AN: I know I'm writing this story at a snail's pace, but I'm writing it!
"Thank God I found you!" a voice screamed across the courtyard. Kael, who was going back to his classroom after grabbing some lunch from the cafeteria, looked up to see Ms. Aino running and waving her arms towards him. He glanced around to realize he was the only person in the vicinity she could have been referring to.
Ms. Aino ran up to him with an almost maniacal smile on her face. He leaned back from her exuberance, suspicion in his eyes as he looked at her.
"Come with me!" She grabbed his hand and began to lead him away forcefully.
"Where are we going?"
"The baseball field," she said as if it were obvious.
"Why?" Though, perhaps it would have been better to just ask someone else once he got there in retrospect. Ms. Aino didn't cease explaining herself until 3 minutes after they had reached their destination. He truly did not understand why he would need to know that she spent 15 minutes untangling her hair in the morning in order to tell him that they needed an ump for the game. Then again, she had dressed him with padding during her story and placed him in position while she spoke, making sure not to let him get in a word edgewise. Maybe she wasn't as empty headed as he thought.
In all honesty, he could have stopped her. He could have refused. He had plenty of work to do and deadlines that were fast approaching. But the thought of Rei telling him to get out there and the fact that he'd be disappointing Ms. Aino after she was so vulnerable with him the night before, wouldn't let him.
The game started quiet enough, 3 innings with no runs. Around the fifth inning he saw the players get more animated. There were numbers on the scoreboard now. But the smiles were more mischievous. He was missing something. Kael looked over the field and saw nothing amiss. The dugouts were calm enough with the exception of Ms. Aino giggling hysterically. He wondered what was so funny.
In the next inning, a batter from the home team came up to the plate looking a ragged mess and smelling of smoke. Kael straightened and regarded him curiously. He looked back at the dugout he came from and saw the team- and Ms. Aino- doubled over laughing and pointing. The batter in front of him looked like he was trying to be angry but couldn't really contain his smile.
"You okay?" Kael asked.
"Mina's teaching the teams about old school pranks."
Kael then remembered going to Minor League games with his father. The memories were still marred with guilt but this one less than the others. His brother had never been into sports, so this was a thing he and his father shared together. His favorite part had always been how many pranks the team pulled in the dugouts and having his father explain all the jokes. Sometimes the players would stay standing outside the benches after the national anthem, a standoff game between the teams, down to the last man. Then there was the bubble gum on the hat prank where a victim would be picked and everyone would stick their gum on their hat without the person noticing. And then there was the funniest if not most dangerous prank of all.
Kael's eyes widened. "She set your foot on fire?!"
"I smelled it before I could feel it, and they had someone ready with the gatorade next to me." He laughed.
"It was still dangerous." Kale said.
"Lighten up! I'm fine and the team's laughing. We can all use the laughter."
"Come on! Are we gonna play or what?!"
Kael shot a glare at Ms. Aino who had been the one to shout.
While the rest of the team sobered at the look, she laughed and sent him a wink.
Kale placed his mask back on and resumed the game.
After the 7th inning stretch he noticed the players coming up with an increasing amount of sunflower seed husks in their hair and stuck on their clothes.
"Let me guess. Ms. Aino."
The batter laughed and shook his hair.
Kael looked back and saw her whispering to one player and pointing at an unsuspecting kid, while three other boys stifled their laughter behind her. What Ms. Aino couldn't see was that their victim was preparing a prank of his own. The whole field turned their attention to the dugout to see the mad girl spring on the lone boy only have him spray everyone with water bottles. Ms. Aino screamed in surprise while the other boys had a full out water war. Kael heard the other boys laughing and realized his own laughter was among them.
The game ended with no one really caring who won. At some point Ms. Aino had snuck to the opposing team's dugout to have them join in on the prank fun. The whole field left with tired but genuine smiles on their faces. Kael didn't smile much, but he did feel light.
"Admit it," Ms. Aino said, coming up behind him.
"You had fun," she said with an evil glint in her eye.
Kael stopped walking. "You did all of that so I would have fun?"
"Don't be narcissistic. Everyone had a good time."
Kael gave a soft chuckle. "Of course."
"Hey Mina!" a young boy ran up to them. "Did it work? Did the cop have fun?!"
Ms. Aino's eyes went wide and Kael noticed a pink tint to her cheeks. She shoved the boy's cap over his face and pushed him forward.
"Bye Sammy!" Mina practically growled. Kael stared at her with a raised brow. "That Sammy. Always talking nonsense. Anyway… Bye!"
He watched her run away, a small smile on his lips. He didn't notice Ace glaring at him.
"Did my eyes deceive me or was that you I saw reffing the softball game?" Mamoru came into the classroom Kael had claimed for himself with a teasing smile. Kael had brought dinner back to his room when he saw that cafeteria space was limited and decided to keep working.
"Ms. Aino is apparently a very pushy person."
"Ha, yeah. Mina's a character."
Kael looked up from his laptop. "She helped the kids set their feet on fire."
"She hot-footed them? Classic!"
"Not classic. And not funny either. It's a fire hazard. What would their parents say?"
Mamoru sobered. "Most of those kids are from the coastline. Their class was on a field trip to a shrine in the Abukuma Mountains. Most of their town was completely wiped out. Parents included."
Kael felt his heart grip without making a conscious effort to empathize. He knew what losing your whole family and being left alone with the burden of survival felt like. He'd have to ask Ms. Aino if he needed any more games reffed. And find her a fire extinguisher.
"You've been spending some time with Mina." Mamoru sat on the couch. The same couch he had slept on the night before with the woman in question. He must have been incredibly tired to fall asleep so easily and so deeply. He thought back on his life and wondered if he had ever spent the entire night with a woman. It was startling to realize that until last night his relationships were made up of one night stands in which he either snuck out of their house or kicked them out of his apartment. Still, it must have been exhaustion for why he slept so well. He couldn't imagine sleeping with someone else- especially in such an uncomfortable position as sitting up- could feel that good.
"Earth to Kael…" Mamoru said, waving his arm to get Kael's attention.
"I said, you've been spending a lot of time with Mina. Might that be who you're daydreaming about?"
"I'm working, not daydreaming. Did you need something?"
Mamoru shrugged. "Just wondering how the two of you got together so early in the morning looking like you both just rolled out of bed."
Kael shut his laptop and gave Mamoru his full attention. "We did not roll out of bed. We ran into each other in the hallway and decided to walk to the cafeteria together. She then recruited me to help out with softball. That is the extent of our interaction."
"Ran into each other in the hallway?"
Kael gave a short nod.
"You've never been good at lying, Kael, and you've gotten worse with age. What was she doing in this hallway in the first place? She was supposed to sleep in the library, I know because I saw her in her cot with her boyfriend, and at some point she left and never came back. Next time I see her, she's walking into the cafeteria with you."
Kael had always told Mamoru he'd make a great detective, he had never been annoyed by it until now. "Your point being?"
"Do you know her whereabouts in between the times I saw her?"
"Why are you so interested?"
"First, that's not an answer. Second, I like Mina. And I like you. I don't think the two of you have a single thing in common, but stranger things have happened. Hell, look at me and Usa."
Kael gave a half smile remembering the legendary arguments those two produced over the smallest of things. He was genuinely glad they were able to stop mocking each other long enough to admit their feelings. Mamoru deserved happiness, he'd always thought so.
"Plus," Mamoru continued. "Usa's kind of worried about her. Something about her soulmate being shady."
Ace. Alarms went off in his head every time he thought back to the jealous boyfriend. And now it turned out that her friends were also worried. Kael usually avoided domestic dispute cases like the plague- murders were so much easier to deal with- but there was no precinct, there were no forms to fill out, there was only him.
"I'll ask her for his name tomorrow and run a background check."
"Now wait, I was just checking on her. You don't need to-"
"Relax, Mamoru. The guy rubbed me the wrong way too. I was going to do it anyway, this is just more motivation."
"When did you meet him?"
"When he caught Mina and I coming out of this room together this morning."
Mamoru's eyebrows disappeared into his bangs for a moment. But only for a moment because his face quickly morphed into a wicked smile.
"So you were with her last night."
"Get your head outta the gutter. She came to me asking about Rei."
"Oh." All humor left Mamoru's face. "Right. I still can't believe Rei was your soulmate. Though, I guess I can see it."
Funny, Ms. Aino didn't think so at all. "She fell asleep on the couch. Nothing happened." Mamoru didn't need to know that she didn't fall asleep on the couch alone.
"I'm guessing he wasn't too happy about that?"
"He got loud with her."
"Well, he saw his girlfriend coming out of a room with another man after she was missing the whole night. Can't say I wouldn't get a little loud too."
"It wasn't a little loud and it wasn't about his volume. It was what he was saying to her. I might have let it pass if she hadn't tried defending him after. I've seen enough cases like that in my career to spot an abusive relationship when I see one."
"You think it's that bad?"
"Maybe. Maybe I caught them on a bad day. But I'm gonna get that background check anyway and keep an eye on him when I can."
"Thanks man. Mina's Usa's friend but I've known her a long time too. She's a sweet girl and I'd hate to see her end up with a jerk." Mamoru looked at his watch and stood up from the couch. "Alright man, I'll leave you alone. Thanks."
Kael kept working for another hour before he shut off the lights and laid down on the couch. He remembered how Ms. Aino says Rei would have preferred a 'goofball' to his type of demeanor. But the last thing he thought was how this couch wasn't actually comfortable at all.