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first light and afterglow

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*

 

When Todoroki Raizō told them he would be their new coach, nobody believed in him. Who would be desperate enough to accept a job coaching their lousy baseball team? He was just some old guy in need for money, someone who accepted the first offer without thinking too much of it. And the first time they saw him, with his tattered clothes, the stubble on his jaw and slippers instead of actual footwear… well, their first impression wasn’t the best. That is, until he appeared, and then Coach Todoroki’s methods started to make sense.

 

Raichi was something new, something different. He was so shy without a bat on his hands but so powerful with it on them. The first time he tried to speak to him, Raichi blushed, babbled and finally closed his mouth, looking at the ground and using his cap to cover his eyes from Shunpei’s. It was endearing and oh, so funny to watch. The same guy that could lift a bat heavier than the usual with the same facility one could lift a feather was afraid to talk –and even look– at him.

 

From then on, every time the Coach Todoroki brought his son with him, Shunpei would spend most of the time trying to rile him up enough to talk to him or even just look at him for more than a few seconds. His plans failed for weeks, but in the end, Shunpei got him with the easiest way to a teenage boy’s heart: food.

 

Since that moment, Raichi slowly started to open to him, smiling and sharing stories (most of them, related to baseball, of course) with childish expressions and sounds, using his body to support what his words couldn’t communicate. They weren’t a battery, weren’t even in the same school at the time, but Raichi was like the first light of the day: bright, almost blinding, full of dreams and a promise of good times.

 

And now that he has the boy within reach, he finally realises that the fascination he felt back then had nothing to do with childlike curiosity. Or maybe it was at first, but at some point something changed and it wasn’t Raichi ‘the batter who catched his attention as a pitcher’ but Raichi ‘the boy who catched his attention as a teenage, hormonal boy’, instead. It was hard to accept at first: Raichi is not only naïve and innocent, he’s also his friend, his kōhai and, of course, his coach’s son. So yeah, it’s a bad idea to fall for him, whichever way you look at it. But the more time they spend together, the more infatuated he’s with the boy.

 

Shunpei sighs, tuning out the sound of his teacher’s voice and looking out the window to the football field. Raichi’s class is enjoying the sunny day and using the field instead of the gym, so it’s easy to point him out. He’s the only one alone, playing with his hands as if he didn’t know what to do with them without a bat. It’s a shame that Mishima and Akiba are not in the same class as him, it would make thinks a lot easier for Raichi. He’s been alone for so long, being pitied by so many people and having a life style different from the rest of the kids, centred on baseball and nothing else, that he has closed himself to others. And the fact that he’s only outstanding in baseball and not very good in other sports doesn’t help to his inclusion into the group.

 

He sees a group of boys laugh while pointing at him, and Shunpei’s blood boils in his veins. The pencil he had been using snaps in half with the force he needs to release in order to not storm out of the class and go punch their faces. He knows Raichi doesn’t care, doesn’t pay attention to it. He’s too much of an idiot to notice, but that makes it even worse, and the whole team would fight those assholes if it weren’t for the possibility of being kicked out of the team (not a very realistic scenario because the coach needs all of them to win, but the school isn’t as permissive with the baseball team as other schools, like Seido).

 

The bad mood doesn’t leave and stays with him all day, making him moody, a ticking time bomb. His irritation grows exponentially during baseball practice, releasing all his frustration with his pitches, yelling at every teammate that fails to bat his balls (even when he knows, deeply inside, that he’s being awfully unfair, throwing balls that not many people would be able to hit). He growls at the coach and argues with him, something very unusual. He’s been teasing his son as always, the two of them exchanging pitiful insults, but today that’s everything it takes for Shunpei to bite.

 

He’s ready to start cutting heads right now, right there, but Raichi is in front of him before he even knows it, both hands tightly wrapped around his bat. He’s not afraid of his rage, but Shunpei can tell he’s nervous about the situation, lost because he doesn’t understand why he’s behaving like that when they could be training instead of fighting.

 

Shunpei looks at his face and turns on his heels. He walks to the locker room without stopping to hear what his teammates and coach try to tell him, focusing only in the beat of his heart and the pace of his steps. One thing is to have a crush on someone and care for them and the other is to go berserker in front of them because you can’t control your feelings. So he’s going to go home and think about everything with calm, far away from everyone else.

 

And tomorrow he’s going to act like nothing had happened, to keep avoiding acknowledging that his crush is more than that and to be a nice ace for the team.

 

Of course, the next morning doesn’t go as planned.

 

Raichi is there before anyone else, sweat already running down his back and making his shirt cling uncomfortably to his body. He’s been waiting for Sanada for at least an hour, but it’s worth it just to see the surprise in the older boy’s face. He knew Sanada was going to arrive early, it’s something he does when he’s had a bad practice the day before or when he really wants to practice something new without interruption. Raichi feels a little bad because of that, but yesterday he couldn’t sleep thinking about how weird he was behaving and he needed to catch him alone. Raichi’s more confortable if it’s only the two of them, after all, so it’s a way to make it easier for him too.

 

“Sanada-senpai!”

 

“What are you doing here so early? Did you eat before coming?”

 

Raichi avoids his gaze, looking at the ground. “No… not really.”

 

“What have I told you about that? You can’t come to school without something in your stomach, you’re in a baseball team now.”

 

“Yes, Sanada-senpai. Sorry.”

 

Raichi hears him click his tongue, but before he can open his mouth again, something rectangular is put on his hand. Raichi looks up, surprised. Sanada smiles warmly at him, zipping his bag closed. Raichi lifts his hand, where now there’s a sandwich of banana bread with a filling of banana cream. It’s obviously handmade, big and heavy and still hot, and it vanishes in a few minutes. Sanada laughs at his antics, but Raichi accepts his shame and smiles at him. It’s nice, being able to see Sanada like that again.

 

“Thank you, ‘Nada-senpai.”

 

“Are you kidding? You’re the best food critic I know.”

 

“You can count on me, ‘Nada-senpai! I love your foo–.”

He feels the fingers on his upper lip before he actually realises what is happening. Sanada swipes his finger across his lip and the corner of his mouth, cleaning some of the banana cream. Raichi blushes like crazy and avoids his gaze, taking a step back and trying to shrink in himself.

 

Suddenly, a hand grabs his chin. Long, cold fingers press gently on it, prompting him to lift his face. He resists a little, stubbornly looking at his feet, but those same fingers start tapping his chin and he can’t avoid it anymore. He lifts his face and looks straight at Sanada’s eyes, glowing under the fist lights of the day. He’s handsome, everyone can see that just looking at him, but right now, with tousled hair because of the wind and the shadows that the trees around them provide, he looks wild, hungry, full of unburned energy and adrenalin.

 

Sanada opens his mouth, ready to say something, but instead of words what comes out of it is a deep sigh that Raichi can feel against his nose. It is only then that he realizes how close they are and he’s never been more aware of the ten centimetres of height difference between them as in that moment. He doesn’t think about how they have gotten to that situation, why does Sanada have a hand on his chin while the other hand is firmly placed on his forearm, or why he doesn’t mind that closeness. Raichi just accepts everything as it is, and lets himself to get lost in Sanada’s eyes, closer and closer with each passing second.

 

The hand on his chin tilts his head slightly to the side, with tenderness and affection, unhurriedly. Raichi understands that Sanada is giving him time to move, to stop everything in that moment, to turn around and forget everything... but he can’t. He doesn’t want to run away.

 

In the end, it’s Raichi himself who entangles his fingers behind Sanada’s neck and makes their lips collide painfully.

 

"Raichi!"

 

"Sorry! I miscalculated the distance!”

 

"And I was trying to be romantic..." Sanada smiles, warm and sweet, and Raichi can feel his cheeks turning red.

 

The pitcher leans towards him again and this time Raichi meets him in the middle, his hands trembling on Sanada’s neck.

 

This time the kiss turns out much better, which is not difficult compared with their first try. The kisses that follow the first one are simple closed-mouthed clashes of lips, teasing, toying with the patience of the other, some of them lasting more an others lasting less. But Sanada has been waiting for that moment more than he would like to admit and Raichi, once he tries something and likes it, goes into it with the force of a thousand suns, so in a mater of a few minutes the atmosphere changes. The kisses are no longer innocent and playful but fighting teeth and tongues, both seeking all possible contact both between their mouths and their bodies.

 

Sanada’s hands run over Raichi’s back, his ribs, his abs and all the skin his long arms and his deft fingers can reach. Raichi is content with scratching Sanada’s shoulders through his t-shirt and tangling his fingers in his hair, too out of place to do anything else. He feels like floating adrift, the strong winds and the huge waves making everything unsteady, with only Sanada’s body to stay standing.

 

Time goes by and kisses become longer and deeper, but always slow.

 

Sanada is the first to break away, leaving Raichi with his mouth still open and his eyes closed. It’s totally different from the Raichi that stands on the field with his bat, the Raichi that sits quietly in class and the Raichi that laughs with his friends. This Raichi is a masterpiece created by his lips and his hands. He looks amazing like that, an image of the boy that nobody else has seen –and hopefully, if everything goes like he wants, nobody else will.

 

When he finally realises that there’s nothing but air against his lips, Raichi opens his eyes, glazy and uncertain. Sanada can’t do anything but hug him, smiling sweetly against the younger boy’s hair. But the same hands that not even minutes ago where running through his hair break the moment immediately, pushing him.

 

Sanada takes a step back, surprised. Raichi is looking at him with wide scared eyes, and the colour of his face is gone. Now that he looks at the boy, he can see he’s trembling and fidgeting, moving backwards slowly and putting as much space as he can between them. Sanada raises a hand to calm him, assure him that nothing’s wrong and there’s nothing to be afraid or nervous about, but the movement of his hand triggers something on the other boy and freezes for milliseconds before turning and running away.

 

“Raichi!” The boy continues running and before Sanada can even think about following him, Raichi is out of sight. “Fuck.” He throws his head back and closes his eyes, his hands closing in fists at his sides. “Fuck.”

 

**

Chapter Text

*

 

Four days. Four days is the time Yakushi’s baseball team needs to acknowledge that there’s a problem and accept the need to do something about it.

 

No one wants to be the first to point out that their ace and their best batter are avoiding each other (well, Raichi is avoiding Sanada at all costs while the pitcher looks longingly at him, following every step he takes) but the situation is slowly getting on everyone’s nerves.

 

Raizō doesn’t want to know anything about it. If it doesn’t affect his boys’ performance, everything is ok. If they don’t want to talk to each other, fine, they just need to keep being professional about baseball. That’s all he asks for them, for the whole team. Maybe he pays more attention than necessary to the gossip surrounding his son and his ace, but hey, he’s an involved coach! He needs to know what happens in his team to make sure they are not being reckless idiots.

 

On the fourth day, though, their behaviour towards each other reaches a turning point. They are in the middle of practice; trying to do some plays based on different situations to see how every player will react. Sanada is pitching, with Kobayashi on first base and Mishima on third, putting Sanada in a difficult place. He looks at the players, calculating, but knows that he’s going to ignore them once the next batter takes the plate. Suddenly, silence fall over the team, ant it’s so unusual in this team that Sanada startles a little. He turns back towards the plate and understands.

 

Raichi takes his place, ignoring his father’s yells behind him. He murmurs something to himself and nods, as if he was collecting all is strength to this very moment. Sanada doesn’t know if it’s to bat the ball or to face him after the kiss, but the pitcher loses his cool and everything he’s been trying to supress for the last few days comes to him, as if a train had run over him.

 

“Sanada! You have players on first and third, ready to score, and a monster batting next. What do you do?” Raizō’s voice is loud, even more now with everyone in silence and holding their breath.

 

Sanada inhales and exhaled a couple of times before moving his body, ready to pitch–

 

–And everything goes south from there.

 

The ball is slow, weak and lowers too much, to the point that Akiba has to move to grab it with his mitt before it falls to the ground. But if the ball is awful, what Raichi does is dreadful. He bats before the ball even passes half of the distance between them, but he does it with so much force that the bat escapes from his hands and flies some metres away, falling to the ground with a hard thud.

 

Raizō is yelling to the sky, half the team is slowly retreating to a safer place and the other half is paralyzed or too afraid to move. Sanada starts to plan a myriad of apologies and excuses for his terrible pitch, but Raizō looks directly into his eyes and Sanada freezes too.

 

“This is stupid and I don’t want to be part of it. You,” Raichi lowers his head, his hands playing with the hem of his shirt, “go bat with the machines. And you,” Sanada straightens his back, like a perfect soldier, “go run some laps.”

 

“How many, coach?”

 

“What the fuck do I know? Just run until I say so!”

 

Sanada nods, giving his mitt to Mishima before starting to run. Raizō wants to kill him for being so well mannered and charming, because it’s almost impossible to hold a grunge against the kid. But his performance has been outrageous all practice and he can’t let it pass anymore. Fucking kids and their problems, really. He turns to the rest of his team, slowly gathering around him.

 

“What’s their problem?” No one answers for a while, but all of them look nervous and avoid his eyes. “If you don’t tell me I’m going to start making you run all the time Raichi spends batting.”

 

“We don’t think it’s the best idea to tell you, coach.” Akiba answers, looking so uncomfortable that Raizō starts to panic.

 

“Is it really that bad?” Good bye sponsors, good bye bright future in the pro-league, good bye paid debts.

 

“Well…” The boys exchange meaningful glances, a silent conversation going on between them. “It’s not bad, just…”

 

“Maybe it’s weird for you since… you know… it’s your son.”

 

“Yeah, we’re totally ok with it.”

 

“Some of us even had a bet going on!”

 

“Nobody won, though, which is pretty sad.”

 

“Who would have known Raichi wouldn’t reciprocate?”

 

“Yeah, no one thought about the possibility of one of them running away!”

 

Raizō is so lost that he doesn’t think before asking, “Who run away from what?”

 

“Raichi, after Sanada kissed him!”

 

The silence that follows those words is so dense that they can feel their bodies being slowly crushed under it. Mishima starts sweating profusely and looks at Akiba for help. They are Raichi’s friends, they have known about his crush on Sanada even before the boy realized what his feelings were. They were the ones Raichi looked for after the incident, even though they had to elicit the information using the force, so they’re the ones at fault. Kind of, at least.

 

Raizō blacks out for a moment, and the next thing he knows is that he’s sitting on the ground with his head in his hands. The boys are panicking around him, some of them bringing water and ice cubes, others frantically fanning him with their hands. Mishima is almost crying and yelling at Raichi to hurry up because he’s killed his dad.

 

This is bad. This is so, so bad. How is he going to send Raichi to the pros with a boyfriend? What about the fake-relationship contracts? Or marrying him to the heiress of a rich family! And the promos and photo-shoots with hot models in underwear or swimwear! His well-planned future –Raichi’s future– can’t exist with him being gay for a teammate!

 

…Or can it be?

 

“Coach, are you ok?!” Sanada’s breath is coming out hard after running who knows how many laps before coming to see him. He has a hand on Raichi’s shoulder, his body moving protectively around him, while Raichi relaxes a little against his side. It’s unintentional, just something that their bodies do by instinct, and when Raizō looks up at the last arrival and his son, a vision plays before his eyes.

 

Sanada comes from a well-off family (not rich, but with money) and has an equally brilliant future in the pros, which means he could send the both of them to the same team and be their agent. Double prize. He could even sell their love story using the popularity of ikemen and the soft spot most of the population have towards the ‘young, sweet love’.

 

Or even better, he could make them sign up for different teams and then sell their love story as ‘star-crossed lovers’. Oh, his future is brightening again.

 

“Grab them, now!”

 

He’s on his feet in an instant, directing his team towards the locker room. Raichi is looking from one side to the other, trying to understand why he is being carried by his teammates, but at least he’s silent. Sanada, on the other hand, is yelling at the top of his lungs, and for someone that’s usually cheerful and nice, he knows some wicked insults. They leave them in the locker room and lock the door when they can assure none of them can scape.

 

“Talk about it and fix this or you’re not leaving.” The plan is childish and silly, but it works in the movies.

 

A bang sounds through the closed door and Sanada’s angry voice can be heard through it. “You can’t lock me here!”

 

“I can and I will.”

 

“It’s illegal!”

 

“If no one sees me…” Raizō smiles at the team. The boys shake their heads and turn on their heels to continue the practice. Raizō shakes the keys one last time, letting them know that he’s going to come back in half an hour to check on them. “And no funny business! That’s still my son, you hear?”

 

-X-

 

“Your dad is a mastermind, I have to give him that.” Shunpei lets his forehead touch the door, trying to think in something that would help them get out, but the only entry is the closed door where he’s now.

 

“Have you been with someone else before?”

 

Shunpei turns around, startled. Raichi is looking at the wall on their right side, where the lockers are. His blush is slowly taking over his whole face, but he doesn’t seem nervous, just curious.

 

“What?”

 

Raichi inspires, letting the air out slowly. “Have you been with someone else before the kiss?” His voice is so low he has to make an effort to listen correctly. Not only that, but the question is coming out of the blue and Shunpei doesn’t know what to say.

 

“What do you think?”

 

The boy shrugs. “I don’t know.”

 

Shunpei sighs and rubs the back of his neck, suddenly very aware of their situation. Alone in a confined space with unresolved sexual tension –if you can call it that– and conflicted feelings. There must be at least a dozen of shōjo mangas out there with this same situation.

 

“I’ve been with some girls. Not for long and nothing too serious, but yeah.”

 

“Did you kiss them?”

 

Shunpei nods and Raichi flinches, as if someone had hit him with Money Tree. “But it wasn’t serious! Just a few kisses, nothing more! Well, some hand-holding, but that’s it, I promise.”

 

Raichi remains silent for some minutes. Shunpei wants to reach for him, hug him or something, but he knows the boy needs time to organize his thoughts and his feelings. At the end of the day, Raichi is still that kid whose only dream is to bat against every pitcher in Japan, in the world.

 

“I’ve never kissed anyone. I had never been kissed, either, not before… you know. All I’ve ever thought about in my life has been baseball.”

 

“It looked like you knew what you were doing before.”

 

Raichi flushes a deep tone of red and looks away, his fingers toying with the hem of his shirt. “I just…”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Raichi turns even redder, and Sanada finds it incredibly endearing. He’s in love with this boy, with his body and his soul, his laugh and his voice, his shy demeanour and his fighting spirit, with his incapability to express himself and with his stubbornness. The same stubbornness that makes him look up again, not really at Sanada’s eyes, but rather to the wall on his right side.

 

“I imagine more than just pitchers.”

 

His voice is just a whisper, and if it weren’t because they’re alone in the room, Sanada wouldn’t have heard it. Something dies inside him, maybe his sanity. Because that means that Raichi has thought about them like that, and by the context, more than once. A low growl escapes from his throat, and has to slap his face with both hands to not put them on Raichi in that same instant.

 

“Fuck, Raichi…”

 

“Can I… Can I try something?”

 

Shunpei nods and Raichi swallows before taking some tentative steps towards him. Shunpei lets his arms fall to his sides, showing him that he’s not going to do anything with them. When the boy is within reach, though, his world crashes down because suddenly he has Raichi’s arms around him, hugging him as tightly like he did four days ago. He feels Raichi’s breath against his neck, just above his clavicle.

 

“My heart beats so fast when I’m with you.”

 

“Raichi…”

 

The boy hides his face in his chest, but Shunpei can see how red his ears are. It’s not hard to imagine how is his face now.

 

“I didn’t know–, I’ve never–, It was just with you. I thought it was because you’re awesome, but…”

 

“But?”

 

“It didn’t feel right. To think that.”

 

Sunpei smiles against his hair and moves them until his arms are around Raichi, shielding him from the world. “My pulse is racing so fast, too, and it’s because of you. Every time I see you smile, every time you laugh when you have a bat in your hands, every time you’re around me.”

 

“Do you like me too, Sanada-senpai?”

 

Shunpei snickers, hugging him tighter. “Of course, you idiot. I thought it was clear when I kissed you.”

 

Raichi groans, and his ears turn even redder. Shunpei falls in love all over again, but he’s going to save that information for another day. Right now, he’s just going to enjoy the hug and, maybe, some kisses.

 

“NO FUNNY BUSINESS, I SAID!” Raizō pulls them apart, shooting deathly glares to his pitcher. “Hands to yourself until further notice.”

 

“Yes, sir.” Sanada smirks, theatrically clasping his hands on his back.

 

Raizō clicks his tongue and makes Raichi leave first, not without shooting his… boyfriend? a shy, but dazzling, smile. Shunpei smiles back, the smirk turning softer and sweeter. A hand smacks him between the shoulder blades, and goosebumps run all over his skin.

 

“Remember: no funny business on the field and no PDA on and out of it. I’ll be watching you.” The coach leaves doing some weird sign with his fingers forming a V and signalling his eyes before signalling Shunpei. He gets that it’s something people do threateningly, but coming from his coach it’s ridiculous.

 

He shakes his head, following him with renewed strength, ready to pitch the best balls anyone has seen until now. Yeah, he may be in love with Raichi, but like hell is he going to let him bat freely.

 

 

**