Nine times out of ten, Sawamura Eijun had a smile on his face.
When he was walking down the hall at school, he had a habit of grinning at students to whom he’d never spoken. No matter how much they tried not to, each one would smile back.
When he was in the bath, he would sing to himself as he scrubbed, corners of his lips inevitably upturned. Although the rest of the team would claim it was annoying, they couldn’t hate him for it. After time, some of them even began to sing along in very hushed voices.
When he was yelling himself hoarse from the bullpen at a game in which he might not even play, his senpai would look at the beaming pitcher disparagingly. Not one of them would admit, though, that he was the cornerstone of the team’s morale. At least, not aloud anyway.
And worse, Eijun’s smile wasn’t just contagious—it also defied logic. Somehow, he was able to show you every single one of his teeth when he grinned. Often, his smile was just so damn wide that it forced the rest of his face to scrunch up to make more room. It almost looked painful and in fact, it sometimes was: ever since his childhood, Eijun had been the frequent target of my-face-hurts-it’s-killing-me jokes. Nowadays, he would just say the punch line himself whenever he’d complain that his cheeks ached from smiling too much, just to save his friends the trouble.
Of course, there were times when Eijun wasn’t smiling, some worse than others. It was in those moments that everyone around him fought their hardest to help bring his smile back. After all, Eijun wasn’t Eijun without a grin a mile wide.
Because the thing was, everyone knew just how precious Eijun’s smile was. Regardless of first impressions, everyone that met Eijun was inevitably drawn to his light. His sunshine was a warmth that was hard to reject and once you had been exposed, you would go to any lengths to protect it.
There was a saying that said a smile was the best medicine in the world and Eijun’s had certainly cured its fair share of cases.
Kazuya didn’t smile very often, at least not genuinely. For most of his life, he could count on one hand the number of things that were worth smiling for. And as of late, there had been even fewer reasons to smile.
For the second time that game, Kazuya had been struck out swinging. While he’d promised himself and Kuramochi that he would shoulder the pain and soldier on until the end of the final, he found himself eating his words as his side ached almost mockingly.
As he headed back to the dugout, he kept his chin held high despite the gazes of his teammates. Some of them looked at him in confusion, some in disbelief, some in disappointment, some in pity, some in realization. The one thing they all had in common was the downturned corners of their mouths.
And that was why—no matter how hard his ribs hurt, and no matter how much he felt like he’d failed, and no matter how much he wanted to do anything but—Kazuya couldn’t help but smile back as a grinning Eijun offered him a cup of water.
“What’s done is done! Don’t let it get to you, Captain!” He clapped him roughly on the shoulder.
“Hey, thanks for the drink.”
Eijun nodded enthusiastically. “But you’re the cleanup, you know? The cleanup!”
Ah, the peace would only last so long. “Don’t be so loud.”