lysapadin: pen & ink painting of bamboo against a full moon (Default)
[personal profile] lysapadin
Title: Catalyst
Characters: Chris, Miyuki, Kominato Ryousuke, Animal
Summary: In which Chris catches a glimpse of something not meant for his eyes, Kuramochi wonders where this was in the vice-captain job description, and all Ryousuke really wants is to get some damn sleep.
Notes, Warnings, and General Age Category: 12105 words, general audiences. For the ChrisMiyu Day celebration.

~~~~~~~~~~


Catalyst

It starts like this, with Miyuki contriving to ambush Chris during his morning run and falling into step with him without saying anything at all first. Chris nods his head in greeting and doesn't say anything, working on the assumption that Miyuki will speak once he's good and ready to and not a moment before that.

He's not wrong, either; eventually Miyuki breaks into the steady rhythm of their strides to say, "I guess you heard about Sawamura?"

The team grapevine works differently now that he's formally retired and all the rest, but that doesn't mean it's any less efficient. "I have."

"Yeah, I figured."

They run along in silence for a bit while the sun rises higher and some of the gold fades out of the morning light; Chris thinks about what he's heard about Sawamura's reaction to his near-disaster and waits for Miyuki to come to his point.

At last Miyuki says, "He could use some help." When Chris glances his way, Miyuki is looking straight ahead and there's a faintly apologetic cast to his expression. "I know you're busy, but if you could find some time to give him a hand, I'd appreciate it."

It's the sort of request that doesn't require thought to answer. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks," Miyuki says, and that's all. They finish their run in silence.

As beginnings go, it's not all that remarkable on the surface, unless a person happens to know that Chris can count the number of favors he's known Miyuki to have asked for on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left over, or that this new favor is also on behalf of Sawamura Eijun, much like the only other favor Miyuki has ever asked of him. But that's where it starts, and like most things involving Sawamura Eijun, where it ends up is somewhere wholly unexpected.

 

The consensus among the first-years that Chris speaks to is that Sawamura might not recover from his yips. Christ doesn't put a lot of stock in their opinion—from what he knows of Sawamura, the kid is too damn stubborn to let this finish him—but it does underscore the fact that Sawamura's captain has sought out assistance on his behalf. Some things are more easily mended with a little help.

He finds Sawamura working alone, indoors, and a glance is enough to see that he's in rough shape. He's working as doggedly as ever, persistence being one of his cardinal virtues, but Chris doesn't like the grim set of his mouth, the barely perceptible slump of his shoulders, or the despair in his eyes. Miyuki hadn't sought him out a moment too soon, Chris concludes as he rolls up his sleeves and slips his hand into his mitt. "Why don't you try throwing a few with me?" he calls as he steps out into view.

Miyuki has made a good call. Sawamura looks startled to see him, but only for a second. Then a grin breaks over his face and chases the shadows out of his eyes. "Chris-senpai!"

Chris smiles and strolls over to settle into his catcher's crouch, a good and familiar feeling in this season of light training and heavy studying. It doesn't take long to warm up, and it takes even less time to see that Sawamura doesn't want to throw to the inside—his unpredictable pitches go even wider than usual the closer he gets to the inside. It would take a catcher of rare talent to turn that to strategic use in a game. Chris can't blame Miyuki for not wanting to have to try. Better to find another way through the problem instead.

"All right," he says once he's seen what he needs to. He tucks the ball into his mitt. "There's a pitch I've been wanting you to learn, and now's a good time to make that happen."

Sawamura lights up, all eagerness. His shoulders have already straightened up and he's carrying himself more easily. "Yeah? Show me and I'll learn it!"

It's something else to see someone who can go through life without any middle gears at all, but that's what makes Sawamura who he is. Chris launches into his explanation, using his hands to illustrate his meaning. "Think about being at bat. What kinds of pitches are the hardest to hit? The ones that are hardest to see, right?" He sketches out an invisible strike zone and points before Sawamura can jump to any conclusions. "Here, and here—the outside. Pitches here are the farthest away from the batter's eyes. He has to work harder to judge where the ball is, where the bat is. It's easy to misjudge those and strike out."

"An outside pitch." Sawamura says it like it's a revelation, breaking into another of his smiles. "All right, let's do it!"

No middle gears at all, Chris thinks—not without affection—and throws the ball back to him.

Working with Sawamura, who has thrown himself into learning how to pitch to the outside with all the fervor of a fresh convert, is far more interesting than studying for exams. Chris ignores the half-hearted promptings of his conscience and stays with Sawamura instead, drilling him relentlessly as the hour grows later and later and he begins to regret not having changed out of his school uniform a little—it's a limp shadow of its former crispness now—and past the point that anyone else is crazy enough to still be practicing, even in their baseball-crazy team. That's when it happens.

Sawamura pitches the ball to Chris, a beautiful outside ball that passes through the corner of the imaginary strike zone before smacking into Chris' waiting mitt, exactly the kind of pitch to give most batters absolute fits. It's exactly what Chris is looking for, the kind of pitch that suits Sawamura's whole style as a player right down to the ground. He says so and Sawamura beams at him, all his earlier paralysis and uncertainty forgotten (at least for now). His brand of enthusiasm is contagious; Chris returns his smile and throws the ball back to him. "Do it again," he says, even though it's getting late and it's ten to one that Sawamura won't be able to replicate that pitch—consistency isn't one of his strengths yet—and that's when he realizes they have an audience.

Miyuki has himself propped against the doorframe, half-hidden in shadow, with the kind of posture that suggests he's been there for at least a little while, checking up on the two of them. That's no surprise. Of course Miyuki would have wanted to see whether Chris has been able to help Sawamura break through his nerves.

No, the surprise is the expression Chris catches Miyuki wearing, maybe the most transparent expression he's ever seen on the guy's face: it's so unfamiliar an expression (Miyuki so rarely demonstrates anything that isn't wicked glee, calculation, or detached amusement) that Chris can't make sense of it right away. The first thing he thinks is hunger, but that doesn't make sense—there's no reason for Miyuki to look hungry while he's watching Chris and Sawamura working together. No, he thinks, returning his attention to Sawamura and catching his next pitch, and his next (not a patch on the one he complimented, which he makes sure to point out before Sawamura can begin congratulating himself too much). Not hunger, exactly. More like wanting. Or—desire. That's what it is. Chris sneaks another look at Miyuki and feels the conclusion click into place. That's desire on Miyuki's face, tinged with—what, jealousy maybe? Or maybe it's resignation, Chris can't be sure, not when Miyuki's always so careful not to give anything away, even when he doesn't realize he's being observed.

Okay, Chris thinks, letting Sawamura make another pitch. Okay, this is interesting. He catches the ball a couple more times before straightening up. "That's enough for the night."

"I can keep going!" Sawamura protests immediately, then his brain catches up with his mouth and passion for baseball. "But you probably have things to do! Thank you very much for the lesson!" And he bows, somehow managing to inject a certain exclamatory aura into the action.

"Don't mention it." When Chris looks again, Miyuki is no longer leaning in the door; he's gone, as if he'd never been there to begin with.

It's interesting, Chris thinks again as he and Sawamura attend to tidying up after themselves. This is a side of Miyuki he would not have thought existed, and yet the way Miyuki had watched the two of them proves that there's more to the guy than he normally lets on.

 

The proper thing would have been to forget what he'd seen, Chris knows that, but the memory stays with him for all that, teasing him with its mystery. Miyuki's good at things like that—even when he doesn't try, he has a way of getting under a person's skin. It's no wonder they call him a genius. Chris can't help wondering—Miyuki takes care of his pitchers, looks after their development and training and coaxes them into their best possible performances. He's building himself a strong battery with each of them, Furuya and Kawakami and Sawamura, each one shaped to its own ends. Chris envies the year Miyuki has ahead of him, a little, but without the bitterness that would have accompanied that feeling at the start of the season. Maybe he'll end up somewhere close enough to be able to look in on them from time to time, just to see what the four of them end up becoming. That would be satisfying.

It nags at him, though, that look on Miyuki's face, the question lingering at the back of his mind. How long has Miyuki been looking at Sawamura like that? Like something he wants and doesn't expect to get.

Chris finds himself walking past the baseball fields after school as he puzzles over the question, worrying at it the same way he might worry a sore tooth. He doesn't know what he expects to find, really, when he never would have suspected this of Miyuki without that glimpse of things Miyuki keeps safely hidden behind the glint of his eyes and the curl of his mouth. His expectations are borne out: there's nothing to see at practice but what is normal, first-years and second-years striving to better their skills and one another, aiming at a spot on the starting lineup for the fall tournament. They haven't found their new stride yet, not as a team—well, perhaps that's to be expected. Miyuki seems to be settling into his role as captain well enough. As Chris watches, Miyuki keeps an eye on his team, always checking in on the club members and never lingering on any member who's doing what he ought. Sawamura is no exception. Miyuki glances at his and Furuya's running from time to time but moves on just as quickly, unless he pauses to needle the two of them.

There's' nothing unusual in that, either. Miyuki has treated Sawamura like his own personal cat toy from the start.

Chris pauses at the thought, chuckling over it. Maybe it's not that Sawamura is Miyuki's cat toy. Maybe it's that Miyuki can't help pulling Sawamura's pigtails to get his attention.

Chris has to muffle his laughter against his fist. Sixty-some teenaged boys hard at work make more than enough noise to cover up that little sound, but Miyuki looks around then and sees him watching. He pulls to attention, shoulders and spine straightening. The guys around him begin to do the same, following his lead as they look for the thing that has caught their captain's attention. In another minute, their whole rhythm will be disrupted.

Chris nods at Miyuki and heads about his business; retired third year or not, Coach will still have words for anyone who interferes with practice. He'd have even sharper words for someone with no good excuse for causing the disruption. Prurient curiosity about Miyuki's forlorn heart certainly wouldn't meet Coach's stringent standards for a good excuse.

 

The thing is, he'd have thought Miyuki would have a better head for strategy than that. The thought hits Chris as he's falling asleep, floating up out of the mix of half-formed thoughts that eddy through his brain as he sinks into unconsciousness after a long day. Miyuki is a prodigy at reading people on the field and shaping his tactics to make them do what he wants them to do. If he wants Sawamura, why is he being so clumsy about it?

 

The question dogs Chris through the day, popping up at odd moments to annoy him with the incongruity. Baseball isn't romance, sure, but Miyuki isn't dumb. He's got to know there are better ways of going after what he wants. Doesn't he?

(It's possible that he's spending entirely too much time on the issue.)

Chris stops by the indoor training building after his PT session, meaning to look in on Sawamura and see how he's getting on. He's not the only one with that idea; Miyuki is already there, lurking outside the door.

Chris adjusts his footsteps before he even thinks about it, silencing them as much as he can, for all the good that it does him. The only expression he catches on Miyuki's face as he watches Sawamura (working with Kanemaru this evening) is one of satisfaction.

Miyuki tucks even that away when Chris joins him at the door, nods to him in greeting, and returns his gaze to the practice going on inside.

"He doesn't even look like the same guy," Chris says after a few minutes of watching.

Miyuki watches Sawamura throw another pitch to Kanemaru, who clearly doesn't trust Sawamura's control one bit going by the amount of gear he's wearing, before he says, "So much for having peace and quiet during practice." He doesn't actually sound displeased by the prospect.

"Mm. He does get enthusiastic."

Miyuki snorts at that bit of understatement.

They're not the only ones who want to check up on Sawamura, either—Chris doesn't think he's been standing there for more than a couple of minutes before Coach strolls up and they have to shuffle to the side to make room for him, too.

Coach has an even better poker face than Miyuki, but Chris gets the sense that he's pleased by what he sees. "An outside pitch."

"If he can't pitch to the inside, he may as well learn this instead," Chris says, not as justification, just explanation. "When he gets past this block, the control will serve his inside pitches, too." Sawamura will work past his yips, once he's regained some confidence in himself. He'll come back stronger, too, for the awareness of his limits.

"Thank you for the help," Miyuki says, tilted and a little wry. "I appreciate the favor. Some things go over better when they aren't coming from me."

"It was my pleasure," Chris replies automatically, even as he tries to fit the tilt of Miyuki's smile into that hungry expression from two nights ago. Does Miyuki think that little of his chances with Sawamura? More perplexed than ever, Chris turns that over in his head as they watch Sawamura for a few minutes longer.

All three of them turn away together in silent consensus, but Coach speaks up again before they part ways. There was a time that Chris had hated that question, had hated the careful way people phrased it, all sympathy and gentleness over his loss. These days he's able to handle it with more grace. "I'm working on the physical therapy program my father put together. It's going well."

Coach nods at that. "Good. You have a long career ahead of you."

It's a sort of valediction, though Chris won't understand that for a few more days, not until Tetsu drops the bombshell on them. For now he thanks Coach and watches him stride away.

"You settled where you're going after this?"

That's the new question on everyone's lips, of course: what happens next?

Chris turns his steps towards the dorms; Miyuki falls into step with him, waiting for his answer patiently.

"Not yet." It's the joy of being in the limbo of rehabilitation: everyone is waiting to see how that turns out, including him. The waiting feels like it's lasted forever, though objectively it hasn't.

Miyuki nods as though he understands all the things Chris hasn't said about that. "Just wondering."

"You and everyone else."

Miyuki snickers. "Getting tired of that question, huh?"

"Maybe a little." Chris holds his hand up, thumb and forefinger separated by a bare fraction of space.

"Guess I'll just have to wait for the grand announcement, then," Miyuki says, easy.

Chris could almost believe that he really does expect a grand announcement. "Stay tuned."

Miyuki makes an agreeable sort of sound and they lapse into silence, just the sound of their footsteps between them and the dorms ahead of them.

It's not likely that he'll run into the opportunity to speak to Miyuki like this, privately, again any time soon, so Chris clears his throat. "It really is good to see Sawamura getting back to normal."

It takes Miyuki a beat longer than Chris would have expected to answer. "It's thanks to you," he says, light. "Or maybe I should say it's your fault. I could have gotten used to the less shouty version of him."

"I don't think you really mean that," Chris says.

Miyuki looks his way, possibly a little startled by the challenge. Then he smiles and shakes his head. "Well, maybe not. That guy's an original, whatever else he is."

That's almost painfully true; Chris says so and Miyuki laughs. He slows his steps as he considers what he's about to say next, and Miyuki matches him, though not without shooting him a curious glance. "I don't think it would have had to be me," he says finally. "You could have put him on the route to that outside pitch, too."

"Yeah, maybe, but it would have been a fight." Miyuki shrugs. "He's bonded with you, anyway. This was more efficient."

That's true, and yet—"He looks up to you as well," Chris points out. Honesty forces him to add, "At least when you're not deliberately winding him up."

Miyuki grins. "But when am I ever not winding him up? I can do that just by breathing."

"You can, but it doesn't have to be that way."

Miyuki stops walking then. He's frowning. "What is it you're trying to say?"

He's come this far; he may as well see it through. Chris clears his throat and selects his words carefully. "Sawamura does respect you quite a bit, even though you provoke him whenever you can. I think he would respond just as strongly to other approaches, if you chose to make them."

Miyuki stares at him, expression blank—Chris might even call it baffled. "Yeah, I guess so, but… why would I want to do that?"

So much for the tactful approach. Chris rubs a hand over his face. Miyuki is still looking at him, waiting for an explanation, when he lowers it. Chris could almost suspect him of being willfully obtuse. "Possibly so that he might choose to reciprocate your interest?"

Miyuki actually mouths the words—reciprocate my interest?—before he takes Chris' point. "Wait," he says. "Wait, you think I—Sawamura?" And though Miyuki is a master of deflection, Chris doesn't think he's exaggerating the incredulous laughter that bursts out of him at all. Miyuki laughs until he starts wheezing for breath, doubling over and clutching his stomach, while Chris stares at him, thoroughly nonplussed. "You seriously think that I—Sawamura—oh fuck, I can't believe—Sawamura, seriously?"

"It seemed like the logical assumption to make, based on the evidence," Chris says.

Miyuki erupts again, waving a hand at him as he laughs. "Stop, you're killing me," he gasps. "No, I don't—Sawamura? Why would you ever—no, don't tell me, you really will kill me if you do." He pulls his glasses off as Chris watches and swipes his sleeves over his eyes—no, he's not faking the laughter or the disbelief. Which means—

It's probably for the best that Miyuki is busy recovering from his amusement, because it gives Chris the moment he desperately needs in order to adjust to the way the world has spun like a kaleidoscope and settled into an entirely new pattern. He stares at Miyuki, red-faced and breathless, and sees the unguarded expression from the other night all over again. "I'm sorry, I seem to have been mistaken," he says slowly.

Miyuki restores his glasses to their proper place between snickers. "You could say that, yeah." He shakes his head. "Sawamura, geez." He grins then, one of his sly, teasing grins. "Like I'd even stand a chance with you around. You sure you're not projecting, senpai?"

Ah. That's why Miyuki looked the way he had just now, when he'd said that Sawamura would listen to some things from him more readily than he would have from Miyuki himself. Chris clears his throat. "I'm fond of Sawamura, but not like that."

"You sure?" Miyuki presses, grinning at him. "Just think off what you're missing. All that energy."

"I think I can honestly say that the though has never even crossed my mind," Chris says, launching his feet into motion again.

There are too many things that have just shifted in the way he understands the world; he really needs to find some solitude in order to make sense of them all.

Miyuki joins him, still grinning. "You might be missing out," he lilts. "You should think about it, for sure."

"Do you really think so?" Chris asks, just to see what Miyuki will say.

"Why not? I'm pretty sure that if you told him to jump, he'd be in the air before it occurred to him to ask how high." Miyuki pauses and rubs his chin. "Though this is Sawamura we're talking about. It might not occur to him to ask at all."

Chris can't argue with him there, even as he begins to wonder whether Miyuki Kazuya might not be just a little bit of a masochist. "Hmm. I'll have to think about it," he says as they pass through the entrance to the dorms.

"I'm sure you'll be very happy together," Miyuki says, solemn. "I expect to be the best man."

Definitely something of a masochist, Chris decides. "Good night, Miyuki," he says firmly, turning towards his room.

"Pleasant dreams," Miyuki calls after him, full of laughter, which just goes to show that even geniuses can be mistaken: Chris already knows he's going to have a hell of a time getting to sleep tonight.

 

They all know how it works: a program like Seidou's is like a hothouse, in a way. The line between admiring one's senpai and, well, admiring him can be plenty thin enough to start. Throw in an environment where everyone is eating, sleeping, and breathing baseball together day in and day out, and the fact that they may all be baseball maniacs, but they are teenaged baseball maniacs, and it's only a surprise that that line doesn't end up utterly obliterated. It's team loyalty, Chris supposes. No one wants to be the one who ruins it for everyone else, so the senpai tactfully pretend not to notice when their kouhai develop crushes on them, just as their senpai did before them, and everyone understands that sometimes it's only practical to leave one's roommates to their own devices in favor of hanging out somewhere, anywhere, else. And that after the lights go out, any sounds emerging from someone else's bunk are not to be acknowledged in any fashion whatsoever.

Not that Coach's training regime leaves anyone with a lot of spare energy for extracurricular entertainments, but—teenagers. Some forces are unstoppable.

It's just the same thing that has surprised Chris from the start, still tripping him up long after his roommates have fallen asleep, snoring more or less in tandem. It's Miyuki Kazuya, untouchable Miyuki Kazuya, independent and inscrutable as a cat, the last person Chris would have expected to be nursing any sort of crush on a senpai. Much less Chris himself—for pity's sake, Miyuki has been standing in his shoes for well over a year at this point. There's no reason for him to be looking up to anyone at this point. Given certain exchanges that Chris is currently recalling with painfully clear hindsight, Miyuki has less reason than his year-mates. And yet here they are.

Chris rolls over and punches his pillow a couple of times since he can't go back in time and punch himself for having so thoroughly violated the tacit code of the senpai.

Ryousuke's voice floats up from the bottom bunk, distinctly sleepy and cross. "Chris, if you don't stop thinking so loudly and go to sleep, I'm going to come up there and smother you with your own pillow."

"I'll hold his arms for you," Tanba offers from across the way as Chris freezes, guilty.

Chris grimaces. "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry, just sleep," Ryousuke says.

"I'm trying," Chris mutters.

Tanba sighs. "Stop worrying about Sawamura, he's in good hands."

"I know that, he's going to be fine, it's—never mind."

"It's what?" Ryousuke punches the mattress just beneath Chris' spleen when he doesn't answer. "Talk, Takigawa. Some of us need our rest."

"You may as well," Tanba adds. "He'll get it out of you one way or another."

That's more accurate than Chris would like it to be. "It's Miyuki," he says at last, then stops, not sure how to formulate the next part until Ryousuke punches the mattress again and he decides to be blunt. "I think he has a crush on me."

Both Ryousuke and Tanba are quiet much longer than he feels comfortable with. Eventually Tanba says, "Is that… it?"

"I think it's enough," Chris retorts.

"Really?" Ryousuke says. "He's had that crush since day one, why is it only bothering you now?"

"What," Chris says, a little blankly. There's no way he heard that correctly. "He what?"

"Did you miss the time he told us he chose Seidou over Inashiro because you were here?" Tanba asks. He pauses, expectant, while Chris stares at the ceiling in blank horror. "You did, didn't you."

Ryousuke laughs. "And I thought Sawamura could be oblivious."

"Don't be mean," Tanba says, chiding, while Chris gives up and drags his pillow over his face and groans into it. Maybe if he pushes down hard enough he can smother himself and save Ryousuke the trouble.

"I'm not being mean, I want to know how in the world he missed the way Miyuki walks around with hearts in his eyes whenever Chris is around."

Chris pulls the pillow off his face and snaps, "I had other things on my mind at the time, okay?"

That's enough to shut the two of them up, at least long enough for Chris to face up to the idea that Miyuki's… whatever it is… goes back much longer than he'd thought. Jesus. It's enough to make a guy question Miyuki's sanity along with everything else.

Tanba clears his throat after a couple minutes of awkward silence. "Well. He's not the type to make things awkward. You know now, but does that really change anything?"

"If it does, make sure you remember to hang a tie over the doorknob while you're entertaining," Ryousuke adds, sweetly arch. Then he kicks the mattress, targeting Chris' ass with remarkable accuracy while Chris is still trying to assimilate that. "Now can we all please go to sleep?"

It's on the tip of Chris' tongue to point out that no one had asked them to get involved, but that's a habit he's done his best to break. "Please," he says, because the sooner they go to sleep and forget about this entire conversation, the happier he'll be.

"Thank you," Tanba says. The next few minutes are quiet but for the sounds of Ryousuke and Tanba rearranging themselves more comfortably and then the gradual slowing and deepening of their breathing as they fall asleep again.

Chris envies them for it as he lies awake, reviewing the past year and a half in light of this new data—or should it be the past four or five years, if a couple of games from junior high had had that much of an effect on Miyuki?

He doesn't reach any conclusions before he finally falls asleep, and what dreams he recalls when he wakes to the buzz of his alarm are full of disjointed glimpses of Miyuki's face, always on the verge of asking some question for which Chris has no answer.

 

During the farewell game, no one misses the way the first and second-years change between innings. It's a lot like watching a fuzzy picture snap into focus—one minute their kouhai are a bunch of individual players, and the next they're a team, pulled into focus by a common goal. Tetsu looks at them and checks to see where Kataoka-san is before he says, "All right, who told them?"

Chris can't be too surprised when Jun says, "They needed to know!"

"It looks like they did," Tanba says, following the way their kouhai take the field, looking determined.

"Of course they did, I was just going to wait until after the game to tell them," Tetsu retorts. "For maximum effect."

"You're a bad man," Masuko rumbles, full of approval.

Tetsu just grins. "Damn right I am."

It ends up being a pretty good game, especially once the first- and second-years receive their wakeup call. They keep going, even after everyone's had a chance to play—well, that's the point of a farewell game, Chris supposes, even this game that is more about sending a message than anything else. It's the last time most of them are going to play together, and no one really wants it to end, even when they've all worn themselves out. Kataoka-san has to call for the end, the same way he called to continue. When they line up, Chris scrutinizes the faces opposite him, knowing that his year-mates are doing the same, and what he sees there looks promising—there's determination in the set of their jaws and fire in their eyes.

The team is in good hands, and that's a thing that is good to know.

 

That should have been the end of it, a tidy demarcation between the past and the future, which is the whole point of having a farewell game, so of course Chris finds his mind straying to Miyuki at odd moments—during class, when he isn't paying as much attention to the teacher as he ought to be, or traveling home from PT at the end of the day when he's turning his focus from the exhaustion trembling in his muscles to the homework waiting for him. It's the look on Miyuki's face, seeing something he doesn't think he can have, and the question that goes with it—why? Why should he have chosen Chris?

They've finished the evening's menu and Chris is cooling off, drinking water and staring into space, when his father interrupts his thoughts. "You've had something on your mind lately." He sits on the bench next to Chris and stretches out his legs. "Are you having second thoughts? It's not too late if you want to switch universities. Tanaka-san is still very, very interested."

Chris isn't too surprised that that's where his father's thoughts tend towards right now; it's what everyone is fretting over. Well, everyone but him, apparently. "No, I'm happy with my choice. I think it'll be a good fit."

Animal hums, working his lips in and out until his mustache bristles like a porcupine, but he doesn't push the question. He's been careful about that, which Chris appreciates. "It's something else?"

Chris has to laugh. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"Hmm." Animal smoothes his mustache down. "Classes going all right? Yes, of course they are, that's a silly question to ask you." He casts a sidelong look at Chris and smiles. "Maybe it's a matter closer to the heart, eh?"

Chris would like to believe that he hasn't even twitched, but the sad truth of the matter is that he has.

Animal pounces on that with what Chris feels is unholy glee. "It is! It's about time, and that's a fact. I was beginning to wonder about those Seidou girls."

Even bracing himself for it, Chris rocks forward when Animal slaps his back. He hopes that his father will mistake his wince as coming from that. "Um." There's no reason for Animal to have been worried about Seidou's female students; even in his bleakest moments last February, Chris had found plenty of chocolates in his shoebox on Valentine's Day, and he's had to find tactful ways to decline a couple of confessions. The problem hasn't been with the girls, it's been with him and his… what to call it? Lack of interest? Other priorities? Chris isn't sure how to classify it, really.

And he's been quiet for too long; Animal peers at him, concern replacing his initial glee. "Yuu? What is it?"

Chris draws a breath, which only makes Animal look more worried, and that's enough to push him into saying, "It's a little… complicated."

Animal absorbs this in silence, which could be a good sign. Or not. Finally, he says, careful, "These things generally are." He sets his hand on Chris' shoulder, gently this time. "You know you can tell me anything, right? Anything at all, it's all right."

Which is all fine and good, but Chris isn't exactly sure how to explain it. "It's… one of my kouhai. Who, er. Apparently has a significant crush on me."

Animal heaves a tremendous sigh, one that sounds relieved. "Thank God. I thought you were going to say you'd gotten somebody pregnant. Or that you're gay—not that there's anything wrong with that! Just, you know. In the grand scheme of things, a girl with a crush, that's not as complicated as it could be."

"A boy with a crush," Chris corrects him, and if he's dazed it's because those are two wildly different possible conclusions that his father jumped to there.

Animal takes that without a blink. "A boy with a crush, that's the same thing, isn't it? You say thank you, I'm so flattered, but I'm afraid I don't reciprocate your feelings. Wait, it's not that crazy boy, is it? Because if it is, I'm not sure it'll be so easy. You might have to use small words and repeat yourself a lot."

For a moment, Chris is diverted by the idea of dealing with a love confession from Sawamura—oh good grief, thank God he doesn't have to handle that—then he shakes his head. "It's not Sawamura. The one it is… hasn't said anything at all."

"That makes things easier." Animal peers at him. "Doesn't it?"

"It should," Chris says, frustrated. "But I can't stop thinking about it."

"Hmm." Animal doesn't say anything more than that, just raises his hand and strokes his mustache thoughtfully while Chris sips from his water bottle and wonders what's wrong with his brain. But then, if he knew the answer to that question, he wouldn't be having an awkward conversation with his father, would he?

After a little bit, Animal lowers his hand and clears his throat. "I suppose you're sure that you don't reciprocate his interest?" he says, slow and careful. "You didn't say that he was being obvious, which would be the other reason to worry over this, at least as far as I can see."

"What," Chris says, blank, because that's absurd, that's just ridiculous, he has no right to be thinking in that direction where Miyuki Kazuya is concerned, not after spending a year freezing him out for the crime of being able to play when he couldn't himself.

Then he catches what he's just thought and says, "Oh my God."

Animal doesn't say anything else as Chris grapples with his epiphany, but he does reach over and settle his hand against Chris' back, a gentle pressure between his shoulder blades to steady him. When he does speak, well after the point Chris has managed to steady his breathing again after the enormity of this realization, he says, "Tell me about him."

Chris sets his water bottle down and scrubs his hands over his face, finishing by raking his hair back out of his eyes. "It's Miyuki," he says while Animal rubs his back, little circles between his shoulder blades as though Chris were still small and in need of comfort after a bad dream.

"Ah," Animal says, no more than that. Chris thinks it's a sound of recognition and racks his brain to figure out what he's told his father about Miyuki. No more than he's said about anybody else at Seidou, surely. He thinks. Oh, God.

Chris steals a glance at his father, who simply looks thoughtful until he catches Chris' eye. Then he smiles, more wry than anything else. "I was just thinking that I should have known. You tended to talk about him, even last year." Last year, when Chris hadn't wanted to talk to anyone about anything to do with baseball (or much of anything else).

"Oh my God," Chris says again, taken aback all over again. "I did, didn't I?" Only now what had seemed like a perfectly normal preoccupation with the cocky first-year who'd replaced him takes on another look entirely.

"A few times, yes," Animal agrees, mostly solemn. Mostly. He laughs and slides his hand up, settling it at the back of Chris' neck. "So you like him a little more than you thought you did, huh?"

"I think I do," Chris says, which triggers its own revelation. "Oh my God, I think I am gay."

"It does kind of look that way," Animal agrees, utterly matter-of-fact. "We were starting to wonder a little, since you never did talk about girls that much." He squeezes Chris' nape. "There's nothing wrong with that, in case you're wondering. Your mother and I love you and are proud of you either way, no matter who you choose to date."

At some point, Chris is going to be glad for how calmly his father is handling all of this, but in the moment he's just a little bit horrified that this is something his parents figured out (and have apparently discussed) before it ever occurred to him. "Thank you?" he says. "I think?"

Animal squeezes the back of his neck again. "Nothing to say thank you for there. That's just the way it is." He stops and clears his throat before carrying on briskly. "So once you get things straightened out with Miyuki-kun, see if you can't bring him around. Your mother will want to meet him."

Chris opens his mouth but nothing comes out. There are too many things going on inside his head to even know where to begin, starting with his father's assumption that it'll be that easy to straighten things out with Miyuki (Animal has no idea how complicated that might be) all the way to the very idea of introducing Miyuki to his parents.

Animal may be boisterous and loud, but that doesn't mean he can't be observant when he wants to be. He smiles then, squeezes Chris' nape, and says, "In your own time, of course."

"…Right," Chris manages. "That's… sure."

"Good," Animal says, satisfied. He claps Chris on the shoulder. "I guess it's about time you got back to your dorms for the night, huh?"

"Yeah," Chris says, standing when Animal does. He's not really surprised when Animal grabs him for a hug, one of his Animal specials. He doesn't even mind, might even squeeze just as hard as Animal does himself. "Thanks," he says before they turn loose of each other.

Animal says, "No problem," like he knows that Chris is grateful for more than just the hug.

Which he is, even if solving one puzzle just presents a new one: He likes Miyuki Kazuya, so now what is he going to do?

 

The more he thinks about it, the worse it looks, no matter how Chris turns it over. There's just no getting around the fact that he spent several months angry at the world and particularly Miyuki Kazuya. Whether he was justified or not (mostly not, he can admit that now, anyway, because he was mostly angry at himself for not having said something about his shoulder before it was nearly too late; at least he can own up to that much), the fact remains that he behaved badly to a lot of people. Miyuki is right at the top of that list. So is Sawamura for that matter. At least he's managed to make his amends there.

Chris is much less sure there are amends he can make to Miyuki, who certainly deserved better than what he got.

It feels selfish to think about now—what right does he have to say anything to Miyuki now, when it would suit him? And when it would no doubt be a distraction to Miyuki, who's certainly busy enough captaining the team right now, from everything that Chris hears. He doesn't need anything else to weight him down right now.

Chris sighs as he reaches the inevitable conclusion: it's for the best if he goes on as he has, pretending that he never noticed anything he wasn't meant to have seen.

The mattress beneath him shakes when Ryousuke kicks it. "Now what are you brooding about?" he asks. He sounds deeply cranky, which Chris can only tell because his voice is a little sharper than usual. "And don't say it's nothing. That's the tenth time you've sighed like that in the past five minutes. No one sighs like that over nothing."

Chris, who actually has opened his mouth to say, Nothing, I'm fine, stops and makes a face at the ceiling instead. "Never mind," he tries instead. "Go back to sleep, okay?"

Ryousuke kicks the mattress again; it's possible that letting him and Kuramochi team up was a terrible miscalculation on someone's part. "So what is it? You brooding about Miyuki again?"

Chris winces in spite of himself; at least Ryousuke can't see him doing it. "Not exactly, I was just—thinking some things over."

"Nngh." Ryousuke's voice goes a little flat, a sure sign that he's feeling exasperated. "What things? You sound like a lovelorn heroine from one of Jun's manga up there."

"Oh my God," Chris says, because the simile is both horrifying and also a little bit too accurate for comfort.

And Ryousuke is too smart for anyone's comfort. "Wait, are you being lovelorn up there? For real?" He doesn't sound annoyed anymore. Now he sounds interested, which is infinitely worse.

"Please stop using that word," Chris says, which is not a denial and certainly not something Ryousuke is going to miss.

"You are," Ryousuke marvels. He's definitely not grumpy now, but his current wicked glee is not an improvement. "This is just like one of Jun's manga. Who is it? Tell me it's Sawamura, that would be hilarious."

"Oh my God, no," Chris says—first his dad and now Ryousuke. He's almost afraid to wonder what they're seeing that he's not.

"You sure? It would be so symmetrical."

"Jesus, he's like a puppy, or maybe a brattle little brother, not—God, no."

"Oh, well." Ryousuke takes his disappointment philosophically, which is a sure sign of worse things to come. "So who are you eating your heart out over, if it's not Sawamura? Or Miyuki?"

"Wait, why are you ruling Miyuki out?" Chris asks, too startled to keep himself from asking.

"Um, maybe because you already know where he stands, so you wouldn't need to be brooding over your lovelorn heart?" Ryousuke suggests. "What, seriously? Ugh." He sighs heavily. Then he kicks the mattress again, targeting Chris' kidney with distressing accuracy. "Why are you eating your heart out over Miyuki, he's the closest thing to a sure thing for you that you'll ever see."

"He shouldn't be," Chris says. "Not for me, not after—" He stops, embarrassed, until Ryousuke demands to know what. "When I was walking around being a jerk, I was probably the worst to him."

Ryousuke makes a rude noise. "So what's your point? It looks like he has a thing for that, since he's still into you even after you being an asshole to him. Lucky for you."

Ryousuke may not be wrong about that, given Miyuki's penchant for punishing himself, but that's not the point. Chris says as much. "He really does deserve better than that."

"How do you know that? Did you ask him?" Ryousuke's voice turns sharp. "Or are you taking it on yourself to decide what's best? Because you've got a crap record in that, in case you've forgotten."

Chris reaches for his shoulder, pressing his palm flat against it, moving on sheer reflex. "That was a low blow." The ache in his shoulder is more phantom than real. Even so.

"It's still true," Ryousuke retorts. "It's not your job to decide what's best for everyone else, which is lucky for us. So if you decide it's best for you not to saying anything to Miyuki, that's one thing, but you'd better let him decide what's best for him. He ought to have that right, don't you think?"

Chris takes a deep breath and lets it out again slowly. "You're really not a nice guy, you know that?"

"Lies. I'm plenty nice when I've had enough sleep." Ryousuke kicks the mattress again. "Stop anguishing over what Miyuki deserves and just tell him about your pure feelings for him so the two of you can get down to enjoying the springtime of your youth together and the rest of us can sleep."

"I'm not sure Jun is the one who's been reading too much terrible manga," Chris says.

"I don't know what you're talking about. Now go the fuck to sleep."

"Fine, fine." Chris curls onto his side and makes himself comfortable. After a minute, he says, "Thanks."

"Sleep," Ryousuke commands, but to Chris' ears it sounds a little bit like You're welcome.

 

There's one significant obstacle left to speaking to Miyuki about their potentially mutual attraction to one another, and it's Miyuki himself. It's not so much his schedule, though that's certainly busy enough itself and makes the prospect of getting a private word with him a daunting one. It's that when Chris can manage that, Miyuki himself remains elusive.

Chris tries several times to bring the matter up, and each time Miyuki deflects him.

The first time is after Sawamura demonstrates his new outside pitch in an official game. Chris manages to catch Miyuki on his way back to the dorms while he's heading back from PT, which seems like a stroke of luck at first. Miyuki nods in greeting and Chris says, "So Sawamura's outside pitch is already making itself useful."

They've encountered each other at the vending machines; Miyuki cracks the seal on his soda and drinks before he says, "It's starting to, yeah. That was good thinking on your part."

Chris shakes his head. "It was just the logical thing to do, considering what caused his yips to begin with. I'm glad I was able to help."

Miyuki grins at him. "I'll bet you were. I'm sure Sawamura really appreciated the private tutorial, too. You should try it again sometime when you need a study break, get some hands-on practice, you know?" He all but waggles his eyebrows after that.

"Oh my God," Chris says—he's saying that a lot lately, but considering the way his worldview has changed lately, it's the logical choice. "Why would you even suggest that?" It's not really all that rhetorical a question; why does Miyuki keep trying to throw him at Sawamura?

Miyuki just laughs. "I call them like I see them, senpai." He salutes Chris with his soda. "Good night." He walks off before Chris can get another word in edgewise, and that's the end of Chris' first attempt.

The second doesn't go any better. Miyuki comes to him first, tracks him down where he's studying in the library on a Sunday afternoon. He must be fresh from the game; his hair is still wet from the shower and his skin is glowing, freshly scrubbed. Seidou has won; that much is clear just from the jaunty angle of his smile as he leans across Chris' study table. "Guess what your favorite protégé did today?"

There's only one person Miyuki can mean by that. Since he seems more pleased than anything, Chris decides it must be good—"Did he pitch to the inside?"

It doesn't seem to bother Miyuki that he's guessed correctly. "He sure did. The little bastard, you know what he did to me?" Miyuki's smile is downright proud. "I gave him the signal and he shook his head at me. Can you believe it?"

Chris can; he smiles at the thought. "That's good to hear. I'm glad he's feeling confident again."

"It's a relief," Miyuki agrees. He heaves a deep sigh and his smile turns sly. "They grow up so fast, don't they? But then, you already knew that."

"Stop saying things like that," Chris tells him. "You're going to give people the wrong idea."

"Am I?" Miyuki asks, arch. Before Chris can even begin to say, Well, actually— he straightens up. "Anyway. I thought you'd like to know. Later, senpai."

He's gone before Chris can stop him.

When Tanba comes back from his bathroom run, he doesn't even ask why Chris is resting his forehead against the open pages of his textbook, just nudges him and tells him to wake up.

The next time Chris tries to say something, he's run into Miyuki just after classes have let out for the day. It's a golden afternoon, warm enough that it's almost possible to forget that it's autumn, and the conversation has come back to Sawamura yet again. For once Miyuki isn't making insinuations about Chris' supposed feelings for Sawamura—yet—for which Chris can only be grateful. He looks pleased instead, satisfied by whatever new trick Sawamura has learned now. Anyone else would be bursting at the seams with pride, though of course that's not Miyuki's way.

Later, Chris decides his mistake was saying so. He'd meant it as a compliment, an observation of the truth—"You've brought him a long way. It's not wonder you're proud of him."

There has to be a reason that gets to Miyuki, makes him freeze up for a split second before he laughs a little too loudly, but it's a mystery to Chris. He shakes it off almost before Chris even realizes that he's had a strange reaction. "Don't be so modest," he lilts. "I'm sure it's all because of your devoted attention that he's where he is now."

"Not this again," Chris says in blank dismay.

It makes Miyuki laugh. "But it's so true, he has hearts and sparkles in his eyes when he looks at you. You really ought to stop stringing him along, you know."

"I'm not," Chris protests, to no avail.

Miyuki grins at him again. "Just make sure you wait until after we play, huh? It's Sawamura, he can barely think with his big head as it is."

He strolls off whistling while Chris sputters at the very idea, and that's the end of that.

It goes on like that—it's not as though there are many opportunities to cross paths with Miyuki to begin with, let alone privately, and each time the encounter is too brief to say anything of substance or is promptly derailed by Miyuki's attempts to persuade Chris to take Sawamura up on his offers. (Chris has revisited his and Sawamura's relationship, such as it is, and concludes that Miyuki isn't wrong, per se. Sawamura probably would say yes if Chris asked, but he'd also say yes if Miyuki asked, too, or if any of his senpai gave him positive attention. Not that any of them are likely to do so when the kid is so rabidly hungry for approval and validation. Which is an unfortunately self-perpetuating cycle, but Chris figures that Sawamura will grow out of it as he starts to come into his own.)

Honestly, Chris is starting to be really frustrated with all this. Surely this kind of thing shouldn't be so hard, right? (He's very disconcerted by how that question sends his father off into a fit of laughter, and even more so by the way Animal tells him he'll understand once he's older.)

In the end, it's his frustration that finally gets them somewhere. Chris figures, later, that he probably should have known that from the start, given that it isn't as though Miyuki tends to do anything from the expected angle to begin with… and given the conversation that set off this whole chain reaction, perhaps he should have realized from the beginning that Miyuki isn't the type who's eager to have any sort of serious conversation with him anyway. The benefit of hindsight, Chris supposes.

When it finally happens, it goes down like this: It's been a long day after an even longer week, with Miyuki having been even more elusive than usual. Chris is done with the day's PT, which is at the absolutely infuriating stage where he feels practically normal again and absolutely can't trust that feeling—it would be so easy to overdo it now and set himself back, or worse. Chris gets that intellectually, but all his instincts say he ought to be able to more, faster, if only he'd let himself.

It doesn't really help his temper much that Animal's suggestion is that he find some way of distracting himself—"Maybe with that young man of yours?" he says with a wink that utterly horrifies Chris at the same time it annoys him. Animal really ought to know that a) no one wants that kind of suggestion from his father, and b) if that actually were an option, Chris would already be pursuing it. As it were.

At first glance, it's not exactly the best time for Chris to run into Miyuki on his way back to the dorms.

He sees Miyuki before Miyuki sees him, standing alone between the buildings and no one else in sight. Chris can see the weariness in the slope of his shoulders and the fists he digs into the small of his back as he stretches. It vanishes the second Miyuki realizes he's there, tucked away as though it had never been there to begin with as he turns an easy smile Chris' way. "Time for you to be back already? It's later than I thought it was."

Chris means to say something equally casual in reply, maybe something about how fast time goes when a person is busy. What comes out instead is, "Do you have a minute?"

"Sure, but I can save you the time. Sawamura's over in the indoor practice area."

It's that, or Miyuki's sly grin, or maybe both that does it. Before Chris quite realizes what he's doing, he has Miyuki backed against the closest wall, hands planted on either side of his head. "I don't care about Sawamura."

Miyuki stares at him; for a split second he looks as startled as Chris has ever seen him, eyes wide behind the lenses of his glasses. He recovers fast, though, surprise slipping into a grin. "Aw, come on, you know you don't have to play dumb, senpai, I'm not here to judge."

Someone is playing dumb, sure, but Chris is pretty sure it's not him. "For God's sake," he says, right before he kisses Miyuki.

It's a terrible kiss. Their noses bump and Miyuki's lips are dry and chapped against his, but it's got one good thing going for it: Chris is pretty sure even Miyuki can't misinterpret it for anything other than what it is. Then again, it's Miyuki, so Chris clears his throat when he pulls back and says, "If you try to tell me that had anything to do with Sawamura, I swear I'm not going to be responsible for anything I do next."

Part of him honestly does expect Miyuki to take that as a dare, but Miyuki is staring at him, his eyes gone wide again. "What?" he says, sounding dazed. "What was that?"

"What I've been trying to tell you." He can't quite keep himself from sounding exasperated, but it's been a frustrating few weeks. "It's not Sawamura I'm interested in."

"I know that." Miyuki's not so surprised he can't sound impatient, which Chris hopes is a good sign. "You're not interested in anyone. The whole school knows that."

"Says the guy I just kissed," Chris points out. He would have thought it was a perfectly unambiguous gesture, but then, he hadn't reckoned on Miyuki's capacity for… whatever this is.

Miyuki shakes his head. "You don't even like me that much."

Chris has to wince, but at least he can get this much out in the open. "I didn't like anyone last year, least of all myself. I was a jerk to you. I'm sorry about that, you deserved better."

Miyuki's reply comes almost automatically. "It's not your fault, I took your spot—"

The hell of it is that Miyuki looks as though he might honestly sort of believe that. God.

Chris searches for the right way to deal with that. If there is a right way to deal with it. There might not be. "No, it was my fault. I knew there was something wrong, I was just—" He gropes for the right word. "—arrogant. I thought I was the only one who could carry the team, do you understand? And I didn't say anything when I should have. When the injury finally happened, I knew it was my own damn fault, that I couldn't blame anyone else for it but myself, and I was so angry I didn't care who got caught up in that. And maybe that was the most selfish thing of all. I'm sorry for it."

Miyuki stares at him for so long that Chris begins to wonder whether he's been speaking in English instead of Japanese, because Miyuki's wearing that look people get when they don't understand a single word that's just been said to them. It's a peculiar expression, one that sits uneasily on Miyuki's face. One doesn't see him at a loss like this, at least not often. Then he shakes his head, the motion abrupt and sharp, like he's trying to clear his head. "Why are you even—no, wait." He shakes his head again as he starts to frown—that's his problem-solving expression, one Chris has seen him wear more times than he can count, usually when confronted with a challenging opponent.

He waits Miyuki out. It only seems fair after catching him so completely by surprise.

Miyuki frowns at him, stares at him some more, and eventually tries again. "What are you telling me this for? Where is this coming from?" There's more than a hint of suspicion in his tone, which Chris just hopes is coming from Miyuki's own inveterate and unholy love of a good practical joke and not something else.

He's also pretty sure this isn't exactly how a confession is supposed to go, not that he's ever been party to a reciprocated confession before, but… disbelief doesn't seem like it ought to be the standard reaction. Unless it just goes differently when both parties are guys.

Chris realizes his thoughts are going in circles and that Miyuki is still waiting for the answer he's not quite sure how to provide. They've gotten this far on flat honesty, so he goes with that. "I told you. I like you. I was hoping you'd say you liked me."

Miyuki rolls his eyes at that, actually rolls his eyes. "Everyone likes you, senpai, come on."

"Not like this," Chris tells him. Before Miyuki can argue with him—he can see him gearing up for it—he adds, "I saw you watching us when I was showing Sawamura how to pitch to the outside." He's on to something with that; Miyuki goes utterly still and his expression smoothes out, becomes a blank mask. "I saw the way you were looking at us. I thought it was him you were looking at, to be honest. It wasn't until later that I figured out it was me."

Miyuki might have turned to stone for all Chris can tell, he's so still. His tone is distant when he says, "You told me to say something to Sawamura."

It's on the tip of Chris' tongue to say, You were looking at us like you knew you couldn't have something you were dying to have, but some instinct holds him back. "You… I didn't see any reason you shouldn't get what you wanted."

Miyuki utters a short bark of a laugh, though he doesn't seem amused. "You—" He stops and rakes a hand through his hair. "And then I—" It's like he's talking himself through that conversation all over again, looking at it through this new lens. "And then you—"

"Figured out it wasn't him you'd been looking at," Chris supplies when Miyuki doesn't go on.

It's not what Miyuki is thinking, and he frowns again. "And then you walked away."

It's not—quite—an accusation. Chris takes a deep breath. "I was surprised," he says, carefully. "I hadn't realized—I hadn't noticed. I had to take some time to get used to the idea. And then I couldn't stop thinking about it."

Miyuki stares at him, expression utterly opaque to Chris. When he speaks, his tone is careful. Measured, scrupulously neutral. "So you decided—what, exactly, that there still wasn't any reason I shouldn't get what I want? Is this some kind of guilt thing?"

The thing is, Chris can actually follow the chain of logic behind that, even if it does appall him. And insult him. "No." He says it as firmly as he knows how, hoping that it will get, and keep, Miyuki's attention. It makes him blink, anyway. "Then I had a horrifyingly uncomfortable conversation with my father and figured out that I like guys—that I like you. I've been trying to tell you so ever since."

Of course Miyuki fastens on the irrelevant part of that. "With your father?" He sounds a little horrified himself.

"I just wish I could say he was as surprised as I was." Chris sighs and shakes his head over that. At least Animal is supportive, as embarrassing as that can be. Belatedly, he straightens up, dropping his hands to his sides. He's gotten Miyuki's attention, there's no need to keep looming over him. Miyuki is silent, still inscrutable, and maybe this was all a huge mistake, start to finish. People aren't supposed to notice their kouhai's crushes, so maybe it was the wrong move to say anything to Miyuki. Chris clears his throat, awkward and self-conscious. "You don't have to—if you don't want to—I just wanted you to know. You shouldn't feel obligated, I guess. Just—if you would like to try—" Jesus, what to even call it? "—being together, I'd—like that."

Mercifully, Miyuki stops him before he can ramble on past that point. He does it by breaking into laughter, but at least that's a reaction, a welcome change from his silence.

Chris watches him lift a hand and slide it under the frames of his glasses to grip the bridge of his nose as his shoulders shake. "Um—?" he ventures.

Miyuki lowers his hand and looks up at him. "I'd ask if you honestly think anyone would feel obligated if you offered them the chance to climb you like a tree, but I'm kind of thinking you might not actually have any clue."

"I probably don't," Chris admits. "I don't even know what you mean by saying that, exactly." It sounds sort of promising, though.

Miyuki snorts. "It's a euphemism, senpai. It means everyone wants to fu—"

"I know that," Chris tells him, hastily. "I just don't know how you feel about that offer."

Miyuki leans his head back, resting it against the wall. His smile is tilted, wry. "Guess that makes two of us."

"Okay?" It's the only thing Chris can think to say. No, that's not exactly true. "I did spring… this… on you. You don't need to… decide anything right now. If you want to decide anything at all, I guess. If you want to just forget I said anything, I'd understand." There's honestly a part of him that would like to take that route, if Chris is honest with himself, a part that aches with embarrassment and disappointment both—hindsight is telling him that he hasn't been even half as kind to the girls who brought themselves to confess to him. Who would have thought it could take so much courage? "I guess I should just—leave you to it…?"

He's actually turning to suit actions to words when Miyuki says, "Wait." That's enough to arrest Chris mid-step. He looks at Miyuki, who's stopped smiling and just looks intent. "You really mean all that."

Is that a question or a statement of fact? Chris decides to take it as the former. "I do, yeah."

Miyuki draws a breath. If Chris didn't know any better, he'd say that Miyuki looks shaken and is trying to steady himself. "So you're into guys. Into me."

The faint note of incredulity tilts that into being a question. "Yeah, I'm into you." The larger question of whether he's into guys or girls or whatever doesn't really need to be answered right now.

That seems to shake Miyuki even more than before. "That's—" He runs his hand through his hair. "This wasn't ever supposed to actually happen."

Chris holds very still, hardly daring to breathe. "No?" That sounds like Miyuki has wanted something like this. Which is what everyone else seems to have believed was true, but it's something else to hear it from Miyuki himself.

Miyuki shoots him an exasperated look, one that doesn't manage to entirely disguise his bewilderment. "No, really not. No one is supposed to just walk up and offer you something you've wanted since before you even knew you wanted it, not without warning you first. Things like that don't happen."

Honestly, Chris feels a little shaken himself. It's one thing for Ryousuke to say, but—"Jesus, Miyuki, how long—"

He stops because it's not really any of his business, but Miyuki tells him anyway, almost defiantly. "Ever since I first played you when we were in junior high, probably."

"That long, really?" What can he even say to something like that? Everything he can think of seems inadequate. Chris takes a step towards Miyuki without even thinking about it.

Miyuki looks aside. He might be turning red, though it's difficult to tell in such uncertain light. "You don't have to sound so surprised." He waves a hand, vague. "You have to know what you do to people."

"I don't think I really do." Chris takes another step towards him. "This… all of this, you, it all caught me by surprise." He's close enough now that he could reach out and touch Miyuki. "I feel like an idiot for waiting so long to see what was right in front of me."

Miyuki looks at him again. "Things like this don't happen," he says again. There might be an unspoken to me at the end of that declaration, too. Chris isn't sure.

He reaches for Miyuki then, lays a hand on his shoulder. "But it is happening, if you want it to."

Miyuki's laugh comes out sounding raw. "If I want it? Fuck, how could I not?" He shakes his head like he can't believe Chris could ask such a stupid question.

They're well into uncharted territory now, well past the point Chris has any idea what he's doing, so he has no way of knowing what he ought to be doing. He hesitates a moment before laying his other hand on Miyuki's shoulder. Miyuki draws a breath; Chris can feel the shuddering, staccato movement of it beneath his palms as Miyuki looks up at him. "If you want it, it's yours."

Miyuki stares at him, as wide-eyed and uncertain as Chris has ever seen him. "Is this really happening?"

If he shifts his thumb just so, he can brush it against the side of Miyuki's throat. His skin is warm. "Yeah," Chris says, his voice hushed even in his own ears. "If you want."

He doesn't know whether the pulse he can feel beating so fast is his or Miyuki's. Maybe it's both of them, he decides as Miyuki wets his lips and says, barely audible, "I do want—that."

The knot in his chest comes undone all at once, leaves him dizzy and lightheaded with the rush of relief. He's probably smiling like an idiot on top of that. "Okay," Chris says, just as softly. It's only natural to step closer to Miyuki, to shift his hand so he can rest his fingers against the warm skin of his throat, his thumb at the corner of Miyuki's jaw. "Okay, good." He leans closer, close enough that the sound of disbelief Miyuki makes mingles their breath. He pauses, uncertain. "Okay?"

Miyuki utters the ghost of a laugh, the whisper of it helpless and full of disbelief. "Yeah."

It almost sounds like a dare.

Not that Chris needs to be challenged into doing what he wants to do anyway. He closes the last little distance between them to kiss Miyuki again, this time more successfully than before—they figure out the question of the best angle together, the right pressure, and when Miyuki opens his mouth, so do whole new vistas of possibility that leave Chris breathless. Or that might be the way Miyuki has reached up to grip his shoulders.

When they finally break apart, Chris leans his forehead against Miyuki's, smiling at him and powerless to stop himself. Miyuki looks back, gazing at Chris like he's not sure he's actually awake. "Chris-senpai…"

"Yeah," Chris tells him, soft, and is there to meet him when Miyuki leans forward to kiss him again.

 

Youichi stretches out a leg, barring the path. "You can't go that way," he says when Eijun protests and Furuya looks blankly puzzled.

Kominato is the one who says, "Why not?"

He would be the one to ask. Furuya is already turning to find another route, and Youichi can wrestle Eijun into submission if he has to, but Kominato has to have reasons. Better reasons than Because I said so.

Lucky for him he's had time to come up with an excuse or two. "There's a spill. It's pretty nasty. Trust me, you want to go around."

That's more than enough for Furuya, and Eijun leaves off trying to argue to pull a face. Kominato just frowns. "You're keeping people from walking through?" Instead of cleaning it up? his tone implies.

"Just until Zono gets back from the supply closet," Youichi improvises.

That does the trick. Furuya is already wandering off and Eijun makes a face but follows him, apparently not eager to get drafted into cleaning up any messes.

Kominato lingers. "Funny," he says. "We just saw Zono-senpai in the batting practice area."

Kominatos, geez. Why do they have to be so perceptive? "Just go the other way," Youichi tells him. "Please."

Kominato gives him a long look and smiles at him then, bright. "If you say so," he murmurs before turning to catch up with the other two.

Youichi watches him go and sighs, leaning his head back. "No one ever told me this would be part of being vice-captain," he tells the stars, not that they care much about making sure Miyuki and Chris-senpai get themselves on the same page before being interrupted.

After this, Miyuki had just better not say that Youichi's never done anything nice for him, geez, or Youichi is going to kick his ass.

end

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