SUNDAY

"Ex-excuse me." Eijun turns around from the shoe rack. A kid about his age is standing behind him, hunched in on himself and looking like he's about to cry. "S-sorry. Can I…look at those?" He points at a pair of baseball spikes that are directly in front of Eijun.

"Oh, yeah." He steps to the side so the stranger can get to them. Eijun looks up at the boxes on higher shelves with a frown. Getting new spikes is always such a pain with wide feet. They never have his size. He wouldn't even be in here looking for them, except his old pair was starting to fall apart. Miyuki had threatened to string him up by his ankles if they broke during a match and cost them runs, but that has nothing to do with Eijun coming here today. Not at all. And why did Miyuki even have that rope, anyway?

Aha, up there near the top! This store does have his size! Eijun glances around, but the only person in view is the fluffy-haired boy, so he drags a bench – meant for customers trying on shoes – over to the sports footwear shelves so he can hop onto it.

"Are you allowed to… do that?" The boy looks terrified.

"Probably not, but no one's looking," Eijun grins. Then, nodding down at the cleats, he adds, "You play baseball too?"

"Yeah!" His whole face lights up, shifting from scared to excited.

Eijun jumps down from the bench with his prize, setting the shoebox down next to him so he can untie his sneakers. "What position?"

The stranger blushes. "P-pitcher!"

"You're a pitcher too?! Awesome! It's the coolest position, right?"

"Mhmm!" The scrawny boy nods furiously.

"Do you get to pitch a lot?"

His blush deepens. "I'm – I am the ace!"

"Nice! I'm still working my way there, but I'll definitely take the ace number soon." Eijun pumps his fist enthusiastically. "I don't want to give up the mound!"

The other pitcher coughs. "What school?"

"I'm from Seidou. You?"

"Nishiura, in Saitama." His mouth opens and closes a couple of times, like he's trying to work up the courage to continue. Finally, he declares, face red and fists clenched: "We-we're definitely going to Koushien this year!"

This kid's real shy, but determined. Eijun likes that. He grins wider, saying: "I guess we'll see you there, then. But I'm warning you, we're not gonna lose to anyone!"

The boy makes a garbled reply that sounds like he's echoing the sentiment.

Eijun pulls the laces nice and tight on the new spikes and stands up to walk around. They don't pinch. Good. The other pitcher jumps to his feet to do the same, but takes two steps and falls flat on his face. Eijun knows it's rude but he can't help snorting. The boy just looks so shocked at the unexpected fall. Still snickering, he asks, "Are you okay?"

"Fine!" The boy sits down again. "I did the laces wrong." With all the solemn concentration of Kanemaru working on an advanced science question, he pulls out the knots and reties the shoes.

"That's not tight enough," Eijun says, watching him. "You're going to sprain an ankle like that, and then you definitely can't go to Koushien."

The boy blinks up at him with large, trusting eyes. "You're… a good person."

Eijun flushes, scratching his cheek. "Haha. Wanna try walking again?" The boy nods furiously and stands up when the laces are tight, testing out the shoes again and managing not to trip. Eijun returns to the bench and pulls off the new spikes, slipping his sneakers back on.

The other boy toddles over and sits down again too. "Thank you! I'm… Mihashi."

"Sawamura Eijun."

"Pleased to meet you."

"Ditto. So, what do you throw?"

Mihashi looks surprised at the question, but answers, "Slider, c-curve, fastball, shoot…"

"Whoa! That's a lot of breaking balls! You must have had a great coach."

"No… coach. Until high school."

Holy shit, he must be amazing to learn all of those different ones on his own. "Could you show me sometime?"

"Me?" Mihashi squeaks. "I– I… sure."


Ren's not sure how he's captured the attention of this animated pitcher, whom he discovers is also a first year. Sawamura reminds him a bit of Tajima with that loud, cheery passion, though he quickly gets the impression that, unlike Tajima, Sawamura isn't even a little bit good at batting.

"Boss is always telling me to bunt," Sawamura sighs dramatically. "I could definitely get a hit if I was allowed!" The shorter pitcher keeps his doubts to himself.

Ren's also not sure how they ended up in an ice cream parlor, their two shoe boxes stacked in the booth next to Sawamura. He had agreed to talk about pitching, and then after a flurry of activity that left Ren flustered, the Seidou player had eagerly escorted him from the sports store across the street to get dessert once they'd paid for their baseball spikes.

He doesn't mind much, though. Sawamura seems cool. And nice.

"Hey, Mihashi-kun, what's your team like? I haven't heard of your school before. What did you say it was called?"

"Nishiura. We just got a team. First years."

"You're all first years?! Geez, I can't even imagine what Seidou would be like without our senpai!"

"I'm… glad. I wouldn't be the ace if, if anyone else could pitch."

Sawamura frowns. "Don't say that. What about all those different breaking pitches you just mentioned? That takes a lot of practice! You've gotta be good! If I'm going to be an ace someday, then you are definitely ready to be one, right? I can't pitch any of that stuff; I've just got a weird throwing style!"

Ren is floored. Sawamura seems like ace material, with his enthusiasm and very outgoing attitude, and Sawamura thinks that Ren should be Nishiura's ace! But… he's never seen Ren play. Maybe once he sees Ren's slow pitches he won't be so impressed.

No, Ren reminds himself, he's not a bad player. He's pitched against some powerful teams! Abe-kun was amazing and helped and Ren didn't get hit that much. Abe says he's great. All of the Nishiura team says he's great, actually. He's not sure how much he believes it, but since coming to high school he's started to think that maybe he's not bad.

Sawamura has continued to talk this whole time, and Ren tunes back in as he says "– but I don't have a glove or ball with me right now so we'll have to meet up another day for that."

Oh. He really does want to see Ren pitch. Sawamura isn't just being polite. Ren's never had another pitcher who wanted to practice together with him. Kanou always had to pitch separately in middle school, and Mihashi's the only real pitcher at Nishiura High.

This might be fun.

Mihashi holds up his phone. "N-number?"

Sawamura smiles.


THURSDAY

Eijun's working on homework ("Someone call the media" Kuramochi had snidely commented) when his text tone beeps. One new message from Mihashi Ren. They've been talking sporadically for a couple days now about pitching techniques and it's clear that Mihashi is dedicated to improving too. \Lately I've been working on changing the width of the steps when I pitch, but it's been hard and really messing up how I throw. Abe-kun tells me not to worry, though/

\Who's Abe-kun?/

\Catcher/ Then another message pops up. \The best catcher/ After a long moment, a third text comes: \Not that your catcher isn't good, that's not what I meant at all! But Abe-kun is the best. Yeah/

Eijun feels the sudden urge to defend Seidou's first string catcher despite Miyuki's horrible behavior today. \Miyuki-senpai's DEFINITELY better! He's our captain and cleanup hitter too (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑ / Eijun writes, his heart stuttering as his mind pulls up images of Miyuki at bat, looking serious enough to slam the ball out of the park. Hot damn.

Mihashi replies. \Maybe we'll see at Koushien/ Another interesting facet of this exchange is how Mihashi sounds over text. He seems more confident and decisive without the pauses and stutters present in verbal speech.

"Thought you were doin' homework," Kuramochi pipes up from the other side of the room.

"I was! I'm just talking to –" Eijun has the presence of mind to realize that saying "a complete stranger" sounds sketchy and "an acquaintance" seems too formal, so he fumbles for a moment before finishing with "– a friend." Mihashi probably won't mind, and if they keep talking, they probably will end up friends.

Kuramochi's eyebrows shoot up – he must have noticed the pause. Aw, shit. "A friend, huh?" He leaps up from his seat and darts across the room, pulling Eijun into a headlock before the southpaw can scramble away. "Are you sure it's not a girlfriend? Is it Wakana? Is it?"

"It's not a girl!" Sawamura wails, trying to disentangle himself from Kuramochi. "He's just someone I met! He likes baseball!"

"A likely story."

"It's the truth!"

"Uh-huh."

"Senpai, let go!" The phone flies out of Eijun's hand and falls behind the desk, and after a few minutes of bumping into sharp corners and throwing a few elbows, Kuramochi temporarily retreats. However, the threat in his eyes and the menacing "I will get to the bottom of this" does not go ignored by Eijun.


SATURDAY

Abe-kun is angry. Ren's not sure what he did to upset the catcher, but there's something subtly vicious about the way he's been calling today's match. It's just a practice game, but Abe's expression has been fixed in a deep scowl since the first inning and he's been completely grim. He keeps saying that he's not mad, but Ren knows. The catcher's movements are mechanical, like he's trying to keep himself from lashing out.

Ren's been trying his hardest to pitch with the right step width! His accuracy is… well, way down, but he's getting there! It's already better than the last game. Ren can't be the pitcher that Abe wants right now, but he's not going to give up the mound! The only way to get better is to keep doing it over and over until it's right. Abe can't be mad about that… right?

He doesn't want someone else on the mound, right? He says that Ren is good, but what if he's changed his mind? Ren's making it harder for him to call games.

In the dugout, Ren clutches his water bottle with a death grip.

"Hey, Mihashi, what's wrong?" Tajima sidles up next to the pitcher.

"A-angry…"

Tajima frowns and turns around to the catcher. "Oi, Abe, whatever's got your panties in a twist has gotta go on the back burner. You're making Mihashi jumpy." He pauses. "Jumpier, strictly speaking."

Abe comes up on the other side of Ren. "I told you that I'm not upset with you, Mihashi."

"Yes… but why is Abe-kun angry?"

Abe frowns, but it's more like confusion than irritation. "I'm not angry at all."

"S-sure?"

"Yeah." His expression softens a little. "You don't need to be worried. Concentrate on the game."

Ren feels both better and worse after that assurance. On the one hand, it seems like Abe might not be cross about Ren's pitching after all. On the other hand, though, Abe is definitely mad about something, and if Abe doesn't even know that there's a problem, then how could the catcher even know to fix it?


TUESDAY

During practice, Takaya settles next to Mihashi during a water break and glances over at him. The pitcher's hand has been glued to his phone lately, when he's not holding a baseball that is. Takaya can't think of who he'd be texting – when questioned by Tajima, Mihashi had just said that it wasn't Kanou or his cousin Ruri. It's been bugging the catcher for a while, for reasons he can't pin down.

Mihashi titters and Takaya pauses to take in that sunny smile. Then, shaking off his distraction, he asks, "Something good happen?" He's just making conversation. It's like practicing communication skills, something that their battery could always use.

"F-friend… silly."

He really wants to know who this person is. They've gotten Mihashi to open up easily, something Takaya's always struggled with. Things have been better between them, but Mihashi still has days where he's an anxious mess. Well. Most days are like that. But it's not as bad as when they started on the team.

"Who you talkin' to, Mihashi?" Takaya blinks at hearing his thoughts out loud, but then Tajima comes into view and plops down next to them.

Mihashi, obviously distracted by the reply he's crafting, replies honestly: "Sawamura-kun."

"Oh yeah? What's he like?"

"Loud." Mihashi smiles again. "Happy. He pitches for Seidou High." He sends the message and gulps his water. Mihashi looks over at Takaya. "Are we, are we going to pitch after the water break?"

If it makes you smile like that again, Takaya wants to say, but what comes out is "That's up to the coach."

Coach Momoe has the team practice batting for a while, and Mihashi seems content. After their next water break and three more messages from Sawamura-kun – not that Takaya's counting – the battery heads to the bullpen.

Mihsahi winds up, radiant as the sun, and Takaya privately smiles because whoever Sawamura-kun is, he doesn't get to see Mihashi like this.


WEDNESDAY

Kuramochi has clearly not forgotten about Eijun's new texting buddy, and it was really only a matter of time before he mentioned it in front of other people. Thankfully, Eijun's been especially vigilant with his phone, so when the shortstop finally brings up Eijun's new friend, he still doesn't know who Eijun has been talking to: "Yo, Sawamoron, is your girlfriend coming to the game tomorrow? You've been even crazier about messaging her than usual." The team's packing up their bags for the night and it had been mostly quiet until Kuramochi asks his question.

"I told you, Wakana's not my girlfriend, and she's not who I'm talking to anyway." Eijun tucks his phone into his pocket after finishing off a text to Mihashi. Nishiura's ace had been panicking about a text he received from Abe, so Eijun was trying to calm him down, without much success.

Miyuki joins the conversation in time to add fuel to the fire. "So you're talking to another girl?" He doesn't look as amused as he usually does when he provokes people, but there is something like curiosity in his eyes as he looks at Eijun.

"No! I already told him, I'm talking to a guy!"

"Boyfriend?" Miyuki asks, face suddenly blank.

"No way, he's already got – uh… someone in mind." Mihashi totally has a crush on Abe-kun. Eijun might not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but even he can tell. No one waxes poetic about their catcher like that and freaks out about his two-word text messages unless they've got a special place for him in their heart. Eijun knows that feeling with uncomfortable familiarity.

Plus, even if Mihashi had been 100% available, Eijun's taste in guys runs towards "hot" and "calculating" more than "adorable" and "sweet". Mihashi's like the favorite cousin Eijun never had.

"I still think it's a girl," Kuramochi maintains. "You're always giggling over there and it's just annoying."

Eijun blushes at that. Mihashi's daily commentary on Nishiura's top batter is absolutely hysterical to read, but he's never sure if Mihashi's being funny or dead serious, so he avoids mentioning just how comical he finds these little snippets.

"Well," Miyuki adds mildly, "boy or girl, you shouldn't let yourself get distracted, Sawamura. Perhaps if you limited the socializing for a while you might actually find the time to improve your pitching."


SUNDAY

After two weeks of exchanging messages with Sawamura, Ren stops jumping nervously every time his phone goes off. Sawamura seems just as effusive over text, but that's not a bad thing. At least with text messages, Ren can take his time answering and he doesn't have to worry about Sawamura accidentally getting in his personal space.

\ARGH! Miyuki-senpai was being a JERK again today! He just laughed when I asked him to catch more outside of practice. Hope Abe-san was nicer today than my bastard catcher/

Ren has noticed that Sawamura always has something to say about Miyuki-san. Sawamura obviously thinks that Miyuki is a phenomenal player, but it seems like the catcher is not a very good teammate. \Abe-kun was nice./

\So how's practice coming on your end?/

Ren waffles, unsure how much Sawamura is interested in hearing. He doesn't want to be a bother. \Okay/

\…Just okay?/

\I don't want to let the team down/

\I, Sawamura Eijun, know that you won't disappoint them! One of my senpai says that baseball's the kind of sport where the game starts when the pitcher throws the ball, so it's all up to the pitcher! You're the most important player out there. Doesn't that just get you fired up? I know that works for me O(≧▽≦)O You can do it, Mihashi-kun! Fight on!/

Most important? That's so much responsibility. Baseball's a team sport – shouldn't everyone handle it equally? What if Ren's not ready to carry the team? His pitches haven't been as good lately, so there's no way he's the most important person on the field. That would be Abe, or Tajima, or Hanai…

Wait, the team doesn't expect him to be the most important, right? What if they think he's not performing the best out of all of them? Will one of them replace him? They wouldn't do that, right? They're all nice.

Should Ren be thinking of ways to work harder for the team?

Ren lies awake for a long time turning over Sawamura's well-meaning but very, very stressful words.


MONDAY

It hasn't escaped Takaya's notice that Mihashi hasn't spoken a coherent sentence all practice. The pitcher, while not normally wordy, usually at least greets their teammates at the beginning and asks the occasional question. Today, though, his nervous energy seems to be turned up to full and his communication is limited to unintelligible warbles and hand gestures. His hand stayed cold during meditation, too.

Takaya knows better by now than to demand answers from the pitcher – it would just alarm Mihashi and then he'd fold in on himself. "Let's take a break," he says, standing up after Mihashi's last pitch. Mihashi blinks at him and then shakes his head.

"You want to keep pitching?" A furious nod. Takaya squats back down and catches ten more balls, still noticing Mihashi's increased anxiety. His aim was better at yesterday's practice – maybe there's something on his mind today. "Mihashi, let's stop."

"No!"

Takaya is taken aback by his vehemence. "Why not?"

"I-important…"

"What's important?"

"Pitching."

"It's important to take breaks too; otherwise you'll wear yourself out." Takaya takes a step towards the dugout, where the team's bags are collected, but Mihashi doesn't move from the mound. "Five more, and then we're going, okay?"

"More." Mihashi squeaks out the word and then blushes, clearly not used to contradicting Takaya.

Takaya's patience has improved substantially since meeting Mihashi, but he's not perfect. "What's wrong?" Shoot. He hadn't meant to blurt that out.

However, Mihashi seems to know exactly what he means, fidgeting with his glove and looking away. "Can't s-start a game… pitcher."

"What?"

"Without… without a pitcher."

"We can't start a game without a pitcher?" Mihashi nods. "What are you worried about? We have you."

"Need to be better."

Is that what he's hung up on? "You'll get there. You started this to get better, right? For the team?" The pitcher's head bobs slowly. "Everyone here knows that. It's okay." Mihashi doesn't look convinced, but he lets Takaya coax him off the mound.


FRIDAY

"Would you put away the damn phone?" Eijun looks up at Miyuki, who's been cranky for the last week and a half. Half the team has currently taken up residence in Room 5 for a Friday night video game tournament and, with seats running low, Miyuki crawls onto Eijun's bed. The southpaw carefully doesn't think about Miyuki being so close to him – he's sure his heartbeat would speed up if he started imagining things. "Kuramochi's going to notice and then he's going to cause a commotion about it and we'll have to hear again how much you like this friend. Third time today."

Eijun eyes him suspiciously. "Since when are you bothered by people teasing me, Miyuki-senpai? Aren't you usually amused by stuff like this?"

"He won't shut up and I think he's starting to intentionally be a bother now."

"Wow, someone being annoying on purpose, what a hard time you must be having," Eijun replies. "I don't know anyone like that."

"Brat. Just put it away."

"I'm in the middle of a conversation, Miyuki Kazuya. I'll be finished when I'm finished."

Kuramochi picks that moment to glance over and point out to everyone that Eijun's messaging someone again. Kuramochi's in the middle of a match, so he doesn't make a grab for Eijun's phone, but most of the team takes up the mantle of teasing Eijun about the hypothetical love interest they've been cooking up for him.

Eijun grumbles and waits for them to calm down, and then opens a new message to Mihashi. Now that the team's got their ribbing out of the way, Eijun knows from experience that they'll leave him in peace for a while. Despite that, Miyuki's hands visibly tighten and Eijun gets a crazy thought: "Does my texting people… bother you?"

Miyuki tilts his head. "You're getting pretty conceited for a kouhai. What makes you think I concern myself with your behavior outside of baseball, hmm?"

He's known Miyuki long enough to know an evasion when he hears it. "Oh my god, it does." Eijun laughs in surprise. "Why?" This is fascinating. He's found out something about Miyuki that the catcher doesn't want to share.

The catcher shrugs. "Nice try, but no, it doesn't bother me."

"Tell me."

"I just said it doesn't bother me."

"Aw, c'mon!"

Miyuki sighs heavily. "If you're going to be another source of annoyance, I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Sawamura."


SUNDAY

"Oh, gosh, now that practice is done for the night I should probably go check my messages. I wouldn't want to miss something important. This friend that I'm texting is probably waiting for a reply." Miyuki visibly twitches, and Eijun grins in victory. He still doesn't know why his messaging habits are a source of irritation to Miyuki, but hey, he's not going to knock it if it works. Once he realized what was going on, Eijun made sure to ramp it up to eleven, being super obvious when he texts Mihashi. Pissing Miyuki off is great stress relief – he's starting to see why Miyuki likes to be annoying on purpose.

The bastard could use a taste of his own medicine, anyway.

"Don't you have homework to do?" Miyuki asks peevishly. "I seem to remember someone coming to me for chemistry help before the test last time."

"Since when are you so concerned about my grades, huh? Even if I ever got a good mark on something, you'd still laugh at how dumb you think I am, unlike the person I text with."

"Stop speaking in italics every other sentence, Sawamura. It's irritating."

"You know who doesn't mind me speaking in italics? The person I'm talking to on my phone."

"I'm sure Kuramochi won't be that disappointed if I strangle you before he can," Miyuki muses. "Same end result."


It's been about a week since the practice where Mihashi inexplicably lost confidence in himself. By Wednesday he was back to normal again, but Takaya couldn't even imagine where Mihashi had gotten the idea that pitchers had to be near-perfect. He'd worried that it was something he'd said to Mihashi, but Mihashi'd had no idea what he was talking about when he'd brought it up. That was a relief, but it also meant that he didn't know if it would happen again.

Takaya had been sure that Mihashi was recovering from his insecurities from middle school. It was slow, but there was a measurable difference from the beginning of the year to now. Why did he suddenly come back to the assumption that he wasn't fit to be the pitcher?

"Hey, where's Mihashi?" Izumi asks, interrupting Takaya's thoughts. "Practice is about to start." The team looks around and their ace is nowhere to be found.

"Maybe he's in the bathroom?" Tajima suggests.

"Did he have after-school lessons today?"

Takaya volunteers to check the locker room. He jogs over and opens the door, where he finds Mihashi curled up in on himself against the wall. His practice jersey with a faded #1 lies across the bench.

"Mihashi!" The pitcher looks up, and it's clear he's been crying. "What happened?"

"Nothing."

Takaya sits down in front of him, between Mihashi and the jersey. "It's not 'nothing'. Tell me."

Mihashi sniffles. "I can't throw the way I could before! I'm n-not good enough to be the ace!"

"Of course you are!" Takaya traps Mihashi's face between his hands so the pitcher has to look at him. "Mihashi, you're amazing." Shit, why does his face feel red all of a sudden, it's the truth – Mihashi's normal level of accuracy is nothing short of spectacular, and with some practice, he'll get back to that level and add speed to his pitches. Mihashi's going to take the team to Koushien.

In response to the catcher's declaration, Mihashi starts crying harder. "Mihashi, calm down!" Takaya shouts, realizing belatedly that his volume probably isn't helping.

"But pitchers have to be at their best," Mihashi wails, burying his head in his knees and muffling the rest of his response.

"You'll get there," Takaya promises. He finds a pack of tissues in Mihashi's bag and wipes the pitcher's tears until he's presentable. "Let's go, the team's probably done with the warmup by now." He helps Mihashi to his feet and they head back to practice, crisis temporarily averted.


Kazuya knows exactly why he's been frustrated for the past two weeks, so he's decided to end the mystery of Sawamura's texting companion. The idiot's on the lookout for Kuramochi to steal his phone, but Kuramochi tends to be straightforward and obvious. Kazuya's prepared to be a little cunning in order to take a peek into Sawamura's messages.

The catcher approaches Sawamura in the laundry room and drapes his head on the southpaw's shoulder, hand slipping around to the base of Sawamura's back.

"What the heck, Miyuki-senpai? What are you doing here?"

"What am I doing here, in the laundry room? Sawamura, you do know what a washing machine is for, right?" The pitcher's all set to explode and Kazuya's hand slides across Sawamura, accidentally-on-purpose brushing his ass before slipping into Sawamura's pocket, fingers closing around his target.

"Hey!" Sawamura's too late in noticing, though, because Miyuki's got the phone out and is opening up the message history. "Give that back!"

He checks the name on the recent slew of messages, all from the same person, a Mihashi Ren. Sawamura wasn't lying after all about his contact being a guy. However, that doesn't determine whether or not Sawamura is amorously interested in this person, so while struggling with the first year for possession of the phone, he opens the most recent message sent by Sawamura: \Don't worry one bit! You're not the only one to lose faith in your abilities, so I know it's hard to get back up again. Just play your best!/

"Who's Mihashi?"

"No one you need to worry about! Just a new friend!"

"You talk to him a lot for someone you haven't known long."

"He needs encouragement! He's kinda fragile, even though he's probably really good."

"Encouragement for what?"

"He's under a lot of pressure as Nishiura's ace, okay?"


Eijun's heard of moments where people say the temperature dropped when a conversation took a bad turn. The minute he finishes defending Mihashi, the whole atmosphere in the room shifts: Miyuki pauses for a long moment, danger filtering into his tone as he says, "You're texting someone from another team?"

Eijun suddenly feels cold under Miyuki's icy gaze. "Yes. S-something wrong with that?"

"What, exactly, have you told this potential opponent about us, Sawamura?"

Eijun doesn't know how to explain that Mihashi isn't the kind of person who would take advantage of him like that. "We haven't talked about our teams much. Just some pitching exercises and tips. We talk about other stuff that's not baseball too," he offers.

"Sawamura." Miyuki's voice commands Eijun's full attention, as if he didn't have it already. "What have you said about your pitching strengths and weaknesses? Consciously or not, you've probably given him information about them, and the best thing you've got going for you is your unexpected form. If Nishiura can predict your movements, then we're one pitcher down."

Any other day, Eijun would be thrilled about Miyuki (sort of) complimenting his special pitching style, but today it rolls right off him uselessly. "They won't. Mihashi's… not like that. Focused on strategy, that is. I didn't tell him specifics."

Miyuki's calm façade crumbles. "And I should just trust your judgment on that?"

Eijun's fists clench. "You don't trust me?! What the hell? You're the one who keeps going on about us being partners!"

"That's not what this is about!"

"That is exactly what this is about! I made a friend with another pitcher and you think I'd show off even if it meant hurting the team!"

Miyuki crosses his arms, Eijun's phone still in one hand. "Prove that you don't want to hurt the team. Stop texting him."

"No! It's not like that with him!"

"Then I guess we have nothing more to say to each other about it," Miyuki concludes, voice frosty. "Don't expect me to catch for you the next time you ask." Before Eijun can reply, Miyuki drops the pitcher's phone on top of a washing machine and sweeps away.

Eijun punches the wall the moment Miyuki's gone. Damn. He hadn't meant to get in a fight with Miyuki over Mihashi. It's really not a big deal that he's friends with Mihashi; lots of teams who face each other have members that know one another, but it's not a problem because everyone there has the drive to play their best. Eijun wouldn't go easy on Nishiura if Seidou went up against them. Miyuki's just overreacting. To say that he wouldn't catch for Eijun…! Ugh, he knows how much Eijun enjoys pitching to him! It's not fair.

Eijun wallows in his anger for a few minutes while he switches the darks from the washing machine to the dryer, muttering about stupid pretty boys. However, he bounces back pretty quickly after that: this… this could be a good thing. Yeah. Miyuki's a total jerk anyway – there are other catchers Eijun can practice with. Ooh, he could ask Chris-senpai (!) to catch for him. Eijun forcibly relaxes and continues to think of reasons why this temporary rift isn't such a bad thing.

He does a very good job of convincing himself. By the time he goes to bed, he feels enthusiastic about the coming day. Ah, yes, there'll be no frustrating catcher – he'll get to play with Chris-senpai instead, who is wonderful and kind and everything Miyuki's not.


MONDAY

Nori's minding his own business, thinking about his practice regimen, when he spots Miyuki in the dim light with his nose practically pressed up against the windows of the gym. His ability to interpret Miyuki's body language is generally spotty at best, but the catcher is letting off waves of agitation right now. "Miyuki?"

His batch mate yanks himself back from the window and turns around. He tries to look casual, and if Nori hadn't seen him moments before, he might have believed the pretense. "Oh. Hello, Nori."

"Uh." Communication is the most important part of a battery, but they're not on the field right now and Nori's not sure how to go about this. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Miyuki replies, but the word is bitten out like he's really not fine at all. He slides into a sitting position against the wall.

Nori takes a moment to glance in the window. There are a couple of second-stringers using the batting machines and Sawamura is pitching to Chris. "Is there something wrong with Chris-senpai or Sawamura?"

Miyuki chuckles. "Why would I let other people bother me?"

Oh. He's hit the nail on the head, then.

Miyuki keeps talking, face turned pensive like Nori's not even there: "A player from another team… it's unacceptable. What goes through that idiot's mind, hmm? Does anything? Does he even think?"

"Er, it's okay," Nori says, tentatively sitting down next to the catcher. He awkwardly pats Miyuki on the shoulder. "I wouldn't worry about it too much. These things have a way of working themselves out, alright?" Nori has no idea what Miyuki's talking about, but that's what people usually say.

Nori really wishes someone else would come along – a Miyuki who isn't calm and collected isn't something he's capable of handling alone.


Youichi can practically feel the "help me" vibes coming off of Kawakami when he takes in the scene. The pitcher is uneasily settled next to a testy Miyuki, clearly desperate to leave the situation.

"What's going on?"

Miyuki doesn't seem to hear him, muttering darkly to himself. Kawakami shrugs and points up at the window. A quick glance shows Sawamura laughing in delight as Chris throws him back a ball. Ah. So even Miyuki gets jealous when the object of his affections looks happy with someone else.

"I got this," he says, yanking the catcher to his feet. Kawakami looks relieved. "Heard you got in a fight with Sawamura," Youichi begins. Kawakami's eyebrows shoot up, but Youichi continues, "What was it about? Something he said? Something you said? Did you bully him about that new texting friend?" The third one's a joke – he figures that's the last thing Miyuki would've brought up, given his feelings about Sawamura – but Miyuki's face goes dark at the mention of texting and suddenly Youichi understands.

Sawamura is not yet in the habit of hiding his phone before he goes to sleep. It's usually nestled next to his pillow so he can turn off his phone alarm in the morning, and as his roommate, Youichi has taken advantage of this knowledge. Sawamura's lock code is his birthday, and once he falls asleep it's almost too easy to borrow the moron's phone and go through his messages.

He's known the score with Sawamura and Mihashi for a week now, but teasing the southpaw about a girl is just too much fun to resist. The rest of the team's been enjoying it too, though Miyuki's been in a bad mood as a result.

If Miyuki were a nicer person, Youichi might have taken this opportunity to calm Miyuki down by explaining the relationship between Sawamura and Nishiura's ace. However, Miyuki is an ass, and a little suffering will be good for his soul in the long run. Payback for all his teasing.

"So you know about Mihashi-kun, then? He seems like a cute kid."

"He's the pitcher from another high school, and we all know Sawamura has no filter between his brain and his mouth."

"I dunno, he's kept pretty quiet about Mihashi-kun. Wonder why that is," he added slyly. "He stays up pretty late talking to him. It's a lot to be just baseball."

"Oh, please, Sawamura has nothing to talk about but baseball. He could go on for days. I feel bad for the guy on the other end."

"Well, from his replies, it seems to me like he's enjoyin' himself as much as Sawamura is." Normally, Miyuki would pick up on Youichi's purposely careful phrasing pretty quickly, but Miyuki's not at his sharpest right now, so it's going to be that much easier to mislead him.

Miyuki subtly clenches his teeth. "He's probably trying to see how much Sawamura will say about Seidou."

If Miyuki's going to keep pretending that his anger is about Sawamura possibly revealing team data rather than about a potential rival for Sawamura's attention, then Youichi's going to have to kick it up a notch.


Chris feels the slam of the ball in his mitt. Sawamura's on fire tonight, something clearly fueling his desire to make every ball the best he can throw. Maybe those extra exercises that he's started are helping with his aim.

He's pleased that Sawamura asked to play with him, but is a bit surprised that Sawamura isn't hounding the current first string catcher. "Did Miyuki tell you no at the end of practice?" he suddenly asks between throws. Sawamura's face freezes in an odd expression, somewhere between furious and gloomy.

Ah, so they're having a tiff. Sawamura always reacts the most fiercely to Miyuki's teasing, and Miyuki's always been unusually attentive to Sawamura's development. The two of them make a good battery, if an unorthodox one, and while Sawamura clearly enjoys pitching to any catcher, he's accidentally let slip when Miyuki isn't around that he wouldn't have come to a big baseball school without Miyuki's influence.

Chris tries to imagine what Sawamura might have done at another school with a less competitive baseball team. He wouldn't have grown as much as he has at Seidou, though Chris is sure Sawamura would have stood out wherever he went. Here, Sawamura has the chance to improve his skills and maybe get the opportunity to play in college or go pro. What would Sawamura have done with his life, if not baseball?

Another pitch smashes into his glove and Chris smiles. Perhaps it was meant to happen, Sawamura coming here. He's energized the team and won Miyuki's attention, and Chris knows that he himself wouldn't have changed without Sawamura.

Chris hears raised voices from outside the gym, but Sawamura either hasn't noticed or isn't concerned. Chris is willing to let it go, but a few minutes pass and the ruckus still hasn't let up, so he's a little worried. "Take a minute to stretch again," he says. "I'll be right back."

"Whatever you say, Senpai!"

Chris pokes his head out the door and raises his eyebrows. Four of his teammates are standing there, all in completely different emotional states: Miyuki looks like he's about to snap someone's neck, Kuramochi's got a gleeful grin splitting his face, Kawakami's clearly overwhelmed by the situation, and the younger Kominato is quietly trying to play mediator.

"Is there a problem?" Chris asks, even though the answer is obvious.

Miyuki's the one who answers with a forced calm. "We figured out who Sawamoron has been texting so eagerly. It's the ace pitcher from an opposing team, and god knows what data the idiot's been leaking to him."

"Oh, you mean Mihashi-kun?" Four pairs of eyes instantly snap to him.

"He told you?" Chris doesn't really like the look Miyuki turns on him. Teammate and friend Chris might be, but Miyuki's opinions on competition apparently differ between sports and his personal affairs. Yikes.

"Not told, so much... more like he mentioned it accidentally." Chris is only moderately good at lying, but because he does it so infrequently, people generally assume that he's telling the truth.

Sawamura had approached him two days ago. "Esteemed Chris-senpai! I seek your advice, if you would be willing to bestow it upon a kouhai such as myself."

"What is it?"

The first year looked genuinely serious. "I've been talking with another pitcher who doesn't have much confidence in his abilities. He says he's pitched whole games for his team and their record's not bad, but he's trying something new and it's not working. What should I do? Is there something I can say to Mihashi-kun to help him out? I've tried a few things, but they all seem to backfire." Chris could imagine that happening. Sawamura has literally the opposite of a lack of confidence, so a different approach would be necessary to help his friend. He'd brainstormed for a little while and was planning to offer some suggestions to Sawamura tonight after their one-on-one practice.

Miyuki shifts, bringing Chris back to the present. "He said he wasn't going to stop. What are we going to do about it?"

Chris smiles against his will. "I'm not sure we could convince Sawamura to do anything he doesn't want to do."


TUESDAY

They're the last two in the locker room changing into practice clothes and Ren is thinking about what he wants for dinner tonight when Abe-kun suddenly asks, "Are you being bullied, Mihashi?"

Ren blinks and turns around. "No?"

"Are you sure? You've been extra paranoid about your pitching lately."

Paranoid…. He just wants to overcome this barrier and get even better. "I don't really… at school… talk about baseball."

"Did your old team say something? Kanou's got your phone number – did one of the other kids get it from him?"

Ren shakes his head and sits down to tie his shoes nice and tight. He likes these new cleats. They're comfy and they've got a yellow stripe up the side. Plus, without them, he probably wouldn't have met Sawamura. "No," he replies innocently, "The only person I talk about pitching with is Sawamura-kun." There's a flash of something dark in Abe's expression, but it's wiped away in an instant. Did Ren imagine it?

"Is that so?"

There's a hint of danger in Abe's tone, so Ren smiles nervously. "Yep!" Is Abe angry with him?

Abe hums and helps Ren to his feet. "Let's go."

"Okay." He reaches for his bag, but Abe stops him.

"I'll carry it for you. You can grab one of the ball buckets on our way over." They leave the locker room and Ren quickly ducks into the equipment shed, idly wondering why Abe's got a tight grip on Ren's bag and a steely look in his eyes.


Takaya storms out to the field, livid. That bastard – making friends with Mihashi only to put him down. God, these big baseball schools are all the same. The players are just bullies who think that they're better than everyone else.

Well, Takaya isn't going to let Mihashi get bullied by anyone. He and Sawamura will be having words.

"Is that Mihashi's bag?" Hanai asks when Takaya stomps towards the dugout. The rest of the team continues stretching, but they don't do much to hide that they're listening for the catcher's answer.

"Yes." Takaya dumps both bags on the ground and unzips Mihashi's bag. "Mihashi just told me that the only person he talks to about baseball, besides our team, is the other pitcher he's been texting from Seidou." He looks up at the captain. "Three guesses why he's been a wreck for the last week."

Hanai's eyebrows shoot up and the team starts murmuring.

Tajima strolls over to the cluster of equipment and casually selects a bat. "Are we takin' a field trip to Seidou, then?" He gives it a practice swing that makes an audible whoosh.

Mihashi's phone is in a side pocket of the bag and the first number in the "recent messages" tab belongs to Sawamura Eijun. "We'll see."


Eijun's ditching his schoolbag in his room when his text tone goes off. It's probably Mihashi – Nishiura gets out of school about ten minutes earlier than Seidou, and some days he sends a message before practice.

He flips open his phone, and although the message was sent from Mihashi's phone, it's not him typing. \Leave our pitcher alone, you little shit. This is Nishiura's catcher and I will come to Seidou and break your pitching hand if you say another word to Mihashi about his throwing./

Who does this catcher think he is, huh? He doesn't get a say in who Mihashi can text! "Like hell I'm gonna stop talking to him," Eijun growls. Isolating Mihsahi from his friends won't be good for him, and being that controlling is totally uncalled for! He exhales furiously and punches back an answer to the bastard. \YOU TALK PRETTY BIG FOR SOMEONE AT THE OTHER END OF A PHONE, ASSHOLE. YOU WANNA GO?/ He doesn't wait for an answer, shoving his phone into his baseball bag.

Eijun leaves his room after changing into his practice clothes, still in the mood for a fight. He hauls out his tire to jog with as the rest of his teammates trickle in, and he's worked off most of his frustration by the time the team begins warmup. They tease him about using up all his energy before practice starts, but he doesn't fall behind during their run.

He forgets about the conversation with Abe-kun altogether until he checks his phone out of habit during the water break. There's one new message waiting from Mihashi's number. \Ah, sorry I fell asleep in the middle of your story yesterday! I was really tired!/

Eijun frowns. Mihashi didn't mention the messages exchanged by Eijun and Abe, instead referring back to the ones exchanged last night. Maybe Abe deleted them before putting Mihashi's phone back? Heh. That means Eijun won, right? Chicken.

\No worries/ he writes back. \How's practice?/

"Yo, bunt master, get over here already!"

"Don't say that like I can only bunt, Senpai!" Eijun shouts back, but he sets down his phone to join Kuramochi and some other first string players at the batting machines.

"Miyuki's looking ominous today," the shortstop comments.

Eijun gasps. "You knew such an advanced word, Kuramochi-senpai?!" But he follows Kuramochi's gaze to Miyuki, whose gaze could very probably cut someone who wasn't wary.

"Of course I know it, brat!" Eijun jumps back to avoid Kuramochi's kick, but Kuramochi chases him around and gives him a killer noogie when he catches up. "If Miyuki's mood affects his performance, Coach is gonna get mad."

"Like I care if Miyuki gets in trouble!"


By the time practice is half over, Youichi's starting to hear the other players murmur about Miyuki:

"His tongue's even sharper than usual today."

"Miyuki? Is that even possible?"

"Didn't you see? During the first drill, one of the first years practically cried after recovering a ball that was near him. God knows what he said to the kid."

"Geez, who put a bee in his bonnet?"

"I dunno, but it doesn't seem to be slowing him down at all. He's just more of an asshole."

"Whoever pissed him off better have a way to fix this." That thought spreads through the team like a wildfire, passing in irritated whispers from group to group as they move around to retrieve balls and take turns at the batting machines. There's some muttered speculation as to who it could be, but eventually everyone turns to look at Sawamura, who is conspicuously not speaking to Miyuki today. Miyuki may have been visibly in a bad mood, but Sawamura usually would've attempted to cheer him up (with spectacularly bad results) or ignored the atmosphere altogether and begged him to catch. Sawamura is many things, but subtle is not one of them.

It's during one of the drills when someone finally speaks up. Kusunoki-senpai says: "Oh, c'mon, Sawamura, do something already."

Sawamura frowns. "Hah? What're you talking about? It's not my turn to start running yet."

"Fix this."

"Fix what? I didn't break anything!" Sawamura's looking around at the equipment, obviously not sure what the third year is talking about.

Kanemaru snorts and joins the conversation. "Like it's not partly your fault." Around them, a couple more teammates voice their agreement, angry murmurings directed at him.

Youichi is content to watch Miyuki make an ass of himself, but the rest of the team's clearly not so keen on that, and since Miyuki's liable to decimate anyone who goes near him, they've clearly decided to blame the cause of Miyuki's current temper: Sawamura.


Ren checks the time on his phone and sees a message from Sawamura: \MY ENTIRE TEAM IS AFTER ME AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT I DID/

Ren makes a sympathetic face and looks over at his teammates, who have gathered "secretly" next to the dugout and are plotting with gusto. Coach Momoe had swept out of practice early after a quiet conversation with a few of the players – clearly on a mission – and Shiga-sensei is in a faculty meeting, so Hanai's technically in charge of practice. However, with Tajima being interested in conspiring with Abe, everyone was distracted by his exuberance and eventually fell in with them. Practice is almost over, anyway.

\Sawamura-kun, *MY* entire team is after you and I don't know what you did/

\OH FUCK/ Ren thinks that Sawamura's reply is a response to Ren's text, but then his phone goes off again with a photo message. It takes a few seconds to load, and when it's finished, Ren squeaks and drops his phone. Eyes closed, he slowly feels for the device and opens one eye at a time. The slightly blurry image on the screen is of a glasses-wearing player in catcher's gear glaring intensely at something to the side. Scary.

Ren starts to compose a reply, but is interrupted by Sawamura next message. \HELP ME/ Another image comes through, this time of an older student who's not dressed for practice. He's holding a clipboard, so maybe he's a manager. He doesn't look angry, just intensely disappointed. Oh dear.

Instead of writing back, Ren snaps a picture of his teammates, who are clustered together and looking very cross. He saves the image and then sends it to Sawamura with the caption \What did you say to them, Sawamura-kun?/

\SOMEBODY WANTED TO FIGHT ME AND I SAID YES IDK/ Ren looks up at his teammates, eyes wide. That couldn't be right! Half a minute passes and another text comes. \AND ANYWAY, WHAT THE HECK IS YOUR CATCHER'S PROBLEM? LIKE HE'D REALLY COME ALL THE WAY TO SEIDOU/

Go to Seidou? Why would Abe-kun want to go there? To see Sawamura? But why?

Wait. Sawamura always talks about Seidou's pitcher relay. Seidou has four really good pitchers, and Abe likes pitch variety. Maybe Abe wants to see them play? Oh, or maybe he wants to play with them. They're probably more reliable than Ren is, and more confident. One of the other pitchers that Sawamura talks about has lots of power and speed – the opposite of Ren. Sawamura has a weird style like Ren, but he's a southpaw, so he's got an advantage there. Seidou has a third year ace and a dependable second year relief pitcher, too. Does Abe want to catch for these other pitchers?

Ren blinks back the water welling up in his eyes. If Abe wants to get better by catching for them, then Ren shouldn't stop him. It's not Abe-kun's fault that Ren is the only pitcher on the team. Abe should learn everything he can about catching.

It takes a few minutes of starts, backspaces, and rewording before Ren sends \I don't mind if you want Abe-kun to catch for you/ It's a lie. He doesn't want Abe to catch for anyone else. Ren wants to be the only one.

\? I mean, I wouldn't say no if he wanted to, since Miyuki and I aren't talking right now. As long as Abe can leave his problems at the door, I don't care. Are you saying he wants to? Does he always have mood swings like this?/

Ren has to put down his phone so he can rummage through his bag. His tears spill over, making everything blurry. His fingers brush the pack of tissues and he yanks one out, dabbing at his eyes. Ren tries to breathe a little at a time so as not to let out a noticeable sob – in middle school he got used to crying quietly, and the tricks he learned come back easily.

"Mihashi! What's wrong?" At Abe's voice, Ren's control slips, shoulders shaking and finally letting himself bawl out loud. He hears Abe crouch next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. The rest of the team follows behind him. "It's okay, it's okay, just take it easy." Another hiccoughing sob escapes Ren. "Unless you'd rather go pitch? I'll catch some more for you."

"B-but don't you want to catch for Sawamura-kun? He said you wanted to go there."

Ren still can't see much beyond blurs of color, but the effect of his words is immediate: "I'm going to kill that fucking southpaw," Abe growls.


Sawamura's obliviousness continues to entertain Youichi. Seriously, how can someone be this dumb? Miyuki's obviously in a bad mood because of their fight yesterday and is mercilessly sniping at the other players as a result, but Sawamura is still clueless as to why the team wants to strangle him.

Sawamura's earlier strategic retreat has led to him running the bases at the end of practice as punishment, and thus his bag is left unattended while the rest of the team takes a moment to catch their breath before cleaning up the field.

Ah, sweet temptation. Youichi flips open Sawamura's phone and grins, ready to cause a bit of trouble as he sees Sawamura's recent messages. He pitches his voice so it's audible to most of the team. "Hey, Miyuki, listen to this. Sawamoron wants Mihashi-kun's friend to catch for him."

"That's it. I'm going to have a chat with that idiot." Miyuki stalks out to the field and grabs Sawamura by the back of the shirt, dragging him off towards the old equipment shed.

"Hey! Miyuki Kazuya! What are you doing?! Let me go!" Miyuki doesn't say a word, just continues to haul him away. "Help, I'm being kidnapped! Someone stop Miyuki-senpai!" Youichi just watches with delight as Miyuki pulls open the door and shoves Sawamura in. "Don't let Furuya steal my tire when I'm dead!"

Youichi's sniggering to himself when Sawamura's phone rings. The caller ID says it's Mihashi's number, so Youichi answers out of curiosity. "I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY YOU FUCKER," the speaker starts, causing Youichi to wrench the phone away from his ear at the volume. "MIHASHI'S BAWLING HIS EYES OUT OVER HERE BECAUSE YOU SAID I WANTED TO CATCH FOR YOU. YOU'RE A MILLION YEARS TOO EARLY TO THINK YOU COULD EVER COMPETE WITH HIM."


Yuu's about to get in on this shouting thing that Abe's up to, but suddenly Mihashi's in front of him, eyes still spilling tears. "Tajima-kun, why is Abe-kun angry? I don't understand. I thought… catching… doesn't he want to see?"

It doesn't take Yuu long to work through Mihashi's words. "Oh, you thought he was interested in working with other pitchers, huh? So it wasn't your friend's idea?"

"No!" He shakes his head so hard that Yuu's afraid he's going to hurt himself.

"Tell him that, then."

Mihashi wipes his nose and nods sharply. He trots over to Abe, trying to get his attention. "Abe-kun? Don't be angry with, with Sawamura-kun."

"You don't have to worry about Sawamura, Mihashi, I'll deal with him," he replies, and with one arm he absently draws Mihashi up against his chest. Yuu's eyebrows jump, though this development isn't really a surprise. Mihashi blinks, startled, and immediately stops sobbing. He shifts his weight, as if he doesn't know what to do, but he gradually snakes his arms around Abe and leans in further, exhaling heavily. A happy, bird-like smile spreads on Mihashi's face and his eyes fall shut.

Abe's still yelling into the phone, but a quick looks around shows Yuu that everyone else has noticed Mihashi slowly relaxing as he snuggles into Abe. Most of them blush and look away, but again, there's not much surprise going around.


Takaya's getting to the end of his tirade when he notices that Mihashi isn't crying anymore. It's very quiet all of a sudden, and he stops speaking. After a few moments of silence, Takaya abruptly ends the call, unsure of how to proceed. "Uh. So are you feeling better?" He can feel Mihashi nod, soft hair brushing against his cheek. "That's… good."

Tajima bounces up to them. "Yo, do you want me to take the phone so you can stay there?"

Hmm? Stay where? Takaya frowns in confusion until it actually sinks in that he's hugging Mihashi. Mihashi's arms are around him. Takaya has one hand in Mihashi's hair. They're hugging. Takaya's face burns and he moves to pull away. He doesn't want Mihashi or the team to get the wrong idea. This is just a hug between teammates. Battery-mates. Part of being Mihashi's partner means taking care of him.

Takaya stops shifting away when he feels Mihashi start to tense up again. Just a little longer, then. He relaxes back into it, handing the phone to Tajima and putting his other arm around Mihashi too.

He can feel himself unwinding a little, anger draining out as Mihashi hums contentedly. Takaya's still blushing furiously, but if it makes Mihashi feel better, then he'll stay here. Plus, contact with Mihashi feels good in a way Takaya's not familiar with.

Tajima moves out of Takaya's line of vision and then there's a click.

Takaya turns his head to shoot him a threatening look. He's going to grab the phone from Tajima and delete that picture… just as soon as he's done hugging Mihashi.


About seven minutes into cleanup, Haruichi clears his throat. Youichi looks up. "You know, Miyuki-senpai and Eijun-kun have been in there a long time. Maybe we should go check on them."

"Check on them?" Jun asks, "Why? I've had enough of pissed-off Miyuki to last me years."

Youichi laughs and throws out a guess. "In case Miyuki killed him or something?" Haruichi shrugs but doesn't exactly deny it. "This should be good."

When they get close to the unused shed, Youichi sticks a hand out in a stopping gesture and then puts a finger to his lips. "Let's get the full effect of the argument without interruptin'." Haruichi sighs. Youichi scoots forward and Sawamura's phone goes off again, startling him. Youichi had automatically pocketed the device after the angry caller hung up, not expecting that there would be any further conversation. He checks the phone and there's a message. Wary, he opens it.

It is not, in fact, another text asking Sawamura to stop talking to Nishiura's pitcher. Instead, it's an image of said pitcher and a second player who has a #2 on his back. Youichi recognizes Mihashi from the picture he sent Sawamura of his hair – Sawamura had complained about bedhead, but Mihashi's was much worse.

The other person in the picture is probably the catcher, judging by the jersey number. Mihashi called him Abe in his messages to Sawamura.

Youichi examines the photo for another moment before remembering where he is. He puts the phone on silent and hastily shoves the device back in his pocket. He approaches the door carefully, hearing Haruichi follow behind him. He cracks the door, peeking in and –

"Oh, for fuck's sake."

"What is it?" Haruichi whispers. Youichi steps to the side and lets him approach. The first year squeaks and backs away, face red. "Are they really…?"

"Yep."

"Oh, Eijun-kun," Haruichi groans quietly, though Sawamura isn't in earshot, "you picked here?"

Youichi glances towards the door. "I don't think there was a lotta logical, conscious decision-makin' going on here." He snickers as a thought strikes him. "This is prime blackmail material. I got a shitload of stuff on Sawamura already, but Miyuki's always weaseled out of anything I think I have on him."

He flips open Sawamura's phone and steps in front of the door again to grab a picture. Youichi centers the phone camera on the two idiots making out in the equipment shed and the shutter clicks quietly. He sends the photo to himself for future extortion, sets the photo as Sawamura's wall paper, and, for good measure, sends a copy back to Mihashi's phone with the caption \Nice try, Nishiura, but I think we win the friendly battery contest/

Youchi and Haruichi return to the field, and as the team finishes cleanup, the two lovebirds emerge from the equipment shed. Youichi snorts. They're a careful distance from each other, further than usual for them, and neither of them quite pull off a casual expression – Sawamura's got a goofy grin turning up the corners of his lips and Miyuki looks satisfied enough to have just ruined someone's day.

Ugh. They look so happy.

Youichi pulls Sawamura into a headlock and grins at his squawked exclamation.


Eijun's stomach is still too full of butterflies to eat. He squirms in his seat as his teammates sit down, and Miyuki grins next to him. Eijun pushes the food around on his plate, imagining battles between the vegetables over the rice hill. The nicest-looking carrot takes the top of the heap, but is pushed off by a boring piece of broccoli before the carrots reclaim it. He finally works up the motivation to pick up a carrot to eat when Miyuki's hand slips onto his thigh. The vegetable falls.

"Something wrong, Sawamura?" Miyuki asks innocently, rubbing his thumb on Eijun's leg.

Eijun's eyes fasten onto Miyuki's lips like a magnet and he feels his face go red. "No!" The hand withdraws, but Eijun doesn't really think that means the torture is over.

With Miyuki, the torture is never over.

Furuya ambles in to dinner about twenty minutes late and sits down at Eijun's table with his tray. "You get lost or something?" Miyuki asks with a chuckle.

"I waited for a while outside Coach's office to talk to him about something," Furuya murmurs, "but he was busy, so I think I'll try again tomorrow." He eats a mouthful of rice before continuing casually, "Does anyone happen to know why the coach of the Nishiura baseball club is on the phone with Coach Kataoka?"

Eijun coughs and spits out his water. From further down the table, Tetsu speaks up: "I know we have a practice game against them in a week."

Eijun sits up straighter. "Really?!" He's going to text Mihashi later.

"So, Sawamura," Miyuki begins, poking him, "what do you know about Nishiura's team? Strengths, weaknesses, oddities – do you know anything that could be helpful?"

"Oh!" Eijun's face lights up. "Mihashi's awesome! He never gives up the mound!"

Miyuki looks taken aback. "You're saying they only have one pitcher?"

"Yup!"

"What else do you know?"

"They've got one really good batter in the fourth position?"

Miyuki quirks an eyebrow. "Are you being purposely vague? What's their fourth-hole's average like? What kind of defensive plays do they have? What's your friend's top pitching speed?"

"Geez, Miyuki, I don't know all that! We just talk about pitching styles and professional baseball matches and whatever else comes to mind."

"Is their catcher any good?"

"I dunno, but Mihashi adores him."

"So he's a little biased, huh?"

"Yeah." Eijun elbows him lightly. "Aren't you a little biased about me?"

"Not in the slightest."

"Hey!"


There's a message waiting for Ren when he gets home. Actually, there're two. The first one is a picture of Sawamura kissing the boy with glasses from the photo earlier, who's probably Miyuki-san. The caption makes Ren blush. He wasn't trying to get too familiar with Abe-kun. It felt nice, though, and Ren thinks that Abe liked it too. Abe seemed less frowny than usual when they pulled away from each other.

Should Ren send Sawamura his congratulations…? Would that be weird? Ren doesn't know quite what Sawamura and Miyuki are, though.

He vacillates for a few minutes before moving onto the second message. It says \GAH Kuramochi-senpai stole my phone again! But anyway, GUESS WHAT. WE'LL BE PLAYING NISHIURA IN A PRACTICE MATCH NEXT WEEK. AND I FINALLY GET TO SEE YOU PITCH. BUT NO PRESSURE, I PROMISE. DON'T FREAK OUT. I'M JUST SO EXCITED. DON'T FREAK OUT/

Ren looks out the window. There's still enough light to pitch outside for another half-hour, maybe longer. \See you then/ he types, and sets his phone on the nightstand so he can grab his shoes and a baseball.


A big "thanks!" to Oort on AO3 for helping plan this crossover. This fic would not be here without my conversation with them :D

Hit me up on my tumblr (meridiangrimm-dot-tumblr-dot-com) if you want to talk about gay baseball players.