*shows up exactly seven months later* This is a sequel to "Lines of Communication" and picks up right where LoC left off. Hope you all enjoy it!
Thanks to Oort on AO3 for reading through a draft of this :)
Ren is staring up at the ceiling when it occurs to him that he never really sorted out the misunderstanding between Abe-kun and Sawamura today. Abe had been yelling over the phone and then there had been that hug, and then they hadn't said much afterward. Ren blushes and pulls the covers up over his face, reminding himself that the hug isn't the important part right now. He wants Abe and Sawamura to get along, especially if Nishiura is playing against Seidou in a week – he doesn't want to cause any trouble!
Ren rolls over in bed and flips open his phone. \Are you busy on Saturday?/ It's pretty late, so Sawamura will probably write back in the morning.
To Ren's surprise, however, he gets a text notification almost immediately. \I've got practice all day, but nothing after 4pm. What's up?/
\I think Abe-kun is confused about you and me. He thinks you're being mean?/
\He thinks I'M being mean? He's the one who ordered me to stop talking to you. Which was RUDE, by the way. He needs to learn to calm down./
The irony of Sawamura lecturing someone else about calming down is not lost on Ren. \I think that if you and Abe-kun actually meet and talk, then things will be okay. But waiting until the practice game to introduce you would be a little…/
\Yeah, I get it./ Competition could make it worse. \So, Saturday, you said?/
\Yes! There's this restaurant in Saitama that I've been wanting to try. We could meet there. But only if that's okay with you!/
\Sure, just give me the name of the place. Can I bring Miyuki-senpai to meet you?/
Ren blinks, surprised, but types back \Sure/ and sends it almost immediately. He tells himself that his reply was quick because he's curious about Sawamura's crush and it only has a little to do with the fact that the four of them meeting up at a restaurant might feel like a double date. He blushes again and texts Sawamura the name of the restaurant before wishing him goodnight.
Kazuya spots the Nishiura t-shirt as he walks into the restaurant behind Sawamura. There are two boys about Kazuya's age sitting together on one side of a booth and the shorter one waves delightedly at Sawamura, who echoes the gesture with enthusiasm. "Mihashi!" Sawamura calls. At least Mihashi's friend, the one wearing the team shirt and a backwards baseball cap, looks about as unexcited at Kazuya feels.
It was a moment of weakness that had led to Kazuya tagging along on this little outing in the first place. Sawamura had been talking about something and Kazuya was contemplating all the ways he could shut Sawamura up with his mouth when Sawamura had suddenly tilted his head and said "You're okay with that, right, Senpai?" Usually, the worst that could come from agreeing with Sawamura would be extra catching for him after practice, so, mind still muddled with thoughts of making out and being called "senpai", Kazuya had nodded. It was a big mistake, and not one he was planning to make again in the near future, no matter how lost he got in Sawamura's eyes.
Sawamura slides into the booth across from Mihashi, leaving Kazuya to sit across from Mihashi's dark haired teammate. The guy focuses his gaze on Kazuya, wary. But before Kazuya can respond, his attention is diverted by a tug on his shirt. "Miyuki-senpai, this is my friend Mihashi and his teammate Abe-san."
Mihashi waves again shyly at the introduction and then glances over at his friend. "Abe-kun, this is Sawamura-kun and his c-catcher, Miyuki-san."
Abe glares at Sawamura, who jumps to defend himself against unspoken accusations. "Hey, I wasn't insulting Mihashi's pitching, okay, which you'd have known if you'd bothered to ask him! Batteries are supposed to be about communication!"
"I won't apologize for defending my teammate against an opponent with questionable intentions," Abe replies icily.
"Questionable intentions? Sorry, but who was the one who went through someone else's phone without asking?"
Abe is clearly gearing up to make another retort, but Mihashi breaks in with "Let's get along! What d-do you want to order, Sawamura-kun?" Sawamura goes along easily with the change of subject, jumping into a monologue about the list of foods that he orders from his top ten favorite restaurants while Mihashi makes interested cooing sounds.
"You're Nishiura's catcher then?" Kazuya asks. Abe nods wordlessly, and the conversation halts. Kazuya examines Abe's posture more closely, thinking about the upcoming practice game and what he can learn about the opponent's catcher here, before the match even begins. Nishiura hasn't been big on baseball in the past, otherwise Kazuya would've had data on them to look through. Picking up on Abe's unconscious habits and getting a feel for his character might give Kazuya some insight into Abe's approach to baseball. And if Mihashi and Abe are the only pitcher and catcher for their team, Kazuya might be able to get a sense of how their relationship functions.
There's nothing quite like standing in the batter's box and knowing exactly how the battery's going to react.
Abe's got one elbow on the table and he's angled slightly towards his teammate. He's slouching a little, but he seems very aware of his own presence in the space. The menu in front of him is already closed, while his partner Mihashi is still waffling between orders and trading pleasantries with Sawamura. They haven't been here very long, as Kazuya offhandedly hears Mihashi indicate, but Abe's already set to order. He makes quick decisions, then, and is sure of himself. No fooling around.
Mihashi's half-finished sentences and frequent pauses while chatting with Sawamura don't seem to draw Abe's attention, which suggests that this is the normal state of affairs. Abe is used to Mihashi's nervousness and remains unaffected by it, then. What does he do with an overly anxious pitcher, hmm? If Mihashi's twitchy behavior translates over to the field, then Abe must exert a significant amount of control from the catcher's box.
Takaya hasn't missed the fact that Miyuki is studying him, mostly because he's scrutinizing Miyuki in return. The air of intense concentration coming from Miyuki is softened only by a feeling of subtle amusement, like he's seeing precisely what he expected to find in Takaya. Honestly, it's pissing Takaya off a little. Miyuki had been introduced as Sawamura's catcher, and the way he carried himself walking in, like he's hot shit and he knows it, probably means he's first string. At a huge school like Seidou, that's pretty significant. He's not one to underestimate.
A few minutes of mutual observation pass and Takaya breaks to check on Mihashi. He grudgingly admits to himself that Mihashi and Sawamura look like two peas in a pod, drawing on their napkins with crayons left on the table for bored children. Takaya hasn't stopped being suspicious of Sawamura's motives, but he'll let it go for tonight. Mihashi had been buzzing with anticipation all week to come here, and he'd even been brave enough to disrupt the hostility that sprang up between Sawamura and Takaya when the Seidou players first sat down.
"And that's what a mecha should look like," Sawamura insists, like he's the expert on the subject. "None of this human-sized bullshit, they should be HUGE! Tall as houses! As city buildings!"
Mihashi giggles and holds up his own napkin. "W-wings?"
"Hell yeah, mecha that can fly are awesome."
Takaya looks back over at Miyuki, whose expression hasn't changed. When their food arrives Miyuki finally unfolds his hands to pick up his chopsticks and Takaya gets a look at the calluses on his fingers. Well. If Miyuki's first string, then it's because he earned it.
Kazuya's enjoying the last of his meal and mulling over what he's learned about Abe and Mihashi. Unfortunately, he keeps getting distracted by Sawamura, whose elbow bumps into his every time he goes to take a bite – they made the mistake of sitting with their dominant hands between them.
Mihashi is still slurping happily and Abe is finished, empty dish set to one side and tapping his fingers idly. Is he impatient or just bored? How might that kind of reaction manifest during a long inning? Would he start calling pitches differently when he's itching to be done on defense and get back in the batting box?
Kazuya sets down his chopsticks, finished, and takes a sip of water. He tunes back into the conversation as Sawamura starts to gush about the younger Kominato's hand massages to Mihashi. With no warning, Sawamura grabs Kazuya's hand and turns it palm-up, rubbing carefully with his thumbs in demonstration. Sawamura's fingers are strong and hardened from years of pitching, but there's something soft in the way he handles Kazuya's hand, like it's something precious, and Kazuya's face heats up. "It really helps your hands after games, but don't press too hard or else it'll hurt!" Sawamura stops his demonstration, but nonchalantly laces their fingers together and settles their joined hands on the table. "D'ya think someone on your team would give it a try?"
Mihashi nods. "Tajima, or Izumi-kun."
When Kazuya looks away from the pair of pitchers, Abe's gaze is moving between Kazuya, Sawamura, and their joined hands. Hmm. Kazuya's spent the meal trying to puzzle out the relationship between Nishiura's battery and he doesn't doubt that Abe is doing the same. Kazuya pretends to inspect Sawamura's hand for injuries before pulling away completely, though he'd been enjoying the casual touch.
"Your team does meditation?" Abe's been quiet until now, so his question is a surprise.
Kazuya doesn't know what Abe's talking about, but the other two have turned to join the conversation and Mihashi pipes up: "Were you checking Sawamura-kun's hand to see if he's relaxed? At – at Nishiura we meditate before practice and games and c-check that no one's anxious."
Sawamura directs his attention to the other pitcher. "Ooh, you've mentioned that before!"
Mihashi beams. "Yeah!" Mihashi holds out a hand of his own and Abe meets it willingly, pressing their palms together. "A little cold… some tension," Mihashi diagnoses.
"I'm still a bit keyed up from practice," Abe explains to his partner. Kazuya thinks it has more to do with the current situation of meeting with two opponents, and the only reason he doesn't say so is that he's focused on the observation that neither Abe nor Mihashi seems embarrassed by the physical contact. It's so ordinary to them that Kazuya starts to reconsider his conclusions about their relationship.
"Wow, that's cool!" Sawamura exclaims. "You really can tell just by holding his hand, huh? Does it work with everyone else too?"
Mihashi nods. "Hand-holding to check stress, and sometimes t-tickling to get rid of nervousness."
Kazuya can't resist a smirk. "Tickling and holding hands, huh?"
"There's science behind the meditation practices," Abe responds defensively.
"Is that so?" Eijun knows that tone. He'd know it in his sleep. Miyuki's in the mood to antagonize, to poke and prod and get a reaction from Abe.
Mihashi's starting to look a little panicked at the hints of an argument – eyes wide, knuckles white as they clutch the edge of the table – so Eijun elbows Miyuki. The catcher turns a look of barely-concealed predatory glee on him. "Is there a problem, Sawamura?" he purrs.
"Wha– I – uh…"
"I'm simply curious," Miyuki continues, blinking his eyes innocently at Eijun. "It can't be bad to trade team-building exercises, can it?"
"Well, no, but…"
"I'm so pleased that you agree." And Miyuki, that bastard, hooks his foot around Eijun's ankle under the table and starts rubbing circles on his leg. It's distracting, which is exactly why Miyuki's doing it, and Eijun can't string together a coherent sentence to tell him to stop baiting Mihashi's friend. How sneaky he is, using physical contact to throw Eijun off!
Miyuki turns back to Abe as if everything is normal. "What else does your team do to get closer together? This meditation sounds very interesting."
"I don't really see how our team dynamics are your business, Seidou."
"Oh? Feeling threatened, Nishiura? Is there something about those team dynamics that you think we're likely to exploit?"
"Then what's the problem?"
Miyuki's grin is openly mischievous, but Abe's not looking at him anymore. "Mihashi, what's wrong?" The brewing squabble dissipates as both Seidou players also turn to Mihashi, whose face is suddenly cherry red.
"Lying won't help. Are you sick?" Abe puts a hand to Mihashi's forehead and Mihashi jolts backward, shaking his head furiously and turning even redder, if possible.
"Not sick! I just – napkin, floor – I –" He looks between Eijun and Miyuki.
Oh. He dropped his napkin and then saw Miyuki playing footsie under the table, didn't he? Eijun blushes furiously even though Mihashi's already seen the picture of them kissing.
Eijun turns away, embarrassed, and sees Miyuki examining the Nishiura battery with a look of understanding. He likely hadn't missed Mihashi's reaction to Abe's unexpected forehead touch. He may also be remembering what Eijun had said about Mihashi adoring Abe and realizing that it might not be entirely for his catching skills. "So that's how it is," he murmurs.
Abe apparently has good hearing. His eyes flick over to Miyuki with a combination of irritation and wariness. "That's how what is?"
Miyuki sits back in his seat and pastes on an innocent expression that doesn't fool Eijun. "Just noticing how your pitcher swings, that's all."
"You don't have any of our batting data."
"Mmm." Miyuki looks at Eijun. "You know anything else about this?"
But Miyuki just ignores the obvious lie and studies the pair again. "Not even at first base, then."
Abe's face darkens. "Nishiura may not be a big baseball school like Seidou, but we're quite capable of getting around the bases. Don't look down on us."
Eijun tries to stop himself from laughing because Mihashi looks absolutely mortified, but Miyuki starts up snickering next to him and Eijun just can't help the ugly snort that escapes. Miyuki starts laughing harder and then Eijun's caught up sniggering with him at the whole situation.
Ren contemplates the odds of spontaneous combustion from sheer embarrassment. He's not the best at math but, unfortunately, he's pretty sure the chances are not in his favor. His face feels like it did last winter when he fell asleep too close to his aunt's fireplace: really, really warm.
He's spent enough time with Tajima to understand why Sawamura and Miyuki are laughing, but Abe and Ren really aren't like that yet. Maybe, if Ren's lucky, Abe might give him another hug someday, but Miyuki and Sawamura clearly think they're interested in doing other things.
As if summoned by Ren's thoughts, a text notification pops up on his phone with Tajima as the sender. He's been texting all evening for regular updates. Ren hadn't said that he wanted this to be a double date, but Tajima has always been good at interpreting what Ren doesn't say.
\Yeah, I'd totally be up for trying out that hand massage thing. God knows my hands need it after practice. We could take turns. So how's it going now?/
Ren types a reply: \Sawamura-kun and Miyuki-san are laughing/
\Uh. Not a good joke, no./
How does Tajima always hone in on things like this? \Ah… yes./
\Heh. So, Mihashi, how's YOUR player #2 taking this whole situation?/ Ren peeks over. Abe's glaring holes into the two Seidou players and is visibly restraining himself from starting a fight. Ren shivers.
\Abe-kun is angry with them. What should I do?/
\Give him a hug. That'll cheer him right up/
Ren gasps, blood rushing to his face. \TAJIMA! I'm serious!/ He sends the message and firmly shoves his phone back in his pocket. That wasn't helpful at all!
Without warning, Abe swings around to face him, and Ren yelps. There's something very intense in his gaze. "Let's get out of here. Without them." He doesn't even bother to keep his voice down.
"O…kay," Ren squeaks out, and Abe grabs his hand to help him out of the booth, shelling out money from his wallet for the bill. What's Ren supposed to say to Sawamura? Should he apologize for Abe's behavior?
He looks over to his friend nervously, but Sawamura gives him a thumbs-up. Ren's mouth drops open. "Uh, bye!" Ren manages to blurt out as Abe tugs him away from the table. Sawamura holds up his phone and Ren nods.
Before they're even outside the restaurant, Ren feels his phone buzz with a message from Sawamura. \A double date for dinner AND hanging out with Abe after, huh? That's like two dates in one day! Tell me all about part two of your night later!/
Ren thinks, not for the first time, that Sawamura and Tajima would get along like a house on fire.
Kazuya's pretty pleased with this outcome. He didn't mean to break up Sawamura's little get-together with Mihashi, but now it's just the two of them in the booth with the whole evening to themselves. Sawamura's already texting Mihashi again anyway, so it's not like he's that upset about it.
"Hey, Miyuki, wanna catch a movie with me or something?"
"That's Miyuki-senpai to you," Kazuya corrects, though he knows the words just fly right over Sawamura's head. "And we're not following your friend and his teammate into a movie theatre to spy on them, if that's what you were thinking." Kazuya could very, very easily picture Sawamura getting it into his head that it was up to him, as Mihashi's friend, to help out with Mihashi's crush on Abe. Kazuya is not on board for that kind of evening.
Sawamura looks offended. "Like I would do such a thing!"
Kazuya blinks and his heart skips, heat traitorously rushing to his face. If that's true, then is Sawamura asking him out on an actual date? It shouldn't really be surprising given their, ah, hands-on conversation on Tuesday after their fight, but he's still adjusting to the knowledge that Sawamura returns his affections. He resists the urge to pinch himself.
"Okay," he finally replies, voice a little more breathless than he would like.
Sawamura doesn't notice, though. "Huh?"
Kazuya takes a deep breath to recover his equilibrium and remembers that this is Sawamura, dork extraordinaire. There's no need for Kazuya to feel uncomfortable.
Once he's recovered himself, Kazuya leans in closer. "I said okay. We can go to a movie or something. Unless," he smirks, stretching forward even further and lowering his voice, "you're too anxious to be close to me in a dark place where no one can see us." Flirting and playful touching are easier than expressing genuine emotion. Both get him fantastic reactions from Sawamura.
True to form, Sawamura splutters. "I would never – I'm not – I'm definitely not nervous about holding hands with you in a movie theatre!" he shouts, loudly enough that his voice carries across the restaurant.
"We'll see," Kazuya replies with a leer.
They're two blocks away from the restaurant when Abe turns to Ren and says "Let's head for the train station." Their hands are still swinging between them and Ren is relieved to find that Abe's has warmed up to normal.
Abe looks mildly surprised. "Alright. What do you want to do?" Ren shrugs. "Let's see what's open." Neither of them feel like doing karaoke or a movie, the indoor botanical garden is closed, and Abe refuses to let Ren into a bowling alley.
"What if you drop the ball on your foot?" Abe says, "Or pinch a finger?"
"We could go to a park."
"Sure." The first park they come to has a horde of children with party hats dashing around madly as the last rays of the day gradually disappear behind the city buildings. The second is covered in orange construction tape for renovations.
Abe sighs, and Ren says, tentatively, "We don't have to pick a place."
"You mean just… walk around?"
Abe's skeptical response sends Ren into a nervous tizzy. "I mean, if you want to find a place to g-go, we can, but I thought… n-never mind, we can just head back to the train station if you want!"
"Wait, Mihashi, don't get worked up, I was just surprised."
Relief floods him. "You're not… mad?"
"No. Where do you want to walk?" Ren makes a noncommittal gesture and Abe takes that as a cue to lead.
Neither of them actually knows their way around the town in Saitama where they'd met up with Mihashi and Abe, plus it turns out that both of them are pretty low on cash after paying for dinner, so they take the train back to Tokyo and stop at one of the public parks instead of finding a movie theatre.
"I know this one has a garden!" Sawamura tells Kazuya as he drags him down the path.
"No sass, Miyuki Kazuya, wait 'til you see it."
Sawamura's hand feels warm in his, so Kazuya sighs loudly and lets himself be pulled along. They've got the park mostly to themselves because it's getting dark and the only people still around are jogging alone or just passing through with their dogs. Sawamura drops his hand once they reach the garden and gestures at the space. "So? What do you think?"
Kazuya tries to really look at the garden, full of flowers in bloom and odd-looking plants that he doesn't know the name of, and finds his gaze being drawn back to Sawamura every time. That's not anything new, of course. Sawamura is loud enough, bright enough, to drown out everyone and everything around him. He's enthusiastic and brave and a little too much in need of attention and cute. Very cute.
Finally, Kazuya says, "I suppose I could say that the view is eye-catching."
Sawamura brightens, missing the point. "Yeah! I like the purple ones especially, the colors really pop, don't they? Which ones are your favorites?"
"Hmm." Kazuya steps closer to him and grins. "I wonder."
"C'mon, which ones?"
"You're really going to make me say it, aren't you?"
"I wanna know."
Kazuya pokes Sawamura in the chest, just above his heart. "I was going to say that you… have a leaf in your hair. It's really obvious and draws a lot of attention to you." Sawamura squawks and Kazuya snickers before ruffling Sawamura's hair on the pretext of getting the nonexistent leaf out. He brushes his hand through a few more times, trying to commit the sensation to memory.
Sawamura huffs. "W-well, you have a leaf in your hair too. Must have been from one of the trees we passed to get here, huh?" He squares his shoulders so they're standing face to face and combs his fingers through Kazuya's hair. It feels fantastic and Kazuya's eyes close before he realizes what he's doing. When they snap back open, Sawamura's looking at him with a breathless wonder that completely shuts down any mocking comments that might have jumped to Kazuya's lips.
"Eye-catching," Kazuya says again, and he gets to watch Sawamura blush a brilliant red.
This is… nice. Mihashi's fairly calm now: his hand feels warm against Takaya's, and there're no irksome players from big baseball schools around to stir things up again. Despite the slight chill that set in once the sun went down, the weather is pleasant, and the streets are relatively quiet. It's a good night for a walk.
A tug on his hand brings Takaya's attention to the intersection they're approaching, and a glance over shows that Mihashi wants to turn instead of crossing over. Takaya lets himself be directed down the sidewalk until Mihashi comes to a stop in front of a little café with outdoor seating and live music. Mihashi doesn't make a move to go in, but looks at Abe and gestures to the bench just in front of the café. Abe nods and they sit under the streetlight.
Takaya turns his head to watch the musicians before glancing back at Mihashi. The pitcher's eyes have fallen shut and his lips are turned up in a tiny smile. His usual fidgeting has stopped, which makes the night seem still despite the movement around them of cars and pedestrians.
Huh. Maybe music calms Mihashi down. Takaya files that away under ideas for reducing Mihashi's stress levels in the future. He turns over the thought that learning more about Mihashi would be good for their battery. Meeting outside of baseball practice like this and creating more opportunities for interaction might help build their rapport. They've gotten better about communication in the time that they've played together, but practicing more could only help them.
"Is this… okay?"
Takaya looks over at Mihashi, who's blinking at him with that familiar, unsure set to his lips. More than okay, Takaya thinks. "Stopping here was a good choice."
Mihashi flushes at the compliment. "D-does Abe-kun like the music?"
"Among other things." When Mihashi tilts his head curiously, Takaya hurriedly continues, "The weather's good too. And the, um, lights from the karaoke hall."
"Yeah," Mihashi agrees, smiling tentatively. "It's pretty. Do you… want to keep listening?"
"We can stay a little longer, then."
The half-smile transforms into a full one, and Takaya decides that the two of them should do extracurricular communication exercises like this more often. For the good of their battery.
Ren opens a new message from Sawamura after he's back home and tucked into his bed. \Hope you had a good night, and sorry about Miyuki provoking your catcher/
\It's okay! Sorry we left partway. I feel pretty bad about that/
\Nah, it's fine. I'm not sure that Abe-san's impression of me is any better than before, though, haha/
Oh no! Resolving the disagreement between Sawamura and Abe was the reason they'd all gotten dinner together in the first place, and the situation might even be worse now, considering the way they'd left things. Ren bites his lip. \I guess it won't be fixed before the practice game, then/
Sawamura takes a few minutes to respond to that. He could have left to brush his teeth or change into pajamas, but maybe he's lying awake in bed like Ren, thinking about the miscommunication with Abe. Either way, Sawamura finally answers with: \Yeah, probably not, but that's okay for now. You and I can still find another day to hang out, if you wanted to practice together sometime/
That simple reply diffuses some of Ren's worry at the thought of being torn between friends. Maybe Abe and Sawamura don't have to get along right away, as long as it gets sorted out at some point. Ren's sure that Abe will eventually see that Sawamura is a good person, and Sawamura will see that Abe wasn't trying to be mean. Maybe Ren can enjoy hanging out with Sawamura and not feel like he's picking sides.
Sawamura sends another message before Ren can write back. \It might even make the game more interesting if he's mad at me/ Sawamura points out. \I'd like to see Abe bring his A game, after all that you've said about him. I'll still strike him out, though/ Then, another quick text: \You didn't reply about practicing together. Would you wanna do that?/
Ren finally smiles. \I'd like that a lot/
Hit me up on my tumblr (meridiangrimm) if you want to talk about gay baseball players.