Title: ChangeUp – an Ace of Diamond x Sentinel AU story
Author: Silver Dragonfly
Genre: General, Drama
Relationship: Miyuki Kazuya/Sawamura Eijun
Notes: First story in what will hopefully be a larger world build for anime related characters with a sentinel fusion. Written for RoughTrade July 2020 prompt – Sentinel Bonds
Summary: The Last Inning. The Last Out. The stakes had never been higher, and it was the moment Miyuki lived for, and then his world shattered across all five senses. With his career over, his passion lost, and his friends all angry at him; Miyuki must adapt to coming online as a sentinel and the empty place he has been ignoring at his side since high school.
– : Chapter 1 : –
Kazuya breathed in and out slowly, taking in the familiar smells of the locker room. It was early and there were only one or two others in the room with him going through their pre-game preparations. The familiar sounds of sports tape and leg wraps, as well as the smells of rosin, leather, and sports lotions spread into the air. It was nothing new to him at this stage in his life, and yet, there was a new underlying current to everything, a driving need to pay even more attention to the heartbeat and breathing of his teammates. He breathed out slowly, letting the urge go with the breath. He’d come too far to let paranoia control him now.
We are Challengers!
The memory almost staggered him where he sat on the bench in front of his locker. He hadn’t thought about his high school baseball team in months… liar… he almost sighed. In truth, there were too many parallels in his current team to the team from his first year of high school, and it was driving his own need to protect and push this team to their best to a near manic degree. It was fortunate that none of his old high school teammates who had made it to the professional leagues with him were actually on his team now, or he was certain they would have recognized certain patterns. His managers, at least, had no complaints. They were here at the top, the final game of the Japan Championship Series despite a terrible start earlier in the season.
The scrape of a metal cleat on a wooden bench drew his attention as his focus zeroed in on the sound; his mind racing to every other time he’d heard the sound of cleats on wood and the memories associated with them.
“…yuki-san, are you all right?”
Kazuya blinked slowly and turned slightly to look up at Takeshi Ren, one of the team’s starting pitchers, who looked at him a little worried. “Ah, just meditating before game time. Don’t forget to properly warm-up that shoulder of yours.”
Takeshi scowled at him, “I’ve been pitching since grade-school, Miyuki, I know how to warm up!” he snarled, the pressures of the coming game making themselves known.
Kazuya only smirked, “And yet you nearly pulled it two weeks ago…”
Takeshi only glared and then stalked away, leaving Miyuki to himself once more. Seemed like his old habits were as effective as ever.
“Antagonizing the Bullpen already, Miyuki-san?”
Kazuya let out a quiet sigh, “Of course, Himuro-san, it would make them anxious if I did otherwise.”
The older man laughed softly at that. “There is some truth to that. Just take care of them and the rest of the team as always, Miyuki-san.”
Kazuya froze momentarily in surprise at the respect and trust that statement showed from the old coach. “Should I be worried, Himuro-san?”
The elder man shook his head, “We know the pressure you’ve been under with the end of the season, the Japan Series Championship, and your contract being up for review. There has been some concern about your focus slipping. Several of the team have noticed you looking far more distracted than usual as of late. Just focus on this game today, Miyuki.”
Kazuya frowned, irritated. He had thought he had been keeping the strange spikes in his senses hidden and under control. Apparently, they’d been more noticeable than he had realized. Now he was a risk to the team with his distraction, he’d have to put even more focus into today to make up for it. “Of course, sir, you and the team always have my best.”
The Bullpen coach gave him one more nod in acknowledgment, then moved on to check on others in the locker room. Miyuki watched him for a moment before reaching into his locker to finish gearing up, he’d already lost precious time and he had a game to focus on.
“You can’t play baseball by yourself!”
Kazuya frowned, pausing as he pulled out his jersey. The familiar number 2 blazed across its back, an echo to his memory. That was twice now that long-forgotten memories had surged forward from the team he had chosen to forget about. He shoved the memory of the partner he’d waited for, that had never joined him after their graduation, back into the past where it belonged with the rest of Seido. The Hawks needed his focus today, not a catcher lost in his senses and past-game memories.
Kazuya refrained from reacting outwardly as the batter from the Carps shed his batting gear and walked to first. This was not the situation they had wanted to be in. It was the bottom of the ninth and the Hawks were only up by one run. They could not afford to let a runner advance. Furthermore, they only had one out and Takeshi was starting to lose his edge. Letting the Carps draw this out further was also not an option, as their relief pitcher had suffered a sprain during the previous game of the series. Takeshi met his gaze steadily from the pitching mound. The man knew the stakes and was good under pressure. That wasn’t the question, it was if his shoulder would hold up.
Kazuya eyed the next batter as he approached the box and settled into his own position. They would be looking to advance the runner without taking an out if they could help it.
I just throw regular old fastballs!
Not. Now. He couldn’t afford to have a sensory spike now, and memories of a past practice would not help the current game. Kazuya growled to himself… although, while Takeshi didn’t have a naturally moving pitch, he could reliably hit that inside edge with his slider. They’d have to try to jam the batter and go for the double. Kazuya made the call and smirked when Takeshi nodded without any hesitation.
The pitch sang through the air. The bat swung, but the ball was already tucked neatly in his mitt.
Kazuya called for the next pitch, outside, high and straight. There was a sharp clang as the bat clipped the ball but shot off high and past the foul line.
Not quite what they wanted, but he’d take it. Next pitch, another Slider. The batter slid forward suddenly and tapped the ball in a perfect baseline bunt. Kazuya leaped up to cover home as Takeshi sprinted forward and scooped up the ball, tossing it right to Kazuya. His focus zeroed into that one moment as his grip shifted automatically from muscle memory on the ball. His stance shifted to give proper leverage and power, and then he followed through with motion and threw it with all the speed of a pitcher’s arm to second. The ball reached the second baseman’s mitt with an audible thump all of seconds before the runner who slid into second base. In one smooth motion, the runner on second was tagged out as the second baseman turned that motion into a fast throw that saw the ball to the first baseman’s mitt with a satisfying smack of leather just as the batter slid into first.
“RUNNER OUT.” Came the call from the umpire at second base.
There was a deliberation between the First-base Umpire and the Umpire-in-Chief and then the call was made.
Kazuya let out a slow breath as everything around him expanded in a rush of sensory input. His ears roared with the crowd and the smells of everything was overwhelming: the leather of baseballs and gear, the chalk of the infield lines, the sandy dirt, the grass of the field, the sweat of the players, the food and booze of the crowd. He looked down at his mitt and the leather stitching as teammates began to swarm around him, but the sounds faded away to nothing, not even the screaming crowd registering anymore, though he knew it was still happening. All he could focus on was the leather of his mitt, the smells, the stitches, the wear of where the ball had connected with the leather thousands of times. Everything came down to that single point of contact in his mitt.
Kazuya came to himself slowly, becoming aware of his surrounding in pieces. There was a soft buzzing hum that was almost soothing and made it easy to ignore anything outside of the current room that he might have otherwise been distracted by. Something that he had noticed was becoming more and more of a problem in his flat and hotel rooms he stayed in. The second thing he noticed was the clean smell, not the sterile-sick-dying smell of a hospital, but just clean. There were no underlying scents of other people waiting to pull at his attention and trigger a sudden migraine. Another issue that had become more frequent. The third was touch. He was comfortable and surprisingly it didn’t require him to be naked to feel that way. More and more fabrics had started to irritate his skin, and he’d been trying various detergents, sometimes it helped, other times he’d been forced to accept it was the fabrics themselves. A major problem when it was sponsorship gear causing the issue that he was under contract to use.
Kazuya opened his eyes slowly, almost afraid that whatever little paradise this seemed to be would vanish as soon as he did so. The lights were dimmed to a very minimal soft glow. He breathed out softly in relief. Light sensitivity had been another, while not exactly new, more frequent and intense problem in the last few months. He scanned the room he was in slowly. The walls were a neutral tone, some soft shade of gray, and the bedding he was in matched the theme in a sort of off-white cream that was soft to the touch and made of natural, not synthetic fibers. He thought the lounge pants and shirt he wore were likely made of similar fabrics. He looked to his side and frowned, spotting familiar, black-framed glasses resting on the bedside table. He stared at them in perfect clarity. His eyesight had been terrible for anything for as long as he could remember, but for the first time, he did not feel a need to put on the familiar frames the second he awoke.
The facts were adding up and he didn’t like the answer. He’d been avoiding the answer for months.
There was a soft woof drawing Kazuya’s attention away from the frames, and he frowned at the golden Shiba-inu that had not been there a few moments previously. The dog had no smell, no sound of a heartbeat, but there was a familiarity to his presence. Liquid brown eyes met his own and seemed to try to convey reassurance as the dog padded closer to his bed and sat down; its tail wagging gently as it gave a doggy grin. Kazuya frowned as he considered the animal, knowing that he didn’t belong to him, but feeling a sense of reassurance and safety from the dog, regardless. Kazuya finally let out a long sigh. This was it then, there was no hiding anymore. His eyes swept over the rather sparse, but neutral and clean room once more. An isolation room he assumed, exactly where, he didn’t know, but most likely one of the Sanctuaries in Tokyo.
He’d come online. There was no more hiding the fact. He glanced up at a sharp but quiet bark. There at the foot of his bed perched an all too familiar furry form. Kazuya narrowed his eyes at the furry face that almost seemed to mock him as his own eyes were now absent their traditional black frames. He sighed then as the small creature inched closer, nose quivering. “I suppose it’s only fitting I’m stuck with you.”
He met the dark brown, nearly black eyes amidst nearly as black fur and smirked, “Sanzoku, eh? Why am I not surprised.” All those years his teammates had called him a tanuki, the fact that his spirit guardian was one really wasn’t all that surprising.
Next to them, the Shiba-inu woofed in agreement, a canine grin on his face. Kazuya couldn’t help but give a soft smile back. “You, however, are a mystery, though I seem to recall you showing up at the Stadium before everything just kind of went white.”
A wagging tail was the only answer.
A soft chime drew his focus toward the door. If he focused now, he could hear the sounds past the well-insulated door and what he was sure was a white noise generator to the sound of an unknown person’s breathing and heartbeat. They spoke softly from outside the door.
“May I come in, Miyuki-san? We have much to talk about.”
– : Chapter 2 : –
Kazuya learned quickly, just how much about sentinels and guides he had been avoiding learning previously. All his recent struggles with focus had been minor zone-outs that he had managed to bring himself out of. Something he also learned was that he was very lucky he’d been able to do without assistance. He had chosen not to mention to his mentors exactly how long they had been going on for (months) instead of the weeks they seemed to expect and was now in the process of learning how to identify what sensory input had likely triggered them, as they were likely to be sources of zone outs again in the future. Then there were the exercises he’d have to start doing to train his control on his senses, so they didn’t control him. Not to mention all the little daily life things he’d have to be more aware of that were likely to cause him problems regarding his extra sensitivity. The locker-room was going to be a sensory land-mine. It was no wonder he’d been struggling there most of all.
These were just the obvious personal things. Beyond that, there was all of what the sentinel and guide community offered and seemed to expect him to just jump into. It had been carefully explained to him how, while not all but most, sentinels and guides fell into one of four major callings: Guardians, Wardens, Pathfinders, and Shamans. Each calling had its own sub-grouping of likely jobs and careers that tended to fit under that group, and all served both the mundane and the sentinel and guide community.
However, nowhere, among any of these callings, were there professional sports players. It just wasn’t in the normal scope of careers for sentinels and guides. Kazuya understood that—had always understood that on some instinctive level that his chosen career, as much as he loved the game, had no need for a sentinel’s enhanced senses and the abilities they brought with them. He was a sentinel. Had he not played the position of catcher defending home plate, had he not had the responsibilities of looking after the bullpen and his pitchers… as much as he loved baseball, loved the game, he knew deep down in a part of himself that he was only barely beginning to accept and acknowledge now, that it would not have held nearly the same all-consuming spark of interest for him. So where did this leave him now? Baseball was his life, his past, his future? Nothing that The International Federation of Sentinels and Guides or IFSG was offering him so far resonated.
This didn’t even touch on the bonds. He had none. He wanted none. He felt no need for familial bonds. Had never really even had the mundane variety much growing up since his mother had passed away when he was eight. Not even a temporary anchor bond with a mentor to help him ground his senses while he learned the needed control. To let someone that close when they would just leave him when the assignment was over? No. Better to learn to do without from the start. The so-called more common bond between sentinels and guides, the partner bond, he couldn’t even imagine. The only … no, he wouldn’t think on that, that would just make the ache in his chest that he had managed to suppress for all these years swell once more. The less-common soul bond he doubted he’d ever need. Those were rare, and only the highest level of sentinels and guides needed them. He wanted no part of that nonsense; he hadn’t even wanted to be a sentinel in the first place.
A partner… that chance had come and gone. He wouldn’t dwell on it now or try to replace it with some imitation.
Kazuya looked up from the book he had been reviewing to study the familiar form of his, most of the time, best friend. Today he wasn’t so sure of that status.
“How’d you find me then?”
“I showed up at your team office and made a fuss ‘cause you weren’t answering and had missed our regular bull-shit lunch date. I figured they had you tied up in meetings and you needed a rescue. Imagine my surprise when Himuro actually took the time to tell me you had been admitted to the Tokyo Sanctuary closest to the Tokyo Dome ‘cause you had come online as a sentinel. I didn’t even know you were latent!”
Kazuya sighed, loudly. Then paused as he registered the fact that none of the usual scents that clung to Kuromochi were present. He smelled only like himself. Miyuki caught himself before his mind drifted back into memories of clean, fresh smelling teammates after everyone had used the bath. He ideally wondered for a moment if the bath products the school had provided back then had been sentinel friendly.
Kuromochi growled, then blinked at the soft answering growl. “There is no way that is yours.” He stated flatly, pointing at the golden Shiba-inu that continued to keep Kazuya company daily.
Kazuya arched a single eyebrow, “I didn’t know you could see Spirit Guardians.”
Kuromochi shrugged and raised a hand to scratch the back of his still green hair. “I’m a sensitive, but not actually a latent on either scale. Lets me see them even when they aren’t trying to be seen by the more mundane of us. That doesn’t explain that ball of sunshine that is definitely not a spiritual representation of you, though.” He explained as he settled into a chair across from Kazuya.
Kazuya hummed in consideration while very purposefully not glancing at the dark-furred face that peered down from on top of a row of cupboards at the top of Kuromochi’s head with what was obvious amusement. “I think I’m offended, Mochi.”
Kuromochi glared at him. “Just because I don’t spend every day on a training field with you anymore doesn’t mean I can’t tell when you are trying to pull a fast one. You may think you have kept us all at arm’s length back at Seido, but I know better. Don’t make me start making phone calls. I know you’ve been doing that whole snarky barrier with your current teammates, but you won’t get away with that with me.”
Kazuya eyed his old teammate and friend warily and recognized the threat for the warning it was. He’d probably even call Kominato, or worse… he narrowed his gaze in suspicion. “They made you scrub up and change before coming in here.”
“They didn’t make me do anything,” Kuromochi responded. “I told you I’m a sensitive, that means I’m well aware of what sort of things a newly online sentinel is likely to be bothered by. You’ve been coming online for months, and don’t get me wrong, you’ve hidden it well. Now I know what to look for though, the signs are all there, you stand-offish bastard. You had to have known you were latent since high school at least. Just how long did you think you could hide this? Have you been training your control at all?”
Kazuya glared in irritation, “I didn’t want it, it has no place in my game.” He finally hissed out. The questions a repeat of the ones the well-meaning mentors of The Sanctuary had already been asking him. He had refused to give them a straight answer. Hadn’t wanted to accept their advice or do the exercises. Now, here was someone who he couldn’t brush off stuffing it all back in his face again.
Kuromochi snorted. “Oh, that’s smart, so what, you’ll zone out the first time you walk out onto a field and end up right back here because you are too stubborn to do what’s needed? They offer anchor bonds for a reason, you idiot.”
Kazuya snarled at that. “No! I don’t want anyone forming a bond with me, any bond!”
Kuromochi froze at that. “Miyuki… you know that—”
“No. I’ll learn the exercises. I’ll get control. But no bonds.”
Kuromochi cursed as Kazuya’s spirit guardian leaped down off the cupboard just past Mochi’s head to land on the nearby table and crawl over to Kazuya, then climb up and perch on his shoulders and turn to glare with him at Kuromochi. He barely noticed when the still unknown, but present Shiba-inu joined his side.
“A tanuki, that makes so much sense,” Kuromochi stated, his voice strained. He looked between the Shiba-inu and Kazuya once more. “Have you talked to Sawamura recently?”
Kazuya’s mood soured further. “I think it’s time you left, Kuromochi.”
“Still? It’s been how many years now? You know it might be time you finally asked him instead of just being pissed.” Kuromochi snarked but stood from his seat. “You will regret it if you never do, you know that, right?”
“Don’t make me call security to have them remove you.” Kazuya almost hissed.
“All right, all right. No need to start spitting at me.” Kuromochi turned and headed for the door. “I worry about you, despite your bad personality you asshole. Just think about it.”
With those final words, he left the small room and a seething sentinel behind.
“You know we are only trying to help you, Miyuki-san.” The soft-spoken mentor whose name Kazuya had refused to remember in an act of pettiness softly chided him. He hadn’t wanted to know anything about her; she offered him an anchor bond that first day and he couldn’t shake the worry that as soon as his guard was down, the bond would be there.
“Then let me practice,” Kazuya said blandly. “It’s not like these two wouldn’t alert you to a problem.” He added gesturing meaningfully to both his spirit guardian who seemed to enjoy sneaking up on others and the ever-constant presence of the mysterious Shiba-inu. That was a mystery in and of itself as those at the center didn’t seem to question the second guardian’s presence, some even seemed to recognize him, but no one interfered with his constant presence with Kazuya.
“Miyu-san is just confused by your refusal of an anchor to support you, Miyuki-san.” Another voice chimed in. “She’s also a bit of a fan, so you’ll have to excuse her enthusiasm.”
“Kuwabara-san!” Miyu hissed in admonishment at the new arrival and what Kazuya could recognize as embarrassment flushed her features.
“That’s Pathfinder Shizuru if you don’t mind, I’ve never liked going by the family name. Suits my bull-headed brother more.” The woman replied with a somewhat scolding but amused tone in her voice. “Guardian Akihito has requested your assistance in the meditation rooms, Mentor Miyu-san.”
The younger woman huffed but rose from her chair. “I leave you in Pathfinder Shizuru’s care, Miyuki-san.”
Kazuya eyed the newcomer, catching the smell of some herbal incense from her. It was subtle, but a stronger scent than anything else he’d picked up from the various staff working at the Sanctuary. She was dressed in a sort of lazy business casual that would let her be at ease in various settings. She reminded him of Rei Takashima, the woman responsible for scouting him to Seido as a child. Between this and her mannerisms so far, he suspected he was going to either like, or hate this tall brunette.
“So, Miyuki Kazuya, All-Star Catcher of the Softbank Hawks, rumored to be MVP for the third-year running and closet online sentinel. How’s that working out for you?” The woman asked, her tone offering no real impressions other than perhaps general amusement.
Kazuya eyed her carefully, “Shouldn’t you introduce yourself?”
“You didn’t hear Mentor Miyu-san? Or are you just trying to dodge the question, Mr. Pretty-boy Catcher?”
Kazuya snorted. He hadn’t been called that to his face in years. He’d made it clear to his university teammates that he had no intention of letting them barter anything on his looks, and so had left the nickname behind with Seido, or so he thought. “I have no intention of giving everything I’ve worked so hard for up just because I’m suddenly smelling and hearing a bit more than usual.” He finally offered in reply.
The woman sitting across from him smiled, “No one is asking you to, Miyuki-san. You remind me a lot of my brother, too headstrong for his good, heart of gold but a complete knucklehead.”
Kazuya scowled, “I don’t think you will find anyone willing to be so kind in their description of me, Pathfinder Shizuru, was it? Just what do you do exactly, anyway?”
“Guide lost souls.” She replied evenly, laughing lightly at his unamused expression. “And you just might be surprised what your friends and associates would say, Sentinel Miyuki. You’ve been on our watch list for a long time, despite your attempts to keep your latent status and progression into online status hidden. Just take that golden boy there, for example, he hasn’t left your side once since he first appeared at your side in the stadium. His guide is the one who reported your official change in status and alerted the Sanctuary here in Bunkyo-Tokyo to respond so quickly.”
“Who does he belong to?” Kazuya asked, a ball of dread filling him.
“Not so fast, Hot-Shot.” She responded, scoldingly. “His guide sent him to help you but has chosen to not be involved directly otherwise. Something about not influencing your choices in any way. Personally, I think it’s nonsense and you could probably use a good kick in the backside for being so stubborn about doing what’s for your own good. Generally, that being accepting some help. However, he’s a well-respected member of the community and the IFSG is respecting his wishes on this matter. It will be up to you to seek him out once you’ve got yourself untangled, if you so wish.”
Kazuya snorted. “What is he, some kind of hermit?”
Pathfinder Shizuru snorted, “No, but I could probably introduce you to a mystic who is if you like? She could kick your ass just as easily if required.”
Kazuya eyed her warily, “I’ll pass. Just what makes you think I’ve been so adamant about refusing help. I’ve been reading the material and working on the exercises.”
“And zoning, or near enough to put yourself in distress and start worrying all the Guides on location. Your issues with even a basic anchor bond for training and medical reasons are hurting you, Miyuki. Hell, you haven’t even noticed that I’ve been anchoring you since I sat down, which has in turn allowed you to relax and not zone on the scent of my herbals.”
Kazuya stiffened in a sudden near-panic as he mentally tried to identify the tether that was this bond, wanting it gone as quickly as possible. Yet, he couldn’t feel it, nothing had noticeably changed.
Shizuru arched an eyebrow at him, “Just what did you think an anchor bond would do?”
Kazuya glared at her. “I don’t want it.”
“Tough, you need to start with these steps to help you find your balance, so you know where your edges are, Miyuki. I can promise I nor any other Pathfinder or Mentor who works with you will impose no further than that. Consider us nothing more than the level helping you measure when things are tipping too far out of balance one way or the other before you reach zone out risk. That’s it, nothing more. We aren’t here to control you or impose upon your free will.”
Kazuya nearly snarled. Sanzoku leaped up onto the table fur bristling, agitated. However, it was the unnamed Shiba-inu who whined at him and nosed his arm that managed to break the building fear and rage at what the guide was pushing him into.
Kazuya glanced down at the guardian spirit who gave him a canine grin and wagged his tail hopefully. “Do you at least know his name?”
Shizuru relaxed in her chair across from him, “Sorry, Hot-Shot, Guardian Spirit names are personal, and if I do know it, I’m not at liberty to share it.”
“And what about when I leave and no longer have such easy access to any of you for your—” he caught himself before he said something that would likely be unforgivably rude. It was not her or any of the other guides’ fault that he had come online, he knew that, and yet… “I refuse to become dependent on others for something I should not need for daily function.”
“You are fortunate you haven’t been testing in the higher sensitivity ranges. While we have no official hierarchy or power rankings among sentinels and guides, the strength of a sentinels sensitivity range and a guides empathy often impact their ability to function without the bonds you are so adamant against.” Shizuru offered. “We can help you get on your own two feet again, Miyuki-san, just give us a little trust.” She offered with a smirk, laughter in her chocolate-colored eyes. “I’ll even make sure we keep the fangirls like Mentor Miyu-san at bay in the future.”
Kazuya didn’t like it at all. He hated it, in fact. However, he knew he needed to get these senses under control if he ever wanted a chance of playing again, not to mention have control of his normal daily life. “Fine; when do we start.”
– : Chapter 3 : –
Kazuya’s progress on training his sentinel-enhanced senses was hard-fought, painful, and taking far longer than he had ever expected.
It wasn’t learning to visualize the dials and adjust the senses themselves that had made it hard. It had been learning what scents, sounds, even some textures, and fabrics were likely to trigger allergic-type reactions and zone out symptoms. Almost everything related to his career and baseball. None of the industry-standard equipment and products had ever been tested or produced to be sentinel friendly. The worst had been discovering the leather that made up his catcher’s mitt now almost immediately caused his skin to start to redden. Whatever chemicals it had been treated with, because it sure wasn’t the leather itself, did not agree with his skin at all. He had to wear a specially fitted under-glove of natural fibers, non-standard as all his usual athletic gear was of synthetic make. The synthetic fibers and his mitt caused a rash on his skin if he didn’t use the natural fibers as a buffer. Regarding the rest of his usual athletic clothing, the smells and feel of them had been an immediate no even if they didn’t cause a rash.
He’d learned another hard lesson on sorting through some of his gear when he’d picked up a rosin bag that had been buried in one of the side pouches, and between the feel of the rosin itself and the smell, he’d zoned hard and fast. Pathfinder Shizuru had found and pulled him from the zone the feel and smell had triggered. Her snarky banter had been a relief compared to some other well-meaning Mentor’s patronizing attempts at trying to make him feel better about his reactions to common items from his once daily life. She at least seemed to understand that the situation was just shit, and that was that. He’d later tried to listen to some older games he had previously downloaded on his phone to pass the time, only for the sounds of the game, of a pitch hitting a mitt as a batter was struck out, the sound of a bat striking a ball, and then the roar of a crowd… every sound that meant something to the game he lived for… all of it brought him right back into a zone.
Sanzoku and the still unknown-named Shiba-inu managed to bring him out of that one before any of the Mentors or Pathfinder Guardians assigned to assist him had found him. It had been another lesson in how things had changed and how careful he needed to be. Control would be a daily exercise and challenge in a way he never before had to focus on. It would have to become second nature before he could begin to hope things would ever be remotely normal again. It had left him feeling caustic and irritated with everyone.
“All right, Miyuki-san, this should be the last of the paperwork we need to do for the leave of absence related to your coming online as a sentinel.” The lawyer who had been working with Kazuya on his legal paperwork stated as he slid the final stack of papers with conveniently flagged boxes to initial and lines to sign. The lanky man was tall and wore his dark auburn hair pulled back in an old-fashioned warrior’s tail that was in complete contrast to his easy-going demeanor. Nothing like what Kazuya had come to expect from contract lawyers in the past. There was none of the greed or arrogance, just an easy polish, and comfortable presence. Kazuya set the pen down and leaned back in his chair across from the conference table they had been using as he finished filling in the last blank. “Legally, they can’t touch you. If they try to force you out in any other way, you contact me immediately. We protect our own, and the decision on how to proceed with your pre-online career is one hundred percent yours.” The lawyer continued as he accepted the signed paperwork back from Kazuya.
“I appreciate all of this, Warden Gojyo-san. I didn’t anticipate how long it would take me to get my senses sorted out.” Kazuya said with a smile at the lawyer who also happened to be a guide and fell into the classification known as Warden in the IFSG. The man known as Gojyo Kenji had already been a law student when he had come online as a guide; and so, had simply shifted his focus from general business and contract law to all contract law as it pertained to sentinels and guides. He was both highly specialized and broadly generalized in his focus and worked with many others of the Warden classification when it came to protecting sentinels and guides in the eyes of the law. Whether that meant protecting sentinels and guides from the law itself, or sometimes even protecting the law from sentinels and guides themselves, within reason of course. “Some laws just deserve to be attacked,” Warden Gojyo had explained.
“You and quite a few others in the last several months have had to adapt. I imagine your coming online was hastened along by that major empathic event that was identified as being centered near Tokyo Tower last summer. I haven’t heard if they identified the source of the event, but whoever that poor sentinel was, she was in enough distress for all of Japan and a good chunk of eastern Asia and the western Pacific to feel it, both sentinels and guides alike. It’s a miracle that more haven’t come online all at once from exposure to it alone. Instead, it seems that more are pulled along in natural progression like yourself, if anything. Those who were already close to coming online seem to have been the most impacted. Distance from the epicenter of the event seems to have had some effect as well.”
Kazuya frowned, he remembered the event vaguely as there had been a huge blackout across Tokyo and then he’d had suffered the worst migraine of his life. “Will I be vulnerable to such events again in the future?”
Gojyo paused in his paper filing, “You’ll at least be aware of what’s happening, and your shields will offer you some protection for certain. An event of that scale, however, affects us all.”
Kazuya nodded, accepting the answer. He had sensed a few small breakdowns of some newer guides in the Sanctuary as they struggled to learn control, so he understood a bit of what the other man meant.
An envelope was slid across the table to him. “And here’s what you asked for. There was some concern if you were truly ready and we wanted to make sure you wouldn’t be bothered by press and such. Pathfinder Shizuru agreed, however, and told the rest to simply quit being overprotective busy bodies in her usual fashion.”
Kazuya smirked at that.
He’d been working hard the last four months and knew he had started to finally get a solid handle on his control and senses. He knew now when one of the Mentors or Pathfinders was offering him an anchor, and his personal shields were strong enough to let it slide off. No unwanted intrusions allowed, it put him at ease in their presence in a way he hadn’t been before, despite finally accepting the help he hadn’t wanted to admit needing. He’d also been learning quite a bit on the side about the integration of the Sanctuaries in society and what the sentinel and guide community actually did with mundane communities and had been often surprised at where and how the communities crossed.
Now, however, he was going to see a baseball game, special VIP sentinel-friendly viewing box, and all.
It was a test all of its own, but Chris was playing and so it was also something he was just plain looking forward to.
Kazuya had never really appreciated the sentinel friendly VIP boxes that the various stadiums had all implemented nearly a decade ago until now. He didn’t remember what it was that had triggered their implementation, but he understood now why it was so important for them to exist at sporting events and any other stadium like venues that hoped to have sentinels be part of the events being hosted there. Even with the heavy insulation and the specialized private announcer feed that could be turned on or off as needed or desired, the press of sound was still almost overwhelming. He considered for a moment what it must be like for those supposed ‘high-level’ sentinels that Pathfinder Shizuru had alluded to in that first meeting. He felt for the first time he might just understand why a bond to a guide who could add an extra buffering layer so naturally might just be so attractive. Yet that was not why he was here.
He sat down quietly in one of the chairs at the front of the box and watched quietly as the game played out. As his control adapted even further, he was slowly able to filter out the crowd just as he always had, his focus narrowing the players and the game itself.
Kazuya watched in amusement at first as he spotted the tells between catcher and pitcher. Almost heard their heartbeats, the anticipation before the pitches and the batter’s swing, strike, or hit. Then he realized something further. He could read the batters just as if he was sitting in the catcher’s box, no it was both better and worse. The longer the game progressed, the more every movement each player made he could read as if they were telegraphing it to him intentionally. He could only imagine it would be worse with his own team, whose movements he already knew so well, or with opponents he had studied. All his hard work on game preparation, while still important, now seemed underwhelming compared to what he could pick up just sitting here and watching from a view that should not give him such visibility of the players. Not with the naked eye at the very least.
A feeling of dread began to swell and fill his chest. Kazuya hadn’t expected this. His game, his career, everything he had worked so hard for, it was gone. Nothing was the same. Nothing could or would be, and he had been deluding himself in his hopes it might with practice and control. He fought off the creeping feeling of a zone as he pulled out his phone to send Chris a message apologizing but canceling on their planned post-game meet up. Message sent he rose to his feet and quickly exited doing his best to drop his senses down as low as he could to avoid any further triggers that might pull him closer to a zone as he all but fled the stadium.
It was over. He’d lost baseball.
It was another three weeks after he had attended Chris’s game before Kazuya showed up at the practice field for the Softbank Hawks. He had managed to keep up his own training regime in the gym at least, even if he had not kept up on actual field or batting practice. He had given a lot of thought to how he wanted to approach this day, and some special preparation had been required in gear and materials. He had even graciously accepted to have Pathfinder Shizuru come and lurk in the stands, “Just in case you need a kick-ass rescue.” As she put it.
Kazuya strolled into the bullpen locker room and immediately dialed his sense down to almost nothing. He had been right about the room being a sensory land mine.
“Miyuki! Welcome back!”
Kazuya almost wanted to turn around and walk out. The air itself seemed to vibrate with their calls despite his quick adjustments to his hearing, and he adjusted his sense of touch as well in the event of friendly back slaps and hugs. After a moment he was able to relax slightly and give his trademark smirk, “So I hope you all haven’t been slacking.” He almost cackled at the sudden look of panic that filtered across several faces.
Good. He hadn’t been gone long enough to lose that edge then.
“I won’t be catching for any of you lot today, but I expect to see all your paces.”
Himuro Daiki, the bullpen coach, approached him with a smile on his face. “It’s good to see you, Miyuki-san. Have you been in to see the management yet?”
Kazuya simply gave him a grin that had once earned him a comment from a reporter along the lines of him being a shark with blood in the water.
Himuro shook his head, amused. “So, we can expect the usual fussing once they catch on that you are here. I assume you have something in mind, then.”
Kazuya only shrugged. It was true, and he did plan to give a bit of show. He was pretty sure it would only solidify his plan of action rather than change his mind, but he had to at least physically try it out before he could truly decide. “You know me, Himuro-taicho, have to keep everyone on their toes.”
Kazuya watched over them all as the catchers put the pitchers through their paces. They were working well together, he noticed, and he felt some of his anxiety ease just a bit. He had done a lot in the five years he had been working with the Hawks to raise the standards of their pitchers and catchers and the batteries they could form. Just as everyone was starting to look good and warmed up, he finished his own set of stretches and grinned sharply once more at Himuro, who had continued to keep an eye on him. It seemed to take both an incredibly long time, and yet no time at all before the group of pitchers and catchers that made up the Hawks bullpen roster was gathered and had moved out from warm-ups to the standard practice bullpen itself.
“All right you lot, I’ve had no batting practice as of late and I think it’s time we change that. How do you all feel about trying to make me miss a few?” Kazuya asked with an easy smile and then headed over to the waiting rack of bats to make his selection, knowing they would quickly sort out who would go first.
“Are you kidding?”
“A chance to take out our MVP!”
“You sure you’ve warmed up enough for all that swinging you’ll be doing, Miyuki!”
Kazuya only let his smile slide into a smirk as he pulled gear out of his bag and pulled out the specialized cap to wear with his usual batting helmet.
“No glasses, you going to be able to even see the pitch, Miyuki?”
Kazuya’s smile turned sharper. Oh, he’d see it all right. “You just worry about making sure you listen to your catcher’s calls, Takeshi!” Kazuya snarked back. He’d seen the often-temperamental pitcher trying to push his teammate around, even during the warm-ups.
He waved over Nagisa Ishigaki, his fellow catcher, as he hefted his bat. “Why are you letting Takeshi get away with that crap?” Kazuya demanded.
Ishigaki chuckled, “He only started it since you showed up, he’s been almost a perfect angel since the Championship.”
Kazuya snorted. “Well, don’t let him start now or he’ll never stop.”
Ishigaki nodded and gave a brief salute before heading out onto the field while Takeshi scowled at them both in turn.
With that resolved, Kazuya stepped up from the on-deck position and toward the batter’s box. He noticed only briefly from the edge of his vision that Pathfinder Shizuru and Warden Gojyo both were sitting at ease in the stands. Good, he was glad the Warden had been able to make it: he had a feeling he would need the man’s legal expertise before this was done. Right now, though, he had some balls to send flying.
“Are you certain this is what you want, Miyuki-san?” the Softbank Hawks team manager Kumo Mikisayu asked after Kazuya had finalized his signature, and then passed the final resignation paperwork to Warden Gojyo to notarize on his behalf.
Kazuya met the older man’s earnest gaze and saw eyes that like his own loved the sport. “You saw what happened on the field today, Kumo-san? I would make a mockery of the game. I love it too much to start hating it now, and I would start to hate it if I kept trying to play it as I am now while pretending nothing has changed. All my experience and skills of observation in relation to the game combined with my ability as a sentinel… it was never meant to be.”
Kumo stared at him steadily for several long minutes as several of the assistant managers seemed anxious to voice their own thoughts behind him, but the man had silenced them early in the meeting. As excited as many of them had gotten after watching Miyuki send every pitch their pitchers had sent at him, both good and bad, out into the depths of the outfield or beyond, a few of the analysts and Kudo himself seemed to realize what it had truly meant when Miyuki had asked for this meeting so quickly afterward.
“We shall miss watching you play. It has always been a joy. I in particular have enjoyed watching your career unfold since your early days at Seido.” Kumo smiled, “I’ll be leaving to break the news to the rest. Do not fret about being bothered by them, I will see to it they remember the way things are handled.” Kumo then stood and offered a respectful bow. “Go with honor, Sentinel Miyuki, and may your hunts be successful.”
The rest of the room fell into stunned silence. It was a traditional message to give a sentinel, but it was not what Kazuya had expected to hear and he stared in shock as a man he was sure had borderline hated him left the room.
Kazuya sighed as Shizuru stepped up from where she had been leaning against a nearby wall. “Funny how that works. Now you just have to take the next step forward.”
– : Chapter 4 : –
Kazuya retreated to the Sanctuary as he focused on trying to find his next steps.
After graduating from Seido Private High School, he had accepted a scholarship for baseball at Meiji University in Tokyo, leaving behind friends and teammates. He had met some of them again on the field as opponents, though few from Seido of his age group had gone on into the university leagues. (The most important one was missing, had never appeared, and he stopped caring who came from Seido after that.) Kazuya had completed his bachelor’s degree in Sports Management with a side focus on Analytics and been drafted by the Softbank Hawks at the end of his University career. Kazuya had felt that his degree choice was something he could turn more business-oriented and apply to his family’s owned business of Miyuki Steel if necessary. Now, with instincts of his sentinel brought to light, he wasn’t so sure it suited his needs, and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do about it.
He’d been surprised to find that those who tended to work in trade skills and academics were often considered Pathfinders. Those who found their path and followed it to the end sometimes shared it with others or would guide others along it as needed. This is what defined the classification above all else. The Warden classification after further study, he’d learned, were mostly those who felt a need to be of service. Be it military, police work, emergency, or public services, they all tended to find homes in civic duties of one sort or another. His paternal grandfather, also a sentinel, had been a Warden in the Japanese Military.
The Shaman classification both did and did not surprise him. It consisted of all the sentinels and guides who were trained in healing and caring for the gifts of their fellow sentinels and guides. This ranged from those with full PHDs in modern medicine of all types; to those who specialized in the empathic and sensory gifts that were specific to the sentinels and guides. Some even also seemed to continue the more classical shaman and cleric route. Pathfinder Shizuru had only laughed when he had asked about it and explained that compared to some parts of the world Japan, in particular, saw a lot of weird shit. Those who lived the day-to-day lives of the ‘clerical’ professions, as he had put it, found it very easy to put things in a way that set the general population at ease. It seemed to be their innate gift. Her own brother, while not a sentinel or guide, was actually a spiritual fighter, and it was exposure to some of the crap he and his associates always seemed to get drawn into that had in turn helped awaken her guide gifts.
None of this, however, helped him decide what he wanted to do next.
“Why don’t you just go back to school? Get your master’s? It’s one of the things on your list, isn’t it?” Another one of the Mentors had asked him when he had been sitting out in the courtyard with his list of ideas, just trying to find inspiration. “Oh, and you need to start answering your calls. The reception desk is getting tired of the politely veiled threats from someone called Kominato Ryuusuke, who keeps saying they really aren’t threats, but that you won’t take them seriously if they don’t state things that way?”
Kazuya winced. That meant Kuromochi was tired of him ignoring his calls and was starting to call in troops.
“You should really know better than to antagonize Kominato by now, Miyuki.” A familiar voice spoke up from behind him.
Kazuya turned quickly, stunned surprise flickering across his features as he recognized both the speaker and the man standing beside him. “Chris-san and Tetsuya-san, what are you doing here?”
“We heard you were shutting everyone out—again,” Tetsuya stated in a voice that immediately brought Kazuya back to memories of his second year at Seido when he had first been placed on the first string. “I thought we trained that out of you in Seido. What are you doing falling back into such bad habits?”
A bright and sharp bark of agreement followed his high school team captain’s statement.
Kazuya frowned at the Shiba-inu guardian, “I thought you were on my side.” The canine guardian whined and slipped over to sit by Kazuya’s side, tail still wagging.
“He knows when you are being foolish.” Chris offered in amusement.
Kazuya considered the other man, “You can’t see him.”
Chris chuckled, “No, but I’ve been around enough sentinels and guides to recognize the signs of a spirit guide’s presence regardless. That and Kuromochi may have mentioned your recent loyal companion.”
Kazuya snorted. “Mochi never could keep a secret.”
“A secret no, but loyal to his friends, yes,” Tetsuya added.
His mellow tone as always soothed Kazuya despite his annoyance at being called out on his behavior. If only they knew the full truth of it, then he’d really be in for it.
Kazuya sighed loudly, “Would you two like to take a seat?”
“Actually, we were hoping you would come on a field trip with us?”
Kazuya blinked in surprise, “A field trip?”
“Explain to me again, why you think this Shinshu University, in Nagano of all places, would be a good place for me to study for my master’s? You realize I haven’t even decided what I want to focus my master’s on at this point?” Kazuya grumbled from where he sat on the train next to Chris with Tetsu across from him. They’d surprised him. Both with the suggestion of the trip itself and with the readily made travel plans and tickets. He’d been even more pleasantly surprised after having verified that the carriage was cleared for sentinels and would not likely cause him any stress.
“We’ve known you wanted to pursue a master’s degree after you stopped playing professionally for years, Miyuki, you told us yourself. It only makes sense to take the time to do so now. As for why Shinshu University, they have been working closely with the IFSG on programs specifically geared for sentinels and guides. They’ve also been doing a lot of improvements on their campus to make it more friendly for those online and latent-sensitive. There was a big series of journal articles about it a few years back about how they were also building a partner campus for younger students who struggled in traditional schools because they came on early, had strong sensitives, or latents who were also to already to empathically sensitive.” Chris offered in explanation.
“How did you two learn about it?”
“You may have not heard, but the year after your left Seido, there was an empathic event that was felt by many guides and those sensitive to it across Japan. It affected a lot of High school and elementary students.” Tetsuya explained. “I learned of several such cases that happened in Seido from my younger brother; the students really struggled.”
“After working so closely with the coaching team my last year at Seido, I stayed in touch with Takashima-san and Kataoka-taicho and heard about it similarly.” Chris offered. “Because it seemed to resonate with younger children in particular, it was kept out of mainstream media, but those of us who had contacts in the schools still heard about it. They’ve had to be that much more aware of those who are already online, latent, and sensitive because of it.”
“Huh, I guess my determination to ignore everything sentinel and guide related was a bit too effective.”
Chris chuckled, “Perhaps just a bit.”
“So, you see, they already had this campus for the latent and online planned, they just broadened the plan to include those who were sensitive and struggling in traditional schools as well. It made the school that much more important, and they stepped up and expanded the programs.” Tetsuya continued the earlier explanation.
“So now they have a University and partnered High School with linked programs specialized for online, latents, and sensitives?” Kazuya asked.
“That’s right. They have quite an extensive range of programs from arts and sports to officer academy courses and even sports programs. All designed to help the students adapt and find what best suits them.” Chris added.
Kazuya wrinkled his nose in distaste, “I have no intention of joining the military.” At his side, Sanzoku chattered at him in laughter.
“No, you’d be more the secret service type I think.” Tetsuya suggested rubbing his chin in thought.
Kazuya glared, “You are joking, right?”
Tetsuya grinned at him, his eyes glinting, “Am I?”
Kazuya leaned back in his seat, both wary and concerned at the feral gleam. He suddenly suspected his old captain was up to mischief.
“Don’t start fretting now, Miyuki, besides have we ever led you astray?” Chris asked calmly.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t answer that.” Tetsuya cut in before Kazuya could speak.
They arrived at the smaller High School campus with little fanfare and were quickly introduced to one of the school’s recruiters. The recruiter, Akagiwa-san, was more than happy to give them a full tour and explain the ins and outs of students who came to attend Shinshou Private High and Junior High Schools. While it had no direct impact on Kazuya, he had to admit he was impressed with what they had set up. Even if he was a little confused why they had stopped here first instead of the University, and so far, every attempt he made to ask was neatly dodged. As their guide moved them out of the academic complex and onto a well-manicured walking path toward a set of sports fields and buildings, he was beginning to suspect a trap may be waiting for him; courtesy of his former Seido teammates.
“And this is our sports complex, where we have facilities for various sporting activities of varied individual and team focused. While our students do not participate officially in the district or national ranking competitions, we have special agreements with many of the top schools who do come here for practice matches in a more controlled environment.”
“Has that been a problem? Kid’s coming online or unable to deal with crowds at events?”
“A bit more than you might expect. Our baseball team’s coach was just such a case.” The woman explained.
“Miyuki here,” Chris said quietly and quickly pressed a catcher’s mitt into Kazuya’s hands. “You better slip that on quick.”
Kazuya stiffened in alarm. His last attempt to handle his own catcher’s mitt had ended very badly with his allergic-like reaction to the chemically treated leather. He moved to shove the mitt back at Chris, then froze, there was none of the itchy burning reaction that had burned in his memory from before. The leather of this mitt was not causing a reaction. He couldn’t help but let out a strained little laugh as he slipped his hand into the glove and immediately worked his fingers into proper place, getting a feel for the mitt, and punched his right hand into the barely marked pocket that would cradle the ball. The glove was well-tended and treated, but barely worn. However, unlike his own well-cared-for mitt, whatever this one had been treated with did not irritate his skin or sense of smell.
“How did you—” before he could finish his question, the familiar sound of cleats digging into dirt caught his attention. Kazuya had just enough time to shift his stance and drop into a catcher’s crouch as he spotted the pitcher’s leg go up while the left arm vanished behind his body on the wind-up. Then the ball sang through the air before landing with a perfect thud in the pocket of his glove. The familiar impact resonated up through his fingers and palm to his arm until he could feel it in the beat of his heart. The heartbeat of the pitcher who had thrown the ball in perfect sync with his own heartbeat, just as it always had been.
“Still one of the best feelings, my pitch connecting with your mitt. Shitty Catcher.”
– : Chapter 5 : –
Kazuya heard both Chris and Tetsuya make excuses and leave with the recruiter, but all he could do was stare at the figure before him. The familiar words and voice still filling his ears like the sound of a tolling bell. The empty hole in his chest that he had struggled against since the day he graduated high school and left Sawamura Eijun behind at Seido flared deep and heavy. It was why he had wanted no bonds, no guide, could not let anyone get close. He could not risk another such empty place, and now the one person that should be filling it stood before him once more. He watched as the unnamed Shiba-inu barked and rushed forward to dance in glee around Sawamura before running back to Kazuya in excitement. Of course, the Shiba-inu belonged to Sawamura. How could it not? His own spirit guardian appeared, a sudden comforting weight on his shoulders, staring but silent. Kazuya continued to stare, saying nothing.
“I hope Kenshin has behaved himself with you,” Sawamura said softly, realizing Kazuya wouldn’t or couldn’t say anything.
With that simple statement, the tension suddenly eased. He finally had a name for the golden Shiba-inu Spirit Guardian who had guarded his side these last several months so faithfully. Then he realized just what that meant. “You have some nerve, sending your Spirit Guardian to guard me without showing your own face.”
Sawamura smirked then, “So, I’ve been told. Come on, Miyuki, let’s go take a walk. I’ve wanted to talk to you about this for years.”
Kazuya eyed the field and sighed. Familiarity, comfort, and misery all rolled into one neat package. He figured Chris and Tetsuya were expecting this and so they would wait as long as needed. “Yeah sure, why not.”
Despite the other brunette’s request for a talk, they remained silent as they walked the field, finally coming to a stop as Sawamura led them into one of the well cared for dugouts. To Kazuya’s interest, he reached up to flip on a couple of switches and a ventilation system and white noise generator kicked in.
“It’s no isolation room, but it should keep our conversation private. Anyone in the area with the ability to listen around that will respect our privacy.” Sawamura explained. “Even if they are terribly curious about me talking to an unknown sentinel. They’ll only be worse once they figure out who you are.”
Kazuya fidgeted with the glove in his hands. “You have a partner, then?” He hadn’t thought he’d detected one, but—
“Of course not, stupid Catcher, don’t you get it?”
Kazuya eyed him carefully. He couldn’t misunderstand this, then. Sawamura Eijun had been hiding from him because he was a guide. Sawamura had sent his Spirit Guardian to Kazuya when he detected Kazuya had come online as a sentinel. He must have been working with Chris and Tetsuya to bring Kazuya here to see him. Here, where he was a baseball coach at a school, instead of traveling himself to Tokyo to see Kazuya.
“Why? Why didn’t you come see me? Why didn’t you call and tell me?” Kazuya’s ears were almost buzzing with the questions. His emotions churned in his chest, and he was sure Sawamura Eijun, a guide himself, could sense it all. His senses were almost straining to drink in as much of the pitcher in as he could. Sight, scent, smell, if he didn’t have the mitt clutched in his hands, he’d probably have to sit on them. He could already feel his lips chapping from licking them.
Sawamura honey golden brown gaze met with Kazuya’s own steadily, not flinching even a tiny bit; just like so often had happened when they had played together as partners, a pitcher-catcher battery, at Seido. It felt like both yesterday and a lifetime ago, and the familiarity, despite his rising anxiety, also set him strangely at ease.
“I came online during my third year at Seido, during the summer tournament. Just before the shoulder injury that took me out for the rest of it. I’m sure you remember hearing about that, but I used it as a cover for dealing with coming online as a guide as well. I had been a latent-sensitive guide since I was young, but that summer during the tournament there was a major empathic event with a young guide who came online that was felt across Japan. It was enough to push me online fully.”
“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me.” Kazuya snipped; he was familiar with the scenario described. It echoed his own experience several years later after all.
“I’m getting to that. Still so bossy!” Sawamura said with a fond smile, then turned serious once more. “Your third year, after the annual testing I heard some of your year-mates ask you about your results, and what you would do if you came online. Your answer still rings clear as anything in my ears to this day. ‘A sentinel has no place in baseball.’ It was the only thing I could think of after I came online and the Mentors started asking if I had any idea who my compatible sentinel might be. I knew, of course; there could be no one else. Not since the day I first met you, but I also knew I could not take that choice from you or force the making of it onto you. So I kept away and told you nothing.”
“You gave up baseball,” Kazuya said pointedly.
Sawamura shrugged. “Not exactly.”
Kazuya didn’t smile but turned his gaze out over the baseball diamond, suddenly relieved that the natural smells of the dirt, chalk, and grass were not things that bothered him even with the dugouts nifty little ventilation system. It was not the multiple practice fields of Seido, but he could see, off to the side, a well-maintained bullpen and indoor practice building as well. “No, not exactly,” He agreed.
It was at that moment that Kazuya’s Spirit Guardian decided to jump up and into Sawamura’s lap, chattering happily as he made himself comfortable. “A tanuki suits you.” Sawamura said quietly.”
“He’s an asshole.”
Sawamura grinned, and Kazuya was reminded of days long past once more. “Definitely suits you.”
“Sanzoku,” Kazuya said quietly, knowing he was smirking but unable to help it. “His name is Sanzoku, and he dive-bombed Kuromochi when he was bothering me.”
Sawamura chuckled at that as he offered the tanuki his fingers to play with. “Good. Kuromochi is a brat.”
Kazuya snorted at that. “I thought that was your job.”
“Yeah, well, he wouldn’t stop whining at me about not calling or contacting you. He just didn’t understand why I couldn’t—wouldn’t do that to you.”
Kazuya glared then at the reminder of the years of silence between them. “And you call me an asshole.”
Sawamura refused to comment further, having already said his piece.
“So what, you called in Chris and Tetsuya? Low-blow, Bakamura.”
“You can call me Eijun, you know.” The guide and high school baseball coach said softly, “You used to, before.”
“Yeah well, that was before you disappeared on me.”
Eijun shifted uncomfortably, but if anything moved closer instead of further away. Their thighs almost touching, but not quite.
“I didn’t call Chris or Tetsuya. I wanted you to come on our own. Kuromochi meddled, again.”
“And just how was I supposed to know to come? I don’t even want a guide!” A sharp whine seemed to escape from Eijun just as a sharp bark in front of him drew his attention to Sawamura’s spirit guardian, Kenshin, who sat before him staring intently at him, distracting him from the sound Eijun had made. Silence held between them for several long heartbeats, and Kazuya wondered if this would truly be the end of it.
“I would have kept waiting, Miyuki Kazuya. As long as it took, forever if that is what you chose, as I said before the choice had to be yours.”
Kazuya felt a tight band constricting in his chest suddenly. “You idiot! How was I to know I was being offered a choice!”
Sawamura just smiled at him and reached forward to tap just above Kazuya’s heart, where Kazuya felt his chest was both aching and swelling at the same time. “You are my sentinel, Miyuki Kazuya. You always have been, you always will be. I knew that when I was latent and sensitive. I accepted that when I chose to go to Seido. Whether you choose to accept me as your guide, that choice is yours and yours alone.”
Just then there was a loud crash from one of the nearby buildings that Kazuya had earlier identified as an indoor practice building.
Sawamura sighed, “I’d better go check on that. Kenshin will stay with you, Kazuya, unless you send him away, and even then, I’ve asked him to listen for your call.”
Kazuya watched him get up and start to walk away. Suddenly, it was like everything just disappeared except for that strong, lithe back he had watched so often before on its way to the mound. Those shoulders that had carried the ace number of their team in Seido and carried so much of their team spirit. Something snapped and Kazuya was suddenly in motion.
With a startled yelp both men tumbled to the grass just past the field fence and Kazuya buried his nose in the space just below Eijun’s ear, breathing deeply of the scent he had been fighting himself on chasing after only moments before. Sunshine, grass, and just Eijun. He shuddered as he felt Eijun’s arms wrap back around him, and Kazuya’s arms tightened around the other man. Palms reaching up to cradle his pitcher’s head and fingers tangling in familiar brown locks. Eijun’s own hands reached up to tangle in Kazuya’s hair and hold onto him in turn. Both of them holding onto each other tightly after years of being too far apart. Eijun’s heartbeat thudded loudly in Kazuya’s ears; the subtle vibrations traveling both as a touch sensation and sound up through Kazuya, despite the fact that he’d been locked on the sound itself since he had caught the first pitch.
“It’s going to be okay, Kazuya, I’m not leaving you. Never again.” Eijun whispered, hands and fingers already rubbing soothing patterns along back and shoulders.
Kazuya gasped as the gaping ache in his chest suddenly filled and bloomed. It was them. It had always been them. There had already been a bond there, and he just hadn’t recognized it—hadn’t realized he already had a partner bond that was shielded from him. A partner who, like himself, was a stubborn idiot. He breathed in another deep breath and let it out slowly, “Moron. You’ve been suffering alone.”
“Hmm, not alone,” Eijun said gently, reaching up to run fingers through Kazuya’s hair. “I’ve always been able to feel you, even if you couldn’t feel me.”
“Cheater,” Kazuya grumbled, kneading his fingers into Eijun’s sides that he knew were ticklish.
Eijun’s voice broke out into deep laughter as he squirmed. “Stop that!”
“Your students are wondering if you need a rescue,” Kazuya whispered, amused, and rested his chin on Eijun’s sternum while staring up at the man he was currently using as a pillow. Honey-gold-brown eyes staring back to meet his own in affection, longing, understanding, and just so much more.
“I’m hoping they’ll be our students,” Eijun said softly.
Kazuya blinked, “I can’t teach.”
Eijun arched an eyebrow, “You helped teach me.”
“I admit, that was mostly Chris!”
“Wherever you want to go, Miyuki Kazuya, I will follow your path if you’ll take me with you,” Eijun said soothingly.
Kazuya let his head fall sideways so his ear rested flush against Eijun’s chest, the sound of his heart beating and his breath moving in and out soothing him further. “I never saw anything past baseball. I always thought I’d end up just moving into coaching and managing the bullpen after the most likely eventuality of a blown-out joint.” He said quietly, grunting when his pitcher’s, no, his guide’s arms tightened like steel around him at the mention of injury. “I was always careful! After seeing what had happened to Chris in high school, I knew better, but it’s still what I expected.”
“Does it have to be a professional team?” Eijun asked softly, though he refused to loosen his grip. “Sounds like you’ve picked up more about sports medicine and training than management to me.”
Kazuya hummed low at that. “Chris’s influence.”
Eijun chuckled. “So, what do you say, Miyuki Kazuya, will you accept this lowly Sawamura Eijun as your guide?”
Kazuya leaned back so he could meet honey-gold eyes once more. He wasn’t sure what stunned him more; the formality of the question, the fact that it sounded just like he had back in high school, or that it just felt right. “You are ridiculous.”
“What is that supposed to mean!” Eijun all but squawked, indignant.
“Everything Eijun, it means everything,” Kazuya whispered and then leaned forward till their noses were barely touching. “Partner. Guide.”
Eijun smiled slowly. “Partner. Sentinel.”
also posted on AO3 – https://archiveofourown.org/works/29477979/chapters/72410931