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1. Kanemaru Shinji

 

Let it be known that despite his generosity and self-sacrifice for the team, that Shinji wouldn’t jump at the chance to babysit Sawamura. Grudgingly he'll admit that Sawamura is his friend, a source of inspiration for the team and him personally (very very personally for Takatsu), and is an irreplaceable member of Seidou's baseball team.

 

But good lord does their personalities clash. Sawamura is a walking, talking (screaming really) open book, who shares anything and everything about himself. He'll talk to anyone who'll listen, and even to those who wouldn't. He has the girls in their class on the palm of his hand, and even people exasperated with the loud-mouthed idiot does so with underlying fondness.

 

And that's because Sawamura's noises have evolved from garbled screams to firm encouragement, well-timed call outs, and something the team looks forward to. The word mood maker was meant for Sawamura Eijun.

 

But again, as much as Shinji appreciates his overall presence, he does so in moderation. Most of the time he'll pass Sawamura to either Kominato his permanent caretaker, or saddle him with Furuya so that he'll have no choice but be Furuya's babysitter.

 

It was Thursday after school that Shinji would regret not fulfilling that very duty. The rain was coming down hard, pelting the classroom window and the clouds overhead cast a dreary atmosphere all around. Even from a glance anyone could tell practice would be canceled until the weather cleared, and that the coaches would assign them light workouts instead. And yet there still exists one moron, who self-proclaimed himself as the harbinger of sunlight, that refused to acknowledge the deteriorating weather.

 

"I," Shinji says, holding out his hand. "Am going to stop you right there. I'm not going to run through the rain to the dorm with you."

 

"But-" Sawamura whines.

 

"No. Nope. Zip it."

 

"But Kanemaru," He drools on anyway. "I'm sure the rain will let up as soon as I step outside! Please, you're the only one I can ask to practice with."

 

Guilt worms in his heart. He knows Sawamura's taken his new responsibilities as Ace very seriously, and that he's been putting every second he has into improving his pitching, batting and fielding. But Shinji thinks back to the pile of laundry he hasn't bothered to wash yet and steeps his heart. He can't afford to soak his last pair of school uniform. He crosses his arm and shakes his head with a sense of finality. "Just wait until it calms down, alright?"

 

Sawamura pouts, before crossing his own arms. "Fine! Be that way! I'll go by myself then."

 

"Oi!" Shinji calls out, but Sawamura's already huffing and puffing his way out of 2-B.

 

Rolling his eyes, Shinji fiddles with his phone to text Tojou, a scowl on his face. "Dumbass. He better borrow an umbrella."

 

Sawamura did not borrow an umbrella.

 

In fact, he ran all the way from the school building to their dorms, screaming as he clutched his school bag and covering himself with only his school jacket.

 

To the surprise of everyone, Sawamura comes down with a cold. 

 

"Is this even possible?" Kuramochi says in mock horror. "Does a disease really exist that can penetrate the age-old plot armor of being an absolute dumbass?"

 

"Eijun," Kominato says gently as he pushes a packet of tissue across the table. "Please don't rub snot all over your shirt."

 

Miyuki rubs the bridge of his nose with a sigh. "Take it as a warning that you're not as invincible as you think you are Ace . Rest up and come back in perfect shape."

 

Sawamura sniffles and blows into his newly acquired tissue.

 

Shinji bites his lip. There it is again, guilt stirring in his stomach. He feels like he's somehow failed the team and his own friend. When everyone disbands from the cafeteria, off to practice on their own, Shinji excuses himself from Tojou to set a warm can of lemon green tea in front of Sawamura.

 

The pitcher blinks up at him in question.

 

Shinji scratches the back of his head with a grunt. "It's what I like to drink when I get sick alright? Unclogs your nose or whatever."

 

Sawamura takes it into his hand with a soft gasp of awe. "Thanks, Kanemaru!"

 

Shinji winces at how rough and cracked his voice is. Sawamura's throat by far received the biggest brunt from his cold. "Yeah yeah, just rest up stupid."

 

Sawamura nods, pressing the can to his cheek. He sighs as the warmth seeps into his skin. "I'm just glad I didn't drag you with me after all. You would've gotten sick too! Sorry, Kanemaru."

 

Ugh. Ugh!

 

Kanemaru clutches his heart. Curse Sawamura's inherent talent of being a swell guy. Who gave him the right to be this good? Someone out there in the world must be pure evil to balance Sawamura's existence.

 

"Just shut up and drink up!" He yells.

 

Sawamura nods vigorously, opening the can and taking small sips until he realizes it fits his palate, as all things not natto, and takes bigger gulps. 

 

"Slow down you'll burn-"

 

"Mm!" Sawamura cries out, poking his tongue out with tears in his eyes. "Kamemaru, I buwned my towngue!"

 

"Tag up!" He yells out loud. "Kominato where the hell are you, take over!"

 

And it begins.

 

Over the next few days, Sawamura's cold is reduced to the occasional sniffle and sneeze. But his sore throat remains stubbornly. Coach Kataoka strictly limits him to half his usual pitch count, no running, and explicit orders to drink vitamins and plenty of fluids.

 

The sore throat has gotten so bad that Sawamura can't even talk properly. When he does it's barely above a whisper and is always scratchy.

 

For a while, that means more peace and quiet than usual. There's no one screaming on top of his lungs about how excited he is for practice, no whoops from the bullpen, no whines, and no yells to use his hips more.

 

There's less fuss all around.

 

And for a while, Shinji relished in it, enjoyed the silence and the way Sawamura had doubled down.

 

But then on Saturday morning, a local high school arranges a doubleheader against the first string. They're not as big as Seidou, and the baseball team has only been established for a few years. By all accounts it would be an easy game that serves to smooth out their overall performance and for the other team to gain experience.

 

And they're losing. They're down one count, but the fact that they could get two runs out of them speaks volumes to their performance today. Coach Kataoka looked tense, and Shinji could already tell the moment the game ended they wouldn't return to their dorms until they caught every single ball the man batted.

 

Furuya had his by now predictable rocky start, but he did his best to stabilize on the second inning. Perhaps high on the opportunity to play such a strong opponent, Hachioji batted through Furuya's pitches with little to no fear. Some were even brave enough to crowd the plate.

 

Even as Miyuki called for the difficult to hit splitter and sliders, one fastball down the middle was enough for a double and a run for the walked batter before him. Their dugout had screamed as if they'd just won a ticket to nationals.

 

Coach Kataoka made Furuya switch Kawakami right after, in hopes they'd get staggered by the pitcher's different form.

 

As if running from a high, their clean up and captain hit a sinker that went too high, ensuing in a one-run homer.

 

Bottom of the seventh inning and they were up to bat. Kawakami tried to smile reassuringly, but they all knew he was disappointed in himself. He held his regained sinker very highly after all. Even Miyuki was quiet as he glanced at the practically glowing Hachioji pitcher and rowdy fielders.

 

The captain turned to him and Tojou, but he couldn't seem to muster the words. Shinji understood how he was after two years together on the same team. Miyuki was sharp with methodical and rigid pitchers, and he could read the plays their opponents wanted to perform within a few innings.

 

But even he couldn't grasp a team spurred with adrenaline and sheer willpower that didn't adhere to logic. Eerily, Shinji is reminded of their game with Ugumori.

 

Shinji was about to offer a half-hearted assurance that he'd definitely get a hit on the plate, but a loud squeaking noise interrupted him.

 

Eyes twitching he turned to see the lone player on the dugout that day that hadn't stepped on the diamond. Sawamura was using a marker to scribble furiously on the whiteboard in his lap. Judging by Umemoto's exasperated glance he must've nabbed the board they used to keep track of the dugout's use.

 

"Oi, Wamura, what are you doing? This isn't art class." Secretly, Shinji was grateful for the distraction. Just a little bit, okay?!

 

Sawamura exhaled with a huff and proudly showed his work to the class.

 

Kominato cracked first, giggling into Furuya's shoulder. Their resident monster's aura erupted like a volcano, lashing out at anyone near him.

 

"Wha-" Shinji choked. "Wha…"

 

Tojou, his light and shining beacon in this cold world, backed him up. "Sawamura is that…"

 

Sawamura nodded with a grin. Well Shinji assumed he did, he still had a mask on. 

 

Yui analyzed the whiteboard like it contained their winning game plan, eyes shining with mirth. "Is that supposed to be the scoreboard, Sawamura-senpai?"

 

Sawamura nodded once more, giving him a thumbs up.

 

"Seriously? I thought he drew a waffle or something."

 

"Eh? I thought he wanted to play Sudoku."

 

Kuramochi clicked his tongue, but Shinji could see that the dugout drew themselves into Sawamura's space, the tension in their bodies already melting.

 

Sawamura pouted, tapping the marker like one of their frustrated substitute teachers.

 

"Let's see," Tojou leaned in, humoring him. "I see, so basically you want the game to end with the score 4-9?"

 

Sawamura nodded, giving Tojou a thumbs up.

 

Umemoto gasped out loud. "Huh?! You do realize we're in the seventh inning, don't you?"

 

Maezono gaped at Sawamura, and even Shirasu stirred from where he wiped down his bat. "S-Sawamura let's calm down here…"

 

"So you're saying," Kuramochi gritted out. "You want us to prove ourselves. Is that it?"

 

Sawamura raised an eyebrow, as if to say, of course, we're Seidou aren't we?

 

In unison, individual auras alight making the dugout's temperature rise at least ten degrees.

 

"Eight more points?" Shirasu said, sending a chill down Shinji's spine. "How humble. At least write down a double-digit."

 

Kuramochi cracked his knuckles, a murderous glint in his eyes. "Yeah you brat! Are you underestimating us?! Huh?!"

 

"Well…" Coach Ochiai drools out, making heads swivel to where he sat. He stroked the small bit of hair in his chin, glancing at them with a side eye. "For once, I agree with Sawamura. Frankly we're humiliating ourselves."

 

Silence. Shinji shivered as he took a glance of Maezono's face. He's only ever seen Maezono make that face when their bases are purposefully loaded to face him.

 

"Win," Coach Ochiai remarked as if he was talking about the slightly warm weather. "Like you're a nationally ranked team."

 

Coach Kataoka smiled.

 

Like they're a-Shinji gaped at Tojou. He flinched when Tojou's bemused face had been replaced with a deep frown and clenched teeth. Kominato had shifted in his feet, clutching his wooden bat.

 

The tension in the dugout was cut with a boisterous laugh, and they all turned wide-eyed to Miyuki, who was leaning against the fence crossing his arms. "It seems our Ace has ordered a shutdown game everyone."

 

Sawamura tapped his marker against the whiteboard once more, taunting them.

 

Tojou grabbed his bat and climbed out the dugout without looking back. "Get ready Shinji."

 

Startled, he scrambled for a helmet and his bat. "R-right."

 

"I'm going to hit a double," Tojou says, his voice airy. "Get me home in one hit."

 

Breath hitched, and frankly a little aroused, Shinji nodded. "Y-yeah-yup."

 

Tojou smiled.

 

As promised he hit a double right off the bat, Hachioji's pitcher looking lost as his first pitch flew over the second baseman's head. Shinji, in a daze, hit another double right after, easily bringing Tojou home. Even as they came back the dugout didn't cheer for them. All of them either sat or stood with stoic faces, determination in their eyes.

 

Only Miyuki smiled as he looked out the field.

 

4-5 in their favor. Sawamura hummed.

 

Kawakami adjusted his hat, rotating his arm as he stepped up. "I'm throwing only sinkers this inning."

 

Miyuki laughed as Okumura strapped him to his catcher gear. "Sounds like a plan."

 

Kawakami struck out each and every one of their batters. It was as if a different team had emerged from the dugout. Furuya's aura was still aflame as he glanced between Kawakami and Sawamura, with only Kominato holding him back.

 

Bottom of the eight, top of their order up.

 

Kuramochi didn't say a word as he looked at the kneeling Kominato. They simply nodded at each other. The pitch came, they swung, and just like that they had the bases loaded.

 

Up to bat Miyuki strapped in his glove. Sawamura tapped his marker.

 

"Heh," Their captain hissed with a grin. "You sure are tough on us."

 

Sawamura shrugged, and Shinji remembered then. This was Sawamura, who in the face of stronger opponents and pinch situations, still shouted his encouragement to the fielders behind him, and turned to share a cunning smile with Miyuki as they whispered their nasty plots to each other.

 

"Just sit there and wait," The moment he turned, all traces of a smile were wiped off. Shinji felt his knee buckle. "Like a boss that is."

 

As if sharing an inside joke, Sawamura's body shook with soundless laughter.

 

Miyuki hit a two-run home run. Following him, their batter exploded hitting home runs left and right.

 

Hachioji's pitcher looked like he could stand in as the chalk they used to line the grass.

 

They won 4-18.

 

Without dropping their bats, taking off their helmets, or even wiping their sweat, they all turned to Sawamura expectantly.

 

Cheekily, Sawamura traced the lopsided nine in his drawing and turned it into an eighteen.

 

Even Shinji could admit that felt even more satisfying than the eighteen in their scoreboard.

Chapter Text

2. Okumura Koushuu

 

It's become one of his routines at this point to drag two chairs in front of the cafeteria's tv, slide in the assigned match to watch into the DVD player, and wait for Sawamura-senpai to come in hollering.

 

Tonight, nothing but the click of the door sliding open and a shuffle of indoor slippers greeted him. Sawamura-senpai smiled and settled next to him, gesturing for him to play the video whenever he was ready.

 

They watched on in silence. Usually at this point, Koushuu muses, Sawamura-senpai would pipe up about how cool the last pitch was, and oh my god Okumura their shortstop was right there, and he'd moan and groan when the team he rooted for lost.

 

"We've watched this over three times now, you know which one is going to lose. And why did you even root for one of them in the first place?"

 

"But it's no fun watching a game as it is. Part of the fun of baseball is not knowing until the last second who won!"

 

"But you do know…"

 

"Maybe it'll be different this time!"

 

"..." Koushuu tries, but he can't claim to understand Sawamura Eijun.

 

He points out the decisions the battery makes when they're down the count and Sawamura-senpai nods along. Sometimes he'd pout if he didn't quite get what Koushuu was saying, and the blond would reiterate it.

 

But when he did understand, when everything clicked for him, he would grin and turn to Koushuu with anticipation and restlessness brimming in his eyes. The itch to touch a ball and feel it's seams as he throws it dab smack to a mitt overflows. The unease of wanting to play in a match. The need to prove himself, over and over.

 

Koushuu could see it without exchanging a word. This relentless hunger, Koushuu could understand wholeheartedly. Still, without Sawamura-senpai's usual comments and emotes, they go through the video faster than usual. It was effective, really.

 

Sawamura-senpai was quiet like Koushuu had always asked him to be, and he concentrated on the task at hand more than usual. But still. Koushuu felt as if something was missing. He felt a growl building up, and Sawamura-senpai quickly noticed it.

 

With a nudge to his shoulder and a tilt of his head, he asked what was wrong.

 

"...is your throat still sore?"

 

Sawamura-senpai nodded sadly, rubbing his throat.

 

"You can't speak at all?"

 

"...Okumura." He tried. It was so grated that even Koushuu winced. 

 

He...liked that his name was what Sawamura-senpai tried to say though.

 

Scratching the back of his neck, he gestured vaguely. "Um...what did you think of the game?"

 

A smile and a heavy huff. He liked it then.

 

"...they liked raking up the count slow and steady. It's the opposite of what we usually do."

 

A nod.

 

Koushuu feels his brow furrow. "...the leadoff batter's stance was...cool."

 

Sawamura-senpai raised an eyebrow, before nodding once more.

 

"Maybe...he has a lot of friends."

 

Sawamura-senpai pressed a hand to his mouth. With a twitch, he realized belatedly that he was laughing at him.

 

Before he knew it he had stood up, the ends of his chair scraping against the floor. With panicked eyes Sawamura-senpai grabbed his hand, looking at him pleadingly.

 

"...what?"

 

Sawamura-senpai mimed his hand up and down his face, pulling his lips to a neutral line.

 

"Somehow I don't believe you."

 

Sawamura-senpai sighs, before gesturing something with his hand. Koushuu stares at him before lending the pen in his hand and opening the back of his textbook.

 

Grinning, Sawamura-senpai props the book on his thigh and starts writing, his tongue poking out in concentration.

 

It's odd. Koushuu knows that he's a southpaw pitcher and that he pitches with his left hand, but it still comes as a surprise to him that Sawamura-senpai writes with his left hand too. They write differently, left-handed people.

 

The strokes and lines they make come from a different angle and direction. Even the way they grip a pen seems odd from where Koushuu sees it. A moment later, Sawamura-senpai finishes and tilts the textbook to him.

 

I know you're trying to keep the conversation going since I can't talk. It's just you're so awkward it's cute!!

 

He even adds unnecessary exclamation marks in his sentences.

 

"It's disheartening to be laughed at when I'm trying something."

 

Sawamura-senpai pouts. I get you! I so get you! People used to laugh at me all the time!

 

"Somehow when it's you senpai, I think it's warranted."

 

Hey now :'(

 

"There's no need to write emoticons I can see your face."

 

But it sets the tone of the sentence :D

 

"What did people laugh about?"

 

Ho-hoo you're interested in your senpai's dark history wolf-boy?

 

"I am," He replies easily. At Sawamura-senpai's surprised look he raised an eyebrow. "Don't look so surprised I'm a catcher after all."

 

Aw so I'm not special?

 

"...it's just that getting to know pitchers will improve my attitude as a catcher. "

 

Sawamura-senpai looked at him, his mouth agape. Attitude as a catcher, he mouths.

 

"What?"

 

I bet Miyuki-senpai taught you that ;)

 

"...the winky face is unnecessary."

 

Ha I knew it!! I bet he said something about not upsetting a pitcher before a game or something right?

 

"...yes."

 

Like he's one to talk. Technically he's one of the most emotional people I know.

 

Hm. "Elaborate."

 

Alright alright, one tanuki bashing with the side of my tragic backstory

 

"Tragic…"

 

They spent the rest of the night on the cafeteria tables instead, Sawamura-senpai writing through at least five pages of his textbook as Koushuu sat beside him.

 

"He threw the ball at you angrily?"

 

It was so scary ;-; he looked like he wanted to throw it right through my head

 

"I'd get angry at a pitcher ignoring my calls too."

 

WAIT DON'T TAKE THIS AS INSPIRATION

 

"...just in case."

 

OKUMURA

 

"Kidding. Mostly."

 

He smiles, re-reading the stories Sawamura-senpai wrote down. He told him about how much people found his hollering before pitching annoying (some still did, but it was mild exasperation at best), how he was overshadowed by Furuya for the longest time, and how at times he found it hard to be accepted by the first string members.

 

"I'm surprised you would have trouble getting along with others."

 

Pfft they either hated my guts or ignored me completely

 

"But you're irreplaceable to them now."

 

Well, I proved myself with my plays

 

Sawamura-senpai tapped the pen and Koushuu glanced at his face. He offered him a grin and underlined the sentence he wrote.

 

Don't rush. Step by step-and you'll get where you want to be

 

Koushuu flexed his fingers before simply nodding.

 

But if you did take Miyuki-senpai's starting position at Koshien that'd be hilarious. I really wanna see him overthrown from his throne once in a while

 

Koushuu let out a growl, white aura exuding from his body. "Rest assured I will accomplish that." Sawamura-senpai grinned.

 

You know you're talking a lot today

 

"That's to be expected, I'm talking to a fool who lost his voice by running through heavy rain."

 

Hey now…

 

"...do I not talk enough usually?"

 

Hmm well you do...but it's mostly me talking, you insulting me, and me going >:3

 

"Your mouth physically cannot turn into that shape, senpai."

 

:3

 

"...I will try to keep this up as your voice comes back."

 

Heheh you better. Or else I'll have to keep a notebook everywhere I go

 

"Should we talk through letters? Like you do back in your village."

 

I DON'T LIVE IN A RURAL VILLAGE I LITERALLY LIVE IN NAGANO

 

"Don't overwrite where you come from senpai. Your bosom friends will cry if they find out."

 

I'M NOT A NINJA

 

Koushuu's mouth twitched. He didn't know how long they spent talking-well reading, writing, and talking that night. But eventually, they nearly filled up half the textbook, and Sawamura-senpai flexed his hand.

 

Guilt stabbed through him. It must've been tiring writing every single thing down.

 

"Let's stop for today, senpai."

 

Sawamura-senpai nodded, but before he could take his book he held up a finger. Koushuu passed it back, watching as he wrote down something without showing him.

 

"Please don't write anything weird."

 

Rolling his eyes, Sawamura-senpai passed the book closed and they finally turned the lights of the cafeteria off.

 

They parted with a wave, and it wasn't until Koushuu returned to his room that he opened that last page.

 

Waiting for the day you'll start a game

 

And doodled under the speech bubble was a crudely drawn tanuki with familiar-looking sports glasses, a smirk in place.

 

Koushuu threw the book on his desk, startling Miyuki-senpai who was knee-deep in his homework.

 

"What's gotten you so worked up?"

 

Koushuu glared at him, growling.

 

Miyuki-senpai raised his hands in assent, the same exact smirk in place. "Down boy."

 

...wolves are natural predators to tanukis, aren't they?

 

Chapter Text

3. Furuya Satoru

 

It's bothering Eijun, his inability to speak. He's a naturally social person, and even off-field lots of people are eager to talk to him. 

 

The boys in their class for example, love grilling him about their recent games. They like dragging him to all sorts of games, basketball, soccer, even tennis. The pitcher was a natural at anything. His flexible body and senses made any sort of activity that involved moving as easily as breathing. The class had a large debate just last year on their school's annual sports festival on where Eijun should be placed.

 

The girls in their class, Nishino most of all, love talking about the newest chapter of a shoujo manga, or if Eijun had read another cult-classic novel, they'd make him retell the story instead. He'd essentially founded a semi-official book club.

 

None of this would be a problem if Eijun's voice wasn't gone. Furuya tilts his head to see Eijun struggling to keep up with the conversation. He has to either type his answers in his phone (which takes too long, he sucks at typing) or write it down by hand.

 

Their classmates are trying to pry him to a soccer game, while Nishino was sobbing her eyes out at the manga in her hands. He was catering to two conversations all at once, and Satoru could see it was taking a toll at him. His left hand faltered every now and then, and he's been sighing a lot.

 

He should step in. It wouldn't do for Eijun's pitching to be affected over having too many things to talk about.

 

He stood up without thinking and made his way to Eijun's desk. Everyone was glancing at him in confusion. It was an unspoken rule at this point to let Furuya be on school breaks since he would devour his lunch in as little time as possible and immediately slump over his desk to catch some sleep. Then he'd wake up for class, deplete all his energy within ten minutes, and fall into slumber once more.

 

Eijun tilted his head in question, and Satoru realized he'd been standing there in silence for three minutes. 

 

"I…"

 

Nishino dabbed her cheeks with her handkerchief with a sniffle. "What's wrong Furuya?"

 

"Uh," Satoru racked his brain. Excuses...to pry Eijun away...something obligatory...ah. "The seniors called us in for an errand."

 

Murmurs broke out. The boys in particular patted Eijun's back. "Man, you still have to cater to them when you're second years? Must be rough."

 

"Huh, so even the baseball team likes to play the seniority card," Nishino mused. "That's too bad Eijun, talk to you later?"

 

Eijun nodded and gave everyone a sheepish smile as if to say, what can you do?

 

Satoru walks with him out the classroom, and they glance at each other.

 

Eijun gestures to him.

 

Satoru stares back.

 

More vigorous gestures.

 

"I didn't think I'd get this far."

 

Eijun blinks at him, before snorting. He takes Satoru's hand gently and tugs him in a familiar direction. The little alcove that held rows of vending machines and benches was blessedly empty despite it being lunch break.

 

Eijun stared at the row of miscellaneous drinks before jabbing his finger at the second one from the right. A can of lemon green tea rolled out. Just as Satoru moved to insert his own coin, Eijun shoved in his own and pressed another button without a second thought.

 

A can of strawberry milk rolls out, and Eijun hands it to him before plopping down on one of the benches. Satoru stares at the can in his hand, and follows him.

 

"You remember."

 

Eijun tilts his head.

 

"That I liked strawberry milk."

 

He shrugs, opening his own can with a hiss.

 

"...do you remember what I liked to drink last week?"

 

Eijun hums, fishing out his phone. 

 

It was chocolate last week

 

"The week before that?"

 

Royal milk tea

 

"...last month?"

 

Melon soda, which, ew by the way

 

And Satoru, well, he feels a little guilty. And a little contentious to be honest. He doesn't remember what Eijun likes to drink last week, or the week before that. The fact that he knows Satoru so well but he knows so little miffed him.

 

"...what's yours?"

 

?

 

"Your favorite drink last week."

 

??? Why would I remember that ???

 

"Type shortly I know your hand is tired."

 

Eijun stills, before breaking into a grin.

 

You really do care for me huh! Huh!

 

"It's to be expected," Satoru muses. "We're teammates after all."

 

Eijun huffs, ruffling his ever growing bangs. Satoru resisted the urge to brush it back.

 

You act so cold, even though you're so attentive. Didn't you notice Miyuki-senpai's injury before anyone did, and even…

 

Eijun sighs.

 

Even Nori-senpai's

 

"It's nothing. It's what anyone on the team would do."

 

Nah, Kanemaru didn't notice. Haruno either. You did though

 

"..."

 

Eijun shoots him a knowing glance, nudging at him with his shoulder. Satoru grunts as he nearly spills his milk.

 

Would it kill you to admit I'm your friend once in a while

 

Satoru stiffens. "...teammates are enough."

 

Eijun crosses his arm, a shrewd look on his face. Satoru stares back, determined to die on this hill, but a quirk of Eijun's eyebrows later he succumbs.

 

"I've never had friends," Satoru starts. His fingers play with the hook of his strawberry milk can. "I don't understand...people. Even the players I talk to in my middle school baseball team started to avoid me when they couldn't catch my pitches or hit them."

 

Fuck them

 

Satoru stares at those two words, lost for words. "Huh?"

 

Fuck them. I'm not them. Miyuki-senpai, Okumura, Kariba, Ono-senpai, none of the catchers in our team are like that. 

 

Satoru took a sip of his milk in answer. To which he had none.

 

Haven't you realized already from the past two years that we care about you?

 

"...hn."

 

Don't tell me you don't consider Harucchi your friend? Should I tell him tonight?

 

"Please don't."

 

I bet he'd be real interested in hearing it though :'D

 

"Don't tease me."

 

But that's what friends do :>

 

Satoru stared at that one word, that one word he's never been labeled as for nearly his whole life. He was an awkward child, Satoru knew this, he was quiet and odd. He spent most of his childhood with his grandpa, and he was the quietest man Satoru has ever known.

 

They didn't talk much to each other, but Satoru knew it didn't make him love Satoru any less. He figured it out when he was seven as his grandpa cried over a handmade happy birthday card with polar bears on them that he too, is a little awkward. Satoru knew his grandpa regretted a lot of things in life, and that he didn't want Satoru to be as lonely as him.

 

That's why he pushed him into playing baseball after all.

 

But after middle school Satoru's made peace with the fact that maybe he's just meant to be an awkward person, surrounded not by people but balls bounced to a net.

 

High school made him realize he made peace with nothing. He just...gave up. He stared at Eijun, who by now has finished his tea and was grimly staring at it. Probably debating whether to buy another one or not.

 

Satoru meant it when he said Eijun was an inspiration to him. His presence on the mound, the way he interacted with the team, Satoru envied it. He couldn't bring himself to shout or smile so openly, and he's sure if he tried he'll give all the fielders a heart attack instead. But Eijun makes him want to try.

 

He stares at the note app Eijun opened, the stark white dotted with Eijun's typing. Even with a sore throat, Eijun tries his best to talk to everyone. His earnestness connects him to ways Satoru has never imagined.

 

And he's trying, with Satoru too. Despite being rivals, despite Satoru being so cold to him when they were first years. Despite his selfishness and crude words, Eijun never backs down. Never stops making a place for himself in Satoru's life.

 

Never apologizes for anything. Always supported him, even in his disappointment and frustration. Always sharing what he has, be it books or tips on pitching. He understands Satoru, and Satoru understands him, in a way no one else will ever do.

 

This is a friend.

 

"I have friends."

 

Eijun blinks at him, before his mouth opens agape.

 

"Hm?"

 

You're smiling…

 

"I am?" Satoru touches his lips in surprise. "Huh…"

 

Eijun raises his phone.

 

Satoru narrows his eyes. 

 

Eijun lowers it with a sigh, exiting out the camera app.

 

Damn shouldn't have typed it out!

 

Satoru indulges him with another bemused smile. Eijun gasped, clutching his heart.

 

I know how Furuya Fan Girls feel like now

 

"Eijun. We're friends."

 

This has been previously established, yes

 

"Haruichi too."

 

Well you and Harucchi...hm you know what nevermind I'm still scared of Ryo-san

 

"You call Haruichi Harucchi."

 

Yeah cuz he's Harucchi. Harucchi is Harucchi.

 

"How come you two don't call me Satoru?"

 

Eijun pauses to stare at him. Satoru stares back, a little impatient. He's crossed his arms challengingly, as if to say and what do you say to that, friend?

 

Eijun pressed his lips, before bursting into laughter. It's soundless of course, and more like the wheezings of a cow in labor. Satoru grew up near a farm, and he remembers his mother complaining about the noise all the time. He muses if how easily he falls to a deep sleep is a defense mechanism to that.

 

Don't tell me you've been brooding about that, you really are adorable :'(

 

"Eijun."

 

Alright alright don't glare at me. Idk about Harucchi but I'm just used to calling you Furuya

 

"Hmph."

 

Should I give you a nickname then if you feel so lonely?

 

"No."

 

But Eijun ignores him, typing away with his tongue poking out in concentration.

 

Furucchi? Furu-furu. Ruya? Fuu-chan? Fuu-kun. Kaibutsu-kun? Missile-chan? Saa-chan. Toru? Bazooka-san. Bazoom-chan.

 

Satoru's eye twitched, before he yanked back the phone. Eijun watches it go with a pout, stomping his feet in anger.

 

"You'll get it back if you stop."

 

Eijun huffs, before nodding once.

 

Satoru eyes him distrustfully before handing it back.

 

Satoru then

 

Satoru stares at Eijun's earnest smile and nods. "Eijun."

 

You should kidnap me more often

 

"Kidnap…"

 

We should bring our books next time. Or you can just sleep, and I'll read

 

Satoru leans back to the bench and nods once more. "Let's."

 

They stood up and brushed themselves off for class, only for Eijun to grab his arm and tilt his phone to him.

 

Hey wanna play a game?

 

"Game?"

 

Whoever manages to pitch the empty can to that bin across from us buys the loser another drink

 

Satoru's eyes flash at the word pitch, and he nods in acceptance. He takes his empty can of strawberry milk tea, winds his arm, and throws it across the ground.

 

It clashes against the pillar behind the bin, but drops down to the hole a moment later.

 

Smugly, Satoru turned to Eijun.

 

The pitcher claps for him, but Satoru knew something was up the minute he saw that large shit eating grin.

 

Nice pitch! Lemon green tea for me, please!

 

"Wait-" Satoru protested, but Eijun was well prepared, pointing back to the sentence he typed in.

 

Whoever manages to pitch the empty can to that bin across from us buys the loser another drink

 

His aura erupts, and he's staring at Eijun with narrowed eyes and downturned lips.

 

Come on Satoru, this is a momentous day for our friendship!

 

Luckily for Eijun the bell signaling the end of lunch break rings just in time before Satoru can wring his neck.

 

He buys one for him anyway at the end of practice. Not on purpose of course. He pressed the wrong button by accident.

 

But Eijun grins at him knowingly anyway and knocks his can with Satoru's.

Chapter Text

4.Takatsu Hiroomi

 

Hiroomi heaves his laundry basket over one of the many washing machines lined in the dorm's washroom with a sigh. He's separated the whites from the colors, his underwear, his socks, and his school uniform all into neatly organized piles.

 

The normally crowded room was silent since anyone sane wouldn't be awake at four in the morning, let alone be doing laundry. Hiroomi still considered himself sane, it's just that the turmoil and chaos in his head made him do absolutely nothing of the sort that reflected said sanity.

 

Hiroomi was, in essence, avoiding his teammates.

 

Well, more like time had stilled for Hiroomi, rooted to July 1st  as everyone around him moved on to the next day. And the next. And the next. And before he knew it Summer had already started for everyone but him.

 

That day, when Coach Kataoka called out Sawamura's name first, Hiroomi's heart skipped a beat. Finally, he thought, his breath coming out short. Finally.

 

Hiroomi has always secretly admired Sawamura. Ever since the loudmouth, who despite only being able to pitch a fastball down the middle, despite them being down nearly seventeen points from the second string, never gave up. Hiroomi could admit to himself that he clenched his sweaty palms the moment Kominato yelled out that the catcher dropped the ball on the third strike, and that he had to bite his lip down from yelling when Sawamura managed to get on base.

 

Just one run, just one run and he managed to bring life back to the game.

 

Something was planted in Hiroomi that day. A faint desire, with a hint of longing.

 

What would it feel like to play with Sawamura?

 

What sight would he see if he was the one protecting Sawamura's back?

 

He wants to know.

 

With a scowl, Hiroomi wrinkles the jersey in his hands. The pristine white, no-number jersey, that constantly reminded him that he wasn't good enough.

 

He tries not to feel bitter. Or at least appear as such. But it's hard when he's walking back from the fields, trailing behind everyone, to see Sawamura with a smile so bright, the single-digit fitting more and more into his small back.

 

Even when practice must be even more exhausting for the first strings, Sawamura never misses a beat to joke around, complimenting his teammates, even casually jabbing at them if they've messed up. It creates a light-hearted bubble around them, one that Hiroomi aches to be a part of.

 

He sees Kanemaru roar at Sawamura to shut up, and the pitcher laughs at his face in response, slapping a hand on Kanemaru's back. Hiroomi sees that hand covering the five on Kanemaru's back and clicks his tongue.

 

He wishes he could yell at the blond right to his face, how much he's taking his position in the first string for granted. If only he knew how bad Hiroomi wanted this. How the players stuck in the second string feel, how players who fail to even reach that feel.

 

Maybe then he'd spend less time complaining about Sawamura's volume and appreciate the fact that he's even playing with their team's ace pitcher.

 

Hiroomi sighs, debating whether to wash his jersey or not. Why should he bother anyway? It's not like he's going to get much practice done with the summer championship ongoing. He doesn't need a jersey for where he's batting. The corner behind the team's warehouse where the light doesn't even reach, that's where he belongs.

 

Just as he's about to load his clothes in the washer, the sliding door to the washroom slams open. Hiroomi jumps, clutching the jersey in his hand close to him like a maiden caught half-naked.

 

A panting and panicked Sawamura meets his eyes. Just as Hiroomi opens his mouth to-yell? Greet him? Ask if he's half asleep and if Sawamura is a culmination of his frustration? The pitcher shakes his head, closing the door behind him.

 

He hurries his way into Hiroomi's side, pressing a finger to his lips, his eyes begging him to not raise any alarm.

 

Hiroomi nods, and Sawamura relaxes. He notices then that Sawamura is clutching a jersey in his own hands.

 

Hiroomi stares at it and sees a glimpse of the number six instead of the expected one.

 

"...why do you have Kuramochi-senpai's jersey?"

 

Sawamura tenses, before he slumps over and in shame, flips the jersey to Hiroomi. A bright, orange stain as big as a hand, stained the front of the jersey. Hiroomi sees the despair in Sawamura's eyes and presses his lips together before a smile could break out.

 

"Let me guess, orange juice?"

 

Sawamura nods sadly. He opened his mouth but grasped his throat with a pained expression a moment later.

 

Hiroomi's eyes widened. "Don't! Don't push yourself to speak."

 

Everyone on the team knows by now how bad Sawamura's throat is. It's been nearly a week since he lost his voice, and there's no sign of it coming back anytime soon.

 

Sawamura's eyebrows furrow, his face looking more and more frustrated. He pats himself down, presumably to look for his phone or a notepad to communicate with, but sighs when none of them appear magically.

 

Hiroomi kicks himself mentally as he remembers his own phone, left on his desk to charge.

 

"It's fine, we don't need to talk," Dumbass, stop it! He's going to think you hate him! "We're just here to wash our clothes right? I just asked since we have a strict policy on personal properties." 

 

Sawamura's eyes droop. Hiroomi pretends not to notice as he finishes loading his colors, throwing a measured amount of detergent and softener to the assigned space. He closes the washing machine, and a second later water rushes in, and the cycle begins.

 

Hiroomi leans back on the machine behind him as he watches his clothes gently be spun round and round.

 

Sawamura was bending over one of the sinks, water flowing down the jersey in his hand as he tried futilely to scrub it clean. Hiroomi stares for a while at Sawamura's desperate attempt, the orange stain spreading more and more. If Hiroomi let him be, he's sure the whole thing would be dyed orange.

 

Maybe then the Coach would let Hiroomi play shortstop. Can't have a single orange-colored cheetah in the midst of pristine white uniforms.

 

As quickly as the thought appeared, Hiroomi waved it away. "Hey."

 

Sawamura jumps, as if just now remembering he isn't alone. Hiroomi feels a little ticked at that.

 

"You're just going to ruin it like that," He sighs. "Give it here."

 

Sawamura's eyes water and he nods over and over in gratitude as he hands the jersey over.

 

Hiroomi rummages around the shelves of the washroom, finding a bottle of bleach and a tub of white powder he sniffed to confirm as baking soda. He mixes both in the cup he used to measure his detergent and softener. Sawamura returns from his assigned quest of borrowing a spoon from the cafeteria, and Hiroomi grounds the mixture together into a paste.

 

After he spreads the jersey over an unused machine, he covers the stained parts of the fabric with the paste.

 

"Just leave it for a few minutes then wash it out," Hiroomi explains. "If it's still discolored reapply the paste again."

 

Sawamura forms his mouth to an 'o' as he quietly claps for Hiroomi. With a blush the redhead turns away, watching his laundry again.

 

After a moment of hesitation, Sawamura mimics him, leaning against the machine behind him. Awkward silence ensues.

 

Of all the things he imagined he would say to Sawamura, coldly telling him off and teaching him the housewives ways of removing a stain from his teammate's jersey are not one of them.

 

It was awkward enough when they shouted at each other in practice, Sawamura encouragingly and Hiroomi with a pleased but flushed response.

 

He feels off-kilter now, alone with an uncharacteristically quiet Sawamura, though not by choice.

 

He debates just running back to his room after his load finishes, just to leave this odd quiet morning behind him as nothing more than a haze of daydream.

 

But then he feels a finger poke his arm to get his attention. He turns his head to Sawamura and startles at his unwavering open stare.

 

"W-what?"

 

Lips pursing, Sawamura pries Hiroomi's hand away, dislodging it from its crossed state. 

 

"Oi-"

 

Sawamura pushes his fingers to curl away and unclench, and he stares at Hiroomi's open palm with a grin.

 

And then with his left index finger, he traces letter after letter into his skin.

 

Hiroomi resisted the urge to shiver as he stared at Sawamura in mild awe. Never underestimate a person capable of getting back into the good graces of Coach Kataoka through sheer willpower alone he supposes.

 

What. You. Here.

 

"What am I doing here?" Hiroomi says in a daze. "I'm...doing my laundry."

 

Sawamura pouts. 4 am.

 

"...it's a perfectly reasonable time to wash one's clothes."

 

Sawamura quirks a smile. No, it's not.

 

"What about you?" Hiroomi shot back. "Why are you awake?"

 

Restless.

 

"Still?" He couldn't help but say. "Is your debut match still bothering you?"

 

Sawamura gives him a shrewd look, pinching the palm of his hand. Hiroomi winces.

 

"Right, sensitive topic."

 

Anxious.

 

"About the next match?"

 

A nod. Ichidai. Next.

 

"If you win Norikane, that is."

 

The pitcher huffs and gives him a narrowed look. Quite. Right.

 

"Don't rush," Hiroomi says. "One at a time. That's how you play, right?"

 

Sawamura nods.

 

"Well, you'll do fine with everyone backing you up," Hiroomi sighs, shooting a look at the jersey on top of the drying machine. "Though you wouldn't need a second-stringer to say that, do you?"

 

Sawamura blinks, giving him an odd look. ?

 

"Nothing," Hiroomi says, mouth dry. "Just. Rambling."

 

Sawamura narrows his eyes, humming at him. 

 

Hiroomi sweats. "What? Jeez."

 

Ur. Disappointed.

 

"..."

 

Felt. Same.

 

"...I know."

 

Hard. Want. Give. Up.

 

"Yeah."

 

Jealous. Angry.

 

"..."

 

Even. Now. Feel. Below. Satoru.

 

"Hey-"

 

But. Okay. Still. Time. To. Grow.

 

"But-" It's running out. My time to play with you. Hiroomi feels the words caught in his throat.

 

I'll. Carry. Your. Frustration. With. Me.

 

Hiroomi stares at Sawamura's soft smile, and swallows. 

 

God, what is he doing? Whining like a baby to the person he admires, who's been in his shoes and worked his ass off to get to where he was. Hiroomi simply isn't good enough to stand on the same field as him. Not good enough to take anyone's place. 

 

Yet.

 

"You don't have to do that. We all know how you feel."

 

Sawamura shakes his head stubbornly. My. Job. Ace.

 

"Sleep a full eight hours before you go and carry all our dreams on your back."

 

Sawamura smiles sheepishly. Got. It.

 

"...I'll cheer for you from the benches."

 

I'll. Keep. Ear. Out. For. Ur. Voice.

 

"Obviously you can't, you idiot." Hiroomi laughs, shaking his head.

 

The pitcher pouts. Fine. Something. Else.

 

"Hm?"

 

Trace. Name. My. Palm.

 

Sawamura held out his right hand, palm up. Hiroomi stares at him. Unbidden he feels a flush crawling from the back of his neck.

 

"Wha-what the hell...that's so embarrassing…"

 

Sawamura didn't waver, wiggling his fingers.

 

"This is completely unnecessary."

 

A huff, and now Sawamura has a hand on his hips. He taps his foot to the floor impatiently.

 

"...fine." Shyly he traces his name on Sawamura's palm. On the last 'u' he stills his finger, and before he could talk himself out of it, he traces the number six.

 

Sawamura parts his mouth in surprise.

 

"That's…" Hiroomi scratches the back of his neck, avoiding his gaze. "A promise. Or something." He mumbled out.

 

With a grin, Sawamura closes his hand into a fist and nudges it forward.

 

Hiroomi sighs, tapping it with his own curled fist.

 

Half an hour later Hiroomi emerges from the washroom, a pile of cleanly washed clothes inside a laundry basket tucked under his arm. Folded neatly on top is his still pristine jersey.

Chapter Text

5. Miyuki Kazuya

 

Kazuya swears he's going to get early white hair from trying to keep up with Sawamura. One match he's a complete and utter mess, stumbling over his new pitches, and then a match later he's sending goosebumps down his spine from his pitch-perfect ball.

 

So he supposes he should stop being surprised all together when Sawamura, still mute from his sore throat, brings two pom poms with him to the dugout.

 

He's shaking the soft pink pom-poms as they make their last preparations, drinking another sip of water, warming up their body, checking their bats and gear. 

 

"Oi, Sawamura," Kuramochi calls out. "Stop messing around!"

 

With a pout, Sawamura hides himself behind the pom-pom. Kazuya smirked at Kuramochi's affronted look.

 

"Leave him be, Mochi. Maybe he's given up on being a pitcher and wants to be a cheerleader instead."

 

Tojou perks up, teasingly calling out, "Has my time come then?"

 

Sawamura gaped at them, soundlessly chewing them out. His pom-pom shakes in tandem with his temper.

 

"What are you mouthing off there you jerk?! You just said something about my mother didn't you?!"

 

"Alright, alright," Kazuya sighs, coming up behind him to cover his mouth. Sawamura shoots him a cat-eye glare, but with pom-poms in hand and his lack of vocal abilities it's as threatening as a slightly motivated chihuahua. "I won't tell you to throw it out. But don't overexert yourself. Norikane isn't the favorite to win, but that'll only make their plays more unpredictable and desperate."

 

Sawamura rolls his eyes, shoving one of the pom-poms to Kazuya's face.

 

Kazuya blew out a stray piece of pink paper from his mouth. "I'll take that as a yes my dearest most honorable senpai."

 

Sawamura pokes his tongue out and Kazuya only resisted the urge to tug it when Coach calls all the batter to group up.

 

It's an easy match up. Their batters perform as they're expected to. Kazuya still feels a jolt of pride when he sees the six runs they gained in the first inning.

 

Kazuya credits it to their batter's earnestness in improving over the last few months after their underperformance in the invitational and the fall tournament, of course, but today there's an extra pressure to do well. One shaped like Sawamura Eijun, equipped with the merciless deadly weapon that is a soft pink pom -pom.

 

You see, Sawamura brought the pom-poms to cheer on the team to make up for the lack of his usual commentary. Which is all and well, considering his waffle shaped scoreboard on their last practice match proved effective.

 

But it paled in comparison to the viciousness of the pom-pom.

 

Only players that hit a home run was greeted to a grinning and flushed Sawamura, pom-poms at a ready, shaken as he gushes at them silently.

 

Only Shirasu has had the pleasure of receiving said greeting, which he accepted an exasperated smile.

 

But if you hit anything else than a homer, you received nothing more than a nod. If you're lucky, a smile.

 

Kazuya saw the flames of rage building up inside every batter in the dugout. Everyone looked determined as they wiped down their bats. Maezono kept staring at the pom-poms longingly.

 

"He's got them all on the palm of their hands huh." Kuramochi drawls as he takes off his gloves.

 

"Guess so."

 

Kuramochi shoots him an odd look for his casual response.

 

"Oh my god,” Kanemaru whispered in faint horror. “That dumbass gave us a praise kink .”

 

“Just be glad you’re not Asou.” Tojou laughs, pointing at the dejected batter who, despite hitting an RBI double, received nothing more than a pat on the back and a few thumbs up.

 

"Oi Miyuki," Kuramochi shoves him. "The hell are you frowning about?"

 

"Hmm, nothing. Nothing at all."

 

Kazuya rubs a hand over his face. He most definitely does not have a praise kink, much less for Sawamura. He's the older one here dammit! He's the main catcher! He should be the one giving out praises for Sawamura to lap on!

 

Bottom of the first inning, and Sawamura's up to pitch.

 

Kazuya calls for a cutter, hoping to figure out how Sawamura's numbers are today.

 

Instead, his breath gets taken away with a dull ache to his hand.

 

He's nearly perfect today. Nearly, because Kazuya knows this still isn't his full power.

 

Without his voice, he couldn't shout out his usual catchphrase, but the look he shared with the fielders as he raised up his fist was a clear message.

 

Zero. Absolutely zero runs given.

 

Even Kuramochi shouted out an osh with the rest of the fielders at that.

 

Bottom of the second, count 1-1, and Kazuya watched as the third pitch he hit scored an RBI and a double. Even as he prepared for a steal and Maezono hit the sloppy pitcher's fastball right on, he sighs when he arrives at home base. That still wasn't a home run.

 

Sawamura meets his eyes and smirks. He takes his pom-poms in a batting stance and swings, one of the pom-poms floating away as Sawamura holds it with an outstretched arm.

 

Kazuya stifled the fond smile with a bite of his lip. "Yeah, yeah, you only want home runs."

 

Sawamura grins.

 

And then the bottom of the fourth inning came.

 

With eight runs on the bag, there's no need to overexert themselves. In fact, with Norikane's batters being as they are, they should continue pitching low and away.

 

He signed at much to Sawamura only for him to shake his head.

 

Kazuya blinks, then signs for an inside fastball.

 

Another shake.

 

Kazuya asks for a time out and the umpire announces it. He jogs to the mound, only to realize halfway through it that he has no way to communicate with Sawamura.

 

"Dammit," Kazuya curses softly. "Do you have a notepad? Course not. God, I should've prepared-"

 

Kazuya's rambling is cut off with a tug to his arm. Shocked, he lets himself be dragged in until there's no space between him and Sawamura. The pitcher is pressed to him, chest to chest, well, chest to gear, and with a shiver, Kazuya realizes what's about to happen.

 

"Miyuki-senpai," Sawamura whispers to his ear, voice rough and rasped. And oh, this is the first time in days-weeks, that Kazuya has heard Sawamura's voice. He misses it. "You're calling very tamely today."

 

Kazuya reminds himself this is a game, a very important one at that. Single elimination. Summer championship. One slip up and they're gone. This isn't the time to awaken very not straight feelings for his pitcher.

 

Kazuya has to clear his throat anyway before he answers. "Tamely? Is that what you're calling it?"

 

Sawamura smiles. "You've seen my numbers. We have eight runs. Don't tell me you're thinking about something as boring as we can give up a run or two ?"

 

"My," Kazuya smirks. "What a change of pace you've had from our last game."

 

He sees Sawamura pout from the corner of his eyes. "Don't tease me…"

 

"Sorry," Kazuya whispers back, feeling a little mischievous. Sawamura tenses, the tips of his ears going red. "If that's what you want Ace , then I'll call more...aggressively."

 

"H-huh?" Sawamura mumbles. "O-oh. Yeah. That's...what I want."

 

"Don't disappoint me," Kazuya says louder, backing up from the mound.

 

Irked that he can't whisper back whatever comeback he concocted, Sawamura mouths it out instead. Something about Kazuya being a jerk, and oh a jab about him being a tanuki bastard, ending with his tongue poked out.

 

Kazuya grins, tugging down his helmet. "Love you too!"

 

Kazuya jogs back home before Sawamura can grab him, squatting behind the batter after thanking the umpire. Just before the time out is rescinded, he fans his face with his hand. The umpire and the batter give him odd looks but sue him. He's not used to Sawamura being uncharacteristically quiet. And assertive. And bold.

 

He's learning from me and I don't know how to feel about that, Kazuya mused.

 

Huffing, Kazuya locks eyes with Sawamura once more and calls for a splitter. It lands perfectly on Kazuya's mitt.

 

It's a shutdown game ending in 13-0 across the board.

 

Kazuya flexed his fingers as he watched the Sousei-Kouwa game beyond the fence. Five innings. Just five innings, but again, Sawamura showed a side to him that Kazuya's never seen before.

 

It's not quite there yet though. Sawamura hasn't found his happy medium. But that intensity, his refusal to give up a single run, his aggressive playa even when they're well beyond safe in runs.

 

His pride as a pitcher, and his respect for the other team.

 

It was more than perfect.

 

He hears the team's comments about Sousei's plays every so often, and he reminds Furuya about Nara's famed defense, but his eyes stray to his back anyway.

 

"Hey, Sawa-" Kanemaru yells out.

 

"Don't bother Kanemaru, just let him be," Kazuya smiles. "He said he couldn't get a wink of sleep last night again."

 

"Eh?"

 

Everyone on the team glanced at Sawamura fondly. Without a care in the world, guarded by his very own wolf, Sawamura sleeps on, the most relaxed Kazuya's ever seen him all week.

 

It must've been tiring and frustrating to go by his day without his voice. But Kazuya could tell he was even more anxious than that. His voice and call outs are the lifeline of this team to their Ace. When Furuya's on the mound, he leads with his plays. But Sawamura, he leads with his heart.

 

The whiteboard, even the pink pom-poms, was Sawamura’s way of reassuring everyone that he was still there, supporting them. Kazuya didn’t know if the pitcher realized he was reassuring himself of that too. Probably not, the idiot.

 

He watches as a small breeze passes through the field they were resting at, brushing Sawamura’s soft hair back. The pitcher wrinkled his nose before his face softened into a blissful smile.

 

Sickening. Absolutely sickening.

 

Beside his sports bag are the two pairs of pom-poms, also swaying with the wind as if taunting Kazuya for his ineptitude in hitting a home run.

 

It came to him then. A sense of inspiration. An imaginary light bulb flickering on. He turns to Kuramochi with a devilish grin.

 

The shortstop glanced up at him and let out a shudder. “God, what now?”

 

“Hey Kuramochi,” Kazuya drawled. “What say you we take our dearest Ace down a peg or two?”

 

“Hoho?”

 

“Yui! Sachiko!” He called out to the two managers huddled together over an icebox.

 

“What?!” Sachiko yelled out, a handful of water bottles tucked under her arm. “We’re busy!”

 

“Seconded!” Yui chirped, unloading their bentos for lunch.

 

“Hee,” Kazuya whined. “But I thought of something super fun!”

 

Both their ears perked up at that.

 

“You have some hair band right Sachiko? And Yui you brought your makeup right?”

 

They both shared a look.

 

Kazuya pointed behind him with a grin. “We can’t have our cheerleader be lacking in the looks department, now can we?”

 

“See? What did I tell you?” Kuramochi stage whispered to Kominato. “Pure evil.”

 

Kominato pressed a hand to his mouth, but his eyes gave away his mirth. Soon the whole team caught on to his schemes, sharing excited whispers to each other.

 

“Can we please take a photo of him afterward?”

 

“Give him your reddest lipstick Yui!”

 

“Pull up his bangs to his forehead!”

 

“Hey someone arrange the pom-poms!”

 

A few minutes later after Sachiko and Yui’s hard work, they pulled away to show the team their work.

 

Kazuya had the pleasure of taking the first peek, and instead of the instinctive bellied laughter he thought would come out of his lips, it’s a gutted whimper. Kuramochi swings an arm over his shoulder, leaning his weight on him. “What? Why do you look like that-”

 

Kuramochi breaks off, staring at Sawamura with his jaw agape.

 

A curious Maezono bounds over, shoving the space between them. “What? Don’t leave me out! Does he look that stu-”

 

The team looked on in confusion as their captain and two vices stood over Sawamura in silence. Eventually, they all approached the sleeping pitcher, eager to see how silly Yui and Sachiko made him look.

 

“...what the hell,” Asou said, with feeling. “WHAT THE HELL.”

 

“Shuu…” Higasa fumed out.

 

Nori slowly raised a hand to cover Shirasu’s eyes, which the batter accepted with a slight flush to his cheeks.

 

“Seriously?” Tojou laughed breathlessly. “Even makeup succumbs to Sawamura’s logic huh.”

 

“I can’t,” Kanemaru whimpered. “I can’t have another sleeping kink awakened by this moron!”

 

“Wow, Sawamura-senpai really is something el-Masashi?! Don’t fall asleep on me!” Yui whimpered.

 

“This is all your fault, senpai.” Okumura glared up at him, hovering an arm protectively over the sleeping Sawamura. 

 

Kazuya raised his hands in assent as even Kominato has taken his spot next to Sawamura to glare in his signature Ryo-san way at anyone trying to sneak more looks. Furuya still hasn’t budged from watching the Seisou game.

 

Ignorant of his team’s varied existential crisis, Sawamura slumbers on, a soft smile on his face highlighted with his slightly red lips, a light blush on his cheeks, and a thin line of eyeliner. Despite his bangs being tied up to reveal his wide forehead, it simply added to the charm of a clumsy cheerleader who fell asleep from enthusiastically supporting his team.

 

Pom poms arranged over his hand, Sawamura was a sight to behold. 

 

Eventually, Kominato and Okumura scared everyone off enough to disperse, and Kazuya shot Sawamura one last look before focusing back on the Seisou game.

 

Now if one were to quietly bribe both Yui and Sachiko with snacks, extra turns in cleaning the bathroom and or the cafeteria, and promises to not leave their clothes astray around the field, one may potentially receive a photo of a certain asleep pitcher.

 

And most of the team, including Kazuya, may or may not have done exactly that.

 

It was an awkward moment indeed when they all converged in the bathroom one day with sponges and buckets and their pants rolled up to their knees.

 

“You too, Kanemaru?”

 

“S-shut up Hiroomi! This is for blackmail material! Wait-you weren’t even there!”

 

“Don’t underestimate the bond between men.”

 

-

 

Fuck it, it was worth the shame to see Sawamura’s sleepy smile whenever he opened his phone.