his final year of college; Sawamura is in his third year.
His mask weighing heavily down on his face, he could feel a bead of sweat slowly making its way down the tip of his nose. The sounds of the cheer team and the screaming crowd rang in the distance, sounding oddly muted even though they were right behind him.
He didn't have to look at the scoreboard to know their situation: Bottom of the 9th. Two outs, with bases loaded and a full count. Beside him was their opposing team's cleanup: A typical towering, hulk of a power hitter who was on the fast-track to becoming this year's number one draft pick.
A movement in front of him caught his gaze, and he returned it just in time to see the next year's number one draft pick tossing a rosin bag in his hand. He was no stranger to the sharp lion's gaze on the pitcher's face, but it never failed to send a shiver of thrill down his spine.
Dropping his hand down, he signaled—and a moment later, received a nod. Then came the windup—the foot slammed down on the ground, and the arm whipped out through the air. The batter swung, power rippling through his body—and with a gunshot-like crack, the ball slammed into his waiting mitt.
The umpire punched the air. "Strike three! Batter out!"
The screaming crowd exploded into cheers behind him, and he threw off his mask, racing to the mound. The rest of his teammates had spilled out of the dugout and somehow, had managed to swarm the pitcher before he reached them. Fighting through the crowd, he spotted the messy brown-haired head at the center of their attention.
Grinning, his heart bursting with pride, he started, "Sawa - " Abruptly, he stopped.
A strange man he'd never seen before was staring back at him.
His mouth went dry. "Who are you?"
Kazuya's eyes flashed open.
The room was dark. His heart was still thudding in his chest. The sound of passing cars filtered in through his open window.
Sitting up, he shook his head, trying to reorient himself.
What had that dream been about? The first half had been a replay of their game against K University last week, which had ended in their victory. But unlike in the dream, the pitcher had been...
"Miyuki?" a voice groaned in the dark. "Is it time to get up?"
In the dim lighting from the window, Kazuya could make out Sawamura's vague outline rising grudgingly out from below the covers.
"No, you've still got a few hours," he said.
Without another word, Sawamura's head dropped back down on his pillow.
Resisting a sudden urge to turn on the lights, Kazuya lay back down, turning on his side to face the other occupant of the bed.
Sawamura was already sound asleep, the shadows unmoving from his closed eyelids. The steady rhythm of Sawamura's breathing filled his ears, drowning out the sound of his heart.
Eventually, at some point, he gave in once more to sleep.
Beep beep beep...
The sound of the smoke detector woke up Kazuya for the second time. Faint rays of sunlight streamed in through the window. Grudgingly forcing his body upright, he instantly saw that he was the only occupant of the bed.
With a yawn, Kazuya swung his legs over the side and rose to his feet. Crossing the room in two short steps, when he opened the door, his face was bombarded by a haze of burning smoke and in a flash, he remembered—it was Sawamura's turn to make breakfast.
Beep beep beep beep...
The alarm continued to sound. Just beyond the frame of the kitchen entryway, a pan of what appeared to be sunny side up eggs sizzled on the stovetop. Sawamura was on his toes, fanning the detector with a makeshift paper fan. For a moment, Kazuya stood still, silently admiring the taut frame partially hidden behind an apron, and the glimpses of tanned skin here and there...
Beep beep beep -
Striding over, he slid open the window. Cold morning air rushed in against his warm face. "Morning."
"Crappy ass kitchen," Sawamura grumbled. "The ventilation sucks."
"It wouldn't be a problem if you didn't always burn the eggs," he said, eyeing the blackened edges.
Beep... The alarm stopped.
Sawamura jutted out his lower lip. "They're not burned. They taste best with a bit of crunch." He pointed at a covered saucer besides the pan. "Anyways, I knew you'd complain so I'm poaching some eggs for you."
"Who said I'm complaining?" Kazuya said with a grin - and then shivered.
"Go on, put on a shirt," said Sawamura. "The toast'll be done in a minute."
When he returned to the bedroom, he noticed that his phone was flashing with a notification. It was a text message from his father.
Got two emergency orders in today. I'll be late. Go on without me.
It seemed that business had been picking up for his father as of late, and their already limited time spent together had become all but nonexistent. Briefly, Kazuya toyed with the idea of whether it was all just an excuse—that in reality, his father had found out about his relationship with Sawamura. However, just as quickly, he dismissed it: For better or for worse, he doubted his father cared who he took to his bed.
With a rueful twist of his lips, he closed his phone.
Despite being a year below him, Sawamura somehow didn't have class until the afternoon, and Kazuya found himself walking the commute alone.
He took the usual shortcut through the park. Members of the university's cultural dance club practiced their moves by the vending machines. A group of young children played soccer on the grass. The cherry blossoms that had filled the paths just a few weeks ago had all but disappeared, leaving behind new leaf buds.
It was a testament to the size of his university that even after four years there, the sea of people milling through the campus was still largely unknown to Kazuya. It wasn't until he neared his lecture hall that he spotted a familiar face: His teammate, Saitō, who appeared to have been waiting to ambush him.
"What's this I hear about you skipping practice today?" Saitō sounded skeptical, and Kazuya couldn't blame him—he could probably count the number of times he hadn't attended practice over the years on a single hand. He'd gotten lucky until this year and the anniversary of the date hadn't conflicted with any of their practice days.
"I'm not skipping, I got permission from the coach," he replied, pushing open the door. "I'm visiting someone."
Following Kazuya into the lecture hall, Saitō sounded curious but didn't press the issue. "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter too much at this point. You've already got the interest of at least half the pro league anyways."
"And yet none of that will matter if we can't score in any games this season," said Kazuya, sliding into a seat. "So you'd better work on that on-base percentage, Mr. First-hole."
"Are, aye captain." Saitō saluted—and then in a more serious tone, added, "Have you thought about what Sawamura's gonna do when you're gone?"
Perhaps a bit too loudly, he slammed open his notebook. "He'll be fine. He'd have his pick of the lot if they let him."
"Still, you two were together even in high school, right? I guess… the dream battery's finally gonna have to split up."
In a stab of irritation, Kazuya turned to retort back, but stopped when he saw that Saitō wasn't smiling.
Whereas on other days, he would have met Sawamura at the subway station to head to the baseball field, on this day, Sawamura was waiting for him by the main gates of the west campus.
"Where's your dad?" he asked, craning his head and looking around as though Kazuya had somehow hidden him on his person.
Kazuya shrugged. "He's busy but he'll probably be by later."
As the graveyard was located in Saitama, it took several train transfers and a long bus ride before they arrived. It was a quiet day. The only other person there was a monk, who was sweeping the dust at the temple entrance.
Most of the grave markers were well-kept. Some had flowers. A few were not so well-kept, the inscribed names almost unreadable with smudge.
Sawamura poured water down the front of the grave marker, while Kazuya lit the incense sticks. Clapping his hands together, Sawamura bowed his head. Kazuya watched the incense smoke curling through the air and rising up to the murky sky.
The last time he had been at a grave, it had been for Sawamura's grandfather, who'd passed away of a stroke the previous year. With tears rolling down his face, Sawamura had gripped Kazuya's hand so hard, he'd lost all feeling in it for an hour. He'd wondered then whether Sawamura would ever recover, but as the months passed, the pitcher's smiles had gradually returned—as they always had before.
His thoughts returning to the present, Kazuya looked to the side to see Sawamura still praying with his eyes screwed shut, and wondered what he was praying for. Closing his own eyes, he put his hands together.
Usually, he had something to say. Yet for some reason, at that moment, nothing came to him.
The izakaya was hazy with smoke and filled to the brim with the sounds of sizzling meat and superficial conversation. It was a local favorite of their university, and Kazuya more often than not found himself being dragged there following long days of class and practice.
On this particular evening however, Kazuya was meeting an old high school teammate for the first time in months.
"Ryou-san sends his regards," said Kuramochi, popping a soybean in his mouth. "And that since we'll be dropping by your next game, you'd better win so we don't waste our time."
Kazuya smirked into his beer. "Waste your time, huh? Why in the world would I ever want to do that?"
Wearing an almost bored expression, Kuramochi replied, "Remember that time in third year, what I caught you doing in the storage building with Sawamura?" Kazuya choked. "Yeah. That's what I thought."
While Kuramochi may have once lost his temper with him at the slightest provocation, it (sadly) seemed his friend had wisened up from their high school days.
"I'll…see what I can arrange," he muttered, wiping foam off his chin and running mental scenarios of all the possible blackmail he held against the prior shortstop.
Not everyone on the Seidō team was still playing baseball. While the obvious catches, such as Furuya, had gone directly pro upon graduating, the majority had chosen to attend college. Some, such as Kuramochi and Shirasu, had quit playing baseball in pursuit of a salaryman career. Yet others seemed intent on turning pro after graduating college—such as the younger Kominato, who had miraculously shot up another five centimeters in height and joined H University's celebrated lineup.
People often asked why Kazuya and Sawamura had gone to college instead of turning pro straight out of high school. He'd never given a straightforward answer, but the reason was clear to him, and it rose up now, unbidden, in his mind: Pro players can't choose which team they play for.
At the thought, his hand tightened over his mug handle.
"So…" Kuramochi lit up a cigarette. "You ready to finally enter the pro world?"
"I've seen a scout here and there," he said evenly. "But I haven't given it too much thought yet."
This raised an eyebrow. "Have you brought it up with Sawamura at least? You two are still living together, aren't you?"
Kazuya paused—and shrugged. "It's still months away, and I figure the topic will come up when the time is right."
"Hm." Kuramochi blew out a ring of smoke. "Well, that's fine, I suppose. As long as Sawamura doesn't come knocking on my door because he just found out he's homeless, anyways."
Kazuya didn't bother saying anything. Instead, feeling Kuramochi's eyes drilling into him, he reared his head back and downed the rest of his drink in a single gulp.
The night was dark, and the way lit by the glow of vending machines. A lone, possibly drunk man weaved silently by on a bike before disappearing down an alley.
Somewhat buzzed himself, Kazuya stopped in front of a vending machine and pulled out a few hundred yen coins.
Black coffee, green tea, barley tea, pocari sweat, calpis, coca cola...
He must have been feeling nostalgic after seeing Kuramochi, because he suddenly recalled how, in high school, Sawamura would show up with cans of pocari sweat at his dorm room door.
Though it had in reality only been a few years since then, it felt as though a very long time had passed.
At one point in his life, baseball had been the only thing that mattered to him. His sole thought then had been to make Kōshien with his team, and to achieve national dominance. Things would probably have continued on in such a manner too, if that idiot Sawamura hadn't come bursting rudely into his life.
Sawamura didn't see it that way, however—he still didn't remember anything about his first summer at Seidō, after all.
And it had been some time since Kazuya had last drank pocari sweat.
Reaching out with a finger, he pressed the button for the unsweetened green tea.
Opening the door to his apartment, he was surprised to find that the lights and TV were still on.
Sawamura was waiting for him on the couch.
"You're still up?" Kazuya took a quick look down at his watch; he'd ended up staying out later than he'd intended.
The pitcher's face looked sour. "Well, well, look who it is, slinking back home in the middle of the night. If it isn't Miyuki-senpai. Were you out with those girls again?"
He felt himself sweat. "No, I told you, I was with Kuramochi."
Sawamura hadn't taken it too well the previous week, when some of Kazuya's female classmates had tagged him in their photos at a drinking party.
"Oh." Sawamura blinked. "I... oh." He deflated. "Sorry. I got asked again today whether you had a girlfriend or not."
"Yeah? What'd you say?"
"That you do have one. A very jealous one who's also very hot and who happens to be really, really good at baseball."
Kazuya considered it. "Two out of three…that's a new record."
Sawamura grunted, but remained somewhat subdued. Instead, he looked down at his phone.
"You waiting for a call?" asked Kazuya, taking off his jacket.
"Let me guess: Chris-senpai."
Sawamura rolled his eyes. "As a matter of fact, no. Okumura."
Kazuya frowned. "What's he want with you?"
Call him petty, but he'd never gotten over the smug look Okumura had given him on the day of Kazuya and the other third years' graduation. (To his glee, Sawamura was eventually paired with the other second-year catcher, Yui, instead of Okumura).
"Nothing really. He's just been looking for a new apartment, and asked me for advice."
He stopped. "You? For apartment hunting advice? Why's that?"
"Well, I've been thinking lately you know," said Sawamura, not quite meeting his eyes. "Since after you graduate, you'll probably have to move."
Kazuya didn't respond.
The main theme of Lone Wolf and Cub began to play, and Sawamura stepped out to take the call.
A replay of a recent game between the Hanshin Tigers and the Saitama Lions was playing on the TV screen: The blonde, almost slight, pitcher stared down from the mound in a chilly glare that would've cowed almost any other batter. The current batter in question however, was not just any other batter; on the contrary, he seemed to relish it, as with a maniacal grin on his scarred face, he laughed instead. "Kahaha!"
Raising the remote control, Kazuya turned off the TV. The bright image disappeared in a flash, and he found himself staring at his reflection on the black display.
While everyone else had been going down their own paths in life, Kazuya had staved it off for as long as he could. Even when he had first gone off to college on his own, he had been reassured by the knowledge that Sawamura would be joining him. But the seasons had continued to pass, and now, he would be joining the pro leagues, where the reassurance of before was no longer there. Soon, he knew, his everyday life with Sawamura would be coming to an end.
Though he had thought that he was the only one worrying about it, it seemed he was far from alone.
Kazuya tried to imagine it: Moving to another city, joining a new baseball team. A new dormitory, a new bullpen. Texting Sawamura good night before falling asleep, and waking up to a responding good night text. Slowly, but inevitably, the number of texts they exchanged growing more and more infrequent.
The thought of it was so lonely, he got up to his feet and began to pace. He looked at the front door. It didn't open.
It was silent, except for the steady ticking sound of the kitchen clock.
Tick tick tick...
Determinedly forcing himself to not look at the front door again, Kazuya turned his gaze instead towards the opposite wall.
It had once been bare, but now, it was covered with photos they had put up over the years.
His eyes were drawn to one particular photo in the center—it was a candid shot of the pair from their high school days. He still remembered the moment that'd been captured: On their way to breakfast, they had been walking below the eaves of the dormitory building to avoid the rain.
Sawamura, on the other hand, always said that he didn't remember anything.
Slowly, he stared at the other photos beside it. Some were older, some were newer. There was the photo they and a couple of friends had taken at a hot spring inn a few years before. Kazuya looked awkward as he usually did in photos, while Sawamura cheekily flashed a victorious V sign.
One of the earlier photos showed the old Seidō baseball team, lined up in rows in identical white uniforms, with Kazuya seated in the center as the newly minted captain.
Beside that, a photo showed the battery duo snickering identically into their mitts.
And below, Kazuya held the national flag at a ceremony, looking uncomfortable in a cap that he'd worn properly straight for once.
Tick tick tick...
Sawamura grinned in front of a giant wooden torii, his hand reaching out to grab what appeared to be Kazuya's arm while the rest of his body remained out of frame.
The two of them plummeted downwards on a rollercoaster: Sawamura screamed happily, while Kazuya looked like he was about to hurl.
They sat perched on a chairlift, their snowboards hanging below them and their breaths coming out as white mist.
His gaze came to a stop on a photo by the edge of the wall. It was the most recent one, which Sawamura had put up just a few weeks ago. It wasn't a terribly exciting photograph; it just showed the two of them walking under the shade of the trees in the park. It'd been taken on one of their commutes to the university.
Looking at it now, Kazuya thought that it reminded him of their older photo from high school—the one that Sawamura didn't remember, and yet treasured enough to put in the center of the wall.
Tearing his eyes away, he swallowed back the lump in his throat.
After a moment's hesitation, he reached for the doorknob.
The evening breeze greeted him once more as he emerged into the outside air. Sawamura stood just outside, his phone nowhere in sight, looking from the metal railing down at the dark street below. Kazuya let the door shut behind him.
It was not yet summertime, and a hint of the winter cold lingered in the air.
Without turning to look at him, Sawamura said, "Maybe you'll get picked by the Giants or the Swallows. Maybe I will too."
"Saitama and Chiba are right there." Stepping forward, Kazuya wrapped his arms around him. "And I'll be back in the off season."
"I don't mind moving farther away from school," said Sawamura. "The commute wouldn't be so bad."
"And once I leave the dormitory, we could look for another place together."
Sawamura sniffed. "Don't cheat on me with another pitcher."
Despite himself, he laughed. "Haha! If you have to cheat on me, it can only be with Chris-senpai. Definitely not Okumura."
"Or maybe I'll get drafted by the same team. You never know."
Clearing his throat, he pulled Sawamura in closer. "We'll make it work."
Sawamura rubbed his face against his arm. "Yeah. I've been praying, just in case." He then proceeded to rub his behind on another part of Kazuya's.
In the darkness of their bedroom, Kazuya looked up at the ceiling. He could hear Sawamura's breath beside him, and feel its vibration in their shared sheets.
He didn't have an incense stick there with him, but at that moment, he thought his voice would reach the skies.
Thank you, he said. I'm doing well.
As though on cue, his phone vibrated. Half-tempted to ignore it, after a moment, Kazuya blearily looked at his screen. It was a text message from his father: Busy day today but managed to go before sunset. As he watched, his phone vibrated once more and a new text appeared: Have time this Sunday? My treat.
Kazuya paused, thinking. He texted back: Sushi sounds good.
Dropping his phone back down, he closed his heavy eyes.
It had been a long day.
When he went to see his father, he thought, maybe he would bring Sawamura and formally introduce him. They had been together for five years now, after all. It was about time.
A/N: To add context to this story: In Japanese Pro baseball, teams choose their players by lottery every fall. Players have no say in which team they are assigned to. There are a bunch of teams in the Tokyo vicinity (as mentioned), but also teams that are far out in other prefectures. Pro players play on average ~150 games throughout the season, which lasts from April to October.
Tldr; Sawamura and Miyuki are doing well.