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The Neutral Zone

Chapter Text

 

Takashima Rei liked to believe that when it came to baseball she was not easily impressed. I mean, that was probably the most important aspect of her job as the Seidō baseball club’s vice-president: to have high standards. And yet, there she was, gaping shamelessly at the petite figure hovering over second base in jaw dropping incredulity.

“Kurokage-san is quite an exceptional player, ne, Rei-chan?” The man sitting to her right asked, bubbling with excitement. His name was Ootani Akira and he worked as a sports journalist for a news network based in Kyoto. They had been friends since college and, in light of their similar occupations, relied on one another occasionally for information.

The unmistakable solid sounding crack of a bat making full-contact with the ball echoed throughout the field and stands. Rei’s eyes remained glued on the second baseman as the ball came screaming down the field just right of second and only a few feet from the ground. With the bases loaded, the batter’s goal was to send the ball in an almost impossible to catch direction and as low to the ground as possible to give his teammates an opportunity to make it to home. A good plan in theory, but, like in most theories, it was only applicable under ideal circumstances.

In a blinding flit of movement, the second baseman pivoted 180 degrees on their left foot leaving their back to home plate, dipping into a low lunge— so low that their left leg was nearly parallel with the ground— all the while ensuring to keep a toe on base, and held out their gloved right hand expectantly, as if the ball’s destination was inevitable. Amazingly, the ball sunk into the player’s glove with a surgeon’s precision, and, following the ball’s momentum, they proceeded to shoot back up while spinning back around. The runner sprinting to second obviously wasn’t anticipating that catch, but by the time they’d realized what had happened they were well within that perfect window of close but not close enough. After tagging the runner out, without missing a beat, the second baseman snapped their arm like a whip, flinging the ball back to the catcher on home just in time for them to tag the runner coming in hot from third.

The whole thing was over in an instant. Rei was at a loss for words. How could someone so small move so fast? Who catches with their back to the ball? There were so many questions, but Rei could easily sum it up into one: just who was this Kurokage-san?

“Pretty incredible, huh? Almost seems unnatural. Though, I guess that kid’s always been sort of a freak when it comes to sports,” said Akira. “A national champion in kendo, judo, karate, and aikido: being the successor to the most revered martial arts school in all of Japan, I suppose the athletic prowess shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s hard to believe that person is really just a teenage girl.”

Rei shifted her attention over to her friend once Kurokage had disappeared into the dugout with the rest of her teammates. “If she’s a martial arts champion from a famous martial arts family then why is she playing baseball? She could probably qualify for the Olympics in a couple years if she trained hard.”

Akira shrugged. “Who knows? Could be she’s just sick of it, or maybe she just purely loves baseball. I’ll tell you what I do know, though; I’ve been writing articles about this kid since she was four years old and not once did I ever see her smile before she started playing baseball. Not even when she won national champion and was standing up on the first place tier holding a trophy that was almost as big as her. I think that she could be a phenomenal player if the people on her team could keep up with her speed and reflexes. What do you think?”

Just as Rei had opened her mouth to reply, a familiar name came through the P.A. Speakers.

“Batting next, second baseman, Kurokage-san.”

Both Akira and Rei turned their heads down towards the grey-clad player standing on the right side of the batters box. She was armed with a wooden bat, Rei noted, and she was also either a left-handed or a switch hitter. Time to see if she’s just as impressive on offense.

On the first pitch, Kurokage’s wooden bat flashed around her torso so quick that the only indication she’d actually swung at all was the deafening crack of the ball colliding with wood, sending it soaring into left field. Kurokage took off the instant the ball had left the face of her bat, sprinting to her destination with a level of agility and ferocity that she hadn’t seen beyond Kuramochi Youichi.

He wouldn’t be happy if I recruited another human cheetah, thought Rei.

The left outfielder was dashing to catch Kurokage’s ball, but, unfortunately for him, he ran into the wall as the little white dot sailed over the barrier. That tiny teenage girl had just hit a home run. With a wooden bat.

Well, I guess it’s always nice to have some friendly teammate rivalry.

Akira leaned back with an amused chuckle. “So, what do you say, Rei-chan? A freak belongs with other freaks, ne?”

“Seidō is not a team of freaks. They’re just all uniquely talented,” Rei defended. Although, I guess freaks would be one way to describe them.

She glanced down at the topic of their discussion just in time to see her cross over home plate. I can’t believe I’m about to do this. Everyone’s going to loose their shit.

“Alright. I’ll talk to her after the game.”

And thus began a new saga of hormones, hilarity, and, of course, baseball. Join our favorite high school baseball team as they take the highway to the “Neutral Zone.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you don’t want me to help you carry your things? It’s still a long walk to the dorms, Kurokage-kun,” the brunette woman to my left asked for what seemed like the hundredth time since we’d passed through Seidou’s school gate.

I smiled politely and shook my head. “Thank you for offering, Takashima-san, but I’ve got it. It just looks like a lot, but it’s not heavy.” I couldn’t blame her for wanting to reduce some of my baggage load; I looked like a pack mule hauling a years worth of goods down a mountain. It really wasn’t heavy, but I will concede that it was difficult to walk whilst sandwiched between seven separate bags.

Takashima-san returned my smile. “If you say so. Just let me know if it becomes too much.”

“Hai.”

“You look different from the last time we met,” she said, keeping the conversation going.

I laughed sheepishly. “Yeah, well, I thought ‘new school, new me’,” I tried to pull off a dramatic hair flip but instead ended up just smacking my head into the end of the bat sticking out of my equipment bag. Smooth.

“Short hair is a very flattering look for you. The bangs make your face look even cuter,” she replied.

I failed to suppress the furious, embarrassed blush that spread across my cheeks. “I don’t know about all that, but it does make it easier to do things,” I said with a nervous chortle. I’d never had short hair before; my father was always insistent that I keep it long and feminine so as to not dishonor the clan. Something about the heir’s image needing to coincide with traditional gender roles which I always found ironic considering how fiercely he preached about the irrelevance of gender in the dojo. The reason why I’d decided to cut it short wasn’t to spite him (although that’s what he almost certainly believes); it was because I wanted to be taken seriously as a member of the team. I did come here specifically to play baseball, after all. If I’d showed up with waist length hair, they would have all dismissed me as a fragile little girl. Plus, I thought that a more conventional haircut would help me to blend in at school. The idea was to make the least amount of waves as possible.

“First, I’ll be showing you to your dormitory, Kurokage-kun.” Rei called over her shoulder. 
 
I had never lived in a dormitory with other people before, and now I was about to be thrown into a building full of boys and only one bathing facility? What could go wrong?  
 
I cleared my throat. “Ano, Takashima-san, what will my rooming situation be?” I was on my knees mentally praying that I would be an exception to the ‘roommate rule’ on account of certain, well, gender discrepancies.  
 
“You’ll be assigned your own private room, however, you will still be expected to use the community washroom. There are private stalls fitted with locks in one portion of the facility and we’ve worked out a bathing schedule where you’ll have your own time slots in the morning and evening; you’ll never be put in a compromising position so long as you adhere to those guildlines,” she replied. 
 
Oh, thank the sweet merciful heavens. I don’t give a dusty old fart about the bathrooms, but throwing a socially inept only child into a roommate predicament and expecting her to painlessly transition from solitude to sharing everything would obviously be a flop.
 
We finally were entering baseball territory as I could see the Seidou Spirit Dorm and training facilities ahead followed by the massive fenced in fields. My anxiety was starting to melt away being replaced instead with excitement. This is what I was here for; not school, not roommates, but pure, raw baseball. I couldn’t wait to get settled in so I could make a mad dash to the batting cages. Or really any section of their seemingly immaculate training facilty. I’d been cooped up on the train for so long that I really just wanted to kill off all of the excess energy that had welled up inside of me.  
 
Takashima-san made a right towards the dorm building, “You’ll be on the second floor in room 204. The rest of the rooms below you and next to you are all occupied by one boy from each grade level, so you’ll still have neighbors close by.” 
 
I gave her a grateful look. “Arigatiou, Takashima-san. You’ve been so helpful throughout this entire process.” She really had been. Without her I never would have even known where to begin with the enrollment and transfer processes. Plus, even if I had managed to figure out how to do either of those things, actually finding this school and making it here would have been a completely different fiasco. I’m what you might call ‘directionally-challenged’; I can’t even find my refrigerator for a drink in the middle of the night.  
 
“Well, it is my job, after all,” she said with a laugh. “But, I do rather enjoy your company, and I believe that you will make our team even stronger.”   
 
I wonder about that, I thought to myself. I mean, not only was I going to be the only girl on this team, but they already had such a strong, experienced batting line-up composed mostly of third-years. I could already feel the fire being lit underneath me. I’d already accepted the scholarship, so the time was nigh for second guesses. I was here to play, and I wouldn’t settle for anything less than first-string.  
 
“Here we are.” We had come to a stop in front of a blue door- not surprising since I had already taken notice of the almost sickening amount of blue all over this campus.  
 
“Kurokage Kaien.” I read aloud. My name was hanging from the name plate to the right of the door, and I stifled a snicker as I observed the three names hanging outside of all the other room. Oh, yes, the double standards of the female gender could be so sweet at times. Though, those times were far and few between.  
 
“Hai, it must be nice know you’ll have a whole room all to yourself instead of having to share it with two other people,” Takashima-san replied as she unlocked and opened the door to my dorm. 
 
I let out a humorless laugh. “Yeah, I’m an only child, so, therefore, sharing does not equal caring for me.” 
 
Takashima-san adjusted her glasses before handing me the key she had used to open my door. “Well, you’re about to have nearly a hundred brothers. I hope you’re prepared, Kurokage-kun.” The smirk on her face told me that fear should be the appropriate response but boys were always something I could handle. Girls however… well lets just leave it at ‘the last communication I had with a female my age resulted in bodily injury.’  
 
“I’ll leave you to get settled in. Don’t forget that you begin classes and practice tomorrow. All of the information you need is in the file on your desk. Come find me if you have any issues or need anything at all, including someone to just talk to, you know, girl to girl. I’ll be rooting for you, Kurokage-kun,” and with that, the bespectacled brunette exited my room, making sure to close the door behind her, leaving me alone to unpack my belongings.  
 
I looked around my room. It was relatively small, with bunkbeds to the right, an entertainment center at the back, and a desk to the left being the only pieces of furniture in the room. I grinned to myself. Screw getting settled, time to change and have a look around.  
 
I opened my suitcase and grabbed a set of training clothes; just a black t-shirt with my clan’s mon, the Higenbana, printed on the back in white and a pair of black shorts. Being the beginning of April, it was just warm enough to get away with short sleeves and shorts so I was going to take advantage until the dreadful cold of winter stole away the privilege.  
 
I quickly threw off my travel clothes and got into my new ones, pausing to look at myself in the full body mirror hanging on my door before I left. For the amount of time that I spent in the sun, I still managed to remain a nice fluorescent shade of white. That coupled with my messy, short black hair and nearly yellow amber colored eyes really pulled together the whole ‘vampire walking among humans’ look for me.  
 
I ran my fingers through my hair trying to smooth out the fly-aways, but, as always, it was a lost cause. I sighed and shrugged it off, remembering that I wasn’t here to win a beauty contest. I had already bid my farewells to my nearly hip length hair when I’d made up my mind to transfer schools.
 
Making sure to grab my dorm key, wallet, and cell phone, I flung my door open and bounced from my doorway, excited to finally have a look around this place unsupervised.  
 
Naturally, though, in my race to explore unknown territory, I ran directly into someone who’d just happened to be stepping out of the dorm next to mine. I guess not even a lifetime of martial arts training was enough to work the airhead out of me.  
 
“Sonovabitch, my nose!” I swore and reached up to poke and prod the tender area that had made contact. Not that it particularly hurt, but my eyes began to well up with tears in reaction to the irritation the blunt force trauma caused to my sinuses.  
 
“Ah, sorry, sorry! Are you okay? I wasn’t paying attention! Aw, man, I can’t believe I hurt a girl!” The boy in front of me panicked. He was almost a head taller than me with messy brown hair and bright amber eyes. His skin was tanned, like mine should have been, but his body structure was a little underdeveloped. He was probably a first-year, and a loud one at that. 
 
I rubbed my nose, kneading out the tenderness, and then held up my hand to hush him. “It’s fine, I promise. It was probably my fault for just running out of my room and not even looking where I was heading. I’m sorry, too. No harm, no foul.” I smiled sincerely, hoping that he would calm down once he saw that I was okay.  
 
He still had a slightly panicked expression on his face. “Still, I am truly sorry! I’ll add twenty more laps to my evening menu as punishment! Please, forgive me!” 
 
My eye twitched. Did he have to yell everything? Although, he did kind of remind me of a cute golden retriever, with all of his energy and emotion. “Really, it’s fine. But, if you do feel that bad about it, then I know of a way you can make it up to me.”  
 
He nodded vigorously. “Of course! Anything!” 
 
I grinned at his enthusiasm. “Could you show me around here? I’m new and I’d really like to get a tour of the facilities so I know where to go tomorrow.” Maybe literally running into someone wasn’t such a bad thing. 
 
The boy’s amber eyes lit up. “Yes, of course! Did you get lost from the school? I’d be happy to show you around campus!”  
 
There was a pause. I realized after a moment that he was being serious and decided then that this kid must be a complete fucking moron to not read the context of the situation, i.e. me walking out of the dorm next to his, my athletic clothes, etc. Therefore, with his IQ level in mind, I did not feel the least bit sorry for the lad as I flipped him over face first into the ground with a one armed shoulder throw, twisting his arm behind him as I sat on his back pinning him down. “No, I didn’t get lost from the school you little shit! I’m here to play baseball just like you are! Don’t think just because I’m a girl I’m not qualified to be here!” 
 
“Wah~~~! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t know!” He cried. 
 
Suddenly, the door to room 203 opened, and a guy with green, spiked hair stepped out. “Oi! Bakamura, if you’ve time to dick around, you’ve got time to go get us drinks!”  
 
The one accurately dubbed Bakamura jumped below me with a look of horror appearing on his face. “Kuramochi-senpai!” 
 
Kuramochi froze, obviously trying to process the fact that there was a female in their dormitory.  
 
A few awkward seconds of our Mexican stand off ticked by, but I didn’t loosen my hold on Bakamura.  
 
“The hell did it get so quiet for—,” the guy who had broken the awkward silence appeared in the doorway. He stopped halfway through his sentence though when he finally got a good view of what had shut Kuramochi up. The second guy was the tallest of the three boys and had messy brown hair and glasses. And can I also just say that he was definitely the best looking of the group? I mean seriously, who the hell looks like that in real life? 
 
So, around this time was when the blush started creeping up to my face from all of the stunned stares, and naturally I said what any sensible girl would say in the midst of three good-looking guys. “Howdy there, neighbors.” I wondered if they could hear my internal screaming. If death by embarrassment were a thing, I would have died at that exact moment.  
 
The ridiculously attractive guy in the glasses was the first to loose his cool and start laughing hysterically. Kuromochi didn’t last long after him thank the Lord.  
 
“We should send Bakamura out for drinks more often!” Kuramochi howled.  
 
The other guy nodded, gripping his stomach in laughter. “Holy shit, yes! Sawamura is on drink duty for life!”  
 
I’m sure that whatever look was on my face was a mixture of pained anxiety as I let out a few tense laughs. Not exactly the intro I had in mind for my next-door neighbors but I just had to roll with it at this point.  
 
“So,” the guy with the glasses began, flashing me a blinding grin that should be made illegal on the grounds that it could cause physical harm to someone’s heart. “You must be the new recruit Rei-chan’s been yammering about. I almost didn’t believe her when she said that she’d scouted a girl to join our team,” he said the word ‘girl’ with a slightly dismissive scoff.
 
As my murderous aura began to gather around me again, I decided that he’d probably still be just as cute with a black eye.  
 
“Miyuki, wait—!” Sawamura’s warning wasn’t faster than my movements, though, as I tackled the glasses wearing asshole into his room and put him in the same lock I’d had Sawamura in.  
 
“Temeeeee~~! You wanna say that again?! This girl is about to end you!” I yelled, off in my second blind rage of the evening. Things were going so well already.  
 
My inner demon hushed after a moment, though, once I realized how many pairs of eyes were on me. A quick nervous glance around the room later and I realized that I was surrounded by seven very surprised looking young men, obviously very curious to know just who the hell the screaming banshee sitting on top of their teammate was.  
 
And, que a repeat of the awkward Mexican stand off that happened thirty seconds ago.  
 
“Howdy there, neighbors.” Nailed it.  
 
“Oi, that was only cute the first time you did it!” the guy pinned underneath me mumbled into the carpet.  
 
And, just like that, my third blind rage of the evening began. “Miyuki, was it? I’m sorry, mind repeating that? I couldn’t hear you with all that rug in your mouth.” 
 
Kuramochi, who’d never stopped laughing completely from before, was the first one in stitches. “This chick’s the best! Can we make her vice-captain? Anyone who can shut up both Bakamura and Miyuki deserves it!”  
 
The rest of the guys joined in on the laughter, and Miyuki took my temporarily frozen state to sit up and roll me off of him. I landed in a graceful mess of limbs on the floor next to him.  
 
“I’m guessing that this is the girl Takashima-san just recruited?” the pink haired guy with slits for eyes sitting on the bed to my right asked. I jumped a little. I hadn’t sensed his presence.
 
I nodded, and sprang up, bowing deeply once I was standing. “My name is Kurokage Kaien. I’m a second-year student and I just transferred from Akishino Academy in Kyoto. It’s a pleasure to meet all of you. I look forward to playing baseball together.” My voice was loud, hoarse and spastic sounding as it always was when I was put on the spot. Again, not the intro I’d hoped for, but its not like the captain of the team was there or anything. 
 
“Hello, Kurokage-san. I am Yuuki Tetsuya, and I will be your captain for the remainder of this season.” Motherfucker.  
 
I looked up to see a tall, muscular guy with short black hair standing in front of me with his hand extended for a handshake. I nervously shook his hand thinking to myself that the only thing that could put the icing on this giant metaphorical shit cake would be if the vice-captain was here too.  
 
“I’m the vice-captain, Isashiki Jun.”— Of course you fucking are.— “Sign me right the fuck up for whatever those two morons ordered because I wouldn’t mind being pinned underneath someone like you,” the guy with light brown hair and facial hair standing next to Yuuki winked at me, and I tried to repress a furious blush. Sweet merciful heavens, Takashima-san certainly outdid herself on gathering the most attractive baseball players in all of Japan into one team. I didn’t even know how to reply when my own grandmother complemented my looks, much less a good-looking male.  
 
“Geez, is the whole first-string here too?” I asked jokingly, inwardly pleading for it to be just a joke.  
 
Isashiki rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah mostly.” He replied with a laugh. 
 
Why do I even bother thinking things? 
 
“Introduce yourselves. Ryo-san, you start.” Yuuki definitely had a paternal vibe going on around him. I felt like I was in school doing an icebreaker on the first day with the rest of my class.  
 
The pink haired guy to my right stuck out his hand. “I’m Kominato Ryosuke, a third year.”  
 
I took his hand and shook it, looking to the next guy to continue.  
 
“Tanba Kouichirou. Third-year.” Supplied the tall bald-headed guy. 
 
The lanky black haired boy sitting against the bedpost was up next. “Furuya Satoru, first-year.” 
 
Next came the pink haired boy in the corner who looked like he could be Kominato’s twin. “I’m Kominato Haruichi. It’s nice to meet you, Kurokage-senpai.” He said politely, bowing. 
 
Oh my goodness he’s adorable. 
 
“Masuko Tooru, third-year.” The giant guy with buzzed black hair continued.  
 
I felt a hand on top of my head. “You can call me Kuramochi, Kuro-chan! I live in room 205, so if you ever need anything, just come find me!” Kuramochi ruffled my hair, proceeding to laugh on as he had been since I’d entered the room. 
 
Suddenly, the kid from earlier was in front of me, bowing as low as the cramped space would permit. “My name is Sawamura Eijun! I am still very sorry about earlier, I had no idea that you were my senpai! Please allow me give you a tour of our training facilities as compensation for my rudeness!” Christ, did this kid have a pair of lungs on him.  
 
I opened my mouth to reply, but was cut off by Kuramochi. “Hey, why do you get to give her a tour? You’re still figuring out where things are, too, ya know!”  
 
Oh, no, please let’s just everyone yell.  
 
The captain, Yuuki, was the one who cut me off this time. “I agree. It would be more beneficial for one of the upperclassmen to show her around.”  

“I’ll do it,” the glasses wearing jerk from earlier volunteered immediately. My eyebrows shot up to my hair line. Really?

Before anyone else could protest I found myself being forcibly dragged from the room by the wrist. The words of objection coming from behind us were silenced by the door slamming shut, and I was led down the open air corridor by the brunette boy in front of me.

I stared at his back and wondered why he’d been in such a hurry to leave.

His shoulders are really broad, I thought as my cheeks began to heat up.

I immediately snapped back to reality, slapping myself internally for letting this guy lead me around like a dog on a leash, and swiped his hand from my wrist. “Hold up a sec! You can’t just drag someone off against their will like that,” I fussed.

“Yeah? Well, you also can’t just judo flip someone on your first time meeting them either,” he retorted snidely, turning slowly around to face me. He was even taller close up; I had to crane my neck just to look him in the eyes since I only came up to his collarbone.

His wide and well-toned chest was covered by a maroon and white raglan shirt and a pair of black sweat pants hung loosely around his narrow hips. I felt my mouth go dry as I watched him cross his tan muscled arms across his chest.

No, Kaien, get it together! This is no time to be ogling! I inwardly chastised.

It was when he tilted his to the side that I noticed the glowing red rug burn along his jawline. Suddenly, my chest felt heavy with guilt. I dropped my gaze to the concrete floor. “You’re right. I guess my introductions still need some work,” I murmured, my poor attempt at a joke falling short.

I bowed ever so slightly. “I’m sorry. Please forgive my rudeness,” I apologized. I did kind of go off on him to no reason and we were going to be playing on the same team for the next two years, not to mention living in the same building. It was too early to start making enemies.

“At least you know how to make an impression,” came the taller boy’s surprisingly lighthearted reply.

Then, a hand was suddenly thrust into my vision. I raised my head to see the glasses wearing male grinning impishly down at me. “Let’s try again, shall we? My name’s Miyuki Kazuya, second year. And you are?”

I could have shed tears of relief but I settled for a relieved smile. “Kurokage Kaien, second year.” I placed my smaller hand in his rough and callused one, locking grips with him in a firm handshake.

“Much better,” he said softly, releasing my hand before pivoting on his heel to resume his previous trek.

I watched him walk for a few steps, unsure whether or not I should be following.

Miyuki paused, sensing I wasn’t behind him, and tilted his head to throw me an over the shoulder glance. “You comin’ or what?”

I shot him a glare in response to his rude tone but said nothing as I trotted up beside him. “Where are we going?” I asked as we took the staircase at the end of the walkway to the first floor.

“I’m showing you around. Don’t you want the grand tour?”

“Wait, you were serious? I thought you were just using me as an excuse to slip away without getting into trouble,” I clapped a hand over my mouth as my unfiltered thoughts flow from my mouth, soaked with every bit as much offensive incredulity as they would have been inside my head.

I waited for him to snap at me, but he shocked me by doing the complete opposite and laughing. “Was it obvious?”

I lowered my hand, feeling a mixture of confusion and relief but ultimately just deciding to roll with it. “Kind of with the way you pounced on the chance to escape. Were they holding you hostage in there or something?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation friendly and playful.

Miyuki let out an exaggerated sigh, shaking his head dramatically with a hand on his forehead. “No; close, though. It’s seems to be the unspoken consensus amongst my fellow teammates that my room is the designated meeting area outside of practice, so I have a tough time getting any rest.”

“That’ll be fun living next door to,” I commented dryly. Good thing I’m a heavy sleeper.

“It’ll be fun living next to me, at the very least,” his lips curled into the same impish grin he’d flashed me earlier, while he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

I can’t tell if he’s joking and that’s very concerning. I looked away from my tour guide half out of embarrassment and half because we’d just arrived at the doorway to a warehouse looking building.

“This is the indoor practice ground. We come in here when it’s raining or if it’s late and we don’t feel like carrying all of our equipment down to the fields.”

I scanned the vast space with wide, curious eyes. The ground was laid down similar to that of a baseball field and I took note of the stacks of training materials piled high in the area beneath the balcony that wrapped around the entire perimeter of the room. It was all fairly impressive and I soon found myself twirling excitedly in circles, arms held out and bubbling with laughter like a child.

“Sugoi~~! We didn’t have anything like this at my old school!”

I was off in my own little world as I bounced around the practice ground, taking in every detail of the new uncharted territory. I completely forgot about the tall, brown haired male standing behind me, observing my hyperactive enthusiastic display with keen eyes.

It wasn’t long before one of my favorite pieces of training equipment caught my attention. No friggin’ way, they even have climbing ropes!

I dashed over to the nearest tightly wound band hanging from the ceiling and began to pull my way up its length with ease. And they don’t even have knots to get in the way! I thought gleefully as I wrapped the thick cord around my leg to give me more control. While having knots tied every foot or so helped those who were less experienced by giving them something to hold onto, it made it a harder to do anything fun. Like flipping upside down, for example.

I nimbly fell back, allowing my hands to slide down to my feet until I was completely upside down. A happy giggle found its way past my lips. Oh, how I loved to climb.

“Enjoying yourself there?” A deep voice chimed as a familiar face popped up directly in front of mine.

I let out a startled yelp, letting go of the rope unintentionally, and fell unceremoniously in heap at Miyuki’s feet. Whelp, that hurt.

I heard the guy above me cackle like a wild hyena. Ignoring the pain in my head and back, I jumped back up to my feet and narrowed my eyes at the asshole clutching his stomach in front of me. “Thanks for the concussion, jerk,” I growled, reaching up to rub the bump on my head. Today was just full of injuries, it seemed.

The laughter died down. “Don’t blame me because you’ve got butterfingers,” he countered as he wiped the tears from the corners of his eyes.

As much as I wanted to slam him into the ground again, my brain was soon cleared of all other thoughts when I found the newly forming bruise on the upper left side of my skull. I couldn’t stop myself from wincing visibly when I pressed the painful swelling. Great, just what I needed before my first day. A literal head ache.

“Here, let me see,” Miyuki’s hand was on top on mine before I could protest.

My body went rigid as the taller boy raked his fingers across my scalp, stopping only when he noticed me flinch. I tried to repress the furious blush that’d spread across my face from the proximity and contact.

“Hmm, yep. It looks like you bumped your head alright,” came his brilliant diagnosis.

I snorted, shaking his hand off of the top of my head. “Yeah, did you learn that in medical school?” I shot back.

“Hey, I was just trying to help. No need to get snarky with me.”

“And what an immense help you’ve been,” I deadpanned.

That earned me a flick on the forehead. “I’ve graciously agreed to give you a tour. I think that constitutes as being helpful.”

I glared up at him with set pout. “Whatever. You’ve only shown me one place. That’s a pretty crappy tour.”

Miyuki rolled his eyes and turned on his heel, walking in the direction we’d just come from. “It’s obviously not over, dummy. Come on.”

 

+++++

 

The remainder of the tour went fairly painlessly. Miyuki took me by the two practice fields, the batting cages, the bullpen, the weight room and the cafeteria. I had to admit, I was grateful to him for showing me around; the facility was enormous and I would have definitely gotten lost had I been left to my own devices.

We’d also gotten to know each other quite a bit throughout the duration of our long journey. I found out that Miyuki was the starting catcher for the first-string, he’s sixth in the batting lineup, he throws right handed while he bats left, he was scouted by Takashima-san when he was in seventh grade and he like to cook and play video games in his free time. Aside from his cocky attitude and general asshole-ishness, he seemed like just a regular guy. He still irritated the shit out of me, though. It felt like he was just trying to get a rise out of me with most of his sarcastic comments.

After making the walk back to the dorms, Miyuki and I stopped in front my door to bid our farewells.

“Thanks for the tour. It sounds pretty quiet in your room now, so hopefully its safe for you to go back in,” I jested with a chuckle.

He laughed too, running his hand through his umber locks and making my heart flutter in a foreign manner. “Don’t be fooled. I bet there are still some stragglers in there trying to keep the party going.”

A somewhat awkward silence settled over us as we both stared at one another, waiting for the other to say something.

Miyuki forced out a cough. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Try not to judo flip anyone else.”

My eyes narrowed slightly.

“How is that look necessary? I’m just trying to be a good teammate and look out for you,” he defended without me having to utter a single word.

I sighed before placing a hand on my door knob. “I appreciate the concern. Have a good night, Miyuki-san.”

“You too, Kaien-chan.” And that was the final blow to my heart for the day. It was definitely time to go to sleep.

I offered Miyuki one last smile before entering my room and shutting the door behind me. The pile of luggage stood untouched as a daunting and looming figure in the center of my room, and I decided that I’d save the arduous task of unpacking my belongings until tomorrow. With that thought in mind, I removed my pillow and comforter from their respective carrying cases and plopped down onto the bottom bunk. Setting my alarm for 5AM, I fell back onto the bed, my exhaustion from the day’s activities finally catching up with me. I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

I awoke at 5AM as per usu, what with my irreparably set internal clock, and I wasted no time falling into my regular morning routine. 

My room was dimly lit by the orb shaped blue light lamp sitting on my desk, but I could still find my way around the room. I wasn’t about to turn my overhead lights on and blind myself first thing in the morning. 

After changing into a white athletic tee that I’d received when I’d won first in kendo at nationals and a pair of black compression shorts, I slipped on my pair of Onitsuka Tiger’s and grabbed my bathroom essentials. I hoped that no one was up yet since morning practice wasn’t until seven so I could slip in and out of the bathroom without seeing anything that would scar me psychically. 

Being as quiet as possible, I opened my door, making sure to close it without a sound, and tip toed down the vacant walkway to the bathrooms. I didn’t pass anyone on the way which made me pretty confident that I was, in fact, the only one awake, but I still proceeded with extreme caution went entering the bathroom. 

I peeked through a crack in the door, glancing left and right to confirm my solitude, before slowly entering the yellow tiled room. There were sinks lined along two walls and the door to the bathing area was closed. It seemed I was indeed alone, for now anyways. I needed to zip through my hygiene and get out of here as fast as possible since that situation could easily change. 

I padded over to the last sink on the left wall and set my bag of necessities by the water faucet. I turned on the water, twisting the handle to ‘hot’, and started going through the non-warm water related steps of my morning routine while I waited for it to heat up. 

First, I combed through my messy raven mop, then I tied my hair back with an elastic band. Next, I brushed my teeth thoroughly and rinsed my mouth with mouth wash before finally the water was warm enough to wash my face. 

Once I was finished, I turned the faucet off, released my hair from its constraints, and packed up my toiletries before finally heading out the door. However, keeping with the theme of accidental encounters via head-on collision immediately after opening a door, I slammed directly into what I just assumed was a brick wall cleverly disguised as a human being. 

“Sweet Jolly-fucking-Ranchers, not again,” I cursed as my hand flew up to my nose for the second time in the past twelve hours. How many times before my nose finally breaks? I wondered. 

I peered up at the man I’d collided into this time. He was gigantic, much bigger than any high school student, and also much older. His intense stare was filtered through a pair of brown tinted sunglasses (though I hadn’t the foggiest why he was wearing shades at five o’clock in the goddamn morning when the sun wasn’t even fucking out yet), and the contours of his tan face and well developed muscles screamed ‘years of rigorous training and experience.’ He looked like the kind of man who always wore a perfect pokerface to hide his true thoughts and purposes. I could tell he was the crafty type, even behind those shades, but the dignified way he stood completely erect told me that he was also reliable. Like if he said something, he meant it, no ifs ands or buts. If I had to describe him in a single word, it would be ‘solid’.

“You’re Kurokage Kaien.” I almost jumped when I heard him speak. His voice was like the deep rumble of thunder that you could feel in your own chest even though he was talking quietly. It reminded me of my father and grandfather. I had to repress a tremor of fear when I imagined what it must have sounded like when that rumble became an earthquake. 

I realized that I still hadn’t answered him, though it’s not like he’d worded his previous remark as a question, and I nodded once affirmatively. “Hai,” I grunted. 

The man continued to stare down (so, so far down) at me from behind his tinted lenses long enough for me to feel like I was being assessed by an opponent before a fight, and while I was almost certain that this shady (lol get it? Shady? Cuz of, ya know, the shades? oooOOOOH I'm so sorry fuckin’ kill me pls) individual— who I was thoroughly convinced must have either been wearing Dwarven mithril or just filled with rocks— wasn’t about to throw down with me in front of the Spirit Dorm’s community bathroom at, again, five o’clock in the goddamn morning, my instinctive reaction was to crush his aura with my own as a demonstrative warning. He was an imposing presence, but I was a force of nature. Well, a small part of me was anyway. 

I wasn’t surprised when his aura begrudgingly recoiled as mine overwhelmed it, but it did surprise me when he relaxed and smirked like he’d just stumbled upon something interesting. What just happened? He should at least be a little tense. I’m a fucking force of nature, guy. Fear me a bit why don’t cha?

“You’re a lot shorter in person than I thought you’d be.”

Wow, fuck this guy. Fuck him and his stupid hipster nighttime sunglasses. 

“It must hurt your neck to have to look down so far. If you’d like to talk face-to-face, I don’t mind shattering both of your kneecaps like dinner plates for you,” I said with a sickeningly sweet smile and tone. 

Then that condescending twat had the nerve to snicker at me. Fucking snicker. Like the doodle. I wouldn’t be satisfied until he had shards of tinted glass lodged in his eyeballs. 

But before I could bring my violent fantasy to fruition, he cleared his throat and nodded once at me in acknowledgement. “I am Kataoka Tesshin, Head Coach of baseball…” All I heard after that was static. C-Coach? Of the baseball team? THIS baseball team? That I JUST JOINED?? 

I immediately dropped down to my knees and bowed until my nose touched the ground in the middle of the triangular gap between my hands. “Oh, my goodness! Please forgive my earlier rudeness, sir! I had no idea that you were the coach! I give you my deepest and sincerest apology and will accept any punishment you deem suitable!” I cried, laying down all of my honor and conviction before him by prostrating myself in hopes that he would forgive my transgression. Not even a full twenty-four hours here and I’ve already body slammed two guys (one in full view of the team captain, vice-captain, and half of the damn first-string), and now I’d just threatened to bust the Coach’s kneecaps like I’m with the frickin’ Yakuza or something. Insulting people was really more of an art for me because, like art, it’s usually offensive, provocative, or just staggeringly, laughably stupid. 

Kataoka snickered again. “You’re actually surprisingly well-mannered despite your personality. Lift your head. You could catch something pressing your face to floor right outside the bathroom.” He didn’t sound upset at all, but hearing ‘face-to-floor-outside-of-bathroom’ I bounced up like a spring. Seriously, I had an autoimmune disease and everything so I’d probably die from whatever grotesque bacteria were aswarm on that floor. 

I hesitantly met Kataoka’s gaze and felt slightly relieved that he was still in a relaxed position. “Sorry. And sorry for running into you earlier and not apologizing right away. I didn’t think I’d run into anyone this early in the morning.” 

“Did you wake up early specifically so you wouldn’t run into anyone?” He asked. 

“Hah, oh God no. I wake up at five every morning, sir.” I laughed timidly, rubbing the back of my head. 

“Every morning?” He echoed with a sniff of incredulity. 

I nodded. “Yes, sir. Every morning. I’ve been waking up at that time since I was four years old.” 

He cocked an eyebrow curiously. “Why?”

I swallowed, but my throat was still dry as the memories of my grandfather’s brutal training flashed behind my eyelids. “…To train, sir. It’s important to greet the sun as it rises and bid it farewell went it sets.” 

“An interesting perspective,” Kataoka commented. “Are you going to train right now?” 

“Hai. I need to finish my regiment before practice starts.”

“And breakfast?” He inquired further. 

I scoffed a little at that. “I’ve never been able to eat before ten AM. My insides are a little… sensitive.” Whether it was out one end or the other, my meal always found its way out if I tried to force my body to keep in something it’d already rejected. 

I’d earned another snort of laughter with that one. At least he thought I was funny. Or maybe he just thought my life was funny. The latter made more sense. 

“Meet me on Field 1 in half an hour, violent girl.” 

I felt a large hand pat my head before Kataoka disappeared through the bathroom door, shutting it behind him. 

I stared at the closed door for was seemed like an embarrassingly vast span of time while I touched the spot on my head that had just been covered. Finally the generator in my brain kicked back on and I realized that I still had to go back to my room and pack up my bag and uniform before heading out to the field, so without wasting a single breath, I sprinted back up stairs and started the meticulous process. 

After making triple sure that I had everything that I needed, I bounded out the door and sped down to the practice fields, following the path Miyuki had shown me yesterday. Pompous little shit that he was, he did at least give me a tour of the place and for that I was grateful. I wondered briefly if he was sore after being judo flipped.

Oh well. Even if he is, I already apologized. 

I found the gate to the practice field locked when I reached it and I placed my hands on my hips as I stared up at the top of the fence. “Tch. Why’s it gotta be so damn high? What a pain in the ass,” I complained while I scanned the layout of my surroundings. 

The fence was bolted into the side of the dugout and equipment storage area. Its wall was composed of concrete and appeared to be flat and perfectly level, running evenly to a 90 degree angle perpendicular with the fence entryway. There was about half a foot of metal roofing that protruded out at the top of the structure, but other than that the path of trajectory was unobstructed. I could make it. I just had be careful of the metal lip hanging over the side of the building. 

I set down my bag and removed my loose fitting shirt, tucking it away in my bag after folding it up neatly. I wasn’t worried about the bag strapped to my back getting stuck, but the top of the fence was pointed and seemed like the kind of thing that would catch the slack in the front of my shirt if I came in too low. 

I slung my bag over my shoulder, tightening its strap diagonally across my chest while trying to ignore the chill of the leather on my bare abdomen and lower back. I glanced down at the black sports bra compressing my ‘assets’ and heaved a sigh of discontent. I’m sure there were boys on the team with bigger boobs than me. 

Shaking my head, I returned my attention to the task at hand. Just one jump. I’ve done shit like this tons of times before. Just focus. 

I stepped around ten feet or so diagonally away from the wall and closed my eyes. I visualized my movements as I slowed my breathing and heart rate, wiping all other thoughts from my head besides hitting each point of contact with precision. 

Then, I lifted my eyelids. “Now.” 

I flitted forward, coiling and springing up in a blur as I propelled myself into the wall two-thirds above the gravelly ground, landing smoothing again the flat surface in a crouched position before finally launching myself at an upward angle to reach the top bar of the fence. Once my hand was on the bar, it was nothing for me to swing my legs fluidly over the top, finally floating down to the earth softly and landing lightly on my feet with feline grace. There. That wasn’t so hard. 

“O-Oi, did you just jump over a twelve foot high fence?”

I leapt into the air, letting out a discombobulated shriek. I spun around on my heel and dipped down into a defensive stance. 

Standing behind me was Miyuki Kazuya, whose hands immediately went up in surrender. “Calm your tits, dude, it’s just me. No need to start flipping people again,” he said with a nervous chuckle as if he were trying to pacify a wild animal. 

“Tch,” I straightened up and looked away to hide my mortified blush. “My tits are perfectly calm.” I countered hotly. 

Miyuki hummed in thought. “You’re right, I guess they are. I’ve got a pretty great view from here,” he cooed in a coy tone. 

I mechanically turned my head back around to see him staring shamelessly at my scantily covered upper body. Every inch of my skin was set ablaze in a glowing red. “Just shut your face, you great flapping twat, before I kick your balls up into throat.” 

I refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’d unnerved me, so I continued on to the dugout, passing him as I stepped through the entryway. It wasn’t like this was this first time another person had seen me minimal training attire. Plus, I was once again the lone female player on an otherwise all boys team, so it’d really be a pain to get stuck on modesty. 

I lifted the strap of my bag over my head, gently bringing it down flat on the first bench. Leaning over to find the correct zipper in the minuscule amount of light streaming in from the round the clock backup lights, I caught a glimpse of Miyuki raking his eyes up the contours of my body and felt a shiver ripple through my body, causing me to tingle all over. He was a cheeky little bastard, but that look could make both sexes quiver. It just wasn’t fair. 

“Cold?” He simpered from above. 

I clicked my tongue and unzipped one of my bag’s compartments, finding what I was looking for immediately. Seeing the shirt now hanging from my hands, my lips curled into a demure smirk of my own. If this was how he wanted to play then I’d play the same game. I might not have a ton of confidence in my appearance from the chin up, but I knew empirically that my physique was nearly flawless with perfectly carved anatomical proportions as a result of years of ruthless physical conditioning. He wasn’t the only one who knew how to make use of his most mesmerizing features. 

I slowly lifted my slouched torso until I was perfectly erect once more. Then, I deliberately raised my arms over my head, stretching my back and shoulders before turning turning to face him again. I arched my body first to the right then to the left to stretch the muscles in my sides, making sure to take my time so he could simmer just as I had for as long as possible. 

A few agonizing seconds of stretching later, I opened the shirt in my hands and slid my arms and head through their respective openings, keeping the front of it bunched in both of my curled hands just above my breasts. Then, I began to simultaneously walk back up the steps leading to the dugout as I raked my hands down my smooth, toned stomach, gradually dropping the front of my shirt until I reached its hem, as well as the top step. 

I glanced lazily at Miyuki, the demure smile still etched on my face, and ran a hand through my messy hair. “Actually, if anything, I’d say it’s kind of hot right now, ne, Miyuki-san?”

The glasses wearing male beside me swallowed once before returning to his impish, coy expression. “It’s definitely getting warmer,” he replied huskily, his eyes growing a shade darker behind the glass of his lenses. 

I let out a breath of laughter before I was struck by a sudden epiphany. “Wait, time out— why did I have to jump the fucking fence like some criminal when you’re already in here?!” I shouted, grabbing Miyuki by the collar and shaking him in rage. 

He just laughed innocently as his head rolling in every direction like a bauble head. “I was wondering the same thing. I came in through the north entrance that we use before and after practice hours,” he explained as if I were the dumbest fucking idiot in the world for not knowing such obvious information. 

A deadly aura began to seep from every fiber of my being. “Then why in the hell didn’t you show me that yesterday?” I hissed. 

He held up his palms facing the sky, in a dismissive shrug. “Sorry, the place is just so big and I’ve never had to give someone a tour before. I didn’t know what all would be important.”

“The entrance to the field is pretty goddamn important, you gaping asshole!”

 “That’s some colorful language for a girl. You kiss your mother with that mouth?” 

I froze. My mother died over nine years ago. She was killed by a masked man who’d broken into our old family house off site of the clan compound. My father wasn’t home; he’d been away on a business trip. I awoke up to the sound of glass breaking and the sound of steel slicing through flesh. When I went to investigate I saw my mother covered is fresh bleeding wounds trying to use her katana as a cane to keep from collapsing. She saw me and the last thing I remember is her smiling at me like everything was going to be okay before my memories of that night end. It wasn’t something I liked to recall, but I couldn’t expect someone I’d just met to know tragic backstory. 

I shoved the emotions rising inside of me back down where they belonged and dropped Miyuki’s collar in a fake huff, snorting derisively. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I curse like a sailor,” I said. 

Miyuki rubbed the back of his neck while his calm, analytical eyes scrutinized every aspect of my demeanor. I watched with held breath as he opened his mouth to say something, but he suddenly decided better against it. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. 

Using the lull in the conversation, I began doing my warm up stretches in preparation for whatever Kataoka had in mind. Miyuki, on the other hand, started the tedious process of donning his full protective gear, making me cock an eyebrow in curiosity. Was someone seriously coming out to practice pitching when there was barely enough light to the field?

After seeing him replace his glasses with a pair of contacts and a protective eye shield, I couldn’t keep myself from being nosy. 

“Isn’t it kind of early to be practicing so seriously?” I inquired as I folded over, placing my palms to the ground. 

I heard him chuckled. “Yes, entirely. But, Coach called me right after five and told me to meet him here at five-thirty and to bring all my stuff, so viola.” I lifted my head in time to see him flourish his arm dramatically over his uniform. 

I giggled at his sardonic flare from behind my hand, before I was hit by a second epiphany. “That’s weird…” I trailed off in thought.

“What’s weird?” Asked Miyuki.

“I ran into him right out the bathroom before that and he told me to meet him here, too.”

There was a pause. 

“Oi, are you secretly a pitcher or somethin’?” 

“Pfft, hell no. Not in any way, shape or form.” 

Miyuki let out a tired groan. “Then why’d he make me come out when there’s no one to catch for?” He whined. 

“You’ll be catching for me.” Oh, boy. There was that vaguely terrifying thundering voice. 

Miyuki and I both snapped our head around, our eyes falling on the tall imposing figure of Kataoka Tesshin standing like a bronze statue on the opposite side of the dugout. I noticed he was still wearing his hipster shades in the dark and wondered whether or not he’d even be able to throw with those things blinding him. 

Miyuki was the first to recover from the Coach’s sudden appearance and bombshell. “Okay, I’m cool with that, but why?”

Kataoka smirked and looked past Miyuki straight at me. Why did that look make me bristle like the air around us was electrified? 

“You know, I watched your final match live on TV in the national championships three years ago,” he said, the fierce smirk never leaving his face. 

“Nationals?” Miyuki questioned, looking over his shoulder at me in conclusion. 

I crossed my arms over my chest and avoided both males’ gazes. “Uh,” I coughed, awkwardly. “Which national championship? I went to three that year.” I mumbled, not wanting either of them to fall under the impression that I was cocky or full of it like my previous classmates. 

Miyuki’s eyes flickered between Coach Kataoka and I, as if searching for any hint that I may be lying. “O-Oi, did you just say three national championships? What the hell in?!” He barked when he found no faces of deceit. 

I dropped my gaze to the ground, finding the pebbles beneath my feet to be much more fascinating than the interrogating duo bearing down on me. 

“What’s up? Are you just not gonna answer?” Miyuki stomped over to me and grabbed my shoulder, giving it a firm shake. 

I clicked my tongue in annoyance before looking up at him with sharp eyes. “God-shit-dammit, dude, it was kendo, judo and karate. I didn’t participate in the aikido national tournament that year because I other shit going on during that time frame, but I’ve been there too,” I snapped irritably. 

The hand on my shoulder went limp and Miyuki’s widened eyes panned incredulously from me to the larger man standing a few feet away. “Seriously…?” It sort of bothered me that he was asking someone other than me to confirm my own achievements, but I couldn’t blame him for not believing it. I was only 152 centimeters tall and weighed in at 38 kilograms. 

Kataoka nodded, obvious finding immense pleasure in making his two underlings squirm. “Didn’t you read her shirt?”

Sweet Jolly-fucking-ranchers. Fuck this guy, and his shitty hipster shades, seriously. 

I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable realization to hit Miyuki like a baseball bat. No pun intended. 

“You won the kendo national championships?!” My word, the only lungs that could beat his were that Sawamura kid’s, but Miyuki’s still came close in second. (I bet the people living on the other side of the planet where wondering what the hell kendo was and why someone was screaming about it somewhere far away.) 

I hesitantly cracked an eye to glimpse at the flabbergasted catcher. “I guess?” It came out as a question. I really didn’t want to say anything more on the subject because I was positive my ear drums wouldn’t survive it. 

Suddenly, both hands were on my shoulders and I was being shaken back and forth. “What the hell sort of shit answer is that?! Did you or didn’t you?!” 

I heard Kataoka’s amused laughter coming from behind Miyuki. “She didn’t just win in kendo. She won the national title in all the other one’s too,” he informed, taking over as my life’s storyteller for the time being. 

The taller boy who’d been thrashing me around finally released me and turned sideways to listen to his coach’s words. 

“It was the national kendo finals that I watched three years ago. I thought that you were just a really small boy until you took off your head protection and I saw how long your hair was,” — I shot him a volatile glare—, “But, the thing I remember most is your speed. You were like a little ball of innate physical abilities and reflexes with a mind sharp enough to fully utilize them. People usually only have one or the other, but rarely does an individual possess both.” He stopped to shift his attention to the boy next to me. “You and Miyuki are cut from the same cloth.”

Miyuki’s hand that was still attached to my shoulder tightened its grip. The glow in his amber eyes told me that those words meant a great deal to him coming from Kataoka. 

“Is that why you asked him to meet us here?” I asked out of curiosity. 

Kataoka let out a breath of laughter. “It was a fraction of the reason, but the main reason is to catch my pitches,” he replied as if that much should have been obvious. 

My eye twitched in annoyance. “Isn’t that sort of dangerous? There’s barely enough light to make out what’s in front of us,” I quipped as I tried to figure out where I fit into this equation. I certainly wasn’t a pitcher, ditto for catcher, so what else did he want me to do? I replayed his last few sentences in my head. Kendo… kendo… speed, reflexes, sharpness… Then it hit me. Oh please, no—.

“Miyuki’s got nothing to be scared of if you’re the one standing between him and the ball,” Kataoka grinned. 

Oh, goddamn it. 

Miyuki glanced between Kataoka and I again before I clicked my tongue, swiped his hand off of me, and retreated back into the dugout to get my things from my bag. What a crafty old hipster man. There’s no way I could refuse when it’s a request from the Head Coach. 

I emerged from the dugout wearing my cleats and a pair of black Mizuno gloves over a layer of flexible athletic tape. In one hand I held a royal blue colored helmet, and in the other, I was brandishing my 33’ bamboo Mizuno bat. I was prepared to do battle. 

I walked over to the batter’s box and waited for Miyuki join me. Kataoka stood on the pitcher’s mound in front of me, surrounded by three enormous ball storage bins. Just how many was he planning on throwing? Tch, whatever. I have faith that my stamina will exceed either of theirs, regardless of what kind of training they have. 

Glancing from the left side to the right, I lowered my helmet onto my head as I tried to decide which hand I wanted to start with. 

“You look confused,” Miyuki’s familiar tenor voice deadpanned from behind me. 

I glanced up at him briefly. “Just deciding if I should start left or right. I guess I’ll go left for now,” I muttered more to myself than him, taking my position in the left side of the box. 

Miyuki shook his head in disbelief. “Of course you’d be a switch hitter that uses wooden bats instead of metal,” he huffed sarcastically as he lowered himself into the correct stance. “You’d better live up to Kataoka-kontaku’s words, Baseball Musashi.” 

I chuckled lightly, feeling the sweet, intoxicating adrenaline begin to course through my veins. It was something that I only felt when face with an opponent I wasn’t sure I could defeat. I was peerless when it came to kenjutsu and hand to hand combat, so rarely have I ever felt uncertain of a fight’s outcome; it means nothing to beat someone weaker than you, but defeating someone you aren’t sure you can beat has value.

I leaned forward and placed my feet accordingly. “You too, boy-cut-from-the-same-cloth.”

Then, everything got quiet. I felt the wind as it gently caressed my skin; listened as it flowed through every leaf in the trees and every blade of grass on the ground below. I began to widen my field of view further and further until I reached the man standing on the pitcher’s mound. His energy was as smooth and bending as the wind around him. I feel ever slight movement of his muscles, I could hear the crunch of the dirt beneath his spiked shoes telling me how he shifted and turned. 

That’s right. I opened my eyes and stared dead ahead at the barely visible outline of a person with unwavering eyes. I don’t need to see anything. Your eyes can betray you, but your surroundings won’t. Bring it, night shades, I have nothing to fear from you. 

“Ready.” I called in a tone that was barely over talking level, but I was certain that he heard me because I felt a shift from the mound as he coiled his body, preparing to strike like a deadly cobra. 

The wind hissed, the dirt ground against itself, the sound of an extremity cracking like a whip sent shock wave that rippled though every blade of grass of every tree leaf. An object was approaching, slicing through the gentle wind like the blade of a sword. 

Yes, he is indeed fast, but I—

I brought my bat around my body in one blinding slash, moving fluidly like the raging torrent of a river descending down the steepest mountain, and decimated the target before me. 

— Am faster. 

All three of us watched as the white dot disappeared into center field, soaring right over Kataoka’s head. 

I smirked triumphantly. Take that, guy. 

“I didn’t even see you swing…” I heard Miyuki whisper to himself as if he couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. 

“You shouldn’t be able to,” I replied, glancing down at the stunned catcher. “My family is known for it’s vanishing swordplay. In the old days, people used to think that we were demons or spirits because, to the untrained eye, it appeared as though our swords never moved despite having cut the enemy. We refer to it as Shinsoku, or Godspeed.” 

Miyuki’s expression grew fierce as I felt the air around his become charged with excitement. “Kontaku was right,” he began, looked up to meet my gaze with a roguish grin. “I don’t have anything to fear so long as you’re here.” He winked at me causing my face to flush a humiliating shade of crimson. I’m sure he didn’t even realize how that last statement sounded, but that still did little to quell my thunderous heartbeat. 

“S-Shut up, idiot,” I stuttered, turning my attention back to Kataoka-kontaku.

I could see a fierce look of excitement plastered across his face too in the pale orange glow of the rising sun. “Let’s see if you can do that again, Kurokage,” he roared from the mound. 

I grinned as the electrifying tingle of adrenaline once again pumped through my body just beneath the skin. “Bring it, Kontaku.”

 

 

+++++++++++

 

 

 

I wonder what time it is? I thought to myself as I lifted my bat to swing for what seemed like the two hundredth time that morning. It must have been close to seven, or even past then, because the entire team, it seemed, was gathered around the field watching my intense dual against Kataoka-kontaku. 

The sun had risen over the tree line long ago, and despite it not producing much heat, I was drenched in sweat. I wasn’t the only one though. I glanced down at Miyuki who was sweating just as hard as me. He’d had to catch the pitches I’d missed, which was roughly a quarter of all of them, plus it couldn’t have been easy to stay crouched like that for so long while trying to collaborate with Kataoka-kontaku on his throws. 

I turned my attention back to the man standing on the mound. He was panting like me, but didn’t appear to be running out of steam anytime soon. “Had enough, Kurokage?” He asked with a tired smirk. 

I grinned, leaning into my batting stance. “I was just about to ask you the same thing, Kontaku.” 

Kataoka let out an exhausted breath of laughter before winding up in preparation to strike. 

I focused again on the sound of the wind and my surroundings, but the moment that I felt the ball leave his hand, I knew that he’d unintentionally released it too soon. 

It wasn’t coming towards Miyuki, it was coming at me. And it was screaming down the field at over 150 km/hr. 

Not having any time to think, I just deferred to my reflexes as I so often did in such situations since they generally never let me down. I flung my right hand up in front of my face just in time for the ball to slam into the center of my palm. Thank God. That would have definitely given me a concussion, and I was pretty sure I’d already used up the six freebies you get before you start to develop brain damage. 

The sound of the ball clapping against the thin leather of my batting glove sounded like a gunshot, and it felt twenty times worse than it sounded. I barely heard the yelps and noises of shock that rippled through the crowd of boys surrounding us over the force of impact.

“Fuuuuuck! Shit, goddamn it ow!” I swore as I squeezed the little white sphere in my hand tensely, unable to stop my arm from shaking. Once the shock was over and pain finally hit me, it felt like the middle of my hand had been hit with a sledge hammer, and it continued to radiate up my arm. 

I snapped my head around to Kataoka-kontaku who was staring at me in disbelief and pointed my bat at him angrily. “Oi, you try’na draw first blood or somethin’?! That shit came at me right at eye level! It’s still” — I wound up and cracked my right arm like a whip, sending the ball flying back at Kataoka— “a thousand years too early for you to take a shot a my head!” I raged. 

Kontaku caught the ball right in front of his face to stop it from colliding with his nose. But, my throw didn’t make quite as impressive of an impact as his because one, I’d just been hit and was doing well to throw it straight, and two, I couldn’t throw a 150 km/hr fastball. Not that I’d ever tried, but something told me that feat was above my pay grade. 

“Y-Your hand…” I heard Miyuki’s slightly awed and terrified voice stutter from above me. 

I turned to see that he was on his feet and had removed his face guard. His expression matched that of the teammates behind and around us: pale, confused, concerned, and a little bit afraid. 

“What about it?” I asked as I looked down at my twitching appendage. It still hurt tremendously, but it was also far from the worst pain I’d ever felt. Plus, it didn’t seem like anything was broken or jammed. 

He threw his catcher’s mitt on the ground and gingerly took my hand into his two larger ones, slowly, and very, very cautiously unsnapping my gloves tabs. 

My face grew red from the gentleness of the contact. “W-What are you doing?” I stammered nervously. 

“Checking to see if you’re injured,” he replied as if it should have been obvious. 

I winced and gritted my teeth in pain as his peeled back the black leather garment. 

“What’s up with the tape around your hand? You already injured?” A new voice quipped from my right. 

I glanced up and realized that everyone had formed a tight huddle around Miyuki and I, the closest to us being the familiar faces of the boys I’d met last night. To my right was Sawamura, the first-year I’d body slammed to the ground right outside of Miyuki’s room, and I identified his voice as being the one that had just spoken. 

“No, just the opposite,” I replied to the brunette first-year. “It’s to protect the joints in my hands and wrists by giving them additional support.” It was something I’d learned from my grandfather after I’d broken one of my fingers for the first time. Ever since then, I’d been taping both of my hands up before participating in anything athletic that would require the use of my hands. Of course, that didn’t make me immune to injury (I’d broken just about every bone there was in both of my hands, some more than once, and shattered my left wrist), but it did prevent needless ones like jamming a finger or spraining a wrist. 

I felt a tug as Miyuki began to carefully tear off the tape wrapped around my hand. His face was set in deep concentration, as if he were defusing a bomb or something. 

“Isn’t that criss-cross way of finger taping something only judoka’s and grapplers do?” The boy looking over Miyuki’s shoulder, who I remembered as Kuramochi, questioned in a curious and confused tone. 

I jumped as Miyuki suddenly snickered before giving me a knowing look. “Yeah, Kaien-chan, would you like to share with the rest of class why that might be?” 

I narrowed my eyes into the dirtiest, angriest glare that I could muster, but the shit-eating grin on his face never wavered. “Why you little—!”

“Kurokage has won national titles in kendo, judo, and a few other things, isn’t that right?” Kataoka-kontaku’s rumbling voice interjected from the left, cutting me off. 

Fuck this guy for, like, the fifth time. He’s been droppin’ bombs like a goddamn F-16 this morning. 

I turned my glare on him. “You just tried to snipe me a minute ago! At least apologize before you go divulging all my life’s secrets to the team!” I growled in annoyance. 

“You mean it’s true?!” Many of them chorused. Sheesh, not again. 

I sighed as Miyuki finally peeled the last segment of tape from my pinky. Oh, boy. My hand looked downright livid. 

“Huh? You mean you guys haven’t figured out who she is yet?” The pink-haired, fox-eyed boy next to Kuramochi deadpanned in mild incredulity. “Her surname, the way she expertly flipped Miyuki last night, the fact that she transferred here from Kyoto, the mon on the shirt she was wearing when we met her: just read her shirt for god’s sake.”

An awkward and embarrassed silence fell over the team as they read the front and back of my athletic tee. I sighed again. 

“Does it hurt when I do this?” Miyuki asked, applying pressure to the heel of my palm. Oh, yeah. With all the ruckus, I’d forgotten that he was still checking my hand for injuries. 

I shook my head honestly. “Uh-uh. I appreciate the concern, but there’s really no need. I’ve broken enough bones in my hand to know that everything’s where it should be,” I said. 

The catcher let out a nervous chuckle. “I definitely don’t doubt that.”

Kataoka-kontaku cleared his throat, hushing the entire team. “Miyuki, Kurokage, go rehydrate and get changed. The rest of you, get warmed up,” he barked. 

The group began to reluctantly disperse, but just as I was about to start walking back to the dug out, a large hand clapped down on top of my helmet, stopping me. “Kurokage, you'll be practicing with the first-string. Miyuki will show you where to go.” Coach informed me from above before lifting his hand and releasing me. 

The few boys that were still within earshot spun around in utter disbelief but not a peep of commentary was uttered by any of them. 

I nodded. “Yes, sir.” Well, at least something good came out of this. 

I skipped happily to the dugout, Miyuki following a pace or two behind me. I guess Kataoka wasn't so bad. He'd allowed me to join the first-string without even seeing my fielding. I just needed to make sure to prove to him and everyone else that I was worthy of it. 

I removed my helmet as I stepped down the stairs into the dugout, placing it back on the shelf to my left where it belonged as I made my way to my bag and other belongings. 

Miyuki entered a second after me and shuffled past me to his mountain of baggage sitting a few feet from mine. “So…” he started, trailing off as he began to unbuckle the numerous straps of his protective gear. 

“So?” I echoed curiously, removing my other glove and sliding off my cleats. 

“You made first-string right off the bat, no pun intended. Pretty impressive,” he continued. 

I turned my head towards him, a genuine and determined smile breaking across my face. “Thanks, but being acknowledged isn't enough. I need work hard to show him and everyone else that he didn't make a mistake by giving me this opportunity,” I clarified. 

Miyuki’s lips curled into a fierce excited smirk. “You know, I wasn't so sure about you at first, but you're not half bad.”

I laughed a little, uncertain as to whether or not he was being serious. “Well, the jury’s still out on how I feel about you,” I replied, each word dripping with sarcasm. 

He gasped and feigned a wounded expression. “Even after everything I’ve done for you? How heartless!”

I snorted. “You make it sound like you’ve done so much when all you’ve really done is give me a tour that I just found out this morning was totally incomplete.”

“You just sassed your way out of a water bottle, miss-missy,” he huffed, cradling the two unopened bottles of water he’d removed from his bag to his chest and turning his head away from me like a spoiled child. 

I rolled my eyes at his immaturity, but seeing as I’d forgotten to bring any water with me and hadn’t the foggiest idea where the fountains were, I decided to play along with his charade since I desperately needed something to drink. “Please forgive me, oh kind and benevolent Miyuki-san. I forgot to pack my water bottle, so I would greatly appreciate it if you’d be kind enough to spare one of yours.” I bowed with my hands clasped together in a begging position.

He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and seemed to be thinking it over. “Well, I suppose so; since you asked so nicely.” He tossed one of the bottle to me and grabbed a towel from his bag before walked over to the back bench against the wall of the dug out. Taking a seat on the blue wooden bench, he looked up at me and patted the spot next to him, signaling me to come sit with him. 

I quickly found my own towel and went to sit next to him. 

Once I’d sat, we both opened our water bottles and took a few much needed gulps. My dry throat and mouth were instantly relieved. You never know how dehydrated you are until you take that first sip. 

I saw Miyuki shift next to me as he set down his bottle and started removing his jersey and undershirt. He’s got the right idea, I thought. 

Placing my things on the bench next to me, I lifted my sweat drenched shirt up and over my head, discarding it on the floor at my feet. I then put my feet up on the bench in front of us and reclined back into a lounging position. Oh, God, did it feel good to finally put my feel up. 

Miyuki mimicked my kicked back posture, and I discretely took note as he leaned back how impressive his upper body was for a high schooler. His chest was wide, both pectorals built to perfection and coming together in the center of his chest in a straight vertical line, and his abs were segmented and well-defined, following the line of his pecks until the top of his white pants. The most chiseled feature on his abdomen was the deep, flawless v-cut that trailed from his waist, around his hips, and vanished beneath the cover of his clothing. And, his arms weren’t anything to sneeze at either. Basically, he looked photoshopped, but that still didn’t stop my heart from racing. 

I decided to look away before he noticed me noticing him, and I began to use my towel to wipe the excess sweat off of my stomach and neck. I pulled the pendant strung on the black cord around my neck from between my breasts out of the confines of my black sports bra so I could wipe it clean. 

“What’s that? It looks ancient,” Miyuki inquired, watching closely as I handled the small, tan colored colored magatama delicately between my fingers. 

I chuckled. “It’s one of my clan’s sacred treasures.”

He seemed to deflate a little at that. “Oh, so you can’t really talk about it then?” He asked in a disappointed tone. 

I sat staring at him for a few seconds before bursting into a fit of amused laughter. “Why would you think that? This isn’t a period drama where everything a clan does is top secret,” I wheezed out between laughs. This boy was killin’ me.

A bright red blush spread across his cheeks. “I know that! I just thought that if something was considered sacred then you wouldn’t be able to share it with outsiders!” He retorted. 

My laughter gradually died down, but my lips remained set in a wide smile. “Well, I probably shouldn’t share it with outsiders, but it’s not like the clan is going to suddenly dissolve if I do. That being said, the story is way too long to tell in just a few minutes. Remind me later when we have a while to talk and I’ll tell you about it.” I explained. “Got any other questions?” I asked, mostly joking. 

“Yeah, actually,” he replied, sitting up a little straighter to look at me properly. “If you’re such an amazing martial artist, why are you here playing baseball?”

Oh. My face dropped as my heart sunk into the pit of my stomach. 

Miyuki immediately began to panic upon seeing my crestfallen expression. “I’m sorry, that was really inconsiderate of me! You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to!” He backpedaled. 

I was quiet for a moment and Miyuki seemed to take that as a sign that I wasn’t going to respond. Just as he began to slouch back into his seat, I opened my mouth. “Playing baseball makes me feel alive,” I said. 

His eyes widened as he jumped in shock from my sudden statement. He didn’t move and continued to stare at me as if silently urging me to elaborate. 

I sighed and looked up at the metal roof. This was a lot deeper than I thought I’d be delving into on the first day. “When your entire life is planned out for you, it's not really your life anymore is it? While we're alive we need a reason for living. Being unable to find one is that same as being dead. Even if you're great at something, that doesn't mean anything if you don't like doing it,” I explained. 

“So you don't like fighting? Can I ask why?” Miyuki questioned gently from beside me. 

“Despite my seemingly violent behavior, I actually don't like hurting people. It's just not in my nature. But, mostly I'm tired of people being afraid of me.” I thought about the expressions of all the boys surrounding us this morning. They were staring at me like I was some kind of freak. Like I was a monster. 

Miyuki’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Afraid of you?” He scoffed incredulously. 

I shot him a glare. “Yes, afraid of me! Everyone's opinion of me always changes when they find out about the whole martial arts thing! Like I'm some wild animal waiting to pounce on the next person who looks at me wrong!” 

He cocked an eyebrow. “Is that why you got so pissy when Kataoka-kontaku brought up kendo and all of that?” 

I gave a weak nod. “I at least wanted to get to know you all before you guys found out about everything. Everyone's always been afraid of me. I just didn't want all of you to be afraid of me too,” I admitted quietly. It wasn't like I was going to hide my national titles or anything, but if I started with that as my icebreaker, it'd be like I never left home. I was hoping that coming here would help me get away from the stigma of my surname. 

There was a brief silence before Miyuki suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. 

I first stared at him like he was a lunatic then my eyes narrowed into dangerous slits that he had the audacity to laugh at my problems. I was going to strangle him with his own towel. 

Right as I began plotting his demise, the catcher stood up and pointed at me. “*You* are a funny girl. Hurry up and get changed. I think that you'll be surprised by the teams true thoughts on you,” he said with a wink. 

I let out an unconvinced sigh as I stood up and walked back to my bag. Secretly though, I prayed he was right. 

 

 

 

+++++++++

 

 

 

(Next time on The Neutral Zone...)

 

 

“No offense, Kaien-chan, but you look more suited to play infield.”

I spun around on my heel to catch Miyuki staring curiously out of the corner of his eye at me while he strapped down his protective gear. The other boys in our vicinity were also looking my way, silently assessing me from afar.

“Oh? And why’s that?” I questioned, continuing my preparation for practice.

“You’re small. Even if you can throw far, two of your steps equals one of ours. It’ll take twice as much effort to get to the ball,” Kuramochi quipped from the other side of Miyuki.

I couldn’t help but burst out into laughter at this. I thought they would’ve figured it out after my little show this morning; celerity is kind of my thing.

The boys all shot me looks of confusion and dismissal as I kicked off my baseball cleats and traded them in for a pair of well-worn Nike Mercurial Superfly’s. If I was going to have to rely on my speed, I may as well use the gear best suited for it.

“What the hell are those?” Isashiki-senpai interjected in a vaguely horrified tone, voicing the question that seemed to be at the forefront of each of their minds.

My hands continued methodically weaving the laces of my remaining shoe, making any necessary adjustments to the width for a perfectly flush fit. “Just some shoes that are better suited for my particular technique,” I replied with a mischievous smirk spread across my face.

Everyone’s interest seemed to pique with those last three words.

“Is it as insane as your batting technique?” Miyuki chimed from my right.

I slid my hand into my Mizuno black leather glove, brining it up to the tip of my nose to hide ever widening smile before twirling effortlessly on the smooth rubber spikes of my blacked out cleats until I was facing my teammates. My steps clicked rhythmically as I made my way to the dugout’s exit and I only paused momentarily before ascending the steps to make one final teasing remark.

“You’ll have to decide that for yourself.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Daiya no Ace. The only things I own are my OCs and the plot.

 

Hello, hello! Sorry it took me so long to update. It took me forever to try and piece together this chapter, and there are still come parts that aren’t the best but I really couldn’t stand looking at it anymore. Do you guys ever get that way with your writing when you’re like “Fuck it enough is enough!”? Because that’s where I’m at with this chapter. I promise the next one will be way better. 

 

Quick context info for this chapter:

 

1.) Bokuto are the wooden swords used for practicing kata (or drills/forms) in kendo and aikido. The singular term for them is “bokken”.

 

2.) Suburito are basically the same as bokuto except that they're weighted. They're used to strengthen your muscles and increase your swing speed and movements. 

 

+++++++++++++++++

 


 

 

 

 

Speed is All You Need

 

 

“Have I told you yet that you look like you're drowning in that jersey?” Miyuki asked from my left as he lead me to the second practice field. 

 

“Only about twenty frickin’ times. I'm the only girl, so it's not like I was expecting y’all to have women's clothes, much less my size,” I snapped. Seriously though, even the adult small hung down to the middle of my thighs when it wasn't tucked in. I probably needed a youth jersey but it wasn’t like they had sizes that small just lying around for a high school boys team. 

 

“What size is that? Hobbit?” He simpered. 

 

My cheeks puffed out as I fumed. “Do you want me to body slam you again? Because you're kind of asking for it at this point,” I growled. 

 

The boy just laughed as he opened the gate leading to the batting cages. I almost groaned. Not more swinging. 

 

Everyone in the practice area seemed to freeze. One guy even got hit on the shoulder with a ball shot from the machine. I coughed lightly and played with the hem of my blue undershirt’s high neck. Whelp, this is awkward. 

 

The first guy to speak was Kuramochi, and by speak I mean yell. “Oh my god watching you bat this morning so awesome! You have to show me some of your grappling moves later! I look forward to working with you, Kuro-chan!” I was in a stunned silence as he bounded up to me and wrapped a friendly arm around my shoulders. 

 

I looked to Miyuki for support, but he just gave me a soft, knowing smile. Then it hit me. Oh my god. They don't think I'm a freak. (Okay, one of them doesn't think I'm a freak but still.) 

 

I gave Kuramochi a relieved smile. “Sure, I'd be happy to! I’m glad you're not freaked out or anything,” I replied with a laugh. 

 

“Why would we be freaked out?” The tan bearded guy to my right asked. I recognized him as Isashiki-senpai from last night. 

 

I rubbed the back of my head awkwardly. “Well, you all looked pretty freaked out when you were watching earlier…” I trailed off unsure of how to word it delicately. 

 

“I was more impressed than anything else.” 

 

“Yeah, I mean, how often do you see someone who can go toe to toe against Kataoka-kontaku?”

 

“And with a wooden bat no less.”

 

“Why do you use a wooden bat, Kuro-chan?”

 

I was bombarded on all sides by my curious teammates and was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed. “U-Um I guess it’s partly because I’m used to using wooden bokuto and suburito for kenjutsu and partly because metal bats hurt my hands more than the wooden ones.”

 

This answer seemed to confuse them even more. 

 

“Damn. I totally thought it had something to do with ball control,” Isashiki-senpai swore. 

 

A brief but shrill shriek of a whistle being blown broke up our little Q and A session. I said an inward word of thanks. I wasn’t good at being the center of attention. 

 

Kataoka-kontaku began barking out his instructions for us, and we all begrudgingly set upon the task of completing our morning drills. 

 

 

 

One Hour Later…

 

 

 

“Kurokage-kun,” I heard Takashima-san’s voice call from the gate. She was waving me over with a smile that seemed too refreshed for this early in the morning. Wonder what she’s up to?

 

I trotted over to her, and she wasted no time in snagging me by the collar off my jersey and discretely smuggling me out of the batting cages. I had no idea what she was doing, but I’d had enough batting practice for one day so anything that involved me getting the hell away from that area was okay with me. 

 

She dragged me over to the storage room nearby where I was greeted with four new feminine faces. I turned to Takashima-san in hopes that she would offer an explanation. 

 

She smiled politely at me and gestured toward the four girls. “Kurokage-kun, these are the baseball team’s managers. I thought that it might help meeting the other girls on the team,” she said. 

 

I looked at the four girls before me. One was taller and more mature looking than the rest. I guessed that she must have been a third year. Her raven bangs framed her face perfectly and the beauty mark on her cheek just added to her looks. 

 

The one next to her had sandy blonde hair with bangs covering her right eye. 

 

The next had had hair tied into two low pigtails and she seemed to have the most fiery eyes of the group, and the last had auburn hair tied off to the side in a cute ponytail. 

 

The only thing I could think was, “S-So pretty,” I immediately slapped my hand over my mouth. Oh, my god was that out loud?!

 

The girls exchanged a look that I probably would have understood had I been more in touch with my feminine side. 

 

“Sorry! I hope that wasn’t weird! Sometime’s my mouth’s filter doesn’t work so I just blurt out whatever I’m thinking! Please, forgive me!” I squeaked, bowing deeply in apology. 

 

There was a pause before the sound of female laughter filled the room. I peeked up just in time to see the blonde and the pigtailed girl throw their arms around me in a friendly hug. 

 

“I wasn’t sure I was going to like having a girl on the team, but I like you!” The pigtailed girl exclaimed. 

 

“I know right? You’re so much cuter than I thought you’d be! Good work, Takashima-san!” The other one added, flashing a thumbs up. 

 

I laughed nervously, unsure of what to do in this situation but also relieved that at least they seemed to like me. 

 

“Come on, you two. At least introduce yourselves before you go clomping the poor girl,” the black haired girl chastised. 

 

I was released as the girls sheepishly got back into line. 

 

The girl who’d just spoken went first. “I’m Fujiwara Takako, third-year. Nice to meet you,” she introduced as she bowed politely. 

 

“My name’s Natsukawa Yui, I’m a second-year.” The blonde girl next to her waved casually. 

 

“Umemoto Sachiko, but you can call me Sachi. Second-year. Glad to meet you,” the pigtailed girl imitated Yui’s wave. 

 

“I’m Yoshikawa Haruno, and I’m a first-year. It’s nice to meet you,” the auburn haired one bowed. 

 

I took off my helmet and bowed. “I’m Kurokage Kaien, second-year. I look forward to working with you,” I said. 

 

I heard two loud gasps from Yui and Sachi. “You’re a second year?! What class?!” She chorused. 

 

I rubbed the back of my neck sheepishly and tried not to blanch at the grittiness of my sweat mixed with the dirt and dust from the field. “I’m not sure. I still haven’t looked at my schedule. Right now I’m more worried about whether or not I’m going to have time to shower before school starts,” I joked, though I was legitimately concerned about the real possibility that I’d have to start off my second year reeking of sweat and baseball. Talk about a lasting first impression. 

 

“About that,” Takashima-san interjected. “I’ve spoken with Kataoka-san and we agree that it’d probably be best to let you out of practice fifteen minutes earlier than the other boys so you can get in your shower before them. It’s always a race to bathe before class and to avoid having you end up in a compromising position, we think it’d be better to just let you out early when everyone else is still at practice,” she explained while adjusting her glasses. 

 

I could have cried tears of joy. “Thank you so much! I was really beginning to think that my first impression with my teachers and classmates was going to stink, literally,” I laughed at my own lame joke, too happy to care about how terrible my puns were. 

 

The other girls joined in my laughter, and Sachi came forward to pat me on the shoulder. “Well, I think I speak for both myself and Yui when I say that I hope you’re in class 2-B. But, even if you’re not, if you ever need anything, let us know and we’ll help you out!” She said with a grin. 

 

The other three nodded and replied with their own affirmations. I was really starting to feel optimistic about the coming year. It had only been a day and already I was fitting in more here than I ever had at my old school. 

 

“Thank you, really. I’m so glad I chose to come here,” I murmered the last part more to myself.

 

I turned to Takishima-san. “What time is it?” I asked, silently praying that it was late enough for me to call it a morning. 

 

She smiled and replied without even having to check her watch. “It’s 8:15. You’re dismissed, Kurokage-kun. Good work today.”

 

The moment the words left her mouth, I was out the door, calling a quick farewell over my shoulder as I sprinted back to the dugout to retrieve my things. I only had forty five minutes to make it back to my dorm, go through the rest of my morning routine, and make it to class, and considering that most of my time was going to be spent running around campus, I hadn’t a moment to lose. 

 

I ignored everyone I passed on my way back to the dorm building, and wasted no time bursting through my door, grabbing my shower caddy and legging it to the communal bathrooms. 

 

No one was there, but I still entered with caution. I hopped into the nearest shower stall and finished my bathing routine in record time. 

 

When I was finished, I pulled on a baggy t-shirt and nike shorts to cover up and practically flew back to my room. I knew I wouldn’t have time to dry my hair, but I was fine with that. It’s not like it had a particular style any more now that it was short. 

 

I found my uniform hanging in the wardrobe beside my bed and my eyes immediately fell on the skirt. Yeah, no way am I wearing that with nothing underneath. 

 

I turned to my pile of luggage and pulled out a pair of black tights and a sleeveless cream colored hoodie. I hadn’t read the student handbook yet, but I’d never once been in dress code at any school I’d ever attended and I wasn’t about to start now. 

 

Substituting the white Oxford shirt and sweater for my hoodie, I got dressed in a flash and turned around to look at my reflection in the mirror. Not the best, but still good. I just prayed that I wasn’t the only girl on campus still wearing her blazer even though summer uniforms were now in season. 

 

I quickly loaded up my backpack and grabbed the file off of my desk, deciding to read it on the way to class, and took off for the main school building. Lord knows I’d need plenty of time to find my classroom. 

 

 

 

A Few Minutes Later…

 

 

 

“Shit.” I looked to my left and then to my right. I’m fucking lost. 

 

I’d been wondering around the massive school building for what felt like an eternity just searching for the magical 2-B classroom. At this point, I was just hoping that I’d run into someone I knew so they could tell me where to go. I mean, even Miyuki would do at this point. 

 

“Chris-senpai!” Hey, I knew that voice. 

 

I sprinted around the corner to find Sawamura bowing in front of a tall, and can I just say ridiculously handsome, brunette boy with gold eyes. His wavy hair was combed back, save for a few curls hanging down to frame his face. But, I couldn’t be bothered with another hot male right now. I had, like, two minutes to get to class and I refused to be late on my first day. 

 

“Sawamura!” I called as I leapt toward the startled first-year, tears of joy brimming in my eyes. 

 

“K-Kuro-senpai!” He answered as I latched onto his arm. Now that I’d found someone I knew I wouldn’t let go until I’d found my classroom. Besides, he did promise to give me a tour of the school last night. 

 

“Sorry for interrupting, but I can’t find my classroom and the bell is about to ring and I’m kind of freaking out so would you please be a lamb and show me where room 2-B is?” I rattled off, still a little frazzled from my endless wondering down the unfamiliar halls of my new school. 

 

His cheeks became tinted with a light blush from what I assume was just the proximity of teenage female, but just when he opened his mouth to reply, he was silenced but the deeper tone of the boy standing in front of us. 

 

“You’re the new girl who made first string this morning, aren’t you?” It didn’t sound like a question. 

 

I sheepishly turned my head to look up (again so, so far up) at the boy who’d just spoken. He was smiling down at me with an amused spark in his eyes and I suddenly began to feel very self conscious. I hid partially behind Sawamura’s arm. “How do people already know about that?” I asked more to myself than as an actual reply. 

 

The taller boy chuckled. “I’m on the team and I heard about it from the third years. You made quite the impression,” he paused to hold out his hand towards me. “I’m Takigawa Chris Yuu, a third-year.” 

 

I released Sawamura and shyly took the extended hand. “Kurokage Kaien, second-year. It’s nice to meet you Takigawa-senpai,” I said politely. 

 

“Chris,” he corrected softly. 

 

I cocked my head to the side. I didn’t care what people called me, but it felt awfully familiar to start using someone’s first name right after meeting them. Especially an upperclassman. 

 

He laughed at my conflicted expression. “It’s what everyone calls me,” he explained. 

 

I pursed my lips but nodded anyway. “Okay, then. Nice to meet you, Chris-senpai.”

 

Chris-senpai smiled kindly in a way that reminded me of an older brother. “Likewise. Do you prefer to be called Kuro?” He asked jokingly. 

 

I laughed a little at that. “Kuramochi started calling me that last night and I guess it stuck. It is shorter than Kurokage though, but I don’t really care what people call me,” I replied.

 

“Well, Kuro,” he started playfully. “I’d be happy to escort you to your classroom, and Sawamura,” Chris-senpai’s previously kind expression hardened as he leveled his gaze to the first year at my side. “For the tenth time, please don’t bother me at school.” He looked like a dad of a toddler: totally drained. Somehow, I felt as though Sawamura had the affect on everyone if you spent enough time with him. 

 

Sawamura slouched in disappointment for a moment before perking up and clapping his hands down on my shoulders. I jumped from the sudden contact. “Kuro-senpai, before I forget, please teach me how to swing like you! I wanna be able to swing so fast that my bat disappears too!” Wow, too loud for the hallway kid. Now, people were staring at us. 

 

I cleared my throat uncomfortably, unsure of what to say next. “Um, I can help you out a little this afternoon, but it’s not exactly something you can learn in a day,” I said hesitantly. 

 

The fire in his eyes never wavered. “That’s okay! The way you hit all of Shades’ pitches no matter where it came from was so awesome! You looked like a real samurai in the middle of a dual! Don’t forget that you promised to train with me tonight! Chris-senpai—,” he threw a glance at the amused third-year, “—you heard her agree to it, so that’s legally binding! Anyway, see you guys at lunch! Later!” And just like that he was gone. 

 

I stared at the stairwell he’d just disappeared into with a deadpan expression. “Why do I feel like I’ve just had some of my life-force drained?” 

 

I heard Chris-senpai chuckle from beside me. “That’s just how he is. He can be overbearing at times, but he means well.”

 

I thought back to the determination blazing behind his bright amber eyes. “Yes, he just wants to get better. There’s no purer motivation than that,” I said, turning to him with a smile. 

 

“I agree,” Chris-senpai replied before patting me on the head as he passed me. “Come on, if we hurry you’ll make it just before the bell.” 

 

That lit a fire under me. “Oh, yeah. Thanks for helping me, by the way,” I said as I followed him down a series of similar looking corridors. Oh man, something told me that I’d never learn my way around this place. 

 

“Of course. It’s the responsibility of the senpai to help their kouhai when they need it, ne, Kuro?” He said my nickname in a playful tone again. 

 

I laughed. “You can always just call me by my name if you don’t like the nickname,” I jested, inwardly hoping that I’d read the situation correctly. 

 

I heard him chuckle again, “It’s not that I don’t like it. It just doesn’t fit such a cute girl. But, leave it to Kuramochi to give a girl a boy nickname,” said Chris-senpai. 

 

I blushed, but didn’t feel as though he was flirting with me. It felt more like the way an older brother would compliment his younger sister. I deduced that between him and Yuuki-senpai, this team was set for parental figures to keep everyone corralled. It was sort of comforting. “Then you’re more than welcome to call me Kaien. You’d be the only other one.” I thought about Miyuki using my first name and for some reason it felt like he was just using it ironically like the little shit he is. It’d be nice to have someone legitimately call me by my given name for a change. 

 

“The only other one? Who’s the other?” He asked. 

 

I made a face and snorted derisively. “Miyuki Kazuya.” 

 

A loud laugh startled me as Chris-senpai covered his mouth to contain himself. “Judging by the tone, I’d say he’s being fairly classic Miyuki around you.” 

 

So that’s how he always is? I thought. “Well, we did get off to a rocky start,” I defended. 

 

“Meaning?” 

 

“I casually judo flipped him in front of most of the first string, including Yuuki-senpai and Isashiki-senpai.”

 

“Oh, yeah. I heard about that from Tetsu-san.” It took me a moment to piece together that Tetsu-san was really Yuuki-senpai. I’d heard some of the senpai call him that this morning. 

 

“Yeah,” I trailed off, not knowing how I should respond. 

 

“Then, you’ll love being in 2-B.” His tone was mildly sarcastic. Why does that sound really, really bad? 

 

Just as I was about to ask him what he meant, we came to a stop in front of a pair of white doors. Without saying a word, Chris-senpai slid them open. 

 

“Kaien-chan~~!” Oh, please, God no. 

 

“Fuck me,” I cursed under my breath as Miyuki’s shit-eating grin came into view. It was official. I was fated to be around this guy twenty-four/seven. I obviously must have angered God in some way for him to be punishing me so severely. 

 

A deep laugh reminded me that Chris-senpai was still standing beside me and had totally heard me drop the F bomb. I turned to him with a sheepish smile. “Sorry about the language.” It felt like I was apologizing to my father for swearing in public. 

 

Apparently he found that very amusing, patting me on the head affectionately as he laughed again. “Don’t worry, I’m used to it.”

 

The first bell rung informing us that we only had five minutes left to get to our classrooms or else we’d be considered tardy. 

 

“Thanks for showing me to my classroom, Chris-senpai,” I thanked quickly, smiling gratefully at the taller boy towering over me. 

 

He returned my smile. “Of course. If you need anything, just ask. Have a good day, Kaien.” Oh my, I know that he’s just being nice but my heart definitely doesn’t flip like that when Miyuki says my name. 

 

Chris-senpai suddenly looked over my shoulder and nodded in acknowledgement. “Miyuki,” he said in farewell. 

 

I turned back around and nearly jumped out of my slippers. Miyuki was standing directly behind me, looming over the two of us like some kind of henge. 

 

“Chris-senpai,” he replied with the same nod. 

 

You know, that’s, like, three times now that this guy has creeped up on me. Either he’s secretly a trained martial artist or I need to get my shit together. 

 

I heard Chris-senpai’s footsteps retreat behind me signaling his departure. The air around Miyuki and I suddenly felt very tense for some reason. I waited for him to say something while looking everywhere but his eyes as he stared down me. 

 

“Do you know Chris-senpai?” his sudden question startled me, but even more baffling was the hard look in his eyes when I finally met his gaze. He didn’t look mad, but he didn’t look happy either. I couldn’t quite place my finger on what emotion I saw swirling in his amber pools, and judging from the confused crease set between his eyebrows, neither could he. 

 

I tucked a loose piece of hair behind my left ear since my hair was no longer long enough for me to twirl. “No, I just met him. Why?”

 

“You just seemed really familiar.”

 

I cocked my head curiously to the side.

 

Miyuki coughed. “He was using your first name,” he elaborated. 

 

I snickered. “And?”

 

“And, who casually used someone’s first name right after meeting them?” He reprimanded. Wow, okay hypocrite.

 

“You,” I deadpanned. “You do that.”

 

“That’s different,” he brushed off. 

 

I scoffed. “You’re right. It is different. I’m pretty sure you’re calling me ‘Kaien-chan’ ironically, whereas Chris-senpai is doing it seriously.” I went to brush past him but froze before I could even take my first step.

 

“Kaien,” he murmured in low, husky voice. 

 

A quiver trailed down my spine. His eyes were a shade darker that they were a moment ago, reflecting a look of calm and seriousness conveying that he was no longer joking. I felt everything flip from my stomach to my heart. I don’t think I’d survive if he continued addressing me in that tone and manner. 

 

The second bell rung, breaking up whatever was going on between us and Miyuki silently retreated back to his seat next to the window. 

 

Weird, I thought to myself as the homeroom teacher walked in. She was a tall, slender woman with short umber hair and dark colored eyes. Her gaze fell on me and look of recognition lit up her features. “You’re the new transfer, Kurokage, right?” 

 

I nodded and bowed respectfully. “Hai.”

 

“Nice to meet you. You can call me Ono-sensei. I’m the homeroom advisor, but I also teach first and second year History so I’ll be your first period instructor as well since 2-B happens to have History first,” Ono-sensai explained as she motioned for me to follow her to the podium at the front of the classroom. 

 

“How convenient,” I commented. 

 

The woman hummed in agreement. “Very. Do you mind introducing yourself to the class? Just write your name on the board and say a few things about yourself.”

 

I silently gulped, already imagining all the ways I could screw up a simple introduction. “A few things about myself?” I echoed, hoping that she’d elaborate and give me an outline to follow. 

 

“Like just tell the class why you came to Seidō and where you’re from originally.” 

 

I took a deep breath as Ono-sensei hushed the buzzing room. 

 

“We have a new student joining 2-B today,” she gestured her hand towards me and I wrote my name in large print as legibly as I could on the chalkboard at the front of the room. 

 

I turned around to face the class. “Hello, my name is Kurokage Kaien. I transferred from Kyoto upon accepting a scholarship to play baseball here at Seidō. I look forward to being a part of your class,” I bowed, hoping that my voice didn’t sound nearly as shaky as I thought it did. 

 

Murmers of disbelief and awe rippled through the class, and I noticed there was a large percentage of female students who seemed to protest the idea. That makes sense, I thought to myself. There are plenty of attractive guys on the team. It’s only natural that some of them have fans. And if there’s one thing I know about women, it’s that they don’t take kindly to another female encroaching on their territory. 

 

Ono-sensei seemed to be looking down at a seating chart and spoke to me without raising her head. “Kurokage, go ahead and take a seat in the back row next to the window.”

 

I turned toward the said aforementioned seat and felt all of the blood immediately drain from my face. It looked like Miyuki Kazuya would be my next-door neighbor in class as well. 

 

Resigning myself to my fate, I trudged begrudgingly to my seat while doing my best to ignore the devilish smirk on the catcher’s face. 

 

“Kuro-chan! Welcome to the party, neighbor! Hyaha!” Oh, well, at least it wouldn’t be all bad, I thought as my eyes fell on my only remaining neighbor. Kuramochi seemed like he’d be a riot to sit beside. 

 

I hung my bag on the hook on the side of my desk and sat down, giving my full attention to our instructor at the front of the room. 

 

The moment Ono-sensei had finished her announcements, my desk was suddenly surrounded by people. 

 

“I’m so happy you’re in our class, Kaien!” Sachi cheered as she and Yui appeared in the gap between myself and Kuramochi, who’d also taken it upon himself to drag his chair up to my desk and crowd me. 

 

I smiled, genuinely happy that I seemed to have made two real female friends. “Hai! It’d be so boring with just boys around,” I replied with a snicker. 

 

Miyuki, who’s chair had been turned around to face the front of my desk, and Kuramochi looked offended. “You’re so cold, Kaien-chan. How can you say that to your beloved neighbors and teammates?” Miyuki countered in mock hurt. 

 

“Oh, so you are living in the boys dorms,” a new voice confirmed with a hint of sneer. 

 

I looked up at the petite raven-haired beauty who’d taken a spot between Miyuki and Kuramochi. I hadn’t noticed her in my initial scan of the classroom, but she was obviously the most attractive female in the room. Her hair was silky and smooth despite having been straightened to lie flat and it was left unbound, flowing down the back and front of her cream colored sweater like a river of ink. Bangs parted down the middle framed her delicate, feminine features, but the real draw to her overall appeal was her crystal blue eyes. Even I had to marvel at this girl’s radiance. She was absolutely stunning. 

 

“A-Ah. I don’t really have a choice,” I said even though her previous statement was obviously not a question. 

 

A well-rehearsed fake smile graced her lovely features and the girl held out her hand towards me. “Oh, I see. My name is Usui Mikage. It’s nice to meet you, Kurokage-san.”

 

Deciding it’d be easier on everyone to just accept her false olive branch of civility than to give her the cold shoulder, I took her hand in mine and gave it a firm squeeze. “Likewise.”

 

Usui jumped as if my touch had just electrocuted her, and she flipped my hand upward, bringing her face close to inspect my palm. The look of sheer horror on her face worried me.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Your hands are so rough,” she seemed to spit out that last word with the utmost disdain. 

 

I shot her the universal ‘are-you-fucking-serious’ look. “That’s it?” I couldn’t stop the incredulity from seeping through my voice. What kind of idiotic remark was that? Of course my hands are rough. Every athlete that uses their hands needs callouses. She’d obviously never played any type of hands-on sport. 

 

Her cerulean eye’s narrowed disgustedly at me for the briefest moment before she turned to Miyuki who’d been watching our exchange silently from his seat. “Kazuya-kun,” her voice suddenly jumped an octave higher into the soprano range and I had to slap a hand over my mouth to stifle my rude laughter. “Is baseball really so hard on your hands—?” She tried to reach for Miyuki’s hand that was resting on top of my desk, but he quickly pulled away, instead choosing to swipe my own hand from her grasp and bring it to his face so that my palm was resting against his cheek. 

 

“Rough hands are a sign of a hard worker, ne, Kaien-chan?” He simpered as he proceeded to rub his cheek against my open palm.

 

A chill ran up my spine as my face flushed scarlet with embarrassment. My first reaction was to pinch the cheek of that cheeky bastard (pun intended) in an attempt to hide my own discomfort. “This coming from the guy with hands smoother than a newborns behind,” I retorted before retracting my hand and placing both of them beneath my desk before another one of them could be taken hostage. 

 

Kuramochi and the two baseball club managers found our exchange humorous as they responded with laughter, but the raven haired beauty looming over our group seemed none too pleased. In fact, it wouldn’t be an over statement to say that she looked downright livid. 

 

I shifted uncomfortably under her intense glare. I could diffuse just about any volatile situation except for one involving another female. I’d already figured out long ago that my method of being frank and direct was incongruent to the typical female train of thought, so it was best for all parties if I just remained quiet. Besides, this girl seemed like the type of person who wouldn’t be able to hold herself back from getting the last word in. 

 

“So,”— Called it.—“do you have practice today, Kazuya-kun?” Usui inquired, injecting herself right into the middle of our brief team interaction. 

 

I couldn’t stop the rude snicker from escaping this time. Was she serious? 

 

I looked between the faces of my teammates. They all seemed to be as annoyed as I was. I mean, seriously. He’s the starting catcher for a powerhouse school and it’s Monday; no-fucking-shit he has practice today. If this sad attempt at making conversation with Miyuki was her putting forth her best effort, she had my sincerest condolences. And that’s coming from a girl with the social skills of an egg. 

 

Miyuki didn’t even turn towards her as he answered with a short and concise, “Uh-huh.” And just like that the awkwardness has officially reached palpable atmospheric levels. 

 

The lot of us stewed in the almost physically painful tension before Usui finally seemed to take the hint that she was an unwanted guest in our circle. “Okie dokie! I’ll be there to cheer for you, so make sure you come by and say hi this time,” she half playfully scolded and half commanded. She shot me one last irritated look before floating back to wherever she’d come from in the first place. 

 

A brief moment of silence passed between our group. 

 

“Huh. Your girlfriend’s kinda pushy, eh, Miyuki-san?” I commented with a snarky smirk. 

 

This seemed to be the jackpot of hilarious comments as Kuramochi, Yui and Sachi all proceeded to lose their shit and crack up laughing. 

 

“She’s not my girlfriend,” the bespectacled catcher protested.

 

“I wonder if she knows that,” said Yui dryly as she dragged a chair up to my desk so she could sit with the rest of us. 

 

The lost expression on my face must have been enough to warrant an explanation of context because Sachi supplied me with, “She’s the president of his fan club.”

 

I made an ‘o’ with my mouth in a silent reply. That made sense. Miyuki was an idol if ever I saw one. Then again, if I was being honest, so was nearly every other guy on the team. I was sure that there were dozens of fan clubs dedicated to the baseball team in one way or another all throughout the school. 

 

Watching Sachi as she also pulled up a stool beside my desk sparked a new question in my head. “Why isn’t she a manager? That seems like it’d be the dream job for a fan.” 

 

This time it was Kuramochi who responded, but not after first making a dismissive ‘pfft.’ “Like we’d let a girl who didn’t know the first thing about baseball on the team as manager.”

 

Miyuki nodded along and hummed in agreement with our teammate. 

 

“I dunno. I think if a girl likes a guy enough, she’ll research all of his interests until she’s an expert on all of them,” I said.

 

“We require prior experience as a manager in another sport and at least a fundamental knowledge of baseball to even be considered a candidate for manager. Plus, there’s a pretty extensive interview process so we can weed out people like her,” Yui spat out the last word with disdain. 

 

I simply nodded my head to show that I understood since I didn’t have anything to add to conversation. 

 

“Thank God,” sighed Miyuki, finally speaking up and jumping back into the discussion. “I don’t know what I’d do if I had to be on the same team with a girl who likes me.” Ouch, that made my heart twinge ever so slightly. What the hell was wrong with me around him? I mean, we hadn’t even known each other for a full twenty-four hours! 

 

“I dunno, man,” Kuramochi interjected, folding his arms across his chest and closing his eyes in what appeared to be deep philosophical thought. “Assuming our feelings were mutual, I think it’d be pretty awesome to be on the same team as my girlfriend. Almost every free minute we have outside of school is spent either practicing or playing in games, so the way I see it is that the only way any of us would be able to successfully date anyone would be if she was also on the team. Then we’d get to see each other all the time.”

 

Hmm, that made sense. I’d always been an advocate for choosing the path of least resistance and most convenience. However, dating a teammate seemed like the prime example of a decision that had the potential come back to bite you in the ass. The sharpest of the double edged swords you could find, especially considering the fact that most of us had to live in the same building on campus over 300 days out of the year. 

 

Sachi elbowed Kuramochi suggestively with a sly smirk on her face. “You seem to have put a lot of thought into this hypothetical. Maybe there’s a specific teammate you already have in mind?” She teased.

 

The green haired boy sputtered out a string of denials as his cheeks and the tips of his ears flushed bright red. 

 

I joined the rest of the group in laughing at this. I couldn’t tell if he really did have feelings for someone on the team or not with his overreaction. 

 

“But, what if you and the other person break up or have a fight or whatever? You’d never be able to get away from each other and then it’d be awkward for everyone. Besides, we’re here for only one reason. Personal problems and selfish emotions and cloud people’s judgement and that can impede our team’s ability to perform during crucial times,” Miyuki’s eye’s lost their usual spark of mischief, instead hardening into the ruthless and unforgiving stare of a man prepared to do whatever necessary to achieve his goals. “There’s no room on the diamond for distractions, and I have zero tolerance for anything that stands in the way of our victory.” 

 

There was another pang in my chest, but this one lingered, becoming an unfamiliar and uncomfortable ache as the brunette catcher’s gaze settled on me for some reason. I felt like I was being scrutinized for some crime or offense I’d unknowingly committed, but I didn’t break eye contact with him. If he was insinuating with his seemingly targeted statements and disposition that my presence was a potential distraction, I wasn’t going to just concede that point. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions as I could be totally wrong, but in the case of my assessment being correct, folding under his pressure would be the same as admitting I agreed with him. 

 

The remaining members of our circle seemed to either be unaware of the silent duel being held between Miyuki and I, or they were just simply ignoring it as the conversation carried on without skipping a beat. 

 

“Of course you’d say something like that,” Kuramochi’s disparaging tone was matched by the scowl etched into his features. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one who thought Miyuki’s stance was overly objective. “But, since we’re on the subject of club exclusive romance, I’m curious about the girls’ take on it. I mean, there’s literally only five of you, now, on the team.”

 

I was too wrapped up in my staring contest to be bothered with answering Kuramochi’s inquiry, but my fellow females were there to eagerly fill the gap. 

 

“I’ve never really thought about any of the players like that before, but I’d like to think if I ever did get involved with one of them that we’d be mature enough and respectful enough to keep our relationship separate from the team,” Sachi summarized. 

 

I agreed with her fully. If my boyfriend also happened to be my teammate, I’d draw a firm and nonnegotiable line between boyfriend and teammate. 

 

Yui hummed in agreement. “Same here. It’d have to be the right kind of guy to make me consider dating one of the players, and if I did, I’d keep it so far on the down low that no one else would even be able to figure out we were in a relationship. But, Sacchin and I are just managers. Our role limits our interaction with the players to the predetermined allotments of time specified for that particular day. We’ve never had a girl who lived in the dorms with the rest of you and do everything you guys do as players until now. So, it’s Kaien’s perspective that I’m most interested in.” That got my attention. 

 

I tore my gaze away from Miyuki’s unchanging stare and saw that everyone’s attention was on me waiting for my input. I clicked my tongue and tried to imagine what it would be like to be involved in a romantic relationship with one of my teammates. Immediately, the unwelcome face of my profoundly irritating bespectacled next door neighbor came to mind, and before I knew it, the hypothetical scenario was playing out in my head. 

 

“Well,” I began after clearing my throat, “I would make it clear to him that on the field he and I are only teammates. I refuse to let anything harm our team as a whole— especially a personal issue that has nothing to do with the rest of the team. Plus, I’m honestly not interested in dating anyone. It sounds like a lot of work.”

 

“So, what? You’ll just be single for the rest of your life?” Kuramochi quipped somewhat sarcastically. 

 

I snorted derisively. “No, of course not. I’m just saying I’d only be open to the idea if it was the right person.” 

 

And for some reason, my gaze clashed with the brunette catcher sitting across from me. I’ll try not to read too much into that. 

 

 

 

 

++++++++++++++++++

 

 

 

 

Afternoon practice found myself as well as the rest of the first string, squatting in a semi-circle around Kataoka-kontaku while he absentmindedly carve a line into the soft dirt at his feet.  I later learned that this was Kataoka’s “thinking position.” 

 

“Kurokage.” He glanced up from his line in the dirt to acknowledge me. 

 

“Hai,” I replied, squeezing myself between Miyuki and Kuramochi so I could be in the front. 

 

“I’m putting you in right field for today’s practice.” 

 

There was a tense pause, and I gulped once before nodding my head. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, all of them reflecting the same doubts. Even I wasn’t so sure about me playing outfield. Kataoka must have seen a video clip of my brief stint as my previous team’s center fielder. But, if he thought I’d be able to play the position for an entire game, he had another thing coming. 

 

The team was dismissed after this announcement, and I followed the rest of the starting fielders into the dugout to get ready for the first round of practice drills. 

 

My back was to the rest of the team as I rolled up the sleeves of my royal blue undershirt to my elbows making me nearly jump when a male voice suddenly called out from directly behind me. 

 

“No offense, Kaien-chan, but you look more suited to play infield.”

 

I spun around on my heel to catch Miyuki staring curiously out of the corner of his eye at me while he strapped down his protective gear. The other boys in our vicinity were also looking my way, silently assessing me from afar. 

 

“Oh? And why’s that?” I questioned, continuing my preparation for practice.

 

“You’re small. Even if you can throw far, two of your steps equals one of ours. It’ll take twice as much effort to get to the ball,” Kuramochi quipped from the other side of Miyuki. 

 

I couldn’t help but burst out into laughter at this. I thought they would’ve figured it out after my little show this morning; celerity is kind of my thing. 

 

The boys all shot me looks of confusion and dismissal as I kicked off my baseball cleats and traded them in for a pair of well-worn Nike Mercurial Superfly’s. If I was going to have to rely on my speed, I may as well use the gear best suited for it. 

 

“What the hell are those?” Isashiki-senpai interjected in a vaguely horrified tone, voicing the question that seemed to be at the forefront of each of their minds. 

 

My hands continued methodically weaving the laces of my remaining shoe, making any necessary adjustments to the width for a perfectly flush fit. “Just some shoes that are better suited for my particular technique,” I replied with a mischievous smirk spread across my face. 

 

Everyone’s interest seemed to pique with those last three words. 

 

“Is it as insane as your batting technique?” Miyuki chimed from my right. 

 

I slid my hand into my Mizuno black leather glove, brining it up to the tip of my nose to hide ever widening smile before twirling effortlessly on the smooth rubber spikes of my blacked out cleats until I was facing my teammates. My steps clicked rhythmically as I made my way to the dugout’s exit and I only paused momentarily before ascending the steps to make one final teasing remark. 

 

“You’ll have to decide that for yourself.”

 

 

 

+++++++++++++++++

 

 

 

 

The wind was blowing gently from the north, licking my bare, glistening skin with a relieving chill. My eyes were closed— I didn’t need them to see. Only this slight northern breeze. 

 

Air snaked and slithered around every blade of grass and every ridge carved in the coarse sand, the only interruptions in the flow being twenty-two pairs of feet standing in a moderately consistent pattern to my right and onward. Their slightest shifts crushed the earth and foliage beneath their feet,  and it was enough to produce detectable deviations in the steady flow of wind through the surroundings. And that was all I needed to see. 

 

The crunch of the gravel adjacent to the home plate was followed first by the predictable swoosh of a small spherical object being tossed easily into the air, then it was almost immediately followed by the much anticipated clink of metal against a smaller solid item. 

 

Feet began to shuffle. My teammates were yelling, but their voices were masked by the white noise of our surroundings. That was fine, though. I knew what they were saying without hearing it myself. 

 

Something was approaching the fence to my right, and it was dropping fast. The atmosphere was pierced through as the small sphere came whistling across the field. I could feel it coming. Hovering over the turf by less than a foot, following an acute downward trajectory and over 12 meters from me. It’ll be a pain, but…

 

“I can make it.” 

 

My eyes snapped open, zeroing in on the white dot that seemed to be flying in slow motion. My heart rate slowed as my breathing became so deep and prolonged that it almost felt as though I wasn’t inhaling or exhaling anymore. All I could see and feel was that little speck of white standing out in stark contrast against the vivid green of the grass. Just two steps. I could do it in two steps. 

 

The moment I leapt forward, it felt as though I was flying. I loved the weightlessness that came from using Shinsoku, but, sadly, it was always over just as soon as it’d began. In less than a second my gloved hand had plucked the ball from the air and I was once again standing motionless on the carpet of green grass covering the field. 

 

I snapped my arm like a whip sending the ball back to our ever reliable catcher hovering behind home plate. These kinds of plays were a piece of cake, but I wouldn’t be able to last an entire game flashing all over the place like that. Shinsoku was something I needed to save for my batting and scoring runs. 

 

“Holy shit, I didn’t even see you move! How do you always manage to get there so fast?!” Isashiki-senpai yelled in amazement from my right. The rest of my teammates were all wearing matching stunned expressions. It was like they were almost hoping the ball would come to me so they could try to follow my movements. 

 

I laughed while scratching the back of my head nervously. “What can I say? Speed is the only thing I have, but it’s the only thing I need.”

 

 

+++++++++++++++

 

 

(Next time on The Neutral Zone...)

 

 

 

 

 

Kataoka Tesshin had always been known as a very proud man. Everything he did from the way he moved to the way he spoke radiated with dignity and a sense of honor. You knew without even approaching the man that he must follow a deeply rooted personal moral code. 

 

So, when the Minister of Defense, Kurokage Enra, interrupted the team’s afternoon practice and personally requested an audience with himself and the rest of the baseball club’s leadership committee, he knew immediately he was about to enter situation that would put his moral code to the test. 

 

 

(...)

 

 

“What exactly are you asking me to do, Kurokage-san?”

 

“Rescind Kaien’s scholarship to this institution and I’ll see to it personally that your team will never lack financial support.”

 

“And if I refuse?”

 

“Oh Kataoka-kun,” the Defense Minister’s gaze became lethally serious. “A refusal would be… ill-advised.”

 

 

++++++++++++++

 

 

So, yeah, here’s chapter four for what it’s worth! I'm more excited about the next chapter because I finally get to bring in some conflict with Kaien’s family and give some more insight into her background. I’m really trying not to make this story OC-centric because I know that loses a lot of readers, but I also think it’s important to have a really fleshed out main character and some real conflict for the plot. I know there’s obviously conflict in baseball but come on we need more conflict than that! 

 

I feel like I made kind of a risky move by injecting a Mikyuki fangirl into the story but I think that Kaien needs some competition to help her sort out her feelings and stuff. Idk I’ll try not to make Mikage like other fangirls in other fics. I mean, I think they should be annoying but not laughably so if that makes sense? 

 

Anywayssss... THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO READ AND LEFT COMMENTS AND LIKES!! It seriously means the world to me and I can’t thank you guys enough. :) Tbh, I didn’t even think anyone would read this fic since it was so out of left field with the martial arts angle and stuff. Btw, I dunno if you guys can tell, but I’m like a nut for martial arts. I’m a practitioner of kendo and aikido myself and I love them both. Aikido especially. I just love the lifestyle it represents and enforces. So if you're wondering were the martial arts stuff it coming from, it’s just my weird obsession with it haha. I'll try not to get too unrealistic with it. 

 

I should also note that I'm basing the Kaien’s style off of Kenshin and Seta Sōjirō from Ruroni Kenshin. I thought maybe the visual might help. 

 

But, yeah, thanks again for reading everyone! Any comments and/or constructive criticism are welcome! The next update will be much sooner! :)