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It was the fourth time that the video was playing. He was analyzing every little detail,every little sign that could explain to him how they managed to lost. And there was always one thing that stood out: that dead ball right on Shirakawa's helmet. Normally, he would have called for a time and check on Sawamura's condition. If he had done it, the mood of the team wouldn't have been broken, Sawamura would have been able to switch gears in his head... and their senpais would...
He was munching nervously on his thumb, completely exhausted, but yet he couldn't go to sleep, he had yet to finish the menu for the pitchers. His goggles still on his face -his glasses were somewhere in his room, forgotten- he was now absentmindedly looking at the screen, lost in his thoughts.
1 week had passed since the final against Inashiro, but he still wasn't mentally past it. He had been named captain and cleanup hitter, and he had to manage the new team. Honestly he would be lying if he said he hadn't except the coach to choose him as the new captain, but it was still shocking to him, because he had to take after Tetsu-san, their unwavering pillar.
He needed to work harder than ever in order to not waste everyone's efforts. He needed to...

“You need to stop looking at this freakin' video, Miyuki.”

Miyuki snapped out of his thoughts to be greeted by the sight of his green-haired vice captain.
Kuramochi didn't look pleased at all. Maybe because it was past midnight and they were supposed to sleep. The catcher put on his usual grin and looked up at him. Kuramochi didn't buy it one bit.

“I'm damn serious. This thing kept you awake almost every night for the past week. It's useless at this point to watch it, you're only losing precious sleep time.”

“It wasn't like I could sleep either way, so...”

“So what? You're punishing yourself or something like that? It was the whole team's fault and you know it...”

“It helps me keep my head on my shoulders, though.” he replicated almost immediately. “I can say the same thing to you Kuramochi, why aren't you asleep?”, Miyuki said, with his trademark grin.

“Don't try to change the subject, we're talking about you asshole!”

“ Eh~ You're worrying about me?” the smirk still in place.

Kuramochi was glaring at him, frustrated. That guy couldn't be honest with others or himself for once?
He sighed. There was no point in getting angry at him. Miyuki was automatically shutting himself off from him, because he didn't want to deal with any kind of crappy emotions he was feeling right now. In fact, if the shortstop wasn't sleeping yet, was because he was indeed worrying for his captain. But that idiot kept on pushing him and the team for the past week, trying to deal with the issue by himself. Like he always did. He could fool the others by his words, his cocky attitude, but his movements were betraying him. He wasn't as sharp as he was before the match last week, and he was dozing off from time to time. Even if he was the Miyuki Kazuya, he was nonetheless a human being, and every human has a breaking point. And the most likely to notice that, was Kuramochi.
The latter stood straight in front of where Miyuki was sitting and said:

“Yeah, I'm worried about you. So what? I can't?”

The smirk on his face had been wiped off. Miyuki was taken aback. He didn't expect his friend to be that straight forward with him.
As expected, Miyuki wasn't quite able to deal with such honest words, so Kuramochi left it here. It was too late now to begin such a conversation. Kuramochi put a hand on his friend's shoulder and looked straight at him.

“If you're not in your bed in the next ten minutes, I'm gonna drag you to it myself. And I'm fucking serious.”

A little smile spread on Miyuki's face.

“Got it, Mom;”
“Tch! Good night, you asshole captain.”

Miyuki looked at him as he walked to the door, the smile still on his face. It faded right after Kuramochi stepped out of the room. He let out a long, exhausted sigh and turned the TV off.
Crap. He didn't finish the pitchers' menu.
Well... He'd rather be killed by Kuramochi than the Coach, for not finising his duty as a catcher, so screw it all. He picked up the notebooks and headed to his room: he was going to finish his work in bed, so Kuramochi wouldn't be able to complain about the fact that he didn't do as he was told.

With a final yawn, he switched the lights off, and let the darkness hide his emotionless face.

.................................

“Kuramochi-senpai! Cheetah-sama! Are you awake?” shouted Sawamura, in the dorm room number 5.
“Shut your mouth, moron, of course I am. It's already past 6:AM, I'm already dressed.”
“Ah! That's not fair!” said Sawamura, straightening himself from his bottom bunk so that he can be face to face with his senpai.
“I said shut your trap!” growled Kuramochi, head chopping his kouhai.

Tch. What a crappy night. He did get some sleep, but he was still tired. He didn't stop thinking about the team's situation and all the burden that has been put on Miyuki's already loaded shoulders. Leading the pitchers was already a hard task, but he was now the fourth batter and the captain; so he had to watch over the entire team. Without forgetting his own training. Among all the other high school teams in Japan, they were only him and Harada-san from Inashiro to held all these key positions of a team. Maybe it's because the burden on Miyuki would be bigger than ever, that Kataoka kantoku appointed both Kuramochi and Zono to be his vice-captains.
Either way, the bastard is straining himself and he had to do something about that. For starting, he was going to watch over him during practice, analyzing his behavior, because the last thing they all wanted was to see him collapse on the field.

….......................................................................................

“Bip... Bip...Bip...Bi... crash!!”

Groaning, Miyuki threw the first thing he could put his hand on ( a baseball) at his alarm and broke it in the process. He cursed at it, and propped himself on his elbows. Great, a headache was showing the tip of its nose. He quickly got out of his bed and put on his uniform. He needed to swallow some coffee and fast, if he didn't want the headache to spread even more. Perhaps he should had taken Kuramochi's advice and go to sleep early, but work is more important, especially when it comes to his pitchers.
While walking towards the refectory, he tried to put on a more decent face but it was all in vain because as soon as he entered the refectory, he was greeted by a:

“You look like shit!”

A cracked laughter erupted from his lungs, half-genuine.

“Well, well, good morning to you too, Kuramochi-kun. You don't look so bad yourself.”

“Can't you speak to someone without sarcasms, asshole? Did you sleep?”

“.... I tried my best though.”

“So you didn't.”

Kuramochi sat besides Miyuki, watching him gulping his second cup of coffee. An awkward silence passed between them; Miyuki didn't know what to say while Kuramochi was boiling to say every thoughts that were banging in his head. He didn't had the chance because the first years, as always, came at their table to ate breakfast together.

They didn't talk to each other until the end of the training, principally because they were busy as ever, and the three pitchers were going through their own evolutions and problems; they needed as much time as they can have to train, and the only one able to gave them all of that was Miyuki.
The latter was, in appearance, perfect in everything he did: guiding perfectly Furuya and Sawamura, pushing on the right buttons to make them work hard but not too much, giving confidence to Nori... and with the two first-years, it was quite the deal to pace them.
The new team was slowly finding its mark, having lost most of the batting power was firing up the first and second years who were fighting to be in the roster. And yet, Miyuki was still having remorse, and they were pulling him back.

While thinking, Kuramochi was batting close to the bullpen so he could watch how Miyuki was doing. Well... he still looked like shit even though it was past 5:PM. But he was smoothly hiding the dark circles under his eyes with his goggles, and was wearing his helmet almost all the time, so the others didn't notice at all. What a great freaking actor he was...
Kuramochi was so deep in thought, he didn't notice that Nori was looking at him with concerned eyes.

“Ahem... Kuramochi? You look like you're going to shoot lasers from your eyes, are you alright?”
“Ah! What the... ah, it's just you Nori...”

The sidearm pitcher was looking at him, understanding the source of the other's concern.

“Actually, I thought it was my imagination but... You also noticed, right? That Miyuki is a little bit acting strange... more like trying to hide something from us?”

Surprised, Kuramochi turned his full attention to Nori. So he did notice something was off too?
Kuramochi dropped his bat on the ground and scooted closer to the pitcher in order to speak less louder.

“Yeah, the final has been a great shock for all of us, but I think it carved way deeper in Miyuki's mind.”

“And he's not the kind of person to talk about his problems, so he will not come to us of his own...”
added sadly the smaller one.

“Honestly, I thought time would be the best cure for him, but it's already been a week since then, and he's still as silent as he was on day one, so...”

“Do you think he would hear us, if we come and talk to him about it?” Nori asked, hopefully.

“Nope. Sorry, but that idiot is the kind of guy that deals with his problems when they are already to the point of no return.” Kuramochi said, while shaking his head.

“Eh?” A wide-eyed Nori was staring at him.

“That is to say, if he is sick, he would take care of himself just after collapsing and burning with a high fever. I hate that self-destructing part of him.”

Nori seemed to understand, a sad smile on his face.

“Yeah, I guess you're right. It would be better if just one person could talk to him.”

“Don't worry, I'm on it.”

Nori let out a little chuckle. Kuramochi was always complaining about Miyuki; how he has a twisted personality, how sarcastic he is, self-centered... but he deeply care for him. They're always together by the way.

“Either way, go practice in the bullpen Nori. Go make sure the first-years don't kidnap Miyuki after practice to pitch some more.” the shortstop sighed, scratching the back of his head.
“Yeah, count on me!”

He turned away, picked up his bat and continued his training.
If that idiot is also watching the video again tonight, he was so going to beat some sense into him.

…......................................................................................................................................

“Otsukaresama!!”

6:PM. The evening training was finally over, but everyone was going to train on their own in the covered ground, like every night. Some of them were cleaning up the equipment, and the others like Haruichi and Zono were already doing their batting.
Furuya was already bathing, so it left just Sawamura to annoy Miyuki.

“Come on, Miyuki-senpai! I need to practice more on my change-up if I don't want to forget it!” Sawamura pleaded to his captain.

“We just finish practice, can't you let me breathe for a second?,” Miyuki smiled.

“I can't afford to loose my concentration!! Let's go!”

“Aye, aye, I got it, but 10 throws and then you go wash yourself, okay?” Miyuki sighed.

“Roger!” the younger one smiled happily.

“If you keep on asking for more, I'm gonna drown you in your bath, Sawamura!” Kuramochi yelled, from the other part of the ground.

“I'll be good! Spare me, leg ghost!”

Miyuki smiled. Honestly, he wanted to rest to make his headache shut up, but it was his duty, and the change-up was a new important weapon that he needed to polish more. So they headed to the second cover ground, to train in a more quiet atmosphere. While Sawamura was babbling frantically, the catcher swallowed down some dry medecine.

“Remember, 10 throws, alright?”
“Yes! Onegaishimasu!”

Sawamura put himself on position and Miyuki crouched, putting on his catcher mitt. The southpaw threw the first ball. Outside and low.

“Looking good. Next one, inside course!”

Second ball. Third. Fourth. When the eighth one came, Miyuki felt a wave of nausea running through him and his sight went blurry for a split second; he didn't see the ball coming his way but it went a little out of course and whizzed past his head, cutting him in the process. He stumbled a little backwards, feeling the blood dripping from his forehead to his chin. Strangely, it didn't hurt that much. A little stinging, that was all.
On the other hand, Sawamura panicked instantly, believing that he completely missed his throw, and came running to his captain's side.

“Miyuki-senpai!! Are you alright? I'm so sorry! I thought I threw it right but it hit you inside! I...”

“ Calm down idiot! It's not your fault, I wasn't fully focused either, and it's just a scratch. Don't sweat it.” Miyuki smiled, reassuringly.

“But, there is quite some blood...”

“Little wounds on the head can bleed a lot but it's not that bad. Don't worry.”

Sawawmura nodded, still a little on edge and helped his captain to get on his feet.

“Oi, what's the ruckus in here... Miyuki?!”

Hearing Sawamura's huge voice, Kuramochi came to check on them, to find his friend bleeding from the face, drops falling on the ground. He rushed to their side in all his cheetah glory and punched Sawamura on the head, lightly.

“What did you do, moron?!”

“Kuramochi, it wasn't his fault, I wasn't 100% focused and it's just a scratch.”

Head locking Sawamura, Kuramochi turned his attention on the other. He was really losing his focus then... was it because of the fatigue of today or...

“I'm going to patch it up, so don't kill Sawamura!”

“I'm going with you, wait.” Kuramochi said, releasing his poor kouhai.

“I can do it alone, you know. Are you my mom or what?” Miyuki teased.

“You will need to take off your glasses to clean it, and you will be almost blind without them, so I'm coming.”

“... Oh my god, you really are my mom.”

“Quit bitching, you are dripping blood everywhere!”

Kuramochi pushed the other on the back lightly to tell him to start walking. The two headed to Miyuki's room, saying good night to Sawamura. (Kuramochi said to be prepared because when he will come back, there's going to be some sparring. )

Sawamura just stayed here, thinking.

“Those two were that close to each other before?”

Chapter Text

Miyuki was sitting on his bed, while Kuramochi went fetching up the first aid kit. He was wiping the blood out of his head, but it kept flowing, staining his white and green shirt, so he pressed the towel on his wound instead, to make the blood stop. He winced because of the pain (which he had underestimated) which was doubled by his persistent headache, but he kept on pushing, because he didn't want to feel more dizzy than he was now.
The door opened to let Kuramochi enter the room with the first aid kit.

“Lucky that they were nobody in the nurse room, because they would have asked why I was taking that.”
“Thanks.”

Kuramochi came to Miyuki, crouched before him and started to rummaged through the kit to find some disinfectant. He took it and soaked a compress of it. He put the bottle of disinfectant down and scooted closer to Miyuki. While the other was still pressing his wound with his now bloodied towel, Kuramochi took off his glasses and tossed them on the bed. (“Oi, watch out”)

“Let me see your cut.”

Miyuki put his arm down, and Kuramochi winced a little at the look of it.

“Don't you need stitches for that?”

“For something like this? It wasn't like it was Furuya's straight ball, I don't need stitches. The blood stopped either way.” Miyuki said, looking the other way.

“I don't see it well... Stop fidgeting, will ya?”

Miyuki wasn't used to be taken care of, so he was always moving his head here and there, making it harder for the shortstop to see.
So he took a hold of Miyuki's face, cupping his cheeks, and turning his head to the side so that he can see the cut closer. It made Miyuki stop moving, and blushing a little in the process (he didn't notice that Kuramochi was also a little red), startled a little by the sudden contact, and Kuramochi started to clean his cut. Surpringly, the green-haired was incredibly careful and gentle, wiping the blood that dried a little, and cleaning neatly his face. He was practicing his batting as hard as everyone else, and yet his hands were really soft on his cheeks. He dropped the used compress in the dustbin, and took a sticking-plaster that was about the size of the cut and stuck it on Kazuya's forehead. He smoothed it with the palm of his head, and straightened up.

“There. All done, captain.”

“Thanks, I didn't know you had such motherly instincts in you!”

“Well, you being a reckless bastard and Zono being... Zono, I needed to be more responsible for the sake of this team!”

“ I thought it was me the mom of this team,” Miyuki laughed, while rubbing is temples.

He cringed a little, and it didn't go unnoticed for Kura's sharp eyes.

“How are you feeling?” he asked
“My head's killing me. I just wanna go to sleep.”

“Take your bath first. You're still dirty from practice and the hot water should help for your headache.”

Miyuki patted the bed for his glasses, put them on and grudgingly stood up. He swayed a little but he took support on the bunk beds.

“Okay, either way I'm full of sweat so I can't sleep like that. Hey, can you get me a towel, mom?”

“Yeah, su... Who the hell are you calling “mom”?!”

…...........................................................
Tomorrow morning, in class, 10:PM.

They were in the middle of their japanese lesson, when Kuramochi was beginning to hear small snoring from behind him. Face-palming internally, he slowly turned himself to see the other's desk: Miyuki's head was resting on his right hand and he was struggling to keep himself straight, eyes half-closed and glasses askew on his face. He would have laugh at him if Miyuki didn't have those huge dark, purplish circles under his eyes. He didn't look relaxed at all yesterday after their bath, and Kuramochi supposed he didn't get more than three hours of sleep.
The class ended with a completely asleep Miyuki on his desk, drool all over his sleeve. He was lucky the teacher didn't see him, for he was half-hiding behind Kura's back.
Everyone was starting to gather their things and go get lunch and he was still asleep. Pinching the bridge of his nose from frustration, Kuramochi flicked the catcher's forehead hard enough to make him wake up. Miyuki groaned in pain, and made a face at the sight of his drool-drenched sleeve. He rubbed his eyes, and looked up sleepily at his friend.

“Ouch... is class finally over?”

“Yeah, and you sleep through it, idiot! Choose the right time to sleep dammit! You're going to collapse on the field if you don't fucking sleep properly, you know!” He scolded him, angrily.

“I know that but, but if I can't sleep I can't help it. I wanna sleep too, you know but...”

Kuramochi's anger just washed away, replaced by surprise and genuine concern; the other looked, for just a split-second, lost, hollow eyes which lose their bright amber color, covered with shadows, disheveled hair and those freakin' dark circles... were they growing every time he looked at them? It was the first time he saw such a vulnerable look on his best friend's face.

“Oi...”

Kuramochi leaned toward him to put a hand on his shoulder, but the other smoothly dodged it, by getting up of his chair. He quickly picked up his bag and put on his usual mask, which had crumbled for a second.

“Sorry, it's nothing, I'm fine. I'm gonna get back my rhythm soon enough. Let's go grab lunch!”

His fake smile was tugging painfully at Kura's heart. Miyuki was needlessly holding his emotions even though Kuramochi was dying of hearing the other's honest thoughts. He sighed, if they were alone he would have pushed a little further but they were in class, so the only thing he could do right now was watching over him and stick to his side.
They got out of class to grab some lunch, and while they went to line up to buy their sandwiches, they found their former vice-captain and captain already lining up. Jun's loud voice was ringing in the corridors, in contrast with Tetsu's calm one. As soon as Jun spotted them, a large smile appeared on his face.

“Yo, vice-captain and captain! How is it doing for you two?!” Jun greeted them, sliding an arm around each of Kura's and Miyuki's neck.

“You're close, so don't shout in our ears please, Jun-san!” Kuramochi complained happily.

“And you, Miyuki? You look like a zombie, already tired of being a captain!?” Jun teased.

“Well, I'll be glad to handle the team if it weren't for the first-years baka combi! If I look like a zombie, it's all their fault! Come and kick their butt for us, please!” Miyuki laughed, his usual sarcastic laugh erupted from his lungs.

They began to talk about the team, and how the new team was forming its own shape during their waiting time in the queue. When they got themselves their lunch, Jun monopolized Kuramochi, giving him “great vice-captain advice from Jun-sama”, so Miyuki was left alone with Tetsu.

“So? How are you doing?” Tetsu asked.

“Eh? Well, the team is going not so bad like we said, but...”

“I wasn't talking about the team, I was talking about yourself.” Tetsu corrected him, right away.

The former captain was looking at him, straight in the eyes, pure gold piercing through his soul, giving the visceral impression he was reading him like an open book. Even if it was Tetsu-san, being watched like that was making Miyuki really nervous. He forced himself to smile, and scratched the back of his head.

“Hum..well, honestly, I have a lot of doubts of how guiding the team, and the weight of the defeat is still clearly present, but...hesitating won't do anything, so I think I'm just going to do like usual. I'll have to straighten my batting as well if I want to be a fourth batter like you and...”

“I recommended you as the captain, you know?”
“Eh? Why?” asked a wide-eyed Miyuki.

“Because the team will grow stronger if you are the captain. That's what I believe and what I told the coach. You don't have to bear the burden of every single member of the team, that's physically impossible. Just pull them forward with your play.”

Just pull them forward with your play.

Tetsu smiled, remembering the words Kataoka kantoku said to him, now communicating them to the new captain. Tetsu put a wise hand on Miyuki's shoulder, and smiled again, more soflty, at his confused kouhai.

“Be strong. For the team. For yourself. Don't show it on your face when you're struggling, because it will weaken the team. I believe in you.”
Miyuki just stood there, stunned by the words Tetsu-san just gave him, and he smiled too. It was a bittersweet sensation: having his senpai comforting him and encouraging him was really reassuring, but it just put more stress on his shoulders.
Answering to the expectations. With what he just listened to, he couldn't for the life of him betray Tetsu-san and everyone's expectations. He used to think back in middle school that baseball was just fun, but... it was his experience as a catcher.

Not as a captain.

And it was fucking scary.

Maybe I wouldn't be able to do it.

“Yes. I'll do my best.”

Satisfied with the answer, Tetsu walked away to rejoin with Jun. He shook his hand goodbye and said one more thing:

“Oh, and do something about those bags under your eyes. Some ice could help for your forehead too.”

The catcher stiffened: he did saw the sticking-plaster that was hidden under his messy bangs after all. Tetsu-san's keen eyes couldn't be fooled. He sneered and passed a hand through his hair, and touched his forehead. It was actually a little swollen.

“Tch... I can't compete with you Tetsu-san.”

….............

“So? How was the idiot doing? It didn't take a genius to see that he was freaking exhausted.” said Jun, who had smoothly been looking at them, while talking to Kuramochi.

“Well, he's confused. It can't be helped, everything happened so fast. He hardly recovered from the final, and now he is the captain, fourth batter, adding all of this to his catcher duties... Even Miyuki will be disturbed. It's going to be a difficult path, but I have faith in them. They are all strong, reliable kouhai after all.” he smiled.

“That idiot must be taking all the burden on him!! And I heard that they were all in low spirits, they need to cheer up if they don't want their senpai to scold them!”

“You say that, but I know you're worried about them too, Jun.”

“Tch! Who wouldn't be? It's greatly our fault that they're all depressed, so it's up to us to do something, no?”

“Yeah. But if the captain isn't doing well, the team will never find its mark. Miyuki has to put himself back together first.”

“I think there's going to be no problem about that.”

Tetsu threw him a puzzled look which Jun answered with his trademark grin.

“You said it yourself. All of our kouhai are reliable, aren't they?”

…...........

Like always, the covered ground was full after the afternoon training. When Miyuki arrived after putting back his catcher gear in the equipment room, he found Sawamura and Kuramochi playing catch ball. When the pitcher spotted him, he dashed toward him to stop centimeters away from his face.

“Miyuki-senpai! How was your day? Didn't you have some headaches or anything else? Does it hurt? I, Sawamura Eijun, will provide you ice if you feel any discomfort in...”

“Shut it for a moment! I'm fine, you idiot, instead it's you who are making me have a headache by talking this close to my ears!”

“I'm being nice, you know! You should learn to accept the sympathy of other people once in a time!”

“I can't.” he grinned.

“ And why is that??”

“Because he's a jackass.” Kuramochi answered at his place.

“Thank you.”

“I'm not complimenting you.”

“Well, well it looks quite alive in there. We heard you were all depressed, but it might be wrong.”

The three of them looked up from their little quarrel to the doors of the ground. Kuramochi's face lit up.

“Ryo-san!”

“Master!” Sawamura's attention completely pass from his captain to Chris-senpai in a instant. “How have you been? It's been a long time!”

“Not that much I think.” Chris smiled.

“Oi, and you are ignoring me?” Ryo complained. “I'm gonna have to punish you.” he added, pulling hard on Sawamura's ear, with his sadistic smile.

“Ouch! I'm sorry, Onii-san!”

The others came one after the other to greet their senpai, and thanked them for coming check on them. Chris asked how the pitchers were doing, especially Sawamura.

“Well, his pitches are slowly getting better, but he has to work on his control, as well as on his form. The only thing that isn't going better, is his foolishness!” Miyuki answered, wide grin on his face.

“Oi! Over there! Stop sprouting nonsense to Chris-senpai about me!”
“Ah, I wanted to ask, what were you screaming about when we arrived, Eijun?” Ryosuke asked.

“Ah, yesterday night during the after training, I accidentally hit Miyuki-senpai on the head while I was throwing.”

The grin on Miyuki's face vanished away in a instant, replaced by a cold sweat, and a churning feeling in his stomach when the two third-years gave him one hell of a piercing look.

I'm so damned.

If it was Tetsu-san or Jun-san, he could have made up an excuse like he was a little bit tired, the course of the ball surprised him and he couldn't have been able to catch it, and pray for them to believe it... but it was those two... 0% of chance to lie without being busted.

“Is that so? And when you saw that the course of the ball was different from what you asked, you couldn't catch it?” Ryo interrogated, sly eyes eating at Miyuki.

Holy shit. Kominato Ryosuke was the only one who can scare the shit out of you with a glare even though his eyes weren't open.

“Well it took me by surprise because he was doing great so far, that's all Ryo-san.”

“Eeh...”

“Does it hurt anymore?”

Chris interrupted them when Ryosuke was about to go further into the questioning. He lightly lift Miyuki's bangs to have a look at it. He frowned a little.

“The gauze is a little worn up, and it's swelling a little out of it. You will need to change it.”

“I was going to do so after the bath but...”

“Change it now. I am going with you.”

“Eh? I'm fine, why would you want to...”

Chris put his arm around Miyuki's shoulders, to prevent him to move away from him, and looked straight at him.

“Because I want to talk to you.”

Miyuki swallowed hard.

Chapter Text

“If I had to ask you, do you think you're suited to be the captain?”

The two fellow catchers were at the vending machines in the dorms. A fresh, clean sticking-plaster was resting on Miyuki's forehead and he was also pressing an ice bag to it, to stop the swelling and it was a huge relief to his never-ending headache. Miyuki was resting against the wall, thinking about what Chris-senpai just asked him, and he couldn't help to let out a chuckle.

“I know that I have the leading abilities required but for the rest... Yeah! I'm not suited for it I think!” he laughed bitterly, taking a sip of his coffee can.

Chris was looking at him from the bench he was sitting on, and smiled. Well... he wasn't surprised by this kind of answer. When most of the other baseball players would be honored and would think that they deserved it, Miyuki saw it as just a burden to balance with the others he had already on his shoulders, and he didn't fully understand why he has been chosen to fill the position.

“If I had to be honest, I thought it would be Kuramochi or Shirasu. They're way more suited than I am and they can interact easily with all the members of the team.”

“Because you can't do it?”

“Well, I hardly talk with anyone except with my pitchers and Yoi...” Miyuki stopped himself when he was about to say the first name of his best friend, blushing a little.

“It's because you don't want to, not because you're not able to.”

Miyuki scratched the back of his head, not able to answer that one, and sighed tiredly, feeling more and more uncomfortable of the attention his mentor was giving him.

“In the end, what is it that you wanted to talk to me about, senpai?”

Trying to talk his way out by changing subjects. As expected, his kouhai wasn't disappointing him. He decided to play his game for now.

“I just wanted to know why you were a little different during practice. I judged it important because it was Sawamura and Furuya of all people who told me that you were acting a little bit strange...”

Miyuki stopped drinking, stopping his can centimeters from his lips. Those two... they didn't say a thing during practice and they weren't the type to hold back what they wanted to say (more like they will shout right in front of his face). And now Chris was telling him that they noticed he was a little strange? For him, he was acting like usual.

“Well it isn't like they had solid proof of that. Sawamura just said that you were quieter and nicer than usual, and that it was “weird”, and Furuya just nodded, adding that he didn't had the same feelings as usual when he was pitching to you.”

Miyuki giggled at that. Those two were really acting according to their instincts, weren't they? He gulped down the rest of his coffee and shot it to the trash bin.

“Maybe I'm a little stressed out about being captain and all, and they unconsciously felt it through their pitching? It's not that big of a deal, you know.” he smiled, emptily.
“I don't think they felt it just through their pitching.”

“What do you mean?”

Chris sighed deeply, and ruefully. He stood up from his bench and faced Miyuki to flick him on the forehead, lightly.

“Your face. It's your face that I'm talking about. Honestly, even if they didn't told me anything, I would have noticed just by taking a quick look at your face.”

“Ouch. I'm hurt, senpai. I ain't looking that bad, ain't I?” he pretended to be hurt, clutching his shirt dramatically even though he damn well knew how he looked like right now, but Chris just shot him back a serious look.

“I'm fine, really. It's true that I have a lot on my mind these times and that it keeps me awake at night, but it has just been a week since I'm the new captain, so I think it's normal.”

“So you think it's normal to build up stress and close yourself from the others? You're going back to your bad habits as I can see.”

Miyuki silently balled up his fist, and averted his gaze. He didn't want to think back at the events that occurred during his first year. Chris' injury. And because of that, the position of starting catcher fell upon him. Even though he was wishing for it, he didn't want to have it this way. He wanted to fight for it, fair and square, and testing himself against Chris.
The emotions that he had experienced at that time were the worst of his baseball life. He didn't care about the others senpai holding a grudge against him at that time, but he felt like he didn't deserved it, to crouch in the catcher box instead of his mentor... and it just spoiled all the fun.

And it was quite right that what he was feeling right now was painfully similar to what happened last year. Now that he was captain, he had the feeling that he has been stripped of all the fun and joy that he used to felt while playing. He had to shoulder more responsibilities, and he wasn't able to feel the joy of seeing his pitchers improve anymore. He was already thinking of something else, not letting his mind rest. Maybe that is why the two pitchers found him different...
He quickly put those troublesome thoughts in the back of his mind, and put himself together.

“Well, what can I do, senpai? I'm not the type of guy to talk easily to the others, nor am I the type to show my weaknesses...”

“You don't know how to rely on people, that's why you can't talk to them. Being the captain doesn't mean that you have to shoulder everything alone. What you need now, is to figure it out with everyone else.”

Figure it out with everybody? Easier said than done. He was more the action type that the word type.

“But right now, you need to figure out what's wrong with you. I'm not blaming you for being confused, it's perfectly normal. But, don't lock yourself up in your shell like you used to, it will bring you no good.”

Chris was genuinely concerned about him. Such a quiet and unresponsive Miyuki was unusual and it would mean that he was (again) overthinking about something.

“Or something else is on your mind? Like what you might have done wrong during the final last week?”

The way Miyuki's eyes twitched and his lips tightened just confirmed it for him. Guilt, huh? For Miyuki, it might be the worse feeling of all.

“Telling you that it wasn't your fault won't do anything, knowing you it would just add salt to your wounds. Try to stop overthinking everything.”

“Pff, why everyone thinks that I'm overthinking everything?”

“Because you do.” Chris smiled, softly.

Miyuki pushed his glasses nervously and thanked Chris-senpai silently for not asking what was exactly on his mind. His shell? Did he really looked like the type of guy to shut himself off everyone? He was a loner, no doubt about it, but he did the minimal effort to communicate with everyone, and he would lie if he said he hadn't some precious bonds with the team.
He hid himself under the shadows of his glasses, and was processing everything Chris-senpai told him. Before figuring everything out with everyone, he had to figure out what was wrong with him... Rely on people...not burden everything on his shoulders...

How was he supposed to do that when all his life he took care of everything? Nobody to rely on and having nobody but himself to help him. That was expecting from him the sharp opposite of everything he had done until now. When normal people will find it normal to help and to be helped, Miyuki find it more difficult to share his burden with anyone. He trusted his teammates, but only on the field. But trust them his feelings was... he would rather not. His stomach twisted at all these thoughts and he felt a bit of nausea coursed across his body.
God, he was overthinking again.

“Miyuki? You're alright? Your face suddenly turned white.”

“Ah it's okay, I'm fine! It's like you said Chris-senpai, I'm just overthinking!” Miyuki said quickly, waving his hands to dismiss his senpai's concern. “And I need to take the new pitcher menu to the coach's office so that he can approve it, so I'm going to go. Thank you very much for taking the time to see us!”

Chris still had some things to say, but saying them right now wouldn't be helpful. So he just ruffled Miyuki's hair and said good night, making a mental note of coming back soon with the other third-years to check again on the team's condition.
He couldn't help himself to turn around and see Miyuki's silhouette slowly fading away; something was really off about him, and he couldn't get rid of that bad feeling.

…....................................

His thoughts still in a mess, Miyuki dashed to his room to take the new pitcher menu (finished two days ago, in the middle of the night :')) and dashed again to the coach's office because he took more time than he thought talking with Chris-senpai. He arrived in front of the office and stopped. He fixed back his bangs, making sure that they were correctly hiding his sticking-plaster, but when he was about to open the door, he suddenly heard Ota-buchou's loud voice erupting from the inside.

“You gave a letter of resignation to the principal?! Are you serious coach?”

A cold sweat spread through Miyuki's body at the speed of light. Resignation? Kataoka kantoku? Why? His hand was trembling over the door knob as he kept on listening silently.

“I'm going to take the lead of the team until the fall tournament, and then the school will hire a new coach. I wasn't able to take them to Koushien and with the departure of the third-years, the team needs a new way of training.”

“Are you saying that it was your fault that the team lost? It's not...”

The rest of the conversation didn't reach Miyuki's ears as he was just too flabbergasted. His brain was in shock but it was also thinking, too fast, as what could have triggered such a decision from the coach. As expected, it could only be their fault. They were at one out from Koushien... the thin line was simply and only their inefficiency. His inefficiency as the key player of the team.
He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood and let out a forced laugh.
The coach was going to leave them.
Leave them...

Kazuya... How do I put this? The doctors did what they could but your mom isn't with us anymore...

He slapped himself hard as soon as the bad memories rose to the surface and waited for the adults to finish their conversation.
He had to do something for the trembling of his hands before knocking on the door. He waited 10 good minutes to reach an acceptable condition, took a deep breath, put back his usual mask on place and knocked.

“It's Miyuki. I came to deliver the picther menu.” he announced himself.

As expected, Rei-chan and Ota-buchou were a little bit startled but didn't show it longer.

“Oh Miyuki-kun, it's you... Thank you and good work. Sorry for making you do it.” Rei thanked him, taking the papers and handed them to the coach.

“It's fine, it was fun to make it for a change. Sawamura and Furuya are so predictable and I know Nori since my first year, so it was kind of easy to prepare.”

“As always, you pay a lot of attention to them, don't you? Even though you rarely express your feelings to them... You'll be able to understand them even more if you speak to them wholeheartedly, you know.” Rei told him in her sweet voice.

“Ahaha! There you go again with that Rei-chan! If I do that they'll get ahead of themselves! Especially Sawamura.” he added, sneering. “Well, I have yet to take my bath, so I'll be taking my leave.” he said, bowing to his professors

“Miyuki.”

As he was about to turn around, the coach called him.

“Yes?”
“It's a good job, as expected of you.”
“Thank you very much.”

He bowed a second time, and left the room still with the look of his coach burnt in the back of his mind. That glare that could mean anything and could rattle even a stone to the depths of their beings. And to tell that that amazing person was going to stop being their coach...

...As if he could forgive that.

He stopped midway in is way back to his room, and breathed out. If they won the fall tournament, they would guarantee themselves a place to Koushien. And if they did that, the coach couldn't possibly let them down. And they would also get their revenge against Inashiro so that their senpai could graduate without remorse...

“I'll do it, got no choice anyway! I got no choice... It's going to be harsh but honestly I don't care. Catcher. Fourth batter. Captain. Key player. All of them. Even if I don't enjoy myself this year, or even if my body takes a blow, I'll do all of them perfectly. Tetsu-san told me to be strong for the team. Chris-senpai told me to find what is wrong with me. I'm just too hesitant, that is all.”

He just needed to stop thinking about himself. Just thinking about the team's interest and well-being and everything will be alright.
A strange, relaxed smile settled on his lips as he headed towards the common bath.

…......

The second-years were coming out of the bath, clouds of steam escaping through the open door. Miyuki, who was with Kuramochi and the others, caught his half-naked reflection in one of the many mirrors of the bath. Did he loose a little bit of muscle mass or was it his imagination? He didn't had the time to dwell on it because Kuramochi call out to him:

“Hey, Miyuki! Did you do your English homework?”
“Not yet, why?”
“Don't you mind if we do it together? I suck at english and Rei-chan would kill me if I fuck it up.” Kura said, with a terrified expression.
“She's pretty hard on that, that's for sure, and we don't want you to get killed.” Miyuki giggled.

“Yeah sure, gonna fetch up my things and I will come. Can you send Sawamura to another room, please? Don't wanna have him around me during work time.”
“Already told him to go annoy Zono and Haruichi, yaha!”
“Scary...”

…..

“Oh, come on 'Mochi! That one's easy!” the brunette complained.
“Raaah, it's just in one ear, out the other. The other one was good enough, so can we stop there? My game console is calling me~” Kuramochi whined like a kid.

“Who was it that call for my help in the first place? Geez... you're such a kid sometimes.”
“And you're a kid everytime.” the other replied back, already turning on his console and taking a joystick.

In fact, Kuramochi had no intention of doing his homework; he just needed a good excuse to make sure that Miyuki was with him tonight, got assured that he gets a good night rest and if something was bothering him at night, he should be able to do something about it. The idiot would rather die than to admit it, but when the third-years and everyone else came crushing into his room for the night, he was sleeping with that calm and comforted smile that nobody saw yet, apart him. Sleeping with someone else should be of a help to help him relax then.

Kuramochi looked at him settling beside him and handed him a joystick. It had been a long time since they played Street Fighter together.

“Do I have a say in this?”
“Nope. You cheated last time and I still have to beat the shit out of you for that, yahaa!”
“How the hell can I cheat at Street Fighter?! You're just pissed because you got beat, that's all!”

After a few rounds where they kept yelling at each other, Miyuki began to yawned tiredly and whined to Kuramochi:

“I'm tired, can you craddle me to sleep Mom?” Miyuki joked childishly, throwing himself like a sheet on Kuramochi's back.

“What did I do to God to deserve a captain like you?” Kuramochi complained. “Get down!”

“No, don't wanna, I'm tired and your back's warm.” the other said, half-asleep, cheek pressed on Kuramochi's shoulder.

“Aye, aye.”

Kuramochi stood up, still with the catcher on his back and dumped him unceremoniously on his bed.

“Ouch! What a horrible mother you are!”
“Shuddup. I'm too tired for all this bullshit so give me some space.” Kuramochi sighed, slipping himself under the sheets, ignoring the fact that his heart wanted to rip out of his chest.

The bed was for one person, but the two managed to settle comfortably, and probably forget the fact that they were other beds in the room.
Kuramcochi took a glance at Miyuki. He was indeed fast asleep when someone was with him, and relaxed. Being himself a light sleeper he will know immediately if Miyuki's awake.
So, after making sure that he was asleep, Kuramochi scooted closer and kissed the cheek of the boy he loved deeply and whispers.

“Good night Kazuya.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 4:

 

Two weeks later~

 

The team was slowly, but surely, clicking into place.

The regulars were appointed, and Haruichi and Toujou were doing a great job, as Ryosuke and Jun's successors. They have a lot of similarities especially Toujou, being a replica of Jun, as ex-pitcher and thus, having a strong shoulder, really appreciated in his center position. Haruichi was as always a little genius, manipulating his bat at his will perfectly, but he had some more work to do if he wanted to be perfectly in sync with Kuramochi.

The keystone combo didn't lose its explosive speed, and three of the old regulars were still there: in the outfield, the right-fielder Shirasu, and in the infield, catcher and shortstop, Miyuki and Kuramochi. Zono was their new n°3, first baseman, and he was providing great efforts as the 5th batter. (even though his stance was still too stiff). Asou, Higasa and Kanemaru were fighting as hard as the others in order not to lose their positions and the team was silently burning with fighting spirit.

They were all preparing for the practice match that will happen in three days.

As for the case of coach Kataoka's resignation, he didn't let out a word to the team, he probably didn't want anyone to freak out or be out of focus. Apart of the quiet determination, the mood was quite the same as it was before the finals.

In the bullpen, the pace had accelerated a little: the three pitchers wanted to do a lot of new things, and they hadn't much time to do it all, so Miyuki decided to compact it a bit: while he was catching for one, the other two were net-slowing or warming their shoulders with Ono or Kariba.

Sawamura was improving, but as always, he needed to improve more his control; he was giving too much four balls. Furuya wasn't the same as before concerning his stamina, but he wasn't able to last a whole game yet, which was problematic for an ace. Regarding Kawakami, his control couldn't be more perfect and he was very stable in his pitching, but he was still too tensed during certain pinches, and he lose his calm too quickly. And they were still working on his sinkers.

“Miyuki-senpai. I finished my thirty throws in the net.” Furuya announced himself, entering the bullpen.

“Okay. Sawamura, change with Furuya, and remember: the ball real low and your leg real high, right?”

“Understood! Don't take your time Furuya, last time you threw 10 more balls to the captain!” Sawamura shouted, right in Furuya's ear.

“........Noisy”

“Nori! Go and practice your sliders with Ono! When I'm finished with Sawamura, we're gonna take back on your sinkers!” Miyuki yelled to Nori, who was still shadow pitching.

“Oh, got it!”

“Miyuki-senpai, I'm going to throw.”

“Furuya, too fast! And freaking turn your aura down!” Sawamura shouted from where he was.

All of the evening practices were like this since two weeks, a system of relaying that Miyuki created based on his pitchers individual needs, and except for Furuya time to time, the picthers weren't participating in the field practice anymore. Miyuki needed them to polish their pitches as regularly as they could. However, being the catcher, he was participating actively at the field practice, and his voice could be heard to the bullpen, where the pitchers were keeping on their job.

“Ball second! Get two!” he ordered to Haruichi.

“Aye!”

Haruichi swiftly caught the ball the coach send flying to the ground and threw it on second base where Kuramochi was running, caught it in mid-air and sent it back to Miyuki.

While they were waiting in the row for their turn, Toujou and Kanemaru chatted a bit.

“Don't you think that the pace sped up? Not much, but enough to feel it?” Toujou asked to his blonde friend.

“Yeah you're right, little by little, Miyuki-senpai has been increasing the tempo. The guys in the bullpen too, they had been relaying their turns with him, it's incredibly fast and they don't seem to be tired of it.” Kanemaru answered, genuinely amazed by his captain.

On his position at first base, Kuramochi could hear their little conversation before they got back to running again. It was true that their captain was taking his responsibilities very seriously, and the team was following his pace very naturally. Not surprising, he was the key player of the team since his first year.

But the shortstop knew better; it was just another way to drown himself into work to forget that he had to deal with his own problems. Proof is, he was still falling asleep in class. (how did he managed to not get seen AND having good grades??) And something about his behavior had definitely changed, and he couldn't put his finger on it.

Kind of... obsession?

 

What do I like in his bastard?

He's hot.

Oh shut up, brain!

 

More than that, the bastard had almost stopped on being sarcastic. He was always in serious mode during practice and wasn't even teasing Sawamura anymore. Proof is, he couldn't hear the first-year shouting “MIYUKI KAZUYA!” from the bullpen. And Miyuki not being sarcastic... wasn't him anymore. Just a shadow of him.

 

“Eeh... Isn't he acting like a good captain?”

From where the spectators and journalists could watch the practices, Ryousuke was contemplating his kouhai with Chris, Tetsu and Jun. 

“He's maintaining a damn good pace between the ground and the bullpen, isn't he?” Jun boasted, louldy. “Everyone seems pretty pumped up too, ne Tetsu?”

“Yes. They have a friendly match in three days, and it would be their first match as the new team, so they must be itching to show their skills to the coach.” Tetsu smiled, as proud as a big brother who is watching his little siblings.

“By the way, it was Ryousuke who told us to meet here, right?” Jun asked.

“Oh, yeah.” Ryosuke was showing off a sly smile, and giggled a little.

“I was thinking that it was finally time to play the matchmaker.' he said while watching his partner stealing a base.

“Ah?” Jun was at a loss of words.

“Aaaaah...” the others seemed to understand.

“Ah?? You lost me there, Ryo! And why are you nodding over there?! Explain!”

“Eh? Don't tell me you didn't notice, Jun? Even though it's so obvious?”

Jun stared dumbfounded at Ryousuke, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Miyuki and Kuramochi...” Tetsu started.

“...are obviously in love with each other.” Chris finished.

“Even the oh so dense Tetsu busted it when they were still first years, how did you do to not notice, Jun?” Ryosuke softly laughed. “You're really a spitz.”

“Ahh!? How did you all knew?? Even Tetsu, you say?”

“Yes.” Tetsu looked at him with a serious face, while making a piece sign.

“Don't mess with me Tetsu!”

“Pretty much all of us noticed it, but we choose to do nothing, hoping they would get together themselves, but they are really not aware of each other's feelings, even though they're always together. It's really saddening, being the two members the most insightful of the team.” Chris added, shaking his head negatively.

 

“All of us??”

“Except you Jun.”

Ryosuke just let Jun shouted on the other two for not let him in the secret, and kept on watching his kouhai. He swiftly looked at Miyuki's side...well, talking to that Miyuki would be useless. He could let him to Tetsu and Chris if need be, and directed again his gaze to Kuramochi. The most likely to confess first would be him, but he will need a trigger to do it.

Ryosuke let out a scary chuckle, that made the others scoot away from him, sweat dropping.

…...

Lunch time.

The chime rang in the corridors of the second-years' floor. Kuramochi had managed to buy his yakisoba bread in time, before it went out and was rushing back towards his class.

“Phew... thanks my legs...”

“I really don't understand why that kind of bread is so popular.” came a voice behind him.

“Ah? Because it's delicious, you idio... Oh, Ryo-san!! You startled me!” Kuramochi corrected himself in time, and smiled widely to his mentor.

“It's been a little while. How is it doing?”

“I'm good, thank you for asking! And you Ryo-san, how are your studies doing?” He asked taking a sip of his Pocari sweat he had.

“Regarding this, you don't have to worry, I'm the top of my class. Putting that aside, I wanted yo ask you something.”

He was going to enjoy this.

“What is it?” Kuramochi was listening, still drinking his Pocari.

“When do you plan on confessing to Miyuki?”

There it goes. The Pocari that Kuramochi had been drinking soon found its way out, the cheetah spewing and chocking on it, turning a bright red all over his face. His shirt was drenched, and he just asked with a little voice:

“How... how did you knew it, Ryo-san?”

Oh. He's not even going to deny it. Ryosuke couldn't help a fond smile to grow on his face, and he just patted Kuramochi's shoulder, saying:

“Please, all of us noticed during your first year. Well, except Jun.”

Kuramochi had the impression of overheating. Dammit, was is that obvious?? 

Ryosuke purposely chose to not tell Kuramochi that Miyuki was probably also in love with him. No need to confuse the kid more. And while Kuramochi was showing really blatant signs, Miyuki had been really discreet about it. Perhaps he was still denying it to himself. Last year, it was Chris who confirmed to them that Miyuki had the same feelings for the shortstop, being the senpai that spent the most time with him, so he knows how to notice the little details.

“So? Did you actually planned on confessing, or were you planning to let things stay the way they are?” Ryosuke asked again, handing him the face towel he always had in his bag.

He watched the other dry his shirt and face, his reddened cheeks still present. He seemed in turmoil, hesitating to explain it all to his mentor. Romantic feelings weren't that easy to talk about, especially to an upperclassman.

The poor kid. He never saw him that quiet. Ryosuke giggled a little, and scooted closer to the shortstop, gently hitting his shoulder with his own and giving him a reassuring look.

“Yoichi.”

The first name effect worked because Kuramochi's eyes widen and he got all of his kouhai's attention right now.

 

“Relax. It's me okay? I'm not going to judge you or anyhting, you know. It's completely normal for guys our age.”

“Ryo-san...”

Kuramochi didn't notice that he was holding his breath, so he let himself breath deeply and smiled at his mentor. 

“I wanted to confess, but there was the finals and then... I didn't have time for that.”

“Hmm. And you thought that confessing right now wouldn't be efficient?”

“You really saw everything through and through, Ryo-san,” Kuramochi laughed, rubbing his neck nervously. “It's not just the situation, but Miyuki himself. The idiot's been straining himself lately, speeding of the pace of the practices just to forget about his own problems...”

“It's true that I never saw him that serious. Usually, he would tease Eijun and the others, but not a word that isn't about practice leaves his mouth, right?

“Yes. I need to do something about him, before thinking about my feelings.”

“Do you have an idea already?”

“I have to make him realize that he's not at the top of his game. If he messes up or produces bad results on the upcoming scrimmage, I will threw it to his face. And I know he will do at least one blunder. Can't really explain it, but I just have a bad vibe.” 

“Love doesn't need a reason, ne?”

“Ryo-san!”

“Sorry, sorry, it just slipped out... But for someone like him who swears only by statistics, he will be forced to take some time to reflect on himself. Speaking of the devil, where's he?”

“The usual, I think. In class, eating while reviewing all the data he collected the day before about his pitchers, or new opponents information... or sleeping.” he added, almost reluctantly, remembering the tired face of the catcher.

“Go back in class then, and wake him up if that's the case. Don't let him on his own too long, I'm serious. ...Actually, back in middle school I was a little like him, I didn't want anyone to know when I was feeling down, so I kept on training by myself and ended up hurting my ankle on a stupidly dangerous play I shouldn't have done.”

Ryosuke was looking straight at him, eyes open, letting his kouhai see his golden-pink eyes for the first time. They were a shade darker than Haruichi's and more sharp-shaped. Normally, Kuramochi would have been thrilled to see them, but right now he was only feeling respect for his senpai, who was surely telling him things that he didn't like to talk about, in order to help him understand his own situation.

“Just do what you feel is good to do Kuramochi. Your instinct won't betray you. And don't stress it out; even though we retired, we're still here always watching out for you all.”

A sweet warmth coated Kuramochi's chest, and he was feeling more at ease. It was stress-relieving to know that the third-years were still here, showing their faces at practice from time to time and meeting them in the hallways.

Ryosuke was right. If he started overthinking too, it would be hellish.

Only one overworked boy at a time, please.

…........

When he returned in class, Miyuki's seat was empty. He asked Ono where he could have went, and the other catcher said that Miyuki went to the toilet a couple of minutes ago.

….....

He was doubling over the toilet bowl, giving back everything he had eaten 30 minutes earlier. He was gripping the toilet so hard that his knuckles were turning white, and his face had lost all colors. Sweat was pouring from his forehead, sliding to his chin, falling on the cold floor.

He finished throwing up and he rested his back against the wall of the cabin, trying to get a hold of his breath. Thank God no one was there in the first place, because they would have seen him burst into the toilet room with a horrified expression on his face, hands clutched on his belly. Trying to breathe in and out, Miyuki was fighting against the pain, his stomach sending him acid waves throughout his body.

Like hell he was going to let that kind of stupid stuff make him stop practice. Some stomach medicine will do just fine, he couldn't afford to skip training. He tried to stand up on his own, but the support of the wall was needed if he wanted to stay upright. He tottered to the sink and splashed some fresh water on his face. The water washed away the sweat, and the foundation Miyuki was using to hide his wound-like black circles under his eyes.

As hard as he had tried during these two weeks, getting more than three hours of sleep per night had revealed itself impossible. And he wasn't off his game to the point of not noticing a couple of sharp eyes watching him like hawks, like Shirasu, Nabe and even Nori... In order to not worry them anymore, he had been gradually covering his face of foundation to make them think that his circles were disappearing little by little, hence he was gaining sleep hours, even though they were carved in his skin like he had been burnt.

He never thought he would have to use his old make-up again... Fortunately, he found two whole tubs of foundation and concealer at the bottom of his square's drawer the other day, that will last him a couple of days more. He searched for them in his pockets, and he began what had become his every day routine.

He was about to smooth the concealer under his violet-rimmed eyes, when the mirror reflected to him a very unpleasant sight; a droplet of crimson blood was rolling from the corner of his mouth down his chin, and kept on rolling on his throat. Miyuki watched it terrified, but got a hold of himself and cleaned the blood before it could stain his shirt and leave evidence.

He didn't want to believe it, but the metallic taste on his tongue forced him to accept that something was wrong with him. Physically.

However, mentally, it was another thing. It was like a little voice in the depth of his mind was saying that he was alright, that it wasn't something a good night's rest couldn't heal... if he will take some medicine, he will feel better. The very voice that accompanied his empty childhood.

So, robotically and with accustomed fingers, he skillfully applied the concealer under his eyes, covering them like he covers his doubts and insecurities.

A layer on his cheeks and a layer on his growing anxiety.

When he finished, he took a look at his face in the mirror and tried to smile. He let a disabused sigh escaped his lips; he looked like a freaking made-up kit, but he didn't care much since the others stopped worrying about him. He would rather die than become a hindrance to his team and his beloved sport.

Don't show it on your face when you're struggling, because it will weaken the team.

He got all of his emotions under control, which still took him a few minutes, swallowed his dry medicine, readjusted his tie and headed back slowly to his classroom, smirk back in place with a cold sweat sliding disgustingly on his back.

 

….........

The time for afternoon practice came really fast, and everyone was already training indoors.

There were players who practiced their batting, playing catch-ball and of course, the batteries were also practicing; it was Sawamura's turn, and Miyuki wanted him to realize that he already pitched a crossfire ball, the one that misses barely the batter's chest.

“Eh? I already threw one??”

“Are you seriously telling me that you threw one without knowing what it was?” Miyuki asked, dumbfounded.

“Ah? No, no, no, of course not! The fireball is my specialty since very long and...”

“Crossfire, idiot.”

“Yes, yes that Kuroko fighter!”

“Wrong again, you monkey! Throw it again, if you manage to hone it enough for it to become a weapon, it will be an essential part of your repertoire!”

“Aye!”

Sawamura puts himself again in position, asking himself strangely why Miyuki-senpai seemed more strict than usual. Normally, he would already be complaining that he was taking too much of his time, that he was too loud even the night, and that he couldn't take care of Nori or Furuya. However, it was the contrary this time, working Sawamura to the core, picking on every detail he could find.

“The course was weak!”

“Warning to the meatballs!”

“The ball was too high!”

Furuya was waiting for his turn and the mood was electric among them as it was usually more happy-go-lucky the evening.

The stares were gathering around the batteries, and how Miyuki was swiftly and very quickly changing Sawamura and Furuya every ten throws. The two pitchers were starting to breathe heavily and the captain didn't slowed down the pace for another ten solid minutes.

“Miyuki is going full throttle, don't you think?”

“Yeah, he isn't fooling around anymore like he used to do now that he became captain.”

Playing catch-ball with Haruichi not far from here, Kuramochi's senses were telling him otherwise... he was definitely rushing the after-practice but why? The bad feeling he was having for weeks was tingling like crazy, itching him from the inside. He wanted to say something, asking what was bothering him... or just grabbing his shoulders and scream to him to let the team in, to let him in.

His thoughts were interrupted when he saw that Miyuki had put an end to the throwing session, more to the satisfaction of the two kouhais, for once. He bid them good night, letting out a “don't die by drowning in the bath!” to relax them, and grabbed a bat before leaving.

'Yosh, he is heading to our usual place on the hill.'

Your instinct won't betray you.

He also bid good night to his new keystone-combo partner, and followed the glasses boy five minutes later.

….........

During those five minutes, Miyuki had locked himself up in the toilets, again, breathing deeply and slowly, trying to calm the jerky beating of his heart, going wild.

“Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn...”

He was cursing again and again and again under his breath, spreading cold water on his face and neck, completely oblivious to his make-up being washed away, revealing his enormous circles. He couldn't go to sleep right now as he didn't complete his swings count for the day. The fourth batter couldn't afford to have a low batting rate, especially when he was also the captain.

 

What the hell are you doing Kazuya? You're tired? It hurts? Don't be such a sissy, slap yourself a few times and it's gonna pass. You've got a ton of things to do before you can collapse...

 

“I know. Just shut up. I don't want you to come back anymore.”

 

Then get a hold of yourself. Or I'm gonna do it for ya.

 

His dark self was bubbling up, crawling from deep of his guts.

Miyuki grabbed his wrist, and pressed hard on that famous pressure point that Sawamura was bragging about. His wrists were itching, as he remembered his self-destructive habits from middle school. School he didn't have good memories from. He had done so much effort from there to get rid of that horrifying voice and he wasn't going to let her destroy everything. Even thought he agreed with her...

His body was screaming for sleep, but he slapped himself a few times and grabbed his bat.

 

…......

 

Kuramochi didn't see him on the top of the hill where they swing together every night, so he decided to wait for him as he maybe forget something in his room or was in the toilets.

This time, he wasn't going to let it pass like it was nothing, he gave too much time to this asshole to acknowledge he wasn't going good. At least, he was sleeping better than before but...

Quiet footsteps were brushing against the grass behind him and he didn't bother to look to know who it was. The footsteps stopped a little far from him and he could have swear the catcher held his breath for a few seconds.

“Ah.”

Tilting his head to the side, Kuramochi wondered why Miyuki just made a sound as if he had been caught red-handed in something.

“What's wrong, Miyu...!”

The catcher was there, standing really embarassed, scratching the back of his head... with what looked like two huge splotches of black under his eyes.

“What the...? Did a bear gave you two black eyes or what??” the shortstop yelled, very surprised.

“Ah, no it's just that...”

The brunette stepped back, seriously considering escaping with all his strength, but before he could do a move, Kuramochi had his grip on his arm, and seized his chin between his fingers, forcing him to look at him straight in the eyes.

Splotches of what looked like orange marks were smearing his cheeks here and there, and when he looked closely, the circles under his eyes weren't bruises but indeed dark circles...

As everything was clicking into place, instead of feeling angry he just felt like he should have seen it coming. Not disappointed. Just sad.

“I know that you hate people to be worried about you, but you just broke into a whole new level man.” he laughed bitterly, readjusting his grip on the catcher's shoulders, and resting his forehead on the other's chest.

Miyuki had expected him to get mad, and yell at him for being irresponsible, so he was a little surprised and it made him more embarrassed and a little bit ashamed, being aware that Kuramochi really cared about him. So he might as well be honest and at least tell him why.

“I managed to get some solid sleep these days I'm not lying, but my circles didn't want to disappear, that's all... well it was my fault from the beginning but... all of your and everyone's preoccupied stares vanished so I continued to conceal them. So... can you...”

“...not tell anything to everyone else?”

“Yeah until they get better.”

The wind got a little stronger, which made Miyuki's bangs fluttered lightly, making his face more visible to Kuramochi. The latter sneered a little; even with horrible dark circles under his eyes that looked like burns, and his face that looked like an orange which had lost his colors, he managed to look stunningly beautiful, under the starry sky.

“At one condition. That you sit your ass down on the grass and that you talk to me. Explain to me why you're pushing yourself like that, just... freaking talk to me.”

It was really un-Kuramochi like. He was practically begging for him to talk. Well, of course he will ask for something like that, they almost didn't exchange words during the last week, except for practice and homework, even though they were always with each other.

But that was where, unlike any other normal people, Miyuki didn't know what to say. As if it was normal for him to struggle through everything.

“What do you want me to talk about? I'm pushing myself because I have to meet everyone's expectations as the captain, that's it.” he answered, stretching his arms on the fresh grass.

“And you're thinking that you can meet all of them alone? We're a team you know.” 

“I know that but in order to function at the best of our abilities, we have to give the best of ourselves... or we won't be able to go to Koushien, don't you think?”

“I agree with that, but to make it to Koushien, we're going to need everyone's strength, and having our captain out of service will be a damn blow to the team.” Kuramochi said, very calmly while sitting next to him on the grass.

Miyuki smiled a bit. To believe that Mochi and Chris-senpai were thinking the same thing about him.

“I'm completely in service and I won't collapse. Maybe I'm sleep-deprived, but I don't understand why you're so worried about me.”

“I'm worried because you can't take care of yourself or even figure out that's something's wrong with you. Just looking at your face should convince you! Even the two idiots noticed that you were acting differently.”

“I'm just taking my responsibilities more seriously than ever, that's all." 

“You're really a pig head, you know that! You should better take it easy and rest for the next scrimmage, or I'm really gonna pin you to your bed.”

Miyuki laughed genuinely at this one. He understood what Kuramochi was saying, but it wasn't so bad of an experience for him, as he was used to this kind of life; he was the type of guy to not sleep much anyways, and his teammates from middle school put him through some pretty twisted shit, than even himself won't do to his worst ennemy.

“And I'm not feeling that down, you know Mochi, I'm used of being sleep-deprived, it's just a little worse than usual.”

“Don't give me that bullshit, you look like you got burned by a red-hot iron.”

“What should I do then? The fall tournament is coming faster than we think and we can't afford to slow down.”

“I'm not asking you to slow down your pace, or doing less training. I'm not going easy on myself either.”

“Then what??”

Kuramochi let out a huge sigh of exasperation, and flicked Miyuki's forehead hard.

“Ouch, what was that for?”

He poked his forehead twice to make him understand.

“I'm talking of whatever is boiling inside there, idiot.” he said, more tenderly, getting for good that Miyuki was really selfless and clueless about himself, only thinking about his team and his duties.

“You're stressing too much things, most of them, I'm sure, being irrelevant. Chris-senpai must have already told you that you're always overthinking everything, maybe an after-effect of being a catcher, but you're worse than the others for sure.”

“Well, I can't go against my nature, as twisted and bizarre as it is.”Miyuki grumbled, pouting a little. 

“Hyaha! It's sure not gonna cure itself overnight. For the time being, you just need to rest physically. And now that I can't trust you to do something so simple, I'm gonna sleep with you.”

“Hmm~ Isn't it an excuse to cuddle with me, Mochi-kun?”

“Shut up and be grateful, I'm doing this for your sake, you reckless bastard!”

They began their batting session in a lighter mood, like always, and it was so much easier to just insult and mock each other than talking about serious things.

 

 

But, despite that, Miyuki would only be able to stop himself or understand what Kuramochi and Chris told him after what would happen to him after what will become a fateful scrimmage.